The Bright Messenger, by Algernon Blackwood

Chapter 7

THE following days it seemed to both Fillery and J. Devonham that their discussion of the first night had been pitched in too intense, too serious a key. Their patient was so commonplace again, so ordinary. He made himself quite at home, seemed contented and uncurious, taking it for granted he had come to stay for ever, apparently.

Apart from his strange beauty, his size, virility and a general impression he conveyed of immense energies he was too easy-going to make use of, he might have passed for a peasant, a countryman to whom city life was new; but an educated, or at least half-educated, countryman. He was so big, yet never gauche. He was neither stupid nor ill-informed; the garden interested him, he knew much about the trees and flowers, birds and insects too. He discussed the weather, prevailing wind, moisture, prospects of change and so forth with a judgment based on what seemed a natural, instinctive knowledge. The gardener looked on him with obvious respect.

“Such nice manners and such a steady eye,” Mrs. Soames, the matron, mentioned, too, approvingly to Devonham. “But a lot in him he doesn’t understand himself, unless I’m wrong. Not much the matter with his nerves, anyhow. Once he’s married unless I’m much mistaken eh, sir?”

He was quiet, talking little, and spent the morning over the books Fillery had placed purposely in his sitting-room, books on simple physics, natural history and astronomy. It was the latter that absorbed him most; he pored over them by the hour.

Fillery explained the situation so far as he thought wise. The young man was honesty and simple innocence, but only vaguely interested in the life of the great city he now experienced for the first time. He had in his luggage a copy of the Will by which Mason had left him everything, and he was pleased to know himself well provided for. Of Mason, however, he had only a dim, uncertain, almost an impersonal memory, as of someone encountered in a dream.

“I suppose something’s happened to me,” he said to Fillery, his language normal and quite ordinary again. He spoke with a slight foreign accent. “There was somebody, of course, who looked after me and lived with me, but I can’t remember who or where it was. I was very happy,” he added, “and yet . . . I miss something.”

Dr. Fillery, remembering his promise, did not press him.

“It will all come back by degrees,” he remarked in a sympathetic tone. “In the meantime, you must make yourself at home here with us, for as long as you like. You are quite free in every way. I want you to be happy here.”

“I live with you always,” was the reply. “There are things I want to tell you, ask you too.” He paused, looking thoughtful. “There was someone I told all to once.”

“Come to me with everything. I’ll help you always, so far as I can.” He placed a hand upon his knee.

“There are feelings, big feelings I cannot reach quite, but that make me feel different” he smiled beautifully “from others.” Quick as lightning he had changed the sentence at the last word, substituting “others” for “you.” Had he been aware of a slight uneasy emotion in his listener’s heart? It had hardly betrayed itself by any visible sign, yet he had instantly divined its presence. Such evidences of a subtle, intimate, understanding were not lacking. Yet Fillery admirably restrained himself.

“There are bright places I have lost,” he went on frankly, no sign of shy reserve in him. “I feel confused, lost somewhere, as if I didn’t belong here. I feel” he used an odd word “doubled.” His face shaded a little.

“Big overpowering London is bound to affect you,” put in Fillery, who had noticed the rapid discernment, “after living among woods and mountains, as you have lived, for years. All will come right in a little time; we must settle down a bit first —”

“Woods and mountains,” repeated the other, in a half-dreamy voice, his eyes betraying an effort to follow thought elsewhere. “Of course, yes woods and mountains and hot living sunlight and the winds —”

His companion shifted the conversation a little. He suggested a line of reading and study. . . . They talked also of such ordinary but necessary things as providing a wardrobe, of food, exercise, companionship of his own age, and so forth all the commonplace details of ordinary daily life, in fact. The exchange betrayed nothing of interest, nothing unusual. They mentioned theatres, music, painting, and, beyond the natural curiosity of youth that was ignorant of these, no detail was revealed that need have attracted the attention of anybody, neither of doctor, psychologist, nor student of human nature. With the single exception that the past years had been obliterated from memory, though much that had been acquired in them remained, there was not noticeable peculiarity of any sort. Both language and point of view were normal.

This was obviously LeVallon. The “N.H.” personality scarcely cast a shadow even. Yet “N.H.,” the doctor was quick to see, lay ready and waiting just below the surface. There was no doubt in his mind which was the central self and which its transient projection, the secondary personality. Again, as he sat and talked, he had the odd impression that someone with bright tidings ran swiftly past his life, perhaps towards it.

The swift messenger was certainly not LeVallon. Le–Vallon, indeed, was but a shadow cast before this glad, bright visitant. Thus he felt, at any rate. LeVallon was an empty simulacrum left behind while “N.H.” rested, or was active upon other things, things natural to him, elsewhere. LeVallon was an arm, a limb, a feeler that “N.H.” thrust out. At Charing Cross, for instance, for a brief moment only, “N.H.” had peered across his shoulder, then withdrawn again. In the car had sat by his side LeVallon. The being he now chatted with was also LeVallon only.

But in his own heart, deep down, hidden yet eager to break loose, lay his own deeper self that burned within him. This, the important part of him, yearned towards “N.H.” And up rose the strange symbol that always appeared when his deepest, perhaps his subliminal self was stirred. That lost radiant valley in the haunted Caucasus shone close and brimming over,.. with light, with flowers, with splendid winds and fire, symbols of a vaster, grander, happier life, though perhaps a life not yet within the range of normal human consciousness. . . . The fiery symbol flashed and passed.

Curious thoughts and pictures rose flaming in his mind, persistent ideas that bore no possible relation to his intellectual, reasoning life. Passing across the background of his brain, as with waves of heat and colour, they were correlated somewhere with harmonious sound. Music, that is, came with them, as though inspiration brought its own sound with it that made singing natural. They haunted him, these vague, pleasurable phantasmagoria that were connected, he felt sure, with music, as with childhood’s lost imaginings. For a long time he searched in vain for their source and origin. Then, suddenly, he remembered. He heard his father’s gruff, humorous voice: “There’s not a scrap of evidence, of course. . . . ” And, sharply, vividly, the buried memory gave up its dead. His childish question went crashing through the air: “Are we the only beings in the world?”

“Nothing is ever lost,” he reminded himself with a smile that Devonham assuredly never saw. “Every seed must bear its fruit in time.”

And emotion surged through him from the remorseless records of his underself. The childhood’s love, with its correlative of deep, absolute belief, returned upon him, linked on somehow to that old familiar symbol he knew to mean his awakening subconscious being a flowering Caucasian vale of sun and wind. A belief, he realized, especially a belief of childhood, remains for ever inexpugnable, eternal, prolific seed of future harvests.

The unstable in him betrayed its ineradicable, dangerous streak. There rose upon him in a cloud strange notions that inflamed imagination sweetly. Later reading, indeed, had laid flesh upon the skeleton of the boyish notion, though derived in the first instance he certainly knew not whence. The literature and tradition of the East, he recalled, peopled the elements with conscious life, to which the world’s fairy-tales remnant of lost knowledge possibly added nerves and heart and blood. In all human bodies, at any rate, dwelt not necessarily always human spirits, human souls. . . .

He checked himself with a smile he would have liked to call a chuckle, but that yet held some inexplicable happiness at its heart. His rugged, eager face, its expression bitten deeply by experience, turned curiously young. There rushed through him the Eastern conception of another system of life, another evolution, deathless, divine, important, the Order of the Devas, a series of Nature Beings entirely apart from human categories. They included many degrees, from fairies to planetary spirits, the gods, so called; and their duties, work and purposes were concerned, he remembered, with carrying out the Laws of Nature, the busy tending of all forms and structures, from the elaborately marvellous infusoria in a drop of stagnant water, the growth of crystals, the upbuilding of flowers and trees, of insects, animals, humans, to the guidance and guardianship of those vaster forms of heavenly bodies, the stars, the planets and the mighty suns, whose gigantic “bodies,” inhabited by immenser consciousness, people empty space. . . . A noble, useful, selfless work, God’s messengers. . . .

He checked himself again, as the rich, ancient notion flitted across his stirring memory.

“Delightful, picturesque conceptions of the planet’s young, fair ignorance!” he reminded himself, smiling as before.

Whereupon rose, bursting through his momentary dream, with full-fledged power, the great hope of his own reasoned, scientific Dream that man is greater than he knows, and that the progress of the Race was demonstrable.

For, to the subliminal powers of an awakened Race these Nature Beings with their special faculties, must lie open and accessible. The human and the non-human could unite! Nature must come back into the hearts of men and win them again to simple, natural life with love, with joy, with naked beauty. Death and disease must vanish, hope and purity return. The Race must develop, grow, become in the true sense universal. It could know God!

The vision flashed upon him with extraordinary conviction, so that he forgot for the moment how securely he belonged to the unstable. The smile of happiness spread, as it were, over his entire being. He glowed and pulsed with its delicious inward fire. Light filled his being for an instant an instant of intoxicating belief and certainty and vision. The instant inspiration of a dream went lost and vanished. He had drawn upon childhood and legendary reading for the substance of a moment’s happiness. He shook himself, so to speak. He remembered his patients and his duties, his colleague too. . . .

Nothing, meanwhile, occurred to arouse interest or attention. Le Vallon was quite docile, ordinary; he needed no watching; he slept well, ate well, spent his leisure with his books and in the garden. He complained often of the lack of sunlight, and sometimes he might be seen taking some deep breaths of air into his lungs by the open window or on the balcony. The phases of the moon, too, interested him, and he asked once when the full moon would come and then, when Devonham told him, he corrected the date the latter gave, proving him two hours wrong. But, on the whole, there seemed little to differentiate him from the usual young man whose physique had developed in advance of his mental faculties; his knowledge in some respects certainly was backward, as in the case of arrested development. He seemed an intelligent countryman, but an unusually intelligent countryman, though all the time another under-intelligence shone brightly, betraying itself in remarks and judgments oddly phrased.

Dr. Fillery took him, during the following day or two, to concerts, theatres, cinemas. He enjoyed them all. Yet in the theatres he was inclined to let his attention wander. The degree of alertness varied oddly. His critical standard, moreover, was curiously exacting; he demanded the real creative interpretation of a part, and was quick to detect a lack of inspiration, of fine technique, of true conception in a player. Reasons he failed to give, and argument seemed impossible to him, but if voice or gesture or imaginative touch failed anywhere, he lost interest in the performer from that moment.

“He has poor breath,” he remarked. “He only imitates. He is outside.” Or, “She pretends. She does not feel and know. Feeling the feeling that comes of fire she has not felt.”

“She does not understand her part, you mean?” suggested Fillery.

“She does not burn with it,” was the reply.

At concerts he behaved individually too. They bored as well as puzzled him; the music hardly stirred Him. He showed signs of distress at anything classical, though Wagner, Debussy, the Russians, moved him and produced excitement.

“He,” was his remark, with emphasis, “has heard. He gives me freedom. I could fly and go away. He sets me free . . . ” and then he would say no more, not even in reply to questions. He could not define the freedom he referred to, nor could he say where he could go away to.

But his face lit up, he smiled his delightful smile, he looked happy. “Stars,” he added once in a tone of interest, in reply to repeated questions, “stars, wind, fire, away from this!” he tapped his head and breast “I feel more alive and real.”

“It’s real and true, that music? That’s what you feel?”

“It’s beyond this,” he replied, again tapping his body. “They have heard.”

The cinema interested him more. Yets its limits seemed to perplex him more than its wonder thrilled him. He accepted it as a simple, natural, universal thing.

“They stay always on the sheet,” he observed with evident surprise. “And I hear nothing. They do not even sing. Sound and movement go together!”

“The speaking will come,” explained Fillery. “Those are pictures merely.”

“I understand. Yet sound is natural, isn’t it? They ought to be heard.”

“Speech,” agreed his companion, “is natural, but singing isn’t.”

“Are they not alive enough to sing?” was the reply, spoken to himself rather than to his neighbour, who was so attentive to his least response. “Do they only sing when” Fillery heard it and felt something leap within him “when they are paid or have an audience?” he finished the sentence quickly.

“No one sings naturally of their own accord not in cities, at any rate,” was the reply.

LeVallon laughed, as though he understood at once.

“There is no sun and wind,” he murmured. “Of course. They cannot.”

It was the cinemas that provided most material for observation, Fillery found. There was in a cinema performance something that excited his companion, but excited Him more than the doctor felt he was justified in encouraging. Obviously the other side of him, the “N.H.” aspect, came up to breathe under the stimulus of the rapid, world-embracing, space-and-time destroying pictures on the screen. Concerts did not stimulate him, it seemed, but rather puzzled him. He remained wholly the commonplace LeVallon with one exception: he drew involved patterns on the edge of his programmes, patterns of a very complicated yet accurate kind, as though he almost saw the sounds that poured into his ears. And these ornamented programmes Dr. Fillery preserved. Sound music seemed to belong to his interpretation of movement. About the cinema, however, there seemed something almost familiar, something he already knew and understood, the sound belonging to movement only lacking.

Apart from these small incidents, LeVallon showed nothing unusual, nothing that a yokel untaught yet of natural intelligence might not have shown. His language, perhaps, was singular, but, having been educated by one mind only, and in a region of lonely forests and mountains, remote from civilized life, there was nothing inexplicable in the odd words he chose, nor in the peculiar if subtle and penetrating phrases that he used. Invariably he recognized the spontaneous, creative power as distinguished from the derivative that merely imitated.

He found ways of expressing himself almost immediately, both in speech and writing, however, and with a perfection far beyond the reach of a half-educated country lad; and this swift aptitude was puzzling until its explanation suddenly was laid bare. He absorbed, his companion realized at last, as by telepathy, the content of his own, of Fillery’s mind, acquiring the latter’s mood, language, ideas, as though the two formed one being.

The discovery startled the doctor. Yet what startled him still more was the further discovery, made a little later, that he himself could, on occasions, become so identified with his patient that the slightest shade of thought or feeling rose spontaneously in his own mind too.

He remained, otherwise, almost entirely “LeVallon”; and, after a full report made to Devonham, and the detailed discussion thereon that followed, Dr. Fillery had no evidence to contradict the latter’s opinion: “LeVallon is the real true self. The other personality ‘N.H.’ as we call it is a mere digest and accumulation of material supplied by his parents and by Mason.”

“Let us wait and see what happens when ‘N.H.’ appears and does something,” Fillery was content to reply.

“If,” answered Devonham, with sceptical emphasis, “it ever does appear.”

“You think it won’t?” asked Fillery.

“With proper treatment,” said Devonham decisively, “I see no reason why ‘N.H.’ should not become happily merged in the parent self in LeVallon, and a permanent cure result.”

He put his glasses straight and stared at his chief, as much as to say “You promised.”

“Perhaps,” said Fillery. “But, in my judgment, ‘Le–Vallon’ is too slight to count at all. I believe the whole, real, parent Self is ‘N.H.,’ and the only life LeVallon has at all is that which peeps up through him from ‘N.H.’”

Fillery returned his serious look.

“If ‘N.H.’ is the real self, and I am right,” he added slowly, “you, Paul, will have to revise your whole position.”

“I shall,” returned Devonham. “But you will allow this it is a lot to expect. I see no reason to believe in anything more than a subconscious mind of unusual content, and possibly of unusual powers and extent,” he added with reluctance.

“It is,” said Fillery significantly, “a lot to expect as you said just now. I grant you that. Yet I feel it possible that “ he hesitated.

Devonham looked uncomfortable. He fidgeted. He did not like the pause. A sense of exasperation rose in him, as though he knew something of what was coming.

“Paul,” went on his chief abruptly in a tone that dropped instinctively to a lower key almost a touch of awe lay behind it “you admit no deity, I know, but you admit purpose, design, intelligence.”

“Well,” replied the other patiently, long experience having taught him iron restraint, “it’s a blundering, imperfect system, inadequately organized if you care to call that intelligence. It’s of an extremely intricate complexity. I admit that. Deity I consider an unnecessary assumption.”

“The love and hate of atoms alone bowls you over,” was the unexpected comment. “The word ‘Laws’ explains nothing. A machine obeys the laws, but intelligence conceived that machine and a man repairs and keeps it going. Who what keeps the daisy going, the crystal, the creative thought in the imagination? An egg becomes a leaf-eating caterpillar, which in turn becomes a honey-eating butterfly with wings. A yolk turns into feathers. Is that accomplished without intelligence?”

“Ask our new patient,” interrupted Devonham, wiping his glasses with unnecessary thoroughness.

“Which?”

Devonham startled, looked up without his glasses. It seemed the question made him uneasy. Putting the glasses on suddenly, he stared at his chief.

“I see what you mean, Edward,” he said earnestly, his interest deeply captured. “Be careful. We know nothing, remember, nothing of life. Don’t jump ahead like this or take your dreams for reality. We have our duty in a case like this.”

Fillery smiled, as though to convey that he remembered his promise.

“Humanity,” he replied, “is a very small section of the universe. Compared to the minuter forms of life, which may be quite as important, if not more so, the human section is even negligible; while, compared to the possibility of greater forms “ He broke off abruptly. “As you say, Paul, we know nothing of life after all, do we? Nothing, less than nothing! We observe and classify a few results, that’s all. We must beware of narrow prejudice, at any rate you and I.”

His eyes lost their light, his speech dried up, his ideas, dreams, speculations returned to him unrewarded z unexpressed. With natures in whom the subconscious never stirred, natures through whom its magical fires cast no faintest upward gleam, intercourse was ever sterile, unproductive. Such natures had no background. Even a fact, with them, was detached from its true big life, its full significance, its divine potentialities! . . .

“We must beware of prejudice,” he repeated quietly. “We seek truth only.”

“We must beware,” replied Devonham, as he shrugged his shoulders, “of suggestion of auto-suggestion above all. We must remember how repressed desires dramatize themselves especially,” he added significantly, “when aided by imagination. We seek only facts.” On his face appeared swiftly, before it vanished again, an expression of keen anxiety, almost of affliction, yet tempered, as it were, by surprise and wonder, by pity possibly, and certainly by affection.

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