Julius LeVallon, by Algernon Blackwood

Chapter iv

“In the case of personal relations, I do not see that heredity would help us at all. Heredity, however, can produce a more satisfactory explanation of innate aptitudes. On the other hand, the doctrine of preexistence does not compel us to deny all influence on a man’s character of the character of his ancestors. The character which a man has at any time is modified by any circumstances which happen to him at that time, and may well be modified by the fact that his rebirth is in a body descended from ancestors of a particular character.” — Prof. J. M’Taggart.

There were numerous peculiarities about this individual with a foreign name that I realise better on looking back than I did at the time.

Of his parentage and childhood I knew nothing, for he mentioned neither, and his holidays were spent at school; but he was always well dressed and provided with plenty of pocket-money, which he generously shared. Later I discovered that he was an orphan, but a certain cruel knowledge of the world whispered that he was something else as well. This mystery of his origin, however, rather added to the wonder of him than otherwise. Compared to the stretch of time behind, it seemed a trifling detail of recent history that had no damaging significance. “Julius LeVallon is. my label for this section,” he observed, “and John Mason is yours.” And family ties for him seemed to have no necessary existence, since neither parents nor relations were of a man’s own choosing. It was the ties deliberately formed, and especially the ties renewed, that held real significance.

I thought of him as “foreign,” though, in a deeper sense than that he was not quite English. He carried me away from England, but also away from modern times; and something about him belonged to lands where life was sunnier, more passionate, more romantic even, and where the shadows of great Gods haunted blue, wooded mountains, vast plains and deep, sequestered valleys. He claimed kinship somehow with an earlier world, magical, unstained. Even his athletic gifts, admired of all, had this subtle distinction too: the way he ran and jumped and “fielded” was not English. At fives, squash-racquets, or with the cricket-bat he fumbled badly, whereas in any game that demanded speed, adroitness, swift intuitive decision, and physical dexterity of a certain un-English kind — as against mere strength and pluck — he was supreme. He was deer rather than bull-dog. The school-games of modern days he was learning, apparently, for the first time.

In a corner of the field, where a copse of larches fringed the horizon against the sloping woods and hop-poles in the distance, we used to He and talk for hours during playtime. The high-road skirted this field, and a hedge was provided with a gate which, under penalties, was the orthodox means of entrance. Few boys attempted any other, though Peabody was once caught by the Head as he floundered through a thorny opening with the jumping pole. But Julius never used the gate — nor was ever caught. He would dart from my side with a few quick steps, leap into the air, and fly soaring over the hedge, his feet tucked neatly under him like a bird’s.

“Now,” he would say, as we flung ourselves down beneath the shade of the larches, “we’ve got an hour or more. Let’s talk, and remember, and get well down into it all.”

How it was accomplished I cannot hope to describe. The world about me faded, another took its place. It rose in sheets and layers, shimmering, alive, and amazingly familiar. Space and time seemed to overlap, objects and scenery interpenetrated. There was fragrance, light and colour; adventure and alarm; delight and ceaseless expectation. It was a kind of fairyland where flowers never died, where motion was swift as thought, and life seemed meted out on a more lavish scale than by the meagre measurements of ticking clocks. And, while the memories were often hard to disentangle, the marked idiosyncrasies of our separate natures were never in the least confusion: my passion for adventure, his to find the reality that lay behind all manifested life. For this was the lode-star that guided him over the hills and deserts of all his many “sections” — the unquenchable fever to learn essential truth, to pierce behind the veil of appearances and discover the secret nature of the soul, its origin, its destiny, the methods of its full realisation. It was a pastoral people that interested me most, primitive folk with migratory habits not yet abandoned. Their herds roamed an enormous territory. There was a Red Tribe and a Blue Tribe. The fighting men used bows, spears and javelins, and carried shields with round, smooth metal bosses to deflect the rain of arrows. And there was cavalry — two thousand men on horseback called a “coorlie.” Julius and I both knew it all as if we had lived with them, not merely read an invented tale; and it was pictures of this land and people that had first flared up in me that afternoon in the playground when he asked if I “remembered.” Memories of my childhood a few years before had not half the vividness and actuality of these. Nothing could have been more stupid than such undistinguished legends, but for this convincing reality that was their outstanding characteristic. . . . It all came back to me: the days and nights of hunting, nomad existence, the wild freedom of open plains and trackless forests, of migrations in the spring, wood fires, lawless raids, and also of some kind of mighty worship that stirred me deeply with an old, grand sense of Nature Deities adequately approached.

This latter fact, indeed, rose most possessingly upon me. There came a vague uneasiness and discomfort with it. I was aware of brooding Presences. . . .

“And they are still about us if we care to look for them,” interrupted a low voice in my ear, “ready to give us of their strength and happiness, waiting to answer if we call. . . . ”

I looked up, disagreeably startled. A breath of wind stirred in the branches overhead. The tufts of ragwort bent their yellow heads. In the sky there was a curious glow and warmth. A sense of hush pervaded all the air, as though someone had crept close to where we lay and overheard our thoughts with sympathy.

And in that very moment, just as I looked up at Julius, the picture of the woman, her face averted and her hands upraised, stole like a ghost before my inner vision. She vanished into mist again; the layer that had so suddenly disclosed itself, sank down; the other shifted up into its former place; and my companion, I saw, with sharp amazement was stretched upon his back, his head turned from me, resting on his folded hands — as though he had not spoken any word at all. For his eyes, as I then leaned over to discover, were gazing into space, and his mind seemed intent upon pictures that he visualised for himself.

“Julius,” I said quickly, “you spoke to me just now?”

He turned slowly, as with an effort to tear himself away from what he saw within him; he answered quietly:

“I may have spoken. I can’t be sure. Why do you ask? I’ve been so far away.” His face was rapt as with some inner light. It had a radiant look. There was no desire in me to insist.

“Oh, nothing,” I answered quickly, and lay down again to follow what memories might come. The slight shiver that undeniably had touched me went its way. There was relief, intense relief — that he had not taken the clue

I recklessly had offered. And, almost at once, the world about me faded out once more, the larches dipped away, the field sank out of sight.. I plunged down into the sea of older memories. . . .

I saw the sunlight flashing on shield and spear; I saw the hordes all gathered in the plains below, a mass of waving plumes, with red on the head-dress of the chieftains; I saw the river blackened by the thousands crossing it, covering the opposite bank like swarms of climbing ants. . . . I saw the chieftains lay aside their arms as they entered the sacred precincts of the grove; I smelt the odour of the sacrificial fires, heard the long-drawn droning of petitions, the cries of the victims. . . . And then the sentry-fires behind the sleeping camps . . . the stirring of the soldiers at dawn . . . the perfume of leagues of open plain . . . muffled tramping far away . . . wind . . . fading stars . . . wild-flowers dripping with the dew. . . .

There was fighting, too, galore; tremendous marches; signalling by night from the mountain-tops with torches alternately hidden and revealed; and of sacred rites, primitive and fraught with danger to human life, no end. . . .

In the middle of which up stole again that other layer, breathing terror and shrinking dread, and with a vividness of actuality that put all the rest into the shade. It could not, would not be dismissed. Its irruption was of but an instant’s duration, but in that instant there flashed upon me a clear intuition of certainty. I knew that Julius refrained purposely from speaking of this figure, because he understood my dread might drive me from his side before what we three must accomplish together was ripe for action, and because he waited — till she should appear in person. And, before it vanished again, I knew another thing: that what we three must accomplish together had to do directly with the worship of these mighty, old-world Nature Deities.

The stirring of these deep, curious emotions in me banished effectually all further scenery. I sat up and began to talk. I laughed a little and raised my voice. The sky, meanwhile, had clouded over, there was no heat in the occasional gleams of sunshine.

“I’ve been hunting and fighting and the Lord knows what else besides,” I exclaimed, touching Julius on the shoulder where he lay. “But somehow I didn’t feel that you were with me — always.”

“It’s too awfully far back, for one thing,” he replied dreamily, as if still half withdrawn, “and, for another, we both left that section young. The three of us were not together then. That was a bit later. All the same,” he added, “it was there you sowed the first seeds of the soldiering instinct which is so strong in you today. I was killed in battle. We were on opposite sides. You fell —”

“On the steps —” I cried, seizing a flashing memory.

“Of the House of Messengers,” he caught me up. “You carried the Blue Stick of warning. You got down the street in safety when the flying javelin caught you as you reached the very steps —”

There was a sound behind us in the field quite close.

“What in the world do you two boys find to talk about so much?” asked the voice of Hurrish suddenly. “I’m afraid it’s not all elegiacs.” And he laughed good-humouredly.

We turned with a start. Julius looked up, then rose and touched his cap. I followed his example the same moment.

“No, sir,” he said, before I could think of anything to answer. “It’s the Memory Game.”

Hurrish looked at him with a quiet smile upon his face. His expression betrayed interest. But he said nothing, merely questioning with his eyes.

“The most wonderful game you ever played, sir,” continued Julius.

“Indeed! The most wonderful game you ever played?” Hurrish repeated, yet by no means unkindly.

“Getting down among the memories of — of before, sir. Recovering what we did, and what we were — and so understanding what we are today.”

The master stared without a sign of emotion upon his face. Apparently, in some delightful way, he understood. He was very sympathetic, I remember, to both of us. We thought the world of him, respecting him almost to the point of personal affection; and this in spite of punishments his firm sense of justice often obliged him to impose. I think, at that moment, he divined what Julius meant and even felt more sympathy than he cared to show.

“The Memory Game,” he repeated, looking quizzically down at us over the top of his glasses. “Well, well.” He hummed and hesitated a moment, choosing his words, it seemed, with care. “There’s a good deal of that in the air just now, I know — as you’ll discover for yourselves when you leave here and get into the world outside. But, remember,” he went on with a note of earnestness and warning in his voice, “most of it is little better than a feeble, yet rather dangerous, form of hysteria, with vanity as a basis.”

I hardly understood what he meant myself, but I saw the quick flush that coloured the pale cheeks of my companion.

“There are numbers of people about today,” continued Hurrish, as we walked home slowly across the field, “who pretend to remember all kinds of wonderful things about themselves and about their past, not one of which can be justified. But it only means, as a rule, that they wish to appear peculiar by taking up the fad of the moment. They like to glorify themselves, though few of them understand even the A B C of the serious belief that may lie behind it all.”

Julius squeezed my arm; the flush had left his skin; he was listening eagerly.

“You may later come across a good many thinking people, too,” said the master, “who play your Memory Game, or think they do, and some among them who claim to have carried it to an extraordinary degree of perfection. There are ways and means, it is said. I do not deny that their systems may be worthy of investigation; I merely say it is a good plan to approach the whole thing with caution and common sense.”

He glanced down first at one, then the other of us, with a grave and kindly expression in the eyes his glasses magnified so oddly.

“And most who play it,” he added dryly, “remember so much of their wonderful past that they forget to do their ordinary duties in their very commonplace present.” He chuckled a little, while Julius again gripped my flesh so hard that I only just prevented crying out.

“I’ll remember him in a minute — if only I can get down far enough,” he managed to whisper in my ear. “We were together ”

We had reached the gate, and were walking down the road towards the house. It was very evident that Hurrish understood more than he cared to admit about our wonderful game, and was trying to guide us rather than to deride instinctive beliefs.

That night in our bedroom, when Goldingham was asleep and snoring, I felt a touch upon my pillow, and looking up from the edge of unconsciousness. Saw the white outline of Julius beside the bed.

“Come over here,” he whispered, pointing to a shaded candle on the chest of drawers, “I’ve got something to show you. Something Hurrish gave me — something out of a book.”

We peered together over a page of writing spread before us. Julius was excited and very eager. I do not think he understood it much better than I myself did, but it was the first time he had come across anything approaching his beliefs in writing. The discovery thrilled him. The authority of print was startling.

“He said it was somebody or other of importance, an Authority,” Julius whispered as I leaned over to read the fine handwriting. “It’s Hurrish’s,” I announced. “Rather,” Julius answered. “But he copied it from a book. He knows right enough.”

Oddly enough, the paper came eventually into my hands, though how I know not; I found it many years later in an old desk I used in those days. I have it now somewhere. The name of the author, however, I quite forget.

“The moral and educational importance of the belief in metempsychosis,” it ran, as our fingers traced the words together in the uncertain candle-light, “lies in the fact that it is a manifestation of the instinct that we are not ‘complete,’ and that one life is not enough to enable us to reach that perfection whither we are urged by the inmost depths of our being, and also an evidence of the belief that all human action will be inevitably rewarded or punished ”

“Rewards or punishes itself,” interrupted Julius; “it’s not punishment at all really.”

“And this is an importance that must not be underestimated,” the interrupted sentence concluded. “In so far,” we read on together, somewhat awed, I think, to tell the truth, “as the theory is based upon the supposition that a personal divine power exists and dispenses this retributive justice ”

“Wrong again,” broke in Julius, “because it’s just the law of natural results — there’s nothing personal about it.”

“ — and that the soul must climb a long steep path to approach this power, does metempsychosis preserve its religious character.”

“He means going back into animals as well — which never happens,” commented the excited boy beside me once again. We read to the end then without further interruption.

“This, however, is not all. The Theory is also the expression of another idea which gives it a philosophical character. It is the earliest intellectual attempt of man, when considering the world and his position in it, to conceive that world, not as alien to him, but as akin to him, and to incorporate himself and his life as an indispensable and eternal element in the past and future of the world with which it forms one comprehensive totality. I say an eternal element, because, regarded philosophically, the belief in metempsychosis seems a kind of unconscious anticipation of the principle now known as ‘Conservation of Energy.’ Nothing that has ever existed can be lost, either in life or by death. All is but change; and hence souls do not perish, but return again and again in ever-changing forms. Moreover, later developments of metempsychosis, especially as conceived by Lessing, can without difficulty be harmonised with the modern idea of evolution from lower to higher forms.”

“That’s all,” Julius whispered, looking round at me.

“By George!” I replied, returning his significant stare.

“I promised Hurrish, you know,” he added, blowing out the candle. “Promised I’d read it to you.”

“All right,” I answered in the dark.

And, without further comment or remark, we went back to our respective beds, and quickly so to sleep.

Before taking the final plunge, however, into oblivion, I heard the whisper of Julius, sharply audible in the silence, coming at me across the darkened room:

“It’s all rot,” he said. “The chap who wrote that was simply thinking with his brain. But it’s not the brain that remembers; it’s the other part of you.” There was a pause. And then he added, as though after further reflection: “Don’t bother about it. There’s lots of stuff like that about — all tommy-rot and talk, that’s all. Good night! We’ll dream together now and p’raps remember.”

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