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The Little Lady of Lagunitas by Richard Henry Savage

Part 7 out of 8

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force some one to show a hand. Then, God keep the villain who
leaves his tree to fight in the open! It is war to the death. Woods
directs Peyton to use his bankers and the police, telegraphing him
at London. He has a fear they have been followed to Europe. The
bankers understand that Peyton and the priest are Woods' ambassadors.

Marie B‚rard comes no more to the home of her charge. Her letters
are sent by a commissionaire. Peyton reads in this a danger signal.
The soldier is on the watch for treachery. His quiet habits are
easily satisfied. He has his books, daily journals, and also French
lessons from charming Louise.

It is sunny splendor at the house on the Champs Elys‚es, where
Natalie de Santos moves in her charmed circle of luxury. While
Peyton waits for the "Comstock Colonel," an anxious woman sits in
her queenly boudoir.

Natalie's beauty is ravishing. The exquisite elegance of her manner
is in keeping with the charms of the shining loveliness which makes
her a cynosure in the "Bois."

Face to face with a dilemma, the fair "chƒtelaine" racks her brain
for a new expedient. Her woman's wit is nonplussed.

Villa Rocca DEMANDS, URGES, PLEADS, SUES for marriage. Is it love?
Of all her swains he is the only one who touches her heart. At his
approach, her tell-tale pulse beats high. She dare not yet quit
Hardin. There is a campaign before her. To force Hardin to marry
her, even secretly, is the main attack. He is now old. Then, to
establish her daughter as the heiress of Lagunitas. After Hardin's
death, marriage with Villa Rocca. That is the goal. But how to
restrain his lover-like ardor.

She smiles at her reflection in the glass. She knows "the fatal
gift of beauty." It is another woman than the "queen of the gambling
hell" who smiles back at her. The pearls on her neck rise and fall.
Hardin! Ah, yes; his possible treachery! Would he dare to take the
convent pupil away from her? Perhaps.

A devilish smile plays on her lips. She will let him steal his own
child; the other, the REAL Lady of Lagunitas, he never shall know.
Gods! If he should be aware of it. It must be prevented. Whom can
she trust? No one.

Villa Rocca? Triumph shines in her eyes! She must definitely
promise him marriage in these happy years, and give him the child
as a gage. He can hide her in his Italian hills. He really has a
bit of a castle under the olive-clad hills of Tuscany.

But Marie B‚rard. She must outwit that maid. When the child is
gone, Marie's power ceases. No one will ever believe her. A few
thousand francs extra will satisfy the greedy soubrette.

Seizing her pen, she sends a note to the club where baccarat
and billiards claim Villa Rocca's idle hours. He meets her in the
Bois de Boulogne, now splendid in transplanted foliage. His coup‚
dismissed, they wander in the alleys so dear to lovers. There
is triumph in her face as they separate. A night for preparation;
next day, armed with credentials in "billets de banque," Villa Rocca
will lure the girl to her mysterious guardian who will be "sick"
near Paris. Once under way, Villa Rocca will not stop till the girl
is in his Italian manor.

With bounding heart, he assents. He has now Natalie's promise to
marry him. They are one in heart.

"I am yours to the death," he says.

While Natalie sips her chocolate next morning, a carriage draws
up before Aristide Dauvray's home. Josephine is busied with the
household. Louise, singing like a lark, gayly aids her foster-mother.
Aristide is far away. He toils at the new structures of beauty.
Arm in arm, the young artists are taking a long stroll.

A gentleman of elegant appearance descends, with anxious visage. The
peal of the bell indicates haste. Josephine receives her visitor.
He curtly explains his visit. The guardian of Louise Moreau needs
her instant presence. She is ill, perhaps dying. In her excitement,
Josephine's prudence is forgotten. To lose the income from the
child, to hazard the child's chances of property. "But the child
must go: at once!" Josephine is awed and flurried. As she hastily
makes preparation, a ray of suspicion darts through her mind. Who
is this messenger?

"I think I had better accompany you," cries Josephine. Then, "her
house," to be left to only one feeble old servant.

"Ah, ciel! It is terrible."

"Madame, we have no time to lose. It is near the train time. We will
telegraph. You can follow in two hours," the stranger remarks, in
silken voice.

The visitor urges. The girl is cloaked and bonneted. Josephine
loses her head. "One moment,"--she rushes for her hat and wrap;
she will go at once, herself.

As she returns, there is a muffled scream at the door of the coup‚.

"Mon Dieu!" Josephine screams. "My child! my Louise!" The coup‚
door is closing.

A strong voice cries to the driver, "Allez vite!"

As "Jehu" is about to lash his horses, an apparition glues him to
his seat.

A gray-haired man points an ugly revolver at his head.

"Halt!" he says. The street is deserted. Villa Rocca opens the
door. A strong hand hurls him to the gutter. Louise is urged from
the coach. She is in her home again!

Peyton turns to grasp the man, who picks himself from the gutter.
He is ten seconds too late. The carriage is off like a flash; it
turns the corner at a gallop. Too cool to leave the fort unguarded,
Peyton enters the salon. He finds Josephine moaning over Louise,
who has fainted.

In a half-hour, PŠre Fran‡ois and the young men are a bodyguard on
duty. Peyton drives to the bank, and telegraphs Woods at London:

"Come instantly! Attempt to abduct, prevented by me! Danger!

The next night, in the rooms of the miner, the padre and Peyton
hold a council of war. An engine waits at the "Gare du Nord." When
sunlight gilds once more Notre Dame, Peyton enters the car with a
lady, clad in black. A maid, selected by Joseph Vimont, is of the
party. "Monsieur Joseph" himself strolls into the depot. He jumps
into the cab with the engineer. "Allons!" They are off.

From forty miles away a few clicks of the telegraph flash the news
to Woods. The priest knows that Peyton and his ward are safely "en
route." "TrŠs bien!"

It is years before the light foot of Louise Moreau presses again
the threshold of her childhood's home. In a sunny chateau, near
Lausanne, a merry girl grows into a superb "Lady of the Lake." She
is "Louise Moreau," but Louise "en reine." She rules the hearts
of gentle Henry Peyton and the "autocrat of the Golden Chariot."
It is beyond the ken of "Natalie de Santos," or Philip Hardin, to
pierce the mystery of that castle by the waters of the Swiss lake.

Visions of peace lend new charms to the love of the pure-souled
girl who wanders there.

Louise is not always alone by Leman's blue waters. Colonel Peyton
is a thoughtful, aging man, saddened by his fiery past.

He sees nothing. He dreams of the flag which went down in battle
and storm. The flag of which Father Ryan sang--"in fond recollection
of a dead brother"--the ill-fated stars and bars:

"Furl that banner, for 'tis weary,
Round its staff 'tis drooping dreary.
Furl it, fold it, it is best;
For there's not a man to wave it--
And there's not a sword to save it--
And there's not one left to lave it
In the blood which heroes gave it;
And its foes now scorn and brave it;
Furl it, hide it; let it rest."

But younger and brighter eyes than his own, dimmed with battle smoke,
look love into each other. Louise and Armand feel the throbbing
whispers of the lake in their own beating hearts.

Far above them there, the silver peaks lift unsullied altars to
the God of nature, life, and love.

And as the rosy flush of morning touches the Jungfrau, as the tender
light steals along the sunlit peaks of the Alps, so does the light
of love warm these two young hearts. Bounding pulse and melting
accent, blush of morning on rosy peak and maiden's cheek, tell of
the dawning day of light and love.

Shy and sweet, their natures mingle as two rivulets flowing to
the sea. Born in darkness and coldness, to dance along in warmth
and sunlight, and mingle with that great river of life which flows
toward the unknown sea.

In days of bliss, in weeks of happiness, in months of heart growth,
the two children of fortune drink in each other's eyes the philter
of love. They are sworn a new Paul and Virginia, to await the
uncertain gifts of the gods. The ardor of Armand is reflected in
the tender fidelity of graceful Louise, who is a radiant woman now.

While this single car flies out of Paris, a "mauvais quart d'heure"
awaits Ernesto de Villa Rocca, at the hands of Natalie.

Bounding from her seat, she cries, "Imbecile fool, you have ruined
both of us! The girl is lost now!"

In an hour the Italian evolves a new plan. Marie B‚rard shall
herself find and abduct the child! The Comte de Villa Rocca will
escort them to the Italian tower, where Natalie's dangerous ward
will be lost forever to Hardin.

But Marie must now be placated! Natalie de Santos smiles as she
points to a plump pocket-book.

"A magic sceptre, a magnetic charm, my dear Count." Her very voice
trickles with gold.

While Ernesto Villa Rocca and his promised bride dine in the
lingering refinement of a Parisian table, they await the return
of the baffled Marie. The maid has gone to arrange the departure
of Louise. No suspicion must be awakened! Once under way, then
silence!--quietly enforced. Ah, chloroform!

There was no etiquette in the sudden return of the pale-faced
maid; she dashed up, in a carriage, while the lovers dallied with
the dessert.

"Speak, Marie! What has happened?" cries Natalie, with a sinking

"Madame, she is gone! Gone forever!"

Madame de Santos bounds to the side of the defeated woman. "If
you are lying, beware!" she hisses. Her hand is raised. There is a
dagger flashing in the air. Villa Rocca wrests it from the raging
woman's hand. "No folly, Madame! She speaks the truth!"

Marie stubbornly tells of her repulse. Josephine was "not alone!"
Blunt Aristide elbowed her out of the house, saying:

"Be off with you! The girl is gone! If you want to know where she
is, apply to the police. Now, don't show your lying face here
again! I will have you arrested! You are a child stealer! You and
your ruffian had better never darken this door. Go!"

Natalie de Santos sinks back in her chair. Her teeth are chattering.
A cordial restores her nerves. Count Villa Rocca lingers, moody
and silent.

What powerful adversary has baffled them?

"Marie, await me in my room!" commands Natalie. In five minutes the
roll of rubber-tired wheels proves that madame and the count have
gone out. "To the opera?" "To the theatre?" The sly maid does not
follow them. Her brain burns with a mad thirst for vengeance. Her
hoard must now be completed. "Has she been tricked?" "Thousand
devils, no!"

Softly moving over the driveway, Natalie eagerly pleads with Villa
Rocca. Her perfumed hair brushes his cheek. Her eyes gleam like
diamonds, as they sweep past the brilliantly lighted temples of
pleasure. She is Phryne and Aspasia to-night.

Villa Rocca is drunk with the delirium of passion. His mind reels.

"I will do it," he hoarsely murmurs. Arrived at the "porte cochŠre,"
the count lifts his hat, as madame re‰nters her home.

There is a fatal glitter in Natalie's eyes, as she enters alone
her robing room.

When madame is seated in the freedom of a wonderful "robe de
chambre," her face is expectant, yet pleasant. Marie has fulfilled
every duty of the eyening.

"You may go, Marie. I am tired. I wish to sleep," remarks the lady,

"Will madame pardon me?"

Marie's voice sounds cold and strange. Ah, it has come, then!
Natalie has expected this. What is the plot?

Natalie looks her squarely in the eyes. "Well?" she says, sharply.

"I hope madame will understand that I close my duties here to-night!"
the maid slowly says.

"Indeed?" Madame lifts her eyebrows.

"I would be glad to be permitted to leave the house to-morrow."

"Certainly, Marie!" quietly rejoins Natalie. "You may leave when
you wish. The butler will settle your account. I shall not ring
for you to-morrow." She leans back. Checkmate!

"Will madame excuse me?" firmly says the maid, now defiantly looking
her mistress in the eyes. "The butler can probably not settle my
little account."

"What is it?" simply asks Madame de Santos.

"It is one hundred thousand francs," firmly replies the woman.

"I shall not pay it! decidedly not!" the lady answers.

"Very good. Judge Hardin might!"

The maid moves slowly to the door.

"Stay!" commands Natalie. "Leave my house before noon to-morrow.
You can come here with any friend you wish at this hour to-morrow
night. You will have your money. How do you wish it?"

"In notes," the maid replies, with a bow. She walks out of the
room. She pauses at the threshold. "Will madame ask Georgette to
look over the property of madame?"

"Certainly. Send her to me!"

Marie B‚rard leaves her world-wearied mistress, forever, and without
a word.

When the other maid enters, madame finds need for the assistant.
"You may remain in my apartment and occupy the maid's couch. I
may want you. I am nervous. Stay!"

The under-maid is joyous at her promotion. Madame de Santos sleeps
the sleep of the just. Happy woman!

Marie B‚rard rages in her room, while her mistress sleeps in a
bed once used by a Queen of France.

The ticking clock drives her to madness. She throws it into the

Spurned! foiled! baffled!

Ah, God! She will have both fortunes. She remembers that little
paper of years ago.

Yes, to find it now. Near her heart. By the candle, she reads the
cabalistic words:

"Leroyne & Co., 16 Rue Vivienne."

Was it an imprudence to speak of Hardin? No, it was a mere threat.
Marie's cunning eyes twinkle. She will get this money here quietly.
Then, to the bank--to the bank! Two fortunes at one "coup."

But she must see Jules! Jules Tessier! He must help now; he must
help. And how? He is at the Caf‚ Ney.

Yet she has often slipped out with him to the "bals de minuit." A
friend can replace him; servants keep each others' secrets. Victory!

She must see him at once. Yes, Jules will guide her. He can go to
the bank, after she has received her money. And then the double
payment and vengeance on madame!

Like lightning, she muffles herself for the voyage. A coup‚, ten
minutes, and above all--a silent exit. All is safe; the house
sleeps. She steals to her lover. Jules Tessier starts, seeing Marie
in the ante-room at the Caf‚ Ney. There are, even here, curious

Marie's eyes are flashing; her bosom heaves. "Come instantly,
Jules! it is the hour. My coup‚ is here."

"Mon Dieu, in an instant!" The sly Jules knows from her shaken
voice the golden hoard is in danger.

In a few moments he is by her side in the coup‚. "Where to?"
huskily asks the head-waiter.

"To the 'bal de minuit.' We can talk there."

"Allons! au Jardin Bullier," he cries.

Before the "fiacre" stops, Jules has an idea of the situation. Ah!
a grand "coup." Jules is a genius!

Seated in a bosky arbor, the two talk in lowest tones over their
chicken and Burgundy.

There is a noisy party in the next arbor, but a pair of dark Italian
eyes peer like basilisks through the leaves of the tawdry shade.
The lovers are unconscious of the listener.

With joint toil, the pair of lovers prepare a letter to Leroyne &
Co., bankers, 16 Rue Vivienne.

Marie's trembling hand draws the paper from her bosom. She knows
that address by heart.

"Give it to me, Marie," he pleads, "for safety." A FRENCHWOMAN can
deny her lover nothing.

"Now, listen, 'ma cherie,'" Jules murmurs. "You get the one treasure.
To-morrow I go to the bank, the telegraph, you understand, but not
till you have the other money safe." Her eyes sparkle. A double
fortune! A double revenge! A veritable "coup de Machiavelli."

"And I must go, dearest. I wait for you to-morrow. You get your
money; then I am off to the bank, and we will secure the rest.

Jules snaps his fingers at the imbeciles. He sees the "Hotel Tessier"
rising in cloudland.

"Press this proud woman hard now. Be careful. I will pay the coup‚;
we might be followed."

While Jules is absent, Marie dreams the rosy dreams of fruition.
Love, avarice, revenge!

Down through the entrance, they saunter singly. Both are Parisians.
After a square or two brings them to night's obscurity, parting
kisses seal the dark bond; Judge Hardin shall pay after madame;
Marie's velvet hand grips Jules' palm in a sinful compact.

Home by the usual way, past Notre Dame, and Jules will discreetly
watch her safety till she reaches the omnibus.

She knows not when she reaches Notre Dame that Tessier lies behind
her, stunned upon the sidewalk, his pockets rifled, and his senses
reeling under brutal blows. Her heart is blithe, for here, under
the shade of Notre Dame, she is safe. Twenty steps bring her to
the glaring street. Yet the avenger has panther feet.

Out of the shadow, in a moment, she will be. "Oh, God!" the cry
smothers in her throat. Like lightning, stab after stab in her back
paralyzes her.

Bubbling blood from her quivering lips, Marie falls on her face.
A dark shadow glides away, past buttress and vaulted door.

Is it Villa Rocca's ready Italian stiletto?





When a cab is halted, the horses shying at a prostrate body, knots
of street loungers gather at the cries of the discoverers of
Marie B‚rard's body. The "sergents de ville" raise the woman. Her
blood stains the sidewalk, in the shadow of the Church of Christ.
Twinkling lights flicker on her face. A priest passing by, walks
by the stretcher. He is called by his holy office to pray for the
"parting soul."

It is PŠre Fran‡ois. He has been in Notre Dame. To the nearest
hospital the bearers trudge. It is only a few rods. When the body
is examined, the pale face is revealed. PŠre Fran‡ois clasps his

It is, indeed, the mysterious guardian of Louise, stabbed and dying.
It is the hand of fate!

Breathing faintly, the poor wretch lies prone. There is no apparent
clue to her assailant. She is speechless. It has not been robbery;
her valuables are intact. Hastily anointing her, PŠre Fran‡ois
departs. He promises to return in the morning. He hastens to the
nearest cabstand, and whirls away to Colonel Woods' hotel. Whose
hand has dealt this blow? The financier is startled at the priest's
face. Joseph has been jocular since the safe departure of Louise.

He listens. A prodigious whistle announces his feelings. "Padre,"
says he, "if that Frenchwoman is alive to-morrow, you must see
her. Find out all she knows. I'll turn out at daybreak, and watch
Madame Santos' house myself. I think that handsome 'she devil'
had something to do with this.

"Got done with the maid. No more use for her. Now, my dear friend,
I will be here to-morrow when you show up. We will interview the
madame. She's the spider in this game."

Woods sleeps like a man in a tossing storm. He knows from the padre's
repeated visits at the Santos mansion that dying Marie holds the
secret of these two children's lives. If she could only talk.

All night the miner battles for Valois' unknown child.

Up with the lark, Joe sends his "French fellow" for detective
Vimont. "Voila! un grand procŠs."

Vimont sees gold ahead.

By eight o'clock, ferret eyes are watching the Santos mansion, the
home of discreet elegance.

A stunning toilet is made by Joseph, in the vain hope of impressing
the madame. He will face this Lucrezia Borgia "in his raiment
of price." He has a dim idea, that splendid garb will cover his
business-like manner of coming to "first principles."

A happy man is he at his well-ordered d‚jeuner, for though Joe is
no De Rohan or Montmorency, yet he eats like a lord and drinks like
a prince of the blood. He is the "first of his family"--a golden

He revenges himself daily for the volunteer cuisine of the American
River. Often has he laughed over haughty Valois' iron-clad bread,
his own flinty beans, the slabs of pork, cooked as a burnt offering
by slow combustion. Only one audacious Yankee in the camp ever
attempted a pie. That was a day of crucial experiment, a time of
bright hopes, a period of sad failure.

Vimont reports at noon. A visit from Villa Rocca of a half-hour.
Sauntering up the Elys‚es, after his departure, the count, shadowed
carefully, strolled to his club. He seemed to know nothing. The
waxen mask of Italian smoothness fits him like a glove. He hums a
pleasant tune as he strolls in. The morning journals? Certainly;
an hour's perusal is worthy the attention of the elegant "flƒneur."
Ah! another murder. He enjoys the details.

PŠre Fran‡ois enters the colonel's rooms, with grave air. While
Vimont frets over his cigar, in the courtyard, the story of Marie
B‚rard is partly told.

She will not live through the night. At her bedside, Sisters of
Charity twain, tell the beads and watch the flickering pulse of the
poor lost girl. The police have done their perfunctory work. They
are only owls frightened by sunlight. Fools! Skilful fools! She knows
nothing of her assailant. Her feeble motions indicate ignorance.
She must have rest and quiet. The saddened PŠre Fran‡ois can not
disguise from Woods that he suspects much. Much more than the
police can dream in their theories.

What is it? Hopes, fears, the rude story of a strange life, and upon
it all is the awful seal of the confessional. For, Marie B‚rard has
unfolded partly, her own life-story. Joe Woods clasps the padre's

"You know which of these children is a million-heiress, and which
a pauper?"

The padre's eyes are blazing. He is mute. "Let us trust to God.
Wait, my friend," says PŠre Fran‡ois solemnly. Before that manly
voice, the miner hushes his passionate eagerness. Violence is vain,

It seems to him as if the dead mother of an orphan child had placed
her hand upon his brow and said: "Wait and hope!"

Monte Cristo's motto once more.

The padre eyes the Comstock colonel under his thin lashes.

"My friend"--his voice trembles--"I can tell you nothing yet, but
I will guide you. I will not see you go wrong."

"Square deal, padre!" roars Joseph, with memories of gigantic
poker deals. Irreverent Joe.

"Square deal," says the priest, solemnly, as he lays an honest
man's hand in that of its peer. He knows the Californian force of
this appeal to honor. Joseph selects several cigars. He fusses with
his neckgear strangely.

"Vamos, amigo," he cries, in tones learned from the muleteers of
the far West.

Once in the halls of "Madame de Santos," Colonel Joe is the pink
of Western elegance. The acute sense of the Missourian lends him
a certain dignity, in spite of his gaudy attire.

Under fire, this Western pilgrim can affect a "sang froid" worthy
of Fontenoy.

Radiant in white clinging "crˆpe de Chine," her "prononc‚e" beauty
unaccentuated by the baubles of the jeweller, Madame de Santos
greets the visitors.

A blue circle under her eyes tells of a vigil of either love or
hate. Speculation is vain. The "monde" has its imperial secrets.

Who can solve the equation of womanhood? Colonel Joseph is effusive
in his cheery greeting. "My dear madame, I am glad to be in Paris
once more." He would charm this sphinx into life and warmth. Foolish

"We all are charmed to see you safely returned," murmurs the madame.
The padre is studying the art treasures of the incomparable "Salon
de Santos."

"I have some messages from a friend of yours," continues Joseph,
strangely intent upon the narrow rim of his hat.

"Ah, yes! Pray who remembers me so many years?"

Joseph fires out the answer like a charge of canister from a
Napoleon gun: "Philip Hardin."

The lady's lips close. There is a steely look in her eyes. Her hand
seeks her heaving bosom. Is there a dagger there?

"Useless, my lady." There are two men here. The padre is intent
upon a war picture of D‚taille. His eyes catch a mirror showing
the startled woman.

"And--what--did--Mr.--Philip--Hardin say?" the lady gasps.

"He asked me if you remembered Hortense Duval, the Queen of the
El--" Natalie reels and staggers, as if shot.

"By God, Lee was right!" cries Woods. He catches her falling form.
The first and only time he will ever hold her in his arms.

"Padre, ring the bell!" cries the excited miner.

The clock ticks away noisily in the hall. The wondering servants
bear madame to her rooms. All is confusion. A fainting fit.

"Let's get out of here," whispers Woods, frightened by his own

"Stay till we get a message of formality," murmurs the diplomatic
padre. "It would look like violence or insult to leave abruptly.
No one here must suspect." Joe nods gloomily and wipes his brows.

The stately butler soon expresses the regrets of madame. "A most
unforeseen affair, an assault upon one of her discharged servants,
has tried her nerves. Will Colonel Woods kindly excuse madame, who
will send him word when she receives again?"

"Colonel Woods will decidedly excuse madame." He returns to his
hotel. He grieves over the dark shadows cast upon her suffering
loveliness. "By the gods! It's a shame SHE IS WHAT SHE IS," he
murmurs to his cigar. Ah, Joseph! entangled in the nets of Delilah.

In a few days the spacious apartments of Colonel Woods have another
tenant. Bag and baggage he has quietly departed for the Pacific
Slope. PŠre Fran‡ois runs on to Havre. He waves an adieu from the
"quai." It would not be possible to prove that Colonel Joe has not
gone to Switzerland. That is not the question, however. But the
padre and the colonel are now sworn allies. Joseph is the bearer
of a letter to the Archbishop of California. It carries the heart
and soul of PŠre Fran‡ois. The great Church acts now.

"My dear old friend," says Woods in parting, "I propose to keep
away from Paris for a couple of years and watch Philip Hardin's
handling of this great estate. Peyton will bring the girl on, when
her coming of age calls for a legal settlement of the estate. I
don't want to strike that woman down until she braves me.

"I'm going to lure Madame de Santos over to California. If she
wants to watch me, I will be on deck every time there. I'll bring
Peyton and Louise Moreau over to San Francisco. I will never lose
sight of that child. Judge Davis shall now run my whole game. I
don't ask you who killed that woman, padre, but I will bet the de
Santos knows the hand which struck the blow.

"By leaving you, Vimont, to watch her, you may be yet able to catch
our man. We'll let her bring forward the heiress of Lagunitas, whom
she stowed away in the convent. Don't spare the cash, padre. You
can use what you want from my bankers. They will cable me at once,
at your wish. Good-bye." Joe Woods is off. His mind is bent on a
great scheme.

PŠre Fran‡ois thinks of the unavenged murder of the poor maid-servant.
She is now sleeping the last sleep in PŠre la Chaise. Paris has its
newer mysteries already, to chase away her memory--only one more

Joe gets news after his arrival at the Golden Gate. "I will tell
you, my dear friend, that a large sum of money was due to this
woman from Madame de Santos. She was to have it the next day. I
can not see who would kill her to prevent her getting money from a
prosperous mistress. She was making her a final present on leaving
her service. Madame de Santos openly admits she intended to give
her a considerable sum of money. She has acted with commendable
kindness as to her funeral. All is quiet. The police are baffled."
This is the priest's letter.

"I cannot, at present, reveal to you all I learned from the dying
penitent. I need a higher permission. I have given you an order
to receive the original Valois marriage papers, and the baptismal
and birth certificates of Isabel Valois. She is the only child of
Maxime and Dolores Valois. Louise Moreau is the real heiress, in
my opinion, but we must prove it. I shall come to San Francisco to
watch the sequel of the guardianship of the rightful heiress.

"One person ALONE can now positively swear to this child. I shall
watch that defiant woman, until she goes to California."

High life in Paris rolls on golden wheels as always. Ernesto Villa
Rocca is a daily visitor at the Santos residence. A change has been
inaugurated by the death of Marie B‚rard.

There is a lovely girl there now, whose beauty shines out even by
the side of Natalie the peerless. The heiress is at home. Not even
to Villa Rocca does Natalie confide herself. The disappearance of
Louise Moreau startles her yet. The sudden death of Marie brings
her certain advantages in her once dangerous position. She has no
fear to boldly withdraw the blooming Isabel Valois, so called,
from the "Sacre Coeur," now she has learned that the legal control
of the child can only be taken from her by Hardin himself. He will
never dare to use open force as regards her. No! fear will restrain
him. The dark bond of the past prevents.

But by fraud or artifice, yes! To defeat any possible scheme, she
surrounds the young girl with every elegance of instruction and
accomplishment. She watches her like a tigress guarding its young,
But by her side, in her own home, the young "claimant" will be
surely safe. Hardin fears any public denouncement of his schemes.
Open scandal is worse than secret crime, in the high circles he

Count Ernesto Villa Rocca does not plead immediately for madame's
hand. Wise Italian. "Chi va piano va sano." Since the fateful
evening when he promised to do a certain deed of blood for Natalie,
his ardor has chilled a little. "Particeps criminis." He revolves
the whole situation. With cool Italian astuteness, he will wait a
few months, before linking himself to the rich lady whose confidential
maid was so mysteriously murdered. There has been no hesitation,
on his part, to accept a large sum of money from Natalie. Besides,
his eye rests with burning admiration on the young girlish beauty.
Her loveliness has the added charms of untold millions, in her
future fortune. A prize. Does he dare? Ernesto Villa Rocca cannot
fathom the mysterious connection between the guardian siren and her
charge. Would he be safe to depend upon Madame de Santos' fortune?
He knows not. Has not the young girl a greater value in his eyes?

Seated in the boudoir of Natalie, with bated breath, Villa Rocca
has told Natalie what he expects as a reward for freeing her from

Natalie hails the expiration of the minority of the "daughter
of the Dons." The millions will now fall under her own control.
Power!--social power! concrete power!

The most urgent appeals to her from Hardin cannot make her leave
France. Hardin storms. He threatens. He implores. He cannot leave
California and go to France himself. The wily wretch knows that
Natalie THERE will have a local advantage over him. Month after month
glides away. Swordplay only. Villa Rocca, dallying with Natalie,
gloats over the beauties of the ward.

Armand Valois, by invitation of Colonel Peyton, has decided to spend
a year or so in Switzerland and Germany, painting and sketching.
Louise Moreau soons becomes a proficient amateur artist. She wanders
on the lovely shores of the lake, with the gifted young American.
Love weaves its golden web. Joined heart and soul, these children
of fortune whisper their love by the throbbing bosom of the lake.

It is with the rare genius of her sly nature, a happy thought, that
Madame de Santos requests the chivalric Raoul Dauvray to instruct
her own ward in modelling and sketching. It will keep her mind
busy, and content the spirited girl. She must save her from Villa
Rocca. Dauvray is also a painter of no mean talent. A studio is
soon arranged. The merry girl, happy at her release from convent
walls, spends pleasant hours with the ex-Zouave. Drifting, drifting
daily down happy hours to the knowledge of their own ardent feelings.

Natalie absolutely debars all other visitors from meeting her young
ward. Only her physician and PŠre Fran‡ois can watch these studio
labors. She fears Hardin's emissaries only.

Many visits to the studio are made by Villa Rocca. He is a lover
of the "beaux-arts."

The days fly by pleasantly. Natalie is playing a cool game now.
PŠre Fran‡ois and Raoul Dauvray are ever in her charmed circle.
She dare not refuse the friendship of the inscrutable priest. She
watches, cat-like, for some sign or token of the absent Louise Moreau.
Nothing. Colonel Joseph's sagacity has arranged all communication
from the Swiss lakes, through his trusted banker. It is a blind

Vimont, eying Natalie and Villa Rocca keenly, reports that he cannot
fathom their relations. Guilty lovers? No. There is no obstacle at
all to their marriage. Then why not a consummation? "Accomplices?"
"In what crime?" "Surely none!" The count is of station undoubted.
A member of the Jockey Club. Natalie de Santos speaks frankly to
PŠre Fran‡ois of her obligations to the dead woman. That mysterious
assailant still defies the famed police of Paris.

Yet around Madame de Santos a web of intrigue is woven, which even
her own keen eyes do not ferret out.

Strange woman-heart. Lonely and defiant, yet blind, she thinks she
guards her control of the budding heiress, "Isabel Valois." Waiting?

In the studio, handsome Raoul Dauvray bends glowing eyes on the
clay which models the classic beauty of Isabel Valois. The sabre
scar on his bronzed face burns red as he directs the changes
of his lovely model. Neither a Phryne nor an Aphrodite, but "the
Unawakened Venus."

A dreamy light flickers in her eyes, as she meets the burning gaze
of an artist lover.

Fighting hard against the current, the heiress of millions affects
not to understand.

It is "Monsieur Raoul," "Mademoiselle Isabel;" and all the while,
their hearts beat in unison.

Raoul, soldier-artist, Frenchman, and lover, dissembles when Villa
Rocca is present. There is a strange constraint in the girl's dark
eyes, as her idle hands cross themselves, in unconscious pose, when
they are alone.

"Lift your eyes a little, mademoiselle. Look steadily at me," is
his gentle request. He can hear the clock tick as if its beat was
the fail of a trip hammer.

When even his fastidious task can no longer delay, he says, as
the afternoon sun gilds the dome of the Invalides, throwing down
his graver, "Je n'en puis plus, mademoiselle. It is finished. I
will release you now."

As Raoul throws the cloth over the clay model, Isabel passes him
with a gasp, and gazes with set face from the window.

His bursting heart holds him back. There is no longer an excuse.

"And I shall see you no more, Monsieur Raoul?" the heiress of
millions softly says.

"Not till this is in marble, mademoiselle. A poor artist does not
mingle in your own gay world."

"But a soldier of France is welcome everywhere," the girl falters.

A mist rises to Raoul's eyes. He bears the cross of the Legion of
Honor on his breast. The perfume from her hair is blown across his
face. "Les violettes de Parme." The artist sinks in the soldier.

Springing to the window, the girl's assenting hand, cold as ice,
is clasped in his palm.

"Isabel!" he cries. She trembles like a leaf. "May the soldier
ask what the artist would not dare?" He is blind with passion.

The lovely dark-eyed girl turns a splendid face upon him, her eyes
filled with happy tears, and cries:

"Captain, you saved my life!"

The noisy clock ticks away; the only sound beside its clang is
the beating hearts which close in love's first embrace, when the
soldier knows he has won the heart of the Pearl of Paris.

"Your rank, your millions, your guardian! The Count Villa Rocca,
my enemy!" he hoarsely whispers.

The clinging beauty hands him the ribbon from her throat.

"Claim me with this!" she cries as his arms enfold her.

The dream of young love; first love; true love.

Every obstacle fades away: Lagunitas' millions; proud guardian;
scheming duenna; watchful Villa Rocca. The world is naught to the
two whose arms bind the universe in love's golden circle,

Raoul murmurs to the glowing maiden in his arms:

"And can you trust me?"

The splendid beauty clasps him closer, whispering softly:

"A Spanish girl loves once and to the death."

"But, darling," she falters, as her arms cling closer, "we must
wait and hope!"

A letter from Philip Hardin arrives, in the gayest midwinter of a
rejuvenated Paris. The time for decisive action has arrived. Natalie
revolves every clause of Hardin's proposition in her mind.

In less than a year the now blooming Isabel will be eighteen years
of age. The accounting--

Hardin is trying now to cut the legal Gordian knot. His letter
reads as follows:

I have determined to make you a proposition which should close all
our affairs. It should leave no cause for complaint. I need Isabel
Valois here, You will not trust yourself in America with our past
relations unsettled. I shall not force you, but I must do my duty
as guardian.

You are worthy of a settlement. No one knows you here now. Marry
Villa Rocca. Come here with Isabel. I will give you jointly a
fortune which will content you. I will settle upon your child the
sum of one hundred thousand dollars, to be paid over to her use when
of age. If you marry Villa Rocca now, I will give him the drafts
for the child's money. If you decide to marry him, you may ask
him to visit me here, as your agent. I will show him where your
own property is located, to the extent of half a million dollars.
This is to be turned over to you and him jointly, when you are man
and wife. This will satisfy his honor and his rank. Otherwise, I
shall soon cease my remittances. You may not be willing to do as
I wish, but the heiress must be returned to me, or you and your
child will remain without means.

Your marriage will be my safeguard and your own establishment.
Tell Villa Rocca any story of your life; I will confirm and prove
it. I shall name my bankers as trustee to join with any person
you name for your child. The principal to be paid over to her on
her marriage, to her own order. She can take any name you choose,
except mine. If this is satisfactory, cable to me, "Accepted; agent
coming." Send a letter by your agent, with a private duplicate to
me, with your wishes. HARDIN.

Natalie stands face to face with a life's decision. Can she trust
Villa Rocca? By the dark bond of crime between them she must. A
poor bond of crime. And the millions of Lagunitas. To yield them
up. A terrible temptation.

In her boudoir, Villa Rocca sums up with lightning flashes, the
merits of this proposition. It is partly unfolded to him by the
woman, who holds his pledge to marry her. "She must settle her
affairs." It is a good excuse. He smiles, as he says:

"Madonna mia, in whose name will this property be placed, if I make
you Countess Villa Rocca?"

"In our joint names, with benefit to the survivor," she replies.

"If arranged in even sums on each of us, with a reversion to me,
if you die childless, I will accept. I will go to California, and
bring the deposit for the missing child. I can make every arrangement
for your lawyer. We can go over together and marry there, when
you restore the heiress next year to her guardian." A bargain, a
compact, and a bond of safety. It suits both.

The lady despatches to Hardin her acceptance of his proposal.
In preparing a letter to the Judge she gives her "fianc‚" every
instruction. She permits him to mail the duplicate, carefully

In a week, Count Ernesto is tossing on the billows of the Atlantic.
He is a fashionable Columbus. He is sufficiently warned to be on his
guard in conversation with the wily Hardin. Natalie is far-seeing.

Villa Rocca laughed as he embraced his future bride. "Trust an
Italian, in finesse, cara mia."

It is arranged between the two that Hardin is to have no hint of the
character, appearance, or whereabouts of the child who receives the
bounty. The letter bears the name of "Irene Duval" as the beneficiary
of the fund. A system of correspondence is devised between them. Villa
Rocca, using his Italian consul at San Francisco as a depositary,
will be sure to obtain his letters. He will write to a discreet
friend in Paris. Perhaps a spy on herself, Natalie muses.

Still she must walk hand in hand with Villa Rocca, a new sharer of
her secret. But HE dare not talk.

When these two have said their last adieux, when Natalie sums
up her lonely thoughts, she feels, with a shudder for the future,
that not a shade of tenderness clings around this coming marriage.
Mutual passion has dissipated itself. There is a self-consciousness
of meeting eyes which tells of that dark work under the gloomy
buttresses of Notre Dame. Murder--a heavy burden!

Can they trust each other? They MUST. The weary secret of unpunished
crime grows heavier, day by day. In losing a tyrant, in the maid,
will she not gain a colder master in the man she marries? Who

Natalie Santos realizes that she has no legal proof whose hand
struck that fatal blow. But Villa Rocca can expose her to Hardin.
A fatal weakness. The anxious woman realizes what her false position
and idle luxury cost in heartache. It is life!

The roses turn to ashes on her cheeks as she paces her lonely
rooms. Restless and weary in the Bois, she is even more dull and
"distraite" in society. The repression of her secret, the daily
presence of the daughter she dares not own, all weary her heart
and soul. She feels that her power over Hardin will be gone forever
when the heiress enters upon her rights. Has the child learned to
love another? Her life is barren, a burning waste.

Money, with its myriad luxuries, must be gained by the marriage
with Villa Rocca. To see her child inherit an honored name, and in
possession of millions, will be revenge enough upon Philip Hardin.
He never shall know the truth while he lives. Once recognized, Isabel
Valois cannot be defeated in her fortune. Marie is dead. The only
one who might wish to prove the change of the two children, Hardin
himself, knows not. He must take her word. She is invincible.

PŠre Fran‡ois becomes a greater comfort to her daily. The graceful
priest brings with him an air of peace into the gaudy palace on
the Elys‚es. She softens daily.

Raoul Dauvray has finished the artistic labors of his commissions.
He is now only an occasional visitor. If he has the love of the
heiress he dares not claim her yet. The fiery Zouave chafes in vain.
Natalie holds him off. PŠre Fran‡ois whispers, "Wait and hope!"

With the blindness of preoccupation, Natalie sees not how the
tendrils of "first love" have filled the girl's heart. The young
soldier-artist rules that gentle bosom. Love finds its ways of
commune. Marriage seems impossible for years. Isabel must mount
her "golden throne" before suitors can come to woo. A sculptor!
The idea is absurd.

Not a single trace is left of "Louise Moreau." Natalie's lip curls
as she fathoms the motive of the girl's disappearance. Friends of
Marie B‚rard's have probably secreted her, as a part of the old
scheme of blackmail upon her. Did the secret die with her? It is
fight now. She muses: "Now they may keep her. The seal of the grave
is on the only lips which could tell the story of Lagunitas." Villa
Rocca even, does not know who the child was! His evidence would
be valueless.

If--yes, if the Dauvray household should seek to fathom the history
of the waif, how like an everyday history is the story in reply:

"Marie B‚rard wished to disembarrass herself of her fatherless child.
She yet wished to hold some claim on the future in its behalf. That
explains Louise Moreau's motives." There is a high wall of defence
around her whole position. Her own child dead; but where, or how?
She must invent. Walls have been scaled, my Lady of the Castle
Dangerous. The enemy is mining under your defences, in silence.

With Villa Rocca's nerve and Italian finesse, even Hardin can
be managed. If HE should die, then the dark secret of her child's
transformation is safe forever!

Days fly by. Time waits for no aching hearts. There is a smile of
satisfaction on the lovely face of Natalie. She peruses the letters
from Hardin and the count. They announce the arrangement of the
dower for the absent "Irene Duval." Villa Rocca is in San Francisco.
The count forwards one set of the drafts, without comments. He only
says he will bring the seconds, and thirds of exchange himself, He
is going to come "home."

He announces his departure to the interior with Judge Hardin. He
wishes to see the properties and interests held for Madame de Santos
by her lawyer.

In a month he will be on his homeward way; Judge Hardin has loyally
played his part. Villa Rocca's letters prove his respect for a bride
who brings him a half million. The letters warm visibly. Even an
Italian count can be impressed by solid wealth. Natalie de Santos's
lips curl in derision of man. Her clouded history is now safe.
Yes, the golden glitter of her ill-gotten fortune will cover all
inquiry as to the late "Se¤or de Santos," of shadowy memory. She
IS safe!

It is only a fair exchange of courtesy. She has not investigated
the family stories of the noble Villa Rocca.

Cool, suave, polished; accepted at the clubs as a man of the
world; an adept with rapier and pistol; Ernesto Villa Rocca bears
his social coronet as bravely as the premier duke of France--always
on guard!

"Does she love this man?" Natalie looks in her glass. From girlhood
she has been hunted for her beauty. Now a fortune, title, and the
oblivion of years will aid her in reigning as a mature queen. A
"mondaine" with no entanglements. Paradise opens.

Liberal in works of charity, the adventuress can glide easily
into religion. Once her feet firmly planted, she will "assume that
virtue, if she have it not."

"And then--and after all!" The last tableau before the curtain
falls. The pall of sable velvet. Natalie shudders. She remakes
her toilet and drives to the opera.

"After all, social life is but a play." Her heart beats high with
pride. Villa Rocca's return with the funds will be only a prelude
to their union. But how to insure the half million? "How?"

The count's greed and entire union in interest with her will surely
hold him faithful,

She will marry Ernesto as soon as he returns. She can trust him with
the heiress until the property is settled on the married lovers.

Hardin, when Jules Tessier's addled brains are restored by careful
nursing, receives a document from Leroyne & Co., which rouses his
inmost soul.

Jules Tessier, handsome brute, chafes under the loss of the double
blackmail. "Two hundred thousand francs," and his Marie.

To add to his anguish, he knows not where or under what name,
Marie has deposited her own golden hoard. The "Hotel Tessier" has
gone to Cloudland with the other "chateaux en Espagne"--the two
payments are lost! Jules rages at knowing that even the savings
of murdered Marie are lost to him. Even if found, they cannot be
his by law. The ruffians who robbed him of everything, have left
no trace.

The two weeks passed tossing on a hospital bed, have been lost to
the police. Dimly Jules remembers the sudden assault. Crashing
blows raining down upon him! Not a scrap of paper is left. The
fatal letter to Leroyne & Co. is gone.

The police question the artful Jules.

He holds the secret of Leroyne & Co. to himself.

He may yet get a handsome bribe to tell even the meagre facts he
knows. Marie B‚rard's case is one of the reigning sensations. Her
lips are now sealed in death.

The baffled police only see in the visit to the "bal de minuit,"
a bourgeois intrigue of ordinary character.

Jules dares not tell all. He fears the stern French law. Tossing
on his bed of pain, his only course is to secretly visit Leroyne
& Co.

The bereaved lover feels that the parties who followed him, were
directed by some malign agency which is fraught with future danger
for him.

The poniard of darkness may reach his heart, if he betrays his

Strongly suspecting Natalie de Santos, yet he knows her revenge
struck through meaner hands than her own.

He has no proof. Not a clue. Villa Rocca is to him unknown. He
fears to talk.

He hobbles forth to his vocation, and dares not even visit Marie's

Spies may track him as on that fatal night. And even Leroyne's bank
may be watched.

He must take this risk, for his only reward lies in that mysterious

Jules, in workman's blouse, spends an hour with the grave-faced
banker of the Rue Vivienne.

When he emerges, he has ten one-thousand-franc notes in his
waist-lining and the promise of more.

The banker knows the whole story of Jules' broken hopes; of the
promised reward; the double crime.

He directs Jules Tessier to further await orders at the caf‚, and
to ignore the whole affair.

A significant hint about going forth at night makes Jules shudder.
And the cipher cablegram gives Hardin the disjointed facts of
Marie's death! His one ally gone. Her lips sealed forever.

Musing in his library, Hardin's clear head unravels this intrigue.
The Paris police know not the past history of the actors in this
drama. Jules is simply greedy and thick-headed. Leroyne & Co. are
passionless bankers.

But Hardin gathers up the knotted threads and unravels all.

Accustomed to weigh evidence, to sift facts, his clear mind indicates
Natalie de Santos as the brain, Villa Rocca as the striking assassin
of this plot.

It is all aimed at him.

"Ah, yes!" the chafing lawyer muses, as he walks the legal
quarter-deck of his superb library. "Villa Rocca and Natalie are
lovers. The girl tried to blackmail them. She was trapped and put
out of the way.

"Marie B‚rard dead--one dangerous ally gone. Villa Rocca and
Natalie are the only two who know all. Her mind is his now.

"Ah, I have it!" with a devilish sneer. "I will separate these
two billing and cooing lovers. If I get Villa Rocca here, he will
never get back to France.

"When he is out of the way, Natalie can prove nothing.

"If she comes here I will treat her story as that of an insane

Hardin draws a glass with shaking hand.

"Yes; a private asylum."

As for the heiress, there are plans in his mind he dare not whisper.

Illegitimacy and other reasons may bar her rights. The heiress
knows nothing and she has not a paper.

Some outsider must fight this case.

In Hardin's dreams he sees his enemies at his feet. On Ernesto
Villa Rocca's handsome face is the pallor of death. Lagunitas and
its millions are his by right of power and cunning.

Marie B‚rard's avenger is thousands of miles away from her grave,
and his cunning plan already woven to ensnare the Italian when off
his guard. Yet Hardin's blood boils to feel that "the secret for
a price" is buried in Marie B‚rard's grave. Toss as he may, his
dreams do not discover the lost secret. Even Philip Hardin may
meet a Nemesis.

Villa Rocca, slain by a well-contrived accident, died for a secret
he knew not.

His own hand slew the woman who knew alone of the changelings, save
the bright and defiant ex-queen of the El Dorado.

Dark memories hover around some of the great mines of the Pacific.
Giant stock operations resulted from a seeming accidental fire.
A mine filled with water by mysterious breakage of huge pumps.
Hoisting machinery suddenly unmanageable; dashing to their doom
unsuspecting wretches. Imprisoned miners, walled up in rich drifts,
have died under stifling smoke, so that their secrets would die
with them.

Grinning Molochs of finance have turned markets on these ghastly

Madame de Santos may never suspect how a steel spike adroitly set
could cut a rope and dash even a noble Villa Rocca to his doom,
carrying down innocent men as a mask to the crime.

In the clear sky of Natalie's complacency, a lightning stroke of
the gods brings her palace of delight crashing down around her.

The telegraph flashes across the prairies, far beneath the Atlantic;
the news of Villa Rocca's death arrives. Hardin's cable is brief.
It is all-sufficient. Her trembling limbs give way. She reads:


Count Ernesto killed while visiting a mine, with friends. Accident
of hoisting machinery. I was not there. Leave to-night for the
place. Telegraph your wishes. Remain. Wait my reports. Write fully
in a few days.


She is all alone on earth. This is a crushing blow. No one to trust.
None to advise, for she has leaned on Ernesto. Her mind reels under
this blow. PŠre Fran‡ois is her only stay. The sorrow of these days
needs expression.

Villa Rocca's gay letters continue to arrive. They are a ghastly
mockery of these hours. Hardin can cast her off now, and claim the

Hardin's full account dispels any suspicion of foul play. After
a visit to the interior, the count went to see some interesting
underground workings. By a hazard of mining life, a broken rope
caused the death of the visitor, with several workmen, and a mine
superintendent who was doing the honors. Death waited at the foot
of the shaft for the noble stranger.

Hundreds of days, on thousands of trips like this, the princes
of the Comstock have risked their own lives in the perils of the
yawning pits. These dark holes blown out of the mountain rocks have
their fearful death-rolls to show.

It is the revenge of the gnomes. Every detail points to a frank
explanation. Journals and reports, with letters from the Italian
consul, lifted the sad tragedy above any chance of crime or
collusion. It is kismet.

Hardin's letter was manly. In it, he pledged his honor to carry
out the agreement, advising Natalie to select a friend to accompany
her to California with the heiress, as soon as she could travel.
His banker had orders to supply funds.

"I suggest, in view of this untimely accident, you would sooner
have your funds settled on you in Europe. It shall be as you wish.
You may rely on me," so ran the closing lines.

The parted strands of the hoisting cable cannot reveal whether it
was cut or weakened, yet Hardin knows. It was his devilish masterpiece.

Days of sadness drag down the self-reliant adventuress. Whom can
she trust now? Dare she confide in PŠre Fran‡ois?

A simple envelope addressed in a scrawling hand, and postmarked San
Francisco, drives all sorrow from her heart. The tiger is loosened
in her nature. She rages madly. A newspaper slip contains the
following, in flaming prominence:


"The choice of the Legislature for U. S. Senator will undoubtedly
fall upon that distinguished jurist Judge Hardin, who is now
supported by the railroad kings and leading financiers of the coast.

"It is rumored that Judge Hardin will, in the event of his election,
contract a matrimonial alliance with one of our leaders of society.
His bride will entertain extensively in the national capital."

A paper bears pithy advice:

"Come out and strike for your rights. You will find a friend to
back you up. Don't delay."

Natalie recognizes Joe Woods in this. He is the only man knowing
half the secret. Tossing on her pillow, the Queen of the El Dorado
suffers the tortures of the Inferno. Now is the time to strike
Hardin. Before the great senatorial contest. Before this cruel
marriage. She will boldly claim a secret marriage. The funds now
in the Paris bank are safe. She can blast his career. If she does
not take the heiress out, her chances vanish. And once there,
what will not Hardin do? What is Woods' motive? Jealousy. Revenge.

Ah, the priest! She will unbosom herself to PŠre Fran‡ois. She will
urge him to accompany her and the girl to San Franciso. He will
be a "background." And his unrivalled calmness and wisdom. PŠre
Fran‡ois only knows her as the "‚l‚gante" of the Champs Elys‚es.
She feels that Woods has been wisely discreet.

Summoning the ecclesiastic, Madame de Santos tells the story of
her claims upon Hardin.

The old Frenchman passes his rosary beads, with a clinking sound,
as he listens to the half-truths told him.

"And your child?" he queries.

"I have placed her secretly where Hardin cannot reach her. She
will be produced if needed."

There is a peculiar smile in the priest's face. "Madame, I will
accompany you on one condition."

"Name it," cries the siren, "I will furnish money, and every comfort
for you. It shall be my duty to reward you."

The priest bows gravely.

"I wish to have a resolute man with our party. My young friend,
Raoul Dauvray, has a lion's courage. Let him go with us. I do not
wish Judge Hardin to know of my presence in San Francisco. Dauvray
will guard you with his life."

"I agree to your wishes!" says madame thoughtfully. And loyal
Raoul will fight for her and his hoped-for bride. In a month there
is a notable departure from Paris. Madame de Santos, Mademoiselle
Isabel Valois, with their maids, and Raoul, "en cavalier." On the
same steamer, PŠre Fran‡ois travels. He affects no intimacy with
the distinguished voyagers. His breviary takes up all his time.
Arrived at New York, PŠre Fran‡ois leaves for San Francisco several
days in advance of the others.

It is singular that he goes no farther than Sacramento. The
legislature is about to assemble. Joseph Woods, as State senator,
is launched in political life. The robust miner laughs when he is
asked why he accepts these cheap honors.

"I'm not too old to learn some new tricks," he cheerfully remarks.
His questions soon exhaust PŠre Fran‡ois' stock of answers.

A day's conference between the friends leads to a series of
Napoleon-like mandates of the mining Croesus. Telegraph and cable
bear abroad to the shores of the Lake of Geneva the summons which
brings Peyton, with Armand Valois and the lovely blooming "Louise
Moreau," secretly to the Pacific. Natalie knows nothing of these
pilgrims. Quietly reaching San Francisco, by a local train, PŠre
Fran‡ois becomes again Padre Francisco. He rests his weary head
under the hallowing sounds of the well-remembered bells of the past
at the Mission Dolores.

Natalie de Santos rubs her eyes in wonder at the queen city of the
West, with its conquered hills and vanished sand-dunes. Whirled away
to a secure quiet retreat in a convent, selected by PŠre Fran‡ois,
the heiress and her young guardian are safe from even Hardin's

PŠre Fran‡ois at New York has conferred a day with Judge Davis,
and bids his new charge be calm and trust to his own advice. Isabel
Valois is in a maze of new impressions, and bewildered by a strange

Bravely attired, and of a generous port, Raoul Dauvray installs
himself in one of the palatial hotels which are the pride of the
occidental city. Colonel Joseph Woods is conspicuously absent.

When the fatigue of travel is over, Natalie de Santos quietly summons
Philip Hardin to the interview she dreads. She has been prepared
by PŠre Fran‡ois for this ordeal. Yet her tiger blood leaps up in
bubbling floods. She will at last face the would-be traitor, and
upbraid him. Oh, for one resolute friend!

It is in another convent that lovely "Isabel Valois" is concealed.
The heiress longs to burst her bonds. Is not Raoul near her?
Assured of a necessity for patience, the wayward beauty bides her
time. Every day the roses she caresses, whisper to her of the ardent
lover who sighs near her in vain.

Philip Hardin steels himself to face the woman he intends to trick
and deceive at the very last. There are such things as insane
asylums in California, if she makes any hubbub.

But he has a "coup d'‚tat" in his mind. The old schemer will bring
Natalie to terms. Flattery first; fear afterwards.

"And they are face to face once more."



Ushered into a private room, the soulless Hardin's iron nerves
fail him. His heart leaps up wildly when royal "Madame de Santos"
approaches silently. Heavens! Her startling beauty is only mellowed
with time. Another woman than the Hortense Duval of old stands
before him. A goddess.

She has grown into her new r“le in life.

"Hortense!" he eagerly cries, approaching her.

"Spare me any further deceit, Philip," she coldly replies. Seating
herself, she gazes at him with flaming eyes! She is a queen at

He is startled. A declaration of war. No easy mastery now.

"Where is your charge?" Hardin queries.

"Where you will not see her, until we understand each other,"
rejoins the determined woman. Her steady glance pierces his very
soul. Memories of old days thrill his bosom.

"What do you mean by all this?" Hardin's nerve returns. He must
not yield to mortal.

The woman who queened it over his home, extends a jewelled hand
with an envelop. "Explain this," she sharply cries.

The Judge reads it. It is the announcement of his double senatorial
and matrimonial campaign.

"Is there any foundation for that report?" Madame de Santos
deliberately asks.

"There is," briefly rejoins the lawyer. He muses a moment. What
devil is awakened in her now? This is no old-time pleading suppliant.

"Then you will not see Isabel until you have settled with me and
provided the funds promised before the death of the count."

"Ah!" sneers the old advocate; "I understand you NOW, madame. Blood

"Partly," remarks Madame de Santos. "I also insist upon your giving
up this marriage."

Hardin springs from his chair. Age has robbed him of none of his
cold defiance. He will crush her.

"You dare to dream of forcing me to marry you?" His eyes have the
glitter of steel.

"You need not give up the senate, but you must marry me, privately,
and give your own child a name. Then I will leave, with the funds
you will provide. You can separate from me afterward by the mere
lapse of time. There will be no publicity needed."

"Indeed!" Hardin snarls, "A nice programme, You have had some
meddling fool advise you; some later confidant; some protector."

"Exactly so, Judge," replies the woman, her bosom heaving in scorn
and defiance. "We have lived together. We are privately married
now by law! Philip, you know the nameless girl you have never asked
for is your own child."

Hardin paces the floor in white rage. He gazes sternly in her eyes.
She regards his excited movements, glaring with defiant eyes. A
tigress at bay.

"I will end this here, madame! In two weeks Isabel Valois will be
eighteen. If she is not forthcoming I will invoke the law. If I
am forced to fight you, you will not have a cent from me. I will
never marry you! I decline to provide for you or yours, unless you
yield this girl up. You must leave the country before the senatorial
election. That is my will."

Natalie faces her old lover. Tyrant of her heart once, he is now
a malignant foe!

"Philip Hardin," she pleads, "look out of that window. You can see
the house my child was born in--YOUR home, OUR home! Philip, give
that child a name; I will leave you in peace forever!" There is
the old music in her velvet voice.

"Never!" cries the Judge. "Give up the girl you took away. Leave
at once. I will secure your fortune. You cannot force me. You never
could. You cannot now!" He glares defiance to the death.

His eyes tell the truth. He will not yield,

"Then God help you, Philip," the woman solemnly says. "You will
never reach the Senate! You will never live to marry another

"Do you threaten me, you she-devil?" snarls Hardin, alarmed at
the settled, resolute face. "I have a little piece of news for
you which will block your game, my lady. There is no proof of the
legitimacy of the child, Isabel Valois. A claim has already been
filed by a distant Mexican relative of the Peraltas. The suit will
come up soon. If the girl is declared illegitimate, you can take
her back to France, and keep her as a beggar. You are in my hands!"
He chuckles softly.

"Philip Hardin, you are a liar and a monster. This is your conspiracy.
Now, show yourself a thief, also." Natalie retorts. The words cut
the proud man like a lash.

He seizes her jewelled wrist. He is beside himself.

"Beware," she hisses. "By the God who made me, I'll strike you

He recoils.

She is once more the queen of the El Dorado. Her ready knife is
flashing before his eyes. "You have a fearful reckoning to answer.
You will meet your match yet at the game of Life!" she cries.

But, Natalie de Santos is stunned by his devilish plot to rob the
despoiled orphan even of her name. He reads her face. "I will
give you a day to think this over. I will come to-morrow." Hardin's
voice rings with ill-concealed triumph.

"Not ten minutes will you give me. I tell you now I will crush you
in your hour of victory, if I die to do it. Once more, will you
marry me and give your child a name?" She rises and paces room, a
beautiful fury.

"You have your answer," he coldly replies.

"Then, may the plundered orphan's curse drag you down to the hell
you merit," is Natalie's last word as she walks swiftly out of the
door. She is gone.

He is alone. Somethings rings with dull foreboding in his ears as
his carriage rolls away. An orphan's curse! A cold clammy feeling
gnaws at his heart. An orphan's curse!

Ah! from the tomb of buried years the millionaire hears the voice
of Maxime Valois and shudders:

"May God deal with you as you deal with my child."

At home, in his library, where the silken rustling of that woman's
dress has thrilled him in bygone years, the old Judge drinks a
glass of cognac and slowly recovers his mental balance.

Through smoke-clouds he sees the marble chamber of the Senate of
the Great Republic. He must move on to the marriage, he has deferred
until the election. It is a pledge of twenty votes in joint ballot.

As for the girl Isabel, why, there is no human power to prove her
legitimacy now. That priest. Bah! Dead years ago. Silence has
rolled the stone over his tomb.

Hardin has foreseen for years this quarrel with Natalie de Santos.
But she can prove absolutely nothing. He will face her boldly. She
is ALONE in the world. He can tear the veil aside and blacken her

And yet, as evening falls, his spirit sinks within him. He can
not, will not, marry the woman who has defied him. What devil, what
unseen enemy put her on his track again? If he had never trusted
her. Ah, too late; too late!

Secretly he had laid his well-devised mines. The judge in Mariposa
is weighted down with a golden bribe. The court officials are under
his orders. But who is the unknown foe counselling Natalie? He
cannot fathom it. Blackmail! Yes, blackmail.

In three days Hardin is at Sacramento. His satellites draw up their
cohorts for the senatorial struggle. If the legislature names him
senator, then his guardianship will be quickly settled before the
Mariposa Court. There, the contest will be inaugurated, which will
declare Isabel Valois a nameless child of poverty. This is the last
golden lock to the millions of Lagunitas, The poor puppet he has
set up to play the contestant is under his control. He had wished
to see Natalie homeward bound before this denouement. It must be.
He muses. Kill her! Ah, no; too dangerous. He must FOIL her.

But her mad rage at his coming marriage. Well, he knew the ambitious
and stately lady who aspired to share his honors would condone the
story of his early "bonnes fortunes." What could lonely Natalie
do at the trial? Nothing. He has the Court in his pocket. He will
brave her rage.

Hardin writes a final note, warning the woman he fears, to attend
with the heiress on the day of the calling for his accounting.

Marvels never cease. He tears open the answer, after two sleepless
nights. She simply replies that the young Lady of Lagunitas will be
delivered to him on the appointed day. He cannot read this riddle.
Is it a surrender in hopes of golden terms? He knows not of PŠre
Fran‡ois' advice.

He smiles in complacent glee. He has broken many a weak woman's
nerve: she is only one more.

While he ponders, waiting that reply, Natalie Santos, with heavy
heart, tells the priest the story of her tryst with her old lover.

PŠre Fran‡ois smiles thoughtfully. He answers: "Be calm. You will
be protected. Trust to me. I will confer with our advisers. Not
a word to Isabel of impending trouble."

The little court-house at Mariposa is not large enough for the
crowd which pours in to see the Lady of Lagunitas when the fated
day approaches. It is the largest estate in the country. A number
of strangers have arrived. They are targets for wild rumors. Several
grave-looking arrivals are evidently advocates. There is "law" in
their very eyebrows.

Raoul Dauvray escorts Madame de Santos and the girl whose rumored
loveliness is famous already. Philip Hardin, with several noted
counsel, is in readiness. PŠre Fran‡ois is absent. There is an
elderly invalid, with an Eastern party of strangers, who resembles
him wonderfully.

On the case being reached, there is a busy hum of preparation.
One or two professional-looking men of mysterious identity quietly
take their places at the bar. In the clerk's offices there is also
a bevy of strangers. By a fortuitous chance, the stalwart form of
Colonel Joe Woods illuminates the dingy court-room. His business
is not on the calendar, He sits idly playing with a huge diamond
ring until the "matter of the guardianship of Isabel Valois" is

Several lawyers spring to their feet at once. A queer gleam is
in Joe Woods' eye as he nods carelessly to Hardin. They are both
Knights of the Golden Circle.

Judge Hardin's counsel opens the case, Hardin passes Natalie in
the court-room, with one last look of warning and menace. There
is no quiver to her eyelids. The graceful figure of a veiled young
girl is beside her.

When Hardin's advocate ceases, counsel rises to bring the contest
for the heirship of Lagunitas to the judicial notice of the Court.

The Judge is asked to stay the confirmation of the guardian's
accounts and reports. His Honor blandly asks if the young lady is
in court.

"Let Isabel Valois take the stand," is the direction.

Judge Hardin arises and passing to Natalie Santos, whose glittering
eyes are steadily fixed on his, in an inscrutable gaze, leads the
young lady beside her to the stand. Natalie has whispered a few
words of cheer.

All eyes are fixed upon the beautiful stranger, who is removing a
veil from a face of the rarest loveliness. There is a sensation.

Philip Hardin rises to his feet, ghastly pale, as Joseph Woods
quietly leads up to the platform a slight, girlish form. It is
another veiled woman, who quietly seats herself beside the claimant.

There is amazement in the court-room, "His Honor," with a startled
glance at Judge Hardin, who is gazing vacantly at the two figures
before him, says, "Which of these young ladies is Miss Isabel

A voice is heard. It is one of the strange counselors speaking.

Hardin hears the words, as if each stabbed him to the heart.

"Your Honor, we are prepared to show that the last young lady who
has taken the stand, is Miss Isabel Valois."

There is consternation in the assembly. Hardin's veins are knotted
on his forehead. He stares blankly at the two girls. His eyes turn
to Natalie de Santos. She is gazing as if the grave had given up
its dead. Her cheeks whiten to ashes. PŠre Fran‡ois, Henry Peyton,
and Armand Valois enter and seat themselves quietly by the side
of the man who is speaking. What does this all mean? No one knows.
The lawyer resumes.

"We will show your Honor, by the evidence of the priest who baptized
her, and by the records of the church, that this young lady is the
lawful and only child of Maxime Valois and Dolores Peralta. We
have abundant proof to explain the seeming paradox. We are in a
position to positively identify the young lady, and to dispose of
the contest raised here to-day, as to the marriage of the parents
of the real heiress."

Philip Hardin has sprung to his lawyers. They are amazed at the
lovely apparition of another Isabel Valois. At the bidding of the
Court, Louise Moreau's gentle face appears.

"And who is the other young lady, according to your theory?" falters
the astounded judge, who cannot on the bench receive the support
of his Mephistopheles.

"We will leave that to be proved, your Honor! We will prove OUR
client to be Isabel Valois. We will prove the other lady not to
be. It remains for the guardian, who produces her, to show who she
may be." The lawyer quietly seats himself.

There is a deadlock. There is confusion in court. Side by side
are seated two dark-eyed girls, in the flush of a peerless young
womanhood. Lovely and yet unlike in facial lines, they are both
daughters of the South. Their deep melting eyes are gazing, in
timid wonder, at each other. They are strangers.

"What is the name of your witness?" the judge mechanically questions.
The lawyer calmly answers, "Fran‡ois Ribaut (known in religion
as 'Padre Francisco'), who married the father and mother of this
young lady, and also baptized her."

A faint sob from Natalie breaks the silence. Her eyes are filled
with sudden tears. She knows the truth at last. The priest has
risen. Hardin looks once more upon that pale countenance of the
padre which has haunted his dreams so long. "Is it one from the
dead?" he murmurs. But, with quick wit, his lawyer demands to place
on the witness stand, the lady charged with the nurture of "Isabel
Valois." Philip Hardin gazes wolfishly at the royal beauty who is
sworn. A breathless silence wraps the room.

The preliminary questions over, while Hardin's eyes rove wildly over
the face of the woman he has cast off, the direct interrogatory is

"Do you know who this young lady is?" says the attorney, with
a furtive prompting from Hardin. "I do!" answers the lady, with
broken voice.

Before another question can be asked, the colleagues of Hardin's
leading lawyer hold a whispered colloquy with their chief.

There is a breathless silence in the court. The principal attorney
for the guardian asks the Court for a postponement of two weeks.

"We were prepared to meet an inquiry into the legitimacy of the
ward of our client. This production of another claimant to the
same name, is a surprise to us. On account of the gravity of this
matter, we ask for a stay."

No objection is heard. His Honor, anxious himself to have time
to confer with the would-be senator, adjourns the hearing for two

Before Hardin could extricate himself from the circle of his
advisers, the long-expected girl he has seen for the first time
has disappeared with Madame de Santos. He has no control over her
now. Too late!

His blood is bounding through his veins. He has been juggled with.
By whom? Natalie, that handsome fiend. And yet, she was paralyzed
at the apparition of the second beauty, who has also vanished.

He must see Natalie at once before she can frame a new set of lies.
After all, the MINE is safe.

As he strides swiftly across the plaza, the thought of the senatorial
election, and the lady whom he has to placate, presses on his mind.

As for the election, he will secure that. If Natalie attempts
exposure, he will claim it to be a blackmail invention of political
enemies. Ha! Money! Yes, the golden arguments of concrete power.
He will use it in floods of double eagles.

He will see Natalie on her way to Paris before the second hearing.
Yes, and send some one out of the State to watch her as far as New
York. He must buy her off.

A part of the money in hand; the rest payable at Paris to her own
order. She must be out of the way.

Mariposa boasts two hotels. The avoidance of Hardin's friends brings
all the strangers, perforce, together in the other. They have been
strangely private in their habits.

Philip Hardin's brow is set. It is no time for trifling. He sends
his name up to Madame de Santos. She begs to be excused. "Would
Judge Hardin kindly call in the evening?"

This would be after a council of war of his enemies. It must be
prevented. He pens a few words on a scrap of paper, and waits with
throbbing pulses,

"Madame will receive him." As he walks upstairs, he realizes he has
to face a reckoning with Joe Woods. He will make that clumsy-headed
Croesus rue the day. And yet Woods is in the State Senate, and may
oppose his election.

With his eyes fixed on the doors of Natalie's apartment, he does
not notice Woods gazing at him, from the end of the hall, in the
open door of the portico.

Natalie motions him to a seat as he enters. He looks at her in
amazement. She is not the same woman who entered that court-house.
He speaks. The sound of his own voice makes him start.

"What is all this devil's tomfoolery? Explain it to me. Are you
mad?" His suppressed feelings overmaster him. He gives way to an
imprudent rage.

"Are you ready to marry me? Are you ready to keep the oath you
swore to stand by me?" Her dark eyes burn into his heart. She is
calm, but intense in her demand.

"Tell me the truth or I'll choke it out of you," he hisses, grasping
her rudely.

His rashness breaks the last bond between them. A shriek from the
struggling woman echoes through the room.

The door flies open.

Hardin is hurled to the wall, reeling blindly.

The energetic voice of Joe Woods breaks the silence. "You are a
mean dog, but, by God, I did not think you'd strangle a woman."

Hardin has struggled to his feet. In his hand, flashes a pistol.

Joe Woods smiles.

"Trying the old El Dorado dodge, Judge, won't work. Sit down now.
Listen to me. Put up that shooting iron, or I'll nail you to the

His bowie knife presses a keen point to Hardin's breast. It is

Natalie Santos is buried in the cushions of her chair. She is sobbing
wildly. Shuffling feet are at the door. The fracas has been overheard.

Joe Woods quietly opens it. He speaks calmly. "The lady has fainted.
It's all right. Go away."

Through the door a girl's lovely face is seen, in frightened shyness.
"I'll send for you, miss, soon," Colonel Joe remarks, with awkward

He seats himself nonchalantly.

"Now, Hardin, I've got a little account to settle with you. I'll
give you all the time you want. But I'll say right here before this
lady, I know you are under an obligation to treat her decently.

"I remember her at the El Dorado!"

Hardin springs to his feet. Natalie raises her tearful eyes.

"Keep cool, Judge," continues the speaker. "You used to take care
of her. Now I'm a-going to advise her in her little private affairs.
I want you to let her severely alone. I want you to treat her as she
deserves; like a woman, not a beast. You can finish this interview
with her. I'm a-going out. If you approach her after this, without
my presence or until she sends for you, I'll scatter your brains
with my old six-shooter. I shall see she gets a square deal. She's
not going to leave California till this whole business is cleared
up. You hear me." Joe's mood is dangerous.

"Now go ahead with your palaver, madame. I'm not going to leave
the house. I know my business, and I'll stand by you as long as my
name is Joe Woods. When you're done I want you to see me, and see
my lawyer."

There is silence. Natalie's eyes give the stalwart miner a glance
of unutterable thankfulness.

She has met a man at last.

Her bosom heaves with pride, her eyes beam on rough old Joe. Woods
has taken out an unusually long cigar. He lights it at the door,
and leisurely proceeds to smoke it on the upper veranda.

When his foot-fall dies away, Hardin essays to speak. His lips
are strangely dry. He mutters something, and the words fail him.
Natalie interrupts, with scorn: "Curse you and your money, you
cowardly thief. You have met your match at last. I trusted to your
honor. Your hands were on my throat just now. I have but one word
to say to you now. Go, face that man out there!" Hardin is in a
blind rage.

His legal vocabulary finds no ready phrase of adieu. His foot is
on the top stair. Joe Woods says carelessly:

"Judge, you and I had better have a little talk to-night." Ah,
his enemy! He knows him at last. Hardin hoarsely mutters: "Where?

"When you please," says Woods.

"Ten, to-night; your room. I'll bring a friend with me." Hardin
nods, and passes on, crossing the square to his hotel. He must have
time for thought; for new plans; for revenge; yes, bloody revenge.

Colonel Joseph Woods spends an hour in conference with Peyton and
Father Fran‡ois. Their plans are all finished.

Judge Davis, who is paralyzed by the vehemence of California
character, caresses his educated whiskers. He pets his eye-glasses,
while the three gentlemen confer. He is essentially a man of peace.
He fears he may become merely a "piece of man" in case the appeal
to revolvers, or mob law, is brought into this case. They do things
differently in New York.

While the two lovely girls are using every soothing art of womanly
sympathy to care for Natalie, it begins to dawn upon each of them
that their futures are strangely interlinked. The presence of Madame
de Santos seals their lips. They long for the hour when they can
converse in private. They know now that the redoubtable Joe Woods
has TWO fatherless girls to protect instead of ONE.

Natalie Santos, lying on her couch, watches these young beauties
flitting about her room. "Does the heiress, challenged in her
right, dream of her real parentage?" A gleam of light breaks in on
the darkness of her sufferings. Why not peace and the oblivion of
retirement for her, if her child's future is assured in any way?
Why not?

Looking forward hopefully to a conference with Colonel Joe, she
fears only the clear eyes of old Padre Francisco. "Shall she tell
him all?" In these misgivings and vain rackings of the mind, she
passes the afternoon. She yields to her better angel, and gives
the story of her life to the patient priest.

Armand Valois and Raoul Dauvray have a blessed new bond of brotherhood.
They are both lovers. With Padre Francisco, they are a guard of
honor, watching night and day the two heiresses.

They share the secret consciousness of Natalie de Santos that Joe
Woods has in store some great stroke.

Judge Davis, Peyton, and the resolute Joe are the only calm ones in
the settlement. For, far and wide the news runs of racy developments.
In store, saloon, and billiard lounging-place, on the corners, and
around the deserted court-room, knots of cigar-smoking scandal-mongers
assuage their inward cravings by frequent resort to the never-failing
panacea--whiskey. Wild romances are current, in which two great
millionaires, two sets of lawyers, duplicate heiresses, two foreign
dukes, the old padre and the queenly madame are the star actors in
a thrilling local drama, which is so far unpunctuated by the crack
of the revolver.

It is a struggle for millions, and the clash of arms will surely

There has been no great issue ever resolved in Mariposa before the
legal tribunal, which has not added its corpses to the mortuary
selections lying in queer assortment on the red clay hillsides.

"Justice nods in California while the pistols are being drawn."

Hardin, closeted with his lawyers, suspends their eager plotting,
to furtively confer in private with the judge.

When the first stars sweep into the blue mountain skies, and
a silver moon rises slowly over the pine-clad hills, Joseph Woods
summons all his latent fascinations to appease Madame Natalie de
Santos. The sturdy Missourian has had his contretemps with Sioux
and Pawnee. He has faced prairie fires, stampeded buffalo herds,
and met dangers by flood and field. Little personal discussions
with horse thieves, some border frays, and even a chance encounter
on a narrow trail with a giant grizzly, have tried his nerve. But
he braces with a good stiff draught of cognac now. He fears the
wily and fascinating Natalie. He is at heart a would-be lady's
man. Roughness is foreign to his nature, but he will walk the grim
path of duty.

When he thinks of flinching, there rises on his memory the lonely
grave where Peyton laid Maxime Valois to rest on the bloody field
of Peachtree Creek, with the stars and bars lying lightly on his
gallant breast. And he calmly enters the presence of the once famous

There is a mute entreaty in her eyes, as she motions him to a seat.

Joseph toys nervously with the huge diamond, which is a badge "de
rigueur" of his rank and grade as a bonanza king.

"I do not wish to agitate or distress you, madame," begins Joe,
and his voice is very kind.

"I broke out a little on Hardin; all bluff, you know. Just to show
him a card. Now will you trust and let me help you? I mean to bring
you out all right. I can't tell you all I know. I am going to fight
Hardin on another quarrel. It will be to the death. I can just as
well square your little account too, if you will trust me. Will

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