Julius LeVallon, by Algernon Blackwood

Chapter xix

“Proof of the reality of a personal sovereign of the universe will not be obtained. But proof of the reality of a power or powers, not unworthy of the title of gods, in respect of our corner of the cosmos, may be feasible.” — “The Individual and Reality” (E. D. Fawcett).

I SHRANK. Certain memories of our Edinburgh days revived unpleasantly. They seemed to have happened yesterday instead of years ago. A shadowy hand from those — distant skies he spoke of, from those dim avenues of thickly written Time, reached down and touched my heart, leaving the chill of an indescribable uneasiness. The change in me since my arrival only a few hours before was too rapid not to bring reaction. Yet on the whole the older, deeper consciousness gained power.

Possibilities my imagination had unwisely played with now seemed stealing slowly toward probabilities. I felt as?, man might feel who, having never known fire, and disbelieved in its existence, becomes aware of the warmth of its approach — a strange and revolutionary discomfort. For Julius was winning me back into his world again, and not with mere imaginative, half-playful acceptance, but with practical action and belief. Yet the change in me was somehow welcome. No feeling of resentment kept it in check, and certainly neither scorn nor ridicule. Incredulity glanced invitingly at faith. They would presently shake hands.

I made, perhaps, an effort to hold back, to define the position, my position, at any rate.

“Julius,” I said gravely, yet with a sympathy I could not quite conceal, “as boys together, and even later at the

University, we talked of various curious things, remarkable, even amazing things. You even showed me certain extraordinary things which, at the time, convinced me possibly. I ought to tell you now — and before we go any further, since you take it for granted that my feelings and — er — beliefs are still the same as yours — that I can no longer subscribe to all the articles of your wild conviction. I have been living in the world, you see, these many years, and — well, my imagination has collapsed or dried up or whatever you like to call it. I don’t really see, or remember — anything — quite in the way you mean ”

“The ‘world’ has smothered it — temporarily,” he put in gently.

“And what is more,” I continued, ignoring his interruption, “I must confess that I have no stomach now for any ‘great experiment’ such as you think our coming together in this valley must involve. Your idea of reincarnation may be true — why not? It’s a most logical conception. And we three may have been together before — granted! I admit I rather like the notion. It may even be conceivable that the elemental powers of Nature are intelligent, that men and women could use them to their advantage, and that worship and feeling-with is the means to acquire them — it’s just as likely as that some day we shall send telegrams without wires, thoughts and pictures too!”

I drew breath a moment, while he waited patiently, linking his arm in mine and listening silently.

“It may even be possible, too,” I went on, finding some boyish relief in all these words, “that we three together in earlier days did — in some kind of primitive Nature Worship — make wrong use of an unconscious human body to evoke those particular Powers you say exist behind Wind and Fire, and that, having thus upset the balance of material forces, we must readjust that balance or suffer accordingly — you in particular, since you were the prime mover ”

“How well you state it,” he murmured. “How excellent your memory is after all.”

“But even so,” I continued, nettled by his calm interpretation of my long and plodding objection, “and even if all you claim is true — I—— I mean bluntly — that the transitory acceptance you woke in me years ago no longer holds. I am with you now merely to keep a promise, a boy’s promise, but my heart is no longer in the matter — except out of curiosity — curiosity pure and simple.”

I stopped, or rather it was his face and the expression in his eyes that stopped me. I felt convicted of somewhat pompous foolishness, my sense of humour and proportion gone awry. Fear, with its ludicrous inhibitions, made me strut in this portentous fashion. His face, wearing the child’s expression of belief and confidence, arrested me by its sheer simplicity. But the directness of his rejoinder, however — of his words, at least, for it was not a reply — struck me dumb.

“You are afraid for her,” he said without a trace of embarrassment or emotion, “because you love her still, even as she loves you — beneath.”

If unconsciously or consciously I avoided his eye, he made no attempt to avoid my own. He looked calmly at me like some uncannily clairvoyant lawyer who has pierced the elaborate evasions of his cross-examined witness — yet a witness who believed in his own excuses, quite honestly self-deceived.

At first the shock of his words deprived me of any power to think. I was not offended, I was simply speechless. He forgot who I was and what my life had been, forgot my relation with himself, forgot also the brevity of my acquaintance with his wife. He forgot, too, that I had accepted her, an inferior woman, accepted her without a hint of regret — nay, let me use the word I mean — of contempt that he, my friend, had linked his life with such a being — married her. And, further, he forgot all that was due to himself, to me, to her! It was too distressing. What could he possibly think of me, of himself, of her, that so outrageous a statement, and without a shred of evidence, could pass his lips? I, a middle-aged professor of geology, with an established position in the world! And she, a parlour-maid he had been wild enough to marry for the sake of some imagined dream, a woman, moreover, I had seen for the first time a short hour before, and with whom I had exchanged a few sentences in bare politeness, remembering that this uneducated creature was the wife of my old friend, and —!

Thought galloped on in indignant disorder and agitation. The pretence was so apparent even to myself. But I remained speechless. For while he spoke, looking me calmly in the eye, without a sign of arriere pensee, I realised in a flash — that it all was true. Like the witness who still believes in his indignant answers until the lawyer puts questions that confound him by unexpected self-revelation — I suddenly saw — myself. My own heart opened in a blaze of fire. It was the truth.

And all this came upon me, not in a flash, but in a series of flashes. I had not known it. I now discovered myself, but for the first time. Layer after layer dropped away. The naked fact shone clearly.

“It is exactly what I hoped,” he went on quietly. “It proves memory beyond all further doubt. A love like yours and hers can never die. Even another thirty thousand years could make no difference — the instant you met you would be bound to take it up again — exactly where you left it off — no matter how long the interval of separation. The first sign would be this divine and natural intimacy.”

“Of course.”

How I said it passes my understanding. I swear my lips moved without my mind’s consent. The words slipped out. I couldn’t help myself. The same instant some words he had used in our Edinburgh days came back to me: that human love was somehow necessary to him, since love was the greatest power in the world, the supreme example of “feeling-with.” Without its aid — that majestic confidence it brings — his great experiment must be impossible and fail. That union which is love was necessary.

I felt an extraordinary exultation, an extraordinary tumult of delight, and — a degrading flush of shame. I felt myself blushing under his quiet gaze while the blood rushed over neck and cheeks and forehead. Both guilty and innocent I felt. The very sun and trees, it seemed, witnessed my nakedness. I stumbled as I moved beside my friend, and it was my friend who caught my arm and steadied me.

“Good God, Julius,” I remember stammering, “but what in the name of heaven are you saying?”

“The truth,” he answered, smiling. “And do not for a moment think of me as unnatural or a monster. For this is all inevitable and right and good. It means our opportunity has come at last. It also means that you have not failed me.”

I was glad he went on talking. I am a fool, I know it. I am weak, susceptible and easily influenced. I have no claim to any strength of character, nor ever had. But, without priggishness or self-righteousness, I can affirm that hitherto I have never done another man deliberate, conscious injury, or wronged a personal friend — never in all my days. I can say that, and for the satisfaction of my conscience I did say it, and kept on saying it in my thought while listening to the next words that Julius uttered there beside me.

“And so, quite naturally, from your point of view,” he pursued, “you are afraid for her. I am delighted; for it proves again the strength of the ineradicable, ancient tie. My union, remember, is not, properly speaking, love; it is the call of sympathy, of friendship, of something that we have to do together, of a claim that has the drive of all the universe behind it. And if I have felt it wise and right and necessary to” — he must have felt the shudder down the arm he held, for he said it softly, even tenderly — “give to her a child, it is because her entire nature needs it, and maternity is the woman’s first and ultimate demand of her present stage in life. Without it she is never quite complete. . . . ”

“A child!”

“A child,” he repeated firmly but with a kind of reverent gravity, “for otherwise her deepest functions are not exercised and ”

“And?” I asked, noticing the slight pause he made.

“The soul — her complete and highest self — never takes full possession of her body. It hovers outside. She misses the full, entire object of her reincarnation. The child, you see, was necessary — for her sake as well as for my own — for ours.”

Thought, speech and action — all three stood still in me. I stopped in my walk, half paralysed. I remember we sat down.

“And she,” I said at length, “knows nothing — of all this?”

“She,” he replied, “knows everything, and is content. Her mind and brain of Today may remain unaware; but she — the soul now fully in her — knows all, and is content, as you shall see. She has her debt to pay as well as myself — and you.”

For a long time we sat there silent in that sweet September sunshine. The birds sang round us, the rivulet went murmuring, the branches sighed and rustled just behind us, as though no problems vexed their safe, unconscious lives. Yet to me just then they all seemed somehow to participate in this complex plot of human emotion. Nature herself in some deep fashion was involved.

No man, I realised, knows himself, nor understands the acts of which he is potentially capable, until certain conditions bring them out. We imagine we know exactly how we should act in given circumstances — until those circumstances actually arrive and dislocate all our preconceived decisions. For the “given circumstances” produce emotions before whose stress — not realised when the decisions were so lightly made — we act quite otherwise. I could have sworn, for instance; that in a case like this — incredible though its ever happening must have seemed — I should then and there have taken my departure. I should have left. I would have gone without a moment’s hesitation, and let him follow his own devices without my further assistance at any rate. I would have been furious with anyone who dared to state the contrary.

Yet it was exactly the opposite I did. The first instinct to clear out of this outrageous situation — proved impossible. It was not for her I remained; it was equally not for him; and it was assuredly not for myself in any meaning of the words. But yet I stayed. I could no more have gone away than I could have — made love to her before his eyes, or even not before his eyes. I argued, reasoned, moralised — but I stayed. It was over very soon — what there was of doubt and hesitation. While we sat there side by side upon that sunny mountain slope, I came to the clear decision that I could not go. But why, or how, I stayed is something beyond my powers to explain. Perhaps, au fond, it was because I believed in Julius LeVallon — believed, that is, in his innate uprightness and rectitude and nobility of soul. It was all beyond me. I could not understand. But — I had this strange belief in him. My relationship with her was, and would remain on both sides, a subconscious one — a memory. There would be no betrayal anywhere. I resolved to see it through.

“I ask nothing but your presence,” I heard him saying presently; “if not actively sympathetic, at least not actively hostile. It is the sum of forces you bring with you that I need. They are in your atmosphere, whether expressed or merely latent. You are you.” He watched me as he said this. “I failed once before, you remember,” he added, “because she was absent. Your desertion now would render success again impossible.”

He took my hand in his. A tender, even beseeching note crept into his deep voice. “Help me,” he concluded, “if you will. You bring your entire past with you, though you know it not. It is that Past that our reconstruction needs.”

A wind from the south, I remember, blew the firs behind us into low, faint sighing, and with the exquisite sound there stole a mingled joy and yearning on my soul. Perhaps some flower of memory in that moment yielded up its once familiar perfume, dim, ancient, yet not entirely forgotten. The sighing of the forest wafted it from other times and other places. Wonder and beauty touched me; I knew longing, but a longing so acutely poignant that it seemed not of this little earth at all. A fragrance and power of other stars, I could have sworn, lay in it. The pang of some long, long sweetness made me tremble. An immense ideal rose and beckoned with that whispering wind among the Jura pine woods, and a grandeur, remote but of ineffable sweetness, stirred through the undergrowths of a half-claimed, half-recognised consciousness within me.

I was aware of this incalculable ‘ emotion. Ancient yearnings seemed on the verge of coaxing loved memories into the light of day. I burned, I trembled, I suffered atrociously, yet with a rush of blind delight never before realised by me on earth. Then, suddenly, and wholly without warning, the desire for tears came over me in a flood. . . . Control was possible, but left no margin over. Somehow I managed it, so that no visible sign of this acute and extraordinary collapse should appear. It seemed, for a moment, that the frame of my modern personality was breaking down under the stress of new powers unleashed by my meeting with these two in this enchanted valley. Almost, another order of consciousness supervened . . . then passed without being quite accomplished. . . . I heard the singing of the trees in the low south wind again. I saw the clouds sailing across the blue foreign sky. I saw his eyes upon me like twin flames. With the greatest difficulty I found speech possible in that moment.

“I can promise, at least, that I will not be hostile. I can promise that,” I said in a low and faltering tone.

He made no direct reply; least of all did it occur to him to thank me. The storm that had shaken me had apparently not touched him. His tone was quiet and normal as he continued speaking, though its depth and power, with that steady drive of absolute conviction behind, could never leave it quite an ordinary voice.

“She, as I told you, knows nothing in her surface mind,” I heard. “Beyond occasional uprushes of memory that have come to her lately in dreams — she tells them naively, confusedly in the morning sometimes — she is aware of no more than a feeling of deep content, and that our union is right in the sense of being inevitable. Her pleasure that you have come is obvious. And more,” he added, “I do not wish the older memories to break through yet, for that might wake pain or terror in her and, therefore, unconscious opposition.”

He touched my arm a moment, looking at me with a significant expression. It was a suggestive thing he said: “For human consciousness is different at different periods, remember, and ages remotely separated cannot understand each other. Their points of view, their modes of consciousness, are too different. In her deeper state — separated by so huge an interval from the nineteenth century — with its origin long before we came to live upon this little earth — she would not, could not understand. There would be no sympathy; there might be terror; there must certainly be failure.”

I murmured something or other, heaven alone knows what it was.

“What we think fine and wonderful may then have seemed the crudest folly, superstition, wickedness — and vice versa. Look at the few thousand years of history we have — and you’ll see the truth of this. We cannot grasp how certain periods could possibly have done the things they did.” He paused, then added in a lower tone, more to himself than to me: “So with what we have to do now — though exceptional, utterly exceptional — it is a remnant that we owe to Nature — to the universe — and we must see it through. . . . ” His voice died away.

“I understand,” my voice dropped into the open pause he left.

“Though you neither believe nor welcome,” he replied.

“My promise,” I said quietly, “holds good. Also” — I blushed and half-stammered over the conventional words — “I will do nothing that can cause possible offence — to anyone.”

The hand that rested on my arm tightened its grasp a little. He made no other sign. It was remarkable how the topic that must have separated two other men — any two other men in the world, I suppose — had been subtracted from our relationship, laid aside as dealt with and admitted, calling for no further mention even. It all seemed, in some strange way, impersonal almost — another attitude to life — a faint sign, it may well have been, of that older mode of consciousness he spoke about.

I hardly recognised myself, so complete was the change in me, and so swiftly going forward. This drag-net from the Past drew ever closer. If the mind in me resisted still, it seemed rather from some natural momentum acquired by habit, than from any spontaneous activity due to the present. The modern, upper self surrendered.

“How soon?” was the question that seemed to come of its own accord; it was certainly not my confused and shaken mind that asked it. “When do you propose to ——”

He answered without a sign of hesitation. “The Autumnal Equinox. You’ve forgotten that,” he added as though he justified my lack of memory here, “for all the world has forgotten it too — the science of Times and Seasons — the oldest known to man. It was true cosmic knowledge, but so long ago that it has left our modern consciousness as though it never had existed even.”

He stopped abruptly. I think he desired me to discover for myself, unguided, unhampered by explanation. And, at the words, something remote and beautiful did stir, indeed, within me. A curtain drew aside. . . .

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