* * * * *
It was too far for the two to hear what was said, but Mabel slipped a paper, smiling tremulously, into the old lady's hand, and herself bent forward to listen.
Old Mrs. Brand looked at that, too, knowing that it was an analysis of her son's speech, and aware that she would not be able to hear his words.
There was an exordium first, congratulating all who were present to do honour to the great man who presided from his pedestal on the occasion of this great anniversary. Then there came a retrospect, comparing the old state of England with the present. Fifty years ago, the speaker said, poverty was still a disgrace, now it was so no longer. It was in the causes that led to poverty that the disgrace or the merit lay. Who would not honour a man worn out in the service of his country, or overcome at last by circumstances against which his efforts could not prevail?... He enumerated the reforms passed fifty years before on this very day, by which the nation once and for all declared the glory of poverty and man's sympathy with the unfortunate.
So he had told them he was to sing the praise of patient poverty and its reward, and that, he supposed, together with a few periods on the reform of the prison laws, would form the first half of his speech.
The second part was to be a panegyric of Braithwaite, treating him as the Precursor of a movement that even now had begun.
Old Mrs. Brand leaned back in her seat, and looked about her.
The window where they sat had been reserved for them; two arm-chairs filled the space, but immediately behind there were others, standing very silent now, craning forward, watching, too, with parted lips: a couple of women with an old man directly behind, and other faces visible again behind them. Their obvious absorption made the old lady a little ashamed of her distraction, and she turned resolutely once more to the square.
Ah! he was working up now to his panegyric! The tiny dark figure was back, a yard nearer the statue, and as she looked, his hand went up and he wheeled, pointing, as a murmur of applause drowned for an instant the minute, resonant voice. Then again he was forward, half crouching—for he was a born actor—and a storm of laughter rippled round the throng of heads. She heard an indrawn hiss behind her chair, and the next instant an exclamation from Mabel.... What was that?
There was a sharp crack, and the tiny gesticulating figure staggered back a step. The old man at the table was up in a moment, and simultaneously a violent commotion bubbled and heaved like water about a rock at a point in the crowd immediately outside the railed space where the bands were massed, and directly opposite the front of the platform.
Mrs. Brand, bewildered and dazed, found herself standing up, clutching the window rail, while the girl gripped her, crying out something she could not understand. A great roaring filled the square, the heads tossed this way and that, like corn under a squall of wind. Then Oliver was forward again, pointing and crying out, for she could see his gestures; and she sank back quickly, the blood racing through her old veins, and her heart hammering at the base of her throat.
"My dear, my dear, what is it?" she sobbed.
But Mabel was up, too, staring out at her husband; and a quick babble of talk and exclamations from behind made itself audible in spite of the roaring tumult of the square.
Oliver told them the explanation of the whole affair that evening at home, leaning back in his chair, with one arm bandaged and in a sling.
They had not been able to get near him at the time; the excitement in the square had been too fierce; but a messenger had come to his wife with the news that her husband was only slightly wounded, and was in the hands of the doctors.
"He was a Catholic," explained the drawn-faced Oliver. "He must have come ready, for his repeater was found loaded. Well, there was no chance for a priest this time."
Mabel nodded slowly: she had read of the man's fate on the placards.
"He was killed—trampled and strangled instantly," said Oliver. "I did what I could: you saw me. But—well, I dare say it was more merciful."
"But you did what you could, my dear?" said the old lady, anxiously, from her corner.
"I called out to them, mother, but they wouldn't hear me."
Mabel leaned forward—-
"Oliver, I know this sounds stupid of me; but—but I wish they had not killed him."
Oliver smiled at her. He knew this tender trait in her.
"It would have been more perfect if they had not," she said. Then she broke off and sat back.
"Why did he shoot just then?" she asked.
Oliver turned his eyes for an instant towards his mother, but she was knitting tranquilly.
Then he answered with a curious deliberateness.
"I said that Braithwaite had done more for the world by one speech than Jesus and all His saints put together." He was aware that the knitting-needles stopped for a second; then they went on again as before.
"But he must have meant to do it anyhow," continued Oliver.
"How do they know he was a Catholic?" asked the girl again.
"There was a rosary on him; and then he just had time to call on his God."
"And nothing more is known?"
"Nothing more. He was well dressed, though."
Oliver leaned back a little wearily and closed his eyes; his arm still throbbed intolerably. But he was very happy at heart. It was true that he had been wounded by a fanatic, but he was not sorry to bear pain in such a cause, and it was obvious that the sympathy of England was with him. Mr. Phillips even now was busy in the next room, answering the telegrams that poured in every moment. Caldecott, the Prime Minister, Maxwell, Snowford and a dozen others had wired instantly their congratulations, and from every part of England streamed in message after message. It was an immense stroke for the Communists; their spokesman had been assaulted during the discharge of his duty, speaking in defence of his principles; it was an incalculable gain for them, and loss for the Individualists, that confessors were not all on one side after all. The huge electric placards over London had winked out the facts in Esperanto as Oliver stepped into the train at twilight.
"Oliver Brand wounded.... Catholic assailant.... Indignation of the country.... Well-deserved fate of assassin."
He was pleased, too, that he honestly had done his best to save the man. Even in that moment of sudden and acute pain he had cried out for a fair trial; but he had been too late. He had seen the starting eyes roll up in the crimson face, and the horrid grin come and go as the hands had clutched and torn at his throat. Then the face had vanished and a heavy trampling began where it had disappeared. Oh! there was some passion and loyalty left in England!
His mother got up presently and went out, still without a word; and Mabel turned to him, laying a hand on his knee.
"Are you too tired to talk, my dear?"
He opened his eyes.
"Of course not, my darling. What is it?"
"What do you think will be the effect?"
He raised himself a little, looking out as usual through the darkening windows on to that astonishing view. Everywhere now lights were glowing, a sea of mellow moons just above the houses, and above the mysterious heavy blue of a summer evening.
"The effect?" he said. "It can be nothing but good. It was time that something happened. My dear, I feel very downcast sometimes, as you know. Well, I do not think I shall be again. I have been afraid sometimes that we were losing all our spirit, and that the old Tories were partly right when they prophesied what Communism would do. But after this—-"
"Well; we have shown that we can shed our blood too. It is in the nick of time, too, just at the crisis. I don't want to exaggerate; it is only a scratch—but it was so deliberate, and—and so dramatic. The poor devil could not have chosen a worse moment. People won't forget it."
Mabel's eyes shone with pleasure.
"You poor dear!" she said. "Are you in pain?"
"Not much. Besides, Christ! what do I care? If only this infernal Eastern affair would end!"
He knew he was feverish and irritable, and made a great effort to drive it down.
"Oh, my dear!" he went on, flushed a little. "If they would not be such heavy fools: they don't understand; they don't understand."
"They don't understand what a glorious thing it all is Humanity, Life, Truth at last, and the death of Folly! But haven't I told them a hundred times?"
She looked at him with kindling eyes. She loved to see him like this, his confident, flushed face, the enthusiasm in his blue eyes; and the knowledge of his pain pricked her feeling with passion. She bent forward and kissed him suddenly.
"My dear, I am so proud of you. Oh, Oliver!"
He said nothing; but she could see what she loved to see, that response to her own heart; and so they sat in silence while the sky darkened yet more, and the click of the writer in the next room told them that the world was alive and that they had a share in its affairs.
Oliver stirred presently.
"Did you notice anything just now, sweetheart—when I said that about Jesus Christ?"
"She stopped knitting for a moment," said the girl.
"You saw that too, then.... Mabel, do you think she is falling back?"
"Oh! she is getting old," said the girl lightly. "Of course she looks back a little."
"But you don't think—it would be too awful!"
She shook her head.
"No, no, my dear; you're excited and tired. It's just a little sentiment.... Oliver, I don't think I would say that kind of thing before her."
"But she hears it everywhere now."
"No, she doesn't. Remember she hardly ever goes out. Besides, she hates it. After all, she was brought up a Catholic."
Oliver nodded, and lay back again, looking dreamily out.
"Isn't it astonishing the way in which suggestion lasts? She can't get it out of her head, even after fifty years. Well, watch her, won't you?... By the way ..."
"There's a little more news from the East. They say Felsenburgh's running the whole thing now. The Empire is sending him everywhere— Tobolsk, Benares, Yakutsk—everywhere; and he's been to Australia."
Mabel sat up briskly.
"Isn't that very hopeful?"
"I suppose so. There's no doubt that the Sufis are winning; but for how long is another question. Besides, the troops don't disperse."
"Europe is arming as fast as possible. I hear we are to meet the Powers next week at Paris. I must go."
"Your arm, my dear?"
"My arm must get well. It will have to go with me, anyhow."
"Tell me some more."
"There is no more. But it is just as certain as it can be that this is the crisis. If the East can be persuaded to hold its hand now, it will never be likely to raise it again. It will mean free trade all over the world, I suppose, and all that kind of thing. But if not—-"
"If not, there will be a catastrophe such as never has been even imagined. The whole human race will be at war, and either East or West will be simply wiped out. These new Benninschein explosives will make certain of that."
"But is it absolutely certain that the East has got them?"
"Absolutely. Benninschein sold them simultaneously to East and West; then he died, luckily for him."
Mabel had heard this kind of talk before, but her imagination simply refused to grasp it. A duel of East and West under these new conditions was an unthinkable thing. There had been no European war within living memory, and the Eastern wars of the last century had been under the old conditions. Now, if tales were true, entire towns would be destroyed with a single shell. The new conditions were unimaginable. Military experts prophesied extravagantly, contradicting one another on vital points; the whole procedure of war was a matter of theory; there were no precedents with which to compare it. It was as if archers disputed as to the results of cordite. Only one thing was certain—that the East had every modern engine, and, as regards male population, half as much again as the rest of the world put together; and the conclusion to be drawn from these premisses was not reassuring to England.
But imagination simply refused to speak. The daily papers had a short, careful leading article every day, founded upon the scraps of news that stole out from the conferences on the other side of the world; Felsenburgh's name appeared more frequently than ever: otherwise there seemed to be a kind of hush. Nothing suffered very much; trade went on; European stocks were not appreciably lower than usual; men still built houses, married wives, begat sons and daughters, did their business and went to the theatre, for the mere reason that there was no good in anything else. They could neither save nor precipitate the situation; it was on too large a scale. Occasionally people went mad—people who had succeeded in goading their imagination to a height whence a glimpse of reality could be obtained; and there was a diffused atmosphere of tenseness. But that was all. Not many speeches were made on the subject; it had been found inadvisable. After all, there was nothing to do but to wait.
Mabel remembered her husband's advice to watch, and for a few days did her best. But there was nothing that alarmed her. The old lady was a little quiet, perhaps, but went about her minute affairs as usual. She asked the girl to read to her sometimes, and listened unblenching to whatever was offered her; she attended in the kitchen daily, organised varieties of food, and appeared interested in all that concerned her son. She packed his bag with her own hands, set out his furs for the swift flight to Paris, and waved to him from the window as he went down the little path towards the junction. He would be gone three days, he said.
It was on the evening of the second day that she fell ill; and Mabel, running upstairs, in alarm at the message of the servant, found her rather flushed and agitated in her chair.
"It is nothing, my dear," said the old lady tremulously; and she added the description of a symptom or two.
Mabel got her to bed, sent for the doctor, and sat down to wait.
She was sincerely fond of the old lady, and had always found her presence in the house a quiet sort of delight. The effect of her upon the mind was as that of an easy-chair upon the body. The old lady was so tranquil and human, so absorbed in small external matters, so reminiscent now and then of the days of her youth, so utterly without resentment or peevishness. It seemed curiously pathetic to the girl to watch that quiet old spirit approach its extinction, or rather, as Mabel believed, its loss of personality in the reabsorption into the Spirit of Life which informed the world. She found less difficulty in contemplating the end of a vigorous soul, for in that case she imagined a kind of energetic rush of force back into the origin of things; but in this peaceful old lady there was so little energy; her whole point, so to speak, lay in the delicate little fabric of personality, built out of fragile things into an entity far more significant than the sum of its component parts: the death of a flower, reflected Mabel, is sadder than the death of a lion; the breaking of a piece of china more irreparable than the ruin of a palace.
"It is syncope," said the doctor when he came in. "She may die at any time; she may live ten years."
"There is no need to telegraph for Mr. Brand?"
He made a little deprecating movement with his hands.
"It is not certain that she will die—it is not imminent?" she asked.
"No, no; she may live ten years, I said."
He added a word or two of advice as to the use of the oxygen injector, and went away.
* * * * *
The old lady was lying quietly in bed, when the girl went up, and put out a wrinkled hand.
"Well, my dear?" she asked.
"It is just a little weakness, mother. You must lie quiet and do nothing. Shall I read to you?"
"No, my dear; I will think a little."
It was no part of Mabel's idea to duty to tell her that she was in danger, for there was no past to set straight, no Judge to be confronted. Death was an ending, not a beginning. It was a peaceful Gospel; at least, it became peaceful as soon as the end had come.
So the girl went downstairs once more, with a quiet little ache at her heart that refused to be still.
What a strange and beautiful thing death was, she told herself—this resolution of a chord that had hung suspended for thirty, fifty or seventy years—back again into the stillness of the huge Instrument that was all in all to itself. Those same notes would be struck again, were being struck again even now all over the world, though with an infinite delicacy of difference in the touch; but that particular emotion was gone: it was foolish to think that it was sounding eternally elsewhere, for there was no elsewhere. She, too, herself would cease one day, let her see to it that the tone was pure and lovely.
* * * * *
Mr. Phillips arrived the next morning as usual, just as Mabel had left the old lady's room, and asked news of her.
"She is a little better, I think," said Mabel. "She must be very quiet all day."
The secretary bowed and turned aside into Oliver's room, where a heap of letters lay to be answered.
A couple of hours later, as Mabel went upstairs once more, she met Mr. Phillips coming down. He looked a little flushed under his sallow skin.
"Mrs. Brand sent for me," he said. "She wished to know whether Mr. Oliver would be back to-night."
"He will, will he not? You have not heard?"
"Mr. Brand said he would be here for a late dinner. He will reach London at nineteen."
"And is there any other news?"
He compressed his lips.
"There are rumours," he said. "Mr. Brand wired to me an hour ago."
He seemed moved at something, and Mabel looked at him in astonishment.
"It is not Eastern news?" she asked.
His eyebrows wrinkled a little.
"You must forgive me, Mrs. Brand," he said. "I am not at liberty to say anything."
She was not offended, for she trusted her husband too well; but she went on into the sick-room with her heart beating.
The old lady, too, seemed excited. She lay in bed with a clear flush in her white cheeks, and hardly smiled at all to the girl's greeting.
"Well, you have seen Mr. Phillips, then?" said Mabel.
Old Mrs. Brand looked at her sharply an instant, but said nothing.
"Don't excite yourself, mother. Oliver will be back to-night."
The old lady drew a long breath.
"Don't trouble about me, my dear," she said. "I shall do very well now. He will be back to dinner, will he not?"
"If the volor is not late. Now, mother, are you ready for breakfast?"
* * * * *
Mabel passed an afternoon of considerable agitation. It was certain that something had happened. The secretary, who breakfasted with her in the parlour looking on to the garden, had appeared strangely excited. He had told her that he would be away the rest of the day: Mr. Oliver had given him his instructions. He had refrained from all discussion of the Eastern question, and he had given her no news of the Paris Convention; he only repeated that Mr. Oliver would be back that night. Then he had gone of in a hurry half-an-hour later.
The old lady seemed asleep when the girl went up afterwards, and Mabel did not like to disturb her. Neither did she like to leave the house; so she walked by herself in the garden, thinking and hoping and fearing, till the long shadow lay across the path, and the tumbled platform of roofs was bathed in a dusty green haze from the west.
As she came in she took up the evening paper, but there was no news there except to the effect that the Convention would close that afternoon.
* * * * *
Twenty o'clock came, but there was no sign of Oliver. The Paris volor should have arrived an hour before, but Mabel, staring out into the darkening heavens had seen the stars come out like jewels one by one, but no slender winged fish pass overhead. Of course she might have missed it; there was no depending on its exact course; but she had seen it a hundred times before, and wondered unreasonably why she had not seen it now. But she would not sit down to dinner, and paced up and down in her white dress, turning again and again to the window, listening to the soft rush of the trains, the faint hoots from the track, and the musical chords from the junction a mile away. The lights were up by now, and the vast sweep of the towns looked like fairyland between the earthly light and the heavenly darkness. Why did not Oliver come, or at least let her know why he did not?
Once she went upstairs, miserably anxious herself, to reassure the old lady, and found her again very drowsy.
"He is not come," she said. "I dare say he may be kept in Paris."
The old face on the pillow nodded and murmured, and Mabel went down again. It was now an hour after dinner-time.
Oh! there were a hundred things that might have kept him. He had often been later than this: he might have missed the volor he meant to catch; the Convention might have been prolonged; he might be exhausted, and think it better to sleep in Paris after all, and have forgotten to wire. He might even have wired to Mr. Phillips, and the secretary have forgotten to pass on the message.
She went at last, hopelessly, to the telephone, and looked at it. There it was, that round silent month, that little row of labelled buttons. She half decided to touch them one by one, and inquire whether anything had been heard of her husband: there was his club, his office in Whitehall, Mr. Phillips's house, Parliament-house, and the rest. But she hesitated, telling herself to be patient. Oliver hated interference, and he would surely soon remember and relieve her anxiety.
Then, even as she turned away, the bell rang sharply, and a white label flashed into sight.—WHITEHALL.
She pressed the corresponding button, and, her hand shaking so much that she could scarcely hold the receiver to her ear, she listened.
"Who is there?"
Her heart leaped at the sound of her husband's voice, tiny and minute across the miles of wire.
"I—Mabel," she said. "Alone here."
"Oh! Mabel. Very well. I am back: all is well. Now listen. Can you hear?"
"The best has happened. It is all over in the East. Felsenburgh has done it. Now listen. I cannot come home to-night. It will be announced in Paul's House in two hours from now. We are communicating with the Press. Come up here to me at once. You must be present.... Can you hear?"
"Come then at once. It will be the greatest thing in history. Tell no one. Come before the rush begins. In half-an-hour the way will be stopped."
"Mother is ill. Shall I leave her?"
"Oh, no immediate danger. The doctor has seen her."
There was silence for a moment.
"Yes; come then. We will go back to-night anyhow, then. Tell her we shall be late."
" ... Yes, you must come. Felsenburgh will be there."
On the same afternoon Percy received a visitor.
There was nothing exceptional about him; and Percy, as he came downstairs in his walking-dress and looked at him in the light from the tall parlour-window, came to no conclusion at all as to his business and person, except that he was not a Catholic.
"You wished to see me," said the priest, indicating a chair.
"I fear I must not stop long."
"I shall not keep you long," said the stranger eagerly. "My business is done in five minutes."
Percy waited with his eyes cast down.
"A—a certain person has sent me to you. She was a Catholic once; she wishes to return to the Church."
Percy made a little movement with his head. It was a message he did not very often receive in these days.
"You will come, sir, will you not? You will promise me?"
The man seemed greatly agitated; his sallow face showed a little shining with sweat, and his eyes were piteous.
"Of course I will come," said Percy, smiling.
"Yes, sir; but you do not know who she is. It—it would make a great stir, sir, if it was known. It must not be known, sir; you will promise me that, too?"
"I must not make any promise of that kind," said the priest gently. "I do not know the circumstances yet."
The stranger licked his lips nervously.
"Well, sir," he said hastily, "you will say nothing till you have seen her? You can promise me that."
"Oh! certainly," said the priest.
"Well, sir, you had better not know my name. It—it may make it easier for you and for me. And—and, if you please, sir, the lady is ill; you must come to-day, if you please, but not until the evening. Will twenty-two o'clock be convenient, sir?"
"Where is it?" asked Percy abruptly.
"It—it is near Croydon junction. I will write down the address presently. And you will not come until twenty-two o'clock, sir?"
"Why not now?"
"Because the—the others may be there. They will be away then; I know that."
This was rather suspicious, Percy thought: discreditable plots had been known before. But he could not refuse outright.
"Why does she not send for her parish-priest?" he asked.
"She she does not know who he is, sir; she saw you once in the Cathedral, sir, and asked you for your name. Do you remember, sir?—an old lady?"
Percy did dimly remember something of the kind a month or two before; but he could not be certain, and said so.
"Well, sir, you will come, will you not?"
"I must communicate with Father Dolan," said the priest. "If he gives me permission—-"
"If you please, sir, Father—Father Dolan must not know her name. You will not tell him?"
"I do not know it myself yet," said the priest, smiling.
The stranger sat back abruptly at that, and his face worked.
"Well, sir, let me tell you this first. This old lady's son is my employer, and a very prominent Communist. She lives with him and his wife. The other two will be away to-night. That is why I am asking you all this. And now, you till come, sir?"
Percy looked at him steadily for a moment or two. Certainly, if this was a conspiracy, the conspirators were feeble folk. Then he answered:
"I will come, sir; I promise. Now the name."
The stranger again licked his lips nervously, and glanced timidly from side to side. Then he seemed to gather his resolution; he leaned forward and whispered sharply.
"The old lady's name is Brand, sir—the mother of Mr. Oliver Brand."
For a moment Percy was bewildered. It was too extraordinary to be true. He knew Mr. Oliver Brand's name only too well; it was he who, by God's permission, was doing more in England at this moment against the Catholic cause than any other man alive; and it was he whom the Trafalgar Square incident had raised into such eminent popularity. And now, here was his mother—-
He turned fiercely upon the man.
"I do not know what you are, sir—whether you believe in God or not; but will you swear to me on your religion and your honour that all this is true?"
The timid eyes met his, and wavered; but it was the wavering of weakness, not of treachery.
"I—I swear it, sir; by God Almighty."
"Are you a Catholic?"
The man shook his head.
"But I believe in God," he said. "At least, I think so."
Percy leaned back, trying to realise exactly what it all meant. There was no triumph in his mind—that kind of emotion was not his weakness; there was fear of a kind, excitement, bewilderment, and under all a satisfaction that God's grace was so sovereign. If it could reach this woman, who could be too far removed for it to take effect? Presently he noticed the other looking at him anxiously.
"You are afraid, sir? You are not going back from your promise?"
That dispersed the cloud a little, and Percy smiled.
"Oh! no," he said. "I will be there at twenty-two o'clock. ... Is death imminent?"
"No, sir; it is syncope. She is recovered a little this morning."
The priest passed his hand over his eyes and stood up.
"Well, I will be there," he said. "Shall you be there, sir?"
The other shook his head, standing up too.
"I must be with Mr. Brand, sir; there is to be a meeting to-night; but I must not speak of that.... No, sir; ask for Mrs. Brand, and say that she is expecting you. They will take you upstairs at once."
"I must not say I am a priest, I suppose?"
"No, sir; if you please."
He drew out a pocket-book, scribbled in it a moment, tore out the sheet, and handed it to the priest.
"The address, sir. Will you kindly destroy that when you have copied it? I—I do not wish to lose my place, sir, if it can be helped."
Percy stood twisting the paper in his fingers a moment.
"Why are you not a Catholic yourself?" he asked.
The man shook his head mutely. Then he took up his hat, and went towards the door.
* * * * *
Percy passed a very emotional afternoon.
For the last month or two little had happened to encourage him. He had been obliged to report half-a-dozen more significant secessions, and hardly a conversion of any kind. There was no doubt at all that the tide was setting steadily against the Church. The mad act in Trafalgar Square, too, had done incalculable harm last week: men were saying more than ever, and the papers storming, that the Church's reliance on the supernatural was belied by every one of her public acts. "Scratch a Catholic and find an assassin" had been the text of a leading article in the New People, and Percy himself was dismayed at the folly of the attempt. It was true that the Archbishop had formally repudiated both the act and the motive from the Cathedral pulpit, but that too had only served as an opportunity hastily taken up by the principal papers, to recall the continual policy of the Church to avail herself of violence while she repudiated the violent. The horrible death of the man had in no way appeased popular indignation; there were not even wanting suggestions that the man had been seen coming out of Archbishop's House an hour before the attempt at assassination had taken place.
And now here, with dramatic swiftness, had come a message that the hero's own mother desired reconciliation with the Church that had attempted to murder her son.
* * * * *
Again and again that afternoon, as Percy sped northwards on his visit to a priest in Worcester, and southwards once more as the lights began to shine towards evening, he wondered whether this were not a plot after all—some kind of retaliation, an attempt to trap him. Yet he had promised to say nothing, and to go.
He finished his daily letter after dinner as usual, with a curious sense of fatality; addressed and stamped it. Then he went downstairs, in his walking-dress, to Father Blackmore's room.
"Will you hear my confession, father?" he said abruptly.
Victoria Station, still named after the great nineteenth-century Queen, was neither more nor less busy than usual as he came into it half-an-hour later. The vast platform, sunk now nearly two hundred feet below the ground level, showed the double crowd of passengers entering and leaving town. Those on the extreme left, towards whom Percy began to descend in the open glazed lift, were by far the most numerous, and the stream at the lift-entrance made it necessary for him to move slowly.
He arrived at last, walking in the soft light on the noiseless ribbed rubber, and stood by the door of the long car that ran straight through to the Junction. It was the last of a series of a dozen or more, each of which slid off minute by minute. Then, still watching the endless movement of the lifts ascending and descending between the entrances of the upper end of the station, he stepped in and sat down.
He felt quiet now that he had actually started. He had made his confession, just in order to make certain of his own soul, though scarcely expecting any definite danger, and sat now, his grey suit and straw hat in no way distinguishing him as a priest (for a general leave was given by the authorities to dress so for any adequate reason). Since the case was not imminent, he had not brought stocks or pyx—Father Dolan had wired to him that he might fetch them if he wished from St. Joseph's, near the Junction. He had only the violet thread in his pocket, such as was customary for sick calls.
He was sliding along peaceably enough, fixing his eyes on the empty seat opposite, and trying to preserve complete collectedness when the car abruptly stopped. He looked out, astonished, and saw by the white enamelled walks twenty feet from the window that they were already in the tunnel. The stoppage might arise from many causes, and he was not greatly excited, nor did it seem that others in the carriage took it very seriously; he could hear, after a moment's silence, the talking recommence beyond the partition.
Then there came, echoed by the walls, the sound of shouting from far away, mingled with hoots and chords; it grew louder. The talking in the carriage stopped. He heard a window thrown up, and the next instant a car tore past, going back to the station although on the down line. This must be looked into, thought Percy: something certainly was happening; so he got up and went across the empty compartment to the further window. Again came the crying of voices, again the signals, and once more a car whirled past, followed almost immediately by another. There was a jerk—a smooth movement. Percy staggered and fell into a seat, as the carriage in which he was seated itself began to move backwards.
There was a clamour now in the next compartment, and Percy made his way there through the door, only to find half-a-dozen men with their heads thrust from the windows, who paid absolutely no attention to his inquiries. So he stood there, aware that they knew no more than himself, waiting for an explanation from some one. It was disgraceful, he told himself, that any misadventure should so disorganise the line.
Twice the car stopped; each time it moved on again after a hoot or two, and at last drew up at the platform whence it had started, although a hundred yards further out.
Ah! there was no doubt that something had happened! The instant he opened the door a great roar met his ears, and as he sprang on to the platform and looked up at the end of the station, he began to understand.
* * * * *
From right to left of the huge interior, across the platforms, swelling every instant, surged an enormous swaying, roaring crowd. The flight of steps, twenty yards broad, used only in cases of emergency, resembled a gigantic black cataract nearly two hundred feet in height. Each car as it drew up discharged more and more men and women, who ran like ants towards the assembly of their fellows. The noise was indescribable, the shouting of men, the screaming of women, the clang and hoot of the huge machines, and three or four times the brazen cry of a trumpet, as an emergency door was flung open overhead, and a small swirl of crowd poured through it towards the streets beyond. But after one look Percy looked no more at the people; for there, high up beneath the clock, on the Government signal board, flared out monstrous letters of fire, telling in Esperanto and English, the message for which England had grown sick. He read it a dozen times before he moved, staring, as at a supernatural sight which might denote the triumph of either heaven or hell.
"EASTERN CONVENTION DISPERSED.
PEACE, NOT WAR.
UNIVERSAL BROTHERHOOD ESTABLISHED.
FELSENBURGH IN LONDON TO-NIGHT."
* * * * *
It was not until nearly two hours later that Percy was standing at the house beyond the Junction.
He bad argued, expostulated, threatened, but the officials were like men possessed. Half of them had disappeared in the rush to the City, for it had leaked out, in spite of the Government's precautions, that Paul's House, known once as St. Paul's Cathedral, was to be the scene of Felsenburgh's reception. The others seemed demented; one man on the platform had dropped dead from nervous exhaustion, but no one appeared to care; and the body lay huddled beneath a seat. Again and again Percy had been swept away by a rush, as he struggled from platform to platform in his search for a car that would take him to Croydon. It seemed that there was none to be had, and the useless carriages collected like drift-wood between the platforms, as others whirled up from the country bringing loads of frantic, delirious men, who vanished like smoke from the white rubber-boards. The platforms were continually crowded, and as continually emptied, and it was not until half-an-hour before midnight that the block began to move outwards again.
Well, he was here at last, dishevelled, hatless and exhausted, looking up at the dark windows.
He scarcely knew what he thought of the whole matter. War, of course, was terrible. And such a war as this would have been too terrible for the imagination to visualise; but to the priest's mind there were other things even worse. What of universal peace—peace, that is to say, established by others than Christ's method? Or was God behind even this? The questions were hopeless.
Felsenburgh—it was he then who had done this thing—this thing undoubtedly greater than any secular event hitherto known in civilisation. What manner of man was he? What was his character, his motive, his method? How would he use his success?... So the points flew before him like a stream of sparks, each, it might be, harmless; each, equally, capable of setting a world on fire. Meanwhile here was an old woman who desired to be reconciled with God before she died....
* * * * *
He touched the button again, three or four times, and waited. Then a light sprang out overhead, and he knew that he was heard.
"I was sent for," he exclaimed to the bewildered maid. "I should have been here at twenty-two: I was prevented by the rush."
She babbled out a question at him.
"Yes, it is true, I believe," he said. "It is peace, not war. Kindly take me upstairs."
He went through the hall with a curious sense of guilt. This was Brand's house then—that vivid orator, so bitterly eloquent against God; and here was he, a priest, slinking in under cover of night. Well, well, it was not of his appointment.
At the door of an upstairs room the maid turned to him.
"A doctor, sir?" she said.
"That is my affair," said Percy briefly, and opened the door.
* * * * *
A little wailing cry broke from the corner, before he had time to close the door again.
"Oh! thank God! I thought He had forgotten me. You are a priest, father?"
"I am a priest. Do you not remember seeing me in the Cathedral?"
"Yes, yes, sir; I saw you praying, father. Oh! thank God, thank God!"
Percy stood looking down at her a moment, seeing her flushed old face in the nightcap, her bright sunken eyes and her tremulous hands. Yes; this was genuine enough.
"Now, my child," he said, "tell me."
"My confession, father."
Percy drew out the purple thread, slipped it over his shoulders, and sat down by the bed.
* * * * *
But she would not let him go for a while after that.
"Tell me, father. When will you bring me Holy Communion?"
"I understand that Mr. Brand and his wife know nothing of all this?"
"Tell me, are you very ill?"
"I don't know, father. They will not tell me. I thought I was gone last night."
"When would you wish me to bring you Holy Communion? I will do as you say."
"Shall I send to you in a day or two? Father, ought I to tell him?"
"You are not obliged."
"I will if I ought."
"Well, think about it, and let me know.... You have heard what has happened?"
She nodded, but almost uninterestedly; and Percy was conscious of a tiny prick of compunction at his own heart. After all, the reconciling of a soul to God was a greater thing than the reconciling of East to West.
"It may make a difference to Mr. Brand," he said. "He will be a great man, now, you know."
She still looked at him in silence, smiling a little. Percy was astonished at the youthfulness of that old face. Then her face changed.
"Father, I must not keep you; but tell me this—Who is this man?"
"No one knows. We shall know more to-morrow. He is in town to-night."
She looked so strange that Percy for an instant thought it was a seizure. Her face seemed to fall away in a kind of emotion, half cunning, half fear.
"Well, my child?"
"Father, I am a little afraid when I think of that man. He cannot harm me, can he? I am safe now? I am a Catholic—?"
"My child, of course you are safe. What is the matter? How can this man injure you?"
But the look of terror was still there, and Percy came a step nearer.
"You must not give way to fancies," he said. "Just commit yourself to our Blessed Lord. This man can do you no harm."
He was speaking now as to a child; but it was of no use. Her old mouth was still sucked in, and her eyes wandered past him into the gloom of the room behind.
"My child, tell me what is the matter. What do you know of Felsenburgh? You have been dreaming."
She nodded suddenly and energetically, and Percy for the first time felt his heart give a little leap of apprehension. Was this old woman out of her mind, then? Or why was it that that name seemed to him sinister? Then he remembered that Father Blackmore had once talked like this. He made an effort, and sat down once more.
"Now tell me plainly," he said. "You have been dreaming. What have you dreamt?"
She raised herself a little in bed, again glancing round the room; then she put out her old ringed hand for one of his, and he gave it, wondering.
"The door is shut, father? There is no one listening?"
"No, no, my child. Why are you trembling? You must not be superstitious."
"Father, I will tell you. Dreams are nonsense, are they not? Well, at least, this is what I dreamt.
"I was somewhere in a great house; I do not know where it was. It was a house I have never seen. It was one of the old houses, and it was very dark. I was a child, I thought, and I was ... I was afraid of something. The passages were all dark, and I went crying in the dark, looking for a light, and there was none. Then I heard a voice talking, a great way off. Father—-"
Her hand gripped his more tightly, and again her eyes went round the room.
With great difficulty Percy repressed a sigh. Yet he dared not leave her just now. The house was very still; only from outside now and again sounded the clang of the cars, as they sped countrywards again from the congested town, and once the sound of great shouting. He wondered what time it was.
"Had you better tell me now?" he asked, still talking with a patient simplicity. "What time will they be back?"
"Not yet," she whispered. "Mabel said not till two o'clock. What time is it now, father?"
He pulled out his watch with his disengaged hand.
"It is not yet one," he said.
"Very well, listen, father.... I was in this house; and I heard that talking; and I ran along the passages, till I saw light below a door; and then I stopped.... Nearer, father."
Percy was a little awed in spite of himself. Her voice had suddenly dropped to a whisper, and her old eyes seemed to hold him strangely.
"I stopped, father; I dared not go in. I could hear the talking, and I could see the light; and I dared not go in. Father, it was Felsenburgh in that room."
From beneath came the sudden snap of a door; then the sound of footsteps. Percy turned his head abruptly, and at the same moment heard a swift indrawn breath from the old woman.
"Hush!" he said. "Who is that?"
Two voices were talking in the hall below now, and at the sound the old woman relaxed her hold.
"I—I thought it to be him," she murmured.
Percy stood up; he could see that she did not understand the situation.
"Yes, my child," he said quietly, "but who is it?"
"My son and his wife," she said; then her face changed once more. "Why—why, father—-"
Her voice died in her throat, as a step vibrated outside. For a moment there was complete silence; then a whisper, plainly audible, in a girl's voice.
"Why, her light is burning. Come in, Oliver, but softly."
Then the handle turned.
There was an exclamation, then silence, as a tall, beautiful girl with flushed face and shining grey eyes came forward and stopped, followed by a man whom Percy knew at once from his pictures. A little whimpering sounded from the bed, and the priest lifted his hand instinctively to silence it.
"Why," said Mabel; and then stared at the man with the young face and the white hair.
Oliver opened his lips and closed them again. He, too, had a strange excitement in his face. Then he spoke.
"Who is this?" he said deliberately.
"Oliver," cried the girl, turning to him abruptly, "this is the priest I saw—-"
"A priest!" said the other, and came forward a step. "Why, I thought—-"
Percy drew a breath to steady that maddening vibration in his throat.
"Yes, I am a priest," he said.
Again the whimpering broke out from the bed; and Percy, half turning again to silence it, saw the girl mechanically loosen the clasp of the thin dust cloak over her white dress.
"You sent for him, mother?" snapped the man, with a tremble in his voice, and with a sudden jerk forward of his whole body. But the girl put out her hand.
"Quietly, my dear," she said. "Now, sir—-"
"Yes, I am a priest," said Percy again, strung up now to a desperate resistance of will, hardly knowing what he said.
"And you come to my house!" exclaimed the man. He came a step nearer, and half recoiled. "You swear you are a priest?" he said. "You have been here all this evening?"
"And you are not—-" he stopped again.
Mabel stepped straight between them.
"Oliver," she said, still with that air of suppressed excitement, "we must not have a scene here. The poor dear is too ill. Will you come downstairs, sir?"
Percy took a step towards the door, and Oliver moved slightly aside. Then the priest stopped, turned and lifted his hand.
"God bless you!" he said simply, to the muttering figure in the bed. Then he went out, and waited outside the door.
He could hear a low talking within; then a compassionate murmur from the girl's voice; then Oliver was beside him, trembling all over, as white as ashes, and made a silent gesture as he went past him down the stairs.
* * * * *
The whole thing seemed to Percy like some incredible dream; it was all so unexpected, so untrue to life. He felt conscious of an enormous shame at the sordidness of the affair, and at the same time of a kind of hopeless recklessness. The worst had happened and the best—that was his sole comfort.
Oliver pushed a door open, touched a button, and went through into the suddenly lit room, followed by Percy. Still in silence, he pointed to a chair, Percy sat down, and Oliver stood before the fireplace, his hands deep in the pockets of his jacket, slightly turned away.
Percy's concentrated senses became aware of every detail of the room—the deep springy green carpet, smooth under his feet, the straight hanging thin silk curtains, the half-dozen low tables with a wealth of flowers upon them, and the books that lined the walls. The whole room was heavy with the scent of roses, although the windows were wide, and the night-breeze stirred the curtains continually. It was a woman's room, he told himself. Then he looked at the man's figure, lithe, tense, upright; the dark grey suit not unlike his own, the beautiful curve of the jaw, the clear pale complexion, the thin nose, the protruding curve of idealism over the eyes, and the dark hair. It was a poet's face, he told himself, and the whole personality was a living and vivid one. Then he turned a little and rose as the door opened, and Mabel came in, closing it behind her.
She came straight across to her husband, and put a hand on his shoulder.
"Sit down, my dear," she said. "We must talk a little. Please sit down, sir."
The three sat down, Percy on one side, and the husband and wife on a straight-backed settle opposite.
The girl began again.
"This must be arranged at once," she said, "but we must have no tragedy. Oliver, do you understand? You must not make a scene. Leave this to me."
She spoke with a curious gaiety; and Percy to his astonishment saw that she was quite sincere: there was not the hint of cynicism.
"Oliver, my dear," she said again, "don't mouth like that! It is all perfectly right. I am going to manage this."
Percy saw a venomous look directed at him by the man; the girl saw it too, moving her strong humorous eyes from one to the other. She put her hand on his knee.
"Oliver, attend! Don't look at this gentleman so bitterly. He has done no harm."
"No harm!" whispered the other.
"No—no harm in the world. What does it matter what that poor dear upstairs thinks? Now, sir, would you mind telling us why you came here?"
Percy drew another breath. He had not expected this line.
"I came here to receive Mrs. Brand back into the Church," he said.
"And you have done so?"
"I have done so."
"Would you mind telling us your name? It makes it so much more convenient."
Percy hesitated. Then he determined to meet her on her own ground.
"Certainly. My name is Franklin."
"Father Franklin?" asked the girl, with just the faintest tinge of mocking emphasis on the first word.
"Yes. Father Percy Franklin, from Archbishop's House, Westminster," said the priest steadily.
"Well, then, Father Percy Franklin; can you tell us why you came here? I mean, who sent for you?"
"Mrs. Brand sent for me."
"Yes, but by what means?"
"That I must not say."
"Oh, very good.... May we know what good comes of being 'received into the Church?'"
"By being received into the Church, the soul is reconciled to God."
"Oh! (Oliver, be quiet.) And how do you do it, Father Franklin?"
Percy stood up abruptly.
"This is no good, madam," he said. "What is the use of these questions?"
The girl looked at him in open-eyed astonishment, still with her hand on her husband's knee.
"The use, Father Franklin! Why, we want to know. There is no church law against your telling us, is there?"
Percy hesitated again. He did not understand in the least what she was after. Then he saw that he would give them an advantage if he lost his head at all: so he sat down again.
"Certainly not. I will tell you if you wish to know. I heard Mrs. Brand's confession, and gave her absolution."
"Oh! yes; and that does it, then? And what next?"
"She ought to receive Holy Communion, and anointing, if she is in danger of death."
Oliver twitched suddenly.
"Christ!" he said softly.
"Oliver!" cried the girl entreatingly. "Please leave this to me. It is much better so.—And then, I suppose, Father Franklin, you want to give those other things to my mother, too?"
"They are not absolutely necessary," said the priest, feeling, he did not know why, that he was somehow playing a losing game.
"Oh! they are not necessary? But you would like to?"
"I shall do so if possible. But I have done what is necessary."
It required all his will to keep quiet. He was as a man who had armed himself in steel, only to find that his enemy was in the form of a subtle vapour. He simply had not an idea what to do next. He would have given anything for the man to have risen and flown at his throat, for this girl was too much for them both.
"Yes," she said softly. "Well, it is hardly to be expected that my husband should give you leave to come here again. But I am very glad that you have done what you think necessary. No doubt it will be a satisfaction to you, Father Franklin, and to the poor old thing upstairs, too. While we—- we—" she pressed her husband's knee—"we do not mind at all. Oh!—but there is one thing more."
"If you please," said Percy, wondering what on earth was coming.
"You Christians—forgive me if I say anything rude—but, you know, you Christians have a reputation for counting heads, and making the most of converts. We shall be so much obliged, Father Franklin, if you will give us your word not to advertise this—this incident. It would distress my husband, and give him a great deal of trouble."
"Mrs. Brand—-" began the priest.
"One moment.... You see, we have not treated you badly. There has been no violence. We will promise not to make scenes with my mother. Will you promise us that?"
Percy had had time to consider, and he answered instantly.
"Certainly, I will promise that."
Mabel sighed contentedly.
"Well, that is all right. We are so much obliged.... And I think we may say this, that perhaps after consideration my husband may see his way to letting you come here again to do Communion and—and the other thing—-"
Again that spasm shook the man beside her.
"Well, we will see about that. At any rate, we know your address, and can let you know.... By the way, Father Franklin, are you going back to Westminster to-night?"
"Ah! I hope you will get through. You will find London very much excited. Perhaps you heard—-"
"Felsenburgh?" said Percy.
"Yes. Julian Felsenburgh," said the girl softly, again with that strange excitement suddenly alight in her eyes. "Julian Felsenburgh," she repeated. "He is there, you know. He will stay in England for the present."
Again Percy was conscious of that slight touch of fear at the mention of that name.
"I understand there is to be peace," he said.
The girl rose and her husband with her.
"Yes," she said, almost compassionately, "there is to be peace. Peace at last." (She moved half a step towards him, and her face glowed like a rose of fire. Her hand rose a little.) "Go back to London, Father Franklin, and use your eyes. You will see him, I dare say, and you will see more besides." (Her voice began to vibrate.) "And you will understand, perhaps, why we have treated you like this—why we are no longer afraid of you—why we are willing that my mother should do its she pleases. Oh! you will understand, Father Franklin if not to-night, to-morrow; or if not to-morrow, at least in a very short time."
"Mabel!" cried her husband.
The girl wheeled, and threw her arms round him, and kissed him on the mouth.
"Oh! I am not ashamed, Oliver, my dear. Let him go and see for himself. Good-night, Father Franklin."
As he went towards the door, hearing the ping of the bell that some one touched in the room behind him, he turned once more, dazed and bewildered; and there were the two, husband and wife, standing in the soft, sunny light, as if transfigured. The girl had her arm round the man's shoulder, and stood upright and radiant as a pillar of fire; and even on the man's face there was no anger now—nothing but an almost supernatural pride and confidence. They were both smiling.
Then Percy passed out into the soft, summer night.
Percy understood nothing except that he was afraid, as he sat in the crowded car that whirled him up to London. He scarcely even heard the talk round him, although it was loud and continuous; and what he heard meant little to him. He understood only that there had been strange scenes, that London was said to have gone suddenly mad, that Felsenburgh had spoken that night in Paul's House.
He was afraid at the way in which be had been treated, and he asked himself dully again and again what it was that had inspired that treatment; it seemed that he bad been in the presence of the supernatural; he was conscious of shivering a little, and of the symptoms of an intolerable sleepiness. It was scarcely strange to him that he should be sitting in a crowded car at two o'clock of a summer dawn.
Thrice the car stopped, and he stared out at the signs of confusion that were everywhere; at the figures that ran in the twilight between the tracks, at a couple of wrecked carriages, a tumble of tarpaulins; he listened mechanically to the hoots and cries that sounded everywhere.
As he stepped out at last on to the platform, he found it very much as he had left it two hours before. There was the same desperate rush as the car discharged its load, the same dead body beneath the seat; and above all, as he ran helplessly behind the crowd, scarcely knowing whither he ran or why, above him burned the same stupendous message beneath the clock. Then he found himself in the lift, and a minute later he was out on the steps behind the station.
There, too, was an astonishing sight. The lamps still burned overhead, but beyond them lay the first pale streaks of the false dawn. The street that ran now straight to the old royal palace, uniting there, as at the centre of a web, with those that came from Westminster, the Mall and Hyde Park, was one solid pavement of heads. On this side and that rose up the hotels and "Houses of Joy," the windows all ablaze with light, solemn and triumphant as if to welcome a king; while far ahead against the sky stood the monstrous palace outlined in fire, and alight from within like all other houses within view. The noise was bewildering. It was impossible to distinguish one sound from another. Voices, horns, drums, the tramp of a thousand footsteps on the rubber pavements, the sombre roll of wheels from the station behind—all united in one overwhelmingly solemn booming, overscored by shriller notes.
It was impossible to move.
He found himself standing in a position of extraordinary advantage, at the very top of the broad flight of steps that led down into the old station yard, now a wide space that united, on the left the broad road to the palace, and on the right Victoria Street, that showed like all else one vivid perspective of lights and heads. Against the sky on his right rose up the illuminated head of the Cathedral Campanile. It appeared to him as if he had known that in some previous existence.
He edged himself mechanically a foot or two to his left, till he clasped a pillar; then he waited, trying not to analyse his emotions, but to absorb them.
Gradually he became aware that this crowd was as no other that he had ever seen. To his psychical sense it seemed to him that it possessed a unity unlike any other. There was magnetism in the air. There was a sensation as if a creative act were in process, whereby thousands of individual cells were being welded more and more perfectly every instant into one huge sentient being with one will, one emotion, and one head. The crying of voices seemed significant only as the stirrings of this creative power which so expressed itself. Here rested this giant humanity, stretching to his sight in living limbs so far as he could see on every side, waiting, waiting for some consummation—stretching, too, as his tired brain began to guess, down every thoroughfare of the vast city.
He did not even ask himself for what they waited. He knew, yet he did not know. He knew it was for a revelation—for something that should crown their aspirations, and fix them so for ever.
He had a sense that he had seen all this before; and, like a child, he began to ask himself where it could have happened, until he remembered that it was so that he had once dreamt of the Judgment Day—of humanity gathered to meet Jesus Christ—Jesus Christ! Ah! how tiny that Figure seemed to him now—how far away—real indeed, but insignificant to himself—how hopelessly apart from this tremendous life! He glanced up at the Campanile. Yes; there was a piece of the True Cross there, was there not?—a little piece of the wood on which a Poor Man had died twenty centuries ago.... Well, well. It was a long way off....
He did not quite understand what was happening to him. "Sweet Jesus, be to me not a Judge but a Saviour," he whispered beneath his breath, gripping the granite of the pillar; and a moment later knew how futile was that prayer. It was gone like a breath in this vast, vivid atmosphere of man. He had said mass, had he not? this morning—in white vestments.—Yes; he had believed it all then—desperately, but truly; and now....
To look into the future was as useless as to look into the past. There was no future, and no past: it was all one eternal instant, present and final....
Then he let go of effort, and again began to see with his bodily eyes.
* * * * *
The dawn was coming up the sky now, a steady soft brightening that appeared in spite of its sovereignty to be as nothing compared with the brilliant light of the streets. "We need no sun," he whispered, smiling piteously; "no sun or light of a candle. We have our light on earth—the light that lighteneth every man...."
The Campanile seemed further away than ever now, in that ghostly glimmer of dawn—more and more helpless every moment, compared with the beautiful vivid shining of the streets.
Then he listened to the sounds, and it seemed to him as if somewhere, far down eastwards, there was a silence beginning. He jerked his head impatiently, as a man behind him began to talk rapidly and confusedly. Why would he not be silent, and let silence be heard?... The man stopped presently, and out of the distance there swelled up a roar, as soft as the roll of a summer tide; it passed up towards him from the right; it was about him, dinning in his ears. There was no longer any individual voice: it was the breathing of the giant that had been born; he was crying out too; he did not know what he said, but he could not be silent. His veins and nerves seemed alight with wine; and as he stared down the long street, hearing the huge cry ebb from him and move toward the palace, he knew why he had cried, and why he was now silent.
A slender, fish-shaped thing, as white as milk, as ghostly as a shadow, and as beautiful as the dawn, slid into sight half-a-mile away, turned and came towards him, floating, as it seemed, on the very wave of silence that it created, up, up the long curving street on outstretched wings, not twenty feet above the heads of the crowd. There was one great sigh, and then silence once more.
* * * * *
When Percy could think consciously again—for his will was only capable of efforts as a clock of ticks—the strange white thing was nearer. He told himself that he had seen a hundred such before; and at the same instant that this was different from all others.
Then it was nearer still, floating slowly, slowly, like a gull over the sea; he could make out its smooth nose, its low parapet beyond, the steersman's head motionless; he could even hear now the soft winnowing of the screw—and then he saw that for which he had waited.
High on the central deck there stood a chair, draped, too, in white, with some insignia visible above its back; and in the chair sat the figure of a man, motionless and lonely. He made no sign as he came; his dark dress showed vividedly against the whiteness; his head was raised, and he turned it gently now and again from side to side.
It came nearer still, in the profound stillness; the head turned, and for an instant the face was plainly visible in the soft, radiant light.
It was a pale face, strongly marked, as of a young man, with arched, black eyebrows, thin lips, and white hair.
Then the face turned once more, the steersman shifted his head, and the beautiful shape, wheeling a little, passed the corner, and moved up towards the palace.
There was an hysterical yelp somewhere, a cry, and again the tempestuous groan broke out.
BOOK II-THE ENCOUNTER
Oliver Brand was seated at his desk, on the evening of the next day, reading the leading article of the New People, evening edition.
* * * * *
"We have had time," he read, "to recover ourselves a little from the intoxication of last night. Before embarking on prophecy, it will be as well to recall the facts. Up to yesterday evening our anxiety with regard to the Eastern crisis continued; and when twenty-one o'clock struck there were not more than forty persons in London—the English delegates, that is to say—who knew positively that the danger was over. Between that moment and half-an-hour later the Government took a few discreet steps: a select number of persons were informed; the police were called out, with half-a-dozen regiments, to preserve order; Paul's House was cleared; the railroad companies were warned; and at the half hour precisely the announcement was made by means of the electric placards in every quarter of London, as well as in all large provincial towns. We have not space now to adequately describe the admirable manner in which the public authorities did their duty; it is enough to say that not more than seventy fatalities took place in the whole of London; nor is it our business to criticise the action of the Government, in choosing this mode of making the announcement.
"By twenty-two o'clock Paul's House was filled in every corner, the Old Choir was reserved for members of Parliament and public officials, the quarter-dome galleries were filled with ladies, and to the rest of the floor the public was freely admitted. The volor-police also inform us now that for about the distance of one mile in every direction round this centre every thoroughfare was blocked with pedestrians, and, two hours later, as we all know, practically all the main streets of the whole of London were in the same condition.
"It was an excellent choice by which Mr. OLIVER BRAND was selected as the first speaker. His arm was still in bandages; and the appeal of his figure as well as his passionate words struck the first explicit note of the evening. A report of his words will be found in another column. In their turns, the PRIME MINISTER, Mr. SNOWFORD, the FIRST MINISTER OF THE ADMIRALTY, THE SECRETARY FOR EASTERN AFFAIRS, and LORD PEMBERTON, all spoke a few words, corroborating the extraordinary news. At a quarter before twenty-three, the noise of cheering outside announced the arrival of the American delegates from Paris, and one by one these ascended the platform by the south gates of the Old Choir. Each spoke in turn. It is impossible to appreciate words spoken at such a moment as this; but perhaps it is not invidious to name Mr. MARKHAM as the orator who above all others appealed to those who were privileged to hear him. It was he, too, who told us explicitly what others had merely mentioned, to the effect that the success of the American efforts was entirely due to Mr. JULIAN FELSENBURGH. As yet Mr. FELSENBURGH had not arrived; but in answer to a roar of inquiry, Mr. MARKHAM announced that this gentleman would be amongst them in a few minutes. He then proceeded to describe to us, so far as was possible in a few sentences, the methods by which Mr. FELSENBURGH had accomplished what is probably the most astonishing task known to history. It seems from his words that Mr. FELSENBURGH (whose biography, so far as it is known, we give in another column) is probably the greatest orator that the world has ever known—we use these words deliberately. All languages seem the same to him; he delivered speeches during the eight months through which the Eastern Convention lasted, in no less than fifteen tongues. Of his manner in speaking we shall have a few remarks to make presently. He showed also, Mr. MARKHAM told us, the most astonishing knowledge, not only of human nature, but of every trait under which that divine thing manifests itself. He appeared acquainted with the history, the prejudices, the fears, the hopes, the expectations of all the innumerable sects and castes of the East to whom it was his business to speak. In fact, as Mr. MARKHAM said, he is probably the first perfect product of that new cosmopolitan creation to which the world has laboured throughout its history. In no less than nine places—Damascus, Irkutsk, Constantinople, Calcutta, Benares, Nanking, among them—he was hailed as Messiah by a Mohammedan mob. Finally, in America, where this extraordinary figure has arisen, all speak well of him. He has been guilty of none of those crimes—there is not one that convicts him of sin—those crimes of the Yellow Press, of corruption, of commercial or political bullying which have so stained the past of all those old politicians who made the sister continent what she has become. Mr. FELSENBURGH has not even formed a party. He, and not his underlings, have conquered. Those who were present in Paul's House on this occasion will understand us when we say that the effect of those words was indescribable.
"When Mr. MARKHAM sat down, there was a silence; then, in order to quiet the rising excitement, the organist struck the first chords of the Masonic Hymn; the words were taken up, and presently not only the whole interior of the building rang with it, but outside, too, the people responded, and the city of London for a few moments became indeed a temple of the Lord.
"Now indeed we come to the most difficult part of our task, and it is better to confess at once that anything resembling journalistic descriptiveness must be resolutely laid aside. The greatest things are best told in the simplest words.
"Towards the close of the fourth verse, a figure in a plain dark suit was observed ascending the steps of the platform. For a moment this attracted no attention, but when it was seen that a sudden movement had broken out among the delegates, the singing began to falter; and it ceased altogether as the figure, after a slight inclination to right and left, passed up the further steps that led to the rostrum. Then occurred a curious incident. The organist aloft at first did not seem to understand, and continued playing, but a sound broke out from the crowd resembling a kind of groan, and instantly he ceased. But no cheering followed. Instead a profound silence dominated in an instant the huge throng; this, by some strange magnetism, communicated itself to those without the building, and when Mr. FELSENBURGH uttered his first words, it was in a stillness that was like a living thing. We leave the explanation of this phenomenon to the expert in psychology.
"Of his actual words we have nothing to say. So far as we are aware no reporter made notes at the moment; but the speech, delivered in Esperanto, was a very simple one, and very short. It consisted of a brief announcement of the great fact of Universal Brotherhood, a congratulation to all who were yet alive to witness this consummation of history; and, at the end, an ascription of praise to that Spirit of the World whose incarnation was now accomplished.
"So much we can say; but we can say nothing as to the impression of the personality who stood there. In appearance the man seemed to be about thirty-three years of age, clean-shaven, upright, with white hair and dark eyes and brows; he stood motionless with his hands on the rail, he made but one gesture that drew a kind of sob from the crowd, he spoke these words slowly, distinctly, and in a clear voice; then he stood waiting.
"There was no response but a sigh which sounded in the ears of at least one who heard it as if the whole world drew breath for the first time; and then that strange heart-shaking silence fell again. Many were weeping silently, the lips of thousands moved without a sound, and all faces were turned to that simple figure, as if the hope of every soul were centred there. So, if we may believe it, the eyes of many, centuries ago, were turned on one known now to history as JESUS OF NAZARETH.
"Mr. FELSENBURGH stood so a moment longer, then he turned down the steps, passed across the platform and disappeared.
"Of what took place outside we have received the following account from an eye-witness. The white volor, so well known now to all who were in London that night, had remained stationary outside the little south door of the Old Choir aisle, poised about twenty feet above the ground. Gradually it became known to the crowd, in those few minutes, who it was who had arrived in it, and upon Mr. FELSENBURGH'S reappearance that same strange groan sounded through the whole length of Paul's Churchyard, followed by the same silence. The volor descended; the master stepped on board, and once more the vessel rose to a height of twenty feet. It was thought at first that some speech would be made, but none was necessary; and after a moment's pause, the volor began that wonderful parade which London will never forget. Four times during the night Mr. FELSENBURGH went round the enormous metropolis, speaking no word; and everywhere the groan preceded and followed him, while silence accompanied his actual passage. Two hours after sunrise the white ship rose over Hampstead and disappeared towards the North; and since then he, whom we call, in truth, the Saviour of the world, has not been seen.
"And now what remains to be said?
"Comment is useless. It is enough to say in one short sentence that the new era has begun, to which prophets and kings, and the suffering, the dying, all who labour and are heavy-laden, have aspired in vain. Not only has intercontinental rivalry ceased to exist, but the strife of home dissensions has ceased also. Of him who has been the herald of its inauguration we have nothing more to say. Time alone can show what is yet left for him to do.
"But what has been done is as follows. The Eastern peril has been for ever dissipated. It is understood now, by fanatic barbarians as well as by civilised nations, that the reign of War is ended. 'Not peace but a sword,' said CHRIST; and bitterly true have those words proved to be. 'Not a sword but peace' is the retort, articulate at last, from those who have renounced CHRIST'S claims or have never accepted them. The principle of love and union learned however falteringly in the West during the last century, has been taken up in the East as well. There shall be no more an appeal to arms, but to justice; no longer a crying after a God Who hides Himself, but to Man who has learned his own Divinity. The Supernatural is dead; rather, we know now that it never yet has been alive. What remains is to work out this new lesson, to bring every action, word and thought to the bar of Love and Justice; and this will be, no doubt, the task of years. Every code must be reversed; every barrier thrown down; party must unite with party, country with country, and continent with continent. There is no longer the fear of fear, the dread of the hereafter, or the paralysis of strife. Man has groaned long enough in the travails of birth; his blood has been poured out like water through his own foolishness; but at length he understands himself and is at peace.
"Let it be seen at least that England is not behind the nations in this work of reformation; let no national isolation, pride of race, or drunkenness of wealth hold her hands back from this enormous work. The responsibility is incalculable, but the victory certain. Let us go softly, humbled by the knowledge of our crimes in the past, confident in the hope of our achievements in the future, towards that reward which is in sight at last—the reward hidden so long by the selfishness of men, the darkness of religion, and the strife of tongues—the reward promised by one who knew not what he said and denied what he asserted—Blessed are the meek, the peacemakers, the merciful, for they shall inherit the earth, be named the children of God, and find mercy."
* * * * *
Oliver, white to the lips, with his wife kneeling now beside him, turned the page and read one more short paragraph, marked as being the latest news.
"It is understood that the Government is in communication with Mr. Felsenburgh."
"Ah! it is journalese," said Oliver, at last, leaning back. "Tawdry stuff! But—but the thing!"
Mabel got up, passed across to the window-seat, and sat down. Her lips opened once or twice, but she said nothing.
"My darling," cried the man, "have you nothing to say?"
She looked at him tremulously a moment.
"Say!" she said. "As you said, What is the use of words?"
"Tell me again," said Oliver. "How do I know it is not a dream?"
"A dream," she said. "Was there ever a dream like this?"
Again she got up restlessly, came across the floor, and knelt down by her husband once more, taking his hands in hers.
"My dear," she said, "I tell you it is not a dream. It is reality at last. I was there too—do you not remember? You waited for me when all was over—when He was gone out—we saw Him together, you and I. We heard Him—you on the platform and I in the gallery. We saw Him again pass up the Embankment as we stood in the crowd. Then we came home and we found the priest."
Her face was transfigured as she spoke. It was as of one who saw a Divine Vision. She spoke very quietly, without excitement or hysteria. Oliver stared at her a moment; then he bent forward and kissed her gently.
"Yes, my darling; it is true. But I want to hear it again and again. Tell me again what you saw."
"I saw the Son of Man," she said. "Oh! there is no other phrase. The Saviour of the world, as that paper says. I knew Him in my heart as soon as I saw Him—as we all did—as soon as He stood there holding the rail. It was like a glory round his head. I understand it all now. It was He for whom we have waited so long; and He has come, bringing Peace and Goodwill in His hands. When He spoke, I knew it again. His voice was as—as the sound of the sea—as simple as that—as—as lamentable—as strong as that.—Did you not hear it?"
Oliver bowed his head.
"I can trust Him for all the rest," went on the girl softly. "I do not know where He is, nor when He will come back, nor what He will do. I suppose there is a great deal for Him to do, before He is fully known—laws, reforms—that will be your business, my dear. And the rest of us must wait, and love, and be content."
Oliver again lifted his face and looked at her.
"Mabel, my dear—-"
"Oh! I knew it even last night," she said, "but I did not know that I knew it till I awoke to-day and remembered. I dreamed of Him all night.... Oliver, where is He?"
He shook his head.
"Yes, I know where He is, but I am under oath—-"
She nodded quickly, and stood up.
"Yes. I should not have asked that. Well, we are content to wait."
There was silence for a moment or two. Oliver broke it.
"My dear, what do you mean when you say that He is not yet known?"
"I mean just that," she said. "The rest only know what He has done—not what He is; but that, too, will come in time."
"Meanwhile, you must work; the rest will come by and bye. Oh! Oliver, be strong and faithful."
She kissed him quickly, and went out.
* * * * *
Oliver sat on without moving, staring, as his habit was, out at the wide view beyond his windows. This time yesterday he was leaving Paris, knowing the fact indeed—for the delegates had arrived an hour before—but ignorant of the Man. Now he knew the Man as well—at least he had seen Him, heard Him, and stood enchanted under the glow of His personality. He could explain it to himself no more than could any one else—unless, perhaps, it were Mabel. The others had been as he had been: awed and overcome, yet at the same time kindled in the very depths of their souls. They had come out—Snowford, Cartwright, Pemberton, and the rest—on to the steps of Paul's House, following that strange figure. They had intended to say something, but they were dumb as they saw the sea of white faces, heard the groan and the silence, and experienced that compelling wave of magnetism that surged up like something physical, as the volor rose and started on that indescribable progress.
Once more he had seen Him, as he and Mabel stood together on the deck of the electric boat that carried them south. The white ship had passed along overhead, smooth and steady, above the heads of that vast multitude, bearing Him who, if any had the right to that title, was indeed the Saviour of the world. Then they had come home, and found the priest.
That, too, had been a shock to him; for, at first sight, it seemed that this priest was the very man he had seen ascend the rostrum two hours before. It was an extraordinary likeness—the same young face and white hair. Mabel, of course, had not noticed it; for she had only seen Felsenburgh at a great distance; and he himself had soon been reassured. And as for his mother—it was terrible enough; if it had not been for Mabel there would have been violence done last night. How collected and reasonable she had been! And, as for his mother—he must leave her alone for the present. By and bye, perhaps, something might be done. The future! It was that which engrossed him—the future, and the absorbing power of the personality under whose dominion he had fallen last night. All else seemed insignificant now—even his mother's defection, her illness—all paled before this new dawn of an unknown sun. And in an hour he would know more; he was summoned to Westminster to a meeting of the whole House; their proposals to Felsenburgh were to be formulated; it was intended to offer him a great position.
Yes, as Mabel had said; this was now their work—to carry into effect the new principle that had suddenly become incarnate in this grey-haired young American—the principle of Universal Brotherhood. It would mean enormous labour; all foreign relations would have to be readjusted—trade, policy, methods of government—all demanded re-statement. Europe was already organised internally on a basis of mutual protection: that basis was now gone. There was no more any protection, because there was no more any menace. Enormous labour, too, awaited the Government in other directions. A Blue-book must be prepared, containing a complete report of the proceedings in the East, together with the text of the Treaty which had been laid before them in Paris, signed by the Eastern Emperor, the feudal kings, the Turkish Republic, and countersigned by the American plenipotentiaries.... Finally, even home politics required reform: the friction of old strife between centre and extremes must cease forthwith—there must be but one party now, and that at the Prophet's disposal.... He grew bewildered as he regarded the prospect, and saw how the whole plane of the world was shifted, how the entire foundation of western life required readjustment. It was a Revolution indeed, a cataclysm more stupendous than even invasion itself; but it was the conversion of darkness into light, and chaos into order.
He drew a deep breath, and so sat pondering.
* * * * *
Mabel came down to him half-an-hour later, as he dined early before starting for Whitehall.
"Mother is quieter," she said. "We must be very patient, Oliver. Have you decided yet as to whether the priest is to come again?"
He shook his head.
"I can think of nothing," he said, "but of what I have to do. You decide, my dear; I leave it in your hands."
"I will talk to her again presently. Just now she can understand very little of what has happened.... What time shall you be home?"
"Probably not to-night. We shall sit all night."
"Yes, dear. And what shall I tell Mr. Phillips?"
"I will telephone in the morning.... Mabel, do you remember what I told you about the priest?"
"His likeness to the other?"
"Yes. What do you make of that?"
"I make nothing at all of it. Why should they not be alike?"
He took a fig from the dish, and swallowed it, and stood up.
"It is only very curious," he said. "Now, good-night, my dear."
"Oh, mother," said Mabel, kneeling by the bed; "cannot you understand what has happened?"
She had tried desperately to tell the old lady of the extraordinary change that had taken place in the world—and without success. It seemed to her that some great issue depended on it; that it would be piteous if the old woman went out into the dark unconscious of what had come. It was as if a Christian knelt by the death-bed of a Jew on the first Easter Monday. But the old lady lay in her bed, terrified but obdurate.
"Mother," said the girl, "let me tell you again. Do you not understand that all which Jesus Christ promised has come true, though in another way? The reign of God has really begun; but we know now who God is. You said just now you wanted the Forgiveness of Sins; well, you have that; we all have it, because there is no such thing as sin. There is only Crime. And then Communion. You used to believe that that made you a partaker of God; well, we are all partakers of God, because we are human beings. Don't you see that Christianity is only one way of saying all that? I dare say it was the only way, for a time; but that is all over now. Oh! and how much better this is! It is true—true. You can see it to be true!"
She paused a moment, forcing herself to look at that piteous old face, the flushed wrinkled cheeks, the writhing knotted hands on the coverlet.
"Look how Christianity has failed—how it has divided people; think of all the cruelties—the Inquisition, the Religious Wars; the separations between husband and wife and parents and children—the disobedience to the State, the treasons. Oh! you cannot believe that these were right. What kind of a God would that be! And then Hell; how could you ever have believed in that?... Oh! mother, don't believe anything so frightful.... Don't you understand that that God has gone—that He never existed at all—that it was all a hideous nightmare; and that now we all know at last what the truth is.... Mother! think of what happened last night—how He came—the Man of whom you were so frightened. I told you what He was like—so quiet and strong—how every one was silent—of the—the extraordinary atmosphere, and how six millions of people saw Him. And think what He has done—how He has healed all the old wounds—how the whole world is at peace at last—and of what is going to happen. Oh! mother, give up those horrible old lies; give them up; be brave."
"The priest, the priest!" moaned the old woman at last.
"Oh! no, no, no—not the priest; he can do nothing. He knows it's all lies, too!"
"The priest! the priest!" moaned the other again. "He can tell you; he knows the answer."
Her face was convulsed with effort, and her old fingers fumbled and twisted with the rosary. Mabel grew suddenly frightened, and stood up.
"Oh! mother!" She stooped and kissed her. "There! I won't say any more now. But just think about it quietly. Don't be in the least afraid; it is all perfectly right."
She stood a moment, still looking compassionately down; torn by sympathy and desire. No! it was no use now; she must wait till the next day.
"I'll look in again presently," she said, "when you have had dinner. Mother! don't look like that! Kiss me!"
It was astonishing, she told herself that evening, how any one could be so blind. And what a confession of weakness, too, to call only for the priest! It was ludicrous, absurd! She herself was filled with an extraordinary peace. Even death itself seemed now no longer terrible, for was not death swallowed up in victory? She contrasted the selfish individualism of the Christian, who sobbed and shrank from death, or, at the best, thought of it only as the gate to his own eternal life, with the free altruism of the New Believer who asked no more than that Man should live and grow, that the Spirit of the World should triumph and reveal Himself, while he, the unit, was content to sink back into that reservoir of energy from which he drew his life. At this moment she would have suffered anything, faced death cheerfully—she contemplated even the old woman upstairs with pity—for was it not piteous that death should not bring her to herself and reality?
She was in a quiet whirl of intoxication; it was as if the heavy veil of sense had rolled back at last and shown a sweet, eternal landscape behind—a shadowless land of peace where the lion lay down with the lamb, and the leopard with the kid. There should be war no more: that bloody spectre was dead, and with him the brood of evil that lived in his shadow—superstition, conflict, terror, and unreality. The idols were smashed, and rats had run out; Jehovah was fallen; the wild-eyed dreamer of Galilee was in his grave; the reign of priests was ended. And in their place stood a strange, quiet figure of indomitable power and unruffled tenderness.... He whom she had seen—the Son of Man, the Saviour of the world, as she had called Him just now—He who bore these titles was no longer a monstrous figure, half God and half man, claiming both natures and possessing neither; one who was tempted without temptation, and who conquered without merit, as his followers said. Here was one instead whom she could follow, a god indeed and a man as well—a god because human, and a man because so divine.
She said no more that night. She looked into the bedroom for a few minutes, and saw the old woman asleep. Her old hand lay out on the coverlet, and still between the fingers was twisted the silly string of beads. Mabel went softly across in the shaded light, and tried to detach it; but the wrinkled fingers writhed and closed, and a murmur came from the half-open lips. Ah! how piteous it was, thought the girl, how hopeless that a soul should flow out into such darkness, unwilling to make the supreme, generous surrender, and lay down its life because life itself demanded it!
Then she went to her own room.
* * * * *
The clocks were chiming three, and the grey dawn lay on the walls, when she awoke to find by her bed the woman who had sat with the old lady.
"Come at once, madam; Mrs. Brand is dying."
Oliver was with them by six o'clock; he came straight up into his mother's room to find that all was over.
The room was full of the morning light and the clean air, and a bubble of bird-music poured in from the lawn. But his wife knelt by the bed, still holding the wrinkled hands of the old woman, her face buried in her arms. The face of his mother was quieter than he had ever seen it, the lines showed only like the faintest shadows on an alabaster mask; her lips were set in a smile. He looked for a moment, waiting until the spasm that caught his throat had died again. Then he put his hand on his wife's shoulder.
"When?" he said.
Mabel lifted her face.
"Oh! Oliver," she murmured. "It was an hour ago. ... Look at this."
She released the dead hands and showed the rosary still twisted there; it had snapped in the last struggle, and a brown bead lay beneath the fingers.
"I did what I could," sobbed Mabel. "I was not hard with her. But she would not listen. She kept on crying out for the priest as long as she could speak."
"My dear ... " began the man. Then he, too, went down on his knees by his wife, leaned forward and kissed the rosary, while tears blinded him.
"Yes, yes," he said. "Leave her in peace. I would not move it for the world: it was her toy, was it not?"
The girl stared at him, astonished.
"We can be generous, too," he said. "We have all the world at last. And she—she has lost nothing: it was too late."
"I did what I could."
"Yes, my darling, and you were right. But she was too old; she could not understand."
"Euthanasia?" he whispered with something very like tenderness.
"Yes," she said; "just as the last agony began. She resisted, but I knew you would wish it."
They talked together for an hour in the garden before Oliver went to his room; and he began to tell her presently of all that had passed.
"He has refused," he said. "We offered to create an office for Him; He was to have been called Consultor, and he refused it two hours ago. But He has promised to be at our service.... No, I must not tell you where He is.... He will return to America soon, we think; but He will not leave us. We have drawn up a programme, and it is to be sent to Him presently.... Yes, we were unanimous."
"And the programme?"
"It concerns the Franchise, the Poor Laws and Trade. I can tell you no more than that. It was He who suggested the points. But we are not sure if we understand Him yet."
"But, my dear—-"
"Yes; it is quite extraordinary. I have never seen such things. There was practically no argument."
"Do the people understand?"
"I think so. We shall have to guard against a reaction. They say that the Catholics will be in danger. There is an article this morning in the Era. The proofs were sent to us for sanction. It suggests that means must be taken to protect the Catholics."
"It is a strange irony," he said. "But they have a right to exist. How far they have a right to share in the government is another matter. That will come before us, I think, in a week or two."
"Tell me more about Him."
"There is really nothing to tell; we know nothing, except that He is the supreme force in the world. France is in a ferment, and has offered him Dictatorship. That, too, He has refused. Germany has made the same proposal as ourselves; Italy, the same as France, with the title of Perpetual Tribune. America has done nothing yet, and Spain is divided."
"And the East?"
"The Emperor thanked Him; no more than that."
Mabel drew a long breath, and stood looking out across the heat haze that was beginning to rise from the town beneath. These were matters so vast that she could not take them in. But to her imagination Europe lay like a busy hive, moving to and fro in the sunshine. She saw the blue distance of France, the towns of Germany, the Alps, and beyond them the Pyrenees and sun-baked Spain; and all were intent on the same business, to capture if they could this astonishing figure that had risen over the world. Sober England, too, was alight with zeal. Each country desired nothing better than that this man should rule over them; and He had refused them all.
"He has refused them all!" she repeated breathlessly.
"Yes, all. We think He may be waiting to hear from America. He still holds office there, you know."
"How old is He?"
"Not more than thirty-two or three. He has only been in office a few months. Before that He lived alone in Vermont. Then He stood for the Senate; then He made a speech or two; then He was appointed delegate, though no one seems to have realised His power. And the rest we know."
Mabel shook her head meditatively.
"We know nothing," she said. "Nothing; nothing! Where did He learn His languages?"
"It is supposed that He travelled for many years. But no one knows. He has said nothing."
She turned swiftly to her husband.
"But what does it all mean? What is His power? Tell me, Oliver?"
He smiled back, shaking his head.
"Well, Markham said that it was his incorruption—that and his oratory; but that explains nothing."
"No, it explains nothing," said the girl.
"It is just personality," went on Oliver, "at least, that's the label to use. But that, too, is only a label."
"Yes, just a label. But it is that. They all felt it in Paul's House, and in the streets afterwards. Did you not feel it?"
"Feel it!" cried the man, with shining eyes. "Why, I would die for Him!"
* * * * *
They went back to the house presently, and it was not till they reached the door that either said a word about the dead old woman who lay upstairs.
"They are with her now," said Mabel softly. "I will communicate with the people."
He nodded gravely.
"It had better be this afternoon," he said. "I have a spare hour at fourteen o'clock. Oh! by the way, Mabel, do you know who took the message to the priest?"
"I think so."
"Yes, it was Phillips. I saw him last night. He will not come here again."
"Did he confess it?"
"He did. He was most offensive."
But Oliver's face softened again as he nodded to his wife at the foot of the stairs, and turned to go up once more to his mother's room.
It seemed to Percy Franklin as he drew near Rome, sliding five hundred feet high through the summer dawn, that he was approaching the very gates of heaven, or, still better, he was as a child coming home. For what he had left behind him ten hours before in London was not a bad specimen, he thought, of the superior mansions of hell. It was a world whence God seemed to have withdrawn Himself, leaving it indeed in a state of profound complacency—a state without hope or faith, but a condition in which, although life continued, there was absent the one essential to well-being. It was not that there was not expectation—for London was on tip-toe with excitement. There were rumours of all kinds: Felsenburgh was coming back; he was back; he had never gone. He was to be President of the Council, Prime Minister, Tribune, with full capacities of democratic government and personal sacro-sanctity, even King—if not Emperor of the West. The entire constitution was to be remodelled, there was to be a complete rearrangement of the pieces; crime was to be abolished by the mysterious power that had killed war; there was to be free food—the secret of life was discovered, there was to be no more death—so the rumours ran.... Yet that was lacking, to the priest's mind, which made life worth living....
In Paris, while the volor waited at the great station at Montmartre, once known as the Church of the Sacred Heart, he had heard the roaring of the mob in love with life at last, and seen the banners go past. As it rose again over the suburbs he had seen the long lines of trains streaming in, visible as bright serpents in the brilliant glory of the electric globes, bringing the country folk up to the Council of the Nation which the legislators, mad with drama, had summoned to decide the great question. At Lyons it had been the same. The night was as clear as the day, and as full of sound. Mid France was arriving to register its votes.
He had fallen asleep as the cold air of the Alps began to envelop the car, and had caught but glimpses of the solemn moonlit peaks below him, the black profundities of the gulfs, the silver glint of the shield-like lakes, and the soft glow of Interlaken and the towns in the Rhone valley. Once he had been moved in spite of himself, as one of the huge German volors had passed in the night, a blaze of ghostly lights and gilding, resembling a huge moth with antennae of electric light, and the two ships had saluted one another through half a league of silent air, with a pathetic cry as of two strange night-birds who have no leisure to pause. Milan and Turin had been quiet, for Italy was organised on other principles than France, and Florence was not yet half awake. And now the Campagna was slipping past like a grey-green rug, wrinkled and tumbled, five hundred feet beneath, and Rome was all but in sight. The indicator above his seat moved its finger from one hundred to ninety miles.