As with The Balsam Groves of the Grandfather Mountain, I am indebted to Edmund Pearson’s Queer Books for this selection.
The author named on the title page, “Rev. O. R. Arthur”, was almost certainly a pseudonym; the publisher was called A. R. Orton, which is pushing coincidence. Although A. R.’s first name may have been Arthur, it is safe to say that he was no relation to the celebrated Australian impostor Arthur Orton (1834–1898), alias Thomas Castro, “The Tichborne Claimant”. It would admittedly be more fun if they had turned out to be the same person, but there are certain insurmountable geographical problems.
A. R. Orton, pamphlet publisher, was active for a few years in the early-to-mid-1850s. Going by the books’ title pages, he started out in various Southern cities, but soon decided the money was better in the North; the most common form is “Baltimore, New York, Philadelphia and Buffalo”. Most copyrights were filed in the Northern District of New York—which includes neither Buffalo nor New York City. And unless he wore two hats, with accompanying pseudonyms, he was no relation to the slightly more respectable Buffalo-based publisher William Orton, whose partnerships included “Derby, Orton, & Mulligan” and, later, “Miller, Orton & Mulligan”.
A quirk of A. R. Orton’s pamphlets is that they tended to start their pagination at 21, making it seem as if each one was almost twice as long as it really was. They must have held a special attraction for recent German immigrants. Several titles, including The Three Sisters, were also issued in translation:
Die drei Schwestern oder Leben, Geständnisse und Hinrichtung der Amy, Elisabeth, und Cynthia Halzingler, die am 30. November 1854 zu Elisabethtown, Ark., verhört, verurtheilt und hingerichtet Wurden wegen der furchtharen und schrecklichen Ermordung der aus sieben Personen bestehenden Familie Edmonds: Nebst der von der ältesten Schwester, Amy, auf dem Schaffote gehaltenen Rede.
Some illustrations are signed “Coffin” (“del.”, artist) and “J. W. Orr” (“sc.”, engraver); the frontispiece is signed “Wightman”. Sadly, Coffin doesn’t seem to have been related to illustrator William Haskell Coffin (1878–1941). But he may have been the Frederick W. Coffin who illustrated Twelve Years a Slave, first published in 1853 by—just to confuse us—Buffalo’s own Derby, Orton-no-relation, and Mulligan. John William Orr, along with his kid brother Nathaniel, was an established Buffalo-based engraver.
In spite of the wealth of detail on the title page, I can find no evidence that a single word of this splendid story is true.
Darn and double-darn.
As far as I know, The Three Sisters is not available online anywhere. It was photographed for me—thanks, Neil!—from a library copy.
I have generally corrected mechanical errors, such as missing or misplaced punctuation, while leaving the more glaring errors (“shoes” for “shares”, “Francis” for “France”) unchanged. Typographical errors are marked with and are listed again at the bottom of the page. The word “invisible” means that the word, letter or punctuation mark is missing, but there is an appropriately sized blank space.
LIFE, CONFESSION AND EXECUTION
Who were Tried, Convicted, and Executed, at Elizabethtown
Ark., Nov. 30, 1855, for the Awful and Horrible
MURDER OF THE EDMONDS FAMILY,
CONSISTING OF SEVEN MEMBERS TOGETHER; WITH THE SPEECH OF THE ELDEST
SISTER, AMY, ON THE GALLOWS.
EDITED BY REV. O. R. ARTHUR.
PUBLISHED BY A. R. ORTON:
BALTIMORE, PHILADELPHIA, NEW YORK AND BUFFALO.
THE THREE SISTERS.
Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1855, by
A. R. ORTON,
in the Clerk’s Office of the District Court of the United States, in and for the
Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
OR, THE TRIAL, CONVICTION AND EXECUTION OF
AMY, ELIZABETH AND CYNTHIA HALZINGLER,
MURDER OF THE EDMONDS FAMILY.
Reader, perhaps when you have finished reading this little book, you will ask, “How did the writer become acquainted with the history of the girls whose lives he has written?”
The question is easily answered. I was acquainted with them when they were lying in the cradle; I watched them through the sunny hours of childhood; I was with them when they died—how? By the hands of the hangman—by the rope. Oh, it was a fearful thing to see those girls, so fair, so young, standing on the scaffold, in a few minutes to stand before the judgment-seat of God. When their parents died I regretted their loss; but when I saw their daughters standing on the scaffold, I breathed a prayer of thankfulness to Heaven, to think that they, their parents, had left this wicked world. Ah, little did they dream when dying, that their daughters should die on the scaffold—that the tender flowers to whom they had given birth, should die by such fearful means. They died without the knowledge of this, and I, who hope to meet them hereafter, thank God for it.
What a strange thing is life! yesterday rich, with every comfort that wealth can bestow around you; to-day a beggar, without a friend in the wide world; to-morrow, perchance, a millionaire.
Eternity! what is it? who can comprehend it? There is something terrible in the word—something we can not understand. Take away a thousand years—twenty thousand—still no nearer. Eternity is without end; man may liken it to a circle, no end can be found.
What is it that comforts the Christian in his dying hour? The thought that he is to spend eternity in Heaven. What is it that makes the sinner tremble? The thought that he may die suddenly and spend eternity—where? how? Persons can say, “Take me at any time, oh Lord, for I am ready.”
To our story.
In the latter part of the year 1821, if we mistake not, there arrived in the city of New York, a family named Halzingler. At the time of their 22 arrival, the family consisted of but three persons, Mr. and Mrs. Halzingler, and their son Edmond, a lad of five years. The parents were fine looking, well educated people, and attracted the attention of all. During the voyage, Mr. Halzingler’s chest was lost overboard. Unfortunately, the chest contained all his fortune, with the exception of five hundred and twenty-five dollars in bank-notes, which he fortunately carried in his pocket. Thus in one short moment he was reduced from affluence to poverty. Most persons would have mourned the loss of their fortune; Mr. Halzingler did no such thing. He merely cast one look at the trunk, regretted that the violent sea prevented his going after it, and then forgot all about it.
Mr. Halzingler had been in New York but a few days when a friend induced him to enter into a speculation. The speculation was successful; the five hundred dollars increased to five thousand. He placed one thousand in one of the banks, and speculated with the remainder. The bank failed, money was scarce, every thing looked dark, and Mr. Halzingler looked upon himself as a ruined man. Weeks passed on, the money market grew easier, the speculation looked promising, and Mr. Halzingler sold his for ten times the amount they had first cost him. In a week the speculation failed; Mr. Halzingler’s friends congratulated him on his foresight, and in a week he removed with his family to Boston.
There, in that renowned city, Mr. Halzingler increased his fortune to two hundred thousand dollars. Then, resolving to retire from active life, he removed with his family to Arkansas.
Little Rock is, as everybody knows, the capital city of Arkansas. At the time we speak of, some thirty years ago, it was not near so large as it is now. Even now the whole state of Arkansas does not contain so many inhabitants as the city of New York, the pride and boast of the western world. Mr. Halzingler purchased a farm near the Arkansas river, and built thereon a splendid mansion. He had hardly removed in it when Amy, his first daughter, was born. The father gazed on the form of his infant babe with delight, and even his wife could not help smiling at his extravagant joy. A year passed, and his wife gave birth to two daughters—twins. They were named Elizabeth and Cynthia, after their mother, whose name was Elizabeth Cynthia Halzingler. Mr. Halzingler was overjoyed when he beheld his first daughter; imagine what his feelings were when he found himself the father of two more. We can imagine his feelings, but can not describe them.
Years passed on; the daughters grew up, and, as the reader may imagine, they were spoiled by too much indulgence. Mr. Halzingler and his were proud; they were descended from ancient and noble families, 23 they were proud of their wealth and of their children. They looked down with contempt upon those who possessed not wealth. Yet, for all that, they were kind hearted people, and did many little acts of charity now known only to God. Master Edmond was taught how to ride at an early age, and, being a bold and fearless rider, frequently rode his father’s horses on the race-course. At the age of ten he entered into a race with a gentleman by the name of Striker, reached the winning-post a length in advance of the other, fell from his horse, was taken up senseless and carried home, and four years passed before he was able to leave the house.
This was a severe blow to Mr. Halzingler and his wife, for they at first thought that their son would never be able to leave the house again. As usual the doctor’s opinion differed from theirs, and when the lad was pronounced to be out of danger, they presented the doctor with a check for five thousand dollars. The doctor bowed his thanks, entered his carriage and drove off.
At the age of eight, Amy, so spoiled and petted had she been, was unable to say her letters. Whenever the governess attempted to teach her, she always declared that the very sight of a book gave her the headache. One evening her mother took her to see a literary lady who had just removed in the neighborhood. This lady was very fond of children. Amy’s dark eyes, beautiful face and figure, made a decided impression upon her. She requested her mother to let her daughter remain with her a week. It was a long time before her mother would consent; but at length, not wishing to offend the lady, she consented. The next morning Mr. Halzingler received a note from the literary lady, from which we extract the following:
“Your daughter Amy remained here last evening. Let me give you my opinion of her, and believe me, Mr. Halzingler, I speak as a friend should speak to another. Your daughter has been too much indulged, and, unless you take better care with her, she is spoiled for life. Last evening she cried because she was put to bed at nine o’clock, and this morning she cried because she was made to get up at eight. I can do nothing with her; every thing vexes her and nothing pleases her. I have done my best to amuse her, but it was of no use. This morning I discovered that she knew nothing—not even her a, b, c. You must come and take her away; and let me tell you, Mr. Halzingler, that unless you send her to school soon, she will remain a dunce all her life. She is a beautiful girl, a very beautiful girl, but good looks are nothing to me unless a good temper attends them.”
Mr. Halzingler threw himself into a chair and looked at his wife. For a few minutes a profound silence was maintained. Both were busy with their own thoughts. At length Mr. Halzingler raised his head and spoke:
“I little thought that any child of mine would be the means of my receiving a letter like this,” he said.
The mother covered her face with her handkerchief.
“What shall we do with her?” asked Mr. Halzingler, after a few moments’ silence.
“I do not know, I am sure,” replied the mother.24
“Our daughter has been spoiled—‘This morning I discovered that she knows nothing—not even her a, b, c’—I can scarcely believe it;” and Mr. Halzingler rose and paced the room rapidly. Suddenly he stopped and again read the letter.
“‘Unless you send her to school soon, she will remain a dunce all her life.’ It is enough, I am resolved;” and he folded up the letter and laid it on the table.
“Resolved on what?” asked his wife anxiously.
“To send her to school.”
“She will not go.”
“Eh, won’t go? we shall see! we shall see!”
“A month’s absence from home will be the death of her.”
“Let it! I’d sooner have my daughter in her grave than to be a dunce.”
“Let her remain at home for a short time,” said Mrs. Halzingler.
“Not another week,” was the reply. “She leaves here the day after to-morrow.”
“How sorry I am that I let her remain at ——.”
“I am not,” interrupted her husband quickly. “Let me hear no more words. In this matter I am resolved.”
In fifteen minutes the carriage was sent for Amy. In an hour it returned.
“Well, my daughter,” said Mr. Halzingler, “what kind of a time did you have?”
“Don’t ask me any questions,” said the little beauty, brushing back the curls which hung about her snow-white forehead.
For once, Mrs. Halzingler was ashamed and angry with her daughter.
“Answer your father,” she said sternly.
Amy looked surprised. Her mother had never spoken to her in that before.
“I won’t!” she said. “Oh, what a pretty bunch of grapes;” and without asking her parents’ leave, she commenced eating them.
“Amy,” said her father, sternly, “put down those grapes and come here to me.”
Awed by his voice, and still more by his manner, Amy did as he desired.
“Do you know, Amy,” said her father, “that I have resolved to send you to school?”
“To school! what is that?” asked the child.
The father explained.
“I won’t go to school! you shan’t make me go.”
“But you shall go!” cried the father, “and to a school where the teacher will only allow you to come home once in every three months.”
Here Amy burst into tears, in which Mrs. Halzingler joined, and the father was glad enough to hear the bell ring for dinner.
Two days afterward, Amy was dragged from the house, and in two days she reached Madame Belmira’s boarding-school. Mr. Halzingler sprang out of the carriage and rang the bell. The door was opened by a servant, who informed him that Madame Belmira was engaged at that moment, but that she would soon see him. The servant requested him to step up into the drawing-room.25
“Come, Amy,” said Mr. Halzingler, opening the carriage-door, “this is the school-house. Will you get out?”
Amy replied by bursting into tears.
“Amy,” said her father, sternly, “I do not wish to make a scene here, but, mark my word, if you do not get out immediately, I shall drag you out and give you a good whipping besides.”
knowing that her father would keep his word, obeyed. They ascended the stairs to the drawing-room. Madame Belmira was there awaiting their appearance.
“This is my daughter,” said Mr. Halzingler to the teacher, a tall, over-dressed female. “You received the note I sent you yesterday did you not?”
“Oui, monsieur,” replied the lady with a bow.
“Your terms suit me, and I, as you see, have brought my daughter here.”
“Speak English,” said Mr. Halzingler, “I wish my daughter to hear every word you say.”
“She is very petite—I mean little,” said Madame Belmira.
“You will teach her as fast as you can,” said Mr. Halzingler, “should she refuse to learn you must whip her.”
The lady placed her hand on Amy’s head.
“I vill do as you vish, monsieur,” she said.
“Your terms are one thousand dollars per annum,” said Mr. Halzingler; “take a little extra care with her, and I will pay you double the sum.”
“It shall be done.”
“Should I be satisfied with your school,” said Mr. Halzingler, “I will, next year, send this young lady’s two sisters here.”
A few more words passed between them, and then Mr. Halzingler, after bidding his daughter adieu, entered the carriage and drove off.
A year passed. Under the tuition of Madame Belmira, Amy improved greatly. Mr. Halzingler fulfilled his promise by sending Elizabeth and Cynthia to her school. They were so like their sister that Mr. Halzingler was glad to get rid of them, for a short time at least. He now turned his attention to Edmond; the boy was not yet able to leave the house, although he was improving daily. The best masters were engaged for him; he had but to name a thing and it was given him. Edmond was a studious youth, and nothing delighted him so much as to please his father. By-and-by his father began to love him more than he did his daughters. Mr. Halzingler always dreaded the approach of August, for it was then that his daughters came home to spend the vacation; they generally remained a month, and the father was very glad when they returned to school again. He was surprised to find that his daughters appeared to love the school more than they did their home. Ah, little did he suspect that his wife had sent Madame Belmira a letter, in which she requested her to treat the girls kindly; never to whip them; to give light lessons; to permit them to have their way in every thing; and, above all, to supply them with plenty of pocket money. Each of the young ladies had a maid to wait upon her, and every thing the daughters said or did was instantly reported to Madame Belmira.26
France claimed the honor of being the birthplace of Madame Belmira. As her parents were noble, she was, at the early age of sixteen, appointed maid of honor to the unfortunate Marie Antoinette. Here, dazzled by the splendor of the court, she hoped to pass her life. But it was not so to be. Destiny had worked her fate. She escaped the vigilance of Robespierre and came to this country. Many of her friends escaped before her. From them she received a sum which, though moderate, was yet large enough to enable her to purchase a school. In a few days she had more pupils than she could possibly accommodate. She increased her terms from two hundred to one thousand dollars. The parents paid it willingly, and Madame congratulated herself upon her prospects.
Madame Belmira attended but little to the morals of her pupils. While in France she was introduced to Voltaire; two hours’ conversation with him made her look upon “death as an eternal sleep.” Madame Belmira was, in short, an atheist, and she labored to instill her ideas into the minds of her pupils. With them she succeeded. Need we tell the reader that the three were Amy, Elizabeth, and Cynthia?
Years passed on. The beauty of the three sisters dazzled every eye. At the school they were called the “three graces.” They deserved the name, for lovelier girls never saw the sun. They were beautiful in person and feature; but, alas! not in mind. They were well educated, but beauty and education are nothing, without religion accompanies them. We love to gaze upon the rose, we admire its beautiful red, but we dare not pluck it from the parent stem, because we know that every rose conceals a thorn.
Amy was sixteen, and her two sisters were fifteen, when they received a letter from their father, requesting them to return home immediately. Their mother was ill, and she could not die without seeing them. The girls were in no haste to return; what cared they for their dying mother? To them she was a stranger; for they loved her not. Madame Belmira was obliged to entreat them to return home, and even that lady was shocked at their indifference. Tired of her entreaties, and resolved if their parent died to return to Madame Belmira immediately after the funeral, they set out for home. In two days they reached it. Their mother had died three days before, and they met the carriages returning from the funeral.
“Why did you not return home sooner?” asked Mr. Halzingler.
“Because we did not choose to,” replied Amy. “Even now I am glad that we did By delaying to return we escaped going to the funeral, and many other things.”
The father was shocked.
“Does Amy speak for you both?” he asked of his youngest daughters.
The reply was in the affirmative.
“Can it be possible that these daughters are mine?” exclaimed the father.
Amy sat down to the piano and commenced striking the keys furiously; her two sisters sat down on each side of her, and the noise they made alarmed the household.
“For Heaven’s sake, stop that!” exclaimed Mr. Halzingler.
The door opened, and Edmond entered. He greeted his sisters coldly, and then threw himself into a chair.27
“This is a pretty time to play on the piano, so soon after your mother’s funeral,” he said.
“Girls, once more I command you to cease playing,” said Mr. Halzingler.
The daughter still kept on.
Mr. Halzingler, unable to restrain his indignation, broke out—
“If you do not cease playing in one minute, I will not leave you a cent of money.”
“To whom then will you leave it?” asked Cynthia.
“To Edmond,” was the reply.
“He will divide it with us.”
“No, he will not, for I will so will it that he can not. Will you cease playing?”
“No,” was the reply.
Mr. H. seized his hat and left the room. In two hours he returned.
“I have made my will,” said he, in answer to Edmond’s inquiring look. “I could not leave my daughters penniless, so I have left three-fourths of my property to you, Edmond; the remaining one-fourth is to be equally divided between your sisters.”
“But if Edmond should die, would you make another will,” asked Amy?
“To whom then will you leave your property?”
“To my daughters, providing they behave themselves. But why ask the question? Edmond is well; look at him! Does not his cheek proclaim that he is well? He will not die. I am sure of it.”
Amy beckoned to her sisters and they all three left the room. The next morning they set out for Madame Belmira’s school, and in two days afterward they reached it.
Madame Belmira was highly pleased to see her three pupils again. She had not expected to see them again; at least not so soon. On the day before, she received a note from her nephew, a young man of twenty-two, an adventurer and roue, who informed her that he had just arrived from Paris, and that in a few days he hoped, if nothing happened, to pay his respects to her. This nephew was Madame Belmira’s favorite, indeed she regarded him more in the light of a son than a nephew. The young man informed her that he was poor, too proud to work, and ashamed to beg. Madame Belmira hoped to secure him a good match among her pupils. That night, after much deliberation, she singled out Amy as the one to whom, on his arrival, he should address himself. The next morning she requested Amy to enter her room. Amy obeyed. Madame Belmira gave her a long account of her nephew, dwelt upon his many virtues and handsome person, said that through his devotion to his king and country he had lost all his fortune, &c., and having heard of her great beauty, he was coming to offer her his hand.28
Amy meditated. She thought of being the wife of a French lord, and dazzled by the flattering description given by Madame B., she exclaimed, “If he but loves me I shall be satisfied, and will accept him.”
The next day Alphonse made his appearance, and was introduced to Amy. The latter was satisfied with his appearance, and both wished to be married immediately. To this Madame Belmira would not consent; for she had heard from her pupil about her father’s will, and she wished to delay the marriage until Mr. Halzingler was dead.
One day as Alphonse, Amy, and her two sisters were seated in the garden, the gate opened, and the postman entered. In his hand he bore a letter directed to Amy Halzingler. It was from her brother and informed her that Mr. Halzingler was very ill, and would not live long. The young man stated that his father refused to make another will except it was to leave the whole of his property to him. He requested them not to return home, for their father was greatly incensed against them, and their appearance might cause him to make another will.
With a bitter smile Amy handed the letter to her lover. After perusing it he handed it to Elizabeth, and she in return handed it to Cynthia.
For a few minutes a profound silence was maintained.
“The fool!” muttered Amy through her clenched teeth, “to write me such a letter as that, and to think, above all, that I am simple enough to believe it.”
“Then you believe that your father’s illness—”
“I believe my father to be as well as ever. We agreed to return home in three months, and my brother—perish the name!—knowing that if we returned we could get our father to change his will, has sent us this letter, hoping thereby to keep us away. That is my opinion. I need not ask my sisters if theirs is the same.”
“And yet it may be true,” said Alphonse.
“Perhaps,” was the reply. “A few days ago I wrote to a friend of mine, who resides near my father’s house, requesting her to inform me if any change took place in my father’s health. As I live, here comes the postman again!”
The postman opened the gate, and with a smile handed Amy a letter.
“I forgot to give you this,” he said.
Amy tore open the letter. The first two lines caused her to turn pale, and stepping back she leaned against a tree.
“What is it?” exclaimed Elizabeth and Cynthia, both together.
“It is true,” said Amy, recovering. “My father is ill, he will not have us come near the house, and he has altered his will.”
“In what manner?” asked Alphonse quickly.
“My God! he has left all of his property to Edmond—to my brother. I curse him,” and she fell to the ground.
Alphonse raised her in his arms and carried her to a seat. Cynthia and Elizabeth placed themselves on each side of her.
“I can scarcely believe it,” said Cynthia, taking up the letter. “This one is dated three o’clock in the afternoon; the one from my brother is dated ten o’clock, A. M., on the same day. Yes, yes, it must be true.”
Amy was now sufficiently recovered to sit up.
“I am now a beggar!” she said.29
“So are your sisters,” said Alphonse, coldly; for finding that Amy no longer had any fortune, he cared nothing for her.
“If my brother were dead,” said Amy in a strange tone, “the fortune would be ours.”
Alphonse pricked up his ears.
“Three hundred thousand dollars, divided into three parts, would give us one hundred thousand dollars each,” said Amy.
“Three hundred thousand!” said Alphonse. “I thought your father’s wealth amounted to only two hundred thousand
“My father’s farm, which originally cost him ten dollars an acre, is now worth five thousand dollars the acre, and to think it should go out of our hands by an old man’s caprice! the thought is enough to madden me. Let me look at that letter again. My friend informs me that my father can not live through the week. What we are to do must be done quickly,” said Amy.
“Ay, but what are we to do?” asked Alphonse.
“Can you not imagine? Think! if my brother were out of the way, the fortune would be ours. You are brave, are you not?” asked Amy.
Alphonse started. “Do not accuse me of egotism when I say I am. But how to make the one hundred thousand dollars, that is what I want to know.”
“Insult my brother, call him out and—shoot him. The world would call it satisfaction if he were to insult you, and you should call him out and shoot him,” said Amy.
Alphonse sank into a chair. “I dare not do it,” said he.
“Fool!” exclaimed Amy, grasping his arm, “think! by merely discharging a pistol you will gain the hand of a lovely girl, and, what is of more consequence, one hundred thousand dollars. Will you let such a chance escape you?”
“What say your sisters?” asked Alphonse. “Do they wish me to murder him?”
“Call it not murder,” said Amy. “Sisters, what say you?”
“Let him die,” was the reply.
“Will man tremble where woman leads?” asked Amy sneeringly.
“No, by heavens, no!” replied Alphonse, starting up. “I will do as you wish, even though it be the means of sending my soul to hell, and of dooming you to everlasting misery. Amy, you are worthy of being the bride of the greatest hell-hound that ever drew breath. To-day is Tuesday; on Friday, at six o’clock, your brother, Edmond Halzingler, will cease to live. He dies, I swear it, even though I have to crawl up to his bed-chamber and stab him while he is
“That need not be,” said Amy. “And now how are we to proceed?”
“Easily,” said Alphonse; “I can fall against him in the street, say it was his fault, and give him a blow; your brother will challenge me, and he will not leave the field alive.”
“But as my father is ill, my brother will not leave the house,” said Amy.
are we to proceed then?” asked Alphonse.
“If my brother were to hear that a man seduced me under the promise of marriage, he would wander all over the earth until he found him; and when he found him he would call him out and slay him if he could.”31
“Is your brother a good shot?” asked Alphonse.
“So much the better; the less risk the less danger!”
“In an hour or so, I will write to my brother and inform him that you have seduced me.”
“Good heavens! you must not mention my real name,” said Alphonse.
“Why not?” asked Amy.
“Because your brother may tell his second that I seduced his sister, and after the fight is over that second will proclaim it to the world. How will it look then to see the seducer and the seduced living together as man and wife?”
“And think you that my brother would proclaim his sister’s dishonor to the world?” asked Amy.
“He may in the heat of passion let some word slip, or he may drop the letter—at any rate, it is best not to mention my name at all.”
“Well, have it as you will. I will give you a fictitious name. I will inform him that a man by the name of Lasselles became acquainted with me a few months since; that he seduced me under the promise of marriage; that in two weeks he refused to have any further intercourse with me; that he suddenly left this place for Little Rock; that he is now staying at the Western hotel, proclaiming his conquest to every one he meets. What do you think of that?”
“Glorious!” cried Alphonse, rubbing his hands. “But go on.”
“The fool will believe the tale. He will find you out and challenge you; you, being the challenged party, will have the right of choosing the weapons and place. A sure aim, a bullet through the heart, and all is over.”
“It will be over, indeed!” said Alphonse. “One soul sent to heaven, and another one—damned forever! Oh, Amy, you would have made a fit bride for Nero.”
“Perhaps so,” said Amy. “Sisters, what think you of my plan?”
“As Alphonse says, it is glorious,” replied both.
“And now,” said Amy, “as you have all agreed upon my plan, I will go and write the letter. It will take me an hour to write it, and after that I will meet you in the drawing-room. There, Alphonse, you will relate to me tales of your sweet sunny France,—the land of the grape—of brave hearts and handsome men,—the home of Voltaire and Napoleon. ’Tis a pity that Napoleon was not born in France.”
“Ay; and ’tis a wonder to me that so small an island as Corsica could hold so great a heart,” said Alphonse. “But come, let us separate. The girls will wonder if they see us together so long. Adieu till we meet in the drawing-room.”
In an hour the fatal letter was written, and in another hour it was on its way to Little Rock.
Let us take the reader to Mr. Halzingler’s house.32
In one of the largest bedrooms of his own elegant mansion, lay the sick man. He lay with his eyes closed, and his face was so wan and pale that it looked as if Death had already placed his hand there. Kneeling beside the bed was his son Edmond. His face was buried in the bed clothes, and he was so still that one would have thought he was sleeping. The sun shone in through the open window; but what to the sick man was the beauty of the day? His thoughts were far away; he thought of his own sunny land, of his boyhood, of the many pleasant hours he had spent with his companions. “What had become of his companions?” he asked of himself: some were dead; some were dying; others were yet living. He thought of his wife, of his daughters, of his son. Before he could prevent it, a sigh burst from his lips, and a tear rolled down his cheek. Edmond sprang up.
“Are you worse, father?” he asked.
“In body, no; in mind, yes,” replied the father. “Oh, Edmond! it is a fearful thing to die! May you not feel the pangs I now feel, in your dying hour.”
“You have done nothing criminal, father,” said Edmond; “nothing that I know of.”
“My daughters! my daughters!” said the miserable man. “Had I but brought them up rightly, they would now be here to comfort their father in his dying hours. Pray for me, Edmond; pray for me!”
The door opened and the doctor entered. He advanced to the bed and felt his patient’s pulse.
“Do you feel better?” he asked.
Halzingler shook his head.
“Do you wish to sleep?” asked the doctor.
“Yes,” replied the sick man.
The doctor drew a vial from his pocket and laid it on the table.
“When he wishes to sleep give him five drops of this,” he said. “I can do nothing more; therefore, I bid you good-day,” and with a low bow he left the room.
“Pour me out five drops of the prescription,” said Mr. Halzingler.
The young man obeyed.
“Lay it on the table,” said the father. “Now, Edmond, I have that to say to you which will surprise you. I should have told it to you before, but my tongue refused its office.”
The young man seated himself in a chair by the bedside.
“Edmond,” said the father, “last year I was worth three hundred thousand dollars; to-day, I am a—beggar!”
The young man’s surprise was so great that he fell to the floor.
“Do not curse me,” said Mr. Halzingler, clasping his hands.
“Curse you!” exclaimed Edmond. “I curse you? Father, I would sooner lose my right hand than utter a single word against you that might cause regret on my dying bed.”
“Thank you, thank you, Edmond,” said the father.33
“And yet it seems strange to me that you told me not of this before,” said Edmond.
“It was but yesterday I learned that the company to whom I loaned my money became bankrupt.”
“But this farm, father?”
The young man covered his face with his hands.
“This is fearful,” he said, “I care nothing about myself, but my sisters—”
“Speak not of them,” said the father, sorrowfully. “They would not come to see their dying father—they love Madame Belmira’s school more than they do their home: let them remain there till I am dead.”
“But what will become of them?” asked Edmond.
“You can take care of them,” said the father.
“Yes; but my single arm will be unable to support them.”
“Give me the draught,” said the father. “I will converse no more. Let welcome sleep but visit my eyelids and I care not if I wake no more.”
And he drained the glass to the bottom.
In five minutes, he was fast asleep. Edmond threw himself into a chair, and covered his face with his hands.
Hours passed on. The sun sank in the west, and soon night spread her broad curtain over the earth. One by one the stars shone out, and soon the moon came out in all her splendor. It was a beautiful evening: all was calm and motionless, and all nature appeared to be worshiping God, that great and supreme maker of this wide universe. But the beauty of the evening was unheeded by the dying father, and though the moon shone full upon Edmond’s face, he knew it not, for he was fast asleep.
Suddenly Mr. Halzingler awoke. A cold sweat covered his brow, and he found it impossible to lift his hand to his head. He looked about the room, and saw Edmond seated in a chair close to the bed.
“Edmond!” said the father, scarcely daring to raise his voice above a whisper. “Edmond!”
The young man heard him not.
“Edmond!” whispered the father again; “my son, my son!”
This time the young man heard him. He started up and leaned over his dying father.
“I—I—death is near me!” said Mr. Halzingler, in a scarcely audible tone.
Greatly alarmed, the young man sprung to the door.
“Remain,” said the father, “the doctor would be of no use.”
Edmond returned to the bedside.
“An hour more and I shall be dead!” said the
Edmond uttered a groan.
“Light the lamp,” said the father in as calm a voice as he could assume.
“Suffer me to draw the curtain, so that the lamp will not affect you,” he said.
“Let the curtain remain as it is. Bring the writing-desk to the bed.”34
The young man did as he desired.
“Now write to your sisters,” said Mr. Halzingler. “Tell them that by the time they receive the letter, I shall be no more; tell them that I forgive them: tell them about the loss of the—fortune! Have you finished?”
“Tell them to love God: He will watch over them and see that they want not bread.”
“It is done.”
“Tell them to go to their uncle’s; he will take care of them for a short time, at least.”
“I have done so.”
“Give them my love. I wish I could sign it; but I can not.”
“My name will do as well,” said the young man; and he signed the letter.
“Put the letter into the post-office,” said Mr. Halzingler. “The letter must be on its way to them before I’m dead.”
Edmond rang a bell. In a few moments the door opened and a servant entered.
“Take this letter to the post-office,” said Edmond. “Has the postman been here to-day?”
“Yes,” replied the servant. “He brought but one letter, and I guess by the hand-writing, that it is from your sister Amy. Here it is.”
Edward pointed to the door. The servant bowed, and left the room.
“Read it,” said Mr. Halzingler.
The young man tore open the letter and read it from beginning to end. The letter was from Amy, and as our readers are acquainted with the contents we need not repeat them here.
“Good God!” exclaimed the father, “my daughter seduced! It is false; it can not be true! some enemy of hers has written it!”
Edmond suffered the letter to fall to the floor, and slowly sank upon his knees beside the bed.
“Edmond, Edmond!” exclaimed the father, “do you believe that letter to be written by Amy?”
“Yes,” was the reply.
“I—I can not believe you!”
“You are acquainted with her hand-writing,—look!” and snatching up the letter, he held it before his father’s face.
“My son,” said the father, “tell Amy that I died cursing her.”
“No, no, father!” exclaimed the young man. “Take back that word; you do not mean it, I’m sure you do not!”
“Tell Amy,” said the father, his voice growing fainter and fainter, “Tell Amy that I died curs——”
His head fell back; his eyes closed: he was dead!
For an instant the son gazed upon his father’s body in speechless terror.
“He is dead!” he exclaimed, sinking into a chair.
For a few minutes he remained motionless; then, starting up, he lay his hand on his father’s body.
“Great God, hear my oath!” he exclaimed. “I swear, upon my father’s body to follow the seducer of my sister from place to place, to 35 the end of the earth, and to wreak a deadly vengeance upon him, or perish in the attempt! I swear it! and I ask of thee, O God! the avenger of blood, to lend me thy aid in avenging my sister’s honor!” and, casting a last look at his father’s body, he staggered from the room, and ascended the stairs to the hall.
“Wilson?” said he to one of the servants, “tell the coachman to bring the carriage to the door.”
In a few minutes the carriage drove up and Edmond entered it.
“Where to?” asked the coachman.
“To Travis’ pistol gallery,” was the reply.
The coachman, although somewhat surprised, uttered not a word. Grasping the whip, he gave the horses several severe “cuts;” and they darted forward with lightning speed, and in an hour reached the pistol gallery. Edmond got out.
“You need not remain here,” he said to the coachman. “It is now ten o’clock; at day-break you may return,” and he ascended the steps.
“Where is Travis?” he asked of the servant who opened the
“In the gallery,” was the reply.
“Is there any one with him?”
“Yes, about a dozen persons.”
“Tell him to send them away, and to lock up all the doors leading into the street.”
The servant left him; but soon returned, accompanied by a tall, slim man, about thirty years of age. This was Daniel Travis, the keeper of the gallery.
“Ah! Edmond, I am delighted to see you!” said Travis, shaking his hand. “But what is this my nigger tells me about closing the door?”
“Read this! I can rely on your secresy,” said Edmond, as he handed him the letter which he had received from Amy.
Travis read the letter. As he did so, his face flushed with anger, and he half drew a bowie-knife which he carried in his belt.
“The villain!” he exclaimed as he finished. “I know now what you want me to shut up shop for: you wish to practice with the pistol. ’Tis a pity you did not take my advice, some time ago, about practicing with the pistol. Well, well! it can’t be helped now. I will clear the gallery for you, and, perhaps, in a few hours you may snuff a candle at ten feet.”
“I can try,” said Edmond.
“Ay, try: there’s nothing like trying. Remain here till I send for you;” and Travis left the room.
In a few minutes the servant requested Edmond to enter the gallery.
For three hours, Edmond practiced with the pistol; but it was of no use: his arm trembled so that the bullets flew wide of the mark. He flung down the pistol in despair.
“I think you would succeed better if you would lie down and sleep a few hours,” said Travis.
“Perhaps so,” said Edward; “but I can not sleep.”
“A little of my Turkish tobacco will make you sleep soon enough,” said Travis; “nay, more: it will make your mind wander from earth to heaven. Opium is a powerful and fatal drug to those who use it internally, and it is only those that smoke it who know its value.”36
“But if I should not be able to hit the mark when I wake up, what then?” asked Edmond.
“Then you will leave the pistol alone, and attack him with the bowie-knife.”
“But he has the choice of weapons,” said Edmond.
“Because I shall challenge him. My mind tells me he will choose pistols.”
Travis appeared puzzled.
“Ah! I have it,” he exclaimed, “I will insult him: he will send me a challenge, and I will shoot him!”
“It must not be,” said Edmond. “He must fall by my hand. It seems as if my hand is growing steadier. Hand me the pistol.”
Travis loaded the pistol and handed it to him.
“Raise the pistol slowly,” said Travis. “Take aim—”
The report which followed drowned his voice.
“By heavens! you have hit the mark!” exclaimed Travis. “Try again;” and after he had loaded the pistol he handed it to him.
Ten times out of twelve, the young man hit the mark.
“Good!” exclaimed Travis. “Do not try any more now, or you will be too confident.”
“Where does the letter say Lasselles is staying?”
“At the Western hotel.”
“Good; the Western hotel is but three blocks from here,” said Travis. “Come, let us go there now.”
“But it is too late,” said Edmond.
“That is nothing,” said Travis. “There is a ball there to-night, and Lasselles will no doubt spend the night in dancing.”
“Have it as you will,” said Edmond.
“And as I always like to have these things over as quickly as possible,” said Travis, “I will try and make him fight you within an hour.”
“If I do not meet him soon I shall go mad,” said the brother.
“To be prepared for every thing, we will charge these pistols and take them with us. Do you carry a bowie-knife?”
“No,” replied the young man.
Travis looked surprised.
“I never go out without one,” he said. “Look at this one, isn’t it enough to make a fellow turn pale, the very sight of it?”
“As Col. Crockett would say, ‘it makes a fellow feel squeamish all over,’” said Edmond, now smiling for the first time.
“This knife,” said Travis, “was once owned by Col. James Bowie. There are some historical reminiscences connected with it, but I have not time to repeat them here. Bowie was, as you know, slain at the Alamo. A few days after the fall of that place, I took a trip there, and found this knife in a Mexican’s throat, driven there by Bowie. Close beside him, with one hand on the handle of this knife, lay a headless body. The letters J. B. on the right hand told me that it was Bowie. Poor fellow, I knew him well. He is dead now, and ‘we ne’er shall look upon his like again.’”
“Was Col. Travis any relation to ,” asked Edmond.37
“He was my uncle,” was the reply. “Don’t ask me any questions about him, for it makes me feel sad whenever I think of him.”
“Let us go to the Western hotel,” said Edmond, as he placed the pistols in his pockets.
“Come,” said Travis; and arm in arm they left the house.
The clock was just striking the hour of two when Travis and Edmond entered the bar-room of the Western hotel. A number of men with uncovered heads stood around the bar, joking and laughing with each other. The men greeted Travis’ appearance with a shout of welcome.
“How is the ball getting on,” asked Travis.
“First-rate,” replied one of the men. “I do believe that every handsome girl in the city is there. Halloo! Edmond, how do you do? You look pale and thin, lad; are you ill?”
“Perfectly well, thank you,” replied Edmond.
“Are there any strangers in the ball-room?” asked Travis.
“A great many.”
“Shut that door,” said Travis; then, turning to the book-keeper, he asked, “Is there a man here by the name of Lasselles?”
“Yes; we were just talking about him,” replied the book-keeper. “Do you wish to see him?”
“He is in the ball-room. Shall I send one of the servants for him?”
“No,” said Edmond. “Send one of the servants with us to find him out. Stay; has he any peculiarity about him by which we can distinguish him from the rest?”
“Yes, and we were just talking about it. He wears a ribbon twisted up in a strange manner, with a medal in the center.”
“Ah, then we shall not need the aid of the servant,” said Edmond.
“What do you want of him?” asked the book-keeper.
Edmond made no reply, but moved toward the door.
“Don’t ask him any questions,” said Travis. “All of you slip round to the front door and enter the ball-room. We may need your aid.”
“Are you going with me?” asked Edmond.
“Certainly,” replied Travis; and both left the room.
As they approached the ball-room, they heard the sound of violins and of people dancing. Travis laid his hand on Edmond’s arm.
“If you should fail to kill him, and he should kill you, you may die content, for I will avenge you,” he said.
“Thanks, thanks,” said Edmond.
They were now at the door of the ball-room.
“Ten dollars, gentlemen, if you please,” said the door-keeper.
“I will pay the money to-morrow,” said Travis; and they entered.38
Now it happened that the moment they entered, the music stopped playing and the dancing ceased. There was an intermission of a quarter of an hour between each dance. At the moment Travis and Edmond entered, the dancers were gathering in little knots, and conversing about the “new arrivals” in the city. Both glanced keenly up and down the room, for neither could see any thing of
“Do you see him?” asked Edmond of Travis.
“No,” was the reply.
Both moved toward the center of the room.
“I wish the music would strike up,” said Travis, “then we might discover him.”
The quarter hour soon passed.
“Ladies and gentlemen, prepare,” said the leader of the orchestra.
The groups separated.
“By heavens!” exclaimed Travis in a loud voice, “I see him!”
The exclamation caused all eyes to turn toward him.
“Where?” asked Edmond, eagerly.
“There,” said Travis, walking forward and confronting Alphonse, who, at the moment, was conversing with one of the beauties of the city.
“Is your name Lasselles?” asked Travis, keeping Edmond back with his hand.
“That is my name,” said Alphonse, looking up.
“This gentleman wishes to see you on particular business,” said Travis, releasing his hold on Edmond, and moving a little back.
“What is your business with me?” asked Alphonse, whose pallid cheek plainly told he suspected that the young man was Edmond, and the questioner was his second.
“I can not say what I wish here!” said Edmond.
“And I do not wish to leave the room,” said Alphonse. “I will see you in the morning.”
“Then you refuse to leave the room?”
“Then, sir,” said Edmond, “I will state my business aloud.”
“If you wish—yes,” said Alphonse.
“You will regret it!”
“Perhaps not,” was the reply.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” said Edmond, “this man won the affections of my sister Amy. Under a promise of marriage he seduced her; and, in a fortnight, deserted her. The news of her shame killed my father; and I, a brother, have come here, not to ask him to repair his wrong, by marrying her,—no! I have come here to kill him.”
“And I am ready to give you satisfaction,” said Alphonse. “I’ll give you leave to name the time and place, and, as the challenged party, I’ll choose the weapons.”
“Our meeting will take place here—at this moment!” said Edmond, throwing off his coat.
“So soon!” said Alphonse, starting back.
“Yes. Do you choose swords or pistols?”
“I—I can not fight you so soon!” said Alphonse.
“You must!” was the reply. “Come! name your weapons.”40
Finding there was no escape, Alphonse chose pistols. The ladies all left the room, while the gentlemen, anxious to see the result of so unexpected a scene, remained.
“Are these pistols loaded?” said Alphonse, as Edmond extended the pair to him.
“Yes,” was the reply. “Mark out ten paces.”
The distance was marked out, and the combatants took their positions. Travis warned Edmond to take careful aim, and assured him if he was wounded, he would have instant revenge.
“If I fall,” said Edmond, “write to my sisters and tell them that their father is dead.”
Travis assured him he would, and commanded the two to prepare.
Before Travis could give the word “fire,” Alphonse discharged his pistol, and Edmond sank to the floor.
Drawing a bowie-knife, Travis, with one spring, reached Alphonse. In another moment he had felled him to the floor—dead!
“Are you severely wounded,” he asked, walking up to Edmond, who now lay bleeding, scarcely able to answer from weakness.
“Yes; my wound is a mortal one,” replied Edmond.
“Die content—Alphonse now lies dead; I have avenged your wrong.”
A sudden pang shot across the young man’s brow. He attempted to rise, but could not.
“Good-by, Travis!” said he, reaching out his hand; but before Travis could clasp it, the young man was no more.
Two days have now passed since the conclusion of our last chapter. In one of the drawing-rooms of Madame Belmira’s house were seated the three sisters, conversing, when the postman drove up. All ran to the door.
“A letter for Miss Amy Halzingler,” shouted the postman.
Amy snatched the letter, and ran into the house. She broke the seal, and read aloud:
“‘Ere you receive this, father will be dead! He sends his forgiveness!’ What for? we have done nothing. ‘The company to whom father loaned his money failed yesterday! The farm is mortgaged, and we are worth nothing!’”
“Oh, horror! horror!” exclaimed Cynthia, falling to the floor.
“By this time, Alphonse has called my brother out, and murdered him!” exclaimed Amy. “Of what use will his death be to us, when my father died a bankrupt?” and she covered her face with her hands.
The servant entered the room with the evening papers, and laid them on the table. As he left the room, Madame Belmira snatched up the 41 Little Rock Gazette, and opened it. Her eye fell upon a paragraph in large type, and she read in a rapid voice:
“‘Last evening, a duel took place between a young gentleman named Edmond Halzingler and a man supposed to be from , named Lasselles. The duel took place in the ball-room of the Western Hotel. Lasselles fired before the word was given, and Halzingler fell mortally wounded. Indignant at this, Mr. Travis sprang upon Lasselles, and killed him with his bowie-knife. More of the affair will be found in another column.’”
The shock was so great, Madame Belmira was thrown into a severe illness. When she rose again, it was discovered her reason had fled.
The girls, now friendless, immediately packed up their baggage, and departed, leaving no tidings of their intended stopping-place.
On the twenty-first of July, 1853, the good ship Independence, Capt. Balshar, after a long and tedious voyage from New York arrived at San Francisco. Among the passengers were three girls of such remarkable beauty that they immediately attracted the attention of every one in the city. Who they were, and what they had come for, were questions that no one could answer. They immediately engaged apartments at the largest hotel, ordered the landlord to purchase for them the handsomest pair of horses, and carriage, in the city, and to send them the best milliners and dress-makers. As their appearance was respectable, the landlord obeyed, and before night closed in, the sisters were riding about the city. When they appeared at the table, a buzz of admiration ran through the room. To the numerous attentions paid them, they simply bowed. They spoke to none but themselves, and it was particularly noticed that during the whole time they were eating, not a smile appeared on their faces. When supper was over they left the room. The mystery which overhung them puzzled all, and numerous questions were addressed to those who had come in the same ship with them.
“By heavens!” exclaimed a young man who sat at the lower end of the table, “I have seen many of earth’s fairest flowers; but I must confess that these girls beat all.”
“I say, Moreland,” said a man next to him, who appeared to be somewhat intoxicated, “suppose we get the landlord to introduce us to them.”
“Here comes the landlord now,” said Moreland, as a stout, good-humored looking gentleman approached. Moreland raised his finger and beckoned him to approach.
“What is it?” he asked; “some deviltry, I’ll bet.”
“You are right,” said Waffle. “Who are those three girls that dined with us?”
The landlord burst into a loud laugh.42
“Excuse me, gentlemen, but I could not help laughing,” he said. “The same question has been asked of me at least one hundred times within the last five minutes.”
“And what answer did you return?” asked Moreland.
“The same I now make you: of the young ladies all I know is that their name is Wilson, and that they engaged their passage in the Independence at New York.”
“Landlord,” said Moreland, “I wish you to introduce me to the Misses Wilsons.”
“And me too,” said Waffle, quickly.
“What, eh? introduce you! Why, I do not know them myself.”
By persuasion, however, the landlord at length consented.
Let us take the reader to the Misses Wilson’s room.
At a small marble-top table were seated the three ladies. We need not tell our readers that their real names were Amy, Elizabeth and Cynthia Halzingler.
“Have you put the cards in the drawer?” asked Amy.
“Lay the marked pack on the table,” said Amy. “We may probably have visitors this evening, and we may as well be prepared for them.”
Hardly had she finished speaking, when the door opened and the landlord entered.
“I beg your pardon for intruding,” he said, with a low bow, “but two gentlemen wished me to introduce them to you and—”
The landlord hesitated.
“And you could not refuse them,” said Amy. “Show them in.”
The landlord went to the door and opened it.
“Enter,” he said; and our two friends, Moreland and Waffle, entered.
“This is Mr. Moreland,” said the landlord, “and this is Mr. Waffle. Gentlemen, the Misses Wilsons, from New York.”
The two gentlemen bowed.
“We hope we do not intrude,” said Moreland.
“No, far from it,” replied Amy. “Take seats.”
The landlord smiled, and left the room.
Moreland observed the cards.
“Ladies,” said he, “suppose we have a game of cards.”
“What do you say, sisters!” asked Amy with an almost imperceptible sign.
“Yes, let us have a game of cards,” replied both.
“Shall we play for money?” asked Moreland.
“Yes,” said Amy; “it will make the game the more exciting.”
The gentlemen drew their chairs up to the table.
“Wine was formerly the nectar of the gods,” observed Amy.
Moreland took the hint and rang the bell. When the servant appeared he ordered several bottles of the best wine. In a few minutes it was brought them.
“And now for a game of cards,” said Amy, drawing out a purse.
“There are five of us; let the stakes be two thousand each, ten thousand altogether;” and she laid down several bank-notes. “Take a glass of wine, Mr. Moreland.”43
“Let us increase the stakes to twenty thousand dollars,” said Moreland, on whom the wine was making an impression.
“Have it as you will,” said Amy, quietly.
Maddened at their repeated losses, the two men played deeper and deeper. Four bottles of wine were emptied, and they ordered four more.
At ten they were losers to the amount of two hundred thousand dollars.
“What a fool I was to come here at all,” he said.
“Drink, drink!” exclaimed Amy, filling another glass and handing it to him. “How like you that? Is not wine a glorious drink! and was not Bacchus a jolly old fellow?”
“Let this be our last game,” said Moreland, laying his pocket-book on the table. “There are now two hundred and fifty thousand dollars. If I should lose, to-morrow’s sun will rise upon my corpse.”
Ten minutes passed. Moreland and Waffle rose from the table. The earnings of three years were lost in a single night. Without addressing a word to either of the sisters, they left the room and descended the stairs. In a few minutes they were on their way to the river.
“Moreland,” said Waffle, as they stood on one of the piers, “I know what you are thinking of. A few struggles and all will be over.”
“We have wandered over the world hand in hand,” said Moreland; “it is a pity that such firm friends should be separated by death.”
“Death shall not separate us,” said Waffle, throwing his arms around his neck. “Keep a tight hold, Moreland. Now then!”
One leap and they were in the river. A few struggles and the dark waters closed over them forever.
Let us return to the three sisters.
Shortly after the two men left the room, the landlord entered, accompanied by several gentlemen. Amy engaged them at cards, and they rose losers to an immense amount. As they left the room, the sisters burst into a merry laugh.—
“This is a glorious work!” exclaimed Amy. “Five hundred thousand dollars in a single night! We can leave California if we wish, to-morrow.”
Again the landlord entered. He was accompanied by a tall, dark looking man, armed to the teeth; he carried his cloak in such a way that but little of his face could be seen.
“This gentleman wishes to see you,” said the landlord. “Your name?”
Without removing his cloak the man replied, “Senor Costello.”
“Bring us a bottle of champagne,” said Amy.
The landlord bowed and left the room.
As he disappeared, the man threw off his cloak and seated himself.
“You play at cards, I perceive,” he said. “Come, let us have a game;” and he took up the pack. Suddenly he started, and smiled.
The door opened and the landlord entered. Costello turned his back upon him, but not so quickly as to prevent the landlord catching a glimpse of his features.
“Lady,” whispered the landlord, as he laid the bottle on the table, “do not play cards with that man. He is the greatest gambler in the state. Beware of him!” and he left the room.
“Now for a game of cards,” said Costello, again taking up the pack.
“We do not wish to play now,” said Amy.44
“Come, you shall play,” said Costello.
“I will not,” said Amy. “Do you think yourself master
“I do,” was the instant reply. “A word from me and you will be hanged on the nearest tree. These cards are marked.”
“That word will never pass your lips,” said Amy. “What is that?” and she pointed to the wall.
The gambler turned his head. With tiger-like leaps the three sisters sprang upon him and buried their knives into his heart. The gambler raised his arm as if to ward off the weapons, and then fell dead upon the floor.
“What shall we do with the body?” asked Amy, casting a look of apprehension towards the door, for she was afraid that the landlord would return.
“Conceal it behind the sofa,” replied Elizabeth.
“Yes, that will do,” said Amy; and after rifling the pockets they rolled the body up in the cloak, and then pushed it under the sofa. They had hardly time to arrange their dresses when the landlord returned.
“Where is the gambler,” he asked, looking round.
“He left us when he discovered that we were acquainted with his real character,” replied Amy.
After the landlord had left the room, the sisters consulted together, and resolved to leave the place the following morning. They spent the remainder of the night in packing up their money. Very early in the morning they left the house, and engaged passage in the ship Caroline. At noon she sailed, and after a remarkably short passage arrived at the Isthmus.
In crossing the Isthmus, the three sisters were seized by a band of robbers known as the “Denums,” and robbed of every thing. After many insults, they were released, and after a weary walk of many miles, they arrived at Chagres. Here their forlorn condition excited so much pity that the inhabitants made up a purse for them, and paid their passage to New York. They reached that city the latter part of January, 1854. Here they engaged rooms at the Astor House, and sent a letter to their Uncle Edmonds, who resided in Elizabethtown, Arkansas.
In a few days they received an answer from their uncle, requesting them to come and live with his family. He also sent them a sum of money to defray their expenses on the way. In three weeks they reached Elizabethtown, which they were never more to leave.45
Mr. Edmonds’ family consisted of seven persons: himself, wife, two sons, and three daughters; though a rich man, he kept but two servants. The family received the three sisters joyfully, and did every thing to make them comfortable. Two days after their arrival, Mr. Edmonds discharged the two servants, saying that since his family was so increased, he could not afford to keep them. It was then the sisters discovered that their uncle was almost a miser. He gave them no money, and made them work like slaves, from morning to night. One day, having been obliged to work harder than usual, the sisters threw down their things and left the house. They walked toward the wood, and did not address a word to each other until they had reached it. Then throwing themselves upon the grass, Amy spoke:
“Sisters,” she exclaimed, “what a strange life is ours. Some years ago we were worth a hundred thousand dollars; last year we were worth a million; to-day we have not a farthing to call our own. Unless something turns up, we are doomed to pass our lives like slaves in the corn-field.”
“Curses on him!” exclaimed Cynthia, alluding to Mr. Edmonds.
“Curses are valueless,” said Elizabeth. “Let us act.”
“How?” asked Amy and Cynthia together.
“Our uncle is rich—very rich,” said Elizabeth.
“Ah, yes, we knew that,” said Amy.
“If our cousins died, we should be heirs to his property.”
Amy and Cynthia looked at each other.
“And if our uncle and aunt were put out of the way,” continued Elizabeth, “we should be rich once more.”
“To kill them is easy,” said Amy; “but how are we to ward off suspicion from us?”
“Who will suspect three girls like us of so fearful a deed?” replied Elizabeth.
“Ah, true, true.”
“We have decided to kill them?”
The sisters then proceeded to make up a plot, the bare mention of which fills us with horror. Their uncle had formerly been a dentist, and in one of his trunks was a bottle of chloroform. To possess this, was the girls’ first object. They intended first, to stupify their victims with the chloroform, and then to murder them. Their diabolical plan, we regret to say it, succeeded.
The next evening at midnight, the three sisters armed themselves and proceeded up the stairs. The first room they entered was that of Mr. Edmond’s two sons, neither of whom had reached his eighth year. The night being very warm, the two boys remained awake longer than usual. As the visitors entered, they raised their heads and looked at them with astonishment. The three sisters walked to the bed and knelt down beside it. Turning round so that the boys could not see her, Amy poured a few drops of chloroform on her handkerchief, and then motioned Cynthia to do 47 the same. Then turning suddenly, they dashed the handkerchief into the boys’ faces, and as they sank back they drew their knives across their throats.
The sisters then proceeded up the stairs to where Mr. Edmonds’ three daughters lay sleeping. Here the chloroform was not needed, for the sisters were lying fast asleep. To make sure of their victims, they first drew their knives across their throats, and then plunged the weapon through their hearts. And now came, what to them was the hardest part of all.
While these murders were being committed, a party of six men were forcing open the front door. This they performed so noiselessly that the sisters heard them not. Creeping softly up the stairs they entered the room in which the brothers lay weltering in their blood. An exclamation of horror broke from the men. After conversing in whispers a few moments, they ascended the next flight of stairs, and entered the sisters’ room. Imagine their horror when they discovered that they too had been murdered.
“Who has done this?” asked one of the men.
“That we’ll soon know,” said another. “Let’s see where this hall leads to.”
Let us follow the sisters.
On reaching the door of the room in which Mr. Edmonds and his wife lay, Cynthia hung back. Determined to finish the bloody work, Amy and Elizabeth entered the room. Mr. Edmonds and his wife were sleeping soundly. The sisters held their handkerchiefs over Mrs. Edmonds’ face, and then cut her throat. They had scarcely done this when Mr. Edmonds awoke. On seeing the sisters, he uttered an exclamation of astonishment. The sound had scarcely died away when Amy plunged her dagger into his heart.
“Murder! help! help!” cried Mr. Edmonds. Amy raised her dagger, and again plunged it into him. Heavy footsteps were heard coming along the hall, and in another moment the door was flung open, and Cynthia, followed by six men, entered the room.
“These are the girls who called themselves the Misses Wilsons,” said one of the men. It was the landlord at whose hotel the sisters boarded while in San Francisco. “I arrest you on the charge of murdering Lem Smith, the gambler; also, of murdering those persons in that bed, and five young people down stairs.”
In an hour the sisters were safely lodged in prison. In two months they were tried and condemned to be executed, Nov. 30,48
We have not time here to give an account of how the sisters spent their time in prison. Let it suffice for us to say, that they sincerely repented of their many crimes, and that when the fatal day arrived, they were prepared to meet their God.
When they stood on the scaffold, the sheriff approached and asked them if they had any thing to say. Amy bowed her head, and stepping to the edge of the scaffold, spoke as follows:
“I have a few words to say before I leave this world. I wish to point out the rock upon which I and my two sisters were wrecked. If it but saves a single soul from destruction I shall be satisfied. Pride is the rock upon which we were wrecked. We were too proud to obey our father, too proud to work, too proud to learn. Ah! see what it has brought us to. Oh! how fearful it would be, were we unprepared to meet our God. But we are prepared. Oh, men! some of you have daughters whom you love more than you do yourselves: if you would have them remain as pure as they were at their birth, through their lives, teach them Religion! Oh! had our parents but taught us to love and fear God, we should not now be here. Fathers! mothers! think what a fearful responsibility rests with you! You are accountable to God for the souls of your children. You have it in your power to make your children happy forever, or to damn them to everlasting misery! You may fail in all other things, but, oh! fail not, I conjure you, to bring up your children to fear God!
“My friends, we were once children; we were once as happy as any human being can be. Little did we think when we roamed the woods that we should ever come to such a fate as this. Oh, how much better, far better it would have been had we but died in our youth; how many lives might have been spared, had God but taken us when we were young, how many—”
She paused. For a few moments her emotion would not permit her to speak. At length, dashing the tears from her eyes, and gazing sadly at the fearful instrument of death, she stretched out her hands and again addressed the multitude:
“Friends, in a few minutes, we shall stand before the judgment-seat of God; in a few minutes we shall meet our victims face to face; in a few minutes we shall cross the dark valley of the shadow of death; in a few minutes we shall know where we are to spend eternity! And yet, were life offered us we would not accept of it. We have no wish to live; earth has no charms for us now. God gave us life, not that we might sin against Him. He gave us life that we might do good to our fellow-creatures,—that we might teach them the path to Heaven. Have we done so? I need not ask the question. The many crimes for which we are about to suffer, reply that we have not.”
Again she paused, and the tears that rolled down her cheeks, showed that she was indeed truly repentant. The sheriff approached.
“Your time has expired,” he said.
“And I have not said all I wish,” said Amy, sadly.
“Let her speak! let her speak!” shouted the crowd.49
The sheriff stepped back, and Amy again spoke:
“Friends, life may be likened unto a river. At first it is a little bubbling brook dancing merrily on beneath the shadows of the trees, neither caring nor thinking of the way it is going. Soon it grows larger and larger, increasing in size until it becomes a mighty river, and then with a roaring noise it dashes onward, and at last empties into the ocean. Is not life like that view? the ocean it empties into, is the ocean of eternity; the roaring noise is conscience; and when at—”
“Come, come,” said the sheriff, “you have spoken ten minutes past your time, and I can’t be kept waiting here all day.”
On hearing this brutal speech, the crowd uttered a loud shout, and in spite of all the vigilance committee could do to prevent them, they pressed up closely to the scaffold. The sheriff turned pale as well he might, for in the hands of many persons were bowie-knives and revolvers.
“Seek to interrupt her again, and you’ll repent it!” shouted several persons.
The sheriff again stepped back.
Amy again spoke:
“I have not much more to say,” she said. “From what I have said I do not wish you to blame my parents for the sins we have committed. If you blame any one, blame Madame Belmira. Her teachings made us what we are. And here let me warn all parents never to send their sons and daughters to boarding-schools without knowing the character of those to whom they are to leave their children in charge. Much depends upon the impressions which children receive in early life. Let them associate with those who rail and scoff at religion, and who think nothing of the Sabbath, and you can tell what their fate will be. Let your children associate with those who do not scoff at religion, who do not break the Sabbath, who fear God and love him; let them associate with such persons as these, and, believe me, my friends, you will never regret it. Future generations will revere your memory with respect; and when dying, you can lay your hand upon your heart and say, ‘I thank God that I have done my duty.’
“Friends! I have now said all I wish. Never I beseech you, let my words be forgotten while you live in this world. When you return to your homes, your children, eager with curiosity, will ask how the three sisters met their fate. When you relate how they died, forget not to add an account of their last words. Tell them that if they had obeyed their parents when young, they would not have perished in so fearful a manner. Tell them to read the Bible, practice its teachings, to attend the Sabbath school, and to obey their parents in all things. Tell them to curb the rising passions of their youth, and never to go to bed without kneeling to their Heavenly Father, and praying him to forgive them for the many sins committed throughout the day. Tell them to remember that God’s eye is upon them always; that He seeth in the night, as well as in the day. Tell them of our dreadful crimes, of our dreadful punishment, and of the agony you would be in, were you to see them standing in the situation you now see us, just ready to be launched into eternity. Tell them all this, I again beseech you. I can say no more. Death is waiting for us now, and he is eager to clasp us in his embrace. Friends, I now bid you, one and all, a last farewell!”50
A loud shout now burst from the excited crowd as Amy concluded her speech. Each of the sisters then took an affectionate leave of their minister and the sheriff. The ropes were then adjusted to their necks, and in a few moments, Amy, Elizabeth and Cynthia Halzingler were no more. Many persons were seen to wipe the tears from their eyes, and, as the bodies of the sisters swung to and fro, they turned away and proceeded to their several homes.
Reader! shall we not learn a lesson which shall last us while we live, from the fate of the three sisters? Is not their experience a warning to our fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, and to us? Let us at all times be as truly repentant as were the three sisters upon the scaffold. Let us hope that they are now in Heaven!
ARTHUR R. ORTON,
IS CONSTANTLY PUBLISHING IN
BALTIMORE, PHILADELPHIA, NEW YORK & BUFFALO,
RARE AND CHEAP BOOKS!
Expressly for Traveling Agents
To Canvass every City, Town, and Village, in the United States and .
ENTERPRISING YOUNG MEN
With a Capital of $25 to commence with, will be placed on good Routes, and
insured to make
THREE HUNDRED DOLLARS PER YEAR!
☞ One Hundred AGENTS wanted immediately. ☜
All Orders and Communications should be addressed, post-paid, to
A. R. ORTON
No. 113 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, Pa.
or, 161 Main St., Buffalo, N. Y.
King & Baird, Prs. No. 9 Sansom St. Phila.ia.
CONSISTING OF SEVEN MEMBERS TOGETHER; WITH THE SPEECH
[It is possible that the semicolon got misplaced, and really belongs before the word “together”.]
[The cover and copyright page both say 1855, though 1856 fits better with the putative dated events.]
Mr. Halzingler sold his shoes for ten times the amount
[Never let it be said that A. R. Orton, publisher, wasted his money on pointless frills such as copy-editing. Here a share, there a shoe.]
They were named Elizabeth and Cynthia, after their mother, whose name was Elizabeth Cynthia Halzingler.
[A century later, German writer Erich Kästner had the same idea: a woman named Luiselotte named her twin daughters Luise and Lotte, yielding Das Doppelte Lottchen. You may know it as The Parent Trap.]
Mr. Halzingler and his wife
[The last word in the line is invisible, but “wife” is the right size.]
were proud; they were descended from ancient and noble families, and
[Again, the word “and” is the right size for the empty space.]
reached the winning-post a horse, length in advance of the other
[See above about copy editing. The words “horse,/length” come at a line break; the comma is presumably an error for a hyphen.]
they . . . thought that their son would never be able to leave the house again. As usual the doctor’s opinion differed from theirs
[Has the author never read a book? It’s supposed to be the doctor who says the child will be crippled for life, while the loving parents refuse to accept his verdict.]
Her mother had never spoken to her in that done
text unchanged: error for tone
Amy, knowing that her father would keep his word, obeyed.
text has “Amy, with superfluous open quote
I vill do as you vish, monsieur
[Mme. Belmira may have convinced Mr. Halzingler that she is French, but she is not fooling anyone else.]
A year passed. . . . the boy was not yet able to leave the house
[Even if all the events of Chapter I happened within a few action-packed months, Edmond has to be at least five or six years older than his sister. Amy was sent to school at age eight, so she is now nine. The riding accident happened when Edmond was ten, after which he was housebound for four years. Shouldn’t he be up and about by now?]
With them she succeeded. Need we tell the reader that the three were
[The author may have meant to say “With three of them she succeeded”.]
“Even now I am glad that we did not. By delaying to return we escaped going to the funeral, and many other things.”
text has not.” with superfluous close quote
“But if Edmond should die, would you make another will,” asked Amy?
an adventurer and roue
[He means roué, but perhaps the budget did not run to acute accents.]
“Three hundred thousand dollars, divided into three parts, would give us one hundred thousand dollars each,” said Amy.
[Well done, Madame Belmira! After only eight years at boarding school, Amy is able to divide 300,000 by three without resorting to pencil and paper.]
“I thought your father’s wealth amounted to only two hundred thousand dollars.”
close quote missing
even though I have to crawl up to his bed-chamber and stab him while he is sleeping.”
close quote missing
“How are we to proceed then?” asked Alphonse.
open quote missing
“Is your brother a good shot?” asked Alphonse.
[The French are often credited with a surprising measure of practicality.]
Mr. Halzingler shook his head.
text has “Mr. with superfluous open quote
“An hour more and I shall be dead!” said the father.
final . missing
“Where is Travis?” he asked of the servant who opened the door.
final . missing
“Was Col. Travis any relation to you,” asked Edmond.
text has vou
“He was my uncle,” was the reply.
[He’s making this up. William Barret Travis (b. 1809) was the oldest child in his family; none of his brothers had a 30-year-old son in 1852, the latest year we can possibly be in at this point.]
“Edmond, how do you do? You look pale and thin, lad; are you ill?”
[Edmond’s father died less than 24 hours ago, so he is entitled to look a bit under the weather. His friend must not have heard the news yet, or he would instead have asked what the devil he’s doing at a public ball. I was ready to conjecture that the author has already forgotten the father’s existence, but later in the chapter we learn this is not the case.]
“Ten dollars, gentlemen, if you please,” said the door-keeper.
[Ten dollars is a pretty hefty cover charge for 1852, even if it means five dollars a person. Possibly it was inflated to allow for those who, like Travis, promised to pay tomorrow—and didn’t.]
neither could see any thing of Lasselles.
final . missing
a man supposed to be from Francis
text unchanged: error for France
On the twenty-first of July, 1853
[Our story opened in “the latter part of the year 1821”, when Edmond was five years old and Amy not yet born. In Chapters V-VI, Amy was sixteen. How much time has elapsed, and old is she now?]
“Wine was formerly the nectar of the gods,” observed Amy.
[Is there no limit to the erudition Amy acquired at Mme. Belmira’s school?]
“. . . and was not Bacchus a jolly old fellow?”
[She also seems to have picked up some schoolboy slang.]
In a few minutes they were on their way to the river.
[Uh . . . What river? They’re in San Francisco.]
Without removing his cloak the man replied, “Senor Costello.”
[Tildes were apparently as expensive as acute accents.]
“I will not,” said Amy. “Do you think yourself master here.”
[This is not the first time the book has considered question marks an optional extra.]
a band of robbers known as the “Denums”
[In 1853, A. R. Orton published “The Derienni”; or, Land pirates of the isthmus (for full title, see below). So in addition to being unable to read his own handwriting, he also had a very short memory.]
They reached [New York] the latter part of January, 1854.
[The sisters arrived in San Francisco in July 1853, and left again within a few days. The Isthmus route from San Francisco to New York took no more than two months; just how long was that weary walk?]
their Uncle Edmonds, who resided in Elizabethtown, Arkansas
[Coming up with names was clearly not the author’s strong point.]
“Who will suspect three girls like us of so fearful a deed?” replied Elizabeth.
[This is astute of Elizabeth. It is widely held that the main reason Lizzie Borden was acquitted—irrespective of the evidence for or against her—is that her 1893 jury could not believe that a nice white middle-class girl would do such a thing.]
“Who has done this?” asked one of the men.
[Wanting to make up an even half-dozen, the five-man posse picked up a sixth member along the way, and never bothered to fill him in on the backstory.]
“I arrest you on the charge of murdering Lem Smith, the gambler; also, of murdering those persons in that bed, and five young people down stairs.”
[According to findlaw.com, “A person can arrest someone that they reasonably suspect of committing a felony, even if the felony didn’t occur in the presence of the individual making the arrest.” But who were the other five men, if none of them was a duly constituted law enforcement officer? And why did a San Francisco hotelkeeper take such an interest in the murder of someone he had personally warned the sisters against?]
condemned to be executed, Nov. 30, 1854.
final . missing
[The title page says 1855.]
“And I have not said all I wish,” said Amy, sadly.
[Amy is desperately filibustering in hopes of a last-minute reprieve.]
To Canvass every City, Town, and Village, in the United States and Canadas.
[Text unchanged. The number of Canadas is not specified.]
If The Three Sisters left you hungry for more, here are some other titles you might appreciate. The pamphlets themselves may or may not exist online—but who needs the full text when you’ve got the title? Unless otherwise noted, the place of publication is the standard “Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York and Buffalo”. Don’t look for internal consistency in dates; as with The Three Sisters, the publisher often couldn’t decide between one year and the next. The two “Margaret Waldegrave” titles are probably the same book—unless Orton liked the story so much, he published it twice.
This short list suggests that Orton never did figure out how to spell “garrote” . . . and that the confusion between “hanged” and “hung” goes back a long time.
It probably goes without saying that neither California nor any other state has ever had a governor named Layton, whether “I.” or some other initial. Although I have not personally looked up all the other names, I am prepared to go out on a limb and say that none of these people ever existed, and their assorted grisly murders never happened. The Derienni land pirates, on the other hand, were real. Since their heyday was the 1850s—during the California Gold Rush, before the transcontinental railroad—it is not surprising that Orton cranked out a book, or at least a 30-page pamphlet, about them.
In 1856, Orton must have found some more profitable line of work.
The original of this text is in the public domain—at least in the U.S.
My notes are copyright, as are all under-the-hood elements.
If in doubt, ask.