The Underground City
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of Aberfoyle. Between these two pieces, how many generations
of workmen have succeeded each other in our pits! Now, it is over!
The last words which your engineer will address to you are a farewell.
You have lived in this mine, which your hands have emptied.
The work has been hard, but not without profit for you.
Our great family must disperse, and it is not probable
that the future will ever again unite the scattered members.
But do not forget that we have lived together for a long time,
and that it will be the duty of the miners of Aberfoyle to help
each other. Your old masters will not forget you either.
When men have worked together, they must never be stranger
to each other again.
We shall keep our eye on you, and wherever you go,
our recommendations shall follow you. Farewell then, my friends,
and may Heaven be with you!"
So saying, James Starr wrung the horny hand of the oldest miner,
whose eyes were dim with tears. Then the overmen of the different
pits came forward to shake hands with him, whilst the miners
waved their caps, shouting, "Farewell, James Starr, our master
and our friend!"
This farewell would leave a lasting remembrance in all these
honest hearts. Slowly and sadly the population quitted the yard.
The black soil of the roads leading to the Dochart pit resounded
for the last time to the tread of miners' feet, and silence
succeeded to the bustling life which had till then filled
the Aberfoyle mines.
One man alone remained by James Starr. This was the overman,
Simon Ford. Near him stood a boy, about fifteen years of age,
who for some years already had been employed down below.
James Starr and Simon Ford knew and esteemed each other well.
"Good-by, Simon," said the engineer.
"Good-by, Mr. Starr," replied the overman, "let me add,
till we meet again!"
"Yes, till we meet again. Ford!" answered James Starr. "You know
that I shall be always glad to see you, and talk over old times."
"I know that, Mr. Starr."
"My house in Edinburgh is always open to you."
"It's a long way off, is Edinburgh!" answered the man shaking his head.
"Ay, a long way from the Dochart pit."
"A long way, Simon? Where do you mean to live?"
"Even here, Mr. Starr! We're not going to leave the mine,
our good old nurse, just because her milk is dried up!
My wife, my boy, and myself, we mean to remain faithful to her!"
"Good-by then, Simon," replied the engineer, whose voice,
in spite of himself, betrayed some emotion.
"No, I tell you, it's TILL WE MEET AGAIN, Mr. Starr,
and not Just 'good-by,'" returned the foreman. "Mark my words,
Aberfoyle will see you again!"
The engineer did not try to dispel the man's illusion. He
patted Harry's head, again wrung the father's hand, and left the mine.
All this had taken place ten years ago; but, notwithstanding the wish
which the overman had expressed to see him again, during that time
Starr had heard nothing of him. It was after ten years of separation
that he got this letter from Simon Ford, requesting him to take without
delay the road to the old Aberfoyle colliery.
A communication of an interesting nature, what could it be?
Dochart pit. Yarrow shaft! What recollections of the past
these names brought back to him! Yes, that was a fine time,
that of work, of struggle,--the best part of the engineer's life.
Starr re-read his letter. He pondered over it in all its bearings.
He much regretted that just a line more had not been added
by Ford. He wished he had not been quite so laconic.
Was it possible that the old foreman had discovered some
new vein? No! Starr remembered with what minute care the mines
had been explored before the definite cessation of the works.
He had himself proceeded to the lowest soundings without finding
the least trace in the soil, burrowed in every direction.
They had even attempted to find coal under strata which are usually
below it, such as the Devonian red sandstone, but without result.
James Starr had therefore abandoned the mine with the absolute
conviction that it did not contain another bit of coal.
"No," he repeated, "no! How is it possible that anything
which could have escaped my researches, should be revealed
to those of Simon Ford. However, the old overman must well
know that such a discovery would be the one thing in the world
to interest me, and this invitation, which I must keep secret,
to repair to the Dochart pit!" James Starr always came
back to that.
On the other hand, the engineer knew Ford to be a clever miner,
peculiarly endowed with the instinct of his trade.
He had not seen him since the time when the Aberfoyle
colliery was abandoned, and did not know either what he was
doing or where he was living, with his wife and his son.
All that he now knew was, that a rendezvous had been appointed
him at the Yarrow shaft, and that Harry, Simon Ford's son,
was to wait for him during the whole of the next day at
the Callander station.
"I shall go, I shall go!" said Starr, his excitement increasing
as the time drew near.
Our worthy engineer belonged to that class of men whose brain is always
on the boil, like a kettle on a hot fire. In some of these brain
kettles the ideas bubble over, in others they just simmer quietly.
Now on this day, James Starr's ideas were boiling fast.
But suddenly an unexpected incident occurred. This was the drop of cold
water, which in a moment was to condense all the vapors of the brain.
About six in the evening, by the third post, Starr's servant brought
him a second letter. This letter was enclosed in a coarse envelope,
and evidently directed by a hand unaccustomed to the use of a pen.
James Starr tore it open. It contained only a scrap of paper,
yellowed by time, and apparently torn out of an old copy book.
On this paper was written a single sentence, thus worded:
"It is useless for the engineer James Starr to trouble himself,
Simon Ford's letter being now without object."
CHAPTER II ON THE ROAD
THE course of James Starr's ideas was abruptly stopped,
when he got this second letter contradicting the first.
"What does this mean?" said he to himself. He took up the torn envelope,
and examined it. Like the other, it bore the Aberfoyle postmark.
It had therefore come from the same part of the county of Stirling.
The old miner had evidently not written it. But, no less evidently,
the author of this second letter knew the overman's secret,
since it expressly contradicted the invitation to the engineer to go
to the Yarrow shaft.
Was it really true that the first communication was now without object?
Did someone wish to prevent James Starr from troubling himself either
uselessly or otherwise? Might there not be rather a malevolent intention
to thwart Ford's plans?
This was the conclusion at which James Starr arrived,
after mature reflection. The contradiction which existed
between the two letters only wrought in him a more keen
desire to visit the Dochart pit. And besides, if after all it was
a hoax, it was well worth while to prove it. Starr also thought it
wiser to give more credence to the first letter than to the second;
that is to say, to the request of such a man as Simon Ford,
rather than to the warning of his anonymous contradictor.
"Indeed," said he, "the fact of anyone endeavoring to influence my
resolution, shows that Ford's communication must be of great importance.
To-morrow, at the appointed time, I shall be at the rendezvous."
In the evening, Starr made his preparations for departure.
As it might happen that his absence would be prolonged for some days,
he wrote to Sir W. Elphiston, President of the Royal Institution,
that he should be unable to be present at the next meeting
of the Society. He also wrote to excuse himself from two
or three engagements which he had made for the week.
Then, having ordered his servant to pack a traveling bag,
he went to bed, more excited than the affair perhaps warranted.
The next day, at five o'clock, James Starr jumped out of bed,
dressed himself warmly, for a cold rain was falling, and left his
house in the Canongate, to go to Granton Pier to catch the steamer,
which in three hours would take him up the Forth as far as Stirling.
For the first time in his life, perhaps, in passing along the Canongate,
he did NOT TURN TO LOOK AT HOLYROOD, the palace of the former
sovereigns of Scotland. He did not notice the sentinels who stood
before its gateways, dressed in the uniform of their Highland regiment,
tartan kilt, plaid and sporran complete. His whole thought was to reach
Callander where Harry Ford was supposedly awaiting him.
The better to understand this narrative, it will be as well to hear
a few words on the origin of coal. During the geological epoch,
when the terrestrial spheroid was still in course of formation,
a thick atmosphere surrounded it, saturated with watery vapors,
and copiously impregnated with carbonic acid. The vapors gradually
condensed in diluvial rains, which fell as if they had leapt
from the necks of thousands of millions of seltzer water bottles.
This liquid, loaded with carbonic acid, rushed in torrents over
a deep soft soil, subject to sudden or slow alterations of