The Centaur

by Algernon Blackwood

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Stahl, he remembers, had been talking for a long time. The general sense of what he said reached him, perhaps, but certainly not many of the words. The doctor, it was clear, wished to coax from him the most intimate description possible of his experience. He put things crudely in order to challenge criticism, and thus to make his companion's reason sit in judgment on his heart. If this visionary Celt would let his intellect pass soberly and dissectingly upon these flaming states of wider consciousness he had touched, the doctor would have data of real value for his own purposes.

But this discriminating analysis was precisely what the Irishman found impossible. His soul was too "dispersed" to concentrate upon modern terms and phrases. These in any case dealt only with the fragments of Self that manifested through brain and body. The rest could be felt only, never truly described. Since the beginning of the world such transcendental experiences had never been translatable in the language of "common" sense; and today, even, when a few daring minds sought a laborious classification, straining the resources of psychology, the results were little better than a rather enticing and suggestive confusion.

In his written account, indeed, he gives no proper report of what Stahl tried to say. A gaping hiatus appears in the manuscript, with only asterisks and numbers that referred to pages of his tumbled notebooks. Following these indications I came across the skeletons of ideas which perhaps were the raw material, so to say, of these crude and speculative statements that the German poured out at him across that cabin--blocks of exaggeration he flung at him, in the hope of winning some critical and intelligible response. Like the structure of some giant fairy-tale they read--some toppling scaffolding that needed reduction in scale before it could be focused for normal human sight.

"Nature" was really alive for those who believed--and worshipped; for worship was that state of consciousness which opens the sense and provides the channel for this singular interior realization. In very desolate and lonely places, unsmothered and unstained by men as they exist today, such expressions of the Earth's stupendous, central vitality were still possible.... The "Russian" himself was some such fragment, some such cosmic being, strayed down among men in a form outwardly human, and the Irishman had in his own wild, untamed heart those same very tender and primitive possibilities which enabled him to know and feel it.

In the body, however, he was fenced off--without. Only by the disentanglement of his primitive self from the modern development which caged it, could he recover this strange lost Eden and taste in its fullness the mother-life of the planetary consciousness which called him back. This dissociation might be experienced temporarily as a subliminal adventure; or permanently--in death.

Here, it seemed, was a version of the profound mystical idea that a man must lose his life to find it, and that the personal self must be merged in a larger one to know peace--the incessant, burning nostalgia that dwells in the heart of every religion known to men: escape from the endless pain of futile personal ambitions and desires for external things that are unquenchable because never possible of satisfaction. It had never occurred to him before in so literal and simple a form. It explained his sense of kinship with the earth and nature rather than with men....

There followed, then, another note which the Irishman had also omitted from his complete story as I found it--in this MS. that lay among the dust and dinginess of the Paddington back-room like some flaming gem in a refuse heap. It was brief but pregnant--the block of another idea, Fechner's apparently, hurled at him by the little doctor.

That, just as the body takes up the fact of the bruised lung into its own general consciousness, lifting it thereby from the submerged, unrealized state; and just as our human consciousness can be caught up again as a part of the earth's; so, in turn, the Planet's own vast personality is included in the collective consciousness of the entire Universe--all steps and stages of advance to that final and august Consciousnss of which they are fragments, projections, manifestations in Time--GOD.

And the immense conception, at any rate, gave him a curious, flashing clue to that passionate inclusion which a higher form of consciousness may feel for the countless lesser manifestations below it; and so to that love for humanity as a whole that saviors feel....

Yet, out of all this deep flood of ideas and suggestions that somehow poured about him from the mind of this self-contradictory German, alternately scientist and mystic, O'Malley emerged with his own smaller and vivid personal delight that he would presently himself--escape: escape under the guidance of the big Russian into some remote corner of his own extended Being, where he would enjoy a quasi-merging with the Earth-life, and know subjectively at least the fruition of all his yearnings.

The doctor had phrased it once that a part of him fluid, etheric or astral, malleable by desire, would escape and attain to this result. But, after all, the separation of one portion of himself from the main personality could only mean being conscious it: another part of it--in a division usually submerged.

As Stahl so crudely put it, the Earth had bruised him. He would know in some little measure the tides of her own huge life, his longings, loneliness, and nostalgia explained and satisfied. He would find that fair old Garden. He might even know the lesser gods.

That afternoon at Smyrna the matter was officially reported, and so officially done with. It caused little enough comment on the steamer. The majority of the passengers had hardly noticed the boy at all, much less his disappearance; and while many of them landed there for Ephesus, still more left the ship next day at Constantinople.

The big Russian, though he kept mostly to his own cabin, was closely watched by the ship's officers, and O'Malley, too, realized that he was under observation. But nothing happened; the emptied steamer pursued her quiet way, and the Earth, unrealized by her teeming freight so busy with their tiny personal aims, rushed forwards upon her glorious journey through space.

O'Malley alone realized her presence, aware that he rushed with her amid a living universe. But he kept his new sensations to himself. The remainder of the voyage, indeed, across the Black Sea via Samsoun and Trebizond, is hazy in his mind so far as practical details are concerned, for he found himself in a dreamy state of deep peace and would sometimes sit for hours in reverie, only reminded of the present by certain pricks of annoyance from the outer world. He had returned, of course, to his own stateroom, yet felt in such close sympathy with his companion that no outward expression by way of confidence or explanation was necessary. In their Subconsciousness they were together and at one.

The pricks of annoyance came, as may be expected, chiefly from Dr. Stahl, and took the form of variations of "I told you so." The man was in a state of almost anger, caused half by disappointment, half by unsatisfied curiosity. His cargo of oil and water would not mix, yet he knew not which to throw overboard; here was another instance where facts refused to tally with the beliefs dictated by sane reason; where the dazzling speculations he played with threatened to win the day and destroy the compromise his soul loved.

The Irishman, however, did not resent his curiosity, though he made no attempt to satisfy it. He allowed him to become authoritative and professional, to treat him somewhat as a patient. What could it matter to him, who in a few hours would land at Batoum and go off with his guide and comrade to some place where--? The thought he could never see completed in words, for he only knew that the fulfillment of the adventure would take place--somewhere, somehow, somewhen--in that space within the soul of which external space is but an image and a figure. What takes place in the mind and heart are alone the true events; their outward expression in the shifting and impermanent shapes of matter is the least real thing in all the world. For him the experience would be true, real, authoritative--fact in the deepest sense of the word. Already he saw it "whole."

Faith asks no travelers' questions--exact height of mountains, length of rivers, distance from the sea, precise spelling of names, and so forth. He felt--the quaint and striking simile is in the written account--like a man hunting for a pillar-box in a strange city--absurdly difficult to find, as though purposely concealed by the authorities amid details of street and houses to which the eye is unaccustomed, yet really close at hand all the time....

But at Trebizond, a few hours before Batoum, Dr. Stahl in his zealous attentions went too far; for that evening he gave his "patient" a sleeping-draught in his coffee that caused him to lie for twelve hours on the cabin sofa, and when at length he woke toward noon, the Customs officers had been aboard since nine o'clock, and most of the passengers had already landed.

Among them, leaving no message, the big Russian had also gone ashore. And, though Stahl may have been actuated by the wisest and kindest motives, he was not quite prepared for the novel experience with which it provided him--namely, of hearing an angry Irishman saying rapidly what he thought of him in a stream of eloquent language that lasted nearly a quarter of an hour without a break!

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It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so.