“Did he know?”
“Vat? Senor Farnham? No doubt, senorita. Come, eet ees but de step.”
The bewildered American hung back, her eyes filled with dread resting upon the black shadow of the curtain, from behind which clearly arose the strains of a laboring orchestra, mingling with the discordant noise of a ribald crowd. Farnham understood she was locked in; knew she might hope to escape only through that scene of pollution; beyond doubt, he waited in its midst to gloat over her degradation, possibly even to accost her. She shrank from such an ordeal as though she fronted pestilence.
“Oh, not that way; not through the dance hall!” she exclaimed.
Mercedes clapped her hands with delight. To her it appeared amusing.
“Holy Mother! Vy not? Eet make me laugh to see you so ver’ nice. Vat you ’fraid ’bout? Vas eet de men? Pah! I snap my fingers at all of dem dis vay. Dey not say boo! But come, now, Mercedes show you vay out vere you no meet vis de men, no meet vis anybody. Poof, eet ees easy.”
She danced lightly away, her hand beckoning, her black eyes aglow with aroused interest. Reluctantly the puzzled American slowly followed, dipping down into the black labyrinth leading beneath the stage. Amid silence and darkness Mercedes grasped her arm firmly, leading unhesitatingly forward. Standing within the glare of light streaming through the partially open door. Miss Norvell drew a sudden breath of relief. The chairs and benches, piled high along the side of the great room, left a secluded passageway running close against the wall. Along this the two young women moved silently, catching merely occasional glimpses of the wild revelry upon the other side of that rude barrier, unseen themselves until within twenty feet of the street door. There Miss Norvell hesitated her anxious eyes searching the mixed crowd of dancers now for the first time fully revealed. Even as she gazed upon the riot, shocked into silence at the inexpressible profligacy displayed, and ashamed of her presence in the midst of it, a merry peal of laughter burst through the parted lips of the Mexican dancer.
“Dios de Dios, but I had all forgot dis vas your night for de dance, senor. But you no so easy forget Mercedes, hey?”
He stood directly before them, plainly embarrassed, gripping his disreputable hat in both hands like a great bashful boy, his face reddening under her smiling eyes, his voice appearing to catch within his throat. Mercedes laughed again, patting his broad shoulder with her white hand as though she petted a great, good-natured dog. Then her sparkling black eyes caught sight of something unexpected beyond, and, in an instant, grew hard with purpose.
“Holy Mother! but eet ’s true he ees here, senorita—see yonder by de second vindow,” she whispered fiercely. “Maybe it vas so he tink to get you once more, but he not looked dis vay yet. Bueno! I make him dance vis me. Dis man Stutter Brown, an’ he go vis you to de hotel; ees eet not so, amigo?”