The Centaur

by Algernon Blackwood

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The extraordinary abruptness of the transition produced no bewilderment, it seems. Realizing that without Rostom he would be in a position of helplessness that might be serious, the Irishman put his hands to his lips and called out with authority to the running figure of his frightened guide. He shouted to him to stop.

"There is nothing to fear. Come back! Are you afraid of a gust of wind?"

And in his face and voice, perhaps too in his manner, was something he had brought back from the vision, for the man stopped at once in his headlong course, paused a moment to stare and question, and then, though still looking over his shoulder and making occasional signs of his religion, came slowly back to his employer's side again.

"It has passed," said O'Malley in a voice that seemed to crumble in his mouth. "It is gone again into the mountains whence it came. We are safe. With me," he added, not without a secret sense of humor stirring in him, "you will always be safe. I can protect us both." He felt as normal as a British officer giving orders to his soldiers. And the Georgian slowly recovered his composure, yet for a long time keeping close to the other's side.

The transition, thus, had been as sudden and complete as anything well could be. O'Malley described it as the instantaneous dropping of a shutter across his mind. The entire vision had lasted but a fraction of a second, and in a fraction of a second, too, he had returned to his state of everyday lesser consciousness. That blending with the Earth's great Consciousness was but a flashing glimpse after all. The extension of personality had been momentary.

So absolute, moreover, was the return that at first, remembering nothing, he took up life again exactly where he had left it. The guide completed the gesture and the sentence which the vision had interrupted, and O'Malley, similarly, resumed his own thread of thought and action.

Only a hint remained. That, and a curious sense of interval, alone were left to witness this flash of an immense vision,--of cosmic consciousness--that apparently had filled so many days and nights.

"It was like waking suddenly in the night out of deep sleep," he said; "not of one's own accord, or gradually, but as when someone shakes you out of slumber and you are wide awake at once. You have been dreaming vigorously--thick, lively, crowded dreams, and they all vanish on the instant. You catch the tail-end of the procession just as it's diving out of sight. In less than a second all is gone."

For this was the hint that remained. He caught the flying tail-end of the vision. He knew he had seen something. But, for the moment, that was all.

Then, by degrees and afterwards, the details re-emerged. In the days that followed, while with Rostom he completed the journey already planned, the deeper consciousness gave back its memory piece by piece; and piece by piece he set it down in notebooks as best he could. The memory was on deposit deep within him, and at intervals he tapped it. Hence, of course, is due the confused and fragmentary character of those bewildering entries; hence, at the same time, too, their truth and value. For here was no imaginative dream concocted in a mood of high invention. The parts were disjointed, incomplete, just as they came. The lesser consciousness, it seems, could not contain the thing complete; nor to the last, I judge, did he ever know complete recapture.

They wandered for two weeks and more about the mountains, meeting various adventure by the way, reported duly in his letters of travel. But these concerned the outer man and have no proper place in this strange record ... and by the middle of July he found himself once more in--civilization. At Michaelevo he said good-bye to Rostom and took the train.

And it was with the return to the conditions of modern life that the reaction set in and stirred the deeper layers of consciousness to reproduce their store of magic. For this return to what seemed the paltry activities of an age of machinery, physical luxury, and superficial contrivances brought him a sense of pain that was acute and trenchant, more--a deep and poignant sense of loss. The yearnings, no longer satisfied, began again to reassert themselves. It was not the actual things the world seemed so busy about that pained him, but rather the point of view from which the world approached them--those that it deemed with one consent "important," and those, with rare exceptions, it obviously deemed worth no consideration at all, and ignored. For himself these values stood exactly reversed.

The Vision then came back to him, rose from the depths, blinded his eyes with maddening beauty, sang in his ears, possessed his heart and mind. He burned to tell it. The world of tired, restless men, he felt, must equally burn to hear it. Some vision of a simple life lived close to Nature came before his inner eye as the remedy for the vast disease of restless self-seeking of the age, the medicine that should cure the entire world. A return to Nature was the first step toward the great Deliverance men sought. And, most of all, he yearned to tell it first to Heinrich Stahl.

To hear him talk about it, as he talked perhaps to me alone, was genuinely pathetic, for here, in Terence O'Malley, I thought to see the essential futility of all dreamers nakedly revealed. His vision was so fine, sincere, and noble; his difficulty in imparting it so painful; and its marriage with practical action so ludicrously impracticable. At any rate that combination of vision and action, called sometimes genius, which can shake the world, assuredly was not his. For his was no constructive mind; he was not "intellectual"; he saw, but with the heart; he could not build. To plan a new Utopia was as impossible to him as to shape even in words the splendor he had known and lived. Bricks and straw could only smother him before he laid what most would deem foundations.

At first, too, in those days while waiting for the steamer in Batoum, he kept strangely silent. Even in his own thoughts was silence. He could not speak of what he knew. Even paper refused it. But all the time this glorious winged thing, that yet was simple as the sunlight or the rain, went by his side, while his soul knew the relief of some divine, proud utterance that, he felt, could never know complete confession in speech or writing. Later he stammered over it--to his notebooks and to me, and partially also to Dr. Stahl. But at first it dwelt alone and hidden, contained in this deep silence.

The days of waiting he filled with walks about the streets, watching the world with new eyes. He took the Russian steamer to Poti, and tramped with a knapsack up the Tchourokh gorge beyond Bourtchka, regardless of the Turkish gypsies and encampments of wild peoples on the banks. The sense of personal danger was impossible; he felt the whole world kin. That sense protected him. Pistol and cartridges lay in his bag, forgotten at the hotel.

Delight and pain lay oddly mingled in him. The pain he recognized of old, but this great radiant happiness was new. The nightmare of modern cheap-jack life was all explained; unjustified, of course, as he had always dimly felt, symptom of deep disorder; all due, this feverish, external business, to an odd misunderstanding with the Earth. Humanity had somehow quarreled with her, claiming an independence that could not really last. For her the centuries of this estrangement were but a little thing perhaps--a moment or two in that huge life which counted a million years to lay a narrow bed of chalk. They would come back in time. Meanwhile she ever called. A few, perhaps, already dreamed of return. Movements, he had heard, were afoot--a tentative endeavor here and there. They heard, these few, the splendid whisper that, sweetly calling, ever passed about the world.

For her voice in the last resort was more potent than all others--an enchantment that never wholly faded; men had but temporarily left her mighty sides and gone astray, eating of trees of knowledge that brought them deceptive illusions of a mad self-intoxication; fallen away into the pains of separateness and death. Loss of direction and central control was the result; the Babel of many tongues so clumsily invented, by which all turned one against another. Insubordinate, artificial centers had assumed disastrous command. Each struggled for himself against his neighbors. Even religions fought to the blood. A single sect could damn the rest of humanity, yet in the same breath sing complaisantly of its own Heaven.

Meanwhile She smiled in love and patience, letting them learn their lesson; meanwhile She watched and waited while, like foolish children, they toiled and sweated after futile transient things that brought no single letter of content. She let them coin their millions from her fairest thoughts, the gold and silver in her veins; and let them turn it into engines of destruction, knowing that each "life lost," returned into her arms and heart, crying with the pain of its wayward foolishness, the lesson learned; She watched their tears and struggling just outside the open nursery door, knowing they must at length return for food; and while thus waiting, watching, She heard all prayers that reached her; She answered them with love and forgiveness ever ready; and to the few who realized their folly--naughtiness, perhaps, at worst it was--this side of "death," She brought full measure of peace and joy and beauty.

Not permanently could they hurt themselves, for evil was but distance from her side, the ignorance of those who had wandered furthest into the little dark labyrinth of a separated self. The "intellect" they were so proud of had misled them.

And sometimes, here and there across the ages, with a glory that refused utterly to be denied, She thundered forth her old sweet message of deliverance. Through poet, priest, or child she called her children home. The summons rang like magic across the wastes of this dreary separated existence. Some heard and listened, some turned back, some wondered and were strangely thrilled; some, thinking it too simple to be true, were puzzled by the yearning and the tears and went back to seek for a more difficult way; while most, denying the secret glory in their hearts, sought to persuade themselves they loved the strife and hurrying fever best.

At other times, again, she chose quite different ways, and sent the amazing message in a flower, a breath of evening air, a shell upon the shore; though oftenest, perhaps, it hid in a strain of music, a patch of color on the sea or hills, a rustle of branches in a little twilight wind, a whisper in the dusk or in the dawn. He remembered his own first visions of it....

Only never could the summons come to her children through the intellect, for this it was that led them first away. Her message enters ever by the heart.

The simple life! He smiled as he thought of the bald Utopias here and there devised by men, for he had seen a truth whose brilliance smote his eyes too dazzlingly to permit of the smallest corner of darkness. Remote, no doubt, in time that day when the lion shall lie down with the lamb and men shall live together in peace and gentleness; when the inner life shall be admitted as the Reality, strife, gain, and loss unknown because possessions undesired, and petty selfhood merged in the larger life--remote, of course, yet surely not impossible. He had seen the Face of Nature, heard her Call, tasted her joy and peace; and the rest of the tired world might do the same. It only waited to be shown the way. The truth he now saw so dazzling was that all who heard the call might know it for themselves at once, cuirassed with shining love that makes the whole world kin, the Earth a mother literally divine. Each soul might thus provide a channel along which the summons home should pass across the world. To live with Nature and share her greater consciousness, en route for states yet greater, nearer to the eternal home--this was the beginning of the truth, the life, the way.

He saw "religion" all explained: and those hard sayings that make men turn away:--the imagined dread of losing life to find it; the counsel of perfection that the neighbor shall be loved as self; the fancied injury and outrage that made it hard for rich men to enter the kingdom. Of these, as of a hundred other sayings, he saw the necessary truth. It all seemed easy now. The world would see it with him; it must; it could not help itself. Simplicity as of a little child, and selflessness as of the mystic--these were the splendid clues.

Death and the grave, indeed, had lost their victory. For in the stages of wider consciousness beyond this transient physical phase he saw all loved ones joined and safe, as separate words upgathered each to each in the parent sentence that explains them, the sentence in the paragraph, the paragraph in the whole grand story all achieved--and so at length into the eternal library of God that consummates the whole.

He saw the glorious series, timeless and serene, advancing to the climax, and somehow understood that individuality at each stage was never lost but rather extended and magnified. Love of the Earth, life close to Nature, and denial of so-called civilization was the first step upwards. In the Simple Life, in this return to Nature, lay the opening of the little path that climbed to the stars and heaven.

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