I broke the journey at Rome. All through northern Italy we had been held up by bandits of Fascisti, who had occupied the railway stations. It was the day of the coup d'état. For sometime I had interested myself in Fascismo which I regarded with entire sympathy even excluding its illegitimacy on the ground that constitutional authority had become to all intents and purposes a dead letter. I was delighted with the common sense of its programme and was especially pleased by its attitude towards the Church. It was proposed to use forcible means to prevent the Vatican employing the influence of the priests to attain political ends. I was also convinced of the importance of the movement and of its almost immediate success. I did my utmost to persuade Austin Harrison of the soundness of my judgment. He pooh-poohed the whole thing and only after interminable argument did I persuade him to let me write an article on the situation. He ultimately agreed, and I hunted all round London for a representative of Fascismo from whom I could obtain documentary material for my article.
(The sequel is characteristic of Austin Harrison. He printed an article written not by me but by one of the men I had discovered, and he never paid me a penny for my work, which had kept me busy most of the time for a week.)
The Fascisti patrolling the railway were delightful. They had all the picturesqueness of opera brigands. They were armed with a most miscellaneous assortment of weapons. They had the irregular discipline of banditti, which of course they, in fact, were.
My English friends had anticipated the success of the movement to follow naturally upon the forthcoming election. Mussolini would not accept power, they told me, even if it were offered. He had too much sense. I was consequently amazed to hear of the coup d'état. Rome was wild with enthusiasm. The Fascisti swarmed all over the city. I thought their behaviour admirable. They policed the towns and suppressed any attempted breach of the peace with the utmost efficiency; but for all that my first doubts disturbed my pleasure in the victory. I thought Mussolini was acting rashly in overthrowing the constitutions. Not only was a reaction certain to follow, as always when success is not the final flowering of regular growth, but I foresaw that Mussolini would be obliged to play politics just as fatally as his predecessors in order to survive the first few crises of his government.
My apprehension has proved only too true. Almost at once, he had to
sell his soul to the Vatican in whom a real statesman would have recognized his most dangerous foe. Like the devil, Rome takes care that its part, however fair it seems on the surface, really involves the giving of nothing and the again of all. During the winter I heard nothing from the outer world, but when I went to Naples in April I found that my worst anticipations had been exceeded. The price of power had proved exorbitant. Mussolini was bankrupt. He had been compelled to purchase papal support by attempting to re-establish the darkest hour of the Dark Ages. Superstition and priestcraft were the real masters. It could not endure. A country cannot wipe out the evolution of a thousand years without becoming an opérabouffe absurdity. I began immediately to write epigrams against Mussolini, and every fresh act of farcical folly and blustering braggadocio furnished me with fresh facts for the fires of my wrath. My own personal experience of this farcical despotism, though characteristically ridiculous, did not increase my indignation or contempt. There was no lack of much better material.
I spent three days in Rome, observing the course of events. Everything passed off quietly, so I wandered on to Cefalu. My troubles began almost at once owing to the three men I had trusted breaking their word a above narrated. In all other ways, things were in fine shape. I settled down to dictate these memoirs with my usual energy. The Ape and Jane took turns to take down my story and to type it out. On November 26th further help arrived. With great kindness Robinson Smith had lent Raoul enough money to take the journey. Both he and Betty were still suffering from the remains of septic sore throats and general cachexy, but within a month they both recovered their health.
At first Betty moped. She craved the excitement of being mauled about in boozing dens by tipsy vagabonds. But the clean living and atmosphere of love and happiness gradually weaned her from this artificial appetite. She became a gay and careless child finding pleasure in every detail of everyday life. She went about singing. On increasingly rare occasions she would suddenly relapse into her old self and feel wretched for a few hours. I expected this, of course, and watched for the first symptoms. It was easy enough to comfort her. Unfortunately, she was not a wholly sane individual. The lesion in her brain gave rise to symptoms difficult to control. The complete disassociation of her consciousness may be illustrated by such incidents as the following.
One of her fixed ideas was that she was a miracle of modesty. She used to confide in one or another of us that she had never allowed anyone, not even her husband, to see her naked. This seemed strange in view of her career as a model, and one day she brought out a fat package of photographs of herself in the nude. But this was in no sense a confession that she had been
telling us lies. She maintained quite sincerely with the photographs under her eyes that no one had ever seen her naked. This incident is typical of her. Almost in the same breath, she would say that she had never known happiness till she came to the abbey, and that she had been uniformly wretched since her arrival. She would boast of her superiority to sex, and continue by complaining that her husband absorbed in his work was starving her. She would proceed to claim great credit for being faithful to him, but we found out that she was carrying on any number of intrigues with the young bloods of Cefalu.
Raoul, on his part, amply justified my faith in his future. A few weeks' work enabled him to fill the gaps in his knowledge of Magick and to unify its elements. He showed an understanding of the subject which was almost enough to satisfy the requirements of the Grade 8° = 3ø. I admitted him as a probationer in the Order on the day of the solstice, and he took the name A V D. I advised him to repress any ambitions to pass quickly to higher Grades and to concentrate on thoroughness. With admirable good sense, he agreed. As evidence of his amazing genius for Magick, let me mention that I showed him a thesis which had been sent me by a member of the Order in support of his application for admission to the Grade 7° = 4ø, the highest of the Second Order, implying complete knowledge of all matters magical, and command of all powers. Frater A V D wrote a criticism of this thesis to which I could find no error of any kind. There are not alive a dozen men today who could do as well.
In practical Magick, he showed promise of the same order, though, of course, not having previously attempted any work of the kind, he had much to learn. Nevertheless, he progressed with astonishing rapidity. Within a fortnight, he was able to perform the Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram sufficiently well to produce unmistakable modulations of the Astral Light. He acquired the faculty of visions in astonishing perfection from the very first. The usual preliminary practice on unimportant explorations was unnecessary. In January I gave him a talisman symbolizing the alchemical mystery of V.I.T.R.I.O.L He travelled straight through to the corresponding plane of the Astral, and entered into relation at once with an intelligence who gave his name Neral, who demonstrated his authenticity and authority in the approved manner by means of letters and numbers, but also by straightforward statements which had no meaning for Raoul but which I recognized as correct expositions.