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Under the Andes(Chapter2)

2006-09-07 21:20

  Chapter II. 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 of lack of imagination, in the position thus vacated and sighed with mild relief.

  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 to 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 enemy 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 circles.

  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 Western bad man. Gowns and hats were named for her by the enterprising department stores.

  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 hours.

  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but once in the public dining-room, and on that occasion had nearly caused a riot, whereupon she had discreetly withdrawn.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 itself hoarse.

  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 not 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 see her?

  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 hours 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 at 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 subject 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 been 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 the excellent taste displayed in her furniture and its arrangement, for 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 her own surroundings.

  Harry was captivated, and I can scarcely blame him. But the poor lad betrayed himself so frankly! Though I suppose Le Mire was 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 highest 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 for an answer to a question or confirmation of an opinion he stammered 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 face 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 to him.

  What a face was his! His lips trembled with nervous feeling, his eyes glowed like the eyes of a madman. I half started from my 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?"

  "Yes."

  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?"

  "Rather."

  "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 your step."

  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 he turned again uncertainly, hesitating.

  "I am to ride with Desiree in the morning," said he, and the next moment was gone.

  "Desiree!"

  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 was my friend.

  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 interested in some chemical experiments——I am a dabbler with the tubes——and went out but little. Then——this was on Friday——Harry sought me out 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 the 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 and 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 he 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 have never seen such a representation of fashion and genius in America, 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 dressed 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 nonappearance.

  They had sent to her hotel; she was gone, bag and baggage. She had departed on Friday, leaving no word as to her destination. They had asked the police, the hotels, the railroads, the steamship 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 and 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 standing 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. I 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 the assertions of busy tongues; and it was the part of my friend to counteract and smother the inevitable gossip. This he promised to do; and I knew Billy. As for finding Harry, it was too late to do 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, he 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 only 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 ticket 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 to 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. That's right——Friday."

  "Tickets!" I muttered to myself. And in my preoccupation I really neglected to listen to him. Then aloud: "Where were the—— tickets for?"

  "Denver."

  "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 the West.

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