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The Human Chord By Algernon Blackwood Characters: 8866

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


As a boy he constructed so vividly in imagination that he came to believe in the living reality of his creations: for everybody and everything he found names-real names. Inside him somewhere stretched immense playgrounds, compared to which the hay-fields and lawns of his father's estate seemed trivial: plains without horizon, seas deep enough to float the planets like corks, and "such tremendous forests" with "trees like tall pointed hilltops." He had only to close his eyes, drop his thoughts inwards, sink after them himself, call aloud and-see.

His imagination conceived and bore-worlds; but nothing in these worlds became alive until he discovered its true and living name. The name was the breath of life; and, sooner or later, he invariably found it.

Once, having terrified his sister by affirming that a little man he had created would come through her window at night and weave a peaked cap for himself by pulling out all her hairs "that hadn't gone to sleep with the rest of her body," he took characteristic measures to protect her from the said depredations. He sat up the entire night on the lawn beneath her window to watch, believing firmly that what his imagination had made alive would come to pass.

She did not know this. On the contrary, he told her that the little man had died suddenly; only, he sat up to make sure. And, for a boy of eight, those cold and haunted hours must have seemed endless from ten o'clock to four in the morning, when he crept back to his own corner of the night nursery. He possessed, you see, courage as well as faith and imagination.

Yet the name of the little man was nothing more formidable than "Winky!"

"You might have known he wouldn't hurt you, Teresa," he said. "Any one with that name would be light as a fly and awf'ly gentle-a regular dicky sort of chap!"

"But he'd have pincers," she protested, "or he couldn't pull the hairs out. Like an earwig he'd be. Ugh!"

"Not Winky! Never!" he explained scornfully, jealous of his offspring's reputation. "He'd do it with his rummy little fingers."

"Then his fingers would have claws at the ends!" she insisted; for no amount of explanation could persuade her that a person named Winky could be nice and gentle, even though he were "quicker than a second." She added that his death rejoiced her.

"But I can easily make another-such a nippy little beggar, and twice as hoppy as the first. Only I won't do it," he added magnanimously, "because it frightens you."

For to name with him was to create. He had only to run out some distance into his big mental prairie, call aloud a name in a certain commanding way, and instantly its owner would run up to claim it. Names described souls. To learn the name of a thing or person was to know all about them and make them subservient to his will; and "Winky" could only have been a very soft and furry little person, swift as a shadow, nimble as a mouse-just the sort of fellow who would make a conical cap out of a girl's fluffy hair … and love the mischief of doing it.

And so with all things: names were vital and important. To address beings by their intimate first names, beings of the opposite sex especially, was a miniature sacrament; and the story of that premature audacity of Elsa with Lohengrin never failed to touch his sense of awe. "What's in a name?" for him, was a significant question-a question of life or death. For to mispronounce a name was a bad blunder, but to name it wrongly was to miss it altogether. Such a thing had no real life, or at best a vitality that would soon fade. Adam knew that! And he pondered much in his childhood over the difficulty Adam must have had "discovering" the correct appellations for some of the queerer animals….

As he grew older, of course, all this faded a good deal, but he never quite lost the sense of reality in names-the significance of a true name, the absurdity of a false one, the cruelty of mispronunciation. One day in the far future, he knew, some wonderful girl would come into his life, singing her own true name like music, her whole personality expressing it just as her lips framed the consonants and vowels-and he would love her. His own name, ridiculous and hateful though it was, would sing in reply. They would be in harmony together in the literal sense, as necessary to one another as two notes in the same chord….

So he also possessed the mystical vision of the poet. Wh

at he lacked-such temperaments always do-was the sense of proportion and the careful balance that adjusts cause and effect. And this it is, no doubt, that makes his adventures such "hard sayings." It becomes difficult to disentangle what actually did happen from what conceivably might have happened; what he thinks he saw from what positively was.

His early life-to the disgust of his Father, a poor country squire-was a distressing failure. He missed all examinations, muddled all chances, and finally, with £50 a year of his own, and no one to care much what happened to him, settled in London and took any odd job of a secretarial nature that offered itself. He kept to nothing for long, being easily dissatisfied, and ever on the look out for the "job" that might conceal the kind of adventure he wanted. Once the work of the moment proved barren of this possibility, he wearied of it and sought another. And the search seemed prolonged and hopeless, for the adventure he sought was not a common kind, but something that should provide him with a means of escape from a vulgar and noisy world that bored him very much indeed. He sought an adventure that should announce to him a new heaven and a new earth; something that should confirm, if not actually replace, that inner region of wonder and delight he reveled in as a boy, but which education and conflict with a prosaic age had swept away from his nearer consciousness. He sought, that is, an authoritative adventure of the soul.

To look at, one could have believed that until the age of twenty-five he had been nameless, and that a committee had then sat upon the subject and selected the sound best suited to describe him: Spinrobin-Robert. For, had he never seen himself, but run into that inner prairie of his and called aloud "Robert Spinrobin," an individual exactly resembling him would surely have pattered up to claim the name.

He was slight, graceful, quick on his feet and generally alert; took little steps that were almost hopping, and when he was in a hurry gave him the appearance of "spinning" down the pavement or up the stairs; always wore clothes of some fluffy material, with a low collar and bright red tie; had soft pink cheeks, dancing grey eyes and loosely scattered hair, prematurely thin and unquestionably like feathers. His hands and feet were small and nimble. When he stood in his favorite attitude with hands plunged deep in his pockets, coat-tails slightly spread and flapping, head on one side and hair disordered, talking in that high, twittering, yet very agreeable voice of his, it was impossible to avoid the conclusion that here was-well-Spinrobin, Bobby Spinrobin, "on the job."

For he took on any "job" that promised adventure of the kind he sought, and the queerer the better. As soon as he found that his present occupation led to nothing, he looked about for something new-chiefly in the newspaper advertisements. Numbers of strange people advertised in the newspapers, he knew, just as numbers of strange people wrote letters to them; and Spinny-so he was called by those who loved him-was a diligent student of the columns known as "Agony" and "Help wanted." Whereupon it came about that he was aged twenty-eight, and out of a job, when the threads of the following occurrence wove into the pattern of his life, and "led to something" of a kind that may well be cause for question and amazement.

The advertisement that formed the bait read as follows:-

"WANTED, by Retired Clergyman, Secretarial Assistant with courage and imagination. Tenor voice and some knowledge of Hebrew essential; single; unworldly. Apply Philip Skale,"-and the address.

Spinrobin swallowed the bait whole. "Unworldly" put the match, and he flamed up. He possessed, it seemed, the other necessary qualifications; for a thin tenor voice, not unmusical, was his, and also a smattering of Hebrew which he had picked up at Cambridge because he liked the fine, high-sounding names of deities and angels to be found in that language. Courage and imagination he lumped in, so to speak, with the rest, and in the gilt-edged diary he affected he wrote: "Have taken on Skale's odd advertisement. I like the man's name. The experience may prove an adventure. While there's change, there's hope." For he was very fond of turning proverbs to his own use by altering them, and the said diary was packed with absurd misquotations of a similar kind.

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