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Les indes-noirs. English

Jules Verne

  Produced by Judy Boss




  (Sometimes Called The Child of the Cavern)

  Verne, Jules. _Works of Jules Verne_. Ed. Charles F. Horne. Vol. 9. NewYork: F. Tyler Daniels Company, 1911. 277-394.



  To Mr. F. R. Starr, Engineer, 30 Canongate, Edinburgh.

  IF Mr. James Starr will come to-morrow to the Aberfoyle coal-mines,Dochart pit, Yarrow shaft, a communication of an interesting nature willbe made to him.

  "Mr. James Starr will be awaited for, the whole day, at the Callanderstation, by Harry Ford, son of the old overman Simon Ford."

  "He is requested to keep this invitation secret."

  Such was the letter which James Starr received by the first post, on the3rd December, 18--, the letter bearing the Aberfoyle postmark, county ofStirling, Scotland.

  The engineer's curiosity was excited to the highest pitch. It neveroccurred to him to doubt whether this letter might not be a hoax. Formany years he had known Simon Ford, one of the former foremen of theAberfoyle mines, of which he, James Starr, had for twenty years, beenthe manager, or, as he would be termed in English coal-mines, theviewer. James Starr was a strongly-constituted man, on whom hisfifty-five years weighed no more heavily than if they had been forty.He belonged to an old Edinburgh family, and was one of its mostdistinguished members. His labors did credit to the body of engineerswho are gradually devouring the carboniferous subsoil of the UnitedKingdom, as much at Cardiff and Newcastle, as in the southern countiesof Scotland. However, it was more particularly in the depths of themysterious mines of Aberfoyle, which border on the Alloa mines andoccupy part of the county of Stirling, that the name of Starr hadacquired the greatest renown. There, the greater part of his existencehad been passed. Besides this, James Starr belonged to the ScottishAntiquarian Society, of which he had been made president. He was alsoincluded amongst the most active members of the Royal Institution; andthe Edinburgh Review frequently published clever articles signed by him.He was in fact one of those practical men to whom is due the prosperityof England. He held a high rank in the old capital of Scotland, whichnot only from a physical but also from a moral point of view, welldeserves the name of the Northern Athens.

  We know that the English have given to their vast extent of coal-minesa very significant name. They very justly call them the "Black Indies,"and these Indies have contributed perhaps even more than the EasternIndies to swell the surprising wealth of the United Kingdom.

  At this period, the limit of time assigned by professional men forthe exhaustion of coal-mines was far distant and there was no dreadof scarcity. There were still extensive mines to be worked in the twoAmericas. The manufactories, appropriated to so many different uses,locomotives, steamers, gas works, &c., were not likely to fail for wantof the mineral fuel; but the consumption had so increased during thelast few years, that certain beds had been exhausted even to theirsmallest veins. Now deserted, these mines perforated the ground withtheir useless shafts and forsaken galleries. This was exactly the casewith the pits of Aberfoyle.

  Ten years before, the last butty had raised the last ton of coal fromthis colliery. The underground working stock, traction engines, truckswhich run on rails along the galleries, subterranean tramways, frames tosupport the shaft, pipes--in short, all that constituted the machineryof a mine had been brought up from its depths. The exhausted mine waslike the body of a huge fantastically-shaped mastodon, from which allthe organs of life have been taken, and only the skeleton remains.

  Nothing was left but long wooden ladders, down the Yarrow shaft--theonly one which now gave access to the lower galleries of the Dochartpit. Above ground, the sheds, formerly sheltering the outside works,still marked the spot where the shaft of that pit had been sunk,it being now abandoned, as were the other pits, of which the wholeconstituted the mines of Aberfoyle.

  It was a sad day, when for the last time the workmen quitted the mine,in which they had lived for so many years. The engineer, James Starr,had collected the hundreds of workmen which composed the active andcourageous population of the mine. Overmen, brakemen, putters, wastemen,barrowmen, masons, smiths, carpenters, outside and inside laborers,women, children, and old men, all were collected in the great yard ofthe Dochart pit, formerly heaped with coal from the mine.

  Many of these families had existed for generations in the mine ofold Aberfoyle; they were now driven to seek the means of subsistenceelsewhere, and they waited sadly to bid farewell to the engineer.

  James Starr stood upright, at the door of the vast shed in which hehad for so many years superintended the powerful machines of the shaft.Simon Ford, the foreman of the Dochart pit, then fifty-five years ofage, and other managers and overseers, surrounded him. James Starr tookoff his hat. The miners, cap in hand, kept a profound silence. Thisfarewell scene was of a touching character, not wanting in grandeur.

  "My friends," said the engineer, "the time has come for us to separate.The Aberfoyle mines, which for so many years have united us in acommon work, are now exhausted. All our researches have not led tothe discovery of a new vein, and the last block of coal has just beenextracted from the Dochart pit." And in confirmation of his words, JamesStarr pointed to a lump of coal which had been kept at the bottom of abasket.

  "This piece of coal, my friends," resumed James Starr, "is like the lastdrop of blood which has flowed through the veins of the mine! We shallkeep it, as the first fragment of coal is kept, which was extracteda hundred and fifty years ago from the bearings of Aberfoyle. Betweenthese two pieces, how many generations of workmen have succeeded eachother in our pits! Now, it is over! The last words which your engineerwill address to you are a farewell. You have lived in this mine, whichyour hands have emptied. The work has been hard, but not without profitfor you. Our great family must disperse, and it is not probable that thefuture will ever again unite the scattered members. But do not forgetthat we have lived together for a long time, and that it will be theduty of the miners of Aberfoyle to help each other. Your old masterswill not forget you either. When men have worked together, they mustnever be stranger to each other again. We shall keep our eye on you, andwherever you go, our recommendations shall follow you. Farewell then, myfriends, and may Heaven be with you!"

  So saying, James Starr wrung the horny hand of the oldest miner, whoseeyes were dim with tears. Then the overmen of the different pits cameforward to shake hands with him, whilst the miners waved their caps,shouting, "Farewell, James Starr, our master and our friend!"

  This farewell would leave a lasting remembrance in all these honesthearts. Slowly and sadly the population quitted the yard. The black soilof the roads leading to the Dochart pit resounded for the last time tothe tread of miners' feet, and silence succeeded to the bustling lifewhich had till then filled the Aberfoyle mines.

  One man alone remained by James Starr. This was the overman, Simon Ford.Near him stood a boy, about fifteen years of age, who for some yearsalready had been employed down below.

  James Starr and Simon Ford knew and esteemed each other well. "Good-by,Simon," said the engineer.

  "Good-by, Mr. Starr," replied the overman, "let me add, till we meetagain!"

  "Yes, till we meet again. Ford!" answered James Starr. "You know that Ishall be always glad to see you, and talk over old times."

  "I know that, Mr. Starr."

  "My house in Edinburgh is always open to you."

  "It's a long way off, is Edinburgh!" answered the man shaking his head."Ay, a long way from the Dochart pit."

  "A long way, Simon? Where do you mean to live?"

  "Even here, Mr. Starr! We're
not going to leave the mine, our good oldnurse, just because her milk is dried up! My wife, my boy, and myself,we mean to remain faithful to her!"

  "Good-by then, Simon," replied the engineer, whose voice, in spite ofhimself, betrayed some emotion.

  "No, I tell you, it's TILL WE MEET AGAIN, Mr. Starr, and not Just'good-by,'" returned the foreman. "Mark my words, Aberfoyle will see youagain!"

  The engineer did not try to dispel the man's illusion. He patted Harry'shead, again wrung the father's hand, and left the mine.

  All this had taken place ten years ago; but, notwithstanding the wishwhich the overman had expressed to see him again, during that time Starrhad heard nothing of him. It was after ten years of separation that hegot this letter from Simon Ford, requesting him to take without delaythe road to the old Aberfoyle colliery.

  A communication of an interesting nature, what could it be? Dochart pit.Yarrow shaft! What recollections of the past these names brought backto him! Yes, that was a fine time, that of work, of struggle,--the bestpart of the engineer's life. Starr re-read his letter. He pondered overit in all its bearings. He much regretted that just a line more had notbeen added by Ford. He wished he had not been quite so laconic.

  Was it possible that the old foreman had discovered some new vein?No! Starr remembered with what minute care the mines had been exploredbefore the definite cessation of the works. He had himself proceededto the lowest soundings without finding the least trace in the soil,burrowed in every direction. They had even attempted to find coal understrata which are usually below it, such as the Devonian red sandstone,but without result. James Starr had therefore abandoned the mine withthe absolute conviction that it did not contain another bit of coal.

  "No," he repeated, "no! How is it possible that anything which couldhave escaped my researches, should be revealed to those of Simon Ford.However, the old overman must well know that such a discovery would bethe one thing in the world to interest me, and this invitation, which Imust keep secret, to repair to the Dochart pit!" James Starr always cameback to that.

  On the other hand, the engineer knew Ford to be a clever miner,peculiarly endowed with the instinct of his trade. He had not seen himsince the time when the Aberfoyle colliery was abandoned, and did notknow either what he was doing or where he was living, with his wife andhis son. All that he now knew was, that a rendezvous had been appointedhim at the Yarrow shaft, and that Harry, Simon Ford's son, was to waitfor him during the whole of the next day at the Callander station.

  "I shall go, I shall go!" said Starr, his excitement increasing as thetime drew near.

  Our worthy engineer belonged to that class of men whose brain is alwayson the boil, like a kettle on a hot fire. In some of these brain kettlesthe ideas bubble over, in others they just simmer quietly. Now on thisday, James Starr's ideas were boiling fast.

  But suddenly an unexpected incident occurred. This was the drop of coldwater, which in a moment was to condense all the vapors of the brain.About six in the evening, by the third post, Starr's servant broughthim a second letter. This letter was enclosed in a coarse envelope, andevidently directed by a hand unaccustomed to the use of a pen. JamesStarr tore it open. It contained only a scrap of paper, yellowed bytime, and apparently torn out of an old copy book.

  On this paper was written a single sentence, thus worded:

  "It is useless for the engineer James Starr to trouble himself, SimonFord's letter being now without object."

  No signature.