Under the Andes
Part 3 out of 7
a tug at Harry's arm, and he nodded. We approached the wall, then
turned to the right and proceeded parallel with it, watching for a
break that would mean the way to freedom.
I noticed a dark line that extended along the base of the
wall, reaching up its side to a height of about two feet and
seemingly melting away into the ground. At first I took it for a
separate strata of rock, darker than that above. But there was a
strange brokenness about its appearance that made me consider it
It appeared to be composed of curious knots and protuberances.
I stopped short, and, advancing a step or two toward the wall,
gazed intently. Then I saw that the dark line was not a part of
the wall at all; and then--well, then I laughed aloud in spite of
myself. The thing was too ludicrous.
For that "dark line" along the bottom of the wall was a row of
squatting Incas! There they sat, silent, motionless; even when my
laugh rang out through the cavern they gave not the slightest sign
that they either heard or saw. Yet it was certain that they had
watched our every move.
There was nothing for it but retreat. With our knives we
might have fought our way through; but we were unarmed, and we had
felt one or two proofs of their strength.
Harry took it with more philosophy than I had expected. As
for me, I had not yet finished my laugh. We sought our former
resting-place, recognizing it by the platter and basin which we had
emptied before our famous and daring attempt to escape.
Soon Harry began:
"I'll tell you what they are, Paul; they're frogs. Nothing
but frogs. Did you see 'em? The little black devils! And Lord,
how they smell!"
"That," I answered, "is the effect of--"
"To the deuce with your mineralogy or anthromorphism or
whatever you call it. I don't care what makes 'em smell. I only
know they do--as Kipling says of the oonts--'most awful vile.' And
there the beggars sit, and here we sit!"
"If we could only see--" I began.
"And what good would that do us? Could we fight? No. They'd
smother us in a minute. Say, wasn't there a king in that cave the
"Yes; on a golden throne. An ugly little devil--the ugliest
"Sure; that why he's got the job. Did he say anything?"
"Not a word; merely stuck out his arm and out we went."
"Why the deuce don't they talk?"
I explained my theory at some length, with many and various
scientific digressions. Harry listened politely.
"I don't know what you mean," said he when I had finished,
"but I believe you. Anyway, it's all a stupendous joke. In the
first place, we shouldn't be here at all. And, secondly, why
should they want us to stay?"
"How should I know? Ask the king. And don't bother me; I'm
going to sleep."
"You are not. I want to talk. Now, they must want us for
something. They can't intend to eat us, because there isn't enough
to go around. And there is Desiree. What the deuce was she doing
up there without any clothes on? I say, Paul, we've got to find
"With pleasure. But, first, how are we going to get out of
"I mean, when we get out."
Thus we rattled on, arriving nowhere. Harry's loquacity I
understood; the poor lad meant to show me that he had resolved not
to "whine." Yet his cheerfulness was but partly assumed, and it
was most welcome. My own temper was getting sadly frayed about the
We slept through another watch uneventfully, and when we woke
found our platter of fish and basin of water beside us. I estimated
that some seventy-two hours had then passed since we had been
carried from the cavern; Harry said not less than a hundred.
However that may be, we had almost entirely recovered our
strength. Indeed, Harry declared himself perfectly fit; but I
still felt some discomfort, caused partly by the knife-wound on my
knee, which had not entirely healed, and partly, I think, by the
strangeness and monotony of our diet. Harry's palate was less
On awaking, and after breaking our fast, we were both filled
with an odd contentment. I really believe that we had abandoned
hope, and that the basis of our listlessness was despair; and
surely not without reason. For what chance had we to escape from
the Incas, handicapped as we were by the darkness, and our want of
weapons, and their overwhelming numbers?
And beyond that--if by some chance lucky we did escape--what
remained? To wander about in the endless caves of darkness and
starve to death. At the time I don't think I stated the case, even
to myself, with such brutal frankness, but facts make their
impression whether you invite them or not. But, as I say, we were
filled with an odd contentment. Though despair may have possessed
our hearts, it was certainly not allowed to infect our tongues.
Breakfast was hilarious. Harry sang an old drinking-song to
the water-basin with touching sentiment; I gave him hearty applause
and joined in the chorus. The cavern rang.
"The last time I sang that," said Harry as the last echoes
died away, "was at the Midlothian. Bunk Stafford was there, and
Billy Du Mont, and Fred Marston--I say, do you remember Freddie?
And his East Side crocodiles?
"My, but weren't they daisies? And polo? They could play it
in their sleep. And--what's this? Paul! Something's up! Here
they come--Mr. and Mrs. Inca and all the children!"
I sprang hastily to my feet and stood by Harry's side. He was
Through the half darkness they came, hundreds of them, and, as
always, in utter silence. Dimly we could see their forms huddled
together round us on every side, leaving us in the center of a
small circle in their midst.
"Now, what the deuce do they want?" I muttered. "Can't they
let us eat in peace?"
Harry observed: "Wasn't I right? 'Most awful vile!'"
I think we both felt that we were joking in the face of death.
The forms surrounding us stood silent for perhaps ten seconds.
Then four of their number stepped forward to us, and one made
gestures with a hairy arm, pointing to our rear. We turned and saw
a narrow lane lined on either side by our captors. Nothing was
distinct; still we could see well enough to guess their meaning.
"It's up to us to march," said Harry.
"And step high, Hal; it may be our last one. If we only had
our knives! But there are thousands of 'em."
"But if it comes to the worst--"
"Then--I'm with you. Forward!"
We started, and as we did so one of the four who had
approached darted from behind and led the way. Not a hand had
touched us, and this appeared to me a good sign, without knowing
"They seem to have forgotten their manners," Harry observed.
"The approved method is to knock us down and carry us. I shall
speak to the king about it."
We had just reached the wall of the cavern and entered a
passage leading from it, when there came a sound, sonorous and
ear-destroying, from the farther end. We had heard it once before;
it was the same that had ended our desperate fight some days
before. Then it had saved our lives; to what did it summon us now?
The passage was not a long one. At its end we turned to the
right, following our guide. Once I looked back and saw behind us
the crowd that had surrounded us in the cave. There was no way but
We had advanced perhaps a hundred, possibly two hundred yards
along the second passage when our guide suddenly halted. We stood
He turned sharply to the left, and, beckoning to us to follow,
began to descend a narrow stairway which led directly from the
passage. It was steep, and the darkness allowed a glimpse only of
black walls and the terrace immediately beneath our feet; so we
went slowly. I counted the steps; there were ninety-six.
At the bottom we turned again to the right. Just as we turned
I heard Harry's voice, quite low:
"There are only a dozen following us, Paul. Now--"
But I shook my head. It would have been mere folly, for, even
if we had succeeded in breaking through, we could never have made
our way back up the steps. This I told Harry; he admitted
reluctantly that I was right.
We now found ourselves in a lane so low and narrow that it was
necessary for us to stoop and proceed in single file. Our progress
was slow; the guide was continually turning to beckon us on with
gestures of impatience.
At length he halted and stood facing us. The guard that
followed gathered close in the rear, the guide made a curious
upward movement with his arm, and when we stood motionless repeated
it several times.
"I suppose he wants us to fly," said Harry with so genuine a
tone of sarcasm that I gave an involuntary smile.
The guide's meaning was soon evident. It took some seconds
for my eye to penetrate the darkness, and then I saw a spiral stair
ascending perpendicularly, apparently carved from the solid rock.
Harry must have perceived it at the same moment, for he turned to
me with a short laugh:
"Going up? Not for me, thank you. The beggar means for us to
For a moment I hesitated, glancing round uncertainly at the
dusky forms that were ever pressing closer upon us. We were
assuredly between the devil and, the deep sea.
Then I said, shrugging my shoulders: "It's no good pulling,
Harry. Come on; take a chance. You said it--going up!"
I placed my foot on the first step of the spiral stair.
Harry followed without comment. Up we went together, but
slowly. The stair was fearfully steep and narrow, and more than
once I barely escaped a fall.
Suddenly I became aware that light was descending on us from
above. With every step upward it became brighter, until finally it
was as though a noonday sun shone in upon us.
There came an exclamation from Harry, and we ascended faster.
I remember that I counted a hundred and sixty steps--and then, as
a glimmering of the truth shot through my brain into certainty, I
counted no more.
Harry was crowding me from below, and we took the last few
steps almost at a run. Then the end, and we stumbled out into a
blaze of light and surveyed the surrounding scene with stupefaction
It was not new to us; we had seen it before, but from a
We were on the top of the column in the center of the lake; on
the spot where Desiree had whirled in the dance of the sun.
For many seconds we stood bewildered, too dazed to speak or
move. The light dazzled our eyes; we seemed surrounded by an
impenetrable wall of flame. There was no sensation of heat, owing,
no doubt, to the immense height of the cavern and our comparatively
distant removal from the flames, which mounted upward in narrow
Then the details began to strike me.
I have said the scene was the same as that we had previously
beheld. Round the walls of the immense circular cavern squatted
innumerable rows of the Incas on terraced seats.
Below, at a dizzy distance, was the smooth surface of the
lake, black and gloomy save where the reflections from the blazing
urns pierced its depths. And directly facing us, set in the wall
of the cavern, was the alcove containing the throne of gold.
And on the throne was seated--not the diminutive, misshapen
king, but Desiree Le Mire!
She sat motionless, gazing directly at us. Her long gold hair
streamed over her shoulders in magnificent waves; a stiffly flowing
garment of some unknown texture covered her limbs and the lower
part of her body; her shoulders and breasts and arms were bare, and
shone with a dazzling whiteness.
Beside her was a smaller seat, also of gold, and on this
crouched the form of an Inca--the king. About them, at a
respectful distance, were ranged attendants and guards--a hundred
or more, for the alcove was of an impressive size. The light from
the four urns shone in upon it with such brightness that I could
clearly distinguish the whites of Desiree's eyes.
All this I saw in a single flash, and I turned to Harry:
"Not a word, on your life! This is Desiree's game; trust her
to play it."
"But what the deuce is she doing there?"
I shrugged my shoulders.
"She seems to have found another king. You know her fondness
"Paul, for Heaven's sake--"
"All right, Hal. But we're safe enough, I think. Most
probably our introduction to court. This is what they call 'the
dizzy heights of prominence.' Now keep your eyes open--something
is going to happen."
There was a movement in the alcove. Four of the attendants
came forward, carrying a curious framework apparently composed of
reeds and leather, light and flexible, from the top bar of which
hung suspended several rope-like ribbons, of various lengths and
colors and tied in curious knots. They placed it on the ground
before the double throne, at the feet of Desiree.
All doubt was then removed from my mind concerning the
identity of our captors and their king. For these bundles of
knotted cords of different sizes and colors I recognized at once.
They were the famous Inca quipos--the material for
their remarkable mnemonic system of communication and historical
record. At last we were to receive a message from the Child of the
But of what nature? Every cord and knot and color had its
meaning--but what? I searched every avenue of memory to assist me;
for I had latterly confined my studies exclusively to Eastern
archeology, and what I had known of the two great autochthonous
civilizations of the American Continent was packed in some dim and
little used corner of my brain. But success came, with an extreme
I recollected first the different disposition of the
quipos for different purposes--historical, sacred,
narrative, et cetera. Then the particulars came to me, and
immediately I recognized the formula of the quipos before
the throne. They were arranged for adjudication--for the rendering
of a verdict.
Harry and I were prisoners before the bar of the
quipos! I turned to him, but there was not time for talk.
The king had risen and stretched out his hand.
Immediately the vast assemblage rose from their stone seats
and fell flat on their faces. It was then that I noticed, for the
first time, an oval or elliptical plate of shining gold set in the
wall of the cavern just above the outer edge of the alcove.
This, of course, was the representation of Pachacamac, the
"unknown god" in the Inca religion. Well, I would as soon worship
a plate of gold as that little black dwarf.
For perhaps a minute the king stood with outstretched arm and
the Incas remained motionless on their faces. Then he resumed his
seat and they rose. And then the trial began.
The king turned on his throne and laid his hand on Desiree's
arm; we could see her draw away from his touch with an involuntary
shudder. But this apparent antipathy bothered his kingship not at
all; it was probably a most agreeable sensation to feel her soft,
white flesh under his black, hairy hand, and he kept it there,
while with the other arm he made a series of sweeping gestures
which I understood at once, but which had no meaning for Desiree.
By her hand he meant the quipos to speak.
We had a friend in court, but she was dumb, and I must give
her voice. There was no time to be lost; I stepped to the edge of
the column and spoke in a voice loud enough to carry across the
cavern--which was not difficult in the universal silence.
"He means that you are to judge us by the quipos. The
meaning is this--yellow, slavery, white, mercy; purple, reward;
black, death. The lengths of the cords and the number of knots
indicate the degree of punishment or reward. Attached to the frame
you will find a knife. With that detach the cord of judgment and
lay it at the feet of the king."
Again silence; and not one of the vast throng, nor the king
himself, appeared to pay the slightest attention to my voice. The
king continued his gestures to Desiree.
She rose and walked to the frame of quipos and took in
her hand the knife which she found there suspended by a cord.
There she hesitated, with the knife poised in the air, while her
eyes sought mine--and found them.
I felt a tug at my arm, but I had no time for Harry then. I
was looking at Desiree, and what I saw caused a cold shudder to
flutter through my body. Not of fear; it was the utter surprise of
the thing--its incredible horror. To die by the hands of those
hairy brutes was not hard, but Desiree to be the judge!
For she meant death for us; I read it in her eyes. One of the
old stale proverbs of the stale old world was to have another
justification. I repeat that I was astounded, taken completely by
surprise; and yet I had known something of "the fury of a woman
It was as though our eyes shot out to meet each other in an
embrace of death. She saw that I understood and she smiled--what
a smile! It was triumphant, and yet sad; a vengeance, and a
farewell. She put forth her hand.
It wavered among the quipos as though uncertainly, then
closed firmly on the black cord of death.
A thought flashed through my mind with the speed of lightning.
I raised my voice and sang out:
She hesitated; the hand which held the knife fell to her side
and again her eyes sought mine.
"What of Harry?" I called. "Take two--the white for him, the
black for me."
She shook her head and again raised the knife; and I played my
"Bah! Who are you? For you are not Le Mire!" I weighted my
voice with contempt. "Le Mire is a child of fortune, but not of
At last she spoke.
"I play a fair hand, monsieur!" she cried, and her
"With marked cards!" I exclaimed scornfully. "The advantage
is yours, madame; may you find pleasure in it."
There was a silence, while our eyes met. I thought I had
lost. Le Mire stood motionless. Not a sound came from the
audience. I felt Harry pulling at my arm, but shook myself free,
without taking my eyes from Le Mire's face.
Suddenly she spoke:
"You are right, my friend Paul. I take no advantage. Leave
it to Fortune. Have you a coin?"
I had won my chance. That was all--a chance--but that was
better than nothing. I took a silver peseta from my pocket--by
luck it had not been lost--and held it in the air above my head.
"Heads!" cried Desiree.
I let the coin fall. It rolled half-way across the top of the
column and stopped at the very edge. I crossed and stooped over
it. It lay heads up!
Harry was behind me; as I straightened up I saw his white, set
face and eyes of horror. He, too, had seen the verdict; but he was
moved not by that, but by the thought of Desiree, for Harry was not
a man to flinch at sight of death.
I stood straight, and my voice was calm. It cost me an effort
to clear it of bitterness and reproach. I could not avoid the
reflection that but for Desiree we would never have seen the cave
of the devil and the Children of the Sun; but I said simply and
"You win, madame."
Desiree stared at me in the most profound surprise. I
understood her, and I laughed scornfully aloud, and held my head
high; and I think a voice never held so complete a disdain as did
mine as I called to her:
"I am one who plays fair, even with death, Le Mire. The coin
fell heads--you win your black cord fairly."
She made no sign that she had heard; she was raising the
knife. Suddenly she stopped, again her hand fell, and she said:
"You say the purple for reward, Paul?"
I nodded--I could not speak. Her hand touched the white cord
and passed on; the yellow, and again passed on. Then there was a
flash of the knife--another--and she approached the king and laid
at his feet the purple cord.
Then, without a glance toward us, she resumed her seat on the
A lump rose to my throat and tears to my eyes. Which was very
foolish, for the thing had been completely theatrical. It was
merely a tribute from one of nature's gamblers to the man who
"played fair, even with death"; nevertheless, there was feeling in
it, and the eternal mercy of woman.
For all that was visible to the eye the verdict made not the
slightest impression on the rows of silent Incas. Not a movement
was seen; they might have been carved from the stone on which they
Their black, hairy bodies, squat and thick, threw back the
light from the flaming torches as though even those universal rays
could not penetrate such grossness.
Suddenly they rose--the king had moved. He picked the purple
cord from the ground, and, after passing his hand over it three
times, handed it to an attendant who approached.
Then he stretched out his hand, and the Incas, who had
remained standing, turned about and began to disappear. As before,
the cavern was emptied in an incredibly short space of time; in two
minutes we were alone with those in the alcove.
There was a sound behind us. We turned and saw a great slab
of stone slowly slide to one side in the floor, leaving an aperture
some three feet square. Evidently it had been closed behind us
when we had ascended; we had had no time to notice it then. In
this hole presently appeared the head and shoulders of our guide,
who beckoned to us to follow and then disappeared below.
I started to obey, but turned to wait for Harry, who was
gazing at Desiree. His back was toward me and I could not see his
face; his eyes must have held an appeal, for I saw Desiree's lips
part in a smile and heard her call:
"You will see me!"
Then he joined me, and we began the descent together.
I found myself wondering how these half-civilized brutes had
possibly managed to conceive the idea of the spiral stair. It was
known to neither the Aztecs nor the Incas, in America; nor to any
of the primitive European or Asiatic civilizations. But they had
found a place where nothing else would do--and they made it.
Another of the innumerable offspring of Mother Necessity.
I took time to note its construction. It was rude enough, but
a good job for all that. It was not exactly circular; there were
many angles, evidently following the softer strata in the rock;
they had bowed to their material--the way of the artist.
Even the height of the steps was irregular; some were scarcely
more than three inches, while others were twelve or fourteen. You
may know we descended slowly and with care, especially when we had
reached the point where no light came from above to aid us. We
found our guide waiting for us at the bottom, alone.
We followed him down the low and narrow passage through which
we had previously come. But when we reached the steps which led up
to the passage above and to the cave where we had formerly been
confined, he ignored them and turned to the right. We hesitated.
"He's alone," said Harry. "Shall we chuck the beggar?"
"We shall not, for that very reason," I answered. "It means
that we are guests instead of captives, and far be it from us to
outrage the laws of hospitality. But seriously, the safest thing
we can do is to follow him."
The passage in which we now found ourselves was evidently no
work of nature. Even in the semidarkness the mark of man's hand
was apparent. And the ceiling was low; another proof, for dwarfs
do not build for the accommodation of giants. But I had some faint
idea of the pitiful inadequacy of their tools, and I found myself
reflecting on the stupendous courage of the men who had undertaken
such a task, even allowing for the fact that four hundred years had
been allowed them for its completion.
Soon we reached a veritable maze of these passages. We must
have taken a dozen or more turns, first to the right, then to the
left. I had been marking our way on my memory as well as possible,
but I soon gave up the attempt as hopeless.
Several times our guide turned so quickly that we could
scarcely follow him. When we signified by gestures our desire to
go slower he seemed surprised; of course, he expected us to see in
the dark as well as he.
Then a dim light appeared, growing brighter as we advanced.
Soon I saw that it came through an opening in the wall to our left,
which we were approaching. Before the opening the guide halted,
motioning us to enter.
We did so, and found ourselves in an apartment no less than
Several blazing urns attached to the walls furnished the
light, wavering but brilliant. There were tables and rude seats,
fashioned from the same prismatic stones which covered the column
in the lake, and from their surfaces a thousand points of color
At one side was a long slab of granite covered with the skins
of some animal, dry, thick, and soft. The walls themselves were of
the hardest granite, studded to a height of four or five feet with
tiny, innumerable spots of gold.
Harry crossed to the middle of the apartment and stood gazing
curiously about him. I turned to the door and looked down the
outer passage in both directions--our guide had disappeared.
"We appear to be friends of the family," said Harry with a
"Thanks to Desiree, yes."
"Thanks to the devil! What did she mean--what could she mean?
Was it one of her jokes? For I can't believe that she would--
"Have sent us to death? Well--who knows? Yes, it may have
been one of her jokes," I lied.
For, of course, Harry knew nothing of the cause of Desiree's
desire for revenge on me, and it would have served no good purpose
to tell him.
We talked for an hour or more, examining our apartment
meanwhile with considerable curiosity.
The gold excited our wonder; had it come from Huanuco four
hundred years ago, or had they found it here in the mountain?
I examined the little blocks of metal or gems with which the
tables and seats were inlaid, but could make nothing of them. They
resembled a carbon formation sometimes found in quartzite, but were
many times more brilliant than anything I had ever seen, excepting
The hides which covered the granite couch were also unknown to
me; they were of an amazing thickness and incredibly soft.
We were amusing ourselves with an attempt to pry one of the
bits of gold from the wall when we heard a sound behind us.
We turned and saw Desiree.
She stood in the entrance, smiling at us as though we had been
caught in her boudoir examining the articles on her dressing-table.
She was clothed as she had been on the throne; a rope girdle held
her single garment, and her hair fell across her shoulders,
reaching to her knees. Her arms and shoulders appeared marvelously
white, but they may have been by way of contrast.
Harry sprang across to her with a single bound. In another
moment his arms were round her; she barely submitted to the
embrace, but she gave him her lips, then drew herself away and
crossed to me, extending her hands in a sort of wavering doubt.
But that was no time for hostilities, and I took the hands in
my own and bent over them till my lips touched the soft fingers.
"A visit from the queen!" I said with a smile. "This is an
honor, your majesty."
"A doubtful one," said Desiree. "First of all, my friend, I
want to congratulate you on your savoir faire. Par Bleu,
that was the part of a man!"
"But you!" cried Harry. "What the deuce did you mean by
pretending to play the black? I tell you, that was a shabby trick.
Most unpleasant moment you gave us."
Desiree sent me a quick glance; she was plainly surprised to
find Harry in ignorance of what had passed between us that evening
in the camp on the mountain. Wherein she was scarcely to be
blamed, for her surprise came from a deep knowledge of the ways of
"I am beginning to know you, Paul," she said, looking into my
"Now what's up?" demanded Harry, looking from her to me and
back again. "For Heaven's sake, don't talk riddles. What does
But Desiree silenced him with a gesture, placing her fingers
playfully on his lips. They were seated side by side on the
granite couch; I stood in front of them, and there flitted across
my memory a picture of that morning scene in the grounds of the
Antlers at Colorado Springs, when Desiree and I had had our first
We talked; or, rather, Harry and Desiree talked, and I
listened. First he insisted on a recital of her experiences since
her reckless dash into the "cave of the devil," and she was most
obliging, even eager, for she had had no one to talk to for many
days, and she was a woman. She found in Harry a perfect audience.
Her experience had been much the same as our own. She, too,
had fallen down the unseen precipice into the torrent beneath.
She asserted that she had been carried along by its force
scarcely more than a quarter of an hour, and had been violently
thrown upon a ledge of rock. It was evident that this must have
been long before the stream reached the lake where Harry and I had
found each other, for we had been in the water hardly short of an
She had been found on the ledge by our hairy friends, who had
carried her on their backs for many hours. I remembered the
sensations of Harry and myself, who were men, and together, and
gave a shudder of sympathy as Desiree described her own horror and
fear, and her one attempt to escape.
Still the brutes had shown her no great violence, evidently
recognizing the preciousness of their burden. They had carried her
as gently as possible, but had absolutely refused to allow her to
walk. At regular intervals they gave her an opportunity to rest,
and food and water.
"Dried fish?" I asked hopefully.
Desiree nodded, with a most expressive grimace, and Harry
burst into laughter.
Then of the elevation to her evident authority. Brought
before the king, she had inspired the most profound wonder and
curiosity. Easy, indeed, to understand how the whiteness of her
skin and the beauty of her form and face had awakened the keenest
admiration in the breast of that black and hairy monarch. He had
shown her the most perfect respect; and she had played up to the
role of goddess by displaying to the utmost her indifferent
contempt for royalty and its favors.
Here her remarks grew general and evasive, and when pressed
with questions she refused details. She declared that nothing had
happened; she had been fed and fawned upon, nor been annoyed by any
violence or unwelcome attentions.
"That is really too bad," said I, with a smile. "I was, then,
mistaken when I said 'your majesty'?"
"Faugh!" said Desiree. "That is hardly witty. For a time I
was amused, but I am becoming bored. And yet--"
"I--don't--know. They are mine, if you know what I mean.
Eh, bien, since you ask me--for I see the question in your
eye, friend Paul--I am content. If the world is behind me forever,
so be it. Yes, they are unattractive to the eye, but they have
power. And they worship me."
"Desiree!" cried Harry in astonishment; and I was myself
a little startled.
"Why not?" she demanded. "They are men. And besides, it is
impossible for us to return. With all your cleverness, M. Paul,
can you find the sunlight? To remain is a necessity; we must make
the best of it; and I repeat that I am satisfied."
"That's bally rot," said Harry, turning on her hotly.
"Satisfied? You are nothing of the sort. I'll tell you one thing
--Paul and I are going to find our way out of this, and you are
coming with us."
For reply Desiree laughed at him--a laugh that plainly said,
"I am my own mind, and obey no other." It is one of the most
familiar cards of the woman of beauty, and the most effective. It
He gazed at her for a long moment in silence, while his eyes
filled with an expression which one man should never show to
another man. It is the betrayal of the masculine sex and the
triumph of the feminine.
Suddenly he threw himself on his knees before her and took her
hands in his own. She attempted to withdraw them; he clasped her
about the waist.
"Do you not love me, Desiree?" he cried, and his lips sought
They met; Desiree ceased to struggle.
At that moment I heard a sound--the faintest sound--behind me.
The king of the Incas was standing within the doorway,
surveying the lovers with beadlike, sparkling eyes.
A ROYAL VISITOR.
If it had not been for the manifest danger, I could have
laughed aloud at what I read in the eyes of the king. Was it not
supremely ridiculous for Desiree Le Mire, who had been sought after
by the great and the wealthy and the powerful of all Europe, to be
regarded with desire by that ugly dwarf? And it was there,
I sang out a sharp warning, but it was unnecessary; Desiree
had already caught sight of the royal visitor. She pushed Harry
from her bodily. He sprang to his feet in angry surprise; then,
enlightened by the confusion in her face, turned quickly and swore
as he, too, saw the intruder.
How critical the situation was I did not know, despite
Desiree's assertions. His eyes were human and easily read; they
held jealousy; and when power is jealous there is danger.
But Desiree proved herself equal to the occasion. She
remained seated on the granite couch for a long minute without
moving; confusion left her eyes as she gazed at us apparently with
the utmost composure; but I who knew her could see that her brain
was working with the rapidity of lightning. Then her glance passed
to the figure at the doorway, and with a gesture commanding and
truly royal in its simplicity, she held her hand forth, palm down,
to the Inca king.
Like an obedient trained monkey he trotted across the
intervening space, grasped her soft white hand in his monstrous
paw, and touched his lips to her fingers.
That was all, but it spoke volumes to one who could divine the
springs of action. I remember that at the time there shot through
my mind a story I had heard concerning Desiree in Paris. The Duke
of Bellarmine, then her protector, had one evening entered her
splendid apartment on the Rue Jonteur--furnished, of course, by
himself--and had found his divinity entertaining one Jules Chavot,
a young and beautiful poet. Whereupon he had launched forth into
the most bitter reproaches and scornful denunciations.
"Monsieur," Desiree had said, with the look of a queen
outraged, when he had finished, "you are annoying. Little Chavot
amuses me. You are aware that I never refuse myself anything which
I consider necessary to my amusement, and just now I find you very
And the noble duke, conquered by that glance of fire and those
terrible words, had retired with humble apologies, after receiving
a gracious permission to call on the following day!
In short, Desiree was irresistible; the subjection of the Inca
king was but another of her triumphs, and not the most remarkable.
And then I looked at Harry, and was aware of a new danger. He
was glaring at the Inca with eyes which told their own story of the
fire within, and which were waiting only for suspicion to become
certainty. I called to him:
"Harry! Hold fast!"
He glanced at me, gave a short laugh, and nodded.
Then came Desiree's voice, in a low tone of warning:
"On your knees!"
Her meaning was clear; it was to us she spoke. The king had
turned from her and was regarding us steadily with eyes so nearly
closed that their meaning was impenetrable. Harry and I glanced at
each other and remained standing. Then Desiree's voice again:
"Harry! If you love me!"
It was the appeal to a child; but love is young. Immediately
Harry dropped to his knees, facing the king; and I followed him,
wondering at myself. To this day I do not know what the compelling
force was that pulled me down. Was it another instance of the
power of Desiree?
For perhaps a minute we remained motionless on our knees while
the king stood gazing at us, it seemed to me with an air of doubt.
Then slowly, and with a gait that smacked of majesty despite his
ungainly appearance and diminutive stature, he stalked across to
the doorway and disappeared in the corridor without.
Harry and I looked at each other, kneeling like two heathen
idols, and burst into unrestrained laughter. But with it was mixed
a portion of anger, and I turned to Desiree.
"In the name of Heaven, was that necessary?"
"You do it very prettily," said she, with a smile.
"That is well, but I don't care to repeat it. Harry, for the
sake of my dignity, employ a little discretion. And what do you
suppose the beggar will do about it?"
"Nothing," said Desiree, shrugging her shoulders. "Only he
must be pacified. I must go. I wonder if you know you are lodged
in the royal apartments? His majesty's room--he has but one--is in
the corridor to the left of this.
"Mine is on the right--and he is probably stamping the place
to pieces at this moment." She left the granite couch and advanced
half way to the door. "Au revoir, messieurs. Till later--I
shall come to see you."
The next moment she was gone.
Harry and I, left alone, had enough to think and talk about,
but there was ten minutes of silence before we spoke. I sat on one
of the stone seats, wondering what the result would be--if any--of
the king's visit and his discovery.
Harry paced up and down the length of the apartment with
lowered head. Presently he spoke abruptly:
"Paul, I want to know exactly what you think of our chances
for getting out of this."
"Why--" I hesitated. "Harry, I don't know."
"But you've thought about it, and you know something about
these things. What do you think?"
"Well, I think they are slim."
"What are they?"
"Nothing less than miracles. There are just two. First--
and I've spoken of this before--we might find an underground stream
that would carry us to the western slope."
"That is impossible--at least, for Desiree. And the second?"
"Nature herself. She plays queer tricks in the Andes. She
might turn the mountain upside down, in which case we would find
ourselves on top. Seriously, the formation here is such that
almost anything is possible. Upheavals of vast masses of rock are
of ordinary occurrence. A passage might be opened in that way to
one of the lower peaks.
"We are surrounded by layers of limestone, granite, and
quartzite, which are of marked difference both in the quality of
hardness and in their ability to withstand the attacks of time.
When one finds itself unable to support the other, something
"But it might not happen for a hundred years."
"Or never," I agreed.
Again silence. Harry stood gazing at one of the flaming urns,
buried in thought--easy to guess of what nature. I did not think
fit to disturb him, till presently he spoke again.
"What do you suppose that ugly devil will do about--what he
saw in here?"
I smiled. "Nothing."
"But if he should? We are helpless."
"Trust Desiree. It's true that she can't even talk to him,
but she'll manage him somehow. You saw what happened just now."
"But the creature is no better than a dumb brute. He is
capable of anything. I tell you, we ought to get her away from
"And we're none too safe ourselves. As for starving, we could
carry enough of their darned fish to last a year. And one thing is
sure: we won't get back to New York lying round here waiting for
something to turn up--even a mountain."
"What do you want to do?"
"Clear out. Get Desiree away from that ugly brute. If we
only had our knives!"
"Where would we go?"
In that question was the whole matter. To escape with Desiree
was possible--but then what? We knew by experience what it meant
to wander hopelessly about in the darkness of those desolate
caverns, without food, and depending on Providence for water.
Neither of us cared to repeat that trial, especially with the added
difficulty of a woman to care for. But what to do?
We decided to wait for the future, and in the mean time lay in
a supply of provisions, and, if possible, devise some sort of
It is worth remarking here that the Incas, so far as we had
seen, used no weapons whatever. This was most probably the result
of their total isolation and consequent freedom from foreign
In the matter of food we were soon to receive an agreeable
surprise. It was about an hour after Desiree had left us that the
royal steward--I give him the title on my own responsibility--
arrived, with pots and pans on a huge tray.
In the first place, the pots and pans were of solid gold.
Harry stared in amazement as they were placed in brilliant array on
one of the stone tables; and when we essayed to lift the empty tray
from another table on which it had been placed we understood why
the steward had found it necessary to bring four assistants along
There was a king's ransom on that table, in sober truth, for
there could be no doubt but that this was part of the gold which
had been carried from Huanuco when it had been demanded by Pizarro
as payment for the life of Atahualpa.
But better even than the service was that which it contained.
It may not have been such as would enhance the reputation of a
French chef, but to us then it seemed that the culinary art
could go no farther.
There was a large platter; Harry lifted its cover in an
ecstasy of hope; but the next instant his face fell ludicrously.
"Our old friend, Mr. Dried Fish," he announced sadly,
and gave it up.
Then I tried my luck, and with better success.
First I uncovered a dish of stew, steaming hot! To be sure,
it was fish, but it was hot. Then a curious, brittle kind of
bread; I call it that, though on trial it appeared to be made from
the roe of some kind of fish. Also there was some excellent
fish-soup, also hot, and quite delicious.
Four hundred years of development had taught the royal
chefs to prepare fish in so many different ways that we
almost failed to recognize them as of the same family.
"Couldn't be better," said Harry, helping himself liberally to
the stew. "We can eat this, and cache the dried stuff. We'll have
enough for an army in a week."
"As for me, I saw before me the raw material for our weapons.
When we had emptied the golden platter that held our "bread," I
secreted it under the cover of the granite couch. When the
serving-men called to remove the dishes they apparently did not
notice its absence. So far, success.
Some hours later Desiree paid us a second call. She appeared
to be in the gayest of spirits, and I eyed her curiously from a
seat in the corner as she and Harry sat side by side, chatting for
all the world as though they had been in her own Paris
Was it possible that she was really satisfied, as she had
said? What imaginable food could these black dwarfs find to
appease her tremendous vanity? Or was she merely living the motto
of the French philosopher?
Harry was demanding that he be allowed to visit her apartment;
this she refused, saying that if he were found there by the king
nothing could avert a catastrophe. Harry's brow grew black; I
could see his effort to choke back his anger. Then Desiree led him
away from the topic, and soon they were both again laughing
Some forty-eight hours passed; in that perpetual blackness
there was no such thing as day. We saw no one save Desiree and the
serving men. Once a messenger appeared carrying a bundle of
quipos; I was able to decipher their meaning sufficiently to
understand that we were invited to some religious ceremony in the
great cavern. But I thought it injudicious to allow a meeting
between Harry and the king, and returned a polite refusal.
It may be of interest to some to know the method, which was
extremely simple, as in ordinary communications the quipos
are easy to read. I removed two knots from the white cord--the
sign of affirmative--and placed two additional ones on the black
cord--the sign of negative. Then on the yellow cord--the sign of
the Child of the Sun and submission to him--I tied two more knots
to show that our refusal meant no lack of respect to their deity.
Which, by the way, was not a little curious.
Here were the descendants of the subjects of Manco-Capac,
himself a son of the orb of day, still holding to their worship of
the sun, though they had not seen its light for four centuries.
Deserted by their god, they did not abandon him; an example from
which the followers of another and more "civilized" religion might
learn something of the potency of faith.
But to the story.
As I say, I was anxious to avoid a meeting between Harry and
the king, and subsequent events proved my wisdom. Harry was acting
in a manner quite amazing; it was impossible for me to mention the
king even in jest without him flying into a violent temper.
As I look back now I am not surprised; for our harrowing
experiences and the hopelessness of our situation and the
wilfulness of Desiree were enough, Heaven knows, to jerk his
nerves; but at the time I regarded his actions as those of a
thoughtless fool, and told him so, thinking to divert his anger to
myself. He took no notice of me.
We were left entirely to ourselves. At regular intervals our
food was brought to us, and within a week we had accumulated a
large supply of the dried fish against necessity, besides my
collection of six golden platters, of which more later.
Once in about twenty-four hours two Incas, who appeared to be
our personal attendants--for we were actually able to recognize
them after half a dozen visits--arrived to perform the offices of
chambermaid and valet. The floor of the apartment was scrubbed,
the urns refilled with oil, and the skin cover of the granite couch
was changed. It seemed that another belief--in cleanliness--had
refused to be dislodged from the Inca breast.
When I managed, by dint of violent and expressive gestures, to
convey to our valet the idea that we desired a bath, he led us down
the corridor some two hundred feet to a stream of cool running
water. We took advantage of the opportunity to scrub our clothing,
which was sadly in need of the operation.
I had early made an examination of the urns which furnished
our light. They were of gold and perfect in form, which convinced
me that they had been brought by the fugitives from Huanuco, as,
indeed, the quipos also, and several other articles we
found, including our golden table service.
The urns were filled with an oil which I was unable to
recognize. There was no wick, but round the rim or lip of each was
set a broad ring carved of stone, which made the opening at the top
only about two inches in diameter. Through this the flame arose to
a height of about two feet.
Of smoke there was none, or very little, a circumstance which
was inexplicable, as there seemed to be no possibility of the
generation of gas within so small space. But the oil itself was
strange to me, and its properties may be charged to nature.
As I say, I had collected six of the golden platters, one at
a time. Together they weighed about twenty pounds--for they were
small and rather thin--which was near the amount required for my
purpose. I explained the thing to Harry, and we set to work.
We first procured a vessel of granite from the attendant on
some pretext or other--this for melting the gold. Then we pried a
slab of limestone from a corner of one of the seats; luckily for us
it was very soft, having been selected by the Incas for the purpose
of inserting in its face the crystal prisms. Then we procured a
dozen or more of the prisms themselves, and, using them as chisels,
and small blocks of granite as hammers, set to work at the block of
It was slow work, but we finally succeeded in hollowing out a
groove in its surface about eighteen inches long and two inches
deep. That was our mold.
Then to melt the golden platters. We took four of the urns,
placing them in a group on the floor, and just at the tip of the
flames placed the granite vessel, supported by four blocks of stone
which we pried loose from one of the seats. In the vessel we
placed the golden platters.
But we found, after several hours, that we did not have
sufficient heat--or rather that the vessel was too thick to
transmit it. And again we set to work with our improvised chisels
and hammers, to shave off its sides and bottom. That was more
difficult and required many hours for completion.
Finally, with the profane portion of our vocabularies
completely exhausted and rendered meaningless by repetition, and
with bruised and bleeding hands, we again arranged our furnace and
sat down to wait. We had waited until the dishes from our dinner
had been removed, and we were fairly certain to be alone for
Finally the gold was melted, stubbornly but surely. We took
the thick hide cover from the couch and, one on each side, lifted
the vessel of liquid metal and filled our mold. In an hour it was
hardened into a bar the shape of a half-cylinder. We removed it
and poured in the remainder of the gold.
It would appear that the gain was hardly worth the pains, and
I admit it. But at the least I had kept Harry occupied with
something besides his amatory troubles, and at the best we had two
heavy, easily handled bars of metal that would prove most effective
weapons against foes who had none whatever.
We had just removed the traces of our work as completely as
possible and secreted the clubs of yellow metal in a corner of the
apartment when the sound of pattering footsteps came from the
Harry gave me a quick glance; I moved between him and the
door. But it was Desiree.
She entered the room hurriedly and crossed to the farther
side, then turned to face the door. Her cheeks were glowing
brightly, her eyes flashed fire, and her breast heaved with
unwonted agitation. Before either she or I had time to speak Harry
had sprung to her side and grasped her arm.
"What has he done now?" he demanded in a tone scarcely audible
in its intensity.
"I--don't--know," said Desiree without removing her eyes from
the door. "Let me go, Harry; let me sit down. Paul! Ah! I was
"For us?" I asked.
"Yes--partly. The brute! But then, he is human, and that is
his way. And you--I was right--you should have gone to the Cave of
the Sun when he required your presence."
"But it was merely an invitation. Cannot one refuse an
invitation?" I protested.
"But, my dear Paul, the creature is royal--his invitations are
"Well, we were busy, and we've already seen the Cave of the
"Still it was an error, and I think you will pay for it.
There have been unusual preparations under way for many hours.
The king has been in my apartment, and messengers and guards have
been arriving constantly, each with his little bundle of
quipos, as you call them."
"Did you see the quipos?"
"Did any of them contain a red cord, suspended alone, with a
single knot at either end?"
"Yes, all of them," said Desiree without an instant's
"That means Harry and me," I observed. "But the message! Can
you remember any of them?"
She tried, but without success. Which will not surprise any
one who has ever seen the collection at the museum at Lima.
Then Harry broke in:
"Something else has happened, Desiree. No bunch of cords tied
in silly knots ever made you look as you did just now. What was
"I say yes! And I want to know! And if it's what I think it
is we're going to clear out of here now!"
"As though we could!"
"We can! We have enough provisions to last for weeks. And
see here," he ran to the corner where he had hidden the golden
clubs and returned with them in his hands, "with these we could
make our way through them all. Tell me!"
There was a strange smile on Desiree's lips.
"And so you would fight for me, Harry?" she said
half-wistfully, half--I know not what. Then she continued in a
tone low but quite distinct: "Well, it is too late. I am the
She lied--I saw it in her eyes. Perhaps she meant to save
Harry from his folly, to quiet him by the knowledge that he need
not fight for what was no longer his own; but she was mistaken in
Harry did not stop to read her eyes--he heard her words. He
took two slow steps backward, then stood quite still, while his
face grew deadly white and his eyes were fastened on hers with a
look that made me turn my own away. His soul looked out from
them--how he loved the woman--and I could not bear it!
Nor, after a moment, could Desiree. She took a step forward,
extending her arms to him and cried out:
"Harry! No! It was a lie, Harry! Don't--don't!"
And they gazed at each other, and I at Desiree, and thus we
were unaware that a fourth person had entered the room, until he
had crossed its full length and stood before me. It was the Inca
I took no time for thought, but jumped straight for Harry and
threw my arms round him, dragging him back half-way across the
room. Taken completely by surprise, he did not struggle. I
noticed that he still held in his hands the bars of gold he had
shown to Desiree.
The king regarded us for a second with a scowl, then turned to
She stood erect, with flashing eyes. The king approached; she
held out her hand to him with an indescribable gesture of dignity.
For a moment he looked at her, then his lips curled in an ugly
snarl, and, dashing her hand aside, he leaped forward in swift fury
and grasped her white throat with his fingers.
There was a strangled scream from Desiree, a frantic cry from
Harry--and the next instant he had torn himself free from my arms,
dropping the bars of gold at my feet.
A single bound and he was across the room; a single blow with
his fist and the king of the Incas dropped senseless to the floor.
AT THE DOOR.
Desiree shrank back against the wall, covering her face with
her hands. Harry stood above the prostrate figure of the king,
panting and furious.
As for me, I gave no thought to what had been done--the
imminent peril of the situation possessed my mind and stung my
brain to action.
I ran to the figure on the floor and bent over him. There
was no movement--his eyes were closed. Calling to Harry to watch
the corridor without, I quickly tore my woolen jacket into
strips--my fingers seemed to be made of steel--and bound the wrists
and ankles of the Inca firmly, trussing him up behind.
Then with another strip I gagged him, thinking it best to err
on the side of prudence. In another moment I had dragged him to
the corner of the room behind the granite couch and covered him
with its hide-cover.
Then I turned to Harry:
"Is the coast clear?"
"Yes," he answered from the doorway.
"Then here--quick, man! Get the clubs and the grub.
Desiree--come! There's not a second to lose."
"But, Paul--" she began; then, seeing the utter folly of any
other course than instant flight, she sprang to Harry's side to
assist him with the bundles of provisions.
There was more than we could carry. Harry and I each took a
bundle under our left arm, carrying the clubs in the other hand.
Desiree attempted to take two bundles, but they were too heavy for
her, and she was forced to drop one.
With a last hasty glance at the motionless heap in the corner
we started, Harry leading and myself in the rear, with Desiree
But it was not to be so easy. We were nearly to the door when
there came a grating, rumbling sound from above, and a huge block
of granite dropped squarely across the doorway with a crash that
made the ground tremble beneath our feet.
Stupefied, we realized in a flash that the cunning of the
Incas had proved too much for us. Harry and I ran forward, but
only to invite despair; the doorway was completely covered by the
massive rock, an impenetrable curtain of stone weighing many tons,
and on neither side was there an opening more than an inch wide.
We were imprisoned beyond all hope of escape.
We stood stunned; Desiree even made no sound, but gazed at the
blocked doorway in a sort of stupid wonder. It was one of those
sudden and overwhelming catastrophes that deprive us for a moment
of all power to reason or even to realize.
Then Harry said quietly:
"Well, the game's up."
And Desiree turned to me with the calm observation:
"They must have been watching us. We were fools not to have
"Impossible!" Harry asserted; but I agreed with Desiree; and
though I could see no opening or crevice of any sort in the walls
or ceiling, I was convinced that even then the eyes of the Incas
were upon us.
Our situation was indeed desperate. With our every movement
spied upon, surrounded by four solid walls of stone, and beyond
them ten thousand savage brutes waiting to tear us to pieces--what
wildest fancy could indulge in hope?
Then, glancing up, my eye was arrested by the heap under the
cover in the corner. There, in the person of the Inca king, lay
our only advantage. But how could we use it?
Desiree's voice came in the calm tones of despair:
"We are lost."
Harry crossed to her and took her in his arms.
"I thank Heaven," he said, "that you are with us." Then he
turned to me: "I believe it is for the best, Paul. There never was
a chance for us; we may as well say it now. And it is better to
die here, together, than--the other way."
I smiled at his philosophy, knowing its source. It came not
from his own head, but from Desiree's arms. But it was truth.
We sat silent. The thing was beyond discussion; too elemental
to need speech for its explanation or understanding. I believe it
was not despair that kept back our words, but merely the dumb
realization that where all hope is gone words are useless--worse,
Finally I crossed the room and removed the cover from the body
of the Child of the Sun. He had recovered consciousness; his
little wicked eyes gleamed up at me with an expression that would
have been terrifying in the intensity of its malignant hatred if he
had not been utterly helpless. I turned to Harry:
"What are we going to do with him?"
"By Jove, I had forgotten!" exclaimed the lad. "Paul, perhaps
if we could communicate with them--" He stopped, glancing at the
closed doorway; then added: "But it's impossible."
"I believe it is possible," I contradicted. "If the Incas
were able to lower that stone at any moment you may be sure they
are prepared to raise it. How, Heaven only knows; but the fact is
certain. Do you think they would have condemned their precious
king to starvation?"
"Then the king can save us!"
"Our lives for his. We'll give him nothing to eat, and if, as
you say, they have some way of watching us, they'll be forced to
negotiate. You can talk with the quipos, and tell them that
unless they give us our freedom and let us go in safety they'll
have a dead king. From the way they seem to worship him they'd
come through in a minute."
"Oh, they'd promise, all right," I agreed; "but how could we
hold them to it?"
"Well, a promise is a promise. And it's our only chance."
"No, Harry; to trust them would be folly. The minute we
stepped through that doorway they would be on us--the whole
beggarly, smelly lot of them."
"Then there is no chance--none whatever?" put in Desiree.
"None. We may as well admit the worst. And the worst is best
for us now. Really, we are in luck; we die in our own way and at
our own time. But there is one difficulty."
Then, in answer to their glances of inquiry, I added
significantly: "We have no weapons. We cannot allow ourselves to
starve--the end must come before that, for as soon as they saw us
weakening we would be at their mercy."
There was comprehension and horror in Desiree's eyes, but she
looked at me with a brave attempt to smile as she took from her
hair something which gleamed and shone in the light from the
flaming urns. It was a tiny steel blade with a handle of pearl
studded with diamonds.
I had seen it before many times--a present, Desiree had told
me, from the young man I had seen in the royal coach on that day in
Madrid when I had first heard the name of Le Mire.
"Will that do?" she asked calmly, holding it out to me with a
Brave Le Mire! I took the dagger and placed it in my pocket,
and, looking at Harry, exchanged with him a nod of understanding.
No words were necessary.
"But I must confess I am a coward," said Desiree. "When the
time comes I--I could not bear to see--to wait--"
I looked at her and said simply: "You shall be first," and she
gave me a smile of thanks that spoke of a heart that would not fail
when the final moment arrived. And in my admiration of her high
courage I forgot the horror of the task that must be mine.
It was a relief to have admitted the worst and discussed it
calmly; there is no torment like suspense, and ours was at an end.
A load was lifted from our hearts, and a quiet sympathy created
between us, sincere as death itself. And it was in our power to
choose for ourselves the final moment--we were yet masters of our
All action seems useless when hope is dead, but certain things
needed to be done, and Harry and I bestirred ourselves. We
extinguished the flame in all the urns but one to save the oil, not
caring to depart in darkness.
Our supply of water, we found, was quite sufficient to last
for several days, if used sparingly; for we intended to support
life so long as we had the fuel. Then responsibility ceases; man
has a right to hasten that which fortune has made inevitable.
The hours passed by.
We talked very little; at times Desiree and Harry conversed in
subdued tones which I did not overhear; I was engaged with my own
thoughts. And they were not unpleasant; if, looking death in the
face, a man can preserve his philosophy unchanged, he has made the
only success in life that is worth while.
We ate and drank, but gave neither water nor food to our
fellow prisoner. Not because I really expected to force
negotiations with the Incas--but the thing was possible and was
worth a trial. I knew them well enough to appraise correctly the
value of any safe-conduct they might give us.
I was a little surprised to find in Desiree no levity, the
vulgar prop for courage based on ignorance. There was a tenderness
in her manner, especially toward Harry, that spoke of something
deeper and awoke in my own breast a deeper respect for her. The
world had not known Desiree Le Mire--it had merely been fascinated
and amused by her.
Many hours had passed in this tomblike apathy. Two or three
times I had advised Desiree to lie down to rest and, if possible,
to sleep. She had refused, but I became insistent, and Harry added
his voice to my own. Then, to please us, she consented; we
arranged the cover on the granite couch and made her as comfortable
In five minutes she was fast asleep. Harry stood a few feet
away from the couch, looking down at her. I spoke to him, in a low
"And you must rest too, Hal. One of us must remain on watch;
I'll take it first and call you when I feel drowsy. It may be a
needless precaution, but I don't care to wake up and find myself in
the condition of our friend yonder."
He wanted to take the first watch himself, but I insisted, and
he arranged our ponchos on the ground, and soon he too was sleeping
easily and profoundly. I looked from him to Desiree with a smile,
and reflection that Socrates himself could not have met misfortune
with more sublime composure.
It was possible that the stone curtain across the doorway
could be raised noiselessly, and that made it necessary to keep my
eyes fastened on it almost continuously. This became irksome;
besides, twice I awoke to the fact that my thoughts had carried me
so far away from my surroundings that the stone could have been
raised to the roof and I would not have noticed it.
So, using my jacket for a cushion, I seated myself on the
ground in the threshold, leaning my back against the stone, and
gave myself up to meditation.
I had sat thus for three hours or more, and was thinking of
calling Harry to relieve me, when I felt a movement at my back. I
turned quickly and saw that the stone was moving upward.
Slowly it rose, by little frequent jerks, not more than an
eighth of an inch at a time. In fifteen minutes it was only about
four inches from the ground. There was no sound save a faint
grating noise from above.
I stood several feet away, holding one of the golden clubs in
my hand, thinking it unnecessary to rouse Harry until the space was
wide enough to cause apprehension. Or rather, because I had no
fear of an assault--I was convinced that our ruse had succeeded,
and that they were about to communicate with us by means of the
The stone was raised a little over a foot, then became
stationary. I waited, expecting to see a bundle of quipos
thrust through the opening, but they did not appear.
Instead, five golden vessels were pushed across the ground
until they were inside, clear of the stone; I could see the black,
hairy hands and arms, which were immediately withdrawn.
Then the granite curtain fell with a crash that caused me to
start with its suddenness and awakened both Harry and Desiree.
Two of the vessels contained water, two oil, and the other
dried fish. Harry, who had sprung to his feet excitedly, grumbled
"At least, they might have sent us some soup. But what's
"It means that Desiree was right," I observed. "They have
some way of watching us. And, seeing that we refused to provide
their beloved monarch with provender, they have sent him an
allowance from the pantry."
"Will he get it?"
"Hardly," said I with emphasis. "We'll make 'em treat with us
if it's only to observe their diplomacy. There'll be a message
from them within twenty-four hours. You'll see."
"Anyway, we know now that they can raise that stone whenever
they feel like it. But in the name of Archimedes, how?"
He advanced to the doorway and examined the block of granite
curiously, but there was no clue to its weight or thickness from
the inside. I explained that there were several ways by which the
thing could be raised, but that the most probable one was by means
of a rolling pulley, which required merely some rounded stones and
a flat surface above, with ropes of hide for stays.
It had been several hours since we had last eaten, and we
decided to at once convey to the spies without our intentions
concerning our prisoner. So we regaled ourselves with dried fish
and water, taking care not to approach the king, who had rolled
over on his side and lay facing us, looking for all the world, in
the dim light, like a black dog crouched on the floor.
Harry relieved me at my post against the door, and I lay down
to sleep. Desiree had seated herself beside him, and the low tones
of their voices came to me as I lay on the couch (which Desiree had
insisted I should occupy) in an indistinct, musical murmur. This
for perhaps ten minutes; then I slept.
That became our routine. During the many weary hours that
followed there was never a moment when one of us was not seated
with his back against the stone across the doorway; we dared not
trust our eyes. Usually Harry and Desiree watched together, and,
when I relieved them, slept side by side on the couch.
Sometimes, when we were all awake, Desiree was left on guard
alone; but Harry and I were never both asleep at the same time.
An estimate of the time we spent thus would be the wildest
guess, for time was heavy and passed on leaden feet. But I should
say we had been imprisoned for something like four days, possibly
five, when the monotony came to an abrupt end.
I had come off watch, and Harry and Desiree had taken my
place. Before I lay down I had taken some water to the prisoner,
for we had some time before admitted the necessity of giving him
drink. But of food he had had none.
Harry told me afterward that I had slept for two or three
hours, but it seemed to me rather as many minutes, when I was
awakened by the sound of his voice calling my name. Glancing at
the doorway, I sprang to my feet.
The stone was slowly rising from the floor; already there was
a space of a foot or more. Desiree and Harry stood facing it in
"You have seen nothing?" I asked, joining them.
"Nothing," said Harry. "Here, take one of these clubs.
"Of course--the stone," I observed facetiously, yawning.
"Probably nothing more important than a bundle of quipos.
Lord, I'm sleepy!"
Still the stone moved upward, very slowly. It reached a
height of two feet, yet did not halt.
"This is no quipos" said Harry, "or if it is, they must
be going to send us in a whole library. Six inches would have been
enough for that."
I nodded, keeping my eyes on the ever-widening space at our
"This means business, Hal. Stand ready with your club.
Desiree, go to the further corner, behind that seat."
She refused; I insisted; she stamped her foot in anger.
"Do you think I'm a child, to run and hide?" she demanded
I wasted no time in argument.
"You will go", I said sternly, "or I shall carry you and tie
you. This is not play. We must have room and know that you are
To my surprise, she made no reply, but quietly obeyed. Then,
struck by a sudden thought, I crossed to where she stood behind a
stone seat in the corner.
"Here," I said in a low tone, taking the little jeweled dagger
from my pocket and holding it out to her, "in case--"
"I understand," she said simply, and her hand closed over the
By that time the stone was half-way to the top of the doorway,
leaving a space over three feet high, and was still rising. I
stood on one side and Harry on the other, not caring to expose
ourselves immediately in front.
Suddenly he left his post and ran to one of the stone seats
and began prying at the blocks of granite. I saw at once his
intention and our mistake; we should have long before barricaded
the door on the inside. But it was too late now; I knew from
experience the difficulty of loosening those firmly wedged blocks,
and I called out:
"No good, Hal. We were fools not to have thought of it
before, but there is no time for it now. Come back; I couldn't
stop 'em alone."
Nevertheless, he continued his exertions, and succeeded in
getting one of the blocks partially free; but by that time the
doorway was almost completely uncovered, and he saw the folly of
He resumed his post on the right of the door--I was on the
The stone appeared to be going faster. It reached the top--
passed it--and quickly swung in toward the wall and disappeared,
probably to rest on a ledge above.
We stood waiting, tense and alert. The open doorway gaped on
the black, empty corridor, into which the light from our single urn
shone dimly. We could see or hear nothing, no indication that any
one was in the passage, but we dared not look out in that darkness.
The suspense was trying enough; Harry ripped out an impatient oath
and made a movement as though to step in the entrance, but I waved
Then came the avalanche, with a suddenness and fury that nigh
Crouching, rushing forms filled the doorway from both
directions and leaped savagely at us. After so many weary days of
dull inaction and helpless, hopeless apathy, a mad joy fired my
brain and thrilled my heart as I raised my club on high and struck
a blow for freedom and life.
That blow crushed the skull of one whose fingers were at my
throat, and he dropped like a log at my feet; but his place was
already filled. Again I swung the club; another swayed, toppling
against the doorway and leaning there with the blood streaming from
his broken head, quite dead, but held erect by the pressure of his
fellows from behind.
If the doorway had been but a foot wider we would have been
overwhelmed almost instantly. As it was, but three or four could
get to us at once, and they found the gold which their ancestors
had carried from the temples of Huanuco waiting for them. My arm
seemed to have the strength of a hundred arms; it swung the heavy
club as though it had been a feather, and with deadly accuracy.
Harry fought like a demon. I think I did all that a man could
do, but he did more, and withal more coolly. I brought down my
club on heads, shoulders, chests, and rarely failed to get my man.
But the impact of Harry's blows was like the popping of a
Maxim. I saw him reach over and grasp the throat of one who had
his teeth set in my shoulder, and, holding him straight before him
with his arm extended, break his neck with one blow. Again, his
club descended on one black skull with a glancing blow and shot off
to the head of another with the force of a sledge-hammer.
At the time I did not know that I saw these things; it was all
one writhing, struggling, bloody horror; but afterward the eyes of
memory showed them to me.
Still they came. My arm rose and fell seemingly without order
from the brain; I was not conscious that it moved. It seemed to me
that ever since the beginning of time I had stood in that butcher's
doorway and brought down that bar of gold on thick, black skulls
and distorted, grinning faces. But they would not disappear. One
fell; another took his place; and another, and another, and
The bodies of those who fell were dragged away from
underneath. I did not see it, but it must have been so, or soon we
would have raised our own barricade for defense--a barricade of
flesh. And there was none.
I began to weaken, and Harry saw it, for he gasped out:
"Steady--Paul. Take it--easy. They can't--last--forever."
His blows were redoubled in fury as he moved closer to me,
taking more than his share of the attack, so that I almost had time
But we could not have held out much longer. My brain was
whirling madly and a weight of a thousand tons seemed dragging me
remorselessly, inevitably to the ground. I kept my feet through
the force of some crazy instinct, for will and reason were gone.
And then, for an instant, Harry's eyes met mine, and I read in
them what neither of us could say, nor would. With the fury of
despair we struck out together in one last effort.
Whether the Incas saw in that effort a renewed strength that
spoke of immortality, or whether it happened just at that moment
that the pressure from behind was removed, no longer forcing them
to their death, I do not know. It may have been that, like some
better men, they had merely had enough.
From whatever cause, the attack ceased almost with the
suddenness with which it had begun; they fell back from the
doorway; Harry lunged forward with raised club, and the forms
melted away into the darkness of the corridor.
Harry turned and looked at me as I stood swaying from side to
side in the doorway. Neither of us could speak. Together we
staggered back across the room, but I had not gone more than half
way when my legs bent under me and I sank to the floor. Dimly I
saw Harry's face above me, as though through a veil--then another
face that came close to my own--and a voice:
"Paul! My love! They have killed him!"
Soft white arms were about my neck, and a velvet cheek was
pressed against my own.
"Desiree!" I gasped. "Don't! Harry! No, they have not
Then Harry's voice:
"That's all right, old fellow. I know--I have known she loves
you. This is no time to talk of that. Listen, Paul--what you were
going to do for Desiree--if you can--they will be back at any
That thought kindled my brain; I raised myself onto my elbow.
"I haven't the strength," I said, hardly knowing how I spoke.
"You must do it, Harry; you must. And quick, lad! The dagger!
What followed came to me as in a dream; my eyes were dim with
the exhaustion that had overcome my body. Desiree's face
disappeared from before my face--then a silence--then the sound of
her voice as though from a distance:
"Harry--come! I can't find it! I dropped it when I ran
across--it must be here--on the floor--"
And then another sound came that I knew only too well--the
sound of rushing, pattering feet.
I think I tried to rise to my own feet. I heard Harry's voice
crying in a frenzy: "Quick--here they come! Desiree, where is it?"
There was a ringing cry of despair from Desiree, a swinging
oath from Harry, and the next instant I found myself pinned to the
floor by the weight of a score of bodies.
INTO THE WHIRLPOOL.
I hardly know what happened after that. I was barely
conscious that there was movement round me, and that my wrists and
ankles were being tightly bound. Harry told me afterward that he
made one last desperate stand, and was halted by a cry from
Desiree, imploring him to employ the club in the intended office of
He wheeled about and raised it to strike; then his arm
dropped, unable to obey for the brutal horror of it. In another
instant he and Desiree, too, had been overpowered and carried to
the floor by the savage rush.
This he told me as we lay side by side in a dark cavern,
whither we had been carried by the victorious Incas. I had
expected instant death; the fact that our lives had been spared
could have but one meaning, I thought: to the revenge of death was
to be added the vindictiveness of torture.
We knew nothing of Desiree's fate. Harry had not seen her
since he had been crushed to the floor by that last assault. And
instead of fearing for her life, we were convinced that a still
more horrible doom was to be hers, and hoped only that she would
find the means to avoid it by the only possible course.
I have said that we again found ourselves in darkness, but it
was much less profound than it had been before. We could
distinctly see the four walls of the cavern in which we lay; it was
about twelve feet by twenty, and the ceiling was very low. The
ground was damp and cold, and we had neither ponchos nor jackets to
A description of our state of mind as we lay exhausted,
wounded, and bound so tightly that any movement was impossible,
would seem to betray a weakness. Perhaps it was so; but we prayed
for the end--Harry with curses and oaths, myself in silence. There
is a time when misery becomes so acute that a man wants only
deliverance and gives no thought to the means.
That was reaction, and gradually it lessened. And when, after
we had lain unconscious for many hours (we can hardly be said to
have slept) they came to bathe our wounds and bruises and bring us
food and drink, the water was actually grateful to our hot,
suffering flesh, and we ate almost with relish. But before they
left they again bound our wrists firmly behind us, and tightened
the cords on our ankles.
If they meditated punishment they certainly seemed to be in no
hurry about it. The hours passed endlessly by. We were cared for
as tenderly as though we had been wounded comrades instead of
vanquished foes, and though we were allowed to remain on the damp,
hard rock of the cavern, we gradually recovered from the effects of
that gruesome struggle in the doorway, and our suffering bodies
began to feel comparative comfort.
"What the deuce are they waiting for?" Harry growled, after
one of their visits with food and water. "Why don't they end it?"
"Most likely because a well man can appreciate torture better
than a sick one," I answered, not having seen fit to speak of it
before. "You may be sure we'll get all that's coming to us."
"But what will they do?"
"Heaven knows. They are capable of anything. We'll get the
There was a silence; then Harry said slowly, hesitating:
"Paul--do you think--Desiree--"
"I don't think--I dare not think about her," I interrupted.
"And it is our fault; we failed her. I should have put her beyond
their reach, as I promised. I have reproached myself bitterly,
Hal; you need add nothing."
"Do you think I would? Only--there is something else. About
what she said to you. I knew that, you know."
I was silent; he continued:
"I knew it long ago. Do you think I am blind? And I want to
say this while I have a chance--it was uncommon good of you. To
take it the way you did, I mean."
His simplicity made me uncomfortable, and I made no answer.
Indeed, the thing was beyond discussion; it was merely a bare fact
which, when once stated, left nothing to be said. So I refused to
humor Harry's evident desire to thrash out the topic, and abruptly
changed the subject.
We must have lain bound in that cavern little short of a week.
Our wounds and bruises were completely healed, save one gash on
Harry's side where he had been hurled against the sharp edge of one
of the stone seats as he had been borne to the floor. But it was
not painful, and was nearly closed. And we could feel the return
of strength even through the stiffness caused by the inactivity of
We had given up wondering at the delay by the time it came to
an end. When they finally came and cut our bonds and led us from
the cavern we felt nothing keener than a mere curiosity as to what
awaited us at the end of our journey. For myself, there was a
distinct sensation of thankfulness that uncertainty was to end.
They took no chances with us, but paid us the compliment of a
truly royal escort--at least, in number. There could not have been
less than two hundred of them in front, behind, and on either side,
as we left the cavern and proceeded along a narrow, winding passage
to the left.
Once, as we started, we stretched our arms high and stood on
tiptoe to relieve the stiffness of our joints; and immediately
found ourselves clutched on every side by a score of hands.
"Gad! We seem to have made an impression!" Harry grinned.
On the way down the passage we marched with the Prussian
goose-step, and felt the blood quickening to life in our legs and
We had proceeded in this manner for some ten minutes when we
rounded a corner which I recognized at once by the peculiar
circular formation of the walls. We were on our way to the great
cavern--the cavern where we had first seen Desiree, and where later
she had won the toss for our lives and then preserved them.
Another minute and we had reached the steps leading to the
tunnel under the lake. Here our guards seemed in doubt as to just
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