Edward Bulwer Lytton Lytton.

Strange Story, a — Volume 04 online

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CHAPTER XXXV.

On reaching my own home, I found my servant sitting up for me with the
information that my attendance was immediately required. The little boy
whom Margrave's carelessness had so injured, and for whose injury he had
shown so little feeling, had been weakened by the confinement which the
nature of the injury required, and for the last few days had been
generally ailing. The father had come to my house a few minutes before I
reached it, in great distress of mind, saying that his child had been
seized with fever, and had become delirious. Hearing that I was at the
mayor's house, he had hurried thither in search of me.

I felt as if it were almost a relief to the troubled and haunting thoughts
which tormented me, to be summoned to the exercise of a familiar
knowledge. I hastened to the bedside of the little sufferer, and soon
forgot all else in the anxious struggle for a human life. The struggle
promised to be successful; the worst symptoms began to yield to remedies
prompt and energetic, if simple. I remained at the house, rather to
comfort and support the parents, than because my continued attendance was
absolutely needed, till the night was well-nigh gone; and all cause of
immediate danger having subsided, I then found myself once more in the
streets. An atmosphere palely clear in the gray of dawn had succeeded to
the thunder-clouds of the stormy night; the streetlamps, here and there,
burned wan and still. I was walking slowly and wearily, so tired out that
I was scarcely conscious of my own thoughts, when, in a narrow lane, my
feet stopped almost mechanically before a human form stretched at full
length in the centre of the road right in my path. The form was dark in
the shadow thrown from the neighbouring houses. "Some poor drunkard,"
thought I, and the humanity inseparable from my calling not allowing me to
leave a fellow-creature thus exposed to the risk of being run over by the
first drowsy wagoner who might pass along the thoroughfare, I stooped to
rouse and to lift the form. What was my horror when my eyes met the rigid
stare of a dead man's. I started, looked again; it was the face of Sir
Philip Derval! He was lying on his back, the countenance upturned, a dark
stream oozing from the breast, - murdered by two ghastly wounds, murdered
not long since, the blood was still warm. Stunned and terror-stricken, I
stood bending over the body. Suddenly I was touched on the shoulder.

"Hollo! what is this?" said a gruff voice.

"Murder!" I answered in hollow accents, which sounded strangely to my own
ear.

"Murder! so it seems." And the policeman who had thus accosted me lifted
the body.

"A gentleman by his dress. How did this happen? How did you come here?"
and the policeman glanced suspiciously at me.

At this moment, however, there came up another policeman, in whom I
recognized the young man whose sister I had attended and cured.

"Dr. Fenwick," said the last, lifting his hat respectfully, and at the
sound of my name his fellow-policeman changed his manner and muttered an
apology.

I now collected myself sufficiently to state the name and rank of the
murdered man. The policemen bore the body to their station, to which I
accompanied them. I then returned to my own house, and had scarcely sunk
on my bed when sleep came over me. But what a sleep! Never till then had
I known how awfully distinct dreams can be. The phantasmagoria of the
naturalist's collection revived. Life again awoke in the serpent and the
tiger, the scorpion moved, and the vulture flapped its wings. And there
was Margrave, and there Sir Philip; but their position of power was
reversed, and Margrave's foot was on the breast of the dead man. Still I
slept on till I was roused by the summons to attend on Mr. Vigors, the
magistrate to whom the police had reported the murder.

I dressed hastily and went forth. As I passed through the street, I found
that the dismal news had already spread. I was accosted on my way to the
magistrate by a hundred eager, tremulous, inquiring tongues.

The scanty evidence I could impart was soon given.

My introduction to Sir Philip at the mayor's house, our accidental meeting
under the arch, my discovery of the corpse some hours afterwards on my
return from my patient, my professional belief that the deed must have
been done a very short time, perhaps but a few minutes, before I chanced
upon its victim. But, in that case, how account for the long interval
that had elapsed between the time in which I had left Sir Philip under the
arch and the time in which the murder must have been committed? Sir
Philip could not have been wandering through the streets all those hours.
This doubt, how ever, was easily and speedily cleared up. A Mr. Jeeves,
who was one of the principal solicitors in the town, stated that he had
acted as Sir Philip's legal agent and adviser ever since Sir Philip came
of age, and was charged with the exclusive management of some valuable
house-property which the deceased had possessed in L - - ; that when Sir
Philip had arrived in the town late in the afternoon of the previous day,
he had sent for Mr. Jeeves; informed him that he, Sir Philip, was engaged
to be married; that he wished to have full and minute information as to
the details of his house property (which had greatly increased in value
since his absence from England), in connection with the settlements his
marriage would render necessary; and that this information was also
required by him in respect to a codicil he desired to add to his will.

He had, accordingly, requested Mr. Jeeves to have all the books and
statements concerning the property ready for his inspection that night,
when he would call, after leaving the ball which he had promised the
mayor, whom he had accidentally met on entering the town, to attend. Sir
Philip had also asked Mr. Jeeves to detain one of his clerks in his
office, in order to serve, conjointly with Mr. Jeeves, as a witness to the
codicil he desired to add to his will. Sir Philip had accordingly come to
Mr. Jeeves's house a little before midnight; had gone carefully through
all the statements prepared for him, and had executed the fresh codicil to
his testament, which testament he had in their previous interview given to
Mr. Jeeves's care, sealed up. Mr. Jeeves stated that Sir Philip, though
a man of remarkable talents and great acquirements, was extremely
eccentric, and of a very peremptory temper, and that the importance
attached to a promptitude for which there seemed no pressing occasion did
not surprise him in Sir Philip as it might have done in an ordinary
client. Sir Philip said, indeed, that he should devote the next morning
to the draft for his wedding settlements, according to the information of
his property which he had acquired; and after a visit of very brief
duration to Derval Court, should quit the neighbourhood and return to
Paris, where his intended bride then was, and in which city it had been
settled that the marriage ceremony should take place.

Mr. Jeeves had, however, observed to him, that if he were so soon to be
married, it was better to postpone any revision of testamentary bequests,
since after marriage he would have to make a new will altogether.

And Sir Philip had simply answered, -

"Life is uncertain; who can be sure of the morrow?"

Sir Philip's visit to Mr. Jeeves's house had lasted some hours, for the
conversation between them had branched off from actual business to various
topics. Mr. Jeeves had not noticed the hour when Sir Philip went; he
could only say that as he attended him to the street-door, he observed,
rather to his own surprise, that it was close upon daybreak.

Sir Philip's body had been found not many yards distant from the hotel at
which he had put up, and to which, therefore, he was evidently returning
when he left Mr. Jeeves, - an old-fashioned hotel, which had been the
principal one at L - - when Sir Philip left England, though now
outrivalled by the new and more central establishment in which Margrave
was domiciled.

The primary and natural supposition was that Sir Philip had been murdered
for the sake of plunder; and this supposition was borne out by the fact to
which his valet deposed, namely, -

That Sir Philip had about his person, on going to the mayor's house, a
purse containing notes and sovereigns; and this purse was now missing.

The valet, who, though an Albanian, spoke English fluently, said that the
purse had a gold clasp, on which Sir Philip's crest and initials were
engraved. Sir Philip's watch was, however, not taken.

And now, it was not without a quick beat of the heart that I heard the
valet declare that a steel casket, to which Sir Philip attached
extraordinary value, and always carried about with him, was also missing.

The Albanian described this casket as of ancient Byzantine workmanship,
opening with a peculiar spring, only known to Sir Philip, in whose
possession it had been, so far as the servant knew, about three years:
when, after a visit to Aleppo, in which the servant had not accompanied
him, he had first observed it in his master's hands. He was asked if
this casket contained articles to account for the value Sir Philip set on
it, - such as jewels, bank-notes, letters of credit, etc. The man replied
that it might possibly do so; he had never been allowed the opportunity
of examining its contents; but that he was certain the casket held
medicines, for he had seen Sir Philip take from it some small phials, by
which he had performed great cures in the East, and especially during a
pestilence which had visited Damascus, just after Sir Philip had arrived
at that city on quitting Aleppo. Almost every European traveller is
supposed to be a physician; and Sir Philip was a man of great benevolence,
and the servant firmly believed him also to be of great medical skill.
After this statement, it was very naturally and generally conjectured that
Sir Philip was an amateur disciple of homoeopathy, and that the casket
contained the phials or globules in use among homoeopathists.

Whether or not Mr. Vigors enjoyed a vindictive triumph in making me feel
the weight of his authority, or whether his temper was ruffled in the
excitement of so grave a case, I cannot say, but his manner was stern and
his tone discourteous in the questions which he addressed to me. Nor did
the questions themselves seem very pertinent to the object of
investigation.

"Pray, Dr. Fenwick," said he, knitting his brows, and fixing his eyes on
me rudely, "did Sir Philip Derval in his conversation with you mention
the steel casket which it seems he carried about with him?"

I felt my countenance change slightly as I answered, "Yes."

"Did he tell you what it contained?"

"He said it contained secrets."

"Secrets of what nature, - medicinal or chemical? Secrets which a
physician might be curious to learn and covetous to possess?"

This question seemed to me so offensively significant that it roused my
indignation, and I answered haughtily, that "a physician of any degree of
merited reputation did not much believe in, and still less covet, those
secrets in his art which were the boast of quacks and pretenders."

"My question need not offend you, Dr. Fenwick. I put it in another shape:
Did Sir Philip Derval so boast of the secrets contained in his casket that
a quack or pretender might deem such secrets of use to him?"

"Possibly he might, if he believed in such a boast."

"Humph! - he might if he so believed. I have no more questions to put to
you at present, Dr. Fenwick."

Little of any importance in connection with the deceased or his murder
transpired in the course of that day's examination and inquiries.

The next day, a gentleman distantly related to the young lady to whom Sir
Philip was engaged, and who had been for some time in correspondence with
the deceased, arrived at L - - . He had been sent for at the suggestion of
the Albanian servant, who said that Sir Philip had stayed a day at this
gentleman's house in London, on his way to L - - , from Dover.

The new comer, whose name was Danvers, gave a more touching pathos to the
horror which the murder had excited. It seemed that the motives which had
swayed Sir Philip in the choice of his betrothed were singularly pure and
noble. The young lady's father - an intimate college friend - had been
visited by a sudden reverse of fortune, which had brought on a fever that
proved mortal. He had died some years ago, leaving his only child
penniless, and had bequeathed her to the care and guardianship of Sir
Philip.

The orphan received her education at a convent near Paris; and when Sir
Philip, a few weeks since, arrived in that city from the East, he offered
her his hand and fortune.

"I know," said Mr. Danvers, "from the conversation I held with him when he
came to me in London, that he was induced to this offer by the
conscientious desire to discharge the trust consigned to him by his old
friend. Sir Philip was still of an age that could not permit him to take
under his own roof a female ward of eighteen, without injury to her good
name. He could only get over that difficulty by making the ward his wife.
'She will be safer and happier with the man she will love and honour for
her father's sake,' said the chivalrous gentleman, 'than she will be under
any other roof I could find for her.'"

And now there arrived another stranger to L - - , sent for by Mr. Jeeves,
the lawyer, - a stranger to L - - , but not to me; my old Edinburgh
acquaintance, Richard Strahan.

The will in Mr. Jeeves's keeping, with its recent codicil, was opened and
read. The will itself bore date about six years anterior to the
testator's tragic death: it was very short, and, with the exception of a
few legacies, of which the most important was L10,000 to his ward, the
whole of his property was left to Richard Strahan, on the condition that
he took the name and arms of Derval within a year from the date of Sir
Philip's decease. The codicil, added to the will the night before his
death, increased the legacy to the young lady from L10,000 to L30,000, and
bequeathed an annuity of L100 a year to his Albanian servant.
Accompanying the will, and within the same envelope, was a sealed letter,
addressed to Richard Strahan, and dated at Paris two weeks be fore Sir
Philip's decease. Strahan brought that letter to me. It ran thus: -

"Richard Strahan, I advise you to pull down the house called Derval
Court, and to build another on a better site, the plans of which, to
be modified according to your own taste and requirements, will be
found among my papers. This is a recommendation, not a command. But
I strictly enjoin you entirely to demolish the more ancient part,
which was chiefly occupied by myself, and to destroy by fire, without
perusal, all the books and manuscripts found in the safes in my study.
I have appointed you my sole executor, as well as my heir, because I
have no personal friends in whom I can confide as I trust I may do in
the man I have never seen, simply because he will bear my name and
represent my lineage. There will be found in my writing-desk, which
always accompanies me in my travels, an autobiographical work, a
record of my own life, comprising discoveries, or hints at discovery,
in science, through means little cultivated in our age. You will not
be surprised that before selecting you as my heir and executor, from a
crowd of relations not more distant, I should have made inquiries in
order to justify my selection. The result of those inquiries informs
me that you have not yourself the peculiar knowledge nor the habits of
mind that could enable you to judge of matters which demand the
attainments and the practice of science; but that you are of an
honest, affectionate nature, and will regard as sacred the last
injunctions of a benefactor. I enjoin you, then, to submit the
aforesaid manuscript memoir to some man on whose character for
humanity and honour you can place confidential reliance, and who is
accustomed to the study of the positive sciences, more especially
chemistry, in connection with electricity and magnetism. My desire is
that he shall edit and arrange this memoir for publication; and that,
wherever he feels a conscientious doubt whether any discovery, or hint
of discovery, therein contained would not prove more dangerous than
useful to mankind, he shall consult with any other three men of
science whose names are a guarantee for probity and knowledge, and
according to the best of his judgment, after such consultation,
suppress or publish the passage of which he has so doubted. I own the
ambition which first directed me towards studies of a very unusual
character, and which has encouraged me in their pursuit through many
years of voluntary exile, in lands where they could be best
facilitated or aided, - the ambition of leaving behind me the renown of
a bold discoverer in those recesses of nature which philosophy has
hitherto abandoned to superstition. But I feel, at the moment in
which I trace these lines, a fear lest, in the absorbing interest of
researches which tend to increase to a marvellous degree the power of
man over all matter, animate or inanimate, I may have blunted my own
moral perceptions; and that there may be much in the knowledge which I
sought and acquired from the pure desire of investigating hidden
truths, that could be more abused to purposes of tremendous evil than
be likely to conduce to benignant good. And of this a mind
disciplined to severe reasoning, and uninfluenced by the enthusiasm
which has probably obscured my own judgment, should be the
unprejudiced arbiter. Much as I have coveted and still do covet
that fame which makes the memory of one man the common inheritance of
all, I would infinitely rather that my name should pass away with my
breath, than that I should transmit to my fellowmen any portion of
a knowledge which the good might forbear to exercise and the bad might
unscrupulously pervert. I bear about with me, wherever I wander, a
certain steel casket. I received this casket, with its contents, from
a man whose memory I hold in profound veneration. Should I live to
find a person whom, after minute and intimate trial of his character,
I should deem worthy of such confidence, it is my intention to
communicate to him the secret how to prepare and how to use such of
the powders and essences stored within that casket as I myself have
ventured to employ. Others I have never tested, nor do I know how
they could be resupplied if lost or wasted. But as the contents of
this casket, in the hands of any one not duly instructed as to the
mode of applying them, would either be useless, or conduce, through
inadvertent and ignorant misapplication, to the most dangerous
consequences; so, if I die without having found, and in writing named,
such a confidant as I have described above, I command you immediately
to empty all the powders and essences found therein into any running
stream of water, which will at once harmlessly dissolve them. On
no account must they be cast into fire!

"This letter, Richard Strahan, will only come under your eyes in case
the plans and the hopes which I have formed for my earthly future
should be frustrated by the death on which I do not calculate, but
against the chances of which this will and this letter provide. I am
about to revisit England, in defiance of a warning that I shall be
there subjected to some peril which I refused to have defined, because
I am unwilling that any mean apprehension of personal danger should
enfeeble my nerves in the discharge of a stern and solemn duty. If I
overcome that peril, you will not be my heir; my testament will be
remodelled; this letter will be recalled and destroyed. I shall form
ties which promise me the happiness I have never hitherto found,
though it is common to all men, - the affections of home, the caresses
of children, among whom I may find one to whom hereafter I may
bequeath, in my knowledge, a far nobler heritage than my lands. In
that case, however, my first care would be to assure your own
fortunes. And the sum which this codicil assures to my betrothed
would be transferred to yourself on my wedding-day. Do you know why,
never having seen you, I thus select you for preference to all my
other kindred; why my heart, in writing thus, warms to your image?
Richard Strahan, your only sister, many years older than yourself - you
were then a child - was the object of my first love. We were to have
been wedded, for her parents deceived me into the belief that she
returned my affection. With a rare and nobler candour, she herself
informed me that her heart was given to another, who possessed not my
worldly gifts of wealth and station. In resigning my claims to her
hand, I succeeded in propitiating her parents to her own choice. I
obtained for her husband the living which he held, and I settled on
your sister the dower which, at her death, passed to you as the
brother to whom she had shown a mother's love, and the interest of
which has secured you a modest independence.

"If these lines ever reach you, recognize my title to reverential
obedience to commands which may seem to you wild, perhaps irrational;
and repay, as if a debt due froth your own lost sister, the affection
I have borne to you for her sake."

While I read this long and strange letter, Strahan sat by my side,
covering his face with his hands, and weeping with honest tears for the
man whose death had made him powerful and rich.

"You will undertake the trust ordained to me in this letter," said he,
struggling to compose himself. "You will read and edit this memoir; you
are the very man he himself would have selected. Of your honour and
humanity there can be no doubt, and you have studied with success the
sciences which he specifies as requisite for the discharge of the task he
commands."

At this request, though I could not be wholly unprepared for it, my first
impulse was that of a vague terror. It seemed to me as if I were becoming
more and more entangled in a mysterious and fatal web. But this impulse
soon faded in the eager yearnings of an ardent and irresistible curiosity.

I promised to read the manuscript, and in order that I might fully imbue
my mind with the object and wish of the deceased, I asked leave to make a
copy of the letter I had just read. To this Strahan readily assented, and
that copy I have transcribed in the preceding pages.

I asked Strahan if he had yet found the manuscript. He said, "No, he had
not yet had the heart to inspect the papers left by the deceased. He
would now do so. He should go in a day or two to Derval Court, and reside
there till the murderer was discovered, as doubtless he soon must be
through the vigilance of the police. Not till that discovery was made
should Sir Philip's remains, though already placed in their coffin, be
consigned to the family vault."

Strahan seemed to have some superstitious notion that the murderer might
be more secure from justice if his victim were thrust unavenged into the
tomb.




CHAPTER XXXVI.

The belief prevalent in the town ascribed the murder of Sir Philip to the
violence of some vulgar robber, probably not an inhabitant of L - - . Mr.
Vigors did not favour that belief. He intimated an opinion, which seemed
extravagant and groundless, that Sir Philip had been murdered, for the
sake not of the missing purse, but of the missing casket. It was
currently believed that the solemn magistrate had consulted one of his
pretended clairvoyants, and that this impostor had gulled him with
assurances, to which he attached a credit that perverted into egregiously
absurd directions his characteristic activity and zeal.

Be that as it may, the coroner's inquest closed without casting any light
on so mysterious a tragedy.

What were my own conjectures I scarcely dared to admit, - I certainly could
not venture to utter them; but my suspicions centred upon Margrave. That
for some reason or other he had cause to dread Sir Philip's presence in
L - - was clear, even to my reason. And how could my reason reject all


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Online LibraryEdward Bulwer Lytton LyttonStrange Story, a — Volume 04 → online text (page 1 of 5)