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
broke gently on the beach, reflecting the starlight.
"Is this a lake?" said she.
"No," replied Harry, "it is a great river flowing towards
the sea, and soon opening so widely as to resemble a gulf.
Taste a little of the water in the hollow of your hand, Nell,
and you will perceive that it is not sweet like the waters
of Lake Malcolm."
The maiden bent towards the stream, and, raising a little water
to her lips, "This is quite salt," said she.
"Yes, the tide is full; the sea water flows up the river as far
as this," answered Harry.
"Oh, Harry! Harry!" exclaimed the maiden, "what can that red
glow on the horizon be? Is it a forest on fire?"
"No, it is the rising moon, Nell."
"To be sure, that's the moon," cried Jack Ryan, "a fine
big silver plate, which the spirits of air hand round and round
the sky to collect the stars in, like money."
"Why, Jack," said the engineer, laughing, "I had no idea you
could strike out such bold comparisons!"
"Well, but, Mr. Starr, it is a just comparison. Don't you see
the stars disappear as the moon passes on? so I suppose they
drop into it."
"What you mean to say, Jack, is that the superior brilliancy
of the moon eclipses that of stars of the sixth magnitude,
therefore they vanish as she approaches."
"How beautiful all this is!" repeated Nell again and again,
with her whole soul in her eyes. "But I thought the moon was round?"
"So she is, when 'full,'" said James Starr; "that means when she is just
opposite to the sun. But to-night the moon is in the last quarter,
shorn of her just proportions, and friend Jack's grand silver plate
looks more like a barber's basin."
"Oh, Mr. Starr, what a base comparison!" he exclaimed, "I was just going
to begin a sonnet to the moon, but your barber's basin has destroyed
all chance of an inspiration."
Gradually the moon ascended the heavens. Before her light
the lingering clouds fled away, while stars still sparkled
in the west, beyond the influence of her radiance.
Nell gazed in silence on the glorious spectacle.
The soft silvery light was pleasant to her eyes, and her little
trembling hand expressed to Harry, who clasped it, how deeply
she was affected by the scene.
"Let us embark now," said James Starr. "We have to get to the top
of Arthur's Seat before sunrise."
The boat was moored to a post on the bank. A boatman awaited them.
Nell and her friends took their seats; the sail was spread;
it quickly filled before the northwesterly breeze, and they sped
on their way.
What a new sensation was this for the maiden! She had been rowed on
the waters of Lake Malcolm; but the oar, handled ever so lightly by Harry,
always betrayed effort on the part of the oarsman. Now, for the
first time, Nell felt herself borne along with a gliding movement,
like that of a balloon through the air. The water was smooth as a lake,
and Nell reclined in the stern of the boat, enjoying its gentle rocking.
Occasionally the effect of the
moonlight on the waters was as though the boat sailed across
a glittering silver field. Little wavelets rippled along the banks.
It was enchanting.
At length Nell was overcome with drowsiness, her eyelids drooped,
her head sank on Harry's shoulder--she slept. Harry, sorry that
she should miss any of the beauties of this magnificent night,
would have aroused her.
"Let her sleep!" said the engineer. "She will better enjoy
the novelties of the day after a couple of hours' rest."
At two o'clock in the morning the boat reached Granton pier.
Nell awoke. "Have I been asleep?" inquired she.
"No, my child," said James Starr. "You have been dreaming
that you slept, that's all."
The night continued clear. The moon, riding in mid-heaven,
diffused her rays on all sides. In the little port of Granton
lay two or three fishing boats; they rocked gently on the waters
of the Firth. The wind fell as the dawn approached.
The atmosphere, clear of mists, promised one of those fine
autumn days so delicious on the sea coast.
A soft, transparent film of vapor lay along the horizon;
the first sunbeam would dissipate it; to the maiden it exhibited
that aspect of the sea which seems to blend it with the sky.
Her view was now enlarged, without producing the impression
of the boundless infinity of ocean.
Harry taking Nell's hand, they followed James Starr and Jack Ryan
as they traversed the deserted streets. To Nell, this suburb
of the capital appeared only a collection of gloomy dark houses,
just like Coal Town, only that the roof was higher, and gleamed
with small lights.
She stepped lightly forward, and easily kept pace with Harry. "Are you
not tired, Nell?" asked he, after half an hour's walking.
"No! my feet seem scarcely to touch the earth," returned she.
"This sky above us seems so high up, I feel as if I could take
wing and fly!"
"I say! keep hold of her!" cried Jack Ryan. "Our little Nell is too
good to lose. I feel just as you describe though, myself, when I
have not left the pit for a long time."
"It is when we no longer experience the oppressive effect of the vaulted
rocky roof above Coal Town," said
James Starr, "that the spacious firmament appears to us like a
profound abyss into which we have, as it were, a desire to plunge.
Is that what you feel, Nell?"
"Yes, Mr. Starr, it is exactly like that," said Nell. "It makes
me feel giddy."
"Ah! you will soon get over that, Nell," said Harry. "You will get used
to the outer world, and most likely forget all about our dark coal pit."
"No, Harry, never!" said Nell, and she put her hand over her eyes,
as though she would recall the remembrance of everything she
had lately quitted.
Between the silent dwellings of the city, the party passed
along Leith Walk, and went round the Calton Hill, where stood,
in the light of the gray dawn, the buildings of the Observatory
and Nelson's Monument. By Regent's Bridge and the North Bridge they
at last reached the lower extremity of the Canongate. The town
still lay wrapt in slumber.
Nell pointed to a large building in the center of an open space,
asking, "What great confused mass is that?"
"That confused mass, Nell, is the palace of the ancient kings
of Scotland; that is Holyrood, where many a sad scene has been enacted!
The historian can here invoke many a royal shade; from those of
the early Scottish kings to that of the unhappy Mary Stuart,
and the French king, Charles X. When day breaks, however, Nell,
this palace will not look so very gloomy. Holyrood, with its four
embattled towers, is not unlike some handsome country house.
But let us pursue our way. There, just above the ancient Abbey
of Holyrood, are the superb cliffs called Salisbury Crags.
Arthur's Seat rises above them, and that is where we are going.
From the summit of Arthur's Seat, Nell, your eyes shall behold
the sun appear above the horizon seaward."
They entered the King's Park, then, gradually ascending they passed
across the Queen's Drive, a splendid carriageway encircling the hill,
which we owe to a few lines in one of Sir Walter Scott's romances.
Arthur's Seat is in truth only a hill, seven hundred and fifty
feet high, which stands alone amid surrounding heights.
In less than half an hour, by an easy winding path, James Starr
and his party reached the crest of the
crouching lion, which, seen from the west, Arthur's Seat so
much resembles. There, all four seated themselves; and James Starr,
ever ready with quotations from the great Scottish novelist,
simply said, "Listen to what is written by Sir Walter Scott
in the eighth chapter of the Heart of Mid-Lothian. 'If I were
to choose a spot from which the rising or setting sun could be seen
to the greatest possible advantage, it would be from this neighborhood.'
Now watch, Nell! the sun will soon appear, and for the first time
you will contemplate its splendor."
The maiden turned her eyes eastward. Harry, keeping close
beside her, observed her with anxious interest.
Would the first beams of day overpower her feelings?
All remained quiet, even Jack Ryan. A faint streak of pale rose
tinted the light vapors of the horizon. It was the first ray
of light attacking the laggards of the night. Beneath the hill
lay the silent city, massed confusedly in the twilight of dawn.
Here and there lights twinkled among the houses of the old town.
Westward rose many hill-tops, soon to be illuminated by
tips of fire.
Now the distant horizon of the sea became more plainly visible.
The scale of colors fell into the order of the solar.
Every instant they increased in intensity, rose color became red,
red became fiery, daylight dawned. Nell now glanced towards
the city, of which the outlines became more distinct.
Lofty monuments, slender steeples emerged from the gloom;
a kind of ashy light was spread abroad. At length one solitary
ray struck on the maiden's sight. It was that ray of green which,
morning or evening, is reflected upwards from the sea when
the horizon is clear.