Julius LeVallon, by Algernon Blackwood

Chapter xiii

The brilliance of the figure dimmed and melted, as though the shadows ate it from the edges inwards; there came a rattling at the handle of that inner chamber door; it opened suddenly; and Julius LeVallon, this time in his body of Today, stood framed against the square of light that swirled behind him like clouds of dazzlingly white steam. The door swung to and closed. He moved forward quickly into the room.

By this time I was more in possession of my normal senses again. Here was no question of memory, vision, or imagination’s glamour. Beyond any doubt or ambiguity, there stood beside me in this sitting-room of the Edinburgh lodging-house two figures of Julius LeVallon. I saw them simultaneously. There was the normal Julius walking across the carpet towards me, and there was his double that stood near me in a body of light — now fading, yet unquestionably wearing the likeness of that Concerighe whom I had seen bending with the woman above the vacated body.

They moved together swiftly. Almost the same moment they met; they intermingled, much as two outlines of an object slip one into the other when the finger’s pressure on the eyeball is removed. They became one person. Julius was there before me in the lamp-lit room, just come from his inner chamber that blazed with brilliance. This light now disappeared. No line showed beneath the crack of the door. I heard the wind and rain shout drearily past the windows with the dying storm.

I caught my breath. I stood up to face him, taking a quick step backwards. And I heard Julius laugh a little. He told me afterwards I had assumed an attitude of defence.

He was speaking — in his ordinary voice, no sign of excitement in him, nor about his presence anything unusual.

“You called me,” he said quietly; “you called for help. But I could not come at once; I could not get back; it was such a long way off.” He looked at me and smiled. “I was searching,” he added, as though he had been merely turning the pages of a book.

“Our old Memory Game. I know. I felt it — even out here.”

He nodded gravely.

“You could hardly help it,” he replied, “being so close,” and indicated that inner room with a gesture of his head. “Besides, you were in it all the time. And she was in it too. Oh,” he said with a touch of swift enthusiasm, “I have recovered nearly all. I know exactly now what happened. I was the leader, I the instigator; you both merely helped me; you with your faithful friendship, even while you warned; she with her passionate love that asked no questions, but obeyed.”

“She loved you so?” I asked faintly, but with an uncontrollable trembling of the voice. An amazing prescience seized me.

“You,” he said calmly. “It was you she loved.”

What thrill of romance, deathless and enthralling, stirred in me as I heard these words! What starry glory stepped down upon the world! A memory of bliss poured into me; the knowledge of an undying love constant as the sun itself. Then, hard upon its heels, flashed back the Present with a small and insignificant picture — of my approaching union — with another. An extraordinary revulsion caught me. I remember steadying myself against the chair in front of me.

“For it was your love,” Julius went on quietly, “that made you so necessary. You two were a single force together. I had the knowledge, but you together had the greatest power in the world. We were three — a trinity — the strongest union possible. And the temptation was too much for me ”

He turned away a moment so that I could not see his face. He broke off suddenly. There was a new and curious quality in his voice, as though it dwindled in volume and grew smaller, yet was not audibly lowered.

What caused the old sense of dread to quicken in me? What brought this sudden sinking of the heart as he turned again from the cabinet where he stood, and our eyes met steadily through the lamp-lit room?

“I borrowed love, but knew not how to use it,” he went on slowly, solemnly. “I had evoked the Powers successfully; through the channel of that vacated body I had drawn them into my own being. Then came the failure ”

“I— we failed you!” I faltered.

“The failure,” he replied, still fixing me with his glowing eyes, “was mine, and mine alone. The power lent me I did not understand. It was not my own, and without great love these things cannot be accomplished. I must first know love. What I had summoned I was too weak to banish. The owner of the vacated body returned.” Then, after a pause, he added half below his breath: “The Powers, exiled from their appointed place, are about me to this very day. But it is the owner of that body whose forgiveness I need most. And only with your help — with the presence, the sympathetic presence of yourself and her — can this be effected.”

Past, present, and future seemed strangely inter-mingled as I heard, for my thoughts went groping forward, and at the same time diving backwards among desert sands and temples. The passion of an immense love-story caught me; I was aware of intense yearning to resume my place in it all with him, with her, with all the reconstructed conditions of relationships so ancient and so true. It swept over me like a storm unchained. That scene in the cool and sunless crypt flamed forth again, reality in each smallest detail. The meaning of his words I did not wholly grasp, however; there was something lacking in my mind of Today that withheld the final clue. My present consciousness was not as then. From brain and reason all this seemed so utterly divorced, and I had forgotten how to understand by feeling in the way that Julius did. Those last words, however, brought a sudden question to my lips. Almost unconsciously I gave it utterance:

“Through the channel of a body?” I asked, and my voice was lower than his own.

“Through the channel of a human system,” was his answer, “an organism that uses consciously both heat and air, and that, therefore, knows the nature of them both. For the Powers can be summoned only by those who understand them; and understanding, being worship, depends ultimately upon sharing their natures, though it be in little.”

There came a welcome break, then, in the strain of this extraordinary conversation, as Julius, using no bridge to transpose our emotions from one key to the other, walked quietly over to the cupboard. It was characteristically significant of his attitude to life in general, that the solemn things we had been speaking of were yet no more sacred than the prosaic detail of today that now concerned him — a student’s supper. All was “one” to him in this rare but absolutely genuine way. He was unconscious of any break in the emotional level of what had been — for him there was, indeed, no break — and, watching him, it almost seemed that I still saw that other figure of long ago striding across the granite, sun-drenched slabs.

The voice rose unbidden within me, choked by the stress of some inexplicable emotion:

“Concerighe . . .!” I cried aloud involuntarily; “Concerighe . . . Ziaz. . . . We are all together still . . . my help is yours . . . my unfailing help. . . . ”

Julius, loaf and marmalade jar in hand, turned from the cupboard as though he had been struck. For a moment he stood and stared. The customary expression melted from his face, and in its place a look of tenderest compassion shone through the strength.

“You do remember, then!” he said very softly; “even the names!”

“And Silvatela,” I murmured, moisture rising unaccountably to my eyes. I saw the room in mist.

Julius stood before me like a figure carved in stone. For a long time he spoke no word. Gradually the curious disturbance in my own breast sank and passed. The mist lifted and disappeared. I felt myself slipping back into Today on the ebb of some shattering experience, already half forgotten.

“You remember,” he repeated presently, his voice impassioned but firmly quiet, “the temptation — and — the failure. ..?”

I nodded, almost involuntarily again.

“And still hold to you — both,” I murmured.

He held me with his eyes for quite a minute. Though he used no word or gesture, I felt his deep delight.

“Because we must,” he answered presently; “because we must.”

He had moved so close to me that I felt his breath upon my face. I could have sworn for a second that I gazed into the shining eyes of that other and audacious figure, for it was the voice of Concerighe, yet the face of Julius. Past and present seemed to join hands, mingling confusedly in my mind. Cause and effect whispered across the centuries, linking us together. And the voice continued deeply, as if echoing down hollow aisles of stone.

I heard the words in the shadowy spaces of that old-world crypt, rather than among the plush furniture of these Edinburgh lodgings.

“We three are at last together again, and must bring the Balance to a final close. As the stars are but dust upon the pathway of the gods, so our mistakes are but dust upon the pathway of our lives. What we let fall together, we must together remove.”

Then, with an abruptness that pertained sometimes to these curious irruptions from the past, the values shifted. He became more and more the Julius LeVallon whom I knew today. Speech changed to a modern and more usual key. And the effect upon myself was of vague relief, for while the impression of great drama did not wholly pass, the uneasiness lightened in me, and I found my tongue again. I told my own experience — all that I had seen and felt and thought. Brewing the cocoa, and setting out the bread and marmalade upon the table, Julius listened to every word without interruption. Our intimacy was complete again as though no separation, either of lives or days, had been between us.

“Inside me, of course,” I concluded the recital; “in some kind of interior sight I saw it all ”

“The only true sight,” he declared, “though what you saw was but the reflection at second-hand of memories I evoked in there.” He pointed to the inner room. “In there,” he went on significantly, “where nothing connected with the Present enters, no thought, no presence, nothing that can disturb or interrupt, — in there you would see and remember as vividly as I myself. The room is prepared. . . . The channels all are open. As it was, my pictures flashed into you and set the great chain moving. For no life is isolated; all is shared; and every detail, animate or so-called inanimate, belongs inevitably to every other.”

“Yet what I saw was so much clearer than our school-day memories,” I said. “Those pictures, for instance, of the pastoral people where we came together first.”

An expression of yearning passed into his eyes as he answered.

“Because in our Temple Days you led the life of the soul instead of the body merely. The soul alone remembers. There lies the permanent record. Only what has touched the soul, therefore, is recoverable — the great joys, great sorrows, great adventures that have reached it. You feel them. The rest are but fugitive pictures of scenery that accompanied the spiritual disturbances. Each body you occupy has a different brain that stores its own particular series. But true memory is in, and of, the Soul. Few have any true soul-life at all; few, therefore, have anything to remember!”

His low voice ran on and on, charged with deep earnestness; his very atmosphere seemed to vibrate with the conviction of his words; about his face occasionally were flashes of that radiance in which his body of light — his inmost being — dwelt for ever. I remember moving the marmalade pot from its precarious position on the table edge, lest his gestures should send it flying! But I remember also that the haunting reality of “other days and other places” lay about us while we talked, so that the howling of the storm outside seemed far away and quite unable to affect us. We knew perfect communion in that dingy room. We felt together.

“But it is difficult, often painful, to draw the memories up again,” he went on, still speaking of recovery, “for they lie so deeply coiled about the very roots of joy and grief. Things of the moment smother the older pictures. The way of recovery is arduous, and not many would deem the sacrifice involved worth while. It means plunging into yourself as you must plunge below the earth if you would see the starlight while the sun is in the sky. Today’s sunlight hides the stars of yesterday. Yet all is accessible — the entire series of the soul’s experiences, and real forgetting is not possible.”

A movement as of wind seemed to pass between us over the faded carpet, bearing me upwards while he spoke, sweeping me with his own conviction of our eternal ancestry and of our unending future.

“We have made ourselves exactly what we are. We are making our future at this very minute — now!” I exclaimed. The justice of the dream inspired me. Great courage, a greater hope awoke.

He smiled, opening his arms with a gesture that took in the world.

“Your aspirations, hopes and fears, all that has ever burned vitally at your centre, every spiritual passion that uplifted or enticed, each deep endeavour that seeded your present tendencies and talents — everything, in fact, strong enough to have touched your Soul — sends up its whirling picture of beauty or dismay at the appointed time. The disentangling may be difficult, but all are there, for you yourself are their actual, living Record. Feeling, not thinking, best unravels them — the primitive vision as of children — the awareness of kinship with everything about you. The sense of separateness and isolation vanishes, and the soul recovers the consciousness of sharing all the universe. There is no loneliness; there is no more fear.”

Ah, how we talked that night of tempest through! What thoughts and dreams and possibilities Julius sent thundering against my mind as with the power of the loosed wind and rain outside. The scale of life became immense, each tiniest detail of act and thought important with the sacredness of some cosmic ceremonial that it symbolised. Yet to his words alone this power was not due, but rather to some force of driving certitude in himself that brought into me too a similar conviction. The memory of it hardened in the sands of my imagination, as it were, so that the result has remained, although the language by which he made it seem so reasonable has gone.

I smoked my pipe; and, as the smoke curled upwards, I watched his face of pallid marble and the mop of ebony hair that set off so well the brilliance of the eyes. He looked, I thought to myself, like no human being I had ever seen before.

“And sometimes,” I remember hearing, “the memories from a later section may suddenly swarm across an earlier one — confusing the sight, perhaps, just when it is getting clear. A few hours ago, for ‘instance, my search was interrupted by an inrush of two more recent layers — Eastern ones — which came to obliterate with their vividness the older, dimmer ones I sought.”

I mentioned what the frightened woman imagined she had seen.

“She caught a reflected fragment too,” he said. “So strong a picture was bound to spread.”

“Then was Mrs. Garnier with us too before?” I asked, as we burst out laughing.

“Not in that sense, no. It was the glamour that touched her only — second-sight, as she might call it. She is sensitive to impressions, nothing more.”

He came over and sat closer to me. The web of his language folded closer too. The momentum of his sincerity threw itself against all my prejudices, so that I, too, saw the serpentine vista of these previous lives stretching like a river across the ages. To this day I see his tall, slim figure, his face with the clear pale skin, the burning eyes; now he leaned across the table, now stood up to emphasise some phrase, now paced the floor of that lamp-lit students’ lodging-house, while he spoke of the long battling of our souls together, sowing thoughts and actions whose consequences must one day be reaped without evasion. The scale of his Dream was vast indeed, its prospect austere and merciless, yet the fundamental idea of justice made it beautiful, as its inclusion of all Nature made it grand.

To Julius LeVallon the soul was indeed unconquerable, and man master of his fate. Death lost its ugliness and terror; the sense of broken, separated life was replaced by the security of a continuous existence, whole, unhurried, eternal, affording ample time for all development, accepting joy and suffering as the justice of results, but never as of reward or punishment. There was no caprice; there was no such thing as chance.

Then, as the night wore slowly on, and the wind died down, and the wonderful old town lay sleeping peacefully, we talked at last of that one thing towards which all our conversation tended subconsciously: our future together and the experiment that it held in store for us — with her.

I cannot hope to set down here the words by which this singular being led me, half accepting, to the edge of understanding that his conception might be right. To that edge, however, I somehow felt my mind was coaxed. I looked over that edge. I saw for a moment something of his magnificent panorama. I realised a hint of possibility in his shining scheme. But it is beyond me to report the persuasive reasonableness of all I heard, for the truth is that Julius spoke another language — a language incomprehensible to my mind today. His words, indeed, were those of modern schools and books, but the spirit that ensouled them belong to a forgotten time. Only by means of some strange inner sympathy did I comprehend him. Another, an older type of consciousness, perhaps, woke in me. As with the pictures, this also seemed curiously familiar as I listened. Something in me old as the stars and wiser than the brain both heard and understood.

For the elemental forces he held to be Intelligences that share the life of the cosmos in a degree enormously more significant than anything human life can claim. Mother Earth, for him, was no mere poetic phrase. There was spiritual life in Nature as there was spiritual life in men and women. The insignificance of the latter was due to their being cut off from the great sources of supply — to their separation from Nature. Under certain conditions, and with certain consequences, it was possible to obtain these powers which, properly directed, might help the entire world. This experiment we had once made — and failed.

The method I already understood in a certain measure; but the rest escaped my comprehension. Memory failed to reconstruct it for me; vision darkened; his words conveyed no meaning. It was beyond me. Somewhere, somehow, personal love had entered to destroy the effective balance that ensured complete success. Yet, equally, the power of love which is quintessential sympathy, was necessary.

What, however, I did easily understand was that the object of that adventure was noble, nothing meanly personal in it anywhere; and, further, that to restore the damaged equilibrium by returning these particular powers to their rightful places, there must be an exact reproduction of the conditions of evocation — that is, the three original participants must be together again — a human system must serve again as channel.

And the essential fact of all that passed between us on this occasion was that I gave again my promise. When the necessary conditions were present — I would not fail him. This is the memory I have carried with me through the twenty years of our subsequent separation. I gave my pledge.

The storm blew itself to rest behind the hills; the rain no longer set the windows rattling; the hush of early morning stole down upon the sleeping city. We had talked the night away. He seemed aware — I know not how — that we stood upon the brink of going apart for years. There was great tenderness in his manner, his voice, his gestures. Turning to me a moment as the grey light crept past the curtains, he peered into my face as though he would revive lost centuries with the passion of his eyes. He took my hand and held it, while a look of peace and trust passed over his features as though the matter of the future were already then accomplished.

He led me silently across the room towards the door. I turned instinctively; words rose up in me, but words that found no utterance. A deep emotion held me dumb. Then, as I opened the door, I found the old, familiar name again:

“Concerighe . . . Friend of a million years . . .!”

But no sentence followed it. He touched my arm. A cold wind seemed to pass between us. I firmly believe that somehow he foresaw the long interval of separation that was coming. Something about him seemed to fade; I saw him less distinctly; my sight, perhaps, was blurred with the strain of these long hours — hours the like of which I was not to know again for many years. That magical name has many a time echoed since in my heart away from him, as it echoed then across the darkened little hall-way of those Edinburgh lodgings: “Concerighe! Friend of a million years!”

Side by side we went down the granite steps of the spiral staircase to the street. Julius opened the big front door. I heard the rattling of the iron chain. A breeze from the sea blew salt against our faces, then ran gustily along the streets. Behind the Calton Hill showed a crimson streak of dawn. A line of clouds, half rosy and half gold, ran down the sky. No living being was astir. I heard only the noisy whirling of the iron chimney-pots against the morning wind.

And then his voice:

“Goodbye Until we meet again. . . . ”

He pressed my hands. I looked into his eyes. He stepped back into the shadow of the porch. The door closed softly.

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