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Under the Andes Rex Stout

Into The Whirlpool

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Another minute and we had reached the steps leading to the tunnel under the lake. Here our guards seemed in doubt as to just what to do; those in front halted and stood hesitant, and it seemed to me that as they gazed below down the stone stair their eyes held a certain shrinking terror. Then one came up from behind and with a commanding gesture ordered them to descend, and they obeyed.

Harry and I still found ourselves surrounded by a full company; there were fifty or sixty ahead of us and at least twice that number behind. The idea of a successful struggle was so patently impossible that I believe it never entered our minds.

There was further delay at the bottom of the stairs, for, as I have said before, the tunnel was extremely narrow and it was barely possible to walk two abreast. None of them turned back, but Harry and I could scarcely restrain a laugh at the sight of those immediately in front of us treading on the toes of their fellows to keep out of our way. With all their savage brutality I believe they possessed little real bravery.

Five minutes more and we had reached the end of the tunnel and found ourselves at the foot of the spiral stairway. The passage was so blocked by those ahead that we were unable to approach it; they flattened their squatty bodies against the wall and we were forced to squeeze our way past them.

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There we stood, barely able to make out their black forms against the blacker wall, when the one who appeared to be the leader approached and motioned to us to ascend. We hesitated, feeling instinctively that this was our last chance to make a stand, weighing our fate.

That was a dark moment, but though I did not know it, Providence was with us. For, happening to glance downward, beneath the spiral stair--for there was no ground immediately beneath it--I saw a faint glimmer and a movement as though of a dim light in the black, yawning space at my feet. (You must understand that we were now inside the base of the column in the center of the great cavern.)

Moved either by curiosity or a command of Providence, I stooped and peered intently downward, and saw that the movement was the almost imperceptible reflection of a stray ray of light from above on the surface of water. At the time I merely wondered idly if the water came from the same source as that in the lake outside, not thinking it sufficiently important to mention to Harry.

Then a question came from him:

"No good, Paul. They are a hundred to one, and we are empty-handed. Do we go?"

"There is nothing else to do," I answered, and I placed my foot on the first step of the spiral stair.

Behind us came the guide, with a dozen others at his heels.

The ascent seemed even longer and more arduous than before, for then we had been propelled by keen curiosity. Twice I stumbled in the darkness, and would have fallen if it had not been for Harry's supporting hand behind me. But finally we reached the top and stepped out into the glare of the great cavern. I saw the stone slab close to behind us, noiselessly, and wondered if I should ever see it open again.

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Under the Andes
Rex Stout

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