"You are seeking for truth in order to follow its laws in your life, therefore you seek wisdom and virtue. Is that not so?" said the Rhetor, after a moment's pause.
"Yes, yes," assented Pierre.
The Rhetor cleared his throat, crossed his gloved hands on his breast, and began to speak.
"Now I must disclose to you the chief aim of our Order," he said,"and if this aim coincides with yours, you may enter our Brotherhood with profit. The first and chief object of our Order, the foundation on which it rests and which no human power can destroy, is the preservation and handing on to posterity of a certain important mystery . . . which has come down to us from the remotest ages, even from the first man — a mystery on which perhaps the fate of mankind depends. But since this mystery is of such a nature that nobody can know or use it unless he be prepared by long and diligent self-purification, not everyone can hope to attain it quickly. Hence we have a secondary aim, that of preparing our members as much as possible to reform their hearts, to purify and enlighten their minds, by means handed on to us by tradition from those who have striven to attain this mystery, and thereby to render them capable of receiving it.
"By purifying and regenerating our members we try, thirdly, to improve the whole human race, offering it in our members an example of piety and virtue, and thereby try with all our might to combat the evil which sways the world. Think this over and I will come to you again."
"To combat the evil which sways the world . . ." Pierre repeated, and a mental image of his future activity in this direction rose in his mind. He imagined men such as he had himself been a fortnight ago, and he addressed an edifying exhortation to them. He imagined to himself vicious and unfortunate people whom he would assist by word and deed, imagined oppressors whose victims he would rescue. Of the three objects mentioned by the Rhetor, this last, that of improving mankind, especially appealed to Pierre. The important mystery mentioned by the Rhetor, though it aroused his curiosity, did not seem to him essential, and the second aim, that of purifying and regenerating himself, did not much interest him because at that moment he felt with delight that he was already perfectly cured of his former faults and was ready for all that was good.
Half an hour later, the Rhetor returned to inform the seeker of the seven virtues, corresponding to the seven steps of Solomon's temple, which every Freemason should cultivate in himself. These virtues were: 1. Discretion, the keeping of the secrets of the Order. 2. Obedience to those of higher ranks in the Order. 3. Morality. 4. Love of mankind. 5. Courage. 6. Generosity. 7. The love of death.
"In the seventh place, try, by the frequent thought of death," the Rhetor said,"to bring yourself to regard it not as a dreaded foe, but as a friend that frees the soul grown weary in the labors of virtue from this distressful life, and leads it to its place of recompense and peace."
"Yes, that must be so," thought Pierre, when after these words the Rhetor went away, leaving him to solitary meditation."It must be so, but I am still so weak that I love my life, the meaning of which is only now gradually opening before me." But five of the other virtues which Pierre recalled, counting them on his fingers, he felt already in his soul: courage, generosity, morality, love of mankind, and especially obedience — which did not even seem to him a virtue, but a joy. (He now felt so glad to be free from his own lawlessness and to submit his will to those who knew the indubitable truth.) He forgot what the seventh virtue was and could not recall it.
The third time the Rhetor came back more quickly and asked Pierre whether he was still firm in his intention and determined to submit to all that would be required of him.
"I am ready for everything," said Pierre.
"I must also inform you," said the Rhetor,"that our Order delivers its teaching not in words only but also by other means, which may perhaps have a stronger effect on the sincere seeker after wisdom and virtue than mere words. This chamber with what you see therein should already have suggested to your heart, if it is sincere, more than words could do. You will perhaps also see in your further initiation a like method of enlightenment. Our Order imitates the ancient societies that explained their teaching by hieroglyphics. A hieroglyph," said the Rhetor,"is an emblem of something not cognizable by the senses but which possesses qualities resembling those of the symbol."
Pierre knew very well what a hieroglyph was, but dared not speak. He listened to the Rhetor in silence, feeling from all he said that his ordeal was about to begin.
"If you are resolved, I must begin your initiation," said the Rhetor coming closer to Pierre."In token of generosity I ask you to give me all your valuables."
"But I have nothing here," replied Pierre, supposing that he was asked to give up all he possessed.
"What you have with you: watch, money, rings . . . ."
Pierre quickly took out his purse and watch, but could not manage for some time to get the wedding ring off his fat finger. When that had been done, the Rhetor said:
"In token of obedience, I ask you to undress."
Pierre took off his coat, waistcoat, and left boot according to the Rhetor's instructions. The Mason drew the shirt back from Pierre's left breast, and stooping down pulled up the left leg of his trousers to above the knee. Pierre hurriedly began taking off his right boot also and was going to tuck up the other trouser leg to save this stranger the trouble, but the Mason told him that was not necessary and gave him a slipper for his left foot. With a childlike smile of embarrassment, doubt, and self-derision, which appeared on his face against his will, Pierre stood with his arms hanging down and legs apart, before his brother Rhetor, and awaited his further commands.
"And now, in token of candor, I ask you to reveal to me your chief passion," said the latter.
"My passion! I have had so many," replied Pierre.
"That passion which more than all others caused you to waver on the path of virtue," said the Mason.
Pierre paused, seeking a reply.
"Wine? Gluttony? Idleness? Laziness? Irritability? Anger? Women?" He went over his vices in his mind, not knowing to which of them to give the pre-eminence.
"Women," he said in a low, scarcely audible voice.
The Mason did not move and for a long time said nothing after this answer. At last he moved up to Pierre and, taking the kerchief that lay on the table, again bound his eyes.
"For the last time I say to you — turn all your attention upon yourself, put a bridle on your senses, and seek blessedness, not in passion but in your own heart. The source of blessedness is not without us but within . . . ."
Pierre had already long been feeling in himself that refreshing source of blessedness which now flooded his heart with glad emotion.