The Lair of the White Worm HTML version

16. A Visit Of Sympathy
Caswall was genuinely surprised when he saw Lady Arabella, though he need not have
been, after what had already occurred in the same way. The look of surprise on his face
was so much greater than Lady Arabella had expected--though she thought she was
prepared to meet anything that might occur--that she stood still, in sheer amazement.
Cold-blooded as she was and ready for all social emergencies, she was nonplussed how
to go on. She was plucky, however, and began to speak at once, although she had not the
slightest idea what she was going to say.
"I came to offer you my very warm sympathy with the grief you have so lately
"My grief? I'm afraid I must be very dull; but I really do not understand."
Already she felt at a disadvantage, and hesitated.
"I mean about the old man who died so suddenly--your old. . . retainer."
Caswall's face relaxed something of its puzzled concentration.
"Oh, he was only a servant; and he had over-stayed his three-score and ten years by
something like twenty years. He must have been ninety!"
"Still, as an old servant. . . "
Caswall's words were not so cold as their inflection.
"I never interfere with servants. He was kept on here merely because he had been so long
on the premises. I suppose the steward thought it might make him unpopular if the old
fellow had been dismissed."
How on earth was she to proceed on such a task as hers if this was the utmost geniality
she could expect? So she at once tried another tack--this time a personal one.
"I am sorry I disturbed you. I am really not unconventional--though certainly no slave to
convention. Still there are limits. . . it is bad enough to intrude in this way, and I do not
know what you can say or think of the time selected, for the intrusion."
After all, Edgar Caswall was a gentleman by custom and habit, so he rose to the occasion.
"I can only say, Lady Arabella, that you are always welcome at any time you may deign
to honour my house with your presence."
She smiled at him sweetly.