Julius LeVallon, by Algernon Blackwood

Chapter xxviii

My mind retains with photographic accuracy the detail of that sinister yet gorgeous night. One thing alone vitiates the value of my report — while I remember what happened, I cannot remember why it happened.

At the actual time, I understood the meaning of every word and action because the power to do so was in me. I was in another state of consciousness. That state has passed, and with it the ability to interpret. I am in the position of a man who remembers clearly the detail of some dream to which, on waking, he has lost the key. While dreaming it, the meaning was daylight clear. The return to normal consciousness has left him with a photograph he no longer can explain.

The first tentative approach, however, of those Intelligences men call Fire and Wind — their first contact with this other awakened Self in me, I remember perfectly. Wind came first, then Fire; yet at first it was merely that they made their presence known. I became aware of them. And the natural, simple way in which this came about I may describe to some extent perhaps.

The ruins of a flaming sunset lay above the distant ridges when Julius left my room, and, after locking away the private papers entrusted to my charge, I stood for some time watching the coloured storm-clouds hurrying across the sky. For, though the trees about the chalet were motionless, a violent wind ran high overhead, and on the summits it would have been impossible to stand. Round the building, however, sunken in its protected valley, and within the walls especially, reigned a still, delightful peace. The wind kept to the summits. But i°5. of some Spirit of Wind I was aware long before the faintest movement touched a single branch.

Upon me then, gathering with steady power, stole the advance-guard of these two invasions — air and warmth, yet an inner air, an inner warmth. For, while I watched, the silence of those encircling forests conveyed the sound and movement of approaching life. There grew upon me, first as by dim and curious suggestion, a sense of ordered preparation slowly accumulating behind the mass of shadowy trees. The picture then sharpened into more definite outline. The forest was busy with the stirrings of a million thread-like airs that built up together the body of a rising wind, yet not of wind as commonly experienced, but rather of some subtler, more acute activity of which wind is but the outer vehicle. The inner activity, of which it is the sensible manifestation — the body — was beginning to move. The soul of air itself was stirring. These million ghost-like airs were lifting wings from their invisible, secret lairs, all running as by a word of command towards a determined centre whence, obeying a spiritual summons, they would presently fall upon the valley in that sensible manifestation called the equinoctial gales. Behind the material effect, the spiritual Cause was active.

This imaginative picture grew upon me, as though in some way I was let into the inner being of that life which prompts all natural movements and hides, securely veiled, in every stock and stone. A new interpretative centre was awake in me. In the movement of wind I was aware of — life. Then, while this subtle perception that an intelligent, directing power lay behind the very air I breathed, a similar report reached me from another, equally elemental, quarter, though it is less easy to describe.

From the sun? Originally, yes — since primarily from the sun emerges all the heat the earth contains. It first stirred definite sensation in me when my eye caught the final gleam upon the turreted walls of vapour where still the sunset stood emblazoned. From that coloured sea of light, and therefore of heat, something flashed in power through me; a vision of running fire broke floodingly above the threshold of my mind, ran into every corner of my being, left its inspiring trail, became part of my very nerves and blood. Consciousness was deepened and intensified.

Yet it was neither common heat I felt nor common flame I pictured, but rather a touch of that primordial and ethereal fire which dwells at the heart of all manifested life — latent heat. For it was neither yellow, red, nor white with any aspect of common flame, but what I can only dare to describe as a fierce, dark splendour, black and shining, yet of intense, incandescent brilliance. The contradictory adjectives catch a ghost of it. Moreover, I was aware of no discomfort, for while it threatened to overwhelm me, the chief effect was to leave a glow, a radiance, an enthusiasm of strengthened will and confidence, combined with a sense of lightning’s power. It was spiritual heat, of which fire is but a physical vehicle. The central fire of the universe burned in my heart.

I realised, in a word, that both elements were vehicles of intelligent and living Agencies. Of their own accord they became active, and natural laws were but their method of activity. They were alert; the valley was alive, combining, cooperating with myself — and taking action.

This was their first exquisite approach. But presently, when I moved away from the window, the sunset clouds grown dark and colourless again, I realised lesser manifestations of this new emotion which may seem more intelligible when I set them down in words. The candle flame, for instance, and the flaring match with which I lit my cigarette seemed not so much to produce fire by a chemical device, as to puncture holes through a curtain into that sea of latent fire that lies in all material things. The breath of air, moreover, that extinguished the flame did not annihilate it, but merged it into the essential being of its own self. The two acted in sympathy together. Both Wind and Fire drew attention to themselves of set intention, insisting upon notice, as if inviting cooperation.

And something leviathan leaped up in me to welcome them. The standing miracle of fire lit up the darkened valley. Pure flame revealed itself suddenly as the soul in me, the eternal part that remembered and grew wise, the deathless part that survived all successive bodies.

And I realised with a shock of comprehension the danger that Julius ran in the evocation that his “experiment” involved: Fire, once kindled, and aided naturally by air, must seek to destroy the prison that confines it. . . .

I remained for some time in my room. My will, my power of choice, seemed taken from me. My life moved with these vaster influences. I argued vehemently with some part of me that still offered a vague resistance. It was the merest child’s play. I figured myself in my London lecture room, explaining to my students the course and growth of the delusion that had captured me. The result was futile; I convinced neither my students nor myself. It was the thinking mind in me that opposed, but it was another thing in me that knew, and this other thing was enormously stronger than the reasoning mind, and overwhelmed it. No amount of arguing could stand against the power of knowledge that had become established in me by feeling-with. I felt-with Nature, especially with her twin elemental powers of wind and fire. And this wisdom of feeling-with dominated my entire being. Denial and argument were merely false.

All that evening this sense of the companionship of

Wind and Fire remained vividly assertive. Everywhere they moved about me. They acted in concert, each assisting the other. I was for ever aware of them; their physical manifestations were as great dumb gestures of two living and intelligent Immensities in Nature. Yet it was only in part, perhaps, I knew them. Their full, amazing power never came to me completely. The absolute realisation that came to Julius in full consciousness was not mine. I shared at most, it seems, a reflected knowledge, seeing what happened as through some lens of half — recovered memory.

Moreover, supper, when I came downstairs to find Julius and his wife already waiting for me, was the most ordinary and commonplace meal imaginable. We talked of the weather! Mrs. LeVallon was light-hearted, almost gay, though I felt it was repressed excitement that drove outwards this trivial aspect of her. But for the fact that all she did now seemed individual and distinguished, her talk and gestures might have scraped acquaintance with mere foolishness. Indeed, our light talk and her irresponsibility added to the sense of reality I have mentioned. It was a mask, and the mask dropped occasionally with incongruous abruptness that was startling.

Such insignificant details revealed the immediate range of the Powers that watched and waited close beside our chairs. That sudden, fixed expression in her eyes, for instance, when the Man brought in certain private papers, handed them to Julius who, after reading them, endorsed them with a modern fountain pen, then passed them on to me! That fountain pen and her accompanying remark — how incongruous and insignificant they were! Both seemed symbolical items in some dwindled, trivial scale of being!

“It isn’t everybody that’s got a professor for a secretary, Julius, is it?”

She said it with her mouth full, her elbows on the table, and only that other look in the watchful eyes seemed to contradict the awkward, untaught body. There was a flash of tenderness and passion in them, a pathetic questioning and wonder, as though she saw in her husband’s act an acknowledgment of dim forebodings in her own deep heart. She appealed, it seemed, to me. Was it that she divined he was already slipping from her, farewells all unsaid, yet that she was — inarticulate? . . . The entire little scene, the words, the laughter and the look, were but evidence of an attempt to lift the mask. Her choice of words, their accent and pronunciation, that fountain pen, the endorsement, the stupid remark about myself — were all these lifted by those yearning eyes into the tragedy of a fateful goodbye message? . . .

More significant still, though even less direct, was another moment — when the Man stretched his arm across the table to turn the lamp up. For in this unnecessary act she saw — the intuition came sharply to me — an effect of the approaching Powers upon his untutored soul. The wick was already high enough when, with an abrupt, impulsive movement, he stooped to turn it higher; and instantly Mrs. LeVallon was on her feet, her face first pale, then hotly flushed. She rose as though to strike him, then changed the gesture as if to ward a blow — almost to protect. It was an impetuous, revealing act.

Out of some similar impulse, too, only half understood, I sprang to her assistance.

“There’s light enough,” I exclaimed.

“And heat,” she added quickly. “Good Lord! the room’s that hot, it’s like a furnace!”

She flashed a look of gratitude at me. What exactly was in her mind I cannot know, but in my own was the strange feeling that the less visible fire in the air the better. An expression of perplexed alarm showed itself in the face of the faithful but inarticulate serving man. Unwittingly he had blundered. His distress was acute.

I almost thought he would drop to his knees and ask his mistress’s hand for forgiveness.

Whether Julius perceived all this is hard to say. He looked up calmly, watching us; but the glance he gave, and the fact that he spoke no word, made me think he realised what the energy of her tone and gesture veiled. The desire to assist the increase of heat, of fire — cooperation — had acted upon the physical medium least able to resist — the most primitive system present. The approach of the two Activities affected us, one and all.

There were other incidents of a similar kind before the meal was over, quite ordinary in themselves, yet equally revealing; my interpretation of them due to this enhanced condition of acute perception that pertained to awakening memory. Air and fire accumulated, flake by flake. A kind of radiant heat informed all common objects. It was in our hearts as well. And wind was waiting to blow it into flame.


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