It was a good Scotch dinner. First they ate "hotchpotch," soup with the meat swimming in capital broth. As old Simon said, his wife knew no rival in the art of preparing hotchpotch. It was the same with the "cockyleeky," a cock stewed with leeks, which merited high praise. The whole was washed down with excellent ale, obtained from the best brewery in Edinburgh.
But the principal dish consisted of a "haggis," the national pudding, made of meat and barley meal. This remarkable dish, which inspired the poet Burns with one of his best odes, shared the fate of all the good things in this world--it passed away like a dream.
Madge received the sincere compliments of her guest. The dinner ended with cheese and oatcake, accompanied by a few small glasses of "usquebaugh," capital whisky, five and twenty years old--just Harry's age. The repast lasted a good hour. James Starr and Simon Ford had not only eaten much, but talked much too, chiefly of their past life in the old Aberfoyle mine.
Harry had been rather silent. Twice he had left the table, and even the house. He evidently felt uneasy since the incident of the stone, and wished to examine the environs
of the cottage. The anonymous letter had not contributed to reassure him.
Whilst he was absent, the engineer observed to Ford and his wife, "That's a fine lad you have there, my friends."
"Yes, Mr. Starr, he is a good and affectionate son," replied the old overman earnestly.
"Is he happy with you in the cottage?"
"He would not wish to leave us."
"Don't you think of finding him a wife, some day?"
"A wife for Harry," exclaimed Ford. "And who would it be? A girl from up yonder, who would love merry-makings and dancing, who would prefer her clan to our mine! Harry wouldn't do it!"
"Simon," said Madge, "you would not forbid that Harry should take a wife."
"I would forbid nothing," returned the old miner, "but there's no hurry about that. Who knows but we may find one for him--"
Harry re-entered at that moment, and Simon Ford was silent.
When Madge rose from the table, all followed her example, and seated themselves at the door of the cottage. "Well, Simon," said the engineer, "I am ready to hear you."
"Mr. Starr," responded Ford, "I do not need your ears, but your legs. Are you quite rested?"
"Quite rested and quite refreshed, Simon. I am ready to go with you wherever you like."
"Harry," said Simon Ford, turning to his son, "light our safety lamps."
"Are you going to take safety lamps!" exclaimed James Starr, in amazement, knowing that there was no fear of explosions of fire-damp in a pit quite empty of coal.
"Yes, Mr. Starr, it will be prudent."
"My good Simon, won't you propose next to put me in a miner's dress?"
"Not just yet, sir, not just yet!" returned the old overman, his deep-set eyes gleaming strangely.
Harry soon reappeared, carrying three safety lamps. He handed one of these to the engineer, the other to his father, and kept the third hanging from his left hand, whilst his right was armed with a long stick.
"Forward!" said Simon Ford, taking up a strong pick, which was leaning against the wall of the cottage.
"Forward!" echoed the engineer. "Good-by, Madge."
"GOD speed you!" responded the good woman.
"A good supper, wife, do you hear?" exclaimed Ford. "We shall be hungry when we come back, and will do it justice!"
CHAPTER V SOME STRANGE PHENOMENA
MANY superstitious beliefs exist both in the Highlands and Lowlands of Scotland. Of course the mining population must furnish its contingent of legends and fables to this mythological repertory. If the fields are peopled with imaginary beings, either good or bad, with much more reason must the dark mines be haunted to their lowest depths. Who shakes the seam during tempestuous nights? who puts the miners on the track of an as yet unworked vein? who lights the fire-damp, and presides over the terrible explosions? who but some spirit of the mine? This, at least, was the opinion commonly spread among the superstitious Scotch.