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Chapter XI.

A ROYAL VISITOR.


If it had not been for the manifest danger, I could have laughed aloud
at what I read in the eyes of the king.  Was it not supremely ridiculous
for Desiree Le Mire, who had been sought after by the great and the
wealthy and the powerful of all Europe, to be regarded with desire by
that ugly dwarf?  And it was there, unmistakably.

I sang out a sharp warning, but it was unnecessary; Desiree had already
caught sight of the royal visitor.  She pushed Harry from her bodily. 
He sprang to his feet in angry surprise; then, enlightened by the
confusion in her face, turned quickly and swore as he, too, saw the
intruder.

How critical the situation was I did not know, despite Desiree's
assertions.  His eyes were human and easily read; they held jealousy;
and when power is jealous there is danger.

But Desiree proved herself equal to the occasion.  She remained seated
on the granite couch for a long minute without moving; confusion left
her eyes as she gazed at us apparently with the utmost composure; but I
who knew her could see that her brain was working with the rapidity of
lightning.  Then her glance passed to the figure at the doorway, and
with a gesture commanding and truly royal in its simplicity, she held
her hand forth, palm down, to the Inca king.

Like an obedient trained monkey he trotted across the intervening space,
grasped her soft white hand in his monstrous paw, and touched his lips
to her fingers.

That was all, but it spoke volumes to one who could divine the springs
of action.  I remember that at the time there shot through my mind a
story I had heard concerning Desiree in Paris.  The Duke of Bellarmine,
then her protector, had one evening entered her splendid apartment on
the Rue Jonteur--furnished, of course, by himself--and had found his
divinity entertaining one Jules Chavot, a young and beautiful poet. 
Whereupon he had launched forth into the most bitter reproaches and
scornful denunciations.

"Monsieur," Desiree had said, with the look of a queen outraged, when he
had finished, "you are annoying.  Little Chavot amuses me.  You are
aware that I never refuse myself anything which I consider necessary to
my amusement, and just now I find you very dull."

And the noble duke, conquered by that glance of fire and those terrible
words, had retired with humble apologies, after receiving a gracious
permission to call on the following day!

In short, Desiree was irresistible; the subjection of the Inca king was
but another of her triumphs, and not the most remarkable.

And then I looked at Harry, and was aware of a new danger.  He was
glaring at the Inca with eyes which told their own story of the fire
within, and which were waiting only for suspicion to become certainty. 
I called to him:

"Harry!  Hold fast!"

He glanced at me, gave a short laugh, and nodded.

Then came Desiree's voice, in a low tone of warning:

"On your knees!"

Her meaning was clear; it was to us she spoke.  The king had turned from
her and was regarding us steadily with eyes so nearly closed that their
meaning was impenetrable.  Harry and I glanced at each other and
remained standing.  Then Desiree's voice again:

"Harry!  If you love me!"

It was the appeal to a child; but love is young.  Immediately Harry
dropped to his knees, facing the king; and I followed him, wondering at
myself.  To this day I do not know what the compelling force was that
pulled me down.  Was it another instance of the power of Desiree?

For perhaps a minute we remained motionless on our knees while the king
stood gazing at us, it seemed to me with an air of doubt. Then slowly,
and with a gait that smacked of majesty despite his ungainly appearance
and diminutive stature, he stalked across to the doorway and disappeared
in the corridor without.

Harry and I looked at each other, kneeling like two heathen idols, and
burst into unrestrained laughter.  But with it was mixed a portion of
anger, and I turned to Desiree.

"In the name of Heaven, was that necessary?"

"You do it very prettily," said she, with a smile.

"That is well, but I don't care to repeat it.  Harry, for the sake of my
dignity, employ a little discretion.  And what do you suppose the beggar
will do about it?"

"Nothing," said Desiree, shrugging her shoulders.  "Only he must be
pacified.  I must go.  I wonder if you know you are lodged in the royal
apartments?  His majesty's room--he has but one--is in the corridor to
the left of this.

"Mine is on the right--and he is probably stamping the place to pieces
at this moment."  She left the granite couch and advanced half way to
the door.  "Au revoir, messieurs.  Till later--I shall come to see you."

The next moment she was gone.

Harry and I, left alone, had enough to think and talk about, but there
was ten minutes of silence before we spoke.  I sat on one of the stone
seats, wondering what the result would be--if any--of the king's visit
and his discovery.

Harry paced up and down the length of the apartment with lowered head. 
Presently he spoke abruptly:

"Paul, I want to know exactly what you think of our chances for getting
out of this."

"Why--" I hesitated.  "Harry, I don't know."

"But you've thought about it, and you know something about these things.
 What do you think?"

"Well, I think they are slim."

"What are they?"

"Nothing less than miracles.  There are just two.  First-- and I've
spoken of this before--we might find an underground stream that would
carry us to the western slope."

"That is impossible--at least, for Desiree.  And the second?"

"Nature herself.  She plays queer tricks in the Andes.  She might turn
the mountain upside down, in which case we would find ourselves on top. 
Seriously, the formation here is such that almost anything is possible. 
Upheavals of vast masses of rock are of ordinary occurrence.  A passage
might be opened in that way to one of the lower peaks.

"We are surrounded by layers of limestone, granite, and quartzite, which
are of marked difference both in the quality of hardness and in their
ability to withstand the attacks of time. When one finds itself unable
to support the other, something happens."

"But it might not happen for a hundred years."

"Or never," I agreed.

Again silence.  Harry stood gazing at one of the flaming urns, buried in
thought--easy to guess of what nature.  I did not think fit to disturb
him, till presently he spoke again.

"What do you suppose that ugly devil will do about--what he saw in
here?"

I smiled.  "Nothing."

"But if he should?  We are helpless."

"Trust Desiree.  It's true that she can't even talk to him, but she'll
manage him somehow.  You saw what happened just now."

"But the creature is no better than a dumb brute.  He is capable of
anything.  I tell you, we ought to get her away from here."

"To starve?"

"And we're none too safe ourselves.  As for starving, we could carry
enough of their darned fish to last a year.  And one thing is sure: we
won't get back to New York lying round here waiting for something to
turn up--even a mountain."

"What do you want to do?"

"Clear out.  Get Desiree away from that ugly brute.  If we only had our
knives!"

"Where would we go?"

In that question was the whole matter.  To escape with Desiree was
possible--but then what?  We knew by experience what it meant to wander
hopelessly about in the darkness of those desolate caverns, without
food, and depending on Providence for water. Neither of us cared to
repeat that trial, especially with the added difficulty of a woman to
care for.  But what to do?

We decided to wait for the future, and in the mean time lay in a supply
of provisions, and, if possible, devise some sort of weapons.

It is worth remarking here that the Incas, so far as we had seen, used
no weapons whatever.  This was most probably the result of their total
isolation and consequent freedom from foreign hostility.

In the matter of food we were soon to receive an agreeable surprise.  It
was about an hour after Desiree had left us that the royal steward--I
give him the title on my own responsibility-- arrived, with pots and
pans on a huge tray.

In the first place, the pots and pans were of solid gold. Harry stared
in amazement as they were placed in brilliant array on one of the stone
tables; and when we essayed to lift the empty tray from another table on
which it had been placed we understood why the steward had found it
necessary to bring four assistants along as cup-bearers.

There was a king's ransom on that table, in sober truth, for there could
be no doubt but that this was part of the gold which had been carried
from Huanuco when it had been demanded by Pizarro as payment for the
life of Atahualpa.

But better even than the service was that which it contained. It may not
have been such as would enhance the reputation of a French chef, but to
us then it seemed that the culinary art could go no farther.

There was a large platter; Harry lifted its cover in an ecstasy of hope;
but the next instant his face fell ludicrously.

"Our old friend, Mr. Dried Fish," he announced sadly, and gave it up.

Then I tried my luck, and with better success.

First I uncovered a dish of stew, steaming hot!  To be sure, it was
fish, but it was hot.  Then a curious, brittle kind of bread; I call it
that, though on trial it appeared to be made from the roe of some kind
of fish.  Also there was some excellent fish-soup, also hot, and quite
delicious.

Four hundred years of development had taught the royal chefs to prepare
fish in so many different ways that we almost failed to recognize them
as of the same family.

"Couldn't be better," said Harry, helping himself liberally to the stew.
 "We can eat this, and cache the dried stuff.  We'll have enough for an
army in a week."

"As for me, I saw before me the raw material for our weapons. When we
had emptied the golden platter that held our "bread," I secreted it
under the cover of the granite couch.  When the serving-men called to
remove the dishes they apparently did not notice its absence.  So far,
success.

Some hours later Desiree paid us a second call.  She appeared to be in
the gayest of spirits, and I eyed her curiously from a seat in the
corner as she and Harry sat side by side, chatting for all the world as
though they had been in her own Paris drawing-room.

Was it possible that she was really satisfied, as she had said?  What
imaginable food could these black dwarfs find to appease her tremendous
vanity?  Or was she merely living the motto of the French philosopher?

Harry was demanding that he be allowed to visit her apartment; this she
refused, saying that if he were found there by the king nothing could
avert a catastrophe.   Harry's brow grew black; I could see his effort
to choke back his anger.  Then Desiree led him away from the topic, and
soon they were both again laughing merrily.

Some forty-eight hours passed; in that perpetual blackness there was no
such thing as day.  We saw no one save Desiree and the serving men. 
Once a messenger appeared carrying a bundle of quipos; I was able to
decipher their meaning sufficiently to understand that we were invited
to some religious ceremony in the great cavern.  But I thought it
injudicious to allow a meeting between Harry and the king, and returned
a polite refusal.

It may be of interest to some to know the method, which was extremely
simple, as in ordinary communications the quipos are easy to read.  I
removed two knots from the white cord--the sign of affirmative--and
placed two additional ones on the black cord--the sign of negative. 
Then on the yellow cord--the sign of the Child of the Sun and submission
to him--I tied two more knots to show that our refusal meant no lack of
respect to their deity.

Which, by the way, was not a little curious.

Here were the descendants of the subjects of Manco-Capac, himself a son
of the orb of day, still holding to their worship of the sun, though
they had not seen its light for four centuries. Deserted by their god,
they did not abandon him; an example from which the followers of another
and more "civilized" religion might learn something of the potency of
faith.

But to the story.

As I say, I was anxious to avoid a meeting between Harry and the king,
and subsequent events proved my wisdom.  Harry was acting in a manner
quite amazing; it was impossible for me to mention the king even in jest
without him flying into a violent temper.

As I look back now I am not surprised; for our harrowing experiences and
the hopelessness of our situation and the wilfulness of Desiree were
enough, Heaven knows, to jerk his nerves; but at the time I regarded his
actions as those of a thoughtless fool, and told him so, thinking to
divert his anger to myself.  He took no notice of me.

We were left entirely to ourselves.  At regular intervals our food was
brought to us, and within a week we had accumulated a large supply of
the dried fish against necessity, besides my collection of six golden
platters, of which more later.

Once in about twenty-four hours two Incas, who appeared to be our
personal attendants--for we were actually able to recognize them after
half a dozen visits--arrived to perform the offices of chambermaid and
valet.  The floor of the apartment was scrubbed, the urns refilled with
oil, and the skin cover of the granite couch was changed.  It seemed
that another belief--in cleanliness--had refused to be dislodged from
the Inca breast.

When I managed, by dint of violent and expressive gestures, to convey to
our valet the idea that we desired a bath, he led us down the corridor
some two hundred feet to a stream of cool running water.  We took
advantage of the opportunity to scrub our clothing, which was sadly in
need of the operation.

I had early made an examination of the urns which furnished our light. 
They were of gold and perfect in form, which convinced me that they had
been brought by the fugitives from Huanuco, as, indeed, the quipos also,
and several other articles we found, including our golden table service.

The urns were filled with an oil which I was unable to recognize.  There
was no wick, but round the rim or lip of each was set a broad ring
carved of stone, which made the opening at the top only about two inches
in diameter.  Through this the flame arose to a height of about two
feet.

Of smoke there was none, or very little, a circumstance which was
inexplicable, as there seemed to be no possibility of the generation of
gas within so small space.  But the oil itself was strange to me, and
its properties may be charged to nature.

As I say, I had collected six of the golden platters, one at a time. 
Together they weighed about twenty pounds--for they were small and
rather thin--which was near the amount required for my purpose.  I
explained the thing to Harry, and we set to work.

We first procured a vessel of granite from the attendant on some pretext
or other--this for melting the gold.  Then we pried a slab of limestone
from a corner of one of the seats; luckily for us it was very soft,
having been selected by the Incas for the purpose of inserting in its
face the crystal prisms.  Then we procured a dozen or more of the prisms
themselves, and, using them as chisels, and small blocks of granite as
hammers, set to work at the block of limestone.

It was slow work, but we finally succeeded in hollowing out a groove in
its surface about eighteen inches long and two inches deep.  That was
our mold.

Then to melt the golden platters.  We took four of the urns, placing
them in a group on the floor, and just at the tip of the flames placed
the granite vessel, supported by four blocks of stone which we pried
loose from one of the seats.  In the vessel we placed the golden
platters.

But we found, after several hours, that we did not have sufficient
heat--or rather that the vessel was too thick to transmit it.  And again
we set to work with our improvised chisels and hammers, to shave off its
sides and bottom.  That was more difficult and required many hours for
completion.

Finally, with the profane portion of our vocabularies completely
exhausted and rendered meaningless by repetition, and with bruised and
bleeding hands, we again arranged our furnace and sat down to wait.  We
had waited until the dishes from our dinner had been removed, and we
were fairly certain to be alone for several hours.

Finally the gold was melted, stubbornly but surely.  We took the thick
hide cover from the couch and, one on each side, lifted the vessel of
liquid metal and filled our mold.  In an hour it was hardened into a bar
the shape of a half-cylinder.  We removed it and poured in the remainder
of the gold.

It would appear that the gain was hardly worth the pains, and I admit
it.  But at the least I had kept Harry occupied with something besides
his amatory troubles, and at the best we had two heavy, easily handled
bars of metal that would prove most effective weapons against foes who
had none whatever.

We had just removed the traces of our work as completely as possible and
secreted the clubs of yellow metal in a corner of the apartment when the
sound of pattering footsteps came from the corridor.

Harry gave me a quick glance; I moved between him and the door.  But it
was Desiree.

She entered the room hurriedly and crossed to the farther side, then
turned to face the door.  Her cheeks were glowing brightly, her eyes
flashed fire, and her breast heaved with unwonted agitation.  Before
either she or I had time to speak Harry had sprung to her side and
grasped her arm.

"What has he done now?" he demanded in a tone scarcely audible in its
intensity.

"I--don't--know," said Desiree without removing her eyes from the door. 
"Let me go, Harry; let me sit down.  Paul!  Ah!  I was afraid."

"For us?" I asked.

"Yes--partly.  The brute!  But then, he is human, and that is his way. 
And you--I was right--you should have gone to the Cave of the Sun when
he required your presence."

"But it was merely an invitation.  Cannot one refuse an invitation?" I
protested.

"But, my dear Paul, the creature is royal--his invitations are
commands."

"Well, we were busy, and we've already seen the Cave of the Sun."

"Still it was an error, and I think you will pay for it. There have been
unusual preparations under way for many hours. The king has been in my
apartment, and messengers and guards have been arriving constantly, each
with his little bundle of quipos, as you call them."

"Did you see the quipos?"

"Yes."

"Did any of them contain a red cord, suspended alone, with a single knot
at either end?"

"Yes, all of them," said Desiree without an instant's hesitation.

"That means Harry and me," I observed.  "But the message!  Can you
remember any of them?"

She tried, but without success.  Which will not surprise any one who has
ever seen the collection at the museum at Lima.

Then Harry broke in:

"Something else has happened, Desiree.  No bunch of cords tied in silly
knots ever made you look as you did just now.  What was it?"

"Nothing--nothing, Harry."

"I say yes!  And I want to know!  And if it's what I think it is we're
going to clear out of here now!"

"As though we could!"

"We can!  We have enough provisions to last for weeks.  And see here,"
he ran to the corner where he had hidden the golden clubs and returned
with them in his hands, "with these we could make our way through them
all.  Tell me!"

There was a strange smile on Desiree's lips.

"And so you would fight for me, Harry?" she said half-wistfully, half--I
know not what.  Then she continued in a tone low but quite distinct:
"Well, it is too late.  I am the king's."

She lied--I saw it in her eyes.  Perhaps she meant to save Harry from
his folly, to quiet him by the knowledge that he need not fight for what
was no longer his own; but she was mistaken in her man.

Harry did not stop to read her eyes--he heard her words.  He took two
slow steps backward, then stood quite still, while his face grew deadly
white and his eyes were fastened on hers with a look that made me turn
my own away.  His soul looked out from them--how he loved the woman--and
I could not bear it!

Nor, after a moment, could Desiree.  She took a step forward, extending
her arms to him and cried out:

"Harry!  No!  It was a lie, Harry!  Don't--don't!"

And they gazed at each other, and I at Desiree, and thus we were unaware
that a fourth person had entered the room, until he had crossed its full
length and stood before me. It was the Inca king.

I took no time for thought, but jumped straight for Harry and threw my
arms round him, dragging him back half-way across the room.  Taken
completely by surprise, he did not struggle.  I noticed that he still
held in his hands the bars of gold he had shown to Desiree.

The king regarded us for a second with a scowl, then turned to her.

She stood erect, with flashing eyes.  The king approached; she held out
her hand to him with an indescribable gesture of dignity.

For a moment he looked at her, then his lips curled in an ugly snarl,
and, dashing her hand aside, he leaped forward in swift fury and grasped
her white throat with his fingers.

There was a strangled scream from Desiree, a frantic cry from Harry--and
the next instant he had torn himself free from my arms, dropping the
bars of gold at my feet.

A single bound and he was across the room; a single blow with his fist
and the king of the Incas dropped senseless to the floor.


To Chapter 12

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