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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: 6

attitude of devotion and stood by respectfully.

Adam spoke to his own man, Davenport, who was standing by, having arrived with the bailiff of Lesser Hill, who had followed Mr. Salton in a pony trap.  As he spoke, he pointed to an attentive ship’s steward, and presently the two men were conversing.

“I think we ought to be moving,” Mr. Salton said to Adam.  “I have some things to do in Liverpool, and I am sure that both Mr. Caswall and Lady Arabella would like to get under weigh for Castra Regis.”

“I too, sir, would like to do something,” replied Adam.  “I want to find out where Ross, the animal merchant, lives—I want to take a small animal home with me, if you don’t mind.  He is only a little thing, and will be no trouble.”

“Of course not, my boy.  What kind of animal is it that you want?”

“A mongoose.”

“A mongoose!  What on earth do you want it for?”

“To kill snakes.”

“Good!”  The old man remembered the mound of stones.  No explanation was needed.

When Ross heard what was wanted, he asked:

“Do you want something special, or will an ordinary mongoose do?”

“Well, of course I want a good one.  But I see no need for anything special.  It is for ordinary use.”

“I can let you have a choice of ordinary ones.  I only asked, because I have in stock a very special one which I got lately from Nepaul.  He has a record of his own.  He killed a king cobra that had been seen in the Rajah’s garden.  But I don’t suppose we have any snakes of the kind in this cold climate—I daresay an ordinary one will do.”

When Adam got back to the carriage, carefully carrying the box with the mongoose, Sir Nathaniel said: “Hullo! what have you got there?”

“A mongoose.”

“What for?”

“To kill snakes!”

Sir Nathaniel laughed.

“I heard Lady Arabella’s invitation to you to come to Diana’s Grove.”

“Well, what on earth has that got to do with it?”

“Nothing directly that I know of.  But we shall see.”  Adam waited, and the old man went on: “Have you by any chance heard the other name which was given long ago to that place.”

“No, sir.”

“It was called—Look here, this subject wants a lot of talking over.  Suppose we wait till we are alone and have lots of time before us.”

“All right, sir.”  Adam was filled with curiosity, but he thought it better not to hurry matters.  All would come in good time.  Then the three men returned home, leaving Mr. Caswall to spend the night in Liverpool.

The following day the Lesser Hill party set out for Castra Regis, and for the time Adam thought no more of Diana’s Grove or of what mysteries it had contained—or might still contain.

The guests were crowding in, and special places were marked for important people.  Adam, seeing so many persons of varied degree, looked round for Lady Arabella, but could not locate her.  It was only when he saw the old-fashioned travelling carriage approach and heard the sound of cheering which went with it, that he realised that Edgar Caswall had arrived.  Then, on looking more closely, he saw that Lady Arabella, dressed as he had seen her last, was seated beside him.  When the carriage drew up at the great flight of steps, the host jumped down and gave her his hand.

It was evident to all that she was the chief guest at the festivities.  It was not long before the seats on the daïs were filled, while the tenants and guests of lesser importance had occupied all the coigns of vantage not reserved.  The order of the day had been carefully arranged by a committee.  There were some speeches, happily neither many nor long; and then festivities were suspended till the time for feasting arrived.  In the interval Caswall walked among his guests, speaking to all in a friendly manner and expressing a general welcome.  The other guests came down from the daïs and followed his example, so there was unceremonious meeting and greeting between gentle and simple.

Adam Salton naturally followed with his eyes all that went on within their scope, taking note of all who seemed to afford any interest.  He was young and a man and a stranger from a far distance; so on all these accounts he naturally took stock rather of the women than of the men, and of these, those who were young and attractive.  There were lots of pretty girls among the crowd, and Adam, who was a handsome young man and well set up, got his full share of admiring glances.  These did not concern him much, and he remained unmoved until there came along a group of three, by their dress and bearing, of the farmer class.  One was a sturdy old man; the other two were good-looking girls, one of a little over twenty, the other not quite so old.  So soon as Adam’s eyes met those of the younger girl, who stood nearest to him, some sort of electricity flashed—that divine spark which begins by recognition, and ends in obedience.  Men call it “Love.”

Both his companions noticed how much Adam was taken by the pretty girl, and spoke of her to him in a way which made his heart warm to them.

“Did you notice that party that passed?  The old man is Michael Watford, one of the tenants of Mr. Caswall.  He occupies Mercy Farm, which Sir Nathaniel pointed out to you to-day.  The girls are his grand-daughters, the elder, Lilla, being the only child of his elder son, who died when she was less than a year old.  His wife died on the same day.  She is a good girl—as good as she is pretty.  The other is her first cousin, the daughter of Watford’s second son.  He went for a soldier when he was just over twenty, and was drafted abroad.  He was not a good correspondent, though he was a good enough son.  A few letters came, and then his father heard from the colonel of his regiment that he had been killed by dacoits in Burmah.  He heard from the same source that his boy had been married to a Burmese, and that there was a daughter only a year old.  Watford had the child brought home, and she grew up beside Lilla.  The only thing that they heard of her birth was that her name was Mimi.  The two children adored each other, and do to this day.  Strange how different they are!  Lilla all fair, like the old Saxon stock from which she is sprung; Mimi showing a trace of her mother’s race.  Lilla is as gentle as a dove, but Mimi’s black eyes can glow whenever she is upset.  The only thing that upsets her is when anything happens to injure or threaten or annoy Lilla.  Then her eyes glow as do the eyes of a bird when her young are menaced.”


Mr. Salton introduced Adam to Mr. Watford and his grand-daughters, and they all moved on together.  Of course neighbours in the position of the Watfords knew all about Adam Salton, his relationship, circumstances, and prospects.  So it would have been strange indeed if both girls did not dream of possibilities of the future.  In agricultural England, eligible men of any class are rare.  This particular man was specially eligible, for he did not belong to a class in which barriers of caste were strong.  So when it began to be noticed that he walked beside Mimi Watford and seemed to desire her society, all their friends endeavoured to give the promising affair a helping hand.  When the gongs sounded for the banquet, he went with her into the tent where her grandfather had seats.  Mr. Salton and Sir Nathaniel noticed that the young man did not come to claim his appointed place at the daïs table; but they understood and made no remark, or indeed did not seem to notice his absence.

Lady Arabella sat as before at Edgar Caswall’s right hand.  She was certainly a striking and unusual woman, and to all it seemed fitting from her rank and personal qualities that she should be the chosen partner of the heir on his first appearance.  Of course nothing was said openly by those of her own class who were present; but words were not