List Of Contents | Contents of The Garden of Survival, by Algernon Blackwood
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IT will surprise and at the same time possibly amuse you to know that
I had the instinct to tell what follows to a Priest, and might have
done so had not the Man of the World in me whispered that from
professional Believers I should get little sympathy, and probably
less credence still. For to have my experience disbelieved, or
attributed to hallucination, would be intolerable to me. Psychical
investigators, I am told, prefer a Medium who takes no cash
recompense for his performance, a Healer who gives of his strange
powers without reward. There are, however, natural-born priests who
yet wear no uniform other than upon their face and heart, but since I
know of none I fall back upon yourself, my other half, for in writing
this adventure to you I almost feel that I am writing it to myself.

The desire for confession is upon me: this thing must out. It is a
story, though an unfinished one. I mention this at once lest,
frightened by the thickness of the many pages, you lay them aside
against another time, and so perhaps neglect them altogether. A
story, however, will invite your interest, and when I add that it is
true, I feel that you will bring sympathy to that interest: these
together, I hope, may win your attention, and hold it, until you
shall have read the final word.

That I should use this form in telling it will offend your literary
taste--you who have made your name both as critic and creative
writer--for you said once, I remember, that to tell a story in
epistolary form is a subterfuge, an attempt to evade the difficult
matters of construction and delineation of character. My story,
however, is so slight, so subtle, so delicately intimate too, that a
letter to some one in closest sympathy with myself seems the only
form that offers.

It is, as I said, a confession, but a very dear confession: I burn to
tell it honestly, yet know not how. To withhold it from you would be
to admit a secretiveness that our relationship has never known--out
it must, and to you. I may, perhaps, borrow--who can limit the
sharing powers of twin brothers like ourselves?--some of the skill
your own work spills so prodigally, crumbs from your writing-table,
so to speak; and you will forgive the robbery, if successful, as you
will accept lie love behind the confession as your due.

Now, listen, please! For this is the point: that, although my wife is
dead these dozen years and more--I have found reunion and I love.
Explanation of this must follow as best it may. So, please mark tie
point which for the sake of emphasis I venture to repeat: that I know
reunion and I love.

With the jealous prerogative of the twin, you objected to that
marriage, though I knew that it deprived you of no jot of my
affection, owing to the fact that it was prompted by pity only,
leaving the soul in me wholly disengaged. Marion, by her steady
refusal to accept my honest friendship, by her persistent admiration
of me, as also by her loveliness, her youth, her singing, persuaded
me somehow finally that I needed her.  The cry of the flesh, which
her beauty stimulated and her singing increased most strangely,
seemed raised into a burning desire that I mistook at the moment for
the true desire of the soul. Yet, actually, the soul in me remained
aloof, a spectator, and one, moreover, of a distinctly lukewarm kind.
It was very curious. On looking back, I can hardly understand it even
now; there seemed some special power, some special undiscovered tie
between us that led me on and yet deceived me. It was especially
evident in her singing, this deep power. She sang, you remember, to
her own accompaniment on the harp, and her method, though so simple
it seemed almost childish, was at the same time charged with a great
melancholy that always moved me most profoundly. The sound of her
small, plaintive voice, the sight of her slender fingers that plucked
the strings in some delicate fashion native to herself, the tiny foot
that pressed the pedal--all these, with her dark searching eyes fixed
penetratingly upon my own while she sang of love and love's
endearments, combined in a single stroke of very puissant and
seductive kind. Passions in me awoke, so deep, so ardent, so
imperious, that I conceived them as born of the need of one soul for
another. I attributed their power to genuine love. The following
reactions, when my soul held up a finger and bade me listen to her
still, small warnings, grew less positive and of ever less duration.
The frontier between physical and spiritual passion is perilously
narrow, perhaps. My judgment, at any rate, became insecure, then
floundered hopelessly. The sound of the harp-strings and of Marion's
voice could overwhelm its balance instantly.

Mistaking, perhaps, my lukewarm-ness for restraint, she led me at last
to the altar you described as one of sacrifice. And your instinct,
more piercing than my own, proved only too correct: that which I held
for love declared itself as pity only, the soft, affectionate pity of
a weakish man in whom the flesh cried loudly, the pity of a man who
would be untrue to himself rather than pain so sweet a girl by
rejecting the one great offering life placed within her gift. She
persuaded me so cunningly that I persuaded myself, yet was not aware
I did so until afterwards. I married her because in some manner I
felt, but never could explain, that she had need of me.

And, at the wedding, I remember two things vividly: the expression of
wondering resignation on your face, and upon hers--chiefly in the
eyes and in the odd lines about the mouth--the air of subtle triumph
that she wore: that she had captured me for her very own at last, and
yet--for there was this singular hint in her attitude and
behaviour--that she had taken me, because she had this curious deep
need of me.

This sharply moving touch was graven into me, increasing the
tenderness of my pity, subsequently, a thousandfold. The necessity
lay in her very soul. She gave to me all she had to give, and in so
doing she tried to satisfy some hunger of her being that lay beyond
my comprehension or interpretation. For, note this--she gave herself
into my keeping, I remember, with a sigh.

It seems as of yesterday the actual moment when, urged by my vehement
desires, I made her consent to be my wife; I remember, too, the
doubt, the shame, the hesitation that made themselves felt in me
before the climax when her beauty overpowered me, sweeping reflection
utterly away. I can hear to-day the sigh, half of satisfaction, yet
half, it seemed, of pain, with which she sank into my arms at last,
as though her victory brought intense relief, yet was not wholly
gamed in the way that she had wanted. Her physical beauty, perhaps,
was the last weapon she had wished to use for my enslavement; she
knew quite surely that the appeal to what was highest in me had not
succeeded. . .

The party in our mother's house that week in July included yourself;
there is no need for me to remind you of its various members, nor of
the strong attraction Marion, then a girl of twenty-five, exercised
upon the men belonging to it. Nor have you forgotten, I feel sure,
the adroit way in which she contrived so often to find herself alone
with me, both in the house and out of it, even to the point of
sometimes placing me in a quasi-false position. That she tempted me
is, perhaps, an overstatement, though that she availed herself of
every legitimate use of feminine magic to entrap me is certainly the
truth. Opportunities of marriage, it was notorious, had been
frequently given to her, and she had as frequently declined them; she
was older than her years; to inexperience she certainly had no claim:
and from the very first it was clear to me--if conceited, I cannot
pretend that I was also blind--that flirtation was not her object and
that marriage was. Yet it was marriage with a purpose that she
desired, and that purpose had to do, I felt, with sacrifice. She
burned to give her very best, her all, and for my highest welfare. It
was in this sense, I got the impression strangely, that she had need
of me.

The battle seemed, at first, uneven, since, as a woman, she did not
positively attract me. I was first amused at her endeavours and her
skill; but respect for her as a redoubtable antagonist soon followed.
This respect, doubtless, was the first blood she drew from me, since
it gained my attention and fixed my mind upon her presence. From that
moment she entered my consciousness as a woman; when she was near me
I became more and more aware of her, and the room, the picnic, the
game of tennis that included her were entirely different from such
occasions when she was absent, I became self-conscious. It was
impossible to ignore her as formerly had been my happy case.

It was then I first knew how beautiful she was, and that her beauty
made a certain difference to my mood. The next step may seem a big
one, but, I believe, is very natural: her physical beauty gave me
definite pleasure. And the instant this change occurred she was aware
of it. The curious fact, however, is that, although aware of this
gain of power, she made no direct use of it at first. She did not draw
this potent weapon for my undoing; it was ever with her, but was ever
sheathed. Did she discern my weakness, perhaps, and know that the
subtle power would work upon me most effectively if left to itself?
Did she, rich in experience, deem that its too direct use might waken
a reaction in my better self? I cannot say, I do not know. . . . Every
feminine art was at her disposal, as every use of magic pertaining to
young and comely womanhood was easily within her reach. As you and I
might express it bluntly, she knew men thoroughly, she knew every
trick; she drew me on, then left me abruptly in the wrong, puzzled,
foolish, angry, only to forgive me later with the most enchanting
smile or word imaginable. But never once did she deliberately make
use of the merciless weapon of her physical beauty although--perhaps
because--she knew that it was the most powerful in all her armoury.

For listen to this: when at last I took her in my arms with passion
that would not be denied, she actually resented it. She even sought
to repel me from her touch that had undone me. I repeat what I said
before: She did not wish to win me in that way. The sigh of happiness
she drew in that moment--I can swear to it--included somewhere, too,
the pain of bitter disappointment.

The weapon, however, that she did use without hesitation was her
singing. There was nothing special either in its quality or skill; it
was a voice untrained, I believe, and certainly without ambition; her
repertoire was limited; she sang folk-songs mostly, the simple
love-songs of primitive people, of peasants and the like, yet sang
them with such truth and charm, with such power and conviction,
somehow, that I knew enchantment as I listened. This, too, she
instantly divined, and that behind my compliments lay hid a weakness
of deep origin she could play upon to her sure advantage. She did so
without mercy, until gradually I passed beneath her sway.

I will not now relate in detail the steps of my descent, or if you
like it better, of my capture. This is a summary merely. So let me
say in brief that her singing to the harp combined with the
revelation of her physical beauty to lead me swiftly to the point
where I ardently desired her, and that in this turmoil of desire I
sought eagerly to find real love. There were times when I deceived
myself most admirably; there were times when I plainly saw the truth.
During the former I believed that my happiness lay in marrying her,
but in the latter I recognised that a girl who meant nothing to my
better self had grown of a sudden painfully yet exquisitely
desirable. But even during the ascendancy of the latter physical
mood, she had only to seat herself beside the harp and sing, for the
former state to usurp its place, I watched, I listened, and I
yielded.  Her voice, aided by the soft plucking of the strings,
completed my defeat. Now, strangest of all, I must add one other
tiling, and I will add it without comment. For though sure of its
truth, I would not dwell upon it. And it is this: that in her singing,
as also in her playing, in the "colour" of her voice as also in the
very attitude and gestures of her figure as she sat beside the
instrument, there lay, though marvellously hidden, something gross.
It woke a response of something in myself, hitherto unrecognized,
that was similarly gross. . . .

It was in the empty billiard-room when the climax came, a calm evening
of late July, the dusk upon the lawn, and most of the house-party
already gone upstairs to dress for dinner. I had been standing beside
the open window for some considerable time, motionless, and listening
idly to the singing of a thrush or blackbird in the shrubberies--when
I heard the faint twanging of the harp-strings in the room behind me,
and turning, saw that Marion had entered and was there beside the
instrument.  At the same moment she saw me, rose from the harp and
came forward. During the day she had kept me at a distance. I was
hungry for her voice and touch; her presence excited me--and yet I
was half afraid.

"What! Already dressed!" I exclaimed, anxious to avoid a talk a deux.
"I must hurry then, or I shall be later than usual."

I crossed the room towards the door, when she stopped me with her

"Do you really mean to say you don't know the difference between an
evening frock and--and this," she answered lightly, holding out the
skirt in her fingers for me to touch. And in the voice was that hint
of a sensual caress that, I admit, bewildered both my will and
judgment. She was very close and her fragrance came on me with her
breath, like the perfume of the summer garden. I touched the material
carelessly; it was of softest smooth white serge. It seemed I touched
herself that lay beneath it.  And at that touch some fire of
lightning ran through every vein.

"How stupid of me," I said quickly, making to go past her, "but it's
white, you see, and in this dim light I----"

"A man's idea of an evening frock is always white, I suppose, or
black." She laughed a little. "I'm not coming to dinner to-night,"
she added, sitting down to the harp. "I've got a headache and thought
I might soothe it with a little music. I didn't know any one was
here. I thought I was alone."

Thus, deftly, having touched a chord of pity in me, she began to play;
her voice followed; dinner and dressing, the house-party and my
mother's guests, were all forgotten. I remember that you looked in,
your eyes touched with a suggestive and melancholy smile, and as
quickly closed the door again. But even that little warning failed to
help me. I sat down on the sofa facing her, the world forgotten. And,
as I listened to her singing and to the sweet music of the harp, the
spell, it seemed, of some ancient beauty stole upon my spirit. The
sound of her soft voice reduced my resistance to utter impotence. An
aggressive passion took its place. The desire for contact, physical
contact, became a vehement aching that I scarcely could restrain, and

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