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Under the Andes Rex Stout

A Royal Visitor

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In the first place, the pots and pans were of solid gold. Harry stared in amazement as they were placed in brilliant array on one of the stone tables; and when we essayed to lift the empty tray from another table on which it had been placed we understood why the steward had found it necessary to bring four assistants along as cup-bearers.

There was a king's ransom on that table, in sober truth, for there could be no doubt but that this was part of the gold which had been carried from Huanuco when it had been demanded by Pizarro as payment for the life of Atahualpa.

But better even than the service was that which it contained. It may not have been such as would enhance the reputation of a French chef, but to us then it seemed that the culinary art could go no farther.

There was a large platter; Harry lifted its cover in an ecstasy of hope; but the next instant his face fell ludicrously.

"Our old friend, Mr. Dried Fish," he announced sadly, and gave it up.

Then I tried my luck, and with better success.

First I uncovered a dish of stew, steaming hot! To be sure, it was fish, but it was hot. Then a curious, brittle kind of bread; I call it that, though on trial it appeared to be made from the roe of some kind of fish. Also there was some excellent fish-soup, also hot, and quite delicious.

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Four hundred years of development had taught the royal chefs to prepare fish in so many different ways that we almost failed to recognize them as of the same family.

"Couldn't be better," said Harry, helping himself liberally to the stew. "We can eat this, and cache the dried stuff. We'll have enough for an army in a week."

"As for me, I saw before me the raw material for our weapons. When we had emptied the golden platter that held our "bread," I secreted it under the cover of the granite couch. When the serving-men called to remove the dishes they apparently did not notice its absence. So far, success.

Some hours later Desiree paid us a second call. She appeared to be in the gayest of spirits, and I eyed her curiously from a seat in the corner as she and Harry sat side by side, chatting for all the world as though they had been in her own Paris drawing-room.

Was it possible that she was really satisfied, as she had said? What imaginable food could these black dwarfs find to appease her tremendous vanity? Or was she merely living the motto of the French philosopher?

Harry was demanding that he be allowed to visit her apartment; this she refused, saying that if he were found there by the king nothing could avert a catastrophe. Harry's brow grew black; I could see his effort to choke back his anger. Then Desiree led him away from the topic, and soon they were both again laughing merrily.

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Under the Andes
Rex Stout

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