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Under the Andes Rex Stout

A Modern Marana

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"The most beautiful woman in the world," said Mrs. Hovey.

This from a woman who was herself beautiful! Amazing! I suppose my face betrayed my thought.

"It isn't charity," she smiled. "Like John Holden, I have seen fire-balloons by the hundred, I have seen the moon, and--then I saw no more fire-balloons."

"But who is she?"

Hovey explained. "She is the wife of Senor Ramal. They came here some ten days ago, with letters to one or two of the best families, and that's all we know about them. The senora is an entrancing mixture of Cleopatra, Sappho, Helen of Troy, and the devil. She had the town by the ears in twenty-four hours, and you wouldn't wonder at it if you saw her."

Already I felt that I knew, but I wanted to make sure.

"Byron has described her," I suggested, "in Childe Harold."

"Hardly," said Hovey. "No midnight beauty for hers, thank you. Her hair is the most perfect gold. Her eyes are green; her skin remarkably fair. What she may be is unknowable, but she certainly is not Spanish; and, odder still, the senor himself fits the name no better."

But I thought it needless to ask for a description of Harry; for I had no doubt of the identity of Senor Ramal and his wife. I pondered over the name, and suddenly realized that it was merely "Lamar" spelled backward!

The discovery removed the last remaining shadow of doubt.

I asked in a tone of assumed indifference for their hotel, expressing a desire to meet them--and was informed by Hovey that they had left Denver two days previously, nor did he know where they had gone.

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Thus did I face another obstacle. But I was on the track; and the perfume of a woman's beauty is the strongest scent in the world as well as the sweetest. I thanked my cousin for a pleasant evening--though he did not know the extent of my debt to him--and declined his urgent invitation to have my luggage brought to his home.

On my way to the hotel I was struck by a sudden thought: Senor Ramal could not be my brother or my cousin would have recognized him! But I immediately reflected that the two had not seen each other for some ten years, at which time Harry had been a mere boy.

The following morning, with little difficulty, I ascertained the fact that the Ramals had departed--at least ostensibly--for Colorado Springs.

I followed. That same evening, when I registered at the Antlers Hotel, a few minutes before the dinner hour, I turned over two pages of the book, and there before me was the entry, "Senor and Senora Ramal, Paris." It was in Harry's handwriting.

After dinner--a most excellent dinner, with melons from La Junta and trout from the mountain streams--I descended on the hotel clerk with questions. He was most obliging--a sharp, pleasant fellow, with prominent ears and a Rocky Mountain twang.

"Senor and Senora Ramal? Most assuredly, sir. They have been here several days. No, they are not now in the hotel. They left this afternoon for Manitou, to take dinner there, and are going to make the night trip up the Peak."

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Under the Andes
Rex Stout

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