By Algernon Blackwood
My own attitude contained at first both criticism and resistance; it was only gradually that I found myself caught in the full tide that swept my companions along so easily. A first eddy of it had touched me in the train, when my feet felt a little “off the earth”; now I was already in the bigger current; before long I had become entirely submerged with them… Fields and lanes slipped rapidly behind us, but no farm, no trees, no gate, as the porter described, had been seen. We were lost in the heart of the sparkling April day; dew, light and gentle airs our only guides. The day contained us.
I made efforts to disentangle myself.
“Barton’s not getting any nearer,” I expostulated once.
“Barton-in-Fabis,” mentioned Malahide with complete assurance, that no longer held a trace of vehemence, “is there—where it always is,” while Forden’s breath of delicate laughter followed the flat statement, as though the larks overhead had sung close beside my ear.
“D’you think we’re going right?” I ventured another time. “Our direction, I mean?”
Again, with that ghostly laughter, Forden met me: “It’s the way we have to go,” he replied half under his breath. “It’s always a mistake to trouble too much about direction—actual direction, that is.” And Malahide was singing to himself as though nothing mattered in the world, details as to direction least of all… It was just after this as our lane came to a stile and we leaned over it comfortably, all three, that the odour of burning touched my mind again, only with it and at the same time, a sight so moving that I paused in thought, catching my breath a little. For the field before us sloped down into the distance, ancient furrows showing just beneath the surface like the flowing folds of a shaken carpet. They ran like streams. Their curve downhill lent this impression of movement. They were of gold. Every inch of the surface was smothered with the shimmering cream of a million yellow buttercups.
“Rivers of Gold!” I exclaimed involuntarily, and at the same moment Forden was over the stile in a single leap and running across the brilliant grass.
“Look out!” he cried, a bewitched expression on his face, “it’s fire!”—and he was gone.
It was as though he swam to the neck in gleaming gold. He peered back at me a second through the shining flood—and it was in this instant, just as I caught his turning face, that Malahide was after him. He passed me like a wave, still singing; there was a rush of power in his speed. I followed at once, unable to resist. The three of us ran like one man over and through that flood of golden buttercups, passing every sign the railway porter had told us to look out for: the farm, the trees, the gate, the second gate—everything. Only, we passed them more than once. It was as though we swung in a rapid circle round and round the promised signs, always passing them, always coming up to them, always leaving them behind, then always seeing them in front of us again, yet the entire sequence right, natural and—possible.
Now, I noticed this. I was aware of this. Yet it caused me no surprise. That it should be so seemed quite ordinary—at the time…
We brought up presently, not even breathless, some half-way down that golden field.
“Nothing to what I expected,” exclaimed Malahide, interrupting his singing for the first time.
“There was no pain,” mentioned Forden, his voice soft and comforting, as though he spoke to a little child.
There was an instant of most poignant emotion in me as they said it; a certainty flashed through me that I could not seize; a sudden wave of tears, of joy, of sorrow, of despair, swept past me and was gone again before I had the faintest chance to snatch at any explanation. Like the memory of some tremendous, rather awful dream, it vanished, and Malahide’s quick remark, the next second, capped its complete oblivion:
“And there he goes again!” I heard. “He’s stuck another one in!”
He was pointing to a hedge at the bottom of the field where, behind the veil of its creamy hawthorn, I just made out the figure of a man ambling slowly along, till the hedge, growing thicker, finally concealed him. But the signpost, when we reached it a few minutes later, showed an arm rotten with age, and only the faded legend on it, hardly legible: “Footpath.” It pointed downwards—into the ground.