The Lair of the White Worm
12. The Chest Opened
Left alone in the turret-room, Edgar Caswall carefully locked the door and hung a
handkerchief over the keyhole. Next, he inspected the windows, and saw that they were
not overlooked from any angle of the main building. Then he carefully examined the
trunk, going over it with a magnifying glass. He found it intact: the steel bands were
flawless; the whole trunk was compact. After sitting opposite to it for some time, and the
shades of evening beginning to melt into darkness, he gave up the task and went to his
bedroom, after locking the door of the turret-room behind him and taking away the key.
He woke in the morning at daylight, and resumed his patient but unavailing study of the
metal trunk. This he continued during the whole day with the same result--humiliating
disappointment, which overwrought his nerves and made his head ache. The result of the
long strain was seen later in the afternoon, when he sat locked within the turret-room
before the still baffling trunk, distrait, listless and yet agitated, sunk in a settled gloom.
As the dusk was falling he told the steward to send him two men, strong ones. These he
ordered to take the trunk to his bedroom. In that room he then sat on into the night,
without pausing even to take any food. His mind was in a whirl, a fever of excitement.
The result was that when, late in the night, he locked himself in his room his brain was
full of odd fancies; he was on the high road to mental disturbance. He lay down on his
bed in the dark, still brooding over the mystery of the closed trunk.
Gradually he yielded to the influences of silence and darkness. After lying there quietly
for some time, his mind became active again. But this time there were round him no
disturbing influences; his brain was active and able to work freely and to deal with
memory. A thousand forgotten--or only half-known--incidents, fragments of
conversations or theories long ago guessed at and long forgotten, crowded on his mind.
He seemed to hear again around him the legions of whirring wings to which he had been
so lately accustomed. Even to himself he knew that that was an effort of imagination
founded on imperfect memory. But he was content that imagination should work, for out
of it might come some solution of the mystery which surrounded him. And in this frame
of mind, sleep made another and more successful essay. This time he enjoyed peaceful
slumber, restful alike to his wearied body and his overwrought brain.
In his sleep he arose, and, as if in obedience to some influence beyond and greater than
himself, lifted the great trunk and set it on a strong table at one side of the room, from
which he had previously removed a quantity of books. To do this, he had to use an
amount of strength which was, he knew, far beyond him in his normal state. As it was, it
seemed easy enough; everything yielded before his touch. Then he became conscious that
somehow--how, he never could remember--the chest was open. He unlocked his door,
and, taking the chest on his shoulder, carried it up to the turret- room, the door of which
also he unlocked. Even at the time he was amazed at his own strength, and wondered
whence it had come. His mind, lost in conjecture, was too far off to realise more
immediate things. He knew that the chest was enormously heavy. He seemed, in a sort of
vision which lit up the absolute blackness around, to see the two sturdy servant men