The Bright Messenger, by Algernon Blackwood

Chapter 16

WHEN relative order had been restored, Devonham realized, of course, that his colleague had cleverly spirited away their “patient”; also that the sculptor had carried off his daughter. Relieved to escape from the atmosphere of what he considered collective hysteria, he had borrowed mackintosh and umbrella, and declining several offers of a lift, had walked the four miles to his house in the rain and wind. The exercise helped to work off the emotion in him; his mind cleared healthily; personal bias gave way to honest and unprejudiced reflection; there was much that interested him deeply, at the same time puzzled and bewildered him beyond anything he had yet experienced. He reached the house with a mind steady if unsatisfied; but the emotions caused by prejudice had gone. His main anxiety centred about his chief.

He was glad to notice a light in an upper window, for it meant, he hoped, that LeVallon was now safely home. While his latchkey sought its hole, however, this light was extinguished, and when the door opened, it was Fillery himself who greeted him, a finger on his lips.

“Quietly!” he whispered. “I’ve just got him to bed and put his light out. He’s asleep already.” Paul noticed his manner instantly its happiness. There was a glow of mysterious joy and wonder in his atmosphere that made the other hostile at once.

They went together towards that inner room where so often together they had already talked both moon and sun to bed. Cold food lay on the table, and while they satisfied their hunger, the rain outside poured down with a steady drenching sound. The wind had dropped. The suburb lay silent and deserted. It was long past midnight. The house was very still, only the occasional step of a night-nurse audible in the passages and rooms upstairs. They would not be disturbed.

“You got him home all right, then?” Paul asked presently, keeping his voice low.

He had been observing his friend closely; the evident pleasure and satisfaction in the face annoyed him; the light in the eyes at the same time profoundly troubled him. Not only did he love his chief for himself, he set high value on his work as well. It would be deplorable, a tragedy, if judgment were destroyed by personal bias and desire. He felt uneasy and distressed.

Fillery nodded, then gave an account of what had happened, but obviously an account of outward events merely; he did not wish, evidently, to argue or explain. The strong, rugged face was lit up, the eyes were shining; some inner enthusiasm pervaded his whole being. Evidently he felt very sure of something something that both pleased and stimulated him.

His account of what had happened was brief enough, little more than a statement of the facts.

Finding himself close to LeVallon when the darkness came, he had kept hold of him and hurried him out of the house at once. The sudden blackness, it seemed, had made LeVallon quiet again, though he kept asking excitedly for the girl. When assured that he would soon see her, he became obedient as a lamb. The absence of light apparently had a calming influence. They found, of course, no taxis, but commandeered the first available private car, Fillery using the authoritative influence of his name. And it was Lady Gleeson’s car, Lady Gleeson herself inside it. She had thought things over, put two and two together, and had come back. Her car might be of use. It was. For the rain was falling in sheets and bucketfuls, the road had become a river of water, and Fillery’s automobile, ordered for an hour later, had not put in an appearance. It was the rain that saved the situation. . . .

An exasperated expression crossed Devonham’s face as he heard this detail emphasized. He had meant to listen without interruption. The enigmatical reference to the rain proved too much for him.

“Why ‘the rain’? What d’you mean exactly, Edward?”

“Water,” was the reply, made in a significant tone that further annoyed his listener’s sense of judgment. “You remember the Channel, surely! Water and fire mutually destroy each other. They are hostile elements.”

There was a look almost of amusement on his face as he said it. Devonham kept a tight hold upon his tongue. It was not impatience or surprise he felt, though both were strong; it was perhaps sorrow.

“And so Lady Gleeson drove you home?”

He waited with devouring interest for further details. The throng of questions, criticisms and emotions surging in him he repressed with admirable restraint.

Lady Gleeson, yes, had driven the party home. Fillery made her sit on the back seat alone, while he occupied the front one, LeVallon beside him, but as far back among the deep cushions as possible. The doctor held his hand. At any other time, Devonham could have laughed; but he saw no comedy now. Lady Gleeson, it seemed, was awed by the seriousness of the “Chief,” whom, even at the best of times, she feared a little. Her vanity, however, persuaded her evidently that she was somehow the centre of interest.

Yet Devonham, as he listened, had difficulty in persuading himself that he was in the twentieth century, and that the man who spoke was his colleague and a man of the day as well.

“LeVallon talked little, and that little to himself or to me. He seemed unaware that a third person was present at all. Though quiet enough, there was suppressed vehemence still about him. He said various things: that ‘she belonged to us,’ for instance; that he ‘knew his own’; that she was ‘filled with fire in exile’; and that he would ‘take her back.’ Also that I, too, must go with them both. He often mentioned the sun, saying more than once that the sun had ‘sent its messengers,’ Obviously, it was not the ordinary sun he referred to, but some source of central heat and fire he seems aware of —”

“You, I suppose, Edward,” put in his listener quickly, “said nothing to encourage all this? Nothing that could suggest or stimulate?”

Fillery ignored, even if he noticed, the tone of the question. “I kept silence rather. I said very little. I let him talk. I had to keep an eye on the woman, too.”

“You certainly had your hands full a dual personality and a nymphomaniac.”

“She helped me, without knowing it. All he said about the girl, she evidently took to herself. When he begged me to keep the water out, she drew the window up the last half-inch. . . . The water frightened him; she was sympathetic, and her sympathy seemed to reach him, though I doubt if he was aware of her presence at all until the last minute almost —”

“And ‘at the last minute’?”

“She leaned forward suddenly and took both his hands. I had let go of the one I held and was just about to open the door, when I heard her say excitedly that I must let her come and see him, or that he must call on her; she was sure she could help him; he must tell her everything. . . . I turned to look. . . . LeVallon, startled into what I believe was his first consciousness of her presence, stared into her eyes, and leaned forward among his cushions a little, so that their faces were close together. Before I could interfere, she had flung her bare arms about his neck and kissed him. She then sat back again, turning to me, and repeating again and again that he needed a woman’s care and that she must help and mother him. She was excited, but she knew what she was saying. She showed neither shame nor the least confusion. She tasted of course with her it cannot last a bigger world. She was most determined.”

“His reaction?” inquired Devonham, amused in spite of his graver emotions of uneasiness and exasperation.

“None whatever. I scarcely think he realized he had been kissed. His interest was so entirely elsewhere. I saw his face a moment among the white ermine, the bare arms and jewels that enveloped him.” Fillery frowned faintly. “The car had almost stopped. Lady Gleeson was leaning back again. He looked at me, and his voice was intense and eager: ‘Dear Fillery,’ he said, ‘we have found each other, I have found her. She knows, she remembers the way back. Here we can do so little.’

“Lady Gleeson, however, had interpreted the words in another way.

“‘I’ll come tomorrow to see you,’ she said at once intensely. ‘You must let me come,’ the last words addressed to me, of course.”

The two men looked at one another a moment in silence, and for the first time during the conversation they exchanged a smile. . . .

“I got him to bed,” Fillery concluded. “In ten minutes he was sound asleep.” And his eyes indicated the room overhead.

He leaned back, and quietly began to fill his pipe. The account was over.

As though a great spring suddenly released him, Paul Devonham stood up. His untidy hair hung wild, his glasses were crooked on his big nose, his tie askew. His whole manner bristled with accumulated challenge and disagreement.

“Who?” he cried. “Who? Edward, I ask you?”

His colleague, yet knowing exactly what he meant, looked up questioningly. He looked him full in the face.

“Hush!” he said quietly. “You’ll wake him.”

He gazed with happy penetrating eyes at his companion. “Paul,” he added gently, “do you really mean it? Have you still the faintest doubt?”

The moment had drama in it of unusual kind. The conflict between these two honest and unselfish minds was vital. The moment, too, was chosen, the place as well this small, quiet room in a commonplace suburb of the greatest city on the planet, drenched by earthly rain and battered by earthly wind from the heart of an equinoctial storm; the mighty universe outside, breaking with wondrous, incredible impossibilities upon a mind that listened and a mind that could not hear; and upstairs, separated from them by a few carpenter’s boards, an assortment of “souls,” either derelict and ruined, or gifted super-normally, masters of space and time perhaps, yet all waiting to be healed by the best knowledge known to the race and one among them, about whom the conflict raged . . . sound asleep . . . while wind and water stormed, while lightning fires lit the distant horizons, while the great sun lay hidden, and darkness crept soundlessly to and fro. . . .

“Have you still the slightest doubt, Paul?” repeated Fillery. “You know the evidence. You have an open mind.”

Then Devonham, still standing over his Chief, let out the storm that had accumulated in him over-long. He talked like a book. He talked like several books. It seemed almost that he distrusted his own personal judgment.

“Edward,” he began solemnly not knowing that he quoted “you, above all men, understand the lower recesses of the human heart, that gloomy, gigantic oubliette in which our million ancestors writhe together inextricably, and each man’s planetary past is buried alive —”

Fillery nodded quietly his acquiescence.

“You, of all men, know our packed, limitless subterranean life,” Devonham went on, “and its impenetrable depths. You understand telepathy, ‘extended telepathy’ as well, and how a given mind may tap not only forgotten individual memories, but memories of his family, his race, even planetary memories into the bargain, the memory, in fact, of every being that ever lived, right down to Adam, if you will —”

“Agreed,” murmured the other, listening patiently, while he puffed his pipe and heard the rain and wind “I know all that. I know it, at any rate, as a possible theory.”

“You also know,” continued Devonham in a slightly less strident tone, “your own forgive me, Edward your own idiosyncrasies, your weaknesses, your dynamic accumulated repressions, your strange physical heritage and spiritual I repeat the phrase your spiritual vagrancies towards towards “ He broke off suddenly, unable to find the words he wanted.

“I’m illegitimate, born of a pagan passion,’ mentioned the other calmly. “In that sense, if you like, I have in me a ‘complex’ against the race, against humanity as such.”

He smiled patiently, and it was the patience, the evident conviction of superiority that exasperated his cautious, accurate colleague.

“If I love humanity, I also tolerate it perhaps, for I try to heal it,” added Fillery. “But, believe me, Paul, I do not lose my scientific judgment”

“Edward,” burst out the other, “how can you think it possible, then that he is other than the result of tendencies transmitted by his mad parents, or acquired from Mason, who taught him all he knows, or if you will that he has these hysterical faculties supernormal as we may call them which tap some racial, even, if you will, some planetary past —”

He again broke off, unable to express his whole thought, his entire emotion, in a few words.

“I accept all that,” said Fillery, still calmly, quietly, “but perhaps now in the interest of truth” his tone was grave, his words obviously chosen carefully “if now I feel it necessary to go beyond it! My strange heritage,” he added, “is even possibly a help and guide. How,” he asked, a trace of passion for the first time visible in his manner, “shall we venture how decide for we are not wholly ignorant, you and I between what is possible and impossible? Is this trivial planet, then,” he asked, his voice rising suddenly, ominously perhaps, “our sole criterion? Dare we not venture beyond a little? The scientific mind should be the last to dogmatize as to the possibilities of this life of ours. . . . ”

The authority of chief, the old tie of respectful and affectionate friendship, the admiring wonder that pertained to a daring speculator who had often proved himself right in face of violent opposition all these affected Devonham. He did not weaken, but for an instant he knew, perhaps, the existence of a vast, incredible horizon in his friend’s mind, though one he dared not contemplate. Possibly, he understood in this passing moment a huger world, a new outlook that scorned limit, though yet an outlook that his accurate, smaller spirit shrank from.

He found, at any rate, his own words futile. “You remember,” he offered “ ‘We need only suppose the continuity of our own consciousness with a mother sea, to allow for exceptional waves occasionally pouring over the dam.’”

“Good, yes,” said Fillery. “But that ‘mother sea,’ what may it not include? Dare we set limits to it?”

And, as he said it, Fillery, emotion visible in him, rose suddenly from his chair. He stood up and faced his colleague.

“Let us come to the point,” he said in a clear, steady voice. “It all lies doesn’t it? in that question you asked —”

“Who?” came at once from Devonham’s lips, as he stood, looking oddly stiff and rigid opposite his Chief. There was a touch of defiance in his tone. “Who?” He repeated his original question.

No pause intervened. Fillery’s reply came sharp and firm:

“‘N.H.,’” he said.

An interval of silence followed, then, between the two men, as they looked into each other’s eyes. Fillery waited for his assistant to speak, but no word came,

“LeVallon, ‘ the older man continued, “is the transient, acquired personality. It does not interest us. There is no real LeVallon. The sole reality is ‘N.H.’”

He spoke with the earnestness of deep conviction. There was still no reply or comment from the other.

“Paul,” he continued, steadying his voice and placing a hand upon his colleague’s shoulder, “I am going to ask you to consider our arrangement cancelled. I must —”

Then, before he could finish what he had to say, the other had said it for him:

“Edward, I give you back your promise.”

He shrugged his shoulders ever so slightly, but there was no unpleasant, no antagonistic touch now either in voice or manner. There was, rather, a graver earnestness than there had been hitherto, a hint of reluctant acquiescence, but also there was an emotion that included certainly affection. No such fundamental disagreement had ever come between them during all their years of work together. “You understand,” he added slowly, “what you are doing what is involved.” His tone almost suggested that he spoke to a patient, a loved patient, but one over whom he had no control. He sighed.

“I belong, Paul, myself to the unstable if that is what you mean,” said his old friend gently, “and with all of danger, or of wonder, it involves.”

The faint movement of the shoulders again was noticeable. “We need not put it that way, Edward,” was the quiet rejoinder; “for that, if true, can only help your insight, your understanding, and your judgment.” He hesitated a moment or two, searching his mind carefully for words. Fillery waited. “But it involves I think” he went on presently in a firmer voice “his fate as well. He must become permanently one or other.”

No pause followed.. There was a smile of curious happiness on Fillery’s face as he instantly answered in a tone of absolute conviction:

“There lies the root of our disagreement, Paul. There is no ‘other.’ I am positive for once. There is only one, and that one is ‘N.H.’”

“Umph!” his friend grunted. Behind the exclamation hid an attitude confirmed, as though he had come suddenly to a big decision.

“You see, Paul I know.”

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