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Under the Andes by Rex Stout

Part 4 out of 7

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what to do; those in front halted and stood hesitant, and it seemed
to me that as they gazed below down the stone stair their eyes held
a certain shrinking terror. Then one came up from behind and with
a commanding gesture ordered them to descend, and they obeyed.

Harry and I still found ourselves surrounded by a full
company; there were fifty or sixty ahead of us and at least twice
that number behind. The idea of a successful struggle was so
patently impossible that I believe it never entered our minds.

There was further delay at the bottom of the stairs, for, as
I have said before, the tunnel was extremely narrow and it was
barely possible to walk two abreast. None of them turned back, but
Harry and I could scarcely restrain a laugh at the sight of those
immediately in front of us treading on the toes of their fellows to
keep out of our way. With all their savage brutality I believe
they possessed little real bravery.

Five minutes more and we had reached the end of the tunnel and
found ourselves at the foot of the spiral stairway. The passage
was so blocked by those ahead that we were unable to approach it;
they flattened their squatty bodies against the wall and we were
forced to squeeze our way past them.

There we stood, barely able to make out their black forms
against the blacker wall, when the one who appeared to be the
leader approached and motioned to us to ascend. We hesitated,
feeling instinctively that this was our last chance to make a
stand, weighing our fate.

That was a dark moment, but though I did not know it,
Providence was with us. For, happening to glance downward, beneath
the spiral stair--for there was no ground immediately beneath it--I
saw a faint glimmer and a movement as though of a dim light in the
black, yawning space at my feet. (You must understand that we were
now inside the base of the column in the center of the great

Moved either by curiosity or a command of Providence, I
stooped and peered intently downward, and saw that the movement was
the almost imperceptible reflection of a stray ray of light from
above on the surface of water. At the time I merely wondered idly
if the water came from the same source as that in the lake outside,
not thinking it sufficiently important to mention to Harry.

Then a question came from him:

"No good, Paul. They are a hundred to one, and we are
empty-handed. Do we go?"

"There is nothing else to do," I answered, and I placed my
foot on the first step of the spiral stair.

Behind us came the guide, with a dozen others at his heels.

The ascent seemed even longer and more arduous than before,
for then we had been propelled by keen curiosity. Twice I stumbled
in the darkness, and would have fallen if it had not been for
Harry's supporting hand behind me. But finally we reached the top
and stepped out into the glare of the great cavern. I saw the
stone slab close to behind us, noiselessly, and wondered if I
should ever see it open again.

We looked about us, and as our eyes sought the alcove in the
wall opposite, we gave a simultaneous start of surprise, and from
Harry's lips came a cry, half of gladness, half of wonder. For,
seated on the golden throne, exactly as before, was Desiree. By
her side was seated the Inca king; round them, guards and

We gazed at her in astonishment, but she did not look at us;
even at that distance we could see that her eyes were lowered to
the ground. Harry called her name--there was no answer. Again he
called, and I caught him by the arm.

"Don't, Hal! She can't possibly do us any good, and you may
do her harm. If she doesn't answer, it is because she has a

He was silent, but not convinced, and would probably have
argued the matter if our attention had not been arrested by a
movement in the alcove.

The king rose and extended an arm, and the Incas who filled
the seats surrounding the cavern fell flat on their faces.

"We don't seem to have thinned them out any," I observed. "I
believe there are actually more than before. Where do they all
come from?"

"The Lord knows!"

"And, by the way, it is now apparent why they waited so long
to attend to us. The king naturally wanted to be present at the
entertainment, and he had to take time to recover from his little
fasting operation. But now, what in the name of--my word, the
thing is to be done in all propriety! Look!"

The king had dropped his arm, and the Incas were again sitting
as Nature had intended they should sit, instead of on their noses.
And four attendants had approached the throne, bearing a frame of

"So we are to have a fair trial," Harry observed.

"With the king for judge."

"And a hundred dead rats as evidence."

"Right; they can't get even with us, anyway; there are only
two of us. And as far as the other is concerned, I have an idea."

The king had left his throne and approached the outer edge of
the alcove, until he stood almost directly under the oval plate of
gold representing Pachacamac or the unknown god.

To this he knelt and made a succession of weird, uncouth
gestures that suggested a lunatic or a traveling hypnotist.
Evidently the good Pachacamac approved whatever suggestions the
royal priest communicated, for he rose to his feet with a solemn
grin and strutted majestically to the rear, facing the frame of

It was evident that he no longer had faith in Desiree's
interpretation of the divine will of the great Pachacamac. It is
a royal privilege to be able to judge your own enemies.

The hand of the Child of the Sun passed slowly up and down the
frame of quipos, betraying a commendable reluctance. It
touched the yellow cord and passed on; grasped the white and
dropped it.

"The old hypocrite!" exclaimed Harry in disgust. "Does he
imagine he is playing with us?"

Then there was an imperceptible movement, rather felt than
seen, throughout the vast assemblage, and Desiree sank back on her
throne of gold with a shudder as the king severed with the knife
the black cord of death and laid it on the ground at her feet.

I looked at Harry; his face became slightly pale, but his eyes
met mine firmly, speaking of a fortitude unconquerable. Then we
again riveted our gaze on the alcove opposite.

An attendant approached from the rear and stood before the
golden throne, while the king motioned to Desiree to take up the
black cord. For a moment she did not understand him, then she drew
back, shaking her head firmly.

The king did not wait to argue the matter, but stooped himself
and picked up the cord and handed it to the attendant, who received
it with a great show of respect and retired to the rear, where a
commotion was created by its appearance.

The judgment was passed, but what was to be the nature of the
execution? That uncertainty and the weirdness of the scene gave to
the thing an air of unreality that shut out the tragic and admitted
only the grotesque.

I have many times in my life felt nearer to death than when I
stood on the top of that lofty column, surrounded by the thousands
of squatting dwarfs, whose black bodies reflected dully the
mounting light from the flaming urns.

I cannot say what we expected, for we knew not what to expect.
Many conjectures entered my mind, but none of them approached the
fact. But, thinking that our guide might now return at any moment
to lead us below, and not caring to be surprised by an attack from
behind on that narrow precipice, I moved across to the rear, where
I could keep my eyes on the alcove opposite, and at the same time
watch the stone slab which closed the opening to the spiral
stairway. A word to Harry and he joined me.

"Perhaps we can open it from above," he suggested.

"Not likely," I answered, "and, anyway, what's the use?"

He knelt down and tugged at it, but there was no edge on which
to obtain a purchase. The thing was immovable.

Five minutes passed, during which there was no movement,
either in the audience on the stone seats or in the alcove. But
there was an indefinable air of expectancy on the faces of the king
and those surrounding him, and I kept a sharp eye on the stone

Another five minutes and still nothing happened. Harry called
across to Desiree, or rather began to call, for I stopped him with
a jerk. It was impossible for her to aid us, and her situation was
already sufficiently perilous.

Then, becoming impatient, I decided to try to move the stone
slab myself. Kneeling down, I placed the palms of my hands firmly
against its surface and pressed with all my weight.

And then I knew. Complete comprehension flashed through my
brain on the instant. I sprang to my feet, and my thought must
have shown on my face, for Harry looked at me in surprise,

"What is it? What is it, Paul?"

And I answered calmly:

"We're caught, Hal. Like rats in a trap. Oh, the black
devils! Listen! We have no time to lose. Bend over and touch the
palm of your hand to the ground."

He did so, plainly puzzled. Then he drew his hand hastily
away, exclaiming: "It's hot!"

"Yes." I spoke quickly. "Our boots kept us from feeling it
before, and the stone doesn't throw out enough heat to feel it in
the air. They've built a fire under us in the column. The stone
is thick and heats slowly."

"But what--that means--"

"It means one of two things. In a few minutes this floor will
be baking hot. Then we either fry on their stone griddle or drown
in the lake. You see the distance below--only a man crazed by
suffering or one incredibly brave would take that leap. This is
their little entertainment--they expect us to dance for them."

"But the lake! If we could take it clean--"

I saw that the lake was our only chance, if there could be
said to be any in so desperate a situation. To be sure, there
seemed to be no possibility of escaping, even if we took the water
without injury. On every side its bank was lined with the watching
Incas, and the bank itself was so steep that to ascend it would
have required wings.

The heat began to be felt even through the soles of our heavy
boots; involuntarily I lifted one foot, then the other. I saw the
Child of the Sun in the alcove lean forward with an appreciative
grin. Another minute--

I jerked my wits together--never did my brain answer with
better speed. And then I remembered that flash of water I had seen
under the spiral stairway at the base of the column. I had thought
at the time that it might be connected with the lake itself. If
that were so--

I turned to Harry and conveyed my idea to him in as few words
as possible as we walked up and down, side by side. It was
impossible longer to stand still--the stone was so hot that the
bare hand could not be held against it for an instant. I saw that
he did not comprehend what I said about the water in the column,
but he did understand my instructions, and that was all that was

We ran to the edge of the column nearest the alcove.

Removing our woolen knickerbockers--for better ease in the
water--we placed them on the hot stone, and on top of them our
boots, which we had also removed. Thus our feet were protected as
we stood on the extreme edge of the column, taking a deep breath
for strength and nerve.

I saw the thousands of black savages--who had been cheated of
their dance--crane their necks forward eagerly.

I saw the king gesture excitedly to an attendant, who turned
and flew from the alcove.

I saw Desiree spring up from the golden throne and run to the
edge of the alcove, crying to us in a tone of despair. But I did
not hear her words, for I myself was calling:

"Take it clean, Hal. Ready--go!"

The next instant we were flying headlong through the air
toward the surface of the lake a hundred feet below.

Men have told me since that I never made that dive, or that I
greatly overestimated the distance, and I admit that as I look back
at it now it appears incredible. Well, they are welcome to their
opinion, but I would not advise them to try to argue the matter
with Harry.

The impact with the water all but completely stunned me; as I
struck the surface it seemed that a thousand cannons had exploded
in my ears. Down, down I went--lucky for us that the lake was
apparently bottomless!

I seemed to have gone as far below the water as I had been
above it before I was able to twist myself about and meet it with
my belly. Then, striking out with every ounce of strength in me,
I made for the surface as rapidly as possible. I had started with
my lungs full of air, but that headlong plunge had emptied them.

I made the surface at last and looked round for Harry, calling
his name. For perhaps thirty seconds I called in vain, then there
came an unanswering shout off to the left. The urns were far above
us now, and the light on the surface of the lake was very dim, but
soon I made out Harry's head. He was swimming easily toward me,
apparently unhurt.

"All right, Hal?"

"Right. And you?"

"Sound as a whistle. Now make for the column."

At the instant that we turned to swim toward the column I
became aware of a strong current in the water carrying us off to
the right. It was inexplicable, but there was no time then for
speculation, and we struck out with bold, sweeping strokes.

The Incas had left the stone seats and advanced to the water's
edge. I could see their black, sinister faces, thousands of them,
peering intently at us through the dim light, but they made no

Once I cast a glance over my shoulder and saw Desiree standing
at the edge of the alcove with her clenched fists pressed to her
throat. Beside her stood the Child of the Sun. Harry, too, saw
her and sent her a shout of farewell, but there was no answer.

We were now less than thirty feet from the column. Its
jeweled sides sparkled and shone before us; looking up, our eyes
were dazzled. Something struck the water near me. I glanced to
the right and saw what moved me to hasten my stroke and call to
Harry to do likewise.

The black devils were increasing the fun by hurling stones at
us from the bank--apparently with the kind approval of Pachacamac.

As we neared the column the current which tended to carry us
to the right became stronger, but still we seemed not to be
approaching the bank. What could it mean? The struggle against it
was fast taking our strength.

Looking up, I saw that we had swung round to the other side of
the column--it was between us and the alcove. Then I understood.
We were in a whirlpool, ever increasing in force, which was
carrying us swiftly in a circle from left to right and approaching
the column.

I called a swift warning to Harry, who was some ten feet to my
left, and he answered that he understood. The stones from the bank
were falling thick about us now; one struck me on the shoulder,
turning me half round.

The current became swifter--so swift that we were almost
helpless against it and were carried around and around the column,
which was but a few feet away. And always complete silence.

Nearer and nearer we were carried, till, thrusting out my arm,
the tips of my fingers brushed against the side of the column. The
water whirled with the rapidity of a mill-stream; ten more seconds
and our brains would have been dashed against the unyielding stone.
It was now but half an arm's length away. I kept thrusting out my
arm in a wild endeavor to avoid it.

Suddenly my outstretched hand found a purchase in a break in
the wall, but the force of the water tore it loose and swept me
away. But when I reached the same spot again I thrust out both
hands, and, finding the edge, held on desperately. The next
instant Harry's body was swept against mine, doubling the strain on
my fingers.

"The column!" I gasped. "Inside--through the wall--opening--I
am holding--"

He understood, and the next moment he, too, had grasped the
edge. Together we pulled ourselves, little by little, toward the
opening; for our strength was nearly spent, and the force of the
maelstrom was nigh irresistible.

It was as I had thought. The base of the column consisted
merely of two massive pillars, some twelve feet in length and
circular in shape. The water rushed in through each of the two
openings thus left, and inside of the column was the center of the
whirlpool, sucking the water from both sides. The water I had
seen; I had not counted on the whirlpool.

We had pulled ourselves round till our bodies rested against
the edge of the opening, clinging to either side. Inside all was
blackness, but we could judge of the fury of the maelstrom by the
force of the current outside. Stones hurled by the Incas were
striking against the sides of the column and in the water near us.

We were being hunted from life like dogs, and a hot,
unreasoning anger surged through my brain--anger at the grinning
savages on the bank, at the whirling black water, at Harry, at

Whichever way we looked was death, and none worth choosing.

"I can't hold--much longer," Harry gasped. "What's the use--
old man--Paul--come--I'm going--"

He disappeared into the black, furious whirlpool with that
word. The next instant my own fingers were torn from their hold by
a sudden jerk of the water, and I followed.

Chapter XIV.


Water, when whirling rapidly, has a keen distaste for any
foreign object; but when once the surface breaks, that very
repulsion seems to multiply the indescribable fury with which it
endeavors to bury the object beneath its center.

Once in the whirlpool, I was carried in a swift circle round
its surface for what seemed an age, and I think could not have been
less than eight or ten seconds in reality. Then suddenly I was
turned completely over, my limbs seemed to be torn from my body,
there was a deafening roar in my ears, and a crushing weight
pressed against me from every side.

Any effort of any kind was worse than useless, as well as
impossible; indeed, I could hardly have been said to be conscious,
except for the fact that I retained sufficient volition to avoid
breathing or swallowing the water.

The pressure against my body was terrific; I wondered vaguely
why life had not departed, since--as I supposed--there was not a
whole bone left in my body. My head was bursting with dizziness
and pain; my breast was a furnace of torture.

Suddenly the pressure lessened and the whirling movement
gradually ceased, but still the current carried me on. I struck
out wildly with both arms--in an effort, I suppose, to grasp the
proverbial straw.

I found no straw, but something better--space. Instinct led
the fight to reach it with my head to get air, but the swiftness of
the current carried me again beneath the surface. My arms seemed
powerless; I was unable to direct them.

I hardly know what happened after that. A feeling of most
intense suffocation in my chest; a relaxation of all my muscles; a
sensation of light in my smarting eyes; a gentle pressure from the
water beneath, like the rising gait of a saddle-horse; and
suddenly, without knowing why or when or how, I found myself lying
on hard ground, gasping, choking, sputtering, not far from death,
but nearer to life than I had thought ever to be again.

I lay for several minutes unable to move; then my brain awoke
and called for life. I twisted over on my face, and moved my arms
out and in with the motion of a swimmer; the most exquisite pains
shot through my chest and abdomen. My head weighed tons.

Water ran from my nose and mouth in gurgling streams. The
roaring, scarcely abated, pounded in my ears. I was telling myself
over and over with a most intense earnestness: "But if I were
really dead I shouldn't be able to move." It appears that the
first sense to leave a drowning man, and the last to return, is the
sense of humor.

In another ten minutes, having rid my lungs of the water that
had filled them, I felt no pain and but little fatigue. My head
was dizzy, and there was still a feeling of oppression on my chest;
but otherwise I was little the worse for wear. I twisted carefully
over on my side and took note of my surroundings.

I lay on a narrow ledge of rock at the entrance to a huge
cavern. Not two feet below rushed the stream which had carried me;
it came down through an opening in the wall at a sharp angle with
tremendous velocity, and must have hurled me like a cork from its
foaming surface. Below, it emptied into a lake which nearly filled
the cavern, some hundreds of yards in diameter. Rough boulders and
narrow ledges surrounded it on every side.

This I saw in time, but the first thing that caught my eye was
no work of nature. Fastened to the wall on the opposite side of
the cavern, casting a dim, flickering light throughout its vast
space, were two golden, flaming urns.

It was not fear, but a sort of nausea, that assailed me as I
realized that I was still in the domain of the Incas.

The ledge on which I lay was exposed to view from nearly every
point of the cavern, and the sight of those urns caused me to make
a swift decision to leave it without delay. It was wet and
slippery and not over three feet in width; I rose to my feet
cautiously, having no appetite for another ducking.

At a distance of several feet lay another ledge, broad and
level, at the farther end of which rose a massive boulder. I
cleared the gap with a leap, barely made my footing, and passed
behind the boulder through a crevice just wide enough to admit my

Then through a narrow lane onto another ledge, and from that
I found my way into a dark recess which gave assurance at least of
temporary safety. The sides of the cavern were a veritable maze of
boulders, sloping ledges, and narrow crevices. Nature here
scarcely seemed to have known what to do with herself.

I seated myself on a bit of projecting limestone, still wet
and shivering. I had no boots nor trousers; my feet were bruised
and swollen, and my flannel shirt and woolen underwear were but
scanty protection against the chill air, damp as they were. Also,
I seemed to feel a cold draft circling about me, and was convinced
of the fact by the flickering flames in the golden urns.

Desolate, indeed, for I gave Harry up as lost. The thought
generated no particular feeling in me; death, by force of contrast,
may even appear agreeable; and I told myself that Harry had been
favored of the gods.

And there I sat in the half-darkness, shrinking from a danger
of whose existence I was not certain, clinging miserably to the
little that was left of what the world of sunshine had known as
Paul Lamar, gentleman, scientist, and connoisseur of life;
sans philosophy, sans hope, and--sans-culotte.

But the senses remain; and suddenly I became aware of a
movement in the water of the lake. It was as though an immense
trout had leaped and split the surface. This was repeated several
times, and was followed by a rhythmic sound like the regular splash
of many oars. Then silence.

I peered intently forth from my corner in the recess, but
could see nothing, and finally gave it up.

As the minutes passed by my discomfort increased and stiffness
began to take my joints. I realized the necessity of motion, but
lacked the will, and sat in a sort of dumb, miserable apathy.
This, I should say, for an hour; then I saw something that roused

I had before noticed that on the side of the cavern almost
directly opposite me, under the flaming urns, there was a ledge
some ten or twelve feet broad and easily a hundred in length. It
met the surface of the lake at an easy, gradual slope. In the
rear, exactly between the two urns, could be seen the dark mouth of
a passage, evidently leading directly away from the cavern.

Out of this passage there suddenly appeared the forms of two
Incas. In the hand of each was what appeared to be a long spear--I
had evidently been mistaken in my presumption of their ignorance of

They walked to one end of the long ledge and dragged out into
the light an object with a flat surface some six feet square. This
they launched on the surface of the lake; then embarked on it,
placing their spears by their sides and taking up, instead, two
broad, short oars. With these they began to paddle their perilous
craft toward the center of the lake with short, careful strokes.

About a hundred feet from the shore they ceased paddling and
exchanged the oars for their spears, and stood motionless and
silent, waiting, apparently, for nothing.

I, also, remained motionless, watching them in dull curiosity.
There was little danger of being seen; for, aside from the darkness
of my corner, which probably would have been no hindrance to them,
a projecting ledge partly screened my body from view.

The wait was not a long one, and when it ended things happened
with so startling a suddenness that I scarcely grasped the details.

There was a loud splash in the water like that I had heard
before, a swift ripple on the surface of the lake, and
simultaneously the two Indians lunged with their spears, which flew
to their mark with deadly accuracy. I had not before noticed the
thongs, one end of which was fastened to the shaft of the spear and
the other about the waist of the savage.

There followed a battle royal. Whatever the thing was that
had felt the spears, it certainly lost no time in showing its
resentment. It thrashed the water into furious waves until I
momentarily expected the raft to be swamped.

One Inca stood on the farther edge of the craft desperately
plying an oar; the other tugged lustily at the spear-thongs. I
could see a black, twisting form leap from the water directly
toward the raft, and the oarsman barely drew from under before it
fell. It struck the corner of the raft, which tipped perilously.

That appeared to have been a final effort, for there the
battle ended. The oarsman made quickly for the shore, paddling
with remarkable dexterity and swiftness, while the other stood
braced, holding firmly to the spear-thongs. Another minute and
they had leaped upon the ledge, drawing the raft after them, and,
by tugging together on the lines, had landed their victim of the

It appeared to be a large black fish of a shape I had never
before seen. But it claimed little of my attention; my eye was on
the two spears which had been drawn from the still quivering body
and which now lay on the ground well away from the water's edge,
while the two Incas were dragging their catch toward the mouth of
the passage leading from the cavern.

I wanted those spears. I did not stop to ask myself what I
intended to do with them; if I had I would probably have been hard
put to it for an answer. But I wanted them, and I sat in my dark
corner gazing at them with greedy eyes.

The Incas had disappeared in the passage.

Finally I rose and began to search for an exit from the recess
in which I had hidden myself. At first there appeared to be none,
but at length I found a small crevice between two boulders in the
rear. Into this I squeezed my body with some difficulty.

The rock pressed tightly against me on both sides, and the
sharp corners bruised my body, but I wormed my way through for a
distance of fifteen or twenty feet. Then the crevice opened
abruptly, and I found myself on a broad ledge ending apparently in
space. I advanced cautiously to its edge, but intervening boulders
shut off the light, and I could see no ground below.

Throwing prudence to the winds, I let myself over the
outermost corner, hung for a moment by my hands, and dropped. My
feet touched ground almost instantly--the supposedly perilous fall
amounted to something like twelve inches.

I turned round, feeling a little foolish, and saw that from
where I stood the ledge and part of the lake were in full view. I
could see the spears still lying where they had been thrown down.

But as I looked the two Incas emerged from the passage. They
picked up the spears, walked to the raft, and again launched it and
paddled toward the center of the lake.

I thought, "Here is my chance; I must make that ledge before
they return," and I started forward so precipitately that I ran
head on into a massive boulder and got badly stunned for my pains.
Half dazed, I went on, groping my way through the semidarkness.

The trail was one to try a llama. I climbed boulders and
leaped across chasms and clung to narrow, slippery edges with my
finger-nails. Several times I narrowly escaped dumping myself into
the lake, and half the time I was in plain view of the Incas on the

My hands and feet were bruised and bleeding, and I had bumped
into walls and boulders so often that I was surprised when I took
a step without getting a blow. I wanted those spears.

I found myself finally within a few yards of my destination.
A narrow crevice led from where I stood directly to the ledge from
which the Incas had embarked. It was now necessary to wait till
they returned to the shore, and I drew back into the darkness of a
near-by corner and stood motionless.

They were still on the raft in the middle of the lake,
waiting, spear in hand. I watched them in furious impatience, on
the border of mania.

Suddenly I saw a dark, crouching form outlined against a
boulder not ten feet away from where I stood. The form was human,
but in some way unlike the Incas I had seen. I could not see its
face, but the alertness suggested by its attitude made me certain
that I had been discovered.

Vaguely I felt myself surrounded on every side; I seemed to
feel eyes gazing unseen from every direction, but I could not force
myself to search the darkness; my heart rose to my throat and
choked me, and I stood absolutely powerless to make a sound or
movement, gazing in a sort of dumb fascination at that silent,
crouching figure.

Suddenly it crouched lower still against the black background
of the boulder.

"Another second and he will be at my throat," I thought--but
I stood still, unable to move.

But the figure did not spring. Instead, it suddenly
straightened up to almost twice the height of an Inca, and I caught
a glimpse of a white face and ragged, clinging garments.

"Harry!" I whispered. I wonder yet that it was not a shout.

"Thank God!" came his voice, also in a whisper; and in another
moment he had reached my side.

A hurried word or two--there was no time for more--and I
pointed to the Incas on the raft, saying: "We want those spears."

"I was after them," he grinned. "What shall we do?"

"There's no use taking them while the Incas are away," I
replied, "because they would soon return and find them gone.
Surely we can handle two of them."

As I spoke there came a sound from the lake--a sudden loud
splash followed by a commotion in the water. I looked around the
corner of the boulder and saw that the spears again found their

"Come," I whispered, and began to pick my way toward the

Harry followed close at my heels. It was easier here, and we
soon found ourselves close to the shore of the lake, with a smooth
stretch of rock between us and the fisherman's landing-place. The
urns, whose light was quite sufficient here, were about fifty feet
to the right and rear.

The Incas had made their kill and were paddling for the shore.
As they came near, Harry and I sank back against the boulder, which
extended to the boundary of the ledge. Soon the raft was beached
and pulled well away from the water, and the fish--I was amazed at
its size--followed.

They drew forth the spears and laid them on the ground, as
they had done formerly; and, laying hold on the immense fish, still
floundering ponderously about, began to drag it toward the mouth of
the passage.

"Now," whispered Harry, and as he stood close at my side I
could feel his body draw together for the spring.

I laid a hand on his arm.

"Not yet. Others may be waiting for them in the passage.
Wait till they return."

In a few minutes they reappeared in the light of the flaming
urns. I waited till they had advanced half-way to the water's
edge, some thirty feet away. Then I whispered to Harry: "You for
the left, me for the right," and released my hold on his arm, and
the next instant we were bounding furiously across the ledge.

Taken by surprise, the Incas offered no resistance whatever.
The momentum of our assault carried them to the ground; their heads
struck the hard granite with fearful force and they lay stunned.

Harry, kneeling over them, looked up at me with a question in
his eyes.

"The lake," said I, for it was no time for squeamishness.

Our friend the king thought us dead, and we wanted no
witnesses that we had returned to life. We laid hold of the
unconscious bodies, dragged them to the edge of the lake, and
pushed them in. The shock of the cold water brought one of them to
life, and he started to swim, and we--well, we did what had to be

We had our spears. I examined them curiously.

The head appeared to be of copper and the shaft was a long,
thin rod of the same material. But when I tried it against a stone
and saw its hardness I found that it was much less soft, and
consequently more effective, than copper would have been. That
those underground savages had succeeded in combining metals was
incredible, but there was the evidence; and, besides, it may have
been a trick of nature herself.

The point was some six inches long and very sharp. It was set
on the shaft in a wedge, and bound with thin, tough strips of hide.
Altogether, a weapon not to be laughed at.

We carried the spears, the raft, and the oars behind a large
boulder to the left of the ledge with considerable difficulty. The
two latter not because we expected them to be of any service, but
in order not to leave any trace of our presence, for if any
searchers came and found nothing they could know nothing.

We expected them to arrive at any moment, and we waited for
hours. We had about given up watching from our vantage point
behind the boulder when two Incas appeared at the mouth of the
passage. But they brought only oil to fill the urns, and after
performing this duty departed, without a glance at the lake or any
exhibition of surprise at the absence of their fellows.

Every now and then there was a commotion in some part of the
lake, and we could occasionally see a black, glistening body leap
into the air and fall again into the water.

"I'm hungry," Harry announced suddenly. "I wonder if we
couldn't turn the trick on that raft ourselves?"

The same thought had occurred to me, but Harry's impulsiveness
had made me fearful of expressing it. I hesitated.

"We've got to do something," he continued.

I suggested that it might be best to wait another hour or two.

"And why? Now is as good a time as any. If we intend to find

"In the name of Heaven, how can we?" I interrupted.

"You don't mean to say you don't intend to try?" he exclaimed.

"Hal, I don't know. In the first place, it's impossible. And
where could we take her and what could we do--in short, what's the
use? Why the deuce should we prolong the thing any further?

"In the world I refused to struggle because nothing tempted
me; in this infernal hole I have fought when there was nothing to
fight for. If civilization held no prize worth an effort, why
should I exert myself to preserve the life of a rat? Faugh! It's
sickening! I wondered why I wanted those spears. Now I know. I
have an idea I'm going to be coward enough to use one--or enough of
a philosopher."

"Paul, that isn't like you."

"On the contrary, it is consistent with my whole life. I have
never been overly keen about it. To end it in a hole like this--
well, that isn't exactly what I expected; but it is all one--after.
Understand me, Hal; I don't want to desert you; haven't I stuck?
And I would still if there were the slightest possible chance.
Where can we go? What can we do?"

There was a long silence; then Harry's voice came calmly:

"I can stay in the game. You call yourself a philosopher. I
won't quarrel about it, but the world would call you a quitter.
Whichever it is, it's not for me. I stay in the game. I'm going
to find Desiree if I can, and, by the Lord, some day I'm going to
cock my feet up on the fender at the Midlothian and make 'em open
their mouths and call me a liar!"

"A worthy ambition."

"My own. And, Paul, you can't--you're not a quitter."

"Personally, yes. If I were here alone, Hal"--I picked up one
of the spears and passed my palm over its sharp point--"I would
quit cold. But not--not with you. I can't share your enthusiasm,
but I'll go fifty-fifty on the rest of it, including the fender--
when we see it."

"That's the talk, old man. I knew you would."

"But understand me. I expect nothing. It's all rot. If by
any wild chance we should pull out in the end I'll admit you were
right. But I eat under compulsion, and I fight for you. You're
the leader unless you ask my advice."

"And I begin right now," said Harry with a grin. "First, to
get Desiree. What about it?"

We discussed plans all the way from the impossible to the
miraculous and arrived nowhere. One thing only we decided--that
before we tried to find our way back to the great cavern and the
royal apartments we would lay in a supply of food and cache it
among the boulders and ledges where we then were. For if ever a
place were designed for a successful defense by two men against
thousands it was that one. And we had the spears.

Still no one had appeared in the cavern, and we decided to
wait no longer. We carried the raft back to the ledge. It was
fairly light, being made of hide stretched tightly across stringers
of bone, but was exceedingly clumsy. Once Harry fell, and the
thing nearly toppled over into the lake with him on top of it; but
I caught his arm just in time.

Another trip for the oars and spears, and everything was
ready. We launched the raft awkwardly, nearly shipping it beneath;
but finally got it afloat with ourselves aboard. We had fastened
the loose ends of the spear-thongs about our waists.

I think that raft was the craziest thing that ever touched
water. It was a most excellent diver, but was in profound
ignorance of the first principle of the art of floating.

After a quarter of an hour of experimentation we found that by
standing exactly in a certain position, one on each side and
paddling with one hand, it was possible to keep fairly level. If
either of us shifted his foot a fraction of an inch the thing
ducked like a stone.

We finally got out a hundred feet or so and ceased paddling.
Then, exchanging our oars for the spears, we waited.

The surface of the lake was perfectly still, save for a barely
perceptible ripple, caused no doubt by the undercurrent which was
fed by the stream at the opposite side. The urns were so far away
that the light was very dim; no better than half darkness. The
silence was broken by the sound of the rushing stream.

Suddenly the raft swayed gently; there was a parting of the
water not a foot away toward the front, and then--well, the ensuing
events happened so quickly that their order is uncertain.

A black form arose from the water with a leap like lightning
and landed squarely on the raft, which proceeded to perform its
favorite dive. It would have done so with much less persuasion,
for the fish was a monster--it appeared to me at that moment to be
twenty feet long.

On the instant, as the raft capsized, Harry and I lunged with
our spears, tumbling forward and landing on each other and on top
of the fish. I felt my spear sinking into the soft fish almost
without resistance.

The raft slipped from under, and we found ourselves
floundering in the water.

I have said the spear-thongs were fastened about our waists.
Otherwise, we would have let the fish go; but we could hardly allow
him to take us along. That is, we didn't want to allow it; but we
soon found that we had nothing to say in the matter. Before we had
time to set ourselves to stroke we were being towed as though we
had been corks toward the opposite shore.

But it was soon over, handicapped as he was by four feet of
spears in his body. We felt the pull lessen and twisted ourselves
about, and in another minute had caught the water with a steady
dog-stroke and were holding our own. Soon we made headway, but it
was killing work.

"He weighs a thousand tons," panted Harry, and I nodded.

Pulling and puffing side by side, we gradually neared the
center of the lake, passed it, and approached the ledge. We were
well-nigh exhausted when we finally touched bottom and were able to
stand erect.

Hauling the fish onto the ledge, we no longer wondered at his
strength. He could not have been an ounce under four hundred
pounds, and was fully seven feet long. One of the spears ran
through the gills; the other was in his middle, just below the
backbone. We got them out with some difficulty and rolled him up
high and dry.

We straightened to return for the spears which we had left at
the edge of the water.

"He's got a hide like an elephant," said Harry. "What can we
skin him with?"

But I did not answer.

I was gazing straight ahead at the mouth of the passage where
stood two Incas, spear in hand, returning my gaze stolidly.

Chapter XV.


I was quick to act, but the Incas were quicker still. I
turned to run for our spears, and was halted by a cry of warning
from Harry, who had wheeled like a flash at my quick movement. I
turned barely in time to see the Incas draw back their powerful
arms, then lunge forward, the spears shooting from their hands.

I leaped aside; something struck my leg; I stooped swiftly and
grasped the spear-thong before there was time for the Inca to
recover and jerk it out of my reach. The other end was fastened
about his waist; I had him, and giving an instant for a glance at
Harry, saw that he had adopted the same tactics as myself.

Seeing that escape was impossible, they dashed straight at us.

It wasn't much of a fight. One came at me with his head
lowered like a charging bull; I sidestepped easily and floored him
with a single blow. He scrambled to his feet, but by that time I
had recovered the spear and had it ready for him.

I waited until he was quite close, then let him have it full
in the chest. The fool literally ran himself through, hurling
himself on the sharp point in a brutal frenzy. He lay on his back,
quite still, with the spear-head buried in his chest and the shaft
sticking straight up in the air.

I turned to Harry, and in spite of myself smiled at what I
saw. He stood with his right arm upraised, holding his spear
ready. His left foot was placed well and gracefully forward, and
his body bent to one side like the classic javelin-thrower. And
ten feet in front of him the other Inca had fallen flat on his face
on the ground with arms extended in mute supplication for quarter.

"What shall I do?" asked Harry. "Let him have it?"

"Can you?"

"The fact is, no. Look at the poor beggar--scared silly. But
we can't let him go."

It was really a question. Mercy and murder were alike
impossible. We finally compromised by binding his wrists and
ankles and trussing him up behind, using a portion of one of the
spear-thongs for the purpose, and gagging him. Then we carried him
behind a large boulder some distance from the ledge and tucked him
away in a dark corner.

"And when we get back--if we ever do--we can turn him loose,"
said Harry.

"In that case I wouldn't give much for his chances of a happy
existence," I observed.

We wasted no time after that, for we wanted no more
interruptions. Some fifteen precious minutes we lost trying to
withdraw the spear I had buried in the body of the Inca, but the
thing had become wedged between two ribs and refused to come out.
Finally we gave it up and threw the corpse in the lake.

We then removed the oars and spears and raft--which had
floated so near to the ledge that we had no difficulty in
recovering it--to our hiding-place, and last we tackled our fish.

It was a task for half a dozen men, but we dared not remain on
the ledge to skin him and cut him up. After an hour of exertion
and toil that left us completely exhausted, we managed to get him
behind a large boulder to the left of the ledge, but it was
impossible to carry him to the place we had selected, which could
be reached only by passing through a narrow crevice.

The only knives we had were the points of the spears, but they
served after a fashion, and in another hour we had him skinned and
pretty well separated. He was meaty and sweet. We discovered that
with the first opportunity, for we were hungry as wolves. Nor did
we waste much time bewailing our lack of a fire, for we had lived
so long on dried stuff that the opposite extreme was rather
pleasant than otherwise.

We tore him into strips as neatly as possible, stowing them
away beneath a ledge, a spot kept cool by the water but a foot

"That'll be good for a month," said Harry. "And there's more
where that came from. And now--"

I understood, and I answered simply: "I'm ready."

We had but few preparations to make. The solidest parts of
the fish which we had laid aside we now strapped together with one
of the extra spear-thongs and slung them on our backs. We secreted
the oars and raft and the extra spear as snugly as possible.

Then, having filled ourselves with raw fish and a last hearty
drink from the lake, we each took a spear and started on a search
wilder than any ever undertaken by Amadis of Gaul or Don Quixote
himself. Even the Bachelor of Salamanca, in his saddest plight,
did not present so outrageous an appearance to the eye as we. We
wore more clothing than the Incas, which is the most that can be
said for us.

We were unable to even guess at the direction we should take;
but that was settled for us when we found that there were but two
exits from the cavern. One led through the boulders and crevices
to a passage full of twists and turns and strewn with rocks, almost
impassable; the other was that through which the Incas had entered.
We chose the latter.

Fifty feet from the cavern we found ourselves in darkness. I
stopped short.

"Harry, this is impossible. We cannot mark our way."

"But what can we do?"

"Carry one of those urns."

"Likely! They'd spot us before we even got started."

"Well--let them."

"No. You're in for the finish. I know that. I want to find
Desiree. And we'll find her. After that, if nothing else is left,
I'll be with you."

"But I don't want a thousand of those brutes falling on us in
the dark. If they would end it I wouldn't care."

"Keep your spear ready."

I had given him my promise, so I pushed on at his side. I had
no stomach for it. In a fight I can avoid disgracing myself,
because it is necessary; but why seek it when there is nothing to
be gained? Thus I reflected, but I pushed on at Harry's side.

As he had said, I was in for the finish. What I feared was to
be taken again by the Incas unseen in the darkness. But that fear
was soon removed when I found that we could see easily some thirty
or forty feet ahead--enough for a warning in case of attack.

Our flannel shirts and woolen undergarments hung from us in
rags and tatters. Our feet were bare and bruised and swollen. Our
faces were covered with a thick, matted growth of hair. Placed
side by side with the Incas it is a question which of us would have
been judged the most terrifying spectacles by an impartial

I don't think either of us realized the extreme foolhardiness
of that expedition. The passage was open and unobstructed, and
since it appeared to be the only way to their fishing-ground, was
certain to be well traveled. The alarm once given, there was no
possible chance for us.

We sought the royal apartments. Those we knew to be on a
level some forty or fifty feet below the surface of the great
cavern, at the foot of the flight of steps which led to the tunnel
to the base of the column. I had counted ninety-six of those
steps, and allowing an average height of six inches, they
represented a distance of forty-eight feet.

How far the whirlpool and the stream which it fed had carried
us downward we did not know, but we estimated it at one hundred
feet. That calculation left us still fifty feet below the level of
the royal apartments.

But we soon found that in this we were mistaken. We had
advanced for perhaps a quarter of an hour without incident when the
passage came to an abrupt end. To the right was an irregular,
twisting lane that disappeared around a corner almost before it
started; to the left a wide and straight passage, sloping gently
upward. We took the latter.

We had followed this for about a hundred yards when we saw a
light ahead. Caution was useless; the passage was straight and
unbroken and only luck could save us from discovery. We pushed on,
and soon stood directly within the light which came from an
apartment adjoining the passage. It was not that which we sought,
however, and we gave it barely a glance before we turned to the
right down a cross passage, finding ourselves again in darkness.

Soon another light appeared. We approached. It came from a
doorway leading into an apartment some twenty feet square. It was
empty, and we entered.

There were two flaming urns fastened to the wall above a
granite couch. Stone seats were placed here and there about the
room. The walls were studded with spots of gold to a height of
four or five feet.

We stopped short, gazing about us.

"It looks like--" Harry whispered, and then exclaimed: "It is!
See, here is where we took the blocks from this seat!"

So it was. We were in the room where we had imprisoned the
Inca king and where we ourselves had been imprisoned with Desiree.

"She said her room was to the right of this," whispered Harry
excitedly. "What luck! If only--"

He left the sentence unfinished, but I understood his fear.
And with me there was even no doubt; I had little hope of finding
Desiree, and was sorry, for Harry's sake, that we had been so far

Again we sought the passage. A little farther on it was
crossed by another, running at right angles in both directions.
But to the right there was nothing but darkness, and we turned to
the left, where, some distance ahead, we could see a light
evidently proceeding from a doorway similar to the one we had just

We went rapidly, but our feet made scarcely any sound on the
granite floor. Still we were incautious, and it was purely by luck
that I glanced ahead and discovered that which made me jerk Harry
violently back and flatten myself against the wall.

"What is it?" he whispered.

In silence I pointed with my finger to where two Incas stood
in the passage ahead of us, just without the patch of light from
the doorway, which they were facing. They made no movement; we
were as yet undiscovered. They were about a hundred feet away from
where we stood.

"Then she's here!" whispered Harry. "They are on guard."

I nodded; I had had the same thought.

There was no time to lose; at any moment that they should
chance to glance in our direction they were certain to see us. I
whispered hastily and briefly to Harry. He nodded.

The next instant we were advancing slowly and noiselessly,
hugging the wall. We carried our spears ready, though we did not
mean to use them, for a miss would have meant an alarm.

"If she is alone!" I was saying within myself, almost a
prayer, when suddenly one of the Incas turned, facing us squarely,
and gave a start of surprise. We leaped forward.

Half a dozen bounds and we were upon them, before they had had
time to realize their danger or move to escape it. With a ferocity
taught us by the Incas themselves we gripped their throats and bore
them to the floor.

No time then for the decencies; we had work to do, and we
crushed and pounded their lives out against the stone floor. There
had not been a sound. They quivered and lay still; and then,
looking up at some slight sound in the doorway, we saw Desiree.

She stood in the doorway, regarding us with an expression of
terror that I did not at first understand; then suddenly I realized
that, having seen us disappear beneath the surface of the take
after our dive from the column, she had thought us dead.

"Bon Dieu!" she exclaimed in a hollow voice of horror.
"This, too! Do you come, messieurs?"

"For you," I answered. "We are flesh and bone, Desiree,
though in ill repair. We have come for you."

"Paul! Harry, is it really you?"

Belief crept into her eyes, but nothing more, and she stood
gazing at us curiously. Harry had sprung to her side; she did not
move as he embraced her.

"Are you alone?"


"Good. Here, Harry--quick! Help me. Stand aside, Desiree."

We carried the bodies of the two Incas within the room and
deposited them in a corner. Then I ran and brought the spears,
which we had dropped when we attacked the Incas. Desiree stood
just within the doorway, seemingly half dazed.

"Come," I said; "there is no time to be lost. Come!"

"Where?" She did not move.

"With us. Isn't that enough? Do you want to stay here?"

She shuddered violently.

"You don't know--what has happened. I want to die. Where are
you going to take me?"

"Desiree," Harry burst out, "for Heaven's sake, come! Must we
carry you?"

He grasped her arm.

Then she moved and appeared to acquiesce. I started ahead;
Harry brought up the rear, with an arm round Desiree's shoulders.
She started once more to speak, but I wheeled sharply with a
command for silence, and she obeyed.

We reached the turn in the corridor and passed to the right,
moving as swiftly and noiselessly as possible. Ahead of us was the
light from the doorway of the room in which we had formerly been

We had nearly reached it when I saw, some distance down the
corridor, moving forms. The light was very dim, but there appeared
to be a great many of them.

I turned, with a swift gesture to Harry and Desiree to follow,
and dashed forward to the light and through the doorway into the
room. Discovery was inevitable, I thought, in any event, but it
was better to meet them at the door to the room than in the open
passage. And we had our spears.

But by a rare stroke of luck we had not been seen. As we
stood within the room on either side of the doorway, out of the
line of view from the corridor, we heard the patter of many
footsteps approaching.

They neared the doorway, and I glanced at Harry, pointing to
his spear significantly. He gave me a nod of understanding. Let
them come; we would not again fall into their hands alive.

The footsteps sounded just without the doorway; I stood tense
and alert, with spear ready, expecting a rush momentarily. Then
they passed, passed altogether, and receded down the corridor in
the direction whence we had come. I wanted to glance out at their
number, but dared not. We stood still till all was again perfectly

Then Desiree spoke in a whisper:

"It is useless; we are lost. That was the king. He is going
to my room. In ten seconds he will be there and find me gone."

There was only one thing to do, and I wasted no time in
discussing it. A swift command to Harry, and we dashed from the
doorway and down the corridor to the left, each holding an arm of
Desiree. But she needed little of our assistance; the presence of
the Inca king seemed to have inspired her with a boundless terror,
and she flew, rather than ran, between us.

We reached the bend in the passage, and just beyond it the
light--the first one we had seen on our way in. I had our route
marked on my memory with complete distinctness. Soon we found
ourselves in the wide, sloping passage that carried us to the level
below, and in another five seconds had reached its end and the
beginning of the last stretch.

At the turn Harry stumbled and fell flat, dragging Desiree to
her knees. I lifted her, and he sprang to his feet unhurt.

She was panting heavily. Harry had dropped his spear in the
fall, and we wasted a precious minute searching for it in the
darkness, finally finding it where it had slid, some twenty feet
ahead. Again we dashed forward.

A light appeared ahead in the distance, dim but unmistakable
--the light of the urns in the cavern for which we were headed.
Suddenly Desiree faltered and would have fallen but for our
supporting arms.

"Courage!" I breathed. "We are near the end."

She stopped short and sank to the ground.

"It is useless," she gasped. "I hurt my ankle when I fell.
I can go no farther. Leave me!"

Harry and I with one impulse stooped over to pick her up, and
as we did so she fainted away in our arms. We were then but a few
hundred feet from our goal; the light from the urns could be
plainly seen gleaming on the broad ledge by the lake.

Suddenly the sound of many footsteps came from behind. I
turned quickly, but the passage was too dark. I could see nothing.
The sound came closer and closer; there seemed to be many of them,
advancing swiftly. I straightened and raised my spear.

Harry grasped my arm.

"Not yet!" he cried. "One more try; we can make it."

He thrust his spear into my hand, and in another instant had
thrown Desiree's unconscious body over his shoulder and was
staggering forward toward the cavern. I followed, while the sound
of the footsteps behind grew louder and louder.

We neared the end of the passage; we reached it; we were on
the ledge. Even with Desiree for a burden, Harry moved so swiftly
that I found it difficult to keep up with him. The strength of a
god was in him, which was but just, since he had his goddess in his

On the ledge, near the edge of the water, stood two Incas.
They turned at our approach and rushed at us. Unlucky for them,
for Harry's example had fired my brain and put the strength of a
giant in me.

To this day I don't know what followed--whether I used my
spear or my fists or my head. I know only that I leaped at them in
irresistible fury and left them stretched on the ground before they
had reached Harry or halted him.

We crossed the ledge and made for the boulders to the left.
The crevice which led to our hiding-place was too narrow for Harry
and his burden. I sprang forward and grasped Desiree's shoulders;
he held her ankles, and we got her through to the ledge beyond.

Then I leaped back through the crevice, and barely in time.
As I looked out a black, rushing horde emerged from the passage and
dashed across the ledge toward us. I stood at the entrance to the
narrow crevice, spear in hand.

They appeared to have no sense of the fact that my position
was impregnable, but dashed blindly at me. The crevice in which I
stood and which was the only way through to the ledge where Harry
had taken Desiree, was not more than two feet wide. With unarmed
savages for foes, one man could have held it against a million.

But they came and I met them. I stood within the crevice,
some three or four feet from its end, and when one appeared in the
opening I let him have the spear. Another rushed in and fell on
top of the first.

As I say, they appeared to be deprived of the power to reason.
In five minutes the mouth of the crevice was completely choked with
bodies, some, who were merely wounded, struggling and squirming to
extricate themselves from the bloody tangle.

I heard Harry's voice at my back:

"How about it? Want some help?"

"Not unless they find some gunpowder," I answered. "The
idiots eat death as though it were candy. We're safe; they can
never break through here."

"Are they still coming?"

"They can't; they've blocked the way with their smelly black
carcasses. How is Desiree?"

"Better; she's awake. I've been bathing her ankle with cold
water. She has a bad sprain; how the deuce she ever managed to
hobble on it even two steps is beyond me."

"A sprain? Are you sure?"

"I think so; it's badly swollen. Maybe only a twist; a few
hours will tell."

I heard him return to the ledge back of me; I dared not turn
my head.

Thinking I heard a sound above, I looked up; but there was
nothing to fear in that direction. The boulders which formed the
sides of the crevice extended straight up to the roof of the
cavern. We appeared, in fact, to be fortified against any attack.

With one exception--hunger. But there would be plenty of time
to think of that; for the present we had our fish, which was
sufficient for the three of us for a month, if we could keep it
fresh that long. And the water was at our very feet.

The bodies wedged in the mouth of the crevice began to
disappear, allowing the light from the urns to filter through; they
were removing their dead. I could see the black forms swaying and
pulling not five feet away. But I stood motionless, saving my
spear and my strength for any who might try to force an entrance.

Soon the crevice was clear, and from where I stood I commanded
a view of something like three-quarters of the ledge. It was one
mass of black forms, packed tightly together, gazing at our

They looked particularly silly and helpless to me then,
rendered powerless as they were by a little bit of rock. Brute
force was all they had; and nature, being the biggest brute of all,
laughed at them.

But I soon found that they were not devoid of resource. For
perhaps fifteen minutes the scene remained unchanged; not one
ventured to approach the crevice. Then there was a sudden movement
and shifting in the mass; it split suddenly in the middle; they
pressed off to either side, leaving an open lane between them
leading directly toward me.

Down this lane suddenly dashed a dozen or more of the savages,
with spears aloft in their brawny arms. I was taken by surprise
and barely had time to cut and run for the ledge within.

As it was I did not entirely escape; the spears came whistling
through the crevice, and one of them lodged in my leg just below
the thigh.

I jerked it out with an oath and turned to meet the attack.
I was now clear of the crevice, standing on the ledge inside, near
Harry and Desiree. I called to them to go to one side, out of the
range of the spears that might come through. Harry took Desiree in
his arms and carried her to safety.

As I expected, the Incas came rushing through the crevice--
that narrow lane where a man could barely push through without
squeezing. The first got my spear full in the face--a blow rather
than a thrust, for I had once or twice had difficulty in retrieving
it when I had buried it deep.

As he fell I struck at the one behind. He grasped the spear
with his hand, but I jerked it free and brought it down on his
head, crushing him to the ground. It was mere butchery; they
hadn't a chance in the world to get at me. Another fell, and the
rest retreated. The crevice was again clear, save for the bodies
of the three who had fallen.

I turned to where Harry and Desiree were seated on the further
edge of the ledge. Her body rested against his; her head lay on
his shoulder.

As I looked at them, smiling, her eyes suddenly opened wide
and she sprang to her feet and started toward me.

"Paul! You are hurt! Harry, a bandage--quick; your shirt--

I looked down at the gash on my leg, which was bleeding
somewhat freely.

"It's nothing," I declared; "a mere tear in the skin. But
your ankle! I thought it was sprained?"

She had reached my side and bent over to examine my wound; but
I raised her in my arms and held her before me.

"That," I said, "is nothing. Believe me, it isn't even
painful. I shall bandage it myself; Harry will take my place here.
But your foot?"

"That, too, is nothing," she answered with a half-smile. "I
merely twisted it; it is nearly well already. See!"

She placed her weight on the injured foot, but could not
suppress a faint grimace of pain.

Calling to Harry to watch the crevice, I took Desiree in my
arms and carried her back to her seat.

"Now sit still," I commanded. "Soon we'll have dinner; in the
mean time allow me to say that you are the bravest woman in the
world, and the best sport. And some day we'll drink to that--from
a bottle."

But facts have no respect for sentiment and fine speeches.
The last words were taken from my very mouth by a ringing cry from

"Paul! By gad, they're coming at us from the water!"

Chapter XVI.


The ledge on which we rested was about forty feet square.
Back of us was a confused mass of boulders and chasms, across which
I had come when I first encircled the cavern and found Harry.

In front was the crevice, guarded by the two massive boulders.
On the right the ledge met the solid wall of the cavern, and on the
left was the lake itself, whose waters rippled gently at our very

At sound of Harry's warning cry I ran to the water's edge and
peered round the side of the boulder. He was right; but what I saw
was not very alarming.

Two rafts had been launched from the enemy's camp. Each raft
held three Incas--more would have sunk them. Two were paddling,
while the third balanced himself in the center, brandishing a spear

Turning to Desiree, I called to her to move behind a
projecting bit of rock. Then, leaving Harry to guard the crevice
in case of a double attack, I took three of our four spears--one of
which had made the wound in my leg--and stood at the water's edge
awaiting the approach of the rafts.

They came slowly, and their appearance was certainly anything
but terrifying.

"Not much of a navy," I called to Harry; and he answered, with
a laugh: "Lucky for us! Look at our coast defense!"

One of the rafts was considerably ahead of the other, and in
another minute it had approached within fifty feet of the ledge.
The Inca in the center stood with legs spread apart and his spear
poised above his head; I made no movement, thinking that on such
precarious footing he would have difficulty to hurl the thing at
all. Wherein I underrated his skill, and it nearly cost me dear.

Suddenly, with hardly a movement of his body, his arm snapped
forward. I ducked to one side instinctively and heard the spear
whistle past my ear with the speed of a bullet, so close that the
butt of the shaft struck the side of my head a glancing blow and
toppled me over.

I sprang quickly to my feet, and barely in time, for I saw the
Inca stoop over, pick up another spear from the raft, and draw it
back above his head. At the same moment the second raft drew up
alongside, and as I fell to the ground flat on my face I heard the
two spears whistle shrewdly over me.

At that game they were my masters; it would have been folly to
have tried conclusions with them with their own weapons. As the
spears clattered on the ground thirty feet away I sprang to my feet
and ran to the farther side of the ledge, where I had before
noticed some loose stones in a corner.

With two or three of these in my hands I ran back to the
water's edge, meeting two more of the spears that came twisting at
me through the air, one of which tore the skin from my left

A quick glance at the crevice as I passed showed me Harry
fighting at its entrance; they were at us there, too. I heard
Desiree shout something at me, but didn't catch the words.

My first stone found its goal. The two rafts, side by side
not forty feet away, were a fair mark. The stone was nearly the
size of a man's head and very heavy; I had all I could do to get
the distance.

It struck the raft on the right fairly; the thing turned
turtle in a flash, precipitating its occupants onto the other raft.
The added weight carried that, too, under the surface, and the six
Incas were floundering about in the water.

I expected to see them turn and swim for the landing opposite;
but, instead, they headed directly toward me!

The light from the urns was but faint, and it was not easy to
distinguish their black heads against the black water; still, I
could see their approach. Two of them held spears in their hands;
I saw the copper heads flash on high.

I stood at the edge of the lake, wondering at their folly as
I waited; they were now scarcely ten feet away. Another few
strokes and the foremost stretched out his hand to grasp the
slippery ledge; my spear came down crushingly on his head and he
fell back into the water.

By that time another had crawled half onto the ledge, and
another; a blow and a quick thrust, and they, too, slipped back
beneath the surface, pawing in agony, not to rise again.

Just in time I saw that one of the remaining three had lifted
himself in the water not five feet away, with his spear aimed at my
breast. But the poor devil had no purchase for his feet and the
thing went wide.

The next instant he had received a ten-pound stone full in the
face and went down with a gurgle. At that the remaining two,
seeming to acquire a glimmering of intelligence, turned and swam
hastily away. I let them go.

Turning to Harry, I saw that the crevice also was clear. He
had left his post and started toward me, but I waved him back.

"All right here, Hal: have they given it up?"

There was an expression of the most profound disgust on his

"Paul, it's rank butchery. I'm wading in blood. Will this
thing never stop?"

I looked at him and said merely: "Yes."

No need to ask when; he understood me; he sent me the glance
of a man who has become too familiar with death to fear it, and

"Another hour of this, and--I'm ready."

I told him to keep an eye on both points of attack and went
across to where Desiree sat crouched on the ground. I hadn't many

"How is your foot?"

"Oh, it is better; well. But your leg--"

"Never mind that. Could you sleep?"

"Bon Dieu--no!"

"We have only raw fish. Can you eat?"

"I'll try," she answered, with a grimace.

I went to the edge of the ledge where we had the fish stowed
away near the water and took some of it both to her and Harry. We
ate, but with little relish. The stuff did not seem very fresh.

I remained on guard at the mouth of the crevice while Harry
went to the lake for a drink, having first helped Desiree to the
water and back to her seat. Her foot gave her a great deal of
pain, but instead of a sprain it appeared that there had been
merely a straining of the ligaments. After bathing it in the cold
water she was considerably relieved.

I remained on watch at the mouth of the crevice, from where I
could also obtain a pretty fair view of the lake, and commanded
Harry to rest. He demurred, but I insisted. Within two minutes he
was sleeping like a log, completely exhausted.

Several hundred of the Incas remained huddled together on the
ledge without, but they made no effort to attack us. I had been
watching perhaps three hours when they began to melt away into the
passage. Soon but a scant dozen or so remained. These squatted
along the wall just under the lighted urns, evidently in the
capacity of sentinels.

Soon I became drowsy--intolerably so; I was scarcely able to
stand. I dozed off once or twice on my feet; and, realizing the
danger, I called Harry to take my place.

Desiree also had been asleep, lying on the raft which Harry
and I had concealed along with our fish. At sound of my voice she
awoke and sat up, rubbing her eyes; then, as I assured her that all
was quiet, she fell back again on her rude bed.

I have never understood the delay of the Incas at this
juncture; possibly they took time to consult the great Pachacamac
and found his advice difficult to understand. At the time I
thought they had given up the attack and intended to starve us out,
but they were incapable of a decision so sensible.

Many hours had passed, and we had alternated on four watches.
We had plenty of rest and were really quite fit. The gash on my
leg had proven a mere trifle; I was a little stiff, but there was
no pain.

Desiree's foot was almost entirely well; she was able to walk
with ease, and had insisted on taking a turn at watch, making such
a point of it that we had humored her.

Something had to happen, and I suppose it was as well that the
Incas should start it. For we had met with a misfortune that made
us see the beginning of the end. Our fish was no longer fit to
eat, and we had been forced to throw the remainder of it in the

Then we held a council of war. The words we uttered, standing
together at the mouth of the crevice, come to me now as in a dream;
if my memory of them were not so vivid I should doubt their
reality. We discussed death with a calmness that spoke eloquently
of our experience.

Desiree's position may be given in a word--she was ready for
the end, and invited it.

I was but little behind her, but advised waiting for one more
watch--a sop to Harry. And there was one other circumstance that
moved me to delay--the hope for a sight of the Inca king and a
chance at him.

Desiree had refused to tell us her experiences between the
time of our dive from the column and our rescue of her; but she had
said enough to cause me to guess at its nature. There was a
suppressed but ever present horror in her eyes that made me long to
stand once more before the Child of the Sun; then to go, but not

Harry advised retreat. I have mentioned that when he and I
had started on our search for Desiree we had found two exits from
the cavern--the one which we had taken and another which led
through the maze of boulders and chasms back of us to a passage
full of twists and turns and choked with massive rocks, almost

Through this he advised making our way to whatever might await
us beyond.

The question was still undecided when our argument was brought
to a halt and the decision was taken away from us. Through the
crevice I saw a band of Incas emerge from the passage opposite and
advance to the water's edge. At their head was the Inca king.

Soon the landing was completely covered with them--probably
three hundred or more--and others could be seen in the mouth of the
passage. Each one carried a spear; their heads of copper, upraised
in a veritable forest, shone dully in the light of the urns on the
wall above.

Harry and Desiree stood close behind me, looking through at
the fantastic sight. I turned to him:

"This time they mean business."

He nodded.

"But what can they do? Except get knocked on the head, and
I'm sick of it. If we had only left an hour ago!"

"For my part," I retorted, "I'm glad we didn't. Desiree, I'm
going to put you in my debt, if fortune will only show me one last
kindness and let me get within reach of him."

I pointed to where the Inca king stood in the forefront, at
the very edge of the lake.

She shuddered and grew pale.

"He is a monster," she said in a voice so low that I scarcely
heard, "and--I thank you, Paul."

Harry seemed not to have heard.

"But what can they do?" he repeated.

They did not leave us long in doubt. As he spoke there was a
sudden sharp movement in the ranks of the Incas. Those in front
leaped in the water, and others after them, until, almost before we
had time to realize their purpose, hundreds of the hairy brutes
were swimming with long, powerful strokes directly toward the ledge
on which we stood. Between his teeth each man carried his spear.

I left Harry to guard the crevice, and ran to repel the attack
at the water. Desiree stood just behind me. I called to her to go
back, but she did not move. I grasped her by the arm and led her
forcibly to a break in the rock at our rear, and pointed out a
narrow ascending lane in the direction of the other exit.

When I returned to the ledge of the water the foremost of the
Incas were but a few feet away. But I looked in vain for the one
face I wanted to see and could recognize; the king was not among
them. A hasty glance across the landing opposite discovered him
standing motionless with folded arms.

The entire surface of the lake before me was one mass of heads
and arms and spears as far as I could see. There were hundreds of
them. I saw at once that the thing was hopeless, but I grasped my
spear firmly and stood ready.

The first two or three reached the ledge. At the same instant
I heard Harry call:

"They're coming through, Paul! It's you alone!"

I did not turn my head, for I was busy. My spear was whirling
about my head like a circle of flame. Black, dusky forms swam to
the ledge and grasped its slippery surface, but they got no
farther. The shaft of the spear bent in my hand; I picked up
another, barely losing a second.

A wild and savage delight surged through me at the sight of
those struggling, writhing, slipping forms. I swung the spear in
vicious fury. Not one had found footing on the ledge.

Something suddenly struck me in the left arm and stuck there;
I shook it loose impatiently and it felt as though my arm went with

I did not care to glance up even for an instant; they were
pressing me closer and closer; but I knew that they had begun to
hurl their spears at me from the water, and that the game was up.
Another struck me on the leg; soon they were falling thick about

Calling to Harry to follow, I turned and ran for the opening
in the rock to which I had led Desiree. In an instant he had
joined me.

By that time scores of the Incas had scrambled out of the
water onto the ledge and started toward us, and as many more came
rushing through the crevice, finding their way no longer contested.

Harry carried three spears. I had four. We sprang up a lane
encircling the rock to the rear and at its top found Desiree.

A projecting bit of rock gave us some protection from the
spears that were being hurled at us from below, but they came
uncomfortably close, and black forms began to appear in the lane
through which we had come.

Harry shouted something which I didn't hear, and, taking
Desiree in his arms, sprang from the rock to another ledge some ten
feet below.

I followed. At the bottom he stumbled and fell, but I helped
him to his feet and then turned barely in time to beat back three
or four of the Incas who had tumbled down almost on our very heads.

Immediately in front of us was a chasm several feet across.
Harry cried to Desiree, "Can you make it?" and she shook her head,
pointing to her injured foot.

"To me!" I shouted desperately; they were coming down from
above despite my efforts to hold them back.

Then, in answer to a call from Harry, I turned and leaped
across the chasm, throwing the spears ahead of me. Harry took
Desiree in his arms and swung her far out; I braced myself for the
shock and caught her on my feet.

I set her down unhurt, and a minute later Harry had joined us
and we were scrambling up the face of a boulder nearly
perpendicular, while the spears fell thick around us.

Desiree lost her footing and fell against Harry, who rolled to
the bottom, pawing for a hold. I turned, but he shouted: "Go on;
I'll make it!" Soon he was again at my side, and in another minute
we had gained the top of the boulder, quite flat and some twenty
feet square. We commanded Desiree to lie flat on the ground to
avoid the spears from below, and paused for a breath and a survey
of the situation.

It can be described only with the word chaotic.

The light of the urns were now hidden from us, and we were in
comparative darkness, though we could see with a fair amount of
clearness. Nothing could be made of the mass of boulders, but we
knew that somewhere beyond them was the passage from the cavern
which we sought.

The Incas came leaping across the chasm to the foot of the
rock. Several of them scrambled up the steep surface, but with our
spears we pushed them back and they tumbled onto the heads of their
fellows below.

But we were too exposed for a stand there, and I shouted to
Harry to take Desiree down the other side of the rock while I
stayed behind to hold them off. He left me, and in a moment later
I heard his voice crying to me to follow. I did so, sliding down
the face of the rock feet first.

Then began a wild and desperate scramble for safety, with the
Incas ever at our heels. Without Desiree we would have made our
goal with little difficulty, but half of the time we had to carry

Several times Harry hurled her bodily across a chasm or a
crevice, while I received her on the other side.

Often I covered the retreat, holding the Incas at bay while
Harry assisted Desiree up the steep face of a boulder or across a
narrow ledge. There was less danger now from their spears,
protected as we were by the maze of rocks, but I was already
bleeding in a dozen places on my legs and arms and body, and Harry
was in no better case.

Suddenly I saw ahead of us an opening which I thought I
recognized. I pointed it out to Harry.

"The exit!" he cried out, and made for it with Desiree. But
they were brought to a halt by a cliff at their very feet, no less
than twenty feet high.

I started to join them, but hearing a clatter behind, turned
just in time to see a score of Incas rush at us from the left,
through a narrow lane that led to the edge of the cliff.

I sprang toward them, calling to Harry for assistance. He was
at my side in an instant, and together we held them back.

In five minutes the mouth of the lane was choked with their
bodies; some behind attempted to scramble over the pile to get at
us, but we made them sick of their job. I saw that Harry could
hold it alone then, and calling to him to stand firm till I called,
I ran to Desiree.

I let myself over the edge of the cliff and hung by my hands,
then dropped to the ground below. It was even further than I had
thought; my legs doubled up under me and I toppled over, half

I gritted my teeth and struggled to my feet, calling to
Desiree. She was already hanging to the edge of the cliff, many
feet above me. But there was nothing else for it, and I shouted:
"All right, come on!"

She came, and knocked me flat on my back. I had tried to
catch her, and did succeed in breaking her fall, at no little cost
to myself. I was one mass of bruises and wounds. But again I
struggled to my feet and shouted at the top of my voice:

"Harry! Come!"

He did not come alone. I suppose the instant he left the lane
unguarded the Incas poured in after him. They followed him over
the edge of the cliff, tumbling on top of each other in an
indistinguishable mass.

Some rose to their feet; their comrades, descending from
above, promptly knocked them flat on their backs.

Harry and Desiree and I were making for the exit, which was
not but a few feet away. As I have said, the thing was choked up
till it was almost impassable. We squeezed in between two rocks,
with Desiree between us. Harry was in front, and I brought up the

Once through that lane and we might hold our own.

"In Heaven's name, come on!" Harry shouted suddenly; for I had
turned and halted, gazing back at the Incas tumbling over the cliff
and rushing toward the mouth of the exit.

But I did not heed him, for, standing on the top of the cliff,
waving his arms wildly at those below, I had seen the form of the
Inca king. He was less than thirty feet away.

With cries from Harry and Desiree ringing in my ears, I braced
my feet as firmly as possible on the uneven rock and poised my
spear above my head. The Incas saw my purpose and stopped short.

The king must also have seen me, but he stood absolutely
motionless. I lunged forward; the spear left my hand and flew
straight for his breast.

But it failed to reach the mark. A shout of triumph was on my
lips, but was suddenly cut short when an Inca standing near the
king sprang forward and hurled himself in the path of the spear
just as its point was ready to take our revenge. The Inca fell to
the foot of the cliff with the spear buried deep in his side. The
king stood as he had before, without moving.

Then there was a wild rush into the mouth of the exit, and I
turned to follow Harry and Desiree. With extreme difficulty we
scrambled forward over the rocks and around them.

Desiree's breath was coming in painful gasps, and we had to
support her on either side. The Incas approached closer at our
rear; I felt one of them grasp me from behind, and in an excess of
fury I shook him off and dashed him backward against the rocks. We
were able to make little headway, or none; by taking to the exit we
appeared to have set our own death-trap.

Harry went on with Desiree, and I stayed behind in the attempt
to check the attack. They came at me from both sides. I was faint
and bleeding, and barely able to wield my spear--my last one. I
gave way by inches, retreating backward step by step, fighting with
the very end of my strength.

Suddenly Harry's voice came, shouting that they had reached
the end of the passage. I turned then and sprang desperately from
rock to rock after them, with the Incas crowding close after me.

I stumbled and nearly fell, but recovered my footing and
staggered on. And suddenly the mass of rocks ended abruptly, and
I fell forward onto flat, level ground by the side of Desiree and

"Your spear!" I gasped. "Quick--they are upon us!"

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