A Strange Story

 

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Civil War Harper's Weekly, September 28, 1861

We have posted our collection of original Civil War Harper's Weekly newspaper on the WEB to assist you in your studies and research of the war. These newspapers allow you to see the war unfold, and read the reactions of the people who were there at the time. We hope this effort serves as a valuable resource for your studies.

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Fort Snelling Minnesota

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Fishing North Carolina

North Carolina Fisheries

Winona

Gun-Boat "Winona"

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White Plains, Virginia

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Free Negros Fishing

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Lytton's Strange Story

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England's John Bull

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HARPER'S WEEKLY.

[SEPTEMBER 28, 1861.

622

(Previous Page) drawing the great seine as near shore as could be done safely, it was swept by smaller nets until the miraculous draft was landed.

Of all the striking views of this exciting and picturesque business the night-haul is pre-eminent in interest. Here the lively scenes of the day are reenacted amidst the glare of pine torches, which exhibits the wild figures of the fishermen and the death-struggles of the finny captives in the most dramatic light possible.

[Entered according to Act of Congress, in the Year 1861, by Harper & Brothers, in the Clerk's Office of the District Court for the Southern District of New York.]

A STRANGE STORY.

BY SIR E. BULWER LYTTON.

Printed from the Manuscript and early Proof-sheets purchased by the Proprietors of "Harper's Weekly."

CHAPTER XXII.

THAT evening I went to Mrs. Poyntz's; it was one of her ordinary "reception nights," and I felt that she would naturally expect my attendance as " a proper attention."

I joined a group engaged in general conversation, of which Mrs. Poyntz herself made the centre, knitting, as usual, rapidly while she talked, slowly when she listened.

Without mentioning the visit I had paid that morning, I turned the conversation on the different country places in the neighborhood, and then incidentally asked, "What sort of a man is Sir Philip Derval ? Is it not strange that he should suffer so fine a place to fall into decay ?" The answers I received added little to the information I had already obtained. Mrs. Poyntz knew nothing of Sir Philip Derval, except as a man of large estates, whose rental had been greatly increased by a rise in the value of property he possessed in the town of L-, and
which lay contiguous to that of her husband. Two or three of the older inhabitants of the Hill had remembered him in his early days, when he was gay, high-spirited, hospitable, lavish. One

observed that the only person in L- whom
he had admitted to his subsequent seclusion was Dr. Lloyd, who was then without practice, and whom he had employed as an assistant in certain chemical experiments.

Here a gentleman struck into the conversation. He was a stranger to me and to L- , a visitor to one of the dwellers on the Hill, who had asked leave to present him to its Queen as a great traveler and an accomplished antiquarian.

Said this gentleman : " Sir Philip Derval! I know him. I met him in the East. He was then still, I believe, very fond of chemical science; a clever, odd, philanthropical man; had studied medicine, or at least practiced it; was said to have made many marvelous cures. I became acquainted with him in Aleppo. He had come to that town, not much frequented by English travelers, in order to inquire into the murder of two men, of whom one was his friend and the other his countryman."

"'This is interesting," said Mrs. Poyntz, dryly. "We who live on this innocent Hill all love stories of crime—murder is the pleasantest subject you could have hit on. Pray give us the details."

" So encouraged," said the traveler, good-humoredly, "I will not hesitate to communicate the little I know. In Aleppo there had lived for some years a man who was held by the natives in great reverence. He had the reputation of extraordinary wisdom, but was difficult of access ; the lively imagination of the Orientals invested his character with the fascinations of fable ; in short, Haroun of Aleppo was popularly considered a magician. Wild stories were told of his powers, of his preternatural age, of his hoarded treasures. Apart from such disputable titles to homage; there seemed no question, from all I heard, that his learning was considerable, his charities extensive, his manner of life

irreproachably ascetic. He appears to have resembled those Arabian sages of the Gothic age to whom modern science is largely indebted—a mystic enthusiast but an earnest scholar. A wealthy but singular Englishman, long resident in another part of the East, afflicted by some languishing disease, took a journey to Aleppo to consult this sage, who, among his other acquirements, was held to have discovered rare secrets in medicine — his countrymen said in 'charms.' One morning, not long after the Englishman's arrival, Haroun was found dead in his bed, apparently strangled, and the Englishman, who lodged in another part of the town, had disappeared ; but some of his clothes, and a crutch on which he habitually supported himself, were found a few miles distant from Aleppo near the roadside. There appeared no doubt that he, too, had been murdered, but his corpse could not be discovered. Sir Philip Derval had been a loving disciple of this Sage of Aleppo, to whom he assured me he owed not only that knowledge of medicine which, by report, Sir Philip possessed, but the insight into various truths of nature, on the promulgation of which it was evident Sir Philip cherished the ambition to found a philosophical celebrity for himself."

"Of what description were those truths of nature ?" I asked, somewhat sarcastically.

" Sir, I am unable to tell you, for Sir Philip did not inform me, nor did I much care to ask, for what may be revered as truths in Asia are usually despised as dreams in Europe. To return to my story. Sir Philip had been in Aleppo a little time before the murder ; had left the Englishman under the care of Haroun ; he returned to Aleppo on hearing the tragic events I have related, and was busied in collecting such evidence as could be gleaned, and instituting inquiries after our missing countryman at the time that I myself chanced to arrive in the city. I assisted in his researches, but without avail. The assassins remained undiscovered. I do not myself doubt that they were mere vulgar robbers. Sir Philip had a darker suspicion, of which he made no secret to me, but as I confess that I thought the suspicion groundless, you will pardon me if I do not repeat it. Whether, since I left the East, the Englishman's remains have been discovered, I know not. Very probably; for I understand that his heirs have got hold of what fortune he left, less than was generally supposed, but it was reported that he had buried great treasures, a rumor, however absurd, not altogether inconsistent with his reputed character."

"What was his character, and what was his name ?" asked Mrs. Poyntz.

"His character was of sinister repute. He was regarded with terror by the attendants who had accompanied him to Aleppo. But he had lived in a very remote part of the East, little known to Europeans, and, from all I could learn, had there established an extraordinary power, strengthened by superstitious awe. He was said to have studied deeply that knowledge which the philosophers of old called 'occult,' not, like the sage of Aleppo, for benevolent, but for malignant ends. He was accused of conferring with evil spirits, and filling his barbaric court (for he lived in a kind of savage royalty) with charmers and sorcerers. I suspect, after all, that he was only like myself, a passionate antiquarian, and cunningly made use of the fear he inspired in order to secure his authority, and prosecute, in safety, researches into ancient sepulchres or temples. His great passion was, indeed, in excavating such remains in his neighborhood, with what result I know not, never having penetrated so far into regions infested by robbers and pestiferous with malaria. He wore the Eastern dress, and always carried jewels about him. I came to the conclusion that for the sake of these jewels he was murdered, perhaps by some of his own servants, who then at once buried his body, and kept their own secret. He was old, very infirm ; could never have got far from the town without assistance."

"You have not yet told us his name," said Mrs. Poyntz.

" His name was Grayle."

"Grayle !" exclaimed Mrs. Poyntz, dropping her work, "Louis Grayle?"

"Yes; Louis Grayle. You could not have known him?"

"Known him ! No. But I have often heard my father speak of him. Such, then, was the tragic end of that strong dark creature, for whom, as a young girl in the nursery, I used to feel a kind of fearful admiring interest !"

"It is your turn to narrate now," said the traveler.

And we all drew closer round our hostess, who remained silent some moments, her brow thoughtful, her work suspended.

"Well," said she, at last, looking round us with a lofty air, which seemed half defying; "force and courage are always fascinating, even when they are quite in the wrong. I go with the world, because the world goes with me ; if it did not—" Here she stopped for a moment, clenched the firm white hand, and then scornfully waved it, left the sentence unfinished, and broke into another.

" Going with the world, of course we must march over those who stand against it. But when one man stands single-handed against our march we do not despise him ; it is enough to crush. I am very glad I did not see Louis Grayle when I was a girl of sixteen." Again she paused a moment, and resumed: "Louis Grayle was the only son of a usurer, infamous for the rapacity with which he had acquired an enormous wealth. Old Grayle desired to rear his heir as a gentleman ; sent him to Eton ; boys are always aristocratic. His birth was soon thrown in his teeth; he was fierce; he struck boys bigger than himself—fought till he was half killed. My father was at school with him;

described him as a tiger whelp. One day he—still a fag—struck a sixth-form boy. Sixth-form boys do not fight fags—they punish them. Louis Grayle was ordered to hold out his hand to the cane ; he received the blow, drew forth his school-boy knife, and stabbed the punisher. After that he left Eton. I don't think he was publicly expelled—too mere a child for that honor—but he was taken or sent away; educated with great care under the first masters at home : when he was of age to enter the University old Grayle was dead. He was sent by his guardians to Cambridge, with acquirements far exceeding the average of young men, and with unlimited command of money. My father was at the same college, and described him again —haughty, quarrelsome, reckless, handsome, aspiring, brave. Does that kind of creature interest you, my dears ?" (appealing to the ladies.)

" La !" said Miss Brabazon ; " a horrid usurer's son !"

"Ay, true ; the vulgar proverb says it is good to be born with a silver spoon in one's mouth; so it is when one has one's own family crest on it ; but when it is a spoon on which people recognize their family crest, and cry out, 'Stolen from our plate-chest !' it is a heritage that outlaws a babe in his cradle. However, young men at college who want money are less scrupulous about descent than boys at Eton are. Louis Grayle found, while at college, plenty of well-born acquaintances willing to recover from him some of the plunder his father had extorted from theirs. He was too wild to distinguish himself by academical honors, but my father said that the tutors of the college declared there were not six undergraduates in the university who knew as much hard and dry science as wild Louis Grayle. He went into the world, no doubt, hoping to shine ; but his father's name was too notorious to admit the son into good society. The polite world is not very fastidious, and is very indulgent to wealth ; still, when the polite world looks out of its club windows, and sees the son of a man who has pillaged its purse and seized its acres stalk by with an insolent crest, the polite world is revolted. In short, Louis Grayle claimed the right to be courted—he was shunned; to be admired—he was loathed, Even his old college acquaintances were shamed out of knowing him. Perhaps he could have lived through all this had he sought to glide quietly into position ; but he wanted the tact of the well-bred, and strove to storm his way, not to steal it. Reduced for companions to needy parasites, he braved and he shocked all decorous opinion by that ostentation of excess which made Richelieus and Lauzuns the rage. But then Richelieus and Lauzuns were dukes! He now very naturally took the polite world into hate—gave it scorn for scorn. He would ally himself with Democracy ; his wealth could not get him into a club, but it would buy him into parliament; he could not be a Lauzun, nor, perhaps, a Mirabeau ; but he might be a Danton. He had plenty of knowledge and audacity, and with knowledge and audacity a good hater is sure to be eloquent. Possibly, then, this poor Louis Grayle might have made a great figure, left his mark on his age and his name in history ; but in contesting the borough which he was sure to carry, he had to face an opponent in a real fine gentleman whom his father had ruined, cool and high-bred, with a tongue like a rapier, a sneer like an adder. A quarrel, of course ; Louis Grayle sent a challenge. The fine gentleman, known to be no coward (fine gentlemen never are), was at first disposed to refuse with contempt. But Grayle had made himself the idol of the mob ; and at a word from Grayle the fine gentleman might have been ducked at a pump, or tossed in a blanket—that would have made him ridiculous—to be shot at is a trifle, to be laughed at is serious. He therefore

condescended to accept the challenge, and my father was his second.

"It was settled, of course, according to English custom, that both combatants should fire at the same time, and by signal. The antagonist fired at the right moment, his ball grazed Louis Grayle's temple. Louis Grayle had not fired. He now seemed to the seconds to take slow and deliberate aim. They called out to him not to fire—they were rushing to prevent him—when the trigger was pulled and his opponent fell deed on the field. The fight was, therefore, considered unfair ; Louis Grayle was tried for his life ; he did not stand the trial in person. He escaped to the Continent; hurried on to some distant uncivilized lands; could not be traced ; reappeared in England no more. The lawyer who conducted his defense pleaded skillfully. He argued that the delay in firing was not intentional, therefore not criminal—the effect of the stun which the wound in the temple had occasioned. The judge was a gentleman, and summed up the evidence so as to direct the jury to a verdict against the low wretch who had murdered a gentleman. But the jurors were not composed of gentlemen, and Grayle's advocate had of course excited their sympathy for a son of the people whom a gentleman had wantonly insulted—the verdict was manslaughter. But the sentence emphatically marked the aggravated nature of the homicide—three years' imprisonment. Grayle eluded the prison, but he was a man disgraced and an exile ; his ambition blasted, his career an outlaw's, and his age not yet twenty-three. My father said that he was supposed to have changed his name ; none knew what had become of him. And so in his old age this creature, brilliant and daring, whom if born under better auspices we might now be all fawning on, cringing to—after living to old age, no one knows how—dies, murdered at Aleppo, no one, you say, knows by whom."

"I saw some account of his death in the papers, about three years ago," said one of the party, "but the name was misspelled, and I had no idea that it was the same man who had fought the duel which Mrs. Colonel Poyntz had so graphically described. I have a vague recollection of the trial ; it took place when I was a boy, more than forty years since. The affair made a stir at the time, but was soon forgotten."

" Soon forgotten," said Mrs. Poyntz ; " ay, what is not ? Leave your place in the world for ten minutes, and when you come back somebody else has taken it ; but when you leave the world for good who remembers that you had ever a place even in the parish register !"

"Nevertheless," said I, "a great poet has said, finely and truly,

"'The sun of Homer shines upon us still.'"

"But it does not shine upon Homer; and learned folks tell me that we know no more who and what Homer was, if there was ever a single Homer at all, or rather a whole herd of Homers, than we know about the man in the moon—if there be one man there, or a million. Now, my dear Miss Brabazon, it will be very kind in you to divert our thoughts into channels less gloomy. Some pretty French air— Dr. Fenwick, I have something to say to you." She drew me toward the window. " So, Anne Ashleigh writes me word that I am not to mention your engagement. Do you think it quite prudent to keep it a secret?"

" I do not see how prudence is concerned in keeping it secret one way or the other—it is a mere matter of feeling. Most people wish to abridge, as far as they can, the time in which their private arrangements are the topic of public gossip."

"Public gossip is sometimes the best security for the due completion of private arrangements. As long as a girl is not known to be engaged, her betrothed must be prepared for rivals. Announce

"HE WAS RESTING ONE HAND CARELESSLY ON THE GOLDEN LOCKS OF A CHILD," ETC.

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