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Under the Andes Rex Stout

The Beginning Of The End

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On the instant I guessed at the reason why the Incas had ceased their pursuit so abruptly, and I turned to Harry:

"I'm afraid we've jumped from the frying-pan into the fire. If this cavern holds anything like that other--you remember--"

"If it does, we shall see," he replied.

Supporting Desiree on either side, we struck out directly across the cavern, halting every few steps to listen for a sound, either of the Incas, which we feared, or of running water, which we desired. We heard neither. All was blackness and the most complete silence.

Then I became aware, for the first time, of intolerable pains shooting up through my legs into my body. The danger past, reason returned and feeling. I could not suppress a low cry, wrung inexorably from my chest, and I halted, leaning my whole weight on Desiree's shoulder.

"What is it?" she cried, and for answer--though I strained every atom of my will and strength to prevent it--I toppled to the ground, dragging her with me.

What followed came to me as in a dream, though I was not wholly unconscious. I was aware that Harry and Desiree were bending over me; then I felt my head and shoulders being lifted from the ground, and a soft, warm arm supporting me.

A minute passed, or an hour--I did not know--and I felt hot drops of moisture fall on my cheek. I struggled to open my eyes, and saw Desiree's face quite near my own; my head was resting on her shoulder. She was weeping silently, and great tears rolled down her cheeks unrestrained.

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To have seen the sun or stars shining down upon me would not have astonished me more. I gazed at her a long moment in silence; she saw that I did so, but made no effort to turn her head or avoid my gaze. Finally I found my tongue.

"Where is Harry?" I asked.

"He is gone to look for water," she replied; and, curiously enough, her voice was quite steady.

I smiled.

"It is useless. I am done for!"

"That isn't true," she denied, in a voice almost of anger. "You will get well. You are--injured badly--" After a short pause she added, "for me."

There was a long silence--I thought it hardly worth while to contradict her--and then I said simply, "Why are you crying, Desiree?"

She looked at me as though she had not heard; then, after another silence, her voice came, so low that it barely reached my ears:

"For this--and for what might have been, my friend."

"But you have said--"

"I know! Would you make me doubt again? Do not! Ah"--she passed her hand gently over my forehead and touched the tips of her fingers to my burning eyes--"you must have cared for me in that other world. I will not doubt it; unless you speak, and you must not. Nothing would have been too high for us. We could have opened any door--even the door to happiness."

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Under the Andes
Rex Stout

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