SCRIBE OF “THE IDYLL OF THE WHITE LOTUS” AND “THROUGH THE GATES OF GOLD.”
[Some of the readers of LUCIFER have taken great exception to the love passages between Fleta and Hilary, saying that they are not up to the standard of Theosophic thought, and are out of place in the magazine. The author can only beg that time may be given for the story to develope. None of us that is born dies without experiencing human passion; it is the base on which an edifice must rise at last, after many incarnations have purified it, “it is the blossom which has in it the fruit.” Hilary is still only a man, he has not yet learned to the full the lesson of human life and human passion. Fleta promises him all that he can take and that plainly is only what she can give — the deep love of the disciple. But she cannot instantly free his eyes from the illusions caused by his own passionate heart; till he has suffered and conquered, he cannot recognise her for what she is, the pledged servant of a great master, of necessity more white-souled than any nun need be.
Another strange criticism is made, condemning portions of the story as though expressive of the author’s feelings and sentiments; whereas they are simply descriptive of the states through which Hilary is passing. They no more express the author’s feelings than do those later parts which refer to the ordeals of Fleta, the accepted disciple, express the author’s feelings. The two characters of the struggling aspirant and the advanced disciple, are studies from life. The stumbling-block of human passion which stands in Hilary’s way, is the same which lost Zanoni his high estate; in the coming chapters of “The Blossom and the Fruit”, we shall see Fleta back from the high estate she aims at, by this same stumbling-block, in an idealised and subtle form. She has not yet learned the bitter truth that the Occultist must stand absolutely alone, without even companionship of thought, or sympathy of feeling, at the times of the Initiations and the trials which precede them. — M.C.]
CHAPTER VI (Continued)
Hilary found himself in a room which no longer permitted him to regret his own rooms at home, for it was luxurious. A great bath stood ready filled with perfumed water, and he hastened to bathe himself therein, with a sort of idea that he was perhaps suffering from hallucinations, some of which he might wash away. His scanty luggage has been brought into the room, and when the bath was over Hilary got out a velvet suit which he thought would do well for evening-dress in this palace of surprises. He was but just ready when a knock came at his door, and without further ceremony, Mark opened it and looked in. [Page 259]
“Come”, he said, “we don’t wait for anybody here. The cook won’t stand it. He is a very holy father indeed, and nobody dare say him nay, unless it were the Princess herself. She always does as she likes. Are you ready?”
“Quite”, replied Hilary.
Opening out of the entrance was a great oak door, double, and very richly carved. This had been shut when Hilary passed through before; now it stood open, and Mark led the way through it. They entered an immense room, of which the floor was polished so that it shone like a mirror. Two figures were standing in the midst of this room, dressed alike in clouds of white lace; they were the two Fletas, as to Hilary’s eyes they still seemed.
His heart was torn as he gazed on them, waiting for a glance of love, a gleam of love-light, to tell him which was his own, his Fleta, his princess, the Fleta whom he served. There was none; they had been talking together very earnestly and both looked sad and a little weary.
As Hilary’s eyes wandered from one face to the other his mind grew confused. And then suddenly a flash of bewitchingly beautiful laughter came on one of the faces; and immediately he decided that must be Adine. And yet, had he not seen just such laughter flash across Fleta’s face ? But all this passed in a moment, and no more time was given him for thought. A table stood at one end of the hall, set as a king’s table might be; covered with the finest linen, edged with deep lace, and with gold dishes of fruit upon it; it was decorated with lovely flowers. Hilary opened his eyes a little even in the midst of his other much greater perplexities, to see this luxury here in the midst of the forest. And was it prepared in honour of Fleta, who ate a crust of dry bread in an alehouse with perfect cheerfulness, or rather, indifference ? Fleta took her place at the end of the table; at least, one sister did so, and the other took her place beside Hilary — he could not yet determine which was which, and his whole soul was absorbed in the attempted solution of that problem. Mark sat at the other end of the table, evidently prepared to do such labours of carving as might be necessary. Two places were set at the other side of the table, but no one came to fill them. A very elaborate dinner was served, and a very good one; and Hilary thought he was satisfied now that it was Adine who sat next him, for she showed herself an unmistakable little gourmand. He had just come to this conclusion when his attention was distracted by the great doors being thrown open again for two persons to enter. Everyone rose, even Fleta, who advanced with a smile to meet these new comers. Hilary rose also and turned from the table. Two men stood there; one a man but little older than himself, and of extremely fine appearance. Little more than a boy, yet he had a dignity which made him something much more, and Hilary felt immediately a kind of jealousy, undefined, vague [Page 260] but still jealousy. For Fleta had put both her hands into those of this handsome young man and greeted him with great warmth. At his side stood a small shrivelled old man, in the same dress that Father Amyot always wore. This circumstance again made Hilary wonder what had become of Father Amyot; but he concluded Adine’s account had been the correct one.
There was something familiar in the face of the young man, so Hilary thought; while he was thinking this, Fleta turned and introduced them to each other.
He was the young king to whom Fleta was betrothed.
This is a history of those things which lie behind the scenes, not a history of that which is known to all the world. We will give this young King the name of Alan. Let those who like fix upon his kingdom and assign to him his true name.
He sat down opposite Hilary; and the old priest took his place beside him. Hilary returned to his chair, feeling that all strength, and hope, and power, and life had gone from him. By a fierce and terrible revulsion of his whole nature and all his recent feelings, he returned to his cynical estimate of mankind and most of all of Fleta. She had brought him to this place simply to taunt and harass him and show him his madness and folly in aspiring to her love in the face of such a rival. It cut Hilary’s heart like a knife to find the young King so magnificent a creature. And Fleta, why had she come here to meet him ? Why had she brought her unhappy lover with her ? Hilary tore himself with doubts, and fears, and questions; and sat silent, not even noticing the plates that were placed before him and taken away untouched. The others talked and laughed gaily, Alan being apparently possessed of a hundred things to say. Hilary did not hear what they were, but it annoyed him to find his rival speaking so much in that rich, musical voice of his, while he himself sat dumb, silenced by a bitter pain that tore his heart.
“You are sad”, said a soft voice at his side, “it is hard, if you love Fleta, to see her monopolised by some one else. How often have I had to suffer it ? Well, it must be so, I suppose. Why am I sorry for you. I wonder ? For if Alan were not here you would monopolise Fleta, and have no eyes for anyone else. Ah me ! ”
The sigh was very tender, the voice very low and soft; and that voice was Fleta’s voice, those lovely eyes uplifted to his were Fleta’s eyes Yes, it was so ! He thought as he looked back. Did he not know Fleta well enough by now ?
“Ah, you are playing with me”, he exclaimed eagerly, “it is Fleta now, not Adine ! Is it not so ? Oh, my love, my love, be honest and tell me!”
He spoke like this under cover of the others’ voices, but Fleta looked round alarmed. [Page 261]
“Hush!” she said, “ take care. Your life would be lost if you revealed our secret here. After dinner is over, come with me”.
This appointment made Hilary happy again; his heart leaped up, his pulses throbbed; all the world changed. He found some fruit was before him, he began to eat it, and to drink the wine in his glass. Fleta was watching him.
“You have just begun to dine ! ” said Fleta with a soft laugh. “Well, never mind; you are young and strong. Do you think you could live through a great many hardships ? ”
Hilary made the lover’s answer, which is so evident that it need not be recorded. He did not know how he said it, but he desired to tell her that for her he would endure anything. She laughed again.
“It may be so ! ” she said thoughtfully; and then he caught her eyes fixed upon him with a searching glance that for an instant seemed to turn the blood cold in his veins. His terrible thoughts and doubts of her returned again the more fiercely for their momentary repulsion. He emptied his glass, but eat nothing more, and was very glad when they all rose from the table together, a few moments later. He followed the figure of the girl who had sat next him since Alan’s entrance, believing that Fleta had then changed her place. She went across the great room and led the way into a greenhouse which opened out of it. A very wonderful greenhouse it was, full of the strangest plants. They were extremely beautiful, and yet in some way they inspired in him a great repugnance. They were of many colours, and the blossoms were variously shaped, but evidently they were all of one species.
“These are very precious”, said Fleta, looking at the flowers near her tenderly. “I obtain a rare and valuable substance from them. You have seen me use it”, she added, after a moment’s pause. Hilary longed to leave the greenhouse and sit elsewhere; but that was so evidently not Fleta’s wish that he could not suggest it. There were seats here and there among the flowers, and she placed herself upon one of them, motioning Hilary to sit beside her.
“Now”, she said, “I am going to tell you a great many things which you have earned the right to know. To begin with, you are now in a monastery, belonging to the most rigid of the religious orders”.
“Are you a Catholic ? ” asked Hilary suddenly. And then laughed at himself for such a question. How could Fleta be catalogued like this ? He knew her to be a creature whose thought could not be limited.
“No”, she answered simply. “I am not a Catholic. But I belong to this order. I fear such an answer will be so unintelligible as to be like an impertinence. Forgive me, Hilary”.
Ah, what a tone she spoke in, gentle, sweet — the voice of the woman he loved. Hilary lost all control over himself. He sprang to his feet and stood before her.
“I do not want to know your religion”, he exclaimed passionately, [Page 262] “ I do not want to know where we are, or why we are here. I ask you only this — Are you indeed my love given to me, as you said this morning ?— or is your love given to the king, and are you only laughing at me. It is enough to make me think so, to bring me here to meet him ! Oh, it is a cruel insult, a cruel mockery! For, Fleta, you have made me love you with all my heart and soul. My whole life is yours. Be honest and tell me the truth.”
“You have a powerful rival”, said Fleta deliberately. “Is he not handsome, courtly, all that a king should be ? And I am pledged to him. Yes, Hilary, I am pledged to him. Would you have the woman you love live a lie for your sake, and hourly betray the man she marries ? ”
“I would have her give me her love”, said Hilary despairingly, “at all costs, at all hazards. Oh, Fleta, do not keep me in agony. You said this morning that you loved me, that you would give yourself to me. Are you going to take those words back ? ”
“No”, said Fleta, “I am not. For I do love you, Hilary. Did I not see you first in my sleep ? Did I not dream of you ? Did I not come to your house in search of you ? Unwomanly, was it not ? No one but Fleta would have done it And Fleta would only have done it for love. You do not know what she risked — what she risks now — for you ! Oh, Hilary, if you could guess what I have at stake. Never mind. None can know my own danger but myself”.
“Escape from it! ” said Hilary in a sort of madness. A passionate desire to help her came over him and swept all reasonable thoughts away. “You are so powerful, so free, there is no need for you to encounter danger. Does it lie in these people, in this strange place ? Come back then to the city, to your home. What is there to induce you to run risks, you that have all that the world can offer ? Is there anything you need that you cannot have ? ”
“Yes”, said Fleta, “there is. I need something which no power of royalty can give me. I need something which I may have to sacrifice my life to obtain. Yet I am ready to sacrifice it — oh, how ready! What is my life to me ! What is my life to me ! Nothing !”
She had risen and was impatiently walking to and fro, moving her hands with a strange eager gesture as she did so; and her eyes were all aflame. This was the woman he loved. This, who said her life was nothing to her. Hilary forgot all else that was strange in her words and manner in the thought of this. Could she then return his love — no, it was impossible, if she meant these strange and terrible words that she uttered!
“Ah, this it is that keeps me back”, she said, before he had time to speak. Her voice had altered, and her face had grown pale, so pale that he forgot everything else in watching her.
“This it is that keeps me from my strength, this longing for it!” And [Page 263] with a heavy sigh she moved back to her seat and fell into it with a weariness he had never seen in her before. Her head drooped on her breast, she fell into profound thought. Presently she spoke again, disjointedly, and in such words as seemed unintelligible.
“I have always been too impatient, too eager”, she said sadly, “ I have always tried to take what I longed for without waiting to earn it. So it was long ago, Hilary, when you and I stood beneath those blossoming trees, long ages ago. I broke the peace that kept us strong and simple. I caused the torment of pain and peril to arise in our lives. We have to live it out — alas, Hilary, we have to live it out! — and live beyond it. How long will it take us — how long will it take ! ”
There was a despair, an agony in her voice and manner, that were so new, he was bewildered, he hardly recognised her. Her moods changed so strangely that he could not follow them, for he had not the key; he could not read her thought. He sat dumb, looking in her sad drawn face.
“My love, my love”, he murmured at last, hardly knowing that he spoke, hardly knowing what his thought was that he spoke, only full of longing. “Would that I could help you! Would that I understood you ! ”
“Do you indeed wish to ?” asked Fleta, her voice melting into a sort of tender eagerness.
“Do you not know it ? ” exclaimed Hilary. “My soul is burning to meet yours and to recognise it, to stand with you and help you. Why are you so far off, so like a star, so removed and unintelligible to me, who love you so ! Oh, help me to change this, to come nearer to you ! ”
Fleta rose slowly, her eyes fixed upon his face.
“Come”, she said. And she held out her hand to him. He put his into it, and together, hand in hand, they left the conservatory. They did not enter the great dining hall, where now there was music and dancing as Hilary could see and hear. They left the house of the strange flowers by a different doorway, which admitted them to a long dim corridor. Fleta opened the door by a key that was attached to a chain hanging from her waist; and she closed it behind her. Hilary asked no questions, for she seemed buried in thought so profound that he did not care to rouse her.
At the end of the corridor was a small and very low doorway. Fleta stooped and knocked, and without waiting for any answer pushed the door open,
“May I come in, Master ? ” she said.
“Come, child”, was the answer, in a very gentle voice.
“I am bringing some one with me.”
“Come”, was repeated.
They entered. The room was small, and was dimly lit by a shaded lamp. Beside the table, on which this stood, sat a man, reading. He [Page 264] put a large book which he had been holding, on to the table, and turned towards his visitors. Hilary saw before him the handsomest man he had ever seen in his life. He was still young, though Hilary felt himself to be a boy beside him; he rose from his chair and stood before them very tall and very slight, and yet there was that in his build which suggested great strength. He looked attentively at Hilary for a moment, and then turned to Fleta.
“Leave him here”. Fleta bowed and immediately went out of the room without another word. Hilary gazed upon her in amazement. Was this the proud, imperious princess who yielded such instant and ready obedience ? It seemed incredible. But he forgot the extraordinary sight immediately afterwards in the interest excited by his new companion, who at once addressed him:
“The Princess has often spoken to me of you”, he said, “and I know she has much wished that this moment should arrive. She will be satisfied if she thinks you appreciate with your inner senses the step you are about to take if you accord with her wishes. But I think it right you should know it in every aspect as far as that is possible. If you really desire to know Fleta, to approach her, to understand her, you must give up all that men ordinarily value in the world”.
“I have it not to surrender”, said Hilary rather bitterly, “my life is nothing splendid”.
“No, but you are only at the beginning of it. To you the future is full of promise. If you desire to be the Princess Fleta’s companion, your life is no longer your own.”
“No — it is hers — and it is hers now ! ”
“Not so. It is not hers now, nor will it be hers then. Not even your love does she claim for her own. She has nothing.”
“I don’t understand”, said Hilary simply. “She is the Princess of this country; she will soon be the Queen of another. She has all that the world has to give a woman.”
“Do you not know the woman you love better than to suppose that she cares for her position in the world ?” demanded this man whom Fleta called her master . “At a word from me, at any hour, at any time she will leave her throne and never return to it. That she will do this certainly some day I know very well; and her sister will take her place, the world being no wiser than it now is, Fleta looks forward to this change eagerly”.
“Well, perhaps”, admitted Hilary.
“Neither has she your love nor your life as her own. In loving her you love the Great Order to which she belongs, and she will gladly give your love to its right owner. She has done this already in bringing you to me.”
Hilary started to his feet, stung beyond endurance.
“This is mere nonsense, mere insult”, he said angrily, “Fleta has accepted my love with her own lips”. [Page 265]
“That is so”, was the answer, “and she is betrothed to King Alan”.
“I know that”, said Hilary in a low voice.
“And what did you hold Fleta to be then ? A mere pleasure seeker, playing with life like the rest, devoid of honour and principle ? Was this your estimate of the woman you loved ? What else indeed could it be, when you said, let her give her hand to King Alan while you know her love is yours ! And you could love such a woman ! Hilary Estanol, you have been reared in a different school than this. Does not your own conscience shame you ? ”
Hilary stood silent. Every word struck home. He knew not what to say. He had been wilfully blinding himself; the bandages were rudely drawn aside. After a long pause he spoke, hesitatingly:
“The Princess cannot be judged as other women would be; she is unlike all others.”
“Not so, if she is what you seem to think her; then she is just like the rest, one of the common herd.”
“How can you speak of her in that way ? ”
“How can you think of her as you do, dishonouring her by your thoughts ?”
The two stood opposite each other now, and their eyes met. A strange light seemed to struggle into Hilary’s soul as these bitter words rang sharply on his ear. Dishonouring her? Was it possible? He staggered back and leaned against the wall, still gazing on the magnificent face before him.
“Who are you ? ” he said at last.
“I am Father Ivan, the superior of the order to which the Princess Fleta belongs”, was the reply. But another voice spoke when his ceased, and Hilary saw that Fleta had entered, and was standing behind him.
“And he is the master of knowledge, the master in life, the master in thought, of whom the Princess Fleta is but a poor and impatient disciple. Master, forgive me ! I cannot endure to hear you speak as if you were a monk, the mere tool of a religion, the mere professor of a miserable creed.”
She sank on her knees before Father Ivan, in an attitude strangely full.of humility. The priest bent down and lifted her to her feet. They stood a moment in silence, side by side, Fleta’s eyes upon his face devouring his expression with a passionate and adoring eagerness How splendid they looked! Suddenly Hilary saw it, and a wild, fierce, all-devouring flame of jealousy awoke in his heart — a jealousy such as King Alan, no, nor a hundred King Alans, could not have roused in him.
For he saw that this Ivan, who wore a priest’s dress, yet was evidently no priest, who spoke as if this world had no longer any meaning for him, yet who was magnificent in his personal presence and power — he saw [Page 266] that this man was Fleta’s equal. And more, he saw that Fleta’s whole face melted and softened, and grew strangely sweet, as she looked on him. Never had Hilary seen it like that. Never had Hilary dreamed it could look like that. Stumbling like a blind man he felt for the door, which he knew was near, and escaped from the room — how he knew not. Hurriedly he went on, through places he did not see, and at last found himself in the open air. He went with great strides away through the tall ferns and undergrowth until he found himself in so quiet a spot that it appeared as if he were alone in the great forest. Then he flung himself upon the ground and yielded to an agony of despair which blotted out sky and trees and everything from his gaze, like a great cloud covering the earth.
(To be continued.)