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   Chapter 4 No.4

The Human Chord By Algernon Blackwood Characters: 6322

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


The clergyman, meanwhile, had closed the heavy door, shutting out the darkness, and now led the way across a large, flagged hall into a room, ablaze with lamp and fire, the walls lined thickly with books, furnished cozily if plainly. The laden tea table, and a kettle hissing merrily on the hob, were pleasant to look upon, but what instantly arrested the gaze of the secretary was the face of the old woman in cap and apron-evidently the housekeeper already referred to as "Mrs." Mawle-who stood waiting to pour out tea. For about her worn and wrinkled countenance there lay an indefinable touch of something that hitherto he had seen only in pictures of the saints by the old masters. What attracted his attention, and held it so arrestingly, was this singular expression of happiness, aye, of more than mere happiness-of joy and peace and blessed surety, rarely, if ever, seen upon a human face alive, and only here and there suggested behind that mask of repose which death leaves so tenderly upon the features of those few who have lived their lives to noblest advantage.

Spinrobin caught his breath a little, and stared. Aged and lined as it unquestionably was, he caught that ineffable suggestion of radiance about it which proclaimed an inner life that had found itself and was in perfect harmony with outer things: a life based upon certain knowledge and certain hope. It wore a gentle whiteness he could find only one word to describe-glory. And the moment he saw it there flashed across him the recognition that this was what Mr. Skale also possessed. That giant, athletic, vigorous man, and this bent, worn old woman both had it. He wondered with a rush of sudden joy what produced it;-whether it might perhaps one day be his too. The flame of his own spirit leapt within him.

And, so wondering, he turned to look at the clergyman. In the softer light of fire and lamp his face had the appearance of forty rather than sixty as he had first judged; the eyes, always luminous, shone with health and enthusiasm; a great air of youth and vitality glowed about him. It was a fine head with that dominating nose and the shaggy tangle of hair and beard; very big, fatherly and protective he looked, a quite inexpressible air of tenderness mingled in everywhere with the strength. Spinrobin felt immensely drawn to him as he looked. With such a leader he could go anywhere, do anything. There, surely, was a man whose heart was set not upon the things of this world.

An introduction to the housekeeper interrupted his reflections; it did not strike him as at all out of the way; doubtless she was more mother than domestic to the household. At the name of "Mrs." Mawle (courtesy-title, obviously), he rose and bowed, and the old woman, looking from one to the other, smiled becomingly, curtseyed, put her cap straight, and turned to the teapot again. She said nothing.

"The only servant I have, practically," explained the clergyman, "cook, butler, housekeeper and tyrant all in one; and, with her niece, the only other persons in the house besides ourselves. A very simple ménage, you see, Mr. Spinrobin. I ought to warn you, too, by-the-by," h

e added, "that she is almost stone deaf, and has only got the use of one arm, as perhaps you noticed. Her left arm is"-he hesitated for a fraction of a second-"withered."

A passing wonder as to what the niece would be like accompanied the swallowing of his buttered toast and tea, but the personalities of Mr. Skale and his housekeeper had already produced emotions that prevented this curiosity acquiring much strength. He could deal with nothing more just yet. Bewilderment obstructed the way, and in his room before dinner he tried in vain to sort out the impressions that so thickly flooded him, though without any conspicuous degree of success. The walls of his bedroom, like those of corridor and hall, were bare; the furniture solid and old-fashioned; scanty, perhaps, yet more than he was accustomed to; and the spaciousness was very pleasant after the cramped quarters of stuffy London lodgings. He unpacked his few things, arranged them with neat precision in the drawers of the tallboy, counted his shirts, socks, and ties, to see that all was right, and then drew up an armchair and toasted his toes before the comforting fire. He tried to think of many things, and to decide numerous little questions roused by the events of the last few hours; but the only thing, it seems, that really occupied his mind, was the rather overpowering fact that he was-with Mr. Skale and in Mr. Skale's house; that he was there on a month's trial; that the nature of the work in which he was to assist was unknown, immense, singular; and that he was already being weighed in the balances by his uncommon and gigantic employer. In his mind he used this very adjective. There was something about the big clergyman-titanic.

He was in the middle of a somewhat jumbled consideration about "Knowledge of Hebrew-tenor voice-courage and imagination-unworldly," and so forth, when a knock at the door announced Mrs. Mawle who came to inform him that dinner was ready. She stood there, a motherly and pleasant figure in black, and she addressed him in the third person. "If Mr. Spinrobin will please to come down," she said, "Mr. Skale is waiting. Mr. Skale is always quite punctual." She always spoke thus, in the third person; she never used the personal pronoun if it could be avoided. She preferred the name direct, it seemed. And as Spinrobin passed her on the way out, she observed further, looking straight into his eyes as she said it: "and should Mr. Spinrobin have need of anything, that," indicating it, "is the bell that rings in the housekeeper's room. Mrs. Mawle can see it wag, though she can't hear it. Day or night," she added with a faint curtsey, "and no trouble at all, just as with the other gentlemen-"

So there had been other gentlemen, other secretaries! He thanked her with a nod and a smile, and hurried pattering downstairs in a neat blue suit, black silk socks and a pair of bright new pumps, Mr. Skale having told him not to dress. The phrase "day or night," meanwhile, struck him as significant and peculiar. He remembered it later. At the moment he merely noted that it added one more to the puzzling items that caused his bewilderment.

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