by Sevenstars & Aureleigh
West of Trinidad
The Next Afternoon
Ezra lifted his head at the sound of hoofbeats outside, then a voice--a man's voice; he couldn't make out the words, but the tone wasn't one of challenge or unease. He was sore and tired, his face still aching from the blow that had brought him down, muscles battered and stiff after the long ride up from Four Corners and his transfer here--wherever here was; it had been too dark for him to get any decent idea of its character or location, and in any case he'd still been less than fully alert when they'd arrived, some time after midnight, but he thought, from the furnishings and the general dilapidated state of the place, that it might be a disused line camp. He was imprisoned in a low-ceilinged eight-by-ten cabin of thick logs, well chinked and daubed with clay, with a double bunk across the back end, a sheet-iron stove, good rat-proof storage cupboards, and fold-down worktable along one side, and opposite a puncheon table shoved side-on to the wall. Every level surface was thick with dust, which supported the notion that the place hadn't been occupied in some time. The willow chair to which he was bound had been nailed to the floor, and the windows were covered with some sort of fabric--sacking, probably--so he couldn't see out. He had seen a couple of his captors clearly when they brought him in last night and tied him up: a lanky, thin-faced man in his early thirties, with dark curly hair and beard, whose green plaid shirt he thought he recognized as having been on the arm of his attacker in Trinidad, and a silent, high-cheekboned younger fellow with the murky-green eyes often seen in halfbreeds, a speculation supported by the feather in his hatband and the soft buckskin wrapped leggings he wore over his washed-out blue jeans.
Ezra had made some effort, at first, to work his way out of his bonds, but he'd never been good with ropes, and these were rawhide thongs, which were even worse. At last he had made up his mind to conserve his strength and see what developed. Eventually, no matter what they planned for him, someone would have to come in, and probably release him, and maybe then he would see a chance to move. Meanwhile he needed more information. He was certain he couldn't be far from Trinidad, but who exactly was holding him? Why? How many were there, how well armed, how alert? Where was Gambit, and was he rested enough to make a getaway?
He heard the rattle of a key in a lock, the clink of metal against metal, and guessed that the door was secured by a hasp and padlock. Then it opened, pouring sunlight into the dim interior and forcing him to squint and flinch painfully. A man stepped in and reached up to light the lamp bracketed alongside the frame, then gave way to a second person and shut the door behind him. It took a minute or two for Ezra's deprived eyes to get used to even the low illumination that was left. When they did, he had little trouble recognizing the longish, hollow-cheeked face and blood-brown eyes of the woman who had been masquerading as his mother. He guessed that she was about Nathan's age, with reddish hair dressed in coils behind, cascading down to low on her nape to give the fashionable rearward focus. She wore a blue cloth riding habit with a standing linen collar and white muslin necktie, gleaming black leather boots, and a felt riding hat, slanted to one side, with embroidered flowers on the brim, all very correct and neat--and a conchaed holster on her hip in which was what he guessed might be the Webley Bulldog he'd seen before. "Well, Mr. Standish," she said, "at last we meet."
"I regret I have not had the pleasure, madam," he replied evenly.
She smiled, not pleasantly. "And you won't. I'd be rather a fool to give you my name, wouldn't I? All you really need to know is who is in charge here: me, and my riders. As long as you do what you're told and don't make us any trouble, you'll have a chance of getting out of this with your skin intact. We don't have any personal quarrel with you."
His practised ear caught the speech patterns of a sound education, probably in the Midwest somewhere. "Then might I inquire as to the reason for this rather barbaric treatment I am undergoin'?"
"You're the cool one, aren't you?" she asked rhetorically. "Well, I expected that, after my foreman checked you out. Though I have to say I was surprised to learn that Maude Standish's son, a man with a record as a hustler, con artist, and card shark, was helping keep the peace in a little backwater town down south."
Ezra didn't miss her specific reference to Maude. "In that, madam, you share my mother's sentiments. Do you know her?"
"Only by reputation. I understand she's in the same line, or lines, as you are, or used to be. The Pinkertons tell me she's very good at both of them. They say she's a superb poker player, though she prefers to run scams for a living. Is that true?"
"Mother is, indeed, highly skilled at all games of chance," Ezra admitted, since he could see no harm in doing so. And inwardly, not for the first time, he wondered why she hadn't made that, rather than grifting, her chief profession. Poker, after all, required nothing like the often elaborate preparations and masquerades necessary to successful cons, and was often even more remunerative. Ezra had met his share of female gamblers and faro dealers and heard of more, including one, "Poker Alice" Ivers, who worked the transcontinental railroad, travelling back and forth on the high-class Pullman trains and engaging travellers in the game for which she was named.
"That's good, then." His captor looked him over from head to toe, making him feel both embarrassed at his dishevelled state and distinctly uncomfortable. "She'd recognize that scarfpin you're wearing, I suppose."
Ezra knew she was referring to the exquisite blood-red ruby pin slanted through his black silk tie. It was said that all gamblers loved diamonds, but he had always had a weakness for red stones: his best ring and his favorite cuff buttons were ruby, and his watch chain was never without a carnelian seal as well as the two or three gold ones suspended from it. He didn't understand the attraction they held for him, since neither was his birthstone: onyx, topaz, and sapphire were the gems that were supposed to be lucky for one born at his time of year. "I dare say she would," he agreed, since it would probably do him little good to deny it.
The woman stepped closer to his chair, reached out, and deftly plucked the pin from its nest in the carefully arranged folds of fabric. "Then it'll do nicely as proof that we have you. Along with the note you'll write to her, of course."
Ezra's first sensation was one of relief. He wasn't being used in some scheme to harm Chris Larabee and the others. Whatever this woman wanted, she wanted it from Standishes only. Then practicality asserted itself. "Madam, if it is your intention to employ me as some sort of bargainin' chip to force concessions from my mother, I regret to say that you have sadly overestimated the depth of her maternal affection for me." Even as he said it, he wondered why he was revealing so much rather than trying to bluff.
She eyed him without rancor and responded as calmly and coolly as if discussing the weather. "You'd better hope I haven't, Mr. Standish, because if you're of no use to me, I won't hesitate to have you killed."
A chill shuddered up the Southerner's backbone as he began to realize just how ruthless a personality he was dealing with. Anyone could say the words, but a man in his line--in all three of his lines--had to be able to read the subtler hints: tone, body language, eyes. He saw clearly from these that she meant what she was saying. He realized that this was why he had made the statement: he had needed to provoke her into revealing just how far she was willing to go. It was difficult to plan one's game without knowing just how much the opposition was ready to lay on the table.
She turned back to the door, opened it and called to someone outside. The lanky, curly-haired man Ezra had seen before entered in response to her summons and produced a knife. "We're going to cut you loose," she said, "but Cole here will have his gun on you every minute. You'll go to the table over there and write exactly what I tell you to, no more and no less. If you get slick on us, you'll regret it." She flicked the silver-handled whip she held and tapped it sharply against her boot. "After that, you'll be moved on to another location while I contact your mother. And remember that while I'd like to keep you alive, once I have a note in your hand to send her, the exact state of your health becomes a lot less vital to the success of my plan. Cole and the boys may not kill you if you try to give them trouble, but they won't hesitate to make you hurt." The whip tapped again. "Do I make myself clear, Mr. Standish?"
She nodded. "All right, Cole, untie him."
After she had returned her rented horse to the livery stable in Trinidad, along with the buckboard they had used to smuggle Standish out of town, Miranda Kane made her way back to the hotel, changed her habit for a blue bustle dress with a high lace collar, and began packing her bags for the trip to Colorado Springs. She already had her train ticket bought, and would need only arrange to have her luggage taken to the station in time to catch the outgoing northbound first thing in the morning. By one o'clock she'd be on home ground--where, according to the latest telegram from Cole's segundo, Maude Standish was still staying--and the next part of her plan could be put into action. It had been very fortunate that the older woman should have chosen to light there just as Miranda was making ready to act; it would save a good deal of time and bother, since that was where she would need to be in order to play the part Miranda intended her to. It made Miranda feel vindicated in her quest to balance the scales for her family's misfortune. If God didn't approve of what she wanted to do, why had He sent her enemy to just that place at just this time?
She packed everything except her nightgown, toiletries, and tomorrow's bustled brown travelling suit, and then went out onto the railed second-storey veranda and settled herself comfortably in one of the scattered wicker rocking chairs, enjoying the dry summer air and the breeze off the mountains as she reviewed again the road that had brought her here and provided her with the power to have her revenge--and the circumstances that allowed her to use one foe against another. She'd been born a Livermore in 1842 in Terre Haute, Indiana, the third of her parents' children; she had two older sisters, Rowena and Eleanor, who were four and two years her senior. When she was eighteen months old a brother, Austin, was born; when she was three, a second, Denis; when she was six, a third, Roderic. Two more sisters, Lydia and Roselle, followed when she was eight and ten, and at last, three years later, another brother, Henry. Her father's four maiden aunts also lived with the family.
At four, with her delicate color and fine bone structure, she gave the impression of being a frail child. But this was a totally inaccurate impression, for she was as wholesome as an apple and as wiry as steel. She was also the embodiment of candor and outgoing friendliness. Generosity was an integral part of her nature, and laughter as natural to her as breathing. Her sympathies were quickly aroused, and her ability to recognize and share an awkward situation was keen and swift. Yet she was recognized even then as having an outreaching nature, all too intent on overlooking faults in a beloved rather than making a rational appraisal of his character.
At eleven her mouth was firm for one so young, but its corners curled up in friendly fashion and gave her a frank, happy expression. Her nose was slender, with delicate, arching nostrils. Her high color and quick, merry laughter were inherited from her father, and between them was a bond of perfect understanding and love. They were alike, too, in their short patience and their desire to finish a task quickly, often too quickly. For her birthday that year he presented her with her first horse, a beautiful little three-year-old sorrel thoroughbred filly. No longer did she have to share the family's two fat ponies with the other younger children. She took to the saddle easily and had from the beginning the firm, gentle hands of a born horsewoman. She was tempery, impatient, and willful, but her scrapes got her never so much as a scolding from her father. Yet she was a kind, thoughtful child, and never spoke hurtfully to her younger siblings. An eager, earnest, girl, she was full of energy, almost scandalously so for a child of her gender, high-spirited yet sensible and straight-thinking. Her mother often murmured that she should have been born a boy, and she thought it would have been pleasant if she had. Not only would she have been able to do so many more things without censure from family and society, but she could have looked forward to going to college and law school and one day becoming her father's partner, as Austin and Denis and Roderic were expected to do. They got along so famously well that she was sure they would have made a formidable team.
Because the public schools in their home town weren't as good as they might have been, the Livermore children got most of their education at home. Their father taught them Latin, their mother French; literature and history they taught themselves by wallowing in books, and science came out of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Father raised his children as equals--in his eyes girls were different from boys, but not inferior--and had the girls study the same subjects as their brothers: history, mathematics, astronomy, metaphysics, Latin, Greek grammar, as well as the drawing, painting, music, and conversational French deemed proper for young ladies. He encouraged them to read German and French and even philosophy. This program was intended to continue, for each of the girls in turn, until they were seventeen, when tradition required that they be sent to Mary Lyon's Mount Holyoke Seminary in South Hadley, Massachusetts, from which their mother and their aunts on both sides had been graduated. (Father and Mother had originally met because one of his sisters was a classmate of hers there, and they often told the children how he began courting her when he was twenty-six and she only seventeen. They married three years later, and were as happy as any couple Miranda had ever known.)
Miranda was a good student and enjoyed the challenges her schooling presented, going so far as to teach herself Greek and Italian. She really enjoyed the housewifely arts, gardening, knitting, sewing, cooking, and preserving. But spelling and sums were bugbears. All her life long she was to have strange ideas about spelling. She also had a romantic side and was fond of tales of foundlings, like Arabella Montgomery in Elizabeth Stuart Ward's The Gypsy's Child. Other favorites were The Arabian Nights, Robinson Crusoe, and Paul and Virginia, which she read in French; she often spoke French for hours with her father, who said she had a remarkably fine accent.
Mother was a woman of strong character, quiet, reserved, even-tempered, and very patient, praised by all who knew her for reticence, equable temper, and good sense. She never argued, boasted, or gossipped, and was an intelligent, cultivated person of deep and simple piety who required no pleasure beyond what she found in her duty towards husband and children. She was full of energy, initiative, executive talent and foresight, an excellent housekeeper, noted for her thrift and industry, and took an active part in community affairs. Her chief concern, apart from music and the management of her family, was with the Congregational Church, which the family attended, although she had been brought up a Universalist. For forty years--notwithstanding the fact that her husband didn't go to church at all--she taught the adult Bible class there. Yet Christmas in their house was the merriest, the happiest, that Miranda had ever seen. Though her family's surname sounded quite English, and they were Christians, they descended from Portuguese Jews who took refuge in England during the Inquisition, and Mother had the "Mediterranean look" to prove it--olive skin, dark hair, beautiful dark eyes that seemed rimmed with shadows. She was very religious but not Puritanically so. She wanted her children to enjoy themselves, and left them largely free to select their own pleasures. She didn't hedge them about with a formidable array of "don'ts," and permitted her sons to read dime novels and play marbles "for keeps," but not to dance or play cards. She saw to it that they and their sisters read and studied the Bible, and taught them early on to solve their problems by the light of what they found in it, but she governed them without the rod; neither she nor her husband ever scolded or whipped them. In return for this tender affection, they were tractable, well-behaved, never boisterous or rude.
Father was an attorney, and, like many members of his profession, something of a speculator as well: the opportunity to make profitable investments was part and parcel of it, as was the respect and prestige due an ambitious and educated man. He confined himself to civil cases, never criminal ones, but a good share of them were big, defending railroads and manufacturers in suits over rights-of-way and patents, and in several instances his non-corporate clients paid him in land, which he held for a profit; so he quickly became very well-to-do. He was a very tall man with a firm chin and a sudden, unexpected smile, who liked to spend his mornings with his family--he never opened his office before ten o'clock--and often played the violin for their delight. He approved of Miranda's intelligence and spirit and spoke to her as freely and confidentially as he did her mother; at an early age she was aware that his income ranged from five to seven thousand dollars a year. She took pride in being "of good family," as they called it down South: Mother descended from seven generations of clergymen and civic leaders, and Father from a long line of prominent physicians, divines, and lawyers, based originally in and around Nantucket, which, from the late 1700's to the mid 1800's, was one of the great centers of the whaling industry. Beginning as farmers, fishermen, and sheep raisers, there came a time when most of the males, from fourteen to seventy, went off on voyages that could last for two or three or four years at a time, sailing up and down the coasts of South America and eventually as far away as Japan and the Arctic. The women were left behind to do the jobs that in other places would be handled by men. Disaster at sea was common, and for long periods a woman might not know if she was a wife or a widow. Indeed, they expected to manage on their own, and should a sailor fail to return, his widow was ready to open a shop and support her family. This caused them to learn early to be a fearless and independent breed--capable, self-reliant, stout-hearted, sure of themselves and their opinions. It became entirely natural for them to assume responsibilities and privileges accepted elsewhere as men's--in church, school, and town affairs--and be accepted as preachers, innkeepers, and owners of businesses. In addition, many of the town's families (including Father's, originally) were Quakers, whose girls learned as a matter of course to be self-reliant and independent, to listen to the "inner voice," and to go the way their consciences told them, no matter what the world said. And this, in turn, had led both men and women to develop liberal attitudes toward the education of women. Father often said that Miranda was a Nantucket girl at heart, notwithstanding that she had never so much as smelled the ocean.
At twelve Miranda had a slow, half-grave, half-mischievous smile, a fiery temper, and a hypersensitive nature that kept the color alternately flaming and fading across her high cheekbones. When Maude Standish's con ruined her father and reduced the family to genteel poverty, the following year, it was a great blow to her, having always been his favorite daughter. What was even worse was that he died soon after. The family lost not only their breadwinner and their fortune, but their position in town and the house where Miranda had been born. But they still had their library, and enough money to rehabilitate their broken-down farm.
Their new home was located on a thousand acres purchased from an Indian chief in 1803. It was by no means an uncomfortable place to live; indeed, with the old frame farmhouse, stone cottages and outbuildings, a cider mill, an ancient rose garden, a pond, barns and haymows, and stables filled with horses for the adults, ponies for the children, old hacks, dogcarts, sulkies, carriages, and tack that had been used by generations of Livermores, most people would have considered it more than adequate. The broad, low, L-shaped house had ceilings that undulated quite distinctly from half a century's warp, and a porch all along the long stroke. The bedroom windows rose from the floor almost five feet--which, in the rooms in the long stroke, was within six inches of the roof slope. But the angle was gentle, and there was actually a lot of head room. Within was an effect of homelike comfort, which at first suggested ease as well as distinction, especially in the sitting room, with its pieces of good furniture, momentoes, family portraits by Stuart and Trumbull, well-filled bookshelves and cheery open fire. Though they had lost much, they still had a consciousness of their past, as exemplified in the board at which a Royal Governor of Massachusetts Colony, and some governors of the Commonwealth, had dined, the silver with the wolves and shield on it, the Copley and the two Stuarts, the trunks of Revolutionary uniforms and eighteenth-century Paris gowns, and the grave of the horse that had carried Father's father, Colonel Livermore, through the War of 1812. There was a large garden full of old-fashioned flowers--coreopsis, mourning bride, hollyhocks, portulaca, larkspur, monkshood, and others fascinatingly named. And if you arrived at teatime there was even a hint of luxury in the brightly shining beauty of the Georgian silver tea service, the fineness of the Chinese porcelain. But if you went further than that first impression, you soon became aware of the need of many, many things. If you put your hands on the seat of the tufted sofa, you touched the spiral of a spring that had pushed through all the padding to the outer covering. No amount of sweeping could hide the great brown places in the carpet where the pattern was quite worn away. All of the furniture coverings were darned and patched, as were the clothes of the numerous small boys and girls.
They were much better off than many other families in town, but they suffered from perhaps the worst of all poverties--the variety known as genteel. There were times when they were even affluent, but most of the time they had much less money than most of the people they knew. They had their own house, they ate three good meals a day, they were never without pets, books, a piano, one driving horse and sometimes two or three (apart from the personal mounts) in the stable, but in order to keep up a front it was necessary to deny themselves things which their friends had as a matter of course, and to make petty economies and makeshifts, mostly in secret, which were unceasingly annoying, like trousers cut down for the boys from old pairs of their father's. For as long as he lived, it humiliated Father to know that his girls were milking cows, and he insisted they dress themselves in silk, however faded and frayed, each afternoon. "Tea" was served--never a country-style supper--and guests were bidden in the old manner and fed bountifully, even if the family lived on short rations for days afterwards. The girls were constantly reminded that they were born to a high station and must be ladies at all costs.
Until the older boys could be launched in business, it was the three "big girls," Rowena and Eleanor and Miranda, who held the family together, kept it solvent, and took care of their mother; they sewed and made dresses, and ran a small girls' school in their house at one dollar a month per pupil, with never less than a dozen pupils in the front parlor, and often more in the back. The family took in four or five college students as boarders each winter. Eleanor, who had a lovely true soprano voice, became a paid soloist at their church and brought in three hundred dollars a year by her singing. Austin left school at fifteen to go to work, and was soon able to find a place for Denis. But even with their help there was no money for Mount Holyoke, and at sixteen Miranda was teaching eight or ten pupils of her own, giving music lessons, raising chickens and doing embroidery for sale. At twenty-two she moved to St. Louis, where she lived in an attic room in a boardinghouse for three dollars a week, including a fire and her meals, and gave lessons in drawing, earning fifty dollars a month and sending most of it home. Later she cared for an invalid child, worked as a domestic and a governess, and then began writing impossible melodramatic stories for magazines and newspapers--ten or twelve of them a month--and sold twenty-five in a year, at five to ten dollars each. They were typical melodramas in which noble captives languished in dungeons, gallant knights fought duels, and fierce bandits waylaid travellers; but they did encourage her to develop creativity and fertility of mind, to be patient, and to think out all of the ramifications of a possible plan, whether hers or a character's, and one of them won a first prize of $100. She also contributed bits and pieces to the sentimental annuals at $20 to $25.
None of those stories was any more melodramatic or improbable than the manner in which she learned the truth about her father's downfall. She had never really been clear on why the original verdict had been reversed and the case sent back for the retrial that had resulted in his being found guilty. She was shopping for a secondhand trunk in which to store her manuscripts, and the one she purchased proved to have belonged to an Indiana Supreme Court Judge who had apparently left it behind or perhaps lost it in transit. In it she found several notebooks, which she supposed had been intended for private drafts of opinions and other case-related notes. She began paging through them out of idle curiosity, never expecting her father's name to leap out at her. Once it did, she made sure she practically memorized that section. It was those jottings that finally made clear to her just how Father had been tricked, ensnared, persuaded to incriminate himself. And they gave her a name to learn more of: Maude Standish.
When she was twenty-four she went to Europe as companion to a young woman who was a semi-invalid, travelling through Germany, Switzerland, Paris and London for a year. It was there that she met and befriended a couple from Virginia City, Nevada, and learned first hand of the riches pouring from the seven-year-old Comstock Lode and the sumptuous life they fostered. It occurred to her that such an environment might present possibilities unavailable to her up till now. Having seen her charge home, she looked into the cost of moving West, and once she had a figure she began writing furiously. For a year she had an average of six stories a month in the various women's periodicals of the day--Godey's Ladies' Book, Peterson's--at fifteen to twenty dollars each, occasionally as much as $75; "potboilers," the conventional, cliche-ridden type of story that was bought by such markets. She kept half the money, and at twenty-six set out for Nevada.
She took a month or so to study the town and see where the best chances might lie, and then boarded the train for "down below," as San Francisco was called. There she made her way to the office of Jacob Mayer, wholesaler, and told him her story (except for her father's exact fate) and asked for a stock of goods on credit for her intended millinery and notions store.
"Won't some of your friends go security for you?" he asked, not unkindly.
"I won't ask them to risk going broke for my sake," she said with spirit.
"How much of a stock do you want?"
Miranda hesitated. She might as well ask for a lot. "About...about a hundred dollars will do for a beginning," she hazarded.
Mr. Mayer chuckled. "Nonsense! You could carry home a hundred dollars' worth of millinery in a silk apron. Let me select a stock of goods for you."
Humming, he bustled about his warehouse and laid out silk and feathers and artificial flowers until the bill totalled twelve hundred dollars. Miranda looked longingly at his choosings. "I'm afraid to risk it," she admitted, although she was tempted, for it would make a really fine shop. She offered him thirty dollars in part payment.
Mr. Mayer refused. "Never mind. You'll need that money. Take this stock home and do the best you can with it. Then come back and get some more."
Hats of the time were generally handmade--perky little things loaded with veiling, ribbons, flowers, feathers, and ruffles. They were fun to make, and expensive. In three weeks Miranda was back--with money to pay off her debt. This time she took three thousand dollars' worth of stock, again on credit, and again she soon paid it off. Her shop was under way.
Hardship and the awareness of her family's disgrace had hardened her, and her work experience had brought out an unsuspected bent toward the same strong character, initiative, and executive talent as her mother had possessed. She had grown into a serious, focused person who found little cause for laughter in life and less for generosity: self-preservation was the first law, and after it came the opportunity to balance the scales. As a successful milliner, she was quickly accepted by the "respectable" folk, and found herself called upon and squired around by a succession of attentive young men to whom she was emotionally attracted, but none of whom offered the intellectual stimulus she wanted in a husband--or the monetary backing she desired, for over the long years of struggle she had made up her mind that Maude Standish should pay for her family's downfall. Her resentment was indeed almost greater than a man's might have been, for as a woman she was more affected by a sudden loss of finances and therefore of social standing, to say nothing of the shame that accompanied her father's fate and the revelations that preceded it. But she was practical enough to realize that, with almost fifteen years elapsed, it would take time, and probably paid professional detectives, to find her enemy.
When she did marry at last, she was almost thirty, though for the most part she didn't look it, except for the bitter experience that sometimes shone from her eyes. Her husband, Owen Kane, was a former San Francisco barkeeper who, like many other men of that city, had made millions in Nevada silver-mining stock. His profession had naturally made him the confidant of many and, since he was an independent businessman, gave him money to spare to invest. Soon after the Comstock was opened, he and a couple of friends grubstaked a hopeful prospector on his way over the mountains. The prospector was successful beyond his wildest dreams, and in a few weeks the Golden Chariot Mine he discovered was producing $20,000 worth of ore a week. One of Owen's partners sold his share for $100,000, invested it in government bonds, bought rental property, and increased his wealth. The second hung on till he had made $145,000, then sold his share for $265,000, went to Denver, and opened a saloon. Owen sold his share for $1,000,000, invested a couple of hundred thousand in 40,000 shares of the mine, and when the stock mounted from five to thirty dollars in a month or so, he sold and made another million profit. He then bought a second mine, the Wild Delirium, for $15,475. It proved to have been salted, but he decided to take a chance on it anyway, and after three days' digging, they struck a vein. For more than two years it paid over $100,000 a month net. He incorporated the company at $10,000,000 and made a couple more fortunes when the stock rose from five to forty-five dollars a share.
By this time he had moved permanently to Virginia City, along with his wife and three sons, Francis, Darcy, and George, who were twenty, sixteen, and nine years old when he made his first pile. Production at the Delirium slacked off a bit after the first couple of years, but for six more he took an average million a year from the mine and associated properties, then sold it to a British syndicate for $10,000,000. Unlike many mining millionaires, who had a passion for diamonds, women, champagne, opera houses, and fast horses, he preferred plain whiskey, and his idea of a good time involved comfortable clothing, a big soft chair, a bottle, and a book. His wife died in 1862, and with his sons growing up and moving out, he made up his mind that he didn't want to live alone. He had met Miranda through some of his fellow mining magnates, whose womenfolk were clients of hers, and liked it that she had the spirit to go out and make her own money instead of immediately trying to latch onto wealth--and that she wasn't a flighty young girl, but a mature woman only a few years younger than his oldest son. He was fifty-eight when they were wed. A year later she bore him a daughter, whose existence delighted him beyond measure, but the child expired of cholera infantum at the age of four. Shortly thereafter--three years ago now--Owen himself died, leaving an estate of $16,000,000, which according to his will was to be evenly divided between Miranda and his sons. But the "boys" had always resented their stepmother, and since George was a lawyer, he had contacts in the legal profession. In the end they got away with ninety-nine per cent of their father's money, leaving Miranda with "only" $160,000 in cash and stocks--and one thing they hadn't been able to touch. Owen had been diversifying his investments for years, had seen their dislike for what it was, and foreseeing the possibility that they would challenge his will, he had gifted Miranda outright with the deed to a ranch just south of Colorado Springs. Its income from cattle and hay and timber, together with her inheritance invested in a savings account at five or six per cent, made her independent and an authentic heiress, with $8000 a year just from the bank.
Miranda moved to Colorado and settled in as mistress of the KKKKonnected. Having no children to whom she might leave it, she sent East for her sister Lydia, who had been married by the time she was eighteen and left a widow when her husband died as a result of wounds sustained during the Civil War. Lydia brought her two young sons, Walter and Edgar Paige, to live on the ranch, and Miranda had an ironclad will drawn up, leaving the property equally to the two boys. But she had never forgotten her resolve to get back what Maude Standish owed her and her family. And she had, too, a second score to settle, with her stepsons, who had flouted their father's clearly expressed wishes and were each getting fat on $5,280,000 a good part of which should have been hers. She hired the Pinkertons, and after almost two years they reported back to her. It was at this time that she began to realize how one enemy could be used against the other--if she could discover a means of putting pressure on the first.
Cole's foray into Maude's room in Cheyenne had provided the key. Tucked away in her dressing-case had been a recent letter postmarked Four Corners, N.M.T. and signed Your affectionate son, Ezra. Miranda had read it in fascination, picking out the references to past cons together, recent poker games on the writer's part, and six men with whom he was currently associated in keeping the peace. She then sent Cole to Four Corners to find out how much of it was true. He stayed for a week and found it not too difficult to confirm every word. The people of the town were eager to talk about the seven men they called "ours." They even seemed to be rather proud of the fact that one of them was a gambling man and a con artist. Cole hardly had to ask any questions at all, just listen.
When he returned and told her what he'd learned, she realized she would have to first separate Standish from his cohorts; his findings made it clear that they were far more than simply the "business associates" the man had casually called them in his letter, and would act decisively and even violently to protect a member of their group. It was as she was putting the finishing touches on the logistics of her plan that she learned Maude had arrived in Colorado Springs. She took that as a sign, and set things in motion. So far, it had worked like the proverbial charm. Soon she would have the money Owen had intended she should. And after that...she had never promised Standish that he would survive his abduction. There would be much more satisfaction, in the end, to forcing Maude to do her bidding if she could also guarantee that the older woman would suffer a loss of the same degree as her own.
As dusk began to veil the veranda, she stood from her rocker and gazed north toward the Springs. It wouldn't be much longer now.
Humming her father's favorite tune, Foster's "Open Thy Lattice, Love," she turned and went inside to get ready for supper.
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