Julius LeVallon, by Algernon Blackwood

Chapter xii

“Love and pity are pleading with me this hour.

What is this voice that stays me forbidding to yield,

Offering beauty, love, and immortal power.

Aeons away in some far-off heavenly field?” — A. E.

The actual beginnings of a separation are often so slight that they are scarcely noticed. Between two friends, whose acquaintance is of several years’ standing, sure that their tie will stand the ordinary tests of life, some unexpected and trivial incident first points to the parting of the ways; each discovers suddenly that, after all, the other is not necessary to him. An emotion unshared is sufficient to reveal some fundamental lack of sympathy hitherto concealed, and they go their different ways, neither claim debited with the least regret. Like the scarce perceptible mist of evening that divides dusk from night, the invisible chill has risen between them; each sees the other through a cloud that first veils, then distorts, and finally obliterates.

For some weeks after the “experiment” I saw LeVallon through some such risen mist, now thin, now thick, but always there and invariably repelling. I remember distinctly, however, that our going apart was to me not without a sense of regret both keen and poignant. I owed him something impossible to describe; a yearning sense of beauty touched common things about me at the sight of him, even at the mention of his name in the University classrooms; he had given me an awareness of other possibilities, an exhilarating view of life that held immense perspectives; a feeling that justice determined even the harshest details; above all, a sense of kinship with Nature that combined to form a tie of a most uncommon order.

Yet I went willingly from his side; for his prospectus of existence led me towards heights where I could not comfortably breathe. His entire scheme I never properly grasped, perhaps; the little parts we shared I saw, possibly, in wrong proportion, uncorrelated to the huge map his mind contained so easily. My own personality was insignificant, my powers mediocre; above all I had not always his strange conviction of positive memory to support me. I lagged behind. I left him. The seductive world that touched him not made decided claims upon my heart — love, passion, ambition and adventure called me strongly. I would not give up all and follow where he led. Yet I left him with the haunting consciousness that I surrendered a system of belief that was logical, complete and adequate, its scale of possible achievement wonderful, and its unselfish ideal, if immensely difficult, at least noble and inspiring. For all his mysticism, Julius, it seems to me, was practical and scientific.

Yet, the plausibility of his audacious theories would sometimes return questioningly upon me. Man was an integral part of Nature, not alien to it. What was there, after all, so impossible in what he claimed? And what amongst it might not the science of tomorrow, with its X rays, N rays, its wireless messages, its radium, its inter-molecular energy, and its slowly-formulating laws of telepathy and the dynamic character of Thought, not come eventually to confirm under new-fangled names?

So far as I reflected concerning these things at all, I kept an open mind; my point was simply that I preferred the ordinary pursuits of ordinary men. He was evidently aware of the change in me, while yet he made no effort to prevent my going. Nor did he make, so far as I can recall, any direct reference to the matter. Once only, in a lecture room, with a hand upon my shoulder while we jostled out together in the stream of other students, he bent his face towards me and said with the tender, comprehending smile that never failed to touch me deeply: “Our lives are far too deeply knit for any final separation. Out of the Past we come, and that Past is not exhausted yet.” The crowd had carried us apart before I could reply, but through me like a flash of lightning rose the certainty that this was literally true, and that while my upper, modern Self went off, my older, hidden Self was with him to the end. We merely took two curves that presently must join again.

But, though we saw little of one another all these weeks, I can never forget the scene of our actual leave-taking, nor the extraordinary incidents that led up to it. Now that I set it down on paper such phrases as “imaginative glamour” and the like may tempt me, but at the time it was as real and actual as the weekly battles with my landlady, or the sheaves of laborious notes I made at lecture — time. In some region of my consciousness, abnormal or otherwise, this scene most certainly took place.

It was one late evening towards the close of the session — March or April, therefore — that I had occasion to visit LeVallon’s house for some reason in itself of no importance; one of those keen and blustery nights that turn Edinburgh into a scene of unspeakable desolation. Princes Street, a vista of sheeted rain where shop-windows glistened upon black pavements; the Castle smothered in mist; Scott’s Monument semi-invisible with a monstrous air about it in the gloom; and the entire deserted town swept by a wind that howled across the Forth with gusts of quite thunderous energy. Even the cable-cars blundered along like weary creatures blindly seeking shelter.

I hurried through the confusion of the tempest, fighting my way at every step, and on turning the corner past the North British Railway Station, the storm carried me with a rush into the porch of the house, whipping the soaked macintosh with a blow across my face. The rain struck the dripping walls down their entire height, then poured splashing along the pavement in a stream. Night seemed to toss me into the building like some piece of wreckage from the crest of a great wave.

Panting and momentarily flustered, I paused in the little hall to recover breath, while the hurricane, having flung me into shelter, went roaring and howling down the sloping street. I wiped the rain from my face and put straight my disordered clothes. My mind just then was occupied with nothing but these very practical considerations. The impression that followed the next instant came entirely unbidden:

For I became aware of a sudden and enveloping sense of peace, beyond all telling calm and beautiful — an interior peace — a calm upon the spirit itself. It was a spiritual emotion. There drifted over me and round me, like the stillness of some perfect dawn, the hush of something serene and quiet as the stars. All stress and turmoil of the outer world passed into an exquisite tranquillity that in some nameless way was solemn as the spaces of the sky. I felt almost as if some temple atmosphere, some inner Sanctuary of olden time, where the tumult of external life dared not intrude, had descended on me. And the change arrested every active impulse in my being; my hurrying thoughts lay down and slept; all that was scattered in me gathered itself softly into an inner fold; unsatisfied desires closed their eyes. It seemed as if all the questing energies of my busy personality found suddenly repose. Life’s restlessness was gone. I even forgot momentarily the purpose for which I came.

So abrupt a change of key was difficult to realise; I can only say that the note of spiritual peace seemed far more true and actual than the physical relief due to the escape from wind and rain. Moreover, as I climbed the spiral staircase to the second floor where Julius lived, it deepened perceptibly — as though it emanated from his dwelling quarters, pervading the entire building. It brought back the atmosphere of what a:t school we called our “Temple Days.”

I went on tiptoe, fearful of disturbing what seemed solemn even to the point of being sacred, for the mood was so strong that I felt no desire to resist or criticise. Whatever its cause, this subjective state of mind was soothing to the point of actual happiness. A hint of bliss was in it. And it did not lessen either, when I discovered the landlady, Mrs. Garnier, white of face in the little hall-way, showing signs of nervousness that she made no attempt whatever to conceal.

She was all eagerness to speak. Before I could ask if Julius was at home, she relieved her burdened mind:

“Oh, it’ll be you, Mr. Mason! And I’m that glad ye’ve come!”

Her round, puffy visage plainly expressed relief, as she came towards me with a shambling gait, looking over her shoulder across the dim-lit hall. “Mr. LeVallon,” she whispered, “has been in there without a sound since mornin’, and I’m thinkin’, maybe, something would ha’ happened to him.” And she stared into my face as though I could instantly explain what troubled her. Where I felt spiritual peace, she felt, obviously, spiritual alarm.

“He is engaged?” I inquired. Then — though hardly aware why I put the question — I added: “There is someone with him ?”

She peered about her.

“He’ll be no engaged to you, sir,” she replied. Plainly, it was not her lodger’s instructions that prompted the words; by the way she hung back I discerned that she dreaded to announce me; she hoped I would go in and explore alone.

“I’ll wait in the sitting-room till he comes out,” I said, after a moment’s hesitation. And I moved towards the door.

Mrs. Gamier, however, at once made an involuntary gesture to prevent me. I can still hear her slippered tread shuffling across the oil-cloth. The gesture became a sort of leap when she saw that I persisted. It reminded me of a frightened animal.

“There’ll be twa gentlemen already waiting,” she mumbled thickly, her face turning a shade paler.

And, hearing this, I paused. The old woman, I saw, was trembling. I was annoyed at the interruption, for it destroyed the sense of delightful peace I had enjoyed.

“Anyone I know?”

I was close to the door as I asked it, the terrified old woman close beside me. She thrust her grey face up to mine; her eyes shone in the gleam of the low-turned gas jet above our heads; and her excitement communicated itself suddenly to my own blood. A distinct shiver ran down my back.

“I dinna ken them,” she whispered behind a hand she held to her mouth, “for, ye see, I dinna let them in.”

I stared at her, wondering what was coming next The slight trepidation I had felt for a moment vanished, but I kept my voice at a whisper for fear of disturbing Julius in his inner chamber on the other side of the wall.

“What do you mean? Tell me plainly what’s the matter.” I said it with some sharpness.

She replied at once, only too glad to share her anxiety with another.

“They came in by themselves,” she whispered with a touch of superstitious awe; “wonderfu’ big men, the twa of them, and dark-skinned as the de’il,” and she drew back a pace to watch the effect of her words upon me.

“How long ago?” I asked impatiently. I remembered suddenly that Julius had friends among the Hindu students. It was more than possible that he had given them his key.

Mrs. Gamier shook her head suggestively. “I went in an hour ago,” she told me in a low tone, “thinkin’ maybe he would be eatin’ something, and, O Lord mercy, I ran straight against the pair of them, settin’ there in the darkness wi’oot a word.”

“Well?” I said, seeing that she was likely to invent, “and what of it?”

“Neither of them moved a finger at me,” she continued breathlessly, “but they looked all over me, and they had eyes like a flame o’ fire, and I all but let the lamp fall and came out in a faintin’ condeetion, and have been prayin’ ever since that someone would come in.”

She shuffled into the middle of the hall — way, drawing me after her by my sleeve. She pointed towards a comer of the ceiling. A small square window was let into the wall of the little interior room where Julius sought his solitude, and where at this moment he was busy with his mysterious occupations.

“And what’ll be that awfu’ licht, then?” she inquired, plucking me by the arm.

A gleam of bright white light, indeed, was visible through the small dusty pane above us, and again a curious memory ran like sheet-lightning across my mind that I had seen this kind of light before and that it was familiar to me. It vanished instantly before I could seize the fleeting picture. The light certainly was of peculiar brightness, coming from neither gas nor candle, nor from any ordinary light that I could have named off-hand.

“It’ll be precisely that kind of licht that’s in their eyes,” I heard her whisper, as she jerked her whole body rather than her head alone towards the sitting-room I was about to enter. She wiped her clammy hands upon the striped apron that hung crooked from her angular hips.

“Mrs. Gamier,” I said with authority, “there’s nothing to be afraid of. Mr. LeVallon makes experiments sometimes, that’s all. He wouldn’t hurt a hair of your head ”

“Nae doot,” she interrupted me, backing away from the door, “for his bonny face is a face to get well on, but the twa others in there, the darkies — aye, and that’ll be another matter, and not one for me to be meddlin’ with ”

I cut her short. “If you feel frightened,” I said, smiling, “go to your room and pray. You needn’t announce me. I’ll go in and wait until he’s ready to come out and see me.”

Her face went white as linen, showing up an old scar on the cheek in an ugly reddish pattern, while I pushed past her and turned the handle of the door. I heard the breath catch in her throat. The next minute, lamp in hand, I was in the room, slamming the door literally in her face lest she might follow and do some foolish thing. I set the lamp down upon the table in the centre. I looked quickly about me. No living person but myself was there — certainly no Hindu gentlemen with eyes of flame. Mrs. Garnier’s Celtic imagination had run away with her altogether. I sat down and waited. A line of that same bright, silvery light shone also beneath the crack of the door from the inner chamber. The wind and rain trumpeted angrily at the windows. But the room was undeniably empty.

Yet it is utterly beyond me to describe the sense of exaltation that at once rose over me like some influence of perfect music; “exaltation” is the right word, I think, and “music” conveys best the uplifting and soothing effect that was produced. For here, at closer quarters, the sensation of exquisite peace was doubly renewed. The nervous alarm inspired by the woman fled. This peace flooded me; it stirred the bliss of some happy spiritual life long since enjoyed and long since forgotten. I passed instantly, as it were, under the sway of some august authority that banished the fret and restlessness of the extraneous world; and compared to which the strife and ambition of my modern life seemed, indeed, well lost.

Behind it, however, and behind the solemnity that awed, was at the same time the faint presage of something vaguely disquieting. The memory of some afflicting incompleteness gripped me; the anguish of ideals too lofty for attainment; the sweet pain and passion of some exquisite long suffering; the secret yearning of a soul that had dared sublime accomplishment, then plunged itself and others in the despair of failure — all this lay in the apprehension that stood close behind the bliss.

But, above all else, was the certainty that I remembered definite details of those Temple Days, and that I was upon the verge of still further and more detailed recollection. . . . That faintness stealing over me was the faintness of immeasurable distance, the ache of dizzy time, the weariness that has no end and no beginning. I felt what Julius LeVallon felt — the deep sickness of eternity that knows no final rest, either of blessed annihilation or of non-existence, until the journey of the soul comes to its climax in the Deity. And, feeling this — realising it — for the first time, I understood, also for the first time, LeVallon’s words at Motfield Close two years ago — “If the soul remembered all, it would lose the courage to attempt. Only the vital things are worth recalling, because they guide.”

This flashed across me now, as I sat in that Edinburgh lodging-house, waiting for him to come. I knew myself, beyond all doubt or question, caught away in that web of wonderful, far-off things; there revived in me the yearnings of memories exceedingly remote: poignant still with life, because they were unexhausted still, and terrible with that incompleteness which sooner or later must find satisfaction. And it was this sense of things left undone that brought the feeling of presentiment. Julius, in that inner chamber, was communing as of old. But also — he was searching. He was hard upon the trail of ancient clues. He was seeking her. I knew it in my bones.

For I felt some subtle communication with that other mind beyond the obstructing door — not, however, as it was today, but as it was in the recoverable centuries when the three of us had committed the audacious act which still awaited its final readjustment at our hands. Julius, searching by some method of his own among the layers of our ancient lives, reconstructed the particular scenes he needed. Involuntarily, unwittingly, I shared them too. I had stepped into his ancient mood. . . .

My mind grew crowded. The pictures rose and passed, and rose again. . . .

But it was always one in particular that returned, staying longer than the others. He concentrated upon one, then. In his efforts to find her soul in its body of today, he went back to the source of our original relationship, the immensely remote experience when he and I and she had sown the harvest we had now come back to reap together. Thence, holding the clue, he could trace the thread of her existences down to this very moment. He could find her where she stood upon the earth — today.

This seemed very clear to me, though how I realised it is difficult to say. I remember a curious thought — which proves how real the conviction was in me. I asked myself: “Does she feel anything now, as she goes about her business on this earth, perhaps in England, perhaps not far removed from us, as distance goes? And is she, too, wherever she stands and waits, aware perhaps of some queer presentiment that haunts her waking or her sleeping mind — the presentiment of something coming, something about to happen — that someone waits for her?”

The one persistent picture rose and captured me a:gain. . . .

In blazing sunlight stood the building of whitened stone against the turquoise sky; and, a little to the left, the yellow cliffs, precipitous and crumbling. At their base were mounds of sand the wind and sun had chiselled and piled up against their feet. The soft air trembled with the heat; fierce light bathed everything — from the small white figures moving up and down the rock-hewn steps, to the Temple hollowed out between the stone paws of an immense outline half animal, half human. To the right, and towards the east, stretched the abundant desert, shimmering grey and blue and green beneath the torrid sun. I smelt the empty leagues of sand, the delicate perfume that gathers among the smooth, baked hollows of a million dunes; I felt the breeze, sharp and exhilarating, that knew no interruption of broken surfaces to break its journey of days and nights; and behind me I heard the faint, sharp rustle of trees whose shadows flickered on the burning ground. This heat and air grew stealthily upon me; fire and wind were here the dominating influences, the natural methods which furnished vehicles for the manifestation of particular Powers. Here was the home of our early worship of the Sun and space, of Fire and Wind. Yet, somehow, it seemed not of this present planet we call Earth, but of some point nearer to the centre.

Beside those enormous paws, where the air danced and shimmered in the brilliant glare, I saw the narrow flight of steps leading to the crypts below — the retreats for solitude. And then, suddenly, with a shock of poignant recognition — 1 saw a figure that I knew instantly to be myself, the Sower of my harvest of Today. It slowly moved down the steps behind another figure that

I recognised with equal conviction — some inner flash of lightning certainty — as Julius LeVallon, the soul I knew today in Edinburgh, the soul that, in another body, now stood near me in a nineteenth century lodging-house. The bodies, too, were lighter, less dense and material than those we used today, the spirit occupier less hampered and restricted. That too was clear to me.

I was aware of both times, both places simultaneously. That is, I was not dreaming. The peace, moreover, that stole round me in this modern building was but a faint reflection of the peace once familiar to me in those far-off Temple Days. And somehow it was the older memory that dominated consciousness.

About me the room held still as death, the battle of that earthly storm against the walls and windows half unreal, or so remote as to be not realised. Time paused a moment. I looked back. I lived as I had been then — in another type of consciousness, it seemed. It was marvellous, yet natural as in a dream. Only, as in a dream, subsequent language fails to retain the searching, vivid reality. The living fact is not recaptured. I felt. I understood. Certain tendencies and characteristics that were “me” today I saw explained — those that derived from this particular period. What must be conquered, and why, flashed sharply; also individuals whom to avoid would be vain shirking, since having sown together we must reap together — or miss the object of our being.

I heard strange names — Concerighe, Silvatela, Ziaz . . . and a surge of passionate memories caught at my heart. Yet it was not Egypt, it was not India or the East, it was not Assyria or old Chaldea even; this belonged to a civilisation older than them all, some dim ancient kingdom that antedated all records open to possible research today. . . .

I was in contact with the searching mind within that inner chamber. His effort included me, making the deeps in me give up their dead. I saw. He sought through many “sections.” . . . I followed. . . . There was confusion — the pictures of recent days breaking in upon others infinitely remote. I could not disentangle. . . .

Very sharply, then, and with a sensation of uneasiness that was almost pain, another figure rose. I saw a woman. With the same clear certainty of recognition the face presented itself. Hair, lips, and eyes I saw distinctly, yet somehow through a haze that veiled the expression. About the graceful neck hung a soft cloth of gold; dark lashes screened a gaze still starry and undimmed; there was a smile of shining teeth . . . the eyes met mine. . . .

With a diving rush the entire picture shifted, passing on to another scene, and I saw two figures, her own and his, bending down over something that lay stretched and motionless upon an altar of raised stones. We were in shadow now; the air was cool; the perfume of the open desert had altered to the fragrance that was incense. . . . The picture faded, flashed quickly back, faded again, and once again was there. I could not hold it for long. Larger, darker figures swam between to confuse and blur its detail, figures of some swarthier race, as though layers of other memories, perhaps more recent, mingled bewilderingly with it. The two passed in and out of one another, sometimes interpenetrating, as when two slides appear upon the magic-lantern sheet together; yet, peering at me through the phantasmal kaleidoscope, shone ever this woman-face, seductively lovely, haunting as a vision of stars, mask of a soul even then already “old,” although the picture was of ages before the wisdom of Buddha or the love of Christ had stolen on the world. . . .

Then came a moment of clearer sight suddenly, and I saw that the objects lying stretched and motionless in the obscurity, and over one of which they bent in concentrated effort, were the bodies of men not dead, but temporarily vacated. And I knew that we stood in the Hall of the Vacated Bodies, an atmosphere of awe and solemnity about us. For these were the advanced disciples who in the final initiation lay three days and nights entranced, while their souls acquired “elsewhere and otherwise” the knowledge no brain could attain to in the flesh. During the interval there were those who watched the empty tenements — Guardians of the Vacated Bodies — and two of these I now saw bending low — the woman and a man. The body itself I saw but dimly, but an overmastering curiosity woke in me to see it clearly — to recognise!

The intensity of my effort caused a blur, it seemed. Across my inner sight the haze thickened for a moment, and I lost the scene. But this time I understood. The dread of something they were about to consummate blackened the memory with the pain of treachery. Guardians of the Vacated Bodies, they had been faithless to their trust: they had used their position for some personal end. Awe and terror clutched my soul. Who was the leader, who the led, I failed utterly to recover, nor what the motive of the broken trust had been. A sublime audacity lay in it, that I knew. There was the desire for knowledge not yet properly within their reach; there was the ambition to evoke the elemental powers; and there was an “experiment,” using the instrument at hand as the channel for an achievement that might have made them — one of them, at any rate — as the gods. But there was about it all an entanglement of personalities and motives I was helpless to unravel. The whole deep significance I could not recover. My own part, the part he played, and the part the woman played, seemed woven in an involved and inextricable knot. It belonged, I felt, to an order of consciousness which is not the order of today. I, therefore, failed to understand completely. Only that we three were together, closely linked, emerged absolutely clear.

For one moment the scene returned again. I remember that something drove forcibly against me in that ancient place, that it flung itself roaring like a tempest in my face, that a great burning sensation passed through me, while sheets of what I can only describe as black fire tore through the air about us. There was fire and there was wind . . . that much I realised.

I rocked — that is my present body rocked. I reeled upon my chair. The entire memory plunged down into darkness with a speed of lightning. I seemed to rise — to emerge from the depths of some sea within me where I had lain sunk for ages. In one sense — I awoke. But, before the glamour passed entirely, and while the reality of the scene hung about me still, I remember that a cry for help escaped my lips, and that it was the name of our leader that I called upon:

“Concerighe . . .!”

With that cry still sounding in the air, I turned, and saw him whom I had called upon beside me. With a kind of splendid, dazzling light he came. He rested one hand upon my shoulder; he gazed down into my eyes; and I looked into a face that was magnificent with power, radiant, glorious. The atmosphere momentarily seemed turned to flame. I felt a wind of strength strike through me. The old temptation and the sin — the failure — all were clear at last.

I remembered. . . .

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