The Lair of the White Worm by Bram Stoker

“Would it not be well, sir, if one of us could see this monster in her real shape at close quarters? I am willing to run the risk–for I take it there would be no slight risk in the doing. I don’t suppose anyone of our time has seen her close and lived to tell the tale.”

Sir Nathaniel held up an expostulatory hand.

“Good God, lad, what are you suggesting? Think of your wife, and all that is at stake.”

“It is of Mimi that I think–for her sake that I am willing to risk whatever is to be risked.”

Adam’s young bride was proud of her man, but she blanched at the thought of the ghastly White Worm. Adam saw this and at once reassured her.

“So long as her ladyship does not know whereabout I am, I shall have as much safety as remains to us; bear in mind, my darling, that we cannot be too careful.”

Sir Nathaniel realised that Adam was right; the White Worm had no supernatural powers and could not harm them until she discovered their hiding place. It was agreed, therefore, that the two men should go together.

When the two men slipped out by the back door of the house, they walked cautiously along the avenue which trended towards the west. Everything was pitch dark–so dark that at times they had to feel their way by the palings and tree-trunks. They could still see, seemingly far in front of them and high up, the baleful light which at the height and distance seemed like a faint line. As they were now on the level of the ground, the light seemed infinitely higher than it had from the top of the tower. At the sight Adam’s heart fell; the danger of the desperate enterprise which he had undertaken burst upon him. But this feeling was shortly followed by another which restored him to himself–a fierce loathing, and a desire to kill, such as he had never experienced before.

They went on for some distance on a level road, fairly wide, from which the green light was visible. Here Sir Nathaniel spoke softly, placing his lips to Adam’s ear for safety.

“We know nothing whatever of this creature’s power of hearing or smelling, though I presume that both are of no great strength. As to seeing, we may presume the opposite, but in any case we must try to keep in the shade behind the tree-trunks. The slightest error would be fatal to us.”

Adam only nodded, in case there should be any chance of the monster seeing the movement.

After a time that seemed interminable, they emerged from the circling wood. It was like coming out into sunlight by comparison with the misty blackness which had been around them. There was light enough to see by, though not sufficient to distinguish things at a distance. Adam’s eyes sought the green light in the sky. It was still in about the same place, but its surroundings were more visible. It was now at the summit of what seemed to be a long white pole, near the top of which were two pendant white masses, like rudimentary arms or fins. The green light, strangely enough, did not seem lessened by the surrounding starlight, but had a clearer effect and a deeper green. Whilst they were carefully regarding this–Adam with the aid of an opera-glass–their nostrils were assailed by a horrid stench, something like that which rose from the well-hole in Diana’s Grove.

By degrees, as their eyes got the right focus, they saw an immense towering mass that seemed snowy white. It was tall and thin. The lower part was hidden by the trees which lay between, but they could follow the tall white shaft and the duplicate green lights which topped it. As they looked there was a movement–the shaft seemed to bend, and the line of green light descended amongst the trees. They could see the green light twinkle as it passed between the obstructing branches.

Seeing where the head of the monster was, the two men ventured a little further forward, and saw that the hidden mass at the base of the shaft was composed of vast coils of the great serpent’s body, forming a base from which the upright mass rose. As they looked, this lower mass moved, the glistening folds catching the moonlight, and they could see that the monster’s progress was along the ground. It was coming towards them at a swift pace, so they turned and ran, taking care to make as little noise as possible, either by their footfalls or by disturbing the undergrowth close to them. They did not stop or pause till they saw before them the high dark tower of Doom.


Sir Nathaniel was in the library next morning, after breakfast, when Adam came to him carrying a letter.

“Her ladyship doesn’t lose any time. She has begun work already!”

Sir Nathaniel, who was writing at a table near the window, looked up.

“What is it?” said he.

Adam held out the letter he was carrying. It was in a blazoned envelope.

“Ha!” said Sir Nathaniel, “from the White Worm! I expected something of the kind.”

“But,” said Adam, “how could she have known we were here? She didn’t know last night.”

“I don’t think we need trouble about that, Adam. There is so much we do not understand. This is only another mystery. Suffice it that she does know–perhaps it is all the better and safer for us.”

“How is that?” asked Adam with a puzzled look.

“General process of reasoning, my boy; and the experience of some years in the diplomatic world. This creature is a monster without heart or consideration for anything or anyone. She is not nearly so dangerous in the open as when she has the dark to protect her. Besides, we know, by our own experience of her movements, that for some reason she shuns publicity. In spite of her vast bulk and abnormal strength, she is afraid to attack openly. After all, she is only a snake and with a snake’s nature, which is to keep low and squirm, and proceed by stealth and cunning. She will never attack when she can run away, although she knows well that running away would probably be fatal to her. What is the letter about?”

Sir Nathaniel’s voice was calm and self-possessed. When he was engaged in any struggle of wits he was all diplomatist.

“She asks Mimi and me to tea this afternoon at Diana’s Grove, and hopes that you also will favour her.”

Sir Nathaniel smiled.

“Please ask Mrs. Salton to accept for us all.”

“She means some deadly mischief. Surely–surely it would be wiser not.”

“It is an old trick that we learn early in diplomacy, Adam–to fight on ground of your own choice. It is true that she suggested the place on this occasion; but by accepting it we make it ours. Moreover, she will not be able to understand our reason for doing so, and her own bad conscience–if she has any, bad or good–and her own fears and doubts will play our game for us. No, my dear boy, let us accept, by all means.”

Adam said nothing, but silently held out his hand, which his companion shook: no words were necessary.

When it was getting near tea-time, Mimi asked Sir Nathaniel how they were going.

“We must make a point of going in state. We want all possible publicity.” Mimi looked at him inquiringly. “Certainly, my dear, in the present circumstances publicity is a part of safety. Do not be surprised if, whilst we are at Diana’s Grove, occasional messages come for you–for all or any of us.”

“I see!” said Mrs. Salton. “You are taking no chances.”

“None, my dear. All I have learned at foreign courts, and amongst civilised and uncivilised people, is going to be utilised within the next couple of hours.”

Sir Nathaniel’s voice was full of seriousness, and it brought to Mimi in a convincing way the awful gravity of the occasion

In due course, they set out in a carriage drawn by a fine pair of horses, who soon devoured the few miles of their journey. Before they came to the gate, Sir Nathaniel turned to Mimi.

“I have arranged with Adam certain signals which may be necessary if certain eventualities occur. These need be nothing to do with you directly. But bear in mind that if I ask you or Adam to do anything, do not lose a second in the doing of it. We must try to pass off such moments with an appearance of unconcern. In all probability, nothing requiring such care will occur. The White Worm will not try force, though she has so much of it to spare. Whatever she may attempt to-day, of harm to any of us, will be in the way of secret plot. Some other time she may try force, but–if I am able to judge such a thing–not to-day. The messengers who may ask for any of us will not be witnesses only, they may help to stave off danger.” Seeing query in her face, he went on: “Of what kind the danger may be, I know not, and cannot guess. It will doubtless be some ordinary circumstance; but none the less dangerous on that account. Here we are at the gate. Now, be careful in all matters, however small. To keep your head is half the battle.”

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Categories: Stoker, Bram