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

CHAPTER XV–ON THE TRACK

Those who had seen Edgar Caswall familiarly since his arrival, and
had already estimated his cold-blooded nature at something of its
true value, were surprised that he took so to heart the death of old
Chester. The fact was that not one of them had guessed correctly at
his character. They thought, naturally enough, that the concern
which he felt was that of a master for a faithful old servant of his
family. They little thought that it was merely the selfish
expression of his disappointment, that he had thus lost the only
remaining clue to an interesting piece of family history–one which
was now and would be for ever wrapped in mystery. Caswall knew
enough about the life of his ancestor in Paris to wish to know more
fully and more thoroughly all that had been. The period covered by
that ancestor’s life in Paris was one inviting every form of
curiosity.

Lady Arabella, who had her own game to play, saw in the METIER of
sympathetic friend, a series of meetings with the man she wanted to
secure. She made the first use of the opportunity the day after old
Chester’s death; indeed, as soon as the news had filtered in through
the back door of Diana’s Grove. At that meeting, she played her
part so well that even Caswall’s cold nature was impressed.

Oolanga was the only one who did not credit her with at least some
sense of fine feeling in the matter. In emotional, as in other
matters, Oolanga was distinctly a utilitarian, and as he could not
understand anyone feeling grief except for his own suffering, pain,
or for the loss of money, he could not understand anyone simulating
such an emotion except for show intended to deceive. He thought
that she had come to Castra Regis again for the opportunity of
stealing something, and was determined that on this occasion the
chance of pressing his advantage over her should not pass. He felt,
therefore, that the occasion was one for extra carefulness in the
watching of all that went on. Ever since he had come to the
conclusion that Lady Arabella was trying to steal the treasure-
chest, he suspected nearly everyone of the same design, and made it
a point to watch all suspicious persons and places. As Adam was
engaged on his own researches regarding Lady Arabella, it was only
natural that there should be some crossing of each other’s tracks.
This is what did actually happen.

Adam had gone for an early morning survey of the place in which he
was interested, taking with him the mongoose in its box. He arrived
at the gate of Diana’s Grove just as Lady Arabella was preparing to
set out for Castra Regis on what she considered her mission of
comfort. Seeing Adam from her window going through the shadows of
the trees round the gate, she thought that he must be engaged on
some purpose similar to her own. So, quickly making her toilet, she
quietly left the house, and, taking advantage of every shadow and
substance which could hide her, followed him on his walk.

Oolanga, the experienced tracker, followed her, but succeeded in
hiding his movements better than she did. He saw that Adam had on
his shoulder a mysterious box, which he took to contain something
valuable. Seeing that Lady Arabella was secretly following Adam, he
was confirmed in this idea. His mind–such as it was–was fixed on
her trying to steal, and he credited her at once with making use of
this new opportunity.

In his walk, Adam went into the grounds of Castra Regis, and Oolanga
saw her follow him with great secrecy. He feared to go closer, as
now on both sides of him were enemies who might make discovery.
When he realised that Lady Arabella was bound for the Castle, he
devoted himself to following her with singleness of purpose. He
therefore missed seeing that Adam branched off the track and
returned to the high road.

That night Edgar Caswall had slept badly. The tragic occurrence of
the day was on his mind, and he kept waking and thinking of it.
After an early breakfast, he sat at the open window watching the
kite and thinking of many things. From his room he could see all
round the neighbourhood, but the two places that interested him most
were Mercy Farm and Diana’s Grove. At first the movements about
those spots were of a humble kind–those that belong to domestic
service or agricultural needs–the opening of doors and windows, the
sweeping and brushing, and generally the restoration of habitual
order.

From his high window–whose height made it a screen from the
observation of others–he saw the chain of watchers move into his
own grounds, and then presently break up–Adam Salton going one way,
and Lady Arabella, followed by the nigger, another. Then Oolanga
disappeared amongst the trees; but Caswall could see that he was
still watching. Lady Arabella, after looking around her, slipped in
by the open door, and he could, of course, see her no longer.

Presently, however, he heard a light tap at his door, then the door
opened slowly, and he could see the flash of Lady Arabella’s white
dress through the opening.

CHAPTER XVI–A VISIT OF SYMPATHY

Caswall was genuinely surprised when he saw Lady Arabella, though he
need not have been, after what had already occurred in the same way.
The look of surprise on his face was so much greater than Lady
Arabella had expected–though she thought she was prepared to meet
anything that might occur–that she stood still, in sheer amazement.
Cold-blooded as she was and ready for all social emergencies, she
was nonplussed how to go on. She was plucky, however, and began to
speak at once, although she had not the slightest idea what she was
going to say.

“I came to offer you my very warm sympathy with the grief you have
so lately experienced.”

“My grief? I’m afraid I must be very dull; but I really do not
understand.”

Already she felt at a disadvantage, and hesitated.

“I mean about the old man who died so suddenly–your old. . .
retainer.”

Caswall’s face relaxed something of its puzzled concentration.

“Oh, he was only a servant; and he had over-stayed his three-score
and ten years by something like twenty years. He must have been
ninety!”

“Still, as an old servant. . . ”

Caswall’s words were not so cold as their inflection.

“I never interfere with servants. He was kept on here merely
because he had been so long on the premises. I suppose the steward
thought it might make him unpopular if the old fellow had been
dismissed.”

How on earth was she to proceed on such a task as hers if this was
the utmost geniality she could expect? So she at once tried another
tack–this time a personal one.

“I am sorry I disturbed you. I am really not unconventional–though
certainly no slave to convention. Still there are limits. . . it is
bad enough to intrude in this way, and I do not know what you can
say or think of the time selected, for the intrusion.”

After all, Edgar Caswall was a gentleman by custom and habit, so he
rose to the occasion.

“I can only say, Lady Arabella, that you are always welcome at any
time you may deign to honour my house with your presence.”

She smiled at him sweetly.

“Thank you SO much. You DO put one at ease. My breach of
convention makes me glad rather than sorry. I feel that I can open
my heart to you about anything.”

Forthwith she proceeded to tell him about Oolanga and his strange
suspicions of her honesty. Caswall laughed and made her explain all
the details. His final comment was enlightening.

“Let me give you a word of advice: If you have the slightest fault
to find with that infernal nigger, shoot him at sight. A swelled-
headed nigger, with a bee in his bonnet, is one of the worst
difficulties in the world to deal with. So better make a clean job
of it, and wipe him out at once!”

“But what about the law, Mr. Caswall?”

“Oh, the law doesn’t concern itself much about dead niggers. A few
more or less do not matter. To my mind it’s rather a relief!”

“I’m afraid of you,” was her only comment, made with a sweet smile
and in a soft voice.

“All right,” he said, “let us leave it at that. Anyhow, we shall be
rid of one of them!”

“I don’t love niggers any more than you do,” she replied, “and I
suppose one mustn’t be too particular where that sort of cleaning up
is concerned.” Then she changed in voice and manner, and asked
genially: “And now tell me, am I forgiven?”

“You are, dear lady–if there is anything to forgive.”

As he spoke, seeing that she had moved to go, he came to the door
with her, and in the most natural way accompanied her downstairs.
He passed through the hall with her and down the avenue. As he went
back to the house, she smiled to herself.

“Well, that is all right. I don’t think the morning has been
altogether thrown away.”

And she walked slowly back to Diana’s Grove.

Adam Salton followed the line of the Brow, and refreshed his memory
as to the various localities. He got home to Lesser Hill just as
Sir Nathaniel was beginning lunch. Mr. Salton had gone to Walsall
to keep an early appointment; so he was all alone. When the meal
was over–seeing in Adam’s face that he had something to speak
about–he followed into the study and shut the door.

When the two men had lighted their pipes, Sir Nathaniel began.

“I have remembered an interesting fact about Diana’s Grove–there
is, I have long understood, some strange mystery about that house.
It may be of some interest, or it may be trivial, in such a tangled
skein as we are trying to unravel.”

“Please tell me all you know’ or suspect. To begin, then, of what
sort is the mystery–physical, mental, moral, historical,
scientific, occult? Any kind of hint will help me.”

“Quite right. I shall try to tell you what I think; but I have not
put my thoughts on the subject in sequence, so you must forgive me
if due order is not observed in my narration. I suppose you have
seen the house at Diana’s Grove?”

“The outside of it; but I have that in my mind’s eye, and I can fit
into my memory whatever you may mention.”

“The house is very old–probably the first house of some sort that
stood there was in the time of the Romans. This was probably
renewed–perhaps several times at later periods. The house stands,
or, rather, used to stand here when Mercia was a kingdom–I do not
suppose that the basement can be later than the Norman Conquest.
Some years ago, when I was President of the Mercian Archaeological
Society, I went all over it very carefully. This was when it was
purchased by Captain March. The house had then been done up, so as
to be suitable for the bride. The basement is very strong,–almost
as strong and as heavy as if it had been intended as a fortress.
There are a whole series of rooms deep underground. One of them in
particular struck me. The room itself is of considerable size, but
the masonry is more than massive. In the middle of the room is a
sunk well, built up to floor level and evidently going deep
underground. There is no windlass nor any trace of there ever
having been any–no rope–nothing. Now, we know that the Romans had
wells of immense depth, from which the water was lifted by the ‘old
rag rope’; that at Woodhull used to be nearly a thousand feet.
Here, then, we have simply an enormously deep well-hole. The door
of the room was massive, and was fastened with a lock nearly a foot
square. It was evidently intended for some kind of protection to
someone or something; but no one in those days had ever heard of
anyone having been allowed even to see the room. All this is E
PROPOS of a suggestion on my part that the well-hole was a way by
which the White Worm (whatever it was) went and came. At that time
I would have had a search made–even excavation if necessary–at my
own expense, but all suggestions were met with a prompt and explicit
negative. So, of course, I took no further step in the matter.
Then it died out of recollection–even of mine.”

“Do you remember, sir,” asked Adam, “what was the appearance of the
room where the well-hole was? Was there furniture–in fact, any
sort of thing in the room?”

“The only thing I remember was a sort of green light–very clouded,
very dim–which came up from the well. Not a fixed light, but
intermittent and irregular–quite unlike anything I had ever seen.”

“Do you remember how you got into the well-room? Was there a
separate door from outside, or was there any interior room or
passage which opened into it?”

“I think there must have been some room with a way into it. I
remember going up some steep steps; they must have been worn smooth
by long use or something of the kind, for I could hardly keep my
feet as I went up. Once I stumbled and nearly fell into the well-
hole.”

“Was there anything strange about the place–any queer smell, for
instance?”

“Queer smell–yes! Like bilge or a rank swamp. It was distinctly
nauseating; when I came out I felt as if I had just been going to be
sick. I shall try back on my visit and see if I can recall any more
of what I saw or felt.”

“Then perhaps, sir, later in the day you will tell me anything you
may chance to recollect.”

“I shall be delighted, Adam. If your uncle has not returned by
then, I’ll join you in the study after dinner, and we can resume
this interesting chat.”

CHAPTER XVII–THE MYSTERY OF “THE GROVE”

That afternoon Adam decided to do a little exploring. As he passed
through the wood outside the gate of Diana’s Grove, he thought he
saw the African’s face for an instant. So he went deeper into the
undergrowth, and followed along parallel to the avenue to the house.
He was glad that there was no workman or servant about, for he did
not care that any of Lady Arabella’s people should find him
wandering about her grounds. Taking advantage of the denseness of
the trees, he came close to the house and skirted round it. He was
repaid for his trouble, for on the far side of the house, close to
where the rocky frontage of the cliff fell away, he saw Oolanga
crouched behind the irregular trunk of a great oak. The man was so
intent on watching someone, or something, that he did not guard
against being himself watched. This suited Adam, for he could thus
make scrutiny at will.

The thick wood, though the trees were mostly of small girth, threw a
heavy shadow, so that the steep declension, in front of which grew
the tree behind which the African lurked, was almost in darkness.
Adam drew as close as he could, and was amazed to see a patch of
light on the ground before him; when he realised what it was, he was
determined, more than ever to follow on his quest. The nigger had a
dark lantern in his hand, and was throwing the light down the steep
incline. The glare showed a series of stone steps, which ended in a
low-lying heavy iron door fixed against the side of the house. All
the strange things he had heard from Sir Nathaniel, and all those,
little and big, which he had himself noticed, crowded into his mind
in a chaotic way. Instinctively he took refuge behind a thick oak
stem, and set himself down, to watch what might occur.

After a short time it became apparent that the African was trying to
find out what was behind the heavy door. There was no way of
looking in, for the door fitted tight into the massive stone slabs.
The only opportunity for the entrance of light was through a small
hole between the great stones above the door. This hole was too
high up to look through from the ground level. Oolanga, having
tried standing tiptoe on the highest point near, and holding the
lantern as high as he could, threw the light round the edges of the
door to see if he could find anywhere a hole or a flaw in the metal
through which he could obtain a glimpse. Foiled in this, he brought
from the shrubbery a plank, which he leant against the top of the
door and then climbed up with great dexterity. This did not bring
him near enough to the window-hole to look in, or even to throw the
light of the lantern through it, so he climbed down and carried the
plank back to the place from which he had got it. Then he concealed
himself near the iron door and waited, manifestly with the intent of
remaining there till someone came near. Presently Lady Arabella,
moving noiselessly through the shade, approached the door. When he
saw her close enough to touch it, Oolanga stepped forward from his
concealment, and spoke in a whisper, which through the gloom sounded
like a hiss.

“I want to see you, missy–soon and secret.”

“What do you want?”

“You know well, missy; I told you already.”

She turned on him with blazing eyes, the green tint in them glowing
like emeralds.

“Come, none of that. If there is anything sensible which you wish
to say to me, you can see me here, just where we are, at seven
o’clock.”

He made no reply in words, but, putting the backs of his hands
together, bent lower and lower till his forehead touched the earth.
Then he rose and went slowly away.

Adam Salton, from his hiding-place, saw and wondered. In a few
minutes he moved from his place and went home to Lesser Hill, fully
determined that seven o’clock would find him in some hidden place
behind Diana’s Grove.

At a little before seven Adam stole softly out of the house and took
the back-way to the rear of Diana’s Grove. The place seemed silent
and deserted, so he took the opportunity of concealing himself near
the spot whence he had seen Oolanga trying to investigate whatever
was concealed behind the iron door. He waited, perfectly still, and
at last saw a gleam of white passing soundlessly through the
undergrowth. He was not surprised when he recognised the colour of
Lady Arabella’s dress. She came close and waited, with her face to
the iron door. From some place of concealment near at hand Oolanga
appeared, and came close to her. Adam noticed, with surprised
amusement, that over his shoulder was the box with the mongoose. Of
course the African did not know that he was seen by anyone, least of
all by the man whose property he had with him.

Silent-footed as he was, Lady Arabella heard him coming, and turned
to meet him. It was somewhat hard to see in the gloom, for, as
usual, he was all in black, only his collar and cuffs showing white.
Lady Arabella opened the conversation which ensued between the two.

“What do you want? To rob me, or murder me?”

“No, to lub you!”

This frightened her a little, and she tried to change the tone.

“Is that a coffin you have with you? If so, you are wasting your
time. It would not hold me.”

When a nigger suspects he is being laughed at, all the ferocity of
his nature comes to the front; and this man was of the lowest kind.

“Dis ain’t no coffin for nobody. Dis box is for you. Somefin you
lub. Me give him to you!”

Still anxious to keep off the subject of affection, on which she
believed him to have become crazed, she made another effort to keep
his mind elsewhere.

“Is this why you want to see me?” He nodded. “Then come round to
the other door. But be quiet. I have no desire to be seen so close
to my own house in conversation with a–a–a nigger like you!”

She had chosen the word deliberately. She wished to meet his
passion with another kind. Such would, at all events, help to keep
him quiet. In the deep gloom she could not see the anger which
suffused his face. Rolling eyeballs and grinding teeth are,
however, sufficient signs of anger to be decipherable in the dark.
She moved round the corner of the house to her right. Oolanga was
following her, when she stopped him by raising her hand.

“No, not that door,” she said; “that is not for niggers. The other
door will do well enough for you!”

Lady Arabella took in her hand a small key which hung at the end of
her watch-chain, and moved to a small door, low down, round the
corner, and a little downhill from the edge of the Brow. Oolanga,
in obedience to her gesture, went back to the iron door. Adam
looked carefully at the mongoose box as the African went by, and was
glad to see that it was intact. Unconsciously, as he looked, he
fingered the key that was in his waistcoat pocket. When Oolanga was
out of sight, Adam hurried after Lady Arabella.

CHAPTER XVIII–EXIT OOLANGA

The woman turned sharply as Adam touched her shoulder.

“One moment whilst we are alone. You had better not trust that
nigger!” he whispered.

Her answer was crisp and concise:

“I don’t.”

“Forewarned is forearmed. Tell me if you will–it is for your own
protection. Why do you mistrust him?”

“My friend, you have no idea of that man’s impudence. Would you
believe that he wants me to marry him?”

“No!” said Adam incredulously, amused in spite of himself.

“Yes, and wanted to bribe me to do it by sharing a chest of
treasure–at least, he thought it was–stolen from Mr. Caswall. Why
do you distrust him, Mr. Salton?”

“Did you notice that box he had slung on his shoulder? That belongs
to me. I left it in the gun-room when I went to lunch. He must
have crept in and stolen it. Doubtless he thinks that it, too, is
full of treasure.”

“He does!”

“How on earth do you know?” asked Adam.

“A little while ago he offered to give it to me–another bribe to
accept him. Faugh! I am ashamed to tell you such a thing. The
beast!”

Whilst they had been speaking, she had opened the door, a narrow
iron one, well hung, for it opened easily and closed tightly without
any creaking or sound of any kind. Within all was dark; but she
entered as freely and with as little misgiving or restraint as if it
had been broad daylight. For Adam, there was just sufficient green
light from somewhere for him to see that there was a broad flight of
heavy stone steps leading upward; but Lady Arabella, after shutting
the door behind her, when it closed tightly without a clang, tripped
up the steps lightly and swiftly. For an instant all was dark, but
there came again the faint green light which enabled him to see the
outlines of things. Another iron door, narrow like the first and
fairly high, led into another large room, the walls of which were of
massive stones, so closely joined together as to exhibit only one
smooth surface. This presented the appearance of having at one time
been polished. On the far side, also smooth like the walls, was the
reverse of a wide, but not high, iron door. Here there was a little
more light, for the high-up aperture over the door opened to the
air.

Lady Arabella took from her girdle another small key, which she
inserted in a keyhole in the centre of a massive lock. The great
bolt seemed wonderfully hung, for the moment the small key was
turned, the bolts of the great lock moved noiselessly and the iron
doors swung open. On the stone steps outside stood Oolanga, with
the mongoose box slung over his shoulder. Lady Arabella stood a
little on one side, and the African, accepting the movement as an
invitation, entered in an obsequious way. The moment, however, that
he was inside, he gave a quick look around him.

“Much death here–big death. Many deaths. Good, good!”

He sniffed round as if he was enjoying the scent. The matter and
manner of his speech were so revolting that instinctively Adam’s
hand wandered to his revolver, and, with his finger on the trigger,
he rested satisfied that he was ready for any emergency.

There was certainly opportunity for the nigger’s enjoyment, for the
open well-hole was almost under his nose, sending up such a stench
as almost made Adam sick, though Lady Arabella seemed not to mind it
at all. It was like nothing that Adam had ever met with. He
compared it with all the noxious experiences he had ever had–the
drainage of war hospitals, of slaughter-houses, the refuse of
dissecting rooms. None of these was like it, though it had
something of them all, with, added, the sourness of chemical waste
and the poisonous effluvium of the bilge of a water-logged ship
whereon a multitude of rats had been drowned.

Then, quite unexpectedly, the negro noticed the presence of a third
person–Adam Salton! He pulled out a pistol and shot at him,
happily missing. Adam was himself usually a quick shot, but this
time his mind had been on something else and he was not ready.
However, he was quick to carry out an intention, and he was not a
coward. In another moment both men were in grips. Beside them was
the dark well-hole, with that horrid effluvium stealing up from its
mysterious depths.

Adam and Oolanga both had pistols; Lady Arabella, who had not one,
was probably the most ready of them all in the theory of shooting,
but that being impossible, she made her effort in another way.
Gliding forward, she tried to seize the African; but he eluded her
grasp, just missing, in doing so, falling into the mysterious hole.
As he swayed back to firm foothold, he turned his own gun on her and
shot. Instinctively Adam leaped at his assailant; clutching at each
other, they tottered on the very brink.

Lady Arabella’s anger, now fully awake, was all for Oolanga. She
moved towards him with her hands extended, and had just seized him
when the catch of the locked box–due to some movement from within–
flew open, and the king-cobra-killer flew at her with a venomous
fury impossible to describe. As it seized her throat, she caught
hold of it, and, with a fury superior to its own, tore it in two
just as if it had been a sheet of paper. The strength used for such
an act must have been terrific. In an instant, it seemed to spout
blood and entrails, and was hurled into the well-hole. In another
instant she had seized Oolanga, and with a swift rush had drawn him,
her white arms encircling him, down with her into the gaping
aperture.

Adam saw a medley of green and red lights blaze in a whirling
circle, and as it sank down into the well, a pair of blazing green
eyes became fixed, sank lower and lower with frightful rapidity, and
disappeared, throwing upward the green light which grew more and
more vivid every moment. As the light sank into the noisome depths,
there came a shriek which chilled Adam’s blood–a prolonged agony of
pain and terror which seemed to have no end.

Adam Salton felt that he would never be able to free his mind from
the memory of those dreadful moments. The gloom which surrounded
that horrible charnel pit, which seemed to go down to the very
bowels of the earth, conveyed from far down the sights and sounds of
the nethermost hell. The ghastly fate of the African as he sank
down to his terrible doom, his black face growing grey with terror,
his white eyeballs, now like veined bloodstone, rolling in the
helpless extremity of fear. The mysterious green light was in
itself a milieu of horror. And through it all the awful cry came up
from that fathomless pit, whose entrance was flooded with spots of
fresh blood. Even the death of the fearless little snake-killer–so
fierce, so frightful, as if stained with a ferocity which told of no
living force above earth, but only of the devils of the pit–was
only an incident. Adam was in a state of intellectual tumult, which
had no parallel in his experience. He tried to rush away from the
horrible place; even the baleful green light, thrown up through the
gloomy well-shaft, was dying away as its source sank deeper into the
primeval ooze. The darkness was closing in on him in overwhelming
density–darkness in such a place and with such a memory of it!

He made a wild rush forward–slipt on the steps in some sticky,
acrid-smelling mass that felt and smelt like blood, and, falling
forward, felt his way into the inner room, where the well-shaft was
not.

Then he rubbed his eyes in sheer amazement. Up the stone steps from
the narrow door by which he had entered, glided the white-clad
figure of Lady Arabella, the only colour to be seen on her being
blood-marks on her face and hands and throat. Otherwise, she was
calm and unruffled, as when earlier she stood aside for him to pass
in through the narrow iron door.

CHAPTER XIX–AN ENEMY IN THE DARK

Adam Salton went for a walk before returning to Lesser Hill; he felt
that it might be well, not only to steady his nerves, shaken by the
horrible scene, but to get his thoughts into some sort of order, so
as to be ready to enter on the matter with Sir Nathaniel. He was a
little embarrassed as to telling his uncle, for affairs had so
vastly progressed beyond his original view that he felt a little
doubtful as to what would be the old gentleman’s attitude when he
should hear of the strange events for the first time. Mr. Salton
would certainly not be satisfied at being treated as an outsider
with regard to such things, most of which had points of contact with
the inmates of his own house. It was with an immense sense of
relief that Adam heard that his uncle had telegraphed to the
housekeeper that he was detained by business at Walsall, where he
would remain for the night; and that he would be back in the morning
in time for lunch.

When Adam got home after his walk, he found Sir Nathaniel just going
to bed. He did not say anything to him then of what had happened,
but contented himself with arranging that they would walk together
in the early morning, as he had much to say that would require
serious attention.

Strangely enough he slept well, and awoke at dawn with his mind
clear and his nerves in their usual unshaken condition. The maid
brought up, with his early morning cup of tea, a note which had been
found in the letter-box. It was from Lady Arabella, and was
evidently intended to put him on his guard as to what he should say
about the previous evening.

He read it over carefully several times, before he was satisfied
that he had taken in its full import.

“DEAR MR. SALTON,

“I cannot go to bed until I have written to you, so you must forgive
me if I disturb you, and at an unseemly time. Indeed, you must also
forgive me if, in trying to do what is right, I err in saying too
much or too little. The fact is that I am quite upset and unnerved
by all that has happened in this terrible night. I find it
difficult even to write; my hands shake so that they are not under
control, and I am trembling all over with memory of the horrors we
saw enacted before our eyes. I am grieved beyond measure that I
should be, however remotely, a cause of this horror coming on you.
Forgive me if you can, and do not think too hardly of me. This I
ask with confidence, for since we shared together the danger–the
very pangs–of death, I feel that we should be to one another
something more than mere friends, that I may lean on you and trust
you, assured that your sympathy and pity are for me. You really
must let me thank you for the friendliness, the help, the
confidence, the real aid at a time of deadly danger and deadly fear
which you showed me. That awful man–I shall see him for ever in my
dreams. His black, malignant face will shut out all memory of
sunshine and happiness. I shall eternally see his evil eyes as he
threw himself into that well-hole in a vain effort to escape from
the consequences of his own misdoing. The more I think of it, the
more apparent it seems to me that he had premeditated the whole
thing–of course, except his own horrible death.

“Perhaps you have noticed a fur collar I occasionally wear. It is
one of my most valued treasures–an ermine collar studded with
emeralds. I had often seen the nigger’s eyes gleam covetously when
he looked at it. Unhappily, I wore it yesterday. That may have
been the cause that lured the poor man to his doom. On the very
brink of the abyss he tore the collar from my neck–that was the
last I saw of him. When he sank into the hole, I was rushing to the
iron door, which I pulled behind me. When I heard that soul-
sickening yell, which marked his disappearance in the chasm, I was
more glad than I can say that my eyes were spared the pain and
horror which my ears had to endure.

“When I tore myself out of the negro’s grasp as he sank into the
well-hole; I realised what freedom meant. Freedom! Freedom! Not
only from that noisome prison-house, which has now such a memory,
but from the more noisome embrace of that hideous monster. Whilst I
live, I shall always thank you for my freedom. A woman must
sometimes express her gratitude; otherwise it becomes too great to
bear. I am not a sentimental girl, who merely likes to thank a man;
I am a woman who knows all, of bad as well as good, that life can
give. I have known what it is to love and to lose. But you must
not let me bring any unhappiness into your life. I must live on–as
I have lived–alone, and, in addition, bear with other woes the
memory of this latest insult and horror. In the meantime, I must
get away as quickly as possible from Diana’s Grove. In the morning
I shall go up to town, where I shall remain for a week–I cannot
stay longer, as business affairs demand my presence here. I think,
however, that a week in the rush of busy London, surrounded with
multitudes of commonplace people, will help to soften–I cannot
expect total obliteration–the terrible images of the bygone night.
When I can sleep easily–which will be, I hope, after a day or two–
I shall be fit to return home and take up again the burden which
will, I suppose, always be with me.

“I shall be most happy to see you on my return–or earlier, if my
good fortune sends you on any errand to London. I shall stay at the
Mayfair Hotel. In that busy spot we may forget some of the dangers
and horrors we have shared together. Adieu, and thank you, again
and again, for all your kindness and consideration to me.

“ARABELLA MARSH.”

Adam was surprised by this effusive epistle, but he determined to
say nothing of it to Sir Nathaniel until he should have thought it
well over. When Adam met Sir Nathaniel at breakfast, he was glad
that he had taken time to turn things over in his mind. The result
had been that not only was he familiar with the facts in all their
bearings, but he had already so far differentiated them that he was
able to arrange them in his own mind according to their values.
Breakfast had been a silent function, so it did not interfere in any
way with the process of thought.

So soon as the door was closed, Sir Nathaniel began:

“I see, Adam, that something has occurred, and that you have much to
tell me.”

“That is so, sir. I suppose I had better begin by telling you all I
know–all that has happened since I left you yesterday?”

Accordingly Adam gave him details of all that had happened during
the previous evening. He confined himself rigidly to the narration
of circumstances, taking care not to colour events by any comment of
his own, or any opinion of the meaning of things which he did not
fully understand. At first, Sir Nathaniel seemed disposed to ask
questions, but shortly gave this up when he recognised that the
narration was concise and self-explanatory. Thenceforth, he
contented himself with quick looks and glances, easily interpreted,
or by some acquiescent motions of his hands, when such could be
convenient, to emphasise his idea of the correctness of any
inference. Until Adam ceased speaking, having evidently come to an
end of what he had to say with regard to this section of his story,
the elder man made no comment whatever. Even when Adam took from
his pocket Lady Arabella’s letter, with the manifest intention of
reading it, he did not make any comment. Finally, when Adam folded
up the letter and put it, in its envelope, back in his pocket, as an
intimation that he had now quite finished, the old diplomatist
carefully made a few notes in his pocket-book.

“Your narrative, my dear Adam, is altogether admirable. I think I
may now take it that we are both well versed in the actual facts,
and that our conference had better take the shape of a mutual
exchange of ideas. Let us both ask questions as they may arise; and
I do not doubt that we shall arrive at some enlightening
conclusions.”

“Will you kindly begin, sir? I do not doubt that, with your longer
experience, you will be able to dissipate some of the fog which
envelops certain of the things which we have to consider.”

“I hope so, my dear boy. For a beginning, then, let me say that
Lady Arabella’s letter makes clear some things which she intended–
and also some things which she did not intend. But, before I begin
to draw deductions, let me ask you a few questions. Adam, are you
heart-whole, quite heart-whole, in the matter of Lady Arabella?”

His companion answered at once, each looking the other straight in
the eyes during question and answer.

“Lady Arabella, sir, is a charming woman, and I should have deemed
it a privilege to meet her–to talk to her–even–since I am in the
confessional–to flirt a little with her. But if you mean to ask if
my affections are in any way engaged, I can emphatically answer
‘No!’–as indeed you will understand when presently I give you the
reason. Apart from that, there are the unpleasant details we
discussed the other day.”

“Could you–would you mind giving me the reason now? It will help
us to understand what is before us, in the way of difficulty.”

“Certainly, sir. My reason, on which I can fully depend, is that I
love another woman!”

“That clinches it. May I offer my good wishes, and, I hope, my
congratulations?”

“I am proud of your good wishes, sir, and I thank you for them. But
it is too soon for congratulations–the lady does not even know my
hopes yet. Indeed, I hardly knew them myself, as definite, till
this moment.”

“I take it then, Adam, that at the right time I may be allowed to
know who the lady is?”

Adam laughed a low, sweet laugh, such as ripples from a happy heart.

“There need not be an hour’s, a minute’s delay. I shall be glad to
share my secret with you, sir. The lady, sir, whom I am so happy as
to love, and in whom my dreams of life-long happiness are centred,
is Mimi Watford!”

“Then, my dear Adam, I need not wait to offer congratulations. She
is indeed a very charming young lady. I do not think I ever saw a
girl who united in such perfection the qualities of strength of
character and sweetness of disposition. With all my heart, I
congratulate you. Then I may take it that my question as to your
heart-wholeness is answered in the affirmative?”

“Yes; and now, sir, may I ask in turn why the question?”

“Certainly! I asked because it seems to me that we are coming to a
point where my questions might be painful to you.”

“It is not merely that I love Mimi, but I have reason to look on
Lady Arabella as her enemy,” Adam continued.

“Her enemy?”

“Yes. A rank and unscrupulous enemy who is bent on her
destruction.”

Sir Nathaniel went to the door, looked outside it and returned,
locking it carefully behind him.

CHAPTER XX–METABOLISM

“Am I looking grave?” asked Sir Nathaniel inconsequently when he re-
entered the room.

“You certainly are, sir.”

“We little thought when first we met that we should be drawn into
such a vortex. Already we are mixed up in robbery, and probably
murder, but–a thousand times worse than all the crimes in the
calendar–in an affair of ghastly mystery which has no bottom and no
end–with forces of the most unnerving kind, which had their origin
in an age when the world was different from the world which we know.
We are going back to the origin of superstition–to an age when
dragons tore each other in their slime. We must fear nothing–no
conclusion, however improbable, almost impossible it may be. Life
and death is hanging on our judgment, not only for ourselves, but
for others whom we love. Remember, I count on you as I hope you
count on me.”

“I do, with all confidence.”

“Then,” said Sir Nathaniel, “let us think justly and boldly and fear
nothing, however terrifying it may seem. I suppose I am to take as
exact in every detail your account of all the strange things which
happened whilst you were in Diana’s Grove?”

“So far as I know, yes. Of course I may be mistaken in recollection
of some detail or another, but I am certain that in the main what I
have said is correct.”

“You feel sure that you saw Lady Arabella seize the negro round the
neck, and drag him down with her into the hole?”

“Absolutely certain, sir, otherwise I should have gone to her
assistance.”

“We have, then, an account of what happened from an eye-witness whom
we trust–that is yourself. We have also another account, written
by Lady Arabella under her own hand. These two accounts do not
agree. Therefore we must take it that one of the two is lying.”

“Apparently, sir.”

“And that Lady Arabella is the liar!”

“Apparently–as I am not.”

“We must, therefore, try to find a reason for her lying. She has
nothing to fear from Oolanga, who is dead. Therefore the only
reason which could actuate her would be to convince someone else
that she was blameless. This ‘someone’ could not be you, for you
had the evidence of your own eyes. There was no one else present;
therefore it must have been an absent person.”

“That seems beyond dispute, sir.”

“There is only one other person whose good opinion she could wish to
keep–Edgar Caswall. He is the only one who fills the bill. Her
lies point to other things besides the death of the African. She
evidently wanted it to be accepted that his falling into the well
was his own act. I cannot suppose that she expected to convince
you, the eye-witness; but if she wished later on to spread the
story, it was wise of her to try to get your acceptance of it.”

“That is so!”

“Then there were other matters of untruth. That, for instance, of
the ermine collar embroidered with emeralds. If an understandable
reason be required for this, it would be to draw attention away from
the green lights which were seen in the room, and especially in the
well-hole. Any unprejudiced person would accept the green lights to
be the eyes of a great snake, such as tradition pointed to living in
the well-hole. In fine, therefore, Lady Arabella wanted the general
belief to be that there was no snake of the kind in Diana’s Grove.
For my own part, I don’t believe in a partial liar–this art does
not deal in veneer; a liar is a liar right through. Self-interest
may prompt falsity of the tongue; but if one prove to be a liar,
nothing that he says can ever be believed. This leads us to the
conclusion that because she said or inferred that there was no
snake, we should look for one–and expect to find it, too.

“Now let me digress. I live, and have for many years lived, in
Derbyshire, a county more celebrated for its caves than any other
county in England. I have been through them all, and am familiar
with every turn of them; as also with other great caves in Kentucky,
in France, in Germany, and a host of other places–in many of these
are tremendously deep caves of narrow aperture, which are valued by
intrepid explorers, who descend narrow gullets of abysmal depth–and
sometimes never return. In many of the caverns in the Peak I am
convinced that some of the smaller passages were used in primeval
times as the lairs of some of the great serpents of legend and
tradition. It may have been that such caverns were formed in the
usual geologic way–bubbles or flaws in the earth’s crust–which
were later used by the monsters of the period of the young world.
It may have been, of course, that some of them were worn originally
by water; but in time they all found a use when suitable for living
monsters.

“This brings us to another point, more difficult to accept and
understand than any other requiring belief in a base not usually
accepted, or indeed entered on–whether such abnormal growths could
have ever changed in their nature. Some day the study of metabolism
may progress so far as to enable us to accept structural changes
proceeding from an intellectual or moral base. We may lean towards
a belief that great animal strength may be a sound base for changes
of all sorts. If this be so, what could be a more fitting subject
than primeval monsters whose strength was such as to allow a
survival of thousands of years? We do not know yet if brain can
increase and develop independently of other parts of the living
structure.

“After all, the mediaeval belief in the Philosopher’s Stone which
could transmute metals, has its counterpart in the accepted theory
of metabolism which changes living tissue. In an age of
investigation like our own, when we are returning to science as the
base of wonders–almost of miracles–we should be slow to refuse to
accept facts, however impossible they may seem to be.

“Let us suppose a monster of the early days of the world–a dragon
of the prime–of vast age running into thousands of years, to whom
had been conveyed in some way–it matters not–a brain just
sufficient for the beginning of growth. Suppose the monster to be
of incalculable size and of a strength quite abnormal–a veritable
incarnation of animal strength. Suppose this animal is allowed to
remain in one place, thus being removed from accidents of
interrupted development; might not, would not this creature, in
process of time–ages, if necessary–have that rudimentary
intelligence developed? There is no impossibility in this; it is
only the natural process of evolution. In the beginning, the
instincts of animals are confined to alimentation, self-protection,
and the multiplication of their species. As time goes on and the
needs of life become more complex, power follows need. We have been
long accustomed to consider growth as applied almost exclusively to
size in its various aspects. But Nature, who has no doctrinaire
ideas, may equally apply it to concentration. A developing thing
may expand in any given way or form. Now, it is a scientific law
that increase implies gain and loss of various kinds; what a thing
gains in one direction it may lose in another. May it not be that
Mother Nature may deliberately encourage decrease as well as
increase–that it may be an axiom that what is gained in
concentration is lost in size? Take, for instance, monsters that
tradition has accepted and localised, such as the Worm of Lambton or
that of Spindleston Heugh. If such a creature were, by its own
process of metabolism, to change much of its bulk for intellectual
growth, we should at once arrive at a new class of creature–more
dangerous, perhaps, than the world has ever had any experience of–a
force which can think, which has no soul and no morals, and
therefore no acceptance of responsibility. A snake would be a good
illustration of this, for it is cold-blooded, and therefore removed
from the temptations which often weaken or restrict warm-blooded
creatures. If, for instance, the Worm of Lambton–if such ever
existed–were guided to its own ends by an organised intelligence
capable of expansion, what form of creature could we imagine which
would equal it in potentialities of evil? Why, such a being would
devastate a whole country. Now, all these things require much
thought, and we want to apply the knowledge usefully, and we should
therefore be exact. Would it not be well to resume the subject
later in the day?”

“I quite agree, sir. I am in a whirl already; and want to attend
carefully to what you say; so that I may try to digest it.”

Both men seemed fresher and better for the “easy,” and when they met
in the afternoon each of them had something to contribute to the
general stock of information. Adam, who was by nature of a more
militant disposition than his elderly friend, was glad to see that
the conference at once assumed a practical trend. Sir Nathaniel
recognised this, and, like an old diplomatist, turned it to present
use.

“Tell me now, Adam, what is the outcome, in your own mind, of our
conversation?”

“That the whole difficulty already assumes practical shape; but with
added dangers, that at first I did not imagine.”

“What is the practical shape, and what are the added dangers? I am
not disputing, but only trying to clear my own ideas by the
consideration of yours–”

So Adam went on:

“In the past, in the early days of the world, there were monsters
who were so vast that they could exist for thousands of years. Some
of them must have overlapped the Christian era. They may have
progressed intellectually in process of time. If they had in any
way so progressed, or even got the most rudimentary form of brain,
they would be the most dangerous things that ever were in the world.
Tradition says that one of these monsters lived in the Marsh of the
East, and came up to a cave in Diana’s Grove, which was also called
the Lair of the White Worm. Such creatures may have grown down as
well as up. They MAY have grown into, or something like, human
beings. Lady Arabella March is of snake nature. She has committed
crimes to our knowledge. She retains something of the vast strength
of her primal being–can see in the dark–has the eyes of a snake.
She used the nigger, and then dragged him through the snake’s hole
down to the swamp; she is intent on evil, and hates some one we
love. Result. . . ”

“Yes, the result?”

“First, that Mimi Watford should be taken away at once–then–”

“Yes?”

“The monster must be destroyed.”

“Bravo! That is a true and fearless conclusion. At whatever cost,
it must be carried out.”

“At once?”

“Soon, at all events. That creature’s very existence is a danger.
Her presence in this neighbourhood makes the danger immediate.”

As he spoke, Sir Nathaniel’s mouth hardened and his eyebrows came
down till they met. There was no doubting his concurrence in the
resolution, or his readiness to help in carrying it out. But he was
an elderly man with much experience and knowledge of law and
diplomacy. It seemed to him to be a stern duty to prevent anything
irrevocable taking place till it had been thought out and all was
ready. There were all sorts of legal cruxes to be thought out, not
only regarding the taking of life, even of a monstrosity in human
form, but also of property. Lady Arabella, be she woman or snake or
devil, owned the ground she moved in, according to British law, and
the law is jealous and swift to avenge wrongs done within its ken.
All such difficulties should be–must be–avoided for Mr. Salton’s
sake, for Adam’s own sake, and, most of all, for Mimi Watford’s
sake.

Before he spoke again, Sir Nathaniel had made up his mind that he
must try to postpone decisive action until the circumstances on
which they depended–which, after all, were only problematical–
should have been tested satisfactorily, one way or another. When he
did speak, Adam at first thought that his friend was wavering in his
intention, or “funking” the responsibility. However, his respect
for Sir Nathaniel was so great that he would not act, or even come
to a conclusion on a vital point, without his sanction.

He came close and whispered in his ear:

“We will prepare our plans to combat and destroy this horrible
menace, after we have cleared up some of the more baffling points.
Meanwhile, we must wait for the night–I hear my uncle’s footsteps
echoing down the hall.”

Sir Nathaniel nodded his approval.

CHAPTER XXI–GREEN LIGHT

When old Mr. Salton had retired for the night, Adam and Sir
Nathaniel returned to the study. Things went with great regularity
at Lesser Hill, so they knew that there would be no interruption to
their talk.

When their cigars were lighted, Sir Nathaniel began.

“I hope, Adam, that you do not think me either slack or changeable
of purpose. I mean to go through this business to the bitter end–
whatever it may be. Be satisfied that my first care is, and shall
be, the protection of Mimi Watford. To that I am pledged; my dear
boy, we who are interested are all in the same danger. That semi-
human monster out of the pit hates and means to destroy us all–you
and me certainly, and probably your uncle. I wanted especially to
talk with you to-night, for I cannot help thinking that the time is
fast coming–if it has not come already–when we must take your
uncle into our confidence. It was one thing when fancied evils
threatened, but now he is probably marked for death, and it is only
right that he should know all.”

“I am with you, sir. Things have changed since we agreed to keep
him out of the trouble. Now we dare not; consideration for his
feelings might cost his life. It is a duty–and no light or
pleasant one, either. I have not a shadow of doubt that he will
want to be one with us in this. But remember, we are his guests;
his name, his honour, have to be thought of as well as his safety.”

“All shall be as you wish, Adam. And now as to what we are to do?
We cannot murder Lady Arabella off-hand. Therefore we shall have to
put things in order for the killing, and in such a way that we
cannot be taxed with a crime.”

“It seems to me, sir, that we are in an exceedingly tight place.
Our first difficulty is to know where to begin. I never thought
this fighting an antediluvian monster would be such a complicated
job. This one is a woman, with all a woman’s wit, combined with the
heartlessness of a COCOTTE. She has the strength and impregnability
of a diplodocus. We may be sure that in the fight that is before us
there will be no semblance of fair-play. Also that our unscrupulous
opponent will not betray herself!”

“That is so–but being feminine, she will probably over-reach
herself. Now, Adam, it strikes me that, as we have to protect
ourselves and others against feminine nature, our strong game will
be to play our masculine against her feminine. Perhaps we had
better sleep on it. She is a thing of the night; and the night may
give us some ideas.”

So they both turned in.

Adam knocked at Sir Nathaniel’s door in the grey of the morning,
and, on being bidden, came into the room. He had several letters in
his hand. Sir Nathaniel sat up in bed.

“Well!”

“I should like to read you a few letters, but, of course, I shall
not send them unless you approve. In fact”–with a smile and a
blush–“there are several things which I want to do; but I hold my
hand and my tongue till I have your approval.”

“Go on!” said the other kindly. “Tell me all, and count at any rate
on my sympathy, and on my approval and help if I can see my way.”

Accordingly Adam proceeded:

“When I told you the conclusions at which I had arrived, I put in
the foreground that Mimi Watford should, for the sake of her own
safety, be removed–and that the monster which had wrought all the
harm should be destroyed.”

“Yes, that is so.”

“To carry this into practice, sir, one preliminary is required–
unless harm of another kind is to be faced. Mimi should have some
protector whom all the world would recognise. The only form
recognised by convention is marriage!”

Sir Nathaniel smiled in a fatherly way.

“To marry, a husband is required. And that husband should be you.”

“Yes, yes.”

“And the marriage should be immediate and secret–or, at least, not
spoken of outside ourselves. Would the young lady be agreeable to
that proceeding?”

“I do not know, sir!”

“Then how are we to proceed?”

“I suppose that we–or one of us–must ask her.”

“Is this a sudden idea, Adam, a sudden resolution?”

“A sudden resolution, sir, but not a sudden idea. If she agrees,
all is well and good. The sequence is obvious.”

“And it is to be kept a secret amongst ourselves?”

“I want no secret, sir, except for Mimi’s good. For myself, I
should like to shout it from the house-tops! But we must be
discreet; untimely knowledge to our enemy might work incalculable
harm.”

“And how would you suggest, Adam, that we could combine the
momentous question with secrecy?”

Adam grew red and moved uneasily.

“Someone must ask her–as soon as possible!”

“And that someone?”

“I thought that you, sir, would be so good!”

“God bless my soul! This is a new kind of duty to take on–at my
time of life. Adam, I hope you know that you can count on me to
help in any way I can!”

“I have already counted on you, sir, when I ventured to make such a
suggestion. I can only ask,” he added, “that you will be more than
ever kind to me–to us–and look on the painful duty as a voluntary
act of grace, prompted by kindness and affection.”

“Painful duty!”

“Yes,” said Adam boldly. “Painful to you, though to me it would be
all joyful.”

“It is a strange job for an early morning! Well, we all live and
learn. I suppose the sooner I go the better. You had better write
a line for me to take with me. For, you see, this is to be a
somewhat unusual transaction, and it may be embarrassing to the
lady, even to myself. So we ought to have some sort of warrant,
something to show that we have been mindful of her feelings. It
will not do to take acquiescence for granted–although we act for
her good.”

“Sir Nathaniel, you are a true friend; I am sure that both Mimi and
I shall be grateful to you for all our lives–however long they may
be!”

So the two talked it over and agreed as to points to be borne in
mind by the ambassador. It was striking ten when Sir Nathaniel left
the house, Adam seeing him quietly off.

As the young man followed him with wistful eyes–almost jealous of
the privilege which his kind deed was about to bring him–he felt
that his own heart was in his friend’s breast.

The memory of that morning was like a dream to all those concerned
in it. Sir Nathaniel had a confused recollection of detail and
sequence, though the main facts stood out in his memory boldly and
clearly. Adam Salton’s recollection was of an illimitable wait,
filled with anxiety, hope, and chagrin, all dominated by a sense of
the slow passage of time and accompanied by vague fears. Mimi could
not for a long time think at all, or recollect anything, except that
Adam loved her and was saving her from a terrible danger. When she
had time to think, later on, she wondered when she had any ignorance
of the fact that Adam loved her, and that she loved him with all her
heart. Everything, every recollection however small, every feeling,
seemed to fit into those elemental facts as though they had all been
moulded together. The main and crowning recollection was her saying
goodbye to Sir Nathaniel, and entrusting to him loving messages,
straight from her heart, to Adam Salton, and of his bearing when–
with an impulse which she could not check–she put her lips to his
and kissed him. Later, when she was alone and had time to think, it
was a passing grief to her that she would have to be silent, for a
time, to Lilla on the happy events of that strange mission.

She had, of course, agreed to keep all secret until Adam should give
her leave to speak.

The advice and assistance of Sir Nathaniel was a great help to Adam
in carrying out his idea of marrying Mimi Watford without publicity.
He went with him to London, and, with his influence, the young man
obtained the license of the Archbishop of Canterbury for a private
marriage. Sir Nathaniel then persuaded old Mr. Salton to allow his
nephew to spend a few weeks with him at Doom Tower, and it was here
that Mimi became Adam’s wife. But that was only the first step in
their plans; before going further, however, Adam took his bride off
to the Isle of Man. He wished to place a stretch of sea between
Mimi and the White Worm, while things matured. On their return, Sir
Nathaniel met them and drove them at once to Doom, taking care to
avoid any one that he knew on the journey.

Sir Nathaniel had taken care to have the doors and windows shut and
locked–all but the door used for their entry. The shutters were up
and the blinds down. Moreover, heavy curtains were drawn across the
windows. When Adam commented on this, Sir Nathaniel said in a
whisper:

“Wait till we are alone, and I’ll tell you why this is done; in the
meantime not a word or a sign. You will approve when we have had a
talk together.”

They said no more on the subject till after dinner, when they were
ensconced in Sir Nathaniel’s study, which was on the top storey.
Doom Tower was a lofty structure, situated on an eminence high up in
the Peak. The top commanded a wide prospect, ranging from the hills
above the Ribble to the near side of the Brow, which marked the
northern bound of ancient Mercia. It was of the early Norman
period, less than a century younger than Castra Regis. The windows
of the study were barred and locked, and heavy dark curtains closed
them in. When this was done not a gleam of light from the tower
could be seen from outside.

When they were alone, Sir Nathaniel explained that he had taken his
old friend, Mr. Salton, into full confidence, and that in future all
would work together.

“It is important for you to be extremely careful. In spite of the
fact that our marriage was kept secret, as also your temporary
absence, both are known.”

“How? To whom?”

“How, I know not; but I am beginning to have an idea.”

“To her?” asked Adam, in momentary consternation.

Sir Nathaniel shivered perceptibly.

“The White Worm–yes!”

Adam noticed that from now on, his friend never spoke of Lady
Arabella otherwise, except when he wished to divert the suspicion of
others.

Sir Nathaniel switched off the electric light, and when the room was
pitch dark, he came to Adam, took him by the hand, and led him to a
seat set in the southern window. Then he softly drew back a piece
of the curtain and motioned his companion to look out.

Adam did so, and immediately shrank back as though his eyes had
opened on pressing danger. His companion set his mind at rest by
saying in a low voice:

“It is all right; you may speak, but speak low. There is no danger
here–at present!”

Adam leaned forward, taking care, however, not to press his face
against the glass. What he saw would not under ordinary
circumstances have caused concern to anybody. With his special
knowledge, it was appalling–though the night was now so dark that
in reality there was little to be seen.

On the western side of the tower stood a grove of old trees, of
forest dimensions. They were not grouped closely, but stood a
little apart from each other, producing the effect of a row widely
planted. Over the tops of them was seen a green light, something
like the danger signal at a railway-crossing. It seemed at first
quite still; but presently, when Adam’s eye became accustomed to it,
he could see that it moved as if trembling. This at once recalled
to Adam’s mind the light quivering above the well-hole in the
darkness of that inner room at Diana’s Grove, Oolanga’s awful
shriek, and the hideous black face, now grown grey with terror,
disappearing into the impenetrable gloom of the mysterious orifice.
Instinctively he laid his hand on his revolver, and stood up ready
to protect his wife. Then, seeing that nothing happened, and that
the light and all outside the tower remained the same, he softly
pulled the curtain over the window.

Sir Nathaniel switched on the light again, and in its comforting
glow they began to talk freely.

CHAPTER XXII–AT CLOSE QUARTERS

“She has diabolical cunning,” said Sir Nathaniel. “Ever since you
left, she has ranged along the Brow and wherever you were accustomed
to frequent. I have not heard whence the knowledge of your
movements came to her, nor have I been able to learn any data
whereon to found an opinion. She seems to have heard both of your
marriage and your absence; but I gather, by inference, that she does
not actually know where you and Mimi are, or of your return. So
soon as the dusk fails, she goes out on her rounds, and before dawn
covers the whole ground round the Brow, and away up into the heart
of the Peak. The White Worm, in her own proper shape, certainly has
great facilities for the business on which she is now engaged. She
can look into windows of any ordinary kind. Happily, this house is
beyond her reach, if she wishes–as she manifestly does–to remain
unrecognised. But, even at this height, it is wise to show no
lights, lest she might learn something of our presence or absence.”

“Would it not be well, sir, if one of us could see this monster in
her real shape at close quarters? I am willing to run the risk–for
I take it there would be no slight risk in the doing. I don’t
suppose anyone of our time has seen her close and lived to tell the
tale.”

Sir Nathaniel held up an expostulatory hand.

“Good God, lad, what are you suggesting? Think of your wife, and
all that is at stake.”

“It is of Mimi that I think–for her sake that I am willing to risk
whatever is to be risked.”

Adam’s young bride was proud of her man, but she blanched at the
thought of the ghastly White Worm. Adam saw this and at once
reassured her.

“So long as her ladyship does not know whereabout I am, I shall have
as much safety as remains to us; bear in mind, my darling, that we
cannot be too careful.”

Sir Nathaniel realised that Adam was right; the White Worm had no
supernatural powers and could not harm them until she discovered
their hiding place. It was agreed, therefore, that the two men
should go together.

When the two men slipped out by the back door of the house, they
walked cautiously along the avenue which trended towards the west.
Everything was pitch dark–so dark that at times they had to feel
their way by the palings and tree-trunks. They could still see,
seemingly far in front of them and high up, the baleful light which
at the height and distance seemed like a faint line. As they were
now on the level of the ground, the light seemed infinitely higher
than it had from the top of the tower. At the sight Adam’s heart
fell; the danger of the desperate enterprise which he had undertaken
burst upon him. But this feeling was shortly followed by another
which restored him to himself–a fierce loathing, and a desire to
kill, such as he had never experienced before.

They went on for some distance on a level road, fairly wide, from
which the green light was visible. Here Sir Nathaniel spoke softly,
placing his lips to Adam’s ear for safety.

“We know nothing whatever of this creature’s power of hearing or
smelling, though I presume that both are of no great strength. As
to seeing, we may presume the opposite, but in any case we must try
to keep in the shade behind the tree-trunks. The slightest error
would be fatal to us.”

Adam only nodded, in case there should be any chance of the monster
seeing the movement.

After a time that seemed interminable, they emerged from the
circling wood. It was like coming out into sunlight by comparison
with the misty blackness which had been around them. There was
light enough to see by, though not sufficient to distinguish things
at a distance. Adam’s eyes sought the green light in the sky. It
was still in about the same place, but its surroundings were more
visible. It was now at the summit of what seemed to be a long white
pole, near the top of which were two pendant white masses, like
rudimentary arms or fins. The green light, strangely enough, did
not seem lessened by the surrounding starlight, but had a clearer
effect and a deeper green. Whilst they were carefully regarding
this–Adam with the aid of an opera-glass–their nostrils were
assailed by a horrid stench, something like that which rose from the
well-hole in Diana’s Grove.

By degrees, as their eyes got the right focus, they saw an immense
towering mass that seemed snowy white. It was tall and thin. The
lower part was hidden by the trees which lay between, but they could
follow the tall white shaft and the duplicate green lights which
topped it. As they looked there was a movement–the shaft seemed to
bend, and the line of green light descended amongst the trees. They
could see the green light twinkle as it passed between the
obstructing branches.

Seeing where the head of the monster was, the two men ventured a
little further forward, and saw that the hidden mass at the base of
the shaft was composed of vast coils of the great serpent’s body,
forming a base from which the upright mass rose. As they looked,
this lower mass moved, the glistening folds catching the moonlight,
and they could see that the monster’s progress was along the ground.
It was coming towards them at a swift pace, so they turned and ran,
taking care to make as little noise as possible, either by their
footfalls or by disturbing the undergrowth close to them. They did
not stop or pause till they saw before them the high dark tower of
Doom.

CHAPTER XXIII–IN THE ENEMY’S HOUSE

Sir Nathaniel was in the library next morning, after breakfast, when
Adam came to him carrying a letter.

“Her ladyship doesn’t lose any time. She has begun work already!”

Sir Nathaniel, who was writing at a table near the window, looked
up.

“What is it?” said he.

Adam held out the letter he was carrying. It was in a blazoned
envelope.

“Ha!” said Sir Nathaniel, “from the White Worm! I expected
something of the kind.”

“But,” said Adam, “how could she have known we were here? She
didn’t know last night.”

“I don’t think we need trouble about that, Adam. There is so much
we do not understand. This is only another mystery. Suffice it
that she does know–perhaps it is all the better and safer for us.”

“How is that?” asked Adam with a puzzled look.

“General process of reasoning, my boy; and the experience of some
years in the diplomatic world. This creature is a monster without
heart or consideration for anything or anyone. She is not nearly so
dangerous in the open as when she has the dark to protect her.
Besides, we know, by our own experience of her movements, that for
some reason she shuns publicity. In spite of her vast bulk and
abnormal strength, she is afraid to attack openly. After all, she
is only a snake and with a snake’s nature, which is to keep low and
squirm, and proceed by stealth and cunning. She will never attack
when she can run away, although she knows well that running away
would probably be fatal to her. What is the letter about?”

Sir Nathaniel’s voice was calm and self-possessed. When he was
engaged in any struggle of wits he was all diplomatist.

“She asks Mimi and me to tea this afternoon at Diana’s Grove, and
hopes that you also will favour her.”

Sir Nathaniel smiled.

“Please ask Mrs. Salton to accept for us all.”

“She means some deadly mischief. Surely–surely it would be wiser
not.”

“It is an old trick that we learn early in diplomacy, Adam–to fight
on ground of your own choice. It is true that she suggested the
place on this occasion; but by accepting it we make it ours.
Moreover, she will not be able to understand our reason for doing
so, and her own bad conscience–if she has any, bad or good–and her
own fears and doubts will play our game for us. No, my dear boy,
let us accept, by all means.”

Adam said nothing, but silently held out his hand, which his
companion shook: no words were necessary.

When it was getting near tea-time, Mimi asked Sir Nathaniel how they
were going.

“We must make a point of going in state. We want all possible
publicity.” Mimi looked at him inquiringly. “Certainly, my dear,
in the present circumstances publicity is a part of safety. Do not
be surprised if, whilst we are at Diana’s Grove, occasional messages
come for you–for all or any of us.”

“I see!” said Mrs. Salton. “You are taking no chances.”

“None, my dear. All I have learned at foreign courts, and amongst
civilised and uncivilised people, is going to be utilised within the
next couple of hours.”

Sir Nathaniel’s voice was full of seriousness, and it brought to
Mimi in a convincing way the awful gravity of the occasion

In due course, they set out in a carriage drawn by a fine pair of
horses, who soon devoured the few miles of their journey. Before
they came to the gate, Sir Nathaniel turned to Mimi.

“I have arranged with Adam certain signals which may be necessary if
certain eventualities occur. These need be nothing to do with you
directly. But bear in mind that if I ask you or Adam to do
anything, do not lose a second in the doing of it. We must try to
pass off such moments with an appearance of unconcern. In all
probability, nothing requiring such care will occur. The White Worm
will not try force, though she has so much of it to spare. Whatever
she may attempt to-day, of harm to any of us, will be in the way of
secret plot. Some other time she may try force, but–if I am able
to judge such a thing–not to-day. The messengers who may ask for
any of us will not be witnesses only, they may help to stave off
danger.” Seeing query in her face, he went on: “Of what kind the
danger may be, I know not, and cannot guess. It will doubtless be
some ordinary circumstance; but none the less dangerous on that
account. Here we are at the gate. Now, be careful in all matters,
however small. To keep your head is half the battle.”

There were a number of men in livery in the hall when they arrived.
The doors of the drawing-room were thrown open, and Lady Arabella
came forth and offered them cordial welcome. This having been got
over, Lady Arabella led them into another room where tea was served.

Adam was acutely watchful and suspicious of everything, and saw on
the far side of this room a panelled iron door of the same colour
and configuration as the outer door of the room where was the well-
hole wherein Oolanga had disappeared. Something in the sight
alarmed him, and he quietly stood near the door. He made no
movement, even of his eyes, but he could see that Sir Nathaniel was
watching him intently, and, he fancied, with approval.

They all sat near the table spread for tea, Adam still near the
door. Lady Arabella fanned herself, complaining of heat, and told
one of the footmen to throw all the outer doors open.

Tea was in progress when Mimi suddenly started up with a look of
fright on her face; at the same moment, the men became cognisant of
a thick smoke which began to spread through the room–a smoke which
made those who experienced it gasp and choke. The footmen began to
edge uneasily towards the inner door. Denser and denser grew the
smoke, and more acrid its smell. Mimi, towards whom the draught
from the open door wafted the smoke, rose up choking, and ran to the
inner door, which she threw open to its fullest extent, disclosing
on the outside a curtain of thin silk, fixed to the doorposts. The
draught from the open door swayed the thin silk towards her, and in
her fright, she tore down the curtain, which enveloped her from head
to foot. Then she ran through the still open door, heedless of the
fact that she could not see where she was going. Adam, followed by
Sir Nathaniel, rushed forward and joined her–Adam catching his wife
by the arm and holding her tight. It was well that he did so, for
just before her lay the black orifice of the well-hole, which, of
course, she could not see with the silk curtain round her head. The
floor was extremely slippery; something like thick oil had been
spilled where she had to pass; and close to the edge of the hole her
feet shot from under her, and she stumbled forward towards the well-
hole.

When Adam saw Mimi slip, he flung himself backward, still holding
her. His weight told, and he dragged her up from the hole and they
fell together on the floor outside the zone of slipperiness. In a
moment he had raised her up, and together they rushed out through
the open door into the sunlight, Sir Nathaniel close behind them.
They were all pale except the old diplomatist, who looked both calm
and cool. It sustained and cheered Adam and his wife to see him
thus master of himself. Both managed to follow his example, to the
wonderment of the footmen, who saw the three who had just escaped a
terrible danger walking together gaily, as, under the guiding
pressure of Sir Nathaniel’s hand, they turned to re-enter the house.

Lady Arabella, whose face had blanched to a deadly white, now
resumed her ministrations at the tea-board as though nothing unusual
had happened. The slop-basin was full of half-burned brown paper,
over which tea had been poured.

Sir Nathaniel had been narrowly observing his hostess, and took the
first opportunity afforded him of whispering to Adam:

“The real attack is to come–she is too quiet. When I give my hand
to your wife to lead her out, come with us–and caution her to
hurry. Don’t lose a second, even if you have to make a scene. Hs-
s-s-h!”

Then they resumed their places close to the table, and the servants,
in obedience to Lady Arabella’s order, brought in fresh tea.

Thence on, that tea-party seemed to Adam, whose faculties were at
their utmost intensity, like a terrible dream. As for poor Mimi,
she was so overwrought both with present and future fear, and with
horror at the danger she had escaped, that her faculties were numb.
However, she was braced up for a trial, and she felt assured that
whatever might come she would be able to go through with it. Sir
Nathaniel seemed just as usual–suave, dignified, and thoughtful–
perfect master of himself.

To her husband, it was evident that Mimi was ill at ease. The way
she kept turning her head to look around her, the quick coming and
going of the colour of her face, her hurried breathing, alternating
with periods of suspicious calm, were evidences of mental
perturbation. To her, the attitude of Lady Arabella seemed
compounded of social sweetness and personal consideration. It would
be hard to imagine more thoughtful and tender kindness towards an
honoured guest.

When tea was over and the servants had come to clear away the cups,
Lady Arabella, putting her arm round Mimi’s waist, strolled with her
into an adjoining room, where she collected a number of photographs
which were scattered about, and, sitting down beside her guest,
began to show them to her. While she was doing this, the servants
closed all the doors of the suite of rooms, as well as that which
opened from the room outside–that of the well-hole into the avenue.
Suddenly, without any seeming cause, the light in the room began to
grow dim. Sir Nathaniel, who was sitting close to Mimi, rose to his
feet, and, crying, “Quick!” caught hold of her hand and began to
drag her from the room. Adam caught her other hand, and between
them they drew her through the outer door which the servants were
beginning to close. It was difficult at first to find the way, the
darkness was so great; but to their relief when Adam whistled
shrilly, the carriage and horses, which had been waiting in the
angle of the avenue, dashed up. Her husband and Sir Nathaniel
lifted–almost threw–Mimi into the carriage. The postillion plied
whip and spur, and the vehicle, rocking with its speed, swept
through the gate and tore up the road. Behind them was a hubbub–
servants rushing about, orders being shouted out, doors shutting,
and somewhere, seemingly far back in the house, a strange noise.
Every nerve of the horses was strained as they dashed recklessly
along the road. The two men held Mimi between them, the arms of
both of them round her as though protectingly. As they went, there
was a sudden rise in the ground; but the horses, breathing heavily,
dashed up it at racing speed, not slackening their pace when the
hill fell away again, leaving them to hurry along the downgrade.

It would be foolish to say that neither Adam nor Mimi had any fear
in returning to Doom Tower. Mimi felt it more keenly than her
husband, whose nerves were harder, and who was more inured to
danger. Still she bore up bravely, and as usual the effort was
helpful to her. When once she was in the study in the top of the
turret, she almost forgot the terrors which lay outside in the dark.
She did not attempt to peep out of the window; but Adam did–and saw
nothing. The moonlight showed all the surrounding country, but
nowhere was to be observed that tremulous line of green light.

The peaceful night had a good effect on them all; danger, being
unseen, seemed far off. At times it was hard to realise that it had
ever been. With courage restored, Adam rose early and walked along
the Brow, seeing no change in the signs of life in Castra Regis.
What he did see, to his wonder and concern, on his returning
homeward, was Lady Arabella, in her tight-fitting white dress and
ermine collar, but without her emeralds; she was emerging from the
gate of Diana’s Grove and walking towards the Castle. Pondering on
this and trying to find some meaning in it, occupied his thoughts
till he joined Mimi and Sir Nathaniel at breakfast. They began the
meal in silence. What had been had been, and was known to them all.
Moreover, it was not a pleasant topic.

A fillip was given to the conversation when Adam told of his seeing
Lady Arabella, on her way to Castra Regis. They each had something
to say of her, and of what her wishes or intentions were towards
Edgar Caswall. Mimi spoke bitterly of her in every aspect. She had
not forgotten–and never would–never could–the occasion when, to
harm Lilla, the woman had consorted even with the nigger. As a
social matter, she was disgusted with her for following up the rich
landowner–“throwing herself at his head so shamelessly,” was how
she expressed it. She was interested to know that the great kite
still flew from Caswall’s tower. But beyond such matters she did
not try to go. The only comment she made was of strongly expressed
surprise at her ladyship’s “cheek” in ignoring her own criminal
acts, and her impudence in taking it for granted that others had
overlooked them also.

CHAPTER XXIV–A STARTLING PROPOSITION

The more Mimi thought over the late events, the more puzzled she
was. What did it all mean–what could it mean, except that there
was an error of fact somewhere. Could it be possible that some of
them–all of them had been mistaken, that there had been no White
Worm at all? On either side of her was a belief impossible of
reception. Not to believe in what seemed apparent was to destroy
the very foundations of belief. . . yet in old days there had been
monsters on the earth, and certainly some people had believed in
just such mysterious changes of identity. It was all very strange.
Just fancy how any stranger–say a doctor–would regard her, if she
were to tell him that she had been to a tea-party with an
antediluvian monster, and that they had been waited on by up-to-date
men-servants.

Adam had returned, exhilarated by his walk, and more settled in his
mind than he had been for some time. Like Mimi, he had gone through
the phase of doubt and inability to believe in the reality of
things, though it had not affected him to the same extent. The
idea, however, that his wife was suffering ill-effects from her
terrible ordeal, braced him up. He remained with her for a time,
then he sought Sir Nathaniel in order to talk over the matter with
him. He knew that the calm common sense and self-reliance of the
old man, as well as his experience, would be helpful to them all.

Sir Nathaniel had come to the conclusion that, for some reason which
he did not understand, Lady Arabella had changed her plans, and, for
the present at all events, was pacific. He was inclined to
attribute her changed demeanour to the fact that her influence over
Edgar Caswall was so far increased, as to justify a more fixed
belief in his submission to her charms.

As a matter of fact, she had seen Caswall that morning when she
visited Castra Regis, and they had had a long talk together, during
which the possibility of their union had been discussed. Caswall,
without being enthusiastic on the subject, had been courteous and
attentive; as she had walked back to Diana’s Grove, she almost
congratulated herself on her new settlement in life. That the idea
was becoming fixed in her mind, was shown by a letter which she
wrote later in the day to Adam Salton, and sent to him by hand. It
ran as follows:

“DEAR MR. SALTON,

“I wonder if you would kindly advise, and, if possible, help me in a
matter of business. I have been for some time trying to make up my
mind to sell Diana’s Grove, I have put off and put off the doing of
it till now. The place is my own property, and no one has to be
consulted with regard to what I may wish to do about it. It was
bought by my late husband, Captain Adolphus Ranger March, who had
another residence, The Crest, Appleby. He acquired all rights of
all kinds, including mining and sporting. When he died, he left his
whole property to me. I shall feel leaving this place, which has
become endeared to me by many sacred memories and affections–the
recollection of many happy days of my young married life, and the
more than happy memories of the man I loved and who loved me so
much. I should be willing to sell the place for any fair price–so
long, of course, as the purchaser was one I liked and of whom I
approved. May I say that you yourself would be the ideal person.
But I dare not hope for so much. It strikes me, however, that among
your Australian friends may be someone who wishes to make a
settlement in the Old Country, and would care to fix the spot in one
of the most historic regions in England, full of romance and legend,
and with a never-ending vista of historical interest–an estate
which, though small, is in perfect condition and with illimitable
possibilities of development, and many doubtful–or unsettled–
rights which have existed before the time of the Romans or even
Celts, who were the original possessors. In addition, the house has
been kept up to the DERNIER CRI. Immediate possession can be
arranged. My lawyers can provide you, or whoever you may suggest,
with all business and historical details. A word from you of
acceptance or refusal is all that is necessary, and we can leave
details to be thrashed out by our agents. Forgive me, won’t you,
for troubling you in the matter, and believe me, yours very
sincerely.

“ARABELLA MARCH.”

Adam read this over several times, and then, his mind being made up,
he went to Mimi and asked if she had any objection. She answered–
after a shudder–that she was, in this, as in all things, willing to
do whatever he might wish.

“Dearest, I am willing that you should judge what is best for us.
Be quite free to act as you see your duty, and as your inclination
calls. We are in the hands of God, and He has hitherto guided us,
and will do so to His own end.”

From his wife’s room Adam Salton went straight to the study in the
tower, where he knew Sir Nathaniel would be at that hour. The old
man was alone, so, when he had entered in obedience to the “Come
in,” which answered his query, he closed the door and sat down
beside him.

“Do you think, sir, that it would be well for me to buy Diana’s
Grove?”

“God bless my soul!” said the old man, startled, “why on earth would
you want to do that?”

“Well, I have vowed to destroy that White Worm, and my being able to
do whatever I may choose with the Lair would facilitate matters and
avoid complications.”

Sir Nathaniel hesitated longer than usual before speaking. He was
thinking deeply.

“Yes, Adam, there is much common sense in your suggestion, though it
startled me at first. I think that, for all reasons, you would do
well to buy the property and to have the conveyance settled at once.
If you want more money than is immediately convenient, let me know,
so that I may be your banker.”

“Thank you, sir, most heartily; but I have more money at immediate
call than I shall want. I am glad you approve.”

“The property is historic, and as time goes on it will increase in
value. Moreover, I may tell you something, which indeed is only a
surmise, but which, if I am right, will add great value to the
place.” Adam listened. “Has it ever struck you why the old name,
‘The Lair of the White Worm,’ was given? We know that there was a
snake which in early days was called a worm; but why white?”

“I really don’t know, sir; I never thought of it. I simply took it
for granted.”

“So did I at first–long ago. But later I puzzled my brain for a
reason.”

“And what was the reason, sir?”

“Simply and solely because the snake or worm WAS white. We are near
the county of Stafford, where the great industry of china-burning
was originated and grew. Stafford owes much of its wealth to the
large deposits of the rare china clay found in it from time to time.
These deposits become in time pretty well exhausted; but for
centuries Stafford adventurers looked for the special clay, as Ohio
and Pennsylvania farmers and explorers looked for oil. Anyone
owning real estate on which china clay can be discovered strikes a
sort of gold mine.”

“Yes, and then–” The young man looked puzzled.

“The original ‘Worm’ so-called, from which the name of the place
came, had to find a direct way down to the marshes and the mud-
holes. Now, the clay is easily penetrable, and the original hole
probably pierced a bed of china clay. When once the way was made it
would become a sort of highway for the Worm. But as much movement
was necessary to ascend such a great height, some of the clay would
become attached to its rough skin by attrition. The downway must
have been easy work, but the ascent was different, and when the
monster came to view in the upper world, it would be fresh from
contact with the white clay. Hence the name, which has no cryptic
significance, but only fact. Now, if that surmise be true–and I do
not see why not–there must be a deposit of valuable clay–possibly
of immense depth.”

Adam’s comment pleased the old gentleman.

“I have it in my bones, sir, that you have struck–or rather
reasoned out–a great truth.”

Sir Nathaniel went on cheerfully. “When the world of commerce wakes
up to the value of your find, it will be as well that your title to
ownership has been perfectly secured. If anyone ever deserved such
a gain, it is you.”

With his friend’s aid, Adam secured the property without loss of
time. Then he went to see his uncle, and told him about it. Mr.
Salton was delighted to find his young relative already
constructively the owner of so fine an estate–one which gave him an
important status in the county. He made many anxious enquiries
about Mimi, and the doings of the White Worm, but Adam re-assured
him.

The next morning, when Adam went to his host in the smoking-room,
Sir Nathaniel asked him how he purposed to proceed with regard to
keeping his vow.

“It is a difficult matter which you have undertaken. To destroy
such a monster is something like one of the labours of Hercules, in
that not only its size and weight and power of using them in little-
known ways are against you, but the occult side is alone an
unsurpassable difficulty. The Worm is already master of all the
elements except fire–and I do not see how fire can be used for the
attack. It has only to sink into the earth in its usual way, and
you could not overtake it if you had the resources of the biggest
coal-mine in existence. But I daresay you have mapped out some plan
in your mind,” he added courteously.

“I have, sir. But, of course, it may not stand the test of
practice.”

“May I know the idea?”

“Well, sir, this was my argument: At the time of the Chartist
trouble, an idea spread amongst financial circles that an attack was
going to be made on the Bank of England. Accordingly, the directors
of that institution consulted many persons who were supposed to know
what steps should be taken, and it was finally decided that the best
protection against fire–which is what was feared–was not water but
sand. To carry the scheme into practice great store of fine sea-
sand–the kind that blows about and is used to fill hour-glasses–
was provided throughout the building, especially at the points
liable to attack, from which it could be brought into use.

“I propose to provide at Diana’s Grove, as soon as it comes into my
possession, an enormous amount of such sand, and shall take an early
occasion of pouring it into the well-hole, which it will in time
choke. Thus Lady Arabella, in her guise of the White Worm, will
find herself cut off from her refuge. The hole is a narrow one, and
is some hundreds of feet deep. The weight of the sand this can
contain would not in itself be sufficient to obstruct; but the
friction of such a body working up against it would be tremendous.”

“One moment. What use would the sand be for destruction?”

“None, directly; but it would hold the struggling body in place till
the rest of my scheme came into practice.”

“And what is the rest?”

“As the sand is being poured into the well-hole, quantities of
dynamite can also be thrown in!”

“Good. But how would the dynamite explode–for, of course, that is
what you intend. Would not some sort of wire or fuse he required
for each parcel of dynamite?”

Adam smiled.

“Not in these days, sir. That was proved in New York. A thousand
pounds of dynamite, in sealed canisters, was placed about some
workings. At the last a charge of gunpowder was fired, and the
concussion exploded the dynamite. It was most successful. Those
who were non-experts in high explosives expected that every pane of
glass in New York would be shattered. But, in reality, the
explosive did no harm outside the area intended, although sixteen
acres of rock had been mined and only the supporting walls and
pillars had been left intact. The whole of the rocks were
shattered.”

Sir Nathaniel nodded approval.

“That seems a good plan–a very excellent one. But if it has to
tear down so many feet of precipice, it may wreck the whole
neighbourhood.”

“And free it for ever from a monster,” added Adam, as he left the
room to find his wife.

CHAPTER XXV–THE LAST BATTLE

Lady Arabella had instructed her solicitors to hurry on with the
conveyance of Diana’s Grove, so no time was lost in letting Adam
Salton have formal possession of the estate. After his interview
with Sir Nathaniel, he had taken steps to begin putting his plan
into action. In order to accumulate the necessary amount of fine
sea-sand, he ordered the steward to prepare for an elaborate system
of top-dressing all the grounds. A great heap of the sand, brought
from bays on the Welsh coast, began to grow at the back of the
Grove. No one seemed to suspect that it was there for any purpose
other than what had been given out.

Lady Arabella, who alone could have guessed, was now so absorbed in
her matrimonial pursuit of Edgar Caswall, that she had neither time
nor inclination for thought extraneous to this. She had not yet
moved from the house, though she had formally handed over the
estate.

Adam put up a rough corrugated-iron shed behind the Grove, in which
he stored his explosives. All being ready for his great attempt
whenever the time should come, he was now content to wait, and, in
order to pass the time, interested himself in other things–even in
Caswall’s great kite, which still flew from the high tower of Castra
Regis.

The mound of fine sand grew to proportions so vast as to puzzle the
bailiffs and farmers round the Brow. The hour of the intended
cataclysm was approaching apace. Adam wished–but in vain–for an
opportunity, which would appear to be natural, of visiting Caswall
in the turret of Castra Regis. At last, one morning, he met Lady
Arabella moving towards the Castle, so he took his courage E DEUX
MAINS and asked to be allowed to accompany her. She was glad, for
her own purposes, to comply with his wishes. So together they
entered, and found their way to the turret-room. Caswall was much
surprised to see Adam come to his house, but lent himself to the
task of seeming to be pleased. He played the host so well as to
deceive even Adam. They all went out on the turret roof, where he
explained to his guests the mechanism for raising and lowering the
kite, taking also the opportunity of testing the movements of the
multitudes of birds, how they answered almost instantaneously to the
lowering or raising of the kite.

As Lady Arabella walked home with Adam from Castra Regis, she asked
him if she might make a request. Permission having been accorded,
she explained that before she finally left Diana’s Grove, where she
had lived so long, she had a desire to know the depth of the well-
hole. Adam was really happy to meet her wishes, not from any
sentiment, but because he wished to give some valid and ostensible
reason for examining the passage of the Worm, which would obviate
any suspicion resulting from his being on the premises. He brought
from London a Kelvin sounding apparatus, with a sufficient length of
piano-wire for testing any probable depth. The wire passed easily
over the running wheel, and when this was once fixed over the hole,
he was satisfied to wait till the most advantageous time for his
final experiment.

In the meantime, affairs had been going quietly at Mercy Farm.
Lilla, of course, felt lonely in the absence of her cousin, but the
even tenor of life went on for her as for others. After the first
shock of parting was over, things went back to their accustomed
routine. In one respect, however, there was a marked difference.
So long as home conditions had remained unchanged, Lilla was content
to put ambition far from her, and to settle down to the life which
had been hers as long as she could remember. But Mimi’s marriage
set her thinking; naturally, she came to the conclusion that she too
might have a mate. There was not for her much choice–there was
little movement in the matrimonial direction at the farmhouse. She
did not approve of the personality of Edgar Caswall, and his
struggle with Mimi had frightened her; but he was unmistakably an
excellent PARTI, much better than she could have any right to
expect. This weighs much with a woman, and more particularly one of
her class. So, on the whole, she was content to let things take
their course, and to abide by the issue.

As time went on, she had reason to believe that things did not point
to happiness. She could not shut her eyes to certain disturbing
facts, amongst which were the existence of Lady Arabella and her
growing intimacy with Edgar Caswall; as well as his own cold and
haughty nature, so little in accord with the ardour which is the
foundation of a young maid’s dreams of happiness. How things would,
of necessity, alter if she were to marry, she was afraid to think.
All told, the prospect was not happy for her, and she had a secret
longing that something might occur to upset the order of things as
at present arranged.

When Lilla received a note from Edgar Caswall asking if he might
come to tea on the following afternoon, her heart sank within her.
If it was only for her father’s sake, she must not refuse him or
show any disinclination which he might construe into incivility.
She missed Mimi more than she could say or even dared to think.
Hitherto, she had always looked to her cousin for sympathy, for
understanding, for loyal support. Now she and all these things, and
a thousand others–gentle, assuring, supporting–were gone. And
instead there was a horrible aching void.

For the whole afternoon and evening, and for the following forenoon,
poor Lilla’s loneliness grew to be a positive agony. For the first
time she began to realise the sense of her loss, as though all the
previous suffering had been merely a preparation. Everything she
looked at, everything she remembered or thought of, became laden
with poignant memory. Then on the top of all was a new sense of
dread. The reaction from the sense of security, which had
surrounded her all her life, to a never-quieted apprehension, was at
times almost more than she could bear. It so filled her with fear
that she had a haunting feeling that she would as soon die as live.
However, whatever might be her own feelings, duty had to be done,
and as she had been brought up to consider duty first, she braced
herself to go through, to the very best of her ability, what was
before her.

Still, the severe and prolonged struggle for self-control told upon
Lilla. She looked, as she felt, ill and weak. She was really in a
nerveless and prostrate condition, with black circles round her
eyes, pale even to her lips, and with an instinctive trembling which
she was quite unable to repress. It was for her a sad mischance
that Mimi was away, for her love would have seen through all
obscuring causes, and have brought to light the girl’s unhappy
condition of health. Lilla was utterly unable to do anything to
escape from the ordeal before her; but her cousin, with the
experience of her former struggles with Mr. Caswall and of the
condition in which these left her, would have taken steps–even
peremptory ones, if necessary–to prevent a repetition.

Edgar arrived punctually to the time appointed by herself. When
Lilla, through the great window, saw him approaching the house, her
condition of nervous upset was pitiable. She braced herself up,
however, and managed to get through the interview in its preliminary
stages without any perceptible change in her normal appearance and
bearing. It had been to her an added terror that the black shadow
of Oolanga, whom she dreaded, would follow hard on his master. A
load was lifted from her mind when he did not make his usual
stealthy approach. She had also feared, though in lesser degree,
lest Lady Arabella should be present to make trouble for her as
before.

With a woman’s natural forethought in a difficult position, she had
provided the furnishing of the tea-table as a subtle indication of
the social difference between her and her guest. She had chosen the
implements of service, as well as all the provender set forth, of
the humblest kind. Instead of arranging the silver teapot and china
cups, she had set out an earthen tea-pot, such as was in common use
in the farm kitchen. The same idea was carried out in the cups and
saucers of thick homely delft, and in the cream-jug of similar kind.
The bread was of simple whole-meal, home-baked. The butter was
good, since she had made it herself, while the preserves and honey
came from her own garden. Her face beamed with satisfaction when
the guest eyed the appointments with a supercilious glance. It was
a shock to the poor girl herself, for she enjoyed offering to a
guest the little hospitalities possible to her; but that had to be
sacrificed with other pleasures.

Caswall’s face was more set and iron-clad than ever–his piercing
eyes seemed from the very beginning to look her through and through.
Her heart quailed when she thought of what would follow–of what
would be the end, when this was only the beginning. As some
protection, though it could be only of a sentimental kind, she
brought from her own room the photographs of Mimi, of her
grandfather, and of Adam Salton, whom by now she had grown to look
on with reliance, as a brother whom she could trust. She kept the
pictures near her heart, to which her hand naturally strayed when
her feelings of constraint, distrust, or fear became so poignant as
to interfere with the calm which she felt was necessary to help her
through her ordeal.

At first Edgar Caswall was courteous and polite, even thoughtful;
but after a little while, when he found her resistance to his
domination grow, he abandoned all forms of self-control and appeared
in the same dominance as he had previously shown. She was prepared,
however, for this, both by her former experience and the natural
fighting instinct within her. By this means, as the minutes went
on, both developed the power and preserved the equality in which
they had begun.

Without warning, the psychic battle between the two individualities
began afresh. This time both the positive and negative causes were
all in favour of the man. The woman was alone and in bad spirits,
unsupported; nothing at all was in her favour except the memory of
the two victorious contests; whereas the man, though unaided, as
before, by either Lady Arabella or Oolanga, was in full strength,
well rested, and in flourishing circumstances. It was not,
therefore, to be wondered at that his native dominance of character
had full opportunity of asserting itself. He began his preliminary
stare with a conscious sense of power, and, as it appeared to have
immediate effect on the girl, he felt an ever-growing conviction of
ultimate victory.

After a little Lilla’s resolution began to flag. She felt that the
contest was unequal–that she was unable to put forth her best
efforts. As she was an unselfish person, she could not fight so
well in her own battle as in that of someone whom she loved and to
whom she was devoted. Edgar saw the relaxing of the muscles of face
and brow, and the almost collapse of the heavy eyelids which seemed
tumbling downward in sleep. Lilla made gallant efforts to brace her
dwindling powers, but for a time unsuccessfully. At length there
came an interruption, which seemed like a powerful stimulant.
Through the wide window she saw Lady Arabella enter the plain
gateway of the farm, and advance towards the hall door. She was
clad as usual in tight-fitting white, which accentuated her thin,
sinuous figure.

The sight did for Lilla what no voluntary effort could have done.
Her eyes flashed, and in an instant she felt as though a new life
had suddenly developed within her. Lady Arabella’s entry, in her
usual unconcerned, haughty, supercilious way, heightened the effect,
so that when the two stood close to each other battle was joined.
Mr. Caswall, too, took new courage from her coming, and all his
masterfulness and power came back to him. His looks, intensified,
had more obvious effect than had been noticeable that day. Lilla
seemed at last overcome by his dominance. Her face became red and
pale–violently red and ghastly pale–by rapid turns. Her strength
seemed gone. Her knees collapsed, and she was actually sinking on
the floor, when to her surprise and joy Mimi came into the room,
running hurriedly and breathing heavily.

Lilla rushed to her, and the two clasped hands. With that, a new
sense of power, greater than Lilla had ever seen in her, seemed to
quicken her cousin. Her hand swept the air in front of Edgar
Caswall, seeming to drive him backward more and more by each
movement, till at last he seemed to be actually hurled through the
door which Mimi’s entrance had left open, and fell at full length on
the gravel path without.

Then came the final and complete collapse of Lilla, who, without a
sound, sank down on the floor.

CHAPTER XXVI–FACE TO FACE

Mimi was greatly distressed when she saw her cousin lying prone.
She had a few times in her life seen Lilla on the verge of fainting,
but never senseless; and now she was frightened. She threw herself
on her knees beside Lilla, and tried, by rubbing her hands and other
measures commonly known, to restore her. But all her efforts were
unavailing. Lilla still lay white and senseless. In fact, each
moment she looked worse; her breast, that had been heaving with the
stress, became still, and the pallor of her face grew like marble.

At these succeeding changes Mimi’s fright grew, till it altogether
mastered her. She succeeded in controlling herself only to the
extent that she did not scream.

Lady Arabella had followed Caswall, when he had recovered
sufficiently to get up and walk–though stumblingly–in the
direction of Castra Regis. When Mimi was quite alone with Lilla and
the need for effort had ceased, she felt weak and trembled. In her
own mind, she attributed it to a sudden change in the weather–it
was momentarily becoming apparent that a storm was coming on.

She raised Lilla’s head and laid it on her warm young breast, but
all in vain. The cold of the white features thrilled through her,
and she utterly collapsed when it was borne in on her that Lilla had
passed away.

The dusk gradually deepened and the shades of evening closed in, but
Mimi did not seem to notice or to care. She sat on the floor with
her arms round the body of the girl whom she loved. Darker and
blacker grew the sky as the coming storm and the closing night
joined forces. Still she sat on–alone–tearless–unable to think.
Mimi did not know how long she sat there. Though it seemed to her
that ages had passed, it could not have been more than half-an-hour.
She suddenly came to herself, and was surprised to find that her
grandfather had not returned. For a while she lay quiet, thinking
of the immediate past. Lilla’s hand was still in hers, and to her
surprise it was still warm. Somehow this helped her consciousness,
and without any special act of will she stood up. She lit a lamp
and looked at her cousin. There was no doubt that Lilla was dead;
but when the lamp-light fell on her eyes, they seemed to look at
Mimi with intent–with meaning. In this state of dark isolation a
new resolution came to her, and grew and grew until it became a
fixed definite purpose. She would face Caswall and call him to
account for his murder of Lilla–that was what she called it to
herself. She would also take steps–she knew not what or how–to
avenge the part taken by Lady Arabella.

In this frame of mind she lit all the lamps in the room, got water
and linen from her room, and set about the decent ordering of
Lilla’s body. This took some time; but when it was finished, she
put on her hat and cloak, put out the lights, and set out quietly
for Castra Regis.

As Mimi drew near the Castle, she saw no lights except those in and
around the tower room. The lights showed her that Mr. Caswall was
there, so she entered by the hall door, which as usual was open, and
felt her way in the darkness up the staircase to the lobby of the
room. The door was ajar, and the light from within showed
brilliantly through the opening. She saw Edgar Caswall walking
restlessly to and fro in the room, with his hands clasped behind his
back. She opened the door without knocking, and walked right into
the room. As she entered, he ceased walking, and stared at her in
surprise. She made no remark, no comment, but continued the fixed
look which he had seen on her entrance.

For a time silence reigned, and the two stood looking fixedly at
each other. Mimi was the first to speak.

“You murderer! Lilla is dead!”

“Dead! Good God! When did she die?”

“She died this afternoon, just after you left her.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes–and so are you–or you ought to be. You killed her!”

“I killed her! Be careful what you say!”

“As God sees us, it is true; and you know it. You came to Mercy
Farm on purpose to break her–if you could. And the accomplice of
your guilt, Lady Arabella March, came for the same purpose.”

“Be careful, woman,” he said hotly. “Do not use such names in that
way, or you shall suffer for it.”

“I am suffering for it–have suffered for it–shall suffer for it.
Not for speaking the truth as I have done, but because you two, with
devilish malignity, did my darling to death. It is you and your
accomplice who have to dread punishment, not I.”

“Take care!” he said again.

“Oh, I am not afraid of you or your accomplice,” she answered
spiritedly. “I am content to stand by every word I have said, every
act I have done. Moreover, I believe in God’s justice. I fear not
the grinding of His mills; if necessary I shall set the wheels in
motion myself. But you don’t care for God, or believe in Him. Your
god is your great kite, which cows the birds of a whole district.
But be sure that His hand, when it rises, always falls at the
appointed time. It may be that your name is being called even at
this very moment at the Great Assize. Repent while there is still
time. Happy you, if you may be allowed to enter those mighty halls
in the company of the pure-souled angel whose voice has only to
whisper one word of justice, and you disappear for ever into
everlasting torment.”

The sudden death of Lilla caused consternation among Mimi’s friends
and well-wishers. Such a tragedy was totally unexpected, as Adam
and Sir Nathaniel had been expecting the White Worm’s vengeance to
fall upon themselves.

Adam, leaving his wife free to follow her own desires with regard to
Lilla and her grandfather, busied himself with filling the well-hole
with the fine sand prepared for the purpose, taking care to have
lowered at stated intervals quantities of the store of dynamite, so
as to be ready for the final explosion. He had under his immediate
supervision a corps of workmen, and was assisted by Sir Nathaniel,
who had come over for the purpose, and all were now staying at
Lesser Hill.

Mr. Salton, too, showed much interest in the job, and was constantly
coming in and out, nothing escaping his observation.

Since her marriage to Adam and their coming to stay at Doom Tower,
Mimi had been fettered by fear of the horrible monster at Diana’s
Grove. But now she dreaded it no longer. She accepted the fact of
its assuming at will the form of Lady Arabella. She had still to
tax and upbraid her for her part in the unhappiness which had been
wrought on Lilla, and for her share in causing her death.

One evening, when Mimi entered her own room, she went to the window
and threw an eager look round the whole circle of sight. A single
glance satisfied her that the White Worm in PROPRIA PERSONA was not
visible. So she sat down in the window-seat and enjoyed the
pleasure of a full view, from which she had been so long cut off.
The maid who waited on her had told her that Mr. Salton had not yet
returned home, so she felt free to enjoy the luxury of peace and
quiet.

As she looked out of the window, she saw something thin and white
move along the avenue. She thought she recognised the figure of
Lady Arabella, and instinctively drew back behind the curtain. When
she had ascertained, by peeping out several times, that the lady had
not seen her, she watched more carefully, all her instinctive hatred
flooding back at the sight of her. Lady Arabella was moving swiftly
and stealthily, looking back and around her at intervals, as if she
feared to be followed. This gave Mimi an idea that she was up to no
good, so she determined to seize the occasion for watching her in
more detail.

Hastily putting on a dark cloak and hat, she ran downstairs and out
into the avenue. Lady Arabella had moved, but the sheen of her
white dress was still to be seen among the young oaks around the
gateway. Keeping in shadow, Mimi followed, taking care not to come
so close as to awake the other’s suspicion, and watched her quarry
pass along the road in the direction of Castra Regis.

She followed on steadily through the gloom of the trees, depending
on the glint of the white dress to keep her right. The wood began
to thicken, and presently, when the road widened and the trees grew
farther back, she lost sight of any indication of her whereabouts.
Under the present conditions it was impossible for her to do any
more, so, after waiting for a while, still hidden in the shadow to
see if she could catch another glimpse of the white frock, she
determined to go on slowly towards Castra Regis, and trust to the
chapter of accidents to pick up the trail again. She went on
slowly, taking advantage of every obstacle and shadow to keep
herself concealed.

At last she entered on the grounds of the Castle, at a spot from
which the windows of the turret were dimly visible, without having
seen again any sign of Lady Arabella.

Meanwhile, during most of the time that Mimi Salton had been moving
warily along in the gloom, she was in reality being followed by Lady
Arabella, who had caught sight of her leaving the house and had
never again lost touch with her. It was a case of the hunter being
hunted. For a time Mimi’s many turnings, with the natural obstacles
that were perpetually intervening, caused Lady Arabella some
trouble; but when she was close to Castra Regis, there was no more
possibility of concealment, and the strange double following went
swiftly on.

When she saw Mimi close to the hall door of Castra Regis and
ascending the steps, she followed. When Mimi entered the dark hall
and felt her way up the staircase, still, as she believed, following
Lady Arabella, the latter kept on her way. When they reached the
lobby of the turret-rooms, Mimi believed that the object of her
search was ahead of her.

Edgar Caswall sat in the gloom of the great room, occasionally
stirred to curiosity when the drifting clouds allowed a little light
to fall from the storm-swept sky. But nothing really interested him
now. Since he had heard of Lilla’s death, the gloom of his remorse,
emphasised by Mimi’s upbraiding, had made more hopeless his cruel,
selfish, saturnine nature. He heard no sound, for his normal
faculties seemed benumbed.

Mimi, when she came to the door, which stood ajar, gave a light tap.
So light was it that it did not reach Caswall’s ears. Then, taking
her courage in both hands, she boldly pushed the door and entered.
As she did so, her heart sank, for now she was face to face with a
difficulty which had not, in her state of mental perturbation,
occurred to her.

CHAPTER XXVII–ON THE TURRET ROOF

The storm which was coming was already making itself manifest, not
only in the wide scope of nature, but in the hearts and natures of
human beings. Electrical disturbance in the sky and the air is
reproduced in animals of all kinds, and particularly in the highest
type of them all–the most receptive–the most electrical. So it
was with Edgar Caswall, despite his selfish nature and coldness of
blood. So it was with Mimi Salton, despite her unselfish,
unchanging devotion for those she loved. So it was even with Lady
Arabella, who, under the instincts of a primeval serpent, carried
the ever-varying wishes and customs of womanhood, which is always
old–and always new.

Edgar, after he had turned his eyes on Mimi, resumed his apathetic
position and sullen silence. Mimi quietly took a seat a little way
apart, whence she could look on the progress of the coming storm and
study its appearance throughout the whole visible circle of the
neighbourhood. She was in brighter and better spirits than she had
been for many days past. Lady Arabella tried to efface herself
behind the now open door.

Without, the clouds grew thicker and blacker as the storm-centre
came closer. As yet the forces, from whose linking the lightning
springs, were held apart, and the silence of nature proclaimed the
calm before the storm. Caswall felt the effect of the gathering
electric force. A sort of wild exultation grew upon him, such as he
had sometimes felt just before the breaking of a tropical storm. As
he became conscious of this, he raised his head and caught sight of
Mimi. He was in the grip of an emotion greater than himself; in the
mood in which he was he felt the need upon him of doing some
desperate deed. He was now absolutely reckless, and as Mimi was
associated with him in the memory which drove him on, he wished that
she too should be engaged in this enterprise. He had no knowledge
of the proximity of Lady Arabella, and thought that he was far
removed from all he knew and whose interests he shared–alone with
the wild elements, which were being lashed to fury, and with the
woman who had struggled with him and vanquished him, and on whom he
would shower the full measure of his hate.

The fact was that Edgar Caswall was, if not mad, close to the
border-line. Madness in its first stage–monomania–is a lack of
proportion. So long as this is general, it is not always
noticeable, for the uninspired onlooker is without the necessary
means of comparison. But in monomania the errant faculty protrudes
itself in a way that may not be denied. It puts aside, obscures, or
takes the place of something else–just as the head of a pin placed
before the centre of the iris will block out the whole scope of
vision. The most usual form of monomania has commonly the same
beginning as that from which Edgar Caswall suffered–an over-large
idea of self-importance. Alienists, who study the matter exactly,
probably know more of human vanity and its effects than do ordinary
men. Caswall’s mental disturbance was not hard to identify. Every
asylum is full of such cases–men and women, who, naturally selfish
and egotistical, so appraise to themselves their own importance that
every other circumstance in life becomes subservient to it. The
disease supplies in itself the material for self-magnification.
When the decadence attacks a nature naturally proud and selfish and
vain, and lacking both the aptitude and habit of self-restraint, the
development of the disease is more swift, and ranges to farther
limits. It is such persons who become inbued with the idea that
they have the attributes of the Almighty–even that they themselves
are the Almighty.

Mimi had a suspicion–or rather, perhaps, an intuition–of the true
state of things when she heard him speak, and at the same time
noticed the abnormal flush on his face, and his rolling eyes. There
was a certain want of fixedness of purpose which she had certainly
not noticed before–a quick, spasmodic utterance which belongs
rather to the insane than to those of intellectual equilibrium. She
was a little frightened, not only by his thoughts, but by his
staccato way of expressing them.

Caswall moved to the door leading to the turret stair by which the
roof was reached, and spoke in a peremptory way, whose tone alone
made her feel defiant.

“Come! I want you.”

She instinctively drew back–she was not accustomed to such words,
more especially to such a tone. Her answer was indicative of a new
contest.

“Why should I go? What for?”

He did not at once reply–another indication of his overwhelming
egotism. She repeated her questions; habit reasserted itself, and
he spoke without thinking the words which were in his heart.

“I want you, if you will be so good, to come with me to the turret
roof. I am much interested in certain experiments with the kite,
which would be, if not a pleasure, at least a novel experience to
you. You would see something not easily seen otherwise.”

“I will come,” she answered simply; Edgar moved in the direction of
the stair, she following close behind him.

She did not like to be left alone at such a height, in such a place,
in the darkness, with a storm about to break. Of himself she had no
fear; all that had been seemed to have passed away with her two
victories over him in the struggle of wills. Moreover, the more
recent apprehension–that of his madness–had also ceased. In the
conversation of the last few minutes he seemed so rational, so
clear, so unaggressive, that she no longer saw reason for doubt. So
satisfied was she that even when he put out a hand to guide her to
the steep, narrow stairway, she took it without thought in the most
conventional way.

Lady Arabella, crouching in the lobby behind the door, heard every
word that had been said, and formed her own opinion of it. It
seemed evident to her that there had been some rapprochement between
the two who had so lately been hostile to each other, and that made
her furiously angry. Mimi was interfering with her plans! She had
made certain of her capture of Edgar Caswall, and she could not
tolerate even the lightest and most contemptuous fancy on his part
which might divert him from the main issue. When she became aware
that he wished Mimi to come with him to the roof and that she had
acquiesced, her rage got beyond bounds. She became oblivious to any
danger there might be in a visit to such an exposed place at such a
time, and to all lesser considerations, and made up her mind to
forestall them. She stealthily and noiselessly crept through the
wicket, and, ascending the stair, stepped out on the roof. It was
bitterly cold, for the fierce gusts of the storm which swept round
the turret drove in through every unimpeded way, whistling at the
sharp corners and singing round the trembling flagstaff. The kite-
string and the wire which controlled the runners made a concourse of
weird sounds which somehow, perhaps from the violence which
surrounded them, acting on their length, resolved themselves into
some kind of harmony–a fitting accompaniment to the tragedy which
seemed about to begin.

Mimi’s heart beat heavily. Just before leaving the turret-chamber
she had a shock which she could not shake off. The lights of the
room had momentarily revealed to her, as they passed out, Edgar’s
face, concentrated as it was whenever he intended to use his
mesmeric power. Now the black eyebrows made a thick line across his
face, under which his eyes shone and glittered ominously. Mimi
recognised the danger, and assumed the defiant attitude that had
twice already served her so well. She had a fear that the
circumstances and the place were against her, and she wanted to be
forearmed.

The sky was now somewhat lighter than it had been. Either there was
lightning afar off, whose reflections were carried by the rolling
clouds, or else the gathered force, though not yet breaking into
lightning, had an incipient power of light. It seemed to affect
both the man and the woman. Edgar seemed altogether under its
influence. His spirits were boisterous, his mind exalted. He was
now at his worst; madder than he had been earlier in the night.

Mimi, trying to keep as far from him as possible, moved across the
stone floor of the turret roof, and found a niche which concealed
her. It was not far from Lady Arabella’s place of hiding.

Edgar, left thus alone on the centre of the turret roof, found
himself altogether his own master in a way which tended to increase
his madness. He knew that Mimi was close at hand, though he had
lost sight of her. He spoke loudly, and the sound of his own voice,
though it was carried from him on the sweeping wind as fast as the
words were spoken, seemed to exalt him still more. Even the raging
of the elements round him appeared to add to his exaltation. To him
it seemed that these manifestations were obedient to his own will.
He had reached the sublime of his madness; he was now in his own
mind actually the Almighty, and whatever might happen would be the
direct carrying out of his own commands. As he could not see Mimi,
nor fix whereabout she was, he shouted loudly:

“Come to me! You shall see now what you are despising, what you are
warring against. All that you see is mine–the darkness as well as
the light. I tell you that I am greater than any other who is, or
was, or shall be. When the Master of Evil took Christ up on a high
place and showed Him all the kingdoms of the earth, he was doing
what he thought no other could do. He was wrong–he forgot ME. I
shall send you light, up to the very ramparts of heaven. A light so
great that it shall dissipate those black clouds that are rushing up
and piling around us. Look! Look! At the very touch of my hand
that light springs into being and mounts up–and up–and up!”

He made his way whilst he was speaking to the corner of the turret
whence flew the giant kite, and from which the runners ascended.
Mimi looked on, appalled and afraid to speak lest she should
precipitate some calamity. Within the niche Lady Arabella cowered
in a paroxysm of fear.

Edgar took up a small wooden box, through a hole in which the wire
of the runner ran. This evidently set some machinery in motion, for
a sound as of whirring came. From one side of the box floated what
looked like a piece of stiff ribbon, which snapped and crackled as
the wind took it. For a few seconds Mimi saw it as it rushed along
the sagging line to the kite. When close to it, there was a loud
crack, and a sudden light appeared to issue from every chink in the
box. Then a quick flame flashed along the snapping ribbon, which
glowed with an intense light–a light so great that the whole of the
countryside around stood out against the background of black driving
clouds. For a few seconds the light remained, then suddenly
disappeared in the blackness around. It was simply a magnesium
light, which had been fired by the mechanism within the box and
carried up to the kite. Edgar was in a state of tumultuous
excitement, shouting and yelling at the top of his voice and dancing
about like a lunatic.

This was more than Lady Arabella’s curious dual nature could stand–
the ghoulish element in her rose triumphant, and she abandoned all
idea of marriage with Edgar Caswall, gloating fiendishly over the
thought of revenge.

She must lure him to the White Worm’s hole–but how? She glanced
around and quickly made up her mind. The man’s whole thoughts were
absorbed by his wonderful kite, which he was showing off, in order
to fascinate her imaginary rival, Mimi.

On the instant she glided through the darkness to the wheel whereon
the string of the kite was wound. With deft fingers she unshipped
this, took it with her, reeling out the wire as she went, thus
keeping, in a way, in touch with the kite. Then she glided swiftly
to the wicket, through which she passed, locking the gate behind her
as she went.

Down the turret stair she ran quickly, letting the wire run from the
wheel which she carried carefully, and, passing out of the hall
door, hurried down the avenue with all her speed. She soon reached
her own gate, ran down the avenue, and with her key opened the iron
door leading to the well-hole.

She felt well satisfied with herself. All her plans were maturing,
or had already matured. The Master of Castra Regis was within her
grasp. The woman whose interference she had feared, Lilla Watford,
was dead. Truly, all was well, and she felt that she might pause a
while and rest. She tore off her clothes, with feverish fingers,
and in full enjoyment of her natural freedom, stretched her slim
figure in animal delight. Then she lay down on the sofa–to await
her victim! Edgar Caswall’s life blood would more than satisfy her
for some time to come.

CHAPTER XXVIII–THE BREAKING OF THE STORM

When Lady Arabella had crept away in her usual noiseless fashion,
the two others remained for a while in their places on the turret
roof: Caswall because he had nothing to say, Mimi because she had
much to say and wished to put her thoughts in order. For quite a
while–which seemed interminable–silence reigned between them. At
last Mimi made a beginning–she had made up her mind how to act.

“Mr. Caswall,” she said loudly, so as to make sure of being heard
through the blustering of the wind and the perpetual cracking of the
electricity.

Caswall said something in reply, but his words were carried away on
the storm. However, one of her objects was effected: she knew now
exactly whereabout on the roof he was. So she moved close to the
spot before she spoke again, raising her voice almost to a shout.

“The wicket is shut. Please to open it. I can’t get out.”

As she spoke, she was quietly fingering a revolver which Adam had
given to her in case of emergency and which now lay in her breast.
She felt that she was caged like a rat in a trap, but did not mean
to be taken at a disadvantage, whatever happened. Caswall also felt
trapped, and all the brute in him rose to the emergency. In a voice
which was raucous and brutal–much like that which is heard when a
wife is being beaten by her husband in a slum–he hissed out, his
syllables cutting through the roaring of the storm:

“You came of your own accord–without permission, or even asking it.
Now you can stay or go as you choose. But you must manage it for
yourself; I’ll have nothing to do with it.”

Her answer was spoken with dangerous suavity

“I am going. Blame yourself if you do not like the time and manner
of it. I daresay Adam–my husband–will have a word to say to you
about it!”

“Let him say, and be damned to him, and to you too! I’ll show you a
light. You shan’t be able to say that you could not see what you
were doing.”

As he spoke, he was lighting another piece of the magnesium ribbon,
which made a blinding glare in which everything was plainly
discernible, down to the smallest detail. This exactly suited Mimi.
She took accurate note of the wicket and its fastening before the
glare had died away. She took her revolver out and fired into the
lock, which was shivered on the instant, the pieces flying round in
all directions, but happily without causing hurt to anyone. Then
she pushed the wicket open and ran down the narrow stair, and so to
the hall door. Opening this also, she ran down the avenue, never
lessening her speed till she stood outside the door of Lesser Hill.
The door was opened at once on her ringing.

“Is Mr. Adam Salton in?” she asked.

“He has just come in, a few minutes ago. He has gone up to the
study,” replied a servant.

She ran upstairs at once and joined him. He seemed relieved when he
saw her, but scrutinised her face keenly. He saw that she had been
in some concern, so led her over to the sofa in the window and sat
down beside her.

“Now, dear, tell me all about it!” he said.

She rushed breathlessly through all the details of her adventure on
the turret roof. Adam listened attentively, helping her all he
could, and not embarrassing her by any questioning. His thoughtful
silence was a great help to her, for it allowed her to collect and
organise her thoughts.

“I must go and see Caswall to-morrow, to hear what he has to say on
the subject.”

“But, dear, for my sake, don’t have any quarrel with Mr. Caswall. I
have had too much trial and pain lately to wish it increased by any
anxiety regarding you.”

“You shall not, dear–if I can help it–please God,” he said
solemnly, and he kissed her.

Then, in order to keep her interested so that she might forget the
fears and anxieties that had disturbed her, he began to talk over
the details of her adventure, making shrewd comments which attracted
and held her attention. Presently, INTER ALIA, he said:

“That’s a dangerous game Caswall is up to. It seems to me that that
young man–though he doesn’t appear to know it–is riding for a
fall!”

“How, dear? I don’t understand.”

“Kite flying on a night like this from a place like the tower of
Castra Regis is, to say the least of it, dangerous. It is not
merely courting death or other accident from lightning, but it is
bringing the lightning into where he lives. Every cloud that is
blowing up here–and they all make for the highest point–is bound
to develop into a flash of lightning. That kite is up in the air
and is bound to attract the lightning. Its cord makes a road for it
on which to travel to earth. When it does come, it will strike the
top of the tower with a weight a hundred times greater than a whole
park of artillery, and will knock Castra Regis into pieces. Where
it will go after that, no one can tell. If there should be any
metal by which it can travel, such will not only point the road, but
be the road itself.”

“Would it be dangerous to be out in the open air when such a thing
is taking place?” she asked.

“No, little woman. It would be the safest possible place–so long
as one was not in the line of the electric current.”

“Then, do let us go outside. I don’t want to run into any foolish
danger–or, far more, to ask you to do so. But surely if the open
is safest, that is the place for us.”

Without another word, she put on again the cloak she had thrown off,
and a small, tight-fitting cap. Adam too put on his cap, and, after
seeing that his revolver was all right, gave her his hand, and they
left the house together.

“I think the best thing we can do will be to go round all the places
which are mixed up in this affair.”

“All right, dear, I am ready. But, if you don’t mind, we might go
first to Mercy. I am anxious about grandfather, and we might see
that–as yet, at all events–nothing has happened there.”

So they went on the high-hung road along the top of the Brow. The
wind here was of great force, and made a strange booming noise as it
swept high overhead; though not the sound of cracking and tearing as
it passed through the woods of high slender trees which grew on
either side of the road. Mimi could hardly keep her feet. She was
not afraid; but the force to which she was opposed gave her a good
excuse to hold on to her husband extra tight.

At Mercy there was no one up–at least, all the lights were out.
But to Mimi, accustomed to the nightly routine of the house, there
were manifest signs that all was well, except in the little room on
the first floor, where the blinds were down. Mimi could not bear to
look at that, to think of it. Adam understood her pain, for he had
been keenly interested in poor Lilla. He bent over and kissed her,
and then took her hand and held it hard. Thus they passed on
together, returning to the high road towards Castra Regis.

At the gate of Castra Regis they were extra careful. When drawing
near, Adam stumbled upon the wire that Lady Arabella had left
trailing on the ground.

Adam drew his breath at this, and spoke in a low, earnest whisper:

“I don’t want to frighten you, Mimi dear, but wherever that wire is
there is danger.”

“Danger! How?”

“That is the track where the lightning will go; at any moment, even
now whilst we are speaking and searching, a fearful force may be
loosed upon us. Run on, dear; you know the way to where the avenue
joins the highroad. If you see any sign of the wire, keep away from
it, for God’s sake. I shall join you at the gateway.”

“Are you going to follow that wire alone?”

“Yes, dear. One is sufficient for that work. I shall not lose a
moment till I am with you.”

“Adam, when I came with you into the open, my main wish was that we
should be together if anything serious happened. You wouldn’t deny
me that right, would you, dear?”

“No, dear, not that or any right. Thank God that my wife has such a
wish. Come; we will go together. We are in the hands of God. If
He wishes, we shall be together at the end, whenever or wherever
that may be.”

They picked up the trail of the wire on the steps and followed it
down the avenue, taking care not to touch it with their feet. It
was easy enough to follow, for the wire, if not bright, was self-
coloured, and showed clearly. They followed it out of the gateway
and into the avenue of Diana’s Grove.

Here a new gravity clouded Adam’s face, though Mimi saw no cause for
fresh concern. This was easily enough explained. Adam knew of the
explosive works in progress regarding the well-hole, but the matter
had been kept from his wife. As they stood near the house, Adam
asked Mimi to return to the road, ostensibly to watch the course of
the wire, telling her that there might be a branch wire leading
somewhere else. She was to search the undergrowth, and if she found
it, was to warn him by the Australian native “Coo-ee!”

Whilst they were standing together, there came a blinding flash of
lightning, which lit up for several seconds the whole area of earth
and sky. It was only the first note of the celestial prelude, for
it was followed in quick succession by numerous flashes, whilst the
crash and roll of thunder seemed continuous.

Adam, appalled, drew his wife to him and held her close. As far as
he could estimate by the interval between lightning and thunder-
clap, the heart of the storm was still some distance off, so he felt
no present concern for their safety. Still, it was apparent that
the course of the storm was moving swiftly in their direction. The
lightning flashes came faster and faster and closer together; the
thunder-roll was almost continuous, not stopping for a moment–a new
crash beginning before the old one had ceased. Adam kept looking up
in the direction where the kite strained and struggled at its
detaining cord, but, of course, the dull evening light prevented any
distinct scrutiny.

At length there came a flash so appallingly bright that in its glare
Nature seemed to be standing still. So long did it last, that there
was time to distinguish its configuration. It seemed like a mighty
tree inverted, pendent from the sky. The whole country around
within the angle of vision was lit up till it seemed to glow. Then
a broad ribbon of fire seemed to drop on to the tower of Castra
Regis just as the thunder crashed. By the glare, Adam could see the
tower shake and tremble, and finally fall to pieces like a house of
cards. The passing of the lightning left the sky again dark, but a
blue flame fell downward from the tower, and, with inconceivable
rapidity, running along the ground in the direction of Diana’s
Grove, reached the dark silent house, which in the instant burst
into flame at a hundred different points.

At the same moment there rose from the house a rending, crashing
sound of woodwork, broken or thrown about, mixed with a quick scream
so appalling that Adam, stout of heart as he undoubtedly was, felt
his blood turn into ice. Instinctively, despite the danger and
their consciousness of it, husband and wife took hands and listened,
trembling. Something was going on close to them, mysterious,
terrible, deadly! The shrieks continued, though less sharp in
sound, as though muffled. In the midst of them was a terrific
explosion, seemingly from deep in the earth.

The flames from Castra Regis and from Diana’s Grove made all around
almost as light as day, and now that the lightning had ceased to
flash, their eyes, unblinded, were able to judge both perspective
and detail. The heat of the burning house caused the iron doors to
warp and collapse. Seemingly of their own accord, they fell open,
and exposed the interior. The Saltons could now look through to the
room beyond, where the well-hole yawned, a deep narrow circular
chasm. From this the agonised shrieks were rising, growing ever
more terrible with each second that passed.

But it was not only the heart-rending sound that almost paralysed
poor Mimi with terror. What she saw was sufficient to fill her with
evil dreams for the remainder of her life. The whole place looked
as if a sea of blood had been beating against it. Each of the
explosions from below had thrown out from the well-hole, as if it
had been the mouth of a cannon, a mass of fine sand mixed with
blood, and a horrible repulsive slime in which were great red masses
of rent and torn flesh and fat. As the explosions kept on, more and
more of this repulsive mass was shot up, the great bulk of it
falling back again. Many of the awful fragments were of something
which had lately been alive. They quivered and trembled and writhed
as though they were still in torment, a supposition to which the
unending scream gave a horrible credence. At moments some
mountainous mass of flesh surged up through the narrow orifice, as
though forced by a measureless power through an opening infinitely
smaller than itself. Some of these fragments were partially covered
with white skin as of a human being, and others–the largest and
most numerous–with scaled skin as of a gigantic lizard or serpent.
Once, in a sort of lull or pause, the seething contents of the hole
rose, after the manner of a bubbling spring, and Adam saw part of
the thin form of Lady Arabella, forced up to the top amid a mass of
blood and slime, and what looked as if it had been the entrails of a
monster torn into shreds. Several times some masses of enormous
bulk were forced up through the well-hole with inconceivable
violence, and, suddenly expanding as they came into larger space,
disclosed sections of the White Worm which Adam and Sir Nathaniel
had seen looking over the trees with its enormous eyes of emerald-
green flickering like great lamps in a gale.

At last the explosive power, which was not yet exhausted, evidently
reached the main store of dynamite which had been lowered into the
worm hole. The result was appalling. The ground for far around
quivered and opened in long deep chasms, whose edges shook and fell
in, throwing up clouds of sand which fell back and hissed amongst
the rising water. The heavily built house shook to its foundations.
Great stones were thrown up as from a volcano, some of them, great
masses of hard stone, squared and grooved with implements wrought by
human hands, breaking up and splitting in mid air as though riven by
some infernal power. Trees near the house–and therefore presumably
in some way above the hole, which sent up clouds of dust and steam
and fine sand mingled, and which carried an appalling stench which
sickened the spectators–were torn up by the roots and hurled into
the air. By now, flames were bursting violently from all over the
ruins, so dangerously that Adam caught up his wife in his arms, and
ran with her from the proximity of the flames.

Then almost as quickly as it had begun, the whole cataclysm ceased,
though a deep-down rumbling continued intermittently for some time.
Then silence brooded over all–silence so complete that it seemed in
itself a sentient thing–silence which seemed like incarnate
darkness, and conveyed the same idea to all who came within its
radius. To the young people who had suffered the long horror of
that awful night, it brought relief–relief from the presence or the
fear of all that was horrible–relief which seemed perfected when
the red rays of sunrise shot up over the far eastern sea, bringing a
promise of a new order of things with the coming day.

His bed saw little of Adam Salton for the remainder of that night.
He and Mimi walked hand in hand in the brightening dawn round by the
Brow to Castra Regis and on to Lesser Hill. They did so
deliberately, in an attempt to think as little as possible of the
terrible experiences of the night. The morning was bright and
cheerful, as a morning sometimes is after a devastating storm. The
clouds, of which there were plenty in evidence, brought no lingering
idea of gloom. All nature was bright and joyous, being in striking
contrast to the scenes of wreck and devastation, the effects of
obliterating fire and lasting ruin.

The only evidence of the once stately pile of Castra Regis and its
inhabitants was a shapeless huddle of shattered architecture, dimly
seen as the keen breeze swept aside the cloud of acrid smoke which
marked the site of the once lordly castle. As for Diana’s Grove,
they looked in vain for a sign which had a suggestion of permanence.
The oak trees of the Grove were still to be seen–some of them–
emerging from a haze of smoke, the great trunks solid and erect as
ever, but the larger branches broken and twisted and rent, with bark
stripped and chipped, and the smaller branches broken and
dishevelled looking from the constant stress and threshing of the
storm.

Of the house as such, there was, even at the short distance from
which they looked, no trace. Adam resolutely turned his back on the
devastation and hurried on. Mimi was not only upset and shocked in
many ways, but she was physically “dog tired,” and falling asleep on
her feet. Adam took her to her room and made her undress and get
into bed, taking care that the room was well lighted both by
sunshine and lamps. The only obstruction was from a silk curtain,
drawn across the window to keep out the glare. He sat beside her,
holding her hand, well knowing that the comfort of his presence was
the best restorative for her. He stayed with her till sleep had
overmastered her wearied body. Then he went softly away. He found
his uncle and Sir Nathaniel in the study, having an early cup of
tea, amplified to the dimensions of a possible breakfast. Adam
explained that he had not told his wife that he was going over the
horrible places again, lest it should frighten her, for the rest and
sleep in ignorance would help her and make a gap of peacefulness
between the horrors.

Sir Nathaniel agreed.

“We know, my boy,” he said, “that the unfortunate Lady Arabella is
dead, and that the foul carcase of the Worm has been torn to pieces-
-pray God that its evil soul will neverr mmore escape from the
nethermost hell.”

They visited Diana’s Grove first, not only because it was nearer,
but also because it was the place where most description was
required, and Adam felt that he could tell his story best on the
spot. The absolute destruction of the place and everything in it
seen in the broad daylight was almost inconceivable. To Sir
Nathaniel, it was as a story of horror full and complete. But to
Adam it was, as it were, only on the fringes. He knew what was
still to be seen when his friends had got over the knowledge of
externals. As yet, they had only seen the outside of the house–or
rather, where the outside of the house once had been. The great
horror lay within. However, age–and the experience of age–counts.

A strange, almost elemental, change in the aspect had taken place in
the time which had elapsed since the dawn. It would almost seem as
if Nature herself had tried to obliterate the evil signs of what had
occurred. True, the utter ruin of the house was made even more
manifest in the searching daylight; but the more appalling
destruction which lay beneath was not visible. The rent, torn, and
dislocated stonework looked worse than before; the upheaved
foundations, the piled-up fragments of masonry, the fissures in the
torn earth–all were at the worst. The Worm’s hole was still
evident, a round fissure seemingly leading down into the very bowels
of the earth. But all the horrid mass of blood and slime, of torn,
evil-smelling flesh and the sickening remnants of violent death,
were gone. Either some of the later explosions had thrown up from
the deep quantities of water which, though foul and corrupt itself,
had still some cleansing power left, or else the writhing mass which
stirred from far below had helped to drag down and obliterate the
items of horror. A grey dust, partly of fine sand, partly of the
waste of the falling ruin, covered everything, and, though ghastly
itself, helped to mask something still worse.

After a few minutes of watching, it became apparent to the three men
that the turmoil far below had not yet ceased. At short irregular
intervals the hell-broth in the hole seemed as if boiling up. It
rose and fell again and turned over, showing in fresh form much of
the nauseous detail which had been visible earlier. The worst parts
were the great masses of the flesh of the monstrous Worm, in all its
red and sickening aspect. Such fragments had been bad enough
before, but now they were infinitely worse. Corruption comes with
startling rapidity to beings whose destruction has been due wholly
or in part to lightning–the whole mass seemed to have become all at
once corrupt! The whole surface of the fragments, once alive, was
covered with insects, worms, and vermin of all kinds. The sight was
horrible enough, but, with the awful smell added, was simply
unbearable. The Worm’s hole appeared to breathe forth death in its
most repulsive forms. The friends, with one impulse, moved to the
top of the Brow, where a fresh breeze from the sea was blowing up.

At the top of the Brow, beneath them as they looked down, they saw a
shining mass of white, which looked strangely out of place amongst
such wreckage as they had been viewing. It appeared so strange that
Adam suggested trying to find a way down, so that they might see it
more closely.

“We need not go down; I know what it is,” Sir Nathaniel said. “The
explosions of last night have blown off the outside of the cliffs–
that which we see is the vast bed of china clay through which the
Worm originally found its way down to its lair. I can catch the
glint of the water of the deep quags far down below. Well, her
ladyship didn’t deserve such a funeral–or such a monument.”

The horrors of the last few hours had played such havoc with Mimi’s
nerves, that a change of scene was imperative–if a permanent
breakdown was to be avoided.

“I think,” said old Mr. Salton, “it is quite time you young people
departed for that honeymoon of yours!” There was a twinkle in his
eye as he spoke.

Mimi’s soft shy glance at her stalwart husband, was sufficient
answer.

toy5

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