“Oh, don’t you see that we must find him?” she cried wildly. “But you must go. You cannot be burdened with me. Give up your hopeless mission to rescue us, monsieur, and save yourself!”
At that my hopes, which had been so high, went crashing down.
“Jacqueline,” I said, “if we can find your father you will come with me? Because it has occurred to me,” I went on, “that if he had come this way, his footprints would be in the mud beside the stream. It would take an hour or two for them to fill up again. So, perhaps, he did not come this far, but is hiding in some cave in the tunnel through which we came. Will you wait for me here while I go back and search?”
She nodded, and I went back into that interminable tunnel again.
THE BAIT THAT LURED
I went along the tunnel in the direction of le Vieil Ange. It was broad day now, and the distance between the cataract and the open ground where the gold had been mined was sufficiently short for the whole length of the passage to be faintly visible.
It was a reach of deep twilight, brightening into sunlight at either end.
I picked my way carefully, peering into the numerous small caves and fissures in the wall on either hand. And I was about half-way through when I saw a shadow running in front of me and making no sound.
It was Duchaine. There could be no mistaking that tall, gaunt figure, just visible against the distant day.
He was running in his bare feet and, therefore, in complete silence, and he leaped across the rocky floor as though he wore moccasins.
I raced along the tunnel after him. But he seemed to be endowed with the speed of a deer, for he kept his distance easily, and I would never have caught him had he not stopped for an instant at the approach of the ledge.
There, just as he was poising himself to leap, I seized him by the arm.
“M. Duchaine! M. Duchaine! Stop!” I implored him. “Don’t you know that I am your friend and only wish you well? I am your friend—your daughter Jacqueline’s friend. I want to save you!”
He did not attempt violence, but gazed at me with hesitation and pathetic doubt.
“They want to catch me,” he muttered. “They want to hang me. He has got a gallows ready for me to swing on, because I killed a soldier in the Fenian raids. But it wasn’t I,” he added with sudden cunning. “It was my brother, who looks like me. He died long ago. Let me go, monsieur. I am a poor, harmless old man. I shall not hurt anybody.”
I took his hand in mine.
“M. Duchaine,” I answered. “I wish you everything that is best in the world. I am your friend; I want to save you, not to capture you. Come back with me, monsieur, and I will take you away——”