Back of us lay the trail by which we had approached—a narrow, sinuous ribbon clinging to the side of the huge cliffs like a snake fastened to a rock. On the left side, immediately above us, was a precipice some thousand feet in height; on the right a series of massive boulders, of quartzite and granite, misshapen and lowering.
There were three, I remember, placed side by side like three giant brothers; then two or three smaller ones in a row, and beyond these many others ranged in a mass unevenly, sometimes so close together that they appeared to be jostling one another out of the way.
For several days we had been in the region of perpetual snow; and soon we gathered about the fire which the arriero had kindled for our camp. Its warmth was grateful, despite our native woolen garments and heavy ponchos.
The wind whistled ominously; a weird, senseless sound that smote the ear with madness. The white of the snow and the dull gray of the rocks were totally unrelieved by any touch of green or play of water; a spot lonely as the human soul and terrifying as death.
Harry had gone to examine the hoofs of his mule, which had limped slightly during the afternoon; Le Mire and I sat side by side near the fire, gazing at the play of the flames. For some minutes we had been silent.
“In Paris, perhaps—” she began suddenly, then stopped short and became again silent.
But I was fast dropping into melancholy and wanted to hear her voice, and I said:
“Well? In Paris—”
She looked at me, her eyes curiously somber, but did not speak. I insisted:
“You were saying, Desiree, in Paris—”
She made a quick movement and laughed unpleasantly.
“Yes, my friend—but it is useless. I was thinking of you. ’Ah! A card! Mr. Paul Lamar. Show him in, Julie. But no, let him wait—I am not at home.’ That, my friend, would be in Paris.”
I stared at her.
“For Heaven’s sake, Desiree, what nonsense is this?”
She disregarded my question as she continued:
“Yes, that is how it would be. Why do I talk thus? The mountains hypnotize me. The snow, the solitude—for I am alone. Your brother, what is he? And you, Paul, are scarcely aware of my existence.
“I had my opportunity with you, and I laughed it away. And as for the future—look! Do you see that waste of snow and ice, glittering, cold, pitiless? Ha! Well, that is my grave.”
I tried to believe that she was merely amusing herself, but the glow in her eyes did not proceed from mirth. I followed her fixed gaze across the trackless waste and, shivering, demanded:
“What morbid fancy is this, Desiree? Come, it is scarcely pleasant.”
She rose and crossed the yard or so of ground between us to my side. I felt her eyes above me, and try as I would I could not look up to meet them. Then she spoke, in a voice low but curiously distinct: