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Chapter 32

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« on: February 26, 2023, 05:47:48 am »

Chapter 32

I REMEMBER what followed very much as one remembers the confusion after an anæsthetic---fragments of extraordinary dream and of sensational experience jostling one another on the threshold of awakening. Then, very swiftly, like a train of gorgeous colour disappearing into a tunnel of darkness, the memory slipped down within me and was gone. The Past with a rush of lightning swept back into its sheath.

The glory and sense of exaltation, that is, were gone, but not the memory that they had been. I knew what had happened, what I had felt, seen, yearned for; but it was the cold facts alone remained, the feelings that had accompanied them vanished. Into a dull, chilled world I dropped back, wondering and terrified. A long interval had passed.

And the first thing I realised was that Mrs. LeVallon still lay sleeping in that chair of wicker---profoundly sleeping---that the lamp had burned low, and that the châlet felt like ice. Her face, even in the twilight, I saw was normal, the older expression gone. I turned the wick up higher, noting as I did so that the paper strewn about me was thick with writing, and it was then my half-dazed senses took in first that Julius was not standing near us, and that a shadow, oddly shaped and huddled, lay on the floor where the lamplight met the darkness.

The moving portion seemed at once to disentangle itself from the rest, and a face turned up to stare at me. It was the serving-man upon his knees. The expression in his eyes did more to bring me to my normal senses than anything else. That scared and anguished look made me understand the truth---that, and the moaning that from time to time escaped his lips.

Of speech from him I hardly got a word; he was inarticulate to the last as ever, and all that I could learn was that he had felt his master’s danger and had come. . . .

We carried the body upstairs and laid it on the bed. I strove to regard it merely as the “instrument” he had used awhile, strove to find still his real undying Presence close to me---but that comfort failed me too. The face was very white. Upon the pale marble features lay still that signature of “Other Places” which haunted his life and soul. We closed the staring eyes and covered him with a sheet. And there the servant crouched upon the floor for the remaining five hours until the dawn, when I came up from watching that other figure of sleep in the room below, and found him in the same position. All that day as well he watched indeed, until at last I made him realise that the sooner he got the farmer’s horse below and summoned a doctor, the better for all concerned.

But that was many hours later in the day, and meanwhile he just crouched there, difficult of approach, eyeing me savagely almost when I came, his eyes aflame with a kind of ugly, sullen resentment, but faithful to the last. What the silent, devoted being had heard or seen during our long hours of sinister struggle and experiment, I never knew, nor ever shall know.

My memory hardly lingers upon that; nor upon the unprofitable detail of the doctor’s tardy arrival in the evening, his ill-concealed suspicion and eventual granting of a death certificate according to Swiss law; nor, again, upon his obvious verdict of a violent heart-stroke, or the course of procedure that he bade us follow.

Even the distressing details of the burial have somewhat faded, and I recall chiefly the fact that the Man established himself in the village where the churchyard was and began his watch that kept him near the grave, I believe, till death relieved him. My memory lingers rather upon the hours that I watched beside the sleeping woman, and upon the dreadful scene of her awakening and discovery of the truth.

For hours we had the darkness and the silence to ourselves, a silence broken only by the steady breathing of her slumber. I dared not wake her; knowing that the trance condition in time exhausts itself and the subject returns to normal waking consciousness without effort or distress, I let her slumber on, dreading the moment when the eyes would open and she must question me. The cold increased with the early hours of the morning, and I spread a rug about her stretched-out form. Slowly with the failing of the oil, the little lamp flame flickered and died, then finally went out, leaving us in the chill gloom together. All heat had long since left the fire of peat.

It was a vigil never to be forgotten. My thoughts revolved the whole time in one and the same circle, seeking in vain support from common things. Slowly and by degrees my mind found steadiness, though with returning balance my pain grew keener and more searching. The poignant minutes stretched to days and years. For ever I fell to reconstructing those vanished scenes of memory, while striving to believe that the whole thing had been but a detailed vivid dream, and that presently I, too, should awake to find our life in the châlet as before, Julius still alive and close. . . .

The moaning from the room overhead, where the Man watched over that other, final sleep, then brought bitterly again the sad reality, and set my thoughts whirling afresh with anguish. I was distraught and trembling. . . . London and my lectures, the recent climbing in the Dolomites, cities and trains and the business of daily modern life, these were the dreams. . . . The reality, truth, lay in that world of vision just departed . . . Concerighé, Silvatela, the woman of that ancient, splendid past, the re-capture of the Temple Days when we three trod together that strange path of questing; the broken fragment of it all; the Chamber of the Vacated Bodies, and the sin of long ago; then, chief of all, the attempt to banish the Powers, evoked in those distant ages, back to their eternal home---his effort to offer himself as channel---her fear to lose him and her offering of herself---the failure . . . and that appalling result upstairs.

For, ever and again, my thoughts returned to that: the spirit of the chief transgressor hovering now without a body, waiting for the River of the Lives to bring in some dim future another opportunity for atonement.

The failure. . . ! In the glimmer of that pale, cold dawn I watched the outline of her slumbering form. I remembered her cry of sacrificing love that drew the great rushing Powers down into herself, and thus into the unresisting little body gathered now in growth against her heart. That human love the world deems great, seeking to save him to her own distress, had only blocked the progress of his soul she yearned to protect, so little understanding. . . . I heard her deep-drawn breathing in the darkness and wondered . . . for the child that she would bear . . . come to our modern strife and worldly things with this freight of elemental forces linked about his human heart and mind---fierce child of Wind and Fire. . . ! A “natural,” perhaps a “super-natural” being. . . .

This sense of woe and passion, haunting my long, silent vigil from night to dawn, and after it when the sunshine of the September morning lit the room and turned her face to silver---this it is that, after so many years, clings to the memory as though of yesterday.

And then, without a sign or movement to prepare me, I saw that the eyes had opened and were fixed upon my face.

The whispered words came instantly:

“Where is he? Has he gone away?”

Stupid with distress and pain, my heart was choked. I stared blankly in return, the channels of speech too blocked to find a single syllable.

I raised my hands, though hardly knowing what I meant to do. She sat up in the chair and looked a moment swiftly about the room. Her lips parted for another question, but it did not come. I think in my face, or in my gesture perhaps, she read the message of despair. She hid her face behind her hands, leaned back with a dreadful drooping of the entire frame, and let a sigh escape her that held the substance of all unutterable words of grief.

I yearned to help, but it was my silence, of course, that brought the truth so swiftly home to her returning consciousness. The awakening was complete and rapid, not as out of common sleep. I longed to touch and comfort her, yet my muscles refused to yield in any action I could manage, and my tongue clung dry against the roof of my mouth.

Then, presently, between her fingers came the words below a whisper:

“I knew that this would happen . . . I knew that once I slept, he’d go from me . . . and I should lose him. I tried . . . that hard . . . to keep awake. . . . But sleep would take me. An’ now . . . it’s took him . . . too. He’s gone for---for very long . . . again!” She did not say “for ever.”

It was the voice, the accent and the words again of Mrs. LeVallon.

“Not for ever,” I whispered, “but for a little time.”

She rose up like a figure of white death, taking my hand. She did not tremble, and her step was firm. And more than this I never heard her say, for the entire contents of the interval since she first fell asleep beneath her husband’s passes had gone beyond recall.

“Take me to him,” she said gently. “I want to say good-bye.”

I led her up those creaking wooden stairs and left her with her dead.

Her strength was wonderful. I can never forget the quiet self-control she showed through all the wretched details that the situation then entailed. She asked no questions, shed no tears, moving brave and calm through all the ghastly duties. Something in her that lay deeper than death understood, and with the resignation of a truly great heart, accepted. Far stronger than myself she was; and, indeed, it seemed that my pain for her---at the time anyhow---absorbed the suffering that made my own heart ache with a sense of loss that has ever since left me empty and bereaved. Only in her eyes was there betrayal of sorrow that was itself, perhaps, another half revival of yet dimmer memories . . . “eyes in which desire of some strange thing unutterably burned, unquenchable. . . .” For the first time I understood the truth of another’s words---so like a statue was her appearance, so set in stone, her words so sparing and her voice so dead:

    I tell you, hopeless grief is passionless;
    That only men incredulous of despair,
    Half taught in anguish, through the midnight air
    Beat upward to God’s throne in loud access
    Of shrieking and reproach. Full desertness
    In souls as countries lieth silent-bare. . . .

Her soul lay silent-bare; her grief was hopeless. . . . To my shame it must be confessed that I longed to escape from all the strain and nightmare of what had passed. The few days had been charged with material for a lifetime. I knew the sharp desire to find myself in touch once more with common, wholesome things---with London noise and bustle, trains, telephones and daily newspapers, with stupid students who could not even remember what they had learned the previous week, and with all the great majority who never even dreamed of a consciousness less restricted than their own. I saw the matter through, however, to the bitter end, and did not lose sight of Mrs. LeVallon until I left her safely in Lausanne, and helped her find a woman who should be both maid and companion, at least for the immediate future. It cannot be of interest or value to relate more here. She did not cross my path again; while, on the other hand, it has never been possible for me to forget her. To this day I hear her voice and accent, I feel the touch of that hand that drew me softly into such depths of inexplicable vision; above all, I see her luminous, strange eyes and her movements of strange grace across the châlet floor. . . . And sometimes, even now, I half . . . remember.

Yet never, till after this long interval of years, could I bring myself to set down any record of what had happened. Perhaps---most probably, I think---I feared that dwelling upon the haunting details that writing would involve might revive too obsessingly the memory of an experience so curiously overwhelming.

Now time has brought the necessity, as it were, of this confession; and I have done my best with material that really resists the mould of language, at least as I can use it. Later reading---for I devoured the best authorities and ransacked even the most extravagant records in my quest---has come to throw a little curious light upon some parts of it; and the results of this subsequent study no doubt appear in this report. At the time, however, I was ignorant of all such things, and the effect upon me of what I witnessed thus for the first time may be judged accordingly. It was dislocating.

Two facts alone remain to mention. And the first seems to me perhaps the most singular of the entire experience. For the pages I had covered with writing showed suddenly an abrupt and extraordinary change of script. Although the earlier sheets were in my own handwriting, roughly jotting down question and reply as they fell from the lips of Julius or his wife, there came midway in them this inexplicable change that altered them into the illegible scribble of a language that I could not read, yet recognised. It changed into that curious kind of ideograph that Julius used at school, that he showed me many a time in the sand at the end of the football field where we used to lie and talk, and that he claimed then was the ancient sacerdotal cipher we had used together in our remotest “Temple Days.” I cannot read a word of it, nor can any to whom I have shown it decipher a single outline. The change began, it seems, at the point where “Mrs. LeVallon” went “deeper” at his word of command, and entered the layer of memories that dealt with that most ancient “section.” This accounts, too, for the confusion and incompleteness of my record as written. A page of this script is framed upon my walls to-day; my eye rests on it as I write these words upon a modern typewriter---in Streatham.

The other fact I have to mention might well be the starting point for study and observation of an interesting kind. Yet, though it sorely tempted me, I resisted the temptation, and now, after twenty years, it is too late, and I, too old. This record, if published, may fall beneath the eye of someone to whom the chance and the desire may possibly combine to bring the opportunity.

For some weeks after the events that have been here described, Mrs. LeVallon gave birth to a boy, surviving him, alas! by but a single day.

This I heard long afterwards by the merest chance. But my strenuous efforts to trace the child proved unavailing, and I only learned that he was adopted by a French family whose name even was not given to me. If alive he would be now about twenty years of age.


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