This imperfect light suited Nell, to whose eyes a glare was very unpleasant.
"Nell," said Harry, "your eyes are not fit for daylight yet, and could not bear the brightness of the sun."
"Indeed they could not," replied the girl; "if the sun is such as you describe it to me, Harry."
"I cannot by any words, Nell, give you an idea either of his splendor or of the beauty of that universe which your eyes have never beheld. But tell me, is it really possible that, since the day when you were born in the depths of the coal mine, you never once have been up to the surface of the earth?"
"Never once, Harry," said she; "I do not believe that, even as an infant, my father or mother ever carried me thither. I am sure I should have retained some impression of the open air if they had."
"I believe you would," answered Harry. "Long ago, Nell, many children used to live altogether in the mine; communication was then difficult, and I have met with more than one young person, quite as ignorant as you are of things above-ground. But now the railway through our great tunnel takes us in a few minutes to the upper regions of our country. I long, Nell, to hear you say, 'Come, Harry, my eyes can bear daylight, and I want to see the sun! I want to look upon the works of the Almighty.'"
"I shall soon say so, Harry, I hope," replied the girl; "I shall soon go with you to the world above; and yet--"
"What are you going to say, Nell?" hastily cried Harry; "can you possibly regret having quitted that gloomy abyss in which you spent your early years, and whence we drew you half dead?"
"No, Harry," answered Nell; "I was only thinking that darkness is beautiful as well as light. If you but knew what eyes accustomed to its depth can see! Shades flit by, which one longs to follow; circles mingle and intertwine, and one could gaze on them forever; black hollows, full of indefinite gleams of radiance, lie deep at the bottom of the mine. And then the voice-like sounds! Ah, Harry! one must have lived down there to understand what I feel, what I can never express."
"And were you not afraid, Nell, all alone there?"
"It was just when I was alone that I was not afraid."
Nell's voice altered slightly as she said these words; however, Harry thought he might press the subject a little further, so he said, "But one might be easily lost in these great galleries, Nell. Were you not afraid of losing your way?"
"Oh, no, Harry; for a long time I had known every turn of the new mine."
"Did you never leave it?"
"Yes, now and then," answered the girl with a little hesitation; "sometimes I have been as far as the old mine of Aberfoyle."
"So you knew our old cottage?"
"The cottage! oh, yes; but the people who lived there I only saw at a great distance."
"They were my father and mother," said Harry; "and I was there too; we have always lived there--we never would give up the old dwelling."
"Perhaps it would have been better for you if you had," murmured the maiden.
"Why so, Nell? Was it not just because we were obstinately resolved to remain that we ended by discovering the new vein of coal? And did not that discovery lead to the happy result of providing work for a large population, and restoring them to ease and comfort? and did it not enable us to find you, Nell, to save your life, and give you the love of all our hearts?"
"Ah, yes, for me indeed it is well, whatever may happen," replied Nell earnestly; "for others--who can tell?"
"What do you mean?"
"Oh, nothing--nothing. But it used to be very dangerous at that time to go into the new cutting--yes, very dangerous indeed, Harry! Once some rash people made their way into these chasms. They got a long, long way; they were lost!"
"They were lost?" said Harry, looking at her.
"Yes, lost!" repeated Nell in a trembling voice. "They could not find their way out."
"And there," cried Harry, "they were imprisoned during eight long days! They were at the point of death, Nell; and, but for a kind and charitable being--an angel perhaps--sent by God to help them, who secretly brought them a little food; but for a mysterious guide, who afterwards led to them their deliverers, they never would have escaped from that living tomb!"
"And how do you know about that?" demanded the girl.