The Bright Messenger, by Algernon Blackwood

Chapter 27

TO Edward Fillery, the deep pain of frustration baffling all his mental processes, the end had come with a strange, bewildering swiftness. He knew there had been a prolonged dislocation of his being, possibly, even a partial loss of memory with regard to much that went on about him, but he could not, did not, admit that no value or reality had attached to his experiences. The central self in him had projected a limb, an arm, that, feeling its way across the confining wall of the prison house, groping towards an unbelievably wonderful revelation of new possibilities, had abruptly now withdrawn again. The dissociation in his personality was over. He was, in other words, no longer aware of “N.H.” Like Devonham, he now did not “perceive” “N.H.,” but only LeVallon. But, unlike Devonham, he had perceived him. . . .

He had met half-way a mighty and magnificent Vision. Its truth and beauty remained for him enduring. The revelation had come and gone. That its close was sudden, simple, undramatic, above all untheatrical, satisfied him. “N.H.” had “escaped,” leaving the commonplace LeVallon. in his place. But, at least, he had known “N.H.”

His whole being, an odd, sweet, happy pain in him, yearned ever to the glorious memory of it all. The melancholy, the peculiar shyness he felt, were not without an indefinite pleasure. His nature still vibrated to those haunting and inspiring rhythms, but his normal, earthly faculties, he flattered himself, were in no sense permanently disorganized. Professionally, he still cared for LeVallon, disenchanted dust though he might be, compared to “N.H.” . . . He approved of Devonham’s proposal to take him for a few days to the sea. He also approved of Paul’s advice that he should accept Father Collins’ invitation to spend a day or two at his country cottage. The Khilkoffs would be there, father and daughter. The Home, in charge of an assistant, could be reached in a few hours in case of need. The magic of Devonham’s wise, controlling touch lay in every detail, it seemed. . . .

He saw the trio for Nurse Robbins was of the party off to Seaford. “The final touches to his cure,” Paul mentioned slyly, with a smile, as the guard whistled. But of whose cure he did not explain. “He’ll bathe in the sea,” he added, the reference obvious this time. “And when we return I shall be best man. I’ve already promised!” There was a triumph of skilled wisdom in both sentences.

“The time isn’t ripe yet, Edward, for too magnificent ideas. And your ideas have been a shade too magnificent, perhaps.” He talked on lightly, even carelessly. And, as usual, there was purpose, meaning, “treatment” his friend easily discerned it now in every detail of his attitude.

Fillery laughed. Through his mind ran Povey’s sentence, “Never argue with the once-born!” but aloud he said, “At any rate, I’ve no idea that I’m Emperor of Japan or or the Archangel Gabriel!” And the other, pleased and satisfied that a touch of humour showed itself, shook hands firmly, affectionately, through the window as the train moved off. LeVallon raised his hat to his chief and smiled an ordinary smile. . . .

With the speed and incongruity of a dream these few days slipped by, their happenings vivid enough, yet all set to a curiously small scale, a cramped perspective, blurred a little as by a fading light. Only one thing retained its brilliance, its intense reality, its place in the bigger scale, its vast perspective remaining unchanged. The same immense sweet rhythm swept Iraida and himself inevitably together. Some deep obsession that hitherto prevented had been withdrawn.

She had called that very morning Paul’s touch visible here again, he believed, though he had not asked. He looked on and smiled. After the ordeal of breakfast with Devonham and LeVallon her visit was announced. It was Paul, after a little talk downstairs, who showed her in. With the radiance of a spring wildflower opening to the early sunshine, her unexpected visit to his study seemed clothed. Unexpected, yes, but surely inevitable as well. With the sweet morning wind through the open window, it seemed, she came to him, the letter of invitation from Father Collins in her hand. His own lay among his correspondence, still untouched. Her perfume rose about him as she explained something he hardly heard or followed.

“You’ll come, Edward, won’t you? You’ll come too.”

“Of course,” he answered. But it was a song he heard, and no dull spoken words. She ran dancing towards him through a million flowers; her hair flew loose along the scented winds; her white limbs glowed with fire. He danced to meet her. It was in the Valley that he caught her hands and met her eyes. “It’s happened,” he heard himself saying. “It’s happened at last just as you said it must. Escape! He has escaped!”

“But we shall follow after when the time comes, Edward.”

“Where the wild bee never flew!” . . .

“When the time comes,” she repeated.

Her voice, her smile, her eyes brought him back sharply into the little room. The furniture showed up again. The Valley faded. He noticed suddenly that for the first time she wore no flowers in her dress as usual.

“Iraida!” he exclaimed. “Then you knew!”

She bent her head, smiling divinely. She took both his hands in hers. At her touch every obstacle between them melted. His own private, personal inhibition he saw as the trivial barriers a little child might raise. His complex against humanity, as Paul called it, had disappeared. Their minds, their beings, their natures became most strangely one, he felt, and yet quite naturally. There was nothing they did not share.

“With the first dawn,” he heard her say in a low voice. “Never never again,” he seemed to hear, “shall we destroy his their work of ages.”

“A flower,” he whispered, “has no need to wear a flower!” He was convinced that she too had shared an experience similar to his own, perhaps had even seen the bright, marvellous Deva faces peering, shining. . . . He did not ask. She said no more. Life flowed between them in an untroubled stream. . . .

Like the flow of a stream, indeed, things went past him, yet with incidents and bits of conversation thus picked out with vivid sharpness. The dissociation of his being was still noticeable here and there, he supposed. The swell after the storm took time to settle down. Slowly, however, the waves that had been projected, leaping to heaven, returned to the safe, quiet dead level of the normal calm. . . . The depths lay still once more. And his melancholy passed a little, lifted. He knew, at any rate, those depths were now accessible.

“I’ve seen over the wall a moment,” he said to himself. “Paul is both right and wrong. What I’ve seen lies too far ahead of the Race to be intelligible or of use. I should be cast out, crucified, my other, simpler work destroyed. To control rhythms so powerful, so different to anything we now know, is not yet possible. They would shatter, rather than construct.” He smiled sadly, yet with resignation. There was pain and humour in his eyes. “I should be regarded as a Promethean merely, an extremist Promethean, and probably be locked up for contravening some County Council bye-law or offending Church and State. That’s where he, perhaps, is right Paul!” He thought of him with affection and pity, with understanding love. “How wise and faithful, how patient and how skilled within his limits. The stable are the useful; the stable are the leaders; the stable rule the world. People with steady if unvisioned eyes like Paul, with money like Lady Gleeson. . . . But, oh!” he sighed “how slow, ye gods! how slow!” . . .

The visit was a strange one. Nayan sat between him and her father in the motor. It was not far from London, the ancient little house among the trees where Father Collins secreted himself from time to time upon occasional “retreats.”

Within the grounds it might have been the centre of the New Forest, but for the sound of tramcar bells that sometimes came jangling faintly through the thick screen of leaves. There were old-world paved courtyards with sweet playing fountains, miniature lawns, tangles of flowers, small sunken gardens with birds of cut box and yew, stone nymphs, and a shaggy, moss-grown Pan, whose hand that once held the pipes had broken off. Suburbia lay outside, yet, by walking wisely, it was possible to move among these delights for half an hour, great trees ever rustling overhead, and a clear small stream winding peacefully in and out with gentle lapping murmurs. Nature here lay undisturbed as it had lain for centuries.

The little ancient house, moreover, seemed to have grown up with the green things out of the soil, so naturally, it all belonged together. The garden ran indoors, it seemed, through open doors and windows. Butterflies floated from courtyard into drawing-room and out again, leaves blew through dining-room windows, scurrying to another little bit of lawn; the sun and wind, even the fountains’ spray, found the walls no obstacle as though unaware of them. Bees murmured, swallows hung below the eaves. It was, indeed, a healing spot, a natural retreat. . . .

“I really believe the river rises in your library,” exclaimed Fillery, after a tour of inspection with his host, “and my bedroom is in the heart of that big chestnut across the lawn. Do my feet touch carpet, grass, or bark when I get out of bed in the morning?”

“I’ve learnt more here,” began Father Collins, “than at all the conferences and learned meetings I ever attended.. ..”

The group of four stood in the twilight by the playing fountain where the dignified stone Pan watched the paved little court, listening to the splash of the water and the wind droning among the leaves. The lap of the winding stream came faintly to them. The stillness cast a spell about them, dropping a screen against the outer world.

“Hark!” said Father Collins, holding a curved hand to his ear. “You hear the music . . .?”

“‘Why, in the leafy greenwood lone

Sit you, rustic Pan, and drone

On a dulcet resonant reed?’”

He paused, peering across to the stone figure as for an answer. All stood listening, waiting, only wind and water breaking the silence. The bats were now flitting; overhead hung the saffron arch of fading sunset. In a deep ringing voice, very gruff and very low, Father Collins gave the answer:

“‘So that yonder cows may feed

Up the dewy mountain passes,

Gathering the feathered grasses.’

“That’s Pan’s work,” he said, laughing pleasantly, “Pan and all his splendid hierarchy. Always at work, though invisibly, with music, colour, beauty! . . . ”

It was scraps like this that stood out in Fillery’s memory, adding to his conviction that Paul had enlisted even this strange priest in his deep-laid plan. . . .

“Each man is saturated with certain ideas, thoughts, phrases in a line of his own. These constitute his groove. To go outside it makes him feel homeless and uncomfortable. Accustomed to its measurements and safe within them, he interprets all he hears, reads, observes, according to his particular familiar shibboleths, to which, as to a standard of infallible criticism, he brings slavishly all that is offered for the consideration of his judgment. A new Idea stands little chance of being comprehended, much less adopted. Tell him new things about the stars, the Stock Exchange, the Stigmata up crops his Standard of approval or disapproval. He cannot help himself. His judgment, based upon the limited content of his groove, operates automatically. He condemns. An entirely new idea is barely glanced at before it is rejected for the rubbish heap. How, then, can progress come swiftly to a Race composed of such individuals? Mass-judgment, herd-opinion governs everything. He who has original ideas is outcast, and dwells lonely as the moon. How slow, ye Gods! How slow!” . . .

Only Fillery could not remember, could not be certain, whether it was his host or himself that used the words. Father Collins, as usual, was saying “all sorts of things,” but addressed himself surely, to old Khilkoff most of the time, the Russian, half angry, half amused, growling out his comments and replies as he sat smoking heavily and enjoying the peaceful night scene in his own fashion. . . .

It was odd, none the less, how much that the wild priest gabbled coincided with his own, with Fillery’s, thoughts at the moment. A peculiar melancholy, a mood of shyness never known before, lay still upon him. The beauty of the silent girl beside him overpowered him a little; too wonderful to hold, to own, she seemed. Yet they were deliciously, uncannily akin. All his former self-created denials and suppressions, hesitations and refusals had vanished. “N.H.” He wondered? had provided him with the fullest expression he had ever known. A boundless relief poured over him. He was aware of wholesome desire rising behind his old high admiration and respect. . . .

He watched her once standing close to Pan’s broken outline among the shadows, touching the mossy arm with white fingers, and he imagined for an instant that she held the vanished pipes.

“After an experience with Other Beings,” Father Collins’s endless drone floated to him, “shyness, they say, is felt. Silence descends upon the whole nature” . . . to which, a little later, came the growling comment with its foreign accent: “Talk may be pleasurable sometimes but it is profitable rarely. . . . ”

The talk flowed past and over him, occasional phrases, like islands rising out of a stream, inviting his attention momentarily to land and listen. . . . The girl, he now saw, no longer stood beside the broken stone figure. She was wandering idly towards the farther garden and the trees.

He burned to rise and go to her, but something held him. What was it? What could it be? Some strange hard little obstacle prevented. Then, suddenly, he knew what it was that stopped him: he was waiting for that familiar pet sentence. Once he heard that, the impetus to move, the power to overcome his strange shyness, the certainty that his whole being was at last one with itself again, would come to him. It made him laugh inwardly while he recognized the validity of the detail final symptoms of the obstructing inhibitions, of the obstinate original complex.

The outline of the girl was lost now, merged in the shadows beyond. He stirred, but could not get up to go. A fury of impatience burned in him. Father Collins, he felt, dawdled outrageously. He was talking jawing, Fillery called it about extraordinary experiences. “Gradually, as consciousness more and more often extends, the organs to record such extensions will be formed, you see. . . . If our inventive faculties were turned inwards, instead of outwards for gain and comfort as they now are, we might know the gods. . . . ”

The sculptor’s growl, though the words were this time inaudible, had a bite in them. The other voice poured on like thick, slow oil:

“What, anyhow, is it, then, that urges us on in spite of all obstacles, denials, failures . . .?”

Then came something that seemed leading up to the pet sentence that was the signal he waited for nearer to it, at” any rate:

“ . . . It’s childish, surely, to go on merely seeking more of what we have already. We should seek something new.. ..”

A call, it seemed, came to him on the wind from the dark trees. But still he could not move.

But, at last, out of a prolonged jumble of the two voices, one growling, the other high pitched, came the signal he somehow waited for. Even now, however, the speaker delayed it as long as possible. He was doing it, of course, on purpose. This was intentional, obviously.

“ . . . Yes, but a thing out of its right place is without power, life, means of expression robbed of its context which alone gives it meaning robbed, so to speak, of its arms and legs without a body. . . . ”

There, at least, was the definite proof that Father Collins was doing this of deliberate, set purpose!

“Go on! Yes, but, for God’s sake, say it! I want to be off!” Fillery believed he shrieked the words, but apparently they were inaudible. They remained unnoticed, at any rate.

“ . . . Hence the value of order, tidiness, you see. Often a misplaced thing is invisible until replaced where it belongs. It is, as we say, lost. No movement is meaningless, no walk without purpose. All your movements tend towards your proper place. . . . ”

A breeze blew the fountain spray aside so that its splashing ceased for a brief second. From the rustling leaves beyond came a faint murmur as of distant piping. But into the second’s pause had leaped the pet sentence:

“Only a being in his own place is the ruler of his fate.”

The signal! He was aware that the Russian cleared his throat and spat unmusically, aware also that Father Collins, a queer smile just discernible on his face in the gloom, turned his head with a gesture that might well have been an understanding nod. Both sound and gesture, however, were already behind him. He was released. He was across the paved courtyard, past the fountain, past the stone figure of the silent old rough god and oft!

And as he went, finding his way instinctively among the dark trees, that pet sentence went with him like a clarion call, as though sweet piping music played it everywhere about him. A thousand memories shut down with a final snap. In the stage of his mind came a black-out upon a host of inhibitions. There was an immense and glorious sense of relief as though bitter knots were suddenly disentangled, and some iron kernel of resistance that had weighted him for years flowed freely at last in a stream of happy molten gold. . . .

He found her easily. Where the trees thinned at the farther edge he saw her figure, long before he came up with her, outlined against the fading saffron. He saw her turn. He saw her arms outstretched. He came up with her the same minute, and they stood in silence for a long time, watching the darkness bend and sink upon the landscape.

For, here, at this one edge of the tiny estate, the real open country showed. Beyond them, in the twilight, lay the silent fields like a gigantic brown and yellow carpet whose shaken folds still seemed to tremble and run on beneath the growing moon. Along a farther ridge the trees and hedges passed in a ragged procession of strange figures, defined sharply against the sky witches, queens and goblins on the prowl, the ancient fairyland of the English countryside.

They still stood silent, side by side, touching almost, their heat and perfume and atmosphere intermingling, looking out across the quiet scene. He was aware that her mind stole into his most sweetly, and that without knowing it his hand had found her own, and that, presently, she leaned a little against him. Their eyes, their mental sight as well, saw the same things, he knew. The first stars peeped out, and they looked up at them as one being looks, together.

“The wonder that you saw in him,” he heard himself saying. It was a statement, not a question.

“Was yourself, of course,” her voice, like his own, in the rustle of the leaves, came softly. It continued his own thought rather than replied to it. “The part you’ve held down and hidden away all these years.”

Her divination came to him with staggering effect. “You always knew then?”

“Always. The first day we met you took me into the firm.”

He was aware that everything about him pulsed and throbbed with life, intelligence in every stick and stone. Angelic beings marched on their wondrous business through the sky. A mighty host pursued their endless service with a network of huge and tiny rhythms. The spirals of creative fire soared and danced. . . .

The moon emerged, sailing, sailing, as though no wind could stop her lovely flight. She fled the stars themselves. The clouds turned round to look at her, as, clearing their hair, she passed onwards with her radiant smile. Heading into the bare bosom of the sky, she blazed in her triumph of loneliness, her icy prow set towards some far, unknown, unearthly goal, which is the reason why men love her so.

“And my theories our theories?” he murmured into the ear against his lips. “The way that has been shown to us?”

Both arms were now about her, and he held her so close that her words were but a warm perfumed breath to cover his face as her hair was covering his eyes.

“We shall follow it together . . . dear.”

It was as if some angel, stepping down the sky, came near enough to fold them in a great rhythm of fire and wind. Bright, mighty faces in a crowd rose round them, and, through her hair, he saw familiar visible outlines of all the common things melt out, showing for one gorgeous instant the flashings and whirlings that was the workshop of Their deathless service.

“Look! Look!” he whispered, pointing from the darkening earth to the stars and sailing moon above. “They’re everywhere! You can see them too? The bright messengers?”

For answer, she came yet closer against his side, holding him more tightly to her, lifting her lips to his, so that in her very eyes he saw the marvellous fire shine and flash. “We shall build together, you and I,” she whispered very softly, “and with Their help, the sweetest and most perfect body ever known. . . . ”

But behind the magic of her words and voice, behind their meaning and the steadying, understanding sympathy he easily divined, he heard another sound, familiar as a dream, yet fraught with some haunting significance he already was forgetting almost had entirely forgotten. From the centre of the earth it seemed to rise, a magnificent, deep, stupendous rhythm that created, at least, the impression of a voice:

“I weave and I weave . . .!” rolled forth, as though the planet uttered. He stood waiting, transfixed, listening intently.

“You heard?” he whispered.

“Everything,” she said, tight in his arms at once again, her lips on his. “The very beating of your heart your inmost thoughts as well.”

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