Bram Stoker ~ The Lair of the White Worm {Part One}

CHAPTER I–ADAM SALTON ARRIVES

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
possible.”

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 old-
fashioned state, I tell you. My grandfather always drove four-in-
hand; 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
morning.”

CHAPTER II–THE CASWALLS OF CASTRA REGIS

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
pair.

“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
understand.”

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
making!”

“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 free-
holder 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 grand-
uncle 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 grand-
nephew–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.”

CHAPTER III–DIANA’S GROVE

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,
also.”

“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.

CHAPTER IV–THE LADY ARABELLA MARCH

“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
once:

“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
respectfully.

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
Grove.”

“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
Liverpool.

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
them.

“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.”

CHAPTER V–THE WHITE WORM

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
absence.

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 to-
morrow 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
investigation?”

“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.”

CHAPTER VI–HAWK AND PIGEON

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.”

“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
over?”

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
shoulder.

“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
those.”

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 living-
room 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
understand?”

“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
offence?”

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
ask?”

“That was the look. Certainly not amatory or anything of that kind-
-yet it was, it struck me, more dangeroouss, 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.”

CHAPTER VII–OOLANGA

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
offended.”

“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
umbrage.”

“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
objection.”

“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
him.”

“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 horrid-
looking 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.

CHAPTER VIII–SURVIVALS

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
us.”

“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
Arabella.”

“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
enemy?”

“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 freshly-
discovered 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.

CHAPTER IX–SMELLING DEATH

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
investigation.”

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
figure.

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!

CHAPTER X–THE KITE

On the following day, a little after four o’clock, Adam set out for
Mercy.

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 tthee 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 self-
restraint 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 self-
forgetfulness, 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
birds.”

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 soul-
killing 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
hope.

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
created.

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.

CHAPTER XI–MESMER’S CHEST

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
collection.

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 questtioon 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
ruin!”

“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.

CHAPTER XII–THE CHEST OPENED

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
key.

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 turret-
room, 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.

CHAPTER XIII–OOLANGA’S HALLUCINATIONS

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
Coast.

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.

CHAPTER XIV–BATTLE RENEWED

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:

“DEAR MR. CASWALL,

“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,
“ARABELLA MARCH.”

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
other.

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-cobra-
killer, 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 turret-
room. 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.”

 

Tune in tomorrow for the conclusion of Bram Stoker’s classic children’s story,
The Lair of the White Worm

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