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His Unknown Wife   By: (1863-1928)

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"Prisoner, attention! His excellency the President has permitted Señor Steinbaum to visit you."

The "prisoner" was lying on his back on a plank bed, with his hands tucked beneath his head to obtain some measure of protection from the roll of rough fiber matting which formed a pillow. He did not pay the slightest heed to the half caste Spanish jailer's gruff command. But the visitor's name stirred him. He turned his head, apparently to make sure that he was not being deceived, and rose on an elbow.

"Hello, Steinbaum!" he said in English. "What's the swindle? Excuse this terseness, but I have to die in an hour, or even less, if a sunbeam hasn't misled me."

"There's no swindle this time, Mr. Maseden," came the guttural answer. "I'm sorry I cannot help you, but I want you to do a good turn for a lady."

"A lady! What lady?"

"I don't know."

"If you don't know the lady that is a recommendation in itself. At any rate, what sort of good turn can a man condemned to death do for any lady?"

"She wants to marry you."

Then the man who, by his own showing, was rapidly nearing the close of his earthly career, sprang erect and looked so threatening that his visitor shrank back a pace, while the half caste jailer's right hand clutched the butt of a revolver.

"Whatever else I may have thought you, I never regarded you as a fool, Steinbaum," he said sternly. "Go away, man! Have you no sense of decency? You and that skunk Enrico Suarez, have done your worst against me and succeeded. When I am dead the 'state' will collar my property and I am well aware that in this instance the 'state' will be represented by Señor Enrico Suarez and Mr. Fritz Steinbaum. You are about to murder and rob me. Can't you leave me in peace during the last few minutes of my life? Be off, or you may find that in coming here you have acted foolishly for once."

" Ach, was! " sighed Steinbaum, nevertheless retreating another step towards the door and the watchful half caste, who had been warned to shoot straight and quickly if the prisoner attacked the august person of the portly financier. "I tell you the truth, and you will not listen. It is as I say. A lady, a stranger, arrived in Cartagena last night. She heard of you this morning. She asked: 'Is he married, this American?' They said, 'No.' Then she came to me and begged me to use my influence with the President. She said: 'If this American gentleman is to be shot, I am sorry; but it cannot matter to him if he is married, and it will oblige me very much.' I told her "

The speaker's voice grew husky and he paused to clear his throat. Maseden smiled wanly at the mad absurdity of it, but he was beginning to believe some part of Steinbaum's story.

"And what did you tell her?" he broke in.

"I told her that you were Quixotic in some things, and you might agree."

"But what on earth does the lady gain by it? Suarez and you will take mighty good care she doesn't get away with my ranch and money. Does she want my name?"


Maseden took thought a moment.

"It has never been dishonored during my life," he said quietly. "I would need to be assured that it will not be smirched after my death."

Steinbaum was stout. A certain anxiety to succeed in an extraordinary mission, joined to the warm, moist atmosphere of the cell, had induced a copious perspiration.

" Ach, Gott! " he purred despairingly. "I know nothing. She told me nothing. She offered to pay me for the trouble "


"Why not? I run some risk in acting so. She is American, like yourself. She came to me "

"American, you say! Is she young?"

"I think so. I have not seen her face. She wears a thick veil."

Romance suddenly spread its fairy wings in that squalid South American prison house. Maseden's spirit was fired to perform a last act of chivalry, of mercy, it might be, in behalf of some unhappy girl of his own race... Continue reading book >>

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