Julius LeVallon, by Algernon Blackwood

Chapter xxix

“Not yet are fixed the prison bars;

The hidden light the spirit owns

If blown to Aame would dim the stars

And they who rule them from their thrones:

And the proud sceptred spirits thence

Would bow to pay us reverence.”

— A. E.

It was out of this accumulation of unusual emotion that a slight but significant act of Julius recalled me to the outer world. I was lighting my pipe — from the chimney of the lamp rather than by striking a match — when I overheard him telling the Man that, instead of sitting up as usual, he might go to bed at once. He went off obediently, but with some latent objection, half resentment, half opposition, in his manner. There was a sulkiness as of disappointment in his face. He knew that something unusual was on foot, and he felt that he should by rights be in it — he might be of use, he might be needed. There was this dumb emotion in him, as in a faithful dog who, scenting danger, is not called upon to fight, and so retires growling to his kennel.

He went slowly, casting backward glances, and at the door he turned and caught my eye. I had only to beckon, to raise my hand a moment, to say a word — he would have come running back with a bound into the room. But the gaze of his master was upon him, and he went; and though he may have lain down in his room beyond the kitchen, I felt perfectly sure he did not sleep. His body lay down, but not his excited instincts.

For this dismissal of the Man was, of course, a signal. The three of us were then in that dim-lit peasant’s room — alone; and for a long time in a silence broken only by the sparks escaping from the burning logs upon the hearth, and by the low wind that now went occasionally sighing past the open window. We sat there waiting, not looking at each other, yet each aware of the slightest physical or mental movement. It was an intense and active silence in which deep things were being accomplished; for, if Mrs. LeVallon and myself were negative, I was alert to immense and very positive actions that were going forward in the being of our companion. Julius, sitting quietly with folded hands, his face just beyond the lamp’s first circle of light, was preparing, and with a stress of extreme internal effort that made the silence seem a field of crashing battle. The entire strength of this strange being’s soul, cooperating with Nature, and by methods of very ancient acquirement known fully to himself alone, sought an achievement that should make us act as one. Through two natural elemental powers, fire and wind — both vitally part of us since the body’s birth — we could claim the incalculable support of the entire universe. It was a cosmic act. Ourselves were but the channel. ‘ Later this channel would define itself still more.

Beneath those smoke-stained rafters, as surely as beneath the vaulted roof of some great temple, stepped worship and solemnity. The change came gradually. From the sky above the star-lit valley this grave, tremendous attitude swung down into our hearts. Not alone the isolated chalet, but the world itself contained us, a temple wherein we, insignificant worshippers, knelt before the Universe. For the powers we invoked were not merely earthly powers, but those cosmic energies that drove and regulated even the flocks of stars.

Mrs. LeVallon and I both knew it dimly, as we waited with beating hearts in that great silence. She scarcely moved. Somehow divining the part she had to play, she sat there motionless as a figure in stone, offering no resistance. Her reawakened memory must presently guide us; she knew the importance of her role, and the composure with which she accepted it touched grandeur. Yet each one of us was necessary. If Julius took the leader’s part, her contribution, as my own, were equally essential to success. If the greater risk was his, our own risk was yet not negligible. The elemental Powers would take what channel seemed best available. It was not a personal consideration for us. We were most strangely one.

My own measure of interpretation I have already attempted to describe. Hers I guess intuitively. For we shared each other’s feelings as only love and sympathy know how to share. These feelings now grew steadily in power; and, obeying them, our bodies moved to new positions. We changed our attitudes.

For I remember that while Julius rose and stood beside the table, his wife went quietly from my side and seated herself before the open window, her face turned towards the valley and the night. Instinctively we formed a living triangle, Mrs. LeVallon at the apex. And, though at the time I understood the precise significance of these changes, reading clearly the language they acted out in motion, that discernment is now no longer in me, so that I cannot give the perfect expression of meaning they revealed. Upon Julius, however, some appearance, definite as a robe upon the head and shoulders, proclaimed him a figure of command and somehow, too, of tragedy. It set him in the centre. Close beside me, within the circle of the lamplight, I watched him — so still, so grave, the face of marble pallor, the dark hair tumbling as of old about the temples whereon the effort of intensest concentration made the pulsing veins stand out as thick as cords. Calm as an image he stood there for a period of time I cannot state. Beyond him, in the shadows by the window, his wife’s figure was just visible as she leaned, half reclining, across the wooden sill into the night. There was no sound from the ‘outer valley, there was no sound in the room. Then, suddenly of itself, a change approached. The silence broke.

“Julius . . .!” came faintly from the window, as Mrs. LeVallon with a sudden gesture drew the curtain to shut out the darkness. She turned towards us. “Julius!” And her voice, using the tone I had heard before when she fled past me up that meadow slope, sounded as from some space beyond the walls. I looked up, my nerves on the alert, for it came to me that she was at the limit of endurance and that something now must break in her.

Julius moved over to her side, while she put her hands out first to welcome him, then half to keep him off. He spoke no word. He took her outstretched hands in both of his, leading her back a little nearer towards the centre of the room.

“Julius,” she whispered, “what frightens me tonight? I’m all a-shiver. There’s something coming? — but what is it? And why do I seem to know, yet not to know?”

He answered her quietly, the voice deep with tenderness:

“We three are here together” — I saw the shining smile I knew of old — “and there is no cause to feel afraid. You are tired with your long, long waiting.” And he meant, I knew, the long fatigue of ages that she apprehended, but did not grasp fully yet. She was Mrs. LeVallon still.

“I’m both hot and cold together, and all oppressed,” she went on; “like a fever it is — icy and yet on fire. I can’t get at myself, to keep it still. Julius . . . what is it?” The whisper held somehow for me the potentiality of scream. Then, taking his two hands closer, she raised her voice with startling suddenness. “Julius,” she cried, “I know what frightens me — it’s you! What are you tonight?” She looked searchingly a moment into his face. “And what is this thing that’s going to happen to you? I hear it coming nearer — outside” — she moved further from the curtained window with small, rushing steps, looking back across her shoulder — “all down the valley from the mountains, those awful mountains. Oh, Julius, it’s coming — for you — my husband! And for him,” she added, laying her eyes upon me like a flame.

I thought the tears must come, but she held them back, looking appealingly at me, and clutching Julius as though he would slip from her. Then, with a quick movement and a little gust of curious laughter, she clapped her hand upon her mouth to stop the words. Something she meant to say to me was left unspoken, she was ashamed of the momentary weakness. “Mrs. LeVallon” was still uppermost.

“Julius,” she added more softly, “there’s something about tonight I haven’t known since childhood. There’s such heat and — oh, hark!” — she stopped a moment, holding up her finger — “there’s a sound — like riggin’ in the wind. But it ain’t wind. What is it, Julius? And why is that wonderful?”

Yet no sound issued from the quiet valley;, it was as still as death. Even the sighing of the breeze had ceased about the walls.

“If only I understood,” she went on, looking from his face to mine, “if only I knew exactly. It was something,” she added almost to herself, “that used to come to me when I was little — on the farm — and I put it away because it made me” — she whispered the last two words below her breath — “feel crazy ”

“Crazy?” repeated Julius, smiling down at her.

“Like a queen,” she finished proudly, yet still timid. “I couldn’t feel that way and do my work.” And her long lashes lifted, so that the eyes flashed at me across the table. “It made everything seem too easy.”

I cannot say what quality was in his voice, when, leading her gently towards a wicker chair beside the fire, he spoke those strange words of comfort. There seemed a resonant power in it that brought strength and comfort in. She smiled as she listened, though it was not her brain his language soothed. That other look began to steal upon her face as he proceeded.

“You!” he said gently, “so wonderful a woman, and so poised with the discipline these little nerves forget — you cannot yield to the fear that loneliness and darkness bring to children.” She settled down into the chair, gazing into his face as he settled the cushions for her back. Her hands lay in her lap. She listened to every syllable, while the expression of perplexity grew less marked. And the change upon her features deepened as he continued: “There are moments when the soul sees her own shadow, and is afraid. The Past comes up so close. But the shadow and the fear will pass. We three are here. Beyond all chance disaster, we stand together . . . and to our real inner selves nothing that is sad or terrible can ever happen.”

Again her eyes flashed their curious lightning at me as I watched; but the sudden vague alarm was passing as mysteriously as it came. She said no more about the wind and fire. The magic of his personality, rather than the words which to her could only have seemed singular and obscure, had touched the sources of her strength. Her face was pale, her eyes still bright with an unwonted brilliance, but she was herself again — I think she was no longer the “upper” self I knew as “Mrs. LeVallon.” The marvellous change was slowly stealing over her.

“You’re cold and tired,” he said, bending above her “Come closer to the fire — with us all.”

I saw her shrink, for all the brave control she exercised. The word “fire” came on her like a blow. “It’s not my body,” she answered; “that’s neither cold nor tired. It’s another thing — behind it.” She turned toward the window, where the curtain at that moment rose and fell before a draught of air. “I keep getting the feeling that something’s coming tonight for — one of us.” She said it half to herself, and Julius made no answer. I saw her look back then at the glowing fire of wood and peat. At the same moment she threw out both hands first as if to keep the heat away, then as though to hold her husband closer.

“Julius! If you went from me! If I lost you!”

I heard his low reply:

“Never, through all eternity, can we go — away from one another — except for moments.”

She partly understood, I think, for a great sigh, but half suppressed, escaped her.

“Moments,” she murmured, “that are very long . . . and lonely.”

It was then, as she said the words, that I noticed the change which so long had been rising, establish itself definitely in the luminous eyes. That other colour fastened on them — the deep sea-green. “Mrs. LeVallon” before my sight sank slowly down, and a completer, far more ancient self usurped her. Small wonder that my description halts in confusion before so beautiful a change, for it was the beginning of an actual transfiguration of her present person. It was bewildering to watch the gradual, enveloping approach of that underlying Self, shrine of a million memories, deathless, and ripe with long — forgotten knowledge. The air of majesty that she wore in the sleep-walking incident gathered by imperceptible degrees about the uninspired modern presentment that I knew. Slowly her face turned calm with beauty. The features composed themselves in some new mould of grandeur. The perplexity, at first so painfully apparent, but marked the singular passage of the less into the greater. I saw it slowly disappear. As she lay back in that rough chair of a peasant’s chalet, there was some calm about her as of the steadfast hills, some radiance as of stars, a suggestion of power that told me — as though some voice whispered it in my soul — she knew the link with Nature reestablished finally within her being. Her head turned slightly towards me. I stood up.

Instinctively I moved across the room and drew the curtain back. I saw the stars; I saw the dark line of mountains; the odours of forest and meadow came in with sweetness; I heard the tinkling of the little stream — yet all contained somehow in the message of her turning head and shoulders.

There was no sound, there was no spoken word, but the language was one and unmistakable. And as I came slowly again towards the fire Julius stood over her, uttering in silence the same stupendous thing. The sense of my own inclusion in it was amazing. He smiled down into her lifted face. These two, myself a vital link between them, smiled across the centuries at one another. We formed — I noticed then — with the fire and the open window into space — a circle.

To say that I grasped some spiritual import in these movements of our bodies, realising that they acted out an inevitable meaning, is as true as my convinced belief can make it. It is also true that in this, my later report of the event, that meaning is no longer clear to me. I cannot recover the point of view that discerned in our very positions a message of some older day. The significance of attitude and gesture then were clear to me; the translation of this three-dimensional language I have lost again. A man upon his knees, two arms outstretched to clasp, a head bowed down, a pointing finger — these are interpretable gestures and attitudes that need no spoken words. Similarly, following some forgotten wisdom, our related movements held a ceremonial import that, by way of acceptance or refusal, helped or hindered the advance of the elemental powers then invoked. In some marvellous fashion one consciousness was shared amongst us all. We worked with a living Nature, and a living Nature worked actively with us, and it was attitude, movement, gestures, rather than words, that assisted the alliance.

Then Julius took the hand that lay nearest to him, while the other she lifted to place within my own. And a light breeze came through the open window at that moment, touched the embers of the glowing logs, and blew them into flame. I felt our hands tighten as that slight increase of heat and air passed into us. For in that passing breeze was the eternal wind which is the breath of God, and in that flame upon the hearth was the fire which burns in suns and lights the heart in men and women. . . .

There came with unexpected suddenness, then, a moment of very poignant human significance — because of the great perspective against which it rose. She sat erect; she gazed into his face and mine; in her eyes burned an expression of beseeching love and sacrifice, but a love and sacrifice far older than this present world on which her body lay. Her arms stretched out and opened, she raised her lips, and, while I looked aside, she kissed him softly. I turned away from that embrace, aware in my heart that it was a half-divined farewell . . . and when I looked back again the little scene was over.

He bent slightly down, releasing the hand he held, and signifying by a gesture that I should do the same. Her body relaxed a little; she sank deeper into the chair; she sighed. I realised that he was assisting her into that artificial slumber which would lead to the full release of the subconscious self whose slow approach she already half divined. Stooping above her, he gently touched the hypnogenic points above the eyes and behind the ears. It was the oldest memories he sought. She offered them quite willingly.

“Sleep!” he said soothingly, command and tenderness mingled in the voice. “Sleep . . . and remember!” With the right hand he made slow, longitudinal passes before her face. “Sleep, and recover what you . . . knew! We need your guidance.”

Her body swayed a little before it settled; her feet stretched nearer to the fire; her respiration rapidly diminished, becoming deep and regular; with the movement of her bosom the band of black velvet rose and fell about the neck, her hands lay folded in her lap. And, as I watched, my own personal sensations of quite nameless joy and anguish passed into a curious abandonment of self that merged me too completely in the solemnity of worship to leave room for pain. ‘ Hand in hand with the earthly darkness came in to us that Night of Time which neither sleeps nor dies, and like a remembered dream up stole our inextinguishable Past.

“Sleep!” he repeated, lower than before.

Cold, indeed, touched my heart, but with it came a promise of some deep spiritual sweetness, rich with the comfort of that life which is both abundant and universal. The valley and the sky, stars, mountains, forests, running water, all that lay outside of ourselves in Nature everywhere, came with incredible appeal into my soul. Confining barriers crumbled, melted into air; the imprisoned human forces leaped forth to meet the powers that “inanimate” Nature holds. I knew the drive of tireless wind, the rush of irresistible fire. It seemed a state in which we all joined hands, a state of glory that justified the bravest hopes, annihilating doubt and disbelief.

She slept. And in myself something supremely sure, supremely calm, looked on and watched.

“It helps,” Julius murmured in my ear, referring to the sleep; “it makes it easier for her. She will remember now . . . and guide.”

He moved to her right side, I to her left. Between the fire and the open window we formed then — a line.

Along a line there is neither tension nor resistance. It was the primitive, ultimate figure.

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