Julius LeVallon, by Algernon Blackwood

Chapter xviii

To Memory

“Yet, when I would command thee hence,

Thou mockest at the vain pretence,

Murmuring in mine ear a song

Once loved, alas! forgotten long;

And on my brow I feel a kiss

That I would rather die than miss.”

— Mary Coleridge.

“Well?” Julius asked me, as we strolled across the pastures that skirted the main forest, “and does it seem anywhere familiar to you — the three of us together again? You recall — how much?” A rather wistful smile passed over his face, but the eyes were grave. He was in earnest if ever man was. “She doesn’t seem wholly a stranger to you?”

My mind searched carefully for words. To refer to any of my recent impressions was difficult, even painful, and frank discussion of my friend’s wife impossible — though, probably, there was nothing Julius would not have understood and even welcomed.

“I— cannot deny,” I began, “that somewhere — in my imagination, perhaps, there seems ”

He interrupted me at once. “Don’t suppress the imaginative pictures — they’re memory. To deny them is only to forget again. Let them come freely in you.”

“Julius!” I exclaimed, conscious that I flushed a little, “but she is wonderful; superior, too, in some magnificent way to — any ”

“Lady,” he came abruptly to my assistance, no vestige of annoyance visible.

“To anyone of our own class,” I completed the sentence more to my liking. “I admit I feel drawn to her — in a kind of understanding sympathy — though how can I pretend that I— that this sense of familiarity is really memory?” It was impossible to treat him lightly; his belief was his Hfe, commanding a respect due to all great convictions of the soul. “You have found someone you can love,” I went on, aware that it gave me no pleasure to say it, “and someone who loves you. I— am delighted.”

He turned to me, standing hatless, the sunlight in his face, his eyes fixed steadily upon my own.

“We had to meet — all three,” he said slowly; “sooner or later. It’s an old, old debt we’ve got to settle up together, and the opportunity has come at last. I only ask your sympathy — and hers.” He shrugged his shoulders slightly. “To you it may seem a small thing, and, if you have no memory, a wild, impossible thing as well, even with delusion in it. But nothing is really small.” He paused. “I only ask that you shall not resist.” And then he added gravely: “The risk is mine.”

I felt uneasiness; the old schooldays’ basis of complete sincerity was not in me quite. I had lived too long in the world of ordinary men and women. His marriage seemed prompted by an impersonal sense of justice to the universe rather than by any desire for the companionship and sweetness that a woman’s love could give him. For a moment I knew not what to say. Could such a view be hers as well? Had she yielded herself to him upon a similar understanding? And if not — the thought afflicted me — might not this debt he spoke of have been discharged without claiming the whole life of another in a union that involved also physical ties?

Yet, while I could not find it in me to utter all I thought, there was a burning desire to hear details of the singular courtship. Almost I felt the right to know, yet shrank from asking it.

“Then nothing more definite stirs in you?” he asked quietly, his eyes still holding mine, “no memory you can recognise? No wave of feeling; no picture, even of that time when we — we three ”

“Julius, old friend,” I exclaimed with sudden impulsiveness, and hardly knowing why I said it, “it only seems to me that these pine woods behind you are out of the picture rather. They should be palms, with spaces of sand shimmering in a hot sun. And the chalet” — pointing over his shoulder — “seems still less to belong to you when I recall the temples we talked about before the plain where the worship of the rising sun took place ”

I broke off abruptly with a little shamefaced laughter: my invention, or imagination, seemed so thin. But Julius turned eagerly, his face alight.

“Laugh as you please,” he said, “but what makes you feel me out of the picture, as you call it, is memory — memory of where we three were last together. That sense of incongruity is memory. Don’t resist. Let the pictures rise and grow as they will. And don’t deny any instinctive feelings that come to you — they’re memory too.”

A moment of revolt swept over me, yet with it an emotion both sweet and painful. Dread and delight both troubled me. Unless I resisted, his great conviction would carry me away again as of old. And what if she should come to aid him? What if she should bring the persuasion of her personality to the attack, and with those eyes of mischief and disaster ask me questions out of a similar conviction and belief? If she should hold me face to face: “Do you remember me — as I remember you?”

“Julius,” I cried, “let me speak plainly at once and so prevent your disappointment later.” I forced the words out against my will, it seemed. “For the truth, my dear fellow, is simply — that I remember — nothing! Definitely — I remember nothing.”

Yet there was pain and sadness in me suddenly. I had prevaricated. Almost I had told a lie. Some vague fear of involving myself in undesirable consequences had forced me against my innate knowledge. Almost I had denied — her.

From the forest stole forth a breath too soft and perfumed for an autumn wind. It stirred the hair upon his forehead, left its touch of dream upon my cheeks, then passed on to lift a wreath of mist in the fields below. And, as though a spirit older than the wind moved among my thoughts, this modern world seemed less real when it had gone. I heard the voice of Julius answering me. His words came very slowly, fastening upon my own. The resentment, the disappointment I had looked for were not there, nor the comparison of myself — in her favour — I had half anticipated.

The answer utterly nonplussed me:

“Neither does she remember — anything.”

I started. A curious pang shot through me — something of regret, even of melancholy in it. That she had forgotten “everything” was pain. She had forgotten me.

“But we — you, I mean — can make her?”

The words were out impulsively before I could prevent them. He did not look at me. I did not look at him.

“I should have put it differently, perhaps,” he answered. “She is not aware that she remembers.”

He drew me further along the dewy meadow towards the upper valley, and drew me deeper, as it seemed, into his own strange region whence came these perplexing statements.

“But, Julius,” I stammered, seeing that he kept silence, “if she remembers nothing — how could you know — how could you feel sure, when you met her?”

My sentences stopped dead. Even in these unusual circumstances it was not possible to question a friend about the woman he had married. Had she proved some marvel of physical beauty or of intellectual attainment, curiosity might have been taken as a compliment. But as it was!

Yet all the time I knew that her insignificant worldly value was a clean stroke of proof that he had not suffered himself to be deceived in this recovery and recognition of the spiritual maturity he meant by the term “old soul.” His voice reached me, calm and normal as though he talked about the weather. “I’ll tell you,” he said, “for it’s interesting, and, besides, you have the right to know.”

And the words fell among my tangled thoughts like deft fingers that put confusion straight. The incredible story he told me as a child might relate a fairy-tale it knows is true, yet thinks may not be quite believed. Without the slightest emphasis, and certainly without the least embarrassment or sense that it was unusual. Even of comedy I was not properly once aware. All through the strange recital rang in my mind, “She is not aware that she remembers.”

“ ‘The Dardanelles,’ “ he began, smiling a little as though at the recollection, “was where I met her, thus recovered. Not on the way from Smyrna to Constantinople; oh, no! It was not romantic in that little sense. ‘The Dardanelles’ was a small and ugly red-brick villa in Upper Norwood, with a drive ten yards long, ragged laurel bushes, and a green five-barred gate, gold-lettered. Maennlich lives there — the Semitic language man and Egyptologist; you know. She was his parlour-maid at the time, and before that had been lady’s-maid to the daughter of some undistinguished duchess. In this way,” he laughed softly, “may old souls wait upon the young ones sometimes! Her father,” he continued, “was a market-gardener and fruiterer in a largish way at East Croydon, and she herself had been brought up upon the farm whence his supplies came. ‘Chance,’ as they call it, led her into these positions I have mentioned, and so, inevitably — to me.”

He looked up at me a moment. “And so to you as well.”

His manner was composed and serious. He spoke with the simple conviction of some Christian who traces the Hand of God in the smallest details of his daily life, and seeks His guidance in his very train journeys. There was something rather superb about it all.

“A fruiterer in East Croydon! A maid in service! And — you knew — you recognised her?”

“At once. The very first day she let me in at the front door and asked if I wished to see her master, what name she might announce, and so forth.”

“It was all — er — unexpected and sudden like that?” came the question from a hundred others that crowded together in me. “To find a lost friend of years only — in such a way — the shock, I mean, to you!” I simply could not find my words. He told it all so calmly, naturally. “You were wholly unprepared, weren’t you? Nothing had led you to expect?” I ended with a dash.

“Not wholly unprepared,” was his rejoinder; “nor was the meeting altogether unexpected — on my side, that is. Intimations, as I told you at Motfield Close twenty years ago — when she was born — had come to me. No soul draws breath for the first time, without a quiver of response running through all that lives. Souls intimately connected with each other may feel the summons. There are ways! I knew that she was once more in the world, that, like ourselves, her soul had reincarnated; and ever since I have been searching ”

“Searching 1”

“There are clues that offer themselves — that come, perhaps in sleep, perhaps by direct experiment, and, regardless of space, give hints ”

“Psychometry?” I asked, remembering a word just coined.

He shrugged his shoulders. “All objects radiate,” he said, “no matter how old they are. Their radiation never ceases till they are disintegrated; and if you are sensitive you can receive their messages. If you have certain powers, due to relation and affinity, you may interpret them. There is an instantaneous linking-up — in picture-form — impossible to mistake.”

“You knew, then, she was somewhere on the earth — waiting for you?” I repeated, wondering what was coming next. That night in the Edinburgh lodgings, when he had been “searching,” came back to me.

“For us,” he corrected me. “It was something from a Private Collection that gave me the clue by which I finally traced her — something from the older sands.”

“The sands! Egyptian?”

Julius nodded. “Egypt, for all of us, was a comparatively recent section — nearer to Today, I mean. Many a time has each of us been back there — Thebes, Memphis, even as lately ago as Alexandria at its zenith, learning, developing, reaping what ages before we sowed — for in Egypt the knowledge that was our knowledge survived longer than anywhere else. Yet never, unfortunately, returning together, and thus never finding the opportunity to achieve the great purpose of our meeting.”

“But the clue?” I asked breathlessly.

He smiled again at the eagerness that again betrayed me.

“This old world,” he resumed quietly, “is strewn, of course, with the remnants of what once has been our bodies — ‘suits of clothes’ we have inhabited, used, and cast aside. Here and there, from one chance or another, some of these may have been actually preserved. The Egyptians, for instance, went to considerable trouble to ensure that they should survive as long as possible, thus assisting memory later.”

“Embalming, you mean?”

“As you wander through the corridors of a modem museum,” he continued imperturbably, “you may even look through a glass covering at the very tenement your soul has occupied at an earlier stage! Probably, of course, without the faintest whisper of recognition, yet, possibly, with just that acute and fascinated interest which is the result of stirring memory. For the ‘old clothes’ still radiate vibrations that belong to you; the dried blood and nerves once thrilled with emotions, spiritual or otherwise, that were you — the link may be recoverable. You think it is wild nonsense! I tell you it is in the best sense scientific. And, similarly,” he added, “you may chance upon some such remnant of another — the body of ancient friend or enemy.” He paused abruptly in his extraordinary recital. “I had that good fortune,” he added, “if you like to call it so.”

“You found hers?” I asked in a low voice. “Her, I mean?”

“Maennlich,” he replied with a smile, “has the best preserved mummies in the world. He never allowed them even to be unwrapped. The object I speak of — a body she had occupied in a recent Egyptian section — though not when we were there, unfortunately — lay in one of his glass cases, while the soul who once had used it answered his bell and walked across his carpets — two of her bodies in the house at once. Curious, wasn’t it? A discarded instrument and the one in present use! The rest was comparatively easy. I traced her whereabouts at once, for the clue furnished the plainest possible directions. I went straight to her.”

“And you knew instantly — when you saw her? You had no doubt?”

“Instantly — when the door swung open and our eyes met on the threshold.”

“Love at first sight, Julius, you mean? It was love you felt?” I asked it beneath my breath, for my heart was beating strangely.

He raised his eyebrows. “Love?” he repeated, questioningly. “Deep joy, intuitive sympathy, content and satisfaction, rather. I knew her. I knew who she was. In a few minutes we were more intimate in mind and feeling than souls who meet for the first time can become after years of living together. You understand?”

I lowered my eyes, not knowing what to say. The standards of modern conduct, so strong about me, prevented the comments or questions that I longed to utter.

There flashed upon me in that instant’s pause a singular conviction — that these two had mated for a reason of their own. They had not known the clutch of elemental power by which Nature ensures the continuance of the race. They had not shuddered, wept, and known the awful ecstasy, but had slipped between her fingers and escaped. They had not loved. While he knew this consciously, she was aware of it unconsciously. They mated for another reason, yet one as holy, as noble, as pure — if not more so, indeed — as those that consecrate marriage in the accepted sense. And the thought, strange as it was, brought a sweet pleasure to me, though shot with a pain that was equally undeniable and equally perplexing. While my thoughts floundered between curiosity, dismay and something elusive that yet was more clamorous than either, Julius continued without a vestige of embarrassment, though obviously omitting much detail that I burned to hear.

“And that very week — the next day, I think, it was, I asked Maennlich to allow me an hour’s talk with her alone ”

“She — er ——?”

“She liked me — from the very first, yes. She felt me.”

“And showed it?” I asked bluntly.

“And showed it,” he repeated, “although she said it puzzled her and she couldn’t understand.”

“On her side, then, it was love — love at first sight?”

“Strong attraction,” he put it, “but an attraction she thought it her duty to resist at first. Her present conditions made any relationship between us seem incongruous, and when I offered marriage — as I did at once — it overwhelmed her. She made sensible objections, but it was her brain of Today that made them. You can imagine how it went. She urged that to marry a man in another class of life, a ‘gentleman,’ a ‘wealthy’ gentleman and an educated, ‘scholar gentleman,’ as she called me, could only end in unhappiness — because I should tire of her. Yet, all the time — she told me this afterwards — she had the feeling that we were meant for one another, and that it must surely be. She was shy about it as a child.”

“And you convinced her in the end!” I said to myself rather than aloud to him. There were feelings in me I could not disentangle.

“Convinced her that we needed one another and could never go apart,” he said. “We had something to fulfil together. The forces that drove us together, though unintelligible to her, were yet acknowledged by her too, you see.”

“I see,” my voice murmured faintly, as he seemed to expect some word in reply. “I see.” Then, after a longer pause than usual, I asked: “And you told her of your — your theories and beliefs — the purpose you had to do together?”

“No single word. She could not possibly have understood. It would have frightened her.” I heard it with relief, yet with resentment too.

“Was that quite fair, do you think?”

His answer I could not gainsay. “Cause and effect,” he said, “work out, whether memory is there or not. To attempt to block fulfilment by fear or shrinking is but to delay the very thing you need. I told her we were necessary to each other, but that she must come willingly, or not at all. I used no undue persuasion, and I used no force. I reahsed plainly that her upper, modern, uncultured and uneducated self was merely what she had acquired in the few years of her present life. It was this upper self that hesitated and felt shy. The older self below was not awake, yet urged her to acceptance blindly — as by irresistible instinctive choice. She knew subconsciously; but, once I could succeed in arousing her knowledge consciously, I knew her doubts would vanish. I suggested living away from city life, away from any conditions that might cause her annoyance or discomfort due to what she called our respective ‘stations’ in life; I suggested the mountains, some beautiful valley perhaps, where in solitude for a time we could get to know each other better, untroubled by the outer world — until she became accustomed ”

“And she approved?” I interrupted with impatience.

“Her words were ‘That’s the very thing; I’ve always had a dream like that.’ She agreed with enthusiasm, and the opposition melted away. She knew the kind of place we needed,” he added significantly.

We had reached the head of the valley by this time, and I sat down upon a boulder with the sweep of Jura forests below us like a purple carpet. The sun and shadow splashed it everywhere with softest colouring. The morning wind was fresh; birds were singing; this green vale among the mountains seemed some undiscovered paradise.

“And you have never since felt a moment’s doubt — uncertainty — that she really is this ‘soul’ you knew before?”

He lay back, his head upon his folded hands, and his eyes fixed upon the blue dome of sky.

“A hundred proofs come to me all the time,” he said, stretching himself at full length upon the grass. “And in her atmosphere, in her presence, the memories still revive in detail from day to day — just as at school they revived in you — those pictures you sought to stifle and deny. From the first she never doubted me. She was aware of a great tie and bond between us. ‘You’re the only man,’ she said to me afterwards, ‘that could have done it like that. I belonged to you — oh! I can’t make it out — but just as if there wasn’t any getting out of it possible. I felt stunned when I saw you. I had always felt something like this coming, but thought it was a dream.’ Only she often said there was something else to come as well, and that we were not quite complete. She knew, you see; she knew.” He broke off suddenly and turned to look at me. He added in a lower tone, as he watched my face: “And you see how pleased and happy she is to have you here!”

I made no reply. I reached out for a stone and flung it headlong down the steep slope towards the stream five hundred feet below.

“And so it was settled then and there?” I asked, after a pause that Julius seemed inclined to prolong.

“Then and there,” he said, watching the rolling stone with dreamy eyes. “In the hall-way of that Norwood villa, under the very eyes of Maennlich who paid her wages and probably often scolded her, she came up into my arms at the end of our final talk, and kissed me like a happy child. She cried a good deal at the time, but I have never once seen her cry since!”

“And it’s all gone well — these months?” I murmured.

“There was a temporary reaction at first — at the very first, that is,” he said, “and I had to call in Maennlich to convince her that I was in earnest. At her bidding I did that. Some instinct told her that Maennlich ought to see it — perhaps, because it would save her awkward and difficult explanations afterwards. There’s the woman in her, you see, the normal, wholesome woman, sweet and timid.”

“A fascinating personality,” I murmured quickly, lest I might say other things — before their time.

“No looks, no worldly beauty,” he nodded, “but the unconscious charm of the old soul. It’s unmistakable.”

Worlds and worlds I would have given to have been present at that interview; Julius LeVallon, so unusual and distinguished; the shy and puzzled serving-maid, happy and incredulous; the grey-bearded archaeologist and scholar; the strange embarrassment of this amazing proposal of marriage!

“And Maennlich?” I asked, anxious for more detail.

Julius burst out laughing. “Maennlich lives in his own world with his specimens and theories and memories of travel — more recent memories of travel than our own! It hardly interested him for more than a passing moment. He regarded it, I think, as an unnecessary interruption — and a bothering one — some joke he couldn’t quite appreciate or understand. He pulled his dirty beard, patted me on the back as though I were a boy running after some theatre girl, and remarked with a bored facetiousness that he could give her a year’s character with a clear conscience and great pleasure. Something like that it was; I forget exactly. Then he went back to his library, shouting through the door some appointment about a Geographical Society meeting for the following week. For how could he know” — his voice grew softer as he said it and his laughter ceased — “how could he divine, that old literal-minded savant, that he stood before a sign-post along the route to the eternal things we seek, or that my marrying his servant was a step towards something we three owe together to the universe itself?”

It was some time before either of us spoke, and when at length I broke the silence it was to express surprise that a woman, so long ripened by the pursuit of spiritual, or at least exalted aims, should have returned to earth among the lowly. By rights, it seemed, she should have reincarnated among the great ones of the world. I knew I could say this now without offence.

“The humble,” Julius answered simply, “are the great ones.”

His fingers played with the fronds of a piece of stag-horn moss as he said it, and to this day I cannot see this kind of moss without remembering his strange words.

“It’s among what men call the lower ranks that the old souls return,” he went on; “among peasants and simple folk, unambitious and heedless of material power, you always find the highest ones. They are there to learn the final lessons of service or denial, neglected in their busier and earlier — kindergarten sections. The last stages are invariably in humble service — they are by far the most difficult; no young, ‘ambitious’ soul could manage it. But the old souls, having already mastered all the more obvious lessons, are content.”

“Then the oldest souls are not the great minds and great characters of history?” I exclaimed.

“Not necessarily,” he answered; “probably never. The most advanced are unadvertised, in the least assuming positions. The Kingdom of Heaven belongs to them, hard of attainment by those the world applauds. The successful, so called, are the younger, cruder souls, passionately acquiring still the external prizes men hold so dear. Maturer souls have long since discarded these as worthless. The qualities the world crowns are great, perhaps, at that particular stage, but they never are the highest. Intellect, remember, is not of the soul, and all that reason teaches must be unlearned again. Theories change, knowledge shifts, facts are forgotten or proved false; only what the soul itself acquires remains eternally the same. The old are the intuitional; and the oldest of all — ah! how wonderful! — He who came back from loftier heights than most of us can yet even conceive of, was the — son of a carpenter.”

I left my seat upon the boulder and lay beside him, listening for a long time while he talked, and if there was much that seemed visionary, there was also much that thrilled me with emotions beyond ordinary. Nothing, certainly, was foolish — because of the man who said it. And, while he took it for granted that all Nature was alive and a manifestation of spiritual powers, the elements themselves but forces to be mastered and acquired, it grew upon me that I had indeed entered an enchanted valley where, with my strange companions, I might witness new, incredible things. Finding little to reply, I was content to listen, wondering what was coming next. And in due course the talk came round again to ourselves, and so to the woman who was now his wife.

“Then she has no idea,” I said at length, “that we three — you and I and she — have been together before, or that there is any particular purpose in my being here at this moment?”

“In her normal condition — none,” he answered. “For she has no memory.”

“There is a state, however, when she does remember?” I asked. “You have helped her to remember? Is that it, Julius?”

“Yes,” he replied; “I have reached down and touched her soul, so that she remembers for herself.”

“The deep trance state?”

“Where all the memories of the past lie accumulated,” he answered, “the subconscious state. Her Self of Today — with new body and recent brain — she has forgotten; in trance — the subconscious Self where the soul dwells with all its past — she remembers.”

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