Julius LeVallon, by Algernon Blackwood

Chapter xxiii

“A thousand ages onward led

Their joys and sorrows to that hour;

No wisdom weighed, no word was said.

For only what we were had power.” — A. E.

Meanwhile my intercourse with Nature now began to betray itself in curious little ways, and none more revealing of this mingled joy and nervousness than my growing excitement on being abroad after dark alone.

In the far more desolate Monzoni Valley a few weeks before I had passed whole nights in the open without the least suspicion of uneasiness, yet here, amid these friendly woods, covered by this homely, peaceful valley, it was suddenly made clear to me that I had nerves. And the reason, briefly put, was that there I knew myself alone, whereas here I knew myself never alone.

This sense of a populated Nature grew. After dusk it fairly mastered me, but even in broad daylight, when the September sunshine flooded the whole trough of valley with warmth and brightness, there clung to me the certainty that my moods and feelings, as my very footsteps, too, were noted — and understood. This sense of moving Presences, as in childhood, was stirred by every wind that blew. The feeling of cooperation increased. It was conscious, intelligent cooperation.

“Over that limestone ridge against the sky,” I caught myself feeling, rather than definitely thinking; “from just beyond the crests of those tall pines, will presently come —” What? I knew not, even as the child knows not. Only, it would come — appearing suddenly from the woods, or clouds, or from behind the big boulders that strewed the open spaces.

In the fields about the chalet this was manifest too, but especially on the naked ridges above the forests and in the troughs that held the sunlight. Where the wind had unobstructed motion, and where the heat of the sun accumulated in the hollows, this sense of preparation, of cooperation, chiefly touched me. There was behind it pressure — as of purpose and direction, the idea that intelligence stirred within these natural phenomena. Some type of elemental life, enormous yet generally diffused through formlessness, moved and had its being behind natural appearances.

More and more, too, I realised that “inanimate” Nature was a script that it was possible to read; that certain objects, certain appearances drew my attention because they had a definite meaning to convey, whereas others remained unnoticed, as though not necessary to the sentence of some message or communication. The Language of Happenings that Julius talked about — the occurrences of daily life as words in some deep cosmical teaching — connected itself somewhere with this meaning that hid in common objects.

That my awareness of these things was known to others of the household besides myself was equally clear, for I never left the immediate neighbourhood of the chalet after dark without the Man following my movements with a kind of anxiety, sometimes coming on my very tracks for a considerable distance, or hanging about until I returned to light and safety. In sleep, too, as I passed slowly into unconsciousness, it seemed that the certainty of these Presences grew startlingly distinct, and more than once I woke in the night without apparent cause, yet with the conviction that they brooded close upon the chalet and its inmates, pressing like a rising flood against the very walls and windows. And on these occasions I usually heard Julius moving in his room just across the narrow passage, or the Man astir in the lower regions of the house. Outside, the moonlight, cold and gleaming, silvered the quiet woods and limestone heights. Yet not all the peace and beauty of the scene, nor the assurance of the steady stars themselves, could quite dispel this conviction that something was in active progress all about me, and that the elements themselves urged forward towards the deliverance of some purpose that had relation to ourselves.

Julius, I knew, was at the root of it.

One night — a week or so after my arrival — I woke from a dreamless sleep with the impression that a voice had called me. I paused and listened, but the sound was not repeated. I lay quietly for some minutes, trying to discover whose voice it was, for I seemed bereft of some tender companionship quite recently enjoyed. Someone who had been near me had gone again. I was aware of loneliness.

It was between one and two in the morning and I had slept for several hours, yet this mood was not the one in which I had gone to bed. Sleep, even ten minutes’ sleep, brings changes on the heart; I woke to this sense of something desirable just abandoned. Someone, it seemed, had called my name. There was a tingling of the nerves, a poignant anticipation that included high delight. I craved to hear that voice again. Then, suddenly, I knew.

I rose and crossed the room. The warmth of the house oppressed me, although the wood-fire in the hearth downstairs was long since out, and by the open window I drank in the refreshing air. The valley lay in a lake of silver. There was mist upon the meadows, transparent, motionless, the tinkling of the rivulet just audible beneath its gauzy covering. The cliffs rose in the distance, gaunt and watchful; the forest was a pool of black. I saw the lake, a round blot upon the fields. Over the shingled roof occasional puffs of wind made a faint rushing sound under the heavy eaves. The moonlight was too bright for stars, and the ridges seemed to top the building with the illusion of nearness that such atmosphere engenders. The hush of a perfect autumn night lay over all.

I stood by that open window spellbound. For the clear loveliness seemed to take my hand and lead me forth into a vale of beauty that, behind the stillness, was brimming with activity. Vast energy paused beneath the immobility. The moonlight, so soft and innocent, yet gleamed with a steely brightness as of hidden fire; the puffs of wind were but the trickling draughts escaping from reservoirs that stored incalculable reserves. A terrific quality belied the appearance of this false repose. I was aware of elemental powers, pressed down and eager to run over. It came to me they also had been — called. Their activity, moreover, was in some very definite relation to myself. The voice that summoned me had warned as well.

I stood listening, trembling with an anticipation of things called unearthly. Nature, dressed in the Night, stepped in and took my hand. There seemed an enormous gesture; and it was a gesture, I felt, of adoration. Somewhere behind the calm picture there lay worship.

And I realised, then, that I stood before a page of writing. Out of this inanimate map that was composed of earth, air, fire and water, a deep sentence of elemental significance thrust up into my consciousness. Objects, forced into syllables of this new language, spoke to me. The cosmic language which is the language of the gods stood written on the moonlit world. “We lie here ready for your use,” I read. “Worship is the link. We may be known on human terms. You can use us. We can work with you.”

The message was so big, it seemed to thunder. Close to this window-sill on which I leaned the rising energy swayed like a sea. It was obedient to human will, and human will could harness it for practical purposes. I was feeling — with it. Immense, far-spreading, pouring down in viewless flood from the encircling heights, the surge of it came round the lonely chalet. The valley brimmed. The blindly-heaving lift of it — thus it presented itself to my imagination — could alter the solid rocks until they flowed like water, could float the trees as though they were but straws. For this also came to me with a conviction no less significant than the rest — that the particular elemental powers at hand were the familiar ones of heat and air. With those twin powers, which in their ultimate physical manifestation men know as wind and fire, my mind had established contact. But it was with the spiritual prototypes of these two elements my own small personal breath and heat linked on. There was cooperation. I had been called by name; yet my summoning was but a detail in some vaster evocation. There was no barrier between the not-me, as I must call it, and the me. Others had been called as well.

So strong was the sense that some unusual manifestation of these two “elements” approached, that I instinctively drew back; and in that same instant there flashed into me a vision, as it were, of sheeted flame and of gigantic wind. In my heart the picture rushed, for outwardly still reigned the calm and silence of the autumn night. Yet any moment, it seemed, the barrier into visible, sensible appearance would be leaped. And it was then, while I stood hesitating half-way between the window and the bed, that the sound rose again with sharp distinctness, and my name was called a second time.

I heard the voice; I recognised it; but the name was not the one I answer to today. It was another — first uttered at Edinburgh many years ago — Silvatela. And strong emotion laid a spell upon my senses, masking the present with a veil of other times and other places.

I stood entranced. . . . I heard Julius moving softly on the bare boards of the passage as he came towards my room; the door opened quietly; he held a lighted candle; I saw him framed against the darkness on the threshold.

For a fraction of a second then, before either of us spoke, it was as though he stood before me in another setting. For the meagre wood on either side of him gave place somehow to pylons of grey stone, hewn massively; the ceiling lifted into vaulted space where stars hung brightly; cool air breathed against my skin; and through an immense crepuscular distance I was aware of moving figures, clothed like his own in flowing white with napkined heads, their visages swarthier than those I knew today. He took a step forward into the room, and the shifting shadows from the moving candle dispelled the entire scene as though the light and darkness had constructed it. He spoke at once:

“She calls you,” he said quietly.

He set the candle down upon the table by my bed and gently closed the door. The draught, as he did so, shook the flame, sending a flutter of shadows dancing through the air. Yet it was no play of light and shadow that this time laid the strange construction on his face and gestures. So stately were his movements, so radiant his pale, passionless features, so touched with high, unearthly glory his whole appearance, that I watched him for a minute in silence, conscious of respect that bordered upon awe. He had been, I knew, in direct communication with the very sources of his strange faith, and a remnant of the power still clung to the outer body of his flesh. Into that small, cramped chamber Julius brought the touch of other life, of other consciousness that yet was not wholly unfamiliar to me. I remained close beside him. I drank in power from him. And, again, across my thoughts swept that sheet of fire and that lift of violent wind.

“She calls you,” he repeated calmly; and by the emphasis on the pronoun I knew he meant her Self of older times.

“She “ I whispered. “Your wife!”

He bowed his head. “She knows, now for the first time, that you are here.”

“She remembers?” I asked falteringly, knowing the “you” he meant was also of an older day.

“She lies in trance,” he answered, “and the buried Self is in command. She felt your presence, and she called for you — by name.”

“In trance?” I had the feeling of distress that he had forced her. But he caught my thought and set it instantly at rest.

“From deep sleep she passed of her own accord,” he said, “into the lucid state. Her older Self, which retains the memories of all the sections, is now consciously awake.”

“And she knows you too? Knows you as you were — remembers?” I asked breathlessly, thinking of my first sight of him in the doorway.

“She is aware at this very moment of both you and me,” he answered, “but as she knew us in that particular past. For the old conditions are gathering tonight about the house, and the Equinox is nearer.”

“Gathered, then, by you,” I challenged, conscious that an emotion of protection rose strong in me — protection of the woman.

“Gathered, rather,” he at once rejoined, “by our collective presence, by our collective feeling, thought and worship, but also by necessity and justice which bring the opportunity.”

He spoke with solemnity. I stared for several minutes in silence, facing him and holding his brilliant eyes with an answering passion in my own. Through the open window came a sighing draught of wind; a sense of increasing warmth came with it; it seemed to me that the pictured fire and wind were close upon me, as though the essential life of these two common elements were rising upon me from within; and I turned, trembling slightly, aware of the valley behind me in the moonlight. The chalet, it seemed, already was surrounded. The Presences stood close.

“They also know,” he whispered; “they wait for the moment when we shall require them — the three of us together. She, too, desires them. The necessity is upon us all.”

With the words there rose a certainty in me that knew no vain denial. The sense of reality and truth came over me again. He was in conscious league with powers of Nature that held their share of universal intelligence; we three had returned at last together. The approach of semi-spiritual intelligences that operate through phenomenal effects — in this case wind and fire — was no imaginative illusion. The channels here were open.

“No sparrow falls, no feather is misplaced,” he whispered, “but it is known and the furthest star responds. From our life in another star we brought our knowledge first. But we used it here — on the earth. It was you — your body — that we used as channel. It was your return that prevented our completion. Your dread of today is memory ”

There broke in upon his unfinished sentence an interrupting voice that turned me into stone. Ringing with marvellous authority, half sweet, half terrible, it came along the wooden walls of that narrow corridor, entered the very room about our ears, then died away in the open valley at our backs. The awakened Self of “Mrs. LeVallon” called us:

“Concerighe . . . Silvatela . . .!” sounded through the quiet night.

The voice, with its clear accents, plunged into me with an incredible appeal of some forgotten woe and joy combined. It was a voice I recognised, yet one unheard by me for ages. Power and deep delight rose in me, but with them a flash of stupid, earthly terror. It sounded again, breaking the silence of the early morning, but this time nearer than before. It was close outside the door. I felt Julius catch me quickly by the arm. My terror vanished at his touch.

The tread of bare feet upon the boards was audible; the same second the door pushed open and she stood upon the threshold, a tall, white figure with fixed and luminous eyes, and hair that fell in a dark cloud to the waist. Into the zone of pallid candle-light that the moon made paler still, she passed against the darkness of the outer passage, white and splendid, like some fair. cloud that swims into the open sky. And as wind stirs the fringes of a cloud, the breeze from the window stirred the edges of her drapery where the falling hair seemed to gather it in below the waist.

It was the wife of Julius, but the wife of Julius changed. Like some vision of ethereal beauty she stood before us, yet a vision that was alive. For she moved, she breathed, she spoke. It was both the woman as I knew her actually Today, and the woman as I had known her — Yesterday. The partial aspect that used this modern body was somehow supplemented — fulfilled by the presentment of her entire Self. The whole series of past sections came up to reinforce the little present, and I gazed upon the complete soul of her, rather than upon the fragment that made bread now in the kitchen and had known domestic service. The bearing was otherwise, the attitude another, the very fashion of her features changed. Her walk, her gestures, her mien had undergone enthralling alteration.

The stream of time went backwards as I gazed, or, rather, it stopped flowing altogether and held steady in a sea that had no motion. I sought the familiar points in her, plunging below the surface with each separate one to find what I— remembered. The eyes, wide open in the somnambulistic lucidity, were no longer of a nondescript mild grey, but shone with the splendour I had already half surprised in them before; the poise of the neck, the set of the shoulders beneath the white linen of her simple nightdress, had subtly, marvellously changed. She stood in challenge to a different world. It seemed to me that I saw the Soul of her, attended by the retinue of memories, experience, knowledge of all its past, summed up sublimely in a single moment. She was superb.

The outward physical change was, possibly, of the slightest, yet wore just that touch of significant alteration which conveyed authority. The tall, lithe figure moved with an imperial air; she raised her arm towards the open window; she spoke. The voice was very quiet, but it held new depth, sonority and accent. She had not seen me yet where I stood in the shadows by the wall, for Julius screened me somewhat, but I experienced that familiar clutch of dread upon the heart that once before — ages and ages ago — had overwhelmed me. Memory poured back upon my own soul too.

“Concerighe,” she uttered, looking full at Julius while her hand pointed towards the moonlit valley. “They stand ready. The air is breaking and the fire burns. Then where is he? I called him.”

And Julius, looking from her face to mine, answered softly: “He is beside you — close. He is ready with us too. But the appointed time — the Equinox — is not quite yet.”

The pointing hand sank slowly to her side. She turned her face towards me and she — saw. The gaze fell full upon my own, the stately head inclined a little. We both advanced; she took my outstretched hand, and at the touch a shock as of wind and fire seemed to drive against me with almost physical violence. I heard her voice.

“Silvatela — we meet — again!” Her eyes ran over in a smile of recognition as the old familiar name came floating to me through the little room. But for the firm clasp of her hand I should have dropped, for there was a sudden weakness in my knees, and my senses reeled a moment. “We meet again,” she repeated, while her splendid gaze held mine, “yet to you it is a dream. Memory in you lies unawakened still. And the fault is ours.”

She turned to Julius; she took his hand too; we stood linked together thus; and she smiled into her husband’s eyes. “His memory,” she said, “is dim. He has forgotten that we wronged him. Yet forgiveness is in his soul that only half remembers.” And the man who was her husband of Today said low in answer: “He forgives and he will help us now. His love forgives. The delay we caused his soul he may forget, but to the Law there is no forgetting possible. We must — we shall — repay.”

The clasp of our hands strengthened; we stood there linked together by the chain of love both past and present that knows neither injustice nor forgetting.

Then, with the words, as also with the clasping hands that joined us into one, some pent up barrier broke down within my soul, and a flood of light burst over me within that made all things for a moment clear. There came a singular commotion of the moonlit air outside the window, as if the tide that brimmed the valley overflowed and poured about us in the room. I stood transfixed and speechless before the certainty that Nature, in the guise of two great elements, flooded in and shared our passionate moment of recognition. A blinding confusion of times and places struggled for possession of me. For a tempest of memories surged past, driven tumultuously by sheeted flame and rushing wind. The inner hurricane lasted but a second. It rose, it fell, it passed away. I was aware that I saw down into deep, prodigious depths as into a pool of water, crystal clear; veil lifted after veil; memory revived.

I shuddered; for it seemed my present self slipped out of sight while this more ancient consciousness usurped its place. My little modern confidence collapsed; the mind that doubts and criticises, but never knows, fell back into its smaller role. The sum-total that was Me remembered and took command. And realising myself part of a living universe, I answered her:

“With love and sympathy,” I uttered in no uncertain tones, “and with complete forgiveness too.”

In that little bedroom of a mountain chalet, lit by the moon and candle-light, we stood together, our bodies joined by the clasp of hands, and our ancient souls united in a single purpose.

I looked into the eyes of this great woman, imperially altered in her outward aspect, magnificent in the towering soul of her; I looked at Julius, stately as some hierophantic figure who mastered Nature by comprehending her; I felt their hands, his own firm and steady, hers clasping softly, tenderly, yet with an equal strength; and I realised that I stood thus between them, not merely in this isolated mountain valley, but in the full tide of life whose source rose in the fountains of an immemorial past, Nature and human-nature linked together in a relationship that was a practical reality. Our three comrade-souls were reunited in an act of restitution; sharing, or about to share, a ceremony that had cosmic meaning.

And the beauty of the woman stole upon my heart, bringing the loveliness of the universe, while Julius brought its strength.

“This time,” I said aloud, “you shall not fail. I am with you both in sympathy, forgiveness, — love.”

Their hands increased the pressure on my own.

Her eyes held mine as she replied: “This duty that we owe to Nature and to you — so long — so long ago.”

“To me?” I faltered.

With shining eyes, and a smile divinely tender, she answered: “Love shall repay. We have delayed you by our deep mistake.”

“We shall undo the wrong we worked upon you,” I heard Julius say. “We stole the channel of your body. And we failed.”

“My love and sympathy are yours,” I repeated, as we drew closer still together. “I bear you no ill-will. . . . ”

And then she continued gravely, but ever with that solemn beauty lighting up her face:

“Oh, Silvatela, it seems so small a thing in the long, long journey of our souls. We were too ambitious only. The elemental Powers we tried to summon through your vacated body are still unhoused. The fault was not yours; it was our ambition and our faithlessness. I loved you to your undoing — you sacrificed yourself so willingly, loving me, alas, too well. The failure came. Instead of becoming as the gods, we bear this burden of a mighty debt. We owe it both to you and to the universe. Fear took us at the final moment — and you returned too soon — robbed of the high teaching that was yours by right, your progress delayed thereby, your memory clouded now. . . . ”

“My development took another turning,” I said, hardly knowing whence the knowledge came to me, “no more than that. It was for love of you that I returned too soon — the fault, was mine. It was for the best — there has been no real delay.” But there mingled in me a memory both clouded and unclouded. There was a confusion beyond me to unravel. I only knew our love was marvellous, although the fuller motives remained entangled. “It is all forgiven,” I murmured.

“Your forgiveness,” she answered softly, “is of perfect love. We loved each other then — nor have we quite forgotten now. This time, at least, we shall ensure success. The Powers stand ready, waiting; we are united; we shall act as one. At the Equinox we shall restore the balance; and memory and knowledge shall be yours a hundredfold at last.”

The voice of Julius interrupted, though so low it was scarcely audible:

“I offer myself. It is just and right, not otherwise. The risk must be all mine. Once accomplished” — he turned to me with power in his face — “we shall provide you with the privilege you lost through us. Our error will then be fully expiated and the equilibrium restored. It is an expiation and a sacrifice. Nature in this valley works with us now, and behind it is the universe — all, all aware. . . . ”

It seemed to me she leaped at him across the space between us. Our hands released. Perhaps, with the breaking of our physical contact, some measure of receptiveness went out of me, or it may have been the suddenness of the unexpected action that confused me. I no longer fully understood. Some bright clear flame of comprehension wavered, dimmed, went out in me. Even the words that passed between them then I did not properly catch. I saw that she clasped him round the neck while she uttered vehement words that he resisted, turning aside as with passionate refusal. It was — this, at least, I grasped before the return of reason in me broke our amazing union and left confusion in the place of harmony — that each one sought to take the risk upon himself, herself. The channel of evocation — a human system — I dimly saw, was the offering each one burned to make. The risk, in some uncomprehended way, was grave. And I stepped forward, though but half understanding what it was I did. I offered, to the best of my memory and belief — offered myself as a channel, even as I had offered or permitted long ago in love for her.

For I had discerned the truth, and knew deep suffering, nor cared what happened to me. It was the older Self in her that gave me love, while her self of Today

— the upper self — loved Julius. Mine was the old subconscious love unrecognised by her normal self; the love of the daily, normal self was his.

The look upon their faces stopped me. They moved up closer, taking my hands again. The moonlight fell in a silver pool upon the wooden flooring just between us; it clothed her white-clad figure with its radiance; it shone reflected in the eyes of Julius. I heard the tinkling of the little stream outside, beginning its long journey to an earthly sea. The nearer pine trees rustled. And her voice came with this moonlight, wind and water, as though the quiet night became articulate.

“So great is your forgiveness, so deep our ancient love,” she murmured. And while she said it, both he and she together made the mightiest gesture I have ever seen upon small human outlines — a gesture of resignation and refusal that yet conveyed power as though a forest swayed or some great sea rolled back its flood. There was this sublime suggestion in the wordless utterance by which they made me know my offering was impossible. For Nature behind both of them said also No. . . .

Then, with a quiet motion that seemed gliding rather than the taking of actual steps, her figure withdrew slowly towards the door. Her face turned from me as when the moon slips down behind a cloud. Erect and stately, as though a marble statue passed from my sight by some interior motion of its own, her figure entered the zone of shadow just beyond the door. The sound of her feet upon the boards was scarcely audible. The narrow passage took her. She was gone.

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