The drought continued.
For nearly a year practically no rain had fallen. The soil was hard and barren, the hills seemed to moan brown sighs under the cutting winds. Nights were unnaturally clear. The sky had a harsh incandescent quality. Fever seemed to ooze from the tense earth. Cattle were dying, and epidemics were spreading among the people, diseases which were said to be of Oriental origin. They struck one suddenly with stabbing pains in the joints, pains so excruciating that one would often fall unconscious in the midst of ordinary gestures.
The drought continued.
It wore out resistance.
An uncanny sense of suffocation was in the air. One breathed more heavily. The water was rare and tasted raw and brittle, unliquid. The fluid virtue had gone out of it. Dust settled everywhere. Only the sea rose as ever toward the sand. It brought moisture, bitter moisture, to the earth. It had its peace and its fury. It could smile indifferently to the sun. But men have gone far from the sea. They have craved the sun. The sun fever hollowed the strongest.
It wore out resistance.
Sun blindness is darkness.
It means fever and exhaustion. It racks one. It corrodes the forms of life, greedy for all fluidic essence. Rania felt like an old Salton Sea dried out into the deserts-barren sands molded with grey-white salt moss. Some strange process of disintegration hidden for months was suddenly revealed in a hollowness which stirred pain everywhere in her body, sucked dry all organs and corroded the nerves.
Sun blindness is darkness.
She refused to give up.
She carried on accumulating work, answered letters, typed manuscripts which had to be ready for the printer. She sat at her worktable insistently with tense will, forgetting pain. Her face became drawn out. She could hardly do her housework. A few friends helped her at times. But few they were who stood faithful, now that Boris had ceased to be a magnet to draw them, now that the wildest tales were spread openly by Hilda, infuriated by the scene with Nadia, in which Rania was shown as a pervert, a seductress of young girls.
She refused to give up.
She was to be a standard.
The standard would be held upright as long as there was power in her will, as long as the nerves would stay tight. She had offered all she had, all she was to the work that was being pushed by two humans she loved and trusted beyond death. When they had left, she had known it would be the last time she would see them, as bodies. But she was with them, every moment. She lived in this oneness of destiny. There was nothing left in her to rebel or to bewail.
She had become a standard.
Her life divided itself once more into two parts.
At night-dreams or superphysical reality, who knew? — she would be with Boris and Nadia as fully as before. They would talk, study together, perform some mysterious actions the symbolism of which often seemed clear, often seemed veiled and confused. Then, the day saw her work as an instrument at her table, ceaselessly typing, sending to distressed ones strength, urging them to keep on, to see it through, to become seeds also, standards, destinies. Even then, her inner life was real, much beyond mechanical gestures, beyond brain-coalesced words. The thoughts arose, vivid, unavoidable, relentless. The hands obeyed. That bodily life was merely a process of work. It had become almost automatic; while the reality of living had its seat entirely beyond.
Her life divided itself once more.
Was there even pain?
A sense of tense energy seemed to dull sufferings that would have been otherwise unbearable. They had become so constant that they had reached a rhythm of their own of which she was hardly conscious, like that of breathing. She had become a machine to suffer, much as the lungs are machines to breathe. Yet the thoughts went on; ever new realizations, deeper meanings were won and expressed, and assimilated into soul-even though nerves suffered, bodily chemicalizations were like explosives restrained within the body frame only by a terrific hardening of the will, and the rhythm of racial or individual destiny proceeded unimpeded.
A coercion of pain.
Suddenly the rains.
They flowed like cataracts. The passion of rain shook pines and bushes, rocks and humans. Streets turned into gorges thunderous with liquid possessions, furrowing the sand, eructating mud into the vehement sea. The dampness penetrated everything. Wood was so wet it refused to burn. As there was no gas in Carmel, heating became difficult, save for suffocating oil stoves which Rania could not endure. It was too much. She had to lie in bed wrapped in electric pads, shivering, teeth chattering.
The rains, the demented rains.
And disease spread.
It came slowly testing one man here, a child there, snapping a clerk at his desk, piercing with shrieking pains a barber sharpening his razor. It seemed contagious; yet no one could know how it was spread and what to do. The bones were attacked. Few died, but a terrific weakness was left in those who recovered; they were hardly able to stand straight. One of the first to go was Mrs. Falkner. She had been for months in a dreary state of depression, broken by Hilda's conduct. Rania summoned strength to visit her. People were afraid. Even Hilda ran away. But Rania stood, and helped her to die.
It had not crossed the mountains yet.
Rania had long, strong letters from her companions. They exhorted her. They poured their love into words that made her weep with communion. Oh, was she not with them completely, irrevocably — a great fire flaming forth to that which they also were? A fire that might bring regeneration to a world suffocated by craving and selfishness. Their love! How she knew herself in it! It rose, luminous, with radiant purity; a consecration, a strong diamond cutting all softness, all impurities away, focusing light rays into star clusters. They would carry on. They would rise on her death. They would withstand fatigue and disease.
It was never to cross the mountains.
She was tortured but fell not.
Weeks of utter solitude and darkness wrenched her, body and soul. She stared for endless hours at the low roof. She saw through it visions. She had almost left the earth. Her body, used to pain, resisted the disease better than many strong physiques. The epidemic was short. She had helped many around her. But she had to lie down. Even in her bed, she found strength to write, to send words of cheer to sufferers.
She was tortured, but fell not.
Then Sarmananda came back.
People were recovering from the shock of death. Strange nervous languor haunted many. An emptiness, physical and psychic. They were like shadows, weakly moving — because their brains had no sustenance beyond the chemicals of the earth, and the earth was still sick, even though May had come with belated florescence, with a fervid haste to blossom, to sing life in denial of death.
Sarmananda came back.
His fame had grown.
Boris wrote he was constantly meeting groups of enthusiasts trying to practice his perverted teachings, thinking to find wholeness in sex mysticism and the damming of unnaturally aroused passions. The true ideas were thrown topsy-turvy, unfocused, misapplied. The body was worshiped. The body became God. People rushed for supernal experiences, which lead but to psychic monstrosity and to the reversion and perversion of natural impulses into mental demonisms. The group ideal was distorted. Group selfishness and group lust were taking the place of individual selfishness and lust. A subtler form of mediumship opened minds and hearts to sinister ingresses. The astral world was rushing through the bethinned partition of normal consciousness into the subconscious. Yet the blind crowded to hear Sarmananda.
His fame was wide.
Once more he took Carmel by force.
He welded his weakened group into an instrument of power, dynamiting them by his relentless personality. He became as a renovator after the hectic weeks of disease. Forcefully he banked on the craving of people for health. Health was his servant. No one who lived whole could be ill. He thundered against physicians, preachers: they drugged people, accentuating the negation instead of building up complementary energies and restoring equilibrium. It sounded true, convincing. Indeed his mind was a keen blade; he understood the laws of life — but his monstrous ego-will forever sought to wrench from their destinies all his followers, to increase his own power and fill his insatiable spiritual void.
He took Carmel by force.
Still a few rebelled.
Saner minds had seen the deleterious effects of his method upon the group of his followers. Hilda's conduct had been shameful during the epidemic. She had let her mother die without a word, without any attention. Rania's strength and devotion had roused admiration. A slow, yet definite reaction was setting in. A few older friends who had listened to Boris gathered around her sickbed. Something ought to be done to awaken the minds of people as to what really was being done in the secret reunions of the Sarmananda group. Boris should be there to confront the Hindu and expose him.
A few rebelled.
Rania was very ill.
But she saw her duty. Was she not of the race of warriors? Must not the warrior fight to his last drop of blood? It was not enough to carry a standard and not be shaken. There came times when action, quick and strong, was necessary. Boris was away, fighting the battle where his destiny had led him. But she was in Carmel. She heard the call. She would rise. She would fight, as her mother had fought the wolves to save her. She would fight unto death . . . to save the few child-souls strong enough to cling to the tree of salvation which she would have grown for them out of the roots of her own being now fulfilled in crucifixion, as once she had thought it fulfilled in human passion.
Rania was very ill.
But Soul knows no illness.
She flung an open challenge to Sarmananda. There should be a series of debates between him and her on all the main tenets of his doctrines. She threw at him precise, definite accusations — charges of demoralization, of fallacious interpretation of true teachings. Newspapers printed them. A huge scandal smells good to the press. Sarmananda hesitated. His pupils wanted him to show Rania up. Why, she could not stand the confrontation with his powerful mind! It would be the end of this silly Khsantianoff family affair which had been such nonsense in Carmel. Sarmananda feared arguments. Like most autocrats he was really afraid of any real show of power. He was clairvoyant enough to sense Rania's soul strength. He accepted the challenge in a sarcastic answer. All the while he was bending all his occult knowledge and using his group in order to attack in psychic-astral ways the woman who dared brave him.
But Soul has power.
Rania resisted, strong in faith and purity.
She was burned night and day by mysterious fires she could sense darting toward her like red iron arrows, sizzling into her flesh of soul. The torment of it was unbelievable. For hours she remained in meditation, linking herself spiritually, almost tangibly, with Boris and with the Great Ones who stand behind any clear fight for truth and love. She forged between herself and them a chain of light along which strength and power flowed that toned up her breaking body. With an intensity of mental concentration which verged on ecstasy, she held the thought and the image of the light whose rays they are, as a burning glow. She knew that they watched. Was she not but a consecrated servant, a common soldier in their army?
She was strong with the power they are.
And the battle began on the plane of men.
Face to face they stood. A huge massive man in yellow tunic — a drawn-out, emaciated woman leaning on crutches. She began to speak. First in tired, low tones. But as he started to answer, something happened that upstrained her in heroic transfiguration. Some Presence had come that had flowed through her. She was it; yet not altogether it. She heard words her lips sounded forth with a power that made her body tremble, like a pipe under the onrush of high-pressured steam. She thought of Boris. Yet, it came from beyond Boris. Oh, it was the three of them as unity, the three dynamized by the fourth, the one Power of which, as a threefold seed, they were the earthly vehicle. The realization of it, of the significance of it, the glory and destiny of it, burned her, enraptured her.
The battle was raging on the plane of men.
Sarmananda gave inadequate answers. Visibly he got himself entangled in arguments which had no meaning. To the precise, direct questions of Rania he answered evasively, then sarcastically, then violently. At last he flew into a rage. The huge frame tore up and down the stage foaming hatred at the pale woman who seemed transfigured into some ecstatic countenance. It became so ugly, so painful, that a few people in the compact audience left, openly protesting. The chairman of the debate, an impartial scientist of renown who lived near Carmel, brought the meeting to a close, with ironic words aimed at the Hindu's behavior.
And now a prostrated body lies on a couch in the little camp cabin while the heavy fog rolls in from the sea.
Rania, the woman, is broken and dying. The standard has been kept, the destiny well-fulfilled. What matters a body which no longer can breathe?
The body coughs and sweats in awesome agony. The life tide is receding. Soon it will have left entirely a frame of earth substances shattered by too much light.
It is life that kills from being too rich, from flowing so strongly into destiny that limits are melted into boundlessness.
But the darkness that falls is heavy with tortures. The powers of hate can do their task well, now that the soul is alone, her mission fulfilled.
They tear through the dark of the world beyond. Like ferocious wolves they rush on and foam to rend the exhausted soul that was named Rania.
"The wolves! The wolves!" She shrieks, the dying one. Strong and fierce she stands against a tree to lash the beasts that growl death at her face.
They grab her legs. They leap at her throat. The heroic hands that had worked well collapse. A heart that was love faints and all is dark.
Still, the tree has grown out of roots of will. The tree strains its huge branches to stars that yet glimmer through the fog.
The tree is strong, strong, as strong as was Rania — strong to bear children that will be saved at dawn when light rises.
"Be strong! Be strong, my children. Be strong" The words have rung out of dying lips. The words have power.
"Oh, be strong! be strong! . . . my children."