List Of Contents | Contents of The Garden of Survival, by Algernon Blackwood
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my arms were hungry for her. Shame and repugnance touched me faintly
for a moment, but at once died away again. I listened and I watched.
The sensuous beauty of her figure and her movements, swathed in that
soft and clinging serge, troubled my judgment; it seemed, as I saw
her little foot upon the pedal, that I felt with joy its pressure on
my heart and life. Something gross and abandoned stirred in me; I
welcomed her easy power and delighted in it. I feasted my eyes and
ears, the blood rose feverishly to my head. She did not look at me,
yet knew that I looked at her, and how. No longer ashamed, but with a
fiery pleasure in my heart, I spoke at last. Her song had ended. She
softly brushed the strings, her eyes turned downwards.

"Marion," I said, agitation making my voice sound unfamiliar, "Marion,
dear, I am enthralled; your voice, your beauty----"

I found no other words; my voice stopped dead; I stood up, trembling
in every limb. I saw her in that instant as a maid of olden time,
singing the love-songs of some far-off day beside her native
instrument, and of a voluptuous beauty there was no withstanding. The
half-light of the dusk set her in a frame of terrible enchantment.

And as I spoke her name and rose, she also spoke my own, my Christian
name, and rose as well. I saw her move towards me. Upon her face, in
her eyes and on her lips, was a smile of joy I had never seen before,
though a smile of conquest, and of something more besides that I must
call truly by its rightful name, a smile of lust. God!  those
movements beneath the clinging dress that fell in lines of beauty to
her feet!  Those little feet that stepped upon my heart, upon my very
soul. . . . For a moment I loathed myself. The next, as she touched me
and my arms took her with rough strength against my breast, my
repugnance vanished, and I was utterly undone. I believed I loved.
That which was gross in me, leaping like fire to claim her glorious
beauty, met and merged with that similar, devouring flame in her; but
in the merging seemed cunningly transformed into the call of soul to
soul: I forgot the pity. . . . I kissed her, holding her to me so
fiercely that she scarcely moved. I said a thousand things. I know
not what I said. I loved.

Then, suddenly, she seemed to free herself; she drew away; she looked
at me, standing a moment just beyond my reach, a strange smile on her
lips and in her darkened eyes a nameless expression that held both
joy and pain. For one second I felt that she repelled me, that she
resented my action and my words. Yes, for one brief second she stood
there, like an angel set in judgment over me, and the next we had
come together again, softly, gently, happily; I heard that strange,
deep sigh, already mentioned, half of satisfaction, half, it seemed,
of pain, as she sank down into my arms and found relief in quiet
sobbing on my breast.

And pity then returned. I felt unsure of myself again. This was the love
of the body only; my soul was silent. Yet--somehow, in some strange
hidden way, lay this ambushed meaning--that she had need of me, and that
she offered her devotion and herself in sacrifice.


THE brief marriage ran its course, depleting rather than enriching me,
and I know you realized before the hurried, dreadful end that my tie
with yourself was strengthened rather than endangered, and that I took
from you nothing that I might give it to her. That death should
intervene so swiftly, leaving her but an interval of a month between the
altar and the grave, you could foreknow as little as I or she; yet in
that brief space of time you learned that I had robbed you of nothing
that was your precious due, while she as surely realized that the
amazing love she poured so lavishly upon me woke no response--beyond a
deep and tender pity, strangely deep and singularly tender I admit, but
assuredly very different from love.

Now this, I think, you already know and in some measure understand; but
what you cannot know--since it is a portion of her secret, of that
ambushed meaning, as I termed it, given to me when she lay dying--is the
pathetic truth that her discovery wrought no touch of disenchantment in
her. I think she knew with shame that she had caught me with her lowest
weapon, yet still hoped that the highest in her might complete and
elevate her victory. She knew, at any rate, neither dismay nor
disappointment; of reproach there was no faintest hint. She did not even
once speak of it directly, though her fine, passionate face made me
aware of the position. Of the usual human reaction, that is, there was
no slightest trace; she neither chided nor implored; she did not weep.
The exact opposite of what I might have expected took place before my
very eyes.

For she turned and faced me, empty as I was. The soul in her, realizing
the truth, stood erect to meet the misery of lonely pain that inevitably
lay ahead--in some sense as though she welcomed it already; and,
strangest of all, she blossomed, physically as well as mentally, into a
fuller revelation of gracious loveliness than before, sweeter and more
exquisite, indeed, than anything life had yet shown to me. Moreover,
having captured me, she changed; the grossness I had discerned, that
which had led me to my own undoing, vanished completely as though it
were transmuted into desires and emotions of a loftier kind. Some
purpose, some intention, a hope immensely resolute shone out of her, and
of such spiritual loveliness, it seemed to me, that I watched it in a
kind of dumb amazement.

I watched it--unaware at first of my own shame, emptied of any emotion
whatsoever, I think, but that of a startled worship before the grandeur
of her generosity. It seemed she listened breathlessly for the beating
of my heart, and hearing none, resolved that she would pour her own life
into it, regardless of pain, of loss, of sacrifice, that she might make
it live. She undertook her mission, that is to say, and this mission, in
some mysterious way, and according to some code of conduct undivined by
me, yet passionately honoured, was to give--regardless of herself or of
response. I caught myself sometimes thinking of a child who would
instinctively undo some earlier grievous wrong. She loved me

I know not how to describe to you the lavish wealth of selfless devotion
she bathed me in during the brief torturing and unfulfilled period
before the end. It made me aware of new depths and heights in human
nature. It taught me a new beauty that even my finest dreams had left
unmentioned. Into the region that great souls inhabit a glimpse was
given me. My own dreadful weakness was laid bare. And an eternal hunger
woke in me--that I might love.

That hunger remained unsatisfied. I prayed, I yearned, I suffered; I
could have decreed myself a deservedly cruel death; it seemed I
stretched my little nature to unendurable limits in the fierce hope that
the Gift of the Gods might be bestowed upon me, and that her divine
emotion might waken a response within my leaden soul. But all in vain.
My attitude, in spite of every prayer, of every effort, remained no more
than a searching and unavailing pity, but a pity that held no seed of a
mere positive emotion, least of all, of love. The heart in me lay
unredeemed; it knew ashamed and very tender gratitude; but it did not
beat for her. I could not love.

I have told you bluntly, frankly, of my physical feelings towards Marion
and her beauty. It is a confession that I give into my own safe keeping.
I think, perhaps, that you, though cast in a finer mould, may not
despise them utterly, nor too contemptuously misinterpret them. The
legend that twins may share a single soul has always seemed to me
grotesque and unpoetic nonsense, a cruel and unnecessary notion too: a
man is sufficiently imperfect without suffering this further subtraction
from his potentialities. And yet it is true, in our own case, that you
have exclusive monopoly of the ethereal qualities, while to me are given
chiefly the physical attributes of the vigorous and healthy male--the
animal: my six feet three, my muscular system, my inartistic and
pedestrian temperament. Fairly clean-minded, I hope I may be, but beyond
all question I am the male animal incarnate. It was, indeed, the
thousand slaveries of the senses, individually so negligible,
collectively so overwhelming, that forced me upon my knees before her
physical loveliness. I must tell you now that this potent spell,
alternating between fiery desire and the sincerest of repugnance,
continued to operate. I complete the confession by adding briefly, that
after marriage she resented and repelled all my advances. A deep sadness
came upon her; she wept; and I desisted. It was my soul that she desired
with the fire of her mighty love, and not my body. . . . And again, since
it is to myself and to you alone I tell it, I would add this vital fact:
it was this "new beauty which my finest dreams have left unmentioned"
that made it somehow possible for me to desist, both against my animal
will, yet willingly.

I have told you that, when dying, she revealed to me a portion of her
"secret." This portion of a sacred confidence lies so safe within my
everlasting pity that I may share it with you without the remorse of a
betrayal. Full understanding we need never ask; the solution, I am
convinced, is scarcely obtainable in this world. The message, however,
was incomplete because the breath that framed it into broken words
failed suddenly; the heart, so strangely given into my unworthy keeping,
stopped beating as you shall hear upon the very edge of full disclosure.
The ambushed meaning I have hinted at remained--a hint.


THERE was, then, you will remember, but an interval of minutes between
the accident and the temporary recovery of consciousness, between
that recovery again and the moment when the head fell forward on my
knee and she was gone. That "recovery" of consciousness I feel bound
to question, as you shall shortly hear.  Among such curious things I
am at sea admittedly, yet I must doubt for ever that the eyes which
peered so strangely into mine were those of Marion herself--as I had
always known her. You will, at any rate, allow the confession, and
believe it true, that I--did not recognize her quite. Consciousness
there was, indubitably, but whether it was "recovery" of
consciousness is another matter, and a problem that I must for ever
question though I cannot ever set it confidently at rest. It almost
seemed as though a larger, grander, yet somehow a less personal, soul
looked forth through the fading eyes and used the troubled breath.

In those brief minutes, at any rate, the mind was clear as day, the
faculties not only unobscured, but marvellously enhanced. In the eyes
at first shone unveiled fire; she smiled, gazing into my own with
love and eager yearning too. There was a radiance in her face I must
call glory. Her head was in my lap upon the bed of rugs we had
improvised inside the field: the broken motor posed in a monstrous
heap ten yards away; and the doctor, summoned by a passing stranger,
was in the act of administrating the anaesthetic, so that we might
bear her without pain to the nearest hospital--when, suddenly, she
held up a warning finger, beckoning to me that I should listen

I bent my head to catch the words. There was such authority in the
gesture, and in the eyes an expression so extraordinarily appealing,
and yet so touched with the awe of a final privacy beyond language,
that the doctor stepped backwards on the instant, the needle shaking
in his hand--while I bent down to catch the whispered words that at
once began to pass her lips.

The wind in the poplar overhead mingled with the little sentences, as
though the breath of the clear blue sky, calmly shining, was mingled
with her own.

But the words I heard both troubled and amazed me:

"Help me! For I am in the dark still!" went through me like a sword.
"And I do not know how long."

I took her face in both my hands; I kissed her. "You are with
friends," I said. "You are safe with us, with me--Marion!" And I
apparently tried to put into my smile the tenderness that clumsy
words forswore. Her next words shocked me inexpressibly:  "You
laugh," she said, "but I----" she sighed--"I weep."

I stroked her face and hair. No words came to me.

"You call me Marion," she went on in an eager tone that surely belied
her pain and weakness, "but I do not remember that. I have forgotten
names." Then, as I kissed her, I heard her add in the clearest
whisper possible, as though no cloud lay upon her mind: "Yet Marion
will do--if by that you know me now"

There came a pause then, but after it such singular words that I could
hardly believe I heard aright, although each syllable sank into my
brain as with pointed steel:

"You come to me again when I lie dying. Even in the dark I hear--how
long I do not know--I hear your words."

She gave me suddenly then a most piercing look, raising her face a
little towards my own. I saw earnest entreaty in them. "Tell me," I
murmured; "you are nearer, closer to me than ever before. Tell me
what it is?"

"Music," she whispered, "I want music----"

I knew not what to answer, what to say. Can you blame me that, in my
troubled, aching heart, I found but commonplaces? For I thought of
the harp, or of some stringed instrument that seemed part of her.

"You shall have it," I said gently, "and very soon. We shall carry you
now into comfort, safety. You shall have no pain. Another moment

"Music," she repeated, interrupting, "music as of long ago."

It was terrible. I said such stupid things. My mind seemed frozen.

"I would hear music," she whispered, "before I go again."

"Marion, you shall," I stammered. "Beethoven, Schumann,--what would
please you most? You shall have all."

"Yes, play to me. But those names"--she shook her head--"I do not

I remember that my face was streaming, my hands so hot that her head
seemed more than I could hold. I shifted my knees so that she might
lie more easily a little.

"God's music!" she cried aloud with startling abruptness; then,
lowering her voice again and smiling sadly as though something came
back to her that she would fain forget, she added slowly, with
something of mournful emphasis:

"I was a singer . . ."

As though a flash of light had passed, some inner darkness was cleft
asunder in me.  Some heaviness shifted from my brain. It seemed the
years, the centuries, turned over like a wind-blown page. And out of
some hidden inmost part of me involuntary words rose instantly:

"You sang God's music then . . ."

The strange, unbidden sentence stirred her. Her head moved slightly;
she smiled.  Gazing into my eyes intently, as though to dispel a mist
that shrouded both our minds, she went on in a whisper that yet was
startlingly distinct, though with little pauses drawn out between the
phrases: "I was a singer. . . in the Temple. I sang--men--into evil.
You . . .  I sang into . . . evil."

There was a moment's pause, as a spasm of inexplicable pain passed

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