The combination of power and simplicity was what impressed him most, it seems, for it resembled—resembled only—the great spiritual simplicity in Beethoven that rouses and at the same time satisfies the profoundest yearnings of the soul. It swept him into utter bliss, into something for once complete. And Spinrobin, at the center of his glorified yet quaking little heart, understood vaguely that the sound he uttered, and the sound he heard, were directly connected with the presence of some august and awful Name....
Suddenly Mr. Skale, he was aware, became rigid beside him. Spinrobin pressed closer, seeking the protective warmth of his body, and realizing from the gesture that something new was about to happen. And something did happen, though not precisely in the sense that things happen in the streets and in the markets of men. In the sphere of his mind, perhaps, it happened, but was none the less real for that.
For the Presence he had been aware of in the room from the moment of entrance became then suddenly almost concrete. It came closer—sheeted in wonder inscrutable. The form and body of the sounds that filled the air pressed forward into partial visibility. Spinrobin's powers of interior sight, he dimly realized, increased at the same time. Vast as a mountain, as a whole range of mountains; beautiful as a star, as a whole heaven of stars; yet simple as a flower of the field; and singing this little song of pure glory and joy that he felt was the inmost message of the chord—this Presence in the room sought to push forward into objective reality. And behind it, he knew, lay the stupendous urgency and drive of some power that held the entire universe in its pulses as easily as the ocean holds a shoal of minnows....
But the limits of realization for him were almost reached. Spinrobin wanted to close his eyes, yet could not. He was driven along with the wave of sound thus awakened and forced to see what was to be seen. This time there was no bush behind which he could screen himself. And there, dimly sketched out of the rhythmical vibrations of the seething violet obscurity, rose that looming Outline of wonder and majesty that clothed itself about them with a garment as of visible sound. The Unknown, suggesting incredible dimensions, stood at his elbow, tremendously draped in these dim, voluminous folds of music and color—very fearful, very seductive, yet so supremely simple at the same time that a little child could have understood without fear.
But only partially there, only partially revealed. The ineffable glory was never quite told. Spinrobin, amid all the torrent of words in which he sought later to describe the experience, could only falter out a single comprehensible sentence: "I felt like stammering in intoxication over the first letter of a name I loved—loved to the point of ecstasy—to the point even of giving up my life for it."
And meanwhile, breathless and shaking, he clung to Skale, still murmuring in his heart the magic syllable, but swept into some region of glory where pain and joy both ceased, where terror and delight merged into some perfectly simple form of love, and where he became in an instant of time an entirely new and emancipated Spinrobin, driving at full speed towards the ultimate sound and secret of the universe—God.
* * * * *
He never remembered exactly how he got out of the room, but it always seemed as though he dropped with a crash from some enormous height. The sounds ceased; the gongs died into silence; the violet faded; the quivering wax lay still.... Mr. Skale was moving beside him, and the next minute they were in the narrow vestibule between the doors, hanging up ordinary colored surplices upon ordinary iron nails.
Spinrobin stumbled. Skale caught him. They were in the corridor again—cold, cheerless, full of December murk and shadows—and the secretary was leaning against the clergyman's shoulder breathless and trembling as though he had run a mile.
"And the color of my sound is a pale green," he heard behind him in tones as sweet as a muted violin string, "while the form of my note fits into yours just like a glove. Dear Spinny, don't tremble so. We shall always be together, remember, you and I...."
And when, turning, he saw Miriam at his side, radiant with her shining little smile of welcome, the relief was so great that he took her in his arms and would not let her go. She drew him tenderly away downstairs, for the clergyman, it seemed, was still busy with something in the room, and had left them....
"I know, I know," she said softly, making him sit down beside her on the sofa, "I know the rush of pain and happiness it brings. It shifts the whole key of your life, doesn't it? When I first went into my 'room' and learned the letter I was to utter in the Name, I felt as if I could never come back to ordinary things again, or—"
"What name?" interrupted Spinrobin, drawing sharply away from her, and the same second amazed at the recklessness that had prompted the one question he dreaded.
The inevitable reaction had come. He realized for the first time that there was an alternative. All the passion of battle was upon him. The terrific splendors of Skale's possible achievement dazzled the very windows of his soul, but at the same time the sweet uses of normal human life called searchingly to him from within. He had been circling about this fight for days; at last it was unexpectedly upon him. He might climb to Skale's impossible Heaven, Skale's outrageous Heaven ... on the wings of this portentous experience, or—he might sink back into the stream of wholesome and commonplace life, with a delicious little human love to companion him across the years, the unsoiled love of an embryonic soul that he could train practically from birth. Miriam was beside him, soft and yielding, ready, doubtless, to be molded for either path.
"What name?" he repeated, holding his breath once the words were out.
"The name, of course," she answered gently, smiling up into his eyes. "The name I have lived to know and that you came here to learn, so that when our voices sing and utter it together in the chord we shall both become—"
Spinrobin set his mouth against her own to stop her speech. She yielded to him with her whole little body. Her eyes smiled the great human welcome as she stared so closely into his.
"Shall become—what we are not now," he cried fiercely, drawing his face back, but holding her body yet more closely to him. "Lose each other, don't you see? Don't you realize that?"
"No, no," she said faintly, "find each other—you mean—"
"Yes—if all goes well!" He spoke the words very low. For perhaps thirty seconds they stared most searchingly into each other's eyes, drawing slightly apart. Very slowly her face, then, went exceedingly pale.
"If—all goes well" she repeated, horrified. Then, after a pause, she added: "You mean—that he might make a mistake—or—?"
And Spinrobin, drinking in the sweet breath that bore the words so softly from her lips, answered, measuring his words with ponderous gravity as though each conveyed a sentence of life or death, "If—all—goes—well."
She watched him with something of that utter clinging mother-love in her eyes that claims any degree of suffering gladly rather than the loss of her own—passionately welcoming misery in preference to loss. She, too, had divined the alternative.
Then, kissing his cheeks and eyes and lips, she untied his arms from about her neck and ran, blushing furiously, from the room. And with her went doubt, for the first time—doubt as to the success of the great experiment—doubt as to their Leader's power.
And while Spinrobin still sat there, trembling with the two passions that tore his soul in twain—the passion to climb forbidden skies with Skale, and the passion to know sweet human love with Miriam—there came thundering into the room no less a personage than the giant clergyman, straight from those haunted rooms. Pallor hung about his face, but there was a light radiating through it—a high, luminous whiteness—that made the secretary think of his childhood's pictures of the Hebrew prophet descending from Mount Sinai, the glory of internal spheres still reflected upon the skin and eyes. Skale, like a flame and a wind, came pouring into the room. The thing he had remained upstairs to complete had clearly proved successful. The experiment had moved another stage—almost the final one—nearer accomplishment.
The reaction was genuinely terrific. Spinrobin felt himself swept away beyond all power of redemption. Miriam and the delicious human life faded into insignificance again. What, in the name of the eternal fires, were a girl's lips and love compared to the possibilities of Olympian achievement promised by Skale's golden audacities? Earth faded before the lights of heaven. The whole tide of human emotion was nothing compared to a drop of this terrible salt brine from seas in unknown stars.... As usual Skale's personality caught him up into some seventh heaven of the soaring imagination.
"Spinrobin, my glorious companion in adventure," thundered the clergyman, "your note suits perfectly the chord! I am delighted beyond all words. You chime with amazing precision and accuracy into the complex Master-Tone I need for the proper pronunciation of the Name! Your coming has been an inspiration permitted of Him who owns it." His excitement was profoundly moving. The man was in earnest if ever man was. "We shall succeed!" And he caught him in his arms. "For the Name manifests the essential attributes of the Being it describes, and in uttering it we shall know mystical union with it.... We shall be as Gods!"
"Splendid! Splendid!" exclaimed Spinrobin, utterly carried away by this spiritual enthusiasm. "I will follow you to the end—"
The words were scarcely out of his mouth when framed in the doorway, delicate and seductive as a witch, again stood Miriam, then moved softly forward into the room. Her face was pale as the grave. Her little, delicate mouth was set with resolution. Clearly she had overheard, but clearly also she had used the interval for serious reflection.
"We cannot possibly—fail, can we?" she asked, gliding up like a frightened fawn to the clergyman's side.
He turned upon her, stern, even terrible. So relentless was his swift appearance, so implacable in purpose, that Spinrobin felt the sudden impulse to fly to her assistance. But instantly his great visage broke into a smile like the smile of thunderous clouds when unexpectedly the sun breaks through, then quickly hides itself again.
"Everywhere," he roared, "true things are great and clean.... Have faith... have faith...." And he looked upon them both as though his eyes would sweep from their petty souls all vestige of what was afraid and immature. "We all are—pure ... we all are true ... each calls his note in singleness of heart ... we cannot fail!"
And just here Spinrobin, a little beyond himself with excitement probably, pattered across the room to his giant leader's side and peered up into his visage. He stood on tiptoe, craning his neck forwards, then spoke very low:
"I have the right, we have the right—for I have earned it—to be taken now fully into confidence, and to know everything—everything," came the words; and the reply, simple and immediate, that dropped back upon him through all that tangle of ragged beard was brief and to the point:
"You have. Listen, then—" And he led them both by the hand like two children towards the sofa, and then, standing over them, began to speak.
"I seek," he said slowly and gravely, "the correct utterance of a certain mighty and ineffable name, and in each of those four rooms lies a letter of its first syllable. For all these years of research"—his voice dropped suddenly—"have only brought me to that—the first syllable. And the name itself is composed of four, each more mighty than the last."
A violent trembling ran over both listeners. Spinrobin, holding a cold little hand in his, dreaded unuttered sentences. For if mere letters could spell so vast a message, what must be the meaning of a whole syllable, and what the dire content of the completed name itself!
"Yes," Skale went on with a reverence born of profoundest awe, "the captured sounds I hold are but the opening vibrations of this tremendous name, and the task is of such magnitude that absolute courage and absolute faith are essential. For the sounds are themselves creative sounds, and the consequences in case of faulty utterance might be too appalling to contemplate—"
"Creative!" fell from the little man on the sofa, aghast at the possibility. Yet the one burning question that lay trembling just behind his lips dared not frame itself in words, for there was something in Mr. Skale's face and manner that rendered the asking of it not yet possible. The revelation of the name must wait.
"Even singly, as you saw, their power is terrific," he went on, ignoring the pathetic interruption, "but united—as we shall unite them while each of us utters his letter and summons forth the entire syllable by means of the chord—they will constitute a Word of Power which shall make us as Gods if uttered correctly; if incorrectly, shall pour from this house to consume and alter the surface of the entire world with the destructive tempest due to mispronunciation and a lie."
Miriam nestled closer into her companion's side. There was otherwise no sign outwardly of the emotions that surged through the two little figures upon the sofa.
"And now—now that you have this first syllable complete?" faltered a high and sharing tenor voice.
"We must transfer it to a home where it shall wait in silence and in safety until we have also captured the other remaining three." Skale came forward and lowered his mouth to his companions' ears. "We shall transfer it, as you now understand, by chanting the four letters. Our living chord will summon forth that first syllable into visible form and shape. Our four voices, thus trained and purified, each singing a mighty letter, shall create the astounding pattern of the name's first syllable—"
"But the home," stammered Spinrobin; "this home where it shall await the rest?"
"My rooms," was the reply, "can contain letters only, for a whole syllable I need a larger space. In the crypt-like cellars beneath this house I have the necessary space all ready and prepared to hold this first syllable while we work upon the second. Come, and you shall see!"
They crossed the hall and went down the long stone passage beyond the dining room till they reached a swinging baize door, and so came to the dark stairs that plunged below ground. Skale strode first, Spinrobin following with beating heart; he held Miriam by the hand; his steps, though firm enough, made him think of his efforts as a boy when treading water for solid ground out of his depth.
Cold air met them, yet it was neither dank nor unpleasant as air usually is that has never tasted sunlight. There was a touch of vitality about it wholly remarkable. Miriam pressed closer. Every detail, every little incident that brought them nearer to the climax was now interpreted by these two loving children as something that might eventually spell for them separation. Yet neither referred to it directly. The pain of the ultimate choice possessed them deep within.
"Here," exclaimed the clergyman in a hushed tone that yet woke echoes on all sides, while he lit a candle and held it aloft, "you see the cellar vaults all ready for the first great syllable when our chord shall bring it leaping down from the rooms upstairs. Here will reside the pattern of the name's opening syllable till we shall have accomplished the construction of the others."
And like some august master of forbidden ceremonies, looking twice his natural size as the shadows played tricks with his arms and shoulders, merging his outline into walls and ceiling, Skale stood and looked about him.
Spaces stretched away on all sides as in the crypt of a cathedral, most beautifully and harmoniously draped with the separate colors of the four rooms, red, yellow, violet and green; immense gongs, connected apparently with some intricate network of shining wires, hung suspended in midair beneath the arches; rising from the floor were gigantic tuning forks, erect and silent, immediately behind which gaped artificial air-cavities placed to increase the intensity of the respective notes when caught; and in the dim background the clergyman pointed out an elaborate apparatus for quickly altering the temperature of the air, and another for the rapid production of carbonic acid gas, since by means of a lens of carbonic acid gas sound can be refracted like light, and by changing the temperature of the air that conveys it, sound can be bent, also like a ray of light, in any desired direction. The whole cellar seemed in some way to sum up and synthesize the distinctive characteristics of the four rooms. Over it all, sheeting ceiling and walls, lay the living and receptive wax. Singularly suggestive, too, was the appearance of those huge metal discs, like lifeless, dark faces waiting the signal to open their bronze lips and cry aloud, ready for the advent of the Sound that should give them birth and force them to proclaim their mighty secret. Spinrobin stared, silent and fascinated, almost expecting them to begin there and then their dreadful and appalling music.
Yet the place was undeniably empty; no ghost of a sound stirred the gorgeous draperies; nothing but a faint metallic whispering seemed to breathe out from the big discs and forks and wires as Skale's voice, modulated and hushed though it was, vibrated gently against them. Nothing moved, nothing uttered, nothing lived—as yet.
"Destitute of all presence, you see it now," whispered the clergyman, shading the candle with one huge hand; "though before long, when we transfer our great captured syllable down here, you shall know it alive and singing with a thousand thunders. The Letters shall not escape me. The gongs and colors correspond exactly. They will retain both the sounds and the outlines ... and the wax is sensitive as the heart of a child." And his big face shone quite dreadfully as the whole pomp and splendor of his dream come true set fire to his thoughts.
But Spinrobin was glad when at length they turned and moved slowly again up the stone steps and emerged into the pale December daylight. That dark cellar, wired, draped, waxed and be-gonged, awaiting its mighty occupant, filled his mind with too vast a sensation of wonder and anticipation for peace.
"And for the syllables to follow," Skale resumed when they were once more in the library, "we shall want spaces larger still. There are great holes in these hills"—stretching out an arm to indicate the mountains above the house—"and down yonder in the heart of those cliffs by the sounding sea there are caverns. They are far, but the distance is of no consequence. They will serve us well. I know them. I have marked them. They are ready."
He swept his beard to and fro with one hand. Spinrobin already saw those holes and caverns in the terms of sound and color.
"And—for the entire name—when completed?" he asked, knowing that the question was but a feeble substitute for that other one he burned to ask, yet dared not allow his lips to utter. Skale turned and looked at him. He raised his hands aloft. His voice boomed again as of old.
"The open sky!" he cried with enthusiasm; "the vault of heaven itself! For no solid structure exists in the world, not even the ribs of these old hills, that could withstand the power of that—of that eternal and terrific—"
Spinrobin leapt to his feet. The question swept from his lips at last like a flame. Miriam clung to his arm, trying in vain to stop him.
"Then tell me," he cried aloud, "tell me, you great blasphemer, whose is the Name that you seek to utter under heaven ... and tell me why it is my soul faints and is so fearfully afraid?"
Mr. Skale looked at him for a moment as a man might look at some trifling phenomenon of life that puzzled yet interested him. But there was love in his eyes—love, and the forgiveness of a great soul. Spinrobin, afraid at his own audacity, met his eyes recklessly, while Miriam peered from one to the other, perplexed and questioning.
"Spinrobin," said the clergyman at length, in a voice turned soft and tender with compassion, "the name I seek—this awful name we may all eventually utter together, completely formed—is one that no living man has spoken for nigh two thousand years, though all this time the search has been kept alive by a few men in every age and every country of the world. Some few, they say—ah, yes, 'they say'—have found it, then instantly forgotten it again; for once pronounced it may not be retained, but goes utterly lost to the memory on the instant. Only once, so far as we may know"—he lowered his voice to a hushed and reverent whisper that thrilled about them in the air like the throbbing of a string—"has it been preserved: the Prophet of Nazareth, purer and simpler than all other men, recovered the correct utterance of the first two syllables, and swiftly—very swiftly—phonetically, too, of necessity,—wrote them down before the wondrous memory had time to fade; then sewed the piece of parchment into his thigh, and hence 'had Power' all his life.
"It is a name," he continued, his tone rising to something of its old thunder, "that sounds like the voice of many waters, that piles the ocean into standing heaps and makes the high hills to skip like little lambs. It is a name the ancient Hebrews concealed, as Tetragrammaton, beneath a thousand devices, the name, they said, that 'rusheth through the universe,' to call upon which—that is, to utter correctly—is to call upon that name which is far above all others that can be named—"
He paused midway in the growing torrent of his speech and lifted his companion out of the sofa. He set him upon his feet, holding both his hands and peering deep into his eyes—those bewildered yet unflinching blue eyes of the little man who sought terrific adventure as an escape from insignificance—
"—to know which," he added, in a sudden awed whisper, "is to know the ultimate secrets of life and death, and to read the riddle of the world and the soul—to become even as itself—Gods."
He stopped abruptly, and again that awful, flaming smile ran over his face, flushing it from chin to forehead with the power of his burning and tremendous belief.
Spinrobin was already weeping inwardly, without sound. He understood at last, only too well, what was coming. Skale's expression held the whole wild glory, and the whole impious audacity of what seemed his blasphemous spiritual discovery. The fires were alight in his eyes. He stooped down lower and opened wide his capacious arms. The next second, Spinrobin, Miriam, and Mrs. Mawle, who had unexpectedly come upon them from behind, were gathered all together against his breast. His voice then dropped suddenly to a tiny whisper of awful joy that seemed to creep from his lips like some message too mighty to be fully known, and half lost itself among the strands of his beard.
"My wonderful redeemed children, notes in my human chord," he whispered over their heads, "it is the Name that shall make us as God, for it is none other than the Name that rusheth through the universe"—his breath failed him most curiously for an instant—"the NAME OF THE ALMIGHTY!"
A certain struggling incoherence is manifest in Spinrobin's report of it all, as of a man striving to express violent thoughts in a language he has not yet mastered. It is evident, for instance, as those few familiar with the "magical" use of sound in ceremonial and the power that resides in "true naming" will realize, that he never fully understood Skale's intended use of the chord, or why this complex sound was necessary for the utterance of the complex "Name."
Moreover, the powers concealed in the mere letters, while they laid hold upon his imagination, never fully entered his understanding. Few minds, it seems, can conceive of any deity as other than some anthropomorphic extension of themselves, for the idea is too greatly blinding to admit human thought within a measurable distance even of a faintest conception. The true, stupendous nature of the forces these letters in the opening syllable clothed, Spinrobin unquestionably never apprehended. Miriam, with her naked and undefiled intuitions, due to utter ignorance of worldly things from birth, came nearer to the reality; but then Miriam was now daily more and more caught up into the vortex of a sweet and compelling human love, and in proportion as this grew she feared the great experiment that might—so Spinrobin had suggested—spell Loss. Gradually dread closed the avenues of her spirit that led so fearfully to Heaven; and in their place she saw the dear yet thorny paths that lay with Spinny upon the earth.
They no longer, these two bewildered loving children, spoke of one another in the far-fetched terminology of sound and music. He no longer called her his "brilliant little sound," nor did she respond with "you perfect echo"; they fell back—sign of a gradual concession to more human things—upon the gentler terminology, if the phrase may be allowed, of Winky. They shared Winky between them ... though neither one nor other of them divined yet what Winky actually meant in their just-opening lives.
"Winky is yours," she would say, "because you made him, but he belongs to me too, because he simply can't live without me!"
"Or I without you, Little Magic," he whispered, laughing tenderly. "So, you see, we are all three together."
Her face grew slightly troubled.
"He only pays me visits, though. Sometimes I think you hide him, or tell him not to come." And far down in her deep grey eyes swam the first moisture of rising tears. "Don't you, my wonderful Spinny?"
"Sometimes I forget him, perhaps," he replied gravely, "but that is only when I think of what may be coming if—the experiment succeeds—"
"Succeeds?" she exclaimed. "You mean if it fails!" Her voice dropped instinctively, and they looked over their shoulders to make sure they were alone.
He came up very close to her and spoke in her small pink ear. "If it succeeds," he whispered, "we go to Heaven, I suppose; if it fails we stay upon the earth." Then he stood off, holding her hands at arm's length and gazing down upon her. "Do you want to go to Heaven?" he asked very deliberately, "or to stay here upon the earth with me and Winky—?"
She was in his arms the same second, laughing and crying with the strange conflict of new and inexplicable emotions.
"I want to be with you here, and forever. Heaven frightens me now. But—oh, Spinny, dear protecting thing, I want—I also want—" She broke off abruptly, and Spinrobin, unable to see her face buried against his shoulder, could not guess whether she was laughing or weeping. He only divined that something in her heart, profound as life itself, something she had never been warned to conceal, was clamoring for comprehension and satisfaction.
"Miriam, tell me exactly. I'm sure I shall understand—"
"I want Winky to be with us always—not only sometimes—on little visits," he heard between the broken breathing.
"I'll tell him—"
"But there's no good telling him," she interrupted almost fiercely, "it is me you must tell...."
Spinrobin's heart sank within him. She was in pain and he could not quite understand. He pressed her hard against him, keeping silence.
Presently she lifted her face from his coat, and he saw the tears of mingled pain and happiness in her eyes—the eyes of this girl-woman who knew not the common ugly standards of life because no woman had ever told them to her.
"You see, Winky is not really mine unless I have some share in making him too," she said very softly. "When I have made him too, then he will stay forever with us, I think."
And Spinrobin, beginning to understand, knowing within him that singular exultation of triumphant love which comes to a pure man when he meets the mother-to-be of his firstborn, lowered his own face very reverently to hers, and kissed her on the cheeks and eyes—saying nothing, and vaguely wondering whether the awful name that Skale sought with so much thunder and lightning, did not lie at that very moment, sweetly singing its divinest message, between the contact of this pair of youthful lips, the lips of himself and Miriam.
And Philip Skale, meanwhile, splendid and independent of all common obstacles, thundered along his tempestuous mad way, regardless and ignorant of all signs of disaffection. The rest of that week—a week of haunting wonder and beauty—was devoted to the carrying out of the strange program. It is not possible to tell in detail the experience of each separate room. Spinrobin does it, yet only succeeds in repeating himself; and, as has been seen, his powers failed even in that first chamber of awe. The language does not exist in which adventures so remote from normal experience can be clothed without straining the mind to the verge of the unintelligible. It appears, however, that each room possessed its color, note and form, which later were to issue forth and combine in the even vaster pattern, chord and outline which should include them all.
Even the thought of it strained the possibilities of belief and the resources of the imagination.... His soul fluttered and shrank.
They continued the processes of prayer and fasting Skale had ordained as the time for the experiment drew near, and the careful vibratory utterance of the "word" belonging to each room, the vibrations of which threw their inner selves into a condition of safe—or comparatively safe—receptivity. But Spinrobin no longer said his prayers, for the thought that soon he was to call upon the divine and mighty name in reality prevented his doing so in the old way of childhood—nominally. He feared there might come an answer.
He literally walked the dizzy edge of precipices that dropped over the edge of the world. The incoherence of all this traffic with sound and name had always bewildered him, even to the point of darkness, whereas now it did more, it appalled him in some sense that was monstrous and terrifying. Yet, while weak with terror when he tried to face the possible results, and fevered with the notion of entering some new condition (even though one of glory) where Miriam might no longer be as he now knew her, it was the savage curiosity he felt that prevented his coming to a definite decision and telling Mr. Skale that he withdrew from the whole affair.
Then the idea grew in his mind that the clergyman was obsessed by some perverted spiritual force, some "Devil" who deceived him, and that the name he sought to pronounce was after all not good—not God. His thoughts, fears, hopes, all became hopelessly entangled, through them one thing alone holding clear and steady—the passionate desire to keep Miriam as she was now, and to be with her forever. His mind played tricks with him too. Day and night the house echoed with new sounds; the very walls grew resonant; the entire building, buried away among these desolate hills, trembled as though he were imprisoned within the belly of some monstrous and gigantic fiddle.
Mr. Skale, too, began to change, it seemed. While physically he increased, as it were, with the power of his burning enthusiasm, his beard longer and more ragged, his eyes more luminous, and his voice shaking through the atmosphere almost like wind, his personality, in some curious fashion, seemed at the same time to retire and become oddly tinged with a certain remoteness from reality. Spinrobin once or twice caught himself wondering if he were not after all some legendary or pagan figure, some mighty character of dream or story, and that presently he, Spinrobin, would awake and write down the most wonderful vision the world had ever known. His imagination, it will be seen, was affected in more ways than one....
With a tremendous earnestness the clergyman went about the building, down the long dark corridors and across the halls, his long soft strides took him swiftly everywhere; his mere presence charged with some potent force that betrayed itself in the fire of his eyes and the flush of his cheeks.
Spinrobin thought of him as some daring blasphemer, knocking at a door in the sky. The sound of that knocking ran all about the universe. And when the door opened, the heavens would roll back like an enormous, flat curtain....
"Any moment almost," Skale whispered to him, smiling, "the day may be upon us. Keep yourself ready—and—in tune."
And Spinrobin, expecting a thunderclap in his sleep, but ever plucky, answered in his high-pitched voice, "I'm ready, Mr. Philip Skale, I'm ready! I'm game too!" when, truthfully speaking, perhaps, he was neither one nor other.
He would start up from sleep in the nighttime at the least sound, and the roar of the December gales about the house became voices of portent that conveyed far more than the mere rushing of inarticulate winds....
"When the hour comes—and it is close at hand—we shall not fail to know it," said Skale, pallid with excitement. "The Letters will be out upon us. They will live! But with an intense degree of exuberant life far beyond what we know as life—we, in our puny, sense-limited bodies!" And the scorn in his voice came from the center of his heart. "For what we hear as sound is only a section," he cried, "only a section of sound-vibrations—as they exist."
"The vibrations our ears can take are very small, I know," interpolated Spinrobin, cold at heart, while Miriam, hiding behind chairs and tables that offered handy protection, watched with mingled anxiety and confidence, knowing that in the last resort her adorable and "wonderful Spinny" would guide her aright. Love filled her heart, ousting that other portentous Heaven!
And then Skale announced that the time was ready for rehearsals.
"Let us practice the chord," he said, "so that when the moment comes suddenly upon us, in the twinkling of an eye, in the daytime or in the night, we shall be prepared, and each shall fly to his appointed place and utter his appointed note."
The reasons for these definite arrangements he did not pretend to explain, for they belonged to a part of his discovery that he kept rigidly to himself; and why Spinrobin and Miriam were to call their notes from the corridor itself, while Skale boomed his great bass in the prepared cellar, Mrs. Mawle chanting her alto midway in the hall, acting as a connecting channel in some way, was apparently never made fully clear. In Spinrobin's imagination it was very like a practical illustration of the written chord, the notes rising from the bass clef to the high soprano—the cellar to the attic, so to speak. But, whatever the meaning behind it, Skale was exceedingly careful to teach to each of them his and her appointed place.
"When the Letters move of themselves, and make the first sign," he repeated, "we shall know it beyond all doubt or question. At any moment of the day or night it may come. Each of you then hasten to your appointed place and wait for the sound of my bass in the cellar. There will be no mistake about it; you will hear it rising through the building. Then, each in turn, as it reaches you, lift your voices and call your notes. The chord thus rising through the building will gather in the flying Letters: it will unite them; it will summon them down to the fundamental master-tone I utter in the cellar. The moment the Letter summoned by each particular voice reaches the cellar, that voice must cease its utterance. Thus, one by one, the four mighty Letters will come to rest below. The gongs will vibrate in sympathetic resonance; the colors will tremble and respond; the finely drawn wires will link the two, and the lens of gas will lead them to the wax, and the record of the august and terrible syllable will be completely chained. At any desired moment afterwards I shall be able to reawaken it. Its phonetic utterance, its correct pronunciation, captured thus in the two media of air and ether, sound and light, will be in my safe possession, ready for use.
"But"—and he looked down upon his listeners with a dreadful and impressive gravity that yet only just concealed the bursting exultation the thought caused him to feel—"remember that once you have uttered your note, you will have sucked out from the Letter a portion of its own terrific life and force, which will immediately pass into yourself. You will instantly absorb this, for you will have called upon a mighty name—the mightiest—and your prayer will have been answered." He stooped and whispered as in an act of earnest prayer, "We shall be as Gods!"
Something of cold splendor, terribly possessing, came close to them as he spoke the words; for this was no empty phrase. Behind it lay the great drive of a relentless reality. And it struck at the very root of the fear that grew every moment more insistent in the hearts of the two lovers. They did not want to become as gods. They desired to remain quietly human and to love!
But before either of them could utter speech, even had they dared, the awful clergyman continued; and nothing brought home to them more vividly the horrible responsibility of the experiment, and the results of possible failure, than the few words with which he concluded.
"And to mispronounce, to utter falsely, to call inaccurately, will mean to summon into life upon the world—and into the heart of the utterer—that which is incomplete, that which is not God—Devils!—devils of that subtle Alteration which is destruction—the devils of a Lie."
* * * * *
And so for hours at a time they rehearsed the sounds of the chord, but very softly, lest the sound should rise and reach the four rooms and invite the escape of the waiting Letters prematurely.
Mrs. Mawle, holding the bit of paper on which her instructions were clearly written, was as eager almost as her master, and as the note she had to utter was practically the only one left in the register of her voice, her deafness provided little difficulty.
"Though when the letters awake into life and cry aloud," said Skale, beaming upon her dear old apple-skinned face, "it will be in tones that even the deaf shall hear. For they will spell a measure of redemption that shall destroy in a second of time all physical disabilities whatsoever...."
It was at this moment Spinrobin asked a question that for days had been hovering about his lips. He asked it gravely, hesitatingly, even solemnly, while Miriam hung upon the answer with an anxiety as great as his own.
"And if any one of us fails," he said, "and pronounces falsely, will the result affect all of us, or only the utterer?"
"The utterer only," replied the clergyman. "For it is his own spirit that must absorb the forces and powers invoked by the sound he utters."
He took the question lightly, it seemed. The possibility of failure was too remote to be practical.
But Spinrobin was hardly prepared for the suddenness of the denouement. He had looked for a longer period of preparation, with the paraphernalia of a considerable, even an august ceremony. Instead, the announcement came with an abrupt simplicity that caught him with a horrid shock of surprise. He was taken wholly unawares.
"The only thing I fear," Mr. Skale had confided to them, "is that the vibrations of our chord may have already risen to the rooms and cause a premature escape. But, even so, we shall have ample warning. For the deaf, being protected from the coarser sounds of earth, are swift to hear the lightest whispers from Heaven. Mrs. Mawle will know. Mrs. Mawle will instantly warn us...."
And this, apparently, was what happened, though not precisely as Mr. Skale had intended, nor with the margin for preparation he had hoped. It was all so swift and brief and shattering, that to hear Spinrobin tell it makes one think of a mass of fireworks that some stray spark has sent with blazing explosion into the air, to the complete loss of the calculated effect had they gone off seriatim as intended.
And in the awful stress of excitement there can be no question that Spinny acted out of that subconscious region of the mind which considers and weighs deeds before passing them on to the surface mind, translating them into physical expression and thinking itself responsible for the whole operation. The course he adopted was thus instinctive, and, since he had no time to judge, blameless.
Neither he nor Miriam had any idea really that their minds, subconsciously, were already made up. Yet only that morning he had been talking with her, skirting round the subject as they always did, ashamed of his doubts about success, and trying to persuade her, and, therefore, himself, that the path of duty lay in following their leader blindly to the very end.
He had seen her on the stairs ahead of him, and had overtaken her quickly. He drew her down beside him, and they sat like two children perched on the soft-carpeted steps.
"It's coming, you know," he said abruptly, "the moment's getting very close."
He felt the light shudder that passed through her into himself. She turned her face to him and he saw the flush of excitement painted in the center of the usually pale cheeks. He thought of some rare flower, delicately exotic, that had sprung suddenly into blossom from the heart of the bleak December day, out of the very boards whereon they sat.
"We shall then be as gods," he added, "filled with the huge power of those terrific Letters. And that is only the beginning." In himself he was striving to coax a fading enthusiasm, and to pour it into her. Her little hand stole into his. "We shall be a sort of angel together, I suppose. Just think of it...!" His voice was not as thrilling as it ought to have been, for very human notes vibrated down below in the part he tried to keep back. He saw the flush fade from her cheeks, and the pallor spread. "You and I, Miriam—something tremendous together, greater than any other man and woman in the whole world. Think of it, dear baby; just think of it...!"
A tiny frown gathered upon her forehead, darkening the grey eyes with shadows.
"But—lose our Winky!" she said, nestling against his coat, her voice singularly soft, her fingers scratching gently the palm of his hand where they lay.
"Hush, hush!" he answered, kissing her into silence. "We must have more faith. I think everything will be all right. And there is no reason why we should lose our Winky," he added, very tenderly, smothering the doubt as best he could, "although we may find his name changed. Like the rest of us, he will get a 'new name' I suppose."
"Then he won't be our Winky any longer," she objected, with a touch of obstinacy that was very seductive. "We shall all be different. Perhaps we shall be too wonderful to need each other any more.... Oh, Spinny, you precious thing my life needs, think of that! We may be too wonderful even to care!"
Spinrobin turned and faced her. He tried to speak with authority and conviction, but he was a bad actor always. He met her soft grey eyes, already moist and shining with a tenderness of love beyond belief, and gazed into them with what degree of sternness he could.
"Miriam," he said solemnly, "is it possible that you do not want us to be as gods?"
Her answer came this time without hesitation. His pretended severity only made her happy, for nothing could intimidate by a hair's breadth this exquisite first love of her awakening soul.
"Some day, perhaps, oh, my sweet Master," she whispered with trembling lips, "but not now. I want to be on earth first with you—and with our Winky."
To hear that precious little voice call him "sweet Master" was almost more than he could bear. He made an effort, however, to insist upon this fancied idea of "duty" to Skale; though everything, of course, betrayed him—eyes, voice, gestures.
"But we owe it to Mr. Skale to become as gods," he faltered, trying to make the volume of his voice atone for its lack of conviction.
And it was then she uttered the simple phrase that utterly confounded him, and showed him the new heaven and new earth wherein he and she and Winky already lived.
"I am as God now," she said simply, the whole passion of a clean, strong little soul behind the words. "You have made me so! You love me!"
The same moment, before they could speak or act, Skale was upon them from behind with a roar.
"Practicing your splendid notes together!" he cried, thundering down the steps past them, three at a time, clothed for the first time in the flowing scarlet robe he usually wore only in the particular room where his own "note" lived. "That's capital! Sing it together in your hearts and in your souls and in your minds; and the more the better!"
He swept by them like a storm, vanishing through the hall below like some living flame of fire. They both understood that he wore that robe for protection, and that throughout the house the heralds of the approaching powers of the imprisoned Letters were therefore already astir. His steps echoed below them in the depths of the building as he descended to the cellar, intent upon some detail of the appalling consummation that drew every minute nearer.
They turned and faced one another, breathless a little. Tenderness and terror shone plainly in their eyes, but Spinrobin, ever an ineffectual little man, and with nothing of the "Master" really in his composition anywhere, found no word to speak. That sudden irruption of the terrific clergyman into their intimate world had come with an effect of dramatic and incalculable authority. Like a blast of air that drives the furnace to new heat and turns the metal white, his mind now suddenly saw clear and sure. The effect of the incident was too explosive, however, for him to find expression. Action he found in a measure, but no words. He took Miriam passionately into his arms as they stood there in the gathering dusk upon the staircase of that haunted and terrible building, and Miriam it was who found the words upon which they separated and went quietly away to the solitude each needed for the soul.
"We'll leave the gods alone," she said with gentle decision, yet making it seem as though she appealed to his greater strength and wisdom to decide; "I want nothing but you—you and Winky. And all you really want is me."
But in his room he heard the vibrations of the clergyman's voice rising up through the floor and walls as he practiced in the cellar the sounds with which the ancient Hebrews concealed the Tetragrammaton: YOD—HE—VAU—HE: JEHOVAH—JAHVE—of which the approaching great experiment, however, concerned itself only with the opening vibrations of the first letter—YOD....
And, as he listened, he hesitated again ... wondering after all whether Miriam was right.
It was towards the end of their short silent dinner that very night—the silence due to the fact that everybody was intently listening—when Spinrobin caught the whisper of a singular faint sound that he took first to be the rising of wind. The wind sometimes came down that way with curious gulps from the terraces of the surrounding moors. Yet in this sound was none of that rush and sigh that the hills breed. It did not drop across the curves of the world; it rose from the center.
He looked up sharply, then at once realized that the sound was not outside at all, but inside—inside the very room where he sat facing Skale and Miriam. Then something in his soul recognized it. It was the first wave in an immense vibration.
Something stretched within him as foam stretches on the elastic side of a heaped Atlantic roller, retreated, then came on again with a second gigantic crest. The rhythm of the huge sound had caught him. The life in him expanded awfully, rose to far summits, dropped to utter depths. A sense of glowing exaltation swept through him as though wings of power lifted his heart with enormous ascendancy. The biggest passions of his soul stirred—the sweetest dreams, yearnings, aspirations he had ever known were blown to fever heat. Above all, his passion for Miriam waxed tumultuous and possessed him.
Mr. Skale dropped his fruit knife and uttered a cry, but a cry of so peculiar a character that Spinrobin thought for a moment he was about to burst into song. At the same instant he stood up, and his chair fell backwards with a crash upon the floor. Spinrobin stood up too. He asserts always that he was lifted up. He recognized no conscious effort of his own. It was at this point, moreover, that Miriam, pale as linen, yet uttering no sound and fully mistress of herself, left her side of the table and ran round swiftly to the protection of her lover.
She came close up. "Spinny," she said, "it's come!"
Thus all three were standing round that dinner table on the verge of some very vigorous action not yet disclosed, as people, vigilant and alert, stand up at a cry of fire, when the door from the passage opened noisily and in rushed Mrs. Mawle, surrounded by an atmosphere of light such as might come from a furnace door suddenly thrown wide in some dark foundry. Only the light was not steady; it was whirling.
She ran across the floor as though dancing—the dancing of a child—propelled, it seemed, by an irresistible drive of force behind; while with her through the opened door came a roaring volume of sound that was terrible as Niagara let loose, yet at the same time exquisitely sweet, as birds or children singing. Upon these two incongruous qualities Spinrobin always insists.
"The deaf shall hear—!" came sharply from the clergyman's lips, the sentence uncompleted, for the housekeeper cut him short.
"They're out!" she cried with a loud, half-frightened jubilance; "Mr. Skale's prisoners are bursting their way about the house. And one of them," she added with a scream of joy and terror mingled, "is in my throat...!"
If the odd phrase she made use of stuck vividly in Spinrobin's memory, the appearance she presented impressed him even more. For her face was shining and alight, radiant as when Skale had called her true name weeks before. Flashes of flame-like beauty ran about the eyes and mouth; and she looked eighteen—eternally eighteen—with a youth that was permanent and unchanging. Moreover, not only was hearing restored to her, but her left arm, withered for years, was in the act of pointing to the ceiling, instinct with vigorous muscular life. Her whole presentment was splendid, intense—redeemed.
"The deaf hear!" repeated Skale in a shout, and was across the room with the impetus of a released projectile. "The Letters are out and alive! To your appointed places! The syllable has caught us! Quick, quick! If you love your soul and truth ... fly!"
Deafening thunders rushed and crashed and blew about the room, interpenetrated everywhere at the same time by that searching strain of sweetness Spinrobin had first noticed. The sense of life, running free and abundant, was very remarkable. The same moment he found his hand clasped, and felt himself torn along by the side of the rushing clergyman into the hall. Behind them "danced" Mrs. Mawle, her cap awry, her apron flying, her elastic-side boots taking the light, dancing step of youth. With quick, gliding tread Miriam, still silent, was at his heels. He remembers her delicate, strange perfume reaching him faintly through all the incredible turmoil of that impetuous exit.
In the hall the roar increased terrifically about his ears. Skale, in his biggest booming voice, was uttering the names of Hebrew "angels"—invoking forces, that is, to his help; and behind him Mrs. Mawle was singing—singing fragments apparently of the "note" she had to utter, as well as fragments of her own "true name" thus magically recovered. Her restored arm gyrated furiously, her tripping youth spelt witchery. Yet the whole madness of the scene came to Spinrobin with a freezing wind of terror; for about it was a lawless, audacious blasphemy, that must surely win for itself a quite appalling punishment....
Yet nothing happened at once—nothing destructive, at least. Skale and the housekeeper, he saw, were hurriedly robing themselves in the red and yellow surplices that hung from nails in the hall, and the instinct to laugh at the sight was utterly overwhelmed when he remembered that these were the colors which were used for safety in their respective "rooms." ... It was a scene of wild confusion and bewilderment which the memory refuses to reproduce coherently. In his own throat already began a passionate rising of sound that he knew was the "note" he had to utter attempting to escape, summoned forth automatically by these terrible vibrating Letters in the air. A cataract of sound seemed to fill the building and made it shake to its very foundations.
But the hall, he saw, was not only alive with "music," it was ablaze with light—a white and brilliant glory that at first dazzled him to the point of temporary blindness.
The same second Mr. Skale's voice, storming its way somehow above the tumult, made itself heard:
"To the rooms upstairs, Spinrobin! To the corridor with Miriam! And when you hear my voice from the cellar—utter! We may yet be in time to unite the Letters...!"
He released the secretary's hand, flinging it from him, and was off with a bounding, leaping motion like an escaped animal towards the stone passage that led to the cellar steps; and Spinrobin, turning about himself like a top in a perfect frenzy of bewilderment, heard his great voice as he disappeared round the corner:
"It has come upon me like a thief in the night! Before I am fully prepared it has called me! May the powers of the Name have mercy upon my soul...!" And he was gone. For the last time had Spinrobin set his eyes upon the towering earthly form of the Rev. Philip Skale.
Then, at first, it seems, the old enthusiasm caught him, and with him, therefore, caught Miriam, too. That savage and dominant curiosity to know clutched him, overpowering even the assaults of a terror that fairly battered him. Through all the chaos and welter of his dazed mind he sought feverishly for the "note" he had to utter, yet found it not, for he was too horribly confused. Fiddles, sand-patterns, colored robes, gongs, giant tuning-forks, wax-sheeted walls, aged-faces-turned-young and caverns-by-the-sea jostled one another in his memory with a jumble of disproportion quite inextricable.
Next, impelled by that driving sense of duty to Skale, he turned to the girl at his side: "Can you do it?" he cried.
Unable to make her voice heard above the clamor she nodded quickly in acquiescence. Spinrobin noticed that her little mouth was set rather firmly, though there was a radiance about her eyes and features that made her sweetly beautiful. He remembers that her loveliness and her pluck uplifted him above all former littlenesses of hesitation; and, seizing her outstretched hand, they flew up the main staircase and in less than a minute reached the opening of the long corridor where the rooms were.
Here, however, they stopped with a gasp, for a hurricane of moving air met them in the face like the draught from some immense furnace. Again the crest of a wave in the colossal sound-vibration had caught them. Staggering against the wall, they tried again and again to face the tempest of sound and light, but the space beyond them was lit with the same unearthly brilliance as the hall, and out of the whole long throat of that haunted corridor issued such a passion of music and such a torrent of gorgeous color, that it seemed impossible for any aggregation of physical particles—least of all poor human bodies—to remain coherent for a single instant before the concentrated onslaught.
Yet, game to the inmost core of his little personality, and raised far above his normal powers by the evidence of Miriam's courage and fidelity, he struggled with all his might and searched through the chambers of his being for the note he was ordained to utter in the chord. The ignominy of failure, now that the great experiment was full upon him—failure in Miriam's eyes, too—was simply impossible to contemplate. Yet, in spite of every effort, the memory of that all-important note escaped him utterly, for the forces of his soul floundered, helpless and disheveled, before the too mighty splendors that were upon him at such close quarters. The sounds he actually succeeded in emitting between dry and quivering lips were pitiful and feeble beyond words.
Down that living corridor, meanwhile, he saw the doors of the four rooms were gone, consumed like tissue paper; and through the narrow portals there shouldered forward, bathed in light ineffable, the separate outlines of the Letters so long imprisoned in inactivity. And with their appearance the sounds instantly ceased, having overpassed the limits of what is audible to human ears. A great stillness dropped about them with an abrupt crash of utter silence. For a "crash" of silence it was—all-shattering.
And then, from the categories of the incomprehensible and unmanifest, "something" loomed forth towards them where, limp and shaking, they leaned against the wall, and they witnessed the indescribable operation by which the four Letters, whirling and alive, ran together and melted into a single terrific semblance of a FORM ... the sight of which entered the heart of Spinrobin and threatened to split it asunder with the joy of the most sublime terror and adoration a human soul has ever known.
And the whole gigantic glory of Skale's purpose came upon him like a tempest. The magnificent effrontery by which the man sought to storm his way to heaven again laid its spell upon him. The reaction was of amazing swiftness. It almost seemed as though time ceased to operate, so instantaneously did his mood pass from terror to elation—wild, ecstatic elation that could dare anything and everything to share in the awful delight and wonder of Skale's transcendent experiment.
And so, forgetting himself and his little disabilities of terror and shrinking, he sought once again for the note he was to utter in the chord. And this time he found it.
Very faintly, yet distinctly audible in the deep stillness, it sounded far away down in the deeps of his being. And, with a splendid spiritual exultation tearing and swelling in his heart, he turned at once triumphantly to Miriam beside him.
"Utter your note too!" he cried. "Utter it with mine, for any moment now we shall hear the command from the cellar.... Be ready...!"
And the FORM, meanwhile, limned in the wonder of an undecipherable or at least untranslatable geometry, silently roaring, enthroned in the undiscoverable colors beyond the spectrum, swept towards them as he spoke.
At the same instant Miriam answered him, her exquisite little face set like a rock, her marble pallor painted with the glory of the approaching splendors. Just when the moment of success was upon them; when the flying Letters were abroad; when all the difficult weeks of preparation were face to face with the consummation; and when any moment Skale's booming bass might rise from the bowels of the building as the signal to utter the great chord and unite the fragments of the first divine syllable; when Spinrobin had at last conquered his weakness and recovered his note—then, at this decisive and supreme moment, Miriam asserted herself and took the reins of command.
"No," she said, looking with sudden authority straight into his eyes, "no! I will not utter the note. Nor shall you utter yours!" And she clapped her little hand tight upon his mouth.
In that instant of unutterable surprise the two great forces of his life and personality met together with an explosive violence wholly beyond his power to control. For on the one hand lay the fierce enticement of Skale's heaven, with all that it portended, and on the other the deep though temporarily submerged human passion of his love for the girl. Miriam's sudden action revealed the truth to him better than any argument. In a flash he realized that her choice was made, and that she was in entire and final revolt against the whole elaborate experiment and all that it involved. The risk of losing her Spinny, or finding him changed in some condition of redemption where he would no longer be the little human thing she so dearly loved, had helped her to this final, swift conclusion.
With her hand tight over his lips, and her face of white decision before him, he understood. She called him with those big grey eyes to the sweet and common uses of life, instead of to the heights of some audacious heaven where they might be as gods with Philip Skale. She clung to humanity. And Spinrobin, seeing her at last with spiritual eyes fully opened, knew finally that she was right.
"But oh," he always cries, "in that moment I knew the most terrible choice I have ever had to make, for it was not a choice between life and death, but a choice between two lives, each of infinite promised wonder. And what do you think it was that decided me, and made me choose the wholesome, humble life with little Miriam in preference to the grandeur of Skale's vast dream? What do you think?" And his face always turns pink and then flame-colored as he asks it, hesitating absurdly before giving the answer. "I'll tell you, because you'd never guess in this world." And then he lowers his voice and says, "It was the delicious little sweet perfume of her fingers as she held them over my lips....!"
That delicate, faint smell was the symbol of human happiness, and through all the whirlwind of sound and color about him, it somehow managed to convey its poignant, searching message of the girl's utter love straight into his heart. Thus curiously out of proportion and insignificant, indeed, are sometimes the decisive details that in moments of overwhelming experience turn the course of life's river this way or that....
With a single wild cry in his soul that found no audible expression, he gave up the unequal struggle. He turned, and with Miriam by his side, flew down the corridor from the advent of the Immensity that was upon them—from the approach of the escaping Letters.
How Spinrobin found his way out of that sound-stricken house remains an unsolved mystery. He never understood it himself; he remembers only that when they reached the ground floor the vibrations of Skale's opening bass note had already begun. Its effect, too, was immediately noticeable. For the roar of the escaping Letters, which upstairs had reached so immense a volume as to be recognized only in terms of silence, now suddenly grew in a measure harnessed and restrained. Their vibration became reduced—down closer to the sixteen-foot wavelength which is the limit of human audition. They were being leashed in by the summoning master-tone. They grew once more audible.
On the rising swirl of sound the two humans were swept down passages and across halls, as two leaves are borne by a tempest, and after frantic efforts, in which Spinrobin bruised his body against doors and walls without number, he found himself at last in the open air, and at a considerable distance from the house of terror. Stars shone overhead. He saw the outline of hills. Breaths of cool wind fanned his burning skin and eyes.
But he dared not turn to look or listen. The music of that opening note, now rising through the building from the cellar, might catch him and win him back. The chord in which himself and Miriam were to have uttered their appointed tones, even half-told, was still mighty to overwhelm. Its effect upon the Letters themselves had been immediate.
The feeling that he had proved faithless to Skale, unworthy of the great experiment, never properly attuned to this fearful music of the gods—this was forgotten in the overmastering desire to escape from it all into the safety of common human things with Miriam. Setting his course ever up the hills, he ran on and on, till breath failed him utterly and he was obliged to stop for lack of strength. And it was only then he realized that the whole time the girl had been in his arms. He had been carrying her.
Placing her on the ground, he caught a glimpse of her eyes in the darkness, and saw that they were still charged with the one devouring passion that had made the sacrifice of Skale and of all her training since birth inevitable. Soft and glowing with her first knowledge of love, her grey eyes shone like stars newly risen.
"Come, come!" he whispered hoarsely; "we must get as far as possible—away from it all. Across the hills we shall find safety. Once the splendors overtake us we are lost...."
Seizing her by the hand, they pressed on again, the ocean of sound rising and thundering behind them and below.
Without knowing it, he had taken the path by which the clergyman had brought him from the station weeks ago on the day of his first arrival. With a confused memory, as of a dream, he recognized it. The ground was slippery with dead leaves whose odor penetrated sharply the air of night. Everywhere about him, as they paused from time to time in the little open spaces, the trees pressed up thickly; and ever from the valley they had just left the increasing tide of sound came pouring up after them like the roar of the sea escaping through doors upon the surface of the world.
And even now the marvelous, enticing wonder of it caught him more than once and made him hesitate. The sense of what he was giving up sickened him with a great sudden yearning of regret. The mightiness of that loved leader, lonely and unafraid, trafficking with the principalities and powers of sound, and reckoning without misgiving upon the cooperation of his other "notes"—this plucked fearfully at his heartstrings. But only in great tearing gusts, so to speak, which passed the instant he realized the little breathless, grey-eyed girl at his side, charged with her beautiful love for him and the wholesome ambition for human things.
"Oh! but the heaven we're losing...!" he cried once aloud, unable to contain himself. "Oh, Miriam ... and I have proved unworthy ... small...!"
"Small enough to stay with me forever and ever ... here on the earth," she replied passionately, seizing his hand and drawing him further up the hill. Then she stopped suddenly and gathered a handful of dead leaves, moss, twigs and earth. The exquisite familiar perfume as she held it to his face pierced through him with a singular power of conviction.
"We should lose this," she exclaimed; "there's none of this ... in heaven! The earth, the earth, the dear, beautiful earth, with you ... and Winky ... is what I want!"
And when he stopped her outburst with a kiss, fully understanding the profound truth she so quaintly expressed, he smelt the trees and mountains in her hair, and her fragrance was mingled there with the fragrance of that old earth on which they stood.
The rising flood of sound sent them charging ahead the same minute, for it seemed upon them with a rush; and it was only after much stumbling and floundering among trees and boulders that they emerged into the open space of the hills beyond the woods. Actually, perhaps, they had been running for twenty minutes, but to them it seemed that they had been running for days. They stood still and looked about them.
"You shall never regret, never, never," Miriam whispered quickly. "I can make you happier than all this ever could," and she waved her arm towards the house below. "And you know it, my little Master."
But before he could reply, or do more than place an arm about her waist to support her, something came to pass that communicated its message to their souls with an incalculable certainty neither could explain. Perhaps it was that distance enabled them to distinguish between the sounds more clearly, or perhaps their beings were still so intimately connected with Skale that some psychic warning traveled up to them across the night; but at any rate there then came about this sharp and sudden change in the quality of the sound-tempest round them that proclaimed the arrival of an exceedingly dramatic moment. The nature of the rushing, flying vibrations underwent alteration. And, looking one another in the eyes, they realized what it meant.
"He's beginning ..." faltered Spinrobin in some skeleton of a voice. "Skale has begun to utter...!" He said it beneath his breath.
Down in the cellar of that awful house the giant clergyman, alone and undismayed, had begun to call the opening vibration of the living chord which was to gather in this torrent of escaping Letters and unite them in temporary safety in the crypts of the prepared vault. For the first time in eighteen hundred years the initial sound of the "Name that rusheth through the universe"—the first sound of its opening syllable, that is—was about to thunder its incalculable message over the earth.
Crouching close against each other they stood there on the edge of the woods, the night darkly smothering about them, the bare, open hills lying beyond in the still sky, waiting for the long-apprehended climax—the utterance of the first great syllable.
"It will make him ... as God," crashed the thought through Spinrobin's brain as he experienced the pangs of the fiercest remorse he had ever known. "Even without our two notes the power will be sublime...!"
But, through Miriam's swiftly-beating heart, as she pressed closer and closer: "I know your true name ... and you are mine. What else in heaven or earth can ever matter...?"
Skale had indeed begun to utter. And to these two bewildered children standing there alone with their love upon the mountain, it seemed that the whole world knew.
Those desolate hills that rolled away like waves beneath the stars; the whispering woods about them; the distant sea, eternally singing its own note of sadness; the boulders at their feet; the very stars themselves, listening in the heart of night—one and all were somehow aware that a portion of the great Name which first called them into being was about to issue from the sleep of ages once again into manifestation....Perhaps to quicken them into vaster life, perhaps to change their forms, perhaps to merge them all back into the depths of the original "word" of creation ... with the roar of a dissolving universe....
Through everything, from the heart of the hidden primroses below the soil to the center of the huge moors above, there ran some swift thrill of life as the sounds of which they were the visible expression trembled in sympathetic resonance with the opening vibrations of the great syllable.
Philip Skale had begun to utter. Alone in the cellar of that tempest-stricken house, already aware probably that the upper notes of his chord had failed him, he was at last in the act of calling upon the Name that Rusheth through the Universe ... the syllable whose powers should pass into his own being and make him as the gods....
And, first of all, to the infinite surprise of these two listening, shaking lovers, the roaring thunders that had been battling all about them, grew faint and small, and then dropped away into mere trickles of sound, retreating swiftly down into the dark valley where the house stood, as though immense and invisible leashes drew them irresistibly back. One by one the Letters fled away, leaving only a murmur of incredibly sweet echoes behind them in the hills, as the master-sound, spoken by this fearless and audacious man, gathered them into their appointed places in the cellar.
But if they expected stupendous things to follow they were at first singularly disappointed. For, instead of woe and terror, instead of the foundering of the visible universe, there fell about the listening world a cloak of the most profound silence they had ever known, soft beyond conception. The Name was not in the whirlwind. Out of the heart of that deathly stillness it came—a small, sweet voice, that was undeniably the voice of Philip Skale, its awful thunders all smoothed away. With it, too, like a faint overtone, came the yet gentler music of another voice. The bass and alto were uttering their appointed notes in harmony and without dismay.
Everywhere the sound rose up through the darkness of great distance, yet at the same time ran most penetratingly sweet, close beside them in their very ears. So magically intimate indeed was it, yet so potentially huge for all its soft beginning, that Spinrobin declares that what he heard was probably not the actual voices, but only some high liberated harmonics of them.
The sounds, moreover, were not distinguishable as consonants and vowels in the ordinary sense, and to this day remain for him beyond all reach of possible reproduction. He did not hear them as "word" or "syllable," but as some incalculably splendid Message that was too mighty to be taken in, yet at the same time was sweeter than all imagined music, simple as a little melody "sweetly sung in tune," artless as wind through rustling branches.
And, moreover, as this small, sweet voice ran singing everywhere about them in the darkness of hills and woods, Spinrobin realized, with a whole revolution of wonder sweeping through him, that the sound, for all its gentleness, was at work vehemently upon the surface of the landscape, altering and shifting the pattern of the solid earth, just as the sand had wreathed into outlines at the sound of his own voice weeks ago, and as the form of the clergyman had changed at the vibrations of the test night.
The first letters of the opening syllable of this divine and magical name were passing over the world ... shifting the myriad molecules that composed it by the stress and stir of its vast harmonics ... changing the pattern.
But this time the change was not dreadful; the new outline, even before he actually perceived it, was beautiful above all known forms of beauty. The outer semblance of the old earth appeared to melt away and reveal that heart of clean and dazzling wonder which burns ever at its inmost core—the naked spirit divined by poets and mystics since the beginning of time. It was a new heaven and a new earth that pulsed below them in response to the majesty of this small sweet voice. All nature knew, from the birds that started out of sleep into passionate singing, to the fish that stirred in the depths of the sea, and the wild deer that sprang alert in their wintry coverts, scenting an eternal spring. For the earth rolled up as a scroll, shaking the outworn skin of centuries from her face, and suffering all her rocky structure to drop away and disclose the soft and glowing loveliness of an actual being—a being most tenderly and exquisitely alive. It was the beginning of spiritual vision in their own hearts. The name had set them free. The blind saw—a part of God....
And then, in Spinrobin's heart, the realization of failure—that he was not in his appointed place, following his great leader to the stars, clashed together with the splendor of his deep and simple love for this trembling slip of a girl beside him.
The thought that God, as it were, had called him and he had been afraid to run and answer to his name overpowered his timid, aching soul with such a flood of emotion that he found himself struggling with a glorious temptation to tear down the mountainside again to the house and play his appointed part—utter his note in the chord even thus late. For the essential bitterness and pain that lies at the heart of all transitory earthly things—the gnawing sense of incompleteness and vanity that touches the section of transitory existence men call "life," met face to face with this passing glimpse of reality, timeless and unconditioned, which the sound of the splendid name flashed so terrifically before his awakened soul-vision,—and threatened to overwhelm him.
In another instant he would have yielded and gone; forgotten even Miriam, and all the promised sweetness of life with her half-planned, when something came to pass abruptly that threw his will and all his little calculations into a dark chaos of amazement where, by a kind of electrically swift reaction, he realized that the one true, possible and right thing for him was this very love he was about to cast aside. His highest destiny was upon the unchanged old earth ... with Miriam ... and Winky....
She turned and flung her arms round his neck in a passion of tears as though she had divined his unspoken temptation ... and at the same time this awful new thing was upon them both. It caught them like a tempest. For a disharmony—a discord—a lying sound was loose upon the air from those two voices far below.
"Call me by my true name," she cried quickly, in an anguish of terror; "for my soul is afraid.... Oh, love me most utterly, utterly, utterly ... and save me!"
Unnerved and shaking like a leaf, Spinrobin pressed her against his heart.
"I know you by name and you are mine," he tried to say, but the words never left his lips. It was the love surging up in his tortured heart that alone held him to sanity and prevented—as it seemed to him in that appalling moment—the dissolution of his very being and hers.
For Philip Skale had somewhere uttered falsely.
A darting zigzag crack, as of lightning, ran over the giant fabric of vibrations that covered the altering world as with a flood ... and sounds that no man may hear and not die leaped awfully into being. The suddenness and immensity of the catastrophe blinded these two listening children-souls. Awe and terror usurped all other feelings ... but one. Their love, being born of the spirit, held supreme, insulating them, so to speak, from all invading disasters.
Philip Skale had made a mistake in the pronunciation of the Name.
The results were dreadful and immediate, and from all the surface of the wakening world rose anguished voices. Spinrobin started up, lifting Miriam into his arms. He spun dizzily for a moment between boulders and trees, giving out a great wailing cry, unearthly enough had there been any to hear it. Then he began to run wildly through the thick darkness. In his ear—for her head lay close—he heard her dear voice, between the sobs of collapse, calling his inner name most sweetly; and the sound summoned to the front all in him that was best and manly.
"My sweet Master, my sweet Master!"
But he did not run far. About him on every side the night lifted as though it were suddenly day. He saw the summits of the bleak mountains agleam with the reflection of some great light that rushed upon them from the valley. All the desolate landscape, hesitating like some hovering ocean between the old pattern and the new, seemed to hang suspended amid the desolation of the winter skies. Everything roared. It seemed the ground shook. The very bones of the woods went shuddering together; the hills toppled; and overhead, in some incredible depths of space, boomed sounds as though the heavens split off into fragments and hurled the constellations about the vault to swell these shattering thunders of a collapsing world.
The Letters of that terrible and august Name were passing over the face of the universe—distorted because mispronounced—creative sounds, disheveled and monstrous, because incompletely and incorrectly uttered.
"Put me down," he heard Miriam cry where she lay smothered in his arms, "and we can face everything together, and be safe. Our love is bigger than it all and will protect us...."
"Because it is complete," he cried incoherently in reply, seizing the truth of her thought, and setting her upon the ground; "it includes even this. It is a part of ... the Name ... correctly uttered ... for it is true and pure."
He heard her calling his inner name, and he began forthwith to call her own as they stood there clinging to one another, mingling arms and hair and lips in such a tumult of passion that it seemed as though all this outer convulsion of the world was a small matter compared to the commotion in their own hearts, revolutionized by the influx of a divine love that sought to melt them into a single being.
And as they looked down into the valley at their feet, too bewildered to resist these mighty forces that stole the breath from their throats and the strength from their muscles, they saw with a clearness as of day that the House of Awe in which their love had wakened and matured was passing away and being utterly consumed.
In a flame of white fire, tongued and sheeted, streaked with gulfs of black, and most terribly roaring, it rose with a prodigious crackling of walls and roof towards the sky. Volumes of colored smoke, like hills moving, went with it; and with it, too, went the forms—the substance of their forms, at least, of their "sounds" released—of Philip Skale, Mrs. Mawle, and all the paraphernalia of gongs, drapery, wires, sheeted walls, sand-patterns, and the preparations of a quarter of a century of labor and audacious research. For nothing could possibly survive in such a furnace. The heat of it struck their faces where they stood even here high upon the hills, and the currents of rising wind blew the girl's tresses across his eyes and moved his own feathery hair upon his head. The notes of those leaping flames were like thunder.
"Watch now!" cried Miriam, though he divined the meaning from the gesture of her free hand rather than actually heard the words.
And, leaning their trembling bodies against a great boulder behind them, they then saw in the midst of the conflagration, or hovering dimly above it rather, the vast outlines of the captured sounds—the Letters—escaping back again into the womb of eternal silence from which they had been with such appalling courage evoked. In forms of dazzling blackness they passed upwards in their chariots of flame, yet at the same time passed inwards in some amazing kind of spiral motion upon their own axes, vanishing away with incredible swiftness and beauty deep down into themselves ... and were gone.
Realizing in some long-forgotten fashion of childhood the fearful majesty of the wrath of Jehovah, yet secretly undismayed because each felt so gloriously lost in their wonderful love, the bodies of Miriam and Spinrobin dropped instinctively upon their knees, and, still tightly clasped in one another's arms, bowed their foreheads to the ground, touching the earth and leaves.
But how long they rested thus upon the heart of the old earth, or whether they slept, or whether, possibly, the inevitable reaction to all the overstrain of the past hours led them through a period of unconsciousness, neither of them quite knew. Nor was it possible for them to have known, perhaps, that the lonely valley sheltering the House of Awe, running tongue-like into these desolate hills, had the unenviable reputation of trembling a little in sympathy with any considerable shock of earthquake that came to move that portion of the round globe from her sleep. Of this they knew as little, no doubt, as they did of the ill-defined line of demarcation between experiences that are objective, capable of being weighed and measured, and those that are subjective, taking place—though with convincing authority—only in the sphere of the mind....
All they do know, and Spinrobin tells it with an expression of supreme happiness upon his shining round face, is that at length they stirred as they lay, opened their eyes, turned and looked at one another, then stood up. On Miriam's hair and lashes lay the message of the dew, and in her clear eyes all the soft beauty of the stars that had watched over them.
But the stars themselves had gone. Over the hills ran the colored feet of the dawn, swift and rosy, touching the spread of heathery miles with the tints of approaching sunrise. The tops of the leafless trees stirred gently with a whisper of wind that stole up from the distant sea. The birds were singing. Over the surface of the old earth flew the magical thrill of life. It caught these two children-lovers, sweeping them into each other's arms as with wings.
Out of all the amazing tempest of their recent experiences emerged this ever-growing splendor of their deep and simple love. The kindly earth they had chosen beckoned them down into the valley; the awful heaven they had rejected smiled upon them approvingly, as the old sun topped the hills and peeped upon them with his glorious eye.
"Come, Miriam," breathed Spinrobin softly into her little ear; "we'll go down into another valley ... and live happily together forever and ever...."
"Yes," she murmured, blushing with the rosiness of that exquisite winter's dawn; "... you and I ... and ... and ..."
But Spinrobin kissed the unborn name from her lips. "Hush!" he whispered, "hush!"
For the little "word" between these two was not yet made flesh. But the dawn-wind caught up that "hush" and carried it to the trees and undergrowth about them, and then ran thousand-footed before them to whisper it to the valley where they were going.
And Miriam, knowing the worship and protection in his delicate caress, looked up into his face and smiled—and the smile in her grey eyes was that ancient mother-smile which is coeval with life. For the word of creation flamed in these two hearts, waiting only to be uttered.