"May he travel to-night?" asked the Cardinal.
"The sooner the better," said the doctor, rising.
"What is the matter with me?" asked the invalid hoarsely.
"It is a small mental explosion, but it has not affected the mechanism of the brain. There is not, as I have said, a trace of insanity or of loss of balance. I cannot promise that the injury will be repaired; but defects that may follow from this can easily be remedied by study. It simply depends upon yourself, Monsignor, as to in how long you can be at your post again here. As soon as you have learned the threads of business, you will be able to apply yourself as before. I shall look for a report in a fortnight's time at the latest. Good day, your Eminence."
The clocks of London were all striking the single stroke of midnight as the two priests stood on the wind-sheltered platform of the volor, waiting for the start.
To Monsignor Masterman the scene was simply overwhelming. There was hardly a detail that was not new and unfamiliar. From where he stood on the upper deck, grasping the rail before him, his eyes looked out over a luminous city as lovely as fairyland. There were no chimneys, of course (these, he had just learnt, had altogether disappeared more than fifty years ago), but spires and towers and pinnacles rose before him like a dream, glowing against the dark sky, lit by the soft radiance of the streets beneath. To the right, not a hundred yards away, rose Saint Edward's tower, mellowed now to clear orange by the lapse of three-quarters of a century; to the left a flight of buildings, of an architectural design which he did not understand, but which gave him a sense of extreme satisfaction; in front towered the masses of Buckingham Palace as he seemed always to have known it.
The platform of the flying ship on which he stood hung in dock at least three hundred feet high above the roads beneath. He had examined the whole vessel just now from stem to stern, and had found it vaguely familiar; he determined to examine it again presently. There was no gas-bag to sustain it—so much he had noticed—though he could not say whence he had the idea that gas-bags were usual. But it seemed to him as if the notion of airships did carry some faint association to his mind, although far less distinct than that of motor-cars and even trains. He had enquired of his companion an hour or two earlier as they had discussed their journey as to whether they would not go by train and steamer, and had received the answer that these were never used except for very short journeys.
Here, then, he stood and stared.
It was very quiet up here; but he listened with considerable curiosity to the strange humming sound that filled the air, rising and falling, as of a beehive. At first he thought it was the working of engines in the ship; but he presently perceived it to be the noise of the streets rising from below; and it was then that he saw for the first time that foot-passengers were almost entirely absent, and that practically the whole roadway, so far as he could make out from the high elevation at which he stood, was occupied by cars of all descriptions going this way and that. They sounded soft horns as they went, but they bore no lights, for the streets were as light as day with a radiance that seemed to fall from beneath the eaves of all the buildings that lined them. This effect of lighting had a curious result of making the city look as if it were seen through glass or water—a beautifully finished, clean picture, moving within itself like some precise and elaborate mechanism.
He turned round at a touch on his arm.
"You would like to see the start, perhaps," said the old priest. "We are a little late to-night. The country mails have only just arrived. But we shall be off directly now. Come this way."
The upper deck, as the two turned inwards, presented an extremely pleasant and reassuring picture. From stem to stern it ran clear, set out, however, with groups of tables and chairs clamped to the floor, at which sat a dozen parties or so, settling themselves down comfortably. There were no funnels, no bridge, no break at all to the delightful vista. The whole was lighted by the same device as were the streets, for round the upper edges of the transparent walls that held out the wind shone a steady, even glow from invisible lights.
In the very centre of the deck, however, was a low railing that protected the head of a staircase, and down this well the two looked.
"Shall I explain?" asked the old priest, smiling. "This is the latest model, you know. It has not been in use for more than a few months."
The other nodded.
"Tell me everything, please."
"Well, look right down there, below the second flight. The first flight leads to the second-class deck, and the flight below to the working parts of the ship. Now do you see that man's head, straight in the middle, in the bright light?—yes, immediately under. Well, that's the first engineer. He's in a glass compartment, you see, and can look down passages in every direction. The gas arrangements are all in front of him, and the——"
"Stop, please. What power is it that drives the ship? Is it lighter than air, or what?"
"Well, you see the entire framework of the ship is hollow. Every single thing you see—even the chairs and tables—they're all made of the metal aerolite (as it's generally called). It's almost as thin as paper, and it's far stronger than any steel. Now it's the framework of the ship that takes the place of the old balloon. It's infinitely safer, too, for it's divided by automatically closing stops into tens of thousands of compartments, so a leak here and there makes practically no difference. Well, when the ship's at rest, as it is now, there's simply air in all these tubes; but when it's going to start, there is forced into these tubes, from the magazine below, the most volatile gas that has been discovered——"
"What's it called?"
"I forget the real name. It's generally called aeroline. Well, this is forced in, until the specific gravity of the whole affair, passengers and all, is as nearly as possible the same as the specific gravity of the air."
"I see. Good Lord, how simple!"
"And the rest is done with planes and screws, driven by electricity. The tail of the boat is a recent development. (You'll see it when we're once started.) It's exactly like the tail of a bird, and contracts and expands in every direction. Then besides that there are two wings, one on each side, and these can be used, if necessary, in case the screws go wrong, as propellers. But usually they are simply for balancing and gliding. You see, barring collisions, there's hardly the possibility of an accident. If one set of things fails, there's always something else to take its place. At the very worst, we can but be blown about a bit."
"But it's exactly like a bird, then."
"Of course, Monsignor," said the priest, with twinkling eyes, "it isn't likely that we could improve upon Almighty God's design. We're very simple, you know. . . . Look, he's signalling. We're going to start. Come to the prow. We shall see better from there."
The upper deck ended in a railing, below which protruded, from the level of the lower deck, the prow proper of the boat. Upon this prow, in a small compartment of which the roof, as well as the walls, was of hardened glass, stood the steersman amid his wheels. But the wheels were unlike anything that the bewildered man who looked down had ever dreamed of. First, they were not more than six inches in diameter; and next, they were arranged, like notes on a keyboard, with their edges towards him, with the whole set curved round him in a semicircle.
"Those to right and left," explained the priest, "control the planes on either side; those in front, on the left, control the engines and the gas supply; and on the right, the tail of the boat. Watch him, and you'll see. We're just starting."
As he spoke three bells sounded from below, followed, after a pause, by a fourth. The steersman straightened himself as the first rang out and glanced round him; and upon the fourth, bent himself suddenly over the key board, like a musician addressing himself to a piano.
For the first instant Monsignor was conscious of a slight swaying motion, which resolved itself presently into a faint sensation of constriction on his temples, but no more. Then this passed, and as he glanced away again from the steersman, who was erect once more, his look happened to fall over the edge of the boat. He grasped his friend convulsively.
"Look," he said, "what's happened?"
"Yes, we're off," said the priest sedately.
Beneath them, on either side, there now stretched itself an almost illimitable and amazingly beautiful bird's-eye view of a lighted city, separated from them by what seemed an immeasurable gulf. From the enormous height up to which they had soared the city looked like a complicated flat map, of which the patches were dark and the dividing lines rivers of soft fire. This stretched practically to the horizon on all sides; the light toned down at the edges into a misty luminosity, but as the bewildered watcher stared in front of him, he saw how directly in their course there slid toward them two great patches of dark, divided by a luminous stream in the middle.
"What is it? What is it?" he stammered.
The priest seemed not to notice his agitation; he just passed his hand quietly into the trembling man's elbow.
"Yes," he said, "there are houses all the way to Brighton now, of course, and we go straight down the track. We shall take in passengers at Brighton, I think."
There was a step behind them.
"Good evening, Monsignor," said a voice. "It's a lovely night."
The prelate turned round, covered with confusion, and saw a man in uniform saluting him deferentially.
"Ah! captain," slipped in the priest. "So we're crossing with you, are we?"
"That's it, father. The Michael line's running this week."
"It's a wonderful thing to me——" began Monsignor, but a sharp pressure on his arm checked him—"how you keep the whole organization going," he ended lamely.
The captain smiled.
"It's pretty straightforward," he said. "The Michael line runs the first week of every month; the Gabriel the second, and so on."
"Yes," put in Father Jervis. "Whose idea was it to dedicate the lines to the archangels? I forget."
"Ah! that's ancient history to me, father. . . . Excuse me, Monsignor; I think I hear my bell." he wheeled, saluting again, and was off.
"Do you mean—-?" began Monsignor.
"Of course," said Father Jervis, "everything runs on those lines now. You see we're matter-of-fact, and it's really rather obvious, when you think of it, to dedicate the volor lines to the angels. We've been becoming more and more obvious for the last fifty years. . . . By the way, Monsignor, you must take care not to give yourself away. You'd better not ask many questions except of me."
Monsignor changed the subject.
"When shall we get to Paris?" he asked.
"We shall be a little late, I think, unless they make up time. We're due at three. I hope there won't be any delay at Brighton. Sometimes on windy nights——"
"I suppose the descending and the starting again takes some time."
The priest laughed.
"We don't descend at places en route," he said. "The tender comes up to us. It'll probably be in its place by now. We aren't ten minutes away."
The other compressed his lips and was silent.
Presently, far away to the southward beneath the soft starlit sky, the luminous road down which they travelled seemed to expand once more almost abruptly into another vast spread of lights. But as they approached this did not extend any farther, but lay cut off sharp by a long, curving line of almost complete darkness.
"Brighton . . . the sea . . . And there's the tender waiting."
At first the prelate could not make it out against the radiance below, but an instant later, as they rushed on, it loomed up, sudden and enormous, itself blazing with lights against the dark sea. It looked to him something like a floating stage, outlined with fire; and there were glimmering, perpendicular lines beneath it which he could not understand, running down to lose themselves in the misty glow three hundred feet beneath.
"How's it done?" he asked.
"It's a platform, charged of course with aeroline. It runs on lines straight up from the stage beneath, and keeps itself steady with screws. You'll see it go down after we've left again. Come to the stern, we shall see better from there."
By the time that they had reached the other end of the ship, the pace had rapidly diminished almost to motionlessness; and as soon as Monsignor could attend again, he perceived that there was sliding at a footpace past their starboard side the edge of the huge platform that he had seen just now half a mile away. For a moment or two it swayed up and down; there was a slight vibration; and then he heard voices and the trampling of footsteps.
"The bridges are fixed," remarked the priest. "They're on the lower deck, of course. Pretty prompt, aren't they?"
The prelate stood, staring with all his eyes; now at the motionless platform that hung alongside, now at the gulf below with the fairy lights strewed like stars and nebulae at its bottom. It seemed impossible to realize that this station in the air was not the normal level, and the earth not a strange foreign body that attended on it. There came up on deck presently a dozen figures or so, carrying wraps, and talking. It was amazing to him that they could behave with such composure. Two were even quarrelling in subdued voices. . . .
It was hardly five minutes before the three bells rang again; and before the fourth sounded, suddenly he saw drop beneath, like a stone into a pit, the huge immovable platform that just now he had conceived of as solid as the earth from which it had risen. Down and down it went, swaying ever so slightly from side to side, diminishing as it went; but before the motion had ceased the fourth bell rang, and he clutched the rail to steady himself as the ship he was on soared again with a strange intoxicating motion. The next instant, as he glanced over the edge, he saw that they were far out over the blackness of the sea.
"I think we might go below for a bit," said the priest in his ear.
There was no kind of difficulty in descending the stairs; there was practically no oscillation of any kind in this still and windless summer night, and the two came down easily and looked round the lower deck.
This was far more crowded with figures: there were padded seats fully occupied running round all the sides, beneath the enormous continuous windows. In the centre, sternwards, ran a narrow refreshment bar, where a score of men were standing to refresh themselves. Forward of the farther stairs (down the well of which they had seen the engineer's head), by which they were standing, the deck was closed in, as with cabins.
"Like to see the oratory?" asked Father Jervis.
"Oratory. The long-journey boats, that have chaplains, carry the Blessed Sacrament, of course; but there is only a little oratory on these continental lines."
Monsignor followed him, unable to speak, up the central passage running forwards; through a pair of heavy curtains; and there, to his amazed eyes, appeared a small altar, a hanging lamp, and an image of St. Michael.
"But it's astounding!" whispered the prelate, watching a man and a woman at their prayers.
"It's common sense, isn't it?" smiled the priest. "Why, the custom began a hundred years ago."
"Indeed it did! I learnt it from one of the little guide-books they give one on these boats. A company called the Great Western had mosaic pictures of the patron saint of each boat in the saloon. And their locomotives, too, were called after saints' names. It's only plain common sense, if you come to think of it."
"Are lines like this—and railways, and so on—owned by the State now? I suppose so."
The other shook his head.
"That was tried under Socialism," he said. "It was one of their smaller failures. You see, when competition ceases, effort ceases. Human nature is human nature, after all. The Socialists forgot that. No; we encourage private enterprise as much as possible, under State restrictions."
They paused as they came out again.
"Care to lie down for a bit? We shan't be in till three. The Cardinal engaged a room for us."
He indicated a small cabin that bore his own name on a card.
"Yes, I will, I think. I've a lot to think about."
But he could not sleep. The priest promised to awaken him in plenty of time, and he slipped off his buckled shoes and tried to compose his mind. But it was useless. His mind whirled with wonder.
Once he slipped to a sitting position, drew back the little curtain over the porthole, and stared out. There was little to be seen; but by the sight of a lake of soft light that slid past at some incalculable depth a dozen miles away, he perceived that they had left the sea far behind and were spinning over the land of France. He looked out long, revolving thoughts and conjectures, striving to find some glimmer of memory by which he might adjust these new experiences; but there was none. He was like a child, with the brain of a man, plunged into a new mode of existence, where everything seemed reversed, and yet astonishingly obvious; it was the very simplicity that baffled him. The Christian religion was true down (or up) even to the Archangels that stand before God and control the powers of the air. The priesthood was the priesthood; the Blessed Sacrament was the God-Man tabernacling with men. Then where was the cause for amazement that the world recognized these facts and acted upon them; that men should salute the priest of God as His representative and agent on earth; that air-ships (themselves constructed on the model of the sea-gull—hollow feathers and all) should carry the Blessed Sacrament on long journeys, that communicants might not be deprived of their Daily Bread, and even raise altars on board to the honour of those Powers under whose protection they placed themselves. It was curious, too, he reflected, that those who insist most upon the claims of Divinity insist also upon the claims of humanity. It seemed suggestive that it was the Catholics who were most aware of the competitive passions of men and reckoned with them, while the Socialists ignored them and failed.
So he sat—this poor man bewildered by simplicity and almost shocked by the obvious—listening with unheeding ears to the steady rush of air past the ship, voices talking naturally and easily, heard through the roof above his head, an occasional footstep, and once or twice a bell as the steersman communicated some message to one of his subordinates. Here he sat—John Masterman, Domestic Prelate to His Holiness Gregory XIX, Secretary to His Eminence Gabriel Cardinal Bellairs, and priest of the Holy Roman Church, trying to assimilate the fact that he was on an air-ship, bound to the court of the Catholic French King, and that practically the whole civilized world believed and acted on the belief which he, as a priest, naturally also held and was accustomed to teach.
A tap on his door roused him at last.
"It's time to be moving, Monsignor," said Father Jervis through the half-open door. "We're in communication with St. Germains."
"Tell me a little about the costumes," said Monsignor, as the two set out on foot from their lodgings in Versailles after breakfast next morning, to present their letters of introduction. "They seem to me rather fantastic, somehow."
Their lodgings were situated in one of the great palaces on the vast road that runs straight from the gates of the royal palace itself into Paris. They had come straight on by car from St. Germains, had been received with immense respect by the proprietor, who, it appeared, had received very particular instructions from the English Cardinal; and had been conducted straight upstairs to a little suite of rooms, decorated in eighteenth-century fashion, and consisting of a couple of bedrooms for themselves, opening to a central sitting-room and oratory; the two men-servants they had brought with them were lodged immediately across the landing outside.
"Fantastic?" asked Father Jervis, smiling. "Don't you think they're attractive?"
"Oh yes; but——"
"Remember human nature, Monsignor. After all, it was only intense self-importance that used to make men say that they were independent of exterior beauty. It's far more natural and simple to like beauty. Every child does, after all."
"Yes, yes; I see that, I suppose. But I didn't mean only that. I was on the point of asking you yesterday, again and again, but something marvellous distracted me each time," said the prelate, smiling. "They're extraordinarily picturesque, of course; but I can't help thinking that they must all mean something."
"Of course they do. And I never can imagine how people ever got on without the system. Why, even less than a hundred years ago, I understand that every one dressed, or tried to dress alike. How in the world could they tell who they were talking to?"
"I . . . I expect that was deliberate," faltered the other. "You see, I think people used to be ashamed of their trades sometimes, and wanted to be thought gentlemen."
Father Jervis shrugged his shoulders.
"Well, I don't understand it," he said. "If a man was ashamed of his trade, why did he follow it?"
"I've been thinking," said Monsignor animatedly, "that perhaps it's the new teaching on Vocation that has made the difference. Once a man understands that his Vocation is the most honourable thing he can do, I suppose——There! who's that man," he interrupted suddenly, "in blue with the badge?"
A tremendous figure was crossing the road just in front of them. He wore a short, full blue cloak, with a silver badge on the left breast, a tight-fitting cap of the same colour repeating the same badge, and from beneath his cloak in front hung a tunic, with enormous legs in tight blue hose and shoes moving underneath.
"Ah! that's a great man," said the priest. "He's a Butcher, of course——"
"Yes; that's obvious—it's the blue, for one thing, and the cut, for another. Wait an instant. I shall see his badge directly."
As the great man came past them he saluted deferentially. The priests bowed with equal deference, lifting their hands to their broad-leaved hats.
"Yes: he's very high up," said the priest quietly. "A member of the Council of the National Guild, at least."
"Do you mean that man kills oxen?"
"Not now, of course; he's worked his way up. He probably represents the Guild in the Assembly."
"Do all the trades have guilds, and are they all represented in the Assembly?"
"Why, of course! How else could you be certain that the trade was treated fairly? If all the citizens voted as citizens, there'd simply be no fair representation at all. Look; there's a goldsmith—he has probably been to the King; that's a journeyman with him."
An open car sped past them. Two men were seated in it; both in clothes of some really beautiful metallic colour; but the cap of one was plain, while the cap of the other blazed with some device.
"And the women? I can't see any system among them."
"Ah! but there is, though it's harder to detect. They have much more liberty than the men; but, as a rule, each woman has a predominating colour, the colour of the head of her family, and all, of course, wear badges. There are sumptuary laws, I needn't say."
"I shouldn't have guessed it!"
"Well, not as regards price or material, certainly—only size. There are certain absolute limits on both sides; and fashions have to manage between the two. You see it's the same thing as in trades and professions, as I told you yesterday. We encourage the individual to be as individualistic as possible, and draw the limits very widely, beyond which he mustn't go. But those limits are imperative. We try to develop both extremes at once—liberty and law. We had enough of the via media—the mediocrity of the average—under Socialism."
"But do you mean to say that people submit to all this?"
"Submit! Why it's perfectly obvious to every one that it's simply human—besides being very convenient practically. Of course in Germany they still go in for what they call Liberty; and the result is simple chaos."
"Do you mean to say there's no envy or jealousy between the trades?"
"Not in the social sense, in the very least, though there's tremendous competition. Why, every one under Royalty has to be a member of some trade. Of course only those who practise the trade wear the full costume; but even the dukes have to wear the badges. It's perfectly simple, you know."
"Tell me an English duke who's a butcher,"
"Butcher? . . . I can't think of one this minute. Southminster's a baker, though."
Monsignor was silent. But it certainly seemed simple.
They were passing up now between the sentry-guarded gates of the enormous and exquisite palace of Versailles; and, beyond the great expanse of gravel on which they had just set foot, rose up the myriad windows, pinnacles, and walls where the Kings of France lived again as they had lived two hundred years before. Far up, against the tender summer sky, flapped the Royal Standard; and the lilies of France, once more on their blue ground, indicated that the King was in residence. Even as they looked, however, the banner seemed to waver a little; and simultaneously a sudden ringing sound from a shadowed portico a couple of hundred yards away brought Father Jervis to a sudden stop.
"We'd better step aside," he said. "We're right in the way."
"What's the matter?"
"Some one's coming out. . . . Look."
From out of the shadow into the full sunlight with a flash of silver lightning whirled a body of cuirassiers, wheeled into line, and came on, reforming as they came, at a canter.
A couple of heralds rode in front; and a long trumpet-cry pealed out, was caught, echoed, and thrown back by the crowding walls of the palace.
Behind, as Father Jervis drew him to one side, Monsignor caught a glimpse of white horses and a gleam of gold. He glanced hastily back at the gates through which they had just come, and, as if sprung out of the ground, there was the crowd standing respectfully on either side of the avenue to see its Sovereign. (It was up this avenue to Paris, Monsignor reflected, that the women had come on their appalling march to the Queen who ruled them then.)
As he glanced back again the heralds were upon them, and the thunder of hoofs followed close behind. But beyond the line of galloping guards, in the midst, drawn by white horses, ran the great gilded coach with glass windows, and the crown of France atop.
Two men were seated in the coach, bowing mechanically as they came—one a small, young, vivacious-looking man with a pointed dark beard; the other a heavy, fair-haired, sanguine-featured, clean-shaven man. Both alike were in robes in which red and gold predominated; and both wore broad feathered hats, shaped like a priest's.
Then the coach was gone through the tall gilded gates, and a cloud of dust, beaten up by the galloping hoofs on all sides, hid even the cuirassiers who closed the company. And as the two turned the banner sank on the tall pole.
"The King and the German Emperor," observed Father Jervis, replacing his hat. "Now there's the other side of the picture for you."
"I don't understand."
"Why, we treat our kings like kings," smiled the other. "And, at the same time, we encourage our butchers to be really butchers and to glory in it. Law and liberty, you see. Absolute discipline and the cultivation of individualism. No republican stew-pot, you see, in which everything tastes alike."
They had to wait a few minutes in an ante-room before presenting their letters, as the official was engaged, and Father Jervis occupied the time in running over again the names and histories of three or four important personages to whom they would perhaps have to speak. He had given an outline of these at breakfast.
There were three in particular about whom Monsignor must be informed.
First, the King; and Monsignor learned again thoroughly of the sensational reaction which, after the humiliation of France in the war of 1914—the logical result of a conflict between a republicanism worked out to mediocrity and a real and vivid monarchy—had placed this man's father—the undoubted legitimate heir—upon the throne. He had died only two years ago, when the Dauphin, who had ascended the throne, was just eighteen years old. The present King was not yet married, but there were rumours of a love-match with a Spanish princess. He was a boyish king, it seemed, but he played his royal part with intense enjoyment and dignity, and had restored, to the delight of this essentially romantic and imaginative people, most of the glories of the eighteenth-century court, without its scandals. Certainly France was returning to its old chivalry, and thence to its old power.
Next there was the Cardinal Archbishop of Paris, Cardinal Guinet, a very old ecclesiastic, very high in the counsels of the Church, who would almost certainly have been elected Pope at the last vacancy if it had not been for his age. He was an "intellectual," it seemed, and, among other things, was one of the first physicists of Europe. He had been ordained comparatively late in life.
Thirdly there was the Archbishop's secretary—Monsignor Allet—a rising man and an excellent diplomatist.
There were two or three more, but Father Jervis was content with scarcely more than recounting their names. The King's brother, and the heir-presumptive, was something of a recluse and seldom appeared at court. Of the German Emperor, Monsignor had already learned, it seemed, sufficient.
In the middle of these instructions, the door suddenly opened, and an ecclesiastic hurried in with outstretched hands, and apologies in a torrent of Latin.
("Monsignor Allet," whispered Father Jervis, as he appeared.)
Monsignor Masterman stood bewildered. The dilemma had not occurred to him; but Father Jervis, it seemed, was prepared. He said a rapid sentence to the secretary, who turned, bowing, and immediately began in English without the trace of any accent.
"I perfectly understand—perfectly indeed. These doctors rule us with a rod of iron, don't they? It'll be arranged directly. We all talk English here; and I'll say a word to His Eminence. The very same thing happened to himself a year or two back. He was forbidden to talk in French. It is astonishing, is it not? the subtlety of these doctors! And yet how natural. No two languages have the same mental reaction, after all. They're perfectly right."
Monsignor caught a glimmering of what he was at. But he thought he had better be cautious.
"I'm afraid I shall give a lot of trouble," he murmured, looking doubtfully at this sparkling-eyed, blue-chinned young man, who spoke with such rapidity.
"Not in the least, I assure you." He turned to the older priest. "The Cardinal left here only half an hour ago. How unfortunate! He came over to arrange the final details of the disputation. You've heard of that?"
"Not a word."
The young prelate beamed.
"Well, you'll hear the finest wit in France! It's for this afternoon." (His face fell.) "But it's Latin. Perhaps Monsignor ought not——"
"Ah! so long as he doesn't talk—-!" (Father Jervis turned to his friend.) "I was telling Monsignor here that the doctor ordered you to engage in no business that did not interest you; and that Latin was rather a strain to you just now——"
This seemed adroit enough. But Monsignor was determined to miss no new experience.
"It will simply delight me," he said. "And what is the subject?"
"Well," said the Frenchman, "it's for the benefit of the Emperor. Two of the Parisian theologians are disputing De Ecclesia. The thesis of the adversary, who opens, is that the Church is merely the representative of God on earth—a Society that must, of course, be obeyed; but that Infallibility is not necessary to her efficiency."
Father Jervis' eyes twinkled.
"Isn't that a little too pointed? Why, that's the Emperor's one difficulty! I understand that he allows, politically speaking, the need for the Church, but denies her divinity."
"I assure you," said the French priest solemnly, "that the thesis is his own selection. You see, he's sick of these Socialists. He understands perfectly that the one sanction of human authority must come from God, or from the people; and he's entirely on God's side! But he cannot see the infallibility, and therefore, as he's a sincere man—-!" he ended with an eloquent shrug.
"Well," said Father Jervis, "if the Cardinal's not here——"
"Alas! He is back in Paris by now. But give me your letters! I'll see that they are presented properly; and you shall receive a royal command for the disputation in plenty of time."
They handed over their letters; they exchanged compliments once more; they were escorted as far as the door of the room by the prelate, across the next ante-chamber by an imposing man in black velvet with a chain, across the third by a cuirassier, and across the hall to the bottom of the steps by two tremendous footmen in the ancient royal livery.
Monsignor was silent for a few yards.
"Aren't you afraid of an anti-clerical reaction?" he asked suddenly.
"How do you mean? I don't understand."
Then Monsignor launched out. He had accepted by now the theory that he had had a lapse of memory, and that so far as his intellect was concerned, he was practically a man of a century ago, owing to the history he had happened to be reading shortly before his collapse; and he talked therefore from that standpoint.
He produced, that is to say, with astonishing fluency all those arguments that were common in the mouths of the more serious anti-clericals of the beginning of the century—the increase of Religious Orders, the domineering tendency of all ecclesiastics in the enjoyment of temporal power, the impossibility of combating supernatural arguments, the hostility of the Church to education—down even to the celibacy of the clergy. He paused for breath as they turned out of the great gateway.
Father Jervis laughed aloud and patted him on the arm.
"My dear Monsignor, I can't compete with you. You're too eloquent. Of course, I remember from reading history that those things used to be said, and I suppose Socialists say them now. But, you know, no educated man ever dreams of such arguments; nor indeed do the uneducated! It's the half-educated, as usual, who's the enemy. He always is. The Wise Men and the shepherds both knelt in Bethlehem. It was the bourgeois who stood apart."
"That's no answer," persisted the other.
"Well, let's see," said the priest good-humouredly. "We'll begin with celibacy. Now it's perfectly true that it's thought almost a disgrace for a man not to have a large family. The average is certainly not less than ten in civilized nations. But for all that a priest is looked upon without any contempt at all. Why? Because he's a spiritual father; because he begets spiritual children to God, and feeds and nourishes them. Of course to an atheist this is nonsense; and even to an agnostic it's a very doubtful benefit. But, my dear Monsignor, you must remember that these hardly exist amongst us. The entire civilized world of to-day is as absolutely convinced of Heaven and Grace and the Church, and the havoc that Sin makes not only as regards the next world but in this—so absolutely convinced that he understands perfectly that a priest is far more productive of general good than a physical father possibly can be. It's the priest who keeps the whole thing going. Don't you see? And then, in a Catholic world, the instinct that the man who serves the altar should be without physical ties—well, that's simply natural."
"Go on. What about education?"
"My dear friend," said Father Jervis. "The Church controls the whole of education, as she did, in fact, up to the very time when the State first took it away from her and then abused her for neglecting it. Practically all the scientists; all the specialists in medicine, chemistry, and mental health; nine-tenths of the musicians; three-quarters of the artists—practically all those are Religious. It's only the active trades, which are incompatible with Religion, that are in the hands of the laity. It's been found by experience that no really fine work can be done except by those who are familiar with divine things; because it's only those who see things all round, who have, that is to say, a really comprehensive intuition. Take history. Unless you have a really close grasp of what Providence means—of not only the End, but the Means by which God works; unless you can see right through things to their Intention, how in the world can you interpret the past? Don't you remember what Manners said about Realism? We don't want misleading photographs of externals any more. We want Ideas. And how can you correlate Ideas, unless you have a real grasp of the Central Idea? It's nonsense."
"Go on with the other things."
"There's a lot more about education. There's the graduated education we have now (entirely an ecclesiastical notion, by the way). We don't try to teach everybody everything. We teach a certain foundation to every one—the Catechism, of course, two languages perfectly, the elements of physical science, and a great deal of history. (You can't understand the Catechism without history, and vice-versa); but after that we specialize. Well, the world understands now——"
"That's enough, thank you. Go on with the other things."
Father Jervis laughed again.
"We're nearly home. Let's turn in here, and get into the gardens for a bit. . . . Well, I think you'll find that the root of all your difficulties is that you seem not to be able to get into your head that the world is really and intelligently Christian. There are the Religious Orders you spoke of. Well, aren't the active Religious Orders the very finest form of association ever invented? Aren't they exactly what Socialists have always been crying for, with the blunders left out and the gaps filled in? As soon as the world understood finally that the active Religious Orders could beat all other forms of association at their own game—that they could teach and work more cheaply and effectively, and so on—well, the most foolish Political Economist had to confess that the Religious Orders made for the country's welfare. And as for the Contemplative Orders——"
Father Jervis' face grew grave and tender.
"Why, they're the princes of the world! They are models of the Crucified. So long as there is Sin in the world, so long must there be Penance. The instant Christianity was accepted, the Cross stood up dominant once more. . . . And then . . . then people understood. Why, they're the Holy Ones of the universe—higher than angels; for they suffer. . . ."
There was a moment's silence.
"Yes?" said Monsignor softly.
"My dear Monsignor, just force upon your mind the fact that the world is really and intelligently Christian. I think it'll all be plain then. You seem to me, if I may say so, to be falling into the old-fashioned way of looking at 'Clericalism,' as it used to be called, as a kind of department of life, like Art or Law. No wonder men resented its intrusion when they conceived of it like that. Well, there is no 'Clericalism' now, and therefore there is no anti-Clericalism. There's just religion—as a fact. Do you see? ... Shall we sit down for a few minutes? Aren't the gardens exquisite?"
Monsignor Masterman sat that night at his window, looking out at the stars and the night and the blotted glimmering gardens beneath; and it seemed to him as if the Dream deepened every day. Things grew more, not less marvellous, with his appreciation of the simplicity of it all.
From three to seven he had sat in one of the seats on the right of the royal dais, reserved for prelates, almost immediately opposite the double-pulpited platform, itself set in the midst of the long outer side of the great gallery of Versailles, through which access was to be had to the little old private rooms of Marie Antoinette, and had listened spell-bound to two of the greatest wits of France, respectively attacking and defending, with extraordinary subtlety and fire, the claim of the Church to Infallibility. The disputation had been conducted on scholastic lines, all verbal etiquette being carefully observed; again and again he had heard, first on one side a string of arguments adduced against the doctrine, then on the other a torrent of answers, with the old half-remembered words "Distinguo," "Nego," "Concedo"; and the reasoning on both sides had appeared to him astonishingly brilliant. And all this before two sovereigns: the one keen, vivacious, and appreciative; the other heavy, patient, considerate—two sovereigns, treated, as the elaborate etiquette of the whole affair showed plainly enough, as kings indeed—men who stood for authority, and the grades and the differentiation of functions, as emphatically as the old democratic hand-shaking statesmen, dressed like their own servants, stood for the other complementary principle of the equality of men. For alongside of all this tremendous pomp there was a very practical recognition of the "People"; since the whole disputation was conducted in the presence of a crowd drawn, it seemed, from almost every class, who pressed behind the barriers, murmured, laughed gleefully, and now and again broke out into low thunders of applause, as the Catholic champion drove logic home, or turned aside the infidel shaft.
The very thesis amazed the man, for the absolute necessity of an authoritative supra-national Church, with supernatural sanctions, seemed assumed as an axiom of thought, not merely by these Catholics, but by the entire world, Christian and un-Christian alike. More than once the phrase "It is conceded by all men" flashed out, and passed unrebuked, in support of this claim. The only point of dispute between reasoning beings seemed to be not as to whether or no the Church must be treated practically as infallible, but whether dogmatically and actually she were so!
As he sat here now at his window, Father Jervis' words began to come back with new force. Was it indeed true that the only reason why he found these things strange was that he could not yet quite bring home to his imagination the fact that the world now was convincedly Christian as a whole? It began to appear so.
For somewhere in the back of his mind (why, he knew not) there lurked a sort of only half-perceived assumption that the Catholic religion was but one aspect of truth—one point of view from which, with sufficient though not absolute truth, facts could be discerned. He could not understand this; yet there it was. And he understood, at any rate intellectually, that if he could once realize that the dogmas of the Church were the dogmas of the universe; and not only that, but that the world convincedly realized it too;—why then, the fact that the civilization of to-day was actually moulded upon it would no longer bewilder him.
It was on the following morning that he spoke with the King.
The two priests had said Mass in their oratory, and an hour later were walking in the park beneath the palace windows.
It was one more of that string of golden days, of which they had already enjoyed so many, and the splendour of that amazing landscape was complete.
They had passed below the enclosure known as the "King's Garden," and were going in the direction of the Trianon, which Monsignor had expressed a desire to see, and had just emerged into the immense central avenue which runs straight from the palace to the lake. Above them rose the forest trees, enormous now, yet tamed by Lenotre's marvellous art, resembling a regiment of giants perfectly drilled; the grass was like carpets on all sides; the sky blazed like a blue jewel overhead; the noise of singing birds and falling water was in the air. But above all there towered on their right, beyond the almost endless terraces, the splendid palace of the kings of France, royal at last once more. And there, as symbol of the Restoration, there hung round the flagstaff as he had seen it yesterday the blue folds and the lilies of the monarchy.
It was no good trying to frame words as to what he felt. He had said all he could, and it was useless. Father Jervis seemed unable to understand the fierce enthusiasm of a man who now experienced all this, as it appeared, for the first time. He walked silently—exulting.
There seemed not many people abroad this morning. The two had presented an order, obtained through Monsignor Allet, at the gates below the Orange Gardens, and had learned from the sentry that until the afternoon this part of the park was closed to the public. Here and there, however, in the distance a single figure made its appearance, walking in the shade or hurrying on some errand.
The priests had just come out from the line of trees and had set foot in the avenue itself, when, twenty yards farther up, from the entrance to some other path parallel to their own, a group came out, and an instant later they heard themselves hailed and saw Monsignor Allet himself, in all his purple, hurrying towards them.
"You are the very men," he cried, again stretching out his hands in a welcoming French gesture. "His Majesty was speaking of you not five minutes ago. He is here, in the garden. Shall I present you now?"
Father Jervis glanced at his friend.
"His Majesty is very kind——" he began.
"Not a word more! If you will follow me and wait an instant at the entrance, I will speak with His Majesty and bring you in."
"I have not my ferraiuola—-" began Monsignor.
"The King will excuse travellers," smiled the Frenchman.
The entrance to the "King's Garden" on this side passes beneath an arch of yew, and here the two waited.
Somewhere beyond the green walls they could hear talking, and now and again a burst of laughter. Then the talking ceased, and they heard a single voice.
"In what language——" began Monsignor Masterman nervously.
"Oh! English, no doubt. You can't talk French?"
Monsignor shook his head.
"Not a hundred words," he said.
Again came the quick footstep, and the French priest appeared, still gay, but with a certain solemnity. "Come this way, gentlemen," he said. "The King will see you." (He glanced at the prelate.) "You won't forget to kneel, Monsignor."
To the English prelate the scene that he saw, on emerging at last into the open space in the middle, protected by the ancient yews—even though he should have been prepared for it by all that he had already seen—simply once more dazed and stupefied him.
The centre of the space was occupied by a round pond, perhaps thirty yards across, of absolutely still water, and in this mirror, shaded by the masses of foliage overhead, was reflected a picture that might have been taken straight from some painting two hundred years old. For, on the semicircle of marble seats that stood beyond the water, sat a company of figures dressed once more in all the bravery of real colour and splendour, as from days when men were not ashamed to use publicly and commonly these glittering gifts of God.
Monsignor hardly noticed the rest (there were perhaps twelve or fifteen all told, with half a dozen women amongst them); he looked only, as he came round the pond, at the central figure that advanced to meet him. Twice he had seen him yesterday—yet those occasions had been public. But to see the King now, at ease amongst his friends, yet still royally dressed in his brilliant blue suit and feathered hat, with his tall cane—to see the whole company, gay and brilliant, talking and laughing, taking their pleasure in the air before breakfast—the whole thing somehow brought home to him the reality of what appeared to him as a change, more than had all the pomps and glories of the day before. Splendour no longer seemed ceremonial, but natural.
Monsignor Allet was explaining something in rapid French in the King's ear, and as the two came up, the face that listened smiled suddenly with intelligence.
"I give you welcome," he said in excellent English. "Come, gentlemen" (he turned to the others, who had risen to their feet as he rose), "we must be getting homewards. Monsignor!" (and he beckoned to the two English priests to walk with him.)
That walk seemed like a dream.
They went leisurely upwards towards the palace, through yew alley after yew alley, French chattering sounding behind them as they went; and the King, still in fluent English, though with an accent that increased as he talked, questioned them courteously as to England, spoke of the disputation of yesterday, discussed frankly enough the situation in Germany, and listened with attention to the remarks of Father Jervis; for Monsignor Masterman was discreetly silent for the most part.
It was not until the great doors of the palace flew open at last, and the rows of liveried men showed within, that the King dismissed them. He turned on the steps and gave them his hand to kiss. Then he raised them from their knees with a courteous gesture.
"And you go to Rome, you say?"
"Almost immediately, sire. We shall be there for SS. Peter and Paul."
"Present my homage at the feet of the Holy Father," smiled the King. "You are fortunate indeed. I have not seen His Holiness for three months. Good day—gentlemen."
The two passed again in silence down the terraces on their way to the Trianon.
"It is amazing," burst out Monsignor suddenly. "And the people. What of them? Is there no resentment?"
"Why should there be?" asked the other.
"But they are excluded from the palace and the park. It was not so a hundred years ago."
"Do you think they are any the less happy?" asked Father Jervis. "My dear Monsignor, surely you know human nature better than that! They have lost the vulgarity of Versailles, and they have regained its royalty. Don't you see that?"
"Well!"—Monsignor paused. "It's simply medievalism back again, it seems to me."
"Exactly!" said the other. "You have hit it at last. It is medievalism—that is to say, human nature with faith and reverence, and without cant."
He paused again, and his eyes twinkled.
"You know honours and privileges are worth nothing if every one has them. If we all wore crowns, the kings would go bareheaded."
He awoke suddenly, at some movement, and for an instant did not remember where he was.
For nearly a week they had stayed on at Versailles; and each day that had passed had done its share in making this fairyland seem more like a reality. But that strange subconscious self of his, for which even now there seemed no accounting, was still obstinate; it still assured him that the world ought not to be like this, that religion ought not to be so concrete and effective—that he would awake soon and find himself in some desolate state of affairs where Faith, hemmed in by enemies, still fought for very life against irresistible odds. It was at night and at morning that the mood came on him most forcibly; when instinct, free from facts, and ranging clear of the will's dominion, asserted itself most strongly, and as he awoke this night it was on him again.
He looked round the dark little room with bewildered eyes; then he fumbled with a button, and all was flooded with light.
He was lying in a little spring-bed, set within two padded sides, like a berth in a steamship. And beside him was the closed bureau which he perceived to be washing arrangements in disguise; overhead protruded a broad shelf; on the wall, above a little couch, hung silk curtains over a window; and, as they swayed slightly with some movement he caught sight of glass beyond. On the door, at the foot of his bed, hung his cassock, and the purple cincture that lay across it recalled him to at least a part of the facts. The cabin was upholstered and painted in clean white, and an electric globe emerged from the ceiling.
He was next conscious of cold, and instinctively leaned forward to draw the quilt farther over his knees. Then, with a flash, he remembered, and, in spite of the cold, was out of bed in a moment, kneeling on the couch and peering out through the curtains.
At first he could see nothing at all. There was but an unfathomable gulf beyond the glass. He stood up on the couch, and drawing the curtains behind his head to shut out the light, he once more stared out. Then he began to see.
At first he could see nothing at all. There was but an unfathomable gulf beyond the glass. He stood up on the couch, and drawing the curtains behind his head to shut out the light, he once more stared out. Then he began to see.
Immediately opposite him glimmered a huge white outline—in the incalculable night it might be a hundred yards or a mile away. It was of irregular outline, for the star-strewn sky showed in patches and rifts above it. And this white mass curved away beneath, under the ship in which he travelled, till it met, at a point which he could but just discern, a blackness that rose to meet it.
Then, as his eyes grew accustomed to the dark, he began to see that the huge whiteness was flitting past, steadily and leisurely, from right to left; that it was streaked with shadows or clefts; and that following it, as in a sliding procession, came another, like it, yet (it seemed) more distant.
All this time, too, the silence was profound. There was but a soft humming note somewhere in the air, and the faintest sense of vibration in the metal-work on which his hands were pressed. Once too he heard a footstep pass softly and rhythmically overhead, as if some watcher moved up and down the length of the upper deck.
The man dropped the curtains and sat back on his heels, trying to force into his imagination the facts that he now perceived and remembered.
They had left St. Germains last night, after dining at Versailles. They were now crossing the Alps. They would be in Rome for Mass and breakfast. . . . They were traversing at this moment, no doubt, only a thousand feet high, one of those passes up which (he thought he remembered from history) the old railway-trains had been accustomed to climb, yard by yard and spiral by spiral, a hundred years before . . .
In a minute or two he leaned forward and stared again, once more closing the curtains behind his head.
The sky seemed a little brighter, he thought, than when he had looked just now. Perhaps the moon was hiding somewhere. And certainly the sky was more in evidence. Far away to the left behind, passing even as he looked, moved those gigantic horns of white, as if the ship stood still and the earth turned beneath; and below now, sloping to the right, lay long lines of darkness, jutting here and there with a sudden crag against the blaze of stars. It was marvellous, he thought, how still all lay; there was a steady hiss, now heard for the first time, as the air tore past the glassy sides of the bird-shaped ship, as thin as the cry of a bat.
He shifted on his knees a little, and staring forwards, saw far ahead and at what seemed an incalculable distance something that baffled him entirely, for it changed its aspect every instant that he watched.
At first it was no more than a patch of luminosity; and he thought it to be, perhaps, a lighted town. But the character of it was changed as he formulated his thought and three brilliant spots like blue stars broke out on a sudden, and these three stars shifted their positions. He kept his eyes on these, marvelling; and, with something very like fear, saw that they were approaching upwards and onwards with the swiftness of thought.
Up and on they came. He shrank back a little, instinctively; and then, as he leaned forward once more, determined to understand, shrank back with a sharp indrawing of breath, as there whirled past, it appeared only a few yards away, a flare of brilliant blue lines, in the midst of which passed a phantom-like body in a mist and accompanied by a musical sound (it seemed) of extraordinary clarity and beauty, that rose from a deep organ-note to the shrill of a flute, and down again Into a bass and a silence. . . .
He smiled to himself as he climbed back into bed a minute or two later, when he had reconstructed the phenomena and interpreted them. It was but another volor, bound northwards, and it had probably passed at least half a mile away.
Well, he must sleep again if he could. They would be in Rome by morning.
* * * * *
They had delayed their departure from Versailles to the last possible moment, since France was, after all, under the circumstances, one of the best places in the world for Monsignor to pick up again the threads of life. For one thing, it was near to England—English was spoken there amongst the educated almost as frequently as French; yet it was not England, and Monsignor's plight would not cause him any great inconvenience. Further, France was at present the theatre of the world's interest, since the Emperor was there, and on the Emperor's future depended largely the destinies of Europe: his conversion, it was thought, might be the final death-blow to Socialism in his dominions.
Monsignor had employed his time well. Not only had he learned accurately the general state of the world, but morning by morning he had familiarized himself with his own work, and felt, by now, very nearly competent to finish his lessons in England. Cardinal Bellairs communicated with him almost every day, and professed himself delighted with the progress made. Finally he had talked Latin continually with Father Jervis in preparation for Rome, and would have passed muster, at least, in general conversation.
* * * * *
The two motored into the city from the volor-station outside, and everywhere as they went through the streets and crossed the Tiber on their way to the Leonine City, where they were to lodge, were evidences of the feast.
For the whole route from Vatican to Lateran, which they crossed more than once, was one continual triumphal way. Masts had been erected, swathed in the Papal colours and crowned with garlands; barriers ran from mast to mast, behind which already the crowds were beginning to gather, though it was hardly past six o'clock in the morning; and from every window hung carpets, banners, and tapestries. The motor was stopped at least half a dozen times; but the prelate's insignia passed them through quickly; and it was just half-past six as they drew up before an old palace situated on the right in the road leading from the Tiber to the Vatican, and scarcely a quarter of a mile away from St. Peter's.
Monsignor glanced up at the carved and painted arms above the doorway and smiled.
"I did not know you were bringing me here," he said.
"You know it?"
"Why, it's the old palace where the kings of England lodged, isn't it?"
Father Jervis smiled.
"Your memory's improving," he said.
Then a magnificent servant came out, bowed profoundly, and opened the door of the car.
"By the way," said Father Jervis as they went in, "I'd better go and enquire the details at the Vatican. You might give me your card. I'll go at once, and then come back and join you at breakfast."
It was a pleasant little suite of rooms, not unlike in arrangements to those of Versailles. The windows looked out on the central court, where a fountain played, and the rooms themselves were furnished in the usual Roman fashion—painted ceilings, stone floors, and a few damask hangings.
Monsignor turned to the servant who was superintending the two Englishmen they had brought.
"I've not been in Rome for some time," he said in Latin. "Tell me what this house is now?"
"Monsignor, it is the English palace. Monsignor is in the apartment of His Eminence Cardinal Bellairs."
"The King himself stays here?"
"It is His Majesty's palace," said the man. "The Prince George arrived two days ago. His Highness is in the apartment below."
Monsignor smiled. He understood now Father Jervis' evasions as to where they were to stay in Rome. Plainly it was determined that he should have a front seat at all ceremonies.
Ten minutes later, as he came out of his bedroom, Father Jervis himself came in.
"You have your choice, Monsignor," he said. "As a Domestic Prelate you have the right to walk in the procession (here is the permit), or as occupying rooms here we can, if you prefer, see the procession from the front windows."
"Tell me what the programme is."
"At nine the procession leaves St. Peter's to go to the Lateran—at least they call it nine. There the Holy Father sings Mass, as bishop in his own cathedral. On the return of the procession, I suppose about midday, the Holy Father visits the tomb of St. Peter. Then this afternoon he is present at Vespers in St. Peter's; and afterwards gives the blessing Urbi et Orbi from the window as usual."
"What would you advise?"
"Well, I should advise your remaining here till mid-day. There's no use in overdoing it. We can see everything admirably. Then we can go into St. Peter's for the visit to the tomb, and come back here to dejeuner. After that we can arrange about the rest of the day."
"Very good. Then let us have something to eat at once."
"Who's Prince George of England?" demanded Monsignor presently as they sat over coffee.
Father Jervis laughed.
"You've found that out, have you? Yes, he's here, of course. Well, he's the second son: he's only a boy. He's over here to represent the King. Every sovereign sends a prince of the blood-royal for to-day. Even the German Emperor."
"Do you mean from Europe?"
"I mean from the whole world. You see the East is scarcely three days away by the fast volors; so even the Chinese——"
"Do you mean that China and Japan send representatives?"
"Certainly. Japan is Christian of course, anyhow; and China has at least one or two Christian princes of the blood."
"By the way, what about Russia?"
"Well, what about it?"
"Is it Catholic?"
"My dear Monsignor, it's been Catholic for thirty years."
"Oh dear me! You must lend me some more histories. . . . What made it Catholic?"
"Common sense, I suppose. How they could have stood out for so long is the only thing that puzzles me."
"But the Petrine claims——"
"Why, the Petrine claims were the very point. Facts were too strong. If you look back over history you can't help seeing that the only Christian body that was ever able to resist Erastianism on the one side and endless division on the other has been the Church built on Peter. They began to see it nearly a hundred years ago in Russia and Greece. Then the Emperor of Russia was secretly reconciled in 1930; and ten or twelve years later his people followed him."
"Then there's no more dispute? What about the Filioque clause?"
"Why, when Peter is accepted, the rest follows."
"Then you may say that the entire civilized world is represented in Rome to-day?"
"Certainly. You'll see the princes in the procession."
An hour later they took their places at the central window of the long sala on the third floor, looking out immediately upon the narrow street, which, opposite, fell back into a tiny square, and further up to the right, upon the enormous piazza of St. Peter's and the basilica itself behind.
It was a real Roman day—not yet at its full heat, but intensely clear and bright; and Monsignor congratulated himself on having elected to remain as a spectator. The return journey from the Lateran about noon would be something of an ordeal.
The street and the piazza presented an astonishingly brilliant appearance. Beneath, the roadway was now one sheet of greenery—box, myrtle, and bay. The houses opposite, as well as within the little square, of which every window was packed with heads, were almost completely hidden under the tapestries, the carpets, the banners. Behind the barriers on either side of the garlanded masts was one mass of heads resembling a cobbled pavement. So much for sight. For sound, the air was filled with one steady low roar of voices; for down to where the street opened far away to the left into the space above the river, the same vista presented itself. The Campagna since twenty-four hours before had been emptying every living inhabitant into Rome; and there was not a town in Italy, and scarcely in Europe, whence special volors and trains had not carried the fervent to the Feast of the Apostles in Holy Rome. And, for scent, the air was sweet and fragrant with the aromatic herbs of the roadway, already bruised a little by the feet of the galloping horses of those that went up and down to guard the route or to carry messages.
It was a little hard to make out the arrangements of the vast circular piazza in front of St. Peter's. The front of the basilica was hung, in usual Roman fashion, with gigantic garlands and red cloth; and the carpet of greenery lined with troops ran straight up the centre of the space, rippled over the steps, and ceased only beneath the towering portico of the church. But on either side of this, with spaces between, stood enormous groups of men and horses, marshalled, no doubt, in order to take their places at the proper moment in the procession.
At the right, immovable and tremendous, rose up the great palace of the Vatican itself, unadorned except where a glint of some colour showed itself at the Bronze Doors; and above all, like a benediction in stone, against the vivid blue of the sky, hung the dome of the basilica.
Monsignor Masterman made a long, keen survey of all this. Then he leaned back and sighed.
"What was the first year that the Pope came out of the Vatican like this?"
"The year after the conquest of United Italy. It was Austria that——"
"I know all that. And you mean he never came out so long as the old state of affairs continued?"
"How could he? Don't you see that the one thing, humanly speaking, absolutely necessary if the world was to have confidence in the Church, was that the Pope should be really supra-national? Of course, for many years he had to be an Italian—that's obvious, since he was at the mercy of Italy, and the Romans would never have stood a foreigner; and that made it all the more essential that he should be cut clean off, in everything else, from Italian sympathies. He had to be two things simultaneously, so to speak—emphatically an Italian for the sake of Italy and indeed his own existence in Rome; and emphatically not an Italian for the sake of the rest of Christendom. And can you suggest any other way of accomplishing this paradox? I can't."
Monsignor sighed again and began to meditate.
For somewhere at the back of his mind there ran an undercurrent of thought, or as of some one talking, to the effect that the Pope's old method of remaining as a prisoner in the Vatican was a foolish and unhumble pose. (He supposed he must have read it all somewhere in history.) Surely even Catholics used to talk like that! They used to say how much more spiritual and Christian it would have been, had the Vicar of Christ acquiesced and been content to live as a simple Italian subject, neither claiming nor desiring a position such as Peter had never enjoyed. Why all this fuss, it used to be asked, about a Temporal Power on behalf of a "Kingdom that was not of this world"?
Yet, somehow, now as he looked back on it all, with his friend's comment in his mind, he began to see, not how clever or diplomatic had been the old attitude, but how absolutely and obviously essential. It was possible indeed for Peter to be a subject of Nero in things pertaining to Caesar; but how could that be possible to Peter's successor when the Kingdom of Christ which he ruled on earth had become a Supra-national Society to which the nations of the earth looked for guidance?
The phrase he had just heard ran in his mind.
"An Italian for the sake of Italy and his own existence in Rome. Not an Italian for the sake of the rest of Christendom."
It seemed simple, somehow, just like that.
He was roused by a touch on his knee, and simultaneously was aware of a new sound from the piazza.
"Look," said the old priest sharply. "They're beginning to move."
A curious seething movement had broken out in the piazza, resembling the stir of a troubled ant-hill, on either side of the broad green way down which the Pope would come; and already into the head of the street up which the priests looked figures were emerging. Simultaneously a crash of brazen music had filled the air. A movement of attention, exactly like the lift of a swell along the foot of a cliff, passed down the crowded street to the left and lost itself round the corner towards S. Angelo.
Then they began to come, swinging over from the piazza to the street as if from a pool into a narrow channel. Troops came first—company after company—each with a band leading. First the Austrian guard in white and gold on white chargers—passing from the flash and dazzle their uniforms threw back in the sunlight into the glow of the shadowed street. And then, by the time that the Austrians were passing below the window, came troop after troop down from the piazza in all the uniforms of the civilized world.
At first Father Jervis murmured a name or two; he even laid his hand upon his friend's arm as the Life-guards of England came clashing by with their imperturbable faces above their silver splendour; but presently the amazing spectacle forming in the piazza, and, above all, on the steps of St. Peter's, silenced them both. Monsignor Masterman gave scarcely a glance even to the monstrous figures of the Chinese imperial guard, who went by presently in black armour and vizarded helmets, like old Oriental gods. For in the piazza itself the procession of princes was forming; and the steps of the basilica already began to burn with purple and scarlet where the Cardinals and the Papal Court were making ready for the coming of the Lord of them all.
And then, at last, he came. . . .
Monsignor Masterman had begun to stare, almost with unintelligent eyes, at the thronged street, beneath, watching the great carriages come past, each surmounted by a crown with its proper supporters, each surrounded by a small guard drawn from the troops that had ridden by just now. He identified a few here and there; and his heart gave a strange leap as the Imperial Crown of England came in sight, held up by the Lion and the Unicorn, and beneath it, within the gilded coach, the face of a boy capped and robed in scarlet. And then he looked up again, startled by a silence broken only by the footsteps of the horses and the wheels over the matted roadway, and the murmur of talking.
The piazza was now one sea of white and purple, with emblems, gold and silver and jewelled, shining here and there; the green strip was gone; for the Papal procession was begun; and then, on the instant, as he looked, there was a new group standing beneath the giant columns of the portico, and the cry of the silver trumpets told to the thousands that waited that the Vicar of Christ had come out into this city that was again the City of God.
Very slowly he came down the steps, a tiny white and gemmed figure, yet perfectly visible on the high throne on which he was borne, his hand swaying as he came, and the huge fans moving behind him like protecting deities. Down and down he came, while the trumpets cried, and the waves of colour followed him, and then vanished for a time among the crowd beneath, as he reached the level ground.
Monsignor Masterman leaned back and closed his eyes. . . .
He was disturbed by another touch on his arm; and, looking up, perceived that his friend was attracting his attention almost mechanically, and without looking at him.
"Look," murmured Father Jervis—"it's the white jennet."
Beneath, the street was now as wholly ecclesiastical as it had been military just before, except that the Papal zouaves marched in single file on either side of the procession. But within there was just one packed army, going eight abreast, of seminarians and clerics. These were just passing as the priest looked again, and close on their heels came the Court and the Cardinals; the latter an indescribable glory of scarlet, riding four abreast in broad hats and ample cloaks. But he gave scarcely more than a glance at these; for, full in sight for at least half a minute, advancing straight towards him down the roaring street, moved a canopy held by figures he could not clearly make out, and beneath it, detached and perfectly visible, on a white horse, a white figure, its shoulders just draped in scarlet and its head shadowed by a great scarlet hat, came slowly towards him.
And so the day went by like a dream; and the man who still seemed to himself as one risen from the dead into a new and wholly bewildering world, watched and gathered impressions and assimilated them. Once or twice during the day he found himself at meals with Father Jervis; he asked questions now and then and scarcely heard the answers; he talked with ecclesiastics a little who came and went; but, for the most part almost unknown to himself, he worked interiorly, busy as a bee, building up, not so much facts as realizations, into the new and strange world-edifice that was gradually forming about him. He was present at the visit of the Pope to the tomb of the Apostle, and watched from a tribune, even then so concentrated on observation that he was hardly conscious of connected thought, as the vast doors rolled back and a vision as of such a celestial troop as was dreamed of by the old Italian painters came up out of the vivid sunlight into the cool darkness of the basilica, as the roofs gave back the roaring of the fervent thousands and the clear cry of the silver trumpets; watched as the army of ecclesiastics deployed this way and that, and the Father of Princes and Kings came on between his royal children to the gates of the Confession ringed by the golden lamps, and went down to kneel by the body of the first Fisherman-King.
And again at Vespers, from the same tribune, he heard the peal of the new great organs in the dome, and the psalm-melodies rocking from side to side between the massed choirs; he glanced now and again at the royal tribune opposite, where, each beneath a canopy, the rulers of the earth sat together to do honour to the Lord and His Anointed. And, above all, he watched, still with that steady set face that made Father Jervis look at him once or twice, the central figure of all, now on his throne, with his assistants beside him, now passing up to the altar to incense it, and finally passing out again on the sedia gestatoria to the palace where at last he ruled indeed.
Last of all, as the sun began to sink behind the monstrous dome, and Rome stood out like an Oriental city of dreams, and the purple lights came out on the low-lying hills, and the illuminations glowed from every window, and blazed beneath the feet and round the heads of the gigantic apostolic figures gathered round their Lord—there, watching again from his window, he saw, in a sudden hush over the heads of the countless crowds the tiny white figure standing above the tapestries with the Papal triple cross glinting beside him like a thread, and heard the thin voice, gnat-like and clear, declare the "help of the Lord who," as the thunder of the square answered him, "hath made heaven and earth," and then invoke upon the city and the world, before the tremendous Amen, the blessing of God Almighty, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
It was a few minutes after they had finished their almost silent meal that evening, that Monsignor suddenly leaned forward from his chair in the great cool loggia and passed his hands over his eyes like a sleepy man. From the streets outside still came the murmur of innumerable footsteps and voices and snatches of music.
"Tired?" asked the other gently. (He had not spoken for some minutes, and remembering the long silence, had wondered if, after all, it had been wise to bring a man with such an experience behind him to such a rush and excitement as that through which they had passed to-day.)
Monsignor said nothing for an instant. He looked round the room, opened and closed his lips, and then, leaning back again, suddenly smiled. Then he took up the pipe he had laid aside just now and blew through it.
"No," he said. "Exactly the opposite. I feel awake at last."
"It seems to have got into me at last. All this . . . all this very odd world. I have begun to see."
Monsignor began to fill his pipe slowly.
"Well, Versailles, even, didn't quite do it," he said. "It seemed to me a kind of game—certainly a very pleasant one; but——" (He broke off.) "But what we've seen to-day seems somehow the real thing."
"I don't quite understand."
"Well, I can see for myself now that all that you've told me is real—that the world's really Christian, and so on. It was those Chinese guards, I think, which as much as anything——"
"Chinese? . . . I don't remember them."
The prelate smiled again.
"Well, I scarcely noticed them at the time, either. But I've been thinking about them. And then all the rest of it . . . and the Pope. . . . By the way, I couldn't make out his face very well. Is that a picture of him?"
He stood up suddenly and stepped across to where the portrait hung. There was nothing very startling about the picture. It showed just a very ordinary face with straight closed lips, of a man seated in an embossed chair, with the familiar white cap, cassock, and embroidered stole with spade-ends.
"He looks quite ordinary," mused Monsignor aloud. "It's . . . it's like the face of a business man."
"Oh yes, he's ordinary. He's an extremely good man and quite intelligent. He's never had any very great crisis to face, you know. They say he's a good financier. . . . You look disappointed."
"I hadn't expected him to look like that," said the prelate, musing.
"Well, he seems to have an extraordinary position in the world. I should have expected more of a——"
"More of a great man? Monsignor, don't you think that the Average Man makes the best ruler?"
"But that's rank Democracy!"
"Not at all. Democracy doesn't give the Average Man any real power at all. It swamps him among his fellows—that is to say, it kills his individuality; and his individuality is the one thing he has which is worth anything."
Monsignor sat down again, sighing.
"Well, I think it's got into me at last," he repeated. "I mean, I think I really realize what the world's like now. But I want to see a great deal more, you know."
"What sort of things?"
"Well, I don't quite know. . . . You might call it the waterline between Faith and Science. I see the Faith side. I understand that the life of the world moves on Catholicism now; but I don't quite realize yet how all that joins on to Science. In my day——" (he broke off) "I mean I had a kind of idea that there was a gap between Faith and Science—if not actual contradictions. How do they join on to one another? What's the average scientific attitude towards religion? Do people on both sides just say that each must pursue its own line, even if they never meet?"
Father Jervis looked puzzled.
"I don't quite understand. There's no conflict between Faith and Science. A large proportion of the scientists are ecclesiastics."
"But what's the meeting-point? That's what I don't see."
The priest shook his head, smiling.
"I simply don't know what you mean, Monsignor. Give me an example."
"Well . . . er . . . what about Faith-healing? The dispute used to be, I think, as to the explanation of certain cures. (Mr. Manners spoke of it, you know.) Psychologists used to say that the cures happened by suggestion; and Catholics used to say that they were supernatural. How have they become reconciled?"
Father Jervis considered a moment.
"I don't think I've ever thought of it like that," he said. "I think I should say—" (he hesitated) "I think I should say that everybody believes now that the power of God does everything; and that in some cases He works through suggestion, and in some through supernatural forces about which we don't know very much. But I don't think it matters much (does it?), if you believe in God."
"That doesn't explain what I mean."
The door opened abruptly and a servant came in. He bowed.
"The Bishop of Sebaste enquires whether you are at home, Monsignor?"
Monsignor glanced at Father Jervis.
"He's come out as chaplain to Prince George," explained the priest in rapid Latin. "We'd better see him."
"Very good. . . . Yes," said Monsignor.
He turned to the priest again.
"Hadn't you better tell him about me?"
"You don't mind?"
"Of course not."
Father Jervis got up and slipped quickly out of the room.
"I'm delighted to see you again, Monsignor," began the Bishop, coming in, followed by Father Jervis three minutes later.
Monsignor straightened himself after the kissing of the ring.
"You're very kind, my lord," he said.
As the Bishop sat down, he examined him carefully, noticing that there was nothing noticeable about him. He seemed a characteristic prelate—large, genial, ruddy and smiling, with bright eyes and well-cut mouth. He was in his purple and ferraiuola, and carried himself briskly and cheerfully.
"I came to see if you were going to the reception to-night. If so, we might go together. But it's rather late!"
"We haven't heard about that."
"Oh! it's purely informal. The Holy Father probably won't appear himself, except perhaps for a moment."
"Oh! At the Vatican?"
"Yes. There will be an enormous crowd, of course. . . . The Prince has gone to bed, poor little chap! He's done up altogether; and I thought of slipping over for a half-hour or so."
Monsignor glanced at his friend.
"I think it would be an excellent thing," observed the old priest.
"Well, there's a carriage waiting," said the Bishop, rising. "I think we'd better go, if we're going. We shall be back within the hour."
It was within ten minutes of the time that the three had arranged to meet again at the foot of the Scala Regia that Monsignor suddenly realized that he had lost himself.
He had wandered for half an hour, after making his salutations to the Master of the Apostolic Palace, who, in the Pope's absence, was receiving the visitors; and, at first with Father Jervis and the Bishop, who had pointed out to him the notabilities, and presently drifting from them in the crowds, by himself, had gone up and down and in and out through endless corridors, courts, loggie, and great reception-rooms of the enormous place, watching the amazing crowds, and exchanging bows and nods with persons who bowed and nodded to him.
The whole system of the thing seemed new to him. He had imagined (he scarcely knew why) the Vatican to be a place of silence and solemn dignity and darkness, with a few sentries here and there, a few prelates, a cardinal or two—with occasionally a group of very particular visitors, or, on still rarer occasions, a troop of pilgrims being escorted to some sight or some audience.
Certainly it was not at all like this to-night.
First, the whole place was illuminated in nearly every window. Huge electric lights blazed behind screens in all the courts; bands of music were stationed at discreet intervals one from another; and through every section that he went, through corridors, reception-rooms, up and down stairways, seething in every court, streaming through every passage and thoroughfare, moved a multitude of persons—largely ecclesiastics, but also very largely otherwise (though there were no ladies present)—talking, questioning, laughing, wholly, it seemed, at their ease, and appearing to find nothing unusual in the entire affair. Here and there in some of the great rooms small courts seemed to be in process—a company of perhaps thirty or forty would be standing round two or three notabilities who sat. There was usually a cardinal here, sometimes two or three; and on three or four occasions he saw what he imagined must be royalty of some kind, seated with a cardinal, while the rest stood.
It was to him a very extraordinary spectacle, in spite of his further initiation that day into this new world, so utterly unfamiliar to him; and it seemed once more to drive home to his consciousness this strange state of affairs of which his friend had tried to persuade him, but which he yet found difficult wholly to take in. Certainly the world and the Church seemed on very cordial terms. . . .
But now he had lost himself altogether. He had wandered up a long corridor, thinking that it would lead him back to the Court of St. Damasus, whence he knew his way well enough; and he now paused, hesitating. For it seemed to him that every step he was taking led him farther from the lights and the din of voices and music.
He could see behind him, framed in a huge open doorway, as on an illuminated disc, a kaleidoscope of figures moving; and in front, as he stood, the corridor, although here the lights burned as brilliantly as elsewhere, seemed to lead away into comparative darkness. Yet he felt certain of his direction.
Then, as he stood, a door opened somewhere in front, and he thought he heard voices talking again. It reassured him, and he went on.
It was not until he found himself in a small lobby (comparatively small that is, for it was not less than forty feet square, and the painted coffered ceiling was twenty feet above his head), that he stopped again, completely bewildered. There was no longer any sound to guide him, for he had closed a couple of passage-doors behind him as he came; and he noticed that practically complete silence was on all sides; a single illuminated half-globe shone gently from the ceiling overhead.
He stood some time considering and listening to the silence, till he became aware that it was not silence. There was a very faint murmur of a voice behind one of the four doors that opened on this lobby; and beside the door there rested (he now noticed for the first time) the halberd of a Swiss, as if the soldier had just been called within. This decided him; he went to the door, laid his hand upon the handle, and immediately the murmur ceased. He pushed down the handle and opened the door.
For a moment as he stared within he could not understand: he had expected a passage—a guard-room—at least something secular. Yet it was some kind of a chapel or sacristy into which he was looking: he observed the outline of an altar with its crucifix; and two figures.
Then one of the figures—in the habit of a Franciscan, barefooted, with a purple stole across its shoulders—had sprung towards him, and half pushed, half waved him backwards again.
"What are you doing here? How dare you——I beg pardon, Monsignor, but——"
"I beg pardon, father; I had lost my way. . . . I am a stranger."
"Back—back that way, Monsignor," stammered the friar. "The guard should have told you."
The truth was dawning on the prelate little by little, helped by the flash of the other kneeling white figure he had seen within.
"Yes," stammered the friar again. "The Holy Father. Back that way, Monsignor. Yes, yes—that door straight opposite."
It was over; the two doors had closed almost simultaneously, behind the friar as he had gone back to his duty, and behind the priest who now stood again at the end of the long corridor down which he had come. He stood here now, strangely moved and affected.
He had seen nothing remarkable in itself—the Pope at confession. And yet in some manner, beyond the startling fact that he had groped his way, all unknowing, to the Pope's private apartments, and at such a moment, the dramatic contrast between the glare and noise of the reception outside—itself the climax of a series of brilliant external splendours—and the silent half-lighted chapel where the Lord of All kneeled to confess his sins, caused a surprising disturbance in his soul.
Up to now he had been introduced step by step into a new set of experiences, Christian indeed, yet amazingly worldly in their aspect; he had begun to learn that religion could transform the outer world, and affect and use for its own purposes all the pomps and glories of outward existence; he had begun to realize that there was nothing alien to God—no line of division between the Creator and the creature; and now, in one instant, he had been brought face to face again with inner realities, and had seen, as it were, a glimpse of the secret core of all the splendour. The Pope attended by princes—the Pope on his knees before a barefooted friar. These were the two magnetic points between which blazed Religion.
He stood there, trembling a little, trying to steady his bewildered brain—even now, in spite of his years, not unlike the brain of a child. He passed his tongue over his suddenly dry lips. Then he began to move down the passage again, to find his friends.
"What I can't yet quite understand," said Monsignor, "is that point I mentioned the other day about Faith and Science. I don't see where one ends and the other begins. It seems to me that the controversy must be unending. The materialist says that since Nature does all things, even the most amazing things must be done by her—that we shall be able to explain them all some day, when Science has got a little farther. And the theologian says that some things are so evidently out of the reach of Nature that they must be done by a supernatural power. Well, where's the point of reconciliation?"
Father Jervis was silent for a while.
* * * * *
The two were sitting on the upper deck of an air-ship towards evening, travelling straight towards the setting sun.
He had grown almost accustomed to such views by now; and yet the sight that had been unrolling itself gradually during the last half-hour had held him fascinated for minute after minute. They had taken ship in Rome after a day or two more of sight-seeing, and had moved up the peninsula by stages, changing boats soon after crossing the frontier, for one of the high-flying, more leisurely and more luxurious vessels on which the more wealthy classes travelled. They were due in Lourdes that evening; and, ever since the higher peaks of the Pyrenees had come into sight, had moved over a vision of bewildering beauty. To their left rose the mountains, forming, it seemed to them at the height at which they travelled, an enormous jagged and gigantic pile, hard-lined as steel, yet irradiated with long rays, patches, and pools of golden sunset-light alternated by amazing depths of the shadow whose tones ran from peacock to indigo. Then from the feet of the tumbled pile there ran out what appeared a loosely flung carpet vivid and yet a soft green, patched here and there with white towns, embroideries of woodland, lines of silver water. Yet this too was changing as they watched the shadows grow longer with almost visible movement. New and strange colours, varying about a fixed note of blue according to the nature of that with which the earth was covered, slowly came into being. Here, in front, now and again a patch of water glowed suddenly, three thousand feet beneath, as it met the shifting angle between the eye and the sun; and beyond, far out across the darkening plain, shone the remote line of the sea, itself ablaze with gold, and above and about in every quarter burned the enormous luminous dome of sky.