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The Garden Of Survival - Chapter IV Post by :Pontificator Category :Long Stories Author :Algernon Blackwood Date :April 2011 Read :3274

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The Garden Of Survival - Chapter IV

THAT, as you know, took place a dozen years ago and more, when I was
thirty-two, and time, in the interval, has wrought unexpected ends
out of the material of my life. My trade as a soldier has led me to
an administrative post in a distant land where, apparently, I have
deserved well of my King and Country, as they say in the obituaries.
At any rate, the cryptic letters following my name, bear witness to
some kind of notoriety attained.

You were the first to welcome my success, and your congratulations
were the first I looked for, as surely as they were more satisfying
than those our mother sent. You knew me better, it seems, than she
did. For you expressed the surprise that I, too, felt, whereas mother
assured me she had "always known you would do well, my boy, and you
have only got your deserts in this tardy recognition." To her, of
course, even at forty-five, I was still her "little boy." You,
however, guessed shrewdly that Luck had played strong cards in
bringing me this distinction, and I will admit at once that it was,
indeed, due to little born in me, but, rather, to some adventitious
aid that, curiously, seemed never lacking at the opportune moment.
And this adventitious aid was new.

This is the unvarnished truth. A mysterious power dealt the cards for
me with unfailing instinct; a fortunate combination of events placing
in my hands, precisely at the moment of their greatest value, clear
opportunities that none but a hopeless blunderer could have
disregarded. What men call Chance operated in my favour as though
with superb calculation, lifting me to this miniature pinnacle I could
never have reached by my own skill and judgment.

So, at least, you and I, knowing my limited abilities, consent to
attribute my success to luck, to chance, to fate, or to any other
name for the destiny that has placed me on a height my talent never
could have reached alone. You, and I, too, for that matter, are as
happy over the result as our mother is; only you and I are surprised,
because we judge it, with some humour, out of greater knowledge.
More--you, like myself, are a little puzzled, I think. We ask
together, if truth were told: Whose was the unerring, guiding hand?

Amid this uncertainty I give you now another curious item, about which
you have, of course, been uninformed. For none could have detected it
but myself: namely, that apart from these opportunities chance set
upon my path, an impulse outside myself--and an impulse that was
new--drove me to make use of them. Sometimes even against my personal
inclination, a power urged me into decided, and it so happened,
always into faultless action. Amazed at myself, I yet invariably
obeyed.

How to describe so elusive a situation I hardly know, unless by
telling you the simple truth: I felt that somebody would be pleased.

And, with the years, I learned to recognize this instinct that never
failed when a choice, and therefore an element of doubt, presented
itself. Invariably I was pushed towards the right direction. More
singular still, there rose in me unbidden at these various junctures,
a kind of inner attention which bade me wait and listen for the
guiding touch. I am not fanciful, I heard no voice, I was aware of
nothing personal by way of guidance or assistance; and yet the
guidance, the assistance, never failed, though often I was not
conscious that they had been present until long afterwards. I felt,
as I said above, that somebody would be pleased.

For it was a consistent, an intelligent guidance; operating, as it
were, out of some completer survey of the facts at a given moment
than my own abilities could possibly have compassed; my mediocre
faculties seemed gathered together and perfected--with the result, in
time, that my "intuition," as others called it, came to be regarded
with a respect that in some cases amounted to half reverence. The
adjective "uncanny" was applied to me. The natives, certainly, were
aware of awe.

I made no private use of this unearned distinction; there is nothing
in me of the charlatan that claimed mysterious power; but my
subordinates, ever in growing numbers as my promotions followed, held
me in greater respect, apparently, on that very account. The natives,
especially, as I mentioned, attributed semi-deific properties to my
poor personality. Certainly my prestige increased out of all
proportion to anything my talents deserved with any show of justice.

I have said that, so far as I was concerned, there lay nothing
personal in this growth of divining intuition. I must now qualify
that a little. Nothing persuaded me that this guidance, so
infallible, so constant, owed its origin to what men call a being; I
certainly found no name for it; exactness, I think, might place its
truest description in some such term as energy, inner force or
inspiration; yet I must admit that, with its steady repetition, there
awoke in me an attitude towards it that eluded somewhere also an
emotion. And in this emotion, in its quality and character, hid
remotely a personal suggestion: each time it offered itself, that is,
I was aware of a sharp quiver of sensitive life within me, and of
that sensation, extraordinarily sweet and wonderful, which
constitutes a genuine thrill.

I came to look for this "thrill," to lie in wait with anticipatory
wonder for its advent; and in a sense this pause in me, that was both
of expectancy and hope, grew slowly into what I may almost call a
habit. There was an emptiness in my heart before it came, a sense of
peace and comfort when it was accomplished. The emptiness and then
the satisfaction, as first and last conditions, never failed, and
that they took place in my heart rather than in my mind I can affirm
with equal certainty.

The habit, thus, confirmed itself. I admitted the power. Let me be
frank--I sought it, even longing for it when there was no decision
to be made, no guidance therefore needed: I longed for it because of
the great sweetness that it left within my heart. It was when I
needed it, however, that its effect was most enduring. The method
became quite easy to me. When a moment of choice between two courses
of action presented itself, I first emptied my heart of all personal
inclination, then, pausing upon direction, I knew--or rather
felt--which course to take. My heart was filled and satisfied with an
intention that never wavered. Some energy that made the choice for me
had been poured in. I decided upon this or that line of action. The
Thrill, always of an instantaneous nature, came and went--and
somebody was pleased.

Moreover--and this will interest you more particularly--the emotion
produced in me was, so far as positive recognition went, a new
emotion; it was, at any rate, one that had lain so feebly in me
hitherto that its announcement brought the savour of an emotion
before unrealized. I had known it but once, and that long
years before, but the man's mind in me increased and added to it. For
it seemed a development of that new perception which first dawned
upon me during my brief period of married life, and had since lain
hidden in me, potential possibly, but inactive beyond all question,
if not wholly dead. I will now name it for you, and for myself, as
best I may. It was the Thrill of Beauty.

I became, in these moments, aware of Beauty, and to a degree, while it
lasted, approaching revelation. Chords, first faintly struck long
years before when my sense of Marion's forgiveness and generosity
stirred worship in me, but chords that since then had lain,
apparently, unresponsive, were swept into resonance again. Possibly
they had been vibrating all these intervening years, unknown to me,
unrecognized. I cannot say. I only know that here was the origin of
the strange energy that now moved me to the depths. Some new worship
of Beauty that had love in it, of which, indeed, love was the
determining quality, awoke in the profoundest part of me, and even
when the "thrill" had gone its way, left me hungry and yearning for
its repetition. Here, then, is the "personal" qualification that I
mentioned. The yearning and the hunger were related to my deepest
needs. I had been empty, but I would be filled. For a passionate
love, holding hands with a faith and confidence as passionate as
itself, poured flooding into me and made this new sense of beauty seem
a paramount necessity of my life.

Will you be patient now, if I give you a crude instance of what I
mean? It is one among many others, but I choose it because its very
crudeness makes my meaning clear.

In this fevered and stricken African coast, you may know, there is
luxuriance in every natural detail, an exuberance that is lavish to
excess. Yet beauty lies somewhat coyly hid--as though suffocated by
over-abundance of crowding wonder. I detect, indeed, almost a touch
of the monstrous in it all, a super-expression, as it were, that
bewilders, and occasionally even may alarm. Delicacy, subtlety,
suggestion in any form, have no part in it. During the five years of
my exile amid this tropical extravagance I can recall no single
instance of beauty "hinting" anywhere. Nature seems, rather,
audaciously abandoned; she is without restraint. She shows her all,
tells everything--she shouts, she never whispers. You will understand
me when I tell you that this wholesale lack of reticence and modesty
involves all absence in the beholder of--surprise. A sudden
ravishment of the senses is impossible. One never can experience that
sweet and troubling agitation to which a breathless amazement
properly belongs. You may be stunned; you are hardly ever "thrilled."

Now, this new sensitiveness to Beauty I have mentioned has opened me
to that receptiveness which is aware of subtlety and owns to sharp
surprise. The thrill is of its very essence. It is unexpected. Out of
the welter of prolific detail Nature here glories in, a delicate hint
of wonder and surprise comes stealing. The change, of course, is in
myself, not otherwise. And on the particular "crude" occasion I will
briefly mention, it reached me from the most obvious and banal of
conditions--the night sky and the moon.

Here, then, is how it happened: There had arisen a situation of grave
difficulty among the natives of my Province, and the need for taking
a strong, authoritative line was paramount. The reports of my
subordinates from various parts of the country pointed to very
vigorous action of a repressing, even of a punitive, description. It
was not, in itself, a complicated situation, and no Governor, who was
soldier too, need have hesitated for an instant. The various
Stations, indeed, anticipating the usual course of action indicated
by precedent, had automatically gone to their posts, prepared for the
"official instructions" it was known that I should send, wondering
impatiently (as I learned afterwards) at the slight delay. For delay
there was, though of a few hours only; and this delay was caused by
my uncomfortable new habit--pausing for the guidance and the
"thrill." Intuition, waiting upon the thrill of Beauty that guided it,
at first lay inactive.

My behaviour seemed scarcely of the orthodox, official kind, soldierly
least of all. There was uneasiness, there was cursing, probably;
there were certainly remarks not complimentary. Prompt, decisive
action was the obvious and only course. . . while I sat quietly in the
Headquarters Bungalow, a sensitive youth again, a dreamer, a poet,
hungry for the inspiration of Beauty that the gorgeous tropical night
concealed with her excess of smothering abundance.

This incongruity between my procedure and the time-honoured methods of
"strong" Governors must have seemed exasperating to those who waited,
respectful, but with nerves on edge, in the canvassed and tented
regions behind the Headquarters clearing. Indeed, the Foreign Office,
could it have witnessed my unpardonable hesitation, might well have
dismissed me on the spot, I think. For I sat there, dreaming in my
deck-chair on the verandah, smoking a cigarette, safe within my net
from the countless poisonous mosquitoes, and listening to the wind in
the palms that fringed the heavy jungle round the building.

Smoking quietly, dreaming, listening, waiting, I sat there in this
mood of inner attention and expectancy, knowing that the guidance I
anticipated must surely come.

A few clouds sprawled in their beds of silver across the sky; the
heat, the perfume, were, as always, painfully, excessive; the
moonlight bathed the huge trees and giant leaves with that habitual
extravagance which made it seem ordinary, almost cheap and
wonderless. Very silent the wooden house lay all about me, there were
no footsteps, there was no human voice. I heard only the wash of the
heavy-scented wind through the colossal foliage that hardly stirred,
and watched, as a hundred times before, the immense heated sky,
drenched in its brilliant and intolerable moonlight. All seemed a
riot of excess, an orgy.

Then, suddenly, the shameless night drew on some exquisite veil, as
the moon, between three-quarters and the full, slid out of sight
behind a streaky cloud. A breath, it seemed, of lighter wind woke all
the perfume of the burdened forest leaves. The shouting splendour
hushed; there came a whisper and, at last--a hint.

I watched with relief and gratitude the momentary eclipse, for in the
half-light I was aware of that sharp and tender mood which was
preparatory to the thrill. Slowly sailing into view again from behind
that gracious veil of cloud--

"The moon put forth a little diamond peak, No bigger than an
unobserved star, Or tiny point of fairy scimitar; Bright signal that
she only stooped to tie Her silver sandals, ere deliciously She bowed
into the heavens her timid head."

And then it came. The Thrill stole forth and touched me, passing like
a meteor through my heart, but in that lightning passage, cleaving it
open to some wisdom that seemed most near to love. For power flowed
in along the path that Beauty cleft for it, and with the beauty came
that intuitive guidance I had waited for.

The inspiration operated like a flash. There was no reasoning; I was
aware immediately that another and a better way of dealing with the
situation was given me.

I need not weary you with details. It seemed contrary to precedent,
advice, against experience too, yet it was the right, the only way.
It threatened, I admit, to destroy the prestige so long and
laboriously established, since it seemed a dangerous yielding to the
natives that must menace the white life everywhere and render trade in
the Colony unsafe. Yet I did not hesitate. . . . There was bustle at
once within that Bungalow; the orders went forth; I saw the way and
chose it--to the dismay, outspoken, of every white man whose welfare
lay in my official hands.

And the results, I may tell you now without pride, since, as we both
admit, no credit attaches to myself--the results astonished the
entire Colony. . . . The Chiefs came to me, in due course, bringing
fruit and flowers and presents enough to bury all Headquarters, and
with a reverential obedience that proved the rising scotched to
death--because its subtle psychological causes had been marvellously
understood.

Full comprehension, as I mentioned earlier in this narrative, we
cannot expect to have. Its origin, I may believe, lies hid in the
nature of that Beauty which is truth and love--in the source of our
very life, perhaps, which lies hid again with beauty very far
away. . . . But I may say this much at least: that it seemed, my inspired
action had co-operated with the instinctive beliefs of these
mysterious tribes--cooperated with their primitive and ancient sense
of Beauty. It had, inexplicably to myself, fulfilled their sense of
right, which my subordinates would have outraged. I had acted with,
instead of against, them.

More I cannot tell you. You have the "crude instance," and you have
the method. The instances multiplied, the method became habit. There
grew in me this personal attitude towards an impersonal power I
hardly understood, and this attitude included an emotion--love. With
faith and love I consequently obeyed it. I loved the source of my
guidance and assistance, though I dared attach no name to it. Simple
enough the matter might have been, could I have referred its origin
to some name--to our mother or to you, to my Chief in London, to an
impersonal Foreign Office that has since honoured me with money and a
complicated address upon my envelopes, or even, by a stretch of
imagination, to that semi-abstract portion of my being some men call
a Higher Self.

To none of these, however, could I honestly or dishonestly ascribe it.
Yet, as in the case of those congratulatory telegrams from our mother
and yourself, I was aware--and this feeling never failed with each
separate occurrence--aware that somebody, other than ourselves
individually or collectively--was pleased.

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