THE card I had received from the Madame read M. Raymond, Rue Notre Dame des Champs, and then several lines of writing what I took to be Sanskrit. While not a Sanskrit scholar, I knew the alphabet and simple word — combinations, but this writing I was unable to decipher. Repairing promptly on time to the address given, I was met at the door of an unpretentious residence by a small, nervous-looking man with a black pointed beard and well-waxed mustache. Upon presenting the card he looked at me keenly for a moment and then, invited me in and motioned me to a seat.
“What is your name, please?” he asked, quite pleasantly.
“Alphonso Colono,” I replied.
“Well, Monsieur Colono, you have been sent here for me to find out how much you know; do you wish to proceed with the examination at once, or do you desire time for preparation?”
Although this was a little unexpected, I determined to lose no time, and answered, “If it is convenient for Monsieur, yes.”
“No inconvenience,” he replied; “we will proceed at once. When a thing is to be done, it should be done; come into this room.”
He led the way to an adjoining room, which looked like a university condensed. On the walls were blackboards, maps, charts and drawings, while globes, terrestrial and celestial, chemical appliances and laboratory apparatus were on numerous tables. The work commenced at once, and for seven days I was subjected to the most rigid and thorough examination upon every element to the highest studies of science and philosophy. The little man seemed to possess almost universal knowledge and took everything in a systematic and orderly manner. On the afternoon of the seventh day, without a word or hint to let me know my standing, he gave a card written in Sanskrit and told me to go to my home and await developments — not a word of encouragement nor a sign of either commendation or otherwise.
I returned home, thinking that I was as much as ever in the dark and apparently making very slow progress. Another week passed and still no information. On questioning M. Durant one day when I met him alone, he answered that he had done all he could, and that from thenceforth I must trust to the fates and rely upon myself alone. On the evening of the fourteenth day, I received a note through the mail, requesting me to call at the rooms of M. Raymond. I did so without delay; in fact, I was becoming slightly impatient.
M. Raymond met me at the door and ushered me in and along the hall to a rear room where, upon entering, I found myself in the presence of four other men who were seated at a center table. Each had his face entirely concealed by a black mask, sufficiently long to conceal whiskers. At a sign from M. Raymond, I took a seat beside him near the end when one of the men handed me a paper across the table, at the same time all keeping their eyes fixed intently on me. Opening the paper, I found it to be a pledge with blank spaces for signatures. It read as follows:
I, Alphonso Colono, son of Ferdinand and Nina Colono, do most solemnly swear and affirm, in the name of my parents and my sacred honor, and in the presence of my living soul and Almighty God, to maintain inviolable secrecy until death as regards all teachings and instructions that may be given me in the Secret Hermetic Schools; and I likewise swear and affirm never to divulge or reveal anything concerning persons, things or places which knowledge may come to me through connection with these schools.
“Will you sign that?” asked the man who had handed it.
“I will, with on qualification,” I replied.
“And what is that?” he asked.
“That my ideas of God may not be misunderstood or misconstrued, I would have the words, the Infinite and All-pervading Spirit, inserted after the word God. I do not believe in God as many men give meaning to that word.”
The four men looked at one another and then at M. Raymond.
“Very well,” said the leader, “we will insert the clause.”
He took the paper and made the insertion, handling it back when he had finished.
Again, reading the pledge, I signed. Then each of the four signed as witnesses and handed it to M. Raymond. As the latter signed, I noticed that each had put a different and peculiar mark after his signature.
“Now, M. Colono,” said the spokesman, as he took the paper, “you are an accepted member of the fifth degree of the Fourth Degree. The Fourth Degree has seven sub-degrees; you were born in the third sub and have for eight years been unconsciously a member of the fourth." He continued:
You pass to higher degrees as your growth and knowledge permits. Men are frequently members of the lower degrees when they know it not. Admission does not consist in the possession of a certificate, but in compliance with rules. Those who obey the rules and lead the life are members, though they know it not.
In this degree, the watchwords are Study, Patience, and Knowledge, and all advance depends upon the efforts of the student and the purity of the motive that prompts his desire for knowledge. At the start, know that all depends on you, and on you alone. Ask no advice, but rely upon your inward strength. Now, you are excused. Next Thursday night, there will be a masquerade ball at the residence of M. Careau; a party will call for you, and you will please attend.
As he finished, he motioned toward the door. Ushered through the hall by M. Raymond, I departed, wondering what possible connection there could be between a masquerade ball and a school of occultism. Then I recalled the name Careau. Careau, why that was the name of the secretary of war, who had ordered the removal of the picture from the Louvre.
I had not learned much that was definite in its nature, but the isolated incidents were becoming more connected.
“A party will call for me — I hope it will be my unknown friend,” I muttered. “But will she be masked, and will I never see her face?”
Thus thinking and soliloquizing, I returned home and applied myself with still greater diligence to my studies.
Thursday evening came, and I had robed myself as a monk and was awaiting my expected caller. It was something, after seven o’clock when a cab drove up to the front gate, and to my disappointment a man got out and, proceeding to the entrance, rang the bell and sent me this card. Joseph Henry, I read, awaits you at the carriage. The sender had returned to the cab, and, adjusting my garments, I soon joined him. Where the Careau mansion was, I had not yet learned, but the carriage started directly toward the center of the city.
“Have you the card given to you by M. Raymond?” asked my companion in pure English.
“I have,” I answered.
“Then it will not be necessary for me to accompany you, and as I have some other very important business to attend to, I will give you my carriage, and leave you to proceed alone.” Before I could answer, he continued:
“When you arrive at the ballroom entrance, present your card and when admitted, answer all questions that may be asked and obey all commands that may be given.”
“I shall do as you have instructed,” I answered, at the same time thinking this was a strange proceeding for obtaining entrance into a ballroom.
As the stranger vouchsafed no further remarks, we drove on in silence until we reached the Madeleine, when he got out of the carriage, which immediately turned about and proceeded rapidly away. Along the brilliantly lighted thoroughfares, the sidewalks of which were thronged with crowds of gay and careless people, the driver hurried until we came to a boulevard less brilliantly lighted.
We continued along at a rapid pace for about thirty minutes when we drove up to a gate in front of a brilliantly lighted residence some distance from the street. After a brief stop, we passed through and drove up to the front portico. As I got out of my carriage, a veiled woman in black left a cab just in front of mine. Seeing me, she turned as though about to speak, when a tall cloaked figure passed between us, and I heard the words, “four plus three.” The woman immediately turned and hastened up the steps, while the man disappeared around a pedestal.
The same happy sensation which I had experienced when in company with the unknown woman in black some weeks before again ran through me, and I felt certain that this was the same party. I hurried up the steps and entered a crowded hall just in time to see her disappear through a side door. There was evidently some delay in obtaining entrance into the ballroom, as the hall was full of masked people. Pushing forward to the entrance, I found that only one was admitted at a time, and the door was closed for several minutes after each time. Somewhat mystified at these proceedings, I took my turn and presented my ticket. After a careful scrutiny by the masked doorkeeper, it was turned and I was admitted, the door closing behind me.
A blank wall was in front, but turning down a narrow passage to the right, I found myself in a small, square room filled with a green light from a chandelier in the center, and containing two occupants. At a table at my right sat an aged patriarch, whose long, white hair, beard and shaggy eyebrows gave him indeed a venerable appearance. At my left, at another table, sat a black-robed woman, whose youthful features were only partly concealed by a black mask across the eyes, which, black and piercing, sparkled like coals of fire.
“Your name?” asked the patriarch.
“Alphonso Colono,” I answered.
“Are you sworn?” asked the low, penetrating voice of the woman.
“I am,” I answered.
“Let me see your card.”
I handed it to the woman, who, after examination returned it with a bow and motioned for me to also hand it to the patriarch.
Bowing affirmatively to the woman, he returned it and asked:
“Your place and date of birth?”
“Paris, June the 5th.”
“Seven forty-five A.M.,” I answered.
“Pass to the left,” said the woman, who had taken down each answer. As though by some secret signal a door opened at the left, and passing through I found myself with another masked man in a room corresponding to the first.
“Brother,” said the man, motioning me to a seat, “all these preliminaries which you have passed on this occasion, I will explain: those who participate in this ball are our chosen sons and daughters, the flowers of all lands." He continued:
It is but right that we should them from the wolves who, under the polish of a smooth, exterior, desecrate, and soil. The lives they lead make them extremely sensitive to every evil thought and influence; and we must therefore exercise great care.
Brother, it is your privilege this night to associate with the world’s purest and most perfect men and women. Higher, indeed, there are, but they are not of this world. We hope and believe you are worthy of this privilege. Your presence here constitutes your introduction to all. Formalities and conventionalities, so necessary among the shams and deceptions of the outside world, are here unknown. All are brothers and sisters.
Enter! Enjoy life in its highest aspect, where heart and mind unite in harmony with the body’s rhythmic motion, and purest love is queen.
He opened a door, and I found myself in a brilliantly lighted ballroom. The sweet strains of a waltz filled the room, and rich perfumes were fragrant in the air.
For a moment, I stood at the door, surveying the hall, in the hope of seeing her who wore the black dress, but she was nowhere to be seen.
“Does the father grant to woman equal rights with man?” said a low feminine voice at my side. Turning, I found a pretty peasant girl beside me. Wondering what could be the purport of such a question at such a time, I answered as I thought:
“Sex should be no bar to rights; hearts and brains should determine these. In things of heart, the woman should have every right and be supreme — in things of head, the man.”
“Ah! Then the father does not think that woman is equal to man when it comes to mind?”
“Not as a rule; exceptions there most truly are, but exceptions only.”
“Well, father cannot consider the dance a thing of mind, so I ask him to join me in the waltz.”
The incidents of the last few days had not been of a nature to stimulate the frivolous in me; the sudden appearance of my mother and disappearance of my father, together with my examinations and studies, had made me of a very serious mind; but I could not refuse, so we were soon gliding over the waxed floor in the swaying movement of the dance.
Get any body of people to do the same thing at the same time, no matter how simple or insignificant it may be, and you unite them, as it were, in a common unity. I soon felt myself as a part of the pleasure imbibed from these free, gay hearts. My companion was a graceful dancer and hung like a fairy on my arm.
The feeling that filled me was not, however, like the heart-thrilling sensations that had been caused by the woman in black, but in the pleasure of the moment she was forgotten. The waltz ended, once more I was my individual self. Serious thoughts again stole on my mind, and, recalling that I was a monk, I determined to take advantage of the character.
“What if the bishop of your diocese had seen you just now, gay monk? Where would be your charge?” questioned my fair companion with a merry laugh.
“Father, forgive me, I will never do it again,” I solemnly replied. “Oh, that I should for one moment have allowed a beautiful woman to tempt me thus!”
“Another case, my father, of Adam and Eve and the weakness of poor man.” said my gay companion with a mocking laugh.
“Yes, the devil subtly tempts us under the guise of beauty,” I answered, preserving my character with all its dignity.
“But, my father, where would Adam’s children be today had it not been thus? Poor imbeciles, blind fools, without mind or sense; innocent but devoid of knowledge. Blessed be Eve who tempted man to eat of the tree which bringeth wisdom,” said my hitherto simple peasant girl, becoming serious.
“With subtle sophistries, thou triest to defend thy erring mother; beware of heresy, my child.”
“Heresy! Do not the Scriptures themselves so say? Did she not tempt him to eat of the tree that gave a knowledge of good and evil, and makes men as Gods? Who can criticize so high and noble an aspiration?”
“Child, child, confess thy sins before God’s wrath shall damn thee,” I said, wondering if all here were like her.
“God has no wrath; the Scriptures say that God is Love.”
“Child, who taught thee thus to misconstrue the sacred words of Scripture?”
“Misconstrue! For two thousand years, monks like thee, with biased mind, have perverted truth and filled men’s minds with errors; and dost thou now thus question me?”
Her eyes sparkled with the fire of enthusiasm and indignation. Evidently her whole soul was in the augment. Things were getting interesting, I was about to be cornered, but I must maintain my part, so I answered: “For this, men are themselves to blame, not us. We veil forms and under symbols the sacred truths, and men, not using reason, take the shell and lose the kernel, feed on husks and see not the corn.”
“But, why not teach the plain pure truth? Why thus deceive by forms?”
“It must be so; to cast our pearls before swine, to trample under feet, would be but waste and loss of time and woefully indiscreet.”
“Ah! Does the father hint at occultism in the Church of Rome?”
“Hush! Talk not so loud; the walls have ears. What knowest thou of occultism?”
“A thumb’s length,” She answered quickly and mystically; and as I answered not, she looked surprised. Evidently, I was caught – there were passwords here.
“Ah! I comprehend,” she said. “Come with me, and I will show you what we know.” Now deeply interested, and wondering what was next, I followed.
I now noticed that a series of doors lined the hall on each side. Leading the way across to the left, she knocked upon one of these four times. It was immediately opened as we entered.
The sides of the room were surrounded by shelves full of books, and the green walls had a frieze of mystic symbols. At a number of tables there were groups of men and women, apparently engaged in study. These groups were invariably six in number, with a seventh who was evidently a teacher. In the center of the room, at a table which almost surrounded him, sat a middle-aged man whose features were only partly concealed by a black mask across his eyes.
Approaching this man, my companion said, “A new student.” Turning to me, the man said, “Let me see your new card, please.” After inspecting the card, he returned it, and addressing my conductor, said: “These groups are completed tonight, but if Mademoiselle will leave him in my charge, I will attend to his instruction.”
My companion bowed and was about to retire, when I asked if it would be out of order for me to see her after the ball. “I will await the father at the entrance,” she smilingly replied, and departed. “Monsieur,” said the man, motioning me to draw up a seat near him at the table:
“Your card from M. Raymond, E.E. (Exoteric Examiner), says you have passed a very creditable examination and are competent to receive further and more difficult instructions. From now on your study will be that great but wonderfully neglected mystery including all that pertains to man, socially and individually, but first, man as a being. Now to come closer to the point, you, yourself, are a man, and therefore the study is yourself. Your presence here implies that you are comparatively free of bias and ready and willing to look your own nature, good and bad, squarely in the face. Is this correct?”
“It is,” I answered, thinking I was on the right track at last.
Very well, then know that every man is dual in his nature — male and female elements make up your constitution. Now you are a man, the male element predominating; the female element is in you, but subservient. The first thing for you to do, the first great step in all occult initiations, is to bring these two elements into equilibrium. Man must be conjoined with woman; mind must be conjoined with heart. Mind, unchecked by heart or the intuitions that come therefrom, but leads to blind materialism and cold dead forms, the riddle of the universe it cannot solve. Heart, divorced from mind, leads but to blind, fanatic faith, where reason is unknown and fancy runs the imagination wild.
To reach supreme enlightenment, reason and conscience must go hand and hand, indissolubly united. Now, the method we pursue to bring this end so desired is very simple, but its simplicity may lead astray; do not mistake.
Mark well my words — to every male we join a female in the lawful bonds of love. You, through her, unfold your feminine nature, and she through you, her male; and thus, is brought that equilibrium so indispensable to light. This is the meaning of this ball. Unlike the monks of old, we cultivate that flame called love but only in its purest form. Bear this in mind and know that your own growth depends upon your union with a female soul. Among your sisters, you will find those who are worthy of your highest love. If you find one whose soul is sympathetic with your own, chose her to be your mate; do not choose unless your heart so bids, and ever your thoughts be pure.
I thought of the doctrine of sympathetic souls and my parents’ early teachings. And here, it was that my father met my mother; was I here also to meet my fate? My thoughts drifted to the woman in black, and I was anxious to meet her again and know more of her.
“Now,” continued my teacher, “we will consider the signs, veiled words, and allegories of the mystics, in particular, those of Hermes Trismegistus, Paracelsus, Jacob Bohme, Eliphas Levi, and the much misrepresented and little understood Madame Blavatsky." He continued:
You are supposed to be somewhat familiar with the published works of these teachers, and for the first time the veil commenced to be pulled aside. The works of these great mystics had been in my father’s library, and we had often studied them together, but while father had often hinted at the esoteric meaning of many parts of these books, he had never divulged it, saying I must learn it in the regular way. Now, it appeared the opportunity had come. All this time each group had carried on its studies in low subdued tones, and my instructor spoke in like manner. Suddenly, a single chord of music vibrated through the room and all study ceased.
"The time has come for the unmasking and the after converse,” said my teacher. “We meet every week, but to avoid undesired attention, alternately at the home of another member. In the meantime, continue your studies. Obtain the works of these writers at M. Callio’s, being careful to get only those which have a peculiar mark on the page, and then dwell long and earnestly upon the italics."
We were now in the hall which, masks being removed, was thronged with beautiful, refined, and intelligently-looking women and handsome and serious-looking men. No introductions were necessary, as the man at the entrance had said, your presence being sufficient. I now found myself in society as it should be, where men and women were true brothers and sisters; mind and heart dwelt upon the loftiest aspirations and the most profound questions. And what was my surprise and pleasure, here was Camille and many of my social friends. They all crowded around, congratulating me upon my advance.
“You now see,” said Camille smiling, “that a woman can keep a secret if she chooses; from now on we can talk a little more freely.”
“But where are Monsieur and Madame Durant?” I asked.
“They are not members of this section, they belong to a still higher degree, I believe,” she answered. A curly-headed French-man now claimed her attention and turned to seek my peasant sister. As I was vainly searching to find her, the veiled woman in black came out of a side door just as I was passing. The same thrill of pleasure ran through my frame, the same panting breath; now it is my time, I thought. I must speak to her.
“Mademoiselle,” I said, “we meet again.”
She turned, but even under her veil her face was masked.
“Have we met before?” She asked in English.
The voice was not the same, but perhaps this was because of language; before she had spoken in French, in which language I had addressed her, and which she understood.
“Does Mademoiselle remember the carriage drive?” I asked, still persisting in using French.
“What carriage drive?” she replied, equally persistent in English. I recalled my pledge of secrecy and was hesitating whether I could speak more fully, when we reached another door, and with a low bow that meant dismissal, she left me.
What meant this cold reception? Her actions were unlike the others. She did not even deign to speak as a friend. Could my heart have made a mistake? No, it must be her; I felt her absence. Now, I noticed that a number of people were still masked. In the hope of extending my acquaintance, I was about to address one of these when I was surrounded by a group and carried into a discussion on medicine.
Another hour passed in most interesting conversation when a small, white hand was placed upon my shoulder, and, looking up, I saw my peasant sister, but she was still masked.
“I am about to leave, my reverend father,” she said with a mocking smile, “and will bid you goodnight.”
“May I not act as escort?” I asked, rising and accompanying her toward the door.
“With pleasure, if you so desire,” she answered, and together we passed the entrance. The two inner guards were gone, but the doorkeeper was still on duty.
“If you go with me, you must grant me one request,” said my companion, as we descended the steps.
“It is already granted; what is it?” I replied.
“That I see you home in my carriage,” she answered to my surprise. “Why not this leap year,” I ventured, half protestingly. “Never mind, no jokes, my request is granted.”
“Very well, if you insist,” I answered, as we entered her carriage and were quickly driven toward my home. As we drove up in front of the Durant mansion, a most interesting conversation ceased, and as the carriage stopped, I got out and thanked for her kindness in taking me to my teacher and thus escorting home.
In reply, she said: “Had you persisted in the dance, sober monk, you would not have had the opportunity again for a long time. You stood your first and unsuspected test well, and chose the serious and not the frivolous. I congratulate you.”
“Well, dear sister, I thank you and bid you goodnight, hoping soon to meet you again when I may see your face. Why do you and the other few thus hide your face with masks?”
“There are those who deem it best to hide their identity even from their brothers; as you advance, you will no doubt know the reason why. Goodbye.”
I thought I detected a change in her voice, and, strange to say, that never-to-be-forgotten thrill ran through my frame and a joyous pleasure filled my heart. But she was gone; what did it mean?
Was my dream of sympathetic souls naught but a dream? Did I have two loves? Thus pondering, I sought my room.
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