Part 2 out of 4
CHAPTER X--THE KITE
On the following day, a little after four o'clock, Adam set out for
He was home just as the clocks were striking six. He was pale and
upset, but otherwise looked strong and alert. The old man summed up
his appearance and manner thus: "Braced up for battle."
"Now!" said Sir Nathaniel, and settled down to listen, looking at
Adam steadily and listening attentively that he might miss nothing--
even the inflection of a word.
"I found Lilla and Mimi at home. Watford had been detained by
business on the farm. Miss Watford received me as kindly as before;
Mimi, too, seemed glad to see me. Mr. Caswall came so soon after I
arrived, that he, or someone on his behalf, must have been watching
for me. He was followed closely by the negro, who was puffing hard
as if he had been running--so it was probably he who watched. Mr.
Caswall was very cool and collected, but there was a more than
usually iron look about his face that I did not like. However, we
got on very well. He talked pleasantly on all sorts of questions.
The nigger waited a while and then disappeared as on the other
occasion. Mr. Caswall's eyes were as usual fixed on Lilla. True,
they seemed to be very deep and earnest, but there was no offence in
them. Had it not been for the drawing down of the brows and the
stern set of the jaws, I should not at first have noticed anything.
But the stare, when presently it began, increased in intensity. I
could see that Lilla began to suffer from nervousness, as on the
first occasion; but she carried herself bravely. However, the more
nervous she grew, the harder Mr. Caswall stared. It was evident to
me that he had come prepared for some sort of mesmeric or hypnotic
battle. After a while he began to throw glances round him and then
raised his hand, without letting either Lilla or Mimi see the
action. It was evidently intended to give some sign to the negro,
for he came, in his usual stealthy way, quietly in by the hall door,
which was open. Then Mr. Caswall's efforts at staring became
intensified, and poor Lilla's nervousness grew greater. Mimi,
seeing that her cousin was distressed, came close to her, as if to
comfort or strengthen her with the consciousness of her presence.
This evidently made a difficulty for Mr. Caswall, for his efforts,
without appearing to get feebler, seemed less effective. This
continued for a little while, to the gain of both Lilla and Mimi.
Then there was a diversion. Without word or apology the door
opened, and Lady Arabella March entered the room. I had seen her
coming through the great window. Without a word she crossed the
room and stood beside Mr. Caswall. It really was very like a fight
of a peculiar kind; and the longer it was sustained the more
earnest--the fiercer--it grew. That combination of forces--the
over-lord, the white woman, and the black man--would have cost some-
-probably all of them--their lives in the Southern States of
America. To us it was simply horrible. But all that you can
understand. This time, to go on in sporting phrase, it was
understood by all to be a 'fight to a finish,' and the mixed group
did not slacken a moment or relax their efforts. On Lilla the
strain began to tell disastrously. She grew pale--a patchy pallor,
which meant that her nerves were out of order. She trembled like an
aspen, and though she struggled bravely, I noticed that her legs
would hardly support her. A dozen times she seemed about to
collapse in a faint, but each time, on catching sight of Mimi's
eyes, she made a fresh struggle and pulled through.
"By now Mr. Caswall's face had lost its appearance of passivity.
His eyes glowed with a fiery light. He was still the old Roman in
inflexibility of purpose; but grafted on to the Roman was a new
Berserker fury. His companions in the baleful work seemed to have
taken on something of his feeling. Lady Arabella looked like a
soulless, pitiless being, not human, unless it revived old legends
of transformed human beings who had lost their humanity in some
transformation or in the sweep of natural savagery. As for the
negro--well, I can only say that it was solely due to the self-
restraint which you impressed on me that I did not wipe him out as
he stood--without warning, without fair play--without a single one
of the graces of life and death. Lilla was silent in the helpless
concentration of deadly fear; Mimi was all resolve and self-
forgetfulness, so intent on the soul-struggle in which she was
engaged that there was no possibility of any other thought. As for
myself, the bonds of will which held me inactive seemed like bands
of steel which numbed all my faculties, except sight and hearing.
We seemed fixed in an IMPASSE. Something must happen, though the
power of guessing was inactive. As in a dream, I saw Mimi's hand
move restlessly, as if groping for something. Mechanically it
touched that of Lilla, and in that instant she was transformed. It
was as if youth and strength entered afresh into something already
dead to sensibility and intention. As if by inspiration, she
grasped the other's band with a force which blenched the knuckles.
Her face suddenly flamed, as if some divine light shone through it.
Her form expanded till it stood out majestically. Lifting her right
hand, she stepped forward towards Caswall, and with a bold sweep of
her arm seemed to drive some strange force towards him. Again and
again was the gesture repeated, the man falling back from her at
each movement. Towards the door he retreated, she following. There
was a sound as of the cooing sob of doves, which seemed to multiply
and intensify with each second. The sound from the unseen source
rose and rose as he retreated, till finally it swelled out in a
triumphant peal, as she with a fierce sweep of her arm, seemed to
hurl something at her foe, and he, moving his hands blindly before
his face, appeared to be swept through the doorway and out into the
"All at once my own faculties were fully restored; I could see and
hear everything, and be fully conscious of what was going on. Even
the figures of the baleful group were there, though dimly seen as
through a veil--a shadowy veil. I saw Lilla sink down in a swoon,
and Mimi throw up her arms in a gesture of triumph. As I saw her
through the great window, the sunshine flooded the landscape, which,
however, was momentarily becoming eclipsed by an onrush of a myriad
By the next morning, daylight showed the actual danger which
threatened. From every part of the eastern counties reports were
received concerning the enormous immigration of birds. Experts were
sending--on their own account, on behalf of learned societies, and
through local and imperial governing bodies--reports dealing with
the matter, and suggesting remedies.
The reports closer to home were even more disturbing. All day long
it would seem that the birds were coming thicker from all quarters.
Doubtless many were going as well as coming, but the mass seemed
never to get less. Each bird seemed to sound some note of fear or
anger or seeking, and the whirring of wings never ceased nor
lessened. The air was full of a muttered throb. No window or
barrier could shut out the sound, till the ears of any listener
became dulled by the ceaseless murmur. So monotonous it was, so
cheerless, so disheartening, so melancholy, that all longed, but in
vain, for any variety, no matter how terrible it might be.
The second morning the reports from all the districts round were
more alarming than ever. Farmers began to dread the coming of
winter as they saw the dwindling of the timely fruitfulness of the
earth. And as yet it was only a warning of evil, not the evil
accomplished; the ground began to look bare whenever some passing
sound temporarily frightened the birds.
Edgar Caswall tortured his brain for a long time unavailingly, to
think of some means of getting rid of what he, as well as his
neighbours, had come to regard as a plague of birds. At last he
recalled a circumstance which promised a solution of the difficulty.
The experience was of some years ago in China, far up-country,
towards the head-waters of the Yang-tze-kiang, where the smaller
tributaries spread out in a sort of natural irrigation scheme to
supply the wilderness of paddy-fields. It was at the time of the
ripening rice, and the myriads of birds which came to feed on the
coming crop was a serious menace, not only to the district, but to
the country at large. The farmers, who were more or less afflicted
with the same trouble every season, knew how to deal with it. They
made a vast kite, which they caused to be flown over the centre spot
of the incursion. The kite was shaped like a great hawk; and the
moment it rose into the air the birds began to cower and seek
protection--and then to disappear. So long as that kite was flying
overhead the birds lay low and the crop was saved. Accordingly
Caswall ordered his men to construct an immense kite, adhering as
well as they could to the lines of a hawk. Then he and his men,
with a sufficiency of cord, began to fly it high overhead. The
experience of China was repeated. The moment the kite rose, the
birds hid or sought shelter. The following morning, the kite was
still flying high, no bird was to be seen as far as the eye could
reach from Castra Regis. But there followed in turn what proved
even a worse evil. All the birds were cowed; their sounds stopped.
Neither song nor chirp was heard--silence seemed to have taken the
place of the normal voices of bird life. But that was not all. The
silence spread to all animals.
The fear and restraint which brooded amongst the denizens of the air
began to affect all life. Not only did the birds cease song or
chirp, but the lowing of the cattle ceased in the fields and the
varied sounds of life died away. In place of these things was only
a soundless gloom, more dreadful, more disheartening, more soul-
killing than any concourse of sounds, no matter how full of fear and
dread. Pious individuals put up constant prayers for relief from
the intolerable solitude. After a little there were signs of
universal depression which those who ran might read. One and all,
the faces of men and women seemed bereft of vitality, of interest,
of thought, and, most of all, of hope. Men seemed to have lost the
power of expression of their thoughts. The soundless air seemed to
have the same effect as the universal darkness when men gnawed their
tongues with pain.
From this infliction of silence there was no relief. Everything was
affected; gloom was the predominant note. Joy appeared to have
passed away as a factor of life, and this creative impulse had
nothing to take its place. That giant spot in high air was a plague
of evil influence. It seemed like a new misanthropic belief which
had fallen on human beings, carrying with it the negation of all
After a few days, men began to grow desperate; their very words as
well as their senses seemed to be in chains. Edgar Caswall again
tortured his brain to find any antidote or palliative of this
greater evil than before. He would gladly have destroyed the kite,
or caused its flying to cease; but the instant it was pulled down,
the birds rose up in even greater numbers; all those who depended in
any way on agriculture sent pitiful protests to Castra Regis.
It was strange indeed what influence that weird kite seemed to
exercise. Even human beings were affected by it, as if both it and
they were realities. As for the people at Mercy Farm, it was like a
taste of actual death. Lilla felt it most. If she had been indeed
a real dove, with a real kite hanging over her in the air, she could
not have been more frightened or more affected by the terror this
Of course, some of those already drawn into the vortex noticed the
effect on individuals. Those who were interested took care to
compare their information. Strangely enough, as it seemed to the
others, the person who took the ghastly silence least to heart was
the negro. By nature he was not sensitive to, or afflicted by,
nerves. This alone would not have produced the seeming
indifference, so they set their minds to discover the real cause.
Adam came quickly to the conclusion that there was for him some
compensation that the others did not share; and he soon believed
that that compensation was in one form or another the enjoyment of
the sufferings of others. Thus the black had a never-failing source
Lady Arabella's cold nature rendered her immune to anything in the
way of pain or trouble concerning others. Edgar Caswall was far too
haughty a person, and too stern of nature, to concern himself about
poor or helpless people, much less the lower order of mere animals.
Mr. Watford, Mr. Salton, and Sir Nathaniel were all concerned in the
issue, partly from kindness of heart--for none of them could see
suffering, even of wild birds, unmoved--and partly on account of
their property, which had to be protected, or ruin would stare them
in the face before long.
Lilla suffered acutely. As time went on, her face became pinched,
and her eyes dull with watching and crying. Mimi suffered too on
account of her cousin's suffering. But as she could do nothing, she
resolutely made up her mind to self-restraint and patience. Adam's
frequent visits comforted her.
CHAPTER XI--MESMER'S CHEST
After a couple of weeks had passed, the kite seemed to give Edgar
Caswall a new zest for life. He was never tired of looking at its
movements. He had a comfortable armchair put out on the tower,
wherein he sat sometimes all day long, watching as though the kite
was a new toy and he a child lately come into possession of it. He
did not seem to have lost interest in Lilla, for he still paid an
occasional visit at Mercy Farm.
Indeed, his feeling towards her, whatever it had been at first, had
now so far changed that it had become a distinct affection of a
purely animal kind. Indeed, it seemed as though the man's nature
had become corrupted, and that all the baser and more selfish and
more reckless qualities had become more conspicuous. There was not
so much sternness apparent in his nature, because there was less
self-restraint. Determination had become indifference.
The visible change in Edgar was that he grew morbid, sad, silent;
the neighbours thought he was going mad. He became absorbed in the
kite, and watched it not only by day, but often all night long. It
became an obsession to him.
Caswall took a personal interest in the keeping of the great kite
flying. He had a vast coil of cord efficient for the purpose, which
worked on a roller fixed on the parapet of the tower. There was a
winch for the pulling in of the slack; the outgoing line being
controlled by a racket. There was invariably one man at least, day
and night, on the tower to attend to it. At such an elevation there
was always a strong wind, and at times the kite rose to an enormous
height, as well as travelling for great distances laterally. In
fact, the kite became, in a short time, one of the curiosities of
Castra Regis and all around it. Edgar began to attribute to it, in
his own mind, almost human qualities. It became to him a separate
entity, with a mind and a soul of its own. Being idle-handed all
day, he began to apply to what he considered the service of the kite
some of his spare time, and found a new pleasure--a new object in
life--in the old schoolboy game of sending up "runners" to the kite.
The way this is done is to get round pieces of paper so cut that
there is a hole in the centre, through which the string of the kite
passes. The natural action of the wind-pressure takes the paper
along the string, and so up to the kite itself, no matter how high
or how far it may have gone.
In the early days of this amusement Edgar Caswall spent hours.
Hundreds of such messengers flew along the string, until soon he
bethought him of writing messages on these papers so that he could
make known his ideas to the kite. It may be that his brain gave way
under the opportunities given by his illusion of the entity of the
toy and its power of separate thought. From sending messages he
came to making direct speech to the kite--without, however, ceasing
to send the runners. Doubtless, the height of the tower, seated as
it was on the hill-top, the rushing of the ceaseless wind, the
hypnotic effect of the lofty altitude of the speck in the sky at
which he gazed, and the rushing of the paper messengers up the
string till sight of them was lost in distance, all helped to
further affect his brain, undoubtedly giving way under the strain of
beliefs and circumstances which were at once stimulating to the
imagination, occupative of his mind, and absorbing.
The next step of intellectual decline was to bring to bear on the
main idea of the conscious identity of the kite all sorts of
subjects which had imaginative force or tendency of their own. He
had, in Castra Regis, a large collection of curious and interesting
things formed in the past by his forebears, of similar tastes to his
own. There were all sorts of strange anthropological specimens,
both old and new, which had been collected through various travels
in strange places: ancient Egyptian relics from tombs and mummies;
curios from Australia, New Zealand, and the South Seas; idols and
images--from Tartar ikons to ancient Egyptian, Persian, and Indian
objects of worship; objects of death and torture of American
Indians; and, above all, a vast collection of lethal weapons of
every kind and from every place--Chinese "high pinders," double
knives, Afghan double-edged scimitars made to cut a body in two,
heavy knives from all the Eastern countries, ghost daggers from
Thibet, the terrible kukri of the Ghourka and other hill tribes of
India, assassins' weapons from Italy and Spain, even the knife which
was formerly carried by the slave-drivers of the Mississippi region.
Death and pain of every kind were fully represented in that gruesome
That it had a fascination for Oolanga goes without saying. He was
never tired of visiting the museum in the tower, and spent endless
hours in inspecting the exhibits, till he was thoroughly familiar
with every detail of all of them. He asked permission to clean and
polish and sharpen them--a favour which was readily granted. In
addition to the above objects, there were many things of a kind to
awaken human fear. Stuffed serpents of the most objectionable and
horrid kind; giant insects from the tropics, fearsome in every
detail; fishes and crustaceans covered with weird spikes; dried
octopuses of great size. Other things, too, there were, not less
deadly though seemingly innocuous--dried fungi, traps intended for
birds, beasts, fishes, reptiles, and insects; machines which could
produce pain of any kind and degree, and the only mercy of which was
the power of producing speedy death.
Caswall, who had never before seen any of these things, except those
which he had collected himself, found a constant amusement and
interest in them. He studied them, their uses, their mechanism--
where there was such--and their places of origin, until he had an
ample and real knowledge of all concerning them. Many were secret
and intricate, but he never rested till he found out all the
secrets. When once he had become interested in strange objects, and
the way to use them, he began to explore various likely places for
similar finds. He began to inquire of his household where strange
lumber was kept. Several of the men spoke of old Simon Chester as
one who knew everything in and about the house. Accordingly, he
sent for the old man, who came at once. He was very old, nearly
ninety years of age, and very infirm. He had been born in the
Castle, and had served its succession of masters--present or absent-
-ever since. When Edgar began to question him on the subject
regarding which he had sent for him, old Simon exhibited much
perturbation. In fact, he became so frightened that his master,
fully believing that he was concealing something, ordered him to
tell at once what remained unseen, and where it was hidden away.
Face to face with discovery of his secret, the old man, in a
pitiable state of concern, spoke out even more fully than Mr.
Caswall had expected.
"Indeed, indeed, sir, everything is here in the tower that has ever
been put away in my time except--except--" here he began to shake
and tremble it--"except the chest which Mr. Edgar--he who was Mr.
Edgar when I first took service--brought back from France, after he
had been with Dr. Mesmer. The trunk has been kept in my room for
safety; but I shall send it down here now."
"What is in it?" asked Edgar sharply.
"That I do not know. Moreover, it is a peculiar trunk, without any
visible means of opening."
"Is there no lock?"
"I suppose so, sir; but I do not know. There is no keyhole."
"Send it here; and then come to me yourself."
The trunk, a heavy one with steel bands round it, but no lock or
keyhole, was carried in by two men. Shortly afterwards old Simon
attended his master. When he came into the room, Mr. Caswall
himself went and closed the door; then he asked:
"How do you open it?"
"I do not know, sir."
"Do you mean to say that you never opened it?"
"Most certainly I say so, your honour. How could I? It was
entrusted to me with the other things by my master. To open it
would have been a breach of trust."
"Quite remarkable! Leave it with me. Close the door behind you.
Stay--did no one ever tell you about it--say anything regarding it--
make any remark?"
Old Simon turned pale, and put his trembling hands together.
"Oh, sir, I entreat you not to touch it. That trunk probably
contains secrets which Dr. Mesmer told my master. Told them to his
"How do you mean? What ruin?"
"Sir, he it was who, men said, sold his soul to the Evil One; I had
thought that that time and the evil of it had all passed away."
"That will do. Go away; but remain in your own room, or within
call. I may want you."
The old man bowed deeply and went out trembling, but without
speaking a word.
CHAPTER XII--THE CHEST OPENED
Left alone in the turret-room, Edgar Caswall carefully locked the
door and hung a handkerchief over the keyhole. Next, he inspected
the windows, and saw that they were not overlooked from any angle of
the main building. Then he carefully examined the trunk, going over
it with a magnifying glass. He found it intact: the steel bands
were flawless; the whole trunk was compact. After sitting opposite
to it for some time, and the shades of evening beginning to melt
into darkness, he gave up the task and went to his bedroom, after
locking the door of the turret-room behind him and taking away the
He woke in the morning at daylight, and resumed his patient but
unavailing study of the metal trunk. This he continued during the
whole day with the same result--humiliating disappointment, which
overwrought his nerves and made his head ache. The result of the
long strain was seen later in the afternoon, when he sat locked
within the turret-room before the still baffling trunk, distrait,
listless and yet agitated, sunk in a settled gloom. As the dusk was
falling he told the steward to send him two men, strong ones. These
he ordered to take the trunk to his bedroom. In that room he then
sat on into the night, without pausing even to take any food. His
mind was in a whirl, a fever of excitement. The result was that
when, late in the night, he locked himself in his room his brain was
full of odd fancies; he was on the high road to mental disturbance.
He lay down on his bed in the dark, still brooding over the mystery
of the closed trunk.
Gradually he yielded to the influences of silence and darkness.
After lying there quietly for some time, his mind became active
again. But this time there were round him no disturbing influences;
his brain was active and able to work freely and to deal with
memory. A thousand forgotten--or only half-known--incidents,
fragments of conversations or theories long ago guessed at and long
forgotten, crowded on his mind. He seemed to hear again around him
the legions of whirring wings to which he had been so lately
accustomed. Even to himself he knew that that was an effort of
imagination founded on imperfect memory. But he was content that
imagination should work, for out of it might come some solution of
the mystery which surrounded him. And in this frame of mind, sleep
made another and more successful essay. This time he enjoyed
peaceful slumber, restful alike to his wearied body and his
In his sleep he arose, and, as if in obedience to some influence
beyond and greater than himself, lifted the great trunk and set it
on a strong table at one side of the room, from which he had
previously removed a quantity of books. To do this, he had to use
an amount of strength which was, he knew, far beyond him in his
normal state. As it was, it seemed easy enough; everything yielded
before his touch. Then he became conscious that somehow--how, he
never could remember--the chest was open. He unlocked his door,
and, taking the chest on his shoulder, carried it up to the turret-
room, the door of which also he unlocked. Even at the time he was
amazed at his own strength, and wondered whence it had come. His
mind, lost in conjecture, was too far off to realise more immediate
things. He knew that the chest was enormously heavy. He seemed, in
a sort of vision which lit up the absolute blackness around, to see
the two sturdy servant men staggering under its great weight. He
locked himself again in the turret-room, and laid the opened chest
on a table, and in the darkness began to unpack it, laying out the
contents, which were mainly of metal and glass--great pieces in
strange forms--on another table. He was conscious of being still
asleep, and of acting rather in obedience to some unseen and unknown
command than in accordance with any reasonable plan, to be followed
by results which he understood. This phase completed, he proceeded
to arrange in order the component parts of some large instruments,
formed mostly of glass. His fingers seemed to have acquired a new
and exquisite subtlety and even a volition of their own. Then
weariness of brain came upon him; his head sank down on his breast,
and little by little everything became wrapped in gloom.
He awoke in the early morning in his bedroom, and looked around him,
now clear-headed, in amazement. In its usual place on the strong
table stood the great steel-hooped chest without lock or key. But
it was now locked. He arose quietly and stole to the turret-room.
There everything was as it had been on the previous evening. He
looked out of the window where high in air flew, as usual, the giant
kite. He unlocked the wicket gate of the turret stair and went out
on the roof. Close to him was the great coil of cord on its reel.
It was humming in the morning breeze, and when he touched the string
it sent a quick thrill through hand and arm. There was no sign
anywhere that there had been any disturbance or displacement of
anything during the night.
Utterly bewildered, he sat down in his room to think. Now for the
first time he FELT that he was asleep and dreaming. Presently he
fell asleep again, and slept for a long time. He awoke hungry and
made a hearty meal. Then towards evening, having locked himself in,
he fell asleep again. When he woke he was in darkness, and was
quite at sea as to his whereabouts. He began feeling about the dark
room, and was recalled to the consequences of his position by the
breaking of a large piece of glass. Having obtained a light, he
discovered this to be a glass wheel, part of an elaborate piece of
mechanism which he must in his sleep have taken from the chest,
which was now opened. He had once again opened it whilst asleep,
but he had no recollection of the circumstances.
Caswall came to the conclusion that there had been some sort of dual
action of his mind, which might lead to some catastrophe or some
discovery of his secret plans; so he resolved to forgo for a while
the pleasure of making discoveries regarding the chest. To this
end, he applied himself to quite another matter--an investigation of
the other treasures and rare objects in his collections. He went
amongst them in simple, idle curiosity, his main object being to
discover some strange item which he might use for experiment with
the kite. He had already resolved to try some runners other than
those made of paper. He had a vague idea that with such a force as
the great kite straining at its leash, this might be used to lift to
the altitude of the kite itself heavier articles. His first
experiment with articles of little but increasing weight was
eminently successful. So he added by degrees more and more weight,
until he found out that the lifting power of the kite was
considerable. He then determined to take a step further, and send
to the kite some of the articles which lay in the steel-hooped
chest. The last time he had opened it in sleep, it had not been
shut again, and he had inserted a wedge so that he could open it at
will. He made examination of the contents, but came to the
conclusion that the glass objects were unsuitable. They were too
light for testing weight, and they were so frail as to be dangerous
to send to such a height.
So he looked around for something more solid with which to
experiment. His eye caught sight of an object which at once
attracted him. This was a small copy of one of the ancient Egyptian
gods--that of Bes, who represented the destructive power of nature.
It was so bizarre and mysterious as to commend itself to his mad
humour. In lifting it from the cabinet, he was struck by its great
weight in proportion to its size. He made accurate examination of
it by the aid of some instruments, and came to the conclusion that
it was carved from a lump of lodestone. He remembered that he had
read somewhere of an ancient Egyptian god cut from a similar
substance, and, thinking it over, he came to the conclusion that he
must have read it in Sir Thomas Brown's POPULAR ERRORS, a book of
the seventeenth century. He got the book from the library, and
looked out the passage:
"A great example we have from the observation of our learned friend
Mr. Graves, in an AEgyptian idol cut out of Loadstone and found
among the Mummies; which still retains its attraction, though
probably taken out of the mine about two thousand years ago."
The strangeness of the figure, and its being so close akin to his
own nature, attracted him. He made from thin wood a large circular
runner, and in front of it placed the weighty god, sending it up to
the flying kite along the throbbing cord.
CHAPTER XIII--OOLANGA'S HALLUCINATIONS
During the last few days Lady Arabella had been getting exceedingly
impatient. Her debts, always pressing, were growing to an
embarrassing amount. The only hope she had of comfort in life was a
good marriage; but the good marriage on which she had fixed her eye
did not seem to move quickly enough--indeed, it did not seem to move
at all--in the right direction. Edgar Caswall was not an ardent
wooer. From the very first he seemed DIFFICILE, but he had been
keeping to his own room ever since his struggle with Mimi Watford.
On that occasion Lady Arabella had shown him in an unmistakable way
what her feelings were; indeed, she had made it known to him, in a
more overt way than pride should allow, that she wished to help and
support him. The moment when she had gone across the room to stand
beside him in his mesmeric struggle, had been the very limit of her
voluntary action. It was quite bitter enough, she felt, that he did
not come to her, but now that she had made that advance, she felt
that any withdrawal on his part would, to a woman of her class, be
nothing less than a flaming insult. Had she not classed herself
with his nigger servant, an unreformed savage? Had she not shown
her preference for him at the festival of his home-coming? Had she
not. . . Lady Arabella was cold-blooded, and she was prepared to go
through all that might be necessary of indifference, and even
insult, to become chatelaine of Castra Regis. In the meantime, she
would show no hurry--she must wait. She might, in an unostentatious
way, come to him again. She knew him now, and could make a keen
guess at his desires with regard to Lilla Watford. With that secret
in her possession, she could bring pressure to bear on Caswall which
would make it no easy matter for him to evade her. The great
difficulty was how to get near him. He was shut up within his
Castle, and guarded by a defence of convention which she could not
pass without danger of ill repute to herself. Over this question
she thought and thought for days and nights. At last she decided
that the only way would be to go to him openly at Castra Regis. Her
rank and position would make such a thing possible, if carefully
done. She could explain matters afterwards if necessary. Then when
they were alone, she would use her arts and her experience to make
him commit himself. After all, he was only a man, with a man's
dislike of difficult or awkward situations. She felt quite
sufficient confidence in her own womanhood to carry her through any
difficulty which might arise.
From Diana's Grove she heard each day the luncheon-gong from Castra
Regis sound, and knew the hour when the servants would be in the
back of the house. She would enter the house at that hour, and,
pretending that she could not make anyone hear her, would seek him
in his own rooms. The tower was, she knew, away from all the usual
sounds of the house, and moreover she knew that the servants had
strict orders not to interrupt him when he was in the turret
chamber. She had found out, partly by the aid of an opera-glass and
partly by judicious questioning, that several times lately a heavy
chest had been carried to and from his room, and that it rested in
the room each night. She was, therefore, confident that he had some
important work on hand which would keep him busy for long spells.
Meanwhile, another member of the household at Castra Regis had
schemes which he thought were working to fruition. A man in the
position of a servant has plenty of opportunity of watching his
betters and forming opinions regarding them. Oolanga was in his way
a clever, unscrupulous rogue, and he felt that with things moving
round him in this great household there should be opportunities of
self-advancement. Being unscrupulous and stealthy--and a savage--he
looked to dishonest means. He saw plainly enough that Lady Arabella
was making a dead set at his master, and he was watchful of the
slightest sign of anything which might enhance this knowledge. Like
the other men in the house, he knew of the carrying to and fro of
the great chest, and had got it into his head that the care
exercised in its porterage indicated that it was full of treasure.
He was for ever lurking around the turret-rooms on the chance of
making some useful discovery. But he was as cautious as he was
stealthy, and took care that no one else watched him.
It was thus that the negro became aware of Lady Arabella's venture
into the house, as she thought, unseen. He took more care than
ever, since he was watching another, that the positions were not
reversed. More than ever he kept his eyes and ears open and his
mouth shut. Seeing Lady Arabella gliding up the stairs towards his
master's room, he took it for granted that she was there for no
good, and doubled his watching intentness and caution.
Oolanga was disappointed, but he dared not exhibit any feeling lest
it should betray that he was hiding. Therefore he slunk downstairs
again noiselessly, and waited for a more favourable opportunity of
furthering his plans. It must be borne in mind that he thought that
the heavy trunk was full of valuables, and that he believed that
Lady Arabella had come to try to steal it. His purpose of using for
his own advantage the combination of these two ideas was seen later
in the day. Oolanga secretly followed her home. He was an expert
at this game, and succeeded admirably on this occasion. He watched
her enter the private gate of Diana's Grove, and then, taking a
roundabout course and keeping out of her sight, he at last overtook
her in a thick part of the Grove where no one could see the meeting.
Lady Arabella was much surprised. She had not seen the negro for
several days, and had almost forgotten his existence. Oolanga would
have been startled had he known and been capable of understanding
the real value placed on him, his beauty, his worthiness, by other
persons, and compared it with the value in these matters in which he
held himself. Doubtless Oolanga had his dreams like other men. In
such cases he saw himself as a young sun-god, as beautiful as the
eye of dusky or even white womanhood had ever dwelt upon. He would
have been filled with all noble and captivating qualities--or those
regarded as such in West Africa. Women would have loved him, and
would have told him so in the overt and fervid manner usual in
affairs of the heart in the shadowy depths of the forest of the Gold
Oolanga came close behind Lady Arabella, and in a hushed voice,
suitable to the importance of his task, and in deference to the
respect he had for her and the place, began to unfold the story of
his love. Lady Arabella was not usually a humorous person, but no
man or woman of the white race could have checked the laughter which
rose spontaneously to her lips. The circumstances were too
grotesque, the contrast too violent, for subdued mirth. The man a
debased specimen of one of the most primitive races of the earth,
and of an ugliness which was simply devilish; the woman of high
degree, beautiful, accomplished. She thought that her first
moment's consideration of the outrage--it was nothing less in her
eyes--had given her the full material for thought. But every
instant after threw new and varied lights on the affront. Her
indignation was too great for passion; only irony or satire would
meet the situation. Her cold, cruel nature helped, and she did not
shrink to subject this ignorant savage to the merciless fire-lash of
Oolanga was dimly conscious that he was being flouted; but his anger
was no less keen because of the measure of his ignorance. So he
gave way to it, as does a tortured beast. He ground his great teeth
together, raved, stamped, and swore in barbarous tongues and with
barbarous imagery. Even Lady Arabella felt that it was well she was
within reach of help, or he might have offered her brutal violence--
even have killed her.
"Am I to understand," she said with cold disdain, so much more
effective to wound than hot passion, "that you are offering me your
For reply he nodded his head. The scorn of her voice, in a sort of
baleful hiss, sounded--and felt--like the lash of a whip.
"And you dared! you--a savage--a slave--the basest thing in the
world of vermin! Take care! I don't value your worthless life more
than I do that of a rat or a spider. Don't let me ever see your
hideous face here again, or I shall rid the earth of you."
As she was speaking, she had taken out her revolver and was pointing
it at him. In the immediate presence of death his impudence forsook
him, and he made a weak effort to justify himself. His speech was
short, consisting of single words. To Lady Arabella it sounded mere
gibberish, but it was in his own dialect, and meant love, marriage,
wife. From the intonation of the words, she guessed, with her
woman's quick intuition, at their meaning; but she quite failed to
follow, when, becoming more pressing, he continued to urge his suit
in a mixture of the grossest animal passion and ridiculous threats.
He warned her that he knew she had tried to steal his master's
treasure, and that he had caught her in the act. But if she would
be his, he would share the treasure with her, and they could live in
luxury in the African forests. But if she refused, he would tell
his master, who would flog and torture her and then give her to the
police, who would kill her.
CHAPTER XIV--BATTLE RENEWED
The consequences of that meeting in the dusk of Diana's Grove were
acute and far-reaching, and not only to the two engaged in it. From
Oolanga, this might have been expected by anyone who knew the
character of the tropical African savage. To such, there are two
passions that are inexhaustible and insatiable--vanity and that
which they are pleased to call love. Oolanga left the Grove with an
absorbing hatred in his heart. His lust and greed were afire, while
his vanity had been wounded to the core. Lady Arabella's icy nature
was not so deeply stirred, though she was in a seething passion.
More than ever she was set upon bringing Edgar Caswall to her feet.
The obstacles she had encountered, the insults she had endured, were
only as fuel to the purpose of revenge which consumed her.
As she sought her own rooms in Diana's Grove, she went over the
whole subject again and again, always finding in the face of Lilla
Watford a key to a problem which puzzled her--the problem of a way
to turn Caswall's powers--his very existence--to aid her purpose.
When in her boudoir, she wrote a note, taking so much trouble over
it that she destroyed, and rewrote, till her dainty waste-basket was
half-full of torn sheets of notepaper. When quite satisfied, she
copied out the last sheet afresh, and then carefully burned all the
spoiled fragments. She put the copied note in an emblazoned
envelope, and directed it to Edgar Caswall at Castra Regis. This
she sent off by one of her grooms. The letter ran:
"DEAR MR. CASWALL,
"I want to have a chat with you on a subject in which I believe you
are interested. Will you kindly call for me one day after lunch--
say at three or four o'clock, and we can walk a little way together.
Only as far as Mercy Farm, where I want to see Lilla and Mimi
Watford. We can take a cup of tea at the Farm. Do not bring your
African servant with you, as I am afraid his face frightens the
girls. After all, he is not pretty, is he? I have an idea you will
be pleased with your visit this time.
At half-past three next day, Edgar Caswall called at Diana's Grove.
Lady Arabella met him on the roadway outside the gate. She wished
to take the servants into her confidence as little as possible. She
turned when she saw him coming, and walked beside him towards Mercy
Farm, keeping step with him as they walked. When they got near
Mercy, she turned and looked around her, expecting to see Oolanga or
some sign of him. He was, however, not visible. He had received
from his master peremptory orders to keep out of sight--an order for
which the African scored a new offence up against her. They found
Lilla and Mimi at home and seemingly glad to see them, though both
the girls were surprised at the visit coming so soon after the
The proceedings were a repetition of the battle of souls of the
former visit. On this occasion, however, Edgar Caswall had only the
presence of Lady Arabella to support him--Oolanga being absent; but
Mimi lacked the support of Adam Salton, which had been of such
effective service before. This time the struggle for supremacy of
will was longer and more determined. Caswall felt that if he could
not achieve supremacy he had better give up the idea, so all his
pride was enlisted against Mimi. When they had been waiting for the
door to be opened, Lady Arabella, believing in a sudden attack, had
said to him in a low voice, which somehow carried conviction:
"This time you should win. Mimi is, after all, only a woman. Show
her no mercy. That is weakness. Fight her, beat her, trample on
her--kill her if need be. She stands in your way, and I hate her.
Never take your eyes off her. Never mind Lilla--she is afraid of
you. You are already her master. Mimi will try to make you look at
her cousin. There lies defeat. Let nothing take your attention
from Mimi, and you will win. If she is overcoming you, take my hand
and hold it hard whilst you are looking into her eyes. If she is
too strong for you, I shall interfere. I'll make a diversion, and
under cover of it you must retire unbeaten, even if not victorious.
Hush! they are coming."
The two girls came to the door together. Strange sounds were coming
up over the Brow from the west. It was the rustling and crackling
of the dry reeds and rushes from the low lands. The season had been
an unusually dry one. Also the strong east wind was helping forward
enormous flocks of birds, most of them pigeons with white cowls.
Not only were their wings whirring, but their cooing was plainly
audible. From such a multitude of birds the mass of sound,
individually small, assumed the volume of a storm. Surprised at the
influx of birds, to which they had been strangers so long, they all
looked towards Castra Regis, from whose high tower the great kite
had been flying as usual. But even as they looked, the cord broke,
and the great kite fell headlong in a series of sweeping dives. Its
own weight, and the aerial force opposed to it, which caused it to
rise, combined with the strong easterly breeze, had been too much
for the great length of cord holding it.
Somehow, the mishap to the kite gave new hope to Mimi. It was as
though the side issues had been shorn away, so that the main
struggle was thenceforth on simpler lines. She had a feeling in her
heart, as though some religious chord had been newly touched. It
may, of course, have been that with the renewal of the bird voices a
fresh courage, a fresh belief in the good issue of the struggle came
too. In the misery of silence, from which they had all suffered for
so long, any new train of thought was almost bound to be a boon. As
the inrush of birds continued, their wings beating against the
crackling rushes, Lady Arabella grew pale, and almost fainted.
"What is that?" she asked suddenly.
To Mimi, born and bred in Siam, the sound was strangely like an
exaggeration of the sound produced by a snake-charmer.
Edgar Caswall was the first to recover from the interruption of the
falling kite. After a few minutes he seemed to have quite recovered
his SANG FROID, and was able to use his brains to the end which he
had in view. Mimi too quickly recovered herself, but from a
different cause. With her it was a deep religious conviction that
the struggle round her was of the powers of Good and Evil, and that
Good was triumphing. The very appearance of the snowy birds, with
the cowls of Saint Columba, heightened the impression. With this
conviction strong upon her, she continued the strange battle with
fresh vigour. She seemed to tower over Caswall, and he to give back
before her oncoming. Once again her vigorous passes drove him to
the door. He was just going out backward when Lady Arabella, who
had been gazing at him with fixed eyes, caught his hand and tried to
stop his movement. She was, however, unable to do any good, and so,
holding hands, they passed out together. As they did so, the
strange music which had so alarmed Lady Arabella suddenly stopped.
Instinctively they all looked towards the tower of Castra Regis, and
saw that the workmen had refixed the kite, which had risen again and
was beginning to float out to its former station.
As they were looking, the door opened and Michael Watford came into
the room. By that time all had recovered their self-possession, and
there was nothing out of the common to attract his attention. As he
came in, seeing inquiring looks all around him, he said:
"The new influx of birds is only the annual migration of pigeons
from Africa. I am told that it will soon be over."
The second victory of Mimi Watford made Edgar Caswall more moody
than ever. He felt thrown back on himself, and this, added to his
absorbing interest in the hope of a victory of his mesmeric powers,
became a deep and settled purpose of revenge. The chief object of
his animosity was, of course, Mimi, whose will had overcome his, but
it was obscured in greater or lesser degree by all who had opposed
him. Lilla was next to Mimi in his hate--Lilla, the harmless,
tender-hearted, sweet-natured girl, whose heart was so full of love
for all things that in it was no room for the passions of ordinary
life--whose nature resembled those doves of St. Columba, whose
colour she wore, whose appearance she reflected. Adam Salton came
next--after a gap; for against him Caswall had no direct animosity.
He regarded him as an interference, a difficulty to be got rid of or
destroyed. The young Australian had been so discreet that the most
he had against him was his knowledge of what had been. Caswall did
not understand him, and to such a nature as his, ignorance was a
cause of alarm, of dread.
Caswall resumed his habit of watching the great kite straining at
its cord, varying his vigils in this way by a further examination of
the mysterious treasures of his house, especially Mesmer's chest.
He sat much on the roof of the tower, brooding over his thwarted
passion. The vast extent of his possessions, visible to him at that
altitude, might, one would have thought, have restored some of his
complacency. But the very extent of his ownership, thus perpetually
brought before him, created a fresh sense of grievance. How was it,
he thought, that with so much at command that others wished for, he
could not achieve the dearest wishes of his heart?
In this state of intellectual and moral depravity, he found a solace
in the renewal of his experiments with the mechanical powers of the
kite. For a couple of weeks he did not see Lady Arabella, who was
always on the watch for a chance of meeting him; neither did he see
the Watford girls, who studiously kept out of his way. Adam Salton
simply marked time, keeping ready to deal with anything that might
affect his friends. He called at the farm and heard from Mimi of
the last battle of wills, but it had only one consequence. He got
from Ross several more mongooses, including a second king-cobra-
killer, which he generally carried with him in its box whenever he
Mr. Caswall's experiments with the kite went on successfully. Each
day he tried the lifting of greater weight, and it seemed almost as
if the machine had a sentience of its own, which was increasing with
the obstacles placed before it. All this time the kite hung in the
sky at an enormous height. The wind was steadily from the north, so
the trend of the kite was to the south. All day long, runners of
increasing magnitude were sent up. These were only of paper or thin
cardboard, or leather, or other flexible materials. The great
height at which the kite hung made a great concave curve in the
string, so that as the runners went up they made a flapping sound.
If one laid a finger on the string, the sound answered to the
flapping of the runner in a sort of hollow intermittent murmur.
Edgar Caswall, who was now wholly obsessed by the kite and all
belonging to it, found a distinct resemblance between that
intermittent rumble and the snake-charming music produced by the
pigeons flying through the dry reeds.
One day he made a discovery in Mesmer's chest which he thought he
would utilise with regard to the runners. This was a great length
of wire, "fine as human hair," coiled round a finely made wheel,
which ran to a wondrous distance freely, and as lightly. He tried
this on runners, and found it work admirably. Whether the runner
was alone, or carried something much more weighty than itself, it
worked equally well. Also it was strong enough and light enough to
draw back the runner without undue strain. He tried this a good
many times successfully, but it was now growing dusk and he found
some difficulty in keeping the runner in sight. So he looked for
something heavy enough to keep it still. He placed the Egyptian
image of Bes on the fine wire, which crossed the wooden ledge which
protected it. Then, the darkness growing, he went indoors and
forgot all about it.
He had a strange feeling of uneasiness that night--not
sleeplessness, for he seemed conscious of being asleep. At daylight
he rose, and as usual looked out for the kite. He did not see it in
its usual position in the sky, so looked round the points of the
compass. He was more than astonished when presently he saw the
missing kite struggling as usual against the controlling cord. But
it had gone to the further side of the tower, and now hung and
strained AGAINST THE WIND to the north. He thought it so strange
that he determined to investigate the phenomenon, and to say nothing
about it in the meantime.
In his many travels, Edgar Caswall had been accustomed to use the
sextant, and was now an expert in the matter. By the aid of this
and other instruments, he was able to fix the position of the kite
and the point over which it hung. He was startled to find that
exactly under it--so far as he could ascertain--was Diana's Grove.
He had an inclination to take Lady Arabella into his confidence in
the matter, but he thought better of it and wisely refrained. For
some reason which he did not try to explain to himself, he was glad
of his silence, when, on the following morning, he found, on looking
out, that the point over which the kite then hovered was Mercy Farm.
When he had verified this with his instruments, he sat before the
window of the tower, looking out and thinking. The new locality was
more to his liking than the other; but the why of it puzzled him,
all the same. He spent the rest of the day in the turret-room,
which he did not leave all day. It seemed to him that he was now
drawn by forces which he could not control--of which, indeed, he had
no knowledge--in directions which he did not understand, and which
were without his own volition. In sheer helpless inability to think
the problem out satisfactorily, he called up a servant and told him
to tell Oolanga that he wanted to see him at once in the turret-
room. The answer came back that the African had not been seen since
the previous evening.
Caswall was now so irritable that even this small thing upset him.
As he was distrait and wanted to talk to somebody, he sent for Simon
Chester, who came at once, breathless with hurrying and upset by the
unexpected summons. Caswall bade him sit down, and when the old man
was in a less uneasy frame of mind, he again asked him if he had
ever seen what was in Mesmer's chest or heard it spoken about.
Chester admitted that he had once, in the time of "the then Mr.
Edgar," seen the chest open, which, knowing something of its history
and guessing more, so upset him that he had fainted. When he
recovered, the chest was closed. From that time the then Mr. Edgar
had never spoken about it again.
When Caswall asked him to describe what he had seen when the chest
was open, he got very agitated, and, despite all his efforts to
remain calm, he suddenly went off into a faint. Caswall summoned
servants, who applied the usual remedies. Still the old man did not
recover. After the lapse of a considerable time, the doctor who had
been summoned made his appearance. A glance was sufficient for him
to make up his mind. Still, he knelt down by the old man, and made
a careful examination. Then he rose to his feet, and in a hushed
"I grieve to say, sir, that he has passed away."
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
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
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
Already she felt at a disadvantage, and hesitated.
"I mean about the old man who died so suddenly--your old. . .
Caswall's face relaxed something of its puzzled concentration.
"Oh, he was only a servant; and he had over-stayed his three-score
and ten years by something like twenty years. He must have been
"Still, as an old servant. . . "
Caswall's words were not so cold as their inflection.
"I never interfere with servants. He was kept on here merely
because he had been so long on the premises. I suppose the steward
thought it might make him unpopular if the old fellow had been
How on earth was she to proceed on such a task as hers if this was
the utmost geniality she could expect? So she at once tried another
tack--this time a personal one.
"I am sorry I disturbed you. I am really not unconventional--though
certainly no slave to convention. Still there are limits. . . it is
bad enough to intrude in this way, and I do not know what you can
say or think of the time selected, for the intrusion."
After all, Edgar Caswall was a gentleman by custom and habit, so he
rose to the occasion.
"I can only say, Lady Arabella, that you are always welcome at any
time you may deign to honour my house with your presence."
She smiled at him sweetly.
"Thank you SO much. You DO put one at ease. My breach of
convention makes me glad rather than sorry. I feel that I can open
my heart to you about anything."
Forthwith she proceeded to tell him about Oolanga and his strange
suspicions of her honesty. Caswall laughed and made her explain all
the details. His final comment was enlightening.
"Let me give you a word of advice: If you have the slightest fault
to find with that infernal nigger, shoot him at sight. A 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-
"Was there anything strange about the place--any queer smell, for
"Queer smell--yes! Like bilge or a rank swamp. It was distinctly
nauseating; when I came out I felt as if I had just been going to be
sick. I shall try back on my visit and see if I can recall any more
of what I saw or felt."
"Then perhaps, sir, later in the day you will tell me anything you
may chance to recollect."
"I shall be delighted, Adam. If your uncle has not returned by
then, I'll join you in the study after dinner, and we can resume
this interesting chat."
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
"Come, none of that. If there is anything sensible which you wish
to say to me, you can see me here, just where we are, at seven
He made no reply in words, but, putting the backs of his hands
together, bent lower and lower till his forehead touched the earth.
Then he rose and went slowly away.
Adam Salton, from his hiding-place, saw and wondered. In a few
minutes he moved from his place and went home to Lesser Hill, fully
determined that seven o'clock would find him in some hidden place
behind Diana's Grove.
At a little before seven Adam stole softly out of the house and took
the back-way to the rear of Diana's Grove. The place seemed silent
and deserted, so he took the opportunity of concealing himself near
the spot whence he had seen Oolanga trying to investigate whatever
was concealed behind the iron door. He waited, perfectly still, and
at last saw a gleam of white passing soundlessly through the
undergrowth. He was not surprised when he recognised the colour of
Lady Arabella's dress. She came close and waited, with her face to
the iron door. From some place of concealment near at hand Oolanga
appeared, and came close to her. Adam noticed, with surprised
amusement, that over his shoulder was the box with the mongoose. Of
course the African did not know that he was seen by anyone, least of
all by the man whose property he had with him.
Silent-footed as he was, Lady Arabella heard him coming, and turned
to meet him. It was somewhat hard to see in the gloom, for, as
usual, he was all in black, only his collar and cuffs showing white.
Lady Arabella opened the conversation which ensued between the two.
"What do you want? To rob me, or murder me?"
"No, to lub you!"
This frightened her a little, and she tried to change the tone.
"Is that a coffin you have with you? If so, you are wasting your
time. It would not hold me."
When a nigger suspects he is being laughed at, all the ferocity of
his nature comes to the front; and this man was of the lowest kind.
"Dis ain't no coffin for nobody. Dis box is for you. Somefin you
lub. Me give him to you!"
Still anxious to keep off the subject of affection, on which she
believed him to have become crazed, she made another effort to keep
his mind elsewhere.
"Is this why you want to see me?" He nodded. "Then come round to
the other door. But be quiet. I have no desire to be seen so close
to my own house in conversation with a--a--a nigger like you!"
She had chosen the word deliberately. She wished to meet his
passion with another kind. Such would, at all events, help to keep
him quiet. In the deep gloom she could not see the anger which
suffused his face. Rolling eyeballs and grinding teeth are,
however, sufficient signs of anger to be decipherable in the dark.
She moved round the corner of the house to her right. Oolanga was
following her, when she stopped him by raising her hand.
"No, not that door," she said; "that is not for niggers. The other
door will do well enough for you!"
Lady Arabella took in her hand a small key which hung at the end of
her watch-chain, and moved to a small door, low down, round the
corner, and a little downhill from the edge of the Brow. Oolanga,
in obedience to her gesture, went back to the iron door. Adam
looked carefully at the mongoose box as the African went by, and was
glad to see that it was intact. Unconsciously, as he looked, he
fingered the key that was in his waistcoat pocket. When Oolanga was
out of sight, Adam hurried after Lady Arabella.
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:
"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."
"How on earth do you know?" asked Adam.
"A little while ago he offered to give it to me--another bribe to
accept him. Faugh! I am ashamed to tell you such a thing. The
Whilst they had been speaking, she had opened the door, a narrow
iron one, well hung, for it opened easily and closed tightly without
any creaking or sound of any kind. Within all was dark; but she
entered as freely and with as little misgiving or restraint as if it
had been broad daylight. For Adam, there was just sufficient green
light from somewhere for him to see that there was a broad flight of
heavy stone steps leading upward; but Lady Arabella, after shutting
the door behind her, when it closed tightly without a clang, tripped
up the steps lightly and swiftly. For an instant all was dark, but
there came again the faint green light which enabled him to see the
outlines of things. Another iron door, narrow like the first and
fairly high, led into another large room, the walls of which were of
massive stones, so closely joined together as to exhibit only one
smooth surface. This presented the appearance of having at one time
been polished. On the far side, also smooth like the walls, was the
reverse of a wide, but not high, iron door. Here there was a little
more light, for the high-up aperture over the door opened to the
Lady Arabella took from her girdle another small key, which she
inserted in a keyhole in the centre of a massive lock. The great
bolt seemed wonderfully hung, for the moment the small key was
turned, the bolts of the great lock moved noiselessly and the iron
doors swung open. On the stone steps outside stood Oolanga, with
the mongoose box slung over his shoulder. Lady Arabella stood a
little on one side, and the African, accepting the movement as an
invitation, entered in an obsequious way. The moment, however, that
he was inside, he gave a quick look around him.
"Much death here--big death. Many deaths. Good, good!"
He sniffed round as if he was enjoying the scent. The matter and
manner of his speech were so revolting that instinctively Adam's
hand wandered to his revolver, and, with his finger on the trigger,
he rested satisfied that he was ready for any emergency.
There was certainly opportunity for the nigger's enjoyment, for the
open well-hole was almost under his nose, sending up such a stench
as almost made Adam sick, though Lady Arabella seemed not to mind it
at all. It was like nothing that Adam had ever met with. He
compared it with all the noxious experiences he had ever had--the
drainage of war hospitals, of slaughter-houses, the refuse of
dissecting rooms. None of these was like it, though it had
something of them all, with, added, the sourness of chemical waste
and the poisonous effluvium of the bilge of a water-logged ship
whereon a multitude of rats had been drowned.
Then, quite unexpectedly, the negro noticed the presence of a third
person--Adam Salton! He pulled out a pistol and shot at him,
happily missing. Adam was himself usually a quick shot, but this
time his mind had been on something else and he was not ready.
However, he was quick to carry out an intention, and he was not a
coward. In another moment both men were in grips. Beside them was
the dark well-hole, with that horrid effluvium stealing up from its
Adam and Oolanga both had pistols; Lady Arabella, who had not one,
was probably the most ready of them all in the theory of shooting,
but that being impossible, she made her effort in another way.
Gliding forward, she tried to seize the African; but he eluded her
grasp, just missing, in doing so, falling into the mysterious hole.
As he swayed back to firm foothold, he turned his own gun on her and
shot. Instinctively Adam leaped at his assailant; clutching at each
other, they tottered on the very brink.
Lady Arabella's anger, now fully awake, was all for Oolanga. She
moved towards him with her hands extended, and had just seized him
when the catch of the locked box--due to some movement from within--
flew open, and the king-cobra-killer flew at her with a venomous
fury impossible to describe. As it seized her throat, she caught
hold of it, and, with a fury superior to its own, tore it in two
just as if it had been a sheet of paper. The strength used for such
an act must have been terrific. In an instant, it seemed to spout
blood and entrails, and was hurled into the well-hole. In another
instant she had seized Oolanga, and with a swift rush had drawn him,
her white arms encircling him, down with her into the gaping
Adam saw a medley of green and red lights blaze in a whirling
circle, and as it sank down into the well, a pair of blazing green
eyes became fixed, sank lower and lower with frightful rapidity, and
disappeared, throwing upward the green light which grew more and
more vivid every moment. As the light sank into the noisome depths,
there came a shriek which chilled Adam's blood--a prolonged agony of
pain and terror which seemed to have no end.
Adam Salton felt that he would never be able to free his mind from
the memory of those dreadful moments. The gloom which surrounded
that horrible charnel pit, which seemed to go down to the very
bowels of the earth, conveyed from far down the sights and sounds of
the nethermost hell. The ghastly fate of the African as he sank
down to his terrible doom, his black face growing grey with terror,
his white eyeballs, now like veined bloodstone, rolling in the
helpless extremity of fear. The mysterious green light was in
itself a milieu of horror. And through it all the awful cry came up
from that fathomless pit, whose entrance was flooded with spots of
fresh blood. Even the death of the fearless little snake-killer--so
fierce, so frightful, as if stained with a ferocity which told of no
living force above earth, but only of the devils of the pit--was
only an incident. Adam was in a state of intellectual tumult, which
had no parallel in his experience. He tried to rush away from the
horrible place; even the baleful green light, thrown up through the
gloomy well-shaft, was dying away as its source sank deeper into the
primeval ooze. The darkness was closing in on him in overwhelming
density--darkness in such a place and with such a memory of it!
He made a wild rush forward--slipt on the steps in some sticky,
acrid-smelling mass that felt and smelt like blood, and, falling
forward, felt his way into the inner room, where the well-shaft was
Then he rubbed his eyes in sheer amazement. Up the stone steps from
the narrow door by which he had entered, glided the white-clad
figure of Lady Arabella, the only colour to be seen on her being
blood-marks on her face and hands and throat. Otherwise, she was
calm and unruffled, as when earlier she stood aside for him to pass
in through the narrow iron door.
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
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.
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
"That is so, sir. I suppose I had better begin by telling you all I
know--all that has happened since I left you yesterday?"
Accordingly Adam gave him details of all that had happened during
the previous evening. He confined himself rigidly to the narration
of circumstances, taking care not to colour events by any comment of
his own, or any opinion of the meaning of things which he did not
fully understand. At first, Sir Nathaniel seemed disposed to ask
questions, but shortly gave this up when he recognised that the
narration was concise and self-explanatory. Thenceforth, he
contented himself with quick looks and glances, easily interpreted,
or by some acquiescent motions of his hands, when such could be
convenient, to emphasise his idea of the correctness of any
inference. Until Adam ceased speaking, having evidently come to an
end of what he had to say with regard to this section of his story,
the elder man made no comment whatever. Even when Adam took from
his pocket Lady Arabella's letter, with the manifest intention of
reading it, he did not make any comment. Finally, when Adam folded
up the letter and put it, in its envelope, back in his pocket, as an
intimation that he had now quite finished, the old diplomatist
carefully made a few notes in his pocket-book.
"Your narrative, my dear Adam, is altogether admirable. I think I
may now take it that we are both well versed in the actual facts,
and that our conference had better take the shape of a mutual
exchange of ideas. Let us both ask questions as they may arise; and
I do not doubt that we shall arrive at some enlightening
"Will you kindly begin, sir? I do not doubt that, with your longer
experience, you will be able to dissipate some of the fog which
envelops certain of the things which we have to consider."
"I hope so, my dear boy. For a beginning, then, let me say that
Lady Arabella's letter makes clear some things which she intended--
and also some things which she did not intend. But, before I begin
to draw deductions, let me ask you a few questions. Adam, are you
heart-whole, quite heart-whole, in the matter of Lady Arabella?"
His companion answered at once, each looking the other straight in
the eyes during question and answer.
"Lady Arabella, sir, is a charming woman, and I should have deemed
it a privilege to meet her--to talk to her--even--since I am in the
confessional--to flirt a little with her. But if you mean to ask if
my affections are in any way engaged, I can emphatically answer
'No!'--as indeed you will understand when presently I give you the
reason. Apart from that, there are the unpleasant details we
discussed the other day."
"Could you--would you mind giving me the reason now? It will help
us to understand what is before us, in the way of difficulty."
"Certainly, sir. My reason, on which I can fully depend, is that I
love another woman!"
"That clinches it. May I offer my good wishes, and, I hope, my
"I am proud of your good wishes, sir, and I thank you for them. But
it is too soon for congratulations--the lady does not even know my
hopes yet. Indeed, I hardly knew them myself, as definite, till
"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.
"Yes. A rank and unscrupulous enemy who is bent on her
Sir Nathaniel went to the door, looked outside it and returned,
locking it carefully behind him.
"Am I looking grave?" asked Sir Nathaniel inconsequently when he 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
"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."
"And that Lady Arabella is the liar!"
"Apparently--as I am not."
"We must, therefore, try to find a reason for her lying. She has
nothing to fear from Oolanga, who is dead. Therefore the only
reason which could actuate her would be to convince someone else
that she was blameless. This 'someone' could not be you, for you
had the evidence of your own eyes. There was no one else present;
therefore it must have been an absent person."
"That seems beyond dispute, sir."
"There is only one other person whose good opinion she could wish to
keep--Edgar Caswall. He is the only one who fills the bill. Her
lies point to other things besides the death of the African. She
evidently wanted it to be accepted that his falling into the well
was his own act. I cannot suppose that she expected to convince
you, the eye-witness; but if she wished later on to spread the
story, it was wise of her to try to get your acceptance of it."
"That is so!"
"Then there were other matters of untruth. That, for instance, of
the ermine collar embroidered with emeralds. If an understandable
reason be required for this, it would be to draw attention away from
the green lights which were seen in the room, and especially in the
well-hole. Any unprejudiced person would accept the green lights to
be the eyes of a great snake, such as tradition pointed to living in
the well-hole. In fine, therefore, Lady Arabella wanted the general
belief to be that there was no snake of the kind in Diana's Grove.
For my own part, I don't believe in a partial liar--this art does
not deal in veneer; a liar is a liar right through. Self-interest
may prompt falsity of the tongue; but if one prove to be a liar,
nothing that he says can ever be believed. This leads us to the
conclusion that because she said or inferred that there was no
snake, we should look for one--and expect to find it, too.
"Now let me digress. I live, and have for many years lived, in
Derbyshire, a county more celebrated for its caves than any other
county in England. I have been through them all, and am familiar
with every turn of them; as also with other great caves in Kentucky,
in France, in Germany, and a host of other places--in many of these
are tremendously deep caves of narrow aperture, which are valued by
intrepid explorers, who descend narrow gullets of abysmal depth--and
sometimes never return. In many of the caverns in the Peak I am
convinced that some of the smaller passages were used in primeval
times as the lairs of some of the great serpents of legend and
tradition. It may have been that such caverns were formed in the
usual geologic way--bubbles or flaws in the earth's crust--which
were later used by the monsters of the period of the young world.
It may have been, of course, that some of them were worn originally
by water; but in time they all found a use when suitable for living
"This brings us to another point, more difficult to accept and
understand than any other requiring belief in a base not usually
accepted, or indeed entered on--whether such abnormal growths could
have ever changed in their nature. Some day the study of metabolism
may progress so far as to enable us to accept structural changes
proceeding from an intellectual or moral base. We may lean towards
a belief that great animal strength may be a sound base for changes
of all sorts. If this be so, what could be a more fitting subject
than primeval monsters whose strength was such as to allow a
survival of thousands of years? We do not know yet if brain can
increase and develop independently of other parts of the living
"After all, the mediaeval belief in the Philosopher's Stone which
could transmute metals, has its counterpart in the accepted theory
of metabolism which changes living tissue. In an age of
investigation like our own, when we are returning to science as the
base of wonders--almost of miracles--we should be slow to refuse to
accept facts, however impossible they may seem to be.
"Let us suppose a monster of the early days of the world--a dragon
of the prime--of vast age running into thousands of years, to whom
had been conveyed in some way--it matters not--a brain just
sufficient for the beginning of growth. Suppose the monster to be
of incalculable size and of a strength quite abnormal--a veritable
incarnation of animal strength. Suppose this animal is allowed to
remain in one place, thus being removed from accidents of
interrupted development; might not, would not this creature, in
process of time--ages, if necessary--have that rudimentary
intelligence developed? There is no impossibility in this; it is
only the natural process of evolution. In the beginning, the
instincts of animals are confined to alimentation, self-protection,
and the multiplication of their species. As time goes on and the
needs of life become more complex, power follows need. We have been
long accustomed to consider growth as applied almost exclusively to
size in its various aspects. But Nature, who has no doctrinaire
ideas, may equally apply it to concentration. A developing thing
may expand in any given way or form. Now, it is a scientific law
that increase implies gain and loss of various kinds; what a thing
gains in one direction it may lose in another. May it not be that
Mother Nature may deliberately encourage decrease as well as
increase--that it may be an axiom that what is gained in
concentration is lost in size? Take, for instance, monsters that
tradition has accepted and localised, such as the Worm of Lambton or
that of Spindleston Heugh. If such a creature were, by its own
process of metabolism, to change much of its bulk for intellectual
growth, we should at once arrive at a new class of creature--more
dangerous, perhaps, than the world has ever had any experience of--a
force which can think, which has no soul and no morals, and
therefore no acceptance of responsibility. A snake would be a good
illustration of this, for it is cold-blooded, and therefore removed
from the temptations which often weaken or restrict warm-blooded
creatures. If, for instance, the Worm of Lambton--if such ever
existed--were guided to its own ends by an organised intelligence
capable of expansion, what form of creature could we imagine which
would equal it in potentialities of evil? Why, such a being would
devastate a whole country. Now, all these things require much
thought, and we want to apply the knowledge usefully, and we should
therefore be exact. Would it not be well to resume the subject
later in the day?"
"I quite agree, sir. I am in a whirl already; and want to attend
carefully to what you say; so that I may try to digest it."
Both men seemed fresher and better for the "easy," and when they met
in the afternoon each of them had something to contribute to the
general stock of information. Adam, who was by nature of a more
militant disposition than his elderly friend, was glad to see that
the conference at once assumed a practical trend. Sir Nathaniel
recognised this, and, like an old diplomatist, turned it to present
"Tell me now, Adam, what is the outcome, in your own mind, of our
"That the whole difficulty already assumes practical shape; but with
added dangers, that at first I did not imagine."
"What is the practical shape, and what are the added dangers? I am
not disputing, but only trying to clear my own ideas by the
consideration of yours--"
So Adam went on:
"In the past, in the early days of the world, there were monsters
who were so vast that they could exist for thousands of years. Some
of them must have overlapped the Christian era. They may have