Under the Andes
Part 1 out of 7
UNDER THE ANDES
by Rex Stout
THE SWEETHEART OF A KING.
The scene was not exactly new to me. Moved by the spirit of
adventure, or by an access of ennui which overtakes me at times,
had several times visited the gaudy establishment of Mercer, on
fashionable side of Fifth Avenue in the Fifties. In either case
had found disappointment; where the stake is a matter of
there can be no excitement; and besides, I had been always in
But on this occasion I had a real purpose before me, though not
an important one, and I surrendered my hat and coat to the
at the door with a feeling of satisfaction.
At the entrance to the main room I met Bob Garforth, leaving.
There was a scowl on his face and his hand trembled as he held it
forth to take mine.
"Harry is inside. What a rotten hole," said he, and passed on.
I smiled at his remark--it was being whispered about that
had lost a quarter of a million at Mercer's within the month--
and passed inside.
Gaudy, I have said it was, and it needs no other word. Not in
its elements, but in their arrangement.
The rugs and pictures and hangings testified to the taste of
the man who had selected them; but they were abominably disposed,
and there were too many of them.
The room, which was unusually large, held two or three leather
divans, an English buffet, and many easy chairs. A
covered, stood in one corner.
Groups of men were gathered about each of the three roulette
wheels ranged along the farther side. Through a door to the left
could be seen the poker tables, surrounded by grave or jocular
faces. Above the low buzz of conversation there sounded the
continual droning voices of the croupiers as they called the
winning numbers, and an occasional exclamation from a "customer."
I made my way to the center wheel and stood at the rear of the
crowd surrounding it.
The ball rolled; there was a straining of necks amid an
intense silence; then, as the little pellet wavered and finally
came to a rest in the hole number twenty-four a fervent oath of
disappointment came from some one in front of me.
The next moment, rising on tiptoe to look over the intervening
shoulders, I found myself looking into the white face of my
"Paul!" he exclaimed, turning quickly away.
I pushed my way through and stood at his side. There was no
sound from the group of onlookers; it is not to be wondered at if
they hesitated to offend Paul Lamar.
"My dear boy," said I, "I missed you at dinner. And though
this may occupy your mind, it can scarcely fill your stomach.
Haven't you had enough?"
Harry looked at me. His face was horribly pale and his eyes
bloodshot; they could not meet mine.
"For Heaven's sake, Paul, let me alone," he said, hardly above
a whisper. "I have lost ninety thousand."
In spite of myself I started. No wonder he was pale! And
"That's nothing," I whispered back. "But you are making a
show of yourself. Just now you were swearing like a sailor. See
how your hand trembles! You were not made for this, Harry; it
makes you forget that you're a gentleman. They are laughing at
"But I say I have lost ninety thousand dollars," said the boy,
and there was wildness in his eye. "Let me alone, Paul."
"I will repay you."
"No. Let me alone!"
"I say no!"
His mouth was drawn tight and his eyes glared sullenly as
those of a stubborn child. Clearly it was impossible to get him
away without making a scene, which was unthinkable. For a moment
I was at a complete loss; then the croupier's voice sounded
suddenly in my ear:
"You are interrupting us, sir."
I silenced him with a glance and turned to my brother, having
decided in an instant on the only possible course.
"Here, let me have your chair. I will get it back for you.
He looked at me for a moment in hesitation, then rose without
a word and I took his place.
The thing was tiresome enough, but how could I have avoided
it? The blood that rushes to the head of the gambler is
not food for the intellect; and, besides, I was forced by
circumstances into an heroic attitude--and nothing is more
distasteful to a man of sense. But I had a task before me; if a
man lays bricks he should lay them well; and I do not deny that
there was a stirring of my pulse as I sat down.
Is it possible for a mind to directly influence the movements
of a little ivory ball? I do not say yes, but will you say no?
watched the ball with the eye of an eagle, but without straining;
I played with the precision of a man with an unerring system,
though my selections were really made quite at random; and I
handled my bets with the sureness and swift dexterity with which
chess-master places his pawn or piece in position to demoralize
This told on the nerves of the croupier. Twice I corrected a
miscalculation of his, and before I had played an hour his hand
trembling with agitation.
And I won.
The details would be tiresome, but I won; and when, after six
hours of play without an instant's rest, I rose exhausted from my
chair and handed my brother the amount he had lost--I pocketed a
few thousands for myself in addition. There were some who tried
detain me with congratulations and expressions of admiration, but
I shook them off and led Harry outside to my car.
The chauffeur, poor devil, was completely stiff from the long
wait, and I ordered him into the tonneau and took the wheel
Partly was this due to pity for the driver, partly to a desire
to leave Harry to his own thoughts, which I knew must be somewhat
turbulent. He was silent during the drive, which was not long,
I smiled to myself in the darkness of the early morning as I
now and then, an uncontrollable sigh break through his dry lips.
Of thankfulness, perhaps.
I preceded him up the stoop and into the hall of the old house
on lower Fifth Avenue, near Tenth Street, that had been the home
our grandfather and our father before us. There, in the dim
I halted and turned, while Evans approached from the inner rooms,
rubbing eyes heavy with sleep.
Good old Evans! Yet the faithfulness of such a servant has
"Well?" said Harry in a thin, high voice.
The boy's nerves were stretched tightly; two words from me
would have produced an explosion. So I clapped him on the
and sent him off to bed. He went sulkily, without looking round,
and his shoulders drooped like those of an old man; but I
that that would all be changed after a few hours of sleep.
"After all, he is a Lamar," I said to myself as I ordered
Evans to bring wine and sandwiches to the library.
It was the middle of the following afternoon before Harry
appeared down-stairs. He had slept eleven hours. I was seated
the library when I heard his voice in the hall:
"Breakfast! Breakfast for five at once!"
I smiled. That was Harry's style of wit.
After he had eaten his "breakfast for five" he came in to see
me with the air of a man who was determined to have it out.
I myself was in no mood for talk; indeed, I scarcely ever am
in such a mood, unless it be with a pretty woman or a great
You may regard that sentence as tautological if you like; I
quarrel about it.
What I mean to say is that it was with a real effort I set
myself to the distasteful task before me, rendered necessary by
responsibility of my position as elder brother and head of the
Harry began by observing with assumed indifference: "Well, and
now there's the deuce to pay, I suppose."
"As his representative I am not a hard creditor," I smiled.
"I know, I know--" he began impetuously and stopped.
"My boy, there is always the deuce to pay. If not for one
thing, then for another. So your observation would serve for any
other time as well as now. The point is this: you are ten years
younger than I, and you are under my care; and much as I dislike
talk, we must reach an understanding."
"Well?" said Harry, lighting a cigarette and seating himself
on the arm of a chair.
"You have often thought," I continued, "that I have been
trying to interfere with your freedom. But you are mistaken; I
have merely been trying to preserve it--and I have succeeded."
"When our father and mother died you were fifteen years of
age. You are now twenty-two; and I take some credit for the fact
that those seven years have left no stain, however slight, on the
name of Lamar."
"Do I deserve that?" cried Harry. "What have I done?"
"Nothing irremediable, but you must admit that now and then I
have been at no small pains to--er--assist you. But there, I
intend to speak of the past; and to tell the truth, I suspect
we are of one mind. You regard me as more or less of an
encumbrance; you think your movements are hampered; you consider
yourself to be treated as a child unjustly.
"Well, for my part, I find my duty--for such I consider
it--grows more irksome every day. If I am in your way, you are
less in mine. To make it short, you are now twenty-two years
you chafe at restraint, you think yourself abundantly able to
manage your own affairs. Well--I have no objection."
Harry stared at me.
"You mean--" he began.
"There is no need to discuss it. For me, it is mostly
But he wanted to talk, and I humored him. For two hours we
sat, running the scale from business to sentiment, and I must
confess that I was more than once surprised by a flash from
Clearly he was developing, and for the first time I indulged a
that he might prove himself fit for self-government.
At least I had given him the rope; it remained for time to
discover whether or not he would avoid getting tangled up in it.
When we had finished we understood each other better, I think,
we ever had before; and we parted with the best of feeling.
Three days later I sailed for Europe, leaving Harry in New
York. It was my first trip across in eighteen months, and I
at pleasure. I spent a week in London and Munich, then,
with the actions of some of my fellow countrymen with whom I had
the misfortune to be acquainted, I turned my face south for
There I had a friend.
A woman not beautiful, but eminently satisfying; not loose,
but liberal, with a character and a heart. In more ways than one
she was remarkable; she had an affection for me; indeed, some
previously I had been in a way to play Albert Savaron to her
Francesca Colonna, an arrangement prevented only by my
constitutional dislike for any prolonged or sustained effort in a
world the slave of vanity and folly.
It was from the lips of this friend that I first heard the
name of Desiree Le Mire.
It was late in the afternoon on the fashionable drive. Long,
broad, and shady, though scarcely cool, it was here that we took
our daily carriage exercise; anything more strenuous is regarded
with horror by the ladies of Spain.
There was a shout, and a sudden hush; all carriages were
halted and their occupants uncovered, for royalty was passing.
coach, a magnificent though cumbersome affair, passed slowly and
gravely by. On the rear seat were the princess and her little
English cousin, while opposite them sat the great duke himself
By his side was a young man of five and twenty with a white
face and weak chin, and glassy, meaningless eyes. I turned to my
companion and asked in a low tone who he was. Her whispered
caused me to start with surprise, and I turned to her with a
"But why is he in Madrid?"
"Oh, as to that," said my friend, smiling, "you must ask
"And who is Desiree?"
"What! You do not know Desiree! Impossible!" she exclaimed.
"My dear," said I, "you must remember that for the past year
and a half I have been buried in the land of pork and gold. The
gossip there is neither of the poet nor the court. I am ignorant
"You would not have been so much longer," said my friend, "for
Desiree is soon going to America. Who is she? No one knows.
is she? Well, she is all things to some men, and some things to
all men. She is a courtesan among queens and a queen among
"She dances and loves, and, I presume, eats and sleeps. For
the past two years she has bewitched him"--she pointed down the
drive to where the royal coach was disappearing in the distance
--"and he has given her everything.
"It was for her that the Duke of Bellarmine built the
magnificent chalet of which I was telling you on Lake Lucerne.
remember that Prince Dolansky shot himself 'for political
in his Parisian palace? But for Desiree he would be alive
She is a witch and a she-devil, and the most completely
woman in the world."
"What a reputation! And you say she is going to America?"
"Yes. It is to be supposed that she has heard that every
American is a king, and it is no wonder if she is tired of only
royal lover at a time. And listen, Paul--"
"You--you must not meet her. Oh, but you do not know her
I laughed and pressed her hand, assuring her that I had no
intention of allowing myself to be bewitched by a she-devil; but
our carriage turned and started back down the long drive toward
hotel I found myself haunted by the white face and staring eyes
the young man in the royal coach.
I stayed two weeks longer in Madrid. At the end of that time,
finding myself completely bored (for no woman can possibly be
amusing for more than a month at a time), I bade my friend au
revoir and departed for the East. But I found myself just too
late for an archeological expedition into the heart of Egypt, and
after a tiresome week or so in Cairo and Constantinople I again
turned my face toward the west.
At Rome I met an old friend, one Pierre Janvour, in the French
diplomatic service, and since I had nothing better to do I
his urgent invitation to join him on a vacation trip to Paris.
But the joys of Paris are absurd to a man of thirty-two who
has seen the world and tasted it and judged it. Still I found
amusement; Janvour had a pretty wife and a daughter eight years
old, daintily beautiful, and I allowed myself to become soaked in
I really found myself on the point of envying him; Mme.
Janvour was a most excellent housekeeper and manager. Little
Eugenie and I would often walk together in the public gardens,
now and then her mother would join us; and, as I say, I found
myself on the point of envying my friend Janvour.
This diversion would have ended soon in any event; but it was
brought to an abrupt termination by a cablegram from my New York
lawyers, asking me to return to America at once. Some rascality
was, on the part of the agent of my estate, which had alarmed
the cablegram was bare of detail. At any rate, I could not
to disregard it, and arranged passage on a liner sailing from
Cherbourg the following day.
My hostess gave me a farewell dinner, which heightened my
regret at being forced to leave, and little Eugenie seemed really
grieved at my departure. It is pleasant to leave a welcome
you; that is really the only necessary axiom of the traveler.
Janvour took me to the railroad station, and even offered to
accompany me to Cherbourg; but I refused to tear him away from
We stood on the platform arguing the matter, when I suddenly
became aware of that indistinct flutter and bustle seen in public
places at some unusual happening or the unexpected arrival of a
I turned and saw that which was worthy of the interest it had
In the first place, the daintiest little electric brougham in
the world, fragile and delicate as a toy--a fairy's chariot.
the fairy herself descended. She cannot be described in detail.
I caught a glimpse of glorious golden hair, softly massive;
gray-blue eyes shot with lightning, restless, devouring,
implacable, indescribably beautiful; a skin wondrously fine, with
the purity of marble and the warmth of velvet; nose and mouth
rather too large, but perfectly formed and breathing the fire and
power of love. Really it was rather later that I saw all this;
the time there was but a confused impression of elegance and
and terrible power.
She passed from the brougham to her railway carriage supremely
unconscious of the hundreds of eyes turned on her, and a general
sigh of satisfaction and appreciation came from the throng as she
disappeared within her compartment. I turned to Janvour.
"Who is she?"
"What?" he exclaimed in surprise. "But my dear Lamar, not to
know her argues one a barbarian."
"Nevertheless, I do not know her."
"Well, you will have an opportunity. She is going to America,
and, since she is on this train, she will, of course, take the
boat as yourself. But, my friend, beware!"
"But who is she?"
"Desiree Le Mire."
BEGINNING THE DANCE.
It developed, luckily for me, that my lawyers had allowed
themselves to become unduly excited over a trifle. A discrepancy
had been discovered in my agent's accounts; it was clearly
established that he had been speculating; but the fellow's
excessive modesty and moderation had saved me from any serious
inconvenience or loss.
Some twenty thousand or so was the amount, and I did not even
put myself to the trouble of recovering it. I placed a friend of
mine, a plodder and one of those chaps who are honest on account
lack of imagination, in the position thus vacated and sighed with
My experiment with Harry had proved a complete success. Left
to the management of his own affairs, he had shown a wisdom and
restraint none the less welcome because unexpected. He was glad
see me, and I was no less glad to see him.
There was little new in town.
Bob Garforth, having gambled away his entire patrimony, had
shot and killed himself on the street; Mrs. Ludworth had publicly
defied gossip and smiled with favor on young Driscoll; the new
director of the Metropolitan Museum had announced himself an
to tradition and a friend of progress; and Desiree Le Mire had
consented to a two weeks' engagement at the Stuyvesant.
The French dancer was the favorite topic of discussion in all
The newspapers were full of her and filled entire columns with
lists of the kings, princes, and dukes who had been at her feet.
Bets were made on her nationality, the color of her eyes, the
value of her pearls, the number of suicides she had caused--
corresponding, in some sort, to the notches on the gun of a
bad man. Gowns and hats were named for her by the enterprising
It was announced that her engagement at the Stuyvesant would
open in ten days, and when the box-office opened for the advance
sale every seat for every performance was sold within a few
In the mean time the great Le Mire kept herself secluded in
her hotel. She had appeared but once in the public dining-room,
and on that occasion had nearly caused a riot, whereupon she had
discreetly withdrawn. She remained unseen while the town shouted
I had not mentioned her name to Harry, nor had I heard him
speak of her, until one evening about two weeks after my return.
We were at dinner and had been discussing some commonplace
subject, from which, by one of the freaks of association, the
conversation veered and touched on classical dancing.
"The Russians are preeminent," said I, "because they possess
both the inspiration--the fire--and the training. In no other
nation or school are the two so perfectly joined. In the Turkish
dancers there is perfect grace and freedom, but no life. In
Desiree Le Mire, for example, there is indeed life; but she has
had the necessary training."
"What? Le Mire! Have you seen her?" cried Harry.
"Not on the stage," I answered; "but I crossed on the same
ship with her, and she was kind enough to give me a great deal of
her time. She seems to understand perfectly her own artistic
limitations, and I am taking her word for it."
But Harry was no longer interested in the subject of dancing.
I was besieged on the instant with a thousand questions.
Had I known Le Mire long? What was she like? Was it true
that Prince Dolansky had shot himself in despair at losing her?
Was she beautiful? How well did I know her? Would I take him to
And within half an hour the last question was repeated so many
times and with such insistence that I finally consented and left
Harry delighted beyond words.
My own experience with Desiree Le Mire had been anything but
exciting. The woman was interesting; there could be no doubt of
that; but she possessed little attraction for me. Her charms, on
close inspection, were really quite too evident.
I require subtlety in a woman, and so far as I could discover
Le Mire knew not the meaning of the word. We had spent many
during the trip across in pleasant companionship; she had done me
the honor to tell me that she found my conversation amusing; and,
after all, she was undeniably a pretty woman. She had invited me
with evident sincerity to call on her in New York; but I had not
as yet taken advantage of the invitation.
I did not then think, and I do not now believe, that I acted
foolishly when I took Harry to see her. In any event, he would
have seen her sooner or later, and since all temptations meet us
one time or another, it is best to have it out with them at as
early a date as possible. At the time, indeed, I gave the
no thought whatever; but if I had I should not have hesitated.
We took tea with her the following afternoon in her apartment,
and I must confess that I myself was more than a little impressed
when I entered. I realized then that on the ship nothing had
in her favor; she had been completely out of her element, and she
was not a good sailor.
Here all was different. The stiffly ostentatious hotel rooms,
by her own genius or that of her maid, had been transformed into
something very nearly approaching perfection. I was amazed at
excellent taste displayed in her furniture and its arrangement,
it was clear that these were no hotel properties. Certainly a
woman is at her best only when she is able to choose or create
Harry was captivated, and I can scarcely blame him. But the
poor lad betrayed himself so frankly! Though I suppose Le Mire
more or less accustomed to immediate surrender.
On that day, at least, she had reason to expect it. She
satisfied the eye, which is saying a great deal and is the
praise possible for a woman's beauty, when you consider the full
strength of the word.
She was radiant, adorable, irresistible; I had to own that my
first impression of her had been far too weak.
We talked for an hour. Harry had little to say as he sat
devouring Le Mire with his eyes, and whenever she turned to him
an answer to a question or confirmation of an opinion he
and kept his composure with difficulty. Never, I suppose, did
woman have clearer evidence of her power, nor sweeter, for Harry
was by no means a fool to be carried away by the first pretty
that came in his way.
She simply overwhelmed him, and I repeat that I do not wonder
at it, for my own pulse was not exactly steady. She asked us to
dine with her.
I pleaded an engagement at the club and signed to Harry to do
likewise; but he was completely gone and paid no attention to me.
He accepted the invitation gratefully, with frank delight, and I
left them together.
It was about ten o'clock when he came home that evening. I
was seated in the library and, hearing him enter the hall, called
What a face was his! His lips trembled with nervous feeling,
his eyes glowed like the eyes of a madman. I half started from
chair in amazement.
"I have no time," said he in answer to my invitation to join
me with a bottle. "I have a letter or two to write, and--and I
must get some sleep."
"Did you just leave Le Mire?"
I looked at my watch.
"What under the sun did you find to talk about?"
"Oh, anything--nothing. I say, she's charming."
His essay at indifference was amusing.
"You find her so?"
"She seems to have taken a fancy to you."
Harry actually grew red.
"Hardly," he said; but there was hope in the word.
"She is hardly your kind, Harry. You know that. You aren't
going in for this sort of thing?"
"This sort--I don't know what you mean."
"Yes, you do, Hal. You know exactly what I mean. To put the
thing plainly, Le Mire is a dangerous woman--none more so in all
the world; and, Harry boy, be sure you keep your head and watch
He stood for a moment looking at me in silence with a
half-angry frown, then opened his mouth as though to speak, and
finally turned, without a word, and started for the door. There
turned again uncertainly, hesitating.
"I am to ride with Desiree in the morning," said he, and the
next moment was gone.
He called her Desiree!
I think I smiled for an hour over that; and, though my
reflections were not free from apprehension, I really felt but
little anxiety. Not that I underrated Le Mire's fascination and
power; to confess the truth, my ease of mind was the result of my
own vanity. Le Mire had flattered me into the belief that she
A week passed--a dull week, during which I saw little of Harry
and Le Mire not at all. At the time, I remember, I was
in some chemical experiments--I am a dabbler with the tubes--and
went out but little. Then--this was on Friday--Harry sought me
in the laboratory to tell me he was going away. In answer to my
question, "Where?" he said, "I don't know."
"How long will you be gone?"
"Oh, a week--perhaps a month."
I looked at him keenly, but said nothing. It would have done
no good to force him into an equivocation by questions. Early
next morning he departed, with three trunks, and with no further
word to me save a farewell. No sooner was he gone than I started
for the telephone to call up Le Mire; but thought better of it
with a shrug of the shoulders returned to the laboratory.
It was the following Monday that was to see the first
appearance of Le Mire at the Stuyvesant. I had not thought of
going, but on Monday afternoon Billy Du Mont telephoned me that
had an extra ticket and would like to have me join him. I was
really a little curious to see Le Mire perform and accepted.
We dined at the club and arrived at the theater rather late.
The audience was brilliant; indeed, though I had been an ardent
first-nighter for a year or two in my callow youth, I think I
never seen such a representation of fashion and genius in
except at the opera.
Billy and I sat in the orchestra--about the twelfth row--and
half the faces in sight were well known to me. Whether Le Mire
could dance or not, she most assuredly was, or had, a good
press-agent. We were soon to receive an exemplification of at
least a portion of the reputation that had preceded her.
Many were the angry adjectives heaped on the head of the
dancer on that memorable evening. Mrs. Frederick Marston, I
remember, called her an insolent hussy; but then Mrs. Frederick
Marston was never original. Others: rash, impudent, saucy,
impertinent; in each instance accompanied by threats.
Indeed, it is little wonder if those people of fashion and
wealth and position were indignant and sore. For they had
and dined hastily and come all the way down-town to see Le Mire;
they waited for her for two hours and a half in stuffy theater
seats, and Le Mire did not appear.
The announcement was finally made by the manager of the
theater at a little before eleven-o'clock. He could not
understand, he said--the poor fellow was on the point of
wringing his hands with agitation and despair--he could not
understand why the dancer did not arrive.
She had rehearsed in the theater on the previous Thursday
afternoon, and had then seemed to have every intention of
fulfilling her engagement. No one connected with the theater had
seen her since that time, but everything had gone smoothly; they
had had no reason to fear such a contretemps as her
They had sent to her hotel; she was gone, bag and baggage.
She had departed on Friday, leaving no word as to her
They had asked the police, the hotels, the railroads, the
companies--and could find no trace of her.
The manager only hoped--he hoped with all his heart--that his
frank and unreserved explanation would appease his kind patrons
prevent their resentment; that they would understand--
I made my way out of the theater as rapidly as possible, with
Billy Du Mont at my side, and started north on Broadway.
My companion was laughing unrestrainedly.
"What a joke!" he exclaimed. "And gad, what a woman! She
comes in and turns the town upside down and then leaves it
on its head. What wouldn't I give to know her!"
I nodded, but said nothing. At Forty-Second Street we turned
east to Fifth Avenue, and a few minutes later were at the club.
took Du Mont to a secluded corner of the grill, and there, with a
bottle of wine between us, I spoke.
"Billy," said I, "there's the deuce to pay. You're an old
friend of mine, and you possess a share of discretion, and you've
got to help me. Le Mire is gone. I must find her."
"Find Le Mire?" He stared at me in amazement. "What for?"
"Because my brother Harry is with her."
Then I explained in as few words as possible, and I ended, I
think, with something like this:
"You know, Billy, there are very few things in the world I
consider of any value. She can have the lad's money, and, if
necessary, my own into the bargain. But the name of Lamar must
remain clean; and I tell you there is more than a name in danger.
Whoever that woman touches she kills. And Harry is only a boy."
Billy helped me, as I knew he would; nor did he insist on
unnecessary details. I didn't need his assistance in the search,
for I felt that I could accomplish that as well alone.
But it was certainly known that Harry had been calling on Le
Mire at her hotel; conjectures were sure to be made, leading to
assertions of busy tongues; and it was the part of my friend to
counteract and smother the inevitable gossip. This he promised
do; and I knew Billy. As for finding Harry, it was too late to
anything that night, and I went home and to bed.
The next morning I began by calling at her hotel. But though
the manager of the theater had gotten no information from them,
had pumped them dry. They knew nothing.
I dared not go to the police, and probably they would have
been unable to give me any assistance if I had sought it. The
other possible source of information I disliked to use; but after
racking my brain for the better part of the day I decided that
there was nothing else for it, and started on a round of the
offices of the railroads and steamship companies.
I had immediate success. My first call was at the office
where Harry and I were accustomed to arrange our transportation.
As I entered the head clerk--or whatever they call him--advanced
greet me with a smile.
"Yes," said he in response to my question; "Mr. Lamar got his
tickets from me. Let's see--Thursday, wasn't it? No, Friday.
"Tickets!" I muttered to myself. And in my preoccupation I
really neglected to listen to him. Then aloud: "Where were the--
"For Friday's train?"
"Yes. The Western Express."
That was all I wanted to know. I hurried home, procured a
couple of hastily packed bags, and took the afternoon train for
A MODERN MARANA.
My journey westward was an eventful one; but this is not a
"History of Tom Jones," and I shall refrain from detail. Denver
reached at last, after a week's stop-over in Kansas City. It was
a delightful adventure--but it had nothing to do with the story.
I left the train at the Rocky Mountain city about the middle
of the afternoon. And now, what to do? I think I am not a fool,
but I certainly lack the training of a detective, and I felt
perfectly rudderless and helpless as I ordered the taxi-driver to
take me to the Alcazar Hotel.
I was by no means sure that Harry had come to Denver. He was
traveling with a bundle of animated caprice, a creature who would
have hauled him off the train at Rahway, New Jersey, if she had
happened to take a fancy to the place. At the moment, I
they might be driving along Michigan Boulevard, or attending a
matinee at the Willis Wood, or sipping mint juleps at the
Even if they were in Denver, how was I to find them? I keenly
regretted the week I had lost. I was sure that Harry would avoid
any chance of publicity and would probably shun the big hotels.
And Denver is not a village.
It was the beauty of Le Mire that saved me. Indeed, I might
have foreseen that; and I have but poorly portrayed the force of
her unmatchable fascination unless you have realized that she was
a woman who could pass nowhere without being seen; and, seen,
I made inquiries of the manager of the hotel, of course, but
was brought up sharply when he asked me the names of my friends
whom I was asking. I got out of it somehow, some foolish evasion
or other, and regarded my task as more difficult than ever.
That same evening I dined at the home of my cousin, Hovey
Stafford, who had come West some years before on account of weak
lungs, and stayed because he liked it. I met his wife that
for the first time; she may be introduced with the observation
if she was his reason for remaining in the provinces, never did
have a better one.
We were on the veranda with our after-dinner cigars. I was
congratulating Hovey on the felicity of his choice and jocularly
sympathizing with his wife.
"Yes," said my cousin, with a sigh, "I never regretted it till
last week. It will never be the same again."
Mrs. Hovey looked at him with supreme disdain.
"I suppose you mean Senora Ramal," said she scornfully.
Her husband, feigning the utmost woe, nodded mournfully;
whereupon she began humming the air of the Chanson du
Colonel, and was stopped by a smothering kiss.
"And who is the Senora Ramal?" I asked.
"The most beautiful woman in the world," said Mrs. Hovey.
This from a woman who was herself beautiful! Amazing! I
suppose my face betrayed my thought.
"It isn't charity," she smiled. "Like John Holden, I have
seen fire-balloons by the hundred, I have seen the moon,
I saw no more fire-balloons."
"But who is she?"
Hovey explained. "She is the wife of Senor Ramal. They came
here some ten days ago, with letters to one or two of the best
families, and that's all we know about them. The senora is
an entrancing mixture of Cleopatra, Sappho, Helen of Troy, and
devil. She had the town by the ears in twenty-four hours, and
wouldn't wonder at it if you saw her."
Already I felt that I knew, but I wanted to make sure.
"Byron has described her," I suggested, "in Childe Harold."
"Hardly," said Hovey. "No midnight beauty for hers, thank
you. Her hair is the most perfect gold. Her eyes are green; her
skin remarkably fair. What she may be is unknowable, but she
certainly is not Spanish; and, odder still, the senor
himself fits the name no better."
But I thought it needless to ask for a description of Harry;
for I had no doubt of the identity of Senor Ramal and his wife.
pondered over the name, and suddenly realized that it was merely
"Lamar" spelled backward!
The discovery removed the last remaining shadow of doubt.
I asked in a tone of assumed indifference for their hotel,
expressing a desire to meet them--and was informed by Hovey that
they had left Denver two days previously, nor did he know where
they had gone.
Thus did I face another obstacle. But I was on the track; and
the perfume of a woman's beauty is the strongest scent in the
as well as the sweetest. I thanked my cousin for a pleasant
evening--though he did not know the extent of my debt to him--and
declined his urgent invitation to have my luggage brought to his
On my way to the hotel I was struck by a sudden thought: Senor
Ramal could not be my brother or my cousin would have recognized
him! But I immediately reflected that the two had not seen each
other for some ten years, at which time Harry had been a mere
The following morning, with little difficulty, I ascertained
the fact that the Ramals had departed--at least ostensibly--for
I followed. That same evening, when I registered at the
Antlers Hotel, a few minutes before the dinner hour, I turned
two pages of the book, and there before me was the entry, "Senor
and Senora Ramal, Paris." It was in Harry's handwriting.
After dinner--a most excellent dinner, with melons from La
Junta and trout from the mountain streams--I descended on the
clerk with questions. He was most obliging--a sharp, pleasant
fellow, with prominent ears and a Rocky Mountain twang.
"Senor and Senora Ramal? Most assuredly, sir. They have been
here several days. No, they are not now in the hotel. They left
this afternoon for Manitou, to take dinner there, and are going
make the night trip up the Peak."
An idea immediately suggested itself to me. They would, of
course, return to the hotel in the morning. All I had to do was
sit down and wait for them; but that would have been dull sport.
My idea was better.
I sought out the hotel's wardrobe--there is nothing the
Antlers will not do for you--and clothed myself in khaki,
and boots. Then I ordered a car and set out for Manitou, at the
foot of the mountain.
By ten o'clock I was mounted on a donkey, headed for the top,
after having been informed by a guide that "the man and the
beautiful lady" had departed an hour previous.
Having made the ascent twice before, I needed no guide. So I
decided; but I regretted the decision. Three times I lost the
path; once I came perilously near descending on the village
below--well, without hesitation. It was well after midnight when
I passed the Half-way House, and I urged my donkey forward with a
continual rat-a-tat-tat of well-directed kicks in the effort
to make my goal.
You who have experienced the philosophical calm and superb
indifference of the Pike's Peak donkey may imagine the vocabulary
I used on this occasion--I dare not print it. Nor did his speed
I was, in fact, a quarter of an hour late. I was still
several hundred yards from the summit when the sun's first rays
shot through the thin atmosphere, creating colorful riot among
clouds below, and I stopped, holding my breath in awe.
There is no art nor poetry in that wonderful sight; it is
glorious war. The sun charges forth in a vast flame of
inconceivable brilliance; you can almost hear the shout of
He who made the universe is no artist; too often He forgets
restraint, and blinds us.
I turned, almost regretting that I had come, for I had been
put out of tune with my task. Then I mounted the donkey and
traversed the few remaining yards to the Peak.
There, seated in the dazzling sunshine on the edge of a huge
boulder near the eastern precipice, were the two I sought.
Le Mire's head was turned from me as she sat gazing silently
at the tumbling, gorgeous mass of clouds that seemed almost to be
resting on her lap; Harry was looking at her. And such a look!
There was no rival even in nature that could conquer Le Mire;
never, I believe, did woman achieve a more notable victory than
hers of that morning. I watched them for several minutes before
moved or spoke; and never once did Harry's eyes leave her face.
Then I advanced a step, calling his name; and they turned and
caught sight of me.
"Paul!" cried Harry, leaping to his feet; then he stopped
short and stared at me half defiantly, half curiously, moving
to Le Mire and placing his hand on her shoulder like a child
clinging to a toy.
His companion had not moved, except to turn her head; but
after the first swift shadow of surprise her face brightened with
a smile of welcome, for all the world as though this were a
call in her boudoir.
"Senor and Senora Ramal, I believe?" said I with a smile,
crossing to them with an exaggerated bow.
I could see Harry cocking his ear to catch the tone of my
first words, and when he heard their friendliness a grin
his face. He took his hand from Le Mire's shoulder and held it
"How did you come here? How did you find us?"
"You forgot to provide Le Mire with a veil," said I by way of
Harry looked at me, then at his companion. "Of course," he
agreed--"of course. By Jove! that was stupid of us."
Whereupon Le Mire laughed with such frank enjoyment of the
boy's simplicity that I couldn't help but join her.
"And now," said Harry, "I suppose you want to know--"
"I want to know nothing--at present," I interrupted. "It's
nearly six o'clock, and since ten last night I've been on top of
the most perfectly imbecile donkey ever devised by nature. I
Velvet lids were upraised from Le Mire's eyes. "Here?" she
I pointed to the place--extreme charity might give it the
title of inn--where smoke was rising from a tin chimney.
Soon we were seated inside with a pot of steaming black coffee
before us. Harry was bubbling over with gaiety and good will,
evidently occasioned by my unexpected friendliness, while Le Mire
sat for the most part silent. It was easy to see that she was
than a little disturbed by my arrival, which surprised me.
I gazed at her with real wonder and increasing admiration. It
was six in the morning; she had had no sleep, and had just finished
a most fatiguing journey of some eight hours; but I had never seen
her so beautiful.
Our host approached, and I turned to him:
"What have you?"
There was pity in his glance.
"Aigs," said he, with an air of finality.
"Ah!" said Le Mire. "I want them--let's see--au beurre
noire, if you please."
The man looked at her and uttered the single word: "Fried."
"Fried?" said she doubtfully.
"Only fried," was the inexorable answer. "How many?"
Le Mire turned to me, and I explained. Then she turned again
to the surly host with a smile that must have caused him to regret
"Well, then, fr-r-ied!" said she, rolling the "r" deliciously.
"And you may bring me five, if you please."
It appeared that I was not the only hungry one. We ate
leisurely and smoked more leisurely still, and started on our
return journey a little before eight o'clock.
It was late in the afternoon when we arrived at the Antlers.
The trip was accomplished without accident, but Le Mire was
thoroughly exhausted and Harry was anything but fresh. That is the
worst of mountain climbing: the exaltation at the summit hardly
pays you for the reaction at the foot. We entered the broad
portico with frank sighs of relief.
I said something about joining them at dinner and left for my
At dinner that evening Harry was in high spirits and took
great delight in everything that was said, both witty and dull,
while Le Mire positively sparkled.
She made her impression; not a man in the well-filled room but
sent his tribute of admiring glances as she sat seemingly
unconscious of all but Harry and myself. That is always agreeable;
a man owes something to the woman who carries a room for him.
I had intended to have a talk with Harry after dinner, but I
postponed it; the morning would assuredly be better. There was
dancing in the salon, but we were all too tired to take advantage
of it; and after listening to one or two numbers, during which Le
Mire was kept busy turning aside the importunities of would-be
partners, we said good night and sought our beds.
It was late the next morning when the precious pair joined me
in the garden, and when we went in for breakfast we found the
dining-room quite empty. We did not enjoy it as on the morning
previous; the cuisine was of the kind usually--and in this case
justly--described as "superior," but we did not have the same edge
on our appetite.
We were not very talkative; I myself was almost taciturn,
having before me the necessity of coming to an understanding with
Harry, a task which I was far from relishing. But there were
certain things I must know.
"What do you say to a ride down the valley?" said Harry.
"They have excellent horses here; I tried one of 'em the other
"I trust that they bear no resemblance to my donkey," said I
"Ugh!" said Le Mire with a shudder. "Never shall I forget
that ride. Besides," she added, turning to Harry, "this morning I
would be in the way. Don't you know that your brother has a
thousand things to say to you? He wants to scold you; you must
remember that you are a very bad boy."
And she sent me a glance half defiant, half indifferent, which
plainly said: "If I fight you, I shall win; but I really care very
little about it one way or the other."
After breakfast she went to her room--to have her hair
dressed, she said--and I led Harry to a secluded corner of the
magnificent grounds surrounding the hotel. During the walk we were
both silent: Harry, I suppose, was wondering what I was going to
say, while I was trying to make up my own mind.
"I suppose," he began abruptly, "you are going to tell me I
have acted like a fool. Go ahead; the sooner it's over the
"Nothing of the sort," said I, glad that he had opened it.
He stopped short, demanding to know what I meant.
"Of course," I continued, "Le Mire is a most amazing prize.
Not exactly my style perhaps, but there are few men in the world
who wouldn't envy you. I congratulate you.
"But there were two things I feared for several reasons--Le
Mire's fascination, your own youth and impulsive recklessness, and
the rather curious mode of your departure. I feared first and most
that you would marry her; second, that you would achieve odium and
publicity for our name."
Harry was regarding me with a smile which had in it very
little of amusement; it held a tinge of bitterness.
"And so," he burst out suddenly, "you were afraid I would
marry her! Well, I would. The last time I asked her"--again the
smile--"was this morning."
"She won't have me."
"Bah!" I concealed my surprise, for I had really not thought
it possible that the lad could be such a fool. "What's her game,
"Game the deuce! I tell you she won't have me."
"You have asked her?"
"A thousand times. I've begged her on my knees. Offered
"And she refuses?"
I stared at him for a moment in silence. Then I said: "Go and
get her and bring her here. I'll find out what she wants," and sat
down on a bench to wait. Harry departed for the hotel without a
In a few minutes he returned with Le Mire. I rose and
proffered her a seat on the bench, which she accepted with a smile,
and Harry sat down at her side. I stood in front of them.
"Le Mire," said I, and I believe I frowned, "my brother tells
me that you have been offered the name of Lamar in marriage."
"I have thanked him for it," said she with a smile.
"And declined it."
"And--declined it," she agreed.
"Well," said I, "I am not a man of half measures, as you will
soon see, Le Mire. Besides, I appreciate your power. On the day,"
I continued with slow precision--"on the day that you give me a
contract to adhere to that refusal you may have my check for one
She surprised me; I admit it. I had expected a burst of
anger, with a touch of assumed hauteur; the surrender to follow,
for I had made the stake high. But as I stood looking down at her,
waiting for the flash of her eye, I was greeted by a burst of
laughter--the frank laughter of genuine mirth. Then she spoke:
"Oh, you Americans! You are so funny! A million dollars!
It is impossible that I should be angry after such a compliment.
Besides, you are so funny! Do you not know Le Mire? Am I not a
princess if I desire it--tomorrow--today? Bah! There is the
world--is it not mine? Mrs. Lamar? Ugh! Pardon me, my friend,
but it is an ugly name.
"You know my ancestors? De L'Enclos, Montalais, Maintenon, La
Marana! They were happy--in their way--and they were great. I
must do nothing unworthy of them. Set your mind at rest, Mr.
Lamar; but, really, you should have known better--you who have seen
the world and Le Mire in Paris! And now our amusement is perhaps
ended? Now we must return to that awful New York? Voila!"
Indeed I had not understood her. And how could I? There is
only one such woman in a generation; sometimes none, for nature is
sparing of her favorites. By pure luck she sat before me, this
twentieth-century Marana, and I acknowledged her presence with a
deep bow of apology and admiration.
"If you will forgive me, madame," I said, "I will--not
attempt to make reparation, for my words were not meant for you.
Consider them unspoken. As for our amusement, why need it end?
Surely, we can forget? I see plainly I am not a St. Evremond, but
neither am I a fool. My brother pleases you--well, there he is.
As for myself, I shall either stay to take care of you two
children, or I shall return to New York, as you desire."
Le Mire looked at me uncertainly for a moment, then turned to
Harry and with a fluttering gesture took his hand in her own and
patted it gaily. Then she laughed the happy laugh of a child as
"Then it is well! And, monsieur, you are less an
American than I thought. By all means, stay--we shall be so jolly!
Will we not, my little friend?"
Harry nodded, smiling at her. But there was a troubled look
in his face.
The events of the month that followed, though exciting enough,
were of a similarity that would make their narration tedious, and
I shall pass over them as speedily as possible.
We remained at Colorado Springs only two days after that
morning in the garden. Le Mire, always in search of novelty, urged
us away, and, since we really had nothing in view save the
satisfaction of her whims, we consented. Salt Lake City was our
next resting-place, but Le Mire tired of it in a day.
"I shall see the Pacific," she said to Harry and me, and we
immediately set out for San Francisco.
Is it necessary for me to explain my attitude? But surely it
explains itself. For one thing, I was disinclined to leave Harry
in a position where he was so abundantly unable to take care of
himself. For another, I take amusement wherever it offers itself,
and I was most certainly not bored.
The vagaries and caprices of a beautiful woman are always
interesting, and when you are allowed to study them at close range
without being under the necessity of acting the part of a faithful
lover they become doubly so.
Le Mire managed Harry with wonderful tact and finesse; I sat
back and laughed at the performance, now and then applying a check
when her riotous imagination seemed likely to run away with us.
At San Francisco she achieved a triumph, notorious to the
point of embarrassment. Paul Lamar, of New York, had introduced
himself into the highest circle of society, and in turn had
introduced his friends, Senor and Senora Ramal. The senora
captured the town in a single night at a reception and ball on
The day following there were several dozens of cards left for
her at our hotel; invitations arrived by the score. She accepted
two or three and made the fortune of two drawing-rooms; then
suddenly tired of the sport and insulted a most estimable lady, our
hostess, by certain remarks which inadvertently reached the ears of
the lady's husband.
"You have done for yourself, Le Mire," I told her.
She answered me with a smile--straightway proceeded to issue
invitations for an "entertainment" at our hotel. I had no idea
what she meant to do; but gave the thing no thought, feeling
certain that few, or none, of the invitations would be accepted
--wherein I was badly mistaken, for not one was refused.
Well, Le Mire danced for them.
For myself it was barely interesting; I have passed the inner
portals of the sacred temples of India, and the human body holds no
surprises for me. But the good people of San Francisco were
shocked, astonished, and entranced. Not a man in the room but was
Le Mire's slave; even the women were forced to applaud. She became
at once a goddess and an outcast.
The newspapers of the following morning were full of it,
running the scale of eulogy, admiration, and wonder. And one of
the articles, evidently written by a man who had been considerably
farther east than San Francisco, ended with the following
In short, it was sublime, and with every movement and every
gesture there was a something hidden, a suggestion of a personality
and mysterious charm that we have always heretofore considered the
exclusive property of just one woman in the world. But Desiree Le
Mire is not in San Francisco; though we declare that the
performance of last evening was more than enough to rouse certain
suspicions, especially in view of Le Mire's mysterious
disappearance from New York.
I took the paper to Desiree in her room, and while she read
the article stood gazing idly from a window. It was about eleven
in the morning; Harry had gone for a walk, saying that he would
return in half an hour to join us at breakfast.
"Well?" said Desiree when she had finished.
"But it is not well," I retorted, turning to face her. "I do
not reproach you; you are being amused, and so, I confess, am I.
But your name--that is, Le Mire--has been mentioned, and discovery
is sure to follow. We must leave San Francisco at once."
"But I find it entertaining."
"Nevertheless, we must leave."
"But if I choose to stay?"
"No; for Harry would stay with you."
"Well, then--I won't go."
"Le Mire, you will go?"
She sent me a flashing glance, and for a moment I half
expected an explosion. Then, seeming to think better of it, she
"But where? We can't go west without falling into the ocean,
and I refuse to return. Where?"
"Then we'll take the ocean."
She looked up questioningly, and I continued:
"What would you say to a yacht--a hundred and twenty foot
steamer, with a daredevil captain and the coziest little cabins in
"Bah!" Le Mire snapped her fingers to emphasize her
incredulity. "It does not exist."
"But it does. Afloat and in commission, to be had for the
asking and the necessary check. Dazzling white, in perfect order,
a second Antoine for a chef, rooms furnished as you would your own
villa. What do you say?"
"Really?" asked Le Mire with sparkling eyes.
"Here--in San Francisco?"
"In the harbor. I saw her myself this morning."
"Then I say--allons! Ah, my friend, you are perfection!
I want to see it. Now! May I? Come!"
I laughed at her eager enthusiasm as she sprang up from her
"Le Mire, you are positively a baby. Something new to play
with! Well, you shall have it. But you haven't had breakfast.
We'll go out to see her this afternoon; in fact, I have already
made an appointment with the owner."
"Ah! Indeed, you are perfection. And--how well you know me."
She paused and seemed to be searching for words; then she said
abruptly: "M. Lamar, I wish you to do me a favor."
"Anything, Le Mire, in or out of reason."
Again she hesitated; then:
"Do not call me Le Mire."
"But certainly, Senora Ramal. And what is the favor?"
"Do not call me Le Mire--nor Senora Ramal."
"Well, but I must address you occasionally."
"Call me Desiree."
I looked at her with a smile.
"But I thought that that was reserved for your particular
"So it is."
"Then, my dear senora, it would be impertinent of me."
"But if I request it?"
"I have said--anything in or out of reason. And, of course, I
am one of the family."
"Is that the only reason?"
I began to understand her, and I answered her somewhat dryly:
"My dear Desiree, there can be none other."
"Are you so--cold?"
"When I choose."
"Ah!" It was a sigh rather than an exclamation. "And yet, on
the ship--do you remember? Look at me, M. Lamar. Am I not--am I
so little worthy of a thought?"
Her lips were parted with tremulous feeling; her eyes glowed
with a strange fire, and yet were tender. Indeed, she was "worthy
of a thought"--dangerously so; I felt my pulse stir. It was
necessary to assume a stoicism I was far from feeling, and I looked
at her with a cynical smile and spoke in a voice as carefully
deliberate as I could make it.
"Le Mire," I said, "I could love you, but I won't." And I
turned and left her without another word.
Why? I haven't the slightest idea. It must have been my
vanity. Some few men had conquered Le Mire; others had surrendered
to her; certainly none had ever been able to resist her. There was
a satisfaction in it. I walked about the lobby of the hotel till
Harry returned, idiotically pleased with myself.
At the breakfast table I acquainted Harry with our plans for
a cruise, and he was fully as eager about it as Le Mire had been.
He wanted to weigh anchor that very afternoon. I explained that it
was necessary to wait for funds from New York.
"How much?" said he. "I'm loaded."
"I've sent for a hundred thousand," said I.
"Are you going to buy her?" he demanded with astonishment.
Then we fell to a discussion of routes. Harry was for Hawaii;
Le Mire for South America.
We tossed a coin.
"Heads," said Desiree, and so it fell.
I requested Le Mire to keep to the hotel as closely as
possible for the days during which it was necessary for us to
remain in San Francisco. She did so, but with an apparent effort.
I have never seen a creature so full of nervous energy and
fire; only by severe restraint could she force herself to even a
small degree of composure. Harry was with her nearly every minute,
though what they found to talk about was beyond my comprehension.
Neither was exactly bubbling over with ideas, and one cannot say "I
love you" for twenty-four hours a day.
It was a cool, sunny day in the latter part of October when we
weighed anchor and passed through the Golden Gate. I had leased
the yacht for a year, and had made alternative plans in case Le
Mire should tire of the sport, which I thought extremely probable.
She and Harry were delighted with the yacht, which was not
surprising, for she was as perfect a craft as I have seen. Sides
white as sea-foam; everything above decks of shining brass, below
mahogany, and as clean and shipshape as a Dutch kitchen. There
were five rooms besides the captain's, and a reception-room,
dining-room, and library. We had provisioned her well, and had a
jewel of a cook.
Our first port was Santa Catalina. We dropped anchor there at
about five o'clock in the afternoon of such a day as only southern
California can boast of, and the dingey was lowered to take us
"What is there?" asked Le Mire, pointing to the shore as we
stood leaning on the rail waiting for the crew to place the ladder.
I answered: "Tourists."
Le Mire shrugged her shoulders. "Tourists? Bah! Merci,
I laughed and went forward to the captain to tell him that
madame did not approve of Santa Catalina. In another minute
the dingey was back on its davits, the anchor up, and we were under
way. Poor captain! Within a week he became used to Le Mire's
At San Diego we went ashore. Le Mire took a fancy to some
Indian blankets, and Harry bought them for her; but when she
expressed an intention to take an Indian girl--about sixteen or
seventeen years old--aboard the yacht as a "companion," I
interposed a firm negative. And, after all, she nearly had her
For a month it was "just one port after another." Mazatlan,
San Bias, Manzanillo, San Salvador, Panama City--at each of these
we touched, and visited sometimes an hour, sometimes two or three
days. Le Mire was loading the yacht with all sorts of curious
relics. Ugly or beautiful, useful or worthless, genuine or faked,
it mattered not to her; if a thing suited her fancy she wanted
it--and got it.
At Guayaquil occurred the first collision of wills. It was
our second evening in port. We were dining on the deck of the
yacht, with half a dozen South American generals and admirals as
Toward the end of the dinner Le Mire suddenly became silent
and remained for some minutes lost in thought; then, suddenly, she
turned to the bundle of gold lace at her side with a question:
"Where is Guayaquil?"
He stared at her in amazement.
"It is there, senora," he said finally, pointing to the
shore lined with twinkling lights.
"I know, I know," said Le Mire impatiently; "but where is it?
In what country?"
The poor fellow, too surprised to be offended, stammered the
name of his native land between gasps, while Harry and I had all we
could do to keep from bursting into laughter.
"Ah," said Desiree in the tone of one who has made an
important discovery, "I thought so. Ecuador. Monsieur,
Quito is in Ecuador."
The general--or admiral, I forget which--acknowledged the
correctness of her geography with a profound bow.
"But yes. I have often heard of Quito, monsieur. It
is a very interesting place. I shall go to Quito."
There ensued immediately a babel. Each of our guests insisted
on the honor of accompanying us inland, and the thing would most
assuredly have ended in a bloody quarrel on the captain's polished
deck, if I had not interposed in a firm tone:
"But, gentlemen, we are not going to Quito."
Le Mire looked at me--and such a look! Then she said in a
tone of the utmost finality:
"I am going to Quito."
I shook my head, smiling at her, whereupon she became furious.
"M. Lamar," she burst forth, "I tell you I am going to Quito!
In spite of your smile! Yes! Do you hear? I shall go!"
Without a word I took a coin from my pocket and held it up. I
had come to know Le Mire. She frowned for a moment in an evident
attempt to maintain her anger, then an irresistible smile parted
her lips and she clapped her hands gaily.
"Very well," she cried, "toss, monsieur! Heads!"
The coin fell tails, and we did not go to Quito, much to the
disappointment of our guests. Le Mire forgot all about it in ten
Five days later we dropped anchor at Callao.
This historic old port delighted Le Mire at once. I had told
her something of its story: its successive bombardments by the
liberators from Chile, the Spanish squadron, buccaneering
expeditions from Europe and the Chilean invaders; not to mention
earthquakes and tidal waves. We moored alongside the stone pier by
the lighthouse; the old clock at its top pointed to the hour of
eight in the morning.
But as soon as Le Mire found out that Lima was but a few miles
away, Callao no longer held any interest for her. We took an
afternoon train and arrived at the capital in time for dinner.
There it was, in picturesque old Lima, that Le Mire topped her
career. On our first afternoon we betook ourselves to the
fashionable paseo, for it was a band day, and all Lima was
In five minutes every eye in the gay and fashionable crowd was
turned on Le Mire. Then, as luck would have it, I met, quite by
chance, a friend of mine who had come to the University of San
Marcos some years before as a professor of climatology. He
introduced us, with an air of importance, to several of the groups
of fashion, and finally to the president himself. That night we
slept as guests under the roof of a luxurious and charming country
house at Miraflores.
Le Mire took the capital by storm. Her style of beauty was
peculiarly fitted for their appreciation, for pallor is considered
a mark of beauty among Lima ladies. But that could scarcely
account for her unparalleled triumph. I have often wondered--was
it the effect of a premonition?
The president himself sat by her at the opera. There were two
duels attributed to her within a week; though how the deuce that
was possible is beyond me.
On society day at the bull-ring the cues were given by Le
Mire; her hand flung the rose to the matador, while the eight
thousand excited spectators seemed uncertain whether they were
applauding her or him. Lima was hers, and never have I seen a
fortnight so crowded with incidents.
But Le Mire soon tired of it, as was to be expected. She
greeted me one morning at the breakfast table:
"My friend Paul, let us go to Cerro de Pasco. They have
silver--thousands and thousands of tons--and what you call them?
"And then the Andes?" I suggested.
"But, my dear Desiree, what shall we do with the yacht?"
"Pooh! There is the captain. Come--shall I say please?"
So we went to Cerro de Pasco. I wrote to Captain Harris,
telling him not to expect us for another month or so, and sending
him sufficient funds to last till our return.
I verily believe that every one of note in Lima came to the
railroad station to see us off.
Our compartment was a mass of flowers, which caused me to
smile, for Le Mire, curiously enough, did not like them. When we
had passed out of the city she threw them out of the window,
laughing and making jokes at the expense of the donors. She was in
the best of humor.
We arrived at Oroya late in the afternoon, and departed for
Cerro de Pasco by rail on the following morning.
This ride of sixty-eight miles is unsurpassed in all the
world. Snow-capped peaks, bottomless precipices, huge masses of
boulders that seem ready to crush the train surround you on every
side, and now and then are directly above or beneath you.
Le Mire was profoundly impressed; indeed, I had not supposed
her to possess the sensibility she displayed; and as for me, I was
most grateful to her for having suggested the trip. You who find
yourselves too well-acquainted with the Rockies and the Alps and
the Himalayas should try the Andes. There is a surprise waiting
But for the story.
We found Cerro de Pasco, interesting as its situation is, far
short of our expectations. It is a mining town, filled with
laborers and speculators, noisy, dirty, and coarse. We had been
there less than forty-eight hours when I declared to Harry and Le
Mire my intention of returning at once.
"But the Andes!" said Le Mire. "Shall we not see them?"
"Well--there they are."
I pointed through the window of the hotel.
"Bah! And you call yourself a traveler? Look! The snow!
My friend Paul, must I ask twice for a favor?"
Once again we tossed a coin.
Ah, if Le Mire had only seen the future! And yet--I often
wonder--would she have turned her back? For the woman craved
novelty and adventure, and the gameness of centuries was in her
blood--well, she had her experience, which was shared only in part
by Harry and myself.
Those snow-capped peaks! Little did we guess what they held
for us. We were laughing, I remember, as we left behind us the
edge of civilization represented by Cerro de Pasco.
We found it impossible to procure a complete outfit in the
mining town, and were forced to despatch a messenger to Lima. He
returned in two days with mules, saddles, saddle-bags, boots,
leather leggings, knickerbockers, woolen ponchos, and scores of
other articles which he assured us were absolutely necessary for
any degree of comfort. By the time we were ready to start we had
a good-sized pack-train on our hands.
The proprietor of the hotel found us an arriero, whom
he declared to be the most competent and trustworthy guide in all
the Andes--a long, loose-jointed fellow with an air of complete
indifference habitually resting on his yellow, rather
sinister-looking face. Le Mire did not like him, but I certainly
preferred the hotel proprietor's experience and knowledge to her
volatile fancy, and engaged the arriero on the spot.
Our outfit was complete, and everything in readiness, when
Harry suddenly announced that he had decided not to go, nor to
allow Le Mire to do so.
"I don't like it," he said in troubled tones. "I tell you,
Paul, I don't like it. I've been talking to some of the miners and
arrieros, and the thing is foolhardy and dangerous."
Then, seeing the expression on my face, he continued hastily:
"Oh, not for myself. You know me; I'll do anything that any one
else will do, and more, if I can. But Desiree! I tell you, if
anything happened to her I--well--"
I cut him short:
"My dear boy, the idea is Desiree's own. And to talk of
danger where she is concerned! She would laugh at you."
"She has," Harry confessed with a doubtful smile.
I clapped him roughly on the shoulder.
"Come, brace up! Our caravan awaits us--and see, the fairy,
too. Are you ready, Desiree?"
She came toward us from the inner rooms of the hotel, smiling,
radiant. I shall never forget the picture she presented. She wore
white knickerbockers, a white jacket, tan-leather boots and
leggings and a khaki hat.
Her golden hair, massed closely about her ears and upon her
forehead, shimmered in the bright sun dazzlingly; her eyes
sparkled; her little white teeth gleamed in a happy, joyous smile.
We lifted her to the back of her mule, then mounted our own.
Suddenly a recollection shot through my brain with remarkable
clearness, and I turned to Le Mire:
"Desiree, do you know the first time I ever saw you? It was
in an electric brougham at the Gare du Nord. This is somewhat
different, my lady."
"And infinitely more interesting," she answered. "Are you
ready? See that stupid arriero! Ah! After all, he knew
what he was about. Then, messieurs--allons!"
The arriero, receiving my nod uttered a peculiar
whistle through his teeth. The mules pricked up their ears, then
with one common movement started forward.
"Adios! Adios, senora! Adios, senores!"
With the cry of our late host sounding in our ears we passed
down the narrow little street of Cerro de Pasco on our way to the
snow-capped peaks of the Andes.
THE CAVE OF THE DEVIL.
You may remember that I made some remark concerning the
difficulty of the ascent of Pike's Peak. Well, that is mere
child's play--a morning constitutional compared to the paths we
found ourselves compelled to follow in the great Cordillera.
Nor was it permitted us to become gradually accustomed to the
danger; we had not been two hours out of Cerro de Pasco before we
found ourselves creeping along a ledge so narrow there was scarcely
room for the mules to place their hoofs together, over a precipice
three thousand feet in the air--straight. And, added to this was
the discomfort, amounting at times to positive pain, caused by the
Hardly ever did we find ground sufficiently broad for a
breathing space, save when our arriero led us, almost by
magic it seemed, to a camping place for the night. We would ascend
the side of a narrow valley; on one hand roared a torrent some
hundreds of feet below; on the other rose an uncompromising wall of
rock. So narrow would be the track that as I sat astride my mule
my outside leg would be hanging over the abyss.
But the grandeur, the novelty, and the variety of the scenery
repaid us; and Le Mire loved the danger for its own sake. Time and
again she swayed far out of her saddle until her body was literally
suspended in the air above some frightful chasm, while she turned
her head to laugh gaily at Harry and myself, who brought up the
"But Desiree! If the girth should break!"
"Oh, but it won't."
"But if it should?"
"Tra-la-la! Come, catch me!"
And she would try to urge her mule into a trot--a futile
effort, since the beast had a much higher regard for his skin than
she had for hers; and the mule of the arriero was but a few
Thus we continued day after day, I can't say how many. There
was a fascination about the thing that was irresistible. However
high the peak we had ascended, another could be seen still higher,
and that, too, must be scaled.
The infinite variety of the trail, its surprises, its new
dangers, its apparent vanishings into thin air, only to be found,
after an all but impossible curve, up the side of another cliff,
coaxed us on and on; and when or where we would have been able to
say, "thus far and no farther" is an undecided problem to this day.
About three o'clock one afternoon we camped in a small
clearing at the end of a narrow valley. Our arriero,
halting us at that early hour, had explained that there was no
other camping ground within six hours' march, and no
hacienda or pueblo within fifty miles. We received
his explanation with the indifference of those to whom one day is
like every other day, and amused ourselves by inspecting our
surroundings while he prepared the evening meal and arranged the
Back of us lay the trail by which we had approached--a narrow,
sinuous ribbon clinging to the side of the huge cliffs like a snake
fastened to a rock. On the left side, immediately above us, was a
precipice some thousand feet in height; on the right a series of
massive boulders, of quartzite and granite, misshapen and lowering.
There were three, I remember, placed side by side like three
giant brothers; then two or three smaller ones in a row, and beyond
these many others ranged in a mass unevenly, sometimes so close
together that they appeared to be jostling one another out of the
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