The Blossom and the Fruit
Mabel Collins

Part III.
CHAPTER XI.

It was the day of the Princess Fleta’s wedding, and the whole city was en fete.

Hilary Estanol paced the streets wildly, like a creature distracted. He had never seen her face since the day he returned from the secret monastery. He could not trust himself to go near her. He felt that the savage in him must kill, must destroy, if too much provocation were given him.

He held this savage in check as well as he could. He would not trust himself under the same roof with the woman he loved as he loved nothing else in life, and who had given him her love while she gave herself to another man. Herself! How much that meant Hilary seemed only now to know, now that he heard her marriage bells ringing, now that she was absolutely given. Yes, she had given herself away to another man. Was it possible? Hilary stood still now and again in the midst of the crowded street trying to remember the words she had said to him in that wood in the early morn when she had accepted his love. What had she taken from him then? He had never been the same since. His heart lay cold, and chill, and dull within him save when her smile or its memory woke him to [119] life and joy. Were these gone for ever? Impossible. He was still young - a mere boy. She could not have stolen so much from him! No - he had the first right - he would be her lover still and always, to whoever else she gave herself in name. This was the point of thought to which Hilary perpetually returned. Undoubtedly she was his, and he would claim her. But obscured and excited as his mind was, he lead sufficient intelligence to know that his must be a secret claim, even though it stood before all others. He could not go and claim her at the altar, for she had not given him any right to. What she had said was, “Take from me what you can.” Well, he could not make her his wife. He could not marry a royal Princess. She was not of his class. This being so, what could he hope for? Nothing - and yet he had her love - yes, the last kind touch of her hand, the last sweet smile on her lips, were still with him, and drove his blood rioting through his veins.

At last the procession is coming the soldiers have already cleared the way and with their horses keep back the crowd. Hilary stands now, still as a carven figure, watching only for one face. He sees it suddenly - ah! so beautiful, so supremely beautiful, so mysterious - and everything in Heaven and earth becomes invisible, nonexistent, save that one dear face. A voice rang out on the air, clear, shrill, above all other voices.

“Fleta! Fleta! My love! my love!”

What a cry! It penetrated to Fleta’s ears; it reached the ears of her bridegroom.

In the church, amid the pomp and ceremony, and the [120] crowd of great people, Otto did a thing which made those near him stare. He went to meet his bride and touched her hand.

“Fleta,” he said, “that voice was the voice of one who loves you. What answer do you make to it?” Fleta put her hand in his.

“That is my answer,” she said.

And so they stepped up the broad low steps to the altar. None heard what had been said except the king. Fleta’s father was strangely unlike herself. He was

a rugged, morose, sombre man, ill-disposed towards all humanity, as it would seem, save those few who held the key to his nature. Of these, his daughter was one; some said she was the only one. Others said her power lay in the fact that she was not his daughter, but a child of other parents altogether than those reputed to be hers; and that a State secret was involved in the mystery of her birth.

At all events, it was seldom indeed that the king interfered with Fleta. But he did so now, at this moment, with all the eyes of the Court upon them.

He spoke low into her ear; he stood beside her. “Fleta,” he said, “is this marriage right?”

Fleta turned on him a face so full of torture, of deathly pain, that he uttered an ejaculation of horror.

“Say no word, my father,” she said, “it is right.”

And then she turned her head again, and fixed her glorious eyes on Otto.

What a strangely beautiful bride she was! She was dressed with extraordinary simplicity; her robe had been arranged by her own hands in long, soft lines that [121] fell from her neck to her feet, and a long train lay on the ground behind her, but it was undecked by any lace or flowers. No flowers were in her hair, no jewels on her neck. Never had a princess been dressed so simply, a princess who was to be a queen. The Court ladies stared in amazement. But they knew well that there was a grace so supreme, a dignity so lofty, in this royal girl, that however simple her dress she outshone them all, and would outshine any woman who stood beside her.

No one heard any of what passed between the three chief actors in this scene; yet everyone was aware that there was something unusual in it. There was an atmosphere of mystery, of excitement, of strangeness. And yet what else would be possible where the Princess Fleta was concerned? In her father’s Court she was looked upon as a wild, capricious, imperious creature whose will none could resist. None would have wondered had they believed her carriage to have passed over the body of an accepted lover, now thrown aside and discarded. So did these people interpret the character of Fleta. Otto knew this, felt it, understood it; knew that those creatures of intrigue and pleasure would have thought her far less worthy had they judged her character more nearly as he did. To him she was pure, stainless, unattainable; virgin in soul and thought. This he said to her when, on leaving the cathedral, they entered a carriage together and alone. They had together passed thrpugh crowds of congratulators, nobles, great ladies, diplomats from different parts of Europe. They had bowed and smiled, and answered [122] courteously the words addressed to them. And yet how far away were their thoughts all the while! They neither of them knew whom they had met, whom they had spoken to. All was lost in one absorbing thought. But it was not the same thought. No, indeed, their minds were separated widely as the poles.

Fleta was filled with the sense of a great purpose. This marriage was but the first step in a giant programme. Her thoughts had flown now from this first step and were dwelling on the end, the fulfilment; as an artist when he draws his first sketch sees in his own mind the completed picture.

Otto had but one overwhelming thought; a very simple one, expressed instantly, in the first words he uttered when they were alone:

“Fleta, you did not fancy that I doubted you? I never meant that! And yet it seemed as if there was reproach in your eyes! No, Fleta, never that. But the cry was so terrible - it cut my heart. You did not fancy I meant any doubt! - assure me, Fleta!”

“No, I did not,” replied Fleta, quietly. “You know whose voice it was.”

“No - it was unrecognisable - it was nothing but a cry of torture.”

“Ah! but I knew it,” said Fleta. “It was Hilary Estanol who cried out my name.”

“He said ‘Fleta, my love, my love,’” added Otto. “Is he that to you?”

“Yes,” said Fleta unmoved, indeed strangely calm. “He is. More, Otto; he has loved me long centuries ago when this world wore a different face. When the very [123] surface of the earth was savage and untaught so were we. And then we enacted this same scene. Yes, Alan, we three enacted it before, without this pomp, but with the natural splendour of savage beauty and undimmed skies. Otto, I sinned then; I expiated my sin. Again and again have I expiated it. Again and again has Nature punished me for my offence against her. Now at last I know more, I see more, I understand more. The sin remains. I desired to take, to have for myself, to be a conqueror. I conquered - I have conquered since! How often! That has been my expiation: satiety. But now I will no longer enjoy. I will stand on that error, that folly, and win from it strength which shall lift me from this wretched little theatre where we play the same dramas for ever through the fond weariness of recurring lives.”

Otto had drawn back from her, and gazed intently upon her as she spoke, passion and vehemence gradually entering her low voice. As she ceased, he passed his hand over his forehead.

“Fleta,” he said, “is this some spell of yours upon me? While you spoke I saw your face change and become the face of one familiar to me, but far, far back! I smelled the intense rich scent of innumerable fruit blossoms - Fleta, tell me, are you dreaming or speaking fables, or is this thing true? Have I lived for you before, loved you, served you, ages back, when the world was young?”

“Yes,” said Fleta.

“Ah!” cried Otto, suddenly, “I feel it - there is blood on you - blood on your hand!” [124]

Fleta raised her beautiful hand, and looked at it with an infinite sadness on her face.

“It is so,” she answered. “There is blood on it, and there will be, until I have got beyond the reign of blood and of death. You held me down, then, Otto; you triumphed by brute force, not knowing that in me lay a power undreamed of by you - a vital, stirring will. I could have crushed you. But already I had used my will once, and found the bitter, unintelligible suffering it produced. I determined to try and understand Nature before I again used my power. So I submitted to your tyranny; you learned to love it, and through many lives have learned to love it more. It has brought you a crown at last, and a little army of soldiers to defend it for you, and half-a-dozen crafty old diplomats who want you to keep it, and who think they can make you do just as their respective monarchs wish. Move your puppets, Otto. No such kingdom satisfies me. I mean to win my own crown. I will be a queen of souls, not of bodies; a queen in reality, not in name.”

She seemed to wrap herself in an impenetrable veil of scorn as she ceased speaking and leaned back in the carriage.

Some great emotion was stirring Otto through and through. At last he spoke; and the man was changed - a different being. From under the gentle manner, the docile, ready air, came struggling up the fierce spirit of opposition.

“You despise the,crown you married me for? Is that so? Well, I will teach you to respect it.”

A smile dawned on Fleta’s clouded face and then was [125] gone again in a moment. This was all the answer she vouchsafed to the kingly threat. Otto turned and looked at her steadily.

“A magnificent creature,” he said, “beautiful, and with a brain of steel, and perhaps for all I know, a heart like it. You won a great deal from me, Fleta, a little while since. Did I not submit to the masquerading of your mysterious Order? Did I not trust my life to those treacherous monks of yours, submit to be blindfolded and led into their haunt by secret ways. For what end? Ivan told me of aspirations, of ideas, of thoughts, which only sickened my soul and filled me with shame and despair. For I am a believer in order, in moral rule, in the government of the world in accordance with the principles of religion. I told you I was willing to become a member of the order; yes, because my nature is in sympathy with its avowed tenets. But its secret doctrines, as I have heard them from you, are to me detestable. And it is for the carrying out of this unholy theory or doctrine that you propose to surrender your life? No, Fleta; you are now my queen.”

“Yes,” said Fleta, “I am now your queen. I know that. I have chosen the lot willingly. You need not again tell me that I have the crown I purposed to obtain.”

At this moment they arrived at the Palace. There was yet a weary mass of ceremony and speaking of polite nothings to be passed through before there was any chance of their being alone again. Otto relapsed into the pleasant and kindly manner which was habitual with him. Fleta fell, into one of her abstracted moods,[126] and the court adopted its usual policy under such circumstances - let her be undisturbed. Few of the men cared to risk the satirical answers that came readiest to her lips when she was roused out of such a mood as this.

And yet at last someone did venture to rouse her; and a smile, delicious as a burst of sunshine, came swiftly and suddenly on her mouth.

It was Hilary Estanol. Pale, worn, the mere ghost of himself, his dark eyes looking strangely large in the white face they were set in. They were fixed on her as though there were nothing else in the world to look at.

Fleta held out her hand to him; his companion - a military officer who had brought him under protest, and in some doubt, for Hilary had no friends at Court - drew back in amazement. He understood now Hilary’s importunity.

Hilary bent over Fleta’s hand and held his lips near it for an instant, but did not touch it. A sort of groan came to her ear from his lips.

“You have resigned me?” she asked, in a low, vibrating whisper.

“You have cast me off,” he answered.

“Be it so,” she replied, “but you have lived through it, and you now claim nothing. Is it not so? I read it in the dumb pain in your eyes.”

“Yes,” said Hilary, straightening himself and standing upright close beside her and looking down upon her beautiful dark head. “It is so. I will not cry for the moon, nor will I weary any woman with my regret or entreaty, even you, Fleta, though it is no dishoour to [127] humble oneself at the feet of such as you. No: I will bear my pain like a man. I came here to say good-bye. You are still something like the Fleta that I loved. To-morrow you will not be.”

“ How can you tell?” she said, with her inscrutable smile. “Still, I think you are right. And now that we are no longer lovers will you enter with me another bond? Will you be my comrade in undertaking the great task? I know you are fearless.”

“The great task?” said Hilary, vaguely, and he put his hand to his forehead.

“The one great task of this narrow life - To learn its lesson and go beyond it.”

“Yes, I will be your comrade,” said Hilary in an even voice and without enthusiasm.

“Then meet me at two this very morning at the gate of the garden-house where you used to enter.”

It was now just midnight. Hilary noticed this as he turned away, for a little clock stood on a bracket close by. He looked at it, and looked back at Fleta. Could she mean what she said? But already the Fleta he knew had vanished; a cold, haughty, impassive young queen was accepting the uninteresting homage of a Foreign Minister. The guests were beginning to take their departure. Fleta and Otto did not propose to take any journey in honour of their wedding as is the custom in some places; the king opened for their use the finest set of guest’s chambers in the palace, and these they occupied, remaining among the visitors until all had departed. On the next day Otto was to take his Queen home; but he had had to give way to the [128] wishes of Fleta and her father as to the postponing of the journey.

From the great drawing rooms Fleta went quietly away when the last guest had departed; she moved like a swift shadow noiselessly along the corridors. She entered her own room, and there began, without summoning any attendant, to hastily take off her bridal robes. On a couch was lying the white robe and cloak which she had worn when she had endeavoured to enter the hall of the mystics. These she put on, and wrapping the cloak round her, turned to leave the room. As she did so, she came face to face with Otto, who had entered noiselessly, and was standing in silence beside her. She seemed scarcely to notice him, but changed her direction and proceeded towards another door. Otto quickly placed himself again in her way.

“No,” he said; “you do not leave this room to-night.”

“And why?” asked Fleta, looking gravely at his set face.

“Because you are now my wife. I forbid it. Stay here, and with me. Come, let me take off that cloak, without any trouble; the white gown under it suits you even better than your wedding-dress.”

He unfastened the clasps which held the cloak together. Fleta made no opposition, but kept her eyes on his face; he would not meet her gaze, though his face was white and rigid with the intensity of his passion and purpose.

“Do you remember,” said Fleta, “the last thing that you did when you were with Father Ivan? Do you [129] remember kneeling before him and uttering these words – ‘I swear to serve the master of truth and the teacher of life -’”

“That master - that teacher!” interrupted Otto, hotly. “I reserved my reason even in that incense-scented room. That master - that teacher - is my own intelligence - so I phrased it in my own mind - I recognise no other master.”

“Your own intelligence!” repeated Fleta. “You have not yet learned to use it. You did not so phrase the vow then; you only rephrased it so afterwards, when you were away, and alone, and began again to struggle for your selfish freedom. No, Otto, you have not begun to use your intelligence. You are still the slave of your desires, eaten up with the longing for power and the lust of the tyrannical soul. You do not love me - you only desire to possess me. You fancy your power is all you wish it to be. Well, put it to the test. Take this cloak from my shoulders.”

Otto came close, and took the cloak in his hands; and then a sudden passion filled him - he seized her in his arms and pressed his lips to hers - yet he did not do so, either, for the attempt was instantaneously surrendered. He staggered back, white and trembling.

Fleta stood erect and proud before him.

“That vow you took,” she said, quietly, “you knew very well in the inner recesses of your soul, in your true unblinded self, to make you a servant of the Great Order. That vow may yet save you from yourself, if you do not resent it too fiercely. But remember this; I am a neophyte of that order, and you being its servant, are under [130] my command. I am your queen, Otto, but not your wife.”

She passed him as she said this, and he made no effort to detain her; indeed, the trembling had not yet left him, and his whole strength was taken by the attempt to control it. As she reached the door he succeeded in speaking:

“Why did you marry me?”

“Did I not tell you?” she said, pausing a moment and turning to look at him. “I think I did. Because I have to learn to live on the plain as contentedly as on the mountain tops. There is but one way for me to do this, and that is to devote my life as your queen to the same great purpose it would serve were I the silver robed initiate I desire to be. I go now to commence my work, with the aid of a lover who has learned to surrender his love.”

She moved magnificently from the room, looking much taller even than her natural height. And Otto let her go without any word or sign. [131]

CHAPTER XII.

It was a fragrant night - a night rich with sweet flower-scents, not only from the flower beds near, but coming from afar on the breeze. Hilary stood at the gate, leaning on it and looking away at the sky, where a faint streak of different light told of the sun’s coming. It was quite clear, though there had been no moonlight; one of those warm, still nights when it is easy to find one’s way, though hard to see into the face of one nearby; a night when one walks in a dream amid changing shadows, and when the outer mysteriousness and the dimness of one’s soul are as one. So with Hilary; so had he walked to the gate. He waited for the woman he loved, the only woman any man could ever love, having once known her. And yet no fever burned now in his veins, no intoxication mounted from his heart to his brain. Standing there, and regarding himself and his own feelings very quietly in the stillness, it seemed to him as if he had died yesterday when that wild cry had been unknowingly uttered; as if his soul or his heart, or, indeed, his very self had gone forth in it.

A light touch was laid on his shoulder, and then the gate was opened. He passed through and walked by Fleta up the flower-bordered pathway. She moved on [132] without speaking, her white cloak hanging loose from her neck, and her bare arms gleaming as it fell back from them.

“You who know so much, tell me something,” said Hilary. “Why are you so wise?”

“Because I burned my soul out centuries ago,” said Fleta. “When you have burned out your heart you will be strong as I am.”

“Another question,” said Hilary. “Why did you fail in that initiation?”

Fleta stopped suddenly, and fixed fierce questioning eyes upon him. She was terrible in this quick rush of anger. But Hilary looked on her unmoved. It seemed to him that nothing would ever be able to move him again. Was he dead indeed that he could thus endure the scorching light of those brilliant eyes?

“What makes you ask me that?” cried Fleta, in a voice of pain. “Do you demand to know?”

“Yes; I do wish to know.”

For a moment Fleta covered her face with her hands and her whole form shrank and quivered. But only for a moment; then she dropped her hands at each side and stood erect, her queenly head poised royally.

“It is my punishment,” she said in a murmuring voice, “to discover so soon how absolute are the bonds of the Great Order; how the pupil can command the master as well as the master, the pupil.”

Then she turned abruptly upon Hilary, approaching    him more nearly, while she spoke in a quick, fierce voice. “Because, though I have burned out my soul, I have not burned out my heart! Because, though I cannot [133] love as men do, and have almost forgotten what passion means, yet I can still worship a greater nature than my own so deeply that it may be called love. I have not learned to stand utterly alone and to know myself as great as any other, with the same possibilities, the same divinity in myself. I still lean on another, look to another, hunger for the smile of another. O, folly, when I know so well that I cannot find any rest while that is in me. O, Ivan, my teacher, my friend, what torture it is to wrest the image of you from its shrine within me. Powers and forces of indifferent Nature, I demand your help!”

She raised her arms as she uttered this invocation, and it struck Hilary at the moment how little like a human being she looked. She might have been the spirit of, the dawn. Her voice had become unutterably weird and mournful, like the deep cry of a broken soul.

Without pausing for any answer she dropped her arms, drew her cloak around her, and walked away over the dewy grass. Hilary, as silent, as mournful, but seemingly without emotion, dropped his head and quietly followed her track. Of old - only yesterday - what an age ago! - he would have kept his eyes fixed on her shining dark hair or the movements of her delicate figure. Suddenly Fleta stopped, turned and confronted him. He raised his eyes in surprise and looked at her.

“You are no longer devoured by jealousy,” she said. “You can hear me speak as I did just now without its turning you into a savage. What has happened?”

Her eyes seemed to penetrate his impassive and languid expression, looking for the soul beneath. She [134] was longing that his answer should be the one she needed.

“I am hopeless,” answered Hilary.

“Of what?”

“Of your love. I understand at last that you have a great purpose in your life, and that I am a mere straw on a stream. I thought I had some claim on you; I see I cannot have. I surrender myself to your will. That is all I have left to do.”

Fleta stood meditatively for a moment. Then she looked up very sadly in his face.

“It is not enough,” she said. “Your gift must be a positive one.”

Then she again turned and went on her way to the house. Here everything was silent and even dark, for the shutters were all closed, and evidently the place was deserted. Fleta opened a side door with a key which was attached to her girdle; they entered and she locked it behind them. She led the way through the quiet dim house to the door of the laboratory; they entered the room in silence. It wore quite a new aspect to Hilary’s eyes, and he looked round in wonder. All was pale; there was no incense burning, no lamps were lit; the colour had gone from the walls; a faint, grey light through a skylight, which had always hitherto been curtained, dimly broke on the darkness of the room which still lurked deeply in the lower part. But Hilary found enough light to see that the thing he so hated was not present; that lay figure which was to him always such a horror was gone. “Where is it?” he said, after a moment, wondering at [135] the sense of relief with which its absence filled him.

“What? - oh! the figure. Again you ask a question which I am compelled to answer. Well, I cannot use that power at present; I have again to win the right.”

“How did you win the right before?” asked Hilary, fixing his eyes on her; a fierce desire to know this possessed him.

Fleta started, turned towards him, and for a moment the proud imperiousness which ordinarily characterised her came over her form and her features. But in another moment it was gone. She stood before him, pale, gentle and sublime.

“I will tell you,” she said, in a clear yet very low voice. “I did it by taking your life.”

Hilary looked at her in complete perplexity and bewilderment.

“Do you not remember,” she said, “that forest, that new earth and sky, all so sweet and strong, that wealth of apricot blossom that came between us and the sky? Ah, Hilary, how fresh and vivid life was then, while we lived and loved and understood not that we did either? Was it not sweet? I loved you. Yes, I loved you - loved you.”

Her voice broke and trembled. Hilary’s numbed heart suddenly sprang again to life. Never had her voice contained such tones of tenderness and passion before.

“Oh, my Fleta, you love me still - now!”

He sprang towards her, but she seemed to sweep him aside with one majestic action of her bare arm. [136]

“With that passion,” she said, with a pale solemnity, “I can never love now. I have not forgotten entirely, what such love is - no, Hilary, I have not forgotten -  else how should I have found you again among the multitudes of the earth?” She held out her hand to him, and, as he clasped it, he felt it was soft and tender, that the warm life blood of a young creature responded to his touch. “I knew you by your dear eyes, which once were so full of pure love for me that they were like stars in my life.”

“What came between us?” asked Hilary.

She looked strangely at him, drew her hand away, folded her cloak round her, and then answered in one word:

“Passion!”

“I remember it now!” cried Hilary in sudden excitement. “My God! I see your beautiful wild face before me, I see your lips as lovely as the soft blossom above us. Fleta, I loved you as men love - I hungered for you - what harm lay in that?”

“None,” she answered, standing now motionless and statue-like, wrapped in her long, white cloak, seeming like a lovely ghost rather then a living woman. “None  - for men who care only to be men, to reproduce men, to be and to do nothing more than that! But I had another power within me, that seemed stronger than myself - a stirring of a dumb soul within. When that moment came, Hilary, then came the great decision, the fierce struggle between two souls hurled together out of the dimness of life, and finding light in the fever of love - yes, light! - the fire that is love makes it possible for [137] men to live. It gives them hope, it animates them, it makes them believe in a future, it enables them to create men to fill that future.

“In those old days beneath these apricot blossoms, you and I, Hilary, were but children on this earth, new to its meaning, knowing nothing of its purpose. How could we guide ourselves? We were ignorant of the great power of sex, we were only at the beginning of its lesson. So it must be with all. They must go through with the lesson, they cannot guess it from the first! Nor could we. I did not know what I did, Hilary, my lover, when I took your life. Had I known, I should only have been like a beast of prey. But I did not know. You asserted your power - you claimed me. I asserted mine - I conquered. I wanted power; and killing you as I did with that one emotion only stirring within me, I got what I longed for. Not at once - not till I had suffered patiently, not till I had struggled hard to understand myself and the force that was at work within me. And this for life after life, incarnation after incarnation. You not only loved me but you were mine  - I conquered you and used your life and love for my own ends - to add to my power, to actually create the life and strength I needed. By your life, by your strength, I became a magician, read by my insight the mysteries of alchemy and the buried secrets of power. Yes, Hilary, it is so. To you I owe myself. I have become free from the common burdens of humanity, its passions, its personal desires, its weary repetition of experiences till their edge grows blunted by long usage. I have seen the Egyptian and the Roman, men [138] of the old superb civilizations, trying to reproduce their past pleasures, their past magnificence to-day, in this modern life. It is useless, life after life full of selfishness and pleasure, ends in the weariness of living that kills men’s souls, and darkens their thought. But you and I, Hilary, have escaped from this dismal fate. I would not be content to live again as I had lived before, to use the life, principle which lies in love, only for pleasure or the bringing of eidolons on to the earth. I determined to rise, to raise myself, to raise you, and out of our love perpetually to create something nobler than we ourselves. I have succeeded, Hilary, I have succeeded. We stand now before the gate of the first initiation. I tried to enter it and failed for want of strength - for want of strength, Hilary! I could not pluck my master’s image utterly out of my soul - I looked for him to lean on - at least to find comfort in seeing that face I knew. Give me strength, Hilary! Be my comrade! Help me to enter and your strength shall come back to you a hundredfold. For your reward shall be that you too shall enter with me.”

She had changed from moment to moment, as she spoke. She looked like an inspired priestess - like a Divine being. Now she stood like a flame with a strange appearance, as if her whole soul and self, spirit and body, rose upwards in adoration. The dawn had come; the first rays of the sun shot through the skylight and fell on her transfigured face and gleaming hair.

Hilary looked at her as a worshipper might look at his idol. [139]

“I am yours,” he said, “but I know not how to prove it.”

She held out her hand to him, and lowered her eyes from the light to which they had been raised until they met his.

“We must discover the great secret, together, Hilary. No longer may you give yourself to me without knowledge. Hitherto our lives have been but the lives of the blossom; now we must be wise and enter the state when the fruit comes. We have to find out what that power is which the sun represents to us; to discover the pure creative power. But we have not strength, yet, Hilary; alas! I dread and fear sometimes. More strength means more sacrifice.”

She drew her cloak closer round her, the light faded from her eyes and face, and turning away, she went and sat down on a couch which was back in the shadow. Hilary felt a profound sense of sadness, of sympathy, of sorrow, sweep over his being. He followed her and sat down beside her. One pale hand lay on the couch, outside her cloak. He laid his upon it, and fell deep into thought. Thus they sat, silent, breathing softly, for long hours, till the sun was high. But still, even then, the room was very dim and cool, and full of shadows. [140]

CHAPTER XIII.

On the next day, the same day rather, for they sat together in the laboratory till long after the sun was high, Hilary, to his own amazement, found that he had an official post in the household of the young Queen which would keep him continually about her. Indeed, he had to pack up instantly on being informed of the fact in order to follow Fleta to her own dominions. How this had been effected none could tell - Hilary, least of all, for he saw immediately on presenting himself in King Otto’s presence that he was regarded by him with dislike and distrust. Before, Otto had scarcely noticed him. The present state of things was decidedly a change for the worse. However, Hilary had already perceived very clearly that to serve under Fleta was to serve under a hard master. And he had no longer any kind of choice. Life was inconceivable without her - without the pain caused by her difficult service. He had rather suffer that than enjoy any other kind of pleasure. And, indeed, pleasure apart from Fleta did not appear to him to exist.

And yet he was still capable of doubting her.

Fleta had chosen a companion of royal birth to travel with her; a young duchess who bore the same family name as Fleta herself. This girl had been reared is a [141] nunnery, and then taken to court, where she took part in all the pageants, and immediately found herself surrounded by suitors. She was not very pretty, and certainly not at all clever. To go with Fleta seemed to her delightful, as it would introduce her to a new court and a fresh series of suitors. It struck Hilary as quite extraordinary that Fleta should choose this child as her companion - not that the Duchess was any younger than Fleta - indeed, they were almost of an age; but Fleta appeared to carry within her beautiful head the wisdom of centuries, while the Duchess was a mere school-girl trained in court etiquette.

These three were to travel together in Fleta’s own favourite travelling carriage. She simply refused to travel with her husband. When he addressed her on the subject, she merely replied:

“You would weary me, and, moreover, I have work to do.”

And so they started; and as Hilary took his place, he thought of that strange drive when he and Fleta, and Father Amyot, had been the three. Recollecting this made him wonder what had become of Father Amyot; for the priest had not returned to his duties in the city. He asked Fleta, while the thought was in his mind, why Amyot was not with her now.

“He is of no use to me,” she answered, coldly.

The journey was a very long and a very weary one to Hilary; for the Duchess, finding no one else to flirt with, insisted upon flirting with him; while Fleta lay back in her corner of the carriage hour after hour, with her eyes closed. What was the work she had to do? [142]

Hilary, who had overheard her answer to the King, wondered very much. And yet, as he watched her intently he saw that her face changed. It grew darker, more inscrutable, more set in purpose.

Late one evening, and when they were, indeed, travelling later than usual, hoping to reach their destination that same night, a curious thing happened. All day long Fleta had been silent, seemingly buried in thought; but sometimes when Hilary was watching her he noticed her lips move as if in speech. He sat opposite her whenever he could; this was not always possible, as the young Duchess would talk to him, and the carriage being very large and roomy, he had to change his position, and go nearer to her in order to carry on a conversation with any comfort. But as it grew dark the Duchess grew tired, and leaned back half asleep, for indeed they had had a long day’s journey.

Hilary withdrew himself to the corner opposite Fleta. It grew so dark he could no longer see her; they had a swinging-lamp in the roof of the carriage, but he did not want to light it unless Fleta wished it so; and, indeed, he longed for the quiet and the darkness very much. It made him feel more alone with her, he could try to follow and seize her thoughts then without the perpetual disturbance of the little Duchess’s quick eyes on him and her light voice in his ears.

He sat still and thought of Fleta - Fleta herself in her glorious beauty - sitting there opposite him shrouded by the darkness. He could endure it no longer - the man rose up in him and asserted itself - he leaned forward [143] and put his hand upon her. He had scarcely done so when the Duchess uttered a shrill cry.

“My God!” she exclaimed, in a voice of horror, “who is in the carriage with us?”

She flung herself across and knelt upon the floor, between Hilary and Fleta; her terror was so great she did not know what she was doing.

Hilary leaned across her and instantly discovered that she was right - that there was another man in the carriage beside himself.

“Oh, kill him! kill him!” cried the little Duchess, in an agony of fear; “he is a thief, a murderer, a robber!”

Hilary rose up and precipitated himself upon this person whom he could not see. A sense of self-defence, of defence of the women with him, seized him as we see it seize the animals. He discovered that this man had risen also. Blindly and furiously he attacked him, and with extraordinary strength. Hilary was young and full of vigour, but slight and not built like an athlete. Now, however, he seemed to be one. He found his adversary to be much larger and stronger than himself.

A fearful struggle followed. The carriage drove on through unseen scenery as fast as possible; Fleta could have stopped it had she thrown the window down and cried out to the postillions. But Fleta remained motionless; she might have fainted, she was so still. The little Duchess simply cowered on the ground beside her, clinging to her motionless figure. This terrified girl had not the presence of mind to think of stopping the carriage, and so obtaining help. She was, too horror-struck [144] to do anything. And, indeed, it was horrible, for the swaying, struggling forms sometimes were right upon the two women, sometimes at the other side of the carriage; it was a deadly, horrible, ghastly struggle, all the more horrid for the silence. There were no cries, no exclamations, for indeed, so far as Hilary was concerned, he had no breath to spare for them. There were only gasps and heavy breathings, and the terrible sound that come from a man’s throat when he is fighting for his life. How long this hideous battle lasted none could tell - Hilary had no idea of the passage of time. The savage in him had now come so entirety uppermost and drowned all other consciousness, that his one thought was he must kill - kill - kill - and at last it was done. There was a moment when his adversary was below him, when he could use his whole force upon him - and then came a gasp and an unearthly cry - and silence.

Absolute silence for a little while. No one moved, no one stirred. The Duchess was petrified with horror. Hilary had sunk exhausted on the seat of the carriage not only exhausted, but bewildered, for a host of other emotions besides savage fury began to rise within him. What - who - was this being he had destroyed? At that moment the horses were urged into a gallop, for they were entering the city gates. Hilary threw down the window near him with a crash. “Lights, lights!” he cried out, “bring lights.” The carriage stopped, sad there was a crowd immediately at the windows, and the glare of torches fell into the carriage, malting it bright as day. The little Duchess was crouched in the [145] corner on the ground in a dead faint. Fleta sat up, strangely white, but calm. Nothing else was to be seen, alive or dead, save Hilary himself; and so horror-struck was he at this discovery that he turned and buried his face in the cushions of the carriage, and he never knew what happened - whether he wept, or laughed, or cursed - but some strange sound of his own voice he heard with his ears.

There was a carriage full of servants behind Fleta’s carriage; when hers stopped so suddenly they all got out and came quickly to the doors.

“The Duchess has fainted,” said Fleta, rising so as to hide Hilary; “the journey has been too long. Is there a house near where she can lie still a little while, and come on later to the palace?”

Immediately offers of help were made, and the servants and those who were glad to help them carried the poor little Duchess away.

“On to the palace!” cried Fleta, and shut the door and drew down the blinds. The postillion started the horses with all speed.

Suddenly the blood in Hilary’s body began to surge and burn. Was it Fleta’s arms that clung round him? Fleta’s lips that printed warm, living kisses on his neck, his face, his hair? He turned and faced her.

“Tell me the truth,” he said. “Are you a devil?”

“No,” she answered, “I am not. I want to find my way to the pure good that governs life. But there are devils about me, and you have killed one of them to-night. Hush, calm yourself; remember what we are [146] in the eyes of the world. For we are at the palace door, and Otto is standing there to receive us.”

She stepped out, the young queen.

Hilary followed her, stumbling, broken. He said he was ill, to those who spoke to him; and stood staring in wonder at the brilliant sight before him. [147]

CHAPTER XIV.

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 seemed 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. But 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 [148] 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 to-night,” 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 creature’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 [149] 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 hand 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 travellingdress, and looked very quiet and even subdued. But at [150] 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 film 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?” he said, seeing her tear-stained and agitated face.

“Fleta wants 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, [151] indeed, had Fleta given him a look like this. Otto’s heart leaped within him, and he knew himself her slave. For beloved 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 is 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 of will between us to-night,” said Fleta, very softly. “I warn you, I am much stronger than I was; I am very much stronger than yon 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 [152] 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 to-night, 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.”

Fleta threw aside her travelling dress and put on a white silk wrap her maid had brought to 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 [153] 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, [154] more beautiful than 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 deeply 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 [155] 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 then 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[156] 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 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 to-day. 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 eon have we flowered upon this earth, brought forth the [157] 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 faded. 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 over-value 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 sea; of the mystic duality of existence, was all set at rest for ever. Oh, if that had been so! [158] 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 -

“You saw me next. You found me. You know how I was crushed and broken. 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 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 [159] 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. [160]

CHAPTER XV.

“I cannot go in alone. I cannot go in for myself. I have to learn the supreme lesson of selflessness. I must take a soul in each hand to the door, ready, purified, prepared for offering on the altar, so that they shall even become members of the Great Brotherhood; while I must be content to turn back and sit on the outer steps. I have thought it out; I understand it; but whether I can live it out, whether I can do it, is another thing - a very different thing. Ah, Hilary, where shall I find those two hearts, those two souls, strong enough to pass the first initiation?”

“When it comes to that doorway,” said Hilary, in a strange dull tone of misery, “must these two be ready to go on without you, leaving you outside?”

“Yes,” said Fleta. “Certainly Yes.”

“Then I will not be one of them,” he said passionately. “I love you, and I do not want to lose you, even for Heaven itself. I will serve you, if you choose; but I must be with you.”

He rose and went away across the lawn, as if he could not endure any more of the conversation; in a moment or two he had disappeared among the trees. Fleta sank [161] back with a weary dejected air; a pallor took the place of the brilliant fairness, which but a moment since had made her face so beautiful. Her eyes, wide open, yet apparently seeing nothing, remained fixed on the grass straight in front of her. She seemed scarcely to breathe. A kind of sad paralysis had fallen on this beautiful vivid form.

“What am I to do?” she exclaimed at last, bringing the words out by a great effort; “how can I live through the struggle and the suffering? I will live through it. I have invoked the law of pain. Pleasure is no longer mine, even if I desired it.”

She was silent for a little while after this, and very quiet. Then she rose and began to walk up and down slowly, evidently in deep thought. Her mind was working rapidly.

“I cannot do it alone,” she said at last, desperately. “Who is to help me? I cannot yet even guess who is to be my second companion, the other soul that I am to take to the door of the temple. O, mighty Brotherhood, it is no easy task you have set me.”

She drooped her head while she was talking thus to herself. When she raised it again, she saw Otto standing on the grass, in the sunlight, watching her. His face was softer than it had been for a long while as he gazed at her. She stretched out her hands to him with the same sweet subtle smile with which she had greeted him before. He immediately approached her.

“I have been thinking,” he said, “up there on the mountain, ever since I left you last night. I have been thinking earnestly. Fleta, I do not consider myself [162] pledged to that Brotherhood to which you profess allegiance.”

Fleta’s look became amazed, and then almost stern.

“How is it possible you can so deceive yourself,” she said, “when you have so recently felt the bondage which is placed on the novice?”

“What - in my inability to approach you? You are a magician, I know well; it is quite useless to try and hide that from myself, because I have seen you use your power. Those brothers have taught you some of their unholy secrets. No doubt you could make a circle round yourself now into which I could not enter. In fact, I believe you have done so. But what of that? I have read, I have thought, a great deal on these subjects. The supernatural is no more extraordinary than the natural when once one is used to its existence. That it does not exist, that all nature stops at a given point, could only be maintained by a blind, foolish materialist. And I am not that. But I am not awed by the supernatural. I have always been used to believe in it, having been educated by Catholics. But your Brotherhood is a very different matter. This claims to be so positive a thing as to be a force in Nature, a power which every man has to be with or against at some period of his development. Is not that what you would say - what Father Ivan would say?

“Yes,” answered Fleta.

“Well, there I cannot follow. I do not see that the Brotherhood has any right to set up such a claim.”

“It does not set it up;” said Fleta. “There is no need to parade a fact. Wait and see. You will find it [163] is a fact. I would rather not discuss the matter with you. It is like talking to a man as to whether the earth is flat or round.”

For a moment a red flush of anger came into Otto’s face; for there was no doubt that this speech was delivered with an indifference which savoured of royal insolence, and should only be used by a queen to her subjects, not to her king. But he conquered himself after a moment’s thought:

“After all,” he said, “I can just fancy that it may seem like this to you. It is useless to argue such a point. Bu to me the existence of such a Brotherhood is a purely arbitrary statement. I know that Ivan is extraordinarily superior to most priests. What makes him so? - Intellect, I should say, for the first thing.”

“No,” said Fleta, “it is the White Star on his forehead which marks him out from among men and makes him divine. He lives for the world, not for himself; like all the Brotherhood, he is passionless and desires no pleasure. Otto, I have to win that star. Will you help me?”

“How?”

“A great piece of work has to be done. I have to form a school of philosophy, and turn the thoughts of men towards the subtler truths of life. It is a mark given me, and I need aid. But that aid can only be given me by one who makes no claim on my love, who no longer looks on me as a woman, but as an instrument of the White Brotherhood; who is ready to serve and to suffer without any wages or compensation; one who in fact desires to reach the door of the great Brotherhood.”

She spoke quickly, enthusiastically, a great hope in [164] her eyes; for his face had been full of gentleness all this while.

“I came to you,” he answered, slowly, “with an offer, a request. I will make it. I am prepared to be your true lover till death, your friend, and even servant, in all that is human and natural, if you, Fleta, will put aside these unnatural aspirations and be my wife and helpmeet.”

It was a manly speech and said well. The tears gathered in Fleta’s eyes as she looked at him.

“I have never loved you, Otto,” she answered. “Nor ever can as you mean it; yet you can move my being to its depths, and stir my soul. For you are very honest. But you might as well try to change the courses of the stars as alter the shape and pathway of my life. It is written irrevocably; I myself have inscribed it in the book of fate by my steady desire through long past ages. But that I under-rated the difficulty I would now be beyond your knowledge, within the great gateway. But I had no real comprehension of the deep unselfishness needed for that great effort. I see now that I may never live for myself again, not even in the inner soul of love. I have to work - I ask you to help me.”

Otto looked at her gloomily.

“I ask for s helpmeet,” he said. “And so it seems do you. This is not as it should be between husband and wife. One must give way, to the other.”

Fleta looked at him and her eye glittered; she seemed to be measuring her strength. Suddenly she turned away with a sigh. At the moment the Palace clock struck. She remembered that it was time to go in and [165] prepare for the ceremonies of the day. She paused and looked again at Otto. She was looking very pale now, so that the roses seemed more bright by contrast.

“Do you wish me to be crowned your queen?” she said. “Or would you rather it were not done now that you know me better?”

“I have no choice,” said Otto, rather bitterly. “You are in fact my queen already. But you have your own conscience to deal with in treating me as you are, doing.”

“My own conscience!” The words repeated themselves in Fleta’s mind, as she went slowly across the grass to the open window, without making any answer to Otto. “Have I what he would call a conscience? Do I reproach myself for misdeeds, or regret past follies? No; for how could I live did I do so? I that have the mystic memory, the memory denied to ordinary men, and can see myself travelling through lives and see how I lived them, and what my deeds were! Otto will suffer. He is not strong enough to claim his memory, he loves the world of healthy human nature, where the inevitable is not recognised and Destiny is a force despised even while it works steadily to its ends. Ah, my poor Otto! husband, lover, friend, would that I could save you the suffering!”

She had reached her own rooms now, and was surrounded at once by maids, who were preparing for her toilette, and by great ladies who were selected as her companions. She was gracious to all alike, but, so deeply buried in thought that she scarcely distinguished one from the other, and spoke as gently to the maid who dressed her hair as to the court beauty who paid dutiful [166]  respects to her. This seemed to them all very strange, and coupled with the sad look on Fleta’s face, filled them with wonder. Had she already quarrelled with her husband? - or had she been married to him against her will?

The ceremony of dressing was made on this occasion much more formidable than was Fleta’s usual toilette; and she grew pale and weary before the end of it. But she looked almost unnaturally beautiful when she stood up in her sweeping robes; there was an expression of such stern resolution and power upon her delicate features. She conquered her weariness by an effort of will; and when she entered the great cathedral and became the chief feature of the pageant within it, she was once more the brilliant young queen, dazzling the eyes of those who looked upon her, and conscious of her great beauty and her royal power.

And yet, within, her heart was dull with sadness.

For the gateway seemed fast closed! The two who loved her would only love like other men. She could not give them any gleam or momentary vision of the great love which does not desire gratification, but which is divine, and gives itself. Where was she to look for other souls? Not in this Court, where the men seemed to her more empty-headed and self-seeking than those she had left behind. Nor could she ever hope to begin her larger work, to create any school of philosophy here. Was every door shut to her? It seemed so. And with that conviction came the strengthened and more profound resolve to conquer. [167]