"Oh, little Brother!" said the old mystic sadly.
"How long will it take you to work through this wretched business?"
"I have omnipotence at my command, and eternity at my disposal," smiled the boy, using Eliphaz Levi's well-known formula.
"I ought to explain," said Simple Simon, turning to Lisa. "This boy is a desperate magician confined within the circle of this forest. His plan is Action; he is all for Magick; give him a Wand and a host of Demons to control, and he is happy. For my part, I prefer the Way of the Tao, and to do everything by doing nothing. I know it sounds difficult; one day I will explain. But the practical result is that I lead a placid and contented life, and nothing ever happens; he, on the contrary, makes trouble everywhere, excites the wrath of Turks, and worse, if I am right; he thereby brings about a situation where perfectly competent ladies' maids have epileptic fits, mediums endeavour to procure blood from bewitching damozels — and now there's a Thing in the Garden." His voice had a wail of comic disgust.
"However, this is Cyril's funeral, not mine. He called me in; I must say I approve of his general plan, on the whole, and I dare say much of the opposition is unavoidable. In any case he is the magician; Principal Boy in a Pantomime. I merely hold the sponge; and we have to use his formula throughout, not mine. If it ends in disaster," he added as a cheerful afterthought, "perhaps it will teach him a lesson! A Chinese God, indeed! He would be better as a Chinese coolie, smoking opium at the feet of Chwangtze!"
"He tells me that I stand in my own way, that I love struggle and adventure, and that this is weakness and not strength."
"This girl is in danger: quite unnecessary danger."
"I am going to ask my master to show you his method; you will see plenty of mine in the next few weeks; and I should like you to have a standard of comparison. Maybe you'll want to choose one day!"
"I'm afraid I, too, like danger and excitement!" cried Lisa.
"I'm afraid you do! However, since Brother Cyril asks it, the Way of the Tao shall be trodden so far as this is possible: What would Brother Cyril do?"
"I should take the Magic Sword, make the appropriate symbols, and invoke the Names Divine appurtenant thereto: the Thing, shrivelled and blasted, would go back to those that sent it, screaming in agony, cursing at the gods, ready to turn even on its employers, that they might wail with it in torment."
"One of the best numbers on the programme," said Simon Iff. "Now see the other way!"
"Yes: if your way is better than that!" cried the girl, her eyes gleaming.
"It isn't my way," said the mystic, with a sudden inflection of solemnity. His voice rose in a low monotonous chant as he quoted from "The Book of the Heart girt with the Serpent."
"I, and Me, and Mine were sitting with lutes in the market-place of the great city, the city of the violets and the roses.
"The night fell, and the music of the lutes was stilled.
"The tempest arose, and the music of the lutes was stilled.
The hour passed, and the music of the lutes was stilled.
"But Thou art Eternity and Space; Thou art Matter and Motion; and Thou art the Negation of all these things. For there is no symbol of Thee."
The listeners were thrilled to the marrow of their bones. But the old man merely gathered a handful of dittany leaves from the chased golden box where they were kept, and led the way to the garden.
It was very dark; nothing could be distinguished but the outlines of the shrubs and the line of the fence beyond.
"Do you see the Thing?" said Iff.
"You mustn't look for anything very definite," said the mystic.
"It seems as if the darkness were somehow different in that corner," said Lisa at last, pointing. "A sort of reddish tinge to the murk."
"Oh dear me! if you will use words hike 'murk'! I'm afraid you're all on Cyril's side! Look now! " And he put his hand on her head. With the other he offered her the dittany. "Chew one of these leaves!" he said.
She took one of the silver-grey heaves, with its delicate snow-bloom, between her teeth.
"I can see a sort of shapeless mass, dark-red," she said after a pause.
"Now watch!" cried Iff. He took several steps into the garden, and raised his right hand. "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law!" he proclaimed in such a voice as once shook Sinai.
Then he threw the rest of the dittany in the direction of the Thing.
"By all the powers of the Pentagram!" shouted Cyril Grey; "he's deliberately making a magical link between it and Lisa." He bit his lip, and cursed himself in silence; he knew he had been startled out of prudence.
Simon Iff had not noticed the outburst. He quoted "The Book of the Law," "Be strong!" he cried. "Enjoy all things of sense and rapture! There is no god that shall deny thee for this!"
The Thing became coherent. It contracted slightly. Lisa could now see that it was an animal of the wolf type, couchant. The body was as big as that of a small elephant. It became quite clearly visible. It was a dull fiery red. The head was turned toward her, and she was suddenly shocked to see that it had no eyes.
The old man advanced towards it. He had abandoned his prophetic attitude. His whole gait expressed indifference — no, forgetfulness. He was merely a quiet old gentleman taking an evening stroll.
He walked right into the Thing. Suddenly, as it enveloped him, Lisa saw that a faint light was issuing from his body, a pale phosphorescence which kindled warmly as he went. She saw the edges of the Thing contract, as if they were sucked inwards. This proceeded, and the light became intense. About a burning ovoid core dawned and vibrated the flashing colours of the rainbow. The Thing disappeared completely; at the same moment the light went out. Simon Iff was once again merely an old gentleman taking an evening stroll.
But she heard a soft voice, almost as faint as an echo; it murmured: "Love is the law, love under will."
"Let us go in," said he as he rejoined them. "You must not catch a chill."
Lisa went to the divan. She said nothing; she was stupefied by what she had seen. Perhaps she even lost full consciousness for a moment; for her next impression was of the two men arguing.
"I agree," Cyril was saying, "it is very neat, and shows the restraint of the great artist; but I am thinking of the Man behind the gun. I should have struck terror into him."
"But fear is failure!" protested Iff mildly, as if surprised.
"But we want them to fail!"
"Oh no! I want them to succeed."
Cyril turned rather angrily to Lisa. "He's impossible! I fancy myself at paradox, you know; but he goes beyond my understanding every time. I'm an amateur, and a rotten amateur at that."
"Let me explain!" said Simple Simon. "If everybody did his Will, there would be no collision. Every man and every woman is a star. It is when we get off our orbits that the clashes come. Now if a Thing gets off its orbit, and comes into my sphere of attraction, I absorb it as quietly as possible, and the stars sing together again."
"Whew!" said Cyril, and pretended to wipe the sweat from his brow.
"But weren't you in danger from that devilish Thing?" asked Lisa, with the memory of a great anxiety. She had trembled like an aspen during the scene in the garden.
"The rhinoceros," quoted Simon Iff, "finds no place in him into which to thrust its horn, nor the tiger a place in which to fix its claws, nor the weapon a place to admit its point. And for what reason? Because there is in him no place of death."
"But you did nothing. You were just acting like an ordinary man. But I think it would have been death for any one but you."
"An ordinary man would not have touched the Thing. It was on a different plane, and would no more have interfered with him than sound interferes with light. A young magician, one who had opened a gate on to that plane, but had not yet become master of that plane, might have been overcome. The Thing might even have dispossessed his ego, and used his body as its own. That is the beginner's danger in magick."
"And what is your secret?"
"To have assimilated all things so perfectly that there is no longer any possibility of strungle. To have destroyed the idea of duality. To have achieved Love and Will so that there is no longer any object to Love, or any aim for Will. To have killed desire at the root; to be one with every thing and with Nothing.
"Look!" he went on, with a change of tone, "why does a man die when he is struck by lightning? Because he has a gate open to lightning; he insists on being an electrical substance by possessing the quality of resistance to the passage of the electric current. If we could diminish that resistance to zero, lightning would no longer take notice of him.
"There are two ways of preventing a rise of temperature from the sun's heat. One is to oppose a shield of non-conducting and opaque material: that is Cyril's way, and at the best it is imperfect; some heat always gets through. The other is to remove every particle of matter from the space which you wish to be cold; then there is nothing there to become hot; and that is the Way of the Tao."
Lisa put an arm round Cyril's neck, and rested her head on his shoulder. "I shouldn't know how to begin!" she said: "and — I know it would mean giving up Cyril."
"It would mean giving up yourself," retorted the mystic, "and you'll have to do it one day: But be reassured! Everybody has to go through your stage — and unless I'm mistaken, you are about to go through it in a particularly acute form."
"I've tried the Tao," said Cyril, half regretful, "but I can't manage it."
The old man laughed. "You're like the old man in the storm who realized that he would be warmer elsewhere. So he decided to diminish the amount of himself by removing his clothes, and only found it colder. It gets worse and worse till the moment when you vanish utterly and for ever. But you have only tried half-measures. Naturally, you have found your will divided against itself — the will to live against the will to Nirvana, if I may call it so — and that is not even good magick."
The boy groaned inwardly. He could understand just enough to realize how far the heights reached above him. His heart almost failed him at the thought — which was instinctive knowledge — that he must scale them, whether he would or no.
"Take care!" suddenly cried Simon Iff.
At almost the same instant a terrible scream shrilled out from a neighbouring studio.
"It is my fault," murmured the old man, humbly. "I divided his will. I have been talking like an old fool. I must have been identified with Simon Iff for a moment. Oh, pride! Oh, pride!"
But Cyril Grey had understood the warning. He rose to his full height, and made a curious gesture. Then, with a grim face, he ran out of the studio. In a moment he was battering at the door of his neighbour. It burst open under the momentum of his shoulder.
A woman lay upon the floor. Over her stood the sculptor, a blood-stained hammer in his hand. He seemed absolutely dazed. Grey shook him. He looked round stupidly." What have I done?" he said. "Nothing!" snarled Cyril. "I did it, I. Quick! can't we save her?" But the sculptor burst into lamentation: he was incapable of anything but tears. He flung himself upon the body of his model, and wept passionately. Cyril gritted his teeth; the girl was on the borderland. "Master!" he cried, in a terrible voice.
"In a case of this kind," said Simple Simon, who was standing unperceived within a foot of him, "where Nature has been outraged, an attempt made to interfere violently with her laws, it is permissible to act — or rather, to counteract just so much as is necessary to restore equilibrium. There was a seed of quarrel in the hearts of these young people; the blow aimed at you, when your own will became divided, struck aslant; their own division attracted the murder-force to them.
"I will administer The Medicine." He took a flask from his pocket, put a drop of the contents on the lips of the girl, and one in each nostril. He then sprinkled a little upon a handkerchief, and put it to the wound on her head.
Suddenly the sculptor rose to his feet with a great cry. His hands were covered in blood, which streamed from his own scalp.
"Quick! back to the studio!" said Simon. "We don't want to make explanations. They'll both be all right in five minutes, and they'll think it all a dream. As, indeed, like the rest of things, it is!"
But Cyril had to carry la Giuffria. The rapid successions of these mysterious events had ended by throwing her consciousness completely out of gear. She lay in a deep trance.
"A very fortunate circumstance!" remarked Simon, when he observed it. "This is the time to take her over to the Profess-House." Cyril wrapped her in her furs; between them they carried her to the boulevard, where Simon Iff's automobile was in waiting.
The old mystic held up his left hand, with two of the fingers crossed. It was a signal to the chauffeur. In another moment they were running on easy speed up the Boulevard Arago.
Lisa came to herself as the car, crossing the Seine, pointed at the heights of Montmartre; and she was perfectly recovered as it stopped before a modest house of quite modern type, which was set against the steepest part of the hill.
The door opened, without alarm being given. Lisa learnt later that in this house no orders needed to be issued, that simplicity had reached so serene a level that all things operated together without question. Only when unusual accidents took place was there need for speech; and little, even then.
The door stood open, and a quite ordinary butler presented himself, bowing. Simon Iff returned the salute, and walked on, when a second door opened, also spontaneously. Lisa found herself in a small lobby. The man who had opened the inner door was clad from neck to knee in a single black robe, without sleeves. From his belt hung a heavy sword with a cross-hilt. This man held up three fingers. Simon Iff again nodded, and led his guests to the room on the left.
Here were the three guests indicated by the gesture of the guard. Lord Antony Bowling was a familiar friend of the old mystic. He was a stout and strong man of nearly fifty years of age, with a gaze both intrepid and acute: His nose was of the extreme aristocratic type, his mouth sensual and strong.
Cyril Grey had nicknamed him "The Merman of Mayfair" and claimed that Rodin got the idea for his "Centaur" the day that he met him.
He was the younger brother of the Duke of Flint, his race probably Norman in the main: but he gave the impression of a Roman Emperor. Haughtiness was here, and great good-nature; the intellect was evidently developed to the highest possible pitch of which man as man is capable; and one could read the judicial habit on his deep wide brows. Against this one could see the huge force of the man's soul, the passionate desire for knowledge which burnt in that great brain. One could conceive him capable of monstrous deeds, for he would let no man, no prejudice of men, stand in his way. He would certainly have fiddled while Rome was burning if it had been his hobby to play the violin.
This man was the mainstay of the Society for Psychical Research. He was the only absolutely competent man in it, perhaps; at least, he stood well above all others. He had the capacity for measuring the limits of error in any investigation with great accuracy. Just as the skilful climber can make his way on rotten chalk by trusting each crumbling fragment with just that fraction of his weight which will not quite dislodge it, so Lord Antony could prepare a sound case from worthless testimony. He knew the limits of fraud. He might catch a medium in the act of cheating a dozen times in a seance, and yet record some of the phenomena of that seance as evidential. He used to say that the fact of a medium having his hands free did not explain the earthquake at Messina.
If this man had ever caused people to distrust his judgment — nobody but an imbecile could have doubted his sincerity — the cause lay in his power to fool the mediums he was investigating to the top of their bent. He would enter into every phase of their strange moods as if he had been absolutely one with them in spirit; then, when they were gone, he would withdraw and look at the whole course of events from without, as if he had had no share in them.
But people who saw him only in the first phase thought him easily hoodwinked.
The second of the guests of Simon Iff, or, rather, of the Order to which he belonged, was a tall man bowed with ill-health. A shock of heavy black hair crowned a face pallid as death itself; but his eyes blazed formidably beneath their bushy brows. He had just returned from Burma, where he had lived for many years as a Buddhist monk. The indomitable moral valour of the man shone from him; one could see in every gesture the marks of his fierce fight against a dozen deadly sicknesses. With hardly a week of even tolerable health in any year, he had done work that might have frightened the staff of a great University. Almost single-handed, he had explored the inmost doctrine of the Buddha, and thrown light on many a tangled grove of thought. He had reorganized Buddhism as a missionary religion, and founded societies everywhere to study and practise it. He had even found time and strength, amid these labours, to pursue his own hobby of electrical research. Misunderstood, thwarted, hampered in every way, he had won through; and he had never violated the precepts of his Teacher by raising his voice to denounce error. Even his enemies had been compelled to recognize him as a saint. Simon Iff had never met him, but he went to greet Cyril with the affection of a brother. The boy had been the greatest of his pupils, but the Mahathera Phang, as he was now called in his monastery, had long ago abandoned magick for a path not very different from that of Simon Iff.
The third man was of very inferior calibre to either of the others. He was of medium height and good build, though somewhat frail. But in him was no great development. One divined a restless intelligence fettered to mere cleverness, a failure to grasp the distinction between genius and talent. He was an expert conjurer, had all the facts of psychic research at his finger's end, was up in all the modern theories of psychology, but was little more than a machine. He was incapable of refuting his own logic by an appeal to his common sense. Some one having once remarked that we all dig our graves with our teeth, Wake Morningside had started to prove scientifically that eating was the direct cause of death; and that, consequently, absolute fasting would confer immortality. This was of course easy to prove — in America.
He had continued with experiments in weighing souls, photographing thoughts, and would probably have gone fishing for the Absolute if he had only thought of it! He was a prop to the editors of the New York Sunday Newspapers, and was at present engaged on writing a scenario for moving pictures in which he was to incorporate the facts of psychical research. Nobody in the world was better aware than he that everything reliable could be packed into a single reel, and rattle, but he had undauntedly contracted for a series of fifty five-part pictures. He chewed his chocolate — his latest specific for averting the perils of more complex nutrition — with no idea that these activities might damage his reputation as a research student. And he was really a very clever man, with a quick eye and brain. If he had possessed moral force, he might have been saved from many of his follies. But his belief in his own fads had impaired his health and made him somewhat hysterical; as a result of this, and of his tendency to exploit his knowledge in second-rate ways, people had begun to doubt the value of his testimony even in serious matters. For instance. Some years before, he had been one of the signatories to a favourable report on a medium named Jansen; the following year he had brought the man over to America, and made a great deal of money out of the tour. The action destroyed both Jansen and the earlier report. In New York the Scandinavian medium had been exposed, and when Morningside had objected that this did not invalidate the earlier report, his opponent retorted: "No: Your presence there does that!"
But Bowling, with whom he had just crossed from England, knew him better than to think venality of him, and still valued his co-operation in the investigations of alleged spiritualistic phenomena for his extraordinary skill in conjuring, and his practically complete knowledge of every trick that ever had been played, or could be played. In fact, he was Bowling's expert witness on the question of the limits of possible fraud.
Until Simon Iff and his party entered, these three men had been entertained by a woman. She was dressed in a plain purple robe, made in a single piece. It fell to her feet. The sleeves were long and widening towards the wrist. A red rose, upon a cross of gold, was embroidered on the breast. Her rich brown hair was coiled over her ears.
The face of this woman was of extreme beauty, in a certain esoteric fancy. Like her whole body, it was sturdy and vigorous, but there was infinite delicacy, surprising in so strong a model. Her eyes were clear and fearless and true; but one could see that they must have served her ill indeed often enough, for they were evidently incapable of understanding falsity, and evil. The nose was straight and broad, full of energy; and the mouth passionate and firm. The lips were somewhat thick, but they were mobile; and the whole expression of the face redeemed any defect of any feature. For while its general physical aspect was severe, even savage — she might have been a Tartar beauty, the bride of a Gengis Khan, or a South Sea Island Queen, tossing her lovers into the crater of Mauna Loa after killing them in the excess and fantasy of her passion — yet the soul within shone out and turned the swords to plowshares. There was pride, indeed, but only of that kind which is (as it were) the buckler on the arm of nobility; the woman was incapable of meanness, of treachery, or even of unkindness.
There were terrible fires in the depths of that volcano; but they had been turned to human service; they had been used to heat the forge of art. For this woman was a great singer; and no one outside the Order knew of her secret aspirations, or that she retired from time to time to one or the other of the Profess-Houses of the Order, there to pursue a mightier transmutation of her being.
She greeted Cyril with peculiar warmth — indeed, it had been she to whom he had once thrown a pair of socks. In a way, it was he that had made her a great artist; for his personality had broken down her dykes; not till she met him had she ever let herself go. And it was by a magical trick that he had shown her how to use her art as a vehicle for her soul.
Later, he had brought her into the Order, realizing the inestimable value of her virtue; and if she was not its most advanced member she was its most beloved.
They called her Sister Cybele.