The Bright Messenger, by Algernon Blackwood

Chapter 17

IT was not long after the scene in the Studio that the Prometheans foregathered at dinner in the back room of the small French restaurant in Soho and discussed the event. The prices were moderate, conditions free and easy. It was a favourite haunt of Members.

Tonight, moreover, there was likely to be a good attendance. The word had gone out.

The Studio scene had, of course, been the subject of much discussion already. The night of its occurrence it had been talked over till dawn in more than one flat, and during the following days the Society, as a whole, thought of little else. Those who had not been present had to be informed, and those who had witnessed it found it an absorbing topic of speculation. The first words that passed when one member met another in the street was: “What did you make of that storm? Wasn’t it amazing? Did your solar plexus vibrate? Mine did! And the light, the colour, the vibrations weren’t they terrific? What do you think he is?” It was rumoured that the Secretary was asking for individual reports. Excitement and interest were general, though the accounts of individual witnesses differed extraordinarily. It seemed impossible that all had seen and heard the same thing.

The back room was pleasantly filled tonight, for it was somehow known that Millington Povey, and possibly Father Collins, too, were coming. Miss Milligan, the astrologist, was there early, arriving with Mrs. Towzer, who saw auras and had already, it was rumoured, painted automatically a strange rendering of “forces” that were visible to her clairvoyantly during the occurrence. Miss Lance, in shining beads and a glittering scarf, arrived on their heels, an account of the scene in her pocket to be published in her magazine “Simplicity” after she had modified it according to what she picked up from hearing other, and better, descriptions.

Kempster, immaculate as ever, ordering his food as he ordered his clothes, like a connoisseur, was one of the first to establish himself in a comfortable seat. He knew how to look after himself, and was already eating in his neat dainty way while the others still stood about studying the big white menu with its illegible hieroglyphics in smudged violet ink. He supplemented his meals with special patent foods of vegetarian kind he brought with him. He had dried bananas in one pocket and spirit photographs in another, and he was invariably pulling out the wrong thing. Meat he avoided. “A man is what he eats,” he held, and animal blood was fatal to psychic development. To eat pig or cow was to absorb undesirable characteristics.

Next to him sat Lattimer, a lanky man of thirty, with loose clothes, long hair, and eyes of strange intensity. Known as “occultist and alchemist,” he was also a chemist of some repute. His life was ruled by a master-desire and a master-fear: the former, that he might one day project his double consciously; the latter, that in his next earthly incarnation he might be the prospect made him shudder a woman. He sought to keep his thought as concrete as possible, the male quality.

He believed that the nervous centre of the physical body which controlled all such unearthly, if not definitely “spiritual,” impulses, was the solar plexus. For him it was the important portion of his anatomy, the seat of intuition. Brain came second.

“The fellow,” he declared emphatically, “stirred my solar plexus, my kundalini that’s all I know.” He referred, as all understood, to the latent power the yogis claim lies coiled, but only rarely manifested, in that great nervous centre.

His statement, he knew, would meet with general approval and understanding. It was the literal Kempster who spoiled his opening:

“Paul Devonham,” said the latter, “thinks it’s merely a secondary personality that emerged. I had a long argument with him about it —”

“Never argue with the once-born,” declared Povey flatly, producing his pet sentence. “It’s waste of time. Only older souls, with the experience of many earthly lives stored in their beings, are knowledgeable.” He filled his glass and poured out for others, Lattimer and Mrs. Towzer alone declining, though for different reasons.

“It destroys the ‘sight’,” explained the former. “Alcohol sets up coarse vibrations that ruin clairvoyance.”

“I decided to deny myself till the war is over,” was Mrs. Towzer’s reason, and when Povey reminded her of the armistice, she mentioned that Turkey hadn’t “signed yet.”

“I think his soul “ began Miss Lance.

“If he has a soul,” put in Povey, electrically.

“is hardly in his body at all,” concluded Miss Lance, less convincingly than originally intended.

“It was love at first sight. His sign is Fire and hers is Air,” Miss Milligan said. “That’s certain. Of course they came together.”

“A clear case of memory, at any rate,” insisted Kempster. “Two old souls meeting again for the first time for thousands of years, probably. Love at first sight, or hate, for that matter, is always memory, isn’t it?” He disliked the astrology explanation; it was not mysterious enough, too mathematical and exact to please him.

“Secondary personalities are invariably memories of former selves, of course,” agreed young Dickson, the theosophist, who was on the verge now of becoming a psychoanalyst and had already discarded Freud for Jung. “If not memories of past lives, then they’re desires suppressed in this one.”

“The less you think, the more you know,” suggested

Miss Lance. She distrusted intellect and believed that another faculty, called instinct or intuition, according to which word first occurred to her, was the way to knowledge. She was about to quote Bergson upside down, when Povey, foreseeing an interval of boredom, took command:

“One thing we know, at any rate,” he began judiciously; “we aren’t the only beings in the universe. There are non-human intelligences, both vast and small. The old world-wide legends can’t be built on nothing. In every age of history the reports are universal we have pretty good evidence for other forms of life than humans —”

“Though never yet in human form,” put in Lattimer, yet sympathetically. “Their bodies, I mean, aren’t human,” he added.

“Exactly. That’s true. But the gods, the fauns, the satyrs, the elemental beings, as we call ’em sylphs, undines, gnomes and salamanders to say nothing of fairies et hoc genus omne there must be some reasonable foundation for their persistence through all the ages.”

“They all belong to the Deva Evolution,” Dickson mentioned with conviction. “In the East it’s been known and recognized for centuries, hasn’t it? Another evolutionary system that runs parallel to ours. From planetary spirits down to elementals, they’re concerned with the building up of form in the various kingdoms —”

“Yes, yes,” Povey interrupted impatiently. Dickson was stealing what he had meant to say himself and to say, he flattered himself, far better. “We know all that, of course. They stand behind what we call the laws of nature, non-human activities and intelligences of every grade and kind. They work for humanity in a way, are in other space and time, deathless, of course, yet in some strange way, always eager to cross the gulf fixed between the two and so find a soul. They are impersonal in a sense, as impersonal as, say, wind and fire through which some of them operate as bodies.”

He paused and looked about him, noting the interested attention he awaked.

“There may be times,” he went on, “there probably are certain occasions, when the gulf is more crossable than others.” He laid down his knife and fork as a sympathetic murmur proved that the point he was leading up to was favourably understood already. “We have had this war, for instance,” he stated, his voice taking on a more significant and mysterious tone. “Dislodged by the huge upheaval, man’s soul is on the march again.” He paused once more. “They,” he concluded, lowering his voice still more, and emphasizing the pronoun, “are possibly already among us! Who knows?”

He glanced round. “We do; we know,” was the expression on most faces — All knew precisely what he meant and to whom he referred, at any rate.

“You might get him to come and lecture to us,” said Dickson, the first to break the pause. “You might ask Dr. Fillery. You know him.”

“That’s an idea “ began the Secretary, when there was a commotion near the door. His face showed annoyance.

It was the arrival of Toogood that at this moment disturbed the atmosphere and robbed Povey of the effect he aimed at. It provided Kempster, however, with an idea at the same time. “Here’s a psychometrist!” he exclaimed, making room for him. “He might get a bit of his hair or clothing and psychometrize it. He might tell us about his past, if not exactly what he is.”

The suggestion, however, found no seconder, for it seemed that the new arrival was not particularly welcomed. Judging by the glances, the varying shades of greeting, too, he was not fully trusted, perhaps, this broad, fleshy man of thirty-five, with complexion blotchy, an over-sensual mouth and eyes a trifle shifty. His claim to membership was two — fold: he remembered past lives, and had the strange power of psychometry. An archaeologist by trade, his gift of psychometry by which he claimed to hold an object and tell its past, its pedigree, its history was of great use to him in his calling. Without further trouble he could tell whether such an object was genuine or sham. Dealers in antiquities offered him big fees but “No, no; I cannot prostitute my powers, you see” and he remained poor accordingly.

In his past lives he had been either a famous Pharaoh, or Cleopatra according to his audience of the moment and its male or female character but usually Cleopatra, because, on the whole, there was more money and less risk in her. He lectured for a fee. Lately, however, he had been Pharaoh, having got into grave trouble over the Cleopatra claim, even to the point of being threatened with expulsion from the Society. His attitude during the war, besides, had been unsatisfactory it was felt he had selfishly protected himself on the grounds of being physically unfit. Apart from archaeology, too, his chief preoccupation, derived from past lives of course, was sex, in the form of other men’s wives, his own wife and children being, naturally, very recent and somewhat negligible ties.

His gift of psychometry, none the less, was considered proved in spite of the backward and indifferent dealers. His mind was quick and not unsubtle. He became now au fait with the trend of the conversation in a very few seconds, but he had not been present at the Studio when the occurrence all discussed had taken place.

“Hair would be best,” he advised tentatively, sipping his whisky-and-soda. He had already dined. “It’s a part of himself, you see. Better than mere clothing, I mean. It’s extremely vital, hair. It grows after death.”

“If I can get it for you, I will,” said Povey. “He may be lecturing for us before long. I’ll try.”

“With psychometry and a good photograph,” Kempster suggested, “a time exposure, if possible, we ought to get some evidence, at any rate. It’s first-hand evidence we want, of course, isn’t it? What do you think of this, for instance, I wonder?” He turned to Lattimer, drawing something from his pocket and showing it. “It’s a time exposure at night of a haunted tree. You’ll notice a queer sort of elemental form inside the trunk and branches. Oh!” He replaced the shrivelled banana in his pocket, and drew out the photograph without a smile. “This,” he explained, waving it, “is what I meant.” They fell to discussing it.

Meanwhile, Povey, anxious to resume his lecture, made an effort to recover his command of the group-atmosphere which Toogood had disturbed. The latter had a “personal magnetism” which made the women like him in spite of their distrust.

“I was just saying,” he resumed, patting the elbow of the psychometrist, “that this strange event we’ve been discussing you weren’t present, I believe, at the time, but, of course, you’ve heard about it has features which seem to point to something radically new, or at least of very rare occurrence. As Lattimer mentioned, a human body has never yet, so far as we know, been occupied, obsessed, by a non-human entity, but that, after all, is no reason why it should not ever happen. What is a body, anyhow? What is an entity, too?” Povey’s thought was wandering, evidently; the thread of his first discourse was broken; he floundered. “Man, anyway, is more than a mere chemical machine,” he went on, “a crystallization of the primitive nebulae, though the instrument he uses, the body he works through, is undoubtedly thus describable. Now, we know there are all kinds of non-human intelligences busy on our planet, in the Universe itself as well. Why, then, I ask, should not one of these?”

He paused, unable to find himself, his confusion obvious. He was as glad of the interruption that was then provided by the arrival of Imson as his audience was. Toogood certainly was not sorry; he need find no immediate answer. He sipped his drink and made mental notes.

Imson arrived in a rough brown ulster with the collar turned up about his ears, a low flannel shirt, not strictly clean, lying loosely round his neck. His colourless face was of somewhat flabby texture, due probably to his diet, but its simple, honest expression was attractive, the smile engaging. The touch of foolishness might have been child-like innocence, even saintliness some thought, and though he was well over forty, the unlined skin made him look more like thirty. He enjoyed a physiognomy not unlike that of a horse or sheep. His big, brown eyes stared wide open at the world, expecting wonder and finding it. His hobby was inspirational poems. One lay in his breast pocket now. He burned to read it aloud.

Pat Imson’s ideal was an odd one detachment; the desire to avoid all ties that must bring him back to future incarnations on the earth, to eschew making fresh Karma, in a word. He considered himself an “old soul,” and was rather weary of it all of existence and development, that is. To take no part in life meant to escape from those tangles for whose unravelling the law of rebirth dragged the soul back again and again. To sow no Causes was to have no harvest of Effects to reap with toil and perspiration. Action, of course, there must be, but “indifference to results of action” was the secret. Imson, none the less, was always entangled with wives and children. Having divorced one wife, and been divorced by another, he had recently married a third; a flock of children streamed behind him; he was a good father, if a strange husband.

“It’s old Karma I have to work off,” he would explain, referring to the wives. “If I avoid the experience I shall only have to come back again. There’s no good shirking old Karma.” He gave this explanation to the wives themselves, not only to his friends. “Face it and it’s done with, worked off, you see.” That is, it had to be done nicely, kindly, generously.

An entire absence of the sense of humour was, of course, his natural gift, yet a certain quaint wisdom helped to fill the dangerous vacuum. He was known usually as “Pat.”

“Come on, Pat,” said Povey, making room for him at his side. “How’s Karma? We’re just talking about Le–Vallon and the Studio business. What do you make of it? You were there, weren’t you?” The others listened, attentively, for Imson had a reputation for “seeing true.”

“I saw it, yes,” replied Imson, ordering his dinner with indifference soup, fried potatoes, salad, cheese and coffee but declining the offered wine. The group waited for his next remark, but none was forthcoming. He sat crumbling his bread into the soup and stirring the mixture with his spoon.

“Did you see the light about him, Mr. Imson?” asked Miss Lance. “The brilliant aura of golden yellow that he wore? I thought it sounds exaggerated, I know but to me it seemed even brighter than the lightning. Did you notice it?”

“Well,” said Imson slowly, putting his spoon down. “I’m not often clairvoyant, you know. I did notice, however, a sort of radiance about him. But with hair like that, it’s difficult to be certain —”

“Full of lovely patterns,” said Mrs. Towzer. “Geometrical patterns.”

“Like astrological designs,” mentioned Miss Milligan. “He’s Leo, of course fire.”

“Almost as though he brought or caused the lightning as if it actually emanated out of his atmosphere somehow,” claimed Miss Lance, for it was her conversation after all.

“I saw nothing of that,” replied Imson quietly. “No, I can’t say I saw anything exactly like that.” He added honestly, with his engaging smile that had earned for him in some quarters the nickname of “The Sheep”: “I was looking at Nayan, you see, most of the time.”

A smile flickered round the table, for rumour had it that the girl had once seemed to him as possible “Karma.”

“So was I,” put in Kempster with kindly intention, though his sympathy was evidently not needed. Imson was too simple even to feel embarrassment. “She came to life suddenly for the first time since I’ve known her. It was amazing.” To which Imson, busy over his salad-dressing, made no reply.

Povey, lighting his pipe and puffing out thick clouds of smoke, was cleverer. “LeVallon’s effect upon her, whatever it was, seemed instantaneous,” he informed the table. “I never saw a clearer case of two souls coming together in a flash.”

“As I said just now,” Kempster quickly mentioned.

“They are similar,” said Imson, looking up, while the group waited expectantly.

“Similar,” repeated Kempster. “Ah!”

“It was the surprise in her face that struck me most,” observed Povey quickly, making an internal note of Imson’s adjective, but knowing that indirect methods would draw him out better than point-blank questions. “LeVallon showed it too. It was an unexpected recognition on both sides. They are ‘similar,’ as you say; both at the same stage of development, whatever that stage may be. The expression on both faces —”

“Escape,” exclaimed Imson, giving at last the kernel of what he had to say. And the effect upon the group was electrical. A visible thrill ran round the Soho table.

“The very word,” exclaimed Povey and Miss Lance together. “Escape!” But neither of them knew exactly what they meant, nor what Imson himself meant.

“LeVallon has, of course, already escaped,” the latter went on quietly. “He is no longer caught by causes and effects as we are here. He’s got out of it all long ago if he was ever in it at all.”

“If he ever was in it at all,” said Povey quickly. “You noticed that too. You’re very discerning, Pat.”

“Clairvoyant,” mentioned Miss Lance.

“I’ve seen them in dreams like that,” returned Imson calmly. “I often see them, of course.” He referred to his qualification for membership. “The great figures I see in dream have just that unearthly expression.”

“Unearthly,” said Mrs. Towzer with excitement.

“Non-human,” mentioned Kempster suggestively.

“Not of this world, anyhow,” suggested Miss Lance mysteriously.

“Divine?” inquired Miss Milligan below her breath.

“Really,” murmured Toogood, “I must get a bit of his hair and psychometrize it at once.” He was sipping a second glass of whisky.

Imson looked round at each face in turn, apparently seeing nothing that need increase his attachment to the planet by way of fresh Karma.

“The Deva world,” he said briefly, after a pause. “Probably he’s come to take Nayan off with him. She I always said so has a strong strain of the elemental kingdom in her. She may be his Devi. LeVallon, I’m sure, is here for the first time. He’s one of the non-human evolution. He’s slipped in. A Deva himself probably.” It was as though he said that the waiter was Swiss or French, or that the proprietor’s daughter had Italian blood in her.

Povey looked round him with an air of triumph.

“Ah!” he announced, as who should say, “You all thought my version a bit wild, but here’s confirmation from an unbiased witness.”

“Oh, well, I can’t be certain,” Imson reminded the group. If he deceived them enough to change their lives in any respect, it involved fresh Karma for himself. Care was indicated. “I can’t be positive, can I?” he hedged. “Only I must say the great deva-figures I’ve seen in dream have exactly that look and expression.”

“That’s interesting, Pat,” Povey put in, “because, before you came, I was suggesting a similar explanation for his air of immense potential power. The elemental atmosphere he brought we all noticed it, of course.”

“Elemental is the only word,” Miss Lance inserted. “A great Nature Being.” She was thinking of her magazine.

“He struck me as being so close to Nature that he seemed literally part of it.”

“That would explain the lightning and the strange cry he gave about ‘messengers,’” replied Imson, wiping the oil from his chin and sprinkling his petit suisse with powdered sugar. “It’s quite likely enough.”

“I wish you’d jot down what you think a little report of what you saw and felt,” the Secretary mentioned. “It would be of great value. I thought of making a collection of the different versions and accounts.”

“They might be published some day,” thought Miss Lance. “Let’s all,” she added aloud with emphasis.

Imson nodded agreement, making no audible reply, while the conversation ran on, gathering impetus as it went, growing wilder possibly, but also more picturesque. A man in the street, listening behind a curtain, must have deemed the talkers suffering from delusion, mad; a good psychologist, on the other hand, similarly screened, and knowing the antecedent facts, the Studio scene, at any rate, must have been struck by one outstanding detail the effect, namely, upon one and all of the person they discussed. They had seen him for an hour or so among a crowd, a young man whose name they hardly knew; only a few had spoken to him; there had been, it seemed, neither time nor opportunity for him to produce upon one and all the impression he undoubtedly had produced. For in every mind, upon every heart, LeVallon’s mere presence had evidently graven an unforgettable image, scored an undecipherable hieroglyph. Each felt, it seemed, the hint of a personality their knowledge could not explain, nor any earthly explanation satisfy. The consciousness in each one, perhaps, had been quickened. Hence, possibly, the extravagance of their conversation. Yet, since all reported differently, collective hysteria seemed discounted.

Meanwhile, as the talk continued, and the wings of imaginative speculation fanned the thick tobacco smoke, others had dropped in, both male and female members, and the group now filled the little room to the walls. The same magnet drew them all, in each heart burned the same huge question mark: Who what is this LeVallon? What was the meaning of the scene in Khilkoffs Studio?

Here, too, was a curious and significant fact about the gathering the amount of knowledge, true or otherwise, they had managed to collect about LeVallon. One way or another, no one could say exactly how, the Society had picked up an astonishing array of detail they now shared together. It was known where he had spent his youth, also how, and with whom, as well as something of the different views about him held by Dr. Devonham and Edward Fillery. To such temperaments as theirs the strange, the unusual, came automatically perhaps, percolating into their minds as though a collective power of thought-reading operated. Garbled, fanciful, askew, their information may have been, but a great deal of it was not far wrong.

Imson, for instance, provided an account of LeVallon’s birth, to which all listened spellbound. He evaded all questions as to how he knew of it. “His parents,” he assured the room, “practised the old forgotten magic; his father, ‘at any rate, was an expert, if not an initiate, with all the rites and formulae of ancient times in his memory. Le–Vallon was born as the result of an experiment, its origins dating back so far that they concerned life upon another planet, I believe, a planet nearer to the sun. The tremendous winds and heat were vehicles of deity, you see there!’

“The parents, you mean, had former lives upon another planet?” asked someone in a hushed tone. “Or he himself?”

“The parents and Mason. Mason was involved in the experiment that resulted in the birth of LeVallon here today.”

“The experiment what was it exactly?” inquired Lattimer, while Toogood surreptitiously made notes on his rather dirty cuff.

Imson shrugged his shoulders very slightly.

“Some of it came to me in sleep,” he mentioned, producing a paper from his pocket and beginning to read it aloud before anyone could stop him.

“When the sun was younger, and moon and stars

Were thrilled with my human birth, And the winds fled shouting the wondrous news As they circled the sea and the earth,

“From the fight for money and worldly fame

I drew one magical soul Who came to me over the star-lit sea As the needle turns to the Pole.

“Conceived in the hour the stars foretold,

This son of the winds I bore, And I taught him the secrets of —”

“Yes,” interrupted Povey audaciously, “but the experiment you were telling us about?”

A murmur of approving voices helped him.

“Oh, the experiment, yes, well all I know is,” he went on with conviction, calmly replacing the poem in his pocket, “that it concerned an old rite, involving the evocation of some elemental being or nature-spirit the three of them had already evoked millions of years before, but had not banished again. The experiment they made today was to restore it to its proper sphere. In order to do so, they had to evoke it again, and, of course” he glanced round, as though all present were familiar with the formula of magical practices “it could come only through the channel of a human system.”

“Of course, yes,” murmured a dozen voices, while eyes grew bigger and a pin dropping must have been audible.

“Well” Imson spoke very slowly now, each word clear as a bell “the father, who was officiating, failed. He could not stand the strain. His heart stopped beating. He died just when it was there, he dropped dead.”

“What happened to iff” asked Povey, too interested to care that he no longer led the room. “You said it could only use a human system as channel —”

“It did so,” explained Imson.

The information produced a pause of several seconds. Some of the members, like Toogood, though openly, were making pencil notes upon cuffs or backs of envelopes.

“But the channel was neither Mason nor the woman.” The effect of this negative information was as nothing compared to the startling interest produced by the speaker’s next words: “It took the easiest channel, the line of least resistance the unborn body of the child.”

Povey, seizing his opportunity, leaped into the silence:

“Whose body, now full grown, and named LeVallon, came to the Studio!” he exclaimed, looking round at the group, as though he had himself given the explanation all had just listened to. “A human body tenanted by a nature-spirit, one of the form-builders a Deva, . . . ”

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