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Under the Andes Rex Stout

An Inca Spear

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I turned.

"Young man, a good sailor never loses an oar. How do you feel, Desiree?"

"Like a drowned rat," she answered, but with a laugh in her voice. "I'm faint and sick and wet, and my throat is ready to burst, but I wouldn't have missed that for anything. It was glorious! I'd like to do it again."

"Yes, you would," said Harry skeptically. "You're welcome, thank you. But what I want to know is, where did that oar come from?"

I explained that I had taken the precaution to fall on it.

"Do you never lose your head?" asked Desiree.

"No, merely my heart."

"Oh, as for that," she retorted, with a lightness that still had a sting, "my good friend, you never had any."

Whereupon I returned to my paddling in haste.

Soon I discovered that though, as I have said, we appeared to be in a lake--for I could see no bank on either side--there was still a current. We drifted slowly, but our movement was plainly perceptible, and I rested on my oar.

Presently a wall loomed up ahead of us and I saw that the stream again narrowed down as it entered the tunnel, much lower than the one above the cataract. The current became swifter as we were carried toward its mouth, and I called to Harry to get his spear to keep us off from the walls if it should prove necessary. But we entered exactly in the center and were swept forward with a rush.

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The ceiling of the tunnel was so low that we could not stand upright on the raft, and the stream was not more than forty feet wide. That was anything but promising; if the stream really ran through to the western slope, its volume of water should have been increasing instead of diminishing. I said nothing of that to Harry or Desiree.

We had sailed along thus without incident for upward of half an hour, when my carelessness, or the darkness, nearly brought us to grief. Suddenly, without warning, there was a violent jar and the raft rebounded with a force that all but threw us into the water. Coming to a bend in the stream, the current had dashed us against the other bank.

But, owing to the flexibility of its sides, the raft escaped damage. I had my oar against the wall instantly, shoving off, and we swung round and caught the current again round the curve.

But that bend was to the left, as the other had been, which meant that we were now going in exactly the opposite direction of that in which we had started! Which, in turn, meant the death of hope; we were merely winding in and out in a circle and getting nowhere. Harry and Desiree had apparently not noticed the fact, and I said nothing of it. Time enough when they should find out for themselves; and besides, there was still a chance, though a slim one.

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Under the Andes
Rex Stout

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