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                   A STRANGE STORY.


                      CHAPTER XXII.

THAT evening I went to Mrs. Poyntz's; it
was one of her ordinary "reception nights," and
I felt that she would naturally expect my
attendance as 'a proper attention.'

I joined a group engaged in general conversation,
of which Mrs. Poyntz herself made the
centre, knitting, as usual, rapidly while she
talked, slowly when she listened.

Without mentioning the visit I had paid that
morning, I turned the conversation on the
different country places in the neighbourhood,
and then incidentally asked, "What sort of a
man is Sir Philip Derval? Is it not strange
that he should suffer so fine a place to fall
into decay?" The answers I received added
little to the information I had already obtained.
Mrs. Poyntz knew nothing of Sir Philip Derval,
except as a man of large estates, whose rental had
been greatly increased by a rise in the value of
property he possessed in the town of L——,
and which lay contiguous to that of her
husband. Two or three of the older inhabitants of
the Hill had remembered him in his early days,
when he was gay, high-spirited, hospitable,
lavish. One observed that the only person in
L——whom he had admitted to his subsequent
seclusion was Dr. Lloyd, who was then without
practice, and whom he had employed as an
assistant in certain chemical experiments.

Here a gentleman struck into the conversation.
He was a stranger to me and to L——,
a visitor to one of the dwellers on the Hill, who
had asked leave to present him to its Queen as a
great traveller and an accomplished antiquarian.

Said this gentleman: "Sir Philip Derval! I
know him. I met him in the East. He was
then, still, I believe, very fond of chemical
science; a clever, odd, philanthropical man;
had studied medicine, or at least practised it;
was said to have made many marvellous cures.
I became acquainted with him in Aleppo. He
had come to that town, not much frequented by
English travellers, in order to inquire into the
murder of two men, of whom one was his friend
and the other his countryman.

"This is interesting," said Mrs. Poyntz,
dryly."We who live on this innocent Hill all
love stories of crime; murder is the pleasantest
subject you could have hit on. Pray give us
the details."

"So encouraged," said the traveller, good
humouredly, "I will not hesitate to communicate
the little I know. In Aleppo, there had
lived for some years a man who was held by the
natives in great reverence. He had the reputation
of extraordinary wisdom, but was difficult
of access; the lively imagination of the Orientals
invested his character with the fascinations
of fable; in short, Haroun of Aleppo was
popularly considered a magician. Wild stories were
told of his powers, of his preternatural age, of his
hoarded treasures. Apart from such disputable
titles to homage, there seemed no question, from
all I heard, that his learning was considerable,
his charities extensive, his manner of life
irreproachably ascetic. He appears to have
resembled those Arabian sages of the Gothic age
to whom modern science is largely indebteda
mystic enthusiast but an earnest scholar. A
wealthy and singular Englishman, long resident
in another part of the East, afflicted by some
languishing disease, took a journey to Aleppo to
consult this sage, who, among his other
acquirements, was held to have discovered rare
secrets in medicinehis countrymen, said in
'charms.' One morning, not long after the
Englishman's arrival, Haroun was found dead in
his bed, apparently strangled, and the Englishman,
who lodged in another part of the town,
had disappeared; but some of his clothes, and
a crutch on which he habitually supported
himself, were found a few miles distant from Aleppo
near the roadside. There appeared no doubt
that he, too, had been murdered, but his corpse
could not be discovered. Sir Philip Derval had
been a loving disciple of this Sage of Aleppo,
to whom he assured me he owed not only that
knowledge of medicine which, by report, Sir
Philip possessed, but the insight into various
truths of nature, on the promulgation of which it
was evident Sir Philip cherished the ambition
to found a philosophical celebrity for himself."

"Of what description were those truths of
nature?" I asked, somewhat sarcastically.

"Sir, I am unable to tell you, for Sir Philip
did not inform me, nor did I much care to ask,
for what may be revered as truths in Asia are
usually despised as dreams in Europe. To
return to my story. Sir Philip had been in
Aleppo a little time before the murder; had left
the Englishman under the care of Haroun; he