‘Weel,’ said Mr McIntosh, deliberately, ’rivers are varra like human bein’s in the queer twists they take, and the Deil’s Lead seems to hae been ain like that. At present we are on the banks o’ it, where we noo get these nuggets; but ’tis the bed I want, d’ye ken, the centre, for its there the gold is; losh, man,’ he went on, excitedly, rising to his feet and rolling up the plan, ’ye dinna ken how rich the Deil’s Lead is; there’s just a fortune in it.”
“I suppose these rivers must stop at a certain depth?”
“Ou, ay,” returned the old Scotchman, “we gae doon an’ doon till we come on what we ma ca’ the primary rock, and under that there is nothin’—except,” with a touch of religious enthusiasm, “maybe ’tis the bottomless pit, where auld Hornie dwells, as we are tauld in the Screepture; noo let us gae up again, an’ I’ll show ye the puddlers at wark.”
Vandeloup had not the least idea what the puddlers were, but desirous of learning, he followed his guide, who led him into another gallery, which formed a kind of loop, and joined again with the main drive. As Gaston stumbled along, he felt a touch on his shoulder, and on turning, saw it was Pierre, who had been put to work with the other men, and was acting as one of the runners.
“Ah! you are there, my friend,” said Vandeloup, coolly, looking at the uncouth figure before him by the feeble glimmer of his candle; “work away, work away; it’s not very pleasant, but at all events,” in a rapid whisper, “it’s better than New Caledonia.”
Pierre nodded in a sullen manner, and went back to his work, while Vandeloup hurried on to catch up to McIntosh, who was now far ahead.
“I wish,” said this pleasant young man to himself, as he stumbled along, “I wish that the mine would fall in and crush Pierre; he’s such a dead weight to be hanging round my neck; besides, he has such a gaol-bird look about him that it’s enough to make the police find out where he came from; if they do, good-bye to wealth and respectability.”
He found Archie waiting for him at the entrance to the main drive, and they soon arrived at the bottom of the shaft, got into the cage, and at last reached the top of the earth again. Vandeloup drew a long breath of the fresh pure air, but his eyes felt quite painful in the vivid glare of the sun.
“I don’t envy the gnomes,” he said gaily to Archie as they went on to the puddlers; “they must have been subject to chronic rheumatism.”
Mr McIntosh, not having an acquaintance with fairy lore, said nothing in reply, but took Vandeloup to the puddlers, and showed all the process of getting the gold.