Julius LeVallon, by Algernon Blackwood

Chapter xi

“Strange as it may appear to the modern mind, whose one ambition is to harden and formalise itself . . . the ancient mind conceived of knowledge in a totally different fashion. It did not crystallise itself into a hardened point, but, remaining fluid, knew that the mode of knowledge suitable to its nature was by intercourse and blending. Its experience was . . . that it could blend with intelligence greater than itself, that it could have intercourse with the gods.” — “Some Mystical Adventures” (G. R. S. Mead).

An inevitable result of this experience was that, for me, a reaction followed. I had no stomach for such adventures. Though carried away at the moment by the enthralling character of the feelings roused that afternoon, my normal self, my upper self as I had come to call it, protested — with the result that I avoided Julius. I changed my seat in the classrooms, giving as excuse that I could not hear the lecturer; I gave up attending post-mortems and operations where I knew that he would be; and if I saw him in the street I would turn aside or dive into some shop until the danger of our meeting passed. Ashamed of my feebleness, I yet could not bring myself to face him and thrash the matter out.

Other influences also were at work, for my father, it so happened, and the girl I was engaged to marry, her family, too, were all of them in Edinburgh just about that time, and some instinct warned me that they and LeVallon must not meet. In the latter case particularly I obeyed this warning instinct, for in the influence of Julius there hid some strain of opposition towards these natural affections. I was aware of it unconsciously, perhaps. It seemed he made me question the reality of my love; made me doubt and hesitate; sometimes almost made me challenge the value of these ties that meant so much to me. From his point of view, I knew, these emotions belonged to transient relationships of one brief section, and to become centred in them involved the obliteration of the larger view. His attitude was more impersonal: Love everyone, but do not lose perspective by focusing your entire self in one or two. It was au fond a selfish pleasure merely; it delayed the development of the permanent personality; it destroyed — more important still — the sense of kinship with the universe which was the basic principle with him. It need not: but it generally did.

For some weeks, therefore, our talks and walks were interrupted; I devoted myself to work, to intercourse with those I loved, and led generally the normal existence of a university student who was reading for examinations that were of importance to his future career in life.

Yet, though we rarely met, and certainly held no converse for some time, interruption actually there was none at all. To pretend it were a farce. The inner relationship continued as before. Physical separation meant absolutely nothing in those ties that so strangely and so intimately knit our deeper lives together. There was no more question of break between us than there is question of a break in time when light is extinguished and the clock becomes invisible. His presence always stood beside me; the beauty of his pale, un-English face kept ever in my thoughts; I heard his whisper in my dreams at night, and the ideas his curious language watered continued growing with a strength I could not question.

There were two selves in me then as in our school-days: one that resisted, and one that yearned. When together, it was the former that asserted its rights, but when apart, oddly enough, it was the latter. There is little question, however, that the latter was the stronger of the two. Thus, the moment I found myself alone again, my father and my fiancee both gone, we rushed together like two ends of an elastic that had been stretched too long apart.

And almost immediately, as though the opportunity must not be lost, he spoke to me of an experiment he had in view.

By what network of persuasiveness he induced me to witness, if not actually to cooperate in, this experiment, I cannot pretend at this distance to remember. I think it is true that he used no persuasion at all, but that at the first mention of it my deeper being met the proposal with curious sympathy. At the horror and audacity my upper self shrank back aghast; the thing seemed wholly unpermissible and dreadful; something unholy, as of blasphemy, lay in it too. But, as usual, when this mysterious question of “Other Places” was involved, in the end I followed blindly where he led. My older being held the casting vote. And the reason — I admit it frankly — was that somewhere behind the amazing glamour of it all lay — truth. While reason scoffed, my heart remembered and believed.

Moreover, in this particular instance, a biting curiosity had its influence too. I was wholly sceptical of results. The thing was mad, incredible, even wicked. It could never happen. Yet, while I said these words, and more besides, there ran a haunting terror in me underground that, after all . . . that possibly . . . I cannot even set down in words the nature of my doubt. I can merely affirm that something in me was not absolutely sure.

“The essential thing,” he told me, “is to find an empty ‘instrument’ that is in perfect order — young, vigorous, the tissues unwasted by decay or illness. There must have been no serious deterioration of the organs, muscles, and so forth.”

I knew then that this new experiment was akin to that other I had already witnessed. The experience on the Pentlands had also been deliberately brought about The only difference was that this second one he announced beforehand. Further, it was of a higher grade. The channel of evocation, instead of being in the vegetable kingdom, was in the human.

I understood his meaning, and suggested that someone in deep trance might meet the conditions, for in trance he held that the occupant, or soul, was gone elsewhere, the tenement of flesh deserted.

But he shook his head. That was not, he said, legitimate. The owner would return. He watched me with a curious smile as he said this. I knew then that he referred to the final emptiness of a vacated body.

“Sudden death,” I said, while his eyes flashed back the answer. “And the Elemental Powers?” I asked quickly.

“Wind and fire,” he replied. And in order to carry his plan into execution he proposed to avail himself of his free access to the students’ Dissecting Room.

During the longish interval between the conception and carrying out of this preposterous experiment I shifted like a weathercock between acceptance and refusal. My doubts were torturing. There were times when I treated it as the proposal of a lunatic that at worst could work no injury to anyone concerned. But there were also times when a certain familiar reality clothed it with a portentous actuality. I was reminded faintly of something similar I had been connected with before. Dim figures of this lost familiarity stalked occasionally across the field of inner sight. Julius and I had done this thing together long, long ago, “when the sun was younger,” and when we were “nearer to the primitive beauty,” as he phrased it. In reverie, in dreams, in moments when thinking was in abeyance, this odd conviction asserted itself. It had to do with a Memory of some worship that once was mighty and effective; when august Presences walked the earth in stupendous images of power; and traffic with them had been useful, possible. The barrier between the human and the non-human, between Man and Nature, was not built. Wind and fire! It was always wind and fire that he spoke of. And I remember one vivid and terrific dream in particular in which I heard again a voice pronounce that curious name of “Concerighe,” and, though the details were blurred on waking, I clearly grasped that certain elemental powers had been evoked by us for purposes of our own and had not been suffered to return to their appointed places; further, that concerned with us in the awful and solemn traffic was — another. We had been three.

This dream, of course, I easily explained as due directly to my talks with Julius, but my dread was not so easily dismissed, and that I overcame it finally and consented to attend was due partly to the extraordinary curiosity I felt, and partly to this inexplicable attraction in my deeper self which urged me to see the matter through. Something inevitable about it forced me. Yet, but for the settled conviction that behind the abhorrent proposal lay some earnest purpose of LeVallon’s, not ignoble in itself, I should certainly have refused. For, though saying little, and not taking me fully into his confidence, he did manage to convey the assurance that this thing was not to be carried out as an end, but as a means to an end, in itself both legitimate and necessary. It was, I gathered, a kind of preliminary trial — an attempt that might possibly succeed, even without the presence of the third.

“Sooner or later,” he said, aware that I hesitated, “it must be faced. Here is an opportunity for us, at least. If we succeed, there is no need to wait for — another. It is a question. We can but try.”

And try accordingly we did.

The occasion I shall never forget — a still, cold winter’s night towards the middle of December, most of the students already gone down for Christmas, and small chance of the room being occupied. For even in the busiest time before examinations there were few men who cared to avail themselves of the gruesome privilege of night-work, for which special permission, too, was necessary. Julius, in any case, made his preparations well, and the janitor of the grey-stone building on the hill, whose top floor was consecrated to this grisly study of life in death, had surrendered the keys even before we separated earlier in the evening for supper at the door of the post-mortem theatre.

“Upstairs at eleven o’clock,” he whispered, “and if I’m late — the preparations may detain me — go inside and wait. Your presence is necessary to success.” He laid his hand on my shoulder; he looked at me searchingly a moment, almost beseechingly, as though he detected the strain of opposition in me. “And be as sympathetic as you can,” he begged. “At least, do not actively oppose.” Then, as he turned away, “I’ll try to be punctual,” he added, smiling, “but — well, you know as well as I do!” He shrugged his shoulders and was gone.

You know! Somehow or other it was true: I did know. The interval of several hours he would spend in his inner chamber concentrated upon the process of feeling-with — evoking. He would have no food, no rest, no moment’s pause. At the appointed hour he would arrive, charged with the essential qualities of these two elemental powers which in dim past ages, summoned by another audacious “experiment” from their rightful homes, he now sought to “restore.” He would seek to return what had been “borrowed.” He would attempt to banish them again. For they could only be thus banished, as they had been summoned — through the channel of a human organism. They were of a loftier order, then, than the Powers for whose return the animal organisms of the sheep had served.

I went my way down Frederick Street with a heart, I swear, already palpitating.

Of the many thrilling experiences that grew out of my acquaintance with this extraordinary being, I think that night remains supreme — certainly, until our paths met again in the Jura Mountains. But, strangest of all, is the fact that throughout the ghastly horror of what occurred was — beauty! To convey this beauty is beyond any power that I possess, yet it was there, a superb and awful beauty that informed the meanest detail of what I witnessed. The experiment failed of course; in the accomplishment of LeVallon’s ultimate purpose, that is, it failed; but the failure was due. apparently, to one cause alone: that the woman was not present.

It is most difficult to describe, and my pen, indeed, shrinks from setting down so revolting a performance..Yet this curious high beauty redeems it in my memory as I now recall the adventure through the haze of years, and I believe the beauty was due to a deeper fact impossible to convey in words. Behind the little “modern” experiment, and parallel to it, ran another, older Memory that was fraught with some significance of eternity. This parent memory penetrated and overshadowed the smaller copy of it; it exalted what was ugly, uplifted what seemed abominable, sublimated the distressing failure into an image of what might have been magnificent. I mean, in a word, that this experiment was a poor attempt to reconstruct an older ritual of spiritual significance whereby those natural forces, once worshipped as the gods, might combine with qualities similar to their own in human beings. The memory of a more august and effective ceremony moved all the time behind the little reconstruction. The beauty was derived from my dim recollection of some transcendent but now forgotten worship.

At the appointed hour I made my way across the Bridge and towards the Old Town where the University buildings stood. It was, as I said, a bitter night. The Castle Rock and Cathedral swam in a flood of silvery moonlight; frost sparkled on the roofs; the spires of Edinburgh shone in the crystal wintry atmosphere. The air, so keen, was windless. Few people were about at this late hour, and I had the feeling that the occasional pedestrians, hurrying homewards in tightly-buttoned overcoats, eyed me askance. No one of them was going in the same direction as myself. They questioned my purpose, looked sharply over their shoulders, then quickened their pace away from me towards the houses where the fires burned in cosy human sitting-rooms.

At the door of the great square building itself I hesitated a moment, hiding in the shadow of the overhanging roof. It was easy to pretend that moral disapproval warned me to turn back, but the simpler truth is that I was afraid. At the best of times the Dissecting Room, with its silent cargo of dreadful forms and faces, was a chamber of horrors I could never become hardened to as the majority of students did; but on this occasion, when a theory concerning the alien to humanity was to be put to so strange a test, I confess that the prospect set my nerves a-quivering and made the muscles of my legs turn weak. A cold sensation ran down my spine, and it was not the wintry night alone that caused it.

Opening the heavy door with an effort, I went in and waited a moment till the clanging echo had subsided through the deserted building. My imagination figured the footsteps of a crowd hurrying away behind the sound down the long stone corridors. In the silence that followed I slowly began climbing the steps of granite, hoping devoutly that Julius would be waiting for me at the top. I was a little late; he might possibly have arrived before me. Up the four flights of stairs I went stealthily, trying to muffle my footsteps, putting my weight heavily upon the balustrade, and doing all I could to make no sound at all. For it seemed to me that my movements were both watched and heard, and that those motionless, silent forms above were listening for my approach, and knew that I was coming.

On the.landings at each turn lay a broad sweet patch of moonlight that fell through the lofty windows, and but for these the darkness would have been complete. No light,,it seemed to me, had ever looked more clean and pure and welcome. I thought of the lone Pentland ridges, and of the sea, lying calm and still outside beneath the same sheet of silver, the air of night all keen and fragrant. The heather slopes came back to me, the larches and the flock of nibbling sheep. I thought of these in detail, of my fire-lit rooms in Frederick Street, of the vicarage garden at home in Kent where my boyhood had been spent; I thought of a good many things, truth to tell, all of them as remote as possible from my present surroundings; but when I eventually reached the topmost landing and found LeVallon was not there, I thought of one thing only — that I was alone. Just beyond, me, through that door of frosted glass, lay in its most loathsome form the remnant of humanity left behind by death.

In the daytime, when noisy students, callous and unimaginative, thronged the room, the horror of it retreated, modified by the vigorous vitality of these doctors of the future; but now at night, amid the ominous silence, with darkness over the town and the cold of outer space dropping down upon the world, as though linking forces with that other final cold within the solemn chamber, it seemed quite otherwise. I stood shivering and afraid upon the landing — angry that I could have lent ■myself to so preposterous and abominable a scheme, yet determined, so long as my will held firm, to go through with it to the end.

He had asked me to wait for him — inside.

Knowing that every minute of hesitation must weaken my powers of resolve, I moved at once towards the door, then paused again. The comforting roar of the traffic floated to my ears; I heard the distant tinkle of a tramcar bell, the boom of Edinburgh, a confused noise of feet and wheels and voices, far away, it is true, but distinctly reassuring.

Outside, the Hfe of humanity rolled upon its accustomed way, recking little of the trembling figure that stood on the top floor of this silent building, one hand on the door upon whose further side so many must one day come to final rest. For one hand already touched the freezing knob, and I was in the act of turning it when another sound, that was certainly not the murmur of the town, struck sharply through the stillness and brought all movement in me to a sudden halt.

It came from within, I thought at first; and it was like a wave of sighs that rose and fell, sweeping against the glass door a moment, then passing away as abruptly as it came. Yet it was more like wind than sighs through human lips, and immediately, then, I understood that it was wind. I caught my breath again with keen relief. Wind was rising from the hills, and this was its first messenger running down among the roofs and chimney-pots. I heard its wailing echoes long after it had died away.

But a moment later it returned, louder and stronger than before, and this time, hearing it so close, I know not what secret embassies of wonder touched me from the night outside, deposited their undecipherable messages, and were gone again. I can only say that the key of my emotions changed, changed, moreover, with a swelling rush as when the heavier stops are pulled out upon an organ-board. For, on entering the building, the sky had been serenely calm, and keen frost locked the currents of the air; whereas now that wind went wailing round the walls as though it sought an entrance, almost as though its crying voice veiled purpose. There seemed a note of menace, eager and peremptory, in its sudden rush and drop. It knocked upon the stones and upon the roof above my head with curious and repeated buffets of sound that resembled the “clap” I had heard that October afternoon among the larches, only a hundred times repeated and a hundred-fold increased. The change in myself, moreover, was similar to the change then experienced — the flow and drive of bigger consciousness that helped to banish fear. I seemed to know about that wind, to feel its life and being, indeed, to share it. No longer was I merely John Mason, a student in Edinburgh, separate and distinct from all about me, but was — I realised it amazingly — a bit of life in the universe, not isolated even from the wind.

The beauty of the sensation did not last; it passed through me, linked to that insistent roar; but the fact that I had felt it gave me courage. The stops were instantly pushed in again . . . and the same minute the swing-door closed behind me with a sullen thud.

I stood within the chamber; Julius, I saw in a moment, was not there. I moved through the long, narrow room, keeping close beside the wall, taking up my position finally about halfway down, where I could command the six tall windows and the door. The moon was already too high to send her rays directly through the panes, but from the extensive sky-lights she shed a diffused, pale glow upon the scene, and my eyes, soon accustomed to the semi-darkness, saw everything quite as clearly as I cared about.

In front of me stretched the silent, crowded room, patchy in the moonshine, but with shadows deeply gathered in the corners; and, row after row upon the white marble slabs, lay the tenantless forms in the grotesque, unnatural positions as the students had left them a few hours before. The picture does not invite detailed description, but I at once experienced the peculiar illusion that attacks new students even in the daytime. It seemed that the sightless eyes turned slowly round to stare at me, that the shrunken lips half opened as in soundless speech, and that the heads with one accord shifted to an angle whence they could observe and watch me better. There went a rustling through that valley of dry bones as though life returned for a moment to drive the broken machinery afresh.

This sensible illusion was, of course, one I could easily dismiss. More difficult, however, was the subtler attack that came upon me from behind the sensory impressions. For, while I stood with my back against the wall, listening intently for LeVallon’s step upon the stairs, I could not keep from my mind the terror of those huddled sheep upon the Pentland ridges; the whole weird force of his theories about “Hfe” in Nature came beating against my mind, aided, moreover, by some sympathy in myself that could never wholly ridicule their possible truth.

I gazed round me at the motionless, discarded forms, used for one brief “section,” then cast aside, and as I did so my mind naturally focused itself upon a point of dreadful and absorbing interest — which one was to be the subject of the experiment? So short a time ago had each been a nest of keenest activity and emotion, enabling its occupant to reap its harvest of past actions while sowing that which it must reap later again in its new body, already perhaps now a-forming. And of these discarded vehicles, one was to be the channel through which two elemental Powers, evoked in vanished ages, might return to their appointed place. I heard that clamouring wind against the outer walls; I felt within me the warmth of a strange enthusiasm rise and glow; and it seemed to me just then that the whole proposal was as true and simple and in the natural order of things as birth or death, or any normal phenomenon to the terror and glory of which mankind has grown accustomed through prolonged familiarity. To this point, apparently, had the change in my feelings brought me. The dreadful novelty had largely gone. Something would happen, nor would it be entirely unfamiliar.

Then, on a marble slab beside the door, the body of a boy, fresh, white and sweet, and obviously brought in that very day, since it was as yet untouched by knife or scalpel, “drew” my attention of its own accord — and I knew at once that I had found it.

Oddly enough, the discovery brought no increase of fearful thrill; it was as natural as though I had helped to place it there myself. And, again, for some reason, that delightful sense of power swept me; my diminutive modern self slipped off to hide; I remembered that a million suns surrounded me; that the earth was but an insignificant member of one of the lesser systems; that man’s vaunted Reason was as naught compared to the oceans of what might be known and possible; and that this body I wore and used, like that white, empty one upon the slab, was but a transient vehicle through which I, as a living part of the stupendous cosmos, acted out my little piece of development in the course of an eternal journey. This wind, this fire, that Julius spoke of, were equally the vehicles of other energies, alive as myself, only less tamed and cabined, yet similarly obedient, again, to the laws of their own beings. The extraordinary mood poured through me like a flood — and once more passed away. And the wind fled singing round the building with a shout.

I looked steadily at the beautiful but vacated framework that the soul had used — used well or ill I knew not — lying there so quietly, so calmly, the smooth skin as yet untouched by knife, unmarred by needle, surrounded on all sides by the ugly and misshapen crew of older death; and as I looked, I thought of some fair shell the tide had left among the seaweed wrack, a flower of beauty shining ‘mid decay. In the moonlight I could plainly see the thin and wasted ribs, the fixed blue eyes still staring as in life, the lank and tangled hair, the listless fingers that a few hours before must have been active in the flush of health, and passionately loved by more than one assuredly. For, though I knew not the manner of the soul’s out-passing, this boy must have suddenly met death that very day. And I found it odd that he should now be lying here, since usually the students’ work is concerned to study the processes of illness and decay. It confirmed my certainty that here was the channel LeVallon meant to use.

Time for longer reflection, however, there was none, for just then another gust of this newly-risen wind fell against the building with a breaking roar, and at the same moment the swing door opened and Julius LeVallon stood within the room.

Whether windows had burst, or the great skylights overhead been left unfastened, I had no time, nor inclination either, to discover, but I remember that the wind tore past him down the entire length of the high-ceilinged chamber, tossing the hair uncannily upon a dozen heads in front of me and even stirring the dust about my feet. It was almost as though we stood upon an open plain and met the unobstructed tempest in our teeth.

Yet the rush and vehemence with which he entered startled me, for I found myself glad of the support which a high student’s stool afforded. I leaned against it heavily, while Julius, after standing by the door a moment, turned immediately then to the left. He knew exactly where to look. Simultaneously, he saw me too.

Our eyes, in that atmosphere of shadow and soft moonlight, met also across centuries. He spoke my name; but it was no name I answered to Today.

“Come, Silvatela,” he said, “lend me your will and sympathy. Feel now with Wind and Fire. For both are here, and the time is favourable. At last, I shall perhaps return what has been borrowed.” He beckoned me with a gesture of strange dignity. “It is not that time of balanced forces we most desire — the Equinox — but it is the winter solstice,” he went on, “when the sun is nearest. That, too, is favourable. We may transcend the appointed boundaries. Across the desert comes the leaping wind. Both heat and air are with us. Come!” And, having vaguely looked for some kind of elaborate preparation or parade, this sudden summons took me by surprise a little, though the language somehow did not startle me. I sprang up; the stool fell sideways, then clattered noisily upon the concrete floor. I made my way quickly between the peering faces. It seemed no longer strange, this abrupt disturbance of two familiar elements, nor did I remark with unusual curiosity that the wind went rushing and crying about the room, while the heat grew steadily within me so that my actual skin was drenched with perspiration. All came about, indeed, quickly, naturally, and without any pomp of dreadful ceremonial as I had expected. Julius had come with power in his hands; and preparation, if any, had already taken place elsewhere. He spoke no further word as I approached, but bent low over the thin, white form, his face pale, stern and beautiful as I had never seen it before. I thought of a star that entered the roof of those Temple Memories, falling beneficently upon the great concave mirrors where the incense rose in a column of blue smoke. His entire personality, when at length I stood beside him, radiated an atmosphere of force as though charged with some kind of elemental activity that was intense and inexhaustible. The wonder and beauty of it swept me from head to foot. The air grew marvellously heated. It rose in beating waves that accompanied the rushing wind, like a furnace driven by some powerful, artificial draught; in his immediate neighbourhood it whirled and roared. It drew me closer. I, too, found myself bending down above the motionless, stretched form, oblivious of the other crowded slabs about us.

So familiar it all seemed suddenly. Some such scene I had witnessed surely many a time elsewhere. I knew it all before. Upon success hung issues of paramount importance to his soul, to mine, to the soul of another who, for some reason unexplained, was not present with us, and, somehow, also, to the entire universe of which we formed, with these two elements, a living, integral portion. A weight of solemn drama lay behind our little show. It seemed to me the universe looked on and waited. The issue was of cosmic meaning.

Then, as I entered the sphere of LeVallon’s personality, a touch of dizziness caught me for an instant, as though this running wind, this accumulating heat, emanated directly from his very being; and, before I quite recovered myself, the moonlight was extinguished like a lamp blown out. Across the sky, apparently, rushed clouds that changed the spreading skylights into thick curtains, while into the room of death came a blast of storm that I thought must tear the windows from their very sockets in the stone. And with the wind came also a yet further increase of heat that was like a touch of naked fire on some inner membrane.

I dare not assert that I was wholly master of myself throughout the swift, dramatic scene that followed in darkness and in tumult, nor can I claim that what I witnessed in the gloom, shot with occasional gleams of moonlight here and there, was more than the intense visualisation of an overwrought imagination. It well may be that what I expected to happen dramatised itself as though it actually did occur. I can merely state that, at the moment, — it seemed real and natural, and that what I saw was the opening scene in a ceremony as familiar to me as the Litany in my father’s church.

For, with the pouring through the room of these twin energies of wind and fire, I saw, sketched in the dim obscurity, one definite movement — as the body of the boy rose up into a sitting posture close before our faces. It instantly then sank back again, recumbent as before upon the marble slab. The upright movement was repeated the same second, and once more there came the sinking back. There were several successive efforts before the upright position was maintained; and each time it rose slowly, gradually, all of one piece and rigidly, until finally these tentative movements achieved their object — and the boy sat up as though about to stand. Erect before us, the head slightly hanging on one side, the shoulders squared, the chest expanded as with lung-drawn air, he rose steadily above his motionless companions all around.

And Julius drew back a pace. He made certain gestures with his arms and hands that in some incalculable manner laid control upon the movements. I saw his face an instant as the moon fell on it, pale, glorious and stately, wearing a glow that was not moonlight, the lips compressed with effort, the eyes ablaze. He looked to me unearthly and magnificent. His stature seemed increased. There was an air of power, of majesty about him that made his presence beautiful beyond words; and yet, most strange of all, it was familiar to me, even this. I had seen it all before. I knew well what was about to happen.

His gesture changed. No word was spoken. It was a Ceremony in which gesture was more significant than speech. There was evidence of intense internal struggle that yet did not include the ugliness of strain. He put forth all his power merely — and the body rose by jerks. Spasmodically, this time, as though pulled by wires, yet with a kind of terrible violence, it floated from that marble slab into the air. With a series of quick, curious movements, half plunge, half jerk, it touched the floor. It stood stiffly upright on its feet. It rose again, it turned, it twisted, moving arms and legs and head, passing me unsupported through the atmosphere some four feet from the ground. The wind rushed round it with a roar; the fire, though invisible, scorched my eyes. This way and that, now up, now down, the body of this boy danced to and fro before me, silent always, the blue eyes fixed, the lips half parted, more with the semblance of some awful marionette than with human movement, yet charged with a colossal potency that drove it hither and thither. Like some fair Ariel, laughing at death, it flitted above the yellow Calibans of horror that lay strewn below.

Yet, from the very nature of these incompleted movements, I was aware that the experiment was unsuccessful, and that the power was insufficient. Instead of spasmodic, the movements should have been rhythmical and easy; there should have been purpose and intention in the performance of that driven body; there should have been commanding gestures, significant direction; there should have been spontaneous breathing and — a voice — the voice of Life.

And instead — I witnessed an unmeaning pantomime, and heard the wailing of the dying wind. . . .

A voice, indeed, there was, but it was the voice of Julius LeVallon that eventually came to me across the length of the room. I saw him slowly approaching through the patches of unequal moonlight, carrying over his shoulder the frail, white burden that had collapsed against the further wall. And his words were very few, spoken more to himself apparently than to me. I heard them; they struck chill and ominous upon my heart:

“The conditions were imperfect, the power insufficient. Alone we cannot do it. We must wait for her. . . . And the channel must be another’s — as before.”

The strain of high excitement passed. I knew once again that small and pitiful sensation of returning to my normal consciousness. The exhilaration all was gone. There came a dwindling of the heart. I was “myself” again, John Mason, student at Edinburgh University. It produced a kind of shock, the abruptness of the alteration took my strength away. I experienced a climax of sensation, disappointment, distress, fear and revolt as well, that proved too much for me. I ran. I reeled. I heard the sound of my own falling.

No recollection of what immediately followed remains with me . . . for when I opened my eyes much later, I found myself prone upon the landing several floors below, with Julius bending solicitously over me, helping me to rise. The moonlight fell in a flood through a window on the stairs. My recovery was speedy, though not complete. I accompanied’ him down the remaining flight, leaning upon his arm; and in the street my senses, though still dazed, took in that the night was calm and cloudless, that the moonlight veiled the stars by its serene brightness, and that the clock above the University buildings pointed to the hour of two in the morning.

The cold was bitter. There was no wind!

Julius came with me to my door in Frederick Street, but the entire distance of a mile neither of us spoke a word.

At the door of my lodging-house, however, he turned. I drew back instinctively, hesitating, for my desire was to get upstairs into my own room with the door locked safely behind me. But he caught my hand.

“We failed tonight,” he whispered, “but when the real time comes we shall succeed. You will not — fail me then?”

In the stillness of very early morning, the moon sinking towards the long dip of the Queensferry Road, and the shadows lying deep upon the deserted streets, I heard his voice once more come travelling down the centuries to where I stood. The atmosphere of those other days and other places came back with incredible appeal upon me.

He drew me within the chilly hall-way, the sound of our feet echoing up the spiral staircase of stone. Night lay silently over everything, sunrise still many hours away.

I turned and looked into his eager, passionate face, into his eyes that still shone with the radiance of the two great powers, at the mouth and lips which now betrayed the exhaustion that had followed the huge effort. And something appealing and personal in his entire expression made it impossible to refuse. I shook my head, I shrank away, but a voice I scarcely recognised as my own gave the required answer. My upper and my under selves conflicted; yet the latter gave the inevitable pledge: “Julius . . . I promise you.”

He gazed into my eyes. An inexpressible tenderness stole into his manner. He took my hand and held it. The die was cast.

“She is now upon the earth with us,” he said. “I soon shall find her. We three shall inevitably be drawn together, for we are linked by indestructible ties. There is this debt we must repay — we three who first together incurred it.”

There was a pause. Far away I heard a cart rumbling over the cobbles of George Street. In another world it seemed, for the gods were still about us where we stood. Julius moved from me. Once more I saw his eyes fixed pleadingly, almost yearningly upon my own. Then the street door closed upon him and he was gone.


Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:52