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datatime: 2022-11-28 12:27:26 Author:EgwZaZkS

THE BEGINNING OF THE END.

We crept silently to the corner, avoiding the circle of light as far as possible, and, crouching side by side on the rock, looked out together on a scene none the less striking because we had seen it twice before.

There was no longer any doubt of it: we were on our way to the great cavern. For a moment I hesitated, asking myself for what purpose we hastened on thus into the very arms of our enemies; then, propelled by instinct or premonition-I know not what-I took a firmer grasp on my spear and followed Harry without word, throwing caution to the winds.

Neither Harry nor I spoke; our eyes were concentrated on the scene before us, trying to comprehend its meaning.

Neither Harry nor I spoke; our eyes were concentrated on the scene before us, trying to comprehend its meaning.

We waited a while longer, then as no more appeared we started forward and soon had reached the corridor down which they had passed. We followed in the direction they had taken, turning to the right.

A short distance ahead we came to another passage, crossing at right angles, broad and straight, and somehow familiar. As with one impulse we took it, turning to the left, and then flattened ourselves back against the wall as we saw a group of Incas passing at its farther end, some two hundred yards away.

THE BEGINNING OF THE END.

"They have fired the column-you remember. Follow me; keep your spear ready; not a sound, if you love her."

We waited a while longer, then as no more appeared we started forward and soon had reached the corridor down which they had passed. We followed in the direction they had taken, turning to the right.

I do not know what led us; whether a remorseful Providence, who suddenly decided that we had been played with long enough, or the mere animal instinct of direction, or blind luck. But so fast did we go that it seemed to me we had left the great cavern scarcely a minute behind us when I suddenly saw the steps of a steep stairway leading down from an opening on our right.

We rushed forward side by side, guessing at our way, seeking the entrance to the tunnel that led to the foot of the column. A prayer was on my lips that we might not be too late; Harry's lips were compressed together tightly as a vise. Death we did not fear, even for Desiree; but we remembered the horror of our own experience on the top of that column, and shuddered as we ran.

There we stood, motionless and scarcely breathing, while group after group of the savages passed in the corridor ahead. Their number swelled to a continuous stream, which in turn gradually became thinner and thinner until only a few stragglers were seen trotting behind. Finally they, too, ceased to appear; the corridor was deserted.

Yet we avoided foolhardiness, for as we approached the last turn we proceeded slowly, keeping an eye on the rear. But all the Incas appeared to have assembled within, for the corridor remained deserted.

It was something indefinable in Desiree's attitude that told me the truth-what, I cannot tell. Her profile was toward us; it could not have been her eyes or any expression of her face; but there was a tenseness about her pose, a stiffening of the muscles of her body, an air of lofty scorn and supreme triumph coming somehow from every line of her motionless figure, that flashed certainty into my brain.

And on the instant I turned to Harry.

But not for an instant did we hesitate; we flew rather than ran. I felt within me the strength and resolve of ten men, and I knew then that there was something I must do and would do before I died, though a thousand devils stood in my way.

How my heart leaped then Harry uttered a hoarse cry of exultation. The next instant we were dashing headlong down the steps, avoiding a fall by I know not what miracle. And there before us was the entrance to the tunnel.

I do not know what led us; whether a remorseful Providence, who suddenly decided that we had been played with long enough, or the mere animal instinct of direction, or blind luck. But so fast did we go that it seemed to me we had left the great cavern scarcely a minute behind us when I suddenly saw the steps of a steep stairway leading down from an opening on our right.

There was no longer any doubt of it: we were on our way to the great cavern. For a moment I hesitated, asking myself for what purpose we hastened on thus into the very arms of our enemies; then, propelled by instinct or premonition-I know not what-I took a firmer grasp on my spear and followed Harry without word, throwing caution to the winds.

She was standing on the top of the lofty column in the center of the lake.

I saw that he understood, and saw too, by the expression that shot into his face, that it would go ill with any Incas who tried to stop us then.

"It came from the left," said Harry; but I disagreed with him and was so sure of myself that we started off to the right. The echoes of the bell were still floating from wall to wall as we went rapidly forward. I do not know what we expected to find, and the Lord knows what we intended to do after we found it.

I do not know what led us; whether a remorseful Providence, who suddenly decided that we had been played with long enough, or the mere animal instinct of direction, or blind luck. But so fast did we go that it seemed to me we had left the great cavern scarcely a minute behind us when I suddenly saw the steps of a steep stairway leading down from an opening on our right.

"Follow me," I whispered; and he must have read the force of my knowledge in my eyes, for he obeyed without a word. Back down the passage we ran, halting at its end. Harry opened his lips to speak, but I took the words from his mouth; seconds were precious.

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