London: The Theosophical Publishing Society, New Bond Street
The Blossom and the Fruit. A True Story of a Black Magician
A door opened and shut. Fleta found herself in a soft, warm atmosphere, lit by a pale rosy light. At first it seemed as if she could not see or distinguish between the objects before her. But after a moment her ordinary sight came suddenly to her.
She was in a very strangely furnished room. Like the room Ivan used at the Dower House, it was hung with tapestry on which were life-size figures so cunningly worked that they looked real at first sight, and always produced the appearance rather of statues than of a flat presentment. The floor was uncarpeted and entirely covered with dried ferns and withered leaves. A quantity of these were gathered into a heap and on them was spread a tiger skin and a great rug of sheep's wool. This was very near the wide hearth, on which burned a wood fire. It was not a very large fire, but to Fleta's chilled form the warmth from it seemed delicious. The light came from a shaded lamp which stood on a bracket fastened above the chimney. In front of the hearth wall a three-legged wooden stool on which was a large and most beautifully chased silver salver, holding bread, and milk and fruit on silver dishes and in Venetian glass of the most delicate sort.
Fleta looked about her with a faint and almost pleased amusement at the quaint incongruity of these furnishings. They gave her the same sense of homeliness which the unknown voice had given her. After her first glance round she went straight to the fire, and began to eat the cakes and drink the milk prepared for her. She sat on the leaf-strewn ground; for there was neither chair nor table nor anything to be called furniture in the whole room, except this wooden stool.
This was the dead chatelaine's own room. Beyond it stretched a suite of rooms opening one into another, which had all been hers during her life, and were quaintly and barbarously furnished; these were shown to visitors. But this room was never entered. It was said that as during her life so after her death, the lamp burned in the room at night, and the fire on the hearth night and day, and none knew who tended them!
It was thoroughly the home of a gipsy, a nomad, a creature of the woods and fields. She had slept on tha tiger-skin as she might have slept on it beneath the skies. The rich salver and the rich service on it showed out oddly amid these surroundings; but they were, characteristic too, belonging as they did to the rich family which she had helped to destroy.
An extraordinary sense of peace and quiet was in this room. It penetrated to Fleta's heart and soothed her more than any living touch could have done. Presently she rose and laid herself down on the bed of skins and leaves. She did not know that Ivan's mother had lain on this same bed. Doubtless she might have discovered it had she tried, but she was careless. She was content, and that was enough. In a little while she was fast asleep.
When she awoke the lamp was out, the curtains were drawn back from the great windows of the room, and the sunlight streamed in through them. The fire on the hearth burned steadily, and the moment Fleta looked at it she saw that it had been fed and tended. The stool stood by it, and on it the salver with all manner of provisions for her to breakfast. She found herself very hungry; for, as a matter of fact, her physical body was busy recovering from the severe hardships of the recent weeks. There was a fount of natural youth within Fleta, apart from that which depended on the exercise of her will. It was a right of her condition, a permanent fee - which she had earned.
After she had breakfasted she went to the window and looked out. A wide pale sea bathed in keen spring sunshine. She longed to go out and feel the air that came from it. Immediately she turned and approached the door of the room, although she dreaded a little passing through the place she had entered by. But there was no sign of this place; and she found at last another door hidden by the tapestry of the room. It opened upon a beautiful bathroom, the floor and bath of marble and the walls painted with dancing figures - a number of guests from a ball, or some other gaiety, dressed in fantastic costumes, appeared to be careering round the room.
She bathed herself in the refreshing water, and then, wrapping herself again in her large cloak, went through the farther door. This admitted her to a large sitting-room with a magnificent view of the sea. It was very strangely and beautifully furnished, but it did not interest her; and it had the peculiarly dreary feeling which belongs to an uninhabited place. She walked quickly through it and came on to a landing from which a great oak staircase led, both up and down. There were other rooms of the same character farther on; but she did not care to pursue the study of them; she longed to be out in the open and feel the breath of the sea. She went down the wide stairway quickly; but suddenly she was brought to a standstill by meeting with a great iron door which was closed, and which absolutely shut the way. Below it, in the steps, were gun holes; and Fleta shivered a little as she stood here, wondering what ugly tragedy in the past this barricade referred to. She never dreamed of it really being closed on her, and tried it again and, again. But closed it was, and very safely locked.
She returned and went on through the other rooms. There was no way out from them. She went up the staircase to the rooms above. These were a similar suite, also without any other exit. Then in some wonder she returned to the room she had slept in and began to search for the door by which she had entered. She could not discover it. Evidently it was a secret door, and search was useless. Throwing aside her cloak, she went and sat down by the fire and began to think earnestly over her position.
It was very clear that she was a prisoner. Her mind turned to Ivan. It was he who had ushered her into that place of darkness. Doubtless, then, he had also sent her her mysterious deliverer. For a little while this thought brought her comfort. But a moment later she saw her folly. Had she not forfeited Ivan's guardianship by her very longing for it?
She was facing the great problem which man still finds before him, even after innumerable incarnations and ceaseless efforts.
Was it indeed impossible for her to sever her link with humanity? Must she always cling to her master and look to his personal self for protection and strength?
It seemed as if for the first time she was able to ask herself this dispassionately. She had freed herself from every other link, from all else that held her back. And now she stood confronted by the rebellion of her own nature.
She sat by the hearth and fell into deep, active thought, in which it seemed as though she held a very serious conversation with herself.
She, the supreme, the powerful, the priestess and heroine in many lives, who in past incarnations had been the accomplished magician and intelligent pupil of the divine teachers, she was brought close now, after ages of development, to the kernel of difficulty in her own heart.
It is the same in everyone who is capable of love, of sympathy, of any tenderness or deep emotion; this kernel exists within. In the selfish man it is given powerful vitality, and grows so large that it absorbs his whole being. In the man with divine possibilities it grows hourly less and less as he develops, till at last he comes to the terrible moment which Fleta was now suffering. He finds then that there is some one being - perhaps a dependent creature, an invalid, or a little child, who affords him a purpose for which to live.
Fleta knew herself to be on the great white sea of impersonal life. It was as though she floated on this vast water and saw no horizon nor desired to see any, nor yet to find any resting-place. But there was one tiny fertile island, or one little peopled boat, to which her eyes wandered always. She did not wish to go to it, to reach it, to touch it - only she could not conceive enduring the blank which would be left, if that one speck vanished from the universe and was not. This that she gazed on and that her sight clung to, was Ivan, his life, his purpose, his knowledge. She realised now that it was the consciousness that this point was there for her thought to rest on, which had carried her through the ordeal of blankness to which she had been exposed.
Therefore, she knew she had not succeeded; she had failed, and the deliverer who had come to her had only come to save her body from exhaustion and illness. That gentle voice had not brought to her the reward of success; only the pity given to the unsuccessful. Realising this, Fleta set herself to deal with the problem by thought.
This is the hardest way to deal with it. But Fleta was courageous, and having failed in the easier effort, was determined to be successful in this heavier one. The sun was high in the heavens, and the sea was like shining silver. But Fleta had forgotten sun and sea and the sweet air she had but just now been longing for. The sun fell to the edge of the waters, and still she sat motionless. Darkness came and found her too absorbed in thought to be aware of any change. The fire on the hearth burned out, the lamp remained unlit. As the time passed on the suffering within her grew more intense, more bitter, more biting. She, the powerful, began to realise her powerlessness. This spot within her was ineradicable. As in the past night she had been physically conscious, through all her phantasies, of that door against which she leaned, and which formed a link between her and the physical world; so now her deep veneration for Ivan's personal character remained as an immovable bond between her and humanity, however she might otherwise raise her whole consciousness.
It appeared plain to her at last that if she succeeded in destroying this she would destroy her own life with it. As she recognised this, and acknowledged the uselessness of her effort, the soft touch came on her again, and the gentle voice fell on her ears.
"My, child, be warned. Long not too ardently for success, or you will overbalance yourself on the high place you have reached, and find yourself in the bottomless abyss, a magician and no more, one of the evil ones of the earth. There is yet a third way open to you. Will you serve Ivan like a slave, obeying him as you would obey someone to whom you had sold your very soul, surrendering all judgment to him?"
"No!" cried Fleta, throwing back her head. Her eyes opened on the black darkness of the room. Whom had she spoken to? Her strength was gone, and with this cry of defiance and pride, exhaustion overpowered her and she fell back unconscious.
The whole nobility of her nature had risen up to resist that fierce but awful temptation placed before her in the moment of her greatest weakness. To be his slave! She knew it now, as she had never known it before; she knew that she loved him. She, who had interpreted the highest mysteries to Otto and to Hilary!
She, who had burned her soul on the altar! Yes, it was so. Purified utterly, deprived of every gross quality - yet it remained, it was love. What a temptation was this, so suddenly offered her, when she had almost maddened herself by her despairing efforts! What a revulsion of feeling rushed over her! It was unendurable. She had the courage and the power to refuse it before she succumbed to the emotion it produced.
When she awoke again it was to realise all this in a flash. And as she awoke she suffered a sensation never yet known to her while she had been Fleta, the strong. It was the sharp sting of a tortured heart. Oh, that moment of waking! How dreadful it is. But Fleta had gathered some strength from her sleep. She had no idea how long it had lasted.
She awoke to such a turmoil of feeling as she had not experienced in the whole of her strange life. Hitherto, she had been able to hold herself above emotion; conscious of it, yet apart from it. But now it seemed as though she were paying a long debt, all at once.
"I am a Woman still, after all," she said wearily to herself. Then she sat up and looked round her. While she slept, the room had been made like a home again. The light burned softly, the fire was lit, and the silver tray stood ready for her. A sense of fierce exhaustion took possession of her at the sight of it. She sprang up and ate some food, but while she ate and drank she moved restlessly about. This was not the quiet, powerful Fleta who had conquered and won in so many strange battles. But in those former battles she had fought against the passions of others; now she was fighting herself.
She set down the cup of milk, and clasping her hands behind her began to pace to and fro, to and fro, all the length of the great room, from end to end. Her trailing dress swept the withered leaves hither and thither, till a long bare pathway was made where she moved. As she was turning back from the curtained window she saw the door open, and Ivan entered the room. He stood still and regarded her very earnestly.
"The tiger within you is strong," he said. "I need not tempt it. Know this, that I think it needless to practise such tests on you as you yourself have had power to use with Hilary Estanol, else I would have sent my shadow to mock and tempt you. It is unnecessary. Your imagination is powerful enough to bring before you every temptation from which it would be possible for you to suffer. Why then should I tease you with images?"
Fleta made no answer, though he paused. She stood silently gazing before her, as though something was visible to her which held all her attention. "Do you see your own image?" he said, with a faint smile, noticing this look in her face.
"Yes, it has accompanied me always since you entered this place. Be careful; you are creating a creature with which you will have to wrestle. Do not let it grow too strong, or there will come a day when you must test your strength against it - and perhaps you may succumb in the battle. Are you pleased with it? Do you like it? It does but reflect your thoughts. You have refused to listen to those thoughts, but they were strong enough to create this image of a passionate woman which follows and annoys me wheresoever I go. Come, be strong, and banish it as you banished Adine."
Fleta drew herself up, and seemed to rise far above her usual height, and raised her hands with a commanding gesture. A moment later she fell back a step, she seemed to dwarf suddenly, to stoop as if old age had fallen upon her.
"It is well," he said, "you have destroyed that creature. Now it is easier for you to work on. Rouse yourself, listen to me. Do you know who has waited on you here, and guarded you?
"No" she answered dully.
"You have been haunted - visited by a gentle shape of airy elements, once my mother's servant - nothing else. It knew you must have a friend, and so it came to you in this shape. More than that - it has kept this place for you and for your work here."
"Was it foreseen then?" inquired Fleta.
"Certainly; this spot is full of the elements you want, and they have been preserved for you. But the service, is over. The poor ghost, as ignorant people supposed it to be, has dwelled in this abnormal shape long enough for your use. Wake yourself, rouse yourself, for you have to be sole guardian of your own fate henceforward. Otherwise you must surrender this effort."
"I shall not surrender it," replied Fleta. "I am ready to go on, at any cost."
"Be it so," he said. "Then I have a history to tell you. Listen."
He went to the hearth and stood by it, leaning against the mantelshelf. Fleta remained standing, as she had stood since his entrance, but now instead of looking vaguely before her she fixed her gaze on him.
"My ancestors came to this country with an army of conquerors, but they came to save the land and implant a growth upon it which should redeem it in its unhappy future. The conflicting forces on this island are terrific. It is eaten up by a giant growth of materialism springing from the blackness of its psychic nature. Listen, Fleta; you must remember these things. There is a wind that comes across England, bringing with it a whole mass of invisible beings which settle on it and spread over it and darken the psychic and moral atmosphere. It is they who make it so great although it is so small; it is they who bring it power and wealth. But they obscure the sky above. They are like the thoughts of men, which, when centred on matters of one form of life too steadily, make a mental veil which conceals from them the conception of larger and wider forces of life. In fact, these beings are little else than such thoughts individualised and grown powerful. There is a great belt of the globe in which they live most powerfully, being led always by the races of men who dwell in that belt and who continue through century after century, and aeon after aeon, in living within the horizon of materialism. But there is another power, a counteracting one, also on this island. Through all history and before it there has been a profound life dwelling side by side with this dark one, and the knowledge of the obscure and great facts of existence have found a narrow but permanent home here. There are points in England which, when an occultist looks at the country, shine out like flames. They are the ancient and hereditary centres of this inner life. London, Birmingham, Manchester, show on the maps, and stand out in most men's minds; and the railways lead to these places.
But there is a shining track right across and through the island visible to a seer; and the points on this track have always the astral flame alight. This castle is one of them. This room has been preserved absolutely, darkness never having been allowed to reign in it, until last night, when you, in your struggle with yourself, permitted it to enter. Here is a perfected atmosphere, but it is quiescent. I have come to this country to fulfil one of the duties of my life. I have to wake this atmosphere, to make it again a living thing.
When it has been done here it has to be done at other points on the track. This must be done now, or the track would grow faint and the power would pale, and in the next generation it would be harder to find. This task I want your aid in."
Fleta made no answer. It did not appear to her that any answer was possible or necessary. She had experienced a dull and bitter shock while he was speaking. She had recognised at once that it was part of her training, and although she scarcely understood its character immediately, she accepted it without complaint, even in her heart.
But now in the silence that followed, and which Ivan did not break for some time, the knowledge came to her of what this pain was which hurt her so keenly. She, who had lived so long for others, who had sacrificed herself so utterly for their salvation was hungry for some help for herself, some personal guidance, some stray word of help, or encouragement. Instead, she was given a more impersonal task than any she had yet undertaken. A bitter sense of the uselessness and hopelessness of life overcame her. Of what use was aid given to the crowd of men if, after all, the persons who made up that crowd were indeed to have no greater sum of happiness? This question took shape in her mind, and at last seemed to fill it. She was standing moodily, her eyes now fixed on the ground. Suddenly some impulse made her look up, and she saw close beside her a creature, neither man nor woman, yet human in shape, with fierce eyes burning with passion, which were fixed on her and appeared to express by their gaze the thought in her mind. A moment, and the shape was gone - a dim cloud which had been in the room was gone also; and Ivan was standing quietly before her, regarding her very seriously.
"That is one of the beings from whom I desire to deliver this race of men," he said.
So saying he turned and left the room.
Wearied out, and very sad, Fleta laid down on the rugs which made her couch, and closing her eyes, tried to rest. But immediately this creature which she had seen returned to her, and appeared more vivid and real than before.
But its shape was altered, or rather it changed by degrees before her eyes. It was like a horrible nightmare to watch the change, for Fleta had enough knowledge to be perfectly aware that she herself, by her suppressed thought and emotion, was actually formimg this thing into a human shape. It was Ivan who stood before her after a few seconds, Ivan, with the sternness gone from his face, and a gentle light upon it instead.
He approached her, and Fleta watched him with a fascination, which seemed to hold her like fetters of iron. "Because you work for humanity there is no reason to sacrifice your own happiness," he said, in a softer voice than she had ever heard from his lips.
"I shall claim your absolute devotion to the work, it is true; but, remember, you will be associated with me through it all. We shall be together. The very nature of the work will bring us together. Will not that give you a little pleasure? We need not be apart any more, Fleta, now that you are with me in my work. Be it so; the order and law of life have decreed this. We have not looked for the pleasure for ourselves. It has come to us. Why not take it without question, as the flowers take the sunshine?"
He drew a step nearer to her, and this one step seemed to break the spell that held Fleta; it was more than she could endure. With a wild shriek she sprang to her feet.
"Go, devil!" she cried out. "I am stronger than you, subtle though you are!