The Bright Messenger, by Algernon Blackwood

Chapter 10

ABOUT a week after the arrival of LeVallon in London, Dr. Fillery came out of the Home one morning early, upon some uninteresting private business. He had left “LeVallon” happy with his books and garden, Devonham was with him to answer questions or direct his energies; the other “cases” in the establishment were moving nicely towards a cure.

The November air was clear and almost bright; no personal worries troubled him. His mind felt free and light.

It was one of those mornings when Nature slips, very close and sweet, into the heart, so close and sweet that the mind wonders why people quarrel and disagree, when it is so easy to forgive, and the planet seems but a big, lovely, happy garden, evil an impossible nightmare, and personal needs few and simple.

He walked by cross roads towards Primrose Hill, entering Regent’s Park near the Zoo. An early white frost was rapidly melting in the sun. The sky showed a faint tinge of blue. He saw floating sea-gulls. These, and a faint breeze that stirred the yellowing last leaves of autumn, gave his heart a sudden lift.

And this lift was in the direction of a forbidden corner. He was aware of some exquisite dawn-wind far away stirring a million flowers, dew sparkled, streams splashed and murmured. A valley gleamed and vanished, yet left across his mind its shining trail. . . . For this lift of his heart made him soar into a region where it was only too easy to override temptation. Fillery, however, though his invisible being soared, kept both visible feet firmly on the ground. The surface was slippery, being melted by the sun, but frost kept the earth hard and frozen underneath. His balance never was in danger. He remained detached and a spectator.

She walked beside him nevertheless, a figure of purity and radiance, perfumed, soft, delicious. She was so ignorant of life. That was her wonder partly; for beauty was her accident and, while admirable, was not a determining factor. Life, in its cruder sense, she did not know, though moving through the thick of it. It neither touched nor soiled her; she brushed its dirt and dust aside as though a non-conducting atmosphere surrounded her. Her emotions, deep and searching, had remained untorn. A quality of pristine innocence belonged to her, as though, in the noisy clamour of ambitious civilized life, she remained still aware of Eden. Her grace, her loveliness, her simplicity moved by his side as naturally, it seemed to him, as air or perfume.

“Iraida,” he murmured to himself, with a smile of joy. “Nayan Khilkoff. All the men worship and adore you, yet respect you too. They cannot touch you. You remain aloof, unstained.” And, remembering LeVallon’s remarks in cinema and theatre, he could have sung at this mere thought of her.

“Untouched by coarseness, something unearthly about your loveliness of soul, a baby, a saint, and to all the men in Khilkoff’s Studio, a mother. Where do you really come from? Whence do you derive? Your lovely soul can have no dealings with our common flesh. How many young fellows have you saved already, how many floundering characters redeemed! They crave your earthly, physical love. Instead you surprise and disappoint and shock them into safety again by giving to them Love. . . .!”

And, as he half repeated his vivid thoughts aloud, he suddenly saw her coming towards him from the ornamental water, and instantly, wondering what he should say to her, his mind contracted. The thing in him that sang went backward into silence. He put a brake upon himself. But he watched her coming nearer, wondering what brought her so luckily into Regent’s Park, and all the way from Chelsea, at such an hour. She moved so lightly, sweetly; she was so intangible and lovely. He feared her eyes, her voice.

They drew nearer. From looking to right and left, he raised his head. She was close, quite close, a hundred yards away. That walk, that swing, that poise of head and neck he could not mistake anywhere. His whole being glowed, thrilled, and yet contracted as in pain.

A sentence about the weather, about her own, her father’s, health, about his calling to see them shortly, rose to his lips. He turned his eyes away, then again looked up. They were now not twenty yards apart; in another moment he would have raised his hat, when, with a sensation of cold disappointment in him, she went past in totally irresponsive silence. It was a stranger a shop girl, a charwoman, a bus-conductor’s wife — anybody but she whom he had thought.

How could he have been so utterly mistaken? It amazed him. It was, indeed, months since they had met, yet his knowledge of her appearance was so accurate and detailed that such an error seemed incredible. He had experienced, besides, the actual thrill.

The phenomenon, however, was not new to him. Often had he experienced it, much as others have. He knew, from this, that she was somewhere near, coming deliciously, deliberately towards him, moving every minute firmly nearer, from a point in great London town which she had left just at the precise moment which would time her crossing his own path later. They would meet presently, if not now. Fate had arranged all details, and something in him was aware of it before it happened.

The phenomenon, as a matter of fact, was repeated twice again in the next half-hour: he saw her on both occasions beyond the possibility of question coming towards him, yet each time it was a complete stranger masquerading in her guise.

It meant, he knew, that their two minds hearts, too, he wondered, with a sense of secret happiness, enjoyed intensely then instantly suppressed were wirelessing to one another across the vast city, and that both transmitter and receiver, their physical bodies, would meet shortly round the corner, or along the crowded street. Strong currents of desiring thought, he knew, he hoped, he wondered, were trying to shape the crude world nearer to the heart’s desire, causing the various intervening passers-by to assume the desirable form and outline in advance.

He reflected, following the habit of his eager mind; this wireless discovery, after all, was the discovery of a universal principle in Nature. It was common to all forms of life, a faint beginning of that advance towards marvellous inter-communicating, semi-telepathic brotherhood he had always hoped for, believed in. . . . Even plants, he remembered, according to Bose. . . .

Then, suddenly, half-way down Baker Street he found her close beside him.

She was dressed so becomingly, so naturally, that no particular detail caught his eye, although she wore more colour than was usual in the dull climate known to English people. There was a touch of fur and there were flowers, but these were part of her appearance as a whole, and the hat was so exactly right, though it was here that English-women generally went wrong, that he could not remember afterwards what it was like. It was as suitable as natural hair. It looked as if she had grown it. The shining eyes were what he chiefly noticed. They seemed to increase the pale sunlight in the dingy street.

She was so close that he caught her perfume almost before he recognized her, and a sense of happiness invaded his whole being instantly, as he took the slender hand emerging from a muff and held it for a moment. The casual sentences he had half prepared fled like a flock of birds surprised. Their eyes met. . . . And instantly the sun rose over a far Khaketian valley; he was aware of joy, of peace, of deep contentment, London obliterated, the entire world elsewhere. He knew the thrill, the ecstasy of some long — forgotten dawn. . . .

But in that brief second while he held her hand and gazed into her eyes, there flashed before him a sudden apparition. With lightning rapidity this picture darted past between them, paused for the tiniest fraction of a second, and was gone again. So swiftly the figure shot across that the very glance he gave her was intercepted, its angle changed, its meaning altered. He started involuntarily, for he knew that vision, the bright rushing messenger, someone who brought glad tidings. And this time he recognized it it was the figure of “N.H.”

The outward start, the slight wavering of the eyelids, both were noticed, though not understood, much less interpreted by the young woman facing him.

“You are as much surprised as I am,” he heard the pleasant, low-pitched voice before his face. “I thought you were abroad. Father and I came back from Sark only yesterday.”

“I haven’t left town,” he replied. “It was Devonham went to Switzerland.”

He was thinking of her pleasant voice, and wondering how a mere voice could soothe and bless and comfort in this way. The picture of the flashing figure, too, preoccupied him. His various mind was ever busy with several trains of thought at once, though all correlated. Why, he was wondering, should that picture of “N.H.” leave a sense of chill upon his heart r Why had the first radiance of this meeting thus already dimmed a little? Her nearness, too, confused him as of old, making his manner a trifle brusque and not quite natural, until he found his centre of control again. He looked quickly up and down the street, moved aside to let some people pass, then turned to the girl again. “Your holiday has done you good, Iraida,” he said quietly; “I hope your father enjoyed it too.”

“We both enjoyed ourselves,” she answered, watching him, something of a protective air about her. “I wish you had been with us, for that would have made it perfect. I was thinking that only this morning as I walked across Hyde Park.”

“How nice of you! I believe I, too, was thinking of you both, as I walked through Regent’s Park.” He smiled for the first time.

“It’s very odd,” she went on, “though you can explain it probably,” she added, with a smile that met his own, increasing it, “or, at any rate, Dr. Devonham could but I’ve seen you several times this morning already in the last half — hour. I’ve seen you in other people in the street, I mean. Yet I wasn’t thinking of you at the actual moment, it’s two months since we’ve met, and I imagined you were abroad.”

“Odd, yes,” he said, half shyly, half curtly. “It’s an experience many have, I believe.”

She gazed up at him. “It’s very natural, I think, when people like each other, Edward, and are in sympathy.”

“Yet it happens with people who don’t like each other too,” he objected, and at the same moment was vexed that he had used the words.

Iraida Khilkoff laughed. He had the feeling that she read his thoughts as easily as if they were printed in red letters on his grey felt hat.

“There must be some bond between them, though,” she remarked, “an emotion, I mean, whatever it may be even hatred.”

“Probably, Nayan,” he agreed. “It’s you now, not Devonham, that wants to explain things. I think I must take you into the Firm, you could take charge of the female patients with great success.”

Whereupon she looked up at him with such a grave mothering expression that he was aware of her secret power, her central source of strength in dealing with men. Her innocence and truth were an atmosphere about her, protecting her as naturally and neatly as the clothes upon her body. She believed in men. He felt like a child beside her.

“I’m in the Firm already,” she said, “for you made me a partner years ago when I was so high,” and her small gloved hand indicated the stature of a little girl. “You taught me first.”

He remembered the bleak northern town where fifteen years ago he had known her father as a patient for some minor ailment, and the friendship that grew out of the relationship. He remembered the child of nine or ten who sat on his knee and repeated to him the Russian fairy tales her mother told her; he recalled the charm, the wonder, the extraordinary power of belief. Her words brought back again that flowered Caucasian valley in the sunlight and this, again, flashed upon the screen the strange bright figure that had already once intercepted their glance, as though it somehow came between them. . . .

“You have one advantage over me,” he rejoined presently, “for in my Clinique the people know that they need treatment, whereas in the Studio you catch your patients unawares. They do not know they’re ill. You heal them without their being aware that they need healing.”

“Yet some of our habitues have found their way later to your consulting-room,” she reminded him.

“Merely to finish what you had first begun a sort of convalescence. You work in the big, raw world, I in a mere specialized corner of it.”

He turned away, lest the power in her eyes overcome him. The traffic thundered past, the people crowded, jostling them. He could have stood there talking to her all day long, the London street forgotten or full of flowers and Eden’s trees and rippling summer streams. The pale sunlight caught her face beside him and made it shine..

He longed to take her in his arms and fly through the dawn for ever, for his clean mind saw her without clothing, her hair loose in the wind, her white shape fleeing from him, yet beckoning across a gleaming shoulder that he must overtake and capture her. . . .

“I’m on my way to St. Dunstan’s,” he heard the musical voice. “A friend of father’s. . . . Come with me, will you?” And with her muff she touched his arm, trying to make him turn her way. But just as he felt the touch he saw the bright figure again. Swifter than himself and far more powerful, it leaped dancing past and carried her away before his very eyes. She waved her hand, her eyes faded like stars into the distance of some unearthly spring and she was gone. A pang of peculiar anguish seized him, as the mental picture flashed with the speed of light and vanished. For the figure seemed of elemental power, taking its own with perfect ease. . . .

He shook his head. “I’ll come to see you tomorrow instead,” he told her. “I’ll come to the Studio in the afternoon, if you’ll both be in. I’d like to bring a friend with me, if I may.”

“Goodbye then.” She took his hand and kept it. “I shall expect you to tell me all about this friend. I knew you had something on your mind, for your thoughts have been elsewhere all the time.”

“Julian LeVallon,” he replied quickly. “He’s staying with me indefinitely.” His face grew sjiern a moment about the mouth. “I think he may need you,” “he added with abrupt significance.

“Julian LeVallon,” she repeated, the name sounding very musical the way her slightly foreign accent touched it. “And what nationality may that be?”

Dr. Fillery hesitated. “His parents, Nayan, I believe, were English,” he said. “He has lived all his life in the Jura Mountains, alone with an old scholar, poet and geologist, who brought him up. Of our modern life he knows little. I think you may “ He broke off. “His mother died when he was born,” he concluded.

“And of women he knows nothing,” she replied, understandingly, “so that he will probably fall in love with the first he sees with Nayan.”

“I hope so, Nayan, and he will be safe with you.”

She watched her companion’s face for a minute or two with her clear searching eyes. She smiled. But his own face wore a mask now; no figure this time flashed between their deep understanding gaze.

“A woman, you think, can teach and help him more than a man,” she said, without lowering her eyes.

“Probably perhaps, at any rate. The material, I must warn you at once, is new and strange, I want him to meet you.”

“Then I am in the Firm,” was all she answered, “and you can’t do without me.” She let go the hand she had held all this time, and turned from him, looking once across her shoulder as he, too, went upon his way.

“About three o’clock we shall expect you and Mr. Julian LeVallon,” she added. “The Prometheans are coming too, as of course you know, but that won’t matter. Father has let the Studio to them.”

“The more the merrier,” he answered, raised his hat, and went on at a rapid pace up Baker Street.

But with him up the London street went a flock of thoughts, hopes, fears and memories that were hard to disentangle. Lost, forgotten dreams went with him too. He had known that one day he must be “executed,” yet with his own hands he had just slipped the noose about his neck. Detachment from life, he realized, keeping aloof from the emotions that touch one’s fellow beings, can only be, after all, a pose. In his case it was evidently a pose assumed for safety and self-protection, an artificial attitude he wore to keep his heart from error. His love, born of some far unearthly valley, undoubtedly consumed him, while yet he said it nay. . . .

He had himself suggested bringing together the girl and “N.H.” There had been no need to do this. Yet he had deliberately offered it, and she had instantly accepted. Even while he said the words there was a volcano of emotion in him, several motives fighting to combine. The fear for himself, being selfish, he had set aside at once; there was also the fear for her the odd certainty in him that at last her woman’s nature would be waked; lastly, the fear for “N.H.” himself. And here he clashed with his promise to Devonham. Behind the simple proposal lay these various threads of motive, emotion and qualification.

Now, as he hurried along the street, they rushed to and fro about his mind, each at its own speed and with its own impetuous strength. It was the last one, however, the certainty that her mere presence must evoke the “N.H.” personality, banishing the commonplace LeVallon; it was this that, in the end, perhaps troubled him most. An intuitive conviction assured him that this was bound to be the result of their meeting. LeVallon would sink down out of sight; “N.H.” would emerge triumphant and vital, bringing his elemental power with him. The girl would summon him. . . .

“I must tell Paul first,” he decided. “I must consult his judgment. Otherwise I’m breaking my promise. If Paul is against it, I will send an excuse. . . . ”

With this proviso, he dismissed the matter from his mind, noting only how clearly it revealed his own keen desire to let LeVallon disappear and “N.H.” become active. He himself yearned for the interest, stimulus and companionship of the strange new being that was “N.H.”

The other aspect of the problem he dismissed quickly too: he would lose Nayan. Yes, but he had never possessed the right to hold her. He was strong, indifferent, detached. . . . His life in any case was a sacrifice upon the altar of a mistake with regard to which he had not been consulted. His whole existence must be passed in worship before this altar, unles? he was to admit himself a failure. His ideal possession of the girl, he consoled himself, need know no change. To watch her womanhood, hitherto untouched by any man, to watch this bloom and ripen at the bidding of another must mean pain. But he faced the loss. And a curious sense of compensation lay in it somewhere the strange notion that she and he would share “N.H.” in a sense between them. He was already aware of a deep subtle kinship between the three of them, a kinship hardly of this physical world. And, after all, the interests of “N.H.” must come first. He had chosen his life, accepted it, at any rate; he must remain true to his high ideal. This strange being, blown by the winds of chance into his keeping, must be his first consideration.

“LeVallon” needed no special help, neither from himself, nor from her, nor from others. “LeVallon” was ordinary enough, if not commonplace, his only interest being at those thin places in his being where the submerged personality of “N.H.” peeped through. Paul Devonham, he felt convinced, was wrong in thinking “N.H.” to be the transient manifestation.

It was the reverse that Dr. Fillery believed to be the truth. He saw in “N.H.” almost a new type of being altogether. In that physical body warred two personalities certainly, but “N.H.” was the important one, and Le–Vallon merely the transient outer one, masquerading on the surface merely, a kind of automatic and mechanical personality, gleaned, picked up, trained and educated, as n were, by the few years spent among the human herd.

And this “N.H.” needed help, the best, the wisest possible. Both male and female help “N.H.” demanded. He, Edward Fillery, could supply the former, but the latter could be furnished only by some woman in whom innocence, truth and a natural mother-love the three deepest feminine qualities were happily combined. Nayan possessed them all. “N.H.,” the strange bright messenger, bringing perhaps glad tidings into life, had need of her.

And Fillery, as his thoughts ran down these sad and happy paths of that lost valley in his blood, realized the meaning of the flashing intuition that had pained yet gladdened him half an hour before with its convincing symbolic picture.

This private Eden secreted in his depths he revealed to no one, though Paul, his intimate friend and keen assistant, divined its general neighbourhood and geography to some extent. It was the girl who invariably opened its ivory gates for him. They had but to meet and talk a moment, when, with a sudden drift of wonder, beauty, wildness, this Khaketian inheritance rose before him. Its sunny brilliance, its flowers, its perfumes seduced and caught him away. The unearthly mood stole over him. Thought took wings of imagination and soared beyond the planet. He foresaw, easily, the effect she would produce upon “LeVallon.” . . .

He came back to earth again at the door of the Home, smiling, as so often before, at these brief wanderings in his secret Eden, yet perfectly able to pigeon-hole the experience, each detail explained, labelled, docketed, and therefore harmless. . . .

He found Devonham in the study and at once told him of his suggestion and its possible results, and his assistant, resting before lunch after a long morning’s work, looked up at him with his quick, observant air. Noticing the light in the eyes, the softer expression about the mouth, the general appearance of a strong and recent stimulus, he easily divined their origin, and showed his pleasure in his face. He longed for his old friend to be humanized and steadied by some deep romance. There was a curious new watchful attitude also about him, though cleverly concealed.

“I’m glad the Khilkoffs are back in town,” he said easily. “As for LeVallon he’s been quiet and uninteresting all the morning. He needs the human touch, as I already said, and the Studio atmosphere, especially if the Prometheans are to be there, seems the very thing.”

“And Nayan?”

‘Her influence is good for any man, young or old, and if LeVallon worships at her shrine like the rest of ’em, so much the better. You remember my Notes. Nothing will help towards his finding his real self quicker than an abandoned passion unreturned.”

“Unreturned?”

“You can’t think she will give to LeVallon what so many?”

“But may she not,” the other interrupted, “stimulate ‘N.H.’ rather than LeVallon?”

Devonham was surprised he had quickly divined the subconscious fear and jealousy. For this detached, impersonal attitude he was not prepared. Only the keenest observer could have noticed the sharp, anxious watchfulness he hid so well.

“Edward, there’s only one thing I feel we you rather have to be careful about. And the girl has nothing to do with that. In your blood, remember, lies an unearthly spiritual vagrancy which you must not, dare not, communicate to him, if you ever hope to see him cured.”

Devonham regarded him keenly as he said it. He was as earnest as his chief, but the difference between the two men was fundamental, probably unbridgeable as well. The affection, trust, respect each felt for the other was sincere. Devonham, however, having never known a thought, a feeling, much less an actual experience, outside the normal gamut of humanity, regarded all such as pathogenic. Fillery, who had tasted the amazing, dangerous sweetness of such experiences, in his own being, had another standard.

“You must not exaggerate,” observed Fillery, slowly. “Your phrase, though, is good. ‘Spiritual vagrancy’ is an apt description, I admit. Yet to the ‘spiritual,’ if it exists, the whole universe lies open, remember, too.”

They laughed together. Then, suddenly, Devonham rose, and a new inexpressible uneasiness was in his face. He thrust his hands deep into his trouser pockets, turned his eyes hard upon the floor, stood with his legs apart.

Abruptly turning, he came a full step closer. “Edward,” he said, furious with himself, and yet fiercely determined to be honest, “I may as well tell you frankly though explanation lies beyond me there’s something in this this case I don’t quite like.” Behind his lowered eyelids his observation never failed.

Quick as a flash, his companion took him up. “For yourself, for others, or for himself?” he asked, while a secret touch of joy ran through him.

“For myself perhaps,” was the immediate rejoinder. “It’s intolerable. It’s the panic sense he touches in me. I admit it frankly. I’ve had once or twice the desire to turn and run. But what I mean is we’ve got to be uncommonly careful with him,” he ended lamely.

“LeVallon you refer to? Or ‘N.H.’?”

“‘N.H.’”

“The panic sense,” repeated Fillery to himself more than to his friend. “The old, old thing. I understand.”

“Also,” Devonham went on presently, “I must tell you that since he came here there’s been a change in every patient in the building without exception.” He looked over his shoulder as though he heard a sound. He listened certainly, but his mind was sharply centred on his friend.

“For the better, yes,” said Fillery at once. “Increased vitality, I’ve noticed too.”

“Precisely,” whispered the other, still listening.

There came a pause between them.

“And when we have found the real, the central self,” pursued Fillery presently. “When we have found the essential being what is it?”

“Exactly,” replied Devonham with extraordinary emphasis. “What is it?” But even then he did not look up to meet the other’s glance.

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