Algernon Blackwood.

The Human Chord online

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delicately exotic, that had sprung suddenly into blossom from the heart
of the bleak December day, out of the very boards whereon they sat.

"We shall then be as gods," he added, "filled with the huge power of
those terrific Letters. And that is only the beginning." In himself he
was striving to coax a fading enthusiasm, and to pour it into her. Her
little hand stole into his. "We shall be a sort of angel together, I
suppose. Just think of it...!" His voice was not as thrilling as it ought
to have been, for very human notes vibrated down below in the part he
tried to keep back. He saw the flush fade from her cheeks, and the pallor
spread. "You and I, Miriam - something tremendous together, greater than
any other man and woman in the whole world. Think of it, dear baby; just
think of it...!"

A tiny frown gathered upon her forehead, darkening the grey eyes
with shadows.

"But - lose our Winky!" she said, nestling against his coat, her voice
singularly soft, her fingers scratching gently the palm of his hand
where they lay.

"Hush, hush!" he answered, kissing her into silence. "We must have more
faith. I think everything will be all right. And there is no reason why
we should lose our Winky," he added, very tenderly, smothering the doubt
as best he could, "although we may find his name changed. Like the rest
of us, he will get a 'new name' I suppose."

"Then he won't be _our_ Winky any longer," she objected, with a touch of
obstinacy that was very seductive. "We shall all be different. Perhaps
we shall be too wonderful to need each other any more.... Oh, Spinny,
you precious thing my life needs, think of that! We may be too wonderful
even to care!"

Spinrobin turned and faced her. He tried to speak with authority and
conviction, but he was a bad actor always. He met her soft grey eyes,
already moist and shining with a tenderness of love beyond belief, and
gazed into them with what degree of sternness he could.

"Miriam," he said solemnly, "is it possible that you do not want us to
be as gods?"

Her answer came this time without hesitation. His pretended severity only
made her happy, for nothing could intimidate by a hair's breadth this
exquisite first love of her awakening soul.

"Some day, perhaps, oh, my sweet Master," she whispered with trembling
lips, "but not now. I want to be on earth first with you - and with
our Winky."

To hear that precious little voice call him "sweet Master" was almost
more than he could bear. He made an effort, however, to insist upon this
fancied idea of "duty" to Skale; though everything, of course, betrayed
him - eyes, voice, gestures.

"But we owe it to Mr. Skale to become as gods," he faltered, trying to
make the volume of his voice atone for its lack of conviction.

And it was then she uttered the simple phrase that utterly confounded
him, and showed him the new heaven and new earth wherein he and she and
Winky already lived.

"I am as God _now_," she said simply, the whole passion of a clean,
strong little soul behind the words. "You have made me so! You love me!"


II

The same moment, before they could speak or act, Skale was upon them from
behind with a roar.

"Practicing your splendid notes together!" he cried, thundering down the
steps past them, three at a time, clothed for the first time in the
flowing scarlet robe he usually wore only in the particular room where
his own "note" lived. "That's capital! Sing it together in your hearts
and in your souls and in your minds; and the more the better!"

He swept by them like a storm, vanishing through the hall below like some
living flame of fire. They both understood that he wore that robe for
protection, and that throughout the house the heralds of the approaching
powers of the imprisoned Letters were therefore already astir. His steps
echoed below them in the depths of the building as he descended to the
cellar, intent upon some detail of the appalling consummation that drew
every minute nearer.

They turned and faced one another, breathless a little. Tenderness and
terror shone plainly in their eyes, but Spinrobin, ever an ineffectual
little man, and with nothing of the "Master" really in his composition
anywhere, found no word to speak. That sudden irruption of the terrific
clergyman into their intimate world had come with an effect of dramatic
and incalculable authority. Like a blast of air that drives the furnace
to new heat and turns the metal white, his mind now suddenly saw clear
and sure. The effect of the incident was too explosive, however, for him
to find expression. Action he found in a measure, but no words. He took
Miriam passionately into his arms as they stood there in the gathering
dusk upon the staircase of that haunted and terrible building, and Miriam
it was who found the words upon which they separated and went quietly
away to the solitude each needed for the soul.

"We'll leave the gods alone," she said with gentle decision, yet
making it seem as though she appealed to his greater strength and
wisdom to decide; "I want nothing but you - you and Winky. And all you
really want is me."

But in his room he heard the vibrations of the clergyman's voice rising
up through the floor and walls as he practiced in the cellar the sounds
with which the ancient Hebrews concealed the Tetragrammaton:
YOD - HE - VAU - HE: JEHOVAH - JAHVE - of which the approaching great
experiment, however, concerned itself only with the opening vibrations of
the first letter - YOD....

And, as he listened, he hesitated again ... wondering after all whether
Miriam was right.


III

It was towards the end of their short silent dinner that very night - the
silence due to the fact that everybody was intently listening - when
Spinrobin caught the whisper of a singular faint sound that he took first
to be the rising of wind. The wind sometimes came down that way with
curious gulps from the terraces of the surrounding moors. Yet in this
sound was none of that rush and sigh that the hills breed. It did not
drop across the curves of the world; it rose from the center.

He looked up sharply, then at once realized that the sound was not
outside at all, but inside - inside the very room where he sat facing
Skale and Miriam. Then something in his soul recognized it. It was the
first wave in an immense vibration.

Something stretched within him as foam stretches on the elastic side of a
heaped Atlantic roller, retreated, then came on again with a second
gigantic crest. The rhythm of the huge sound had caught him. The life in
him expanded awfully, rose to far summits, dropped to utter depths. A
sense of glowing exaltation swept through him as though wings of power
lifted his heart with enormous ascendancy. The biggest passions of his
soul stirred - the sweetest dreams, yearnings, aspirations he had ever
known were blown to fever heat. Above all, his passion for Miriam waxed
tumultuous and possessed him.

Mr. Skale dropped his fruit knife and uttered a cry, but a cry of so
peculiar a character that Spinrobin thought for a moment he was about to
burst into song. At the same instant he stood up, and his chair fell
backwards with a crash upon the floor. Spinrobin stood up too. He asserts
always that he was lifted up. He recognized no conscious effort of his
own. It was at this point, moreover, that Miriam, pale as linen, yet
uttering no sound and fully mistress of herself, left her side of the
table and ran round swiftly to the protection of her lover.

She came close up. "Spinny," she said, "it's come!"

Thus all three were standing round that dinner table on the verge of some
very vigorous action not yet disclosed, as people, vigilant and alert,
stand up at a cry of fire, when the door from the passage opened noisily
and in rushed Mrs. Mawle, surrounded by an atmosphere of light such as
might come from a furnace door suddenly thrown wide in some dark foundry.
Only the light was not steady; it was whirling.

She ran across the floor as though dancing - the dancing of a
child - propelled, it seemed, by an irresistible drive of force behind;
while with her through the opened door came a roaring volume of sound
that was terrible as Niagara let loose, yet at the same time exquisitely
sweet, as birds or children singing. Upon these two incongruous qualities
Spinrobin always insists.

"The deaf shall hear - !" came sharply from the clergyman's lips, the
sentence uncompleted, for the housekeeper cut him short.

"They're out!" she cried with a loud, half-frightened jubilance; "Mr.
Skale's prisoners are bursting their way about the house. And one of
them," she added with a scream of joy and terror mingled, "is in my
throat...!"

If the odd phrase she made use of stuck vividly in Spinrobin's memory,
the appearance she presented impressed him even more. For her face was
shining and alight, radiant as when Skale had called her true name weeks
before. Flashes of flame-like beauty ran about the eyes and mouth; and
she looked eighteen - eternally eighteen - with a youth that was permanent
and unchanging. Moreover, not only was hearing restored to her, but her
left arm, withered for years, was in the act of pointing to the ceiling,
instinct with vigorous muscular life. Her whole presentment was
splendid, intense - redeemed.

"The deaf hear!" repeated Skale in a shout, and was across the room with
the impetus of a released projectile. "The Letters are out and alive! To
your appointed places! The syllable has caught us! Quick, quick! If you
love your soul and truth ... fly!"

Deafening thunders rushed and crashed and blew about the room,
interpenetrated everywhere at the same time by that searching strain of
sweetness Spinrobin had first noticed. The sense of life, running free
and abundant, was very remarkable. The same moment he found his hand
clasped, and felt himself torn along by the side of the rushing clergyman
into the hall. Behind them "danced" Mrs. Mawle, her cap awry, her apron
flying, her elastic-side boots taking the light, dancing step of youth.
With quick, gliding tread Miriam, still silent, was at his heels. He
remembers her delicate, strange perfume reaching him faintly through all
the incredible turmoil of that impetuous exit.

In the hall the roar increased terrifically about his ears. Skale, in his
biggest booming voice, was uttering the names of Hebrew
"angels" - invoking forces, that is, to his help; and behind him Mrs.
Mawle was singing - singing fragments apparently of the "note" she had to
utter, as well as fragments of her own "true name" thus magically
recovered. Her restored arm gyrated furiously, her tripping youth spelt
witchery. Yet the whole madness of the scene came to Spinrobin with a
freezing wind of terror; for about it was a lawless, audacious blasphemy,
that must surely win for itself a quite appalling punishment....

Yet nothing happened at once - nothing destructive, at least. Skale
and the housekeeper, he saw, were hurriedly robing themselves in the
red and yellow surplices that hung from nails in the hall, and the
instinct to laugh at the sight was utterly overwhelmed when he remembered
that these were the colors which were used for safety in their respective
"rooms." ... It was a scene of wild confusion and bewilderment which the
memory refuses to reproduce coherently. In his own throat already began a
passionate rising of sound that he knew was the "note" he had to utter
attempting to escape, summoned forth automatically by these terrible
vibrating Letters in the air. A cataract of sound seemed to fill the
building and made it shake to its very foundations.

But the hall, he saw, was not only alive with "music," it was ablaze with
light - a white and brilliant glory that at first dazzled him to the point
of temporary blindness.

The same second Mr. Skale's voice, storming its way somehow above the
tumult, made itself heard:

"To the rooms upstairs, Spinrobin! To the corridor with Miriam! And when
you hear my voice from the cellar - _utter_! We may yet be in time to
unite the Letters...!"

He released the secretary's hand, flinging it from him, and was off with
a bounding, leaping motion like an escaped animal towards the stone
passage that led to the cellar steps; and Spinrobin, turning about
himself like a top in a perfect frenzy of bewilderment, heard his great
voice as he disappeared round the corner:

"It has come upon me like a thief in the night! Before I am fully
prepared it has called me! May the powers of the Name have mercy upon my
soul...!" And he was gone. For the last time had Spinrobin set his eyes
upon the towering earthly form of the Rev. Philip Skale.


IV

Then, at first, it seems, the old enthusiasm caught him, and with him,
therefore, caught Miriam, too. That savage and dominant curiosity to know
clutched him, overpowering even the assaults of a terror that fairly
battered him. Through all the chaos and welter of his dazed mind he
sought feverishly for the "note" he had to utter, yet found it not, for
he was too horribly confused. Fiddles, sand-patterns, colored robes,
gongs, giant tuning-forks, wax-sheeted walls, aged-faces-turned-young and
caverns-by-the-sea jostled one another in his memory with a jumble of
disproportion quite inextricable.

Next, impelled by that driving sense of duty to Skale, he turned to the
girl at his side: "Can you do it?" he cried.

Unable to make her voice heard above the clamor she nodded quickly in
acquiescence. Spinrobin noticed that her little mouth was set rather
firmly, though there was a radiance about her eyes and features that made
her sweetly beautiful. He remembers that her loveliness and her pluck
uplifted him above all former littlenesses of hesitation; and, seizing
her outstretched hand, they flew up the main staircase and in less than a
minute reached the opening of the long corridor where the rooms were.

Here, however, they stopped with a gasp, for a hurricane of moving air
met them in the face like the draught from some immense furnace. Again
the crest of a wave in the colossal sound-vibration had caught them.
Staggering against the wall, they tried again and again to face the
tempest of sound and light, but the space beyond them was lit with the
same unearthly brilliance as the hall, and out of the whole long throat
of that haunted corridor issued such a passion of music and such a
torrent of gorgeous color, that it seemed impossible for any aggregation
of physical particles - least of all poor human bodies - to remain coherent
for a single instant before the concentrated onslaught.

Yet, game to the inmost core of his little personality, and raised far
above his normal powers by the evidence of Miriam's courage and fidelity,
he struggled with all his might and searched through the chambers of his
being for the note he was ordained to utter in the chord. The ignominy of
failure, now that the great experiment was full upon him - failure in
Miriam's eyes, too - was simply impossible to contemplate. Yet, in spite
of every effort, the memory of that all-important note escaped him
utterly, for the forces of his soul floundered, helpless and disheveled,
before the too mighty splendors that were upon him at such close
quarters. The sounds he actually succeeded in emitting between dry and
quivering lips were pitiful and feeble beyond words.

Down that living corridor, meanwhile, he saw the doors of the four rooms
were gone, consumed like tissue paper; and through the narrow portals
there shouldered forward, bathed in light ineffable, the separate
outlines of the Letters so long imprisoned in inactivity. And with their
appearance the sounds instantly ceased, having overpassed the limits of
what is audible to human ears. A great stillness dropped about them with
an abrupt crash of utter silence. For a "crash" of silence it
was - all-shattering.

And then, from the categories of the incomprehensible and unmanifest,
"something" loomed forth towards them where, limp and shaking, they
leaned against the wall, and they witnessed the indescribable operation
by which the four Letters, whirling and alive, ran together and melted
into a single terrific semblance of a FORM ... the sight of which entered
the heart of Spinrobin and threatened to split it asunder with the joy of
the most sublime terror and adoration a human soul has ever known.

And the whole gigantic glory of Skale's purpose came upon him like a
tempest. The magnificent effrontery by which the man sought to storm his
way to heaven again laid its spell upon him. The reaction was of amazing
swiftness. It almost seemed as though time ceased to operate, so
instantaneously did his mood pass from terror to elation - wild, ecstatic
elation that could dare anything and everything to share in the awful
delight and wonder of Skale's transcendent experiment.

And so, forgetting himself and his little disabilities of terror and
shrinking, he sought once again for the note he was to utter in the
chord. And this time he found it.


V

Very faintly, yet distinctly audible in the deep stillness, it sounded
far away down in the deeps of his being. And, with a splendid spiritual
exultation tearing and swelling in his heart, he turned at once
triumphantly to Miriam beside him.

"Utter your note too!" he cried. "Utter it with mine, for any moment now
we shall hear the command from the cellar.... Be ready...!"

And the FORM, meanwhile, limned in the wonder of an undecipherable
or at least untranslatable geometry, silently roaring, enthroned in
the undiscoverable colors beyond the spectrum, swept towards them
as he spoke.

At the same instant Miriam answered him, her exquisite little face set
like a rock, her marble pallor painted with the glory of the approaching
splendors. Just when the moment of success was upon them; when the
flying Letters were abroad; when all the difficult weeks of preparation
were face to face with the consummation; and when any moment Skale's
booming bass might rise from the bowels of the building as the signal to
utter the great chord and unite the fragments of the first divine
syllable; when Spinrobin had at last conquered his weakness and recovered
his note - then, at this decisive and supreme moment, Miriam asserted
herself and took the reins of command.

"No," she said, looking with sudden authority straight into his eyes,
"no! I will not utter the note. Nor shall you utter yours!" And she
clapped her little hand tight upon his mouth.

In that instant of unutterable surprise the two great forces of his life
and personality met together with an explosive violence wholly beyond his
power to control. For on the one hand lay the fierce enticement of
Skale's heaven, with all that it portended, and on the other the deep
though temporarily submerged human passion of his love for the girl.
Miriam's sudden action revealed the truth to him better than any
argument. In a flash he realized that her choice was made, and that she
was in entire and final revolt against the whole elaborate experiment and
all that it involved. The risk of losing her Spinny, or finding him
changed in some condition of redemption where he would no longer be the
little human thing she so dearly loved, had helped her to this final,
swift conclusion.

With her hand tight over his lips, and her face of white decision before
him, he understood. She called him with those big grey eyes to the sweet
and common uses of life, instead of to the heights of some audacious
heaven where they might be as gods with Philip Skale. She clung to
humanity. And Spinrobin, seeing her at last with spiritual eyes fully
opened, knew finally that she was right.

"But oh," he always cries, "in that moment I knew the most terrible
choice I have ever had to make, for it was not a choice between life and
death, but a choice between two lives, each of infinite promised wonder.
And what do you think it was that decided me, and made me choose the
wholesome, humble life with little Miriam in preference to the grandeur
of Skale's vast dream? What _do_ you think?" And his face always turns
pink and then flame-colored as he asks it, hesitating absurdly before
giving the answer. "I'll tell you, because you'd never guess in this
world." And then he lowers his voice and says, "It was the delicious
little sweet perfume of her fingers as she held them over my lips....!"

That delicate, faint smell was the symbol of human happiness, and
through all the whirlwind of sound and color about him, it somehow
managed to convey its poignant, searching message of the girl's utter
love straight into his heart. Thus curiously out of proportion and
insignificant, indeed, are sometimes the decisive details that in
moments of overwhelming experience turn the course of life's river this
way or that....

With a single wild cry in his soul that found no audible expression, he
gave up the unequal struggle. He turned, and with Miriam by his side,
flew down the corridor from the advent of the Immensity that was upon
them - from the approach of the escaping Letters.


VI

How Spinrobin found his way out of that sound-stricken house remains an
unsolved mystery. He never understood it himself; he remembers only that
when they reached the ground floor the vibrations of Skale's opening bass
note had already begun. Its effect, too, was immediately noticeable. For
the roar of the escaping Letters, which upstairs had reached so immense a
volume as to be recognized only in terms of silence, now suddenly grew in
a measure harnessed and restrained. Their vibration became reduced - down
closer to the sixteen-foot wavelength which is the limit of human
audition. They were being leashed in by the summoning master-tone. They
grew once more audible.

On the rising swirl of sound the two humans were swept down passages
and across halls, as two leaves are borne by a tempest, and after
frantic efforts, in which Spinrobin bruised his body against doors and
walls without number, he found himself at last in the open air, and at
a considerable distance from the house of terror. Stars shone overhead.
He saw the outline of hills. Breaths of cool wind fanned his burning
skin and eyes.

But he dared not turn to look or listen. The music of that opening note,
now rising through the building from the cellar, might catch him and win
him back. The chord in which himself and Miriam were to have uttered
their appointed tones, even half-told, was still mighty to overwhelm. Its
effect upon the Letters themselves had been immediate.

The feeling that he had proved faithless to Skale, unworthy of the great
experiment, never properly attuned to this fearful music of the
gods - this was forgotten in the overmastering desire to escape from it
all into the safety of common human things with Miriam. Setting his
course ever up the hills, he ran on and on, till breath failed him
utterly and he was obliged to stop for lack of strength. And it was only
then he realized that the whole time the girl had been in his arms. He
had been carrying her.

Placing her on the ground, he caught a glimpse of her eyes in the
darkness, and saw that they were still charged with the one devouring
passion that had made the sacrifice of Skale and of all her training
since birth inevitable. Soft and glowing with her first knowledge of
love, her grey eyes shone like stars newly risen.

"Come, come!" he whispered hoarsely; "we must get as far as
possible - away from it all. Across the hills we shall find safety. Once
the splendors overtake us we are lost...."

Seizing her by the hand, they pressed on again, the ocean of sound rising
and thundering behind them and below.

Without knowing it, he had taken the path by which the clergyman had
brought him from the station weeks ago on the day of his first arrival.
With a confused memory, as of a dream, he recognized it. The ground was
slippery with dead leaves whose odor penetrated sharply the air of night.
Everywhere about him, as they paused from time to time in the little open
spaces, the trees pressed up thickly; and ever from the valley they had
just left the increasing tide of sound came pouring up after them like
the roar of the sea escaping through doors upon the surface of the world.

And even now the marvelous, enticing wonder of it caught him more than
once and made him hesitate. The sense of what he was giving up sickened
him with a great sudden yearning of regret. The mightiness of that loved
leader, lonely and unafraid, trafficking with the principalities and
powers of sound, and reckoning without misgiving upon the cooperation of
his other "notes" - this plucked fearfully at his heartstrings. But only
in great tearing gusts, so to speak, which passed the instant he realized


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Online LibraryAlgernon BlackwoodThe Human Chord → online text (page 13 of 14)