“Here you go, Hal! here’s some grub. But what the deuce is it? By Jove, it’s dried fish! Now, where in the name of—”
But we wasted no more time in talk, for we were half starved. The stuff was not bad; to us who had been fasting for something like thirty-six hours—for our idea of time was extremely hazy—it was a gorgeous banquet. And close by there was a basin full of water.
“Pretty decent sort of beggars, I say,” came Harry’s voice in the darkness. “But who are they?”
“Ask Felipe,” I answered, for by this time I was well convinced of the nature and identity of our captors. “As I said, dumb brutes don’t bind men with thongs, nor feed them on dried fish. Of course it’s incredible, but a man must be prepared to believe anything.”
“But, Paul! You mean—”
“Exactly. We are in the hands of the Incas of Huanuco—or rather their descendants.”
“But that was four hundred years ago!”
“Your history is perfect, like Desiree’s geography,” said I dryly. “But what then? They have merely chosen to live under the world instead of on it; a rather wise decision, a cynic might say—not to mention the small circumstance that they are prisoners.
“My dear Hal, never allow yourself to be surprised at anything; it is a weakness. Here we are in total darkness, buried in the Andes, surrounded by hairy, degenerate brutes that are probably allowing us to eat in order that we may be in condition to be eaten, with no possibility of ever again beholding the sunshine; and what is the thought that rises to the surface of my mind? Merely this: that I most earnestly desire and crave a Carbajal perfecto and a match.”
“Paul, you say—eat—”
“Most probably they are cannibals. The Lord knows they must have some sort of mild amusement in this fearful hole. Of course, the idea is distasteful; before they cut us up they’ll have to knock us down.”
“That’s a darned silly joke,” said Harry with some heat.
“But it’s sober truth, my boy. You know me; I never pose. There is nothing particularly revolting in the thought of being eaten; the disadvantage of it lies in the fact that one must die first. We all want to live; Heaven knows why. And we stand a chance.
“We know now that there is food to be had here and sufficient air. It is nearly certain that we won’t get out, but that can come later. And what an experience! I know a dozen anthropologists that would give their degrees for it. I can feel myself getting enthusiastic about it.”
“But what if they—they—”
“Say it. Eat us? We can fight. It will be strange if we can’t outwit these vermin. And now silence; I’m going to begin. Listen hard—hard! The brutes are noiseless, but if they are near we can hear their breathing.”
“No more talk. Listen!”
We lay silent for many minutes, scarcely breathing. Not the slightest sound reached our ears through the profound darkness; utter, intense silence. Finally I reached over and touched Harry on the shoulder, and arose to my knees.