The Human Chord

by Algernon Blackwood

Previous Chapter

Chapter 14


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.

Return to the The Human Chord Summary Return to the Algernon Blackwood Library

It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so.