A Strange Story, by Edward Bulwer-Lytton

Chapter 49.

I had no case that necessitated my return to L—— the following day. The earlier hours of the forenoon I devoted to Strahan and his building plans. Margrave flitted in and out of the room fitfully as an April sunbeam, sometimes flinging himself on a sofa, and reading for a few minutes one of the volumes of the ancient mystics, in which Sir Philip’s library was so rich. I remember it was a volume of Proclus. He read that crabbed and difficult Greek with a fluency that surprised me. “I picked up the ancient Greek,” said he, “years ago, in learning the modern.” But the book soon tired him; then he would come and disturb us, archly enjoying Strahan’s peevishness at interruption; then he would throw open the window and leap down, chanting one of his wild savage airs; and in another moment he was half hid under the drooping boughs of a broad lime-tree, amidst the antlers of deer that gathered fondly round him. In the afternoon my host was called away to attend some visitors of importance, and I found myself on the sward before the house, right in view of the mausoleum and alone with Margrave.

I turned my eyes from that dumb House of Death wherein rested the corpse of the last lord of the soil, so strangely murdered, with a strong desire to speak out to Margrave the doubts respecting himself that tortured me. But — setting aside the promise to the contrary, which I had given, or dreamed I had given, to the Luminous Shadow — to fulfil that desire would have been impossible — impossible to any one gazing on that radiant youthful face! I think I see him now as I saw him then: a white doe, that even my presence could not scare away from him, clung lovingly to his side, looking up at him with her soft eyes. He stood there like the incarnate principle of mythological sensuous life. I have before applied to him that illustration; let the repetition be pardoned. Impossible, I repeat it, to say to that creature, face to face, “Art thou the master of demoniac arts, and the instigator of secret murder?” As if from redundant happiness within himself, he was humming, or rather cooing, a strain of music, so sweet, so wildly sweet, and so unlike the music one hears from tutored lips in crowded rooms! I passed my hand over my forehead in bewilderment and awe.

“Are there,” I said unconsciously — “are there, indeed, such prodigies in Nature?”

“Nature!” he cried, catching up the word; “talk to me of Nature! Talk of her, the wondrous blissful mother! Mother I may well call her. I am her spoiled child, her darling! But oh, to die, ever to die, ever to lose sight of Nature! — to rot senseless, whether under these turfs or within those dead walls —”

I could not resist the answer —

“Like yon murdered man! murdered, and by whom?”

“By whom? I thought that was clearly proved.”

“The hand was proved; what influence moved the hand?”

“Tush! the poor wretch spoke of a Demon. Who can tell? Nature herself is a grand destroyer. See that pretty bird, in its beak a writhing worm! All Nature’s children live to take life; none, indeed, so lavishly as man. What hecatombs slaughtered, not to satisfy the irresistible sting of hunger, but for the wanton ostentation of a feast, which he may scarcely taste, or for the mere sport that he finds in destroying! We speak with dread of the beasts of prey: what beast of prey is so dire a ravager as man — so cruel and so treacherous? Look at yon flock of sheep, bred and fattened for the shambles; and this hind that I caress — if I were the park-keeper, and her time for my bullet had come, would you think her life was the safer because, in my own idle whim, I had tamed her to trust to the hand raised to slay her?”

“It is true,” said I — “a grim truth. Nature, on the surface so loving and so gentle, is full of terror in her deeps when our thought descends into their abyss!”

Strahan now joined us with a party of country visitors. “Margrave is the man to show you the beauties of this park,” said he. “Margrave knows every bosk and dingle, twisted old thorn-tree, or opening glade, in its intricate, undulating ground.”

Margrave seemed delighted at this proposition; and as he led us through the park, though the way was long, though the sun was fierce, no one seemed fatigued. For the pleasure he felt in pointing out detached beauties which escaped an ordinary eye was contagious. He did not talk as talks the poet or the painter; but at some lovely effect of light amongst the tremulous leaves, some sudden glimpse of a sportive rivulet below, he would halt, point it out to us in silence, and with a kind of childlike ecstasy in his own bright face, that seemed to reflect the life and the bliss of the blithe summer day itself.

Thus seen, all my doubts in his dark secret nature faded away — all my horror, all my hate; it was impossible to resist the charm that breathed round him, not to feel a tender, affectionate yearning towards him as to some fair happy child. Well might he call himself the Darling of Nature. Was he not the mysterious likeness of that awful Mother, beautiful as Apollo in one aspect, direful as Typhon in another?

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31