Julius LeVallon, by Algernon Blackwood

Chapter viii

“Not unremembering we pass our exile from the starry ways:

One timeless hour in time we caught from the long night of endless days.”

— A. E.

And so, in due course, the period of our schooldays came to its appointed end without one single further reference to the particular thing I dreaded. Julius had offered no further word of explanation, and my instinctive avoidance of the subject had effectively prevented my asking pointed questions. It remained, however; it merely waited the proper moment to reveal itself. It was real. No effort on my part, no evasion, no mere pretence that it was fantasy or imagination altered that. The time would come when I should know and understand; evasion would be impossible. It was inevitable as death.

During our last term together it lay in almost complete abeyance, only making an appearance from time to time in those vivid dreams which still presented themselves in sleep. It hid; and I pretended bravely to ignore it altogether.

Meanwhile our days were gloriously happy, packed with interest, and enlivened often with experiences as true and beautiful as the memory of our ancient sun-worship I have attempted to describe. No doubt assailed me; we had existed in the past together; those pictures of “inner scenery” were memories. The emotions that particular experience, and many others, stirred in me were as genuine as the emotions I experienced the last term but one, when my mother died; and, whatever my opinion of the entire series may be today, on looking back, honesty compels me to admit this positive character of their actuality. There was no make-believe, no mere imagination.

Our intimacy became certainly very dear to me, and I felt myself linked to Julius LeVallon more closely than to a brother. The knowledge that much existed he could not, or would not, share with me was pain, the pain of jealousy and envy, or possibly the deeper pain that a barrier was raised. Sometimes, indeed, he went into his Other Places almost for days together where I could not follow him, and on these occasions the masters found him absent-minded and the boys avoided him; he went about alone; if games or study compelled his attention, he would give it automatically — almost as though his body obeyed orders mechanically while the main portion of his consciousness seemed otherwise engaged. And, while it lasted, he would watch me curiously, as from a distance, expecting apparently that I would suddenly “remember” and come up to join him. His soul beckoned me, I felt, but half in vain. I longed to be with him, to go where he was, to see what he saw, but there was something that effectually prevented.

And these periods of absence I rather dreaded for some reason. It was uncanny, almost creepy. For I would suddenly meet his glowing eyes fixed queerly, searchingly on my own, gazing from behind a veil at me, asking pregnant questions that I could not catch. I would see him lying there beneath the larches of the cricket-field alone, rapt, far away, deep in his ancient recollections, and apart from me; or I would come upon him suddenly in the road, in a sunny corner of the playground, even in the deserted gymnasium on certain afternoons, when he would start to see me, and turn away without a word, but with an expression of unhappy yearning in his eyes as though he shared my pain that he dwelt among these Other Places which, for the moment, I might not know.

Many, many, indeed, are the details of these days that I might mention, but their narration would prove too long. One, however, may be told. He had, for instance, a kind of sign-language that was quite remarkable. On the sandy floor of a disused gravel-pit, where we lay on windy days for shelter while we talked, he would trace with a twig a whole series of these curious signs. They were for him the alphabet of a long-forgotten language — some system of ideograph or pictorial representation that expressed the knowledge of the times when it was used. He never made mistakes; the same sign invariably had the same meaning; and it all existed so perfectly in his inner vision that he used it even in his work, and kept a book in which the Greek play of the moment was written out entirely in this old hieroglyphic side by side with the original. He read from it in class, even under the eagle eye of the Head, with the same certainty as he read from the Greek itself.

There were characteristic personal habits, too, that struck me later as extraordinary for a boy of eighteen — in England; for he led an inner life of exceeding strictness, not to say severity, and was for ever practising mental concentration with a view to obtaining complete control of his feelings, thoughts and, therefore, actions. Upright as a rod of steel himself, he was tolerant to the failings of others, lenient to their weaknesses, and forgiving to those who wronged him. He bore no malice, cherished no ill-feeling. “It’s as far as they’ve got,” he used to say, “and no one can be farther than he is.” Indeed, his treatment of others implied a degree of indifference to self that had something really big about it. And, even on the lowest grounds, to bear a grudge meant only casting a net that must later catch the feet.

His wants in the question of food were firmly regulated too; for at an age when most boys consider it almost an aim in life to devour all they can possibly get and to spend half of their pocket-money on tempting eatables, Julius exercised a really Spartan control over these particular appetites. Not only was his fare most frugal in quantity, but he avoided the eating of meat almost entirely, alcohol completely, and sometimes would fast for a period that made me wonder for his health. He never spoke of this. I noticed it. Nor ever once did he use his influence to persuade me to like habits. No boy was ever less a prig than LeVallon. Another practice of his was equally singular. In order to increase control of the body and develop tenacity of will, I have known him, among other similar performances, stand for hours at a time on winter nights, clad only in a nightshirt, fighting sleep, cold, hunger, movement — stand like a statue in the centre of the room, as though the safety of the world depended upon success.

Most curious of all, however, seemed to me his habit of — what I can only call — communing with inanimate things. “You only remember the sections where we were together,” he explained, when once I asked the meaning of what he did; “and as you were little with me when this was the way of getting knowledge, it is difficult for you to understand.” This fact likewise threw light upon the enormous intervals between remembered sections. We recalled no recent ones at all. We had not come back together in them.

This communing with inanimate things had chiefly to do, of course, with Nature, and I may confess at once that it considerably alarmed me. To read about it comfortably in an armchair over the fire is one thing; to see it done is another. It alarmed me, moreover, for the reason that somewhere, somehow, it linked on to the thing I dreaded above all others — the days when he and I and she had made some wrong, some selfish use of it. This, of course, remained an intuition of my own. I never asked; I never spoke of it. Only in my very bones I felt sure that the thing we three must come together to put right again somehow involved, and involved unpleasantly, this singular method of acquiring knowledge and acquiring power. We had abused it together; we had yet to put it right.

To see Julius practising this mysterious process with a stone, a flower, a tree, and to hear him then talk about these three different objects, was like listening to a fairy tale told with the skill of a great imaginative artist. He personified them, gave their life history, rendered their individual experiences, moods, sensations, qualities, adventures — anything and everything that could ever happen to a stone, a flower, a tree. I realised their existence from their own point of view; felt-with them; shared their joys and sufferings, and understood that they were living things, though with a degree of life so far below our own. Communion with Nature was, for him, communion with the very ground of things. All this, though exquisitely wonderful, was within the grasp of sympathetic comprehension. It was natural.

But when he dealt with things less concrete — and his favourites were elemental forces such as air and heat, or as he preferred to call them, wind and fire — the experience, though no whit less convincing owing to the manner of his description, was curiously disturbing, because of the results produced upon himself. I can describe it in two words, though I can give no real idea of it in two thousand. He rushed, he flamed. It was almost as if, in one case, his actual radiation became enormous, and in the other, some power swept, as in the form of torrential enthusiasm, from his very person. I remember my first impression in the classroom — that a great wind blew, and that flaming colours moved upon the air.

When he was “feeling-with” this pair of elemental forces he seemed to draw their powers into his own being so that I, being in close sympathy with him, caught some hint of what was going forward in his heart. Sometimes on drowsy summer afternoons when no air stirred through the open windows of the room, there would come a sudden change in my surroundings, an alteration. I would hear a faint and distant sound of roaring; something invisible drove past me. Julius, at the desk beside me, had finished work, and closed his books. His head in his hands, he sat motionless, an intent expression on both face and body, wrapped deep in concentrated effort of some kind. He was practising. . . . And once, too, I remember being waked out of sleep in the early morning with an impression of a stimulating heat about me which amounted to an intensification of life almost. There he stood beside the window, arms folded, head bent down upon his breast, and an effect about him that can only be described as glowing. The air immediately round him seemed to shine with a faint, delicate radiance as of tropical starlight, or as though he stood over a dying fire of red-hot coals. It was a half fascinating, half terrifying sight; the light pulsed and trembled with distinct vibrations, the air quivered so as to increase his bodily appearance. He looked taller, vaster. And not once I saw this thing, but many times. No single dream could possibly explain it. In both cases, with the wind as with the fire, his life seemed magnified as though he borrowed from these elemental forces of Nature their own special qualities and powers.

“All the elements,” I remember his saying to me once, “are in our bodies. Do you expect Nature to be less intelligent than the life that she produces?” For him, certainly, there was the manifestation of something deeper than physics in the operations of so-called natural laws.

For here, let me say now in conclusion of this broken record of our days at school together, was the rock on which our intercourse eventually suffered interruption, and here was that first sign of the parting of our ways. It frightened me. . . . Later, in our university days, the cleavage became definite, causing a break in our friendship that seemed at the moment final. For a long time the feeling in me had been growing that his way and mine could not lie much farther together. Julius attributed it to my bringing up, which I was not independent enough to shake off. I can only say that I became conscious uneasily that this curious intercourse with Nature — “communing,” as he termed it — led somehow away from the Christianity of my childhood to the gods and deification of the personal self. I did not see at the time, as he insisted, that both were true, being different aspects of the central fact that God is the Universe, and that man, being literally part of it, must eventually know Him face to face by actually becoming Him. All this lay far beyond me at the time.

It seemed to me then, and more as I grew older, an illegitimate, dangerous traffic; for paganism, my father taught me sternly, was the Devil, and that the Universe could actually be alive was a doctrine of heathenish days that led straight to hell and everlasting burning. I could not see, as Julius saw, that here was teaching which might unify the creeds, put life into the formal churches, inspire the world with joy and hope, and bring on the spirit of brotherhood by helping the soul to rediscover its kinship with a living cosmos.

One certainty, however, my schooldays with this singular boy bequeathed to me, a certainty I have never lost, and a very gorgeous and inspiring one — that life is continuous.

LeVallon lived in eternal life. He knew that it stretched infinitely behind his present “section,” and infinitely ahead into countless other “sections.” The results of what lay behind he must inevitably exhaust. Be that harvest painful or pleasant, he must reap what he had sown. But the future lay entirely in his own hands, and in his power of decision; chance or caprice had no word to say at all. And this consciousness of being in eternal life now, at the present moment, master of fate, potentially at least deific — this has remained a part of me, whether I will or no. To Julius LeVallon I owe certainly this unalterable conviction.

Another memory of that early intercourse that has remained with me, though too vaguely for very definite description, is the idea that personal life, even in its smallest details, is part of a cosmic ceremony, that to perform ft faithfully deepens the relationship man bears to the Universe as a living whole, and is therefore of ultimate spiritual significance. An inspiring thought, I hold, even in the vagueness of my comprehension of it.

Yet above and beyond such notions, remained the chief memory of all: that in some such ancient cosmic ceremony, Julius, myself and one other had somehow abused our privileges in regard to Nature Powers, and that the act of restoration still awaiting fulfilment at our hands, an act involving justice to the sun and stars as well as to our lesser selves, could not be accomplished until that “other” was found on earth together with himself and me. And that other was a woman.

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