He shook off the doze at last, and drew out his office book; but as he pronounced the words his attention was elsewhere, and, when Prime was said, he closed the book once more, propped himself more comfortably, drawing the furs round him, and stretching his feet on the empty seat opposite. He was alone in his compartment; the three men who had come in at Paris had descended at Turin.
* * * * *
He had been remarkably relieved when the message had come three days before from the Cardinal-Protector, bidding him make arrangements for a long absence from England, and, as soon as that was done, to come to Rome. He understood that the ecclesiastical authorities were really disturbed at last.
He reviewed the last day or two, considering the report he would have to present. Since his last letter, three days before, seven notable apostasies had taken place in Westminster diocese alone, two priests and five important laymen. There was talk of revolt on all sides; he had seen a threatening document, called a "petition," demanding the right to dispense with all ecclesiastical vestments, signed by one hundred and twenty priests from England and Wales. The "petitioners" pointed out that persecution was coming swiftly at the hands of the mob; that the Government was not sincere in the promises of protection; they hinted that religious loyalty was already strained to breaking-point even in the case of the most faithful, and that with all but those it had already broken.
And as to his comments Percy was clear. He would tell the authorities, as he had already told them fifty times, that it was not persecution that mattered; it was this new outburst of enthusiasm for Humanity—an enthusiasm which had waxed a hundredfold more hot since the coming of Felsenburgh and the publication of the Eastern news—which was melting the hearts of all but the very few. Man had suddenly fallen in love with man. The conventional were rubbing their eyes and wondering why they had ever believed, or even dreamed, that there was a God to love, asking one another what was the secret of the spell that had held them so long. Christianity and Theism were passing together from the world's mind as a morning mist passes when the sun comes up. His recommendations—? Yes, he had those clear, and ran them over in his mind with a sense of despair.
For himself, he scarcely knew if he believed what he professed. His emotions seemed to have been finally extinguished in the vision of the white car and the silence of the crowd that evening three weeks before. It had been so horribly real and positive; the delicate aspirations and hopes of the soul appeared so shadowy when compared with that burning, heart-shaking passion of the people. He had never seen anything like it; no congregation under the spell of the most kindling preacher alive had ever responded with one-tenth of the fervour with which that irreligious crowd, standing in the cold dawn of the London streets, had greeted the coming of their saviour. And as for the man himself—Percy could not analyse what it was that possessed him as he had stared, muttering the name of Jesus, on that quiet figure in black with features and hair so like his own. He only knew that a hand had gripped his heart—a hand warm, not cold—and had quenched, it seemed, all sense of religious conviction. It had only been with an effort that sickened him to remember, that he had refrained from that interior act of capitulation that is so familiar to all who have cultivated an inner life and understand what failure means. There had been one citadel that had not flung wide its gates—all else had yielded. His emotions had been stormed, his intellect silenced, his memory of grace obscured, a spiritual nausea had sickened his soul, yet the secret fortress of the will had, in an agony, held fast the doors and refused to cry out and call Felsenburgh king.
Ah! how he had prayed during those three weeks! It appeared to him that he had done little else; there had been no peace. Lances of doubt thrust again and again through door and window; masses of argument had crashed from above; he had been on the alert day and night, repelling this, blindly, and denying that, endeavouring to keep his foothold on the slippery plane of the supernatural, sending up cry after cry to the Lord Who hid Himself. He had slept with his crucifix in his hand, he had awakened himself by kissing it; while he wrote, talked, ate, walked, and sat in cars, the inner life had been busy-making frantic speechless acts of faith in a religion which his intellect denied and from which his emotions shrank. There had been moments of ecstasy—now in a crowded street, when he recognised that God was all, that the Creator was the key to the creature's life, that a humble act of adoration was transcendently greater than the most noble natural act, that the Supernatural was the origin and end of existence there had come to him such moments in the night, in the silence of the Cathedral, when the lamp flickered, and a soundless air had breathed from the iron door of the tabernacle. Then again passion ebbed, and left him stranded on misery, but set with a determination (which might equally be that of pride or faith) that no power in earth or hell should hinder him from professing Christianity even if he could not realise it. It was Christianity alone that made life tolerable.
Percy drew a long vibrating breath, and changed his position; for far away his unseeing eyes had descried a dome, like a blue bubble set on a carpet of green; and his brain had interrupted itself to tell him that this was Rome. He got up presently, passed out of his compartment, and moved forward up the central gangway, seeing, as he went, through the glass doors to right and left his fellow-passengers, some still asleep, some staring out at the view, some reading. He put his eye to the glass square in the door, and for a minute or two watched, fascinated, the steady figure of the steerer at his post. There he stood motionless, his hands on the steel circle that directed the vast wings, his eyes on the wind-gauge that revealed to him as on the face of a clock both the force and the direction of the high gusts; now and again his hands moved slightly, and the huge fans responded, now lifting, now lowering. Beneath him and in front, fixed on a circular table, were the glass domes of various indicators—Percy did not know the meaning of half—one seemed a kind of barometer, intended, he guessed, to declare the height at which they were travelling, another a compass. And beyond, through the curved windows, lay the enormous sky. Well, it was all very wonderful, thought the priest, and it was with the force of which all this was but one symptom that the supernatural had to compete.
He sighed, turned, and went back to his compartment.
It was an astonishing vision that began presently to open before him—scarcely beautiful except for its strangeness, and as unreal as a raised map. Far to his right, as he could see through the glass doors, lay the grey line of the sea against the luminous sky, rising and falling ever so slightly as the car, apparently motionless, tilted imperceptibly against the western breeze; the only other movement was the faint pulsation of the huge throbbing screw in the rear. To the left stretched the limitless country, flitting beneath, in glimpses seen between the motionless wings, with here and there the streak of a village, flattened out of recognition, or the flash of water, and bounded far away by the low masses of the Umbrian hills; while in front, seen and gone again as the car veered, lay the confused line of Rome and the huge new suburbs, all crowned by the great dome growing every instant. Around, above and beneath, his eyes were conscious of wide air-spaces, overhead deepening into lapis-lazuli down to horizons of pale turquoise. The only sound, of which he had long ceased to be directly conscious, was that of the steady rush of air, less shrill now as the speed began to drop down—down—to forty miles an hour. There was a clang of a bell, and immediately he was aware of a sense of faint sickness as the car dropped in a glorious swoop, and he staggered a little as he grasped his rugs together. When he looked again the motion seemed to have ceased; he could see towers ahead, a line of house-roofs, and beneath he caught a glimpse of a road and more roofs with patches of green between. A bell clanged again, and a long sweet cry followed. On all sides he could hear the movement of feet; a guard in uniform passed swiftly along the glazed corridor; again came the faint nausea; and as he looked up once more from his luggage for an instant he saw the dome, grey now and lined, almost on a level with his own eyes, huge against the vivid sky. The world span round for a moment; he shut his eyes, and when he looked again walls seemed to heave up past him and stop, swaying. There was the last bell, a faint vibration as the car grounded in the steel-netted dock; a line of faces rocked and grew still outside the windows, and Percy passed out towards the doors, carrying his bags.
He still felt a sense of insecure motion as he sat alone over coffee an hour later in one of the remote rooms of the Vatican; but there was a sense of exhilaration as well, as his tired brain realised where he was. It had been strange to drive over the rattling stones in the weedy little cab, such as he remembered ten years ago when he had left Rome, newly ordained. While the world had moved on, Rome had stood still; she had other affairs to think of than physical improvements, now that the spiritual weight of the earth rested entirely upon her shoulders. All had seemed unchanged—or rather it had reverted to the condition of nearly one hundred and fifty years ago. Histories related how the improvements of the Italian government had gradually dropped out of use as soon as the city, eighty years before, had been given her independence; the trains ceased to run; volors were not allowed to enter the walls; the new buildings, permitted to remain, had been converted to ecclesiastical use; the Quirinal became the offices of the "Red Pope"; the embassies, huge seminaries; even the Vatican itself, with the exception of the upper floor, had become the abode of the Sacred College, who surrounded the Supreme Pontiff as stars their sun.
It was an extraordinary city, said antiquarians—the one living example of the old days. Here were to be seen the ancient inconveniences, the insanitary horrors, the incarnation of a world given over to dreaming. The old Church pomp was back, too; the cardinals drove again in gilt coaches; the Pope rode on his white mule; the Blessed Sacrament went through the ill-smelling streets with the sound of bells and the light of lanterns. A brilliant description of it had interested the civilised world immensely for about forty-eight hours; the appalling retrogression was still used occasionally as the text for violent denunciations by the poorly educated; the well-educated had ceased to do anything but take for granted that superstition and progress were irreconcilable enemies.
Yet Percy, even in the glimpses he had had in the streets, as he drove from the volor station outside the People's Gate, of the old peasant dresses, the blue and red-fringed wine carts, the cabbage-strewn gutters, the wet clothes flapping on strings, the mules and horses—strange though these were, he had found them a refreshment. It had seemed to remind him that man was human, and not divine as the rest of the world proclaimed—human, and therefore careless and individualistic; human, and therefore occupied with interests other than those of speed, cleanliness, and precision.
The room in which he sat now by the window with shading blinds, for the sun was already hot, seemed to revert back even further than to a century-and-a-half. The old damask and gilding that he had expected was gone, and its absence gave the impression of great severity. There was a wide deal table running the length of the room, with upright wooden arm chairs set against it; the floor was red-tiled, with strips of matting for the feet, the white, distempered walls had only a couple of old pictures hung upon them, and a large crucifix flanked by candles stood on a little altar by the further door. There was no more furniture than that, with the exception of a writing-desk between the windows, on which stood a typewriter. That jarred somehow on his sense of fitness, and he wondered at it.
He finished the last drop of coffee in the thick-rimmed white cup, and sat back in his chair.
* * * * *
Already the burden was lighter, and he was astonished at the swiftness with which it had become so. Life looked simpler here; the interior world was taken more for granted; it was not even a matter of debate. There it was, imperious and objective, and through it glimmered to the eyes of the soul the old Figures that had become shrouded behind the rush of worldly circumstance. The very shadow of God appeared to rest here; it was no longer impossible to realise that the saints watched and interceded, that Mary sat on her throne, that the white disc on the altar was Jesus Christ. Percy was not yet at peace after all, he had been but an hour in Rome; and air, charged with never so much grace, could scarcely do more than it had done. But he felt more at ease, less desperately anxious, more childlike, more content to rest on the authority that claimed without explanation, and asserted that the world, as a matter of fact, proved by evidences without and within, was made this way and not that, for this purpose and not the other. Yet he had used the conveniences which he hated; he had left London a bare twelve hours before, and now here he sat in a place which was either a stagnant backwater of life, or else the very mid-current of it; he was not yet sure which.
* * * * *
There was a step outside, a handle was turned; and the Cardinal-Protector came through.
Percy had not seen him for four years, and for a moment scarcely recognised him.
It was a very old man that he saw now, bent and feeble, his face covered with wrinkles, crowned by very thin, white hair, and the little scarlet cap on top; he was in his black Benedictine habit with a plain abbatial cross on his breast, and walked hesitatingly, with a black stick. The only sign of vigour was in the narrow bright slit of his eyes showing beneath drooping lids. He held out his hand, smiling, and Percy, remembering in time that he was in the Vatican, bowed low only as he kissed the amethyst.
"Welcome to Rome, father," said the old man, speaking with an unexpected briskness. "They told me you were here half-an-hour ago; I thought I would leave you to wash and have your coffee."
Percy murmured something.
"Yes; you are tired, no doubt," said the Cardinal, pulling out a chair.
"Indeed not, your Eminence. I slept excellently."
The Cardinal made a little gesture to a chair.
"But I must have a word with you. The Holy Father wishes to see you at eleven o'clock."
Percy started a little.
"We move quickly in these days, father.... There is no time to dawdle. You understand that you are to remain in Rome for the present?"
"I have made all arrangements for that, your Eminence."
"That is very well.... We are pleased with you here, Father Franklin. The Holy Father has been greatly impressed by your comments. You have foreseen things in a very remarkable manner."
Percy flushed with pleasure. It was almost the first hint of encouragement he had had. Cardinal Martin went on.
"I may say that you are considered our most valuable correspondent—certainly in England. That is why you are summoned. You are to help us here in future—a kind of consultor: any one can relate facts; not every one can understand them.... You look very young, father. How old are you?"
"I am thirty-three, your Eminence."
"Ah! your white hair helps you.... Now, father, will you come with me into my room? It is now eight o'clock. I will keep you till nine—no longer. Then you shall have some rest, and at eleven I shall take you up to his Holiness."
Percy rose with a strange sense of elation, and ran to open the door for the Cardinal to go through.
At a few minutes before eleven Percy came out of his little white-washed room in his new ferraiuola, soutane and buckle shoes, and tapped at the door of the Cardinal's room.
He felt a great deal more self-possessed now. He had talked to the Cardinal freely and strongly, had described the effect that Felsenburgh had had upon London, and even the paralysis that had seized upon himself. He had stated his belief that they were on the edge of a movement unparalleled in history: he related little scenes that he had witnessed—a group kneeling before a picture of Felsenburgh, a dying man calling him by name, the aspect of the crowd that had waited in Westminster to hear the result of the offer made to the stranger. He showed him half-a-dozen cuttings from newspapers, pointing out their hysterical enthusiasm; he even went so far as to venture upon prophecy, and to declare his belief that persecution was within reasonable distance.
"The world seems very oddly alive," he said; "it is as if the whole thing was flushed and nervous."
The Cardinal nodded.
"We, too," he said, "even we feel it."
For the rest the Cardinal had sat watching him out of his narrow eyes, nodding from time to time, putting an occasional question, but listening throughout with great attention.
"And your recommendations, father—-" he had said, and then interrupted himself. "No, that is too much to ask. The Holy Father will speak of that."
He had congratulated him upon his Latin then—for they had spoken in that language throughout this second interview; and Percy had explained how loyal Catholic England had been in obeying the order, given ten years before, that Latin should become to the Church what Esperanto was becoming to the world.
"That is very well," said the old man. "His Holiness will be pleased at that."
At his second tap the door opened and the Cardinal came out, taking him by the arm without a word; and together they turned to the lift entrance.
Percy ventured to make a remark as they slid noiselessly up towards the papal apartment.
"I am surprised at the lift, your Eminence, and the typewriter in the audience-room."
"Why, all the rest of Rome is back in the old days."
The Cardinal looked at him, puzzled.
"Is it? I suppose it is. I never thought of that."
A Swiss guard flung back the door of the lift, saluted and went before them along the plain flagged passage to where his comrade stood. Then he saluted again and went back. A Pontifical chamberlain, in all the sombre glory of purple, black, and a Spanish ruff, peeped from the door, and made haste to open it. It really seemed almost incredible that such things still existed.
"In a moment, your Eminence," he said in Latin. "Will your Eminence wait here?"
It was a little square room, with half-a-dozen doors, plainly contrived out of one of the huge old halls, for it was immensely high, and the tarnished gilt cornice vanished directly in two places into the white walls. The partitions, too, seemed thin; for as the two men sat down there was a murmur of voices faintly audible, the shuffling of footsteps, and the old eternal click of the typewriter from which Percy hoped he had escaped. They were alone in the room, which was furnished with the same simplicity as the Cardinal's—giving the impression of a curious mingling of ascetic poverty and dignity by its red-tiled floor, its white walls, its altar and two vast bronze candlesticks of incalculable value that stood on the dais. The shutters here, too, were drawn; and there was nothing to distract Percy from the excitement that surged up now tenfold in heart and brain.
It was Papa Angelicus whom he was about to see; that amazing old man who had been appointed Secretary of State just fifty years ago, at the age of thirty, and Pope nine years previously. It was he who had carried out the extraordinary policy of yielding the churches throughout the whole of Italy to the Government, in exchange for the temporal lordship of Rome, and who had since set himself to make it a city of saints. He had cared, it appeared, nothing whatever for the world's opinion; his policy, so far as it could be called one, consisted in a very simple thing: he had declared in Epistle after Epistle that the object of the Church was to do glory to God by producing supernatural virtues in man, and that nothing at all was of any significance or importance except so far as it effected this object. He had further maintained that since Peter was the Rock, the City of Peter was the Capital of the world, and should set an example to its dependency: this could not be done unless Peter ruled his City, and therefore he had sacrificed every church and ecclesiastical building in the country for that one end. Then he had set about ruling his city: he had said that on the whole the latter-day discoveries of man tended to distract immortal souls from a contemplation of eternal verities—not that these discoveries could be anything but good in themselves, since after all they gave insight into the wonderful laws of God—but that at present they were too exciting to the imagination. So he had removed the trams, the volors, the laboratories, the manufactories—saying that there was plenty of room for them outside Rome—and had allowed them to be planted in the suburbs: in their place he had raised shrines, religious houses and Calvaries. Then he had attended further to the souls of his subjects. Since Rome was of limited area, and, still more because the world corrupted without its proper salt, he allowed no man under the age of fifty to live within its walls for more than one month in each year, except those who received his permit. They might live, of course, immediately outside the city (and they did, by tens of thousands), but they were to understand that by doing so they sinned against the spirit, though not the letter, of their Father's wishes. Then he had divided the city into national quarters, saying that as each nation had its peculiar virtues, each was to let its light shine steadily in its proper place. Rents had instantly begun to rise, so he had legislated against that by reserving in each quarter a number of streets at fixed prices, and had issued an ipso facto excommunication against all who erred in this respect. The rest were abandoned to the millionaires. He had retained the Leonine City entirely at his own disposal. Then he had restored Capital Punishment, with as much serene gravity as that with which he had made himself the derision of the civilised world in other matters, saying that though human life was holy, human virtue was more holy still; and he had added to the crime of murder, the crimes of adultery, idolatry and apostasy, for which this punishment was theoretically sanctioned. There had not been, however, more than two such executions in the eight years of his reign, since criminals, of course, with the exception of devoted believers, instantly made their way to the suburbs, where they were no longer under his jurisdiction.
But he had not stayed here. He had sent once more ambassadors to every country in the world, informing the Government of each of their arrival. No attention was paid to this, beyond that of laughter; but he had continued, undisturbed, to claim his rights, and, meanwhile, used his legates for the important work of disseminating his views. Epistles appeared from time to time in every town, laying down the principles of the papal claims with as much tranquillity as if they were everywhere acknowledged. Freemasonry was steadily denounced, as well as democratic ideas of every kind; men were urged to remember their immortal souls and the Majesty of God, and to reflect upon the fact that in a few years all would be called to give their account to Him Who was Creator and Ruler of the world, Whose Vicar was John XXIV, P.P., whose name and seal were appended.
That was a line of action that took the world completely by surprise. People had expected hysteria, argument, and passionate exhortation; disguised emissaries, plots, and protests. There were none of these. It was as if progress had not yet begun, and volors were uninvented, as if the entire universe had not come to disbelieve in God, and to discover that itself was God. Here was this silly old man, talking in his sleep, babbling of the Cross, and the inner life and the forgiveness of sins, exactly as his predecessors had talked two thousand years before. Well, it was only one sign more that Rome had lost not only its power, but its common sense as well. It was really time that something should be done.
* * * * *
And this was the man, thought Percy, Papa Angelicus, whom he was to see in a minute or two.
The Cardinal put his hand on the priest's knee as the door opened, and a purple prelate appeared, bowing.
"Only this," he said. "Be absolutely frank."
Percy stood up, trembling. Then he followed his patron towards the inner door.
A white figure sat in the green gloom, beside a great writing-table, three or four yards away, but with the chair wheeled round to face the door by which the two entered. So much Percy saw as he performed the first genuflection. Then he dropped his eyes, advanced, genuflected again with the other, advanced once more, and for the third time genuflected, lifting the thin white hand, stretched out, to his lips. He heard the door close as he stood up.
"Father Franklin, Holiness," said the Cardinal's voice at his ear.
A white-sleeved arm waved to a couple of chairs set a yard away, and the two sat down.
* * * * *
While the Cardinal, talking in slow Latin, said a few sentences, explaining that this was the English priest whose correspondence had been found so useful, Percy began to look with all his eyes.
He knew the Pope's face well, from a hundred photographs and moving pictures; even his gestures were familiar to him, the slight bowing of the head in assent, the tiny eloquent movement of the hands; but Percy, with a sense of being platitudinal, told himself that the living presence was very different.
It was a very upright old man that he saw in the chair before him, of medium height and girth, with hands clasping the bosses of his chair-arms, and an appearance of great and deliberate dignity. But it was at the face chiefly that he looked, dropping his gaze three or four times, as the Pope's blue eyes turned on him. They were extraordinary eyes, reminding him of what historians said of Pius X.; the lids drew straight lines across them, giving him the look of a hawk, but the rest of the face contradicted them. There was no sharpness in that. It was neither thin nor fat, but beautifully modelled in an oval outline: the lips were clean-cut, with a look of passion in their curves; the nose came down in an aquiline sweep, ending in chiselled nostrils; the chin was firm and cloven, and the poise of the whole head was strangely youthful. It was a face of great generosity and sweetness, set at an angle between defiance and humility, but ecclesiastical from ear to ear and brow to chin; the forehead was slightly compressed at the temples, and beneath the white cap lay white hair. It had been the subject of laughter at the music-halls nine years before, when the composite face of well-known priests had been thrown on a screen, side by side with the new Pope's, for the two were almost indistinguishable.
Percy found himself trying to sum it up, but nothing came to him except the word "priest." It was that, and that was all. Ecce sacerdos magnus! He was astonished at the look of youth, for the Pope was eighty-eight this year; yet his figure was as upright as that of a man of fifty, his shoulders unbowed, his head set on them like an athlete's, and his wrinkles scarcely perceptible in the half light. Papa Angelicus! reflected Percy.
The Cardinal ceased his explanations, and made a little gesture. Percy drew up all his faculties tense and tight to answer the questions that he knew were coming.
"I welcome you, my son," said a very soft, resonant voice.
Percy bowed, desperately, from the waist.
The Pope dropped his eyes again, lifted a paper-weight with his left hand, and began to play with it gently as he talked.
"Now, my son, deliver a little discourse. I suggest to you three heads—what has happened, what is happening, what will happen, with a peroration as to what should happen."
Percy drew a long breath, settled himself back, clasped the fingers of his left hand in the fingers of his right, fixed his eyes firmly upon the cross-embroidered red shoe opposite, and began. (Had he not rehearsed this a hundred times!)
* * * * *
He first stated his theme; to the effect that all the forces of the civilised world were concentrating into two camps—the world and God. Up to the present time the forces of the world had been incoherent and spasmodic, breaking out in various ways—revolutions and wars had been like the movements of a mob, undisciplined, unskilled, and unrestrained. To meet this, the Church, too, had acted through her Catholicity— dispersion rather than concentration: franc-tireurs had been opposed to franc-tireurs. But during the last hundred years there had been indications that the method of warfare was to change. Europe, at any rate, had grown weary of internal strife; the unions first of Labour, then of Capital, then of Labour and Capital combined, illustrated this in the economic sphere; the peaceful partition of Africa in the political sphere; the spread of Humanitarian religion in the spiritual sphere. Over against this must be placed the increased centralisation of the Church. By the wisdom of her pontiffs, over-ruled by God Almighty, the lines had been drawing tighter every year. He instanced the abolition of all local usages, including those so long cherished by the East, the establishment of the Cardinal-Protectorates in Rome, the enforced merging of all friars into one Order, though retaining their familiar names, under the authority of the supreme General; all monks, with the exception of the Carthusians, the Carmelites and the Trappists, into another; of the three excepted into a third; and the classification of nuns after the same plan. Further, he remarked on the more recent decrees, establishing the sense of the Vatican decision on infallibility, the new version of Canon Law, the immense simplification that had taken place in ecclesiastical government, the hierarchy, rubrics and the affairs of missionary countries, with the new and extraordinary privileges granted to mission priests. At this point he became aware that his self-consciousness had left him, and he began, even with little gestures, and a slightly raised voice, to enlarge on the significance of the last month's events.
All that had gone before, he said, pointed to what had now actually taken place—namely, the reconciliation of the world on a basis other than that of Divine Truth. It was the intention of God and of His Vicars to reconcile all men in Christ Jesus; but the corner-stone had once more been rejected, and instead of the chaos that the pious had prophesied, there was coming into existence a unity unlike anything known in history. This was the more deadly from the fact that it contained so many elements of indubitable good. War, apparently, was now extinct, and it was not Christianity that had done it; union was now seen to be better than disunion, and the lesson had been learned apart from the Church. In fact, natural virtues had suddenly waxed luxuriant, and supernatural virtues were despised. Friendliness took the place of charity, contentment the place of hope, and knowledge the place of faith.
Percy stopped, he had become conscious that he was preaching a kind of sermon.
"Yes, my son," said the kind voice. "What else?"
What else?... Very well, continued Percy, movements such as these brought forth men, and the Man of this movement was Julian Felsenburgh. He had accomplished a work that—apart from God—seemed miraculous. He had broken down the eternal division between East and West, coming himself from the continent that alone could produce such powers; he had prevailed by sheer force of personality over the two supreme tyrants of life religious fanaticism and party government. His influence over the impassive English was another miracle, yet he had also set on fire France, Germany, and Spain. Percy here described one or two of his little scenes, saying that it was like the vision of a god: and he quoted freely some of the titles given to the Man by sober, unhysterical newspapers. Felsenburgh was called the Son of Man, because he was so pure-bred a cosmopolitan; the Saviour of the World, because he had slain war and himself survived—even—even—here Percy's voice faltered—even Incarnate God, because he was the perfect representative of divine man.
The quiet, priestly face watching opposite never winced or moved; and he went on.
Persecution, he said, was coming. There had been a riot or two already. But persecution was not to be feared. It would no doubt cause apostasies, as it had always done, but these were deplorable only on account of the individual apostates. On the other hand, it would reassure the faithful; and purge out the half-hearted. Once, in the early ages, Satan's attack had been made on the bodily side, with whips and fire and beasts; in the sixteenth century it had been on the intellectual side; in the twentieth century on the springs of moral and spiritual life. Now it seemed as if the assault was on all three planes at once. But what was chiefly to be feared was the positive influence of Humanitarianism: it was coming, like the kingdom of God, with power; it was crushing the imaginative and the romantic, it was assuming rather than asserting its own truth; it was smothering with bolsters instead of wounding and stimulating with steel or controversy. It seemed to be forcing its way, almost objectively, into the inner world. Persons who had scarcely heard its name were professing its tenets; priests absorbed it, as they absorbed God in Communion—he mentioned the names of the recent apostates—children drank it in like Christianity itself. The soul "naturally Christian" seemed to be becoming "the soul naturally infidel." Persecution, cried the priest, was to be welcomed like salvation, prayed for, and grasped; but he feared that the authorities were too shrewd, and knew the antidote and the poison apart. There might be individual martyrdoms—in fact there would be, and very many—but they would be in spite of secular government, not because of it. Finally, he expected, Humanitarianism would presently put on the dress of liturgy and sacrifice, and when that was done, the Church's cause, unless God intervened, would be over.
Percy sat back, trembling.
"Yes, my son. And what do you think should be done?"
Percy flung out his hands.
"Holy Father—the mass, prayer, the rosary. These first and last. The world denies their power: it is on their power that Christians must throw all their weight. All things in Jesus Christ—in Jesus Christ, first and last. Nothing else can avail. He must do all, for we can do nothing."
The white head bowed. Then it rose erect.
"Yes, my son.... But so long as Jesus Christ deigns to use us, we must be used. He is Prophet and King as well as Priest. We then, too, must be prophet and king as well as priest. What of Prophecy and Royalty?"
The voice thrilled Percy like a trumpet.
"Yes, Holiness.... For prophecy, then, let us preach charity; for Royalty, let us reign on crosses. We must love and suffer.... " (He drew one sobbing breath.) "Your Holiness has preached charity always. Let charity then issue in good deeds. Let us be foremost in them; let us engage in trade honestly, in family life chastely, in government uprightly. And as for suffering—ah! Holiness!"
His old scheme leaped back to his mind, and stood poised there convincing and imperious.
"Yes, my son, speak plainly."
"Your Holiness—it is old—old as Rome—every fool has desired it: a new Order, Holiness—a new Order," he stammered.
The white hand dropped the paper-weight; the Pope leaned forward, looking intently at the priest.
"Yes, my son?"
Percy threw himself on his knees.
"A new Order, Holiness—no habit or badge—subject to your Holiness only—freer than Jesuits, poorer than Franciscans, more mortified than Carthusians: men and women alike—the three vows with the intention of martyrdom; the Pantheon for their Church; each bishop responsible for their sustenance; a lieutenant in each country.... (Holiness, it is the thought of a fool.) ... And Christ Crucified for their patron."
The Pope stood up abruptly—so abruptly that Cardinal Martin sprang up too, apprehensive and terrified. It seemed that this young man had gone too far.
Then the Pope sat down again, extending his hand.
"God bless you, my son. You have leave to go.... Will your Eminence stay for a few minutes?"
The Cardinal said very little to Percy when they met again that evening, beyond congratulating him on the way he had borne himself with the Pope. It seemed that the priest had done right by his extreme frankness. Then he told him of his duties.
Percy was to retain the couple of rooms that had been put at his disposal; he was to say mass, as a rule, in the Cardinal's oratory; and after that, at nine, he was to present himself for instructions: he was to dine at noon with the Cardinal, after which he was to consider himself at liberty till Ave Maria: then, once more he was to be at his master's disposal until supper. The work he would principally have to do would be the reading of all English correspondence, and the drawing up of a report upon it.
Percy found it a very pleasant and serene life, and the sense of home deepened every day. He had an abundance of time to himself, which he occupied resolutely in relaxation. From eight to nine he usually walked abroad, going sedately through the streets with his senses passive, looking into churches, watching the people, and gradually absorbing the strange naturalness of life under ancient conditions. At times it appeared to him like an historical dream; at times it seemed that there was no other reality; that the silent, tense world of modern civilisation was itself a phantom, and that here was the simple naturalness of the soul's childhood back again. Even the reading of the English correspondence did not greatly affect him, for the stream of his mind was beginning to run clear again in this sweet old channel; and he read, dissected, analysed and diagnosed with a deepening tranquillity.
There was not, after all, a great deal of news. It was a kind of lull after storm. Felsenburgh was still in retirement; he had refused the offers made to him by France and Italy, as that of England; and, although nothing definite was announced, it seemed that he was confining himself at present to an unofficial attitude. Meanwhile the Parliaments of Europe were busy in the preliminary stages of code-revision. Nothing would be done, it was understood, until the autumn sessions.
Life in Rome was very strange. The city had now become not only the centre of faith but, in a sense, a microcosm of it. It was divided into four huge quarters—Anglo-Saxon, Latin, Teutonic and Eastern—besides Trastevere, which was occupied almost entirely by Papal offices, seminaries, and schools. Anglo-Saxondom occupied the southwestern quarter, now entirely covered with houses, including the Aventine, the Celian and Testaccio. The Latins inhabited old Rome, between the Course and the river; the Teutons the northeastern quarter, bounded on the south by St. Laurence's Street; and the Easterns the remaining quarter, of which the centre was the Lateran. In this manner the true Romans were scarcely conscious of intrusion; they possessed a multitude of their own churches, they were allowed to revel in narrow, dark streets and hold their markets; and it was here that Percy usually walked, in a passion of historical retrospect. But the other quarters were strange enough, too. It was curious to see how a progeny of Gothic churches, served by northern priests, had grown up naturally in the Anglo-Saxon and Teutonic districts, and how the wide, grey streets, the neat pavements, the severe houses, showed how the northerns had not yet realised the requirements of southern life. The Easterns, on the other hand, resembled the Latins; their streets were as narrow and dark, their smells as overwhelming, their churches as dirty and as homely, and their colours even more brilliant.
Outside the walls the confusion was indescribable. If the city represented a carved miniature of the world, the suburbs represented the same model broken into a thousand pieces, tumbled in a bag and shot out at random. So far as the eye could see, on all sides from the roof of the Vatican, there stretched an endless plain of house-roofs, broken by spires, towers, domes and chimneys, under which lived human beings of every race beneath the sun. Here were the great manufactories, the monster buildings of the new world, the stations, the schools, the offices, all under secular dominion, yet surrounded by six millions of souls who lived here for love of religion. It was these who had despaired of modern life, tired out with change and effort, who had fled from the new system for refuge to the Church, but who could not obtain leave to live in the city itself. New houses were continually springing up in all directions. A gigantic compass, fixed by one leg in Rome, and with a span of five miles, would, if twirled, revolve through packed streets through its entire circle. Beyond that too houses stretched into the indefinite distance.
But Percy did not realise the significance of all that he saw, until the occasion of the Pope's name-day towards the end of August.
It was yet cool and early, when he followed his patron, whom he was to serve as chaplain, along the broad passages of the Vatican towards the room where the Pope and Cardinals were to assemble. Through a window, as he looked out into the Piazza, the crowd was yet more dense, if that were possible, than it had been an hour before. The huge oval square was cobbled with heads, through which ran a broad road, kept by papal troops for the passage of the carriages; and up the broad ribbon, white in the eastern light, came monstrous vehicles, a blaze of gilding and colour and cream tint; slow cheers swelled up and died, and through all came the rush and patter of wheels over the stones, like the sound of a tide-swept pebbly beach.
As they waited in an ante-chamber, halted by the pressure in front and behind—a pack of scarlet and white and purple—he looked out again, and realised what he had known only intellectually before, that here before his eyes was the royalty of the old world assembled—and he began to perceive its significance.
Round the steps of the basilica spread a great fan of coaches, each yoked to eight horses—the white of France and Spain, the black of Germany, Italy and Russia, and the cream-coloured of England. Those stood out in the near half-circle, and beyond was the sweep of the lesser powers: Greece, Norway, Sweden, Roumania and the Balkan States. One, the Turk, was alone wanting, he reminded himself. The emblems of some were visible—eagles, lions, leopards—guarding the royal crown above the roof of each. From the foot of the steps to the head ran a broad scarlet carpet, lined with soldiers.
Percy leaned against the shutter, and began to meditate. Here was all that was left of Royalty. He had seen their palaces before, here and there in the various quarters, with standards flying, and scarlet-liveried men lounging on the steps. He had raised his hat a dozen times as a landau thundered past him up the Course; be had even seen the lilies of France and the leopards of England pass together in the solemn parade of the Pincian Hill. He had read in the papers every now and again during the last five years that family after family had made its way to Rome, after papal recognition had been granted; he had been told by the Cardinal on the previous evening that William of England, with his Consort, had landed at Ostia in the morning and that the tale of the Powers was complete. But he had never before realised the stupendous, overwhelming fact of the assembly of the world's royalty under the shadow of Peter's Throne, nor the appalling danger that its presence constituted in the midst of a democratic world. That world, he knew, affected to laugh at the folly and the childishness of it all—at the desperate play-acting of Divine Right on the part of fallen and despised families; but the same world, he knew very well, had not yet lost quite all its sentiment; and if that sentiment should happen to become resentful—-
The pressure relaxed; Percy slipped out of the recess, and followed in the slow-moving stream.
Half-an-hour later he was in his place among the ecclesiastics, as the papal procession came out through the glimmering dusk of the chapel of the Blessed Sacrament into the nave of the enormous church; but even before he had entered the chapel he heard the quiet roar of recognition and the cry of the trumpets that greeted the Supreme Pontiff as he came out, a hundred yards ahead, borne on the sedia gestatoria, with the fans going behind him. When Percy himself came out, five minutes later, walking in his quaternion, and saw the sight that was waiting, he remembered with a sudden throb at his heart that other sight he had seen in London in a summer dawn three months before....
Far ahead, seeming to cleave its way through the surging heads, like the poop of an ancient ship, moved the canopy beneath which sat the Lord of the world, and between him and the priest, as if it were the wake of that same ship, swayed the gorgeous procession—Protonotaries Apostolic, Generals of Religious Orders and the rest—making its way along with white, gold, scarlet and silver foam between the living banks on either side. Overhead hung the splendid barrel of the roof, and far in front the haven of God's altar reared its monstrous pillars, beneath which burned the seven yellow stars that were the harbour lights of sanctity. It was an astonishing sight, but too vast and bewildering to do anything but oppress the observers with a consciousness of their own futility. The enormous enclosed air, the giant statues, the dim and distant roofs, the indescribable concert of sound—of the movement of feet, the murmur of ten thousand voices, the peal of organs like the crying of gnats, the thin celestial music—the faint suggestive smell of incense and men and bruised bay and myrtle—and, supreme above all, the vibrant atmosphere of human emotion, shot with supernatural aspiration, as the Hope of the World, the holder of Divine Vice-Royalty, passed on his way to stand between God and man—this affected the priest as the action of a drug that at once lulls and stimulates, that blinds while it gives new vision, that deafens while it opens stopped ears, that exalts while it plunges into new gulfs of consciousness. Here, then, was the other formulated answer to the problem of life. The two Cities of Augustine lay for him to choose. The one was that of a world self-originated, self-organised and self-sufficient, interpreted by such men as Marx and Herve, socialists, materialists, and, in the end, hedonists, summed up at last in Felsenburgh. The other lay displayed in the sight he saw before him, telling of a Creator and of a creation, of a Divine purpose, a redemption, and a world transcendent and eternal from which all sprang and to which all moved. One of the two, John and Julian, was the Vicar, and the other the Ape, of God.... And Percy's heart in one more spasm of conviction made its choice....
But the summit was not yet reached.
As Percy came at last out from the nave beneath the dome, on his way to the tribune beyond the papal throne, he became aware of a new element.
A great space was cleared about the altar and confession, extending, as he could see at least on his side, to the point that marked the entrance to the transepts; at this point ran rails straight across from side to side, continuing the lines of the nave. Beyond this red-hung barrier lay a gradual slope of faces, white and motionless; a glimmer of steel bounded it, and above, a third of the distance down the transept, rose in solemn serried array a line of canopies. These were of scarlet, like cardinalitial baldachini, but upon the upright surface of each burned gigantic coats supported by beasts and topped by crowns. Under each was a figure or two—no more—in splendid isolation, and through the interspaces between the thrones showed again a misty slope of faces.
His heart quickened as he saw it—as he swept his eyes round and across to the right and saw as in a mirror the replica of the left in the right transept. It was there then that they sat—those lonely survivors of that strange company of persons who, till half-a-century ago, had reigned as God's temporal Vicegerents with the consent of their subjects. They were unrecognised, now, save by Him from whom they drew their sovereignty—pinnacles clustering and hanging from a dome, from which the walls had been withdrawn. These were men and women who had learned at last that power comes from above, and their title to rule came not from their subjects but from the Supreme Ruler of all—shepherds without sheep, captains without soldiers to command. It was piteous—horribly piteous, yet inspiring. The act of faith was so sublime; and Percy's heart quickened as he understood it. These, then, men and women like himself, were not ashamed to appeal from man to God, to assume insignia which the world regarded as playthings, but which to them were emblems of supernatural commission. Was there not mirrored here, he asked himself, some far-off shadow of One Who rode on the colt of an ass amid the sneers of the great and the enthusiasm of children?...
* * * * *
It was yet more kindling as the mass went on, and he saw the male sovereigns come down to do their services at the altar, and to go to and fro between it and the Throne. There they went bareheaded, the stately silent figures. The English king, once again Fidei Defensor, bore the train in place of the old king of Spain, who, with the Austrian Emperor, alone of all European sovereigns, had preserved the unbroken continuity of faith. The old man leaned over his fald-stool, mumbling and weeping, even crying out now and again in love and devotion, as, like Simeon, he saw his Salvation. The Austrian Emperor twice administered the Lavabo; the German sovereign, who had lost his throne and all but his life upon his conversion four years before, by a new privilege placed and withdrew the cushion, as his Lord kneeled before the Lord of them both. So movement by movement the gorgeous drama was enacted; the murmuring of the crowds died to a stillness that was but one wordless prayer as the tiny White Disc rose between the white hands, and the thin angelic music pealed in the dome. For here was the one hope of these thousands, as mighty and as little as once within the Manger. There was none other that fought for them but only God. Surely then, if the blood of men and the tears of women could not avail to move the Judge and Observer of all from His silence, surely at least here the bloodless Death of His only Son, that once on Calvary had darkened heaven and rent the earth, pleaded now with such sorrowful splendour upon this island of faith amid a sea of laughter and hatred—this at least must avail! How could it not?
* * * * *
Percy had just sat down, tired out with the long ceremonies, when the door opened abruptly, and the Cardinal, still in his robes, came in swiftly, shutting the door behind him.
"Father Franklin," he said, in a strange breathless voice, "there is the worst of news. Felsenburgh is appointed President of Europe."
It was late that night before Percy returned, completely exhausted by his labours. For hour after hour he had sat with the Cardinal, opening despatches that poured into the electric receivers from all over Europe, and were brought in one by one into the quiet sitting-room. Three times in the afternoon the Cardinal had been sent for, once by the Pope and twice to the Quirinal.
There was no doubt at all that the news was true; and it seemed that Felsenburgh must have waited deliberately for the offer. All others he had refused. There had been a Convention of the Powers, each of whom had been anxious to secure him, and each of whom had severally failed; these private claims had been withdrawn, and an united message sent. The new proposal was to the effect that Felsenburgh should assume a position hitherto undreamed of in democracy; that he should receive a House of Government in every capital of Europe; that his veto of any measure should be final for three years; that any measure he chose to introduce three times in three consecutive years should become law; that his title should be that of President of Europe. From his side practically nothing was asked, except that he should refuse any other official position offered him that did not receive the sanction of all the Powers. And all this, Percy saw very well, involved the danger of an united Europe increased tenfold. It involved all the stupendous force of Socialism directed by a brilliant individual. It was the combination of the strongest characteristics of the two methods of government. The offer had been accepted by Felsenburgh after eight hours' silence.
It was remarkable, too, to observe how the news had been accepted by the two other divisions of the world. The East was enthusiastic; America was divided. But in any case America was powerless: the balance of the world was overwhelmingly against her.
Percy threw himself, as he was, on to his bed, and lay there with drumming pulses, closed eyes and a huge despair at his heart. The world indeed had risen like a giant over the horizons of Rome, and the holy city was no better now than a sand castle before a tide. So much he grasped. As to how ruin would come, in what form and from what direction, he neither knew nor cared. Only he knew now that it would come.
He had learned by now something of his own temperament; and he turned his eyes inwards to observe himself bitterly, as a doctor in mortal disease might with a dreadful complacency diagnose his own symptoms. It was even a relief to turn from the monstrous mechanism of the world to see in miniature one hopeless human heart. For his own religion he no longer feared; he knew, as absolutely as a man may know the colour of his eyes, that it was secure again and beyond shaking. During those weeks in Rome the cloudy deposit had run clear and the channel was once more visible. Or, better still, that vast erection of dogma, ceremony, custom and morals in which he had been educated, and on which he had looked all his life (as a man may stare upon some great set-piece that bewilders him), seeing now one spark of light, now another, flare and wane in the darkness, had little by little kindled and revealed itself in one stupendous blaze of divine fire that explains itself. Huge principles, once bewildering and even repellent, were again luminously self-evident; he saw, for example, that while Humanity-Religion endeavoured to abolish suffering the Divine Religion embraced it, so that the blind pangs even of beasts were within the Father's Will and Scheme; or that while from one angle one colour only of the web of life was visible—material, or intellectual, or artistic—from another the Supernatural was as eminently obvious. Humanity-Religion could only be true if at least half of man's nature, aspirations and sorrows were ignored. Christianity, on the other hand, at least included and accounted for these, even if it did not explain them. This ... and this ... and this ... all made the one and perfect whole. There was the Catholic Faith, more certain to him than the existence of himself: it was true and alive. He might be damned, but God reigned. He might go mad, but Jesus Christ was Incarnate Deity, proving Himself so by death and Resurrection, and John his Vicar. These things were as the bones of the Universe—facts beyond doubting—if they were not true, nothing anywhere was anything but a dream.
Difficulties?—Why, there were ten thousand. He did not in the least understand why God had made the world as it was, nor how Hell could be the creation of Love, nor how bread was transubstantiated into the Body of God but—well, these things were so. He had travelled far, he began to see, from his old status of faith, when he had believed that divine truth could be demonstrated on intellectual grounds. He had learned now (he knew not how) that the supernatural cried to the supernatural; the Christ without to the Christ within; that pure human reason indeed could not contradict, yet neither could it adequately prove the mysteries of faith, except on premisses visible only to him who receives Revelation as a fact; that it is the moral state, rather than the intellectual, to which the Spirit of God speaks with the greater certitude. That which he had both learned and taught he now knew, that Faith, having, like man himself, a body and a spirit—an historical expression and an inner verity—speaks now by one, now by another. This man believes because he sees—accepts the Incarnation or the Church from its credentials; that man, perceiving that these things are spiritual facts, yields himself wholly to the message and authority of her who alone professes them, as well as to the manifestation of them upon the historical plane; and in the darkness leans upon her arm. Or, best of all, because he has believed, now he sees.
So he looked with a kind of interested indolence at other tracts of his nature.
First, there was his intellect, puzzled beyond description, demanding, Why, why, why? Why was it allowed? How was it conceivable that God did not intervene, and that the Father of men could permit His dear world to be so ranged against Him? What did He mean to do? Was this eternal silence never to be broken? It was very well for those that had the Faith, but what of the countless millions who were settling down in contented blasphemy? Were these not, too, His children and the sheep of His pasture? What was the Catholic Church made for if not to convert the world, and why then had Almighty God allowed it, on the one side, to dwindle to a handful, and, on the other, the world to find its peace apart from Him?
He considered his emotions, but there was no comfort there, no stimulus. Oh! yes; he could pray still, by mere cold acts of the will, and his theology told him that God accepted such. He could say "Adveniat regnum tuum. ... Fiat voluntas tua," five thousand times a day, if God wanted that; but there was no sting or touch, no sense of vibration through the cords that his will threw up to the Heavenly Throne. What in the world then did God want him to do? Was it just then to repeat formulas, to lie still, to open despatches, to listen through the telephone, and to suffer?
And then the rest of the world—the madness that had seized upon the nations; the amazing stories that had poured in that day of the men in Paris, who, raving like Bacchantes, had stripped themselves naked in the Place de Concorde, and stabbed themselves to the heart, crying out to thunders of applause that life was too enthralling to be endured; of the woman who sang herself mad last night in Spain, and fell laughing and foaming in the concert hall at Seville; of the crucifixion of the Catholics that morning in the Pyrenees, and the apostasy of three bishops in Germany.... And this ... and this ... and a thousand more horrors were permitted, and God made no sign and spoke no word....
There was a tap, and Percy sprang up as the Cardinal came in.
He looked horribly worn; and his eyes had a kind of sunken brilliance that revealed fever. He made a little motion to Percy to sit down, and himself sat in the deep chair, trembling a little, and gathering his buckled feet beneath his red-buttoned cassock.
"You must forgive me, father," he said. "I am anxious for the Bishop's safety. He should be here by now."
This was the Bishop of Southwark, Percy remembered, who had left England early that morning.
"He is coming straight through, your Eminence?"
"Yes; he should have been here by twenty-three. It is after midnight, is it not?"
As he spoke, the bells chimed out the half-hour.
It was nearly quiet now. All day the air had been full of sound; mobs had paraded the suburbs; the gates of the City had been barred, yet that was only an earnest of what was to be expected when the world understood itself.
The Cardinal seemed to recover himself after a few minutes' silence.
"You look tired out, father," he said kindly.
"And your Eminence?" he said.
The old man smiled too.
"Why, yes," he said. "I shall not last much longer, father. And then it will be you to suffer."
Percy sat up, suddenly, sick at heart.
"Why, yes," said the Cardinal. "The Holy Father has arranged it. You are to succeed me, you know. It need be no secret."
Percy drew a long trembling breath.
"Eminence," he began piteously.
The other lifted a thin old hand.
"I understand all that," he said softly. "You wish to die, is it not so?—and be at peace. There are many who wish that. But we must suffer first. Et pati et mori. Father Franklin, there must be no faltering."
There was a long silence.
The news was too stunning to convey anything to the priest but a sense of horrible shock. The thought had simply never entered his mind that he, a man under forty, should be considered eligible to succeed this wise, patient old prelate. As for the honour—Percy was past that now, even had he thought of it. There was but one view before him—of a long and intolerable journey, on a road that went uphill, to be traversed with a burden on his shoulders that he could not support.
Yet he recognised its inevitability. The fact was announced to him as indisputable; it was to be; there was nothing to be said. But it was as if one more gulf had opened, and he stared into it with a dull, sick horror, incapable of expression.
The Cardinal first broke the silence.
"Father Franklin," he said, "I have seen to-day a picture of Felsenburgh. Do you know whom I at first took it for?"
Percy smiled listlessly.
"Yes, father, I took it for you. Now, what do you make of that?"
"I don't understand, Eminence."
"Why—-" He broke off, suddenly changing the subject.
"There was a murder in the City to-day," he said. "A Catholic stabbed a blasphemer."
Percy glanced at him again.
"Oh! yes; he has not attempted to escape," went on the old man. "He is in gaol."
"He will be executed. The trial will begin to-morrow.... It is sad enough. It is the first murder for eight months."
The irony of the position was evident enough to Percy as he sat listening to the deepening silence outside in the starlit night. Here was this poor city pretending that nothing was the matter, quietly administering its derided justice; and there, outside, were the forces gathering that would put an end to all. His enthusiasm seemed dead. There was no thrill from the thought of the splendid disregard of material facts of which this was one tiny instance, none of despairing courage or drunken recklessness. He felt like one who watches a fly washing his face on the cylinder of an engine—the huge steel slides along bearing the tiny life towards enormous death—another moment and it will be over; and yet the watcher cannot interfere. The supernatural thus lay, perfect and alive, but immeasurably tiny; the huge forces were in motion, the world was heaving up, and Percy could do nothing but stare and frown. Yet, as has been said, there was no shadow on his faith; the fly he knew was greater than the engine from the superiority of its order of life; if it were crushed, life would not be the final sufferer; so much he knew, but how it was so, he did not know.
As the two sat there, again came a step and a tap; and a servant's face looked in.
"His Lordship is come, Eminence," he said.
The Cardinal rose painfully, supporting himself by the table. Then he paused, seeming to remember something, and fumbled in his pocket.
"See that, father," he said, and pushed a small silver disc towards the priest. "No; when I am gone."
Percy closed the door and came back, taking up the little round object.
It was a coin, fresh from the mint. On one side was the familiar wreath with the word "fivepence" in the midst, with its Esperanto equivalent beneath, and on the other the profile of a man, with an inscription. Percy turned it to read:
"JULIAN FELSENBURGH, LA PREZIDANTE DE UROPO."
It was at ten o'clock on the following morning that the Cardinals were summoned to the Pope's presence to hear the allocution.
Percy, from his seat among the Consultors, watched them come in, men of every nation and temperament and age—the Italians all together, gesticulating, and flashing teeth; the Anglo-Saxons steady-faced and serious; an old French Cardinal leaning on his stick, walking with the English Benedictine. It was one of the great plain stately rooms of which the Vatican now chiefly consisted, seated length wise like a chapel. At the lower end, traversed by the gangway, were the seats of the Consultors; at the upper end, the dais with the papal throne. Three or four benches with desks before them, standing out beyond the Consultors' seats, were reserved for the arrivals of the day before —prelates and priests who had poured into Rome from every European country on the announcement of the amazing news.
Percy had not an idea as to what would be said. It was scarcely possible that nothing but platitudes would be uttered, yet what else could be said in view of the complete doubtfulness of the situation? All that was known even this morning was that the Presidentship of Europe was a fact; the little silver coin he had seen witnessed to that; that there had been an outburst of persecution, repressed sternly by local authorities; and that Felsenburgh was to-day to begin his tour from capital to capital. He was expected in Turin by the end of the week. From every Catholic centre throughout the world had come in messages imploring guidance; it was said that apostasy was rising like a tidal wave, that persecution threatened everywhere, and that even bishops were beginning to yield.
As for the Holy Father, all was doubtful. Those who knew, said nothing; and the only rumour that escaped was to the effect that he had spent all night in prayer at the tomb of the Apostle....
The murmur died suddenly to a rustle and a silence; there was a ripple of sinking heads along the seats as the door beside the canopy opened, and a moment later John, Pater Patrum, was on his throne.
* * * * *
At first Percy understood nothing. He stared only, as at a picture, through the dusty sunlight that poured in through the shrouded windows, at the scarlet lines to right and left, up to the huge scarlet canopy, and the white figure that sat there. Certainly, these southerners understood the power of effect. It was as vivid and impressive as a vision of the Host in a jewelled monstrance. Every accessory was gorgeous, the high room, the colour of the robes, the chains and crosses, and as the eye moved along to its climax it was met by a piece of dead white—as if glory was exhausted and declared itself impotent to tell the supreme secret. Scarlet and purple and gold were well enough for those who stood on the steps of the throne—they needed it; but for Him who sat there nothing was needed. Let colours die and sounds faint in the presence of God's Viceroy. Yet what expression was required found itself adequately provided in that beautiful oval face, the poised imperious head, the sweet brilliant eyes and the clean-curved lips that spoke so strongly. There was not a sound in the room, not a rustle, nor a breathing—even without it seemed as if the world were allowing the supernatural to state its defence uninterruptedly, before summing up and clamouring condemnation.
* * * * *
Percy made a violent effort at self-repression, clenched his hands and listened.
" ... Since this then is so, sons in Jesus Christ, it is for us to answer. We wrestle not, as the Doctor of the Gentiles teaches us, against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places. Wherefore, he continues, take unto you the armour of God; and he further declares to us its nature—the girdle of truth, the breastplate of justice, the shoes of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit.
"By this, therefore, the Word of God bids us to war, but not with the weapons of this world, for neither is His kingdom of this world; and it is to remind you of the principles of this warfare that we have summoned you to Our Presence."
The voice paused, and there was a rustling sigh along the seats. Then the voice continued on a slightly higher note.
"It has ever been the wisdom of Our predecessors, as is also their duty, while keeping silence at certain seasons, at others to speak freely the whole counsel of God. From this duty We Ourself must not be deterred by the knowledge of Our own weakness and ignorance, but to trust rather that He Who has placed Us on this throne will deign to speak through Our mouth and use Our words to His glory.
"First, then, it is necessary to utter Our sentence as to the new movement, as men call it, which has latterly been inaugurated by the rulers of this world.
"We are not unmindful of the blessings of peace and unity, nor do We forget that the appearance of these things has been the fruit of much that we have condemned. It is this appearance of peace that has deceived many, causing them to doubt the promise of the Prince of Peace that it is through Him alone that we have access to the Father. That true peace, passing understanding, concerns not only the relations of men between themselves, but, supremely, the relations of men with their Maker; and it is in this necessary point that the efforts of the world are found wanting. It is not indeed to be wondered at that in a world which has rejected God this necessary matter should be forgotten. Men have thought—led astray by seducers—that the unity of nations was the greatest prize of this life, forgetting the words of our Saviour, Who said that He came to bring not peace but a sword, and that it is through many tribulations that we enter God's Kingdom. First, then, there should be established the peace of man with God, and after that the unity of man with man will follow. Seek ye first, said Jesus Christ, the kingdom of God—and then all these things shall be added unto you.
"First, then, We once more condemn and anathematise the opinions of those who teach and believe the contrary of this; and we renew once more all the condemnations uttered by Ourself or Our predecessors against all those societies, organisations and communities that have been formed for the furtherance of an unity on another than a divine foundation; and We remind Our children throughout the world that it is forbidden to them to enter or to aid or to approve in any manner whatsoever any of those bodies named in such condemnations."
Percy moved in his seat, conscious of a touch of impatience.... The manner was superb, tranquil and stately as a river; but the matter a trifle banal. Here was this old reprobation of Freemasonry, repeated in unoriginal language.
"Secondly," went on the steady voice, "We wish to make known to you Our desires for the future; and here We tread on what many have considered dangerous ground."
Again came that rustle. Percy saw more than one cardinal lean forward with hand crooked at ear to hear the better. It was evident that something important was coming.
"There are many points," went on the high voice, "of which it is not Our intention to speak at this time, for of their own nature they are secret, and must be treated of on another occasion. But what We say here, We say to the world. Since the assaults of Our enemies are both open and secret, so too must be Our defences. This then is Our intention."
The Pope paused again, lifted one hand as if mechanically to his breast, and grasped the cross that hung there.
"While the army of Christ is one, it consists of many divisions, each of which has its proper function and object. In times past God has raised up companies of His servants to do this or that particular work—the sons of St. Francis to preach poverty, those of St. Bernard to labour in prayer with all holy women dedicating themselves to this purpose, the Society of Jesus for the education of youth and the conversion of the heathen—together with all the other Religious Orders whose names are known throughout the world. Each such company was raised up at a particular season of need, and each has corresponded nobly with the divine vocation. It has also been the especial glory of each, for the furtherance of its intention, while pursuing its end, to cut off from itself all such activities (good in themselves) which would hinder that work for which God had called it into being—following in this matter the words of our Redeemer, Every branch that beareth fruit, He purgeth it that it may bring forth more fruit. At this present season, then, it appears to Our Humility that all such Orders (which once more We commend and bless) are not perfectly suited by the very conditions of their respective Rules to perform the great work which the time requires. Our warfare lies not with ignorance in particular, whether of the heathens to whom the Gospel has not yet come, or of those whose fathers have rejected it, nor with the deceitful riches of this world, nor with science falsely so-called, nor indeed with any one of those strongholds of infidelity against whom We have laboured in the past. Rather it appears as if at last the time was come of which the apostle spoke when he said that that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that Man of Sin be revealed, the Son of Perdition, who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God.
"It is not with this or that force that we are concerned, but rather with the unveiled immensity of that power whose time was foretold, and whose destruction is prepared."
The voice paused again, and Percy gripped the rail before him to stay the trembling of his hands. There was no rustle now, nothing but a silence that tingled and shook. The Pope drew a long breath, turned his head slowly to right and left, and went on more deliberately than ever.
"It seems good, then, to Our Humility, that the Vicar of Christ should himself invite God's children to this new warfare; and it is Our intention to enroll under the title of the Order of Christ Crucified the names of all who offer themselves to this supreme service. In doing this We are aware of the novelty of Our action, and the disregard of all such precautions as have been necessary in the past. We take counsel in this matter with none save Him Who we believe has inspired it.
"First, then, let Us say, that although obedient service will be required from all who shall be admitted to this Order, Our primary intention in instituting it lies in God's regard rather than in man's, in appealing to Him Who asks our generosity rather than to those who deny it, and dedicating once more by a formal and deliberate act our souls and bodies to the heavenly Will and service of Him Who alone can rightly claim such offering, and will accept our poverty.
"Briefly, we dictate only the following conditions.
"None shall be capable of entering the Order except such as shall be above the age of seventeen years.
"No badge, habit, nor insignia shall be attached to it.
"The Three Evangelical Counsels shall be the foundation of the Rule, to which we add a fourth intention, namely, that of a desire to receive the crown of martyrdom and a purpose of embracing it.
"The bishop of every diocese, if he himself shall enter the Order, shall be the superior within the limits of his own jurisdiction, and alone shall be exempt from the literal observance of the Vow of Poverty so long as he retains his see. Such bishops as do not feel the vocation to the Order shall retain their sees under the usual conditions, but shall have no Religious claim on the members of the Order.
"Further, We announce Our intention of Ourself entering the Order as its supreme prelate, and of making Our profession within the course of a few days.
"Further, We declare that in Our Own pontificate none shall be elevated to the Sacred College save those who have made their profession in the Order; and We shall dedicate shortly the Basilica of St. Peter and St. Paul as the central church of the Order, in which church We shall raise to the altars without any delay those happy souls who shall lay down their lives in the pursuance of their vocation.
"Of that vocation it is unnecessary to speak beyond indicating that it may be pursued under any conditions laid down by the Superiors. As regards the novitiate, its conditions and requirements, we shall shortly issue the necessary directions. Each diocesan superior (for it is Our hope that none will hold back) shall have all such rights as usually appertain to Religious Superiors, and shall be empowered to employ his subjects in any work that, in his opinion, shall subserve the glory of God and the salvation of souls. It is Our Own intention to employ in Our service none except those who shall make their profession."
He raised his eyes once more, seemingly without emotion, then he continued:
"So far, then, We have determined. On other matters We shall take counsel immediately; but it is Our wish that these words shall be communicated to all the world, that there may be no delay in making known what it is that Christ through His Vicar asks of all who profess the Divine Name. We offer no rewards except those which God Himself has promised to those that love Him, and lay down their life for Him; no promise of peace, save of that which passeth understanding; no home save that which befits pilgrims and sojourners who seek a City to come; no honour save the world's contempt; no life, save that which is hid with Christ in God."
Oliver Brand, seated in his little private room at Whitehall, was expecting a visitor. It was already close upon ten o'clock, and at half-past he must be in the House. He had hoped that Mr. Francis, whoever he might be, would not detain him long. Even now, every moment was a respite, for the work had become simply prodigious during the last weeks.
But he was not reprieved for more than a minute, for the last boom from the Victoria Tower had scarcely ceased to throb when the door opened and a clerkly voice uttered the name he was expecting.
Oliver shot one quick look at the stranger, at his drooping lids and down-turned mouth, summed him up fairly and accurately in the moments during which they seated themselves, and went briskly to business.
"At twenty-five minutes past, sir, I must leave this room," he said. "Until then—-" he made a little gesture.
Mr. Francis reassured him.
"Thank you, Mr. Brand—that is ample time. Then, if you will excuse me—-" He groped in his breast-pocket, and drew out a long envelope.
"I will leave this with you," he said, "when I go. It sets out our desires at length and our names. And this is what I have to say, sir."
He sat back, crossed his legs, and went on, with a touch of eagerness in his voice.
"I am a kind of deputation, as you know," he said. "We have something both to ask and to offer. I am chosen because it was my own idea. First, may I ask a question?"
"I wish to ask nothing that I ought not. But I believe it is practically certain, is it not?—that Divine Worship is to be restored throughout the kingdom?"
"I suppose so," he said. "The bill has been read for the third time, and, as you know, the President is to speak upon it this evening."
"He will not veto it?"
"We suppose not. He has assented to it in Germany."
"Just so," said Mr. Francis. "And if he assents here, I suppose it will become law immediately."
Oliver leaned over this table, and drew out the green paper that contained the Bill.
"You have this, of course—-" he said. "Well, it becomes law at once; and the first feast will be observed on the first of October. 'Paternity,' is it not? Yes, Paternity."
"There will be something of a rush then," said the other eagerly. "Why, that is only a week hence."
"I have not charge of this department," said Oliver, laying back the Bill. "But I understand that the ritual will be that already in use in Germany. There is no reason why we should be peculiar."
"And the Abbey will be used?"
"Well, sir," said Mr. Francis, "of course I know the Government Commission has studied it all very closely, and no doubt has its own plans. But it appears to me that they will want all the experience they can get."
"Well, Mr. Brand, the society which I represent consists entirely of men who were once Catholic priests. We number about two hundred in London. I will leave a pamphlet with you, if I may, stating our objects, our constitution, and so on. It seemed to us that here was a matter in which our past experience might be of service to the Government. Catholic ceremonies, as you know, are very intricate, and some of us studied them very deeply in old days. We used to say that Masters of Ceremonies were born, not made, and we have a fair number of those amongst us. But indeed every priest is something of a ceremonialist."
"Yes, Mr. Francis?"
"I am sure the Government realises the immense importance of all going smoothly. If Divine Service was at all grotesque or disorderly, it would largely defeat its own object. So I have been deputed to see you, Mr. Brand, and to suggest to you that here is a body of men—reckon it as at least twenty-five—who have had special experience in this kind of thing, and are perfectly ready to put themselves at the disposal of the Government."
Oliver could not resist a faint flicker of a smile at the corner of his mouth. It was a very grim bit of irony, he thought, but it seemed sensible enough.
"I quite understand, Mr. Francis. It seems a very reasonable suggestion. But I do not think I am the proper person. Mr. Snowford—-"
"Yes, yes, sir, I know. But your speech the other day inspired us all. You said exactly what was in all our hearts—that the world could not live without worship; and that now that God was found at last—-"
Oliver waved his hand. He hated even a touch of flattery.
"It is very good of you, Mr. Francis. I will certainly speak to Mr. Snowford. I understand that you offer yourselves as—as Masters of Ceremonies—?"
"Yes, sir; and sacristans. I have studied the German ritual very carefully; it is more elaborate than I had thought it. It will need a good deal of adroitness. I imagine that you will want at least a dozen Ceremoniarii in the Abbey; and a dozen more in the vestries will scarcely be too much."
Oliver nodded abruptly, looking curiously at the eager pathetic face of the man opposite him; yet it had something, too, of that mask-like priestly look that he had seen before in others like him. This was evidently a devotee.
"You are all Masons, of course?" he said.
"Why, of course, Mr. Brand."
"Very good. I will speak to Mr. Snowford to-day if I can catch him."
He glanced at the clock. There were yet three or four minutes.
"You have seen the new appointment in Rome, sir," went on Mr. Francis.
Oliver shook his head. He was not particularly interested in Rome just now.
"Cardinal Martin is dead—he died on Tuesday—and his place is already filled."
"Yes—the new man was once a friend of mine—Franklin, his name is—Percy Franklin."
"What is the matter, Mr. Brand? Did you know him?"
Oliver was eyeing him darkly, a little pale.
"Yes; I knew him," he said quietly. "At least, I think so."
"He was at Westminster until a month or two ago."
"Yes, yes," said Oliver, still looking at him. "And you knew him, Mr. Francis?"
"I knew him—yes."
"Ah!—well, I should like to have a talk some day about him."
He broke off. It yet wanted a minute to his time.
"And that is all?" he asked.
"That is all my actual business, sir," answered the other. "But I hope you will allow me to say how much we all appreciate what you have done, Mr. Brand. I do not think it is possible for any, except ourselves, to understand what the loss of worship means to us. It was very strange at first—-"