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Chapter XVII.

THE EYES IN THE DARK.


The thing was at a considerable distance; we could barely see that it
was there and that it was moving.  It was of an immense size; so large
that it appeared as though the very side of the cavern itself had moved
noiselessly from its bed in the mountain.

At the same moment I became aware of a penetrating, disagreeable odor,
nauseating and horrible.  I had risen to my knees and remained so, while
Harry and Desiree stood on either side of me.

The thing continued to move toward us, very slowly.  There was not a
sound.  The strength of the odor increased until it was almost
suffocating.

Still we did not move.  I could not, and Harry and Desiree seemed rooted
to the spot with wonder.  The thing came closer, and we could see the
outlines of its huge form looming up indistinctly against the black
background of the cavern.

I saw, or thought I saw, a grotesque and monstrous slimy head stretched
toward us from about the middle of its bulk.

That doubt became a certainty when suddenly, as though they had been lit
by a fire from within, two luminous, glowing spots appeared about three
feet apart.  The creature's eyes--if eyes they were--were turned full on
us, growing more brilliant as the thing came closer.  It was now less
than fifty feet away.  The massive form blocked our view of the entire
cavern.

I pinched my nostrils to exclude the horrible odor which, like the fumes
of some deadly poison, choked and smothered me.  It came now in puffs,
like a draft of a fetid wind, and I realized that it was the creature's
breath.  I could feel it against my body, my neck and face, and knew
that if I breathed it full into my lungs I should be overcome.

But still more terrifying were the eyes.  There was something
compelling, supernaturally compelling, about their steadfast and
brilliant gaze.  A mysterious power seemed to emanate from them; a power
that hypnotized the mind and deadened the senses.  I closed my eyes to
avoid it, but was unable to keep them closed.  They opened despite my
extreme effort, and again I met that gaze of fire.

There was a movement at my side.  I turned and saw that it came from
Desiree.  Her hands were raised to her face; she was holding them before
her as though in a futile attempt to cover her eyes.

The thing came closer and closer; it was but a few feet away, and still
we did not move, as though rooted to the spot by some power beyond our
control.

Suddenly there came a cry from Desiree's lips--a scream of terror and
wild fear.  Her entire form trembled violently.

She extended her arms toward the thing, now almost upon us, and took a
step forward.  Her feet dragged unwilling along the ground, as though
she were being drawn forward by some irresistible force.

I tried to put out my hand to pull her back, but was absolutely unable
to move.  Harry stood like a man of rock, immovable.

She took another step forward, with arms outstretched in front of her. 
A low moan of terror and piteous appeal came from between her slightly
parted lips.

Suddenly the eyes disappeared.  The huge form ceased to advance and
stood perfectly still.  Then it began to recede, so slowly that I was
barely conscious of the movement.

I was gasping and choking for air; my chest seemed swelling with the
poisonous breath.  Still slowly the thing receded into the dimness of
the cavern; the eyes were no longer to be seen--merely the huge,
formless bulk.  Desiree had stopped short with one foot advanced, as
though hesitating and struggling with the desire to go forward.

The thing now could barely be seen at a distance; it would have been
impossible if we had not known it was there.  Finally it disappeared,
melting away into the semi-darkness; no slightest movement was
discernible.  I breathed more freely and stepped forward.

As I did so Desiree threw her hands gropingly above her head and fell
fainting to the ground.

Harry sprang forward in time to keep her head from striking on the rock
and knelt with his arms round her shoulders.  We had nothing, not even
water, with which to revive her; he called her name aloud appealingly. 
Soon her eyes opened; she raised her hand and passed it across her brow
wonderingly.

"God help me!" she murmured in a low voice, eloquent of distress and
pain.

Then she pushed Harry aside and rose slowly to her feet, refusing his
assistance.

"In the name of Heaven, what is it?" Harry demanded, turning to me.

"We have found the devil at last," I answered, with an attempt to laugh,
which sounded hollow in my own ears.

Desiree could tell us nothing, except that she had felt herself drawn
forward by some strange power that had seemed to come from the baneful,
glittering eyes.  She was bewildered and stunned and unable to talk
coherently.  We assisted her to the wall, and she sat there with her
back propped against it, breathing heavily from the exhaustion of
terror.

"We must find water," I said, and Harry nodded, hesitating.

I understood him.  Danger could not have stayed him nor fear, but the
horror of the thing which roamed about the cavern, dark as darkness
itself and possessed of some strange power that could not be withstood,
was enough to make him pause.  For myself it was impossible; I was
barely able to stand.  So Harry went off alone in search of water and I
stayed with Desiree.

It was perhaps half an hour before he returned, and we were shaken with
fear for him long before he appeared.  When he did so it was with a
white face and trembling limbs, in spite of his evident effort at
steadiness.

"There is water over there," said he, pointing across the cavern.  "A
stream runs across the corner and disappears beneath the wall.  There is
nothing to carry it in.  You must come with me."

"What has happened?" I asked, for even his voice was unsteady.

"I saw it," he replied simply, but expressing enough in those three
words to cause a shudder to run through me.

Then, speaking in a low tone that Desiree might not hear, he told me
that the thing had confronted him suddenly as he was following the
opposite wall, and that he, too, had been drawn forward, as it were, by
a spell impossible to shake off.  He had tried to cry aloud, but had
been unable to utter a sound.  And suddenly, as before, the eyes had
disappeared, leaving him barely able to stand.

"No wonder the Incas wouldn't follow us in here," he finished. "We must
get out of this.  I'm not a coward, but I wouldn't go through that again
for my life."

"You take Desiree," said I. "I want that water."

He led us around the wall several hundred feet.  The ground was level
and clear of obstruction; but we went slowly, for I could scarcely move.
 Harry kept his eyes strained intently on all sides; his experience had
left him more profoundly impressed even than he had been willing to
admit to me.

Soon we heard the low music of running water, and a minute later we
reached the stream Harry had found.

The fact that there was something to be done seemed to infuse a new
spirit into Desiree, and soon her deft fingers were bathing my wounds
and bandaging them as well as her poor material would allow.

The cold water took the heat from my pumping veins and left me almost
comfortable.  Harry had come off much easier than I, since I had so
often sent him ahead with Desiree, and myself brought up the rear and
withstood the brunt of the attack.

As Harry had said, the stream cut across a corner of the cavern,
disappearing beneath the opposite wall, forming a triangle bound by two
sides of the cavern and the stream itself.  I saw plainly that it would
be impossible for me to move any distance for at least a few days, and
that triangle appeared to offer the safest and most comfortable retreat.

I spoke to Harry, and he waded across the stream to try its depth.  From
the other side he called that the water was at no point more than
waist-high, and Desiree and I started to cross; but about the middle I
felt the current about to sweep me off my feet. Harry waded in and
helped me ashore.

On that hard rock we lay for many weary hours.  We had no food; but for
that I would soon have been myself again, for, though my wounds were
numerous, they were little more than scratches, with the exception of
the gash on my shoulder.  Weakened as I was by loss of blood, and
lacking nourishment, I improved but slowly, and only the cold water kept
the fever from me.

Twice Harry went out in search of food and of an exit from the cavern. 
The first time he was away for several hours, and returned exhausted and
empty-handed and without having found any exit other than the one by
which we had entered.

He had ventured through that far enough to see a group of Incas on watch
at the other end.  They had seen him and sprung after him, but he had
returned without injury, and at the entrance into the cavern where we
lay they had halted abruptly.

The second time he was gone out more than half an hour, and the instant
I saw his face when he returned I knew what had happened.

But I was not in the best of humor; his terror appeared to me to be
ridiculously childish, and I said so in no uncertain terms.

But he was too profoundly agitated to show any anger.

"You don't know, you don't know," was all he said in answer to me; then
he added; "I can't stand this any longer.  I tell you we've got to get
out of here.  You don't know how awful--"

"Yes," said Desiree, looking at me.

"But I can scarcely walk," I objected.

"True," said Harry.  "I know.  But we can help you.  There must be
another exit, and we'll start now."

"Very well," I said quite calmly; and I picked up one of the spears
which we had carried with us, and, rising to my knees, placed the butt
of the shaft against the wall near which I lay.

But Harry saw my purpose, and was too quick for me.  He sprang across
and snatched the spear from my hand and threw it on the ground a dozen
feet away.

"Are you crazy?" he shouted angrily.

"No," I answered; "but I am little better, and I doubt if I shall be. 
Come--why not?  I hinder you and become bored with myself."

"You blame me," he said bitterly; "but I tell you you don't know.  Very
well--we stay.  You must give me your promise not to act the fool."

"In any event, you must go soon," I answered, "or starve to death. 
Perhaps in another twenty-four hours I shall be stronger. Come, Desiree;
will that satisfy you?"

She did not answer; her back was turned to us as she stood gazing across
the stream into the depths of the cavern.  There was a curious tenseness
in her attitude that made me follow her gaze, and what I saw left me
with no wonder at it--a huge, black, indistinct form that moved slowly
toward us through the darkness.

Harry caught sight of it at the same moment as myself, and on the
instant he turned about, covering his face with his hands, and called to
Desiree and me to do likewise.

Desiree obeyed; I had risen to my knees and remained so, gazing straight
ahead, ready for a combat if it were not a physical one.  I will not say
that a certain feeling of dread did not rise in my heart, but I intended
to show Desiree and Harry the childishness of their terror.

Nothing could be seen but the uncertain outline of the immense bulk; but
the same penetrating, sickening odor that had before all but suffocated
me came faintly across the surface of the stream, growing stronger with
each second that passed.  Suddenly the eyes appeared--two glowing orbs
of fire that caught my gaze and held it as with a chain.

I did not attempt to avoid it, but returned the gaze with another as
steadfast.  I was telling myself: "Let us see this trick and play one
stronger."  My nerves centered throbbingly back of my eyes, and I gave
them the whole force of my will.

The thing came closer and the eyes seemed to burn into my very brain. 
With a great effort I brought myself back to control, dropping to my
hands and knees and gripping the ground for strength.

"This is nothing, this is nothing," I kept saying to myself aloud--until
I realized suddenly that my voice had risen almost to a scream, and I
locked my teeth tight on my lip.

I no longer returned the gaze from my own power; it held me of itself. 
I felt my brain grow curiously numb and every muscle in my body
contracted with a pain almost unbearable.  Still the thing came closer
and closer, and it seemed to me, half dazed as I was, that it advanced
much faster than before.

Then suddenly I felt a sensation of cold and moisture on my arms and
legs and a pressure against my body, and I realized, as in a dream, that
I had entered the stream of water!

I was crawling toward the thing on my hands and knees, without having
even been conscious that I had moved.

That brought despair and a last supreme struggle to resist whatever
mysterious power it was that dragged me forward.

Cold beads of sweat rolled from my forehead.  Beneath the surface of the
water my hands gripped the rocks as in a vise.  My teeth had sunk deep
into my lower lip and covered my chin with blood, though I did not know
that till afterward.

But I was pulled loose from my hold, and forward.  I bent the whole
force of my will to the effort not to move, but my hand left the rock
and crept forward.  I was fully conscious of what I was doing.  I knew
that if I could once draw my eyes away from that compelling gaze the
spell would be broken, but the power to do so was not in me.

The thing had halted on the farther bank of the stream.  Still I moved
forward.  The water now lapped against my chest; soon it was about my
shoulders.

I was fully conscious of the fact that in another ten feet the surface
would close over my head, and that I had not the strength to swim or
fight the current; but still I went forward.  I tried to cry out, but
could force no sound through my lips.

Then suddenly the eyes began to disappear.  But that at least was
comprehensible, for I could distinctly see the black and heavy lids
closing over them, like the curtain on a stage.  They fell slowly.

The eyes became half moons, then narrowed to a thin slit.  I rose,
panting like a man exhausted with extreme and prolonged physical
exertion.

The eyes were gone.

A mad impulse rushed into my brain to dash forward and touch the
monster, to see if that dim, black form were really a thing of flesh and
blood or some contrivance of the devil.  I smile at that phrase as I
write it now in my study, but I did not smile then.  I was standing
above my knees in the water, trembling from head to foot, divided
between the impulse to go forward and the inclination to flee in terror.

I did neither; I stood still. I could see the thing with a fair amount
of distinctness and forced my brain to take the record of my eyes.  But
I could make nothing of it.

I guessed at rather than saw a hideous head rolling from side to side at
the end of a long and sinuous neck, and writhing, reptilian coils
lashing the rock at the edge of the water, like the tentacles of an
octopus, only many times larger.  The body itself was larger than that
of any animal I had ever seen, and blacker even than the darkness.

Suddenly the huge mass began to move slowly backward.  The sharpness of
the odor had ceased with the opening of the eyes, which did not
reappear.  I could dimly see its huge legs slowly rise and recede and
again meet the ground.  Soon the thing was barely discernible.

I took a step forward as though to follow; but the strength of the
current warned me of the danger of proceeding farther, and, besides, I
feared every moment to see the lids again raised from the terrible eyes.
 The thought attacked my brain with horror, and I turned and fled in a
sudden panic to the rear, calling to Harry and Desiree.

They met me at the edge of the stream, and their eyes told me that they
read in my face what had happened, though they had seen nothing.

"You--you saw it--" Harry stammered.

I nodded, scarcely able to speak.

"Then--perhaps now--"

"Yes," I interposed.  "Let's get out of here.  It's horrible. And yet
how can we go?  I can hardly stand."

But Harry was now the one who argued for delay, saying that our retreat
was the safest place we could find, and that we should wait at least
until I had had time to recover from the strain of the last half-hour. 
Realizing that in my weakened condition I would be a hindrance to them
rather than a help, I consented. Besides, if the thing reappeared I
could avoid it as Harry and Desiree had done.

"What is it?" Harry asked presently.

We were sitting side by side, well up against the wall.  It was an
abrupt question, with no apparent pertinence, but I understood.

"Heaven knows!" I answered shortly.  I was none too pleased with myself.

"But it must be something.  Is it an animal?"

"Do you remember," I asked by way of answer, "a treatise of Aristotle
concerning which we had a discussion one day?  Its subject was the
hypnotic power possessed by the eyes of certain reptiles.  I laughed the
idea to scorn; you maintained that it was possible.  Well, I agree with
you; and I'd like to have about a dozen of our modern skeptical
scientists in this cave with me for about five minutes."

"But what is it?  A reptile!" Harry exclaimed.  "The thing is as big as
a house!"

"Well, and why not?  I should guess that it is about thirty feet in
height and forty or fifty in length.  There have been species, now
extinct, several times as large."

"Then you think it is just--just an animal?" put in Desiree.

"What did you think it was?"  I nearly smiled.  "An infernal machine?"

"I don't know.  Only I have never before known what it was to fear."

A discussion which led us nowhere, but at least gave us the sound of one
another's voices.

We passed many hours in that manner.  Utterly blank and wearisome, and
all but hopeless.  I have often wondered at the strange tenacity with
which we clung to life in conditions that made of it a burden almost
insupportable; and with what chance of relief?

The instinct of self-preservation, it is called by the learned, but it
needs a stronger name.  It is more than an instinct.  It is the very
essence of life itself.

But soon we were impelled to action by something besides the desire to
escape from the cavern: the pangs of hunger.  It had been many hours
since we had eaten; I think we had fasted not less than three or four
days.

Desiree began to complain of a dizziness in her temples, and to weaken
with every hour that passed.  My own strength did not increase, and I
saw that it would not unless I could obtain nourishment.  Harry did not
complain, but only because he would not.

"It is useless to wait longer," I declared finally.  "I grow weaker
instead of stronger."

We had little enough with which to burden ourselves.  There were three
spears, two of which Harry had brought, and myself the other.  Harry and
I wore only our woolen undergarments, so ragged and torn that they were
but sorry covering.

Desiree's single garment, made from some soft hide, was held about her
waist by a girdle of the same material.  The upper half of her body was
bare.  Her hair hung in a tangled mass over her shoulders and down her
back.  None of us had any covering for our feet.

We crossed the stream, using the spears as staffs; but instead of
advancing across the middle of the cavern we turned to the left, hugging
the wall.  Harry urged us on, saying that he had already searched
carefully for an exit on that side, but we went slowly, feeling for a
break in the wall.  It was absolutely smooth, which led me to believe
that the cavern had at one time been filled with water.

We reached the farther wall and, turning to the right, were about to
follow it.

"This is senseless," said Harry impatiently.  "I tell you I have
examined this side, too; every inch of it."

"And the one ahead of us, at right angles to this?" I asked.

"That too, " he answered.

"And the other--the one to the right of the stream?"

"No.  I--I didn't go there."

"Why didn't you say so?" I demanded.

"Because I didn't want to," he returned sullenly.  "You can go there if
you care to; I don't.  It was from there that--it came."

I did not answer, but pushed forward, not, however, leaving the wall. 
Perhaps it was cowardly; you are welcome to the word if you care to use
it.  Myself, I know.

Another half-hour and we reached the end of the lane by which we had
first entered the cavern.  We stood gazing at it with eyes of desire,
but we knew how little chance there was of the thing being unguarded at
the farther end.  We knew then, of course, and only too well, why the
Incas had not followed us into the cavern.

"Perhaps they are gone," said Harry.  "They can't stay there forever. 
I'm going to find out."

He sprang on the edge of a boulder at the mouth of the passage and
disappeared on the other side.  In fifteen minutes he returned, and I
saw by the expression on his face that there was no chance of escape in
that direction.

"They're at the other end," he said gloomily; "a dozen of 'em. I looked
from behind a rock; they didn't see me.  But we could never get
through."

We turned then, and proceeded to the third wall and followed it.  But we
really had no hope of finding an exit since Harry had said that he had
previously explored it.  We were possessed, I know, by the same thought:
should we venture to follow the fourth wall?  Alone, none of us would
have dared; but the presence of the others lessened the fear of each.

Finally we reached it.  The corner was a sharp right angle, and there
were rifts and crevices in the rock.

"This is limestone," I said, "and if we find an exit anywhere it will be
here."

I turned to the right and proceeded slowly along the wall, feeling its
surface with my hand.

We had advanced in this manner several hundred yards when Desiree
suddenly sprang forward to my side.

"See!" she cried, pointing ahead with her spear.

I followed the direction with my eye, and saw what appeared to be a
sharp break in the wall.

It was some fifty feet away.  We reached it in another moment, and I
think none of us would have been able to express the immeasurable relief
we felt when we saw before us a broad and clear passage leading directly
away from the cavern.  It was very dark, but we entered it almost at a
run.

I think we had not known the extent of our fear of that thing in the
cavern until we found the means of escape from it.

We had gone about a hundred feet when we came to a turn to the left. 
Harry stumbled against the corner, and we halted for an instant to wait
for him.

Then we made the turn, side by side--and then we came to a sudden and
abrupt stop, and a simultaneous gasp of terror burst from our lips.

Not three feet in front of us, blocking the passage completely, stood
the thing we thought we had escaped!

The terrible, fiery eyes rolled from side to side as they stared
straight into our own.

To Chapter 18

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