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Under the Andes Rex Stout

The Cave Of The Devil

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"I am flattered, senora."

She sighed, placing her hand on my shoulder.

"You laugh at me. You are wrong. Have I chosen this place for a flirtation? Before, I could not speak; now you must know. There have been many men in my life, Paul; some fools, some not so, but none like you. I have never said, 'I love you.' I say it now. Once you held my hand--you have never kissed me."

I rose to my feet, smiling, profoundly fatuous, and made as if to put my arm around her.

"A kiss? Is that all, Desiree? Well--"

But I had mistaken her tone and overreached. Not a muscle did she move, but I felt myself repulsed as by a barrier of steel. She remained standing perfectly still, searching me with a gaze that left me naked of levity and cynicism and the veneer of life; and finally she murmured in a voice sweet with pain:

"Must you kill me with words, Paul? I did not mean that--now. It is too late."

Then she turned swiftly and called to Harry, who came running over to her only to meet with some trivial request, and a minute later the arriero announced dinner.

I suppose that the incident had passed with her, as it had with me; little did I know how deeply I had wounded her. And when I discovered my mistake, some time later and under very different circumstances, it very nearly cost me my life, and Harry's into the bargain.

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During the meal Le Mire was in the jolliest of moods apparently. She retold the tale of Balzac's heroine who crossed the Andes in the guise of a Spanish officer, performing wondrous exploits with her sword and creating havoc among the hearts of the fair ladies who took the dashing captain's sex for granted from his clothing.

The story was a source of intense amusement to Harry, who insisted on the recital of detail after detail, until Desiree allowed her memory to take a vacation and substitute pure imagination. Nor was the improvisation much inferior to the original.

It was still light when we finished dinner, a good three hours till bedtime. And since there was nothing better to do, I called to the arriero and asked him to conduct us on a tour of exploration among the mass of boulders, gray and stern, that loomed up on our right.

He nodded his head in his usual indifferent manner, and fifteen minutes later we started, on foot. The arriero led the way, with Harry at his heels, and Desiree and I brought up the rear.

Thrice I tried to enter into conversation with her; but each time she shook her head without turning round, and I gave it up. I was frankly puzzled by her words and conduct of an hour before; was it merely one of the trickeries of Le Mire or--

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Under the Andes
Rex Stout

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