Part 3 out of 4
progressed intellectually in process of time. If they had in any
way so progressed, or even got the most rudimentary form of brain,
they would be the most dangerous things that ever were in the world.
Tradition says that one of these monsters lived in the Marsh of the
East, and came up to a cave in Diana's Grove, which was also called
the Lair of the White Worm. Such creatures may have grown down as
well as up. They MAY have grown into, or something like, human
beings. Lady Arabella March is of snake nature. She has committed
crimes to our knowledge. She retains something of the vast strength
of her primal being--can see in the dark--has the eyes of a snake.
She used the nigger, and then dragged him through the snake's hole
down to the swamp; she is intent on evil, and hates some one we
love. Result. . . "
"Yes, the result?"
"First, that Mimi Watford should be taken away at once--then--"
"The monster must be destroyed."
"Bravo! That is a true and fearless conclusion. At whatever cost,
it must be carried out."
"Soon, at all events. That creature's very existence is a danger.
Her presence in this neighbourhood makes the danger immediate."
As he spoke, Sir Nathaniel's mouth hardened and his eyebrows came
down till they met. There was no doubting his concurrence in the
resolution, or his readiness to help in carrying it out. But he was
an elderly man with much experience and knowledge of law and
diplomacy. It seemed to him to be a stern duty to prevent anything
irrevocable taking place till it had been thought out and all was
ready. There were all sorts of legal cruxes to be thought out, not
only regarding the taking of life, even of a monstrosity in human
form, but also of property. Lady Arabella, be she woman or snake or
devil, owned the ground she moved in, according to British law, and
the law is jealous and swift to avenge wrongs done within its ken.
All such difficulties should be--must be--avoided for Mr. Salton's
sake, for Adam's own sake, and, most of all, for Mimi Watford's
Before he spoke again, Sir Nathaniel had made up his mind that he
must try to postpone decisive action until the circumstances on
which they depended--which, after all, were only problematical--
should have been tested satisfactorily, one way or another. When he
did speak, Adam at first thought that his friend was wavering in his
intention, or "funking" the responsibility. However, his respect
for Sir Nathaniel was so great that he would not act, or even come
to a conclusion on a vital point, without his sanction.
He came close and whispered in his ear:
"We will prepare our plans to combat and destroy this horrible
menace, after we have cleared up some of the more baffling points.
Meanwhile, we must wait for the night--I hear my uncle's footsteps
echoing down the hall."
Sir Nathaniel nodded his approval.
CHAPTER XXI--GREEN LIGHT
When old Mr. Salton had retired for the night, Adam and Sir
Nathaniel returned to the study. Things went with great regularity
at Lesser Hill, so they knew that there would be no interruption to
When their cigars were lighted, Sir Nathaniel began.
"I hope, Adam, that you do not think me either slack or changeable
of purpose. I mean to go through this business to the bitter end--
whatever it may be. Be satisfied that my first care is, and shall
be, the protection of Mimi Watford. To that I am pledged; my dear
boy, we who are interested are all in the same danger. That semi-
human monster out of the pit hates and means to destroy us all--you
and me certainly, and probably your uncle. I wanted especially to
talk with you to-night, for I cannot help thinking that the time is
fast coming--if it has not come already--when we must take your
uncle into our confidence. It was one thing when fancied evils
threatened, but now he is probably marked for death, and it is only
right that he should know all."
"I am with you, sir. Things have changed since we agreed to keep
him out of the trouble. Now we dare not; consideration for his
feelings might cost his life. It is a duty--and no light or
pleasant one, either. I have not a shadow of doubt that he will
want to be one with us in this. But remember, we are his guests;
his name, his honour, have to be thought of as well as his safety."
"All shall be as you wish, Adam. And now as to what we are to do?
We cannot murder Lady Arabella off-hand. Therefore we shall have to
put things in order for the killing, and in such a way that we
cannot be taxed with a crime."
"It seems to me, sir, that we are in an exceedingly tight place.
Our first difficulty is to know where to begin. I never thought
this fighting an antediluvian monster would be such a complicated
job. This one is a woman, with all a woman's wit, combined with the
heartlessness of a COCOTTE. She has the strength and impregnability
of a diplodocus. We may be sure that in the fight that is before us
there will be no semblance of fair-play. Also that our unscrupulous
opponent will not betray herself!"
"That is so--but being feminine, she will probably over-reach
herself. Now, Adam, it strikes me that, as we have to protect
ourselves and others against feminine nature, our strong game will
be to play our masculine against her feminine. Perhaps we had
better sleep on it. She is a thing of the night; and the night may
give us some ideas."
So they both turned in.
Adam knocked at Sir Nathaniel's door in the grey of the morning,
and, on being bidden, came into the room. He had several letters in
his hand. Sir Nathaniel sat up in bed.
"I should like to read you a few letters, but, of course, I shall
not send them unless you approve. In fact"--with a smile and a
blush--"there are several things which I want to do; but I hold my
hand and my tongue till I have your approval."
"Go on!" said the other kindly. "Tell me all, and count at any rate
on my sympathy, and on my approval and help if I can see my way."
Accordingly Adam proceeded:
"When I told you the conclusions at which I had arrived, I put in
the foreground that Mimi Watford should, for the sake of her own
safety, be removed--and that the monster which had wrought all the
harm should be destroyed."
"Yes, that is so."
"To carry this into practice, sir, one preliminary is required--
unless harm of another kind is to be faced. Mimi should have some
protector whom all the world would recognise. The only form
recognised by convention is marriage!"
Sir Nathaniel smiled in a fatherly way.
"To marry, a husband is required. And that husband should be you."
"And the marriage should be immediate and secret--or, at least, not
spoken of outside ourselves. Would the young lady be agreeable to
"I do not know, sir!"
"Then how are we to proceed?"
"I suppose that we--or one of us--must ask her."
"Is this a sudden idea, Adam, a sudden resolution?"
"A sudden resolution, sir, but not a sudden idea. If she agrees,
all is well and good. The sequence is obvious."
"And it is to be kept a secret amongst ourselves?"
"I want no secret, sir, except for Mimi's good. For myself, I
should like to shout it from the house-tops! But we must be
discreet; untimely knowledge to our enemy might work incalculable
"And how would you suggest, Adam, that we could combine the
momentous question with secrecy?"
Adam grew red and moved uneasily.
"Someone must ask her--as soon as possible!"
"And that someone?"
"I thought that you, sir, would be so good!"
"God bless my soul! This is a new kind of duty to take on--at my
time of life. Adam, I hope you know that you can count on me to
help in any way I can!"
"I have already counted on you, sir, when I ventured to make such a
suggestion. I can only ask," he added, "that you will be more than
ever kind to me--to us--and look on the painful duty as a voluntary
act of grace, prompted by kindness and affection."
"Yes," said Adam boldly. "Painful to you, though to me it would be
"It is a strange job for an early morning! Well, we all live and
learn. I suppose the sooner I go the better. You had better write
a line for me to take with me. For, you see, this is to be a
somewhat unusual transaction, and it may be embarrassing to the
lady, even to myself. So we ought to have some sort of warrant,
something to show that we have been mindful of her feelings. It
will not do to take acquiescence for granted--although we act for
"Sir Nathaniel, you are a true friend; I am sure that both Mimi and
I shall be grateful to you for all our lives--however long they may
So the two talked it over and agreed as to points to be borne in
mind by the ambassador. It was striking ten when Sir Nathaniel left
the house, Adam seeing him quietly off.
As the young man followed him with wistful eyes--almost jealous of
the privilege which his kind deed was about to bring him--he felt
that his own heart was in his friend's breast.
The memory of that morning was like a dream to all those concerned
in it. Sir Nathaniel had a confused recollection of detail and
sequence, though the main facts stood out in his memory boldly and
clearly. Adam Salton's recollection was of an illimitable wait,
filled with anxiety, hope, and chagrin, all dominated by a sense of
the slow passage of time and accompanied by vague fears. Mimi could
not for a long time think at all, or recollect anything, except that
Adam loved her and was saving her from a terrible danger. When she
had time to think, later on, she wondered when she had any ignorance
of the fact that Adam loved her, and that she loved him with all her
heart. Everything, every recollection however small, every feeling,
seemed to fit into those elemental facts as though they had all been
moulded together. The main and crowning recollection was her saying
goodbye to Sir Nathaniel, and entrusting to him loving messages,
straight from her heart, to Adam Salton, and of his bearing when--
with an impulse which she could not check--she put her lips to his
and kissed him. Later, when she was alone and had time to think, it
was a passing grief to her that she would have to be silent, for a
time, to Lilla on the happy events of that strange mission.
She had, of course, agreed to keep all secret until Adam should give
her leave to speak.
The advice and assistance of Sir Nathaniel was a great help to Adam
in carrying out his idea of marrying Mimi Watford without publicity.
He went with him to London, and, with his influence, the young man
obtained the license of the Archbishop of Canterbury for a private
marriage. Sir Nathaniel then persuaded old Mr. Salton to allow his
nephew to spend a few weeks with him at Doom Tower, and it was here
that Mimi became Adam's wife. But that was only the first step in
their plans; before going further, however, Adam took his bride off
to the Isle of Man. He wished to place a stretch of sea between
Mimi and the White Worm, while things matured. On their return, Sir
Nathaniel met them and drove them at once to Doom, taking care to
avoid any one that he knew on the journey.
Sir Nathaniel had taken care to have the doors and windows shut and
locked--all but the door used for their entry. The shutters were up
and the blinds down. Moreover, heavy curtains were drawn across the
windows. When Adam commented on this, Sir Nathaniel said in a
"Wait till we are alone, and I'll tell you why this is done; in the
meantime not a word or a sign. You will approve when we have had a
They said no more on the subject till after dinner, when they were
ensconced in Sir Nathaniel's study, which was on the top storey.
Doom Tower was a lofty structure, situated on an eminence high up in
the Peak. The top commanded a wide prospect, ranging from the hills
above the Ribble to the near side of the Brow, which marked the
northern bound of ancient Mercia. It was of the early Norman
period, less than a century younger than Castra Regis. The windows
of the study were barred and locked, and heavy dark curtains closed
them in. When this was done not a gleam of light from the tower
could be seen from outside.
When they were alone, Sir Nathaniel explained that he had taken his
old friend, Mr. Salton, into full confidence, and that in future all
would work together.
"It is important for you to be extremely careful. In spite of the
fact that our marriage was kept secret, as also your temporary
absence, both are known."
"How? To whom?"
"How, I know not; but I am beginning to have an idea."
"To her?" asked Adam, in momentary consternation.
Sir Nathaniel shivered perceptibly.
"The White Worm--yes!"
Adam noticed that from now on, his friend never spoke of Lady
Arabella otherwise, except when he wished to divert the suspicion of
Sir Nathaniel switched off the electric light, and when the room was
pitch dark, he came to Adam, took him by the hand, and led him to a
seat set in the southern window. Then he softly drew back a piece
of the curtain and motioned his companion to look out.
Adam did so, and immediately shrank back as though his eyes had
opened on pressing danger. His companion set his mind at rest by
saying in a low voice:
"It is all right; you may speak, but speak low. There is no danger
Adam leaned forward, taking care, however, not to press his face
against the glass. What he saw would not under ordinary
circumstances have caused concern to anybody. With his special
knowledge, it was appalling--though the night was now so dark that
in reality there was little to be seen.
On the western side of the tower stood a grove of old trees, of
forest dimensions. They were not grouped closely, but stood a
little apart from each other, producing the effect of a row widely
planted. Over the tops of them was seen a green light, something
like the danger signal at a railway-crossing. It seemed at first
quite still; but presently, when Adam's eye became accustomed to it,
he could see that it moved as if trembling. This at once recalled
to Adam's mind the light quivering above the well-hole in the
darkness of that inner room at Diana's Grove, Oolanga's awful
shriek, and the hideous black face, now grown grey with terror,
disappearing into the impenetrable gloom of the mysterious orifice.
Instinctively he laid his hand on his revolver, and stood up ready
to protect his wife. Then, seeing that nothing happened, and that
the light and all outside the tower remained the same, he softly
pulled the curtain over the window.
Sir Nathaniel switched on the light again, and in its comforting
glow they began to talk freely.
CHAPTER XXII--AT CLOSE QUARTERS
"She has diabolical cunning," said Sir Nathaniel. "Ever since you
left, she has ranged along the Brow and wherever you were accustomed
to frequent. I have not heard whence the knowledge of your
movements came to her, nor have I been able to learn any data
whereon to found an opinion. She seems to have heard both of your
marriage and your absence; but I gather, by inference, that she does
not actually know where you and Mimi are, or of your return. So
soon as the dusk fails, she goes out on her rounds, and before dawn
covers the whole ground round the Brow, and away up into the heart
of the Peak. The White Worm, in her own proper shape, certainly has
great facilities for the business on which she is now engaged. She
can look into windows of any ordinary kind. Happily, this house is
beyond her reach, if she wishes--as she manifestly does--to remain
unrecognised. But, even at this height, it is wise to show no
lights, lest she might learn something of our presence or absence."
"Would it not be well, sir, if one of us could see this monster in
her real shape at close quarters? I am willing to run the risk--for
I take it there would be no slight risk in the doing. I don't
suppose anyone of our time has seen her close and lived to tell the
Sir Nathaniel held up an expostulatory hand.
"Good God, lad, what are you suggesting? Think of your wife, and
all that is at stake."
"It is of Mimi that I think--for her sake that I am willing to risk
whatever is to be risked."
Adam's young bride was proud of her man, but she blanched at the
thought of the ghastly White Worm. Adam saw this and at once
"So long as her ladyship does not know whereabout I am, I shall have
as much safety as remains to us; bear in mind, my darling, that we
cannot be too careful."
Sir Nathaniel realised that Adam was right; the White Worm had no
supernatural powers and could not harm them until she discovered
their hiding place. It was agreed, therefore, that the two men
should go together.
When the two men slipped out by the back door of the house, they
walked cautiously along the avenue which trended towards the west.
Everything was pitch dark--so dark that at times they had to feel
their way by the palings and tree-trunks. They could still see,
seemingly far in front of them and high up, the baleful light which
at the height and distance seemed like a faint line. As they were
now on the level of the ground, the light seemed infinitely higher
than it had from the top of the tower. At the sight Adam's heart
fell; the danger of the desperate enterprise which he had undertaken
burst upon him. But this feeling was shortly followed by another
which restored him to himself--a fierce loathing, and a desire to
kill, such as he had never experienced before.
They went on for some distance on a level road, fairly wide, from
which the green light was visible. Here Sir Nathaniel spoke softly,
placing his lips to Adam's ear for safety.
"We know nothing whatever of this creature's power of hearing or
smelling, though I presume that both are of no great strength. As
to seeing, we may presume the opposite, but in any case we must try
to keep in the shade behind the tree-trunks. The slightest error
would be fatal to us."
Adam only nodded, in case there should be any chance of the monster
seeing the movement.
After a time that seemed interminable, they emerged from the
circling wood. It was like coming out into sunlight by comparison
with the misty blackness which had been around them. There was
light enough to see by, though not sufficient to distinguish things
at a distance. Adam's eyes sought the green light in the sky. It
was still in about the same place, but its surroundings were more
visible. It was now at the summit of what seemed to be a long white
pole, near the top of which were two pendant white masses, like
rudimentary arms or fins. The green light, strangely enough, did
not seem lessened by the surrounding starlight, but had a clearer
effect and a deeper green. Whilst they were carefully regarding
this--Adam with the aid of an opera-glass--their nostrils were
assailed by a horrid stench, something like that which rose from the
well-hole in Diana's Grove.
By degrees, as their eyes got the right focus, they saw an immense
towering mass that seemed snowy white. It was tall and thin. The
lower part was hidden by the trees which lay between, but they could
follow the tall white shaft and the duplicate green lights which
topped it. As they looked there was a movement--the shaft seemed to
bend, and the line of green light descended amongst the trees. They
could see the green light twinkle as it passed between the
Seeing where the head of the monster was, the two men ventured a
little further forward, and saw that the hidden mass at the base of
the shaft was composed of vast coils of the great serpent's body,
forming a base from which the upright mass rose. As they looked,
this lower mass moved, the glistening folds catching the moonlight,
and they could see that the monster's progress was along the ground.
It was coming towards them at a swift pace, so they turned and ran,
taking care to make as little noise as possible, either by their
footfalls or by disturbing the undergrowth close to them. They did
not stop or pause till they saw before them the high dark tower of
CHAPTER XXIII--IN THE ENEMY'S HOUSE
Sir Nathaniel was in the library next morning, after breakfast, when
Adam came to him carrying a letter.
"Her ladyship doesn't lose any time. She has begun work already!"
Sir Nathaniel, who was writing at a table near the window, looked
"What is it?" said he.
Adam held out the letter he was carrying. It was in a blazoned
"Ha!" said Sir Nathaniel, "from the White Worm! I expected
something of the kind."
"But," said Adam, "how could she have known we were here? She
didn't know last night."
"I don't think we need trouble about that, Adam. There is so much
we do not understand. This is only another mystery. Suffice it
that she does know--perhaps it is all the better and safer for us."
"How is that?" asked Adam with a puzzled look.
"General process of reasoning, my boy; and the experience of some
years in the diplomatic world. This creature is a monster without
heart or consideration for anything or anyone. She is not nearly so
dangerous in the open as when she has the dark to protect her.
Besides, we know, by our own experience of her movements, that for
some reason she shuns publicity. In spite of her vast bulk and
abnormal strength, she is afraid to attack openly. After all, she
is only a snake and with a snake's nature, which is to keep low and
squirm, and proceed by stealth and cunning. She will never attack
when she can run away, although she knows well that running away
would probably be fatal to her. What is the letter about?"
Sir Nathaniel's voice was calm and self-possessed. When he was
engaged in any struggle of wits he was all diplomatist.
"She asks Mimi and me to tea this afternoon at Diana's Grove, and
hopes that you also will favour her."
Sir Nathaniel smiled.
"Please ask Mrs. Salton to accept for us all."
"She means some deadly mischief. Surely--surely it would be wiser
"It is an old trick that we learn early in diplomacy, Adam--to fight
on ground of your own choice. It is true that she suggested the
place on this occasion; but by accepting it we make it ours.
Moreover, she will not be able to understand our reason for doing
so, and her own bad conscience--if she has any, bad or good--and her
own fears and doubts will play our game for us. No, my dear boy,
let us accept, by all means."
Adam said nothing, but silently held out his hand, which his
companion shook: no words were necessary.
When it was getting near tea-time, Mimi asked Sir Nathaniel how they
"We must make a point of going in state. We want all possible
publicity." Mimi looked at him inquiringly. "Certainly, my dear,
in the present circumstances publicity is a part of safety. Do not
be surprised if, whilst we are at Diana's Grove, occasional messages
come for you--for all or any of us."
"I see!" said Mrs. Salton. "You are taking no chances."
"None, my dear. All I have learned at foreign courts, and amongst
civilised and uncivilised people, is going to be utilised within the
next couple of hours."
Sir Nathaniel's voice was full of seriousness, and it brought to
Mimi in a convincing way the awful gravity of the occasion
In due course, they set out in a carriage drawn by a fine pair of
horses, who soon devoured the few miles of their journey. Before
they came to the gate, Sir Nathaniel turned to Mimi.
"I have arranged with Adam certain signals which may be necessary if
certain eventualities occur. These need be nothing to do with you
directly. But bear in mind that if I ask you or Adam to do
anything, do not lose a second in the doing of it. We must try to
pass off such moments with an appearance of unconcern. In all
probability, nothing requiring such care will occur. The White Worm
will not try force, though she has so much of it to spare. Whatever
she may attempt to-day, of harm to any of us, will be in the way of
secret plot. Some other time she may try force, but--if I am able
to judge such a thing--not to-day. The messengers who may ask for
any of us will not be witnesses only, they may help to stave off
danger." Seeing query in her face, he went on: "Of what kind the
danger may be, I know not, and cannot guess. It will doubtless be
some ordinary circumstance; but none the less dangerous on that
account. Here we are at the gate. Now, be careful in all matters,
however small. To keep your head is half the battle."
There were a number of men in livery in the hall when they arrived.
The doors of the drawing-room were thrown open, and Lady Arabella
came forth and offered them cordial welcome. This having been got
over, Lady Arabella led them into another room where tea was served.
Adam was acutely watchful and suspicious of everything, and saw on
the far side of this room a panelled iron door of the same colour
and configuration as the outer door of the room where was the well-
hole wherein Oolanga had disappeared. Something in the sight
alarmed him, and he quietly stood near the door. He made no
movement, even of his eyes, but he could see that Sir Nathaniel was
watching him intently, and, he fancied, with approval.
They all sat near the table spread for tea, Adam still near the
door. Lady Arabella fanned herself, complaining of heat, and told
one of the footmen to throw all the outer doors open.
Tea was in progress when Mimi suddenly started up with a look of
fright on her face; at the same moment, the men became cognisant of
a thick smoke which began to spread through the room--a smoke which
made those who experienced it gasp and choke. The footmen began to
edge uneasily towards the inner door. Denser and denser grew the
smoke, and more acrid its smell. Mimi, towards whom the draught
from the open door wafted the smoke, rose up choking, and ran to the
inner door, which she threw open to its fullest extent, disclosing
on the outside a curtain of thin silk, fixed to the doorposts. The
draught from the open door swayed the thin silk towards her, and in
her fright, she tore down the curtain, which enveloped her from head
to foot. Then she ran through the still open door, heedless of the
fact that she could not see where she was going. Adam, followed by
Sir Nathaniel, rushed forward and joined her--Adam catching his wife
by the arm and holding her tight. It was well that he did so, for
just before her lay the black orifice of the well-hole, which, of
course, she could not see with the silk curtain round her head. The
floor was extremely slippery; something like thick oil had been
spilled where she had to pass; and close to the edge of the hole her
feet shot from under her, and she stumbled forward towards the well-
When Adam saw Mimi slip, he flung himself backward, still holding
her. His weight told, and he dragged her up from the hole and they
fell together on the floor outside the zone of slipperiness. In a
moment he had raised her up, and together they rushed out through
the open door into the sunlight, Sir Nathaniel close behind them.
They were all pale except the old diplomatist, who looked both calm
and cool. It sustained and cheered Adam and his wife to see him
thus master of himself. Both managed to follow his example, to the
wonderment of the footmen, who saw the three who had just escaped a
terrible danger walking together gaily, as, under the guiding
pressure of Sir Nathaniel's hand, they turned to re-enter the house.
Lady Arabella, whose face had blanched to a deadly white, now
resumed her ministrations at the tea-board as though nothing unusual
had happened. The slop-basin was full of half-burned brown paper,
over which tea had been poured.
Sir Nathaniel had been narrowly observing his hostess, and took the
first opportunity afforded him of whispering to Adam:
"The real attack is to come--she is too quiet. When I give my hand
to your wife to lead her out, come with us--and caution her to
hurry. Don't lose a second, even if you have to make a scene. Hs-
Then they resumed their places close to the table, and the servants,
in obedience to Lady Arabella's order, brought in fresh tea.
Thence on, that tea-party seemed to Adam, whose faculties were at
their utmost intensity, like a terrible dream. As for poor Mimi,
she was so overwrought both with present and future fear, and with
horror at the danger she had escaped, that her faculties were numb.
However, she was braced up for a trial, and she felt assured that
whatever might come she would be able to go through with it. Sir
Nathaniel seemed just as usual--suave, dignified, and thoughtful--
perfect master of himself.
To her husband, it was evident that Mimi was ill at ease. The way
she kept turning her head to look around her, the quick coming and
going of the colour of her face, her hurried breathing, alternating
with periods of suspicious calm, were evidences of mental
perturbation. To her, the attitude of Lady Arabella seemed
compounded of social sweetness and personal consideration. It would
be hard to imagine more thoughtful and tender kindness towards an
When tea was over and the servants had come to clear away the cups,
Lady Arabella, putting her arm round Mimi's waist, strolled with her
into an adjoining room, where she collected a number of photographs
which were scattered about, and, sitting down beside her guest,
began to show them to her. While she was doing this, the servants
closed all the doors of the suite of rooms, as well as that which
opened from the room outside--that of the well-hole into the avenue.
Suddenly, without any seeming cause, the light in the room began to
grow dim. Sir Nathaniel, who was sitting close to Mimi, rose to his
feet, and, crying, "Quick!" caught hold of her hand and began to
drag her from the room. Adam caught her other hand, and between
them they drew her through the outer door which the servants were
beginning to close. It was difficult at first to find the way, the
darkness was so great; but to their relief when Adam whistled
shrilly, the carriage and horses, which had been waiting in the
angle of the avenue, dashed up. Her husband and Sir Nathaniel
lifted--almost threw--Mimi into the carriage. The postillion plied
whip and spur, and the vehicle, rocking with its speed, swept
through the gate and tore up the road. Behind them was a hubbub--
servants rushing about, orders being shouted out, doors shutting,
and somewhere, seemingly far back in the house, a strange noise.
Every nerve of the horses was strained as they dashed recklessly
along the road. The two men held Mimi between them, the arms of
both of them round her as though protectingly. As they went, there
was a sudden rise in the ground; but the horses, breathing heavily,
dashed up it at racing speed, not slackening their pace when the
hill fell away again, leaving them to hurry along the downgrade.
It would be foolish to say that neither Adam nor Mimi had any fear
in returning to Doom Tower. Mimi felt it more keenly than her
husband, whose nerves were harder, and who was more inured to
danger. Still she bore up bravely, and as usual the effort was
helpful to her. When once she was in the study in the top of the
turret, she almost forgot the terrors which lay outside in the dark.
She did not attempt to peep out of the window; but Adam did--and saw
nothing. The moonlight showed all the surrounding country, but
nowhere was to be observed that tremulous line of green light.
The peaceful night had a good effect on them all; danger, being
unseen, seemed far off. At times it was hard to realise that it had
ever been. With courage restored, Adam rose early and walked along
the Brow, seeing no change in the signs of life in Castra Regis.
What he did see, to his wonder and concern, on his returning
homeward, was Lady Arabella, in her tight-fitting white dress and
ermine collar, but without her emeralds; she was emerging from the
gate of Diana's Grove and walking towards the Castle. Pondering on
this and trying to find some meaning in it, occupied his thoughts
till he joined Mimi and Sir Nathaniel at breakfast. They began the
meal in silence. What had been had been, and was known to them all.
Moreover, it was not a pleasant topic.
A fillip was given to the conversation when Adam told of his seeing
Lady Arabella, on her way to Castra Regis. They each had something
to say of her, and of what her wishes or intentions were towards
Edgar Caswall. Mimi spoke bitterly of her in every aspect. She had
not forgotten--and never would--never could--the occasion when, to
harm Lilla, the woman had consorted even with the nigger. As a
social matter, she was disgusted with her for following up the rich
landowner--"throwing herself at his head so shamelessly," was how
she expressed it. She was interested to know that the great kite
still flew from Caswall's tower. But beyond such matters she did
not try to go. The only comment she made was of strongly expressed
surprise at her ladyship's "cheek" in ignoring her own criminal
acts, and her impudence in taking it for granted that others had
overlooked them also.
CHAPTER XXIV--A STARTLING PROPOSITION
The more Mimi thought over the late events, the more puzzled she
was. What did it all mean--what could it mean, except that there
was an error of fact somewhere. Could it be possible that some of
them--all of them had been mistaken, that there had been no White
Worm at all? On either side of her was a belief impossible of
reception. Not to believe in what seemed apparent was to destroy
the very foundations of belief. . . yet in old days there had been
monsters on the earth, and certainly some people had believed in
just such mysterious changes of identity. It was all very strange.
Just fancy how any stranger--say a doctor--would regard her, if she
were to tell him that she had been to a tea-party with an
antediluvian monster, and that they had been waited on by up-to-date
Adam had returned, exhilarated by his walk, and more settled in his
mind than he had been for some time. Like Mimi, he had gone through
the phase of doubt and inability to believe in the reality of
things, though it had not affected him to the same extent. The
idea, however, that his wife was suffering ill-effects from her
terrible ordeal, braced him up. He remained with her for a time,
then he sought Sir Nathaniel in order to talk over the matter with
him. He knew that the calm common sense and self-reliance of the
old man, as well as his experience, would be helpful to them all.
Sir Nathaniel had come to the conclusion that, for some reason which
he did not understand, Lady Arabella had changed her plans, and, for
the present at all events, was pacific. He was inclined to
attribute her changed demeanour to the fact that her influence over
Edgar Caswall was so far increased, as to justify a more fixed
belief in his submission to her charms.
As a matter of fact, she had seen Caswall that morning when she
visited Castra Regis, and they had had a long talk together, during
which the possibility of their union had been discussed. Caswall,
without being enthusiastic on the subject, had been courteous and
attentive; as she had walked back to Diana's Grove, she almost
congratulated herself on her new settlement in life. That the idea
was becoming fixed in her mind, was shown by a letter which she
wrote later in the day to Adam Salton, and sent to him by hand. It
ran as follows:
"DEAR MR. SALTON,
"I wonder if you would kindly advise, and, if possible, help me in a
matter of business. I have been for some time trying to make up my
mind to sell Diana's Grove, I have put off and put off the doing of
it till now. The place is my own property, and no one has to be
consulted with regard to what I may wish to do about it. It was
bought by my late husband, Captain Adolphus Ranger March, who had
another residence, The Crest, Appleby. He acquired all rights of
all kinds, including mining and sporting. When he died, he left his
whole property to me. I shall feel leaving this place, which has
become endeared to me by many sacred memories and affections--the
recollection of many happy days of my young married life, and the
more than happy memories of the man I loved and who loved me so
much. I should be willing to sell the place for any fair price--so
long, of course, as the purchaser was one I liked and of whom I
approved. May I say that you yourself would be the ideal person.
But I dare not hope for so much. It strikes me, however, that among
your Australian friends may be someone who wishes to make a
settlement in the Old Country, and would care to fix the spot in one
of the most historic regions in England, full of romance and legend,
and with a never-ending vista of historical interest--an estate
which, though small, is in perfect condition and with illimitable
possibilities of development, and many doubtful--or unsettled--
rights which have existed before the time of the Romans or even
Celts, who were the original possessors. In addition, the house has
been kept up to the DERNIER CRI. Immediate possession can be
arranged. My lawyers can provide you, or whoever you may suggest,
with all business and historical details. A word from you of
acceptance or refusal is all that is necessary, and we can leave
details to be thrashed out by our agents. Forgive me, won't you,
for troubling you in the matter, and believe me, yours very
Adam read this over several times, and then, his mind being made up,
he went to Mimi and asked if she had any objection. She answered--
after a shudder--that she was, in this, as in all things, willing to
do whatever he might wish.
"Dearest, I am willing that you should judge what is best for us.
Be quite free to act as you see your duty, and as your inclination
calls. We are in the hands of God, and He has hitherto guided us,
and will do so to His own end."
From his wife's room Adam Salton went straight to the study in the
tower, where he knew Sir Nathaniel would be at that hour. The old
man was alone, so, when he had entered in obedience to the "Come
in," which answered his query, he closed the door and sat down
"Do you think, sir, that it would be well for me to buy Diana's
"God bless my soul!" said the old man, startled, "why on earth would
you want to do that?"
"Well, I have vowed to destroy that White Worm, and my being able to
do whatever I may choose with the Lair would facilitate matters and
Sir Nathaniel hesitated longer than usual before speaking. He was
"Yes, Adam, there is much common sense in your suggestion, though it
startled me at first. I think that, for all reasons, you would do
well to buy the property and to have the conveyance settled at once.
If you want more money than is immediately convenient, let me know,
so that I may be your banker."
"Thank you, sir, most heartily; but I have more money at immediate
call than I shall want. I am glad you approve."
"The property is historic, and as time goes on it will increase in
value. Moreover, I may tell you something, which indeed is only a
surmise, but which, if I am right, will add great value to the
place." Adam listened. "Has it ever struck you why the old name,
'The Lair of the White Worm,' was given? We know that there was a
snake which in early days was called a worm; but why white?"
"I really don't know, sir; I never thought of it. I simply took it
"So did I at first--long ago. But later I puzzled my brain for a
"And what was the reason, sir?"
"Simply and solely because the snake or worm WAS white. We are near
the county of Stafford, where the great industry of china-burning
was originated and grew. Stafford owes much of its wealth to the
large deposits of the rare china clay found in it from time to time.
These deposits become in time pretty well exhausted; but for
centuries Stafford adventurers looked for the special clay, as Ohio
and Pennsylvania farmers and explorers looked for oil. Anyone
owning real estate on which china clay can be discovered strikes a
sort of gold mine."
"Yes, and then--" The young man looked puzzled.
"The original 'Worm' so-called, from which the name of the place
came, had to find a direct way down to the marshes and the mud-
holes. Now, the clay is easily penetrable, and the original hole
probably pierced a bed of china clay. When once the way was made it
would become a sort of highway for the Worm. But as much movement
was necessary to ascend such a great height, some of the clay would
become attached to its rough skin by attrition. The downway must
have been easy work, but the ascent was different, and when the
monster came to view in the upper world, it would be fresh from
contact with the white clay. Hence the name, which has no cryptic
significance, but only fact. Now, if that surmise be true--and I do
not see why not--there must be a deposit of valuable clay--possibly
of immense depth."
Adam's comment pleased the old gentleman.
"I have it in my bones, sir, that you have struck--or rather
reasoned out--a great truth."
Sir Nathaniel went on cheerfully. "When the world of commerce wakes
up to the value of your find, it will be as well that your title to
ownership has been perfectly secured. If anyone ever deserved such
a gain, it is you."
With his friend's aid, Adam secured the property without loss of
time. Then he went to see his uncle, and told him about it. Mr.
Salton was delighted to find his young relative already
constructively the owner of so fine an estate--one which gave him an
important status in the county. He made many anxious enquiries
about Mimi, and the doings of the White Worm, but Adam re-assured
The next morning, when Adam went to his host in the smoking-room,
Sir Nathaniel asked him how he purposed to proceed with regard to
keeping his vow.
"It is a difficult matter which you have undertaken. To destroy
such a monster is something like one of the labours of Hercules, in
that not only its size and weight and power of using them in little-
known ways are against you, but the occult side is alone an
unsurpassable difficulty. The Worm is already master of all the
elements except fire--and I do not see how fire can be used for the
attack. It has only to sink into the earth in its usual way, and
you could not overtake it if you had the resources of the biggest
coal-mine in existence. But I daresay you have mapped out some plan
in your mind," he added courteously.
"I have, sir. But, of course, it may not stand the test of
"May I know the idea?"
"Well, sir, this was my argument: At the time of the Chartist
trouble, an idea spread amongst financial circles that an attack was
going to be made on the Bank of England. Accordingly, the directors
of that institution consulted many persons who were supposed to know
what steps should be taken, and it was finally decided that the best
protection against fire--which is what was feared--was not water but
sand. To carry the scheme into practice great store of fine sea-
sand--the kind that blows about and is used to fill hour-glasses--
was provided throughout the building, especially at the points
liable to attack, from which it could be brought into use.
"I propose to provide at Diana's Grove, as soon as it comes into my
possession, an enormous amount of such sand, and shall take an early
occasion of pouring it into the well-hole, which it will in time
choke. Thus Lady Arabella, in her guise of the White Worm, will
find herself cut off from her refuge. The hole is a narrow one, and
is some hundreds of feet deep. The weight of the sand this can
contain would not in itself be sufficient to obstruct; but the
friction of such a body working up against it would be tremendous."
"One moment. What use would the sand be for destruction?"
"None, directly; but it would hold the struggling body in place till
the rest of my scheme came into practice."
"And what is the rest?"
"As the sand is being poured into the well-hole, quantities of
dynamite can also be thrown in!"
"Good. But how would the dynamite explode--for, of course, that is
what you intend. Would not some sort of wire or fuse he required
for each parcel of dynamite?"
"Not in these days, sir. That was proved in New York. A thousand
pounds of dynamite, in sealed canisters, was placed about some
workings. At the last a charge of gunpowder was fired, and the
concussion exploded the dynamite. It was most successful. Those
who were non-experts in high explosives expected that every pane of
glass in New York would be shattered. But, in reality, the
explosive did no harm outside the area intended, although sixteen
acres of rock had been mined and only the supporting walls and
pillars had been left intact. The whole of the rocks were
Sir Nathaniel nodded approval.
"That seems a good plan--a very excellent one. But if it has to
tear down so many feet of precipice, it may wreck the whole
"And free it for ever from a monster," added Adam, as he left the
room to find his wife.
CHAPTER XXV--THE LAST BATTLE
Lady Arabella had instructed her solicitors to hurry on with the
conveyance of Diana's Grove, so no time was lost in letting Adam
Salton have formal possession of the estate. After his interview
with Sir Nathaniel, he had taken steps to begin putting his plan
into action. In order to accumulate the necessary amount of fine
sea-sand, he ordered the steward to prepare for an elaborate system
of top-dressing all the grounds. A great heap of the sand, brought
from bays on the Welsh coast, began to grow at the back of the
Grove. No one seemed to suspect that it was there for any purpose
other than what had been given out.
Lady Arabella, who alone could have guessed, was now so absorbed in
her matrimonial pursuit of Edgar Caswall, that she had neither time
nor inclination for thought extraneous to this. She had not yet
moved from the house, though she had formally handed over the
Adam put up a rough corrugated-iron shed behind the Grove, in which
he stored his explosives. All being ready for his great attempt
whenever the time should come, he was now content to wait, and, in
order to pass the time, interested himself in other things--even in
Caswall's great kite, which still flew from the high tower of Castra
The mound of fine sand grew to proportions so vast as to puzzle the
bailiffs and farmers round the Brow. The hour of the intended
cataclysm was approaching apace. Adam wished--but in vain--for an
opportunity, which would appear to be natural, of visiting Caswall
in the turret of Castra Regis. At last, one morning, he met Lady
Arabella moving towards the Castle, so he took his courage E DEUX
MAINS and asked to be allowed to accompany her. She was glad, for
her own purposes, to comply with his wishes. So together they
entered, and found their way to the turret-room. Caswall was much
surprised to see Adam come to his house, but lent himself to the
task of seeming to be pleased. He played the host so well as to
deceive even Adam. They all went out on the turret roof, where he
explained to his guests the mechanism for raising and lowering the
kite, taking also the opportunity of testing the movements of the
multitudes of birds, how they answered almost instantaneously to the
lowering or raising of the kite.
As Lady Arabella walked home with Adam from Castra Regis, she asked
him if she might make a request. Permission having been accorded,
she explained that before she finally left Diana's Grove, where she
had lived so long, she had a desire to know the depth of the well-
hole. Adam was really happy to meet her wishes, not from any
sentiment, but because he wished to give some valid and ostensible
reason for examining the passage of the Worm, which would obviate
any suspicion resulting from his being on the premises. He brought
from London a Kelvin sounding apparatus, with a sufficient length of
piano-wire for testing any probable depth. The wire passed easily
over the running wheel, and when this was once fixed over the hole,
he was satisfied to wait till the most advantageous time for his
In the meantime, affairs had been going quietly at Mercy Farm.
Lilla, of course, felt lonely in the absence of her cousin, but the
even tenor of life went on for her as for others. After the first
shock of parting was over, things went back to their accustomed
routine. In one respect, however, there was a marked difference.
So long as home conditions had remained unchanged, Lilla was content
to put ambition far from her, and to settle down to the life which
had been hers as long as she could remember. But Mimi's marriage
set her thinking; naturally, she came to the conclusion that she too
might have a mate. There was not for her much choice--there was
little movement in the matrimonial direction at the farmhouse. She
did not approve of the personality of Edgar Caswall, and his
struggle with Mimi had frightened her; but he was unmistakably an
excellent PARTI, much better than she could have any right to
expect. This weighs much with a woman, and more particularly one of
her class. So, on the whole, she was content to let things take
their course, and to abide by the issue.
As time went on, she had reason to believe that things did not point
to happiness. She could not shut her eyes to certain disturbing
facts, amongst which were the existence of Lady Arabella and her
growing intimacy with Edgar Caswall; as well as his own cold and
haughty nature, so little in accord with the ardour which is the
foundation of a young maid's dreams of happiness. How things would,
of necessity, alter if she were to marry, she was afraid to think.
All told, the prospect was not happy for her, and she had a secret
longing that something might occur to upset the order of things as
at present arranged.
When Lilla received a note from Edgar Caswall asking if he might
come to tea on the following afternoon, her heart sank within her.
If it was only for her father's sake, she must not refuse him or
show any disinclination which he might construe into incivility.
She missed Mimi more than she could say or even dared to think.
Hitherto, she had always looked to her cousin for sympathy, for
understanding, for loyal support. Now she and all these things, and
a thousand others--gentle, assuring, supporting--were gone. And
instead there was a horrible aching void.
For the whole afternoon and evening, and for the following forenoon,
poor Lilla's loneliness grew to be a positive agony. For the first
time she began to realise the sense of her loss, as though all the
previous suffering had been merely a preparation. Everything she
looked at, everything she remembered or thought of, became laden
with poignant memory. Then on the top of all was a new sense of
dread. The reaction from the sense of security, which had
surrounded her all her life, to a never-quieted apprehension, was at
times almost more than she could bear. It so filled her with fear
that she had a haunting feeling that she would as soon die as live.
However, whatever might be her own feelings, duty had to be done,
and as she had been brought up to consider duty first, she braced
herself to go through, to the very best of her ability, what was
Still, the severe and prolonged struggle for self-control told upon
Lilla. She looked, as she felt, ill and weak. She was really in a
nerveless and prostrate condition, with black circles round her
eyes, pale even to her lips, and with an instinctive trembling which
she was quite unable to repress. It was for her a sad mischance
that Mimi was away, for her love would have seen through all
obscuring causes, and have brought to light the girl's unhappy
condition of health. Lilla was utterly unable to do anything to
escape from the ordeal before her; but her cousin, with the
experience of her former struggles with Mr. Caswall and of the
condition in which these left her, would have taken steps--even
peremptory ones, if necessary--to prevent a repetition.
Edgar arrived punctually to the time appointed by herself. When
Lilla, through the great window, saw him approaching the house, her
condition of nervous upset was pitiable. She braced herself up,
however, and managed to get through the interview in its preliminary
stages without any perceptible change in her normal appearance and
bearing. It had been to her an added terror that the black shadow
of Oolanga, whom she dreaded, would follow hard on his master. A
load was lifted from her mind when he did not make his usual
stealthy approach. She had also feared, though in lesser degree,
lest Lady Arabella should be present to make trouble for her as
With a woman's natural forethought in a difficult position, she had
provided the furnishing of the tea-table as a subtle indication of
the social difference between her and her guest. She had chosen the
implements of service, as well as all the provender set forth, of
the humblest kind. Instead of arranging the silver teapot and china
cups, she had set out an earthen tea-pot, such as was in common use
in the farm kitchen. The same idea was carried out in the cups and
saucers of thick homely delft, and in the cream-jug of similar kind.
The bread was of simple whole-meal, home-baked. The butter was
good, since she had made it herself, while the preserves and honey
came from her own garden. Her face beamed with satisfaction when
the guest eyed the appointments with a supercilious glance. It was
a shock to the poor girl herself, for she enjoyed offering to a
guest the little hospitalities possible to her; but that had to be
sacrificed with other pleasures.
Caswall's face was more set and iron-clad than ever--his piercing
eyes seemed from the very beginning to look her through and through.
Her heart quailed when she thought of what would follow--of what
would be the end, when this was only the beginning. As some
protection, though it could be only of a sentimental kind, she
brought from her own room the photographs of Mimi, of her
grandfather, and of Adam Salton, whom by now she had grown to look
on with reliance, as a brother whom she could trust. She kept the
pictures near her heart, to which her hand naturally strayed when
her feelings of constraint, distrust, or fear became so poignant as
to interfere with the calm which she felt was necessary to help her
through her ordeal.
At first Edgar Caswall was courteous and polite, even thoughtful;
but after a little while, when he found her resistance to his
domination grow, he abandoned all forms of self-control and appeared
in the same dominance as he had previously shown. She was prepared,
however, for this, both by her former experience and the natural
fighting instinct within her. By this means, as the minutes went
on, both developed the power and preserved the equality in which
they had begun.
Without warning, the psychic battle between the two individualities
began afresh. This time both the positive and negative causes were
all in favour of the man. The woman was alone and in bad spirits,
unsupported; nothing at all was in her favour except the memory of
the two victorious contests; whereas the man, though unaided, as
before, by either Lady Arabella or Oolanga, was in full strength,
well rested, and in flourishing circumstances. It was not,
therefore, to be wondered at that his native dominance of character
had full opportunity of asserting itself. He began his preliminary
stare with a conscious sense of power, and, as it appeared to have
immediate effect on the girl, he felt an ever-growing conviction of
After a little Lilla's resolution began to flag. She felt that the
contest was unequal--that she was unable to put forth her best
efforts. As she was an unselfish person, she could not fight so
well in her own battle as in that of someone whom she loved and to
whom she was devoted. Edgar saw the relaxing of the muscles of face
and brow, and the almost collapse of the heavy eyelids which seemed
tumbling downward in sleep. Lilla made gallant efforts to brace her
dwindling powers, but for a time unsuccessfully. At length there
came an interruption, which seemed like a powerful stimulant.
Through the wide window she saw Lady Arabella enter the plain
gateway of the farm, and advance towards the hall door. She was
clad as usual in tight-fitting white, which accentuated her thin,
The sight did for Lilla what no voluntary effort could have done.
Her eyes flashed, and in an instant she felt as though a new life
had suddenly developed within her. Lady Arabella's entry, in her
usual unconcerned, haughty, supercilious way, heightened the effect,
so that when the two stood close to each other battle was joined.
Mr. Caswall, too, took new courage from her coming, and all his
masterfulness and power came back to him. His looks, intensified,
had more obvious effect than had been noticeable that day. Lilla
seemed at last overcome by his dominance. Her face became red and
pale--violently red and ghastly pale--by rapid turns. Her strength
seemed gone. Her knees collapsed, and she was actually sinking on
the floor, when to her surprise and joy Mimi came into the room,
running hurriedly and breathing heavily.
Lilla rushed to her, and the two clasped hands. With that, a new
sense of power, greater than Lilla had ever seen in her, seemed to
quicken her cousin. Her hand swept the air in front of Edgar
Caswall, seeming to drive him backward more and more by each
movement, till at last he seemed to be actually hurled through the
door which Mimi's entrance had left open, and fell at full length on
the gravel path without.
Then came the final and complete collapse of Lilla, who, without a
sound, sank down on the floor.
CHAPTER XXVI--FACE TO FACE
Mimi was greatly distressed when she saw her cousin lying prone.
She had a few times in her life seen Lilla on the verge of fainting,
but never senseless; and now she was frightened. She threw herself
on her knees beside Lilla, and tried, by rubbing her hands and other
measures commonly known, to restore her. But all her efforts were
unavailing. Lilla still lay white and senseless. In fact, each
moment she looked worse; her breast, that had been heaving with the
stress, became still, and the pallor of her face grew like marble.
At these succeeding changes Mimi's fright grew, till it altogether
mastered her. She succeeded in controlling herself only to the
extent that she did not scream.
Lady Arabella had followed Caswall, when he had recovered
sufficiently to get up and walk--though stumblingly--in the
direction of Castra Regis. When Mimi was quite alone with Lilla and
the need for effort had ceased, she felt weak and trembled. In her
own mind, she attributed it to a sudden change in the weather--it
was momentarily becoming apparent that a storm was coming on.
She raised Lilla's head and laid it on her warm young breast, but
all in vain. The cold of the white features thrilled through her,
and she utterly collapsed when it was borne in on her that Lilla had
The dusk gradually deepened and the shades of evening closed in, but
Mimi did not seem to notice or to care. She sat on the floor with
her arms round the body of the girl whom she loved. Darker and
blacker grew the sky as the coming storm and the closing night
joined forces. Still she sat on--alone--tearless--unable to think.
Mimi did not know how long she sat there. Though it seemed to her
that ages had passed, it could not have been more than half-an-hour.
She suddenly came to herself, and was surprised to find that her
grandfather had not returned. For a while she lay quiet, thinking
of the immediate past. Lilla's hand was still in hers, and to her
surprise it was still warm. Somehow this helped her consciousness,
and without any special act of will she stood up. She lit a lamp
and looked at her cousin. There was no doubt that Lilla was dead;
but when the lamp-light fell on her eyes, they seemed to look at
Mimi with intent--with meaning. In this state of dark isolation a
new resolution came to her, and grew and grew until it became a
fixed definite purpose. She would face Caswall and call him to
account for his murder of Lilla--that was what she called it to
herself. She would also take steps--she knew not what or how--to
avenge the part taken by Lady Arabella.
In this frame of mind she lit all the lamps in the room, got water
and linen from her room, and set about the decent ordering of
Lilla's body. This took some time; but when it was finished, she
put on her hat and cloak, put out the lights, and set out quietly
for Castra Regis.
As Mimi drew near the Castle, she saw no lights except those in and
around the tower room. The lights showed her that Mr. Caswall was
there, so she entered by the hall door, which as usual was open, and
felt her way in the darkness up the staircase to the lobby of the
room. The door was ajar, and the light from within showed
brilliantly through the opening. She saw Edgar Caswall walking
restlessly to and fro in the room, with his hands clasped behind his
back. She opened the door without knocking, and walked right into
the room. As she entered, he ceased walking, and stared at her in
surprise. She made no remark, no comment, but continued the fixed
look which he had seen on her entrance.
For a time silence reigned, and the two stood looking fixedly at
each other. Mimi was the first to speak.
"You murderer! Lilla is dead!"
"Dead! Good God! When did she die?"
"She died this afternoon, just after you left her."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes--and so are you--or you ought to be. You killed her!"
"I killed her! Be careful what you say!"
"As God sees us, it is true; and you know it. You came to Mercy
Farm on purpose to break her--if you could. And the accomplice of
your guilt, Lady Arabella March, came for the same purpose."
"Be careful, woman," he said hotly. "Do not use such names in that
way, or you shall suffer for it."
"I am suffering for it--have suffered for it--shall suffer for it.
Not for speaking the truth as I have done, but because you two, with
devilish malignity, did my darling to death. It is you and your
accomplice who have to dread punishment, not I."
"Take care!" he said again.
"Oh, I am not afraid of you or your accomplice," she answered
spiritedly. "I am content to stand by every word I have said, every
act I have done. Moreover, I believe in God's justice. I fear not
the grinding of His mills; if necessary I shall set the wheels in
motion myself. But you don't care for God, or believe in Him. Your
god is your great kite, which cows the birds of a whole district.
But be sure that His hand, when it rises, always falls at the
appointed time. It may be that your name is being called even at
this very moment at the Great Assize. Repent while there is still
time. Happy you, if you may be allowed to enter those mighty halls
in the company of the pure-souled angel whose voice has only to
whisper one word of justice, and you disappear for ever into
The sudden death of Lilla caused consternation among Mimi's friends
and well-wishers. Such a tragedy was totally unexpected, as Adam
and Sir Nathaniel had been expecting the White Worm's vengeance to
fall upon themselves.
Adam, leaving his wife free to follow her own desires with regard to
Lilla and her grandfather, busied himself with filling the well-hole
with the fine sand prepared for the purpose, taking care to have
lowered at stated intervals quantities of the store of dynamite, so
as to be ready for the final explosion. He had under his immediate
supervision a corps of workmen, and was assisted by Sir Nathaniel,
who had come over for the purpose, and all were now staying at
Mr. Salton, too, showed much interest in the job, and was constantly
coming in and out, nothing escaping his observation.
Since her marriage to Adam and their coming to stay at Doom Tower,
Mimi had been fettered by fear of the horrible monster at Diana's
Grove. But now she dreaded it no longer. She accepted the fact of
its assuming at will the form of Lady Arabella. She had still to
tax and upbraid her for her part in the unhappiness which had been
wrought on Lilla, and for her share in causing her death.
One evening, when Mimi entered her own room, she went to the window
and threw an eager look round the whole circle of sight. A single
glance satisfied her that the White Worm in PROPRIA PERSONA was not
visible. So she sat down in the window-seat and enjoyed the
pleasure of a full view, from which she had been so long cut off.
The maid who waited on her had told her that Mr. Salton had not yet
returned home, so she felt free to enjoy the luxury of peace and
As she looked out of the window, she saw something thin and white
move along the avenue. She thought she recognised the figure of
Lady Arabella, and instinctively drew back behind the curtain. When
she had ascertained, by peeping out several times, that the lady had
not seen her, she watched more carefully, all her instinctive hatred
flooding back at the sight of her. Lady Arabella was moving swiftly
and stealthily, looking back and around her at intervals, as if she
feared to be followed. This gave Mimi an idea that she was up to no
good, so she determined to seize the occasion for watching her in
Hastily putting on a dark cloak and hat, she ran downstairs and out
into the avenue. Lady Arabella had moved, but the sheen of her
white dress was still to be seen among the young oaks around the
gateway. Keeping in shadow, Mimi followed, taking care not to come
so close as to awake the other's suspicion, and watched her quarry
pass along the road in the direction of Castra Regis.
She followed on steadily through the gloom of the trees, depending
on the glint of the white dress to keep her right. The wood began
to thicken, and presently, when the road widened and the trees grew
farther back, she lost sight of any indication of her whereabouts.
Under the present conditions it was impossible for her to do any
more, so, after waiting for a while, still hidden in the shadow to
see if she could catch another glimpse of the white frock, she
determined to go on slowly towards Castra Regis, and trust to the
chapter of accidents to pick up the trail again. She went on
slowly, taking advantage of every obstacle and shadow to keep
At last she entered on the grounds of the Castle, at a spot from
which the windows of the turret were dimly visible, without having
seen again any sign of Lady Arabella.
Meanwhile, during most of the time that Mimi Salton had been moving
warily along in the gloom, she was in reality being followed by Lady
Arabella, who had caught sight of her leaving the house and had
never again lost touch with her. It was a case of the hunter being
hunted. For a time Mimi's many turnings, with the natural obstacles
that were perpetually intervening, caused Lady Arabella some
trouble; but when she was close to Castra Regis, there was no more
possibility of concealment, and the strange double following went
When she saw Mimi close to the hall door of Castra Regis and
ascending the steps, she followed. When Mimi entered the dark hall
and felt her way up the staircase, still, as she believed, following
Lady Arabella, the latter kept on her way. When they reached the
lobby of the turret-rooms, Mimi believed that the object of her
search was ahead of her.
Edgar Caswall sat in the gloom of the great room, occasionally
stirred to curiosity when the drifting clouds allowed a little light
to fall from the storm-swept sky. But nothing really interested him
now. Since he had heard of Lilla's death, the gloom of his remorse,
emphasised by Mimi's upbraiding, had made more hopeless his cruel,
selfish, saturnine nature. He heard no sound, for his normal
faculties seemed benumbed.
Mimi, when she came to the door, which stood ajar, gave a light tap.
So light was it that it did not reach Caswall's ears. Then, taking
her courage in both hands, she boldly pushed the door and entered.
As she did so, her heart sank, for now she was face to face with a
difficulty which had not, in her state of mental perturbation,
occurred to her.
CHAPTER XXVII--ON THE TURRET ROOF
The storm which was coming was already making itself manifest, not
only in the wide scope of nature, but in the hearts and natures of
human beings. Electrical disturbance in the sky and the air is
reproduced in animals of all kinds, and particularly in the highest
type of them all--the most receptive--the most electrical. So it
was with Edgar Caswall, despite his selfish nature and coldness of
blood. So it was with Mimi Salton, despite her unselfish,
unchanging devotion for those she loved. So it was even with Lady
Arabella, who, under the instincts of a primeval serpent, carried
the ever-varying wishes and customs of womanhood, which is always
old--and always new.
Edgar, after he had turned his eyes on Mimi, resumed his apathetic
position and sullen silence. Mimi quietly took a seat a little way
apart, whence she could look on the progress of the coming storm and
study its appearance throughout the whole visible circle of the
neighbourhood. She was in brighter and better spirits than she had
been for many days past. Lady Arabella tried to efface herself
behind the now open door.
Without, the clouds grew thicker and blacker as the storm-centre
came closer. As yet the forces, from whose linking the lightning
springs, were held apart, and the silence of nature proclaimed the
calm before the storm. Caswall felt the effect of the gathering
electric force. A sort of wild exultation grew upon him, such as he
had sometimes felt just before the breaking of a tropical storm. As
he became conscious of this, he raised his head and caught sight of
Mimi. He was in the grip of an emotion greater than himself; in the
mood in which he was he felt the need upon him of doing some
desperate deed. He was now absolutely reckless, and as Mimi was
associated with him in the memory which drove him on, he wished that
she too should be engaged in this enterprise. He had no knowledge
of the proximity of Lady Arabella, and thought that he was far
removed from all he knew and whose interests he shared--alone with
the wild elements, which were being lashed to fury, and with the
woman who had struggled with him and vanquished him, and on whom he
would shower the full measure of his hate.
The fact was that Edgar Caswall was, if not mad, close to the
border-line. Madness in its first stage--monomania--is a lack of
proportion. So long as this is general, it is not always
noticeable, for the uninspired onlooker is without the necessary
means of comparison. But in monomania the errant faculty protrudes
itself in a way that may not be denied. It puts aside, obscures, or
takes the place of something else--just as the head of a pin placed
before the centre of the iris will block out the whole scope of
vision. The most usual form of monomania has commonly the same
beginning as that from which Edgar Caswall suffered--an over-large
idea of self-importance. Alienists, who study the matter exactly,
probably know more of human vanity and its effects than do ordinary
men. Caswall's mental disturbance was not hard to identify. Every
asylum is full of such cases--men and women, who, naturally selfish
and egotistical, so appraise to themselves their own importance that
every other circumstance in life becomes subservient to it. The
disease supplies in itself the material for self-magnification.
When the decadence attacks a nature naturally proud and selfish and
vain, and lacking both the aptitude and habit of self-restraint, the
development of the disease is more swift, and ranges to farther
limits. It is such persons who become inbued with the idea that
they have the attributes of the Almighty--even that they themselves
are the Almighty.
Mimi had a suspicion--or rather, perhaps, an intuition--of the true
state of things when she heard him speak, and at the same time
noticed the abnormal flush on his face, and his rolling eyes. There
was a certain want of fixedness of purpose which she had certainly
not noticed before--a quick, spasmodic utterance which belongs
rather to the insane than to those of intellectual equilibrium. She
was a little frightened, not only by his thoughts, but by his
staccato way of expressing them.
Caswall moved to the door leading to the turret stair by which the
roof was reached, and spoke in a peremptory way, whose tone alone
made her feel defiant.
"Come! I want you."
She instinctively drew back--she was not accustomed to such words,
more especially to such a tone. Her answer was indicative of a new
"Why should I go? What for?"
He did not at once reply--another indication of his overwhelming
egotism. She repeated her questions; habit reasserted itself, and
he spoke without thinking the words which were in his heart.
"I want you, if you will be so good, to come with me to the turret
roof. I am much interested in certain experiments with the kite,
which would be, if not a pleasure, at least a novel experience to
you. You would see something not easily seen otherwise."
"I will come," she answered simply; Edgar moved in the direction of
the stair, she following close behind him.
She did not like to be left alone at such a height, in such a place,
in the darkness, with a storm about to break. Of himself she had no
fear; all that had been seemed to have passed away with her two
victories over him in the struggle of wills. Moreover, the more
recent apprehension--that of his madness--had also ceased. In the
conversation of the last few minutes he seemed so rational, so
clear, so unaggressive, that she no longer saw reason for doubt. So
satisfied was she that even when he put out a hand to guide her to
the steep, narrow stairway, she took it without thought in the most
Lady Arabella, crouching in the lobby behind the door, heard every
word that had been said, and formed her own opinion of it. It
seemed evident to her that there had been some rapprochement between
the two who had so lately been hostile to each other, and that made
her furiously angry. Mimi was interfering with her plans! She had
made certain of her capture of Edgar Caswall, and she could not
tolerate even the lightest and most contemptuous fancy on his part
which might divert him from the main issue. When she became aware
that he wished Mimi to come with him to the roof and that she had
acquiesced, her rage got beyond bounds. She became oblivious to any
danger there might be in a visit to such an exposed place at such a
time, and to all lesser considerations, and made up her mind to
forestall them. She stealthily and noiselessly crept through the
wicket, and, ascending the stair, stepped out on the roof. It was
bitterly cold, for the fierce gusts of the storm which swept round
the turret drove in through every unimpeded way, whistling at the
sharp corners and singing round the trembling flagstaff. The kite-
string and the wire which controlled the runners made a concourse of
weird sounds which somehow, perhaps from the violence which
surrounded them, acting on their length, resolved themselves into
some kind of harmony--a fitting accompaniment to the tragedy which
seemed about to begin.
Mimi's heart beat heavily. Just before leaving the turret-chamber
she had a shock which she could not shake off. The lights of the
room had momentarily revealed to her, as they passed out, Edgar's
face, concentrated as it was whenever he intended to use his
mesmeric power. Now the black eyebrows made a thick line across his
face, under which his eyes shone and glittered ominously. Mimi
recognised the danger, and assumed the defiant attitude that had
twice already served her so well. She had a fear that the
circumstances and the place were against her, and she wanted to be
The sky was now somewhat lighter than it had been. Either there was
lightning afar off, whose reflections were carried by the rolling
clouds, or else the gathered force, though not yet breaking into
lightning, had an incipient power of light. It seemed to affect
both the man and the woman. Edgar seemed altogether under its
influence. His spirits were boisterous, his mind exalted. He was
now at his worst; madder than he had been earlier in the night.
Mimi, trying to keep as far from him as possible, moved across the
stone floor of the turret roof, and found a niche which concealed
her. It was not far from Lady Arabella's place of hiding.
Edgar, left thus alone on the centre of the turret roof, found
himself altogether his own master in a way which tended to increase
his madness. He knew that Mimi was close at hand, though he had
lost sight of her. He spoke loudly, and the sound of his own voice,
though it was carried from him on the sweeping wind as fast as the
words were spoken, seemed to exalt him still more. Even the raging
of the elements round him appeared to add to his exaltation. To him
it seemed that these manifestations were obedient to his own will.
He had reached the sublime of his madness; he was now in his own
mind actually the Almighty, and whatever might happen would be the
direct carrying out of his own commands. As he could not see Mimi,
nor fix whereabout she was, he shouted loudly:
"Come to me! You shall see now what you are despising, what you are
warring against. All that you see is mine--the darkness as well as
the light. I tell you that I am greater than any other who is, or
was, or shall be. When the Master of Evil took Christ up on a high
place and showed Him all the kingdoms of the earth, he was doing
what he thought no other could do. He was wrong--he forgot ME. I
shall send you light, up to the very ramparts of heaven. A light so
great that it shall dissipate those black clouds that are rushing up
and piling around us. Look! Look! At the very touch of my hand
that light springs into being and mounts up--and up--and up!"
He made his way whilst he was speaking to the corner of the turret
whence flew the giant kite, and from which the runners ascended.
Mimi looked on, appalled and afraid to speak lest she should
precipitate some calamity. Within the niche Lady Arabella cowered
in a paroxysm of fear.
Edgar took up a small wooden box, through a hole in which the wire
of the runner ran. This evidently set some machinery in motion, for
a sound as of whirring came. From one side of the box floated what
looked like a piece of stiff ribbon, which snapped and crackled as
the wind took it. For a few seconds Mimi saw it as it rushed along
the sagging line to the kite. When close to it, there was a loud
crack, and a sudden light appeared to issue from every chink in the
box. Then a quick flame flashed along the snapping ribbon, which
glowed with an intense light--a light so great that the whole of the
countryside around stood out against the background of black driving
clouds. For a few seconds the light remained, then suddenly
disappeared in the blackness around. It was simply a magnesium
light, which had been fired by the mechanism within the box and
carried up to the kite. Edgar was in a state of tumultuous
excitement, shouting and yelling at the top of his voice and dancing
about like a lunatic.
This was more than Lady Arabella's curious dual nature could stand--
the ghoulish element in her rose triumphant, and she abandoned all
idea of marriage with Edgar Caswall, gloating fiendishly over the
thought of revenge.
She must lure him to the White Worm's hole--but how? She glanced
around and quickly made up her mind. The man's whole thoughts were
absorbed by his wonderful kite, which he was showing off, in order
to fascinate her imaginary rival, Mimi.
On the instant she glided through the darkness to the wheel whereon
the string of the kite was wound. With deft fingers she unshipped
this, took it with her, reeling out the wire as she went, thus
keeping, in a way, in touch with the kite. Then she glided swiftly
to the wicket, through which she passed, locking the gate behind her
as she went.
Down the turret stair she ran quickly, letting the wire run from the
wheel which she carried carefully, and, passing out of the hall
door, hurried down the avenue with all her speed. She soon reached
her own gate, ran down the avenue, and with her key opened the iron
door leading to the well-hole.
She felt well satisfied with herself. All her plans were maturing,
or had already matured. The Master of Castra Regis was within her
grasp. The woman whose interference she had feared, Lilla Watford,
was dead. Truly, all was well, and she felt that she might pause a
while and rest. She tore off her clothes, with feverish fingers,
and in full enjoyment of her natural freedom, stretched her slim
figure in animal delight. Then she lay down on the sofa--to await
her victim! Edgar Caswall's life blood would more than satisfy her
for some time to come.
CHAPTER XXVIII--THE BREAKING OF THE STORM
When Lady Arabella had crept away in her usual noiseless fashion,
the two others remained for a while in their places on the turret
roof: Caswall because he had nothing to say, Mimi because she had
much to say and wished to put her thoughts in order. For quite a
while--which seemed interminable--silence reigned between them. At
last Mimi made a beginning--she had made up her mind how to act.
"Mr. Caswall," she said loudly, so as to make sure of being heard
through the blustering of the wind and the perpetual cracking of the
Caswall said something in reply, but his words were carried away on
the storm. However, one of her objects was effected: she knew now
exactly whereabout on the roof he was. So she moved close to the
spot before she spoke again, raising her voice almost to a shout.
"The wicket is shut. Please to open it. I can't get out."
As she spoke, she was quietly fingering a revolver which Adam had
given to her in case of emergency and which now lay in her breast.
She felt that she was caged like a rat in a trap, but did not mean
to be taken at a disadvantage, whatever happened. Caswall also felt
trapped, and all the brute in him rose to the emergency. In a voice
which was raucous and brutal--much like that which is heard when a
wife is being beaten by her husband in a slum--he hissed out, his
syllables cutting through the roaring of the storm:
"You came of your own accord--without permission, or even asking it.
Now you can stay or go as you choose. But you must manage it for
yourself; I'll have nothing to do with it."
Her answer was spoken with dangerous suavity
"I am going. Blame yourself if you do not like the time and manner
of it. I daresay Adam--my husband--will have a word to say to you
"Let him say, and be damned to him, and to you too! I'll show you a
light. You shan't be able to say that you could not see what you
As he spoke, he was lighting another piece of the magnesium ribbon,
which made a blinding glare in which everything was plainly
discernible, down to the smallest detail. This exactly suited Mimi.
She took accurate note of the wicket and its fastening before the
glare had died away. She took her revolver out and fired into the
lock, which was shivered on the instant, the pieces flying round in
all directions, but happily without causing hurt to anyone. Then
she pushed the wicket open and ran down the narrow stair, and so to
the hall door. Opening this also, she ran down the avenue, never
lessening her speed till she stood outside the door of Lesser Hill.
The door was opened at once on her ringing.
"Is Mr. Adam Salton in?" she asked.
"He has just come in, a few minutes ago. He has gone up to the
study," replied a servant.
She ran upstairs at once and joined him. He seemed relieved when he
saw her, but scrutinised her face keenly. He saw that she had been
in some concern, so led her over to the sofa in the window and sat
down beside her.
"Now, dear, tell me all about it!" he said.
She rushed breathlessly through all the details of her adventure on
the turret roof. Adam listened attentively, helping her all he
could, and not embarrassing her by any questioning. His thoughtful
silence was a great help to her, for it allowed her to collect and
organise her thoughts.
"I must go and see Caswall to-morrow, to hear what he has to say on
"But, dear, for my sake, don't have any quarrel with Mr. Caswall. I
have had too much trial and pain lately to wish it increased by any
anxiety regarding you."
"You shall not, dear--if I can help it--please God," he said
solemnly, and he kissed her.
Then, in order to keep her interested so that she might forget the
fears and anxieties that had disturbed her, he began to talk over
the details of her adventure, making shrewd comments which attracted
and held her attention. Presently, INTER ALIA, he said:
"That's a dangerous game Caswall is up to. It seems to me that that
young man--though he doesn't appear to know it--is riding for a
"How, dear? I don't understand."
"Kite flying on a night like this from a place like the tower of
Castra Regis is, to say the least of it, dangerous. It is not
merely courting death or other accident from lightning, but it is
bringing the lightning into where he lives. Every cloud that is
blowing up here--and they all make for the highest point--is bound
to develop into a flash of lightning. That kite is up in the air
and is bound to attract the lightning. Its cord makes a road for it
on which to travel to earth. When it does come, it will strike the
top of the tower with a weight a hundred times greater than a whole
park of artillery, and will knock Castra Regis into pieces. Where
it will go after that, no one can tell. If there should be any
metal by which it can travel, such will not only point the road, but
be the road itself."
"Would it be dangerous to be out in the open air when such a thing
is taking place?" she asked.
"No, little woman. It would be the safest possible place--so long
as one was not in the line of the electric current."
"Then, do let us go outside. I don't want to run into any foolish
danger--or, far more, to ask you to do so. But surely if the open
is safest, that is the place for us."
Without another word, she put on again the cloak she had thrown off,
and a small, tight-fitting cap. Adam too put on his cap, and, after
seeing that his revolver was all right, gave her his hand, and they
left the house together.
"I think the best thing we can do will be to go round all the places
which are mixed up in this affair."
"All right, dear, I am ready. But, if you don't mind, we might go
first to Mercy. I am anxious about grandfather, and we might see
that--as yet, at all events--nothing has happened there."
So they went on the high-hung road along the top of the Brow. The
wind here was of great force, and made a strange booming noise as it
swept high overhead; though not the sound of cracking and tearing as
it passed through the woods of high slender trees which grew on
either side of the road. Mimi could hardly keep her feet. She was
not afraid; but the force to which she was opposed gave her a good
excuse to hold on to her husband extra tight.
At Mercy there was no one up--at least, all the lights were out.
But to Mimi, accustomed to the nightly routine of the house, there
were manifest signs that all was well, except in the little room on
the first floor, where the blinds were down. Mimi could not bear to
look at that, to think of it. Adam understood her pain, for he had
been keenly interested in poor Lilla. He bent over and kissed her,
and then took her hand and held it hard. Thus they passed on
together, returning to the high road towards Castra Regis.
At the gate of Castra Regis they were extra careful. When drawing
near, Adam stumbled upon the wire that Lady Arabella had left
trailing on the ground.
Adam drew his breath at this, and spoke in a low, earnest whisper:
"I don't want to frighten you, Mimi dear, but wherever that wire is
there is danger."
"That is the track where the lightning will go; at any moment, even
now whilst we are speaking and searching, a fearful force may be
loosed upon us. Run on, dear; you know the way to where the avenue
joins the highroad. If you see any sign of the wire, keep away from
it, for God's sake. I shall join you at the gateway."
"Are you going to follow that wire alone?"
"Yes, dear. One is sufficient for that work. I shall not lose a
moment till I am with you."
"Adam, when I came with you into the open, my main wish was that we
should be together if anything serious happened. You wouldn't deny
me that right, would you, dear?"
"No, dear, not that or any right. Thank God that my wife has such a
wish. Come; we will go together. We are in the hands of God. If
He wishes, we shall be together at the end, whenever or wherever
that may be."
They picked up the trail of the wire on the steps and followed it
down the avenue, taking care not to touch it with their feet. It
was easy enough to follow, for the wire, if not bright, was self-
coloured, and showed clearly. They followed it out of the gateway
and into the avenue of Diana's Grove.
Here a new gravity clouded Adam's face, though Mimi saw no cause for
fresh concern. This was easily enough explained. Adam knew of the
explosive works in progress regarding the well-hole, but the matter
had been kept from his wife. As they stood near the house, Adam
asked Mimi to return to the road, ostensibly to watch the course of
the wire, telling her that there might be a branch wire leading
somewhere else. She was to search the undergrowth, and if she found
it, was to warn him by the Australian native "Coo-ee!"
Whilst they were standing together, there came a blinding flash of
lightning, which lit up for several seconds the whole area of earth
and sky. It was only the first note of the celestial prelude, for
it was followed in quick succession by numerous flashes, whilst the
crash and roll of thunder seemed continuous.
Adam, appalled, drew his wife to him and held her close. As far as
he could estimate by the interval between lightning and thunder-
clap, the heart of the storm was still some distance off, so he felt
no present concern for their safety. Still, it was apparent that
the course of the storm was moving swiftly in their direction. The
lightning flashes came faster and faster and closer together; the
thunder-roll was almost continuous, not stopping for a moment--a new
crash beginning before the old one had ceased. Adam kept looking up
in the direction where the kite strained and struggled at its
detaining cord, but, of course, the dull evening light prevented any
At length there came a flash so appallingly bright that in its glare
Nature seemed to be standing still. So long did it last, that there
was time to distinguish its configuration. It seemed like a mighty
tree inverted, pendent from the sky. The whole country around
within the angle of vision was lit up till it seemed to glow. Then
a broad ribbon of fire seemed to drop on to the tower of Castra
Regis just as the thunder crashed. By the glare, Adam could see the
tower shake and tremble, and finally fall to pieces like a house of
cards. The passing of the lightning left the sky again dark, but a
blue flame fell downward from the tower, and, with inconceivable
rapidity, running along the ground in the direction of Diana's
Grove, reached the dark silent house, which in the instant burst
into flame at a hundred different points.
At the same moment there rose from the house a rending, crashing
sound of woodwork, broken or thrown about, mixed with a quick scream
so appalling that Adam, stout of heart as he undoubtedly was, felt
his blood turn into ice. Instinctively, despite the danger and
their consciousness of it, husband and wife took hands and listened,
trembling. Something was going on close to them, mysterious,
terrible, deadly! The shrieks continued, though less sharp in
sound, as though muffled. In the midst of them was a terrific
explosion, seemingly from deep in the earth.
The flames from Castra Regis and from Diana's Grove made all around
almost as light as day, and now that the lightning had ceased to
flash, their eyes, unblinded, were able to judge both perspective
and detail. The heat of the burning house caused the iron doors to
warp and collapse. Seemingly of their own accord, they fell open,
and exposed the interior. The Saltons could now look through to the
room beyond, where the well-hole yawned, a deep narrow circular
chasm. From this the agonised shrieks were rising, growing ever
more terrible with each second that passed.
But it was not only the heart-rending sound that almost paralysed
poor Mimi with terror. What she saw was sufficient to fill her with
evil dreams for the remainder of her life. The whole place looked
as if a sea of blood had been beating against it. Each of the
explosions from below had thrown out from the well-hole, as if it
had been the mouth of a cannon, a mass of fine sand mixed with
blood, and a horrible repulsive slime in which were great red masses
of rent and torn flesh and fat. As the explosions kept on, more and
more of this repulsive mass was shot up, the great bulk of it
falling back again. Many of the awful fragments were of something
which had lately been alive. They quivered and trembled and writhed
as though they were still in torment, a supposition to which the
unending scream gave a horrible credence. At moments some
mountainous mass of flesh surged up through the narrow orifice, as
though forced by a measureless power through an opening infinitely
smaller than itself. Some of these fragments were partially covered
with white skin as of a human being, and others--the largest and
most numerous--with scaled skin as of a gigantic lizard or serpent.
Once, in a sort of lull or pause, the seething contents of the hole
rose, after the manner of a bubbling spring, and Adam saw part of
the thin form of Lady Arabella, forced up to the top amid a mass of
blood and slime, and what looked as if it had been the entrails of a
monster torn into shreds. Several times some masses of enormous
bulk were forced up through the well-hole with inconceivable
violence, and, suddenly expanding as they came into larger space,
disclosed sections of the White Worm which Adam and Sir Nathaniel
had seen looking over the trees with its enormous eyes of emerald-
green flickering like great lamps in a gale.
At last the explosive power, which was not yet exhausted, evidently
reached the main store of dynamite which had been lowered into the
worm hole. The result was appalling. The ground for far around
quivered and opened in long deep chasms, whose edges shook and fell
in, throwing up clouds of sand which fell back and hissed amongst
the rising water. The heavily built house shook to its foundations.
Great stones were thrown up as from a volcano, some of them, great
masses of hard stone, squared and grooved with implements wrought by
human hands, breaking up and splitting in mid air as though riven by
some infernal power. Trees near the house--and therefore presumably
in some way above the hole, which sent up clouds of dust and steam
and fine sand mingled, and which carried an appalling stench which
sickened the spectators--were torn up by the roots and hurled into
the air. By now, flames were bursting violently from all over the
ruins, so dangerously that Adam caught up his wife in his arms, and
ran with her from the proximity of the flames.
Then almost as quickly as it had begun, the whole cataclysm ceased,
though a deep-down rumbling continued intermittently for some time.
Then silence brooded over all--silence so complete that it seemed in
itself a sentient thing--silence which seemed like incarnate
darkness, and conveyed the same idea to all who came within its
radius. To the young people who had suffered the long horror of
that awful night, it brought relief--relief from the presence or the
fear of all that was horrible--relief which seemed perfected when
the red rays of sunrise shot up over the far eastern sea, bringing a
promise of a new order of things with the coming day.
His bed saw little of Adam Salton for the remainder of that night.
He and Mimi walked hand in hand in the brightening dawn round by the
Brow to Castra Regis and on to Lesser Hill. They did so
deliberately, in an attempt to think as little as possible of the
terrible experiences of the night. The morning was bright and
cheerful, as a morning sometimes is after a devastating storm. The
clouds, of which there were plenty in evidence, brought no lingering
idea of gloom. All nature was bright and joyous, being in striking
contrast to the scenes of wreck and devastation, the effects of
obliterating fire and lasting ruin.
The only evidence of the once stately pile of Castra Regis and its
inhabitants was a shapeless huddle of shattered architecture, dimly
seen as the keen breeze swept aside the cloud of acrid smoke which
marked the site of the once lordly castle. As for Diana's Grove,
they looked in vain for a sign which had a suggestion of permanence.
The oak trees of the Grove were still to be seen--some of them--
emerging from a haze of smoke, the great trunks solid and erect as
ever, but the larger branches broken and twisted and rent, with bark
stripped and chipped, and the smaller branches broken and
dishevelled looking from the constant stress and threshing of the
Of the house as such, there was, even at the short distance from
which they looked, no trace. Adam resolutely turned his back on the
devastation and hurried on. Mimi was not only upset and shocked in
many ways, but she was physically "dog tired," and falling asleep on
her feet. Adam took her to her room and made her undress and get
into bed, taking care that the room was well lighted both by
sunshine and lamps. The only obstruction was from a silk curtain,
drawn across the window to keep out the glare. He sat beside her,
holding her hand, well knowing that the comfort of his presence was
the best restorative for her. He stayed with her till sleep had
overmastered her wearied body. Then he went softly away. He found
his uncle and Sir Nathaniel in the study, having an early cup of
tea, amplified to the dimensions of a possible breakfast. Adam
explained that he had not told his wife that he was going over the
horrible places again, lest it should frighten her, for the rest and
sleep in ignorance would help her and make a gap of peacefulness
between the horrors.
Sir Nathaniel agreed.
"We know, my boy," he said, "that the unfortunate Lady Arabella is
dead, and that the foul carcase of the Worm has been torn to pieces-
-pray God that its evil soul will never more escape from the
They visited Diana's Grove first, not only because it was nearer,