The Bright Messenger, by Algernon Blackwood

Chapter 19

WHILE the Prometheans thus, individually and collectively fermenting, floundered between old and new interpretations of a strange occurrence, in another part of London something was happening, of its kind so real, so interesting, that one and all would eagerly have renounced a favourite shibboleth or pet desire to witness it. Kempster would have eaten a raw beefsteak, Lattimer have agreed to rebirth as a woman, Mrs. Towzer have swallowed whisky neat, and even Toogood have written a signed confession that his “psychometry,” was intelligent guesswork.

It is the destiny, however, of such students of the wonderful to receive their data invariably at second or third hand; the data may deal with genuine occurrences, but the student seems never himself present at the time. From books, from reports, from accounts of someone who knew an actual witness, the student generally receives the version he then proceeds to study and elaborate.

In this particular instance, moreover, no version ever reached their ears at all, either at second or third hand, because the only witness of what happened was Edward Fillery, and he mentioned it to no one. Its reality, its interpretation likewise, remained authoritative only for that expert, if unstable, mind that experienced the one and divined the other.

His conversation with Devonham over, and the latter having retired to his room, Fillery paid a last visit to the patient who was now his private care, instead of merely an inmate of the institution that was half a Home and half a Spiritual Clinique. The figure lay sleeping quietly, the lean, muscular body bare to the wind that blew upon it from the open window. Graceful, motionless, both pillow f and coverings rejected, “N.H.” breathed the calm, regular breath of deepest slumber. The light from the door just touched the face and folded hands, the features wore no expression of any kind, the hair, drawn back from the forehead and temples, almost seemed to shine.

Through the window came the rustle of the tossing branches, but the night air, though damp, was neither raw nor biting, and Fillery did not replace the sheets upon the great sleeping body. He withdrew as softly as he entered. Knowing he would not close an eye that night, he left the house silently and walked out into the deserted streets . . . .

The rain had ceased, but the wet wind rushed in gusts against him, the soft blows and heavy moisture acting as balm to his somewhat tired nerves. As with great elemental hands, the windy darkness stroked him, soothing away the intense excitement he had felt, muting a thousand eager questions. They stroked his brain into a gentler silence gradually. “Don’t think, don’t think,” night whispered all about him, “but feel, feel, feel. What you want to know will come to you by feeling now.” He obeyed instinctively. Down the long, empty streets he passed, swinging his stick, tapping the lampposts, noting how steady their light held in the wind, noting the tossing trees in little gardens, noting occasionally rifts of moonlight between the racing clouds, but relinquishing all attempt to think.

He counted the steps between the lamp-posts as he swung along, leaving the kerb at each crossing with his left foot, taking the new one with his right, planting each boot safely in the centre of each paving stone, establishing, in a word, a sort of rhythm as he moved. He did so, however, without being consciously aware of it. He was not aware, indeed, of anything but that he swung along with this pleasant rhythmical stride that rested his body, though the exercise was vigorous.

And the night laid her deep peace upon him as he went. . . .

The streets grew narrower, twisted, turned and ran up-hill; the houses became larger, spaced farther apart, less numerous, their gardens bigger, with groups of trees instead of isolated specimens. He emerged suddenly upon the open heath, tasting a newer, sweeter air. The huge city lay below him now, but the rough, shouting wind drowned its distant roar completely. For a time he stood and watched its twinkling lights across the vapours that hung between, then turned towards the little pond. He knew it well. Its waves flew dancing happily. The familiar outline of Jack Straw’s Castle loomed beyond. The square enclosure of the anti-aircraft gun rattled with a metallic sound in the wind. . . .

He had been walking for the best part of two hours now, thinking nothing but feeling only, and his surface-consciousness, perhaps, lay still, inactive. The mind was quiescent certainly, his being subdued and lulled by the rhythmic movement which had gained upon his entire system. The sails of his ship hung idly, becalmed above the profound deeps below. It was these deeps, the mysterious and inexhaustible region below the surface, that now began to stir. There stole upon him a dim prophetic sense as of horizons lifting and letting in new light. He glanced about him. The moon was brighter certainly, the flying scud was thinning, though the dawn was still some hours away. But it was not the light of moon or sun or stars he looked for; it was no outer light.

The little waves fell splashing at his feet. He watched them for a long time, keeping very still; his heart, his mind, his nerves, his muscles, all were very still. . . . He became aware that new big powers were alert and close, hovering above the world, feathering the Race like wings of mighty birds. The waters were being troubled. . . .

He turned and walked slowly, but ever with the same pleasant rhythm that was in him, to the pine trees, where he paused a minute, listening to the branches shaking and singing, then retraced his steps along the ridge, every yard of which, though blurred in darkness, he knew and recognized. Below, on his left lay London, on his right stretched the familiar country, though now invisible, past Hendon with its Welsh Harp, Wembley, and on towards Harrow, whose church steeple would catch the sunrise before very long. He reached the little pond again and heard its small waves rushing and tumbling in the south-west wind. He stood and watched them, listening to their musical wash and gurgle.

The waters, yes, were being troubled. . . . Despite the buffeting wind, the world lay even stiller now about him; no single human being had he seen; even stiller than before, too, lay heart and mind within him; the latter held no single picture. He was aware, yes, of horizons lifting, of great powers alert and close; the interior light increased. He felt, but he did not think. Into the empty chamber of his being, swept and garnished, flashed suddenly, then, as in picture form, the memory of “N. H,” All that he knew about him came at once: Paul’s notes and journey, the London scenes and talks, his own observations, deductions, questionings, his dreams, and fears and yearnings, his hope and wonder all came in a clapping instant, complete and simultaneous. Into his opened subconscious being floated the power and the presence of that bright messenger who brought glad tidings to his life.

“N.H.” stood beside him, whispering with lips that were the darkness, and with words that were the wind. It was the power and presence of “N.H.” that lifted the horizon and let in light. His body lay sleeping miles away in that bed against an open window. This was his real presence. Without words, as without thought, understanding came. The appeal of “N.H.” was direct to the subliminal mind; it was the hidden nine-tenths he stimulated; hence came the intensification of consciousness in all who had to do with him., And it operated now. Fillery was aware of defying time and space, as though there were no limits to his being. Faith lights fires. . . . Perception wandered down those dusky by-ways behind the mind that lead through trackless depths where the massed heritage of the world-soul, lit sometimes by a flashing light, reveal incredible, incalculable things. One of those flashes came now. Through the fissures, as it were, of his unstable being rose the marvellous, uncanny gleam. His eyes were opened and he saw.

The label, he realized, was incorrect, inadequate “N.H.” was a misnomer; more than human, both different to and greater than, came nearer to the truth. A being from other conditions certainly, belonging to another order; an order whose work was unremitting service rendered with joy and faithfulness; a hierarchy whose service included the entire universe, the stars and suns and nebulae, earth with her frail humanity but an insignificant fraction of it all . . . .

He came, of course, from that central sea of energy whence all life, pushing irresistibly outwards into form, first arises. Like human beings, he came thence undoubtedly, but more directly than they, in more intimate relations, therefore, with the elemental powers that build up form and shape the destinies of matter. One only of a mighty host of varying degrees and powers, his services lay inter-woven with the very heart and processes of Nature herself. The energies of heat and air, essentials of all life everywhere, were his handmaidens; he worked with fire and wind; in the forms he helped to build he set enthusiasm and energy aglow. . . .

From stars and fire-mist he came now into humanity, using the limited instrument of a human mechanism, a mechanism he must learn to master without breaking it. A human brain and nerves confined him. He could deal with essences only, those essential, buried, semi-elemental powers that lie ever waiting below the threshold of all human consciousness, linking men, did they but know it, direct with the sea of universal life which is inexhaustible, independent of space and time. The fraction of his nature which had manifested as a transient surface-personality LeVallon was gone for ever, merged in the real self below.

His origin was already forgotten; no memory of it lay in his present brain; he must suffer training, education, and he turned instinctively to those whose ideal, like his own, was one of impersonal service. To a woman he turned, and to a man. His recognition, guided by Nature, was sure and accurate. It must take time and patience, sympathy and love, faith, belief and trust, and the labour must be borne by one man chiefly by Fillery, into whose life had come this strange bright messenger carrying glad tidings . . . to prove at last that man was greater than he knew, that the hope for Humanity, for the deteriorating Race, for crumbling Civilization, lay in drawing out into full practical consciousness the divine powers concealed below the threshold of every single man and woman. . . .

But how, in what practical manner, what instrument could they use? The human mechanism, the brain, the mind, afforded inadequate means of manifestation; new wines into old skins meant disaster; knowledge, power beyond the experience of the Race needed a better instrument than the one the Race had painfully evolved for present uses. New powers of unknown kinds, as already in those rare cases when the supernormal forces emerged, could only strain the machinery and cause disorder. A new order of consciousness required another, a different equipment. And the idea flashed into him, as in the Studio when he watched “N.H.” and the girl Father Collins had divined its possibility as well the idea of a group consciousness, a collective group-soul. What a single individual might not be able to resist at first without disaster, many a group in harmony two or three gathered together in unfson these might provide the way, the means, the instrument the body.

“The personal merged in the impersonal,” he exclaimed to the night about him, already aware that words, expression, failed even at this early stage of understanding. “Beauty, Art! Where words, form, colour end, we shall construct, while yet using these as far as they go, a new vehicle, a new —”

“Good evenin’,” said a gruff voice. “Good evenin’, sir,” it added more respectfully, after a second’s inspection. “Turned out quite fine after the storm.”

Aware of the policeman suddenly, Fillery started and turned round abruptly. Evidently he had uttered his thoughts aloud, probably had cried and shouted them. He could think of nothing in the world to say.

“It was a terrible storm. I hardly ever see the likes of it.” The man was looking at him still with doubtful curiosity.

“Extraordinary, yes.” Dr. Fillery managed to find a few natural words. It was an early hour in the morning to be out, and his position by the pond, he now realized, might have suggested an undesirable intention. “It made sleep impossible, and I came out to to take a walk. I’m a doctor, Dr. Fillery the Fillery Home.”

“Yes, sir,” said the man, apparently satisfied. He looked at the sky. “All blown away again,” he remarked, “and the moon that nice and bright —”

Fillery offered something in reply, then moved away. The moon, he noticed, was indeed nice and bright now; the heavy lower vapours all had vanished, and thin cirrus clouds at a great height moved, slowly before an upper wind; the stars shone clearly, and a faint line of colour gave a hint of dawn not far away.

He glanced at his watch. It was nearly half-past four.

“It’s impossible, impossible,” he thought to himself, the pictures he had been seeing still hanging before his eyes. “It was all feeling merely feeling. My blood, my heritage asserting themselves upon an over-tired system! Too much repression evidently. I must find an outlet. My Caucasian Valley again!”

He walked rapidly. His mind began to work, and thinking made an effort to replace feeling. He watched himself. His everyday surface-consciousness partially resumed its sway. The policeman, of course, had interrupted the flow and inrush of another state just at the moment when a flash of direct knowledge was about to blaze. It concerned “N.H.,” his new patient. In another moment he would have known exactly what and who he was, whence he came, the purpose and the powers that attended him. The policeman and inner laughter ran through him at this juxtaposition of the practical and the transcendental had interfered with an interesting expansion of his being. An extension of consciousness, perhaps a touch of cosmic consciousness, was on the way. The first faint quiver of its coming, magical with wondrous joy, had touched him. Its cause, its origin, he knew not, yet he could trace both to the effect produced upon him by “N.H.” Of that he was sure. This effect his reasoning mind, with busy analysis and criticism, had hitherto partially suppressed, even at its first manifestation in Charing Cross Station. Tonight, criticism silent and analysis inactive, it had found an outlet, his own deep inner stillness had been its opportunity. Then came the practical, honest, simple policeman, the censor, who received so much a week to keep people in the way they ought to follow, the safe, broad way. . . .

He smiled, as he walked rapidly along the deserted streets. He knew so well the method and process of these abnormal states in others. As he swung along, not tired now, but rested, rather, and invigorated, the rhythm of motion established itself again. “N.H.” a Nature Spirit! A Nature Being! Another order of life entering humanity for the first time, that humanity for whose welfare it or was it he? had worked, with hosts of similar beings, during incalculable ages . . .,

He smiled, remembering the policeman again. There was always a policeman, or a censor. Oh, the exits beyond safe normal states of being, the exits into extended fields of consciousness, into an outer life which the majority, led by the best minds of the day, deny with an oath these were well guarded! His smile, as he thought of it, ran from his lips and settled in the eyes, lingering a moment there before it died away. . . .

How quiet, yet unfamiliar, the suburb of the huge city lay about him in pale half-light. The Studio scene, how distant it seemed now in space and time; it had happened weeks ago in another city somewhere. Devonham, his cautious, experienced assistant, how far away! He belonged to another age. The Prometheans were part of a dream in childhood, a dream of pantomime or harlequinade whose extravagance yet conveyed symbolic meaning. Two figures alone retained a reality that refused to be dismissed a mysterious, enigmatic youth, a radiant girl with perhaps a third a broken priest. . . .

The rhythm, meanwhile, gained upon him, and, as it did. so, thinking once more withdrew and feeling stole back softly. His being became more harmonized, more one with itself, more open to inspiration. . . . “N.H.,” whose work was service, service everywhere, not merely in that tiny corner of the universe called Humanity. . . . “N.H.,” who could neither age nor die. . . . What was the hidden link that bound them? Had they not served and played together in some lost Caucasian valley, leaped with the sun’s hot fire, flown in the winds of dawn . . . sung, laughed and danced at their service, with a radiant sylph-like girl who had at last enticed them into the confinement of a limited human form? . . . Did not that valley symbolize, indeed, another state of existence, another order of consciousness altogether that lay beyond any known present experience or description . . .?

The dawn, meanwhile, grew nearer and a pallid light ran down the dreadful streets. . . . He reached at length the foot of the hill upon whose shoulder his own house stood. The familiar sights stirred more familiar currents of feeling, and these in turn sought words. . . .

The crowding houses, with their tight-shut windows, followed and pressed after as he climbed. They swarmed behind him. How choked and airless it all was. He thought of the heavy-footed routine of the thousands who occupied these pretentious buildings. Here lived a section of the greatest city on the planet, almost a separate little town, with marked characteristics, atmosphere, tastes and habits. How many, he wondered, behind those walls knew yearning, belief, imagination beyond the ruck and routine of familiar narrow thought? Rows upon rows, with their stunted, manufactured trees, hideous conservatories, bulging porches, ornamented windows his wings beat against them all with the burning desire to set their inmates free. They caged themselves in deliberately. A few thousand years ago these people lived in mud huts, before that in caves, before that again in trees. Now they were “civilized.” They dwelt in these cages. Oh, that he might tear away the thick dead bricks, and let in light and dew and stars, and the brave, free winds of heaven! Waken the deeper powers they carried unwittingly about with them through all their tedious sufferings! Teach them that they were greater than they knew!

The yearning was deep and true in him, as the houses followed and tried to bar his way. Many of the occupiers, he knew, would welcome help, would gaze with happy, astonished eyes at the wonder of their own greater selves set free. Not all, of course, were wingless. Yet the majority, he felt, were otherwise. They peered at him from behind thick curtains, hostile, sceptical, contented with their lot, averse to change. Mode, custom, habit chained them to the floor. He was aware of a collective obstinate grin of smug complacency, of dull resistance. Though a part of the community, of the race, of the world, of the universe itself, they denied their mighty brotherhood, and clung tenaciously to their idea of living apart, cut off and separate. They belonged to leagues, societies, clubs and circles, but the bigger oneness of the race they did not know. Of greater powers in themselves they had no faintest inkling. At the first sign of these, they would shuffle, sneer and turn away, grow frightened even.

The yearning to show them a bigger field of consciousness, to help them towards a realization of their buried powers, to let them out of their separate cages, beat through his being with a passionate sincerity. . . . In a hundred thousand years perhaps! Perhaps in a million! He knew the slow gait that Nature loved. The trend of an Age is not to be stemmed by one man, nor by twelve, who see over the horizon. The futility of trying pained him. Yet, if no one ever tried! Oh, for a few swift strokes of awful sacrifice then freedom!

The words came back to him, and with them, from the same source, came others: “I sit and I weave. . . . I sit and I weave.” . . . Whose, then, was this divine, eternal patience? . . .

There could be, it seemed, no hurried growth, no instant escape, no sudden leap to heaven. Slowly, slowly, the Ages turned the wheel. “Nor can other beings help,” he remembered; “they can only tell what their own part is.” . . . And as his clear mind saw the present Civilization like all its wonderful predecessors, tottering before his very eyes, threatening in its collapse, the extinction of knowledge so slowly, painfully, laboriously acquired, the deep heart in him rose as on wings of wind and fire, questing the stars above. There was this strange clash in him, as though two great divisions in his being struggled. A way of escape seemed just within his reach, only a little beyond the horizon of his actual knowledge. It fluttered marvellously; golden, alight, inviting. Its coming glory brushed his insight. It was simple, it was divine. There seemed a faint knocking against the doors of his mental and spiritual understanding.. ..

“‘N.H.’!” he cried, “Bright Messenger!”

He paused a moment and stood still. A new sound lay suddenly in the night. It came, apparently, from far away, almost from the air above him. He listened. No, after all it was only steps. They came nearer. A pedestrian, muffled to the ears, went past, and the steps died away on the resounding pavement round the corner. Yet the sound continued, and was not the echo of the steps just gone. It was, moreover, he now felt convinced, in the air above him. It was continuous. It reminded him of the musical droning hum that a big bell leaves behind it, while a suggestion of rhythm, almost of melody, ran faintly through it too.

Somebody’s lines was it Shelley’s? ran faintly in his mind, yet it was not his mind now that surged and rose to the new great rhythm:

“ ’Tis the deep music of the rolling world

Kindling within the strings of the waved air

AEolian modulations. . . .

Clear, icy, keen awakening tones

That pierce the sense

And live within the soul. . . . ”

He listened. It was a simple, natural, happy sound simple as running water, natural as wind, happy as the song of birds. . . .

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