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Under the Andes Rex Stout

At The Door

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Then, in answer to their glances of inquiry, I added significantly: "We have no weapons. We cannot allow ourselves to starve--the end must come before that, for as soon as they saw us weakening we would be at their mercy."

There was comprehension and horror in Desiree's eyes, but she looked at me with a brave attempt to smile as she took from her hair something which gleamed and shone in the light from the flaming urns. It was a tiny steel blade with a handle of pearl studded with diamonds.

I had seen it before many times--a present, Desiree had told me, from the young man I had seen in the royal coach on that day in Madrid when I had first heard the name of Le Mire.

"Will that do?" she asked calmly, holding it out to me with a firm hand.

Brave Le Mire! I took the dagger and placed it in my pocket, and, looking at Harry, exchanged with him a nod of understanding. No words were necessary.

"But I must confess I am a coward," said Desiree. "When the time comes I--I could not bear to see--to wait--"

I looked at her and said simply: "You shall be first," and she gave me a smile of thanks that spoke of a heart that would not fail when the final moment arrived. And in my admiration of her high courage I forgot the horror of the task that must be mine.

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It was a relief to have admitted the worst and discussed it calmly; there is no torment like suspense, and ours was at an end. A load was lifted from our hearts, and a quiet sympathy created between us, sincere as death itself. And it was in our power to choose for ourselves the final moment--we were yet masters of our fates.

All action seems useless when hope is dead, but certain things needed to be done, and Harry and I bestirred ourselves. We extinguished the flame in all the urns but one to save the oil, not caring to depart in darkness.

Our supply of water, we found, was quite sufficient to last for several days, if used sparingly; for we intended to support life so long as we had the fuel. Then responsibility ceases; man has a right to hasten that which fortune has made inevitable.

The hours passed by.

We talked very little; at times Desiree and Harry conversed in subdued tones which I did not overhear; I was engaged with my own thoughts. And they were not unpleasant; if, looking death in the face, a man can preserve his philosophy unchanged, he has made the only success in life that is worth while.

We ate and drank, but gave neither water nor food to our fellow prisoner. Not because I really expected to force negotiations with the Incas--but the thing was possible and was worth a trial. I knew them well enough to appraise correctly the value of any safe-conduct they might give us.

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Under the Andes
Rex Stout

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