"We may be in the Universe as dogs and cats are in our libraries, seeing the books and hearing the conversation, but having no inkling of the meaning of it all."
—WILLIAM JAMES, A Pluralistic Universe
"... A man's vision is the great fact about him. Who cares for Carlyle's reasons, or Schopenhauer's, or Spencer's? A philosophy is the expression of a man's intimate character, and all definitions of the Universe are but the deliberately adopted reactions of human characters upon it."
"There are certain persons who, independently of sex or comeliness, arouse an instant curiosity concerning themselves. The tribe is small, but its members unmistakable. They may possess neither fortune, good looks, nor that adroitness of advance-vision which the stupid name good luck; yet there is about them this inciting quality which proclaims that they have overtaken Fate, set a harness about its neck of violence, and hold bit and bridle in steady hands.
"Most of us, arrested a moment by their presence to snatch the definition their peculiarity exacts, are aware that on the heels of curiosity follows—envy. They know the very things that we forever seek in vain. And this diagnosis, achieved as it were en passant, comes near to the truth, for the hallmark of such persons is that they have found, and come into, their own. There is a sign upon the face and in the eyes. Having somehow discovered the 'piece' that makes them free of the whole amazing puzzle, they know where they belong and, therefore, whither they are bound: more, they are definitely en route. The littlenesses of existence that plague the majority pass them by.
"For this reason, if for no other," continued O'Malley, "I count my experience with that man as memorable beyond ordinary. 'If for no other,' because from the very beginning there was another. Indeed, it was probably his air of unusual bigness, massiveness rather,—head, face, eyes, shoulders, especially back and shoulders,—that struck me first when I caught sight of him lounging there hugely upon my steamer deck at Marseilles, winning my instant attention before he turned and the expression on his great face woke more—woke curiosity, interest, envy. He wore this very look of certainty that knows, yet with a tinge of mild surprise as though he had only recently known. It was less than perplexity. A faint astonishment as of a happy child—almost of an animal—shone in the large brown eyes—"
"You mean that the physical quality caught you first, then the psychical?" I asked, keeping him to the point, for his Irish imagination was ever apt to race away at a tangent.
He laughed good-naturedly, acknowledging the check. "I believe that to be the truth," he replied, his face instantly grave again. "It was the impression of uncommon bulk that heated my intuition—blessed if I know how—leading me to the other. The size of his body did not smother, as so often is the case with big people: rather, it revealed. At the moment I could conceive no possible connection, of course. Only this overwhelming attraction of the man's personality caught me and I longed to make friends. That's the way with me, as you know," he added, tossing the hair back from his forehead impatiently,"—pretty often. First impressions. Old man, I tell you, it was like a possession."
"I believe you," I said. For Terence O'Malley all his life had never understood half measures.
"The friendly and flowing savage, who is he? Is he waiting for civilization, or is he past it, and mastering it?"
"We find ourselves today in the midst of a somewhat peculiar state of society, which we call Civilization, but which even to the most optimistic among us does not seem altogether desirable. Some of us, indeed, are inclined to think that it is a kind of disease which the various races of man have to pass through....
"While History tells us of many nations that have been attacked by it, of many that have succumbed to it, and of some that are still in the throes of it, we know of no single case in which a nation has fairly recovered from and passed through it to a more normal and healthy condition. In other words, the development of human society has never yet (that we know of) passed beyond a certain definite and apparently final stage in the process we call Civilization; at that stage it has always succumbed or been arrested."
—EDWARD CARPENTER, Civilization: Its Cause and Cure
O'Malley himself is an individuality that invites consideration from the ruck of commonplace men. Of mingled Irish, Scotch, and English blood, the first predominated, and the Celtic element in him was strong. A man of vigorous health, careless of gain, a wanderer, and by his own choice something of an outcast, he led to the end the existence of a rolling stone. He lived from hand to mouth, never quite growing up. It seemed, indeed, that he never could grow up in the accepted sense of the term, for his motto was the reverse of nil admirari, and he found himself in a state of perpetual astonishment at the mystery of things. He was forever deciphering the huge horoscope of Life, yet getting no further than the House of Wonder, on whose cusp surely he had been born. Civilization, he loved to say, had blinded the eyes of men, filling them with dust instead of vision.
An ardent lover of wild outdoor life, he knew at times a high, passionate searching for things of the spirit, when the outer world fell away like dross and he seemed to pass into a state resembling ecstasy. Never in cities or among his fellow men, struggling and herded, did these times come to him, but when he was abroad with the winds and stars in desolate places. Then, sometimes, he would be rapt away, caught up to see the tail-end of the great procession of the gods that had come near. He surprised Eternity in a running Moment.
For the moods of Nature flamed through him—in him—like presences, potently evocative as the presences of persons, and with meanings equally various: the woods with love and tenderness; the sea with reverence and magic; plains and wide horizons with the melancholy peace and silence as of wise and old companions; and mountains with a splendid terror due to some want of comprehension in himself, caused probably by a spiritual remoteness from their mood.
The Cosmos, in a word, for him was psychical, and Nature's moods were transcendental cosmic activities that induced in him these singular states of exaltation and expansion. She pushed wide the gateways of his deeper life. She entered, took possession, dipped his smaller self into her own enormous and enveloping personality.
He possessed a full experience, and at times a keen judgment, of modern life; while underneath, all the time, lay the moving sea of curiously wild primitive instincts. An insatiable longing for the wilderness was in his blood, a craving vehement, unappeasable. Yet for something far greater than the wilderness alone—the wilderness was merely a symbol, a first step, indication of a way of escape. The hurry and invention of modern life were to him a fever and a torment. He loathed the million tricks of civilization. At the same time, being a man of some discrimination at least, he rarely let himself go completely. Of these wilder, simpler instincts he was afraid. They might flood all else. If he yielded entirely, something he dreaded, without being able to define, would happen; the structure of his being would suffer a nameless violence, so that he would have to break with the world. These cravings stood for that loot of the soul which he must deny himself. Complete surrender would involve somehow a disintegration, a dissociation of his personality that carried with it the loss of personal identity.
When the feeling of revolt became sometimes so urgent in him that it threatened to become unmanageable, he would go out into solitude, calling it to heel; but this attempt to restore order, while easing his nature, was never radical; the accumulation merely increased on the rebound; the yearnings grew and multiplied, and the point of saturation was often dangerously near. "Some day," his friends would say, "there'll be a bursting of the dam." And, though their meaning might be variously interpreted, they spoke the truth. O'Malley knew it, too.
A man he was, in a word, of deep and ever-shifting moods, and with more difficulty than most in recognizing the underlying self of which these outer aspects were projections masquerading as complete personalities.
The underlying ego that unified these projections was of the type touched with so sure a hand in the opening pages of an inspired little book: The Plea of Pan. O'Malley was useless as a citizen and knew it. Sometimes—he was ashamed of it as well.
Occasionally, and at the time of this particular "memorable adventure," aged thirty, he acted as foreign correspondent; but even as such he was the kind of newspaper man that not merely collects news, but discovers, reveals, creates it. Wise in their generation, the editors who commissioned him remembered when his copy came in that they were editors. A roving commission among the tribes of the Caucasus was his assignment at the moment, and a better man for the purpose would have been hard to find, since he knew beauty, had a keen eye for human nature, divined what was vital and picturesque, and had, further, the power to set it down in brief terms born directly of his vivid emotions.
When first I knew him he lived—nowhere, being always on the move. He kept, however, a dingy little room near Paddington where his books and papers accumulated, undusted but safe, and where the manuscripts of his adventures were found when his death made me the executor of his few belongings. The key was in his pocket, carefully ticketed with a bone label. And this, the only evidence of practical forethought I ever discovered in him, was proof that something in that room was deemed by him of value—to others. It certainly was not the heterogeneous collection of second-hand books, nor the hundreds of unlabeled photographs and sketches. Can it have been the MSS. of stories, notes, and episodes I found, almost carefully piled and tabulated with titles, in a dirty kitbag of green Willesden canvas?
Some of these he had told me (with a greater vividness than he could command by pen); others were new; many unfinished. All were unusual, to say the least. All, too, had obviously happened to himself at some period of his roving career, though here and there he had disguised his own part in them by Hoffmann's device of throwing the action into the third person. Those told to me by word of mouth I could only feel were true, true for himself at least. In no sense were they mere inventions, but arose in moments of vision upon a structure of solid events. Ten men will describe in as many different ways a snake crossing their path; but, besides these, there exists an eleventh man who sees more than the snake, the path, the movement. O'Malley was some such eleventh man. He saw the thing whole, from some kind of inner bird's-eye view, while the ten saw only limited aspects of it from various angles. He was accused of adding details, therefore, because he had divined their presence while still below the horizon. Before they emerged the others had already left.
By which I mean that he saw in commonplace events the movement of greater tides than others saw. At one remove of time or distance—a minute or a mile—he perceived all. While the ten chattered volubly about the name of the snake, he was caught beyond by the beauty of the path, the glory of the running glide, the nature of the forces that drove, hindered, modified.
The others reasoned where the snake was going, its length in inches and its speed per second, while he, ignoring such superficial details, plunged as it were into the very nature of the creature's being. And in this idiosyncrasy, which he shared with all persons of mystical temperament, is exemplified a certain curious contempt for Reason that he had. For him mere intellectuality, by which the modern world sets such store, was a valley of dry bones. Its worship was a worship of the form. It missed the essential inner truth because such inner truth could be known only by being it, feeling it. The intellectual attitude of mind, in a word, was critical, not creative, and to be unimaginative seemed to him, therefore, the worst form of unintelligence.
"The arid, sterile minds!" he would cry in a burst of his Celtic enthusiasm. "Where, I ask ye, did the philosophies and sciences of the world assist the progress of any single soul a blessed inch?"
Any little Dreamer in his top-floor back, spinning by rushlight his web of beauty, was greater than the finest critical intelligence that ever lived. The one, for all his poor technique, was stammering over something God had whispered to him, the other merely destroying thoughts invented by the brain of man.
And this attitude of mind, because of its interpretative effect upon what follows, justifies mention. For to O'Malley, in some way difficult to explain, Reason and Intellect, as such, had come to be worshipped by men today out of all proportion to their real value. Consciousness, focused too exclusively upon them, had exalted them out of due proportion in the spiritual economy. To make a god of them was to make an empty and inadequate god. Reason should be the guardian of the soul's advance, but not the object. Its function was that of a great sandpaper which should clear the way of excrescences, but its worship was to allow a detail to assume a disproportionate importance.
Not that he was fool enough to despise Reason in what he called its proper place, but that he was "wise" enough—not that he was "intellectual" enough!—to recognize its futility in measuring the things of the soul. For him there existed a more fundamental understanding than Reason, and it was, apparently, an inner and natural understanding.
"The greatest Teacher we ever had," I once heard him say, "ignored the intellect, and who, will ye tell me, can by searching find out God? And yet what else is worth finding out...? Isn't it only by becoming as a little child—a child that feels and never reasons things—that any one shall enter the kingdom...? Where will the giant intellects be before the Great White Throne when a simple man with the heart of a child will top the lot of 'em?"
"Nature, I'm convinced," he said another time, though he said it with puzzled eyes and a mind obviously groping, "is our next step. Reason has done its best for centuries, and gets no further. It can get no further, for it can do nothing for the inner life which is the sole reality. We must return to Nature and a purified intuition, to a greater reliance upon what is now subconscious, back to that sweet, grave guidance of the Universe which we've discarded with the primitive state—a spiritual intelligence, really, divorced from mere intellectuality."
And by Nature he did not mean a return to savagery. There was no idea of going backwards in his wild words. Rather he looked forwards, in some way hard to understand, to a state when Man, with the best results of Reason in his pocket, might return to the instinctive life—to feeling with—to the sinking down of the modern, exaggerated intellectual personality into its rightful place as guide instead of leader. He called it a Return to Nature, but what he meant, I always felt, was back to a sense of kinship with the Universe which men, through worshipping the intellect alone, had lost. Men today prided themselves upon their superiority to Nature as beings separate and apart. O'Malley sought, on the contrary, a development, if not a revival, of some faultless instinct, due to kinship with her, which—to take extremes—shall direct alike the animal and the inspired man, guiding the wild bee and the homing pigeon, and—the soul toward its God.
This clue, as he called it, crystallized so neatly and so conclusively his own mental struggles, that he had called a halt, as it were, to his own intellectual development.... The name and family of the snake, hence, meant to him the least important things about it. He caught, wildly yet consistently, at the psychic links that bound the snake and Nature and himself together with all creation. Troops of adventurous thoughts had all his life "gone west" to colonize this land of speculative dream. True to his idea, he "thought" with his emotions as much as with his brain, and in the broken record of the adventure that this book relates, this strange passion of his temperament remains the vital clue. For it happened in, as well as to, himself. His Being could include the Earth by feeling with her, whereas his intellect could merely criticize, and so belittle, the details of such inclusion.
Many a time, while he stretched credulity to a point, I have heard him apologize in some such way for his method. It was the splendor of his belief that made the thing so convincing in the telling, for later when I found the same tale written down it seemed somehow to have failed of an equal achievement. The truth was that no one language would convey the extraordinary freight that was carried so easily by his instinctive choice of gestures, tone, and glance. With him these were consummately interpretative.
* * * * *
Before the age of thirty he had written and published a volume or two of curious tales, all dealing with extensions of the personality, a subject that interested him deeply, and one he understood because he drew the material largely from himself. Psychology he simply devoured, even in its most fantastic and speculative forms; and though perhaps his vision was incalculably greater than his power of technique, these strange books had a certain value and formed a genuine contribution to the thought on that particular subject. In England naturally they fell dead, but their translation into German brought him a wider and more intelligent circle. The common public unfamiliar with Sally Beauchamp No. 4, with Helene Smith, or with Dr. Hanna, found in these studies of divided personality, and these singular extensions of the human consciousness, only extravagance and imagination run to wildness. Yet, none the less, the substratum of truth upon which O'Malley had built them, lay actually within his own personal experience. The books had brought him here and there acquaintances of value; and among these latter was a German doctor, Heinrich Stahl. With Dr. Stahl the Irishman crossed swords through months of somewhat irregular correspondence, until at length the two had met on board a steamer where the German held the position of ship's doctor. The acquaintanceship had grown into something approaching friendship, although the two men stood apparently at the opposite poles of thought. From time to time they still met.
In appearance there was nothing unusual about O'Malley, unless it was the contrast of the light blue eyes with the dark hair. Never, I think, did I see him in anything but that old grey flannel suit, with the low collar and shabby glistening tie. He was of medium height, delicately built, his hands more like a girl's than a man's. In towns he shaved and looked fairly presentable, but once upon his travels he grew beard and moustache and would forget for weeks to have his hair cut, so that it fell in a tangle over forehead and eyes.
His manner changed with the abruptness of his moods. Sometimes active and alert, at others for days together he would become absent, dreamy, absorbed, half oblivious of the outer world, his movements and actions dictated by subconscious instinct rather than regulated by volition. And one cause of that loneliness of spirit which was undoubtedly a chief pain in life to him, was the fact that ordinary folk were puzzled how to take him, or to know which of these many extreme moods was the man himself. Uncomfortable, unsatisfactory, elusive, not to be counted upon, they deemed him: and from their point of view they were undoubtedly right. The sympathy and above all the companionship he needed, genuinely craved too, were thus denied to him by the faults of his own temperament. With women his intercourse was of the slightest; in a sense he did not know the need of them much. For one thing, the feminine element in his own nature was too strong, and he was not conscious, as most men are, of the great gap of incompleteness women may so exquisitely fill; and, for another, its obvious corollary perhaps, when they did come into his life, they gave him more than he could comfortably deal with. They offered him more than he needed.
In this way, while he perhaps had never fallen in love, as the saying has it, he had certainly known that high splendor of devotion which means the losing of oneself in others, that exalted love which seeks not any reward of possession because it is itself so utterly possessed. He was pure, too; in the sense that it never occurred to him to be otherwise.
Chief cause of his loneliness—so far as I could judge his complex personality at all—seemed that he never found a sympathetic, truly understanding ear for those deeply primitive longings that fairly ravaged his heart. And this very isolation made him often afraid; it proved that the rest of the world, the sane majority at any rate, said No to them. I, who loved him and listened, yet never quite apprehended his full meaning. Far more than the common Call of the Wild, it was. He yearned, not so much for a world savage, uncivilized, as for a perfectly natural one that had never known, perhaps never needed civilization—a state of freedom in a life unstained.
He never wholly understood, I think, the reason why he found himself in such stern protest against the modern state of things, why people produced in him a state of death so that he turned from men to Nature—to find life. The things the nations exclusively troubled themselves about all seemed to him so obviously vain and worthless, and, though he never even in his highest moments felt the claims of sainthood, it puzzled and perplexed him deeply that the conquest over Nature in all its multifarious forms today should seem to them so infinitely more important than the conquest over self. What the world with common consent called Reality, seemed ever to him the most crude and obvious, the most transient, the most blatant un-Reality. His love of Nature was more than the mere joy of tumultuous pagan instincts. It was, in the kind of simple life he craved, the first step toward the recovery of noble, dignified, enfranchised living. In the denial of all this external flummery he hated, it would leave the soul disengaged and free, able to turn her activities within for spiritual development. Civilization now suffocated, smothered, killed the soul. Being in the hopeless minority, he felt he must be somewhere wrong, at fault, deceived. For all men, from a statesman to an engine-driver, agreed that the accumulation of external possessions had value, and that the importance of material gain was real.... Yet, for himself, he always turned for comfort to the Earth. The wise and wonderful Earth opened her mind and her deep heart to him in a way few other men seemed to know. Through Nature he could move blind-folded along, yet find his way to strength and sympathy. A noble, gracious life stirred in him then which the pettier human world denied. He often would compare the thin help or fellowship he gained from ordinary social intercourse, or from what had seemed at the time quite a successful gathering of his kind, with the power he gained from a visit to the woods or mountains. The former, as a rule, evaporated in a single day; the other stayed, with ever growing power, to bless whole weeks and months.
And hence it was, whether owing to the truth or ignorance of his attitude, that a sense of bleak loneliness spread through all his life, and more and more he turned from men to Nature.
Moreover, foolish as it must sound, I was sometimes aware that deep down in him hid some nameless, indefinable quality that proclaimed him fitted to live in conditions that had never known the restraints of modern conventions—a very different thing to doing without them once known. A kind of childlike, transcendental innocence he certainly possessed, naif, most engaging, and—utterly impossible. It showed itself indirectly, I think, in this distress under modern conditions. The multifarious apparatus of the spirit of Today oppressed him; its rush and luxury and artificiality harassed him beyond belief. The terror of cities ran in his very blood.
When I describe him as something of an outcast, therefore, it will be seen that he was such both voluntarily and involuntarily.
"What the world has gained by brains is simply nothing to what it has lost by them—"
"A dream, my dear fellow, a mere dream," I stopped him, yet with sympathy because I knew he found relief this way. "Your constructive imagination is too active."
"By Gad," he replied warmly, "but there is a place somewhere, or a state of mind—the same thing—where it's more than a dream. And, what's more, bless your stodgy old heart, some day I'll get there."
"Not in England, at any rate," I suggested.
He stared at me a moment, his eyes suddenly charged with dreams. Then, characteristically, he snorted. He flung his hand out with a gesture that should push the present further from him.
"I've always liked the Eastern theory—old theory anyhow if not Eastern—that intense yearnings end by creating a place where they are fulfilled—"
"Of course; objectively means incompletely. I mean a Heaven built up by desire and intense longing all your life. Your own thought makes it. Living idea, that!"
"Another dream, Terence O'Malley," I laughed, "but beautiful and seductive."
To argue bored him. He loved to state his matter, fill it with detail, blow the heated breath of life into it, and then leave it. Argument belittled without clarifying; criticism destroyed, sealing up the sources of life. Any fool could argue; the small, denying minds were always critics.
"A dream, but a damned foine one, let me tell you," he exclaimed, recovering his brogue in his enthusiasm. He glared at me a second, then burst out laughing. "Tis better to have dhreamed and waked," he added, "than never to have dhreamed at all."
And then he poured out O'Shaughnessy's passionate ode to the Dreamers of the world:
We are the music-makers, And we are the dreamers of dreams, Wandering by lone sea-breakers, And sitting by desolate streams; World-losers and world-forsakers, On whom the pale moon gleams; Yet we are the movers and shakers Of the world forever, it seems.
With wonderful deathless ditties We build up the world's great cities, And out of a fabulous story We fashion an empire's glory; One man with a dream, at pleasure, Shall go forth and conquer a crown; And three with a new song's measure Can trample an empire down.
We, in the ages lying In the buried past of the earth, Built Nineveh with our sighing, And Babel itself with our mirth; And o'erthrew them with prophesying To the old of the new world's worth; For each age is a dream that is dying, Or one that is coming to birth.
For this passion for some simple old-world innocence and beauty lay in his soul like a lust—self-feeding and voracious.
"Lonely! Why should I feel lonely? Is not our planet in the Milky Way?"
March had passed shouting away, and April was whispering deliciously among her scented showers when O'Malley went on board the coasting steamer at Marseilles for the Levant and the Black Sea. The mistral made the land unbearable, but herds of white horses ran galloping over the bay beneath a sky of childhood's blue. The ship started punctually—he came on board as usual with a bare minute's margin—and from his rapid survey of the thronged upper deck, it seems, he singled out on the instant this man and boy, wondering first vaguely at their uncommon air of bulk, secondly at the absence of detail which should confirm it. They appeared so much bigger than they actually were. The laughter, rising in his heart, however, did not get as far as his lips.
For this appearance of massive bulk, and of shoulders comely yet almost humped, was not borne out by a direct inspection. It was a mental impression. The man, though broad and well-proportioned, with heavy back and neck and uncommonly sturdy torso, was in no sense monstrous. It was upon the corner of the eye that the bulk and hugeness dawned, a false report that melted under direct vision. O'Malley took him in with attention merging in respect, searching in vain for the detail of back and limbs and neck that suggested so curiously the sense of the gigantic. The boy beside him, obviously son, possessed the same elusive attributes—felt yet never positively seen.
Passing down to his cabin, wondering vaguely to what nationality they might belong, he was immediately behind them, elbowing French and German tourists, when the father abruptly turned and faced him. Their gaze met. O'Malley started.
"Whew...!" ran some silent expression like fire through his brain.
Out of a massive visage, placid for all its ruggedness, shone eyes large and timid as those of an animal or child bewildered among so many people. There was an expression in them not so much cowed or dismayed as "un-refuged"—the eyes of the hunted creature. That, at least, was the first thing they betrayed; for the same second the quick-blooded Celt caught another look: the look of a hunted creature that at last knows shelter and has found it. The first expression had emerged, then withdrawn again swiftly like an animal into its hole where safety lay. Before disappearing, it had flashed a wireless message of warning, of welcome, of explanation—he knew not what term to use—to another of its own kind, to himself.
O'Malley, utterly arrested, stood and stared. He would have spoken, for the invitation seemed obvious enough, but there came an odd catch in his breath, and words failed altogether. The boy, peering at him sideways, clung to his great parent's side. For perhaps ten seconds there was this interchange of staring, intimate staring, between the three of them ... and then the Irishman, confused, more than a little agitated, ended the silent introduction with an imperceptible bow and passed on slowly, knocking absent-mindedly through the crowd, down to his cabin on the lower deck.
In his heart, deep down, stirred an indescribable sympathy with something he divined in these two that was akin to himself, but that as yet he could not name. On the surface he felt an emotion he knew not whether to call uneasiness or surprise, but crowding past it, half smothering it, rose this other more profound emotion. Something enormously winning in the atmosphere of father and son called to him in the silence: it was significant, oddly buried; not yet had it emerged enough to be confessed and labeled. But each had recognized it in the other. Each knew. Each waited. And it was extraordinarily disturbing.
Before unpacking, he sat for a long time on his berth, thinking....trying in vain to catch through a thunder of surprising emotions the word that might bring explanation. That strange impression of giant bulk, unsupported by actual measurements; that look of startled security seeking shelter; that other look of being sure, of knowing where to go and being actually en route,—all these, he felt, grew from the same hidden cause whereof they were symptoms. It was this hidden thing in the man that had reached out invisibly and fired his own consciousness as their gaze met in that brief instant. And it had disturbed him so profoundly because the very same lost thing lay buried in himself. The man knew, whereas he anticipated merely—as yet. What was it? Why came there with it both happiness and fear?
The word that kept chasing itself in a circle like a kitten after its own tail, yet bringing no explanation, was Loneliness—a loneliness that must be whispered. For it was loneliness on the verge of finding relief. And if proclaimed too loud, there might come those who would interfere and prevent relief. The man, and the boy too for that matter, were escaping. They had found the way back, were ready and eager, moreover, to show it to other prisoners.
And this was as near as O'Malley could come to explanation. He began to understand dimly—and with an extraordinary excitement of happiness.
"Well—and the bigness?" I asked, seizing on a practical point after listening to his dreaming, "what do you make of that? It must have had some definite cause surely?"
He turned and fixed his light blue eyes on mine as we paced beside the Serpentine that summer afternoon when I first heard the story told. He was half grave, half laughing.
"The size, the bulk, the bigness," he replied, "must have been in reality the expression of some mental quality that reached me psychically, producing its effect directly on my mind and not upon the eyes at all." In telling the story he used a simile omitted in the writing of it, because his sense of humor perceived that no possible turn of phrase could save it from grotesqueness when actually it was far from grotesque—extraordinarily pathetic rather: "As though," he said, "the great back and shoulders carried beneath the loose black cape—humps, projections at least; but projections not ugly in themselves, comely even in some perfectly natural way, that lent to his person this idea of giant size. His body, though large, was normal so far as its proportions were concerned. In his spirit, though, there hid another shape. An aspect of that other shape somehow reached my mind."
Then, seeing that I found nothing at the moment to reply, he added:
"As an angry man you may picture to yourself as red, or a jealous man as green!" He laughed aloud. "D'ye see, now? It was not really a physical business at all!"
"We think with only a small part of the past, but it is with our entire past, including the original bent of our soul, that we desire, will, and act."
The balance of his fellow-passengers were not distinguished. There was a company of French tourists gong to Naples, and another lot of Germans bound for Athens, some business folk for Smyrna and Constantinople, and a sprinkling of Russians going home via Odessa, Batoum, or Novorossisk.
In his own stateroom, occupying the upper berth, was a little round-bodied, red-faced Canadian drummer, "traveling" in harvest-machines. The name of the machine, its price, and the terms of purchase were his universe; he knew them in several languages; beyond them, nothing. He was good-natured, conceding anything to save trouble. "D'ye mind the light for a bit while I read in bed?" asked O'Malley. "Don't mind anything much," was the cheery reply. "I'm not particular; I'm easy-going and you needn't bother." He turned over to sleep. "Old traveler," he added, his voice muffled by sheets and blankets, "and take things as they come." And the only objection O'Malley found in him was that he took things as they came to the point of not taking baths at all, and not even taking all his garments off when he went to bed.
The Captain, whom he knew from previous voyages, a genial, rough-voiced sailor from Sassnitz, chided him for so nearly missing the boat—"as usual."
"You're too late for a seat at my taple," he said with his laughing growl; "it's a pidy. You should have led me know py telegram, and I then kepd your place. Now you find room at the doctor's taple howefer berhaps...!"
"Steamer's very crowded this time," O'Malley replied, shrugging his shoulders; "but you'll let me come up sometimes for a smoke with you on the bridge?"
"Of course, of course."
"Anybody interesting on board?" he asked after a moment's pause.
The jolly Captain laughed. "'Pout the zame as usual, you know. Nothing to stop ze ship! Ask ze doctor; he knows zooner than me. But, anyway, the nice ones, they get zeazick always and dizappear. Going Trebizond this time?" he added.
"Caucasus generally—up in the mountains a bit."
"God blenty veapons then, I hope. They shoot you for two pfennig up there!" And he was off with his hearty deep laugh and rather ponderous briskness toward the bridge.
Thus O'Malley found himself placed for meals at the right hand of Dr. Stahl; opposite him, on the doctor's left, a talkative Moscow fur-merchant who, having come to definite conclusions of his own about things n general, was persuaded the rest of the world must share them, and who delivered verbose commonplaces with a kind of pontifical utterance sometimes amusing, but usually boring; on his right a gentle-eyed, brown-bearded Armenian priest from the Venice monastery that had sheltered Byron, a man who ate everything except soup with his knife, yet with a daintiness that made one marvel, and with hands so graceful they might almost have replaced the knife without off offence. Beyond the priest sat the rotund Canadian drummer. He kept silence, watched the dishes carefully lest anything should escape him, and—ate. Lower down on the opposite side, one or two nondescripts between, sat the big, blond, bearded stranger with his son. Diagonally across from himself and the doctor, they were in full view.
O'Malley talked to all and sundry whom his voice could reach, being easily forthcoming to people whom he was not likely to see again. But he was particularly pleased to find himself next to the ship's doctor, Dr. Heinrich Stahl, for the man both attracted and antagonized him, and they had crossed swords pleasantly on more voyages than one. There was a fundamental contradiction in his character due—O'Malley divined—to the fact that his experiences did not tally as he wished them to do with his beliefs, or vice versa. Affecting to believe in nothing, he occasionally dropped remarks that betrayed a belief in all kinds of things, unorthodox things. Then, having led the Irishman into confessions of his own fairy faith, he would abruptly rule the whole subject out of order with some cynical phrase that closed discussion. In this sarcastic attitude O'Malley detected a pose assumed for his own protection. "No man of sense can possibly accept such a thing; it is incredible and foolish." Yet, the biting way he said the words betrayed him; the very thing his reason rejected, his soul believed....
These vivid impressions the Irishman had of people, one wonders how accurate they were! In this case, perhaps, he was not far from the truth. That a man with Dr. Stahl's knowledge and ability could be content to hide his light under the bushel of a mere Schiffsarzt required explanation. His own explanation was that he wanted leisure for thinking and writing. Bald-headed, slovenly, prematurely old, his beard stained with tobacco and snuff, under-sized, scientific in the imaginative sense that made him speculative beyond mere formulae, his was an individuality that inspired a respect one could never quite account for. He had keen dark eyes that twinkled, sometimes mockingly, sometimes, if the word may be allowed, bitterly, yet often too with a good-humored amusement which sympathy with human weaknesses could alone have caused. A warm heart he certainly had, as more than one forlorn passenger could testify.
Conversation at their table was slow at first. It began at the lower end where the French tourists chattered briskly over the soup, then crept upwards like a slow fire o'erleaping various individuals who would not catch. For instance, it passed the harvest-machine man; it passed the nondescripts; it also passed the big light-haired stranger and his son.
At the table behind, there was a steady roar and buzz of voices; the Captain was easy and genial, prophesying to the ladies on either side Of him a calm voyage. In the shelter of his big voice even the shy found it easy to make remarks to their neighbors. Listening to fragments of the talk O'Malley found that his own eyes kept wandering down the table—diagonally across—to the two strangers. Once or twice he intercepted the doctor's glance traveling in the same direction, and on these occasions it was on the tip of his tongue to make a remark about them, or to ask a question. Yet the words did not come. Dr. Stahl, he felt, knew a similar hesitation. Each, wanting to speak, yet kept silence, waiting for the other to break the ice.
"This mistral is tiresome," observed the doctor, as the tide of talk flowed up to his end and made a remark necessary. "It tries the nerves of some." He glanced at O'Malley, but it was the fur-merchant who replied, spreading a be-ringed hand over his plate to feel the warmth.
"I know it well," he said pompously in a tone of finality; "it lasts three, six, or nine days. But once across the Golfe de Lyons we shall be free of it."
"You think so? Ah, I am glad," ventured the priest with a timid smile while he adroitly balanced meat and bullet-like green peas upon his knife-blade. Tone, smile, and gesture were so gentle that the use of steel in any form seemed incongruous.
The voice of the fur-merchant came in domineeringly.
"Of course. I have made this trip so often, I know. St. Petersburg to Paris, a few weeks on the Riviera, then back by Constantinople and the Crimea. It is nothing. I remember last year—" He pushed a large pearl pin more deeply into his speckled tie and began a story that proved chiefly how luxuriously he traveled. His eyes tried to draw the whole end of the table into his circle, but while the Armenian listened politely, with smiles and bows, Dr. Stahl turned to the Irishman again. It Vas the year of Halley's comet and he began talking interestingly about it.
"... Three o'clock in the morning—any morning, yes—is the best time," the doctor concluded, "and I'll have you called. You must see it through my telescope. End of this week, say, after we leave Catania and turn eastwards..."
And at this instant, following a roar of laughter from the Captain's table, came one of those abrupt pauses that sometimes catch an entire room at once. All voices hushed. Even the merchant, setting down his champagne glass, fell silent. One heard only the beating of the steamer's screw, the rush of water below the port-holes, the soft scuffle of the stewards' feet. The conclusion of the doctor's inconsiderable sentence was sharply audible all over the room—
"... crossing the Ionian Sea toward the Isles of Greece."
It rang across the pause, and at the same moment O'Malley caught the eyes of the big stranger lifted suddenly and fixed upon the speaker's face as though the words had summoned him.
They shifted the same instant to his own, then dropped again to his plate. Again the clatter of conversation drowned the room as before; the merchant resumed his self-description in terms of gold; the doctor discussed the gases of the comet's tail. But the swift-blooded Irishman felt himself caught away strangely and suddenly into another world. Out of the abyss of the subconscious there rose a gesture prophetic and immense. The trivial phrase and that intercepted look opened a great door of wonder in his heart. In a second he grew "absent-minded." Or, rather, something touched a button and the whole machinery of his personality shifted round noiselessly and instantaneously, presenting an immediate new facet to the world. His normal, puny self-consciousness slipped a moment into the majestic calm of some far larger state that the stranger also knew. The Universe lies in every human heart, and he plunged into that archetypal world that stands so close behind all sensible appearances. He could neither explain nor attempt to explain, but he sailed away into some giant swimming mood of beauty wherein steamer, passengers, talk, faded utterly, the stranger and his son remaining alone real and vital. He had seen; he could never forget. Chance prepared the setting, but immense powers had rushed in and availed themselves of it. Something deeply buried had flamed from the stranger's eyes and beckoned to him. The fire ran from the big man to himself and was gone.
"The Isles of Greece—" The words were simple enough, yet it seemed to O'Malley that the look they summoned to the stranger's eyes ensouled them, transfiguring them with the significance of vital clues. They touched the fringe of a mystery, magnificent and remote—some transcendent psychical drama in the 'life of this man whose "bigness" and whose "loneliness that must be whispered" were also in their way other vital clues. Moreover, remembering his first sight of these two upon the upper deck a few hours before, he understood that his own spirit, by virtue of its peculiar and primitive yearnings, was involved in the same mystery and included in the same hidden passion.
The little incident illustrates admirably O'Malley's idiosyncrasy of "seeing whole." In a lightning flash his inner sense had associated the words and the glance, divining that the one had caused the other. That pause provided the opportunity.... If Imagination, then it was creative imagination; if true, it was assuredly spiritual insight of a rare quality.
He became aware that the twinkling eyes of his neighbor were observing him keenly. For some moments evidently he had been absent-mindedly staring down the table. He turned quickly and looked at the doctor with frankness. This time it was impossible to avoid speech of some kind.
"Following those lights that do mislead the morn?" asked Dr. Stahl slyly. "Your thoughts have been traveling. You've heard none of my last remarks!"
Under the clamor of the merchant's voice O'Malley replied in a lowered tone:
"I was watching those two half-way down the table opposite. They interest you as well, I see." It was not a challenge exactly; if the tone was aggressive, it was merely that he felt the subject was one on which they would differ, and he scented an approaching discussion. The doctor's reply, indicating agreement, surprised him a good deal.
"They do; they interest me greatly." There was no trace of fight in the voice. "That should cause you no surprise."
"Me—they simply fascinate," said O'Malley, always easily drawn. "What is it? What do you see about them that is unusual? Do you, too, see them 'big'?" The doctor did not answer at once, and O'Malley added, "The father's a tremendous fellow, but it's not that—"
"Partly, though," said the other, "partly, I think."
"What else, then?" The fur-merchant, still talking, prevented their being overheard. "What is it marks them off so from the rest?"
"Of all people you should see," smiled the doctor quietly. "If a man of your imagination sees nothing, what shall a poor exact mind like myself see?" He eyed him keenly a moment. "You really mean that you detect nothing?"
"A certain distinction, yes; a certain aloofness from others. Isolated, they seem in a way; rather a splendid isolation I should call it—"
And then he stopped abruptly. It was most curious, but he was aware that unwittingly in this way he had stumbled upon the truth, aware at the same time that he resented discussing it with his companion—because it meant at the same time discussing himself or something in himself he wished to hide. His entire mood shifted again with completeness and rapidity. He could not help it. It seemed suddenly as though he had been telling the doctor secrets about himself, secrets moreover he would not treat sympathetically. The doctor had been "at him," so to speak, searching the depths of him with a probing acuteness the casual language had disguised.
"What are they, do you suppose: Finns, Russians, Norwegians, or what?" the doctor asked. And the other replied briefly that he guessed they might be Russians perhaps, South Russians. His tone was different. He wished to avoid further discussion. At the first opportunity he neatly changed the conversation.
It was curious, the way proof came to him. Something in himself, wild as the desert, something to do with that love of primitive life he discussed only with the few who were intimately sympathetic toward it, this something in his soul was so akin to a similar passion in these strangers that to talk of it was to betray himself as well as them.
Further, he resented Dr. Stahl's interest in them, because he felt it was critical and scientific. Not far behind hid the analysis that would lay them bare, leading to their destruction. A profound instinctive sense of self-preservation had been stirred within him.
Already, mysteriously guided by secret affinities, he had ranged himself on the side of the strangers.
"Mythology contains the history of the archetypal world. It comprehends Past, Present, and Future."
—NOVALIS, _Flower Pollen, Translated by U.C.B.
In this way there came between these two the slight barrier of a forbidden subject that grew because neither destroyed it. O'Malley had erected it; Dr. Stahl respected it. Neither referred again for a time to the big Russian and his son.
In his written account O'Malley, who was certainly no constructive literary craftsman, left out apparently countless little confirmatory details. By word of mouth he made me feel at once that this mystery existed, however; and to weld the two together is a difficult task. There nevertheless was this something about the Russian and his boy that excited deep curiosity, accompanied by an aversion on the part of the other passengers that isolated them; also, there was this competition on the part of the two friends to solve it, from opposing motives.
Had either of the strangers fallen seasick, the advantage would have been easily with Dr. Stahl—professionally, but since they remained well, and the doctor was in constant demand by the other passengers, it was the Irishman who won the first move and came to close quarters by making a personal acquaintance. His strong desire helped matters of course; for he noticed with indignation that these two, quiet and inoffensive as they were and with no salient cause of offence, were yet rejected by the main body of passengers. They seemed to possess a quality that somehow insulated them from approach, sending them effectually "to Coventry," and in a small steamer where the travelers settle down into a kind of big family life, this isolation was unpleasantly noticeable.
It stood out in numerous little details that only a keen observer closely watching could have taken into account. Small advances, travelers' courtesies, and the like that ordinarily should have led to conversation, in their case led to nothing. The other passengers invariably moved away after a few moments, politely excusing themselves, as it were, from further intercourse. And although at first the sight of this stirred in him an instinct of revolt that was almost anger, he soon felt that the couple not merely failed to invite, but even emanated some definite atmosphere that repelled. And each time he witnessed these little scenes, there grew more strongly in him the original picture he had formed of them as beings rejected and alone, hunted by humanity as a whole, seeking escape from loneliness into a place of refuge that they knew of, definitely at last en route.
Only an imaginative mind, thus concentrated upon them, could have divined all this; yet to O'Malley it seemed plain as the day. With the certitude, moreover, came the feeling, ever stronger, that the refuge they sought would prove to be also the refuge he himself sought, the difference being that whereas they knew, he still hesitated.
Yet, in spite of this secret sympathy, imagined or discovered, he found it no easy matter to approach the big man for speech. For a day and a half he merely watched; attraction so strong excited caution; he paused, waiting. His attention, however, was so keen that he seemed always to know where they were and what they were doing. By instinct he was aware in what part of the ship they would be found—for the most part leaning over the rail alone in the bows, staring down at the churned water together by the screws, pacing the after-deck in the dusk or early morning when no one was about, or hidden away in some corner of the upper deck, side by side, gazing at sea and sky. Their method of walking, too, made it easy to single them out from the rest—a free, swaying movement of the limbs, a swing of the shoulders, a gait that was lumbering, almost clumsy, half defiant, yet at the same time graceful, and curiously rapid. The body moved along swiftly for all its air of blundering—a motion which was a counterpart of that elusive appearance of great bulk, and equally difficult of exact determination. An air went with them of being ridiculously confined by the narrow little decks.
Thus it was that Genoa had been made and the ship was already half way on to Naples before the opportunity for closer acquaintance presented itself. Rather, O'Malley, unable longer to resist, forced it. It seemed, too, inevitable as sunrise.
Rain had followed the mistral and the sea was rough. A rich land-taste came about the ship like the smell of wet oaks when wind sweeps their leaves after a sousing shower. In the hour before dinner, the decks slippery with moisture, only one or two wrapped-up passengers in deck-chairs below the awning, O'Malley, following a sure inner lead, came out of the stuffy smoking-room into the air. It was already dark and the drive of mist-like rain somewhat obscured his vision after the glare. Only for a moment though—for almost the first thing he saw was the Russian and his boy moving in front of him toward the aft compasses. Like a single figure, huge and shadowy, they passed into the darkness beyond with a speed that seemed as usual out of proportion to their actual stride. They lumbered rapidly away. O'Malley caught that final swing of the man's great shoulders as they disappeared, and, leaving the covered deck, he made straight after them. And though neither gave any sign that they had seen him, he felt that they were aware of his coming—and even invited him.
As he drew close a roll of the vessel brought them almost into each other's arms, and the boy, half hidden beneath his parent's flowing cloak, looked up at once and smiled. The saloon light fell dimly upon his face. The Irishman saw that friendly smile of welcome, and lurched forward with the roll of the deck. They brought up against the bulwarks, and the big man put out an arm to steady him. They all three laughed together. At close quarters, as usual again, the impression of bulk had disappeared.
And then, at first, utterly unlike real life, they said—nothing. The boy moved round and stood close to his side so that he found himself placed between them, all three leaning forward over the rails watching the phosphorescence of the foam-streaked Mediterranean.
Dusk lay over the sea; the shores of Italy not near enough to be visible; the mist, the hour, the loneliness of the deserted decks, and something else that was nameless, shut them in, these three, in a little world of their own. A sentence or two rose in O'Malley's mind, but without finding utterance, for he felt that no spoken words were necessary. He was accepted without more ado. A deep natural sympathy existed between them, recognized intuitively from that moment of first mutual inspection at Marseilles. It was instinctive, almost as with animals. The action of the boy in coming round to his side, unhindered by the father, was the symbol of utter confidence and welcome.
There came, then, one of those splendid and significant moments that occasionally, for some, burst into life, flooding all barriers, breaking down as with a flaming light the thousand erections of shadow that close one in. Something imprisoned in himself swept outwards, rising like a wave, bringing an expansion of life that "explained." It vanished, of course, instantly again, but not before he had caught a flying remnant that lit the broken puzzles of his heart and left things clearer. Before thought, and therefore words, could overtake, it was gone; but there remained at least this glimpse. The fire had flashed a light down subterranean passages of his being and made visible for a passing second some clue to his buried primitive yearnings. He partly understood.
Standing there between these two this thing came over him with a degree of intelligibility scarcely captured by his words. The man's qualities—his quietness, peace, slowness, silence—betrayed somehow that his inner life dwelt in a region vast and simple, shaping even his exterior presentment with its own huge characteristics, a region wherein the distress of the modern world's vulgar, futile strife could not exist—more, could never have existed. The Irishman, who had never realized exactly why the life of Today to him was dreadful, now understood it in the presence of this simple being with his atmosphere of stately power. He was like a child, but a child of some pre-existence utterly primitive and utterly forgotten; of no particular age, but of some state that antedates all ages; simple in some noble, concentrated sense that was prodigious, almost terrific. To stand thus beside him was to stand beside a mighty silent fire, steadily glowing, a fire that fed all lesser flames, because itself close to the central source of fire. He felt warmed, lighted, vivified—made whole. The presence of this stranger took him at a single gulp, as it were, straight into Nature—a Nature that was alive. The man was part of her. Never before had he stood so close and intimate. Cities and civilization fled away like transient dreams, ashamed. The sun and moon and stars moved up and touched him.
This word of lightning explanation, at least, came to him as he breathed the other's atmosphere and presence. The region where this man's spirit fed was at the center, whereas today men were active with a scattered, superficial cleverness, at the periphery. He even understood that his giant gait and movements were small outer evidences of this inner fact, wholly in keeping. That blundering stupidity, half glorious, half pathetic, with which he moved among his fellows was a physical expression of this psychic fact that his spirit had never learned the skilful tricks taught by civilization to lesser men. It was, in a way, awe-inspiring, for he was now at last driving back full speed for his own region and—escape.
O'Malley knew himself caught, swept off his feet, momentarily driving with him....
The singular deep satisfaction of it, standing there with these two in the first moment, he describes as an entirely new sensation in his life—an awareness that he was "complete." The boy touched his side and he let an arm steal round to shelter him. The huge, bearded parent rose in his massiveness against his other shoulder, hemming him in. For a second he knew a swift and curious alarm, passing however almost at once into the thrill of a rare happiness. In that moment, it was not the passengers or the temper of Today who rejected them; it was they who rejected the world: because they knew another and superior one—more, they were in it.
Then, without turning, the big man spoke, the words in heavy accented English coming out laboriously and with slow, exceeding difficulty as though utterance was a supreme effort.
"You ... come ... with ... us?" It was like stammering almost. Still more was it like essential inarticulateness struggling into an utterance foreign to it—unsuited. The voice was a deep and windy bass, merging with the noise of the sea below.
"I'm going to the Caucasus," O'Malley replied; "up into the old, old mountains, to—see things—to look about—to search—" He really wanted to say much more, but the words lay dead or beyond reach.
The big man nodded slowly. The boy listened.
"And yourself—?" asked the Irishman, hardly knowing why he faltered and trembled.
The other smiled; a beauty that was beyond all language passed with that smile across the great face in the dusk.
"Some of us ... of ours ..." he spoke very slowly, very brokenly, quarrying out the words with real labor, "... still survive... out there.... We ... now go back. So very ... few ... remain.... And you—come with us ..."
"In the spiritual Nature-Kingdom, man must everywhere seek his peculiar territory and climate, his best occupation, his particular neighborhood, in order to cultivate a Paradise in idea; this is the right system.... Paradise is scattered over the whole earth, and that is why it has become so unrecognizable."
—NOVALIS, Translated by U.C.B.
"Man began in instinct and will end in instinct. Instinct is genius in Paradise, before the period of self-abstraction (self-knowledge)."
"Look here, old man," he said to me, "I'll just tell you what it was, because I know you won't laugh."
We were lying under the big trees behind the Round Pond when he reached this point, and his direct speech was so much more graphic than the written account that I use it. He was in one of his rare moments of confidence, excited, hat off, his shabby tie escaping from the shabbier grey waistcoat. One sock lay untidily over his boot, showing bare leg.
Children's voices floated to us from the waterside as though from very far away, the nursemaids and perambulators seemed tinged with unreality, the London towers were clouds, its roar the roar of waves. I saw only the ship's deck, the grey and misty sea, the uncouth figures of the two who leaned with him over the bulwarks.
"Go on," I said encouragingly; "out with it!"
"It must seem incredible to most men, but, by Gad, I swear to you, it lifted me off my feet, and I've never known anything like it. The mind of that great fellow got hold of me, included me. He made the inanimate world—sea, stars, wind, woods, and mountains—seem all alive. The entire blessed universe was conscious—and he came straight out of it to get me. I understood things about myself I've never understood before—and always funked rather;—especially that feeling of being out of touch with my kind, of finding no one in the world today who speaks my language quite—that, and the utter, God-forsaken loneliness it makes me suffer—"
"You always have been a lonely beggar really," I said, noting the hesitation that thus on the very threshold checked his enthusiasm, quenching the fire in those light-blue eyes. "Tell me. I shall understand right enough—or try to."
"God bless you," he answered, leaping to the sympathy, "I believe you will. There's always been this primitive, savage thing in me that keeps others away—puts them off, and so on. I've tried to smother it a bit sometimes—"
"Have you?" I laughed.
"'Tried to,' I said, because I've always been afraid of its getting out too much and bustin' my life all to pieces:—something lonely and untamed and sort of outcast from cities and money and all the thick suffocating civilization of today; and I've only saved myself by getting off into wildernesses and free places where I could give it a breathin' chance without running the risk of being locked up as a crazy man." He laughed as he said it, but his heart was in the words. "You know all that; haven't I told you often enough? It's not a morbid egoism, or what their precious academic books so stupidly call 'degenerate,' for in me it's damned vital and terrific, and moves always to action. It's made me an alien and—and—"
"Something far stronger than the Call of the Wild, isn't it?"
He fairly snorted. "Sure as we're both alive here sittin' on this sooty London grass," he cried. "This Call of the Wild they prate about is just the call a fellow hears to go on 'the bust' when he's had too much town and's got bored—a call to a little bit of license and excess to safety-valve him down. What I feel," his voice turned grave and quiet again, "is quite a different affair. It's the call of real hunger—the call of food. They want to let off steam, but I want to take in stuff to prevent—starvation." He whispered the word, putting his lips close to my face.
A pause fell between us, which I was the first to break.
"This is not your century! That's what you really mean," I suggested patiently.
"Not my century!" he caught me up, flinging handfuls of faded grass in the air between us and watching it fall; "why, it's not even my world! And I loathe, loathe the spirit of today with its cheap-jack inventions, and smother of sham universal culture, its murderous superfluities and sordid vulgarity, without enough real sense of beauty left to see that a daisy is nearer heaven than an airship—"
"Especially when the airship falls," I laughed. "Steady, steady, old boy; don't spoil your righteous case by overstatement."
"Well, well, you know what I mean," he laughed with me, though his face at once turned earnest again, "and all that, and all that, and all that.... And so this savagery that has burned in me all these years unexplained, these Russian strangers made clear. I can't tell you how because I don't know myself. The father did it—his proximity, his silence stuffed with sympathy, his great vital personality unclipped by contact with these little folk who left him alone. His presence alone made me long for the earth and Nature. He seemed a living part of it all. He was magnificent and enormous, but the devil take me if I know how."
"He said nothing—that referred to it directly?"
"Nothing but what I've told you,—blundering awkwardly with those few modern words. But he had it in him a thousand to my one. He made me feel I was right and natural, untrue to myself to suppress it and a coward to fear it. The speech-center in the brain, you know, is anyhow a comparatively recent thing in evolution. They say that—"
"It wasn't his century either," I checked him again.
"No, and he didn't pretend it was, as I've tried to," he cried, sitting bolt upright beside me. "The fellow was genuine, never dreamed of compromise. D'ye see what I mean? Only somehow he'd found out where his world and century were, and was off to take possession. And that's what caught me. I felt it by some instinct in me stronger than all else; only we couldn't talk about it definitely because—because—I hardly know how to put it—for the same reason," he added suddenly, "that I can't talk about it to you now! There are no words.... What we both sought was a state that passed away before words came into use, and is therefore beyond intelligible description. No one spoke to them on the ship for the same reason, I felt sure, that no one spoke to them in the whole world—because no one could manage even the alphabet of their language.
"And this was so strange and beautiful," he went on, "that standing there beside him, in his splendid atmosphere, the currents of wind and sea reached me through him first, filtered by his spirit so that I assimilated them and they fed me, because he somehow stood in such close and direct relation to Nature. I slipped into my own region, made happy and alive, knowing at last what I wanted, though still unable to phrase it. This modern world I've so long tried to adjust myself to became a thing of pale remembrance and a dream...."
"All in your mind and imagination, of course, this," I ventured, seeing that his poetry was luring him beyond where I could follow.
"Of course," he answered without impatience, grown suddenly thoughtful, less excited again, "and that's why it was true. No chance of clumsy senses deceiving one. It was direct vision. What is Reality, in the last resort," he asked, "but the thing a man's vision brings to him—to believe? There's no other criterion. The criticism of opposite types of mind is merely a confession of their own limitations."
Being myself of the "opposite type of mind," I naturally did not argue, but suffered myself to accept his half-truth for the whole—temporarily. I checked him from time to time merely lest he should go too fast for me to follow what seemed a very wonderful tale of faerie.
"So this wild thing in me the world today has beggared and denied," he went on, swept by his Celtic enthusiasm, "woke in its full strength. Calling to me like some flying spirit in a storm, it claimed me. The man's being summoned me back to the earth and Nature, as it were, automatically. I understood that look on his face, that sign in his eyes. The 'Isles of Greece' furnished some faint clue, but as yet I knew no more—only that he and I were in the same region and that I meant to go with him and that he accepted me with delight that was joy. It drew me as empty space draws a giddy man to the precipice's edge. Thoughts from another's mind," he added by way of explanation, turning round, "come far more completely to me when I stand in a man's atmosphere, silent and receptive, than when by speech he tries to place them there. Ah! And that helps me to get at what I mean, perhaps. The man, you see, hardly thought; he felt."
"As an animal, you mean? Instinctively—?"
"In a sense, yes," he replied after a momentary hesitation. "Like some very early, very primitive form of life."
"With the best will in the world, Terence, I don't quite follow you—"
"I don't quite follow myself," he cried, "because I'm trying to lead and follow at the same time. You know that idea—I came across it somewhere—that in ancient peoples the senses were much less specialized than they are now; that perception came to them in general, massive sensations rather than divided up neatly into five channels:—that they felt all over so to speak, and that all the senses, as in an overdose of hashish, become one single sense? The centralizing of perception in the brain is a recent thing, and it might equally well have occurred in any other nervous headquarters of the body, say, the solar plexus; or, perhaps, never have been localized at all! In hysteria patients have been known to read with the finger-tips and smell with the heel. Touch is still all over; it's only the other four that have got fixed in definite organs. There are systems of thought today that still would make the solar plexus the main center, and not the brain. The word 'brain,' you know, never once occurs in the ancient Scriptures of the world. You will not find it in the Bible—the reins, the heart, and so forth were what men felt with then. They felt all over—well," he concluded abruptly, "I think this fellow was like that. D'ye see now?"
I stared at him, greatly wondering. A nursemaid passed close, balancing a child in a spring-perambulator, saying in a foolish voice, "Wupsey up, wupsey down! Wupsey there!" O'Malley, in the full stream of his mood, waited impatiently till she had gone by. Then, rolling over on his side, he came closer, talking in a lowered tone. I think I never saw him so deeply stirred, nor understood, perhaps, so little of the extreme passion working in him. Yet it was incredible that he could have caught so much from mere interviews with a semi-articulate stranger, unless what he said was strictly true, and this Russian had positively touched latent fires in his soul by a kind of sympathetic magic.
"You know," he went on almost under his breath, "every man who thinks for himself and feels vividly finds he lives in a world of his own, apart, and believes that one day he'll come across, either in a book or in a person, the Priest who shall make it clear to him. Well—I'd found mine, that's all. I can't prove it to you with a pair of scales or a butcher's meat-axe, but it's true."
"And you mean his mere presence conveyed all this without speech almost?"
"Because there was no speech possible," he replied, dropping his voice to a whisper and thrusting his face yet closer into mine. "We were solitary survivors of a world whose language was either uncreated or"—he italicized the word—"forgotten...."
"An elaborate and detailed thought-transference, then?"
"Why not?" he murmured. "It's one of the commonest facts of daily life."
"And you had never fully realized it before, this loneliness and its possible explanation—that there might exist, I mean, a way of satisfying it—till you met this stranger?"
He answered with deep earnestness. "Always, old man, always, but suffered under it atrociously because I'd never understood it. I had been afraid to face it. This man, a far bigger and less diluted example of it than myself, made it all clear and right and natural. We belonged to the same forgotten place and time. Under his lead and guidance I could find my own—return...."
I whistled a long soft whistle, looking up into the sky. Then, sitting upright like himself, we stared hard at one another, straight in the eye. He was too grave, too serious to trifle with. It would have been unfair too. Besides, I loved to hear him. The way he reared such fabulous superstructures upon slight incidents, interpreting thus his complex being to himself, was uncommonly interesting. It was observing the creative imagination actually at work, and the process in a sense seemed sacred. Only the truth and actuality with which he clothed it all made me a little uncomfortable sometimes.
"I'll put it to you quite simply," he cried suddenly.
"Yes, and 'quite simply' it was—?"
"That he knew the awful spiritual loneliness of living in a world whose tastes and interests were not his own, a world to which he was essentially foreign, and at whose hands he suffered continual rebuff and rejection. Advances from either side were mutually and necessarily repelled because oil and water cannot mix. Rejected, moreover, not merely by a family, tribe, or nation, but by a race and time—by the whole World of Today; an outcast and an alien, a desolate survival."
"An appalling picture!"
"I understood it," he went on, holding up both hands by way of emphasis, "because in miniature I had suffered the same: he was a supreme case of what lay so deeply in myself. He was a survival of other life the modern mind has long since agreed to exile and deny. Humanity stared at him over a barrier, never dreaming of asking him in. Even had it done so he could not by the law of his being have accepted. Outcast myself in some small way, I understood his terrible loneliness, a soul without a country, visible and external country that is. A passion of tenderness and sympathy for him, and so also for myself, awoke. I saw him as chieftain of all the lonely, exiled souls of life."
Breathless a moment, he lay on his back staring at the summer clouds—those thoughts of wind that change and pass before their meanings can be quite seized. Similarly protean was the thought his phrases tried to clothe. The terror, pathos, sadness of this big idea he strove to express touched me deeply, yet never quite with the clarity of his own conviction.
"There are such souls, depaysees and in exile," he said suddenly again, turning over on the grass. "They do exist. They walk the earth today here and there in the bodies of ordinary men ... and their loneliness is a loneliness that must be whispered."
"You formed any idea what kind of—of survival?" I asked gently, for the notion grew in me that after all these two would prove to be mere revolutionaries in escape, political refugees, or something quite ordinary.
O'Malley buried his face in his hands for a moment without replying. Presently he looked up. I remember that a streak of London black ran from the corner of his mouth across the cheek. He pushed the hair back from his forehead, answering in a manner grown abruptly calm and dispassionate.
"Don't ye see what a foolish question that is," he said quietly, "and how impossible to satisfy, inviting that leap of invention which can be only an imaginative lie...? I can only tell you," and the breeze brought to us the voices of children from the Round Pond where they sailed their ships of equally wonderful adventure, "that my own longing became this: to go with him, to know what he knew, to live where he lived—forever."
"And the alarm you said you felt?"
"That," he added, "was a kind of mistake. To go involved, I felt, an inner catastrophe that might be Death—that it would be out of the body, I mean, or a going backwards. In reality, it was a going forwards and a way to Life."
And it was just before the steamer made Naples that the jolly Captain unwittingly helped matters forward a good deal. For it was his ambition to include in the safe-conduct of his vessel the happy-conduct also of his passengers. He liked to see them contented and of one accord, a big family, and he noted—or had word brought to him perhaps—that there were one or two whom the attitude of the majority left out in the cold.
It may have been—O'Malley wondered without actually asking—that the man who shared the cabin with the strangers made some appeal for re-arrangement, but in any case Captain Burgenfelder approached the Irishman that afternoon on the bridge and asked if he would object to having them in his stateroom for the balance of the voyage.
"Your present gompanion geds off at Naples," he said. "Berhaps you would not object. I think—they seem lonely. You are friendly with them. They go alzo to Batoum?"
This proposal for close quarters gave him pause. He knew a moment or two of grave hesitation, yet without time to analyze it. Then, driven by a sudden decision of the heart that knew no revision of reason, he agreed.
"I had better, perhaps, suggest it to see if they are willing," he said the next minute, hedging.
"I already ask him dat."
"Oh, you have! And he would like it—not object, I mean?" he added, aware of a subtle sense of half-frightened pleasure.
"Pleased and flattered on the contrary," was the reply, as he handed him the glasses to look at Ischia rising blue from the sea.
O'Malley felt as though his decision was somehow an act of self-committal, almost grave. It meant that impulsively he accepted a friendship which concealed in its immense attraction—danger. He had taken the plunge.
The rush of it broke over him like a wave, setting free a tumult of very deep emotion. He raised the glasses automatically to his eyes, but looking through them he saw not Ischia nor the opening the Captain explained the ship would make, heading that evening for Sicily. He saw quite another picture that drew itself up out of himself—was thrown up, rather, somewhat with violence, as upon a landscape of dream-scenery. The lens of passionate yearning in himself, ever unsatisfied, focused it against a background far, far away, in some faint distance that was neither of space nor time, and might equally have been past as future. Large figures he saw, shadowy yet splendid, that ran free-moving as clouds over mighty hills, vital with the abundant strong life of a younger world.... Yet never quite saw them, never quite overtook them, for their speed and the manner of their motion bewildered the sight....
Moreover, though they evaded him in terms of physical definition he knew a sense of curious, half-remembered familiarity. Some portion of his hidden self, uncaught, unharnessed by anything in modern life, rose with a passionate rush of joy and made after them—something in him untamed as wind. His mind stood up, as it were, and shouted "I am coming." For he saw himself not far behind, as a man, racing with great leaps to join them ... yet never overtaking, never drawing close enough to see quite clearly. The roar of their tramping shook the very blood in his ears....
His decision to accept the strangers had set free in his being something that thus for the first time in his life—escaped.... Symbolically in his mind this Escape had taken picture form....
The Captain's voice was asking for the glasses; with a wrench that caused almost actual physical pain he tore himself away, letting this herd of Flying Thoughts sink back into the shadows and disappear. With sharp regret he saw them go—a regret for long, long, far-off things....
Turning, he placed the field-glasses carefully in that fat open hand stretched out to receive them, and noted as he did so the thick, pink fingers that closed about the strap, the heavy ring of gold, the band of gilt about the sleeve. That wrought gold, those fleshy fingers, the genial gutteral voice saying "T'anks" were symbols of an existence tamed and artificial that caged him in again....
Then he went below and found that the lazy "drummer" who talked harvest-machines to puzzled peasants had landed, and in his place an assortment of indiscriminate clothing belonging to the big Russian and his son lay scattered over the upper berth and upon the sofa-bed beneath the port-hole.
"For my own part I find in some of these abnormal or supernormal facts the strongest suggestions in favor of a superior consciousness being possible. I doubt whether we shall ever understand some of them without using the very letter of Fechner's conception of a great reservoir in which the memories of earth's inhabitants are pooled and preserved, and from which, when the threshold lowers or the valve opens, information ordinarily shut out leaks into the mind of exceptional individuals among us."
—WILLIAM JAMES, A Pluralistic Universe
And it was some hours later, while the ship made for the open sea, that he told Dr. Stahl casually of the new arrangement and saw the change come so suddenly across his face. Stahl stood back from the compass-box whereon they leaned, and putting a hand upon his companion's shoulder, looked a moment into his eyes. With surprise O'Malley noted that the pose of cynical disbelief was gone; in its place was sympathy, interest, kindness. The words he spoke came from his heart.
"Is that true?" he asked, as though the news disturbed him.
"Of course. Why not? Is there anything wrong?" He felt uneasy. The doctor's manner confirmed the sense that he had done a rash thing. Instantly the barrier between the two crumbled and he lost the first feeling of resentment that his friends should be analyzed. The men thus came together in unhindered sincerity.
"Only," said the doctor thoughtfully, half gravely, "that—I may have done you a wrong, placed you, that is, in a position of—" he hesitated an instant,—"of difficulty. It was I who suggested the change."
O'Malley stared at him.
"I don't understand you quite."
"It is this," continued the other, still holding him with his eyes. He said it deliberately. "I have known you for some time, formed-er—an opinion of your type of mind and being—a very rare and curious one, interesting me deeply—"
"I wasn't aware you'd had me under the microscope," O'Malley laughed, but restlessly.
"Though you felt it and resented it—justly, I may say—to the point of sometimes avoiding me—"
"As doctor, scientist," put in O'Malley, while the other, ignoring the interruption, continued in German:—
"I always had the secret hope, as 'doctor and scientist,' let us put it then, that I might one day see you in circumstances that should bring out certain latent characteristics I thought I divined in you. I wished to observe you—your psychical being—under the stress of certain temptations, favorable to these characteristics. Our brief voyages together, though they have so kindly ripened our acquaintance into friendship"—he put his hand again on the other's shoulder smiling, while O'Malley replied with a little nod of agreement—"have, of course, never provided the opportunity I refer to—"
"Until now!" the doctor added. "Until now."
Puzzled and interested the Irishman waited for him to go on, but the man of science, who was now a ship's doctor, hesitated. He found it difficult, apparently, to say what was in his thoughts.
"You refer, of course, though I hardly follow you quite—to our big friends?" O'Malley helped him.
The adjective slipped out before he was aware of it. His companion's expression admitted the accuracy of the remark. "You also see them—big, then?" he said, quickly taking him up. He was not cross-questioning; out of keen sympathetic interest he asked it.
"Sometimes, yes," the Irishman answered, more astonished. "Sometimes only—"
"Exactly. Bigger than they really are; as though at times they gave out—emanated—something that extended their appearance. Is that it?"
O'Malley, his confidence wholly won, more surprised, too, than he quite understood, seized Stahl by the arm and drew him toward the rails. They leaned over, watching the sea. A passenger, pacing the decks before dinner, passed close behind them.
"But, doctor," he said in a hushed tone as soon as the steps had died away, "you are saying things that I thought were half in my imagination only, not true in the ordinary sense quite—your sense, I mean?"
For some moments the doctor made no reply. In his eyes a curious steady gaze replaced the usual twinkle. When at length he spoke it was evidently following a train of thought of his own, playing round a subject he seemed half ashamed of and yet desired to state with direct language.
"A being akin to yourself," he said in low tones, "only developed, enormously developed; a Master in your own peculiar region, and a man whose influence acting upon you at close quarters could not fail to arouse the latent mind-storms"—he chose the word hesitatingly, as though seeking for a better he could not find on the moment,—"always brewing in you just below the horizon."
He turned and watched his companion's face keenly. O'Malley was too impressed to feel annoyance.
"Well—?" he asked, feeling the adventure closing round him with quite a new sense of reality. "Well?" he repeated louder. "Please go on. I'm not offended, only uncommonly interested. You leave me in a fog, so far. I think you owe me more than hints."
"I do," said the other simply. "About that man is a singular quality too rare for language to have yet coined its precise description: something that is essentially"—they had lapsed into German now, and he used the German word—"unheimlich."
The Irishman started. He recognized this for truth. At the same time the old resentment stirred a little in him, creeping into his reply.
"You have studied him closely then—had him, too, under the microscope? In this short time?"
This time the answer did not surprise him, however.
"My friend," he heard, while the other turned from him and gazed out over the misty sea, "I have not been a ship's doctor—always. I am one now only because the leisure and quiet give me the opportunity to finish certain work, recording work. For years I was in the H——"—he mentioned the German equivalent for the Salpetriere—"years of research and investigation into the astonishing vagaries of the human mind and spirit—with certain results, followed later privately, that it is now my work to record. And among many cases that might well seem—er—beyond either credence or explanation,"—he hesitated again slightly—"I came across one, one in a million, let us admit, that an entire section of my work deals with under the generic term of Urmenschen."
"Primitive men," O'Malley snapped him up, translating. Through his growing bewilderment ran also a growing uneasiness shot strangely with delight. Intuitively he divined what was coming.
"Beings," the doctor corrected him, "not men. The prefix Ur-, moreover, I use in a deeper sense than is usually attached to it as in Urwald, Urwelt, and the like. An Urmensch in the world today must suggest a survival of an almost incredible kind—a kind, too, utterly inadmissible and inexplicable to the materialist perhaps—"
"Paganistic?" interrupted the other sharply, joy and fright rising over him.
"Older, older by far," was the rejoinder, given with a curious hush and a lowering of the voice.
The suggestion rushed into full possession of O'Malley's mind. There rose in him something that claimed for his companions the sea, the wind, the stars—tumultuous and terrific. But he said nothing. The conception, blown into him thus for the first time at full strength, took all his life into its keeping. No energy was left over for mere words. The doctor, he was aware, was looking at him, the passion of discovery and belief in his eyes. His manner kindled. It was the hidden Stahl emerging.
"... a type, let me put it," he went on in a voice whose very steadiness thrilled his listener afresh, "that in its strongest development would experience in the world today the loneliness of a complete and absolute exile. A return to humanity, you see, of some unexpended power of mythological values...."
The shudder passed through him and away almost as soon as it came. Again the sea grew splendid, the thunder of the waves held voices calling, and the foam framed shapes and faces, wildly seductive, though fugitive as dreams. The words he had heard moved him profoundly. He remembered how the presence of the stranger had turned the world alive.
He knew what was coming, too, and gave the lead direct, while yet half afraid to ask the question.
"So my friend—this big 'Russian'—?"
"I have known before, yes, and carefully studied."
"Is it not just possible that there is a mode of being as much transcending Intelligence and Will as these transcend mechanical motion?"
—HERBERT SPENCER, First Principles
The two men left the rail and walked arm in arm along the deserted deck, speaking in lowered voices.
"He came first to us, brought by the keeper of an obscure hotel where he was staying, as a case of lapse of memory—loss of memory, I should say, for it was complete. He was unable to say who he was, whence he came, or to whom he belonged. Of his land or people we could learn nothing. His antecedents were an utter blank. Speech he had practically none of his own—nothing but the merest smattering of many tongues, a word here, a word there. Utterance, indeed, of any kind was exceedingly difficult to him. For years, evidently, he had wandered over the world, companionless among men, seeking his own, finding no place where to lay his head. People, it seemed, both men and women, kept him at arm's-length, feeling afraid; the keeper of the little hotel was clearly terrified. This quality he had that I mentioned just now, repelled human beings—even in the Hospital it was noticeable—and placed him in the midst of humanity thus absolutely alone. It is a quality more rare than"—hesitating, searching for a word—"purity, one almost extinct today, one that I have never before or since come across in any other being—hardly ever, that is to say," he qualified the sentence, glancing significantly at his companion.
"And the boy?" O'Malley asked quickly, anxious to avoid any discussion of himself.
"There was no boy then. He has found him since. He may find others too—possibly!" The Irishman drew his arm out, edging away imperceptibly. That shiver of joy reached him from the air and sea, perhaps.
"And two years ago," continued Dr. Stahl, as if nothing had happened, "he was discharged, harmless"—he lingered a moment on the word, "if not cured. He was to report to us every six months. He has never done so."
"You think he remembers you?"
"No. It is quite clear that he has lapsed back completely again into the—er—state whence he came to us, that unknown world where he passed his youth with others of his kind, but of which he has been able to reveal no single detail to us, nor we to trace the slightest clue."
They stopped beneath the covered portion of the deck, for the mist had now turned to rain. They leaned against the smoking-room outer wall. In O'Malley's mind the thoughts and feelings plunged and reared. Only with difficulty did he control himself.
"And this man, you think," he asked with outward calmness, "is of—of my kind?"
"'Akin,' I said. I suggest—" But O'Malley cut him short.
"So that you engineered our sharing a cabin with a view to putting him again—putting us both—under the microscope?"
"My scientific interest was very strong," Dr. Stahl replied carefully. "But it is not too late to change. I offer you a bed in my own roomy cabin on the promenade deck. Also, I ask your forgiveness."
The Irishman, large though his imaginative creed was, felt oddly checked, baffled, stupefied by what he had heard. He knew perfectly well what Stahl was driving at, and that revelations of another kind were yet to follow. What bereft him of very definite speech was this new fact slowly awakening in his consciousness which hypnotized him, as it were, with its grandeur. It seemed to portend that his own primitive yearnings, so-called, grew out of far deeper foundations than he had yet dreamed of even. Stahl, should he choose to listen, meant to give him explanation, quasi-scientific explanation. This talk about a survival of "unexpended mythological values" carried him off his feet. He knew it was true. Veiled behind that carefully chosen phrase was something more—a truth brilliantly discovered. He knew, too, that it bit at the platform-boards upon which his personality, his sanity, his very life, perhaps, rested—his modern life.
"I forgive you, Dr. Stahl," he heard himself saying with a deceptive calmness of voice as they stood shoulder to shoulder in that dark corner, "for there is really nothing to forgive. The characteristics of these Urmenschen you describe attract me very greatly. Your words merely give my imagination a letter of introduction to my reason. They burrow among the foundations of my life and being. At least—you have done me no wrong...." He knew the words were wild, impulsive, yet he could find no better. Above all things he wished to conceal his rising, grand delight.