Starr. How could I be otherwise here, sheltered from the inclemencies of the weather? Your ladies who go to Newhaven or Portobello in the summer time would do much better to pass a few months in the coal mine of Aberfoyle! They would run no risk here of catching a heavy cold, as they do in the damp streets of the old capital."
"I'm not the man to contradict you, Simon," answered James Starr, glad to find the old man just as he used to be. "Indeed, I wonder why I do not change my home in the Canongate for a cottage near you."
"And why not, Mr. Starr? I know one of your old miners who would be truly pleased to have only a partition wall between you and him."
"And how is Madge?" asked the engineer.
"The goodwife is in better health than I am, if that's possible," replied Ford, "and it will be a pleasure to her to see you at her table. I think she will surpass herself to do you honor."
"We shall see that, Simon, we shall see that!" said the engineer, to whom the announcement of a good breakfast could not be indifferent, after his long walk.
"Are you hungry, Mr. Starr?"
"Ravenously hungry. My journey has given me an appetite. I came through horrible weather."
"Ah, it is raining up there," responded Simon Ford.
"Yes, Simon, and the waters of the Forth are as rough as the sea."
"Well, Mr. Starr, here it never rains. But I needn't describe to you all the advantages, which you know as well as myself. Here we are at the cottage. That is the chief thing, and I again say you are welcome, sir."
Simon Ford, followed by Harry, ushered their guest into the dwelling. James Starr found himself in a large room lighted by numerous lamps, one hanging from the colored beams of the roof.
"The soup is ready, wife," said Ford, "and it mustn't be kept waiting any more than Mr. Starr. He is as hungry as a miner, and he shall see that our boy doesn't let us want for anything in the cottage! By-the-bye, Harry," added the old overman, turning to his son, "Jack Ryan came here to see you."
"I know, father. We met him in the Yarrow shaft."
"He's an honest and a merry fellow," said Ford; "but he seems to be quite happy above ground. He hasn't the true miner's blood in his veins. Sit down, Mr. Starr, and have a good dinner, for we may not sup till late."
As the engineer and his hosts were taking their places:
"One moment, Simon," said James Starr. "Do you want me to eat with a good appetite?"
"It will be doing us all possible honor, Mr. Starr," answered Ford.
"Well, in order to eat heartily, I must not be at all anxious. Now I have two questions to put to you."
"Go on, sir."
"Your letter told me of a communication which was to be of an interesting nature."
"It is very interesting indeed."
"To you and to me, Mr. Starr. But I do not want to tell it you until after dinner, and on the very spot itself. Without that you would not believe me."
"Simon," resumed the engineer, "look me straight in the face. An interesting communication? Yes. Good! I will not ask more," he added, as if he had read the reply in the old overman's eyes.
"And the second question?" asked the latter.
"Do you know, Simon, who the person is who can have written this?" answered the engineer, handing him the anonymous letter.
Ford took the letter and read it attentively. Then giving it to his son, "Do you know the writing?" he asked.
"No, father," replied Harry.
"And had this letter the Aberfoyle postmark?" inquired Simon Ford.
"Yes, like yours," replied James Starr.
"What do you think of that, Harry?" said his father, his brow darkening.
"I think, father," returned Harry, "that someone has had some interest in trying to prevent Mr. Starr from coming to the place where you invited him."
"But who," exclaimed the old miner, "who could have possibly guessed enough of my secret?" And Simon fell into a reverie, from which he was aroused by his wife.
"Let us begin, Mr. Starr," she said. "The soup is already getting cold. Don't think any more of that letter just now."
On the old woman's invitation, each drew in his chair, James Starr opposite to Madge--to do him honor--the father and son opposite to each other.