The Bright Messenger, by Algernon Blackwood

Chapter 24

AS upon a former occasion some twenty-four hours before, “N.H.” seemed hardly aware that his visitor had left, though this time there was the vital difference that what was of value had not gone at all. The essence of the girl, it seemed, was still with him. It remained. The physical presence was to him apparently the least of all.

He returned to his place at the open window of the darkening room, while night, with her cooler airs, passed over tne world on tiptoe. He drew deep breaths, opened his arms, and seemed to shake himself, as though glad to be free of recent little awkward and unnatural gestures that had irked him. There was happiness in his face. “She is a builder, though she has forgotten,” ran his thought with pleasure, “and I can work with her. Like Fillery, she builds up, constructs; we are all three in the same service, and the gods are glad. I love her . . . yes . . . but she” his thoughts grew troubled and confused “she speaks of another love that is a tight and binding little thing . . . that catches and confines. It is for one person only . . . one person for one other. . . . For two . . . only for two persons! . . . What is its meaning then?”

Of her words and acts he had understood evidently a small part only; much that she had said and done he had not comprehended, although in it somewhere there had certainly lain a sweet, faint, troubling pleasure that was new to him.

His thought wavered, nickered out and vanished. For a long time he leaned against the window with his images, thinking with his heart, for when alone and not stirred by the thinking of others close to him, he became of a curious childlike innocence, knowing nothing. His “thinking” with others present seemed but a reflection of their thinking. The way he caught up the racial thinking, appearing swiftly intelligent at the time (as with Fillery’s mind), passed the instant he was alone. He became open, then, to bigger rhythms that the little busy thinkers checked and interrupted. But this greater flow of images, of rhythms, this thinking with the heart what was it, and with what things did it deal? He did not know. He had forgotten. To his present brain it was alien. He grasped only that it was concerned with the rhythms of fire and wind apparently, though hardly, perhaps, of that crude form in which men know them, but of an inner, subtler, more vital heat and air which lie in and behind all forms and help to shape them and of Intelligences which use these as their vehicles, their instruments, their bodies.

In his “images” he was aware of these Intelligences, perceived them with his entire being, shared their activities and nature: behind all so-called forms and shapes, whether of people, flowers, minerals, of insects or of stars, of a bird, a butterfly or a nebula, but also of those mental shapes which are born of thought and mood and heart this host of Intelligences, great and small, all delving together, building, constructing, involved in a vast impersonal service which was deathless. This seemed the mighty call that thundered through him, fire and wind merely the agencies with which he, in particular, knew instinctively his duties lay.

For his work, these images taught him, was to increase life by making the “body” it used as perfect as he could. The more perfect the form, the instrument, the greater the power manifesting through it. A poor, imperfect form stopped the flow of this manifesting life, as though a current were held up and delayed. For instance, his own form, his present body, now irked, delayed and hampered him, although he knew not how or why or whence he had come to be using it at this moment on the earth. The instinctive desire to escape from it lay in him, and also the instinctive recognition that two others, similarly caught and imprisoned, must escape with him. . . .

The images, the rhythms, poured through him in a mighty flood, as he leaned by the open window, his great figure, his whole nature too, merging in the space, the wind, the darkness of the soft-moving night beyond. . . . Yet darkness troubled him too; it always seemed unfamiliar, new, something he had never been accustomed to. In darkness he became quiet, very gentle, feeling his way, as it were, uneasily.

He was aware, however, that Fillery was near, though not, perhaps, that he was actually in the room, seated somewhere among the shadows, watching him. He felt him close in the same way he felt the girl still close, whether distance between them in space was actually great or small. The essential in all three was similar, their yearnings, hopes, intentions, purposes were akin; their longing for some service, immense, satisfying, it seemed, connected them. The voice, however, did not startle when it sounded behind him from an apparently empty room:

“The love she spoke of you do not understand, of course. Perhaps you do not need it. . . . ”

The voice, as well as the feeling that lay behind, hardly disturbed the images and rhythms in their wondrous flow. Rather, they seemed a part of them. “N.H.” turned. He saw Dr. Fillery distinctly, sitting motionless among the shadows by the wall.

“It is, for you, a new relationship, and seems small, cramping and unnecessary —”

“What is it?” “N.H.” asked. “What is this love she seeks to hold me with, saying that I need it? Dear Fillery,” he added, moving nearer, “will you tell me what it is? I found it sweet and pleasant, yet I fear it.”

“It is,” was the reply, “in its best form, the highest quality we know —”

“Ah! I felt the fire in it,” interrupted “N.H.” smiling.

“I smelt the flowers.” His smile seemed faintly luminous across the gloom.

“Because it was the best,” replied the other gently. “In its best form it means, sometimes, the complete sacrifice of one being for the welfare of another. There is no self in it at all.” He felt the eyes of his companion fixed upon him in the darkness of the quiet room; he felt likewise that he was bewildered and perplexed. “As, for instance, the mother for her child,” he went on. “That is the purest form of it we know.”

“One being feels it for one other only,” “N.H.” repeated apparently ignoring the reference to maternal love. “Each wants the other for himself alone! Each lives for the other only, the rest excluded! It is always two and two. Is that what she means?”

“She would not like it if you had the same feeling for another woman,” Fillery explained. “She would feel jealousy which means she would grudge sharing you with another. She would resent it, afraid of losing you.”

“Two and two, and two and two,” the words floated through the shadows. The ideal seemed to shock and hurt him; he could not understand it. “She asks for the whole of me all to herself. It is lower than insects, flowers even. It is against Nature. So small, so separate —”

“But Nature,” interrupted Dr. Fillery, after an interval of silence between them, “is not concerned with what we call love. She is indifferent to it. Her purpose is merely the continuance of the Race, and she accomplishes this by making men and women attractive to one another. This, too,” he explained, “we call love, though it is love in its weakest, least enduring form.”

“That,” replied “N.H.,” “I know and understand. She builds the best form she can.”

“And once the form is built,” agreed the other, “and Nature’s aim fulfilled, this kind of love usually fades out and dies. It is a physical thing entirely, like the two atoms we read about together a few days ago which rush together automatically to produce a third thing.” He lowered his voice suddenly. “There was a great teacher once,” he went on, “who told us that we should love everybody, everybody, and that in the real life there was no marriage, as we call it, nor giving in marriage.”

It seemed that, as he said the words, the darkness lifted, and a faint perfume of flowers floated through the air.

“N.H.” made no comment or reply. He sat still, listening.

“I love her,” he whispered suddenly. “I love her in that way because I want everybody else to love her too as I do, and as you do. But I do not want her for myself alone. Do you? You do not, of course. I feel you are as I am. You are happy that I love her.”

“There is morality,” said Fillery presently in a low voice, glad at that moment of the darkness. “There is what we call morality.”

“Tell me, dear Fillery, what that is. Is it bigger than your ‘love’?”

Dr. Fillery explained briefly, while his companion listened intently, making no comment. It was evidently as strange and new to him as human love. “We have invented it,” he added at the end, “to protect ourselves, our mothers, our families, our children. It is, you see, a set of rules devised for the welfare of the Race. For though a few among us do not need such rules, the majority do. It is, in a word, the acknowledgment of the rights of others.”

“It had to be invented!” exclaimed “N.H.,” with a sigh that seemed to trouble the darkness as with the sadness of something he could scarcely believe. “And these rules are needed still! Is the Race at that stage only? It does not move, then?”

Into the atmosphere, as the low-spoken words were audible, stole again that mysterious sense of the insignificance of earth and all its manifold activities, human and otherwise, and with it, too, a remarkable breath of some larger reality, starry-bright, that lay shining just beyond all known horizons. Fillery shivered in spite of himself. It seemed to him for an instant that the great figure looming opposite through the darkness extended, spread, gathering into its increased proportions the sky, the trees, the darkened space outside; that it no longer sat there quite alone. He recalled his colleague’s startling admission the touch of panic terror.

“Slowly, if at all,” he said louder, though wondering why he raised his voice. “Yet there is some progress.”

He had the feeling it would be better to turn on the light, as though this conversation and the strange sensations it produced in him would be impossible in a full blaze. He made a movement, indeed, to find the switch. It was the sound of his companion’s voice that made him pause, for the words came at him as though a wave of heat moved through the air. He knew intuitively that the other’s intense inner activity had increased. He let his hand drop. He listened. Their thoughts, he was convinced, had mingled and been mutually shared again. There was a faint sound like music behind it.

“We have worked such a little time as yet,” fell the words into the silence. “If only oh! if only I could remember more!”

“A little time!” thought Fillery to himself, knowing that the other meant the millions of years Nature had used to evoke her myriad forms. “Try to remember,” he added in a whisper.

“What I do remember, I cannot even tell,” was the reply, the voice strangely deepening. “No words come to me.” He paused a moment, then went on: “I am of the first, the oldest. I know that. The earth was hot and burning burning, burning still. It was soft with heat when I was summoned from from other work just completed. With a vast host I came. Our Service summoned us. We began at the beginning. I am of the oldest. The earth was still hot burning, burning —”

The voice failed suddenly.

“I cannot remember. Dear Fillery, I cannot remember.

It hurts me. My head pains. Our work our service yes, there is progress. The ages, as you call them but it is such a little time as yet “ The voice trailed off, the figure lost its suggestion of sudden vastness, the darkness emptied. “I am of the oldest that I remember only. . . . ” It ceased as though it drifted out upon the passing wind outside.

“Then you have been working,” said Fillery, his voice still almost a whisper, “you and your great host, for thousands of years in the service of this planet “ He broke off, unable to find his words, it seemed.

“Since the beginning,” came the steady answer. “Years I do not know. Since the beginning. Yet we have only just begun oh!” he cried, “I cannot remember! It is impossible! It all goes lost among my words, and in this darkness I am confused and entangled with your own little thinking. I suffer with it.” Then suddenly: “My eyes are hot and wet, dear Fillery. What happens to them?” He stood up, putting both hands to his face. Fillery stood up too. He trembled.

“Don’t try,” he said soothingly; “do not try to remember any more. It will come back to you soon, but it won’t come back by any deliberate effort.”

He comforted him as best he could, realizing that the curious dialogue had lasted long enough. But he did not produce a disconcerting blaze by turning the light on suddenly; he led his companion gently to the door, so that the darkness might pass more gradually. The lights in the corridor were shaded and inoffensive. It was only in the bedroom that he noticed the bright tears, as “N.H.,” examining them with curious interest in the mirror, exclaimed more to himself than to Fillery: “She had them too. I saw them in her eyes when she spoke to me of love, the love she will teach me because she said I needed it.”

“Tears,” said Fillery t his voice shaking. “They come from feeling pain.”

“It is a little thing,” returned “N.H.,” smiling at himself, then turning to his friend, his great blue eyes shining wonderfully through their moisture. “Then she felt what I felt we felt together. When she comes tomorrow I will show her these tears and she will be glad I love. And she will bring tears of her own, and you will have some too, and we shall all love together. It is not difficult, is it?”

“Not very,” agreed Fillery, smiling in his turn; “it is not very difficult.” He was again trembling.

“She will be happy that we all love.”

“I hope so.”

It was curious how easily tears came to the eyes of this strange being, and for causes so different that they were not easy to explain. He did not cry; it was merely that the hot tears welled up.

Even with Devonham once it happened too. The lesson in natural history was over. Devonham had just sketched the outline of the various kingdoms, with the animal kingdom and man’s position in it, according to present evolutionary knowledge, and had then said something about the earth’s place in the solar system, and the probable relation of this system to the universe at large an admirable bird’s-eye view, as it were, without a hint of speculative imagination in it anywhere when “N.H.,” after intent listening in irresponsive silence, asked abruptly:

“What does it believe?” Then, as Devonham stared at him, a little puzzled at first, he repeated: “That is what the Race knows. But what does it believe?”

“Believe,” said Devonham, “believe. Ah! you mean what is its religion, its faith, its speculations!” and proceeded to give the briefest possible answer he felt consistent with his duty. The less his pupil’s mind was troubled with such matters, the better, in his opinion.

“And their God?” the young man inquired abruptly, as soon as the recital was over. He had listened closely, as he always did, but without a sign of interest, merely waiting for the end, much as a child who is bored by a poor fairy tale, yet wishes to know exactly how it is all going to finish. “They know Him?” He leaned forward.

Devonham, not quite liking the form of the question, nor the more eager manner accompanying it, hesitated a moment, thinking perhaps what he ought to say. He did not want this mind, now opening, to be filled with ideas that could be of no use to it, nor help in its formation; least of all did he desire it to be choked and troubled with the dead theology of man-made notions concerning a tumbling personal Deity. Creeds, moreover, were a matter of faith, of auto-suggestion as he called it, being obviously divorced from any process of reason. He had, nevertheless, a question to answer and a duty to perform. His hesitation passed in compromise. He was, as has been seen, too sincere, too honest, to possess much sense of humour.

“The Race,” he said, “or rather that portion of it into which you have been born, believes on paper” he emphasized the qualification “in a paternal god; but its real god, the god it worships, is Knowledge. Not a Knowledge that exists for its own sake,” he went on blandly, “but that brings possessions, power, comfort and a million needless accessories into life. That god it worships, as you see, with energy and zeal. Knowledge and work that shall result in acquisition, in pleasure, that is the god of the Race on this side of the planet where you find yourself.”

“And the God on paper?” asked “N.H.,” making no comment, though he had listened attentively and had understood. “The God that is written about on paper, and believed in on paper?”

“The printed account of this god,” replied Devonham, “describes an omnipotent and perfect Being who has existed always. He created the planet and everything upon it, but created it so imperfectly that he had to send later a smaller god to show how much better he might have created us. In doing this, he offered us an extremely difficult and laborious method of improvement, a method of escaping from his own mistake, but a method so painful and unrealizable that it is contrary to our very natures as he made them first.” He almost smacked his lips as he said it.

“The big God, the first one,” asked “N.H.” at once. “Have they seen and known Him? Have they complained?”

“No,” said Devonham, “they have not. Those who believe in him accept things as he made them.”

“And the smaller lesser God how did He arrive?” came the odd question.

“He was born like you and me, but without a father. No male had his mother ever known.”

“He was recognized as a god?” The pupil showed interest, but no emotion, much less excitement.

“By a few. The rest, afraid because he told them their possessions were worthless, killed him quickly.”

“And the few?”

“They obeyed his teaching, or tried to, and believed that they would live afterwards for ever and ever in happiness —”

“And the others? The many?”

“The others, according to the few, would live afterwards for ever and ever in pain.”

“It is a demon story,” said “N.H.,” smiling.

“It is printed, believed, taught,” replied Devonham, “by an immense organization to millions of people —”

“Free?” inquired his pupil.

“The teachers are paid, but very little —”

“The teachers believe it, though?”

“Y-yes at least some of them probably,” replied Devonham, after brief consideration.

“And the millions do they worship this God?”

“They do, on paper, yes. They worship the first big God. They go once or twice a week into special buildings, dressed in their best clothes as for a party, and pray and sing and tell him he is wonderful and they themselves are miserable and worthless, and then ask him in abject humility for all sorts of things they want.”

“Do they get them?”

“They ask for different things, you see. One wants fine weather for his holidays, another wants rain for his crops. The prayers in which they ask are printed by the Government.”

“They ask for this planet only?”

“This planet conceives itself alone inhabited. There are no other living beings anywhere. The Earth is the centre of the universe, the only globe worth consideration.”

Although “N.H.” asked these quick questions, his interest was obviously not much engaged, the first sharp attention having passed. Then he looked fixedly at Devonham and said, with a sudden curious smile: “What you say is always dead. I understand the sounds you use, but the meaning cannot get into me inside, I mean. But I thank you for the sound.”

There was a moment’s pause, during which Devonham, accustomed to strange remarks and comments from his pupil, betrayed no sign of annoyance or displeasure. He waited to see if any further questions would be forthcoming. He was observing a phenomenon; his attitude was scientific.

“But, in sending this lesser God,” resumed “N.H.” presently, “how did the big One excuse himself?”

“He didn’t. He told the Race it was so worthless that nothing else could save it. He looked on while the lesser God was killed. He is very proud about it, and claims the thanks and worship of the Race because of it.”

“The lesser God poor lesser God!” observed “N.H.” “He was bigger than the other.” He thought a moment. “How pitiful,” he added.

“Much bigger,” agreed Devonham, pleased with his pupil’s acumen, his voice, even his manner, changing a little as he continued. “For then came the wonder of it all. The lesser God’s teachings were so new and beautiful that the position of the other became untenable. The Race disowned him. It worshipped the lesser one in his place.”

“Tell me, tell me, please,” said “N.H.,” as though he noticed and understood the change of tone at once. “I listen. The dear Fillery spoke to me of a great Teacher. I feel a kind, deep joy move in me. Tell me, please.”

Again Devonham hesitated a moment, for he recognized signs that made him ill at ease a little, because he did not understand them. Following a scientific textbook with his pupil was well and good, but he had no desire to trespass on what he considered as Fillery’s territory. “N.H.” was his pupil, not his patient. He had already gone too far, he realized. After a moment’s reflection, however, he decided it was wiser to let the talk run out its natural course, instead of ending it abruptly. He was as thorough as he was sincere, and whatever his own theories and prejudices might be in this particular case, he would not shirk an issue, nor treat it with the smallest dishonesty. He put the glasses straight on his big nose.

“The new teachings,” he said, “were so beautiful that, if faithfully practised by everybody, the world would soon become a very different place to what it is.”

“Did the Race practise them?” came the question in a voice that held a note of softness, almost of wonder.

“No.”

“Why not?”

“They were too difficult and painful and uncomfortable. The new God, moreover, only came here 2,000 years ago, whereas men have existed on earth for at least 400,000.”

“N.H.” asked abruptly what the teachings were, and Devonham, growing more and more uneasy as he noted the signs of increasing intensity and disturbance in his pupil, recited, if somewhat imperfectly, the main points of the Sermon on the Mount. As he did so “N.H.” began to murmur quietly to himself, his eyes grew large and bright, his face lit up, his whole body trembled. He began that deep, rhythmical breathing which seemed lo affect the atmosphere about him so that his physical appearance increased and spread. The skin took on something of radiance, as though an intense inner happiness shone through it. Then, suddenly, to Devonham’s horror, he began to hum.

Though a normal, ordinary sound enough, it reminded him of that other sound he had once shared with Fillery, when he sat on the stairs, staring at a china bowl filled with visiting cards, while the dawn broke after a night of exhaustion and bewilderment. That sound, of course, he had long since explained and argued away it was an auditory hallucination conveyed to his mind by LeVallon, who originated it. Interesting and curious, it was far from inexplicable. It was disquieting, however, for it touched in him a vague sense of alarm, as though it paved the way for that odd panic terror he had been amazed to discover hidden away deeply in some unrealized corner of his being.

This humming he now listened to, though normal and ordinary enough there were no big vibrations with it, for one thing was too suggestive of that other sound for him to approve of it. His mind rapidly sought some way of stopping it. A command, above all an impatient, harsh command, was out of the question, yet a request seemed equally not the right way. He fumbled in his mind to find the wise, proper words. He stretched his hand out, as though to lay it quietly upon his companion’s shoulder but realized suddenly he could not almost he dared not touch him.

The same instant “N.H.” rose. He pushed his chair back and stood up.

Devonham, justly proud of his equable temperament and steady nerves, admits that only a great effort of self-control enabled him to sit quietly and listen. He listened, watched, and made mental notes to the best of his ability, but he was frightened a little. The outburst was so sudden. He is not sure that his report of what he heard, made later to Fillery, was a verbatim, accurate one:

“Justice we know,” cried “N.H.” in his half-chanting voice that seemed to boom with resonance, “but this this mercy, gentle kindness, beauty this unknown loveliness we did not know it!” He went to the open window, and threw his arms wide, as though he invoked the sun. “Dimly we heard of it. We strive, we strive, we weave and build and fashion while the whirl of centuries flies on. This lesser God he came among us, too, making our service sweeter, though we did not understand. Our work grew wiser and more careful, we built lovelier forms, and knew not why we did so. His mighty rhythms touched us with their power and happy light. Oh, my great messengers of wind and fire, bring me the memory I have lost! Oh, where, where?””

He shook himself, as though his clothes, perhaps his body even; irked him. It was a curious coincidence, thought Devonham, as he watched and listened, too surprised and puzzled to interfere either by word or act, that a cloud, at that very moment, passed from the face of the sun, and a gust of wind shook all the branches of the lime trees in the garden. “N.H.” stood drenched in the white clear sunshine. His flaming hair was lifted by the wind.

“Behind, beyond the Suns He dwells and burns for ever. Oh, the mercy, kindness, the strange beauty of this personal love what is it? These have been promised to us too!”

He broke off abruptly, bowed his great head and shoulders, and sank upon his knees in an attitude of worship. Then, stretching his arms out to the sky, the face raised into the flood of sunlight, while his voice became lower, softer, almost hushed, he spoke again:

“Our faithful service, while the circles swallow the suns, shall lift us too! You, who sent me here to help this little, dying Race, oh, help me to remember!”

His passion was a moving sight; the words, broken through with fragments of his chanting, singing, had the blood of some infinite, intolerable yearning in them.

Devonham, meanwhile, having heard outbursts of this strange kind before with others, had recovered something of his equanimity. He felt more sure of himself again.

The touch of fear had left him. He went over to the window. The attack, as he deemed it, was passing. A thick cloud hid the sun again. “There, there,” he said soothingly, laying both hands upon the other’s shoulders, then taking the arms to help him rise. “I told you His teachings were very beautiful that the world would become a kind of heaven if people lived them.” His voice seemed not his own; beside the volume and music of the other’s it had a thin, rasping, ugly sound.

“N.H.” was on his feet, gazing down into his face; to Devonham’s amazement there were tears in the eyes that met his own.

“And many people do live them try to, rather,” he added gently. “There are thousands who really worship this lesser God today. You can’t go far wrong yourself if you take Him as your model an —”

“How He must have suffered!” came the astonishing interruption, the voice quiet and more natural again. “There was no way of telling what he knew. He had no words, of course. You are all so difficult, so caged, so dead!”

Devonham smiled. “He used parables.” He paused a moment, then went on “Men have existed on the planet, science tells us, for at least 403,000 years, whereas He came here only 2,000 years ago —”

“Came here,” interrupted the pupil, as though the earth were but one of a thousand places visited, a hint of contempt and pity somewhere in his tone and gesture. “We made His way ready then! We prepared, we built! It was for that our work went on and on so faithfully.”

He broke off. . . .

Devonham experienced a curious sensation as he heard. In that instant it seemed to him that he was conscious of the movement of the earth through space. He was aware that the planet on which he stood was rushing forward at eighteen miles a second through the sky. He felt himself carried forward with it.

“What was His name?” he heard “N.H.” asking. It was as though he was aware of the enormous interval in space traversed by the rolling earth between the first and last words of the sudden question. It trailed through an immense distance towards him, after him, yet at the same time ever with him.

“His name oh Jesus Christ, we call him,” wondering at the same moment why he used the pronoun “we.”

“Jesus — Christ!”

“N.H.” repeated the name with such intensity and power that the sound, borne by deep vibrations, seemed to surge and circle forth into space while the earth rushed irresistibly onwards. A faintly imaginative idea occurred to Devonham for the first time in his life it was as though the earth herself had opened her green lips and uttered the great name. With this came also the amazing and disconcerting conviction that Nature and humans were expressions of one and the same big simple energy, and that while their forms, their bodies, differed, the life manifesting through them was identical, though its degree might vary. For an instant this was of such overpowering conviction as to be merely obvious.

It passed as quickly as it came, though he still was dimly conscious that he had travelled with the earth through another huge stretch of space. Then this sense of movement also passed. He looked up. “N.H.” was in his chair again at the table, reading quietly his book on natural history. But in his eyes the moisture of tears was still visible.

Devonham adjusted his glasses, blew his nose, went quickly to another room to jot down his notes of the talk, the reactions, the general description, and in doing so dismissed from his mind the slight uneasy effects of what had been a “curious hallucination,” caused evidently by an “unexplained stimulation” of the motor centres in the brain.

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