By Algernon Blackwood
A performance behind the scenes that night was more dramatic—to me, at least—than anything the enthusiastic audience witnessed from the front. The three of us met in the wings for the first time since Malahide had given us the slip at the station. High tea at six I had alone, Forden for some reason going to a shop for his meal. Malahide, for another reason, ate nothing. We met at our respective posts in the wings. Neither Forden nor I were on till late in the second act, and as we came down the rickety stairs from separate dressing-rooms, at the same moment it so chanced, I realised at once that he was as little inclined to talk as I was. My own mind was still too packed with the whirling wonder of the whole affair for utterance. We nodded, then dropped back towards the door through which he would presently make his entrance.
It was just then, while someone was whispering “He’s giving a marvellous performance tonight,” that Malahide swept by me from his exit and ran to his dressing-room for a hurried change.
“Hullo, Hubert!” he cried in his tempestuous way. “I say…” as though it surprised him to see me there. “By the by,” he rattled on, stopping dead for a breathless second in the rush to his room, “there’s a place called Barton I want to see—Barton-in-Fabis. Let’s go tomorrow. There’s a train at 10.15. Forden can come too!” And he was gone. Gone too, I realised with a dreadful sinking of the heart—utterly gone as though it had never happened, was all memory of the day’s adventure. The mind in Malahide was blank as a clean-washed slate.
And Forden—standing close behind him within easy earshot—my eye fell upon Forden, who had heard every single word. I saw him stare and bite his lips. He passed a hand aimlessly across his forehead. His eyelids flickered. There was a quiver of the lips. In his old man’s wig and make-up, he looked neither himself nor the part he was just about to play. Waiting there for his cue, now imminent, he stared fixedly at Malahide’s vanishing figure, then at me, then blankly into space. He was like a man about to fall. He looked bewitched again. A moment’s intense strain shot across the delicate features. He made in that instant a tremendous, a violent, effort to recapture something that evaded him, an effort that failed completely. The next second, too swift to be measurable, that amazing expression, the angel’s, shone out amazingly. It flashed and vanished… His cue sounded. He, too, was gone.
How I made my own entrance, I hardly know. Five minutes later we met on the stage. He was normal. He was acting beautifully. His mind, like Malahide’s, was a clean-washed slate.