In his marvellously controlled sidling manner of indirection by precision and elaboration James constructs the portrait of a man intent on grasping his alternate might have been self.
Spencer Brydon recognised it—it was in fact what he had absolutely professed. Yet he importantly qualified. “He isn’t myself. He’s the just so totally other person. But I do want to see him,” he added. “And I can. And I shall.”
There is danger in meeting that stayed behind who may be the dark other and less than other. It is called by the Tibetan yogis a tulpa and of course the adepts can control this manifestation and concretisation of their own power. The hero of James’s story calls up or tries to call up by a constant revisiting of the house and a wandering through its dark passages always leaving the doors that communicate between the rooms open. It is a mark of this symbolic and practical detail that it operates at a subliminal level.
As related by Alexandra David-Neel in her book With Mystics and Magicians in Tibet these tulpas have been known to elude the control of their creator and take an independent and rebellious life.
However, the practice is considered as fraught with danger for every one who has not reached a high mental and spiritual degree of enlightenment and is not fully aware of the nature of the psychic forces at work in the process.
Once the tulpa is endowed with enough vitality to be capable of playing the part of a real being, it tends to free itself from its maker's control. This, say Tibetan occultists, happens nearly mechanically, just as the child, when his body is completed and able to live apart, leaves its mother's womb. Sometimes the phantom becomes a rebellious son and one heahears of uncanny struggles that have taken place between magicians and their creatures, the former being severely hurt or even killed by the latter.
That the form may exist in the subtle plane is shown by his friend Miss Staverton’s experience of him in two dreams.
“I’ve seen him in a dream
Oh a ‘dream’—!” It let him down.
“But twice over,” she continued. “I saw him as I see you now.”
This intrigues Bryden but before he can absorb the delicious effect of his being dreamed of they part and the next chapter opens in which he begins to stalk the resident of the old house. What is he trying to catch? No more and no less than the Ka that is locked up in the tomb of the past.
His alter ego “walked”—that was the note of his image of him, while his image of his motive for his own odd pastime was the desire to waylay him and meet him.
The hunt or haunt is on and it is a success:
On his return that night—the night succeeding his last intermission—he stood in the hall and looked up the staircase with a certainty more intimate than any he had yet known. “He’s there, at the top, and waiting—not, as in general, falling back for disappearance. He’s holding his ground, and it’s the first time—which is a proof, isn’t it? that something has happened for him.”
James’s special gifts of circling allusiveness, of vague palping of reality are especially suitable to this sort of tale. It is amongst his best writing.