Malahide and Forden, 7

illustration-to-dante-s-divine-comedy-hell

By Algernon Blackwood

…At my side, touching my shoulders, Malahide and Forden were quietly discussing the way to Barton-in-Fabis, and there came over me again that touch of nausea. For, while flatly contradicting one another, they were yet in complete agreement.

It was at this instant the shock fell upon me with its glory and its terror.

My companions stood back to back. I was a yard or so to one side. They both now turned suddenly—but how phrase the incredible thing?—they both came at me, while at the same time they went away from me. A hand, endowed with consciousness, a hand being turned inside out like a glove, might feel what I felt.

I saw their two faces. A little more, a little less, and there must have been a bristling horror in the experience. As it was, I felt only that a sheet of wonder caught us up all three. The odour of burning that came with it did not terrify; that drift of yellow smoke, now deepening, did not wound. I accepted, I understood, there was even some thing in me had rejoiced.

In the twinkling of an eye, both men were marvellously changed: they stood before me, splendid and divine. I was aware of the complete being in each, the full, whole Self instead of the minute fraction I had known hitherto. All that lay in them, either of strength or weakness, was magnificently fused… The word “glory” flashed, followed immediately by a better word, and one that Malahide had already used. Its inadequacy was painful. Its third meaning in that instant blazed. “Angels” in spite of everything, remains.

And I, too, moved—moved with them both, but in a way, and in a direction, I had never known before. The glove, the hand, being turned inside out, is what my pen writes down, but accurate description is not possible. I moved on—on with my two companions towards Barton.

“It’s all one to me,” I said, perfectly aware that I suddenly used the third meaning of the phrase, and that Malahide and Forden understood.

“I’ve just said that myself,” the latter mentioned—and this again was true. The smile, the happiness, on his face carried the very spirit of that radiant April morning, the essence of spring, with its birds, its flowers, its dew, its careless wisdom.

“Such things,” cried Malahide, “are painless after all. It comes on me like sleep upon a child. Ha, ha!” he laughed, in his wild, vehement way. “It’s all one to me now too. Escape, by God!”

The stab of fierce emotion his language caused me passed and vanished; the afflicting memory of the burning odour was forgotten too. Everything was one. Both men gazed at me, smiling, wonderful, superb, and in their eyes a light, whose reflection apparently lay also in my own; an immense and awful pity that our everyday, unhappy, partial selves should ever have dared to masquerade as though they were complete and real…

“God’s pity,” sang Malahide like a trumpet. “We shall have deserved it…!”

“And the Devil’s admiration,” followed Forden’s sweeter tones, as of a vox humana, both distant, yet like a lark against my ears. He was laughing with sheer music. “There was no terror. I knew it must be so… Oh, the delicious liberty… at last!”

Both uttered simultaneously. In the same breath, anguish and happiness working together, my own voice cried aloud:

“We are, for once, whole-hearted!”

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