When he had broken into such a chamber it needed, at times, no little labour to rediscover his vein on the opposite side. But he always found it in time, and broke through the farther wall with unusual difficulty, and went on.
The men generally worked in pairs, but old Tom would have no one with him. He did all the work, picking and hauling the refuse single-handed. The work should be his alone, his alone the glory of the great and ultimate discovery.
The rocks above him sweated and dripped at times, but that was only to be expected and gave him no anxiety. Alone with his eager hopes he chipped and picked, and felt no loneliness because of the flame of hope that burned within him. Above him he could hear the long roll and growl of the wave-tormented boulders—now a dull, heavy fall like the blow of a gigantic mallet, and again a long-drawn crash like shingle grinding down a hillside. But these things he had heard before and had grown accustomed to.
And so it was fated that, one day, after patiently picking round a great piece of rock till it was loosened from its ages-old bed, he felt it tremble under his hand, and leaning his weight against it, it disappeared into space beyond.
That had happened before when he struck one of the chambers, and he felt no uneasiness. If there had been water beyond, it would have given him notice by oozing round the rock as he loosened it. The brief rush of foul gas, which always followed the opening of one of these hollows, he avoided by lying flat on the ground until he felt the air about him sweeter again.
Then, enlarging the aperture with his pick, he scrambled through into this chamber now first opened since time began.
It was like many he had seen before, but considerably larger. Holding his light at arm’s length, above his head, a million little eyes twinkled back at him as the rays shot to and fro on the pointed facets of the rock crystals which hung from the roof and started out of the walls and ground.
The gleaming fingers seemed all pointed straight at him. Was it in mockery or in acknowledgment of his prowess?
For, in among the pointing fingers, it seemed to him that the silver-bearing veins ran thick as the setting of an ancient jewel, twisted and curling and winding in and out so that his eyes were dazzled with the wonder of it all.
“A man! A man at last! Since time began we have awaited him, and this is he at last!” so those myriad eyes and pointing fingers seemed to cry to him.
And up above, the roar and growl of the sea sounded closer than ever before.
But he had found his treasure and he heeded nought beside. Here, of a surety, he said to himself, was the silver heart from which the scattered veins had been projected. He had found what he had sought with such labours and persistency. What else mattered?
And then, without a moment’s warning—the end.