A week later, Mrs. Falkner told the news of the coming to Carmel of Boris Khsantianoff, a young philosopher and poet whom she had met during a flying trip south the year before and who had impressed her deeply. He had been holding classes in Los Angeles, had lectured up and down the coast, toured Canada and the eastern states and was coming to Carmel for a few weeks' rest. She had rented a cottage for him nearby and he was to have dinner with them and a few friends the following day.
Carmel had been hospitable that year to messengers of glad or sorrowful tidings. In the little miniature world wrapped in pine-sown fog with foaming fringes of sea, comets had been welcomed that dropped seeds of unborn cosmoi. Dancer, musician, poet, psychologist, orientalist, socialist, reformer, ironist, devotee of this or that European, Tibetan or Hindu master, one after one they had been drawn into the concentrated furnace of a community whose roots had wound themselves around rocks and trees, whose multifarious and highly individualistic, yet not individualized, consciousness seemed to call for fecundators. A refuge for women, children, artists and troubled souls in pangs of selfhood is bound to attract messengers and prophets — mental males. A miniature world: many seeds for one inchoate matrix — and as a result tensions, yet a rare sense of aloofness, of not bothering about others. Thus many small groups, many shrines made of cemented hearts, or compassionate activities, much excitement, endless discussions, a passionate sincerity blending often with an equally passionate versatility. A soil in which souls struck roots and grew trunks of self, resinous and highly combustible pines, tortured, disheveled cypresses, red giants rust-eaten yet proud, and many small, hard, scented bushes hugging close the soil in fear of the sea winds.
Boris Khsantianoff came. The woods were washed clean from the summer; cottages freed from sight-seers and festive commercialism. The skies irradiated peace and the lucent fervor of the winter climate. Cold nights, warm sun, hills aglow with tumultuous viridity. The disconcerting Californian fall which is a subtly inverted spring.
Rania was nervous that day. She closed herself in her room and refused to see anybody. She was facing the sea. It was restless. For three days it had stormed. It would not yet recognize the sun and its cerulean realm. It angered at the coast. The gigantic depths were heaving still. Was not peace a folly; light, a mockery to beguile the earth to tear sap from her lusty flesh, to play with fruit and seeds; then what? The brown terrified death of rainless summer that would lay bare the earth, were it not for the fog-mercy.
A helpless sadness weighed upon her; the deluding power of life was unbearable. Why the endless, unappeasable thirst for the together state? Why this gripping, gnawing lust of eyes and mind and soul, of ears and stomach to be fed with some other substance, to be drunk with potent glamor which leaves only bitterness and questions never answered, never to be solved — yet luring on, luring on, dissonances stretched into excruciating tenuity toward impossible resolutions? What a wearisome farce this play of change, from self to not-self, from one to many, and many to oneness, and then silence, nonbeing, dreaming. Why not dreaming a little deeper, beyond recall? Weariness, infinite weariness. Oh, for one that would lull away into senseless sleep, into endless atony! Where can that be? Through what beyond, into what silence . . . more pain needed perhaps; more pounding, crushing, corroding? And then; and then? . . . Her mind reeled into blankness. It slipped away, a soft thing of the sea, swayed by vast tides of unconscious dream. It slipped away where names no longer lie with boundaries, and the smiles of things no longer betray the changeless No-thing.
She did not hear the door open; light invade the darkened room. She did not move as Mrs. Falkner called, hastened to her, kneeled beside her and shook her head drooped as a broken wing. She did not see Hilda hurrying for cold water, salts; then a tall figure enter, slowly; deep grey eyes peer through her. Overbearing silence; what rite of destiny was being consummated? The dark head came near hers, long Oriental hands touched her eyes, pressed again the revulsed orbit. No; it was not time yet to dream deep beyond recall. It must be that the other was telling some awesome name that had power to bring back, from beyond boundaries; mysterious name heavy with the meaning of destiny, heavy with the silence and depth of destiny-heavy name that strikes the swaying soul and overturns her flight, turns it back toward the earth, where men crawl in passion of godhood beneath the sneers of sea gulls and eagles.
When she opened at last her consciousness to the light, the deep grey eyes shone first into her renewed world; two deep wells of silence and immateriality filled with loneliness that was peace, compassion that was tender yet firm. She shook her head gently and smiled: "Why did you call me back? What more can I do? I am so tired."
The grey eyes glowed a little; they clouded. A strange sullenness gripped the contracting pupils. "We are all tired, my friend, but we must all go on, just the same . . . just the same."
She nodded. She was willing. She would take up her post at the great wall of protection, shielding baby-men, enwombing the prenatal millenniums of the new manhood — long, long millenniums of darkness and gestation.
When she looked around she saw kind faces surrounding her. Mrs. Falkner, Hilda, the young Robert Johnson who loved her, the sturdy Russian face of Peter Harbin in whose silences icebergs floated in long silvery files, the closed yet mellow oval of Sylvia Rutherford who dared not forget all the tortured knowledge gleaned in English "occult" circles . . . a few others that stood near the door. Rania turned her head slowly, closing in their burdens, weighing. She smiled — a little painful smile, accepting, welcoming. Boris was still watching her intently. She stared at him. She flung herself at him in the passion of an eye gesture that tore through the space between them and sank into him like a firebolt hitting metal. His eyes closed. It was accomplished. Destinies were knotted once again; a mysterious unearthly knot that was to hold together many sundered souls, world-scattered, helpless, in widowhood of God.
Boris stood up, glanced at Mrs. Falkner who said a few cheering words and brought the company downstairs. Hilda, her face pale and frozen by something she could not fully grasp, yet which blew upon her as a snow-heavied wind, helped Rania to follow. Near the fireplace, where roots of manzanita were burning with white fervent light, Boris stood: a lean tree of silence whose head seemed more a root from above than an earth-growing top, with the strange will-strength of a root often found in true occultists' faces, a strength which is not meant to be seen, as a root is not meant to be seen.
Then he spoke, calmly, fluently, with the singing yet guttural voice of the Slavs. He spoke about the inner ruler, the God within. With strong forceful words he bared the shams of the so-called religious life in which sinning man prays to a far-off God for intercession and redemption. He sang the hidden powers that hide in man's own heart, the fire that can make him god if controlled by knowledge and character, or devil if dammed in for self-gratification. He showed that the path to power and divinity can only originate in self-denial, intelligent compassion and enlightened service. To his hearers he portrayed the conditions of the Iron Age in which we are living; he expounded the duty incumbent on those who are willing to work in utter consecration to the task of upholding the great universal seed-truths of Man, even while nearly all humanity is rushing on the road to disintegration and chemical reabsorption into unselved matter. His voice rang, a call for servers and trustees, for noble and strong characters who would join the company of the few great souls who stand and unfalteringly remain witnesses to truth and spiritual harmony-watchers, guides, admonishers, masters of life.
A profound pause followed his words, as if space had been filled with such overwhelming substance of life that minds were breathing heavily to reestablish the balance of their slower rhythms. Rania had closed her eyes. Her mouth had contracted a little, as if to repress tears. In the silence of all these human souls trying to regain their disconnected unity of being and to capture two or three ideas which had found access into their mind's womb and would perhaps grow into living realities, Rania sensed, almost saw, some majestic presence. She looked at Boris, composed and vaguely smiling in keen yet gracious expectancy. The same smooth root-strength of mystery. A sense of effortless tension; as if a heavy parturition had taken place through him, yet it did not exactly affect him; only the nerves somewhat shook, as lead pipes through which steam is forced.
Then conversation broke in, animated and cordial. Small groups started real debates. A few little "I"s began to swell considerably in the process. Mrs. Falkner brought in hot chocolate and fruit tarts. Hilda and other girls helped to pass the cups. Boris talked to this or that group, laughing off silly questions, throwing vital hints into this or that eager and restless mind. He did not come near Rania, who kept quiet and disappeared soon after he had ceased talking, pretending fatigue. As she reached the stairs, she turned back. He was fixing strongly his gaze upon her, over the shoulders of a couple of men with whom he was apparently chattering. She smiled and bowed her head.
Step after step she climbed, leaning on her crutches, a hollowed life, with sorrow-broken limbs, shattered body — going on, through, going on . . . with deep vacant eyes open to infinitudes where nevertheless there was a name for her to answer to, a post to hold, a destiny to fulfill.
And she went on toward that destiny.