By Algernon Blackwood
These thoughts played about them and over them, directed by a flair of understanding that was new in me…
Neither would ever see forty again, yet to me they seemed young with their careers still in front of them; and each groping a way toward some ultimate meaning in life that neither was ever likely to discover. If not dilettantes, both shrank from the big sacrifices. They both were married, and in this fundamental relationship were unsatisfied but had mastered that dissatisfaction. Accepting a responsibility undertaken, they played the game. There was fine stuff in them. And both sought elsewhere an outlet marriage had accordingly failed to provide. Not immorality, of course; but a mental, maybe a spiritual, outlet. They sought it without success. Their stream of yearning went lost among the stars and unremunerative dreams. The point remains: this yearning did exist in each, and its power was cumulative.
Similarly, in their daily work as actors, and uncommonly good actors, one with a streak of fine inspiration, the other, Malahide, with a touch of fiery genius, both accepted an art that both held, but it was not creative. They were merely interpreters of other men’s creations. And here lay deep dissatisfaction. Here lay the root and essence of a searching pain both shared—since, God knows, they were gifted, honest beings—that a creative outlet was denied to creative powers.
This fundamental problem—the second one—lay unsolved in both; hence both were open to attack and ready for adventure. But the lesser adventures, refuge of commonplace fellows, they resolutely declined. Were they worthy then of the greater adventure that circumstances, at length, with inexplicable suddenness and out of the least likely material, offered to them…?
Somewhat thus I saw my companions, as the train jolted us that sparkling April morning, many years ago, towards Stanton, Malahide humming his mood idly through the open window, Forden lying at full length, reading the papers with listless eye. But I saw another thing as well, saw it with a limpid clearness my description may not hold: something ahead—an event—lay in waiting for them, something they knew about, both not desiring, yet desiring it, something inevitable as sunrise.
We move towards and past events successively, calling this motion time. But the event itself does not move at all. It is always there. We three, now sitting in the jolting carriage, were approaching an event about which they knew, but about which I did not know. I received an imperfect impression of something they saw perfectly. And in some way the accumulated power of their combined yearnings, wasted as I had thought, made what happened possible.
It was an extraordinary idea to come to me with such conviction, and with this atmosphere of prophecy. I glanced at the two men, each like myself the victim of a strange, unhappy weakness. These weaknesses, too, contributed as well: unbalance, instability, were evidently necessary to the event. To steady, heroic types it never could have happened.
The train was stopping, and Malahide already had the door half-open. Forden, in his turn, sprang up.
“Stanton!” cried the former, as though he spoke a line of tense drama on the stage. “Here we are. Come on, you fellows!” And he was on the platform before the train drew to a standstill. His vehemence was absurd. He used it to help him make the start, the fear I have mentioned prompting it. And Forden, like a flash, was on his heels. I followed, pausing a moment to collect the papers in case Malahide should ask for them, and then, thank heaven, as we stood on that ugly platform and asked the porter the way to Barton, my own strange feelings, heightened perception with them, dropped back with a jerk into the normal again. The uncomfortable insight was suddenly withdrawn. It had seemed an intrusion into their privacies; I was relieved to see them again as two friends merely, two actors, out for a country walk with me to a village called Barton-in-Fabis on a brilliant April morning.
One last flash only there was as I followed them out, one final hint of what I have called “seeing more” of everything, seeing “differently.” The three of us left the carriage as described, in sequence; yet to me it flashed with definite though illogical assurance that only one got out. Not that one was gone and two were left, but that the three of us got out as one, simultaneously. One being left that carriage. The fingers of a hand may move and point in several directions at once, while the hand moves forward in one direction only, as a whole. The simile occurred to me… I perceived it through what I can only call a veil of smoke.