I arrived in town on what appeared to be a fine Sunday afternoon after the church service. The townsfolk filing out of the chapel seemed by appearance to be invigorated and in good spirits. Among the throng, I met a man named Johnny Clockwork while searching for the town mayor, a man called Peabody.
Mr. Clockwork directed me to the mayor’s house to identify it. He was an incredibly helpful and forthright individual to provide me with so much detail about the Mayor’s background. After a review of the home, Mr. Clockwork escorted me back to the Shady Gulch Hotel which is run by a portly German fellow name Klaus. The hotel was reputed to serve the finest lunch in town. That day it was turtle soup. How the establishment came by that esteemed reputation is a bit of a mystery to me.
I met the mayor and discussed my plans with him to bring the telegraph to Shady Gulch. He was suitably excited and suggested a meeting with the town council. I remained to have lunch with the mayor and discuss the future of Shady Gulch. I did not have turtle soup. Requiring a place to stay, I also rented a room at the hotel from the proprietor for the immediate future.
Once I procured my lodgings, unhorsed my belongings and had them in order, I made a stop at the livery and sold my pack horse to a woman named Jane. She seemed quite pleased to have another horse in her stables. I left the livery and stopped at the hotel to take a secondary inventory of my belongings. Upon exiting the hotel, I once again encountered Mr. Clockwork on the street. This time he said he was searching for a missing celestial girl. I agreed to help as Mr. Clockwork had been so kind in turn, and together we proceeded back to church to interview the town preacher.
The preacher appeared to me as a man of abrasive and self-righteous conviction. His pronounced eyebrows, weathered face and gun belt struck me as severe in his profession. Mr. Clockwork and I proceeded to question him regarding the celestial girl’s disappearance. He claimed ignorance of the girl’s whereabouts or condition. Mr. Clockwork reminded the Preacher that not only had he been the last recorded individual to see the girl, but that rumors circulated regarding him and his questionable attachment to the girl. Mr. Clockwork claimed that he wanted to clear up any doubts over the Preacher’s “good name.” It was plain to me that Mr. Clockwork suspected the preacher of responsibility for the girl’s disappearance.
However, contrary to Mr. Clockwork’s own opinion, the preacher professed innocence of any wrongdoing. He confronted the questionable nature of his visits with the girl by admitting that he often met with her to discuss salvation through the Lord. On the day of her disappearance, he took her to the river to baptize her. At the preacher’s suggestion and attempt to submerge her under the water of the river, she panicked and fled. That was two weeks ago and he claimed he has not had any contact with her since. I cannot say whether the preacher suspects Mr. Clockwork’s unspoken accusation, but his answers, despite repeated questioning, remained guiltlessly unwavering.
One detail to note, however, is, by his own admittance, the preacher’s alibi is weak. He was the last person with the girl. He watched her run off, professing to have slipped on a rock in the river while she escaped. And he returned to the church to pray for her safety rather than reporting her disappearance to the authorities.
I retired to my room to review my notes on the preacher’s story. It occurs to me that should we find this girl, we should discover whether or not she has a fear of water as the preacher proclaims. Not long after my consideration of the facts, I heard two men speaking down the hall. I peeked out into the hallway and noted that they were speaking to Mr. Clockwork at his chamber door about the missing girl. What was more, they carried a celestial girl with them!
Perceiving the possibility of this girl being the very same one last seen with the preacher, I interjected and suggest they take the young lady inside. As they spoke, I learned the girl’s sister, Song, was the one who had asked Mr. Clockwork to find the missing girl. The other two men, a large negro wearing a deputy star and a man who appeared to be at least part native, introduced themselves as Deputy Justice and Joe.
After placing the girl on the bed, Justice seemed inspired and almost immediately darted off with some idea or other. He wasn’t inclined to fully share. The girl scooted back to the corner and stared at the floor. Mr. Clockwork proceeded downstairs to procure food and drink for her. Joe remained with me and the unresponsive girl whose name, I learned, was Sing. Apparently, Joe and the deputy had been unable to get her to talk.
Politely, I asked Joe to allow me a moment alone with the girl in case she felt threatened by the presence of so many men. She was clearly frightened. It was at that point I spoke to her and she responded. She showed me that her tongue had been cut out and communicated in nods and shakes of the head. She conveyed that she was hungry, thirsty, frightened, and could identify her assailant by sight. If we could somehow place her where she could covertly review the townsfolk, we might identify her assailant.
I couldn’t say how much our intervention will really matter two the two young women. The fate of celestials is often left to celestials and it sounds as though these girls come from a house of ill repute or, at the least, the hands of an abuser. Local authorities rarely involve themselves in these matters. The cold truth is that whites have little regard for celestials except in how they can be used as tools or as toys.
Mr. Clockwork returned with food for the girl and I conveyed to him and Joe the state of her well-being. Deputy Justice arrived sometime later after his mystery errand and I shared with him also that her tongue had been cut out. To his credit, he appeared disgusted with the result and eager to punish those responsible. His name, which I thought at first to be an ironic mockery, might after all prove appropriate. He implored me to speak with her and I demonstrated for him her lack of responsiveness.
Too many people in the room I suppose.