Under the Andes, p.1Rex Stout / Actions & Adventure
Produced by Judith Boss. HTML version by Al Haines.
UNDER THE ANDES
I. THE SWEETHEART OF A KING. II. BEGINNING THE DANCE. III. A MODERN MARANA. IV. ALLONS! V. THE CAVE OF THE DEVIL. VI. CAPTURED. VII. THE FIGHT IN THE DARK. VIII. THE DANCE OF THE SUN. IX. BEFORE THE COURT. X. THE VERDICT. XI. A ROYAL VISITOR. XII. AT THE DOOR. XIII. INTO THE WHIRLPOOL. XIV. A FISHING PARTY. XV. THE RESCUE. XVI. THE ESCAPE. XVII. THE EYES IN THE DARK. XVIII. A VICTORY AND A CONVERSATION. XIX. AFLOAT. XX. AN INCA SPEAR. XXI. THE MIDST OF THE ENEMY. XXII. THE BEGINNING OF THE END. XXIII. WE ARE TWO. XXIV. CONCLUSION.
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, I had severaltimes visited the gaudy establishment of Mercer, on the fashionableside of Fifth Avenue in the Fifties. In either case I had founddisappointment; where the stake is a matter of indifference there canbe no excitement; and besides, I had been always in luck.
But on this occasion I had a real purpose before me, though not animportant one, and I surrendered my hat and coat to the servant at thedoor with a feeling of satisfaction.
At the entrance to the main room I met Bob Garforth, leaving. Therewas a scowl on his face and his hand trembled as he held it forth totake mine.
Harry is inside. What a rotten hole, said he, and passed on. Ismiled at his remark--it was being whispered about that Garforth hadlost a quarter of a million at Mercer's within the month--and passedinside.
Gaudy, I have said it was, and it needs no other word. Not in itselements, but in their arrangement.
The rugs and pictures and hangings testified to the taste of the manwho had selected them; but they were abominably disposed, and therewere too many of them.
The room, which was unusually large, held two or three leather divans,an English buffet, and many easy chairs. A smoking-table, covered,stood in one corner.
Groups of men were gathered about each of the three roulette wheelsranged along the farther side. Through a door to the left could beseen the poker tables, surrounded by grave or jocular faces. Above thelow buzz of conversation there sounded the continual droning voices ofthe croupiers as they called the winning numbers, and an occasionalexclamation from a customer.
I made my way to the center wheel and stood at the rear of the crowdsurrounding it.
The ball rolled; there was a straining of necks amid an intensesilence; then, as the little pellet wavered and finally came to a restin the hole number twenty-four a fervent oath of disappointment camefrom some one in front of me.
The next moment, rising on tiptoe to look over the interveningshoulders, I found myself looking into the white face of my youngerbrother Harry.
Paul! he exclaimed, turning quickly away.
I pushed my way through and stood at his side. There was no sound fromthe group of onlookers; it is not to be wondered at if they hesitatedto offend Paul Lamar.
My dear boy, said I, I missed you at dinner. And though this mayoccupy your mind, it can scarcely fill your stomach. Haven't you hadenough?
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 awhisper. I have lost ninety thousand.
In spite of myself I started. No wonder he was pale! And yet--
That's nothing, I whispered back. But you are making a show ofyourself. Just now you were swearing like a sailor. See how your handtrembles! You were not made for this, Harry; it makes you forget thatyou're a gentleman. They are laughing at you. Come.
But I say I have lost ninety thousand dollars, said the boy, andthere 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 astubborn child. Clearly it was impossible to get him away withoutmaking a scene, which was unthinkable. For a moment I was at acomplete 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 decidedin an instant on the only possible course.
Here, let me have your chair. I will get it back for you. Come!
He looked at me for a moment in hesitation, then rose without a wordand I took his place.
The thing was tiresome enough, but how could I have avoided it? Theblood that rushes to the head of the gambler is certainly not food forthe intellect; and, besides, I was forced by circumstances into anheroic 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 themwell; and I do not deny that there was a stirring of my pulse as I satdown.
Is it possible for a mind to directly influence the movements of alittle ivory ball? I do not say yes, but will you say no? I watchedthe ball with the eye of an eagle, but without straining; I played withthe precision of a man with an unerring system, though my selectionswere really made quite at random; and I handled my bets with thesureness and swift dexterity with which a chess-master places his pawnor piece in position to demoralize his opponent.
This told on the nerves of the croupier. Twice I corrected amiscalculation of his, and before I had played an hour his hand wastrembling with agitation.
And I won.
The details would be tiresome, but I won; and when, after six hours ofplay without an instant's rest, I rose exhausted from my chair andhanded my brother the amount he had lost--I pocketed a few thousandsfor myself in addition. There were some who tried to detain me withcongratulations and expressions of admiration, but I shook them off andled Harry outside to my car.
The chauffeur, poor devil, was completely stiff from the long wait, andI ordered him into the tonneau and took the wheel myself.
Partly was this due to pity for the driver, partly to a desire to leaveHarry to his own thoughts, which I knew must be somewhat turbulent. Hewas silent during the drive, which was not long, and I smiled to myselfin the darkness of the early morning as I heard, now and then, anuncontrollable sigh break through his dry lips. Of thankfulness,perhaps.
I preceded him up the stoop and into the hall of the old house on lowerFifth Avenue, near Tenth Street, that had been the home of ourgrandfather and our father before us. There, in the dim light, Ihalted and turned, while Evans approached from the inner rooms, rubbingeyes heavy with sleep.
Good old Evans! Yet the faithfulness of such a servant has itsdisadvantages.
Well? said Harry in a thin, high voice.
The boy's nerves were stretched tightly; two words from me would haveproduced an explosion. So I clapped him on the shoulder and sent himoff to bed. He went sulkily, without looking round, and his shouldersdrooped like those of an old man; but I reflected that that would allbe changed after a few hours of sleep.
After all, he is a Lamar, I said to myself as I ordered Evans tobring wine and sandwiches to the library.
It was the middle of the following afternoon before Harry appeareddown-stairs. He had slept eleven hours. I was seated in the librarywhen 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 withthe 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 amood, unless it be with a pretty woman or a great sinner. You mayregard that sentence as tautological if you like; I sha'n't quarrelabout it.
What I mean to say is that it was with a real effort I set myself tothe distasteful task before me, rendered necessary by theresponsibility of my position as elder brother and head of the family.
Harry began by observing with assumed indifference: Well, and nowthere'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, thenfor another. So your observation would serve for any other time aswell as now. The point is this: you are ten years younger than I, andyou are under my care; and much as I dislike to talk, we must reach anunderstanding.
Well? said Harry, lighting a cigarette and seating himself on the armof a chair.
You have often thought, I continued, that I have been trying tointerfere with your freedom. But you are mistaken; I have merely beentrying to preserve it--and I have succeeded.
When our father and mother died you were fifteen years of age. Youare now twenty-two; and I take some credit for the fact that thoseseven 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 beenat no small pains to--er--assist you. But there, I don't intend tospeak of the past; and to tell the truth, I suspect that we are of onemind. You regard me as more or less of an encumbrance; you think yourmovements are hampered; you consider yourself to be treated as a childunjustly.
Well, for my part, I find my duty--for such I consider it--grows moreirksome every day. If I am in your way, you are no less in mine. Tomake it short, you are now twenty-two years old, you chafe atrestraint, you think yourself abundantly able to manage your ownaffairs. 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 selfishness.
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 Iwas more than once surprised by a flash from Harry. Clearly he wasdeveloping, and for the first time I indulged a hope that he mightprove himself fit for self-government.
At least I had given him the rope; it remained for time to discoverwhether or not he would avoid getting tangled up in it. When we hadfinished we understood each other better, I think, than we ever hadbefore; and we parted with the best of feeling.
Three days later I sailed for Europe, leaving Harry in New York. Itwas my first trip across in eighteen months, and I aimed at pleasure.I spent a week in London and Munich, then, disgusted with the actionsof some of my fellow countrymen with whom I had the misfortune to beacquainted, I turned my face south for Madrid.
There I had a friend.
A woman not beautiful, but eminently satisfying; not loose, butliberal, with a character and a heart. In more ways than one she wasremarkable; she had an affection for me; indeed, some years previouslyI had been in a way to play Albert Savaron to her Francesca Colonna, anarrangement prevented only by my constitutional dislike for anyprolonged 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 ofDesiree 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 dailycarriage exercise; anything more strenuous is regarded with horror bythe ladies of Spain.
There was a shout, and a sudden hush; all carriages were halted andtheir occupants uncovered, for royalty was passing. The coach, amagnificent though cumbersome affair, passed slowly and gravely by. Onthe rear seat were the princess and her little English cousin, whileopposite them sat the great duke himself.
By his side was a young man of five and twenty with a white face andweak chin, and glassy, meaningless eyes. I turned to my companion andasked in a low tone who he was. Her whispered answer caused me tostart with surprise, and I turned to her with a question.
But why is he in Madrid?
Oh, as to that, said my friend, smiling, you must ask Desiree.
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 halfI have been buried in the land of pork and gold. The gossip there isneither of the poet nor the court. I am ignorant of everything.
You would not have been so much longer, said my friend, for Desireeis soon going to America. Who is she? No one knows. What is she?Well, she is all things to some men, and some things to all men. Sheis a courtesan among queens and a queen among courtesans.
She dances and loves, and, I presume, eats and sleeps. For the pasttwo years she has bewitched him--she pointed down the drive to wherethe royal coach was disappearing in the distance--and he has given hereverything.
It was for her that the Duke of Bellarmine built the magnificentchalet of which I was telling you on Lake Lucerne. You remember thatPrince Dolansky shot himself 'for political reasons' in his Parisianpalace? But for Desiree he would be alive to-day. She is a witch anda she-devil, and the most completely fascinating 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 aking, and it is no wonder if she is tired of only one royal lover at atime. And listen, Paul--
You--you must not meet her. Oh, but you do not know her power!
I laughed and pressed her hand, assuring her that I had no intention ofallowing myself to be bewitched by a she-devil; but as our carriageturned and started back down the long drive toward the hotel I foundmyself haunted by the white face and staring eyes of the young man inthe royal coach.
I stayed two weeks longer in Madrid. At the end of that time, findingmyself completely bored (for no woman can possibly be amusing for morethan a month at a time), I bade my friend au revoir and departed forthe East. But I found myself just too late for an archeologicalexpedition into the heart of Egypt, and after a tiresome week or so inCairo and Constantinople I again turned my face toward the west.
At Rome I met an old friend, one Pierre Janvour, in the Frenchdiplomatic service, and since I had nothing better to do I accepted hisurgent 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 seenthe world and tasted it and judged it. Still I found some amusement;Janvour had a pretty wife and a daughter eight years old, daintilybeautiful, and I allowed myself to become soaked in domestic sentiment.
I really found myself on the point of envying him; Mme. Janvour was amost excellent housekeeper and manager. Little Eugenie and I wouldoften walk together in the public gardens, and now and then her motherwould join us; and, as I say, I found myself on the point of envying myfriend Janvour.
This diversion would have ended soon in any event; but it was broughtto an abrupt termination by a cablegram from my New York lawyers,asking me to return to America at once. Some rascality it was, on thepart of the agent of my estate, which had alarmed them; the cablegramwas bare of detail. At any rate, I could not afford to disregard it,and arranged passage on a liner sailing from Cherbourg the followingday.
My hostess gave me a farewell dinner, which heightened my regret atbeing forced to leave, and little Eugenie seemed really grieved at mydeparture. It is pleasant to leave a welcome behind you; that isreally the only necessary axiom of the traveler.
Janvour took me to the railroad station, and even offered to accompanyme to Cherbourg; but I refused to tear him away from his littleparadise.
We stood on the platform arguing the matter, when I suddenly becameaware of that indistinct flutter and bustle seen in public places atsome unusual happening or the unexpected arrival of a great personage.
I turned and saw that which was worthy of the interest it had excited.
In the first place, the daintiest little electric brougham in theworld, fragile and delicate as a toy--a fairy's chariot. Then thefairy herself descended. She cannot be described in detail.
I caught a glimpse of glorious golden hair, softly massive; gray-blueeyes shot with lightning, restless, devouring, implacable,indescribably beautiful; a skin wondrously fine, with the purity ofmarble and the warmth of velvet; nose and mouth rather too large, butperfectly formed and breathing the fire and power of love. Really itwas rather later that I saw all this; at the time there was but aconfused impression of elegance and beauty and terrible power.
She passed from the brougham to her railway carriage supremelyunconscious of the hundreds of eyes turned on her, and a general sighof satisfaction and appreciation came from the throng as shedisappeared within her compartment. I turned to Janvour.
Who is she?
What? he exclaimed in surprise. But my dear Lamar, not to know herargues 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 same boat asyourself. But, my friend, beware!
But who is she?
Desiree Le Mire.