The Human Chord
by Algernon Blackwood
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This, moreover, had now happened twice, so that imagination seemed a far-fetched explanation. And on both occasions the clergyman had remained invisible on the day following until the evening, and had then reappeared, quiet and as usual, but with an atmosphere of immense vibratory force somehow about his person, and a glow in his face and eyes that at moments seemed positively colored.

No word of explanation, however, had as yet been forthcoming of these omens, and Spinrobin waited with what patience he could, meanwhile, for the final test which he knew to be close upon him. And in his diary, the pages usually left blank now because words failed him, he wrote a portion of Anone's cry that had caught his memory and expressed a little of what he felt:

... for fiery thoughts Do shape themselves within me, more and more, Whereof I catch the issue, as I hear Dead sounds at night come from the inmost hills, Like footsteps upon wool....


It was within three days of the expiration of his trial month that he then had this conversation with the clergyman, which he understood quite well was offered by way of preparation for the bigger tests about to come. He has reported what he could of it; it seemed to him at the time both plausible and absurd; it was of a piece, that is, with the rest of the whole fabulous adventure.

Mr. Skale, as they walked over the snowy moors in the semi-darkness between tea and dinner, had been speaking to him about the practical results obtainable by sound-vibrations (what he already knew for that matter), and how it is possible by fiddling long enough upon a certain note to fiddle down a bridge and split it asunder. From that he passed on to the scientific fact that the ultimate molecules of matter are not only in constant whirring motion, but that also they do not actually touch one another. The atoms composing the point of a pin, for instance, shift and change without ceasing, and—there is space between them.

Then, suddenly taking Spinrobin's arm, he came closer, his booming tone dropping to a whisper:

"To change the form of anything," he said in his ear, "is merely to change the arrangement of those dancing molecules, to alter their rate of vibration." His eyes, even in the obscurity of the dusk, went across the other's face like flames.

"By means of sound?" asked the other, already beginning to feel eerie.

The clergyman nodded his great head in acquiescence.

"Just as the vibrations of heat-waves," he said after a pause, "can alter the form of a metal by melting it, so the vibrations of sound can alter the form of a thing by inserting themselves between those whirling molecules and changing their speed and arrangement—change the outline, that is."

The idea seemed fairly to buffet the little secretary in the face, but Mr. Skale's proximity was too overpowering to permit of very clear thinking. Feeling that a remark was expected from him, he managed to ejaculate an obvious objection in his mind.

"But is there any sound that can produce vibrations fine and rapid enough—to—er—accomplish such a result?"

Mr. Skale appeared almost to leap for pleasure as he heard it. In reality he merely straightened himself up.

"That," he cried aloud, to the further astonishment and even alarm of his companion, "is another part of my discovery—an essential particular of it: the production of sound-vibrations fine and rapid enough to alter shapes! Listen and I will tell you!" He lowered his voice again. "I have found out that by uttering the true inner name of anything I can set in motion harmonics—harmonics, note well, half the wave length and twice the frequency!—that are delicate and swift enough to insert themselves between the whirling molecules of any reasonable object—any object, I mean, not too closely or coherently packed. By then swelling or lowering my voice I can alter the scale, size or shape of that object almost indefinitely, its parts nevertheless retaining their normal relative proportions. I can scatter it to a huge scale by separating its molecules indefinitely, or bring them so closely together that the size of the object would be reduced to a practical invisibility!"

"Re-create the world, in fact!" gasped Spinrobin, feeling the earth he knew slipping away under his feet.

Mr. Skale turned upon him and stood still a moment. The huge moors, glimmering pale and unreal beneath their snow, ran past them into the sky—silent forms corresponding to who knows what pedal notes? The wind sighed—audible expression of who shall say what mighty shapes?... Something of the passion of sound, with all its mystery and splendor, entered his heart in that windy sigh. Was anything real? Was anything permanent?... Were Sound and Form merely interchangeable symbols of some deeper uncataloged Reality? And was the visible cohesion after all the illusory thing?

"Re-mold the whole universe, sir!" he roared through the darkness, in a way that made the other wish for the touch of Miriam's hand to steady him. "I could make you, my dear Spinrobin, immense, tiny, invisible, or by a partial utterance of your name, permanently crooked. I could overwhelm your own vibrations and withdraw their force, as by suction of a vacuum, absorbing yourself into my own being. By uttering the name of this old earth, if I knew it, I could alter its face, toss the forests like green dust into the sea, and lift the pebbles of the seashore to the magnitude of moons! Or, did I know the true name of the sun, I could utter it in such a way as to identify myself with its very being, and so escape the pitiful terrors of a limited personal existence!"

He seized his companion's arm and began to stride down the mountainside at a terrific pace, almost lifting Spinrobin from his feet as he did so. About the ears of the panting secretary the wild words tore like bullets, whistling a new and dreadful music.

"My dear fellow," he shouted through the night, "at the Word of Power of a true man the nations would rush into war, or sink suddenly into eternal peace; the mountains be moved into the sea, and the dead arise. To know the sounds behind the manifestations of Nature, the names of mechanical as well as of psychical Forces, of Hebrew angels, as of Christian virtues, is to know Powers that you can call upon at will—and use! Utter them in the true vibratory way and you waken their counterpart in yourself and stir thus mighty psychic powers into activity in your Soul."

He rained the words down upon the other's head like a tempest.

"Can you wonder that the walls of Jericho fell flat before a 'Sound,' or that the raging waves of the sea lay still before a voice that called their Name? My discovery, Mr. Spinrobin, will run through the world like a purifying fire. For to utter the true names of individuals, families, tribes and nations, will be to call them to the knowledge of their highest Selves, and to lift them into tune with the music of the Voice of God."

They reached the front door, where the gleam of lamps shone with a homely welcome through the glass panels. The clergyman released his companion's arm; then bent down towards him and added in a tone that held in it for the first time something of the gravity of death:

"Only remember—that to utter falsely, to pronounce incorrectly, to call a name incompletely, is the beginning of all evil. For it is to lie with the very soul. It is also to evoke forces without the adequate corresponding shape that covers and controls them, and to attract upon yourself the destructive qualities of these Powers—to your own final disintegration and annihilation."

Spinrobin entered the house, filled with a sense of awe that was cold and terrible, and greater than all his other sensations combined. The winds of fear and ruin blew shrill about his naked soul. None the less he was steadfast. He would remain to bless. Mr. Skale might be violent in mind, unbalanced, possibly mad; but his madness thundered at the doors of heaven, and the sound of that thundering completed the conquest of his admiration. He really believed that when the end came those mighty doors would actually open. And the thought woke a kind of elemental terror in him that was not of this world—yet marvelously attractive.


That night the singular rushing sound again disturbed him. It seemed as before to pass through the entire building, but this time it included a greater space in its operations, for he fancied he could hear it outside the house as well, traveling far up into the recesses of the dark mountains. Like the sweep of immense draughts of air it went down the passage and rolled on into the sky, making him think of the clergyman's suggestion that some sounds might require airwaves of a hundred miles instead of a few inches, too vast to be heard as sound. And shortly after it followed the great gliding stride of Mr. Skale himself down the corridor. That, at least, was unmistakable.

During the following day, moreover, Mr. Skale remained invisible. Spinrobin, of course, had never permitted himself to search the house, or even to examine the other rooms in his own corridor. The quarters where Miriam slept were equally unknown to him. But he was quite certain that these prolonged periods of absence were spent by the clergyman in some remote part of the rambling building where there existed isolated, if not actually secret, rooms in which he practiced the rituals of some dangerous and intrepid worship. And these intimidating and mysterious sounds at night were, of course, something to do with the forces he conjured....

The day was still and windless, the house silent as the grave. He walked about the hills during the afternoon, practicing his Hebrew "Names" and "Words" like a schoolboy learning a lesson. And all about him the slopes of mountain watched him, listening. So did the sheet of snow, shining in the wintry sunlight. The clergyman seemed to have put all sound in his pocket and taken it away with him. The absence of anything approaching noise became almost oppressive. It was a Silence that prepares. Spinrobin went about on tiptoe, spoke to Miriam in whispers, practiced his Names in hushed, expectant tones. He almost expected to see the moors and mountains open their deep sides and let the Sounds of which they were the visible shape escape awfully about him....

In these hours of solitude, all that Skale had told him, and more still that he divined himself, haunted him with a sense of disquieting reality. Inaudible sounds of fearful volume, invisible forms of monstrous character, combinations of both even, impended everywhere about him. He became afraid lest he might stumble, as Skale had done, on the very note that should release them and bring them howling, leaping, crashing about his ears. Therefore, he tried to make himself as small as possible; he muffled steps and voice and personality. If he could, he would have completely disappeared.

He looked forward to Skale's return, but when evening came he was still alone, and he dined tete-a-tete with Miriam for the first time. And she, too, he noticed, was unusually quiet. Almost they seemed to have entered the world of Mrs. Mawle, the silent regions of the deaf. But for the most part it is probable that these queer impressions were due to the unusual state of Spinrobin's imagination. He knew that it was his last night in the place—unless the clergyman accepted him; he knew also that Mr. Skale had absented himself with a purpose, and that the said purpose had to do with the test of Alteration of Forms by Sound, which would surely be upon him before the sun rose. So that, one way and another, it was natural enough that his nerves should have been somewhat overtaxed.

The presence of Miriam and Mrs. Mawle, however, did much to soothe him. The latter, indeed, mothered the pair of them quite absurdly, smiling all the time while she moved about softly with the dishes, and doing her best to make them eat enough for four. Between courses she sat at the end of the room, waiting in the shadows till Miriam beckoned to her, and once or twice going so far as to put her hand upon Spinrobin's shoulder protectively.

His own mind, however, all the time was full of charging visions. He kept thinking of the month just past and of the amazing changes it had brought into his thoughts. He realized, too, now that Mr. Skale was away, something of the lonely and splendid courage of the man, following this terrific, perhaps mad, ideal, day in day out, week in week out, for twenty years and more, his faith never weakening, his belief undaunted. Waves of pity, too, invaded him for the first time—pity for this sweet girl, brought up in ignorance of any other possible world; pity for the deaf old housekeeper, already partially broken, and both sacrificed to the dominant idea of this single, heaven-climbing enthusiast; pity last of all for himself, swept headlong before he had time to reflect, into the audacious purpose of this violent and headstrong super-man.

All manner of emotions stirred now this last evening in his perplexed breast; yet out of the general turmoil one stood forth more clearly than the rest—his proud consciousness that he was taking an important part in something really big at last. Behind the screen of thought and emotion which veiled so puzzlingly the truth, he divined for the first time in his career a golden splendor. If it also terrified him, that was only his cowardice.... In the same way it might be splendid to jump into Niagara just above the falls to snatch a passing flower that seemed more wonderful than any he had seen before, but—!

"Miriam, tomorrow is my last day," he said suddenly, catching her grey eyes upon him in the middle of his strange reflections. "Tonight may be my last night in this house with you."

The girl made no reply, merely looking up and smiling at him. But the singing sensation that usually accompanied her gaze was not present.

"That was very nearly—a discord," she observed presently, referring to his remark. "It was out of tune!" And he realized with a touch of shame what she meant. For it was not true that this was his last evening; he knew really that he would stay on and that Mr. Skale would accept him. Quick as a flash, with her simple intuition, she felt that he had said this merely to coax from her some sign of sympathy or love. And the girl was not to be drawn. She knew quite well that she held him and that their fate, whatever it might be, lay together.

The gentle rebuke made him silent again. They sat there smiling at one another across the table, and old Mrs. Mawle, sitting among the shadows at the far end of the room, her hands crossed in front of her, her white evening cap shining like a halo above her patient face, watched them, also smiling. The rest of the strange meal passed without conversation, for the great silence that all day had wrapped the hills seemed to have invaded the house as well and laid its spell upon every room. A deep hush, listening and expectant, dropped more and more about the building and about themselves.

After dinner they sat for twenty minutes together before the library fire, their toes upon the fender, for, contrary to her habit, Miriam had not vanished at once to her own quarters.

"We're not alone here," remarked Spinrobin presently, in a low voice, and she nodded her head to signify agreement. The presence of Mr. Skale when he was in the house but invisible, was often more real and tremendous than when he stood beside them and thundered. Some part of him, some emanation, some potent psychic messenger from his personality, kept them closely company, and tonight the secretary felt it very vividly. His remark was really another effort to keep in close touch with Miriam, even in thought. He needed her more than ever in this sea of silence that was gathering everywhere about him. Gulf upon gulf it rose and folded over him. His anxiety became every moment more acute, and those black serpents of fear that he dreaded were not very far away. By every fiber in his being he felt certain that a test which should shake the very foundations of his psychical life was slowly and remorselessly approaching him.

Yet, though he longed to speak outright and demand of Miriam what she knew, and especially that she should reveal the place of the clergyman's concealment and what portent it was that required all this dread and muted atmosphere for its preparation, he kept a seal upon his lips, realizing that loyalty forbade, and that the knowledge of her contempt would be even worse than the knowledge of the truth.

And so in due course she rose to go, and as he opened the door for her into the hall, she paused a moment and turned towards him. A sudden inexplicable thrill flashed through him as she turned her eyes upon his face, for he thought at first she was about to speak. He has never forgotten the picture as she stood there so close to his side, the lamplight on her slim figure in its white silk blouse and neat dark skirt, the gloom of the unlit hall and staircase beyond—stood there an instant, then put both her arms about his neck, drew him down to her, and kissed him gently on both cheeks. Twice she kissed him, then was gone into the darkness, so softly that he scarcely heard her steps, and he stood between the shadows and the light, her perfume still lingering, and with it the sweet and magical blessing that she left behind. For that caress, he understood, was the innocent childlike caress of their first days, and with all the power of her loving little soul in it she had given him the message that he craved: "Courage! And keep a brave heart, dear Spinny, tonight!"

Chapter VIII


Spinrobin lingered a while in the library after Miriam was gone, then feeling slightly ill at ease in the room now that her presence was withdrawn, put the lights out, saw that the windows were properly barred and fastened, and went into the hall on his way to bed.

He looked at the front door, tried the chain, and made sure that both top and bottom bolts were thrown. Why he should have taken these somewhat unusual precautions was not far to seek, though at the moment he could not probably have explained. The desire for protection was awake in his being, and he took these measures of security and defense because it sought to express itself, as it were, even automatically. Spinrobin was afraid.

Up the broad staircase he went softly with his lighted candle, leaving the great hall behind him full to the brim with shadows—shadows that moved and took shape. His own head and shoulders in monstrous outline poured over the walls and upper landings, and thence leaped to the skylight overhead. As he passed the turn in the stairs, the dark contents of the hall below rushed past in a single mass, like an immense extended wing, and settled abruptly at his back, following him thence to the landing.

Once there, he went more quickly, moving on tiptoe, and so reached his own room halfway down. He passed two doors to get there; another two lay beyond; all four, as he believed, being always locked. It was these four rooms that conjured mightily with his imagination always, for these were the rooms he pictured to himself, though without a vestige of proof, as being occupied. It was from the further ones—one or other of them—he believed Mr. Skale came when he had passed down the corridor at two in the morning, stealthily, hurriedly, on the heels of that rush of sound that made him shake in his bed as he heard it.

In his own room, however, surrounded by the familiar and personal objects that reminded him of normal life, he felt more at home. He undressed quickly, all his candles alight, and then sat before the fire in the armchair to read a little before getting into bed.

And he read for choice Hebrew—Hebrew poetry, and on this particular occasion, the books of Job and Ezekiel. For nothing had so soothing and calming an effect upon him as the mighty yet simple imagery of these sonorous stanzas; they invariably took him "out of himself," or at any rate out of the region of small personal alarms. And thus, letting his fancy roam, it seems, he was delighted to find that gradually the fears which had dominated him during the day and evening disappeared. He passed with the poetry into that region of high adventure which his nature in real life denied him. The verses uplifted him in a way that made his recent timidity seem the mere mood of a moment, or at least negligible. His memory, as one thing suggested another, began to give up its dead, and some of Blake's drawings, seen recently in London with prodigious effect, began to pass vividly before his mental vision.

The symbolism of what he was reading doubtless suggested the memory. He felt himself caught in the great invisible nets of wonder that forever swept the world. The littleness of modern life, compared to that ancient and profound spirit which sought the permanent things of the soul, haunted him with curious insistence. He suffered a keen, though somewhat mixed realization of his actual insignificance, yet of his potential sublimity could he but identify himself with his ultimate Self in the region of vision.... His soul was aware of finding itself alternately ruffled and exalted as he read ... and pondered ... as he visualized to some degree the giant Splendors, the wonderful Wheels, the spirit Wings and Faces and all the other symbols of potent imagery evoked by the imagination of that old Hebrew world....

So that when, an hour later, pacified and sleepy, he rose to go to bed, this poetry seems to have left a very marked effect upon his mind—mingled, naturally enough, with the thought of Mr. Skale. For on his way across the floor, having adjusted the fire-screen, he distinctly remembered thinking what a splendid "study" the clergyman would have made for one of Blake's representations of the Deity—the flowing beard, the great nose, the imposing head and shoulders, the potentialities of the massive striding figure, surrounded by a pictorial suggestion of all the sound-forces he was forever talking about....

This thought was his last, and it was without fear of any kind. Merely, he insists, that his imagination was touched, and in a manner perfectly accountable, considering the ingredients of its contents at the time.

And so he hopped nimbly into bed. On the little table beside him stood the candle and the copy of the Hebrew text he had been reading, with its parallel columns in the two languages. His Jaeger slippers were beneath the chair, his clothes, carefully folded, on the sofa, his collar, studs and necktie in a row on the top of the mahogany chest of drawers. On the mantelpiece stood the glass jar of heather, filled that very day by Miriam. He saw it just as he blew out the candle, and Miriam, accordingly, was the last vision that journeyed with him into the country of dreams and sweet forgetfulness.

The night was perfectly still. Winter, black and hard, lay about the house like an iron wall. No wind stirred. Snow covered the world of mountain and moor outside, and Silence, supreme at midnight, poured all her softest forces upon the ancient building and its occupants. Spinrobin, curled up in the middle of the big four-poster, slept like a tired baby.


It was a good deal later when somewhere out of that mass of silence rose the faint beginnings of a sound that stirred first cautiously about the very foundations of the house, and then, mounting inch by inch, through the hall, up the staircase, along the corridor, reached the floor where the secretary slept so peacefully, and finally entered his room. Its muffled tide poured most softly over all. At first only this murmur was audible, as of "footsteps upon wool," of wind or drifting snow, a mere ghost of sound; but gradually it grew, though still gentle and subdued, until it filled the space from ceiling unto floor, pressing in like water dripping into a cistern with ever-deepening note as its volume increased. The trembling of air in a big belfry where bells have been a-ringing represents best the effect, only it was a trifle sharper in quality—keener, more alive.

But, also, there was something more in it—something gong-like and metallic, yet at the same time oddly and suspiciously human. It held a temper, too, that somehow woke the "panic sense," as does the hurried note of a drum—some quick emotional timbre that stirs the sleeping outposts of apprehension and alarm. On the other hand, it was constant, neither rising nor falling, and thus ordinarily, it need not have stirred any emotion at all—least of all the emotion of consternation. Yet, there was that in it which struck at the root of security and life. It was a revolutionary sound.

And as it took possession of the room, covering everything with its garment of vibration, it slipped in also, so to speak, between the crevices of the sleeping, unprotected Spinrobin, coloring his dreams—his innocent dreams—with the suggestion of nightmare dread. Of course, he was too deeply wrapped in slumber to receive the faintest intimation of this waking analysis. Otherwise he might, perhaps, have recognized the kind of primitive, ancestral dread his remote forefathers knew when the inexplicable horror of a tidal wave or an eclipse of the sun overwhelmed them with the threatened alteration of their entire known universe.

The sleeping figure in that big four-poster moved a little as the tide of sound played upon it, fidgeting this way and that. The human ball uncoiled, lengthened, straightened out. The head, half hidden by folds of sheet and pillowcase, emerged.

Spinrobin unfolded, then opened his eyes and stared about him, bewildered, in the darkness.

"Who's there? Is that you—anybody?" he asked in a whisper, the confusion of sleep still about him.

His voice seemed dead and smothered, as though the other sound overwhelmed it. The same instant, more widely awake, he realized that his bedroom was humming.

"What's that? What's the matter?" he whispered again, wondering uneasily at the noise.

There was no answer. The vague dread transferred itself adroitly from his dream-consciousness to his now thoroughly awakened mind. It began to dawn upon him that something was wrong. He noticed that the fire was out, and the room dark and heavy. He realized dimly the passage of time—a considerable interval of time—and that he must have been asleep several hours. Where was he? Who was he? What, in the name of mystery and night, had been going on during the interval? He began to shake all over—feverishly. Whence came this noise that made everything in the darkness tremble?

As he fumbled hurriedly for the matchbox, his fingers caught in the folds of pillowcase and sheet, and he struggled violently to get them clear again. It was while doing this that the impression first reached him that the room was no longer quite the same. It had changed while he slept. Even in the darkness he felt this, and shuddering pulled the blankets over his head and shoulders, for this idea of the changed room plucked at the center of his heart, where terror lay waiting to leap out upon him.

After what seemed five minutes he found the matchbox and struck a light, and all the time the torrent of sound poured about his ears with such an effect of bewilderment that he hardly realized what he was doing. A strange terror poured into him that he would change with the room. At length the match flared, and while he lit the candle with shaking fingers, he looked wildly, quickly about him. At once the sounds rushed upon him from all directions, burying him, so to speak, beneath vehement vibrations of the air that rained in upon him.... Yes, the room had indeed changed, actually changed ... but before he could decide where the difference lay the candle died down to a mere spark, waiting for the wick to absorb the grease. It seemed like half an hour before the yellow tongue grew again, so that he finally saw clearly.

But—saw what? Saw that the room had horribly altered while he slept, yes! But how altered? What in the name of all the world's deities was the matter with it? The torrent of sound, now growing louder and louder, so confused him at first, and the dancing patchwork of light and shadow the candle threw so increased his bewilderment, that for some minutes he sought in vain to steady his mind to the point of accurate observation.

"God of my Fathers!" cried Spinrobin at last under his breath, and hardly knowing what he said, "if it's not moving!"

For this, indeed, was what he saw while the candle flame burned steadily upon a room that was no longer quite recognizable.

At first, with the natural exaggeration due to shock, he thought the whole room moved, but as his powers of sight came with time to report more truly, he perceived that this was only true of certain things in it. It was not the ceiling that poured down in fluid form to meet a floor ever gliding and shifting forward into outlandish proportions, but it was certain objects—one here, another there—midway between the two that, having assumed new and unaccustomed outlines, lent to the rest of the chamber a general appearance of movement and an entirely altered expression. And these objects, he perceived, holding tightly to the bedclothes with both hands as he stared, were two: the dark, old-fashioned cupboard on his left, and the plush curtains that draped the window on his right. He himself, and the bed and the rest of the furniture were stationary. The room as a whole stood still, while these two common and familiar articles of household furnishing took on a form and an expression utterly foreign to what he had always known as a cupboard and a curtain. This outline, this expression, moreover, if not actually sinister, was grotesque to the verge of the sinister: monstrous.

The difficulty of making any accurate observation at all was further increased by the perplexity of having to observe two objects, not even on the same side of the room. Their outlines, however, Spinrobin claims, altered very slowly, wavering like the distorted reflections seen in moving water, and unquestionably obeying in some way the pitch and volume of the sound that continued to pour its resonant tide about the room. The sound manipulated the shape; the connection between the two was evident. That, at least, he grasped. Somebody hidden elsewhere in the house—Mr. Skale probably, of course, in one of his secret chambers—was experimenting with the "true names" of these two "common objects," altering their normal forms by inserting the vibrations of sound between their ultimate molecules.

Only, this simple statement that his clearing mind made to itself in no way accounted for the fascination of horror that accompanied the manifestation. For he recognized it as the joy of horror and not alone the torment. His blood ran swiftly to the rhythm of these humming vibrations that filled the space about him; and his terror, his bewilderment, his curious sense of elation seemed to him as messengers of far more terrific sensations that communicated to him dimly the rushing wonder of some aspect of the Unknown in its ultimate nature essentially beautiful.

This, however, only dawned upon him later, when the experiment was complete and he had time to reflect upon it all next day; for, meanwhile, to see the proportions he had known since childhood alter thus before his eyes was unbelievably dreadful. To see your friend sufficiently himself still to be recognizable, yet in essentials, at the same time, grotesquely altered, would doubtless touch a climax of distress and horror for you. The changing of these two things, so homely and well-known in themselves, into something that was not themselves, involved an idea of destruction that was worse than even death, for it meant that the idea in the mind no longer corresponded to the visible object there before the eyes. The correspondence was no longer a true one. The result was a lie.

To describe the actual forms assumed by these shifting and wavering bodies is not possible, for when Spinrobin gives the details one simply fails to recognize either cupboard or curtain. To say that the dark, lumbering cupboard, standing normally against the wall down there in the shadows, loomed suddenly forward and upward, bent, twisted, and stretched out the whole of one side towards him like a misshapen arm, can convey nothing of the world of new sensations that the little secretary felt while actually watching it in progress in that haunted chamber of Skale's mansion among the hills. Nor can one be thrilled with the extraordinary sense of wonder that thrilled Spinrobin when he saw the faded plush curtain hang across the window in such a way that it might well have wrapped the whole of Wales into a single fold, yet without extending its skirts beyond the actual walls of the room. For what he saw apparently involved contradictions in words, and the fact is that no description of what he saw is really possible at all.

"Hark! By thunder!" he exclaimed, creeping out of bed with sheer stress of excitement, while the sounds poured up through the floor as though from cellars and tunnels where they lay stored beneath the house. They sang and trembled about him with the menaces of a really exquisite alarm. He moved cautiously out into the center of the room, not daring to approach too close to the affected objects, yet furiously anxious to discover how it was all done. For he was uncommonly "game" through it all, and had himself well in hand from beginning to end. He was really too excited, probably, to feel ordinary fear; it all swept him away too mightily for that; he did not even notice the sting of the hot candle-grease as it fell upon his bare feet.

There he stood, plucky little Spinny, steady amid this shifting world, master of his soul amid dissolution, his hair pointing out like ruffled feathers, his blue eyes wide open and charged with a speechless wonder, his face pale as chalk, lips apart, jaw a trifle dropped, one hand in the pocket of his dressing-gown, and the other holding the candle at an angle that showered grease upon the carpet of the Rev. Philip Skale as well as upon his own ankles. There he stood, face to face with the grotesque horror of familiar outlines gone wrong, the altered panorama of his known world moving about him in a strange riot of sound and form. It was, he understood, an amazing exhibition of the transforming power of sound—of sound playing tricks with the impermanence and the illusion of Form. Skale was making his words good.

And behind the scenes he divined, with a shudder of genuine admiration, the figure of the master of the ceremonies, somehow or other grown colossal, as he had thought of him just before going to sleep—Philip Skale, hidden in the secret places of the building, directing the operations of this dreadful aspect of his revolutionary Discovery.... And yet the thought brought a measure of comfort in its train, for was he not also himself now included in the mighty scheme?... In his mind he saw this giant Skale, with his great limbs and shoulders, his flowing, shaggy beard, his voice of thunder and his portentous speculations, and, so doing, felt himself merged in a larger world that made his own little terrors and anxieties of but small account. Once again the sense of his own insignificance disappeared as he realized that at last he was in the full flood of an adventure that was providing the kind of escape he had always longed for.

Inevitably, then, his thought flew to Miriam, and as he remembered her final word to him a few short hours ago in the hall below, he already felt ashamed of the fear with which he had met the beginning of the "test." He instantly felt steeped instead in the wonder and power of the whole thing. His mind, though still trembling and shaken, came to rest. He drew, that is, upon the larger powers of the Chord.

And the interesting thing was that the moment this happened he noticed a change begin to come over the room. With extraordinary swiftness the tide of vibration lessened and the sound withdrew; the humming seemed to sink back into the depths of the house; the thrill and delight of his recent terrors fled with it. The air gradually ceased to shake and tremble; the furniture, with a curious final shiver as of spinning coins about to settle, resumed its normal shape. Once more the room, and with it the world, became commonplace and dull. The test apparently was over. He had met it with success.

Spinrobin, holding the candle straight for the first time, turned back towards the bed. He caught a passing glimpse of himself in the mirror as he went—white and scattered he describes his appearance.... He climbed again into bed, blew the candle out, put the matchbox under his pillow within easy reach, and so once more curled himself up into a ball and composed himself to sleep.

Chapter IX


But he was hardly settled—there had not even been time to warm the sheets again—when he was aware that the test, instead of being over, was, indeed, but just beginning; and the detail that conveyed this unwelcome knowledge to him, though small enough in itself, was yet fraught with a crowded cargo of new alarms. It was a step upon the staircase, approaching his room.

He heard it the instant he lay still in bed after the shuffling process known generally as "cuddling down." And he knew that it was approaching because of the assistance the hall clock brought to his bewildered ears. For the hall clock—a big, dignified piece of furniture with a deep note—happened just then to strike the hour of two in the morning, and there was a considerable interval between the two notes. He first heard the step far below in the act of leaving the flagged hall for the staircase; then the clock drowned it with its first stroke, and perhaps a dozen seconds later, when the second stroke had died away, he heard the step again, as it passed from the top of the staircase on to the polished boards of the landing. The owner of the step, meanwhile, had passed up the whole length of the staircase in the interval, and was now coming across the landing in a direct line towards his bedroom door.

"It is a step, I suppose," it seems he muttered to himself, as with head partially raised above the blankets he listened intently. "It's a step, I mean...?" For the sound was more like a light tapping of a little hammer than an actual step—some hard substance drumming automatically upon the floor, while yet moving in advance. He recognized, however, that there was intelligence behind its movements, because of the sense of direction it displayed, and by the fact that it had turned the sharp corner of the stairs; but the idea presented itself in fugitive fashion to his mind—Heaven alone knows why—that it might be some mechanical contrivance that was worked from the hall by a hand. For the sound was too light to be the tread of a person, yet too "conscious" to be merely a sound of the night operating mechanically. And it was unlike the noise that the feet of any animal would make, any animal that he could think of, that is. A four-footed creature suggested itself to his mind, but without approval.

The puzzling characteristics of the sound, therefore, contradictory as they were, left him utterly perplexed, so that for some little time he could not make up his mind whether to be frightened, interested or merely curious.

This uncertainty, however, lasted but a moment or two at the most, for an appreciable pause outside his door was next followed by a noise of scratching upon the panels, as of hands or paws, and then by the shuffling of some living body that was flattening itself in an attempt to squeeze through the considerable crack between door and flooring, and so to enter the room.

And, hearing it, Spinrobin this time was so petrified with an instantaneous rush of terror, that at first he dared not even move to find the matches again under his pillow.

The pause was dreadful. He longed for brilliant light that should reveal all parts of the room equally, or else for a thick darkness that should conceal him from everything in the world. The uncertain flicker of a single candle playing miserably between the two was the last thing in the world to appeal to him.

And then events crowded too thick and fast for him to recognize any one emotion in particular from all the fire of them passing so swiftly in and out among his hopelessly disorganized thoughts. Terror flashed, but with it flashed also wonder and delight—the audacity of unreflecting courage—and more—even a breathless worship of the powers, knowledge and forces that lifted for him in that little bedroom the vast Transparency that hides from men the Unknown.

It is soon told. For a moment there was silence, and then he knew that the invader had effected an entrance. There was barely time to marvel at the snake-like thinness of the living creature that could avail itself of so narrow a space, when to his amazement he heard the quick patter of feet across the space of boarded flooring next the wall, and then the silence that muffled them as they reached the carpet proper.

Almost at the same second something leaped upon his bed, and there shot swiftly across him a living thing with light, firm tread—a creature, so far as he could form any judgment at all, about the size of a rabbit or a cat. He felt the feet pushing through sheets and blankets upon his body. They were little feet; how many, at that stage, he could not guess. Then he heard the thud as it dropped to the floor upon the other side.

The panic terror that in the dark it would run upon his bare exposed face thus passed; and in that moment of intense relief Spinrobin gripped his soul, so to speak, with both hands and made the effort of his life. Whatever happened now he must have a light, be it only the light of a single miserable candle. In that moment he felt that he would have sacrificed all his hopes of the hereafter to have turned on a flood of searching and brilliant sunshine into every corner of the room—instantaneously. The thought that the creature might jump again upon the bed and touch him before he could see, gave him energy to act.

With dashes of terror shooting through him like spears of ice, he grabbed the matchbox, and after a frenzied entanglement again with sheets and pillow-case, succeeded in breaking four matches in quick succession. They cracked, it seemed to him, like pistol shots, till he half expected that this creature, waiting there in the darkness, must leap out in the direction of the sound to attack him. The fifth lit, and a moment later the candle was burning dimly, but with its usual exasperating leisure and delay. As the flare died down, then gradually rose again, he fairly swallowed the room with a single look, wishing there were eyes all over his body. It was a very faint light. At first he saw nothing, heard nothing—nothing alive, that is.

"I must act! I must do something—at once!" he remembered thinking. For, to wait meant to leave the choice and moment of attack to this other....

Cautiously, and very slowly, therefore, he wriggled to the edge of the bed and slid over, searching with his feet for slippers, but finding none, yet not daring to lower his eyes to look; then stood upright with a sudden rush, shading the candle from his eyes with one hand and peering over it.

As a rule, in moments of overwhelming emotion, the eyes search too eagerly, too furiously, to see properly at all; but this does not seem to have been the case with Spinrobin. The shadows ran about like water and the flickering of the candle-flame dazzled, but there, opposite to him, over by the darkness of the dead fireplace, he saw instantly the small black object that was the immediate cause of his terror. Its actual shape was merged too much in the dark background to be clearly ascertainable, but near the top of it, where presumably the head was, the candle-flame shone reflected in two brilliant points of light that were directed straight upon his face, and he knew that he was looking into the eyes of a living creature that was not the very least on the defensive. It was a living creature, aggressive and unafraid.

For perhaps a couple of minutes—or was it seconds only?—these two beings with the breath of life in them faced one another. Then Spinrobin made a step cautiously in advance; lowering his candle he moved towards it. This he did, partly to see better, partly to protect his bare legs. The idea of protection, however, seems to have been merely instinct, for at once this notion that it might dash forward to attack him was merged in the unaccountable realization of a far grander emotion, as he perceived that this "living creature" facing him was, for all its diminutive size, both dignified and imposing. Something in its atmosphere, something about its mysterious presentment there upon the floor in its dark corner, something, perhaps, that flashed from its brilliant and almost terrible eyes, managed to convey to him that it was clothed with an importance and a significance not attached normally to the animal world. It had "an air." It bore itself with power, with value, almost with pride.

This incongruous impression bereft him of the sensations of ordinary fear, while it increased the sources of his confusion. Yet it convinced. He knew himself face to face with some form of life that was considerable in the true sense—spiritually. It exercised a fascination over him that was at the moment beyond either explanation or belief.

As he moved, moreover, the little dark object also moved—away from him, as though resenting closer inspection. With action—again unlike the action of any animal he could think of, and essentially dignified—both rapid and nicely calculated, it ran towards the curtains behind. This appearance of something stately that went with it was indefinable and beyond everything impressive; for how in the world could such small proportions and diminutive movements convey grandeur? And again Spinrobin found it impossible to decide precisely how it moved—whether on four legs or on two.

Keeping the two points of light always turned upon him, it shot across the floor, leaped easily upon a chair, passed with a nimble spring from this to a table by the wall, still too much in obscurity to permit a proper view; and then, while the amazed secretary approached cautiously to follow its movements better, it crawled to the edge of the table, and in so doing passed for the first time full across the pale zone of flickering candlelight.

Spinrobin, in that quick second, caught a glimpse of flying hair, and saw that it moved either as a human being or as a bird—on two legs.

The same moment it sprang deftly from the high table to the mantelpiece, turned, stood erect, and looked at him with the whole glare of the light upon its face; and Spinrobin, bereft of all power of intelligible sensation whatever, saw to his unutterable distress that it was—a man. The dignity of its movements had already stirred vaguely his sense of awe, but now the realization beyond doubt of its diminutive human shape added a singularly acute touch of horror; and it was the combination of the two emotions, possibly, that were responsible also for the two remarkable impulses of which he was first conscious: first, a mad desire to strike and kill; secondly, an imperious feeling that he must hide his eyes in some act or other of worship!

And it was then he realized that the man was—Philip Skale!

Mr. Skale, scarcely a foot high, dressed as usual in black, flowing beard, hooked nose, lambent, flashing eyes and all, stood there upon the mantelpiece level with his secretary's face, not three feet separating them, and—smiled at him. He was small as a Tanagra figure, and in perfect proportion.

It was unspeakably terrible.


"Of course—I'm dreaming," cried Spinrobin, half aloud, half to the figure before him. He searched behind him with one hand for solid support. "You're a dream thing. It's some awful trick—God will protect me—!"

Mr. Skale's tiny lips moved. "No, no," his voice said, and it sounded as from a great distance. "I'm no dream thing at all, and you are wide awake. Look at me well. I am the man you know—Philip Skale. Look straight into my eyes and be convinced." Again he smiled his kindly, winning smile. "What you now see is nothing but a result of sounding my true name in a certain way—very softly—to increase the cohesion of my physical molecules and reduce my visible expression. Listen, and watch!"

And Spinrobin, half stupefied, obeyed, feeling that his weakening knees must in another moment give way and precipitate him to the floor. He was utterly unnerved. The onslaught of terror and amazement was overwhelming. For something dreadful beyond all words lay in the sight of this man, whom he was accustomed to reverence in his gigantic everyday shape, here reduced to the stature of a pygmy, yet compelling as ever, terrific even when thus dwarfed. And to hear the voice of thunder that he knew so well come to him disguised within this thin and almost wailing tone, passed equally beyond the limits of what he could feel as emotion or translate into any intelligible words or gesture.

While, therefore, the secretary stood in awful wonder, doing as he was told simply because he could do nothing else, the figure of the clergyman moved with tiny steps to the edge of the mantelpiece, until it seemed as though he meant in another moment to leap on to his companion's shoulder, or into his arms. At the edge, however, he stopped—the brink of a precipice, to him!—and Spinrobin then became aware that from his moving lips, doll-like though bearded, his voice was issuing with an ever-growing volume of sound and power.

Vibrations of swiftly-increasing depth and wave-length were spreading through the air about him, filling the room from floor to ceiling. What the syllables actually uttered may have been he was too dazed to realize, for no degree of concentration was possible to his mind at all; he only knew that, before his smarting eyes, with this rising of the voice to its old dominant inflexion, the figure of Mr. Philip Skale grew likewise, indescribably; swelled, rose, spread upwards and outwards, but with the parts ever passing slowly in consistent inter-relation, from minute to minute. He became, always in perfect proportion, magnified and extended. The growing form, moreover, kept pace exactly, and most beautifully, with the increasing tide of sonorous vibration that flooded himself, its utterer and the whole room.

Spinrobin, it seems, had just sufficient self-control left to realize that this sound was similar in quality to that which had first awakened him and caused the outlines of the furniture to alter, when the sight of Mr. Skale's form changing thus terribly before his eyes, and within the touch of his very hand, became too much for him altogether....

What precisely happened he never knew. The sounds first enveloped him, then drove him backwards with a sense of immense applied resistance. He collapsed upon the sofa a few feet behind him, as though irresistibly pushed. The power that impelled him charged vehemently through the little room till it seemed the walls must burst asunder to give it scope, while the sounds rose to such a volume that he figured himself drowned and overpowered by their mighty vibrations as by the storm swells of the Atlantic. Before he lost them as sound he seems thus to have been aware of them as moving waves of air.... The next thing he took in was that amid the waste of silence that now followed his inability to hear, the figure of Philip Skale towered aloft towards the ceiling, till it seemed positively to occupy all the available space in the room about him.

Had he dropped upon the floor instead of upon the sofa it is probable that at this point Spinrobin would have lost consciousness, at any rate for a period; but that sofa, which luckily for his bones was so close behind, galvanized him sharply back into some measure of self-control again. Being provided with powerful springs, it shot him up into the air, whence he relapsed with a series of smaller bounds into a normal sitting posture. Still holding the lighted candle as best he could, the little secretary bounced upon that sofa like a tennis ball. And the violent motion shook him into himself, as it were. His tottering universe struggled back into shape once more. He remembered vaguely that all this was somehow a test of his courage and fitness. And this thought, strengthened by a law of his temperament which forced him to welcome the sweet, mad terror of the whole adventure, helped to call out the reserves of his failing courage.

He bounced upon his feet again—those bare feet plastered with candle grease—and, turning his head, saw the clergyman, of incredible stature, yet still apparently increasing, already over by the door. He was turning the key with a hand the size—O horror!—of Spinrobin's breast. The next moment his vast stooping body filled the entire entrance, blotting out whole portions of the walls on either side, then was gone from the room.

Leaving the candlestick on the sofa, his heart aflame with a fearful ecstasy of curiosity, he dashed across the floor in pursuit, but Mr. Skale, silently and with the swiftness of a river, was already down the stairs before he had covered half the distance.

Through the framework of the door Spinrobin saw this picture:

Skale, like some awful Cyclops, stood upon the floor of the hall some twenty feet below, yet rearing terrifically up through the well of the building till his head and shoulders alone seemed to fill the entire space beneath the skylight. Though his feet rested unquestionably upon the ground, his face, huge as a planet in the sky, rose looming and half lighted above the banisters of this second storey, his tangled locks sweeping the ceiling, and his beard, like some dark river of hair, flowing downwards through the night. And this spreading countenance of cloud it was, hanging in the semi-darkness, that Spinrobin saw turn slowly towards him across the faint flicker of the candlelight, look straight down into his face, and smile. The great mouth and eyes unquestionably smiled. And that smile, for all its vast terror, was beyond words enchanting—like the spread laughter of a summer landscape.

Among the spaces of the immense visage—reminding him curiously of his boyhood's conception of the Creator—Spinrobin lost himself and grew dizzy with a deadly yet delicious faintness. The mighty tenderness, the compassion, the splendor of that giant smile overpowered him and swallowed him up.

For one second, in dreadful silence, he gazed. Then, rising to meet the test with a courage that he felt might somehow involve the alteration if not the actual destruction of his own little personality, but that also proved his supreme gameness at the same time, he tried to smile in return.... The strange and pitiful attempt upon his own face perhaps, in the semi-obscurity, was not seen. He only remembers that he somehow found strength to crawl forward and close the door with a bang, though not the strength to turn the key and lock it, and that two seconds later, having kicked the candle over and out in his flying leap, he was in the middle of the bed under a confused pile of sheets and blankets, weeping with muffled sobs in the darkness as though his heart must burst with the wonder and terror of all he had witnessed.

For, to the simple in heart, at the end of all possible stress and strain of emotion, comes mercifully the blinding relief of tears....

And then, although too overcome to be able to prove it even to himself, it was significant that, lying there smothered among the bedclothes, he became aware of the presence of something astonishingly sweet and comforting in his consciousness. It came quite suddenly upon him; the reaction he experienced, he says, was very wonderful, for with it the sense of absolute safety and security returned to him. Like a terrified child in the darkness who suddenly knows that its mother stands by the bed, all-powerful to soothe, he felt certain that some one had moved into the room, was close beside him, and was even trying to smooth his pillow and arrange the twisted bedclothes.

He did not dare uncover his face to see, for he was still dominated by the memory of Mr. Skale's portentous visage; but his ears were not so easily denied, and he was positive that he heard a voice that called his name as though it were the opening phrase of some sweet, childhood lullaby. There was a touch about him somewhere, it seemed, of delicate cool hands that brought with them the fragrance as of a scented summer wind; and the last thing he remembered before he sank away into welcome unconsciousness was an impression, fugitive and dreamlike, of a gentle face, unstained and pale as marble, that bent above his pillow, and, singing, called him away to forgetfulness and peace.


And several hours later, when he woke after a refreshing sleep to find Mrs. Mawle smiling down upon him over a tray of steaming coffee, he recalled the events of the night with a sense of vivid reality that if possible increased his conviction of their truth, but without the smallest symptom of terror or dismay. For the blessing of the presence that had soothed him into sleep lay still upon him like a garment to protect. The test had come and he had not wholly failed.

With something approaching amusement, he watched the housekeeper pick up a candlestick from the middle of the floor and put his Jaeger slippers beneath the chair, having found one by the cupboard and the other over by the fireplace.

"Mr. Skale's compliments and Mr. Spinrobin is not to hurry himself," he heard her saying, as she put the tray beside the bed and went out of the room. He looked at his watch and saw that it was after ten o'clock.

Half an hour later he was dressed and on his way downstairs, conscious only of an overwhelming desire to see Mr. Skale, but to see him in his normal and fatherly aspect again. For a strain of worship mingled oddly with his devouring curiosity, and he was thirsty now for the rest of the adventure, for the complete revelation of the Discovery in all its bearings. And the moment he saw the clergyman in the hall he ran towards him, scarcely realizing what it was he meant to say or do. Mr. Skale stretched out both hands to meet him. His face was alight with pleasure.

But, before they could meet and touch, a door opened and in slipped Miriam between them; she, too, was radiant, and her hands outstretched.

"Me first, please! Me first!" she cried with happy laughter, and before Spinrobin realized what was happening, she had flung her arms about his neck and kissed him. "You were splendid!" she whispered in his ear, "and I am proud of you—ever so proud!"

The next minute Skale had him by the hands.

"Well done! well done!" his voice boomed, while he gazed down into his face with enthusiastic and unqualified approval. "It was all magnificent. My dear little fellow, you've got the heart of a god, and, by Heavens, you shall become as a god too! For you are worthy!" He shook him violently by both hands, while Miriam looked eagerly on with admiration in her wide grey eyes.

"I'm so glad, so awfully glad—" stammered the secretary, remembering with shame his moments of vivid terror. He hardly knew what he said at the moment.

"The properties of things," thundered the clergyman, "as you have now learned, are merely the 'muffled utterances of the Sounds that made them.' The thing itself is its name."

He spoke rapidly, with intense ardor and with reverence. "You have seen with your own eyes a scientific proof of my Discovery on its humblest level—how the physical properties of objects can be manipulated by the vibratory utterance of their true names—can be extended, reduced, glorified. Next you shall learn that spiritual qualities—the attributes of higher states of being—can be similarly dealt with and harnessed—exalted, intensified, invoked—and that the correct utterance of mighty Names can seduce their specific qualities into your own soul to make you mighty and eternal as themselves, and that to call upon the Great Names is no idle phrase.... When the time comes, Spinrobin, you shall not shrink, you shall not shrink...." He flung his arms out with a great gesture of delight.

"No," repeated Spinrobin, yet aware that he felt mentally battered at the prospect, "I shall not shrink. I think—now—I can manage—anything!"

And then, watching Miriam with lingering glance as she vanished laughing up the staircase, he followed Mr. Skale into the library, his thoughts tearing wildly to and fro, swelling with delight and pride, thrilling with the wonder of what was yet to come. There, with fewest possible sentences, the clergyman announced that he now accepted him and would, therefore, carry out the promise with regard to the bequeathal of his property to him in the event of any untoward circumstances arising later. He also handed to him in cash the salary for the "trial month," together with a check for the first quarter in advance. He was beaming with the satisfaction he felt at having found at last a really qualified helper. Spinrobin looked into his face as they shook hands over the bargain. He was thinking of other aspects he had seen of this amazing being but a few hours before—the minute, the colossal, the changing-between-the-two Skales....

"I'm game, Mr. Skale," he said simply, forgetting all his recent doubts and terrors.

"I know you are," the clergyman replied. "I knew it all along."

Chapter X


The first thing Spinrobin knew when he ran upstairs to lock away the money in his desk was that his whole being, without his directing it, asked a question of momentous import. He did not himself ask it deliberately. He surprised his sub-consciousness asking it:


It was no longer mere curiosity that asked it, but that sense of responsibility which in all men of principle and character lies at the root of action and of life. And Spinrobin, for all his little weaknesses, was a man of character and principle. There came a point when he could no longer follow blindly where others led, even though the leader were so grand an individual as Philip Skale. This point is reached at varying degrees of the moral thermometer, and but for the love that Miriam had wakened in his heart, it might have taken much longer to send the mercury of his will so high in so short a time. He now felt responsibility for two, and in the depths of his queer, confused, little mind stirred the thought that possibly after all the great adventure he sought was only the supreme adventure of a very wonderful Love.

He records these two questions at this point, and it is only just to himself, therefore, to set them down here. To neither was the answer yet forthcoming.

For some days the routine of this singular household followed its normal course, the only change being that while the secretary practiced his Hebrew names and studied the relations between sound, color, form and the rest, he kept himself a little better in hand, for Love is a mighty humanizer and holds down the nose upon the grindstone of the wholesome and practical values of existence. He turned, so to speak, and tried to face the matter squarely; to see the adventure as a whole; to get all round it and judge. It seems, however, that he was too much in the thick of it to get that bird's-eye view which reduces details to the right proportion. Skale's personality was too close, and flooded him too violently. Spinrobin remained confused and bewildered; but also unbelievably happy.

"Coming out all right," he wrote shakily in that gilt-edged diary. "Beginning to understand why I'm in the world. Am just as important as anybody else—really. Impossible explain more." His entries were very like telegrams, in which a man attempts to express in a lucid shorthand all manner of things that the actual words hardly compass. And life itself is not unlike some mighty telegram that seeks vainly to express, between the extremes of silence and excess, all that the soul would say....

"Skale is going too far," perhaps best expresses the daily burden of his accumulating apprehension. "He is leading up to something that makes me shrink—something not quite legitimate. Playing with an Olympian fire that may consume us both." And there his telegram stopped; for how in the world could he put into mere language the pain and distress involved in the thought that it might at the same time consume Miriam? It all touched appalling depths of awe in his soul. It made his heart shake. The girl had become a part of his very self.

Vivid reactions he suffered, alternating with equally vivid enthusiasms. He realized how visionary the clergyman's poetical talk was, but the next minute the practical results staggered him again, as it were, back into a state of conviction. For the poetry obscured his judgment and fired his imagination so that he could not follow calmly. The feeling that it was not only illogical but insane troubled him; yet the physical effects stared him in the face, and to argue with physical results is waste of time. One must act.

Yet how "act?" The only way that offered he accepted: he fell back upon the habits of his boyhood, read his Bible, and at night dropped humbly upon his knees and prayed.

"Keep me straight and pure and simple, and bless ... Miriam. Grant that I may love and strengthen her ... and that my love may bring her peace ... and joy ...and guide me through all this terror, I beseech Thee, into Truth...."

For, in the beauty of his selfless love, he dared not even admit that it was love; feeling only the highest, he could not quite correlate his sweet and elevated passion with the common standards of what the World called love. The humility of a great love is ever amazing.

And then followed in his prayers the more cowardly cry for ordinary protection from the possible results of Skale's audacity. The Love of God he could understand, but the Wrath of God was a conception he was still unemancipated enough to dread; and a dark, portentous terror that Skale might incur it, and that he might be dragged at its heels into some hideous catastrophe, chased him through the days and nights. It all seemed so unlawful, impious, blasphemous....

"... And preserve us from vain presumptions of the heart and brain, I pray Thee, lest we be consumed.... Please, O God, forgive the insolence of our wills ... and the ignorant daring of our spirit.... Permit not the innocent to suffer for the guilty ... and especially bless ... Miriam...."

Yet through it all ran that exquisite memory of the calling of his true name in the spaces of his soul. The beauty of far-off unattainable things hovered like a star above his head, so that he went about the house with an insatiable yearning in his heart, a perpetual smile of wonder upon his face, and in his eyes a gleam that was sometimes terror, sometimes delight.

It was almost as if some great voice called to him from the mountaintops, and the little chap was forever answering in his heart, "I'm coming! I'm coming!" and then losing his way purposely, or hiding behind bushes on the way for fear of meeting the great invisible Caller face to face.


And, meanwhile, the house became for him a kind of Sound-Temple as it were, protected from desecration by the hills and desolate spaces that surrounded it. From dawn to darkness its halls and corridors echoed with the singing violin, Skale's booming voice, Miriam's gentle tones, and his own plaintive yet excited note, while outside the old grey walls the air was ever alive with the sighing of the winds and the ceaseless murmur of falling water. Even at night the place was not silent. He understood at last what the clergyman had told him—that perfect silence does not exist. The universe, down to its smallest detail, sings through every second of time.

The sounds of nature especially haunted him. He never heard the wind now without thinking of lost whispers from the voice of God that had strayed down upon the world to sweeten and bewilder the hearts of men—whispers a-search for listeners simple enough to understand. And when their walks took them as far as the sea, the dirge of the waves troubled his soul with a kind of distressing exaltation that afflicted the very deeps of his being. It was with a new comprehension he understood his employer's dictum that the keynote of external nature was middle F—this employer who himself possessed that psychic sense of absolute pitch—and that the roar of a city, wind in forest trees, the cry of trains, the rushing of rivers and falling water, Niagara itself, all produced this single utterance; and he loved to sing it on the moors, Miriam laughing by his side, and to realize that the world, literally, sang with them.

Behind all sounds he divined for the first time a majesty that appalled; his imagination, glorified by Skale, instantly fell to constructing the forms they bodied forth. Out of doors the flutes of Pan cried to him to dance: indoors the echoes of yet greater music whispered in the penetralia of his spirit that he should cry. In this extraordinary new world of Philip Skale's revelation he fairly spun.

It was one thing when the protective presence of the clergyman was about him, or when he was sustained by the excitement of enthusiasm, but when he was alone, at his normal level, timid, yet adventurous, the too vivid sense of these new things made him tremble. The terrifying beauty of Skale's ideas; the realization in cold blood that all forms in the world about him were silently a-singing, and might any moment vanish and release their huge bodies into primal sounds; that the stones in the road, the peaked hills, the very earth herself might alter in shape before his eyes: on the other hand, that the viewless forces of life and death might leap into visibility and form with the calling of their names; that himself, and Skale, and Mrs. Mawle, and that pale fairy girl-figure were all enmeshed in the same scheme with plants, insects, animals and planets; and that God's voice was everywhere too sublimely close—all this, when he was alone, oppressed him with a sense of things that were too intimate and too mighty for daily life.

In these moments—so frequent now as to be almost continuous—he preferred the safety of his ordinary and normal existence, dull though it might be; the limited personality he had been so anxious to escape from seemed wondrous sweet and comforting. The Terror of the approaching Experiment with this mighty name appalled him.

The forces, thus battling within his soul, became more and more contradictory and confused. The outcome for himself seemed to be the result of the least little pressure this way or that—possibly at the very last moment, too. Which way the waiting Climax might draw him was a question impossible to decide.


And then, suddenly, the whole portentous business moved a sharp stage nearer that hidden climax, when one afternoon Mr. Skale came up unexpectedly behind him and laid a great hand upon his shoulder in a way that made him positively jump.

"Spinrobin," he said, in those masterful, resonant tones that shamed his timidity and cowardice, "are you ready?"

"For anything and everything," was the immediate reply, given almost automatically as he felt the clergyman's forces flood into his soul and lift him.

"The time is at hand, then," continued the other, leading his companion by the arm to a deep leather sofa, "for you to know certain things that for your own safety and ours, I was obliged to keep hidden till now—first among which is the fact that this house is not, as you supposed, empty."

Prepared as he was for some surprising announcement, Spinrobin nevertheless started. It was so abrupt.

"Not empty!" he repeated, eager to hear more, yet quaking. He had never forgotten the nightly sounds and steps in his own passage.

"The rooms beyond your own," said Skale, with a solemnity that amounted to reverence, "are occupied—"

"By—" gasped the secretary.

"Captured Sounds—gigantic," was the reply, uttered almost below the breath.

The two men looked steadily at one another for the space of several seconds, Spinrobin charged to the brim with anxious questions pressing somehow upon the fringe of life and death, Skale obviously calculating how much he might reveal or how little.

"Mr. Spinrobin," he said presently, holding him firmly with his eyes, "you are aware by this time that what I seek is the correct pronunciation of certain names—of a certain name, let us say, and that so complex is the nature of this name that no single voice can utter it. I need a chord, a human chord of four voices."

Spinrobin bowed.

"After years of research and experiment," resumed the clergyman, "I have found the first three notes, and now, in your own person, has come my supreme happiness in the discovery of the fourth. What I now wish you to know, though I cannot expect you to understand it all at first, is that the name I seek is broken up into four great divisions of sound, and that to each of these separate divisions the four notes of our chord form introductory channels. When the time comes to utter it, each one of us will call the syllable or sound that awakens the mighty response in one of these immense and terrific divisions, so that the whole name will vibrate as a single chord sung perfectly in tune."

Mr. Skale paused and drew deep breaths. This approach to his great experiment, even in speech, seemed to exhaust him so that he was obliged to call upon reserves of force that lay beneath. His whole manner betrayed the gravity, the reverence, the mingled respect and excitement of—death.

And the simple truth is that at the moment Spinrobin could not find in himself sufficient courage to ask what this fearful and prodigious name might be. Even to put ordinary questions about the four rooms was a little beyond him, for his heart beat like a hammer against his ribs, and he heard its ominous drum sounding through both his temples.

"And in each of the rooms in your corridor, ready to leap forth when called, lie the sounds or voices I have captured and imprisoned, these separate chambers being sheeted and prepared—huge wax receptacles, in fact, akin to the cylinders of the phonograph. Together with the form or pattern belonging to them, and the color, there they lie at present in silence and invisibility, just as the universe lay in silence and invisibility before the word of God called it into objective being. But—know them and they are mine."

"All these weeks—so close to me," whispered Spinrobin, too low for Skale to notice.

Then the clergyman leaned over towards him. "These captured sounds are as yet by no means complete," he said through his beard, as though afraid to admit it; "for all I have of them really is their initial letters, of their forms the merest faint outlines, and of their colors but a first suggestion. And we must be careful, we must be absolutely wise. To utter them correctly will mean to transfer to us the qualities of Gods, whereas to utter falsely may mean to release upon the surface of the world forces that—" He shrugged his great shoulders and an ashen pallor spread downwards over the face to the very lips. The sentence remained unfinished; and its very incompleteness left Spinrobin with the most grievous agony of apprehension he had yet experienced.

"So that, if you are ready, our next step shall be to show you the room in which your own particular sound lies," added Mr. Skale after a long pause; "the sound in the chord it will be your privilege to utter when the time comes. For each of us will utter his or her particular letter, the four together making up the first syllable in the name I seek."

Mr. Skale looked steadily down into the wide blue eyes of his companion, and for some minutes neither of them spoke.

"The letter I am to utter," repeated the secretary at length; "the letter in some great name?"

Mr. Skale smiled upon him with the mighty triumph of the Promethean idea in his eyes.

"The room," he muttered deeply and softly, "in which it lies waiting for you to claim it at the appointed time ... the room where you shall learn its color, become attuned to its great vibratory activity, see its form, and know its power in your own person."

Again they looked long into one another's eyes.

"I'm game," murmured Spinrobin almost inaudibly; "I'm game, Mr. Skale." But, as he said it, something in his round head turned dizzy, while his thoughts flew to Miriam and to the clergyman's significant phrase of a few minutes ago—"we must be careful, we must be absolutely wise."


And the preparation the clergyman insisted upon—detailed, thorough and scrupulous—certainly did not lessen in Spinrobin's eyes the gravity of the approaching ordeal. They spent two days and nights in the very precise and punctilious study, and utterance, of the Hebrew names of the "angels"—that is, forces—whose qualities were essential to their safety.

Also, at the same time, they fasted.

But when the time came for the formal visit to those closed rooms, of which the locked doors were like veils in a temple, Spinrobin declares it made him think of some solemn procession down ancient passageways of crypt or pyramid to the hidden places where inscrutable secrets lay. It was certainly thrilling and impressive. Skale went first, moving slowly with big strides, grave as death, and so profoundly convinced of the momentous nature of their errand that an air of dignity, and of dark adventure almost majestic, hung about his figure. The long corridor, that dreary December morning, stretched into a world of shadows, and about half-way down it he halted in front of a door next but one to Spinrobin's room and turned towards his companion.

Spinrobin, in a mood to see anything, yet striving to hide behind one of those "bushes," as it were, kept his distance a little, but Mr. Skale took him by the arm and drew him forward to his side. Slowly he stooped, till the great bearded lips were level with his ear, and whispered solemnly:

"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see—and hear God."

Then he turned the key and led the way inside.

But apparently there were double doors, for they found themselves at first in a cupboard-like space that formed a tiny vestibule to the room itself; and here there was light enough to see that the clergyman was taking from nails on the wall two long garments like surplices, colored, so far as Spinrobin could make out, a deep red and a deep violet.

"For our protection," whispered Skale, enveloping himself in the red one, while he handed the other to his companion and helped him into it. "Wear it closely about your body until we come out." And while the secretary struggled among the folds of this cassock-like garment, that was several feet too long for his diminutive stature, the clergyman added, still with a gravity and earnestness that impressed the imagination beyond all reach of the ludicrous:

"For sound and color are intimately associated, and there are combinations of the two that can throw the spiritual body into a condition of safe receptivity, without which we should be deaf and blind even in the great Presences themselves."

Trivial details, presenting themselves in really dramatic moments, may impress the mind with extraordinary aptness. At this very moment Spinrobin's eyes noticed in the corner of wall and door a tiny spider's web, with the spider itself hanging in the center of its little net—shaking. And he has never forgotten it. It expressed pictorially exactly what he felt himself. He, too, felt that he was shaking in midair—as in the center of a web whose strands hung suspended from the very stars.

And the words, spoken in that slow deep whisper, filled the little space in which the two men stood, and somehow completed for Spinrobin the sense of stupendous things adequately approached.

Then Mr. Skale closed the outer door, shutting out the last feeble glimmer of day, at the same moment turning the handle of the portal beyond. And as they entered the darkness, Spinrobin, holding up his violet robe with one hand to prevent tripping, with the other caught hold of the tail of the flowing garment in front of him. For a second or two he stopped breathing altogether.


On the very threshold a soft murmur of beauty met them; and, as plainly as though the darkness had lifted into a blaze of light, the secretary at once realized that he stood in the presence of something greater than all he had hitherto known in this world. He had managed to find the clergyman's big hand, and he held it tightly through a twisted corner of his voluminous robe. The inner door next closed behind them. Skale, he was aware, had again stooped in the darkness to the level of his ear.

"I'll give you the sound—the note," he heard him whisper. "Utter it inwardly—in your thoughts only. Its vibrations correspond to the color, and will protect us."

"Protect us?" gasped Spinrobin with dry lips.

"From being shattered and destroyed—owing to the intense activity of the vibrations conveyed to our ultimate physical atoms," was the whispered reply, as the clergyman proceeded to give him under his breath a one-syllable sound that was unlike any word he knew, and that for the life of him he has never been able to reproduce since.

Mr. Skale straightened himself up again and Spinrobin pictured him standing there twice his natural size, a huge and impressive figure as he had once before seen him, clothed now with the double dignity of his strange knowledge. Then, advancing slowly to the center of the room, they stood still, each uttering silently in his thoughts the syllable that attuned their inner beings to safety.

Almost immediately, as the seconds passed, the secretary became aware that the room was beginning to shake with a powerful but regular movement. All about him had become alive. Vitality, like the vitality of youth upon mountain tops, pulsed and whirled about them, pouring into them the currents of a rushing glorious life, undiluted, straight from the source. In his little person he felt both the keenness of sharp steel and the vast momentum of a whole ocean. Thus he describes it. And the more clearly he uttered in his thoughts the sound given to him by his leader, the greater seemed the influx of strength and glory into his heart.

The darkness, meanwhile, began to lift. It moved upwards in spirals that, as they rose, hummed and sang. A soft blaze of violet like the color of the robe he wore became faintly visible in the air. The chamber, he perceived, was about the same size as his own bedroom, and empty of all furniture, while walls, floor, and ceiling were draped in the same shade of violet that covered his shoulders; and the sound he uttered, and thought, called forth the color and made it swim into visibility. The walls and ceiling sheeted with wax opened, so to speak, their giant lips.

Mr. Skale made a movement and drew him closer. He raised one arm into the air, and Spinrobin, following the motion, saw what at first he imagined to be vast round faces glimmering overhead, outlined darkly against the violet atmosphere. Mr. Skale, with what seemed a horrible audacity, was reaching up to touch them, and as he did so there issued a low, soft, metallic sound, humming and melodious, that dropped sweetly about his ears. Then the secretary saw that they were discs of metal—immense gongs swinging in midair, suspended in some way from the ceiling, and each one as Skale touched it emitted its beautiful note till all combined together at length into a single chord.

And this chord, though Spinrobin talks whole pages in describing it, apparently brought in its train the swell and thunder of something beyond,—the far sweetness of exquisite harmonics, thousands upon thousands, inwoven with the strands of deeper notes that boomed with colossal vibrations about them. And, in some fashion that musical people will understand, its gentler notes caught up the sound that Spinrobin was uttering in his mind, and took possession of it. They merged. An extraordinary volume, suggesting a huge aggregation of sound behind it—in the same way that a murmur of wind may suggest the roar of tempests—rose and fell through the room, lifted them up, bore them away, sang majestically over their heads, under their feet, and through their very minds. The vibrations of their own physical atoms fell into pace with these other spiritual activities by a kind of sympathetic resonance.

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