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Under the Andes Rex Stout

The Beginning Of The End

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"But you said once--forgive me if I remind you of it now--you said that you are--you called yourself 'La Marana.'"

She shrank back, exclaiming: "Paul! Indeed, I need to forgive you!"

"Still, it is true," I persisted, turning to look at her. The movement caused me to halt, closing my eyes, while a great wave of pain swept over me from head to foot. Then I went on: "Could you expect to confine your heart? You say we could have opened any door--well, tell me, what could we have done, you and I?"

"But that is what I do not think of!" cried Desiree impatiently. "I would perhaps have placed my hand on your heart, as I do now; you would perhaps have fought for me, as you have done. I might even--" She hesitated, while the ghost of a smile that had died before it reached the light appeared on her lips, as her head was lowered close, quite close, to mine.

A long moment, and then, "Must I ask for it?" I breathed.

She jerked her head up sharply.

"You do not want it," she said dryly.

I raised my hand, groping for her fingers, but could not find them. She saw, and slowly, very slowly, her hand crept to mine and was caught and held there.

"Desiree--I want it," I said half fiercely, and I forgot my pain and our danger--forgot everything but her white face in dim outline above me, and her eyes, glowing and tender against her wish, and her hand that nestled in my hand. "Be merciful to me--I want it as I have never wanted anything in my life. Desiree, I love you."

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At that I felt her hand move quickly, as for freedom, but I held it fast. And then slowly her head was lowered. I waited breathlessly. I felt her quick breath on my face, and the next moment her lips had found my lips, hot and dry, and remained there.

Then she raised her head, saying tremulously:

"That was my soul, and it is the first time it has ever escaped me."

At the same instant we were startled by the sound of Harry's voice in the darkness:

"Desiree! Where are you?"

I waited for her to answer, but she was silent, and I called out to him our direction. A moment later his form appeared at a distance, and soon he had joined us.

"How about it, old man?" he asked, bending over me.

Then he told us that he had found no water. He had explored two sides of the cavern, one at a distance of half a mile or more, and was crossing to find the third when he had called to us.

"But there is little use," he finished gloomily. "The place is silent as the grave. If there were water we would hear it. I can't even find an exit except the crevice that let us in."

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Under the Andes
Rex Stout

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