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Under the Andes Rex Stout

The Beginning Of The End

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I held Harry back, almost shouting: "You stay here; guard the entrance. I'll get her."

"No," he cried, pushing forward. "I can't stay."

"Fool!" I cried, dashing him back. "We would be caught like rats in a trap. Defend that entrance--with your life!"

I saw him hesitate, and, knowing that he would obey, I dashed forward into the tunnel. When nearly to its end I made a misstep on the uneven ground and precipitated myself against the wall. A sharp pain shot through my left shoulder, but at the time I was scarcely conscious of it as I picked myself up and leaped forward. The end was in sight.

Just as I reached the foot of the spiral stairway I saw a black form descending from it. That Inca never knew what hit him. I did not use my spear; time was too precious. He disappeared in the whirlpool beneath the base of the column through which Harry and I had once miraculously escaped.

But despair filled my heart as, with my feet on the first step of the spiral stairway, I cast a quick glance upward. The upper half of the inside of the column was a raging furnace of fire. How or from what it came I did not stop to inquire; I bounded up the stairway in desperate fury.

I did not know then that the stone steps were baking and blistering my feet; I did not know, as I came level with the base of the flames, that every hair was being singed from my head and body--I only knew that I must reach the top of the column.

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Then I saw the source of the flames as I reached them. Huge vats of oil--six, a dozen, twenty--I know not how many--were ranged in a circle on a ledge of stone encircling the column, and from their tops the fire leaped upward to a great height. I saw what must be done; how I did it God only knows; I shut my eyes now as I remember it.

Hooking the rim of the vat nearest me with the point of my spear, I sent it tumbling down the length of the column into the whirlpool, many feet below. Then another, and another, and another, until the ledge was empty.

Some of the burning oil, flying from the overturned vats, alighted on the stairway, casting weird patches of light up and down the whole length of the column. Some of it landed on my body, my face, my hands. It was a very hell of heat; my lungs, all the inside of me, was on fire.

My brain sang and whirled. My eyes felt as though they were being burned from their sockets with red-hot irons. I bounded upward.

A few more steps--I could not see, I could hardly feel--and my head bumped against the stone at the top of the column. I put out my hand, groping around half crazily, and by some wild chance it came in contact with the slide that moved the stone stab. I pushed, hardly knowing what I did, and the stone flew to one side. I stuck my head through the opening and saw Desiree.

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Under the Andes
Rex Stout

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