"Yes," he said, "I think so. Will you wait here, Monsignor?"
Monsignor Masterman lifted his eyes as the door closed, and saw the young monk standing before him, beside the little table.
He had sat down again in the gallery while the abbot was gone, watching mechanically the ushers come into the court and remove the recording-boxes one by one; and meantime in his soul he watched also, rather than tried to arrange, the thoughts that fled past in ceaseless repetition. He could plan nothing, formulate nothing. He just perceived, as a man himself sentenced to death might perceive, that the Supreme Horror was a reality at last. The very ordinariness of the scene he had witnessed, the familiarity of some of the faces (he had sat next at dinner, not a week ago, the brown-faced Canon-Theologian), the conversational manner of the speakers, the complete absence of any dramatic solemnity—these things increased the terror and repugnance he felt. Were the preliminaries of Death for Heresy so simple as all that? Was the point of view that made it possible so utterly accepted by everyone as to allow the actual consummation to come about so quietly? . . .
The thing seemed impossible and dreamlike. He strove to hold himself quiet till he could understand. . . . But at the sight of the young monk, paled and tired-looking, yet perfectly serene, his self-control broke down. A spasm shook his face; he stretched out his hands blindly and helplessly, and some sound broke from his mouth.
He felt himself taken by the arm and led forward. Then he slipped into a chair, and dropped his face in his hands upon the table.
It was a few moments before he recovered and looked up.
"There, there, Monsignor," said the monk. ". . . I didn't expect this. There's nothing to——"
"But . . . but——"
"It's a shock to you, I see. . . . It's very kind. . . . But I knew it all along. Surely you must have known——"
"I never dreamt of it. I never thought it conceivable. It's abominable; it's——"
"Monsignor, this isn't kind to me," rang out the young voice sternly; and the elder man recovered himself sharply. "Please talk to me quietly. Father Abbot tells me you will see the Cardinal."
"I'll do anything—anything in my power. Tell me what I can do."
He had recovered himself, as under a douche of water, at the sharpness of the monk's tone just now. He felt but one thing at this instant, that he would strain every force he had to hinder this crime. He remained motionless, conscious of that sensation of intense tightness of nerve and sinew in which an overpressed mind expresses itself.
The monk sat down, on the farther side of the table.
"That's better, Monsignor," he said, smiling. . . . "Well, there's really not much to do. Insanity seems the only possible plea."
He smiled again, brilliantly.
"Tell me the whole thing," said the prelate suddenly and hoarsely. "Just the outline. I don't understand; and I can do nothing unless I do."
"You haven't followed the case?"
Monsignor shook his head. The monk considered again.
"Well," he said. "This is the outline; I'll leave out technical details. I have written a book (which will never see the light now) and I sent an abstract of it to Rome, giving my main thesis. It's on the miraculous element in Religion. I'm a Doctor in Physical Science, you know, as well as in Theology. Now there's a certain class of cure (I won't bother you with details, but a certain class of cure) that has always been claimed by theologians as evidently supernatural. And I'll acknowledge at once that one or two of the decrees of the Council of 1960 certainly seem to support them. But my thesis is, first, that these cures are perfectly explicable by natural means, and secondly, that therefore these decrees must be interpreted in a sense not usually received by theologians, and that they do not cover the cases in dispute. I'm not a wilful heretic, and I accept absolutely therefore that these decrees, as emanating from an ecumenical council, are infallibly true. But I repudiate entirely—since I am forced to do so by scientific fact (or, we will say, by what I am persuaded is scientific fact)—the usual theological interpretation of the wording of the decrees. Well, my judges take the other view. They tell me that I am wrong in my second point, and therefore wrong also in my first. They tell me that the decrees do categorically cover the class of cure I have dealt with; that such cures have been pronounced by the Church therefore to be evidently supernatural; and that therefore I am heretical in both my points. On my side, I refuse to submit, maintaining that I am differing, not from the Catholic Church as she really is, (which would be heretical), but from the Catholic Church as interpreted by these theologians. I know it's rash of me to set myself against a practically universal and received interpretation; but I feel myself bound in conscience to do so. Very well; that is the point we have now reached. I could not dream of separating myself from Catholic Unity, and therefore that way of escape is barred. There was nothing for it, then, but for my judges to pronounce sentence; and that they did, ten minutes before you came in. (I saw you come in, Monsignor.) I am sentenced, that is to say, as an obstinate heretic—as refusing to submit to the plain meaning of an ecumenical decree. There remains Rome. The whole trial must go there verbatim. Three things may happen. Either I am summoned to explain any statements that may seem obscure. (That certainly will not happen. I have been absolutely open and clear.) Or the sentence may be quashed or modified. And that I do not think will happen, since I have, as I know, all the theologians against me."
There was a pause.
The prelate heard the words, and indeed followed their sense with his intellect; but it appeared to him as if this concise analysis had no more vital connection with the real facts than a doctor's diagnosis with the misery of a mourner. He did not want analysis; he wanted reassurance. Then he braced himself up to meet the unfinished sentence. "Or——" he murmured.
"Or the sentence will be ratified," said the monk quietly. And again there was silence. It was the monk again who broke it. "Where Father Abbot seems to think you can help me perhaps, Monsignor, is in persuading the Cardinal to write to Rome. I do not quite know what he can do for me; but I suppose the idea is that he may succeed in urging that the point is a disputed one, and that the case had better wait for further scientific as well as theological investigation."
Monsignor flung out his hands suddenly. The strain had reached breaking-point.
"What's the good!" he cried. "It's the system—the whole system that's so hateful . . . hateful and impossible."
"It's the system," he cried again. "From beginning to end it's the system that's wrong. I hate it more every day. It's brutal, utterly brutal and unchristian." He stared miserably at the young monk, astonished at the cold look in his eyes.
The monk looked at him questioningly—without a touch of answering sympathy, it seemed—merely with an academic interest.
"I don't understand, Monsignor. What is it that you——"
"You don't understand! You tell me you don't understand! You who are suffering under it! Why——"
"You think I'm being unjustly treated? Is that it? Of course I too don't think that——"
"No, no, no," cried the elder man. "It's not you in particular. I don't know about that—I don't understand. But it's that any living being can live under such tyranny—such oppression of free thought and judgment! What becomes of science and discovery under a system like this? What becomes of freedom—of the right to think for oneself? Why——"
The young monk leaned a little over the table.
"Monsignor, you don't know what you are saying. Tell me quietly what it is that's troubling you. Quietly, if you please. I can't bear much more strain."
The man who had lost his memory mastered himself with an effort. His horror had surged up just now and overwhelmed him altogether, but the extraordinary quiet of the other man and his apparently frank inability to understand what was the matter brought him down again to reality. Subconsciously, too, he perceived that it would be a relief to himself to put his developing feeling into words to another.
"You wish me to say? Very well—-"
He hesitated again for words.
"You are sure you'd better? I know you've been ill. I don't want to—-"
Monsignor waved it away with a little gesture.
"That's all right," he said. "I'm not ill now. I wish to God I were!"
"Quietly, please," said the young man.
He swallowed in his throat and rearranged himself in his chair. He felt himself alone and abandoned, even where he had been certain of an emotional sympathy.
"I know I'm clean against public opinion in what I think. I've learnt that at last. I thought at first that it was the other way, as . . . as I think it must have been a hundred years ago. But I see now that all the world is against me—all except perhaps the people who are called infidels."
"You mean the Socialists?"
"Yes, I suppose so. Well, it seems to me that the Church is . . ." (he hesitated, to pick his words) "is assuming an impossible attitude. Take your own case; though that's only one: it's the same everywhere. There are the sumptuary and domestic laws; there's the 'repression,' as they call it, of the Socialists. But take your own case. You are perfectly satisfied that your conclusions are scientific, aren't you?"
"You're a Christian and a Catholic. And yet, because these conclusions of yours are condemned—not answered, mind you, or refuted by other scientists—but just condemned—condemned by ecclesiastics as contrary to what they assume to be true—you . . . you care——"
He broke off, struggling again with fierce emotion. He felt a hand on his arm.
"Monsignor, you're too excited. May I ask you some questions instead?"
"Well, don't take my case only. Take the system, as you said just now. I really want to know.... You think that the Socialists ought not to be repressed—that every man ought to be free to utter his opinions, whatever they may be. Is that it?"
"However revolutionary they may be?"
Monsignor hesitated. He had considered this point before. He felt his answer was not wholly satisfactory. But the monk went on.
"Suppose these opinions were subversive of all law and order. Suppose there were men who preached murder and adultery—doctrines that meant the destruction of society. Would you allow these, too, to publish their opinions broadcast?"
"Of course, you must draw the line somewhere," began Monsignor. "Of course——"
"I beg your pardon?"
"You said that we must draw the line somewhere. I ask you where?"
"Well, that, of course, must be a matter of degree."
"Surely it must be one of principle. . . . Can't you give me any principle you would allow?"
The passion of just now seemed wholly gone. Monsignor had an uncomfortable sense that he had behaved like a child and that this young monk was on firmer ground than himself. But again he hesitated.
"Well, would you accept this principle?" asked Dom Adrian. "Would you say that every society has a right to suppress opinions which are directly subversive of the actual foundations on which itself stands? Let me give an instance. Suppose you had a country that was a republic, but that allowed that other forms of government might be equally good. (Suppose, for instance, that while all acquiesced more or less in the republic, yet that many of the citizens personally preferred a monarchy.) Well, I suppose you would say it was tyranny for the republic to punish the monarchists with death?"
"So should I. But if a few of the citizens repudiated all forms of government and preached Anarchy, well, I suppose you would allow that the government would have a perfect right to silence them?"
"I suppose so."
"Of course," said Dom Adrian quietly. "It was what you allowed just now. Society may, and must, protect itself."
"What's that got to do with it? These Socialists are not Anarchists. You're not an atheist. And even if you were, what right would the Church have to put you to death?"
"Oh! that's what you're thinking, is it, Monsignor? But really, you know, Society must protect itself. The Church can't interfere there. For it isn't for a moment the Church that punishes with death. On the contrary, the Catholic authorities are practically unanimous against it."
Monsignor made an impatient movement.
"I don't understand in the least," he said. "It seems to me——"
"Well, shall I give you my answer?"
The monk drew a breath and leaned back once more.
To the elder man the situation seemed even more unreal and impossible than at the beginning. He had come, full of fierce and emotional sympathy, to tell a condemned man how wholly his heart was on his side, to repudiate with all his power the abominable system that had made such things possible. And now, in five minutes, the scene had become one of almost scholastic disputation; and the heretic, it seemed—the condemned heretic—was defending the system that condemned him to a man who represented it as an official! He waited, almost resentfully.
"Monsignor," said the young man, "forgive me for saying so; but it seems to me you haven't thought this thing out—that you're simply carried away by feeling. No doubt it's your illness. . . . Well, let me put it as well as I can. . . ."
He paused again, compressing his lips. He was pale, and evidently holding himself hard in hand; but his eyes were bright and intelligent. Then he abruptly began again.
"What's wrong with you, Monsignor," he said, "is that you don't realize—again, no doubt, owing to your loss of memory—that you don't realize that the only foundation of society at the present day is Catholicism. You see we know now that Catholicism is true. It has reasserted itself finally. Every other scheme has been tried and has failed; and Catholicism, though it has never died, has once more been universally accepted. Even heathen countries accept it de facto as the scheme on which the life of the human race is built. Very well, then, the man who strikes at Catholicism strikes at society. If he had his way society would crumble down again. Then what can Catholic society do except defend itself, even by the death penalty? Remember, the Church does not kill. It never has; it never will. It is society that puts to death. And it is certainly true to say that theologians, as a whole, would undoubtedly abolish the death penalty to-morrow if they could. It's an open secret that the Holy Father would do away with it to-morrow if he could."
"Then why doesn't he? Isn't he supreme?" snapped the other bitterly.
"Indeed not. Countries rule themselves. He only has a veto if an actually unchristian law is passed. And this is not actually unchristian. It's based on universal principles."
"Wait an instant. . . . Yes, the Church sanctions it in one sense. So did the Church approve of the death penalty in the case of murder—another sin against society. Well, Christian society a hundred years ago inflicted death for the murder of the body; Christian society to-day inflicts death for a far greater crime against herself—that is, murderous attacks against her own life-principle."
"Then the old Protestants were right after all," burst in Monsignor indignantly; "they said that Rome would persecute again if she could."
"If she could?" said the monk questioningly.
"If she was strong enough."
"No, no, no!" cried the other, beating his hand on the table in gentle impatience; "it would be hopelessly immoral for the Church to persecute simply because she was strong enough—simply because she had a majority. She never persecutes for mere opinions. She has never claimed her right to use force. But, as soon as a country is convincedly Catholic—as soon, that is to say, as her civilization rests upon Catholicism and nothing else, that country has a perfect right to protect herself by the death penalty against those who menace her very existence as a civilized community. And that is what heretics do; and that is what Socialists do. Whether the authorities are right or wrong in any given instance is quite another question. Innocent men have been hanged. Orthodox Catholics have suffered unjustly. Personally I believe that I myself am innocent; but I am quite clear that if I am a heretic" (he leaned forward again and spoke slowly), "if I am a heretic, I must be put to death by society."
Monsignor was dumb with sheer amazement, and a consciousness that he had been baffled. He felt he had been intellectually tricked; and he felt it an additional outrage that he had been tricked by this young monk with whom he had come to sympathize.
"But the death penalty!" he cried. "Death! that is the horror. I understand a spiritual penalty for a spiritual crime—but a physical one. . . ."
Dom Adrian smiled a little wearily.
"My dear Monsignor," he said, "I thought I had explained that it was for a crime against society. I am not put to death for my opinions; but because, holding those opinions, which are declared heretical, and refusing to submit to an authoritative decision, I am an enemy of the civil state which is upheld solely by the sanctions of Catholicism. Remember it is not the Church that puts me to death. That is not her affair. She is a spiritual society."
"But death! death, anyhow!"
The man's face grew grave and tender.
"Is that so dreadful," he said, "to a convinced Catholic?"
Monsignor rose to his feet. It seemed to him that his whole moral sense was in danger. He made his last appeal.
"But Christ!" he cried; "Jesus Christ! Can you conceive that gentle Lord of ours tolerating all this for one instant! I cannot answer you now; though I am convinced there is an answer. But is it conceivable that He who said, 'Resist not evil,' that He who Himself was dumb before his murderers——"
Dom Adrian rose too. An extraordinary intensity came into his eyes, and his face grew paler still. He began in a low voice, but as he ended his voice rang aloud in the little room.
"It is you who are dishonouring our Lord," he said. "Certainly He suffered, as we Catholics too can suffer, as you shall see one day—as you have seen a thousand times already, if you know anything of the past. But is that all that He is? . . . Is He just the Prince of Martyrs, the supreme Pain-bearer, the silent Lamb of God? Have you never heard of the wrath of the Lamb? of the eyes that are as a flame of fire? of the rod of iron with which He breaks in pieces the kings of the earth? . . . The Christ you appeal to is nothing. It is but the failure of a Man with the Divinity left out . . . the Prince of sentimentalists, and of that evil old religion that once dared to call itself Christianity. But the Christ we worship is more than that—the Eternal Word of God, the Rider on the White Horse, conquering and to conquer.... Monsignor, you forget of what Church you are a priest! It is the Church of Him who refused the kingdoms of this world from Satan, that He might win them for Him self. He has done so! Christ reigns! . . . Monsignor, that is what you have forgotten! Christ is no longer an opinion or a theory. He is a Fact. Christ reigns! He actually rules this world. And the world knows it."
He paused for one second, shaking with his own passion. Then he flung out his hands.
"Wake up, Monsignor! Wake up! You are dreaming. Christ is the King of men again, now—not of just religiously minded devots. He rules, because He has a right to rule. . . . And the civil power stands for Him in secular matters, and the Church in spiritual. I am to be put to death! Well, I protest that I am innocent, but not that the crime charged against me does not deserve death. I protest, but I do not resent it. Do you think I fear death? . . Is that not in His hands too? . . . Christ reigns, and we all know it. And you must know it too!"
All sensation seemed to have ebbed from the man who listened. . . . He was conscious of a white ecstatic face with burning eyes looking at him. He could no longer actively resist or rebel. It was only by the utmost effort that he could still keep from yielding altogether. Some great pressure seemed to enfold and encircle him, threatening his very existence as an individual. So tremendous was the force with which the words were spoken, that for an instant it seemed as if he saw in mental vision that which they described—a Supreme Dominant Figure, wounded indeed, yet overmastering and compelling in His strength—no longer the Christ of gentleness and meekness, but a Christ who had taken His power at last and reigned, a Lamb that was a Lion, a Servant that was Lord of all; One that pleaded no longer, but commanded. . . .
And yet he clung still desperately and blindly to his old ideal. He pushed off from him this dominating Presence; his whole self and individuality would not yield to Him who demanded the sacrifice of both. He saw this Christ at last, and by a flash of intuition perceived that this was the key to this changed world he found so incomprehensible; and yet he would not have it—he would not have this Man to rule over him. . . .
He made one last effort; the vision passed and he stood up, feeling once more sensation come back, understanding that he had saved himself from an extinction more utter than that of death.
"Well," he said quietly—so quietly that he almost deceived himself too,—"well, I will remember what you say, Dom Adrian, and I will do what I can with the Cardinal."
"I'm afraid it's been a great shock," said Father Jervis soothingly. "And I'm not surprised, after your illness. . . . Yes I quite see your point. Of course it must seem very strange. . . . Now what about coming over to Ireland for a week? The Cardinal will be delighted, I'm sure."
The blow had fallen this morning—a fortnight after the trial had ended.
First, the answer had come back from Rome that the sentence was ratified—a sentence simply to the effect that the Church could no longer protect this tonsured and consecrated son of hers from the secular laws. But, as Monsignor knew privately, an urgent appeal had been made by Rome to remit the penalty in this instance, as in others. Then the formalities of handing over the monk to the secular authorities had taken place, in accordance with the Clergy Discipline Amendment Act of 1964—an Act by which the secular houses of Representatives had passed a code of penalties for clerks condemned by the ecclesiastical courts—clerks, that is to say, who had availed themselves of Benefit of Clergy and had submitted themselves to ecclesiastical jurisdiction. Under that Act Dom Adrian had been removed to a secular prison, his case had been re-examined and, in spite of the Pope's appeal, the secular sentence passed. And this morning Monsignor had read that the sentence had been carried out. . . . He neither knew nor dared to ask in what form. It was enough that it was death.
There had been a scene with the startled secretaries. Fortunately Monsignor had been incoherent. One of them had remained with him while the other ran for Father Jervis. Then the two laymen had left the room, and the priests alone together.
Things were quieter now. Monsignor had recovered himself, and was sitting white and breathless with his friend beside him.
"Come to Ireland for a week," said the old man again, watching him with those large, steady, bright eyes of his. "It is perfectly natural, under the circumstances, that the thing should be a shock. To us, of course——"
He broke off as Monsignor looked up with a strange white glare in his eyes.
"Well, well," said the old man. "You must give yourself a chance. You've been working magnificently; I think perhaps a little too hard. And we don't want another breakdown. . . . Then I take you'll come to Ireland? We'll spend a perfectly quiet week, and be back in time for the meeting of Parliament."
Monsignor made a small movement of assent with his head. (He had had Ireland explained to him before.)
"Then I'll leave you quietly here for a little. Call me up if you want me. I'll tell the secretaries to work in the next room. I'll see the Cardinal at once, and we'll go by the five o'clock boat. I'll arrange everything. You needn't give it a thought."
A curious process seemed to have been at work upon the mind of the man who had lost his memory, since his interview with the monk immediately after the trial. At first a kind of numbness had descended upon him. He had gone back to his business, his correspondence, his interviews, his daily consultation with the Cardinal, and had conducted all these things efficiently enough. Yet, underneath, the situation arranged itself steadily and irresistibly. It had become impressed upon him that, whether for good or evil, the world was as it was; that Christian civilization had taken the form which he perceived round him, and that to struggle against it was as futile, from a mental point of view, as to resent the physical laws of the universe. Nothing followed upon such resistance except intense discomfort to oneself. It might be insupportably unjust that one could not fly without wings, yet the fact remained. It might be intolerably unchristian that a tonsured clerk should be put to death for heresy, yet he was put to death, and not a soul, it seemed (not even the victim himself) resented it. Dom Adrian's protest had been not against the execution of heretics, but against the statement that he was a heretic. But he had refused to submit to a decision which he acknowledged as authoritative, and found no fault therefore with the consequence of such refusal. The condemnation, he granted, was perfectly legal and therefore extrinsically lust; and it was the penalty he had to pay for an individualism which the responsible authorities of the State regarded as dangerous to the conditions on which society rested. And the rest was the business of the State, not of the Church.
The scheme then was beginning to grow clear to this man's indignant eyes. Even the "repression" of the Socialists fitted in, logically and inexorably. And he began to understand a little more what Dom Adrian had meant. There stood indeed, imminent over the world (whether ideally or actually was another question) a tremendous Figure that was already even more Judge than Saviour—a Personality that already had the Power and reigned; one to whose feet all the world crept in silence, who spoke ordinarily and normally through His Vicar on earth, who was represented on this or that plane by that court or the other; one who was literally a King of kings; to whose model all must be conformed; to whose final judgment every creature might appeal if he would but face that death through which alone that appeal might be conveyed. Such was the scheme which this priest began to discern; and he saw how the explanation of all that bewildered him lay within it. Yet none the less he resented it; none the less he failed to recognize in it that Christianity he seemed once to have known, long ago. Outwardly he conformed and submitted. Inwardly he was a rebel.
He sat on silent for a few minutes when his friend had left him, gradually recovering balance. He knew his own peril well enough, but he was not yet certain enough of his own standpoint—and perhaps not courageous enough—to risk all by declaring it. He felt helpless and powerless—like a child in a new school—before the tremendous forces in whose presence he found himself. For the present, at least, he knew that he must obey. . . .
"You will be astonished at Ireland," said Father Jervis a few hours later, as they sat together in the little lighted cabin on their way across England. "You know, of course, the general outlines?"
Monsignor roused himself.
"I know it's the Contemplative Monastery of Europe," he said.
"Just so. It's also the mental hospital of Europe. You see it's very favourably placed. None of the great lines of volors pass over it now. It's entirely secluded from the world. Of course there are the secular business centres of the country, as they always were, in north and south—Dublin and Belfast; they're like any other town, only rather quieter. But outside these you might say that the whole island is one monastic enclosure. I've brought a little book on it I thought you might like to look at."
He handed a little volume out of his bag. (It was printed on the usual nickel-sheets, invented by Edison fifty years before.)
"And to-night?" asked Monsignor heavily.
"To-night we're staying at Thurles. I made all arrangements this afternoon."
"And our programme?"
Father Jervis smiled.
"That'll depend on the guest-master," he said, "We put ourselves entirely under his orders, as I told you. He'll see us to-night or to-morrow morning; and the rest is in his hands."
"What's the system?" asked Monsignor suddenly and abruptly looking at him.
Father Jervis considered.
"It's hard to put it into words," he said. "I suppose you might say that they used atmosphere and personality. They're the strongest forces we know of—far stronger, of course, than argument. It's very odd how they used to be neglected—-"
"Yes; until quite recently there was hardly any deliberate use of them at all. Well, now we know that they effect more than any persuasion . . . or . . . or . . . diet. And of course enclosed Religious naturally become experts in interior self-command, and therefore can apply these things better than anyone else."
He waved his hands vaguely and explanatorily.
"It's impossible to put it into words," he said. "The very essence of it is that it can't be."
Monsignor sighed and looked drearily out of the window.
* * * * *
As the hours of the day had gone by it had been this dreariness that had deepened on him, after the violent emotions of the morning. It was as if he already saw himself beaten down and crushed by those forces he had begun to recognize. And even this reminder that he was passing for a few days under a tyranny that was yet more severe failed to requicken any resentment. Inwardly the fire smouldered still red and angry; outwardly he was passive and obedient, and scarcely wished to be otherwise.
There was nothing of interest to be seen out of the window. The autumn evening was drawing in, and the far-off horizon of hills, with the rim of the sea already visible beyond it, was dark and lead-coloured under the darkening sky. He thought vaguely of Dom Adrian, in that melancholy and ineffective mood which evening suggests . . . he had been alive at this hour last night and now . . . Well, he had passed to the Secret which this world interpreted now so confidently. . . .
They halted above Dublin, and he watched, as weeks ago at Brighton, the lighted stage swing outside the windows. He noted a couple of white-frocked monks or friars, hooded in black, standing among the rest. Then he watched the stage drop out of sight, and the lights of Dublin spin eastwards and vanish. Then he turned listlessly to the book his friend had given him, and began to read.
As he stood himself on the platform at Thurles, bag in hand (they brought no servants to Ireland), it seemed to him that already there was a certain sense of quietness about him. He told himself it was probably the result of self-suggestion. But, for all that, it seemed curiously still. Beneath he saw great buildings, flattened under the height at which he stood—court after court, it appeared, each lighted invisibly and as clear as day. Yet no figures moved across them; and in the roadways that ran here and there was no crawling stream of ant-like beings such as he had seen elsewhere. Even the officials seemed to speak in undertones; and Father Jervis said no word at all. Then, as he felt the swift dropping movement beneath his feet, he saw the great lighted ship he had just left whirl off westwards, resembling a gigantic luminous moth, yet without bell or horn to announce its journey.
He followed his friend out through the doorway of the ground-platform to which the stage descended, and into the interior of a great white car that waited—still with a strange sense of irresponsibility and heaviness. He supposed that all was well—as well as could be in a world such as this. Then he leaned back and closed his eyes. There were three or four others in the great car, he noticed; but all were silent.
He opened them again as the car stopped. But the priest beside him made no movement. He looked out and saw that the car was halted between two high walls and in front of a great arched gateway. Even as he looked the gates rolled back noiselessly and the car moved through. (The others had got out, he noticed.)
It seemed, as they sped on, as if they were going through the streets of some strange dead city. All through which they passed was perfectly visible in the white artificial light. Now they ran between high walls; now along the side of a vast courtyard; now a structure resembling the side of a cloister slid by them swiftly and steadily—gone again in an instant. It was not until afterwards that he realized that there had hardly been one window to be seen; and not one living being.
And then at last the car stopped, and a monk in brown opened the door of the car.
Monsignor woke next morning, already conscious of a certain sense of well-being, and looked round the little white room in which he lay, agreeably expectant.
* * * * *
Last night had helped to soothe him a little. He had supped with his friend in a small parlour downstairs, after having been warned not to speak, except in case of absolute necessity, to the lay-brother who waited on them; and after supper had had explained to him more at length what the object of the expedition really was. It was the custom, he heard, for persons suffering from overstrain or depression, whether physical, mental, or spiritual, to come across to Ireland to one of those Religious Houses with which the whole country was covered. The only thing demanded of these retreatants was that they should obey, absolutely and implicitly, the directions given to them during their stay, and that their stay should not be less than for three full days.
"We shall not meet after to-night," said Father Jervis, smiling, "I shall be under as strict orders as you."
After they had parted for the night, the man who had lost his memory had studied the little book given to him, and had learned more or less the system under which Ireland lay. The whole island, he learned, was the absolute and inalienable possession, held under European guarantees, of the enclosed Religious Orders, with whose dominion no interference was allowed. All the business offices of the country and the ports of the enormous agricultural industries were concentrated in Dublin and Belfast; the rest of the island was cultivated, ruled, and cared for by the monks themselves. (He read drearily through the pages of statistics showing how once again, as in medieval days, under the labour of monks the land had blossomed out into material prosperity; and how this prosperity still increased, year by year, beyond all reckoning.) Of men, there were the Carthusians, the Carmelites, the Trappists, and certain sections of Benedictines; of women, there were the Carmelites, the Poor Clares, the Augustinian canonesses, and certain other Benedictines. Special arrangements between these regulated the division of the land and of the responsibilities; and the Central Council consisted of the Procurators and other representatives of the various bodies.
In return for the possession of the land, and for the protection guaranteed by the European governments, one, and one only demand was made—namely, that a certain accommodation should be offered—the amount determined by agreement year by year—both for these Retreat-houses in general, and for what were called "Hospitals-of-God" in particular. These hospitals were nothing else in reality than enormous establishments for the treatment of the mentally unbalanced; for it had been found by recent experience that the atmosphere supremely successful in such cases—especially those of certain well-marked types—was the atmosphere of the strongest and most intense religion. Statistics had shown without a doubt that, even apart from cases of actual possession (a phenomenon perfectly recognized now by all scientists), minds that were merely weak or subject to mental delusions recovered incalculably more quickly and surely in the atmosphere of a Religious House than in any other. These cases too were isolated with the greatest care, owing to the extraordinary discoveries recently made, and verified over and over again in the realm of "mental infection."
So Monsignor had learned last night; and as he lay in his little white room this morning, waiting for the instructions that, he had been informed, would arrive before he need get up, it seemed that even to his own tortured brain some breath of relief had already come. The world seemed perfectly still. Once from far away he heard the note of a single deep-toned bell; but, for the rest, there was silence. There was no footstep in the house, no footstep outside. From where he lay he could see out through his low window into a tiny high-walled court, white like his own room, except where the level lawn ran to the foot of the wall and a row of tawny autumn flowers rose against it. Above the white carved parapet opposite ran skeins of delicate cloud against the soft blue sky. It was strange, he thought, to be conscious in this utter solitude and silence of an incomparable peace. . . .
When he opened his eyes again, he saw that the hooded lay brother had come in while he dozed, and had begun to set the room to rights. A door, white like the wall, which he had not noticed last night, stood open opposite his bed, and he caught sight of a tiny bathroom beyond. A little fire of wood was leaping in the white-tiled chimney; and before it stood a table. The window too was set open, and the pleasant autumn air streamed in.
Then the brother came up to the bedside, his face invisible under the peaked hood that hung over it. He uttered a sentence or two in Latin, bidding him get up and dress. He was not to say Mass this morning. "Father" would come in as soon as he had breakfasted and give him his instructions for the day. That was all.
Monsignor got out of bed and went into the bathroom, where his clothes were already arranged. When he came back a quarter of an hour later, he found a tray set out with simple food and milk on the table beside the fire. As he finished and said grace the door opened noiselessly, and a priest in the Carthusian habit came in, closing the door behind him.
As the two faced one another for an instant, the Englishman perceived in a glance that this monk was one of the most impressive-looking men he had ever set eyes on. He was well over six feet in height, and, in his rough, clumsy white dress, he seemed enormously muscular and powerful. He carried himself loosely, with an air of strength, almost swinging in his gait. But it was his face that above all was remarkable. His hood lay back on his shoulders, and from its folds rose his strong throat and head, all as hairless as a statue's; and as the priest glanced at him he saw that strange suggestion as of a bird's head which some types convey. His nose was long, thin, and curved; his lips colourless and compressed; his cheeks modelled in folds and hollows over the bones beneath; and his eyes, of an extraordinary light grey, looked out under straight upper lids, as of an eagle.
So much for the physical side.
But, stranger than all this, was the unmistakable atmosphere that seemed to enter with him—an atmosphere that from one side produced a sense of great fear and helplessness, and on the other of a kind of security. In an instant Monsignor felt as a wounded child might feel in the presence of a surgeon. And, throughout the interview that followed, this sensation deepened incalculably.
The man said nothing—not even a word of greeting—as he came across the room. He just inclined his head a little, with a grave and business-like courtesy, and waved the other back into his chair. Then, still standing himself, he began to speak in a deep but quite quiet voice, and very slowly and distinctly.
"You understand, Monsignor, the terms on which you are here? Yes. Very well. I do not wish you to say Mass until your last morning. I have spoken to Father Jervis about you. . . .
"Meanwhile, for to-day you are at liberty to walk in the court outside as much as you wish, to read as you wish—in fact, to occupy yourself as you like in this room, the ambulatory downstairs, the roof overhead, and the garden. You are to write no letters, and to speak to no one. You will have your meals in the next room alone, where you will also find a few books. I wish you to get as quiet and controlled as you can. Tomorrow morning I will come in again at the same time and give you further directions. You will find a tribune opening out at the end of this corridor, looking into a chapel where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved. But I do not wish you to spend there more than one hour in the course of the day."
The monk was silent again, and did not even raise his eyes. Monsignor said nothing. There was really nothing to say. He felt entirely powerless, and not even desirous to speak. He understood that to obey was simply inevitable, and that silence was what was wished.
"I do not wish you to rehearse at all what you intend to say to me to-morrow," went on the monk suddenly. "You are here to show me yourself and your wounds, and there must be no false shame. You will say what you feel to-morrow; and I shall say what I think. I wish you a happy retreat."
Then, again without a word, but with that same inclination of his head, he went swiftly across the room and was gone.
It was all completely unexpected, and Monsignor sat a few minutes, astonished, without moving. He had not uttered a syllable; and yet, in a sense, that seemed quite natural. He had seen the monk look at him keenly as he came in, and was aware that this had been an inspection by some new kind of expert. Probably the monk had heard the outlines of the case from Father Jervis, and had just looked in this morning, not only to give his instructions, but to ratify by some peculiar kind of intuition the account he had heard. Yet the ignominy of it all did not touch him in the least. He felt more than ever like a child in the hands of an expert, and, like a child, content to be so. Conventions and the mutual little flatteries of the world outside appeared meaningless here. . . .
He said some Office presently, and then set out to explore his ground.
The room he was in communicated with a lobby outside, from which a staircase descended to a little cloistered and glazed ambulatory opening on to the garden. Another staircase rose to a door obviously leading to the roof. Besides the bedroom door there were two others: the one which he entered first took him into a little sitting-room also looking on to the garden, and furnished simply with a table, an easy chair, and a few books; the other opened directly on to a tiny gallery looking out sideways upon a perfectly plain sanctuary, with a stone altar, a lamp, and a curtained tabernacle, which seemed to be a chapel of some church whose roof only was visible beyond a high closed screen. He knelt here a minute or two, then he passed back again to the lobby and ascended the staircase leading to the roof. He thought that from here he might form some idea as to the place in which he was.
The flat roof, tiled across, and guttered so as to allow the rainwater to escape, at first seemed closed in on all sides with walls over six feet high. Then he perceived that each wall was pierced with a tiny double window, so contrived that it was possible to see out easily and comfortably without being seen. He went straight to one of these and looked through.
As far as he could see stretched what looked like the roofs of a great town, for the most part flattish, but broken here and there, and especially towards the horizon, by tall buildings pierced with windows, and in three or four cases by church towers. Immediately beneath him lay a vast courtyard like that of a college, with a cluster of elms, ruddy with autumn colours, in the midst of the central lawn. There was no human being in sight on this side; the roofs, many of them parapeted like his own, stretched out into the distance, their ranks here and there broken by lines which appeared to indicate roadways running beneath. He saw a couple of cats on the grass below.
On all sides, as he went from window to window of the little roofless space, there was the same kind of prospect. In one direction he thought he recognized the way he must have come last night; and, looking more carefully, noticed that the town seemed to be less extended in that direction. Half a mile away the roofs ceased, standing up against a mass of foliage that blotted out all beyond. It was here that he caught sight of a man—a white figure that crossed a patch of road that curved into sight and out again.
It was extraordinarily still in this Religious town. Certainly there were a few sounds; a noise of far-off hammering came from somewhere and presently ceased. Once he heard a door close and footsteps on stone that faded into silence; once he heard the cry of a cat, three or four times repeated; and once, all together, from every direction at once, sounded bells, each striking one stroke.
He began to walk up and down after a while, marvelling, trying to reconstruct his ideas once more, and to take in the astonishing system and organization whose signs were so evident about him. Certainly it was thorough and efficient. There must be countless institutions—hospitals, retreat-houses, cloisters, besides all the offices and business centres necessary for carrying on this tremendous work; and yet practically no indication of any movement or bustle made itself apparent. So far as solitude was concerned, he might be imprisoned in a dead city. And all this deepened his impressions of peace and recuperation. The silence, through his knowledge, was alive to him. There must be, almost within sound of a shout, hundreds of living persons like himself, yet all intent, in some form or another, upon that same overwhelming silence in which facts could be received and relations readjusted.
Yet even this, as he reflected upon it, had certain elements of terror. Here again, under another disguise, was the force that he had feared in London—the force that had sent Dom Adrian noiselessly out of life, that proposed to deal with refractory instincts in human nature—such as manifested themselves in Socialism—as a householder might deal with a plague of mice, drastically and irresistibly; the force that moved the wheels and drove the soundless engines of that tremendous social-religious machine of which he too was a part. It was here too then; it was this that had closed him in here for three days in his tiny domicile in this great dumb city; it was this that held the whole under an invisible discipline; it was this that had looked at him out of the hawk's-eyes, and spoken to him through the colourless lips of the monk who had given him his instructions this morning. . . .
Once more then his individuality began to reassert itself, and to attempt to cast off the spell even of this peace that promised relief. He became aware of an extraordinary loneliness of soul, an isolation in the deepest regions of his soul from all others. The rest of the world, it seemed, had an understanding about these matters. Father Jervis and the Carthusian no doubt had talked him over; they accepted as an established and self-evident philosophy this universal unity and authority; they regarded himself, who could not yet so accept it, as a spiritual, if not an actual mental invalid. . . . He had been brought here to be treated. . . . Well, he would hold his own.
And then another mood came on him—a temptation, as it seemed to him then, to fling personal responsibility overboard; to accept this tremendous claim of authority to control even the thoughts of the heart. Surely peace lay this way. To submit to this crowned and sceptred Christ; to reject for ever the other—this meant relief and sanity. . . .
He walked more and more quickly and abruptly up and down the little tiled space. He was conscious of a conflict all confused with dust and smoke. He began to hesitate as to which was the higher, even which was the tolerable course—to sink his individuality, to throw up his hands and drown, or to assert that individuality openly and defiantly, and to take the consequences.
He awoke the next morning after a troubled night, conscious instantly of a sense of crisis. In one way or another, it seemed, he would have to come to a decision. The monk would be with him in less than an hour.
He dressed as before and breakfasted. Then, as the monk did not come, he went out to the tribune to pray and to prepare himself.
Ten minutes later the door opened quietly, and the lay-brother who had attended on him bowed to him as he turned, in sign that he was to come.
The monk was standing by the fireplace as he came in; he bowed very slightly. Then the two sat down.
* * * * *
"Tell me why you have come here, Monsignor."
The prelate moistened his lips. He was aware again of an emotion that was partly terror and partly confidence. And there was mixed with it, too, an extraordinary sense of simplicity. Conventionalities were useless here, he saw; he was expected to say what was in his heart, but at first he dared not.
"I . . . I was recommended to come," he said. "My friends thought I needed a little rest."
The other nodded gently. He was no longer looking straight at him, the secular priest was relieved to see.
"Yes? And what form does it take?"
Still the patient hesitated. He began a sentence or two, and stopped again.
Then the monk lifted his great head and looked straight at him.
"Be quite simple, Monsignor," he said, "you need fear nothing. You are here to be helped, are you not? Then tell me plainly."
Monsignor got up suddenly. It seemed to him that he must move about. He felt restless, as a man who has lived in twilight might feel upon coming out into sudden brilliant and healthful sunlight. He began to walk to and fro. The other said nothing, but the restless man felt that the eyes were watching and following every movement. He reflected that it was unfair to be stared at by eyes that were grey, outlined in black, and crossed by straight lids. Then he summoned his resolution.
"Father," he said, "I am unhappy altogether."
"Yes? (Sit down, please, Monsignor.)"
He sat down, and leaned his forehead on his hands.
"You are unhappy altogether," repeated the monk. "And what form does that unhappiness take?"
Monsignor lifted his face.
"Father," he said, "you know about me? You know about my history? . . . My memory?"
"Yes, I know all that. But it is not that which makes you unhappy?"
"No," cried the priest suddenly and impulsively, "it is not that. I wish to God it were! I wish to God my memory would leave me again!"
But the other paid no attention.
"It is . . . it is the world I am living in—this brutal world.... Father, help me."
The monk drew a breath and leaned back, and his movement had the effect of a call for silence. Neither spoke for a moment.
"Just tell me quite simply, from the beginning," said the monk.
It was nearly half an hour later that Monsignor ended, and leaned back, at once exhausted and excited. He had said it all—he had said even more than he had previously formulated to himself. Now and then, as he paused, the monk with a word or two, or a strangely compelling look, had soothed or encouraged him. And he had told the whole thing—the sense that there was no longer any escape from Christianity, that it had dominated the world, and that it was hateful and tyrannical in its very essence. He confessed that logic was against him, that a wholly Christian society must protect itself, that he saw no way of evading the consequences that he had witnessed; and yet that his entire moral sense revolted against the arguments of his head. It seemed to him, he said in effect, as if he were held in a grip which outraged his whole sentiment; as if the universe itself were in a conspiracy against him. For there was wanting, he said, exactly that which was most characteristic of Christianity, exactly that which made it divine—a heavenly patience and readiness to suffer. The cross had been dropped by the Church, he said, and shouldered by the world.
The monk sat silent a moment or two, as motionless as he had been at the beginning. Monsignor perceived by now, even through his fierce agitation, that this man never moved except for a purpose; he made no gestures when he spoke; he turned his head or lifted his eyes only when it was necessary. Then the monk's voice began again, level and unemotional:
* * * * *
"A great deal of what you say, Monsignor, is merely the effect of a nervous strain. A nervous strain means that the emotional or the receptive faculties gain an undue influence over the reasonable intelligence. You admit that the logic is flawless, yet that fact does not reassure you, as it would if you were in a normal condition."
"Wait, please, till I have done. I know what you wish to say. It is that your sense of protest is not merely sentimental, but rather moral; is it not so?"
Monsignor nodded. It was precisely what he had wished to say.
"That is not true, however. It is true that your moral sense seems outraged, but the reason is that you have not yet all the data (the moral sense is a department of the reason, remember). Well, you admit the logic of society's defending itself; but it seems to you that that which is, as you very properly said, the divine characteristic of Christianity—I mean, readiness to suffer rather than to inflict suffering—is absent from the world; that the cross, as you said again, has been dropped by the Church.
"Now, if you will reflect a moment, you will see that it is very natural that that should appear so, in a world that is overwhelmingly Christian. It is very natural that there should not be persecution of Christians, for example, since there is no one to persecute them; and therefore that you should see only the rights of the Church to rule, and not its divine prerogative of pain. But I suppose that if you saw the opposite, if you were to watch the other process, and see that the Church is still able to suffer, and to accept suffering, in a manner in which the world is never capable of suffering, I imagine you would be reassured."
Monsignor drew a long breath.
"I thought so. . . . Well, does not the Contemplative Life reassure you? And are you aware that in Ireland alone there are four millions of persons wholly devoted to the Contemplative Life? And that, so great is the rush of vocations, the continent of Europe——"
"No," cried the priest harshly. "Voluntary suffering is not the same thing. . . . I . . . I long to see Christians suffering at the hands of the world."
"You mean that you are doubtful as to how they would bear it?"
The monk smiled, slowly and brilliantly, and there was a look of such serene confidence in his face that the other was amazed.
"Well . . ." he paused again. "Well, I take it that we have laid our finger upon what it is that troubles you. You admit that the Christian States have a right to punish all who attack the very foundations of their stability——"
"By your reason, I mean, Monsignor."
"Yes," said Monsignor slowly. "By my reason."
"But that you are not satisfied that the Church can still suffer; that it seems to you she has lost that which is of her very essence. If you saw that, you would be content."
"I suppose so," said the other hesitatingly.
The monk rose abruptly.
"We have talked enough for to-day," he said. "You will kindly spend the rest of the day as yesterday. Do not say Mass in the morning. I will be with you at the same time."
It was on the last morning of their stay at Thurles that Monsignor had an opportunity of seeing something of the real character of the place.
The lay monk came to him again, as he was finishing breakfast, and abruptly suggested it.
"I shall be very happy," said Monsignor.
* * * * *
Certainly his stay had done him good in some indefinable manner which he could not altogether understand. Each morning he had talked; but there was no particular argument which he could recall that had convinced him. Indeed, the monk had told him more than once that bare intellectual argument could do nothing except clear the ground of actual fallacies. Certainly the points had been put to him clearly and logically. He perceived now that, so far as reason was concerned, Christian society could not do otherwise than silence those who attacked the very foundations of its existence; and he also understood that this was completely another matter from the charge that men had been accustomed to bring against the Church, that she "would persecute if she had the power." For it was not the Church in any sense that used repression; it was the State that did so; and as Dom Adrian had pointed out, this was of the very essence of all civil government. But this was not new to him. Rather his stay in Thurles had, by quieting his nervous system, made it possible for him to elect to follow his reason rather than his feelings. His feelings were as before. Still in the bottom of his consciousness he felt that the Christ which he had known was other than the Christ who now reigned on earth. But now he had been enabled to make the decision over which he had previously hesitated; he had sufficiently recovered at least so far as to go back to his work and to do what seemed to be the duty to which his reason pointed, and in action at least to ignore his feelings. This much had been done. He did not yet understand by what means.
* * * * *
A car waited in the little court to which the two came down. The monk beckoned him to enter, and they moved off.
"This quarter of the monastery," began the monk abruptly, "is entirely of the nature you have seen. It is composed of flats and apartments throughout, for the simple retreats, such as your own. Each Father who is employed in this kind of work has his round of visits to make each day."
"How many monks are there altogether, Father, in Thurles?"
"About nine thousand."
". . I beg your pardon?"
"About nine thousand. Of these about six thousand live a purely Contemplative Life. No monk undertakes any work of this kind until he has been professed at least fifteen years. But the regulations are too intricate to explain just now."
"Where are we going first——"
"Stay, Monsignor" (the monk interrupted him by a hand on his arm). "We are just entering the northern quarter. It is the serious cases that are dealt with here."
"Yes; where there is a complete breakdown of mental powers. That building there is the first of the block of the gravest cases of all—real mania."
Monsignor leaned forward to look.
They were passing noiselessly along the side of a great square; but there was nothing to distinguish the building indicated from the rest. It just stood there, a tall pile of white stone; and the top of a campanile rose above it.
"You have worked there, Father?"
"I worked there for two years," said the monk tranquilly. "It is distressing work at first. Would you care to look in?"
Monsignor shook his head.
"Yes, it is distressing work, but there are great consolations. Two out of every three cases at least are cured, and we have a certain number of vocations from the patients."
"Certainly. Mania in the majority of cases is nothing else than possession. In fact some authorities are inclined to say that it is exceptional to find it otherwise. And in the other cases it is generally the force of an exceptionally strong will that has lost its balance, and is powerful enough to disregard all ordinary checks of reason and common sense and human emotion. Well, a character like that is capable of a good deal. Each case is, of course, completely isolated in this department as in all others. It is incredible to think that less than a hundred years ago such patients were herded together. The system now, of course, is to surround them with completely healthy conditions and completely self-restrained attendants. That gradually rebuilds the physical and nervous conditions, and exorcism is not administered until there is sufficient reserve force for the patient partly, at any rate, to cooperate."
Monsignor was silent. Again he felt bewilderment at the amazing simplicity and common sense of it all.
"I am taking you," said the monk presently, "to the central quarter—to the monastery proper. It is there that the main body of the monks live. The church is remarkable. It is the third largest monastic church in the world. . . . We are just entering the quarter now," he added.
Monsignor leaned forward as the air darkened, and was in time to see the great gates swinging slowly together again as if to meet after the car had passed. It was still twilight as they sped on, and he perceived that they were passing, with that extreme and noiseless swiftness with which they had come, up some kind of tunnel lit by artificial light. Then again there was a rush of daylight and the car stopped.
"We must go on foot here," said the monk, and opened the door.
The priest, still marvelling, stepped out after him, and followed through a postern door; and then, as he emerged, understood more or less the arrangement of the buildings.
He stood on the edge of an enormous courtyard, perhaps five hundred yards across. This was laid down with a lawn, crossed in every direction with paved paths. But that at which he chiefly stared was a church whose like he had never set eyes on before. It was the sanctuary end, obviously, that faced him; the farther end ran back into the high walls, pierced here and there by low doors, with which the court was surrounded. The church itself rose perhaps two hundred feet from floor to roof. It was straight from end to end, the line broken only by a tall, severe tower at the point where it joined the wall of the court; and running round it, jutting out in a continuous block, like a platform, was a low building, plainly containing chapels. The whole was of white stone, unrelieved by carving of any kind. Enormous narrow lancet windows showed above the line of chapels, springing perhaps forty feet from the ground, and rising to a line immediately below the roof. The whole gave an impression of astounding severity and equally astounding beauty. It had the kind of beauty of a perfectly bare mountain or of an iceberg. It was graceful and yet as strong as iron; it was cold, and yet obviously alive.
"Yes," said the monk, as they went across the court, "It is impressive, is it not? It is the monastic church proper. It can hold, if necessary, ten thousand monks. But you will see when we look in.
"The court we are now in is surrounded by cloisters. There are just nine thousand cells; there are, perhaps, fifty unoccupied now. Each cell, as you know, is a little house in itself, with three or four rooms and a garden; so we need space. The cemeteries are beyond the cloisters. We bury, as you know, in the bare earth without a coffin."
It was like the creation of a dream, thought the priest as he walked with his guide, listening to the quiet talk. He had seen some of these facts in the book that Father Jervis had lent him; but they had meant little to him. Now he began to understand, and once more a kind of inexplicable terror began to affect him.
But as, five minutes later, he stood in the high western gallery of the church, and saw that enormous place stretching beyond calculation to where thin clear glass sanctuary windows rose in a group, like sword-blades, above the white pavement before the altar; as he saw the ranks of stalls running up, tier above tier, and understood that, all told, they numbered ten thousand, one third of them on this side of the screen, in the lay brothers' choir, and two thirds beyond; as he imagined what it must be to watch this congregation of elect souls stream in, each with his lantern in his hand, through the countless doors that ended each little narrow gangway that disappeared among the stalls; as he pictured the thunder of the unemotional Carthusian plain-song—as he saw all this with his bodily eyes standing silent beside the silent monk, and began little by little to take in what it all meant, and what this world must be in which such a condition of things was accepted—a world where Contemplatives at last were honoured as the kings of the earth, and themselves controlled and soothed the lives of whom the world had despaired; as his imagination ran out still farther, and he remembered that this was but one of innumerable houses of the kind—as he began to be aware of all this, and of what it signified as regards the civilization in which he found himself—his terror began to pass, and to give place to an awe, and to a kind of exaltation, such as neither Rome nor Lourdes nor London had been able even to suggest. . . .
"Well?" said Father Jervis, smiling, as the two met on the platform that evening, to wait for the English-bound air-ship.
Monsignor looked at him.
"I am glad I came," he said. "No; it is not all well with me, even yet. But I will try again."
The other nodded, still smiling.
"Who was the Father who looked after me?" added the prelate. "He said he had talked with you."
"He is considered one of the best they have," said the other "I asked for him specially. He hardly ever fails. You are impressed by him?"
"Oh yes . . . but he did nothing particular."
"That is just it," smiled the old priest. He added after a pause, as the bell rang—
"You feel ready for work again? You know what lies before you?"
Monsignor nodded slowly.
"You mean the Establishment of the Church? . . . Yes; I am ready."
The scheme had been in the air for nearly two years, as Monsignor learned from his papers; and for the last month or two had come more to the front than ever. But he had not realized how close it was.
* * * * *
It was at the end of October that the Cardinal sent for him and revealed two more facts. The first was that it was the intention of His Majesty's Government to appoint a Commission to consider once more the Establishment of Catholicism as the State religion of England; and the second was that secret negotiations had been proceeding now for the last eight months between China, Japan, the Persian Empire, and Russia, as to the formal recognition of the Pope as Arbitrator of the East.
"Both points," said the Cardinal, "are absolutely sub sigillo until you hear of them from other sources. And I need not tell you, Monsignor, that they have the very strongest mutual effects."
"I beg your pardon?"
"Think it over," said the Cardinal, and waved him pleasantly away.
* * * * *
From that time forward, as week followed week, the work became enormous. He was present at interviews of which he understood not more than one half of the allusions; yet with that extraordinary skill of which he was made aware by the compliments of the Cardinal and of his own friends, he showed never a sign of his ignorance. Papers constantly passed under his hands, disclosing to him the elaborate preparations that had already been made on the part of the State authorities; and questions on various points of discipline were continually submitted to him, at the bearing of which he could only guess.
It seemed to him remarkable that so much fuss should be made upon what was by now almost entirely a matter of form, since by the restoration of Catholic property, recognition of Church courts, and a hundred other details, as well as by the affection of the people, the Church already enjoyed supreme power.
He put this once, lightly, to Father Jervis.
"The public is affected by forms much more than by principles," said that priest, smiling. "They have already accepted the principles; but even at the eleventh hour they might take fright at the forms."
"Do you mean it is possible that a Bill, if it was brought forward, might not pass?"
"Certainly it's possible. Otherwise, why haven't we had a Commission appointed? The Socialists aren't beaten yet. But it's not likely; or the Bill wouldn't be brought forward at all."
The prelate said nothing.
It was not until a few days before Christmas that the Cardinal was sent for.
At the beginning of the month the Commission had been appointed by an overwhelming majority in the House. The proposal had been brought forward suddenly by the Government, and with a speed and an employment of business-like methods that seemed very strange to the man who had lost his memory, and who still had hanging about him a curious atmosphere of earlier days, the Commission had despatched an immense amount of work within three weeks.
It was impossible to know how far negotiations had got; but even the Cardinal himself was taken by surprise when he received an invitation to attend the sitting of the Commission. He sent for Monsignor Masterman at once.
"You will attend me, Monsignor, please. I shall have to appear alone, but I should like you to be at hand."
It was with very much confused emotions that Monsignor found himself, a day or two later, walking up and down a corridor in the House of Representatives. He had arrived with the Cardinal, had gone up the broad staircase behind him, and had followed him even into the committee-room. A long table faced him as he entered, and he noticed with an odd little thrill how every man sitting there, from the white-faced, white-haired man at the head, down to the clean-shaven, clever-looking young man nearest the door, had risen as the two ecclesiastics came in. The table, he noticed, was strewed with papers. An empty chair stood at the lower end of the table—a red chair, he saw, with gilded wood.
The Cardinal sat down. The rest sat down, all in silence. Monsignor placed the despatch-box in front of his chief, opened it, laid a few books in order, and went out. . . .
Even now, in spite of all the knowledge that he had, and the constant contemplation of the cold facts of the case, it seemed to him, as on a dozen occasions before since his lapse of memory, as if life were not so real as it seemed. Somewhere, down in the very fibre of him, was an assumption that England and Catholicism were irreconcilable things—that the domination of the one meant the suppression of the other. Certainly history was against him. For more than a thousand years Church and State in England had been partners. It was but for four hundred years—and those years of confusion and of the gradual elimination of the supernatural—that the two had been at cross-purposes. Was it not historically certain therefore that, should the Supernatural ever be reaccepted in all its force, a partnership should again spring up between a State that needed a Divine authority behind its own, and the sole Institution which was not afraid to stand out for the Supernatural with all its consequences? Theology was against him; for if there was anything that theology taught explicitly, it was that the soul was naturally Christian, and therefore imperfect without the full Christian Revelation.
And yet, as he walked, he was disturbed. The proposed Establishment of the Church by the State appeared to him uncharacteristic of both—of the Church, since he still tended to think that she must in her essence be at war with the world; of the State, since he still tended to think that that too, in its essence, must be at war with religion. In spite of what he had seen, he had not yet grasped with his imagination that which both experience and intellect justified as true—namely, that it is the function of the Church to guide the world, and the highest wisdom of the world to organize itself on a supernatural basis.
He walked up and down, saying nothing. At one end of the long corridor a couple of secretaries whispered together on a settee; at the other he saw passing and repassing hurrying figures that went about their business. Doors opened occasionally, and a man came out; once or twice he saluted an acquaintance. But all the while his attention remained fixed upon the door numbered XI, behind which this quietly significant affair proceeded. The whole place seemed a very temple of stillness. The thick carpet underfoot, the noiseless doors, the admirable system of the place—all contributed to create a great solemnity.
He tried to remind himself that he was present at the making of history, but it was useless. Again and again, as, with an effort, he forced the principles before his mind, his attention whirled off to a detail—to a contemplation of his chief taking his seat in the House of Lords, and to the fabric of the carpet on which he walked; to the silent whisper of one of the two conversational secretaries; to a wonder as to the form of prayer with which the first professedly Catholic Parliament in England for more than four hundred years would open.
Then he checked himself, reminded himself of certain old proverbs about cups and hares, reflected that Socialism was not beaten yet (in Father Jervis's phrase), as recent events in Germany had shown. . . .
Once as he turned at the end of the corridor farthest from the secretaries, an interesting little incident happened. A door opened abruptly, and a man coming out quickly almost ran against him. Then the man took off his hat and smiled.
"I beg your pardon, Monsignor . . . I . . . I can guess your business here."
Monsignor smiled too, a little guiltily. He recognized the Socialist leader who had called on him a few months before.
"Yes: and I'm afraid you don't approve," he said.
Mr. Hardy made a little deprecatory gesture, still holding his hat in his hand.
"Oh! I'm a believer in majorities," he said. "And there's no doubt you have the majority. But——"
"I hope you will be merciful. That is your Gospel, you know."
"You think we have the majority?"
"Oh, certainly. The enfranchisement of women settled all that. They are always clerical, you know."
Monsignor felt the point prick him. He riposted gently.
"Well, you will have to take refuge in Germany," he said.
The face of the other changed a little; his eyelids came down just a fraction.
"That's exactly what I'm going to do, Monsignor—I—but I think there's somebody wanting you."
Monsignor turned. There was a hand beckoning him from behind a face, as if in agitation, from the entrance to door No. XI.
"If you'll excuse me," he said, and hurried off.
"I thought you'd like to be present at the end, Monsignor," whispered the member who had beckoned him. "The Cardinal is just speaking."
Committee room number XI seemed strangely quiet, as the prelate slipped in behind his friend and stood motionless. One voice was speaking; and, as he tried to catch the sense, he looked round the faces, that were all turned in his direction. He saw Mr. Manners on the extreme left.
Every man sat without moving, simply listening, it seemed, with an extraordinary attention; some leaning forward, some back, with the papers disregarded on the table. A couple of recording machines stood now in the centre. Then he began to catch the words. . . .
"I think, gentlemen," said the voice from behind the high-backed chair, "that I need say no more. We have discussed at length, and I hope to your satisfaction, the particular points on which you desired information: and my answers have brought out, I think, the essence of all the conditions on which alone the Church can accept the terms proposed.
"I wish it to be brought before the House, perfectly clearly, that in her own province the Church must be supreme. She must have an entire and undisputed right over her own doctrine and discipline; for that is at the root of her only claim to be heard. In respect to any legislation which, in her opinion, touches the eternal principles of morality—in all such things, for example, as the marriage law—her supreme authority must be respected; as well as in all those other matters of the same nature upon which you have questioned me.
"But on the other side the Church recognizes, and always will recognize, the right of a free people to govern themselves; and, not only recognizes that right, but will support it with all the power at her command. I have acknowledged that in a few instances in history ecclesiastics have interfered unduly with what did not concern them—interfered, that is, not as citizens (for that is their right, in common with all other citizens)—but in the Name of Religion. Now that, gentlemen, is simply a thing of the past. If secular rulers have learned by experience, so have ecclesiastical rulers. . . . I have invited investigation into the history of the last hundred years; and I have answered those few charges that have been brought—I hope to your satisfaction." (There was a murmur of applause.)
"In secular matters, therefore, the Church will be wholly on the side of liberty. Ecclesiastical authorities, for example, would be the first to welcome a repeal of legislation as regards heresy; but, on the other hand, we fully recognize the right of a secular State to protect itself, even by the death penalty, against those who threaten the existence of the sanctions on which a secular State takes its stand. We recognize her right, I say; but I do not mean by that that you will not find a majority of ecclesiastics who hold that it is, to put it mildly, a deplorable policy and very imperfectly Christian.
"However, I have said all this before, both in public and now again in answer to your questions; and I think that, at any rate so far as I am concerned, I shall not be to blame if the nation accepts the proposed change under a misapprehension.
"You see, gentlemen, the attempt that ended fifty years ago—the attempt that was called in its day Protestantism—to establish a religion which was to be secondary in any sense to the State, failed and failed lamentably, in spite of the noble lives that were spent in labouring for such a compromise. For it is the whole essence of a Supernatural Religion to be supreme in it own province—the very adjective asserts it; and any endeavour to compromise on this entirely vital point is in itself a denial of the principle, For a while this was not perceived. Men regarded the Christian Church—or rather, that which they took to be the Christian Church—merely, on its earthly side, as an organization comparable to a State. They did not seem to see that Religion must always have a wider basis than any secular body, since it deals with eternity as well as with time, while the State, professedly, treats only of temporal things. The consequence was either conflict, whenever supernatural elements clashed with natural; or else the subservience of Religion, and its consequent loss of prestige, as well as of its supernatural character. A National Church, therefore, is a contradiction in terms, since it asserts that that which is in its very nature larger than this world must yet be confined within the limits not only of this world, but even of a part of it. . . . Well, I need not labour that point. You grasped it, gentlemen, even before you were good enough to ask me to give evidence before this Commission. I felt it, however, only right that such conditions should be reiterated and recorded before matters went any farther.
"The Church, therefore, is perfectly content to remain as she has always remained in this country for the last four centuries—a free society governing the consciences of her children. Or she is content to take outwardly and officially that position which she has always, at least tacitly, claimed, and to reassume her civil dignity and her civil responsibilities. But she is not content to waive any of those Divine Rights with which her Founder endowed her, even in return for the greatest privileges; still less is she content to receive those privileges under false pretences. . . ."
Again the low murmur of applause broke out, and three or four men shifted their positions slightly.
* * * * *
Monsignor was conscious again, suddenly and vividly, of that double sense of unreality and of intense drama which he had felt so often before at critical moments. It seemed to him amazing, and yet more amazingly simple, that such claims should be put in such words under such circumstances. It was astounding that such things should be said, and yet more astounding that they needed to be said, for were they not, after all, the very elements of civil and religious relations? . . .
There was something too in the voice of the invisible speaker that thrilled his very heart. The tones were completely tranquil, there were no gestures, and the very face that spoke was unseen. Yet in the quiet fluency, the note of absolute assurance, there was a dominating appeal that was almost hypnotic in its effect. He had perceived this characteristic of the Cardinal often before; he had noticed it first on that occasion on which, for the first time in his knowledge, he had come into his presence, still staggered by the shock of his mental failure and recovery. But he had never appreciated the strength of the personality so clearly. The Cardinal was no orator in the ordinary sense; there was no thunder or pathos or drama in his manner. But his complete assurance and the long, gentle, incisive sentences, moving like rollers in a calm sea, were more affecting than any passion could be. . . . It seemed to him now the very incarnation of that spirit of the Church that at once attracted and repelled him—in its serenity, its gentleness, its reasonableness, and its irresistible force.
* * * * *
Then, on a slightly higher note, and with a perceptible increase of deliberation, the voice went on.
"I must add one word, gentlemen.
"I said just now that the Church was content to be as she has recently been in this country—content, that is, so long as she continues to enjoy the liberty with which England endows her.
"And perhaps, as her chief minister in this country, I ought to say no more. But, gentlemen, I am an Englishman as well as a Catholic, and I love England only less than I love the Church. I say frankly that I do love her less. No man who has any principles that can be called religious can say otherwise. I tell you plainly that should it come to be a choice between Caesar and God—between the King and the Pope—I should throw myself at once on the side of Christ and his Vicar. . . ."
(Monsignor drew a breath. It seemed to him that this was appallingly plain speaking. He expected a murmur of remonstrance. He glanced at the faces, but there was no movement or change, except that a young member suddenly smiled, as with pleasure.)