The echoes became fainter and fainter and died away, and again all was silence and impenetrable night, while I battled with the strong suction of the unseen current, which was growing swifter and swifter, and felt my strength begin to leave me.
Terror, too, began to call to me as the long minutes passed endlessly by. I thought, “If I could only see!” and strained my eyes in the effort till I was forced to close them from the dizzy pain. The utter, complete darkness hid from me all knowledge of what I passed or what awaited me beyond.
The water, carrying me swiftly onward with its silent, remorseless sweep, was cold and black; it pressed with tremendous power against me; now and then I was forced beneath the surface and fought my way back, gasping and all but exhausted.
I forgot Desiree and Harry; I lost all consciousness of where I was and what I was doing; the silent fury of the stream and the awful blackness maddened me; I plunged and struggled desperately, blindly, sobbing with rage. This could not have lasted much longer; I was very near the end.
Suddenly, with a thrill of joy, I realized that the speed of the current was decreasing. Then a reaction of despair seized me; I tried to strangle hope and resign myself to the worst. But soon there was no longer any doubt; the water carried me slower and slower.
I floated with little difficulty, wondering—could it be an approach to a smaller outlet which acted as a dam? Or was it merely a lessening of the incline of the bed of the stream? I cursed the darkness for my helplessness.
Finally the water became absolutely still, as I judged by the absence of pressure on my body, and I turned sharply at a right angle and began to swim. My weariness left me as by magic, and I struck out with bold and sweeping strokes; and by that lack of caution all but destroyed myself when my head suddenly struck against a wall of stone, unseen in the darkness.
I was stunned completely and sank; but the ducking revived me; and when I returned to the surface I swam a few careful strokes, searching for the wall. It was not there, and I had no idea of its direction. But I had now learned caution; and by swimming a few feet first one way, then another, and taking care not to go far in any one direction, I finally discovered it.
My hand easily reached the top, and, grasping the slippery surface with a grip made firm by despair, and concentrating every ounce of strength in one final effort, I drew myself out of the water and fell completely exhausted on the ground.
Under such circumstances time has no place in a man’s calculations; he is satisfied to breathe. I believe that I lay barely conscious for several hours, but it may have been merely as many minutes. Then I felt life stir within me; I stretched my arms and legs and sat up. Gradually entered my mind the thought of Desiree and Harry and the Andes above and Felipe shuddering with terror as he flew from the cave of the devil.