The Human Chord

by Algernon Blackwood

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Chapter 5

"And now you shall hear your own name called," boomed the clergyman with enthusiasm, "and realize the beauty and importance of your own note in the music of life."

And while Spinrobin trembled from head to toe Mr. Skale bore down upon him and laid a hand upon his shoulder. He looked up into the clergyman's luminous eyes. His glance next wandered down the ridge of that masterful nose and lost itself among the flowing strands of the tangled beard. At that moment it would hardly have surprised him to see the big visage disappear, and to hear the Sound, of which it was the visible form, slip into his ears with a roar.

But side by side with the vague terror of the unknown he was conscious also of a smaller and more personal pang. For a man may envy other forms, yet keenly resent the possible loss or alteration of his own. And he remembered the withered arm and the deafness.

"But," he faltered, yet ashamed of his want of courage, "I don't want to lose my present shape, or--come back--without--"

"Have no fear," exclaimed the other with decision. "Miriam and myself have not been experimenting in vain these three weeks. We have found your name. We know it accurately. For we are all one chord, and as I promised you, there is no risk." He stopped, lowering his voice; and, taking the secretary by the arm with a fatherly and possessive gesture, "Spinrobin," he whispered solemnly, "you shall learn the value and splendor of your Self in the melody of the Universe--that burst of divine music! You shall understand how closely linked you are to myself and Mrs. Mawle, but, closest of all, to Miriam. For Miriam herself shall call your name, and you shall hear!"

So little Miriam was to prove his executioner, or his redeemer. That was somehow another matter. The awe with which these experiments of Mr. Skale's inspired him ebbed considerably as he turned and saw the appealing, wistful expression of his other examiner. Brave as a lion he felt, yet timid as a hare; there was no idea of real resistance in him any longer.

"I'm ready, then," he said faintly, and the girl came up softly to his side and sought his face with a frank innocence of gaze that made no attempt to hide her eagerness and joy. She accepted the duty with delight, proudly conscious of its importance.

"I know thee by name and thou art mine," she murmured, taking his hand.

"It makes me happy, yet afraid," he replied in her ear, returning the caress; and at that moment the clergyman who had gone to fetch his violin, returned into the room with a suddenness that made them both start--for the first time. Very slightly, with the first sign of that modesty which comes with knowledge he had yet noticed in her, or felt conscious of in himself, she withdrew, a wonderful flush tinging her pale skin, then passing instantly away.

"To make you feel absolutely safe from possible disaster," Mr. Skale was saying with a smile, "you shall have the assistance of the violin. The pitch and rhythm shall be thus assured. There is nothing to fear."

And Miriam, equally smiling with confidence, led her friend, perplexed and entangled as he was by the whole dream-like and confusing puzzle--led him to the armchair she had just vacated, and then seated herself at his feet upon a high footstool and stared into his eyes with a sweet and irresistible directness of gaze that at once increased both his sense of bewilderment and his confidence.

"First, you must speak my name," she said gently, yet with a note of authority, "so that I may get the note of your voice into myself. Once or twice will do."

He obeyed. "Miriam ... Miriam ... Miriam," he said, and watched the tiny reflection of his own face in her eyes, her "night-eyes." The same moment he began to lose himself. The girl's lips were moving. She had picked up his voice and merged her own with it, so that when he ceased speaking her tones took up the note continuously. There was no break. She carried on the sound that he had started.

And at the same moment, out of the corner of his eye, he perceived that the violin had left its case and was under the clergyman's beard. The bow undulated like a silver snake, drawing forth long, low notes that flowed about the room and set the air into rhythmical vibrations. These vibrations, too, carried on the same sound. Spinrobin gave a little uncontrollable jump; he felt as if he had uttered his own death-warrant and that this instrument proclaimed the sentence. Then the feeling of dread lessened as he heard Mr. Skale's voice mingling with the violin, combining exquisitely with the double-stopping he was playing on the two lower strings; for the music, as the saying is, "went through him" with thrills of power that plunged into unknown depths of his soul and lifted him with a delightful sense of inner expansion to a state where fear was merged in joy.

For some minutes the voice of Miriam, murmuring so close before him that he could feel her very breath, was caught in the greater volume of the violin and bass. Then, suddenly, both Skale and violin ceased together, and he heard her voice emerge alone. With a little rush like that of a singing flame, it dropped down on to the syllables of his name--his ugly and ridiculous outer and ordinary name:

"ROBERTSPINROBIN ... ROBERTSPINROBIN ..." he heard; and the sound flowed and poured about his ears like the murmur of a stream through summer fields. And, almost immediately, with it there came over him a sense of profound peace and security. Very soon, too, he lost the sound itself--did not hear it, as sound, for it grew too vast and enveloping. The sight of Miriam's face also he lost. He grew too close to her to see her, as object. Both hearing and sight merged into something more intimate than either. He and the girl were together--one consciousness, yet two aspects of that one consciousness.

They were two notes singing together in the same chord, and he had lost his little personality, only to find it again, increased and redeemed, in an existence that was larger.

It seemed to Spinrobin--for there is only his limited phraseology to draw from--that the incantation of her singing tones inserted itself between the particles of his flesh and separated them, ran with his blood, covered his skin with velvet, flowed and purred in the very texture of his mind and thoughts. Something in him swam, melted, fused. His inner kingdom became most gloriously extended....

His soul loosened, then began to soar, while something at the heart of him that had hitherto been congealed now turned fluid and alive. He was light as air, swift as fire. His thoughts, too, underwent a change: rose and fell with the larger rhythm of new life as the sound played upon them, somewhat as wind may rouse the leaves of a tree, or call upon the surface of a deep sea to follow it in waves. Terror was nowhere in his sensations; but wonder, beauty and delight ran calling to one another from one wave to the next, as this tide of sound moved potently in the depths of his awakening higher consciousness. The little reactions of ordinary life spun away from him into nothingness as he listened to a volume of sound that was oceanic in power and of an infinite splendor: the creative sound by which God first called him into form and being--the true inner name of his soul.

...Yet he no longer consciously listened... no longer, perhaps, consciously heard. The name of the soul can sound only in the soul, where no speech is, nor any need for such stammering symbols. Spinrobin for the first time knew his true name, and that was enough.

It is impossible to translate into precise language this torrent of exquisite sensation that the girl's voice awakened. In the secret chambers of his imagination Spinrobin found the thoughts, perhaps, that clothed it with intelligible description for himself, but in speaking of it to others he becomes simply semi-hysterical, and talks a kind of hearty nonsense. For the truth probably is that only poetry or music can convey any portion of a mystical illumination, otherwise hopelessly incommunicable. The outer name had acted as a conductor to the inner name beyond. It filled the room, and filled some far vaster space that opened out above the room, about the house, above the earth, yet at the same time was deep, deep down within his own self. He passed beyond the confines of the world into those sweet, haunted gardens where Cherubim and Seraphim--vast Forces--continually do sing. It floated him off his feet as a rising tide overtakes the little shore-pools and floats them into its own greatness, and on the tranquil bosom of these giant swells he rose into a state that was too calm to be ecstasy, yet too glorious to be mere exaltation.

And as his own little note of personal aspiration soared with this vaster music to which it belonged, he felt mounting out of himself into a condition where at last he was alive, complete and splendidly important. His sense of insignificance fled. His ordinary petty and unvalued self dropped away flake by flake, and he realized something of the essential majesty of his own real Being as part of an eternal and wonderful Whole. The little painful throb of his own limited personality slipped into the giant pulse-beat of a universal vibration.

In his normal daily life, of course, he lost sight of this Whole, blinded by the details seen without perspective, mistaking his little personality for all there was of him; but now, as he rose, whirling, soaring, singing in the body of this stupendous music, he understood with a rush of indescribable glory that he was part and parcel of this great chord--this particular chord in which Skale, Mrs. Mawle and Miriam also sang their harmonious existences--that this chord, again, was part of a vaster music still, and that all, in the last resort, was a single note in the divine Utterance of God.

That is, the little secretary, for the first time in his existence, saw life as a whole, and interpreted the vision so wondrous sweet and simple, with the analogies of sound communicated to his subliminal mind by the mighty Skale. Whatever the cause, however, the fine thing was that he saw, heard, knew. He was of value in the scheme. In future he could pipe his little lay without despair.

Moreover, with a merciless clarity of vision, he perceived an even deeper side of truth, and understood that the temporary discords were necessary, just as evil, so-called, is necessary for the greater final perfection of the Whole. For it came to him with the clear simplicity of a child's vision that the process of attuning his being to the right note must inevitably involve suffering and pain: the awful stretching of the string, the strain of the lifting vibrations, the stress at first of sounding in harmony with all the others, and the apparent loss of one's own little note in order to do so...

This point he reached, it seems, and grasped. Afterwards, however, he entered a state where he heard things no man can utter because no language can touch transcendental things without confining or destroying them. In attempting a version of them he merely becomes unintelligible, as has been said. Yet the mere memory of it brings tears to his blue eyes when he tries to speak of it, and Miriam, who became, of course, his chief confidant, invariably took it upon herself to stop his futile efforts with a kiss.

So at length the tide of sound began to ebb, the volume lessened and grew distant, and he found himself, regretfully, abruptly, sinking back into what by comparison was mere noise. First, he became conscious that he listened--heard--saw; then, that Miriam's voice still uttered his name softly, but his ordinary, outer name, Robertspinrobin; that he noticed her big grey eyes gazing into his own, and her lips moving to frame the syllables, and, finally, that he was sitting in the armchair, trembling. Joy, peace, wonder still coursed through him like flames, but dying flames. Mr. Skale's voice next reached him from the end of the room. He saw the fireplace, his own bright and pointed pumps, the tea table where they had drunk tea, and then, as the clergyman strode towards him over the carpet, he looked up, faint with the farewell of the awful excitement, into his face. The great passion of the experience still glowed and shone in him like a furnace.

And there, in that masterful bearded visage, he surprised an expression so tender, so winning, so comprehending, that Spinrobin rose to his feet, and taking Miriam by the hand, went to meet him. There the three of them stood upon the mat before the fire. He felt overwhelmingly drawn to the personality of the man who had revealed to him such splendid things, and in his mind stirred a keen and poignant regret that such knowledge could not be permanent and universal, instead of merely a heavenly dream in the mind of each separate percipient. Gratitude and love, unknown to him before, rose in his soul. Spinrobin, his heart bursting as with flames, had cried aloud, "You have called me by my name and I am free!... You have named me truly and I am redeemed!..." And all manner of speech, semi-inspirational, was about to follow, when Mr. Skale suddenly moved to one side and raised his arm. He pointed to the mirror.

Spinrobin was just tall enough to see his own face in the glass, but the glimpse he caught made him stand instantly on tiptoe to see more. For his round little countenance, flushed as it was beneath its fringe of disordered feathery hair, was literally--transfigured. A glory, similar to the glory he had seen that same evening upon the face of the housekeeper, still shone and flickered about the eyes and forehead. The signature of the soul, brilliant in purity, lay there, transforming the insignificance of the features with the grandeur and nobility of its own power.

"I am honored,--too gloriously honored!" was the singular cry that escaped his lips, vainly seeking words to express an emotion of the unknown, "I am honored as the sun... and as the stars...!"

And so fierce was the tide of emotion that rose within him at the sight, so strong the sense of gratitude to the man and girl who had shown him how his true Self might contain so great a glory, that he turned with a cry like that of a child bewildered by the loss of some incomprehensible happiness--turned and flung himself first upon the breast of the big clergyman, and then into the open arms of the radiant Miriam, with sobs and tears of wonder that absolutely refused to be restrained.

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