Chapter 13 THE CHILDREN OF LIGHT

Probably,” said Esmo, when, apparently at a sign from him, our host left us for some minutes alone, “much through which you are about to pass will seem to you childish or unmeaning. Ceremonial rendered impressive to us by immemorial antiquity, and cherished the more because so contrary to the absence of form and ceremony in the life around us—symbolism which is really the more useful, the more valuable, because it contains much deeper meaning than is ever apparent at first sight—have proved their use by experience; and, as they are generally witnessed for the first time in early youth, make a sharper impression than they are likely to effect upon a mind like yours. But they may seem strangely inconsistent with a belief which is in itself so limited, and founded so absolutely upon logical proof or practical evidence. The best testimony to the soundness of our policy in this respect is the fact that our vows, and the rites by which they are sanctioned, are never broken, that our symbols are regarded with an awe which no threats, no penalties, can attach to the highest of civil authorities or the most solemn legal sanctions. The language of symbol, moreover, has for us two great advantages—one dependent upon the depth of thought and knowledge with which the symbols themselves were selected by our Founder, owing to which each generation finds in them some new truth of which we never dreamed before; the other arising from the fact that we are a small select body in the midst of a hostile and jealous race, from whom it is most important to keep the key of communications which, without the appearance, have all the effect of ciphers.”

I find,” I replied, “in my own world that every religion and every form of occult mysticism, nay, every science, in its own way and within its own range, attaches great importance to symbols in themselves apparently arbitrary. Experience shows that these, symbols often contain a clue to more than they were originally meant to convey, and can be employed in reasonings far beyond the grasp of those who first invented or adopted them. That a body like the Zinta could be held together without ceremonial and without formalities, which, if they had no other value, would have the attraction of secresy and exclusiveness, seems obviously impossible.”

Here our host rejoined us. We passed into the gallery, where several persons were awaiting us; the men for the most part wearing a small vizor dependent from the turban, which concealed their faces; the women all, without exception, closely veiled. As soon as Esmo appeared, the party formed themselves into a sort of procession two and two. Motioning me to take the last place, Esmo passed himself to its head. If the figure beside me were not at once recognised, I could not mistake the touch of the hand that stole into my own. The lights in the gallery were extinguished, and then I perceived a lamp held at the end of a wand of crystal, which gleamed above Esmo’s head, and sufficed to guide us, giving light enough to direct our footsteps and little more. Perhaps this half-darkness, the twilight which gave a certain air of mystery to the scene and of uncertainty to the forms of objects encountered on our route, had its own purpose. We reached very soon the end of the gallery, and then the procession turned and passed suddenly into another chamber, apparently narrow, but so faintly lighted by the lamp in our leader’s hands that its dimensions were matter of mere conjecture. That we were descending a somewhat steep incline I was soon aware; and when we came again on to level ground I felt sure that we were passing through a gallery cut in natural rock. The light was far too dim to enable me to distinguish any openings in the walls; but the procession constantly lengthened, though it was impossible to see where and when new members joined. Suddenly the light disappeared. I stood still for a moment in surprise, and when I again went forward I became speedily conscious that all our companions had vanished, and that we stood alone in utter darkness. Fearing to lead Eveena further where my own steps were absolutely uncertain, I paused for some time, and with little difficulty decided to remain where I was, until something should afford an indication of the purpose of those who had brought us so far, and who must know, if they had not actual means of observing, that in darkness and solitude I should not venture to proceed.

Presently, as gradually as in Northern climates the night passes into morning twilight, the darkness became less absolute. Whence the light came it was impossible to perceive. Diffused all around and slowly broadening, it just enabled me to discern a few paces before us the verge of a gulf. This might have been too shallow for inconvenience, it might have been deep enough for danger. I waited till my eyes should be able to penetrate its interior; but before the light entered it I perceived, apparently growing across it, really coming gradually into view under the brightening gleam, a species of bridge which—when the twilight ceased to increase, and remained as dim as that cast by the crescent moon—assumed the outline of a slender trunk supported by wings, dark for the most part but defined along the edge by a narrow band of brightest green, visible in a gleam too faint to show any object of a deeper shade. Somewhat impatient of the obvious symbolism, I hurried Eveena forward. Immediately on the other side of the bridge the path turned almost at right angles; and here a gleam of light ahead afforded a distinct guidance to our steps. Approaching it, we were challenged, and I gave the answer with which I had been previously furnished; an answer which may not be, as it never has been, written down. A door parted and admitted us into a small vestibule, at the other end of which a full and bright light streamed through a portal of translucent crystal. A sentinel, armed only with the antiquated spear which may have been held by his first predecessor in office ten thousand Martial years ago, now demanded our names. Mine he simply repeated, but as I gave that of Eveena, daughter of Esmo, he lowered his weapon in the salute still traditional among Martial sentries; and bending his head, touched with his lips the long sleeve of the cloak of therne-down in which she was on this occasion again enveloped. This homage appeared to surprise her almost as much as myself, but we had no leisure for observation or inquiry. From behind the crystal door another challenge was uttered. To this it was the sentry’s part to reply, and as he answered the door parted; that at the other end of the vestibule having, I observed, closed as we entered, and so closed that its position was undiscoverable. Before us opened a hall of considerable size, consisting of three distinct vaults, defined by two rows of pillars, slender shafts resembling tall branchless trees, the capital of each being formed by a branching head like that of the palm. The trunks were covered with golden scales; the fern-like foliage at the summit was of a bright sparkling emerald. It was evident to my observation that the entire hall had been excavated from solid rock, and the pillars left in their places. Each of the side aisles, if I may so call them, was occupied by four rows of seats similarly carved in the natural stone; but lined after Martial fashion, with cushions embroidered in feathers and metals, and covered by woven fabrics finer than any known to the looms of Lyons or Cashmere. About two-thirds of the seats were occupied; those to the right as we entered (that is, on the left of the dais at the end of the hall) by men, those opposite by women. All, I observed, rose for a moment as Eveena’s name was announced, from the further end of the hall, by the foremost of three or four persons vested in silver, with belts of the crimson metal which plays the part of our best-tempered steel, and bearing in their hands wands of a rose-coloured jewel resembling a clouded onyx in all but the hue. Each of them wore over his dress a band or sash of gold, fastened on the left shoulder and descending to the belt on the right, much resembling the ribbons of European knighthood. These supported on the left breast a silver star, or heraldic mullet, of six points. Throughout the rest of the assembly a similar but smaller star glimmered on every breast, supported, however, by green or silver bands, the former worn by the body of the assembly, the latter by a few persons gathered together for the most part at the upper end of the chamber… . The chief who had first addressed us bade us pass on, and we left the Hall of the Novitiate as accepted members of the Order… . That into which we next entered was so dark that its form and dimensions were scarcely defined to my eyes. I supposed it, however, to be circular, surmounted by a dome resembling in colour the olive green Martial sky and spangled by stars, among which I discerned one or two familiar constellations, but most distinctly, brightened far beyond its natural brilliancy, the arch of the Via Lactea. Presently, not on any apparent sheet or screen but as in the air before us, appeared a narrow band of light crossing the entire visible space. It resembled a rope twisted of three strands, two of a deep dull hue, the one apparently orange, the other brown or crimson, contrasting the far more brilliant emerald strand that formed the third portion of the threefold cord. I had learnt by this time that metallic cords so twined serve in Mars most of the uses for which chains are employed on Earth, and I assumed that this symbol possessed the significance which poetry or ritual might attach to the latter.

This cord or band retained its position throughout, crossing the dark background of the scenes now successively presented, each of which melted into its successor—rapidly, but so gradually that there was never a distinct point of division, a moment at which it was possible to say that any new feature was first introduced.

A bright mist of various colours intermixed in inextricable confusion, an image of chaos but for the dim light reflected from all the particles, filled a great part of the space before us, but the cord was still discernible in the background. Presently, a bright rose-coloured point of light, taking gradually the form of an Eye, appeared above the cord and beyond the mist; and, emanating from it, a ray of similar light entered the motionless vapour. Then a movement, whose character it was not easy to discern, but which constantly became more and more evidently rhythmical and regular, commenced in the mist. Within a few moments the latter had dissolved, leaving in its place the semblance of stars, star-clusters, and golden nebulae, as dim and confused as that in the sword-belt of Orion, or as well defined as any of those called by astronomers planetary. “What seest thou?” said a voice whose very direction I could not recognise.

Cosmos evolved out of confusion by Law; Law emanating from Supreme Wisdom and irresistible Will.”

And in the triple band?”

The continuity of Time and Space preserved by the continuity of Law, and controlled by the Will that gave Law.”

While I spoke a single nebula grew larger, brighter, and filled the entire space given throughout to the pictures presented to us; stars and star-clusters gradually fading away into remoter distance. This nebula, of spherical shape—formed of coarser particles than the previous mist, and reflecting or radiating a more brilliant effulgence—was in rapid whirling motion. It flattened into the form of a disc, apparently almost circular, of considerable depth or thickness, visibly denser in the centre and thinner towards the rounded edge. Presently it condensed and contracted, leaving at each of the several intervals a severed ring. Most of these rings broke up, their fragments conglomerated and forming a sphere; one in particular separating into a multitude of minuter spheres, others assuming a highly elliptical form, condensing here and thinning out there; while the central mass grew brighter and denser as it contracted; till there lay before me a perfect miniature of the solar system, with planets, satellites, asteroids, and meteoric rings.

What seest thou?” again I heard.

Intelligence directing Will, and Will by Law developing the microcosm of which this world is one of the smallest parts.”

The orb which represented Mars stood still in the centre of the space, and this orb soon occupied the whole area. It assumed at first the form of a vast vaporous globe; then contracted to a comparatively small sphere, glowing as if more than red-hot, and leaving as it contracted two tiny balls revolving round their primary. The latter gradually faded till it gave out no light but that which from some unseen source was cast upon it, one-half consequently contrasting in darkness the reflected brightness of the other. Ere long it presented the appearance of sea and land, of cloud, of snow, and ice, and became a perfect image of the Martial sphere. Then it gave place to a globe of water alone, within which the processes of crystallisation, as exhibited first in its simpler then in its more complicated forms, were beautifully represented. Then there appeared, I knew not how, but seemingly developed by the same agency and in the same manner as the crystals, a small transparent sphere within the watery globe, containing itself a spherical nucleus. From this were evolved gradually two distinct forms, one resembling very much some of the simplest of those transparent creatures which the microscope exhibits to us in the water drop, active, fierce, destructive in their scale of size and life as the most powerful animals of the sea and land. The other was a tiny fragment of tissue, gradually shaping itself into the simplest and smallest specimens of vegetable life. The watery globe disappeared, and these two were left alone. From each gradually emerged, growing in size, complexity, and distinctness, one form after another of higher organisation.

What seest thou?”

Life called out of lifelessness by Law.”

Again, so gradually that no step of the process could be separately distinguished, formed a panorama of vegetable and animal life; a landscape in which appeared some dozen primal shapes of either kingdom. Each of these gradually dissolved, passing by slow degrees into several higher or more perfect shapes, till there stood before our eyes a picture of life as it exists at present; and Man in its midst, more obviously even than on Earth, dominating and subduing the fellow-creatures of whom he is lord. From which of the innumerable animal forms that had been presented to us in the course of these transmutations this supreme form had arisen, I did not note or cannot remember. But that no true ape appeared among them, I do distinctly recollect, having been on the watch for the representation of such an epoch in the pictured history.

What was now especially noteworthy was that, solid as they appeared, each form was in some way transparent. From the Emblem before mentioned a rose-coloured light pervaded the scene; scarcely discernible in the general atmosphere, faintly but distinctly traceable in every herb, shrub, and tree, more distinguishable and concentrated in each animal. But in plant or animal the condensed light was never separated and individualised, never parted from, though obviously gathered and agglomerated out of, the generally diffused rosy sheen that tinged the entire landscape. It was as though the rose-coloured light formed an atmosphere which entered and passed freely through the tissues of each animal and plant, but brightened and deepened in those portions which at any moment pervaded any organised shape, while it flowed freely in and out of all. The concentration was most marked, the connection with the diffused atmosphere least perceptible, in those most intelligent creatures, like the ambâ and carve, which in the service of man appear to have acquired a portion of human intelligence. But turning to the type of Man himself, the light within his body had assumed the shape of the frame it filled and appeared to animate. In him the rose-coloured image which exactly corresponded to the body that encased it was perfectly individualised, and had no other connection with the remainder of the light than that it appeared to emanate and to be fed from the original source. As I looked, the outward body dissolved, the image of rosy light stood alone, as human and far more beautiful than before, rose upward, and passed away.

What seest thou?” was uttered in an even more earnest and solemn tone than heretofore.

Life,” I said, “physical and spiritual; the one sustained by the other, the spiritual emanating from the Source of Life, pervading all living forms, affording to each the degree of individuality and of intelligence needful to it, but in none forming an individual entity apart from the race, save in Man himself; and in Man forming the individual being, whereof the flesh is but the clothing and the instrument.”

The whole scene suddenly vanished in total darkness; only again in one direction a gleam of light appeared, and guided us to a portal through which we entered another long and narrow passage, terminating in a second vestibule before a door of emerald crystal, brilliantly illuminated by a light within. Here, again, our steps were arrested. The door was guarded by two sentries, in whom I recognised Initiates of the Order, wearers of the silver sash and star. The password and sign, whispered to me as we left the Hall of the Novitiate, having been given, the door parted and exposed to our view the inmost chamber, a scene calculated to strike the eye and impress the mind not more by its splendour and magnificence than by the unexpected character it displayed. It represented a garden, but the boundaries were concealed by the branching trees, the arches of flowering creepers, the thickets of flowers, shrubs, and tall reeds, which in every direction imitated so perfectly the natural forms that the closest scrutiny would have been required to detect their artificiality. The general form, however, seemed to be that of a square entered by a very short, narrow passage, and divided by broad paths, forming a cross of equal arms. At the central point of this cross was placed on a pedestal of emerald a statue in gold, which recalled at once the features of the Founder. The space might have accommodated two thousand persons, but on the seats—of a material resembling ivory, each of them separately formed and gathered in irregular clusters—there were not, I thought, more than four hundred or five hundred men and women intermingled; the former dressed for the most part in green, the latter in pink or white, and all wearing the silver band and star. At the opposite end, closing the central aisle, was a low narrow platform raised by two steps carved out of the natural rock, but inlaid with jewellery imitating closely the variegated turf of a real garden. On this were placed, slanting backward towards the centre, two rows of six golden seats or thrones, whose occupants wore the golden band over silver robes. That next the interval, but to the left, was filled by Esmo, who to my surprise wore a robe of white completely covering his figure, and contrasting signally the golden sash to which his star was attached. On his left arm, bare below the elbow, I noticed a flat thick band of plain gold, with an emerald seal, bearing the same proportion to the bracelet as a large signet to its finger ring. What struck me at once as most remarkable was, that the seats on the dais and the forms of their occupiers were signally relieved against a background of intense darkness, whose nature, however, I could not discern. The roof was in form a truncated pyramid; its material a rose-coloured crystal, through which a clear soft light illuminated the whole scene. Across the floor of the entrance, immediately within the portal, was a broad band of the same crystal, marking the formal threshold of the Hall. Immediately inside this stood the same Chief who had received us in the former Hall; and as we stood at the door, stretching forth his left hand, he spoke, or rather chanted, what, by the rhythmical sequence of the words, by the frequent recurrence of alliteration and irregular rhyme, was evidently a formula committed to the verse of the Martial tongue: a formula, like all those of the Order, never written, but handed down by memory, and therefore, perhaps, cast in a shape which rendered accurate remembrance easier and more certain.

Ye who, lost in outer night, Reach at last the Source of Light, Ask ye in that light to dwell? None we urge and none repel; Opens at your touch the door, Bright within the lamp of lore. Yet beware! The threshold passed, Fixed the bond, the ball is cast. Failing heart or faltering feet Find nor pardon nor retreat. Loyal faith hath guerdon given Boundless as the star-sown Heaven; Horror fathomless and gloom Rayless veil the recreant’s doom. Warned betimes, in time beware—Freely turn, or frankly swear.”

What am I to swear?” I asked.

A voice on my left murmured in a low tone the formula, which I repeated, Eveena accompanying my words in an almost inaudible whisper—

Whatsoe’er within the Shrine Eyes may see or soul divine, Swear we secret as the deep, Silent as the Urn to keep. By the Light we claim to share, By the Fount of Light, we swear.”

As these words were uttered, I became aware that some change had taken place at the further end of the Hall. Looking up, the dark background had disappeared, and under a species of deep archway, behind the seats of the Chiefs, was visible a wall diapered in ruby and gold, and displaying in various interwoven patterns the several symbols of the Zinta. Towards the roof, exactly in the centre, was a large silver star, emitting a light resembling that which the full moon sheds on a tropical scene, but far more brilliant. Around this was a broad golden circle or band; and beneath, the silver image of a serpent—perfectly reproducing a typical terrestrial snake, but coiled, as no snake ever coils itself, in a double circle or figure of eight, with the tail wound around the neck. On the left was a crimson shield or what seemed to be such, small, round, and swelling in the centre into a sharp point; on the right three crossed spears of silver with crimson blades pointed upward. But the most remarkable object—immediately filling the interval between the seats of the Chiefs, and carved from a huge cubic block of emerald—was a Throne, ascended on each side by five or six steps, the upper step or seat extending nearly across the whole some two feet below the surface, the next forming a footstool thereto. Above this was a canopy, seemingly self-supported, of circular form. A chain formed by interlaced golden circles was upheld by four great emerald wings. Within the chain, again, was the silver Serpent, coiled as before and resting upon a surface of foliage and flowers. In the centre of all was repeated the silver Star within the golden band; the emblem from which the Order derives its name, and in which it embodies its deepest symbolism. Following again the direction of my unseen prompter, I repeated words which may be roughly translated as follows:—

By the outer Night of gloom, By the ray that leads us home, By the Light we claim to share, By the Fount of Light, we swear. Prompt obedience, heart and hand, To the Signet’s each command: For the Symbols, reverence mute, In the Sense faith absolute. Link by link to weld the Chain, Link with link to bear the strain; Cherish all the Star who wear, As the Starlight’s self—we swear. By the Life the Light to prove, In the Circle’s bound to move; Underneath the all-seeing Eye Act, nor speak, nor think the lie; Live, as warned that Life shall last, And the Future reap the Past: Clasp in faith the Serpent’s rings, Trust through death the Emerald Wings, Hand and voice we plight the Oath: Fade the life ere fail the troth!”

Rising from his seat and standing immediately before and to the left of the Throne, Esmo replied. But before he had spoken half-a-dozen words, a pressure on my arm drew my eyes from him to Eveena. She stood fixed as if turned to stone, in an attitude which for one fleeting instant recalled that of the sculptured figures undergoing sudden petrifaction at the sight of the Gorgon’s head. This remembered resemblance, or an instinctive sympathy, at once conveyed to me the consciousness that the absolute stillness of her attitude expressed a horror or an awe too deep for trembling. Looking into her eyes, which alone were visible, their gaze fixed intently on the Throne, at once caught and controlled my own; and raising my eyes again to the same point, I stood almost equally petrified by consternation and amazement. I need not say how many marvels of no common character I have seen on Earth; how many visions that, if I told them, none who have not shared them would believe; wonders that the few who have seen them can never forget, nor—despite all experience and all theoretical explanation—recall without renewing the thrill of awe-stricken dismay with which the sight was first beheld. But no marvel of the Mystic Schools, no spectral scene, objective or subjective, ever evoked by the rarest of occult powers, so startled, so impressed me as what I now saw, or thought I saw. The Throne, on which but a few moments before my eyes had been steadily fixed, and which had then assuredly been vacant, was now occupied; and occupied by a Presence which, though not seen in the flesh for ages, none who had ever looked on the portrait that represented it could forget or mistake. The form, the dress, the long white hair and beard, the grave, dignified countenance, above all the deep, scrutinising, piercing eyes of the Founder—as I had seen them on a single occasion in Esmo’s house—were now as clearly, as forcibly, presented to my sight as any figure in the flesh I ever beheld. The eyes were turned on me with a calm, searching, steady gaze, whose effect was such as Southey ascribes to Indra’s:—

The look he gave was solemn, not severe; No hope to Kailyal it conveyed, And yet it struck no fear.”

For a moment they rested on Eveena’s veiled and drooping figure with a widely different expression. That look, as I thought, spoke a grave but passionless regret or pity, as of one who sees a child unconsciously on the verge of peril or sorrow that admits neither of warning nor rescue. That look happily she did not read; but we both saw the same object and in the same instant; we both stood amazed and appalled long enough to render our hesitation not only apparent, but striking to all around, many of whom, following the direction of my gaze, turned their eyes upon the Throne. What they saw or did not see I know not, and did not then care to think. The following formula, pronounced by Esmo, had fallen not unheard, but almost unheeded on my ears, though one passage harmonised strangely with the sight before me:—

Passing sign and fleeting breath Bind the Soul for life and death! Lifted hand and plighted word Eyes have seen and ears have heard; Eyes have seen—nor ours alone; Fell the sound on ears unknown. Age-long labour, strand by strand, Forged the immemorial band; Never thread hath known decay, Never link hath dropped away.”

Here he paused and beckoned us to advance. The sign, twice repeated before I could obey it, at last broke the spell that enthralled me. Under the most astounding or awe-striking circumstances, instinct moves our limbs almost in our own despite, and leads us to do with paralysed will what has been intended or is expected of us. This instinct, and no conscious resolve to overcome the influence that held me spell-bound, enabled me to proceed; and I led Eveena forward by actual if gentle force, till we reached the lower step of the platform. Here, at a sign from her father, we knelt, while, laying his hands on our heads, and stooping to kiss each upon the brow—Eveena raising her veil for one moment and dropping it again—he continued—

So we greet you evermore, Brethren of the deathless Lore; So your vows our own renew, Sworn to all as each to you. Yours at once the secrets won Age by age, from sire to son; Yours the fruit through countless years Grown by thought and toil and tears. He who guards you guards his own, He who fails you fails the Throne.”

The last two lines were repeated, as by a simultaneous impulse, in a low but audible tone by the whole assembly. In the meantime Esmo had invested each of us with the symbol of our enrolment in the Zinta, the silver sash and Star of the Initiates. The ceremonial seemed to me to afford that sort of religious sanction and benediction which had been so signally wanting to the original form of our union. As we rose I turned my eyes for a moment upon the Throne, now vacant as at first. Another Chief, followed by the voices of the assembly, repeated, in a low deep tone, which fell on our ears as distinctly as the loudest trumpet-note in the midst of absolute silence, the solemn imprecation—

Who denies a brother’s need, Who in will, or word, or deed, Breaks the Circle’s bounded line, Rends the Veil that guards the Shrine, Lifts the hand to lips that lie, Fronts the Star with soothless eye:—. Dreams of horror haunt his rest, Storms of madness vex his breast, Snares surround him, Death beset, Man forsake—and God forget!”

It was probably rather the tone of profound conviction and almost tremulous awe with which these words were slowly enunciated by the entire assemblage, than their actual sense, though the latter is greatly weakened by my translation, that gave them an effect on my own mind such as no oath and no rite, however solemn, no religious ceremonial, no forms of the most secret mysteries, had ever produced. I was not surprised that Eveena was far more deeply affected. Even the earlier words of the imprecation had caused her to shudder; and ere it closed she would have sunk to the ground, but for the support of my arm. Disengaging the bracelet, Esmo held out to our lips the signet, which, as I now perceived, reproduced in miniature the symbols that formed the canopy above the throne. A few moments of deep and solemn silence had elapsed, when one of the Chiefs, who, except Esmo, had now resumed their seats, rose, and addressing himself to the latter, said—

The Initiate has shown in the Hall of the Vision a knowledge of the sense embodied in our symbols, of the creed and thoughts drawn from them, which he can hardly have learned in the few hours that have elapsed since you first spoke to him of their existence. If there be not in his world those who have wrought out for themselves similar truths in not dissimilar forms, he must possess a rare and almost instinctive power to appreciate the lessons we can teach. I will ask your permission, therefore, to put to him but one question, and that the deepest and most difficult of all.”

Esmo merely bent his head in reply.

Can you,” said the speaker, turning to me with marked courtesy, “draw meaning or lesson from the self-entwined coil of the Serpent?”

I need not repeat an answer which, to those familiar with the oldest language of Terrestrial symbolism, would have occurred as readily as to myself; and which, if they could understand it, it would not be well to explain to others. The three principal elements of thought represented by the doubly-coiled serpent are the same in Mars as on Earth, confirming in so far the doctrine of the Zinta, that their symbolic language is not arbitrary, but natural, formed on principles inherent in the correspondence between things spiritual and physical. Some similar but trivial query, whose purport I have now forgotten, was addressed by the junior of the Chiefs to Eveena; and I was struck by the patient courtesy with which he waited till, after two or three efforts, she sufficiently recovered her self-possession to understand and her voice to answer. We then retired, taking our place on seats remote from the platform, and at some distance from any of our neighbours.

On a formal invitation, one after another of the brethren rose and read a brief account of some experiment or discovery in the science of the Order. The principles taken for granted as fundamental and notorious truths far transcend the extremest speculations of Terrestrial mysticism. The powers claimed as of course so infinitely exceed anything alleged by the most ardent believers in mesmerism, clairvoyance, or spiritualism, that it would be useless to relate the few among these experiments which I remember and might be permitted to repeat. I observed that a phonographic apparatus of a peculiarly elaborate character wrote down every word of these accounts without obliging the speakers to approach it; and I was informed that this automatic reporting is employed in every Martial assembly, scientific, political, or judicial.

I listened with extreme interest, and was more than satisfied that Esmo had even underrated the powers claimed by and for the lowest and least intelligent of his brethren, when he said that these, and these alone, could give efficient protection or signal vengeance against all the tremendous physical forces at command of those State authorities, one of the greatest of whom I had made my personal enemy. One battalion of Martial guards or police, accompanied by a single battery of what I may call their artillery, might, even without the aid of a balloon-squadron, in half-an-hour annihilate or scatter to the winds the mightiest and bravest army that Europe could send forth. Yet the Martial State had deliberately, and, I think, with only a due prudence, shrunk during ages from an open conflict of power with the few thousand members of this secret but inevitably suspected organisation.

Esmo called on me in my turn to give such account as I might choose of my own world, and my journey thence. I frankly avowed my indisposition to explain the generation and action of the apergic force. The power which a concurrent knowledge of two separate kinds of science had given to a very few Terrestrials, and which all the science of a far more enlightened race had failed to attain, was in my conscientious conviction a Providential trust; withheld from those in whose hands it might be a fearful temptation and an instrument of unbounded evil. My reserve was perfectly intelligible to the Children of the Star, and evidently raised me in their estimation. I was much impressed by the simple and unaffected reliance placed on my statements, as on those of every other member of the Order. As a rule, Martialists are both, and not without reason, to believe any unsupported statement that might be prompted by interest or vanity. But the Zveltau can trust one another’s word more fully than the followers of Mahomet that of his strictest disciples, or the most honest nations of the West the most solemn oaths of their citizens; while that bigotry of scientific unbelief, that narrowness of thought which prevails among their countrymen, has been dispelled by their wider studies and loftier interests. They have a saying, whose purport might be rendered in the proverbial language of the Aryans by saying that the liar “kills the goose that lays the golden eggs.” Again, “The liar is like an opiatised tunneller” (miner), i.e., more likely to blow himself to pieces than to effect his purpose. Again, “The liar drives the point into a friend’s heart, and puts the hilt into a foe’s hand.” The maxim that “a lie is a shield in sore need, but the spear of a scoundrel,” affirms the right in extremity to preserve a secret from impertinent inquisitiveness. Rarely, but on some peculiarly important occasions, the Zveltau avouch their sincerity by an appeal to their own symbols; and it is affirmed that an oath attested by the Circle and the Star has never, in the lapse of ages, been broken or evaded.

Before midnight Esmo dismissed the assembly by a formula which dimly recalled to memory one heard in my boyhood. It is not in the power of my translation to preserve the impressive solemnity of the immemorial ritual of the Zinta, deepened alike by the earnestness of its delivery, and the reverence of the hearers. There was something majestic in the mere antiquity of a liturgy whereof no word has ever been committed to writing. Five hundred generations have, it is alleged, gathered four times in each year in the Hall of Initiation; and every meeting has been concluded by the utterance from the same spot and in the same words of the solemn but simple Zulvakalfe [word of peace]:—

Peace be with you, near and far, Children of the Silver Star; Lore undoubting, conscience clean, Hope assured, and life serene. By the Light that knows no flaw, By the Circle’s perfect law, By the Serpent’s life renewed, By the Wings’ similitude— Peace be yours no force can break; Peace not death hath power to shake; Peace from passion, sin, and gloom, Peace of spirit, heart, and home; Peace from peril, fear, and pain; Peace, until we meet again— Meet—before yon sculptured stone, Or the All-Commander’s Throne.”

Before we finally parted, Esmo gave me two or three articles to which he attached especial value. The most important of these was a small cube of translucent stone, in which a multitude of diversely coloured fragments were combined; so set in a tiny swivel or swing of gold that it might be conveniently attached to the watch-chain, the only Terrestrial article that I still wore. “This,” he said, “will test nearly every poison known to our science; each poison discolouring for a time one or another of the various substances of which it is composed; and poison is perhaps the weapon least unlikely to be employed against you when known to be connected with myself, and, I will hope, to possess the favour of the Sovereign. If you are curious to verify its powers, the contents of the tiny medicine-chest I have given you will enable you to do so. There is scarcely one of those medicines which is not a single or a combined poison of great power. I need not warn you to be careful lest you give to any one the means of reaching them. I have shown you the combination of magnets which will open each of your cases; that demanded by the chest is the most complicated of all, and one which can hardly be hit upon by accident. Nor can any one force or pick open a case locked by our electric apparatus, save by cutting to pieces the metal of the case itself, and this only special tools will accomplish; and, unless peculiarly skilful, the intruder would ‘probably be maimed or paralysed, if not killed by …

Thoughts he sends to each planet, Uranus, Venus, and Mars; Soars to the Centre to span it, Numbers the infinite Stars.”

Courthope’s Paradise of Birds