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CHAPTER X

 

HOW THEY GATHERED THE SILK FOR THE WEAVING OF THE BUTTERFLY-NET

 

     CYRIL GREY made the midnight invocation to the Sun-God, Khephra, the Winged Beetle, upon the crest of the Long Rocher; and he made the morning invocation to the Sun-God, Ra, the Hawk, upon the heights that overlooked the hamlet of Barbizon.

     Thence, like Chanticleer himself, he woke the people of the Inn, who, in memory of the days Stevenson had spent with them, honour his ashes by emulating the morality of Long John Silver.

     They were prepared for the breakfast order; but Cyril's requirement, a long-distance call to Paris, struck them as unseasonable and calculated to disturb the balance of the Republic. They asked themselves if the Dreyfus case were come again. However, Cyril got his call, and Simon Iff his information, before seven o'clock. Long before Douglas, who had waited until midnight for the news of his triumph, had recovered from the sleep following its celebration, Iff in his fastest automobile had picked up the lovers at an agreed spot in the forest, the Croix du Grand Maitre, whirled them to Dijon, and put them into the train for Marseilles. There they took ship, and came to Naples by sea, without adventure.

     The enemy, in one way or another, had been thrown utterly off the track. [132] It was early in the morning when they landed; at three o'clock they had visited such local deities as commanded their more urgent piety; the Museum, Vergil's Tomb, also Michaelsen the bookseller and vendor of images of the Ineffable. At four they started, hand in hand, along the shore, towards their new home.

     An hour's walk brought them to the foot of a long stairway, damp stonework, narrow, between high walls, that led vertical and steep to the very crest of Posilippo. One could see the old church amid its cluster of houses. Cyril pointed to a house a couple of hundred yards north of the church. It was the most attractive building on the hillside.

     The house itself was not large, but it was built like a toy imitation of one of those old castles that one sees everywhere on difficult heights, throughout most of Southern and even Central Europe; in a word, like a castle in a fairy-story. It looked from below, owing to foreshortening, as if it were built over a sheer rampart, like the Potala at Lhassa; but this was only the effect of merging a series of walls which divided the garden by terraces.

     "Is that the Butterfly-net?" cried Lisa, slapping her hands with delight.

     "That," he dissented, "is The Net."

     Once again Lisa felt a pang of something like distrust. His trick of saying the simplest things as if they bore a second meaning, hidden from her, annoyed her. He had been strangely silent on the voyage, and wholly aloof from her on those planes where she most needed him; that was a necessary condition of the experiment, of course; but none the less it tended to disturb her happiness. Such talks as they had had were either purely educative, Magick in Six Easy Lessons, he called it, or Magick without Tears, or else they were conventional lover's chats, which she [133] felt sure he despised. He would tell her that her eyes were like the stars; and she would think that he meant: "What am I to say to this piece of wood?" Even nature seemed to stir his contempt in some way. One night she had noticed him rapt in a poetic trance leaning over the bows watching the foam. For a long while he remained motionless, his breast rising quickly and falling, his lips trembling with passion -- and then he turned to her and said in cold blood: "Ought that to be used to advertize a dentifrice or a shaving soap?" She was sure that he had rehearsed the whole scene merely to work her up in order to have the fun of dropping her again. Only the next morning she woke early, to find a pencilled sonnet on his table, a poem so spiritual, so profound, and of such jewelcraft, that she knew why the few people whom he had allowed to read his work thought him the match of Milton. So apt were the similes that there could be no doubt that he had thought it out line by line, in that trance which he had marred, for her, by his brutal anti-climax.

     She had asked him about it.

     "Some people," he had said quite seriously, "have one brain; some have two. I have two." A minute later: "Oh, I forgot. Some have none."

     She had refused to be snubbed. "What do you mean by your having two brains?"

     "I really have. It seems as if; in order to grasp anything, I were obliged to take its extremes. I see both the sublime and the ridiculous at once, and I can't imagine one existing apart from the other, any more than you can have a stick with only one end. So I use one point of view to overbalance the other, like a child starting to swing itself. I am never happy until I have identified an idea with its opposite. I take the idea of murder -- just a plain, horrid idea. But I don't stop there. I multiply [134] that murder, and intensify it a millionfold, and then a millionfold again. Suddenly one comes out into the sublime idea of the Opening of the Eye of Shiva, when the Universe is annihilated in an instant. Then I swing back, and make the whole thing comic by having the hero chloroform Shiva in the nick of time, so that he can marry the beautiful American heiress.

     "Until I have been all round the clock like that, I don't feel that I have the idea at all. If you had only let me go on about the shaving soap, I should have made it into something lovely again -- and all the time I should have perceived the absolute identity of even the two contradictory phases."

     But it was beyond her still, in each case as it came up "That is the Net!" a riddle? It might mean a thousand things; and to a woman of her positive and prosaic temperament (which she had, for all her hysteria and romanticism) doubt was torture. Love itself always torments women of this type; they want their lovers under lock and key. They would like love itself to be a more substantial commodity, a thing that one could buy by the pound, and store in a safe or an ice-chest.

     Doubt and jealousy, those other hand-maidens of love, are also the children of imagination. But people wrongly use the word "imagination" to mean abstraction of ideas from concrete facts. And this is the reverse of the truth. Imagination makes ideas visible, clothes Being in form. It is, in short, very much like the "faith" of which Paul speaks. When true imagination makes true images of the Unseen, we have true love, and all true gods; when false imagination makes false images -- then come the idols, Moloch, Jahveh, Jaganath, and their kindred, attended by all shapes of vice, of crime, of misery.

     Lisa was thinking, as she climbed the apparently unending staircase, that she had taken pretty long [135] odds. She had not hesitated to buck the Tiger, Life. Simon Iff had warned her that she was acting on impulse. But -- on the top of that -- he had merely urged her to be true to it. She swore once more that she would stick to her guns. The black mood fell from her. She turned and looked upon the sea, now far below. The sun, a hollow orb of molten glory, hung quivering in the mist of the Mediterranean; and Lisa entered for a moment into a perfect peace of spirit. She became one with Nature, instead of a being eternally at war with it.

     But Cyril turned his face again to the mountain; she knew that he wanted to perform the evening adoration from the terrace of the house itself.

     At last they came out from their narrow gangway to the by-street behind the church. It was an old and neglected thoroughfare, far from the main automobile road that runs along the crest. It was a place that the centuries had forgotten. Lisa realized that it was a haven of calm -- and in a sense she resented the fact. Her highly-coloured nature demanded constant stimulus. She was an emotion-fiend, if one may construct the term by analogy with another branch of pathology.

     The lovers turned to the left through the village; in a few minutes the road opened, and they saw the villa before them. It stood on a spur of rock, separated from the main hill by a sharply-cut chasm. This was spanned by an old stone bridge, a flying arch set steeply from the road to the house. It almost gave the effect of a frozen cascade issuing from the great doorway.

     Cyril led Lisa across the bridge. This house was not served like that they had left behind them in Paris. Visitors were not expected or desired at any time, and the inmates rarely left the grounds, except on duty. [136]

     It was therefore some time before an answer to the summons reached them. Cyril's hand, dragging down an iron rope, had set swinging a great bell, deep and solemn, like a tocsin, in the turret which overlooked the chasm. Not until its last echo was dumb did a small Judas in the door slide back. Cyril held up his left hand, and showed his seal-ring. Immediately the door swung open; a man of fifty odd years of age, dressed in black, with a great sword, like his brother guard at the Profess-House in Paris, stood bowing before them.

     "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law. I enter the house."

     With these words Cyril Grey assumed possession. "Lead me to Sister Clara." The man turned and went before them down a long corridor which opened upon a stone terrace, flagged with porphyry. A circular fountain in the middle had, for its centre a copy of the Venus Callipyge in black marble. The parapet was decorated with statues of satyrs, fauns, and nymphs.

     The woman who came to meet them was assuredly kin to that ancient company. She was about forty years of age, robust and hardy, burnt dark with years of outdoor life, her face slightly pitted with smallpox, her eyes black, stern, and true. Her whole aspect and demeanour expressed devoting capacity and determination. It was she who ruled the house in the absence of Simon Iff.

     A brief colloquy between this woman and Cyril Grey followed their first greetings, whose austere formality inexplicably conveyed the most cordial kindness. He explained that he wished her to continue in full control of the house, only modifying its rules so far as might be necessary for the success of a certain experiment in magick which he had come to carry out. Sister Clara acquiesced with the [137] slightest of nods; then she raised her voice, and summoned the others to the evening adoration of the Sun.

     Cyril performed this as leader; the duty done, he was free to meet his new brothers and sisters.

     Sister Clara was assisted by two young women, both of the slender willowy type -- rather babyish even, one might say, with their light brown fluffiness and their full, red soft lips. They remained standing apart from the men, who numbered five. First in rank came the burly Brother Onofrio, a man of some thirty-five years, strong as a bull, with every muscle like iron from constant physical toil. Two men of thirty stood beside him, and behind them two lads of about sixteen.

     They were all devoted -- so far as the outer world was aware -- to the healing of humanity in respect of its physical ills. The men were doctors, or students, the women nurses; though in fact Sister Clara was herself the most brilliant of them all, a surgeon who could have held her own against any man in Europe.

     But it was contrary to the rule of the house for any sick person to lodge there; the private hospital which was attached to it was situated some three hundred yards further back from the hillside.

     At a glance Lisa perceived that she had come into a circle where discipline was the first consideration.

     Every one moved as if a Prussian sergeant had been in charge of him from infancy. Every one looked as if his responsibility were ever present to his mind. These manners sat naturally enough upon Clara and Onofrio; on the others the idea was hardly yet assimilated. But there was no evidence of any outward constraint; even the youngest of the boys was proud to take himself so seriously as he did.

     A touch of frost was in the air; Cyril led Lisa within. A special set of rooms had been prepared [138] for their reception; but Lisa was displeased to find that they had been arranged entirely with reference to feminine tastes and requirements. A single scheme of colour embraced the whole suite; white, blue and silver. The tapestries, the carpets, the very ceilings, were wholly in these and no other lights.

     The pictures and statues were of Artemis, no other goddess; the very objects in the apartment were crescent shaped, and the only metal in evidence was silver. Where the crescent could not serve the purpose, the surfaces had been engraved with stars of nine points.

     Only three books lay upon the table; they were the Endymion of Keats, the Atalanta in Calydon of Swinburne, and one other. But in a small bookshelf were several other volumes; and Lisa found later that each one described, suggested, or had been more or less directly inspired by the moon. In a silver censer, too, burnt an incense whose predominating ingredient was camphor. Everything present was designed or chosen so that it might turn the girl's mind to the earth's satellite. Subsequently she discovered that this plan extended even to her diet -- she was to live exclusively on those foods which wise men of old classified as lunar in nature, on account either of their inherent qualities, or because they are traditionally sacred to Diana.

     After the beginning of the experiment, no male was to enter that apartment.

     She was a little frightened on grasping the fact that Cyril must have forseen her perfect compliance from the beginning. He noticed it with a slow smile, and began to explain to her why he had chosen the moon as the type of "butterfly" they were going to snare.

     "The moon is the most powerful influence in your horoscope," he said. "She stands, in her own sign Cancer, in the mid-heaven. The Sun and [139] Mercury are rising in square to her, which is not specially good; it may bring trouble of a certain kind; But Neptune is sextile to her, Jupiter and Venus trine. It is about as good a horoscope as one could hope for in such a case. The worst danger is the conjunction of Luna and Uranus -- they are much too close to be comfortable. My own nativity goes well with yours, for I am primarily solar by nature, though (Heaven knows!) Herschel in the ascendant modifies it; and so I make the complement to you. But I am not to influence you or associate with you too much. I shall sleep with the men in the square tower yonder, which is kept magically separate from the rest of the house. We shall all be working constantly to invoke the moon's influence and to keep off intruders. Sister Clara is egregiously powerful in work of this special kind; she has made a particular study of it for twenty years; and during the past ten she has never spoken to a man, except in strict necessity. Her pupils have taken a similar resolution. There is no question of vows, which imply self-distrust -- fear of weakness and of vacillation; the women of our order execute their own wills, with no need of external pressure. Go thou and do likewise!" Suddenly he had become stern and gloomy; and she felt how terrible would be his anger or contempt.

     The morning broke brilliant; and Lisa found, not for the first time, that the most bracing influence resulted from the routine peculiar to the Profess-houses. To rise before dawn; to make a ceremonial ablution with the intention of so purifying both body and mind that they should be as it were new-born; then the joyous outburst of adoration as the sun rose to sight: this was a true Opening of the Day. Insensibly the years slipped from her; she became like a maiden in thought and in activity.

     About a week was to elapse before the new moon, [140] at the moment of which the operation was timed to commence; but it was a busy week for Cyril Grey. With Brother Onofrio, for whom he had taken an immense liking, he inspected every inch of the defences of the house. It was already a kind of fortress; the terraces were bounded by ramparts angled or rounded so as to suggest that old-fashioned pattern of military work of which Fort William in Calcutta is said to be the most perfect example.

     But the defence of which the magicians were thinking was of a different order; the problem was to convert the whole place as it stood into an impregnable magical circle. For years, of course, the place had been defended, but not as against its present dangers. It had been hitherto sufficient to exclude evil and ignorant beings, things of the same class as Douglas' watcher; but now a far more formidable problem was in view, how to dissuade a Soul, a being armed with the imperial right to enter, from approaching. Demons and elementals and intelligences were only fractions of true Entities, according to the theory; they were illusions, things merely three-dimensional, with no core of substance in themselves. In yet another figure, they were adjectives, and not nouns. But a human soul is a complete reality. "Every man and every woman is a star."

     To repel one such from its demand to issue into the world of matter was a serious difficulty -- and, also, possibly involved no mean responsibility. However, Cyril's main hope was that any passing souls would be reasonable, and not try to force themselves into uncongenial company, or plant themselves in unsuitable soil. He had always held that incarnation was balked when the soul discovered that the heredity and environment of the embryo it had chosen were too hostile to allow the desired manifestation; the soul would then withdraw, with the physical result of [141] miscarriage, still-birth, or, where the embryo, deserted by the human soul, becomes open to the obsession of some other thing, such as a Vampire or what the Bible calls a "dumb spirit," the production of monsters or idiots.

     Cyril Grey, by insisting upon constant devotion to the human ideal, hoped to ward off all other types of soul, just as the presence of a pack of wolves would frighten away a lamb; and he further trusted to attract potent forces, who would serve as a kind of lighthouse to his harbour. He imagined his desired Moon-soul, afloat in space, vehemently spurred towards the choir of sympathetic intelligences whom it could hardly fail to perceive, by reason of the intensity of the concentration of the magical forces of the operators upon the human idea.

     Two days before the beginning of the operation, a telegram from Paris reached him. It stated that, as he suspected, Balloch and Douglas were the forces behind the attack; further, that Grey's presence in Naples was known, and that three members of the Black Lodge had left Paris for Italy.

     He thought it undesirable to communicate the news to Lisa.

     But he renewed his general warnings to her.

     "Child!" he said, "you are now ready for our great experiment. On Monday, the day of the New Moon, you take the oath of dedication; and we shall be able to resume those relations which we temporarily renounced. Now let me say to you that you are absolutely guarded in every way but one. The weak spot is this: we cannot abolish unsuitable thoughts entirely from your mind. It is for you to do that, and we have done our best to make the conditions as favourable as possible; but I warn you that the struggle may be bitter. You will be amazed at the possibilities of your own mind, its fertility of [142] cunning, its fatally false logic, its power of blinding you to facts that ought to be as clear as daylight -- yes, even to the things before your very eyes. It will seek to bewilder you, to make you lose your mental balance -- every trick is possible. And you will be so beaten and so blind that you have only one safe -- guard; which is, to adhere desperately to the literal terms of your oath.

     "Do that, and in a little while the mind will clear; you will understand what empty phantoms they were that assailed you. But if you fail, your only standard is gone; the waters will swirl about you and carry you away to the abyss of madness. Above all, never distinguish between the spirit and the letter of your oath! The most exquisite deceit of the devil is to lure you from the plain meaning of words. So, though your instinct, and your reason, and your common sense, and your intelligence all urge you to interpret some duty otherwise than in the plain original sense; don't do it!"

     "I don't see what you mean."

     "Here's a case. Suppose you swore 'not to touch alcohol.' The devil would come with a sickness, and an alcholic medicine; he would tempt you to say that of course your oath didn't mean 'medicinally.' Or you would wish to rub your skin with eau-de-cologne; of course 'touch' really meant 'drink.'"

     "And I should really be right to be stupidly literal, like that?"

     "Yes, in a case where the mind, being under a magical strain, becomes unfit to judge. It's the story of Bluebeard; only you must alter it so that the contents of the fatal chamber exist only in the woman's imagination, that she had so worked herself up by what she thought she might see that she also thought she saw it. So be on your guard!" [143]

     On the last day of the old moon he gave her an idea of the  main programme.

     First, the honeymoon; their normal relations were to endure until there was evidence of the need to emphasize the crucial point of the operation. From that moment she was to see nothing of Cyril save in the ceremonies of invocation; all other relations were to cease. The lover would become the hermit. The magician had calculated the probable moment of incarnation as about six months before the day of birth. Once it became certain that the soul had taken possession of the embryo, the hermit would become the elder brother.

     It was clearly the middle period that was critical; not only because of the magical difficulties, but because Lisa herself would be under intense strain, and isolated from her lover's active sympathy. But Cyril thought it best to dare these dangers rather than to allow his own soul to influence her atmosphere, as his solar personality might possibly drive away the very "butterfly" which they wished to collect. In fact, his human individuality was one of the things that had to be banished from her neighbourhood. She must know nothing of him but the purely magical side, when, clothed in robes suitable to the invocations of Luna and with word and gesture concentrated wholly upon the work, he sank Cyril Grey utterly in the Priest of Artemis -- "thy shrine, thine oracle, thine heat of pale-mouthed prophet dreaming." [144]