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|The Underground City||Jules Verne|
|Page 1 of 6||
A COUPLE of hours later, Harry still unconscious, and the child in a very feeble state, were brought to the cottage by Jack Ryan and his companions. The old overman listened to the account of their adventures, while Madge attended with the utmost care to the wants of her son, and of the poor creature whom he had rescued from the pit.
Harry imagined her a mere child, but she was a maiden of the age of fifteen or sixteen years.
She gazed at them with vague and wondering eyes; and the thin face, drawn by suffering, the pallid complexion, which light could never have tinged, and the fragile, slender figure, gave her an appearance at once singular and attractive. Jack Ryan declared that she seemed to him to be an uncommonly interesting kind of ghost.
It must have been due to the strange and peculiar circumstances under which her life hitherto had been led, that she scarcely seemed to belong to the human race. Her countenance was of a very uncommon cast, and her eyes, hardly able to bear the lamp-light in the cottage, glanced around in a confused and puzzled way, as if all were new to them.
As this singular being reclined on Madge's bed and 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.
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