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The Lair of the White Worm

10. The Kite
On the following day, a little after four o'clock, Adam set out for Mercy.
He was home just as the clocks were striking six. He was pale and upset, but otherwise
looked strong and alert. The old man summed up his appearance and manner thus:
"Braced up for battle."
"Now!" said Sir Nathaniel, and settled down to listen, looking at Adam steadily and
listening attentively that he might miss nothing-- even the inflection of a word.
"I found Lilla and Mimi at home. Watford had been detained by business on the farm.
Miss Watford received me as kindly as before; Mimi, too, seemed glad to see me. Mr.
Caswall came so soon after I arrived, that he, or someone on his behalf, must have been
watching for me. He was followed closely by the negro, who was puffing hard as if he
had been running--so it was probably he who watched. Mr. Caswall was very cool and
collected, but there was a more than usually iron look about his face that I did not like.
However, we got on very well. He talked pleasantly on all sorts of questions. The nigger
waited a while and then disappeared as on the other occasion. Mr. Caswall's eyes were as
usual fixed on Lilla. True, they seemed to be very deep and earnest, but there was no
offence in them. Had it not been for the drawing down of the brows and the stern set of
the jaws, I should not at first have noticed anything. But the stare, when presently it
began, increased in intensity. I could see that Lilla began to suffer from nervousness, as
on the first occasion; but she carried herself bravely. However, the more nervous she
grew, the harder Mr. Caswall stared. It was evident to me that he had come prepared for
some sort of mesmeric or hypnotic battle. After a while he began to throw glances round
him and then raised his hand, without letting either Lilla or Mimi see the action. It was
evidently intended to give some sign to the negro, for he came, in his usual stealthy way,
quietly in by the hall door, which was open. Then Mr. Caswall's efforts at staring became
intensified, and poor Lilla's nervousness grew greater. Mimi, seeing that her cousin was
distressed, came close to her, as if to comfort or strengthen her with the consciousness of
her presence. This evidently made a difficulty for Mr. Caswall, for his efforts, without
appearing to get feebler, seemed less effective. This continued for a little while, to the
gain of both Lilla and Mimi. Then there was a diversion. Without word or apology the
door opened, and Lady Arabella March entered the room. I had seen her coming through
the great window. Without a word she crossed the room and stood beside Mr. Caswall. It
really was very like a fight of a peculiar kind; and the longer it was sustained the more
earnest--the fiercer--it grew. That combination of forces--the over-lord, the white woman,
and the black man--would have cost some- -probably all of them--their lives in the
Southern States of America. To us it was simply horrible. But all that you can understand.
This time, to go on in sporting phrase, it was understood by all to be a 'fight to a finish,'
and the mixed group did not slacken a moment or relax their efforts. On Lilla the strain
began to tell disastrously. She grew pale--a patchy pallor, which meant that her nerves
were out of order. She trembled like an aspen, and though she struggled bravely, I noticed
that her legs would hardly support her. A dozen times she seemed about to collapse in a
 
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