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   Chapter 3 No.3

The Human Chord By Algernon Blackwood Characters: 7035

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05

And it was here that Mr. Skale stopped abruptly, looked about him, and then down at his companion.

"Bleak and lonely-this great spread of bare mountain and falling cliff," he observed half to himself, half to the other; "but fine, very, very fine." He exhaled deeply, then inhaled as though the great draught of air was profoundly satisfying. He turned to catch his companion's eye. "There's a savage and desolate beauty here that uplifts. It helps the mind to dwell upon the full sweep of life instead of getting dwarfed and lost among its petty details. Pretty scenery is not good for the soul." And again he inhaled a prodigious breastful of the mountain air. "This is."

"But an element of terror in it, perhaps, sir," suggested the secretary who, truth to tell, preferred his scenery more smiling, and who, further, had been made suddenly aware that in this somber setting of bleak and elemental nature the great figure of his future employer assumed a certain air of grandeur that was a little too awe-inspiring to be pleasant.

"In all profound beauty there must be that," the clergyman was saying; "fine terror, I mean, of course-just enough to bring out the littleness of man by comparison."

"Perhaps, yes," agreed Spinrobin. His own insignificance seemed peculiarly apparent at that moment in contrast to Mr. Skale who had become part and parcel of the rugged landscape. Spinrobin was a lost atom whirling somewhere outside on his own account, whereas the other seemed oddly in touch with it, almost merged and incorporated into it. With those deep breaths the clergyman absorbed something of this latent power about them-then gave it out again. It broke over his companion like a wave. Elemental force of some kind emanated from that massive human figure beside him.

The wind came tearing up the valley and swept past them with a rush as of mighty wings. Mr. Skale drew attention to it. "And listen to that!" he said. "How it leaps, singing, from the woods in the valley up to those gaunt old cliffs yonder!" He pointed. His beard blew suddenly across his face. With his bare head and shaggy flying hair, his big eyes and bold aquiline nose, he presented an impressive figure. Spinrobin watched him with growing amazement, aware that an enthusiasm scarcely warranted by the wind and scenery had passed into his manner. In his own person, too, he thought he experienced a birth of something similar-a little wild rush of delight he was unable to account for. The voice of his companion, pointing out the house in the valley below, again interrupted his thoughts.

"How the mountains positively eat it up. It lies in their very jaws," and the secretary's eyes, traveling into the depths, made out a cluster of grey stone chimneys and a clearing in the woods that evidently represented lawns. The phrase "courage and imagination" flashed unbidden into his mind as he realized the loneliness of the situation, and for the hundredth time he wondered what in the world could be the experiments with sound that this extraordinary man pursued in this isolated old mansion among the hills.

"Buried, sir, rather," he suggested. "I can only just see it-"

"And inaccessible," Mr. Skale interrupted him. "Hard to get at. No one comes to disturb; an ideal place for work. In the hollows of these hills a man may indeed seek truth and pursue it, for the world does not enter here." He paused a moment. "I hope, Mr. Spinrobin," he added, turning towards him with that gentle smile his shaggy visage som

etimes wore, "I hope you will not find it too lonely. We have no visitors, I mean; nothing but our own little household of four."

Spinrobin smiled back. Even at this stage he admits he was exceedingly anxious to suit. Mr. Skale, in spite of his marked peculiarities, inspired him with confidence. His personal attraction was growing every minute; that vague awe he roused probably only increased it. He wondered who the "four" might be.

"There's nothing like solitude for serious work, sir," replied the younger man, stifling a passing uneasiness.

And with that they plunged down the hillside into the valley, Mr. Skale leading the way at a terrific pace, shouting out instructions and warnings from time to time that echoed from the rocks as though voices followed them down from the mountains. The darkness swallowed them, they left the wind behind; the silence that dwells in the folded hills fell about their steps; the air grew less keen; the trees multiplied, gathering them in with fingers of mist and shadow. Only the clatter of their boots on the rocky path, and the heavy bass of the clergyman's voice shouting instructions from time to time, broke the stillness. Spinrobin followed the big dark outline in front of him as best he could, stumbling frequently. With countless little hopping steps he dodged along from point to point, a certain lucky nimbleness in his twinkling feet saving him from many a tumble.

"All right behind there?" Mr. Skale would thunder.

"All right, thanks, Mr. Skale," he would reply in his thin tenor,

"I'm coming."

"Come along, then!" And on they would go faster than before, till in due course they emerged from the encircling woods and reached the more open ground about the house. Somehow, in the jostling relations of the walk, a freedom of intercourse had been established that no amount of formal talk between four walls could have accomplished. They scraped their dirty boots vigorously on the iron mat.

"Tired?" asked the clergyman, kindly.

"Winded, Mr. Skale, thank you-nothing more," was the reply. He looked up at the square mass of the house looming dark against the sky, and the noise his companion made opening the door-the actual rattle of the iron knob did it-suddenly brought to him a clear realization of two things: First, he understood that the whole way from the station Mr. Skale had been watching him closely, weighing, testing, proving him, though by ways and methods so subtle that they had escaped his observation at the time; secondly, that he was already so caught in the network of this personality, vaster and more powerful than his own, that escape if he desired it would be exceedingly difficult. Like a man in a boat upon the upper Niagara river, he already felt the tug and suction of the current below-the lust of a great adventure drawing him forward. Mr. Skale's hand upon his shoulder as they entered the house was the symbol of that. The noise of the door closing behind him was the passing of the last bit of quiet water across which a landing to the bank might still have been possible.

Faint streamers from the dark, inscrutable house of fear reached him even then and left their vague, undecipherable signatures upon the surface of his soul. The forces that vibrated so strangely in the atmosphere of Mr. Skale were already playing about his own person, gathering him in like a garment. Yet while he shuddered, he liked it. Was he not already losing something of his own insignificant and diminutive self?

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