Julius LeVallon, by Algernon Blackwood

Chapter iii

“Souls without a past behind them, springing suddenly into existence, out of nothing, with marked mental and moral peculiarities, are a conception as monstrous as would be the corresponding conception of babies suddenly appearing from nowhere, unrelated to anybody, but showing marked racial and family types.”— “The Ancient Wisdom” (A. Besant).

As the terms passed and I ceased to be a new boy, it cannot be said that I got to know Julius LeVallon any better, because our intimacy had been established, or “resumed” as he called it, from the beginning; but the chances of being together increased, we became members of the same form, our desks were side by side, and we shared at length the same bedroom with another Fifth Form boy named Goldingham. And since Goldingham, studious, fat, good-natured, slept soundly from the moment his head touched the pillow till the seven o’clock bell rang — and sometimes after it in order to escape his cold bath — we practically had the room to ourselves.

Moreover, from the beginning, it all seemed curiously true. It was not Julius who invented, but I who in my stupidity had forgotten. Long, detailed dreams, too, came to me about this time, which I recognised as a continuation of these of “Other Places” his presence near me in the daytime would revive. They existed, apparently, in some layer deeper than my daily consciousness, recoverable in sleep. In the daytime something sceptical in me that denied, rendered them inaccessible, but once reason slept and the will was in abeyance, they poured through me in a continuous, uninterrupted flow. A word from Julius, a touch, a glance from his eyes perhaps, would evoke them instantly, and I would see. Yet he made no potent suggestions that could have caused them; there was no effort; I did not imagine at his bidding; and often, indeed, his descriptions differed materially from my own, which makes me hesitate to ascribe the results to telepathy alone. It was his presence, his atmosphere that revived them. Today, of course, immediately after our schooldays in fact, they ceased to exist for me — to my regret, I think, on the whole, for they were very entertaining, and sometimes very exquisite. I still retain, however, the vivid recollection of blazing summer landscapes; of people, sometimes barbaric and always picturesque, moving in brilliant colours; of plains, and slopes of wooded mountains that dipped, all blue and thirsty, into quiet seas — scenes and people, too, utterly unlike any I had known during my fifteen years of existence under heavy English skies.

LeVallon knew this inner world far better and more intimately than I did. He lived in it. Motfield Close, the private school among the Kentish hills, was merely for him a place where his present brain and body — instruments of his soul — were acquiring the current knowledge of Today. It was but temporary. He himself, the eternal self that persisted through all the series of lives, was in quest of other things, “real knowledge,” as he called it. For this reason the recollection of his past, these “Other Places,” was of paramount importance, since it enabled him to see where he had missed the central trail and turned aside to lesser pursuits that had caused delay. He was forever seeking to recover vanished clues, to pick them up again, and to continue the main journey with myself and, eventually, with — one other.

“I’ve always been after those things,” he used to say, “and I’m searching, searching always — inside myself, for the old forgotten way. We were together, you and I, so your coming back like this will help ”

I interrupted, caught by an inexplicable dread that he would mention another person too. I said the first thing that came into my head. Instinctively the words came, yet right words:

“But my outside is different now. How could you know? My face and body, I mean?”

“Of course,” he smiled; “but I knew you instantly. I shall never forget that day. I felt it at once — all over me. I had often dreamed about you,” he added after a moment’s pause, “but that was no good, because you didn’t dream with me.” He looked hard into my eyes. “We’ve a lot to do together, you know,” he said gravely, “a lot of things to put right — one thing, one big thing in particular — when the time comes. Whatever happens, we mustn’t drift apart again. We shan’t.”

Another minute and I knew he would speak of “her.” It was strange, this sense of shrinking that particular picture brought. Never, except in sleep occasionally, had it returned to me, and I think it was my dread that kept it out of sight. Yet Julius just then did not touch the topic that caused my heart to sink.

“I must be off,” he exclaimed a moment later. “There’s ‘stinks’ to mug up, and I haven’t looked at it. I shan’t know a blessed word!” For the chemistry, known to the boys by this shorter yet appropriate name, was a constant worry to him. He was learning it for the first time, he found it difficult. But he was a boy, a schoolboy, and he talked like one.

He never doubted for one instant that I was not wholly with him. He assumed that I knew and remembered, though less successfully, and that we merely resumed an interrupted journey. Pre-existence was as natural to him as that a certain man and woman had provided his returning soul with the means of physical expression, termed body. His soul remembered; he, therefore, could not doubt. It was innate conviction, not acquired theory.

“I can’t get down properly to the things I want,” he said another time, “but they’re coming. It’s a rotten nuisance — learning dates and all these modern languages keeps them out. The two don’t mix. But, now you’re here, we can dig up a jolly sight more than I could alone. And you’re getting it up by degrees all right enough.”

For the principle of any particular knowledge, once acquired, was never lost. It was learning a thing for the first time that was the grind. Instinctive aptitude was subconscious memory of something learned before.

“The pity is we’re made to learn a lot of stuff that belongs to one particular section, and doesn’t run through them all. It clogs the memory. The great dodge is to recognise the real knowledge and go for it bang. Then you get a bit further every section.”

Until my arrival, it seems, he kept these ideas strictly to himself, knowing he would otherwise be punished for lying, or penalised in some other educational manner for being too imaginative. Yet, while he stood aloof somewhat from the common school life, he was popular and of good repute. The boys admired, but stood in awe of him. He pleased the masters almost as much as he puzzled them; for, unlike most dreamy, fanciful youths, he possessed concentration and an imperious will; he worked hard and always knew his lessons. Modern knowledge he found difficult, and only mastered with great labour the details of recent history, elementary science, chemistry, and so forth, whereas in algebra, euclid, mathematics, and the dead languages, especially Greek, he invariably stood at the head of the form. He was merely recollecting them.

During the whole two years of our schooldays at the Close, I never heard him use such phrases as “former life” or “reincarnation.” Life, for him, was eternal simply, and at Motfield he was in eternal life, just as he always had been and always would be. Only he never said this. He was a boy and talked like a boy. He just lived it. Death to him was an insignificant detail. His whole mind ran to the idea that life was continuous, each section casting aside the wornout instrument which had been exactly suited to the experience its wearer needed for its development at that time and under those conditions. And, certainly, he never understood that astounding tenet of most religions, that life can be “eternal” by prolonging itself endlessly in the future, without having equally extended endlessly also in the past!

“But I’m going to be a general,” I said, “when I grow up,” afraid that the “real knowledge” might interfere with my main ambition. “I could never think of giving up that.”

Julius looked up from tracing figures in the sand with the point of his gymnasium shoe. There was a smile on his lips, a light in his eye that I understood. I had said something that belonged to Today, and not to all Todays.

“You were before,” he answered patiently, “a magnificent general, too.”

“But I don’t remember it,” I objected, being in one of my denying moods.

“You want to be it again,” he smiled. “It’s born in you. That is memory. But, anyhow,” he added, “you can do both — be a general with your mind and the other thing with your soul. To shirk your job only means to come back to it again later, don’t you see?”

Quite naturally, and with profound conviction, he spoke of life’s obligations. Physical infirmities resulted from gross errors in the past; mental infirmities, from lost intellectual opportunities; spiritual disabilities, from past moral shirkings and delinquencies: all were methods, moreover, by which the soul divines her mistakes and grows, through discipline, stronger, wiser. He would point to a weakness in someone, and suggest what kind of error caused it in a previous section, with the same certainty that a man might show a scar and say “that came from fooling with a mowing machine when I was ten years old.”

The antipathies and sympathies of Today, the sudden affinities like falling in love at sight, and the sudden hostilities that apparently had no cause — all were due to relationships in some buried Yesterday, while those of Tomorrow could be anticipated, and so regulated, by the actions of Today. Even to the smallest things. If, for instance, Martin vented his spite and jealousy, working injustice upon another, he but prepared the way for an exactly adequate reprisal later that must balance the account to date. For into the most trivial affairs of daily life dipped the spirit of this remarkable boy’s belief, revealing as with a torch’s flare the workings of an implacable justice that never could be mocked. No question of punishment meted out by another entered into it, but only an impersonal law, which men call — elsewhere — Cause and Effect.

At the time, of course, I was somewhat carried away by the thoroughness with which he believed and practised these ideas, though without grasping the logic and consistency of his intellectual position. I was aware, most certainly, in his presence of large and vitalising sensations not easily accounted for, of being caught up into some unfamiliar region over vast horizons, where big winds blew from dim and ancient lands, where a sunlight burned that warmed the inmost heart in me, and where I seemed to lose myself amid the immensities of an endless, vistaed vision.

This, of course, is the language of maturity. At the time I could not express a tithe of what my feelings were, except that they were vast and wonderful. To think myself back imaginatively, even now, into that period of my youth with Julius LeVallon by my side, is to feel myself eternally young, alive forever beyond all possibility of annihilation or decay; it is, further, to realise an ample measure of lives at my disposal in which to work towards perfection, the mere ageing and casting off of any particular body after using it for sixty years or so — nothing, and less than nothing.

“Don’t funk!” I remember his saying once to a boy named Creswick who had “avoided” the charging Hurrish at football. “You can’t lose your life. You can only lose your body. And you’ll lose that anyhow.”

“Crazy lout!” Creswick exclaimed, nursing his ankle, as he confided to another boy of like opinions. “I’m not going to have my bones all smashed to pulp for anybody. Body I’m using at the moment indeed! It’ll be life I’m using at the moment next!”

Which, I take it, was precisely what LeVallon meant.

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