A Strange Story, by Edward Bulwer-Lytton

Chapter 52.

A heavy sleep came over me at daybreak, but I did not undress nor go to bed. The sun was high in the heavens when, on waking, I saw the servant who had attended me bustling about the room.

“I beg your pardon, sir, I am afraid I disturbed you; but I have been three times to see if you were not coming down, and I found you so soundly asleep I did not like to wake you. Mr. Strahan has finished breakfast, and gone out riding; Mr. Margrave has left — left before six o’clock.”

“Ah, he said he was going early.”

“Yes, sir; and he seemed so cross when he went. I could never have supposed so pleasant a gentleman could put himself into such a passion!”

“What was the matter?”

“Why, his walking-stick could not be found; it was not in the hall. He said he had left it in the study; we could not find it there. At last he found it himself in the old summerhouse, and said — I beg pardon — he said he was sure you had taken it there: that some one, at all events, had been meddling with it. However, I am very glad it was found, since he seems to set such store on it.”

“Did Mr. Margrave go himself into the summer-house to look for it?”

“Yes, sir; no one else would have thought of such a place; no one likes to go there, even in the daytime.”

“Why?”

“Why, sir, they say it is haunted since poor Sir Philip’s death; and, indeed, there are strange noises in every part of the house. I am afraid you had a bad night, sir,” continued the servant, with evident curiosity, glancing towards the bed, which I had not pressed, and towards the evening-dress which, while he spoke, I was rapidly changing for that which I habitually wore in the morning. “I hope you did not feel yourself ill?”

“No! but it seems I fell asleep in my chair.”

“Did you hear, sir, how the dogs howled about two o’clock in the morning? They woke me. Very frightful!”

“The moon was at her full. Dogs will bay at the moon.”

I felt relieved to think that I should not find Strahan in the breakfast-room; and hastening through the ceremony of a meal which I scarcely touched, I went out into the park unobserved, and creeping round the copses and into the neglected gardens, made my way to the pavilion. I mounted the stairs; I looked on the floor of the upper room; yes, there still was the black figure of the pentacle, the circle. So, then, it was not a dream! Till then I had doubted. Or might it not still be so far a dream that I had walked in my sleep, and with an imagination preoccupied by my conversations with Margrave — by the hieroglyphics on the staff I had handled, by the very figure associated with superstitious practices which I had copied from some weird book at his request, by all the strange impressions previously stamped on my mind — might I not, in truth, have carried thither in sleep the staff, described the circle, and all the rest been but visionary delusion? Surely, surely, so common-sense, and so Julius Faber would interpret the riddles that perplexed me! Be that as it may, my first thought was to efface the marks on the floor. I found this easier than I had ventured to hope. I rubbed the circle and the pentacle away from the boards with the sole of my foot, leaving but an undistinguishable smudge behind. I know not why, but I felt the more nervously anxious to remove all such evidences of my nocturnal visit to that room, because Margrave had so openly gone thither to seek for the staff, and had so rudely named me to the servant as having meddled with it. Might he not awake some suspicion against me? Suspicion, what of? I knew not, but I feared!

The healthful air of day gradually nerved my spirits and relieved my thoughts. But the place had become hateful to me. I resolved not to wait for Strahan’s return, but to walk back to L— — and leave a message for my host. It was sufficient excuse that I could not longer absent myself from my patients; accordingly I gave directions to have the few things which I had brought with me sent to my house by any servant who might be going to L— — and was soon pleased to find myself outside the park-gates and on the high-road.

I had not gone a mile before I met Strahan on horseback. He received my apologies for not waiting his return to bid him farewell without observation, and, dismounting, led his horse and walked beside me on my road. I saw that there was something on his mind; at last he said, looking down —

“Did you hear the dogs howl last night?”

“Yes! the full moon!”

“You were awake, then, at the time. Did you hear any other sound? Did you see anything?”

“What should I hear or see?”

Strahan was silent for some moments; then he said, with great seriousness —

“I could not sleep when I went to bed last night; I felt feverish and restless. Somehow or other, Margrave got into my head, mixed up in some strange way with Sir Philip Derval. I heard the dogs howl, and at the same time, or rather a few minutes later, I felt the whole house tremble, as a frail corner-house in London seems to tremble at night when a carriage is driven past it. The howling had then ceased, and ceased as suddenly as it had begun. I felt a vague, superstitious alarm; I got up, and went to my window, which was unclosed (it is my habit to sleep with my windows open); the moon was very bright, and I saw, I declare I saw along the green alley that leads from the old part of the house to the mausoleum — No, I will not say what I saw or believed I saw — you would ridicule me, and justly. But, whatever it might be, on the earth without or in the fancy within my brain, I was so terrified, that I rushed back to my bed, and buried my face in my pillow. I would have come to you; but I did not dare to stir. I have been riding hard all the morning in order to recover my nerves. But I dread sleeping again under that roof, and now that you and Margrave leave me, I shall go this very day to London. I hope all that I have told you is no bad sign of any coming disease; blood to the head, eh?”

“No; but imagination overstrained can produce wondrous effects. You do right to change the scene. Go to London at once, amuse yourself, and —”

“Not return, till the old house is razed to the ground. That is my resolve. You approve? That’s well. All success to you, Fenwick. I will canter back and get my portmanteau ready and the carriage out, in time for the five o’clock train.”

So then he, too, had seen — what? I did not dare and I did not desire to ask him. But he, at least, was not walking in his sleep! Did we both dream, or neither?

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