"Oh! Mr. Starr," said Simon Ford, a prey to agitation, which he did not attempt to conceal, "never, no, never has my old heart beaten so quick before! I am longing to get at the vein!"
"Patience, Simon!" responded the engineer. "You don't mean to say that you think you are going to find a passage all ready open behind that dyke?"
"Excuse me, sir," answered the old overman; "but of course I think so! If there was good luck in the way Harry and I discovered this place, why shouldn't the good luck go on?"
As he spoke, came the explosion. A sound as of thunder rolled through the labyrinth of subterranean galleries. Starr, Madge, Harry, and Simon Ford hastened towards the spot.
"Mr. Starr! Mr. Starr!" shouted the overman. "Look! the door is broken open!"
Ford's comparison was justified by the appearance of an excavation, the depth of which could not be calculated. Harry was about to spring through the opening; but the engineer, though excessively surprised to find this cavity, held him back. "Allow time for the air in there to get pure," said he.
"Yes! beware of the foul air!" said Simon.
A quarter of an hour was passed in anxious waiting. The lantern was then fastened to the end of a stick, and introduced into the cave, where it continued to burn with unaltered brilliancy. "Now then, Harry, go," said Starr, "and we will follow you."
The opening made by the dynamite was sufficiently large to allow a man to pass through. Harry, lamp in hand, entered unhesitatingly, and disappeared in the darkness. His father, mother, and James Starr waited in silence. A minute--which seemed to them much longer--passed. Harry did not reappear, did not call. Gazing into the opening,
James Starr could not even see the light of his lamp, which ought to have illuminated the dark cavern.
Had the ground suddenly given way under Harry's feet? Had the young miner fallen into some crevice? Could his voice no longer reach his companions?
The old overman, dead to their remonstrances, was about to enter the opening, when a light appeared, dim at first, but gradually growing brighter, and Harry's voice was heard shouting, "Come, Mr. Starr! come, father! The road to New Aberfoyle is open!"
If, by some superhuman power, engineers could have raised in a block, a thousand feet thick, all that portion of the terrestrial crust which supports the lakes, rivers, gulfs, and territories of the counties of Stirling, Dumbarton, and Renfrew, they would have found, under that enormous lid, an immense excavation, to which but one other in the world can be compared-- the celebrated Mammoth caves of Kentucky. This excavation was composed of several hundred divisions of all sizes and shapes. It might be called a hive with numberless ranges of cells, capriciously arranged, but a hive on a vast scale, and which, instead of bees, might have lodged all the ichthyosauri, megatheriums, and ptero-dactyles of the geological epoch.
A labyrinth of galleries, some higher than the most lofty cathedrals, others like cloisters, narrow and winding--these following a horizontal line, those on an incline or running obliquely in all directions-- connected the caverns and allowed free communication between them.
The pillars sustaining the vaulted roofs, whose curves allowed of every style, the massive walls between the passages, the naves themselves in this layer of secondary formation, were composed of sandstone and schistous rocks. But tightly packed between these useless strata ran valuable veins of coal, as if the black blood of this strange mine had circulated through their tangled network. These fields extended forty miles north and south, and stretched even under the Caledonian Canal. The importance of this bed could not be calculated until after soundings, but it would certainly surpass those of Cardiff and Newcastle.
We may add that the working of this mine would be singularly facilitated by the fantastic dispositions of the secondary earths; for by an unaccountable retreat of the mineral matter at the geological epoch, when the mass was solidifying, nature had already multiplied the galleries and tunnels of New Aberfoyle.