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Under the Andes(Chapter24)

2006-09-07 21:36

  Chapter XXIV. Conclusion.

  Never, I believe, were misery and joy so curiously mingled in the human breast as when Harry and I stood——barely able to stand——gazing speechlessly at the world that had so long been hidden from us.

  We had found the light, but had lost Desiree. We were alive, but so near to death that our first breath of the mountain air was like to be our last.

  The details of our painful journey down the mountain, over the rocks and crags, and through rushing torrents that more than once swept us from our feet, cannot be written, for I do not know them.

  The memory of the thing is but an indistinct nightmare of suffering. But the blind luck that seemed to have fallen over our shoulders as a protecting mantle at the death of Desiree stayed with us; and after endless hours of incredible toil and labor, we came to a narrow pass leading at right angles to our course.

  Night was ready to fall over the bleak and barren mountain as we entered it. Darkness had long since overtaken us, when we saw at a distance a large clearing, in the middle of which lights shone from the windows of a large house whose dim and shadowy outline appeared to us surrounded by a halo of peace.

  But we were nearly forced to fight for it. The proprietor of the hacienda himself answered our none too gentle knock at the door, and he had no sooner caught sight of us than he let out a yell as though he had seen the devil in person, and slammed the door violently in our faces. Indeed, we were hardly recognizable as men.

  Naked, black, bruised, and bleeding, covered with hair on our faces and parts of our bodies——mine, of recent growth, stubby and stiff——our appearance would have justified almost any suspicion.

  But we hammered again on the door, and I set forth our pedigree and plight in as few words as possible. Reassured, perhaps, by my excellent Spanish——which could not, of course, be the tongue of the devil——and convinced by our pitiable condition of our inability to do him any harm, he at length reopened the door and gave us admittance.

  When we had succeeded in allaying his suspicions concerning our identity——though I was careful not to alarm his superstitions by mentioning the cave of the devil, which, I thought, was probably well known to him——he lost no time in displaying his humanity.

  Calling in some hombres from the rear of the hacienda, he gave them ample instructions, with medicine and food, and an hour later Harry and I were lying side by side in his own bed——a rude affair, but infinitely better than granite—— refreshed, bandaged, and as comfortable as their kindly ministrations could make us.

  The old Spaniard was a direct descendant of the good Samaritan ——despite the slight difference in nationality. For many weeks he nursed us and fed us and coaxed back the spark of life in our exhausted and wounded bodies.

  Our last ounce of strength seemed to have been used up in our desperate struggle down the side of the mountain; for many days we lay on our backs absolutely unable to move a muscle and barely conscious of life.

  But the spark revived and fluttered. The day came when we could hobble, with his assistance, to the door of the hacienda and sit for hours in the invigorating sunshine; and thenceforward our convalescence proceeded rapidly. Color came to our cheeks and light to our eyes; and one sunny afternoon it was decided that we should set out for Cerro de Pasco on the following day.

  Harry proposed a postponement of our departure for two days, saying that he wished to make an excursion up the mountain. I understood him at once.

  "It would be useless," I declared. "You would find nothing."

  "But she was with us when we fell," he persisted, not bothering to pretend that he did not understand me. "She came——it must be near where we landed."

  "That isn't it," I explained. "Have you forgotten that we have been here for over a month? You would find nothing." As he grasped my thought his face went white and he was silent. So on the following morning we departed.

  Our host furnished us with food, clothing, mules, and an arriero, not to mention a sorrowful farewell and a hearty blessing. From the door of the hacienda he waved his sombrero as we disappeared around a bend in the mountain-pass; we had, perhaps, been a welcome interruption in the monotony of his lonely existence.

  We were led upward for many miles until we found ourselves again in the region of perpetual snow. There we set our faces to the south. From the arriero we tried to learn how far we then were from the cave of the devil, but to our surprise were informed that he had never heard of the thing.

  We could see that the question made him more than a little suspicious of us; often, when he thought himself unobserved, I caught him eyeing us askance with something nearly approaching terror.

  We journeyed southward for eleven days; on the morning of the twelfth we saw below us our goal. Six hours later we had entered the same street of Cerro de Pasco through which we had passed formerly with light hearts; and the heart which had been gayest of all we had left behind us, stilled forever, somewhere beneath the mountain of stone which she had herself chosen for her tomb.

  Almost the first person we saw was none other than Felipe, the arriero. He sat on the steps of the hotel portico as we rode up on our mules. Dismounting, I caught sight of his white face and staring eyes as he rose slowly to his feet, gazing at us as though fascinated.

  I opened my mouth to call to him, but before the words left my lips he had let out an ear-splitting yell of terror and bounded down the steps and past us, with arms flying in every direction, running like one possessed. Nor did he return during the few hours that we remained at the hotel.

  Two days later found us boarding the yacht at Callao. When I had discovered, to my profound astonishment, at the hacienda, that another year had taken us as far as the tenth day of March, I had greatly doubted if we should find Captain Harris still waiting for us. But there he was; and he had not even put himself to the trouble of becoming uneasy about us.

  As he himself put it that night in the cabin, over a bottle of wine, he "didn't know but what the senora had decided to take the Andes home for a mantel ornament, and was engaged in the little matter of transportation."

  But when I informed him that "the senora" was no more, his face grew sober with genuine regret and sorrow. He had many good things to say of her then; it appeared that she had really touched his salty old heart.

  "She was a gentle lady," said the worthy captain; and I smiled to think how Desiree herself would have smiled at such a characterization of the great Le Mire.

  We at once made for San Francisco. There, at a loss, I disposed of the remainder of the term of the lease on the yacht, and we took the first train for the East.

  Four days later we were in New York, after a journey saddened by thoughts of the one who had left us to return alone.

  It was, in fact, many months before the shadow of Desiree ceased to hover about the dark old mansion on lower Fifth Avenue, incongruous enough among the ancient halls and portraits of Lamars dead and gone in a day when La Marana herself had darted like a meteor into the hearts of their contemporaries.

  That is, I suppose, properly the end of the story; but I cannot refrain from the opportunity to record a curious incident that has just befallen me. Some twenty minutes ago, as I was writing the last paragraph——I am seated in the library before a massive mahogany table, close to a window through which the September sun sends its golden rays——twenty minutes ago, as I say, Harry sauntered into the room and threw himself lazily into a large armchair on the other side of the table.

  I looked up with a nod of greeting, while he sat and eyed me impatiently for some seconds.

  "Aren't you coming with me down to Southampton?" he asked finally.

  "What time do you leave?" I inquired, without looking up.

  "Eleven-thirty."

  "What's on?"

  "Freddie Marston's Crocodiles and the Blues. It's going to be some polo."

  I considered a moment. "Why, I guess I'll run down with you. I'm about through here."

  "Good enough!" Harry arose to his feet and began idly fingering some of the sheets on the table before me. "What is all this silly rot, anyway?"

  "My dear boy," I smiled, "you'll be sorry you called it silly rot when I tell you that it is a plain and honest tale of our own experiences."

  "Must be deuced interesting," he observed. "More silly rot than ever."

  "Others may not think so," I retorted, a little exasperated by his manner. "It surely will be sufficiently exciting to read of how we were buried with Desiree Le Mire under the Andes, and our encounters with the Incas, and our final escape, and——"

  "Desiree what?" Harry interrupted.

  "Desiree Le Mire," I replied very distinctly. "The great French dancer."

  "Never heard of her," said Harry, looking at me as if he doubted my sanity.

  "Never heard of Desiree, the woman you loved?" I almost shouted at him.

  "The woman I——piffle! I say I never heard of her."

  I gazed at him, trembling with high indignation. "I suppose," I observed with infinite sarcasm, "that you will tell me next that you have never been in Peru?"

  "Guilty," said Harry. "I never have."

  "And that you never climbed Pike's Peak to see the sunrise?"

  "Rahway, New Jersey, is my farthest west."

  "And that you never dived with me from the top of a column one hundred feet high?"

  "Not I. I retain a smattering of common sense."

  "And that you did not avenge the death of Desiree by causing that of the Inca king?"

  "So far as that Desiree woman is concerned," said Harry, and his tone began to show impatience, "I can only repeat that I have never heard of the creature. And"——he continued——"if you're trying to bamboozle a gullible world by concocting a tale as silly as your remarks to me would seem to indicate, I will say that as a cheap author you are taking undue liberties with your family, meaning myself. And what is more, if you dare to print the stuff I'll let the world know it's a rank fake."

  This threat, delivered with the most awful resolution and sincerity, unnerved me completely, and I fell back in my chair in a swoon.

  When I recovered Harry had gone to his polo game, leaving me behind, whereupon I seized my pen and hastened to set down in black and white that most remarkable conversation, that the reader may judge for himself between us.

  For my part, I do swear that the story is true, on my word of honor as a cynic and a philosopher.

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