Part 2 out of 7
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
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
"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
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
"Paul, I love you."
"My dear Desiree!"
"I love you."
At once I was myself, calm and smiling. I was convinced that
she was acting, and I dislike to spoil a good scene. So I merely
"I am flattered, senora."
She sighed, placing her hand on my shoulder.
"You laugh at me. You are wrong. Have I chosen this place
for a flirtation? Before, I could not speak; now you must know.
There have been many men in my life, Paul; some fools, some not so,
but none like you. I have never said, 'I love you.' I say it now.
Once you held my hand--you have never kissed me."
I rose to my feet, smiling, profoundly fatuous, and made as if
to put my arm around her.
"A kiss? Is that all, Desiree? Well--"
But I had mistaken her tone and overreached. Not a muscle did
she move, but I felt myself repulsed as by a barrier of steel. She
remained standing perfectly still, searching me with a gaze that
left me naked of levity and cynicism and the veneer of life; and
finally she murmured in a voice sweet with pain:
"Must you kill me with words, Paul? I did not mean that--now.
It is too late."
Then she turned swiftly and called to Harry, who came running
over to her only to meet with some trivial request, and a minute
later the arriero announced dinner.
I suppose that the incident had passed with her, as it had
with me; little did I know how deeply I had wounded her. And when
I discovered my mistake, some time later and under very different
circumstances, it very nearly cost me my life, and Harry's into the
During the meal Le Mire was in the jolliest of moods
apparently. She retold the tale of Balzac's heroine who crossed
the Andes in the guise of a Spanish officer, performing wondrous
exploits with her sword and creating havoc among the hearts of the
fair ladies who took the dashing captain's sex for granted from his
The story was a source of intense amusement to Harry, who
insisted on the recital of detail after detail, until Desiree
allowed her memory to take a vacation and substitute pure
imagination. Nor was the improvisation much inferior to the
It was still light when we finished dinner, a good three hours
till bedtime. And since there was nothing better to do, I called
to the arriero and asked him to conduct us on a tour of
exploration among the mass of boulders, gray and stern, that loomed
up on our right.
He nodded his head in his usual indifferent manner, and
fifteen minutes later we started, on foot. The arriero led
the way, with Harry at his heels, and Desiree and I brought up the
Thrice I tried to enter into conversation with her; but each
time she shook her head without turning round, and I gave it up.
I was frankly puzzled by her words and conduct of an hour before;
was it merely one of the trickeries of Le Mire or--
I was interested in the question as one is always interested
in a riddle; but I tossed it from my mind, promising myself a
solution on the morrow, and gave my attention to the vagaries of
nature about me.
We were passing through a cleft between two massive rocks,
some three or four hundred yards in length. Ahead of us, at the
end of the passage, a like boulder fronted us.
Our footfalls echoed and reechoed from wall to wall; the only
other sound was the eery moaning of the wind that reached our ears
with a faintness which only served to increase its effect. Here
and there were apertures large enough to admit the entrance of a
horse and rider, and in many places the sides were crumbling.
I was reflecting, I remember, that the formation was
undoubtedly one of limestone, with here and there a layer of
quartzite, when I was aroused by a shout from Harry.
I approached. Harry and Desiree, with Felipe, the
arriero, had halted and were gazing upward at the wall of
rock which barred the exit from the passage. Following their eyes,
I saw lines carved on the rock, evidently a rude and clumsy attempt
to reproduce the form of some animal.
The thing was some forty feet or so above us and difficult to
"I say it's a llama," Harry was saying as I stopped at his
"My dear boy," returned Desiree, "don't you think I know a
horse when I see one?"
"When you see one, of course," said Harry sarcastically. "But
who ever saw a horse with a neck like that?"
As for me, I was really interested, and I turned to the
arriero for information.
"Si, senor," said Felipe, "Un caballo."
"But who carved it?"
Felipe shrugged his shoulders.
"Is it new--Spanish?"
Another shrug. I became impatient.
"Have you no tongue?" I demanded. "Speak! If you don't know
the author of that piece of equine art say so."
"I know, senor."
"Then, for Heaven's sake, tell us."
"His story?" pointing to the figure on the rock.
Without a sign of interest, Felipe turned twice around, found
a comfortable rock, sat down, rolled a cigarette, lighted it, and
began. He spoke in Spanish dialect; I shall preserve the style as
far as translation will permit.
"Many, many years ago, senor, Atahualpa, the Inca, son
of Huayna-Capac, was imprisoned at Cajamarco. Four, five hundred
years ago, it was. By the great Pizarro. And there was gold at
Cuzco, to the south, and Atahualpa, for his ransom, ordered that
this gold be brought to Pizarro.
"Messengers carried the order like the wind, so swift that in
five days the priests of the sun carried their gold from the
temples to save the life of Atahualpa."
Felipe paused, puffing at his cigarette, glanced at his
audience, and continued:
"But Hernando Pizarro, brother of the great Pizarro, suspected
a delay in the carriers of gold. From Pachacamac he came with
twenty horsemen, sowing terror in the mountains, carrying eighty
loads of gold. Across the Juaja River and past Lake Chinchaycocha
they came, till they arrived at the city of Huanuco.
"There were temples and gold and priests and soldiers. But
when the soldiers of the Inca saw the horses of the Spaniards and
heard the guns, they became frightened and ran away like little
children, carrying their gold. Never before had they seen white
men, or guns, or horses.
"With them came many priests and women, to the snow of the
mountains. And after many days of suffering they came to a cave,
wherein they disappeared and no more were seen, nor could Hernando
Pizarro and his twenty horsemen find them to procure their gold.
"And before they entered the cave they scaled a rock near its
entrance and carved thereon the likeness of a horse to warn their
Inca brethren of the Spaniards who had driven them from Huanuco.
That is his story, senor."
"But who told you all this, Felipe?"
The arriero shrugged his shoulders and glanced about,
as much as to say, "It is in the wind."
"But the cave?" cried Desiree. "Where is the cave?"
"It is there, senora," said Felipe, pointing through a
passage to the right.
Then nothing would do for Desiree but to see the cave. The
arriero informed her that it was difficult of access, but
she turned the objection aside with contempt and commanded him to
Harry, of course, was with her, and I followed somewhat
unwillingly; for, though Felipe's history was fairly accurate, I
was inclined to regard his fable of the disappearing Incas as a
wild tradition of the mountains.
He had spoken aright--the path to the cave was not an easy
one. Here and there deep ravines caused us to make a wide detour
or risk our necks on perilous steeps.
Finally we came to a small clearing, which resembled nothing
so much as the bottom of a giant well, and in the center of one of
the steep walls was an opening some thirty or forty feet square,
black and rugged, and somehow terrifying.
It was the entrance to the cave.
There Felipe halted.
"Here, senor. Here entered the Incas of Huanuco with
He shivered as he spoke, and I fancied that his face grew
"We shall explore it!" cried Desiree, advancing.
"But no, senora!" The arriero was positively
trembling. "No! Senor, do not let her go within! Many
times have my countrymen entered in search of the gold, and
americanos, too, and never did they return. It is a cave of
the devil, senor. He hides in the blackness and none who
enter may escape him."
Desiree was laughing gaily.
"Then I shall visit the devil!" she exclaimed, and before
either Harry or I could reach her she had sprung across the
intervening space to the entrance and disappeared within.
With shouts of consternation from Felipe ringing in our ears,
we leaped after her.
"Desiree!" cried Harry. "Come back, Desiree!"
There was no answer, but echoing back from the night before us
came faint reverberations--could they be footsteps! What folly!
For I had thought that she had merely intended to frighten poor
Felipe, and now--
"Desiree!" Harry called again with all the strength of his
Again there was no answer. Then we entered the cave together.
I remember that as we passed within I turned and saw Felipe staring
with white face and eyes filled with terror.
A hundred feet and we were encompassed by the most intense
darkness. I muttered: "This is folly; let us get a light," and
tried to hold Harry back. But he pushed me aside and groped on,
crying: "Desiree! Come back, Desiree!"
What could I do? I followed.
Suddenly a scream resounded through the cavern. Multiplied
and echoed by the black walls, it was inhuman, shot with terror,
A tremor ran through me from head to foot; beside me I heard
Harry gasp with a nameless fear. An instant later we dashed
forward into the darkness.
How long we ran I could never tell; probably a few seconds,
possibly as many minutes.
On we rushed, blindly, impelled not by reason, but by the
memory of that terrible cry, side by side, gasping, fearful. And
A step into thin air--a mighty effort to recover a footing--
a wild instant of despair and pawing helpless agony. Then
blackness and oblivion.
The fall--was it ten feet or a thousand? I shall never know.
Hurtling headlong through space, a man can scarcely be expected to
keep his wits about him.
Actually, my only impression was of righteous indignation; my
memory is that I cursed aloud, but Harry denies it.
But it could not have been for long, for when we struck the
water at the bottom we were but slightly stunned by the impact. To
this Harry has since agreed; he must have been as lucky as myself,
for I took it headlong with a clean cleavage.
I rose to the top, sputtering, and flung out my arms in the
attempt to swim--or, rather, to keep afloat--and was overjoyed to
find my arms and legs answer to the call of the brain.
About me was blackest night and utter silence, save a low,
unbroken murmur, unlike any other sound, hardly to be heard. It
was in my effort to account for it that I first became aware of the
fact that the water was a stream, and a moving one--moving with
incredible swiftness, smooth and all but silent. As soon as I
became convinced of this I gave up all attempt to swim, and
satisfied myself with keeping my head above the surface and
drifting with the current.
Then I thought of Harry, and called his name aloud many times.
The reverberations throughout the cave were as the report of a
thousand cannon; but there was no response.
The echoes became fainter and fainter and died away, and again
all was silence and impenetrable night, while I battled with the
strong suction of the unseen current, which was growing swifter and
swifter, and felt my strength begin to leave me.
Terror, too, began to call to me as the long minutes passed
endlessly by. I thought, "If I could only see!" and strained my
eyes in the effort till I was forced to close them from the dizzy
pain. The utter, complete darkness hid from me all knowledge of
what I passed or what awaited me beyond.
The water, carrying me swiftly onward with its silent,
remorseless sweep, was cold and black; it pressed with tremendous
power against me; now and then I was forced beneath the surface and
fought my way back, gasping and all but exhausted.
I forgot Desiree and Harry; I lost all consciousness of where
I was and what I was doing; the silent fury of the stream and the
awful blackness maddened me; I plunged and struggled desperately,
blindly, sobbing with rage. This could not have lasted much
longer; I was very near the end.
Suddenly, with a thrill of joy, I realized that the speed of
the current was decreasing. Then a reaction of despair seized me;
I tried to strangle hope and resign myself to the worst. But soon
there was no longer any doubt; the water carried me slower and
I floated with little difficulty, wondering--could it be an
approach to a smaller outlet which acted as a dam? Or was it
merely a lessening of the incline of the bed of the stream? I
cursed the darkness for my helplessness.
Finally the water became absolutely still, as I judged by the
absence of pressure on my body, and I turned sharply at a right
angle and began to swim. My weariness left me as by magic, and I
struck out with bold and sweeping strokes; and by that lack of
caution all but destroyed myself when my head suddenly struck
against a wall of stone, unseen in the darkness.
I was stunned completely and sank; but the ducking revived me;
and when I returned to the surface I swam a few careful strokes,
searching for the wall. It was not there, and I had no idea of its
direction. But I had now learned caution; and by swimming a few
feet first one way, then another, and taking care not to go far in
any one direction, I finally discovered it.
My hand easily reached the top, and, grasping the slippery
surface with a grip made firm by despair, and concentrating every
ounce of strength in one final effort, I drew myself out of the
water and fell completely exhausted on the ground.
Under such circumstances time has no place in a man's
calculations; he is satisfied to breathe. I believe that I lay
barely conscious for several hours, but it may have been merely as
many minutes. Then I felt life stir within me; I stretched my arms
and legs and sat up. Gradually entered my mind the thought of
Desiree and Harry and the Andes above and Felipe shuddering with
terror as he flew from the cave of the devil.
First came Harry; but hope did not enter. It was
inconceivable that he, too, should have escaped that fearful
torrent; stupendous luck alone had saved me from being dashed
senseless against the rocks and guided me to the ledge on which I
Then he was gone! I had no thought of my own peril. I had
gone through the world with but little regard for what it held;
nothing had been sacred to me; no affection had been more than a
day's caprice; I had merely sucked amusement from its bitter fruit.
But I loved Harry; I realized it with something like
astonishment. He was dear to me; a keen, intense pain contracted
my chest at the thought of having lost him; tears filled my eyes;
and I raised up my voice and sang out wildly:
"Harry! Harry, lad! Harry!"
The cavern resounded. The call went from wall to wall, then
back again, floating through black space with a curious tremor, and
finally died away in some dim, unseen corridor. And then--then
came an answering call!
Owing to the conflicting echoes of the cavern, the tone could
not be recognized. But the word was unmistakable; it was "Paul."
I sprang to my feet with a shout, then stood listening. Out
of the blackness surrounding me came the words, in Harry's voice,
much lower, but distinct:
"Paul! Paul, where are you?"
"Thank Heaven!" I breathed; and I answered:
"Here, Harry boy, here."
"I don't know. On a ledge of rock at the edge of the water.
Where are you?"
"Same place. Which side are you on?"
"The right side," I answered with heartfelt emphasis.
"That is to say, the outside. If it weren't for this infernal
darkness--Listen! How far away does my voice sound?"
But the innumerable echoes of the cavern walls made it
impossible to judge of distance by sound. We tried it over and
over; sometimes it seemed that we were only a few feet apart,
sometimes a mile or more.
Then Harry spoke in a whisper, and his voice appeared to be
directly in my ear. Never have I seen a night so completely black
as that cavern; we had had several hours, presumably, for our eyes
to adjust themselves to the phenomenon; but when I held my hand but
six inches in front of my face I could not get even the faintest
suggestion of its outline.
"This is useless," I declared finally. "We must experiment.
"Turn to your left and proceed carefully along the edge. I'll
turn to my right. Go easy, lad; feel your way."
I crawled on my hands and knees, no faster than a snail,
feeling every inch of the ground. The surface was wet and
slippery, and in places sloped at an angle that made me hang on for
dear life to keep from shooting off into space.
Meantime I kept calling to Harry and he to me; but, on account
of our painfully slow progress, it was half an hour or more before
we discovered that the distance between us was being increased
instead of lessened.
He let fly an oath at this, and his tone was dangerous; no
wonder if the lad was half crazed! I steadied him as well as I
could with word of encouragement, and instructed him to turn about
and proceed to the right of his original position. I, also, turned
to the left.
Our hope of meeting lay in the probability that the ledge
surrounded a circular body of water and was continuous. At some
point, of course, was the entrance of the stream which had carried
us, and at some other point there was almost certainly an outlet;
but we trusted to luck to avoid these. Our chances were less than
one in a thousand; but, failing that, some other means must be
The simplest way would have been for me to take to the water
and swim across to Harry, counting on his voice as a guide; but the
conflicting echoes produced by the slightest sound rendered such an
I crept along that wet, slimy, treacherous surface, it seemed,
for hours. I could see nothing--absolutely nothing; everything was
black void; it was hard to appreciate reality in such a nightmare.
On the one side, nameless dangers; on the other, the unseen,
bottomless lake; enough, surely, to take a man's nerve. My fear
for Harry killed anxiety on my own account. We kept continually
"Yes. I'm coming along. I say, we're closer, Paul."
I hesitated to agree with him, but finally there was no longer
any doubt of it. His voice began to reach me almost in natural
tones, which meant that we were near enough for the vibrations to
carry without interference from the walls.
Nearer still it came; it was now only a matter of a few feet;
Harry gave a cry of joy, and immediately afterward I heard his low
gasp of terror and the sound of his wild scrambling to regain a
foothold. In his excitement he had forgotten caution and had
slipped to the edge of the water.
I dared not try to go his assistance; so I crouched perfectly
still and called to him to throw himself flat on his face. How my
eyes strained despairingly as I cursed the pitiless darkness! Then
the scrambling ceased and the boy's voice sounded:
"All right, Paul! All right! Gad, I nearly went!"
A minute later I held his hand in mine. At that point the
incline was at a sharp angle, and we lay flat on our backs. For
many minutes we lay silently gripping hands; Harry was trembling
violently from nervous fatigue, and I myself was unable to speak.
What strength is there in companionship! Alone, either of
us would probably have long before succumbed to the strain of our
horrible situation; but we both took hope and courage from that
Finally he spoke:
"In Heaven's name, where are we, Paul?"
"You know as much as I do, Harry. This cursed darkness makes
it impossible even to guess at anything. According to Felipe, we
are being entertained by the devil."
"But where are we? What happened? My head is dizzy--I don't
I gripped his hand.
"And no wonder. 'Tis hardly an every-day occurrence to ride
an underground river several miles under the Andes. Above us a
mountain four miles high, beneath us a bottomless lake, round us
darkness. Not a very cheerful prospect, Hal; but, thank Heaven, we
take it together! It is a grave--ours and hers. I guess Desiree
knew what she was talking about."
There came a cry from Harry's lips--a cry of painful memory:
"Desiree! I had forgotten, Desiree!"
"She is probably better off than we are," I assured him.
I felt his gaze--I could not see it--and I continued:
"We may as well meet the thing squarely like men. Pull
yourself together, Harry; as for Desiree, let us hope that she is
dead. It's the best thing that could happen to her."
"Then we are--no, it isn't possible."
"Harry boy, we're buried alive! There! That's the worst of
it. Anything better than that is velvet."
"But there must be a way out, Paul! And Desiree--Desiree--"
His voice faltered. I clapped him roughly on the shoulder.
"Keep your nerve. As for a way out--at the rate that stream
descends it must have carried us thousands of feet beneath the
mountain. There is probably a mile of solid rock between us and
the sunshine. You felt the strength of that current; you might as
well try to swim up Niagara."
"But there must be an outlet at the other end."
"Yes, and most probably forty or fifty miles away--that's the
distance to the western slope. Besides, how can we find it? And
there may be none. The water is most probably gradually absorbed
by the porous formation of the rocks, and that is what causes this
"But why isn't it known? Felipe said that the cave had been
explored. Why didn't they discover the stream?"
Well, it was better to talk of that than nothing; at least, it
kept Harry from his childish cries for Desiree. So I explained
that the precipice over which we had fallen was presumably of
Geologically the Andes are yet in a chaotic and formative
condition; huge slides of Silurian slates and diorite are of
frequent occurrence. A ridge of one of these softer stones had
most probably been encased in the surrounding granite for many
centuries; then, loosened by water or by time, had crumbled and
slid into the stream below.
"And," I finished, "we followed it."
"Then we may find another," said Harry hopefully.
I agreed that it was possible. Then he burst out:
"In the name of Heaven, don't be so cool! We can't get out
till we try. Come! And who knows--we may find Desiree."
Then I decided it was best to tell him. Evidently the thought
had not entered his mind, and it was best for him to realize the
worst. I gripped his hand tighter as I said:
"Nothing so pleasant, Harry. Because we're going to starve to
"Starve to death?" he exclaimed. Then he added simply, with
an oddly pathetic tone: "I hadn't thought of that."
After that we lay silent for many minutes in that awful
darkness. Thoughts and memories came and went in my brain with
incredible swiftness; pictures long forgotten presented themselves;
an endless, jumbled panorama. They say that a drowning man reviews
his past life in the space of a few seconds; it took me a little
more time, but the job was certainly a thorough one. Nor did I
find it more interesting in retrospect than it had been in reality.
I closed my eyes to escape the darkness. It was maddening;
easy enough then to comprehend the hysterics of the blind and
sympathize with them. It finally reached a point where I was
forced to grit my teeth to keep from breaking out into curses; I
could lie still no longer, exhausted as I was, and Harry, too. I
turned on him:
"Come on, Hal; let's move."
"Where?" he asked in a tone devoid of hope.
"Anywhere--away from this beastly water. We must dry out our
clothing; no use dying like drowned rats. If I only had a match!"
We rose to our hands and knees and crawled painfully up the
slippery incline. Soon we had reached dry ground and stood
upright; then, struck by a sudden thought, I turned to Harry:
"Didn't you drink any of that water?"
He answered: "No."
"Well, let's try it. It may be our last drink, Hal; make it
a good one."
We crept back down to the edge of the lake (I call it that in
my ignorance of its real nature), and, settling myself as firmly as
possible, I held Harry's hand while he lowered himself carefully
into the water. He was unable to reach its surface with his mouth
without letting go of my hand, and I shook off my poncho and used
it as a line.
"How does it taste?" I asked.
"Fine!" was the response. "It must be clear as a bell. Lord.
I didn't know I was so thirsty!"
I was not ignorant of the fact that there was an excellent
chance of the water being unhealthful, possibly poisoned, what with
the tertiary deposits of copper ores in the rock-basins; but the
thought awakened hope rather than fear. There is a choice even in
But when I had pulled Harry up and descended myself I soon
found that there was no danger--or chance. The water had a touch
of alkali, but nothing more.
Then we crept back up the wet ledge, and once more stood on
The surface was perfectly level, and we set off at a brisk
pace, hand in hand, directly away from the lake. But when, about
a hundred yards off, we suddenly bumped our heads against a solid
wall of rock, we decided to proceed with more caution.
The darkness was intensified, if anything. We turned to the
right and groped along the wall, which was smooth as glass and
higher than my best reach. It seemed to the touch to be slightly
convex, but that may have been delusion.
We had proceeded in this manner some hundred yards or more,
advancing cautiously, when we came to a break in the wall. A few
feet farther the wall began again.
"It's a tunnel," said Harry.
I nodded, forgetting he could not see me. "Shall we take it?"
"Anything on a chance," he answered, and we entered the
It was quite narrow--so narrow that we were forced to advance
very slowly, feeling our way to avoid colliding with the walls.
The ground was strewn with fragments of rock, and a hasty step
meant an almost certain fall and a bruised shin. It was tedious
work and incredibly fatiguing.
We had not rested a sufficient length of time to allow our
bodies to recuperate from the struggle with the torrent; also, we
began to feel the want of food. Harry was the first to falter, but
I spurred him on. Then he stumbled and fell and lay still.
"Are you hurt?" I asked anxiously, bending over him.
"No," was the answer. "But I'm tired--tired to death--and I
want to sleep."
I was tempted myself, but I brought him to his feet, from some
impulse I know not what. For what was the use? One spot was as
good as another. However, we struggled on.
Another hour and the passage broadened into a clearing. At
least so it seemed; the walls abruptly parted to the right and
left. And still the impenetrable, maddening darkness and awful
We gave it up; we could go no farther. A few useless minutes
we wasted, searching for a soft spot to lie on--moss, reeds,
anything. We found none, of course; but even the hard, unyielding
rock was grateful to our exhausted bodies. We lay side by side,
using our ponchos for pillows; our clothing at least was dry.
I do not know how long I slept, but it seemed to me that I had
barely dozed off when I was awakened by something--what?
There was no sound to my strained ears. I sat up, gazing
intently into the darkness, shuddering without apparent reason.
Then I reflected that nothing is dangerous to a man who faces
death, and I laughed aloud--then trembled at the sound of my own
voice. Harry was in sound sleep beside me; his regular breathing
told of its depth.
Again I lay down, but I could not sleep. Some instinct, long
forgotten, quivered within me, telling me that we were no longer
alone. And soon my ear justified it.
At first it was not a sound, but the mere shadow of one. It
was rhythmic, low, beating like a pulse. What could it be? Again
I sat up, listening and peering into the darkness. And this time
I was not mistaken--there was a sound, rustling, sibilant.
Little by little it increased, or rather approached, until it
sounded but a few feet from me on every side, sinister and
menacing. It was the silent, suppressed breathing of something
living--whether animal or man--creeping ever nearer.
Then was the darkness doubly horrible. I sat paralyzed with
my utter helplessness, though fear, thank Heaven, did not strike
me! I could hear no footstep; no sound of any kind but that low,
rushing breathing; but it now was certain that whatever the thing
was, it was not alone.
From every side I heard it--closer, closer--until finally I
felt the hot, fetid breath in my very face. My nerves quivered in
disgust, not far from terror.
I sprang to my feet with a desperate cry to Harry and swung
There was no answering sound, no rush of feet, nothing; but I
felt my throat gripped in monstrous, hairy fingers.
I tried to struggle, and immediately was crushed to the ground
by the overpowering weight of a score of soft, ill-smelling bodies.
The grasp on my throat tightened; my arms relaxed, my brain
reeled, and I knew no more.
THE FIGHT IN THE DARK.
I returned to consciousness with a sickening sensation of
nausea and unreality. Only my brain was alive; my entire body was
numb and as though paralyzed. Still darkness and silence, for all
my senses told me I might have been still in the spot where I had
Then I tried to move my arms, and found that my hands and feet
were firmly bound. I strained at the thongs, making some slight
sound; and immediately I heard a whisper but a few feet away:
"Are you awake, Paul?"
"I was still half dazed, but I recognized Harry's voice, and
I answered simply: "Yes. Where are we?"
"The Lord knows! They carried us. You have been unconscious
"They carried us?"
"Yes. A thousand miles, I think, on their backs. What--what
are they, Paul?"
"I don't know. Did you see them?"
"No. Too dark. They are strong as gorillas and covered with
hair; I felt that much. They didn't make a sound all the time. No
more than half as big as me, and yet one of them carried me as if
I were a baby--and I weigh one hundred and seventy pounds."
"What are we bound with?"
"Don't know; it feels like leather; tough as rats. I've been
working at it for two hours, but it won't give."
"Well, you know what that means. Dumb brutes don't tie a man
"But it's impossible."
"Nothing is impossible. But listen!"
There was a sound--the swift patter of feet; they were
approaching. Then suddenly a form bent over me close; I could see
nothing, but I felt a pressure against my body and an ill-smelling
odor, indescribable, entered my nostrils. I felt a sawing movement
at my wrists; the thongs pulled back and forth, and soon my hands
were free. The form straightened away from me, there was a clatter
on the ground near my head, and then silence.
There came an oath from Harry:
"Hang the brute! He's cut my wrist. Are your hands free,
"Then bind this up; it's bleeding badly. What was that for?"
"I have an idea," I answered as I tore a strip from my shirt
and bandaged the wound, which proved to be slight. Then I searched
on the ground beside me, and found my surmise correct.
"Here you go, Hal! here's some grub. But what the deuce is
it? By Jove, it's dried fish! Now, where in the name of--"
But we wasted no more time in talk, for we were half starved.
The stuff was not bad; to us who had been fasting for something
like thirty-six hours--for our idea of time was extremely hazy--it
was a gorgeous banquet. And close by there was a basin full of
"Pretty decent sort of beggars, I say," came Harry's voice in
the darkness. "But who are they?"
"Ask Felipe," I answered, for by this time I was well
convinced of the nature and identity of our captors. "As I said,
dumb brutes don't bind men with thongs, nor feed them on dried
fish. Of course it's incredible, but a man must be prepared to
"But, Paul! You mean--"
"Exactly. We are in the hands of the Incas of Huanuco--or
rather their descendants."
"But that was four hundred years ago!"
"Your history is perfect, like Desiree's geography," said I
dryly. "But what then? They have merely chosen to live under the
world instead of on it; a rather wise decision, a cynic might
say--not to mention the small circumstance that they are prisoners.
"My dear Hal, never allow yourself to be surprised at
anything; it is a weakness. Here we are in total darkness, buried
in the Andes, surrounded by hairy, degenerate brutes that are
probably allowing us to eat in order that we may be in condition to
be eaten, with no possibility of ever again beholding the sunshine;
and what is the thought that rises to the surface of my mind?
Merely this: that I most earnestly desire and crave a Carbajal
perfecto and a match."
"Paul, you say--eat--"
"Most probably they are cannibals. The Lord knows they must
have some sort of mild amusement in this fearful hole. Of course,
the idea is distasteful; before they cut us up they'll have to
knock us down."
"That's a darned silly joke," said Harry with some heat.
"But it's sober truth, my boy. You know me; I never pose.
There is nothing particularly revolting in the thought of being
eaten; the disadvantage of it lies in the fact that one must die
first. We all want to live; Heaven knows why. And we stand a
"We know now that there is food to be had here and sufficient
air. It is nearly certain that we won't get out, but that can come
later. And what an experience! I know a dozen anthropologists
that would give their degrees for it. I can feel myself getting
enthusiastic about it."
"But what if they--they--"
"Say it. Eat us? We can fight. It will be strange if we
can't outwit these vermin. And now silence; I'm going to begin.
Listen hard--hard! The brutes are noiseless, but if they are near
we can hear their breathing."
"No more talk. Listen!"
We lay silent for many minutes, scarcely breathing. Not the
slightest sound reached our ears through the profound darkness;
utter, intense silence. Finally I reached over and touched Harry
on the shoulder, and arose to my knees.
"Good enough! We're alone. We'll have to crawl for it. Keep
close behind me; we don't want to get separated. The first thing
is to find a sharp stone to cut through these thongs. Feel on the
ground with your hands as we go."
It was not easy to rise at all, and still harder to make any
progress, for our ankles were bound together most effectively; but
we managed somehow to drag ourselves along. I was in front;
suddenly I felt Harry pull at my coat, and turned.
"Just the thing, Paul. Sharp as a knife. Look!"
I groped for his hand in the darkness and took from it the
object he held out to me--a small flat stone with a sharp-saw edge.
"All right; let me work on you first."
I bent down to the thongs which bound his ankles. I was
convinced that they were not of leather, but they were tough as the
thickest hide. Twice my overeagerness caused the tool to slip and
tear the skin from my hand; then I went about it more carefully
with a muttered oath. Another quarter of an hour and Harry was
"Gad, that feels good!" he exclaimed, rising to his feet.
"Here, Paul; where's the stone?"
I handed it to him and he knelt down and began sawing away at
What followed happened so quickly that we were hardly aware
that it had begun when it was already finished.
A quick, pattering rush of many feet warned us, but not in
time. Hurtling, leaping bodies came at us headlong through the air
and crushed us to the ground, buried beneath them, gasping for
breath; there must have been scores of them. Resistance was
impossible; we were overwhelmed.
I heard Harry give a despairing cry, and the scuffle followed;
I myself was utterly helpless, for the thongs which bound my ankles
had not been cut through. Not a sound came from our assailants
save their heavy, labored breathing.
I remember that, even while they were sitting on my head and
chest and body, I noted their silence with a sort of impersonal
curiosity and wondered if they were, after all, human. Nor were
they unnecessarily violent; they merely subdued us, rebound our
wrists and ankles more tightly than before, and departed.
But--faugh! The unspeakable odor of their hairy bodies is in
my nostrils yet.
"Are you hurt, Paul?"
"Not a bit, Harry lad. How do you like the perfume?"
"To the deuce with your perfume! But we're done for. What's
the use? They've lived in this infernal hole so long they can see
in the dark better than we can in the light."
Of course he was right, and I was a fool not to have thought
of it before and practised caution. The knowledge was decidedly
unpleasant. No doubt our every movement was being watched by a
hundred pairs of eyes, while we lay helpless in the darkness, bound
even more tightly than before.
"Look here," said Harry suddenly, "why can't we see their
eyes? Why don't they shine."
"My dear boy," said I, "in this darkness you couldn't see the
Kohinoor diamond if it were hanging on your nose, drawing-room
travelers to the contrary notwithstanding. We have one advantage--
they can't understand what we say, but they even up for it by not
There was a short silence, then Harry's voice:
"I wonder--do you think Desiree--" He hesitated, his voice
"I think the same as you do," said I.
"But I don't know--after all, there is a chance. Just a bare
chance, isn't there?"
"You know as well as I do, Harry. The chances are a million
to one that Desiree--thank Heaven--has escaped all this! And isn't
that best! Would you have her here with us?"
"Lying here, bound hand and foot? She would make a dainty
morsel for our friends."
"For the Lord's sake, Paul--"
"Well, let us forget her--for the present. Nor do we want to
make a dainty morsel if we can help it. Come, brace up, Hal. It's
up to us to turn a trick."
"I don't know why I didn't think of it before. I guess we
were both too dazed to have good sense. What have you got strapped
to your belt?"
"A gun," said Harry. "Of course I thought of that. But what
good is it after that ducking? And I have only six cartridges."
I could almost feel his silent gaze; then suddenly he cried
"At last!" said I sarcastically. "And so have I. A six-inch,
double-edged knife, sharp as a razor and pointed like a needle.
They didn't have sense enough to search us, and we didn't have
sense enough to realize it. I can feel mine under me now against
"But they'll see us."
"Not if we use a decent amount of caution. The trouble is, I
can't reach my knife with my wrists bound. There's only one way.
Lie perfectly still; let them think we've given it up. I'm going to
I drew up my knees, twisted over on the hard rock, and lay
flat on my belly. Then I drew up my hands and let my face rest on
them, like a dog with his head on his paws. And then, keeping my
body perfectly still, and with as little movement of the jaws as
possible, I sought the tough thongs with my teeth.
That was a tedious job and a distasteful one. For many
minutes I gnawed away at those thick cords like a dog on a bone.
It was considerably later that I discovered what those cords were
made of; thank Heaven, I was ignorant of it at the time! All I
knew was that they were, to use one of Harry's phrases, "tough as
I did not dare pull with my wrists, for fear they would fly
suddenly apart and betray me to the unseen watchers. It was
necessary to cut clear through with my teeth, and more than once I
was on the point of giving it up. There was a nauseating, rancid
taste to the stuff, but I dared not even raise my head to
Finally my teeth met; the cords were severed. I felt
carefully about with my tongue to make sure there were no others;
then, without moving my hands in the slightest degree, carefully
raised my head.
It was then that I first noticed--not light, but a thinning
out of the darkness. It was, of course, merely the adjustment of
my eyes to the new conditions. I could make out no forms
surrounding me, but, looking down, I could clearly distinguish the
outline of my hands as they lay on the ground before me.
And, again looking up, I fancied that I could see, some twenty
or thirty feet to the right, that the darkness again became
suddenly dense and impenetrable.
"That must be a wall," I muttered, straining my eyes toward
"What's that?" asked Harry sharply.
Obedient to my instructions, the lad had lain perfectly
motionless and silent for over an hour, for it must have taken me
at least that long to gnaw through the cords.
"I said that must be a wall. Look, Harry, about thirty feet
to the right. Doesn't it appear to you that way?"
"By Jove," he exclaimed after a moment of silence, "it's
getting light! Look!"
I explained that, instead of "it's getting light," his eyes
were merely becoming accustomed to the darkness.
"But what do you think of that? Is it a wall?"
After a moment's silence he answered: "Ye-es," and then more
positively: "Yes. But what good does that do us?"
"That's what I am about to tell you. Listen! I've cut the
cords on my wrists, and I'm going to get my knife--"
"How the deuce did you manage that?" Harry interrupted.
"With my teeth. I've been rather busy. I'm going to get my
knife--cautiously, so they won't suspect if they are watching us.
We must lie close together on our sides, facing each other, so I
can cut the thongs on your wrists without being seen. Then you are
to get your knife--carefully. Do you understand?"
For the first time there was fight in Harry's voice; the
curious, barely perceptible tremor of the man of courage.
"All right. Go easy."
We went about the thing slowly, turning but an inch at a time;
a second mistake might prove fatal. We heard no sound of any kind,
and ten minutes later we were lying flat on our backs side by side,
keeping our hands hidden between our bodies, that the absence of
the thongs might not be discovered. Each of us held in his right
hand the hilt of a six inch knife. Cold steel is by no means the
favorite weapon of an American, but there are times--
"Have you got your knife, Harry?"
"Good! Now listen close and act quick. When I give the word
reach down and grasp the cords round your ankles in your left hand,
then cut them through with one stroke. Then to your feet; grasp my
jacket, and together to the wall--that's for our backs. And then--
let 'em come!"
"All right, old man."
"Don't waste any time; they'll probably start for us the
instant we sit up. Be sure you get your feet free at the first
stroke; feel them well with your left hand first. Are you ready?"
"Yes." And his voice was now calm and perfectly steady.
"Then--one, two, three--go!"
We bent and cut and sprang to our feet, and dashed for the
wall. There was a sound of rushing feet--our backs hugged the
kindly rock--I heard Harry's shout, "Here they come!"--dim, rushing
forms--fingers clutching at my throat.
I felt the blade of my knife sink into soft and yielding
flesh, and a warm, thick liquid flow over my hand and arm.
THE DANCE OF THE SUN.
It seemed to me then in the minutes that followed that there
were thousands of black demons in that black hole. At the first
rushing impact I shouted to Harry: "Keep your back to the wall,"
and for response I got a high, ringing laugh that breathed the joy
The thing was sickening. Harry is a natural fighting man; I
am not. Without the wall at our backs we would have been
overpowered in thirty seconds; as it was, we were forced to handle
half a dozen of them at once, while the others surged in from
behind. They had no weapons, but they had the advantage of being
able to see us.
They clutched my throat, my arms, my legs, my body; there was
no room to strike; I pushed the knife home. They fastened
themselves to my legs and feet and tried to bring me down from
beneath; once, in slashing at the head of one whose teeth were set
in my calf, I cut myself on the knee. It was difficult to stand in
the wet, slippery pool that formed at my feet.
Suddenly I heard a sound that I understood too well--the
curious, rattling sound of a man who is trying to call out when he
is being strangled.
"Harry!" I cried, and I fought like a wild man to get to him,
with knife, feet, hands, teeth. I reached his coat, his arm; it
was dangerous to strike so near him in the dark, but I felt him
sinking to the ground.
Then I found the taut, straining fingers about his throat, and
lunged forward with the knife--and the fingers relaxed.
Again we were fighting together side by side.
As their bodies fell in front of us we were pressed harder,
for those behind climbed up on the corpses of their fellows and
literally descended on our heads from the air. We could not have
held out much longer; our breath was coming in quick, painful
gasps; Harry stumbled on one of the prostrate brutes and fell; I
tried to lift him and was unequal to the task.
It appeared to be the end.
Suddenly there rang throughout the cavern a sound as of a
gigantic, deep-toned bell. The walls sent it back and forth with
deafening echoes; it was as though the mountain had descended with
one tremendous crash into its own bowels.
As though by magic, the assault ceased.
The effect was indescribable. We could see nothing; we merely
became suddenly aware that there were no longer hands clutching at
our throats or hairy bodies crushing us to the ground. It was as
though the horde of unseen devils had melted into thin air. There
were movements on the ground, for many of them had been wounded; a
man cannot always reach the spot in the dark. This lasted for two
or three minutes; they were evidently removing those who still had
life in them, for the straining breath of men dragging or lifting
burdens was plainly audible.
Gradually that, too, died away with the last reverberations of
the mysterious sound that had saved us, and we found ourselves
alone--or at least unmolested--for in the darkness we could see
nothing, except the dim outlines of the prostrate forms at our feet.
The cavern was a shambles. The smell was that of a
slaughter-house. I had had no idea of the desperateness of our
defense until I essayed to scramble over the heap of bodies to dry
ground; I shuddered and grew faint, and Harry was in no better
Worse, he had dropped his knife when we stumbled, and we were
forced to grope round in that unspeakable mess for many minutes
before we found it.
"Are you hurt, lad?" I asked when once we stood clear.
"Nothing bad, I think," he answered. "My throat is stiff, and
two or three of the brutes got their teeth in me. In the name of
Heaven, Paul, what are they? And what was that bell?"
These were foolish questions, and I told him so. My leg was
bleeding badly where I had slashed myself, and I, too, had felt
their teeth. But, despite our utter weariness and our wounds, we
wanted nothing--not even rest--so badly as we wanted to get away
from that awful heap of flesh and blood and the odor of it.
Besides, we did not know at what moment they might return. So
I spoke, and Harry agreed. I led the way; he followed.
But which way to turn? We wanted water, both for our dry and
burning throats and for our wounds; and rest and food. We thought
little of safety. One way seemed as likely as another, so we set
out with our noses as guides.
A man encounters very few misfortunes in this world which,
later in life, he finds himself unable to laugh at; well, for me
that endless journey was one of the few.
Every step was torture. I had bandaged the cut on my leg as
well as possible, but it continued to bleed. But it was imperative
that we should find water, and we struggled on, traversing narrow
passages and immense caverns, always in complete darkness,
stumbling over unseen rocks and encountering sharp corners of cross
It lasted I know not how many hours. Neither of us would have
survived alone. Time and again Harry sank to the ground and
refused to rise until I perforce lifted him; once we nearly came to
blows. And I was guilty of the same weakness.
But the despair of one inspired the other with fresh strength
and courage, and we struggled forward, slower and slower. It was
soul-destroying work. I believe that in the last hour we made not
more than half a mile. I know now that for the greater part of the
time we were merely retracing our steps in a vicious circle!
It was well that it ended when it did, for we could not have
held out much longer. Harry was leading the way, for I had found
that that slight responsibility fortified him. We no longer
walked, we barely went forward, staggering and reeling like drunken
Suddenly Harry stopped short, so suddenly that I ran against
him; and at the same time I felt a queer sensation--for I was too
far gone to recognize it--about my feet.
Then Harry stooped over quickly, half knocking me down as he
did so, and dropped to his knees; and the next instant gave an
unsteady cry of joy:
"Water! Man, it's water!"
How we drank and wallowed, and wallowed and drank! That water
might have contained all the poisons in the world and we would have
neither known nor cared. But it was cool, fresh, living--and it
saved our lives.
We bathed our wounds and bandaged them with strips from our
shirts. Then we arranged our clothing for cushions and pillows as
well as possible, took another drink, and lay down to sleep.
We must have slept a great many hours. There was no way to
judge of time, but when we awoke our joints were as stiff as though
they had gotten rusty with the years. I was brought to
consciousness by the sound of Harry's voice calling my name.
Somehow--for every movement was exquisite pain--we got to our
feet and reached the water, having first removed our clothing. But
we were now at that point where to drink merely aggravated our
hunger. Harry was in a savage humor, and when I laughed at him he
"Have some sense. I tell you, I must eat! If it were not for
"Go easy, Hal. Don't say anything you'll be sorry for. And
I refuse to consider the sordid topic of food as one that may
rightfully contain the elements of tragedy. We seem to be in the
position of the king of vaudeville. If we had some ham we'd have
some ham and eggs--if we had some eggs."
"You may joke, but I am not made of iron!" he cried.
"And what can we do but die?" I demanded. "Do you think there
is any chance of our getting out of this? Take it like a man. Is
it right for a man who has laughed at the world to begin to whine
when it becomes necessary to leave it?
"You know I'm with you; I'll fight, and what I find I'll take;
in the mean time I prefer not to furnish amusement for the devil.
There comes a time, I believe, when the stomach debases us against
our wills. May I die before I see it."
"But what are we to do?"
"That's more like it. There's only one hope. We must smell
out the pantry that holds the dried fish."
We talked no more, but set about bathing and dressing our
wounds. Gad, how that cold water took them! I was forced to set
my teeth deep into my lip to keep from crying out, and once or
twice Harry gave an involuntary grunt of pain that would not be
When we had finished we waded far to the right to take a last
deep drink; then sought our clothing and prepared to start on our
all but hopeless search. We had become fairly well limbered up by
that time and set out with comparative ease.
We had gone perhaps a hundred yards, bearing off to the right,
when Harry gave a sudden cry: "My knife is gone!" and stopped
short. I clapped my hand to my own belt instinctively, and found
it empty both of knife and gun! For a moment we stood in silence;
"Have you got yours?" he demanded.
When I told him no he let out an oath.
His gun was gone, also. We debated the matter, and decided
that to attempt a search would be a useless waste of time; it was
next to certain that the weapons had been lost in the water when we
had first plunged in. And so, doubly handicapped by this new loss,
we again set out.
There was but one encouragement allowed to us: we were no
longer in total darkness. Gradually our eyes were becoming
accustomed to the absence of light; and though we could by no means
see clearly, nor even could properly be said to see at all, still
we began to distinguish the outlines of walls several feet away;
and, better than that, each of us could plainly mark the form and
face of the other.
Once we stood close, less than a foot apart, for a test; and
when Harry cried eagerly, "Thank Heaven, I can see your nose!" our
strained feelings were relieved by a prolonged burst of genuine
There was little enough of it in the time that followed, for
our sufferings now became a matter not of minutes or hours, but of
days. The assault of time is the one that unnerves a man,
especially when it is aided by gnawing pain and weariness and
hunger; it saps the courage and destroys the heart and fires the
We dragged ourselves somehow ever onward. We found water; the
mountain was honeycombed with underground streams; but no food.
More than once we were tempted to trust ourselves to one of those
rushing torrents, but what reason we had left told us that our
little remaining strength was unequal to the task of keeping our
heads above the surface. And yet the thought was sweet--to allow
ourselves to be peacefully swept into oblivion.
We lost all idea of time and direction, and finally hope
itself deserted us. What force it was that propelled us forward
must have been buried deep within the seat of animal instinct, for
we lost all rational power. The thing became a nightmare, like the
crazy wanderings of a lost soul.
Forward--forward--forward! It was a mania.
Then Harry was stricken with fever and became delirious. And
I think it was that seeming misfortune that saved us, for it gave
me a spring for action and endowed me with new life. As luck would
have it, a stream of water was near, and I half carried and half
dragged him to its edge.
I made a bed for him with my own clothing on the hard rock,
and bathed him and made him drink, while all the time a string of
delirious drivel poured forth from his hot, dry lips.
That lasted many hours, until finally he fell into a deep,
calm sleep. But his body was without fuel, and I was convinced he
would never awaken; yet I feared to touch him. Those were weary
hours, squatting by his side with his hand gripped in my own, with
the ever-increasing pangs of hunger and weariness turning my own
body into a roaring furnace of pain.
Suddenly I felt a movement of his hand; and then came his
voice, weak but perfectly distinct:
"Well, Paul, this is the end."
"Not yet, Harry boy; not yet."
I tried to put cheer and courage into my own voice, but with
"I--think--so. I say, Paul--I've just seen Desiree."
"All right, Hal."
"Oh, you don't need to talk like that; I'm not delirious now.
I guess it must have been a dream. Do you remember that morning on
the mountain--in Colorado--when you came on us suddenly at sunrise?
Well, I saw her there--only you were with her instead of me. So,
of course, she must be dead."
His logic was beyond me, but I pressed his hand to let him
know that I understood.
"And now, old man, you might as well leave me. This is the
end. You've been a good sport. We made a fight, didn't we? If
only Desiree--but there! To Hades with women, I say!"
"Not that--don't be a poor loser, Hal. And you're not gone
yet. When a man has enough fight in him to beat out an attack of
fever he's very much alive."
But he would not have it so. I let him talk, and he rambled
on, with scarcely an idea of what he was saying. The old days
possessed his mind, and, to tell the truth, the sentiment found a
welcome in my own bosom. I said to myself, "This is death."
And then, lifting my head to look down the dark passage that
led away before us, I sprang to my feet with a shout and stood
transfixed with astonishment. And the next instant there came a
cry of wonder from Harry:
"A light! By all the gods, a light!"
So it was. The passage lay straight for perhaps three hundred
yards. There it turned abruptly; and the corner thus formed was
one blaze of flickering but brilliant light which flowed in from
the hidden corridor.
It came and went, and played fitfully on the granite walls;
still it remained. It was supernaturally brilliant; or so it
seemed to us, who had lived in utter darkness for many days.
I turned to Harry, and the man who had just been ready to die
was rising to his feet!
"Wait a minute--not so fast!" I said half angrily, springing
to support him. "And, for Heaven's sake, don't make any noise!
We're in no condition to fight now, and you know what that light
"But what is it?" demanded the boy excitedly. "Come on, man--
To tell the truth, I felt as eager as he. For the first time
I understood clearly why the Bible and ancient mythology made such
a fuss about the lighting up of the world. Modern civilization is
too far away from its great natural benefits to appreciate them
And here was a curious instance of the force of habit--or,
rather, instinct--in man. So long as Harry and I had remained in
the dark passage and byways of the cavern we had proceeded almost
entirely without caution, with scarcely a thought of being
But the first sight of light made us wary and careful and
silent; and yet we knew perfectly well that the denizens of this
underworld could see as well in the darkness as in the light--
perhaps even better. So difficult is it to guide ourselves by the
human faculty of pure reason.
Harry was so weak he was barely able to stand, even in the
strength of this new excitement and hope, and we were forced to go
very slowly; I supported him as well as I was able, being myself
anything but an engine of power. But the turn in the passage was
not far away, and we reached it in a quarter of an hour or less.
Before we made the turn we halted. Harry was breathing
heavily even from so slight an exertion, and I could scarcely
suppress a cry of amazement when, for the first time in many days,
the light afforded me a view of his face.
It was drawn and white and sunken; the eyes seemed set deep in
his skull as they blinked painfully; and the hair on his chin and
lip and cheeks had grown to a length incredible in so short a space
of time. I soon had reason to know that I probably presented no
better an appearance, for he was staring at me as though I were
some strange monster.
"Good Heavens, man, you took like a ghost!" he whispered.
I nodded; my arm was round his shoulder.
"Now, let's see what this light means. Be ready for anything,
Harry--though Heaven knows we can find nothing worse than we've
had. Here, put your arm on my shoulder. Take it easy."
We advanced to the corner together within the patch of light
and turned to the right, directly facing its source.
It is impossible to convey even a faint idea of the wild and
hugely fantastic sight that met our gaze. With us it was a single,
vivid flash to the astonished brain. These are the details:
Before us was an immense cavern, circular in shape, with a
diameter of some half a mile. It seemed to me then much larger;
from where we stood it appeared to be at least two miles to the
opposite side. There was no roof to be seen; it merely ascended
into darkness, though the light carried a great distance.
All round the vast circumference, on terraced seats of rock,
squatted row after row of the most completely hideous beings within
They were men; I suppose they must have the name. They were
about four feet tall, with long, hairy arms and legs, bodies of a
curious, bloated appearance, and eyes--the remainder of the face
was entirely concealed by thick hair--eyes dull and vacant, of an
incredibly large size; they had the appearance of ghouls, apes,
monsters--anything but human beings.
They sat, thousands of them, crouched silently on their stone
seats, gazing, motionless as blocks of wood.
The center of the cavern was a lake, taking up something more
than half of its area. The water was black as night, and curiously
smooth and silent. Its banks sloped by degrees for a hundred feet
or so, but at its edge there was a perpendicular bank of rock
fifteen or twenty feet in height.
Near the middle of the lake, ranged at an equal distance from
its center and from each other, were three--what shall I call
them?--islands, or columns. They were six or eight feet across at
their top, which rose high above the water.
On top of each of these columns was a huge vat or urn, and
from each of the urns arose a steady, gigantic column of fire.
These it was that gave the light, and it was little wonder we had
thought it brilliant, since the flames rose to a height of thirty
feet or more in the air.
But that which left us speechless with profound amazement was
not the endless rows of silent, grinning dwarfs, nor the black,
motionless lake, nor the leaping tongues of flame. We forgot these
when we followed the gaze of that terrifying audience and saw a
sight that printed itself on my brain with a vividness which time
can never erase. Closing my eyes, I see it even now, and I
Exactly in the center of the lake, in the midst of the columns
of fire, was a fourth column, built of some strangely lustrous
rock. Prisms of a formation new to me--innumerable thousands of
them--caused its sides to sparkle and glisten like an immense tower
of whitest diamonds, blinding the eye.
The effect was indescribable. The huge cavern was lined and
dotted with the rays shot forth from their brilliant angles. The
height of this column was double that of the others; it rose
straight toward the unseen dome of the cavern to the height of a
It was cylindrical in shape, not more than ten feet in
diameter. And on its top, high above the surface of the lake,
surrounded by the mounting tongues of flame, whirled and swayed and
bent the figure of a woman.
Her limbs and body, which were covered only by long, flowing
strands of golden hair, shone and glistened strangely in the lurid,
weird light. And of all the ten thousand reflections that shot at
us from the length of the column not one was so brilliant, so
blinding, as the wild glow of her eyes.
Her arms, upraised above her head, kept time with and served
as a key to every movement of her white, supple body. She glided
across, back and forth, now this way, now that, to the very edge of
the dizzy height, with wild abandon, or slow, measured grace, or
the rushing sweep of a panther.
The thing was beauty incarnate--the very idea of beauty itself
realized and perfected. It was staggering, overwhelming. Have you
ever stood before a great painting or a beautiful statue and felt
a thrill--the thrill of perception--run through your body to the
very tips of your fingers?
Well, imagine that thrill multiplied a thousandfold and you
will understand the sensation that overpowered me as I beheld, in
the midst of that dazzling blaze of light, the matchless Dance of
For I recognized it at once. I had never seen it, but it had
been minutely described to me--described by a beautiful and famous
woman as I sat on the deck of a yacht steaming into the harbor of
She had promised me then that she would dance it for me some
I looked at Harry, who had remained standing beside me, gazing
as I had gazed. His eyes were opened wide, staring at the swaying
figure on the column in the most profound astonishment.
He took his hand from my shoulder and stood erect, alone; and
I saw the light of recognition and hope and deepest joy slowly fill
his eyes and spread over his face. Then I realized the danger, and
I endeavored once more to put my arm round his shoulder; but he
shook me off with hot impatience. He leaped forward with the
quickness of lightning, eluding my frantic grasp, and dashed
straight into the circle of blazing light!
I followed, but too late. At the edge of the lake he stopped,
and, stretching forth his arms toward the dancer on the column, he
cried out in a voice that made the cavern ring:
"Desiree! Desiree! Desiree!"
BEFORE THE COURT.
I expected I know not what result from Harry's hysterical
rashness: confusion, pandemonium, instant death; but none of these
I had reached his side and stood by him at the edge of the
lake, where he had halted. Desiree Le Mire stopped short in the
midst of the mad sweep of the Dance of the Sun.
For ten silent, tense seconds she looked down at us from the
top of the lofty column, bending dangerously near its edge. Her
form straightened and was stretched to its fullest height; her
white, superb body was distinctly outlined against the black
background of the upper cavern. Then she stepped backward slowly,
without taking her eyes from us.
Suddenly as we gazed she appeared to sink within the column
itself and in another instant disappeared from view.
We stood motionless, petrified; how long I know not. Then I
turned and faced our own danger. It was time.
The Incas--for I was satisfied of the identity of the
creatures--had left their seats of granite and advanced to the edge
of the lake. Not a sound was heard--no command from voice or
trumpet or reed; they moved as with one impulse and one brain.
We were utterly helpless, for they numbered thousands. And
weak and starving as we were, a single pair of them would have been
more than a match for us.
I looked at Harry; the reaction from his moment of superficial
energy was already upon him. His body swayed slightly from side to
side, and he would have fallen if I had not supported him with my
arm. There we stood, waiting.
Then for the first time I saw the ruler of the scene. The
Incas had stopped and stood motionless. Suddenly they dropped to
their knees and extended their arms--I thought--toward us; but
something in their attitude told me the truth. I wheeled sharply
and saw the object of their adoration.
Built into the granite wall of the cavern, some thirty feet
from the ground, was a deep alcove. At each side of the entrance
was an urn resting on a ledge, similar to those on the columns,
only smaller, from which issued a mounting flame.
On the floor of the alcove was a massive chair, or throne,
which seemed to be itself of fire, so brilliant was the glow of the
metal of which it was constructed. It could have been nothing but
gold. And seated on this throne was an ugly, misshapen dwarf.
"God save the king!" I cried, with a hysterical laugh; and in
the profound silence my voice rang from one side of the cavern to
the other in racing echoes.
Immediately following my cry the figure on the throne arose;
and as he did so the creatures round us fell flat on their faces on
the ground. For several seconds the king surveyed them thus,
without a sound or movement; then suddenly he stretched forth his
hand in a gesture of dismissal. They rose as one man and with
silent swiftness disappeared, seemingly melting away into the walls
of rock. At the time the effect was amazing; later, when I
discovered the innumerable lanes and passages which served as
exits, it was not so difficult to understand.
We were apparently left alone, but not for long. From two
stone stairways immediately in front of us, which evidently led to
the alcove above, came forth a crowd of rushing forms. In an
instant they were upon us; but if they expected resistance they
At the first impact we fell. And in another moment we had
been raised in their long, hairy arms and were carried swiftly from
the cavern. Scarcely five minutes had elapsed since we had first
They did not take us far. Down a broad passage directly away
from the cavern, then a turn to the right, and again one to the
left. There they dropped us, quite as though we were bundles of
merchandise, without a word.
By this time I had fairly recovered my wits--small wonder if
that amazing scene had stunned them--and I knew what I wanted. As
the brute that had been carrying me turned to go I caught his arm.
He hesitated, and I could feel his eyes on me, for we were again in
But he could see--I thanked Heaven for it--and I began a most
expressive pantomime, stuffing my fingers in my mouth and gnawing
at them energetically. This I alternated with the action of one
drinking from a basin. I hadn't the slightest idea whether he
understood me; he turned and disappeared without a sign--at least,
without an audible one.
But the creature possessed intelligence, for I had barely had
time to turn to Harry and ascertain that he was at least alive,
when the patter of returning footsteps was heard. They approached;
there was the clatter of stone on the ground beside us.
I stood eagerly; a platter, heaped, and a vessel, full! I
think I cried out with joy.
"Come, Harry lad; eat!"
He was too weak to move; but when I tore some of the dried
fish into fragments and fed it to him he devoured it ravenously.
Then he asked for water, and I held the basin to his lips.
We ate as little as it is possible for men to eat who have
fasted for many days, for the stuff had a sharp, concentrated taste
that recommended moderation. And, besides, we were not certain of
I wrapped the remainder carefully in my poncho, leaving the
platter empty, and lay down to rest, using the poncho for a pillow.
I had enough, assuredly, to keep me awake, but there are bounds
beyond which nature cannot go. I slept close by Harry's side, with
my arm across his body, that any movement of his might awaken me.
When I awoke Harry was still asleep, and I did not disturb
him. I myself must have slept many hours, for I felt considerably
refreshed and very hungry. And thirsty; assuredly the provender of
those hairy brutes would have been most excellent stuff for the
free-lunch counter of a saloon.
I unwrapped the poncho; then, crawling on my hands and knees,
searched about the ground. As I had expected, I found another full
platter and basin. I had just set the latter down after taking a
hearty drink when I heard Harry's voice.
"I was afraid you had gone. I've just had the most devilish
dream about Desiree. She was doing some crazy dance on top of a
mountain or something. and there was fire, and--Paul! Paul, was it
"No, Hal; I saw it myself. But come, we'll talk later.
Here's some dried fish for breakfast."
"Ah! That--that--now I remember! And she fell! I'm going--"
But I wanted no more fever or delirium, and I interrupted him
"Harry! Listen to me! Are you a baby or a man? Talk
straight or shut up, and don't whine like a fool. If you have any
courage, use it."
It was stiff medicine, but he needed it, and it worked. There
was a silence, then his voice came, steady enough:
"You know me better than that, Paul. Only--if it were not for
Desiree--but I'll swallow it. I think I've been sick, haven't I?"
Poor lad! I wanted to take his hand in mine and apologize.
But that would have been bad for both of us, and I answered simply:
"Yes, a little fever. But you're all right now. And now you
must eat and drink. Not much of a variety, but it's better than
I carried the platter and basin over to him, and sat down by
his side, and we fell to together.
But he would talk of Desiree, and I humored him. There was
little enough to say, but he pressed my hand hopefully and
gratefully when I expressed my belief that her disappearance had
been a trick of some sort and no matter for apprehension.
"We must find her, Paul."
But there I objected.
"On the contrary, we must delay. Right now we are utterly
helpless from our long fast. They would handle us like babies if
it came to a fight. Try yourself; stand up."
He rose to his hands and knees, then sank back to the ground.
"You see. To move now would be folly. And of course they
are watching us at this minute--every minute. We must wait."
His only answer was a groan of despair.
In some manner the weary hours passed by.
Harry lay silent, but not asleep; now and then he would ask me
some question, but more to hear my voice than to get an answer. We
heard or saw nothing of our captors, for all our senses told us we
were quite alone, but our previous experience with them had taught
us better than to believe it.
I found myself almost unconsciously reflecting on the
character and nature of the tribe of dwarfs.
Was it possible that they were really the descendants of the
Incas driven from Huanuco by Hernando Pizarro and his horsemen
nearly four hundred years before? Even then I was satisfied of it,
and I was soon to have that opinion confirmed by conclusive
Other questions presented themselves. Why did they not speak?
What fuel could they have found in the bowels of the Andes for
their vats of fire? And how did sufficient air for ten thousand
pairs of lungs find its way miles underground? Why, in the
centuries that had passed, had none of them found his way to the
Some of these questions I answered for myself, others remained
unsolved for many months, until I had opportunity to avail myself
of knowledge more profound than my own. Easy enough to guess that
the hidden deposits of the mountain had yielded oil which needed
only a spark from a piece of flint to fire it; and any one who
knows anything of the geological formation of the Andes will not
wonder at their supply of air.
Nature is not yet ready for man in those wild regions. Huge
upheavals and convulsions are of continual occurrence; underground
streams are known which rise in the eastern Cordillera and emerge
on the side of the Pacific slope. And air circulates through these
passages as well as water.
Their silence remains inexplicable; but it was probably the
result of the nature of their surroundings. I have spoken before
of the innumerable echoes and reverberations that followed every
sound of the voice above a whisper. At times it was literally
deafening; and time may have made it so in reality.
The natural effect through many generations of this
inconvenience or danger would be the stoppage of speech, leading
possibly to a complete loss of the faculty. I am satisfied that
they were incapable of vocalization, for even the women did not
talk! But that is ahead of the story.
I occupied myself with these reflections, and found amusement
in them; but it was impossible to lead Harry into a discussion.
His mind was anything but scientific, anyway; and he was completely
obsessed by fear for the safety of Desiree. And I wasn't sorry for
it; it is better that a man should worry about some one else than
Our chance of rescuing her, or even of saving ourselves,
appeared to me woefully slim. One fear at least was gone, for the
descendants of Incas could scarcely be cannibals; but there are
other fates equally final, if less distasteful. The fact that they
had not even taken the trouble to bind us was an indication of the
strictness of their watch.
The hours crept by. At regular intervals our food was
replenished and we kept the platter empty, storing what we could
not eat in our ponchos against a possible need.
It was always the same--dried fish of the consistency of
leather and a most aggressive taste. I tried to convey to one of
our captors the idea that a change of diet would be agreeable, but
either he did not understand me or didn't want to.
Gradually our strength returned, and with it hope. Harry
began to be impatient, urging action. I was waiting for two things
besides the return of strength; first, to lay in a supply of food
that would be sufficient for many days in case we escaped, and
second, to allow our eyes to accustom themselves better to the
Already we were able to see with a fair amount of clearness;
we could easily distinguish the forms of those who came to bring us
food and water when they were fifteen or twenty feet away. But the
cavern in which we were confined must have been a large one, for we
were unable to see a wall in any direction, and we did not venture
to explore for fear our captors would be moved to bind us.
But Harry became so insistent that I finally consented to a
scouting expedition. Caution seemed useless; if the darkness had
eyes that beheld us, doubly so. We strapped our ponchos, heavy
with their food, to our backs, and set out at random across the
We went slowly, straining our eyes ahead and from side to
side. It was folly, of course, in the darkness--like trying to
beat a gambler at his own game. But we moved on as noiselessly as
Suddenly a wall loomed up before us not ten feet away. I gave