"But I love England," went on the voice, "passionately and devotedly. And in spite of what I said just now I must add that, as an Englishman, there is but one more thing that I desire for my country, and that is that she may carry out that project on whose account you, gentlemen, have met to-day."
(Again a murmur of applause rose, and sank again instantly.)
"You have kindly asked me to make this little speech, and I do not wish to turn it into a sermon, but I must conclude by saying that, splendid as is the history of England in many points, there is one black blot upon the page, and that, the act of hers by which she renounced Christ's Vicar, by whom kings reign. You have done justice at last in returning to us those possessions which our forefathers dedicated to God's service. But there remains one more thing to do, formally and deliberately, as one kingdom, to return to Him who is King of kings. I know it will come some day. As individuals, Englishmen have already returned to Him. But a corporate crime must be expiated by corporate reparation, and it is that reparation which has already waited too long. I am an old man, gentlemen. That, no doubt, is why I have been so verbose, but my one prayer for the last thirty years has been that that corporate reparation may be made within my own lifetime. . . ."
The voice suddenly trembled.
Then the watcher saw the chair pushed back, and the little scarlet cap, covering the white hair, rise above it. Simultaneously every man rose to his feet.
"That is all, gentlemen."
There was a moment's silence.
Then the applause broke out. It was not loud or noisy, as there were scarcely two dozen men in the room, yet it was astonishingly affecting, just the tapping of hands on the table and a murmur of voices.
The Cardinal silenced it by a gesture.
"One word, gentlemen. . . . I have said nothing of any opposition. Perhaps it would have been better if I had. But I will only say this, and it is something of a warning too. I do not believe that this Bill that is spoken of will necessarily mean peace. I am aware of the dangers that are threatening; perhaps I am even more aware of them than any other person present. And yet, for all that, I am not in favour of delay."
He turned suddenly, and with his long smooth step was at the door almost before Monsignor had time to open it and step aside. There was no time for any other man to speak.
The car had hardly moved off from the door before Monsignor turned to his chief.
* * * * *
"Your Eminence," he said, "what was that about danger? I did not understand."
The thin face was a little pale with the exertions of the speech, as it turned to him in answer.
"I will tell you that," he said, "as soon as the Bill becomes law."
It was an astounding scene in which Monsignor found himself, six weeks later—extraordinary from the extreme quietness of it, and the enormous importance of the issue for which they waited.
* * * * *
The Cardinal and he had gone down to Lord Southminster's house on the coast of Kent for three or four days to wait for the final news, as it was wished to avoid the possibility of any dangerous excitement on the night of the division; and it was thought that the Cardinal's absence might be of service in preventing any formidable demonstration at Westminster. He was to return to London, in the event of the Bill passing, on the following morning.
The situation was as follows:
A completely unexpected opposition had showed itself as soon as the Bill was announced. It was perfectly well known that this opposition was almost entirely artificial; but it was so well engineered that there was grave doubt whether it might not affect the voting in the Lower House. The Upper House, it was notorious, was practically unanimous in favour of the Bill; and there had been one or two unpleasant demonstrations outside the entrance to the Second Chamber.
The opposition was artificial—that is to say, its activities were managed after the manner of a stage-army, and the protesters were largely German; but the crowds were so great, and the genuineness of their opposition, such as it was, so obvious, that very clear signs of wavering had become apparent, even on the part of some of the more prominent Ministers of the Crown. Twice, also, during public appearances of the King, who was well known as a strong advocate of the Bill, there had been considerable disturbances amongst the crowds.
All this had come, of course, to the ears of the ecclesiastical authorities far more forcibly than the world outside suspected. There had been threatening letters; twice the Cardinal's carriage had been mobbed; a dozen well-known priests had been molested in the public streets. There had been meetings and consultations of all kinds; there had even been a moment when it seemed as if the Cardinal and the Prime Minister stood almost alone in their complete resolution. . . . It was not that any really responsible persons contemplated the abandonment of the Bill; but a party had almost been formed for its postponement, in the hope that when once the opposition had been dissolved it would be difficult to reorganize it again. On the other hand, the resolutes stood for the assertion that just because things were really critical in Germany—(in the state of affairs that followed the Emperor's conversion)—it was now the time for England to advance; that any hesitation shown now would be taken as a sign of weakness, and that the Socialists' cause would be thereby enormously advanced.
Three or four results therefore were possible, from the determination of the Government to push the Bill forward and to present it for its second reading this evening. First, it might pass triumphantly, if the leaders could succeed in inspiring their followers with confidence. Secondly, it might be rejected, if the panic spread; for, under the new parliamentary system that had succeeded fifty years ago to the old Party Government, it was impossible to reckon accurately on how members would ultimately vote. Thirdly, it might pass with a narrow majority; and in this event, it was certain that a very long delay would follow before the Upper House would have an opportunity of handing it on for the Royal assent. Fourthly—well, almost anything else might happen, if the crowd, assembled in Parliament Square, and swelled every hour by new arrivals, showed itself predominantly hostile. . . .
Lord Southminster's house needs no description. It is probably, even to-day, as well known as any place in England: there is no guide book which does not give at least three or four pages to the castle, as well as a few lines to the tiny historical seaside village beneath from which the marquisate derives its name. And it was in the little dining-room that adjoined the hall that the man who had lost his memory found himself on this evening with half a dozen other men and a couple of ladies.
It was a small octagonal room, designed in one of the towers that looked out over the sea; panelled in painted wood and furnished with extreme plainness. On one side a door opened upon the three little parlours that were used when the party was small; at the back a lobby led into the old hall itself; on the third side was the door used by the servants.
Lord Southminster himself was still a young man, who had not yet married. His grandfather had become a Catholic in the reign of Edward VII; and the whole house had reverted to the old religion under which it had been originally built, with the greatest ease and grace. The present owner was one of the rising politicians who were most determined to carry the Bill through; and he had already made for himself something of a reputation by his speeches in the Upper House. Monsignor had met him half a dozen times already, and thoroughly liked this fair-haired, clean-shaven young man who was such a devoted adherent of the Catholic cause.
A little silence had fallen after old Lady Southminster and her sister had gone out, and it had been curious to notice how little had been said during dinner of the event that was proceeding in London.
Half a dozen times already since they had sat down a silent man in the black gown of a secretary had slipped in with a printed slip of paper and laid it before the Marquis and then disappeared again, and it was astonishing how the conversation had ceased on the instant, as the paper was read and passed round.
These messages had not been altogether reassuring.
The first was timed at 8.13, London, and had been read before the clock chimed the quarter-past. It ran:
"MEMBERS ARE ARRIVING AFTER DINNER. HAZELTON MOBBED IN THE SQUARE."
The second, ten minutes later, ran:
"FOUR TITANIC-LINE BOATS FROM GERMANY REPORTED IN SIGHT. CORDON OF POLICE-VOLORS COMPLETED."
"MOB REPORTED DIRECTION OF HAMPSTEAD. THE PRIME MINISTER HAS BEGUN HIS SPEECH. HOUSE FULL."
The fourth, fifth, and sixth contained abstracts from the speech, and added that it was becoming increasingly difficult to hear, owing to the noise from outside.
Twenty minutes had now elapsed and no further message had been received.
* * * * *
Monsignor looked up at the Victorian clock over the carved mantelpiece and glanced at his host. The young man's eyes met his own.
"It's twenty-five past nine," said Lord Southminster.
The Cardinal looked up. He had not spoken for three or four minutes, but otherwise had shown no signs of discomposure.
"And the last message was just after nine?" he said.
The other nodded.
"What time is the division expected?"
"Not before midnight. Three guns will be fired, as I said, your Eminence, as soon as the division has taken place. We shall know before my secretary will have time to cross the hall."
Again there was silence.
* * * * *
Outside the night was quiet. The village itself lay, spread out above the beach, a hundred feet below the windows, and the only sound was the steady lap and splash of the rollers upon the shingle. The place was completely protected by the Southminster estate from any encroachment of houses, and even the station itself lay half a mile away inland.
Monsignor looked again at the faces of those who sat with him. Opposite was Lord Southminster himself in the ordinary quiet evening dress of his class, his guild-badge worn, as the custom was, like a star on his left breast. His face showed nothing except an air of attention; there was no excitement in it, nor even suspense. On his right sat the Cardinal in his scarlet. He was smiling gravely to himself, and his lips moved slightly now and then. At this moment he was playing gently with a walnut-shell that lay on his plate. The three others showed more signs of excitement. Old General Hartington, who could remember being taken to London to see the festivities at the coronation of George V, was leaning back in his chair frowning. (He had been reminiscent this evening in a rather voluble manner, but had not uttered a word now for five minutes.) The chaplain had shifted round in his chair, watching the door, and the sixth man, a cousin of the host, who, Monsignor understood, held some responsible post in the Government volor service, was sitting just now with his head in his hands.
Still no one spoke.
The cousin pushed back his chair suddenly and went to the window.
"Well, Jack?" said the host.
"Nothing—just going to have a look at the weather."
He stood there, having pulled back the curtain a little and unlatched the shutter, looking out through the glass.
Then Lord Southminster's reserve broke down.
"If it's not done to-night," he said abruptly, "God only knows——Well, well."
"It will be done to-night," said the Cardinal, still without lifting his eyes.
"Certainly, your Eminence, if nothing interferes; but how can we be sure of that? I know the Government means business."
"It's half an hour since the last message," observed the General.
Lord Southminster got up suddenly and went to the lobby-door. As he went the door into the parlours opened and his mother looked in.
"Any more news, my son?"
"No, mother. I was just going to ask."
The old lady came forward as her son went out—a splendid old creature in her lace and jewels—active still and upright in spite of her years. She made a little gesture as the men offered to move, and went and leaned by the old-fashioned open fire-place, such as her husband had put in at the restoration throughout the house.
"Your Eminence, can you reassure us?" she said, smiling.
The Cardinal, too, smiled as he turned in his chair.
"I am confident the Bill will pass," he said. "But I do not know yet what the price will be."
"Your Eminence means in England? Or elsewhere?" asked the chaplain abruptly.
"In England and elsewhere, father."
Old Lady Jane Morpeth appeared at this moment, and the two ladies sat down on the high oak settle that screened the fire from the window. They showed no signs of anxiety; but Monsignor perceived that their return at all to this room just now was significant. Simultaneously the young man came in again, closing the door behind him.
"Our enquiries are not answered," he said sharply. "We are trying to get into touch with another office."
No one spoke for a minute. Even to Monsignor, who still found it hard always to understand the communication-system of the time, it was obvious that something must have happened. He knew that Southminster Castle had been put into wireless touch with the great Marconi office in Parliament Square, and that a failure to be answered meant that something unexpected had happened. But it was entirely impossible to conjecture for certain what this something might be.
"That is serious?" remarked Lady Southminster, without moving a muscle.
"I suppose so," said her son, and sat down again.
Then the man who was looking out of the window turned and came back into the room, latching the shutters and putting the curtains into place.
"Well, Jack?" asked the General.
"I have counted eight or nine volors," he said; "usually there are only two at this time. I went to look for them."
"Three this way and five the other."
Monsignor did not dare to ask for an interpretation. But he was aware that the air of tenseness in the room tightened up still further.
The General got up.
"Southminster," he said, "I think I'll take a stroll outside if I may. One might see something, you know."
"Go up to the keep, if you like. There's a covered path most of the way up. There's a look-out there, you know. I had one set in case the wireless failed. At any rate, they may see the rockets farther along the coast."
Monsignor too stood up. His restlessness increased every moment, although he scarcely knew why.
"May I come with you too?" he said. "Will your Eminence excuse me?"
The two said nothing as they went out through the dimly lighted hall. Overhead hung the old banners in the high wooden roof; a great fire blazed on the hearth; and under the musician's gallery at the farther end they saw the bright little window behind which sat the secretary.
They stopped here and peered in.
He was seated with his back to them before an instrument not altogether unlike an old-fashioned organ. A long row of black keys was in front of him; and half a dozen stops protruded on either side. Before him, in the front, a glass panel protected some kind of white sheet; and as the priest looked in he could see a movement as of small bluish sparks playing upon this. He had long ago made up his mind not to attempt to understand modern machinery; and he had no kind of idea what all this meant, beyond a guess that the keys were for sending messages, and the white sheet for receiving them.
"Any news?" said the General suddenly.
The secretary did not move or answer. His hands were before him, hidden, and he appeared entirely absorbed.
It must have been a minute before he turned round, drawing out as he did so from before him a slip of paper like those he had already brought in.
"This is from Rye, sir," he said shortly. "They too have lost communication with Parliament Square. That is all, sir. I must take this in at once."
The two passed on, still without speaking; and it was not until they were going slowly up the long covered staircase that ran inside the skirting wall that connected the keep with the more modern part of the castle that Monsignor began——
"I'm very ignorant," he said. "Can you tell me the possibilities?"
The General paused before answering.
"Well," he said, "the worst possibility is a riot, engineered by the Socialists. If that is successful, it means a certain delay of at least several years; and, at the worst, it means that the Socialists will increase enormously throughout Europe. And then anything may happen."
"But I thought that all real danger was past, and that the Socialists were discredited."
"Certainly, in one sense. In every country, that is to say, they are in a negligible minority. But if all these minorities are added together, they are not negligible at all. The Cabinet has produced this Bill suddenly, as of course you know, in order to prevent any large Continental demonstration, as this would certainly have a tremendous effect upon England. But it seems that they've been organizing for months. They must have known this was coming . . ."
"And if the Socialists fail?"
"Well, then they'll make their last stand in Germany. But you know this better than I do, Monsignor?"
"I know a good deal here and there," confessed the other; "but I find it hard sometimes to combine it all. I had an illness, you know——"
"Ah, yes; yes."
They paused for breath in an embrasure in the wall, where a section of a half-tower supported the wall, itself running down on to the cliff side. A couple of windows gave a view of the sea, now a dark gulf under the cloudy sky, sprinkled with a few moving lights, here and there, of vessels going up or down the Channel.
"And suppose the Bill passes?" began the priest.
"If the Bill passes, we need fear nothing in England if it passes with a good majority. You know Government is an extraordinarily delicate machine nowadays; and if the Bill goes through really well, it'll be an infallible sign that the country refuses to take alarm. And if it fails, or only narrowly passes—well, it'll be the other way. The whole work will have to be done again, or at least begun——"
He faced round suddenly.
"Monsignor," he said, "I wouldn't say this to everyone. But I tell you we're at a very critical moment. These Socialists are stronger than any one dreamed. Their organization is simply perfect. Do you know any of them?"
"I have met Hardy."
"That's a brilliant man, you know."
They talked no more during the rest of the ascent, until they emerged at last on to the top of the round keep, where the old bonfires used to burn, and where the old iron cradle, used even now at coronations and great national events, still thrust up its skeleton silhouette against the pale sky. To the priest's surprise the silhouette was largely filled in.
A figure came towards them, saluted, and stood waiting.
"Eh? Who's this?" snapped the General.
"The look out, sir. We've orders to watch Rye."
"The wireless is out of communication, sir. His lordship arranged a week ago that there should be supplementary rockets."
"Where are the guns?" asked Monsignor, who was looking about him, at the empty leads, the battlemented parapet against the sky, and then back at the servant's figure.
"Down below, father. They're to be fired from here if three white rockets go up."
While the two others still talked, the priest went to the side and looked over, again suddenly overwhelmed by the strangeness of the whole position. Once again there came on him the sense of irresponsible unreality. . . . He stared out, hardly seeing that on which he looked: the grey mass of the lower castle beneath with lighted windows, at the blankness beyond, again with the scattered lights—the nearer ones, within what seemed a stone's throw, along the village street—the farther ones, infinitely remote, out upon the invisible sea. There again too, far off across the land, shone another cluster of lights, seen rather as a luminous patch, that marked Rye. There too, eyes were watching; there too it was felt that interests were at stake, so vast and so unknown, that heaven or hell might be within their limits. He looked inland, and there too was darkness, but darkness unrelieved. Near at hand, immediately below the bounding walls, rose up the dark swelling outlines that he knew to be the woods of the park, crowding up against the very castle walls themselves; and beyond, dimness after dimness, to meet the sky. . . .
It seemed to him incredible, as he looked, that things of such moment should be under way, somewhere beyond that sleeping country; and yet, as his eyes grew accustomed to the night, he could make out at last a faint glow in the sky to the north that marked the outskirts of that enormous city of which he was a citizen, where such matters even now were approaching a decision.
For it was only little by little that he had become aware that a real crisis was at hand. The Cardinal had told him the facts, indeed, in the dispassionate, tolerant manner that was characteristic of him; but the point of view necessary to take them in as a coherent whole, to see them, not as isolated events, but with the effect of the past upon them and their hidden implications and probabilities for the future—this needed that the observer should be of the temper and atmosphere of the time. For prophecy just now was little better than feeling at outlines in the dark. Facts could be discerned and apprehended by all—and the priest was well aware of his own capacities in this—but their interpretation was another matter altogether. . . . He felt helpless and puzzled. . . .
The General came towards him.
"Well," he said, "anything to be seen?"
"We may as well make our way down again. There's nothing to be gained by stopping here."
As they made their way down again through the covered passage, the General once more began to talk about the crisis.
Monsignor had heard it all before; but he listened for all that. It seemed to him worth while to collect opinions; and this soldier's very outspoken remarks cast a sort of sharp clarity upon the situation that the priest found useful. The establishment of the Church in England was being regarded on the Continent as a kind of test case; and even more by the Anglo-Saxon countries throughout the world. In itself it was not so vast a step forward as might be thought. It would make no very radical changes in actual affairs, since the Church already enjoyed enormous influence and complete liberty. But the point was that it was being taken as a kind of symbol by both sides; and this explained on the one hand the tactics of the Government in bringing it suddenly forward, and the extraordinary zeal with which the Socialists were demonstrating against it.
"The more I think of it," said the General, "the more——"
Monsignor stepped suddenly aside into the embrasure at which they had halted on the way up.
"What's the matter?"
"I thought I saw——"
The General uttered a sharp exclamation, pressing his head over the priest's shoulder.
"That's the second," whispered the priest harshly.
Together they waited, staring out together through the tall, narrow window that looked towards Rye.
Then for the third time there rose against the far-off horizon, above that faint peak of luminosity that marked where Rye watched over her marshes, a thin line of white fire, slackening its pace as it rose.
Before it had burst in sparks, there roared out overhead a deafening voice of fire and thunder, shaking the air about them, bewildering the brain. Then another. Then another.
Beneath the two as they stood, shaking with the shock, silent and open-mouthed, staring at one another, in the courtyard a door banged; then another; and then a torrent of voices and footsteps as the servants and grooms poured out of the lower doors.
Two hours later the two ecclesiastics sat together, on either side of the large table in the Cardinal's room. The Cardinal passed over the sheets one by one as he finished them. One set was being brought straight up here from the little office at the end of the hall. Another set, they knew, was simultaneously being read aloud by Lord Southminster in the hall below.
The guns had aroused even the most drowsy; and the whole population, village as well as castle, had poured into the courtyard to hear the news.
Monsignor sat and read sheet after sheet after his chief, hopelessly trying to notice and remember the principal points of the report. Everything was recorded there—the assembling of the crowds, the difficulty that the later members found in getting through into the House at all; the breakdown of the police arrangements; and the storming of the wireless station by an organized mob, many of whom had been later put under arrest.
Then there was the Prime Minister's speech, recorded word by word in the machines, and translated later, by machinery instead of by human labour, into terms of dots and dashes, themselves transmitted again over miles of country, and retranslated again by mechanical devices into these actual printed sheets that the two were reading.
The speech was given in full, down to that tremendous scene when half the House, distracted at last by the cries that grew nearer and nearer, and the messengers that appeared and reappeared from outside, had risen to its feet. And then——
The Cardinal leaned back suddenly, with a swift indrawing of his breath that was almost the first sign of emotion that he had shown.
Monsignor looked up. The last two sheets were still under the ringed hand that lay upon the table.
"Well, it's done," said the Cardinal softly, almost as if talking to himself. "But it needed his last card."
"The announcement as to the East," went on the other, with the same air. "I thank God it came in time."
"Your Eminence, I don't understand."
The Cardinal looked at him full.
"Why," he said, "the Holy Father was accepted as Arbitrator of the East by the united Powers this morning. The news was in the Prime Ministers hands at six o'clock. But I'm sorry he had to use it; it would have been stronger without. . . . Don't you understand, Monsignor? The House would have refused to vote otherwise."
"But it's finished—it's finished, isn't it, your Eminence?"
"Yes, yes, it's finished. Or had we better say it's begun. Now the last conflict begins. . . . Now, Monsignor, I'm afraid I must begin to dictate. Would you mind setting the phonographs?"
* * * * *
From the hall beneath rose a sudden confusion of cheering and stamping of feet.
"Monsignor," said the Cardinal, "I am afraid I shall have to ask you to go, after all. It is extremely important that the Catholic authorities in England should be represented in this scheme. And I think, you will have to travel with the first batch. They leave Queenstown on the first of April."
"Certainly. And when shall I be back, your Eminence?"
"You must judge for yourself. It will not be more than a month or six weeks at the outside, and I dare say a good deal less. It will depend on the temper of the settlers. The American civil authorities will have the final arrangements. But it is exceedingly important that the emigrants should have some one to speak for them; and as, of course, the Church will be believed to be really responsible, it will be as well that an ecclesiastic should be their friend. Identify yourself with them as far as possible. The civil authorities are sure to be inclined to be hard."
"Very good, your Eminence."
* * * * *
The scheme had come to birth very rapidly.
After the second reading of the Establishment Bill, it had been taken for granted, and rightly, that the rest was but a matter of time, and it was calculated that, considering the Government's attitude, the Bill would receive the royal assent before the end of the summer. Immediately, therefore, the more peaceable Socialists had taken fright, and in every European country had made representations that now that their last refuges in Germany and England had been closed to them, some arrangement ought to be made by which they could enjoy complete civil and religious liberty elsewhere. The idea had been in the air, of course, for a considerable time. There had been complaints on all sides that public opinion was too strong, that Socialists, in spite of the protection given to them, suffered a good deal in informal ways owing to their opinions, and that some expedient would have to be found for their relief. Then America had come to the rescue, openly and formally, and had offered Massachusetts, which already had a large proportion of Socialists in its population, as a colony which would be tolerated as definitely socialistic. Christians would be warned that the new system would, if the Powers agreed, be on definitely non-Catholic lines, and that the immigration laws would be in future suspended with regard to Massachusetts. There were, of course, innumerable details still to be worked out, but by the end of February the understanding was established, and from every European country emigrant parties were arranged.
There was something almost attractive about the scheme to the popular mind. It had been talked of for years before—this arrangement by which the Socialists should have an opportunity of working out once more those old exploded democratic ideas to which they still clung so pathetically. Every child knew, of course, how fifty years before the experiment had been made in various places, and how appalling tyranny had been the result—tyranny, that is, over those who, in the Socialist communities, still held to Individualism. But what would happen, the world indulgently wondered, in a community where there were no Individualists? One of two things certainly would happen. Either the scheme would work and every democrat be satisfied, or the theory would be reduced to a practical absurdity, and the poison would be expelled for ever from the world's system. Besides, if this asylum were once definitely secured and guaranteed by the assent of the Powers, the new heresy laws that were already coming to birth in Germany, that were already enforced with considerable vigour in the Latin countries, and were (it was known) being prepared and adapted for England—these could now go forward and be applied universally, without any fear of undue severity. It would, once and for all, get rid of those endless complaints as to Christian injustice in silencing the free expression of infidel and socialistic ideas, and offer them a refuge where such things could not only be discussed, but put to the test of practice.
Monsignor Masterman himself was still in a state of personal indecision, but he certainly welcomed this solution of some of his interior troubles, and he had warmly supported the scheme at every opportunity he had.
But it was strange how he could not yet, in spite of his efforts, get rid of that deep discomfort which had been, for a time, lulled by his visit to Ireland. There was still, deep down in his mind, a sense that the Christianity he saw round him, and which he himself helped to administer, was not the religion of its Founder. There was still an instinct which he could not eradicate, telling that the essence of the Christian attitude lay in readiness to suffer. And he only saw round him, so far as the public action of the Church was concerned, a triumphant Government. He could not conceal from himself a fear that the world and the Church had, somehow or other, changed places. . . .
However, this new scheme was, at any rate, an act both of justice and mercy, and he was very willing indeed—in fact he had actually proposed it more than once—to go himself with the first emigrants from England to Massachusetts.
In spite of all that he had seen in his journeys, he still found an extraordinary fascination in watching the scene at Queenstown, as the great Olympic-line volors, each carrying three hundred passengers, one by one made ready and left. He himself was to leave in the last of the four.
From the stage erected at the end of the long headland to the south of the town, he could see the harbour on his right, closed in by the city itself, rising up from the water's edge to the huge cathedral, finished fifty years before; and on his left the open sea. It was a brilliant spring morning; the air, just charged with moisture and soaked by sunlight, was a radiant medium through which the city sparkled on one side and the long, low rollers shone on the other, discharging themselves against the foot of the rocks four hundred feet below where he stood. Sea-birds wheeled and screamed about him, tilting and sliding up the slopes of the fresh west wind; but he noticed that as the first volor detached itself and slid out over the sea, pausing for an instant to head round to the compass, as if by magic every bird was gone: he could see them far away, white dots skimming inland as if for protection.
These Transatlantic volors were incalculably in advance of any he had seen before. He turned, as the first moved out, its long upper and lower decks lined with watching, silent faces—of whom the great majority were those of men—and asked for a little information from the genial Irish canon who had come from the cathedral with him, to see him start.
"They are eight hundred feet long," he said, "and limited to three hundred passengers. Of course there's the crew and stewards besides. The crossing varies from thirty-six to forty-eight hours. . . . Yes, transhipments are sometimes made during the voyage; but it's not usual. It involves a good deal of delay."
Monsignor listened as the talk went on, gathering a few facts here and there—the topographical reasons why Queenstown was still retained, as in the days of the old steamships, for a principal port, in spite of the transformation of Ireland; the total weight of the boats when the gas was out of them; above all, the incredible speed that could be attained and kept up, with a good following wind. He learned also how, by the very rigid laws of air-way, enforced now by all nations under very heavy penalties, the danger of collisions was practically abolished; and so forth. The canon talked fluently and well; but the mass of new information was so great, and the interest of watching so intense, that the enquirer's attention wandered a good deal.
He was watching the crowd of emigrants, two hundred feet below on the ground, seen through the spidery framework of the stage, railed off into a circle, surrounded by barriers that kept out the onlookers, and diminishing visibly as he watched, as the full platform flew up to the embarking stage just below where he stood and the empty platforms descended again. The murmur of talking came up to him like the buzz of a hive.
He understood that he was assisting at an historical event. For to-day practically marked, in England at any rate, the practical recognition of the two principles which up to now had been found, from their mutual irreconcilability, the cause of practically all the wars, all the revolutions, all the incessant human quarrels and conflicts, of which history was chiefly composed—their recognition and their adjustment. These two principles were the liberty of the individual and the demands of society. On one side, every man had a certain inherent right to demand freedom; on the other, the freedom of one individual was usually found to mean the servitude of another. The solution, he began to think, had arrived at last from the recognition that there were, after all, only two logical theories of government: the one, that power came from below, the other, that power came from above. The infidel, the Socialist, the materialist, the democrat, these maintained the one; the Catholic, the Monarchist, the Imperialist maintained the other. For the two, he perceived, rose ultimately from two final theories of the universe: the one was that of Monism—that all life was one, gradually realizing itself through growth and civilization; the other that of Creation—that a Transcendent God had made the world, and delegated His sovereign authority downwards through grade after grade.
So he meditated, remembering also that the former theory was rapidly disappearing from the world. These Socialist colonies were not to be eternal, after all: they were but temporary refuges for minds that were behind the age. Probably another century or two would see their disappearance.
The second and third boats started almost simultaneously, each suddenly sliding free from either side of the stage. There was a ringing of bells; one boat, he saw, shot ahead in a straight line, the other curved out southwards. He watched the second.
It resembled to his eyes a gigantic dragon-fly—a long gleaming body, ribbed and lined, blazing and winking in the spring sunlight, moving in a mist of whirling wings. From the angle at which he watched its curve, it seemed now to hang suspended, diminishing to the eye, now shooting suddenly ahead. . . . There it hung again, already a mile away, as if poised and considering, then with increasing speed it moved on and on, like a line of brilliant light; little metallic taps sounded across the water; it met the horizon, rose above it, darkened, again flashed suddenly. . . .
He turned to look for the other; but, so far as he could see, the huge blue arc was empty. He turned again; and the third too was gone.
A great ringing of bells sounded suddenly beneath him.
"You've got your luggage on board, Monsignor? . . . Well, you'd better be going on board yourself. She'll start in five minutes."
The arrival at Boston harbour was one more strange experience, and the more strange because the man who had lost his memory knew that he was coming into a civilization which, although utterly unknown to him by experience, yet had in his anticipation a curious sense of familiarity.
They had met with westerly gales, and although the movement of the ship seemed wholly unaffected (so perfect was the balancing system), yet the speed was comparatively low, and it was not until shortly before dawn on the second day that they came in sight of the American coast.
Monsignor woke early that morning, and after lying and listening for half an hour or so to the strange little sounds with which the air was full—the steady rush of wind like a long hush; the shivering of some tiny loose scale in one of the planes outside his window; a minute inexplicable tapping beneath the floor of his cabin—all those sounds so unidentifiable by the amateur, and yet so suggestive—he got up, dressed, and went across to the oratory, where he had said Mass on the previous morning, to say his prayers. When he had finished he came out again, went upstairs, and along to the end of the ship, whence from a protected angle he could look straight ahead. The lights were all on, as the sun was not yet up, and the upper deck, except for a patrolling officer, was entirely empty.
For a while he could make out little or nothing beyond the jutting prow beneath him, itself also illuminated, and various outlines and silhouettes of devices and rigging which even now he did not properly understand. Then, as his eyes grew accustomed to the dark, he began to see.
Beneath him flitted a corrugated leaden surface, flecked occasionally with white, which he knew to be water, eight hundred feet at least below, and once he caught a glimpse of a flattened-looking, fish-shaped object, which went again in an instant, lighted interiorly, which he guessed to be a coasting steamer. Before him nothing at first was visible except an enormous gulf of gloom, but presently, as the dawn came on behind, this gulf became tinged with a very faint rosy colour in its upper half, enabling him to distinguish sea from sky, and almost immediately afterwards the sea itself turned to a livid pale tinge under the glowing light.
The next thing that he noticed was that the edge of the sea against the sky began to look irregular and blotted, a little lumpy here and there, and as he looked this lumpiness grew and rose higher.
He turned as the step of the officer sounded close to him.
"That's land, I suppose?" he said.
"Yes, father; we shall be in by half-past five. . . . Beg your pardon, father, are you staying long?"
Monsignor shook his head.
"That depends on a hundred things," he said.
"Curious idea this colony; but I dare say it's best."
Monsignor smiled and said nothing.
* * * * *
Interiorly his heart had been sinking steadily during the journey. He had mixed freely with the emigrants, and had done his best to make friends; yet there was something not only in their attitude to him—for though they were respectful enough, they were absolutely impervious to any advances, seeming to regard him as independent but rather timid children might look upon a strange schoolmaster—but in their whole atmosphere and outlook that was a very depressing change from the curious, impassive, but alert and confident air to which he had grown accustomed among the priests and people with whom he mixed. The one thing that seemed to interest them was to discuss methods of government and the internal politics of their future life in Massachusetts. They asked a few questions about crops and soil; he even heard one group in animated conversation on the subject of schools, but the talk dropped as soon as he attempted to join in it. They all talked English too, he noticed.
Yet though the atmosphere seemed to him very ungenial, it appeared to him not altogether new; there appeared, somewhere in the back of his mind, to be even an element of sympathy. He felt almost like one who, having climbed out of a pit to the fresh air, looks back at others who not only live in the pit, but are content to live there.
For the world in which he had now consciously lived for the last twelve months was, in spite of the sharp rigidity and certitude and inexorable logic from which he shrank, undoubtedly a place of large horizons. In fact it seemed as if there were no horizons. On all sides there stretched out illimitable space, for eternity (with its corollaries) was fully as effective in it as was time. Those with whom he mixed, however little he might share their emotions, at any rate talked as if death was no more than an incident in life. Secretly he distrusted the reality of this confidence; but at least it appeared to be there. But with these folks all was different. These frankly made their plans for this world, and this world only. Good government, stability, good bodily health, the propagation and education of children, equality in possessions and opportunities—these were their ideas of good; and better government, greater stability, more perfect health, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and more uniform equality, their ideals.
So he pondered, over and over again, trying to understand why it was that he was at home with neither party. With his old friends he felt himself incapable of their certitudes and aspirations; with these new people, viewed for the first time en masse, he felt life resting on him like a stifling blanket. He told himself bitterly that he resembled the child's Amphibian, which could not live on the land and died in the water.
He watched mechanically the vault of heaven broaden and brighten with the sunrise behind, and the waste beneath presently to show lines and patches and enclosures as they approached Boston harbour. And his heart sank as each mile was passed, and as presently against the clear sky there stood up the roofs and domes and chimneys of the socialistic Canaan.
It was three or four days before he could again form any coherent picture to himself of what this new life would mean when once it was really under way.
He was lodged in the Government buildings, adapted a few years before from the old temple of the Christian Scientists; and each day in the rotunda he sat hour after hour with keen-faced Americans, and the few Europeans who had accompanied the emigration boats that now streamed in continually.
He flung himself into the dreary work, such as it was, with all his power; for though he had little responsibility, he was there as the accredited agent of the English ecclesiastical authorities, and his business was to show as much alacrity and sympathy as possible.
The city was, indeed, a scene of incredible confusion; and a very strong force of police was needed to prevent open friction between the belated and aggrieved Catholics for whom Boston would in future be impossible as a home, and who had not yet faced the need of migrating, and the new, very dogmatic inhabitants who already regarded the city as their own. All legal arrangements had, of course, been made before the first emigrants set foot on the continent; but the redistribution of the city, the sale of farms, the settling of interminable disputes between various nationalities—all these things, sifted although they were through agents and officials, yet came up to the central board in sufficient numbers to occupy the members for a full nine hours a day.
* * * * *
It was at the end of the fourth day that Monsignor went round the city in a car, partly to get some air, and partly to see for himself how things were settling down.
Of course, as he told himself afterwards, he scarcely had a fair opportunity of judging how a Socialist State would be when the machinery was in running order. Yet it seemed to him that, making all allowances for confusion and noise and choked streets and the rest, underneath it all was a spirit strangely and drearily unlike that to which he was becoming accustomed in Europe. The very faces of the people seemed different.
He stopped for a while in the quarter to which the English had been assigned—that which in old Boston had been, he learned, the Italian quarter. Here, in the little square where he halted, everything was surprisingly in order. The open space, paved with concrete, was unoccupied by any signs of moving in; the houses were trim and neat, new painted for the most part; and people seemed to be going about their business with an air of quiet orderliness. Certainly American arrangements, he thought, were marvellously efficient, enabling as they did some fifteen hundred persons to settle down into new houses within the space of four days. (He had learned something, while he sat on the central board, of the elaborate system of tickets and officials and enquiry offices by which such miraculous swiftness had been made possible.)
Here at least they were an orderly population, going in and out of the houses, visiting in one corner of the square the vast general store that had been provided beforehand, presenting their pledges, which, at any rate for the present, were to take the place of the European money that the emigrants had brought with them.
He halted the car here, and leaning forward, began to look round him carefully.
The first thing that struck him was a negative emotion—a sense that something external was lacking. He presently perceived what this was.
In European towns, one of the details to which he had become by now altogether accustomed was the presence, in every street or square at which he looked, of some emblem or statue or picture of a religious nature. Here there was nothing. The straight pavements ran round the square; the straight houses rose from them, straight-windowed and straight-doored. All was admirably sanitary and clean and wholesome. He could see through the windows of the house opposite which his car was drawn up the clean walls within, the decent furniture, and the rest. But there was absolutely nothing to give a hint of anything beyond bodily health and sanitation and decency. In London, or Lourdes, or Rome there would at least have been a reminder—to put it very mildly—of other possibilities than these: of a Heavenly Mother, a Suffering Man; a hint that solid animal health was not the only conceivable ideal. It was a tiny detail; he blamed himself for noticing it. He reminded himself that here, at any rate, was real liberty as he had conceived it.
He began to scrutinize the faces of the passers-by, sheltering himself behind his elbow that he might not be noticed—appearing as if he were waiting for some one. Women passed by, strong-faced and business-like; men came up and passed, talking in twos or threes. He even watched for some while a couple of children who sat gravely together on a doorstep. (That reminded him of the meeting of to-morrow, when certain educational matters had to be finally decided; he remembered the proposed curriculum, sketched out in some papers that he had to study this evening—an exceedingly sound and useful curriculum, calculated to make the pupils satisfactorily informed persons.)
Again and again he told himself that it was fancy that made him see in the faces of these people—people, it must be remembered, who were not commonplace, but rather enthusiasts for their cause, since they preferred exile to a life under the Christian system—that made him see a kind of blankness and heaviness corresponding to that which the aspect of their street presented. Many of the faces were intellectual, especially of the men—there was no doubt of that; and all were wholesome-looking and healthy, just as this little square was sensibly built and planned, and the houses soundly constructed.
Yet, as he looked at them en masse, and compared them with his general memories of the type of face that he saw in London streets, there was certainly a difference. He could conceive these people making speeches, recording votes, discussing matters of public interest with great gravity and consideration; he could conceive them distributing alms to the needy after careful and scientific enquiry, administering justice; he could imagine them even, with an effort, inflamed with political passion, denouncing, appealing. . . . But it appeared to him (to his imagination rather, as he angrily told himself) that he could not believe them capable of any absolutely reckless crime or reckless act of virtue. They could calculate, they could plan, they had almost mechanically perfect ideas of justice; they could even love and hate after their kind. But it was inconceivable that their passion, either for good or evil, could wholly carry them away. In one word, there was no light behind these faces, no indication of an incomprehensible Power greater than themselves, no ideal higher than that generated by the common sense of the multitude. In short, they seemed to him to have all the impassivity of the Christian atmosphere, with none of its hidden fire.
He gave the signal presently for the driver to move on, and himself leaned back in his seat with closed eyes. He felt terribly alone in a terrible world. Was the whole human race, then, utterly without heart? Had civilization reached such a pitch of perfection—one part through supernatural forces, and the other through human evolution—that there was no longer any room for a man with feelings and emotions and an individuality of his own? Yet he could no longer conceal from himself that the other was better than this—that it was better to be heartless through too vivid a grasp of eternal realities, than through an equally vivid grasp of earthly facts.
* * * * *
As he reached the door of the great buildings where he lodged, and climbed wearily out, the porter ran out, hat in hand, holding a little green paper.
"Monsignor," he said, "this arrived an hour ago. We did not know where you were."
He opened it there and then. It contained half a dozen words in code. He took it upstairs with him, strangely agitated, and there deciphered it. It bade him leave everything, come instantly to Rome, and join the Cardinal.
There was dead silence on the long staircase of the Vatican, leading up to the Cardinal Secretary's rooms, as Monsignor toiled up within half an hour of his arrival at the stage outside the city. A car was in waiting for him there, had whirled him first to the old palace where he had stayed nine months ago with Father Jervis; and then, on finding that Cardinal Bellairs had been unexpectedly sent for to the Vatican, he had gone on there immediately, according to the instructions that had been left with the majordomo.
He knew all now; wireless messages had streamed in hour after hour during the flight across the Atlantic. At Naples, where the volor had first touched land, the papers already mentioned full and exhaustive accounts of the outbreak, with the latest reports; and by the time that he reached Rome he was as well informed of the real facts of the case as were any who were not in the inner circle of those who knew.
The Swiss guard presented his fantastic halberd, as he passed in panting after his climb; a man in scarlet livery took his hat and cloak; another preceded him through the first anteroom, where an ecclesiastic received him; and with this priest he passed on through the second and third rooms up to the door of the inner chamber. The priest pushed the door open for him and he went in alone; the door closed noiselessly behind him. The room was the same as that which he remembered, all gold and red damask, lighted from the roof, with the great brass-inlaid writing table at the farther end, and the broad settee against the right-hand wall, but it seemed to him in his apprehensiveness that the solemnity was greater and the hushed silence even deeper. Two figures sat side by side on the settee, each in the scarlet ferraiuola of ceremony. One, Cardinal Bellairs, looked up at him and nodded, even smiling a little; the other stood up and bowed slightly, before extending his hand to be kissed. This second figure was a great personality—Italian by birth, an extraordinary linguist, a very largely made man, both stout and tall, with a head of thick and perfectly white hair. He had been a "Papabile" at the last election; and, it was thought, was certain of the papacy some day, even though it was unusual that a Secretary of State should succeed. He had a large, well-cut face, rather yellowish in colour, with very bright, half-veiled black eyes.
Monsignor kissed the ring without genuflecting, as the custom was in the Vatican, and sat down on the chair indicated.
No one spoke for a moment.
"How much have you heard, Monsignor?" asked Cardinal Bellairs abruptly.
"I have heard that the Socialists have seized Berlin and the Emperor; that the city is fortified; that there have been two massacres; and that the Emperor's life is threatened unless the Powers grant all the terms asked within . . . within four days from now."
"Have you heard of the death of Prince Otteone?"
"No, your Eminence."
"Prince Otteone was executed last night," said the Cardinal simply. "He begged to go as the representative of the Holy Father to treat for terms. They said they were not there to treat, but to grant terms. And they say that they will do the same for every envoy who does not bring a message of complete submission. That will be known everywhere by midday."
Again there was silence. The Cardinal Secretary glanced from one face to the other, as if hesitating. Monsignor made no attempt to speak. He knew that was not his business.
"Can you guess why I have sent for you, Monsignor?"
"No, your Eminence."
"I am leaving for Berlin myself to-night. The Holy Father kindly allows me to do so. I wish to leave some instructions about English affairs before I go."
For a moment the priest's mind was unable to take in all the significance of this. The Cardinal's air was of one who announces that he is going into the country for a few days. There was not the faintest sign even of excitement in his manner or voice. Before the priest could speak the Cardinal went on.
"Your Eminence, I have told you what confidence I rest in Monsignor Masterman. He has all the affairs of the English Church in his hands. And I desire that, if possible, he should be appointed Vicar-Capitular in the event of my death."
The Secretary of State bowed.
"I am sure——" he began.
"Your Eminence," cried the priest suddenly, "it's impossible . . . it's impossible."
The Englishman looked at him sharply.
"It is what I wish," he said.
Monsignor collected himself with a violent effort. He could not, even afterwards, trace the exact process by which he had arrived so swiftly at his determination. He supposed it was partly the drama of the situation—the sense that big demands were in the air; partly nervous excitement; partly a certain distaste with life that was growing on him; but chiefly and foremost a passionate and devoted affection for his chief, which he had never till this instant suspected in himself. He only perceived, as clearly as in a vision, that this gallant old man must not be allowed to go alone, and that he—he who had criticized and rebelled against the brutality of the world—must go with him.
"Your Eminence," he said, "it is impossible, because I must come with you to Berlin."
The Cardinal smiled and lifted his hand, as if to an impetuous child.
"My dear fellow——"
Monsignor turned to the other. He felt cool and positive, as if a breeze had fanned away his excitement.
"You understand, your Eminence, do you not? It is impossible that the Cardinal should go alone. I am his secretary. I can arrange everything with . . . with the Rector of the English College here, if there is no one else. That is right, is it not, your Eminence?"
The Italian hesitated.
"Prince Otteone went alone——" he began.
"Exactly. And there were no witnesses. That must not happen again."
There was an obvious answer, but no one made it. Cardinal Bellairs stood up, lifting himself with his stick.
"It is very good of you," he said quietly. "I understand why you make the offer. But it is impossible. Monsignor, will you talk with His Eminence a little? There are one or two things he wishes to tell you. I have to see the Holy Father, but I will be with you again soon."
The priest stood up too.
"I must come with you to His Holiness," he said. "I will abide by his decision."
The other shook his head, again smiling almost indulgently. Monsignor turned swiftly to the Italian.
"Your Eminence," he said, "will you get this favour for me? I must see the Holy Father after Cardinal Bellairs has seen him, since I may not go with him."
The English Cardinal turned with a little abrupt movement and stood looking at him. There was a silence.
"Well—come," he said.
The contrast between these two great Princes of the Church and their Lord and Master struck Monsignor very strongly, in spite of his excitement, as he followed his chief into the Pope's room, and saw an almost startlingly commonplace man, of middle size, rise up from the table at which he was writing.
He was a Frenchman, Monsignor knew, and not an exceptional Frenchman. There was nothing sensational or even impressive about his appearance, except his white dress and insignia; and even these, upon him, seemed somehow rather tame and ordinary. His voice, when he spoke presently, was of an ordinary kind of pitch and his speaking rather rapid; his eyes were a commonplace grey, his nose a little fleshy, and his mouth completely undistinguished. He was, in short, completely unlike the Pope of fiction and imagination; there was nothing of the Pontiff about him in his manner. He might have been a clean-shaven business man of average ability, who had chosen to dress himself up in a white cassock and to sit in an enormous room furnished in crimson damask and gold, with chandeliers, at a rather inconvenient writing-desk. Even at this dramatic moment Monsignor found himself wondering how in the world this man had risen to the highest office on earth. (He had been the son of a postmaster in Tours, the priest remembered.)
The Pope murmured an unintelligible greeting as the two, after kissing his ring, sat down beside the writing-table.
"So you have come to take your leave, your Eminence?" he began. "We should all be very grateful for your willingness to go. God will reward you."
"Plainly it must be a Cardinal this time, Holy Father," said the Englishman, smiling. "We have still four days. And one of my nationality has affinity with the Germans, and yet is not one of them, as I remarked to your Holiness last night. Besides, I am getting an old man."
There was nothing whatever of the gallant poseur in his manner, whatever were the words. Monsignor perceived that somehow or another these persons stood in an attitude towards death that was beyond his comprehension altogether. They spoke of it lightly and genially.
"Eh well," said the Pope, "it is decided so. You go to-night?"
"Yes, Holy Father, it is absolutely necessary for me to arrange my affairs first. I have chartered a private volor. One of my own servants has volunteered to drive it. But there is one more matter before I receive your Holiness' instructions. This priest here, my secretary, Monsignor Masterman, wishes to come with me. I ask your Holiness to forbid that. I wish him to be Vicar-Capitular of my diocese, if possible, in the event of my death."
The Pope glanced across at the priest.
"Why do you wish to go, Monsignor? Do you understand to what you are going?"
"Holy Father, I understand everything. I wish to go because it is not right that the Cardinal should go alone. Let there be a witness this time. The Rector of the English College here can receive all necessary instructions from His Eminence and myself."
"And you, Eminence?"
"I do not wish him to go because there is no need why two should go, Holiness. One can carry the message as well as two."
There was silence for a moment. The Pope began to play with a pen that lay before him. Then Monsignor burst out again.
"Holy Father, I beg of you to let me go. I am afraid of death; . . . that is one reason why I should go. I am crippled mentally; my memory left me a few months ago; it may leave me again, and this time helpless and useless. And it is possible that I may be of some service. Two are better than one."
For a moment the Pope said nothing. He had glanced up curiously as the priest had said that he was "afraid of death." Then he had looked down again, his lips twitching slightly.
"Eh well," he said. "You shall go if you wish it."
There was only a very small group of people collected to see the second envoy leave for Berlin. The hour and place of starting had been kept secret, on purpose to avoid a crowd; and beyond three or four from the English College, with half a dozen private friends of the Cardinal, a few servants, and perhaps a dozen passers-by who had collected below in curiosity at seeing a racing-volor attached to one of the disused flying stages on the hill behind the Vatican—no one else, in the crowds that swarmed now in the streets and squares of Rome, was even certain that an envoy was going, still less of his identity.
Monsignor found himself, ten minutes before the start, standing alone on the alighting-stage, while the Cardinal still talked below.
As he stood there, now looking out over the city, where beneath the still luminous sky the lights were already beginning to kindle, and where in one or two of the larger squares he could make out the great crowds moving to and fro—now staring at the long and polished sides of the racing boat that swayed light as a flower with the buoyancy of the inrushing gas—as he saw all these things with his outward eyes, he was trying to understand something of the new impulses and thoughts that surged through him. He could have given little or no account of the reasons why he was here; of his hopes or fears or expectations. He was as one who watches on a sheet shadow-figures whirl past confusedly, catching a glimpse here of a face or body, now of a fragmentary movement, that appeared to have some meaning—yet grasping nothing of the intention or plan of the whole. Or, even better, he was as one caught in a mill-race, tossed along and battered, yet feeling nothing acutely, curious indeed as to what the end would be, and why it had had a beginning, yet fundamentally unconcerned. The thing was so: there was no more to be said. He knew that it was necessary that he should be here, about to start for almost certain death, as that his soul should be inhabiting his body.
But even all these recent happenings had not as yet illuminated him in the slightest as to the real character of the world that he found so bewildering. He felt, vaguely, that he ought to have by now all the pieces of the puzzle, but he was still as far as ever from being able to fit them into a coherent whole. He just perceived this—and no more—that the extraordinary tranquillity of these Catholics in the presence of death was a real contribution to the problem—as much as the dull earthliness of the Socialist colony in America. It was not merely Dom Adrian in particular who had been willing to die without perturbation or protest; his judges and accusers seemed just as ready when their turn came. And he—he who had cried out at Christian brutality, who had judged the world's system by his own and found it wanting—he feared death; although, so far his fear had not deterred him from facing it.
He took his place in the narrow cabin in the same mood, following the Cardinal in after the last good-byes had been said. It was a tiny place, fitted with a single padded seat on either side covered with linen and provided with pillows; a narrow table ran up the centre; and strong narrow windows looked directly from the sides of the boat. A stern platform, railed in and provided with sliding glass shutters, gave room to take a few steps of exercise; but the front of the boat was entirely occupied with the driver's arrangements. It was a comparatively new type of boat, he learned from some one with whom he had talked just now, used solely for racing purposes; and its speed was such that they would find themselves in Berlin before morning.
The stern door was swung to by one who leaned from the stage. Still through the glass the Cardinal smiled out at his friends and waved his hand. Then a bell struck, a vibration ran through the boat, the stage outside lined with faces suddenly swayed and then fell into space.
The Cardinal laid his hand on the priest's knee.
"Now let us have a talk," he said.
The air that breathed down from the Alps was beginning to cloud the windows of the cabin before they had finished talking.
The man who had lost his memory, under the tremendous stress of an emotion of which he was hardly directly conscious at all—the emotion generated by the knowledge that every whistling mile that fled past brought him nearer an almost certain death—had experienced a kind of sudden collapse of his defences such as he had never contemplated.
He had told everything straight out to this quiet, fatherly man—his terrors, his shrinking from the unfamiliar atmosphere of thought to which he had awakened, it seemed, a few months before, his sense that Christianity had lost its spirit, and, above all, the strange absence of any definite religious emotion in himself. He found this difficult to put into words; he had hardly realized it even to himself.
The Cardinal put one question.
"And yet you are facing death on the understanding that it is all true?"
"I suppose so."
"Very well, then. That is faith. You need say no more. You have been to confession?"
The old man was silent for a moment.
"As to the unreality, the feeling that the Church is heartless, I think that is natural. You had a violent mental shock in your illness. That means that your emotions are very sensitive, almost to the point of morbidness. Well, the heart of the Church is very deep, and you have not found it yet. That does not greatly matter. You must keep your will fixed. That is all that God asks. . . . I think it is true that the Church is hard, in a certain sense; or shall we call it a Divine strength? It is largely a matter of words. She has had that strength always. Once it nerved her to suffer; now it nerves her to rule. But I think you would find that she could suffer again."
"Your Eminence!" cried the priest lamentably, "I am beginning to see that. . . . Yourself. . . . Prince Otteone. . . ."
The Cardinal lifted his hand.
"Of myself we need not speak. I am an old man, and I do not expect to suffer. Prince Otteone was another matter. He was a young man, full of life; and he knew to what he was going. Well, does not his case impress you? He went quite cheerfully, you know."
The priest was silent.
"What are you thinking of, my son?"
The priest shivered a little.
"Tell me," said the Cardinal again.
"It is the Holy Father," burst out the other impulsively. "He was terrible: so unconcerned, so careless as to who lived or died. . . ."
He looked up in an agony, and saw a look almost of amusement in the old man's eyes fixed on him.
"Yes, do not be afraid," murmured the old man. "You think he was unconcerned? Well, ought he not to be? Is not that what we should expect of the Vicar of Christ?"
"Yes, yes, and his Vicar too has wept. I have seen it. But Christ went to death without tears."
"But . . . but this man is not going," cried the priest. "He is sending others. If he went himself——"
He stopped suddenly; not at a sound, but at a kind of mental vibration from the other. Up here in these heights, under the pressure of these thoughts, every nerve and fibre seemed stretched to an amazing pitch of sensitiveness. It seemed to him as if he had never before lived at such a pitch.
But the other said nothing. Once his lips opened, but they closed again. The priest said nothing. He waited.
"I think no one would expect the Holy Father to go himself under such circumstances," said the Cardinal gently and blandly. "Do you not think that it might be harder for him to remain?"
Monsignor felt a wave of disappointment. He had expected a revelation of some kind, or a vivid sentence that would make all plain.
The old man leaned forward again smiling.
"Do not be impatient and critical," he said. "It is enough that you and I are going. That should occupy us. Come, let us look through these papers again."
It was an hour later that they swept down into the French plains. The glass cleared again as they reached the warmer levels, and Monsignor became conscious of an overpowering weariness. He yawned uncontrollably once or twice. His companion laughed.
"Lie down a little, Monsignor. You have had a hard day of it. I must have some sleep too. We must be as fresh as we can for our interview."
Monsignor said nothing. He stepped across to the other couch, and slipped off his shoes, took off his cincture, and lay down without a word. Almost before he had finished wondering at the marvellous steadiness of this flying arrow of a ship, he had sunk down into complete unconsciousness.
He awoke with a start, coming up, as is common after the deep sleep of exhaustion, into a state in which, although the senses are awake, the intellect is still in a kind of paralysis of slumber. He threw his feet off the couch and sat up, staring about him.
The first thing which he noticed was that the cabin was full of a pale morning light, cold and cheerless, although the shaded lights still burned in the roof. Then he saw that the Cardinal was sitting at the farther end of the opposite couch, looking intently out; that one of the glass shutters was slid back, and that a cold, foggy air was visibly pouring in past the old man's head. Then he saw the head of the driver through the glass panes in the door; his hand rested on the grip of some apparatus connected with the steering, he believed.
But beyond this there was nothing to be seen through the windows opposite, of which the curtains had been drawn back; he saw nothing but white driving mist. He tore back the curtains behind him, and there also was the mist. It was plain then that they were not at rest at any stage; and yet the slight humming vibration, of which he had been conscious before he fell asleep, and even during one or two moments of semi-wakefulness during the night, this had ceased. The car hung here, like a floating balloon, motionless, purposeless—far up out of sight of land, and an absolute silence hung round it.
He moved a little as these things began to arrange themselves in his mind, and at the movement the Cardinal turned round. He looked old and worn in this chilly light, and his unshaven chin sparkled like frost. But he spoke in his ordinary voice, without any sign of discomposure.
"So you are awake, Monsignor? I thought I would let you have your sleep out."
"What has happened? Where are we?"
"We arrived half an hour ago. They signalled to us to remain where we were until they came up."
"We have arrived!"
"Certainly. We passed the first Berlin signalling light nearly three-quarters of an hour ago. We slowed down after that, of course."
The priest turned his head suddenly and made a movement with it downwards. The Cardinal leaned forward again and peered through the open shutter.
"I think they are coming up at last," he said, drawing his head back. "Hush! Listen, Monsignor."
The priest listened with all his might. At first he heard nothing except the faint whistle of the wind somewhere in the roof. Then he heard three or four metallic noises, as if from the depths of a bottomless hit, faint and minute; and then, quite distinctly, three strokes of a bell.
The Cardinal nodded.
"They are starting," he said. "They have kept us long enough."
He slipped along the seat to where his scarlet cincture and cap lay, and began to put these on.
Monsignor sprang across and lifted down the great Roman cloak from its peg.
"You had better get ready yourself," said the Cardinal. "They will be here in a moment."
As the priest slipped on his second shoe, a sound suddenly stopped him dead for an instant. It was the sound of voices talking somewhere beneath in the fog. Then he finished, and stood up, just as there slid cautiously upwards, like a whale coming up to breathe, past the window by which the Cardinal was now standing cloaked and hatted, first a shining roof, then a row of little ventilators, and finally a line of windows against which a dozen faces were pressed. He saw them begin to stir as the scarlet of the Cardinal met their eyes.
"We can sit down again," said the old man, smiling. "The rest is a matter for the engineers."
It seemed strange afterwards to the priest how little real or active terror he felt. He was conscious of a certain sickly sensation, and of a sourish taste on his lips, as he licked them from time to time; but scarcely more than this, except perhaps of a sudden shivering spasm that shook him once or twice as the fog-laden breeze poured in upon him.
He sat there watching through the windows in a kind of impassivity, as much as he could see of the method by which the racing-boat was attached by long, rigid rods to the steady floating raft that had risen from beneath. (He was even interested to observe that these rigid rods were of telescopic design, and were elongated from their own interiors. One of them pushed forward once to within a foot of the windows; then the tapering end seemed to fall apart into two hooked ends, singularly like a lean finger and thumb with roughened surfaces. This, in its turn, rose out of sight, and he heard it slide along the roof overhead, till it caught some projection and there clenched.)
So the process went on, slowly and deliberately. The driver still remained at his post, answering once or twice questions put to him from some invisible person outside. The Cardinal still sat, motionless and silent, on the opposite seat. Then, after perhaps ten minutes' delay, a sensation of descending became perceptible.
His fear, such as it was, took a new form, as presently through the thinning fog he became aware that the earth was approaching. The first clear indication of this was the sound of a clock striking. He counted the strokes carefully, and immediately forgot what it was that he had counted. Then, as he watched with straining eyes for buildings or towers to make their appearance, the movement stopped; there was a faint jarring sensation, then the sound of trampling feet, then a heavy shock. He had forgotten that stages were used.
The Cardinal stood up.
"Come, Monsignor," he said, and gave his hand to him.
So the two stood a moment longer. Then the footsteps sounded on the boat; a shadow fell across the glass of the stern-door. The door opened, letting in a rush of foggy air, and two men in uniform came swiftly inside.
"Your name and your business, gentlemen?" said the foremost shortly, in excellent English.
"I am come on behalf of the Holy Father," said the Cardinal steadily. "My name is Cardinal Bellairs. This is my secretary, Monsignor Masterman. He is not an envoy."
"Exactly," said the man. "That is all in order. You were seen by our guard-boats. Will you step this way?"
A bridge had been thrown across from the raft to the racing-boat, and the latter was now attached to an immense stage whose sides ran down into the fog. The stage-platform was crowded with men, some in official uniform, some in blouses; but a way was kept clear for the visitors, and they passed across without any actual show of hostility or resentment. Monsignor noticed but one detail—that no salutation of any kind was given; and as they took their seats in the lift, with the two officials close beside them, he heard guttural conversation break out, and, he thought, one loud laugh. The doors were latched, and the lift dropped.
The speed was so great that it would have been impossible to see anything of the town into which they descended, even had the fog been absent. As it was, Monsignor saw nothing except the sudden darkening of the air round them. Then as the speed slackened he saw the side of some great building not twenty yards away. Then the lift stopped and the doors were opened.
A group of men stood there, with something of an expectant air in their stolid faces. All these were in uniform of some description; one stood a little in advance of the rest and held a paper in his hand.
"Cardinal Bellairs?" he said, also in English. "And Monsignor Masterman?"
The Cardinal bowed.
"We had information from Rome last night. I understand you have a communication from the Powers?"
"From the Holy Father, whom the European Powers have appointed to represent them."
"It is the same thing," said the man brusquely. "The Council are waiting to receive you. Kindly follow me."
The official who had brought them down stepped forward.
"I understand, sir, that this gentleman" (he indicated the priest) "is not an envoy."
"Is that so?" asked the other.
"Very good. I only have authority to introduce the envoy. Monsignor Masterman will be good enough to follow the other gentleman. Your Eminence, will you come with me?"
On looking back afterwards on the whole experience, that which stood out as most shocking in it all, to the priest's mind, was the abominable speed with which the tragedy was accomplished. It was merciful, perhaps, that it was so, for even the half-hour or so which elapsed before the priest had any more news dragged itself to an intolerable length.
He walked up and down the little furnished room—some kind of parlour, he understood, attached to a government building seized by the revolutionaries, guarded, he knew, by a couple of men in the passage, whose voices he occasionally heard—in a sort of dull agony, far more torturing than positive objective fear.
He tried to comfort himself by retelling to himself the story of the last few days; reminding himself how, after the first outburst, when the police had been shot down by these new weapons of which he understood nothing, and the palace had been taken, and the city reduced to a state of defenceless terror—the revolutionaries had sternly repressed the second attempted massacre in a manner not unworthy of real civilization.
A great deal of the whole story was unintelligible to him. He just knew the outlines. First, it was obvious that the revolution had been planned in all its details months before. There had been, soon after the Emperor's conversion, a great access of other converts, accompanied by a dispersal to other countries, notably America, of innumerable people of the lower classes who were known as Socialists. All this was looked upon by the authorities as natural, and as actually reassuring. There had been a few protests against the new proposals with regard to legislation; but not enough to rouse any suspicion that violence would be attempted. Finally, when the organized emigration was beginning, and even the most pessimistic politicians were beginning to regard the situation as saved, without the slightest warning the blow had been struck, obviously by the directions of an international council whose very existence had not been suspected.
As to the details of the revolution itself he was even more vague, for the understanding of it depended on an acquaintance with the internal arrangements of Berlin, by which a kind of interior citadel, not outwardly fortified in any way, yet held in its compass all those immense "power-stations" by which, in the present day, every town was defended. (He did not know exactly what these "power-stations" were, beyond the fact that they were the lineal successors of the old gun-forts, and controlled an immense number of mines both within the city and without it, as well as some kind of "electric ray," which was the modern substitute for cannon.) Well, it was this "citadel," including the Emperor's palace, that had been suddenly seized by the revolutionaries, obviously by the aid of treachery. And the thing was done. It was impossible for the other Powers, or even for the German air-navy itself, to wipe the whole place out of existence, since it was known that the Emperor himself was in the hands of the rebels. (It was a bald story, as he had heard it; yet he reflected that great coups usually were extremely and unexpectedly simple.)
Finally, there were the terms demanded—terms which the Powers were unanimous in rejecting, since they included the formal disestablishment of the Church throughout Europe and the complete liberty of the Press, with guarantees that these should continue. The alternative to the acceptance of these terms was the execution of the Emperor and formal war declared upon Europe—a war which, of course, could have but one ending, but which, until that end came, would mean, under the new conditions of warfare, an almost unimaginable destruction of life and property, especially since (as was known) the Socialists repudiated all the international laws of warfare. The defiance was, of course, a ridiculous and a desperate one, but it was the defiance of a savage child who held all modern resources in his hands and knew how to use them. There was also possible, as some said, a rising all over the civilized world, should the movement meet with success.
So much, in brief, was what Monsignor Masterman knew. So much, indeed, was now public property all the world over, and it was not reassuring.
Certainly he feared death for himself; yet, as he paced up and down, he could honestly and sincerely tell himself that this was not foremost in his mind. Rather it was a sense of bewildered shock and horror that such things could have broken in upon that orderly, disciplined world with which he had become familiar. It was this horror that hung over him—its impression deepened by the bleak April morning, the nervous strain under which he suffered, the brusque discourtesy of the men who had received him, and the knowledge that scarcely thirty-six hours before an envoy who had come alone and peaceably had been done to death in this silent city. And the horror also centred for him now, as in a symbol, in the old Cardinal whom he was learning to love.
He framed, as men do when the imagination is stimulated to the highest pitch, a dozen possible events—each seen by him mentally, clear, in a picture. He constructed for himself the Cardinal's return with news of a compromise, with an announcement at least of delay. (He knew a few of the proposals that were to be made by sanction of the Pope.) Or he saw him coming back, anxious and perturbed, with nothing decided. Or he imagined himself being sent for in haste. . . . And there were other pictures, more terrible; and against these he strove with all his will, telling himself that it was inconceivable that such things should be. Yet not one of his imaginings was as terrible as the event itself. . . .
It came swift and sudden, without the faintest sign or premonition.
As he turned in his endless pacings, down at the farther end of the room, his ears for the instant filled with the clatter of some cart outside the open, barred windows, a figure came swiftly into the room, without the sound of a footstep to warn him. Behind he could make out two faces waiting. . . .
It was the Cardinal who stood there, upright and serene as ever, with a look in his eyes that silenced the priest. He lifted his hand on which shone his great amethyst, and at the motion, scarcely knowing what he did, the priest was on his knees.
"Benedictio Dei omnipotentis Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti, descendat super te, et maneat semper."
That was all; not a word more.
And as the priest sprang up with a choking cry, the slender figure was gone, and the door shut and locked.
All day long there had hung a strange silence over the city, unlike in its quality that ordinary comparative quiet of modern towns to which the man who had lost his memory had become by now accustomed. He knew well by now the gentle, almost soothing, hum of busy streets, as the traffic and the footsteps went over the noiseless pavements, and the air murmured with the clear subdued notes of the bells and the melodious horns of the swifter vehicles; all this had something of a reassuring quality, reminding the listener that he lived in a world of men, active and occupied indeed, but also civilized and self-controlled.
But the silence of this inner quarter of Berlin was completely different. Its profoundness was sinister and suggestive. Now and again came a rapid hooting note, growing louder and more insistent, as some car, bound on revolutionary work, tore up some street out of sight at forty miles an hour and away again into silence. Several times he heard voices in sharp talk pass beneath his window. Occasionally somewhere overhead in the great buildings sounded the whir of a lift, a footstep, the throwing up of a window. And to each sound he listened eagerly and intently, ignorant as to whether it might not mark the news of some fresh catastrophe, the tidings of some decision that would precipitate his world about him.
As to the progress of events he knew nothing at all.
Since that horrible instant when the door had closed in his face and the Cardinal had gone again as mysteriously as he had come—now three days ago—he had heard no hint that could tell him how things developed. He had not even dared to ask the taciturn servant in uniform who brought him food as to the fate of the old man. For he knew with a certainty as clear as if he had seen the dreadful thing done, that his friend and master was dead—dead, as the Revolutionary Committee had said he would be, if he came with any message other than that of submission. As to the manner of his death he dared not even conjecture. It would be swift, at least. . . .
Ten thousand thoughts, recurring and recurring, like pictures thrown on a wall, ran past his attention as the hours went by. He saw the gathering of armaments—the horizon tinged by the gathering war-vessels of the air—the advance, the sudden storm of battle, the gigantic destruction from these vast engines of power of which he had learned nothing but their ghastly potentialities. Or he saw the advance of this desperate garrison, dispersing this way and that for their war upon the world—silent vessels, moving in the clouds, to Rome, to London, to Paris and Versailles, each capable of obliterating a city. Or he saw, again, the submission of the world to the caprice of these desperate children who feared nothing—not even death itself—who crouched like an ape in a powder-magazine, lighted match in hand, careless as to whether or no themselves died so long as the world died with them.
He formulated nothing; concluded nothing; he rejected every conjecture which temporarily constructed itself in his almost passive mind. He did not even yet fully understand that the question he had asked of himself months before—the question that had tortured him so keenly—as to whether these Christians who ruled had not forgotten how to suffer—had been answered with dreadful distinctness. He just perceived that the young Roman prince had been gallant; that the old man had been more gallant still, since those to whom he came had already proved that they would keep their word. And now the third day was drawing to an end, and by midnight suspense would be over.
The fog still hung over the city; but towards sunset it lifted a little, and he raised his heavy head from his breast as he lay, half sitting, half lying, on the tumbled sofa and blankets on which he had slept, to see the red sunlight on the wall above him. It was a curious room to a man who had grown accustomed to modern ways; there was a faded carpet on the floor, paper on the walls, and the old-fashioned electric globes hung, each on its wire, from the whitewashed ceiling. He saw that it must be a survival, or perhaps a deliberate archaicism. . . .
The sunlight crept slowly up the wall. . . .
Then the door was unlocked from the outside, and he turned his head, to see James Hardy come smiling towards him.
"Good evening, Monsignor. I am ashamed that I have not paid you a visit before. But we have been very busy these days."
He sat down without offering to shake hands.
The priest saw, with one of those sudden inexplicable intuitions more certain than any acquired knowledge, two things: first, that his having been left alone for three days had been by deliberation and not carelessness; and second, that this visit to him only a few hours before the time of truce expired was equally deliberate. His brain was too confused for him to draw any definite conclusion from these facts; but he made at least one provisional decision, as swift as lightning, that he must hold his tongue.
"You have had an anxious time, I am afraid," went on the other. "But so have we all. You must bear no malice, Monsignor."
The priest said nothing. He looked between his half-closed eyelids at the heavy, clean-shaven, clever face of the man who sat opposite him, the strong, capable and rather humorous mouth, his close-cut hair turning a little grey by the ears, watching for any sign of discomposure. But there was none at all.
The man glanced up, caught his eye, and smiled a little.
"Well, I am afraid you're not altogether pleased with us. But you must bear in mind, Monsignor, that you've driven—" (he corrected his phrase)—"you drove us into a corner. I regret the deaths of the two envoys as much as you yourself. But we were forced to keep our word. Obviously your party did not believe us, or they would have communicated by other means. Well, we had to prove our sincerity." (He paused). "And we shall have to prove it again to-night, it seems."
Again there was silence.
"I think you're foolish to take this line, Monsignor," went on the other briskly—"this not speaking to me, I mean. I'm quite willing to tell you all I know, if you care to ask me. I've not come to bully you or to triumph over you. And after all, you know, we might easily have treated you as an envoy, too. To be quite frank, it was I who pleaded for you. . . . Oh! not out of any tenderness; we have got past that. You Christians have taught us that. But I thought that so long as we kept our word we need not go beyond it. And it's proved that I'm right. . . . Aren't you curious to know why?"
The priest looked at him again.
"Well, we are going to send you back after midnight. You will have to witness the last scene, I am afraid, so that you can give a true account of it—the Emperor's death, I mean."
He paused again, waiting for an answer. Then he stood up, at last, it seemed, pricked into impatience.
"Kindly come with me, Monsignor," he said abruptly. "I have to take you before the Council."
It was a large hall, resembling a concert-room, into which the priest came at last, an hour later, under the escort of James Hardy and a couple of police, and he had plenty of time to observe it, as he stood waiting by the little door through which he stepped on to the back of the platform.
This platform stood at the upper end of the hall, and was set with a long semicircle of chairs and desks, as if for judges, and these were occupied by perhaps thirty persons, dressed, he saw, in dull colours, all alike. The dresses seemed curiously familiar; he supposed he must have seen them in pictures. Then he remembered a long while ago Father Jervis telling him that the Socialists resented the modern developments in matters of costume.
The President's desk and seat were raised a little above the others, but from behind the priest could see nothing of him but his black gown and his rather long iron-grey hair; he seemed to be answering in rapid German some question that one of his colleagues had just put to him.
The rest of the hall was almost empty. A table stood at the foot of the platform, and here were three or four of the usual recording machines; a dozen men sat here too, some writing, some listening, leaning back in their chairs. In the middle, on the opposite side of the table, stood a structure resembling a witness-box, ascended by two steps, railed in on the three other sides. A man with a pointed grey beard was leaving the box as the priest came in. Standing about the hall also were perhaps twenty other persons apparently listening to the President or waiting their turn. There were tall doors at the end of the hall, closed and guarded by police, and in the middle of each of the long sides two other doors, also closed, communicating with other rooms and passages, in one of which the priest had waited just now until the Council could see him.