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|Under the Andes||Rex Stout|
|Page 3 of 8||
For she meant death for us; I read it in her eyes. One of the old stale proverbs of the stale old world was to have another justification. I repeat that I was astounded, taken completely by surprise; and yet I had known something of "the fury of a woman scorned."
It was as though our eyes shot out to meet each other in an embrace of death. She saw that I understood and she smiled--what a smile! It was triumphant, and yet sad; a vengeance, and a farewell. She put forth her hand.
It wavered among the quipos as though uncertainly, then closed firmly on the black cord of death.
A thought flashed through my mind with the speed of lightning. I raised my voice and sang out:
She hesitated; the hand which held the knife fell to her side and again her eyes sought mine.
"What of Harry?" I called. "Take two--the white for him, the black for me."
She shook her head and again raised the knife; and I played my last card.
"Bah! Who are you? For you are not Le Mire!" I weighted my voice with contempt. "Le Mire is a child of fortune, but not of hell!"
At last she spoke.
"I play a fair hand, monsieur!" she cried, and her voice trembled.
"With marked cards!" I exclaimed scornfully. "The advantage is yours, madame; may you find pleasure in it."
There was a silence, while our eyes met. I thought I had lost. Le Mire stood motionless. Not a sound came from the audience. I felt Harry pulling at my arm, but shook myself free, without taking my eyes from Le Mire's face.
Suddenly she spoke:
"You are right, my friend Paul. I take no advantage. Leave it to Fortune. Have you a coin?"
I had won my chance. That was all--a chance--but that was better than nothing. I took a silver peseta from my pocket--by luck it had not been lost--and held it in the air above my head.
"Heads!" cried Desiree.
I let the coin fall. It rolled half-way across the top of the column and stopped at the very edge. I crossed and stooped over it. It lay heads up!
Harry was behind me; as I straightened up I saw his white, set face and eyes of horror. He, too, had seen the verdict; but he was moved not by that, but by the thought of Desiree, for Harry was not a man to flinch at sight of death.
I stood straight, and my voice was calm. It cost me an effort to clear it of bitterness and reproach. I could not avoid the reflection that but for Desiree we would never have seen the cave of the devil and the Children of the Sun; but I said simply and clearly:
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