The Lair of the White Worm HTML version

5. The White Worm
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 dais 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
necessary when so much could be expressed by nods and smiles. It seemed to be an
accepted thing that at last there was to be a mistress of Castra Regis, and that she was
present amongst them. There were not lacking some who, whilst admitting all her charm
and beauty, placed her in the second rank, Lilla Watford being marked as first. There was
sufficient divergence of type, as well as of individual beauty, to allow of fair comment;
Lady Arabella represented the aristocratic type, and Lilla that of the commonalty.
When the dusk began to thicken, Mr. Salton and Sir Nathaniel walked home--the trap had
been sent away early in the day--leaving Adam to follow in his own time. He came in
earlier than was expected, and seemed upset about something. Neither of the elders made
any comment. They all lit cigarettes, and, as dinner-time was close at hand, went to their
rooms to get ready.
Adam had evidently been thinking in the interval. He joined the others in the drawing-
room, looking ruffled and impatient--a condition of things seen for the first time. The
others, with the patience--or the experience--of age, trusted to time to unfold and explain
things. They had not long to wait. After sitting down and standing up several times,
Adam suddenly burst out.
"That fellow seems to think he owns the earth. Can't he let people alone! He seems to
think that he has only to throw his handkerchief to any woman, and be her master."
This outburst was in itself enlightening. Only thwarted affection in some guise could
produce this feeling in an amiable young man. Sir Nathaniel, as an old diplomatist, had a
way of understanding, as if by foreknowledge, the true inwardness of things, and asked
suddenly, but in a matter-of-fact, indifferent voice: