“A doubtful one,” said Desiree. “First of all, my friend, I want to congratulate you on your savoir faire. Par Bleu, that was the part of a man!”
“But you!” cried Harry. “What the deuce did you mean by pretending to play the black? I tell you, that was a shabby trick. Most unpleasant moment you gave us.”
Desiree sent me a quick glance; she was plainly surprised to find Harry in ignorance of what had passed between us that evening in the camp on the mountain. Wherein she was scarcely to be blamed, for her surprise came from a deep knowledge of the ways of men.
“I am beginning to know you, Paul,” she said, looking into my eyes.
“Now what’s up?” demanded Harry, looking from her to me and back again. “For Heaven’s sake, don’t talk riddles. What does that mean?”
But Desiree silenced him with a gesture, placing her fingers playfully on his lips. They were seated side by side on the granite couch; I stood in front of them, and there flitted across my memory a picture of that morning scene in the grounds of the Antlers at Colorado Springs, when Desiree and I had had our first battle.
We talked; or, rather, Harry and Desiree talked, and I listened. First he insisted on a recital of her experiences since her reckless dash into the “cave of the devil,” and she was most obliging, even eager, for she had had no one to talk to for many days, and she was a woman. She found in Harry a perfect audience.
Her experience had been much the same as our own. She, too, had fallen down the unseen precipice into the torrent beneath.
She asserted that she had been carried along by its force scarcely more than a quarter of an hour, and had been violently thrown upon a ledge of rock. It was evident that this must have been long before the stream reached the lake where Harry and I had found each other, for we had been in the water hardly short of an hour.
She had been found on the ledge by our hairy friends, who had carried her on their backs for many hours. I remembered the sensations of Harry and myself, who were men, and together, and gave a shudder of sympathy as Desiree described her own horror and fear, and her one attempt to escape.
Still the brutes had shown her no great violence, evidently recognizing the preciousness of their burden. They had carried her as gently as possible, but had absolutely refused to allow her to walk. At regular intervals they gave her an opportunity to rest, and food and water.
“Dried fish?” I asked hopefully.
Desiree nodded, with a most expressive grimace, and Harry burst into laughter.
Then of the elevation to her evident authority. Brought before the king, she had inspired the most profound wonder and curiosity. Easy, indeed, to understand how the whiteness of her skin and the beauty of her form and face had awakened the keenest admiration in the breast of that black and hairy monarch. He had shown her the most perfect respect; and she had played up to the role of goddess by displaying to the utmost her indifferent contempt for royalty and its favors.