The merry fellow had
thought it his duty to return to his old trade. But though Melrose farm had lost singer and piper it must not be thought that Jack Ryan sung no more. On the contrary, the sonorous echoes of New Aberfoyle exerted their strong lungs to answer him.
Jack Ryan took up his abode in Simon Ford's new cottage. They offered him a room, which he accepted without ceremony, in his frank and hearty way. Old Madge loved him for his fine character and good nature. She in some degree shared his ideas on the subject of the fantastic beings who were supposed to haunt the mine, and the two, when alone, told each other stories wild enough to make one shudder--stories well worthy of enriching the hyperborean mythology.
Jack thus became the life of the cottage. He was, besides being a jovial companion, a good workman. Six months after the works had begun, he was made head of a gang of hewers.
"That was a good work done, Mr. Ford," said he, a few days after his appointment. "You discovered a new field, and though you narrowly escaped paying for the discovery with your life-- well, it was not too dearly bought."
"No, Jack, it was a good bargain we made that time!" answered the old overman. "But neither Mr. Starr nor I have forgotten that to you we owe our lives."
"Not at all," returned Jack. "You owe them to your son Harry, when he had the good sense to accept my invitation to Irvine."
"And not to go, isn't that it?" interrupted Harry, grasping his comrade's hand. "No, Jack, it is to you, scarcely healed of your wounds-- to you, who did not delay a day, no, nor an hour, that we owe our being found still alive in the mine!"
"Rubbish, no!" broke in the obstinate fellow. "I won't have that said, when it's no such thing. I hurried to find out what had become of you, Harry, that's all. But to give everyone his due, I will add that without that unapproachable goblin--"
"Ah, there we are!" cried Ford. "A goblin!"
"A goblin, a brownie, a fairy's child," repeated Jack Ryan, "a cousin of the Fire-Maidens, an Urisk, whatever you like! It's not the less certain that without it we should
never have found our way into the gallery, from which you could not get out."
"No doubt, Jack," answered Harry. "It remains to be seen whether this being was as supernatural as you choose to believe."
"Supernatural!" exclaimed Ryan. "But it was as supernatural as a Will-o'-the-Wisp, who may be seen skipping along with his lantern in his hand; you may try to catch him, but he escapes like a fairy, and vanishes like a shadow! Don't be uneasy, Harry, we shall see it again some day or other!"
"Well, Jack," said Simon Ford, "Will-o'-the-Wisp or not, we shall try to find it, and you must help us."
"You'll get into a scrap if you don't take care, Mr. Ford!" responded Jack Ryan.
"We'll see about that, Jack!"
We may easily imagine how soon this domain of New Aberfoyle became familiar to all the members of the Ford family, but more particularly to Harry. He learnt to know all its most secret ins and outs. He could even say what point of the surface corresponded with what point of the mine. He knew that above this seam lay the Firth of Clyde, that there extended Loch Lomond and Loch Katrine. Those columns supported a spur of the Grampian mountains. This vault served as a basement to Dumbarton. Above this large pond passed the Balloch railway. Here ended the Scottish coast. There began the sea, the tumult of which could be distinctly heard during the equinoctial gales. Harry would have been a first-rate guide to these natural catacombs, and all that Alpine guides do on their snowy peaks in daylight he could have done in the dark mine by the wonderful power of instinct.
He loved New Aberfoyle. Many times, with his lamp stuck in his hat, did he penetrate its furthest depths. He explored its ponds in a skillfully-managed canoe. He even went shooting, for numerous birds had been introduced into the crypt--pintails, snipes, ducks, who fed on the fish which swarmed in the deep waters.