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Under the Andes by Rex Stout

Part 6 out of 7

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few minutes we were in shallow water, and Harry and I jumped off
and shoved her to the bank.

Desiree sat up, rubbing her eyes.

"Where are we?" she asked.

Harry explained while we beached the raft. Then we broke out
our provisions and partook of them.

"But why do we stop?" asked Desiree.

The words "Because we are not getting anywhere" rose to my
lips, but I kept them back.

"For a rest and some air," I answered.

Desiree exclaimed: "But I want to go on!"

So as soon as we had eaten our fill we loaded the stuff again
and prepared to shove off. By that time I think Harry, too, had
realized the hopelessness of our expedition, for he had lost all
his enthusiasm; but he said nothing, nor did I. We secured Desiree
on her pile of skins and again pushed out into the current.

The cavern was not large, for we had been under way but a few
minutes when its wall loomed up ahead and the stream again entered
a tunnel, so low and narrow that I hesitated about entering at all.
I consulted Harry.

"Take a chance," he advised. "Why not? As well that as

We slipped through the entrance.

The current was extremely sluggish, and we barely seemed to
move. Still we went forward.

"If we only had a little speed we could stand it," Harry

Which shows that a man does not always appreciate a blessing.
It was not long before we were offering up thanks that our speed
had been so slight.

To be exact, about an hour, as well as I could measure time,
which passed slowly; for not only were the minutes tedious, but the
foulness of the air made them also extremely uncomfortable.
Desiree was again lying down, half-unconscious but not asleep, for
now and then she spoke drowsily. Harry complained of a dizziness
in the head, and my own seemed ready to burst through my temples.
The soroche of the mountains was agreeable compared to that.

Suddenly the swiftness of the current increased appreciably on
the instant; there was a swift jerk as we were carried forward. I
rose to my knees--the tunnel was too low to permit of standing--and
gazed intently ahead. I could see nothing save that the stream had
narrowed to half its former width, and was still becoming narrower.

We went faster and faster, and the stream narrowed until the
bank was but a few feet away on either side.

"Watch the stern!" I called to Harry. "Keep her off with your

Then a wall loomed up directly ahead. I thought it meant
another bend in the stream, and I strained my eyes intently in the
effort to discover its direction, but I could see nothing save the
black wall. We approached closer; I shouted to Harry and Desiree
to brace themselves for a shock, praying that the raft would meet
the rock squarely and not on a corner.

I had barely had time to set myself and grasp the straps
behind when we struck with terrific force. The raft rebounded
several feet, trembling and shaking violently. The water was
rushing past us with noisy impetuosity.

There was a cry from Desiree, and from Harry, "All right!" I
crawled to the bow. Along the top the hide covering had been split
open for several feet, but the water did not quite reach the

And we had reached the end of our ambitious journey. For that
black wall marked the finish of the tunnel; the stream entered it
through a narrow hole, which accounted for the sudden, swift rush
of the current. Above the upper rim of the hole the surface of the
water whirled about in a widening circle; to this had we been led
by the stream that was to have carried us to the land of sunshine.

When I told Desiree she stared at me in silence! I had not
realized before the strength of her hope. Speechless with
disappointment, she merely sat and stared straight ahead at the
black, unyielding rock. Harry knelt beside her with his arm across
her shoulders.

I roused him with a jerk of the arm.

"Come--get busy! A few hours in this hole and we'd suffocate.
Do you realize that we've got to pull this raft back against the

First it was necessary to repair the rent in the hide
covering. This we did with strips of hide; and barely in time, for
it was becoming wider every minute, and the water was beginning to
creep in over the edge. But we soon had the ends sewed firmly
together and turned our hands to the main task.

It appeared to be not only difficult, but actually impossible
to force the raft back up-stream against the swift current. We
were jammed against the rock with all the force of many tons of
water. The oar was useless.

Getting a purchase on the wall with our hands, we shoved the
raft to one side; but as soon as we got to the wall on the left the
whirling stream turned us around again, and we found ourselves back
in our original position, only with a different side of the raft
against the rock. That happened three times.

Then we tried working to the right instead of the left, but
with no better success. The force of the current, coming with all
its speed against the unwieldy raft, was irresistible. Time and
again we shoved round and started upstream, after incredible labor,
only to be dashed back again against the rock.

We tried our spears, but their shafts were so slender that
they were useless. We took the oar and, placing its end against
the wall, shoved with all our strength. The oar snapped in two and
we fell forward against the wall. We tore off some of the strips
of hide from the raft and tried to fasten them to the wall on
either side, but there was no protuberance that would hold them.
Nothing remained to be done.

Harry and I held a consultation then and agreed on the only
possible means of escape. I turned to Desiree:

"Can you swim?"

"Parfaitement," she replied. "But against that"--
pointing to the whirling water--"I do not know. I can try."

I, who remember the black fury of that stream as it swept past
us, can appreciate the courage of her.

We lost no time, for the foulness of the air was weakening us
with every breath we took. Our preparations were few.

The two spears and about half of the provisions we strapped to
our backs--an inconsiderable load which would hamper us but little.
We discarded all our clothing, which was very little. I took the
heavy skin which Desiree had worn and began to strap it also on top
of my bundle, but she refused to allow it.

"I will not permit you to be handicapped with my modesty," she

Then, with Desiree between us, we stepped to the edge of the
raft and dived off together.

Driven as we were by necessity, we would have hesitated longer
if we had known the full force of the undercurrent that seized us
from beneath. Desiree would have disappeared without a struggle if
it had not been for the support which Harry and I rendered her on
either side.

But we kept on top--most of the time--and fought our way
forward by inches. The black walls frowning at us from either side
appeared to me to remain exactly the same, stationary, after a long
and desperate struggle; but when I gave a quick glance behind I saw
that we had pulled so far away from the raft that it was no longer
in sight. That gave me renewed strength, and, shouting assurance
to Harry and Desiree, I redoubled my efforts. Desiree was by now
almost able to hold her own, but we still supported her.

Every stroke made the next one easier, carrying us away from
the whirlpool, and soon we swam smoothly. Less and less strong
became the resistance of the current, until finally it was possible
to float easily on our backs and rest.

"How far is it to the cavern?" Harry panted.

"Somewhere between one and ten miles," was my answer. "How
the deuce should I know? But we'll make it now, I think. Can you
hold out, Desiree?"

"Easily," she answered. "If only I could get some air! Just
one good, long breath."

There was the danger, and on that account no time was to be
lost. Again we struck out into the blackness ahead. I felt myself
no longer fresh, and began to doubt seriously if we should reach
our goal.

But we reached it. No need to recount our struggles, which
toward the end were inspired by suffering amounting to agony as we
choked and gasped for sufficient air to keep us up.

Another hundred yards would have been too much for us; but it
is enough that finally we staggered onto the bank at the entrance
to the cavern in which we had previously rested, panting, dizzy,
and completely exhausted.

But an hour in the cavern, with its supply of air, revived us;
and then we sat up and asked ourselves: "What for?"

"And all that brings us--to this," said Harry, with a sweeping
gesture round the cavern.

"At least, it is a better tomb," I retorted. "And it was a
good fight. We still have something in us. Desiree, a good man
was lost in you."

Harry rose to his feet.

"I'm going to look round," he announced. "We've got to do
something. Gad, and it took us a month to build that raft!"

"The vanity of human endeavor," said I, loosening the strap
round my shoulders and dropping my bundle to the ground. "Wait a
minute; I'm going with you. Are you coming, Desiree?"

But she was too tired to rise to her feet, and we left her
behind, arranging what few skins we had as well as possible to
protect her from the hard rock.

"Rest your weary bones," said Harry, stooping to kiss her.
"There's meat here if you want it. We'll be back soon."

So we left her, with her white body stretched out at its full
length on the rude mat.

Bearing off to the left, we soon discovered that we would have
no difficulty to leave the cavern; we had only to choose our way.
There was scarcely any wall at all, so broken was it by lanes and
passages leading in all directions.

We followed some of them for a distance, but found none that
gave any particular promise. Most of them were choked with rocks
and boulders through which it was difficult to force a passage. We
spent an hour or more in these futile explorations, then followed
the wall some distance to the right.

Gradually the exits became less numerous. High on a boulder
near the entrance of one we saw the head of some animal peering
down at us. We hurled our spears at it, but missed; then were
forced to climb up the steep side of the boulder to recover our

"We'd better go back to Desiree," said Harry when we reached
the ground again. "She'll wonder what's become of us. We've been
gone nearly two hours."

After fifteen minutes' search we found the stream, and
followed it to the left. We had gone farther than we thought, and
we were looking for the end, where we had left Desiree, long before
we reached it. Several times we called her name, but there was no

"She's probably asleep," said Harry. And a minute later:
"There's the wall at last! But where is she?"

My foot struck something on the ground, and I stooped over to
examine it.

It was the pile of skins on which Desiree had lain!

I called to Harry, and at the same instant heard his shout of
consternation as he came running toward me, holding something in
his hand.

"They've got her! Look! Look at this! I found it on the
ground over there."

He held the thing in his hand out before me.

It was an Inca spear.

Chapter XXI.


Harry and I stood gazing at each other blankly in the
semidarkness of the cavern.

"But it isn't possible," I objected finally to my own
thoughts. "She would have cried out and we would have heard her.
The spear may have been there before."

Then I raised my voice, calling her name many times at the top
of my lungs. There was no answer.

"They've got her," said Harry, "and that's all there is to it.
The cursed brutes crept up on her in the dark--much chance she had
of crying out when they got their hands on her. I know it. Why
did we leave her?"

"Where did you find the spear?" I asked.

Harry pointed toward the wall, away from the stream.

"On the ground?"


"Is there an exit from the cavern on that side?"

"I don't know."

"Well, that's our only chance. Come on!"

We found the exit, and another, and a third. Which to take?
They were very similar to one another, except that the one in the
middle sloped upward at a gentle incline, while the others were

"One is as good as another," I observed, and entered the one
on the left.

Once started, we advanced with a rush. The passage was
straight and narrow, clear of obstruction, and we kept at a steady

"They may have an hour's start of us," came Harry's voice at
my side.

"Or five minutes," I returned. "We have no way of knowing.
But I'm afraid we're on the wrong trail."

Still as I had said, one chance was as good as another, and we
did not slacken our pace. The passage went straight forward,
without a bend. The roof was low, just allowing us to pass without
stooping, and the walls were rough and rugged.

It was not long before we found that we had taken the wrong
chance, having covered, I think, some two or three miles when a
wall loomed up directly in our path.

"At last, a turn!" panted Harry.

But it was not a turn. It was the end of the passage. We had
been following a blind alley.

Harry let out a string of oaths, and I seconded him. Twenty
minutes wasted, and another twenty to return!

There was nothing else for it. We shouldered our spears and
started to retrace our steps.

"No use running now," I declared. "We can't keep it up
forever, and we may as well save our strength. We'll never catch
up with 'em, but we may find 'em."

Harry, striding ahead two or three paces in front, did not

Finally we reached the cavern from which we had started.

"And now what?" asked Harry in a tone of the most utter

I pointed to the exit in the middle. "That! We should have
taken it in the first place. On the raft we probably descended
altogether something like five hundred feet from the level where we
started--possibly twice that distance. And this passage which
slopes upward will probably take us back."

"At least, it's as good as the other," Harry agreed; and we
entered it.

We had not proceeded far before we found ourselves in
difficulties. The gentle slope became a steep incline. Great
rocks loomed up in our path.

In spots the passage was so narrow that two men could hardly
have walked abreast through it, and its walls were rough and
irregular, with sharp points projecting unexpectedly into our very

Still we went forward and upward, scrambling over, under,
round, between. At one point, when Harry was a few yards in front
of me, he suddenly disappeared from sight as though swallowed by
the mountain.

Rushing forward, I saw him scrambling to his feet at the
bottom of a chasm some ten feet below. Luckily he had escaped
serious injury, and climbed up on the other side, while I leaped
across--a distance of about six feet.

"They could never have brought her through this," he declared,
rubbing a bruised knee.

"Do you want to go back?" I asked.

But he said that would be useless, and I agreed with him. So
we struggled onward, painfully and laboriously. The sharp corners
of the rocks cut our feet and hands, and I had an ugly bruise on my
left shoulder, besides many lesser ones. Harry's injured knee
caused him to limp and thus further retarded our progress.

At times the passage broadened out until the wall on either
side was barely visible, only to narrow down again till it was
scarcely more than a crevice between the giant boulders. The
variation of the incline was no less, being at times very nearly
level, and at others mounting upward at an angle whose ascent was
all but impossible. Somehow we crawled up, like flies on a wall.

When we came to a stream of water rushing directly across our
path at the foot of a towering rock Harry gave a cry of joy and ran
forward. I had not known until then how badly his knee was hurt,
and when I came up to where he was bathing it in the stream and saw
how black and swollen it was, I insisted that he give it a rest.
But he absolutely refused, and after we had quenched our thirst
and gotten an easy breath or two we struggled to our feet and on.

After another hour of scrambling and failing and hanging on by
our finger nails, the way began to be easier. We came to level,
clear stretches with only an occasional boulder or ravine, and the
rock became less cruel to our bleeding feet. The relief came
almost too late, for by that time every movement was painful, and
we made but slow progress.

Soon we faced another difficulty when we came to a point where
a split in the passage showed a lane on either side. One led
straight ahead; the other branched off to the right. They were
very similar, but somehow the one on the right looked more
promising to us, and we took it.

We had followed this but a short distance when it broadened
out to such an extent that the walls on either side could be seen
but dimly. It still sloped upward, but at a very slight angle, and
we had little difficulty in making our way. Another half-hour and
it narrowed down again to a mere lane.

We were proceeding at a fairly rapid gait, keeping our eyes
strained ahead, when there appeared an opening in the right wall at
a distance of a hundred feet or so. Not having seen or heard
anything to recommend caution, we advanced without slackening our
pace until we had reached it.

I said aloud to Harry, "Probably a cross-passage," and then
jerked him back quickly against the opposite wall as I saw the real
nature of the opening.

It led to a small room, with a low ceiling and rough walls,
dark as the passage in which we stood, for it contained no light.

We could see its interior dimly, but well enough to discover
the form of an Inca standing just within the doorway. His back was
toward us, and he appeared to be fastening something to the ceiling
with strips of hide.

It was evident that we had not been seen, and I started to
move on, grasping Harry's arm. It was then that I became aware of
the fact that the wall leading away in front of us--that is, the
one on the right--was marked as far as the eye could reach with a
succession of similar openings.

They were quite close together; from where we stood I could
see thirty or forty of them. I guessed that they, too, led to
rooms similar to the one in front of us, probably likewise
occupied; but it was necessary to go on in spite of the danger, and
I pulled again at Harry's arm.

Then, seeing by his face that something had happened, I turned
my eyes again on the Inca in the room. He had turned about,
squarely facing us. As we stood motionless he took a hasty step
forward; we had been discovered.

There was but one thing to do, and we didn't hesitate about
doing it. We leaped forward together, crossing the intervening
space in a single bound, and bore the Inca to the floor under us.

My fingers were round his throat, Harry sat on him. In a
trice we had him securely bound and gagged, using some strips of
hide which we found suspended from the ceiling.

"By gad!" exclaimed Harry in a whisper. "Look at him! He's
a woman!"

It was quite evident--disgustingly so. Her eyes, dull and
sunken, appeared as two large, black holes set back in her skull.
Her hair, matted about her forehead and shoulders, was thick and
coarse, and blacker than night. Her body was innocent of any
attempt at covering.

Altogether, not a very pleasant sight; and we bundled her into
a corner and proceeded to look round the room, being careful to
remain out of the range of view from the corridor as far as

The room was not luxuriously furnished. There were two seats
of stone, and a couch of the same material covered with thick
hides. In one corner was a pile of copper vessels; in another two
or three of stone, rudely carved. Some torn hides lay in a heap
near the center of the room. From the ceiling were suspended other
hides and some strips of dried fish.

Some of the latter we cut down with the points of our spears
and retired with it to a corner.

"Ought we to ask our hostess to join us?" Harry grinned.

"This tastes good, after the other," I remarked.

Hungry as we were, we made sad havoc with the lady's pantry.
Then we found some water in a basin in the corner and drank--not
without misgivings. But we were too thirsty to be particular.

Then Harry became impatient to go on, and though I had no
liking for the appearance of that long row of open doorways, I did
not demur. Taking up our spears, we stepped out into the corridor
and turned to the right.

We found ourselves running a gantlet wherein discovery seemed
certain. The right wall was one unbroken series of open doorways,
and in each of the rooms, whose interiors we could plainly see,
were one or more of the Inca Women; and sometimes children rolled
about on the stony floor.

In one of them a man stood; I could have sworn that he was
gazing straight at us, and I gathered myself together for a spring;
but he made no movement of any kind and we passed swiftly by.

Once a little black ball of flesh--a boy it was, perhaps five
or six years old--tumbled out into the corridor under our very
feet. We strode over him and went swiftly on.

We had passed about a hundred of the open doorways, and were
beginning to entertain the hope that we might, after all, get
through without being discovered, when Harry suddenly stopped
short, pulling at my arm. At the same instant I saw, far down the
corridor, a crowd of black forms moving toward us.

Even at that distance something about their appearance and
gait told us that they were not women. Their number was so great
that as they advanced they filled the passage from wall to wall.

There was but one way to escape certain discovery; and
distasteful as it was, we did not hesitate to employ it. In a
glance I saw that we were directly opposite an open doorway; with
a whispered word to Harry I sprang across the corridor and within
the room. He followed.

Inside were a woman and two children. As we entered they
looked up, startled, and stood gazing at us in terror. For an
instant we held back, but there was nothing else for it; and in
another minute we had overpowered and bound and gagged them and
carried them to a corner.

The children were ugly little devils and the woman very little
above a brute; still we handled them as tenderly as possible. Then
we crouched against the wall where we could not be seen from the
corridor, and waited.

Soon the patter of many footsteps reached our ears. They
passed; others came, and still others. For many minutes the sound
continued steadily, unbroken, while we sat huddled up against the
wall, scarcely daring to breathe.

Immediately in front of me lay the forms of the woman and the
children; I could see their dull eyes, unblinking, looking up at me
in abject terror. Still the patter of footsteps sounded from
without, with now and then an interval of quiet.

Struck by a sudden thought, I signaled to Harry; and when he
had moved further back into his corner I sprang across the room in
one bound to his side. A word or two of whispering, and he nodded
to show that he understood. We crouched together flat against the

My thought had come just in time, for scarcely another minute
had passed when there suddenly appeared in the doorway the form of
an Inca. He moved a step inside, and I saw that there was another
behind him. I had not counted on two of them! In the arms of each
was a great copper vessel, evidently very heavy, for their effort
was apparent as they stooped to place the vessels on the ground
just within the doorway.

As they straightened up and saw that the room before them was
empty, their faces filled with surprise. At the same moment a
movement came from the woman in the corner; the two men glanced at
them with a start of wonder; and as I had foreseen, they ran across
and bent over the prostrate forms.

The next instant they, too, were prone on the floor, with
Harry and me on top of them. They did not succumb without a
struggle, and the one I had chosen proved nearly too much for me.

The great muscles of his chest and legs strained under me with
a power that made me doubtful for a moment of the outcome; but the
Incas themselves had taught us how to conquer a man when you attack
him from behind, and I grasped his throat with all the strength
there was in my fingers.

With a desperate effort he got to his knees and grasped my
wrists in his powerful black hands and tore my own grip loose. He
was half-way to his feet, and far more powerful than I; I changed
my tactics. Wrenching myself loose, I fell back a step; then, as
he twisted round to get at me, I lunged forward and let him have my
fist squarely between the eyes.

The blow nearly broke my hand, but he dropped to the floor.
The next instant I was joined by Harry, who had overcome the other
Inca with little difficulty, and in a trice we had them both bound
and gagged along with the remainder of the family in the corner.

Owing to my strategy in withholding our attack until the Incas
had got well within the room and to one side, we had not been seen
by those constantly passing up and down in the corridor without; at
least, none of them had entered. We seemed by this stroke to have
assured our safety so long as we remained in the room.

But it was still necessary to remain against the wall, for the
soft patter of footsteps could still be heard in the corridor.

They now came at irregular intervals, and there were not many
of them. Otherwise the silence was unbroken.

"What does it all mean?" Harry whispered.

"The Incas are coming home to their women," I guessed.
"Though, after seeing the women, it is little wonder if they spend
most of their time away from them. He is welcome to his repose in
the bosom of his family."

There passed an uneventful hour. Long before it ended the
sound of footsteps had entirely ceased; but we thought it best to
take no chances, and waited for the last minute our impatience
would allow us. Then, uncomfortable and stiff from the long period
of immobility and silence, we rose to our feet and made ready to

Harry was for appropriating some of the strips of dried fish
we saw suspended from the ceiling, but I objected that our danger
lay in any direction other than that of hunger, and we set out with
only our spears.

The corridor was deserted. One quick glance in either
direction assured us of that; then we turned to the right and set
out at a rapid pace, down the long passage past a succession of
rooms exactly similar to the one we had just left--scores, hundreds
of them.

Each one was occupied by from one to ten of the Incas lying on
the couch which each contained, or stretched on hides on the floor.
No one was stirring. Everywhere was silence save the patter of our
own feet, which we let fall as noiselessly as possible.

"Will it never end?" whispered Harry at length, after we had
traversed upward of a mile without any sign of a cross-passage or
a termination.

"Forward, and silence!" I breathed for a reply.

The end--at least, of the silence--came sooner than we had
expected. Hardly were the last words out of my mouth when a
whirring noise sounded behind us. We glanced over our shoulders as
we ran, and at the same instant an Inca spear flew by not two
inches from my head and struck the ground in front.

Not a hundred feet to the rear we saw a group of Incas rushing
along the passage toward us. Harry wheeled about, raising his
spear, but I grasped him by the arm, crying, "Run; it's our only
chance!" The next moment we were leaping forward side by side down
the passage.

It would have fared ill with any who appeared to block our way
in that mad dash; but it remained clear. The corridor led straight
ahead, with never a turn. We were running as we had never run
before; the black walls flashed past us an indistinguishable blur,
and the open doorways were blended into one.

Glancing back over my shoulder, I saw that the small group of
Incas was no longer small. Away to the rear the corridor was
filled with rushing black forms. But I saw plainly that we were
gaining on them; the distance that separated us was twice as great
as when we had first started to run.

"How about it?" I panted. "Can you hold out?"

"If it weren't for this knee," Harry returned between breaths
and through clenched teeth. "But--I'm with you." He was limping
painfully, and I slackened my pace a little, but he urged me
forward with an oath, and himself sprang to the front. His knee
must have been causing him the keenest agony; his face was white as

Then I uttered a cry of joy as I saw a bend in the passage
ahead. We reached it, and wheeled to the right. There was solid
wall on either side; the series of doors was ended.

"We'll shake 'em off now," I panted.

Harry nodded.

A short distance ahead we came to another cross-passage, and
turned to the left. Glancing over my shoulder, I saw that our
pursuers had not yet reached the first turn. Harry kept in the
lead, and was giving me all I could do to keep up with him.

We found ourselves now in a veritable maze of lanes and
cross-passages, and we turned to one side or the other at every
opportunity. At length I grasped Harry by the arm and stopped him.
We stood for two full minutes listening intently. There was
absolutely no sound of any kind.

"Thank Heaven!" Harry breathed, and would have fallen to the
ground if I had not supported him.

We started out then in search of water, moving slowly and
cautiously. But we found none, and soon Harry declared that he
could go no further. We sat down with our backs against the wall
of the passage, still breathing heavily and all but exhausted.

In that darkness and silence the minutes passed into hours.
We talked but little, and then only in whispers. Finally Harry
fell into a restless sleep, if it may be called that, and several
times I dozed off and was awakened by my head nodding against the
stone wall.

At length, finding Harry awake, I urged him to his feet. His
knee barely supported his weight, but he gritted his teeth and told
me to lead on.

"We can wait--" I began; but he broke in savagely:

"No! I want to find her, that's all--and end it. Just one
more chance!"

We searched for an hour before we found the stream of water we
sought. After Harry had bathed his knee and drunk his fill he felt
more fit, and we pushed on more rapidly, but still quite at random.

We turned first one way, then another, in the never-ending
labyrinth, always in darkness and silence. We seemed to get
nowhere; and I for one was about to give up the disheartening task
when suddenly a sound smote our ears that caused us first to start
violently, then stop and gaze at each other in comprehension and
eager surprise.

"The bell!" cried Harry. "They are being summoned to the
great cavern!"

It was the same sound we had heard twice before; a sound as of
a great, deep-toned bell ringing sonorously throughout the passages
and caverns with a roar that was deafening. And it seemed to be
close--quite close.

"It came from the left," said Harry; but I disagreed with him
and was so sure of myself that we started off to the right. The
echoes of the bell were still floating from wall to wall as we went
rapidly forward. I do not know what we expected to find, and the
Lord knows what we intended to do after we found it.

A short distance ahead we came to another passage, crossing at
right angles, broad and straight, and somehow familiar. As with
one impulse we took it, turning to the left, and then flattened
ourselves back against the wall as we saw a group of Incas passing
at its farther end, some two hundred yards away.

There we stood, motionless and scarcely breathing, while group
after group of the savages passed in the corridor ahead. Their
number swelled to a continuous stream, which in turn gradually
became thinner and thinner until only a few stragglers were seen
trotting behind. Finally they, too, ceased to appear; the corridor
was deserted.

We waited a while longer, then as no more appeared we started
forward and soon had reached the corridor down which they had
passed. We followed in the direction they had taken, turning to
the right.

We had no sooner turned than we saw that which caused us to
glance quickly at each other and hasten our step, while I smothered
the ejaculation that rose to my lips. The corridor in which we now
found ourselves stretched straight ahead for a distance, then
turned to one side; and the corner thus formed was flooded with a
brilliant blaze of light!

There was no longer any doubt of it: we were on our way to the
great cavern. For a moment I hesitated, asking myself for what
purpose we hastened on thus into the very arms of our enemies;
then, propelled by instinct or premonition--I know not what--I took
a firmer grasp on my spear and followed Harry without word,
throwing caution to the winds.

Yet we avoided foolhardiness, for as we approached the last
turn we proceeded slowly, keeping an eye on the rear. But all the
Incas appeared to have assembled within, for the corridor remained

We crept silently to the corner, avoiding the circle of light
as far as possible, and, crouching side by side on the rock, looked
out together on a scene none the less striking because we had seen
it twice before.

It was the great cavern. We saw it from a different viewpoint
than before; the alcove which held the golden throne was far off to
our left, nearly half-way round the vast circumference. On the
throne was seated the king, surrounded by guards and attendants.

As before, the stone seats which surrounded the amphitheater
on every side were filled with the Incas, crouching motionless and
silent. The flames in the massive urns mounted in steady tongues,
casting their blinding glare in every direction.

All this I saw in a flash, when suddenly Harry's fingers sank
into the flesh of my arm with such force that I all but cried out
in actual pain. And then, glancing at him and following the
direction of his gaze, I saw Desiree.

She was standing on the top of the lofty column in the center
of the lake.

Her white body, uncovered, was outlined sharply against the
black background of the cavern above.

Chapter XXII.


Neither Harry nor I spoke; our eyes were concentrated on the
scene before us, trying to comprehend its meaning.

It was something indefinable in Desiree's attitude that told
me the truth--what, I cannot tell. Her profile was toward us; it
could not have been her eyes or any expression of her face; but
there was a tenseness about her pose, a stiffening of the muscles
of her body, an air of lofty scorn and supreme triumph coming
somehow from every line of her motionless figure, that flashed
certainty into my brain.

And on the instant I turned to Harry.

"Follow me," I whispered; and he must have read the force of
my knowledge in my eyes, for he obeyed without a word. Back down
the passage we ran, halting at its end. Harry opened his lips to
speak, but I took the words from his mouth; seconds were precious.

"They have fired the column--you remember. Follow me; keep
your spear ready; not a sound, if you love her."

I saw that he understood, and saw too, by the expression that
shot into his face, that it would go ill with any Incas who tried
to stop us then.

We rushed forward side by side, guessing at our way, seeking
the entrance to the tunnel that led to the foot of the column. A
prayer was on my lips that we might not be too late; Harry's lips
were compressed together tightly as a vise. Death we did not fear,
even for Desiree; but we remembered the horror of our own
experience on the top of that column, and shuddered as we ran.

As I have said, we had entered the great cavern at a point
almost directly opposite the alcove, and therefore at a distance
from the entrance we sought. It was necessary to half encircle the
cavern, and the passages were so often crossed by other passages
that many times we had to guess at the proper road.

But not for an instant did we hesitate; we flew rather than
ran. I felt within me the strength and resolve of ten men, and I
knew then that there was something I must do and would do before I
died, though a thousand devils stood in my way.

I do not know what led us; whether a remorseful Providence,
who suddenly decided that we had been played with long enough, or
the mere animal instinct of direction, or blind luck. But so fast
did we go that it seemed to me we had left the great cavern
scarcely a minute behind us when I suddenly saw the steps of a
steep stairway leading down from an opening on our right.

How my heart leaped then! Harry uttered a hoarse cry of
exultation. The next instant we were dashing headlong down the
steps, avoiding a fall by I know not what miracle. And there
before us was the entrance to the tunnel.

I held Harry back, almost shouting: "You stay here; guard the
entrance. I'll get her."

"No," he cried, pushing forward. "I can't stay."

"Fool!" I cried, dashing him back. "We would be caught like
rats in a trap. Defend that entrance--with your life!"

I saw him hesitate, and, knowing that he would obey, I dashed
forward into the tunnel. When nearly to its end I made a misstep
on the uneven ground and precipitated myself against the wall. A
sharp pain shot through my left shoulder, but at the time I was
scarcely conscious of it as I picked myself up and leaped forward.
The end was in sight.

Just as I reached the foot of the spiral stairway I saw a
black form descending from it. That Inca never knew what hit him.
I did not use my spear; time was too precious. He disappeared in
the whirlpool beneath the base of the column through which Harry
and I had once miraculously escaped.

But despair filled my heart as, with my feet on the first step
of the spiral stairway, I cast a quick glance upward. The upper
half of the inside of the column was a raging furnace of fire. How
or from what it came I did not stop to inquire; I bounded up the
stairway in desperate fury.

I did not know then that the stone steps were baking and
blistering my feet; I did not know, as I came level with the base
of the flames, that every hair was being singed from my head and
body--I only knew that I must reach the top of the column.

Then I saw the source of the flames as I reached them. Huge
vats of oil--six, a dozen, twenty--I know not how many--were ranged
in a circle on a ledge of stone encircling the column, and from
their tops the fire leaped upward to a great height. I saw what
must be done; how I did it God only knows; I shut my eyes now as I
remember it.

Hooking the rim of the vat nearest me with the point of my
spear, I sent it tumbling down the length of the column into the
whirlpool, many feet below. Then another, and another, and
another, until the ledge was empty.

Some of the burning oil, flying from the overturned vats,
alighted on the stairway, casting weird patches of light up and
down the whole length of the column. Some of it landed on my body,
my face, my hands. It was a very hell of heat; my lungs, all the
inside of me, was on fire.

My brain sang and whirled. My eyes felt as though they were
being burned from their sockets with red-hot irons. I bounded

A few more steps--I could not see, I could hardly feel--and my
head bumped against the stone at the top of the column. I put out
my hand, groping around half crazily, and by some wild chance it
came in contact with the slide that moved the stone stab. I
pushed, hardly knowing what I did, and the stone flew to one side.
I stuck my head through the opening and saw Desiree.

Her back was toward me. As I emerged from the opening the
Incas seated round the vast amphitheater and the king, seated on
the golden throne in the alcove, rose involuntarily from their
seats in astonished wonder.

Desiree saw the movement and, turning, caught sight of me. A
sudden cry of amazement burst from her lips; she made a hasty step
forward and fell fainting into my arms.

I shook her violently, but she remained unconscious, and this
added catastrophe all but unnerved me. For a moment I stood on the
upper step with the upper half of my body, swaying from side to
side, extending beyond the top of the column; then I turned and
began to descend with Desiree in my arms.

Every step of that descent was unspeakable agony. Feeling was
hardly in me; my whole body was an engine of pain. Somehow, I
staggered and stumbled downward; at every step I expected to fall
headlong to the bottom with my burden. Desiree's form remained
limp and lifeless in my arms.

I reached the ledge on which the vats had been placed and
passed it; air entered my burning lungs like a breeze from the
mountains. Every step now made the next one easier. I began to
think that I might, after all, reach the bottom in safety. Another
twenty steps and I could see the beginning of the tunnel below.

Desiree's form stirred slightly in my arms. A glance showed
me her eyes looking up into mine as her head lay back on my

"Why?" she moaned. "In the name of Heaven above us, why?" I
had no time for answer; my lips were locked tightly together as I
sought the step below with a foot that had no feeling even for the
stone. We were nearly to the bottom; we reached it.

I placed Desiree on her feet.

"Can you stand?" I gasped; and the words were torn from my
throat with a great effort.

"But you!" she cried, and I saw that her eyes were filled with
horror. No doubt I was a pitiful thing to look at.

But there was no time to be lost, and, seeing that her feet
supported her, I grasped her arm and started down the tunnel just
as Harry's voice, raised in a great shout, came to us from its
farther end.

"No!" cried Desiree, shrinking back in terror. "Paul--" I
dragged her forward.

Then, as Harry's cry was repeated, she seemed to understand
and sprang forward beside me.

Another second wasted and we would have been too late. Just
as we reached Harry's side, at the end of the tunnel, the Incas,
warned by my appearance at the top of the column, appeared above on
the stairway, at the foot of which Harry had made his stand.

At the sight of Desiree Harry uttered a cry of joy, then gazed
in astonishment as I appeared behind her.

"Run for your lives!" he shouted, pointing down the passage
leading to the apartments beyond. As he spoke a shower of spears
descended from above, rattling on the steps and on the ground
beside us. I stooped to pick up two of them, and as Desiree and I
darted forward into the passage, with Harry bringing up the rear,
the Incas dashed down the stairway after us.

We found ourselves at once in the maze of lanes and passages
leading to the royal apartments. That, I thought, was as good a
goal as any; and, besides, the way led to the cavern where we had
once before successfully withstood our enemies. But the way was
not so easy to find.

Turn and twist about as we would, we could not shake off our
pursuers. Harry kept urging me forward, but I was using every
ounce of strength that was left to me. Desiree, too, was becoming
weaker at every step, and I could hear Harry's cry of despair as
she perceptibly faltered and slackened her pace.

I soon realized that we were no longer in the passage or group
of passages that led to the royal apartments and the cavern beyond.
But there was no time to seek our way; well enough if we went
forward. We found ourselves in a narrow lane, strewn with rocks,
crooked and winding.

Desiree stumbled and would have fallen but for my outstretched
arm. A spear from behind whistled past my ear as we again bounded
forward. Harry was shouting to us that the Incas were upon us.

I caught Desiree's arm and pulled her on with a last great
effort. The lane became narrower still; we brushed the wall on
either side, and I pushed Desiree ahead of me and followed behind.
Suddenly she stopped short, turning to face me so suddenly that I
was thrown against her, nearly knocking her down.

"Your spear!" she cried desperately. "I can go no farther,"
and she sank to the ground.

At the same moment there came a cry from Harry in the rear--a
cry that held joy and wonder--and I turned to see him standing some
distance away, gazing down the lane through which we had come.

"They've given up!" he called. "They're gone!"

And I saw that it was true. No sound came, and no Inca was to
be seen.

Then, seeing Desiree on the ground, Harry ran to us and sprang
to her side. "Desiree!" he cried, lifting her in his arms. She
opened her eyes and smiled at him, and he kissed her many
times--her hair, her lips, her eyes. Then he placed her gently on
her feet, and, supporting her with his arm, moved forward slowly.
I led the way.

The lane ahead of us was scarcely more than a crevice between
the rocks; I squeezed my way through with difficulty. Then the
walls ended abruptly, just when I had begun to think we could go no
farther, and we found ourselves at the entrance to a cavern so
large that no wall was to be seen on any side save the one behind

On the instant I guessed at the reason why the Incas had
ceased their pursuit so abruptly, and I turned to Harry:

"I'm afraid we've jumped from the frying-pan into the fire.
If this cavern holds anything like that other--you remember--"

"If it does, we shall see," he replied.

Supporting Desiree on either side, we struck out directly
across the cavern, halting every few steps to listen for a sound,
either of the Incas, which we feared, or of running water, which we
desired. We heard neither. All was blackness and the most
complete silence.

Then I became aware, for the first time, of intolerable pains
shooting up through my legs into my body. The danger past, reason
returned and feeling. I could not suppress a low cry, wrung
inexorably from my chest, and I halted, leaning my whole weight on
Desiree's shoulder.

"What is it?" she cried, and for answer--though I strained
every atom of my will and strength to prevent it--I toppled to the
ground, dragging her with me.

What followed came to me as in a dream, though I was not
wholly unconscious. I was aware that Harry and Desiree were
bending over me; then I felt my head and shoulders being lifted
from the ground, and a soft, warm arm supporting me.

A minute passed, or an hour--I did not know--and I felt hot
drops of moisture fall on my cheek. I struggled to open my eyes,
and saw Desiree's face quite near my own; my head was resting on
her shoulder. She was weeping silently, and great tears rolled
down her cheeks unrestrained.

To have seen the sun or stars shining down upon me would not
have astonished me more. I gazed at her a long moment in silence;
she saw that I did so, but made no effort to turn her head or avoid
my gaze. Finally I found my tongue.

"Where is Harry?" I asked.

"He is gone to look for water," she replied; and, curiously
enough, her voice was quite steady.

I smiled.

"It is useless. I am done for!"

"That isn't true," she denied, in a voice almost of anger.
"You will get well. You are--injured badly--" After a short pause
she added, "for me."

There was a long silence--I thought it hardly worth while to
contradict her--and then I said simply, "Why are you crying,

She looked at me as though she had not heard; then, after
another silence, her voice came, so low that it barely reached my

"For this--and for what might have been, my friend."

"But you have said--"

"I know! Would you make me doubt again? Do not! Ah"--she
passed her hand gently over my forehead and touched the tips of her
fingers to my burning eyes--"you must have cared for me in that
other world. I will not doubt it; unless you speak, and you must
not. Nothing would have been too high for us. We could have
opened any door--even the door to happiness."

"But you said once--forgive me if I remind you of it now--you
said that you are--you called yourself 'La Marana.'"

She shrank back, exclaiming: "Paul! Indeed, I need to forgive

"Still, it is true," I persisted, turning to look at her. The
movement caused me to halt, closing my eyes, while a great wave of
pain swept over me from head to foot. Then I went on: "Could you
expect to confine your heart? You say we could have opened any
door--well, tell me, what could we have done, you and I?"

"But that is what I do not think of!" cried Desiree
impatiently. "I would perhaps have placed my hand on your heart,
as I do now; you would perhaps have fought for me, as you have
done. I might even--" She hesitated, while the ghost of a smile
that had died before it reached the light appeared on her lips, as
her head was lowered close, quite close, to mine.

A long moment, and then, "Must I ask for it?" I breathed.

She jerked her head up sharply.

"You do not want it," she said dryly.

I raised my hand, groping for her fingers, but could not find
them. She saw, and slowly, very slowly, her hand crept to mine and
was caught and held there.

"Desiree--I want it," I said half fiercely, and I forgot my
pain and our danger--forgot everything but her white face in dim
outline above me, and her eyes, glowing and tender against her
wish, and her hand that nestled in my hand. "Be merciful to me--I
want it as I have never wanted anything in my life. Desiree, I
love you."

At that I felt her hand move quickly, as for freedom, but I
held it fast. And then slowly her head was lowered. I waited
breathlessly. I felt her quick breath on my face, and the next
moment her lips had found my lips, hot and dry, and remained there.

Then she raised her head, saying tremulously:

"That was my soul, and it is the first time it has ever
escaped me."

At the same instant we were startled by the sound of Harry's
voice in the darkness:

"Desiree! Where are you?"

I waited for her to answer, but she was silent, and I called
out to him our direction. A moment later his form appeared at a
distance, and soon he had joined us.

"How about it, old man?" he asked, bending over me.

Then he told us that he had found no water. He had explored
two sides of the cavern, one at a distance of half a mile or more,
and was crossing to find the third when he had called to us.

"But there is little use," he finished gloomily. "The place
is silent as the grave. If there were water we would hear it.
I can't even find an exit except the crevice that let us in."

Desiree's hand was still in mine.

"It may be--perhaps I can go with you," I suggested. But he
would not hear of it, and set out again alone in the opposite
direction to that which he had taken previously.

In a few minutes he returned, reporting no better success than
before. On that side, he said, the wall of the cavern was quite
close. There was no sign anywhere of water; but to the left there
were several narrow lanes leading at angles whose sides were nearly
parallel to each other, and some distance to the right there was a
broad and clear passage sloping downward directly away from the

"Is the passage straight?" I asked, struck with a sudden idea.
"Could you see far within?"

"A hundred feet or so," was the answer. "Why? Shall we
follow it? Can you walk?"

"I think so," I answered. "At any rate, I must find some
water soon or quit the game. But that isn't why I asked. Perhaps
it explains the sudden disappearance of the Incas. They knew they
couldn't follow us through that narrow crevice; what if they have
made for the passage?"

Harry grumbled that we had enough trouble without trying to
borrow more.

We decided to wait a little longer before starting out from
the cavern; Harry helped me to my feet to give them a trial, and
though I was able to stand it was only by a tremendous effort and
exertion of the will.

"Not yet," I murmured between clenched teeth, and again
Desiree sat on the hard rock and supported my head and shoulders in
her arms, despite my earnest remonstrances. Harry stood before us,
leaning on his spear.

Soon he left us again, departing in the direction of the
crevice by which we had entered; I detected his uneasiness in the
tone with which he directed us to keep a lookout around in every

"We could move to the wall," I had suggested; but he shook his
head, saying that where we were we at least had room to turn.

When he had gone Desiree and I sat silent for many minutes.
Then I tried to rise, insisting that she must be exhausted with the
long strain she had undergone, but she denied it vehemently, and
refused to allow me to move.

"It is little enough," she said; and though I but half
understood her, I made no answer.

I myself was convinced that we were at last near the end. It
was certain that the Incas had merely delayed, not abandoned, the
pursuit, and our powers and means of resistance had been worn to

Our curious apathy and half indifference spoke for itself; it
was as though we had at length recognized the hand of fate and seen
the futility of further struggle. For, weak and injured as I was,
I still had strength in me; it was a listlessness of the brain and
hopelessness of the heart that made me content to lie and wait for
whatever might come.

The state of my feelings toward Desiree were even then
elusive; they are more so now. I had told her I loved her; well,
I had told many women that. But Desiree had moved me; with her it
was not the same--that I felt. I had never so admired a woman, and
the thrill of that kiss is in me yet; I can recall it and tremble
under its power by merely closing my eyes.

Her warm hand, pressed tightly in my own, seemed to send an
electric communication to every nerve in my body and eased my
suffering and stilled my pain. That, I know, is not love; and
perhaps I was mistaken when I imagined that it was there.

"Are you asleep?" she asked presently, after I had lain
perfectly quiet for many minutes. Her voice was so low that it
entered my ear as the faintest breath.

"Hardly," I answered. "To tell the truth, I expect never to
sleep again--I suppose you understand me. I can't say why--I feel

Desiree nodded.

"Do you remember, Paul, what I said that evening on the
mountain?" Then--I suppose my face must have betrayed my
thought--she added quickly: "Oh, I didn't mean that--other thing.
I said this mountain would be my grave, do you remember? You see,
I knew."

I started to reply, but was interrupted by Harry, calling to
ask where we were. I answered, and soon he had joined us and
seated himself beside Desiree on the ground.

"I found nothing," was all he said, wearily, and he lay back
and closed his eyes, resting his head on his hands.

The minutes passed slowly. Desiree and I talked in low tones;
Harry moved about uneasily on his hard bed, saying nothing.
Finally, despite Desiree's energetic protests, I rose to my knees
and insisted that she rest herself. We seemed none of us to be
scarcely aware of what we were doing; our movements had a curious
purposelessness about them that gave the thing an appearance of
unreality--I know not what; it comes to my memory as some
indistinct and haunting nightmare.

Suddenly, as I sat gazing dully into the semidarkness of the
cavern, I saw that which drove the apathy from my brain with a
sudden shock, at the same time paralyzing my senses. I strained my
eyes ahead; there could be no doubt of it; that black, slowly
moving line was a band of Incas creeping toward us silently, on
their knees, through the darkness. Glancing to either side I saw
that the line extended completely around us, to the right and left.

The sight seemed to paralyze me. I tried to call to Harry--no
sound came from my eager lips. I tried to put out my hand to rouse
him and to pick up my spear; my arms remained motionless at my

Desiree lay close beside me; I could not even turn my head to
see if she, too, saw, but kept my eyes, as though fascinated, on
that silent black line approaching through the darkness.

"Will they leap now--now--now?" I asked myself with every beat
of my pulse.

It could not be much longer--they were now so close that each
black, tense form was in clear outline not fifty feet away.

Chapter XXIII.


Whether I would have been able to rouse myself to action
before the shock of the assault was actually upon us, I shall never

It was not fear that held me, for I felt none; I think that
dimly and half unconsciously I saw in that black line, silently
creeping upon us, the final and inexorable approach of the
remorseless fate that had pursued us ever since we had dashed after
Desiree into the cave of the devil, rendering our every effort
futile, our most desperate struggles the laughing-stock of the

I was not even conscious of danger. I sat as in a stupor.

But action came, though not from me, so suddenly that I
scarcely knew what had happened. There was a cry from Desiree.
Harry sprang to his feet. The Incas leaped forward.

I felt myself jerked violently from the ground, and a spear
was thrust into my hand. Harry's form flashed past me, shouting to
me to follow. Desiree was at his heels; but I saw her halt and
turn to me, and I, too, sprang forward.

Harry's spear whirled about his head, leaving a gap in the
black line that was now upon us. Through it we plunged. The Incas
turned and came at us from behind; one whose hands were upon
Desiree got my spear in his throat and sank to the ground.

"Cross to the left!" Harry yelled. He was fighting them off
from every direction at once.

I turned, calling to Desiree to follow, and dashed across the
cavern. We saw the wall just ahead, broken and rugged. Again
turning I called to Harry, but could not see him for the black
forms on every side, and I was starting to his rescue when I saw
him plunge toward us, cutting his way through the solid mass of
Incas as though they had been stalks of corn. He was not a man,
but a demon possessed.

"Go on," he shouted. "I'll make it!"

Then I turned and ran with Desiree to the wall. We followed
it a short distance before we reached one of the lanes of which
Harry had spoken; at its entrance he joined us, still bidding us to
leave him to cover our retreat.

Once within the narrow lane his task was easier. Boulders and
projecting rocks obstructed our progress, but they were even
greater obstacles to those who pursued us. Still they rushed
forward, only to be hurled back by the point of Harry's spear.
Once, turning, I saw him pick one of them up bodily and toss him
whirling through the air into the very faces of his comrades.

I had all I could do with Desiree and myself. Many times I
scrambled up the steep face of some boulder and, after pulling her
up safely after me, let her down again on the other side. Then I
returned to see that Harry got over safely, and often he made it
barely by inches, while flying spears struck the rock on every

It is a wonder to me now that I was able even to stand, after
my experience on the spiral stairway in the column. The soles of
my feet and the palms of my hands were baked black as the Incas
themselves. Blisters covered my body from head to foot, swelling,
indescribably painful.

Every step I took made me clench my teeth to keep from sinking
in a faint to the ground; I expected always that the next would be
my last--but somehow I struggled onward. It was the thought of
Desiree, I think, that held me up, and Harry.

Suddenly a shout came from Harry that the Incas had abandoned
the pursuit. It struck me almost as a matter of indifference; nor
was I affected when almost immediately afterward he called that he
had been mistaken and that they had rushed forward with renewed
fury and in greater numbers.

"It is only a matter of time now," I said to Desiree, and she

Still we went forward. The land had carried us straight away
from the cavern, without a turn. Its walls were the roughest I had
seen, and often a boulder which lay across our path presented a
serrated face that looked as though it had but just been broken
from the wall above. Still the stone was comparatively soft--time
had not yet worked its leveling finger on the surfaces that
surrounded us.

We were standing on one of these boulders when Harry came
running toward us.

"They're stopped," he cried gleefully, "at least for a little.
A piece of rock as big as a house gently slid from above onto their
precious heads. It may have blocked them off completely."

We hurried forward then; Harry helped Desiree, while I
painfully brought up the rear. At every few steps they were forced
to halt and wait for me, though I did my utmost to keep us with
them. Harry had taken my spear that I might have both hands to
help me over the rocks.

Climbing, sliding, jumping, we left the Incas behind; no sound
came from the rear. I began to think that they had really been
completely shut off, and several times opened my mouth to call to
Harry to ask him if it would not be safe to halt; for every
movement I made was torture. But each time I choked back the cry;
he thought it was necessary to go on and I followed.

This lasted I know not how long; I was staggering and reeling
forward like a drunken man, so little aware of what I was doing
that when Harry and Desiree finally stopped at the beginning of a
level, unbroken stretch in the lane, I stumbled directly against
them before I knew they had halted.

"Go on!" I gasped, struggling to my feet in a mania.

Harry stooped over to assist me and set me with my back
resting against the wall. Desiree supported herself near by,
scarcely able to stand.

"We can go no farther," said Harry. "If they come--"

As he spoke I became aware of a curious movement in the wall
opposite--a movement as of the wall itself. At first I thought it
a delusion produced by my disordered brain, but when I saw
Desiree's astonished gaze following mine, and heard Harry's cry of
wonder as he turned and saw it also, I knew the thing was real.

A great portion of the wall, the entire side of the passage
for a length of a hundred feet or more, was sliding slowly
downward. Glancing above I saw a space of several feet where the
rock had departed from its bed. The only noise audible was a low,
grating sound like the slow grinding of a gigantic millstone.

None of us moved--if there were danger we would seem to have
welcomed it. Suddenly the great mass of rock appeared to halt in
its downward movement and hang as though suspended; then with a
sudden jerk it seemed to free itself, swaying ponderously toward
us; and the next moment it had fallen straight down into some abyss
below, thundering, tumbling, sliding with terrific velocity.

There was a deafening roar under our feet, the ground rocked
as from an earthquake, and it seemed as though the wall against
which we stood was about to fall in upon us. Dust and fragments of
rock filled the air on every side, and one huge boulder, detached
from the roof above, came tumbling at our feet, missing us by

We were completely stunned by the cataclysm, but in a moment
Harry had recovered and run to the edge of the chasm opposite thus
suddenly formed. Desiree and I followed.

There was nothing to be seen save the blackness of space.
Immediately before us was an apparently bottomless abyss, black and
terrifying; the side descended straight down from our feet.
Looking across we could see dimly a wall some distance away, smooth
and with a faint whiteness. On either side of us other walls
extended to meet the farther wall, smooth and polished as glass.

"The Incas didn't do that, I hope," said Harry, turning to me.

"Hardly," I answered; and in my absorbing interest in the
phenomenon before me I half forgot my pain.

I moved to the edge of one of the walls extending at right
angles to the passage, but there was little to be made of it. It
was of soft limestone, and most probably the portion that had
disappeared was granite, carried away by the force of its own

"We are like to be buried," I observed, returning to Harry and
Desiree. "Though for that matter, even that can hardly frighten us

"For my part," said Harry, with a curious gravity beneath the
apparent lightness of his words, "I have always admired the death
of Porthos. Let it come, and welcome."

"Are we to go further?" put in Desiree.

Just as Harry opened his mouth to reply a more decisive answer
came from another source. The rock that had fallen, obstructing
the path of the Incas, must have left an opening that Harry had
missed; or they had removed it--what matter?

In some way they had forced a passage, for as Desiree spoke a
dozen spears whistled through the air past our heads and we looked
up to see a swarm of Incas climbing and tumbling down the face of
a boulder over which we had passed to reach our resting-place.

I have said that we had halted in a level, unbroken stretch
that still led some distance ahead of us. At its farther end could
be seen a group of rocks and boulders completely choking the lane,
Beyond, other rocks arose to a still greater height--the way
appeared to be impassable.

But there was no time for deliberation or the weighing of
chances, and we turned and made for the pile of rocks, with the
Incas rushing after us.

There Desiree and I halted in despair, but with a great oath
Harry brushed us aside and leaped upon a rock higher than his head
with incredible agility. Then, lying flat on his face and
extending his arms downward over the edge, he pulled first Desiree,
then myself, up after him. The whole performance had occupied a
scant two seconds, and, waiting only to pick up the three spears he
had thrown up the sloping surface of the rock to another yet higher
and steeper.

"Why don't we hold them here?" I demanded. "They could never
come up that rock with us on top."

Harry looked at me.

"Spears," he said briefly; and, of course, he was right. They
would have picked us off like birds on a limb.

We scaled the second rock with extreme difficulty, Harry
assisting both Desiree and me; and as we stood upright on its top
I saw the Incas scrambling over the edge of the one below. Two or
three of them had already started to cross; many more were coming
up from behind; and one, as he made the top and arose to his feet,
braced himself on the sloping rock and raised a spear high above
his head.

At sight of him I started, crying to Harry and Desiree. They

"The king!" I shouted; and I saw a shudder of terror run over
Desiree's face as she, too, recognized the black form below. At
the same instant the spear darted forward from the hand of the
Child of the Sun, but it landed harmlessly against the rock several
feet away.

The next moment the Inca king had bounded across the rock
toward us, followed by a score of others.

I was minded to try my luck with his own weapon, but we had no
spears to waste, and Harry was dragging Desiree forward and
shouting to me to follow. I turned and ran after them, and just as
we let ourselves down into a narrow crevice below the Incas
appeared over the edge of the rock behind.

Somehow we scrambled forward, with the Incas at our heels.
Sharp corners of projecting rocks bruised our faces and bodies;
once my leg bent double under me as I fell from a ledge onto a
boulder below, and I thought it was broken; but Harry jerked me to
my feet and I struggled on.

Harry seemed possessed of the strength of ten men and the
heart of a thousand. He pulled Desiree and me up and over boulders
and rocks as though we had been feathers; the Lord knows how he got
there himself! Half of the time he carried Desiree; the other half
he supported me. His energy and exertions were titanic; even in
the desperate excitement of our retreat I found time to marvel at

We did not gain an inch; our pursuers kept close behind us;
but we held our own. Now and then a stray spear came hurtling
through the air or struck the rock near us, but they were
infrequent and we were not hit.

One, flying past my head, stuck in a crevice of the rock and
I grasped the shaft to pull it out, but abandoned my effort when I
heard Harry shouting to me from the front to come to his aid.

He and Desiree were standing on the rim of a ledge that stood
high above the ground of the passage. At its foot began a level
stretch leading straight ahead as far as we could see.

"We must lift her down," Harry was saying.

He let himself over the ledge, hung by his hands, and dropped.
"All right!" he called from below; and I lay flat on the rock while
Desiree scrambled over the edge, holding to my hands. For a moment
I held her suspended in my outstretched arms; then, at a word from
Harry, I let her drop. Another moment and I was over myself,
knocking Harry to the ground and tumbling on top of him as he stood
beneath to break my fall.

By then the Incas had reached the top of the ledge above us,
and we turned and raced down the long stretch ahead. I was in
front; Harry came behind with Desiree.

Suddenly, as I ran, I felt a curious trembling of the ground
beneath my feet, similar to the vibrations of a bridge at the
passing of a heavy load.

Then the ground actually swayed beneath me; and, realizing the
danger, I sent a desperate shout to Harry over my shoulder and
bounded forward. He was at my side on the instant, with Desiree in
his arms.

The ground rocked beneath our feet like a ship in a storm;
and, just as I thought we were gone, my foot touched firm rock as
I passed a yawning crevice a foot wide under me.

One more leap to safety, and we turned just in time to see the
floor of the passage which we had traversed disappear into some
abyss beneath with a shattering roar.

We stood at the very edge of the chasm thus suddenly formed,
gazing at each other in silent wonder and awe.

"The beggars are stopped now," said Harry finally. "That
break in the game is ours."

Looking back across the chasm, we saw the Incas tumbling by
twos and threes over the boulder on the other side. As they saw
the yawning abyss that separated them from their prey they stopped
short and gazed across in profound astonishment.

Others came to join them, until there were several hundred of
the black, ugly forms huddled together on the opposite rim of the
chasm, a hundred feet away.

I ran over the group with a keen eye, seeking the figure of
the Inca king, and soon my search was successful. He stood a step
in front of the others, a little to the right. I pointed him out
to Harry and Desiree.

"It's up to him to walk right out again," said Harry.

Desiree shivered, and proceeded to send her last invitation to
the devil.

Turning suddenly, she grasped Harry's spear and tore it from
his hand. Before we realized her purpose, she stepped forward
until her foot rested on the very edge of the chasm, and had hurled
the spear across straight at the Inca king.

It missed him, but struck another Inca standing near full in
the breast. Quick as lightning the king turned, grasped the shaft
of the spear, and pulled it forth, and with his white teeth
gleaming in a snarl of furious hate, sent it whistling through the
air straight at Desiree.

Harry and I sprang forward with a shout of warning; Desiree
stood motionless as a statue. We grasped her frantically and
pulled her back, but too late.

She came, but only to fall lifeless into our arms with the
spear buried deep in her white throat.

We laid her on the ground and knelt beside her for a moment,
then Harry arose to his feet with a face white as death; and I
uttered a silent and vengeful prayer as I saw him level a spear at
the Inca king across the chasm. But it went wide of its mark,
striking the ground at his feet.

"There was another!" cried Harry, and soon he had found it
where it lay on the ground and sent it, too, hurtling across.

This time he missed by inches. The spear flew just past the
shoulder of the king and caught one who stood behind him full in
the face. The stricken savage threw his arms spasmodically above
his head, reeling forward against the king.

There was a startled movement along the black line; hands were
outstretched in a vain effort at rescue; a savage cry burst from
Harry's lips, and the next instant the king had toppled over the
edge of the chasm and fallen into the bottomless pit below.

Harry turned, quivering from head to foot.

"Little enough," he said between his teeth, and again he knelt
beside the body of Desiree and took her in his arms.

But her fate spoke eloquently of our own danger, and I roused
him to action. Together we picked up the form of our dead comrade
and carried it to the rear. I hesitated to pull forth the barbed
head of the spear, and instead broke off the shaft, leaving the
point buried in the soft throat, from which a crimson line extended
over the white shoulder.

A short distance ahead we came to a projecting boulder, and
behind that we gently laid her on the hard rock. Neither of us had
spoken a word. Harry's lips were locked tightly together; a lump
rose in my throat, choking all utterance and filling my eyes with

Harry knelt beside the white form and, gathering it gently in
his arms, held it against his breast. I stood at his side, gazing
down at him in mute sympathy and sorrow.

For a long minute there was silence--a most intense silence
throughout the cavern, during which the painful throbbing of my
heart was plainly audible; then Harry murmured, in a voice of the
utmost tenderness: "Desiree!" And again, "Desiree! Desiree!"
until I half expected the very strength and sweetness of his
emotion to bring our comrade back to life.

Suddenly, with a quick, impulsive movement, he raised his head
to glance at me.

"She loved you," he said; and though there was neither
jealousy nor anger in his voice, somehow I could not meet his gaze.

"She loved you," he repeated in a tone half of wonder. "And

I answered his eyes.

"She was yours," I said, with a touch of bitterness that
persuaded him of the truth. "All her beauty, all her loveliness,
all her charm, to be buried--Ah! God help us--"

My voice broke, and I knelt on the ground beside Harry and
pressed my lips to the white forehead and golden hair of what had
been Le Mire.

Thus we remained for a long time.

It was hard to believe that death had in reality taken
possession of the still form stretched as in repose before us. Her
body, still warm, seemed quivering with the instinct of life; but
the eyes were not the eyes of Desiree. I closed them, and arranged
the tangled mass of hair as well as possible over her shoulders.
As I did so the air, set in motion by my hand, caused some of the
golden strands to tremble gently across her lips; and Harry bent
forward with a painful eagerness, thinking that she had breathed.

"Dearest," he murmured, "dearest, speak to me!"

His hand sought her swelling bosom gropingly; and his eyes, as
they looked pleadingly even into mine, shot into my heart and
unnerved me.

I rose to my feet, scarcely able to stand, and moved away.

But the fate that had finally intervened for us--too late,
alas! for one--did not leave us long with our dead. Even now I do
not know what happened; at the time I knew even less. Harry told
me afterward that the first shock came at the instant he had taken
Desiree in his arms and pressed his lips to hers.

I had crossed to the other side of the passage and was gazing
back toward the chasm at the Incas on the other side, when again I
felt the ground, absolutely without warning, tremble violently
under my feet. At the same moment there was a low, curious rumble
as of the thundering of distant cannon.

I sprang toward Harry with a cry of alarm, and had crossed
about to the middle of the passage, when a deafening roar smote my
ear, and the entire wall of the cavern appeared to be failing in
upon us. At the same time the ground seemed to sink directly away
beneath my feet with an easy, rocking motion as of a wave of the
ocean. Then I felt myself plunging downward with a velocity that
stunned my senses and took away my breath; and then all was
confusion and chaos--and oblivion.

When I awoke I was lying flat on my back, and Harry was
kneeling at my side. I opened my eyes, and felt that it would be
impossible to make a greater exertion.

"Paul!" cried Harry. "Speak to me! Not you, too--I shall go

He told me afterward that I had lain unconscious for many
hours, but that appeared to be all that he knew. How far we had
fallen, or how he had found me, or how he himself had escaped being
crushed to pieces by the falling rock, he was unable to say; and I
concluded that he, too, had been rendered unconscious by the fall,
and for some time dazed and bewildered by the shock.

Well! We were alive--that was all.

For we were weak and faint from hunger and fatigue, and one
mass of bruises and blisters from head to foot. And we had had no
water for something like twenty-four hours. Heaven only knows
where we found the energy to rise and go in search of it; it is
incredible that any creatures in such a pitiable and miserable
condition as we were could have been propelled by hope, unless it
is indeed immortal.

Half walking, half crawling, we went forward.

The place where we had found ourselves was a jumbled mass of
boulders and broken rock, but we soon discovered a passage, level
and straight as any tunnel built by man.

Down this we made our way. Every few feet we stopped to rest.
Neither of us spoke a word. I really had no sense of any purpose
in our progress; I crept on exactly as some animals, wounded to
death, move on and on until there is no longer strength for another
step, when they lie down for the final breath.

We saw no water nor promise of any; nothing save the long
stretch of dim vista ahead and the grim, black walls on either
side. That, I think, for hours; it seemed to me then for years.

I dragged one leg after the other with infinite effort and
pain; Harry was ahead, and sometimes, glancing back over his
shoulder to find me at some distance behind, he would turn over and
lie on his back till I approached. Then again to his knees and
again forward. Neither of us spoke.

Suddenly, at a great distance down the passage, much further
than I had been able to see before, I saw what appeared to be a
white wall extending directly across our path.

I called to Harry and pointed it out to him. He nodded
vaguely, as though in wonder that I should have troubled him about
so slight an object of interest, and crawled on.

But the white wall became whiter still, and soon I saw that it
was not a wall. A wild hope surged through me; I felt the blood
mount dizzily to my head, and I stilled the clamor that beat at my
temples by an extreme effort of the will. "It can't be," I said to
myself aloud, over and over; "it can't be, it can't be."

Harry turned, and his face was as white as when he had knelt
by the body of Desiree, and his eye was wild.

"You fool," he roared, "it is!"

We went faster then. Another hundred yards, and the thing was
certain; there it was before us. We scrambled to our feet and
tried to run; I reeled and fell, then picked myself up again and
followed Harry, who had not even halted as I had fallen. The mouth
of the passage was now but a few feet away; I reached Harry's side,
blinking and stunned with amazement and the incredible wonder of

I tried to shout, to cry aloud to the heavens, but a great
lump in my throat choked me and my head was singing dizzily.

Harry, at my side, was crying like a child, with great tears
streaming down his face, as together we staggered forth from the
mouth of the passage into the bright and dazzling sunshine of the

Chapter XXIV.


Never, I believe, were misery and joy so curiously mingled in
the human breast as when Harry and I stood--barely able to
stand--gazing speechlessly at the world that had so long been
hidden from us.

We had found the light, but had lost Desiree. We were alive,
but so near to death that our first breath of the mountain air was
like to be our last.

The details of our painful journey down the mountain, over the
rocks and crags, and through rushing torrents that more than once
swept us from our feet, cannot be written, for I do not know them.

The memory of the thing is but an indistinct nightmare of
suffering. But the blind luck that seemed to have fallen over our
shoulders as a protecting mantle at the death of Desiree stayed
with us; and after endless hours of incredible toil and labor, we
came to a narrow pass leading at right angles to our course.

Night was ready to fall over the bleak and barren mountain as
we entered it. Darkness had long since overtaken us, when we saw
at a distance a large clearing, in the middle of which lights shone
from the windows of a large house whose dim and shadowy outline
appeared to us surrounded by a halo of peace.

But we were nearly forced to fight for it. The proprietor of
the hacienda himself answered our none too gentle knock at
the door, and he had no sooner caught sight of us than he let out
a yell as though he had seen the devil in person, and slammed the
door violently in our faces. Indeed, we were hardly recognizable
as men.

Naked, black, bruised, and bleeding, covered with hair on our
faces and parts of our bodies--mine, of recent growth, stubby and
stiff--our appearance would have justified almost any suspicion.

But we hammered again on the door, and I set forth our
pedigree and plight in as few words as possible. Reassured,
perhaps, by my excellent Spanish--which could not, of course, be
the tongue of the devil--and convinced by our pitiable condition of
our inability to do him any harm, he at length reopened the door
and gave us admittance.

When we had succeeded in allaying his suspicions concerning
our identity--though I was careful not to alarm his superstitions
by mentioning the cave of the devil, which, I thought, was probably
well known to him--he lost no time in displaying his humanity.

Calling in some hombres from the rear of the
hacienda, he gave them ample instructions, with medicine and
food, and an hour later Harry and I were lying side by side in his
own bed--a rude affair, but infinitely better than granite--
refreshed, bandaged, and as comfortable as their kindly
ministrations could make us.

The old Spaniard was a direct descendant of the good Samaritan
--despite the slight difference in nationality. For many weeks he
nursed us and fed us and coaxed back the spark of life in our
exhausted and wounded bodies.

Our last ounce of strength seemed to have been used up in our
desperate struggle down the side of the mountain; for many days we
lay on our backs absolutely unable to move a muscle and barely
conscious of life.

But the spark revived and fluttered. The day came when we
could hobble, with his assistance, to the door of the
hacienda and sit for hours in the invigorating sunshine; and
thenceforward our convalescence proceeded rapidly. Color came to
our cheeks and light to our eyes; and one sunny afternoon it was
decided that we should set out for Cerro de Pasco on the following

Harry proposed a postponement of our departure for two days,
saying that he wished to make an excursion up the mountain. I
understood him at once.

"It would be useless," I declared. "You would find nothing."

"But she was with us when we fell," he persisted, not
bothering to pretend that he did not understand me. "She came--it
must be near where we landed."

"That isn't it," I explained. "Have you forgotten that we
have been here for over a month? You would find nothing." As he
grasped my thought his face went white and he was silent. So on
the following morning we departed.

Our host furnished us with food, clothing, mules, and an
arriero, not to mention a sorrowful farewell and a hearty
blessing. From the door of the hacienda he waved his
sombrero as we disappeared around a bend in the mountain-pass; we
had, perhaps, been a welcome interruption in the monotony of his
lonely existence.

We were led upward for many miles until we found ourselves
again in the region of perpetual snow. There we set our faces to
the south. From the arriero we tried to learn how far we
then were from the cave of the devil, but to our surprise were
informed that he had never heard of the thing.

We could see that the question made him more than a little
suspicious of us; often, when he thought himself unobserved, I
caught him eyeing us askance with something nearly approaching

We journeyed southward for eleven days; on the morning of the
twelfth we saw below us our goal. Six hours later we had entered
the same street of Cerro de Pasco through which we had passed
formerly with light hearts; and the heart which had been gayest of
all we had left behind us, stilled forever, somewhere beneath the
mountain of stone which she had herself chosen for her tomb.

Almost the first person we saw was none other than Felipe, the
arriero. He sat on the steps of the hotel portico as we
rode up on our mules. Dismounting, I caught sight of his white
face and staring eyes as he rose slowly to his feet, gazing at us

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