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A STRANGE STORY.

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

CHAPTER LXXII.

I TURNED back alone. The sun was reddening
the summits of the distant mountain range,
but dark clouds, that portended rain, were
gathering behind my way and deepening the
shadows in many a chasm and hollow which
volcanic fires had wrought on the surface of
uplands undulating like diluvian billows fixed into
stone in the midst of their stormy swell. I
wandered on, and away from the beaten track,
absorbed in thought. Could I acknowledge in
Julius Faber's conjectures any bases for logical
ratiocination? or were they not the ingenious
fancies of that empirical Philosophy of Sentiment
by which the aged, in the decline of
severer faculties, sometimes assimilate their
theories to the hazy romance of youth? I
can well conceive that the story I tell will be
regarded by most as a wild and fantastic fable;
that by some it may be considered a vehicle
for guesses at various riddles of Nature, without
or within us, which are free to the licence of
romance, though forbidden to the caution of science.
But, IIknow unmistakably my own identity,
my own positive place in a substantial universe.
And beyond that knowledge, what do I know?
Yet had Faber no ground for his startling
parallels between the chimeras of superstition
and the alternatives to faith volunteered by the
metaphysical speculations of knowledge. On
the theorems of Condillac, I, in common with
numberless contemporaneous students (for, in
my youth, Condillac held sway in the schools,
as now, driven forth from the schools, his opinions
float loose through the talk and the scribble
of men of the world, who perhaps never opened
his page)—on the theorems of Condillac I had
built up a system of thought designed to immure
the swathed form of material philosophy
from all rays and all sounds of a world not
material, as the walls of some blind mausoleum
shut out from the mummy within, the whisper
of winds, and the gleaming of stars.

And did not those very theorems, when carried
out to their strict and completing results by the
close reasonings of Hume, resolve my own living
identity, the one conscious indivisible ME, into
a bundle of memories derived from the senses,
which had bubbled and duped my experience,
and reduce into a phantom as spectral as that
of the Luminous Shadow, the whole solid frame
of creation?

While pondering these questions, the storm,
whose forewarnings I had neglected to heed,
burst forth with all the suddenness peculiar to
the Australian climes. The rains descended
like the rushing of floods. In the beds of
water-courses, which, at noon, seemed dried up
and exhausted, the torrents began to swell and
to rave; the grey crags around them were
animated into living waterfalls. I looked round,
and the landscape was as changed as a scene
that replaces a scene on the player's stage. I
was aware that I had wandered far from my
home, and I knew not what direction I should
take to regain it. Close at hand, and raised
above the torrents that now rushed in many a
gully and tributary creek, around and before
me, the mouth of a deep cave, overgrown with
bushes and creeping flowers tossed wildly to
and fro between the rain from above and the
spray of cascades below, offered a shelter from
the storm. I entered; scaring innumerable
flocks of bats striking against me, blinded by
the glare of the lightning that followed me into
the cavern; and hastening; to resettle themselves
on the pendants of stalactites, or the jagged
buttresses of primeval wall.

From time to time the lightning darted into
the gloom and lingered amongst its shadows, and
I saw, by the flash, that the floors on which I
stood were strewed with strange bones, some
amongst them the fossilised relics of races
destroyed by the Deluge. The rain continued for
more than two hours with unabated violence;
then it ceased almost as suddenly as it had come
on. And the lustrous moon of Australia burst
from the clouds, shining, bright as an English
dawn, into the hollows of the cave. And then
simultaneously arose all the choral songs of the
wildernesscreatures whose voices are heard
at night, the loud whirr of the locusts, the
musical boom of the bullfrog, the cuckoo note
of the morepork, and, mournful amidst all those
merrier sounds, the hoot of the owl, through
the wizard she-oaks and the pale green of the
gum-trees.

I stepped forth into the open air and gazed,
first instinctively on the heavens, next, with
more heedful eye, upon the earth. The
nature of the soil bore the evidence of
volcanic fires long since extinguished. Just

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