"I am going to be perfectly horrid," said Simon Iff, leaning over to Lisa, and measuring his words with the minutest care. "I am going to do everything possible to damp your enthusiasm. I would rather have you start from cold and spark up well as you go, than have you go off with a spurt, and find yourself without petrol in the middle of the big rise.
"I want you to take up this research because of your real love of knowledge, not because of your passion for Brother Cyril. And I tell you honestly that I am mortally afraid for you, because you live in extremes. It is good for a swift push to have that sudden energy of yours; but no research in science is to be taken by storm. You need infinite patience, nay, even infinite indifference to the very thing on which your heart is set:
"Well, I have prated. The old man must utter his distrust of fiery youth. So we'll go on.
"I'm going to talk to you about the soul again. Remember our conception of it, the idea that seemed to do away with all the difficulties at a blow. We had the idea of a soul, of a real physical substance, one of whose surfaces, or rather boundary-solids, was what we call body and mind. Body and mind are real, too, and truly belong to the soul, but are only minute aspects of it, just as any ellipse or hyperbola is an aspect of the section of a cone.
"We'll take just one more analogy in the lower dimensions as we pass.
"How do solids know one another? Almost entirely by their surfaces! Except in chemistry, which we have reason to believe to be a fourth-dimensional science, witness the phenomena of polarization and geometrical isomerism, solids only make contact superficially.
"Then, shifting the analogy as we did before, how do fourth-dimensional beings know one another? By their bounding solids. In other words, my soul speaks to yours through the medium of our minds and bodies.
"That is the common phrase? Quite so; but I am using it in an absolute physical sense. A line can only be aware of another line at a point of contact; a plane of another plane at the line where they cut; a cube of another cube at the surface common to both; and a soul of another soul where their ideas are in conjunction.
"I do want you to grasp this with every fibre in your being; I believe it to be the most important thesis ever enunciated, and you will be proud to learn that it is wholly Brother Cyril's, with no help from me. Hinton, Rouse Ball, and others, laid the foundations; but it was he that put it in such a clear light, and correlated it with occult science.
"You must give the honour to the Mahathera Phang!" interjected Cyril. "I was proving to him the metaphysical nature of the soul — and he regarded me with so amused a smile that I perceived my asininity. Of course there can be but one order of Nature!"
"In any case," continued Iff, "this theory of Cyril's wipes the slate clean of every metaphysical speculation. Good and evil vanish instantly, with Realism and Nominalism, and Free will and Determinism — and all the 'isms' and all the 'ologies'! Life is reduced to mathematical formulae, indeed, as the Victorian scientists rightly wished to do; but at the same time mathematics is restored to her royal pre-eminence as not only the most exact, but the most exalted of the sciences. The intelligible order of things, moreover, becomes natural and inevitable; and such moral problems as the cruelty of organic life return to their real insignificance. The almost comic antinomy between man's size and his intelligence is reduced; and although the mystery of the Universe remains unsolved, at least it is a rational mystery, and neither senseless nor intolerable.
"Let us now come down to a simple practical point. Here is a soul anxious to communicate with other souls. He can only do it by obtaining a mind and body. Now you'll notice, taking that cone image of ours again, that any section of it is always one of three regular curves. It would not fit into a square, for example, however you turned it. And so our soul has to look about for some mind which will fit one of his sections. There is a great deal of latitude, no doubt; for the mind grows, and is at first very plastic. But there must be some sort of relation. If I am a wandering soul, and wish to communicate with the soul now manifesting a section of itself as Professor of Electricity at Oxford, it is useless for me to take the mind of a Hottentot. (Cyril sighed a doubt.)
"I'm going to digress for a moment. Look at the finished product, the soul 'incarnated,' as we may call it. There are three forces at work upon it; the soul itself, the heredity and the environment. A clever soul will therefore be careful to choose the embryo which seems most likely to be fairly free in the two latter respects. It will look for a healthy stock, for parents who will, and can, give the child every chance in life. You must remember that every soul is, from our point of view, a 'genius,' for its world is so incalculably greater than ours that one spark of its knowledge is enough to kindle a new epoch in mankind.
"But heredity and environment usually manage to prevent any of this coming to light. No matter how full of whisky a flask may be, you will never make it drunk!
"So we may perhaps conceive of some competition between souls for possession of different minds and bodies; or, let us say, to combine the ideas, different embryos. I hope you notice how this theory removes the objection to reincarnation, that one's mind does not remember 'the last time.' Why should our cone make connexion between its different curves? Each is so unimportant to it that it would hardly think of doing so. Yet there might be some similarity between successive curves (in our case, lives) that might make an historian suspect that they were connected; just as a poet's style would be constant in some respects, whether he wrote a war-story or a love-lyric.
"You see, of course, by the way, how this theory does away with all the nonsense about 'Are the planets inhabited?' with its implication of idiotic waste if they be not. To us every grain of dust, every jet of hydrogen on the sun's envelope, is the manifestation of a section of some soul:
"And here we find ourselves quite suddenly and unexpectedly in line with some of the old Rosicrucian doctrines.
"This brings us to the consideration of certain experiments made by our predecessors. They had quite another theory of souls; at least, their language was very different to ours; but they wanted very much to produce a man who should not be bound up in his heredity, and should have the environment which they desired for him.
"They started in paraphysical ways; that is, they repudiated natural generation altogether. They made figures of brass, and tried to induce souls to indwell them. In some accounts we read that they succeeded; Friar Bacon was credited with one such Homunculus; so was Albertus Magnus, and, I think, Paracelsus.
"He had, at least, a devil in his long sword 'which taught him all the cunning pranks of past and future mountebanks,' or Samuel Butler, first of that dynasty, has lied.
"But other magicians sought to make this Homunculus in a way closer to nature. In all these cases they had held that environment could be modified at will by the application of telesmata or sympathetic figures. For example, a nine-pointed star would attract the influence which they called Luna — not meaning the actual moon, but an idea similar to the poets' ideas of her. By surrounding an object with such stars, with similarly-disposed herbs, perfumes, metals, talismans, and so on, and by carefully keeping off all other influences by parallel methods, they hoped to invest the original object so treated with the Lunar qualities, and no others. (I am giving the briefest outline of an immense subject.) Now then they proceeded to try to make the Homunculus on very curious lines.
"Man, said they, is merely a fertilized ovum properly incubated. Heredity is there even at first, of course, but in a feeble degree. Anyhow, they could arrange any desired environment from the beginning, if they could only manage to nourish the embryo in some artificial way — incubate it, in fact, as is done with chickens to-day. Furthermore, and this is the crucial point, they thought that by performing this experiment in a specially prepared place, a place protected magically against all incompatible forces, and by invoking into that place some one force which they desired, some tremendously powerful being, angel or archangel — and they had conjurations which they thought capable of doing this — that they would be able to cause the incarnation of beings of infinite knowledge and power, who would be able to bring the whole world into Light and Truth.
"I may conclude this little sketch by saying that the idea has been almost universal in one form or another; the wish has always been for a Messiah or Superman, and the method some attempt to produce man by artificial or at least abnormal means. Greek and Roman legend is full of stories in which this mystery is thinly veiled; they seem mostly to derive from Asia Minor and Syria. Here exogamic principles have been pushed to an amusing extreme. I need not remind you of the Persian formula for producing a magician, or of the Egyptian routine in the matter of Pharaoh, or of the Mohammedan device for inaugurating the Millenium. I did remind Brother Cyril, by the way, of this last point, and he did need it; but it did him no good, for here we are at the threshold of a Great Experiment on yet another false track!"
"He is only taunting me to put me on my mettle," laughed Cyril.
"Now I'm going to bring all this to a point," went on the old mystic. "The Greeks, as you know, practised a kind of eugenics. (Of course, all tribal marriage laws are primarily eugenic in intention). But like the mediaeval magicians we were speaking of, with their Homunculus, the Greeks attached the greatest possible importance to the condition of the mother during gestation. She was encouraged to look only on beautiful statues, to read only beautiful books. The Mohammedans, again, whose marriage system makes Christian marriage by comparison a thing for cattle, shut up a woman during that period, keep her perfectly quiet and free from the interference of her husband.
"This is all very good, but it falls short of Brother Cyril's latest lunacy. As I understand him, he wishes indeed to proceed normally in a physical sense, but to prepare the way by making the heredity, and environment as attractive as possible to one special type of soul, and then — to go soul-fishing in the Fourth Dimension!
"Thus he will have a perfectly normal child, which yet is also a Homunculus in the mediaeval sense of the word!
"And he has asked me to lend you the villa of the Order at Naples for the purpose."
Lisa had lent forward; her face, between her hands was burning.
Slowly she spoke: "You know that you are asking me to sacrifice my humanity?" She was not silly enough to pretend to misunderstand the proposal and Simon liked her better for the way she took it.
He thought a moment. "I see now; I never thought of it before, and I am foolish, The conservatism of woman calls this sort of thing a 'heartless experiment.' Yet nothing is farther from our thoughts. There will be no action to annoy or offend you on the contrary. But I understand the feeling — it is the swift natural repugnance to discuss what is sacred."
"Tut—tut—my memory is always failing me these days," muttered Cyril; "I've quite forgotten the percentage of children that were born blind in 1861."
Lisa started to her feet. She did not know what he meant, but in some way it stung her like a serpent.
Simon Iff intervened. "Brother Cyril, you always use strong medicine!" he said, shaking his head; "I sometimes think you're too keen to see your results."
"I hate to beat about the bush. I say the thing that can never be forgotten,"
"Or forgiven, sometimes," said the old man in gentle reproof.
"But come, my dear, sit down; he meant truth, after all, and truth cuts only to cure. It's a brutal fact that children used to be born blind, literally by the thousand, because it wasn't quite nice to publish the facts about certain diseases; and precautions against them were called 'heartless experiments.' What Cyril is asking you to do is no more than what your whole heart craves for; only he wants to crown that with a gift to humanity such as has never yet been given. Suppose that you succeed, that you can attract a soul to you who will find a way to abolish poverty, or to cure cancer, or to — oh! surely you glow with vision, a thousand heights of human progress thrusting their sunlit snows through the clouds of doubt!"
Lisa rose again to her feet, but her mood was no longer the same. She put her hands in Simon Iff's. "I think you're a very noble man," she said, "and it's an honour to work in such a cause." Cyril took her in his arms. "Then you will come with me to Naples? To the Master's own villa?"
She looked at Iff with a queer smile. "May I make a joke?" she said. "I should like to rechristen the villa — The Butterfly-Net!"
Simple Simon laughed with her like a child. It was just the delicate humour that appealed to him; and the classical allusion to the Butterfly as allegorical of the Soul showed him a side of the girl that he had hardly suspected.
But Cyril Grey swerved instantly to the serious aspect of the problem. "We have merely been discussing an A.B. case," he said; "we have forgotten where we stand. Somewhere or other I have made a blunder already, mark you! — and we have the Black Lodge on our trail. You may possibly recall some of the events of yesterday?" he concluded, with a touch of his old airy manner.
"Yes," said Simon, "I think you had better get to business."
"We discussed the thing on general lines during your vigil last night," said Cyril. "Our first need is defence. The strongest form of defence is counter-attack; but you should arrange for that to take shape as far as possible from the place you are defending, In this game you are keeping goal, Lisa; I am full back; Simple Simon is the captain playing at half-back; and I think we have a fairly fit eleven! So that's all right. There is reason to believe that the enemy's goal is in Paris itself. And if we can keep the ball in their half all through the game, you and I can spend a very quiet year in Italy."
"I can't follow all that football slang; but do explain why anyone should want to interfere with us. It's too silly."
"It's only silly when you get to the very distant end of a most abstruse philosophy. On the surface it's obvious. It's the objection of the burglar to electric lights and bells. You can imagine him having enough foresight to vote against a town councillor who proposed an appropriation for the study of science in general. Something might turn up which would put him out of business."
"But what is their business?"
"Ultimately, you may call it selfishness — only that's a dreadful word, and will mislead you. We're just as selfish; only we realize that other things beyond our own consciousnesses are equally ourselves. For instance, I try to unite myself as intimately as I can with every other mind, or body, or idea, that comes in my way. To take that cone simile, I want to be all the different curves I can, so as to have a better chance of realizing the cone. The Black Lodge magician clings to his one curve, tries to make it permanent, to exalt it above all other curves. And of course the moment the cone shifts, out he goes: pop!"
"Observe the poet!" remarked Simon Iff. "He values himself enormously; but his idea of perpetuating himself is to make the beauty that is inherent in his own soul radiate beyond him so as to illumine every other mind in the world. But your Black Magician is secret, and difficult of access; he isn't going to tell anyone anything, not he! So even his knowledge tends to extinction, in the long run."
"But you are yourselves a secret society!" exclaimed Lisa.
"Only to secure freedom from interruption. It is merely the same idea as that which makes every householder close his doors at night; or, better, as public libraries are guarded by certain regulations. We can't allow lunatics to scrawl over our unique manuscripts, and tear the pages out of all our books. Shallow people are always chattering about science being free to all; the truth is that it is guarded as no other secret ever was in all history, by the simple fact that, with all the help in the world, it takes half a lifetime to begin to master even one small section of it. We guard our magick just as much and as little as our other branches of physics; but people are so stupid that, though they know it requires years of training to use so simple an instrument as a microscope, they are indignant that we cannot teach them to use the Verendum in an hour."
"Ah, but they complain that you have never proved the use of the Verendum at all."
"Only those who have not learnt its use. I can read Homer, but I can only prove the fact to another man by teaching him Greek; and he is then obliged to do the same to a third party, and so on. People generally acquiesce that some men can read Homer because — well, it's their intellectual laziness. A really stout intelligence would doubt it.
"Spiritualism and Christian Science, which are either fraud or bluff or misinterpretation of facts, have spread all over the Anglo-Saxon world because there is no true critical spirit among the half-educated. But we are not willing to have our laboratories invaded by reporters and curiosity-mongers; we are dealing with delicate forces; we have to train our minds we with an intensity which no other study in the world demands. Public indifference and incredulity suit us perfectly. The only object of advertisement would be to get suitable members; but we have methods of finding them without publicity. We make no secret of our methods and results, on the other hand; but only the right man knows how to discover them.
"It is not as if we were working in an old field where all the terms were defined, and the main laws ascertained. In Magick, even more than in any other science, the student must keep his practice level with his theory."
"Don't you ever do magick under test conditions?"
"Unfortunately, my child, creative magick, which is the thaumaturgic side of the business, depends on a peculiar excitation which objects to 'test conditions' very strongly. You might as well ask Cyril to prove his poetic gift, or even his manhood, before a set of fools. He will produce you poems, and infants, and events, as the case may be; but you have more or less to take his word for it that he did the acts responsible primarily for them. Another difficulty about true magick is that it is so perfectly a natural process that its phenomena never excite surprise except by their timeliness — so that one has to record hundreds of experiments to set up a case which will even begin to exclude coincidence. For instance, I want a certain book. I use my book-producing talisman. The following day, a bookseller offers me the volume. One experiment proves nothing. My ability to do it every time is the proof. And I can't even do that under 'test conditions'; for it is necessary that I should really want the book, in my subconsciousness, whose will works the miracle. It is useless for me to think, or pretend, that I want it. Any man may fluke a ten-shot at billiards, but you call him a player only when he can average a break of thirty or so every time he goes to the table.
But in some branches of magick we can give proof on the spot; in any branch, that is, where the female, and not the male, part of us is concerned. The analogy is quite perfect. Thus, in my guess at your birth-hour — was not that a test? I will do it all day, and be right five times in six. Further, in the event of error, I will show exactly why I was wrong. It's a case where one is sometimes right to be wrong, as I'll explain one day. Then again, your own clairvoyance; I did not tell you that sort of a Thing to look for; yet you saw it under the same form as I did. You shall practice these things daily with Cyril if you like, always checking your results in a way which he will show you; and in a month you will be an expert. Then, if you feel you want to advertise, do. But you won't.
Besides, the real trouble is that not one person in a thousand cares for any form of science whatever; even such base applications of science as the steam-engine and all its family, from the telegraph to the automobile, were only thrust upon the unwilling people by bullies who knew that there was money in them. Who are your 'men of science' in the popular notion of to-day? Edison and Marconi, neither of whom ever invented anything, but were smart business men, with the capacity to exploit the brains of others, and turn science to commercially useful and profitable ends. Heigho!"
"We're a long way from our subject," said Cyril. "I have had a delightful morning — I have felt like Plato with the Good, the True, and the Beautiful in contemplating you three — but we have work before us. I propose in this emergency to copy the tactics of Washington at Valley Forge. We will make a direct and vehement attack on the Black Lodge: they will expect me to be in my usual position in the van — I will slip away with Lisa while the fires blaze brightest."
"A sound plan," said Simon. "Let us break up this conference, and put it immediately into execution. You had better not attract attention by collecting luggage, and you must certainly take no person outside the Order into your circle. So after dinner you will put on your other clothes, walk down to the Metro, cross to the Gare de Lyon, and jump into the Rome rapide. Wire me when you arrive at The Butterfly-Net!"