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|Under the Andes||Rex Stout|
A Victory And A Conversation
|Page 6 of 9||
"That--depends," I answered, hardly knowing what to say.
"On whether or not you were serious, once upon a time, when you made a--shall we call it a confession? If you were, I offended you in my own conceit, but let us be frank. I thought you were acting, and I played my role. I do not yet believe that you were; I am not conceited enough to think it possible."
"I do not say," Desiree began; then she stopped and added hastily: "But that is past. I shall not tell you that again. Perhaps I forgot myself. Perhaps it was a pretty play. You have not answered me."
I looked at her. Strange and terrible as her experiences and sufferings had been, she had lost little of her beauty. Her face was rendered only the more delicate by its pallor. Her white and perfect body, only half seen in the half-darkness, conveyed a sense of the purest beauty with no hint of immodesty.
But I was moved not by what I saw, but by what I knew. I had admired her always as Le Mire; but her bravery, her hardihood, her sympathy for others under circumstances when any other woman would have been thinking only of herself--had these awakened in my breast a feeling stronger than admiration?
I did not know. But my voice trembled a little as I said: "I need not answer you, Desiree. I repeat that there is nothing to forgive. You sought revenge, then sacrificed it; but still revenge is yours."
She looked at me for a moment in silence, then said slowly: "I do not understand you."
For reply I took her hand in my own from where it lay idly on my knee, and, carrying it to my lips, pressed a long kiss on the top of each of the slender white fingers. Then I held the hand tight between both of mine as I asked simply, looking into her eyes:
"Do you understand me now?"
"My revenge," she breathed.
I nodded and again pressed her hand to my lips.
"Yes, Desiree. We are not children. I think we know what we mean. But you have not told me. Did you mean what you said that day on the mountain?"
"Ah, I thought that was a play!" she murmured.
"Tell me! Did you mean it?"
"I never confess the same sin twice, my friend."
"Desiree, did you mean it?"
Then suddenly, with the rapidity of lightning, her manner changed. She bent toward me with parted lips and looked straight into my eyes. There was passion in the gaze; but when she spoke her voice was quite even and so low I scarcely heard.
"Paul," she said, "I shall not again say I love you. Such words should not be wasted. Not now, perhaps; but that is because we are where we are. And if we should return?
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