The Human Chord

by Algernon Blackwood

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Chapter 6


The situation at this point of his amazing adventure seems to have been that the fear Spinrobin felt about the nature of the final Experiment was met and equalized by his passionate curiosity regarding it. Had these been the only two forces at work, the lightest pressure in either direction would have brought him to a decision. He would have accepted the challenge and stayed; or he would have hesitated, shirked, and left.

There was, however, another force at work upon which he had hardly calculated at the beginning, and that force now came into full operation and controlled his decision with margin and to spare. He loved Miriam; and even had he not loved her, it is probable that her own calm courage would have put him to shame and made him "face the music." He could no more have deserted her than he could have deserted himself. The die was cast.

Moreover, if the certainty that Mr. Skale was trafficking in dangerous and unlawful knowledge was formidable enough to terrify him, for Miriam, at least, it held nothing alarming. She had no qualms, knew no uneasiness. She looked forward to the end with calmness, even with joy, just as ordinary good folk look forward to a heaven beyond death. For she had never known any other ideal. Mr. Skale to her was father, mother and God. He had brought her up during all the twenty years of her life in this solitude among the mountains, choosing her reading, providing her companionship, training her with the one end in view of carrying out his immense and fire-stealing purpose.

She had never dreamed of any other end, and had been so drilled with the idea that this life was but a tedious training-place for a worthier state to come, that she looked forward, naturally enough, with confidence and relief to the great Experiment that should bring her release. She knew vaguely that there was a certain awful danger involved, but it never for one instant occurred to her that Mr. Skale could fail. And, so far, Spinrobin had let no breath of his own terror reach her, or attempted ever to put into her calm mind the least suggestion that the experiment might fail and call down upon them the implacable and destructive forces that could ruin them body and soul forever. For this, plainly expressed, was the form in which his terror attacked him when he thought about it. Skale was tempting the Olympian powers to crush him.

It was about this time, however, as has been seen from a slight incident in the last chapter, that a change began to steal, at first imperceptibly, then obviously, over their relations together. Spinrobin had been in the house three weeks--far longer, no doubt, than any of the other candidates. There only remained now the final big tests. The preliminary ones were successfully passed. Miriam knew that very soon the moment would come for him to stay--or go. And it was in all probability this reflection that helped her to make certain discoveries in herself that at first she did not in the least understand.

Spinrobin, however, understood perfectly. His own heart made him intuitive enough for that. And the first signs thrilled and moved him prodigiously. His account of it all is like no love story that has ever been heard, for in the first place this singular girl hardly breathed about her the reality of an actual world. She had known nothing beyond the simple life in this hollow of the hills on the one hand, and on the other the portentous conceptions that peopled the region of dream revealed by the clergyman. And in the second place she had no standards but her own instincts to judge by, for Mrs. Mawle, in spite of her devotion to the girl, suffered under too great disabilities to fill the place of a mother, while Mr. Skale was too lost in his vast speculations to guide her except in a few general matters, and too sure of her at the same time to reflect that she might ever need detailed guidance. Her exceedingly natural and wholesome bringing-up on the one hand, and her own native purity and good sense on the other, however, led her fairly straight; while the fact that Spinrobin, with his modesty and his fine aspirations, was a "little gentleman" into the bargain, ensured that no unlawful temptation should be placed in her way, or undue pressure, based upon her ignorance, employed.


They were coming down one afternoon from the mountains soon after the test of calling his name, and they were alone, the clergyman being engaged upon some mysterious business that had kept him out of sight all day. They did not talk much, but they were happy in each other's company, Spinrobin more than happy. Much of the time, when the ground allowed, they went along hand in hand like children.

"Miriam," he had asked on the top of the moors, "did I ever tell you about Winky--my little friend Winky?" And she had looked up with a smile and shaken her head. "But I like the name," she added; "I should like to hear, please." And he told her how as a boy he had invoked various folk to tease his sister, of whom Winky was chief, but in telling the story he somehow or other always referred to the little person by name, and never once revealed his sex. He told, too, how he sat all night on the lawn outside his sister's window to intercept the expected visit.

"Winky," she said, speaking rather low, "is a true name, of course. You really created Winky--called Winky into being." For to her now this seemed as true and possible as it had seemed to himself at the age of ten.

"Oh, I really loved Winky," he replied enthusiastically, and was at the same moment surprised to feel her draw away her hand. "Winky lived for years in my very heart."

And the next thing he knew, after a brief silence between them, was that he heard a sob, and no attempt to smother it either. In less than a second he was beside her and had both her hands in his. He understood in a flash.

"You precious baby," he cried, "but Winky was a little man. He wasn't a girl!"

She looked up through her tears--oh, but how wonderful her grey eyes were through tears!--and made him stand still before her and repeat his sentence. And she said, "I know it's true, but I like to hear you say it, and that's why I asked you to repeat it."

"Miriam," he said to her softly, kneeling down on the heather at her feet, "there's only one name in my heart, I can tell you that. I heard it sing and sing the moment I came into this house, the very instant I first saw you in that dark passage. I knew perfectly well, ages and ages ago, that one day a girl with your name would come singing into my life to make me complete and happy, but I never believed that she would look as beautiful as you are." He kissed the two hands he held. "Or that she--would--would think of me as you do," he stammered in his passion.

And then Miriam, smiling down on him through her tears, bent and kissed his feathery hair, and immediately after was on her knees in front of him among the heather.

"I own you," she said quite simply. "I know your name, and you know mine. Whatever happens--" But Spinrobin was too happy to hear any more, and putting both arms round her neck, he kissed the rest of her words away into silence.

And in the very middle of this it was that the girl gently, but very firmly, pushed him from her, and Spinrobin in the delicacy of his mind understood that for the first time in her curious, buried life the primitive instincts had awakened, so that she knew herself a woman, and a woman, moreover, who loved.

Thus caught in a bewildering network of curiosity, fear, wonder, and--love, Spinrobin stayed on, and decided further that should the clergyman approve him he would not leave. Yet his intimate relations now with Miriam, instead of making it easier for him to learn the facts, made it on the other hand more difficult. For he could not, of course, make use of her affection to learn secrets that Mr. Skale did not yet wish him to know. And, further, he had no desire to be disloyal either to him. None the less he was sorely tempted to ask her what the final experiment was, and what the 'empty' rooms contained. And most of all what the great name was they were finally to utter by means of the human chord.

The emotions playing about him at this time, however, were too complicated and too violent to enable him to form a proper judgment of the whole affair. It seems, indeed, that this calmer adjudication never came to him at all, for even to this day the mere mention of the clergyman's name brings to his round cheeks a flush of that enthusiasm and wonder which are the enemies of all sober discrimination. Skale still remains the great battering force of his life that carried him off his feet towards the stars, and sent his imagination with wings of fire tearing through the Unknown to a goal that once attained should make them all four as gods.

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