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
to conceal them!
"Yet it is clear that an implacable enemy has sworn
the ruin of New Aberfoyle, and that some interest urges him
to seek in every possible way to wreak his hatred upon us.
He appears to be too weak to act openly, and lays his schemes
in secret; but displays such intelligence as to render him
a most formidable foe.
"My friends, he must understand better than we do the secrets
of our domain, since he has all this time eluded our vigilance.
He must be a man experienced in mining, skilled beyond the most skillful--
that's certain, Simon! We have proof enough of that.
"Let me see! Have you never had a personal enemy,
to whom your suspicions might point? Think well!
There is such a thing as hatred which time never softens.
Go back to recollections of your earliest days.
What befalls us appears the work of a stern and patient will,
and to explain it demands every effort of thought and memory."
Simon did not answer immediately--his mind evidently engaged
in a close and candid survey of his past life. Presently,
raising his head, "No," said he; "no! Heaven be my witness,
neither Madge nor I have ever injured anybody. We cannot
believe that we have a single enemy in the world."
"Ah! if Nell would only speak!" cried the engineer.
"Mr. Starr--and you, father," said Harry, "I do beg of you to keep
silence on this matter, and not to question my poor Nell. I know she
is very anxious and uneasy; and I feel positive that some great secret
painfully oppresses her heart. Either she knows nothing it would be
of any use for us to hear, or she considers it her duty to be silent.
It is impossible to doubt her affection for us--for all of us.
If at a future time she informs me of what she has hitherto concealed
from us, you shall know about it immediately."
"So be it, then, Harry," answered the engineer; "and yet I must say
Nell's silence, if she knows anything, is to me perfectly inexplicable."
Harry would have continued her defense; but the engineer
stopped him, saying, "All right, Harry; we promise to say
no more about it to your future wife."
"With my father's consent she shall be my wife without further delay."
"My boy," said old Simon, "your marriage shall take place
this very day month. Mr. Starr, will you undertake the part
of Nell's father?"
"You may reckon upon me for that, Simon," answered the engineer.
They then returned to the cottage, but said not a word
of the result of their examinations in the mine, so that to
the rest of its inhabitants, the bursting in of the vaulted roof
of the caverns continued to be regarded as a mere accident.
There was but a loch the less in Scotland.
Nell gradually resumed her customary duties, and Harry made good use
of her little visit to the upper air, in the instructions he gave her.
She enjoyed the recollections of life above ground, yet without
regretting it. The somber region she had loved as a child, and in
which her wedded life would be spent, was as dear to her as ever.
The approaching marriage created great excitement in
New Aberfoyle. Good wishes poured in on all sides, and foremost
among them were Jack Ryan's. He was detected busily practicing
his best songs in preparation for the great
day, which was to be celebrated by the whole population of Coal Town.
During the month preceding the wedding-day, there were more accidents
occurring in New Aberfoyle than had ever been known in the place.
One would have thought the approaching union of Harry and Nell
actually provoked one catastrophe after another. These misfortunes
happened chiefly at the further and lowest extremity of the works,
and the cause of them was always in some way mysterious.
Thus, for instance, the wood-work of a distant gallery was discovered
to be in flames, which were extinguished by Harry and his companions
at the risk of their lives, by employing engines filled with water
and carbonic acid, always kept ready in case of necessity.
The lamp used by the incendiary was found; but no clew whatever
as to who he could be.
Another time an inundation took place in consequence of the stanchions
of a water-tank giving way; and Mr. Starr ascertained beyond a doubt
that these supports had first of all been partially sawn through.
Harry, who had been overseeing the works near the place at the time,
was buried in the falling rubbish, and narrowly escaped death.
A few days afterwards, on the steam tramway, a train of trucks,
which Harry was passing along, met with an obstacle on the rails,
and was overturned. It was then discovered that a beam had been
laid across the line. In short, events of this description became
so numerous that the miners were seized with a kind of panic,
and it required all the influence of their chiefs to keep them
on the works.
"You would think that there was a whole band of these ruffians,"
Simon kept saying, "and we can't lay hands on a single one of them."
Search was made in all directions. The county police were on the alert
night and day, yet discovered nothing. The evil intentions seeming
specially designed to injure Harry. Starr forbade him to venture alone
beyond the ordinary limits of the works.
They were equally careful of Nell, although, at Harry's entreaty,
these malicious attempts to do harm were concealed from her,
because they might remind her painfully
of former times. Simon and Madge watched over her by day
and by night with a sort of stern solicitude. The poor child
yielded to their wishes, without a remark or a complaint.
Did she perceive that they acted with a view to her interest?
Probably she did. And on her part, she seemed to watch over others,
and was never easy unless all whom she loved were together
in the cottage.
When Harry came home in the evening, she could not restrain
expressions of child-like joy, very unlike her usual manner,
which was rather reserved than demonstrative. As soon as day broke,
she was astir before anyone else, and her constant uneasiness
lasted all day until the hour of return home from work.
Harry became very anxious that their marriage should take place.
He thought that, when the irrevocable step was taken, malevolence would
be disarmed, and that Nell would never feel safe until she was his wife.
James Starr, Simon, and Madge, were all of the same opinion,
and everyone counted the intervening days, for everyone suffered
from the most uncomfortable forebodings.
It was perfectly evident that nothing relating to Nell was indifferent
to this hidden foe, whom it was impossible to meet or to avoid.
Therefore it seemed quite possible that the solemn act of her marriage
with Harry might be the occasion of some new and dreadful outbreak
of his hatred.
One morning, a week before the day appointed for the ceremony,
Nell, rising early, went out of the cottage before anyone else.
No sooner had she crossed the threshold than a cry of indescribable
anguish escaped her lips.
Her voice was heard throughout the dwelling; in a moment,
Madge, Harry, and Simon were at her side. Nell was pale as death,
her countenance agitated, her features expressing the utmost horror.
Unable to speak, her eyes were riveted on the door of the cottage,
which she had just opened.
With rigid fingers she pointed to the following words traced upon it
during the night: "Simon Ford, you have robbed me of the last vein
in our old pit. Harry, your son, has robbed me of Nell. Woe betide you!
Woe betide you all! Woe betide New Aberfoyle!--SILFAX."
"Silfax!" exclaimed Simon and Madge together.
"Who is this man?" demanded Harry, looking alternately at his father
and at the maiden.
"Silfax!" repeated Nell in tones of despair, "Silfax!"--and,
murmuring this name, her whole frame shuddering with fear
and agitation, she was borne away to her chamber by old Madge.
James Starr, hastening to the spot, read the threatening sentences
again and again.
"The hand which traced these lines," said he at length, "is the same
which wrote me the letter contradicting yours, Simon. The man calls
himself Silfax. I see by your troubled manner that you know him.
Who is this Silfax?"
CHAPTER XVII THE "MONK"
THIS name revealed everything to the old overman.
It was that of the last "monk" of the Dochart pit.
In former days, before the invention of the safety-lamp, Simon had
known this fierce man, whose business it was to go daily, at the risk
of his life, to produce partial explosions of fire-damp in the passages.
He used to see this strange solitary being, prowling about the mine,
always accompanied by a monstrous owl, which he called Harfang,
who assisted him in his perilous occupation, by soaring with a lighted
match to places Silfax was unable to reach.
One day this old man disappeared, and at the same time also,
a little orphan girl born in the mine, who had no relation
but himself, her great-grandfather. It was perfectly evident
now that this child was Nell. During the fifteen years,
up to the time when she was saved by Harry, they must have lived
in some secret abyss of the mine.
The old overman, full of mingled compassion and anger, made known to
the engineer and Harry all that the name of Silfax had revealed to him.
It explained the whole mystery. Silfax was the mysterious being so long
vainly sought for in the depths of New Aberfoyle.