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- Lair of the White Worm - 20/29 -
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 sake.
Before he spoke again, Sir Nathaniel had made up his mind that he must try to postpone decisive action until the circumstances on which they depended--which, after all, were only problematical--should have been tested satisfactorily, one way or another. When he did speak, Adam at first thought that his friend was wavering in his intention, or "funking" the responsibility. However, his respect for Sir Nathaniel was so great that he would not act, or even come to a conclusion on a vital point, without his sanction.
He came close and whispered in his ear:
"We will prepare our plans to combat and destroy this horrible menace, after we have cleared up some of the more baffling points. Meanwhile, we must wait for the night--I hear my uncle's footsteps echoing down the hall."
Sir Nathaniel nodded his approval.
CHAPTER XXI--GREEN LIGHT
When old Mr. Salton had retired for the night, Adam and Sir Nathaniel returned to the study. Things went with great regularity at Lesser Hill, so they knew that there would be no interruption to their talk.
When their cigars were lighted, Sir Nathaniel began.
"I hope, Adam, that you do not think me either slack or changeable of purpose. I mean to go through this business to the bitter end--whatever it may be. Be satisfied that my first care is, and shall be, the protection of Mimi Watford. To that I am pledged; my dear boy, we who are interested are all in the same danger. That semi-human monster out of the pit hates and means to destroy us all--you and me certainly, and probably your uncle. I wanted especially to talk with you to-night, for I cannot help thinking that the time is fast coming--if it has not come already--when we must take your uncle into our confidence. It was one thing when fancied evils threatened, but now he is probably marked for death, and it is only right that he should know all."
"I am with you, sir. Things have changed since we agreed to keep him out of the trouble. Now we dare not; consideration for his feelings might cost his life. It is a duty--and no light or pleasant one, either. I have not a shadow of doubt that he will want to be one with us in this. But remember, we are his guests; his name, his honour, have to be thought of as well as his safety."
"All shall be as you wish, Adam. And now as to what we are to do? We cannot murder Lady Arabella off-hand. Therefore we shall have to put things in order for the killing, and in such a way that we cannot be taxed with a crime."
"It seems to me, sir, that we are in an exceedingly tight place. Our first difficulty is to know where to begin. I never thought this fighting an antediluvian monster would be such a complicated job. This one is a woman, with all a woman's wit, combined with the heartlessness of a _cocotte_. She has the strength and impregnability of a diplodocus. We may be sure that in the fight that is before us there will be no semblance of fair-play. Also that our unscrupulous opponent will not betray herself!"
"That is so--but being feminine, she will probably over-reach herself. Now, Adam, it strikes me that, as we have to protect ourselves and others against feminine nature, our strong game will be to play our masculine against her feminine. Perhaps we had better sleep on it. She is a thing of the night; and the night may give us some ideas."
So they both turned in.
Adam knocked at Sir Nathaniel's door in the grey of the morning, and, on being bidden, came into the room. He had several letters in his hand. Sir Nathaniel sat up in bed.
"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 that proceeding?"
"I do not know, sir!"
"Then how are we to proceed?"
"I suppose that we--or one of us--must ask her."
"Is this a sudden idea, Adam, a sudden resolution?"
"A sudden resolution, sir, but not a sudden idea. If she agrees, all is well and good. The sequence is obvious."
"And it is to be kept a secret amongst ourselves?"
"I want no secret, sir, except for Mimi's good. For myself, I should like to shout it from the house-tops! But we must be discreet; untimely knowledge to our enemy might work incalculable harm."
"And how would you suggest, Adam, that we could combine the momentous question with secrecy?"
Adam grew red and moved uneasily.
"Someone must ask her--as soon as possible!"
"And that someone?"
"I thought that you, sir, would be so good!"
"God bless my soul! This is a new kind of duty to take on--at my time of life. Adam, I hope you know that you can count on me to help in any way I can!"
"I have already counted on you, sir, when I ventured to make such a suggestion. I can only ask," he added, "that you will be more than ever kind to me--to us--and look on the painful duty as a voluntary act of grace, prompted by kindness and affection."
"Yes," said Adam boldly. "Painful to you, though to me it would be all joyful."
"It is a strange job for an early morning! Well, we all live and learn. I suppose the sooner I go the better. You had better write a line for me to take with me. For, you see, this is to be a somewhat unusual transaction, and it may be embarrassing to the lady, even to myself. So we ought to have some sort of warrant, something to show that we have been mindful of her feelings. It will not do to take acquiescence for granted--although we act for her good."
"Sir Nathaniel, you are a true friend; I am sure that both Mimi and I
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