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   Chapter 2 No.2

The Human Chord By Algernon Blackwood Characters: 9765

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


A singular correspondence followed, in which the advertiser explained with reserve that he wanted an assistant to aid him in certain experiments in sound, that a particular pitch and quality of voice was necessary (which he could not decide until, of course, he had heard it), and that the successful applicant must have sufficient courage and imagination to follow a philosophical speculation "wheresoever it may lead," and also be "so far indifferent to worldly success as to consider it of small account compared to spiritual knowledge-especially if such knowledge appeared within reach and involved worldly sacrifices." He further added that a life of loneliness in the country would have to be faced, and that the man who suited him and worked faithfully should find compensation by inheriting his own "rather considerable property when the time came." For the rest he asked no references and gave none. In a question of spiritual values references were mere foolishness. Each must judge intuitively for himself.

Spinrobin, as has been said, bit. The letters, written in a fine scholarly handwriting, excited his interest extraordinarily. He imagined some dreamer-priest possessed by a singular hobby, searching for things of the spirit by those devious ways he had heard about from time to time, a little mad probably into the bargain. The name Skale sounded to him big, yet he somehow pictured to himself an ascetic-faced man of small stature pursuing in solitude some impossible ideal. It all attracted him hugely with its promise of out-of-the-way adventure. In his own phrase it "might lead to something," and the hints about "experiments in sound" set chords trembling in him that had not vibrated since the days of his boyhood's belief in names and the significance of names. The salary, besides, was good. He was accordingly thrilled and delighted to receive in reply to his last letter a telegram which read: "Engage you month's trial both sides. Take single ticket. Skale."

"I like that 'take single ticket,'" he said to himself as he sped westwards into Wales, dressed in his usual fluffy tweed suit and anarchist tie. Upon his knees lay a brand new Hebrew grammar which he studied diligently all the way to Cardiff, and still carried in his hands when he changed into the local train that carried him laboriously into the desolation of the Pontwaun Mountains. "It looks as though he approved of me already. My name apparently hasn't put him off as it does most people. Perhaps, through it, he divines the real me!"

He smoothed down his rebellious hair as he neared the station in the dusk; but he was surprised to find only a rickety little cart drawn by a donkey sent to meet him (the house being five miles distant in the hills), and still more surprised when a huge figure of a man, hatless, dressed in knickerbockers, and with a large, floating grey beard, strode down the platform as he gave up his ticket to the station-master and announced himself as Mr. Philip Skale. He had expected the small, foxy-faced individual of his imagination, and the shock momentarily deprived him of speech.

"Mr. Spinrobin, of course? I am Mr. Skale-Mr. Philip Skale."

The voice can only be described as booming, it was so deep and vibrating; but the smile of welcome, where it escaped with difficulty from the network of beard and moustaches, was winning and almost gentle in contradistinction to the volume of that authoritative voice. Spinrobin felt slightly bewildered-caught up into a whirlwind that drove too many impressions through his brain for any particular one to be seized and mastered. He found himself shaking hands-Mr. Skale, rather, shaking his, in a capacious grasp as though it were some small indiarubber ball to be squeezed and flung away. Mr. Skale flung it away, he felt the shock up the whole length of his arm to the shoulder. His first impressions, he declares, he cannot remember-they were too tumultuous-beyond that he liked both smile and voice, the former making him feel at home, the latter filling him to the brim with a peculiar sense of well-being. Never before had he heard his name pronounced in quite the same way; it sounded dignified, even splendid, the way Mr. Skale spoke it. Beyond this general impression, however, he can only say that his thoughts and feelings "whirled." Something emanated from this giant clergyman that was somewhat enveloping and took him off his feet. The keynote of the man had been struck at once.

"How do you do, sir? This is the train you mentioned, I think?" Spinrobin heard his own thin voice speaking, by way, as it were, of instinctive apology that he should have put such a man to the trouble of coming to meet him. He said "sir," it seemed unavoidable; for there was nothing of the clergyman about him-bishop, perhaps, or archbishop, but no suggestion of vicar or parish priest. Somewh

ere, too, in his presentment he felt dimly, even at the first, there was an element of the incongruous, a meeting of things not usually found together. The vigorous open-air life of the mountaineer spoke in the great muscular body with the broad shoulders and clean, straight limbs; but behind the brusqueness of manner lay the true gentleness of fine breeding.

And even here, on this platform of the lonely mountain station, Spinrobin detected the atmosphere of the scholar, almost of the recluse, shot through with the strange fires that dropped from the large, lambent, blue eyes. All these things rushed over the thrilled little secretary with an effect, as already described, of a certain bewilderment, that left no single, dominant impression. What remained with him, perhaps, most vividly, he says, was the quality of the big blue eyes, their luminosity, their far-seeing expression, their kindliness. They were the eyes of the true visionary, but in such a personality they proclaimed the mystic who had retained his health of soul and body. Mr. Skale was surely a visionary, but just as surely a wholesome man of action-probably of terrific action. Spinrobin felt irresistibly drawn to him.

"It is not unpleasant, I trust," the other was saying in his deep tones, "to find some one to meet you, and," he added with a genial laugh, "to counteract the first impression of this somewhat melancholy and inhospitable scenery." His arm swept out to indicate the dreary little station and the bleak and lowering landscape of treeless hills in the dusk.

The new secretary made some appropriate reply, his sense of loneliness already dissipated in part by the unexpected welcome. And they fell to arrangements about the luggage. "You won't mind walking," said Mr. Skale, with a finality that anticipated only agreement. "It's a short five miles. The donkey-cart will take the portmanteau." Upon which they started off at a pace that made the little man wonder whether he could possibly keep it up. "We shall get in before dark," explained the other, striding along with ease, "and Mrs. Mawle, my housekeeper, will have tea ready and waiting for us." Spinrobin followed, panting, thinking vaguely of the other employers he had known-philanthropists, bankers, ambitious members of Parliament, and all the rest-commonplace individuals to a man; and then of the immense and towering figure striding just ahead, shedding about him this vibrating atmosphere of power and whirlwind, touched so oddly here and there with a vein of gentleness that was almost sweetness. Never before had he known any human being who radiated such vigor, such big and beneficent fatherliness, yet for all the air of kindliness something, too, that touched in him the sense of awe. Mr. Skale, he felt, was a very unusual man.

They went on in the gathering dusk, talking little but easily. Spinrobin felt "taken care of." Usually he was shy with a new employer, but this man inspired much too large a sensation in him to include shyness, or any other form of petty self-consciousness. He felt more like a son than a secretary. He remembered the wording of the advertisement, the phrases of the singular correspondence-and wondered. "A remarkable personality," he thought to himself as he stumbled through the dark after the object of his reflections; "simple-yet tremendous! A giant in all sorts of ways probably-" Then his thought hesitated, floundered. There was something else he divined yet could not name. He felt out of his depth in some entirely new way, in touch with an order of possibilities larger, more vast, more remote than any dreams his imagination even had yet envisaged. All this, and more, the mere presence of this retired clergyman poured into his receptive and eager little soul.

And very soon it was that these nameless qualities began to assert themselves, completing the rout of Spinrobin's moderate powers of judgment. No practical word as to the work before them, or the duties of the new secretary, had yet passed between them. They walked along together, chatting as equals, acquaintances, almost two friends might have done. And on the top of the hill, after a four-mile trudge, they rested for the first time, Spinrobin panting and perspiring, trousers tucked up and splashed yellow with mud; Mr. Skale, legs apart, beard flattened by the wind about his throat, and thumbs in the slits of his waistcoat as he looked keenly about him over the darkening landscape. Treeless and desolate hills rose on all sides. A few tumbled-down cottages of grey stone lay scattered upon the lower slopes among patches of shabby and forlorn cultivation. Here and there an outcrop of rock ran skywards into somber and precipitous ridges. The October wind passed to and fro over it all, mournfully singing, and driving loose clouds that seemed to drop weighted shadows among the peaks.

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