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The Warlock Of Glororum






'But are you sure your father wouldn't object?' I asked of my
companion--a most bright and amusing Eton boy--to whom I was playing
bear leader. 'Not a bit,' replied he; 'my father is a naturalist and
Darwinian; not a sceptic, but Agnosticus suavis or Verecundus, ordo
compositae, you know. "Hunt the ghost by all means," said he, when I
suggested a ghost "worry," and then as he does sometimes over coffee and
a cigarette after dinner he talked with a real keen interest on the
whole subject. He talked so long that old Mac (the butler) got quite
shirty, and finally--after putting his head round the door two or three
times--came in like the Lord Mayor and bore off the whisky decanter to
the smoking-room. Now, the pater said that the love of the marvellous
was native to mankind, and Tertullian had acquired a false credit for
his motto, Credo quia impossible, since that was the natural failing
of the untrained intellect, and, scientifically speaking, he ought to
have been shot sitting.

'Then he went on to tell a jolly story which some great educationalist
had told him of the little girl playing in the garden, who saw Fifine,
the poodle, unexpectedly appear, and at once rushed in crying to her
mother, "Mummy, mummy, there's a bear in the garden!" Her mother, being
a wholly unimaginative creature, promptly put Maggie into the corner,
and told her to beg God's pardon for having told a lie. Presently Maggie
comes out of her corner radiant, "It's all right, mummy," she cried,
"God tells me He has often mistaken Fifine for a bear Himself." No
doubt, as he said, Maggie had had a momentary fright, and for half a
second had thought of a bear, but she knew, too, that if she stayed to
investigate she would find out it was Fifine, so preferring the luxury
of the marvellous, she fled crying in to her mother. Sometimes, of
course, he added, the ghost is the resultant of some horrible cruelty or
murder, mankind, from various motives, refusing to let the memory of the
crime die out, but more usually the ghost is born of the early
mythopoeic imagination of man that cherishes the marvellous. One never
hears of a new ghost nowadays. Science, no doubt, is an iconoclast in
the matter.'

'Well,' said I, 'how do you propose to proceed? I have gathered that
there was once a warlock or wizard here in the sixteenth century--one
of your forebears--who bore a most unhallowed reputation. Is he your
ghost, or is the ghost the result of his "goings on"?'

'Both,' replied Dick, smiling. 'At least there are a number of tales
about him and his misdeeds; one version has it that he built himself a
secret chamber wherein he conferred with the "Auld Enemy" in person, and
no one has yet discovered his "dug-out." Here's a quaint woodcut of the
old warlock,' he continued, taking down as he spoke a foxed print from
the wall and holding it out for my inspection.

'Ain't he a fearsome figure? Looks as if his liver were cayenne pepper.
Astrologer, botanist, poisoner, he is said to have been, and I don't
wonder.'

The ancient warlock possessed indeed a most mischancy visage: hard,
curious, inhuman eyes he had, thin, sunken cheeks, and a black
straggling moustache, the whole surmounted by a great bald dome of brow.
'By Alchemist out of Misanthropos,' I suggested, after a lengthy
scrutiny, 'and perhaps Misogynist as well.' My companion laughed
appreciatively. 'That's about it,' he said; 'yet there is a tale of a
fisherman's daughter, the belle of the village below.

'Well,' he continued with animation, 'our job is now to discover his
secret chamber. 'Tis as good as a treasure hunt with the supernatural
thrown in. By the way,' he went on, 'it's the first time I've ever been
in Glororum Castle, as it is called, for the old place has only just
come back to us, that is, to my father as representative of the senior
branch of the Macellars, by the death of a cousin who died S.P. What
nerves they had, these old chieftains! Fancy, like the Maclean, setting
out your wife--even if a trifle passee--on the Skerry to drown before
your dining-room window, or, like the Macleod, lowering her into the
dungeon beneath the drawing-room that you might the better enjoy the
charms of Amaryllis--your gardener's daughter--above. Well, it's too
late this afternoon to begin our "worry," but to-morrow morning we must
start by flagging all the windows with towels, as the inquisitive lady
is said to have done at Glamis Castle.'

I willingly agreed to his proposal, which jumped well enough with my own
humour, and then as Dick went off to unpack I determined to go without
and view the castle from every side.

Dusk was now closing in on the dark and frowning tower that was perched
like an osprey upon the basalt cliffs that overlooked the sea. The
building was really rather a peel tower than a castle, for it was of no
great extent, consisting merely of the tall, gaunt tower with a wing
added on to its western side. Situated on the edge of the bare sea, like
a lighthouse abandoned, scarred by the fierce nor'-easters, with the
mutter of the waves about it below and the scream of sea-fowl above, one
could scarce imagine a more desolate or forbidding human abode than
fitly-named 'Glower-o'er-'em' Tower.

The neck of land by which it was approached from the west had been
protected by a wall, within which a garden had sheltered, wherein the
warlock had grown his herbs and poisons, but all was now ruinous and
weed-grown, and gave only an added touch to the general forlornness. The
place had been let as a shooting-box in recent years, but neither
landlord nor tenant had thought it worth while to spend any money on
reparation or embellishment. 'Twas indeed a fitting retreat for a
warlock or wizard, I thought, as with a final regard I turned to go
within doors.

Just at that moment I caught a glimpse of a fisher lass with a pannier
rounding the corner. She looked back, and I saw a roguish Romney eye
lighting a charming profile. 'Too pretty,' I thought, remembering Dick,
as she tripped onward into the shadow of the Tower.

The sea was moaning under a heavy cloud-wrack; away to the west above
the Lammermoors the sunset flared like a bale-fire, scattering sparks on
the windows of the Tower. 'Twas cheerier within than without, for the
walls were thick and kept the wind at bay, the wood fires were lively
with hissing logs, and scarce heeded a chance buffet from the down
draught lying in ambush within the open chimney-stack. We slept in the
wing without any dread of the warlock, for it had been added on to the
tower long after his time, and save for the sound of the sea far below,
resembling the dim 'mutter of the Mass,' or the spell of a necromancer,
I heard nothing throughout the night.

Next morning after breakfast was over Dick produced a pile of towels,
which we divided up between us for our voyage of discovery. 'After all,'
I said, 'we shan't want many, for bows and arrows in the far past, and
later, the window tax, kept the number of openings down.'

We ascended by the ancient stone newel stair that circled up from the
old iron 'yett' of the entry to the battlements above, and laid a towel
below the sash of every window. In the topmost storey in some servants'
rooms that had been long disused we discovered certain windows with
broken cords that entirely refused to open.

Dick's way here was of the 'Jethart' kind. He simply knocked a pane out
with the poker, and thrust the towel through.

When we had finished we descended in haste and perambulated the tower
without, counting up our tale of towels in some excitement.

'As many windows, so many towels,' I said with disappointment, as I
checked them off carefully.

'Damn!' said Dick meditatively. Then after a moment or two's thought,
'The old boy's cell must have been on the roof; he was sure to have been
an astrologer. Let's go up again and start afresh.' So saying he led the
way up to the parapet of the battlements, and there we surveyed the
roof. The main part of the roof consisted of a gable covered with heavy
stone tiles, but the further part that lay between the north-east and
north-west bartizans was flat and covered with lead, and at the verge of
this were iron steps that led down to the roof of the new wing below.
This latter we did not concern ourselves with, as we knew it dated since
the wizard's day, but carefully examined the stone tiles and the further
leads without, however, any discovery resulting.

We were just about to give up our quest when Dick's quick eyes noticed a
chink in the lead that formed the channel or gutter for the rain water
leading either way to the gargoyles beneath the bartizans outside.

'Look here!' he cried. 'See the dim light showing! I swear it's a
glimmer of glass. Evidently this particular lead was meant to be drawn
aside and admit the light.' I hastened to the side and peered with him
into the dirt-laden crack.

Opening my pen-knife I scraped away the dirt and soon verified his
conjecture that there was glass below. 'You're right!' I cried in my
excitement. 'It is glass. Now let's search and see if we can find
anything like a hinge, or at least some indication that the lead could
be withdrawn at will.' We sought all along by the containing wall and
found that the lead did not end in a flat sheet, as is usual, against
the wall, but was turned over, and evidently continued below.

'It looks very much as if it was meant to roll up and be turned over
like a blind on a roller below,' I said to my companion.

'I'm sure of it,' Dick replied with conviction. 'I'll tell you what we
must do. We'll pull up the lead, make sure of the extent of the glass,
then go below and search for the wizard's cell from the exact indication
we shall then have of its whereabouts.'

'Right!' said I, 'that's the method.'

We set to work, and soon had doubled back a strip of lead a foot broad
from the centre till the glass ended by the bartizan on either side. We
could not pull the lead right back because of the iron steps, which had
evidently been inserted when the new wing was built, and now interfered
with our further action.

The glass was set in heavy leaded panes, which were so engrained with
the grime of centuries that we could discern nothing through them.

'We must search for the wizard's cell from below,' I said. 'If we cannot
discover it there we must return and break in from above.'

'Yes,' agreed Dick, 'it would be a pity to smash the roof in if we can
find an entry below without causing damage.'

The orientation was now easy, and as we studied the position from the
parapet we could select the towelled window below which fitted best with
the position of the glass roof.

The curious thing was that the window was not situated in the centre,
but at the side of the torn up lead.

'We'll find out the reason below,' I said, as we descended in great
excitement, hastening on our quest.

The room we made for was one of the disused chambers on the top storey,
which we had remarked for its narrowness when we broke the window and
thrust a towel through.

'There must be a secret passage,' cried Dick, as he flashed his torch
upon the walls; 'we're not below the glass; we're to the right hand of
it. Wherefore search the left wall.'

Dick's inference seemed excellent, and full of eagerness I tapped with
my knife, he with his poker, all along the western wall.

'There's a hollow here,' cried Dick, overjoyed, as his poker rang with a
strange lightness. 'Let's hunt for an opening or crack, or some
betraying sign.'

'Here! Look here!' he shouted. 'I believe this stone pulls out.'

Hastening to his side and applying my knife to the thin ragged crevice
he had discovered, I found the stone was loose. I worked feverishly
while Dick held the torch. 'Now it's coming!' I cried, and even as I
spoke it fell forward and crashed on to the floor. To us scrutinising
the aperture, there seemed evidently a spring or catch concealed behind
it.

Thrusting in my arm I pressed it home. A creak sounded; there was a
rusty wheeze, and a portion of the wall seemed to shake and move slowly
inwards.

'We've got it!' yelled Dick, as he pressed his shoulder against the
receding portion, 'it's a wooden door covered over with thin slabs of
stone.'

'Forrard!' cried Dick. 'Forrard on!' and as he shouted he pressed
forward down a narrow, dusty aperture towards a chamber beyond where a
dim light showed through the begrimed roof above.

I pressed on hotly at his heels through the six feet of passage. We were
now within the threshold of the secret cell. But what was that horrible
thing beneath the dim sky-light? Dick's electric torch was failing, and
we could not see distinctly, and a very oppression of fear seized upon
us both. What was the gruesome object in front that resembled a dead
octopus with decayed black arms?

There was a sickly taint in the air, and as I stood there fascinated by
fear Dick took a step forward and threw the faint light of his torch
upon the atrocious figure.

Surely it was a gorilla grasping its victim, and bending it in to itself
as in some horrid act of rape!

Dick advanced yet another foot. Then I perceived that it was worse even
than I suspected, for I now distinguished a giant species of
Nepenthes (Nepenthes Ferocissimus) most monstrously developed,
clutching in its long arms and horrid ascidiums the remains of a human
victim--apparently a woman--for a gleam of yellow satin showed beneath
the black embrace. Good God! I thought of the 'fisherman's daughter'
with a shudder.

I heard the torch drop. Then came a rustling shiver. The monstrous
growth had sunk to the floor under pressure of the fresh air!

I thought I had fainted, but the next moment I felt Dick's hand shaking
upon my sleeve, and heard a voice quaver in my ear:

'Let's get out of this! It's altogether too damned beastly.'





Next: 'muckle-mouthed Meg'

Previous: In My Lady's Bedchamber



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