“Not another step!” the Princess declared. “I am going back at once.”
“I too,” Forrest declared. “Your smuggling ancestors, my dear De la Borne, must indeed have loved adventure, if they spent much of their time crawling about here like rats.”
“As you will,” Cecil answered. “The expedition is Miss Jeanne’s, not mine.”
“And I am going on,” Jeanne declared. “I want to see where we come out on the beach.”
“This way, then,” Cecil said. “You need not be afraid to walk upright. The roof is six feet high all the way. You must tread carefully, though. There are plenty of holes and stones about.”
The Princess and Forrest disappeared. Jeanne, with her skirts held high in one hand, and an electric torch in the other, followed Cecil slowly along the gloomy way. The walls were oozing with damp, glistening patches, like illuminated salt stains, and queer fungi started out from unexpected places. Sometimes their footsteps fell on the rock, awaking strange echoes down the gallery. Sometimes they sank deep into the sand. Cecil looked often behind, and once held out his hand to help his companion over a difficult place. At last he paused, and she heard him struggling to turn a key in a great worm-eaten door on their right.
“This is the room,” he explained, “where they held their meetings, and where the stuff was hidden. It was used for more than twenty years, and the Customs’ people never seemed to have had even an inkling of its existence.”
He pushed the door open with difficulty. They found themselves in a gloomy chamber, with vaulted roof and stone floor. A faint streak of daylight from an opening somewhere in the roof, partially lit the place. Here, too, the walls were damp and the odour appalling. There were some fragments of broken barrels at one end, and an oak table in the middle of the floor. Jeanne looked round and shivered.
“Let us go on to the end,” she said.
Cecil nodded, and they made their way on down the passage.
“The roof is getting lower now,” he said. “You had better stoop a little.”
She stopped short.
“What is that?” she asked fearfully.
A sound like rolling thunder, faint at first, but growing more distinct at every step, broke the chill silence of the place.
“The sea,” Cecil answered. “We are getting near to the beach.”
Jeanne nodded and crept on. Louder and louder the sound seemed to become, until at last she paused, half terrified.
“Where are we?” she gasped. “It sounds as though the sea were right over our heads.”
Cecil shook his head.
“It is an illusion,” he said. “The sound comes from the air-hole there. We are forty yards from the cliff still.”
They crept on, until at last, after a turn in the gallery, they saw a faint glimmering of light. A few more yards and they came to a standstill.