By Algernon Blackwood
We swung forward again without a moment’s delay, my companions talking busily together as before, their meaning, also as before, far, far beyond me. They were talking, too, on several subjects at once. The odd language they had just used, the way we swung forward instantly, without comment or explanation, touched no sense of queerness in me—then. No comment or explanation were necessary; it was natural we should go straight on. Their talking on “several subjects simultaneously” did occur to me—yes, as marvellous.
Foolish, even impossible, as it must sound, it yet did happen; they talked on more than one subject at the same time. They carried on at least a couple of conversations at once without the slightest difficulty, without the smallest effort or confusion. My own admission into the secret was partial; hence my trouble and perplexity. To them it was easy and natural. With me, even the strain of listening made the head swim. The effort to follow them was certainly a physical one, for I was aware of a definite physical reaction more than once, almost indeed of a kind of dizziness akin to nausea.
To report it is beyond my power. For one thing, I cannot remember, for another, the concentration necessary left me a little stupefied. I can give an instance only, and that a poor one. They used “third meanings,” too.
Malahide while voluble enough in his normal state, was at the same time usually inarticulate. His verbosity conveyed little. The tiny vital meaning in him fumbled and stammered through countless wrappings. These wrappings smothered it. Now, on the contrary, he talked fluently and clearly. It was I who was puzzled—at first—to find the subject he discussed so glibly. And Forden, usually timid and hesitating in his speech, though never inarticulate, now also used a flow of fearless words in answer. Yet not precisely “in answer,” for both men talked at once. They uttered simultaneously—on two subjects, if not on three:
“We all deserve,” Malahide’s deep voice thundered, “a divine attention few of us receive— God’s pity. We are not, alas, whole-hearted. Few of us deserve another compliment. Due to splendour—the Devil’s admiration.”
His voice, for once, was entirely natural, unselfconscious. There was the stress of real feeling and belief in what he said.
“I for one,” he went on, “I take my hat off to the whole-hearted, whether in so-called good or evil. For of such stuff are eventual angels wrought…”
Angels! The word caught me on the raw. Its “third meaning” caught me on the raw and with a sense of power and beauty so startling that I missed the rest. The word poured through me like a flame. Of what he spoke, to what context the strange statement was related, I had no inkling; yet, while he actually spoke the words, I heard Forden speaking to Malahide, who heard and understood and answered—but speaking, and simultaneously, on another matter altogether. And this other matter I grasped. Remote enough from what Malahide was saying, and trivial by comparison, it referred to an Alpine sojourn with his wife a couple of summers before. Malahide, too, had been with them:
“Often, after the hotel dinner,” Forden said contemptuously, “I heard them mouthing all sorts of lovely poetic phrases; yet not one of them would make the slight sacrifice of personal comfort necessary to experience that loveliness, that poetry, in themselves…”
To which Malahide, though still developing “God’s pity” and the “Devil’s admiration” in phrases packed with real feeling, contrived somehow to answer, but always simultaneously, his friend’s remark:
“They bring their own lower world,” he boomed, “even into the beauty of the mountains, then wonder that the beauty of the mountains tells them nothing. They would find Balham on great Betelgeuse”—a tremendous laugh rang out—“and Clapham Junction on fiery Vega!”
“Her pity,” came Forden’s words, talking of another matter altogether, yet uttered simultaneously with his friend’s laughing rhetoric, “is self-pity merely. She does these out-of-the-way things without sufficient apparent reason. It is not a desire for notoriety—that would shock her—but it is a desire to be conspicuous. Life, which means people, did not make a fuss about her in her youth. But the law of compensation works inevitably. Late in life she means to have that fuss.”
It is the phraseology that enables me to remember this singular exchange. My head was spinning. For Malahide made a reply to this, while still discussing the poseurs in the Alpine hotel. And while they talked thus on two subjects simultaneously, Forden managed to chat easily too with me—upon a third… It was as though a second dimension in time had opened for them. Between myself and Forden there was plainly some kind of telepathic communication. He had my thought before I uttered it aloud.
Of this I can give two instances, both trivial, yet showing that simultaneously with his Malahide conversations he was paying attention to my own remarks, and—simultaneously again—was answering them. It was absolutely staggering.
Here are the instances memory retained:
Some scraps of white paper, remnants of an untidy picnic party, lay fluttering in the thick grass some distance in front of us, and at the first glance I thought they were not paper, but—chickens. Only on coming nearer was the mistake clear. Whether I meant to comment aloud on the little deception, or not, I cannot remember; but in any case, before I actually did so, Forden, glancing down at me with his gentle smile, observed: “I, too, thought at first they were chickens.” He hit them idly with his stick as we passed.
The second instance, equally trivial, equally striking at the same time, was the gamekeeper’s cottage on the fringe of a wood. It suggested to my mind a charcoal-burner’s hut in a book of German fairytales, and I said so. This time I spoke my thought. “But I’ve just said that,” came Forden’s comment, his eyes twinkling brightly as before. And it was true; he had said it a fraction of a second before I did. During this brief exchange between us he was still talking fluently with Malahide—on at least two subjects—and simultaneously… Now, from the fact that I noticed this, that my mind made a note of it I draw the conclusion that my attention was definitely arrested, surprise accompanying it. The extraordinariness of the matter struck me, whereas to my companions it was ordinary and natural. I was not wholly included in their marvellous experience. I was still the observer merely…
Immediately following the telepathic instances with Forden came a flash of sudden understanding, as though I were abruptly carried a stage deeper into their own condition:
I discerned one of the subjects they discussed so earnestly together.
This came hard upon a momentary doubt—the doubt that they were playing, half-fooling me. Then came the swift flash that negatived the doubt. I can only compare it to the amazing review of a man’s whole life that is said to flash out in a moment of extreme danger. This quality, as of juggling with Time, belonged to it.
Malahide and Forden, then were talking together of Woman, of women but of individual women. Ah! The flash grew brighter: of their own wives. Yet that Malahide spoke of Forden’s wife and that Forden discussed Mrs. Malahide. Each had the free entrée into the other’s mind, and what each was too loyal to say about his own wife, the other easily said for him. This swiftest telepathic communication, as with myself and Forden, they enjoyed between themselves. With supreme ease it was accomplished.
It was an astounding performance. This discussion of their wives was actually a discussion of—well, not of Mary Forden and Jane Malahide individually, but, through them, of the deep unsolved problem of mate and sex which each man had faced in his own life—unsuccessfully. The fragments I caught seemed meaningless, because the full context was lacking for me. I got a glimmer of their Third Meanings and realised one thing clearly: they were giving one another help. Forden’s honeymoon had been spent in the Alps, whereas Malahide’s wife had the lack of proportion which made her conspicuous by a pose of startling originality. This gave me a clue. Time as a sequence of minutes, days and years, did not trouble either speaker. The entire matter, regard- less of past and present, seemed spread out like a contour-map beneath the eyes of their inner understanding. There was no picking out one characteristic, dealing with it, then passing on to consider another. To me it came, seriatim, in that fashion, but they saw the matter whole and all at once; so rapidly, so comprehensively, too, that the sentences flew upon each other’s heels as though uttered simultaneously by each speaker.
They were poised above the landscape of their daily lives, and in such a way that they were able to realise present, past and future simultaneously. It was no longer exactly “today,” it was no longer necessarily “today.” Temporarily they had escaped from the iron tyranny of being fastened to a particular hour on a particular day. They—and partially myself with them—were no longer chained by the cramping discipline of a precise moment in time, any more than a prisoner, his chains filed off, is fixed to a precise spot in his dungeon. Where we were in time, God knows. It might have been yesterday, it might have been tomorrow—any yesterday, any tomorrow—which we now realised simultaneously with the so-called present. It happened to be—so I felt—a particular tomorrow we realised, and it was something in the three of us (due to the combination of our three personalities) that determined which particular tomorrow it was. The prisoner in space, his chains filed off, moves instinctively to the window of escape; and they, prisoners in time, moved now similarly to a window—of escape…
A flash of this escape from ordinary categories, of this “different” experience, had come to me as we left the railway carriage. It now grew brighter, more steady, more continuous. I seemed travelling in time, as one travels ordinarily in space. To the wingless creature crawling over fields the hedge behind it is past, the hedge beyond it future. It cannot conceive both hedges existing simultaneously. Then some miracle gives it wings. Hanging in the air, it sees both past and future existing simultaneously. Losing its wings once more, it crawls across the fields again. That air-experience now seems absurd, impossible, contradicting all established law. The same signpost points now as it always pointed—in one direction.
This analogy, though imperfect, occurred to me while we brought up, but not even breathlessly, halfway down the field as already mentioned, and all I have attempted to describe took place in that brief interval of running.
Before entering that field with its rivers of gold, we had been leaning on a stile; we were leaning on that stile still. Or, it may be put otherwise: we were leaning on that stile again.
Similarly, the whole business of running, of passing the signs mentioned by the porter, the conversations, the emotions, everything in fact, were just about to happen all over again. More truly expressed, they were all happening still. Like Barton, in Malahide’s previous phrase, it was all there. The hedge behind, the hedge in front, were both beneath us, existing simultaneously… At a particular spot in the hedge—a particular “tomorrow”—we paused…