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“To kill a man, my dear, is not always to make an end of him.” The statement was made by Andre Baston.
“But after twenty years? Twenty years?” said the woman.
“A lifetime to you, Fanny, but only yesterday to a man like your Uncle Philip.”
“But how could anyone know? It all happened so long ago, and so far away!”
“Nevertheless, a man is here in New Orleans and he is asking questions. His name is Sackett.”
“Orrin Sackett. He is an attorney, a lawyer. He has the same name as the man who went to the western mountains with Pierre.”
“Fanny Baston was small, slender, voluptuous, and beautiful. Her shoulders were soft and amazingly white, her lips were warm and a little full, and her eyes were large.
She shrugged. “What difference can it make? Let him ask his questions. We simply know nothing. Who is left who could possibly know anything?”
Andre scowled. “I do not know. Nobody, perhaps. But I do not like him asking questions. If Philip ever found out …”
“It would be the end,” Paul said. “The end. He would cut us off, leave us nothing.”
“You, perhaps,” Fanny said to Andre. “But I was a baby. Not five years old. And Paul, you were not even in your teens. We had nothing to do with it.”
“Do you think that would matter?” said Paul. “Uncle Philip only needs an excuse to cut us all off. You too. You aren’t exactly his pride and joy, you know.”
“Then,” she leaned forward, dusting the ash of her small cigar into a saucer, “kill him. Kill this Orrin Sackett and drop him in the bayou before he can even be connected to us. Kill him at once.”
Andre was no longer surprised at anything his niece said. “You have an idea?”
“Do it yourself, Andre. He would not be the first.” She looked up at him and smiled. “Why not? Find an excuse, challenge him. There is not a better shot in New Orleans, and as for a rapier … how many men have you killed, Andre? In duels, I mean?”
“Twelve,” he replied. “You have a point. It might be the answer.”
“You are too bloody,” Paul objected. “If you want him killed, there are other ways. We might get him into one of the concert-saloons—the Buffalo Bill House, for example. Williams would take care of him for us.”
“No.” Fanny spoke sharply. “No, Paul. If there is killing to be done, the fewer who know the better. And nobody outside the family.”
“She’s right,” Andre said, “but this is all so premature. This Orrin Sackett cannot know anything. Pierre was obviously French, obviously from Louisiana. He brought Sackett back here to outfit before we started west, but Sackett never left the river front. I don’t know what stirred this up, but all we have to do is sit quietly and allow it to pass. If he gets close then we can act.” He shrugged, looking down at the tip of his cigar. “After all, New Orleans may take care of him without our help. He would not be the first.”
“Have you seen him?” Fanny asked.
“Yes. He’s a big man, nearly as big as I am. Perhaps even as big. He’s a good-looking fellow, dresses well, seems to know his way around.”
Paul looked up. “Andre, wasn’t there some disturbance down on the waterfront a few years back? Some trouble involving some Sacketts?”
“I believe you are right, Paul. I do recall something of the kind. An attempt was made to rob one of them and there was a fight—quite a bloody one.”
“That could be the answer, Uncle Andre,” Fanny suggested. “A Sackett returns … a revenge killing.”
She was right, of course. It was a simple, logical method if it became necessary. He would make a few inquiries. If any of the old crowd were around he might just drop a word here and there. Anyway, this was all over nothing. This Sackett knew nothing, could know nothing.
A thought suddenly occurred to him. He still had the map. He had kept it, believing it held a clue to the treasure.
None of them knew he had it, for he had never mentioned it to anyone. After all, when one holds the only clue to the location of thirty million in gold one does not talk about it. The stuff was there. He had taken the time to look up the old reports turned into the government those many years ago, and of course, there was mention of the gold the French army had mined—thirty millions!
He had been thinking of going back to look for that gold, and this was probably the time. He was forty years old now, stronger and more able than ever. He must think about the future, and he had little faith in what Philip might leave them. Philip liked none of them too well, and with good reason.
What did Sackett know?
Orrin Sackett, standing before his mirror in the Saint Charles Hotel, combed his hair carefully, set his cravat in place, and left his room. At the head of the stairs he paused momentarily and touched his left side lightly. The Smith and Wesson Russian he carried was resting easily. No trouble was expected, but habit remains with a man.
So far the trip had netted him exactly nothing. He had doubted from the first that they would uncover anything. New Orleans was a big city. Twenty years had passed, and the clues he had were slight. Still, if it would please ma there was no effort he would not make.
After all, what information did he have? Twenty years ago a man of strong French accent wanted to make a trip to a certain place in the western mountains. That implied that he had made a previous trip or that he had knowledge of someone who had made such a trip.
Pa had been asked to guide this Frenchman, and the trip was expected to last but a few months—time to get there and return.
What would take a man to lonely mountains at the risk of being killed by Indians? Furs? To trap furs a man had to remain the winter through. A mine? Perhaps. He might wish to ascertain if the mine was worth development. Yet … wasn’t it more likely that he knew of gold already mined?
Or thought he did?
When Orrin added up all the information he had, he was looking for a Frenchman, probably from Louisiana, who had some previous connection, direct or indirect, with someone who had been to the western mountains.
Flimsy as that was, it did much to clear the field, for not many Frenchmen had gone west from Louisiana. From Canada … yes. Of course, France had controlled all of Louisiana for a time, and, during the period of the Mississippi Bubble and John Law, great efforts had been made to find gold and silver. Law had promised his investors wealth, and he made every effort to discover it—or indications of it.
This Frenchman had not wanted a large party. Yet, it was unlikely that they had actually gone alone.
Hence one of the party might have returned, or there might be a relative who knew something about the affair. The trouble was he had no starting point. Yet, the simplest way was often the best, and that meant checking the obvious sources—in this case, government records of mines, claims, and exploring expeditions in the back country.
Another way, equally simple, was to meet some of the older citizens and start them recalling their youth. It sometimes required patience, but he had an interest in such things and could afford a few days. Or he could get some discussion started of the John Law period—the most likely time for any mineral exploration.
Bienville, during his governorship, had wasted little time searching for nonexistent minerals. His had been a more practical, down-to-earth approach, and, had he been let alone to proceed as he wished, the colony might have been successful long before it was.
At dinner Orrin sat quietly and alone, listening to the idle talk around him and enjoying the lights and music. He had always enjoyed dining alone, for it gave him time to think as well as to absorb the atmosphere around him. And tonight the dining room was filled with attractive, beautifully gowned women and handsomely dressed men.
The two tables closest to his were occupied: one of them by a group of people of his own age or younger, the other by a very handsome older couple, a distinguished-looking man with a beautiful woman, her hair almost white, her eyes remarkably youthful.
He ordered his meal when the waiter appeared. “And the wine, sir?”
“Châteauneuf-du-Pape,” he said quietly.
The older gentleman turned his head and glanced at him. Their eyes met, and Orrin smiled. “An excellent wine, sir,” the man said.
“Thank you. Anything less would not fit the surroundings.”
“You are a stranger here?”
“I have been here more than once. But this is the first opportunity I have had to relax in a long while.” Orrin watched the waiter open his wine, tasted it, then said to the old man, “I am interested in some mining claims in the San Juan Mountains in Colorado. I have heard rumors to the effect that people from New Orleans located mines in that area.”