The Underground City
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at Coal Town, which they would never during their lives forget.
Simon Ford little knew what he was saying!
It must be remarked that another person wished for this union of Harry
and Nell as much as Simon did--and that was James Starr, the engineer.
Of course he was really interested in the happiness of the two
young people. But another motive, connected with wider interests,
influenced him to desire it.
It has been said that James Starr continued to entertain a certain amount
of apprehension, although for the present nothing appeared to justify it.
Yet that which had been might again be. This mystery about the
new cutting--Nell was evidently the only person acquainted with it.
Now, if fresh dangers were in store for the miners of Aberfoyle,
how were they possibly to be guarded against, without so much as knowing
the cause of them?
"Nell has persisted in keeping silence," said James Starr very often,
"but what she has concealed from others, she will not long hide from
her husband. Any danger would be danger to Harry as well as to the rest
of us. Therefore, a marriage which brings happiness to the lovers,
and safety to their friends, will be a good marriage, if ever there
is such a thing here below."
Thus, not illogically, reasoned James Starr. He communicated
his ideas to old Simon, who decidedly appreciated them.
Nothing, then, appeared to stand in the way of the match.
What, in fact, was there to prevent it? They loved each other;
the parents desired nothing better for their son.
Harry's comrades envied his good fortune, but freely acknowledged
that he deserved it. The maiden depended on no one else,
and had but to give the consent of her own heart.
Why, then, if there were none to place obstacles in the way
of this union--why, as night came on, and, the labors of the day
being over, the electric lights in the mine were
extinguished, and all the inhabitants of Coal Town at rest
within their dwellings--why did a mysterious form always emerge
from the gloomier recesses of New Aberfoyle, and silently glide
through the darkness?
What instinct guided this phantom with ease through passages
so narrow as to appear to be impracticable?
Why should the strange being, with eyes flashing through
the deepest darkness, come cautiously creeping along the shores
of Lake Malcolm? Why so directly make his way towards
Simon's cottage, yet so carefully as hitherto to avoid notice?
Why, bending towards the windows, did he strive to catch,
by listening, some fragment of the conversation within
the closed shutters?
And, on catching a few words, why did he shake his fist with a menacing
gesture towards the calm abode, while from between his set teeth issued
these words in muttered fury, "She and he? Never! never!"
CHAPTER XIV A SUNRISE
A MONTH after this, on the evening of the 20th of August, Simon Ford
and Madge took leave, with all manner of good wishes, of four tourists,
who were setting forth from the cottage.
James Starr, Harry, and Jack Ryan were about to lead Nell's
steps over yet untrodden paths, and to show her the glories
of nature by a light to which she was as yet a stranger.
The excursion was to last for two days. James Starr, as well as Harry,
considered that during these eight and forty hours spent above ground,
the maiden would be able to see everything of which she must
have remained ignorant in the gloomy pit; all the varied aspects
of the globe, towns, plains, mountains, rivers, lakes, gulfs,
and seas would pass, panorama-like, before her eyes.
In that part of Scotland lying between Edinburgh and Glasgow,
nature would seem to have collected and set forth specimens
of every one of these terrestrial beauties. As to the heavens,
they would be spread abroad as over the whole earth, with their
changeful clouds, serene or veiled moon, their radiant sun,
and clustering stars. The expedition had been planned so as to
combine a view of all these things.
Simon and Madge would have been glad to go with Nell;
but they never left their cottage willingly, and could not make
up their minds to quit their subterranean home for a single day.
James Starr went as an observer and philosopher, curious to note,
from a psychological point of view, the novel impressions made upon Nell;
perhaps also with some hope of detecting a clue to the mysterious
events connected with her childhood. Harry, with a little trepidation,
asked himself whether it was not possible that this rapid initiation
into the things of the exterior world would change the maiden he had
known and loved hitherto into quite a different girl. As for Jack Ryan,
he was as joyous as a lark rising in the first beams of the sun.
He only trusted that his gayety would prove contagious, and enliven his
traveling companions, thus rewarding them for letting him join them.
Nell was pensive and silent.
James Starr had decided, very sensibly, to set off in the evening.
It would be very much better for the girl to pass gradually from
the darkness of night to the full light of day; and that would
in this way be managed, since between midnight and noon she
would experience the successive phases of shade and sunshine,
to which her sight had to get accustomed.
Just as they left the cottage, Nell took Harry's hand saying,
"Harry, is it really necessary for me to leave the mine at all,
even for these few days?"
"Yes, it is, Nell," replied the young man. "It is needful
for both of us."
"But, Harry," resumed Nell, "ever since you found me, I have been
as happy as I can possibly be. You have been teaching me.
Why is that not enough? What am I going up there for?"
Harry looked at her in silence. Nell was giving utterance to nearly
his own thoughts.
"My child," said James Starr, "I can well understand the
hesitation you feel; but it will be good for you to go with us.
Those who love you are taking you, and they will bring you back again.
Afterwards you will be free, if you wish it, to continue your life
in the coal mine, like old
Simon, and Madge, and Harry. But at least you ought to be able to compare
what you give up with what you choose, then decide freely. Come!"
"Come, dear Nell!" cried Harry.
"Harry, I am willing to follow you," replied the maiden.
At nine o'clock the last train through the tunnel started
to convey Nell and her companions to the surface of the earth.
Twenty minutes later they alighted on the platform where the branch
line to New Aberfoyle joins the railway from Dumbarton to Stirling.
The night was already dark. From the horizon to the zenith,
light vapory clouds hurried through the upper air, driven by
a refreshing northwesterly breeze. The day had been lovely;
the night promised to be so likewise.
On reaching Stirling, Nell and her friends, quitting the train,
left the station immediately. Just before them, between high trees,
they could see a road which led to the banks of the river Forth.
The first physical impression on the girl was the purity of the air
inhaled eagerly by her lungs.
"Breathe it freely, Nell," said James Starr; "it is fragrant
with all the scents of the open country."
"What is all that smoke passing over our heads?" inquired Nell.
"Those are clouds," answered Harry, "blown along by the westerly wind."
"Ah!" said Nell, "how I should like to feel myself carried
along in that silent whirl! And what are those shining sparks
which glance here and there between rents in the clouds?"
"Those are the stars I have told you about, Nell. So many suns they are,
so many centers of worlds like our own, most likely."
The constellations became more clearly visible as the wind
cleared the clouds from the deep blue of the firmament.
Nell gazed upon the myriad stars which sparkled overhead.
"But how is it," she said at length, "that if these are suns,
my eyes can endure their brightness?"
"My child," replied James Starr, "they are indeed suns, but suns
at an enormous distance. The nearest of these millions of stars,
whose rays can reach us, is Vega, that star in Lyra which you
observe near the zenith, and that is
fifty thousand millions of leagues distant.
Its brightness, therefore, cannot affect your vision.
But our own sun, which will rise to-morrow, is only distant
thirty-eight millions of leagues, and no human eye can gaze fixedly
upon that, for it is brighter than the blaze of any furnace.
But come, Nell, come!"
They pursued their way, James Starr leading the maiden, Harry walking
by her side, while Jack Ryan roamed about like a young dog,
impatient of the slow pace of his masters. The road was lonely.
Nell kept looking at the great trees, whose branches, waving in
the wind, made them seem to her like giants gesticulating wildly.
The sound of the breeze in the tree-tops, the deep silence during
a lull, the distant line of the horizon, which could be discerned
when the road passed over open levels--all these things filled
her with new sensations, and left lasting impressions on her mind.
After some time she ceased to ask questions, and her companions
respected her silence, not wishing to influence by any words
of theirs the girl's highly sensitive imagination, but preferring
to allow ideas to arise spontaneously in her soul.
At about half past eleven o'clock, they gained the banks of the
river Forth. There a boat, chartered by James Starr, awaited them.
In a few hours it would convey them all to Granton. Nell looked
at the clear water which flowed up to her feet, as the waves