Wednesday, October 24, 2007


The Lair of the White Worm by Bram Stoker

The Lair of the White Worm
by Bram Stoker
Adam Salton sauntered into the Empire Club, Sydney, and found
awaiting him a letter from his grand-uncle. He had first heard from
the old gentleman less than a year before, when Richard Salton had
claimed kinship, stating that he had been unable to write earlier,
as he had found it very difficult to trace his grand-nephew's
address. Adam was delighted and replied cordially; he had often
heard his father speak of the older branch of the family with whom
his people had long lost touch. Some interesting correspondence had
ensued. Adam eagerly opened the letter which had only just arrived,
and conveyed a cordial invitation to stop with his grand-uncle at
Lesser Hill, for as long a time as he could spare.
"Indeed," Richard Salton went on, "I am in hopes that you will make
your permanent home here. You see, my dear boy, you and I are all
that remain of our race, and it is but fitting that you should
succeed me when the time comes. In this year of grace, 1860, I am
close on eighty years of age, and though we have been a long-lived
race, the span of life cannot be prolonged beyond reasonable bounds.
I am prepared to like you, and to make your home with me as happy as
you could wish. So do come at once on receipt of this, and find the
welcome I am waiting to give you. I send, in case such may make
matters easy for you, a banker's draft for 200 pounds. Come soon,
so that we may both of us enjoy many happy days together. If you
are able to give me the pleasure of seeing you, send me as soon as
you can a letter telling me when to expect you. Then when you
arrive at Plymouth or Southampton or whatever port you are bound
for, wait on board, and I will meet you at the earliest hour
Old Mr. Salton was delighted when Adam's reply arrived and sent a
groom hot-foot to his crony, Sir Nathaniel de Salis, to inform him
that his grand-nephew was due at Southampton on the twelfth of June.
Mr. Salton gave instructions to have ready a carriage early on the
important day, to start for Stafford, where he would catch the 11.40
a.m. train. He would stay that night with his grand-nephew, either
on the ship, which would be a new experience for him, or, if his
guest should prefer it, at a hotel. In either case they would start
in the early morning for home. He had given instructions to his
bailiff to send the postillion carriage on to Southampton, to be
ready for their journey home, and to arrange for relays of his own
horses to be sent on at once. He intended that his grand-nephew,
who had been all his life in Australia, should see something of
rural England on the drive. He had plenty of young horses of his
own breeding and breaking, and could depend on a journey memorable
to the young man. The luggage would be sent on by rail to Stafford,
where one of his carts would meet it. Mr. Salton, during the
journey to Southampton, often wondered if his grand-nephew was as
much excited as he was at the idea of meeting so near a relation for
the first time; and it was with an effort that he controlled
himself. The endless railway lines and switches round the
Southampton Docks fired his anxiety afresh.
As the train drew up on the dockside, he was getting his hand traps
together, when the carriage door was wrenched open and a young man
jumped in.
"How are you, uncle? I recognised you from the photo you sent me!
I wanted to meet you as soon as I could, but everything is so
strange to me that I didn't quite know what to do. However, here I
am. I am glad to see you, sir. I have been dreaming of this
happiness for thousands of miles; now I find that the reality beats
all the dreaming!" As he spoke the old man and the young one were
heartily wringing each other's hands.
The meeting so auspiciously begun proceeded well. Adam, seeing that
the old man was interested in the novelty of the ship, suggested
that he should stay the night on board, and that he would himself be
ready to start at any hour and go anywhere that the other suggested.
This affectionate willingness to fall in with his own plans quite
won the old man's heart. He warmly accepted the invitation, and at
once they became not only on terms of affectionate relationship, but
almost like old friends. The heart of the old man, which had been
empty for so long, found a new delight. The young man found, on
landing in the old country, a welcome and a surrounding in full
harmony with all his dreams throughout his wanderings and solitude,
and the promise of a fresh and adventurous life. It was not long
before the old man accepted him to full relationship by calling him
by his Christian name. After a long talk on affairs of interest,
they retired to the cabin, which the elder was to share. Richard
Salton put his hands affectionately on the boy's shoulders--though
Adam was in his twenty-seventh year, he was a boy, and always would
be, to his grand-uncle.
"I am so glad to find you as you are, my dear boy--just such a young
man as I had always hoped for as a son, in the days when I still had
such hopes. However, that is all past. But thank God there is a
new life to begin for both of us. To you must be the larger part--
but there is still time for some of it to be shared in common. I
have waited till we should have seen each other to enter upon the
subject; for I thought it better not to tie up your young life to my
old one till we should have sufficient personal knowledge to justify
such a venture. Now I can, so far as I am concerned, enter into it
freely, since from the moment my eyes rested on you I saw my son--as
he shall be, God willing--if he chooses such a course himself."
"Indeed I do, sir--with all my heart!"
"Thank you, Adam, for that." The old, man's eyes filled and his
voice trembled. Then, after a long silence between them, he went
on: "When I heard you were coming I made my will. It was well that
your interests should be protected from that moment on. Here is the
deed--keep it, Adam. All I have shall belong to you; and if love
and good wishes, or the memory of them, can make life sweeter, yours
shall be a happy one. Now, my dear boy, let us turn in. We start
early in the morning and have a long drive before us. I hope you
don't mind driving? I was going to have the old travelling carriage
in which my grandfather, your great-grand-uncle, went to Court when
William IV. was king. It is all right--they built well in those
days--and it has been kept in perfect order. But I think I have
done better: I have sent the carriage in which I travel myself.
The horses are of my own breeding, and relays of them shall take us
all the way. I hope you like horses? They have long been one of my
greatest interests in life."
"I love them, sir, and I am happy to say I have many of my own. My
father gave me a horse farm for myself when I was eighteen. I
devoted myself to it, and it has gone on. Before I came away, my
steward gave me a memorandum that we have in my own place more than
a thousand, nearly all good."
"I am glad, my boy. Another link between us."
"Just fancy what a delight it will be, sir, to see so much of
England--and with you!"
"Thank you again, my boy. I will tell you all about your future
home and its surroundings as we go. We shall travel in oldfashioned
state, I tell you. My grandfather always drove four-inhand;
and so shall we."
"Oh, thanks, sir, thanks. May I take the ribbons sometimes?"
"Whenever you choose, Adam. The team is your own. Every horse we
use to-day is to be your own."
"You are too generous, uncle!"
"Not at all. Only an old man's selfish pleasure. It is not every
day that an heir to the old home comes back. And--oh, by the way. .
. No, we had better turn in now--I shall tell you the rest in the
Mr. Salton had all his life been an early riser, and necessarily an
early waker. But early as he woke on the next morning--and although
there was an excuse for not prolonging sleep in the constant whirr
and rattle of the "donkey" engine winches of the great ship--he met
the eyes of Adam fixed on him from his berth. His grand-nephew had
given him the sofa, occupying the lower berth himself. The old man,
despite his great strength and normal activity, was somewhat tired
by his long journey of the day before, and the prolonged and
exciting interview which followed it. So he was glad to lie still
and rest his body, whilst his mind was actively exercised in taking
in all he could of his strange surroundings. Adam, too, after the
pastoral habit to which he had been bred, woke with the dawn, and
was ready to enter on the experiences of the new day whenever it
might suit his elder companion. It was little wonder, then, that,
so soon as each realised the other's readiness, they simultaneously
jumped up and began to dress. The steward had by previous
instructions early breakfast prepared, and it was not long before
they went down the gangway on shore in search of the carriage.
They found Mr. Salton's bailiff looking out for them on the dock,
and he brought them at once to where the carriage was waiting in the
street. Richard Salton pointed out with pride to his young
companion the suitability of the vehicle for every need of travel.
To it were harnessed four useful horses, with a postillion to each
"See," said the old man proudly, "how it has all the luxuries of
useful travel--silence and isolation as well as speed. There is
nothing to obstruct the view of those travelling and no one to
overhear what they may say. I have used that trap for a quarter of
a century, and I never saw one more suitable for travel. You shall
test it shortly. We are going to drive through the heart of
England; and as we go I'll tell you what I was speaking of last
night. Our route is to be by Salisbury, Bath, Bristol, Cheltenham,
Worcester, Stafford; and so home."
Adam remained silent a few minutes, during which he seemed all eyes,
for he perpetually ranged the whole circle of the horizon.
"Has our journey to-day, sir," he asked, "any special relation to
what you said last night that you wanted to tell me?"
"Not directly; but indirectly, everything."
"Won't you tell me now--I see we cannot be overheard--and if
anything strikes you as we go along, just run it in. I shall
So old Salton spoke:
"To begin at the beginning, Adam. That lecture of yours on 'The
Romans in Britain,' a report of which you posted to me, set me
thinking--in addition to telling me your tastes. I wrote to you at
once and asked you to come home, for it struck me that if you were
fond of historical research--as seemed a fact--this was exactly the
place for you, in addition to its being the home of your own
forbears. If you could learn so much of the British Romans so far
away in New South Wales, where there cannot be even a tradition of
them, what might you not make of the same amount of study on the
very spot. Where we are going is in the real heart of the old
kingdom of Mercia, where there are traces of all the various
nationalities which made up the conglomerate which became Britain."
"I rather gathered that you had some more definite--more personal
reason for my hurrying. After all, history can keep--except in the
"Quite right, my boy. I had a reason such as you very wisely
guessed. I was anxious for you to be here when a rather important
phase of our local history occurred."
"What is that, if I may ask, sir?"
"Certainly. The principal land-owner of our part of the county is
on his way home, and there will be a great home-coming, which you
may care to see. The fact is, for more than a century the various
owners in the succession here, with the exception of a short time,
have lived abroad."
"How is that, sir, if I may ask?"
"The great house and estate in our part of the world is Castra
Regis, the family seat of the Caswall family. The last owner who
lived here was Edgar Caswall, grandfather of the man who is coming
here--and he was the only one who stayed even a short time. This
man's grandfather, also named Edgar--they keep the tradition of the
family Christian name--quarrelled with his family and went to live
abroad, not keeping up any intercourse, good or bad, with his
relatives, although this particular Edgar, as I told you, did visit
his family estate, yet his son was born and lived and died abroad,
while his grandson, the latest inheritor, was also born and lived
abroad till he was over thirty--his present age. This was the
second line of absentees. The great estate of Castra Regis has had
no knowledge of its owner for five generations--covering more than a
hundred and twenty years. It has been well administered, however,
and no tenant or other connected with it has had anything of which
to complain. All the same, there has been much natural anxiety to
see the new owner, and we are all excited about the event of his
coming. Even I am, though I own my own estate, which, though
adjacent, is quite apart from Castra Regis.--Here we are now in new
ground for you. That is the spire of Salisbury Cathedral, and when
we leave that we shall be getting close to the old Roman county, and
you will naturally want your eyes. So we shall shortly have to keep
our minds on old Mercia. However, you need not be disappointed. My
old friend, Sir Nathaniel de Salis, who, like myself, is a freeholder
near Castra Regis--his estate, Doom Tower, is over the border
of Derbyshire, on the Peak--is coming to stay with me for the
festivities to welcome Edgar Caswall. He is just the sort of man
you will like. He is devoted to history, and is President of the
Mercian Archaeological Society. He knows more of our own part of
the country, with its history and its people, than anyone else. I
expect he will have arrived before us, and we three can have a long
chat after dinner. He is also our local geologist and natural
historian. So you and he will have many interests in common.
Amongst other things he has a special knowledge of the Peak and its
caverns, and knows all the old legends of prehistoric times."
They spent the night at Cheltenham, and on the following morning
resumed their journey to Stafford. Adam's eyes were in constant
employment, and it was not till Salton declared that they had now
entered on the last stage of their journey, that he referred to Sir
Nathaniel's coming.
As the dusk was closing down, they drove on to Lesser Hill, Mr.
Salton's house. It was now too dark to see any details of their
surroundings. Adam could just see that it was on the top of a hill,
not quite so high as that which was covered by the Castle, on whose
tower flew the flag, and which was all ablaze with moving lights,
manifestly used in the preparations for the festivities on the
morrow. So Adam deferred his curiosity till daylight. His granduncle
was met at the door by a fine old man, who greeted him warmly.
"I came over early as you wished. I suppose this is your grandnephew--
I am glad to meet you, Mr. Adam Salton. I am Nathaniel de
Salis, and your uncle is one of my oldest friends."
Adam, from the moment of their eyes meeting, felt as if they were
already friends. The meeting was a new note of welcome to those
that had already sounded in his ears.
The cordiality with which Sir Nathaniel and Adam met, made the
imparting of information easy. Sir Nathaniel was a clever man of
the world, who had travelled much, and within a certain area studied
deeply. He was a brilliant conversationalist, as was to be expected
from a successful diplomatist, even under unstimulating conditions.
But he had been touched and to a certain extent fired by the younger
man's evident admiration and willingness to learn from him.
Accordingly the conversation, which began on the most friendly
basis, soon warmed to an interest above proof, as the old man spoke
of it next day to Richard Salton. He knew already that his old
friend wanted his grand-nephew to learn all he could of the subject
in hand, and so had during his journey from the Peak put his
thoughts in sequence for narration and explanation. Accordingly,
Adam had only to listen and he must learn much that he wanted to
know. When dinner was over and the servants had withdrawn, leaving
the three men at their wine, Sir Nathaniel began.
"I gather from your uncle--by the way, I suppose we had better speak
of you as uncle and nephew, instead of going into exact
relationship? In fact, your uncle is so old and dear a friend,
that, with your permission, I shall drop formality with you
altogether and speak of you and to you as Adam, as though you were
his son."
"I should like," answered the young man, "nothing better!"
The answer warmed the hearts of both the old men, but, with the
usual avoidance of Englishmen of emotional subjects personal to
themselves, they instinctively returned to the previous question.
Sir Nathaniel took the lead.
"I understand, Adam, that your uncle has posted you regarding the
relationships of the Caswall family?"
"Partly, sir; but I understood that I was to hear minuter details
from you--if you would be so good."
"I shall be delighted to tell you anything so far as my knowledge
goes. Well, the first Caswall in our immediate record is an Edgar,
head of the family and owner of the estate, who came into his
kingdom just about the time that George III. did. He had one son of
about twenty-four. There was a violent quarrel between the two. No
one of this generation has any idea of the cause; but, considering
the family characteristics, we may take it for granted that though
it was deep and violent, it was on the surface trivial.
"The result of the quarrel was that the son left the house without a
reconciliation or without even telling his father where he was
going. He never came back again. A few years after, he died,
without having in the meantime exchanged a word or a letter with his
father. He married abroad and left one son, who seems to have been
brought up in ignorance of all belonging to him. The gulf between
them appears to have been unbridgable; for in time this son married
and in turn had a son, but neither joy nor sorrow brought the
sundered together. Under such conditions no RAPPROCHEMENT was to be
looked for, and an utter indifference, founded at best on ignorance,
took the place of family affection--even on community of interests.
It was only due to the watchfulness of the lawyers that the birth of
this new heir was ever made known. He actually spent a few months
in the ancestral home.
"After this the family interest merely rested on heirship of the
estate. As no other children have been born to any of the newer
generations in the intervening years, all hopes of heritage are now
centred in the grandson of this man.
"Now, it will be well for you to bear in mind the prevailing
characteristics of this race. These were well preserved and
unchanging; one and all they are the same: cold, selfish, dominant,
reckless of consequences in pursuit of their own will. It was not
that they did not keep faith, though that was a matter which gave
them little concern, but that they took care to think beforehand of
what they should do in order to gain their own ends. If they should
make a mistake, someone else should bear the burthen of it. This
was so perpetually recurrent that it seemed to be a part of a fixed
policy. It was no wonder that, whatever changes took place, they
were always ensured in their own possessions. They were absolutely
cold and hard by nature. Not one of them--so far as we have any
knowledge--was ever known to be touched by the softer sentiments, to
swerve from his purpose, or hold his hand in obedience to the
dictates of his heart. The pictures and effigies of them all show
their adherence to the early Roman type. Their eyes were full;
their hair, of raven blackness, grew thick and close and curly.
Their figures were massive and typical of strength.
"The thick black hair, growing low down on the neck, told of vast
physical strength and endurance. But the most remarkable
characteristic is the eyes. Black, piercing, almost unendurable,
they seem to contain in themselves a remarkable will power which
there is no gainsaying. It is a power that is partly racial and
partly individual: a power impregnated with some mysterious
quality, partly hypnotic, partly mesmeric, which seems to take away
from eyes that meet them all power of resistance--nay, all power of
wishing to resist. With eyes like those, set in that all-commanding
face, one would need to be strong indeed to think of resisting the
inflexible will that lay behind.
"You may think, Adam, that all this is imagination on my part,
especially as I have never seen any of them. So it is, but
imagination based on deep study. I have made use of all I know or
can surmise logically regarding this strange race. With such
strange compelling qualities, is it any wonder that there is abroad
an idea that in the race there is some demoniac possession, which
tends to a more definite belief that certain individuals have in the
past sold themselves to the Devil?
"But I think we had better go to bed now. We have a lot to get
through to-morrow, and I want you to have your brain clear, and all
your susceptibilities fresh. Moreover, I want you to come with me
for an early walk, during which we may notice, whilst the matter is
fresh in our minds, the peculiar disposition of this place--not
merely your grand-uncle's estate, but the lie of the country around
it. There are many things on which we may seek--and perhaps find--
enlightenment. The more we know at the start, the more things which
may come into our view will develop themselves."
Curiosity took Adam Salton out of bed in the early morning, but when
he had dressed and gone downstairs; he found that, early as he was,
Sir Nathaniel was ahead of him. The old gentleman was quite
prepared for a long walk, and they started at once.
Sir Nathaniel, without speaking, led the way to the east, down the
hill. When they had descended and risen again, they found
themselves on the eastern brink of a steep hill. It was of lesser
height than that on which the Castle was situated; but it was so
placed that it commanded the various hills that crowned the ridge.
All along the ridge the rock cropped out, bare and bleak, but broken
in rough natural castellation. The form of the ridge was a segment
of a circle, with the higher points inland to the west. In the
centre rose the Castle, on the highest point of all. Between the
various rocky excrescences were groups of trees of various sizes and
heights, amongst some of which were what, in the early morning
light, looked like ruins. These--whatever they were--were of
massive grey stone, probably limestone rudely cut--if indeed they
were not shaped naturally. The fall of the ground was steep all
along the ridge, so steep that here and there both trees and rocks
and buildings seemed to overhang the plain far below, through which
ran many streams.
Sir Nathaniel stopped and looked around, as though to lose nothing
of the effect. The sun had climbed the eastern sky and was making
all details clear. He pointed with a sweeping gesture, as though
calling Adam's attention to the extent of the view. Having done so,
he covered the ground more slowly, as though inviting attention to
detail. Adam was a willing and attentive pupil, and followed his
motions exactly, missing--or trying to miss--nothing.
"I have brought you here, Adam, because it seems to me that this is
the spot on which to begin our investigations. You have now in
front of you almost the whole of the ancient kingdom of Mercia. In
fact, we see the whole of it except that furthest part, which is
covered by the Welsh Marches and those parts which are hidden from
where we stand by the high ground of the immediate west. We can
see--theoretically--the whole of the eastern bound of the kingdom,
which ran south from the Humber to the Wash. I want you to bear in
mind the trend of the ground, for some time, sooner or later, we
shall do well to have it in our mind's eye when we are considering
the ancient traditions and superstitions, and are trying to find the
RATIONALE of them. Each legend, each superstition which we receive,
will help in the understanding and possible elucidation of the
others. And as all such have a local basis, we can come closer to
the truth--or the probability--by knowing the local conditions as we
go along. It will help us to bring to our aid such geological truth
as we may have between us. For instance, the building materials
used in various ages can afford their own lessons to understanding
eyes. The very heights and shapes and materials of these hills--
nay, even of the wide plain that lies between us and the sea--have
in themselves the materials of enlightening books."
"For instance, sir?" said Adam, venturing a question.
"Well, look at those hills which surround the main one where the
site for the Castle was wisely chosen--on the highest ground. Take
the others. There is something ostensible in each of them, and in
all probability something unseen and unproved, but to be imagined,
"For instance?" continued Adam.
"Let us take them SERIATIM. That to the east, where the trees are,
lower down--that was once the location of a Roman temple, possibly
founded on a pre-existing Druidical one. Its name implies the
former, and the grove of ancient oaks suggests the latter."
"Please explain."
"The old name translated means 'Diana's Grove.' Then the next one
higher than it, but just beyond it, is called 'MERCY'--in all
probability a corruption or familiarisation of the word MERCIA, with
a Roman pun included. We learn from early manuscripts that the
place was called VILULA MISERICORDIAE. It was originally a nunnery,
founded by Queen Bertha, but done away with by King Penda, the
reactionary to Paganism after St. Augustine. Then comes your
uncle's place--Lesser Hill. Though it is so close to the Castle, it
is not connected with it. It is a freehold, and, so far as we know,
of equal age. It has always belonged to your family."
"Then there only remains the Castle!"
"That is all; but its history contains the histories of all the
others--in fact, the whole history of early England." Sir
Nathaniel, seeing the expectant look on Adam's face, went on:
"The history of the Castle has no beginning so far as we know. The
furthest records or surmises or inferences simply accept it as
existing. Some of these--guesses, let us call them--seem to show
that there was some sort of structure there when the Romans came,
therefore it must have been a place of importance in Druid times--if
indeed that was the beginning. Naturally the Romans accepted it, as
they did everything of the kind that was, or might be, useful. The
change is shown or inferred in the name Castra. It was the highest
protected ground, and so naturally became the most important of
their camps. A study of the map will show you that it must have
been a most important centre. It both protected the advances
already made to the north, and helped to dominate the sea coast. It
sheltered the western marches, beyond which lay savage Wales--and
danger. It provided a means of getting to the Severn, round which
lay the great Roman roads then coming into existence, and made
possible the great waterway to the heart of England--through the
Severn and its tributaries. It brought the east and the west
together by the swiftest and easiest ways known to those times.
And, finally, it provided means of descent on London and all the
expanse of country watered by the Thames.
"With such a centre, already known and organised, we can easily see
that each fresh wave of invasion--the Angles, the Saxons, the Danes,
and the Normans--found it a desirable possession and so ensured its
upholding. In the earlier centuries it was merely a vantage ground.
But when the victorious Romans brought with them the heavy solid
fortifications impregnable to the weapons of the time, its
commanding position alone ensured its adequate building and
equipment. Then it was that the fortified camp of the Caesars
developed into the castle of the king. As we are as yet ignorant of
the names of the first kings of Mercia, no historian has been able
to guess which of them made it his ultimate defence; and I suppose
we shall never know now. In process of time, as the arts of war
developed, it increased in size and strength, and although recorded
details are lacking, the history is written not merely in the stone
of its building, but is inferred in the changes of structure. Then
the sweeping changes which followed the Norman Conquest wiped out
all lesser records than its own. To-day we must accept it as one of
the earliest castles of the Conquest, probably not later than the
time of Henry I. Roman and Norman were both wise in their retention
of places of approved strength or utility. So it was that these
surrounding heights, already established and to a certain extent
proved, were retained. Indeed, such characteristics as already
pertained to them were preserved, and to-day afford to us lessons
regarding things which have themselves long since passed away.
"So much for the fortified heights; but the hollows too have their
own story. But how the time passes! We must hurry home, or your
uncle will wonder what has become of us."
He started with long steps towards Lesser Hill, and Adam was soon
furtively running in order to keep up with him.
"Now, there is no hurry, but so soon as you are both ready we shall
start," Mr. Salton said when breakfast had begun. "I want to take
you first to see a remarkable relic of Mercia, and then we'll go to
Liverpool through what is called 'The Great Vale of Cheshire.' You
may be disappointed, but take care not to prepare your mind"--this
to Adam--"for anything stupendous or heroic. You would not think
the place a vale at all, unless you were told so beforehand, and had
confidence in the veracity of the teller. We should get to the
Landing Stage in time to meet the WEST AFRICAN, and catch Mr.
Caswall as he comes ashore. We want to do him honour--and, besides,
it will be more pleasant to have the introductions over before we go
to his FETE at the Castle."
The carriage was ready, the same as had been used the previous day,
but there were different horses--magnificent animals, and keen for
work. Breakfast was soon over, and they shortly took their places.
The postillions had their orders, and were quickly on their way at
an exhilarating pace.
Presently, in obedience to Mr. Salton's signal, the carriage drew up
opposite a great heap of stones by the wayside.
"Here, Adam," he said, "is something that you of all men should not
pass by unnoticed. That heap of stones brings us at once to the
dawn of the Anglian kingdom. It was begun more than a thousand
years ago--in the latter part of the seventh century--in memory of a
murder. Wulfere, King of Mercia, nephew of Penda, here murdered his
two sons for embracing Christianity. As was the custom of the time,
each passer-by added a stone to the memorial heap. Penda
represented heathen reaction after St. Augustine's mission. Sir
Nathaniel can tell you as much as you want about this, and put you,
if you wish, on the track of such accurate knowledge as there is."
Whilst they were looking at the heap of stones, they noticed that
another carriage had drawn up beside them, and the passenger--there
was only one--was regarding them curiously. The carriage was an old
heavy travelling one, with arms blazoned on it gorgeously. The men
took off their hats, as the occupant, a lady, addressed them.
"How do you do, Sir Nathaniel? How do you do, Mr. Salton? I hope
you have not met with any accident. Look at me!"
As she spoke she pointed to where one of the heavy springs was
broken across, the broken metal showing bright. Adam spoke up at
"Oh, that can soon be put right."
"Soon? There is no one near who can mend a break like that."
"I can."
"You!" She looked incredulously at the dapper young gentleman who
spoke. "You--why, it's a workman's job."
"All right, I am a workman--though that is not the only sort of work
I do. I am an Australian, and, as we have to move about fast, we
are all trained to farriery and such mechanics as come into travel--
I am quite at your service."
"I hardly know how to thank you for your kindness, of which I gladly
avail myself. I don't know what else I can do, as I wish to meet
Mr. Caswall of Castra Regis, who arrives home from Africa to-day.
It is a notable home-coming; all the countryside want to do him
honour." She looked at the old men and quickly made up her mind as
to the identity of the stranger. "You must be Mr. Adam Salton of
Lesser Hill. I am Lady Arabella March of Diana's Grove." As she
spoke she turned slightly to Mr. Salton, who took the hint and made
a formal introduction.
So soon as this was done, Adam took some tools from his uncle's
carriage, and at once began work on the broken spring. He was an
expert workman, and the breach was soon made good. Adam was
gathering the tools which he had been using--which, after the manner
of all workmen, had been scattered about--when he noticed that
several black snakes had crawled out from the heap of stones and
were gathering round him. This naturally occupied his mind, and he
was not thinking of anything else when he noticed Lady Arabella, who
had opened the door of the carriage, slip from it with a quick
gliding motion. She was already among the snakes when he called out
to warn her. But there seemed to be no need of warning. The snakes
had turned and were wriggling back to the mound as quickly as they
could. He laughed to himself behind his teeth as he whispered, "No
need to fear there. They seem much more afraid of her than she of
them." All the same he began to beat on the ground with a stick
which was lying close to him, with the instinct of one used to such
vermin. In an instant he was alone beside the mound with Lady
Arabella, who appeared quite unconcerned at the incident. Then he
took a long look at her, and her dress alone was sufficient to
attract attention. She was clad in some kind of soft white stuff,
which clung close to her form, showing to the full every movement of
her sinuous figure. She wore a close-fitting cap of some fine fur
of dazzling white. Coiled round her white throat was a large
necklace of emeralds, whose profusion of colour dazzled when the sun
shone on them. Her voice was peculiar, very low and sweet, and so
soft that the dominant note was of sibilation. Her hands, too, were
peculiar--long, flexible, white, with a strange movement as of
waving gently to and fro.
She appeared quite at ease, and, after thanking Adam, said that if
any of his uncle's party were going to Liverpool she would be most
happy to join forces.
"Whilst you are staying here, Mr. Salton, you must look on the
grounds of Diana's Grove as your own, so that you may come and go
just as you do in Lesser Hill. There are some fine views, and not a
few natural curiosities which are sure to interest you, if you are a
student of natural history--specially of an earlier kind, when the
world was younger."
The heartiness with which she spoke, and the warmth of her words--
not of her manner, which was cold and distant--made him suspicious.
In the meantime both his uncle and Sir Nathaniel had thanked her for
the invitation--of which, however, they said they were unable to
avail themselves. Adam had a suspicion that, though she answered
regretfully, she was in reality relieved. When he had got into the
carriage with the two old men, and they had driven off, he was not
surprised when Sir Nathaniel spoke.
"I could not but feel that she was glad to be rid of us. She can
play her game better alone!"
"What is her game?" asked Adam unthinkingly.
"All the county knows it, my boy. Caswall is a very rich man. Her
husband was rich when she married him--or seemed to be. When he
committed suicide, it was found that he had nothing left, and the
estate was mortgaged up to the hilt. Her only hope is in a rich
marriage. I suppose I need not draw any conclusion; you can do that
as well as I can."
Adam remained silent nearly all the time they were travelling
through the alleged Vale of Cheshire. He thought much during that
journey and came to several conclusions, though his lips were
unmoved. One of these conclusions was that he would be very careful
about paying any attention to Lady Arabella. He was himself a rich
man, how rich not even his uncle had the least idea, and would have
been surprised had he known.
The remainder of the journey was uneventful, and upon arrival at
Liverpool they went aboard the WEST AFRICAN, which had just come to
the landing-stage. There his uncle introduced himself to Mr.
Caswall, and followed this up by introducing Sir Nathaniel and then
Adam. The new-comer received them graciously, and said what a
pleasure it was to be coming home after so long an absence of his
family from their old seat. Adam was pleased at the warmth of the
reception; but he could not avoid a feeling of repugnance at the
man's face. He was trying hard to overcome this when a diversion
was caused by the arrival of Lady Arabella. The diversion was
welcome to all; the two Saltons and Sir Nathaniel were shocked at
Caswall's face--so hard, so ruthless, so selfish, so dominant. "God
help any," was the common thought, "who is under the domination of
such a man!"
Presently his African servant approached him, and at once their
thoughts changed to a larger toleration. Caswall looked indeed a
savage--but a cultured savage. In him were traces of the softening
civilisation of ages--of some of the higher instincts and education
of man, no matter how rudimentary these might be. But the face of
Oolanga, as his master called him, was unreformed, unsoftened
savage, and inherent in it were all the hideous possibilities of a
lost, devil-ridden child of the forest and the swamp--the lowest of
all created things that could be regarded as in some form ostensibly
human. Lady Arabella and Oolanga arrived almost simultaneously, and
Adam was surprised to notice what effect their appearance had on
each other. The woman seemed as if she would not--could not--
condescend to exhibit any concern or interest in such a creature.
On the other hand, the negro's bearing was such as in itself to
justify her pride. He treated her not merely as a slave treats his
master, but as a worshipper would treat a deity. He knelt before
her with his hands out-stretched and his forehead in the dust. So
long as she remained he did not move; it was only when she went over
to Caswall that he relaxed his attitude of devotion and stood by
Adam spoke to his own man, Davenport, who was standing by, having
arrived with the bailiff of Lesser Hill, who had followed Mr. Salton
in a pony trap. As he spoke, he pointed to an attentive ship's
steward, and presently the two men were conversing.
"I think we ought to be moving," Mr. Salton said to Adam. "I have
some things to do in Liverpool, and I am sure that both Mr. Caswall
and Lady Arabella would like to get under weigh for Castra Regis."
"I too, sir, would like to do something," replied Adam. "I want to
find out where Ross, the animal merchant, lives--I want to take a
small animal home with me, if you don't mind. He is only a little
thing, and will be no trouble."
"Of course not, my boy. What kind of animal is it that you want?"
"A mongoose."
"A mongoose! What on earth do you want it for?"
"To kill snakes."
"Good!" The old man remembered the mound of stones. No explanation
was needed.
When Ross heard what was wanted, he asked:
"Do you want something special, or will an ordinary mongoose do?"
"Well, of course I want a good one. But I see no need for anything
special. It is for ordinary use."
"I can let you have a choice of ordinary ones. I only asked,
because I have in stock a very special one which I got lately from
Nepaul. He has a record of his own. He killed a king cobra that
had been seen in the Rajah's garden. But I don't suppose we have
any snakes of the kind in this cold climate--I daresay an ordinary
one will do."
When Adam got back to the carriage, carefully carrying the box with
the mongoose, Sir Nathaniel said: "Hullo! what have you got there?"
"A mongoose."
"What for?"
"To kill snakes!"
Sir Nathaniel laughed.
"I heard Lady Arabella's invitation to you to come to Diana's
"Well, what on earth has that got to do with it?"
"Nothing directly that I know of. But we shall see." Adam waited,
and the old man went on: "Have you by any chance heard the other
name which was given long ago to that place."
"No, sir."
"It was called-- Look here, this subject wants a lot of talking
over. Suppose we wait till we are alone and have lots of time
before us."
"All right, sir." Adam was filled with curiosity, but he thought it
better not to hurry matters. All would come in good time. Then the
three men returned home, leaving Mr. Caswall to spend the night in
The following day the Lesser Hill party set out for Castra Regis,
and for the time Adam thought no more of Diana's Grove or of what
mysteries it had contained--or might still contain.
The guests were crowding in, and special places were marked for
important people. Adam, seeing so many persons of varied degree,
looked round for Lady Arabella, but could not locate her. It was
only when he saw the old-fashioned travelling carriage approach and
heard the sound of cheering which went with it, that he realised
that Edgar Caswall had arrived. Then, on looking more closely, he
saw that Lady Arabella, dressed as he had seen her last, was seated
beside him. When the carriage drew up at the great flight of steps,
the host jumped down and gave her his hand.
It was evident to all that she was the chief guest at the
festivities. It was not long before the seats on the dais were
filled, while the tenants and guests of lesser importance had
occupied all the coigns of vantage not reserved. The order of the
day had been carefully arranged by a committee. There were some
speeches, happily neither many nor long; and then festivities were
suspended till the time for feasting arrived. In the interval
Caswall walked among his guests, speaking to all in a friendly
manner and expressing a general welcome. The other guests came down
from the dais and followed his example, so there was unceremonious
meeting and greeting between gentle and simple.
Adam Salton naturally followed with his eyes all that went on within
their scope, taking note of all who seemed to afford any interest.
He was young and a man and a stranger from a far distance; so on all
these accounts he naturally took stock rather of the women than of
the men, and of these, those who were young and attractive. There
were lots of pretty girls among the crowd, and Adam, who was a
handsome young man and well set up, got his full share of admiring
glances. These did not concern him much, and he remained unmoved
until there came along a group of three, by their dress and bearing,
of the farmer class. One was a sturdy old man; the other two were
good-looking girls, one of a little over twenty, the other not quite
so old. So soon as Adam's eyes met those of the younger girl, who
stood nearest to him, some sort of electricity flashed--that divine
spark which begins by recognition, and ends in obedience. Men call
it "Love."
Both his companions noticed how much Adam was taken by the pretty
girl, and spoke of her to him in a way which made his heart warm to
"Did you notice that party that passed? The old man is Michael
Watford, one of the tenants of Mr. Caswall. He occupies Mercy Farm,
which Sir Nathaniel pointed out to you to-day. The girls are his
grand-daughters, the elder, Lilla, being the only child of his elder
son, who died when she was less than a year old. His wife died on
the same day. She is a good girl--as good as she is pretty. The
other is her first cousin, the daughter of Watford's second son. He
went for a soldier when he was just over twenty, and was drafted
abroad. He was not a good correspondent, though he was a good
enough son. A few letters came, and then his father heard from the
colonel of his regiment that he had been killed by dacoits in
Burmah. He heard from the same source that his boy had been married
to a Burmese, and that there was a daughter only a year old.
Watford had the child brought home, and she grew up beside Lilla.
The only thing that they heard of her birth was that her name was
Mimi. The two children adored each other, and do to this day.
Strange how different they are! Lilla all fair, like the old Saxon
stock from which she is sprung; Mimi showing a trace of her mother's
race. Lilla is as gentle as a dove, but Mimi's black eyes can glow
whenever she is upset. The only thing that upsets her is when
anything happens to injure or threaten or annoy Lilla. Then her
eyes glow as do the eyes of a bird when her young are menaced."
Mr. Salton introduced Adam to Mr. Watford and his grand-daughters,
and they all moved on together. Of course neighbours in the
position of the Watfords knew all about Adam Salton, his
relationship, circumstances, and prospects. So it would have been
strange indeed if both girls did not dream of possibilities of the
future. In agricultural England, eligible men of any class are
rare. This particular man was specially eligible, for he did not
belong to a class in which barriers of caste were strong. So when
it began to be noticed that he walked beside Mimi Watford and seemed
to desire her society, all their friends endeavoured to give the
promising affair a helping hand. When the gongs sounded for the
banquet, he went with her into the tent where her grandfather had
seats. Mr. Salton and Sir Nathaniel noticed that the young man did
not come to claim his appointed place at the dais table; but they
understood and made no remark, or indeed did not seem to notice his
Lady Arabella sat as before at Edgar Caswall's right hand. She was
certainly a striking and unusual woman, and to all it seemed fitting
from her rank and personal qualities that she should be the chosen
partner of the heir on his first appearance. Of course nothing was
said openly by those of her own class who were present; but words
were not necessary when so much could be expressed by nods and
smiles. It seemed to be an accepted thing that at last there was to
be a mistress of Castra Regis, and that she was present amongst
them. There were not lacking some who, whilst admitting all her
charm and beauty, placed her in the second rank, Lilla Watford being
marked as first. There was sufficient divergence of type, as well
as of individual beauty, to allow of fair comment; Lady Arabella
represented the aristocratic type, and Lilla that of the commonalty.
When the dusk began to thicken, Mr. Salton and Sir Nathaniel walked
home--the trap had been sent away early in the day--leaving Adam to
follow in his own time. He came in earlier than was expected, and
seemed upset about something. Neither of the elders made any
comment. They all lit cigarettes, and, as dinner-time was close at
hand, went to their rooms to get ready.
Adam had evidently been thinking in the interval. He joined the
others in the drawing-room, looking ruffled and impatient--a
condition of things seen for the first time. The others, with the
patience--or the experience--of age, trusted to time to unfold and
explain things. They had not long to wait. After sitting down and
standing up several times, Adam suddenly burst out.
"That fellow seems to think he owns the earth. Can't he let people
alone! He seems to think that he has only to throw his handkerchief
to any woman, and be her master."
This outburst was in itself enlightening. Only thwarted affection
in some guise could produce this feeling in an amiable young man.
Sir Nathaniel, as an old diplomatist, had a way of understanding, as
if by foreknowledge, the true inwardness of things, and asked
suddenly, but in a matter-of-fact, indifferent voice:
"Was he after Lilla?"
"Yes, and the fellow didn't lose any time either. Almost as soon as
they met, he began to butter her up, and tell her how beautiful she
was. Why, before he left her side, he had asked himself to tea tomorrow
at Mercy Farm. Stupid ass! He might see that the girl isn't
his sort! I never saw anything like it. It was just like a hawk
and a pigeon."
As he spoke, Sir Nathaniel turned and looked at Mr. Salton--a keen
look which implied a full understanding.
"Tell us all about it, Adam. There are still a few minutes before
dinner, and we shall all have better appetites when we have come to
some conclusion on this matter."
"There is nothing to tell, sir; that is the worst of it. I am bound
to say that there was not a word said that a human being could
object to. He was very civil, and all that was proper--just what a
landlord might be to a tenant's daughter. . . Yet--yet--well, I
don't know how it was, but it made my blood boil."
"How did the hawk and the pigeon come in?" Sir Nathaniel's voice
was soft and soothing, nothing of contradiction or overdone
curiosity in it--a tone eminently suited to win confidence.
"I can hardly explain. I can only say that he looked like a hawk
and she like a dove--and, now that I think of it, that is what they
each did look like; and do look like in their normal condition."
"That is so!" came the soft voice of Sir Nathaniel.
Adam went on:
"Perhaps that early Roman look of his set me off. But I wanted to
protect her; she seemed in danger."
"She seems in danger, in a way, from all you young men. I couldn't
help noticing the way that even you looked--as if you wished to
absorb her!"
"I hope both you young men will keep your heads cool," put in Mr.
Salton. "You know, Adam, it won't do to have any quarrel between
you, especially so soon after his home-coming and your arrival here.
We must think of the feelings and happiness of our neighbours;
mustn't we?"
"I hope so, sir. I assure you that, whatever may happen, or even
threaten, I shall obey your wishes in this as in all things."
"Hush!" whispered Sir Nathaniel, who heard the servants in the
passage bringing dinner.
After dinner, over the walnuts and the wine, Sir Nathaniel returned
to the subject of the local legends.
"It will perhaps be a less dangerous topic for us to discuss than
more recent ones."
"All right, sir," said Adam heartily. "I think you may depend on me
now with regard to any topic. I can even discuss Mr. Caswall.
Indeed, I may meet him to-morrow. He is going, as I said, to call
at Mercy Farm at three o'clock--but I have an appointment at two."
"I notice," said Mr. Salton, "that you do not lose any time."
The two old men once more looked at each other steadily. Then, lest
the mood of his listener should change with delay, Sir Nathaniel
began at once:
"I don't propose to tell you all the legends of Mercia, or even to
make a selection of them. It will be better, I think, for our
purpose if we consider a few facts--recorded or unrecorded--about
this neighbourhood. I think we might begin with Diana's Grove. It
has roots in the different epochs of our history, and each has its
special crop of legend. The Druid and the Roman are too far off for
matters of detail; but it seems to me the Saxon and the Angles are
near enough to yield material for legendary lore. We find that this
particular place had another name besides Diana's Grove. This was
manifestly of Roman origin, or of Grecian accepted as Roman. The
other is more pregnant of adventure and romance than the Roman name.
In Mercian tongue it was 'The Lair of the White Worm.' This needs a
word of explanation at the beginning.
"In the dawn of the language, the word 'worm' had a somewhat
different meaning from that in use to-day. It was an adaptation of
the Anglo-Saxon 'wyrm,' meaning a dragon or snake; or from the
Gothic 'waurms,' a serpent; or the Icelandic 'ormur,' or the German
'wurm.' We gather that it conveyed originally an idea of size and
power, not as now in the diminutive of both these meanings. Here
legendary history helps us. We have the well-known legend of the
'Worm Well' of Lambton Castle, and that of the 'Laidly Worm of
Spindleston Heugh' near Bamborough. In both these legends the
'worm' was a monster of vast size and power--a veritable dragon or
serpent, such as legend attributes to vast fens or quags where there
was illimitable room for expansion. A glance at a geological map
will show that whatever truth there may have been of the actuality
of such monsters in the early geologic periods, at least there was
plenty of possibility. In England there were originally vast plains
where the plentiful supply of water could gather. The streams were
deep and slow, and there were holes of abysmal depth, where any kind
and size of antediluvian monster could find a habitat. In places,
which now we can see from our windows, were mud-holes a hundred or
more feet deep. Who can tell us when the age of the monsters which
flourished in slime came to an end? There must have been places and
conditions which made for greater longevity, greater size, greater
strength than was usual. Such over-lappings may have come down even
to our earlier centuries. Nay, are there not now creatures of a
vastness of bulk regarded by the generality of men as impossible?
Even in our own day there are seen the traces of animals, if not the
animals themselves, of stupendous size--veritable survivals from
earlier ages, preserved by some special qualities in their habitats.
I remember meeting a distinguished man in India, who had the
reputation of being a great shikaree, who told me that the greatest
temptation he had ever had in his life was to shoot a giant snake
which he had come across in the Terai of Upper India. He was on a
tiger-shooting expedition, and as his elephant was crossing a
nullah, it squealed. He looked down from his howdah and saw that
the elephant had stepped across the body of a snake which was
dragging itself through the jungle. 'So far as I could see,' he
said, 'it must have been eighty or one hundred feet in length.
Fully forty or fifty feet was on each side of the track, and though
the weight which it dragged had thinned it, it was as thick round as
a man's body. I suppose you know that when you are after tiger, it
is a point of honour not to shoot at anything else, as life may
depend on it. I could easily have spined this monster, but I felt
that I must not--so, with regret, I had to let it go.'
"Just imagine such a monster anywhere in this country, and at once
we could get a sort of idea of the 'worms,' which possibly did
frequent the great morasses which spread round the mouths of many of
the great European rivers."
"I haven't the least doubt, sir, that there may have been such
monsters as you have spoken of still existing at a much later period
than is generally accepted," replied Adam. "Also, if there were
such things, that this was the very place for them. I have tried to
think over the matter since you pointed out the configuration of the
ground. But it seems to me that there is a hiatus somewhere. Are
there not mechanical difficulties?"
"In what way?"
"Well, our antique monster must have been mighty heavy, and the
distances he had to travel were long and the ways difficult. From
where we are now sitting down to the level of the mud-holes is a
distance of several hundred feet--I am leaving out of consideration
altogether any lateral distance. Is it possible that there was a
way by which a monster could travel up and down, and yet no chance
recorder have ever seen him? Of course we have the legends; but is
not some more exact evidence necessary in a scientific
"My dear Adam, all you say is perfectly right, and, were we starting
on such an investigation, we could not do better than follow your
reasoning. But, my dear boy, you must remember that all this took
place thousands of years ago. You must remember, too, that all
records of the kind that would help us are lacking. Also, that the
places to be considered were desert, so far as human habitation or
population are considered. In the vast desolation of such a place
as complied with the necessary conditions, there must have been such
profusion of natural growth as would bar the progress of men formed
as we are. The lair of such a monster would not have been disturbed
for hundreds--or thousands--of years. Moreover, these creatures
must have occupied places quite inaccessible to man. A snake who
could make himself comfortable in a quagmire, a hundred feet deep,
would be protected on the outskirts by such stupendous morasses as
now no longer exist, or which, if they exist anywhere at all, can be
on very few places on the earth's surface. Far be it from me to say
that in more elemental times such things could not have been. The
condition belongs to the geologic age--the great birth and growth of
the world, when natural forces ran riot, when the struggle for
existence was so savage that no vitality which was not founded in a
gigantic form could have even a possibility of survival. That such
a time existed, we have evidences in geology, but there only; we can
never expect proofs such as this age demands. We can only imagine
or surmise such things--or such conditions and such forces as
overcame them."
At breakfast-time next morning Sir Nathaniel and Mr. Salton were
seated when Adam came hurriedly into the room.
"Any news?" asked his uncle mechanically.
"Four what?" asked Sir Nathaniel.
"Snakes," said Adam, helping himself to a grilled kidney.
"Four snakes. I don't understand."
"Mongoose," said Adam, and then added explanatorily: "I was out
with the mongoose just after three."
"Four snakes in one morning! Why, I didn't know there were so many
on the Brow"--the local name for the western cliff. "I hope that
wasn't the consequence of our talk of last night?"
"It was, sir. But not directly."
"But, God bless my soul, you didn't expect to get a snake like the
Lambton worm, did you? Why, a mongoose, to tackle a monster like
that--if there were one--would have to be bigger than a haystack."
"These were ordinary snakes, about as big as a walking-stick."
"Well, it's pleasant to be rid of them, big or little. That is a
good mongoose, I am sure; he'll clear out all such vermin round
here," said Mr. Salton.
Adam went quietly on with his breakfast. Killing a few snakes in a
morning was no new experience to him. He left the room the moment
breakfast was finished and went to the study that his uncle had
arranged for him. Both Sir Nathaniel and Mr. Salton took it that he
wanted to be by himself, so as to avoid any questioning or talk of
the visit that he was to make that afternoon. They saw nothing
further of him till about half-an-hour before dinner-time. Then he
came quietly into the smoking-room, where Mr. Salton and Sir
Nathaniel were sitting together, ready dressed.
"I suppose there is no use waiting. We had better get it over at
once," remarked Adam.
His uncle, thinking to make things easier for him, said: "Get what
There was a sign of shyness about him at this. He stammered a
little at first, but his voice became more even as he went on.
"My visit to Mercy Farm."
Mr. Salton waited eagerly. The old diplomatist simply smiled.
"I suppose you both know that I was much interested yesterday in the
Watfords?" There was no denial or fending off the question. Both
the old men smiled acquiescence. Adam went on: "I meant you to see
it--both of you. You, uncle, because you are my uncle and the
nearest of my own kin, and, moreover, you couldn't have been more
kind to me or made me more welcome if you had been my own father."
Mr. Salton said nothing. He simply held out his hand, and the other
took it and held it for a few seconds. "And you, sir, because you
have shown me something of the same affection which in my wildest
dreams of home I had no right to expect." He stopped for an
instant, much moved.
Sir Nathaniel answered softly, laying his hand on the youth's
"You are right, my boy; quite right. That is the proper way to look
at it. And I may tell you that we old men, who have no children of
our own, feel our hearts growing warm when we hear words like
Then Adam hurried on, speaking with a rush, as if he wanted to come
to the crucial point.
"Mr. Watford had not come in, but Lilla and Mimi were at home, and
they made me feel very welcome. They have all a great regard for my
uncle. I am glad of that any way, for I like them all--much. We
were having tea, when Mr. Caswall came to the door, attended by the
negro. Lilla opened the door herself. The window of the livingroom
at the farm is a large one, and from within you cannot help
seeing anyone coming. Mr. Caswall said he had ventured to call, as
he wished to make the acquaintance of all his tenants, in a less
formal way, and more individually, than had been possible to him on
the previous day. The girls made him welcome--they are very sweet
girls those, sir; someone will be very happy some day there--with
either of them."
"And that man may be you, Adam," said Mr. Salton heartily.
A sad look came over the young man's eyes, and the fire his uncle
had seen there died out. Likewise the timbre left his voice, making
it sound lonely.
"Such might crown my life. But that happiness, I fear, is not for
me--or not without pain and loss and woe."
"Well, it's early days yet!" cried Sir Nathaniel heartily.
The young man turned on him his eyes, which had now grown
excessively sad.
"Yesterday--a few hours ago--that remark would have given me new
hope--new courage; but since then I have learned too much."
The old man, skilled in the human heart, did not attempt to argue in
such a matter.
"Too early to give in, my boy."
"I am not of a giving-in kind," replied the young man earnestly.
"But, after all, it is wise to realise a truth. And when a man,
though he is young, feels as I do--as I have felt ever since
yesterday, when I first saw Mimi's eyes--his heart jumps. He does
not need to learn things. He knows."
There was silence in the room, during which the twilight stole on
imperceptibly. It was Adam who again broke the silence.
"Do you know, uncle, if we have any second sight in our family?"
"No, not that I ever heard about. Why?"
"Because," he answered slowly, "I have a conviction which seems to
answer all the conditions of second sight."
"And then?" asked the old man, much perturbed.
"And then the usual inevitable. What in the Hebrides and other
places, where the Sight is a cult--a belief--is called 'the doom'--
the court from which there is no appeal. I have often heard of
second sight--we have many western Scots in Australia; but I have
realised more of its true inwardness in an instant of this afternoon
than I did in the whole of my life previously--a granite wall
stretching up to the very heavens, so high and so dark that the eye
of God Himself cannot see beyond. Well, if the Doom must come, it
must. That is all."
The voice of Sir Nathaniel broke in, smooth and sweet and grave.
"Can there not be a fight for it? There can for most things."
"For most things, yes, but for the Doom, no. What a man can do I
shall do. There will be--must be--a fight. When and where and how
I know not, but a fight there will be. But, after all, what is a
man in such a case?"
"Adam, there are three of us." Salton looked at his old friend as
he spoke, and that old friend's eyes blazed.
"Ay, three of us," he said, and his voice rang.
There was again a pause, and Sir Nathaniel endeavoured to get back
to less emotional and more neutral ground.
"Tell us of the rest of the meeting. Remember we are all pledged to
this. It is a fight E L'OUTRANCE, and we can afford to throw away
or forgo no chance."
"We shall throw away or lose nothing that we can help. We fight to
win, and the stake is a life--perhaps more than one--we shall see."
Then he went on in a conversational tone, such as he had used when
he spoke of the coming to the farm of Edgar Caswall: "When Mr.
Caswall came in, the negro went a short distance away and there
remained. It gave me the idea that he expected to be called, and
intended to remain in sight, or within hail. Then Mimi got another
cup and made fresh tea, and we all went on together."
"Was there anything uncommon--were you all quite friendly?" asked
Sir Nathaniel quietly.
"Quite friendly. There was nothing that I could notice out of the
common--except," he went on, with a slight hardening of the voice,
"except that he kept his eyes fixed on Lilla, in a way which was
quite intolerable to any man who might hold her dear."
"Now, in what way did he look?" asked Sir Nathaniel.
"There was nothing in itself offensive; but no one could help
noticing it."
"You did. Miss Watford herself, who was the victim, and Mr.
Caswall, who was the offender, are out of range as witnesses. Was
there anyone else who noticed?"
"Mimi did. Her face flamed with anger as she saw the look."
"What kind of look was it? Over-ardent or too admiring, or what?
Was it the look of a lover, or one who fain would be? You
"Yes, sir, I quite understand. Anything of that sort I should of
course notice. It would be part of my preparation for keeping my
self-control--to which I am pledged."
"If it were not amatory, was it threatening? Where was the
Adam smiled kindly at the old man.
"It was not amatory. Even if it was, such was to be expected. I
should be the last man in the world to object, since I am myself an
offender in that respect. Moreover, not only have I been taught to
fight fair, but by nature I believe I am just. I would be as
tolerant of and as liberal to a rival as I should expect him to be
to me. No, the look I mean was nothing of that kind. And so long
as it did not lack proper respect, I should not of my own part
condescend to notice it. Did you ever study the eyes of a hound?"
"At rest?"
"No, when he is following his instincts! Or, better still," Adam
went on, "the eyes of a bird of prey when he is following his
instincts. Not when he is swooping, but merely when he is watching
his quarry?"
"No," said Sir Nathaniel, "I don't know that I ever did. Why, may I
"That was the look. Certainly not amatory or anything of that kind-
-yet it was, it struck me, more dangerous, if not so deadly as an
actual threatening."
Again there was a silence, which Sir Nathaniel broke as he stood up:
"I think it would be well if we all thought over this by ourselves.
Then we can renew the subject."
Mr. Salton had an appointment for six o'clock at Liverpool. When he
had driven off, Sir Nathaniel took Adam by the arm.
"May I come with you for a while to your study? I want to speak to
you privately without your uncle knowing about it, or even what the
subject is. You don't mind, do you? It is not idle curiosity. No,
no. It is on the subject to which we are all committed."
"Is it necessary to keep my uncle in the dark about it? He might be
"It is not necessary; but it is advisable. It is for his sake that
I asked. My friend is an old man, and it might concern him unduly--
even alarm him. I promise you there shall be nothing that could
cause him anxiety in our silence, or at which he could take
"Go on, sir!" said Adam simply.
"You see, your uncle is now an old man. I know it, for we were boys
together. He has led an uneventful and somewhat self-contained
life, so that any such condition of things as has now arisen is apt
to perplex him from its very strangeness. In fact, any new matter
is trying to old people. It has its own disturbances and its own
anxieties, and neither of these things are good for lives that
should be restful. Your uncle is a strong man, with a very happy
and placid nature. Given health and ordinary conditions of life,
there is no reason why he should not live to be a hundred. You and
I, therefore, who both love him, though in different ways, should
make it our business to protect him from all disturbing influences.
I am sure you will agree with me that any labour to this end would
be well spent. All right, my boy! I see your answer in your eyes;
so we need say no more of that. And now," here his voice changed,
"tell me all that took place at that interview. There are strange
things in front of us--how strange we cannot at present even guess.
Doubtless some of the difficult things to understand which lie
behind the veil will in time be shown to us to see and to
understand. In the meantime, all we can do is to work patiently,
fearlessly, and unselfishly, to an end that we think is right. You
had got so far as where Lilla opened the door to Mr. Caswall and the
negro. You also observed that Mimi was disturbed in her mind at the
way Mr. Caswall looked at her cousin."
"Certainly--though 'disturbed' is a poor way of expressing her
"Can you remember well enough to describe Caswall's eyes, and how
Lilla looked, and what Mimi said and did? Also Oolanga, Caswall's
West African servant."
"I'll do what I can, sir. All the time Mr. Caswall was staring, he
kept his eyes fixed and motionless--but not as if he was in a
trance. His forehead was wrinkled up, as it is when one is trying
to see through or into something. At the best of times his face has
not a gentle expression; but when it was screwed up like that it was
almost diabolical. It frightened poor Lilla so that she trembled,
and after a bit got so pale that I thought she had fainted.
However, she held up and tried to stare back, but in a feeble kind
of way. Then Mimi came close and held her hand. That braced her
up, and--still, never ceasing her return stare--she got colour again
and seemed more like herself."
"Did he stare too?"
"More than ever. The weaker Lilla seemed, the stronger he became,
just as if he were feeding on her strength. All at once she turned
round, threw up her hands, and fell down in a faint. I could not
see what else happened just then, for Mimi had thrown herself on her
knees beside her and hid her from me. Then there was something like
a black shadow between us, and there was the nigger, looking more
like a malignant devil than ever. I am not usually a patient man,
and the sight of that ugly devil is enough to make one's blood boil.
When he saw my face, he seemed to realise danger--immediate danger--
and slunk out of the room as noiselessly as if he had been blown
out. I learned one thing, however--he is an enemy, if ever a man
had one."
"That still leaves us three to two!" put in Sir Nathaniel.
"Then Caswall slunk out, much as the nigger had done. When he had
gone, Lilla recovered at once."
"Now," said Sir Nathaniel, anxious to restore peace, "have you found
out anything yet regarding the negro? I am anxious to be posted
regarding him. I fear there will be, or may be, grave trouble with
"Yes, sir, I've heard a good deal about him--of course it is not
official; but hearsay must guide us at first. You know my man
Davenport--private secretary, confidential man of business, and
general factotum. He is devoted to me, and has my full confidence.
I asked him to stay on board the WEST AFRICAN and have a good look
round, and find out what he could about Mr. Caswall. Naturally, he
was struck with the aboriginal savage. He found one of the ship's
stewards, who had been on the regular voyages to South Africa. He
knew Oolanga and had made a study of him. He is a man who gets on
well with niggers, and they open their hearts to him. It seems that
this Oolanga is quite a great person in the nigger world of the
African West Coast. He has the two things which men of his own
colour respect: he can make them afraid, and he is lavish with
money. I don't know whose money--but that does not matter. They
are always ready to trumpet his greatness. Evil greatness it is--
but neither does that matter. Briefly, this is his history. He was
originally a witch-finder--about as low an occupation as exists
amongst aboriginal savages. Then he got up in the world and became
an Obi-man, which gives an opportunity to wealth VIA blackmail.
Finally, he reached the highest honour in hellish service. He
became a user of Voodoo, which seems to be a service of the utmost
baseness and cruelty. I was told some of his deeds of cruelty,
which are simply sickening. They made me long for an opportunity of
helping to drive him back to hell. You might think to look at him
that you could measure in some way the extent of his vileness; but
it would be a vain hope. Monsters such as he is belong to an
earlier and more rudimentary stage of barbarism. He is in his way a
clever fellow--for a nigger; but is none the less dangerous or the
less hateful for that. The men in the ship told me that he was a
collector: some of them had seen his collections. Such
collections! All that was potent for evil in bird or beast, or even
in fish. Beaks that could break and rend and tear--all the birds
represented were of a predatory kind. Even the fishes are those
which are born to destroy, to wound, to torture. The collection, I
assure you, was an object lesson in human malignity. This being has
enough evil in his face to frighten even a strong man. It is little
wonder that the sight of it put that poor girl into a dead faint!"
Nothing more could be done at the moment, so they separated.
Adam was up in the early morning and took a smart walk round the
Brow. As he was passing Diana's Grove, he looked in on the short
avenue of trees, and noticed the snakes killed on the previous
morning by the mongoose. They all lay in a row, straight and rigid,
as if they had been placed by hands. Their skins seemed damp and
sticky, and they were covered all over with ants and other insects.
They looked loathsome, so after a glance, he passed on.
A little later, when his steps took him, naturally enough, past the
entrance to Mercy Farm, he was passed by the negro, moving quickly
under the trees wherever there was shadow. Laid across one extended
arm, looking like dirty towels across a rail, he had the horridlooking
snakes. He did not seem to see Adam. No one was to be seen
at Mercy except a few workmen in the farmyard, so, after waiting on
the chance of seeing Mimi, Adam began to go slowly home.
Once more he was passed on the way. This time it was by Lady
Arabella, walking hurriedly and so furiously angry that she did not
recognise him, even to the extent of acknowledging his bow.
When Adam got back to Lesser Hill, he went to the coach-house where
the box with the mongoose was kept, and took it with him, intending
to finish at the Mound of Stone what he had begun the previous
morning with regard to the extermination. He found that the snakes
were even more easily attacked than on the previous day; no less
than six were killed in the first half-hour. As no more appeared,
he took it for granted that the morning's work was over, and went
towards home. The mongoose had by this time become accustomed to
him, and was willing to let himself be handled freely. Adam lifted
him up and put him on his shoulder and walked on. Presently he saw
a lady advancing towards him, and recognised Lady Arabella.
Hitherto the mongoose had been quiet, like a playful affectionate
kitten; but when the two got close, Adam was horrified to see the
mongoose, in a state of the wildest fury, with every hair standing
on end, jump from his shoulder and run towards Lady Arabella. It
looked so furious and so intent on attack that he called a warning.
"Look out--look out! The animal is furious and means to attack."
Lady Arabella looked more than ever disdainful and was passing on;
the mongoose jumped at her in a furious attack. Adam rushed forward
with his stick, the only weapon he had. But just as he got within
striking distance, the lady drew out a revolver and shot the animal,
breaking his backbone. Not satisfied with this, she poured shot
after shot into him till the magazine was exhausted. There was no
coolness or hauteur about her now; she seemed more furious even than
the animal, her face transformed with hate, and as determined to
kill as he had appeared to be. Adam, not knowing exactly what to
do, lifted his hat in apology and hurried on to Lesser Hill.
At breakfast Sir Nathaniel noticed that Adam was put out about
something, but he said nothing. The lesson of silence is better
remembered in age than in youth. When they were both in the study,
where Sir Nathaniel followed him, Adam at once began to tell his
companion of what had happened. Sir Nathaniel looked graver and
graver as the narration proceeded, and when Adam had stopped he
remained silent for several minutes, before speaking.
"This is very grave. I have not formed any opinion yet; but it
seems to me at first impression that this is worse than anything I
had expected."
"Why, sir?" said Adam. "Is the killing of a mongoose--no matter by
whom--so serious a thing as all that?"
His companion smoked on quietly for quite another few minutes before
he spoke.
"When I have properly thought it over I may moderate my opinion, but
in the meantime it seems to me that there is something dreadful
behind all this--something that may affect all our lives--that may
mean the issue of life or death to any of us."
Adam sat up quickly.
"Do tell me, sir, what is in your mind--if, of course, you have no
objection, or do not think it better to withhold it."
"I have no objection, Adam--in fact, if I had, I should have to
overcome it. I fear there can be no more reserved thoughts between
"Indeed, sir, that sounds serious, worse than serious!"
"Adam, I greatly fear that the time has come for us--for you and me,
at all events--to speak out plainly to one another. Does not there
seem something very mysterious about this?"
"I have thought so, sir, all along. The only difficulty one has is
what one is to think and where to begin."
"Let us begin with what you have told me. First take the conduct of
the mongoose. He was quiet, even friendly and affectionate with
you. He only attacked the snakes, which is, after all, his business
in life."
"That is so!"
"Then we must try to find some reason why he attacked Lady
"May it not be that a mongoose may have merely the instinct to
attack, that nature does not allow or provide him with the fine
reasoning powers to discriminate who he is to attack?"
"Of course that may be so. But, on the other hand, should we not
satisfy ourselves why he does wish to attack anything? If for
centuries, this particular animal is known to attack only one kind
of other animal, are we not justified in assuming that when one of
them attacks a hitherto unclassed animal, he recognises in that
animal some quality which it has in common with the hereditary
"That is a good argument, sir," Adam went on, "but a dangerous one.
If we followed it out, it would lead us to believe that Lady
Arabella is a snake."
"We must be sure, before going to such an end, that there is no
point as yet unconsidered which would account for the unknown thing
which puzzles us."
"In what way?"
"Well, suppose the instinct works on some physical basis--for
instance, smell. If there were anything in recent juxtaposition to
the attacked which would carry the scent, surely that would supply
the missing cause."
"Of course!" Adam spoke with conviction.
"Now, from what you tell me, the negro had just come from the
direction of Diana's Grove, carrying the dead snakes which the
mongoose had killed the previous morning. Might not the scent have
been carried that way?"
"Of course it might, and probably was. I never thought of that. Is
there any possible way of guessing approximately how long a scent
will remain? You see, this is a natural scent, and may derive from
a place where it has been effective for thousands of years. Then,
does a scent of any kind carry with it any form or quality of
another kind, either good or evil? I ask you because one ancient
name of the house lived in by the lady who was attacked by the
mongoose was 'The Lair of the White Worm.' If any of these things
be so, our difficulties have multiplied indefinitely. They may even
change in kind. We may get into moral entanglements; before we know
it, we may be in the midst of a struggle between good and evil."
Sir Nathaniel smiled gravely.
"With regard to the first question--so far as I know, there are no
fixed periods for which a scent may be active--I think we may take
it that that period does not run into thousands of years. As to
whether any moral change accompanies a physical one, I can only say
that I have met no proof of the fact. At the same time, we must
remember that 'good' and 'evil' are terms so wide as to take in the
whole scheme of creation, and all that is implied by them and by
their mutual action and reaction. Generally, I would say that in
the scheme of a First Cause anything is possible. So long as the
inherent forces or tendencies of any one thing are veiled from us we
must expect mystery."
"There is one other question on which I should like to ask your
opinion. Suppose that there are any permanent forces appertaining
to the past, what we may call 'survivals,' do these belong to good
as well as to evil? For instance, if the scent of the primaeval
monster can so remain in proportion to the original strength, can
the same be true of things of good import?"
Sir Nathaniel thought for a while before he answered.
"We must be careful not to confuse the physical and the moral. I
can see that already you have switched on the moral entirely, so
perhaps we had better follow it up first. On the side of the moral,
we have certain justification for belief in the utterances of
revealed religion. For instance, 'the effectual fervent prayer of a
righteous man availeth much' is altogether for good. We have
nothing of a similar kind on the side of evil. But if we accept
this dictum we need have no more fear of 'mysteries': these become
thenceforth merely obstacles."
Adam suddenly changed to another phase of the subject.
"And now, sir, may I turn for a few minutes to purely practical
things, or rather to matters of historical fact?"
Sir Nathaniel bowed acquiescence.
"We have already spoken of the history, so far as it is known, of
some of the places round us--'Castra Regis,' 'Diana's Grove,' and
'The Lair of the White Worm.' I would like to ask if there is
anything not necessarily of evil import about any of the places?"
"Which?" asked Sir Nathaniel shrewdly.
"Well, for instance, this house and Mercy Farm?"
"Here we turn," said Sir Nathaniel, "to the other side, the light
side of things. Let us take Mercy Farm first. When Augustine was
sent by Pope Gregory to Christianise England, in the time of the
Romans, he was received and protected by Ethelbert, King of Kent,
whose wife, daughter of Charibert, King of Paris, was a Christian,
and did much for Augustine. She founded a nunnery in memory of
Columba, which was named SEDES MISERICORDIOE, the House of Mercy,
and, as the region was Mercian, the two names became involved. As
Columba is the Latin for dove, the dove became a sort of
signification of the nunnery. She seized on the idea and made the
newly-founded nunnery a house of doves. Someone sent her a freshlydiscovered
dove, a sort of carrier, but which had in the white
feathers of its head and neck the form of a religious cowl. The
nunnery flourished for more than a century, when, in the time of
Penda, who was the reactionary of heathendom, it fell into decay.
In the meantime the doves, protected by religious feeling, had
increased mightily, and were known in all Catholic communities.
When King Offa ruled in Mercia, about a hundred and fifty years
later, he restored Christianity, and under its protection the
nunnery of St. Columba was restored and its doves flourished again.
In process of time this religious house again fell into desuetude;
but before it disappeared it had achieved a great name for good
works, and in especial for the piety of its members. If deeds and
prayers and hopes and earnest thinking leave anywhere any moral
effect, Mercy Farm and all around it have almost the right to be
considered holy ground."
"Thank you, sir," said Adam earnestly, and was silent. Sir
Nathaniel understood.
After lunch that day, Adam casually asked Sir Nathaniel to come for
a walk with him. The keen-witted old diplomatist guessed that there
must be some motive behind the suggestion, and he at once agreed.
As soon as they were free from observation, Adam began.
"I am afraid, sir, that there is more going on in this neighbourhood
than most people imagine. I was out this morning, and on the edge
of the small wood, I came upon the body of a child by the roadside.
At first, I thought she was dead, and while examining her, I noticed
on her neck some marks that looked like those of teeth."
"Some wild dog, perhaps?" put in Sir Nathaniel.
"Possibly, sir, though I think not--but listen to the rest of my
news. I glanced around, and to my surprise, I noticed something
white moving among the trees. I placed the child down carefully,
and followed, but I could not find any further traces. So I
returned to the child and resumed my examination, and, to my
delight, I discovered that she was still alive. I chafed her hands
and gradually she revived, but to my disappointment she remembered
nothing--except that something had crept up quietly from behind, and
had gripped her round the throat. Then, apparently, she fainted."
"Gripped her round the throat! Then it cannot have been a dog."
"No, sir, that is my difficulty, and explains why I brought you out
here, where we cannot possibly be overheard. You have noticed, of
course, the peculiar sinuous way in which Lady Arabella moves--well,
I feel certain that the white thing that I saw in the wood was the
mistress of Diana's Grove!"
"Good God, boy, be careful what you say."
"Yes, sir, I fully realise the gravity of my accusation, but I feel
convinced that the marks on the child's throat were human--and made
by a woman."
Adam's companion remained silent for some time, deep in thought.
"Adam, my boy," he said at last, "this matter appears to me to be
far more serious even than you think. It forces me to break
confidence with my old friend, your uncle--but, in order to spare
him, I must do so. For some time now, things have been happening in
this district that have been worrying him dreadfully--several people
have disappeared, without leaving the slightest trace; a dead child
was found by the roadside, with no visible or ascertainable cause of
death--sheep and other animals have been found in the fields,
bleeding from open wounds. There have been other matters--many of
them apparently trivial in themselves. Some sinister influence has
been at work, and I admit that I have suspected Lady Arabella--that
is why I questioned you so closely about the mongoose and its
strange attack upon Lady Arabella. You will think it strange that I
should suspect the mistress of Diana's Grove, a beautiful woman of
aristocratic birth. Let me explain--the family seat is near my own
place, Doom Tower, and at one time I knew the family well. When
still a young girl, Lady Arabella wandered into a small wood near
her home, and did not return. She was found unconscious and in a
high fever--the doctor said that she had received a poisonous bite,
and the girl being at a delicate and critical age, the result was
serious--so much so that she was not expected to recover. A great
London physician came down but could do nothing--indeed, he said
that the girl would not survive the night. All hope had been
abandoned, when, to everyone's surprise, Lady Arabella made a sudden
and startling recovery. Within a couple of days she was going about
as usual! But to the horror of her people, she developed a terrible
craving for cruelty, maiming and injuring birds and small animals--
even killing them. This was put down to a nervous disturbance due
to her age, and it was hoped that her marriage to Captain March
would put this right. However, it was not a happy marriage, and
eventually her husband was found shot through the head. I have
always suspected suicide, though no pistol was found near the body.
He may have discovered something--God knows what!--so possibly Lady
Arabella may herself have killed him. Putting together many small
matters that have come to my knowledge, I have come to the
conclusion that the foul White Worm obtained control of her body,
just as her soul was leaving its earthly tenement--that would
explain the sudden revival of energy, the strange and inexplicable
craving for maiming and killing, as well as many other matters with
which I need not trouble you now, Adam. As I said just now, God
alone knows what poor Captain March discovered--it must have been
something too ghastly for human endurance, if my theory is correct
that the once beautiful human body of Lady Arabella is under the
control of this ghastly White Worm."
Adam nodded.
"But what can we do, sir--it seems a most difficult problem."
"We can do nothing, my boy--that is the important part of it. It
would be impossible to take action--all we can do is to keep careful
watch, especially as regards Lady Arabella, and be ready to act,
promptly and decisively, if the opportunity occurs."
Adam agreed, and the two men returned to Lesser Hill.
Adam Salton, though he talked little, did not let the grass grow
under his feet in any matter which he had undertaken, or in which he
was interested. He had agreed with Sir Nathaniel that they should
not do anything with regard to the mystery of Lady Arabella's fear
of the mongoose, but he steadily pursued his course in being
PREPARED to act whenever the opportunity might come. He was in his
own mind perpetually casting about for information or clues which
might lead to possible lines of action. Baffled by the killing of
the mongoose, he looked around for another line to follow. He was
fascinated by the idea of there being a mysterious link between the
woman and the animal, but he was already preparing a second string
to his bow. His new idea was to use the faculties of Oolanga, so
far as he could, in the service of discovery. His first move was to
send Davenport to Liverpool to try to find the steward of the WEST
AFRICAN, who had told him about Oolanga, and if possible secure any
further information, and then try to induce (by bribery or other
means) the nigger to come to the Brow. So soon as he himself could
have speech of the Voodoo-man he would be able to learn from him
something useful. Davenport was successful in his missions, for he
had to get another mongoose, and he was able to tell Adam that he
had seen the steward, who told him much that he wanted to know, and
had also arranged for Oolanga to come to Lesser Hill the following
day. At this point Adam saw his way sufficiently clear to admit
Davenport to some extent into his confidence. He had come to the
conclusion that it would be better--certainly at first--not himself
to appear in the matter, with which Davenport was fully competent to
deal. It would be time for himself to take a personal part when
matters had advanced a little further.
If what the nigger said was in any wise true, the man had a rare
gift which might be useful in the quest they were after. He could,
as it were, "smell death." If any one was dead, if any one had
died, or if a place had been used in connection with death, he
seemed to know the broad fact by intuition. Adam made up his mind
that to test this faculty with regard to several places would be his
first task. Naturally he was anxious, and the time passed slowly.
The only comfort was the arrival the next morning of a strong
packing case, locked, from Ross, the key being in the custody of
Davenport. In the case were two smaller boxes, both locked. One of
them contained a mongoose to replace that killed by Lady Arabella;
the other was the special mongoose which had already killed the
king-cobra in Nepaul. When both the animals had been safely put
under lock and key, he felt that he might breathe more freely. No
one was allowed to know the secret of their existence in the house,
except himself and Davenport. He arranged that Davenport should
take Oolanga round the neighbourhood for a walk, stopping at each of
the places which he designated. Having gone all along the Brow, he
was to return the same way and induce him to touch on the same
subjects in talking with Adam, who was to meet them as if by chance
at the farthest part--that beyond Mercy Farm.
The incidents of the day proved much as Adam expected. At Mercy
Farm, at Diana's Grove, at Castra Regis, and a few other spots, the
negro stopped and, opening his wide nostrils as if to sniff boldly,
said that he smelled death. It was not always in the same form. At
Mercy Farm he said there were many small deaths. At Diana's Grove
his bearing was different. There was a distinct sense of enjoyment
about him, especially when he spoke of many great deaths. Here,
too, he sniffed in a strange way, like a bloodhound at check, and
looked puzzled. He said no word in either praise or disparagement,
but in the centre of the Grove, where, hidden amongst ancient oak
stumps, was a block of granite slightly hollowed on the top, he bent
low and placed his forehead on the ground. This was the only place
where he showed distinct reverence. At the Castle, though he spoke
of much death, he showed no sign of respect.
There was evidently something about Diana's Grove which both
interested and baffled him. Before leaving, he moved all over the
place unsatisfied, and in one spot, close to the edge of the Brow,
where there was a deep hollow, he appeared to be afraid. After
returning several times to this place, he suddenly turned and ran in
a panic of fear to the higher ground, crossing as he did so the
outcropping rock. Then he seemed to breathe more freely, and
recovered some of his jaunty impudence.
All this seemed to satisfy Adam's expectations. He went back to
Lesser Hill with a serene and settled calm upon him. Sir Nathaniel
followed him into his study.
"By the way, I forgot to ask you details about one thing. When that
extraordinary staring episode of Mr. Caswall went on, how did Lilla
take it--how did she bear herself?"
"She looked frightened, and trembled just as I have seen a pigeon
with a hawk, or a bird with a serpent."
"Thanks. It is just as I expected. There have been circumstances
in the Caswall family which lead one to believe that they have had
from the earliest times some extraordinary mesmeric or hypnotic
faculty. Indeed, a skilled eye could read so much in their
physiognomy. That shot of yours, whether by instinct or intention,
of the hawk and the pigeon was peculiarly apposite. I think we may
settle on that as a fixed trait to be accepted throughout our
When dusk had fallen, Adam took the new mongoose--not the one from
Nepaul--and, carrying the box slung over his shoulder, strolled
towards Diana's Grove. Close to the gateway he met Lady Arabella,
clad as usual in tightly fitting white, which showed off her slim
To his intense astonishment the mongoose allowed her to pet him,
take him up in her arms and fondle him. As she was going in his
direction, they walked on together.
Round the roadway between the entrances of Diana's Grove and Lesser
Hill were many trees, with not much foliage except at the top. In
the dusk this place was shadowy, and the view was hampered by the
clustering trunks. In the uncertain, tremulous light which fell
through the tree-tops, it was hard to distinguish anything clearly,
and at last, somehow, he lost sight of her altogether, and turned
back on his track to find her. Presently he came across her close
to her own gate. She was leaning over the paling of split oak
branches which formed the paling of the avenue. He could not see
the mongoose, so he asked her where it had gone.
"He slipt out of my arms while I was petting him," she answered,
"and disappeared under the hedges."
They found him at a place where the avenue widened so as to let
carriages pass each other. The little creature seemed quite
changed. He had been ebulliently active; now he was dull and
spiritless--seemed to be dazed. He allowed himself to be lifted by
either of the pair; but when he was alone with Lady Arabella he kept
looking round him in a strange way, as though trying to escape.
When they had come out on the roadway Adam held the mongoose tight
to him, and, lifting his hat to his companion, moved quickly towards
Lesser Hill; he and Lady Arabella lost sight of each other in the
thickening gloom.
When Adam got home, he put the mongoose in his box, and locked the
door of the room. The other mongoose--the one from Nepaul--was
safely locked in his own box, but he lay quiet and did not stir.
When he got to his study Sir Nathaniel came in, shutting the door
behind him.
"I have come," he said, "while we have an opportunity of being
alone, to tell you something of the Caswall family which I think
will interest you. There is, or used to be, a belief in this part
of the world that the Caswall family had some strange power of
making the wills of other persons subservient to their own. There
are many allusions to the subject in memoirs and other unimportant
works, but I only know of one where the subject is spoken of
definitely. It is MERCIA AND ITS WORTHIES, written by Ezra Toms
more than a hundred years ago. The author goes into the question of
the close association of the then Edgar Caswall with Mesmer in
Paris. He speaks of Caswall being a pupil and the fellow worker of
Mesmer, and states that though, when the latter left France, he took
away with him a vast quantity of philosophical and electric
instruments, he was never known to use them again. He once made it
known to a friend that he had given them to his old pupil. The term
he used was odd, for it was 'bequeathed,' but no such bequest of
Mesmer was ever made known. At any rate the instruments were
missing, and never turned up."
A servant came into the room to tell Adam that there was some
strange noise coming from the locked room into which he had gone
when he came in. He hurried off to the place at once, Sir Nathaniel
going with him. Having locked the door behind them, Adam opened the
packing-case where the boxes of the two mongooses were locked up.
There was no sound from one of them, but from the other a queer
restless struggling. Having opened both boxes, he found that the
noise was from the Nepaul animal, which, however, became quiet at
once. In the other box the new mongoose lay dead, with every
appearance of having been strangled!
On the following day, a little after four o'clock, Adam set out for
He was home just as the clocks were striking six. He was pale and
upset, but otherwise looked strong and alert. The old man summed up
his appearance and manner thus: "Braced up for battle."
"Now!" said Sir Nathaniel, and settled down to listen, looking at
Adam steadily and listening attentively that he might miss nothing--
even the inflection of a word.
"I found Lilla and Mimi at home. Watford had been detained by
business on the farm. Miss Watford received me as kindly as before;
Mimi, too, seemed glad to see me. Mr. Caswall came so soon after I
arrived, that he, or someone on his behalf, must have been watching
for me. He was followed closely by the negro, who was puffing hard
as if he had been running--so it was probably he who watched. Mr.
Caswall was very cool and collected, but there was a more than
usually iron look about his face that I did not like. However, we
got on very well. He talked pleasantly on all sorts of questions.
The nigger waited a while and then disappeared as on the other
occasion. Mr. Caswall's eyes were as usual fixed on Lilla. True,
they seemed to be very deep and earnest, but there was no offence in
them. Had it not been for the drawing down of the brows and the
stern set of the jaws, I should not at first have noticed anything.
But the stare, when presently it began, increased in intensity. I
could see that Lilla began to suffer from nervousness, as on the
first occasion; but she carried herself bravely. However, the more
nervous she grew, the harder Mr. Caswall stared. It was evident to
me that he had come prepared for some sort of mesmeric or hypnotic
battle. After a while he began to throw glances round him and then
raised his hand, without letting either Lilla or Mimi see the
action. It was evidently intended to give some sign to the negro,
for he came, in his usual stealthy way, quietly in by the hall door,
which was open. Then Mr. Caswall's efforts at staring became
intensified, and poor Lilla's nervousness grew greater. Mimi,
seeing that her cousin was distressed, came close to her, as if to
comfort or strengthen her with the consciousness of her presence.
This evidently made a difficulty for Mr. Caswall, for his efforts,
without appearing to get feebler, seemed less effective. This
continued for a little while, to the gain of both Lilla and Mimi.
Then there was a diversion. Without word or apology the door
opened, and Lady Arabella March entered the room. I had seen her
coming through the great window. Without a word she crossed the
room and stood beside Mr. Caswall. It really was very like a fight
of a peculiar kind; and the longer it was sustained the more
earnest--the fiercer--it grew. That combination of forces--the
over-lord, the white woman, and the black man--would have cost some-
-probably all of them--their lives in the Southern States of
America. To us it was simply horrible. But all that you can
understand. This time, to go on in sporting phrase, it was
understood by all to be a 'fight to a finish,' and the mixed group
did not slacken a moment or relax their efforts. On Lilla the
strain began to tell disastrously. She grew pale--a patchy pallor,
which meant that her nerves were out of order. She trembled like an
aspen, and though she struggled bravely, I noticed that her legs
would hardly support her. A dozen times she seemed about to
collapse in a faint, but each time, on catching sight of Mimi's
eyes, she made a fresh struggle and pulled through.
"By now Mr. Caswall's face had lost its appearance of passivity.
His eyes glowed with a fiery light. He was still the old Roman in
inflexibility of purpose; but grafted on to the Roman was a new
Berserker fury. His companions in the baleful work seemed to have
taken on something of his feeling. Lady Arabella looked like a
soulless, pitiless being, not human, unless it revived old legends
of transformed human beings who had lost their humanity in some
transformation or in the sweep of natural savagery. As for the
negro--well, I can only say that it was solely due to the selfrestraint
which you impressed on me that I did not wipe him out as
he stood--without warning, without fair play--without a single one
of the graces of life and death. Lilla was silent in the helpless
concentration of deadly fear; Mimi was all resolve and selfforgetfulness,
so intent on the soul-struggle in which she was
engaged that there was no possibility of any other thought. As for
myself, the bonds of will which held me inactive seemed like bands
of steel which numbed all my faculties, except sight and hearing.
We seemed fixed in an IMPASSE. Something must happen, though the
power of guessing was inactive. As in a dream, I saw Mimi's hand
move restlessly, as if groping for something. Mechanically it
touched that of Lilla, and in that instant she was transformed. It
was as if youth and strength entered afresh into something already
dead to sensibility and intention. As if by inspiration, she
grasped the other's band with a force which blenched the knuckles.
Her face suddenly flamed, as if some divine light shone through it.
Her form expanded till it stood out majestically. Lifting her right
hand, she stepped forward towards Caswall, and with a bold sweep of
her arm seemed to drive some strange force towards him. Again and
again was the gesture repeated, the man falling back from her at
each movement. Towards the door he retreated, she following. There
was a sound as of the cooing sob of doves, which seemed to multiply
and intensify with each second. The sound from the unseen source
rose and rose as he retreated, till finally it swelled out in a
triumphant peal, as she with a fierce sweep of her arm, seemed to
hurl something at her foe, and he, moving his hands blindly before
his face, appeared to be swept through the doorway and out into the
open sunlight.
"All at once my own faculties were fully restored; I could see and
hear everything, and be fully conscious of what was going on. Even
the figures of the baleful group were there, though dimly seen as
through a veil--a shadowy veil. I saw Lilla sink down in a swoon,
and Mimi throw up her arms in a gesture of triumph. As I saw her
through the great window, the sunshine flooded the landscape, which,
however, was momentarily becoming eclipsed by an onrush of a myriad
By the next morning, daylight showed the actual danger which
threatened. From every part of the eastern counties reports were
received concerning the enormous immigration of birds. Experts were
sending--on their own account, on behalf of learned societies, and
through local and imperial governing bodies--reports dealing with
the matter, and suggesting remedies.
The reports closer to home were even more disturbing. All day long
it would seem that the birds were coming thicker from all quarters.
Doubtless many were going as well as coming, but the mass seemed
never to get less. Each bird seemed to sound some note of fear or
anger or seeking, and the whirring of wings never ceased nor
lessened. The air was full of a muttered throb. No window or
barrier could shut out the sound, till the ears of any listener
became dulled by the ceaseless murmur. So monotonous it was, so
cheerless, so disheartening, so melancholy, that all longed, but in
vain, for any variety, no matter how terrible it might be.
The second morning the reports from all the districts round were
more alarming than ever. Farmers began to dread the coming of
winter as they saw the dwindling of the timely fruitfulness of the
earth. And as yet it was only a warning of evil, not the evil
accomplished; the ground began to look bare whenever some passing
sound temporarily frightened the birds.
Edgar Caswall tortured his brain for a long time unavailingly, to
think of some means of getting rid of what he, as well as his
neighbours, had come to regard as a plague of birds. At last he
recalled a circumstance which promised a solution of the difficulty.
The experience was of some years ago in China, far up-country,
towards the head-waters of the Yang-tze-kiang, where the smaller
tributaries spread out in a sort of natural irrigation scheme to
supply the wilderness of paddy-fields. It was at the time of the
ripening rice, and the myriads of birds which came to feed on the
coming crop was a serious menace, not only to the district, but to
the country at large. The farmers, who were more or less afflicted
with the same trouble every season, knew how to deal with it. They
made a vast kite, which they caused to be flown over the centre spot
of the incursion. The kite was shaped like a great hawk; and the
moment it rose into the air the birds began to cower and seek
protection--and then to disappear. So long as that kite was flying
overhead the birds lay low and the crop was saved. Accordingly
Caswall ordered his men to construct an immense kite, adhering as
well as they could to the lines of a hawk. Then he and his men,
with a sufficiency of cord, began to fly it high overhead. The
experience of China was repeated. The moment the kite rose, the
birds hid or sought shelter. The following morning, the kite was
still flying high, no bird was to be seen as far as the eye could
reach from Castra Regis. But there followed in turn what proved
even a worse evil. All the birds were cowed; their sounds stopped.
Neither song nor chirp was heard--silence seemed to have taken the
place of the normal voices of bird life. But that was not all. The
silence spread to all animals.
The fear and restraint which brooded amongst the denizens of the air
began to affect all life. Not only did the birds cease song or
chirp, but the lowing of the cattle ceased in the fields and the
varied sounds of life died away. In place of these things was only
a soundless gloom, more dreadful, more disheartening, more soulkilling
than any concourse of sounds, no matter how full of fear and
dread. Pious individuals put up constant prayers for relief from
the intolerable solitude. After a little there were signs of
universal depression which those who ran might read. One and all,
the faces of men and women seemed bereft of vitality, of interest,
of thought, and, most of all, of hope. Men seemed to have lost the
power of expression of their thoughts. The soundless air seemed to
have the same effect as the universal darkness when men gnawed their
tongues with pain.
From this infliction of silence there was no relief. Everything was
affected; gloom was the predominant note. Joy appeared to have
passed away as a factor of life, and this creative impulse had
nothing to take its place. That giant spot in high air was a plague
of evil influence. It seemed like a new misanthropic belief which
had fallen on human beings, carrying with it the negation of all
After a few days, men began to grow desperate; their very words as
well as their senses seemed to be in chains. Edgar Caswall again
tortured his brain to find any antidote or palliative of this
greater evil than before. He would gladly have destroyed the kite,
or caused its flying to cease; but the instant it was pulled down,
the birds rose up in even greater numbers; all those who depended in
any way on agriculture sent pitiful protests to Castra Regis.
It was strange indeed what influence that weird kite seemed to
exercise. Even human beings were affected by it, as if both it and
they were realities. As for the people at Mercy Farm, it was like a
taste of actual death. Lilla felt it most. If she had been indeed
a real dove, with a real kite hanging over her in the air, she could
not have been more frightened or more affected by the terror this
Of course, some of those already drawn into the vortex noticed the
effect on individuals. Those who were interested took care to
compare their information. Strangely enough, as it seemed to the
others, the person who took the ghastly silence least to heart was
the negro. By nature he was not sensitive to, or afflicted by,
nerves. This alone would not have produced the seeming
indifference, so they set their minds to discover the real cause.
Adam came quickly to the conclusion that there was for him some
compensation that the others did not share; and he soon believed
that that compensation was in one form or another the enjoyment of
the sufferings of others. Thus the black had a never-failing source
of amusement.
Lady Arabella's cold nature rendered her immune to anything in the
way of pain or trouble concerning others. Edgar Caswall was far too
haughty a person, and too stern of nature, to concern himself about
poor or helpless people, much less the lower order of mere animals.
Mr. Watford, Mr. Salton, and Sir Nathaniel were all concerned in the
issue, partly from kindness of heart--for none of them could see
suffering, even of wild birds, unmoved--and partly on account of
their property, which had to be protected, or ruin would stare them
in the face before long.
Lilla suffered acutely. As time went on, her face became pinched,
and her eyes dull with watching and crying. Mimi suffered too on
account of her cousin's suffering. But as she could do nothing, she
resolutely made up her mind to self-restraint and patience. Adam's
frequent visits comforted her.
After a couple of weeks had passed, the kite seemed to give Edgar
Caswall a new zest for life. He was never tired of looking at its
movements. He had a comfortable armchair put out on the tower,
wherein he sat sometimes all day long, watching as though the kite
was a new toy and he a child lately come into possession of it. He
did not seem to have lost interest in Lilla, for he still paid an
occasional visit at Mercy Farm.
Indeed, his feeling towards her, whatever it had been at first, had
now so far changed that it had become a distinct affection of a
purely animal kind. Indeed, it seemed as though the man's nature
had become corrupted, and that all the baser and more selfish and
more reckless qualities had become more conspicuous. There was not
so much sternness apparent in his nature, because there was less
self-restraint. Determination had become indifference.
The visible change in Edgar was that he grew morbid, sad, silent;
the neighbours thought he was going mad. He became absorbed in the
kite, and watched it not only by day, but often all night long. It
became an obsession to him.
Caswall took a personal interest in the keeping of the great kite
flying. He had a vast coil of cord efficient for the purpose, which
worked on a roller fixed on the parapet of the tower. There was a
winch for the pulling in of the slack; the outgoing line being
controlled by a racket. There was invariably one man at least, day
and night, on the tower to attend to it. At such an elevation there
was always a strong wind, and at times the kite rose to an enormous
height, as well as travelling for great distances laterally. In
fact, the kite became, in a short time, one of the curiosities of
Castra Regis and all around it. Edgar began to attribute to it, in
his own mind, almost human qualities. It became to him a separate
entity, with a mind and a soul of its own. Being idle-handed all
day, he began to apply to what he considered the service of the kite
some of his spare time, and found a new pleasure--a new object in
life--in the old schoolboy game of sending up "runners" to the kite.
The way this is done is to get round pieces of paper so cut that
there is a hole in the centre, through which the string of the kite
passes. The natural action of the wind-pressure takes the paper
along the string, and so up to the kite itself, no matter how high
or how far it may have gone.
In the early days of this amusement Edgar Caswall spent hours.
Hundreds of such messengers flew along the string, until soon he
bethought him of writing messages on these papers so that he could
make known his ideas to the kite. It may be that his brain gave way
under the opportunities given by his illusion of the entity of the
toy and its power of separate thought. From sending messages he
came to making direct speech to the kite--without, however, ceasing
to send the runners. Doubtless, the height of the tower, seated as
it was on the hill-top, the rushing of the ceaseless wind, the
hypnotic effect of the lofty altitude of the speck in the sky at
which he gazed, and the rushing of the paper messengers up the
string till sight of them was lost in distance, all helped to
further affect his brain, undoubtedly giving way under the strain of
beliefs and circumstances which were at once stimulating to the
imagination, occupative of his mind, and absorbing.
The next step of intellectual decline was to bring to bear on the
main idea of the conscious identity of the kite all sorts of
subjects which had imaginative force or tendency of their own. He
had, in Castra Regis, a large collection of curious and interesting
things formed in the past by his forebears, of similar tastes to his
own. There were all sorts of strange anthropological specimens,
both old and new, which had been collected through various travels
in strange places: ancient Egyptian relics from tombs and mummies;
curios from Australia, New Zealand, and the South Seas; idols and
images--from Tartar ikons to ancient Egyptian, Persian, and Indian
objects of worship; objects of death and torture of American
Indians; and, above all, a vast collection of lethal weapons of
every kind and from every place--Chinese "high pinders," double
knives, Afghan double-edged scimitars made to cut a body in two,
heavy knives from all the Eastern countries, ghost daggers from
Thibet, the terrible kukri of the Ghourka and other hill tribes of
India, assassins' weapons from Italy and Spain, even the knife which
was formerly carried by the slave-drivers of the Mississippi region.
Death and pain of every kind were fully represented in that gruesome
That it had a fascination for Oolanga goes without saying. He was
never tired of visiting the museum in the tower, and spent endless
hours in inspecting the exhibits, till he was thoroughly familiar
with every detail of all of them. He asked permission to clean and
polish and sharpen them--a favour which was readily granted. In
addition to the above objects, there were many things of a kind to
awaken human fear. Stuffed serpents of the most objectionable and
horrid kind; giant insects from the tropics, fearsome in every
detail; fishes and crustaceans covered with weird spikes; dried
octopuses of great size. Other things, too, there were, not less
deadly though seemingly innocuous--dried fungi, traps intended for
birds, beasts, fishes, reptiles, and insects; machines which could
produce pain of any kind and degree, and the only mercy of which was
the power of producing speedy death.
Caswall, who had never before seen any of these things, except those
which he had collected himself, found a constant amusement and
interest in them. He studied them, their uses, their mechanism--
where there was such--and their places of origin, until he had an
ample and real knowledge of all concerning them. Many were secret
and intricate, but he never rested till he found out all the
secrets. When once he had become interested in strange objects, and
the way to use them, he began to explore various likely places for
similar finds. He began to inquire of his household where strange
lumber was kept. Several of the men spoke of old Simon Chester as
one who knew everything in and about the house. Accordingly, he
sent for the old man, who came at once. He was very old, nearly
ninety years of age, and very infirm. He had been born in the
Castle, and had served its succession of masters--present or absent-
-ever since. When Edgar began to question him on the subject
regarding which he had sent for him, old Simon exhibited much
perturbation. In fact, he became so frightened that his master,
fully believing that he was concealing something, ordered him to
tell at once what remained unseen, and where it was hidden away.
Face to face with discovery of his secret, the old man, in a
pitiable state of concern, spoke out even more fully than Mr.
Caswall had expected.
"Indeed, indeed, sir, everything is here in the tower that has ever
been put away in my time except--except--" here he began to shake
and tremble it--"except the chest which Mr. Edgar--he who was Mr.
Edgar when I first took service--brought back from France, after he
had been with Dr. Mesmer. The trunk has been kept in my room for
safety; but I shall send it down here now."
"What is in it?" asked Edgar sharply.
"That I do not know. Moreover, it is a peculiar trunk, without any
visible means of opening."
"Is there no lock?"
"I suppose so, sir; but I do not know. There is no keyhole."
"Send it here; and then come to me yourself."
The trunk, a heavy one with steel bands round it, but no lock or
keyhole, was carried in by two men. Shortly afterwards old Simon
attended his master. When he came into the room, Mr. Caswall
himself went and closed the door; then he asked:
"How do you open it?"
"I do not know, sir."
"Do you mean to say that you never opened it?"
"Most certainly I say so, your honour. How could I? It was
entrusted to me with the other things by my master. To open it
would have been a breach of trust."
Caswall sneered.
"Quite remarkable! Leave it with me. Close the door behind you.
Stay--did no one ever tell you about it--say anything regarding it--
make any remark?"
Old Simon turned pale, and put his trembling hands together.
"Oh, sir, I entreat you not to touch it. That trunk probably
contains secrets which Dr. Mesmer told my master. Told them to his
"How do you mean? What ruin?"
"Sir, he it was who, men said, sold his soul to the Evil One; I had
thought that that time and the evil of it had all passed away."
"That will do. Go away; but remain in your own room, or within
call. I may want you."
The old man bowed deeply and went out trembling, but without
speaking a word.
Left alone in the turret-room, Edgar Caswall carefully locked the
door and hung a handkerchief over the keyhole. Next, he inspected
the windows, and saw that they were not overlooked from any angle of
the main building. Then he carefully examined the trunk, going over
it with a magnifying glass. He found it intact: the steel bands
were flawless; the whole trunk was compact. After sitting opposite
to it for some time, and the shades of evening beginning to melt
into darkness, he gave up the task and went to his bedroom, after
locking the door of the turret-room behind him and taking away the
He woke in the morning at daylight, and resumed his patient but
unavailing study of the metal trunk. This he continued during the
whole day with the same result--humiliating disappointment, which
overwrought his nerves and made his head ache. The result of the
long strain was seen later in the afternoon, when he sat locked
within the turret-room before the still baffling trunk, distrait,
listless and yet agitated, sunk in a settled gloom. As the dusk was
falling he told the steward to send him two men, strong ones. These
he ordered to take the trunk to his bedroom. In that room he then
sat on into the night, without pausing even to take any food. His
mind was in a whirl, a fever of excitement. The result was that
when, late in the night, he locked himself in his room his brain was
full of odd fancies; he was on the high road to mental disturbance.
He lay down on his bed in the dark, still brooding over the mystery
of the closed trunk.
Gradually he yielded to the influences of silence and darkness.
After lying there quietly for some time, his mind became active
again. But this time there were round him no disturbing influences;
his brain was active and able to work freely and to deal with
memory. A thousand forgotten--or only half-known--incidents,
fragments of conversations or theories long ago guessed at and long
forgotten, crowded on his mind. He seemed to hear again around him
the legions of whirring wings to which he had been so lately
accustomed. Even to himself he knew that that was an effort of
imagination founded on imperfect memory. But he was content that
imagination should work, for out of it might come some solution of
the mystery which surrounded him. And in this frame of mind, sleep
made another and more successful essay. This time he enjoyed
peaceful slumber, restful alike to his wearied body and his
overwrought brain.
In his sleep he arose, and, as if in obedience to some influence
beyond and greater than himself, lifted the great trunk and set it
on a strong table at one side of the room, from which he had
previously removed a quantity of books. To do this, he had to use
an amount of strength which was, he knew, far beyond him in his
normal state. As it was, it seemed easy enough; everything yielded
before his touch. Then he became conscious that somehow--how, he
never could remember--the chest was open. He unlocked his door,
and, taking the chest on his shoulder, carried it up to the turretroom,
the door of which also he unlocked. Even at the time he was
amazed at his own strength, and wondered whence it had come. His
mind, lost in conjecture, was too far off to realise more immediate
things. He knew that the chest was enormously heavy. He seemed, in
a sort of vision which lit up the absolute blackness around, to see
the two sturdy servant men staggering under its great weight. He
locked himself again in the turret-room, and laid the opened chest
on a table, and in the darkness began to unpack it, laying out the
contents, which were mainly of metal and glass--great pieces in
strange forms--on another table. He was conscious of being still
asleep, and of acting rather in obedience to some unseen and unknown
command than in accordance with any reasonable plan, to be followed
by results which he understood. This phase completed, he proceeded
to arrange in order the component parts of some large instruments,
formed mostly of glass. His fingers seemed to have acquired a new
and exquisite subtlety and even a volition of their own. Then
weariness of brain came upon him; his head sank down on his breast,
and little by little everything became wrapped in gloom.
He awoke in the early morning in his bedroom, and looked around him,
now clear-headed, in amazement. In its usual place on the strong
table stood the great steel-hooped chest without lock or key. But
it was now locked. He arose quietly and stole to the turret-room.
There everything was as it had been on the previous evening. He
looked out of the window where high in air flew, as usual, the giant
kite. He unlocked the wicket gate of the turret stair and went out
on the roof. Close to him was the great coil of cord on its reel.
It was humming in the morning breeze, and when he touched the string
it sent a quick thrill through hand and arm. There was no sign
anywhere that there had been any disturbance or displacement of
anything during the night.
Utterly bewildered, he sat down in his room to think. Now for the
first time he FELT that he was asleep and dreaming. Presently he
fell asleep again, and slept for a long time. He awoke hungry and
made a hearty meal. Then towards evening, having locked himself in,
he fell asleep again. When he woke he was in darkness, and was
quite at sea as to his whereabouts. He began feeling about the dark
room, and was recalled to the consequences of his position by the
breaking of a large piece of glass. Having obtained a light, he
discovered this to be a glass wheel, part of an elaborate piece of
mechanism which he must in his sleep have taken from the chest,
which was now opened. He had once again opened it whilst asleep,
but he had no recollection of the circumstances.
Caswall came to the conclusion that there had been some sort of dual
action of his mind, which might lead to some catastrophe or some
discovery of his secret plans; so he resolved to forgo for a while
the pleasure of making discoveries regarding the chest. To this
end, he applied himself to quite another matter--an investigation of
the other treasures and rare objects in his collections. He went
amongst them in simple, idle curiosity, his main object being to
discover some strange item which he might use for experiment with
the kite. He had already resolved to try some runners other than
those made of paper. He had a vague idea that with such a force as
the great kite straining at its leash, this might be used to lift to
the altitude of the kite itself heavier articles. His first
experiment with articles of little but increasing weight was
eminently successful. So he added by degrees more and more weight,
until he found out that the lifting power of the kite was
considerable. He then determined to take a step further, and send
to the kite some of the articles which lay in the steel-hooped
chest. The last time he had opened it in sleep, it had not been
shut again, and he had inserted a wedge so that he could open it at
will. He made examination of the contents, but came to the
conclusion that the glass objects were unsuitable. They were too
light for testing weight, and they were so frail as to be dangerous
to send to such a height.
So he looked around for something more solid with which to
experiment. His eye caught sight of an object which at once
attracted him. This was a small copy of one of the ancient Egyptian
gods--that of Bes, who represented the destructive power of nature.
It was so bizarre and mysterious as to commend itself to his mad
humour. In lifting it from the cabinet, he was struck by its great
weight in proportion to its size. He made accurate examination of
it by the aid of some instruments, and came to the conclusion that
it was carved from a lump of lodestone. He remembered that he had
read somewhere of an ancient Egyptian god cut from a similar
substance, and, thinking it over, he came to the conclusion that he
must have read it in Sir Thomas Brown's POPULAR ERRORS, a book of
the seventeenth century. He got the book from the library, and
looked out the passage:
"A great example we have from the observation of our learned friend
Mr. Graves, in an AEgyptian idol cut out of Loadstone and found
among the Mummies; which still retains its attraction, though
probably taken out of the mine about two thousand years ago."
The strangeness of the figure, and its being so close akin to his
own nature, attracted him. He made from thin wood a large circular
runner, and in front of it placed the weighty god, sending it up to
the flying kite along the throbbing cord.
During the last few days Lady Arabella had been getting exceedingly
impatient. Her debts, always pressing, were growing to an
embarrassing amount. The only hope she had of comfort in life was a
good marriage; but the good marriage on which she had fixed her eye
did not seem to move quickly enough--indeed, it did not seem to move
at all--in the right direction. Edgar Caswall was not an ardent
wooer. From the very first he seemed DIFFICILE, but he had been
keeping to his own room ever since his struggle with Mimi Watford.
On that occasion Lady Arabella had shown him in an unmistakable way
what her feelings were; indeed, she had made it known to him, in a
more overt way than pride should allow, that she wished to help and
support him. The moment when she had gone across the room to stand
beside him in his mesmeric struggle, had been the very limit of her
voluntary action. It was quite bitter enough, she felt, that he did
not come to her, but now that she had made that advance, she felt
that any withdrawal on his part would, to a woman of her class, be
nothing less than a flaming insult. Had she not classed herself
with his nigger servant, an unreformed savage? Had she not shown
her preference for him at the festival of his home-coming? Had she
not. . . Lady Arabella was cold-blooded, and she was prepared to go
through all that might be necessary of indifference, and even
insult, to become chatelaine of Castra Regis. In the meantime, she
would show no hurry--she must wait. She might, in an unostentatious
way, come to him again. She knew him now, and could make a keen
guess at his desires with regard to Lilla Watford. With that secret
in her possession, she could bring pressure to bear on Caswall which
would make it no easy matter for him to evade her. The great
difficulty was how to get near him. He was shut up within his
Castle, and guarded by a defence of convention which she could not
pass without danger of ill repute to herself. Over this question
she thought and thought for days and nights. At last she decided
that the only way would be to go to him openly at Castra Regis. Her
rank and position would make such a thing possible, if carefully
done. She could explain matters afterwards if necessary. Then when
they were alone, she would use her arts and her experience to make
him commit himself. After all, he was only a man, with a man's
dislike of difficult or awkward situations. She felt quite
sufficient confidence in her own womanhood to carry her through any
difficulty which might arise.
From Diana's Grove she heard each day the luncheon-gong from Castra
Regis sound, and knew the hour when the servants would be in the
back of the house. She would enter the house at that hour, and,
pretending that she could not make anyone hear her, would seek him
in his own rooms. The tower was, she knew, away from all the usual
sounds of the house, and moreover she knew that the servants had
strict orders not to interrupt him when he was in the turret
chamber. She had found out, partly by the aid of an opera-glass and
partly by judicious questioning, that several times lately a heavy
chest had been carried to and from his room, and that it rested in
the room each night. She was, therefore, confident that he had some
important work on hand which would keep him busy for long spells.
Meanwhile, another member of the household at Castra Regis had
schemes which he thought were working to fruition. A man in the
position of a servant has plenty of opportunity of watching his
betters and forming opinions regarding them. Oolanga was in his way
a clever, unscrupulous rogue, and he felt that with things moving
round him in this great household there should be opportunities of
self-advancement. Being unscrupulous and stealthy--and a savage--he
looked to dishonest means. He saw plainly enough that Lady Arabella
was making a dead set at his master, and he was watchful of the
slightest sign of anything which might enhance this knowledge. Like
the other men in the house, he knew of the carrying to and fro of
the great chest, and had got it into his head that the care
exercised in its porterage indicated that it was full of treasure.
He was for ever lurking around the turret-rooms on the chance of
making some useful discovery. But he was as cautious as he was
stealthy, and took care that no one else watched him.
It was thus that the negro became aware of Lady Arabella's venture
into the house, as she thought, unseen. He took more care than
ever, since he was watching another, that the positions were not
reversed. More than ever he kept his eyes and ears open and his
mouth shut. Seeing Lady Arabella gliding up the stairs towards his
master's room, he took it for granted that she was there for no
good, and doubled his watching intentness and caution.
Oolanga was disappointed, but he dared not exhibit any feeling lest
it should betray that he was hiding. Therefore he slunk downstairs
again noiselessly, and waited for a more favourable opportunity of
furthering his plans. It must be borne in mind that he thought that
the heavy trunk was full of valuables, and that he believed that
Lady Arabella had come to try to steal it. His purpose of using for
his own advantage the combination of these two ideas was seen later
in the day. Oolanga secretly followed her home. He was an expert
at this game, and succeeded admirably on this occasion. He watched
her enter the private gate of Diana's Grove, and then, taking a
roundabout course and keeping out of her sight, he at last overtook
her in a thick part of the Grove where no one could see the meeting.
Lady Arabella was much surprised. She had not seen the negro for
several days, and had almost forgotten his existence. Oolanga would
have been startled had he known and been capable of understanding
the real value placed on him, his beauty, his worthiness, by other
persons, and compared it with the value in these matters in which he
held himself. Doubtless Oolanga had his dreams like other men. In
such cases he saw himself as a young sun-god, as beautiful as the
eye of dusky or even white womanhood had ever dwelt upon. He would
have been filled with all noble and captivating qualities--or those
regarded as such in West Africa. Women would have loved him, and
would have told him so in the overt and fervid manner usual in
affairs of the heart in the shadowy depths of the forest of the Gold
Oolanga came close behind Lady Arabella, and in a hushed voice,
suitable to the importance of his task, and in deference to the
respect he had for her and the place, began to unfold the story of
his love. Lady Arabella was not usually a humorous person, but no
man or woman of the white race could have checked the laughter which
rose spontaneously to her lips. The circumstances were too
grotesque, the contrast too violent, for subdued mirth. The man a
debased specimen of one of the most primitive races of the earth,
and of an ugliness which was simply devilish; the woman of high
degree, beautiful, accomplished. She thought that her first
moment's consideration of the outrage--it was nothing less in her
eyes--had given her the full material for thought. But every
instant after threw new and varied lights on the affront. Her
indignation was too great for passion; only irony or satire would
meet the situation. Her cold, cruel nature helped, and she did not
shrink to subject this ignorant savage to the merciless fire-lash of
her scorn.
Oolanga was dimly conscious that he was being flouted; but his anger
was no less keen because of the measure of his ignorance. So he
gave way to it, as does a tortured beast. He ground his great teeth
together, raved, stamped, and swore in barbarous tongues and with
barbarous imagery. Even Lady Arabella felt that it was well she was
within reach of help, or he might have offered her brutal violence--
even have killed her.
"Am I to understand," she said with cold disdain, so much more
effective to wound than hot passion, "that you are offering me your
love? Your--love?"
For reply he nodded his head. The scorn of her voice, in a sort of
baleful hiss, sounded--and felt--like the lash of a whip.
"And you dared! you--a savage--a slave--the basest thing in the
world of vermin! Take care! I don't value your worthless life more
than I do that of a rat or a spider. Don't let me ever see your
hideous face here again, or I shall rid the earth of you."
As she was speaking, she had taken out her revolver and was pointing
it at him. In the immediate presence of death his impudence forsook
him, and he made a weak effort to justify himself. His speech was
short, consisting of single words. To Lady Arabella it sounded mere
gibberish, but it was in his own dialect, and meant love, marriage,
wife. From the intonation of the words, she guessed, with her
woman's quick intuition, at their meaning; but she quite failed to
follow, when, becoming more pressing, he continued to urge his suit
in a mixture of the grossest animal passion and ridiculous threats.
He warned her that he knew she had tried to steal his master's
treasure, and that he had caught her in the act. But if she would
be his, he would share the treasure with her, and they could live in
luxury in the African forests. But if she refused, he would tell
his master, who would flog and torture her and then give her to the
police, who would kill her.
The consequences of that meeting in the dusk of Diana's Grove were
acute and far-reaching, and not only to the two engaged in it. From
Oolanga, this might have been expected by anyone who knew the
character of the tropical African savage. To such, there are two
passions that are inexhaustible and insatiable--vanity and that
which they are pleased to call love. Oolanga left the Grove with an
absorbing hatred in his heart. His lust and greed were afire, while
his vanity had been wounded to the core. Lady Arabella's icy nature
was not so deeply stirred, though she was in a seething passion.
More than ever she was set upon bringing Edgar Caswall to her feet.
The obstacles she had encountered, the insults she had endured, were
only as fuel to the purpose of revenge which consumed her.
As she sought her own rooms in Diana's Grove, she went over the
whole subject again and again, always finding in the face of Lilla
Watford a key to a problem which puzzled her--the problem of a way
to turn Caswall's powers--his very existence--to aid her purpose.
When in her boudoir, she wrote a note, taking so much trouble over
it that she destroyed, and rewrote, till her dainty waste-basket was
half-full of torn sheets of notepaper. When quite satisfied, she
copied out the last sheet afresh, and then carefully burned all the
spoiled fragments. She put the copied note in an emblazoned
envelope, and directed it to Edgar Caswall at Castra Regis. This
she sent off by one of her grooms. The letter ran:
"I want to have a chat with you on a subject in which I believe you
are interested. Will you kindly call for me one day after lunch--
say at three or four o'clock, and we can walk a little way together.
Only as far as Mercy Farm, where I want to see Lilla and Mimi
Watford. We can take a cup of tea at the Farm. Do not bring your
African servant with you, as I am afraid his face frightens the
girls. After all, he is not pretty, is he? I have an idea you will
be pleased with your visit this time.
"Yours sincerely,
At half-past three next day, Edgar Caswall called at Diana's Grove.
Lady Arabella met him on the roadway outside the gate. She wished
to take the servants into her confidence as little as possible. She
turned when she saw him coming, and walked beside him towards Mercy
Farm, keeping step with him as they walked. When they got near
Mercy, she turned and looked around her, expecting to see Oolanga or
some sign of him. He was, however, not visible. He had received
from his master peremptory orders to keep out of sight--an order for
which the African scored a new offence up against her. They found
Lilla and Mimi at home and seemingly glad to see them, though both
the girls were surprised at the visit coming so soon after the
The proceedings were a repetition of the battle of souls of the
former visit. On this occasion, however, Edgar Caswall had only the
presence of Lady Arabella to support him--Oolanga being absent; but
Mimi lacked the support of Adam Salton, which had been of such
effective service before. This time the struggle for supremacy of
will was longer and more determined. Caswall felt that if he could
not achieve supremacy he had better give up the idea, so all his
pride was enlisted against Mimi. When they had been waiting for the
door to be opened, Lady Arabella, believing in a sudden attack, had
said to him in a low voice, which somehow carried conviction:
"This time you should win. Mimi is, after all, only a woman. Show
her no mercy. That is weakness. Fight her, beat her, trample on
her--kill her if need be. She stands in your way, and I hate her.
Never take your eyes off her. Never mind Lilla--she is afraid of
you. You are already her master. Mimi will try to make you look at
her cousin. There lies defeat. Let nothing take your attention
from Mimi, and you will win. If she is overcoming you, take my hand
and hold it hard whilst you are looking into her eyes. If she is
too strong for you, I shall interfere. I'll make a diversion, and
under cover of it you must retire unbeaten, even if not victorious.
Hush! they are coming."
The two girls came to the door together. Strange sounds were coming
up over the Brow from the west. It was the rustling and crackling
of the dry reeds and rushes from the low lands. The season had been
an unusually dry one. Also the strong east wind was helping forward
enormous flocks of birds, most of them pigeons with white cowls.
Not only were their wings whirring, but their cooing was plainly
audible. From such a multitude of birds the mass of sound,
individually small, assumed the volume of a storm. Surprised at the
influx of birds, to which they had been strangers so long, they all
looked towards Castra Regis, from whose high tower the great kite
had been flying as usual. But even as they looked, the cord broke,
and the great kite fell headlong in a series of sweeping dives. Its
own weight, and the aerial force opposed to it, which caused it to
rise, combined with the strong easterly breeze, had been too much
for the great length of cord holding it.
Somehow, the mishap to the kite gave new hope to Mimi. It was as
though the side issues had been shorn away, so that the main
struggle was thenceforth on simpler lines. She had a feeling in her
heart, as though some religious chord had been newly touched. It
may, of course, have been that with the renewal of the bird voices a
fresh courage, a fresh belief in the good issue of the struggle came
too. In the misery of silence, from which they had all suffered for
so long, any new train of thought was almost bound to be a boon. As
the inrush of birds continued, their wings beating against the
crackling rushes, Lady Arabella grew pale, and almost fainted.
"What is that?" she asked suddenly.
To Mimi, born and bred in Siam, the sound was strangely like an
exaggeration of the sound produced by a snake-charmer.
Edgar Caswall was the first to recover from the interruption of the
falling kite. After a few minutes he seemed to have quite recovered
his SANG FROID, and was able to use his brains to the end which he
had in view. Mimi too quickly recovered herself, but from a
different cause. With her it was a deep religious conviction that
the struggle round her was of the powers of Good and Evil, and that
Good was triumphing. The very appearance of the snowy birds, with
the cowls of Saint Columba, heightened the impression. With this
conviction strong upon her, she continued the strange battle with
fresh vigour. She seemed to tower over Caswall, and he to give back
before her oncoming. Once again her vigorous passes drove him to
the door. He was just going out backward when Lady Arabella, who
had been gazing at him with fixed eyes, caught his hand and tried to
stop his movement. She was, however, unable to do any good, and so,
holding hands, they passed out together. As they did so, the
strange music which had so alarmed Lady Arabella suddenly stopped.
Instinctively they all looked towards the tower of Castra Regis, and
saw that the workmen had refixed the kite, which had risen again and
was beginning to float out to its former station.
As they were looking, the door opened and Michael Watford came into
the room. By that time all had recovered their self-possession, and
there was nothing out of the common to attract his attention. As he
came in, seeing inquiring looks all around him, he said:
"The new influx of birds is only the annual migration of pigeons
from Africa. I am told that it will soon be over."
The second victory of Mimi Watford made Edgar Caswall more moody
than ever. He felt thrown back on himself, and this, added to his
absorbing interest in the hope of a victory of his mesmeric powers,
became a deep and settled purpose of revenge. The chief object of
his animosity was, of course, Mimi, whose will had overcome his, but
it was obscured in greater or lesser degree by all who had opposed
him. Lilla was next to Mimi in his hate--Lilla, the harmless,
tender-hearted, sweet-natured girl, whose heart was so full of love
for all things that in it was no room for the passions of ordinary
life--whose nature resembled those doves of St. Columba, whose
colour she wore, whose appearance she reflected. Adam Salton came
next--after a gap; for against him Caswall had no direct animosity.
He regarded him as an interference, a difficulty to be got rid of or
destroyed. The young Australian had been so discreet that the most
he had against him was his knowledge of what had been. Caswall did
not understand him, and to such a nature as his, ignorance was a
cause of alarm, of dread.
Caswall resumed his habit of watching the great kite straining at
its cord, varying his vigils in this way by a further examination of
the mysterious treasures of his house, especially Mesmer's chest.
He sat much on the roof of the tower, brooding over his thwarted
passion. The vast extent of his possessions, visible to him at that
altitude, might, one would have thought, have restored some of his
complacency. But the very extent of his ownership, thus perpetually
brought before him, created a fresh sense of grievance. How was it,
he thought, that with so much at command that others wished for, he
could not achieve the dearest wishes of his heart?
In this state of intellectual and moral depravity, he found a solace
in the renewal of his experiments with the mechanical powers of the
kite. For a couple of weeks he did not see Lady Arabella, who was
always on the watch for a chance of meeting him; neither did he see
the Watford girls, who studiously kept out of his way. Adam Salton
simply marked time, keeping ready to deal with anything that might
affect his friends. He called at the farm and heard from Mimi of
the last battle of wills, but it had only one consequence. He got
from Ross several more mongooses, including a second king-cobrakiller,
which he generally carried with him in its box whenever he
walked out.
Mr. Caswall's experiments with the kite went on successfully. Each
day he tried the lifting of greater weight, and it seemed almost as
if the machine had a sentience of its own, which was increasing with
the obstacles placed before it. All this time the kite hung in the
sky at an enormous height. The wind was steadily from the north, so
the trend of the kite was to the south. All day long, runners of
increasing magnitude were sent up. These were only of paper or thin
cardboard, or leather, or other flexible materials. The great
height at which the kite hung made a great concave curve in the
string, so that as the runners went up they made a flapping sound.
If one laid a finger on the string, the sound answered to the
flapping of the runner in a sort of hollow intermittent murmur.
Edgar Caswall, who was now wholly obsessed by the kite and all
belonging to it, found a distinct resemblance between that
intermittent rumble and the snake-charming music produced by the
pigeons flying through the dry reeds.
One day he made a discovery in Mesmer's chest which he thought he
would utilise with regard to the runners. This was a great length
of wire, "fine as human hair," coiled round a finely made wheel,
which ran to a wondrous distance freely, and as lightly. He tried
this on runners, and found it work admirably. Whether the runner
was alone, or carried something much more weighty than itself, it
worked equally well. Also it was strong enough and light enough to
draw back the runner without undue strain. He tried this a good
many times successfully, but it was now growing dusk and he found
some difficulty in keeping the runner in sight. So he looked for
something heavy enough to keep it still. He placed the Egyptian
image of Bes on the fine wire, which crossed the wooden ledge which
protected it. Then, the darkness growing, he went indoors and
forgot all about it.
He had a strange feeling of uneasiness that night--not
sleeplessness, for he seemed conscious of being asleep. At daylight
he rose, and as usual looked out for the kite. He did not see it in
its usual position in the sky, so looked round the points of the
compass. He was more than astonished when presently he saw the
missing kite struggling as usual against the controlling cord. But
it had gone to the further side of the tower, and now hung and
strained AGAINST THE WIND to the north. He thought it so strange
that he determined to investigate the phenomenon, and to say nothing
about it in the meantime.
In his many travels, Edgar Caswall had been accustomed to use the
sextant, and was now an expert in the matter. By the aid of this
and other instruments, he was able to fix the position of the kite
and the point over which it hung. He was startled to find that
exactly under it--so far as he could ascertain--was Diana's Grove.
He had an inclination to take Lady Arabella into his confidence in
the matter, but he thought better of it and wisely refrained. For
some reason which he did not try to explain to himself, he was glad
of his silence, when, on the following morning, he found, on looking
out, that the point over which the kite then hovered was Mercy Farm.
When he had verified this with his instruments, he sat before the
window of the tower, looking out and thinking. The new locality was
more to his liking than the other; but the why of it puzzled him,
all the same. He spent the rest of the day in the turret-room,
which he did not leave all day. It seemed to him that he was now
drawn by forces which he could not control--of which, indeed, he had
no knowledge--in directions which he did not understand, and which
were without his own volition. In sheer helpless inability to think
the problem out satisfactorily, he called up a servant and told him
to tell Oolanga that he wanted to see him at once in the turretroom.
The answer came back that the African had not been seen since
the previous evening.
Caswall was now so irritable that even this small thing upset him.
As he was distrait and wanted to talk to somebody, he sent for Simon
Chester, who came at once, breathless with hurrying and upset by the
unexpected summons. Caswall bade him sit down, and when the old man
was in a less uneasy frame of mind, he again asked him if he had
ever seen what was in Mesmer's chest or heard it spoken about.
Chester admitted that he had once, in the time of "the then Mr.
Edgar," seen the chest open, which, knowing something of its history
and guessing more, so upset him that he had fainted. When he
recovered, the chest was closed. From that time the then Mr. Edgar
had never spoken about it again.
When Caswall asked him to describe what he had seen when the chest
was open, he got very agitated, and, despite all his efforts to
remain calm, he suddenly went off into a faint. Caswall summoned
servants, who applied the usual remedies. Still the old man did not
recover. After the lapse of a considerable time, the doctor who had
been summoned made his appearance. A glance was sufficient for him
to make up his mind. Still, he knelt down by the old man, and made
a careful examination. Then he rose to his feet, and in a hushed
voice said:
"I grieve to say, sir, that he has passed away."
Those who had seen Edgar Caswall familiarly since his arrival, and
had already estimated his cold-blooded nature at something of its
true value, were surprised that he took so to heart the death of old
Chester. The fact was that not one of them had guessed correctly at
his character. They thought, naturally enough, that the concern
which he felt was that of a master for a faithful old servant of his
family. They little thought that it was merely the selfish
expression of his disappointment, that he had thus lost the only
remaining clue to an interesting piece of family history--one which
was now and would be for ever wrapped in mystery. Caswall knew
enough about the life of his ancestor in Paris to wish to know more
fully and more thoroughly all that had been. The period covered by
that ancestor's life in Paris was one inviting every form of
Lady Arabella, who had her own game to play, saw in the METIER of
sympathetic friend, a series of meetings with the man she wanted to
secure. She made the first use of the opportunity the day after old
Chester's death; indeed, as soon as the news had filtered in through
the back door of Diana's Grove. At that meeting, she played her
part so well that even Caswall's cold nature was impressed.
Oolanga was the only one who did not credit her with at least some
sense of fine feeling in the matter. In emotional, as in other
matters, Oolanga was distinctly a utilitarian, and as he could not
understand anyone feeling grief except for his own suffering, pain,
or for the loss of money, he could not understand anyone simulating
such an emotion except for show intended to deceive. He thought
that she had come to Castra Regis again for the opportunity of
stealing something, and was determined that on this occasion the
chance of pressing his advantage over her should not pass. He felt,
therefore, that the occasion was one for extra carefulness in the
watching of all that went on. Ever since he had come to the
conclusion that Lady Arabella was trying to steal the treasurechest,
he suspected nearly everyone of the same design, and made it
a point to watch all suspicious persons and places. As Adam was
engaged on his own researches regarding Lady Arabella, it was only
natural that there should be some crossing of each other's tracks.
This is what did actually happen.
Adam had gone for an early morning survey of the place in which he
was interested, taking with him the mongoose in its box. He arrived
at the gate of Diana's Grove just as Lady Arabella was preparing to
set out for Castra Regis on what she considered her mission of
comfort. Seeing Adam from her window going through the shadows of
the trees round the gate, she thought that he must be engaged on
some purpose similar to her own. So, quickly making her toilet, she
quietly left the house, and, taking advantage of every shadow and
substance which could hide her, followed him on his walk.
Oolanga, the experienced tracker, followed her, but succeeded in
hiding his movements better than she did. He saw that Adam had on
his shoulder a mysterious box, which he took to contain something
valuable. Seeing that Lady Arabella was secretly following Adam, he
was confirmed in this idea. His mind--such as it was--was fixed on
her trying to steal, and he credited her at once with making use of
this new opportunity.
In his walk, Adam went into the grounds of Castra Regis, and Oolanga
saw her follow him with great secrecy. He feared to go closer, as
now on both sides of him were enemies who might make discovery.
When he realised that Lady Arabella was bound for the Castle, he
devoted himself to following her with singleness of purpose. He
therefore missed seeing that Adam branched off the track and
returned to the high road.
That night Edgar Caswall had slept badly. The tragic occurrence of
the day was on his mind, and he kept waking and thinking of it.
After an early breakfast, he sat at the open window watching the
kite and thinking of many things. From his room he could see all
round the neighbourhood, but the two places that interested him most
were Mercy Farm and Diana's Grove. At first the movements about
those spots were of a humble kind--those that belong to domestic
service or agricultural needs--the opening of doors and windows, the
sweeping and brushing, and generally the restoration of habitual
From his high window--whose height made it a screen from the
observation of others--he saw the chain of watchers move into his
own grounds, and then presently break up--Adam Salton going one way,
and Lady Arabella, followed by the nigger, another. Then Oolanga
disappeared amongst the trees; but Caswall could see that he was
still watching. Lady Arabella, after looking around her, slipped in
by the open door, and he could, of course, see her no longer.
Presently, however, he heard a light tap at his door, then the door
opened slowly, and he could see the flash of Lady Arabella's white
dress through the opening.
Caswall was genuinely surprised when he saw Lady Arabella, though he
need not have been, after what had already occurred in the same way.
The look of surprise on his face was so much greater than Lady
Arabella had expected--though she thought she was prepared to meet
anything that might occur--that she stood still, in sheer amazement.
Cold-blooded as she was and ready for all social emergencies, she
was nonplussed how to go on. She was plucky, however, and began to
speak at once, although she had not the slightest idea what she was
going to say.
"I came to offer you my very warm sympathy with the grief you have
so lately experienced."
"My grief? I'm afraid I must be very dull; but I really do not
Already she felt at a disadvantage, and hesitated.
"I mean about the old man who died so suddenly--your old. . .
Caswall's face relaxed something of its puzzled concentration.
"Oh, he was only a servant; and he had over-stayed his three-score
and ten years by something like twenty years. He must have been
"Still, as an old servant. . . "
Caswall's words were not so cold as their inflection.
"I never interfere with servants. He was kept on here merely
because he had been so long on the premises. I suppose the steward
thought it might make him unpopular if the old fellow had been
How on earth was she to proceed on such a task as hers if this was
the utmost geniality she could expect? So she at once tried another
tack--this time a personal one.
"I am sorry I disturbed you. I am really not unconventional--though
certainly no slave to convention. Still there are limits. . . it is
bad enough to intrude in this way, and I do not know what you can
say or think of the time selected, for the intrusion."
After all, Edgar Caswall was a gentleman by custom and habit, so he
rose to the occasion.
"I can only say, Lady Arabella, that you are always welcome at any
time you may deign to honour my house with your presence."
She smiled at him sweetly.
"Thank you SO much. You DO put one at ease. My breach of
convention makes me glad rather than sorry. I feel that I can open
my heart to you about anything."
Forthwith she proceeded to tell him about Oolanga and his strange
suspicions of her honesty. Caswall laughed and made her explain all
the details. His final comment was enlightening.
"Let me give you a word of advice: If you have the slightest fault
to find with that infernal nigger, shoot him at sight. A swelledheaded
nigger, with a bee in his bonnet, is one of the worst
difficulties in the world to deal with. So better make a clean job
of it, and wipe him out at once!"
"But what about the law, Mr. Caswall?"
"Oh, the law doesn't concern itself much about dead niggers. A few
more or less do not matter. To my mind it's rather a relief!"
"I'm afraid of you," was her only comment, made with a sweet smile
and in a soft voice.
"All right," he said, "let us leave it at that. Anyhow, we shall be
rid of one of them!"
"I don't love niggers any more than you do," she replied, "and I
suppose one mustn't be too particular where that sort of cleaning up
is concerned." Then she changed in voice and manner, and asked
genially: "And now tell me, am I forgiven?"
"You are, dear lady--if there is anything to forgive."
As he spoke, seeing that she had moved to go, he came to the door
with her, and in the most natural way accompanied her downstairs.
He passed through the hall with her and down the avenue. As he went
back to the house, she smiled to herself.
"Well, that is all right. I don't think the morning has been
altogether thrown away."
And she walked slowly back to Diana's Grove.
Adam Salton followed the line of the Brow, and refreshed his memory
as to the various localities. He got home to Lesser Hill just as
Sir Nathaniel was beginning lunch. Mr. Salton had gone to Walsall
to keep an early appointment; so he was all alone. When the meal
was over--seeing in Adam's face that he had something to speak
about--he followed into the study and shut the door.
When the two men had lighted their pipes, Sir Nathaniel began.
"I have remembered an interesting fact about Diana's Grove--there
is, I have long understood, some strange mystery about that house.
It may be of some interest, or it may be trivial, in such a tangled
skein as we are trying to unravel."
"Please tell me all you know' or suspect. To begin, then, of what
sort is the mystery--physical, mental, moral, historical,
scientific, occult? Any kind of hint will help me."
"Quite right. I shall try to tell you what I think; but I have not
put my thoughts on the subject in sequence, so you must forgive me
if due order is not observed in my narration. I suppose you have
seen the house at Diana's Grove?"
"The outside of it; but I have that in my mind's eye, and I can fit
into my memory whatever you may mention."
"The house is very old--probably the first house of some sort that
stood there was in the time of the Romans. This was probably
renewed--perhaps several times at later periods. The house stands,
or, rather, used to stand here when Mercia was a kingdom--I do not
suppose that the basement can be later than the Norman Conquest.
Some years ago, when I was President of the Mercian Archaeological
Society, I went all over it very carefully. This was when it was
purchased by Captain March. The house had then been done up, so as
to be suitable for the bride. The basement is very strong,--almost
as strong and as heavy as if it had been intended as a fortress.
There are a whole series of rooms deep underground. One of them in
particular struck me. The room itself is of considerable size, but
the masonry is more than massive. In the middle of the room is a
sunk well, built up to floor level and evidently going deep
underground. There is no windlass nor any trace of there ever
having been any--no rope--nothing. Now, we know that the Romans had
wells of immense depth, from which the water was lifted by the 'old
rag rope'; that at Woodhull used to be nearly a thousand feet.
Here, then, we have simply an enormously deep well-hole. The door
of the room was massive, and was fastened with a lock nearly a foot
square. It was evidently intended for some kind of protection to
someone or something; but no one in those days had ever heard of
anyone having been allowed even to see the room. All this is E
PROPOS of a suggestion on my part that the well-hole was a way by
which the White Worm (whatever it was) went and came. At that time
I would have had a search made--even excavation if necessary--at my
own expense, but all suggestions were met with a prompt and explicit
negative. So, of course, I took no further step in the matter.
Then it died out of recollection--even of mine."
"Do you remember, sir," asked Adam, "what was the appearance of the
room where the well-hole was? Was there furniture--in fact, any
sort of thing in the room?"
"The only thing I remember was a sort of green light--very clouded,
very dim--which came up from the well. Not a fixed light, but
intermittent and irregular--quite unlike anything I had ever seen."
"Do you remember how you got into the well-room? Was there a
separate door from outside, or was there any interior room or
passage which opened into it?"
"I think there must have been some room with a way into it. I
remember going up some steep steps; they must have been worn smooth
by long use or something of the kind, for I could hardly keep my
feet as I went up. Once I stumbled and nearly fell into the wellhole."
"Was there anything strange about the place--any queer smell, for
"Queer smell--yes! Like bilge or a rank swamp. It was distinctly
nauseating; when I came out I felt as if I had just been going to be
sick. I shall try back on my visit and see if I can recall any more
of what I saw or felt."
"Then perhaps, sir, later in the day you will tell me anything you
may chance to recollect."
"I shall be delighted, Adam. If your uncle has not returned by
then, I'll join you in the study after dinner, and we can resume
this interesting chat."
That afternoon Adam decided to do a little exploring. As he passed
through the wood outside the gate of Diana's Grove, he thought he
saw the African's face for an instant. So he went deeper into the
undergrowth, and followed along parallel to the avenue to the house.
He was glad that there was no workman or servant about, for he did
not care that any of Lady Arabella's people should find him
wandering about her grounds. Taking advantage of the denseness of
the trees, he came close to the house and skirted round it. He was
repaid for his trouble, for on the far side of the house, close to
where the rocky frontage of the cliff fell away, he saw Oolanga
crouched behind the irregular trunk of a great oak. The man was so
intent on watching someone, or something, that he did not guard
against being himself watched. This suited Adam, for he could thus
make scrutiny at will.
The thick wood, though the trees were mostly of small girth, threw a
heavy shadow, so that the steep declension, in front of which grew
the tree behind which the African lurked, was almost in darkness.
Adam drew as close as he could, and was amazed to see a patch of
light on the ground before him; when he realised what it was, he was
determined, more than ever to follow on his quest. The nigger had a
dark lantern in his hand, and was throwing the light down the steep
incline. The glare showed a series of stone steps, which ended in a
low-lying heavy iron door fixed against the side of the house. All
the strange things he had heard from Sir Nathaniel, and all those,
little and big, which he had himself noticed, crowded into his mind
in a chaotic way. Instinctively he took refuge behind a thick oak
stem, and set himself down, to watch what might occur.
After a short time it became apparent that the African was trying to
find out what was behind the heavy door. There was no way of
looking in, for the door fitted tight into the massive stone slabs.
The only opportunity for the entrance of light was through a small
hole between the great stones above the door. This hole was too
high up to look through from the ground level. Oolanga, having
tried standing tiptoe on the highest point near, and holding the
lantern as high as he could, threw the light round the edges of the
door to see if he could find anywhere a hole or a flaw in the metal
through which he could obtain a glimpse. Foiled in this, he brought
from the shrubbery a plank, which he leant against the top of the
door and then climbed up with great dexterity. This did not bring
him near enough to the window-hole to look in, or even to throw the
light of the lantern through it, so he climbed down and carried the
plank back to the place from which he had got it. Then he concealed
himself near the iron door and waited, manifestly with the intent of
remaining there till someone came near. Presently Lady Arabella,
moving noiselessly through the shade, approached the door. When he
saw her close enough to touch it, Oolanga stepped forward from his
concealment, and spoke in a whisper, which through the gloom sounded
like a hiss.
"I want to see you, missy--soon and secret."
"What do you want?"
"You know well, missy; I told you already."
She turned on him with blazing eyes, the green tint in them glowing
like emeralds.
"Come, none of that. If there is anything sensible which you wish
to say to me, you can see me here, just where we are, at seven
He made no reply in words, but, putting the backs of his hands
together, bent lower and lower till his forehead touched the earth.
Then he rose and went slowly away.
Adam Salton, from his hiding-place, saw and wondered. In a few
minutes he moved from his place and went home to Lesser Hill, fully
determined that seven o'clock would find him in some hidden place
behind Diana's Grove.
At a little before seven Adam stole softly out of the house and took
the back-way to the rear of Diana's Grove. The place seemed silent
and deserted, so he took the opportunity of concealing himself near
the spot whence he had seen Oolanga trying to investigate whatever
was concealed behind the iron door. He waited, perfectly still, and
at last saw a gleam of white passing soundlessly through the
undergrowth. He was not surprised when he recognised the colour of
Lady Arabella's dress. She came close and waited, with her face to
the iron door. From some place of concealment near at hand Oolanga
appeared, and came close to her. Adam noticed, with surprised
amusement, that over his shoulder was the box with the mongoose. Of
course the African did not know that he was seen by anyone, least of
all by the man whose property he had with him.
Silent-footed as he was, Lady Arabella heard him coming, and turned
to meet him. It was somewhat hard to see in the gloom, for, as
usual, he was all in black, only his collar and cuffs showing white.
Lady Arabella opened the conversation which ensued between the two.
"What do you want? To rob me, or murder me?"
"No, to lub you!"
This frightened her a little, and she tried to change the tone.
"Is that a coffin you have with you? If so, you are wasting your
time. It would not hold me."
When a nigger suspects he is being laughed at, all the ferocity of
his nature comes to the front; and this man was of the lowest kind.
"Dis ain't no coffin for nobody. Dis box is for you. Somefin you
lub. Me give him to you!"
Still anxious to keep off the subject of affection, on which she
believed him to have become crazed, she made another effort to keep
his mind elsewhere.
"Is this why you want to see me?" He nodded. "Then come round to
the other door. But be quiet. I have no desire to be seen so close
to my own house in conversation with a--a--a nigger like you!"
She had chosen the word deliberately. She wished to meet his
passion with another kind. Such would, at all events, help to keep
him quiet. In the deep gloom she could not see the anger which
suffused his face. Rolling eyeballs and grinding teeth are,
however, sufficient signs of anger to be decipherable in the dark.
She moved round the corner of the house to her right. Oolanga was
following her, when she stopped him by raising her hand.
"No, not that door," she said; "that is not for niggers. The other
door will do well enough for you!"
Lady Arabella took in her hand a small key which hung at the end of
her watch-chain, and moved to a small door, low down, round the
corner, and a little downhill from the edge of the Brow. Oolanga,
in obedience to her gesture, went back to the iron door. Adam
looked carefully at the mongoose box as the African went by, and was
glad to see that it was intact. Unconsciously, as he looked, he
fingered the key that was in his waistcoat pocket. When Oolanga was
out of sight, Adam hurried after Lady Arabella.
The woman turned sharply as Adam touched her shoulder.
"One moment whilst we are alone. You had better not trust that
nigger!" he whispered.
Her answer was crisp and concise:
"I don't."
"Forewarned is forearmed. Tell me if you will--it is for your own
protection. Why do you mistrust him?"
"My friend, you have no idea of that man's impudence. Would you
believe that he wants me to marry him?"
"No!" said Adam incredulously, amused in spite of himself.
"Yes, and wanted to bribe me to do it by sharing a chest of
treasure--at least, he thought it was--stolen from Mr. Caswall. Why
do you distrust him, Mr. Salton?"
"Did you notice that box he had slung on his shoulder? That belongs
to me. I left it in the gun-room when I went to lunch. He must
have crept in and stolen it. Doubtless he thinks that it, too, is
full of treasure."
"He does!"
"How on earth do you know?" asked Adam.
"A little while ago he offered to give it to me--another bribe to
accept him. Faugh! I am ashamed to tell you such a thing. The
Whilst they had been speaking, she had opened the door, a narrow
iron one, well hung, for it opened easily and closed tightly without
any creaking or sound of any kind. Within all was dark; but she
entered as freely and with as little misgiving or restraint as if it
had been broad daylight. For Adam, there was just sufficient green
light from somewhere for him to see that there was a broad flight of
heavy stone steps leading upward; but Lady Arabella, after shutting
the door behind her, when it closed tightly without a clang, tripped
up the steps lightly and swiftly. For an instant all was dark, but
there came again the faint green light which enabled him to see the
outlines of things. Another iron door, narrow like the first and
fairly high, led into another large room, the walls of which were of
massive stones, so closely joined together as to exhibit only one
smooth surface. This presented the appearance of having at one time
been polished. On the far side, also smooth like the walls, was the
reverse of a wide, but not high, iron door. Here there was a little
more light, for the high-up aperture over the door opened to the
Lady Arabella took from her girdle another small key, which she
inserted in a keyhole in the centre of a massive lock. The great
bolt seemed wonderfully hung, for the moment the small key was
turned, the bolts of the great lock moved noiselessly and the iron
doors swung open. On the stone steps outside stood Oolanga, with
the mongoose box slung over his shoulder. Lady Arabella stood a
little on one side, and the African, accepting the movement as an
invitation, entered in an obsequious way. The moment, however, that
he was inside, he gave a quick look around him.
"Much death here--big death. Many deaths. Good, good!"
He sniffed round as if he was enjoying the scent. The matter and
manner of his speech were so revolting that instinctively Adam's
hand wandered to his revolver, and, with his finger on the trigger,
he rested satisfied that he was ready for any emergency.
There was certainly opportunity for the nigger's enjoyment, for the
open well-hole was almost under his nose, sending up such a stench
as almost made Adam sick, though Lady Arabella seemed not to mind it
at all. It was like nothing that Adam had ever met with. He
compared it with all the noxious experiences he had ever had--the
drainage of war hospitals, of slaughter-houses, the refuse of
dissecting rooms. None of these was like it, though it had
something of them all, with, added, the sourness of chemical waste
and the poisonous effluvium of the bilge of a water-logged ship
whereon a multitude of rats had been drowned.
Then, quite unexpectedly, the negro noticed the presence of a third
person--Adam Salton! He pulled out a pistol and shot at him,
happily missing. Adam was himself usually a quick shot, but this
time his mind had been on something else and he was not ready.
However, he was quick to carry out an intention, and he was not a
coward. In another moment both men were in grips. Beside them was
the dark well-hole, with that horrid effluvium stealing up from its
mysterious depths.
Adam and Oolanga both had pistols; Lady Arabella, who had not one,
was probably the most ready of them all in the theory of shooting,
but that being impossible, she made her effort in another way.
Gliding forward, she tried to seize the African; but he eluded her
grasp, just missing, in doing so, falling into the mysterious hole.
As he swayed back to firm foothold, he turned his own gun on her and
shot. Instinctively Adam leaped at his assailant; clutching at each
other, they tottered on the very brink.
Lady Arabella's anger, now fully awake, was all for Oolanga. She
moved towards him with her hands extended, and had just seized him
when the catch of the locked box--due to some movement from within--
flew open, and the king-cobra-killer flew at her with a venomous
fury impossible to describe. As it seized her throat, she caught
hold of it, and, with a fury superior to its own, tore it in two
just as if it had been a sheet of paper. The strength used for such
an act must have been terrific. In an instant, it seemed to spout
blood and entrails, and was hurled into the well-hole. In another
instant she had seized Oolanga, and with a swift rush had drawn him,
her white arms encircling him, down with her into the gaping
Adam saw a medley of green and red lights blaze in a whirling
circle, and as it sank down into the well, a pair of blazing green
eyes became fixed, sank lower and lower with frightful rapidity, and
disappeared, throwing upward the green light which grew more and
more vivid every moment. As the light sank into the noisome depths,
there came a shriek which chilled Adam's blood--a prolonged agony of
pain and terror which seemed to have no end.
Adam Salton felt that he would never be able to free his mind from
the memory of those dreadful moments. The gloom which surrounded
that horrible charnel pit, which seemed to go down to the very
bowels of the earth, conveyed from far down the sights and sounds of
the nethermost hell. The ghastly fate of the African as he sank
down to his terrible doom, his black face growing grey with terror,
his white eyeballs, now like veined bloodstone, rolling in the
helpless extremity of fear. The mysterious green light was in
itself a milieu of horror. And through it all the awful cry came up
from that fathomless pit, whose entrance was flooded with spots of
fresh blood. Even the death of the fearless little snake-killer--so
fierce, so frightful, as if stained with a ferocity which told of no
living force above earth, but only of the devils of the pit--was
only an incident. Adam was in a state of intellectual tumult, which
had no parallel in his experience. He tried to rush away from the
horrible place; even the baleful green light, thrown up through the
gloomy well-shaft, was dying away as its source sank deeper into the
primeval ooze. The darkness was closing in on him in overwhelming
density--darkness in such a place and with such a memory of it!
He made a wild rush forward--slipt on the steps in some sticky,
acrid-smelling mass that felt and smelt like blood, and, falling
forward, felt his way into the inner room, where the well-shaft was
Then he rubbed his eyes in sheer amazement. Up the stone steps from
the narrow door by which he had entered, glided the white-clad
figure of Lady Arabella, the only colour to be seen on her being
blood-marks on her face and hands and throat. Otherwise, she was
calm and unruffled, as when earlier she stood aside for him to pass
in through the narrow iron door.
Adam Salton went for a walk before returning to Lesser Hill; he felt
that it might be well, not only to steady his nerves, shaken by the
horrible scene, but to get his thoughts into some sort of order, so
as to be ready to enter on the matter with Sir Nathaniel. He was a
little embarrassed as to telling his uncle, for affairs had so
vastly progressed beyond his original view that he felt a little
doubtful as to what would be the old gentleman's attitude when he
should hear of the strange events for the first time. Mr. Salton
would certainly not be satisfied at being treated as an outsider
with regard to such things, most of which had points of contact with
the inmates of his own house. It was with an immense sense of
relief that Adam heard that his uncle had telegraphed to the
housekeeper that he was detained by business at Walsall, where he
would remain for the night; and that he would be back in the morning
in time for lunch.
When Adam got home after his walk, he found Sir Nathaniel just going
to bed. He did not say anything to him then of what had happened,
but contented himself with arranging that they would walk together
in the early morning, as he had much to say that would require
serious attention.
Strangely enough he slept well, and awoke at dawn with his mind
clear and his nerves in their usual unshaken condition. The maid
brought up, with his early morning cup of tea, a note which had been
found in the letter-box. It was from Lady Arabella, and was
evidently intended to put him on his guard as to what he should say
about the previous evening.
He read it over carefully several times, before he was satisfied
that he had taken in its full import.
"I cannot go to bed until I have written to you, so you must forgive
me if I disturb you, and at an unseemly time. Indeed, you must also
forgive me if, in trying to do what is right, I err in saying too
much or too little. The fact is that I am quite upset and unnerved
by all that has happened in this terrible night. I find it
difficult even to write; my hands shake so that they are not under
control, and I am trembling all over with memory of the horrors we
saw enacted before our eyes. I am grieved beyond measure that I
should be, however remotely, a cause of this horror coming on you.
Forgive me if you can, and do not think too hardly of me. This I
ask with confidence, for since we shared together the danger--the
very pangs--of death, I feel that we should be to one another
something more than mere friends, that I may lean on you and trust
you, assured that your sympathy and pity are for me. You really
must let me thank you for the friendliness, the help, the
confidence, the real aid at a time of deadly danger and deadly fear
which you showed me. That awful man--I shall see him for ever in my
dreams. His black, malignant face will shut out all memory of
sunshine and happiness. I shall eternally see his evil eyes as he
threw himself into that well-hole in a vain effort to escape from
the consequences of his own misdoing. The more I think of it, the
more apparent it seems to me that he had premeditated the whole
thing--of course, except his own horrible death.
"Perhaps you have noticed a fur collar I occasionally wear. It is
one of my most valued treasures--an ermine collar studded with
emeralds. I had often seen the nigger's eyes gleam covetously when
he looked at it. Unhappily, I wore it yesterday. That may have
been the cause that lured the poor man to his doom. On the very
brink of the abyss he tore the collar from my neck--that was the
last I saw of him. When he sank into the hole, I was rushing to the
iron door, which I pulled behind me. When I heard that soulsickening
yell, which marked his disappearance in the chasm, I was
more glad than I can say that my eyes were spared the pain and
horror which my ears had to endure.
"When I tore myself out of the negro's grasp as he sank into the
well-hole; I realised what freedom meant. Freedom! Freedom! Not
only from that noisome prison-house, which has now such a memory,
but from the more noisome embrace of that hideous monster. Whilst I
live, I shall always thank you for my freedom. A woman must
sometimes express her gratitude; otherwise it becomes too great to
bear. I am not a sentimental girl, who merely likes to thank a man;
I am a woman who knows all, of bad as well as good, that life can
give. I have known what it is to love and to lose. But you must
not let me bring any unhappiness into your life. I must live on--as
I have lived--alone, and, in addition, bear with other woes the
memory of this latest insult and horror. In the meantime, I must
get away as quickly as possible from Diana's Grove. In the morning
I shall go up to town, where I shall remain for a week--I cannot
stay longer, as business affairs demand my presence here. I think,
however, that a week in the rush of busy London, surrounded with
multitudes of commonplace people, will help to soften--I cannot
expect total obliteration--the terrible images of the bygone night.
When I can sleep easily--which will be, I hope, after a day or two--
I shall be fit to return home and take up again the burden which
will, I suppose, always be with me.
"I shall be most happy to see you on my return--or earlier, if my
good fortune sends you on any errand to London. I shall stay at the
Mayfair Hotel. In that busy spot we may forget some of the dangers
and horrors we have shared together. Adieu, and thank you, again
and again, for all your kindness and consideration to me.
Adam was surprised by this effusive epistle, but he determined to
say nothing of it to Sir Nathaniel until he should have thought it
well over. When Adam met Sir Nathaniel at breakfast, he was glad
that he had taken time to turn things over in his mind. The result
had been that not only was he familiar with the facts in all their
bearings, but he had already so far differentiated them that he was
able to arrange them in his own mind according to their values.
Breakfast had been a silent function, so it did not interfere in any
way with the process of thought.
So soon as the door was closed, Sir Nathaniel began:
"I see, Adam, that something has occurred, and that you have much to
tell me."
"That is so, sir. I suppose I had better begin by telling you all I
know--all that has happened since I left you yesterday?"
Accordingly Adam gave him details of all that had happened during
the previous evening. He confined himself rigidly to the narration
of circumstances, taking care not to colour events by any comment of
his own, or any opinion of the meaning of things which he did not
fully understand. At first, Sir Nathaniel seemed disposed to ask
questions, but shortly gave this up when he recognised that the
narration was concise and self-explanatory. Thenceforth, he
contented himself with quick looks and glances, easily interpreted,
or by some acquiescent motions of his hands, when such could be
convenient, to emphasise his idea of the correctness of any
inference. Until Adam ceased speaking, having evidently come to an
end of what he had to say with regard to this section of his story,
the elder man made no comment whatever. Even when Adam took from
his pocket Lady Arabella's letter, with the manifest intention of
reading it, he did not make any comment. Finally, when Adam folded
up the letter and put it, in its envelope, back in his pocket, as an
intimation that he had now quite finished, the old diplomatist
carefully made a few notes in his pocket-book.
"Your narrative, my dear Adam, is altogether admirable. I think I
may now take it that we are both well versed in the actual facts,
and that our conference had better take the shape of a mutual
exchange of ideas. Let us both ask questions as they may arise; and
I do not doubt that we shall arrive at some enlightening
"Will you kindly begin, sir? I do not doubt that, with your longer
experience, you will be able to dissipate some of the fog which
envelops certain of the things which we have to consider."
"I hope so, my dear boy. For a beginning, then, let me say that
Lady Arabella's letter makes clear some things which she intended--
and also some things which she did not intend. But, before I begin
to draw deductions, let me ask you a few questions. Adam, are you
heart-whole, quite heart-whole, in the matter of Lady Arabella?"
His companion answered at once, each looking the other straight in
the eyes during question and answer.
"Lady Arabella, sir, is a charming woman, and I should have deemed
it a privilege to meet her--to talk to her--even--since I am in the
confessional--to flirt a little with her. But if you mean to ask if
my affections are in any way engaged, I can emphatically answer
'No!'--as indeed you will understand when presently I give you the
reason. Apart from that, there are the unpleasant details we
discussed the other day."
"Could you--would you mind giving me the reason now? It will help
us to understand what is before us, in the way of difficulty."
"Certainly, sir. My reason, on which I can fully depend, is that I
love another woman!"
"That clinches it. May I offer my good wishes, and, I hope, my
"I am proud of your good wishes, sir, and I thank you for them. But
it is too soon for congratulations--the lady does not even know my
hopes yet. Indeed, I hardly knew them myself, as definite, till
this moment."
"I take it then, Adam, that at the right time I may be allowed to
know who the lady is?"
Adam laughed a low, sweet laugh, such as ripples from a happy heart.
"There need not be an hour's, a minute's delay. I shall be glad to
share my secret with you, sir. The lady, sir, whom I am so happy as
to love, and in whom my dreams of life-long happiness are centred,
is Mimi Watford!"
"Then, my dear Adam, I need not wait to offer congratulations. She
is indeed a very charming young lady. I do not think I ever saw a
girl who united in such perfection the qualities of strength of
character and sweetness of disposition. With all my heart, I
congratulate you. Then I may take it that my question as to your
heart-wholeness is answered in the affirmative?"
"Yes; and now, sir, may I ask in turn why the question?"
"Certainly! I asked because it seems to me that we are coming to a
point where my questions might be painful to you."
"It is not merely that I love Mimi, but I have reason to look on
Lady Arabella as her enemy," Adam continued.
"Her enemy?"
"Yes. A rank and unscrupulous enemy who is bent on her
Sir Nathaniel went to the door, looked outside it and returned,
locking it carefully behind him.
"Am I looking grave?" asked Sir Nathaniel inconsequently when he reentered
the room.
"You certainly are, sir."
"We little thought when first we met that we should be drawn into
such a vortex. Already we are mixed up in robbery, and probably
murder, but--a thousand times worse than all the crimes in the
calendar--in an affair of ghastly mystery which has no bottom and no
end--with forces of the most unnerving kind, which had their origin
in an age when the world was different from the world which we know.
We are going back to the origin of superstition--to an age when
dragons tore each other in their slime. We must fear nothing--no
conclusion, however improbable, almost impossible it may be. Life
and death is hanging on our judgment, not only for ourselves, but
for others whom we love. Remember, I count on you as I hope you
count on me."
"I do, with all confidence."
"Then," said Sir Nathaniel, "let us think justly and boldly and fear
nothing, however terrifying it may seem. I suppose I am to take as
exact in every detail your account of all the strange things which
happened whilst you were in Diana's Grove?"
"So far as I know, yes. Of course I may be mistaken in recollection
of some detail or another, but I am certain that in the main what I
have said is correct."
"You feel sure that you saw Lady Arabella seize the negro round the
neck, and drag him down with her into the hole?"
"Absolutely certain, sir, otherwise I should have gone to her
"We have, then, an account of what happened from an eye-witness whom
we trust--that is yourself. We have also another account, written
by Lady Arabella under her own hand. These two accounts do not
agree. Therefore we must take it that one of the two is lying."
"Apparently, sir."
"And that Lady Arabella is the liar!"
"Apparently--as I am not."
"We must, therefore, try to find a reason for her lying. She has
nothing to fear from Oolanga, who is dead. Therefore the only
reason which could actuate her would be to convince someone else
that she was blameless. This 'someone' could not be you, for you
had the evidence of your own eyes. There was no one else present;
therefore it must have been an absent person."
"That seems beyond dispute, sir."
"There is only one other person whose good opinion she could wish to
keep--Edgar Caswall. He is the only one who fills the bill. Her
lies point to other things besides the death of the African. She
evidently wanted it to be accepted that his falling into the well
was his own act. I cannot suppose that she expected to convince
you, the eye-witness; but if she wished later on to spread the
story, it was wise of her to try to get your acceptance of it."
"That is so!"
"Then there were other matters of untruth. That, for instance, of
the ermine collar embroidered with emeralds. If an understandable
reason be required for this, it would be to draw attention away from
the green lights which were seen in the room, and especially in the
well-hole. Any unprejudiced person would accept the green lights to
be the eyes of a great snake, such as tradition pointed to living in
the well-hole. In fine, therefore, Lady Arabella wanted the general
belief to be that there was no snake of the kind in Diana's Grove.
For my own part, I don't believe in a partial liar--this art does
not deal in veneer; a liar is a liar right through. Self-interest
may prompt falsity of the tongue; but if one prove to be a liar,
nothing that he says can ever be believed. This leads us to the
conclusion that because she said or inferred that there was no
snake, we should look for one--and expect to find it, too.
"Now let me digress. I live, and have for many years lived, in
Derbyshire, a county more celebrated for its caves than any other
county in England. I have been through them all, and am familiar
with every turn of them; as also with other great caves in Kentucky,
in France, in Germany, and a host of other places--in many of these
are tremendously deep caves of narrow aperture, which are valued by
intrepid explorers, who descend narrow gullets of abysmal depth--and
sometimes never return. In many of the caverns in the Peak I am
convinced that some of the smaller passages were used in primeval
times as the lairs of some of the great serpents of legend and
tradition. It may have been that such caverns were formed in the
usual geologic way--bubbles or flaws in the earth's crust--which
were later used by the monsters of the period of the young world.
It may have been, of course, that some of them were worn originally
by water; but in time they all found a use when suitable for living
"This brings us to another point, more difficult to accept and
understand than any other requiring belief in a base not usually
accepted, or indeed entered on--whether such abnormal growths could
have ever changed in their nature. Some day the study of metabolism
may progress so far as to enable us to accept structural changes
proceeding from an intellectual or moral base. We may lean towards
a belief that great animal strength may be a sound base for changes
of all sorts. If this be so, what could be a more fitting subject
than primeval monsters whose strength was such as to allow a
survival of thousands of years? We do not know yet if brain can
increase and develop independently of other parts of the living
"After all, the mediaeval belief in the Philosopher's Stone which
could transmute metals, has its counterpart in the accepted theory
of metabolism which changes living tissue. In an age of
investigation like our own, when we are returning to science as the
base of wonders--almost of miracles--we should be slow to refuse to
accept facts, however impossible they may seem to be.
"Let us suppose a monster of the early days of the world--a dragon
of the prime--of vast age running into thousands of years, to whom
had been conveyed in some way--it matters not--a brain just
sufficient for the beginning of growth. Suppose the monster to be
of incalculable size and of a strength quite abnormal--a veritable
incarnation of animal strength. Suppose this animal is allowed to
remain in one place, thus being removed from accidents of
interrupted development; might not, would not this creature, in
process of time--ages, if necessary--have that rudimentary
intelligence developed? There is no impossibility in this; it is
only the natural process of evolution. In the beginning, the
instincts of animals are confined to alimentation, self-protection,
and the multiplication of their species. As time goes on and the
needs of life become more complex, power follows need. We have been
long accustomed to consider growth as applied almost exclusively to
size in its various aspects. But Nature, who has no doctrinaire
ideas, may equally apply it to concentration. A developing thing
may expand in any given way or form. Now, it is a scientific law
that increase implies gain and loss of various kinds; what a thing
gains in one direction it may lose in another. May it not be that
Mother Nature may deliberately encourage decrease as well as
increase--that it may be an axiom that what is gained in
concentration is lost in size? Take, for instance, monsters that
tradition has accepted and localised, such as the Worm of Lambton or
that of Spindleston Heugh. If such a creature were, by its own
process of metabolism, to change much of its bulk for intellectual
growth, we should at once arrive at a new class of creature--more
dangerous, perhaps, than the world has ever had any experience of--a
force which can think, which has no soul and no morals, and
therefore no acceptance of responsibility. A snake would be a good
illustration of this, for it is cold-blooded, and therefore removed
from the temptations which often weaken or restrict warm-blooded
creatures. If, for instance, the Worm of Lambton--if such ever
existed--were guided to its own ends by an organised intelligence
capable of expansion, what form of creature could we imagine which
would equal it in potentialities of evil? Why, such a being would
devastate a whole country. Now, all these things require much
thought, and we want to apply the knowledge usefully, and we should
therefore be exact. Would it not be well to resume the subject
later in the day?"
"I quite agree, sir. I am in a whirl already; and want to attend
carefully to what you say; so that I may try to digest it."
Both men seemed fresher and better for the "easy," and when they met
in the afternoon each of them had something to contribute to the
general stock of information. Adam, who was by nature of a more
militant disposition than his elderly friend, was glad to see that
the conference at once assumed a practical trend. Sir Nathaniel
recognised this, and, like an old diplomatist, turned it to present
"Tell me now, Adam, what is the outcome, in your own mind, of our
"That the whole difficulty already assumes practical shape; but with
added dangers, that at first I did not imagine."
"What is the practical shape, and what are the added dangers? I am
not disputing, but only trying to clear my own ideas by the
consideration of yours--"
So Adam went on:
"In the past, in the early days of the world, there were monsters
who were so vast that they could exist for thousands of years. Some
of them must have overlapped the Christian era. They may have
progressed intellectually in process of time. If they had in any
way so progressed, or even got the most rudimentary form of brain,
they would be the most dangerous things that ever were in the world.
Tradition says that one of these monsters lived in the Marsh of the
East, and came up to a cave in Diana's Grove, which was also called
the Lair of the White Worm. Such creatures may have grown down as
well as up. They MAY have grown into, or something like, human
beings. Lady Arabella March is of snake nature. She has committed
crimes to our knowledge. She retains something of the vast strength
of her primal being--can see in the dark--has the eyes of a snake.
She used the nigger, and then dragged him through the snake's hole
down to the swamp; she is intent on evil, and hates some one we
love. Result. . . "
"Yes, the result?"
"First, that Mimi Watford should be taken away at once--then--"
"The monster must be destroyed."
"Bravo! That is a true and fearless conclusion. At whatever cost,
it must be carried out."
"At once?"
"Soon, at all events. That creature's very existence is a danger.
Her presence in this neighbourhood makes the danger immediate."
As he spoke, Sir Nathaniel's mouth hardened and his eyebrows came
down till they met. There was no doubting his concurrence in the
resolution, or his readiness to help in carrying it out. But he was
an elderly man with much experience and knowledge of law and
diplomacy. It seemed to him to be a stern duty to prevent anything
irrevocable taking place till it had been thought out and all was
ready. There were all sorts of legal cruxes to be thought out, not
only regarding the taking of life, even of a monstrosity in human
form, but also of property. Lady Arabella, be she woman or snake or
devil, owned the ground she moved in, according to British law, and
the law is jealous and swift to avenge wrongs done within its ken.
All such difficulties should be--must be--avoided for Mr. Salton's
sake, for Adam's own sake, and, most of all, for Mimi Watford's
Before he spoke again, Sir Nathaniel had made up his mind that he
must try to postpone decisive action until the circumstances on
which they depended--which, after all, were only problematical--
should have been tested satisfactorily, one way or another. When he
did speak, Adam at first thought that his friend was wavering in his
intention, or "funking" the responsibility. However, his respect
for Sir Nathaniel was so great that he would not act, or even come
to a conclusion on a vital point, without his sanction.
He came close and whispered in his ear:
"We will prepare our plans to combat and destroy this horrible
menace, after we have cleared up some of the more baffling points.
Meanwhile, we must wait for the night--I hear my uncle's footsteps
echoing down the hall."
Sir Nathaniel nodded his approval.
When old Mr. Salton had retired for the night, Adam and Sir
Nathaniel returned to the study. Things went with great regularity
at Lesser Hill, so they knew that there would be no interruption to
their talk.
When their cigars were lighted, Sir Nathaniel began.
"I hope, Adam, that you do not think me either slack or changeable
of purpose. I mean to go through this business to the bitter end--
whatever it may be. Be satisfied that my first care is, and shall
be, the protection of Mimi Watford. To that I am pledged; my dear
boy, we who are interested are all in the same danger. That semihuman
monster out of the pit hates and means to destroy us all--you
and me certainly, and probably your uncle. I wanted especially to
talk with you to-night, for I cannot help thinking that the time is
fast coming--if it has not come already--when we must take your
uncle into our confidence. It was one thing when fancied evils
threatened, but now he is probably marked for death, and it is only
right that he should know all."
"I am with you, sir. Things have changed since we agreed to keep
him out of the trouble. Now we dare not; consideration for his
feelings might cost his life. It is a duty--and no light or
pleasant one, either. I have not a shadow of doubt that he will
want to be one with us in this. But remember, we are his guests;
his name, his honour, have to be thought of as well as his safety."
"All shall be as you wish, Adam. And now as to what we are to do?
We cannot murder Lady Arabella off-hand. Therefore we shall have to
put things in order for the killing, and in such a way that we
cannot be taxed with a crime."
"It seems to me, sir, that we are in an exceedingly tight place.
Our first difficulty is to know where to begin. I never thought
this fighting an antediluvian monster would be such a complicated
job. This one is a woman, with all a woman's wit, combined with the
heartlessness of a COCOTTE. She has the strength and impregnability
of a diplodocus. We may be sure that in the fight that is before us
there will be no semblance of fair-play. Also that our unscrupulous
opponent will not betray herself!"
"That is so--but being feminine, she will probably over-reach
herself. Now, Adam, it strikes me that, as we have to protect
ourselves and others against feminine nature, our strong game will
be to play our masculine against her feminine. Perhaps we had
better sleep on it. She is a thing of the night; and the night may
give us some ideas."
So they both turned in.
Adam knocked at Sir Nathaniel's door in the grey of the morning,
and, on being bidden, came into the room. He had several letters in
his hand. Sir Nathaniel sat up in bed.
"I should like to read you a few letters, but, of course, I shall
not send them unless you approve. In fact"--with a smile and a
blush--"there are several things which I want to do; but I hold my
hand and my tongue till I have your approval."
"Go on!" said the other kindly. "Tell me all, and count at any rate
on my sympathy, and on my approval and help if I can see my way."
Accordingly Adam proceeded:
"When I told you the conclusions at which I had arrived, I put in
the foreground that Mimi Watford should, for the sake of her own
safety, be removed--and that the monster which had wrought all the
harm should be destroyed."
"Yes, that is so."
"To carry this into practice, sir, one preliminary is required--
unless harm of another kind is to be faced. Mimi should have some
protector whom all the world would recognise. The only form
recognised by convention is marriage!"
Sir Nathaniel smiled in a fatherly way.
"To marry, a husband is required. And that husband should be you."
"Yes, yes."
"And the marriage should be immediate and secret--or, at least, not
spoken of outside ourselves. Would the young lady be agreeable to
that proceeding?"
"I do not know, sir!"
"Then how are we to proceed?"
"I suppose that we--or one of us--must ask her."
"Is this a sudden idea, Adam, a sudden resolution?"
"A sudden resolution, sir, but not a sudden idea. If she agrees,
all is well and good. The sequence is obvious."
"And it is to be kept a secret amongst ourselves?"
"I want no secret, sir, except for Mimi's good. For myself, I
should like to shout it from the house-tops! But we must be
discreet; untimely knowledge to our enemy might work incalculable
"And how would you suggest, Adam, that we could combine the
momentous question with secrecy?"
Adam grew red and moved uneasily.
"Someone must ask her--as soon as possible!"
"And that someone?"
"I thought that you, sir, would be so good!"
"God bless my soul! This is a new kind of duty to take on--at my
time of life. Adam, I hope you know that you can count on me to
help in any way I can!"
"I have already counted on you, sir, when I ventured to make such a
suggestion. I can only ask," he added, "that you will be more than
ever kind to me--to us--and look on the painful duty as a voluntary
act of grace, prompted by kindness and affection."
"Painful duty!"
"Yes," said Adam boldly. "Painful to you, though to me it would be
all joyful."
"It is a strange job for an early morning! Well, we all live and
learn. I suppose the sooner I go the better. You had better write
a line for me to take with me. For, you see, this is to be a
somewhat unusual transaction, and it may be embarrassing to the
lady, even to myself. So we ought to have some sort of warrant,
something to show that we have been mindful of her feelings. It
will not do to take acquiescence for granted--although we act for
her good."
"Sir Nathaniel, you are a true friend; I am sure that both Mimi and
I shall be grateful to you for all our lives--however long they may
So the two talked it over and agreed as to points to be borne in
mind by the ambassador. It was striking ten when Sir Nathaniel left
the house, Adam seeing him quietly off.
As the young man followed him with wistful eyes--almost jealous of
the privilege which his kind deed was about to bring him--he felt
that his own heart was in his friend's breast.
The memory of that morning was like a dream to all those concerned
in it. Sir Nathaniel had a confused recollection of detail and
sequence, though the main facts stood out in his memory boldly and
clearly. Adam Salton's recollection was of an illimitable wait,
filled with anxiety, hope, and chagrin, all dominated by a sense of
the slow passage of time and accompanied by vague fears. Mimi could
not for a long time think at all, or recollect anything, except that
Adam loved her and was saving her from a terrible danger. When she
had time to think, later on, she wondered when she had any ignorance
of the fact that Adam loved her, and that she loved him with all her
heart. Everything, every recollection however small, every feeling,
seemed to fit into those elemental facts as though they had all been
moulded together. The main and crowning recollection was her saying
goodbye to Sir Nathaniel, and entrusting to him loving messages,
straight from her heart, to Adam Salton, and of his bearing when--
with an impulse which she could not check--she put her lips to his
and kissed him. Later, when she was alone and had time to think, it
was a passing grief to her that she would have to be silent, for a
time, to Lilla on the happy events of that strange mission.
She had, of course, agreed to keep all secret until Adam should give
her leave to speak.
The advice and assistance of Sir Nathaniel was a great help to Adam
in carrying out his idea of marrying Mimi Watford without publicity.
He went with him to London, and, with his influence, the young man
obtained the license of the Archbishop of Canterbury for a private
marriage. Sir Nathaniel then persuaded old Mr. Salton to allow his
nephew to spend a few weeks with him at Doom Tower, and it was here
that Mimi became Adam's wife. But that was only the first step in
their plans; before going further, however, Adam took his bride off
to the Isle of Man. He wished to place a stretch of sea between
Mimi and the White Worm, while things matured. On their return, Sir
Nathaniel met them and drove them at once to Doom, taking care to
avoid any one that he knew on the journey.
Sir Nathaniel had taken care to have the doors and windows shut and
locked--all but the door used for their entry. The shutters were up
and the blinds down. Moreover, heavy curtains were drawn across the
windows. When Adam commented on this, Sir Nathaniel said in a
"Wait till we are alone, and I'll tell you why this is done; in the
meantime not a word or a sign. You will approve when we have had a
talk together."
They said no more on the subject till after dinner, when they were
ensconced in Sir Nathaniel's study, which was on the top storey.
Doom Tower was a lofty structure, situated on an eminence high up in
the Peak. The top commanded a wide prospect, ranging from the hills
above the Ribble to the near side of the Brow, which marked the
northern bound of ancient Mercia. It was of the early Norman
period, less than a century younger than Castra Regis. The windows
of the study were barred and locked, and heavy dark curtains closed
them in. When this was done not a gleam of light from the tower
could be seen from outside.
When they were alone, Sir Nathaniel explained that he had taken his
old friend, Mr. Salton, into full confidence, and that in future all
would work together.
"It is important for you to be extremely careful. In spite of the
fact that our marriage was kept secret, as also your temporary
absence, both are known."
"How? To whom?"
"How, I know not; but I am beginning to have an idea."
"To her?" asked Adam, in momentary consternation.
Sir Nathaniel shivered perceptibly.
"The White Worm--yes!"
Adam noticed that from now on, his friend never spoke of Lady
Arabella otherwise, except when he wished to divert the suspicion of
Sir Nathaniel switched off the electric light, and when the room was
pitch dark, he came to Adam, took him by the hand, and led him to a
seat set in the southern window. Then he softly drew back a piece
of the curtain and motioned his companion to look out.
Adam did so, and immediately shrank back as though his eyes had
opened on pressing danger. His companion set his mind at rest by
saying in a low voice:
"It is all right; you may speak, but speak low. There is no danger
here--at present!"
Adam leaned forward, taking care, however, not to press his face
against the glass. What he saw would not under ordinary
circumstances have caused concern to anybody. With his special
knowledge, it was appalling--though the night was now so dark that
in reality there was little to be seen.
On the western side of the tower stood a grove of old trees, of
forest dimensions. They were not grouped closely, but stood a
little apart from each other, producing the effect of a row widely
planted. Over the tops of them was seen a green light, something
like the danger signal at a railway-crossing. It seemed at first
quite still; but presently, when Adam's eye became accustomed to it,
he could see that it moved as if trembling. This at once recalled
to Adam's mind the light quivering above the well-hole in the
darkness of that inner room at Diana's Grove, Oolanga's awful
shriek, and the hideous black face, now grown grey with terror,
disappearing into the impenetrable gloom of the mysterious orifice.
Instinctively he laid his hand on his revolver, and stood up ready
to protect his wife. Then, seeing that nothing happened, and that
the light and all outside the tower remained the same, he softly
pulled the curtain over the window.
Sir Nathaniel switched on the light again, and in its comforting
glow they began to talk freely.
"She has diabolical cunning," said Sir Nathaniel. "Ever since you
left, she has ranged along the Brow and wherever you were accustomed
to frequent. I have not heard whence the knowledge of your
movements came to her, nor have I been able to learn any data
whereon to found an opinion. She seems to have heard both of your
marriage and your absence; but I gather, by inference, that she does
not actually know where you and Mimi are, or of your return. So
soon as the dusk fails, she goes out on her rounds, and before dawn
covers the whole ground round the Brow, and away up into the heart
of the Peak. The White Worm, in her own proper shape, certainly has
great facilities for the business on which she is now engaged. She
can look into windows of any ordinary kind. Happily, this house is
beyond her reach, if she wishes--as she manifestly does--to remain
unrecognised. But, even at this height, it is wise to show no
lights, lest she might learn something of our presence or absence."
"Would it not be well, sir, if one of us could see this monster in
her real shape at close quarters? I am willing to run the risk--for
I take it there would be no slight risk in the doing. I don't
suppose anyone of our time has seen her close and lived to tell the
Sir Nathaniel held up an expostulatory hand.
"Good God, lad, what are you suggesting? Think of your wife, and
all that is at stake."
"It is of Mimi that I think--for her sake that I am willing to risk
whatever is to be risked."
Adam's young bride was proud of her man, but she blanched at the
thought of the ghastly White Worm. Adam saw this and at once
reassured her.
"So long as her ladyship does not know whereabout I am, I shall have
as much safety as remains to us; bear in mind, my darling, that we
cannot be too careful."
Sir Nathaniel realised that Adam was right; the White Worm had no
supernatural powers and could not harm them until she discovered
their hiding place. It was agreed, therefore, that the two men
should go together.
When the two men slipped out by the back door of the house, they
walked cautiously along the avenue which trended towards the west.
Everything was pitch dark--so dark that at times they had to feel
their way by the palings and tree-trunks. They could still see,
seemingly far in front of them and high up, the baleful light which
at the height and distance seemed like a faint line. As they were
now on the level of the ground, the light seemed infinitely higher
than it had from the top of the tower. At the sight Adam's heart
fell; the danger of the desperate enterprise which he had undertaken
burst upon him. But this feeling was shortly followed by another
which restored him to himself--a fierce loathing, and a desire to
kill, such as he had never experienced before.
They went on for some distance on a level road, fairly wide, from
which the green light was visible. Here Sir Nathaniel spoke softly,
placing his lips to Adam's ear for safety.
"We know nothing whatever of this creature's power of hearing or
smelling, though I presume that both are of no great strength. As
to seeing, we may presume the opposite, but in any case we must try
to keep in the shade behind the tree-trunks. The slightest error
would be fatal to us."
Adam only nodded, in case there should be any chance of the monster
seeing the movement.
After a time that seemed interminable, they emerged from the
circling wood. It was like coming out into sunlight by comparison
with the misty blackness which had been around them. There was
light enough to see by, though not sufficient to distinguish things
at a distance. Adam's eyes sought the green light in the sky. It
was still in about the same place, but its surroundings were more
visible. It was now at the summit of what seemed to be a long white
pole, near the top of which were two pendant white masses, like
rudimentary arms or fins. The green light, strangely enough, did
not seem lessened by the surrounding starlight, but had a clearer
effect and a deeper green. Whilst they were carefully regarding
this--Adam with the aid of an opera-glass--their nostrils were
assailed by a horrid stench, something like that which rose from the
well-hole in Diana's Grove.
By degrees, as their eyes got the right focus, they saw an immense
towering mass that seemed snowy white. It was tall and thin. The
lower part was hidden by the trees which lay between, but they could
follow the tall white shaft and the duplicate green lights which
topped it. As they looked there was a movement--the shaft seemed to
bend, and the line of green light descended amongst the trees. They
could see the green light twinkle as it passed between the
obstructing branches.
Seeing where the head of the monster was, the two men ventured a
little further forward, and saw that the hidden mass at the base of
the shaft was composed of vast coils of the great serpent's body,
forming a base from which the upright mass rose. As they looked,
this lower mass moved, the glistening folds catching the moonlight,
and they could see that the monster's progress was along the ground.
It was coming towards them at a swift pace, so they turned and ran,
taking care to make as little noise as possible, either by their
footfalls or by disturbing the undergrowth close to them. They did
not stop or pause till they saw before them the high dark tower of
Sir Nathaniel was in the library next morning, after breakfast, when
Adam came to him carrying a letter.
"Her ladyship doesn't lose any time. She has begun work already!"
Sir Nathaniel, who was writing at a table near the window, looked
"What is it?" said he.
Adam held out the letter he was carrying. It was in a blazoned
"Ha!" said Sir Nathaniel, "from the White Worm! I expected
something of the kind."
"But," said Adam, "how could she have known we were here? She
didn't know last night."
"I don't think we need trouble about that, Adam. There is so much
we do not understand. This is only another mystery. Suffice it
that she does know--perhaps it is all the better and safer for us."
"How is that?" asked Adam with a puzzled look.
"General process of reasoning, my boy; and the experience of some
years in the diplomatic world. This creature is a monster without
heart or consideration for anything or anyone. She is not nearly so
dangerous in the open as when she has the dark to protect her.
Besides, we know, by our own experience of her movements, that for
some reason she shuns publicity. In spite of her vast bulk and
abnormal strength, she is afraid to attack openly. After all, she
is only a snake and with a snake's nature, which is to keep low and
squirm, and proceed by stealth and cunning. She will never attack
when she can run away, although she knows well that running away
would probably be fatal to her. What is the letter about?"
Sir Nathaniel's voice was calm and self-possessed. When he was
engaged in any struggle of wits he was all diplomatist.
"She asks Mimi and me to tea this afternoon at Diana's Grove, and
hopes that you also will favour her."
Sir Nathaniel smiled.
"Please ask Mrs. Salton to accept for us all."
"She means some deadly mischief. Surely--surely it would be wiser
"It is an old trick that we learn early in diplomacy, Adam--to fight
on ground of your own choice. It is true that she suggested the
place on this occasion; but by accepting it we make it ours.
Moreover, she will not be able to understand our reason for doing
so, and her own bad conscience--if she has any, bad or good--and her
own fears and doubts will play our game for us. No, my dear boy,
let us accept, by all means."
Adam said nothing, but silently held out his hand, which his
companion shook: no words were necessary.
When it was getting near tea-time, Mimi asked Sir Nathaniel how they
were going.
"We must make a point of going in state. We want all possible
publicity." Mimi looked at him inquiringly. "Certainly, my dear,
in the present circumstances publicity is a part of safety. Do not
be surprised if, whilst we are at Diana's Grove, occasional messages
come for you--for all or any of us."
"I see!" said Mrs. Salton. "You are taking no chances."
"None, my dear. All I have learned at foreign courts, and amongst
civilised and uncivilised people, is going to be utilised within the
next couple of hours."
Sir Nathaniel's voice was full of seriousness, and it brought to
Mimi in a convincing way the awful gravity of the occasion
In due course, they set out in a carriage drawn by a fine pair of
horses, who soon devoured the few miles of their journey. Before
they came to the gate, Sir Nathaniel turned to Mimi.
"I have arranged with Adam certain signals which may be necessary if
certain eventualities occur. These need be nothing to do with you
directly. But bear in mind that if I ask you or Adam to do
anything, do not lose a second in the doing of it. We must try to
pass off such moments with an appearance of unconcern. In all
probability, nothing requiring such care will occur. The White Worm
will not try force, though she has so much of it to spare. Whatever
she may attempt to-day, of harm to any of us, will be in the way of
secret plot. Some other time she may try force, but--if I am able
to judge such a thing--not to-day. The messengers who may ask for
any of us will not be witnesses only, they may help to stave off
danger." Seeing query in her face, he went on: "Of what kind the
danger may be, I know not, and cannot guess. It will doubtless be
some ordinary circumstance; but none the less dangerous on that
account. Here we are at the gate. Now, be careful in all matters,
however small. To keep your head is half the battle."
There were a number of men in livery in the hall when they arrived.
The doors of the drawing-room were thrown open, and Lady Arabella
came forth and offered them cordial welcome. This having been got
over, Lady Arabella led them into another room where tea was served.
Adam was acutely watchful and suspicious of everything, and saw on
the far side of this room a panelled iron door of the same colour
and configuration as the outer door of the room where was the wellhole
wherein Oolanga had disappeared. Something in the sight
alarmed him, and he quietly stood near the door. He made no
movement, even of his eyes, but he could see that Sir Nathaniel was
watching him intently, and, he fancied, with approval.
They all sat near the table spread for tea, Adam still near the
door. Lady Arabella fanned herself, complaining of heat, and told
one of the footmen to throw all the outer doors open.
Tea was in progress when Mimi suddenly started up with a look of
fright on her face; at the same moment, the men became cognisant of
a thick smoke which began to spread through the room--a smoke which
made those who experienced it gasp and choke. The footmen began to
edge uneasily towards the inner door. Denser and denser grew the
smoke, and more acrid its smell. Mimi, towards whom the draught
from the open door wafted the smoke, rose up choking, and ran to the
inner door, which she threw open to its fullest extent, disclosing
on the outside a curtain of thin silk, fixed to the doorposts. The
draught from the open door swayed the thin silk towards her, and in
her fright, she tore down the curtain, which enveloped her from head
to foot. Then she ran through the still open door, heedless of the
fact that she could not see where she was going. Adam, followed by
Sir Nathaniel, rushed forward and joined her--Adam catching his wife
by the arm and holding her tight. It was well that he did so, for
just before her lay the black orifice of the well-hole, which, of
course, she could not see with the silk curtain round her head. The
floor was extremely slippery; something like thick oil had been
spilled where she had to pass; and close to the edge of the hole her
feet shot from under her, and she stumbled forward towards the wellhole.
When Adam saw Mimi slip, he flung himself backward, still holding
her. His weight told, and he dragged her up from the hole and they
fell together on the floor outside the zone of slipperiness. In a
moment he had raised her up, and together they rushed out through
the open door into the sunlight, Sir Nathaniel close behind them.
They were all pale except the old diplomatist, who looked both calm
and cool. It sustained and cheered Adam and his wife to see him
thus master of himself. Both managed to follow his example, to the
wonderment of the footmen, who saw the three who had just escaped a
terrible danger walking together gaily, as, under the guiding
pressure of Sir Nathaniel's hand, they turned to re-enter the house.
Lady Arabella, whose face had blanched to a deadly white, now
resumed her ministrations at the tea-board as though nothing unusual
had happened. The slop-basin was full of half-burned brown paper,
over which tea had been poured.
Sir Nathaniel had been narrowly observing his hostess, and took the
first opportunity afforded him of whispering to Adam:
"The real attack is to come--she is too quiet. When I give my hand
to your wife to lead her out, come with us--and caution her to
hurry. Don't lose a second, even if you have to make a scene. Hss-
Then they resumed their places close to the table, and the servants,
in obedience to Lady Arabella's order, brought in fresh tea.
Thence on, that tea-party seemed to Adam, whose faculties were at
their utmost intensity, like a terrible dream. As for poor Mimi,
she was so overwrought both with present and future fear, and with
horror at the danger she had escaped, that her faculties were numb.
However, she was braced up for a trial, and she felt assured that
whatever might come she would be able to go through with it. Sir
Nathaniel seemed just as usual--suave, dignified, and thoughtful--
perfect master of himself.
To her husband, it was evident that Mimi was ill at ease. The way
she kept turning her head to look around her, the quick coming and
going of the colour of her face, her hurried breathing, alternating
with periods of suspicious calm, were evidences of mental
perturbation. To her, the attitude of Lady Arabella seemed
compounded of social sweetness and personal consideration. It would
be hard to imagine more thoughtful and tender kindness towards an
honoured guest.
When tea was over and the servants had come to clear away the cups,
Lady Arabella, putting her arm round Mimi's waist, strolled with her
into an adjoining room, where she collected a number of photographs
which were scattered about, and, sitting down beside her guest,
began to show them to her. While she was doing this, the servants
closed all the doors of the suite of rooms, as well as that which
opened from the room outside--that of the well-hole into the avenue.
Suddenly, without any seeming cause, the light in the room began to
grow dim. Sir Nathaniel, who was sitting close to Mimi, rose to his
feet, and, crying, "Quick!" caught hold of her hand and began to
drag her from the room. Adam caught her other hand, and between
them they drew her through the outer door which the servants were
beginning to close. It was difficult at first to find the way, the
darkness was so great; but to their relief when Adam whistled
shrilly, the carriage and horses, which had been waiting in the
angle of the avenue, dashed up. Her husband and Sir Nathaniel
lifted--almost threw--Mimi into the carriage. The postillion plied
whip and spur, and the vehicle, rocking with its speed, swept
through the gate and tore up the road. Behind them was a hubbub--
servants rushing about, orders being shouted out, doors shutting,
and somewhere, seemingly far back in the house, a strange noise.
Every nerve of the horses was strained as they dashed recklessly
along the road. The two men held Mimi between them, the arms of
both of them round her as though protectingly. As they went, there
was a sudden rise in the ground; but the horses, breathing heavily,
dashed up it at racing speed, not slackening their pace when the
hill fell away again, leaving them to hurry along the downgrade.
It would be foolish to say that neither Adam nor Mimi had any fear
in returning to Doom Tower. Mimi felt it more keenly than her
husband, whose nerves were harder, and who was more inured to
danger. Still she bore up bravely, and as usual the effort was
helpful to her. When once she was in the study in the top of the
turret, she almost forgot the terrors which lay outside in the dark.
She did not attempt to peep out of the window; but Adam did--and saw
nothing. The moonlight showed all the surrounding country, but
nowhere was to be observed that tremulous line of green light.
The peaceful night had a good effect on them all; danger, being
unseen, seemed far off. At times it was hard to realise that it had
ever been. With courage restored, Adam rose early and walked along
the Brow, seeing no change in the signs of life in Castra Regis.
What he did see, to his wonder and concern, on his returning
homeward, was Lady Arabella, in her tight-fitting white dress and
ermine collar, but without her emeralds; she was emerging from the
gate of Diana's Grove and walking towards the Castle. Pondering on
this and trying to find some meaning in it, occupied his thoughts
till he joined Mimi and Sir Nathaniel at breakfast. They began the
meal in silence. What had been had been, and was known to them all.
Moreover, it was not a pleasant topic.
A fillip was given to the conversation when Adam told of his seeing
Lady Arabella, on her way to Castra Regis. They each had something
to say of her, and of what her wishes or intentions were towards
Edgar Caswall. Mimi spoke bitterly of her in every aspect. She had
not forgotten--and never would--never could--the occasion when, to
harm Lilla, the woman had consorted even with the nigger. As a
social matter, she was disgusted with her for following up the rich
landowner--"throwing herself at his head so shamelessly," was how
she expressed it. She was interested to know that the great kite
still flew from Caswall's tower. But beyond such matters she did
not try to go. The only comment she made was of strongly expressed
surprise at her ladyship's "cheek" in ignoring her own criminal
acts, and her impudence in taking it for granted that others had
overlooked them also.
The more Mimi thought over the late events, the more puzzled she
was. What did it all mean--what could it mean, except that there
was an error of fact somewhere. Could it be possible that some of
them--all of them had been mistaken, that there had been no White
Worm at all? On either side of her was a belief impossible of
reception. Not to believe in what seemed apparent was to destroy
the very foundations of belief. . . yet in old days there had been
monsters on the earth, and certainly some people had believed in
just such mysterious changes of identity. It was all very strange.
Just fancy how any stranger--say a doctor--would regard her, if she
were to tell him that she had been to a tea-party with an
antediluvian monster, and that they had been waited on by up-to-date
Adam had returned, exhilarated by his walk, and more settled in his
mind than he had been for some time. Like Mimi, he had gone through
the phase of doubt and inability to believe in the reality of
things, though it had not affected him to the same extent. The
idea, however, that his wife was suffering ill-effects from her
terrible ordeal, braced him up. He remained with her for a time,
then he sought Sir Nathaniel in order to talk over the matter with
him. He knew that the calm common sense and self-reliance of the
old man, as well as his experience, would be helpful to them all.
Sir Nathaniel had come to the conclusion that, for some reason which
he did not understand, Lady Arabella had changed her plans, and, for
the present at all events, was pacific. He was inclined to
attribute her changed demeanour to the fact that her influence over
Edgar Caswall was so far increased, as to justify a more fixed
belief in his submission to her charms.
As a matter of fact, she had seen Caswall that morning when she
visited Castra Regis, and they had had a long talk together, during
which the possibility of their union had been discussed. Caswall,
without being enthusiastic on the subject, had been courteous and
attentive; as she had walked back to Diana's Grove, she almost
congratulated herself on her new settlement in life. That the idea
was becoming fixed in her mind, was shown by a letter which she
wrote later in the day to Adam Salton, and sent to him by hand. It
ran as follows:
"I wonder if you would kindly advise, and, if possible, help me in a
matter of business. I have been for some time trying to make up my
mind to sell Diana's Grove, I have put off and put off the doing of
it till now. The place is my own property, and no one has to be
consulted with regard to what I may wish to do about it. It was
bought by my late husband, Captain Adolphus Ranger March, who had
another residence, The Crest, Appleby. He acquired all rights of
all kinds, including mining and sporting. When he died, he left his
whole property to me. I shall feel leaving this place, which has
become endeared to me by many sacred memories and affections--the
recollection of many happy days of my young married life, and the
more than happy memories of the man I loved and who loved me so
much. I should be willing to sell the place for any fair price--so
long, of course, as the purchaser was one I liked and of whom I
approved. May I say that you yourself would be the ideal person.
But I dare not hope for so much. It strikes me, however, that among
your Australian friends may be someone who wishes to make a
settlement in the Old Country, and would care to fix the spot in one
of the most historic regions in England, full of romance and legend,
and with a never-ending vista of historical interest--an estate
which, though small, is in perfect condition and with illimitable
possibilities of development, and many doubtful--or unsettled--
rights which have existed before the time of the Romans or even
Celts, who were the original possessors. In addition, the house has
been kept up to the DERNIER CRI. Immediate possession can be
arranged. My lawyers can provide you, or whoever you may suggest,
with all business and historical details. A word from you of
acceptance or refusal is all that is necessary, and we can leave
details to be thrashed out by our agents. Forgive me, won't you,
for troubling you in the matter, and believe me, yours very
Adam read this over several times, and then, his mind being made up,
he went to Mimi and asked if she had any objection. She answered--
after a shudder--that she was, in this, as in all things, willing to
do whatever he might wish.
"Dearest, I am willing that you should judge what is best for us.
Be quite free to act as you see your duty, and as your inclination
calls. We are in the hands of God, and He has hitherto guided us,
and will do so to His own end."
From his wife's room Adam Salton went straight to the study in the
tower, where he knew Sir Nathaniel would be at that hour. The old
man was alone, so, when he had entered in obedience to the "Come
in," which answered his query, he closed the door and sat down
beside him.
"Do you think, sir, that it would be well for me to buy Diana's
"God bless my soul!" said the old man, startled, "why on earth would
you want to do that?"
"Well, I have vowed to destroy that White Worm, and my being able to
do whatever I may choose with the Lair would facilitate matters and
avoid complications."
Sir Nathaniel hesitated longer than usual before speaking. He was
thinking deeply.
"Yes, Adam, there is much common sense in your suggestion, though it
startled me at first. I think that, for all reasons, you would do
well to buy the property and to have the conveyance settled at once.
If you want more money than is immediately convenient, let me know,
so that I may be your banker."
"Thank you, sir, most heartily; but I have more money at immediate
call than I shall want. I am glad you approve."
"The property is historic, and as time goes on it will increase in
value. Moreover, I may tell you something, which indeed is only a
surmise, but which, if I am right, will add great value to the
place." Adam listened. "Has it ever struck you why the old name,
'The Lair of the White Worm,' was given? We know that there was a
snake which in early days was called a worm; but why white?"
"I really don't know, sir; I never thought of it. I simply took it
for granted."
"So did I at first--long ago. But later I puzzled my brain for a
"And what was the reason, sir?"
"Simply and solely because the snake or worm WAS white. We are near
the county of Stafford, where the great industry of china-burning
was originated and grew. Stafford owes much of its wealth to the
large deposits of the rare china clay found in it from time to time.
These deposits become in time pretty well exhausted; but for
centuries Stafford adventurers looked for the special clay, as Ohio
and Pennsylvania farmers and explorers looked for oil. Anyone
owning real estate on which china clay can be discovered strikes a
sort of gold mine."
"Yes, and then--" The young man looked puzzled.
"The original 'Worm' so-called, from which the name of the place
came, had to find a direct way down to the marshes and the mudholes.
Now, the clay is easily penetrable, and the original hole
probably pierced a bed of china clay. When once the way was made it
would become a sort of highway for the Worm. But as much movement
was necessary to ascend such a great height, some of the clay would
become attached to its rough skin by attrition. The downway must
have been easy work, but the ascent was different, and when the
monster came to view in the upper world, it would be fresh from
contact with the white clay. Hence the name, which has no cryptic
significance, but only fact. Now, if that surmise be true--and I do
not see why not--there must be a deposit of valuable clay--possibly
of immense depth."
Adam's comment pleased the old gentleman.
"I have it in my bones, sir, that you have struck--or rather
reasoned out--a great truth."
Sir Nathaniel went on cheerfully. "When the world of commerce wakes
up to the value of your find, it will be as well that your title to
ownership has been perfectly secured. If anyone ever deserved such
a gain, it is you."
With his friend's aid, Adam secured the property without loss of
time. Then he went to see his uncle, and told him about it. Mr.
Salton was delighted to find his young relative already
constructively the owner of so fine an estate--one which gave him an
important status in the county. He made many anxious enquiries
about Mimi, and the doings of the White Worm, but Adam re-assured
The next morning, when Adam went to his host in the smoking-room,
Sir Nathaniel asked him how he purposed to proceed with regard to
keeping his vow.
"It is a difficult matter which you have undertaken. To destroy
such a monster is something like one of the labours of Hercules, in
that not only its size and weight and power of using them in littleknown
ways are against you, but the occult side is alone an
unsurpassable difficulty. The Worm is already master of all the
elements except fire--and I do not see how fire can be used for the
attack. It has only to sink into the earth in its usual way, and
you could not overtake it if you had the resources of the biggest
coal-mine in existence. But I daresay you have mapped out some plan
in your mind," he added courteously.
"I have, sir. But, of course, it may not stand the test of
"May I know the idea?"
"Well, sir, this was my argument: At the time of the Chartist
trouble, an idea spread amongst financial circles that an attack was
going to be made on the Bank of England. Accordingly, the directors
of that institution consulted many persons who were supposed to know
what steps should be taken, and it was finally decided that the best
protection against fire--which is what was feared--was not water but
sand. To carry the scheme into practice great store of fine seasand--
the kind that blows about and is used to fill hour-glasses--
was provided throughout the building, especially at the points
liable to attack, from which it could be brought into use.
"I propose to provide at Diana's Grove, as soon as it comes into my
possession, an enormous amount of such sand, and shall take an early
occasion of pouring it into the well-hole, which it will in time
choke. Thus Lady Arabella, in her guise of the White Worm, will
find herself cut off from her refuge. The hole is a narrow one, and
is some hundreds of feet deep. The weight of the sand this can
contain would not in itself be sufficient to obstruct; but the
friction of such a body working up against it would be tremendous."
"One moment. What use would the sand be for destruction?"
"None, directly; but it would hold the struggling body in place till
the rest of my scheme came into practice."
"And what is the rest?"
"As the sand is being poured into the well-hole, quantities of
dynamite can also be thrown in!"
"Good. But how would the dynamite explode--for, of course, that is
what you intend. Would not some sort of wire or fuse he required
for each parcel of dynamite?"
Adam smiled.
"Not in these days, sir. That was proved in New York. A thousand
pounds of dynamite, in sealed canisters, was placed about some
workings. At the last a charge of gunpowder was fired, and the
concussion exploded the dynamite. It was most successful. Those
who were non-experts in high explosives expected that every pane of
glass in New York would be shattered. But, in reality, the
explosive did no harm outside the area intended, although sixteen
acres of rock had been mined and only the supporting walls and
pillars had been left intact. The whole of the rocks were
Sir Nathaniel nodded approval.
"That seems a good plan--a very excellent one. But if it has to
tear down so many feet of precipice, it may wreck the whole
"And free it for ever from a monster," added Adam, as he left the
room to find his wife.
Lady Arabella had instructed her solicitors to hurry on with the
conveyance of Diana's Grove, so no time was lost in letting Adam
Salton have formal possession of the estate. After his interview
with Sir Nathaniel, he had taken steps to begin putting his plan
into action. In order to accumulate the necessary amount of fine
sea-sand, he ordered the steward to prepare for an elaborate system
of top-dressing all the grounds. A great heap of the sand, brought
from bays on the Welsh coast, began to grow at the back of the
Grove. No one seemed to suspect that it was there for any purpose
other than what had been given out.
Lady Arabella, who alone could have guessed, was now so absorbed in
her matrimonial pursuit of Edgar Caswall, that she had neither time
nor inclination for thought extraneous to this. She had not yet
moved from the house, though she had formally handed over the
Adam put up a rough corrugated-iron shed behind the Grove, in which
he stored his explosives. All being ready for his great attempt
whenever the time should come, he was now content to wait, and, in
order to pass the time, interested himself in other things--even in
Caswall's great kite, which still flew from the high tower of Castra
The mound of fine sand grew to proportions so vast as to puzzle the
bailiffs and farmers round the Brow. The hour of the intended
cataclysm was approaching apace. Adam wished--but in vain--for an
opportunity, which would appear to be natural, of visiting Caswall
in the turret of Castra Regis. At last, one morning, he met Lady
Arabella moving towards the Castle, so he took his courage E DEUX
MAINS and asked to be allowed to accompany her. She was glad, for
her own purposes, to comply with his wishes. So together they
entered, and found their way to the turret-room. Caswall was much
surprised to see Adam come to his house, but lent himself to the
task of seeming to be pleased. He played the host so well as to
deceive even Adam. They all went out on the turret roof, where he
explained to his guests the mechanism for raising and lowering the
kite, taking also the opportunity of testing the movements of the
multitudes of birds, how they answered almost instantaneously to the
lowering or raising of the kite.
As Lady Arabella walked home with Adam from Castra Regis, she asked
him if she might make a request. Permission having been accorded,
she explained that before she finally left Diana's Grove, where she
had lived so long, she had a desire to know the depth of the wellhole.
Adam was really happy to meet her wishes, not from any
sentiment, but because he wished to give some valid and ostensible
reason for examining the passage of the Worm, which would obviate
any suspicion resulting from his being on the premises. He brought
from London a Kelvin sounding apparatus, with a sufficient length of
piano-wire for testing any probable depth. The wire passed easily
over the running wheel, and when this was once fixed over the hole,
he was satisfied to wait till the most advantageous time for his
final experiment.
In the meantime, affairs had been going quietly at Mercy Farm.
Lilla, of course, felt lonely in the absence of her cousin, but the
even tenor of life went on for her as for others. After the first
shock of parting was over, things went back to their accustomed
routine. In one respect, however, there was a marked difference.
So long as home conditions had remained unchanged, Lilla was content
to put ambition far from her, and to settle down to the life which
had been hers as long as she could remember. But Mimi's marriage
set her thinking; naturally, she came to the conclusion that she too
might have a mate. There was not for her much choice--there was
little movement in the matrimonial direction at the farmhouse. She
did not approve of the personality of Edgar Caswall, and his
struggle with Mimi had frightened her; but he was unmistakably an
excellent PARTI, much better than she could have any right to
expect. This weighs much with a woman, and more particularly one of
her class. So, on the whole, she was content to let things take
their course, and to abide by the issue.
As time went on, she had reason to believe that things did not point
to happiness. She could not shut her eyes to certain disturbing
facts, amongst which were the existence of Lady Arabella and her
growing intimacy with Edgar Caswall; as well as his own cold and
haughty nature, so little in accord with the ardour which is the
foundation of a young maid's dreams of happiness. How things would,
of necessity, alter if she were to marry, she was afraid to think.
All told, the prospect was not happy for her, and she had a secret
longing that something might occur to upset the order of things as
at present arranged.
When Lilla received a note from Edgar Caswall asking if he might
come to tea on the following afternoon, her heart sank within her.
If it was only for her father's sake, she must not refuse him or
show any disinclination which he might construe into incivility.
She missed Mimi more than she could say or even dared to think.
Hitherto, she had always looked to her cousin for sympathy, for
understanding, for loyal support. Now she and all these things, and
a thousand others--gentle, assuring, supporting--were gone. And
instead there was a horrible aching void.
For the whole afternoon and evening, and for the following forenoon,
poor Lilla's loneliness grew to be a positive agony. For the first
time she began to realise the sense of her loss, as though all the
previous suffering had been merely a preparation. Everything she
looked at, everything she remembered or thought of, became laden
with poignant memory. Then on the top of all was a new sense of
dread. The reaction from the sense of security, which had
surrounded her all her life, to a never-quieted apprehension, was at
times almost more than she could bear. It so filled her with fear
that she had a haunting feeling that she would as soon die as live.
However, whatever might be her own feelings, duty had to be done,
and as she had been brought up to consider duty first, she braced
herself to go through, to the very best of her ability, what was
before her.
Still, the severe and prolonged struggle for self-control told upon
Lilla. She looked, as she felt, ill and weak. She was really in a
nerveless and prostrate condition, with black circles round her
eyes, pale even to her lips, and with an instinctive trembling which
she was quite unable to repress. It was for her a sad mischance
that Mimi was away, for her love would have seen through all
obscuring causes, and have brought to light the girl's unhappy
condition of health. Lilla was utterly unable to do anything to
escape from the ordeal before her; but her cousin, with the
experience of her former struggles with Mr. Caswall and of the
condition in which these left her, would have taken steps--even
peremptory ones, if necessary--to prevent a repetition.
Edgar arrived punctually to the time appointed by herself. When
Lilla, through the great window, saw him approaching the house, her
condition of nervous upset was pitiable. She braced herself up,
however, and managed to get through the interview in its preliminary
stages without any perceptible change in her normal appearance and
bearing. It had been to her an added terror that the black shadow
of Oolanga, whom she dreaded, would follow hard on his master. A
load was lifted from her mind when he did not make his usual
stealthy approach. She had also feared, though in lesser degree,
lest Lady Arabella should be present to make trouble for her as
With a woman's natural forethought in a difficult position, she had
provided the furnishing of the tea-table as a subtle indication of
the social difference between her and her guest. She had chosen the
implements of service, as well as all the provender set forth, of
the humblest kind. Instead of arranging the silver teapot and china
cups, she had set out an earthen tea-pot, such as was in common use
in the farm kitchen. The same idea was carried out in the cups and
saucers of thick homely delft, and in the cream-jug of similar kind.
The bread was of simple whole-meal, home-baked. The butter was
good, since she had made it herself, while the preserves and honey
came from her own garden. Her face beamed with satisfaction when
the guest eyed the appointments with a supercilious glance. It was
a shock to the poor girl herself, for she enjoyed offering to a
guest the little hospitalities possible to her; but that had to be
sacrificed with other pleasures.
Caswall's face was more set and iron-clad than ever--his piercing
eyes seemed from the very beginning to look her through and through.
Her heart quailed when she thought of what would follow--of what
would be the end, when this was only the beginning. As some
protection, though it could be only of a sentimental kind, she
brought from her own room the photographs of Mimi, of her
grandfather, and of Adam Salton, whom by now she had grown to look
on with reliance, as a brother whom she could trust. She kept the
pictures near her heart, to which her hand naturally strayed when
her feelings of constraint, distrust, or fear became so poignant as
to interfere with the calm which she felt was necessary to help her
through her ordeal.
At first Edgar Caswall was courteous and polite, even thoughtful;
but after a little while, when he found her resistance to his
domination grow, he abandoned all forms of self-control and appeared
in the same dominance as he had previously shown. She was prepared,
however, for this, both by her former experience and the natural
fighting instinct within her. By this means, as the minutes went
on, both developed the power and preserved the equality in which
they had begun.
Without warning, the psychic battle between the two individualities
began afresh. This time both the positive and negative causes were
all in favour of the man. The woman was alone and in bad spirits,
unsupported; nothing at all was in her favour except the memory of
the two victorious contests; whereas the man, though unaided, as
before, by either Lady Arabella or Oolanga, was in full strength,
well rested, and in flourishing circumstances. It was not,
therefore, to be wondered at that his native dominance of character
had full opportunity of asserting itself. He began his preliminary
stare with a conscious sense of power, and, as it appeared to have
immediate effect on the girl, he felt an ever-growing conviction of
ultimate victory.
After a little Lilla's resolution began to flag. She felt that the
contest was unequal--that she was unable to put forth her best
efforts. As she was an unselfish person, she could not fight so
well in her own battle as in that of someone whom she loved and to
whom she was devoted. Edgar saw the relaxing of the muscles of face
and brow, and the almost collapse of the heavy eyelids which seemed
tumbling downward in sleep. Lilla made gallant efforts to brace her
dwindling powers, but for a time unsuccessfully. At length there
came an interruption, which seemed like a powerful stimulant.
Through the wide window she saw Lady Arabella enter the plain
gateway of the farm, and advance towards the hall door. She was
clad as usual in tight-fitting white, which accentuated her thin,
sinuous figure.
The sight did for Lilla what no voluntary effort could have done.
Her eyes flashed, and in an instant she felt as though a new life
had suddenly developed within her. Lady Arabella's entry, in her
usual unconcerned, haughty, supercilious way, heightened the effect,
so that when the two stood close to each other battle was joined.
Mr. Caswall, too, took new courage from her coming, and all his
masterfulness and power came back to him. His looks, intensified,
had more obvious effect than had been noticeable that day. Lilla
seemed at last overcome by his dominance. Her face became red and
pale--violently red and ghastly pale--by rapid turns. Her strength
seemed gone. Her knees collapsed, and she was actually sinking on
the floor, when to her surprise and joy Mimi came into the room,
running hurriedly and breathing heavily.
Lilla rushed to her, and the two clasped hands. With that, a new
sense of power, greater than Lilla had ever seen in her, seemed to
quicken her cousin. Her hand swept the air in front of Edgar
Caswall, seeming to drive him backward more and more by each
movement, till at last he seemed to be actually hurled through the
door which Mimi's entrance had left open, and fell at full length on
the gravel path without.
Then came the final and complete collapse of Lilla, who, without a
sound, sank down on the floor.
Mimi was greatly distressed when she saw her cousin lying prone.
She had a few times in her life seen Lilla on the verge of fainting,
but never senseless; and now she was frightened. She threw herself
on her knees beside Lilla, and tried, by rubbing her hands and other
measures commonly known, to restore her. But all her efforts were
unavailing. Lilla still lay white and senseless. In fact, each
moment she looked worse; her breast, that had been heaving with the
stress, became still, and the pallor of her face grew like marble.
At these succeeding changes Mimi's fright grew, till it altogether
mastered her. She succeeded in controlling herself only to the
extent that she did not scream.
Lady Arabella had followed Caswall, when he had recovered
sufficiently to get up and walk--though stumblingly--in the
direction of Castra Regis. When Mimi was quite alone with Lilla and
the need for effort had ceased, she felt weak and trembled. In her
own mind, she attributed it to a sudden change in the weather--it
was momentarily becoming apparent that a storm was coming on.
She raised Lilla's head and laid it on her warm young breast, but
all in vain. The cold of the white features thrilled through her,
and she utterly collapsed when it was borne in on her that Lilla had
passed away.
The dusk gradually deepened and the shades of evening closed in, but
Mimi did not seem to notice or to care. She sat on the floor with
her arms round the body of the girl whom she loved. Darker and
blacker grew the sky as the coming storm and the closing night
joined forces. Still she sat on--alone--tearless--unable to think.
Mimi did not know how long she sat there. Though it seemed to her
that ages had passed, it could not have been more than half-an-hour.
She suddenly came to herself, and was surprised to find that her
grandfather had not returned. For a while she lay quiet, thinking
of the immediate past. Lilla's hand was still in hers, and to her
surprise it was still warm. Somehow this helped her consciousness,
and without any special act of will she stood up. She lit a lamp
and looked at her cousin. There was no doubt that Lilla was dead;
but when the lamp-light fell on her eyes, they seemed to look at
Mimi with intent--with meaning. In this state of dark isolation a
new resolution came to her, and grew and grew until it became a
fixed definite purpose. She would face Caswall and call him to
account for his murder of Lilla--that was what she called it to
herself. She would also take steps--she knew not what or how--to
avenge the part taken by Lady Arabella.
In this frame of mind she lit all the lamps in the room, got water
and linen from her room, and set about the decent ordering of
Lilla's body. This took some time; but when it was finished, she
put on her hat and cloak, put out the lights, and set out quietly
for Castra Regis.
As Mimi drew near the Castle, she saw no lights except those in and
around the tower room. The lights showed her that Mr. Caswall was
there, so she entered by the hall door, which as usual was open, and
felt her way in the darkness up the staircase to the lobby of the
room. The door was ajar, and the light from within showed
brilliantly through the opening. She saw Edgar Caswall walking
restlessly to and fro in the room, with his hands clasped behind his
back. She opened the door without knocking, and walked right into
the room. As she entered, he ceased walking, and stared at her in
surprise. She made no remark, no comment, but continued the fixed
look which he had seen on her entrance.
For a time silence reigned, and the two stood looking fixedly at
each other. Mimi was the first to speak.
"You murderer! Lilla is dead!"
"Dead! Good God! When did she die?"
"She died this afternoon, just after you left her."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes--and so are you--or you ought to be. You killed her!"
"I killed her! Be careful what you say!"
"As God sees us, it is true; and you know it. You came to Mercy
Farm on purpose to break her--if you could. And the accomplice of
your guilt, Lady Arabella March, came for the same purpose."
"Be careful, woman," he said hotly. "Do not use such names in that
way, or you shall suffer for it."
"I am suffering for it--have suffered for it--shall suffer for it.
Not for speaking the truth as I have done, but because you two, with
devilish malignity, did my darling to death. It is you and your
accomplice who have to dread punishment, not I."
"Take care!" he said again.
"Oh, I am not afraid of you or your accomplice," she answered
spiritedly. "I am content to stand by every word I have said, every
act I have done. Moreover, I believe in God's justice. I fear not
the grinding of His mills; if necessary I shall set the wheels in
motion myself. But you don't care for God, or believe in Him. Your
god is your great kite, which cows the birds of a whole district.
But be sure that His hand, when it rises, always falls at the
appointed time. It may be that your name is being called even at
this very moment at the Great Assize. Repent while there is still
time. Happy you, if you may be allowed to enter those mighty halls
in the company of the pure-souled angel whose voice has only to
whisper one word of justice, and you disappear for ever into
everlasting torment."
The sudden death of Lilla caused consternation among Mimi's friends
and well-wishers. Such a tragedy was totally unexpected, as Adam
and Sir Nathaniel had been expecting the White Worm's vengeance to
fall upon themselves.
Adam, leaving his wife free to follow her own desires with regard to
Lilla and her grandfather, busied himself with filling the well-hole
with the fine sand prepared for the purpose, taking care to have
lowered at stated intervals quantities of the store of dynamite, so
as to be ready for the final explosion. He had under his immediate
supervision a corps of workmen, and was assisted by Sir Nathaniel,
who had come over for the purpose, and all were now staying at
Lesser Hill.
Mr. Salton, too, showed much interest in the job, and was constantly
coming in and out, nothing escaping his observation.
Since her marriage to Adam and their coming to stay at Doom Tower,
Mimi had been fettered by fear of the horrible monster at Diana's
Grove. But now she dreaded it no longer. She accepted the fact of
its assuming at will the form of Lady Arabella. She had still to
tax and upbraid her for her part in the unhappiness which had been
wrought on Lilla, and for her share in causing her death.
One evening, when Mimi entered her own room, she went to the window
and threw an eager look round the whole circle of sight. A single
glance satisfied her that the White Worm in PROPRIA PERSONA was not
visible. So she sat down in the window-seat and enjoyed the
pleasure of a full view, from which she had been so long cut off.
The maid who waited on her had told her that Mr. Salton had not yet
returned home, so she felt free to enjoy the luxury of peace and
As she looked out of the window, she saw something thin and white
move along the avenue. She thought she recognised the figure of
Lady Arabella, and instinctively drew back behind the curtain. When
she had ascertained, by peeping out several times, that the lady had
not seen her, she watched more carefully, all her instinctive hatred
flooding back at the sight of her. Lady Arabella was moving swiftly
and stealthily, looking back and around her at intervals, as if she
feared to be followed. This gave Mimi an idea that she was up to no
good, so she determined to seize the occasion for watching her in
more detail.
Hastily putting on a dark cloak and hat, she ran downstairs and out
into the avenue. Lady Arabella had moved, but the sheen of her
white dress was still to be seen among the young oaks around the
gateway. Keeping in shadow, Mimi followed, taking care not to come
so close as to awake the other's suspicion, and watched her quarry
pass along the road in the direction of Castra Regis.
She followed on steadily through the gloom of the trees, depending
on the glint of the white dress to keep her right. The wood began
to thicken, and presently, when the road widened and the trees grew
farther back, she lost sight of any indication of her whereabouts.
Under the present conditions it was impossible for her to do any
more, so, after waiting for a while, still hidden in the shadow to
see if she could catch another glimpse of the white frock, she
determined to go on slowly towards Castra Regis, and trust to the
chapter of accidents to pick up the trail again. She went on
slowly, taking advantage of every obstacle and shadow to keep
herself concealed.
At last she entered on the grounds of the Castle, at a spot from
which the windows of the turret were dimly visible, without having
seen again any sign of Lady Arabella.
Meanwhile, during most of the time that Mimi Salton had been moving
warily along in the gloom, she was in reality being followed by Lady
Arabella, who had caught sight of her leaving the house and had
never again lost touch with her. It was a case of the hunter being
hunted. For a time Mimi's many turnings, with the natural obstacles
that were perpetually intervening, caused Lady Arabella some
trouble; but when she was close to Castra Regis, there was no more
possibility of concealment, and the strange double following went
swiftly on.
When she saw Mimi close to the hall door of Castra Regis and
ascending the steps, she followed. When Mimi entered the dark hall
and felt her way up the staircase, still, as she believed, following
Lady Arabella, the latter kept on her way. When they reached the
lobby of the turret-rooms, Mimi believed that the object of her
search was ahead of her.
Edgar Caswall sat in the gloom of the great room, occasionally
stirred to curiosity when the drifting clouds allowed a little light
to fall from the storm-swept sky. But nothing really interested him
now. Since he had heard of Lilla's death, the gloom of his remorse,
emphasised by Mimi's upbraiding, had made more hopeless his cruel,
selfish, saturnine nature. He heard no sound, for his normal
faculties seemed benumbed.
Mimi, when she came to the door, which stood ajar, gave a light tap.
So light was it that it did not reach Caswall's ears. Then, taking
her courage in both hands, she boldly pushed the door and entered.
As she did so, her heart sank, for now she was face to face with a
difficulty which had not, in her state of mental perturbation,
occurred to her.
The storm which was coming was already making itself manifest, not
only in the wide scope of nature, but in the hearts and natures of
human beings. Electrical disturbance in the sky and the air is
reproduced in animals of all kinds, and particularly in the highest
type of them all--the most receptive--the most electrical. So it
was with Edgar Caswall, despite his selfish nature and coldness of
blood. So it was with Mimi Salton, despite her unselfish,
unchanging devotion for those she loved. So it was even with Lady
Arabella, who, under the instincts of a primeval serpent, carried
the ever-varying wishes and customs of womanhood, which is always
old--and always new.
Edgar, after he had turned his eyes on Mimi, resumed his apathetic
position and sullen silence. Mimi quietly took a seat a little way
apart, whence she could look on the progress of the coming storm and
study its appearance throughout the whole visible circle of the
neighbourhood. She was in brighter and better spirits than she had
been for many days past. Lady Arabella tried to efface herself
behind the now open door.
Without, the clouds grew thicker and blacker as the storm-centre
came closer. As yet the forces, from whose linking the lightning
springs, were held apart, and the silence of nature proclaimed the
calm before the storm. Caswall felt the effect of the gathering
electric force. A sort of wild exultation grew upon him, such as he
had sometimes felt just before the breaking of a tropical storm. As
he became conscious of this, he raised his head and caught sight of
Mimi. He was in the grip of an emotion greater than himself; in the
mood in which he was he felt the need upon him of doing some
desperate deed. He was now absolutely reckless, and as Mimi was
associated with him in the memory which drove him on, he wished that
she too should be engaged in this enterprise. He had no knowledge
of the proximity of Lady Arabella, and thought that he was far
removed from all he knew and whose interests he shared--alone with
the wild elements, which were being lashed to fury, and with the
woman who had struggled with him and vanquished him, and on whom he
would shower the full measure of his hate.
The fact was that Edgar Caswall was, if not mad, close to the
border-line. Madness in its first stage--monomania--is a lack of
proportion. So long as this is general, it is not always
noticeable, for the uninspired onlooker is without the necessary
means of comparison. But in monomania the errant faculty protrudes
itself in a way that may not be denied. It puts aside, obscures, or
takes the place of something else--just as the head of a pin placed
before the centre of the iris will block out the whole scope of
vision. The most usual form of monomania has commonly the same
beginning as that from which Edgar Caswall suffered--an over-large
idea of self-importance. Alienists, who study the matter exactly,
probably know more of human vanity and its effects than do ordinary
men. Caswall's mental disturbance was not hard to identify. Every
asylum is full of such cases--men and women, who, naturally selfish
and egotistical, so appraise to themselves their own importance that
every other circumstance in life becomes subservient to it. The
disease supplies in itself the material for self-magnification.
When the decadence attacks a nature naturally proud and selfish and
vain, and lacking both the aptitude and habit of self-restraint, the
development of the disease is more swift, and ranges to farther
limits. It is such persons who become inbued with the idea that
they have the attributes of the Almighty--even that they themselves
are the Almighty.
Mimi had a suspicion--or rather, perhaps, an intuition--of the true
state of things when she heard him speak, and at the same time
noticed the abnormal flush on his face, and his rolling eyes. There
was a certain want of fixedness of purpose which she had certainly
not noticed before--a quick, spasmodic utterance which belongs
rather to the insane than to those of intellectual equilibrium. She
was a little frightened, not only by his thoughts, but by his
staccato way of expressing them.
Caswall moved to the door leading to the turret stair by which the
roof was reached, and spoke in a peremptory way, whose tone alone
made her feel defiant.
"Come! I want you."
She instinctively drew back--she was not accustomed to such words,
more especially to such a tone. Her answer was indicative of a new
"Why should I go? What for?"
He did not at once reply--another indication of his overwhelming
egotism. She repeated her questions; habit reasserted itself, and
he spoke without thinking the words which were in his heart.
"I want you, if you will be so good, to come with me to the turret
roof. I am much interested in certain experiments with the kite,
which would be, if not a pleasure, at least a novel experience to
you. You would see something not easily seen otherwise."
"I will come," she answered simply; Edgar moved in the direction of
the stair, she following close behind him.
She did not like to be left alone at such a height, in such a place,
in the darkness, with a storm about to break. Of himself she had no
fear; all that had been seemed to have passed away with her two
victories over him in the struggle of wills. Moreover, the more
recent apprehension--that of his madness--had also ceased. In the
conversation of the last few minutes he seemed so rational, so
clear, so unaggressive, that she no longer saw reason for doubt. So
satisfied was she that even when he put out a hand to guide her to
the steep, narrow stairway, she took it without thought in the most
conventional way.
Lady Arabella, crouching in the lobby behind the door, heard every
word that had been said, and formed her own opinion of it. It
seemed evident to her that there had been some rapprochement between
the two who had so lately been hostile to each other, and that made
her furiously angry. Mimi was interfering with her plans! She had
made certain of her capture of Edgar Caswall, and she could not
tolerate even the lightest and most contemptuous fancy on his part
which might divert him from the main issue. When she became aware
that he wished Mimi to come with him to the roof and that she had
acquiesced, her rage got beyond bounds. She became oblivious to any
danger there might be in a visit to such an exposed place at such a
time, and to all lesser considerations, and made up her mind to
forestall them. She stealthily and noiselessly crept through the
wicket, and, ascending the stair, stepped out on the roof. It was
bitterly cold, for the fierce gusts of the storm which swept round
the turret drove in through every unimpeded way, whistling at the
sharp corners and singing round the trembling flagstaff. The kitestring
and the wire which controlled the runners made a concourse of
weird sounds which somehow, perhaps from the violence which
surrounded them, acting on their length, resolved themselves into
some kind of harmony--a fitting accompaniment to the tragedy which
seemed about to begin.
Mimi's heart beat heavily. Just before leaving the turret-chamber
she had a shock which she could not shake off. The lights of the
room had momentarily revealed to her, as they passed out, Edgar's
face, concentrated as it was whenever he intended to use his
mesmeric power. Now the black eyebrows made a thick line across his
face, under which his eyes shone and glittered ominously. Mimi
recognised the danger, and assumed the defiant attitude that had
twice already served her so well. She had a fear that the
circumstances and the place were against her, and she wanted to be
The sky was now somewhat lighter than it had been. Either there was
lightning afar off, whose reflections were carried by the rolling
clouds, or else the gathered force, though not yet breaking into
lightning, had an incipient power of light. It seemed to affect
both the man and the woman. Edgar seemed altogether under its
influence. His spirits were boisterous, his mind exalted. He was
now at his worst; madder than he had been earlier in the night.
Mimi, trying to keep as far from him as possible, moved across the
stone floor of the turret roof, and found a niche which concealed
her. It was not far from Lady Arabella's place of hiding.
Edgar, left thus alone on the centre of the turret roof, found
himself altogether his own master in a way which tended to increase
his madness. He knew that Mimi was close at hand, though he had
lost sight of her. He spoke loudly, and the sound of his own voice,
though it was carried from him on the sweeping wind as fast as the
words were spoken, seemed to exalt him still more. Even the raging
of the elements round him appeared to add to his exaltation. To him
it seemed that these manifestations were obedient to his own will.
He had reached the sublime of his madness; he was now in his own
mind actually the Almighty, and whatever might happen would be the
direct carrying out of his own commands. As he could not see Mimi,
nor fix whereabout she was, he shouted loudly:
"Come to me! You shall see now what you are despising, what you are
warring against. All that you see is mine--the darkness as well as
the light. I tell you that I am greater than any other who is, or
was, or shall be. When the Master of Evil took Christ up on a high
place and showed Him all the kingdoms of the earth, he was doing
what he thought no other could do. He was wrong--he forgot ME. I
shall send you light, up to the very ramparts of heaven. A light so
great that it shall dissipate those black clouds that are rushing up
and piling around us. Look! Look! At the very touch of my hand
that light springs into being and mounts up--and up--and up!"
He made his way whilst he was speaking to the corner of the turret
whence flew the giant kite, and from which the runners ascended.
Mimi looked on, appalled and afraid to speak lest she should
precipitate some calamity. Within the niche Lady Arabella cowered
in a paroxysm of fear.
Edgar took up a small wooden box, through a hole in which the wire
of the runner ran. This evidently set some machinery in motion, for
a sound as of whirring came. From one side of the box floated what
looked like a piece of stiff ribbon, which snapped and crackled as
the wind took it. For a few seconds Mimi saw it as it rushed along
the sagging line to the kite. When close to it, there was a loud
crack, and a sudden light appeared to issue from every chink in the
box. Then a quick flame flashed along the snapping ribbon, which
glowed with an intense light--a light so great that the whole of the
countryside around stood out against the background of black driving
clouds. For a few seconds the light remained, then suddenly
disappeared in the blackness around. It was simply a magnesium
light, which had been fired by the mechanism within the box and
carried up to the kite. Edgar was in a state of tumultuous
excitement, shouting and yelling at the top of his voice and dancing
about like a lunatic.
This was more than Lady Arabella's curious dual nature could stand--
the ghoulish element in her rose triumphant, and she abandoned all
idea of marriage with Edgar Caswall, gloating fiendishly over the
thought of revenge.
She must lure him to the White Worm's hole--but how? She glanced
around and quickly made up her mind. The man's whole thoughts were
absorbed by his wonderful kite, which he was showing off, in order
to fascinate her imaginary rival, Mimi.
On the instant she glided through the darkness to the wheel whereon
the string of the kite was wound. With deft fingers she unshipped
this, took it with her, reeling out the wire as she went, thus
keeping, in a way, in touch with the kite. Then she glided swiftly
to the wicket, through which she passed, locking the gate behind her
as she went.
Down the turret stair she ran quickly, letting the wire run from the
wheel which she carried carefully, and, passing out of the hall
door, hurried down the avenue with all her speed. She soon reached
her own gate, ran down the avenue, and with her key opened the iron
door leading to the well-hole.
She felt well satisfied with herself. All her plans were maturing,
or had already matured. The Master of Castra Regis was within her
grasp. The woman whose interference she had feared, Lilla Watford,
was dead. Truly, all was well, and she felt that she might pause a
while and rest. She tore off her clothes, with feverish fingers,
and in full enjoyment of her natural freedom, stretched her slim
figure in animal delight. Then she lay down on the sofa--to await
her victim! Edgar Caswall's life blood would more than satisfy her
for some time to come.
When Lady Arabella had crept away in her usual noiseless fashion,
the two others remained for a while in their places on the turret
roof: Caswall because he had nothing to say, Mimi because she had
much to say and wished to put her thoughts in order. For quite a
while--which seemed interminable--silence reigned between them. At
last Mimi made a beginning--she had made up her mind how to act.
"Mr. Caswall," she said loudly, so as to make sure of being heard
through the blustering of the wind and the perpetual cracking of the
Caswall said something in reply, but his words were carried away on
the storm. However, one of her objects was effected: she knew now
exactly whereabout on the roof he was. So she moved close to the
spot before she spoke again, raising her voice almost to a shout.
"The wicket is shut. Please to open it. I can't get out."
As she spoke, she was quietly fingering a revolver which Adam had
given to her in case of emergency and which now lay in her breast.
She felt that she was caged like a rat in a trap, but did not mean
to be taken at a disadvantage, whatever happened. Caswall also felt
trapped, and all the brute in him rose to the emergency. In a voice
which was raucous and brutal--much like that which is heard when a
wife is being beaten by her husband in a slum--he hissed out, his
syllables cutting through the roaring of the storm:
"You came of your own accord--without permission, or even asking it.
Now you can stay or go as you choose. But you must manage it for
yourself; I'll have nothing to do with it."
Her answer was spoken with dangerous suavity
"I am going. Blame yourself if you do not like the time and manner
of it. I daresay Adam--my husband--will have a word to say to you
about it!"
"Let him say, and be damned to him, and to you too! I'll show you a
light. You shan't be able to say that you could not see what you
were doing."
As he spoke, he was lighting another piece of the magnesium ribbon,
which made a blinding glare in which everything was plainly
discernible, down to the smallest detail. This exactly suited Mimi.
She took accurate note of the wicket and its fastening before the
glare had died away. She took her revolver out and fired into the
lock, which was shivered on the instant, the pieces flying round in
all directions, but happily without causing hurt to anyone. Then
she pushed the wicket open and ran down the narrow stair, and so to
the hall door. Opening this also, she ran down the avenue, never
lessening her speed till she stood outside the door of Lesser Hill.
The door was opened at once on her ringing.
"Is Mr. Adam Salton in?" she asked.
"He has just come in, a few minutes ago. He has gone up to the
study," replied a servant.
She ran upstairs at once and joined him. He seemed relieved when he
saw her, but scrutinised her face keenly. He saw that she had been
in some concern, so led her over to the sofa in the window and sat
down beside her.
"Now, dear, tell me all about it!" he said.
She rushed breathlessly through all the details of her adventure on
the turret roof. Adam listened attentively, helping her all he
could, and not embarrassing her by any questioning. His thoughtful
silence was a great help to her, for it allowed her to collect and
organise her thoughts.
"I must go and see Caswall to-morrow, to hear what he has to say on
the subject."
"But, dear, for my sake, don't have any quarrel with Mr. Caswall. I
have had too much trial and pain lately to wish it increased by any
anxiety regarding you."
"You shall not, dear--if I can help it--please God," he said
solemnly, and he kissed her.
Then, in order to keep her interested so that she might forget the
fears and anxieties that had disturbed her, he began to talk over
the details of her adventure, making shrewd comments which attracted
and held her attention. Presently, INTER ALIA, he said:
"That's a dangerous game Caswall is up to. It seems to me that that
young man--though he doesn't appear to know it--is riding for a
"How, dear? I don't understand."
"Kite flying on a night like this from a place like the tower of
Castra Regis is, to say the least of it, dangerous. It is not
merely courting death or other accident from lightning, but it is
bringing the lightning into where he lives. Every cloud that is
blowing up here--and they all make for the highest point--is bound
to develop into a flash of lightning. That kite is up in the air
and is bound to attract the lightning. Its cord makes a road for it
on which to travel to earth. When it does come, it will strike the
top of the tower with a weight a hundred times greater than a whole
park of artillery, and will knock Castra Regis into pieces. Where
it will go after that, no one can tell. If there should be any
metal by which it can travel, such will not only point the road, but
be the road itself."
"Would it be dangerous to be out in the open air when such a thing
is taking place?" she asked.
"No, little woman. It would be the safest possible place--so long
as one was not in the line of the electric current."
"Then, do let us go outside. I don't want to run into any foolish
danger--or, far more, to ask you to do so. But surely if the open
is safest, that is the place for us."
Without another word, she put on again the cloak she had thrown off,
and a small, tight-fitting cap. Adam too put on his cap, and, after
seeing that his revolver was all right, gave her his hand, and they
left the house together.
"I think the best thing we can do will be to go round all the places
which are mixed up in this affair."
"All right, dear, I am ready. But, if you don't mind, we might go
first to Mercy. I am anxious about grandfather, and we might see
that--as yet, at all events--nothing has happened there."
So they went on the high-hung road along the top of the Brow. The
wind here was of great force, and made a strange booming noise as it
swept high overhead; though not the sound of cracking and tearing as
it passed through the woods of high slender trees which grew on
either side of the road. Mimi could hardly keep her feet. She was
not afraid; but the force to which she was opposed gave her a good
excuse to hold on to her husband extra tight.
At Mercy there was no one up--at least, all the lights were out.
But to Mimi, accustomed to the nightly routine of the house, there
were manifest signs that all was well, except in the little room on
the first floor, where the blinds were down. Mimi could not bear to
look at that, to think of it. Adam understood her pain, for he had
been keenly interested in poor Lilla. He bent over and kissed her,
and then took her hand and held it hard. Thus they passed on
together, returning to the high road towards Castra Regis.
At the gate of Castra Regis they were extra careful. When drawing
near, Adam stumbled upon the wire that Lady Arabella had left
trailing on the ground.
Adam drew his breath at this, and spoke in a low, earnest whisper:
"I don't want to frighten you, Mimi dear, but wherever that wire is
there is danger."
"Danger! How?"
"That is the track where the lightning will go; at any moment, even
now whilst we are speaking and searching, a fearful force may be
loosed upon us. Run on, dear; you know the way to where the avenue
joins the highroad. If you see any sign of the wire, keep away from
it, for God's sake. I shall join you at the gateway."
"Are you going to follow that wire alone?"
"Yes, dear. One is sufficient for that work. I shall not lose a
moment till I am with you."
"Adam, when I came with you into the open, my main wish was that we
should be together if anything serious happened. You wouldn't deny
me that right, would you, dear?"
"No, dear, not that or any right. Thank God that my wife has such a
wish. Come; we will go together. We are in the hands of God. If
He wishes, we shall be together at the end, whenever or wherever
that may be."
They picked up the trail of the wire on the steps and followed it
down the avenue, taking care not to touch it with their feet. It
was easy enough to follow, for the wire, if not bright, was selfcoloured,
and showed clearly. They followed it out of the gateway
and into the avenue of Diana's Grove.
Here a new gravity clouded Adam's face, though Mimi saw no cause for
fresh concern. This was easily enough explained. Adam knew of the
explosive works in progress regarding the well-hole, but the matter
had been kept from his wife. As they stood near the house, Adam
asked Mimi to return to the road, ostensibly to watch the course of
the wire, telling her that there might be a branch wire leading
somewhere else. She was to search the undergrowth, and if she found
it, was to warn him by the Australian native "Coo-ee!"
Whilst they were standing together, there came a blinding flash of
lightning, which lit up for several seconds the whole area of earth
and sky. It was only the first note of the celestial prelude, for
it was followed in quick succession by numerous flashes, whilst the
crash and roll of thunder seemed continuous.
Adam, appalled, drew his wife to him and held her close. As far as
he could estimate by the interval between lightning and thunderclap,
the heart of the storm was still some distance off, so he felt
no present concern for their safety. Still, it was apparent that
the course of the storm was moving swiftly in their direction. The
lightning flashes came faster and faster and closer together; the
thunder-roll was almost continuous, not stopping for a moment--a new
crash beginning before the old one had ceased. Adam kept looking up
in the direction where the kite strained and struggled at its
detaining cord, but, of course, the dull evening light prevented any
distinct scrutiny.
At length there came a flash so appallingly bright that in its glare
Nature seemed to be standing still. So long did it last, that there
was time to distinguish its configuration. It seemed like a mighty
tree inverted, pendent from the sky. The whole country around
within the angle of vision was lit up till it seemed to glow. Then
a broad ribbon of fire seemed to drop on to the tower of Castra
Regis just as the thunder crashed. By the glare, Adam could see the
tower shake and tremble, and finally fall to pieces like a house of
cards. The passing of the lightning left the sky again dark, but a
blue flame fell downward from the tower, and, with inconceivable
rapidity, running along the ground in the direction of Diana's
Grove, reached the dark silent house, which in the instant burst
into flame at a hundred different points.
At the same moment there rose from the house a rending, crashing
sound of woodwork, broken or thrown about, mixed with a quick scream
so appalling that Adam, stout of heart as he undoubtedly was, felt
his blood turn into ice. Instinctively, despite the danger and
their consciousness of it, husband and wife took hands and listened,
trembling. Something was going on close to them, mysterious,
terrible, deadly! The shrieks continued, though less sharp in
sound, as though muffled. In the midst of them was a terrific
explosion, seemingly from deep in the earth.
The flames from Castra Regis and from Diana's Grove made all around
almost as light as day, and now that the lightning had ceased to
flash, their eyes, unblinded, were able to judge both perspective
and detail. The heat of the burning house caused the iron doors to
warp and collapse. Seemingly of their own accord, they fell open,
and exposed the interior. The Saltons could now look through to the
room beyond, where the well-hole yawned, a deep narrow circular
chasm. From this the agonised shrieks were rising, growing ever
more terrible with each second that passed.
But it was not only the heart-rending sound that almost paralysed
poor Mimi with terror. What she saw was sufficient to fill her with
evil dreams for the remainder of her life. The whole place looked
as if a sea of blood had been beating against it. Each of the
explosions from below had thrown out from the well-hole, as if it
had been the mouth of a cannon, a mass of fine sand mixed with
blood, and a horrible repulsive slime in which were great red masses
of rent and torn flesh and fat. As the explosions kept on, more and
more of this repulsive mass was shot up, the great bulk of it
falling back again. Many of the awful fragments were of something
which had lately been alive. They quivered and trembled and writhed
as though they were still in torment, a supposition to which the
unending scream gave a horrible credence. At moments some
mountainous mass of flesh surged up through the narrow orifice, as
though forced by a measureless power through an opening infinitely
smaller than itself. Some of these fragments were partially covered
with white skin as of a human being, and others--the largest and
most numerous--with scaled skin as of a gigantic lizard or serpent.
Once, in a sort of lull or pause, the seething contents of the hole
rose, after the manner of a bubbling spring, and Adam saw part of
the thin form of Lady Arabella, forced up to the top amid a mass of
blood and slime, and what looked as if it had been the entrails of a
monster torn into shreds. Several times some masses of enormous
bulk were forced up through the well-hole with inconceivable
violence, and, suddenly expanding as they came into larger space,
disclosed sections of the White Worm which Adam and Sir Nathaniel
had seen looking over the trees with its enormous eyes of emeraldgreen
flickering like great lamps in a gale.
At last the explosive power, which was not yet exhausted, evidently
reached the main store of dynamite which had been lowered into the
worm hole. The result was appalling. The ground for far around
quivered and opened in long deep chasms, whose edges shook and fell
in, throwing up clouds of sand which fell back and hissed amongst
the rising water. The heavily built house shook to its foundations.
Great stones were thrown up as from a volcano, some of them, great
masses of hard stone, squared and grooved with implements wrought by
human hands, breaking up and splitting in mid air as though riven by
some infernal power. Trees near the house--and therefore presumably
in some way above the hole, which sent up clouds of dust and steam
and fine sand mingled, and which carried an appalling stench which
sickened the spectators--were torn up by the roots and hurled into
the air. By now, flames were bursting violently from all over the
ruins, so dangerously that Adam caught up his wife in his arms, and
ran with her from the proximity of the flames.
Then almost as quickly as it had begun, the whole cataclysm ceased,
though a deep-down rumbling continued intermittently for some time.
Then silence brooded over all--silence so complete that it seemed in
itself a sentient thing--silence which seemed like incarnate
darkness, and conveyed the same idea to all who came within its
radius. To the young people who had suffered the long horror of
that awful night, it brought relief--relief from the presence or the
fear of all that was horrible--relief which seemed perfected when
the red rays of sunrise shot up over the far eastern sea, bringing a
promise of a new order of things with the coming day.
His bed saw little of Adam Salton for the remainder of that night.
He and Mimi walked hand in hand in the brightening dawn round by the
Brow to Castra Regis and on to Lesser Hill. They did so
deliberately, in an attempt to think as little as possible of the
terrible experiences of the night. The morning was bright and
cheerful, as a morning sometimes is after a devastating storm. The
clouds, of which there were plenty in evidence, brought no lingering
idea of gloom. All nature was bright and joyous, being in striking
contrast to the scenes of wreck and devastation, the effects of
obliterating fire and lasting ruin.
The only evidence of the once stately pile of Castra Regis and its
inhabitants was a shapeless huddle of shattered architecture, dimly
seen as the keen breeze swept aside the cloud of acrid smoke which
marked the site of the once lordly castle. As for Diana's Grove,
they looked in vain for a sign which had a suggestion of permanence.
The oak trees of the Grove were still to be seen--some of them--
emerging from a haze of smoke, the great trunks solid and erect as
ever, but the larger branches broken and twisted and rent, with bark
stripped and chipped, and the smaller branches broken and
dishevelled looking from the constant stress and threshing of the
Of the house as such, there was, even at the short distance from
which they looked, no trace. Adam resolutely turned his back on the
devastation and hurried on. Mimi was not only upset and shocked in
many ways, but she was physically "dog tired," and falling asleep on
her feet. Adam took her to her room and made her undress and get
into bed, taking care that the room was well lighted both by
sunshine and lamps. The only obstruction was from a silk curtain,
drawn across the window to keep out the glare. He sat beside her,
holding her hand, well knowing that the comfort of his presence was
the best restorative for her. He stayed with her till sleep had
overmastered her wearied body. Then he went softly away. He found
his uncle and Sir Nathaniel in the study, having an early cup of
tea, amplified to the dimensions of a possible breakfast. Adam
explained that he had not told his wife that he was going over the
horrible places again, lest it should frighten her, for the rest and
sleep in ignorance would help her and make a gap of peacefulness
between the horrors.
Sir Nathaniel agreed.
"We know, my boy," he said, "that the unfortunate Lady Arabella is
dead, and that the foul carcase of the Worm has been torn to pieces-
-pray God that its evil soul will never more escape from the
nethermost hell."
They visited Diana's Grove first, not only because it was nearer,
but also because it was the place where most description was
required, and Adam felt that he could tell his story best on the
spot. The absolute destruction of the place and everything in it
seen in the broad daylight was almost inconceivable. To Sir
Nathaniel, it was as a story of horror full and complete. But to
Adam it was, as it were, only on the fringes. He knew what was
still to be seen when his friends had got over the knowledge of
externals. As yet, they had only seen the outside of the house--or
rather, where the outside of the house once had been. The great
horror lay within. However, age--and the experience of age--counts.
A strange, almost elemental, change in the aspect had taken place in
the time which had elapsed since the dawn. It would almost seem as
if Nature herself had tried to obliterate the evil signs of what had
occurred. True, the utter ruin of the house was made even more
manifest in the searching daylight; but the more appalling
destruction which lay beneath was not visible. The rent, torn, and
dislocated stonework looked worse than before; the upheaved
foundations, the piled-up fragments of masonry, the fissures in the
torn earth--all were at the worst. The Worm's hole was still
evident, a round fissure seemingly leading down into the very bowels
of the earth. But all the horrid mass of blood and slime, of torn,
evil-smelling flesh and the sickening remnants of violent death,
were gone. Either some of the later explosions had thrown up from
the deep quantities of water which, though foul and corrupt itself,
had still some cleansing power left, or else the writhing mass which
stirred from far below had helped to drag down and obliterate the
items of horror. A grey dust, partly of fine sand, partly of the
waste of the falling ruin, covered everything, and, though ghastly
itself, helped to mask something still worse.
After a few minutes of watching, it became apparent to the three men
that the turmoil far below had not yet ceased. At short irregular
intervals the hell-broth in the hole seemed as if boiling up. It
rose and fell again and turned over, showing in fresh form much of
the nauseous detail which had been visible earlier. The worst parts
were the great masses of the flesh of the monstrous Worm, in all its
red and sickening aspect. Such fragments had been bad enough
before, but now they were infinitely worse. Corruption comes with
startling rapidity to beings whose destruction has been due wholly
or in part to lightning--the whole mass seemed to have become all at
once corrupt! The whole surface of the fragments, once alive, was
covered with insects, worms, and vermin of all kinds. The sight was
horrible enough, but, with the awful smell added, was simply
unbearable. The Worm's hole appeared to breathe forth death in its
most repulsive forms. The friends, with one impulse, moved to the
top of the Brow, where a fresh breeze from the sea was blowing up.
At the top of the Brow, beneath them as they looked down, they saw a
shining mass of white, which looked strangely out of place amongst
such wreckage as they had been viewing. It appeared so strange that
Adam suggested trying to find a way down, so that they might see it
more closely.
"We need not go down; I know what it is," Sir Nathaniel said. "The
explosions of last night have blown off the outside of the cliffs--
that which we see is the vast bed of china clay through which the
Worm originally found its way down to its lair. I can catch the
glint of the water of the deep quags far down below. Well, her
ladyship didn't deserve such a funeral--or such a monument."
The horrors of the last few hours had played such havoc with Mimi's
nerves, that a change of scene was imperative--if a permanent
breakdown was to be avoided.
"I think," said old Mr. Salton, "it is quite time you young people
departed for that honeymoon of yours!" There was a twinkle in his
eye as he spoke.
Mimi's soft shy glance at her stalwart husband, was sufficient

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