At last I stood still; and then, just as I was thinking of retracing my steps, I felt a breath of air upon my forehead.
I hurried on again, and in another minute I saw a faint light in front of me. Presently it grew more distinct. I was approaching the tunnel’s mouth. But I stopped again. I was waiting for something—to hear something that I did not hear. Then I knew that it was the sound of the waterfalls. In place of them there was only the gurgling of a brook.
My elbow grated against the tunnel wall. I stepped sidewise toward the centre, and ran against the wall opposite. Now, by the stronger light, I could see that I had strayed once again into some byway, for the passage was hardly three feet wide and the low roof almost touched my head.
It narrowed and grew lower still; but the light of the stars was clear in front of me and the cold wind blew upon my face; and I squeezed through into the same scooped-out hollow which I had entered on the same afternoon during the course of my journey toward the chateau.
I had approached it apparently through a mere fissure in the rocks upon the opposite side and at a point where I had assured myself that there could be no passage. The little river gurgled at my feet, and in front of me I saw a candle flickering in the recesses of a cave, so elfinlike that I could distinguish it only by shielding my eyes against the moon and stars.
I grasped my pistol tightly and crept noiselessly forward. If this should be Leroux, as I was convinced it was, I would not parley with him. I would shoot him down in his tracks.
My moccasined feet pressed the soft ground without the slightest sound. I gained the entrance to the cave. Within it, his back toward me, a man was stooping down.
As I stepped nearer him my feet dislodged a pebble, which rolled with a splash into the bed of the stream.
The man started and spun around, and I saw before me the pale, melancholy features of Philippe Lacroix.
He uttered an oath and took two steps backward, but I saw that he was unarmed and that he realized his helplessness. He flung his hands above his head and stood facing me, surprise and terror twisting his features into a grimacing grin.
There was no man, next to Leroux, whom I would rather have seen.
“I wanted to see you, M. Hewlett,” he babbled.
“I can quite believe that, M. Lacroix,” I answered. “You have looked for me before. But this time you have found me.”
“I have something of importance to say to you, monsieur,” he began again.
“I can believe that, too,” I answered. “It is about le Vieil Ange, is it not?”
“By God, I did not mean—I swear to you, monsieur—listen, monsieur, one moment only,” he stammered. “Lower your pistol. You see that I am unarmed!”