In fact, there seemed to be no use in remaining any longer. If Pierre were on his way back, we ought to meet him in the tunnel; and if he had been captured, delay spelled ruin.
So I led her back into the tunnel on what was to be, I hoped, our final journey. We reached the ledge. The star had faded now, and the whole sky was bright with the red clouds of dawn.
Very cautiously we picked our way across the platform, clinging to the wall. It was a hideous journey over the slippery ice, beneath the thunder of the cataract; and when at length we reached the tunnel on the other side, I was shaking like a man with a palsy.
But, thank God, that nightmare was past. And with renewed confidence I went on through the darkness, with Jacqueline at my side, feeling my way by the deeper depression in the ground along the centre of the tubular passage.
At length I saw daylight ahead of me—and there was no sound of the torrents.
Fortune had led us where I had wanted her to lead—into the open space where the gold was. From there I knew that I could strike the passage which led into the sleigh road under the hills. Half an hour’s travel ought to bring us to the rocking stone at the entrance, and safety.
But I found that I had entered the mine from a third point, and that some forty feet away from the place where I had emerged before. This time we were inside the cave in which Leroux and Lacroix had piled the sacks of earth.
I was looking out beyond them toward the rivulet, and on my right hand and on my left the tunnel stretched away, leading respectively toward the chateau and to the rocking stone at the entrance.
I left Jacqueline in the cave for a few moments and went into the smaller one near by, where I had seen the provisions on the preceding day. I found a small box of hard biscuit, with which I stuffed the pockets of my coat, and, happier still, a small revolver and some cartridges, to which I helped myself liberally.
Then I went back to Jacqueline.
We must go on. Half an hour more should see us outside the tunnel beyond the mountains. And this was the day on which Pere Antoine would be expecting me.
It seemed incredible that so much could have happened in four-and-twenty hours.
But there was no sign of Charles Duchaine. And I did not intend to jeopardize our future for the sake of the crazed old man.
“Jacqueline,” I said, “let us go on. Perhaps your father is on his way outside the tunnel.”
She shook her head. “We must find him first,” she answered.
“But that is impossible,” I protested. “How can we go wandering among these dark passages when we do not know where he has gone? You know he is invaluable to Leroux, and he will come to no harm with him. If we get free, we can return with aid and rescue him.”
“We cannot go without my father,” she answered, shaking her head in determination.