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The Lair of the White Worm

27. 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-
 
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