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A STRANGE STORY.

BY THE AUTHOR OF "MY NOVEL," "RIENZI," &c.

CHAPTER XXXIV.

I WALKED on slowly and with the downcast
head of a man absorbed in meditation. I had
gained the broad place in which the main streets
of the town converged, when I was overtaken by
a violent storm of rain. I sought shelter under
the dark archway of that entrance to the district
of Abbey Hill which was still called Monkgate.
The shadow within the arch was so deep
that I was not aware that I had a companion
till I heard my own name, close at my side. I
recognised the voice before I could distinguish
the form of Sir Philip Derval.

"The storm will be soon over," said he,
quietly. "I saw it coming on in time. I fear
you neglected the first warning of those sable
clouds, and must be already drenched."

I made no reply, but moved involuntarily away
towards the mouth of the arch.

"I see that you cherish a grudge against me!"
resumed Sir Philip. "Are you, then, by nature
vindictive?"

Somewhat softened by the friendly tone of
this reproach, I answered, half in jest, half in
earnest,

"You must own, Sir Philip, that I have some
little reason for the uncharitable anger your
question imputes to me. But I can forgive you
on one condition."

"What is that?"

"The possession, for half an hour, of that
mysterious steel casket which you carry about with
you, and full permission to analyse and test its
contents."

"Your analysis of the contents," returned Sir
Philip, dryly, "would leave you as ignorant as
before of the uses to which they can be applied.
But I will own to you frankly, that it is my
intention to select some confidant among men of
science, to whom I may safely communicate the
wonderful properties which certain essences in
that casket possess. I invite your acquaintance,
nay, your friendship, in the hope that I may find
such a confidant in you. But the casket contains
other combinations, which, if wasted, could not
be re-supplied; at least, by any process which
the great Master from whom I received them
placed within reach of my knowledge. In this
they resemble the diamond; when the chemist
has found that the diamond affords no other
substance by its combustion than pure carbonic acid
gas, and that the only chemical difference
between the costliest diamond, and a lump of pure
charcoal, is a porportion of hydrogen, less than
1/50000 part of the weight of the substancecan
the chemist make you a diamond?

"These, then, the more potent, but also the
more perilous of the casket's contents, shall be
explored by no science, submitted to no test.
They are the keys to masked doors in the
ramparts of Nature, which no mortal can pass
through without rousing dread sentries never
seen upon this side her wall. The powers they
confer are secrets locked in my breast, to be lost
in my grave; as the casket which lies on my
breast shall not be transferred to the hands of
another, till all the rest of my earthly
possessions pass away with my last breath in life,
and my first in eternity."

"Sir Philip Derval," said I, struggling against
the appeals to fancy or to awe, made in words
so strange, uttered in a tone of earnest conviction,
and heard amidst the glare of the lightning,
the howl of the winds, and the roll of the
thunder—"Sir Philip Derval, you accost me in
language which, but for my experience of the
powers at your command, I should hear with the
contempt that is due to the vaunts of a mountebank,
or the pity we give to the morbid beliefs
of his dupe. As it is, I decline the confidence
with which you would favour me, subject to
the conditions which it seems you would
impose. My profession abandons to quacks all
drugs which may not be analysed; all secrets
which may not be fearlessly told. I cannot
visit you at Derval Court. I cannot trust
myself, voluntarily, again in the power of a man,
who has arts of which I may not examine the
nature, by which he can impose on my
imagination and steal away my reason."

"Reflect well, before you so decide," said Sir
Philip, with a solemnity that was stern. "If you
refuse to be warned and to be armed by me, your
reason and your imagination will alike be
subjected to influences which I can only explain by
telling you that there is truth in those
immemorial legends which depose to the existence of
magic."

"Magic!"

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