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Under the Andes Rex Stout

Before The Court

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I expected I know not what result from Harry's hysterical rashness: confusion, pandemonium, instant death; but none of these followed.

I had reached his side and stood by him at the edge of the lake, where he had halted. Desiree Le Mire stopped short in the midst of the mad sweep of the Dance of the Sun.

For ten silent, tense seconds she looked down at us from the top of the lofty column, bending dangerously near its edge. Her form straightened and was stretched to its fullest height; her white, superb body was distinctly outlined against the black background of the upper cavern. Then she stepped backward slowly, without taking her eyes from us.

Suddenly as we gazed she appeared to sink within the column itself and in another instant disappeared from view.

We stood motionless, petrified; how long I know not. Then I turned and faced our own danger. It was time.

The Incas--for I was satisfied of the identity of the creatures--had left their seats of granite and advanced to the edge of the lake. Not a sound was heard--no command from voice or trumpet or reed; they moved as with one impulse and one brain.

We were utterly helpless, for they numbered thousands. And weak and starving as we were, a single pair of them would have been more than a match for us.

I looked at Harry; the reaction from his moment of superficial energy was already upon him. His body swayed slightly from side to side, and he would have fallen if I had not supported him with my arm. There we stood, waiting.

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Then for the first time I saw the ruler of the scene. The Incas had stopped and stood motionless. Suddenly they dropped to their knees and extended their arms--I thought--toward us; but something in their attitude told me the truth. I wheeled sharply and saw the object of their adoration.

Built into the granite wall of the cavern, some thirty feet from the ground, was a deep alcove. At each side of the entrance was an urn resting on a ledge, similar to those on the columns, only smaller, from which issued a mounting flame.

On the floor of the alcove was a massive chair, or throne, which seemed to be itself of fire, so brilliant was the glow of the metal of which it was constructed. It could have been nothing but gold. And seated on this throne was an ugly, misshapen dwarf.

"God save the king!" I cried, with a hysterical laugh; and in the profound silence my voice rang from one side of the cavern to the other in racing echoes.

Immediately following my cry the figure on the throne arose; and as he did so the creatures round us fell flat on their faces on the ground. For several seconds the king surveyed them thus, without a sound or movement; then suddenly he stretched forth his hand in a gesture of dismissal. They rose as one man and with silent swiftness disappeared, seemingly melting away into the walls of rock. At the time the effect was amazing; later, when I discovered the innumerable lanes and passages which served as exits, it was not so difficult to understand.

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Under the Andes
Rex Stout

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