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|Under the Andes||Rex Stout|
|Page 6 of 9||
The footsteps sounded just without the doorway; I stood tense and alert, with spear ready, expecting a rush momentarily. Then they passed, passed altogether, and receded down the corridor in the direction whence we had come. I wanted to glance out at their number, but dared not. We stood still till all was again perfectly silent.
Then Desiree spoke in a whisper:
"It is useless; we are lost. That was the king. He is going to my room. In ten seconds he will be there and find me gone."
There was only one thing to do, and I wasted no time in discussing it. A swift command to Harry, and we dashed from the doorway and down the corridor to the left, each holding an arm of Desiree. But she needed little of our assistance; the presence of the Inca king seemed to have inspired her with a boundless terror, and she flew, rather than ran, between us.
We reached the bend in the passage, and just beyond it the light--the first one we had seen on our way in. I had our route marked on my memory with complete distinctness. Soon we found ourselves in the wide, sloping passage that carried us to the level below, and in another five seconds had reached its end and the beginning of the last stretch.
At the turn Harry stumbled and fell flat, dragging Desiree to her knees. I lifted her, and he sprang to his feet unhurt.
She was panting heavily. Harry had dropped his spear in the fall, and we wasted a precious minute searching for it in the darkness, finally finding it where it had slid, some twenty feet ahead. Again we dashed forward.
A light appeared ahead in the distance, dim but unmistakable --the light of the urns in the cavern for which we were headed. Suddenly Desiree faltered and would have fallen but for our supporting arms.
"Courage!" I breathed. "We are near the end."
She stopped short and sank to the ground.
"It is useless," she gasped. "I hurt my ankle when I fell. I can go no farther. Leave me!"
Harry and I with one impulse stooped over to pick her up, and as we did so she fainted away in our arms. We were then but a few hundred feet from our goal; the light from the urns could be plainly seen gleaming on the broad ledge by the lake.
Suddenly the sound of many footsteps came from behind. I turned quickly, but the passage was too dark. I could see nothing. The sound came closer and closer; there seemed to be many of them, advancing swiftly. I straightened and raised my spear.
Harry grasped my arm.
"Not yet!" he cried. "One more try; we can make it."
He thrust his spear into my hand, and in another instant had thrown Desiree's unconscious body over his shoulder and was staggering forward toward the cavern. I followed, while the sound of the footsteps behind grew louder and louder.
We neared the end of the passage; we reached it; we were on the ledge. Even with Desiree for a burden, Harry moved so swiftly that I found it difficult to keep up with him. The strength of a god was in him, which was but just, since he had his goddess in his arms.
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