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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.

[end of text]

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