THE manner of M. Durant had served to somewhat allay my agitation, and when I reached my room, I drew the sealed letter from my pocket without delay.
The envelope was made of linen and could not be torn, while the sealed portion on the back was covered with a wax stamp bearing mystic characters – the interlaced triangles with an Egyptian Tau in the center and surrounded by a serpent with a Chaldean swastika at the meeting of mouth and tail.
Breaking the seal, I drew forth the following note, written in a small feminine hand:
Your application has been favorably reported. My carriage will call for you this afternoon. If you wish to proceed, accompany without question and bring this note with you.
The signature was written in a peculiar manner and was covered with a perforated, five-pointed star, as though to prevent alteration, while the paper was so light and delicate no erasures could possibly have been made.
“At last my opportunity has come,” I muttered.
“There must be crises in men’s lives; here in the last twenty-four hours I have found my long-lost mother, lost my father, and received word from the mysterious Brotherhood which seems destined to control my life.”
I reopened the letter from my father, and now for the first time, the triangle which followed his signature attracted my attention. It was not like the other writing in color. It was not writing! I stepped to the window and rubbed my finger over it, looking at it closely. It looked like a kind of carbon substance built up or embossed upon the paper, yet it would not rub off. As I stood gazing and wondering if it could be a precipitated sign, to my utter astonishment, it commenced to fade away until it had entirely disappeared.
“My God! Am I a victim of magic?” I cried, as I stared at the now blank space. “Am I surrounded by powers invisible? Are they good or evil?” Then I recalled what I had read in an occult book: that a man is surrounded by powers and influences corresponding to the thoughts he thinks.
“My thoughts are pure, my motives unselfish,” I said. Then it seemed as though an inner voice said: “Then you have naught to fear, naught to fear, naught to fear.”
I placed the letters carefully away in my pocket and went down to the lawn to enjoy a morning walk, all the time filled with eager expectancy for the evening. I had not been walking long when Camille, seeing me, came down, and laughingly remarking that I was thinking too much, insisted that I take a drive with her.
Thinking a little recreation would do me good and aid in preparing for the coming trials that I now pictured in my mind, I accepted her invitation, and we were soon flying along the beautiful boulevards and enjoying the fresh morning air of the great city of art.
An hour later, having driven until our horses were a little warm, we stopped at the Louvre. Entering the great picture gallery, our attention was immediately attracted by a large crowd standing before a picture that had apparently only recently been placed on exhibition.
As we approached, a tall, Oriental-looking man with an orange-colored turban on his hand left the crowd, and as he passed us, I heard him soliloquize: “Dangerous; the sacred truths must not be thus revealed. ‘Tis rash.”
Turning to the picture, which was of exceptionally large size, the first thing that attracted my attention was the predominance of mystic symbols. It was entitled “The Dawn” and was signed by a combination of the five and six-pointed stars. Fastened in the center at the top by a golden, five-pointed star, two magnificent curtains in red swept to the right and left.
That on the right was held back by a young man in all the beauty of Apollo. Holding back the curtain with his left hand, in his right he held a golden wand made like a winged Caduceus, while upon his forehead was a golden sign of Mercury. The figure on the left was a woman, a Venus in all her beauty. The golden sign of Venus on her forehead seemed to scintillate, and the winged globe, sky-blue in color, that rested in her hand seemed to be a thing of life. The foreground in front of the curtain was black, and in the vapors of a smothering smoke were hosts of horrid creatures overshadowing three groups representing war, pestilence, and famine.
Back of the curtain, all was filled with a golden light, and rich fields and beautiful cities, thronged with happy, joyous people, festooning, as on a holiday, stretched far away to the blue but snow-crowned mountains, which formed the horizon. In this golden light, and occupying the center of the picture, were five figures whom I recognized as the five great religious teachers of the world: Zoroaster, Confucius, Buddha, Christ, and Mohammed.
In the center, on a mighty lotus, sits the meditating Buddha; on his right leans forward Christ, radiant in loving beauty, to crown the sage with a wreath of lotus flowers; on his left Mohammed, his sandaled foot upon a broken sword and his Arab face lit up with a smile of love, reaches forward to crown the crowning Christ. Zoroaster and Confucius, one on the right and the other on the left, look smilingly on and, with rolls of parchment which represent the law, point to the fields of happiness beyond.
Over these five great teachers, and beheld with admiring looks by those who held the curtains, was a central figure — the wonder of the whole. Its meaning then I knew not, but even in my ignorance, it had a power that made strange feelings in my soul. It was an oval sphere of misty vapor that seemed alive with motion and marvelously rendered in a sacred color. Within this sphere, like those around, five-pointed and radiant with a golden light, was a “star.”
Spell-bound we gazed, our soul’s mysterious powers interpreting, and became enraptured as in a mystic charm. We were suddenly aroused by voices, some speakers approaching in very earnest conversation. Turning, we saw the Oriental with the director and four distinguished-looking men.
“Yes,” said the apparent leader to the director, “the picture must be veiled at once, and it will be removed this evening. See to it, Monsieur; have it done without delay.”
The director immediately left while the newcomers conversed in low tones.
In a few moments, the director returned accompanied by some aids carrying a large covering, which they immediately put over the magnificent picture, the men standing by until it was accomplished.
As they turned away I heard the leader say to the Oriental: “Yes, it was an unusual indiscretion on the part of Zerol to place that here. A man with the most fragmentary knowledge would, with an hour’s study, learn enough to be dangerous. Hereafter, he must let us inspect such productions.”
Camille and I, both being connoisseurs, appreciated the work but could not understand the action of the men in thus concealing it. As we left the gallery, she said the spokesman was Gen. Careau, Secretary of War, and his companions were all prominent officials of the government.
Who the Oriental was, she did not know; from his remarks, which I had heard when entering, I knew that he had influence and was the cause of having the picture veiled and ordered removed.
My collection of symbols and recent experiences gave me an idea I could throw some light upon the subject, but remembering my pledges, I kept silent.
It was now noon, and we returned home. They had said this afternoon, at what hour I knew not; so, thinking it was best to be ready at any time, immediately dinner was over, I repaired to my room.
Now, my thoughts returned to the picture gallery. Evidently, the painter was a mystic. The symbols, used plainly, showed that fact. But who was Zerol? I had never heard of him before, and in the last year I had made it my business to get acquainted with every reputable painter and artist in the city. And were the very powers of the government associated with this secret organization? Thus, my thoughts continued to dwell upon the mysteries surrounding me until nearly four o’clock, when the hall —boy brought up a card with the initials, “M.P.,” and said the sender was waiting for me in a carriage at the front gate.
Proceeding to the gate, a cabman opened the carriage door, and as I entered, a woman moved over to give me a seat beside her. She was dressed in black and was closely veiled, but as the carriage moved away, the pair of beautiful white hands that lay exposed upon her lap told me she must be young. At the same time, an indescribable feeling of restfulness and ease came over me.
“And is Monsieur dissatisfied with the knowledge of the colleges that he seeks Madame Petrovna?” asked a sweet, musical voice, that caused a thrill of pleasure to run through me.
“Yes, Madame,” I replied, inferring immediately that it was the Madame herself whom I was talking to, “the knowledge of the colleges is all very well so far as it goes, and as long as it is confined to facts as they exist without explanations; but their knowledge is only superficial and does not satisfy the mind that would know the true nature of things in themselves.”
“Ah!” and that same tingle of pleasure again went through me, “then Monsieur is of a philosophical turn of mind, is he?”
“From my childhood, Mademoiselle,” said I, changing the form of my address in the hope of getting some clue to her identity, “I have been taught in a philosophical manner and, therefore, naturally look at everything in that light.”
“It was very fortunate for you, Monsieur, that you should have had such a teacher; very few have that privilege nowadays.”
Thus, no clue to her identity was given as the conversation and the carriage rolled rapidly along.
But, every word uttered by my unknown companion filled me, nevertheless, with a never-before experienced feeling of pleasure, and I drank in each musical word as some delicious beverage. So absorbed was I with my companion, that I took no notice of the route we were traveling. Once she was looking at the palm of her fair white hand, and I took advantage of the opportunity and asked:
“Does Mademoiselle believe in palmistry?”
She closed her hand quickly, and turning to me replied: “Is not the palm of the hand, if protected, one of the most sensitive parts of the body, and does not the Scriptures say that the hand is all covered over with light? Let me see Monsieur’s hand.”
I held out my open hand, and she took it gently. Oh, what means this great joy that steals around my heart? What pleasure in that touch! Did I mistake? Her veil was double, and I could not see her face, but I thought I saw a tremor shake her form and there was a slight quiver in her voice as she said:
“Monsieur has never loved — that is,” she added quickly, “not in this life.”
“And does Mademoiselle believe in past lives?” I asked. Without answering she continued:
“But the lines and mounts say, Monsieur, that you will love deeply when you do love and that you will meet her in your twenty-second year or very near that point. May I ask your age, Monsieur?”
“I am twenty-two,” I answered, with what was to me unusual warmth. And did a secret feeling make me wish that what she said was true? Just then the carriage stopped, and as she dropped my hand I looked out.
We were in front of a granite arch which marked the entrance to a palatial residence, situated in the middle of a large lawn surrounded by a high iron fence with granite posts.
Glancing up, a group of statuary surmounting the arch attracted my attention. A huge bronze tiger, the very picture of subjugated humiliation, was held in chains by a winged cupid standing on a golden egg. Whoever these people are, I thought, they understand the secret of art. It is evident that group has a meaning and value, which comes from other than a mere skill in execution.
My companion had noticed my admiring glances, and, as the iron gates swung open, as by a secret order, and we passed through, she asked: “I see you have an artist’s eye; do you understand the meaning?”
“I might understand; will you explain?” I answered.
“The group, with the egg, comprehends, in its entirety, a great deal, but to explain briefly, the tiger symbolizes man’s animal or tiger nature — the beast — which is subjugated and chained by love, which, according to the Mystics, comes from the golden egg.”
There was a soul-stirring tenderness in her words as she thus answered, and for the first time in my life, I felt the thrilling of a newborn love.
“Beautiful thought,” I answered; “if one can judge these people by their art, they must be pure and good.”
“They were,” she replied.
We were now driving along the gravel road through the carefully kept lawn. The velvety sward adorned with flowers and trees reflected the rays of the afternoon sun in all of nature’s beauty.
Truly, I thought, if this is the way I am to be initiated, it is anything but that which I had thought. I had pictured terrible ordeals and blood-curdling tests, and, here, I had been met by a woman who, while I had never seen her face, I knew must be beautiful, and everything seemed bright and joyful. Then, I braced myself to meet it. My companion had become silent as we approached the mansion, a model of classical architecture and built of polished marble.
Arriving at the steps that extended up to the Corinthian portico, which had two magnificent groups of statuary at the ends, the cabman opened the door and I courteously assisted my companion to alight. Leading the way, she entered a hall, which was a masterpiece of art. The walls were hung with the most magnificent paintings, and the Corinthian pilasters along the sides were polished like mirrors.
Without saying a word, she conducted me to large parlor to the right; then, saying she would return in a few moments, she left me. I had hardly time to take in my surrounding when she returned and motioned me to follow her.
Along the hall and up a marble staircase we proceeded until we arrived in front of a door, which she opened without knocking, and I, having entered at her motion, closed it behind me. I found myself in a room finished throughout in a light-blue color.
At a table draped around with blue silk, covered with mystic symbols, sat a heavily built woman of about sixty. Her face broad, and its wrinkles made it appear rather coarse at first glance, but I soon learned, it was capable of almost instantaneous changes of expression. The eyes were the chief characteristic of the woman and seemed to read the very soul. As I entered, she motioned me to a seat, and without saying a word, set her steel-blue eyes upon me and kept them there for fully a minute when she said:
“You have a note?”
I handed her the note I had received in the morning. She placed it in a drawer in the table and continued: “Your name is Colono?”
“Yes, Madame,” I answered.
“Well, young man, what do you come here for?”
I thought her tone and manner somewhat brusque, and answered: “To seek entrance to the Brotherhood.”
“What are your motives?” She asked, her piercing eyes never leaving mine.
“I desire knowledge. Knowledge is the end and aim of my life.”
“For what do you want this knowledge? Is it for any personal or selfish purposes?”
“No selfish purpose prompts me,” I answered. “It is an inborn desire within me. Ever since I was a child, I have longed to know the real meaning of things; and the mystery of life has had an irresistible fascination to my mind.”
“And you think there is a Brotherhood that can assist you to this knowledge, do you?”
“I know there must be those who know more than the outside world concerning the essential nature of things.”
“Where did you get this knowledge?” She asked abruptly.
“My parents have always taught me so,” I answered.
“Oh! And is that all the foundation you have for your affirmation?”
“My parents being members of this Brotherhood would know, and they would not deceive me; furthermore, I have an inner consciousness which tells me this Brotherhood exists, and that among its members are exalted men and women who possess wondrous knowledge, power, and God-like wisdom.”
“Ah! You believe in an inner consciousness then, do you?”
A momentary softness came over her face, and I thought I detected more of the woman in her tone.
“I believe man is a temple of the Divinity, and that within him are divine powers and possibilities,” I answered.
“Man is not only a temple of the divinity, man is the Divinity. Perfect man is God.” She replied, with a vehemence that forbade contradiction.
Then, suddenly changing the subject, she asked:
“What do you think of the present social condition of the world?”
Now, while I had been raised in the midst of wealth and aristocracy, I was what some over-conservative people would call an extremist, and I answered accordingly: “I believe it is abnormal, monstrous, and contrary to the divine intention. A social state where altruism and industry are made the victims of greed and sloth cannot long mock eternal justice, and its end draws near.”
This strange woman, by the supreme power of will controlled her features; but I could see from the brilliant light in her eyes that I had voiced her sentiments.
“And how will it end?” she asked.
“That depends on man. If, in time, the moral sentiment becomes sufficiently strong, the present lamentable condition of things will give place to something higher, but, if this moral change is too long delayed, then, like all civilizations of the past, we will sink into the chaos of an awful night and then, from the shattered fragments of what is left, through years and centuries of toil and pain, build up again.”
The restless activity which always came over me in moments of great earnestness, commenced to rise within. I could hardly sit still and moved restlessly from side to side.
“And what would you do to aid mankind to avert this awful doom? Or have you any interest in the matter?”
“Madame, I would do all within my power; but what can I do? I am but one little insignificant man, and look how much is to be done.”
“You, as an isolated and separate man can do little, but as an instrument of the Infinite, much.”
I was about to reply, when she again abruptly changed the conversation by asking: “Have you the exact hour and date of your birth?”
Remembering the dates given me by M. Durant I answered accordingly.
Without evincing any surprise at the exactness of my knowledge as to the hour, which is very seldom known, she wrote it down in a small book. Then opening a drawer, she drew forth and handed me a card, saying:
“Report at that address tomorrow morning at nine o’clock; keep the card for presentation and, without informing any one, go alone. You are now excused.”
My veiled conductor was awaiting me in the hall. Without a word, she led by a different route to the hall below, where another surprise awaited me. The side-hall, through which we were passing, was covered with finely executed portrait paintings of men and women. All the great nationalities of the earth were represented: Hindu, Chinese, Turk, Greek, Egyptian, and all the modern nations of the West.
As I was giving them a hurried glance, while passing along the hall, a cry broke from my lips as my eyes fell upon the life-sized portraits of my father and mother, hanging side by side — portraits not of youth but of recent years. My companion, who was little in advance, stopped and, as I would have lingered to question, silently motioned me to follow. Out through the marble portico to the carriage which was still waiting, we proceeded. The driver opened the door, and to my pleasure my companion entered with me. Not a word was spoken until we passed the arched gate when she broke the silence by asking: “Why did Monsieur utter the cry in the hallway? Did he recognize someone among the pictures?”
“No one less than my father and mother,” I replied. “Oh, Mademoiselle, how did they come here? And so natural!”
“All high-degree members of the Brotherhood are there,” she answered. “Would you like to have your picture there?”
“It will be, if it is in the power of man to put it there.”
“Monsieur knows not the meaning of his words,” answered that same sweet voice, every word of which thrilled me no less than it did on the previous drive.
“My parents did it, and so can I. All men can attain to the same great end if they but will. They trust me to do it, and I will. But, is Mademoiselle’s picture there?”
“Ah! How could a poor, weak woman like me become so great? Do you know, Monsieur, that none can have their picture there who harbors thoughts of love? Then how can woman who is born to love ever reach that end?”
My heart was now throbbing in my throat; it seemed to me her words had a secret meaning, and it was all I could do to regulate my breath, as I answered:
“But my mother loved, and she is there.”
“Then she had to sacrifice that love.”
Now did the words of my parents once more steal across my memory. Again, did I recall the sad parting of my mother on the fated steamer? Then, all the mysteries of the last few days crowded on my mind, and I was once more about to lose my self-control, when my companion, seeming to divine my thoughts, said:
“There are three great steps in man’s progress to perfection, and these are all included under the one word, self-control. Separately, they are in control of body, control of mind, and control of heart. Great is he who controls the body, still greater he who controls the mind, but greatest of all, he who controls the heart.”
Most truly, I thought, as each word set my mind on fire. Oh, how I did long to see the face behind that cruel veil of black! Now I thought of my father’s words about my sympathetic soul. Surely this is mine, I thought; I will ask her of the doctrine.
“Mademoiselle, talking of love, do you believe in sympathetic souls?”
She turned half around, and I surely saw her hand tremble and heard her voice quiver as she answered: “Yes, I do.”
I, too, was trembling now, but steadying my voice, I asked: “What is the teaching, Mademoiselle? Does it mean that all souls have their mates and no others?”
“No; that may be the popular idea of the doctrine, but it is erroneous; the true teaching is, that there are souls, not all, who have become inseparably conjoined because of a harmonious union in lives gone by. These cases are rare, but they do exist.”
I was about to question further when the carriage came to a stop in front of the Durant mansion. “Are we here already? My! How short the drive!” I remarked, as the driver opened the door.
Did she see my lingering action and the wistful look in my eyes? I knew not; but she at least extended her fair white hand to say “good-bye.” I could not control the impulse and raised gently to my lips. Oh, what magnetic tie was in that kiss!
“Good-bye,” she said, as she closed the door, and I half mechanically turned toward the mansion.
“She is gone,” said I; then, the full truth came upon me, and I muttered: “I’m in love — in love and with a woman I do not know and whose face I have not even seen. Not even her name do I know — married or single, old or young. My God! What insanity is this? But she must be young, her hand said so. But then, old people sometimes have young hands. And that voice and mind! Well, Colono, you are a freak; you went to get crucified and fell in love.”
Thus pondering, I entered the house just in time for the evening lunch.
Camille and the Durants were again of old and asked no questions to embarrass. After a light supper and a pleasant chat at the table, I took a stroll with Camille.
Now, here was a girl who was finely educated, beautiful, and accomplished, with whom I had been for a year and with whose parents I was on the most intimate terms; yet, there was nothing like a feeling of love, or at least nothing like the feeling I had experienced when with the unknown stranger.
Was I one of those rare souls she referred to? Was she my sympathetic mate?
What a mystery is life! How many puzzles it contains! Whatever of truth there might be in the idea, the thought gave me pleasure, and I found myself constantly recurring to it.
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