The Centaur

by Algernon Blackwood

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"Why, what is this patient entrance into Nature's deep resources: But the child's most gradual learning to walk upright without bane?
When we drive out, from the cloud of steam, majestical white horses,
Are we greater than the first men who led black ones by the mane?"


The "Russian" led.

O'Malley styled him thus to the end for want of a larger word, perhaps--a word to phrase the inner and the outer. Although the mountains were devoid of trails, he seemed always certain of his way. An absolute sense of orientation possessed him; or, rather, the whole earth became a single pathway. Her being, in and about their hearts, concealed no secrets; he knew the fresh, cool water-springs as surely as the corners where the wild honey gathered. It seemed as natural that the bees should leave them unmolested, giving them freely of their store, as that the savage dogs in the aouls, or villages, they passed so rarely now, should refrain from attack. Even the peasants shared with them some common, splendid life. Occasionally they passed an Ossetian on horseback, a rifle swung across his saddle, a covering burka draping his shoulders and the animal's haunches in a single form that seemed a very outgrowth of the mountains. But not even a greeting was exchanged. They passed in silence; often very close, as though they did not see these two on foot. And once or twice the horses reared and whinnied, while their riders made the signs of their religion.... Sentries they seemed. But for the password known to both they would have stopped the travelers. In these forsaken fastnesses mere unprotected wandering means death. Yet to the happy Irishman there never came a thought of danger or alarm. All was a portion of himself, and no man can be afraid of his own hands or feet. Their convoy was immense, invisible, a guaranteed security of the vast Earth herself. No little personal injury could pass so huge defense. Others, armed with a lesser security of knives and guns and guides, would assuredly have been turned back, or had they shown resistance, would never have been heard to tell the tale. Dr. Stahl and the fur-merchant, for instance--

But such bothering little thoughts with their hard edges no longer touched reality; they spun away and found no lodgment; they were--untrue; false items of some lesser world unrealized.

For, in proportion as he fixed his thoughts successfully on outward and physical things, the world wherein he now walked grew dim: he missed the path, stumbled, saw trees and flowers indistinctly, failed to hear properly the call of birds and wind, to feel the touch of sun; and, most unwelcome of all,--was aware that his leader left him, dwindling in size, dropping away somehow among shadows far behind or far ahead.

The inversion was strangely complete: what men called solid, real, and permanent he now knew as the veriest shadows of existence, fleeting, unsatisfactory, false.

Their dreary make-believe had all his life oppressed him. He now knew why. Men, driving their forces outwards for external possessions had lost the way so utterly. It truly was amazing. He no longer quite understood how such feverish strife was possible to intelligent beings: the fur-merchant, the tourists, his London friends, the great majority of men and women he had known, pain in their hearts and weariness in their eyes, the sad strained faces, the furious rush to catch a little pleasure they deemed joy. It seemed like some wild senseless game that madness plays. He found it difficult to endow them, one and all, with any sense of life. He saw them groping in thick darkness, snatching with hands of shadow at things of even thinner shadow, all moving in a wild and frantic circle of artificial desires, while just beyond, absurdly close to many, blazed this great living sunshine of Reality and Peace and Beauty. If only they would turn--and look within--!

In fleeting moments these sordid glimpses of that dark and shadow-world still afflicted his outer sight--the nightmare he had left behind. It played like some gloomy memory through a corner of consciousness not yet wholly disentangled from it. Already he burned to share his story with the world...! A few he saw who here and there half turned, touched by a flashing ray--then rushed away into the old blackness as though frightened, not daring to escape. False images thrown outward by the intellect prevented. Stahl he saw ... groping; a soft light of yearning in his eyes ... a hand outstretched to push the shadows from him, yet ever gathering them instead.... Men he saw by the million, youth still in their hearts, yet slaving in darkened trap-like cages not merely to earn a competency but to pile more gold for things not really wanted; faces of greed round gambling-tables; the pandemonium of Exchanges; even fair women, playing Bridge through all a summer afternoon--the strife and lust and passion for possessions degrading every heart, choking the channels of simplicity.... Over the cities of the world he heard the demon Civilization sing its song of terror and desolation. Its music of destruction shook the nations. He saw the millions dance. And mid the bewildering ugly thunder of that sound few could catch the small sweet voice played by the Earth upon the little Pipes of Pan... the fluting call of Nature to the Simple Life--which is the Inner.

For now, as he moved closer to the Earth, deeper ever deeper into the enfolding moods of her vast collective consciousness, he drew nearer to the Reality that satisfies. He approached that center where outward activity is less, yet energy and vitality far greater--because it is at rest. Here he met things halfway, as it were, en route for the outer physical world where they would appear later as "events," but not yet emerged, still alive and breaking with their undischarged and natural potencies. Modern life, he discerned, dealt only with these forces when they had emerged, masquerading at the outer rim of life as complete embodiments, whereas actually they are but partial and symbolical expressions of their eternal prototypes behind. And men today were busy at this periphery only, touch with the center lost, madly consumed with the unimportant details that concealed the inner glory. It was the spirit of the age to mistake the outer shell for the inner reality. He at last understood the reason of his starved loneliness amid the stupid uproar of latter-day life, why he distrusted "Civilization," and stood apart. His yearnings were explained. His heart dwelt ever in the Golden Age of the Earth's first youth, and at last--he was coming home.

Like mud settling in dirty water, the casual realities of that outer life all sank away. He grew clear within, one with the primitive splendor, beauty, grace of a fresh world. Over his inner self, flooding slowly the passages and cellars, those subterranean ways that honeycomb the dim-lit foundations of personality, this tide of power rose. Filling chamber after chamber, melting down walls and ceiling, eating away divisions softly and irresistibly, it climbed in silence, merging all moods and disunion of his separate Selves into the single thing that made him comprehensible to himself and able to know the Earth as Mother. He saw himself whole; he knew himself divine. A strange tumult as of some ecstasy of old remembrance invaded him. He dropped back into a more spacious scale of time, long long ago when a month might be a moment, or a thousand years pass round him as a single day....

The qualities of all the Earth lay too, so easily contained, within himself. He understood that old legend by which man the microcosm represents and sums up Earth, the macrocosm in himself, so that Nature becomes the symbol and interpreter of his inner being. The strength and dignity of the trees he drew into himself; the power of the wind was his; with his unwearied feet ran all the sweet and facile swiftness of the rivulets, and in his thoughts the graciousness of flowers, the wavy softness of the grass, the peace of open spaces and the calm of that vast sky. The murmur of the Urwelt was in his blood, and in his heart the exaltation of her golden Mood of Spring.

How, then, could speech be possible, since both shared this common life? The communion with his friend and leader was too profound and perfect for any stammering utterance in the broken, partial symbols known as language. This was done for them: the singing of the birds, the wind-voices, the rippling of water, the very humming of the myriad insects even, and rustling of the grass and leaves, shaped all they felt in some articulate expression that was right, complete, and adequate. The passion of the larks set all the sky to music, and songs far sweeter than the nightingales' made every dusk divine.

He understood now that laborious utterance of his friend upon the steamer, and why his difficulty with words was more than he could overcome.

Like a current in the sea he still preserved identity, yet knew the freedom of a boundless being. And meanwhile the tide was ever rising. With this singular companion he neared that inner realization which should reveal them as they were--Thoughts in the Earth's old Consciousness too primitive, too far away, too vital and terrific to be confined in any outward physical expression of the "civilized" world today.... The earth shone, glittered, sang, holding them close to the rhythm of her gigantic heart. Her glory was their own. In the blazing summer of the inner life they floated, happy, caught away, at peace ... emanations of her living Self.

The valleys far below were filled with mist, cutting them off literally from the world of men, but the beauty of the upper mountains grew more and more bewilderingly enticing. The scale was so immense, while the brilliant clearness of the air brought distance close before the eyes, altered perspective, and robbed "remote" and "near" of any definite meaning. Space fled away. It shifted here and there at pleasure, according as they felt. It was within them, not without. They passed, dispersed and swift about the entire landscape, a very part of it, diffused in terms of light and air and color, scattered in radiance, distributed through flowers, spread through the sky and grass and forests. Space is a form of thought. But they no longer "thought": they felt.... O, that prodigious, clean, and simple Feeling of the Earth! Love that redeems and satisfies! Power that fills and blesses! Electric strength that kills the germ of separateness, making whole! The medicine of the world!

For days and nights it was thus--or was it years and minutes?--while they skirted the slopes and towers of the huge Dykh-Taou, and Elbrous, supreme and lonely in the heavens, beckoned solemnly. The snowy Kochtan-Taou rolled past, yet through, them; Kasbek superbly thundered; hosts of lesser summits sang in the dawn and whispered to the stars. And longing sank away--impossible.

"My boy, my boy, could you only have been with me...!" broke his voice across the splendid dream, bringing me back to the choking, dingy room I had forgotten. It was like a cry--a cry of passionate yearning.

"I'm with you now," I murmured, some similar rising joy half breaking in my breast. "That's something--"

He sighed in answer. "Something, perhaps. But I have got it always; it's all still part of me. Oh, oh! that I could give it to the world and lift the ache of all humanity...!" His voice trembled. I saw the moisture of immense compassion in his eyes. I felt myself swim out into universal being.

"Perhaps," I stammered half beneath my breath, "perhaps some day you may...!"

He shook his head. His face turned very sad.

"How should they listen, much less understand? Their energies drive outwards, and separation is their God. There is no 'money in it'...!"

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