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Under the Andes Rex Stout

An Inca Spear

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Then we tried working to the right instead of the left, but with no better success. The force of the current, coming with all its speed against the unwieldy raft, was irresistible. Time and again we shoved round and started upstream, after incredible labor, only to be dashed back again against the rock.

We tried our spears, but their shafts were so slender that they were useless. We took the oar and, placing its end against the wall, shoved with all our strength. The oar snapped in two and we fell forward against the wall. We tore off some of the strips of hide from the raft and tried to fasten them to the wall on either side, but there was no protuberance that would hold them. Nothing remained to be done.

Harry and I held a consultation then and agreed on the only possible means of escape. I turned to Desiree:

"Can you swim?"

"Parfaitement," she replied. "But against that"-- pointing to the whirling water--"I do not know. I can try."

I, who remember the black fury of that stream as it swept past us, can appreciate the courage of her.

We lost no time, for the foulness of the air was weakening us with every breath we took. Our preparations were few.

The two spears and about half of the provisions we strapped to our backs--an inconsiderable load which would hamper us but little. We discarded all our clothing, which was very little. I took the heavy skin which Desiree had worn and began to strap it also on top of my bundle, but she refused to allow it.

"I will not permit you to be handicapped with my modesty," she observed.

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Then, with Desiree between us, we stepped to the edge of the raft and dived off together.

Driven as we were by necessity, we would have hesitated longer if we had known the full force of the undercurrent that seized us from beneath. Desiree would have disappeared without a struggle if it had not been for the support which Harry and I rendered her on either side.

But we kept on top--most of the time--and fought our way forward by inches. The black walls frowning at us from either side appeared to me to remain exactly the same, stationary, after a long and desperate struggle; but when I gave a quick glance behind I saw that we had pulled so far away from the raft that it was no longer in sight. That gave me renewed strength, and, shouting assurance to Harry and Desiree, I redoubled my efforts. Desiree was by now almost able to hold her own, but we still supported her.

Every stroke made the next one easier, carrying us away from the whirlpool, and soon we swam smoothly. Less and less strong became the resistance of the current, until finally it was possible to float easily on our backs and rest.

"How far is it to the cavern?" Harry panted.

"Somewhere between one and ten miles," was my answer. "How the deuce should I know? But we'll make it now, I think. Can you hold out, Desiree?"

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Under the Andes
Rex Stout

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