Part 1 out of 4
Produced by Suzanne Shell, Mary Meehan and the Online Distributed
THE HUMAN CHORD
BY ALGERNON BLACKWOOD
_To those who hear._
As a boy he constructed so vividly in imagination that he came to believe
in the living reality of his creations: for everybody and everything he
found names--real names. Inside him somewhere stretched immense
playgrounds, compared to which the hay-fields and lawns of his father's
estate seemed trivial: plains without horizon, seas deep enough to float
the planets like corks, and "such tremendous forests" with "trees like
tall pointed hilltops." He had only to close his eyes, drop his thoughts
inwards, sink after them himself, call aloud and--see.
His imagination conceived and bore--worlds; but nothing in these worlds
became alive until he discovered its true and living name. The name was
the breath of life; and, sooner or later, he invariably found it.
Once, having terrified his sister by affirming that a little man he had
created would come through her window at night and weave a peaked cap for
himself by pulling out all her hairs "that hadn't gone to sleep with the
rest of her body," he took characteristic measures to protect her from
the said depredations. He sat up the entire night on the lawn beneath
her window to watch, believing firmly that what his imagination had made
alive would come to pass.
She did not know this. On the contrary, he told her that the little man
had died suddenly; only, he sat up to make sure. And, for a boy of eight,
those cold and haunted hours must have seemed endless from ten o'clock to
four in the morning, when he crept back to his own corner of the night
nursery. He possessed, you see, courage as well as faith and imagination.
Yet the name of the little man was nothing more formidable than "Winky!"
"You might have known he wouldn't hurt you, Teresa," he said. "Any one
with that name would be light as a fly and awf'ly gentle--a regular dicky
sort of chap!"
"But he'd have pincers," she protested, "or he couldn't pull the hairs
out. Like an earwig he'd be. Ugh!"
"Not Winky! Never!" he explained scornfully, jealous of his offspring's
reputation. "He'd do it with his rummy little fingers."
"Then his fingers would have claws at the ends!" she insisted; for no
amount of explanation could persuade her that a person named Winky could
be nice and gentle, even though he were "quicker than a second." She
added that his death rejoiced her.
"But I can easily make another--such a nippy little beggar, and twice as
hoppy as the first. Only I won't do it," he added magnanimously, "because
it frightens you."
For to name with him was to create. He had only to run out some distance
into his big mental prairie, call aloud a name in a certain commanding
way, and instantly its owner would run up to claim it. Names described
souls. To learn the name of a thing or person was to know all about them
and make them subservient to his will; and "Winky" could only have been a
very soft and furry little person, swift as a shadow, nimble as a
mouse--just the sort of fellow who _would_ make a conical cap out of a
girl's fluffy hair ... and love the mischief of doing it.
And so with all things: names were vital and important. To address beings
by their intimate first names, beings of the opposite sex especially, was
a miniature sacrament; and the story of that premature audacity of Elsa
with Lohengrin never failed to touch his sense of awe. "What's in a
name?" for him, was a significant question--a question of life or death.
For to mispronounce a name was a bad blunder, but to name it wrongly was
to miss it altogether. Such a thing had no real life, or at best a
vitality that would soon fade. Adam knew that! And he pondered much in
his childhood over the difficulty Adam must have had "discovering" the
correct appellations for some of the queerer animals....
As he grew older, of course, all this faded a good deal, but he never
quite lost the sense of reality in names--the significance of a true
name, the absurdity of a false one, the cruelty of mispronunciation. One
day in the far future, he knew, some wonderful girl would come into his
life, singing her own true name like music, her whole personality
expressing it just as her lips framed the consonants and vowels--and he
would love her. His own name, ridiculous and hateful though it was, would
sing in reply. They would be in harmony together in the literal sense, as
necessary to one another as two notes in the same chord....
So he also possessed the mystical vision of the poet. What he
lacked--such temperaments always do--was the sense of proportion and the
careful balance that adjusts cause and effect. And this it is, no doubt,
that makes his adventures such "hard sayings." It becomes difficult to
disentangle what actually did happen from what conceivably might have
happened; what he thinks he saw from what positively _was_.
His early life--to the disgust of his Father, a poor country
squire--was a distressing failure. He missed all examinations, muddled
all chances, and finally, with L50 a year of his own, and no one to
care much what happened to him, settled in London and took any odd job
of a secretarial nature that offered itself. He kept to nothing for
long, being easily dissatisfied, and ever on the look out for the "job"
that might conceal the kind of adventure he wanted. Once the work of
the moment proved barren of this possibility, he wearied of it and
sought another. And the search seemed prolonged and hopeless, for the
adventure he sought was not a common kind, but something that should
provide him with a means of escape from a vulgar and noisy world that
bored him very much indeed. He sought an adventure that should announce
to him a new heaven and a new earth; something that should confirm, if
not actually replace, that inner region of wonder and delight he
reveled in as a boy, but which education and conflict with a prosaic
age had swept away from his nearer consciousness. He sought, that is,
an authoritative adventure of the soul.
To look at, one could have believed that until the age of twenty-five he
had been nameless, and that a committee had then sat upon the subject and
selected the sound best suited to describe him: Spinrobin--Robert. For,
had he never seen himself, but run into that inner prairie of his and
called aloud "Robert Spinrobin," an individual exactly resembling him
would surely have pattered up to claim the name.
He was slight, graceful, quick on his feet and generally alert; took
little steps that were almost hopping, and when he was in a hurry gave
him the appearance of "spinning" down the pavement or up the stairs;
always wore clothes of some fluffy material, with a low collar and
bright red tie; had soft pink cheeks, dancing grey eyes and loosely
scattered hair, prematurely thin and unquestionably like feathers. His
hands and feet were small and nimble. When he stood in his favorite
attitude with hands plunged deep in his pockets, coat-tails slightly
spread and flapping, head on one side and hair disordered, talking in
that high, twittering, yet very agreeable voice of his, it was
impossible to avoid the conclusion that here was--well--Spinrobin, Bobby
Spinrobin, "on the job."
For he took on any "job" that promised adventure of the kind he sought,
and the queerer the better. As soon as he found that his present
occupation led to nothing, he looked about for something new--chiefly in
the newspaper advertisements. Numbers of strange people advertised in the
newspapers, he knew, just as numbers of strange people wrote letters to
them; and Spinny--so he was called by those who loved him--was a diligent
student of the columns known as "Agony" and "Help wanted." Whereupon it
came about that he was aged twenty-eight, and out of a job, when the
threads of the following occurrence wove into the pattern of his life,
and "led to something" of a kind that may well be cause for question and
The advertisement that formed the bait read as follows:--
"WANTED, by Retired Clergyman, Secretarial Assistant with courage and
imagination. Tenor voice and some knowledge of Hebrew essential; single;
_unworldly_. Apply Philip Skale,"--and the address.
Spinrobin swallowed the bait whole. "Unworldly" put the match, and he
flamed up. He possessed, it seemed, the other necessary qualifications;
for a thin tenor voice, not unmusical, was his, and also a smattering of
Hebrew which he had picked up at Cambridge because he liked the fine,
high-sounding names of deities and angels to be found in that language.
Courage and imagination he lumped in, so to speak, with the rest, and in
the gilt-edged diary he affected he wrote: "Have taken on Skale's odd
advertisement. I like the man's name. The experience may prove an
adventure. While there's change, there's hope." For he was very fond of
turning proverbs to his own use by altering them, and the said diary was
packed with absurd misquotations of a similar kind.
A singular correspondence followed, in which the advertiser explained
with reserve that he wanted an assistant to aid him in certain
experiments in sound, that a particular pitch and quality of voice was
necessary (which he could not decide until, of course, he had heard it),
and that the successful applicant must have sufficient courage and
imagination to follow a philosophical speculation "wheresoever it may
lead," and also be "so far indifferent to worldly success as to consider
it of small account compared to spiritual knowledge--especially if such
knowledge appeared within reach and involved worldly sacrifices." He
further added that a life of loneliness in the country would have to be
faced, and that the man who suited him and worked faithfully should find
compensation by inheriting his own "rather considerable property when the
time came." For the rest he asked no references and gave none. In a
question of spiritual values references were mere foolishness. Each must
judge intuitively for himself.
Spinrobin, as has been said, bit. The letters, written in a fine
scholarly handwriting, excited his interest extraordinarily. He imagined
some dreamer-priest possessed by a singular hobby, searching for things
of the spirit by those devious ways he had heard about from time to time,
a little mad probably into the bargain. The name Skale sounded to him
big, yet he somehow pictured to himself an ascetic-faced man of small
stature pursuing in solitude some impossible ideal. It all attracted him
hugely with its promise of out-of-the-way adventure. In his own phrase it
"might lead to something," and the hints about "experiments in sound" set
chords trembling in him that had not vibrated since the days of his
boyhood's belief in names and the significance of names. The salary,
besides, was good. He was accordingly thrilled and delighted to receive
in reply to his last letter a telegram which read: "Engage you month's
trial both sides. Take single ticket. Skale."
"I like that 'take single ticket,'" he said to himself as he sped
westwards into Wales, dressed in his usual fluffy tweed suit and
anarchist tie. Upon his knees lay a brand new Hebrew grammar which he
studied diligently all the way to Cardiff, and still carried in his hands
when he changed into the local train that carried him laboriously into
the desolation of the Pontwaun Mountains. "It looks as though he approved
of me already. My name apparently hasn't put him off as it does most
people. Perhaps, through it, he divines the real me!"
He smoothed down his rebellious hair as he neared the station in the
dusk; but he was surprised to find only a rickety little cart drawn by a
donkey sent to meet him (the house being five miles distant in the
hills), and still more surprised when a huge figure of a man, hatless,
dressed in knickerbockers, and with a large, floating grey beard, strode
down the platform as he gave up his ticket to the station-master and
announced himself as Mr. Philip Skale. He had expected the small,
foxy-faced individual of his imagination, and the shock momentarily
deprived him of speech.
"Mr. Spinrobin, of course? I am Mr. Skale--Mr. Philip Skale."
The voice can only be described as booming, it was so deep and vibrating;
but the smile of welcome, where it escaped with difficulty from the
network of beard and moustaches, was winning and almost gentle in
contradistinction to the volume of that authoritative voice. Spinrobin
felt slightly bewildered--caught up into a whirlwind that drove too many
impressions through his brain for any particular one to be seized and
mastered. He found himself shaking hands--Mr. Skale, rather, shaking his,
in a capacious grasp as though it were some small indiarubber ball to be
squeezed and flung away. Mr. Skale flung it away, he felt the shock up
the whole length of his arm to the shoulder. His first impressions, he
declares, he cannot remember--they were too tumultuous--beyond that he
liked both smile and voice, the former making him feel at home, the
latter filling him to the brim with a peculiar sense of well-being. Never
before had he heard his name pronounced in quite the same way; it sounded
dignified, even splendid, the way Mr. Skale spoke it. Beyond this general
impression, however, he can only say that his thoughts and feelings
"whirled." Something emanated from this giant clergyman that was somewhat
enveloping and took him off his feet. The keynote of the man had been
struck at once.
"How do you do, sir? This _is_ the train you mentioned, I think?"
Spinrobin heard his own thin voice speaking, by way, as it were, of
instinctive apology that he should have put such a man to the trouble of
coming to meet him. He said "sir," it seemed unavoidable; for there was
nothing of the clergyman about him--bishop, perhaps, or archbishop, but
no suggestion of vicar or parish priest. Somewhere, too, in his
presentment he felt dimly, even at the first, there was an element of the
incongruous, a meeting of things not usually found together. The
vigorous open-air life of the mountaineer spoke in the great muscular
body with the broad shoulders and clean, straight limbs; but behind the
brusqueness of manner lay the true gentleness of fine breeding.
And even here, on this platform of the lonely mountain station, Spinrobin
detected the atmosphere of the scholar, almost of the recluse, shot
through with the strange fires that dropped from the large, lambent, blue
eyes. All these things rushed over the thrilled little secretary with an
effect, as already described, of a certain bewilderment, that left no
single, dominant impression. What remained with him, perhaps, most
vividly, he says, was the quality of the big blue eyes, their luminosity,
their far-seeing expression, their kindliness. They were the eyes of the
true visionary, but in such a personality they proclaimed the mystic who
had retained his health of soul and body. Mr. Skale was surely a
visionary, but just as surely a wholesome man of action--probably of
terrific action. Spinrobin felt irresistibly drawn to him.
"It is not unpleasant, I trust," the other was saying in his deep
tones, "to find some one to meet you, and," he added with a genial
laugh, "to counteract the first impression of this somewhat melancholy
and inhospitable scenery." His arm swept out to indicate the dreary
little station and the bleak and lowering landscape of treeless hills
in the dusk.
The new secretary made some appropriate reply, his sense of loneliness
already dissipated in part by the unexpected welcome. And they fell to
arrangements about the luggage. "You won't mind walking," said Mr. Skale,
with a finality that anticipated only agreement. "It's a short five
miles. The donkey-cart will take the portmanteau." Upon which they
started off at a pace that made the little man wonder whether he could
possibly keep it up. "We shall get in before dark," explained the other,
striding along with ease, "and Mrs. Mawle, my housekeeper, will have tea
ready and waiting for us." Spinrobin followed, panting, thinking vaguely
of the other employers he had known--philanthropists, bankers, ambitious
members of Parliament, and all the rest--commonplace individuals to a
man; and then of the immense and towering figure striding just ahead,
shedding about him this vibrating atmosphere of power and whirlwind,
touched so oddly here and there with a vein of gentleness that was almost
sweetness. Never before had he known any human being who radiated such
vigor, such big and beneficent fatherliness, yet for all the air of
kindliness something, too, that touched in him the sense of awe. Mr.
Skale, he felt, was a very unusual man.
They went on in the gathering dusk, talking little but easily. Spinrobin
felt "taken care of." Usually he was shy with a new employer, but this
man inspired much too large a sensation in him to include shyness, or any
other form of petty self-consciousness. He felt more like a son than a
secretary. He remembered the wording of the advertisement, the phrases of
the singular correspondence--and wondered. "A remarkable personality," he
thought to himself as he stumbled through the dark after the object of
his reflections; "simple--yet tremendous! A giant in all sorts of ways
probably--" Then his thought hesitated, floundered. There was something
else he divined yet could not name. He felt out of his depth in some
entirely new way, in touch with an order of possibilities larger, more
vast, more remote than any dreams his imagination even had yet envisaged.
All this, and more, the mere presence of this retired clergyman poured
into his receptive and eager little soul.
And very soon it was that these nameless qualities began to assert
themselves, completing the rout of Spinrobin's moderate powers of
judgment. No practical word as to the work before them, or the duties of
the new secretary, had yet passed between them. They walked along
together, chatting as equals, acquaintances, almost two friends might
have done. And on the top of the hill, after a four-mile trudge, they
rested for the first time, Spinrobin panting and perspiring, trousers
tucked up and splashed yellow with mud; Mr. Skale, legs apart, beard
flattened by the wind about his throat, and thumbs in the slits of his
waistcoat as he looked keenly about him over the darkening landscape.
Treeless and desolate hills rose on all sides. A few tumbled-down
cottages of grey stone lay scattered upon the lower slopes among patches
of shabby and forlorn cultivation. Here and there an outcrop of rock ran
skywards into somber and precipitous ridges. The October wind passed to
and fro over it all, mournfully singing, and driving loose clouds that
seemed to drop weighted shadows among the peaks.
And it was here that Mr. Skale stopped abruptly, looked about him, and
then down at his companion.
"Bleak and lonely--this great spread of bare mountain and falling
cliff," he observed half to himself, half to the other; "but fine, very,
very fine." He exhaled deeply, then inhaled as though the great draught
of air was profoundly satisfying. He turned to catch his companion's
eye. "There's a savage and desolate beauty here that uplifts. It helps
the mind to dwell upon the full sweep of life instead of getting dwarfed
and lost among its petty details. Pretty scenery is not good for the
soul." And again he inhaled a prodigious breastful of the mountain air.
"But an element of terror in it, perhaps, sir," suggested the secretary
who, truth to tell, preferred his scenery more smiling, and who,
further, had been made suddenly aware that in this somber setting of
bleak and elemental nature the great figure of his future employer
assumed a certain air of grandeur that was a little too awe-inspiring to
"In all profound beauty there must be that," the clergyman was saying;
"fine terror, I mean, of course--just enough to bring out the littleness
of man by comparison."
"Perhaps, yes," agreed Spinrobin. His own insignificance seemed
peculiarly apparent at that moment in contrast to Mr. Skale who had
become part and parcel of the rugged landscape. Spinrobin was a lost atom
whirling somewhere outside on his own account, whereas the other seemed
oddly in touch with it, almost merged and incorporated into it. With
those deep breaths the clergyman absorbed something of this latent power
about them--then gave it out again. It broke over his companion like a
wave. Elemental force of some kind emanated from that massive human
figure beside him.
The wind came tearing up the valley and swept past them with a rush as
of mighty wings. Mr. Skale drew attention to it. "And listen to that!"
he said. "How it leaps, singing, from the woods in the valley up to
those gaunt old cliffs yonder!" He pointed. His beard blew suddenly
across his face. With his bare head and shaggy flying hair, his big eyes
and bold aquiline nose, he presented an impressive figure. Spinrobin
watched him with growing amazement, aware that an enthusiasm scarcely
warranted by the wind and scenery had passed into his manner. In his own
person, too, he thought he experienced a birth of something similar--a
little wild rush of delight he was unable to account for. The voice of
his companion, pointing out the house in the valley below, again
interrupted his thoughts.
"How the mountains positively eat it up. It lies in their very jaws,"
and the secretary's eyes, traveling into the depths, made out a cluster
of grey stone chimneys and a clearing in the woods that evidently
represented lawns. The phrase "courage and imagination" flashed unbidden
into his mind as he realized the loneliness of the situation, and for the
hundredth time he wondered what in the world could be the experiments
with sound that this extraordinary man pursued in this isolated old
mansion among the hills.
"Buried, sir, rather," he suggested. "I can only just see it--"
"And inaccessible," Mr. Skale interrupted him. "Hard to get at. No one
comes to disturb; an ideal place for work. In the hollows of these hills
a man may indeed seek truth and pursue it, for the world does not enter
here." He paused a moment. "I hope, Mr. Spinrobin," he added, turning
towards him with that gentle smile his shaggy visage sometimes wore, "I
hope you will not find it too lonely. We have no visitors, I mean;
nothing but our own little household of four."
Spinrobin smiled back. Even at this stage he admits he was exceedingly
anxious to suit. Mr. Skale, in spite of his marked peculiarities,
inspired him with confidence. His personal attraction was growing every
minute; that vague awe he roused probably only increased it. He wondered
who the "four" might be.
"There's nothing like solitude for serious work, sir," replied the
younger man, stifling a passing uneasiness.
And with that they plunged down the hillside into the valley, Mr. Skale
leading the way at a terrific pace, shouting out instructions and
warnings from time to time that echoed from the rocks as though voices
followed them down from the mountains. The darkness swallowed them, they
left the wind behind; the silence that dwells in the folded hills fell
about their steps; the air grew less keen; the trees multiplied,
gathering them in with fingers of mist and shadow. Only the clatter of
their boots on the rocky path, and the heavy bass of the clergyman's
voice shouting instructions from time to time, broke the stillness.
Spinrobin followed the big dark outline in front of him as best he could,
stumbling frequently. With countless little hopping steps he dodged along
from point to point, a certain lucky nimbleness in his twinkling feet
saving him from many a tumble.
"All right behind there?" Mr. Skale would thunder.
"All right, thanks, Mr. Skale," he would reply in his thin tenor,
"Come along, then!" And on they would go faster than before, till in due
course they emerged from the encircling woods and reached the more open
ground about the house. Somehow, in the jostling relations of the walk, a
freedom of intercourse had been established that no amount of formal talk
between four walls could have accomplished. They scraped their dirty
boots vigorously on the iron mat.
"Tired?" asked the clergyman, kindly.
"Winded, Mr. Skale, thank you--nothing more," was the reply. He looked up
at the square mass of the house looming dark against the sky, and the
noise his companion made opening the door--the actual rattle of the iron
knob did it--suddenly brought to him a clear realization of two things:
First, he understood that the whole way from the station Mr. Skale had
been watching him closely, weighing, testing, proving him, though by ways
and methods so subtle that they had escaped his observation at the time;
secondly, that he was already so caught in the network of this
personality, vaster and more powerful than his own, that escape if he
desired it would be exceedingly difficult. Like a man in a boat upon the
upper Niagara river, he already felt the tug and suction of the current
below--the lust of a great adventure drawing him forward. Mr. Skale's
hand upon his shoulder as they entered the house was the symbol of
_that_. The noise of the door closing behind him was the passing of the
last bit of quiet water across which a landing to the bank might still
have been possible.
Faint streamers from the dark, inscrutable house of fear reached him even
then and left their vague, undecipherable signatures upon the surface of
his soul. The forces that vibrated so strangely in the atmosphere of Mr.
Skale were already playing about his own person, gathering him in like a
garment. Yet while he shuddered, he liked it. Was he not already losing
something of his own insignificant and diminutive self?
The clergyman, meanwhile, had closed the heavy door, shutting out the
darkness, and now led the way across a large, flagged hall into a room,
ablaze with lamp and fire, the walls lined thickly with books, furnished
cozily if plainly. The laden tea table, and a kettle hissing merrily on
the hob, were pleasant to look upon, but what instantly arrested the gaze
of the secretary was the face of the old woman in cap and
apron--evidently the housekeeper already referred to as "Mrs." Mawle--who
stood waiting to pour out tea. For about her worn and wrinkled
countenance there lay an indefinable touch of something that hitherto he
had seen only in pictures of the saints by the old masters. What
attracted his attention, and held it so arrestingly, was this singular
expression of happiness, aye, of more than mere happiness--of joy and
peace and blessed surety, rarely, if ever, seen upon a human face alive,
and only here and there suggested behind that mask of repose which death
leaves so tenderly upon the features of those few who have lived their
lives to noblest advantage.
Spinrobin caught his breath a little, and stared. Aged and lined as it
unquestionably was, he caught that ineffable suggestion of radiance about
it which proclaimed an inner life that had found itself and was in
perfect harmony with outer things: a life based upon certain knowledge
and certain hope. It wore a gentle whiteness he could find only one word
to describe--glory. And the moment he saw it there flashed across him the
recognition that this was what Mr. Skale also possessed. That giant,
athletic, vigorous man, and this bent, worn old woman both had it. He
wondered with a rush of sudden joy what produced it;--whether it might
perhaps one day be his too. The flame of his own spirit leapt within him.
And, so wondering, he turned to look at the clergyman. In the softer
light of fire and lamp his face had the appearance of forty rather than
sixty as he had first judged; the eyes, always luminous, shone with
health and enthusiasm; a great air of youth and vitality glowed about
him. It was a fine head with that dominating nose and the shaggy tangle
of hair and beard; very big, fatherly and protective he looked, a quite
inexpressible air of tenderness mingled in everywhere with the strength.
Spinrobin felt immensely drawn to him as he looked. With such a leader he
could go anywhere, do anything. There, surely, was a man whose heart was
set not upon the things of this world.
An introduction to the housekeeper interrupted his reflections; it did
not strike him as at all out of the way; doubtless she was more mother
than domestic to the household. At the name of "Mrs." Mawle
(courtesy-title, obviously), he rose and bowed, and the old woman,
looking from one to the other, smiled becomingly, curtseyed, put her cap
straight, and turned to the teapot again. She said nothing.
"The only servant I have, practically," explained the clergyman, "cook,
butler, housekeeper and tyrant all in one; and, with her niece, the only
other persons in the house besides ourselves. A very simple _menage_, you
see, Mr. Spinrobin. I ought to warn you, too, by-the-by," he added, "that
she is almost stone deaf, and has only got the use of one arm, as perhaps
you noticed. Her left arm is"--he hesitated for a fraction of a
A passing wonder as to what the niece would be like accompanied the
swallowing of his buttered toast and tea, but the personalities of Mr.
Skale and his housekeeper had already produced emotions that prevented
this curiosity acquiring much strength. He could deal with nothing more
just yet. Bewilderment obstructed the way, and in his room before dinner
he tried in vain to sort out the impressions that so thickly flooded him,
though without any conspicuous degree of success. The walls of his
bedroom, like those of corridor and hall, were bare; the furniture solid
and old-fashioned; scanty, perhaps, yet more than he was accustomed to;
and the spaciousness was very pleasant after the cramped quarters of
stuffy London lodgings. He unpacked his few things, arranged them with
neat precision in the drawers of the tallboy, counted his shirts, socks,
and ties, to see that all was right, and then drew up an armchair and
toasted his toes before the comforting fire. He tried to think of many
things, and to decide numerous little questions roused by the events of
the last few hours; but the only thing, it seems, that really occupied
his mind, was the rather overpowering fact that he was--with Mr. Skale
and in Mr. Skale's house; that he was there on a month's trial; that the
nature of the work in which he was to assist was unknown, immense,
singular; and that he was already being weighed in the balances by his
uncommon and gigantic employer. In his mind he used this very adjective.
There was something about the big clergyman--titanic.
He was in the middle of a somewhat jumbled consideration about "Knowledge
of Hebrew--tenor voice--courage and imagination--unworldly," and so
forth, when a knock at the door announced Mrs. Mawle who came to inform
him that dinner was ready. She stood there, a motherly and pleasant
figure in black, and she addressed him in the third person. "If Mr.
Spinrobin will please to come down," she said, "Mr. Skale is waiting. Mr.
Skale is always _quite_ punctual." She always spoke thus, in the third
person; she never used the personal pronoun if it could be avoided. She
preferred the name direct, it seemed. And as Spinrobin passed her on the
way out, she observed further, looking straight into his eyes as she said
it: "and should Mr. Spinrobin have need of anything, _that_," indicating
it, "is the bell that rings in the housekeeper's room. Mrs. Mawle can see
it wag, though she can't hear it. Day or night," she added with a faint
curtsey, "and no trouble at all, just as with the other gentlemen--"
So there had been other gentlemen, other secretaries! He thanked her with
a nod and a smile, and hurried pattering downstairs in a neat blue suit,
black silk socks and a pair of bright new pumps, Mr. Skale having told
him not to dress. The phrase "day or night," meanwhile, struck him as
significant and peculiar. He remembered it later. At the moment he merely
noted that it added one more to the puzzling items that caused his
Before he had gone very far, however, there came another--crowningly
perplexing. For he was halfway down the darkened passage, making for the
hall that glimmered beyond like the mouth of a cave, when, without the
smallest warning, he became suddenly conscious that something attractive
and utterly delicious had invaded the stream of his being. It came from
nowhere--inexplicably, and at first it took the form of a naked sensation
of delight, keen as a thrill of boyhood days. There passed into him very
swiftly something that satisfied. "I mean, whatever it was," he says, "I
couldn't have asked or wanted more of it. It was all there, complete,
supreme, sufficient." And the same instant he saw close beside him, in
the comparative gloom of the narrow corridor, a vivid, vibrating picture
of a girl's face, pale as marble, of flower-like beauty, with dark
voluminous hair and large grey eyes that met his own from behind a
wavering net of eyelashes. Down to the shoulders he saw her.
Erect and motionless she stood against the wall to let him pass--this
slim young girl whose sudden and unexpected presence had so electrified
him. Her eyes followed him like those of a picture, but she neither bowed
nor curtseyed, and the only movement she made was the slight turning of
the head and eyes as he went by. It was extraordinarily effective, this
silent and delightful introduction, for swift as lightning, and with
lightning's terrific and incalculable surety of aim, she leapt into his
heart with the effect of a blinding and complete possession.
It was, of course, he realized, the niece--the fourth member of the
household, and the first clear thought to disentangle itself from the
resultant jumble of emotions was his instinctive wonder what her name
might be. How was this delightful apparition called? This was the
question that ran and danced in his blood. In another minute he felt sure
he would discover it. It must begin (he felt sure of that) with an M.
He did not pause, or alter his pace. He made no sign of recognition.
Their eyes swallowed each other for a brief moment as he passed--and
then he was pattering with quick, excited steps down the passage beyond,
and the girl was left out of sight in the shadows behind him. He did not
even turn back to look, for in some amazing sense she seemed to move on
beside him, as though some portion of her had merged into his being. He
carried her on with him. Some sweet and marvelous interchange they had
undergone together. He felt strangely blessed, soothed inwardly, made
complete, and more than twice on the way down the name he knew must
belong to her almost sprang up and revealed itself--yet never quite. He
knew it began with M, even with Mir--but could get nothing more. The
rest evaded him. He divined only a portion of the name. He had seen only
a portion of her form.
The first syllable, however, sang in him with an exquisitely sweet
authority. He was aware of some glorious new thing in the penetralia of
his little spirit, vibrating with happiness. Some portion of himself sang
with it. "For it really did vibrate," he said, "and no other word
describes it. It vibrated like music, like a string; as though when I
passed her she had taken a bow and drawn it across the strings of my
inmost being to make them sing...."
"Come," broke in the sonorous voice of the clergyman whom he found
standing in the hall; "I've been waiting for you."
It was said, not complainingly nor with any idea of fault-finding, but
rather--both tone and manner betrayed it--as a prelude to something of
importance about to follow. Somewhat impatiently Mr. Skale took his
companion by the arm and led him forwards; on the stone floor Spinrobin's
footsteps sounded light and dancing, like a child's. The clergyman
strode. At the dining room door he stopped, turning abruptly, and at the
same instant the figure of the young girl glided noiselessly towards
them from the mouth of the dark corridor where she had been waiting.
Her entry, again, was curiously effective; like a beautiful thought in a
dream she moved into the hall, and into Spinrobin's life. Moreover, as
she came wholly into view in the light, he felt, as positively as though
he heard it uttered, that he knew her name complete. The first syllable
had come to him in the passageway when he saw her partly, and the feeling
of dread that "Mir--" might prove to be part of "Miranda," "Myrtle," or
some other enormity, passed instantly. These would only have been gross
and cruel misnomers. Her right name--the only one that described her
soul--must end, as it began, with M. It flashed into his mind, and at the
same moment Mr. Skale picked it off his very lips.
"Miriam," he said in deep tones, rolling the name along his mouth so as
to extract every shade of sound belonging to it, "this is Mr. Spinrobin
about whom I told you. He is coming, I hope, to help us."
At first Spinrobin was only aware of the keen delight produced in him by
the manner of Skale's uttering her name, for it entered his consciousness
with a murmuring, singing sound that continued on in his thoughts like a
melody. His racing blood carried it to every portion of his body. He
heard her name, not with his ears alone but with his whole person--a
melodious, haunting phrase of music that thrilled him exquisitely. Next,
he knew that she stood close before him, shaking his hand, and looking
straight into his eyes with an expression of the most complete trust and
sympathy imaginable, and that he felt a well-nigh irresistible desire to
draw her yet closer to him and kiss her little shining face.
Thirdly--though the three impressions were as a matter of fact almost
simultaneous--that the huge figure of the clergyman stood behind them,
watching with the utmost intentness and interest, like a keen and alert
detective eager for some betrayal of evidence, inspired, however, not by
mistrust, but by a very zealous sympathy.
He understood that this meeting was of paramount importance in Mr.
"How do you do, Mr. Spinrobin," he heard a soft voice saying, and the
commonplace phrase served to bring him back to a more normal standard of
things. But the tone in which she said it caused him a second thrill
almost more delightful than the first, for the quality was low and fluty,
like the gentle note of some mellow wind instrument, and the caressing
way she pronounced his name was a revelation. Mr. Skale had known how to
make it sound dignified, but this girl did more--she made it sound alive.
"I will give thee a new name" flashed into his thoughts, as some
memory-cell of boyhood discharged its little burden most opportunely and
proceeded to refill itself.
The smile of happiness that broke over Spinrobin's face was certainly
reflected in the eyes that gazed so searchingly into his own, without the
smallest sign of immodesty, yet without the least inclination to drop the
eyelids. The two natures ran out to meet each other as naturally as two
notes of music run to take their places in a chord. This slight,
blue-eyed youth, light of hair and sensitive of spirit, and this slim,
dark-skinned little maiden, with the voice of music and the wide-open
grey eyes, understood one another from the very first instant their
atmospheres touched and mingled; and the big Skale, looking on intently
over their very shoulders, saw that it was good and smiled down upon
them, too, in his turn.
"The harmony of souls and voices is complete," he said, but in so low a
tone that the secretary did not hear it. Then, with a hand on a shoulder
of each, he half pushed them before him into the dining room, his whole
face running, as it were, into a single big smile of contentment. The
important event had turned out to his entire satisfaction. He looked like
some beneficent father, well pleased with his two children.
But Spinrobin, as he moved beside the girl and heard the rustle of her
dress that almost touched him, felt as though he stood upon a sliding
platform that was moving ever quicker, and that the adventure upon which
he was embarked had now acquired a momentum that nothing he could do
would ever stop. And he liked it. It would carry him out of himself into
something very big....
And at dinner, where he sat opposite to the girl and studied her face
closely, Mr. Skale, he was soon aware, was occupied in studying the two
of them even more closely. He appeared always to be listening to their
voices. They spoke little enough, however, only their eyes met
continually, and when they did so there was no evidence of a desire to
withdraw. Their gaze remained fastened on one another, on her part
without shyness, without impudence on his. That Mr. Skale wished for them
an intimate and even affectionate understanding was evident, and the
secretary warmed to him on that account more than ever, if on no other.
It surprised him too--when he thought of it, which was rarely--that a
girl who was perforce of humble origin could carry herself with an air of
such complete and natural distinction, and prove herself so absolutely
"the lady." For there was something about her of greater value than any
mere earthly rank or class could confer; her spirit was in its very
essence distinguished, perfectly simple, yet strong with a great and
natural pride. It never occurred to her soul to doubt its own great
value--or to question that of others. She somehow or other made the
little secretary feel of great account. He had never quite realized his
own value before. Her presence, her eyes, her voice served to bring it
out. And a very curious detail that he always mentions just at this point
is the fact that it never occurred to him to wonder what her surname
might be, or whether, indeed, she had one at all. Her name, Miriam,
seemed sufficient. The rest of her--if there was any other part of her
not described by those three syllables--lay safely and naturally included
somewhere in _his own_ name. "Spinrobin" described her as well as
himself. But "Miriam" completed his own personality and at the same time
extended it. He felt all wrapped up and at peace with her. With Philip
Skale, Mrs. Mawle and Miriam, he, Robert Spinrobin, felt that he
naturally belonged as "one of the family." They were like the four notes
in the chord: Skale, the great bass; Mawle, the mellow alto; himself and
Miriam, respectively, the echoing tenor and the singing soprano. The
imagery by which, in the depths of his mind, he sought to interpret to
himself the whole singular business ran, it seems, even then to music and
the analogies of music.
The meal was short and very simple. Mrs. Mawle carved the joint at the
end of the table, handed the vegetables and looked after their wants with
the precision of long habit. Her skill, in spite of the withered arm, was
noteworthy. They talked little, Mr. Skale hardly at all. Miriam spoke
from time to time across the table to the secretary. She did not ask
questions, she stated facts, as though she already knew all about his
feelings and tastes. She may have been twenty years of age, perhaps, but
in some way she took him back to childhood. And she said things with the
simple audacity of a child, ignoring Mr. Skale's presence. It seemed to
the secretary as if he had always known her.
"I knew just how you would look," she said, without a trace of shyness,
"the moment I heard your name. And you got my name very quickly, too?"
"Only part of it, at first--"
"Oh yes; but when you saw me completely you got it all," she interrupted.
"And I like your name," she added, looking him full in the eye with her
soft grey orbs; "it tells everything."
"So does yours, you know."
"Oh, of course," she laughed; "Mr. Skale gave it to me the day I
"I _heard_ it," put in the clergyman, speaking almost for the first time.
And the talk dropped again, the secretary's head fairly whirling.
"You used it all, of course, as a little boy," she said presently again;
"names, I mean?"
"Rather," he replied without hesitation; "only I've rather lost it
"It will come back to you here. It's so splendid, all this world of
sound, and makes everything seem worth while. But you lose your way at
first, of course; especially if you are out of practice, as you must be."
Spinrobin did not know what to say. To hear this young girl make use of
such language took his breath away. He became aware that she was talking
with a purpose, seconding Mr. Skale in the secret examination to which
the clergyman was all the time subjecting him. Yet there was no element
of alarm in it all. In the room with these two, and with the motherly
figure of the housekeeper busying about to and fro, he felt at home,
comforted, looked after--more even, he felt at his best; as though the
stream of his little life were mingling in with a much bigger and
worthier river, a river, moreover, in flood. But it was the imagery of
music again that most readily occurred to him. He felt that the note of
his own little personality had been caught up into the comforting bosom
of a complete chord....
"Mr. Spinrobin," suddenly sounded soft and low across the table, and,
thrilled to hear the girl speak his name, he looked up quickly and found
her very wide-opened eyes peering into his. Her face was thrust forward a
little as she leaned over the table in his direction.
As he gazed she repeated his name, leisurely, quietly, and even more
softly than before: "Mr. Spinrobin." But this time, as their eyes met and
the syllables issued from her lips, he noticed that a singular
after-sound--an exceedingly soft yet vibrant overtone--accompanied it.
The syllables set something quivering within him, something that sang,
running of its own accord into a melody to which his rising pulses beat
time and tune.
"Now, please, speak my name," she added. "Please look straight at me,
straight into my eyes, and pronounce _my_ name."
His lips trembled, if ever so slightly, as he obeyed.
"Miriam ..." he said.
"Pronounce each syllable very distinctly and very slowly," she said, her
grey eyes all over his burning face.
"Mir ... i ... am," he repeated, looking in the center of the eyes
without flinching, and becoming instantly aware that his utterance
of the name produced in himself a development and extension of the
original overtones awakened by her speaking of his own name. It was
wonderful ... exquisite ... delicious. He uttered it again, and then
heard that she, too, was uttering his at the same moment. Each spoke the
other's name. He could have sworn he heard the music within him leap
across the intervening space and transfer itself to her ... and that he
heard his own name singing, too, in _her_ blood.
For the names were true. By this soft intoning utterance they seemed to
pass mutually into the secret rhythm of that Eternal Principle of Speech
which exists behind the spoken sound and is independent of its means of
manifestation. Their central beings, screened and limited behind their
names, knew an instant of synchronous rhythmical vibration. It was their
introduction absolute to one another, for it was an instant of naked
... A great volume of sound suddenly enveloped and caught away the two
singing names, and the spell was broken. Miriam dropped her eyes;
Spinrobin looked up. It was Mr. Skale's voice upon them with a shout.
"Splendid! splendid!" he cried; "your voices, like your names, are made
for one another, in quality, pitch, accent, everything." He was
enthusiastic rather than excited; but to Spinrobin, taking part in this
astonishing performance, to which the other two alone held the key, it
all seemed too perplexing for words. The great bass crashed and boomed
for a moment about his ears; then came silence. The test, or whatever it
was, was over. It had been successful.
Mr. Skale, his face still shining with enthusiasm, turned towards him.
Miriam, equally happy, watched, her hands folded in her lap.
"My dear fellow," exclaimed the clergyman, half rising in his chair, "how
mad you must think us! How mad you must think us! I can only assure you
that when you know more, as you soon shall, you will understand the
importance of what has just taken place...."
He said a good deal more that Spinrobin did not apparently quite take in.
He was too bewildered. His eyes sought the girl where she sat opposite,
gazing at him. For all its pallor, her face was tenderly soft and
beautiful; more pure and undefiled, he thought, than any human
countenance he had ever seen, and sweet as the face of a child. Utterly
unstained it was. A similar light shone in the faces of Skale and Mrs.
Mawle. In their case it had forged its way through the more or less
defiling garment of a worn and experienced flesh. But the light in
Miriam's eyes and skin was there because it had never been extinguished.
She had retained her pristine brilliance of soul. Through the little
spirit of the perplexed secretary ran a thrill of genuine worship and
"Mr. Skale's coffee is served in the library," announced the voice of the
housekeeper abruptly behind them; and when Spinrobin turned again he
discovered that Miriam had slipped from the room unobserved and was gone.
Mr. Skale took his companion's arm and led the way towards the hall.
"I am glad you love her," was his astonishing remark. "It is the first
and most essential condition of your suiting me."
"She is delightful, wonderful, charming, sir--"
"Not 'sir,' if you please," replied the clergyman, standing aside at the
threshold for his guest to pass; "I prefer the use of the name, you know.
I think it is important."
And he closed the library door behind them.
For some minutes they sat in front of the fire and sipped their coffee in
silence. The secretary felt that the sliding platform on which he was
traveling into this extraordinary adventure had been going a little too
fast for him. Events had crowded past before he had time to look squarely
at them. He had lost his bearings rather, routed by Miriam's beauty and
by the amazing way she talked to him. Had she lived always inside his
thoughts she could not have chosen words better calculated to convince
him that they were utterly in sympathy one with the other. Mr. Skale,
moreover, approved heartily. The one thing Spinrobin saw clearly through
it all was that himself and Miriam--their voices, rather--were necessary
for the success of the clergyman's mysterious experiments. Only, while
Miriam, little witch, knew all about it, he, candidate on trial, knew as
And now, as they sat opposite one another in the privacy of the library,
Spinrobin, full of confidence and for once proud of his name and
personality, looked forward to being taken more into the heart of the
affair. Things advanced, however, more slowly than he desired. Mr.
Skale's scheme was too big to be hurried.
The clergyman did not smoke, but his companion, with the other's ready
permission, puffed gently at a small cigarette. Short, rapid puffs he
took, as though the smoke was afraid to enter beyond the front teeth, and
with one finger he incessantly knocked off the ashes into his saucer,
even when none were there to fall. On the table behind them gurgled the
shaded lamp, lighting their faces from the eyes downwards.
"Now," said Mr. Skale, evidently not aware that he thundered, "we can
talk quietly and undisturbed." He caught his beard in a capacious hand,
in such a way that the square outline of his chin showed through the
hair. His voice boomed musically, filling the room. Spinrobin listened
acutely, afraid even to cross his legs. A genuine pronouncement, he felt,
"A good many years ago, Mr. Spinrobin," he said simply, "when I was a
curate of a country parish in Norfolk, I made a discovery--of a
revolutionary description--a discovery in the world of real things, that
is, of spiritual things."
He gazed fixedly over the clutched beard at his companion, apparently
searching for brief, intelligible phrases. "But a discovery, the
development of which I was obliged to put on one side until I inherited
with this property the means and leisure which enabled me to continue my
terrific--I say purposely terrific--researches. For some years now I have
been quietly at work here absorbed in my immense pursuit." And again he
stopped. "I have reached a point, Mr. Spinrobin--"
"Yes," interjected the secretary, as though the mention of his name
touched a button and produced a sound. "A point--?"
"Where I need the assistance of some one with a definite quality of
voice--a man who emits a certain note--a certain tenor note." He released
his beard, so that it flew out with a spring, at the same moment
thrusting his head forward to drive home the announcement effectively.
Spinrobin crossed his legs with a fluttering motion, hastily. "As you
advertised," he suggested.
The clergyman bowed.
"My efforts to find the right man," continued the enthusiast, leaning
back in his chair, "have now lasted a year. I have had a dozen men down
here, each on a month's trial. None of them suited. None had the
requisite quality of voice. With a single exception, none of them could
stand the loneliness, the seclusion; and without exception, all of them
were too worldly to make sacrifices. It was the salary they wanted. The
majority, moreover, confused imagination with fancy, and courage with
mere audacity. And, most serious of all, not one of them passed the test
of--Miriam. She harmonized with none of them. They were discords one and
all. You, Mr. Spinrobin, are the first to win acceptance. The instant she
heard your name she cried for you. And she knows. She sings the soprano.
She took you into the chord."
"I hope indeed--" stammered the flustered and puzzled secretary, and then
stopped, blushing absurdly. "You claim for me far more than I should dare
to claim for myself," he added. The reference to Miriam delighted him,
and utterly destroyed his judgment. He longed to thank the girl for
having approved him. "I'm glad my voice--er--suits your--chord." In his
heart of hearts he understood something of what Mr. Skale was driving at,
yet was half-ashamed to admit it even to himself. In this twentieth
century it all seemed so romantic, mystical, and absurd. He felt it was
all half-true. If only he could have run back into that great "mental
prairie" of his boyhood days it might all have been _quite_ true.
"Precisely," continued Mr. Skale, bringing him back to reality,
"precisely. And now, before I tell you more, you will forgive my asking
you one or two personal questions, I'm sure. We must build securely as we
go, leaving nothing to chance. The grandeur and importance of my
experiments demand it. Afterwards," and his expression changed to a
sudden softness in a way that was characteristic of the man, "you must
feel free to put similar questions to me, as personal and direct as you
please. I wish to establish a perfect frankness between us at the start."
"Thank you, Mr. Skale. Of course--er--should anything occur to me to
ask--" A momentary bewilderment, caused by the great visage so close to
his own, prevented the completion of the sentence.
"As to your beliefs, for instance," the clergyman resumed abruptly,
"your religious beliefs, I mean. I must be sure of you on that ground.
What are you?"
"Nothing--I think," Spinrobin replied without hesitation, remembering how
his soul had bounced its way among the various creeds since Cambridge,
and arrived at its present state of Belief in Everything, yet without any
definite label. "Nothing in particular. Nominally, though--a Christian."
"You believe in a God?"
"A Supreme Intelligence, most certainly," was the emphatic reply.
Spinrobin hesitated. He was a very honest soul.
"Other life, let me put it," the clergyman helped him; "other beings
"I have often felt--wondered, rather," he answered carefully, "whether
there might not be other systems of evolution besides humanity. Such
extraordinary Forces come blundering into one's life sometimes, and one
can't help wondering where they come from. I have never formulated any
definite beliefs, however--"
"Your world is not a blind chaos, I mean?" Mr. Skale put gravely to him,
as though questioning a child.
"No, no, indeed. There's order and system--"
"In which you personally count for something of value?" asked the
"I like to think so," was the apologetic reply. "There's something that
includes me somewhere in a purpose of very great importance--only, of
course, I've got to do my part, and--"
"Good," Mr. Skale interrupted him. "And now," he asked softly, after
a moment's pause, leaning forward, "what about death? Are you afraid
Spinrobin started visibly. He began to wonder where this extraordinary
catechism was going to lead. But he answered at once: he had thought out
these things and knew where he stood.
"Only of its possible pain," he said, smiling into the bearded visage
before him. "And an immense curiosity, of course--"
"It does not mean extinction for you--going out like the flame of a
candle, for instance?"
"I have never been able to believe _that_, Mr. Skale. I continue
somewhere and somehow--forever."
The cross-examination puzzled him more and more, and through it, for the
first time, he began to feel dimly, ran a certain strain of something not
quite right, not permissible in the biggest sense. It was not the
questions themselves that produced this odd and rather disquieting
impression, but the fact that Mr. Skale was preparing the ground with
such extraordinary thoroughness. This conversation was the first swell,
as it were, rolling mysteriously in upon him from the ocean in whose
deeps the great Experiment lay buried. Forces, tidal in strength, oceanic
in volume, shrouded it just now, but he already felt them. They reached
him through the person of the clergyman. It was these forces playing
through his personality that Spinrobin had been aware of the first moment
they met on the station platform, and had "sensed" even more strongly
during the walk home across the mountains.
Behind the play of these darker impressions, as yet only vague and
ambiguous, there ran in and out among his thoughts the vein of something
much sweeter. Miriam, with her large grey eyes and silvery voice, was
continually peeping in upon his mind. He wondered where she was and what
she was doing in the big, lonely house. He wished she could have been in
the room to hear his answers and approve them. He felt incomplete without
her. Already he thought of her as the melody to which he was the
accompaniment, two things that ought not to be separated.
"My point is," Mr. Skale continued, "that, apart from ordinary human
ties, and so forth, you have no intrinsic terror of death--of losing your
"No, no," was the reply, more faintly given than the rest. "I love my
life, but--but--" he looked about him in some confusion for the right
words, still thinking of Miriam--"but I look forward, Mr. Skale; I look
forward." He dropped back into the depths of his armchair and puffed
swiftly at the end of his extinguished cigarette, oblivious of the fact
that no smoke came.
"The attitude of a brave man," said the clergyman with approval. Then,
looking straight into the secretary's blue eyes, he added with increased
gravity: "And therefore it would not be immoral of me to expose you to an
experiment in which the penalty of a slip would be--death? Or you would
not shrink from it yourself, provided the knowledge to be obtained seemed
"That's right, sir--Mr. Skale, I mean; that's right," came the answer
after an imperceptible pause.
The result of the talk seemed to satisfy the clergyman. "You must think
my questions _very_ peculiar," he said, the sternness of his face
relaxing a little, "but it was necessary to understand your exact
position before proceeding further. The gravity of my undertaking demands
it. However, you must not let my words alarm you." He waited a moment,
reflecting deeply. "You must regard them, if you will, as a kind of
test," he resumed, searching his companion's face with eagle eyes, "the
beginning of a series of tests in which your attitude to Miriam and hers
to you, so far as that goes, was the first."
"Oh, that's all right, Mr. Skale," was his inadequate rejoinder; for the
moment the name of the girl was introduced his thoughts instantly
wandered out to find her. The way the clergyman pronounced it increased
its power, too, for no name he uttered sounded ordinary. There seemed a
curious mingling in the resonant cavity of his great mouth of the
fundamental note and the overtones.
"Yes, you have the kind of courage that is necessary," Mr. Skale was
saying, half to himself, "the modesty that forgets self, and the
unworldly attitude that is essential. With your help I may encompass
success; and I consider myself wonderfully fortunate to have found you,
"I'm glad," murmured Spinrobin, thinking that so far he had not learned
anything very definite about his duties, or what it was he had to do to
earn so substantial a salary. Truth to tell, he did not bother much about
that part of it. He was conscious only of three main desires: to pass the
unknown tests, to learn the nature of Mr. Skale's discovery, with the
experiment involved, and--to be with Miriam as much as possible. The
whole affair was so unusual that he had already lost the common standards
of judging. He let the sliding platform take him where it would, and he
flattered himself that he was not fool enough to mistake originality for
insanity. The clergyman, dreamer and enthusiast though he might be, was
as sane as other men, saner than most.
"I hope to lead you little by little to what I have in view," Mr. Skale
went on, "so that at the end of our trial month you will have learned
enough to enable you to form a decision, yet not enough to--to use my
knowledge should you choose to return to the world."
It was very frank, but the secretary did not feel offended. He accepted
the explanation as perfectly reasonable. In his mind he knew full well
what his choice would be. This was the supreme adventure he had been so
long a-seeking. No ordinary obstacle could prevent his accepting it.
There came a pause of some length, in which Spinrobin found nothing
particular to say. The lamp gurgled; the coals fell softly into the
fender. Then suddenly Mr. Skale rose and stood with his back to the
grate. He gazed down upon the small figure in the chair. He towered
there, a kindly giant, enthusiasm burning in his eyes like lamps. His
voice was very deep, his manner more solemn than before when he spoke.
"So far, so good," he said, "and now, with your permission, Mr.
Spinrobin, I should like to go a step further. I should like to
"My note?" exclaimed the other, thinking he had not heard correctly.
"Your sound, yes," repeated the clergyman.
"My sound!" piped the little man, vastly puzzled, his voice shrill with
excitement. He dodged about in the depths of his big leather chair, as
though movement might bring explanation.
Mr. Skale watched him calmly. "I want to get the vibrations of your
voice, and then see what pattern they produce in the sand," he said.
"Oh, in the sand, yes; quite so," replied the secretary. He remembered
how the vibrations of an elastic membrane can throw dry sand, loosely
scattered upon its surface, into various floral and geometrical figures.
Chladni's figures, he seemed to remember, they were called after their
discoverer. But Mr. Skale's purpose in the main, of course, escaped him.
"You don't object?"
"On the contrary, I am greatly interested." He stood up on the mat beside
"I wish to make _quite_ sure," the clergyman added gravely, "that your
voice, your note, is what I think it is--accurately in harmony with
mine and Miriam's and Mrs. Mawle's. The pattern it makes will help to
The secretary bowed in perplexed silence, while Mr. Skale crossed the
room and took a violin from its case. The golden varnish of its ribs and
back gleamed in the lamplight, and when the clergyman drew the bow across
the strings to tune it, smooth, mellow sounds, soft and resonant as
bells, filled the room. Evidently he knew how to handle the instrument.
The notes died away in a murmur.
"A Guarnerius," he explained, "and a perfect pedigree specimen; it has
the most sensitive structure imaginable, and carries vibrations almost
like a human nerve. For instance, while I speak," he added, laying the
violin upon his companion's hand, "you will feel the vibrations of my
voice run through the wood into your palm."
"I do," said Spinrobin. It trembled like a living thing.
"Now," continued Mr. Skale, after a pause, "what I first want is to
receive the vibrations of your own voice in the same way--into my very
pulses. Kindly read aloud steadily while I hold it. Stop reading when I
make a sign. I'll nod, so that the vibrations of my voice won't
interfere." And he handed a notebook to him with quotations entered
neatly in his own handwriting, selected evidently with a purpose, and all
dealing with sound, music, as organized sound, and names. Spinrobin read
aloud; the first quotation from Meredith he recognized, but the others,
and the last one, discussing names, were new to him:--
"But _listen in the thought_; so may there come
Conception of a newly-added chord,
Commanding space beyond where ear has home.
"Everything that the sun shines upon sings or can be made to sing, and
can be heard to sing. Gases, impalpable powders, and woolen stuffs, in
common with other non-conductors of sound, give forth notes of different
pitches when played upon by an intermittent beam of white light. Colored
stuffs will sing in lights of different colors, but refuse to sing in
others. The polarization of light being now accomplished, light and sound
are known to be alike. Flames have a modulated voice and can be made to
sing a definite melody. Wood, stone, metal, skins, fibers, membranes,
every rapidly vibrating substance, _all have in them the potentialities
of musical sound_.
"Radium receives its energy from, and responds to, radiations which
traverse all space--as piano strings respond to sounds in unison with
their notes. Space is all a-quiver with waves of radiant energy. We
vibrate in sympathy with a few strings here and there--with the tiny
X-rays, actinic rays, light waves, heat waves, and the huge
electromagnetic waves of Hertz and Marconi; but there are great spaces,
numberless radiations, to which we are stone deaf. Some day, a thousand
years hence, we shall know the full sweep of this magnificent harmony.
"Everything in nature has its name, and he who has the power to call a
thing by its proper name can make it subservient to his will; for its
proper name is not the arbitrary name given to it by man, but the
expression of the totality of its powers and attributes, because the
powers and attributes of each Being are intimately connected with its
means of expression, and between both exists the most exact proportion in
regard to measure, time, and condition."
The meaning of the four quotations, as he read them, plunged down into
him and touched inner chords very close to his own beliefs. Something of
his own soul, therefore, passed into his voice as he read. He read, that
is to say, with authority.
A nod from Mr. Skale stopped him just as he was beginning a fifth
passage. Raising the vibrating instrument to his ear, the clergyman first
listened a moment intently. Then he quickly had it under his chin, beard
flowing over it like water, and the bow singing across the strings. The
note he played--he drew it out with that whipping motion of the bow only
possible to a loving expert--was soft and beautiful, long drawn out with
a sweet singing quality. He took it on the G string with the second
finger--in the "fourth position." It thrilled through him, Spinrobin
declares, most curiously and delightfully. It made him happy to hear it.
It was very similar to the singing vibrations he had experienced when
Miriam gazed into his eyes and spoke his name.
"Thank you," said Mr. Skale, and laid the violin down again. "I've got
the note. You're E flat."
"E flat!" gasped Spinrobin, not sure whether he was pleased or
"That's your sound, yes. You're E flat--just as I thought, just as I
hoped. You fit in exactly. It seems too good to be true!" His voice began
to boom again, as it always did when he was moved. He was striding about,
very alert, very masterful, pushing the furniture out of his way, his
eyes more luminous than ever. "It's magnificent." He stopped abruptly and
looked at the secretary with a gaze so enveloping that Spinrobin for an
instant lost his bearings altogether. "It means, my dear Spinrobin," he
said slowly, with a touch of solemnity that woke an involuntary shiver
deep in his listener's being, "that you are destined to play a part, and
an important part, in one of the grandest experiments ever dreamed of by
the heart of man. For the first time since my researches began twenty
years ago I now see the end in sight."
"Mr. Skale--that _is_ something--indeed," was all the little man could
find to say.
There was no reason he could point to why the words should have produced
a sense of chill about his heart. It was only that he felt again the huge
groundswell of this vast unknown experiment surging against him, lifting
him from his feet--as a man might feel the Atlantic swells rise with him
towards the stars before they engulfed him forever. It seemed getting a
trifle out of hand, this adventure. Yet it was what he had always longed
for, and his courage must hold firm. Besides, Miriam was involved in it
with him. What could he ask better than to risk his insignificant
personality in some gigantic, mad attempt to plumb the Unknown, with that
slender, little pale-faced Beauty by his side? The wave of Mr. Skale's
enthusiasm swept him away deliciously.
"And now," he cried, "we'll get your Pattern too. I no longer have any
doubts, but none the less it will be a satisfaction to us both to see it.
It must, I'm sure, harmonies with ours; it must!"
He opened a cupboard drawer and produced a thin sheet of glass, upon
which he next poured some finely powdered sand out of a paper bag. It
rattled, dry and faint, upon the smooth, hard surface. And while he did
this, he talked rapidly, boomingly, with immense enthusiasm.
"All sounds," he said, half to himself, half to the astonished secretary,
"create their own patterns. Sound builds; sound destroys; and invisible
sound-vibrations affect concrete matter. For all sounds produce
forms--the forms that correspond to them, as you shall now see. Within
every form lies the silent sound that first called it into view--into
visible shape--into being. Forms, shapes, bodies are the vibratory
activities of _sound made visible_."
"My goodness!" exclaimed Spinrobin, who was listening like a man in a
dream, but who caught the violence of the clergyman's idea none the less.
"Forms and bodies are--_solidified Sound_," cried the clergyman in
"You say something extraordinary," exclaimed the commonplace Spinrobin in
his shrill voice. "Marvelous!" Vaguely he seemed to remember that
Schelling had called architecture "frozen music."
Mr. Skale turned and looked at him as a god might look at an
insect--that he loved.
"Sound, Mr. Spinrobin," he said, with a sudden and effective lowering of
his booming voice, "is the original divine impulsion behind
nature--communicated to language. It is--creative!"
Then, leaving the secretary with this nut of condensed knowledge to crack
as best he could, the clergyman went to the end of the room in three
strides. He busied himself for a moment with something upon the wall;
then he suddenly turned, his great face aglow, his huge form erect,
fixing his burning eyes upon his distracted companion.
"In the Beginning," he boomed solemnly, in tones of profound conviction,
"was--the _Word_." He paused a moment, and then continued, his voice
filling the room to the very ceiling. "At the Word of God--at the thunder
of the Voice of God, worlds leaped into being!" Again he paused. "Sound,"
he went on, the whole force of his great personality in the phrase, "was
the primordial, creative energy. A sound can call a form into existence.
Forms are the Sound-Figures of archetypal forces--the Word made Flesh."
He stopped, and moved with great soft strides about the room.
Spinrobin caught the words full in the face. For a space he could not
measure--considerably less than a second, probably--the consciousness of
something unutterably immense, unutterably flaming, rushed tumultuously
through his mind, with wings that bore his imagination to a place where
light was--dazzling, white beyond words. He felt himself tossed up to
Heaven on the waves of a great sea, as the body of strange belief behind
the clergyman's words poured through him.... For somewhere, behind the
incoherence of the passionate language, burned the blaze of a true
thought at white heat--could he but grasp it through the stammering
Then, with equal swiftness, it passed. His present surroundings came
back. He dropped with a dizzy rush from awful spaces ... and was aware
that he was merely--standing on the black, woolly mat before the fire
watching the movements of his new employer, that his pumps were bright
and pointed, his head just level with a dark marble mantelpiece. Dazed,
and a trifle breathless he felt; and at the back of his disordered mind
stirred a schoolboy's memory that the Pythagoreans believed the
universe to have been called out of chaos by Sound, Number, and
Harmony--or something to that effect.... But these huge, fugitive
thoughts that tore through him refused to be seized and dealt with. He
staggered a little, mentally; then, with a prodigious effort, controlled
Mr. Skale, he saw, had fastened the little sheet of glass by its four
corners to silken strings hanging from the ceiling. The glass plate hung,
motionless and horizontal, in the air with its freight of sand. For
several minutes the clergyman played a series of beautiful modulations in
double-stopping upon the violin. In these the dominating influence was E
flat. Spinrobin was not musical enough to describe it more accurately
than this. Only, with greater skill than he knows, he mentions how Skale
drew out of that fiddle the peculiarly intimate and searching tones by
which strings can reach the spiritual center of a man and make him
respond to delicate vibrations of thoughts beyond his normal gamut....
Spinrobin, listening, understood that he was a greater man than he
And the sand on the glass sheet, he next became aware, was shifting,
moving, dancing. He heard the tiny hissing and rattling of the dry
grains. It was uncommonly weird. This visible and practical result
made the clergyman's astonishing words seem true and convincing. That
moving sand brought sanity, yet a certain curious terror of the
unknown into it all.
A minute later Mr. Skale stopped playing and beckoned to him.
"See," he said quietly, pointing to the arrangement the particles of
sand had assumed under the influence of the vibrations. "There's your
pattern--your sound made visible. That's your utterance--the Note you
substantially represent and body forth in terms of matter."
The secretary stared. It was a charming but very simple pattern the lines
of sand had assumed, not unlike the fronds of a delicate fern growing out
of several small circles round the base.
"So that's my note--made visible!" he exclaimed under his breath. "It's
delightful; it's quite exquisite."
"That's E flat," returned Mr. Skale in a whisper, so as not to disturb
the pattern; "if I altered the note, the pattern would alter too. E
natural, for instance, would be different. Only, luckily, you are E
flat--just the note we want. And now," he continued, straightening
himself up to his full height, "come over and see mine and Miriam's and
Mrs. Mawle's, and you'll understand what I meant when I said that yours
would harmonize." And in a glass case across the room they examined a
number of square sheets of glass with sand upon them in various patterns,
all rendered permanent by a thin coating of a glue-like transparent
substance that held the particles in position.
"There you see mine and Miriam's and Mrs. Mawle's," he said, stooping to
look. "They harmonize most beautifully, you observe, with your own."
It was, indeed, a singular and remarkable thing. The patterns, though all
different, yet combined in some subtle fashion impossible of analysis to
form a complete and well-proportioned Whole--a design--a picture. The
patterns of the clergyman and the housekeeper provided the base and
foreground, those of Miriam and the secretary the delicate
superstructure. The girl's pattern, he noted with a subtle pleasure, was
curiously similar to his own, but far more delicate and waving. Yet,
whereas his was floral, hers was stellar in character; that of the
housekeeper was spiral, and Mr. Skale's he could only describe as a
miniature whirlwind of very exquisite design rising out of apparently
three separate centers of motion.
"If I could paint over them the color each shade of sound represents,"
Mr. Skale resumed, "the tint of each _timbre_, or _Klangfarbe_, as the
Germans call it, you would see better still how we are all grouped
together there into a complete and harmonious whole."
Spinrobin looked from the patterns to his companion's great face bending
there beside him. Then he looked back again at the patterns. He could
think of nothing quite intelligible to say. He noticed more clearly every
minute that these dainty shapes of sand, stellar, spiral, and floral,
stood to one another in certain definite proportions, in a rising and
calculated ratio of singular beauty.
"There, before you, lies a true and perfect chord made visible," the
clergyman said in tones thrilling with satisfaction, "--three notes in
harmony with the fundamental sound, myself, and with each other. My dear
fellow, I congratulate you, I congratulate you."
"Thank you very much, indeed," murmured Spinrobin. "I don't quite
understand it all yet, but it's--it's extraordinarily fascinating and
Mr. Skale said nothing, and Spinrobin drifted back to his big armchair. A
deep silence pervaded the room for the space of several minutes. In the
heart of that silence lay the mass of direct and vital questions the
secretary burned, yet was afraid, to ask. For such was the plain truth;
he yearned to know, yet feared to hear. The Discovery and the Experiment
of this singular man loomed already somewhat vast and terrible; the
adjective that had suggested itself before returned to him--"not
permissible." ... Of Mr. Skale himself he had no sort of fear, though a
growing and uncommon respect, but of the purpose Mr. Skale had in view
he caught himself thinking more and more, yet without obvious reason,
with a distinct shrinking almost amounting to dismay. But for the fact
that so sweet and gentle a creature as Miriam was traveling the same path
with him, this increased sense of caution would have revealed itself
plainly for what it was--Fear....
"I am deeply interested, Mr. Skale," he said at length, breaking first
the silence, "and sympathetic too, I assure you; only--you will forgive
me for saying it--I am, as yet, still rather in the dark as to where all
this is to lead--" The clergyman's eyes, fixed straight upon his own,
again made it difficult to finish the sentence as he wished.
"Necessarily so, because I can only lead you to my discovery step by
step," replied the other steadily. "I wish you to be thoroughly prepared
for anything that may happen, so that you can deal intelligently with
results that might otherwise overwhelm you."
"Overwhelm--?" faltered his listener.
"_Might_, I said. Note carefully my use of words, for they are accurately
chosen. Before I can tell you all I must submit you, for your own sake,
to certain tests--chiefly to the test of Alteration of Form by Sound. It
is somewhat--er--alarming, I believe, the first time. You must be
thoroughly accustomed to these astonishing results before we dare to
approach the final Experiment; so that you will not tremble. For there
can be no rehearsal. The great Experiment can only be made once ... and I
must be as sure as possible that you will feel no terror in the face of
Spinrobin listened breathlessly. He hesitated a moment after the other
stopped speaking, then slewed round on his slippery chair and faced him.
"I can understand," he began, "why you want imagination, but you spoke of
courage too? I mean,--is there any immediate cause for alarm? Any
personal danger, for instance, _now_?" For the clergyman's weighty
sentences had made him realize in a new sense the loneliness of his
situation here among these desolate hills. He would appreciate some
assurance that his life was not to be trifled with before he lost the
power to withdraw if he wished to do so.
"None whatever," replied Mr. Skale with decision, "there is no question
at all of physical personal injury. You must trust me and have a little
patience." His tone and manner were exceedingly grave, yet at the same
time inspired confidence.
"I do," said Spinrobin honestly.
Another pause fell between them, longer than the rest; it was broken by
the clergyman. He spoke emphatically, evidently weighing his words with
the utmost care.
"This Chord," he said simply--yet, for all the simplicity, there ran to
and fro behind his words the sense of unlawful and immense forces
impending--"I need for a stupendous experiment with sound, an experiment
which will lead in turn towards a yet greater and final one. There is no
harm in your knowing that. To produce a certain transcendent result I
want a complex sound--a chord, but a complete and perfect chord in which
each note is sure of itself and absolutely accurate."
He waited a moment. There was utter silence about them in the room.
Spinrobin held his breath.
"No instrument can help me; the notes must be human," he resumed in a
lower voice, "and the utterers--pure. For the human voice can produce
sounds 'possessing in some degree the characteristics not only of all
musical instruments, but of all sounds of whatever description.' By means
of this chord I hope to utter a certain sound, a certain _name_, of which
you shall know more hereafter. But a name, as you surely know, need not
be composed of one or two syllables only; a whole symphony may be a name,
and a whole orchestra playing for days, or an entire nation chanting for
years, may be required to pronounce the beginning merely of--of certain
names. Yours, Robert Spinrobin, for instance, I can pronounce in a
quarter of a second; but there may be names so vast, so mighty, that
minutes, days, years even, may be necessary for their full utterance.
There may be names, indeed, which can never be known, for they could
never be uttered--_in time_. For the moment I am content simply to drop
this thought into your consciousness; later you shall understand more. I
only wish you to take in now that I need this perfect chord for the
utterance in due course of a certain complex and stupendous name--the
invocation, that is, of a certain complex and stupendous Force!"
"I think I understand," whispered the other, afraid to interrupt more.
"And the difficulty I have experienced in finding the three notes has
been immense. I found Mrs. Mawle--alto; then Miriam I found at birth and
trained her--soprano; and now I have found you, Mr. Spinrobin, and my
chord, with myself as bass, is complete. Your note and Miriam's, soprano
and tenor, are closer than the relations between the other notes, and a
tenor has accordingly been most difficult to find. You can now understand
the importance of your being sympathetic to each other."
Spinrobin's heart burned within him as he listened. He began to grasp
some sweet mystical meaning in the sense of perfect companionship the
mere presence of the girl inspired. They were the upper notes in the same
chord together, linked in a singing and harmonious relation, the one
necessary to the other. Moreover, in the presence of Mr. Skale and the
housekeeper, bass and alto in the full chord, their completeness was
still more emphasized, and they knew their fullest life. The adventure
promised to be amazingly seductive. He would learn practically the
strange truth that to know the highest life Self must be lost and merged
in something bigger. And was this not precisely what he had so long been
seeking--escape from his own insignificance?
"And--er--the Hebrew that you require of me, Mr. Skale?" he asked,
returning to practical considerations.
"Our purposes require a certain knowledge of Hebrew," he answered without
hesitation or demur, "because that ancient language and the magical
resources of sound are profoundly linked. In the actual sounds of many of
the Hebrew letters lies a singular power, unguessed by the majority,
undivined especially, of course, by the mere scholar, but available for
the pure in heart who may discover how to use their extraordinary values.
They constitute, in my view at least, a remnant of the original Chaldaean
mysteries, the lore of that magic which is older than religion. The
secret of this knowledge lies in the _psychic values of sound_; for
Hebrew, the Hebrew of the Bahir, remains in the hierarchy of languages a
direct channel to the unknown and inscrutable forces; and the knowledge
of mighty and supersensual things lies locked up in the correct utterance
of many of its words, letters and phrases. Its correct utterance, mark
well. For knowledge of the most amazing and terrible kind is there,
waiting release by him who knows, and who greatly dares.
"And you shall later learn that sound is power. The Hebrew alphabet you
must know intimately, and the intricate association of its letters with
number, color, harmony and geometrical form, all of which are but
symbols of the Realities at the very roots of life. The Hebrew alphabet,
Mr. Spinrobin, is a 'discourse in methods of manifestation, of
formation.' In its correct pronunciation lies a way to direct knowledge
of divine powers, and to conditions beyond this physical existence."
The clergyman's voice grew lower and lower as he proceeded, and the
conviction was unavoidable that he referred to things whereof he had
practical knowledge. To Spinrobin it was like the lifting of a great
veil. As a boy he had divined something of these values of sound and
name, but with the years this knowledge had come to seem fantastic and
unreal. It now returned upon him with the force of a terrific certainty.
That immense old inner playground of his youth, without boundaries or
horizon, rolled up before his mental vision, inviting further and
"With the language, qua language," he continued, "you need not trouble,
but the 'Names' of many things you must know accurately, and especially
the names of the so-called 'Angels'; for these are in reality Forces of
immense potency, vast spiritual Powers, Qualities, and the like, all
evocable by correct utterance of their names. This language, as you will
see, is _alive_ and divine in the true sense; its letters are the
vehicles of activities; its words, terrific formulae; and the true
pronunciation of them remains today a direct channel to divine knowledge.
In time you shall see; in time you shall know; in time you shall hear.
Mr. Spinrobin," and he thrust his great head forwards and dropped his
voice to a hushed whisper, "in time we shall all together make this
Experiment in sound which shall redeem us and make us as Gods!"
"Thank you!" gasped the secretary, swept off his feet by this torrent of
uncommon and mystical language, and passing a moist hand through his
feathery hair. He was not entirely ignorant, of course, of the alleged
use of sound in the various systems of so-called magic that have
influenced the minds of imaginative men during the history of the world.
He had heard, more or less vaguely, perhaps, but still with
understanding, about "Words of Power"; but hitherto he had merely
regarded such things as picturesque superstitions, or half-truths that
lie midway between science and imagination. Here, however, was a man in
the twentieth century, the days of radium, flying machines, wireless
telegraphy, and other invitations towards materialism, who apparently had
practical belief in the effective use of sound and in its psychic and
divine possibilities, and who was devoting all of his not inconsiderable
powers of heart and mind to their actual demonstration. It was
astonishing. It was delightful. It was incredible! And, but for the
currents of a strange and formidable fear that this conception of Skale's
audacious Experiment set stirring in his soul, Spinrobin's enthusiasm
would have been possibly as great as his own.
As it was he went up to the big clergyman and held out his hand, utterly
carried away by the strangeness of it all, caught up in a vague splendor
he did not quite understand, prepared to abandon himself utterly.
"I gather something of what you mean," he said earnestly, "if not all;
and I hope most sincerely I may prove suitable for your purpose when the
time comes. As a boy, you know, curiously enough, I always believed in
the efficacy of names and the importance of naming true. I think," he
added somewhat diffidently, looking up straight into the luminous eyes
above him, "if you will allow me to say so, I would follow you anywhere,
Mr. Skale--anywhere you cared to lead."
"'Upon him that overcometh,'" said the clergyman in that gentle voice he
sometimes used, soft as the voice of woman, "'will I write my new
He gazed down very searchingly into the other's eyes for a minute or two,
then shook the proffered hand without another word. And so they
separated and went to bed, for it was long past midnight.
In his bedroom, though excitement banished sleep in spite of the lateness
of the hour, he was too exhausted to make any effective attempt to reduce
the confusion of his mind to order. For the first time in his life the
diary-page for the day remained blank. For a long time he sat before it
with his pencil--then sighed and put it away. A volume he might have
written, but not a page, much less a line or two. And though it was but
eight hours since he had made the acquaintance of the Rev. Philip Skale,
it seemed to him more like eight days.
Moreover, all that he had heard and seen, fantastic and strained as he
felt it to be, possibly even the product of religious mania, was
nevertheless profoundly disquieting, for mixed up with it somewhere or
other was--truth. Mr. Skale _had_ made a discovery--a giant one; it was
not all merely talk and hypnotism, the glamour of words. His great
Experiment would prove to be real and terrible. He _had_ discovered
certain uses of sound, occult yet scientific, and if he, Spinrobin,
elected to stay on, he would be obliged to play his part in the
denouement. And this thought from the very beginning appalled while it
fascinated him. It filled him with a kind of horrible amazement. For the
object the clergyman sought, though not yet disclosed, already cast its
monstrous shadow across his path. He somehow discerned that it would deal
directly with knowledge the saner judgment of a commonplace world had
always deemed undesirable, unlawful, unsafe, dangerous to the souls that
dared attempt it, failure involving a pitiless and terrible Nemesis.
He lay in bed watching the play of the firelight upon the high ceiling,
and thinking in confused fashion of the huge clergyman with his
thundering voice, his great lambent eyes and his seductive gentleness; of
his singular speculations and his hints, half menacing, half splendid, of
things to come. Then he thought of the housekeeper with her deafness and
her withered arm, and that white peace about her face; and, lastly, of
Miriam, soft, pale beneath her dark skin, her gem-like eyes ever finding
his own, and of the intimate personal relations so swiftly established
It was, indeed, a singular household thus buried away in the heart of
these lonely mountains. The stately old mansion was just the right
Unbidden into his mind a queer, new thought shot suddenly, interrupting
the flow of ideas. He never understood how or whence it came, but with
the picture of all the empty rooms in the corridor about him, he
received the sharp unwelcome impression that when Mr. Skale described the
house as empty it was really nothing of the sort. Utterly unannounced,
the uneasy conviction took possession of him that the building was
actually--populated. It was an extraordinary idea to have. There was
absolutely nothing in the way of evidence to support it. And with it
flashed across his memory echoes of that unusual catechism he had been
subjected to--in particular the questions whether he believed in
spirits,--"other life," as Skale termed it. Sinister suspicions flashed
through his imagination as he lay there listening to the ashes dropping
in the grate and watching the shadows cloak the room. Was it possible
that there were occupants of these rooms that the man had somehow evoked
from the interstellar spaces and crystallized by means of sound into form
Something freezing swept into him from a region far beyond the world. He
shivered. These cold terrors that grip the soul suddenly without apparent
cause, whence do they come? Why, out of these rather extravagant and
baseless speculations, should have emerged this sense of throttling dread
that appalled him? And why, once again, should he have felt convinced
that the ultimate nature of the clergyman's great experiment was impious,
fraught with a kind of heavenly danger, "unpermissible?"
Spinrobin, lying there shivering in his big bed, could not guess. He only
knew that by way of relief his mind instinctively sought out Miriam, and
so found peace. Curled up in a ball between the sheets his body presently
slept, while his mind, intensely active, traveled off into that vast
inner prairie of his childhood days and called her name aloud. And
presumably she came to him at once, for his sleep was undisturbed and his
dreams uncommonly sweet, and he woke thoroughly refreshed eight hours
later, to find Mrs. Mawle standing beside his bed with thin bread and
butter and a cup of steaming tea.
For the rest, the new secretary fell quickly and easily into the routine
of this odd little household, for he had great powers of adaptability.
At first the promise of excitement faded. The mornings were spent in the
study of Hebrew, Mr. Skale taking great pains to instruct him in the
vibratory pronunciation (for so he termed it) of certain words, and
especially of the divine, or angelic, names. The correct utterance,
involving a kind of prolonged and sonorous vibration of the vowels,
appeared to be of supreme importance. He further taught him curious
correspondences between Sound and Number, and the attribution to these
again of certain colors. The vibrations of sound and light, as air and
ether, had intrinsic importance, it seemed, in the uttering of certain
names; all of which, however, Spinrobin learnt by rote, making neither
head nor tail of it.
That there were definite results, though, he could not deny--psychic
results; for a name uttered correctly produced one effect, and uttered
wrongly produced another ... just as a wrong note in a chord afflicts the
hearer whereas the right one blesses....
The afternoons, wet or fine, they went for long walks together about the
desolate hills, Miriam sometimes accompanying them. Their talk and
laughter echoed all over the mountains, but there was no one to hear
them, the nearest village being several miles away and the railway
station--nothing but a railway station. The isolation was severe; there
were no callers but the bi-weekly provision carts; letters had to be
fetched and newspapers were neglected.
Arrayed in fluffy tweeds, with baggy knickerbockers and heavily-nailed
boots, he trotted beside his giant companion over the moors, somewhat
like a child who expected its hand to be taken over difficult places. His
confidence had been completely won. The sense of shyness left him. He
felt that he already stood to the visionary clergyman in a relationship
that was more than secretarial. He still panted, but with enthusiasm
instead of with regret. In the background loomed always the dim sense of
the Discovery and Experiment approaching inevitably, just as in childhood
the idea of Heaven and Hell had stood waiting to catch him--real only
when he thought carefully about them. Skale was just the kind of man, he
felt, who would make a discovery, so simple that the rest of the world
had overlooked it, so tremendous that it struck at the roots of human
knowledge. He had the simple originality of genius, and a good deal of
its inspirational quality as well.
Before ten days had passed he was following him about like a dog, hanging
upon his lightest word. New currents ran through him mentally and
spiritually as the fires of Mr. Skale's vivid personality quickened his
own, and the impetus of his inner life lifted him with its more violent
momentum. The world of an ordinary man is so circumscribed, so
conventionally molded, that he can scarcely conceive of things that may
dwell normally in the mind of an extraordinary man. Adumbrations of
these, however, may throw their shadow across his field of vision.
Spinrobin was ordinary in most ways, while Mr. Skale was un-ordinary in
nearly all; and thus, living together in this intimate solitude, the
secretary got peeps into his companion's region that gradually convinced
him. With cleaned nerves and vision he began to think in ways and terms
that were new to him. Skale, like some big figure in story or legend,
moved forward into his life and waved a wand. His own smaller personality
began to expand; thoughts entered unannounced that hitherto had not even
knocked at the door, and the frontiers of his mind first wavered, then
unfolded to admit them.
The clergyman's world, whether he himself were mad or sane, was a real
world, alive, vibrating, shortly to produce practical results. Spinrobin
would have staked his very life upon it....
And, meanwhile, he made love openly--under any other conditions,
outrageously--to Miriam, whose figure of soft beauty moving silently
about the house helped to redeem it. She rendered him quiet little
services of her own accord that pleased him immensely, for occasionally
he detected her delicate perfume about his room, and he was sure it was
not Mrs. Mawle who put the fresh heather in the glass jars upon his
table, or arranged his papers with such neat precision on the desk.
Her delicate, shining little face with its wreath of dark hair, went
with him everywhere, hauntingly, possessingly; and when he kissed her,
as he did now every morning and every evening under Mr. Skale's very
eyes, it was like plunging his lips into a bed of wild flowers that no
artificial process had ever touched. Something in him sang when she was
near. She had, too, what he used to call as a boy "night eyes"--changing
after dusk into such shadowy depths that to look _at_ them was to look
beyond and through them. The sight could never rest only upon their
surface. Through her eyes, then, stretched all the delight of that old
immense play-ground ... where names clothed, described, and summoned
His attitude towards her was odd yet comprehensible; for though his
desire was unquestionably great, it was not particularly active, probably
because he knew that he held her and that no aggressive effort was
necessary. Secure in the feeling that she belonged to him, and he to her,
he also found that he had little enough to say to her, never anything to
ask. She knew and understood it all beforehand; expression was uncalled
for. As well might the brimming kettle sing to the water "I contain you,"
or the water reply "I fill you!"
Only this was not the simile he used. In his own thoughts from the very
beginning he had used the analogy of sound--of the chord. As well might
one note feel called upon to cry to another in the same chord, "Hark! I'm
sounding with you!" as that Spinrobin should say to Miriam, "My heart
responds and sings to yours."
After a period of separation, however, he became charged with things he
wanted to say to her, all of which vanished utterly the moment they came
together. Words instantly then became unnecessary, foolish. He heard that
faint internal singing, and his own resonant response; and they merely
stayed there side by side, completely happy, everything told without
speech. This sense of blissful union enwrapped his soul. In the language
of his boyhood he had found her name; he knew her; she was his.
Yet sometimes they did talk; and their conversations, in any other
setting but this amazing one provided by the wizardry of Skale's
enthusiasm, must have seemed exquisitely ludicrous. In the room, often
with the clergyman a few feet away, reading by the fire, they would sit
in the window niche, gazing into one another's eyes, perhaps even holding
hands. Then, after a long interval of silence Mr. Skale would hear
Spinrobin's thin accents:
"You brilliant little sound! I hear you everywhere within me, chanting a
song of life!"
And Miriam's reply, thrilled and gentle:
"I'm but your perfect echo! My whole life sings with yours!"
Whereupon, kissing softly, they would separate, and Mr. Skale would cover
them mentally with his blessing.
Sometimes, too, he would send for the housekeeper and, with the aid of
the violin, would lead the four voices, his own bass included, through
the changes of various chords, for the vibratory utterance of certain
names; and the beauty of these sounds, singing the "divine names," would
make the secretary swell to twice his normal value and importance (thus
he puts it), as the forces awakened by the music poured and surged into
the atmosphere about them. Whereupon the clergyman would explain with
burning words that many a symphony of Beethoven's, a sonata of
Schumann's, or a suite of Tschaikovsky's were the Names, peaceful,
romantic or melancholy, of great spiritual Potencies, heard partially
by these masters in their moments of inspirational ecstasy. The powers
of these Beings were just as characteristic, their existence just as
real, as the simpler names of the Hebrew angels, and their psychic
influence upon the soul that heard them uttered just as sure and
"For the power of music, my dear Spinrobin, has never yet by science or
philosophy been adequately explained, and never can be until the occult
nature of sound, and its correlations with color, form, and number is
once again understood. 'Rhythm is the first law of the physical
creation,' says one, 'and music is a breaking into sound of the
fundamental rhythm of universal being.' 'Rhythm and harmony,' declares
Plato, 'find their way into the secret places of the soul.' 'It is the
manifestation,' whispers the deaf Beethoven, 'of the inner essential
nature of all that is,' or in the hint of Leibnitz, 'it is a calculation
which the soul makes unconsciously in secret.' It is 'love in search of a
name,' sang George Eliot, nearer in her intuition to the truth than all
the philosophers, since love is the dynamic of pure spirit. But I," he
continued after a pause for breath, and smiling amid the glow of his
great enthusiasm, "go beyond and behind them all into the very heart of
the secret; for you shall learn that to know the sounds of the Great
Names and to utter their music correctly shall merge yourself into the
heart of their deific natures and make you 'as the gods themselves...!'"
And Spinrobin, as he listened, noticed that a slight trembling ran
across the fabric of his normal world, as though it were about to vanish
and give place to another--a new world of divine things made utterly
simple. For many things that Skale said in this easy natural way, he
felt, were in the nature of clues and passwords, whose effect he
carefully noted upon his secretary, being intended to urge him, with a
certain violence even, into the desired region. Skale was testing him
all the time.
And it was about this time, more than half way through the trial month,
that the clergyman took Spinrobin, now become far more than merely
secretary, into his fuller confidence. In a series of singular
conversations, which the bewildered little fellow has reported to the
best of his ability, he explained to him something of the science of true
names. And to prove it he made two singular experiments: first he uttered
the true name of Mrs. Mawle, secondly of Spinrobin himself, with results
that shall presently be told.
These things it was necessary for him to know and understand before they
made the great Experiment. Otherwise, if unprepared, he might witness
results that would involve the loss of self-control and the failure,
therefore, of the experiment--a disaster too formidable to contemplate.
By way of leading up to this, however, he gave him some account first of
the original discovery. Spinrobin asked few questions, made few comments;
he took notes, however, of all he heard and at night wrote them up as
best he could in his diary. At times the clergyman rose and interrupted
the strange recital by moving about the room with his soft and giant
stride, talking even while his back was turned; and at times the
astonished secretary wrote so furiously that he broke his pencil with a
snap, and Mr. Skale had to wait while he sharpened it again. His inner
excitement was so great that he almost felt he emitted sparks.
The clue, it appears, came to the clergyman by mere chance, though he
admits his belief that the habits of asceticism and meditation he had
practiced for years may have made him in some way receptive to the
vision, for as a vision, it seems, the thing first presented itself--a
vision made possible by a moment of very rapid hypnosis.
An Anglican priest at the time, in charge of a small Norfolk parish, he
was a great believer in the value of ceremonial--in the use, that is, of
color, odor and sound to induce mental states of worship and
adoration--more especially, however, of sound as uttered by the voice,
the human voice being unique among instruments in that it combined the
characteristics of all other sounds. Intoning, therefore, was to him a
matter of psychic importance, and it was one summer evening, intoning, in
the chancel, that he noticed suddenly certain very curious results. The
faces of two individuals in the congregation underwent a charming and
singular change, a change which he would not describe more particularly
at the moment, since Spinrobin should presently witness it for himself.
It all happened in a flash--in less than a second, and it is probable,
he holds, that his own voice induced an instant of swift and passing
hypnosis upon himself; for as he stood there at the lectern there came
upon him a moment of keen interior lucidity in which he realized beyond
doubt or question what had happened. The use of voice, bell, or gong,
has long been known as a means of inducing the hypnotic state, and
during this almost instantaneous trance of his there came a sudden
revelation of the magical possibilities of sound-vibration. By some
chance rhythm of his intoning voice he had hit upon the exact pitch,
quality and accent which constituted the "Note" of more than one member
of the congregation before him. Those particular individuals, without
being aware of the fact, had at once responded, automatically and
inevitably. For a second he had heard, he knew, their true names! He had
unwittingly "called" them.
Spinrobin's heart leaped with excitement as he listened, for this idea of
"Naming True" carried him back to the haunted days of his childhood
clairvoyance when he had known Winky.
"I don't _quite_ understand, Mr. Skale," he put in, desirous to hear a
more detailed explanation.
"But presently you shall," was all the clergyman vouchsafed.
The clue thus provided by chance he had followed up, but by methods hard
to describe apparently. A corner of the veil, momentarily lifted, had
betrayed the value that lies in the repetition of certain sounds--the
rhythmic reiteration of syllables--in a word, of chanting or incantation.
By diving down into his subconscious region, already prepared by long
spiritual training, he gradually succeeded in drawing out further details
piece by piece, and finally by infinite practice and prayer welding them
together into an intelligible system. The science of true-naming slowly,
with the efforts of years, revealed itself. His mind slipped past the
deceit of mere sensible appearances. Clair-audiently he heard the true
inner names of things and persons....
Mr. Skale rose from his chair. With thumbs in the armholes of his
waistcoat and fingers drumming loudly on his breast he stood over the