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American Detective Fiction    Prior to July 1891

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  Published in
The New York Ledger, August 10, 1861.
 
The Murderer’s Ordeal
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A Californian’s Story
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by Emerson Bennett
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  My store, as I dignified my place of trade, consisted of a rude skeleton of poles, with a sufficiency of cheap muslin drawn over them and pinned down to the earth, and was stocked only with the most saleable articles, of which flour, pork and whiskey found the most ready market, especially whiskey. In a dry season it was very dusty, and everybody seemed to be dry with a thirst which mere water would not quench. If a man was successful, he wanted whiskey to bring his body up to the altitude of his spirits, if unsuccessful, he wanted whiskey to bring his spirits up to the altitude of his body; if it chanced to be a little cool, he wanted whiskey to warm him; if it was very hot, he wanted whiskey to cool him; he needed whiskey in the morning to make him bright and active; he needed whiskey at night to rest him and make him sleep well; he wanted it when he bought, and when he sold, when he won, and when he lost, when he stood up, and when he sat down: in short, whiskey was the great regulator of all human feelings—the genuine elixir vitæ—and consequently I did an immense business in whiskey.

Now this, though somewhat irrelevant, . . .

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    I was always fond of the science of physiognomy. From my youth up, I was noted for my proclivity for reading the character of a man from his face; and I finally became such an adept in the art, that I could occasionally guess the very thoughts of the individual whose countenance I was studying.

Soon after the gold fever broke out, I went to California; and there, I must confess, among what else there was to interest me, I had a grand opportunity for exercising my skill upon all sorts of faces, seen under all sorts of circumstances, from the highest triumph of success to the deepest despair of failure. I first tried my luck at digging gold myself, but soon tired of that, and believing I could make money faster and with less labor, I opened a kind of grocery and provision store, and went regularly into the business of trade, buying most of my articles at Sacramento, getting them hauled to my quarters, and disposing of them at a fair advance to the miners and others.

   

 

 


 

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