The Bright Messenger, by Algernon Blackwood

Chapter 22

LADY GLEESON had heard from a Promethean what had transpired in the studio after she had left, and her interest was immensely stimulated. These details she had not known when she had driven her hero home, and had felt so strangely drawn to him that she had kissed him in front of Dr. Fillery as though she caressed a prisoner under the eyes of the warder.

She made her little plans accordingly. It was some days, however, before they bore fruit. The telephone at last rang. It was Dr. Fillery. The nerves in her quivered with anticipation.

Devonham, it appeared, had been away, and her “kind letters and presents,” he regretted to find, had remained unanswered and unacknowledged. Mr. LeVallon had been in the country, too, with his colleague, and letters had not been forwarded. Oh, it would “do him good to see people.” It would be delightful if she could spare a moment to looR in. Perhaps for a cup of tea tomorrow? No, tomorrow she was engaged. The next day then. The next day it was. In the morning arrived a brief letter from Mr. Le–Vallon himself: “You will come to tea tomorrow. I thank you. JULIAN LEVALLON.”

Yet there was something both in Dr. Fillery’s voice, as in this enigmatic letter, that she did not like. She felt puzzled somewhere. The excitement of a novel intrigue with this unusual youth, none the less, was stimulating. She decided to go to tea. She put off a couple of engagements in order to be free.

A servant let her in. She went upstairs. There was no sign of Dr. Fillery nor, thank heaven, of Devonham either. Tea, she saw, was laid for two in the private sitting-room. LeVallon, seated in an arm-chair by the open window, looked “magnificent and overpowering,” as she called it. He rose at once to greet her. “Thank you,” he said in his great voice. “I am glad to see you.” He said it perfectly, as though it had been taught him. He took her hand. Her ravishing smile, perhaps, he did not notice. His face, at any rate, was grave.

His height, his broad shoulders, his inexperienced eyes and manner again delighted Lady Gleeson.

The effect upon her receptive temperament, at any rate, was instantaneous. That he showed no cordiality, did not smile, and that his manner was constrained, meant nothing to her or meant what she wished it to mean. He was somewhat overcome, of course, she reflected, that she was here at all. She began at once. Sitting composedly on the edge of the table, so that her pretty silk stockings were visible to the extent she thought just right, she dangled her slim legs and looked him straight in the eyes. She was full of confidence. Her attitude said plainly: “I’m taking a lot of trouble, but you’re worth it.”

“Mr. LeVallon,” she purred in a teasing yet determined voice, “why do you ignore me?” There was an air of finality about the words. She meant to know.

LeVallon met her eyes with a look of puzzled surprise, but did not answer. He stood in front of her. He looked really magnificent, a perfect study of the athlete in repose. He might have been a fine Greek statue.

“Why,” she repeated, her lip quivering slightly, “do you ignore me? I want the truth,” she added. She was delighted to see how taken aback he was. “You don’t dislike me.” It was not a question.

Into his eyes stole an expression she could not exactly fathom. She judged, however, that he felt awkward, foolish. Her interest doubtless robbed him of any savoir faire he might possess. This talk face to face was a little too much for any young man, but for a simple country youth it was, of course, more than disconcerting.

“I’m Lady Gleeson,” she informed him, smiling precisely in the way she knew had troubled so many other men. “Angela,” she added softly. “You’ve had my books and flowers and letters. Yet you continue to ignore me. Why, please?” With a different smile and a pathetic, childish, voice: “Have I offended you somehow? Do I displease you?”

LeVallon stared at her as though he was not quite certain who she actually was, yet as though he ought to know, and that her words now reminded him. He stared at her with what she called his “awkward and confused” expression, but which Fillery, had he been present, would have recognized as due to his desire to help a pitiful and hungry creature that, in a word, his instinct for service had been a little stirred.

The scene was certainly curious and unusual.

LeVallon, with his great strength and dignity, yet something tender, pathetic in his bearing, stood staring at her. Lady Gleeson, brimming with a sense of easy victory, sat on the table-edge, her pretty legs well forward, knowing herself divinely gowned. She had her victim, surely, at a disadvantage. She felt at the same time a faint uneasiness she could not understand. She concealed it, however.

“I suffer here,” he said suddenly in a quiet tone.

She gave a start. It was the phrase he had used before. She thrilled. She hitched her skirt a fraction higher.

“Julian, poor boy,” she said then stared at him. “How innocent you are!” She said it with apparent impulse, though her little frenzied mind was busy calculating. There came a pause. He said nothing. He was, apparently, quite innocent, extraordinarily, exasperatingly innocent.

In a low voice, smiling shyly, she added as though it cost her a great effort

“You do not recognize what is yours.”

“You are sacred!” he replied with startling directness, as though he suddenly understood, yet was stupidly perplexed. “You already have your man.”

Lady Gleeson gulped down a spasm of laughter. How slow these countrymen could be! Yet she must not shock him. He was suffering, besides. This yokel from the woods and mountains needed a little coaxing. It was natural enough. She must explain and teach, it seemed. Well he was worth the trouble. His beauty was mastering her already. She loved, in particular, his innocence, his shyness, his obvious respect. She almost felt herself a magnanimous woman.

“My man!” she mentioned. “Oh, he’s finished with me long ago. He’s bored. He has gone elsewhere. I am alone” she added with an impromptu inspiration “and free to choose.”

“It must be pain and loneliness to you.”

LeVallon looked, she thought, embarrassed. He was struggling with himself, of course. She left the table and came up close to him. She stood on tiptoe, so that her breath might touch his face. Her eyes shone with fire. Her voice trembled a little. It was very low.

“I choose you,” she whispered. She cast down her shining eyes. Her lips took on a prim, inviting turn. She knew she was irresistible like that. She stood back a step, as if expecting some tumultuous onslaught. She waited.

But the onslaught did not come. LeVallon, towering above her, merely stared. His arms hung motionless. There was, indeed, expression in his face, but it was not the expression that she expected, longed for, deemed her due. It puzzled her, as something entirely new.

“Me!” he repeated, in an even tone. He gazed at her in a peculiar way. Was it appraisement? Was it halting wonder at his marvellous good fortune? Was it that he hesitated, judging her? He seemed, she thought once for an instant, curiously indifferent. Something in his voice startled her.

The moment’s pause, at any rate, was afflicting. Her spirit burned within her. Only her supreme belief in herself prevented a premature explosion. Yet something troubled her as well. A tremor ran through her. LeVallon, she remembered, was LeVallon.

His own thought and feeling lay hidden from her blunt perception since she read no signs unless they were painfully obvious. But in his mind in his feeling, rather, since he did not think ran evidently the sudden knowledge of what her meaning was. He understood. But also, perhaps he remembered what Fillery had told him.

For a long time he kept silent, the emotions in him apparently at grips. Was he suddenly going to carry her away as he had done to that “little Russian poseuse”? She watched him. He was intensely busy with what occupied his mind, for though he did not speak, his lips were moving. She watched him, impatience and wonder in her, impatience at his slowness, wonder as to what he would do and say when at last his simple mind had decided. And again the odd touch of fear stole over her. Something warned her. This young man thrilled her, but he certainly was strange. This was, indeed, a new experience. Whatever was he thinking about? What in the world was he going to say? His lips were still moving. There was a light in his face. She imagined the very words, could almost read them, hear them. There! Then she heard them, heard some at any rate distinctly: “You are an animal. Yet you walk up-right. . . . ”

The scene that followed went like lightning.

Before Lady Gleeson could move or speak, however, he also said another thing that for one pulsing second, and for the first time in her life, made her own utter worthlessness become appallingly clear to her. It explained the touch of fear. Even her one true thing, her animal passion, was a trumpery affair:

“There is nothing in you I can work with,” he said with gentle, pitying sympathy. “Nothing I can use.”

Then Lady Gleeson blazed. Vanity instantly restored self-confidence. It seemed impossible to believe her ears.

What had he done? What had he said that caused the explosion? He watched her abrupt, spasmodic movements with amazemnt. They were so ugly, so unrhythmical. Their violence was so wasteful.

“You insult me!” she cried, making these violent movements of her whole body that, to him, were unintelligible. “How dare you? You “ The breath choked her.

“Cad,” he helped her, so suddenly that another mind not far away might almost have dropped the word purposely into his own. “I am so pained,” he added, “so pained.” He gazed at her as though he longed to help. “For you, I know, are valuable to him who holds you sacred to your husband.”

Lady Gleeson simply could not credit her ears. This neat, though unintentional, way of transferring the epithet to her who deserved it, left her speechless. Her fury increased with her inability to express it. She could have struck him, killed him on the spot. Her face changed from white to crimson like some toy with a trick of light inside it. She seemed to emit sparks. She was transfixed. And the shiver that ran through her was, perhaps, for once, both sexual and spiritual at once.

“You insult me,” she cried again helplessly. “You insult me!”

“If there was something in you I could work with help “ he began, his face showing a tender sympathy that enraged her even more. He started suddenly, looking closer into her blazing eyes. “Ah,” he said quickly below his breath, “the fire the little fire!” His expression altered. But Lady Gleeson, full of her grievance, did not catch the words, it seemed.

“In my tenderest, my most womanly feelings,” she choked on, yet noticing the altered expression on his face. “How dare you?” Her voice became shrill and staccato. Then suddenly mistaking the look in his eyes for shame she added: “You shall apologize. You shall apologize at once!” She screamed the words. They were the only ones that her outraged feelings found.

“You show yourself, my fire,” he was saying softly in his deep resonant voice. “Oh, I see and worship now; I understand a little.”

His look astonished her even in the middle of her anger the pity, kindness, gentleness in it. The bewilderment she did not notice. It was the evident desire to be of service to her, to help and comfort, that infuriated her. The superiority was more than she could stand.

“And on your knees,” she yelped; “on your knees, too!”

Drawing herself up, she pointed to the carpet with an air of some tragedy queen to whom a lost self-respect came slowly back. “Down there!” she added, as the gleaming buckle on her shoe indicated the spot. She did not forget to show her pretty stockings as well.

The picture was comic in the extreme, yet with a pathetic twist about it that, had she possessed a single grain of humour, must have made her feel foolish and shamed until she died, for his kneeling position rendered her insignificance so obvious it was painful in the extreme. LeVallon clasped his hands; his face, wearing a dignity and tenderness that emphasized its singular innocence and beauty, gazed up into her trivial prettiness, as she sat on the edge of the table behind her, glaring down at him with angry but still hungry eyes.

“I should have helped and worshipped,” his deep voice thrilled. “I am ashamed. Always you are sacred, wonderful. I did not recognize your presence calling me. I did not hear nor understand. I am ashamed.”

The strange words she did not comprehend, even if she heard them properly. For one moment she knew a dreadful feeling that they were not addressed to her at all, but the sense of returning triumph, the burning desire to extract from him the last ounce of humiliation, to make him suffer as much as in her power lay, these emotions deadened any perceptions of a subtler kind. He was kneeling at her feet, stammering his abject apology, and the sight was wine and food to her. Though she could have crushed him with her foot, she could equally have flung herself in utter abandonment before his glorious crouching strength. She adored the scene. He looked magnificent on his knees. He was. She believed she, too, looked magnificent.

“You apologize to me,” she said in a trembling voice, tense with mingled passions.

“Oh, with what sadness for my mistake you cannot know,” was his strange reply. His voice rang with sincerity, his eyes held a yearning that almost lent him radiance. Yet it was the sense of power he gave that thrilled Lady Gleeson most. For she could not understand it. Again a passing hint of something remote, incalculable, touched her sense of awe. She shivered slightly. LeVallon did not move.

Appeased, yet puzzled, she lowered her face, now pale and intense with eagerness, towards his own, hardly conscious that she did so, while the faint idea again went past her that he addressed his astonishing words elsewhere. Blind vanity at once dismissed the notion, though the shock of its brief disthroning had been painful. She found satisfaction for her wounded soul. A man who had scorned her, now squirmed before her beauty on his knees, desiring her but too late.

“You have some manhood, after all!” she exclaimed, still fierce, the upper lip just revealing the shining little teeth. Her power at last had touched him. He suffered. And she was glad.

“I worship,” he repeated, looking through her this time, if not actually past her. “You are sacred, the source of all my life and power.” His pain, his worship, the aching passion in him made her forget the insult. Upon that face upturned so close to hers, she now breathed softly.

“I’ll try,” she said more calmly. “I’ll try and forgive you just this once.” The suffering in his eyes, so close against her own, dawned more and more on her. “There, now,” she added impulsively, “perhaps I will forgive you altogether!”

It was a moment of immense and queenly generosity. She felt sublime.

LeVallon, however, made no rejoinder; one might have thought he had not heard; only his head sank lower a little before her.

She had him at her mercy now; the rapt and wonderful expression in his eyes delighted her. She bent slightly nearer and made as though to kiss him, when a new idea flashed suddenly through her mind. This forgiveness was a shade too quick, too easy. Oh, she knew men. She was not without experience.

She acted with instant decision upon her new idea, as though delay might tempt her to yield too soon. She straightened up with a sudden jerk, touched his cheek with her hand, then, with a swinging swish of her skirts, but without a single further word, she swept across the room. She went out, throwing him a last glance just before she closed the door. At his kneeling figure and upturned face she flung this last glance of murderous fascination.

But LeVallon did not move or turn his head; he made no sign; his attitude remained precisely as before, face up-turned, hands clasped, his expression rapt and grave as ever. His voice continued:

“I worship you for ever. I did not know you in that little shape. O wondrous central fire, teach me to be aware of you with awe, with joy, with love, even in the smallest things. O perfect flame behind all form. . . . ”

For a long time his deep tones poured their resonant vibration through the room. There came an answering music, low, faint, continuous, a long, deep rhythm running in it. There was a scent of flowers, of open space, a fragrance of a mountain top. The sounds, the perfume, the touch of cool refreshing wind rose round him, increasing with every minute, till it seemed as though some energy informed them. At the centre he knelt steadily, light glowing faintly in his face and on his skin. A vortex of energy swept round him. He drew upon it. His own energy was increased and multiplied. He seemed to grow more radiant. . . .

A few minutes later the door opened softly and Dr. Fillery looked in, hesitated for a second, then advanced into the room. He paused before the kneeling figure. It was noticeable that he was not startled and that his face wore no expression of surprise. A smile indeed lay on his lips. He noticed the scent of flowers, a sweetness in the air as after rain; he felt the immense vitality, the exhilaration, the peace and power too. He had made no sound, but the other, aware of his presence, rose to his feet.

“I disturbed you,” said Fillery. “I’m sorry. Shall I go?”

“I was worshipping,” replied “N.H.” “No, do not go. There was a little flash” he looked about him for an instant as if slightly bewildered “a little sign something I might have helped but it has gone again. Then I worshipped, asking for more power. You notice it?” he asked, with a radiant smile.

“I notice it,” said Fillery, smiling back. He paused a moment. His eye took in the tea-things and saw they were untouched; he felt the tea-pot. It was still warm. “Come,” he said happily; “we’ll have some tea together. I’ll send for a fresh brew.” He rang the bell, then arranged the chairs a little differently. “Your visitor?” he asked. “You are expecting someone?”

“N.H.” looked round him suddenly. “Oh!” he exclaimed, “but she has gone!”

His surprise was comical, but the expression on the face changed in his rapid way at once. “I remember now. Your Lady Gleeson came,” he added, a touch of gentle sadness in his voice, “I gave her pain. You had told me. I forgot —”

“You did well,” Fillery commented with smiling approval as though the entire scene was known to him, “you did very well. It is a pity, only, that she left too soon. If she had stayed for your worship your wind and fire might have helped —”

“N.H.” shook his head. “There is nothing I can work with,” he replied. “She is empty. She destroys only. Why,” he added, “does she walk upright?”

But Lady Gleeson held very different views upon the recent scene. This magnificent young male she had put in his place, but she had not finished with him. No such being had entered her life before. She was woman enough to see he was unusual. But he was magnificent as well, and, secretly, she loved his grand indifference.

She left the house, however, with but an uncertain feeling that the honours were with her. Two days without a word, a sign, from her would bring him begging to her little feet.

But the “begging” did not come. The bell was silent, the post brought no humble, passionate, abandoned letter. She fumed. She waited. Her husband, recently returned to London and immensely preoccupied with his concessions, her maid too, were aware that Lady Gleeson was impatient. The third, the fourth day came, but still no letter.

Whereupon it occurred to her that she had possibly gone too far. Having left him on his knees, he was, perhaps, still kneeling in his heart, even prostrate with shame and disappointment. Afraid to write, afraid to call, he knew not what to do. She had evidently administered too severe a lesson. Her callers, meanwhile, convinced her that she was irresistible. There was no woman like her in the world. She had, of course, been too harsh and cruel with this magnificent and innocent youth from the woods and mountains. . . .

Thus it was that, on the fourth day, feeling magnanimous and generous, big-hearted too, she wrote to him. It would be foolish, in any case, to lose him altogether merely for a moment’s pride:

“DEAR MR. LEVALLON, I feel I must send you a tiny word to let you know that I really have forgiven you. You behaved, you know, in a way that no man of my acquaintance has ever done before. But I feel sure now you did not really mean it. Your forest and mountain gods have not taught you to understand civilized women. So I forgive.

“Please forget it all, as I have forgotten it. Yours,

“ANGELA GLEESON.

“P. S. And you may come and see me soon.”

To which, two days later, came the reply:

“DEAR LADY GLEESON, I thank you.

JULIAN LEVALLON.”

Within an hour of its receipt, she wrote:

“DEAR JULIAN, I am so glad you understand. I knew you would. You may come and see me. I will prove to you that you are really forgiven. There is no need to feel embarrassed. I am interested in you and can help you. Believe me, you need a woman’s guidance. All all I have, is yours.

“I shall be at home this afternoon alone from 4 to 7 o’clock. I shall expect you. My love to you and your grand wild gods! Yours, “ANGELA.

“P. S. I want you to tell me more about your gods. Will you?”

She sent it by special messenger, “Reply” underlined on the envelope. He did not appear at the appointed hour, but the next morning she received his letter. It came by ordinary post. The writing on the envelope was not his. Either Devonham or Fillery had addressed it. And a twinge of unaccustomed emotion troubled her. Intuition, it seems, survives even in the coarsest, most degraded feminine nature, ruins of some divine prerogative perhaps. Lady Gleeson, at any rate, flinched uneasily before she opened the long expected missive:

“DEAR LADY GLEESON, Be sure that you are always under the protection of the gods even if you do not know them. They are impersonal. They come to you through passion but not through that love of the naked body which is lust. I can work with passion because it is creative, but not with lust, for it is destructive only. Your suffering is the youth and ignorance of the young uncreative animal. I can strive with young animals and can help them. But I cannot work with them. I beg you, listen. I love in you the fire, though it is faint and pitiful. “ JULIAN.”

Lady Gleeson read this letter in front of the looking-glass, then stared at her reflection in the mirror.

She was dazed. But in spite of the language she thought “silly,” she caught the blunt refusal of her generous offer. She understood. Yet, unable to believe it, she looked at her reflection again then, impulsively, went downstairs to see her husband.

It really was more than she could bear. The man was mad, but that did not excuse him.

“He is a beast,” she informed her husband, tearing up the letter angrily before his eyes in the library, while he watched her with a slavish admiration that increased her fury. “He is nothing but an animal,” she added. “He’s a a —”

“Who?” came the question, as though it had been asked before. For Sir George wore a stolid and a patient expression on his kindly face.

“That man LeVallon,” she told him. “One of Dr. Fillery’s cases I tried to to help. Now he’s written to me —”

George looked up with infinite patience and desire in his kindly gaze.

“Cut him out,” he said dryly, as though he was accustomed to such scenes. “Let him rip. Why bother, anyway, with ‘patients’?”

And he crossed the room to comfort her, knowing that presently the reaction must make him seem more desirable than he really was. . . .

“Never in my house again,” she sighed, as he approached her lovingly, his fingers in his close brown beard. “He is simply a beast an animal!”

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