The Bright Messenger, by Algernon Blackwood

Chapter 23

IT was, perhaps, some cosmic humour in the silent, beautiful stars which planned that Nayan’s visit should follow upon the very heels of Lady Gleeson’s call. Those vast Intelligences who note the fall of even a feather, watching and guarding the Race so closely that they may be said in human terms to love it, arranged the details possibly, enjoying the result with their careless, sunny laughter. At any rate, Dr. Fillery quickly sent her word, and she came. To lust “N.H.” had not reacted. How would it be with love?

The beautiful girl entered the room slowly, shyly, as though, certain of herself, she was not quite certain what she was about to meet. Fillery had told her she could help, that she was needed; therefore she came. There was no thought of self in her. Her first visit to Julian LeVallon after his behaviour in the Studio had no selfish motive in it. Her self-confidence, however, went only to a certain point; in the interview with Fillery she had easily controlled herself; she was not so sure that her self-control would be adequate now. Though calm outwardly, an inexpressible turmoil surged within.

She remembered his strength, virility and admiration as a woman; his ingenuous, childlike innocence, an odd appealing helplessness in it somewhere, touched the mother in her. That she divined this latter was, perhaps, the secret of her power over men. Independent of all they had to offer, she touched the highest in them by making them feel they had need of the highest in herself. She obtained thus, without desiring it, the influence that Lady Gleeson, her antithesis, lacked. They called her Nayan the Impersonal.

The impersonal in her, nevertheless, that which had withstood the cunning onslaught of every type of male successfully, had received a fundamental shock. Both her modesty and dignity had been assailed, and in public. Others, women among them, had witnessed her apparent yielding to LeVallon’s violence and seen her carried in his arms; they had noted her obvious willingness, had heard her sympathetic cry. She knew quite well what the women thought Lady Gleeson had written a little note of sympathy the men as well, and yet she came at Fillery’s call to visit, perhaps to help, the offender who had caused it all.

As she opened the door every nerve she possessed was tingling. The mother in her yearned, but the woman in her sent the blood rushing from her heart in pride, in resentment, in something of anger as well. How had he dared to seize her in that awful way? The outrage and the love both tore at her. Yet Nayan was not the kind to shirk self — revelation when it came. She brought some hidden secret with her, although as yet herself uncertain what that secret was.

Fillery met her on the threshold with his sweet tact and sympathy as usual. He had an authoritative and paternal air that helped and comforted her, and, as she took his hand at once, the look she gave him was more kind and tender than she knew. The last trace of self, at any rate, went out of her as she felt his touch.

“Here I am,” she said; “you sent for me. I promised you.”

He replied in a low tone: “There’s no need to refer to anything, of course. Assume I suggest that he has forgotten all that happened, and you have forgotten too.”

He was aware of nothing but her eyes. The softness, the delicate perfume, the perfect voice, even the fur and flowers all were summed up in her eyes alone. In those eyes he could have lost himself perhaps for ever.

He led her into the room, a certain abruptness in his manner.

“I shall leave you alone,” he whispered, using his professional voice. “It is best that he should see you quite alone. I shall not be far away, but you will find him perfectly quiet. He understands that you are” his tone changed upon the adjective “sacred.”

“Sacred,” she murmured to herself, repeating the word, “sacred.”

They smiled. And the door closed behind her. Across the room rose the tall figure of the man she had come to see, dressed in dark blue, a low white shirt open at the neck, a blue tie that matched the strong, clear eyes, the wondrous hair crowning the whole like a flame. The slant of wintry sunlight by chance just caught the great figure as it rose, lightly, easily, as though it floated up out of the floor before her.

And, as by magic, the last uncertainty in her disappeared; she knew herself akin to this radiant shape of blue and gold; knew also mysteriously in a way entirely beyond her to explain knew why Edward Fillery was dear to her. Was it that something in the three of them pertained to a common origin? The conviction, half thought, half feeling, rose in her as she looked into the blue eyes facing her and took the outstretched hand.

“You strange lost being! No one will understand you here. . . . ”

The words flashed through her mind of their own accord, instantly, spontaneously, yet were almost forgotten the same second in the surge of more commonplace feeling that rose after. Only the “here” proved their origin not entirely forgotten. It was the selfless, mothering instinct that now dominated, but the division in her being had, none the less, been indicated as by a white piercing light that searched her inmost nature. That added “here” laid bare, she felt, some part of her which, with all other men, was clothed and covered away.

Realized though dimly, this troubled her clear mind, as she took the chair he offered, the conviction that she must tend and care for, even love this strange youth, as though he were in exile and none but herself could understand him. She heard the deep resonant voice in the air in front of her:

“I am not lost now,” he said, with his radiant smile, and as if he perceived her thought from the expression in her face. “I wished to take you away to take you back. I wish it still.”

He stood gazing down at her. The deep tones, the shining eyes, the towering stature with its quiet strength these, added to the directness of the language, confused her for a moment. The words were so entirely unexpected. Fillery had led her to suppose otherwise. Yet before the blazing innocence in his face and manner, her composure at once returned. She found no words at first. She smiled up into his eyes, then pointed to a chair. Seated he would be more manageable, she felt. His upright stature was so over-powering.

“You had forgotten “ he went on, obeying her wish and sitting down, “but I could not know that you had forgotten. I apologize” the word sounded oddly on his lips, as though learned recently “for making you suffer.”

“Forgotten!”

A swift intuition, due to some as yet undecipherable kinship, told her that the word bore no reference to the Studio scene. Some larger meaning, scaled to an immenser map, came with it. An unrealized emotion stirred faintly in her as she heard. Her first sight of him as a figure of light returned.

“But that is all forgiven now,” she replied calmly in her firm, gentle voice. “We need not speak of it. You understand now” she ended lamely “that it is not possible —”

He listened intently, gravely, as though with a certain effort, his head bent forward to catch every syllable. And as he bent, peering, listening, he might have been some other-worldly being staring down through a window in the sky into the small confusions of earth’s affairs.

“Yes,” he said, the moment she stopped speaking, “I understand now. I shall never make you suffer again. Only I could not know that you had forgotten so completely.”

“Forgotten?” she again repeated in spite of herself, for the way he uttered the word again stirred that nameless, deep emotion in her. Their attitudes respectively were changing. She no longer felt that she could “mother” this great figure before her.

“Where we belong,” he answered in his great quiet voice. “There,” he added, in a way that made it the counterpart of her own spontaneous and intuitive “here.” “It is so easy. I had forgotten too. But Fillery, dear Fillery, helps me to remember, and the stars and flowers and wind, these help me too. And then you when I saw you I suddenly remembered more. I was so happy. I remembered what I had left to come among men and women. I knew that Fillery and you belonged ‘there’ with me. You, both, had come down for a little time, come down ‘here,’ but had remained too long. You had become almost as men and women are. I remembered everything when I saw your eyes. I was so happy in a moment, as I looked at you, that I felt I must go back, go home. The central fire called me, called us all three. I wanted to escape and take you with me. I knew by your eyes that you were ready. You called to Fillery. We were off.”

He paused a moment, while she listened in breathless silence.

“Then, suddenly, you refused. You resisted. Something prevented. The Messengers were there when suddenly” an expression of yearning pain clouded his great eyes a moment “you forgot again. I forgot too, forgot everything. The darkness came. It was cold. My enemy, the water, caught me.”

He stopped, and passed his hands across his forehead, sighing, his eyes fixed upon vacancy as with an intense effort to recover something. “And I still forget,” he went on, the yearning now transferred from the eyes to the lowered voice. “I can remember nothing again. All, all is gone from me.” The light in his face actually grew dimmer as he slowly uttered the words. He leaned back in his big armchair. Again, it occurred to her, it was as if he drew back from that window in the sky.

A curious hollow, empty of life, seemed to drop into the room between them as his voice ceased.

While he had been speaking, the girl watched and listened with intense interest and curiosity. She remembered he was a “patient,” yet no touch of uneasiness or nervousness was in her. His strange words, meaningless as they might seem, woke deep echoes of some dim buried recognition in her. It amazed and troubled her. This young man, this sinner against the conventions whom she had come to comfort and forgive, held the reins already. What had happened, what was happening, and how did he contrive it? She was aware of a clear, divining knowledge in him, a power, a directness she could not fathom. He seemed to read her inside out. It was more than uncanny; it was spiritual. It mastered her.

During his speech he remained very still, without gesture, without change of expression in his face; he made no movement; only his voice deepened and grew rhythmical. And a power emanated from him she hardly dared resist, much less deny. His voice, his words, reached depths in her she scarcely knew herself. He was so strong, so humble, so simple, yet so strangely peaceful. And suddenly she realized it so far beyond her, yet akin. She became aware that the figure seated in the chair, watching her, talking, was but a fraction of his whole self. He was the word occurred to her immense. Was she, too, immense?

More than troubled, she was profoundly stimulated. The mothering instinct in her for the first time seemed to fail a little. The woman in her trembled, not quite sure of itself. But, besides these t\vo, there was another part of her that listened and felt joy a white, radiant joy which, if she allowed, must become ecstasy. Whence came this hint of unearthly rapture? Again there rose before her the two significant words: “There” and “Here.”

“I do not quite understand,” she replied, after a moment’s pause, looking into his eyes steadily, her voice firm, her young face very sweet; “I do not fully understand, perhaps. But I sympathize.” Then she added suddenly, with a little smile: “But, at any rate, I did not come to make you apologize Julian. Please be sure of that. I came to see if I might be of any use if there was anything I might do to make —”

His quick interruption transfixed her.

“You came,” he said in a distinct, low tone, “because you love me and wish me to love you. But we do love already, you, dear Fillery, and I only our love is in that great Service where we all three belong. It is not of this it is not here “ making an impatient gesture with his hand to indicate his general surroundings.

He broke off instantly, noticing the expression in her face.

She had realized suddenly, as he spoke, the blind fury of reproduction that sweeps helpless men and women everywhere into union, then flings them aside exhausted, useless, its purpose accomplished. Though herself never yet caught by it, the vivid realization made her turn from life with pity and revulsion. Yet were these thoughts her own? Whence did they come, if not? And what was this new blind thing straining in her mind for utterance, bursting upwards like a flame, threatening to split it asunder even in its efforts to escape? “What are these words we use?” darted across her. “What do they mean? What is it we’re talking about really? I don’t know quite. Yet it’s real, yes, real and true. Only it’s beyond our words. It’s something I know, but have forgotten. . . . ” That was his word again: “Forgotten”! While they used words together, something in her went stumbling, groping, thrusting towards a great shining revelation for which no words existed. And a strange, deep anguish seized her suddenly.

“Oh!” he cried, “I make you suffer again. The fire leaves you. You are white. I I will apologize” he slipped on to his knees before her “but you do not understand. It was not your sacredness I spoke of.” Already on his knees before her, but level with her face owing to his great stature, gazing into her eyes with an expression of deep tenderness, humility, almost suffering, he added: “It was our other love, I meant, our great happy service, the thing we have forgotten. You came, I thought, to help me to remember that. The way home I saw you knew.” The light streamed back into his face and eyes.

The tumult and confusion in the girl were natural enough. Her resourcefulness, however, did not fail her at this curious and awkward moment. His words, his conduct were more than she could fathom, yet behind both she divined a source of remote inspiration she had never known before in any “man.” The beauty and innocence on the face arrested her faculties for a second. That nameless emotion stirred again. A glimmer of some faint, distant light, whose origin she could not guess, passed flickering across her inner tumult. Some faculty she could not name, at any rate, blew suddenly to white heat in her. This youth on his knees before her had spoken truth. Without knowing it even herself, she had given him her love, a virgin love, a woman’s love hitherto unawakened in her by any other man, but a love not of this earth quite because of him who summoned it into sudden flower.

Yet at the same time Ke denied the need of it! He spoke of some marvellous great shining Service that was different from the love of man and woman.

This too, as some forgotten, lost ideal, she knew was also true.

Her mind, her heart, her experience, her deepest womanly nature, these, she realized in a glowing instant of extraordinary divination, we r e at variance in her. She trembled; she knew not what to do or say or think. And again, it came to her, that the visible shape before her was but the insignificant fraction of a being whose true life spread actively and unconfined through infinite space.

She then did something that was prompted, though she did not know it thus, by her singleness of heart, her purity of soul and body, her unique and natural instinct to be of use, of service, to others the accumulated practice and effort of her entire life provided the action along a natural line of least resistance: she bent down and put her arm and hand round his great shoulder. She lowered her face. She kissed him most tenderly, with a mother’s love, a woman’s secret passion perhaps, but yet with something else as well she could not name an unearthly yearning for a greater Ideal than anything she had yet known on earth among humanity. . . . It was the invisible she kissed.

And LeVallon, she realized with immense relief, justified her action, for he did not return the kiss. At the same time she had known quite well it would be thus. That kiss trembled, echoed, in her own greater unrealized self as well.

“What is it,” she whispered, a mysterious passion surging up in her as she raised him to his feet, “that you remember and wish to recover for us all? Can you tell me? What is this great, happy, deathless service that we have forgotten?” Her voice trembled a little. An immense sense of joy, of liberty, shook out its sunlit wings.

His expression, as he rose, was something between that of a child and a faithful yearning animal, but of a “divine animal,” though she did not know the phrase. Its purity, its sweetness, its power it was the power she noticed chiefly were superb.

“I cannot tell, I cannot remember,” his voice said softly, for all its resonant, virile depth. “It is some state we all have come from into this. We are strangers here. This brain and intellect, this coarse, thick feeling, this selfishness, this want of harmony and working together all this is new and strange to us. It is of blind and clumsy children. This love of one single person for one other single person it is so pitiful. We three have come into this for a time, a little time. It is pain and misery. It is prison. Each one works only for himself. There is no joy. They know nothing of our great Service. We cannot show them. Let us go back —”

Another pause fell between them, another of those singular hollows she had felt before. But this time the hollow was not empty. It was brimmed with surging life. The gulf between her earthly state and another that was nameless, a gulf usually unbridgeable, the fixed gulf, as an old book has it, which may not be crossed without danger to the Race, for whose protection it exists this childhood simile occurred to her. And a sense of awe stirred in her being. It was the realization that this gulf or hollow now brimmed with life, that it could be crossed, that she might step over into another place the sense of awe rose thence, yet came certainly neither from the woman nor the mother in her.

“I am of another place,” Le Vallon went on, plucking the thought naked from her inmost being. “For I am come here recently, and the purpose of my coming is hidden from me, and memory is dark. But it is not entirely dark. Sometimes I half remember. Stars, flowers, fire, wind, women here and there bring light into the darkness. Oh,” he cried suddenly, “how wonderful they are how wonderful you are on that account to me!”

The voice held a strange, evoking power perhaps. A thousand yearnings she had all her life suppressed (because they interfered with her duty as she conceived it here and now, fluttered like rising flames within her as she listened. His voice now increased in volume and rhythm, though still quiet and low-pitched; it was as if a great wind poured behind it with tremendous vibrations, through it, lifting her out of a limited, cramped, everyday self. A delicious warmth of happy comfort, of acceptance, of enthusiasm glowed in her. And LeVallon’s face, she saw, had become radiant, almost as though it emanated light. This light entered her being and brought joy again.

“Joy!” he said, reading her thought and feeling. “Joy 1”

“Joy! Another place!” she heard herself repeating, her eyes now fixed upon his own.

She felt lighter, caught up and away a little, lifted above the solid earth; as if it was heat that lightened, and wind that bore her upwards. Everything in her became intensified.

“Another state, another place” her voice seemed to borrow something of the rhythm in his own, though she did not notice it “but not away from earth, this beautiful earth?” With a happy smile she added, “I love the dear kind earth, I love it.”

The light on his face increased:

“The earth we love and serve,” he said, “is beautiful, but here” he looked about him round the room, at the trees waving through the window, at the misty sky above draping the pale light of the sun “here I am on the surface only. There is confusion and struggle. Everything quarrels against everything else. It is discord and disorder. There is no harmony. Here, on the surface, everything is separate. There is no working together. It is all pain, each little part fighting for itself. Here I am outside there is no joy.”

It was the phrase “I am outside” that flashed something more of his meaning into her. His full meaning lay beyond actual words perhaps; but this phrase fell like a shock into that inmost self which she had deliberately put away.

“You are from inside, yes,” she exclaimed, marvelling afterwards that she had said it; “within nearer to the centre !”

And he took the abrupt interruption as though they both understood and spoke of the same one thing together, having found a language born of similar great yearnings and of forgotten knowledge, times, states, conditions, places.

“I come,” he said, his voice, his bright smile alive with the pressure of untold desire, “from another place that is yes inside, nearer to the centre. I have forgotten almost everything. I remember only that there was harmony, love, work and happiness all combined in the perfect liberty of our great service. We served the earth. We helped the life upon it. There was no end, no broken fragments, no’ failure.” The voice touched chanting. “There was no death.”

He rose suddenly and came over to her side, and instinctively the girl stood up. What she felt and thought as she heard the strange language he used, she hardly knew herself. She only knew in that moment an immense desire to help her kind, an intensification of that great ideal of impersonal service which had always been the keynote of her life. This became vividly stimulated in her. It rose like a dominating, overmastering passion. The sense of ineffectual impotence, of inability to accomplish anything of value against the stolid odds life set against her, the uselessness of her efforts with the majority, in a word, seemed brushed away, as though greater powers of limitless extent were now at last within her reach. This blazed in her like fire. It shone in her big dark eyes that looked straight into his as they stood facing one another.

“And that service,” he went on in his deep vibrating, half-singing tone, “I see in dear Fillery and in you. I know my own kind. We three, at least, belong. I know my own.” The voice seemed to shake her like a wind.

At the last two words her soul leaped within her. It seemed quite natural that his great arm should take her breast and shoulder and that his lips should touch her cheek and hair. For there was worship in both gestures.

“Our greater service,” she whispered, trembling, “tell me of that. What is it?” His touch against her was like the breath of fire.

Her womanly instincts, so-called, her maternal love, her feminine impulses deserted her. She was aware solely at that moment of the proximity of a being who called her to a higher, to, at any rate, a different state, to something beyond the impoverished conditions of humanity as she had hitherto experienced it, to something she had ever yearned and longed for without knowing what it was. An extraordinary sense of enormous liberty swept over her again.

His voice broke and the rhythm failed.

“I cannot tell you,” he replied mournfully, the light fading a little from his eyes and face. “I have forgotten. That other place is hidden from me. I am in exile,” he added slowly, “but with you and Fillery.” His blue eyes filled with moisture; the expression of troubled loneliness was one she had never seen before on any human face. “I suffer,” he added gently. “We all suffer.”

And, at the sight of it, the yearning to help, to comfort, to fulfil her role as mother, returned confusingly, and rose in her like a tide. He was so big and strong and splendid. He was so helpless. It was, perhaps, the innocence in the great blue eyes that conquered her for the first time in her life.

But behind, beside the mother in her, stirred also the natural woman. And beyond this again, rose the accumulated power of the entire Race. The instinct of all the women of the planet since the world began drove at her. Not easily may an individual escape the deep slavery of the herd.

The young girl wavered and hestitated. Caught by so many emotions that whirled her as in a vortex, the direction of the resultant impetus hung doubtful for some time. During the half hour’s talk, she had entered deeper water than she had ever dared or known before. Life hitherto, so far as men were concerned, had been a simple and an easy thing that she had mastered without difficulty. Her real self lay still unscarred within her. Freely she had given the mothering care and sympathy that were so strong in her, the more freely because the men who asked of her were children, one and all, children who needed her, but from whom she asked nothing in return. If they fell in love, as they usually did, she knew exactly how to lift their emotion in a way that saved them pain while it left herself untouched. None reached her real being, which thus remained unscathed, for none offered the lifting glory that she craved.

Here, for the first time facing her, stood a being of another type; and that unscathed self in her went trembling at the knowledge. Here was a power she could not play with, could not dominate, but a power that could play with her as easily as the hurricane with the flying leaf. It was not his words, his strange beauty, his great strength that mastered her, though these brought their contribution doubtless. The power she felt emanated unconsciously from him, and was used unconsciously. It was all about him. She realized herself a child before him, and this realization sweetened, though it confused her being. He so easily touched depths in her she had hardly recognized herself. He could so easily lift her to terrific heights. . . . Various sides of her became dominant in turn. . . .

The inmost tumult of a good woman’s heart is not given to men to read, perhaps, but the final impetus resulting from the whirlpool tossed her at length in a very definite direction. She found her feet again. The determining factor that decided the issue of the struggle was a small and very human one. He appealed to the woman in her, yet what stirred the woman was the vital and afflicting factor that he did not need her.

He wished to help, to lift her towards some impersonal ideal that remained his secret. He wished to give he could give while she, for her part, had nothing that he needed. Indeed, he asked for nothing. He was as independent of her as she was independent of these other men.

And the woman, now faced for the first time with this entirely new situation, decided automatically that he should learn to need her. He must. Though she had nothing that he wanted from her, she must on that very account give all. The sacrifice which stands ready for the fire in every true feminine heart was lighted there and then. She had found her master and her god. Half measures were not possible to her. She stood naked at the altar. But in her sacrifice he, too, the priest, the deity, the master, he also should find love.

Such is the woman’s power, however, to conceal from herself the truth, that she did not recognize at first what this decision was. She disguised it from her own heart, yet quite honestly. She loved him and gave him all she had to give for ever and ever: even though he did not ask nor need her love. This she grasped. Her role must be one of selfless sacrifice. But the deliberate purpose behind her real decision she disguised from herself with complete success. It lay there none the less, strong, vital, very simple. She would teach him love.

Alone of all men, Edward Fillery could have drawn up this motive from its inmost hiding place in her deep subconscious being, and have made it clear to her. Dr. Fillery, had he been present, would have discerned it in her, as, indeed, he did discern it later. He had, for that matter, already felt its prophecy with a sinking heart when he planned bringing them together: Iraida might suffer at LeVallon’s hands.

But Fillery, apparently, was not present, and Nayan Khilkoff remained unaware of self-deception. LeVallon “needs your care and sympathy; you can help him,” she remembered. This she believed, and Love did the rest.

So intricate, so complex were the emotions in her that she realized one thing only she must give all without thought of self. “When half gods go the gods arrive” sang in her heart. She was a woman, one of a mighty and innumerable multitude, and collective instinct urged her irresistibly. But it hid at the same time with lovely care the imperishable desire and intention that the arriving god should must love her in return.

The youth stood facing her while this tumult surged within her heart and mind. Outwardly calm, she still gazed into the clear blue eyes that shone with moisture as he repeated, half to himself and half to her:

“We are in exile here; we suffer. We have forgotten.”

His hands were stretched towards her, and she took them in her own and held them a moment.

“But you and I,” he went on, “you and I and Fillery shall remember again soon. We shall know why we are here. We shall do our happy work together here. We shall then return escape.”

His deep tones filled the air. At the sound of the other name a breath of sadness, of disappointment, touched her coldly. The familiar name had faded. It was, as always, dear. But its potency had dimmed. . . .

The sun was down and a soft dusk covered all. A faint wind rustled in the garden trees through the open window.

“Fillery,” she murmured, “Edward Fillery! He loved me. He has loved me always.”

The little words they sounded little for the first time she uttered almost in a whisper that went lost against the figure of LeVallon towering above her through the twilight.

“We are together,” his great voice caught her whisper in the immense vibration, drowning it. “The love of our happy impersonal service brings us all together. We have forgotten, but we shall remember soon.”

It seemed to her that he shone now in the dusky air. Light came about his face and shoulders. An immense vitality poured into her through his hands. The sense of strange kinship was overpowering. She felt, though not in terms of size or physical strength, a pigmy before him, while yet another thing rose in gigantic and limitless glory as from some inner heart he quickened in her. This sense of exaltation, of delirious joy that tempted sweetly, came upon her. He must love her, need her in the end. . . .

“Julian,” she murmured softly, drawn irresistibly closer. “The gods have brought you to me.” Her feet went nearer of their own accord, but there was no movement, no answering pressure, in the hands she held. “You shall never know loneliness again, never while I am here. The gods your gods have brought us together.”

“Our gods,” she heard his answer, “are the same.” The words trembled against her actual breast, so close she was now leaning against him. “Even if lost, it is they who sent us here. I know their messengers —”

He broke off, standing back from her, dropping her hands, or, rather, drawing his own away.

“Hark!” he cried. The voice deep and full, yet without loudness, thrilled her. She watched him with terror and amazement, as he turned to the open window, throwing his arms out suddenly to the darkening sky against which the trees loomed still and shapeless. His figure was wrapped in a faint radiance as of silvery moonlight. She was aware of heat about her, a comforting, inspiring warmth that pervaded her whole being, as from within. The same moment the bulk of the big tree shook and trembled, and a steady wind came pouring into the room. It seemed to her the wind, the heat, poured through that tree.

And the inner heart in her grew clear an instant. This wind, this heat, increased her being marvellously. The exaltation in her swept out and free. She saw him, dropped from alien skies upon the little teeming earth. The sense of his remoteness from the life about them, of her own remoteness too, flashed over her like wind and fire. An immense ideal blazed, then vanished. It flamed beyond her grasp. It beckoned with imperishable loveliness, then faded instantly. Wind caught it up once more. With the fire an overpowering joy rose in her.

“Julian!” she cried aloud. “Son of Wind and Fire!”

At the words, which had come to her instinctively, he turned with a sudden gesture she could not quite interpret, while there broke upon his face a smile, strange and lovely, that caught up the effect of light about him and seemed to focus in his brilliant eyes. His happiness was beyond all question, his admiration, wonder too; yet the quality she chiefly looked and expected was not there.

She chilled. The joy, she was acutely conscious, was not a personal joy.

“You,” he said gently, happily, emphasizing the word, “you are not pitiful,” and the rustle of the shaking trees outside the window merged their voice in his and carried it outward into space. It was as if the wind itself had spoken. Across the garden dusk there shot a sudden effect of light, as though a flame had flickered somewhere in the sky, then passed back into the growing night There was a scent of flowers in the air. “You,” he cried, with an exultation that carried her again beyond herself. “You are not pitiful.”

“Julian!” she stammered, longing for his arms. She half drew away. The blood flowed down and back in her. “Not pitiful!” she repeated faintly.

For it was to her suddenly as if that sighing wind that entered the room from the outer sky had borne him away from her. That wind was a messenger. It came from that distant state, that other region where he belonged, a state, a region compared to which the beings of earth were trumpery and tinsel-dressed. It came to remind him of his home and origin. The little earth, the myriad confused figures struggling together on its surface, he saw as “pitiful.” From that window in the sky whence he looked down he watched them. . . .!

She knew the feeling in him, knew it, because some part of her, though faint and deeply hidden, was akin. Yet she was not wholly “pitiful.” He had discerned in her this faint, hidden strain of vaster life, had stirred and strengthened it by his words, his presence. Yet it was not vital enough in her to stand alone. When wind and fire, his elements, breathed forth from it, she was afraid.

“You are not pitiful,” he had said, yet pitiful, for all that, she knew herself to be. On that breath of sighing wind he swept away from her, far, far away where, as yet, she could not follow. And her dream of personal love swept with it. Some ineffable hint of a divine, impersonal glory she had known went with him from her heart. The personal was too strong in her. It was human love she desired both to give and ask.

Unspoken words flared through her heart and being: “Julian, you have no soul, no human soul. But I will give you one, for I will teach you love —”

He turned upon her like a hurricane of windy fire.

“Soul!” he cried, catching the word out of her naked heart. “Oh, be not caught with that pitiful delusion. It is this idea of soul that binds you hopelessly to selfish ends and broken purposes. This thing you call soul is but the dream of human vanity and egoism. It is worse than love. Both bind you endlessly to limited desires and blind ambitions. They are of children.”

He rose, like some pillar of whirling flame and wind, beside her.

“Come out with me,” he cried, “come back! You teach me to remember! Our elemental home calls sweetly to us, our elemental service waits. We belong to those vast Powers. They are eternal. They know no binding and they have no death. Their only law is service, that mighty service which builds up the universe. The stars are with us, the nebulae and the central fires are their throne and altar. The soul you dream of in your little circle is but an idle dream of the Race that ties your feet lest you should fly and soar. The personal has bandaged all your eyes. Nayan, come back with me. You once worked with me there you, I and Fillery together.”

His voice, though low, had that which was terrific in it. The volume of its sound appalled her. Its low vibrations shook her heart.

“Soul,” she said very softly, courage sure in her, but tears close in her burning eyes, “is my only hope. I live for it. I am ready to die for it. It is my life!”

He gazed at her a moment with a tenderness and sympathy she hardly understood, for their origin lay hidden beyond her comprehension. She knew one thing only that he looked adorable and glorious, a being brought by the wise powers of life, whatever these might be, into the keeping of her love and care. The mother and the woman merged in her. His redemption lay within her gentle hands, if it lay at the same time upon an altar that was her awful sacrifice.

“Son of wind and fire!” she cried, though emotion made her voice dwindle to a breathless whisper. “You called to my love, yet my love is personal. I have nothing else to give you. Julian, come back! O stay with me. Your wind and fire frighten, for they take you away. Service I know, but your service O what is it? For it leaves the bed, the hearthstone cold —”

She stopped abruptly, wondering suddenly at her own words. What was this rhythm that had caught her mind and heart into an unknown, a daring form of speech?

But the wind ran again through the open window fluttering the curtains and the skirts about her feet. It sighed and whispered. It was no earthly wind. She saw him once again go from her on its quiet wings. He left her side, he left her heart. And an icy realization of his loneliness, his exile, stirred in her. . . . For a moment, as she looked up into his shining face silhouetted in the dusk against the window, there rose tumultuously in her that maternal feeling which had held all men safely at a distance hitherto. Like a wave, it mastered her. She longed to take him in her arms, to shield him from a world that was not his, to bless and comfort him with all she had to give, to have the right to brush that wondrous hair, to open those lids at dawn and close them with a kiss at night. This ancient passion rose in her, bringing, though she did not recognize it, the great woman in its train. She walked up to him with both hands outstretched:

“All my nights,” she said, with no reddening of the cheek, “are as our wedding night!”

He heard, he saw, but the words held no meaning for him.

“Julian! Stay with me stay here!” She put her arms about him.

“And forget!” he cried, an inexpressible longing in his voice. He bent, none the less, beneath the pressure of her clinging arms; he lowered his face to hers.

“I will teach you love,” she murmured, her cheek against his own. “You do not know how sweet, how wonderful it is. All your strange wisdom you shall show me, and I will learn willingly, if only I may teach you love.”

“You would teach me to forget,” he said in a voice of curious pain, “just as you are forgetting now.”

He gently unclasped her hands from about his neck, and went over to the open window, while she sank into a chair, watching him. She again heard the wind, but again no common, earthly wind, go singing past the walls.

“But I will teach you to remember,” he said, his great figure half turning towards her again, his voice sounding as though it were in that sighing breath of wind that passed and died away into the silence of the sky.

The strange difficulty, the immensity, of her self-appointed task, grew suddenly crystal clear in her mind. Amid the whirling, aching pain and yearning that she felt it stood forth sharp and definite. It was imperious. She loved, and she must teach him love. This was the one thing needful in his case. Her own deep, selfless heart would guide her.

There was pain in her, but there was no fear. Above the conventions she felt herself, naked and unashamed. The sense of a new immense liberty he had brought lifted her into a region where she could be natural without offence. He had flung wide the gates of life, setting free those strange, ultimate powers which had lain hidden and unrealized hitherto, and with them was quickened, too, that mysterious and awful hint which, beckoning ever towards some vaster life, had made the world as she found it unsatisfactory, pale, of meagre value.

As the strange drift of wind passed off into the sky, she moved across the room and stood beside him, its dying chant still humming in her ears. That song of the wind, she understood, was symbolic of what she had to fight, for his being, though linked to a divine service she could not understand, lay in Nature and apart from human things:

“Think, Julian,” she murmured, her face against his shoulder so that the sweet perfume as of flowers he exhaled came over her intoxicatingly, “think what we could do together for the world for all these little striving ignorant troubled people in it for everybody! You and I together working, helping, lifting them all up!”

He made no movement, and she took his great arm and drew it round her neck, placing the hand against her cheek. He looked down at her then, his eyes peering into her face.

“That,” he said in a deep, gentle voice that vibrated through her whole body, “yes, that we will do. It is the service the service of our gods. It is why I called you. From the first I saw it in you, and in —”

Before he could speak the name she kissed his lips, pulling his head lower in order to reach them: “Think, Julian,” she whispered, his eyes so close to hers that they seemed to burn them, “think what our child might be!”

The wind came back across the tossing trees with a rush of singing. Her hair fluttered across their two faces, as it entered the room, drove round the inner walls, then, with a cry, flew out again into the empty sky. She felt as if the wind had answered her, for other answer there came none. Far away in the spaces of that darkening sky the wind rushed sailing, sailing with its impersonal song of power and of triumph. . . . She did not remember any further spoken words. She remembered only, as she went homewards down the street, that Julian had opened th door upon some unspoken understanding that she had lost him because she dared not follow recklessly where he led, and that the steady draught, it seemed, had driven forcibly behind her as though the wind had blown her out.

It was only much later she realized that the figure who had then overtaken her, supported, comforted with kind ordinary words she hardly understood at the moment and yet vaguely welcomed, finally leaving her at the door of her father’s house in Chelsea, was the figure of Edward Fillery.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/b/blackwood/algernon/bright-messenger/chapter23.html

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