Part 3 out of 3
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
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.
An instant afterwards, Nell turned, and pointing towards a bright
prominent point in the New Town, "Fire!" cried she.
"No, Nell, that is no fire," said Harry. "The sun has touched with gold
the top of Sir Walter Scott's monument"--and, indeed, the extreme point
of the monument blazed like the light of a pharos.
It was day--the sun arose--his disc seemed to glitter
as though he indeed emerged from the waters of the sea.
Appearing at first very large from the effects of refraction,
he contracted as he rose and assumed the perfectly circular form.
Soon no eye could endure the dazzling splendor;
it was as though the mouth of a furnace was opened through the sky.
Nell closed her eyes, but her eyelids could not exclude
the glare, and she pressed her fingers over them.
Harry advised her to turn in the opposite direction.
"Oh, no," said she, "my eyes must get used to look at what yours
can bear to see!"
Even through her hands Nell perceived a rosy light,
which became more white as the sun rose above the horizon.
As her sight became accustomed to it, her eyelids were raised,
and at length her eyes drank in the light of day.
The good child knelt down, exclaiming, "Oh Lord God! how
beautiful is Thy creation!" Then she rose and looked around.
At her feet extended the panorama of Edinburgh--the clear,
distinct lines of streets in the New Town, and the irregular
mass of houses, with their confused network of streets
and lanes, which constitutes Auld Reekie, properly so called.
Two heights commanded the entire city; Edinburgh Castle,
crowning its huge basaltic rock, and the Calton Hill,
bearing on its rounded summit, among other monuments, ruins built
to represent those of the Parthenon at Athens.
Fine roadways led in all directions from the capital.
To the north, the coast of the noble Firth of Forth was indented
by a deep bay, in which could be seen the seaport town of Leith,
between which and this Modern Athens of the north ran a street,
straight as that leading to the Piraeus.
Beyond the wide Firth could be seen the soft outlines of the county
of Fife, while beneath the spectator stretched the yellow sands
of Portobello and Newhaven.
Nell could not speak. Her lips murmured a word or two indistinctly;
she trembled, became giddy, her strength failed her;
overcome by the purity of the air and the sublimity of the scene,
she sank fainting into Harry's arms, who, watching her closely,
was ready to support her.
The youthful maiden, hitherto entombed in the massive depths
of the earth, had now obtained an idea of the universe--
of the works both of God and of man. She had looked upon town
and country, and beyond these, into the immensity of the sea,
the infinity of the heavens.
CHAPTER XV LOCH LOMOND AND LOCH KATRINE
HARRY bore Nell carefully down the steeps of Arthur's Seat,
and, accompanied by James Starr and Jack Ryan, they reached
Lambert's Hotel. There a good breakfast restored their strength,
and they began to make further plans for an excursion to
the Highland lakes.
Nell was now refreshed, and able to look boldly forth into the sunshine,
while her lungs with ease inhaled the free and healthful air.
Her eyes learned gladly to know the harmonious varieties of color
as they rested on the green trees, the azure skies, and all the endless
shades of lovely flowers and plants.
The railway train, which they entered at the Waverley Station, conveyed
Nell and her friends to Glasgow. There, from the new bridge across
the Clyde, they watched the curious sea-like movement of the river.
After a night's rest at Comrie's Royal Hotel, they betook themselves
to the terminus of the Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway, from whence
a train would rapidly carry them, by way of Dumbarton and Balloch,
to the southern extremity of Loch Lomond.
"Now for the land of Rob Roy and Fergus MacIvor!--the scenery
immortalized by the poetical descriptions of Walter Scott,"
exclaimed James Starr. "You don't know this country, Jack?"
"Only by its songs, Mr. Starr," replied Jack; "and judging by those,
it must be grand."
"So it is, so it is!" cried the engineer, "and our dear Nell
shall see it to the best advantage."
A steamboat, the SINCLAIR by name, awaited tourists about to make
the excursion to the lakes. Nell and her companions went on board.
The day had begun in brilliant sunshine, free from the British fogs
which so often veil the skies.
The passengers were determined to lose none of the beauties of nature
to be displayed during the thirty miles' voyage. Nell, seated between
James Starr and Harry, drank in with every faculty the magnificent poetry
with which lovely Scottish scenery is fraught. Numerous small isles and
islets soon appeared, as though thickly sown on the bosom of the lake.
The SINCLAIR steamed her way among
them, while between them glimpses could be had of quiet valleys,
or wild rocky gorges on the mainland.
"Nell," said James Starr, "every island here has its legend,
perhaps its song, as well as the mountains which overshadow the lake.
One may, without much exaggeration, say that the history of this
country is written in gigantic characters of mountains and islands."
Nell listened, but these fighting stories made her sad.
Why all that bloodshed on plains which to her seemed enormous,
and where surely there must have been room for everybody?
The shores of the lake form a little harbor at Luss. Nell could
for a moment catch sight of the old tower of its ancient castle.
Then, the SINCLAIR turning northward, the tourists gazed upon Ben Lomond,
towering nearly 3,000 feet above the level of the lake.
"Oh, what a noble mountain!" cried Nell; "what a view there must
be from the top!"
"Yes, Nell," answered James Starr; "see how haughtily its peak
rises from amidst the thicket of oaks, birches, and heather,
which clothe the lower portion of the mountain! From thence one
may see two-thirds of old Caledonia. This eastern side of the lake
was the special abode of the clan McGregor. At no great distance,
the struggles of the Jacobites and Hanoverians repeatedly
dyed with blood these lonely glens. Over these scenes shines
the pale moon, called in old ballads 'Macfarlane's lantern.'
Among these rocks still echo the immortal names of Rob Roy
and McGregor Campbell."
As the SINCLAIR advanced along the base of the mountain,
the country became more and more abrupt in character.
Trees were only scattered here and there; among them were the willows,
slender wands of which were formerly used for hanging persons
of low degree.
"To economize hemp," remarked James Starr.
The lake narrowed very much as it stretched northwards.
The steamer passed a few more islets, Inveruglas, Eilad-whow, where stand
some ruins of a stronghold of the clan MacFarlane. At length the head
of the loch was reached, and the SINCLAIR stopped at Inversnaid.
Leaving Loch Arklet on the left, a steep ascent led to the Inn
of Stronachlacar, on the banks of Loch Katrine.
There, at the end of a light pier, floated a small steamboat,
named, as a matter of course, the Rob Roy. The travelers
immediately went on board; it was about to start. Loch Katrine
is only ten miles in length; its width never exceeds two miles.
The hills nearest it are full of a character peculiar to themselves.
"Here we are on this famous lake," said James Starr. "It has
been compared to an eel on account of its length and windings:
and justly so. They say that it never freezes.
I know nothing about that, but what we want to think of is,
that here are the scenes of the adventures in the Lady of
the Lake. I believe, if friend Jack looked about him carefully,
he might see, still gliding over the surface of the water,
the shade of the slender form of sweet Ellen Douglas."
"To be sure, Mr. Starr," replied Jack; "why should I not?
I may just as well see that pretty girl on the waters of Loch Katrine,
as those ugly ghosts on Loch Malcolm in the coal pit."
It was by this time three o'clock in the afternoon. The less hilly
shores of Loch Katrine westward extended like a picture framed between
Ben An and Ben Venue. At the distance of half a mile was the entrance
to the narrow bay, where was the landing-place for our tourists,
who meant to return to Stirling by Callander.
Nell appeared completely worn out by the continued excitement of the day.
A faint ejaculation was all she was able to utter in token
of admiration as new objects of wonder or beauty met her gaze.
She required some hours of rest, were it but to impress lastingly
the recollection of all she had seen.
Her hand rested in Harry's, and, looking earnestly at her, he said,
"Nell, dear Nell, we shall soon be home again in the gloomy region
of the coal mine. Shall you not pine for what you have seen during
these few hours spent in the glorious light of day?"
"No, Harry," replied the girl; "I shall like to think about it,
but I am glad to go back with you to our dear old home."
"Nell!" said Harry, vainly attempting to steady his voice,
"are you willing to be bound to me by the most sacred tie?
Could you marry me, Nell?"
"Yes, Harry, I could, if you are sure that I am able to make you happy,"
answered the maiden, raising her innocent eyes to his.
Scarcely had she pronounced these words when an unaccountable
phenomenon took place. The Rob Roy, still half a mile
from land, experienced a violent shock. She suddenly grounded.
No efforts of the engine could move her.
The cause of this accident was simply that Loch Katrine was all at
once emptied, as though an enormous fissure had opened in its bed.
In a few seconds it had the appearance of a sea beach at low water.
Nearly the whole of its contents had vanished into the bosom
of the earth.
"My friends!" exclaimed James Starr, as the cause of this marvel
became suddenly clear to him, "God help New Aberfoyle!"
CHAPTER XVI A FINAL THREAT
ON that day, in the colliery of New Aberfoyle, work was going on in
the usual regular way. In the distance could be heard the crash of great
charges of dynamite, by which the carboniferous rocks were blasted.
Here masses of coal were loosened by pick-ax and crowbar;
there the perforating machines, with their harsh grating,
bored through the masses of sandstone and schist.
Hollow, cavernous noises resounded on all sides.
Draughts of air rushed along the ventilating galleries,
and the wooden swing-doors slammed beneath their violent gusts.
In the lower tunnels, trains of trucks kept passing along at
the rate of fifteen miles an hour, while at their approach electric
bells warned the workmen to cower down in the refuge places.
Lifts went incessantly up and down, worked by powerful engines
on the surface of the soil. Coal Town was throughout brilliantly
lighted by the electric lamps at full power.
Mining operations were being carried on with the greatest activity;
coal was being piled incessantly into the trucks, which went in hundreds
to empty themselves into the corves at the bottom of the shaft.
While parties of miners who
had labored during the night were taking needful rest, the others
worked without wasting an hour.
Old Simon Ford and Madge, having finished their dinner, were resting
at the door of their cottage. Simon smoked a good pipe of tobacco,
and from time to time the old couple spoke of Nell, of their boy,
of Mr. Starr, and wondered how they liked their trip to the surface
of the earth. Where would they be now? What would they be doing?
How could they stay so long away from the mine without feeling homesick?
Just then a terrific roaring noise was heard. It was like the sound of a
mighty cataract rushing down into the mine. The old people rose hastily.
They perceived at once that the waters of Loch Malcolm were rising.
A great wave, unfurling like a billow, swept up the bank and broke
against the walls of the cottage. Simon caught his wife in his arms,
and carried her to the upper part of their dwelling.
At the same moment, cries arose from all parts of Coal Town,
which was threatened by a sudden inundation. The inhabitants fled
for safety to the top of the schist rocks bordering the lake;
terror spread in all directions; whole families in frantic haste
rushed towards the tunnel in order to reach the upper regions
of the pit.
It was feared that the sea had burst into the colliery, for its galleries
and passages penetrated as far as the Caledonian Canal. In that case
the entire excavation, vast as it was, would be completely flooded.
Not a single inhabitant of New Aberfoyle would escape death.
But when the foremost fugitives reached the entrance to the tunnel,
they encountered Simon Ford, who had quitted his cottage.
"Stop, my friends, stop!" shouted the old man; "if our town
is to be overwhelmed, the floods will rush faster than you can;
no one can possibly escape. But see! the waters are rising
no further! it appears to me the danger is over."
"And our comrades at the far end of the works--what about them?"
cried some of the miners.
"There is nothing to fear for them," replied Simon; "they are working
on a higher level than the bed of the loch."
It was soon evident that the old man was in the right.
The sudden influx of water had rushed to the very lowest
bed of the vast mine, and its only ultimate effect was to raise
the level of Loch Malcolm a few feet. Coal Town was uninjured,
and it was reasonable to hope that no one had perished in the flood
of water which had descended to the depths of the mine never yet
penetrated by the workmen.
Simon and his men could not decide whether this inundation was owing
to the overflow of a subterranean sheet of water penetrating fissures
in the solid rock, or to some underground torrent breaking through its
worn bed, and precipitating itself to the lowest level of the mine.
But that very same evening they knew what to think about it,
for the local papers published an account of the marvelous phenomenon
which Loch Katrine had exhibited.
The surprising news was soon after confirmed by the four travelers, who,
returning with all possible speed to the cottage, learned with extreme
satisfaction that no serious damage was done in New Aberfoyle.
The bed of Loch Katrine had fairly given way. The waters had suddenly
broken through by an enormous fissure into the mine beneath.
Of Sir Walter Scott's favorite loch there was not left enough to wet
the pretty foot of the Lady of the Lake; all that remained was a pond
of a few acres at the further extremity.
This singular event made a profound sensation in the country.
It was a thing unheard of that a lake should in the space of a few
minutes empty itself, and disappear into the bowels of the earth.
There was nothing for it but to erase Loch Katrine from the map of
Scotland until (by public subscription) it could be refilled, care being
of course taken, in the first place, to stop the rent up tight.
This catastrophe would have been the death of Sir Walter Scott,
had he still been in the world.
The accident was explicable when it was ascertained that,
between the bed of the lake and the vast cavity beneath,
the geological strata had become reduced to a thin layer,
incapable of longer sustaining the weight of water.
Now, although to most people this event seemed plainly due
to natural causes, yet to James Starr and his friends,
Simon and Harry Ford, the question constantly recurred,
was it not rather to be attributed to malevolence?
Uneasy suspicions continually harassed their minds.
Was their evil
genius about to renew his persecution of those who ventured to work
this rich mine?
At the cottage, some days later, James Starr thus discussed
the matter with the old man and his son: "Well, Simon," said he,
"to my thinking we must class this circumstance with the others
for which we still seek elucidation, although it is no doubt
possible to explain it by natural causes."
"I am quite of your mind, Mr. James," replied Simon, "but take my advice,
and say nothing about it; let us make all researches ourselves."
"Oh, I know the result of such research beforehand!" cried the engineer.
"And what will it be, then?"
"We shall find proofs of malevolence, but not the malefactor."
"But he exists! he is there! Where can he lie concealed?
Is it possible to conceive that the most depraved human being could,
single-handed, carry out an idea so infernal as that of bursting
through the bed of a lake? I believe I shall end by thinking,
like Jack Ryan, that the evil demon of the mine revenges himself
on us for having invaded his domain."
Nell was allowed to hear as little as possible of these discussions.
Indeed, she showed no desire to enter into them, although it was
very evident that she shared in the anxieties of her adopted parents.
The melancholy in her countenance bore witness to much mental agitation.
It was at length resolved that James Starr, together with
Simon and Harry, should return to the scene of the disaster,
and endeavor to satisfy themselves as to the cause of it.
They mentioned their project to no one. To those unacquainted
with the group of facts on which it was based, the opinion of Starr
and his friends could not fail to appear wholly inadmissible.
A few days later, the three friends proceeded in a small boat to examine
the natural pillars on which had rested the solid earth forming
the basin of Loch Katrine. They discovered that they had been right
in suspecting that the massive columns had been undermined by blasting.
The blackened traces of explosion were to be seen, the waters having
subsided below the level of these mysterious operations
Thus the fall of a portion of the vast vaulted dome was
proved to have been premeditated by man, and by man's hand
had it been effected.
"It is impossible to doubt it," said James Starr; "and who can say
what might not have happened had the sea, instead of a little loch,
been let in upon us?"
"You may well say that," cried the old overman, with a feeling of pride
in his beloved mine; "for nothing less than a sea would have drowned
our Aberfoyle. But, once more, what possible interest could any human
being have in the destruction of our works?"
"It is quite incomprehensible," replied James Starr. "This case is
something perfectly unlike that of a band of common criminals, who,
concealing themselves in dens and caves, go forth to rob and pillage
the surrounding country. The evil deeds of such men would certainly,
in the course of three years have betrayed their existence and
lurking-places. Neither can it be, as I sometimes used to think,
that smugglers or coiners carried on their illegal practices
in some distant and unknown corner of these prodigious caverns,
and were consequently anxious to drive us out of them.
But no one coins false money or obtains contraband goods only
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.
"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.
He threatens to destroy the whole of New Aberfoyle. His is
a soul incapable of mercy or forgiveness, and no mortal can
say to what horrid deed the spirit of revenge will lead him.
My duty is clear; I should be the most despicable creature on earth
did I hesitate to perform it. Farewell! I thank you all heartily.
You only have taught me what happiness is. Whatever may befall,
believe that my whole heart remains with you."
At these words, Simon, Madge, and Harry started up in an agony of grief,
exclaiming in tones of despair, "What, Nell! is it possible you
would leave us?"
James Starr put them all aside with an air of authority, and,
going straight up to Nell, he took both her hands in his,
saying quietly, "Very right, my child; you have said exactly what you
ought to say; and now listen to what we have to say in reply.
We shall not let you go away; if necessary, we shall keep you by force.
Do you think we could be so base as to accept of your generous proposal?
These threats of Silfax are formidable--no doubt about it!
But, after all, a man is but a man, and we can take precautions.
You will tell us, will you not, even for his own sake, all you can
about his habits and his lurking-places? All we want to do is to put
it out of his power to do harm, and perhaps bring him to reason."
"You want to do what is quite impossible," said Nell. "My grandfather
is everywhere and nowhere. I have never seen his retreats.
I have never seen him sleep. If he meant to conceal himself,
he used to leave me alone, and vanish. When I took my resolution,
Mr. Starr, I was aware of everything you could say against it.
Believe me, there is but one way to render Silfax powerless,
and that will be by my return to him. Invisible himself,
he sees everything that goes on. Just think whether it is
likely he could discover your very thoughts and intentions,
from that time when the letter was written to Mr. Starr,
up to now that my marriage with Harry has been arranged, if he did
not possess the extraordinary faculty of knowing everything.
As far as I
am able to judge, my grandfather, in his very insanity,
is a man of most powerful mind. He formerly used to talk to me
on very lofty subjects. He taught me the existence of God,
and never deceived me but on one point, which was--that he made me
believe that all men were base and perfidious, because he wished
to inspire me with his own hatred of all the human race.
When Harry brought me to the cottage, you thought I was simply
ignorant of mankind, but, far beyond that, I was in mortal fear
of you all. Ah, forgive me! I assure you, for many days I
believed myself in the power of wicked wretches, and I longed
to escape. You, Madge, first led me to perceive the truth,
not by anything you said, but by the sight of your daily life,
for I saw that your husband and son loved and respected you!
Then all these good and happy workmen, who so revere
and trust Mr. Starr, I used to think they were slaves;
and when, for the first time, I saw the whole population
of Aberfoyle come to church and kneel down to pray to God,
and praise Him for His infinite goodness, I said to myself,
'My grandfather has deceived me.' But now, enlightened by all you
have taught me, I am inclined to think he himself is deceived.
I mean to return to the secret passages I formerly frequented
with him. He is certain to be on the watch. I will call to him;
he will hear me, and who knows but that, by returning to him,
I may be able to bring him to the knowledge of the truth?"
The maiden spoke without interruption, for all felt that it
was good for her to open her whole heart to her friends.
But when, exhausted by emotion, and with eyes full of tears,
she ceased speaking, Harry turned to old Madge and said,
"Mother, what should you think of the man who could forsake
the noble girl whose words you have been listening to?"
"I should think he was a base coward," said Madge, "and, were he my son,
I should renounce and curse him."
"Nell, do you hear what our mother says?" resumed Harry. "Wherever you
go I will follow you. If you persist in leaving us, we will
go away together."
"Harry! Harry!" cried Nell.
Overcome by her feelings, the girl's lips blanched, and she sank
into the arms of Madge, who begged she might be left alone with her.
CHAPTER XVIII NELL'S WEDDING
IT was agreed that the inhabitants of the cottage must keep more on
their guard than ever. The threats of old Silfax were too serious
to be disregarded. It was only too possible that he possessed some
terrible means by which the whole of Aberfoyle might be annihilated.
Armed sentinels were posted at the various entrances to
the mine, with orders to keep strict watch day and night.
Any stranger entering the mine was brought before James Starr,
that he might give an account of himself. There being no fear
of treason among the inhabitants of Coal Town, the threatened
danger to the subterranean colony was made known to them.
Nell was informed of all the precautions taken, and became
more tranquil, although she was not free from uneasiness.
Harry's determination to follow her wherever she went compelled
her to promise not to escape from her friends.
During the week preceding the wedding, no accident whatever
occurred in Aberfoyle. The system of watching was carefully
maintained, but the miners began to recover from the panic,
which had seriously interrupted the work of excavation.
James Starr continued to look out for Silfax. The old man having
vindictively declared that Nell should never marry Simon's son,
it was natural to suppose that he would not hesitate to commit
any violent deed which would hinder their union.
The examination of the mine was carried on minutely.
Every passage and gallery was searched, up to those higher ranges
which opened out among the ruins of Dundonald Castle. It was rightly
supposed that through this old building Silfax passed out to obtain
what was needful for the support of his miserable existence
(which he must have done, either by purchasing or thieving).
As to the "fire-maidens," James Starr began to think that appearance
must have been produced by some jet of fire-damp gas which,
issuing from that part of the pit, could be lighted by Silfax. He was
not far wrong; but all search for proof of this was fruitless,
and the continued strain of anxiety in this perpetual effort
to detect a malignant and invisible being rendered the engineer--
outwardly calm--an unhappy man.
As the wedding-day approached, his dread of some catastrophe increased,
and he could not but speak of it to the old overman, whose uneasiness
soon more than equaled his own. At length the day came.
Silfax had given no token of existence.
By daybreak the entire population of Coal Town was astir.
Work was suspended; overseers and workmen alike desired to do
honor to Simon Ford and his son. They all felt they owed a large
debt of gratitude to these bold and persevering men, by whose
means the mine had been restored to its former prosperity.
The ceremony was to take place at eleven o'clock, in St. Giles's chapel,
which stood on the shores of Loch Malcolm.
At the appointed time, Harry left the cottage,
supporting his mother on his arm, while Simon led the bride.
Following them came Starr, the engineer, composed in manner,
but in reality nerved to expect the worst, and Jack Ryan,
stepping superb in full Highland piper's costume.
Then came the other mining engineers, the principal people
of Coal Town, the friends and comrades of the old overman--
every member of this great family of miners forming the population
of New Aberfoyle.
In the outer world, the day was one of the hottest of the month
of August, peculiarly oppressive in northern countries. The sultry air
penetrated the depths of the coal mine, and elevated the temperature.
The air which entered through the ventilating shafts, and the great
tunnel of Loch Malcolm, was charged with electricity, and the barometer,
it was afterwards remarked, had fallen in a remarkable manner.
There was, indeed, every indication that a storm might burst forth
beneath the rocky vault which formed the roof of the enormous crypt
of the very mine itself.
But the inhabitants were not at that moment troubling themselves
about the chances of atmospheric disturbance above ground.
Everybody, as a matter of course, had put on his best clothes
for the occasion. Madge was dressed in the fashion of days
gone by, wearing the "toy" and the "rokelay," or Tartan plaid,
of matrons of the olden time, old Simon wore a coat of which
Bailie Nicol Jarvie himself would have approved.
Nell had resolved to show nothing of her mental agitation;
she forbade her heart to beat, or her inward terrors to
betray themselves, and the brave girl appeared before all with a calm
and collected aspect. She had declined every ornament of dress,
and the very simplicity of her attire added to the charming elegance
of her appearance. Her hair was bound with the "snood," the usual
head-dress of Scottish maidens.
All proceeded towards St. Giles's chapel, which had been handsomely
decorated for the occasion.
The electric discs of light which illuminated Coal Town
blazed like so many suns. A luminous atmosphere pervaded
New Aberfoyle. In the chapel, electric lamps shed a glow over
the stained-glass windows, which shone like fiery kaleidoscopes.
At the porch of the chapel the minister awaited the arrival
of the wedding party.
It approached, after having passed in stately procession along
the shore of Loch Malcolm. Then the tones of the organ were heard,
and, preceded by the minister, the group advanced into the chapel.
The Divine blessing was first invoked on all present.
Then Harry and Nell remained alone before the minister,
who, holding the sacred book in his hand, proceeded to say,
"Harry, will you take Nell to be your wife, and will you promise
to love her always?"
"I promise," answered the young man in a firm and steady voice.
"And you, Nell," continued the minister, "will you take Harry
to be your husband, and--"
Before he could finish the sentence, a prodigious noise resounded
from without. One of the enormous rocks, on which was formed
the terrace overhanging the banks of Loch Malcolm, had suddenly
given way and opened without explosion, disclosing a profound abyss,
into which the waters were now wildly plunging.
In another instant, among the shattered rocks and rushing waves appeared
a canoe, which a vigorous arm propelled along the surface of the lake.
In the canoe was seen the figure of an old man standing upright.
He was clothed in a dark mantle, his hair was dishevelled, a long
white beard fell over his breast, and in his hand he bore a lighted
Davy safety lamp, the flame being protected by the metallic gauze
of the apparatus.
In a loud voice this old man shouted, "The fire-damp is upon you!
Woe--woe betide ye all!"
At the same moment the slight smell peculiar to carburetted hydrogen
was perceptibly diffused through the atmosphere. And, in truth,
the fall of the rock had made a passage of escape for an enormous
quantity of explosive gas, accumulated in vast cavities, the openings
to which had hitherto been blocked up.
Jets and streams of the fire-damp now rose upward in the vaulted dome;
and well did that fierce old man know that the consequence of what he had
done would be to render explosive the whole atmosphere of the mine.
James Starr and several others, having hastily quitted the chapel,
and perceived the imminence of the danger, now rushed back,
crying out in accents of the utmost alarm, "Fly from the mine!
Fly instantly from the mine!"
"Now for the fire-damp! Here comes the fire-damp!" yelled the old man,
urging his canoe further along the lake.
Harry with his bride, his father and his mother, left the chapel
in haste and in terror.
"Fly! fly for your lives!" repeated James Starr. Alas! it was
too late to fly! Old Silfax stood there, prepared to fulfill
his last dreadful threat--prepared to stop the marriage of Nell
and Harry by overwhelming the entire population of the place
beneath the ruins of the coal mine.
As he stood ready to accomplish this act of vengeance, his enormous owl,
whose white plumage was marked with black spots, was seen hovering
directly above his head.
At that moment a man flung himself into the waters of the lake,
and swam vigorously towards the canoe.
It was Jack Ryan, fully determined to reach the madman before he could
do the dreadful deed of destruction.
Silfax saw him coming. Instantly he smashed the glass of his lamp,
and, snatching out the burning wick, waved it in the air.
Silence like death fell upon the astounded multitude. James Starr,
in the calmness of despair, marvelled that the inevitable explosion
was even for a moment delayed.
Silfax, gazing upwards with wild and contracted features, appeared to
become aware that the gas, lighter than the lower atmosphere,
was accumulating far up under the dome; and at a sign from him the owl,
seizing in its claw the lighted match, soared upwards to the vaulted roof,
towards which the madman pointed with outstretched arm.
Another second and New Aberfoyle would be no more.
Suddenly Nell sprang from Harry's arms, and, with a bright
look of inspiration, she ran to the very brink of the waters
of the lake. "Harfang! Harfang!" cried she in a clear voice;
"here! come to me!"
The faithful bird, surprised, appeared to hesitate in its flight.
Presently, recognizing Nell's voice, it dropped the burning match
into the water, and, describing a wide circle, flew downwards,
alighting at the maiden's feet.
Then a terrible cry echoed through the vaulted roofs.
It was the last sound uttered by old Silfax.
Just as Jack Ryan laid his hand on the edge of the canoe, the old man,
foiled in his purpose of revenge, cast himself headlong into the waters
of the lake.
"Save him! oh, save him!" shrieked Nell in a voice of agony.
Immediately Harry plunged into the water, and, swimming towards
Jack Ryan, he dived repeatedly.
But his efforts were useless. The waters of Loch Malcolm yielded
not their prey: they closed forever over Silfax.
CHAPTER XIX THE LEGEND OF OLD SILFAX
Six months after these events, the marriage, so strangely interrupted,
was finally celebrated in St. Giles's chapel, and the young couple,
who still wore mourning garments, returned to the cottage.
James Starr and Simon Ford, henceforth free from the anxieties which
had so long distressed them, joyously presided over the entertainment
which followed the ceremony, and prolonged it to the following day.
On this memorable occasion, Jack Ryan, in his favorite character of piper,
and in all the glory of full dress, blew up his chanter, and astonished
the company by the unheard of achievement of playing, singing, and dancing
all at once.
It is needless to say that Harry and Nell were happy.
These loving hearts, after the trials they had gone through found
in their union the happiness they deserved.
As to Simon Ford, the ex-overman of New Aberfoyle, he began to talk
of celebrating his golden wedding, after
fifty years of marriage with good old Madge, who liked
the idea immensely herself.
"And after that, why not golden wedding number two?"
"You would like a couple of fifties, would you, Mr. Simon?"
said Jack Ryan.
"All right, my boy," replied the overman quietly, "I see nothing
against it in this fine climate of ours, and living far from
the luxury and intemperance of the outer world."
Will the dwellers in Coal Town ever be called to witness this
second ceremony? Time will show. Certainly the strange bird
of old Silfax seemed destined to attain a wonderful longevity.
The Harfang continued to haunt the gloomy recesses of the cave.
After the old man's death, Nell had attempted to keep the owl,
but in a very few days he flew away. He evidently disliked
human society as much as his master had done, and, besides that,
he appeared to have a particular spite against Harry. The jealous
bird seemed to remember and hate him for having carried off Nell
from the deep abyss, notwithstanding all he could do to prevent him.
Still, at long intervals, Nell would see the creature hovering
above Loch Malcolm.
Could he possibly be watching for his friend of yore?
Did he strive to pierce, with keen eye, the depths which had
engulfed his master?
The history of the Harfang became legendary, and furnished
Jack Ryan with many a tale and song. Thanks to him, the story
of old Silfax and his bird will long be preserved, and handed
down to future generations of the Scottish peasantry.