Julius LeVallon, by Algernon Blackwood

Chapter xvii

“Thy voice is like to music heard ere birth.

Some spirit lute touched on a spirit sea;

Thy face remembered is from other worlds.

It has been died for, though I know not when.

It has been sung of, though I know not where.

It has the strangeness of the luring West,

And of sad sea-horizons; beside thee

I am aware of other times and lands,

Of birth far back, of lives in many stars.”

— “Marpessa” (Stephen Phillips).

During sleep, however, the heavier emotions had sunk to the bottom, the lighter had risen to the top. I woke with a feeling of vigour, and with the sense called “common” distinctly in the ascendant. Through the open window came sunshine in a flood, the crisp air sparkled. I could taste it from my bed. Youth ran in my veins and ten years seemed to drop from my back as I sprang up and thrust my face into the radiant morning. Drawing a deep draught into my lungs, I must at the same time have unconsciously exclaimed, for the peasant girl gathering vegetables below — the garden, such as it was, merged into the pastures — looked up startled. She had been singing to herself. I withdrew my pyjamaed figure hurriedly, while she, as hurriedly, let drop the skirts the dew had made her lift so high; and when I peeped a moment later, she had gone. I, too, felt inclined to sing with happiness, so invigorating was the clear brilliance of the opening day. A joyful irresponsibility, as of boyhood, coursed in my tingling blood. Everything in this enchanted valley seemed young and vigorous; the stream ran gaily past the shining trees; the meadows glistened; the very mountains wore a lustre as of life that ran within their solid frames.

It was impossible to harbour the slightest thought of dread before such peace and beauty; all ominous forebodings fled away; this joy and strength of Nature brought in life. Even the “Dog–Man” smiled with eyes unclouded when, a little later, he brought a small pail of boiling water, and informed me that there was a pool in the forest close at hand where I could bathe. He nosed about the room — only thus can I describe his friendly curiosity for my welfare — fussed awkwardly with my boots and clothes, looked frankly into my eyes with an expression that said plainly “How are you this morning? I’m splendid!” grunted, sniffed, almost wagged his tail for pleasure — and trotted out. And he went, I declare, as though he had heard a rabbit and must be after it. The laughter in me was only just suppressed, for I could have sworn that he expected me to pat him, with the remark “Good fellow! Sick ’em, then!” or words to that effect.

The secluded valley, walled-in from the blustering world like some wild, primitive garden, was drenched in sunshine by the time I went downstairs; the limestone cliffs a mile away of quite dazzling brilliance; and the pine woods across the meadowland scented the whole interior of the little chalet. But for stray wisps of autumn mist that still clung along the borders of the stream, it might have been a day in June the mountains still held prisoner. My heart leaped with the beauty. This lonely region of woods and mountain tops suggested the presence of some Nature Deity that presided over it, and as I stood a moment on the veranda, I turned at a sound of footsteps to see the figure of my imagination face to face. “If she is of equal splendour!” flashed instantly through my mind. For Julius wore the glory of the morning in his eyes, the neck was bare and the shirt a little open; standing there erect in his mountain clothes, he was as like the proverbial Greek god as any painter could have possibly desired.

“Whether I slept well?” I answered his inquiry. “Why, Julius, I feel positively like a boy again. This place has worked magic on me while I slept. There’s the idea in me that one must live for ever.”

And, even while I said it, my eyes glanced over his shoulder into the hall for a sight of someone who any moment might appear. Excitement was high in me.

Julius quietly held my hand in his own firm grasp a second.

“Life came to you in sleep,” he said. “I told you — I warned you, the channels here were open and easily accessible. All power — all powers — everywhere are natural. Our object is to hold them, isn’t it?”

“You mean control them?” I said, still watching the door behind him.

“They visit the least among us; they touch us, and are gone. The essential is to harness them — in this case before they harness us — again.”

I made no reply. The other excitement was too urgent in me.

Linking his arm in mine, he led me towards a corner of the main room, half hall, half kitchen, where a white tablecloth promised breakfast. The “man” was already busying himself to and fro with plates and a gleaming metal pot that steamed. I smelt coffee and the fragrance of baked bread. But I listened half-heartedly to my host’s curious words because every minute I expected the door to open. There was a nervousness in me what I should find to say to such a woman when she came.

Was there, as well, among my bolder feelings, a faint suspicion of something else — something so slight and vague it hardly left a trace, while yet I was aware that it had been there? I could not honestly say. I only knew that, again, there stirred about my heart unconsciously a delicate spiderweb of resentment, envy, disapproval — call it what one may, since it was too slight to own a definite name — that seemed to wake some ghost of injustice, of a grievance almost, in the hidden depths of me. It passed, unexplained, untraceable. Perhaps I smothered it, perhaps I left it unacknowledged. I know not. So elusive an emotion I could not retain a second, far less label. “Julius has found her; she is his,” was the clear thought that followed it. No more than that. And yet — like the shadow of a leaf, it floated down upon me, darkening, though almost imperceptibly, some unknown corner of my heart.

And, remembering my manners, I asked after her indisposition, while he laughed and insisted upon our beginning breakfast; she would presently join us; I should see her for myself. He looked so happy that I yielded to the momentary temptation.

“Julius,” I said, by way of compliment and somewhat late congratulation, “she must be wonderful. I’m so — so very pleased — for you.”

“Yes,” he said, as he poured coffee and boiling milk into my wooden bowl, “and we have waited long. But the opportunity has come at last, and this time we shall not let it slip.”

The simple words were not at all the answer I expected. There was a mingling of relief and anxiety in his voice; I remembered that she “did not always like it here,” and I wondered again what my “understanding” was to be that he had promised would “come later.” What determined her change of mood? Why did she sometimes like it, and sometimes not like it? Was it loneliness, or was it due to things that — happened? Any moment now she would be in the room, holding my hand, looking into my eyes, expecting from me words of greeting, speaking to me. I should hear her voice. Twice I turned quickly at the sound of an opening door, only to find myself face to face with the “man”; but at length came a sound that was indisputably the rustle of skirts, and, with a quickening of the heart, I pushed my plate away, and rose from my chair, turning half way to greet her.

Disappointment met me again, however, for this time it was merely the peasant girl I had seen from my window; and once more I sat down abruptly, covering my confusion with a laugh and feeling like a schoolboy surprised in a foolish mistake. And then a movement from Julius opposite startled me. He had risen from his seat. There was a new expression on his face, an extraordinary expression — observation the most alert imaginable, anxiety, question, the tension of various deep emotions oddly mingled. He watched me keenly. He watched us both.

“My wife,” he said quietly, as the figure advanced towards us. Then, turning to her: “And this is my friend, Professor Mason.” He indicated myself.

I rose abruptly, startled and dismayed, nearly upsetting the chair behind me in my clumsiness. The “Professor Mason” sounded ludicrous, almost as ludicrous as the “Mrs. LeVallon” he had not uttered. I stared. She stared. There was a moment of blank silence. Disappointment petrified me. There was no distinction, there was no beauty. She was tall and slim, and the face, of a commonplace order, was slightly pockmarked. I forgot all manners.

She was the first to recover. We both laughed. But if there was nervousness of confused emotion in my laugh, there was in hers a happy pleasure, frankly and naturally expressed.

“How do you do, sir — Professor?” she instantly corrected herself, shaking me vigorously, yet almost timidly, by the hand. It was a provincial and untutored voice.

“I’m — delighted to see you,” my lips stammered, stopping dead before the modern title. The control of my breath was not quite easy for a moment.

We sat down. In her words — or was it in her manner, rather? — there was a hint of undue familiarity that tinged my disappointment with a flash of disapproval too, yet caught up immediately by a kind of natural dignity that denied offence, or at any rate, corrected it. Another impression then stole over me. I was aware of charm. The voice, however, unquestionably betrayed accent. Of the “lady,” in the restricted, ordinary meaning of the word, there was no pretence. A singular revulsion made me tremble. For a moment she had held my hand with deliberate pressure, while her eyes remained fixed upon my face with a direct, a searching intentness. She too, like her husband, watched me. If she formed a swift, intuitive judgment regarding myself, nothing at first betrayed it. I was aware, however, at once, that, behind the decision of her natural frankness, something elusive hovered. The effect was highly contradictory, even captivating, certainly provocative of curiosity. Accompanying her laughter was a delicate, swift flush, and the laugh, though loud in some other sense than of sound alone, was not unmusical. A breath of glamour, seductive as it was fleeting, caught me as I heard.

For a moment or two my senses certainly reeled. It seemed that swift shutters rose and fell before my eyes. One screen rolled up, another dropped, vistas opened, vanishing before their depths showed anything. The chalet, with our immediate surroundings, faded; I was aware of ourselves only, chiefly, however, of her. This first sight of her had the effect that years before Julius had produced: the peculiar sense of “other places.” And this in spite of myself, without any decided belief of my own as yet to help it. . . .

The confusion of my senses passed then, and consciousness focused clearly once more on my surroundings. The disturbed emotions, however, refused wholly to quiet down. Her face, I noted, beneath the disfiguring marks, was rosy, and the grey-green eyes were very bright. They were luminous, changing eyes, their hue altering of its own accord apart from mere play or angle of the light. Sometimes their grey merged wholly Into green, but a very wonderful deep green that made them like the sea; later, again, they were distinctly blue. They lit the entire face, its expression changing when they changed. The frank and open innocence of the child in them was countered, though not injuriously, by an un fathomed depth that had its effect upon the whole physiognomy. An arresting power shone in them as if imperiously. There were two faces there.

And the singular and fascinating effect of these dominating eyes left further judgment at first disabled. I noticed, however, that her mouth had that generous width that makes for strength rather than for beauty; that the teeth were fine and regular; and that the brown hair, tinged with bronze, was untidy about the neck and ears. A narrow band of black velvet encircled the throat; she wore a blouse, short skirt, and high brown boots with nails that clattered on the stone flooring when she moved. Since gathering vegetables in the dawn she had changed her costume, evidently. A certain lightness, I saw now, had nothing of irresponsibility in it, but was merely youth, vitality, and physical vigor. She was fifteen years younger than Julius, if a day, and I judged her age no more than twenty-five perhaps.

“It’s a pore house to have your friends to,” she said in her breezy, uncultivated voice, “but I hope you managed all right with your room — Professor?” It was the foundation of the voice that had the uncultivated sound; on the top of it, like a layer of something imitated or acquired, there was refinement. I got the impression that, unconsciously, she aped the better manner of speech, yet was not aware she did so.

Burning questions rose within me as I listened to this opening conversation: How much she knew, and believed, of her husband’s vast conceptions; what explanation of my visit he had offered her, what explanation of myself; chief of all, how much — if anything — she remembered? For our coming together in this hidden Jura valley under conditions that seemed one minute ludicrous, and the next sublime, was the alleged meeting of three Souls who had not recognised each other through bodily, human eyes for countless centuries. And our purpose, if not madness, held a solemnity that might well belong to a forgotten method of approaching deity.

“He’s told me such a lot about you, Julius has,” she continued half shyly, jerking her thumb in the direction of her husband, “that I wanted to see what you were like.” It was said naturally, as by a child; yet the freedom might equally have been assumed to conceal an admitted ignorance of manners. “You’re such — very old friends, aren’t you?” She seemed to look me up and down. I thought I detected disappointment in her too.

“We were together at school and university, you see,” I made reply, shirking the title again, “but it’s a good many years now since we met. We’ve been out of touch for a long time. I hadn’t even heard of his marriage. My congratulations are late, but most sincere.”

I bowed. Strange! Both in word and gesture some faintest hint of sarcasm or resentment forced itself against my conscious will. The blood rose — I hoped unnoticed — to my cheeks. My eyes dropped quickly from her face.

“That’s reely nice of you,” she said simply, and without a touch of embarrassment anywhere. She cut a lump of bread from the enormous loaf in front of us and broke it in little pieces into her bowl of milk. Her spoon remained standing in her coffee cup. It seemed impossible for me to be unaware of any detail that concerned her, either of gesture or pronunciation. I noticed every tiniest detail whether I would or no. Her charm, I decided, increased. It was wholly independent of her looks. It took me now and again by surprise, as it were.

“Maybe — I suppose he didn’t know where you were,” she added, as Julius volunteered no word. “But he was shore you’d come if you got the letter.”

“It was a promise,” her husband put in quietly. Evidently he wished us to make acquaintance in our own way. He left us alone with purpose, content to watch and show his satisfaction. The relationship between them seemed natural and happy, utterly devoid of the least sign of friction. She certainly — had I perhaps, anticipated otherwise? — showed no fear of him.

The “man” came in with a plate of butter, clattering out noisily again in his heavy boots. He gave us each a look in turn, of anxiety first, and then of pleasure. All was well with us, he felt. His eyes, however, lingered longest on his mistress,.as though she needed his protective care more than we did. It was the attitude and expression of a faithful dog who knows he has the responsibility of a child upon his shoulders, and is both proud and puzzled by the weight of honour.

A pause followed, during which I made more successful efforts to subdue the agitation that was in me. I broke the silence by a commonplace, expressing a hope that my late arrival the night before had not disturbed her.

“Lord, no!” she exclaimed, laughing gaily, while she glanced from me to Julius. “Only I thought you and he’d like to be alone for a bit after such a long time apart. . . . Besides, I didn’t fancy my food somehow — I get that way up here sometimes,” she added, “don’t I, Julius?”

“You’ve been here some time already?” I asked sympathetically, before he could reply.

“Ever since the wedding,” she answered frankly. “Seven — getting on for eight — months ago, it is now — we came up straight from the Registry Office. At times it’s a bit funny, an’ no mistake — lonely, I mean,” she quickly corrected herself. And she looked at her husband again with a kind of childish mischief in her expression that I thought most becoming.

“It’s not for ever, is it?” he laughed with her.

“And I understand you chose it, didn’t you?” I fell in with her mood. “It must be lonely, of course, sometimes,” I added.

“Yes, we chose it,” she replied. “We choose everything together.” And they looked proudly at each other like two children. For a moment it flashed across me to challenge him playfully, yet not altogether playfully, for burying a young wife in such a deserted place. I did not yield to the temptation, however, and Mrs. LeVallon continued breezily in her off-hand manner:

“Julius wanted you badly, I know. You must stay here now we’ve got you. There’s reelly lots to do, once you get used to it; only it seems strange at first after city life — like what I’ve had, and sometimes” — she hesitated a second — “well, of an evening, or when it gets stormy — the thunder-storms are something awful — you feel wild and want to do things, to rush about and take your clothes off.” She stopped; and the deep green of the sea came up into her eyes. Again, for an instant, I caught two faces in her. “It turns you wild here when the wind gets to blowing,” she added, laughing, “and the lightning’s like loose, flying fire.” The way she said it made me forget the physical disabilities. There was even a hint of fascination somewhere in the voice.

“It takes you back to the natural, primitive state,” I said. “I can well believe it.” And no amount of restraint could keep the admiration out of my eyes. “Civilisation is easily forgotten in a place like this.”

“Oh, is that it?” she said shortly, while we laughed, all three together. “Civilisation — eh?”

I got the impression that she felt left out of something, something she knew was going on, but that didn’t include her quite. Her intuition, I judged, was very keen. Beneath this ordinary conversation she was aware of many things. She was fully conscious of a certain subdued excitement in the three of us, and that between her husband and her guest there was a constant inter-play of half-discovered meaning, half-revealed emotion. She was reading me too. Yet all without deliberation; it was intuitive, the mind took no conscious part in it. And, when she spoke of the effect of the valley upon her, I saw her suddenly a little different, too — wild and free, untamed in a sense, and close to the elemental side of life. Her enthusiasm for big weather betrayed it. During the whole of breakfast, indeed, we all were “finding” one another, Julius in particular making notes. For him, of course, there was absorbing interest in this meeting of three souls whom Fate had kept so long apart — the signs of recognition he detected or imagined, the sympathy, the intimacy betrayed by the way things were taken for granted between us. He said no word, however. He was very quiet.

My own feelings, meanwhile, seemed tossed together in too great and violent confusion for immediate disentanglement. My sense of the dramatic fitness of things was worse than unsatisfied — it was shattered. Julius unquestionably had married a superior domestic servant.

“Is the bread to your liking. Professor?”

“I think it’s quite delicious, Mrs. LeVallon. It tempts me even to excess,” I added, facetious in my nervousness. I had used her name at last, but with an effort.

“I made it,” she said proudly. “Mother taught me that before I was fifteen.”

“And the butter, too?” I asked.

“No,” she laughed, with a touch of playful disappointment. “We get that from a farm five miles down the valley. It’s in special honour of your arrival, this.”

“Our nearest contact with the outside world,” added

Julius, “and over a thousand feet below us. We’re on a little plateau here all by ourselves ”

“Put away like,” she interrupted gaily, “as though we’d been naughty,” and then she added, “or for something special and very mysterious.” She looked into his face half archly, half inquisitively, as if aware of something she divined yet could not understand. Her honesty and sincerity made every little thing she said seem dignified. I was again aware of pathos.

“The peace and quiet,” I put in quickly, conscious of something within me that watched and listened intently, “must be delightful — after the cities — and with the great storms you mention to break the possible monotony.”

She looked at me a full moment steadily, and in her eyes, no longer green but sky-blue, I read the approach of that strange expression I called another “face,” that in the end, however, did not fully come. But the characteristic struck me, for Julius had it too.

“O, you find out all about yourself in a place like this,” she said slowly, “a whole lot of things you didn’t know before. You’ll like it; but it’s not for everybody. It’s very elite.” She turned to Julius. “The Professor’ll love it, won’t he? And we must keep him,” she repeated, “now we’ve got him.”

Something moved between the three of us as she said it. There was no inclination in me to smile, even at the absurd choice of a word. An upheaving sense of challenge came across the air at me, including not only ourselves at the breakfast table, but the entire valley as well. Against some subterranean door in me rose sudden pressure, and the woman’s commonplace words had in them something incalculable that caused the door to yield. Out rushed a pouring, bursting flood. A wild delight of beauty ran suddenly in my civilised veins; I felt uplifted, stimulated, carried off my feet.

It was but the flash and touch of a passing mood, of course, yet it marked a change in me, another change.

She was aware of elemental powers even as her husband was. First through him, but now through her, I, too, was becoming similarly — aware.

I glanced at Julius, calmly devouring bread and milk beyond all reach of comedy — Julius who recognised an “old soul” in a servant girl with the same conviction that he invoked the deific Powers of a conscious Nature; to whom nothing was trivial, nothing final, the future magnificent as the past, and behind whose chair stood the Immensities whispering messages of his tireless evolutionary scheme. And I saw him “unclassable” — merely an eternal, travelling soul, working out with myself and with this other “soul” some detail long neglected by the three of us. Marriage, class, social status, education, culture — what were they but temporary external details, whose sole value lay in their providing conditions for acquiring certain definite experiences? Life’s outer incidents were but episodic, after all.

And this flash of insight into his point of view came upon me thus suddenly through her. The mutual sympathy and understanding between the three of us that he so keenly watched for had advanced rapidly. Another stage was reached. The foundations seemed already established here among us.

Thus, while surprise, resentment and distress fought their battle within me against something that lay midway between disbelief and acceptance, my mind was aware of a disharmony that made judgment extremely difficult. Almost I knew the curious feeling that one of us had been fooled. It was all so incongruous and disproportioned, on the edge of the inconceivable. And yet, at the same time, some sense of keen delight awoke in me that satisfied. Joy glowed in some depth I could not reach or modify.

Had the “woman” proved wonderful in some ordinary earthly way, I could have continued to share in a kind of dramatic make-believe LeVallon’s imagination of an “old soul” returned. The sense of fitness would have felt requited. Yet what so disconcerted me was that this commonplace disclosure of the actual facts did not destroy belief, but even increased it! This unexpected and banal denouement, denying, apparently, all the requirements of his creed, fell upon me with a crash of reality that was arresting in an entirely unexpected way. It made the conception so much more likely — possible — true!

Out of some depth in me I could not summon to the bar of judgment or analysis rose the whisper that in reality the union of these two was not so incongruous and outrageous as it seemed. To a penetrating vision such as his, what difference could that varnish of the mind called “education” pretend to make? Or how could he be deceived by the surface tricks of “refinement,” in accent, speech, and manner, that so often cloak essential crudeness and vulgarity? These were to him but the external equipment of a passing Today, whereas he looked for the innate acquirements due to real experience — age in the soul itself. Her social status, education and so forth had nothing to do with — her actual Self. In some ultimate region that superficial human judgment barely acknowledges the union of these two seemed right, appropriate and inevitably true.

This breakfast scene remains graven in my mind. LeVallon talked little, even as he ate little, while his wife and I satisfied our voracious appetites with the simple food provided. She chattered sans gene, eating not ungracefully so much as in a manner untaught. Her smallest habits drew my notice and attention of their own accord. I watched the velvet band rising and falling as she swallowed — noisily, talking and drinking with her mouth full, and holding her knife after the manner of the servants’ hall. Her pronunciation at times was more than marked. For instance, though she did not say “gime,” she most assuredly did not say “game,” and her voice, what men call “common,” was undeniably of the upper servant class. While guilty now and again of absurd solecisms, she chose words sometimes that had an air of refinement above the ordinary colloquial usage — the kind affected by a lady’s-maid who has known service in the “upper suckles” of the world — “close” the door in place of simply “shut” it, “commence” in preference to the ordinary “begin,” “costume” rather than merely “clothes,” and a hundred others of similar kind. Sofa, again, was “couch.” She missed a sentence, and asked for it with “What say?” while her “if you please” and “pardon” held a suspicion of that unction which, it seemed, only just remembered in time not to add “sir,” or even “my lady.” She halted instinctively before a door, as though to let her husband or myself pass out in front, and even showed surprise at being helped at the table before ourselves. These and a thousand other revealing touches I noticed acutely, because I had expected something so absolutely different. I was profoundly puzzled.

Yet, while I noted closely these social and mental disabilities, I was aware also of their flat and striking contradiction; and her beautifully-shaped hands, her small, exquisite feet and ankles, her natural dignity of carriage, gesture, bearing, were the least of these. Setting her beside maid or servitor, my imagination recoiled as from something utterly ill-placed. I could have sworn she owned some secret pedigree that no merely menial position could affect, most certainly not degrade. In spite of less favourable indications, so thick about her, I caught unmistakable tokens of a superiority she herself ignored, which yet proclaimed that her soul stood erect and four-square to the winds of life, independent wholly of the “social position” her body with its untutored brain now chanced to occupy.

Exactly the nature of these elusive signs of innate nobility I find it more than difficult to describe. They rose subtly out of her, yet evaded separate subtraction from either the gestures or conversation that revealed them. They explained the subtle and increasing charm. They were of the soul.

For, even thus early in our acquaintance, there began to emerge these other qualities in this simple girl that at first the shock of disappointment and surprise had hidden from me. The apparent emptiness of her face was but a mask that cloaked an essential, native dignity. From time to time, out of those strange, arresting eyes that at first had seemed all youth and surface, peered forth that other look, standing a moment to query and to judge, then, like moods of sky which reveal and hide a depth of sea, plunged out of sight again. It betrayed an inner, piercing sight of a far deeper kind. Out of this deeper part of her I felt she watched me steadily — to wonder, ask, and weigh. It was hence, no doubt, I had the curious impression of two faces, two beings, in her, and the moments when I surprised her peering thus were, in a manner, electrifying beyond words. For then, into tone and gesture, conquering even accent and expression, crept flash-like this “something” that would not be denied, hinting at the distinction of true spiritual independence superior to all local, temporary, or worldly divisions implied in mere “class” or “station.”

This girl, behind her ignorance of life’s snobbish values, possessed that indefinable spiritual judgment best called “taste.” And taste, I remember Julius held, was the infallible evidence of a soul’s maturity — of age. The phrase “old soul” acquired more meaning for me as I watched her. I recalled that strange hint of his long years before, that greatness and position, as the world accepts them, are actually but the kindergarten stages for the youngest, crudest souls of all. The older souls are not “distinguished” in the “world.” They are beyond it.

Moreover, during the course of this singular first meal together, while she used the phraseology of the servant class and betrayed the manners of what men call “common folk,” it was borne in upon me that she, too, unknowingly, touched the same vast sources of extended life that her husband claimed to realise, and that her being unknowingly swept that region of elemental Powers with which he now sought conscious union. In her infectious vitality beat the pulse of vaster tides than she yet knew.

Already, in our conversation, this had come to me; it increased from minute to minute as our atmospheres combined and mingled. The suggestion of what I must call great exterior Activities that always accompanied the presence of Julius made themselves felt also through the being of this simple and uneducated girl. Winds, cool and refreshing, from some elemental region blew soundlessly about her. I was aware of their invigorating currents. And this came to me with my first emotions, and was not due to subsequent reflection. For, in my own case, too, while resenting the admission, I felt something more generously scaled than my normal self, scientifically moulded, trying to urge up as with great arms and hands that thrust into my mind. What hitherto had seemed my complete Self opened, as though it were but a surface tract, revealing depths of consciousness unguessed before.

And this, I think, was the disquieting sensation that perplexed me chiefly with a sense of unstable equilibrium. The idea of preexistence, with its huge weight of memory lost and actions undischarged, pressed upon a portion of my soul that was trying to awake. The foundations of my known personality appeared suddenly insecure, and what the brain denied, this other part accepted, even half remembered. The change of consciousness in me was growing. While observing Mrs. LeVallon, listening to the spontaneous laughter that ran between her sentences, meeting her quick eyes that took in everything about them, these varied and contradictory judgments of my own worked their inevitable effect upon me. The quasi-memory, with its elusive fragrance of far-off, forgotten things; the promised reconstruction of passionate emotions that had burned the tissues of our earlier bodies before even the foundations of these “eternal” hills were laid; the sense of being again among ancient friends, netted by deathless forces of spiritual adventure and desire — Julius, his wife, myself, mutually involved in the intricate pattern of our souls’ development:— all this, while I strove to regard it as mere telepathic reflection from his own beliefs, yet made something in me, deeper than any ratiocination, stand up and laugh in my face with the authoritative command that it was absolutely — true.

Our very intimacy, so readily established as of its own accord — established, moreover, among such unlikely and half antagonistic elements — seemed to hint at a relationship resumed, instead of now first beginning. The fact that the three of us took so much for granted almost suggested memory. For the near presence of this woman — I call her woman, though she was but girl — disturbed me more than uncommonly; and this curious, soft delight I felt raging in the depths of me — whence did it come? Whence, too, the depth and power of other feelings that she roused in me, their reckless quality, their certainty, the haunting pang and charm that her face, not even pretty apart from its disfigurement, stirred in my inmost being? There was mischief and disaster in her sea-green eyes, though neither mischief nor disaster quite of this material world.

I confessed — the first time for many years — to something moving beyond ordinary. More and more I longed to learn of her first meeting with the man she had married, and by what method he claimed to have recognised in this servant girl the particular ancient soul he waited for, and by what unerring instinct he had picked her out and set her upon so curious a throne.

I watched the velvet band about the well-shaped neck. . . .

I have been here before,

But when or how I cannot tell:

I know the grass beyond the door,

The sweet keen smell,

The sighing sound, the lights around the shore.

“You have been mine before.

How long ago I may not know:

But just when at that swallow’s soar

Your neck turned so . . .

Some veil did fall — I knew it all of yore.”

“And now,” she exclaimed, springing up and turning to her husband, “I’m going to leave you and the Professor together to talk out all your old things without me intervening! Besides I’ve got the bread to make,” she added with a swift, gay smile in my direction, “that bread you called delicious. I generally do it of a morning.”

With a swinging motion of her lithe young body she was gone; the room seemed strangely empty; the disfiguring marks upon her girlish face were already forgotten; and a sense of companionship within me turned somehow lonely and bereft.

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