They did everything they could think of to comfort him, but nothing succeeded until Wells-Fargo Ferguson, who is a clever strategist, said:
"If it's only Sherlock Holmes that's troubling you, you needn't worry any more."
"Why?" asked the forlorn lunatic, eagerly.
"Because he's dead again."
"Dead! Dead! Oh, don't trifle with a poor wreck like me. Is he dead? On honor, now--is he telling me true, boys?"
"True as you're standing there!" said Ham Sandwich, and they all backed up the statement in a body.
"They hung him in San Bernardino last week," added Ferguson, clinching the matter, "whilst he was searching around after you. Mistook him for another man. They're sorry, but they can't help it now."
"They're a-building him a monument," said Ham Sandwich, with the air of a person who had contributed to it, and knew.
"James Walker" drew a deep sigh--evidently a sigh of relief--and said nothing; but his eyes lost something of their wildness, his countenance cleared visibly, and its drawn look relaxed a little. We all went to our cabin, and the boys cooked him the best dinner the camp could furnish the materials for, and while they were about it Hillyer and I outfitted him from hat to shoe-leather with new clothes of ours, and made a comely and presentable old gentleman of him. "Old" is the right word, and a pity, too: old by the droop of him, and the frost upon his hair, and the marks which sorrow and distress have left upon his face; though he is only in his prime in the matter of years. While he ate, we smoked and chatted; and when he was finishing he found his voice at last, and of his own accord broke out with his personal history. I cannot furnish his exact words, but I will come as near it as I can.
THE "WRONG MAN'S" STORY
It happened like this: I was in Denver. I had been there many years; sometimes I remember how many, sometimes I don't--but it isn't any matter. All of a sudden I got a notice to leave, or I would be exposed for a horrible crime committed long before--years and years before--in the East.
I knew about that crime, but I was not the criminal; it was a cousin of mine of the same name. What should I better do? My head was all disordered by fear, and I didn't know. I was allowed very little time-- only one day, I think it was. I would be ruined if I was published, and the people would lynch me, and not believe what I said. It is always the way with lynchings: when they find out it is a mistake they are sorry, but it is too late--the same as it was with Mr. Holmes, you see. So I said I would sell out and get money to live on, and run away until it blew over and I could come back with my proofs. Then I escaped in the night and went a long way off in the mountains somewhere, and lived disguised and had a false name.
I got more and more troubled and worried, and my troubles made me see spirits and hear voices, and I could not think straight and clear on any subject, but got confused and involved and had to give it up, because my head hurt so. It got to be worse and worse; more spirits and more voices. They were about me all the time; at first only in the night, then in the day too. They were always whispering around my bed and plotting against me, and it broke my sleep and kept me fagged out, because I got no good rest.
And then came the worst. One night the whispers said, "We'll never manage, because we can't see him, and so can't point him out to the people."
They sighed; then one said: "We must bring Sherlock Holmes. He can be here in twelve days."
They all agreed, and whispered and jibbered with joy. But my heart broke; for I had read about that man, and knew what it would be to have him upon my track, with his superhuman penetration and tireless energies.
The spirits went away to fetch him, and I got up at once in the middle of the night and fled away, carrying nothing but the hand-bag that had my money in it--thirty thousand dollars; two-thirds of it are in the bag there yet.