The Bright Messenger, by Algernon Blackwood

Chapter 13

LADY GLEESON, owing to an outraged vanity and jealousy she was unable to control, missed the final scene, for before the song was actually finished she was gone. Being near a passage that was draped only by a curtain, she slipped out easily, flung herself into a luxurious motor, and vanished into the bleak autumn night.

She had seen enough. Her little heart raged with selfish fury. What followed was told her later by word of mouth.

Never could she forgive herself that she had left the studio before the thing had happened. She blamed Devonham for that too.

For LeVallon, it appears, having passed the cup of coffee to her through a third person in itself an insult of indifference and neglect stood absorbed in the words and music of the song., Being head and shoulders above the throng, he easily saw the girl at the piano. No one, unless it was Fillery, a few yards away, watched him as closely as did Devonham and Lady Gleeson, though all three for different reasons. It was Devonham, however, who made the most accurate note of what he saw, though Fillery ‘s memory was possibly the truer, since his own inner being supplied the fuller and more sympathetic interpretation.

LeVallon, tall and poised, stood there like a great figure shaped in bronze. He was very calm. His bright hair seemed to rise a little; his eyes, steady and wondering, gazed fixedly; his features, though set, were mobile in the sense that any instant they might leap into the alive and fluid expression of some strong emotion. His whole being, in a word, stood at attention, alert for instant action of some uncontrollable, perhaps terrific kind, “He seemed like a glowing pillar of metal that must burst into flame the very next instant,” as a Member told Lady Gleeson later.

Devonham watched him. LeVallon seemed transfixed. He stared above the intervening tousled heads. He drew a series of deep breaths that squared his shoulders and made his chest expand. His very muscles ached apparently for instant action. An intensity of wondering joy and admiration that lit his face made the eyes shine like stars. He watched the singing girl as a tiger watches the keeper who brings its long-expected food. The instant the bar is up, it springs, it leaps, it carries off, devours. Only, in this case, there were no bars. Nor was the wild desire for nourishment of a carnal kind. It was companionship, it was intercourse with his own that he desired so intensely.

“He divines the motherhood in her,” thought Fillery, watching closely, pain and happiness mingled in his heart. “The protective, selfless, upbuilding power lies close to Nature.” And as this flashed across him he caught a glimpse by chance of its exact opposite in Lady Gleeson’s peering, glittering eyes the destructive lust, the selfish passion, the bird of prey.

“The dark firs knew his whistle up the trail,” the song in that soft true voice drew to its close. LeVallon was trembling.

“Good Heavens!” thought Devonham. “Is it ‘N.H.’? Is it ‘N.H.’ after all, waking rising to take possession?” He, too, trembled.

It was here that Lady Gleeson, close, intuitive observer of her escaping prey, rose up and slipped away, her going hardly noticed by the half — entranced, half-dreaming hearts about her, each intent upon its own small heaven of neat desire. She went as unobstrusively as an animal that is aware of untoward conditions and surroundings, showing her teeth, feeling her claws, yet knowing herself helpless. Not even Devonham, his mind ever keenly alert, observed her going. Fillery, alone, conscious of LeVallon’s eyes across the room, took note of it. She left, her violent little will intent upon vengeance of a later victory that she still promised herself with concentrated passion.

Yet Devonham, though he failed to notice the slim animal of prey in exit, noticed this that the face he watched so closely changed quickly even as he watched, and that the new expression, growing upon it as heat grows upon metal set in a flame, was an expression he had seen before. He had seen it in that lonely mountain valley where a setting sun poured gold upon a burning pyre, upon a dancing, chanting figure, upon a human face he now watched in this ridiculous little Chelsea studio. The sharpness of the air, the very perfume, stole over him as he stared, perplexed, excited and uneasy. That strange, wild, innocent and tender face, that power, that infinite yearning! LeVallon had disappeared. It was “N.H.” that stood and watched the singer at the little modern piano.

Then with the end of the song came the rush, the bustle of applause, the confusion of many people rising, trotting forward, all talking at once, all moving towards the singer when LeVallon, hitherto motionless as a statue, suddenly leaped past and through them like a vehement wind through a whirl of crackling dead leaves. Only his deft, skilful movement, of poise and perfect balance combined with accurate swiftness, could have managed it without bruised bodies and angry cries. There was no clumsiness, no visible effort, no appearance of undue speed. He seemed to move quietly, though he moved like fire. In a moment he was by the piano, and Nayan, in the act of rising from her stool, gazed straight up into his great lighted eyes.

It was singular how all made way for him, drew back, looked on. Confusion threatened. Emotion surged like a rising sea. Without a leader there might easily have been tumult; even a scene. But Fillery was there. His figure intervened at once.

“Nayan,” he said in a steady voice, “this is my friend, Mr. LeVallon. He wants to thank you.”

But, before she could answer, LeVallon, his hand upon her arm, said quickly, yet so quietly that few heard the actual words, perhaps his voice resonant, his eyes alight with joy: “You are here too with me, with Fillery. We are all exiles together. But you know the way out the way back! You remember! . . . ”

She stared with delicious wonder into his eyes as he went on:

“O star and woman! Your voice is wind and fire. Come!” And he tried to seize her. “We will go back together. We work here in vain! . . . ” His arms were round her; almost their faces touched.

The girl rose instantly, took a step towards him, then hung back; the stool fell over with a crash; a hubbub of voices rose in the room behind; Povey, Kempster, a dozen Members with them, pressed up; the women, with half-shocked, half — frightened eyes, gaped and gasped over the forest of intervening male shoulders. A universal shuffle followed. The confusion was absurd and futile. Both male and female stood aghast and stupid before what they saw, for behind the mere words and gestures there was something that filled the little scene with a strange shaking power, touching the panic sense.

LeVallon lifted her across his shoulders.

The beautiful girl was radiant, the man wore the sudden semblance of a god. Their very stature increased. They stood alone. Yet Fillery, close by, stood with them. There seemed a magic circle none dared cross about the three. Something immense, unearthly, had come into the room, bursting its little space. Even Devonham, breaking with vehemence through the human ring, came to a sudden halt.

In a voice of thunder though it was not actually loud LeVallon cried:

“Their little personal loves! They cannot understand!” He bore Nayan in his arms as wind might lift a loose flower and whirl it aloft. ‘Come back with me, come home! The

Sun forgets us here, the Wind is silent. There is no Fire. Our work, our service calls us.” He turned to Fillery. “You too. Come!”

His voice boomed like a thundering wind against the astonished frightened faces staring at him. It rose to a cry of intense emotion: “We are in little exile here! In our wrong place, cut off from the service of our gods! We will go back!” He started, with the girl flung across his frame. He took one stride. The others shuffled back with one accord.

“The other summons at the door. But, Edward! you you too!”

It was Nayan’s voice, as the girl clung willingly to the great neck and arms, the voice of the girl all loved and worshipped and thought wonderful beyond temptation; it was this familiar sound that ran through the bewildered, startled throng like an electric shock. They could not believe their eyes, their ears. They — stood transfixed.

Within their circle stood LeVallon, holding the girl, almost embracing her, while she lay helpless with happiness upon his huge enfolding arms. He paused, looked round at Fillery a moment. None dared approach. The men gazed, wondering, and with faculties arrested; the women stared, stock still, with beating hearts. All felt a lifting, splendid wonder they could not understand. Devonham, mute and motionless before an inexplicable thing, found himself bereft of judgment. Analysis and precedent, for once, both failed. He looked round in vain for Khilkoff.

Fillery alone seemed master of himself, a look of suffering and joy shone in his face; one hand lay steady upon LeVallon’s arm.

Within the little circle these three figures formed a definite group, filling the beholders, for the first time in their so-called “psychic” experience, with the thrill of something utterly beyond their ken something genuine at last. For there seemed about the group, though emanating, as with shining power, from the figure of LeVallon chiefly, some radiating force, some elemental vigour they could not comprehend. Its presence made the scene possible, even right.

“Edward you too! What is it, O, what is it? There are flowers great winds! I see the fire!”

A searching tenderness in her tone broke almost beyond the limits of the known human voice.

There swept over the onlookers a wave of incredible emotion then, as they saw LeVallon move towards them, as though he would pass through them and escape. He seemed in that moment stupendous, irresistible. He looked divine. The girl lay in his arms like some young radiant child. He did not kiss her, no sign of a caress was seen; he did no ordinary, human thing. His towering figure, carrying his burden almost negligently, came out of the circle “like a tide” towards them, as one described it later or as a poem that appeared later in “Simplicity” began:

“With his hair of wind

And his eyes of fire

And his face of infinite desire . . . ”

He swept nearer. They stirred again in a confused and troubled shuffle, opening a way. They shrank back farther. They shivered, like crying shingle a vast wave draws back. Only Fillery stood still, making no sign or movement; upon his face that look of joy and pain wild joy and searching pain no one, perhaps, but Devonham understood.

“Wind and fire!” boomed LeVallon’s tremendous voice. “We return to our divine, eternal service. O Wind and Fire! We come back at last!” An immense rhythm swept across the room.

Then it was, without announcement of word or action, that Nayan, suddenly leaping from the great enfolding arms, stood upright between the two figures, one hand out-stretched towards Fillery.

At which moment, emerging apparently from nowhere, Khilkoff appeared upon the scene. During the music he had left the studio to find certain sketches he wished to show to LeVallon; he had witnessed nothing, therefore, of what had just occurred. He now stood still, staring in sheer surprise. The people in a ring, gazing with excited, rapt expression into the circle they thus formed, looked like an audience watching some performance that dazed and stupefied them, in which Fillery, LeVallon and Nayan his own daughter were the players. He took ft for an impromptu charade, perhaps, something spontaneously arranged during his absence. Yet he was obviously staggered.

As he entered, the girl had just leaped from the arms that held her, and run towards Fillery, who stood erect and motionless in the centre of the circle; and LeVallon’s wild splendid cry in that instant shook its grand music across the vaulted room. So well acted, so dramatic, so real was the scene thus interrupted that Khilkoff stood staring in silence, thinking chiefly, as he said afterwards, that the young man’s pose and attitude were exactly magnificently what he wanted for the figure of Fire and Wind in his elemental group.

This enthusiastic thought, with the attempt to engrave it permanently in his memory, filled his mind completely for an instant, when there broke in upon it again that resonant voice, half cry, half chant, vibrating with depth and music, yet quiet too:

“Wind and Fire! My Wind and Fire! O Sun your messengers are come for us! . . . Oh, come with power and take us with you! . . . ” Its rhythm was gigantic.

So extraordinary was the volume, yet the sweetness, too, in the voice, though its actual loudness was not great so arresting was its quality, that Khilkoff, as he put it afterwards, thought he heard an entirely new sound, a sound his ears had never known before. He, like the rest of the astonished audience, was caught spell-bound. But for an instant only. For at once there followed another voice, releasing the momentary spell, and, with the accompanying action, warned him that what he saw was no mere game of acting. This was real.

“I hear that other summons at the door!..”

Her hands were outstretched, her eyes alight with yearning, she was oblivious of everyone but Fillery, LeVallon and herself.

And her father, then, breaking through the crowding figures, packed shoulder to shoulder nearest to him, entered the circle. His mind was confused, perhaps, for vague ideas of some undesirable hypnotic influence, of some foolish experiment that had become too real, passed through it. He knew one thing only this scene, whether real or acted, pretence or sincere, must be stopped. The look on his daughter’s face entirely new and strange to him was all the evidence he needed. He shouldered his way through like an angry bear, making inarticulate noises, growling.

But, before he reached the actors, before Nayan reached Fillery’s side, and while the voice of the girl and of Le–Vallon still seemed to echo simultaneously in the air, a new thing happened that changed the scene completely. In these few brief seconds, indeed, so much was concentrated, and with such rapidity, that it was small wonder the reports of individual witnesses differed afterwards, almost as if each one had seen a separate detail of the crowded picture. Its incredibility, too, bewildered minds accustomed to imagined dreams rather than to real action.

LeVallon, at any rate, all agreed, turned with that ease and swiftness peculiarly his own, caught Nayan again into the air, and with one arm swung her back across his shoulder. He moved, then, so irresistibly, with a great striding rush in the direction of the door into the street, and so rapidly, that the onlookers once more drew back instinctively pell mell, tumbling over each other in their frightened haste.

This, all agreed, had happened. One second they saw

LeVallon carrying the girl off, the next a flash of intense and vivid brilliance entered the big studio, flooding all detail with a blaze of violent light. There was a loud report, there was a violent shock.

“The Messengers! Our Messengers! . . . ” The thunder of LeVallon’s cry was audible.

The same instant this dazzling splendour, so sparkling it was almost painful, became eclipsed again. There was complete obliteration. Darkness descended like a blow. An inky blackness reigned. No single thing was visible. There came a terrific splitting sound.

The effect of overwhelming sudden blackness was natural enough. In every mind danced still the vivid memory of that last amazing picture they had seen: Khilkoff, with alarmed face, breaking violently into the circle where his daughter, Nayan, swinging from those giant shoulders, looked back imploringly at Dr. Fillery, who stood motionless as though carved in stone, a smile of curious happiness yet pain upon his features. Yet the figure of LeVallon dominated. His radiant beauty, his air of superb strength, his ease, his power, his wild swiftness. Something unearthly glowed about him. He looked a god. The extraordinary idea flashed into Fillery’s mind that some big energy as of inter-stellar spaces lay about him, as though great Sirius called down along his light-years of distance into the little tumbled Chelsea room.

This was the picture, set one instant in dazzling violet brilliance, then drowned in blackness, that still hung shining with intense reality before every mind.

The following confusion had a moment of real and troubling panic; women screamed, some fell upon their knees; men called for light; various cries were heard; there was a general roar:

“To the door, all men to the door! He’s controlled! There’s an Elemental in him!” It was Povey’s shrill tones that pierced.

“Strike a match!” shouted Kempster. “The electric light has fused. Stay where you are. Don’t move everybody.

“Lightning,” the clear voice of Devonham was heard. “Keep your heads. It’s only a thunderstorm!”

Matches were struck, extinguished, lit again; a patch of dim light shone here and there upon a throng of huddled people; someone found a candle that shed a flickering glare upon the walls and ceiling, but only made the shadows chiefly visible. It was an unreal, fantastic scene.

A moment later there descended a hurricane gust of wind against the building, with splintering glass as though from a hail of bullets, that extinguished candle and matches, and plunged the scene again into total darkness. A terrific clap of thunder, followed immediately by a rushing sound of rain that poured in a flood upon the floor, completed the scene of terror and confusion. The huge north window had blown in.

The consternation was, for some moments, dangerous, for true panic may become an unmanageable thing, and this panic was unquestionably real. The superstitious thread that lies in every human being, stretched and shivered, beginning to weave its swift, ominous pattern. The elements dominated the human too completely just then even for the sense of wonder that was usually so active in the Society’s mental make-up to assert itself.intelligently. Most of them lost their heads. All associated that picture of LeVallon and the girl with this terrific demonstration of overpowering elemental violence. Povey’s startled cry had given them the lead. The human touch thus added the flavour of something both personal and supernatural.

Some stood screaming, whimpering, unable to move; some were numb; others cried for help; not a few remained on their knees; the name of God was audible here and there; many collapsed and several women fainted. To one and all came the realization of that panic fear which dislocates and paralyses. This was a manifestation of elemental power that had intelligence somewhere driving too suggestively behind it. . . .

It was Devonham and Khilkoff who kept their heads and saved the situation. The sudden storm was, indeed, of extreme violence and ferocity; the force of the wind, with the nearness of the terrible lightning and the consequent volume of the overwhelming thunder, were certainly bewildering. But a thunderstorm, they began to realize, was a thunderstorm.

“Everyone stay exactly where he is,” suddenly shouted Khilkoff through the darkness. His voice brought comfort. “I’ll light candles in the inner studio.” He did so a moment later; the faint light was reassuring; a pause in the storm came to his assistance, the wind had passed, the rain had ceased, there was no more lightning. With a whispered word to Devonham, he disappeared through the door into the passage: “You look after ’em; I must find my girl.”

“One by one, now,” called Devonham. “Take careful steps! Avoid the broken glass!”

Voices answered from dark corners, as the inner room began to fill; all saw the candle light and came to it by degrees. “Povey, Kempster, Imson, Father Collins! Each man bring a lady with him. It’s only a thunderstorm. Keep your heads!”

The smaller room filled gradually, people with white faces and staring eyes coining, singly or in couples, within the pale radiance of the flickering candle light. Feet splashed through pools of water; the furniture, the clothing, were soaked; the heat in the air, despite the great broken window, was stifling. One or two women were helped, some were carried; there were cries and exclamations, a noise of splintered glass being trodden on or kicked aside; drinks were brought for those who had fainted; order was restored bit by bit. The collective consciousness resumed gradually its comforting sway. The herd found strength in contact. A single cry in a woman’s voice “Pan was among us! . . . ” was instantly smothered, drowned in a chorus of “Hush! Hush!” as though a mere name might bring a repetition of a terror none could bear again.

The entire scene had lasted perhaps five minutes, possibly less. The violent storm that had hung low over London, accumulating probably for hours, had dissipated itself in a single prodigious explosion, and was gone. Through the gaping north window, torn and shattered, shone the stars. More candles were brought and lighted, food and drink followed, a few cuts from broken glass were attended to, and calm in a measure came back to the battered and shaken yet thrilled and delighted Prometheans.

But all eyes looked for a couple who were not there; a hundred heads turned searching, for in every heart lay one chief question. Yet, oddly enough, none asked aloud; the names of Nay an and LeVallon were not spoken audibly; some touch of awe, it seemed, clung to a memory still burning in each individual mind; it was an awe that none would willingly revive just then. The whole occurrence had been too devastating, too sudden; it all had been too real.

There was little talk, nor was there the whispered discussion even that might have been expected; individual recovery was slow and hesitating. What had happened lay still too close for the comfort of detailed comparison or analysis by word of mouth. With common accord the matter was avoided. Discussions must wait. It would fill many days with wonder afterwards. . . .

It was with a sense of general relief, therefore, that the throng of guests, bedraggled somewhat in appearance, eyes still bright with traces of uncommon excitement, their breath uneven and their attitude still nervous, saw the door into the passage open and frame the figure of their returning host. He held a lighted candle. His bearded face looked grim, but his slow deep voice was quiet and reassuring he smiled, his words were commonplace.

“You must excuse my daughter,” he said firmly, “but she sends her excuses, and begs to be forgiven for not coming to bid you all goodnight. The lightning the electricity has upset her. I have advised her to go to bed.”

A sigh of relief from everybody came in answer. They were only too glad to take the hint and go.

“The little impromptu act we had prepared for you we cannot give now,” he added, anticipating questions. “The storm prevented the second part. We must give it another time instead,”

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