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|Under the Andes||Rex Stout|
|Page 5 of 9||
He was even larger than I had thought. No wonder Harry had called him--or one like him--a whale. It was all of fifteen feet from his snout to the tip of his tail. The skin was dead black on top and mottled irregularly on the belly.
As we sat sharpening the points of our spears on the rock, preparatory to skinning him, Desiree stood regarding the fish with unqualified approval. She turned to us:
"Well, I'd rather eat that than those other nasty things."
"Oh, that isn't what we want him for," said Harry, rubbing his finger against the edge of his spear-point. "He's probably not fit to eat."
"Then why all this trouble?" asked Desiree.
"Dear lady, we expect to ride him home," said Harry, rising to his feet.
Then he explained our purpose, and you may believe that Desiree was the most excited of the lot as we ripped down the body of the fish from tail to snout and began to peel off the tough skin.
"If you succeed you may choose the new hangings for my boudoir," she said, with an attempt at lightness not altogether successful.
"As for me," I declared, "I shall eat fish every day of my life out of pure gratitude."
"You'll do it out of pure necessity," Harry put in, "if you don't get busy."
It took us three hours of whacking and slashing and tearing to pull the fish to pieces, but we worked with a purpose and a will. When we had finished, this is what we had to show: A long strip of bone, four inches thick and twelve feet long, and tough as hickory, from either side of which the smaller bones projected at right angles. They were about an inch in thickness and two inches apart. The lower end of the backbone, near the tail, we had broken off.
We examined it and lifted it and bent it half double.
"Absolutely perfect!" Harry cried in jubilation. "Three more like this and we'll sail down the coast to Callao."
"If we can get 'em," I observed. "But two would do. We could make it a triangle."
Harry looked at me.
"Paul, you're an absolute genius. But would it be big enough to hold us?"
We discussed that question on our way back to camp, whither we carried the backbone of our fish, together with some of the meat. Then, after a hearty meal, we slept. After seven hours of the hardest kind of work we were ready for it.
That was our program for the time that followed--time that stretched into many weary hours, for, once started, we worked feverishly, so impatient had we become by dint of that faint glimmer of hope. We were going to try to build a raft, on which we were going to try to embark on the stream, by which we were going to try to find our way out of the mountain. The prospect made us positively hilarious, so slender is the thread by which hope jerks us about.
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