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|Under the Andes||Rex Stout|
|Page 1 of 8||
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 tongues.
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 for royalty."
"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 Sun.
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 effort.
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