A calmness and self-possession I had never before experienced now settled over me; I determined to take everything with a stoical indifference and be surprised at nothing that might come to pass. This state of mind met its first test upon the following morning for whom should I meet at the breakfast table but my old friend, Garcia. After an absence of two and a half years, during which time I had heard nothing from him, he had suddenly reappeared. He met me with a cordial handshake, and in answer to my question as to where he had been so long, said, with a knowing look, that he had been in the East.
As it was a rule never to talk upon any subject connected with the Brotherhood at the table, I questioned him no further. After breakfast, he accompanied me to the hall and when we were alone, said: “Brother Alphonso, I have something very important to tell you.”
“Very well, Garcia,” I answered, “we will go to my room.”
When we had entered the room and I had closed the door, he took a seat beside me and said:
Alphonso, I have come all this way from Abyssinia to see you. The great Master who is Protector of yourself and Parents, seeing that you are surrounded by a great and deadly peril, has forthwith sent me here to warn and prepare you. You must know, Alphonso, that your parents would not have entrusted you to my care unless I had the highest recommendations and was worthy of that trust.
“I have not the slightest doubt of your honesty and integrity, my brother; what is your communication? Of what would you warn me?” I asked.
“In Paris,” he answered in a low voice, “there is a branch of the Red Dugpas of Nepal, a band of black sorcerers, and they, having learned that you seek initiation into the White Brotherhood, have laid a plot to lead you from the true path into their red association.”
“How could they find this out if it were so?” I asked guardedly, remembering my teacher’s warning of secrecy, and wondering if Garcia really knew of my application. He replied:
My brother, while all the secrets of the school are well guarded, and everyone is pledged to silence, the knowledge that you have already acquired must make you aware of the fact that there are other means of securing this knowledge. These men are sorcerers and necromancers and are most skilled in the black arts. By their nefarious practices, they evoke the astral embodied dead, call up elemental spirits, and make the invisible messengers for their bidding. In this manner, they obtain knowledge of the most carefully guarded secrets and use them for evil ends.
“But,” I persisted, “why should they choose me for a subject? I work not for evil ends.”
“So much more the reason they should seek you. They love evil and mark all aspirants for the Great Brotherhood; they are the enemies of all that is good and pure, and they would have you identified with them in their evil work.”
“Strange they should choose me who loves only the pure and good,” I answered, veiling my secret suspicion of another test. He responded:
True, my brother, it may appear at first sight strange, but once they have you in their power, they will cause your entire nature to become perverted, and the divine knowledge you have already received will only make you a more powerful instrument for evil.
Many aspirants for the White Brotherhood have thus been lost, and are now identified with this Red Band, where they use their divine powers for hellish purposes. Recall the kabalistic axiom: ‘Demon Est Deus Inversus’ — the devil is God inverted.
"Well, my brother,” I answered, with an inward being that I was strong enough to the meet the evil one himself, “I am very thankful for your warning, but I am ready to meet the devil himself and all his demoniacal hosts.”
Then, with a feeling of spiritual power, I exclaimed: “Do you know, brother, that I am divine? Yes, I am God; in this temple, which you now see is God Himself; what power has Satan over God?”
The inspiration had come upon me in a moment, and I felt the full power my words implied.
“‘Tis well, my brother, I am glad to hear you speak so confidently, but be on your guard; I have to warn you, there my duty ends. And know this, an infallible sign, no branch or section of the true occult school, the White Brotherhood of the East, will ever ask a penny for occult instructions or demand a price in money for initiation.”
“This I well know, my brother, for over two years I have been receiving instructions, and not a cent has been asked from me.”
“So far, Alphonso,” he replied, “you have been in an outer section of the true White Brotherhood; but my Master would not have sent me here to warn you unless danger threatened. Recall the words of your father when he told you that, so long as you were pure and unselfish, the Great Protectors would guard you; I now state that it is at the orders of one of these that I am here to warn you. I must now go; I can do no more, but again I warn you.”
With these words, and before I could further question him, he arose and departed. Scarcely had the door closed behind him when the hall-boy announced that a gentleman was waiting for me in a carriage at the gate.
“Do things commence to move so soon?” I asked myself, as I proceeded to the gate.
As I approached the carriage, the door opened and a masked man motioned me to enter. As I did, so he whispered the password of the sixth degree, and made the salutation sign. Having entered, he pulled down the blinds and closed the door, and the carriage rolled rapidly away. For half an hour, we rode on in silence, the carriage, judging from the motion, making several turns.
At the end of this time it paused for a moment, and I heard a gate click; then, again, we moved on. In five minutes, we came to another stop, and my companion, speaking for the first time, said: “Be kind enough to put on this hood.”
As he spoke, he handed me a black silk sack, and without hand ascended a flight of steps. Along a bare, hard floor, which echoed our footsteps, we proceeded, until, passing over a threshold, my hood was removed, and I found myself in a room with no apparent openings, even the entrance through which we had come being concealed. In shape, the chamber was an exact cube, and its bare, blank walls were painted black as night, while four red lights filled the room with a lurid glare.
Even the carpet was black, and, to make the scene still more somber, twelve masked forms, completely enveloped in robes of black, sat around a table of the same ebony hue. My conductor seated me at one end of the table and took a chair at my side, thus making six forms on each side with the thirteenth at the end directly opposite me. Not a word had thus far been spoken, but, instead of timidity, this strange and unusual proceeding favorably influenced my mind, and I became possessed with a courageous strength. Then, speaking in a low, penetrating voice, that sounded cold and harsh, he said: “Man of earth, what rash folly impels you to seek admission into this Brotherhood?”
Not the least perturbed by his severe manner and my somber surroundings, I answered: “The folly of knowledge and the desire for power.”
“Knowledge to take advantage of the ignorant power to exalt thyself on earth?”
“No,” I answered with vehemence, “knowledge to aid and help my fellow-man; power to do so with effect.”
“Dost thou not already know enough for this? What is there for thee to learn?”
“The known to me is but an atom to the unknown; but a sand grain on the seashore; but a drop within an ocean. There is the knowledge of the nether world, the soul, the spirit, and all the infinitudes that lie with their depths.”
“And thinkest thou that the mind of man can know these things? Dost thou not think this vast knowledge is reserved for God alone?”
“What belongs to God belongs to God-like man; the mind conjoined with spirit has no limits set beyond which it cannot go; even the deepest mysteries of God it comprehends.”
“Mind conjoined with spirit? How think you this can be done?”
“By establishing the conditions necessary for that union; by evolving the instruments responsive to those powers.”
“You think, then, it is possible for man to evolve and bring forth higher faculties, more perfect instruments for the manifestation of knowledge, and possibly unknown and latent senses?”
“All of these,” I answered.
“Dost thou think that this can be done while man remains on earth?”
“Even while on earth, if he is from earthly things set free and master of the flesh.”
“Knowest thou the dangers that surround all who seek to unfold these faculties and higher powers without being properly prepared?”
“Many dangers threaten them,” I answered.
“Ah! And few are those who are prepared. Rash man, return before it is too late. Once thou hast crossed the threshold there is no return. Forbear! Death, madness, life-long disease and misery mark those who fail. Return to thy duties in the world; enter not the dangerous and rugged path, where failure means despair.”
“Sir,” I answered firmly, “you have my application, it is not withdrawn; I have considered and am ready for all ordeals.”
Truly there is no strength like that which comes from realizing the presence of God within. An inner power urged me on, and I determined to follow its promptings.
All through this dialogue, the twelve robed figures had remained silent and almost immovable, but their gleaming eyes, peering through their hoods, never left my face. Now with one voice, deep and sepulchral, they spoke: “Rash man! Forbear! Forbear!”
But no; listening to my inner voice, I answered, “I persist.”
Each form immediately clasped his hands in a peculiar manner upon the table, and the leader spoke.
“Hast thou parent, wife, child, ward, or relative in the world depending upon thee for protection or support? Are you by duty bound to any one on earth?”
“I am duty bound to none except the duty owed to all; my parents and all relatives have passed on.”
“Art thou willing to renounce thyself and all the world for truth?”
“All for truth,” I replied.
“Art thou willing to become a beggar on the earth, despised, tortured, slandered, and forsaken for truth?”
“All for truth,” for the third time I answered.
Taking up the black cube before him on the table, the leader again addressed me: “Candidate for sacred knowledge, do you know the meaning of this cube?”
“The black cube is the symbol of the lower man and the four elements and principles which make his earthly nature.”
“‘Tis well,” he answered, as he commenced to pass the cube around the table. Now I noticed that there was a small opening in the cube, and as it passed around the table each figure put something in it; evidently, they were balloting upon my admission.
When the cube had returned to the leader, he appeared to weigh it in his hand, and then, addressed me: “Man, we take no one upon his own declarations of strength; you must, like Christ, descend into hell, endure and overcome its torments and prove if you can that you are worthy of this knowledge and the privileges you seek.”
Then drawing a black and a white card from his robe, he handed them across to me and said: “We give you seven days for final decision; consider well your course. If, on the seventh day, you renounce your candidacy and conclude to return to the world, burn the white card; if you are still determined to persist, burn the black.”
As he finished speaking, he removed the covering which lay upon the table, and a human skull resting between a pair of cross-bones was exposed to view. It shone with a phosphorescent light, and a sickening odor emanated from it. At a motion, all arose and, with black-gloved hands pointed at me, commenced in weird chant:
Dead! Dead! Buried deep in a tomb,
Thy spirit is lost in the world’s night and gloom.
But the sun is now rising, and the day draweth nigh;
Yet before the ascension the body must die.
Yet before the ascension the body must die!
As the chant ended, my former conductor again covered my head with the hood, and I was hurried away to the carriage and driven rapidly back to the Durant mansion. My thoughts now returned to Iole, but this time, when mind was well controlled, they were a source of strength. My training in the sixth degree had not been for naught, and I could now check the restless agitation which had formerly carried away my heart and been my weakness.
“How grand and noble she must be,” I murmured. “What majesty of mind, what wondrous will, and yet what a loving and sympathetic heart. Ah! She is the embodiment of human perfection; strength combined with gentleness; mind conjoined with heart. Yes, I too will attain to her exalted plane, and be a humble brother laboring with her for the good of man.”
On the following day, Garcia again came with me to my room and reiterated his warning.
“Alphonso,” he said, “remember that the Great Brotherhood requires no tests except those which are mental and moral in their nature.”
“I will remember, my brother,” I replied, but made no mention of the incidents of the last few days. As the week passed by, I entered upon a partial fast and confined myself as much as possible to my rooms, spending much time in thought and interior communion.
On the seventh day, I took a light breakfast and repaired to my room. All the morning I meditated on the divinity in man and strove hard to fully realize my own divine nature and the fact of the Universal Christ being in all men. At the noon hour, when the sun was in the mid-heaven, I drew the cards from my pocket and prepared to make my choice. Now, I noticed that the white card was a triangle while the black was a square. I exclaimed:
Ah! If I burn the white I destroy the divine man, the God trinity; if I burn the black I destroy the lower man, the black square or cube. God-self forbid that I should destroy thee, the immortal soul, far from it. The black shall be consumed.
As I uttered the words I kissed the white triangle and tossed the black square upon the glowing coals of the hearth. A bright red flame sprang up; a sickening odor filled the room, and before I could help myself, I sank back in the chair, facing the hearth, from which I could not remove my eyes.
And, my God! As I looked a hideous face formed in the flames; it grew to twice the natural size, and as I gazed with a strange fascination, I recognized my features. But, O God! How wicked and malignant! A sinister, leering, look, a cruel, gleaming eye, and deep wrinkles of debauchery! The horrid face seemed to draw me to it, and I was sinking into a lethargic state when, by a mighty effort of will, I aroused myself and cried: “Away! Away!”
A violent tremor shook my frame, and with a groan? Yes, it was an actual groan, the monster faded away in the flames. Springing from my chair, I threw up the window and leaned out to escape the noxious vapors which now filled the room. Then, going to my desk I took out a chemical preparation I had discovered and compounded in my studies and threw it on the flames. Immediately, a more pleasant odor filled the room, and my strength came back.
“Heavens! I must beware,” I said; “this is probably a foretaste of what is coming.”
Evening came, and while I was now myself again, I had taken no food; I had no desire to eat and so abstained. Darkness had come on, and I was pacing up and down my room buried in thought and surrounded by the gloom, when a light knock was heard upon my door. I had no desire to be disturbed and at first did not answer, when a peculiar rap of the sixth degree was heard.
I now opened the door, and before I could speak a black-robed figure entered and whispered: “Close and lock the door.”
It was the voice of Iole, and without a moment’s hesitation, I obeyed.
“Cleo,” she said, in a suppressed whisper, “I come here at the risk of my life. If I am found, or it is learned that I was here, tomorrow my floating corpse will be taken from the Seine. Are there two doors to this room?”
“There is an exit through the toilet-room adjoining,” I answered; “What is wrong? Why this unseemly visit?”
“First,” she answered, “if any one comes while I am here I must leave unseen, and you must, under no considerations, reveal my visit.”
“Very well,” I answered, wondering if this was to be another test and putting myself immediately upon my guard.
Cleo, I have fallen into the hands of the Black Brotherhood, the Western branch of the Red Dugpas of the East. My Brothers said they had warned you through the proper channels, and would do no more, that you must meet the Black Band and fail or triumph. This is terrible, and I fear that you will fail, because these monsters stupefy the mind with noxious drugs, and you would not be yourself.
Therefore, contrary to the usual rule, but not in violation of my oath, I have come to warn you in addition to the warning they have already given. By so doing, I have made myself an attractive center for the malignant influence of the entire Black Brotherhood, and the currents of hate which circulate through the astral world are even now being hurled against me. But by the power of my eternal self I will withstand them, and my love for you would not permit non-action.
“My darling sister,” I said, moved but still under restraint, “I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your kindness and self-sacrifice, but if it is indeed as you say, and I am about to become a subject of the Black Brotherhood, so let it be. With the strength and determination which now possesses me, I will even become a brother of this infernal order that I may by so doing carry the powers of God even into the depths of hell. If they want me, let them beware; they may not know their subject.”
“Oh, my brother! Do not be thus deceived. Once bound by their infernal charms and surrounded by their demon spirits, you never can be free. Wait, and the Great Brotherhood will in time give you an opportunity to enter into their sacred temples. Indeed, I will make myself your advocate. In a few minutes, a member of the Black Order may be here; do not go with him — wait.”
“No, my sister, the die is cast; life or death, failure or triumph, I go. You, in the past, asked me to trust you; now, I ask you to trust me. You fear I do not have the strength; be not alarmed, I have all strength, and whatever comes, I can no more than die. With the motive that now possesses me, I feel that death would be but the entrance into a new and higher life.”
A light knock upon the door interrupted our conversation.
“‘Tis he now,” she whispered, as she stole toward the adjoining room. “Wait, my brother, wait! Do not go! Do not go!”
But a devilish determination now possessed me, and I opened the door with my mind fully made to proceed without advice. Unlocking the door, a black-robed and hooded figure entered and closed the door behind him.
“Are we alone?” he asked.
“We are,” I answered.
“I thought I heard voices,” he replied, eying me through the darkness.
“I am always talking to myself when alone,” I answered, fully determined to protect Iole.
“Ah! A habit which means insanity or genius. Have you destroyed or made secure provision for all secret documents you may have?”
The masked man had given the secret grip and password, and I answered: “I have no secret documents; when I left the sixth degree, all papers were returned.”
“Well and good; have you made your will and left no clue as to where you are going?”
My God! I thought, this sounds death-like, but without show of uneasiness replied: “My will needs no attention now; I am not going to die just yet. As to where I am going, I do not know myself.”
Without answering my visitor arose, and at his motion, I followed. As we went through the door, he whispered back to me to lock it; then, we passed swiftly along the carpeted hallway without word or sound. When we reached the intersection of the cross hall, my conductor, who was a little in advance and who seemed to know the hall perfectly, saw Monsieur Durant crossing the end and drew me back into a doorway until he disappeared.
Then taking my arm, he led the way to the side entrance and across the lawn to a side gate where a carriage was waiting. He opened the seat beside me, at the same time closing the door and pulling down all the blinds. I heard the driver lash the horses, and then we rolled rapidly away into the night. Relying upon the protection of a few signs and passwords, I was going with an entire stranger I knew not where.
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