Sam awoke the next morning with a splitting headache. No surprises there. Light was filtering into the cabin very strongly. He abruptly sat up and saw that John and Willum had left without him. He knew he should dress and join them, but he couldn't. He utterly lacked the will to do so.
Staggering out of bed, he clumsily dressed himself and, knowing nothing else to do, wandered down to the main tavern.
Inside, some kind of drunken celebration was taking place. Apparently some lucky sap had gone and found himself a huge nugget. Sam felt the rage boiling inside him, indignant and furious that someone should be so lucky while he suffered so. He saw the fellow raise a toast, and the nugget dropped to the ground. Sam glanced around. Everyone, including the bartender, was laughing drunkenly. No one would notice if he…
Why not? His life was misery. He would never see his wife again. He had nothing to lose.
Quickly, quietly, Sam stooped down and shoved the nugget into his pocket. He knew what would happen if he were caught. Quite honestly, he was beyond caring. Besides, he wouldn't be caught. Who would know? He-
There was suddenly a great buzz of confusion in the room. Apparently, the guest of honor had noticed his nugget missing. Slowly, slowly, Sam edged toward the door-
"Hey you!" A man, obviously not a drunk as the rest, had spotted him. Sam broke into a run. He could hear the man's steady footfalls behind him. His pulse pounding, Sam's reflexes took over. He hardly remembered what had happened. He knew that he had turned around and drawn his bowie knife as a warning to his pursuer. But the man kept coming. He was coming faster, faster…. but that was because now Sam was running at the man, knife in hand. Someone was screaming, Sam didn't know if it was him or the man or maybe both-
And then, a lot of blood.
Even in their intoxicated state, the scream had roused the partiers to peer outside. They saw Sam standing over a body, with a knife in one hand and the nugget in the other. It was pretty clear what had happened. Within moments, Sam was being pursued by a drunken mob, screaming bloody murder, as well they might, and demanding that he be hanged.
Cooler heads convinced them to hold a trial, but it was merely a more formal way of doing the same thing. The trial was a mockery, hastily arranged, the jury consisting largely of the drunken partygoers. Sam was not allowed to speak in his own defense, not that it would have mattered.
Sam felt a strange sense of calm when he heard the verdict. Life meant nothing to him now anyway. Perhaps it was better that he end his suffering. He was to be hung at 5 o'clock. He paced back and forth in the cramped quarters of the deteriorating little jail for what would be the last two hours of his life. He noticed without much interest that the mail wagon had arrived. His thoughts turned to Margaret. Where was she now? She had found someone else, perhaps. He thought ruefully of all those days he had waited hopefully for something, some word from her, inwardly knowing there would be no letters for-
His head snapped up. The mail carrier read his name again. "Is there a Samuel Davenport here?"
"Yes," he said, his hoarse voice coming out more wildly than he had expected. "That's me."
Her reached through the bars toward the postman, ignoring his wide eyes and astonished face. The postman, in shock perhaps, walked to the cell and handed the letter dumbly through the bars. Sam snatched the letter from his hands.
Slowly, with shaking hands, he broke the seal of the envelope and withdrew the letter and unfolded it, slowly, carefully.
Trembling he read the letter in the fine script he knew so well:
My Dear Samuel,
I hope this finds you in happy spirits and good health. I have been reading your letters; life in California sounds fascinating! I am sorry I could not write for so long. I fell ill with fever after Susanna was born. I called her after your mother. The baby was sick too, though praise the lord, she had a much milder case.
I have the most exciting news! Susanna and I will journey by ship to California. I will send you a letter when we get there so you may meet us at the port. Together we will start a new life in this Golden Land.
Sam stared at the paper. He was trembling violently. Curse life! He waved an indignant fist at the heavens. Curse the ironies of fate! Still trembling he collapsed. The page slipped from his fingers and blew out the window to freedom, carried away on a warm breath of wind.