Julius LeVallon, by Algernon Blackwood

Chapter vii

“The blue dusk ran between the streets: my love was winged within my mind.

It left today and yesterday and thrice a thousand years behind.

Today was past and dead for me, for from, today my feet had run

Through thrice a thousand years to walk the ways of ancient Babylon.”

— A. E.

It was another time, very early in the morning, that LeVallon called me from the depths of dreamless sleep with a whisper that seemed to follow me out of some vast place where I had been lying under open skies with the winds of heaven about my face and the stars as close as flowers. It was no dream; I brought back no single detail of incident or person — only this keen, sweet awareness of having been somewhere far away upon an open plain or desert of enormous stretch, waiting for something, watching, preparing — and that I had been awakened. Great hands drew back into the stars; eyes that were mighty closed; heads of majestic aspect turned away; and Presences of some infinite demeanour grandly concealed themselves as when mountains become veiled by the hood of hurrying clouds. I had the feeling that the universe had touched me, then withdrawn.

The room was dark, but shades of tender grey, stealing across the walls and ceiling, told that the dawn was near. Our windows faced the east; a flush of delicate light was in the sky; and, between me and this sky, something moved very softly and came close. It touched me.

Julius, I saw, was bending down above my pillow.

“Are you ready?” he whispered, as I felt his hand upon my hair. “The sun is on the way!”

The words, however, at first, seemed not in English, but in some other half-familiar language that I instantly translated into my own tongue. They drifted away from me like feathers into space. I grew wide awake and rubbed my eyes. It startled me a little to find myself in this modern room and to see his pale visage peering so closely into mine. I surely had dropped from a height, or risen from some hollow of prodigious depth; for it flashed across me that, had I waked a moment sooner, I must have caught a glimpse of other faces, heard other voices in that old familiar language, remembered other well-known things, all of which had fled too suddenly away, plunging with swiftness into the limbo of forgotten times and places. . . . It was very sweet. There was yearning desire in me to know more.

I sat up in bed.

“What is it?” I asked, my tongue taking the words with a certain curious effort. “What were you saying . . .? A moment ago . . . just now?” I tried to arrest the rout of flying sensations. Dim, shadowy remoteness gathered them away like dreams.

“I’m calling you to see the sunrise,” he whispered softly, taking my hand to raise me; “the sunrise on the Longest Day upon the plain. Wake up and come!”

Confusion vanished at his touch and voice. Yet a fragment of words just vanished dropped back into my mind. Something sublime and lovely ran between us.

“But you were saying — about the Blue Circle and the robes — that it was time to —” I went on, then, with the effort to remember, lost the clue completely. He had said these other things, but already they had dipped beyond recovery. I scrambled out of bed, almost expecting to find some robe or other in place of my old grey dressing-‘gown beside the chair. Strong feelings were in me, awe, wonder, high expectancy, as of some grand and reverent worship. No mere bedroom of a modem private school contained me. I was elsewhere, among imperial and august conditions. I was aware of the Universe, and the Universe aware of me.

I spoke his name as I followed him softly over the carpet. But to my amazement, my tongue refused the familiar “Julius” of today, and framed instead another sound. Four syllables lay in the name. It was “Concerighe” that slipped from my lips. Then instantly, in the very second of utterance, it was gone beyond recovery. I tried to repeat the name, and could not find it.

Julius laughed softly just below his breath, making no reply. I saw his white teeth shine in the semi-darkness. He moved away on tiptoe towards the window, while I followed. . . .

The lower sash was open wide as usual. I heard Goldingham breathing quietly in his sleep. Still with the mistiness of slumber round me, I felt bewildered, half caught away, as it seemed, into some web of ancient, far-off things that swung earthwards from the stars. In this net of other times and other places, I hung suspended above the world I ordinarily knew. I was not Mason, a Sixth–Form boy at a private school in Kent, yet I was indubitably myself. A flood of memories rose; my soul moved among more spacious conditions; all hauntingly alive and real, yet never recoverable completely. . . .

We stood together by the open window and looked out. The country lay still beneath the fading stars. A faint breath of air stirred in the laurel shrubberies below. The notes of awakening birds, marvellously sweet, came penetratingly from the distant woods. I smelt the night, I smelt the coolness of very early morning, but there was another subtler, wilder perfume, that came to my nostrils with a deep thrill of happiness I could not name. It was the perfume of another day, another time, another land. all three as familiar to me as this Kentish hill where now I lived, yet gone otherwise beyond recall. Deep emotion stirred in me the sense of recognition, as though smell alone had the power to reconstruct the very atmosphere of those dim days by raising the ghosts of feelings that once accompanied them. . . .

To the right I saw the dim cricket-field with hedge of privet and hawthorn that ran away in a dark and undulating line towards the hop-poles standing stiffly in the dusk; and, farther off, to the left, loomed the oast-houses, peaked and hooded, their faces turned the other way like a flock of creatures that belonged to darkness. The past seemed already indistinguishable from the present. I stood upon shifting sands that rustled beneath my feet. . . . The centuries drove backwards. . . .

And the eastern sky, serene and cloudless, ran suddenly into gold and crimson near to the horizon’s rim. It became a river of fire that flashed along the edge of the world with high, familiar speed. It broke the same instant into coloured foam far overhead, with shafts of reddish light that swept the stars and put them out. And then this strange thing happened:

For, as my sight passed from the shadowy woods beyond, the scene before me rose like a lifted map into the air; changed; trembled as though it were a sheet shaken from the four corners, and — disclosed another scene below it, most exquisitely prepared. The world I knew melted and disappeared. I looked a second time. It was gone.

And with it vanished the entire little bundle of thoughts and feelings I was accustomed to regard as John Mason. . . . I smelt the long and windy odours of the open world. The stars bent down and whispered Rivers rolled through me. Forests and grass grew thickly in my thoughts. And there was dew upon my face. . . . It was all so natural and simple. It was divine. The

Universe was conscious. I was not separate from it at any point. . . . More, I was conscious with it.

Far off, as an auditorium seen with a bird’s-eye view from some gigantic height, yet with the distinctness of a map both scaled and raised, I saw a treeless plain of vast dimensions, grey in the shadows just before the dawn. In the middle distance stood a domed white building upon the summit of a mound, with broad steps of stone in circles all about it, leading to a pillared door that faced the east. On all sides round it, covering the plain like grass, there was a concourse, many thousands strong, of people, upright and motionless, arranged in wide concentric rings, each one a hundred to two hundred deep. Each ring was dressed in coloured robes, from blue to red, from green to a soft pale yellow, purple, brown and orange, and the outermost of all a delicate and tender green that merged into the tint of the plain itself at a distance of a mile beyond the central building.

These concentric rings of colour, this vast living wheel of exquisitely merging tints, standing motionless and silent about the hub of that majestic temple, formed a picture whose splendour has never left my mind; and a sense of intoxicating joy and awe swept through me as something whispered that long ago, I, too, had once taken my appointed place in those great circles, and had felt the power of the Deity of Living Fire pass into me in the act of worship just about to begin. The courage and sweetness of the sun stole on me; light, heat and glory burned in my heart; I knew myself akin to earth, sea and sky, as also to every human unit in the breathing wheel; and, knowing this, I knew the power of the universe was in me because the universe was my Self.

Imperceptibly at first, but a moment later with measurable speed, a movement ran quivering round the circles. They began to turn. The immense, coloured wheel revolved silently upon the plain. The rings moved alternately, the first to the right, the second to the left, those at the outer rim more swiftly, and those within more slowly, each according to its distance from the centre, so that the entire mass presented the appearance of a single body rotating with a uniform and perfect smoothness. There rose a deep, muffled sound of myriad feet that trampled down the sand. The mighty shuffling of it paced the air. No other sound was audible. The sky grew swiftly brighter. The shafts of light shot out like arms towards the paling zenith. There came a whir of cool, delicious wind that instantly died down again and left the atmosphere more still and empty than before.

And then the sun came up. With the sudden rush of an eastern clime, it rose above the world. One second it was not there, the next it had appeared. The wheel blazed into flame. The circles turned to coloured fire. And a roaring chant burst forth instantaneously — a prodigious sound of countless voices whose volume was as the volume of an ocean. This wind of singing swept like a tempest overhead, each circle emitting the note related to its colour, the total resulting in a chord whose magnificence shook the heart with an ecstasy of joyful worship. . . . I was aware of the elemental power of fire in myself. . . .

How long this lasted, or how long I listened is impossible to tell . . . the dazzling glory slowly faded; there came a moment when the brilliance dimmed; a blur of coloured light rose like a sheet from the surface of the wheeling thousands, floating off into the sky as though it were a separate shining emanation the multitude gave off. I seemed to lose my feet. I no longer stood on solid earth. There came upon me a curious sense of lightness, as of wings, that yet left my body far below. . . . I was charged with a deific power, energy. . . . Long shafts of darkness flashed across the sea of light; the pattern of interwoven colour was disturbed and broken; and, suddenly, with a shock as though I fell again from some great height, I remembered dimly that I was no longer — that my name was ——

I cannot say. I only know confusion and darkness sponged the entire picture from the world; and my sight, I suddenly realised, went groping with difficulty about a little field, a rough, uneven hedge, a strip of ribboned whiteness that was a road, and some ugly, odd-shaped things that I recognised as — yes, as oast-houses just beyond. And a pale, sad-looking sun then crawled above the horizon where the hop-poles stood erect.

“You saw . . .?” whispered someone beside me.

It was Julius. His voice startled me. I had forgotten his very presence.

I nodded in reply; no words came to me; there was still a trembling in me, a sense of intolerable yearning, of beauty lost, of power gone beyond recall, of pain and littleness in the place of it.

Julius kept his eyes upon my face, as though waiting for an answer.

“The sun . . . ” I said in a low and shaking voice.

He bent his head a moment, leaning down upon the window-sill with his face in his hands.

“As we knew it then,” he said with a deep-drawn sigh, raising himself again. “Today 1”

He pointed. Across the fields I saw the tin roof of the conventicle where we went to church on Sunday, lifting its modern ugliness beyond the playground walls. The contrast was somehow dreadful. A revulsion of feeling rose within me like a storm. I stared at the meagre building beneath whose roof of corrugated iron, once a week, we knelt and groaned that we were “miserable sinners” — begging another to save us from “punishment” because we were too weak to save ourselves. I saw once more in memory the upright-standing throng, claiming with joy the powers of that other Deity of whom they knew they formed a living portion. And again this intolerable yearning swept me. My soul rose up in a passionate protest that vainly sought to express itself in words. Language deserted me; tears dimmed my eyes and blurred my sight; I stretched my hands out straight towards that misty sunrise of Today. . . .

And, when at length I turned again to speak to Julius, I saw that he had already left my side and gone back to bed.

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