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Under the Andes Rex Stout


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I closed my eyes to escape the darkness. It was maddening; easy enough then to comprehend the hysterics of the blind and sympathize with them. It finally reached a point where I was forced to grit my teeth to keep from breaking out into curses; I could lie still no longer, exhausted as I was, and Harry, too. I turned on him:

"Come on, Hal; let's move."

"Where?" he asked in a tone devoid of hope.

"Anywhere--away from this beastly water. We must dry out our clothing; no use dying like drowned rats. If I only had a match!"

We rose to our hands and knees and crawled painfully up the slippery incline. Soon we had reached dry ground and stood upright; then, struck by a sudden thought, I turned to Harry:

"Didn't you drink any of that water?"

He answered: "No."

"Well, let's try it. It may be our last drink, Hal; make it a good one."

We crept back down to the edge of the lake (I call it that in my ignorance of its real nature), and, settling myself as firmly as possible, I held Harry's hand while he lowered himself carefully into the water. He was unable to reach its surface with his mouth without letting go of my hand, and I shook off my poncho and used it as a line.

"How does it taste?" I asked.

"Fine!" was the response. "It must be clear as a bell. Lord. I didn't know I was so thirsty!"

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I was not ignorant of the fact that there was an excellent chance of the water being unhealthful, possibly poisoned, what with the tertiary deposits of copper ores in the rock-basins; but the thought awakened hope rather than fear. There is a choice even in death.

But when I had pulled Harry up and descended myself I soon found that there was no danger--or chance. The water had a touch of alkali, but nothing more.

Then we crept back up the wet ledge, and once more stood on dry ground.

The surface was perfectly level, and we set off at a brisk pace, hand in hand, directly away from the lake. But when, about a hundred yards off, we suddenly bumped our heads against a solid wall of rock, we decided to proceed with more caution.

The darkness was intensified, if anything. We turned to the right and groped along the wall, which was smooth as glass and higher than my best reach. It seemed to the touch to be slightly convex, but that may have been delusion.

We had proceeded in this manner some hundred yards or more, advancing cautiously, when we came to a break in the wall. A few feet farther the wall began again.

"It's a tunnel," said Harry.

I nodded, forgetting he could not see me. "Shall we take it?"

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Under the Andes
Rex Stout

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