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CHAPTER XX

 

WALPURGIS-NIGHT

 

     THE spring in Naples had advanced with eager foot; in her gait she revealed the truth of her godhead; and by the end of April there was no wreath of snow on Apennine, or Alban, or Apulian Hill.

     The last day of the month was hot and still as midsummer; the slopes of Posillippo begged a breath from Ocean, and were denied. So heavy a haze hung on the sea that not only Capri, not only the blue spur that stabs the sunset, but Vesuvius itself, were hidden from the Villa where Iliel and her friends were nested.

     Sunset was sombre and splendid; the disc itself was but a vague intensity of angry Indian red. His agony spilt a murky saffron through the haze; and the edges of the storm-clouds on the horizon, fantastically shapen, cast up a veritable mirage, exaggerated and distorted images of their own scarred crests, that shifted and changed, so that one might have sworn that monsters -- dragons, hippogriffs, chimaerae -- were moving in the mist, a saturnalia of phantasms.

     Iliel impatiently awaited the moment of darkness, when she could meet the Old Lady and start for the Sabbath. She had noticed a long conference that day between Sister Clara and the two men; and she was sure that they were themselves arranging for their departure. The suspicion was confirmed when, one after the other, they came to wish her a good night. [277] She was more than ever determined to follow them to the Sabbath.

     By nine o'clock everything was still in the garden, save for the tread of Brother Onofrio's patrol, who paced the upper terrace, chanting in the soft and low, yet stern, tones of his well-modulated voice, the exorcism that magical guardians have sung for so many ages, with its refrain: "On them will I impose my will, the Law of Light."

     Iliel gave her little cough, and found herself immediately upon the path she knew so well. It only took her a few minutes to reach the rock, and there was the Old Lady waiting for her.

     "I must tell you at once, my dear," she began without any preliminary, "that you must be very careful to do exactly as I say -- in that country."

     It was the same sing-song, with the one change of word.

     "First of all, you must never speak of anything by its name -- in that country. So, if you see a tree on a mountain, it will be better to say 'Look at the green on the high'; for that's how they talk -- in that country. And whatever you do, you must find a false reason for doing it -- in that country. If you rob a man, you must say it is to help and protect him: that's the ethics -- of that country. And everything of value has no value at all -- in that country. You must be perfectly commonplace if you want to be a genius -- in that country. And everything you like you must pretend not to like; and anything that is there you must pretend is not there -- in that country. And you must always say that you are sacrificing yourself in the cause of religion, and morality, and humanity, and liberty, and progress, when you want to cheat your neighbour -- in that country."

     "Good heavens!" cried Iliel, "are we going to England?" [278]

     "They call the place Stonehenge -- in that country." And without another word the Old Lady dragged Iliel into the cleft of the rock. It was very, very dark inside, and she tripped over loose stones. Then the Old Lady opened a little door, and she found herself standing on a narrow window-ledge. The door shut fast behind her, almost pushing her out. Beyond the ledge was nothing but the Abyss of Stars. She was seized with an enormous vertigo. She would have fallen into that cruel emptiness, but the Old Lady's voice came: "What I said outside was nonsense, just to put the Gwalkins off the trail, my dear; there is only one rule, and that is to take things as they come -- in this country."

     She pushed Iliel deliberately from the window-sill; with a scream she flew through the blackness. But the chubby little old clergyman explained to her that she must go into the castle on the islet. It was only a little way to walk over the ice of the lake, but there was no sign of an entrance. The castle was fitted cunningly to the irregularities of the rock, so that one could see nothing but the masonry; and there was no trace of any door, and the windows were all very high in the wall. But as Iliel came to it she found herself inside, and she never knew how she got there. It was easy to scramble along the ladder to the golf course, but the main deck of the galleon was slippery with the oil that spurted from its thousand fountains. However, she came at last to the wardrobe where her hairbrush was hanging, and she lost no time in digging for the necessary skylarks. At last the way was clear! The pine-woods on the left; the ant-hills on the right; straight through the surf to the heathery pagoda where the chubby clergyman and the Old Lady had already arrived, and were busy worshipping the Chinese God.

     Of course! It was Cyril, with Brother Onofrio [279] and Sister Clara all the time -- how stupid she had been!

     But for all that the toads were a nuisance with their eternal chatter and laughter; and they wore their jewels much too conspicuously and profusely.

     And then she perceived that Cyril and his two companions formed but one triangle, out of uncounted thousands; and each triangle was at a knot upon the web of an enormous spider. At each knot was such a group of three, and every one was different. There must have been millions of such gods, each with its pair of worshippers; every race and clime and period was represented. There were the gods of Mexico and of Peru, of Syria and Babylon, of Greece and Rome, of obscure swamps of Ethiopia, of deserts and mountains. And upon each thread of the web, from knot to knot, danced incredible insects, and strange animals, and hideous reptiles. They danced, sang, and whirled frantically, so that the entire web was a mere bewilderment of motion. Her head swam dizzily. But she was now full of a curious anger; her thought was that the Old Lady had betrayed her. She found it quite impossible to approach the triangle, for one thing: she was furious that it should be Sister Clara herself who had led her into this Sabbath, for another; and she was infinitely disgusted at the whole vile revel. Now she noticed that each pair of worshippers had newborn children in their arms; and they offered these to their god, who threw them instantly towards the centre of the web. Following up those cruel meshes, she beheld the spider itself, with its six legs. Its head and body formed one black sphere, covered with moving eyes that darted rays of darkness in every direction, and mouths that sucked up its prey without remorse or cessation, and cast it out once more in the form of fresh strands of that vibrating web. [280]

     Iliel shuddered with the horror of the vision; it was to her a dread unspeakable, yet she was hypnotized and helpless. She felt in herself that one day she too must become the prey of that most dire and demoniac power of darkness.

     As she gazed, she saw that even the gods and their worshippers were morsels for its mouths. Ever and anon she beheld one of the legs crooked round a triangle and draw it, god, shrine, and worshippers, into the blackness of the spider's bloated belly. Then they were thrown out violently again, in some slightly altered form, to repeat the same uncanny ritual.

     With a strong shudder she broke away from that infernal  contemplation. Where was the kindly earth, with all its light and  beauty? In God's name, why had she left Lavinia King to explore these dreadful realms -- of illusion? of imagination? of darker and deadlier reality than life? It mattered little which; the one thing needful was to turn again to humanity, to the simple sensible life that she had always lived. It was not noble, not wonderful; but it was better than this nightmare of phantoms, cruel and malignant and hideous, this phantasmagoria of damnation.

     She wrenched herself away; for a moment she lost consciousness completely; then she found herself in her bed at the Villa. With feverish energy she sprang from the couch, and ran to the wardrobe to put on her travelling dress. It would be easy to drop from the wall of the terrace into the lane; in an hour she would be safe in Naples. And then she discovered that the dress would have to be altered before she could wear it. With vehemence she set instantly to work -- and just as she was finishing, the door opened, and Sister Clara stood beside her.

     "Come, Iliel," she said, "it is the moment to salute May Morn!"

     The indignant girl recoiled in anger and disgust; [281] but Sister Clara stood smiling gently and tenderly. Iliel looked at her, almost despite herself; and she could not but see the radiance of her whole being, a physical aura of light playing about her, and the fire of her eyes transcendent with seraph happiness.

     "They are waiting for us in the garden," she said, taking Iliel by the arm, like a nurse with an invalid. And she drew over her shoulders the great lunar mantle of blue velvet with its broidered silver crescents, its talismans of the moon, and its heavy hanging tassels of seed pearls; and upon her head she set the tiara of moon-stones.

     "Come, they are waiting."

     So Iliel suffered herself to be led once more into the garden. In the east the first rays of the sun gilded the crest of Posilippo, and tinged the pale blue of the firmament with rosy fingers. The whole company was gathered together, an ordered phalanx, to salute the Lord of Life and Light.

     Iliel could not join in that choir of adoration. In her heart was blackness and hate, and nausea in her mouth. What vileness lay beneath this fair semblance! Well, let it be; she would be gone.

     Cyril came to her with Brother Onofrio, as the last movement of their majestic chant died away upon the echoing air. He took her in his arms. "Come! I have much to tell you." He led her to a marble seat, and made her sit down. Brother Onofrio and Sister Clara followed them, and sat upon the base of a great statue, a copy of the Marsyas and Olympas in green bronze, hard by.

     "Child!" said Cyril, very gravely and gently, "look at the eastern slope of Posilippo! And look at the stars, how brightly they shine! And look at that shoal of gleaming fish, that swim so deep beneath the waters of the bay! And look at your left ear! What shapeliness! What delicate pink!" [282]

     She was too angry even to tell him not to be an idiot. She only smiled disdainfully.

     He continued. "But those things are there. You cannot see them because the conditions are not right. But there are other things that your eye sees indeed, but you, not; because you have not been trained to see them for what they are. See Capri in the morning sun! How do you know it is an island, not a dream, or a cloud, or a sea-monster? Only by comparison with previous knowledge and experience. You can only see things that are already in your own mind -- or things so like them that you can adjust yourself to the small percentage of difference. But you cannot observe or apprehend things that are utterly unfamiliar except by training and experience. How does the alphabet look to you when you first learn it? Don't you confuse the letters?  Arabic looks 'fantastic' to you, as the Roman script does to the Arab; you can memorize one at a glance, white you plod painfully over the other, letter by letter, and probably copy it wrong after all. That's what happened to you last night. I know you were there; and, knowing you were not an initiate, I can guess pretty well what you must have seen. You saw things 'accurately,' so far as you could see them; that is, you saw a projection into your own mind of something really in being. How right such vision can be, and yet how wrong! Watch my hand!" He suddenly raised his right hand. With the other he held a book between it and her eyes.

     "I can't see it!" she cried petulantly.

     "Look at its shadow on the wall!"

     "It's the head of the devil!"

     "Yet I am only making the gesture of benediction." He lowered the book. She recognized at once the correctness of his statement. [283]

     She looked at him with open mouth and eyes. He was always stupefying her by the picturesqueness of his allegories, and his trick of presenting them dramatically.

     "What then?"

     "This is what really happened last night -- only there's no such thing as time. This is what you should have seen, and what you will see one day, if you cling to the highest in you."

     He drew a note-book of white vellum from his pocket, and began to read.

 

 

     "The whirlwind of the Eagle and the Lion!

            The Tree upon the Mountain that is Zion!

     The marriage of the Starbeam and the Clod!

            The mystic Sabbath of the Saints of God!

     Bestride the Broomstick that is God-in-man!

            Spur the rough Goat whose secret name is Pan!

     Before that Rod Heaven knows itself unjust;

            Beneath those hoofs the stars are puffs of dust.

     Rise up, my soul! One stride, and space is spanned;

            Time, like a poppy, crushed in thy left hand,

     While with thy right thou reachest out to grip

            The Graal of God, and tilt it to thy lip?

     Lo! all the whirring shafts of Light, a web

            Wherein the Tides of Being flow and ebb,

     One heart-beat, pulsing the Eternal stress,

            Extremes that cancel out in Nothingness.

     Light thrills through Light, the spindle of desire,

            Cross upon Cross of elemental Fire;

     Life circles Life, the Rose all flowers above,

            And in their intermarriage they are Love.

     Lo! on each spear of Splendour burns a world

            Revolving, whirling, crying aloud; and curled

     About each cosmos, bounding in its course,

            The sacred Snake, the father of its force,

     Energized, energizing, self-sustained,

            Man-hearted, Eagle-pinioned, Lion-maned,

     Exulting in its splendour as it lashes

            Its Phoenix plumage to immortal ashes

     Whereof one fleck, a seed of spirit spun,

            Whirls itself onward, and creates a sun.

     Light interfused with Light, a sparkling spasm

            Of rainbow radiance, spans the cosmic chasm;

     Light crystallized in Life, Life coruscating

            In Light, their mood of magick consummating

     The miracle of Love, and all the awe

            Of Need made one with Liberty's one law;

     A fourfold flower of Godhead, leaf and fruit

            And seed and blossom of one radiant root,

     Resolving all the being of its bloom

            Into the rapture of its own perfume.

     Star-clustered dew each fibre of that light

            Wherein all being flashes to its flight!

     All things that live, a cohort and a choir,

            Laugh with the leapings of that fervid fire;

     Motes in that sunlight, they are drunken of

            The wine of their own energy of love.

     Nothing so small, so base, so incomplete,

            But here goes dancing on diviner feet;

     And where Light crosses Light, all loves combine

            Behold the God, the worshippers, the shrine,

     Each comprehensive of its single soul

            Yet each the centre and fountain of the whole;

     Each one made perfect in its passionate part,

            Each the circumference, and each the heart!

     Always the Three in One are interwoven,

            Always the One in Three sublimely cloven,

     Their essence to the Central Spirit hurled

            And so flung forth, an uncorrupted world,

     By That which, comprehending in one whole

            The universal rapture of Its soul,

     Abides beyond Its own illumination,

            Withdrawn from Its imperishable station,

     Upholding all, an arm whose falchion flings

            With every flash a new-fledged Soul of Things;

     Beholding all, with eyes whose flashes flood

            The veins of their own universe with blood;

     Absorbing all, each myriad mouth aflame

            To utter the unutterable Name

     That calls all souls, the greatest and the least,

            To the unimaginable marriage-feast;

     And, in the self-same sacrament, is stirred

            To recreate their essence with a Word;

     This All, this Sire and Lord of All, abides

            Behind the unbounded torrent of Its tides, [285]

     In silence of all deed, or word, or thought,

            So that we name It not, or name It Naught.

     This is the Truth behind the lie called God;

            This blots the heavens, and indwells the clod.

     This is the centre of all spheres, the flame

            In men and stars, the Soul behind the name,

     The spring of Life, the axle of the Wheel,

            All-mover, yet the One Thing immobile.

     Adore It not, for It adoreth thee,

            The shadow-shape of Its eternity.

     Lift up thyself! be strong to burst thy bars!

            For lo! thy stature shall surpass the stars."

 

     Cyril put away his book. "Language," said he, "has been developed from its most primitive sources by persons so passionately concentrated upon the Ideal of selling cheese without verbal infelicity that some other points have necessarily been neglected. One cannot put mystic experience into words. One can at best describe phenomena with a sort of cold and wooden accuracy, or suggest ecstasy by very vagueness. You know that line 'O windy star blown sideways up the sky!' It means nothing, if you analyse it; but it gives the idea of something, though one could never say what. What you saw, my beloved Iliel, bears about the same ratio to what I have said as what I have said does to what Sister Clara saw: or, rather, was. Moral: when Sister turns we all turn. I have now apologized, though inadequately, for inflicting my bad verses upon you; which will conclude the entertainment for this morning. Brother Onofrio will now take up the collection. He that giveth to the poor lendeth to the Lord; details of rate of interest and security on application to the bartender. The liberal soul shall be made fat; but I am Banting, as the hart banteth after the water brooks. He that watereth shall be watered also himself: I will take a cold shower before the plunge. The Mother's Meeting will be held as usual at 8.30 on Thursday [286] evening. Those who are not yet Mothers, but who wish to become so, kindly apply to me in the Vestry at the conclusion of the service. Sister Clara, please play the people out quickly!"

     Cyril babbled out this nonsense in the tones of the Sweet Young Thing type of Curate; it was his way of restoring the superficial atmosphere.

     Iliel took his arm, and went smiling to breakfast; but her soul was yet ill at ease. She asked him about the identification of Sister Clara and her Old Lady.

     "Yes," he said, "it was best to have her on the watch outside -- on the Astral Plane -- to keep you from getting into too great mischief. But you can never come to any real harm so long as you keep your vow and stay inside the circle. That's the one important point."

     She was quite satisfied in her upper conscious self, which was usually her better self, because of its rationality, and its advantage of surface training, which saved her from obeying her impulses on every occasion. She was glad, she was proud, of her partnership with the adepts. Yet there was a subconscious weakness in her which hated them and envied them the more because of their superiority to her. She knew only too well that the price of their attainment had been the suppression of just such darknesses of animal instinct and savage superstition as were her chief delight. The poet speaks of "the infinite rage of fishes to have wings"; but when you explain to the fish that it will have to give up pumping water through its gills, it is apt to compromise for a few million generations; though the word may rankle if you call it a flying-fish, when swimming-bird is evidently a properer and politer name.

     She was permanently annoyed with Sister Clara; her motive for making excursions on that path had [287] been to get rid of the idea of Cyril and his magick; and he had not even come himself to welcome her, but set this woman to disguise herself and spy upon her thoughts! It was disgusting.

     Cyril had certainly done his best to put the matter in the proper light. He had even told her a story. "A charming lady, wife of a friend of Bowling's, whom her physical and mental characteristics induce me to introduce as Mrs. Dough-Nut, was once left lorn in the desert island of Manhattan, while her husband was on a spook-shikar with Lord Antony in this very Naples, which you see before you. (Slightly to the left, child!) Mrs. Dough-nut was as virtuous as American women sometimes are, when denied opportunity to be otherwise; and the poor lady was far from attractive. But in the world of spirits, it appears, the same standards are not current as in Peacock Alley or Times Square; and she was soon supplied with a regular regiment of 'spirit lovers.' They told her what to do, and how to do it; eating, drinking, reading, music, whatever she did, all must be done under spirit control; and one day they told her that they had a great and wonderful work for her to do -- the regeneration of humanity and so forth, I think it was; anyhow, something perfectly dotty. She was now quite without power to criticize her actions by reason or good sense; the voice of the 'Spirits' was for her the voice of God. So they sent her to the Bank for money, and to the Steamship office for a passage to Europe; and when she got to Liverpool they sent her to London, from London to Paris, from Paris to Genoa. And when she came to Genoa they told her which hotel to choose; and then they sent her out to buy a revolver and some cartridges; and then they told her to cock it and put the muzzle to her forehead; and then to pull the trigger. The bullet made little impression on that [288] armour-plate of solid bone; and she escaped to tell her story. She had not even sense enough to tell it different. But that, my child, is why it is better to have a kind friend to look after you when you start a flirtation with the gay if treacherous Lotharios of the Astral World."

     "I hope you don't think I'm a woman like that!"

     "All women are like that."

     She bit her lips; but her good sense showed her that his main principle was right. If she had only been able to stifle the formless promptings which were so alluring and so dangerous! But as she could not live wholly on the heights of aspiration, so also she could not live on the safe plains of earth-life. The voices of the swamp and the cavern called to her continuously.

     And so the external reconciliation had no deep root. For a few weeks she was better and healthier in body and mind. Then she slipped back into her sulks, and went "fairy-tale-ing" as she called it, with a very determined mind to be on guard against the interference of Sister Clara. She had begun to familiarize herself with the laws of this other world, and could distinguish symbols and their meanings to some extent; she could even summon certain forms, or banish them. And she set a mighty bar between herself and Sister Clara. She kept herself to the definite creations of her own impulses, would not let herself go except upon some such chosen lines.

     In her earth-life, too, she became more obviously ill-tempered; and, as to a woman of her type revenge only means one thing, she amused the garrison exceedingly by attempting flirtations. The rule of the Profess-House happened to include the virtue of chastity, which is an active and positive thing, a passion, not that mere colourless abstinence and stagnation which passes in Puritan countries by that [289] name, breeds more wickedness than all the vice on the planet, and, at the best, is shared by clinkers.

     She was clever enough to see in a few hours that she was only making herself utterly ridiculous; but this again did not tend to improve her temper, as many devout ladies, from Dido to Potiphar's wife, have been at the pains to indicate to our psychologists.

     The situation grew daily more strained, with now and then an explosion which cleared the air for a while. The discipline of the Profess-House prevented the trouble from spreading; but Cyril Grey confided to Brother Onofrio that he was angrier than ever at the efficient way in which Edwin Arthwait and his merry men had been put out of business.

     "I'd give my ears," said Cyril, "to see Edwin, arm in arm with Lucifuge Rofocale, coming up from the bay to destroy us all by means of the Mysterious Amulet of Rabbi Solomon, conferring health, wealth and happiness, with bag complete; also lucky moles and love-charms, price two eleven three to regular subscribers to The Occult Review."

     But with June a great and happy change came over Iliel. She became enthralled by the prospect of the miracle that was so soon to blossom on her breast. Her sulkiness vanished; she was blithe and joyous from the day's beginning to its end. She bore fatigue and discomfort without a murmur. She made friends with Sister Clara, and talked to her for hours while she plied her needle upon those necessary and now delightful tasks of making tiny and dainty settings for the expected jewel. She clean forgot the irksomeness of her few restrictions; she recovered all the gaiety and buoyancy of youth; indeed, she had to be cautioned in the mere physical matter of activity. No longer did she indulge morbid fancies, or take unwholesome pleasure in the contemplation of evil ideas. She was at home in her heaven of romance, [290] the heroine of the most wonderful story in the world. Her love for Cyril showed a tender and more exalted phase; she became alive to her dignity and responsibility. She acquired also a sense of Nature which she had never had before in all her life; she felt a brotherhood with every leaf and flower of the garden, told herself stories of the loves of the fishermen whose sails dotted the blue of the bay, wondered what romances were dancing on the decks of the great white liners that steamed in from America to tour the Mediterranean, laughed with joy over the antics of the children who played on the slopes below the garden, and glowed with the vigour of the sturdy peasants who bore their baskets of fish, or flowers, or their bundles of firewood, up or down the lanes which her terraces overlooked. There was one wrinkled fish- wife who was perfectly delightful: old and worn with a lifetime of toil, she was as cheerful as the day was long; bowed down as she was by her glittering burden, she never failed to stop and wave a hand, and cry "God bless you, pretty lady, and send you safe and happy day!" with the frank warmth of the Italian peasant.

     The world was a fine place, after all, and Cyril Grey was the dearest boy in it, and herself the happiest woman. [291]