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Under the Andes(Chapter4)

2006-09-07 21:21

  Chapter IV. Allons!

  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 Telegraph Hill.

  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 paragraph:

  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 smiled:

  "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 the world?"

  "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.

  "Really."

  "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 chair.

  "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."

  I laughed.

  "But certainly, Senora Ramal. And what is the favor?"

  "That."

  "That——"

  "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 friends."

  "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 ashore.

  "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, non. Allons!"

  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 sudden whims.

  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 way.

  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 guests.

  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 minutes.

  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 out.

  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? Ornaments."

  "And then the Andes?" I suggested.

  "Why not?"

  "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 for you.

  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.

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