Near the center of the raft we arranged a pile of the skins of the water-pigs for Desiree; a seat by no means uncomfortable. The strips which ran back and forth across the top afforded a hold as security against the tossing of the craft; but for her feet we arranged two other strips to pass over her ankles what time she rested. This was an extreme precaution, for we did not expect the journey to be a long one.
Finally we loaded on our provisions—about thirty pounds of the meat of the fish and water-pigs, wrapping it securely in two or three of the skins and strapping them firmly to the top.
“And now,” said I, testing the strips on the corners for the last time, “all we need is a name for her and a bottle of wine.”
“And a homeward-bound pennant,” put in Harry.
“The name is easy enough,” said Desiree. “I hereby christen her Clarte du Soleil.”
“Which means?” asked Harry, whose French came only in spots.
“Sunshine,” I told him. “Presumably after the glorious King of the Incas, who calls himself the Child of the Sun. But it’s a good name. May Heaven grant that it takes us there!”
“I think we ought to take more grub,” said Harry—an observation which he had made not less than fifty times in the preceding fifty minutes. He received no support and grumbled to himself something about the horrible waste of leaving so much behind.
Why it was I don’t know, but we were fully persuaded that we were about to say good-by forever to this underground world and its dangers. Somehow, we had coaxed ourselves into the belief that success was certain; it was as though we had seen the sunlight streaming in from the farther end of the arched tunnel into which the stream disappeared. There was an assurance about the words of each that strengthened this feeling in the others, and hope had shut out all thought of failure as we prepared to launch our craft.
It took us some time to get it to the edge of the water, though it was close by, for we handled it with extreme care, that it might not be torn on the rocks. Altogether, with the provisions, it weighed close to one hundred and fifty pounds.
We were by no means sure that the thing would carry us, and when once we had reached the water we forgot caution in our haste to try it. We held it at the edge while Desiree arranged herself on the pile of skins. The spears lay across at her feet, strapped down for security.
Harry stepped across to the farther edge of the raft.
“Ready!” he called, and I shoved off, wading behind. When the water was up to my knees I climbed aboard and picked up my oar.
“By all the nine gods, look at her!” cried Harry in huge delight. “She takes about three inches! Man, she’d carry an army!”
“Allons!” cried Desiree, with gay laughter. “C’est Perfection!”
“Couldn’t be better,” I agreed; “but watch yourself, Hal. When we get into the current things are going to begin to happen. If it weren’t for the beastly darkness ’twould be easy enough. As it is, one little rock the size of your head could send us to the bottom.”