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.'





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