His voice trembled a little, and he stopped. Oliver felt interested, and checked himself in his movement to rise.
"Yes, Mr. Francis?"
The melancholy brown eyes turned on him full.
"It was an illusion, of course, sir—we know that. But I, at any rate, dare to hope that it was not all wasted—all our aspirations and penitence and praise. We mistook our God, but none the less it reached Him—it found its way to the Spirit of the World. It taught us that the individual was nothing, and that He was all. And now—-"
"Yes, sir," said the other softly. He was really touched.
The sad brown eyes opened full.
"And now Mr. Felsenburgh is come." He swallowed in his throat. "Julian Felsenburgh!" There was a world of sudden passion in his gentle voice, and Oliver's own heart responded.
"I know, sir," he said; "I know all that you mean."
"Oh! to have a Saviour at last!" cried Francis. "One that can be seen and handled and praised to His Face! It is like a dream—too good to be true!"
Oliver glanced at the clock, and rose abruptly, holding out his hand.
"Forgive me, sir. I must not stay. You have touched me very deeply.... I will speak to Snowford. Your address is here, I understand?"
He pointed to the papers.
"Yes, Mr. Brand. There is one more question."
"I must not stay, sir," said Oliver, shaking his head.
"One instant—is it true that this worship will be compulsory?"
Oliver bowed as he gathered up his papers.
Mabel, seated in the gallery that evening behind the President's chair, had already glanced at her watch half-a-dozen times in the last hour, hoping each time that twenty-one o'clock was nearer than she feared. She knew well enough by now that the President of Europe would not be half-a-minute either before or after his time. His supreme punctuality was famous all over the continent. He had said Twenty-One, so it was to be twenty-one.
A sharp bell-note impinged from beneath, and in a moment the drawling voice of the speaker stopped. Once more she lifted her wrist, saw that it wanted five minutes of the hour; then she leaned forward from her corner and stared down into the House.
A great change had passed over it at the metallic noise. All down the long brown seats members were shifting and arranging themselves more decorously, uncrossing their legs, slipping their hats beneath the leather fringes. As she looked, too, she saw the President of the House coming down the three steps from his chair, for Another would need it in a few moments.
The house was full from end to end; a late comer ran in from the twilight of the south door and looked distractedly about him in the full light before he saw his vacant place. The galleries at the lower end were occupied too, down there, where she had failed to obtain a seat. Yet from all the crowded interior there was no sound but a sibilant whispering; from the passages behind she could hear again the quick bell-note repeat itself as the lobbies were cleared; and from Parliament Square outside once more came the heavy murmur of the crowd that had been inaudible for the last twenty minutes. When that ceased she would know that he was come.
How strange and wonderful it was to be here—on this night of all, when the President was to speak! A month ago he had assented to a similar Bill in Germany, and had delivered a speech on the same subject at Turin. To-morrow he was to be in Spain. No one knew where he had been during the past week. A rumour had spread that his volor had been seen passing over Lake Como, and had been instantly contradicted. No one knew either what he would say to-night. It might be three words or twenty thousand. There were a few clauses in the Bill—notably those bearing on the point as to when the new worship was to be made compulsory on all subjects over the age of seven—it might be he would object and veto these. In that case all must be done again, and the Bill re-passed, unless the House accepted his amendment instantly by acclamation.
Mabel herself was inclined to these clauses. They provided that, although worship was to be offered in every parish church of England on the ensuing first day of October, this was not to be compulsory on all subjects till the New Year; whereas, Germany, who had passed the Bill only a month before, had caused it to come into full force immediately, thus compelling all her Catholic subjects either to leave the country without delay or suffer the penalties. These penalties were not vindictive: on a first offence a week's detention only was to be given; on the second, one month's imprisonment; on the third, one year's; and on the fourth, perpetual imprisonment until the criminal yielded. These were merciful terms, it seemed; for even imprisonment itself meant no more than reasonable confinement and employment on Government works. There were no mediaeval horrors here; and the act of worship demanded was so little, too; it consisted of no more than bodily presence in the church or cathedral on the four new festivals of Maternity, Life, Sustenance and Paternity, celebrated on the first day of each quarter. Sunday worship was to be purely voluntary.
She could not understand how any man could refuse this homage. These four things were facts—they were the manifestations of what she called the Spirit of the World—and if others called that Power God, yet surely these ought to be considered as His functions. Where then was the difficulty? It was not as if Christian worship were not permitted, under the usual regulations. Catholics could still go to mass. And yet appalling things were threatened in Germany: not less than twelve thousand persons had already left for Rome; and it was rumoured that forty thousand would refuse this simple act of homage a few days hence. It bewildered and angered her to think of it.
For herself the new worship was a crowning sign of the triumph of Humanity. Her heart had yearned for some such thing as this—some public corporate profession of what all now believed. She had so resented the dulness of folk who were content with action and never considered its springs. Surely this instinct within her was a true one; she desired to stand with her fellows in some solemn place, consecrated not by priests but by the will of man; to have as her inspirers sweet singing and the peal of organs; to utter her sorrow with thousands beside her at her own feebleness of immolation before the Spirit of all; to sing aloud her praise of the glory of life, and to offer by sacrifice and incense an emblematic homage to That from which she drew her being, and to whom one day she must render it again. Ah! these Christians had understood human nature, she had told herself a hundred times: it was true that they had degraded it, darkened light, poisoned thought, misinterpreted instinct; but they had understood that man must worship —must worship or sink.
For herself she intended to go at least once a week to the little old church half-a-mile away from her home, to kneel there before the sunlit sanctuary, to meditate on sweet mysteries, to present herself to That which she was yearning to love, and to drink, it might be, new draughts of life and power.
Ah! but the Bill must pass first.... She clenched her hands on the rail, and stared steadily before her on the ranks of heads, the open gangways, the great mace on the table, and heard, above the murmur of the crowd outside and the dying whispers within, her own heart beat.
She could not see Him, she knew. He would come in from beneath through the door that none but He might use, straight into the seat beneath the canopy. But she would hear His voice—that must be joy enough for her....
Ah! there was silence now outside; the soft roar had died. He had come then. And through swimming eyes she saw the long ridges of heads rise beneath her, and through drumming ears heard the murmur of many feet. All faces looked this way; and she watched them as a mirror to see the reflected light of His presence. There was a gentle sobbing somewhere in the air—was it her own or another's? ... the click of a door; a great mellow booming over-head, shock after shock, as the huge tenor bells tolled their three strokes; and, in an instant, over the white faces passed a ripple, as if some breeze of passion shook the souls within; there was a swaying here and there; and a passionless voice spoke half a dozen words in Esperanto, out of sight:
"Englishmen, I assent to the Bill of Worship."
It was not until mid-day breakfast on the following morning that husband and wife met again. Oliver had slept in town and telephoned about eleven o'clock that he would be home immediately, bringing a guest with him: and shortly before noon she heard their voices in the hall.
Mr. Francis, who was presently introduced to her, seemed a harmless kind of man, she thought, not interesting, though he seemed in earnest about this Bill. It was not until breakfast was nearly over that she understood who he was.
"Don't go, Mabel," said her husband, as she made a movement to rise. "You will like to hear about this, I expect. My wife knows all that I know," he added.
Mr. Francis smiled and bowed.
"I may tell her about you, sir?" said Oliver again.
Then she heard that he had been a Catholic priest a few months before, and that Mr. Snowford was in consultation with him as to the ceremonies in the Abbey. She was conscious of a sudden interest as she heard this.
"Oh! do talk," she said. "I want to hear everything."
It seemed that Mr. Francis had seen the new Minister of Public Worship that morning, and had received a definite commission from him to take charge of the ceremonies on the first of October. Two dozen of his colleagues, too, were to be enrolled among the ceremoniarii, at least temporarily—and after the event they were to be sent on a lecturing tour to organise the national worship throughout the country.
Of course things would be somewhat sloppy at first, said Mr. Francis; but by the New Year it was hoped that all would be in order, at least in the cathedrals and principal towns.
"It is important," he said, "that this should be done as soon as possible. It is very necessary to make a good impression. There are thousands who have the instinct of worship, without knowing how to satisfy it."
"That is perfectly true," said Oliver. "I have felt that for a long time. I suppose it is the deepest instinct in man."
"As to the ceremonies—-" went on the other, with a slightly important air. His eyes roved round a moment; then he dived into his breast-pocket, and drew out a thin red-covered book.
"Here is the Order of Worship for the Feast of Paternity," he said. "I have had it interleaved, and have made a few notes."
He began to turn the pages, and Mabel, with considerable excitement, drew her chair a little closer to listen.
"That is right, sir," said the other. "Now give us a little lecture."
Mr. Francis closed the book on his finger, pushed his plate aside, and began to discourse.
"First," he said, "we must remember that this ritual is based almost entirely upon that of the Masons. Three-quarters at least of the entire function will be occupied by that. With that the ceremoniarii will not interfere, beyond seeing that the insignia are ready in the vestries and properly put on. The proper officials will conduct the rest.... I need not speak of that then. The difficulties begin with the last quarter."
He paused, and with a glance of apology began arranging forks and glasses before him on the cloth.
"Now here," he said, "we have the old sanctuary of the abbey. In the place of the reredos and Communion table there will be erected the large altar of which the ritual speaks, with the steps leading up to it from the floor. Behind the altar—extending almost to the old shrine of the Confessor—will stand the pedestal with the emblematic figure upon it; and—so far as I understand from the absence of directions—each such figure will remain in place until the eve of the next quarterly feast."
"What kind of figure?" put in the girl.
Francis glanced at her husband.
"I understand that Mr. Markenheim has been consulted," he said. "He will design and execute them. Each is to represent its own feast. This for Paternity—-"
He paused again.
"Yes, Mr. Francis?"
"This one, I understand, is to be the naked figure of a man."
"A kind of Apollo—or Jupiter, my dear," put in Oliver.
Yes—that seemed all right, thought Mabel. Mr. Francis's voice moved on hastily.
"A new procession enters at this point, after the discourse," he said. "It is this that will need special marshalling. I suppose no rehearsal will be possible?"
"Scarcely," said Oliver, smiling.
The Master of Ceremonies sighed.
"I feared not. Then we must issue very precise printed instructions. Those who take part will withdraw, I imagine, during the hymn, to the old chapel of St. Faith. That is what seems to me the best."
He indicated the chapel.
"After the entrance of the procession all will take their places on these two sides—here—and here—while the celebrant with the sacred ministers—-"
Mr. Francis permitted a slight grimace to appear on his face; he flushed a little.
"The President of Europe—-" He broke off. "Ah! that is the point. Will the President take part? That is not made clear in the ritual."
"We think so," said Oliver. "He is to be approached."
"Well, if not, I suppose the Minister of Public Worship will officiate. He with his supporters pass straight up to the foot of the altar. Remember that the figure is still veiled, and that the candles have been lighted during the approach of the procession. There follow the Aspirations printed in the ritual with the responds. These are sung by the choir, and will be most impressive, I think. Then the officiant ascends the altar alone, and, standing, declaims the Address, as it is called. At the close of it—at the point, that is to say, marked here with a star, the thurifers will leave the chapel, four in number. One ascends the altar, leaving the others swinging their thurifers at its foot—hands his to the officiant and retires. Upon the sounding of a bell the curtains are drawn back, the officiant tenses the image in silence with four double swings, and, as he ceases the choir sings the appointed antiphon."
He waved his hands.
"The rest is easy," he said. "We need not discuss that."
To Mabel's mind even the previous ceremonies seemed easy enough. But she was undeceived.
"You have no idea, Mrs. Brand," went on the ceremoniarius, "of the difficulties involved even in such a simple matter as this. The stupidity of people is prodigious. I foresee a great deal of hard work for us all.... Who is to deliver the discourse, Mr. Brand?"
Oliver shook his head.
"I have no idea," he said. "I suppose Mr. Snowford will select."
Mr. Francis looked at him doubtfully.
"What is your opinion of the whole affair, sir?" he said.
Oliver paused a moment.
"I think it is necessary," he began. "There would not be such a cry for worship if it was not a real need. I think too—yes, I think that on the whole the ritual is impressive. I do not see how it could be bettered...."
"Yes, Oliver?" put in his wife, questioningly.
"No—there is nothing—except ... except I hope the people will understand it."
Mr. Francis broke in.
"My dear sir, worship involves a touch of mystery. You must remember that. It was the lack of that that made Empire Day fail in the last century. For myself, I think it is admirable. Of course much must depend on the manner in which it is presented. I see many details at present undecided—the colour of the curtains, and so forth. But the main plan is magnificent. It is simple, impressive, and, above all, it is unmistakable in its main lesson—-"
"And that you take to be—?"
"I take it that it is homage offered to Life," said the other slowly. "Life under four aspects—Maternity corresponds to Christmas and the Christian fable; it is the feast of home, love, faithfulness. Life itself is approached in spring, teeming, young, passionate. Sustenance in midsummer, abundance, comfort, plenty, and the rest, corresponding somewhat to the Catholic Corpus Christi; and Paternity, the protective, generative, masterful idea, as winter draws on.... I understand it was a German thought."
"Yes," he said. "And I suppose it will be the business of the speaker to explain all this."
"I take it so. It appears to me far more suggestive than the alternative plan—Citizenship, Labour, and so forth. These, after all, are subordinate to Life."
Mr. Francis spoke with an extraordinary suppressed enthusiasm, and the priestly look was more evident than ever. It was plain that his heart at least demanded worship.
Mabel clasped her hands suddenly.
"I think it is beautiful," she said softly, "and—and it is so real."
Mr. Francis turned on her with a glow in his brown eyes.
"Ah! yes, madam. That is it. There is no Faith, as we used to call it: it is the vision of Facts that no one can doubt; and the incense declares the sole divinity of Life as well as its mystery."
"What of the figures?" put in Oliver.
"A stone image is impossible, of course. It must be clay for the present. Mr. Markenheim is to set to work immediately. If the figures are approved they can then be executed in marble."
Again Mabel spoke with a soft gravity.
"It seems to me," she said, "that this is the last thing that we needed. It is so hard to keep our principles clear—we must have a body for them—some kind of expression—-"
"I do not mean," she went on, "that some cannot live without it, but many cannot. The unimaginative need concrete images. There must be some channel for their aspirations to flow through—- Ah! I cannot express myself!"
Oliver nodded slowly. He, too, seemed to be in a meditative mood.
"Yes," he said. "And this, I suppose, will mould men's thoughts too: it will keep out all danger of superstition."
Mr. Francis turned on him abruptly.
"What do you think of the Pope's new Religious Order, sir?"
Oliver's face took on it a tinge of grimness.
"I think it is the worst step he ever took—for himself, I mean. Either it is a real effort, in which case it will provoke immense indignation—or it is a sham, and will discredit him. Why do you ask?"
"I was wondering whether any disturbance will be made in the abbey."
"I should be sorry for the brawler."
A bell rang sharply from the row of telephone labels. Oliver rose and went to it. Mabel watched him as he touched a button—mentioned his name, and put his ear to the opening.
"It is Snowford's secretary," he said abruptly to the two expectant faces. "Snowford wants to—ah!"
Again he mentioned his name and listened. They heard a sentence or two from him that seemed significant.
"Ah! that is certain, is it? I am sorry.... Yes.... Oh! but that is better than nothing.... Yes; he is here.... Indeed. Very well; we will be with you directly."
He looked on the tube, touched the button again, and came back to them.
"I am sorry," he said. "The President will take no part at the Feast. But it is uncertain whether he will not be present. Mr. Snowford wants to see us both at once, Mr. Francis. Markenheim is with him."
But though Mabel was herself disappointed, she thought he looked graver than the disappointment warranted.
Percy Franklin, the new Cardinal-Protector of England, came slowly along the passage leading from the Pope's apartments, with Hans Steinmann, Cardinal-Protector of Germany, blowing at his side. They entered the lift, still in silence, and passed out, two splendid vivid figures, one erect and virile, the other bent, fat, and very German from spectacles to flat buckled feet.
At the door of Percy's suite, the Englishman paused, made a little gesture of reverence, and went in without a word.
A secretary, young Mr. Brent, lately from England, stood up as his patron came in.
"Eminence," he said, "the English papers are come."
Percy put out a hand, took a paper, passed on into his inner room, and sat down.
There it all was—gigantic headlines, and four columns of print broken by startling title phrases in capital letters, after the fashion set by America a hundred years ago. No better way even yet had been found of misinforming the unintelligent.
He looked at the top. It was the English edition of the Era. Then he read the headlines. They ran as follows:
"THE NATIONAL WORSHIP. BEWILDERING SPLENDOUR. RELIGIOUS ENTHUSIASM. THE ABBEY AND GOD. CATHOLIC FANATIC. EX-PRIESTS AS FUNCTIONARIES."
He ran his eyes down the page, reading the vivid little phrases, and drawing from the whole a kind of impressionist view of the scenes in the Abbey on the previous day, of which he had already been informed by the telegraph, and the discussion of which had been the purpose of his interview just now with the Holy Father.
There plainly was no additional news; and he was laying the paper down when his eye caught a name.
"It is understood that Mr. Francis, the ceremoniarius (to whom the thanks of all are due for his reverent zeal and skill), will proceed shortly to the northern towns to lecture on the Ritual. It is interesting to reflect that this gentleman only a few months ago was officiating at a Catholic altar. He was assisted in his labours by twenty-four confreres with the same experience behind them."
"Good God!" said Percy aloud. Then he laid the paper down.
But his thoughts had soon left this renegade behind, and once more he was running over in his mind the significance of the whole affair, and the advice that he had thought it his duty to give just now upstairs.
Briefly, there was no use in disputing the fact that the inauguration of Pantheistic worship had been as stupendous a success in England as in Germany. France, by the way, was still too busy with the cult of human individuals, to develop larger ideas.
But England was deeper; and, somehow, in spite of prophecy, the affair had taken place without even a touch of bathos or grotesqueness. It had been said that England was too solid and too humorous. Yet there had been extraordinary scenes the day before. A great murmur of enthusiasm had rolled round the Abbey from end to end as the gorgeous curtains ran back, and the huge masculine figure, majestic and overwhelming, coloured with exquisite art, had stood out above the blaze of candles against the tall screen that shrouded the shrine. Markenheim had done his work well; and Mr. Brand's passionate discourse had well prepared the popular mind for the revelation. He had quoted in his peroration passage after passage from the Jewish prophets, telling of the City of Peace whose walls rose now before their eyes.
"Arise, shine, for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.... For behold I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former shall not be remembered nor come into mind.... Violence shall no more be heard in thy land, wasting nor destruction within thy borders. O thou so long afflicted, tossed with tempest and not comforted; behold I will lay thy stones with fair colours, and thy foundations with sapphires.... I will make thy windows of agates and thy gates of carbuncles, and all thy borders of pleasant stones. Arise, shine, for thy light is come."
As the chink of the censer-chains had sounded in the stillness, with one consent the enormous crowd had fallen on its knees, and so remained, as the smoke curled up from the hands of the rebel figure who held the thurible. Then the organ had begun to blow, and from the huge massed chorus in the transepts had rolled out the anthem, broken by one passionate cry, from some mad Catholic. But it had been silenced in an instant....
It was incredible—utterly incredible, Percy had told himself. Yet the incredible had happened; and England had found its worship once more—the necessary culmination of unimpeded subjectivity. From the provinces had come the like news. In cathedral after cathedral had been the same scenes. Markenheim's masterpiece, executed in four days after the passing of the bill, had been reproduced by the ordinary machinery, and four thousand replicas had been despatched to every important centre. Telegraphic reports had streamed into the London papers that everywhere the new movement had been received with acclamation, and that human instincts had found adequate expression at last. If there had not been a God, mused Percy reminiscently, it would have been necessary to invent one. He was astonished, too, at the skill with which the new cult had been framed. It moved round no disputable points; there was no possibility of divergent political tendencies to mar its success, no over-insistence on citizenship, labour and the rest, for those who were secretly individualistic and idle. Life was the one fount and centre of it all, clad in the gorgeous robes of ancient worship. Of course the thought had been Felsenburgh's, though a German name had been mentioned. It was Positivism of a kind, Catholicism without Christianity, Humanity worship without its inadequacy. It was not man that was worshipped but the Idea of man, deprived of his supernatural principle. Sacrifice, too, was recognised—the instinct of oblation without the demand made by transcendent Holiness upon the blood-guiltiness of man.... In fact,—in fact, said Percy, it was exactly as clever as the devil, and as old as Cain.
The advice he had given to the Holy Father just now was a counsel of despair, or of hope; he really did not know which. He had urged that a stringent decree should be issued, forbidding any acts of violence on the part of Catholics. The faithful were to be encouraged to be patient, to hold utterly aloof from the worship, to say nothing unless they were questioned, to suffer bonds gladly. He had suggested, in company with the German Cardinal, that they two should return to their respective countries at the close of the year, to encourage the waverers; but the answer had been that their vocation was to remain in Rome, unless something unforeseen happened.
As for Felsenburgh, there was little news. It was said that he was in the East; but further details were secret. Percy understood quite well why he had not been present at the worship as had been expected. First, it would have been difficult to decide between the two countries that had established it; and, secondly, he was too brilliant a politician to risk the possible association of failure with his own person; thirdly, there was something the matter with the East.
This last point was difficult to understand; it had not yet become explicit, but it seemed as if the movement of last year had not yet run its course. It was undoubtedly difficult to explain the new President's constant absences from his adopted continent, unless there was something that demanded his presence elsewhere; but the extreme discretion of the East and the stringent precautions taken by the Empire made it impossible to know any details. It was apparently connected with religion; there were rumours, portents, prophets, ecstatics there.
* * * * *
Upon Percy himself had fallen a subtle change which he himself was recognising. He no longer soared to confidence or sank to despair. He said his mass, read his enormous correspondence, meditated strictly; and, though he felt nothing he knew everything. There was not a tinge of doubt upon his faith, but neither was there emotion in it. He was as one who laboured in the depths of the earth, crushed even in imagination, yet conscious that somewhere birds sang, and the sun shone, and water ran. He understood his own state well enough, and perceived that he had come to a reality of faith that was new to him, for it was sheer faith—sheer apprehension of the Spiritual—without either the dangers or the joys of imaginative vision. He expressed it to himself by saying that there were three processes through which God led the soul: the first was that of external faith, which assents to all things presented by the accustomed authority, practises religion, and is neither interested nor doubtful; the second follows the quickening of the emotional and perceptive powers of the soul, and is set about with consolations, desires, mystical visions and perils; it is in this plane that resolutions are taken and vocations found and shipwrecks experienced; and the third, mysterious and inexpressible, consists in the re-enactment in the purely spiritual sphere of all that has preceded (as a play follows a rehearsal), in which God is grasped but not experienced, grace is absorbed unconsciously and even distastefully, and little by little the inner spirit is conformed in the depths of its being, far within the spheres of emotion and intellectual perception, to the image and mind of Christ.
So he lay back now, thinking, a long, stately, scarlet figure, in his deep chair, staring out over Holy Rome seen through the misty September haze. How long, he wondered, would there be peace? To his eyes even already the air was black with doom.
He struck his hand-bell at last.
"Bring me Father Blackmore's Last report," he said, as his secretary appeared.
Percy's intuitive faculties were keen by nature and had been vastly increased by cultivation. He had never forgotten Father Blackmore's shrewd remarks of a year ago; and one of his first acts as Cardinal-Protector had been to appoint that priest on the list of English correspondents. Hitherto he had received some dozen letters, and not one of them had been without its grain of gold. Especially he had noticed that one warning ran through them all, namely, that sooner or later there would be some overt act of provocation on the part of English Catholics; and it was the memory of this that had inspired his vehement entreaties to the Pope this morning. As in the Roman and African persecutions of the first three centuries, so now, the greatest danger to the Catholic community lay not in the unjust measures of the Government but in the indiscreet zeal of the faithful themselves. The world desired nothing better than a handle to its blade. The scabbard was already cast away.
When the young man had brought the four closely written sheets, dated from Westminster, the previous evening, Percy turned at once to the last paragraph before the usual Recommendations.
"Mr. Brand's late secretary, Mr. Phillips, whom your Eminence commended to me, has been to see me two or three times. He is in a curious state. He has no faith; yet, intellectually, he sees no hope anywhere but in the Catholic Church. He has even begged for admission to the Order of Christ Crucified, which of course is impossible. But there is no doubt he is sincere; otherwise he would have professed Catholicism. I have introduced him to many Catholics in the hope that they may help him. I should much wish your Eminence to see him."
Before leaving England, Percy had followed up the acquaintance he had made so strangely over Mrs. Brand's reconciliation to God, and, scarcely knowing why, had commended him to the priest. He had not been particularly impressed by Mr. Phillips; he had thought him a timid, undecided creature, yet he had been struck by the extremely unselfish action by which the man had forfeited his position. There must surely be a good deal behind.
And now the impulse had come to send for him. Perhaps the spiritual atmosphere of Rome would precipitate faith. In any case, the conversation of Mr. Brand's late secretary might be instructive.
He struck the bell again.
"Mr. Brent," he said, "in your next letter to Father Blackmore, tell him that I wish to see the man whom he proposed to send—Mr. Phillips."
"There is no hurry. He can send him at his leisure."
"But he must not come till January. That will be time enough, unless there is urgent reason."
* * * * *
The development of the Order of Christ Crucified had gone forward with almost miraculous success. The appeal issued by the Holy Father throughout Christendom had been as fire among stubble. It seemed as if the Christian world had reached exactly that point of tension at which a new organisation of this nature was needed, and the response had startled even the most sanguine. Practically the whole of Rome with its suburbs—three millions in all—had run to the enrolling stations in St. Peter's as starving men run to food, and desperate to the storming of a breach. For day after day the Pope himself had sat enthroned below the altar of the Chair, a glorious, radiant figure, growing ever white and weary towards evening, imparting his Blessing with a silent sign to each individual of the vast crowd that swarmed up between the barriers, fresh from fast and Communion, to kneel before his new Superior and kiss the Pontifical ring. The requirements had been as stringent as circumstances allowed. Each postulant was obliged to go to confession to a specially authorised priest, who examined sharply into motives and sincerity, and only one-third of the applicants had been accepted. This, the authorities pointed out to the scornful, was not an excessive proportion; for it was to be remembered that most of those who had presented themselves had already undergone a sifting fierce as fire. Of the three millions in Rome, two millions at least were exiles for their faith, preferring to live obscure and despised in the shadow of God rather than in the desolate glare of their own infidel countries.
On the fifth evening of the enrolment of novices an astonishing incident had taken place. The old King of Spain (Queen Victoria's second son), already on the edge of the grave, had just risen and tottered before his Ruler; it seemed for an instant as if he would fall, when the Pope himself, by a sudden movement, had risen, caught him in his arms and kissed him; and then, still standing, had spread his arms abroad and delivered a fervorino such as never had been heard before in the history of the basilica.
"Benedictus Dominus!" he cried, with upraised face and shining eyes. "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He hath visited and redeemed His people. I, John, Vicar of Christ, Servant of Servants, and sinner among sinners, bid you be of good courage in the Name of God. By Him Who hung on the Cross, I promise eternal life to all who persevere in His Order. He Himself has said it. To him that overcometh I will give a crown of life.
"Little children; fear not him that killeth the body. There is no more that he can do. God and His Mother are amongst us...."
So his voice had poured on, telling the enormous awe-stricken crowd of the blood that already had been shed on the place where they stood, of the body of the Apostle that lay scarcely fifty yards away, urging, encouraging, inspiring. They had vowed themselves to death, if that were God's Will; and if not, the intention would be taken for the deed. They were under obedience now; their wills were no longer theirs but God's; under chastity—for their bodies were bought with a price; under poverty, and theirs was the kingdom of heaven.
He had ended by a great silent Benediction of the City and the World: and there were not wanting a half-dozen of the faithful who had seen, they thought, a white shape in the form of a bird that hung in the air while he spoke white as a mist, translucent as water....
The consequent scenes in the city and suburbs had been unparalleled, for thousands of families had with one consent dissolved human ties. Husbands had found their way to the huge houses on the Quirinal set apart for them; wives to the Aventine; while the children, as confident as their parents, had swarmed over to the Sisters of St. Vincent who had received at the Pope's orders the gift of three streets to shelter them in. Everywhere the smoke of burning went up in the squares where household property, rendered useless by the vows of poverty, were consumed by their late owners; and daily long trains moved out from the station outside the walls carrying jubilant loads of those who were despatched by the Pope's delegates to be the salt of men, consumed in their function, and leaven plunged in the vast measures of the infidel world. And that infidel world welcomed their coming with bitter laughter.
From the rest of Christendom had poured in news of success. The same precautions had been observed as in Rome, for the directions issued were precise and searching; and day after day came in the long rolls of the new Religious drawn up by the diocesan superiors.
Within the last few days, too, other lists had arrived, more glorious than all. Not only did reports stream in that already the Order was beginning its work and that already broken communications were being re-established, that devoted missioners were in process of organising themselves, and that hope was once more rising in the most desperate hearts; but better than all this was the tidings of victory in another sphere. In Paris forty of the new-born Order had been burned alive in one day in the Latin quarter, before the Government intervened. From Spain, Holland, Russia had come in other names. In Dusseldorf eighteen men and boys, surprised at their singing of Prime in the church of Saint Laurence, had been cast down one by one into the city-sewer, each chanting as he vanished:
"Christi Fili Dei vivi miserere nobis,"
and from the darkness had come up the same broken song till it was silenced with stones. Meanwhile, the German prisons were thronged with the first batches of recusants. The world shrugged its shoulders, and declared that they had brought it on themselves, while yet it deprecated mob-violence, and requested the attention of the authorities and the decisive repression of this new conspiracy of superstition. And within St. Peter's Church the workmen were busy at the long rows of new altars, affixing to the stone diptychs the brass-forged names of those who had already fulfilled their vows and gained their crowns.
It was the first word of God's reply to the world's challenge.
* * * * *
As Christmas drew on it was announced that the Sovereign pontiff would sing mass on the last day of the year, at the papal altar of Saint Peter's, on behalf of the Order; and preparations began to be made.
It was to be a kind of public inauguration of the new enterprise; and, to the astonishment of all, a special summons was issued to all members of the Sacred College throughout the world to be present, unless hindered by sickness. It seemed as if the Pope were determined that the world should understand that war was declared; for, although the command would not involve the absence of any Cardinal from his province for more than five days, yet many inconveniences must surely result. However, it had been said, and it was to be done.
* * * * *
It was a strange Christmas.
Percy was ordered to attend the Pope at his second mass, and himself said his three at midnight in his own private oratory. For the first time in his life he saw that of which he had heard so often, the wonderful old-world Pontifical procession, lit by torches, going through the streets from the Lateran to St. Anastasia, where the Pope for the last few years had restored the ancient custom discontinued for nearly a century-and-a-half. The little basilica was reserved, of course, in every corner for the peculiarly privileged; but the streets outside along the whole route from the Cathedral to the church—and, indeed, the other two sides of the triangle as well, were one dense mass of silent heads and flaming torches. The Holy Father was attended at the altar by the usual sovereigns; and Percy from his place watched the heavenly drama of Christ's Passion enacted through the veil of His nativity at the hands of His old Angelic Vicar. It was hard to perceive Calvary here; it was surely the air of Bethlehem, the celestial light, not the supernatural darkness, that beamed round the simple altar. It was the Child called Wonderful that lay there beneath the old hands, rather than the stricken Man of Sorrows.
Adeste fideles sang the choir from the tribune.—Come, let us adore, rather than weep; let us exult, be content, be ourselves like little children. As He for us became a child, let us become childlike for Him. Let us put on the garments of infancy and the shoes of peace. For the Lord hath reigned; He is clothed with beauty: the Lord is clothed with strength and hath girded Himself. He hath established the world which shall not be moved: His throne is prepared from of old. He is from everlasting. Rejoice greatly then, O daughter of Zion, shout for joy, O daughter of Jerusalem; behold thy King cometh, to thee, the Holy One, the Saviour of the world. It will be time, then, to suffer by and bye, when the Prince of this world cometh upon the Prince of Heaven.
So Percy mused, standing apart in his gorgeousness, striving to make himself little and simple. Surely nothing was too hard for God! Might not this mystic Birth once more do what it had done before—bring into subjection through the might of its weakness every proud thing that exalts itself above all that is called God? It had drawn wise Kings once across the desert, as well as shepherds from their flocks. It had kings about it now, kneeling with the poor and foolish, kings who had laid down their crowns, who brought the gold of loyal hearts, the myrrh of desired martyrdom, and the incense of a pure faith. Could not republics, too, lay aside their splendour, mobs be tamed, selfishness deny itself, and wisdom confess its ignorance?...
Then he remembered Felsenburgh; and his heart sickened within him.
Six days later, Percy rose as usual, said his mass, breakfasted, and sat down to say office until his servant should summon him to vest for the Pontifical mass.
He had learned to expect bad news now so constantly—of apostasies, deaths, losses—that the lull of the previous week had come to him with extraordinary refreshment. It appeared to him as if his musings in St. Anastasia had been truer than he thought, and that the sweetness of the old feast had not yet wholly lost its power even over a world that denied its substance. For nothing at all had happened of importance. A few more martyrdoms had been chronicled, but they had been isolated cases; and of Felsenburgh there had been no tidings at all. Europe confessed its ignorance of his business.
On the other hand, to-morrow, Percy knew very well, would be a day of extraordinary moment in England and Germany at any rate; for in England it was appointed as the first occasion of compulsory worship throughout the country, while it was the second in Germany. Men and women would have to declare themselves now.
He had seen on the previous evening a photograph of the image that was to be worshipped next day in the Abbey; and, in a fit of loathing, had torn it to shreds. It represented a nude woman, huge and majestic, entrancingly lovely, with head and shoulders thrown back, as one who sees a strange and heavenly vision, arms downstretched and hands a little raised, with wide fingers, as in astonishment—the whole attitude, with feet and knees pressed together, suggestive of expectation, hope and wonder; in devilish mockery her long hair was crowned with twelve stars. This, then, was the spouse of the other, the embodiment of man's ideal maternity, still waiting for her child....
When the white scraps lay like poisonous snow at his feet, he had sprung across the room to his prie-dieu, and fallen there in an agony of reparation.
"Oh! Mother, Mother!" he cried to the stately Queen of Heaven who, with Her true Son long ago in Her arms, looked down on him from Her bracket—no more than that.
* * * * *
But he was still again this morning, and celebrated Saint Silvester, Pope and Martyr, the last saint in the procession of the Christian year, with tolerable equanimity. The sights of last night, the throng of officials, the stately, scarlet, unfamiliar figures of the Cardinals who had come in from north, south, east and west—these helped to reassure him again—unreasonably, as he knew, yet effectually. The very air was electric with expectation. All night the piazza had been crowded by a huge, silent mob waiting till the opening of the doors at seven o'clock. Now the church itself was full, and the piazza full again. Far down the street to the river, so far as he could see as he had leaned from his window just now, lay that solemn motionless pavement of heads. The roof of the colonnade showed a fringe of them, the house-tops were black—and this in the bitter cold of a clear, frosty morning, for it was announced that after mass and the proceeding of the members of the Order past the Pontifical Throne, the Pope would give Apostolic Benediction to the City and the World.
Percy finished Terce, closed his book and lay back; his servant would be here in a minute now.
His mind began to run over the function, and he reflected that the entire Sacred College (with the exception of the Cardinal-Protector of Jerusalem, detained by sickness), numbering sixty-four members, would take part. This would mean an unique sight by and bye. Eight years before, he remembered, after the freedom of Rome, there had been a similar assembly; but the Cardinals at that time amounted to no more than fifty-three all told, and four had been absent.
Then he heard voices in his ante-room, a quick step, and a loud English expostulation. That was curious, and he sat up.
Then he heard a sentence.
"His Eminence must go to vest; it is useless."
There was a sharp answer, a faint scuffle, and a snatch at the handle. This was indecent; so Percy stood up, made three strides of it to the door, and tore it open.
A man stood there, whom at first he did not recognise, pale and disordered.
"Why—-" began Percy, and recoiled.
"Mr. Phillips!" he said.
The other threw out his hands.
"It is I, sir—your Eminence—this moment arrived. It is life and death. Your servant tells me—-"
"Who sent you?"
"Good news or bad?"
The man rolled his eyes towards the servant, who still stood erect and offended a yard away; and Percy understood.
He put his hand on the other's arm, drawing him through the doorway.
"Tap upon this door in two minutes, James," he said.
They passed across the polished floor together; Percy went to his usual place in the window, leaned against the shutter, and spoke.
"Tell me in one sentence, sir," he said to the breathless man.
"There is a plot among the Catholics. They intend destroying the Abbey to-morrow with explosives. I knew that the Pope—-"
Percy cut him short with a gesture.
The volor-stage was comparatively empty this afternoon, as the little party of six stepped out on to it from the lift. There was nothing to distinguish these from ordinary travellers. The two Cardinals of Germany and England were wrapped in plain furs, without insignia of any kind; their chaplains stood near them, while the two men-servants hurried forward with the bags to secure a private compartment.
The four kept complete silence, watching the busy movements of the officials on board, staring unseeingly at the sleek, polished monster that lay netted in steel at their feet, and the great folded fins that would presently be cutting the thin air at a hundred and fifty miles an hour.
Then Percy, by a sudden movement, turned from the others, went to the open window that looked over Rome, and leaned there with his elbows on the sill, looking.
* * * * *
It was a strange view before him.
It was darkening now towards sunset, and the sky, primrose-green overhead, deepened to a clear tawny orange above the horizon, with a sanguine line or two at the edge, and beneath that lay the deep evening violet of the city, blotted here and there by the black of cypresses and cut by the thin leafless pinnacles of a poplar grove that aspired without the walls. But right across the picture rose the enormous dome, of an indescribable tint; it was grey, it was violet—it was what the eye chose to make it—and through it, giving its solidity the air of a bubble, shone the southern sky, flushed too with faint orange. It was this that was supreme and dominant; the serrated line of domes, spires and pinnacles, the crowded roofs beneath, in the valley dell' Inferno, the fairy hills far away—all were but the annexe to this mighty tabernacle of God. Already lights were beginning to shine, as for thirty centuries they had shone; thin straight skeins of smoke were ascending against the darkening sky. The hum of this Mother of cities was beginning to be still, for the keen air kept folks indoors; and the evening peace was descending that closed another day and another year. Beneath in the narrow streets Percy could see tiny figures, hurrying like belated ants; the crack of a whip, the cry of a woman, the wail of a child came up to this immense elevation like details of a murmur from another world. They, too, would soon be quiet, and there would be peace.
A heavy bell beat faintly from far away, and the drowsy city turned to murmur its good-night to the Mother of God. From a thousand towers came the tiny melody, floating across the great air spaces, in a thousand accents, the solemn bass of St. Peter's, the mellow tenor of the Lateran, the rough cry from some old slum church, the peevish tinkle of convents and chapels—all softened and made mystical in this grave evening air—it was the wedding of delicate sound and clear light. Above, the liquid orange sky; beneath, this sweet, subdued ecstasy of bells.
"_Alma Redemptoris Mater_," whispered Percy, his eyes wet with tears. "_Gentle Mother of the Redeemer—the open door of the sky, star of the sea—have mercy on sinners. _The Angel of the Lord announced it to Mary, and she conceived of the Holy Ghost_.... Pour, therefore, Lord, Thy grace into our hearts. Let us, who know Christ's incarnation, rise through passion and cross to the glory of Resurrection—through the same Christ our Lord."
Another bell clanged sharply close at hand, calling him down to earth, and wrong, and labour and grief; and he turned to see the motionless volor itself one blaze of brilliant internal light, and the two priests following the German Cardinal across the gangway.
It was the rear compartment that the men had taken; and when he had seen that the old man was comfortable, still without a word he passed out again into the central passage to see the last of Rome.
The exit-door had now been snapped, and as Percy stood at the opposite window looking out at the high wall that would presently sink beneath him, throughout the whole of the delicate frame began to run the vibration of the electric engine. There was the murmur of talking somewhere, a heavy step shook the floor, a bell clanged again, twice, and a sweet wind-chord sounded. Again it sounded; the vibration ceased, and the edge of the high wall against the tawny sky on which he had fixed his eyes sank suddenly like a dropped bar, and he staggered a little in his place. A moment later the dome rose again, and itself sank, the city, a fringe of towers and a mass of dark roofs, pricked with light, span like a whirlpool; the jewelled stars themselves sprang this way and that; and with one more long cry the marvellous machine righted itself, beat with its wings, and settled down, with the note of the flying air passing through rising shrillness into vibrant silence, to its long voyage to the north.
Further and further sank the city behind; it was a patch now: greyness on black. The sky seemed to grow more huge and all-containing as the earth relapsed into darkness; it glowed like a vast dome of wonderful glass, darkening even as it glowed; and as Percy dropped his eyes once more round the extreme edge of the car the city was but a line and a bubble—a line and a swelling—a line, and nothingness.
He drew a long breath, and went back to his friends.
"Tell me again," said the old Cardinal, when the two were settled down opposite to one another, and the chaplains were gone to another compartment. "Who is this man?"
"This man? He was secretary to Oliver Brand, one of our politicians. He fetched me to old Mrs. Brand's death bed, and lost his place in consequence. He is in journalism now. He is perfectly honest. No, he is not a Catholic, though he longs to be one. That is why they confided in him."
"I know nothing of them, except that they are a desperate set. They have enough faith to act, but not enough to be patient.... I suppose they thought this man would sympathise. But unfortunately he has a conscience, and he also sees that any attempt of this kind would be the last straw on the back of toleration. Eminence, do you realise how violent the feeling is against us?"
The old man shook his head lamentably.
"Do I not?" he murmured. "And my Germans are in it? Are you sure?"
"Eminence, it is a vast plot. It has been simmering for months. There have been meetings every week. They have kept the secret marvellously. Your Germans only delayed that the blow might be more complete. And now, to-morrow—-" Percy drew back with a despairing gesture.
"And the Holy Father?"
"I went to him as soon as mass was over. He withdrew all opposition, and sent for you. It is our one chance, Eminence."
"And you think our plan will hinder it?"
"I have no idea, but I can think of nothing else. I shall go straight to the Archbishop and tell him all. We arrive, I believe, at three o'clock, and you in Berlin about seven, I suppose, by German time. The function is fixed for eleven. By eleven, then, we shall have done all that is possible. The Government will know, and they will know, too, that we are innocent in Rome. I imagine they will cause it to be announced that the Cardinal-Protector and the Archbishop, with his coadjutors, will be present in the sacristies. They will double every guard; they will parade volors overhead—and then—well! in God's hands be the rest."
"Do you think the conspirators will attempt it?"
"I have no idea," said Percy shortly.
"I understand they have alternative plans."
"Just so. If all is clear, they intend dropping the explosive from above; if not, at least three men have offered to sacrifice themselves by taking it into the Abbey themselves.... And you, Eminence?"
The old man eyed him steadily.
"My programme is yours," he said. "Eminence, have you considered the effect in either case? If nothing happens—-"
"If nothing happens we shall be accused of a fraud, of seeking to advertise ourselves. If anything happens—well, we shall all go before God together. Pray God it may be the second," he added passionately.
"It will be at least easier to bear," observed the old man.
"I beg your pardon, Eminence. I should not have said that."
There fell a silence between the two, in which no sound was heard but the faint untiring vibration of the screw, and the sudden cough of a man in the next compartment. Percy leaned his head wearily on his hand, and stared from the window.
The earth was now dark beneath them—an immense emptiness; above, the huge engulfing sky was still faintly luminous, and through the high frosty mist through which they moved stars glimmered now and again, as the car swayed and tacked across the wind.
"It will be cold among the Alps," murmured Percy. Then he broke off. "And I have not one shred of evidence," he said; "nothing but the word of a man."
"And you are sure?"
"I am sure."
"Eminence," said the German suddenly, staring straight into his face, "the likeness is extraordinary."
Percy smiled listlessly. He was tired of bearing that.
"What do you make of it?" persisted the other.
"I have been asked that before," said Percy. "I have no views."
"It seems to me that God means something," murmured the German heavily, still staring at him.
"A kind of antithesis—a reverse of the medal. I do not know."
Again there was silence. A chaplain looked in through the glazed door, a homely, blue-eyed German, and was waved away once more.
"Eminence," said the old man abruptly, "there is surely more to speak of. Plans to be made."
Percy shook his head.
"There are no plans to be made," he said. "We know nothing but the fact—no names—nothing. We—we are like children in a tiger's cage. And one of us has just made a gesture in the tiger's face."
"I suppose we shall communicate with one another?"
"If we are in existence."
It was curious how Percy took the lead. He had worn his scarlet for about three months, and his companion for twelve years; yet it was the younger who dictated plans and arranged. He was scarcely conscious of its strangeness, however. Ever since the shocking news of the morning, when a new mine had been sprung under the shaking Church, and he had watched the stately ceremonial, the gorgeous splendour, the dignified, tranquil movements of the Pope and his court, with a secret that burned his heart and brain—above all, since that quick interview in which old plans had been reversed and a startling decision formed, and a blessing given and received, and a farewell looked not uttered—all done in half-an-hour—his whole nature had concentrated itself into one keen tense force, like a coiled spring. He felt power tingling to his finger-tips—power and the dulness of an immense despair. Every prop had been cut, every brace severed; he, the City of Rome, the Catholic Church, the very supernatural itself, seemed to hang now on one single thing—the Finger of God. And if that failed—well, nothing would ever matter any more....
He was going now to one of two things—ignominy or death. There was no third thing—unless, indeed, the conspirators were actually taken with their instruments upon them. But that was impossible. Either they would refrain, knowing that God's ministers would fall with them, and in that case there would be the ignominy of a detected fraud, of a miserable attempt to win credit. Or they would not refrain; they would count the death of a Cardinal and a few bishops a cheap price to pay for revenge—and in that case well, there was Death and Judgment. But Percy had ceased to fear. No ignominy could be greater than that which he already bore—the ignominy of loneliness and discredit. And death could be nothing but sweet—it would at least be knowledge and rest. He was willing to risk all on God.
The other, with a little gesture of apology, took out his office book presently, and began to read.
Percy looked at him with an immense envy. Ah! if only he were as old as that! He could bear a year or two more of this misery, but not fifty years, he thought. It was an almost endless vista that (even if things went well) opened before him, of continual strife, self-repression, energy, misrepresentation from his enemies. The Church was sinking further every day. What if this new spasm of fervour were no more than the dying flare of faith? How could he bear that? He would have to see the tide of atheism rise higher and more triumphant every day; Felsenburgh had given it an impetus of whose end there was no prophesying. Never before had a single man wielded the full power of democracy. Then once more he looked forward to the morrow. Oh! if it could but end in death!... Beati mortui qui in Domino moriuntur! ...
It was no good; it was cowardly to think in this fashion. After all, God was God—He takes up the isles as a very little thing.
Percy took out his office book, found Prime and St. Sylvester, signed himself with the cross, and began to pray. A minute later the two chaplains slipped in once more, and sat down; and all was silent, save for that throb of the screw, and the strange whispering rush of air outside.
It was about nineteen o'clock that the ruddy English conductor looked in at the doorway, waking Percy from his doze.
"Dinner will be served in half-an-hour, gentlemen," he said (speaking Esperanto, as the rule was on international cars). "We do not stop at Turin to-night."
He shut the door and went out, and the sound of closing doors came down the corridor as he made the same announcement to each compartment.
There were no passengers to descend at Turin, then, reflected Percy; and no doubt a wireless message had been received that there were none to come on board either. That was good news: it would give him more time in London. It might even enable Cardinal Steinmann to catch an earlier volor from Paris to Berlin; but he was not sure bow they ran. It was a pity that the German had not been able to catch the thirteen o'clock from Rome to Berlin direct. So he calculated, in a kind of superficial insensibility.
He stood up presently to stretch himself. Then he passed out and along the corridor to the lavatory to wash his hands.
He became fascinated by the view as he stood before the basin at the rear of the car, for even now they were passing over Turin. It was a blur of light, vivid and beautiful, that shone beneath him in the midst of this gulf of darkness, sweeping away southwards into the gloom as the car sped on towards the Alps. How little, he thought, seemed this great city seen from above; and yet, how mighty it was! It was from that glimmer, already five miles behind, that Italy was controlled; in one of these dolls' houses of which he had caught but a glimpse, men sat in council over souls and bodies, and abolished God, and smiled at His Church. And God allowed it all, and made no sign. It was there that Felsenburgh bad been, a month or two ago—Felsenburgh, his double! And again the mental sword tore and stabbed at his heart.
* * * * *
A few minutes later, the four ecclesiastics were sitting at their round table in a little screened compartment of the dining-room in the bows of the air-ship. It was an excellent dinner, served, as usual, from the kitchen in the bowels of the volor, and rose, course by course, with a smooth click, into the centre of the table. There was a bottle of red wine to each diner, and both table and chairs swung easily to the very slight motion of the ship. But they did not talk much, for there was only one subject possible to the two cardinals, and the chaplains had not yet been admitted into the full secret.
It was growing cold now, and even the hot-air foot-rests did not quite compensate for the deathly iciness of the breath that began to stream down from the Alps, which the ship was now approaching at a slight incline. It was necessary to rise at least nine thousand feet from the usual level, in order to pass the frontier of the Mont Cenis at a safe angle; and at the same time it was necessary to go a little slower over the Alps themselves, owing to the extreme rarity of the air, and the difficulty in causing the screw to revolve sufficiently quickly to counteract it.
"There will be clouds to-night," said a voice clear and distinct from the passage, as the door swung slightly to a movement of the car.
Percy got up and closed it.
The German Cardinal began to grow a little fidgety towards the end of dinner.
"I shall go back," he said at last. "I shall be better in my fur rug."
His chaplain dutifully went after him, leaving his own dinner unfinished, and Percy was left alone with Father Corkran, his English chaplain lately from Scotland.
He finished his wine, ate a couple of figs, and then sat staring out through the plate-glass window in front.
"Ah!" he said. "Excuse me, father. There are the Alps at last."
The front of the car consisted of three divisions, in the centre of one of which stood the steersman, his eyes looking straight ahead, and his hands upon the wheel. On either side of him, separated from him by aluminium walls, was contrived a narrow slip of a compartment, with a long curved window at the height of a man's eyes, through which a magnificent view could be obtained. It was to one of these that Percy went, passing along the corridor, and seeing through half-opened doors other parties still over their wine. He pushed the spring door on the left and went through.
He had crossed the Alps three times before in his life, and well remembered the extraordinary effect they had had on him, especially as he had once seen them from a great altitude upon a clear day—an eternal, immeasurable sea of white ice, broken by hummocks and wrinkles that from below were soaring peaks named and reverenced; and, beyond, the spherical curve of the earth's edge that dropped in a haze of air into unutterable space. But this time they seemed more amazing than ever, and he looked out on them with the interest of a sick child.
The car was now ascending; rapidly towards the pass up across the huge tumbled slopes, ravines, and cliffs that lie like outworks of the enormous wall. Seen from this great height they were in themselves comparatively insignificant, but they at least suggested the vastness of the bastions of which they were no more than buttresses. As Percy turned, he could see the moonless sky alight with frosty stars, and the dimness of the illumination made the scene even more impressive; but as he turned again, there was a change. The vast air about him seemed now to be perceived through frosted glass. The velvet blackness of the pine forests had faded to heavy grey, the pale glint of water and ice seen and gone again in a moment, the monstrous nakedness of rock spires and slopes, rising towards him and sliding away again beneath with a crawling motion—all these had lost their distinctness of outline, and were veiled in invisible white. As he looked yet higher to right and left the sight became terrifying, for the giant walls of rock rushing towards him, the huge grotesque shapes towering on all sides, ran upward into a curtain of cloud visible only from the dancing radiance thrown upon it by the brilliantly lighted car. Even as he looked, two straight fingers of splendour, resembling horns, shot out, as the bow searchlights were turned on; and the car itself, already travelling at half-speed, dropped to quarter-speed, and began to sway softly from side to side as the huge air-planes beat the mist through which they moved, and the antennae of light pierced it. Still up they went, and on—yet swift enough to let Percy see one great pinnacle rear itself, elongate, sink down into a cruel needle, and vanish into nothingness a thousand feet below. The motion grew yet more nauseous, as the car moved up at a sharp angle preserving its level, simultaneously rising, advancing and swaying. Once, hoarse and sonorous, an unfrozen torrent roared like a beast, it seemed within twenty yards, and was dumb again on the instant. Now, too, the horns began to cry, long, lamentable hootings, ringing sadly in that echoing desolation like the wail of wandering souls; and as Percy, awed beyond feeling, wiped the gathering moisture from the glass, and stared again, it appeared as if he floated now, motionless except for the slight rocking beneath his feet, in a world of whiteness, as remote from earth as from heaven, poised in hopeless infinite space, blind, alone, frozen, lost in a white hell of desolation.
Once, as he stared, a huge whiteness moved towards him through the veil, slid slowly sideways and down, disclosing, as the car veered, a gigantic slope smooth as oil, with one cluster of black rock cutting it like the fingers of a man's hand groping from a mountainous wave.
Then, as once more the car cried aloud like a lost sheep, there answered it, it seemed scarcely ten yards away, first one windy scream of dismay, another and another; a clang of bells, a chorus broke out; and the air was full of the beating of wings.
There was one horrible instant before a clang of a bell, the answering scream, and a whirling motion showed that the steersman was alert. Then like a stone the car dropped, and Percy clutched at the rail before him to steady the terrible sensation of falling into emptiness. He could hear behind him the crash of crockery, the bumping of heavy bodies, and as the car again checked on its wide wings, a rush of footsteps broke out and a cry or two of dismay. Outside, but high and far away, the hooting went on; the air was full of it, and in a flash he recognised that it could not be one or ten or twenty cars, but at least a hundred that had answered the call, and that somewhere overhead were hooting and flapping. The invisible ravines and cliffs on all sides took up the crying; long wails whooped and moaned and died amid a clash of bells, further and further every instant, but now in every direction, behind, above, in front, and far to right and left. Once more the car began to move, sinking in a long still curve towards the face of the mountain; and as it checked, and began to sway again on its huge wings, he turned to the door, seeing as he did so, through the cloudy windows in the glow of light, a spire of rock not thirty feet below rising from the mist, and one smooth shoulder of snow curving away into invisibility.
Within, the car shewed brutal signs of the sudden check: the doors of the dining compartments, as he passed along, were flung wide; glasses, plates, pools of wine and tumbled fruit rolled to and fro on the heaving floors; one man, sitting helplessly on the ground, rolled vacant, terrified eyes upon the priest. He glanced in at the door through which he had come just now, and Father Corkran staggered up from his seat and came towards him, reeling at the motion underfoot; simultaneously there was a rush from the opposite door, where a party of Americans had been dining; and as Percy, beckoning with his head, turned again to go down to the stern-end of the ship, he found the narrow passage blocked with the crowd that had run out. A babble of talking and cries made questions impossible; and Percy, with his chaplain behind him, gripped the aluminium panelling, and step by step began to make his way in search of his friends.
Half-way down the passage, as he pushed and struggled, a voice made itself heard above the din; and in the momentary silence that followed, again sounded the far-away crying of the volors overhead.
"Seats, gentlemen, seats," roared the voice. "We are moving immediately."
Then the crowd melted as the conductor came through, red-faced and determined, and Percy, springing into his wake, found his way clear to the stern.
The Cardinal seemed none the worse. He had been asleep, he explained, and saved himself in time from rolling on to the floor; but his old face twitched as he talked.
"But what is it?" he said. "What is the meaning?"
Father Bechlin related how he had actually seen one of the troop of volors within five yards of the window; it was crowded with faces, he said, from stem to stern. Then it had soared suddenly, and vanished in whorls of mist.
Percy shook his head, saying nothing. He had no explanation.
"They are inquiring, I understand," said Father Bechlin again. "The conductor was at his instrument just now."
There was nothing to be seen from the windows now. Only, as Percy stared out, still dazed with the shock, he saw the cruel needle of rock wavering beneath as if seen through water, and the huge shoulder of snow swaying softly up and down. It was quieter outside. It appeared that the flock had passed, only somewhere from an infinite height still sounded a fitful wailing, as if a lonely bird were wandering, lost in space.
"That is the signalling volor," murmured Percy to himself.
He had no theory—no suggestion. Yet the matter seemed an ominous one. It was unheard of that an encounter with a hundred volors should take place, and he wondered why they were going southwards. Again the name of Felsenburgh came to his mind. What if that sinister man were still somewhere overhead?
"Eminence," began the old man again. But at that instant the car began to move.
A bell clanged, a vibration tingled underfoot, and then, soft as a flake of snow, the great ship began to rise, its movement perceptible only by the sudden drop and vanishing of the spire of rock at which Percy still stared. Slowly the snowfield too began to flit downwards, a black cleft, whisked smoothly into sight from above, and disappeared again below, and a moment later once more the car seemed poised in white space as it climbed the slope of air down which it had dropped just now. Again the wind-chord rent the atmosphere; and this time the answer was as faint and distant as a cry from another world. The speed quickened, and the steady throb of the screw began to replace the swaying motion of the wings. Again came the hoot, wild and echoing through the barren wilderness of rock walls beneath, and again with a sudden impulse the car soared. It was going in great circles now, cautious as a cat, climbing, climbing, punctuating the ascent with cry after cry, searching the blind air for dangers. Once again a vast white slope came into sight, illuminated by the glare from the windows, sinking ever more and more swiftly, receding and approaching—until for one instant a jagged line of rocks grinned like teeth through the mist, dropped away and vanished, and with a clash of bells, and a last scream of warning, the throb of the screw passed from a whirr to a rising note, and the note to stillness, as the huge ship, clear at last of the frontier peaks, shook out her wings steady once more, and set out for her humming flight through space.... Whatever it was, was behind them now, vanished into the thick night.
There was a sound of talking from the interior of the car, hasty, breathless voices, questioning, exclaiming, and the authoritative terse answer of the guard. A step came along outside, and Percy sprang to meet it, but, as he laid his hand on the door, it was pushed from without, and to his astonishment the English guard came straight through, closing it behind him.
He stood there, looking strangely at the four priests, with compressed lips and anxious eyes.
"Well?" cried Percy.
"All right, gentlemen. But I'm thinking you'd better descend at Paris. I know who you are, gentlemen—and though I'm not a Catholic—-"
He stopped again.
"For God's sake, man—-" began Percy.
"Oh! the news, gentlemen. Well, it was two hundred cars going to Rome. There is a Catholic plot, sir, discovered in London—-"
"To wipe out the Abbey. So they're going—-"
"Yes, sir—to wipe out Rome."
Then he was gone again.
It was nearly sixteen o'clock on the same day, the last day of the year, that Mabel went into the little church that stood in the street beneath her house.
The dark was falling softly layer on layer; across the roofs to westward burned the smouldering fire of the winter sunset, and the interior was full of the dying light. She had slept a little in her chair that afternoon, and had awakened with that strange cleansed sense of spirit and mind that sometimes follows such sleep. She wondered later how she could have slept at such a time, and above all, how it was that she had perceived nothing of that cloud of fear and fury that even now was falling over town and country alike. She remembered afterwards an unusual busy-ness on the broad tracks beneath her as she had looked out on them from her windows, and an unusual calling of horns and whistles; but she thought nothing of it, and passed down an hour later for a meditation in the church.
She had grown to love the quiet place, and came in often like this to steady her thoughts and concentrate them on the significance that lay beneath the surface of life—the huge principles upon which all lived, and which so plainly were the true realities. Indeed, such devotion was becoming almost recognised among certain classes of people. Addresses were delivered now and then; little books were being published as guides to the interior life, curiously resembling the old Catholic books on mental prayer.
She went to-day to her usual seat, sat down, folded her hands, looked for a minute or two upon the old stone sanctuary, the white image and the darkening window. Then she closed her eyes and began to think, according to the method she followed.
First she concentrated her attention on herself, detaching it from all that was merely external and transitory, withdrawing it inwards ... inwards, until she found that secret spark which, beneath all frailties and activities, made her a substantial member of the divine race of humankind.
This then was the first step.
The second consisted in an act of the intellect, followed by one of the imagination. All men possessed that spark, she considered.... Then she sent out her powers, sweeping with the eyes of her mind the seething world, seeing beneath the light and dark of the two hemispheres, the countless millions of mankind—children coming into the world, old men leaving it, the mature rejoicing in it and their own strength. Back through the ages she looked, through those centuries of crime and blindness, as the race rose through savagery and superstition to a knowledge of themselves; on through the ages yet to come, as generation followed generation to some climax whose perfection, she told herself, she could not fully comprehend because she was not of it. Yet, she told herself again, that climax had already been born; the birthpangs were over; for had not He come who was the heir of time?...
Then by a third and vivid act she realised the unity of all, the central fire of which each spark was but a radiation—that vast passionless divine being, realising Himself up through these centuries, one yet many, Him whom men had called God, now no longer unknown, but recognised as the transcendent total of themselves—Him who now, with the coming of the new Saviour, had stirred and awakened and shown Himself as One.
And there she stayed, contemplating the vision of her mind, detaching now this virtue, now that for particular assimilation, dwelling on her deficiencies, seeing in the whole the fulfilment of all aspirations, the sum of all for which men had hoped—that Spirit of Peace, so long hindered yet generated too perpetually by the passions of the world, forced into outline and being by the energy of individual lives, realising itself in pulse after pulse, dominant at last, serene, manifest, and triumphant. There she stayed, losing the sense of individuality, merging it by a long sustained effort of the will, drinking, as she thought, long breaths of the spirit of life and love....
Some sound, she supposed afterwards, disturbed her, and she opened her eyes; and there before her lay the quiet pavement, glimmering through the dusk, the step of the sanctuary, the rostrum on the right, and the peaceful space of darkening air above the white Mother-figure and against the tracery of the old window. It was here that men had worshipped Jesus, that blood-stained Man of Sorrow, who had borne, even on His own confession, not peace but a sword. Yet they had knelt, those blind and hopeless Christians.... Ah! the pathos of it all, the despairing acceptance of any creed that would account for sorrow, the wild worship of any God who had claimed to bear it!
And again came the sound, striking across her peace, though as yet she did not understand why.
It was nearer now; and she turned in astonishment to look down the dusky nave.
It was from without that the sound had come, that strange murmur, that rose and fell again as she listened.
She stood up, her heart quickening a little—only once before had she heard such a sound, once before, in a square, where men raged about a point beneath a platform....
She stepped swiftly out of her seat, passed down the aisle, drew back the curtains beneath the west window, lifted the latch and stepped out.
* * * * *
The street, from where she looked over the railings that barred the entrance to the church, seemed unusually empty and dark. To right and left stretched the houses, overhead the darkening sky was flushed with rose; but it seemed as if the public lights had been forgotten. There was not a living being to be seen.
She had put her hand on the latch of the gate, to open it and go out, when a sudden patter of footsteps made her hesitate; and the next instant a child appeared panting, breathless and terrified, running with her hands before her.
"They're coming, they're coming," sobbed the child, seeing the face looking at her. Then she clung to the bars, staring over her shoulder.
Mabel lifted the latch in an instant; the child sprang in, ran to the door and beat against it, then turning, seized her dress and cowered against her. Mabel shut the gate.
"There, there," she said. "Who is it? Who are coming?"
But the child hid her face, drawing at the kindly skirts; and the next moment came the roar of voices and the trampling of footsteps.
* * * * *
It was not more than a few seconds before the heralds of that grim procession came past. First came a flying squadron of children, laughing, terrified, fascinated, screaming, turning their heads as they ran, with a dog or two yelping among them, and a few women drifting sideways along the pavements. A face of a man, Mabel saw as she glanced in terror upwards, had appeared at the windows opposite, pale and eager—some invalid no doubt dragging himself to see. One group—a well-dressed man in grey, a couple of women carrying babies, a solemn-faced boy—halted immediately before her on the other side of the railings, all talking, none listening, and these too turned their faces to the road on the left, up which every instant the clamour and trampling grew. Yet she could not ask. Her lips moved; but no sound came from them. She was one incarnate apprehension. Across her intense fixity moved pictures of no importance of Oliver as he had been at breakfast, of her own bedroom with its softened paper, of the dark sanctuary and the white figure on which she had looked just now.
They were coming thicker now; a troop of young men with their arms linked swayed into sight, all talking or crying aloud, none listening—all across the roadway, and behind them surged the crowd, like a wave in a stone-fenced channel, male scarcely distinguishable from female in that pack of faces, and under that sky that grew darker every instant. Except for the noise, which Mabel now hardly noticed, so thick and incessant it was, so complete her concentration in the sense of sight—except for that, it might have been, from its suddenness and overwhelming force, some mob of phantoms trooping on a sudden out of some vista of the spiritual world visible across an open space, and about to vanish again in obscurity. That empty street was full now on this side and that so far as she could see; the young men were gone—running or walking she hardly knew—round the corner to the right, and the entire space was one stream of heads and faces, pressing so fiercely that the group at the railings were detached like weeds and drifted too, sideways, clutching at the bars, and swept away too and vanished. And all the while the child tugged and tore at her skirts.
Certain things began to appear now above the heads of the crowd—objects she could not distinguish in the failing light—poles, and fantastic shapes, fragments of stuff resembling banners, moving as if alive, turning from side to side, borne from beneath.
Faces, distorted with passion, looked at her from time to time as the moving show went past, open mouths cried at her; but she hardly saw them. She was watching those strange emblems, straining her eyes through the dusk, striving to distinguish the battered broken shapes, half-guessing, yet afraid to guess.
Then, on a sudden, from the hidden lamps beneath the eaves, light leaped into being—that strong, sweet, familiar light, generated by the great engines underground that, in the passion of that catastrophic day, all men had forgotten; and in a moment all changed from a mob of phantoms and shapes into a pitiless reality of life and death.
Before her moved a great rood, with a figure upon it, of which one arm hung from the nailed hand, swinging as it went; an embroidery streamed behind with the swiftness of the motion.
And next after it came the naked body of a child, impaled, white and ruddy, the head fallen upon the breast, and the arms, too, dangling and turning.
And next the figure of a man, hanging by the neck, dressed, it seemed, in a kind of black gown and cape, with its black-capped head twisting from the twisting rope.
The same night Oliver Brand came home about an hour before midnight.
For himself, what he had heard and seen that day was still too vivid and too imminent for him to judge of it coolly. He had seen, from his windows in Whitehall, Parliament Square filled with a mob the like of which had not been known in England since the days of Christianity—a mob full of a fury that could scarcely draw its origin except from sources beyond the reach of sense. Thrice during the hours that followed the publication of the Catholic plot and the outbreak of mob-law he had communicated with the Prime Minister asking whether nothing could be done to allay the tumult; and on both occasions he had received the doubtful answer that what could be done would be done, that force was inadmissible at present; but that the police were doing all that was possible.
As regarded the despatch of the volors to Rome, he had assented by silence, as had the rest of the Council. That was, Snowford had said, a judicial punitive act, regrettable but necessary. Peace, in this instance, could not be secured except on terms of war—or rather, since war was obsolete—by the sternness of justice. These Catholics had shown themselves the avowed enemies of society; very well, then society must defend itself, at least this once. Man was still human. And Oliver had listened and said nothing.
As he passed in one of the Government volors over London on his way home, he had caught more than one glimpse of what was proceeding beneath him. The streets were as bright as day, shadowless and clear in the white light, and every roadway was a crawling serpent. From beneath rose up a steady roar of voices, soft and woolly, punctuated by cries. From here and there ascended the smoke of burning; and once, as he flitted over one of the great squares to the south of Battersea, he had seen as it were a scattered squadron of ants running as if in fear or pursuit.... He knew what was happening.... Well, after all, man was not yet perfectly civilised.
He did not like to think of what awaited him at home. Once, about five hours earlier, he had listened to his wife's voice through the telephone, and what he had heard had nearly caused him to leave all and go to her. Yet he was scarcely prepared for what he found.
As he came into the sitting-room, there was no sound, except that far-away hum from the seething streets below. The room seemed strangely dark and cold; the only light that entered was through one of the windows from which the curtains were withdrawn, and, silhouetted against the luminous sky beyond, was the upright figure of a woman, looking and listening....
He pressed the knob of the electric light; and Mabel turned slowly towards him. She was in her day-dress, with a cloak thrown over her shoulders, and her face was almost as that of a stranger. It was perfectly colourless, her lips were compressed and her eyes full of an emotion which he could not interpret. It might equally have been anger, terror or misery.
She stood there in the steady light, motionless, looking at him.
For a moment he did not trust himself to speak. He passed across to the window, closed it and drew the curtains. Then he took that rigid figure gently by the arm.
"Mabel," he said, "Mabel."
She submitted to be drawn towards the sofa, but there was no response to his touch. He sat down and looked up at her with a kind of despairing apprehension.
"My dear, I am tired out," he said.
Still she looked at him. There was in her pose that rigidity that actors simulate; yet he knew it for the real thing. He had seen that silence once or twice before in the presence of a horror—once at any rate, at the sight of a splash of blood on her shoe.
"Well, my darling, sit down, at least," he said.
She obeyed him mechanically—sat, and still stared at him. In the silence once more that soft roar rose and died from the invisible world of tumult outside the windows. Within here all was quiet. He knew perfectly that two things strove within her, her loyalty to her faith and her hatred of those crimes in the name of justice. As he looked on her he saw that these two were at death grips, that hatred was prevailing, and that she herself was little more than a passive battlefield. Then, as with a long-drawn howl of a wolf, there surged and sank the voices of the mob a mile away, the tension broke.... She threw herself forward towards him, he caught her by the wrists, and so she rested, clasped in his arms, her face and bosom on his knees, and her whole body torn by emotion.
For a full minute neither spoke. Oliver understood well enough, yet at present he had no words. He only drew her a little closer to himself, kissed her hair two or three times, and settled himself to hold her. He began to rehearse what he must say presently.
Then she raised her flushed face for an instant, looked at him passionately, dropped her head again and began to sob out broken words.
He could only catch a sentence here and there, yet he knew what she was saying....
It was the ruin of all her hopes, she sobbed, the end of her religion. Let her die, die and have done with it! It was all gone, gone, swept away in this murderous passion of the people of her faith ... they were no better than Christians, after all, as fierce as the men on whom they avenged themselves, as dark as though the Saviour, Julian, had never come; it was all lost ... War and Passion and Murder had returned to the body from which she had thought them gone forever.... The burning churches, the hunted Catholics, the raging of the streets on which she had looked that day, the bodies of the child and the priest carried on poles, the burning churches and convents. ... All streamed out, incoherent, broken by sobs, details of horror, lamentations, reproaches, interpreted by the writhing of her head and hands upon his knees. The collapse was complete.
He put his hands again beneath her arms and raised her. He was worn out by his work, yet he knew he must quiet her. This was more serious than any previous crisis. Yet he knew her power of recovery.
"Sit down, my darling," he said. "There ... give me your hands. Now listen to me."
* * * * *
He made really an admirable defence, for it was what he had been repeating to himself all day. Men were not yet perfect, he said; there ran in their veins the blood of men who for twenty centuries had been Christians.... There must be no despair; faith in man was of the very essence of religion, faith in man's best self, in what he would become, not in what at present he actually was. They were at the beginning of the new religion, not in its maturity; there must be sourness in the young fruit. ... Consider, too, the provocation! Remember the appalling crime that these Catholics had contemplated; they had set themselves to strike the new Faith in its very heart....
"My darling," he said, "men are not changed in an instant. What if those Christians had succeeded!... I condemn it all as strongly as you. I saw a couple of newspapers this afternoon that are as wicked as anything that the Christians have ever done. They exulted in all these crimes. It will throw the movement back ten years.... Do you think that there are not thousands like yourself who hate and detest this violence?... But what does faith mean, except that we know that mercy will prevail? Faith, patience and hope—these are our weapons."
He spoke with passionate conviction, his eyes fixed on hers, in a fierce endeavour to give her his own confidence, and to reassure the remnants of his own doubtfulness. It was true that he too hated what she hated, yet he saw things that she did not.... Well, well, he told himself, he must remember that she was a woman.
The look of frantic horror passed slowly out of her eyes, giving way to acute misery as he talked, and as his personality once more began to dominate her own. But it was not yet over.
"But the volors," she cried, "the volors! That is deliberate; that is not the work of the mob."
"My darling, it is no more deliberate than the other. We are all human, we are all immature. Yes, the Council permitted it, ... permitted it, remember. The German Government, too, had to yield. We must tame nature slowly, we must not break it."
He talked again for a few minutes, repeating his arguments, soothing, reassuring, encouraging; and he saw that he was beginning to prevail. But she returned to one of his words.
"Permitted it! And you permitted it."
"Dear; I said nothing, either for it or against. I tell you that if we had forbidden it there would have been yet more murder, and the people would have lost their rulers. We were passive, since we could do nothing."
"Ah! but it would have been better to die.... Oh, Oliver, let me die at least! I cannot bear it."
By her hands which he still held he drew her nearer yet to himself.
"Sweetheart," he said gravely, "cannot you trust me a little? If I could tell you all that passed to-day, you would understand. But trust me that I am not heartless. And what of Julian Felsenburgh?"
For a moment he saw hesitation in her eyes; her loyalty to him and her loathing of all that had happened strove within her. Then once again loyalty prevailed, the name of Felsenburgh weighed down the balance, and trust came back with a flood of tears.
"Oh, Oliver," she said, "I know I trust you. But I am so weak, and all is so terrible. And He so strong and merciful. And will He be with us to-morrow?"
* * * * *
It struck midnight from the clock-tower a mile away as they yet sat and talked. She was still tremulous from the struggle; but she looked at him smiling, still holding his hands. He saw that the reaction was upon her in full force at last.
"The New Year, my husband," she said, and rose as she said it, drawing him after her.
"I wish you a happy New Year," she said. "Oh help me, Oliver."
She kissed him, and drew back, still holding his hands, looking at him with bright tearful eyes.
"Oliver," she cried again, "I must tell you this.... Do you know what I thought before you came?"
He shook his head, staring at her greedily. How sweet she was! He felt her grip tighten on his hands.
"I thought I could not bear it," she whispered—"that I must end it all—ah! you know what I mean."
His heart flinched as he heard her; and he drew her closer again to himself.
"It is all over! it is all over," she cried. "Ah! do not look like that! I could not tell you if it was not."'
As their lips met again there came the vibration of an electric bell from the next room, and Oliver, knowing what it meant, felt even in that instant a tremor shake his heart. He loosed her hands, and still smiled at her.
"The bell!" she said, with a flash of apprehension.
"But it is all well between us again?"
Her face steadied itself into loyalty and confidence.
"It is all well," she said; and again the impatient bell tingled. "Go, Oliver; I will wait here."
A minute later he was back again, with a strange look on his white face, and his lips compressed. He came straight up to her, taking her once more by the hands, and looking steadily into her steady eyes. In the hearts of both of them resolve and faith were holding down the emotion that was not yet dead. He drew a long breath.
"Yes," he said in an even voice, "it is over."
Her lips moved; and that deadly paleness lay on her cheeks. He gripped her firmly.
"Listen," he said. "You must face it. It is over. Rome is gone. Now we must build something better."
She threw herself sobbing into his arms.
Long before dawn on the first morning of the New Year the approaches to the Abbey were already blocked. Victoria Street, Great George Street, Whitehall—even Millbank Street itself—were full and motionless. Broad Sanctuary, divided by the low-walled motor-track, was itself cut into great blocks and wedges of people by the ways which the police kept open for the passage of important personages, and Palace Yard was kept rigidly clear except for one island, occupied by a stand which was itself full from top to bottom and end to end. All roofs and parapets which commanded a view of the Abbey were also one mass of heads. Overhead, like solemn moons, burned the white lights of the electric globes.
It was not known at exactly what hour the tumult had steadied itself to definite purpose, except to a few weary controllers of the temporary turnstiles which had been erected the evening before. It had been announced a week previously that, in consideration of the enormous demand for seats, all persons who presented their worship-ticket at an authorised office, and followed the directions issued by the police, would be accounted as having fulfilled the duties of citizenship in that respect, and it was generally made known that it was the Government's intention to toll the great bell of the Abbey at the beginning of the ceremony and at the incensing of the image, during which period silence must be as far as possible preserved by all those within hearing.