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|Under the Andes||Rex Stout|
Before The Court
|Page 7 of 8||
Breakfast was hilarious. Harry sang an old drinking-song to the water-basin with touching sentiment; I gave him hearty applause and joined in the chorus. The cavern rang.
"The last time I sang that," said Harry as the last echoes died away, "was at the Midlothian. Bunk Stafford was there, and Billy Du Mont, and Fred Marston--I say, do you remember Freddie? And his East Side crocodiles?
"My, but weren't they daisies? And polo? They could play it in their sleep. And--what's this? Paul! Something's up! Here they come--Mr. and Mrs. Inca and all the children!"
I sprang hastily to my feet and stood by Harry's side. He was right.
Through the half darkness they came, hundreds of them, and, as always, in utter silence. Dimly we could see their forms huddled together round us on every side, leaving us in the center of a small circle in their midst.
"Now, what the deuce do they want?" I muttered. "Can't they let us eat in peace?"
Harry observed: "Wasn't I right? 'Most awful vile!'"
I think we both felt that we were joking in the face of death.
The forms surrounding us stood silent for perhaps ten seconds. Then four of their number stepped forward to us, and one made gestures with a hairy arm, pointing to our rear. We turned and saw a narrow lane lined on either side by our captors. Nothing was distinct; still we could see well enough to guess their meaning.
"It's up to us to march," said Harry.
"And step high, Hal; it may be our last one. If we only had our knives! But there are thousands of 'em."
"But if it comes to the worst--"
"Then--I'm with you. Forward!"
We started, and as we did so one of the four who had approached darted from behind and led the way. Not a hand had touched us, and this appeared to me a good sign, without knowing exactly why.
"They seem to have forgotten their manners," Harry observed. "The approved method is to knock us down and carry us. I shall speak to the king about it."
We had just reached the wall of the cavern and entered a passage leading from it, when there came a sound, sonorous and ear-destroying, from the farther end. We had heard it once before; it was the same that had ended our desperate fight some days before. Then it had saved our lives; to what did it summon us now?
The passage was not a long one. At its end we turned to the right, following our guide. Once I looked back and saw behind us the crowd that had surrounded us in the cave. There was no way but obedience.
We had advanced perhaps a hundred, possibly two hundred yards along the second passage when our guide suddenly halted. We stood beside him.
He turned sharply to the left, and, beckoning to us to follow, began to descend a narrow stairway which led directly from the passage. It was steep, and the darkness allowed a glimpse only of black walls and the terrace immediately beneath our feet; so we went slowly. I counted the steps; there were ninety-six.
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