The Bright Messenger, by Algernon Blackwood

Chapter 9

THE body I’m in and using is 22, as they call it, and from a man named Mason, a geologist, I receive sums of money, regularly paid, with which I live. They call it “live.” A roof and walls protect me, who do not need protection; my body, which it irks, is covered with wool and cloth and stuff, fitting me as bark fits a tree and yet not part of me; my feet, which love the touch of earth and yearn for it, are cased in dead dried skin called leather; even my head and hair, which crave the sun and wind, are covered with another piece of dead dried skin, shaped like a shell, but an ugly shell, in which, were it shaped otherwise, the wind and rustling leaves might sing with flowers.

Before 22 I remember nothing nothing definite, that is. I opened my eyes in a soft, but not refreshing case standing on four iron legs, and well off the ground, and covered with coarse white coverings piled thickly on my body. It was a bed. Slabs of transparent stuff kept out the living sunshine for which I hungered; thick solid walls shut off the wind ; no stars or moon showed overhead, because an enormous lid hid every bit of sky. No dew, therefore, lay upon the sheets. I smelt no earth, no leaves, no flowers. No single natural sound entered except the chattering of dirty sparrows which had lost its freshness. I was in a hospital.

One comely figure alone gave me a little joy. It was soft and slim and graceful, with a smell of fern and morning in its hair, though that hair was lustreless and balled up in ugly lumps, with strips of thin metal in it. They called it nurse and sister. It was the first moving thing I saw when my eyes opened on my limited and enclosed surroundings. My heart beat quicker, a flash of thin joy came up in me. I had seen something similar before somewhere; it reminded me, I mean, of something I had known elsewhere; though but a shabby, lifeless, clumsy copy of this other glorious thing. Though not real, it stirred this faint memory of reality, so that I caught at the skirts of moonlight, stars and flowers reflected in a forest pool where my companion played for long periods of happiness between our work. The perfume and the eyes did that. I watched it for a bit, as it moved away, came close and looked at me. When the eyes met mine, a wave of life, but of little life, surged faintly through me.

They were dim and pitiful, these eyes; mournful, unlit, unseeing. The stars had set in them; dull shadows crowded. They were so small. They were hungry too. They were unsatisfied. For some minutes it puzzled me, then I understood. That was the word unsatisfied. Ah, but I could alter that! I could comfort, help, at any rate. My strength, though horribly clipped and blocked, could manage a little thing like that! My smaller rhythms I could put into it.

The eyes, the smile, the whole soft comely bundle, so pitifully hungry and unsatisfied, I rose and seized, pressing it close inside my own great arms, and burying it all against my breast. I crushed it, but very gently, as I might crush a sapling. My lips were amid the ferny hair. I breathed upon it willingly, glad to help.

It was a poor unfinished thing, I felt at once, soft and yielding where it should have been resilient and elastic as fresh turf; the perfume had no body, it faded instantly; there was so little life in it.

But, as I held it in my big embrace, smothering its hunger as best I could within my wave of being, this bundle, this poor pitiful bundle, screamed and struggled to get free. It bit and scratched and uttered sounds like those squeaks the less swift creatures make when the swifter overtake them.

I was too surprised to keep it to me; I relaxed my hold. The instant I did so the figure, thus released, stood upright like a young birch the wind sets free. The figure looked alive. The hair fell loose, untidily, the puny face wore colour, the eyes had fire in them. I saw that fire. It was a message. Memory stirred faintly in me.

“Ah!” I cried. “I’ve helped you anyhow a little!”

The scene that followed filled me with such trouble and bewilderment that I cannot recall exactly what occurred. The figure seemed to spit at me, yet not with grace and invitation. There was no sign of gratitude. I was entirely misunderstood, it seemed. Bells rang, as the figure rushed to the door and flung it open. It called aloud; similar, though quite lifeless figures came in answer and filled the room. A doctor Devonham, they called him followed them. I was most carefully examined in a dozen curious ways that tickled my skin a little so that I smiled. But I lay quite still and silent, watching the whole performance with a confusion in my being that baffled my comprehending what was going on. Most of the figures were frightened.

Then the doctor gave place to Fillery, whose name has rhythm.

To him I spoke at once:

“I wished to comfort and revive her,” I told him. “She is so starved. I was most gentle. She brings a message only.”

He made no reply, but gazed at me with the corners of his mouth both twitching, and in his eyes ah, his eyes had more of the sun in them a flash of something that had known fire, at least, if it had not kept it.

“My God! I worship thee,” I murmured at the glimpse of the Power I must own as Master and creator of my being. “Even when thou art playful, I adore thee and obey.”

Then four other figures, shaped like the doctor but wholly mechanical, a mere blind weight operating through them, held my arms and legs. Not the least desire to move was in me luckily. I say “luckily,” because, had I wished it, I could have flung them through the roof, blown down the little walls, caught up a dozen figures in my arms, and rushed forth with them towards the Powers of Fire and Wind to which I belonged.

Could I? I felt that I could. The sight of the true fire, small though it was, in the comely figure’s and the doctor’s eyes, had set me in touch again with my home and origin. This touch I had somehow lost; I had been “ill,” with what they called nervous disorder and injured reason. The lost touch was now restored. But, luckily, as I said, there was no desire in me to set free these other figures, to help them in any way, after the reception my first kindly effort had experienced. I lay quite still, held by these four grotesque and puny mechanisms. The comely one, with the others similar to her, had withdrawn. I felt very kindly towards them all, but especially towards the doctor, Fillery, who had shown that he knew my deity and origin. None of them were worth much trouble, anyhow. I felt that too. A mild, sweet-toned contempt was in me.

“Dangerous,” was a word I caught them whispering as they went. I laughed a little. The four faces over me made odd grimaces, tightening their lips, and gripping my legs and arms with greater effort. The doctor Fillery noticed it.

“Easy, remember,” he addressed the four. “There’s really no need to hold. It won’t recur.” I nodded. We understood one another. And, with a smile at me, he left the room, saying he would come back after a short interval. A link with my source, a brother as it were, went with him. I was lonely..,..

I began to hum songs to myself, little fragments of a great natural music I had once known but lost, and I noticed that the four figures, as I sang, relaxed their grip of my limbs considerably. To tell the truth, I forgot that they were holding me; their grip, anyhow, was but a thread I could snap without the smallest effort. The songs were happiness in me. Upon free leaping rhythms I careered with an exhilarating rush of liberty; all about space I soared and sank; I was picked up, flung far, riding the crest of immense waves of orderly vibration that delighted me. I let myself go a bit, let my voice out, I mean. No effort accompanied my singing. It was automatic, like breathing almost. It was natural to me. These rhythmical sounds and the patterns that they wove in space were the outlines of forms it was my work to build. This expressed my nature. Only my power was blocked and stifled in this confining body. The fire and air which were my tools I could not control. I have forgotten forgotten !

“Got a voice, ain’t he?” observed one of the figures admiringly.

“Lunies can do ‘most anything they have a mind to.”

“Grand Opera isn’t it.”

“Yes,” mentioned the fourth, “but he’ll lift the roof off presently. We’d better stop him before there’s any trouble.”

I stopped of myself, however: their remarks interested me. Also while I had been singing, although I called it humming only, they had gradually let go of me, and were now sitting down on my bed and staring with quite pleasant faces. All their dim eight eyes were fixed on me. Their forms were not built well.

“Where did you get that from, Guv’nor?” asked the one who had spoken first. “Can you give me the name of it?”

The sound of his own voice was like the scratching of a pin after the enormous rhythm that now ceased.

“Ain’t printed, is it?” he went on, as I stared, not understanding what he meant. “I’ve got a sister at the Halls,” he explained. “She’d make a hit with that kind of thing. Gave me quite a twist inside to hear it,” he added, turning to the others.

The others agreed solemnly with dull stupid faces. I lay and listened to their talk. I longed to help them. I had forgotten how.

“A bit churchy, I thought it,” said one. “But, I confess, it stirred me up.”

“Churchy or not, it’s the stuff,” insisted the first.

“Oh, it’s the stuff to give ’em, right enough.” And they looked at me admiringly again. “Where did you get it, if I may ask?” replied Number One in a more respectful tone.,His face looked quite polite. The lips stretched, showing yellow teeth. It was his smile. But his eyes were a little more real. Oh; where was my fire? I could have built the outline better so that he was real and might express far more. I have forgotten!

“I hear it,” I told him, “because I’m in it. It’s all about me. It never stops. It’s what we build with —”

Number One seemed greatly interested.

“Hear it, do you? Why, that’s odd now. You see” he looked at his companions apologetically, as though he knew they would not believe him “my father was like that. He heard his music, he always used to say, but we laughed at him. He was a composer by trade. Oh, his stuff was printed too. Of course,” he added, “there’s musical talent in the family,” as though that explained everything. He turned to me again. “Give us a little more, Mister if you don’t object, that is,” he added. And his face was soft as he said it. “Only gentle like if you don’t mind.”

“Yes, keep it down a bit,” another put in, looking anxiously in the direction of the closed door. He patted the air with his open palm, slowly, carefully, as though he patted an animal that might rise and fly at him.

I hummed again for them, but this time with my lips closed. The waves of rhythm caught me up and away. I soared and flew and dropped and rose again upon their huge coloured crests. Curtains and sheets of quiet flame in palest gold flared shimmering through the sound, while winds that were full of hurricanes and cyclones swept down to lift the fire and dance with it in spirals. The perfume of great flowers rose. There were flowers everywhere, and stars shone through it all like showers of gold. Ah! I began to remember something. It was flowers and stars as well as human forms we worked to build . . .,.

But I kept the fire from leaping into actual flame; the mighty winds I held back. Even thus pent and checked, their powerful volume made the atmosphere shake and pulse about us. Only I could not control them now. . . . With an effort I came back, came down, as it were, and saw the funny little faces staring at me with opened eyes and mouths, and yellow teeth, pale gums, their skins gone whitish, their figures rigid with their tense emotion. They were so poorly made, the patterns so imperfect. The new respect in their manner was marked plainly. Suddenly all four turned together towards the door. I stopped. The doctor had returned. But it was Fillery again. I liked the feel of him.

“He wanted to sing, sir, so we let him. It seemed to relieve him a bit,” they explained quickly and with an air of helpless apology.

“Good, good,” said the doctor. “Quite good. Any normal expression that brings relief is good.” He dismissed them. They went out, casting back at me expressions of puzzled thanks and interest. The door closed behind them. The doctor seated himself beside me and took my hand. I liked his touch. His hand was alive, at any rate, although within my own it felt rather like a dying branch or bunch of leaves I grasped. The life, if thin, was real.

“Where’s the rest of it?” I asked him, meaning the music. “I used to have it all. It’s left me, gone away. What’s cut it off?”

“You’re not cut off really,” he said gently. “You can always get into it again when you really need it.” He gazed at me steadily for a minute, then said in his quiet voice a full, nice tone with wind through a forest running in it: “Mason. . . . Dr. Mason . . . ”

He said no more, but watched me. The name stirred something in me I could not get at quite. I could not reach down to it. I was troubled by a memory I could not seize.

“Mason,” I repeated, returning his strong gaze. “What who was Mason? And where?” I connected the name with a sense of liberty, also with great winds and pools of fire, with great figures of golden skin and radiant faces, with music, too, the music that had left me.

“You’ve forgotten for the moment,” came the deep running voice I liked. “He looked after you for twenty years. He gave his life for you. He loved you. He loved your mother. Your father was his friend.”

“Has he gone gone back?”

“He’s dead.”

“I can get after him though,” I said, for the name touched me with a sense of lost companionship I wanted, though the reference to my father and mother left me cold. “I can easily catch him up. When I move with my wind and fire, the fastest things stand still.” My own speed, once I was free again, I knew outpaced easily the swiftest bird, outpaced light itself.”

“Yes,” agreed the doctor; “only he doesn’t want that now. You can always catch him up when the time comes. Besides, he’s waiting for you anyhow.”

I knew that was true. I sank back comforted upon the stuffy pillows and lay silent. This tinkling chatter wearied me. It was like trickling wind. I wanted the flood of hurricanes, the pulse of storms. My building, shaping powers, my great companions oh! where were they?

“He taught you himself, taught you all you know,” I heard the tinkling go on again, “but he kept you away from life, thinking it was best. He was afraid for you, afraid for others too. He kept you in the woods and mountains where, as he believed, you could alone express yourself and so be happy. A hundred times, in babyhood and early childhood, you nearly died. He nursed you back to life. His own life he renounced. Now he is dead. He has left you all his money.”

He paused. I said no word. Faint memories passed through my mind, but nothing I could hold and seize. The money I did not understand at all, except that it was necessary.

“He thought at first that you could not possibly live to manhood. To his surprise you survived everything illness, accident, disaster of every sort and kind. Then, as you grew up, he realized his mistake. Instead of keeping you away from life, he ought to have introduced you to it and explained it as I and Devonham are now trying to do. You could not live for ever alone in woods and mountains; when he was gone there would be no one to look after you and guide you.”

The trickling of wind went on and on. I hardly listened to it. He did it for his own pleasure, I suppose. It pleased and soothed him possibly. Yet I remembered every syllable. It was a small detail to keep fresh when my real memory covered the whole planet.

“Before he died, he recognized his mistake and faced the position boldly. It was some years before the end; he was hale and hearty still, yet the end, he knew, was in sight. While the power was still strong in him, therefore, he did the only thing left to him to do. He used his great powers. He used suggestion. He hypnotized you, telling you to forget — from the moment of his death, but not before — forget everything. It was only partially successful.”

The door opened, the comely figure glanced in, then vanished.

“She wants more help from me,” I interrupted the monotonous tinkling instantly, for pity stirred in me again as I saw her eager, hungry and unsatisfied little eyes. “Call her back. I feel quite willing. It is one of the lower forms we made. I can improve it.”

Dr. Fillery, as he was called, looked at me steadily, his mouth twitching at the corners as before, a flash of fire flitting through his eyes. The fire made me like and trust him; the twitching, too, I liked, for it meant he knew how absurd he was. Yet he was bigger than the other figures.

“You can’t do that,” he said, “you mustn’t,” and then laughed outright. “It isn’t done, you know here.”

“Why not, sir?” I asked, using the terms the figures used. “I feel like that.”

“Of course, you do. But all you feel can’t be expressed except at the proper times and places. The consent of the other party always is involved,” he went on slowly, “when it’s a question of expressing anything you feel.”

This puzzled me, because in this particular instance the other party had asked me with her eyes to comfort her. I told him this. He laughed still more. Caught by the sound it was just like wind passing among tall grasses on a mountain ridge I forgot what he was talking about for the moment. The sound carried me away towards my own rhythms.

“You’ve got such amazing insight,” he went on tinkling to himself, for I heard, although I did not listen. “You read the heart too easily, too quickly. You must learn to hide your knowledge.” The laughter which ran with the words then ended, and I came back to the last thing I had definitely listened to “express, expressing,” was the phrase he used.

“You told me that self-expression is the purpose “for which I’m here?”

“I believe it is,” he agreed, more solemnly.

“Only sometimes, then?”

“Exactly. If that expression involves another in pain or trouble or discomfort —”

“Ah! I have to choose, you mean. I have to know first what the other feels about it.”

I began to understand better. It was a game. And all games delighted me.

“You may put it roughly so, yes,” he explained, “you’re very quick. I’ll give you a rule to guide you,” he went on. I listened with an effort; this tinkling soon wearied me; I could not think long or much; my way, it seemed, was feeling. “Ask yourself always how what you do will affect another,” Dr. Fillery concluded. “That’s a safe rule for you.”

“That is of children,” I observed. We stared at each other a moment. “Both sides keep it?” I asked.

“Childish,” he agreed, “it certainly is. Both sides, yes, keep it.”

I sighed, and the sigh seemed to rise from my very feet, passing through my whole being. He looked at me most kindly then, asking why I sighed.

“I used to be free,” I told him. “This is not liberty. And why are we not all free together?”

“It is liberty for two instead of only for one,” he said, “and so, in the long run, liberty for all.”

“So that’s where they are,” I remarked, but to myself and not to him. “Not further than that.” For what I had once known, but now, it seemed, forgotten, was far beyond such a foolish little game. We had lived without such tiny tricks. We lived openly and unafraid. We worked in harmony. We lived. Yes but who was “we”? That was the part I had forgotten.

“It’s the growth and development of civilization,” I heard the little drift of wind go whistling thinly, “and it won’t take you long to become quite civilized at this rate, more civilized, indeed, than most with your swift intelligence and lightning insight.”

“Civilization,” I repeated to myself. Then I looked at his eyes which hid carefully in their depths somewhere that tiny cherished flame I loved. “Your ways are really very simple,” I said. “It’s all easy enough to learn. It is so small.”

“A man studying ants,” he tinkled, “finds them small, but far from simple. You may find complications later. If so, come to me.”

I promised him, and the fire gleamed faintly in his eyes a moment. “He entrusted you to me. Your mother,” he added softly, “was the woman he loved.”

“Civilization,” I repeated, for the word set going an odd new rhythm in me that I rather liked, and that tired me less than the other things he said. “What is it then? You are a Race, you told me.”

“A Race of human beings, of men and women “developing —”

“The comely ones?”

“Are the women. Together we make up the Race.”

“And civilization?”

“Is realizing that we are a community, learning, growing, all its members living for the others as well as for themselves.”

Dr. Fillery told me then about men and women and sex, how children are made, and what enormous and endless work was necessary merely to keep them all alive and clothed and sheltered before they could accomplish anything else of any sort at all. Half the labour of the majority was simply to keep alive at all. It was an ugly little system he described. Much I did not hear, because my thinking powers gave out. Some of it gave me an awful feeling he called pain. The confusion and imperfection seemed beyond repair, even beyond the worth of being part of it, of belonging to it at all. Moreover, the making of children, without which the whole thing must end, gave me spasms of irritation he called laughter. Only the Comely Ones, and what he told me of them, made me want to sing.

“The men,” I said, “but do they see that it is ugly and ludicrous and —”

“Comic,” he helped me.

“Do they know,” I asked, taking his unknown words, “that it’s comic?”

“The glamour,” he said, “conceals it from them. To the best among them it is sacred even.”

“And the Comely Ones?”

“It is their chief mission,” he replied. “Always remember that. It’s sacred.” He fixed his kind eyes gravely on my face.

“Ah, worship, you mean,” I said. “I understand.” Again we stared for some minutes. “Yet all are not comely, are they?’” I asked presently.

The fire again shone faintly in his eyes as he watched me a moment without answering. It caught me away. I am not sure I heard his words, but I think they ran like this:

“That’s just the point where civilization so far has always stopped.”

I remember he ceased tinkling then; our talk ceased too. I was exhausted. He told me to remember what he had said, and to lie down and rest. He rang the bell, and a man, one of the four who had held me, came in.

“Ask Nurse Robbins to come here a moment, please,” he said. And a moment later the Comely One entered softly and stood beside my bed. She did not look at me. Dr. Fillery began again his little tinkling. “ . . . wishes to apologize to you most sincerely, nurse, for his mistake. He meant no harm, believe me. There is no danger in him, nor will he ever repeat it. His ignorance of our ways, I must ask you to believe —”

“Oh, it’s nothing, sir,” she interrupted. “I’ve quite forgotten it already. And usually he’s as good as gold and perfectly quiet.” She blushed, glancing shyly at me with clear invitation.

“It will not recur,” repeated the Doctor positively. “He has promised me. He is very, very sorry and ashamed.”

The nurse looked more boldly a moment. I saw her silver teeth. I saw the hint of soft fire in her poor pitiful eyes, but far, far away and, as she thought, safely hidden.

“Pitiful one, I will not touch you,” I said instantly. “I know that you are sacred.”

I noticed at once that her sweet natural perfume increased about her as I said the words, but her eyes were lowered, though she smiled a little, and her little cheeks grew coloured. I saw her small teeth of silvery marble again. Our work was visible. I liked it.

“You have promised me,” said Dr. Fillery, rising to go out.

“I promise,” I said, while the Comely One was arranging my pillows and sheets with quick, clever hands, sometimes touching my cheek on purpose as she did so. “I will not worship, unless it is commanded of me first. The increased sweetness of her smell will tell me.”

But indeed already I had forgotten her, and I no longer realized who it was that tripped about my bed, doing numerous little things to make me comfortable. My friend, the understanding one, companion of my big friend, Mason, who was dead, also had left the room. His twitching mouth, his laughter, and his shining eyes were gone. I was aware that the Comely One remained, doing all manner of little things about me and my bed, unnecessary things, but my pity and my worship were not asked, so I forgot her. My thinking had wearied me, and my feeling was not touched. I began to hum softly to myself; my giant rhythms rose; I went forth towards my Powers of Wind and Fire, full of my own natural joy. I forgot the Race with its men, its women, its rules and games, its tiny tricks, its civilization. I was free for a little with my own.

One detail interfered a little with the rhythms, but only for a second and very faintly even then. The Comely One’s face grew dark.

“He’s gone off asleep actually,” I heard her mutter, as she left the room with a fling of her little skirts, shutting the door behind her with a bang.

That bang was far away. I was already rising and falling in that natural happy state which to me meant freedom. It is hard to tell about, but that dear Fillery knows, I am sure, exactly what I know, though he has forgotten it. He has known us somewhere, I feel. He understands our service. But, like me, he has forgotten too.

What really happened to me? Where did I go, what did I see and feel when my rhythms took me off?

Thinking is nowhere in it I can tell him that. I am conscious of the Sun.

One difficulty is that my being here confuses me. Here I am already caught, confined and straitened. I am within certain limits. I can only move in three ways, three measurements, three dimensions. The space I am in here allows only little rhythms; they are coarse and slow and heavy, and beat against confining walls as it were, are thrown back, cross and recross each other, so that while they themselves grow less, their confusion grows greater. The forms and outlines I can build with them are poor and clumsy and insignificant. Spirals I cannot make. Then I forget.

Into these small rhythms I cannot compress myself; the squeezing hurts. Yet neither can I make them bigger to suit myself. I would break forth towards the Sun.

Thus I feel cramped, confused and crippled. It is almost impossible to tell of my big rhythms, for it is an attempt to tell of one thing in terms of another. How can I fix fire and wind upon the point of a pin, for instance, and examine them through a magnifying-glass? The Sun remains. What I experience, really, when I go off into my own freedom is release. My rhythms are of the Sun. They are his messengers, they are my law, they are my life and happiness. By means of them I fulfill the purpose of my being. I work, so Fillery calls it. I build.

That, at any rate, is literally true. My thinking stops at that point, perhaps; but “I think” I mean by “release” that I escape back from being trapped by all these separate little individualities, human beings each working on his own, for his own, and against all the others escape from this stifling tangle into the sweep of my big rhythms which work together and in unison. I search for lost companions, but do not find them the golden skins and ladiant faces, the mighty figures and the splendid shapes.

They work without effort, however. That is another difference.

I, too, work, only I work with them, and never against them. I can draw upon them as they can draw upon me. We do draw on one another. We know harmony. Service is our method and system.

My dear Fillery also wants to know who “we” are. How can I tell him? The moment I try to “think,” I seem to forget. This forgetting, indeed, is one of the limits against which I bang myself, so that I am flung back upon the tangle of criss-cross, tiny rhythms which confuse and obliterate the very thing he wants to know. Yet the Sun I never forget father of fire and wind.. My companions are lost temporarily. I am shut off from them. It seems I cannot have them and the Race at the same time. I yearn and suffer to rejoin them. The service we all know together is great joy. Of love, this love between two isolated individuals the Race counts the best thing they have we know nothing.

Now, here is one thing I can understand quite clearly:

I have watched and helped the Race, as he calls it, for countless ages. Yet from outside it. Never till now have I been inside its limits with it. And a dim sense of having watched it through a veil or curtain comes to me. I can faintly recall that I tried to urge my big rhythms in among its members, as great waves of heat or sound might be launched upon an ant-heap. I used to try to force and project my vast rhythms into their tiny ones, hoping to make these latter swell and rise and grow but never with success. Though a few members, here and there, felt them and struggled to obey and use their splendid swing, the rest did not seem to notice them at all. . . . Indeed, they objected to the struggling efforts of the few who did feel them, for their own small accustomed rhythms were interfered with. The few were generally broken into little pieces and pushed violently out of the way.

And this made me feel pitiful, I remember dimly; because these smaller rhythms, though insignificant, were exquisite. They were of extraordinary beauty. Could they only have been increased, the Race that knew and used them must have changed my own which, though huge and splendid of their kind, lacked the intense, perfect loveliness of the smaller kind.

The Race, had it accepted mine and mastered them, must have carried themselves and me towards still mightier rhythms which I alone could never reach.

This, then, is clear to me, though very faint now. Fillery, who can think for a long time, instead of like me for seconds only, will understand what I mean. For if I tell him what “we” did, he may be able to think out what “we” were.

“Your work?” he asked me too.

I’m not sure I know what he means by “work.” We were incessantly active, but not for ourselves. There was no effort. There was easy and sure accomplishment in the sense that nothing could stop or hinder our fulfilling our own natures. Obstacles, indeed, helped our power and made it greater, for everything feeds fire and opposition adds to the pressure of wind. Our main activity was to make perfect forms. We were form-builders. Apart from this, our “work” was to maintain and keep active all rhythms less than our own, yet of our kind. I speak of my own kind alone. We had no desire to be known outside our kind. We worked and moved and built up swiftly, but out of sight an endless service.

“You are the Powers behind what we call Nature, then?” the dear Fillery asked me. “You operate behind growing things, even behind inanimate things like trees and stones and flowers. Your big rhythms, as you call them, are our Laws of Nature. Your own particular department, your own elements evidently, were heat and air.”

I could not answer that. But, as he said it, I saw in his grey eyes the flash of fire which so few of his Race possessed; and I felt vaguely that he was one of the struggling members who was aware of the big rhythms and who would be put away in little pieces later by the rest. It made me pitiful. “Forget your own tiny rhythms,” I said,

“and come over to us. But bring your tiny rhythms with you because they are so exquisitely lovely. We shall increase them.”

He did not answer me. His mouth twitched at the corners, and he had an attack of that irritation which, he says, is relieved and expressed by laughter. Yet the face shone.

The laughter, however, was a very quick, full, natural answer, all the same. It was happy and enthusiastic. I saw that laughter made his rhythms bigger at once. Then laughter was probably the means to use. It was a sort of bridge.

“Your instantaneous comprehension of our things puzzles me,” he said. “You grasp our affairs in all their relations so swiftly. Yet it is all new to you.” His voice and face made me wish to stroke and help him, he was so dear and eager. “How do you manage it?” he asked point blank. “Our things are surely foreign to your nature.”

“But they are of children,” I told him. “They are small and so very simple. There are no difficulties. Your language is block letters because your self-expression, as you call it, is so limited. It all comes to me at a glance. I and my kind can remember a million tiniest details without effort.”

He did not laugh, but his face looked full of questions. I could not help him further. “A scrap, probably, of what you’ve taught us,” I heard him mumble, though no further questions came. “Well,” he went on presently, while I lay and watched the pale fire slip in tiny waves about his eyes, “remember this: since our alphabet is so easy to you, follow it, stick to it, do not go outside it. There’s a good rule that will save trouble for others as well as for yourself.”

“I remember and I try. But it is not always easy. I get so cramped and stiff and lifeless with it.”

“This sunless, chilly England, of course, cannot feed you,” he said. “The sense of beauty in our Race, too, is very poor.”

Once he suddenly looked up and fixed his eyes on my face. His manner became very earnest.

“Now, listen to me,” he said. “I’m going to read you something; I want you to tell me what you make of it. It’s private; that is, I have no right to show it to others, but as no one would understand it with the exception possibly of yourself secrecy is not of importance.” And his mouth twitched a little.

He drew a sheaf of papers from an inner pocket, and I saw they were covered with fine writing. I laughed; this writing always made me laugh it was so laborious and slow. The writing I knew best, of course, lay all over and inside the earth and skies. The privacy also made me laugh, so strange seemed the idea to me, and so impossible this idea of secrecy. It was such an admission of ignorance.

“I will understand it quickest by reading it,” I said. “I take in a page at once in your block letters.”

But he preferred to read it out himself, so that he could note the effect upon me, he explained, of definite passages. He saw that I guessed his purpose, and we laughed together a moment. “When you tire of listening,” he said, “just tell me and I’ll pause.” I gave him my hand to hold. “It helps me to stay here,” I explained, and he nodded as he grasped me in his warm firm clasp.

“It’s written by one who may have known you and your big rhythms, though I can’t be sure,” he added. “One of er my patients wrote it, someone who believed she was in communication with a kind of immense Nature-spirit.”

Then he began to read in his clear, windy voice:

“‘I sit and weave. I feel strange; as if I had so much consciousness that words cannot explain it. The failure of others makes my work more hard, but my own purposes never fail, I am associated with those who need me. The universal doors are open to me. I compass Creation.’”

But already I began to hum my songs, though to please him I kept the music low, and he, dear Fillery, did not bid me stop, but only tightened his grasp upon my hand. I listened with pleasure and satisfaction. Therefore I hummed.

“‘I am silent, seeking no expression, needing no communication, satisfied with the life that is in me. I do not even wish to be known about ——’”

“That’s where your Race,” I put in, “is to me as children. All they do must be shouted about so loud or they think it has not happened.”

“‘I do not wish to be forced to obtrude myself,’” he went on. “‘There are hosts like me. We do not want that which does not belong to us. We do not want that hindrance, that opposition which rouses an undesirable consciousness; for without that opposition we could never have known of disobedience. We are formless. The formless is the real. That cannot die. It is eternal.’”

Again he tightened his grasp, and this time also laid his eyes a moment on my own, over the top of his paper, so that I kept my music back with a great effort. For it was hard not to express myself when my own came calling in this fashion.

He continued reading aloud. He selected passages now, instead of oing straight through the pages. The words helped memory in me; flashes of what I had forgotten came back in sheets of colour and waves of music; the phrases built little spirals, as it were, between two states. Of these two states, I now divined, he understood one perfectly his own, and the other mine partially. Yet he had a little of both, I knew, in himself. With me it was similar, only the understood state was not the same with us. To the Race, of course, what he read would have no meaning.

“The Comely One and the four figures,” I said, “how they would turn white and run if they could hear you, showing their yellow teeth and dim eyes!”

His face remained grave and eager, though I could see the laughter running about beneath the tight brown skin as he went on reading his little bits.

“‘We heard nothing of man, and were rarely even conscious of him, although he benefited by our work in all that sustained and conditioned him. The wise are silent, the foolish speak, and the children are thus led astray, for wisdom is not knowledge, it is a realization of the scheme and of one’s own part in it.’”

He took a firmer, broader grip of my hand as he read the next bit. I felt the tremble of his excitement run into my wrist and arm. His voice deepened and shook. It was like a little storm:

“‘Then, suddenly, we heard man’s triumphant voice. We became conscious of him as an evolving entity. Our Work had told. We had built his form and processes so faithfully. We knew that when he reached his height we must be submissive to his will.’”

A gust of memory flashed by me as I heard. Those small but perfect, exquisite, lovely rhythms!

“Who called me here? Whose voice reached after me, bringing me into this undesirable consciousness?” I cried aloud, as the memory went tearing by, then vanished before I could recover it. At the same time Fillery let go my hand, and the little bridge was snapped. I felt what he called pain. It passed at once. I found his hand again, but the bridge was not rebuilt. How white his skin had grown, I noticed, as I looked up at his face. But the eyes shone grandly. “I shall find the way,” I said. “We shall go back together to our eternal home.”

He went on reading as though I had not interrupted, but I found it less easy to listen now.

I realized then that he was gone. He had left the room, though I had not seen him go. I had been away.

It was some days ago that this occurred. It was today, a few hours ago, that I seized the Comely One and tried to comfort her, poor hungry member of this little Race.

But both occurrences help us help dear Fillery and myself to understand how difficult it is to answer his questions and tell him exactly what he wants to know.

“How long, O Lord, how long!” I hear his yearning cry. “Yet other beings cannot help us; they can only tell us what their own part is.”

After the door had clicked I knew release for a bit release from a state I partially understood and so found irksome, into another where I felt at home and so found pleasurable. In the big rhythms my nature expressed itself apparently. I rose, seeking my lost companions. They the Devonham and his busy little figures called it sleep. It may be “sleep.” But I find there what I seek yet have forgotten, and that with me were dear Fillery and another a Comely One whom he brings as though we belong together and have a common origin. But this other Comely One who is it?

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/b/blackwood/algernon/bright-messenger/chapter9.html

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