Julius LeVallon, by Algernon Blackwood

Chapter xxxi

Today retired. I remembered Yesterday, but a Yesterday more remote, perhaps, than the fire-mist out of which our little earth was born. . . .

I half rose in my chair. The first instinct — strong in me still as I write this here in modern Streatham — was to fall upon my knees as in the stress of some immense, remembered love. That glory caught me, that power of an everlasting passion that was holy. Bathed in a sea of perfect recollection, my eyes met hers, lost themselves, lived back into a Past that had been joy. A flood of shame broke fiercely over me that such a union could ever have seemed “forgotten.” That Today could smother Yesterday so easily seemed sacrilege. For this memory, uprising from the mists of hoary preexistence, brought in its train other great emotions of recovered grandeur, all stirred into life by this ancient ceremony we three acted out. Our purpose then had been, I knew, no ordinary, selfish love, no lust of possession or ownership behind it. Its aim and end were not mere personal contentment, mere selfish happiness that excluded others, but, rather, a part of some vast, coordinated process that involved all Nature with her powers and workings, and fulfilled with beauty a purpose of the entire Universe. It was holy in the biggest sense; it was divine. The significance of our attitudes Today was all explained — Julius, herself and I, exquisitely linked to Nature, a group-soul formed by the loves of Yesterday and Now.

We gazed at one another in silence, smiling at our recovered wonder. We spoke no word, we made no gesture; there was perfect comprehension; we were, all three, as we had been — long ago. An earlier state of consciousness took this supreme command. . . . And presently — how long the interval I cannot say — her eyelids dropped, she drew a deep sigh of happiness, and lay quiescent as before.

It was then, I think, that the sense of worship in me became so imperative that denial seemed impossible. Some inner act of adoration certainly accomplished itself although no physical act resulted, for I remember dropping back again into my chair, not knowing what exactly I meant to do. The old desire for the long, sweet things of the soul burst suddenly into flame, the inner yearning to know the deathless Nature Powers which were the gods, and to taste divinity by feeling-with their mighty beings. That early state of simpler consciousness, it seems, lay too remote from modern things to be translatable in clear language. Yet at the time I knew it, felt it, realised it, because I lived it once again. The flood of aspiration that bore me on its crest left thinking and reason utterly out of account. No link survives Today with the state we then recovered. . . .

And both she and Julius changed before my eyes. The chalet changed as well, slipping into the shadowy spaces of some vast, pillared temple. The soul in me realised its power and knew its origin divine. Bathed in a sea of long-forgotten glory, it rose into a condition of sublimest bliss and confidence. It recognised its destiny and claimed all Heaven. And this raging fire of early spiritual ambition passed over me as upon a mighty wind; desire and will became augmented as though wind blew them into flame.

“Watch . . . and listen,” I heard, “and feel no fear!”

The change visibly increased; it seemed that curtains lifted in succession. . . . The sunken head was raised; the lips quivered with approaching speech; the pale cheeks deepened with a sudden flush that set the cheek-bones in a quick, high light; the neck bent slightly forward, foreshortening, as it were, the presentment of the head and shoulders; while some indescribable touch of power painted the marble brows cold and almost stern. The entire countenance breathed the august passion of a remoter age dropped close. . . . And to see the little face I knew as Mrs. LeVallon, domestic servant in the world Today, unscreen itself thus before me, while its actual structure yet remained unchanged, broke down the last resistance in me, and rendered my subjugation absolute. Transfiguration was visibly accomplished. . . .

Once more she turned her head and looked at me. I met the eyes that saw me and remembered. And, though I would have screened myself from their tremendous gaze, there was no remnant of power in me that could do so. . . . She smiled, then slowly withdrew her eyes. . . . I passed, with these two beside me, back into the womb of preexistence. We were upon the Earth — at the very time and place where we had used the knowledge brought from a still earlier globe.

“What do you see?” came in those quiet tones that rolled up time and distance like a scroll. “Tell me now!” It was the scene of the lost experiment he sought. We were close upon it.

She spread her arms; her hands waved slowly through the air to indicate these immense enclosing walls of stone about us. The voice reverberated as in great hollow space.

“Darkness . . . and the Vacated Bodies,” was the reply. I knew that we stood in the Hall of Silence where the bodies lay entranced while their spirits went forth upon the three days’ quest. And one of these, I knew, was mine.

“What besides?”

“The Guardians — who protect.”

“Who are they? Who are these Guardians?”

An expression of shrinking passed across her face, and disappeared again. The eyes stared fixedly before her into space.

“Myself,” she answered slowly, “you — Concerighe . . . and . . . ”

“There Was another?” he asked. “Another who was with us?”

She hesitated. At first no answer came. She seemed to search the darkness to discover it.

“He is not near enough to see,” she murmured presently. “Somewhere beyond . . . he stands . . . he lies . . . I cannot see him clearly.”

Julius touched my hand, and with the contact the expression on her face grew clear. She smiled.

“You see him now,” he said with decision.

She turned her face towards me with a tender, stately movement. The sterner aspect deepened into softness on the features. Great joy for an instant passed into the strange sea-green eyes.

“Silvatela,” she whispered, slightly lowering the head. “He offered himself — for me. He lies now — empty at our feet.” And the utterance of the name passed through me with a thrill of nameless sweetness. An infinite desire woke, yet desire not for myself alone.

“The time . . .?” asked Julius in that cabn, reverent tone.

She rose with a suddenness that made me start, though, somehow, I had expected it. At her full height she stood between us. Then, spreading her hands from both the temples outwards, she bowed her head to the level of the breast. Julius, I saw, did likewise, and before I realised it, the same deep, instinctive awe had brought me to my feet in a similar obeisance. A breath of air from the night outside passed sensibly between us, enough to stir the hair upon my head and increase the fire on the hearth behind. It ceased, and a wave of comforting heat moved in, paused a moment, settled like a great invisible presence, and held the atmosphere.

“It is the Pause in Nature,” I heard the answer, and saw that she was seated in the chair once more. “The Third Day nears its end. . . . The Questing Souls . . . draw near again to enter. We have kept their vacated bodies safe for them. Our task is almost over. . . . ”

She drew a deep, convulsive sigh. Then Julius, taking her right hand, guided my left to hold the other one. I touched her fingers and felt them instantly clasp about my own; she sighed again, the frown went from her forehead, and turning her gaze upon us both she murmured:

“I see clearly, I see everything.”

The past surged over me in a drowning flood.

“This is the moment, this the very place,” came the voice of Julius. “It was at this moment we were faithless to our trust. We used your body as the channel. . . . ” He turned slightly in my direction.

“The moment and the place,” she interrupted. “There is just time. Before the Souls return. . . . You have called upon the Powers. . . . Yet both cannot enter! . . . he . . . and they. . . . ”

There was a mighty, echoing cry.

She stopped abruptly. Her face darkened as with some great internal effort. I darkened too. My vision broke. . . . There was a sense of interval. . . .

“And the channel?” he asked below his breath.

She shook her head slowly to and fro. “It lies waiting still in the Iron Slumber. . . . You used it . . . it is shattered. . . . The soul returning finds it not..,. His soul . . . whom I loved . . . ”

.The voices ceased. A sudden darkness dropped. I had the sensation that I was rushing, flying, whirling. The hand I clasped seemed melted into air. I lost the final remnant of present things about me. The circle of my own sensations, my identity, the identity of my two companions vanished. A remarkable feeling of triumph came upon me, of joyful power that lifted me high above all injury and death, while something utterly gigantic asserted itself in the place of what had just been “me” — something that could never be maimed, subdued, held prisoner. The darkness then lifted, giving way before a hurricane of light that swept me, as it were, upon a pinnacle. Secure and strong I felt beyond all possible disaster, yet breathless amid things too long unfamiliar. . . . And then, abruptly, I knew searing pain, the pain of something broken in me, of spiritual incompleteness, disappointment. . . . I was called back to lesser life — before my time — before some high fulfilment due to me. . . .

Julius and Mrs. LeVallon were no longer there beside me, but in their place I saw two solemn figures standing motionless and grave above a prostrate body. It lay upon a marble slab, and sunlight fell over the face and folded hands. The two moved forward. They knelt . . . there was a sound of voices as in prayer, a powerful, drawn-out sound that produced intense vibrations, vibrations so immense that the motion in the air was felt as wind. I saw gestures . . . the body half rose up upon its marble slab . . . and then the blaze of some incredible effulgence descended before my eyes, so fiercely brilliant, and accompanied by such an intolerable, radiant heat . . . that the entire scene went lost behind great shafts of light that splintered and destroyed it . . . and an awful darkness followed, a darkness that again had pain and incompleteness at the heart of it. . . .

One thing alone I understood — that body on the shining slab was mine. My absent soul, deprived of high glory elsewhere that was mine by right, returned into it unexpectedly, aware of danger. It had been used for the purposes of evocation. I had met the two Powers evoked by means of it midway: Fire and Wind. . . .

The vision vanished. I was standing in the chalet room again, he and the woman by my side. There was a sense of enormous interval.

We were back among the present things again. I had merely relived in a moment’s space a vision of that Past where these two had sinned against me. The memory was gone again. We now resumed our present reconstruction, by means of which the balance should be finally restored. The same two elemental Powers were with us still. Summoned once again — but this time that they might be dismissed.

“The Messengers of Wind and Fire approach,” Julius was saying softly. “Be ready for the Powers that follow after.”

“But — there poured through me but a moment ago ——” I began, when his face stopped my speech sharply.

“That ‘moment’ was sixty centuries ago! Keep hold now upon your will,” he interrupted, yet without a trace of the vast excitement that I felt, “lest they invade your heart instead of mine. The glory that you knew was but the shadow of their coming — as long ago you returned arid met them — when we failed. Keep close watch upon your will. It is the Equinox. . . . The pause now comes with midnight.”

Even before he had done speaking the majesties of Wind and Fire were upon us. And Nature came in with them. A dislocating change, swift as the shaking of some immense thick shutter that hides life behind material things, passed in a flash about us. We stood in a circle, hands firmly clasped. There was a first effect as if those very hands were fused and ran into a single molten chain. There was no outer sound. The silence in the air was deathlike. But the sensation in my soul was — life. The momentary confusion was stupendous, then passed away. I stood in that room, but I stood in the valley too. I was in Nature everywhere. I heard the deer go past me, I heard them on the soft, sweet grass, I heard their breathing and the beating of their hearts. Birds fluttered round my face and shoulders, I heard their singing in my blood and ears, I knew their wild desires and freedom, their darting to and fro, their swaying on the boughs. My feet were running water, while yet the solid mass of earth and cliff stood up in me. I also knew the growing of the flowers by the forests, tasted their fragrance in my breath, their tender, delicate essence all unwasted. It passed understanding, yet was natural as sight, for my hands went far away, while still quite close, dipping among the stars that grew and piled like heaps of gathered sand. It all was simple, easy, mine by right. Nature gave me her myriad sensations without stint. I had forgotten. I remembered. The universe stood open. “I” had entered with these other two beside me.

She raised her arms aloft, taking our hands up with her own, and cried with a voice like wind against great branches :

“They come! The Doors of Fire are wide, and the Gates of Wind stand open I They enter the channel that is offered.”

And his voice, like a roar of flame, came answering hers:

“The salutations of the Fire and Wind are made! The channel is prepared! There is no resistance I”

They stood erect and rigid, their outlines merged with some strange extension into space. They were superb, tremendous. There was no shrinking there. The deities of wind and fire came up, seeking their channel of return.

And so “They” came. Yet not outwardly; nor was the terrific impact of their advent known completely to any but himself alone who sought to harbour them now within his little human organism. Into my heart and soul poured but a fragment of their radiant, rushing presences. About us all some intelligent power as of a living wind brought in its mighty arms that ethereal fire which is not merely living, but is life itself. Material objects wavered, then disappeared, thin as transparent glass that increases light and heat. Walls, ceiling, floor were burned away, yet not consumed; the atoms composing all physical things glowed with a radiant energy they no longer could conceal. The latent heat of inanimate Nature emerged, not rebellious but triumphant. It was a deific manifestation of those natural powers which are the first essentials of human existence — heat and air. We were not alien to Nature, nor was Nature set apart from us; we shared her inexhaustible life, and the glory of the Universe in which she is a fragment.

“The Doors of the Creative Fire stand wide,” rang out her triumphant voice again. “The golden splendour of the invisible Fire loosens and flows free. The Breath of Life is everywhere . . . our own. . . . But what, oh what of — him!” The scene of their past audacious error swept again before me. And, partially, I caught it.

Into a gulf of silence her words fell, recaptured from a mode of invocation effective in forgotten ages. Quivering lightnings, like a host of running stars, flashed marvellously about us, with bars of fire that seemed to map all space, while there was a sense of prodigious lifting in the heart as though some power like rushing wind drove will and yearning to the summit of all possible achievement. I realised simply this — that Nature’s powers and purposes became mine too.

How long this lasted is impossible to state; duration disappeared. The Universe, it seemed, had caught me up, joyful and unafraid, into her bosom. It was too immense for little terrors. . . . And it was only after what seemed an interminable interval that I became aware of something that marred; of effort somewhere to confine and limit; of conflict, in a word, as though some smaller force strove to impose an order upon Powers that resented it. And I understood the meaning of this too. Julius battled in his soul. He wrestled with the Energies he had invoked, exerting to the utmost a trained, spiritual will to influence their direction into himself, as expiatory channel. Julius, after the lapse of centuries, fought to restore the balance he had long ago disturbed.

Her voice, too, occasionally reached me with a sound as of wind that rushed, but very far away. The words went past me with a heat like flame. I caught fragments only . . . “The King of Breath. . . . The Master of the Diadems of Fire . . . they seek to enter . . . the channel of safe return. . . . Oh, beware . . . beware . . . ”

And it was then I saw this wonderful thing happen, poignant with common human drama, intensifying the reality of the whole amazing experience. For she turned suddenly to him, her face alight and radiant. She would not let him accept the awful risk. Her arms went out to hold him to her. He drove her back.

“I open wide the channel of my life and soul!” he cried, with a gesture of the entire body that made it relaxed and unresisting. He stepped backwards a little from her touch. “It must be through me!”

And there was anguish in her tone that seemed to press all possible human passion into the single sentence:

“I, too, throw myself open! I cannot let you go from me I”

He moved still further from her. It seemed to me he went at prodigious speed, yet grew no smaller to the eye. The withdrawal belonged to some part of his being that I was aware of inwardly. Streams of fire and wind went with him. They followed. And I heard her voice in agonised pursuit. She raised her hands as in supplication, but to whom or what I knew not. She fought to prevent. She fought to offer herself instead.

But also she offered the body as yet unclaimed — untenanted.

“He who is in the Fire and in the Sun . . . I call upon His power. I offer myself!” I heard her cry.

His answering voice seemed terrible:

“The Law forbids. You hold Them back from me.” And then as from a greater distance, the voice continued more faintly: “You prevent. It has to be! Help me before it is too late; help me . . . or . . . I . . . fail!”

Fail! I heard the awful word like thunder in the heavens.

The conflict of their wills, the distress of it was terrible. At this last moment she realised that the strain was more than he could withstand — he would go from her in that separation which is the body’s death. She saw it all; there was division in her will and energies. Opposing herself to the justice he had invoked, she influenced the invasion of the elemental Powers, offering herself as channel in the hope of saving him. Her human desire weighed the balance — turning it just against him. Her insight clouded with emotion. She increased the risk for him, and at the same time left open to the great invading Powers another channel — the line of least resistance, the empty vehicle all prepared within herself.

To me it was mercilessly clear. I tried to speak, but found no words to utter; my tongue refused to frame a single sound; nor could I move my limbs. I heard Julius only, his voice calling like a distant storm.

“I call upon the Fire and Wind to enter me, and pass to their eternal home . . . whence you and I . . . and he . . . ”

His voice fell curiously away into a gulf; there was weakness in it. I saw her frail body shake from head to foot. She swayed as though about to fall. And then her voice, strong as a bugle-call, rang out:

“I claim it by — my love. . . .!”

There was a burst of wind, a rush of sheeted fire Then darkness fell. But in that instant before the fire passed, I saw his form stand close before my eyes. The face, alight with compassion and resignation, was turned towards her own. I saw the eyes; I saw the hands outstretched to take her; the lips were parted in a final attempt at utterance which never knew completion. And I knew — the certainty stopped the beating of my heart —— that he had failed. There was no actual sound. Like a gleaming sword drawn swiftly from its scabbard, he rose past me through the air, borne from his body, as it were, on wings of ascending flame. There was a second of intolerable radiance, a rush of driving wind — and he was gone.

And far away, at the end of some stone corridor in the sunshine, yet at the same time close beside me upon the floor of the little mountain chalet, I heard the falling body as it dropped with a thud before my feet — untenanted . . .


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