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|Under the Andes||Rex Stout|
Before The Court
|Page 6 of 8||
Soon Harry began:
"I'll tell you what they are, Paul; they're frogs. Nothing but frogs. Did you see 'em? The little black devils! And Lord, how they smell!"
"That," I answered, "is the effect of--"
"To the deuce with your mineralogy or anthromorphism or whatever you call it. I don't care what makes 'em smell. I only know they do--as Kipling says of the oonts--'most awful vile.' And there the beggars sit, and here we sit!"
"If we could only see--" I began.
"And what good would that do us? Could we fight? No. They'd smother us in a minute. Say, wasn't there a king in that cave the other day?"
"Yes; on a golden throne. An ugly little devil--the ugliest of all."
"Sure; that why he's got the job. Did he say anything?"
"Not a word; merely stuck out his arm and out we went."
"Why the deuce don't they talk?"
I explained my theory at some length, with many and various scientific digressions. Harry listened politely.
"I don't know what you mean," said he when I had finished, "but I believe you. Anyway, it's all a stupendous joke. In the first place, we shouldn't be here at all. And, secondly, why should they want us to stay?"
"How should I know? Ask the king. And don't bother me; I'm going to sleep."
"You are not. I want to talk. Now, they must want us for something. They can't intend to eat us, because there isn't enough to go around. And there is Desiree. What the deuce was she doing up there without any clothes on? I say, Paul, we've got to find her."
"With pleasure. But, first, how are we going to get out of this?"
"I mean, when we get out."
Thus we rattled on, arriving nowhere. Harry's loquacity I understood; the poor lad meant to show me that he had resolved not to "whine." Yet his cheerfulness was but partly assumed, and it was most welcome. My own temper was getting sadly frayed about the edge.
We slept through another watch uneventfully, and when we woke found our platter of fish and basin of water beside us. I estimated that some seventy-two hours had then passed since we had been carried from the cavern; Harry said not less than a hundred.
However that may be, we had almost entirely recovered our strength. Indeed, Harry declared himself perfectly fit; but I still felt some discomfort, caused partly by the knife-wound on my knee, which had not entirely healed, and partly, I think, by the strangeness and monotony of our diet. Harry's palate was less particular.
On awaking, and after breaking our fast, we were both filled with an odd contentment. I really believe that we had abandoned hope, and that the basis of our listlessness was despair; and surely not without reason. For what chance had we to escape from the Incas, handicapped as we were by the darkness, and our want of weapons, and their overwhelming numbers?
And beyond that--if by some chance lucky we did escape--what remained? To wander about in the endless caves of darkness and starve to death. At the time I don't think I stated the case, even to myself, with such brutal frankness, but facts make their impression whether you invite them or not. But, as I say, we were filled with an odd contentment. Though despair may have possessed our hearts, it was certainly not allowed to infect our tongues.
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