The Bright Messenger, by Algernon Blackwood

Chapter 5

IT was, however, some two weeks later before Dr. Fillery was on his way to the station to meet Devonham and his companion. A slight delay, caused apparently by the necessity of buying an outfit, had intervened and given time for an exchange of letters, but Devonham had contented himself chiefly with telegrams. He did not wish his chief to know too much about the case in advance. “Probably he regrets the Notes already,” thought the doctor, as the car made its way slowly across crowded London. “He wants my first unbiased judgment; he’s right, of course, but it’s too late for that now.”

The delay, however, had been of value. The Home was in working order again, the staff returned, the private suite all ready for its interesting occupant, whom in thought he had already named “N.H.”; for in the first place he did not know his name as yet, and in the second he felt towards him a certain attitude of tolerant, half-humorous scepticism.

Cut off from his own kind for so many years, educated, perhaps half — educated only, by too speculative and imaginative a mind, equally warped by this long solitude, a mind unduly stretched by the contemplation of immense geological perspectives, filled, too, with heaven knows what strange stories of pantheistic Nature — feeling “N.H.” might be distinctly interesting, but hardly all that Mason had thought him. “Unique” was a word rarely justified; the peculiarities would prove to be mere extravagances that had, of necessity, remained uncorrected by the friction of intercourse with his own kind. The rest was inheritance, equally unpruned; a mind living in a side-eddy, a backwater with Nature. . . .

At the same time Dr. Fillery admitted a certain anticipatory excitement he could not wholly account for, an undercurrent of wonder he ascribed to his Khaketian blood.

He had written once only to his assistant, sending briefest instructions to say the rooms would be ready, and that the young man must believe he was an invited guest coming on a visit. “Let him expect complete freedom of movement and occupation without the smallest idea of restraint in any way. He is merely coming to stay for as long as he pleases with a friend of Mason. Impress him with a sense of hearty welcome,” And Devonham, replying, had evidently understood the wisdom of this method. “He is also greatly pleased with your name the sound of it,” was stated in the one letter that he wrote, “and as names mean a lot to him, so much the better. The sound of it gives him pleasure; he keeps repeating it over to himself; he already likes you. My name he does not care about, saying it quickly, sharply. But he trusts me. His trust in anyone who shows him kindness is instantaneous and complete. He invariably expects kindness, however, from everyone gives it himself equally and is baffled and puzzled by any other treatment.”

So Devonham, with “N.H.,” who attached importance to names and expected kindness from people as a natural thing, would be in London town within the hour. Straight from his forests and mountains for the first time in his life, he would find himself in the heart of the greatest accumulation of human beings on the planet, the first city of the world, the final expression of civilization as known to the human race.

“‘N.H.’ in London town,” thought Dr. Fillery, his mouth twitching with the smile that began in his quiet eyes. “Bless the lad! We must make him feel at home and happy. He shall indeed have kindness. He’ll need a woman’s touch as well.” He reflected a moment. “Women are a great help in doubtful cases the way a man reacts to them,” he mused. “Only they must be distinct in type to be of value.” And his mind ran quickly, comprehensively over the women of his acquaintance, pausing, as it did so, upon two in particular a certain Lady Gleeson, and Iraida sometimes called Nayan Khilkoff, the daugher of his Russian friend, the sculptor.

His mind pondered for some moments the two he had selected. It was not the first time he had made use of them. Their effect respectively upon a man was invariably instinctive and illuminating.

The two were radically different feminine types, as far removed from one another as pole from pole, yet each essentially of her sex. Their effect, respectively, upon such a youth must be of value, and might be even illuminating to the point of revelation. Both, he felt sure, would not be indifferent to the new personality.

It was, however, of Nayan Khilkoff that he thought chiefly. Of that rare, selfless, maternal type which men in all ages have called saint or angel, she possessed that power which evoked in them all they could feel of respect, of purity, of chivalry, that love, in a word, which holds as a chief ingredient, worship. Her beauty, beyond their reach, was of the stars; it was the unattainable in her they loved; her beauty was of the soul. Nayan was spiritual, not as a result of painful effort and laborious development, but born so. Her life, moreover, was one of natural service. Personal love, exclusive devotion to an individual, concentration of her being upon another single being this seemed impossible to her. She was at the same time an enigma: there was an elusive flavour about her that made people a little in awe of her, a flavour not of this earth, quite. She carried an impersonal attitude almost to the point of seeming irresponsive to common human things and interests.

The other woman, Lady Gleeson, Angela her Christian name, was equally a simple type, though her simplicity was that of the primitive female who is still close to the Stone Age a savage. She adorned herself to capture men. She was the female spider that devours its mates. She wanted slaves. To describe her as selfish were inadequate, for she was unaware that any other ideal existed in life but that of obtaining her own pleasure. There was instinct and emotion, but, of course, no heart. Without morals, conscience or consideration, she was the animal of prey that obeys the call of hunger in the most direct way possible, regardless of consequences to herself or others. Her brain was quick, her personality shallow. When talking she “rattled on.” Devonham had well said once: “You can hear her two thoughts clicking, both of them in trousers!” Sir George, recently knighted, successful with large concessions in China, was indulgent. The male splendour of the youth was bound to stimulate her hunger, as his simplicity, his loneliness, and in a sense his pathetic helplessness, would certainly evoke the tenderness in Nayan. “He’ll probably like her dear, ridiculous name, too,” Dr. Fillery felt, “the nickname they gave her because she’s the same to everybody, whichever way you take her Nayan Khilkoff.” Yet her real name was more beautiful Iraida. And, as he repeated it half aloud, a soft light stole upon his face, shone in the deep clear eyes, and touched even the corners of the rather grim mouth with another, a tenderer expression, before the sternness quickly returned to it.

“N.H.” would meet, thus, two main types of female life. He, apparently an exceedingly male being, would face the onslaught of passion and heart, of lust and love, respectively; and it was his reactions to these onslaughts that Fillery wished to observe. They would help his diagnosis, they might guide his treatment.

It was a warm and muggy afternoon, the twilight passing rapidly into darkness now; one of those late autumn days when summer heat flits back, but light is weak. The covered sky increased the clammy warmth, which was damp, unhealthy, devitalizing. No wind stirred. The great city was sticky and depressing. Yet people approved the heat, although it tired them. “It shortens the winter, anyhow,” was the general verdict, when expressed at all. They referred unconsciously to the general dread of strikes.

London was hurried and confused. An air of feverish overcrowding reigned in the great station, when he left the car and went in on foot. No sign of order, system, direction, was visible. The scene might have been a first rehearsal of some entirely new experiment. Grumbling and complaint rose from all sides in an exasperated chorus. He tried to ascertain how late the train was and on which platform it might be expected, but no one knew for certain, and the grudging replies to questions seemed to say, “You’ve no right to ask anything, and if you keep on asking there will be a strike. So that’s that!”

He listened to the talk and watched the facial expressions and the movements of the half — resigned and half-excited concourse of London citizens. The clock was accurate, and everyone was kind to ladies; stewed tea, stale cake with little stones in it, vile whisky and very weak beer were obtainable at high prices. There were no matches. The machine for supplying platform-tickets was broken. He saw men paying more thought and attention to the comfort of their dogs than to their own. The great, marvellous, stupid, splendid race was puzzled and exasperated. Then, suddenly, the train pulled in, full of returned exiles longing to be back again in “dear old England.”

“Thank God, it’s come,” sighed the crowd. “Good! We’re English. Forgive and forget!” and prepared to tip the porters handsomely and carry their own baggage.

The confusion that followed was equally characteristic, and equally remarkable, displaying greatness side by side with its defects. There was no system; all was muddled, yet all was safe. Anyone could claim what luggage they liked, though no one did so, nor dreamed, it seemed, of doing so. There was an air of decent honesty and trust. There were ladies who discovered that all men are savages; there were men and women who were savages. People shook hands warmly, smiled with honest affection, said light, careless goodbyes that hid genuine emotion; helped one another with parcels, offered one another lifts. There were few taxicabs, one perhaps to every thirty people. And in this general scrimmage, Dr. Fillery, at first, could see no sign of his expected arrivals; he walked from end to end of the platform littered with luggage and thronged with bustling people, but nowhere could he discover the familiar outline of Devonham, nor anyone who answered to the strange picture that already stood forth sharply in his mind.

“There’s been a mistake somewhere,” he said to himself; “I shall find a telegram when I get back to the house explaining it” when, suddenly and without apparent cause, there stole upon him a curious lift of freedom a sharp sense of open spaces he was at a loss to understand. It was accompanied by an increase of light. For a second it occurred to him that the great enclosing roof had rolled back and blown away, letting in air and some lost ray of sunshine. A lovely valley flitted across his thought. Almost he was aware of flowers, of music, of rhythmic movement.

“Edward! there you are. I thought you hadn’t come,” he heard close behind him, and, turning, saw the figure of Devonham, calm and alert as usual. At his side stood a lean, virile outline of a young man, topping Devonham by several inches, with broad but thin shoulders, figure erect yet flexible, whose shining and inquiring eyes of blue were the most striking feature in a boyish face, where strength, intensity and radiant health combined in an unusual degree.

“Here is our friend, LeVallon,” added Devonham, but not before the figure had stepped lightly and quickly forward, already staring at him and shaking his outstretched hand.

So this was “N.H.,” and LeVallon was his name. The calm, searching eyes held a touch of bewilderment in them, the eyes of an honest, intelligent animal, thought Fillery quickly, adding in spite of himself and almost simultaneously, “but of a divine animal.” It was a look he had never in his life before encountered in any human eyes. Mason’s water-colour sketch had caught something, at least, of their innocence and question, of their odd directness and intensity, something, too, of the golden fire in the hair. He wore a broad-brimmed felt hat of Swiss pattern, a Bernese overcoat, a low, soft-collared shirt, with blue tie to match.

Buffeted and pushed by the frenzied travellers, they stood and faced each other, shaking hands, eyes looking into eyes, two strangers, doctor and patient possibly, but friends most certainly, both felt instantly. They liked one another, Once again the scent of flowers danced with light above the piled-up heaps of trunks, rugs, packages. A cool wind from mountains seemed to blow across the dreadful station.

“You’ve arrived safely,” began Dr. Fillery, a little taken aback perhaps. “Welcome! And not too tired, I hope when the other interrupted him in a man’s deep voice, full of pleasant timbre:

“Fill-er-y,” he said, making the “F” sound rather long, “I need you. To see you makes me happy.”

“Tired,” put in Devonham breathlessly, “good heavens, not he! But I am. Now for a porter and the big luggage. Have you got a taxi?”

“The car is here,” said Fillery, letting go with a certain reluctance the hand he held, and paying little attention to anything but the figure before him who used such unexpected language. What was it? What did it mean? Whence came this sudden sense of intensity, light, of order, system, intelligence into the racial scene of muddled turmoil all about him? There seemed an air of speeding up in thought and action near him, compared to which the slow stupidity, uncoordinated and confused on all sides, became painful, gross, and even ludicrous.

Someone bumped against him with violence, but quite needlessly, since the simplest judgment of weight and distance could have avoided the collision. In such ordinary small details he was aware of another, a higher, standard close. A man on his left, trying to manage several bundles, appeared vividly as of amazing incompetence, with his miscalculation, his clumsy movement, his hopeless inability to judge cause and effect. Yet he had two arms, ten fingers, two legs, broad shoulders and deep chest. Misdirection of his great strength made it impossible for him to manage the assortment of light parcels. Next to him, however, stood a woman carrying a baby there was no error there. The panting engine just beyond them, again, set a standard of contemptuous, impersonal intelligence that, obeying Nature’s laws, dwarfed the humans generally. But it was another, a quasi-spiritual standard that had flashed to him above all. In some curious way the competent “dead” machinery that obeyed the Law with faultless efficiency, and the woman obeying instinct with equally unconscious skill these two energies were akin to the new standard he was now startlingly aware of.

He looked up, as though to trace this sudden new consciousness of bright, quick, rapid competence almost as of some immense power building with consistent scheme and system that had occurred to him; and he met again the direct, yet slightly bewildered eyes that watched him, watched him with confidence, sweetness, and with a questioning intensity he found intriguing, captivating, and oddly stimulating. He felt happiness.

“By yer leave!” roared a porter, as they stepped aside just in time to save being pushed by the laden truck just in time to save himself, that is, for the other, Fillery noticed, moved like a chamois on its native rocks, so surely, lightly, swiftly was he poised.

“This! Ah, you must excuse it,” the doctor exclaimed with a smile of apology almost, “we’ve not yet had time to settle down after the war, you see.” He pointed with a sweep of his hand to the roaring, dim-lit cavern where confusion reigned supreme, the G.H.Q. of travel in the biggest city of the Empire.

“I’ve got a porter,’”’ cried Devonham, beckoning vigorously a little further down the platform. “You wait there. I’ll be along in a minute with the stuff.” He was hot, flustered, exhausted.

“You struggle. It was like this all the way. Is there no knowledge?” LeVallon asked in his deep, quiet tones.

“We do,” said Fillery. “With us life is always struggle. But there is more system than appears. The confusion is chiefly on the surface.”

“It is dark and there is so little air,” observed the other. “And they all work against each other.”

Fillery laughed into the other’s eyes; they laughed together; and it seemed suddenly to the doctor that their beings somehow merged, so that, for a second, he knew the entire content of his companion’s mind as if there was nothing in LeVallon he did not understand.

“You are a builder,” LeVallon said abruptly. But as he said it his companion caught, on the wing as it were, another meaning. He became curiously aware of the smallness, of the remote insignificance of the little planet whereon this dialogue took place, yet at the same time of its superb seductive loveliness. In him rose a feeling, as on wings, that he was not chained in his familiar, daily personality, but that an immense, delicious freedom lay within reach. He could be everywhere at once. He could do everything.

“Wait here while I help Devonham. Then we’ll get into the car and be off.” He moved away, threading a path with difficulty.

“I wait in peace. I am happy,” was the reply.

And with those few phrases, uttered in the quiet, deep voice, sounding in his ears and in his very blood, the older man went towards the spot where Devonham struggled with a porter, a pile of nondescript luggage and a truck: “I wait in peace. . . . You struggle, you work against each other. . . . It is dark, there is little air. . . . You are a builder. . . . ”

But not these singular words alone remained alive in his mind; there remained in his heart the sense of that vitality of open spaces, keen air and brighter light he had experienced and, with it, the security of some higher, faultless standard. His brain, indeed, had recognized a consciousness of swifter reactions, of surer movements, of more intelligent coordination, compared to which the people about him behaved like stupid, almost like half-witted beings, the one exception being the instinctive action of the mother in carrying her baby, and the other, the impersonal, accurate, competence of the dead machinery.

But, more than this reasoned change, there burned suddenly in his heart an inexplicable exhilaration and brightness, a wonder that he could attribute only to another mode of life. His Khaketian blood, he knew, might be responsible for part of it, but not for all. The invigorating mountain wind, the sunlight, the rhythmic sound, the scent of wild flowers, these were his own personal interpretations of a quickened sense he could not analyse as yet. As he held the young man’s hand, as he gazed into his direct blue eyes, this sense had increased in intensity. LeVallon had some marvellous quality or power that was new to him, while yet not entirely unfamiliar. What was it? And how did the youth perceive this sense in him so surely that he took its presence for granted, accepted, even played upon it? He experienced, as it were, a brilliant intensification of spirit. Some portion of him already knew exactly what LeVallon was.

Across the ugly turmoil and confusion of the huge dingy railway terminus had moved wondrously some simple power that brought in Beauty. Some very deep and ancient conception had touched him and gone its way again. The stupendous beauty of a simple, common day appeared to him. His subconscious being, of course, was deeply stirred. That was the truth, phrase it as he might. His heart was lifted as by a primal wind at dawn upon some mountain top. The heaviness of the day was gone. Fatigue, too, vanished. The “civilized” folk appeared contemptible and stupid. Something direct from Nature herself poured through him., And it was from the atmosphere of LeVallon this new vitality issued radiating.

He found a moment or two, while alone with Devonham, to exchange a few hurried sentences. As they bent over bags and bundles he asked quick questions. These questions and answers between the two experienced men were brief but significant:

“Yes, quiet as a lamb. Just be kind and sympathetic. You looked up the Notes? Well, that can’t be helped now, though I had rather you knew nothing. My mistake, of course.”

“The content of his mind is accessible to me telepathically in any case.”

“But at one remove more distant, because unexpressed.”

Fillery laughed. “Quite right. I admit it’s a pity. But tell me more about him anything I ought to know at once.”

“Quiet as a lamb, I told you,” repeated the other, “and most of the way over too. Butt puzzled my God, Edward, his criticisms would make a book.”

“Normal? Intelligent criticisms?”

“Intelligent above ordinary. Normal no.”

“Hysteria?”

“Not a sign.”

“Health?”

“Perfect, magnificent, as you see. He’s less tired now than when we started three days ago, whereas I’m fagged out, though in climbing condition.”

“Origin of delusions any indication?”

Devonham looked up quickly. His eyes flashed a peculiarly searching glance something watchful in it perhaps. “No delusion at all of any sort. As for origin of his ideas the parents probably, but stimulated and allowed unchecked growth by Mason. Affected by Nature beyond anything we know.”

“By Nature. Ah!” He checked himself. “And what peculiarities?” he asked.

“His terror of water, for instance. Crossing the Channel he was like a frightened child. He hid from it, kept his hands over his eyes even, so as not to see it.”

“Give any reason?”

“All he said was ‘It is unknown, an enemy, and can destroy me, I cannot understand its secret ways. Fire and wind are not in it. I cannot work with it.’ No, it was not fear of drowning that he meant. He found comfort, too, in the repetition of your name.”

“Appetite, pulse, temperature?” asked Fillery, after a brief pause.

“First two very strong; temperature always slightly above normal.”

“Other peculiarities?”

“He became rather excited before a lighted match once tried to kneel, almost, but I stopped it.”

“Fire?”

“That’s it. Instinct of worship presumably.”

The barrow was laden, the porter was asking where the car was. They prepared to move back to the companion, whom Fillery had never failed to observe carefully over his shoulder during this rapid conversation. “N.H.” had not moved the whole time: he stood quietly, looking about him, a curious figure, aloof somehow from his surroundings, so tall and straight and unconcerned he seemed, yet so poised, alert, virile, vigorous. It was not ‘his clothes that made him appear unusual, nor was it his eyes and hair alone, though all three contributed their share. Yet he seemed dressed up, his clothes irksome to him. He was uncommon, an attractive figure, and many a pair of eyes, female eyes especially, Fillery noticed, turned to examine him with undeniable curiosity.

“And women?” the doctor asked quickly in a lowered voice, as they followed the porter’s barrow towards Le–Vallon, who already smiled at their approach the most engaging, trustful, welcoming smile that Fillery Bad ever seen upon a human countenance.

He lowered his head to catch the reply. But Devonham only laughed and shrugged his shoulders. “All attracted,” he mumbled in a half whisper, “and eager to help him.”

“And he?”

“Gentle, astonished, but indifferent, oh, supremely indifferent.”

LeVallon came forward to meet them, and Fillery took his hand and led him to the car. The luggage was bundled in, some behind and some on the roof. Fillery and Le–Vallon sat side by side. The car started.

“We shall get home in half an hour,” the doctor mentioned, turning to his companion. “We’ll have a good dinner and then get to bed. You are hungry, I know.”

“Thank you,” was the reply, “thank you, dear Fillery. I want sleep most. Will there be trees and air near me? And stars to see?”

“Your windows open on to a garden with big trees, there will be plenty of fresh air, and you will hear the sparrows chattering at dawn. But London, of course, is not the country. Oh, we’ll make you comfortable, never fear.”

“Dear Fillery, I thank you,” said LeVallon quietly, and without more ado lay back among the soft cushions and closed his eyes. Hardly a word was said the whole way out to the north-west suburb, and when they arrived the “patient” was too overcome with sleep to wish to eat. He went straight to his room, found a hot bath into which he tumbled first, and then leaped into his bed and was sound asleep almost before the door was closed. Upon a table beside the bed Dr. Fillery, with his own hands, arranged bread, butter, eggs and a jug of milk in case of need. Nurse Robbins, an experienced, tactful young woman, he put in special charge. He thought of everything, divining his friend’s possible needs instinctively, noticing with his keen practised eye several details for himself at the same time. The splendid physical condition, frame-work, muscular development he noted no freakish bulky masses produced by gymnastic exercises, but the muscles laid on flowingly, smooth and firm and ample, without a trace of fat, and the whole in the most admirable proportion possible. The leanness was deceptive; the body was of immense power. The quick, certain, unerring movements he noticed too; perfect, swift coordination between brain and physical response, no misdirection, no miscalculation, the reactions extremely rapid. He thought with a smile of something between deer and tiger. The poise and balance and accuracy conveyed intense joy of living. Yet above and beyond these was something else he could not name, something that stirred in him wonder, love, a touch of awe, and a haunting suggestion of familiarity.

He saw him into bed, he saw him actually asleep. The strong blue eyes looked up into his own with their intense and innocent gaze for a moment; he held the firm, dry muscular hand; ten seconds later the eyes were closed in sleep, the grip of the powerful but slender fingers relaxed.

“Good night, my friend, and sleep deeply. Tomorrow we’ll see to everything you need. Be happy here and comfortable with us, for you are welcome and we love you.” His voice trembled slightly.

“Good night, dear Fill-er-y,” the musical tones replied, and he was off.

The windows were wide open. “N.H.” had thrown aside the pyjamas and blankets. On this cool, damp night of late autumn he covered his big, warm, lithe body with a single sheet only.

Fillery went out quietly, an expression of keen approval and enjoyment on his face not a smile exactly, but that look of deep content, betraying a fine inner excitement of happiness, which is the mother of all smiles. As he softly opened the door the draught blew through from the open windows, stirring the white curtains by the bed. It came from the big damp garden where the trees stood, already nearly leafless, and where no flowers were. And yet a scent of flowers came faintly with it. He caught an echo of faint sound like music. There was the invigorating hint of forests too. It seemed a living wind that blew into the house.

Dr. Fillery paused a moment, sniffed with surprise and sharp enjoyment, listened intently, then switched the light off and went out, closing the door behind him. There was a flash of wonder in his eyes, and a thrill of some remote inexplicable happiness ran through his nerves. An instant of complete comprehension had been his, as if another consciousness had, for that swift instant, identified itself with his own.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/b/blackwood/algernon/bright-messenger/chapter5.html

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