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|Under the Andes||Rex Stout|
|Page 3 of 8||
I sprang to my feet with a shout, then stood listening. Out of the blackness surrounding me came the words, in Harry's voice, much lower, but distinct:
"Paul! Paul, where are you?"
"Thank Heaven!" I breathed; and I answered:
"Here, Harry boy, here."
"I don't know. On a ledge of rock at the edge of the water. Where are you?"
"Same place. Which side are you on?"
"The right side," I answered with heartfelt emphasis. "That is to say, the outside. If it weren't for this infernal darkness--Listen! How far away does my voice sound?"
But the innumerable echoes of the cavern walls made it impossible to judge of distance by sound. We tried it over and over; sometimes it seemed that we were only a few feet apart, sometimes a mile or more.
Then Harry spoke in a whisper, and his voice appeared to be directly in my ear. Never have I seen a night so completely black as that cavern; we had had several hours, presumably, for our eyes to adjust themselves to the phenomenon; but when I held my hand but six inches in front of my face I could not get even the faintest suggestion of its outline.
"This is useless," I declared finally. "We must experiment. Harry!"
"Turn to your left and proceed carefully along the edge. I'll turn to my right. Go easy, lad; feel your way."
I crawled on my hands and knees, no faster than a snail, feeling every inch of the ground. The surface was wet and slippery, and in places sloped at an angle that made me hang on for dear life to keep from shooting off into space.
Meantime I kept calling to Harry and he to me; but, on account of our painfully slow progress, it was half an hour or more before we discovered that the distance between us was being increased instead of lessened.
He let fly an oath at this, and his tone was dangerous; no wonder if the lad was half crazed! I steadied him as well as I could with word of encouragement, and instructed him to turn about and proceed to the right of his original position. I, also, turned to the left.
Our hope of meeting lay in the probability that the ledge surrounded a circular body of water and was continuous. At some point, of course, was the entrance of the stream which had carried us, and at some other point there was almost certainly an outlet; but we trusted to luck to avoid these. Our chances were less than one in a thousand; but, failing that, some other means must be invented.
The simplest way would have been for me to take to the water and swim across to Harry, counting on his voice as a guide; but the conflicting echoes produced by the slightest sound rendered such an attempt dangerous.
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