Entrance and Exit

By Algernon Blackwood

These three—the old physicist, the girl, and the young Anglican parson who was engaged to her—stood by the window of the country house. The blinds were not yet drawn. They could see the dark clump of pines in the field, with crests silhouetted against the pale wintry sky of the February afternoon. Snow, freshly fallen, lay upon lawn and hill. A big moon was already lighting up.

“Yes, that’s the wood,” the old man said, “and it was this very day fifty years ago—February 13—the man disappeared from its shadows; swept in this extraordinary, incredible fashion into invisibility—into some other place. Can you wonder the grove is haunted?” A strange impressiveness of manner belied the laugh following the words.

“Oh, please tell us,” the girl whispered; “we’re all alone now.” Curiosity triumphed yet a vague alarm betrayed itself in the questioning glance she cast for protection at her younger companion, whose fine face, on the other hand, wore an expression that was grave and singularly “rapt.” He was listening keenly.

“As though Nature,” the physicist went on, half to himself, “here and there concealed vacuums, gaps, holes in space (his mind was always speculative; more than speculative, some said), through which a man might drop into invisibility—a new direction, in fact, at right angles to the three known ones—‘higher space,’ as Bolyai, Gauss, and Hinton might call it; and what you, with your mystical turn”—looking toward the young priest—“might consider a spiritual change of condition, into a region where space and time do not exist, and where all dimensions are possible—because they are one.”

“But, please, the story,” the girl begged, not understanding these dark sayings, “although I’m not sure that Arthur ought to hear it. He’s much too interested in such queer things as it is!” Smiling, yet uneasy, she stood closer to his side, as though her body might protect his soul.

“Very briefly, then, you shall hear what I remember of this haunting, for I was barely ten years old at the time. It was evening—clear and cold like this, with snow and moonlight—when someone reported to my father that a peculiar sound, variously described as crying, singing, wailing, was being heard in the grove. He paid no attention until my sister heard it too, and was frightened. Then he sent a groom to investigate. Though the night was brilliant the man took a lantern. We watched from this very window till we lost his figure against the trees, and the lantern stopped swinging suddenly, as if he had put it down. It remained motionless. We waited half an hour, and then my father, curiously excited, I remember, went out quickly, and I, utterly terrified, went after him. We followed his tracks, which came to an end beside the lantern, the last step being a stride almost impossible for a man to have made. All around the snow was unbroken by a single mark, but the man himself had vanished. Then we heard him calling for help—above, behind, beyond us; from all directions at once, yet from none, came the sound of his voice; but though we called back he made no answer, and gradually his cries grew fainter and fainter, as if going into tremendous distance, and at last died away altogether.”

“And the man himself?” asked both listeners.

“Never returned—from that day to this has never been seen. . . At intervals for weeks and months afterwards reports came in that he was still heard crying, always crying for help. With time, even these reports ceased—for most of us,” he added under his breath; “and that is all I know. A mere outline, as you see.”

The girl did not quite like the story, for the old man’s manner made it too convincing. She was half disappointed, half frightened.

“See! there are the others coming home,” she exclaimed, with a note of relief, pointing to a group of figures moving over the snow near the pine trees. “Now we can think of tea!” She crossed the room to busy herself with the friendly tray as the servant approached to fasten the shutters. The young priest, however, deeply interested, talked on with their host, though in a voice almost too low for her to hear. Only the final sentences reached her, making her uneasy— absurdly so, she thought—till afterwards.

“—for matter, as we know, interpenetrates matter,” she heard, “and two objects may conceivably occupy the same space. The odd thing really is that one should hear, but not see; that air-waves should bring the voice, yet ether-waves fail to bring the picture.”

And then the older man: “—as if certain places in Nature, yes, invited the change—places where these extraordinary forces stir from the earth as from the surface of a living Being with organs—places like islands, mountaintops, pine-woods, especially pines isolated from their kind. You know the queer results of digging absolutely virgin soil, of course—and that theory of the earth’s being alive—” The voice dropped again.

“States of mind also helping the forces of the place,” she caught the priest’s reply in part “such as conditions induced by music, by intense listening, by certain moments in the Mass even—by ecstasy or—”

“I say, what do you think?” cried a girl’s voice, as the others came in with welcome chatter and odours of tweeds and open fields. “As we passed your old haunted pine-wood we heard such a queer noise. Like someone wailing or crying. Cæsar howled and ran; and Harry refused to go in and investigate. He positively funked it!” They all laughed. “More like a rabbit in a trap than a person crying,” explained Harry, a blush kindly concealing his startling pallor. “I wanted my tea

too much to bother about an old rabbit.”

It was some time after tea when the girl became aware that the priest had disappeared, and putting two and two together, ran in alarm to her host’s study. Quite easily, from the hastily opened shutters, they saw his figure moving across the snow. The moon was very bright over the world, yet he carried a lantern that shone pale yellow against the white brilliance.

“Oh, for God’s sake, quick!” she cried, pale with fear. “Quick! or we’re too late! Arthur’s simply wild about such things. Oh, I might have known—I might have guessed. And this is the very night. I’m terrified!”

By the time he had found his overcoat and slipped round the house with her from the back door, the lantern, they saw, was already swinging close to the pine-wood. The night was still as ice, bitterly cold. Breathlessly they ran, following the tracks. Half-way his steps diverged, and were plainly visible in the virgin snow by themselves. They heard the whispering of the branches ahead of them, for pines cry even when no airs stir. “Follow me close,” said the old man sternly. The lantern, he already saw, lay upon the ground unattended; no human figure was anywhere visible.

“See! The steps come to an end here,” he whispered, stooping down as soon as they reached the lantern. The tracks, hitherto so regular, showed an odd wavering—the snow curiously disturbed. Quite suddenly they stopped. The final step was a very long one—a stride, almost immense, “as though he was pushed forward from behind,” muttered the old man, too low to be overheard, “or sucked forward from in front—as in a fall.”

The girl would have dashed forward but for his strong restraining grasp. She clutched him, uttering a sudden dreadful cry. “Hark! I hear his voice!” she almost sobbed. They stood still to listen. A mystery that was more than the mystery of night closed about their hearts—a mystery that is beyond life and death, that only great awe and terror can summon from the deeps of the soul. Out of the heart of the trees, fifty feet away, issued a crying voice, half wailing, half singing, very faint. “Help! help!” it sounded through the still night; “for the love of God, pray for me!”

The melancholy rustling of the pines followed; and then again the singular crying voice shot past above their heads, now in front of them, now once more behind. It sounded everywhere. It grew fainter and fainter, fading away, it seemed, into distance that somehow was appalling.

The grove, however, was empty of all but the sighing wind; the snow unbroken by any tread. The moon threw inky shadows; the cold bit; it was a terror of ice and death and this awful singing cry. . . .

“But why pray?” screamed the girl, distracted, frantic with her bewildered terror. “Why pray? Let us do something to help—do something . . . !”

She swung round in a circle, nearly falling to the ground. Suddenly she perceived that the old man had dropped to his knees in the snow beside her and was—praying.

“Because the forces of prayer, of thought, of the will to help, alone can reach and succour him where he now is,” was all the answer she got. And a moment later both figures were kneeling in the snow, praying, so to speak, their very heart’s life out. . . .

The search may be imagined—the steps taken by police, friends, newspapers, by the whole country in fact. . . . But the most curious part of this queer “Higher Space” adventure is the end of it—at least, the “end” so far as at present known. For after three weeks, when the winds of March were a-roar about the land, there crept over the fields towards the house the small dark figure of a man. He was thin, pallid as a ghost, worn and fearfully emaciated, but upon his face and in his eyes were traces of an astonishing radiance—a glory unlike anything ever seen. . . . It may, of course, have been deliberate, or it may have been a genuine loss of memory only; none could say—least of all the girl whom his return snatched from the gates of death; but, at any rate, what had come to pass during the interval of his amazing disappearance he has never yet been able to reveal.

“And you must never ask me,” he would say to her—and repeat even after his complete and speedy restoration to bodily health—“for I simply cannot tell. I know no language, you see, that could express it. I was near you all the time. But I was also—elsewhere and otherwise . . .”