The Blossom and the Fruit
A True Story of a Black Magician
by Mabel Collins
”The Prettiest Woman in Warsaw.” ”The Idyll of The White Lotus,”
”Through The Gates of Gold,” Etc., Etc.
[Lucifer, Vol I. London,
[Lucifer, Vol II. London, March 15th, 1888, No 7.]
© 2004 Online Teosofiska Kompaniet
THE great hall of the palace was illuminated gloriously by huge dragons made of gold, placed high up on the walls; within these strange creatures were powerful lamps, which shed their light not only through the eyes and opened mouths, but from the gleaming claws. The whole place was filled with a blaze of light from them; and the dresses of the household assembled below semed to Hilary another blaze of light, so gay were they. Yet this was only a domestic reception. It was late, and Otto had refused to allow any more general demonstration to take place that night. Yet Fleta, when she threw off her travelling cloak and hood, might have been the centre of any pageant. She showed no trace of the weariness of travel, or even of the strange excitement she had passed through. She was pale, but her face was calm and wore its most haughty and unapproachable expression. Her dress of black lace hung about her slender form like clouds. Otto was filled with pride as he noted her superb dignity and beauty; with hatred, as he observed that her eyes never met his own, that she treated him with just the same civility as the steward, or any servant of the establishment. No one could notice this but himself and perhaps Hilary, supposing the latter to be capable of regarding anyone but Fleta herself; for she was too much a woman of the world, this mystic, this wild girl, to admit anyone even to the most evident of the secrets of her life.
After a few moments passed among the little crowd assembled in the great hall, Fleta proposed to go to her own rooms for the night, and a stately little procession formed itself at once to conduct her there. But before going she beckoned to Hilary.
”The Duchess must come to me tonight”, she said. ”I wish her to be in my own room. Send a carriage and servants to fetch her.”
How her eyes glittered! Had he ever seen them shine so vividly before?
”Tell me one thing”, he said hoarsely. ”I believe you have taken to yourself that creatur's life and very body that I killed for you. Is it not true?”
”You are shrewd”, she said with a laugh. ”Yes, it is true. My whole being is stronger for his death; I absorbed his vital power the instant you wrenched it from him.”
”And he!” said Hilary, with wild eyes.
”Was one of those half-human, half-animal creatures that haunt men to their ill, and which fools call ghosts or demons. I have done him a service in taking his life into my own.”
Hilary shuddered violently.
”You doubt me”, said Fleta very quietly. ”You still doubt if it is not I who am the devil. Be it so. I am indifferent to your opinion of me, Hilary; you cannot help loving and serving me. We were born under the same star. Now go and give orders about the Duchess.”
Under the same star! Those words had not come to his mind for a long while; yet how horribly true they were. For he, Hilary, it was who had actually done this dreadful deed and killed this unseen, unknown, unimaginable creature. Horror made him clutch his hands together as he thought that he had touched this thing, more, had killed it hideously. Might it not have been some good thing striving to baffle Fleta? Ah, yes! he still doubted her. And yet to doubt her so completely made the very earth to sink away from under his feet. He himself, his life, his all, were given to her, be she good or evil! Staggering and overpowered by the terrible thoughts that crushed his wearied brain, Hilary found his way to a supper-table; and too exhausted to think of anything else but recruiting his strength, sat down to drink wine - and to try to eat. This latter seemed impossible, but the wine revived him; and presently he remembered that it was his business to look after the Duchess.
By-and-bye she was carried into the palace; she could not yet stand, for she had only come out of one fainting fit to fall into another.
And now came a strange and dreadful scene - one which only a few witnessed, Hilary as it happened being among those few, for he saw the Duchess taken to the suite of rooms Fleta occupied. In the corridor Fleta came out to them; she was still in her travelling-dress, and looked very quiet and even subdued. But at the sight of her the young Duchess screamed as if she saw some awful thing; she would not let Fleta touch her, she absolutely refused to enter her room.
”But you must be with me”, said Fleta in a low voice.
”I will not”, answered the Duchess with a firm resolution which amazed everyone who knew her. She rose up and walked unassisted along the corridor and down the great staircase; she met the young king coming up it; he had heard her shrill cries and came to see what was happening.
”What is the matter, little cousin?” seeing her tear-stained and agitated face.
”Fleta want me to be in her room all night! I would not do it for all the world! She is a devil - she would kill me or make her lover kill me, and then no one would ever hear of me or even find my body. No! No!”
And so she ran on, down the wide stairs, leaving Otto thunderstruck. He noticed that a number of persons were gathering on the landing and stairs, and so, with a stern and quiet face, he passed through the little throng, making no observation. He went down the corridor and straight into Fleta's room. here he found her standing silent, dark, like a sombre statue. One other person was in the room - Hilary Estanol. He was in the most extraordinary state of agitation, pouring out words and accusations; some horror appeared to possess and blind him, for he took no notice of the king's entrance. Fleta did, however; she looked up at him and smiled - such a strange, sweet, subtle smile. Seldom, indeed, had Fleta given him a look like this. Otto's heart leaped within him, and he knew himself her slave. For he loved her increasingly with every passing moment; and she had but to turn her face on him softly to make the loving soul in him burn with ardour. But that burning was fiery indeed. he turned upon Hilary and stayed his words by a sudden sharp order:
”Leave the room”, he said. ”And you had better go and see Doctor Brandener before you go to bed, for you are either in a fever or mad. Go at once.”
Hilary was in a condition in which an order given in such a tone took the place of the action of his own brain, and he mechanically obeyed it. This was the best possible thing that could have happened to him; for he was in fact in a high fever, and if he had not, without thinking about it, done as he was told and gone to the resident doctor of the palace, he would probably have wandered raving about all night. As it was he was obliged to drink a strong sleeping draught, and was placed in his bed, where he fell at once into a sleep so profound it seemed like death.
Hilary gone, Fleta closed the door behind him.
”Do not let there be any struggle fo wills between us tonight”, said Fleta very softly. ”I warn you, I am much stronger than I was; I am very much stronger than you are, now. And you found before that you could not even come near enough to touch me. Let me rest, and that quietly; I wish to retain my beauty, both for your sake and my own.”
Otto paused a few moments before he made any answer to this extraordinary speech. Then he spoke with difficulty; and as he did so raised his hand to brush away some great drops of sweat which had gathered on his forehead.
”I know I am powerless against you tonight, Fleta”, he said. ”I cannot even move nearer to you. But be warned; I intend to probe the mystery of your being. I intend to conquer you at last. I will do it if I have to visit hell itself for the magic which shall be stronger than yours.”
(To be continued.)
CHAPTER XV. (Continued.)
[Lucifer, Vol II. London, March 15th, 1888, No 7.]
FLETA threw aside her travelling dress and put on a white silk wrap her maid had got out for her; she loosed her hair and let it fall about her slender figure. The wrap was made with wide sleeves, that fell away from the shoulder and left her arms bare. She raised them over her head and clasped her hands; and as she did so laughed like a child. How beautiful she looked! The large soft bed with its silken sheets all bordered with foamings of lace, and its coverlet of golden embroidery, was close beside her. She threw herself into it, and the white lids fell heavily over her eyes, the long black lashes lying like pencil marks on her cheek. In a moment she was buried in a slumber more profound than even drugs can produce; for a magician knows how to take the soul away from earth on the instant, and leave the body without dreams or any uneasiness, free to rest and recover like a babe. And Otto standing there looking on this lovely sight felt his brain turn to fire and his heart to ice within him. He loved her so desperately and yet so hopelessly, this woman who was at this moment actually his wife. No effort of his will enabled him to approach an inch nearer to her. She was absolutely protected, perfectly isolated from him. And it seems strange indeed that she could rest there like an innocent child while within only a few paces of her stood a man - and that man her husband - within whom burned all that fiery passion is, who suffered the fulness of longing and hunger insatiable. At last - for the dawn was creeping in at the window as he did so - Otto turned and left the room, and went softly down the stairway and along more corridors and down more stairs, till he reached a little doorway which he opened with his own key. It was a side entrance from the great garden and the park beyond. In the breathing of the soft, keen, morning air, in the roomy freshness of the early sky, his maddened spirit seemed to find some hope of bathing and recovering itself. He strode away through the park, and climbed a hill which rose beyond it. From its summit he could see all over the city, and some extent of the surrounding country. The sight sobered and strengthened him. He knew himself to be no petty prince playing at state. True, his was a small kingdom, and his capital could be seen from end to end from this hill top. Yet the great powers of Europe watched him with interest.
Fleta was out in the morning light not long after him, dressed in white; she wandered alone through the gardens and plucked some rich roses to wear at her waist. The bloom of supreme youth and beauty was on her face when she came back from among the flowers; she had gathered dew from the grass, and wetted her soft cheeks and lips with it. Some dewdrops from a rosebush she had shaken gleamed in her dark hair, beautiful as any diamonds. She sent messages of inquiry for the Duchess and Hilary by the first servants she encountered; and she stood waiting for the answers, leaning against the side of the sunny window by which she had entered - a brilliant figure that shone the more brilliantly for the strong light, as a jewel might. And, indeed, this Fleta was a jewel of the world - whether her light be baleful or beneficent, yet a jewel.
The answers were brought to her presently. The Duchess had been very ill all night, and the doctor was even now with her, and would not allow her to be disturbed. Hilary was still wrapped in the profound slumber which had already lasted many hours.
”Wake him”, said the young queen, ”and tell him I shall be waiting for him in the magnolia arbour in about an hour.”
She wandered out into the garden again, moving to and fro in the sunlight. It was an entirely secluded garden this, which had been highly walled and sheltered by trees, so that here Royalty might have sunshine and fresh air in freedom. And all this sheltering, it being a very sunny spot, had made it a perfect golden land of flowers. Fleta was very happy for the moment here; she became like a child when her mind was quiet, and when the beauty of nature appealed to her senses. She gathered here and there yet another beautiful rose that specially caught her fancy, and fastened it on her dress; so that at last, when it was time to go to the magnolia bower, she looked like a queen of roses, so fantastically was she dressed and decked in them.
The magnolia bower was the great beauty of the palace garden. It stood right opposite to the windows, though at some little distance across a smooth belt of turf. Originally, an arbour had been built, and at the side of it a quoits-alley was arranged, filling one half of the wall of the garden. It was all open to the house and lawn, and roofed so that it was protected from rain and wind. Otto's grandfather had built this, and had planted many different kinds of rare trees and creeping plants to grow over it. But the place had in some way suited the magnolias best of all; they had grown so richly that at last they had claimed the whole as their own; and all the winter the roof and pillars of it were beautiful with great green leaves in climbing masses; when the magnolias began to flower, it was lovely beyond belief. And now the arbour and alley were all, by common consent, called the magnolia bower. Fleta had been fascinated by the beauty of this place when she first came out, and had questioned a passing gardener about it. She felt curiously happy and at home within its shelter; and here Hilary found her pacing slowly to and fro. He paused as his eyes fell on her. She seemed to him the realisation of all possible beauty. She was younger, fairer, yet stronger in expression than he had ever seen her. And the pure richness of the flowers about her dressed her as no diamonds, no rich gowns, could do. For this strange creature was essentially natural - at home among the flowers or on a mountain-top, strange and haughty among courtiers and in the ordinary life of men and women.
”Sit down here”, said Fleta, taking her place on a deep, well-cushioned couch in a shadowy corner. Ah! how still and sweet the air was!
”You are better”, she went on, ”I can see that. You have slept like one dead, and have found a new life this morning. It is well; it is what I expected; but what might yet not have been. Now, I want to talk to you. Our work is close at hand. By noon I have to be dressed, ready to go to the great Cathedral and be crowned. From that time I shall be in public all day till late in the evening. But I have learned how to live alone in a crowd, and to play a part unknown by any one. And you must do the same. For our work begins today. And we have gained the necessary strength for it.”
Hilary shuddered, even here in the sunshine and amid the flowers. He knew she referred to that awful scene in the dark yesterday when he had killed what?
”Fleta,” he said, with tolerable quietude, ”do you remember what I was saying to you last night when I was told to leave you? Did I not demand an explanation before I did any more work for you?”
”Yes; you did. And that is why I sent for you here that I might explain all that you can understand.” She paused just a moment; and then went on speaking rapidly yet clearly.
”We have spoken of the lives of long ago, when we were together before, Hilary; when we loved, and lost, and parted, only to meet again and love and lose again. Like the flowers that yearly bloom and then die away till another season gives them another life, so once in an aeon have we flowered upon the earth, brought forth the supreme blossom which earth can produce, the flower of human love. You do not realise this, Hilary, because you will not claim your knowledge and experience; you are weak, and easily content, lacking in faith, and still filled with love of life. That is why you are my servant. The power I took when first our souls met on this earth you have never wrested from me. I have remained your ruler. Now I urge you to use all the will that is in you and step nearer to my side in knowledge and in power; for I no longer have need of you as a servant. I want a companion. You know that a little while ago I essayed the initiation of the White Brotherhood, that stately order which governs the world and holds the reins of the starry universe in its hands. You know that I failed. I do not regret having had the courage to try; I should have been a coward indeed to draw back when Ivan himself was ready to lead me to the place of trial. But I was a fool to overvalue my efforts and my work as I have done. I had served so sore and so long an apprenticeship, had grown so weary, through many lives, of lovers and of children, that I thought all human love, all love that clings to one person in the world, had been for ever plucked out by its very roots. I thought it was gone from me for ever; that, though I would work for humanity, that though I would gladly give all that was in me to any who desired help or knowledge, yet that I myself could stand alone, leaning on none, looking for none. It seemed to me it was so - that the mystery was solved for me - that the problem of human love, of the life of sex, of the mystic duality of existence, was all set at rest for ever. Oh, if that had been so! Then, Hilary, I should have blossomed on earth for the last time; I should have found in myself the fruit, the divine fruit that gives new life, another life, a divine knowledge, an unshaken power. But I failed. I entered among them, Hilary - I saw them. No other woman has seen these strange, austere, glorious beings. But the chill of death, the uttermost anguish of fear and of longing, fell on me as I looked upon the unfamiliar, unhuman, god-like faces; and I hungered for the dear face that had so long been my star. I cried aloud for Ivan.
”You saw me next. You found me. You know how I was crushed and broken. But before you came to me I had heard words, spoken, as it were, by the stars, echoing in the heavens, that told me my fate, and showed me my work; and bade me be strong to rise up and do it. Afterwards, I desired to see one of the White Brotherhood, and obtain a confirmation of my order. But I could not. And then I understood that I alone was to be judge and compeller of myself.”
She rose now and began to pace up and down in front of him. She began to speak more slowly, her eyes fixed upon the ground.
”Sweetheart, wife, mother, these things I can never be again, for the love of any man. I am alone in the world; I can lean on no man, I can love no man in that way any more throughout the ages that I may wander on this earth. That life has gone away from me once and for all. I stand above it. Are you still ready to devote yourself to me, to stand at my side, to be my companion?”
A great sigh burst from Hilary. It seemed to him that he was bidding farewell to his dear, dear love, to his one hope in life, to all that was fair in woman, to all that he had ever desired or could ever desire. And then he saw before him the shining white face of a priestess. Fleta for the moment was transformed as she gazed upon him. A great light gleamed from her eyes. He saw that a finer thing, one infinitely more desirable and satisfying, must take the place of the fair blossom of love in his heart. All this came to him in an instant; and as the sigh burst from him he uttered a ”Yes” that seemed to shake his being. And then on a sudden - on the instant - the white blinding face of the priestess of life had gone from before his eyes, and he saw instead the young, fresh, lovely face of the woman he loved. A groan as of physical anguish passed his lips.
”Fleta, I cannot do it”, he said; ”I cannot resign you.”
”You have done it!” she said, and laughed.
It was a strange laugh, not womanly, and yet with a ring of gladness in it.
”You cannot go back from the pledges given by your spirit because your heart protests!” she said. ”Your heart will protest a thousand times; it will seem to dissolve your very body with its suffering. Do I not know? I have lived through it; I have died from it. But the pledge once taken, has to be fulfilled. I am satisfied; for I know now that you will work with me.”
She walked to and fro a few moments in silence; then came and sat beside him, talking in her first manner, rapidly and clearly.
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