How critical the situation was I did not know, despite Desiree’s assertions. His eyes were human and easily read; they held jealousy; and when power is jealous there is danger.
But Desiree proved herself equal to the occasion. She remained seated on the granite couch for a long minute without moving; confusion left her eyes as she gazed at us apparently with the utmost composure; but I who knew her could see that her brain was working with the rapidity of lightning. Then her glance passed to the figure at the doorway, and with a gesture commanding and truly royal in its simplicity, she held her hand forth, palm down, to the Inca king.
Like an obedient trained monkey he trotted across the intervening space, grasped her soft white hand in his monstrous paw, and touched his lips to her fingers.
That was all, but it spoke volumes to one who could divine the springs of action. I remember that at the time there shot through my mind a story I had heard concerning Desiree in Paris. The Duke of Bellarmine, then her protector, had one evening entered her splendid apartment on the Rue Jonteur—furnished, of course, by himself—and had found his divinity entertaining one Jules Chavot, a young and beautiful poet. Whereupon he had launched forth into the most bitter reproaches and scornful denunciations.
“Monsieur,” Desiree had said, with the look of a queen outraged, when he had finished, “you are annoying. Little Chavot amuses me. You are aware that I never refuse myself anything which I consider necessary to my amusement, and just now I find you very dull.”
And the noble duke, conquered by that glance of fire and those terrible words, had retired with humble apologies, after receiving a gracious permission to call on the following day!
In short, Desiree was irresistible; the subjection of the Inca king was but another of her triumphs, and not the most remarkable.
And then I looked at Harry, and was aware of a new danger. He was glaring at the Inca with eyes which told their own story of the fire within, and which were waiting only for suspicion to become certainty. I called to him:
“Harry! Hold fast!”
He glanced at me, gave a short laugh, and nodded.
Then came Desiree’s voice, in a low tone of warning:
“On your knees!”
Her meaning was clear; it was to us she spoke. The king had turned from her and was regarding us steadily with eyes so nearly closed that their meaning was impenetrable. Harry and I glanced at each other and remained standing. Then Desiree’s voice again:
“Harry! If you love me!”
It was the appeal to a child; but love is young. Immediately Harry dropped to his knees, facing the king; and I followed him, wondering at myself. To this day I do not know what the compelling force was that pulled me down. Was it another instance of the power of Desiree?