The Underground City
Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 Next page
when at a narrow landing-place he perceived Harry, who was coming
up to his labors for the day.
"Well met, my friend!" cried Jack, recognizing his comrade by the light
of the electric lamps.
"Ah, Jack!" replied Harry, "I am glad to see you.
I've got something to propose."
"I can listen to nothing till you tell me how Nell is,"
interrupted Jack Ryan.
"Nell is all right, Jack--so much so, in fact, that I hope in a month
or six weeks--"
"To marry her, Harry?"
"Jack, you don't know what you are talking about!"
"Ah, that's very likely; but I know quite well what I shall do."
"What will you do?"
"Marry her myself, if you don't; so look sharp,"
laughed Jack. "By Saint Mungo! I think an immense deal of
bonny Nell! A fine young creature like that, who has been
brought up in the mine, is just the very wife for a miner.
She is an orphan--so am I; and if you don't care much for her,
and if she will have me--"
Harry looked gravely at Jack, and let him talk on without trying
to stop him. "Don't you begin to feel jealous, Harry?" asked Jack
in a more serious tone.
"Not at all," answered Harry quietly.
"But if you don't marry Nell yourself, you surely can't expect
her to remain a spinster?"
"I expect nothing," said Harry.
A movement of the ladder machinery now gave the two friends
the opportunity--one to go up, the other down the shaft.
However, they remained where they were.
"Harry," quoth Jack, "do you think I spoke in earnest just
now about Nell?"
"No, that I don't, Jack."
"Well, but now I will!"
"You? speak in earnest?"
"My good fellow, I can tell you I am quite capable of giving a friend
a bit of advice."
"Let's hear, then, Jack!"
"Well, look here! You love Nell as heartily as she deserves.
Old Simon, your father, and old Madge, your mother, both love her
as if she were their daughter. Why don't you make her so in reality?
Why don't you marry her?"
"Come, Jack," said Harry, "you are running on as if you knew how Nell
felt on the subject."
"Everybody knows that," replied Jack, "and therefore it is
impossible to make you jealous of any of us. But here goes
the ladder again--I'm off!"
"Stop a minute, Jack!" cried Harry, detaining his companion,
who was stepping onto the moving staircase.
"I say! you seem to mean me to take up my quarters here altogether!"
"Do be serious and listen, Jack! I want to speak in earnest myself now."
"Well, I'll listen till the ladder moves again, not a minute longer."
"Jack," resumed Harry, "I need not pretend that I do not love Nell; I wish
above all things to make her my wife."
"That's all right!"
"But for the present I have scruples of conscience as to asking
her to make me a promise which would be irrevocable."
"What can you mean, Harry?"
"I mean just this--that, it being certain Nell has never
been outside this coal mine in the very depths of which she
was born, it stands to reason that she knows nothing,
and can comprehend nothing of what exists beyond it.
Her eyes--yes, and perhaps also her heart--have everything
yet to learn. Who can tell what her thoughts will be,
when perfectly new impressions shall be made upon her mind?
As yet she knows nothing of the world, and to me it would
seem like deceiving her, if I led her to decide in ignorance,
upon choosing to remain all her life in the coal mine.
Do you understand me, Jack?"
"Hem!--yes--pretty well. What I understand best is that you
are going to make me miss another turn of the ladder."
"Jack," replied Harry gravely, "if this machinery were to stop altogether,
if this landing-place were to fall beneath our feet, you must and shall
hear what I have to say."
"Well done, Harry! that's how I like to be spoken to!
Let's settle, then, that, before you marry Nell, she shall go
to school in Auld Reekie."
"No indeed, Jack; I am perfectly able myself to educate the person
who is to be my wife."
"Sure that will be a great deal better, Harry!"
"But, first of all," resumed Harry, "I wish that Nell should
gain a real knowledge of the upper world. To illustrate
my meaning, Jack, suppose you were in love with a blind girl,
and someone said to you, 'In a month's time her sight will
be restored,' would you not wait till after she was cured,
to marry her?"
"Faith, to be sure I would!" exclaimed Jack.
"Well, Jack, Nell is at present blind; and before she marries me,
I wish her to see what I am, and what the life really is to which
she would bind herself. In short, she must have daylight let
in upon the subject!"
"Well said, Harry! Very well said indeed!" cried Jack. "Now I
see what you are driving at. And when may we expect the operation
to come off?"
"In a month, Jack," replied Harry. "Nell is getting used
to the light of our reflectors. That is some preparation.
In a month she will, I hope, have seen the earth and its wonders--
the sky and its splendors. She will perceive that the limits
of the universe are boundless."
But while Harry was thus giving the rein to his imagination, Jack Ryan,
quitting the platform, had leaped on the step of the moving machinery.
"Hullo, Jack! Where are you?"
"Far beneath you," laughed the merry fellow. "While you soar
to the heights, I plunge into the depths."
"Fare ye well. Jack!" returned Harry, himself laying hold
of the rising ladder; "mind you say nothing about what I have
been telling you."
"Not a word," shouted Jack, "but I make one condition."
"What is that?"
"That I may be one of the party when Nell's first excursion
to the face of the earth comes off!"
"So you shall, Jack, I promise you!"
A fresh throb of the machinery placed a yet more considerable distance
between the friends. Their voices sounded faintly to each other.
Harry, however, could still hear Jack shouting:
"I say! do you know what Nell will like better than either sun,
moon, or stars, after she's seen the whole of them?"
"Why, you yourself, old fellow! still you! always you!"
And Jack's voice died away in a prolonged "Hurrah!"
Harry, after this, applied himself diligently, during all
his spare time, to the work of Nell's education.
He taught her to read and to write, and such rapid progress did
she make, it might have been said that she learnt by instinct.
Never did keen intelligence more quickly triumph over utter ignorance.
It was the wonder of all beholders.
Simon and Madge became every day more and more attached to
their adopted child, whose former history continued to puzzle
them a good deal. They plainly saw the nature of Harry's
feelings towards her, and were far from displeased thereat.
They recollected that Simon had said to the engineer on his first
visit to the old cottage, "How can our son ever think of marrying?
Where could a wife
possibly be found suitable for a lad whose whole life must be passed
in the depths of a coal mine?"
Well! now it seemed as if the most desirable companion in the world
had been led to him by Providence. Was not this like a blessing direct
from Heaven? So the old man made up his mind that, if the wedding did
take place, the miners of New Aberfoyle should have a merry-making