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The Underground City, by Jules Verne, is a novel about the fortunes of a mining community called Aberfoyle which is near Stirling, Scotland. Miner James Starr, after receiving a letter from an old friend, leaves for the Aberfoyle mine. Although believed to be mined out a decade earlier, James Starr finds a mine overman, Simon Ford, along with his family living deep inside the mine. Simon Ford has found a large vein of coal in the mine but the characters must deal with mysterious and unexplainable happenings in and around the mine.
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 will be made to him.
“Mr. James Starr will be awaited for, the whole day, at the Callander station, 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 the 3rd December, 18—, the letter bearing the Aberfoyle postmark, county of Stirling, Scotland.
The engineer’s curiosity was excited to the highest pitch. It never occurred to him to doubt whether this letter might not be a hoax. For many years he had known Simon Ford, one of the former foremen of the Aberfoyle mines, of which he, James Starr, had for twenty years, been the manager, or, as he would be termed in English coal–mines, the viewer. James Starr was a strongly–constituted man, on whom his fifty–five years weighed no more heavily than if they had been forty. He belonged to an old Edinburgh family, and was one of its most distinguished members. His labors did credit to the body of engineers who are gradually devouring the carboniferous subsoil of the United Kingdom, as much at Cardiff and Newcastle, as in the southern counties of Scotland. However, it was more particularly in the depths of the mysterious mines of Aberfoyle, which border on the Alloa mines and occupy part of the county of Stirling, that the name of Starr had acquired the greatest renown. There, the greater part of his existence had been passed. Besides this, James Starr belonged to the Scottish Antiquarian Society, of which he had been made president. He was also included amongst the most active members of the Royal Institution; and the Edinburgh Review frequently published clever articles signed by him. He was in fact one of those practical men to whom is due the prosperity of England. He held a high rank in the old capital of Scotland, which not only from a physical but also from a moral point of view, well deserves the name of the Northern Athens.
We know that the English have given to their vast extent of coal–mines a very significant name. They very justly call them the “Black Indies,” and these Indies have contributed perhaps even more than the Eastern Indies to swell the surprising wealth of the United Kingdom.
At this period, the limit of time assigned by professional men for the exhaustion of coal–mines was far distant and there was no dread of scarcity. There were still extensive mines to be worked in the two Americas. The manu–factories, appropriated to so many different uses, locomotives, steamers, gas works, etc., were not likely to fail for want of the mineral fuel; but the consumption had so increased during the last few years, that certain beds had been exhausted even to their smallest veins. Now deserted, these mines perforated the ground with their useless shafts and forsaken galleries. This was exactly the case with the pits of Aberfoyle.
Ten years before, the last butty had raised the last ton of coal from this colliery. The underground working stock, traction engines, trucks which run on rails along the galleries, subterranean tramways, frames to support the shaft, pipes—in short, all that constituted the machinery of a mine had been brought up from its depths. The exhausted mine was like the body of a huge fantastically–shaped mastodon, from which all the organs of life have been taken, and only the skeleton remains.
Nothing was left but long wooden ladders, down the Yarrow shaft—the only one which now gave access to the lower galleries of the Dochart pit. 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 whole constituted 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 and courageous 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 of the Dochart pit, formerly heaped with coal from the mine.
Many of these families had existed for generations in the mine of old Aberfoyle; they were now driven to seek the means of subsistence elsewhere, and they waited sadly to bid farewell to the engineer.
James Starr stood upright, at the door of the vast shed in which he had for so many years superintended the powerful machines of the shaft. Simon Ford, the foreman of the Dochart pit, then fifty–five years of age, and other managers and overseers, surrounded him. James Starr took off his hat. The miners, cap in hand, kept a profound silence.