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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.

To Chapter 5

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