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|Under the Andes||Rex Stout|
The Sweetheart Of A King
|Page 5 of 7||
It was from the lips of this friend that I first heard the name of Desiree Le Mire.
It was late in the afternoon on the fashionable drive. Long, broad, and shady, though scarcely cool, it was here that we took our daily carriage exercise; anything more strenuous is regarded with horror by the ladies of Spain.
There was a shout, and a sudden hush; all carriages were halted and their occupants uncovered, for royalty was passing. The coach, a magnificent though cumbersome affair, passed slowly and gravely by. On the rear seat were the princess and her little English cousin, while opposite them sat the great duke himself
By his side was a young man of five and twenty with a white face and weak chin, and glassy, meaningless eyes. I turned to my companion and asked in a low tone who he was. Her whispered answer caused me to start with surprise, and I turned to her with a question.
"But why is he in Madrid?"
"Oh, as to that," said my friend, smiling, "you must ask Desiree."
"And who is Desiree?"
"What! You do not know Desiree! Impossible!" she exclaimed.
"My dear," said I, "you must remember that for the past year and a half I have been buried in the land of pork and gold. The gossip there is neither of the poet nor the court. I am ignorant of everything."
"You would not have been so much longer," said my friend, "for Desiree is soon going to America. Who is she? No one knows. What is she? Well, she is all things to some men, and some things to all men. She is a courtesan among queens and a queen among courtesans.
"She dances and loves, and, I presume, eats and sleeps. For the past two years she has bewitched him"--she pointed down the drive to where the royal coach was disappearing in the distance --"and he has given her everything.
"It was for her that the Duke of Bellarmine built the magnificent chalet of which I was telling you on Lake Lucerne. You remember that Prince Dolansky shot himself 'for political reasons' in his Parisian palace? But for Desiree he would be alive to-day. She is a witch and a she-devil, and the most completely fascinating woman in the world."
"What a reputation! And you say she is going to America?"
"Yes. It is to be supposed that she has heard that every American is a king, and it is no wonder if she is tired of only one royal lover at a time. And listen, Paul--"
"You--you must not meet her. Oh, but you do not know her power!"
I laughed and pressed her hand, assuring her that I had no intention of allowing myself to be bewitched by a she-devil; but as our carriage turned and started back down the long drive toward the hotel I found myself haunted by the white face and staring eyes of the young man in the royal coach.
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