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, Jan 15th, 1888, No 5.]
© 2004 Online Teosofiska Kompaniet
IT seemed to her that for long ages she was alone. Her mind chieved great strides of thought which at another time would have appeared impossible to her. She saw before her clearly her own folly, her own mistake. Yesterday she would not have credited it – yesterday it would have been unmeaning to her. But now she understood it, and understood too how heavy and terrible was her punishment; for it was already upon her. She lay helpless, her eyes shut, her whole body nerveless. Her punishment was here. She had lost all hope, all faith.
A gentle touch on her hand roused her consciousness, but she was too indifferent to open her eyes. It mattered little to her what or who was near her. The battle of her soul was now the only real thing in life to her.
A voice that seemed strangely familiar fell on her ears; yet last time she had heard it it was loud, fierce, arrogant; now it was tender and soft, and full of an overwhelming wonder and pity.
“You, Princess Fleta, here? My God! What can have happened? Surely she is not dead? No! What is it, then?”
Fleta slowly opened her eyes. It was Hilary who knelt beside her; she was lying on the dewy grass, and Hilary knelt there, the morning sun shining on his head and lighting up his beautiful boy’s face. And Fleta as she lay and looked dully at him felt herself to be immeasurably older than he was; to be possessed of knowledge and experience which seemed immense by his ignorance. And yet she lay here, nerveless, hopeless.
“What is it?” again asked Hilary, growing momently more distressed.
“Do you want to know?” she said gently, and yet with an accent of pity that was almost contempt in her tone. “You would not understand.”
“Oh, tell me!”, said Hilary. “I love you – let me serve you!”
She hardly seemed to hear his words, but his voice of entreaty made her go on speaking in answer:
“I have tried”, she said, “and failed.”
“Tried what?”, exclaimed Hilary, “and how failed? Oh, my Princess, I believe these devils of priests have given you some fever – you do not know what you are saying!”
“I know very well”, replied Fleta; “I am in no fever. I am all but dead – that is no strange thing, for I am stricken.” Hilary looked at her as she lay, and saw that her words were true. How strange a figure she looked, lying there so immovably, as if crushed or dead, upon the dewy grass; wrapped in her white robes. And her face was white with a terrible whiteness; the great eyes looked out from the white face with a sad, smileless gaze; and would those pale drawn lips never smile again? Was the radiant, brilliant Fleta changed for ever into this paralysed white creature? Hilary knew that even if it was so he loved her more passionately and devotedly than before. His soul yearned towards her.
“Tell me, explain to me, what has done this?” he cried out, growing almost incoherent in his passionate distress. “I demand to know by my love for you. What have you tried to do in this awful past night?”
Fleta opened her eyes, the lids of which had drooped heavily, and looked straight into his as she answered:
“I have tried for the Mark of the White Brotherhood. I have tried to pass the first initiation of the Great order. I did not dream I could fail, for I have passed through many initiations which men regard with fear. But I have failed.”
“I cannot believe”, said Hilary, “that you could fail in anything. You are – dreaming – you are feverish. Let me lift you, let me carry you into the house.”
“Yes, I have failed”, answered Fleta dully; “failed, because I had not measured the strength of my humanity. It is in me – in me still! I am the same as any other woman in this land. I, who thought myself supreme – I, who thought myself capable of great deeds! Ah, Hilary, the first simple lesson is yet unlearned. I have failed because I loved – because I love like any other fond and foolish woman! And yet no spark of any part of love but devotion is in my soul. That is too gross. Is it possible to purge even that away? Yes, those of the White Brotherhood have done it. I will do it even if it take me a thousand years, a dozen lifetimes!”
She had raised herself from the ground as she spoke, for a new fierce passion had taken the place of the dull despair in her manner; she had raised herself to her feet, and then unable to stand had fallen on to her knees. Hilary listened yet hardly heard; only some of her words hurried into his mind. He bent down till his face touched her white cloak where it lay on the grass, and kissed it a dozen times.
“You have failed because of love? Oh, my Princess, then it is not failure! Men live for love, men die for love! It is the golden power of life. Oh, my Princess, let me take you from this terrible place – come back with me to the world where men and women know love to be the one great joy for which all else is well lost. Fleta, while I doubted that you loved me I was as wax; but now that I know you do, and with a love so great that it has power to check the career of your soul, now I am strong, I am able to do all that a strong man can do. Come, let me raise you and take you away from here to a place of peace and delight!”
He had risen to his feet and stood before her, looking magnificent in the morning sunshine. He was slight of build, yet that slightness was really indicative of strength; when Hilary Estanol had been effeminate it was because he had not cared to be anything else. He stood grandly now, his hands stretched towards her; a man, lofty, transformed by the power of love. Fleta looking at him saw in his brilliant eyes the gleam of the conquering savage. She rose suddenly and confronted him.
“You are mistaken”, she said abruptly. “It is not you that I love.”
Then, as suddenly as Fleta had moved and spoken, the man before her vanished, with his nobility, and left the savage only, unvarnished, unhumanised.
“My God”, gasped Hilary, almost breathless from the sudden blow, “then it is that accursed priest?”
“Yes”, answered Fleta, her eyes on his, her voice dull, her whole form like that of a statue, so emotionless did she seem, “it is that accursed priest.”
She moved away from him and looked about her. The spot was familiar. She was in the woodland about the monastery. She could find her way home now without difficulty. And yet how weak she was, and how hard it was to take each footstep! After moving a few paces she stood still and tried to rouse herself, tried to use her powerful will.
“Where are my servants?”, she said in a low voice. “Where are those who do my bidding?”
She closed her eyes, and standing there in the sunlight, used all her power to call the forces into action which she had learned to control. For she was a sufficiently learned magician to be the mistress of some of the secrets of Nature. But now it seemed she was helpless – her old powers were gone. A low, bitter cry of anguish escaped from her lips as she realised this awful fact. Hilary, terrified by the strange sound of her voice, hastily approached her and looked into her face. Those dark eyes, once so full of power, were now full of an agony such as one sees in the eyes of a hunted and dying creature. Yet Fleta did not faint or fail, or cling to the strong man who stood by her side. After a moment she spoke, with a faint yet steady voice.
“Do you know the way to the gate?, she asked.
“Yes”, replied Hilary; who indeed had but recently explored the whole demesne.
“Take my hand”, she said, “and lead me there.”
She used her natural power of royal command now; feeble though she was, she was the princess. Hilary did not dream of disobeying her. He took the cold and lifeless hand she extended to him, and led her as quickly as was possible over the grass, through the trees and flowering shrubs, to the gateway. As they neared it she spoke:
“You are to go back to the city”, she said. “Do no ask why – you must go; yet I will tell you this – it is for your own safety. I have lost my power – I can no longer protect you, and there are both angels and devils in this place. I have lost all! All! And I have no right to risk your sanity as well as my own. You must go.”
“And leave you here?”, said Hilary, bewildered.
“I am safe”, she answered proudly. “No power in heaven or earth can hurt me now, for I have cast my all on one stake. Know this, Hilary, before we part; I shall never yield or surrender. I shall cast out that love that kills me from my heart – I shall enter the White Brotherhood. And, Hilary, you too will enter it. But, oh! Not yet! Bitter lessons have you yet to learn! Goodbye, my brother.”
The sentinel who guarded the gate now approached them in his walk; Fleta moved quickly towards him. After a few words had passed between them he blew a shrill, fine whistle. Then he approached Hilary.
“Come”, he said, “I will show you the way for some distance and will then obtain you a horse and a guide to the city.”
Hilary did not hesitate in obeying Fleta’s commands; he knew he must go. But he turned to look once more into her mysterious face. She was no longer there. He boxed his head, and silently followed the monk through the gate into the outer freedom of the forest.
Fleta meantime crept back to the house through the shelter of the trees. Her figure looked like that of an aged woman, for she was bowed almost double and her limbs trembled as she moved. She did not go to the centre door of the house, but approached a window which opened to the ground and now stood wide. It was the window of Fleta’s own room; she hurried towards it with feeble, uncertain steps. “Rest! Rest! I must rest!” she kept murmuring to herself. But on the very threshold she stumbled and fell. Someone came immediately to her and tried to raise her. It was Father Ivan. Fleta disengaged herself, tremblingly yet resolutely. She rose with difficulty to her feet and gazed very earnestly into his face.
“And you knew why I should fail?”, she said.
“Yes”, he answered, “I knew. You are not strong enough to stand alone amid the spirit of humanity. I knew you clung to me. Well have you suffered from it. I know that very soon you will stand alone.”
“Of what use would that mask have been?” demanded Fleta, pursuing her own thoughts.
“None. If you had obeyed me and worn it you would have been of so craven a spirit you could never have reached the temple, never have seen the White Brotherhood. You have done these things, which are more than any other woman has accomplished.”
“I will do yet more”, said Fleta. “I will be one of them.”
“Be it so”, answered Ivan. “To do so you must suffer as no woman has yet had strength to suffer. The humanity in you must be crushed out as we crush a viper beneath our feet.”
“It shall be. I may die, but I will not pause. Goodbye, my master. As I am a queen in the world of men and women, so you are king in the world of soul, and to you I have done homage; that homage they call love. It is so, perhaps. I am blind yet, and know not. But no more may you be my king. I am alone, and all knowledge I gain I must now gain myself.”
Ivan bowed his head as if in obedience to an unanswerable decree, and in a moment had walked away among the trees. Fleta watched him stonily till he was out of sight, then dragged herself within the window to fall helplessly upon the ground, shaken by sobs and strong shudders of despair.
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