The Lair of the White Worm HTML version

17. The Mystery Of "The Grove"
That afternoon Adam decided to do a little exploring. As he passed through the wood
outside the gate of Diana's Grove, he thought he saw the African's face for an instant. So
he went deeper into the undergrowth, and followed along parallel to the avenue to the
house. He was glad that there was no workman or servant about, for he did not care that
any of Lady Arabella's people should find him wandering about her grounds. Taking
advantage of the denseness of the trees, he came close to the house and skirted round it.
He was repaid for his trouble, for on the far side of the house, close to where the rocky
frontage of the cliff fell away, he saw Oolanga crouched behind the irregular trunk of a
great oak. The man was so intent on watching someone, or something, that he did not
guard against being himself watched. This suited Adam, for he could thus make scrutiny
at will.
The thick wood, though the trees were mostly of small girth, threw a heavy shadow, so
that the steep declension, in front of which grew the tree behind which the African
lurked, was almost in darkness. Adam drew as close as he could, and was amazed to see a
patch of light on the ground before him; when he realised what it was, he was
determined, more than ever to follow on his quest. The nigger had a dark lantern in his
hand, and was throwing the light down the steep incline. The glare showed a series of
stone steps, which ended in a low-lying heavy iron door fixed against the side of the
house. All the strange things he had heard from Sir Nathaniel, and all those, little and big,
which he had himself noticed, crowded into his mind in a chaotic way. Instinctively he
took refuge behind a thick oak stem, and set himself down, to watch what might occur.
After a short time it became apparent that the African was trying to find out what was
behind the heavy door. There was no way of looking in, for the door fitted tight into the
massive stone slabs. The only opportunity for the entrance of light was through a small
hole between the great stones above the door. This hole was too high up to look through
from the ground level. Oolanga, having tried standing tiptoe on the highest point near,
and holding the lantern as high as he could, threw the light round the edges of the door to
see if he could find anywhere a hole or a flaw in the metal through which he could obtain
a glimpse. Foiled in this, he brought from the shrubbery a plank, which he leant against
the top of the door and then climbed up with great dexterity. This did not bring him near
enough to the window-hole to look in, or even to throw the light of the lantern through it,
so he climbed down and carried the plank back to the place from which he had got it.
Then he concealed himself near the iron door and waited, manifestly with the intent of
remaining there till someone came near. Presently Lady Arabella, moving noiselessly
through the shade, approached the door. When he saw her close enough to touch it,
Oolanga stepped forward from his concealment, and spoke in a whisper, which through
the gloom sounded like a hiss.
"I want to see you, missy--soon and secret."
"What do you want?"