London had gone completely mad on the announcement of the Catholic plot on the afternoon before. The secret had leaked out about fourteen o'clock, an hour after the betrayal of the scheme to Mr. Snowford; and practically all commercial activities had ceased on the instant. By fifteen-and-a-half all stores were closed, the Stock Exchange, the City offices, the West End establishments—all had as by irresistible impulse suspended business, and from within two hours after noon until nearly midnight, when the police had been adequately reinforced and enabled to deal with the situation, whole mobs and armies of men, screaming squadrons of women, troops of frantic youths, had paraded the streets, howling, denouncing, and murdering. It was not known how many deaths had taken place, but there was scarcely a street without the signs of outrage. Westminster Cathedral had been sacked, every altar overthrown, indescribable indignities performed there. An unknown priest had scarcely been able to consume the Blessed Sacrament before he was seized and throttled; the Archbishop with eleven priests and two bishops had been hanged at the north end of the church, thirty-five convents had been destroyed, St. George's Cathedral burned to the ground; and it was reported even, by the evening papers, that it was believed that, for the first time since the introduction of Christianity into England, there was not one Tabernacle left within twenty miles of the Abbey. "London," explained the New People, in huge headlines, "was cleansed at last of dingy and fantastic nonsense."
It was known at about fifteen-and-a-half o'clock that at least seventy volors had left for Rome, and half-an-hour later that Berlin had reinforced them by sixty more. At midnight, fortunately at a time when the police had succeeded in shepherding the crowds into some kind of order, the news was flashed on to cloud and placard alike that the grim work was done, and that Rome had ceased to exist. The early morning papers added a few details, pointing out, of course, the coincidence of the fall with the close of the year, relating how, by an astonishing chance, practically all the heads of the hierarchy throughout the world had been assembled in the Vatican which had been the first object of attack, and how these, in desperation, it was supposed, had refused to leave the City when the news came by wireless telegraphy that the punitive force was on its way. There was not a building left in Rome; the entire place, Leonine City, Trastevere, suburbs—everything was gone; for the volors, poised at an immense height, had parcelled out the City beneath them with extreme care, before beginning to drop the explosives; and five minutes after the first roar from beneath and the first burst of smoke and flying fragments, the thing was finished. The volors had then dispersed in every direction, pursuing the motor and rail-tracks along which the population had attempted to escape so soon as the news was known; and it was supposed that not less than thirty thousand belated fugitives had been annihilated by this foresight. It was true, remarked the Studio, that many treasures of incalculable value had been destroyed, but this was a cheap price to pay for the final and complete extermination of the Catholic pest. "There comes a point," it remarked, "when destruction is the only cure for a vermin-infested house," and it proceeded to observe that now that the Pope with the entire College of Cardinals, all the ex-Royalties of Europe, all the most frantic religionists from the inhabited world who had taken up their abode in the "Holy City" were gone at a stroke, a recrudescence of the superstition was scarcely to be feared elsewhere. Yet care must even now be taken against any relenting. Catholics (if any were left bold enough to attempt it) must no longer be allowed to take any kind of part in the life of any civilised country. So far as messages had come in from other countries, there was but one chorus of approval at what had been done.
A few papers regretted the incident, or rather the spirit which had lain behind it. It was not seemly, they said, that Humanitarians should have recourse to violence; yet not one pretended that anything could be felt but thanksgiving for the general result. Ireland, too, must be brought into line; they must not dally any longer.
* * * * *
It was now brightening slowly towards dawn, and beyond the river through the faint wintry haze a crimson streak or two began to burn. But all was surprisingly quiet, for this crowd, tired out with an all-night watch, chilled by the bitter cold, and intent on what lay before them, had no energy left for useless effort. Only from packed square and street and lane went up a deep, steady murmur like the sound of the sea a mile away, broken now and again by the hoot and clang of a motor and the rush of its passage as it tore eastwards round the circle through Broad Sanctuary and vanished citywards. And the light broadened and the electric globes sickened and paled, and the haze began to clear a little, showing, not the fresh blue that had been hoped for from the cold of the night, but a high, colourless vault of cloud, washed with grey and faint rose-colour, as the sun came up, a ruddy copper disc, beyond the river.
* * * * *
At nine o'clock the excitement rose a degree higher. The police between Whitehall and the Abbey, looking from their high platforms strung along the route, whence they kept watch and controlled the wire palisadings, showed a certain activity, and a minute later a police-car whirled through the square between the palings, and vanished round the Abbey towers. The crowd murmured and shuffled and began to expect, and a cheer was raised when a moment later four more cars appeared, bearing the Government insignia, and disappeared in the same direction. These were the officials, they said, going to Dean's Yard, where the procession would assemble.
At about a quarter to ten the crowd at the west end of Victoria Street began to raise its voice in a song, and by the time that was over, and the bells had burst out from the Abbey towers, a rumour had somehow made its entrance that Felsenburgh was to be present at the ceremony. There was no assignable reason for this, neither then nor afterwards; in fact, the Evening Star declared that it was one more instance of the astonishing instinct of human beings en masse; for it was not until an hour later that even the Government were made aware of the facts. Yet the truth remained that at half-past ten one continuous roar went up, drowning even the brazen clamour of the bells, reaching round to Whitehall and the crowded pavements of Westminster Bridge, demanding Julian Felsenburgh. Yet there had been absolutely no news of the President of Europe for the last fortnight, beyond an entirely unsupported report that he was somewhere in the East.
And all the while the motors poured from all directions towards the Abbey and disappeared under the arch into Dean's Yard, bearing those fortunate persons whose tickets actually admitted them to the church itself. Cheers ran and rippled along the lines as the great men were recognised—Lord Pemberton, Oliver Brand and his wife, Mr. Caldecott, Maxwell, Snowford, with the European delegates—even melancholy-faced Mr. Francis himself, the Government ceremoniarius, received a greeting. But by a quarter to eleven, when the pealing bells paused, the stream had stopped, the barriers issued out to stop the roads, the wire palisadings vanished, and the crowd for an instant, ceasing its roaring, sighed with relief at the relaxed pressure, and surged out into the roadways. Then once more the roaring began for Julian Felsenburgh.
The sun was now high, still a copper disc, above the Victoria Tower, but paler than an hour ago; the whiteness of the Abbey, the heavy greys of Parliament House, the ten thousand tints of house-roofs, heads, streamers, placards began to disclose themselves.
A single bell tolled five minutes to the hour, and the moments slipped by, until once more the bell stopped, and to the ears of those within hearing of the great west doors came the first blare of the huge organ, reinforced by trumpets. And then, as sudden and profound as the hush of death, there fell an enormous silence.
As the five-minutes bell began, sounding like a continuous wind-note in the great vaults overhead, solemn and persistent, Mabel drew a long breath and leaned back in her seat from the rigid position in which for the last half-hour she had been staring out at the wonderful sight. She seemed to herself to have assimilated it at last, to be herself once more, to have drunk her fill of the triumph and the beauty. She was as one who looks upon a summer sea on the morning after a storm. And now the climax was at hand.
From end to end and side to side the interior of the Abbey presented a great broken mosaic of human faces; living slopes, walls, sections and curves. The south transept directly opposite to her, from pavement to rose window, was one sheet of heads; the floor was paved with them, cut in two by the scarlet of the gangway leading from the chapel of St. Faith—on the right, the choir beyond the open space before the sanctuary was a mass of white figures, scarved and surpliced; the high organ gallery, beneath which the screen had been removed, was crowded with them, and, far down beneath, the dim nave stretched the same endless pale living pavement to the shadow beneath the west window. Between every group of columns behind the choir-stalls, before her, to right, left, and behind, were platforms contrived in the masonry; and the exquisite roof, fan-tracery and soaring capital, alone gave the eye an escape from humanity. The whole vast space was full, it seemed, of delicate sunlight that streamed in from the artificial light set outside each window, and poured the ruby and the purple and the blue from the old glass in long shafts of colour across the dusty air, and in broken patches on the faces and dresses behind. The murmur of ten thousand voices filled the place, supplying, it seemed, a solemn accompaniment to that melodious note that now pulsed above it. And finally, more significant than all, was the empty carpeted sanctuary at her feet, the enormous altar with its flight of steps, the gorgeous curtain and the great untenanted sedilia.
* * * * *
Mabel needed some such reassurance, for last night, until the coming of Oliver, had passed for her as a kind of appalling waking dream. From the first shock of what she had seen outside the church, through those hours of waiting, with the knowledge that this was the way in which the Spirit of Peace asserted its superiority, up to that last moment when, in her husband's arms, she had learned of the Fall of Rome, it had appeared to her as if her new world had suddenly corrupted about her. It was incredible, she told herself, that this ravening monster, dripping blood from claws and teeth, that had arisen roaring in the night, could be the Humanity that had become her God. She had thought revenge and cruelty and slaughter to be the brood of Christian superstition, dead and buried under the new-born angel of light, and now it seemed that the monsters yet stirred and lived. All the evening she had sat, walked, lain about her quiet house with the horror heavy about her, flinging open a window now and again in the icy air to listen with clenched hands to the cries and the roarings of the mob that raged in the streets beneath, the clanks, the yells and the hoots of the motor-trains that tore up from the country to swell the frenzy of the city—to watch the red glow of fire, the volumes of smoke that heaved up from the burning chapels and convents.
She had questioned, doubted, resisted her doubts, flung out frantic acts of faith, attempted to renew the confidence that she attained in her meditation, told herself that traditions died slowly; she had knelt, crying out to the spirit of peace that lay, as she knew so well, at the heart of man, though overwhelmed for the moment by evil passion. A line or two ran in her head from one of the old Victorian poets:
You doubt If any one Could think or bid it? How could it come about?... Who did it? Not men! Not here! Oh! not beneath the sun.... The torch that smouldered till the cup o'er-ran The wrath of God which is the wrath of Man!
She had even contemplated death, as she had told her husband—the taking of her own life, in a great despair with the world. Seriously she had thought of it; it was an escape perfectly in accord with her morality. The useless and agonising were put out of the world by common consent; the Euthanasia houses witnessed to it. Then why not she?... For she could not bear it!... Then Oliver had come, she had fought her way back to sanity and confidence; and the phantom had gone again.
How sensible and quiet he had been, she was beginning to tell herself now, as the quiet influence of this huge throng in this glorious place of worship possessed her once more—how reasonable in his explanation that man was even now only convalescent and therefore liable to relapse. She had told herself that again and again during the night, but it had been different when he had said so. His personality had once more prevailed; and the name of Felsenburgh had finished the work.
"If He were but here!" she sighed. But she knew He was far away.
* * * * *
It was not until a quarter to eleven that she understood that the crowds outside were clamouring for Him too, and that knowledge reassured her yet further. They knew, then, these wild tigers, where their redemption lay; they understood what was their ideal, even if they had not attained to it. Ah! if He were but here, there would be no more question: the sullen waves would sink beneath His call of peace, the hazy clouds lift, the rumble die to silence. But He was away—away on some strange business. Well; He knew His work. He would surely come soon again to His children who needed Him so terribly.
* * * * *
She had the good fortune to be alone in a crowd. Her neighbour, a grizzled old man with his daughters beyond, was her only neighbour, and a stranger. At her left rose up the red-covered barricade over which she could see the sanctuary and the curtain; and her seat in the tribune, raised some eight feet above the floor, removed her from any possibility of conversation. She was thankful for that: she did not want to talk; she wanted only to control her faculties in silence, to reassert her faith, to look out over this enormous throng gathered to pay homage to the great Spirit whom they had betrayed, to renew her own courage and faithfulness. She wondered what the preacher would say, whether there would be any note of penitence. Maternity was his subject—that benign aspect of universal life—tenderness, love, quiet, receptive, protective passion, the spirit that soothes rather than inspires, that busies itself with peaceful tasks, that kindles the lights and fires of home, that gives sleep, food and welcome....
The bell stopped, and in the instant before the music began she heard, clear above the murmur within, the roar of the crowds outside, who still demanded their God. Then, with a crash, the huge organ awoke, pierced by the cry of the trumpets and the maddening throb of drums. There was no delicate prelude here, no slow stirring of life rising through labyrinths of mystery to the climax of sight—here rather was full-orbed day, the high noon of knowledge and power, the dayspring from on high, dawning in mid-heaven. Her heart quickened to meet it, and her reviving confidence, still convalescent, stirred and smiled, as the tremendous chords blared overhead, telling of triumph full-armed. God was man, then, after all—a God who last night had faltered for an hour, but who rose again on this morning of a new year, scattering mists, dominant over his own passion, all-compelling and all-beloved. God was man, and Felsenburgh his Incarnation! Yes, she must believe that! She did believe that!
Then she saw how already the long procession was winding up beneath the screen, and by imperceptible art the light grew yet more acutely beautiful. They were coming, then, those ministers of a pure worship; grave men who knew in what they believed, and who, even if they did not at this moment thrill with feeling (for she knew that in this respect her husband for one did not), yet believed the principles of this worship and recognised their need of expression for the majority of mankind—coming slowly up in fours and pairs and units, led by robed vergers, rippling over the steps, and emerging again into the coloured sunlight in all their bravery of Masonic apron, badge and jewel. Surely here was reassurance enough.
* * * * *
The sanctuary now held a figure or two. Anxious-faced Mr. Francis, in his robes of office, came gravely down the steps and stood awaiting the procession, directing with almost imperceptible motions his satellites who hovered about the aisles ready to point this way and that to the advancing stream; and the western-most seats were already beginning to fill, when on a sudden she recognised that something had happened.
Just now the roaring of the mob outside had provided a kind of underbass to the music within, imperceptible except to sub-consciousness, but clearly discernible in its absence; and this absence was now a fact.
At first she thought that the signal of beginning worship had hushed them; and then, with an indescribable thrill, she remembered that in all her knowledge only one thing had ever availed to quiet a turbulent crowd. Yet she was not sure; it might be an illusion. Even now the mob might be roaring still, and she only deaf to it; but again with an ecstasy that was very near to agony she perceived that the murmur of voices even within the building had ceased, and that some great wave of emotion was stirring the sheets and slopes of faces before her as a wind stirs wheat. A moment later, and she was on her feet, gripping the rail, with her heart like an over-driven engine beating pulses of blood, furious and insistent, through every vein; for with great rushing surge that sounded like a sigh, heard even above the triumphant tumult overhead, the whole enormous assemblage had risen to its feet.
Confusion seemed to break out in the orderly procession. She saw Mr. Francis run forward quickly, gesticulating like a conductor, and at his signal the long line swayed forward, split, recoiled, and again slid swiftly forward, breaking as it did so into twenty streams that poured along the seats and filled them in a moment. Men ran and pushed, aprons flapped, hands beckoned, all without coherent words. There was a knocking of feet, the crash of an overturned chair, and then, as if a god had lifted his hand for quiet, the music ceased abruptly, sending a wild echo that swooned and died in a moment; a great sigh filled its place, and, in the coloured sunshine that lay along the immense length of the gangway that ran open now from west to east, far down in the distant nave, a single figure was seen advancing.
What Mabel saw and heard and felt from eleven o'clock to half-an-hour after noon on that first morning of the New Year she could never adequately remember. For the time she lost the continuous consciousness of self, the power of reflection, for she was still weak from her struggle; there was no longer in her the process by which events are stored, labelled and recorded; she was no more than a being who observed as it were in one long act, across which considerations played at uncertain intervals. Eyes and ear seemed her sole functions, communicating direct with a burning heart.
* * * * *
She did not even know at what point her senses told her that this was Felsenburgh. She seemed to have known it even before he entered, and she watched Him as in complete silence He came deliberately up the red carpet, superbly alone, rising a step or two at the entrance of the choir, passing on and up before her. He was in his English judicial dress of scarlet and black, but she scarcely noticed it. For her, too, no one else existed but, He; this vast assemblage was gone, poised and transfigured in one vibrating atmosphere of an immense human emotion. There was no one, anywhere, but Julian Felsenburgh. Peace and light burned like a glory about Him.
For an instant after passing he disappeared beyond the speaker's tribune, and the instant after reappeared once more, coming up the steps. He reached his place—she could see His profile beneath her and slightly to the left, pure and keen as the blade of a knife, beneath His white hair. He lifted one white-furred sleeve, made a single motion, and with a surge and a rumble, the ten thousand were seated. He motioned again and with a roar they were on their feet.
Again there was a silence. He stood now, perfectly still, His hands laid together on the rail, and His face looking steadily before Him; it seemed as if He who had drawn all eyes and stilled all sounds were waiting until His domination were complete, and there was but one will, one desire, and that beneath His hand. Then He began to speak....
* * * * *
In this again, as Mabel perceived afterwards, there was no precise or verbal record within her of what he said; there was no conscious process by which she received, tested, or approved what she heard. The nearest image under which she could afterwards describe her emotions to herself, was that when He spoke it was she who was speaking. Her own thoughts, her predispositions, her griefs, her disappointment, her passion, her hopes—all these interior acts of the soul known scarcely even to herself, down even, it seemed, to the minutest whorls and eddies of thought, were, by this man, lifted up, cleansed, kindled, satisfied and proclaimed. For the first time in her life she became perfectly aware of what human nature meant; for it was her own heart that passed out upon the air, borne on that immense voice. Again, as once before for a few moments in Paul's House, it seemed that creation, groaning so long, had spoken articulate words at last—had come to growth and coherent thought and perfect speech. Yet then He had spoken to men; now it was Man Himself speaking. It was not one man who spoke there, it was Man—Man conscious of his origin, his destiny, and his pilgrimage between, Man sane again after a night of madness—knowing his strength, declaring his law, lamenting in a voice as eloquent as stringed instruments his own failure to correspond. It was a soliloquy rather than an oration. Rome had fallen, English and Italian streets had run with blood, smoke and flame had gone up to heaven, because man had for an instant sunk back to the tiger. Yet it was done, cried the great voice, and there was no repentance; it was done, and ages hence man must still do penance and flush scarlet with shame to remember that once he turned his back on the risen light.
There was no appeal to the lurid, no picture of the tumbling palaces, the running figures, the coughing explosions, the shaking of the earth and the dying of the doomed. It was rather with those hot hearts shouting in the English and German streets, or aloft in the winter air of Italy, the ugly passions that warred there, as the volors rocked at their stations, generating and fulfilling revenge, paying back plot with plot, and violence with violence. For there, cried the voice, was man as he had been, fallen in an instant to the cruel old ages before he had learned what he was and why.
There was no repentance, said the voice again, but there was something better; and as the hard, stinging tones melted, the girl's dry eyes of shame filled in an instant with tears. There was something better—the knowledge of what crimes man was yet capable of, and the will to use that knowledge. Rome was gone, and it was a lamentable shame; Rome was gone, and the air was the sweeter for it; and then in an instant, like the soar of a bird, He was up and away—away from the horrid gulf where He had looked just now, from the fragments of charred bodies, and tumbled houses and all the signs of man's disgrace, to the pure air and sunlight to which man must once more set his face. Yet He bore with Him in that wonderful flight the dew of tears and the aroma of earth. He had not spared words with which to lash and whip the naked human heart, and He did not spare words to lift up the bleeding, shrinking thing, and comfort it with the divine vision of love....
Historically speaking, it was about forty minutes before He turned to the shrouded image behind the altar.
"Oh! Maternity!" he cried. "Mother of us all—-"
And then, to those who heard Him, the supreme miracle took place.... For it seemed now in an instant that it was no longer man who spoke, but One who stood upon the stage of the superhuman. The curtain ripped back, as one who stood by it tore, panting, at the strings; and there, it seemed, face to face stood the Mother above the altar, huge, white and protective, and the Child, one passionate incarnation of love, crying to her from the tribune.
"Oh! Mother of us all, and Mother of Me!"
So He praised her to her face, that sublime principle of life, declared her glories and her strength, her Immaculate Motherhood, her seven swords of anguish driven through her heart by the passion and the follies of her Son—He promised her great things, the recognition of her countless children, the love and service of the unborn, the welcome of those yet quickening within the womb. He named her the Wisdom of the Most High, that sweetly orders all things, the Gate of Heaven, House of Ivory, Comforter of the afflicted, Queen of the World; and, to the delirious eyes of those who looked on her it seemed that the grave face smiled to hear Him....
A great panting as of some monstrous life began to fill the air as the mob swayed behind Him, and the torrential voice poured on. Waves of emotion swept up and down; there were cries and sobs, the yelping of a man beside himself at last, from somewhere among the crowded seats, the crash of a bench, and another and another, and the gangways were full, for He no longer held them passive to listen; He was rousing them to some supreme act. The tide crawled nearer, and the faces stared no longer at the Son but the Mother; the girl in the gallery tore at the heavy railing, and sank down sobbing upon her knees. And above all the voice pealed on—and the thin hands blanched to whiteness strained from the wide and sumptuous sleeves as if to reach across the sanctuary itself.
It was a new tale He was telling now, and all to her glory. He was from the East, now they knew, come from some triumph. He had been hailed as King, adored as Divine, as was meet and right—He, the humble superhuman son of a Human Mother—who bore not a sword but peace, not a cross but a crown. So it seemed He was saying; yet no man there knew whether He said it or not—whether the voice proclaimed it, or their hearts asserted it. He was on the steps of the sanctuary now, still with outstretched hands and pouring words, and the mob rolled after him to the rumble of ten thousand feet and the sighing of ten thousand hearts.... He was at the altar; He was upon it. Again in one last cry, as the crowd broke against the steps beneath, He hailed her Queen and Mother.
The end came in a moment, swift and inevitable. And for an instant, before the girl in the gallery sank down, blind with tears, she saw the tiny figure poised there at the knees of the huge image, beneath the expectant hands, silent and transfigured in the blaze of light. The Mother, it seemed, had found her Son at last.
For an instant she saw it, the soaring columns, the gilding and the colours, the swaying heads, the tossing hands. It was a sea that heaved before her, lights went up and down, the rose window whirled overhead, presences filled the air, heaven flashed away, and the earth shook it ecstasy. Then in the heavenly light, to the crash of drums, above the screaming of the women and the battering of feet, in one thunder-peal of worship ten thousand voices hailed Him Lord and God.
BOOK III-THE VICTORY
The little room where the new Pope sat reading was a model of simplicity. Its walls were whitewashed, its roof unpolished rafters, and its floor beaten mud. A square table stood in the centre, with a chair beside it; a cold brazier laid for lighting, stood in the wide hearth; a bookshelf against the wall held a dozen volumes. There were three doors, one leading to the private oratory, one to the ante-room, and the third to the little paved court. The south windows were shuttered, but through the ill-fitting hinges streamed knife-blades of fiery light from the hot Eastern day outside.
It was the time of the mid-day siesta, and except for the brisk scything of the cicade from the hill-slope behind the house, all was in deep silence.
* * * * *
The Pope, who had dined an hour before, had hardly shifted His attitude in all that time, so intent was He upon His reading. For the while, all was put away, His own memory of those last three months, the bitter anxiety, the intolerable load of responsibility. The book He held was a cheap reprint of the famous biography of Julian Felsenburgh, issued a month before, and He was now drawing to an end.
It was a terse, well-written book, composed by an unknown hand, and some even suspected it to be the disguised work of Felsenburgh himself. More, however, considered that it was written at least with Felsenburgh's consent by one of that small body of intimates whom he had admitted to his society—that body which under him now conducted the affairs of West and East. From certain indications in the book it had been argued that its actual writer was a Westerner.
The main body of the work dealt with his life, or rather with those two or three years known to the world, from his rapid rise in American politics and his mediation in the East down to the event of five months ago, when in swift succession he had been hailed Messiah in Damascus, had been formally adored in London, and finally elected by an extraordinary majority to the Tribuniciate of the two Americas.
The Pope had read rapidly through these objective facts, for He knew them well enough already, and was now studying with close attention the summary of his character, or rather, as the author rather sententiously explained, the summary of his self-manifestation to the world. He read the description of his two main characteristics, his grasp upon words and facts; "words, the daughters of earth, were wedded in this man to facts, the sons of heaven, and Superman was their offspring." His minor characteristics, too, were noticed, his appetite for literature, his astonishing memory, his linguistic powers. He possessed, it appeared, both the telescopic and the microscopic eye—he discerned world-wide tendencies and movements on the one hand; he had a passionate capacity for detail on the other. Various anecdotes illustrated these remarks, and a number of terse aphorisms of his were recorded. "No man forgives," he said; "he only understands." "It needs supreme faith to renounce a transcendent God." "A man who believes in himself is almost capable of believing in his neighbour." Here was a sentence that to the Pope's mind was significant of that sublime egotism that is alone capable of confronting the Christian spirit: and again, "To forgive a wrong is to condone a crime," and "The strong man is accessible to no one, but all are accessible to him."
There was a certain pompousness in this array of remarks, but it lay, as the Pope saw very well, not in the speaker but in the scribe. To him who had seen the speaker it was plain how they had been uttered—with no pontifical solemnity, but whirled out in a fiery stream of eloquence, or spoken with that strangely moving simplicity that had constituted his first assault on London. It was possible to hate Felsenburgh, and to fear him; but never to be amused at him.
But plainly the supreme pleasure of the writer was to trace the analogy between his hero and nature. In both there was the same apparent contradictoriness—the combination of utter tenderness and utter ruthlessness. "The power that heals wounds also inflicts them: that clothes the dungheap with sweet growths and grasses, breaks, too, into fire and earthquake; that causes the partridge to die for her young, also makes the shrike with his living larder." So, too, with Felsenburgh; He who had wept over the Fall of Rome, a month later had spoken of extermination as an instrument that even now might be judicially used in the service of humanity. Only it must be used with deliberation, not with passion.
The utterance had aroused extraordinary interest, since it seemed so paradoxical from one who preached peace and toleration; and argument had broken out all over the world. But beyond enforcing the dispersal of the Irish Catholics, and the execution of a few individuals, so far that utterance had not been acted upon. Yet the world seemed as a whole to have accepted it, and even now to be waiting for its fulfilment.
As the biographer pointed out, the world enclosed in physical nature should welcome one who followed its precepts, one who was indeed the first to introduce deliberately and confessedly into human affairs such laws as those of the Survival of the Fittest and the immorality of forgiveness. If there was mystery in the one, there was mystery in the other, and both must be accepted if man was to develop.
And the secret of this, it seemed, lay in His personality. To see Him was to believe in Him, or rather to accept Him as inevitably true. "We do not explain nature or escape from it by sentimental regrets: the bare cries like a child, the wounded stag weeps great tears, the robin kills his parents; life exists only on condition of death; and these things happen however we may weave theories that explain nothing. Life must be accepted on those terms; we cannot be wrong if we follow nature; rather to accept them is to find peace—our great mother only reveals her secrets to those who take her as she is." So, too, with Felsenburgh. "It is not for us to discriminate: His personality is of a kind that does not admit it. He is complete and sufficing for those who trust Him and are willing to suffer; an hostile and hateful enigma to those who are not. We must prepare ourselves for the logical outcome of this doctrine. Sentimentality must not be permitted to dominate reason."
Finally, then, the writer showed how to this Man belonged properly all those titles hitherto lavished upon imagined Supreme Beings. It was in preparation for Him that these types came into the realms of thought and influenced men's lives.
He was the Creator, for it was reserved for Him to bring into being the perfect life of union to which all the world had hitherto groaned in vain; it was in His own image and likeness that He had made man.
Yet He was the Redeemer too, for that likeness had in one sense always underlain the tumult of mistake and conflict. He had brought man out of darkness and the shadow of death, guiding their feet into the way of peace. He was the Saviour for the same reason—the Son of Man, for He alone was perfectly human; He was the Absolute, for He was the content of Ideals; the Eternal, for He had lain always in nature's potentiality and secured by His being the continuity of that order; the Infinite, for all finite things fell short of Him who was more than their sum.
He was Alpha, then, and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last. He was Dominus et Deus noster (as Domitian had been, the Pope reflected). He was as simple and as complex as life itself—simple in its essence, complex in its activities.
And last of all, the supreme proof of His mission lay in the immortal nature of His message. There was no more to be added to what He had brought to light—for in Him all diverging lines at last found their origin and their end. As to whether or no He would prove to be personally immortal was an wholly irrelevant thought; it would be indeed fitting if through His means the vital principle should disclose its last secret; but no more than fitting. Already His spirit was in the world; the individual was no more separate from his fellows; death no more than a wrinkle that came and went across the inviolable sea. For man had learned at last that the race was all and self was nothing; the cell had discovered the unity of the body; even, the greatest thinkers declared, the consciousness of the individual had yielded the title of Personality to the corporate mass of man—and the restlessness of the unit had sunk into the peace of a common Humanity, for nothing but this could explain the cessation of party strife and national competition—and this, above all, had been the work of Felsenburgh.
"Behold I am with you always," quoted the writer in a passionate peroration, "even now in the consummation of the world; and, the Comforter is come unto you. I am the Door—the Way, the Truth and the Life—the Bread of Life and the Water of Life. My name is Wonderful, the Prince of Peace, the Father Everlasting. It is I who am the Desire of all nations, the fairest among the children of men—and of my Kingdom there shall be no end."
The Pope laid down the book, and leaned back, closing his eyes.
And as for Himself, what had He to say to all this? A Transcendent God Who hid Himself, a Divine Saviour Who delayed to come, a Comforter heard no longer in wind nor seen in fire!
There, in the next room, was a little wooden altar, and above it an iron box, and within that box a silver cup, and within that cup—Something. Outside the house, a hundred yards away, lay the domes and plaster roofs of a little village called Nazareth; Carmel was on the right, a mile or two away, Thabor on the left, the plain of Esdraelon in front; and behind, Cana and Galilee, and the quiet lake, and Hermon. And far away to the south lay Jerusalem....
It was to this tiny strip of holy land that the Pope had come—the land where a Faith had sprouted two thousand years ago, and where, unless God spoke in fire from heaven, it would presently be cut down as a cumberer of the ground. It was here on this material earth that One had walked Whom all men had thought to have been He Who would redeem Israel—in this village that He had fetched water and made boxes and chairs, on that long lake that His Feet had walked, on that high hill that He had flamed in glory, on that smooth, low mountain to the north that He had declared that the meek were blessed and should inherit the earth, that peacemakers were the children of God, that they who hungered and thirsted should be satisfied.
And now it was come to this. Christianity had smouldered away from Europe like a sunset on darkening peaks; Eternal Rome was a heap of ruins; in East and West alike a man had been set upon the throne of God, had been acclaimed as divine. The world had leaped forward; social science was supreme; men had learned consistency; they had learned, too, the social lessons of Christianity apart from a Divine Teacher, or, rather, they said, in spite of Him. There were left, perhaps, three millions, perhaps five, at the utmost ten millions—it was impossible to know—throughout the entire inhabited globe who still worshipped Jesus Christ as God. And the Vicar of Christ sat in a whitewashed room in Nazareth, dressed as simply as His master, waiting for the end.
* * * * *
He had done what He could. There had been a week five months ago when it had been doubtful whether anything at all could be done. There were left three Cardinals alive, Himself, Steinmann, and the Patriarch of Jerusalem; the rest lay mangled somewhere in the ruins of Rome. There was no precedent to follow; so the two Europeans had made their way out to the East, and to the one town in it where quiet still reigned. With the disappearance of Greek Christianity there had also vanished the last remnants of internecine war in Christendom; and by a kind of tacit consent of the world, Christians were allowed a moderate liberty in Palestine. Russia, which now held the country as a dependency, had sufficient sentiment left to leave it alone; it was true that the holy places had been desecrated, and remained now only as spots of antiquarian interest; the altars were gone but the sites were yet marked, and, although mass could no longer be said there, it was understood that private oratories were not forbidden.
It was in this state that the two European Cardinals had found the Holy City; it was not thought wise to wear insignia of any description in public; and it was practically certain even now that the civilised world was unaware of their existence; for within three days of their arrival the old Patriarch had died, yet not before Percy Franklin, surely under the strangest circumstances since those of the first century, had been elected to the Supreme Pontificate. It had all been done in a few minutes by the dying man's bedside. The two old men had insisted. The German bad even recurred once more to the strange resemblance between Percy and Julian Felsenburgh, and had murmured his old half-heard remarks about the antithesis, and the Finger of God; and Percy, marvelling at his superstition, had accepted, and the election was recorded. He had taken the name of Silvester, the last saint in the year, and was the third of that title. He had then retired to Nazareth with his chaplain; Steinmann had gone back to Germany, and been hanged in a riot within a fortnight of his arrival.
The next matter was the creation of new cardinals, and to twenty persons, with infinite precautions, briefs had been conveyed. Of these, nine had declined; three more had been approached, of whom only one had accepted. There were therefore at this moment twelve persons in the world who constituted the Sacred College—two Englishmen, of whom Corkran was one; two Americans, a Frenchman, a German, an Italian, a Spaniard, a Pole, a Chinaman, a Greek, and a Russian. To these were entrusted vast districts over which their control was supreme, subject only to the Holy Father Himself.
As regarded the Pope's own life very little need be said. It resembled, He thought, in its outward circumstances that of such a man as Leo the Great, without His worldly importance or pomp. Theoretically, the Christian world was under His dominion; practically, Christian affairs were administered by local authorities. It was impossible for a hundred reasons for Him to do what He wished with regard to the exchange of communications. An elaborate cypher had been designed, and a private telegraphic station organised on His roof communicating with another in Damascus where Cardinal Corkran had fixed his residence; and from that centre messages occasionally were despatched to ecclesiastical authorities elsewhere; but, for the most part, there was little to be done. The Pope, however, had the satisfaction of knowing that, with incredible difficulty, a little progress had been made towards the reorganisation of the hierarchy in all countries. Bishops were being consecrated freely; there were not less than two thousand of them all told, and of priests an unknown number. The Order of Christ Crucified was doing excellent work, and the tales of not less than four hundred martyrdoms had reached Nazareth during the last two months, accomplished mostly at the hands of the mobs.
In other respects, also, as well as in the primary object of the Order's existence (namely, the affording of an opportunity to all who loved God to dedicate themselves to Him more perfectly), the new Religious were doing good work. The more perilous tasks—the work of communication between prelates, missions to persons of suspected integrity—all the business, in fact, which was carried on now at the vital risk of the agent were entrusted solely to members of the Order. Stringent instructions had been issued from Nazareth that no bishop was to expose himself unnecessarily; each was to regard himself as the heart of his diocese to be protected at all costs save that of Christian honour, and in consequence each had surrounded himself with a group of the new Religious—men and women—who with extraordinary and generous obedience undertook such dangerous tasks as they were capable of performing. It was plain enough by now that had it not been for the Order, the Church would have been little better than paralysed under these new conditions.
Extraordinary facilities were being issued in all directions. Every priest who belonged to the Order received universal jurisdiction subject to the bishop, if any, of the diocese in which he might be; mass might be said on any day of the year of the Five Wounds, or the Resurrection, or Our Lady; and all had the privilege of the portable altar, now permitted to be wood. Further ritual requirements were relaxed; mass might be said with any decent vessels of any material capable of destruction, such as glass or china; bread of any description might be used; and no vestments were obligatory except the thin thread that now represented the stole; lights were non-essential; none need wear the clerical habit; and rosary, even without beads, was always permissible instead of the Office.
In this manner priests were rendered capable of giving the sacraments and offering the holy sacrifice at the least possible risk to themselves; and these relaxations had already proved of enormous benefit in the European prisons, where by this time many thousands of Catholics were undergoing the penalty of refusing public worship.
* * * * *
The Pope's private life was as simple as His room. He had one Syrian priest for His chaplain, and two Syrian servants. He said His mass each morning, Himself wearing vestments and His white habit beneath, and heard a mass after. He then took His coffee, after changing into the tunic and burnous of the country, and spent the morning over business. He dined at noon, slept, and rode out, for the country by reason of its indeterminate position was still in the simplicity of a hundred years ago. He returned at dusk, supped, and worked again till late into the night.
That was all. His chaplain sent what messages were necessary to Damascus; His servants, themselves ignorant of His dignity, dealt with the secular world so far as was required, and the utmost that seemed to be known to His few neighbours was that there lived in the late Sheikh's little house on the hill an eccentric European with a telegraph office. His servants, themselves devout Catholics, knew Him for a bishop, but no more than that. They were told only that there was yet a Pope alive, and with that and the sacraments were content.
To sum up, therefore—the Catholic world knew that their Pope lived under the name of Silvester; and thirteen persons of the entire human race knew that Franklin had been His name, and that the throne of Peter rested for the time in Nazareth.
It was, as a Frenchman had said, just a hundred years ago. Catholicism survived; but no more.
And as for His inner life, what can be said of that? He lay now back in his wooden chair, thinking with closed eyes.
He could not have described it consistently even to Himself, for indeed He scarcely knew it: He acted rather than indulged in reflex thought. But the centre of His position was simple faith. The Catholic Religion, He knew well enough, gave the only adequate explanation of the universe; it did not unlock all mysteries, but it unlocked more than any other key known to man; He knew, too, perfectly well, that it was the only system of thought that satisfied man as a whole, and accounted for him in his essential nature. Further, He saw well enough that the failure of Christianity to unite all men one to another rested not upon its feebleness but its strength; its lines met in eternity, not in time. Besides, He happened to believe it.
But to this foreground there were other moods whose shifting was out of his control. In his exalt moods, which came upon Him like a breeze from Paradise, the background was bright with hope and drama—He saw Himself and His companions as Peter and the Apostles must have regarded themselves, as they proclaimed through the world, in temples, slums, market-places and private houses, the faith that was to shake and transform the world. They had handled the Lord of Life, seen the empty sepulchre, grasped the pierced hands of Him Who was their brother and their God. It was radiantly true, though not a man believed it; the huge superincumbent weight of incredulity could not disturb a fact that was as the sun in heaven. Moreover, the very desperateness of the cause was their inspiration. There was no temptation to lean upon the arm of flesh, for there was none that fought for them but God. Their nakedness was their armour, their slow tongues their persuasiveness, their weakness demanded God's strength, and found it. Yet there was this difference, and it was a significant one. For Peter the spiritual world had an interpretation and a guarantee in the outward events he had witnessed. He had handled the Risen Christ, the external corroborated the internal. But for Silvester it was not so. For Him it was necessary so to grasp spiritual truths in the supernatural sphere that the external events of the Incarnation were proved by rather than proved the certitude of His spiritual apprehension. Certainly, historically speaking, Christianity was true—proved by its records—yet to see that needed illumination. He apprehended the power of the Resurrection, therefore Christ was risen.
Therefore in heavier moods it was different with him. There were periods, lasting sometimes for days together, clouding Him when He awoke, stifling Him as He tried to sleep, dulling the very savour of the Sacrament and the thrill of the Precious Blood; times in which the darkness was so intolerable that even the solid objects of faith attenuated themselves to shadow, when half His nature was blind not only to Christ, but to God Himself, and the reality of His own existence—when His own awful dignity seemed as the insignia of a fool. And was it conceivable, His earthly mind demanded, that He and His college of twelve and His few thousands should be right, and the entire consensus of the civilised world wrong? It was not that the world had not heard the message of the Gospel; it had heard little else for two thousand years, and now pronounced it false—false in its external credentials, and false therefore in its spiritual claims. It was a lost cause for which He suffered; He was not the last of an august line, He was the smoking wick of a candle of folly; He was the reductio ad absurdam of a ludicrous syllogism based on impossible premises. He was not worth killing, He and His company of the insane—they were no more than the crowned dunces of the world's school. Sanity sat on the solid benches of materialism. And this heaviness waxed so dark sometimes that He almost persuaded Himself that His faith was gone; the clamours of mind so loud that the whisper of the heart was unheard, the desires for earthly peace so fierce that supernatural ambitions were silenced—so dense was the gloom, that, hoping against hope, believing against knowledge, and loving against truth, He cried as One other had cried on another day like this—Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani! ... But that, at least, He never failed to cry.
One thing alone gave Him power to go on, so far at least as His consciousness was concerned, and that was His meditation. He had travelled far in the mystical life since His agonies of effort. Now He used no deliberate descents into the spiritual world: He threw, as it were, His hands over His head, and dropped into spacelessness. Consciousness would draw Him up, as a cork, to the surface, but He would do no more than repeat His action, until by that cessation of activity, which is the supreme energy, He floated in the twilight realm of transcendence; and there God would deal with Him—now by an articulate sentence, now by a sword of pain, now by an air like the vivifying breath of the sea. Sometimes after Communion He would treat Him so, sometimes as He fell asleep, sometimes in the whirl of work. Yet His consciousness did not seem to retain for long such experiences; five minutes later, it might be, He would be wrestling once more with the all but sensible phantoms of the mind and the heart.
There He lay, then, in the chair, revolving the intolerable blasphemies that He had read. His white hair was thin upon His browned temples, His hands were as the hands of a spirit, and His young face lined and patched with sorrow. His bare feet protruded from beneath His stained tunic, and His old brown burnous lay on the floor beside Him....
It was an hour before He moved, and the sun had already lost half its fierceness, when the steps of the horses sounded in the paved court outside. Then He sat up, slipped His feet into their shoes, and lifted the burnous from the floor, as the door opened and the lean sun-burned priest came through.
"The horses, Holiness," said the man.
* * * * *
The Pope spoke not one word that afternoon, until the two came towards sunset up the bridle-path that leads between Thabor and Nazareth. They had taken their usual round through Cana, mounting a hillock from which the long mirror of Gennesareth could be seen, and passing on, always bearing to the right, under the shadow of Thabor until once more Esdraelon spread itself beneath like a grey-green carpet, a vast circle, twenty miles across, sprinkled sparsely with groups of huts, white walls and roofs, with Nain visible on the other side, Carmel heaving its long form far off on the right, and Nazareth nestling a mile or two away on the plateau on which they had halted.
It was a sight of extraordinary peace, and seemed an extract from some old picture-book designed centuries ago. Here was no crowd of roofs, no pressure of hot humanity, no terrible evidences of civilisation and manufactory and strenuous, fruitless effort. A few tired Jews had come back to this quiet little land, as old people may return to their native place, with no hope of renewing their youth, or refinding their ideals, but with a kind of sentimentality that prevails so often over more logical motives, and a few more barrack-like houses had been added here and there to the obscure villages in sight. But it was very much as it had been a hundred years ago.
The plain was half shadowed by Carmel, and half in dusty golden light. Overhead the clear Eastern sky was flushed with rose, as it had flushed for Abraham, Jacob, and the Son of David. There was no little cloud here, as a man's hand, over the sea, charged with both promise and terror; no sound of chariot-wheels from earth or heaven, no vision of heavenly horses such as a young man had seen thirty centuries ago in this very sky. Here was the old earth and the old heaven, unchanged and unchangeable; the patient, returning spring had starred the thin soil with flowers of Bethlehem, and those glorious lilies to which Solomon's scarlet garments might not be compared. There was no whisper from the Throne as when Gabriel had once stooped through this very air to hail Her who was blessed among women, no breath of promise or hope beyond that which God sends through every movement of His created robe of life.
As the two halted, and the horses looked out with steady, inquisitive eyes at the immensity of light and air beneath them, a soft hooting cry broke out, and a shepherd passed below along the hillside a hundred yards away, trailing his long shadow behind him, and to the mellow tinkle of bells his flock came after, a troop of obedient sheep and wilful goats, cropping and following and cropping again as they went on to the fold, called by name in that sad minor voice of him who knew each, and led instead of driving. The soft clanking grew fainter, the shadow of the shepherd shot once to their very feet, as he topped the rise, and vanished again as he stepped down once more; and the call grew fainter yet, and ceased.
* * * * *
The Pope lifted His hand to His eyes for an instant, then smoothed it down His face.
He nodded across to a dim patch of white walls glimmering through the violet haze of the falling twilight.
"That place, father," He said, "what is its name?"
The Syrian priest looked across, back once more at the Pope, and across again.
"That among the palms, Holiness?"
"That is Megiddo," he said. "Some call it Armageddon."
At twenty-three o'clock that night the Syrian priest went out to watch for the coming of the messenger from Tiberias. Nearly two hours previously he had heard the cry of the Russian volor that plied from Damascus to Tiberias, and Tiberias to Jerusalem, and even as it was the messenger was a little late.
These were very primitive arrangements, but Palestine was out of the world—a slip of useless country—and it was necessary for a man to ride from Tiberias to Nazareth each night with papers from Cardinal Corkran to the Pope, and to return with correspondence. It was a dangerous task, and the members of the New Order who surrounded the Cardinal undertook it by turns. In this manner all matters for which the Pope's personal attention was required, and which were too long and not too urgent, could be dealt with at leisure by him, and an answer returned within the twenty-four hours.
It was a brilliant moonlit night. The great golden shield was riding high above Thabor, shedding its strange metallic light down the long slopes and over the moor-like country that rose up from before the house-door—casting too heavy black shadows that seemed far more concrete and solid than the brilliant pale surfaces of the rock slabs or even than the diamond flashes from the quartz and crystal that here and there sparkled up the stony pathway. Compared with this clear splendour, the yellow light from the shuttered house seemed a hot and tawdry thing; and the priest, leaning against the door-post, his eyes alone alight in his dark face, sank down at last with a kind of Eastern sensuousness to bathe himself in the glory, and to spread his lean, brown hands out to it.
This was a very simple man, in faith as well as in life. For him there were neither the ecstasies nor the desolations of his master. It was an immense and solemn joy to him to live here at the spot of God's Incarnation and in attendance upon His Vicar. As regarded the movements of the world, he observed them as a man in a ship watches the heaving of the waves far beneath. Of course the world was restless, he half perceived, for, as the Latin Doctor had said, all hearts were restless until they found their rest in God. Quare fremuerunt gentes?... Adversus Dominum, et adversus Christum ejus! As to the end—he was not greatly concerned. It might well be that the ship would be overwhelmed, but the moment of the catastrophe would be the end of all things earthly. The gates of hell shall not prevail: when Rome falls, the world falls; and when the world falls, Christ is manifest in power. For himself, he imagined that the end was not far away. When he had named Megiddo this afternoon it had been in his mind; to him it seemed natural that at the consummation of all things Christ's Vicar should dwell at Nazareth where His King had come on earth—and that the Armageddon of the Divine John should be within sight of the scene where Christ had first taken His earthly sceptre and should take it again. After all, it would not be the first battle that Megiddo had seen. Israel and Amalek had met here; Israel and Assyria; Sesostris had ridden here and Sennacherib. Christian and Turk had contended here, like Michael and Satan, over the place where God's Body had lain. As to the exact method of that end, he had no clear views; it would be a battle of some kind, and what field could be found more evidently designed for that than this huge flat circular plain of Esdraelon, twenty miles across, sufficient to hold all the armies of the earth in its embrace? To his view once more, ignorant as he was of present statistics, the world was divided into two large sections, Christians and heathens, and he supposed them very much of a size. Something would happen, troops would land at Khaifa, they would stream southwards from Tiberias, Damascus and remote Asia, northwards from Jerusalem, Egypt and Africa; eastwards from Europe; westwards from Asia again and the far-off Americas. And, surely, the time could not be far away, for here was Christ's Vicar; and, as He Himself had said in His gospel of the Advent, Ubicumque fuerit corpus, illie congregabuntur et aquilae. Of more subtle interpretations of prophecy he had no knowledge. For him words were things, not merely labels upon ideas. What Christ and St. Paul and St. John had said—these things were so. He had escaped, owing chiefly to his isolation from the world, that vast expansion of Ritschlian ideas that during the last century had been responsible for the desertion by so many of any intelligible creed. For others this had been the supreme struggle—the difficulty of decision between the facts that words were not things, and yet that the things they represented were in themselves objective. But to this man, sitting now in the moonlight, listening to the far-off tap of hoofs over the hill as the messenger came up from Cana, faith was as simple as an exact science. Here Gabriel had descended on wide feathered wings from the Throne of God set beyond the stars, the Holy Ghost had breathed in a beam of ineffable light, the Word had become Flesh as Mary folded her arms and bowed her head to the decree of the Eternal. And here once more, he thought, though it was no more than a guess—yet he thought that already the running of chariot-wheels was audible—the tumult of the hosts of God gathering about the camp of the saints—he thought that already beyond the bars of the dark Gabriel set to his lips the trumpet of doom and heaven was astir. He might be wrong at this time, as others had been wrong at other times, but neither he nor they could be wrong for ever; there must some day be an end to the patience of God, even though that patience sprang from the eternity of His nature. He stood up, as down the pale moonlit path a hundred yards away came a pale figure of one who rode, with a leather bag strapped to his girdle.
It would be about three o'clock in the morning that the priest awoke in his little mud-walled room next to that of the Holy Father's, and heard a footstep coming up the stairs. Last evening he had left his master as usual beginning to open the pile of letters arrived from Cardinal Corkran, and himself had gone straight to his bed and slept. He lay now a moment or two, still drowsy, listening to the pad of feet, and an instant later sat up abruptly, for a deliberate tap had sounded on the door. Again it came; he sprang out of bed in his long night-tunic, drew it up hastily in his girdle, went to the door and opened it.
The Pope was standing there, with a little lamp in one hand, for the dawn had scarcely yet begun, and a paper in the other.
"I beg your pardon, Father; but there is a message I must have sent at once to his Eminence."
Together they went out through the Pope's room, the priest, still half-blind with sleep, passed up the stairs, and emerged into the clear cold air of the upper roof. The Pope blew out His lamp, and set it on the parapet.
"You will be cold, Father; fetch your cloak."
"And you, Holiness?"
The other made a little gesture of denial, and went across to the tiny temporary shed where the wireless telegraphic instrument stood.
"Fetch your cloak, Father," He said again over His shoulder. "I will ring up meanwhile."
When the priest came back three minutes later, in his slippers and cloak, carrying another cloak also for his master, the Pope was still seated at the table. He did not even move His head as the other came up, but once more pressed on the lever that, communicating with the twelve-foot pole that rose through the pent-house overhead, shot out the quivering energy through the eighty miles of glimmering air that lay between Nazareth and Damascus.
This simple priest had scarcely even by now become accustomed to this extraordinary device invented a century ago and perfected through all those years to this precise exactness—that device by which with the help of a stick, a bundle of wires, and a box of wheels, something, at last established to be at the root of all matter, if not at the very root of physical life, spoke across the spaces of the world to a tiny receiver tuned by a hair's breadth to the vibration with which it was set in relations.
The air was surprisingly cold, considering the heat that had preceded and would follow it, and the priest shivered a little as he stood clear of the roof, and stared, now at the motionless figure in the chair before him, now at the vast vault of the sky passing, even as he looked, from a cold colourless luminosity to a tender tint of yellow, as far away beyond Thabor and Moab the dawn began to deepen. From the village half-a-mile away arose the crowing of a cock, thin and brazen as a trumpet; a dog barked once and was silent again; and then, on a sudden, a single stroke upon a bell hung in the roof recalled him in an instant, and told him that his work was to begin.
The Pope pressed the lever again at the sound, twice, and then, after a pause, once more—waited a moment for an answer, and then when it came, rose and signed to the priest to take his place.
The Syrian sat down, handing the extra cloak to his master, and waited until the other had settled Himself in a chair set in such a position at the side of the table that the face of each was visible to the other. Then he waited, with his brown fingers poised above the row of keys, looking at the other's face as He arranged himself to speak. That face, he thought, looking out from the hood, seemed paler than ever in this cold light of dawn; the black arched eyebrows accentuated this, and even the steady lips, preparing to speak, seemed white and bloodless. He had His paper in His hand, and His eyes were fixed upon this.
"Make sure it is the Cardinal," he said abruptly.
The priest tapped off an enquiry, and, with moving lips, raid off the printed message, as like magic it precipitated itself on to the tall white sheet of paper that faced him.
"It is his Eminence, Holiness," he said softly. "He is alone at the instrument."
"Very well. Now then; begin."
"We have received your Eminence's letter, and have noted the news.... It should have been forwarded by telegraphy—why was that not done?"
The voice paused, and the priest who had snapped off the message, more quickly than a man could write it, read aloud the answer.
"'I did not understand that it was urgent. I thought it was but one more assault. I had intended to communicate more so soon as I heard more."'
"Of course it was urgent," came the voice again in the deliberate intonation that was used between these two in the case of messages for transmission. "Remember that all news of this kind is always urgent."
"'I will remember,' read the priest. " 'I regret my mistake.'"
"You tell us," went on the Pope, His eyes still downcast on the paper, "that this measure is decided upon; you name only three authorities. Give me, now, all the authorities you have, if you have more."
There was a moment's pause. Then the priest began to read off the names.
"Besides the three Cardinals whose names I sent, the Archbishops of Thibet, Cairo, Calcutta and Sydney have all asked if the news was true, and for directions if it is true; besides others whose names I can communicate if I may leave the table for a moment.'"
"Do so," said the Pope.
Again there was a pause. Then once more the names began.
"'The Bishops of Bukarest, the Marquesas Islands and Newfoundland. The Franciscans in Japan, the Crutched Friars in Morocco, the Archbishops of Manitoba and Portland, and the Cardinal-Archbisbop of Pekin. I have despatched two members of Christ Crucified to England.'"
"Tell us when the news first arrived, and how."
"'I was called up to the instrument yesterday evening at about twenty o'clock. The Archbishop of Sydney was asking, through our station at Bombay, whether the news was true. I replied I had heard nothing of it. Within ten minutes four more inquiries had come to the same effect; and three minutes later Cardinal Ruspoli sent the positive news from Turin. This was accompanied by a similar message from Father Petrovski in Moscow. Then—- '"
"Stop. Why did not Cardinal Dolgorovski communicate it?"
"'He did communicate it three hours later.'"
"Why not at once?"
"'His Eminence had not heard it.'"
"Find out at what hour the news reached Moscow—not now, but within the day."
"Go on, then."
"'Cardinal Malpas communicated it within five minutes of Cardinal Ruspoli, and the rest of the inquiries arrived before midnight. China reported it at twenty-three.'"
"Then when do you suppose the news was made public?"
"'It was decided first at the secret London conference, yesterday, at about sixteen o'clock by our time. The Plenipotentiaries appear to have signed it at that hour. After that it was communicated to the world. It was published here half an hour past midnight.'"
"Then Felsenburgh was in London?"
"'I am not yet sure. Cardinal Malpas tells me that Felsenburgh gave his provisional consent on the previous day.'"
"Very good. That is all you know, then?"
"'I was called up an hour ago by Cardinal Ruspoli again. He tells me that he fears a riot in Florence; it will be the first of many revolutions, he says.'"
"Does he ask for anything?"
"'Only for directions.'"
"Tell him that we send him the Apostolic Benediction, and will forward directions within the course of two hours. Select twelve members of the Order for immediate service."
"Communicate that message also, as soon as we have finished, to all the Sacred College, and bid them communicate it with all discretion to all metropolitans and bishops, that priests and people may know that We bear them in our heart."
"'I will, Holiness.'"
"Tell them, finally, that We had foreseen this long ago; that We commend them to the Eternal Father without Whose Providence no sparrow falls to the ground. Bid them be quiet and confident; to do nothing, save confess their faith when they are questioned. All other directions shall be issued to their pastors immediately!"
"'I will, Holiness.'"
* * * * *
There was again a pause.
The Pope had been speaking with the utmost tranquillity as one in a dream. His eyes were downcast upon the paper, His whole body as motionless as an image. Yet to the priest who listened, despatching the Latin messages, and reading aloud the replies, it seemed, although so little intelligible news had reached him, as if something very strange and great was impending. There was the sense of a peculiar strain in the air, and although he drew no deductions from the fact that apparently the whole Catholic world was in frantic communication with Damascus, yet he remembered his meditations of the evening before as he had waited for the messenger. It seemed as if the powers of this world were contemplating one more step—with its nature he was not greatly concerned.
The Pope spoke again in His natural voice.
"Father," he said, "what I am about to say now is as if I told it in confession. You understand?—Very well. Now begin."
Then again the intonation began.
"Eminence. We shall say mass of the Holy Ghost in one hour from now. At the end of that time, you will cause that all the Sacred College shall be in touch with yourself, and waiting for our commands. This new decision is unlike any that have preceded it. Surely you understand that now. Two or three plans are in our mind, yet We are not sure yet which it is that our Lord intends. After mass We shall communicate to you that which He shall show Us to be according to His Will. We beg of you to say mass also, immediately, for Our intention. Whatever must be done must be done quickly. The matter of Cardinal Dolgorovski you may leave until later. But we wish to hear the result of your inquiries, especially in London, before mid-day. Benedicat te Omnipotens Deus, Pater et Filius et Spiritus Sanctus."
"'Amen!'" murmured the priest, reading it from the sheet.
The little chapel in the house below was scarcely more dignified than the other rooms. Of ornaments, except those absolutely essential to liturgy and devotion, there were none. In the plaster of the walls were indented in slight relief the fourteen stations of the Cross; a small stone image of the Mother of God stood in a corner, with an iron-work candlestick before it, and on the solid uncarved stone altar, raised on a stone step, stood six more iron candlesticks and an iron crucifix. A tabernacle, also of iron, shrouded by linen curtains, stood beneath the cross; a small stone slab projecting from the wall served as a credence. There was but one window, and this looked into the court, so that the eyes of strangers might not penetrate.
It seemed to the Syrian priest as he went about his business—laying out the vestments in the little sacristy that opened out at one side of the altar, preparing the cruets and stripping the covering from the altar-cloth—that even that slight work was wearying. There seemed a certain oppression in the air. As to how far that was the result of his broken rest he did not know, but he feared that it was one more of those scirocco days that threatened. That yellowish tinge of dawn had not passed with the sun-rising; even now, as he went noiselessly on his bare feet between the predella and the prie-dieu where the silent white figure was still motionless, he caught now and again, above the roof across the tiny court, a glimpse of that faint sand-tinged sky that was the promise of beat and heaviness.
He finished at last, lighted the candles, genuflected, and stood with bowed head waiting for the Holy Father to rise from His knees. A servant's footstep sounded in the court, coming across to hear mass, and simultaneously the Pope rose and went towards the sacristy, where the red vestments of God who came by fire were laid ready for the Sacrifice.
* * * * *
Silvester's bearing at mass was singularly unostentatious. He moved as swiftly as any young priest, His voice was quite even and quite low, and his pace neither rapid nor pompous. According to tradition, He occupied half-an-hour ab amictu ad amictum; and even in the tiny empty chapel He observed to keep His eyes always downcast. And yet this Syrian never served His mass without a thrill of something resembling fear; it was not only his knowledge of the awful dignity of this simple celebrant; but, although he could not have expressed it so, there was an aroma of an emotion about the vestmented figure that affected him almost physically—an entire absence of self-consciousness, and in its place the consciousness of some other Presence, a perfection of manner even in the smallest details that could only arise from absolute recollection. Even in Rome in the old days it had been one of the sights of Rome to see Father Franklin say mass; seminary students on the eve of ordination were sent to that sight to learn the perfect manner and method.
To-day all was as usual, but at the Communion the priest looked up suddenly at the moment when the Host had been consumed, with a half impression that either a sound or a gesture had invited it; and, as he looked, his heart began to beat thick and convulsive at the base of his throat. Yet to the outward eyes there was nothing unusual. The figure stood there with bowed head, the chin resting on the tips of the long fingers, the body absolutely upright, and standing with that curious light poise as if no weight rested upon the feet. But to the inner sense something was apparent the Syrian could not in the least formulate it to himself; but afterwards he reflected that he had stared expecting some visible or audible manifestation to take place. It was an impression that might be described under the terms of either light or sound; at any instant that delicate vivid force, that to the eyes of the soul burned beneath the red chasuble and the white alb, might have suddenly welled outwards under the appearance of a gush of radiant light rendering luminous not only the clear brown flesh seen beneath the white hair, but the very texture of the coarse, dead, stained stuffs that swathed the rest of the body. Or it might have shown itself in the strain of a long chord on strings or wind, as if the mystical union of the dedicated soul with the ineffable Godhead and Humanity of Jesus Christ generated such a sound as ceaselessly flows out with the river of life from beneath the Throne of the Lamb. Or yet once more it might have declared itself under the guise of a perfume—the very essence of distilled sweetness—such a scent as that which, streaming out through the gross tabernacle of a saint's body, is to those who observe it as the breath of heavenly roses....
The moments passed in that hush of purity and peace; sounds came and went outside, the rattle of a cart far away, the sawing of the first cicada in the coarse grass twenty yards away beyond the wall; some one behind the priest was breathing short and thick as under the pressure of an intolerable emotion, and yet the figure stood there still, without a movement or sway to break the carved motionlessness of the alb-folds or the perfect poise of the white-shod feet. When He moved at last to uncover the Precious Blood, to lay His hands on the altar and adore, it was as if a statue had stirred into life; to the server it was very nearly as a shock.
Again, when the chalice was empty, that first impression reasserted itself; the human and the external died in the embrace of the Divine and Invisible, and once more silence lived and glowed.... And again as the spiritual energy sank back again into its origin, Silvester stretched out the chalice.
With knees that shook and eyes wide in expectation, the priest rose, adored, and went to the credence.
* * * * *
It was customary after the Pope's mass that the priest himself should offer the Sacrifice in his presence, but to-day so soon as the vestments had been laid one by one on the rough chest, Silvester turned to the priest.
"Presently," he said softly. "Go up, father, at once to the roof, and tell the Cardinal to be ready. I shall come in five minutes."
It was surely a scirocco-day, thought the priest, as he came up on to the flat roof. Overhead, instead of the clear blue proper to that hour of the morning, lay a pale yellow sky darkening even to brown at the horizon. Thabor, before him, hung distant and sombre seen through the impalpable atmosphere of sand, and across the plain, as he glanced behind him, beyond the white streak of Nain nothing was visible except the pale outline of the tops of the hills against the sky. Even at this morning hour, too, the air was hot and breathless, broken only by the slow-stifling lift of the south-western breeze that, blowing across countless miles of sand beyond far-away Egypt, gathered up the heat of the huge waterless continent and was pouring it, with scarcely a streak of sea to soften its malignity, on this poor strip of land. Carmel, too, as he turned again, was swathed about its base with mist, half dry and half damp, and above showed its long bull-head running out defiantly against the western sky. The very table as he touched it was dry and hot to the hand, by mid-day the steel would be intolerable.
He pressed the lever, and waited; pressed it again, and waited again. There came the answering ring, and he tapped across the eighty miles of air that his Eminence's presence was required at once. A minute or two passed, and then, after another rap of the bell, a line flicked out on the new white sheet.
"'I am here. Is it his Holiness?'"
He felt a hand upon his shoulder, and turned to see Silvester, hooded and in white, behind his chair.
"Tell him yes. Ask him if there is further news."
The Pope went to the chair once more and sat down, and a minute later the priest, with growing excitement, read out the answer.
"'Inquiries are pouring in. Many expect your Holiness to issue a challenge. My secretaries have been occupied since four o'clock. The anxiety is indescribable. Some are denying that they have a Pope. Something must be done at once.'"
"Is that all?" asked the Pope.
Again the priest read out the answer. "'Yes and no. The news is true. It will be inforced immediately. Unless a step is taken immediately there will be widespread and final apostasy.'"
"Very good," murmured the Pope, in his official voice. "Now listen carefully, Eminence." He was silent for a moment, his fingers joined beneath his chin as just now at mass. Then he spoke.
"We are about to place ourselves unreservedly in the hands of God. Human prudence must no longer restrain us. We command you then, using all discretion that is possible, to communicate these wishes of ours to the following persons under the strictest secrecy, and to no others whatsoever. And for this service you are to employ messengers, taken from the Order of Christ Crucified, two for each message, which is not to be committed to writing in any form. The members of the Sacred College, numbering twelve; the metropolitans and Patriarchs through the entire world, numbering twenty-two; the Generals of the Religious Orders: the Society of Jesus, the Friars, the Monks Ordinary, and the Monks Contemplative four. These persons, thirty-eight in number, with the chaplain of your Eminence, who shall act as notary, and my own who shall assist him, and Ourself—forty-one all told—these persons are to present themselves here at our palace of Nazareth not later than the Eve of Pentecost. We feel Ourselves unwilling to decide the steps necessary to be taken with reference to the new decree, except we first hear the counsel of our advisers, and give them an opportunity of communicating freely one with another. These words, as we have spoken them, are to be forwarded to all those persons whom we have named; and your Eminence will further inform them that our deliberations will not occupy more than four days.
"As regards the questions of provisioning the council and all matters of that kind, your Eminence will despatch to-day the chaplain of whom we have spoken, who with my own chaplain will at once set about preparations, and your Eminence will yourself follow, appointing Father Marabout to act in your absence, not later than four days hence.
"Finally, to all who have asked explicit directions in the face of this new decree, communicate this one sentence, and no more.
"Lose not your confidence which hath a great reward. For yet a little while, and, He that is to come will come and will not delay.—Silvester the Bishop, Servant of the Servants of God."
Oliver Brand stepped out from the Conference Hall in Westminster on the Friday evening, so soon as the business was over and the Plenipotentiaries had risen from the table, more concerned as to the effect of the news upon his wife than upon the world.
He traced the beginning of the change to the day five months ago when the President of the World had first declared the development of his policy, and while Oliver himself had yielded to that development, and from defending it in public had gradually convinced himself of its necessity, Mabel, for the first time in her life, had shown herself absolutely obstinate.
The woman to his mind seemed to him to have fallen into some kind of insanity. Felsenburgh's declaration had been made a week or two after his Acclamation at Westminster, and Mabel had received the news of it at first with absolute incredulity.
Then, when there was no longer any doubt that he had declared the extermination of the Supernaturalists to be a possible necessity, there had been a terrible scene between husband and wife. She had said that she had been deceived; that the world's hope was a monstrous mockery; that the reign of universal peace was as far away as ever; that Felsenburgh had betrayed his trust and broken his word. There had been an appalling scene. He did not even now like to recall it to his imagination. She had quieted after a while, but his arguments, delivered with infinite patience, seemed to produce very little effect. She settled down into silence, hardly answering him. One thing only seemed to touch her, and that was when he spoke of the President himself. It was becoming plain to him that she was but a woman after all at the mercy of a strong personality, but utterly beyond the reach of logic. He was very much disappointed. Yet he trusted to time to cure her.