The Underground City
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"So you knew him, Simon?" demanded Mr. Starr.
"Yes, that I did," replied the overman. "The Harfang man,
we used to call him. Why, he was old then! He must be fifteen
or twenty years older than I am. A wild,
savage sort of fellow, who held aloof from everyone and was known
to fear nothing--neither fire nor water. It was his own fancy
to follow the trade of 'monk,' which few would have liked.
The constant danger of the business had unsettled his brain.
He was prodigiously strong, and he knew the mine as no one else--
at any rate, as well as I did. He lived on a small allowance.
In faith, I believed him dead years ago."
"But," resumed James Starr, "what does he mean by those words,
'You have robbed me of the last vein of our old mine'?"
"Ah! there it is," replied Simon; "for a long time it
had been a fancy of his--I told you his mind was deranged--
that he had a right to the mine of Aberfoyle; so he became
more and more savage in temper the deeper the Dochart pit--
his pit!--was worked out. It just seemed as if it was his
own body that suffered from every blow of the pickax.
You must remember that, Madge?"
"Ay, that I do, Simon," replied she.
"I can recollect all this," resumed Simon, "since I have seen the name
of Silfax on the door. But I tell you, I thought the man was dead,
and never imagined that the spiteful being we have so long sought
for could be the old fireman of the Dochart pit."
"Well, now, then," said Starr, "it is all quite plain.
Chance made known to Silfax the new vein of coal.
With the egotism of madness, he believed himself the owner
of a treasure he must conceal and defend. Living in the mine,
and wandering about day and night, he perceived that you had discovered
the secret, and had written in all haste to beg me to come.
Hence the letter contradicting yours; hence, after my arrival,
all the accidents that occurred, such as the block of stone
thrown at Harry, the broken ladder at the Yarrow shaft,
the obstruction of the openings into the wall of the new cutting;
hence, in short, our imprisonment, and then our deliverance,
brought about by the kind assistance of Nell, who acted of
course without the knowledge of this man Silfax, and contrary
to his intentions."
"You describe everything exactly as it must have happened, Mr. Starr,"
returned old Simon. "The old 'Monk' is mad enough now, at any rate!"
"All the better," quoth Madge.
"I don't know that," said Starr, shaking his head; "it is a terrible
sort of madness this."
"Ah! now I understand that the very thought of him must have terrified
poor little Nell, and also I see that she could not bear to denounce
her grandfather. What a miserable time she must have had of it
with the old man!"
"Miserable with a vengeance," replied Simon, "between that savage and
his owl, as savage as himself. Depend upon it, that bird isn't dead.
That was what put our lamp out, and also so nearly cut the rope
by which Harry and Nell were suspended."
"And then, you see," said Madge, "this news of the marriage of our son
with his granddaughter added to his rancor and ill-will."
"To be sure," said Simon. "To think that his Nell should marry
one of the robbers of his own coal mine would just drive
him wild altogether."
"He will have to make up his mind to it, however," cried Harry. "Mad as
he is, we shall manage to convince him that Nell is better off
with us here than ever she was in the caverns of the pit.
I am sure, Mr. Starr, if we could only catch him, we should be able
to make him listen to reason."
"My poor Harry! there is no reasoning with a madman,"
replied the engineer. "Of course it is better to know your
enemy than not; but you must not fancy all is right because we
have found out who he is. We must be on our guard, my friends;
and to begin with, Harry, you positively must question Nell.
She will perceive that her silence is no longer reasonable.
Even for her grandfather's own interest, she ought to speak now.
For his own sake, as well as for ours, these insane plots must
be put a stop to."
"I feel sure, Mr. Starr," answered Harry, "that Nell will
of herself propose to tell you what she knows. You see it
was from a sense of duty that she has been silent hitherto.
My mother was very right to take her to her room just now.
She much needed time to recover her spirits; but now I will
go for her."
"You need not do so, Harry," said the maiden in a clear and firm voice,
as she entered at that moment the room in which they were.
Nell was very pale; traces of tears were in her eyes; but her whole
manner showed that she had nerved herself to act as her loyal heart
dictated as her duty.
"Nell!" cried Harry, springing towards her.
The girl arrested her lover by a gesture, and continued,
"Your father and mother, and you, Harry, must now know all.
And you too, Mr. Starr, must remain ignorant of nothing
that concerns the child you have received, and whom Harry--
unfortunately for him, alas!--drew from the abyss."
"Oh, Nell! what are you saying?" cried Harry.
"Allow her to speak," said James Starr in a decided tone.
"I am the granddaughter of old Silfax," resumed Nell. "I never knew
a mother till the day I came here," added she, looking at Madge.
"Blessed be that day, my daughter!" said the old woman.
"I knew no father till I saw Simon Ford," continued Nell;
"nor friend till the day when Harry's hand touched mine.
Alone with my grandfather I have lived during fifteen
years in the remote and most solitary depths of the mine.
I say WITH my grandfather, but I can scarcely use the expression,
for I seldom saw him. When he disappeared from Old Aberfoyle,
he concealed himself in caverns known only to himself.
In his way he was kind to me, dreadful as he was; he fed me
with whatever he could procure from outside the mine; but I can
dimly recollect that in my earliest years I was the nursling
of a goat, the death of which was a bitter grief to me.
My grandfather, seeing my distress, brought me another animal--
a dog he said it was. But, unluckily, this dog was lively,
and barked. Grandfather did not like anything cheerful.
He had a horror of noise, and had taught me to be silent;
the dog he could not teach to be quiet, so the poor animal
very soon disappeared. My grandfather's companion was a
ferocious bird, Harfang, of which, at first, I had a perfect horror;
but this creature, in spite of my dislike to it, took such
a strong affection for me, that I could not help returning it.
It even obeyed me better than its master, which used to make me
quite uneasy, for my grandfather was jealous. Harfang and I
did not dare to let him see us much together; we both knew it
would be dangerous. But I am talking too much about myself:
the great thing is about you."
"No, my child," said James Starr, "tell us everything that comes
to your mind."
"My grandfather," continued Nell, "always regarded your abode
in the mine with a very evil eye--not that there was any lack
of space. His chosen refuge was far--very far from you.
But he could not bear to feel that you were there. If I asked any
questions about the people up above us, his face grew dark, he gave
no answer, and continued quite silent for a long time afterwards.
But when he perceived that, not content with the old domain,
you seemed to think of encroaching upon his, then indeed
his anger burst forth. He swore that, were you to succeed
in reaching the new mine, you should assuredly perish.
Notwithstanding his great age, his strength is astonishing,
and his threats used to make me tremble."
"Go on, Nell, my child," said Simon to the girl, who paused as though
to collect her thoughts.
"On the occasion of your first attempt," resumed Nell,
"as soon as my grandfather saw that you were fairly
inside the gallery leading to New Aberfoyle, he stopped
up the opening, and turned it into a prison for you.
I only knew you as shadows dimly seen in the gloom of the pit,
but I could not endure the idea that you would die of hunger
in these horrid places; and so, at the risk of being detected,
I succeeded in obtaining bread and water for you during some days.
I should have liked to help you to escape, but it was
so difficult to avoid the vigilance of my grandfather.
You were about to die. Then arrived Jack Ryan and the others.
By the providence of God I met with them, and instantly guided
them to where you were. When my grandfather discovered what I
had done, his rage against me was terrible. I expected death
at his hands. After that my life became insupportable to me.
My grandfather completely lost his senses. He proclaimed
himself King of Darkness and Flame; and when he heard your tools
at work on coal-beds which he considered entirely his own,
he became furious and beat me cruelly. I would have fled
from him, but it was impossible, so narrowly did he watch me.
At last, in a fit of ungovernable fury, he threw me down into
the abyss where you found me, and disappeared, vainly calling
on Harfang, which faithfully stayed by me, to follow him.
I know not how long I remained there, but I felt I was at
the point of death when you, my Harry, came and saved me.
But now you all see that the grandchild of old Silfax can
never be the wife of Harry Ford, because it would be certain
death to you all!"
"Nell!" cried Harry.
"No," continued the maiden, "my resolution is taken. By one means
only can your ruin be averted; I must return to my grandfather.