Why don't you make her so in reality? Why don't you marry her?"
"Come, Jack," said Harry, "you are running on as if you knew how Nell felt on the subject."
"Everybody knows that," replied Jack, "and therefore it is impossible to make you jealous of any of us. But here goes the ladder again--I'm off!"
"Stop a minute, Jack!" cried Harry, detaining his companion, who was stepping onto the moving staircase.
"I say! you seem to mean me to take up my quarters here altogether!"
"Do be serious and listen, Jack! I want to speak in earnest myself now."
"Well, I'll listen till the ladder moves again, not a minute longer."
"Jack," resumed Harry, "I need not pretend that I do not love Nell; I wish above all things to make her my wife."
"That's all right!"
"But for the present I have scruples of conscience as to asking her to make me a promise which would be irrevocable."
"What can you mean, Harry?"
"I mean just this--that, it being certain Nell has never been outside this coal mine in the very depths of which she was born, it stands to reason that she knows nothing, and can comprehend nothing of what exists beyond it. Her eyes--yes, and perhaps also her heart--have everything yet to learn. Who can tell what her thoughts will be, when perfectly new impressions shall be made upon her mind? As yet she knows nothing of the world, and to me it would seem like deceiving her, if I led her to decide in ignorance, upon choosing to remain all her life in the coal mine. Do you understand me, Jack?"
"Hem!--yes--pretty well. What I understand best is that you are going to make me miss another turn of the ladder."
"Jack," replied Harry gravely, "if this machinery were to stop altogether, if this landing-place were to fall beneath our feet, you must and shall hear what I have to say."
"Well done, Harry! that's how I like to be spoken to! Let's settle, then, that, before you marry Nell, she shall go to school in Auld Reekie."
"No indeed, Jack; I am perfectly able myself to educate the person who is to be my wife."
"Sure that will be a great deal better, Harry!"
"But, first of all," resumed Harry, "I wish that Nell should gain a real knowledge of the upper world. To illustrate my meaning, Jack, suppose you were in love with a blind girl, and someone said to you, 'In a month's time her sight will be restored,' would you not wait till after she was cured, to marry her?"
"Faith, to be sure I would!" exclaimed Jack.
"Well, Jack, Nell is at present blind; and before she marries me, I wish her to see what I am, and what the life really is to which she would bind herself. In short, she must have daylight let in upon the subject!"
"Well said, Harry! Very well said indeed!" cried Jack. "Now I see what you are driving at. And when may we expect the operation to come off?"
"In a month, Jack," replied Harry. "Nell is getting used to the light of our reflectors. That is some preparation. In a month she will, I hope, have seen the earth and its wonders-- the sky and its splendors. She will perceive that the limits of the universe are boundless."
But while Harry was thus giving the rein to his imagination, Jack Ryan, quitting the platform, had leaped on the step of the moving machinery.
"Hullo, Jack! Where are you?"
"Far beneath you," laughed the merry fellow. "While you soar to the heights, I plunge into the depths."
"Fare ye well. Jack!" returned Harry, himself laying hold of the rising ladder; "mind you say nothing about what I have been telling you."
"Not a word," shouted Jack, "but I make one condition."
"What is that?"
"That I may be one of the party when Nell's first excursion to the face of the earth comes off!"
"So you shall, Jack, I promise you!"
A fresh throb of the machinery placed a yet more considerable distance between the friends. Their voices sounded faintly to each other. Harry, however, could still hear Jack shouting:
"I say! do you know what Nell will like better than either sun, moon, or stars, after she's seen the whole of them?"
"Why, you yourself, old fellow! still you! always you!" And Jack's voice died away in a prolonged "Hurrah!"
Harry, after this, applied himself diligently, during all his spare time, to the work of Nell's education. He taught her to read and to write, and such rapid progress did she make, it might have been said that she learnt by instinct. Never did keen intelligence more quickly triumph over utter ignorance. It was the wonder of all beholders.