Presently I began to hear a murmur of water in the distance, and then a faint flicker of light. The ground began to grow softer, and now I was treading upon ooze and mud instead of rock.
The murmur increased in a sonorous crescendo until the full cadence of the mighty waterfall burst on my ears.
A fiery ball seemed to fill the exit. The red sun, barred with bands of coal-black cloud, was dipping into the farther verge of the lake.
The thunder of the cataracts filled my ears. A fine spray, like a garment of filmy silk, obscured my clearer vision; but through and beyond it, between two torrents that sailed above like crystal bows, I saw the chateau before me.
I stared at the scene in amazement, for the transition from the dark tunnel through which I had come was an astounding one, and I could hardly believe the evidence of my eyes.
I had passed right through the hollow heart of those mighty hills and now stood underneath the huge glacier, with its million tons of ice above me, from which the cataracts tumbled, drenching me with spray, though I was fully a hundred yards away from the log chateau.
The building was located, as I had surmised, upon a narrow strip of land, invisible from above except where its tongue, containing the enclosed yard, ran out into the lake. It stood far back beneath the over-hanging ledge and seemed to be secured against the living rock. It was evident that there was no other approach except the tunnel through which I had come, for all around the land that turbulent whirlpool raved, where the two cataracts contended for the mastery of the waters.
And for countless ages they must have fought together thus, and neither gained, not since the day when those mountains rose out of the primeval ooze.
Within the enclosed space, which was larger than I had thought on viewing it from above, were two or three small cabins—inhabited, probably, by habitant or half-breed dependents of the seigneur.
I must have crouched for nearly an hour at the tunnel entrance, staring in stupefied wonder—for it grew dark, and one by one lights began to flare at the windows until the whole north wing and central portion of the building were illuminated. But the south wing, nearest me, was dark, and I surmised that this portion was not occupied.
Fortune still seemed to favour me, and with this conclusion and the thought of Jacqueline, I gained courage to advance again.
It was almost dark now and growing bitterly cold. I felt in my pocket for my pistol and loaded it with the two cartridges that alone remained of the lot I had brought with me. Then I advanced stealthily until I stood beneath the cataract; and here I found the spray no longer drenched me. The splendid torrent shot out like a crystal-arch above me—so strong and compact that only those at some distance could feel the mist that veiled it like a luminous garment.