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Under the Andes by Rex Stout

Part 5 out of 7

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But they grasped my arms and dragged me away from the passage
to one side. I was half fainting from exhaustion and loss of
blood, and scarcely knew what they did. They laid me on the ground
and bent over me.

"The Incas!" I gasped.

"They are gone," Harry answered.

At that I struggled to rise and rested my body on my elbows,
gazing at the mouth of the passage. It was so; the Incas were not
to be seen! Not one had issued from the passage.

It was incomprehensible to us then; later we understood. And
we had not long to wait.

Harry and Desiree were bending over me, attempting to stop the
flow of blood from a cut on my shoulder.

"We must have water," said Desiree. Harry straightened up to
look about the cavern, which was so dark that we could barely see
one another's faces but a few feet away.

Suddenly an exclamation of wonder came from his lips.

Desiree and I followed the direction of his gaze, and saw the
huge, black, indistinct form of some animal suddenly detach itself
from the wall of the cavern and move slowly toward us through the

Chapter XVII.


The thing was at a considerable distance; we could barely see
that it was there and that it was moving. It was of an immense
size; so large that it appeared as though the very side of the
cavern itself had moved noiselessly from its bed in the mountain.

At the same moment I became aware of a penetrating,
disagreeable odor, nauseating and horrible. I had risen to my
knees and remained so, while Harry and Desiree stood on either side
of me.

The thing continued to move toward us, very slowly. There was
not a sound. The strength of the odor increased until it was
almost suffocating.

Still we did not move. I could not, and Harry and Desiree
seemed rooted to the spot with wonder. The thing came closer, and
we could see the outlines of its huge form looming up indistinctly
against the black background of the cavern.

I saw, or thought I saw, a grotesque and monstrous slimy head
stretched toward us from about the middle of its bulk.

That doubt became a certainty when suddenly, as though they
had been lit by a fire from within, two luminous, glowing spots
appeared about three feet apart. The creature's eyes--if eyes they
were--were turned full on us, growing more brilliant as the thing
came closer. It was now less than fifty feet away. The massive
form blocked our view of the entire cavern.

I pinched my nostrils to exclude the horrible odor which, like
the fumes of some deadly poison, choked and smothered me. It came
now in puffs, like a draft of a fetid wind, and I realized that it
was the creature's breath. I could feel it against my body, my
neck and face, and knew that if I breathed it full into my lungs I
should be overcome.

But still more terrifying were the eyes. There was something
compelling, supernaturally compelling, about their steadfast and
brilliant gaze. A mysterious power seemed to emanate from them; a
power that hypnotized the mind and deadened the senses. I closed
my eyes to avoid it, but was unable to keep them closed. They
opened despite my extreme effort, and again I met that gaze of

There was a movement at my side. I turned and saw that it
came from Desiree. Her hands were raised to her face; she was
holding them before her as though in a futile attempt to cover her

The thing came closer and closer; it was but a few feet away,
and still we did not move, as though rooted to the spot by some
power beyond our control.

Suddenly there came a cry from Desiree's lips--a scream of
terror and wild fear. Her entire form trembled violently.

She extended her arms toward the thing, now almost upon us,
and took a step forward. Her feet dragged unwilling along the
ground, as though she were being drawn forward by some irresistible

I tried to put out my hand to pull her back, but was
absolutely unable to move. Harry stood like a man of rock,

She took another step forward, with arms outstretched in front
of her. A low moan of terror and piteous appeal came from between
her slightly parted lips.

Suddenly the eyes disappeared. The huge form ceased to
advance and stood perfectly still. Then it began to recede, so
slowly that I was barely conscious of the movement.

I was gasping and choking for air; my chest seemed swelling
with the poisonous breath. Still slowly the thing receded into the
dimness of the cavern; the eyes were no longer to be seen--merely
the huge, formless bulk. Desiree had stopped short with one foot
advanced, as though hesitating and struggling with the desire to go

The thing now could barely be seen at a distance; it would
have been impossible if we had not known it was there. Finally it
disappeared, melting away into the semi-darkness; no slightest
movement was discernible. I breathed more freely and stepped

As I did so Desiree threw her hands gropingly above her head
and fell fainting to the ground.

Harry sprang forward in time to keep her head from striking on
the rock and knelt with his arms round her shoulders. We had
nothing, not even water, with which to revive her; he called her
name aloud appealingly. Soon her eyes opened; she raised her hand
and passed it across her brow wonderingly.

"God help me!" she murmured in a low voice, eloquent of
distress and pain.

Then she pushed Harry aside and rose slowly to her feet,
refusing his assistance.

"In the name of Heaven, what is it?" Harry demanded, turning
to me.

"We have found the devil at last," I answered, with an attempt
to laugh, which sounded hollow in my own ears.

Desiree could tell us nothing, except that she had felt
herself drawn forward by some strange power that had seemed to come
from the baneful, glittering eyes. She was bewildered and stunned
and unable to talk coherently. We assisted her to the wall, and
she sat there with her back propped against it, breathing heavily
from the exhaustion of terror.

"We must find water," I said, and Harry nodded, hesitating.

I understood him. Danger could not have stayed him nor fear,
but the horror of the thing which roamed about the cavern, dark as
darkness itself and possessed of some strange power that could not
be withstood, was enough to make him pause. For myself it was
impossible; I was barely able to stand. So Harry went off alone in
search of water and I stayed with Desiree.

It was perhaps half an hour before he returned, and we were
shaken with fear for him long before he appeared. When he did so
it was with a white face and trembling limbs, in spite of his
evident effort at steadiness.

"There is water over there," said he, pointing across the
cavern. "A stream runs across the corner and disappears beneath
the wall. There is nothing to carry it in. You must come with

"What has happened?" I asked, for even his voice was unsteady.

"I saw it," he replied simply, but expressing enough in those
three words to cause a shudder to run through me.

Then, speaking in a low tone that Desiree might not hear, he
told me that the thing had confronted him suddenly as he was
following the opposite wall, and that he, too, had been drawn
forward, as it were, by a spell impossible to shake off. He had
tried to cry aloud, but had been unable to utter a sound. And
suddenly, as before, the eyes had disappeared, leaving him barely
able to stand.

"No wonder the Incas wouldn't follow us in here," he finished.
"We must get out of this. I'm not a coward, but I wouldn't go
through that again for my life."

"You take Desiree," said I. "I want that water."

He led us around the wall several hundred feet. The ground
was level and clear of obstruction; but we went slowly, for I could
scarcely move. Harry kept his eyes strained intently on all sides;
his experience had left him more profoundly impressed even than he
had been willing to admit to me.

Soon we heard the low music of running water, and a minute
later we reached the stream Harry had found.

The fact that there was something to be done seemed to infuse
a new spirit into Desiree, and soon her deft fingers were bathing
my wounds and bandaging them as well as her poor material would

The cold water took the heat from my pumping veins and left me
almost comfortable. Harry had come off much easier than I, since
I had so often sent him ahead with Desiree, and myself brought up
the rear and withstood the brunt of the attack.

As Harry had said, the stream cut across a corner of the
cavern, disappearing beneath the opposite wall, forming a triangle
bound by two sides of the cavern and the stream itself. I saw
plainly that it would be impossible for me to move any distance for
at least a few days, and that triangle appeared to offer the safest
and most comfortable retreat.

I spoke to Harry, and he waded across the stream to try its
depth. From the other side he called that the water was at no
point more than waist-high, and Desiree and I started to cross; but
about the middle I felt the current about to sweep me off my feet.
Harry waded in and helped me ashore.

On that hard rock we lay for many weary hours. We had no
food; but for that I would soon have been myself again, for, though
my wounds were numerous, they were little more than scratches, with
the exception of the gash on my shoulder. Weakened as I was by
loss of blood, and lacking nourishment, I improved but slowly, and
only the cold water kept the fever from me.

Twice Harry went out in search of food and of an exit from the
cavern. The first time he was away for several hours, and returned
exhausted and empty-handed and without having found any exit other
than the one by which we had entered.

He had ventured through that far enough to see a group of
Incas on watch at the other end. They had seen him and sprung
after him, but he had returned without injury, and at the entrance
into the cavern where we lay they had halted abruptly.

The second time he was gone out more than half an hour, and
the instant I saw his face when he returned I knew what had

But I was not in the best of humor; his terror appeared to me
to be ridiculously childish, and I said so in no uncertain terms.

But he was too profoundly agitated to show any anger.

"You don't know, you don't know," was all he said in answer to
me; then he added; "I can't stand this any longer. I tell you
we've got to get out of here. You don't know how awful--"

"Yes," said Desiree, looking at me.

"But I can scarcely walk," I objected.

"True," said Harry. "I know. But we can help you. There
must be another exit, and we'll start now."

"Very well," I said quite calmly; and I picked up one of the
spears which we had carried with us, and, rising to my knees,
placed the butt of the shaft against the wall near which I lay.

But Harry saw my purpose, and was too quick for me. He sprang
across and snatched the spear from my hand and threw it on the
ground a dozen feet away.

"Are you crazy?" he shouted angrily.

"No," I answered; "but I am little better, and I doubt if I
shall be. Come--why not? I hinder you and become bored with

"You blame me," he said bitterly; "but I tell you you don't
know. Very well--we stay. You must give me your promise not to
act the fool."

"In any event, you must go soon," I answered, "or starve to
death. Perhaps in another twenty-four hours I shall be stronger.
Come, Desiree; will that satisfy you?"

She did not answer; her back was turned to us as she stood
gazing across the stream into the depths of the cavern. There was
a curious tenseness in her attitude that made me follow her gaze,
and what I saw left me with no wonder at it--a huge, black,
indistinct form that moved slowly toward us through the darkness.

Harry caught sight of it at the same moment as myself, and on
the instant he turned about, covering his face with his hands, and
called to Desiree and me to do likewise.

Desiree obeyed; I had risen to my knees and remained so,
gazing straight ahead, ready for a combat if it were not a physical
one. I will not say that a certain feeling of dread did not rise
in my heart, but I intended to show Desiree and Harry the
childishness of their terror.

Nothing could be seen but the uncertain outline of the immense
bulk; but the same penetrating, sickening odor that had before all
but suffocated me came faintly across the surface of the stream,
growing stronger with each second that passed. Suddenly the eyes
appeared--two glowing orbs of fire that caught my gaze and held it
as with a chain.

I did not attempt to avoid it, but returned the gaze with
another as steadfast. I was telling myself: "Let us see this trick
and play one stronger." My nerves centered throbbingly back of my
eyes, and I gave them the whole force of my will.

The thing came closer and the eyes seemed to burn into my very
brain. With a great effort I brought myself back to control,
dropping to my hands and knees and gripping the ground for

"This is nothing, this is nothing," I kept saying to myself
aloud--until I realized suddenly that my voice had risen almost to
a scream, and I locked my teeth tight on my lip.

I no longer returned the gaze from my own power; it held me of
itself. I felt my brain grow curiously numb and every muscle in my
body contracted with a pain almost unbearable. Still the thing
came closer and closer, and it seemed to me, half dazed as I was,
that it advanced much faster than before.

Then suddenly I felt a sensation of cold and moisture on my
arms and legs and a pressure against my body, and I realized, as in
a dream, that I had entered the stream of water!

I was crawling toward the thing on my hands and knees, without
having even been conscious that I had moved.

That brought despair and a last supreme struggle to resist
whatever mysterious power it was that dragged me forward.

Cold beads of sweat rolled from my forehead. Beneath the
surface of the water my hands gripped the rocks as in a vise. My
teeth had sunk deep into my lower lip and covered my chin with
blood, though I did not know that till afterward.

But I was pulled loose from my hold, and forward. I bent the
whole force of my will to the effort not to move, but my hand left
the rock and crept forward. I was fully conscious of what I was
doing. I knew that if I could once draw my eyes away from that
compelling gaze the spell would be broken, but the power to do so
was not in me.

The thing had halted on the farther bank of the stream. Still
I moved forward. The water now lapped against my chest; soon it
was about my shoulders.

I was fully conscious of the fact that in another ten feet the
surface would close over my head, and that I had not the strength
to swim or fight the current; but still I went forward. I tried to
cry out, but could force no sound through my lips.

Then suddenly the eyes began to disappear. But that at least
was comprehensible, for I could distinctly see the black and heavy
lids closing over them, like the curtain on a stage. They fell

The eyes became half moons, then narrowed to a thin slit. I
rose, panting like a man exhausted with extreme and prolonged
physical exertion.

The eyes were gone.

A mad impulse rushed into my brain to dash forward and touch
the monster, to see if that dim, black form were really a thing of
flesh and blood or some contrivance of the devil. I smile at that
phrase as I write it now in my study, but I did not smile then. I
was standing above my knees in the water, trembling from head to
foot, divided between the impulse to go forward and the inclination
to flee in terror.

I did neither; I stood still. I could see the thing with a
fair amount of distinctness and forced my brain to take the record
of my eyes. But I could make nothing of it.

I guessed at rather than saw a hideous head rolling from side
to side at the end of a long and sinuous neck, and writhing,
reptilian coils lashing the rock at the edge of the water, like the
tentacles of an octopus, only many times larger. The body itself
was larger than that of any animal I had ever seen, and blacker
even than the darkness.

Suddenly the huge mass began to move slowly backward. The
sharpness of the odor had ceased with the opening of the eyes,
which did not reappear. I could dimly see its huge legs slowly
rise and recede and again meet the ground. Soon the thing was
barely discernible.

I took a step forward as though to follow; but the strength of
the current warned me of the danger of proceeding farther, and,
besides, I feared every moment to see the lids again raised from
the terrible eyes. The thought attacked my brain with horror, and
I turned and fled in a sudden panic to the rear, calling to Harry
and Desiree.

They met me at the edge of the stream, and their eyes told me
that they read in my face what had happened, though they had seen

"You--you saw it--" Harry stammered.

I nodded, scarcely able to speak.

"Then--perhaps now--"

"Yes," I interposed. "Let's get out of here. It's horrible.
And yet how can we go? I can hardly stand."

But Harry was now the one who argued for delay, saying that
our retreat was the safest place we could find, and that we should
wait at least until I had had time to recover from the strain of
the last half-hour. Realizing that in my weakened condition I
would be a hindrance to them rather than a help, I consented.
Besides, if the thing reappeared I could avoid it as Harry and
Desiree had done.

"What is it?" Harry asked presently.

We were sitting side by side, well up against the wall. It
was an abrupt question, with no apparent pertinence, but I

"Heaven knows!" I answered shortly. I was none too pleased
with myself.

"But it must be something. Is it an animal?"

"Do you remember," I asked by way of answer, "a treatise of
Aristotle concerning which we had a discussion one day? Its
subject was the hypnotic power possessed by the eyes of certain
reptiles. I laughed the idea to scorn; you maintained that it was
possible. Well, I agree with you; and I'd like to have about a
dozen of our modern skeptical scientists in this cave with me for
about five minutes."

"But what is it? A reptile!" Harry exclaimed. "The thing is
as big as a house!"

"Well, and why not? I should guess that it is about thirty
feet in height and forty or fifty in length. There have been
species, now extinct, several times as large."

"Then you think it is just--just an animal?" put in Desiree.

"What did you think it was?" I nearly smiled. "An infernal

"I don't know. Only I have never before known what it was to

A discussion which led us nowhere, but at least gave us the
sound of one another's voices.

We passed many hours in that manner. Utterly blank and
wearisome, and all but hopeless. I have often wondered at the
strange tenacity with which we clung to life in conditions that
made of it a burden almost insupportable; and with what chance of

The instinct of self-preservation, it is called by the
learned, but it needs a stronger name. It is more than an
instinct. It is the very essence of life itself.

But soon we were impelled to action by something besides the
desire to escape from the cavern: the pangs of hunger. It had been
many hours since we had eaten; I think we had fasted not less than
three or four days.

Desiree began to complain of a dizziness in her temples, and
to weaken with every hour that passed. My own strength did not
increase, and I saw that it would not unless I could obtain
nourishment. Harry did not complain, but only because he would

"It is useless to wait longer," I declared finally. "I grow
weaker instead of stronger."

We had little enough with which to burden ourselves. There
were three spears, two of which Harry had brought, and myself the
other. Harry and I wore only our woolen undergarments, so ragged
and torn that they were but sorry covering.

Desiree's single garment, made from some soft hide, was held
about her waist by a girdle of the same material. The upper half
of her body was bare. Her hair hung in a tangled mass over her
shoulders and down her back. None of us had any covering for our

We crossed the stream, using the spears as staffs; but instead
of advancing across the middle of the cavern we turned to the left,
hugging the wall. Harry urged us on, saying that he had already
searched carefully for an exit on that side, but we went slowly,
feeling for a break in the wall. It was absolutely smooth, which
led me to believe that the cavern had at one time been filled with

We reached the farther wall and, turning to the right, were
about to follow it.

"This is senseless," said Harry impatiently. "I tell you I
have examined this side, too; every inch of it."

"And the one ahead of us, at right angles to this?" I asked.

"That too, " he answered.

"And the other--the one to the right of the stream?"

"No. I--I didn't go there."

"Why didn't you say so?" I demanded.

"Because I didn't want to," he returned sullenly. "You can go
there if you care to; I don't. It was from there that--it came."

I did not answer, but pushed forward, not, however, leaving
the wall. Perhaps it was cowardly; you are welcome to the word if
you care to use it. Myself, I know.

Another half-hour and we reached the end of the lane by which
we had first entered the cavern. We stood gazing at it with eyes
of desire, but we knew how little chance there was of the thing
being unguarded at the farther end. We knew then, of course, and
only too well, why the Incas had not followed us into the cavern.

"Perhaps they are gone," said Harry. "They can't stay there
forever. I'm going to find out."

He sprang on the edge of a boulder at the mouth of the passage
and disappeared on the other side. In fifteen minutes he returned,
and I saw by the expression on his face that there was no chance of
escape in that direction.

"They're at the other end," he said gloomily; "a dozen of 'em.
I looked from behind a rock; they didn't see me. But we could
never get through."

We turned then, and proceeded to the third wall and followed
it. But we really had no hope of finding an exit since Harry had
said that he had previously explored it. We were possessed, I
know, by the same thought: should we venture to follow the fourth
wall? Alone, none of us would have dared; but the presence of the
others lessened the fear of each.

Finally we reached it. The corner was a sharp right angle,
and there were rifts and crevices in the rock.

"This is limestone," I said, "and if we find an exit anywhere
it will be here."

I turned to the right and proceeded slowly along the wall,
feeling its surface with my hand.

We had advanced in this manner several hundred yards when
Desiree suddenly sprang forward to my side.

"See!" she cried, pointing ahead with her spear.

I followed the direction with my eye, and saw what appeared to
be a sharp break in the wall.

It was some fifty feet away. We reached it in another moment,
and I think none of us would have been able to express the
immeasurable relief we felt when we saw before us a broad and clear
passage leading directly away from the cavern. It was very dark,
but we entered it almost at a run.

I think we had not known the extent of our fear of that thing
in the cavern until we found the means of escape from it.

We had gone about a hundred feet when we came to a turn to the
left. Harry stumbled against the corner, and we halted for an
instant to wait for him.

Then we made the turn, side by side--and then we came to a
sudden and abrupt stop, and a simultaneous gasp of terror burst
from our lips.

Not three feet in front of us, blocking the passage
completely, stood the thing we thought we had escaped!

The terrible, fiery eyes rolled from side to side as they
stared straight into our own.

Chapter XVIII.


We stood for a long moment rooted to the spot, unable to move.
Then, calling to Harry and grasping Desiree by the arm, I started
to turn.

But too late. For Desiree, inspired by a boundless terror,
suddenly raised her spear high above her head and hurled it
straight at the glowing, flashing eyes.

The point struck squarely between then with such force that it
must have sunk clear to the shaft. The head of the monster rolled
for an instant from side to side, and then, before I was aware of
what had happened, so rapid was the movement, a long, snakelike
coil had reached out through the air and twisted itself about
Desiree's body.

As she felt the thing tighten about her waist and legs she
gave a scream of terror and twisted her face round toward me. The
next instant the snaky tentacle had dragged her along the ground
and lifted her to the head of the monster, where her white body
could be seen in sharp outline sprawling over its black form,
between the terrible eyes.

Harry and I sprang forward.

As we did so the eyes closed and the reptile began to move
backward with incredible swiftness, lashing about on the ground
before us with other tentacles similar to the one that had captured

I cried out to Harry to avoid them. He did not answer, but
rushed blindly forward.

Desiree's agonized shrieks rose to the pitch of madness.

The eyes were closed, leaving but a vague mark for our spears,
and besides, there was the danger of striking Desiree. We were
barely able to keep pace with the thing as it receded swiftly down
the broad passage. Desiree had twisted her body half round, and
her face was turned toward us, shadowy as a ghost. Then her head
fell forward and hung loosely and her lips were silent. She had

The thing moved swifter than ever; we were barely able to keep
up with it. Harry made a desperate leap forward.

I cried out a warning, but one of the writhing tentacles swept
against him and knocked him to the ground. He was up again on the
instant and came rushing up from behind.

Suddenly the passage broadened until the walls were no longer
visible; we had entered another cavern. I heard the sound of
running water somewhere ahead of us. The pace of the reptile had
not slackened for an instant.

Harry had again caught up with us, and as he ran at my side I
saw him raise his spear aloft; but I caught his arm and held it.

"Desiree!" I panted.

Her body covered the only part of the thing that presented a
fair mark. Harry swore, but his arm fell.

"To the side!" he gasped. "We can't get at it here!"

I saw his meaning and followed at his heels as he swerved
suddenly to the right and sprang forward in an attempt to get past
the reptile's head.

But in our eagerness we forgot caution and went too close. I
felt one of the snaky tentacles wrap itself round my legs and body,
and raised my voice in a warning to Harry, but too late. He, too,
was ensnared, and a moment later we had both been lifted bodily
from the ground and swung through the air to the side of Desiree.
She was still unconscious.

I writhed and twisted desperately, but that muscular coil held
me firmly as a band of steel, tight against the huge and hideous

Harry was on the other side of Desiree, not three feet from
me. I could see his muscles strain and pull in his violent efforts
to tear himself free. I had given it up.

But suddenly, quite near my shoulder, I saw the lid suddenly
begin to raise itself from one of the terrible eyes. I was almost
on top of the thing and a little above it. I turned my head aside
and called to Harry.

"The eye!" I gasped. "To your right! The spear! Are your
arms free?"

Then as I saw he understood, I turned a quarter of the way
round--as far as I could get--and raised my spear the full extent
of my arm, and brought it down with every ounce of my strength into
the very center of the glowing eye beneath me.

At the same moment I saw Harry's arm descend and the flash of
his spear. The point of my own had sunk until the copper head was
completely buried.

I grasped the shaft and pulled and twisted it about until it
finally was jerked forth. From the opening it had made there
issued a black stream.

Suddenly the body of the reptile quivered convulsively. The
head rolled from side to side. There was a quick tightening of the
tentacle round my body until my bones felt as though they were
being crushed into shapelessness; and as suddenly it loosened.

Other tentacles lashed and beat on the ground furiously. The
reptile's swift backward movement halted jerkily. I made a
desperate effort to tear myself free. The tentacle quivered and
throbbed violently, and suddenly flew apart like a released spring,
and I fell to the ground.

In an instant Harry was at my side, and we both leaped forward
with our spears, slashing at the tentacle which still held Desiree
in its grasp. Others writhed on the ground about our feet, but
feebly. There came a sudden cry from Harry, and his spear
clattered on the ground as he opened his arms to receive Desiree's
unconscious body, which came tumbling down with the severed coil
still wrapped about it.

But there was life in the reptile's immense body. It
staggered and swayed from side to side in drunken agony. Its
monstrous head rolled about, sweeping the air in a prodigious
circle. The poison of its breath came to us in great puffs. There
was something supremely horrible about the thing in its very
helplessness, and I was shuddering violently as I stooped to help
Harry lift Desiree from the ground and carry her away.

We did not go far, for we were barely able to carry her. We
laid her on the hard rock with her head in Harry's lap. Her body
was limp as a rag.

For many minutes we worked over her, rubbing her temples and
wrists, and pressing the nerve centers at the back of the neck, but
without effect.

"She is dead," said Harry with a curious calm.

I shook my head.

"She has a pulse--see! But we must find that water. I think
she isn't injured; it is her weakened condition from the lack of
food that keeps her so. Wait for me."

I started out across the cavern in the direction from which
the sound of the water appeared to come, bearing off to the right
from the huge, quivering form of the monster whose gigantic body
rose and fell on the ground with a force that seemed to shake the
very walls of the cavern.

I found the stream with little difficulty, not far away, and
returned to Harry. Together we carried Desiree to its edge. The
blood was stubborn, and for a long time refused to move, but the
cold water at length revived her; her eyes slowly opened, and she
raised her hand to her head with a faltering gesture.

But she was extremely weak, and we saw that the end was near
unless nourishment could be found for her.

I stayed by her side, with my arms round her shoulders, and
Harry set out with one of the spears. He bore off to the left,
toward the spot where the body of the immense reptile lay; I was
too far away to see it in the darkness.

"It isn't possible that the thing is fit to eat," I had
objected, and he had answered me with a look which I understood,
and was silenced.

Soon a sound as of a scuffle on the rocks came through the
darkness from the direction he had taken. I called out to ask if
he needed me, but there was no answer. Ten minutes longer I
waited, while the sound continued unabated. Once I heard the
clatter of his spear on the rock.

I was just rising to my feet to run to the scene when suddenly
he appeared in the semidarkness. He was coming slowly, and was
dragging along the ground what appeared to be the form of some
animal. Another minute and he stood at my side as I sat holding

"A peccary!" I cried, bending over the body of the four-footed
creature that lay at his feet. "How the deuce did it ever get down

"Peccary--my aunt!" observed Harry, bending down to look at
Desiree. "Do peccaries live in the water? Do they have snouts
like catfish? This animal is my own invention. There's about ten
million more of 'em over there making a gorgeous banquet off our
late lamented friend. And now, let's see."

He knelt down by the still warm body and with the point of his
spear ripped it open from neck to rump. Desiree stirred about in
my arms.

"Gad, that smells good!" cried Harry.

I shuddered.

He dragged the thing a few feet away, and I heard him slashing
away at it with his spear. A minute later he came running over to
us with his hands full of something.

That was not exactly a pretty meal. How Desiree, in her
frightfully weakened condition, ever managed to get the stuff down
and keep it there is beyond me. But she did, and I was not behind
her. And, after all, it was fresh. Harry said it was "sweet."
Well, perhaps it was.

We bathed Desiree's hands and face and gave her water to
drink, and soon after she passed into a seemingly healthy sleep.
There was about ten pounds of meat left. Harry washed it in the
stream and stowed it away on a rock beneath the surface of the
water. Then he announced his intention of going back for more.

"I'm going with you," I declared. "Here--help me fix

"Hardly," said Harry. "Didn't I say there are millions of
those things over there? Anyway, there are hundreds. If they
should happen to scatter in this direction and find her, she
wouldn't stand a chance. You take the other spear and stay here."

So I sat still, with Desiree's body in my arms, and waited
for him. My sensations were not unpleasant. I could actually feel
the blood quicken in my veins.

Civilization places the temple of life in the soul or the
heart, as she speaks through the mouth of the preacher or the poet;
but let civilization go for four or five days without anything to
eat and see what happens. The organ is vulgar, but its voice is
loud. I need not name it

In five minutes Harry returned, dragging two more of the
creatures at his heels. In half an hour there were a dozen of them
lying in a heap at the edge of the water.

"That's all," he announced, panting heavily from his
exertions. "The rest have taken to the woods, which, I imagine, is
quite a journey from here. You ought to see our friend--the one
who couldn't make his eyes behave. They've eaten him full of
holes. He's the most awful mess--sickening beast. He didn't have
a bone in him--all crumpled up like an accordion. Utterly

"And who, in the name of goodness, do you think is going to
eat all that?" I demanded, pointing to the heap of bodies.

Harry grinned.

"I don't know. I was so excited at the very idea of a square
meal that I didn't know when to stop. I'd give five fingers for a
fire and some salt. Just a nickel's worth of salt. Now, you lie
down and sleep while I cut these things up, and then I'll take a
turn at it myself?"

He brought me one of the hides for a pillow, and I lay back as
gently as possible that I might not awaken Desiree. Her head and
shoulders rested against my body as she lay peacefully sleeping.

I was awakened by Harry's hand tugging at my arm. Rising on
my elbows, I demanded to know how long I had slept.

"Six or seven hours," said Harry. "I waited as long as I
could. Keep a lookout."

Desiree stirred uneasily, but seemed to be still asleep. I
sat up, rubbing my eyes. The heap of bodies had disappeared; no
wonder Harry was tired! I reproached myself for having slept so

Harry had arranged himself a bed that was really comfortable
with the skins of his kill.

"That is great stuff," I heard him murmur wearily; then all
was still.

I sat motionless, stiff and numb, but afraid to move for fear
of disturbing Desiree.

Presently she stirred again, and, bending over her, I saw her
eyes slowly open. They met my own with a curious, steadfast
gaze--she was still half asleep.

"Is that you, Paul?" she murmured.


"I am glad. I seem to feel--what is it?"

"I don't know, Desiree. What do you mean?"

"Nothing--nothing. Oh. it feels so good--good--to have you
hold me like this."

"Yes?" I smiled.

"But, yes. Where is Harry?"

"Asleep. Are you hungry?"

"Yes--no. Not now. I don't know why. I want to talk. What
has happened?"

I told her of everything that had occurred since she had
swooned; she shuddered as memory returned, but forgot herself in my
attempt at a humorous description of Harry's valor as a hunter of

"You don't need to turn up your nose," I retorted to her
expressive grimace; "you ate some of the stuff yourself."

There was a silence; then suddenly Desiree's voice came:

"Paul--" She hesitated and stopped.


"What do you think of me?"

"Do you want a lengthy review?" I smiled.

What a woman she was! Under those circumstances, and amid
those surroundings, she was still Desiree Le Mire.

"Don't laugh at me," she said. "I want to know. I have never
spoken of what I did that time in the cavern--you know what I mean.
I am sorry now. I suppose you despise me."

"But you did nothing," I objected. "And you wouldn't. You
were merely amusing yourself."

She turned on me quickly with a flash of her old fire.

"Don't play with me!" she burst out. "My friend, you have
never yet given me a serious word."

"Nor any one else," I answered. "My dear Desiree, do you not
know that I am incapable of seriousness? Nothing in the world is
worth it."

"At least, you need not pretend," she retorted. "I meant once
for you to die. You know it. And since you pretend not to
understand me, I ask you--these are strange words from my lips--
will you forgive me?"

"There is nothing to forgive."

"My friend, you are becoming dull. An evasive answer should
always be a witty one. Must I ask you again?"

"That--depends," I answered, hardly knowing what to say.


"On whether or not you were serious, once upon a time, when
you made a--shall we call it a confession? If you were, I offended
you in my own conceit, but let us be frank. I thought you were
acting, and I played my role. I do not yet believe that you were;
I am not conceited enough to think it possible."

"I do not say," Desiree began; then she stopped and added
hastily: "But that is past. I shall not tell you that again.
Perhaps I forgot myself. Perhaps it was a pretty play. You have
not answered me."

I looked at her. Strange and terrible as her experiences and
sufferings had been, she had lost little of her beauty. Her face
was rendered only the more delicate by its pallor. Her white and
perfect body, only half seen in the half-darkness, conveyed a sense
of the purest beauty with no hint of immodesty.

But I was moved not by what I saw, but by what I knew. I had
admired her always as Le Mire; but her bravery, her hardihood, her
sympathy for others under circumstances when any other woman would
have been thinking only of herself--had these awakened in my breast
a feeling stronger than admiration?

I did not know. But my voice trembled a little as I said: "I
need not answer you, Desiree. I repeat that there is nothing to
forgive. You sought revenge, then sacrificed it; but still revenge
is yours."

She looked at me for a moment in silence, then said slowly: "I
do not understand you."

For reply I took her hand in my own from where it lay idly on
my knee, and, carrying it to my lips, pressed a long kiss on the
top of each of the slender white fingers. Then I held the hand
tight between both of mine as I asked simply, looking into her

"Do you understand me now?"

Another silence.

"My revenge," she breathed.

I nodded and again pressed her hand to my lips.

"Yes, Desiree. We are not children. I think we know what we
mean. But you have not told me. Did you mean what you said that
day on the mountain?"

"Ah, I thought that was a play!" she murmured.

"Tell me! Did you mean it?"

"I never confess the same sin twice, my friend."

"Desiree, did you mean it?"

Then suddenly, with the rapidity of lightning, her manner
changed. She bent toward me with parted lips and looked straight
into my eyes. There was passion in the gaze; but when she spoke
her voice was quite even and so low I scarcely heard.

"Paul," she said, "I shall not again say I love you. Such
words should not be wasted. Not now, perhaps; but that is because
we are where we are. And if we should return?

"You have said that nothing is worth a serious word to you;
and you are right. You are too cynical; things are bitter in your
mouth, and doubly so when they leave it. Just now you are amusing
yourself by pretending to care for me. Perhaps you do not know it,
but you are. Search your heart, my friend, and tell me--do you
want my love?"

Well, there was no need to search my heart, she had laid it
open. I hated myself then; and I turned away, unable to meet her
eyes, as I said:

"Bon Dieu!" she cried. "That is an ugly speech,
monsieur!" And she laughed aloud.

"But we must not awaken Harry," she continued with sudden
softness. "What a boy he is--and what a man! Ah, he knows what it
is to love!"

That topic suited me little better, but I followed her. We
talked of Harry, Le Mire with an amount of enthusiasm that
surprised me. Suddenly she stopped abruptly and announced that she
was hungry.

I found Harry's pantry after a few minutes' search and took
some of its contents to Desiree. Then I returned to the edge of
the water and ate my portion alone. That meal was one scarcely
calculated for the pleasures of companionship or conviviality.

It was several hours after that before Harry awoke, the
greater part of which Desiree and I were silent.

I would have given something to have known her thoughts; my
own were not very pleasant. It is always a disagreeable thing to
discover that some one else knows you better than you know
yourself. And Desiree had cut deep. At the time I thought her
unjust; time alone could have told which of us was right. If she
were here with me now--but she is not.

Finally Harry awoke. He was delighted to find Desiree awake
and comparatively well, and demonstrated the fact with a degree of
effusion that prompted me to leave them alone together. But I did
not go far; a hundred paces made me sit down to rest before
returning, so weak was I from wounds and fasting.

Harry's spirits were high, for no apparent reason other than
that we were still alive, for that was the best that could be said
for us. So I told him; he retorted with a hearty clap on the back
that sent me sprawling to the ground.

"What the deuce!" he exclaimed, stooping to help me up. "Are
you as weak as that? Gad, I'm sorry!"

"That is the second fall he has had," said Desiree, with a
meaning smile.

Indeed, she was having her revenge!

But my strength was not long in returning. Over a long
stretch our diet would hardly have been conducive to health, but it
was exactly what I needed to put blood and strength in me. And
Harry and Desiree, too, for that matter.

Again I had to withstand Harry's eager demands for action. He
began within two hours to insist on exploring the cave, and would
hardly take a refusal.

"I won't stir a foot until I am able to knock you down," I
declared finally and flatly. "Never again will I attempt to
perform the feats of a Hercules when I am fit only for an invalid's
chair." And he was forced to wait.

As I say, however, my strength was not long in returning, and
when it started it came with a rush. My wounds were healing
perfectly; only one remained open. Harry, with his usual
phenomenal luck, had got nothing but the merest scratches.

Desiree improved very slowly. The strain of those four days
in the cavern had been severe, and her nerves required more
pleasant surroundings than a dark and damp cavern and more
agreeable diet than raw meat, to adjust themselves.

Thus it was that when Harry and I found ourselves ready to
start out to explore the cavern and, if possible, find an exit on
the opposite side from the one where we had entered, we left
Desiree behind, seated on a pile of skins, with a spear on the
ground at her side.

"We'll be back in an hour," said Harry, stooping to kiss her;
and the phrase, which might have come from the lips of a worthy
Harlem husband leaving for a little sojourn with friends on the
corner, brought a smile to my face.

We went first toward the spot where lay the remains of "our
friend with the eyes," as Harry called him, and we were guided
straight by our noses, for the odor of the thing was beginning to
be--to use another phrase of Harry's--most awful vile."

There was little to see except a massive pile of crumpled hide
and sinking flesh. As we approached, several hundred of the
animals with which Harry had filled our larder scampered away
toward the water.

"They're not fighters," I observed, turning to watch them
disappear in the darkness.

"No," Harry agreed. "See here," he added suddenly, holding up
a piece of the hide of the reptile; "this stuff is an inch thick
and tough as rats. It ought to be good for something."

But by that time I was pinching my nostrils with my fingers,
and I pulled him away.

Several hundred yards farther on we came to the wall of the
cavern. We followed it, turning to the right; but though it was
uneven and marked by projecting boulders and deep crevices, we
found no exit. We had gone at least half a mile, I think, when we
came to the end. There it turned in a wide circle to the right,
and we took the new direction, which was toward the spot where we
had left Desiree, only considerably to the left.

Another five minutes found us at the edge of the stream, which
at that point was much swifter than it was farther up. We waded in
and discovered that the cause was its extreme narrowness.

"But where does the thing go to?" asked Harry, taking the
words from my mouth.

We soon found out. Proceeding along the bank to the left,
within fifty feet we came to the wall. There the stream entered
and disappeared. But, unlike the others we had seen, above this
there was a wide and high arch, which made it appear as though the
stream were passing under a massive bridge. The current was swift
but not turbulent, and there was something about the surface of
that stream flowing straight through the mountain ahead of us--

Harry and I glanced at each other quickly, moved by the same
thought. There was an electric thrill in that glance.

But we did not speak--then.

For suddenly, startlingly, a voice sounded throughout the
cavern--Desiree's voice, raised in a shrill cry of terror.

It was repeated twice before our startled senses found
themselves; then we turned with one impulse and raced into the
darkness toward her.

Chapter XIX.


As we ran swiftly, following the edge of the stream, the cries
continued, filling the cavern with racing echoes. They could not
quicken our step; we were already straining every muscle as we
bounded over the rock. Luckily, the way was clear, for in the
darkness we could see but a few feet ahead. Desiree's voice was
sufficient guide for us.

Finally we reached her. I don't know what I expected to see,
but certainly not that which met our eyes.

"Your spear!" cried Harry, dashing off to the right, away from
the stream.

My spear was ready. I followed.

Desiree was standing exactly in the spot where we had left
her, screaming at the top of her voice.

Around her, on every side, was a struggling, pushing mass of
the animals we had frightened away from the carcass of the reptile.
There were hundreds of them packed tightly together, crowding
toward her, some leaping on the backs of others, some trampled to
the ground beneath the feet of their fellows. They did not appear
to be actually attacking her, but we could not see distinctly.

This we saw in a flash and an instant later had dashed forward
into the mass with whirling spears. It was a farce, rather than a

We brought our spears down on the swarm of heads and backs
without even troubling to take aim. They pressed against our legs;
we waded through as though it were a current of water. Those we
hit either fell or ran; they waited for no second blow.

Desiree had ceased her cries.

"They won't hurt you!" Harry had shouted. "Where's your

"Gone. They came on me before I had time to get it."

"Then kick 'em, push 'em--anything. They're nothing but

They had the senseless stubbornness of pigs, at least. They
seemed absolutely unable to realize that their presence was not
desired till they actually felt the spear--utterly devoid even of

"So this is what you captured for us at the risk of your
life!" I shouted to Harry in disgust. "They haven't even sense
enough to squeal."

We finally reached Desiree's side and cleared a space round
her. But it took us another fifteen minutes of pushing and
thrusting and indiscriminate massacre before we routed the brutes.
When they did decide to go they lost no time, but scampered away
toward the water with a sliding, tumbling rush.

"Gad!" exclaimed Harry, resting on his spear. "And here's a
pretty job. Look at that! I wish they'd carry off the dead ones."

"Ugh! The nasty brutes! I was never so frightened in my
life," said Desiree.

"You frightened us, all right," Harry retorted. "Utterly
fungoed. I never ran so fast in my life. And all you had to do
was shake your spear at 'em and say boo! I thought it was the
roommate of our friend with the eyes."

"Have I been eating those things?" Desiree demanded.

Harry grinned.

"Yes, and that isn't all. You'll continue to eat 'em as long
as I'm the cook. Come on, Paul; it's a day's work."

We dragged the bodies down to the edge of the stream and
tossed them into the current, saving three or four for the
replenishment of the larder.

I then first tried my hand at the task of skinning and
cleaning them, and by the time I had finished was thoroughly
disgusted with it and myself. Harry had become hardened to it; he
whistled over the job as though he had been born in a butcher's

"I'd rather go hungry," I declared, washing my hands and arms
in the cool water.

"Oh, sure," said Harry; "my efforts are never appreciated.
I've fed you up till you've finally graduated from the skeleton
class, and you immediately begin to criticize the table. I know
now what it means to run a boarding-house. Why don't you change
your hotel?"

By the time we had finished we were pretty well tired out, but
Harry wouldn't hear of rest. I was eager myself for another look
at the exit of that stream. So, again taking up our spears, we set
out across the cavern, this time with Desiree between us. She
swallowed Harry's ridicule of her fear and refused to stay behind.

Again we stood at the point where the stream left the cavern
through the broad arch of a tunnel.

"There's a chance there," said Harry, turning to me. "It
looks good."

"Yes, if we had a boat," I agreed. "But that's a ten-mile
current, and probably deep."

I waded out some twenty feet and was nearly swept beneath the
surface as the water circled about my shoulders.

"We couldn't follow that on our feet," I declared, returning
to the shore. "But it does look promising. At ten miles an hour
we'd reach the western slope in four hours. Four hours to
sunshine--but it might as well be four hundred. It's impossible."

We turned then and retraced our steps to our camp, if I may
give it so dignified a title. I hated to give up the idea of
following the bed of the stream, for it was certain that somewhere
it found the surface of the earth, and I revolved in my brain every
conceivable means to do so. The same thought was in Harry's mind,
for he turned to me suddenly:

"If we only had something for stringers, I could make a raft
that would carry us to the Pacific and across it. The hide of that
thing over yonder would be just the stuff, and we could get a piece
as big as we wanted."

I shook my head.

"I thought of that. But we have absolutely nothing to hold
it. There wasn't a bone in his body; you know that."

But the idea was peculiarly tempting, and we spent an hour
discussing it. Desiree was asleep on her pile of skins. We sat
side by side on the ground some distance away, talking in low

Suddenly there was a loud splash in the stream, which was
quite close to us.

"By gad!" exclaimed Harry, springing to his feet. "Did you
hear that? It sounded like--remember the fish we pulled in from
the Inca's raft?"

"Which has nothing to do with this," I answered. "It's
nothing but the water-pigs. I've heard 'em a thousand times in the
last few days. And the Lord knows we have enough of them."

But Harry protested that the splash was much too loud to have
been caused by any water-pig and waded into the stream to
investigate. I rose to my feet and followed him leisurely, for no
reason in particular, but was suddenly startled by an excited cry
from his lips:

"Paul--the spear! Quick! It's a whale!"

I ran as swiftly as I could to the shore and returned with our
spears, but when I reached Harry he greeted me with an oath of
disappointment and the information that the "whale" had
disappeared. He was greatly excited.

"I tell you he was twenty feet long! A big black devil, with
a head like a cow."

"You're sure it wasn't like a pig?" I asked skeptically.

Harry looked at me.

"I have drunk nothing but water for a month," he said dryly.
"It was a fish, and some fish."

"Well, there's probably more like him," I observed. "But they
can wait. Come on and get some sleep, and then--we'll see."

Some hours afterward, having filled ourselves with sleep and
food (I had decided, after mature deliberation, not to change my
hotel), we started out, armed with our spears. Desiree accompanied
us. Harry told her bluntly that she would be in the way, but she
refused to stay behind.

We turned upstream, thinking our chances better in that
direction than toward the swifter current, and were surprised to
find that the cavern was much larger than any we had before seen.
In something over a mile we had not yet reached the farther wall,
for we walked at a brisk pace for a quarter of an hour or more.

At this point the stream was considerably wider than it was
below, and there was very little current. Desiree stood on the
bank while Harry and I waded out above our waists.

There was a long and weary wait before anything occurred. The
water was cold, and my limbs became stiff and numb; I called to
Harry that it was useless to wait longer, and was turning toward
the shore when there was a sudden commotion in the water not far
from where he stood.

I turned and saw Harry plunge forward with his spear.

"I've got him!" he yelled. "Come on!"

I went. But I soon saw that Harry didn't have him. He had
Harry. They were all of ten yards away from me, and by the time I
reached the spot there was nothing to be seen but flying water
thrashed into foam and fury.

I caught a glimpse of Harry being jerked through the air; he
was holding on for dear life with both hands to the shaft of his
spear. The water was over my head there; I was swimming with all
the strength I had.

"I've got him--through the belly," Harry gasped as I fought my
way through the spray to his side. "His head! Find his head!"

I finally succeeded in getting my hand on Harry's spear-shaft
near where it entered the body of the fish; but the next instant it
was jerked from me, dragging me beneath the surface. I came up
puffing and made another try, but missed it by several feet.

Harry kept shouting: "His head! Get him in the head!"

For that I was saving my spear. But I could make nothing of
either head or tail as the immense fish leaped furiously about in
the water, first this way, then that.

Once he came down exactly on top of me and carried me far
under; I felt his slippery, smooth body glide over me, and the tail
struck me a heavy blow in the face as it passed. Blinded and half
choked, I fought my way back to the surface and saw that they had
got fifty feet away.

I swam to them, breathing hard and nearly exhausted. The
water foamed less furiously about them now. As I came near the
fish leaped half out of the water and came down flat on his side;
I saw his ugly black head pointed directly toward me.

"He's about gone!" Harry gasped.

He was still clinging to the spear.

I set myself firmly against the water and waited. Soon it
parted violently not ten feet in front of me, and again the head
appeared; he was coming straight for me. I could see the dull
beady eyes on either side, and I let him have the spear right
between them.

There was little force to the blow, but the fish himself
furnished that; he was coming like lightning. I hurled my body
aside with a great effort and felt him sweep past me.

I turned to swim after them and heard Harry's great shout:
"You got him!"

By the time I reached him the fish had turned over on his back
and was floating on the surface, motionless.

We had still to get him ashore, and, exhausted as we were, it
was no easy task. But there was very little current, and after
half an hour of pulling and shoving we got him into shallow water,
where we could find the bottom with our feet. Then it was easier.
Desiree waded out to us and lent a hand, and in another ten minutes
we had him high and dry on the rock.

He was even larger than I had thought. No wonder Harry had
called him--or one like him--a whale. It was all of fifteen feet
from his snout to the tip of his tail. The skin was dead black on
top and mottled irregularly on the belly.

As we sat sharpening the points of our spears on the rock,
preparatory to skinning him, Desiree stood regarding the fish with
unqualified approval. She turned to us:

"Well, I'd rather eat that than those other nasty things."

"Oh, that isn't what we want him for," said Harry, rubbing his
finger against the edge of his spear-point. "He's probably not fit
to eat."

"Then why all this trouble?" asked Desiree.

"Dear lady, we expect to ride him home," said Harry, rising to
his feet.

Then he explained our purpose, and you may believe that
Desiree was the most excited of the lot as we ripped down the body
of the fish from tail to snout and began to peel off the tough

"If you succeed you may choose the new hangings for my
boudoir," she said, with an attempt at lightness not altogether

"As for me," I declared, "I shall eat fish every day of my
life out of pure gratitude."

"You'll do it out of pure necessity," Harry put in, "if you
don't get busy."

It took us three hours of whacking and slashing and tearing to
pull the fish to pieces, but we worked with a purpose and a will.
When we had finished, this is what we had to show: A long strip of
bone, four inches thick and twelve feet long, and tough as hickory,
from either side of which the smaller bones projected at right
angles. They were about an inch in thickness and two inches apart.
The lower end of the backbone, near the tail, we had broken off.

We examined it and lifted it and bent it half double.

"Absolutely perfect!" Harry cried in jubilation. "Three more
like this and we'll sail down the coast to Callao."

"If we can get 'em," I observed. "But two would do. We could
make it a triangle."

Harry looked at me.

"Paul, you're an absolute genius. But would it be big enough
to hold us?"

We discussed that question on our way back to camp, whither we
carried the backbone of our fish, together with some of the meat.
Then, after a hearty meal, we slept. After seven hours of the
hardest kind of work we were ready for it.

That was our program for the time that followed--time that
stretched into many weary hours, for, once started, we worked
feverishly, so impatient had we become by dint of that faint
glimmer of hope. We were going to try to build a raft, on which we
were going to try to embark on the stream, by which we were going
to try to find our way out of the mountain. The prospect made us
positively hilarious, so slender is the thread by which hope jerks
us about.

The first part of our task was the most strenuous. We waited
and waded round many hours before another fish appeared, and then
he got away from us. Another attempt was crowned with success
after a hard fight. The second one was even larger than the first.

The next two were too small to be of use in the raft, but we
saved them for another purpose. Then, after another long search,
lasting many hours, we ran into half a dozen of them at once.

By that time we were fairly expert with our spears, besides
having discovered their vulnerable spot--the throat, just forward
from the gills. To this day I don't know whether or not they were
man-eaters. Their jaws were roomy and strong as those of any
shark; but they never closed on us.

Thus we had four of the large backbones and two smaller ones.
Next we wanted a covering, and for that purpose we visited the
remains of the reptile which had first led us into the cavern.

Its hide was half an inch thick and tough as the toughest
leather. There was no difficulty in loosening it, for by that time
the flesh was so decayed and sunken that it literally fell off.
That job was the worst of all.

Time and again, after cutting away with the points of our
spears--our only tools--until we could stand it no longer, we
staggered off to the stream like drunken men, sick and faint with
the sight and smell of the mess.

But that, too, came to an end, and finally we marched off to
the camp, which we had removed a half-mile upstream, dragging after
us a piece of the hide about thirty feet long and half as wide. It
was not as heavy as we had thought, which made it all the better
for our purpose.

The remainder of our task, though tedious, was not unpleasant.

We first made the larger bones, which were to serve as the
beams of our raft, exactly the same length by filing off the ends
of the longer ones with rough bits of granite. I have said it was
tedious. Then we filed off each of the smaller bones projecting
from the neural arch until they were of equal length.

They extended on either side about ten inches, which, allowing
four inches for the width of the larger bone and one inch for the
covering, would make our raft slightly over a foot in depth.

To make the cylindrical column rigid, we bound each of the
vertebrae to the one in direct juxtaposition on either side firmly
with strips of hide, several hundred feet of which we had prepared.

This gave us four beams held straight and true, without any
play in either direction, with only a slight flexibility resulting
from the cartilages within the center cord.

With these four beams we formed a square, placing them on
their edges, end to end. At each corner of the square we lashed
the ends together firmly with strips of hide. It was both firm and
flexible after we had lashed the corners over and over with the
strips, that there might be no play under the strain of the

Over this framework we stretched the large piece of hide so
that the ends met on top, near the middle. The bottom was thus
absolutely watertight. We folded the corners in and caught them up
with strips over the top. Then, with longer strips, we fastened up
the sides, passing the strips back and forth across the top, from
side to side, having first similarly secured the two ends. As a
final precaution, we passed broader strips around both top and
bottom, lashing them together in the center of the top. And there
was our raft, twelve feet square, over a foot deep, water-tight as
a town drunkard, and weighing not more than a hundred pounds. It
has taken me two minutes to tell it; it took us two weeks to do it.

But we discovered immediately that the four beams on the sides
and ends were not enough, for Desiree's weight alone caused the
skin to sag clear through in the center, though we had stretched it
as tightly as possible. We were forced to unlash all the strips
running from side to side and insert supports, made of smaller
bones, across the middle each way. These we reinforced on their
ends with the thickest hide we could find, that they might not
puncture the bottom. After that it was fairly firm; though its
sea-worthiness was not improved, it was much easier to navigate
than it would have been before.

For oars we took the lower ends of the backbones of the two
smaller fish and covered them with hide. They were about five feet
long and quite heavy; but we intended to use them more for the
purpose of steering than for propulsion. The current of the stream
would attend to that for us.

Near the center of the raft we arranged a pile of the skins of
the water-pigs for Desiree; a seat by no means uncomfortable. The
strips which ran back and forth across the top afforded a hold as
security against the tossing of the craft; but for her feet we
arranged two other strips to pass over her ankles what time she
rested. This was an extreme precaution, for we did not expect the
journey to be a long one.

Finally we loaded on our provisions--about thirty pounds of
the meat of the fish and water-pigs, wrapping it securely in two or
three of the skins and strapping them firmly to the top.

"And now," said I, testing the strips on the corners for the
last time, "all we need is a name for her and a bottle of wine."

"And a homeward-bound pennant," put in Harry.

"The name is easy enough," said Desiree. "I hereby christen
her Clarte du Soleil."

"Which means?" asked Harry, whose French came only in spots.

"Sunshine," I told him. "Presumably after the glorious King
of the Incas, who calls himself the Child of the Sun. But it's a
good name. May Heaven grant that it takes us there!"

"I think we ought to take more grub," said Harry--an
observation which he had made not less than fifty times in the
preceding fifty minutes. He received no support and grumbled to
himself something about the horrible waste of leaving so much

Why it was I don't know, but we were fully persuaded that we
were about to say good-by forever to this underground world and its
dangers. Somehow, we had coaxed ourselves into the belief that
success was certain; it was as though we had seen the sunlight
streaming in from the farther end of the arched tunnel into which
the stream disappeared. There was an assurance about the words of
each that strengthened this feeling in the others, and hope had
shut out all thought of failure as we prepared to launch our craft.

It took us some time to get it to the edge of the water,
though it was close by, for we handled it with extreme care, that
it might not be torn on the rocks. Altogether, with the
provisions, it weighed close to one hundred and fifty pounds.

We were by no means sure that the thing would carry us, and
when once we had reached the water we forgot caution in our haste
to try it. We held it at the edge while Desiree arranged herself
on the pile of skins. The spears lay across at her feet, strapped
down for security.

Harry stepped across to the farther edge of the raft.

"Ready!" he called, and I shoved off, wading behind. When the
water was up to my knees I climbed aboard and picked up my oar.

"By all the nine gods, look at her!" cried Harry in huge
delight. "She takes about three inches! Man, she'd carry an

"Allons!" cried Desiree, with gay laughter. "C'est

"Couldn't be better," I agreed; "but watch yourself, Hal.
When we get into the current things are going to begin to happen.
If it weren't for the beastly darkness 'twould be easy enough. As
it is, one little rock the size of your head could send us to the

We were still near the bank, working our way out slowly.
Harry and I had to maintain positions equidistant from the center
in order to keep the raft balanced; hence I had to push her out

Considering her bulk, she answered to the oar very well.

Another five minutes and we were near the middle of the
stream. At that point there was but little current and we drifted
slowly. Harry went to the bow, while I took up a position on the
stern--if I may use such terms for such a craft--directly behind
Desiree. We figured that we were then about a mile from the Point
where the stream left the cavern.

Gradually, as the stream narrowed, the strength of the current
increased. Still it was smooth, and the raft sailed along without
a tremor. Once or twice, caught by some trick of the current, she
turned half round, poking her nose ahead, but she soon righted

The water began to curl up on the sides as we were carried
more and more swiftly onward, with a low murmur that was music to
us. The stream became so narrow that we could see the bank on
either side, though dimly, and I knew we were approaching the exit.

I called to Harry: "Keep her off to the right as we make the
turn!" and he answered: "Aye, aye, sir!" with a wave of the hand.
This, at least, was action with a purpose.

Another minute and we saw the arch directly ahead of us, round
a bend in the stream. The strength of the current carried us
toward the off bank, but we plied our oars desperately and well,
and managed to keep fairly well in to the end of the curve.

We missed the wall of the tunnel--black, grim rock that would
have dashed out our brains--by about ten feet, and were swept
forward under the arch, on our way--so we thought--to the land of

Chapter XX.


Here I might most appropriately insert a paragraph on the
vanity of human wishes and endeavor. But events, they say, speak
for themselves; and still, for my own part, I prefer the
philosopher to the historian. Mental digestion is a wearisome
task; you are welcome to it.

To the story. As I have said, we missed the wall of the
tunnel by a scant ten feet, and we kept on missing it. Once under
the arch, our raft developed a most stubborn inclination to bump up
against the rocky banks instead of staying properly in the middle
of the current, as it should.

First to one side, then to the other, it swung, while Harry
and I kept it off with our oars, often missing a collision by
inches. But at least the banks were smooth and level, and as long
as the stream itself remained clear of obstruction there was but
little real danger.

The current was not nearly so swift as I had expected it would
be. In the semidarkness it was difficult to calculate our rate of
speed, but I judged that we were moving at about six or seven miles
an hour.

We had gone perhaps three miles when we came to a sharp bend
in the stream, to the left, almost at a right angle. Harry, at the
bow, was supposed to be on the lookout, but he failed to see it
until we were already caught in its whirl.

Then he gave a cry of alarm, and together we swung the raft to
the left, avoiding the right bank of the curve by less than a foot.
Once safely past, I sent Harry to the stern and took the bow
myself, which brought down upon him a deal of keen banter from

There the tunnel widened, and the raft began to glide easily
onward, without any of its sudden dashes to right or left. I
rested on my oar, gazing intently ahead; at the best I could make
out the walls a hundred yards ahead, and but dimly. All was
silence, save the gentle swish of the water against the sides of
the raft and the patter of Harry's oar dipping idly on one side or
the other.

Suddenly Desiree's voice came through the silence, soft
and very low:

"Pendant une anne' toute entiere,

Le regiment na Pas r'paru.

Au Ministere de la Guerre

On le r'porta comme perdu.

"On se r'noncait a r'trouver sa trace,

Quand un matin subitement,

On le vit r'paraitre sur la place,

L'Colonel toujours en avant."

I waited until the last note had died away in the darkness.

"Are those your thoughts?" I asked then, half turning.

"No," said Desiree, "but I want to kill my thoughts. As for

She hesitated, and after a short pause her voice again broke
into melody:

"Fresh as the first beam glittering on a sail

That brings our friends up from the underworld;

Sad as the last which reddens over one

That sinks with all we love below the verge;

So sad, so fresh, the days that are no more."

Her voice, subdued and low, breathed a sweetness that seemed
almost to be of another world. My ear quivered with the
vibrations, and long after she was silent the last mellow note
floated through my brain.

Suddenly I became conscious of another sound, scarcely less
musical. It, too, was low; so low and faint that at first I
thought my ear deceived me, or that some distant echo was returning
Desiree's song down the dark tunnel.

Gradually, very gradually, it became louder and clearer, until
at length I recognized it. It was the rush of water, unbroken,
still low and at a great distance. I turned to remark on it to
Harry, but Desiree took the words from my mouth.

"I seem to hear something--like the surf," she said. "That
isn't possible, is it?"

I could have smiled but for the deep note of hope in her voice.

"Hardly," I answered. "I have heard it for several minutes.
It is probably some shallows. We must look sharp."

Another fifteen minutes, and I began to notice that the speed
of the current was increasing. The sound of the rushing water,
too, was quite distinct. Still the raft moved more and more
swiftly, till I began to feel alarmed. I turned to Harry:

"That begins to sound like rapids. See that the spears are
fastened securely, and stand ready with your oar. Sit tight,

One thing was certain: there was nothing to do but go ahead.
On both sides the walls of the tunnel rose straight up from the
surface of the water; there was nowhere room for a landing-place
--not even a foot for a purchase to stay our flight. To go back
was impossible; at the rate the current was now carrying us we
could not have held the raft even for a moment without oars.

Soon we were gliding forward so swiftly that the raft trembled
under us; from the darkness ahead came the sound of the rapids, now
increased to a roar that filled the tunnel and deafened us. I
heard Harry shouting something, but could not make out the words;
we were shooting forward with the speed of an express train and the
air about us was full of flying water.

The roar of the rapids became louder and louder. I turned for
an instant, shouting at the top of my voice: "Flat on your faces,
and hold on for dear life!" Then I dropped down with my oar under
me, passing my feet under two of the straps and clinging to two
others with my hands.

Another few seconds passed that seemed an hour. The raft was
swaying and lurching with the mad force of the current. I called
out again to Harry and Desiree, but my words were completely
drowned by the deafening, stunning roar of the water. All was
darkness and confusion. I kept asking myself: "Why doesn't it
come?" It seemed an age since I had thrown myself on my face.

Suddenly the raft leaped up under me and away. It seemed as
though some giant hand had grasped it from beneath and jerked it
down with tremendous force. The air was filled with water, lashing
my face and body furiously. The raft whirled about like a cork.
I gripped the straps with all the strength that was in me. Down,
down we went into the darkness; my breath was gone and my brain
whirled dizzily.

There was a sudden sharp lurch, a jerk upward, and I felt the
surface of the water close over me. Blinded and dazed, I clung to
my hold desperately, struggling with the instinct to free myself.
For several seconds the roar of the cataract sounded in my ears
with a furious faintness, as though it were at a great distance;
then I felt the air again and a sudden cessation of motion.

I opened my eyes, choking and sputtering. For a time I could
see nothing; then I made out Desiree's form, and Harry's, stretched
behind me on the raft. At the same instant Harry's voice came:

"Paul! Ah, Desiree!"

In another moment we were at her side. Her hands held to the
straps on each side with a grip as of death; we had to pry off each
of her fingers separately to loosen them. Then we bent her over
Harry's knee and worked her arms up and down, and soon her chest
heaved convulsively and her lungs freed themselves of the water
they had taken. Presently she turned about; her eyes opened and
she pressed her hands to her head.

"Don't say 'Where am I?'" said Harry, "because we don't know.
How do you feel?"

"I don't know," she answered, still gasping for breath. "What
was it? What did we do?"

I left them then, turning to survey the extent of our damage.
There was absolutely none; we were as intact as when we started.
The provisions and spears remained under their straps; my oar lay
where I had fallen on it. The raft appeared to be floating easily
as before, without a scratch.

The water about us was churned into foam, though we had
already been carried so far from the cataract that it was lost
behind us in the darkness; only its roar reached our ears. To this
day I haven't the faintest idea of its height; it may have been ten
feet or two hundred. Harry says a thousand.

We were moving slowly along on the surface of what appeared to
be a lake, still carried forward by the force of the falls behind
us. For my part, I found its roar bewildering and confusing, and
I picked up my oar and commenced to paddle away from it; at least,
so I judged.

Harry's voice came from behind:

"In the name of goodness, where did you get that oar?"

I turned.

"Young man, a good sailor never loses an oar. How do you
feel, Desiree?"

"Like a drowned rat," she answered, but with a laugh in her
voice. "I'm faint and sick and wet, and my throat is ready to
burst, but I wouldn't have missed that for anything. It was
glorious! I'd like to do it again."

"Yes, you would," said Harry skeptically. "You're welcome,
thank you. But what I want to know is, where did that oar come

I explained that I had taken the precaution to fall on it.

"Do you never lose your head?" asked Desiree.

"No, merely my heart."

"Oh, as for that," she retorted, with a lightness that still
had a sting, "my good friend, you never had any."

Whereupon I returned to my paddling in haste.

Soon I discovered that though, as I have said, we appeared to
be in a lake--for I could see no bank on either side--there was
still a current. We drifted slowly, but our movement was plainly
perceptible, and I rested on my oar.

Presently a wall loomed up ahead of us and I saw that the
stream again narrowed down as it entered the tunnel, much lower
than the one above the cataract. The current became swifter as we
were carried toward its mouth, and I called to Harry to get his
spear to keep us off from the walls if it should prove necessary.
But we entered exactly in the center and were swept forward with a

The ceiling of the tunnel was so low that we could not stand
upright on the raft, and the stream was not more than forty feet
wide. That was anything but promising; if the stream really ran
through to the western slope, its volume of water should have been
increasing instead of diminishing. I said nothing of that to Harry
or Desiree.

We had sailed along thus without incident for upward of half
an hour, when my carelessness, or the darkness, nearly brought us
to grief. Suddenly, without warning, there was a violent jar and
the raft rebounded with a force that all but threw us into the
water. Coming to a bend in the stream, the current had dashed us
against the other bank.

But, owing to the flexibility of its sides, the raft escaped
damage. I had my oar against the wall instantly, shoving off, and
we swung round and caught the current again round the curve.

But that bend was to the left, as the other had been, which
meant that we were now going in exactly the opposite direction of
that in which we had started! Which, in turn, meant the death of
hope; we were merely winding in and out in a circle and getting
nowhere. Harry and Desiree had apparently not noticed the fact,
and I said nothing of it. Time enough when they should find out
for themselves; and besides, there was still a chance, though a
slim one.

Soon the bed of the stream became nearly level, for we barely
moved. The roof of the tunnel was very low--but a scant foot above
our heads as we sat or crouched on the raft. It was necessary to
keep a sharp lookout ahead; a rock projecting from above would have
swept us into the water.

The air, too, was close and foul; our breath became labored
and difficult; and Desiree, half stifled and drowsy, passed into a
fitful and broken sleep, stirring restlessly and panting for air.
Harry had taken the bow and I lay across the stern. Suddenly his
voice came, announcing that we had left the tunnel.

I sat up quickly and looked round. The walls were no longer
to be seen; we had evidently entered a cavern similar to the one in
which we had embarked.

"Shall we lay off? I asked, stepping across to Harry's side.

He assented, and I took the oar and worked the raft over to
the left. There was but little current and she went well in. In a

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