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قراءة كتاب The Lair of the White Worm

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‏اللغة: English
The Lair of the White Worm

The Lair of the White Worm

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دار النشر: Project Gutenberg
الصفحة رقم: 2

ribbons sometimes?”

“Whenever you choose, Adam.  The team is your own.  Every horse we use to-day is to be your own.”

“You are too generous, uncle!”

“Not at all.  Only an old man’s selfish pleasure.  It is not every day that an heir to the old home comes back.  And—oh, by the way . . . No, we had better turn in now—I shall tell you the rest in the morning.”


Mr. Salton had all his life been an early riser, and necessarily an early waker.  But early as he woke on the next morning—and although there was an excuse for not prolonging sleep in the constant whirr and rattle of the “donkey” engine winches of the great ship—he met the eyes of Adam fixed on him from his berth.  His grand-nephew had given him the sofa, occupying the lower berth himself.  The old man, despite his great strength and normal activity, was somewhat tired by his long journey of the day before, and the prolonged and exciting interview which followed it.  So he was glad to lie still and rest his body, whilst his mind was actively exercised in taking in all he could of his strange surroundings.  Adam, too, after the pastoral habit to which he had been bred, woke with the dawn, and was ready to enter on the experiences of the new day whenever it might suit his elder companion.  It was little wonder, then, that, so soon as each realised the other’s readiness, they simultaneously jumped up and began to dress.  The steward had by previous instructions early breakfast prepared, and it was not long before they went down the gangway on shore in search of the carriage.

They found Mr. Salton’s bailiff looking out for them on the dock, and he brought them at once to where the carriage was waiting in the street.  Richard Salton pointed out with pride to his young companion the suitability of the vehicle for every need of travel.  To it were harnessed four useful horses, with a postillion to each pair.

“See,” said the old man proudly, “how it has all the luxuries of useful travel—silence and isolation as well as speed.  There is nothing to obstruct the view of those travelling and no one to overhear what they may say.  I have used that trap for a quarter of a century, and I never saw one more suitable for travel.  You shall test it shortly.  We are going to drive through the heart of England; and as we go I’ll tell you what I was speaking of last night.  Our route is to be by Salisbury, Bath, Bristol, Cheltenham, Worcester, Stafford; and so home.”

Adam remained silent a few minutes, during which he seemed all eyes, for he perpetually ranged the whole circle of the horizon.

“Has our journey to-day, sir,” he asked, “any special relation to what you said last night that you wanted to tell me?”

“Not directly; but indirectly, everything.”

“Won’t you tell me now—I see we cannot be overheard—and if anything strikes you as we go along, just run it in.  I shall understand.”

So old Salton spoke:

“To begin at the beginning, Adam.  That lecture of yours on ‘The Romans in Britain,’ a report of which you posted to me, set me thinking—in addition to telling me your tastes.  I wrote to you at once and asked you to come home, for it struck me that if you were fond of historical research—as seemed a fact—this was exactly the place for you, in addition to its being the home of your own forbears.  If you could learn so much of the British Romans so far away in New South Wales, where there cannot be even a tradition of them, what might you not make of the same amount of study on the very spot.  Where we are going is in the real heart of the old kingdom of Mercia, where there are traces of all the various nationalities which made up the conglomerate which became Britain.”

“I rather gathered that you had some more definite—more personal reason for my hurrying.  After all, history can keep—except in the making!”

“Quite right, my boy.  I had a reason such as you very wisely guessed.  I was anxious for you to be here when a rather important phase of our local history occurred.”

“What is that, if I may ask, sir?”

“Certainly.  The principal landowner of our part of the county is on his way home, and there will be a great home-coming, which you may care to see.  The fact is, for more than a century the various owners in the succession here, with the exception of a short time, have lived abroad.”

“How is that, sir, if I may ask?”

“The great house and estate in our part of the world is Castra Regis, the family seat of the Caswall family.  The last owner who lived here was Edgar Caswall, grandfather of the man who is coming here—and he was the only one who stayed even a short time.  This man’s grandfather, also named Edgar—they keep the tradition of the family Christian name—quarrelled with his family and went to live abroad, not keeping up any intercourse, good or bad, with his relatives, although this particular Edgar, as I told you, did visit his family estate, yet his son was born and lived and died abroad, while his grandson, the latest inheritor, was also born and lived abroad till he was over thirty—his present age.  This was the second line of absentees.  The great estate of Castra Regis has had no knowledge of its owner for five generations—covering more than a hundred and twenty years.  It has been well administered, however, and no tenant or other connected with it has had anything of which to complain.  All the same, there has been much natural anxiety to see the new owner, and we are all excited about the event of his coming.  Even I am, though I own my own estate, which, though adjacent, is quite apart from Castra Regis.—Here we are now in new ground for you.  That is the spire of Salisbury Cathedral, and when we leave that we shall be getting close to the old Roman county, and you will naturally want your eyes.  So we shall shortly have to keep our minds on old Mercia.  However, you need not be disappointed.  My old friend, Sir Nathaniel de Salis, who, like myself, is a free-holder near Castra Regis—his estate, Doom Tower, is over the border of Derbyshire, on the Peak—is coming to stay with me for the festivities to welcome Edgar Caswall.  He is just the sort of man you will like.  He is devoted to history, and is President of the Mercian Archaeological Society.  He knows more of our own part of the country, with its history and its people, than anyone else.  I expect he will have arrived before us, and we three can have a long chat after dinner.  He is also our local geologist and natural historian.  So you and he will have many interests in common.  Amongst other things he has a special knowledge of the Peak and its caverns, and knows all the old legends of prehistoric times.”

They spent the night at Cheltenham, and on the following morning resumed their journey to Stafford.  Adam’s eyes were in constant employment, and it was not till Salton declared that they had now entered on the last stage of their journey, that he referred to Sir Nathaniel’s coming.

As the dusk was closing down, they drove on to Lesser Hill, Mr. Salton’s house.  It was now too dark to see any details of their surroundings.  Adam could just see that it was on the top of a hill, not quite so high as that which was covered by the Castle, on whose tower flew the flag, and which was all ablaze with moving lights, manifestly used in the preparations for the festivities on the morrow.  So Adam deferred his curiosity till daylight.  His grand-uncle was met at the door by a fine old man, who greeted him warmly.

“I came over early as you wished.  I suppose this is your grand-nephew—I am glad to meet you, Mr. Adam Salton.  I am Nathaniel de Salis, and your uncle is one of my oldest friends.”

Adam, from the moment of their eyes meeting, felt as if they were already friends.  The meeting was a new note of welcome to those that had