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Chapter 13


THE mining operations at New Aberfoyle continued to be carried on
very successfully.  As a matter of course, the engineer, James Starr,
as well as Simon Ford, the discoverers of this rich carboniferous region,
shared largely in the profits.

In time Harry became a partner.  But he never thought

of quitting the cottage.  He took his father's place as overman,
and diligently superintended the works of this colony of miners.
Jack Ryan was proud and delighted at the good fortune which had
befallen his comrade.  He himself was getting on very well also.

They frequently met, either at the cottage or at the works in the pit.
Jack did not fail to remark the sentiments entertained by Harry
towards Nell.  Harry would not confess to them; but Jack only
laughed at him when he shook his head and tried to deny any special
interest in her.

It must be noted that Jack Ryan had the greatest possible wish to be
of the party when Nell should pay her first visit to the upper surface
of the county of Stirling.  He wished to see her wonder and admiration
on first beholding the yet unknown face of Nature.  He very much hoped
that Harry would take him with them when the excursion was made.
As yet, however, the latter had made no proposal of the kind to him,
which caused him to feel a little uneasy as to his intentions.

One morning Jack Ryan was descending through a shaft which led from
the surface to the lower regions of the pit.  He did so by means
of one of those ladders which, continually revolving by machinery,
enabled persons to ascend and descend without fatigue.
This apparatus had lowered him about a hundred and fifty feet,
when at a narrow landing-place he perceived Harry, who was coming
up to his labors for the day.

"Well met, my friend!" cried Jack, recognizing his comrade by the light
of the electric lamps.

"Ah, Jack!" replied Harry, "I am glad to see you.
I've got something to propose."

"I can listen to nothing till you tell me how Nell is,"
interrupted Jack Ryan.

"Nell is all right, Jack--so much so, in fact, that I hope in a month
or six weeks--"

"To marry her, Harry?"

"Jack, you don't know what you are talking about!"

"Ah, that's very likely; but I know quite well what I shall do."

"What will you do?"

"Marry her myself, if you don't; so look sharp,"
laughed Jack.  "By Saint Mungo!  I think an immense deal of

bonny Nell!  A fine young creature like that, who has been
brought up in the mine, is just the very wife for a miner.
She is an orphan--so am I; and if you don't care much for her,
and if she will have me--"

Harry looked gravely at Jack, and let him talk on without trying
to stop him.  "Don't you begin to feel jealous, Harry?" asked Jack
in a more serious tone.

"Not at all," answered Harry quietly.

"But if you don't marry Nell yourself, you surely can't expect
her to remain a spinster?"

"I expect nothing," said Harry.

A movement of the ladder machinery now gave the two friends
the opportunity--one to go up, the other down the shaft.
However, they remained where they were.

"Harry," quoth Jack, "do you think I spoke in earnest just
now about Nell?"

"No, that I don't, Jack."

"Well, but now I will!"

"You? speak in earnest?"

"My good fellow, I can tell you I am quite capable of giving a friend
a bit of advice."

"Let's hear, then, Jack!"

"Well, look here!  You love Nell as heartily as she deserves.
Old Simon, your father, and old Madge, your mother, both love her
as if she were their daughter.  Why don't you make her so in reality?
Why don't you marry her?"

"Come, Jack," said Harry, "you are running on as if you knew how Nell
felt on the subject."

"Everybody knows that," replied Jack, "and therefore it is
impossible to make you jealous of any of us.  But here goes
the ladder again--I'm off!"

"Stop a minute, Jack!" cried Harry, detaining his companion,
who was stepping onto the moving staircase.

"I say! you seem to mean me to take up my quarters here altogether!"

"Do be serious and listen, Jack!  I want to speak in earnest myself now."

"Well, I'll listen till the ladder moves again, not a minute longer."

"Jack," resumed Harry, "I need not pretend that I do not love Nell; I wish
above all things to make her my wife."

"That's all right!"

"But for the present I have scruples of conscience as to asking
her to make me a promise which would be irrevocable."

"What can you mean, Harry?"

"I mean just this--that, it being certain Nell has never
been outside this coal mine in the very depths of which she
was born, it stands to reason that she knows nothing,
and can comprehend nothing of what exists beyond it.
Her eyes--yes, and perhaps also her heart--have everything
yet to learn.  Who can tell what her thoughts will be,
when perfectly new impressions shall be made upon her mind?
As yet she knows nothing of the world, and to me it would
seem like deceiving her, if I led her to decide in ignorance,
upon choosing to remain all her life in the coal mine.
Do you understand me, Jack?"

"Hem!--yes--pretty well.  What I understand best is that you
are going to make me miss another turn of the ladder."

"Jack," replied Harry gravely, "if this machinery were to stop altogether,
if this landing-place were to fall beneath our feet, you must and shall
hear what I have to say."

"Well done, Harry! that's how I like to be spoken to!
Let's settle, then, that, before you marry Nell, she shall go
to school in Auld Reekie."

"No indeed, Jack; I am perfectly able myself to educate the person
who is to be my wife."

"Sure that will be a great deal better, Harry!"

"But, first of all," resumed Harry, "I wish that Nell should
gain a real knowledge of the upper world.  To illustrate
my meaning, Jack, suppose you were in love with a blind girl,
and someone said to you, 'In a month's time her sight will
be restored,' would you not wait till after she was cured,
to marry her?"

"Faith, to be sure I would!" exclaimed Jack.

"Well, Jack, Nell is at present blind; and before she marries me,
I wish her to see what I am, and what the life really is to which
she would bind herself.  In short, she must have daylight let
in upon the subject!"

"Well said, Harry!  Very well said indeed!" cried Jack.  "Now I
see what you are driving at.  And when may we expect the operation
to come off?"

"In a month, Jack," replied Harry.  "Nell is getting used
to the light of our reflectors.  That is some preparation.
In a month she will, I hope, have seen the earth and its wonders--
the sky and its splendors.  She will perceive that the limits
of the universe are boundless."

But while Harry was thus giving the rein to his imagination, Jack Ryan,
quitting the platform, had leaped on the step of the moving machinery.

"Hullo, Jack!  Where are you?"

"Far beneath you," laughed the merry fellow.  "While you soar
to the heights, I plunge into the depths."

"Fare ye well.  Jack!" returned Harry, himself laying hold
of the rising ladder; "mind you say nothing about what I have
been telling you."

"Not a word," shouted Jack, "but I make one condition."

"What is that?"

"That I may be one of the party when Nell's first excursion
to the face of the earth comes off!"

"So you shall, Jack, I promise you!"

A fresh throb of the machinery placed a yet more considerable distance
between the friends.  Their voices sounded faintly to each other.
Harry, however, could still hear Jack shouting:

"I say! do you know what Nell will like better than either sun,
moon, or stars, after she's seen the whole of them?"

"No, Jack!"

"Why, you yourself, old fellow! still you! always you!"
And Jack's voice died away in a prolonged "Hurrah!"

Harry, after this, applied himself diligently, during all
his spare time, to the work of Nell's education.
He taught her to read and to write, and such rapid progress did
she make, it might have been said that she learnt by instinct.
Never did keen intelligence more quickly triumph over utter ignorance.
It was the wonder of all beholders.

Simon and Madge became every day more and more attached to
their adopted child, whose former history continued to puzzle
them a good deal.  They plainly saw the nature of Harry's
feelings towards her, and were far from displeased thereat.
They recollected that Simon had said to the engineer on his first
visit to the old cottage, "How can our son ever think of marrying?
Where could a wife

possibly be found suitable for a lad whose whole life must be passed
in the depths of a coal mine?"

Well! now it seemed as if the most desirable companion in the world
had been led to him by Providence.  Was not this like a blessing direct
from Heaven?  So the old man made up his mind that, if the wedding did
take place, the miners of New Aberfoyle should have a merry-making
at Coal Town, which they would never during their lives forget.
Simon Ford little knew what he was saying!

It must be remarked that another person wished for this union of Harry
and Nell as much as Simon did--and that was James Starr, the engineer.
Of course he was really interested in the happiness of the two
young people.  But another motive, connected with wider interests,
influenced him to desire it.

It has been said that James Starr continued to entertain a certain amount
of apprehension, although for the present nothing appeared to justify it.
Yet that which had been might again be.  This mystery about the
new cutting--Nell was evidently the only person acquainted with it.
Now, if fresh dangers were in store for the miners of Aberfoyle,
how were they possibly to be guarded against, without so much as knowing
the cause of them?

"Nell has persisted in keeping silence," said James Starr very often,
"but what she has concealed from others, she will not long hide from
her husband.  Any danger would be danger to Harry as well as to the rest
of us.  Therefore, a marriage which brings happiness to the lovers,
and safety to their friends, will be a good marriage, if ever there
is such a thing here below."

Thus, not illogically, reasoned James Starr.  He communicated
his ideas to old Simon, who decidedly appreciated them.
Nothing, then, appeared to stand in the way of the match.
What, in fact, was there to prevent it?  They loved each other;
the parents desired nothing better for their son.
Harry's comrades envied his good fortune, but freely acknowledged
that he deserved it.  The maiden depended on no one else,
and had but to give the consent of her own heart.

Why, then, if there were none to place obstacles in the way
of this union--why, as night came on, and, the labors of the day
being over, the electric lights in the mine were

extinguished, and all the inhabitants of Coal Town at rest
within their dwellings--why did a mysterious form always emerge
from the gloomier recesses of New Aberfoyle, and silently glide
through the darkness?

What instinct guided this phantom with ease through passages
so narrow as to appear to be impracticable?

Why should the strange being, with eyes flashing through
the deepest darkness, come cautiously creeping along the shores
of Lake Malcolm?  Why so directly make his way towards
Simon's cottage, yet so carefully as hitherto to avoid notice?
Why, bending towards the windows, did he strive to catch,
by listening, some fragment of the conversation within
the closed shutters?

And, on catching a few words, why did he shake his fist with a menacing
gesture towards the calm abode, while from between his set teeth issued
these words in muttered fury, "She and he?  Never! never!"

Jules Verne

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