The Bright Messenger, by Algernon Blackwood

Chapter 1

EDWARD FILLERY, so far as may be possible to a man of normal passions and emotions, took a detached view of life and human nature. At the age of thirty-eight he still remained a spectator, a searching, critical, analytical, yet chiefly, perhaps, a sympathetic spectator, before the great performance whose stage is the planet and whose performers and auditorium are humanity.

Knowing himself outcast, an unwelcome deadhead at the play, he had yet felt no bitterness against the parents whose fierce illicit passion had deprived him of an honourable seat. The first shock of resentment over, he had faced the situation with a tolerance which showed an unusual charity, an exceptional understanding, in one so young.

He was twenty when he learned the truth about himself. And it was his wondering analysis as to why two loving humans could be so careless of their offspring’s welfare, when the rest of Nature took such pains in the matter, that first betrayed, perhaps, his natural aptitude. He had the innate gift of seeing things as they were, undisturbed by personal emotion, while yet asking himself with scientific accuracy why and how they came to be so. These were invaluable qualities in the line of knowledge and research he chose for himself as psychologist and doctor. The terms are somewhat loose. His longing was to probe the motives of conduct in the first place, and, in the second, to correct the results of wrong conduct by removing faulty motives. Psychiatrist and healer, therefore, were his more accurate titles; psychiatrist and healer, in due course, he became.

His father, an engineer of ability and enterprise, prospecting in the remoter parts of the Caucasus for copper, and making a comfortable fortune in so doing, was carried off his feet suddenly by the beauty of a Khaketian peasant girl, daughter of a shepherd in these lonely and majestic mountains, whose intolerable grandeur may well intoxicate a man to madness. A dangerous and disgraceful episode it seems to have been between John Fillery, hitherto of steady moral fibre, and this strange, lovely pagan girl, whose savage father hunted the pair of them high and low for weeks before they finally eluded him in the azalea valleys beyond Artvine.

Great passion, possibly great love, born of this enchanted land whose peaks touch heaven, while their lower turfy slopes are carpeted with lilies, azaleas, rhododendrons, contributed to the birth of Edward, who first saw the light in a secret chamber of a dirty Tiflis house, above the Koura torrent. That same night, when the sun dipped beneath the Black Sea waters two hundred miles to the westward, his mother had looked for the last time upon her northern lover and her wild Caucasian mountains.

Edward, however, persisted, visible emblem of a few weeks’ primal passion in a primal land. Intense desire, born in this remote wilderness of amazing loveliness, lent him, perhaps, a strain of illicit, almost unearthly yearning, a secret nostalgia for some lost vale of beauty that held fiercer sunshine, mightier winds and fairer flowers than those he knew in this world.

At the age of four he was brought to England; his Russian memories faded, though not the birthright of his primitive blood. Settling in London, his father increased his fortune as consulting engineer, but did not marry. To the short vehement episode he had given of his very best; he remained true to his gorgeous memory and his sin; the cream of his life, its essence and its perfume, had been spent in those wild wind-swept azalea valleys beyond Artvine. The azalea honey was in his blood, the scent of the lilies in his brain; he still heard the Koura and Rion foaming down towards ancient Colchis. Edward embodied for him the spirit of these sweet, passionate memories. He loved the boy, he cherished and he spoilt him.

But Edward had stuff in him that rendered spoiling harmless. A vigorous, independent youngster, he showed firmness and character as a lad. To the delight of his father he knew his own mind early, reading and studying on his own account, possessed at the same time by a vehement love of nature and outdoor life that was far more than the average English boy’s inclination to open air and sport. There lay some primal quality in his blood that was of ancient origin and leaned towards wildness. There seemed almost, at the same time, a faunish strain that turned away from life.

As a tiny little fellow he had that strange touch of creative imagination other children have also known an invisible playmate. It had no name, as it, apparently, had no sex. The boy’s father could trace it directly to no fairy tale read or heard; its origin in the child’s mind remained a mystery. But its characteristics were unusual, even for such fanciful imaginings: too full-fledged to have been created gradually by the boy’s loneliness, it seemed half goblin and half Nature-spirit; it replaced, at any rate, the little brothers and sisters who were not there, and the father, led by his conscience, possibly, to divine or half divine its origin, met the pretence with sympathetic encouragement.

It came usually with the wind, moreover, and went with the wind, and wind accordingly excited the child. “Listen! Father!” he would exclaim when no air was moving anywhere and the day was still as death. Then: “Plop! So there you are!” as though it had dropped through empty space and landed at his feet. “It came from a tremenjus height,” the child explained. “The wind’s up there, you see, today.” Which struck the parent’s mind as odd, because it proved later true. An upper wind, far in the higher strata of air, came down an hour or so afterwards and blew into a storm.

Fire and flowers, too, were connected with this invisible playmate. “He’ll make it burn, father,” the child said convincingly, when the chimney smoked and the coals refused to catch, and then became very busy with his friend in the grate and about the hearth, just as though he helped and superintended what was being invisibly accomplished. “It’s burning better, anyhow,” agreed the father, astonished in spite of himself as the coals began to glow and spurt their gassy flames. “Well done; I am very much obliged to you and your little friend.”

“But it’s the only thing he can do. He likes it. It’s his work really, don’t you see keeping up the heat in things.”

“Oh, it’s his natural job, is it? I see, yes. But my thanks to him, all the same.”

“Thank you very much,” said grave Edward, aged five, addressing his tiny friend among the fire-irons. “I’m much mobliged to you.”

Edward was a bit older when the flower incident took place with the geranium that no amount of care and coaxing seemed able to keep alive. It had been dying slowly for some days, when Edward announced that he saw its “inside” flitting about the plant, but unable to get back into it. “It’s got out, you see, and can’t get back into its body again, so it’s dying.”

“Well, what in the world are we to do about it?” asked his father.

“I’ll ask,” was the solemn reply. “Now I know!” he cried, delighted, after asking his question of the empty air and listening for the answer. “Of course. Now I see. Look, father, there it is its spirit!” He stood beside the flower and pointed to the earth in the pot.

“Dear me, yes! Where d’you see it? I don’t see it quite.”

“He says I can pick it up and put it back and then the flower will live.” The child put out a hand as though picking up something that moved quickly about the stem.

“What’s it look like?” asked his father quickly.

“Oh, sort of trinangles and things with lines and corners,” was the reply, making a gesture as though he caught it and popped it back into the red drooping blossoms. “There you are! Now you’re alive again. Thank you very much, please” this last remark to the invisible playmate who was superintending.

“A sort of geometrical figure, was it?” inquired the father next day, when, to his surprise, he found the geranium blooming in full health and beauty once again. “That’s what you saw, eh?”

“It was its spirit, and it was shiny red, like fire,” the child replied. “It’s heat. Without these things there’d be no flowers at all.”

“Who makes everything grow?” he asked suddenly, a moment later.

“You mean what makes them grow.”

“Who,” he repeated with emphasis. “Who builds the bodies up and looks after them?”

“Ah! the structure, you mean, the form?”

Edward nodded. His father had the feeling he was not being asked for information, but was being cross-examined. A faint pressure, as of uneasiness, touched him.

“They develop automatically that means naturally, under the laws of nature,” he replied.

“And the laws who keeps them working properly?”

The father, with a mental gulp, replied that God did.

“A beetle’s body, for instance, or a daisy’s or an elephant’s?” persisted the child undeceived by the theological evasion. “Or mine, or a mountain’s?”

John Fillery racked his brain for an answer, while Edward continued his list to include sea-anemones, frost-patterns, fire, wind, moon, sun and stars. All these forms to him were bodies apparently.

“I know!” he exclaimed suddenly with intense conviction, clapping his hands together and standing on his toes.

“Do you, indeed! Then you know more than the rest of us.”

“They do, of course,” came the positive announcement. “The other kind! It’s their work. Yours, for instance” he turned to his playmate, but so naturally and convincingly that a chill ran down his father’s spine as he watched “is fire, isn’t it? You showed me once. And water stops you, but wind helps you . . . ” and he continued long after his father had left the room.

With advancing years, however, Edward either forgot his playmate or kept its activities to himself. He no longer referred to it, at any rate. His energies demanded a bigger field; he roamed the fields and woods, climbed the hills, stayed out all night to see the sunrise, made fires even when fires were not exactly needed, and hunted with Red Indians and with what he called “Windy–Fire people” everywhere. He was never hi the house. He ran wild. Great open spaces, trees and flowers were what he liked. The sea, on the other hand, alarmed him. Only wind and fire comforted him and made him happy and full of life. He was a playmate of wind and fire. Water, in large quantities at any rate, was inimical.

With concealed approval, masking a deep love fulfilled yet incomplete, his father watched the growth of this fiercer strain that mere covert shooting could not satisfy, nor ordinary sporting holidays appease.

“England’s too small for you, Edward, isn’t it?” he asked once tentatively, when the boy was about fifteen.

“The English people, you mean, father?”

“You find them dull, don’t you? And the island a bit cramped eh?”

Edward waited without replying. He did not quite understand what his indulgent father intended, or was leading up to.

“You’d like to travel and see things and people for yourself, I mean?”

He watched the boy without, as he thought, the latter noticing. The answer pleased but puzzled him.

“We’re all much the same, aren’t we?” said Edward.

“Well with differences yes, we are. But still —”

“It’s only the same over and over again, isn’t it?” Then, while his father was thinking of this reply, and of what he should say to it, the boy asked suddenly with arresting intensity:

“Are we the only people the only sort of beings, I mean? Just men and women like us all over the world? No others of any sort bigger, for instance, or more wild and wonderful?” Then he added, a thrust of strange yearning in his face and eyes: “More beautiful?” He almost whispered the last words.

His father winced. He divined the origin of that strange inquiry. Upon those immense and lonely mountains, distant in space and time for him, imagination, rich and pagan, ran, he well knew, to vast and mighty beings, superior to human, benignant and maleficent, akin to the stimulating and exhilarating conception of the gods, and certainly non-human.

“Nothing, Edward, that we know of. Why should there be?”

“Oh, I don’t know, dad, I just wondered sometimes. But, as you say, we’ve not a scrap of evidence, of course.”

“Not a scrap,” agreed his father. “Poetic legends ain’t evidence.”

The mind ruled the heart in Edward; he had his father’s brains, at any rate; and all his powers and longings focused in a single line that indicated plainly what his career should be. The Public Schools could help him little; he went to Edinburgh to study medicine; he passed eventually with all possible honours; and the day he brought home the news his father, dying, told him the secret of his illegitimate birth.

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