Four Weird TalesAlgernon Blackwood / Fantasy
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FOUR WEIRD TALES
The Insanity of JonesThe Man Who Found OutThe Glamour of the Snow andSand
A NOTE ON THE TEXT
These stories first appeared in Blackwood's story collections:The Insanity of Jones in _The Listener and Other Stories_ (1907);The Man Who Found Out in _The Wolves of God and Other Fey Stories_ (1921);The Glamour of the Snow, and Sand in _Pan's Garden_ (1912).
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_The Insanity of Jones_
(A Study in Reincarnation)
Adventures come to the adventurous, and mysterious things fall in theway of those who, with wonder and imagination, are on the watch forthem; but the majority of people go past the doors that are half ajar,thinking them closed, and fail to notice the faint stirrings of thegreat curtain that hangs ever in the form of appearances between themand the world of causes behind.
For only to the few whose inner senses have been quickened, perchanceby some strange suffering in the depths, or by a natural temperamentbequeathed from a remote past, comes the knowledge, not too welcome,that this greater world lies ever at their elbow, and that any moment achance combination of moods and forces may invite them to cross theshifting frontier.
Some, however, are born with this awful certainty in their hearts, andare called to no apprenticeship, and to this select company Jonesundoubtedly belonged.
All his life he had realised that his senses brought to him merely amore or less interesting set of sham appearances; that space, as menmeasure it, was utterly misleading; that time, as the clock ticked itin a succession of minutes, was arbitrary nonsense; and, in fact, thatall his sensory perceptions were but a clumsy representation of _real_things behind the curtain--things he was for ever trying to get at, andthat sometimes he actually did get at.
He had always been tremblingly aware that he stood on the borderlandof another region, a region where time and space were merely forms ofthought, where ancient memories lay open to the sight, and where theforces behind each human life stood plainly revealed and he could seethe hidden springs at the very heart of the world. Moreover, the factthat he was a clerk in a fire insurance office, and did his work withstrict attention, never allowed him to forget for one moment that, justbeyond the dingy brick walls where the hundred men scribbled withpointed pens beneath the electric lamps, there existed this gloriousregion where the important part of himself dwelt and moved and had itsbeing. For in this region he pictured himself playing the part of aspectator to his ordinary workaday life, watching, like a king, thestream of events, but untouched in his own soul by the dirt, the noise,and the vulgar commotion of the outer world.
And this was no poetic dream merely. Jones was not playing prettily withidealism to amuse himself. It was a living, working belief. So convincedwas he that the external world was the result of a vast deceptionpractised upon him by the gross senses, that when he stared at a greatbuilding like St. Paul's he felt it would not very much surprise him tosee it suddenly quiver like a shape of jelly and then melt utterly away,while in its place stood all at once revealed the mass of colour, or thegreat intricate vibrations, or the splendid sound--the spiritualidea--which it represented in stone.
For something in this way it was that his mind worked.
Yet, to all appearances, and in the satisfaction of all business claims,Jones was normal and unenterprising. He felt nothing but contempt forthe wave of modern psychism. He hardly knew the meaning of such words asclairvoyance and clairaudience. He had never felt the least desireto join the Theosophical Society and to speculate in theories ofastral-plane life, or elementals. He attended no meetings of thePsychical Research Society, and knew no anxiety as to whether his aurawas black or blue; nor was he conscious of the slightest wish to mix inwith the revival of cheap occultism which proves so attractive to weakminds of mystical tendencies and unleashed imaginations.
There were certain things he _knew_, but none he cared to argue about;and he shrank instinctively from attempting to put names to the contentsof this other region, knowing well that such names could only limit anddefine things that, according to any standards in use in the ordinaryworld, were simply undefinable and illusive.
So that, although this was the way his mind worked, there was clearly avery strong leaven of common sense in Jones. In a word, the man theworld and the office knew as Jones _was_ Jones. The name summed him upand labelled him correctly--John Enderby Jones.
Among the things that he _knew_, and therefore never cared to speak orspeculate about, one was that he plainly saw himself as the inheritorof a long series of past lives, the net result of painful evolution,always as himself, of course, but in numerous different bodies eachdetermined by the behaviour of the preceding one. The present John Joneswas the last result to date of all the previous thinking, feeling,and doing of John Jones in earlier bodies and in other centuries. Hepretended to no details, nor claimed distinguished ancestry, for herealised his past must have been utterly commonplace and insignificantto have produced his present; but he was just as sure he had been atthis weary game for ages as that he breathed, and it never occurred tohim to argue, to doubt, or to ask questions. And one result of thisbelief was that his thoughts dwelt upon the past rather than upon thefuture; that he read much history, and felt specially drawn to certainperiods whose spirit he understood instinctively as though he had livedin them; and that he found all religions uninteresting because, almostwithout exception, they start from the present and speculate ahead as towhat men shall become, instead of looking back and speculating why menhave got here as they are.
In the insurance office he did his work exceedingly well, but withoutmuch personal ambition. Men and women he regarded as the impersonalinstruments for inflicting upon him the pain or pleasure he had earnedby his past workings, for chance had no place in his scheme of things atall; and while he recognised that the practical world could not getalong unless every man did his work thoroughly and conscientiously, hetook no interest in the accumulation of fame or money for himself, andsimply, therefore, did his plain duty, with indifference as to results.
In common with others who lead a strictly impersonal life, he possessedthe quality of utter bravery, and was always ready to face anycombination of circumstances, no matter how terrible, because he saw inthem the just working-out of past causes he had himself set in motionwhich could not be dodged or modified. And whereas the majority ofpeople had little meaning for him, either by way of attraction orrepulsion, the moment he met some one with whom he felt his past hadbeen _vitally_ interwoven his whole inner being leapt up instantly andshouted the fact in his face, and he regulated his life with the utmostskill and caution, like a sentry on watch for an enemy whose feet couldalready be heard approaching.
Thus, while the great majority of men and women left himuninfluenced--since he regarded them as so many souls merely passingwith him along the great stream of evolution--there were, here andthere, individuals with whom he recognised that his smallest intercoursewas of the gravest importance. These were persons with whom he knewin every fibre of his being he had accounts to settle, pleasant orotherwise, arising out of dealings in past lives; and into his relationswith these few, therefore, he concentrated as it were the efforts thatmost people spread over their intercourse with a far greater number. Bywhat means he picked out these few individuals only those conversantwith the startling processes of the subconscious memory may say, but thepoint was that Jones believed the main purpose, if not quite the entirepurpose, of his present incarnation lay in his faithful and thoroughsettling of these accounts, and that if he sought to evade the leastdetail of such settling, no matter how unpleasant, he would have livedin vain, and would return to his next incarnation with this added dutyto perform. For according to his beliefs there was no Chance, and couldbe no ultimate shirking, and to avoid a problem was merely to waste timeand lose opportunities for development.
And there was one individual with whom Jones had long understood clearlyhe had a very large account to settle, and towards the accomplishmentof which all the main currents of his being seemed to bear him withunswerving purpose. For, when he first entered the insurance office as ajunior clerk ten years before, and through a glass door had caught sightof this man seated in an inner room, one of his sudden overwhelmingflashes of intuitive memory had burst up into him from the depths, andhe had seen, as in a flame of blinding light, a symbolical picture ofthe future rising out of a dreadful past, and he had, without any act ofdefinite volition, marked down this man for a real account to besettled.
With _that_ man I shall have much to do, he said to himself, as henoted the big face look up and meet his eye through the glass. There issomething I cannot shirk--a vital relation out of the past of both ofus.
And he went to his desk trembling a little, and with shaking knees, asthough the memory of some terrible pain had suddenly laid its icy handupon his heart and touched the scar of a great horror. It was a momentof genuine terror when their eyes had met through the glass door, andhe was conscious of an inward shrinking and loathing that seized uponhim with great violence and convinced him in a single second that thesettling of this account would be almost, perhaps, more than he couldmanage.
The vision passed as swiftly as it came, dropping back again into thesubmerged region of his consciousness; but he never forgot it, andthe whole of his life thereafter became a sort of natural thoughundeliberate preparation for the fulfilment of the great duty when thetime should be ripe.
In those days--ten years ago--this man was the Assistant Manager,but had since been promoted as Manager to one of the company's localbranches; and soon afterwards Jones had likewise found himselftransferred to this same branch. A little later, again, the branchat Liverpool, one of the most important, had been in peril owing tomismanagement and defalcation, and the man had gone to take charge ofit, and again, by mere chance apparently, Jones had been promoted to thesame place. And this pursuit of the Assistant Manager had continued forseveral years, often, too, in the most curious fashion; and though Joneshad never exchanged a single word with him, or been so much as noticedindeed by the great man, the clerk understood perfectly well that thesemoves in the game were all part of a definite purpose. Never for onemoment did he doubt that the Invisibles behind the veil were slowly andsurely arranging the details of it all so as to lead up suitably to theclimax demanded by justice, a climax in which himself and the Managerwould play the leading _roles_.
It is inevitable, he said to himself, and I feel it may be terrible;but when the moment comes I shall be ready, and I pray God that I mayface it properly and act like a man.
Moreover, as the years passed, and nothing happened, he felt the horrorclosing in upon him with steady increase, for the fact was Jones hatedand loathed the Manager with an intensity of feeling he had never beforeexperienced towards any human being. He shrank from his presence, andfrom the glance of his eyes, as though he remembered to have sufferednameless cruelties at his hands; and he slowly began to realise,moreover, that the matter to be settled between them was one of veryancient standing, and that the nature of the settlement was a dischargeof accumulated punishment which would probably be very dreadful in themanner of its fulfilment.
When, therefore, the chief cashier one day informed him that the manwas to be in London again--this time as General Manager of the headoffice--and said that he was charged to find a private secretary for himfrom among the best clerks, and further intimated that the selectionhad fallen upon himself, Jones accepted the promotion quietly,fatalistically, yet with a degree of inward loathing hardly to bedescribed. For he saw in this merely another move in the evolution ofthe inevitable Nemesis which he simply dared not seek to frustrate byany personal consideration; and at the same time he was conscious of acertain feeling of relief that the suspense of waiting might soon bemitigated. A secret sense of satisfaction, therefore, accompanied theunpleasant change, and Jones was able to hold himself perfectly well inhand when it was carried into effect and he was formally introduced asprivate secretary to the General Manager.
Now the Manager was a large, fat man, with a very red face and bagsbeneath his eyes. Being short-sighted, he wore glasses that seemed tomagnify his eyes, which were always a little bloodshot. In hot weather asort of thin slime covered his cheeks, for he perspired easily. His headwas almost entirely bald, and over his turn-down collar his great neckfolded in two distinct reddish collops of flesh. His hands were big andhis fingers almost massive in thickness.
He was an excellent business man, of sane judgment and firm will,without enough imagination to confuse his course of action by showinghim possible alternatives; and his integrity and ability caused him tobe held in universal respect by the world of business and finance. Inthe important regions of a man's character, however, and at heart, hewas coarse, brutal almost to savagery, without consideration for others,and as a result often cruelly unjust to his helpless subordinates.
In moments of temper, which were not infrequent, his face turned a dullpurple, while the top of his bald head shone by contrast like whitemarble, and the bags under his eyes swelled till it seemed they wouldpresently explode with a pop. And at these times he presented adistinctly repulsive appearance.
But to a private secretary like Jones, who did his duty regardless ofwhether his employer was beast or angel, and whose mainspring wasprinciple and not emotion, this made little difference. Within thenarrow limits in which any one _could_ satisfy such a man, he pleasedthe General Manager; and more than once his piercing intuitive faculty,amounting almost to clairvoyance, assisted the chief in a fashion thatserved to bring the two closer together than might otherwise havebeen the case, and caused the man to respect in his assistant a powerof which he possessed not even the germ himself. It was a curiousrelationship that grew up between the two, and the cashier, who enjoyedthe credit of having made the selection, profited by it indirectly asmuch as any one else.
So for some time the work of the office continued normally and veryprosperously. John Enderby Jones received a good salary, and in theoutward appearance of the two chief characters in this history therewas little change noticeable, except that the Manager grew fatter andredder, and the secretary observed that his own hair was beginning toshow rather greyish at the temples.
There were, however, two changes in progress, and they both had to dowith Jones, and are important to mention.
One was that he began to dream evilly. In the region of deep sleep,where the possibility of significant dreaming first develops itself, hewas tormented more and more with vivid scenes and pictures in which atall thin man, dark and sinister of countenance, and with bad eyes, wasclosely associated with himself. Only the setting was that of a pastage, with costumes of centuries gone by, and the scenes had to do withdreadful cruelties that could not belong to modern life as he knew it.
The other change was also significant, but is not so easy to describe,for he had in fact become aware that some new portion of himself,hitherto unawakened, had stirred slowly into life out of the very depthsof his consciousness. This new part of himself amounted almost toanother personality, and he never observed its least manifestationwithout a strange thrill at his heart.
For he understood that it had begun to _watch_ the Manager!