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|Under the Andes||Rex Stout|
An Inca Spear
|Page 5 of 9||
Soon the bed of the stream became nearly level, for we barely moved. The roof of the tunnel was very low--but a scant foot above our heads as we sat or crouched on the raft. It was necessary to keep a sharp lookout ahead; a rock projecting from above would have swept us into the water.
The air, too, was close and foul; our breath became labored and difficult; and Desiree, half stifled and drowsy, passed into a fitful and broken sleep, stirring restlessly and panting for air. Harry had taken the bow and I lay across the stern. Suddenly his voice came, announcing that we had left the tunnel.
I sat up quickly and looked round. The walls were no longer to be seen; we had evidently entered a cavern similar to the one in which we had embarked.
"Shall we lay off? I asked, stepping across to Harry's side.
He assented, and I took the oar and worked the raft over to the left. There was but little current and she went well in. In a 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 anything."
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 grumbled.
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.
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