awoke to consciousness, as from a long sleep, the old Scotchwoman began to question her a little.
"What do they call you, my dear?" said she.
"Nell," replied the girl.
"Do you feel anything the matter with you, Nell?"
"I am hungry. I have eaten nothing since--since--"
Nell uttered these few words like one unused to speak much. They were in the Gaelic language, which was often spoken by Simon and his family. Madge immediately brought her some food; she was evidently famished. It was impossible to say how long she might have been in that pit.
"How many days had you been down there, dearie?" inquired Madge.
Nell made no answer; she seemed not to understand the question.
"How many days, do you think?"
"Days?" repeated Nell, as though the word had no meaning for her, and she shook her head to signify entire want of comprehension.
Madge took her hand, and stroked it caressingly. "How old are you, my lassie?" she asked, smiling kindly at her.
Nell shook her head again.
"Yes, yes," continued Madge, "how many years old?"
"Years?" replied Nell. She seemed to understand that word no better than days! Simon, Harry, Jack, and the rest, looked on with an air of mingled compassion, wonder, and sympathy. The state of this poor thing, clothed in a miserable garment of coarse woolen stuff, seemed to impress them painfully.
Harry, more than all the rest, seemed attracted by the very peculiarity of this poor stranger. He drew near, took Nell's hand from his mother, and looked directly at her, while something like a smile curved her lip. "Nell," he said, "Nell, away down there--in the mine--were you all alone?"
"Alone! alone!" cried the girl, raising herself hastily. Her features expressed terror; her eyes, which had appeared to soften as Harry looked at her, became quite wild again. "Alone!" repeated she, "alone!"--and she fell back on the bed, as though deprived of all strength.
"The poor bairn is too weak to speak to us," said Madge, when she had adjusted the pillows. "After a good rest, and a little more food, she will be stronger. Come away, Simon and Harry, and all the rest of you, and let her go to sleep." So Nell was left alone, and in a very few minutes slept profoundly.
This event caused a great sensation, not only in the coal
mines, but in Stirlingshire, and ultimately throughout the kingdom. The strangeness of the story was exaggerated; the affair could not have made more commotion had they found the girl enclosed in the solid rock, like one of those antediluvian creatures who have occasionally been released by a stroke of the pickax from their stony prison. Nell became a fashionable wonder without knowing it. Superstitious folks made her story a new subject for legendary marvels, and were inclined to think, as Jack Ryan told Harry, that Nell was the spirit of the mines.
"Be it so, Jack," said the young man; "but at any rate she is the good spirit. It can have been none but she who brought us bread and water when we were shut up down there; and as to the bad spirit, who must still be in the mine, we'll catch him some day."
Of course James Starr had been at once informed of all this, and came, as soon as the young girl had sufficiently recovered her strength, to see her, and endeavor to question her carefully.
She appeared ignorant of nearly everything relating to life, and, although evidently intelligent, was wanting in many elementary ideas, such as time, for instance. She had never been used to its division, and the words signifying hours, days, months, and years were unknown to her.
Her eyes, accustomed to the night, were pained by the glare of the electric discs; but in the dark her sight was wonderfully keen, the pupil dilated in a remarkable manner, and she could see where to others there appeared profound obscurity. It was certain that her brain had never received any impression of the outer world, that her eyes had never looked beyond the mine, and that these somber depths had been all the world to her.