earth was covered, slowly came into being. Here, in front, now and again a patch of water glowed suddenly, three thousand feet beneath, as it met the shifting angle between the eye and the sun; and beyond, far out across the darkening plain, shone the remote line of the sea, itself ablaze with gold, and above and about in every quarter burned the enormous luminous dome of sky.
* * * * *
“I can’t put it all accurately,” said Father Jervis at last. “I mean I can’t tell you off-hand all the tests that are exactly applied to every case. But it’s something like this. . . .”
“Yes, tell me,” said the other, still staring out at the softly rolling landscape.
“Well, first,” began the old priest slowly, “in the last fifty years we’ve classified almost exhaustively everything that nature can do. We know, for instance, for certain, that in certain kinds of temperaments body and mind are in far greater sympathy than in others; and that if, in such a temperament as this, the mind can be fully persuaded that such and such a thing is going to happen–a thing within the range of natural possibility, of course–it will happen, merely through the action of the mind upon the body.”
“Give me an instance.”
“Well” (he hesitated again) . . . “well, I’m not a physician, and cannot define accurately; but there are certain nervous diseases–hysterical simulation, nervous affections such as St. Vitus’ dance–as well, of course, as purely mental diseases, such as certain kinds of insanity—“
“Oh, those,” said the other contemptuously.
“Wait a minute. These, I say, given the right temperament and receptiveness to suggestion, can be cured _instantaneously_.”
“Certainly–given those conditions. Then there are certain other diseases, very closely related to the nervous system, in which there have been changes of tissue, not only in the brain, but in the organs or the limbs. And these, too, can be cured by mere natural suggestion; but–and this is the point–not instantaneously. In cases of this kind, cured in this way, there is always needed a period, I won’t say as long as, but proportionate to, the period during which the disease had been developing and advancing. I forget the exact proportions now, but I think, so far as I remember, that at least two-thirds of the time is required for recovery by suggestion as was occupied by the growth of the disease. Take _lupus_. That certainly belongs to the class I’m speaking of. Well, lupus has been cured in mental laboratories, but never instantaneously or anything like instantaneously.”
“Go on, father.”
“Finally, there are those physical states that have practically nothing to do directly with the nervous system at all. Take a broken leg. Of course the cure of a broken leg is affected by the state of the nervous system, since it depends upon the amount of vital energy, the state of the blood, and so on. But there are distinct processes of change of tissue that are bound to take a certain fixed period. You may–as has been proved over and over again in the mental laboratories–hasten and direct the action of the nervous energy, so that a man under hypnotic suggestion will improve more rapidly than a man who is not. But no amount of suggestion can possibly effect a cure instantaneously. Tuberculosis is another such thing; certain diseases of the heart—“
“I see. Go on.”
“Well, then, science has fixed certain periods in all these various matters which simply cannot be lessened beyond a certain point. And miracle does not begin–authorized miracle, I mean–unless these periods are markedly shortened. Mere mental cures, therefore, do not come under the range of authorized miracle at all–though, of course, in many cases where there has been little or no suggestion, or where the temperament is not receptive, practically speaking, the miraculous element is most probably present. In the second class–organic nervous diseases–no miracle is proclaimed unless the cure is instantaneous, or very nearly so. In the third class, again, no miracle is proclaimed unless the cure is either instantaneous, or the period of it very considerably shortened beyond all known examples of natural cure by suggestion.”
“And you mean to say that such cures are frequent?”
The old priest smiled.
“Why, of course. There is an accumulation of evidence from the past hundred years which—-“
“Oh yes; there’s the case of Pierre de Rudder, at Oostacker, in the nineteenth century. That’s the first of the series–the first, I mean, that has been scientifically examined. It’s in all the old books.”
“What was the matter with him?”
“Leg broken below the knee for eight years.”
“And how long did the cure take?”
There was silence again.
Monsignor was staring out and downwards at the flitting meadow-land far below. A flock of white birds moved across the darkening grey, like flying specks seen in the eye, yet it seemed with extraordinary slowness and deliberation, so great was the distance at which they flew. He sighed.
“You can examine the records,” said the priest presently; “and, better than that, you can examine some of the cases for yourself, and the certificates. They follow still the old system which Dr. Boissarie began nearly a century ago.”
“What about Zola?” demanded Monsignor abruptly.
“I beg your pardon?”
“Zola, the great French writer. I thought he had . . . had advanced some very sharp criticisms of Lourdes.”
“Er–when did he live?”
“Why, not long ago; nineteenth century, at the end.”
Father Jervis shook his head, smiling.
“I’ve never heard of him,” he said, “and I thought I knew Lourdes literature pretty well. I’ll enquire.”
“Look,” said the prelate suddenly; “what’s that place we’re coming to?”
He nodded forward with his head to where vast white lines and patches began to be visible on the lower slopes and at the foot of long spurs that had suddenly come into sight against the sunset.
“Why, that’s Lourdes.”
As the two priests came out next morning from the west doors of the tall church where they had said their masses, Monsignor stopped.
“Let me try to take it in a moment,” he said.
* * * * *
They were standing on the highest platform of the pile of three churches that had been raised over a hundred years ago, now in the very centre of the enormous city that had grown little by little around the sacred place. Beneath them, straight in front, approached from where they stood by two vast sweeps of balustraded steps, lay the _Place_, perhaps sixty feet beneath, of the shape of an elongated oval, bounded on this side and that by the old buildings where the doctors used to have their examination rooms, now used for a hundred minor purposes connected with the churches and the grotto. At the farther end of the Place, behind the old bronze statue of Mary, rose up the comparatively new _Bureau de Constatations_–a great hall (as the two had seen last night), communicating with countless consulting- and examination-rooms, where the army of State-paid doctors carried on their work. The whole of the open Place between these buildings crawled with humanity–not yet packed as it would be by evening–yet already sufficiently filled by the two ever-flowing streams–the one passing downwards to where the grotto lay out of sight on the left, the other passing up towards the lower entrance of the great hall. It resembled an amphitheatre, and the more so, since the roofs of the buildings on every side, as well as the slope up which the steps rose to the churches, adapted now as they were to accommodate at least three hundred thousand spectators, were already beginning to show groups and strings of onlookers who came up here to survey the city.
On the right, beyond the Place, lay the old town, sloping up now, up even to the medieval castle, which fifty years ago had stood in lonely detachment, but now was faced on hill-top after hill-top, at its own level, by the enormous nursing homes and hostels, which under the direction of the Religious Orders had gradually grown up about this shrine of healing, until now, up to a height of at least five hundred feet, the city of Mary stood on bastion after bastion of the lower slopes of the hills, like some huge auditorium of white stone, facing down towards the river and the Holy Place.
Finally, on the left, immediately to the left of the two priests who stood silently looking, fifty feet below, ran the sweep of the Gave, crossed by innumerable bridges which gave access to the crowding town beyond the water, where once had been nothing but meadowland and the beginning of the great southern plain of France.
There was an air of extraordinary peace and purity about this place, thought Monsignor. Whiteness was the predominating colour–whiteness beneath, and whiteness running up high on the right on to the hills–and above the amazing blue of the southern sky. It was high and glorious summer about them, with a breeze as intoxicating as wine and as fresh as water. From across the Place they could hear the quick flapping of the huge Mary banner that flew above the hall, for there were no wheels or motors here to crush out the acuteness of the ear. The transference of the sick from the hostels above the town was carried out by aeroplanes–great winged decks, with awnings above and at the sides, that slid down as if on invisible lines, to the entrance of the other side of the hall, whence after a daily examination by the doctors they were taken on by hand-litters to the grotto or the bathing-pools.
* * * * *
Monsignor heard a step behind him as he stood and looked, still pathetically bewildered by all that he saw, and still struggling, in spite of himself, with a new upbreak of scepticism; and turning, saw Father Jervis in the act of greeting a young monk in the Benedictine habit.
“I knew we should meet. I heard you were here,” the old man was exclaiming. “You remember Monsignor Masterman?”
They shook hands, and Monsignor was not disappointed in his friend’s tact.
“Father Adrian absolutely haunts Lourdes nowadays,” went on Father Jervis. “I wonder his superiors allow him. And how’s the book getting on?”
The monk smiled. He was an exceedingly pleasant person to look upon, with a thin, refined face and large, startlingly blue eyes. He shook his head as he smiled.
“I’m getting frightened,” he said. “I cannot see with the theologians in all points. Well, the least said, the soonest mended.”
Father Jervis’ face had fallen a little. There was distinct anxiety in his eyes.
“When will the book be out?” he asked quickly.
“I’m revising for the last time,” said the other shortly. “And you, Monsignor? . . . I had heard of your illness.”
“Oh, Monsignor’s nearly himself again. And will you take us into the Bureau?” asked the old priest.
The young monk nodded.
“I shall be there all day,” he said. “Ask for me at any time.”
“Monsignor wants to see for himself. He wants to see a case straight through. Is there anything—-“
“Why, there’s the very thing,” interrupted the monk. (He fumbled in his pocket a moment.) “Yes, here’s the leaflet that was issued last night.” (He held out a printed piece of paper to Monsignor.) “Read that through.”
The prelate took it.
“What’s the case?” he asked.
“The leaflet will give you the details. It’s decay of the optic nerve–a Russian from St. Petersburg. Both eyes completely blind, the nerves destroyed, and he saw light yesterday for the first time. He’ll be down from the Russian hospice about eleven. We expect a cure to-day or to-morrow.”
“Well,” said Father Jervis, “we mustn’t detain you. Then, if we look in about eleven?”
The monk nodded and smiled as he moved off.
“Certainly,” he said. “At eleven then.”
Monsignor turned to his friend.
Father Jervis shook his head.
“It’s a sad business,” he said. “That’s Dom Adrian Bennett. He’s very daring. He’s had one warning from Rome; but he’s so extraordinarily clever that it’s very hard to silence him. He’s not exactly heretical; but he will work along lines that have already been decided.”
“Dear me! He seems very charming.”
“Certainly. He is most charming, and utterly sincere. He’s got the entree everywhere here. He is a first-rate scientist, by the way. But, Monsignor, I’d sooner not talk about him. Do you mind?”
“But what’s his subject? Tell me that.”
“It’s the miraculous element in religion,” said the priest shortly. “Come, we must go to our coffee.”
The hall was already crowded in every part as the two priests looked in at the lower end a few minutes before eleven o’clock. It was arranged more or less like a theatre, with a broad gangway running straight up from the doors at one end to the foot of the stage at the other. The stage itself, with a statue of Mary towering at the back, communicated with the examination-rooms behind the two doors, one on either side of the image.
“What’s going on?” whispered Monsignor, as he glanced up first on this side and that, at the array of heads that listened, and then at the two figures that occupied the stage.
“It’s a doctor lecturing on a cure. This goes on nearly all day. We must get round to the back somehow.”
As they passed in at last from the outside through the private door through which the doctors and privileged persons had access behind the stage, they heard a storm of clapping and voices from the direction of the public hall on their right.
“That’s finished then. Follow me, Monsignor.”
They went through a passage or two, after their guide–a young man in uniform–seeing as they went, through half-open doors here and there, quite white rooms, glimpses of men in white, and once at least a litter being set down; and came at last into what looked like some kind of committee-room, lighted by tall windows on the left, with a wide horseshoe table behind which sat perhaps a dozen men, each wearing on his left breast the red and white cross which marked them as experts. Opposite the examiners, but half hidden from the two priests by the back of his tall chair, sat the figure of a man.
Their guide went up to the end of the table, and almost immediately they saw Father Adrian stand up and beckon to them.
“I’ve kept you two chairs,” he whispered when they came up. “And you’d better wear these crosses. They’ll admit you anywhere.” (He pointed to the two red and white badges that hung over the backs of their chairs.)
“Are we in time?”
“You’re a little late,” whispered the monk. Then he turned again towards the patient, a typical fair-haired, bearded Russian with closed eyes, who at that moment was answering some question put to him by the presiding doctor in the centre.
The monk turned again.
“Can you understand Russian?”
Monsignor shook his head.
“Well, I’ll tell you afterwards,” said the other.
* * * * *
It seemed very strange to be sitting here, in this quiet room, after the rush and push of the enormous crowds through which they had made their way this morning. The air of the room was exceedingly business-like, and not in the least even suggestive of religion, except in the matter of a single statue of Our Lady of Lourdes on a bracket on the wall above the President’s head. And these dozen men who sat here seemed quietly business-like too. They sat here, men of various ages and nationalities, all in the thin white doctor’s dress, with papers spread before them, and a few strange instruments scattered here and there, leaning forward or leaning back, but all intently listening to and watching the Russian, who, still with closed eyes, answered the short questions put to him continuously by the President. There seemed no religious excitement even in the air; the atmosphere was one, rather, of simple science.
There seemed something faintly familiar in all this to the man who had lost his memory. . . . Certainly he had known of Lourdes as soon as it was mentioned to him, and he seemed now to remember that some such claim to be perfectly scientific had always been made by the authorities of the place. But he had supposed, somehow, that the claim was a false one. . . .
The Russian suddenly rose.
“Well!” whispered Monsignor sharply as the doctors began to talk.
The monk smiled.
“He’s just said an interesting thing. The President asked him just now whether he had seen anything of the crowds as he came down this morning.”
“He said that people looked like trees moving about. . . . Oh no! he didn’t know he was making a quotation. Look! he’s going down to the grotto. He’ll be back in half an hour to report.”
Monsignor leaned back in his chair.
“And you tell me that the optic nerves were destroyed?”
The monk looked at him in wide-eyed wonder.
“Certainly. He was examined on Tuesday, when he came. To-day’s Friday.”
“And you believe he’ll be cured?”
“I shall be very much surprised if he’s not.”
There was a stir by the door as the Russian disappeared. A young, bright-eyed doctor looked in and nodded, and the next instant a brancardier appeared, followed by a litter.
“But how have you time to examine all these thousands of cases?” asked the prelate, watching the litter advance.
“Oh, not one in a hundred comes through to us here. Besides, this is only one of a dozen committee-rooms. It’s only the most sensational cases–where there’s real organic injury of a really serious kind–that ever come at all before the highest courts. Cases, I mean, where, if there’s a cure, the publication of the miracle follows as a matter of course. . . . What’s this case, I wonder?” he ended sharply, glancing down at the printed paper before him, and then up again at the litter that was being arranged.
Monsignor looked too at the paper that lay before him. Some thirty paragraphs, carefully numbered, dated, and signed, gave, as it seemed, a list of the cases to be examined.
“Number fourteen,” murmured the monk.
Number fourteen, it appeared, was a case of fractured spine–a young girl, aged sixteen; a German. The accident had happened four months before. The notes, signed by half a dozen names, described the complete paralysis below the waist, with a few other medical details.
Monsignor looked again at the girl on the other side of the table, guarded by the brancardiers and a couple of doctors, while the monk talked to him rapidly in Latin. He saw her closed eyes and colourless lips.
“This case has attracted a good deal of attention,” whispered the monk. “The Emperor’s said to be interested in it, through one of the ladies of the Court, whose servant the girl was. It’s interesting for two or three reasons. First, the fracture is complete, and it’s marvellous she hasn’t died. Then it’s been taken up as a kind of test case by a group of materialists in Berlin. They’ve taken it up, because the girl has declared again and again that she is perfectly certain she will be cured at Lourdes. She claims to have had a vision of Our Lady, who told her so. Her father’s a freethinker, by the way, and has only finally allowed her to come so that he can use her as an argument afterwards.”
“Who has examined her?” asked Monsignor sharply.
“She was examined last night on her arrival, and again this morning. Dr. Meurot, the President here” (he indicated with his head the doctor who sat three places off, who was putting his questions rapidly to the two attending physicians)–“Dr. Meurot examined her himself early this morning. This is just the formal process before she goes to the grotto. The fracture is complete. It’s between the eleventh and twelfth dorsal vertebrae.”
“And you think she’ll be cured?” The monk smiled.
“Who can tell?” he said. “We’ve only had one case before, and the papers on that are not quite in order, though it’s commonly believed to be genuine.”
“But it’s possible?”
“Oh, certainly. And her own conviction is absolute. It’ll be interesting.”
“You seem to take it pretty easily,” murmured the prelate.
“Oh, the facts are established a hundred times over–the facts, I mean, that cures take place here which are not even approached in mental laboratories. But—“
He was interrupted by a sudden movement of the brancardiers.
“See, they’re removing her,” he said. “Now, what’ll you do, Monsignor? Will you go down to the grotto, or would you sooner watch a few more cases?”
“I think I’d sooner stay here,” said the other, “at least for an hour or two.”
It was the hour of the evening procession and of the Benediction of the Sick.
All day long the man who had lost his memory had gone to and fro with his companions, each wearing the little badge that gave them entrance everywhere; they had lunched with Dr. Meurot himself.
If Monsignor Masterman had been impressed by the social power of Catholicism at Versailles, and by its religious reality in Rome, he was ten thousand times more impressed by its scientific courage here in Lourdes. For here religion seemed to have stepped down into an arena hitherto (as he fancied) restricted to the play of physical forces. She had laid aside her oracular claims, her comparatively unsupported assertions of her own divinity; had flung off her robes of state and authority and was competing here on equal terms with the masters of natural law–more, she was accepted by them as their mistress. For there seemed nothing from which she shrank. She accepted all who came to her desiring her help; she made no arbitrary distinctions to cover her own incapacities. Her one practical desire was to heal the sick; her one theoretical interest to fix more and more precisely, little by little, the exact line at which nature ended and supernature began. And, if human evidence went for anything–if the volumes of radiophotography and sworn testimony went for anything, she had established a thousand times over during the preceding, half-century that under her aegis, and hers alone, healing and reconstituting forces were at work to which no merely natural mental science could furnish any parallels. All the old quarrels of a century ago seemed at an end. There was no longer any dispute as to the larger facts. All that now remained to be done by this huge organization of international experts was to define more and more closely and precisely where the line lay between the two worlds. All cures that could be even remotely paralleled in the mental laboratories were dismissed as not evidently supernatural; all those which could not be so paralleled were recorded, with the most minute detail, under the sworn testimonies of doctors who had examined the patients immediately before and immediately after the cure itself. In a series of libraries that abutted on to the Place, Monsignor Masterman, under the guidance of Dom Adrian Bennett, had spent a couple of hours this afternoon in examining the most striking of the records and photographs preserved there. He was amazed to find that even by the end of the nineteenth century cures had taken place for which the most modern scientists could find no natural explanation.
Ten minutes ago he had taken his place in the procession of the Blessed Sacrament, with the monk’s last word still in his head.
“It is during the procession itself,” he had said, “that the work is done. We lay aside all deliberate knowledge as the Angelus rings, and give ourselves up to faith.”
* * * * *
And now the procession had started, and already, it seemed to him, he had begun to understand. It was as he himself emerged, a few paces in front of the Blessed Sacrament Itself, walking with the prelates, that that understanding reached its climax. He paused at the head of the steps, to wait for the canopy to come through, and his heart rose within him so mightily that it was all he could do not to cry out.
Beneath him, seen now from the opposite end from which he had looked this morning, lay the Place, under a wholly different appearance. The centre of the great oval was cleared, with the exception of a huge pulpit, surmounted by a circular sounding-board, that stood in the middle. But round this empty space rose, in tier after tier, masses of humanity beyond all reckoning, up and up, as on the sides of an enormous amphitheatre, as far as the highest roofs of the highest buildings that looked on to the space. Before him rose the pile of churches, and here too, on every platform roof and stair, swarmed the spectators. The doors of the three churches were flung wide, and far within, in the lighted interiors, lay the heads of countless crowds, as cobble-stones, seen in perspective. The whole Place was in shadow now, as the sun had just gone down, but the sky was still alight overhead, a vast tender-coloured vault, as sweet as a benediction. Here and there, in the illimitable blue, like crumbs of diamond dust, gleamed the first stars of evening.
And from this vast multitude, swayed by a white figure within the pulpit, articulate now as the listener emerged, rose up a song to Mary, as from one soft and gigantic voice, appealing to Her Presence who for over a century and a half, it seemed, had chosen to dwell here by virtue and influence, the Great Mother of the redeemed and the Consoler of the afflicted, whose Divine Son was even now on His way, as at Cana itself, to turn the water of sorrow into the wine of joy. . . . Then, as the canopy came out, at an imperious gesture from the tiny swaying figure in the pulpit, the music ceased; great trumpets sounded a phrase; there was a rustle and a movement as of a breaking wave as the crowds knelt; and the _Pange Lingua_ rose up in solemn adoration. . . .
As he came down the steps, his eyes quick with tears, he saw for the first time the lines of the sick in the place to which he had been told to look. There they lay, some four thousand in number, placed side by side in two great circling rows round the whole arena, a fringe of pain to the exultant crowds, in litters laid so close together that they seemed but two great continuous beds, and between them the high flower-strewn platform along which Jesus of Nazareth should pass by. There they lay, all of them bathed to-day in the strange water that had sprung up a hundred and fifty years ago under the fingers of a peasant child, waiting for the sacramental advent of Him who had made both that water and those for whose healing it was designed.
And yet not all were cured–not perhaps one in ten of all who came in confidence. That surely was wonderful. . . . Was it then that that same Sovereign Power who had permitted the pain elected to retain His own sovereignty, and to show that the Lawgiver was fettered by no law? One thing at least was certain, if those records which the priest had examined this morning were to be believed, that no receptiveness of temperament, no subjective expectancy of cure, guaranteed that the cure would take place. Natures that had responded marvellously in the mental laboratories seemed ineffective here; natures that were inert and immovable under the influence of sympathetic science leapt up here to meet the call of some Voice whose very existence a hundred years ago had been in doubt.
The front of the long procession, Monsignor saw, had reached now the doors of the basilica, and would presently, after making the complete round, pour down into the arena to allow the Blessed Sacrament to move more quickly. It was an exquisite sight, even from here, as the prelate set foot on the platform and began to move to the left. The long lines of tapers, four deep, went like some great serpent, rippling with light, above the heads of the sick; and here and there in the slopes of the crowded spectators shone out other lights, steady as stars in the motionless half-lit evening air. Then, as he went, slowly, pace by pace, he remembered the sick and glanced down, as the music on a sudden ceased.
Ah! there they lay, those living crucifixes . . . . shrouded in white, their faces on either side turned inwards that they might see their Lord. . . . There lay a woman, her face shrivelled with some internal horror–some appalling disease which even the science of these days dared not handle, or at least had not; her large eyes staring with an almost terrible intensity, fixed, it seemed, in her head, yet waiting for the Vision that even now might make her whole. There a child tossed and moaned and turned away his head. There an old man crouched forward upon his litter, held up on either side by two men in the uniform of the brancardiers. . . . And so, in endless lines, they lay; from every nation under heaven: Chinese were there, he saw, and negroes; and the very air in which he walked seemed alight with pain and longing.
A great voice broke in suddenly on his musings; and, before he could fix his attention as to what it said, the words were taken up by the hundreds of thousands of throats–a short, fervent sentence that rent the air like a thunder-peal. Ah! he remembered now. These were the old French prayers, consecrated by a century of use; and as he passed on, slowly, step by step, watching now with a backward glance the blessing of the sick that had just begun–the sign of the cross made with the light golden monstrance by the bishop who carried it–now the agonized eyes of expectation that waited for their turn, he too began to hear, and to take up with his own voice those piteous cries for help.
“_Jesu! heal our sick. . . . Jesu! grant that we may see–may hear–may walk. . . . Thou art the Resurrection and the Life. . . . Lord! I believe; help Thou mine unbelief_.” Then with an overwhelming triumph: “_Hosanna to the Son of David! Hosanna, Hosanna!_” Then again, soft and rumbling: “_O Mary, conceived without sin, hear us who have recourse to thee._”
The sense of a great circumambient Power grew upon him at each instant, sacramentalized, it seemed, by the solemn evening light, and evoked by this tense ardour of half a million souls, and focused behind him in one burning point. . . .
Ah! there was the first miracle! . . . A cry behind him, an eddy in the circle of the sick and the waiting attendants, a figure with shrouding linen fallen from breast and outstretched arms, and then a roar, mighty beyond reckoning, as the whole amphitheatre swayed and cried out in exultation. He saw as in a vision the rush of doctors to the place, and the gesticulating figures that held back the crowd behind the barrier. Then a great moan of relief; and a profound silence as the _miracule_ kneeled again beside the litter which had borne him. Then again the canopy moved on; and the passionate voice cried, followed in an instant by the roar of response:
“_Hosanna to the son of David._”
* * * * * * *
It was half-way round, at the foot of the church steps, that the German girl was laid; and as the prelates drew near Monsignor looked rapidly to this side and that to identify her.
Ah! there she lay, still with closed patient eyes and colourless face, in the outer circle facing inwards towards the pulpit. A doctor knelt on either side of her–one of them the young man who had announced her coming into the hall this morning, with a rosary between his fingers. It was known to the crowd generally, Monsignor had learnt, that her case was exceptional; but it had been kept from them as to where she would lie, for fear that the excitement might be too much concentrated.
He looked at her again, intently and carefully–at that waxen, fallen face, her helpless hands clasped across her breast with a string of beads interwoven within them; and even as he looked distrust once more surged within him, It was impossible, he told himself–in spite of what he had seen that day in spite of that score of leaping figures and the infectious roar that more than twenty times in that short journey had set his pulses a-beat. . . . He passed her, quickening his steps a little; then faced about and watched.
Slowly came the canopy. Its four bearers sweated visibly with the effort; and the face of the bishop who bore the monstrance was pale and streaked with moisture from the countless movements he had made. Behind him came row after row of downcast faces, men and women of every Religious Order on earth, and the tapers seen in perspective appeared as four almost continuous waving lines of soft light.
There had been a longer pause than usual since the last exulting cry of a sick man healed; and the silence between the cries from the pulpit grew continually more acute. And yet nothing happened.
The bishop was signing now outwards over a man who lay next the German, with his face altogether hidden in a white and loathsomely suggestive mask; but there was no stir in answer. The bishop turned inwards and signed over a woman, and again there was no movement.
“Thou art the Resurrection and the Life,” cried the voice from the pulpit.
“_Thou art the Resurrection and the Life,_” answered the amphitheatre, as the bishop turned again outwards.
Monsignor heard him sigh with the effort, and with the consciousness too, perhaps, of who it was that lay here; he lifted the monstrance; the eyes of the girl opened. As he signed to left and right she smiled. As he brought the monstrance back she unclasped her hands and sat up.
The three priests stood together that evening on the high roof of a Carmelite priory, on the other side of the river, half a mile away, yet opposite the grotto, as the German girl came down to make her thanksgiving.
From where they stood it was impossible to make out a single detail of that at which they looked. The priory stood on high ground, itself towering above the crowded roofs that lay between them and the river; and opposite rose up the masses of the hill at the foot of which was the sacred place itself.
It resembled to-night a picture all of fire. The churches on the left were outlined in light, up to the last high line of roof against the dark starlit sky; and upon the spaces in between lay the soft glow from the tens of thousands of torches that the crowds carried beneath. Above the grotto the precipitous face of the cliff showed black and sombre, except where the zigzag paths shone out in liquid wandering lines, where the folks stood packed together, unseeing, yet content to be present. In front, at the foot, over the lake of fire where the main body of worshippers stood, glowed softly the cavern where Mary’s feet had once rested, and where her power had lived now far beyond the memory of the oldest man present.
From this distance few sounds could be heard except the steady murmur of voices of those countless thousands. It was as the steady roll of far-off wheels or of the tide coming in over a rocky beach; and even the sudden roar of welcome and triumph that announced that the little procession had left the Place was soft and harmonious. There followed a long pause.
Then, on a sudden, trumpets rang out, clear as silver, sharpened and reverberated by the rocks from which they sounded, and like the voice of a dreaming giant, came the great words, articulate and distinct:–
“Magnificat anima mea Dominum.”
* * * * * * * *
“And you, Monsignor,” asked Dom Adrian, as they stood half an hour later, still watching the lines of light writhe this way and that as the crowds went home, “you have asked Our Lady to give you back your memory?”
“I was at the grotto this afternoon,” he said. “It is not for me.”
“Then there will be something better instead,” smiled the young monk.
“So you go back to England to-morrow?” said Father Adrian, as they sat a night or two later in the guest-room of the French Benedictines, where the monk was staying.
“We start to-morrow night,” said the old priest. “Monsignor is infinitely better, and we must both get back to work. And you?”
“I stay here to finish the revising of my book,” said the monk quietly.
* * * * *
The man who had lost his memory had piled impression on impression during the last forty-eight hours. There was first the case of the German girl. She had been examined by the same doctors as those who had certified to her state half an hour before the cure, and the result had been telegraphed over the entire civilized world. The fracture was completely repaired; and although she was still weak from her long illness, she gained strength every hour. Then there was the case of the Russian. He too had received back his sight, although not instantaneously; it had come to him step by step. An hour ago he had been pronounced healed, and had passed the usual tests in the examination-rooms. But these cases, and others like them which the priests had investigated, were only a part of the total weight of impressions which Monsignor Masterman had received. He had seen here for himself a relation between Science and Faith–a co-operation between them, with the exigencies of each duly weighed and observed by them both–which set Nature and Supernature before him in a completely new light. As Mr. Manners had said at Westminster a week or two before, the two seemed to have met at last, each working from different quarters, on a platform on which they could work side by side. The facts were no longer denied by either party. Science allowed for the mysteries of Faith; Faith recognized the achievements of Science. Each granted that the other possessed a perfectly legitimate sphere of action in which the methods proper to that sphere were imperative and final. The scientist accepted the fact that Religion had a right to speak in matters that lay beyond scientific data; the theologian no longer denounced as fraudulent or disingenuous the claims of the scientist to exercise powers that were at last found to be natural. Neither needed to establish his own position by attacking that of his partner, and the two accordingly, without prejudice or passion, worked together to define yet further that ever-narrowing range of ground between the two worlds which up to the present remained unmapped. Suggestion, for example, acting upon the mutual relations of body and mind, was recognized by the theologian as a force sufficient to produce phenomena which in earlier days he had claimed as evidently supernatural. And, on the other side, the scientist no longer made wild acts of faith in nature, in attributing to her achievements which he could not for an instant parallel by any deliberate experiment. In a word, the scientist repeated, “I believe in God “; and the theologian, “I recognize Nature.”
Monsignor sat apart in silence, while the others talked.
He had thought in Rome that he had reached interior conviction; he understood now in Lourdes that his conviction had not gone so deep as he had fancied. He had learned in Versailles that the Church could reorganize society, in Rome that she could reconcile nations; he had seen finally in Lourdes that she could resolve philosophies.
And this very discovery made him the more timid. For he began to wonder whether there were not yet further discoveries which he would have to make–workings out and illustrations of the principles he had begun to perceive. How, for example, he began to ask himself, would the Church deal with those who did not recognize her claims–those solitary individuals or groups here and there who, he knew, still clung pathetically to the old dreams of the beginning of the century–to the phantom of independent thought and the intoxicating nightmare of democratic government? It was certain now that these things were dreams–that it was ludicrously absurd to imagine that a man could profitably detach himself from Revelation and the stream of tradition and development that flowed from it; that it was ridiculous to turn creation upside-down and to attempt to govern the educated few by the uneducated many. Yet people did occasionally hold impossible and absurd theories. . . . How, then, would these be treated by the Church when once her power had been finally consolidated? How was she to reconcile the gentleness of the Christian spirit with the dogmatism of the Christian claim? . . . He recalled one or two hints that Father Jervis had let drop, and he was conscious of a touch of fear.
He woke up to externals again at the sound of a sentence or two from the monk.
“I beg your pardon,” he said. “What was that?”
“I was saying that the news from Germany is disquieting.”
“Oh! nothing definite. They expect trouble. They say that the Emperor is extraordinarily interested in this girl’s case, and that the Socialists of Berlin are watching him. Berlin is their last stronghold, you know.”
“By the way,” interrupted Father Jervis suddenly, “I’ve enquired about that man with the curious name–Zola. I find he had quite a vogue at one time. And now I come to think of it, I believe Manners mentioned him.”
“Zola?” mused the monk. “Yes, I’m nearly sure I’ve heard of him. Wasn’t he an Elizabethan?”
“No, no. He died at the end of the last century. I find he did write a little romance about Lourdes. There was even a copy in the library here. I hadn’t time to look at it; but M. Meurot told me it was one of those odd little attacks on religion that were popular once. That’s all I could find out.”
Monsignor compressed his lips. Somewhere out of his abysmal memory there lurked a consciousness that Zola had once been of some importance; but he could add nothing to the discussion.
Dom Adrian stood up and stretched himself.
“It’s time for bed,” he said. “Look” (he nodded towards the window), “the devotions are just ending.”
From out of the luminous gulf beneath, beyond the tiers of roofs that lay, step-like, between this hostel and the river, rose up that undying song of Lourdes–that strange, haunting old melody of the story of Bernadette, that for a hundred and fifty years had been sung in this place–a ballad-like song, without grace of music or art, which yet has so wonderful an affinity with the old carols of Christendom, which yet is so unforgettable and so affecting. As the three stood side by side looking out of the window they saw the serpent of fire, that rope-coil of tapers that, stretching round the entire Place, humped over the flights of steps and the platforms set amongst the churches, writhes incessantly on itself. But, even as they watched, the serpent grew dim and patchy, and the lights began to go out, as group after group broke away homewards. They had wished their Mother good night, there in that great French town which has so wonderful an aroma of little Nazareth; they had sung their thanksgivings; they had offered their prayers. Now it was time to sleep under Her protection, who was the Mother both of God and man. . . .
“Well, good night,” said Monsignor. “We shall meet in London.”
“I hope so,” said the young monk gravely.
“I am afraid that young man will be in trouble,” said Father Jervis softly, as they came down the steps. “His book, you know.”
“Well, it’s best not to talk of it. We shall soon know. He’s as brave as a lion.”
Monsignor Masterman sat in his room at Westminster, busy at his correspondence.
A week had passed since his return, and he had made extraordinary progress. Even his face showed it. The piteous, bewildered look that he had worn, as he first realized little by little how completely out of touch he was with the world in which he had found himself after his lapse of memory, had wholly disappeared; and in its place was the keen, bright-eyed intelligence of a typical ecclesiastic. It was not that his memory had returned. Still, behind his sudden awakening in Hyde Park, all was a misty blank, from which faces and places and even phrases started out, for the most part unverifiable. Yet it seemed both to him and to those about him that he had an amazing facility in gathering up the broken threads. He had spent three or four days, after his return from Lourdes, closeted in private with Father Jervis or the Cardinal, and had found himself at last capable of readmitting his secretaries and of taking up his work again. The world in general had been informed of his nervous breakdown, so that on the few occasions when he seemed to suffer small lapses of memory no great surprise was felt.
He found, of course, a state of affairs that astonished him enormously. For example, he discovered that as the Cardinal’s secretary he was an extremely important person in the country. He had not yet ventured much on private interviews–these were for the present chiefly conducted by the Cardinal, with himself present; but his correspondence showed him that his good word was worth having, even by men who were foremost in the government of the day. There was, for instance, an immense amount of work to be done on the subject of the relations of Church and State; for the Church, it must be remembered, while not actually established, stood for the whole religious sentiment of the country, and must be consulted on every measure of importance. There was, further, the matter of the restoration of Church property not yet finally concluded in all its details, with endless adjustments and compensations still under discussion. This morning it was on the University question that he was chiefly engaged, and particularly the question as to the relative numbers of the lay and clerical Fellows on the old Catholic foundations.
* * * * *
A bell struck a single note; and one of his secretaries, sitting at the broad table near the window, lifted the receiver to his ear. Then he turned.
“His Eminence wishes to have a word with you, Monsignor, on two matters.”
Monsignor stood up.
“I’ll come now, if it’s convenient,” he said. “I have to be at Westminster at twelve.”
The secretary spoke again through the telephone.
“His Eminence is ready,” he said.
The Cardinal looked up as the priest came in a minute later.
“Ah! good morning, Monsignor. Yes, sit down there. There are just two matters I want to have a word with you on. The first is as regards a heresy-trial of a priest.”
Monsignor bowed. It was his first experience of the kind, so far as he could remember; and he did not yet fully understand all that it meant.
“I wish you to select the judges. You’ll look up the procedure, if you forget? A Dominican must be on it, of course; so you must communicate with the Provincial. The other two must be seculars, as the accused is a Religious. He has elected to be tried in England.”
“Yes, your Eminence.”
“He has behaved very reasonably, and refuses to take advantage of the _Ne invitus_ clause.”
“I forget at this moment,” began Monsignor, vaguely conscious that he had heard of this before.
“Oh! that gives him the right to suppress the book before publication. It’s part of the new legislation. He has sent the thesis of his book, privately printed, to Rome, and it has been condemned. He refuses to withdraw, as he is perfectly confident of his orthodoxy. I understand that the book is not yet completely finished, but he has his thesis clear enough. It is on the subject of the miraculous element in religion.”
“I beg your Eminence’s pardon, but is the author a Benedictine by any chance?”
The Cardinal smiled.
“Yes: I was coming to that. His name is Dom Adrian Bennett. He is–or rather ought to be–a Westminster monk, but his return has been deferred for the present.”
“I met him at Lourdes, your Eminence.”
“Ah! He is a very clever young man, and at the name time perfectly courageous. . . . Well, you’ll look up the procedure, if you’re not perfectly clear? And I should wish to have the names of the judges by tomorrow night. The Canon Theologian of the diocese may not be well enough to act. But you will make arrangements.”
“Yes, your Eminence.”
“The second matter is exceedingly important.” (The Cardinal began to play with the pen that lay on his desk.) “And no rumour of it must get out from this house. It may be made public at any moment, and I wish you to know beforehand in order that you may not be taken by surprise. Well, it is this. I have had information that the Emperor of Germany will be received into the Catholic Church to-night. I needn’t tell you what that means. He is quite fearless and quite conscientious; and there is not the slightest doubt that he will, sooner or later, make it impossible for the Socialists to congregate any longer in Berlin. That will mean either civil war in Germany–(I hear the Socialists have been in readiness for this for some time past)–or it will mean their dispersal everywhere. Europe, at any rate, will have to deal with them. However, that’s in the future. The important thing at the present is that we should be able to show our full strength when the time comes. There will be thanksgivings throughout England, of course, as soon as the news is published, and I wish you to be in readiness to make what arrangements are necessary. It was the Lourdes miracle, which you witnessed, that has finished the affair. As you know, the Emperor has been on the edge of this for months past.”
The Cardinal spoke quietly and diplomatically enough; but the other could see how deeply moved he was by this tremendous development. The Emperor’s position had been the one flaw in the Catholic organization of Europe–and indeed of the world. Now the last stone was laid, and the arch was complete. The single drawback was that no statesman or prophet could conjecture with certainty what the effect on the Socialists would be.
“And how are you, Monsignor?” asked the Cardinal suddenly, smiling at him.
“I am getting on very well, your Eminence!”
“I should like to say that, for myself, I am more than satisfied,” went on the other. “You seem to me to have regained all your old grip on things–and in some points to have more than regained it. I have written to Rome—-” (he broke off).
“It’s the details that still trouble me, your Eminence. For instance, in this heresy-trial, I cannot remember the procedure, or the penalties, or anything else.”
“That’ll all come back,” smiled the Cardinal. “After all, the principles are the point. Well, I mustn’t detain you. You’re to be at Westminster at twelve.”
“Yes, your Eminence. We’ve nearly finished now. The monks are very well satisfied. But the main body of them do not come to Westminster until they formally re-enter. Cardinal Campello has written to say that he will be with us on the 20th for certain.”
“That is very good. . . . Then good morning, Monsignor.”
It was nearly midnight before Monsignor Masterman pushed away the book that lay before him and leaned back in his chair. He felt sick and dazed at what he had read.
First, he had studied with extreme care the constitution of the Heresy-Court, and had sent off a couple of hours ago the formal letters to the Dominican Provincial and two other priests whom he had selected. Then he had studied the procedure of the court, and the penalties assigned.
At first he could not believe what he read. He had turned more than once to the title-page of the great quarto, thinking that he must find it to be a reprint of some medieval work. But the title was unmistakable. The book was printed in Rome in the spring of the present year, and contained an English supplement, dealing with the actual relations of the Church laws with those of the country. There were minor penalties for minor offences; there was at every turn an escape for the accused. He might, even in the last event, escape all penalties by a formal renouncement of Christianity; but if not, if he persisted simultaneously in claiming a place in the Church of Christ and in holding to a theological opinion declared erroneous by the Court of Appeal ratified by the Pope, he was to be handed over to the secular arm; and by the laws of England–as well as of every other European country except Germany–the penalty inflicted by the secular arm was, in the instance of a tonsured clerk, death.
It was this that staggered the priest.
Somewhere within him there rose up a protest so overwhelmingly strong as to evade even an attempt at deliberate analysis–a protest that rested on the axiom that spiritual crimes deserved only spiritual punishment. This he could understand. He perceived clearly enough that no society can preserve its identity without limitations; that no association can cohere without definite rules that must be obeyed. He was sufficiently educated then to understand that a man who chooses to disregard the demands of a spiritual society, however arbitrary these demands may seem to be, can no longer claim the privileges of the body to which he has hitherto adhered. But that death–brutal physical death–could by any civilized society–still less any modern Christian society–be even an alternative penalty for heresy, shocked him beyond description.
A ray of hope had shone on him when he first read the facts. It might be, perhaps, that this was merely a formal sentence, as were the old penalties for high treason abandoned long before they were repealed. He turned to the index; and after a search leaned back again in despair. He had seen half a dozen cases quoted, within the last ten years, in England alone, in which the penalty had been inflicted.
It was half an hour before he stood up, with one determination at least formed in his mind–that he would consult no one. He had learnt in the last few weeks sufficient distrust of himself to refrain from formulating conclusions too soon, and he learnt enough of the world in which he found himself to understand that positions accepted as self-evident by society in general, which yet seemed impossible to himself, after all occasionally turned out to be at least not ridiculous.
But to think that it was the young monk with whom he had talked at Lourdes who was to be the centre of the process he himself had to prepare! . . . He understood now some of the hints that Dom Adrian Bennett had let fall.
A card was brought up to him a couple of evenings later as he sat at his desk; and as he turned it over Father Jervis himself hurried in.
“May I speak to you alone an instant?” he said; and glanced at the secretaries, who rose and went out without a word.
“You look unwell,” said the old priest keenly, as he sat down.
Monsignor waved a deprecatory hand.
“Well–I’m glad I caught you in time,” went on the other. “I saw the man come in; and wondered whether you knew about him.”
“Well–I just know he’s not a Catholic; and something of a politician.”
“Well, he’s quite the shrewdest man the secularists have got. He’s a complete materialist. And I’ve not the slightest doubt he’s heard of your illness and has come to see whether he can fish anything out of you. He’s exceedingly plausible; and very dangerous. I don’t know what he’s come about, but you may be certain it’s something important. It may be to do with the Religious Houses; or the Bill for the re-establishment of the Church. But you may depend upon it, it’s something vital. I thought I’d better remind you who he is.”
The priest stood up.
“Thank you very much, father. Is there anything else? Have you any news for me?”
Father Jervis smiled.
“No, Monsignor. You know more than I do, now. . . . Well, I’ll tell Mr. Hardy you’ll see him. Number one parlour?”
“That’ll do very well. Thanks.”
It was growing towards dusk as Monsignor Masterman passed down the corridor a few minutes later; and he paused a moment to glance out upon the London street through the tall window at the end. Not that there was anything particular to be seen there; indeed the street, at the moment he looked, was entirely empty. But he looked up for an instant at the great electric news-sheet where the headlines were displayed, above the corner shop on the way to Victoria Street where the papers were sold. But there was no news. There was the usual announcement of the weather conditions, a reference to one or two land-cases, and a political statement.
Then he went on.
The parlour with the glass doors was lighted, and a man in a black lawyer’s dress stood up to greet him as he came in. He was rosy-faced and genial, clean shaven, above the middle-height, and his manner was very deferential and attractive.
The first minute or two was taken up by Mr. Hardy’s congratulations on the other’s appearance, and on his complete recovery. There was not a trace of anxiety or nervousness in his manner; and the priest almost insensibly found himself beginning to discount his friend’s warning. Then, quite suddenly, the other turned to business.
“Well, I suppose I must come to the point. What I want to ask is this, Monsignor. Can you tell me in confidence (I assure you I will be discreet) whether the ecclesiastical authorities here realize the rush of Socialists that is bound to come, so soon as the Emperor’s conversion is publicly announced.”
“I—-” began the priest.
“One moment, please, Monsignor. I do not in the least want to force any confidences. But you know we infidels”–(he smiled charmingly and modestly)–“we infidels regard you as our best friends. The State seems to know nothing of mercy. But the Church is always reasonable. And we poor Socialists must live somewhere. So I wished—-“
“But my dear sir,” began Monsignor. “I think you’re assuming too much. Has the Emperor shown any signs—?”
Across the other’s face he suddenly saw pass a look of complete vacancy, as if he were no longer attending; and, simultaneously, he heard a sudden sound which he could not at first identify, through the open windows looking on to Ambrosden Avenue.
“What is that?” exclaimed the lawyer sharply; and stood up.
Again from the street there rose the roar of voices, cheering, followed by a sharp punctuating cry.
“Come this way,” said the priest. “We can see from the corridor.”
When they reached the window the whole aspect of the street had changed. Half-way from where they stood, to the end where the sheet placard was erected, was a gathering, surging mob, increasing as they looked. From the left, from behind the west end of the cathedral clock a continual stream poured in, met by two others, the one, down the avenue, of figures that ran and gesticulated, the other from the direction of Victoria Street. And from the whole arose gusts of cheering, marking the pauses in the speech of some tiny figure which, mounted beside the news-sheet, appeared to be delivering a speech.
Monsignor glanced at the news-sheet, and there, in gigantic letters, over the space where the weather had been discussed just now, was the announcement made public at the very instant when the leader of the English Socialists was attempting to discover the truth of the rumour that had reached him:–
THE EMPEROR OF GERMANY WAS RECEIVED INTO THE CATHOLIC CHURCH ON THURSDAY EVENING.
And beneath it:
PROCLAMATION TO THE SOCIALISTS EXPECTED TO-NIGHT.
Monsignor read it, unconscious of all else except the astounding fact. Then he turned to speak, but found himself alone.
London went soberly mad with enthusiasm that night, and Monsignor Masterman, standing on the cathedral roofs with half a dozen priests, watched what could be seen of the excitement for half an hour, before going downstairs for the _Te Deum_ in the great church.
The cathedral was, indeed, largely, the centre round which the-enthusiasm concentrated itself. Two other whirlpools eddied in Parliament Square, and round St. Paul’s, where the Archbishop of London preached a sermon from the steps. Even these facts, although in a sense he knew they must be so, drove home into the priest’s mind the realization of how the Church was, once again, as five hundred years ago, the centre and not merely a department of the national life.
In every direction, as he leaned over Ambrosden Avenue, as he looked down Francis Street to right and left, everywhere nothing of the streets was visible under the steadily moving pavement of heads. Every space between the tall houses resembled the flow of an intricate stream, with its currents, its eddies, its back-waters, beneath the clear radiance of the artificial light. Here and there actors were seen gesticulating in dumb show, for all sounds were drowned in the steady subdued roar of voices. There was no delirium, no horse-play; the citizens were too well disciplined. Occasionally from this point or that a storm of cheering broke out as some great man was recognized.
About half-past nine mounted policemen began to make their appearance from Victoria Street, and an open way was gradually formed leading to a cleared space in front of the Cathedral. Ten minutes later cars began to follow, as the great folks began to arrive for the _Te Deum_, and almost simultaneously the bells broke out, led by the solemn crash of the great “St. Edward” from the campanile.
They read in the morning the full text of the proclamation to the Socialists.
As Monsignor Masterman carne up from breakfast, he felt his arm taken, and there was Father Jervis, his clever old face lit up by excitement. He too carried a morning paper under his arm.
“I want to have a talk with you about this,” he said, “Have you seen the Cardinal yet?”
“I’m to see him at ten. I feel perfectly helpless. I don’t understand in the least.”
“Have you read it through yet?”
“No, I glanced at it only. I wish you’d help me through, father.”
The old priest nodded.
“Well, we’ll read every word of it first,”
As they passed into the sitting-room, the prelate slipped forward the little door-plate that announced that he was within, but engaged. Then, without a word, they sat down, and there was dead silence for twenty minutes, broken only by the rustle of turning pages, and an occasional murmur of raised voices from the groups that still wandered round the Cathedral–pools of that vast river that had filled every channel last night. Father Jervis uttered a small exclamation once or twice.
Monsignor laid down the sheets at last and sighed.
“Oh, yes! I’ve been re-reading. Now let us talk.”
Father Jervis turned back to the front page, settled the paper on his knee, and leaned back.
“The main point is this,” he said. “Repressive measures will be passed in Germany, as soon as the act can be got through. That will mean that Germany will be brought up into line with the rest of Europe, America, Australia, and half Asia, throughout her whole empire. That will mean again that our own repressive measures will really and truly be put into force. At present they are largely inoperative.”
“How do you mean?”
“Well, we’ve got laws against things like blasphemy and heresy, and particularly the dissemination of heresy, and all the rest; but they’re practically never put into force except in very flagrant cases. For instance, Socialist and infidel speeches can be delivered freely in what are called private houses, which are really clubs. Well, that sort of thing cannot possibly go on. The infidels have complained of tyranny, of course–that’s part of the game. As a matter of fact they’ve been perfectly free, unless they gave actually public offence. They’ve distributed their pamphlets and done what they liked. Well, of course it was impossible to be really strict so long as Germany was lax. They could always meet in Berlin, and have their pamphlets printed there; and we could do nothing. But, you see, the whole situation’s changed with the Emperor’s conversion. He’s one of those heavy, consistent men–quite stupid, of course–who act their principles right out to the farthest detail. So long as he was agnostic he allowed almost anything to go on. And now he’s a Christian he’ll understand that that must stop. He’s responsible before God, you see, as the ruler—-“
“But the people. What of the people?”
Father Jervis stared.
“The people? Why, they’re the ruled, aren’t they?”
“Democracy? Why, no one believes in that, of course. How could they?”
“Go on, father.”
“But, Monsignor, you must get that clear. You must remember we’re really educated people, not half-educated.”
Monsignor twitched with irritation. He could not understand even yet.
“Father, do you mean that the people won’t resent this sudden change of front on the part of the Emperor? Certainly, if they’re really liberally-minded they’ll tolerate his following his own conscience. But how can they justify his suddenly dictating to them?”
The priest leaned forward a little. His old manner came back, and once more he spoke to Monsignor as to a child.
“Monsignor, listen carefully, please. I assure you you’re completely out of date. What the German people will say now is this: ‘Up to now the Emperor has been agnostic, and therefore he has not allowed any laws against heresy. Now he is a Catholic, and therefore he will cause laws to be passed against heresy.'”
“And they won’t resent that?” snapped the prelate, now thoroughly irritated.
Father Jervis lifted a pacific hand.
“My dear friend, the Germans–like all other educated nations–believe that their ruler is meant by God to rule them. And they also believe that Catholicism is the true religion. Very well, then. When a ruler is Catholic they obey him implicitly, because they know that he will be kept straight in all matters of right and wrong by the Pope, who is the Representative of God. In non-vital matters they will obey him because he is their ruler, and therefore they are bound in conscience to do so.”
“And when the ruler is not Catholic?”
“Again, in non-vital matters they will obey him. And in vital matters–supposing, that is, he passed a law against Christianity (which, of course, nowadays no man could certainly do)–then they would appeal to the Pope, and, if the law was enforced, disobey it and take the penalties.”
“Then the Pope is the real ruler–the final court of appeal?”
“Certainly. Who else should be? Isn’t he the Vicar of Christ?”
There was a pause.
“There,” said the priest more easily. “And now we really must get back to the point. I said just now that the conversion of the Emperor will mean a tightening up of repressive measures against the infidels everywhere. They won’t be allowed to congregate, or disseminate their views any longer.”
“Well, the point is, what will happen? There must be an explosion or a safety-valve. And even if there is an explosion there must be a safety-valve afterwards, or there will be another explosion.”
“What you told me about America—-“
“That was on the tip of my tongue,” said Father Jervis. “And I expect that’ll be the solution.”
“Let’s see,” said Monsignor reflectively, “you told me there were certain cities in America where infidels were tacitly allowed to have things their own way–I think you mentioned Boston?”
“And you think that that will be officially authorized now–I mean that there will be definite colonies where the infidels will be allowed complete liberty?”
“What sort of restrictions?”
“Well, they won’t be allowed to have an army or an aery—-“
“An aery,” repeated Father Jervis–“an air-fleet, I mean. That wouldn’t do: they might make war.”
“I don’t see what better safety-valve could be suggested. They could work out their own ideas there as much as they liked. Of course, details would come later.”
“And the rest of the Proclamation?” asked the other, lifting the sheet.
“I think we’ve got at the essentials,” said the priest, glancing again at his own copy, “and at the immediate results. Of course, all his other measures don’t come into force till the Houses pass them. In fact, nothing of the Proclamation has force until that happens. I expect the Bill for the Establishment of Catholicism will take some time. We shall get ours through before that. They’ll pass a few small measures immediately, no doubt–as to the Court chaplains and so on.”
There was a pause.
“I really think we’ve got at the principles,” said the priest again, meditatively. “Are they clear to you?”
“I think so,” he said. “I’m very much obliged, Father. I’m sorry I was stupid just now; but you know it’s extraordinarily bewildering to me. I still don’t seem to be able to grasp all you said about Democracy.”
The old priest smiled reassuringly.
“Well, you see, the universal franchise reduced Democracy _ad absurdum_ fifty years ago. Even the uneducated saw that. And then there came the reaction to the old king-idea again.”
Monsignor shook his head.
“I don’t see how the people ever consented to give up the power when once they’d got it.”
“Why, in the same way that kings used to lose it in the old days–by revolution.”
“Revolution? Who revolted?”
“The many who were tyrannised over by the few. For that’s what democracy really means.”
Monsignor smiled at what he conceived to be a paradox.
“Well, I must go to the Cardinal,” he said. “It’s just on ten o’clock.”
It was three weeks later that the Benedictines took formal possession of Westminster Abbey, and simultaneously that Pontifical High Mass was sung in the University churches of Oxford, Cambridge, and Durham, to mark the inauguration of their new life.
Monsignor Masterman was appointed to attend upon the Cardinals in the Abbey; and as he awoke that morning, it seemed to him once more as if he were living in a dream of strange and intoxicating unreality. Everywhere in the house, as he passed along the corridors, as he gave and received last instructions before starting, there seemed the same tension of expectancy. Finally, as he went up to the Cardinals’ rooms to announce the start, he found the two prelates, both in their scarlet, sitting in silence, looking out over the crowded silent streets.
He bowed at the door without speaking, and then, turning, led the way.
As they came down to the door where the horsed State carriages were waiting, for a moment the wall and the avenue of faces, in front and to right and left, struck him almost with a sense of hostility. A murmur that was almost a roar greeted the gleam of scarlet as the Cardinals came out; then silence again, and a surge of down-bent heads as the two raised their hands in blessing.
Monsignor himself sat facing the Cardinals in the glass coach, as at a foot-pace the six white horses, with grooms and postillions, drew them slowly past the long length of the Cathedral, round to the right, and into Victoria Street. There he drew a long breath, for he had never seen or dreamed of such a sight as that which met him. From end to end of the side street, and in the direction of Old Victoria Station, across the roadway as well, from every window and from every roof, looked a silent sea of faces, that broke into sound and rippling motion as the last carriage came in sight. He had not realized till this moment the tremendous appeal to the imagination which this formal restoration of the old Abbey to the sons of its original founders and occupants made to the popular mind. Here again there had been working in his mind an undefined sense that the Church had her interests, and the nation hers. He had not understood that the two were identified once more; and identified, too, to a degree which had perhaps never before been reached. Even in medieval days there had been crises and even periods during which the secular power stood on one side and the sacred on another; as when Henry had faced St. Thomas, with the nation torn in factions behind the two champions. But the lesson, it seemed, had been learned at last; Caesar had learned that God was his ultimate sanction: and Church and nation, now perhaps for the first time, stood together as soul and body united in one personality.
If Victoria Street suggested such a thought as this, Parliament Square drove it home. As the coach drew up at the west door of the Abbey, and Monsignor stepped out with his robes about him, he heard, like a ground-bass to the ecstatic pealing of the bells overhead, the great roar of welcome roll out over the wide space, reverberate back from Westminster Hall and the Government Buildings opposite, and die down into heart-shaking silence again, as the vermilion flash was seen at the Abbey doors. The great space was filled in every foot with a crowd that was of one heart and soul in its welcome of this formal act of restitution.
Within, the monks waited, headed by their abbot, in a wide circle of some hundred persons, in the extreme end of the nave about the door. The proper formalities were carried out; and the seculars, led by the Cardinals, passed up the enormous church, between the tapestries that hung from every pillar, to the music of the _Ecce Sacerdos magnus_.
The old monuments were gone, of course–removed to St. Paul’s–and for the first time for nearly three hundred years it was possible to see the monastic character of the church as its builders had designed it. Over the screen hung now again the Great Rood with Mary and John; and the altars of the Holy Cross and St. Benedict stood on either side of the choir-gates.
And so they waited, the Cardinals in their thrones beside the high-altar, and the man who had lost his memory beside them; while the organ pealed out continuously overhead and endless footsteps went to and fro over the carpeted ways and the open stone spaces of the transepts. Once more upon this man, so bewildered by this new world in which he found himself, descended a flood of memories and half-perceived images. He looked up to the far-off vaulted roof and the lantern beneath the central tower; he looked down the long row of untenanted stalls; across the transepts, clean and white again now as at the beginning, filled from end to end across the floor with the white of surplices and the dusky colours of half the religious habits of the world; he caught here and there the gleam of candle-flames and gold and carving from the new altars, set back again, so far as might be, in their old stations; and again it seemed to him that he had lived in some world of the imagination, as if he saw things which kings and prophets had desired to see and had not seen unless in visions of faith and hope that never found fulfilment.
He whispered softly to himself sometimes; old forgotten names and scenes and fragments came back. It seemed to him as if in some other life he had once stood here–surely there in that transept–a stranger and an outcast–watching a liturgy which was strange to him, listening to music, lovely indeed to the ear, yet wholly foreign in this home of monks and prayer. Surely great statues had stood before them–statesmen in perukes who silently declaimed secular rhetoric in the house of God, swooning women, impossible pagan personifications of grief, medallions, heathen wreaths, and broken columns. Yet here as he looked there was nothing but the decent furniture of a monastic church–tall stalls, altars, images of the great ones of heaven, wide eloquent spaces that gave room to the soul to breathe. . . . He had dreamed the other perhaps; he had read histories; he had seen pictures. . . .
The organ broke off in full blast; and under the high roofs came pealing the cry of a trumpet. He awoke with a start; the Cardinals were already on their feet at a gesture from a master of ceremonies. Then he stepped into his place and went down with them to the choir-gates to meet the King. . . .
It was in the Jerusalem chamber when the King was gone, a couple of hours later, that the new abbot of Westminster came up to him. He was a small, rosy man with very clear, beautiful eyes.
“Can you speak to me for five minutes, Monsignor?” he said.
The other glanced across at the Cardinals.
“Certainly, father abbot.”
The two went out, down a little passage, and into a parlour. They sat down.
“It’s about Dom Adrian,” said the abbot abruptly.
Monsignor checked the sudden shock that ran through him. He knew he must show no emotion.
“It’s terribly on my conscience,” went on the other, with distress visibly growing as he spoke. “I feel I ought to have seen which way he was going. He was one of my novices, you know, before we were transferred. . . . He would have been here to-day if all had been well. He was to have been one of my monks. I suggested his name.”
Monsignor Masterman began to deprecate the self-accusation of the other.
“Yes, yes,” said the abbot sharply. “But the point is whether anything can be done. The trial begins on Monday, you see.”
“Will he submit?”
The abbot shook his head.
“I don’t think so. He’s extraordinarily determined. But I wanted to know if you could give me any hope on the other side. Could you do anything for him with the Cardinal, or at Rome?”
“I . . . I will speak to the Cardinal, certainly, if you wish. But—-“
“Yes, I know. But you know a great deal depends on the temper of the court. Facts depend for their interpretation upon the point of view.”
“But I understand that it’s definite heresy–that he denies that there is any distinction between the miracles of the Church and—-“
The abbot interrupted.
“Yes, yes, Monsignor. But for all that there’s a great deal in the way these things are approached. You see there’s so much neutral ground on which the Church has defined nothing.”
“I am afraid, from what I’ve seen of the papers, that Dom Adrian will insist on a clear issue.”
“I’m afraid so: I’m afraid so. We’ll do our best here to persuade him to be reasonable. And I thought that if you would perhaps do your best on the other side–would tell the Cardinal, as from yourself, what you think of Dom Adrian.”
“If we could but postpone the trial for a while,” went on the abbot almost distractedly. “That poor boy! His face has been with me all to-day.”
For an instant Monsignor almost gave way. He felt himself on the point of breaking out into a burst of protest against the whole affair–of denouncing the horror and loathing that during these last days had steadily grown within him–a horror that so far he had succeeded in keeping to himself. Then once more he crushed it down, and stood up for fear his resolution should give way.
“I will do what I can, my lord,” he said coldly.
A great restlessness seized upon the man who had lost his memory that night.
He had thought after his return from abroad that things were well with him again–that he had learned the principles of this world that was so strange to him; and his busy days–all that had to be done and recovered, and his success in doing it–these things at once distracted and soothed him. And now once more he was back in his bewilderment.
One great principle it was which confused his whole outlook–the employment of force upon the side of Christianity. Here, on the large scale, was the forcible repression of the Socialists; on a small scale, the punishment of a heretic. What kind of religion was this that preached gentleness and practised violence? . . .
Between eleven and twelve o’clock he could bear it no longer. The house was quiet, and the lights for the most part gone out. He took his hat and thin cloak, throwing this round him so as to hide the purple at his throat, went softly down the corridors and stairs, and let himself out noiselessly into Ambrosden Avenue. He felt he must have air and space: he was beginning almost to hate this silent, well-ordered ecclesiastical house, where wheels ran so smoothly, so inexorably, and so effectively.
He came out presently into Victoria Street and turned westwards.
He did not notice much as he went. Only his most superficial faculties paid attention to the great quiet lighted thoroughfare, to the few figures that moved along, to the scattered sentinels of the City of Westminster police in their blue and silver, who here and there stood at the corners of the cross-streets, who saluted him as he went by; to the little lighted shrines that here and there hung at the angles. Certainly it was a Catholic city, he perceived in his bitterness, drilled and disciplined by its religion; there was no noise, no glare, no apparent evil. And the marvel was that the people seemed to love to have it so! He remembered questioning a friend or two soon after his return to England as to the revival of these Curfew laws, and the xtraordinary vigilance over morals; and the answer he had received to the effect that those things were taken now as a matter of course. One priest had told him that civilization in the modern sense would be inconceivable without them. How else could the few rule the many? . . .
He came down, across Parliament Square, to the river at last, walking swiftly and purposelessly. A high gateway, with a guard-room on either side, spanned the entrance to the wide bridge that sprang across to Southwark, and an officer stepped out as he approached, saluted, and waited.
He drove down his impatience with an effort, remembering the _espionage_ (as he called it) practised after nightfall.
“I want to breathe and look at the river,” he said sharply.
The officer paused an instant.
“Very good, father,” he said.
Ah, this was better! . . . The bridge, empty from end to end, so far as he could see, ran straight over to the south side, where, once again, there rose up the guard-house. He turned sharply when he saw it, and leaned on the parapet looking eastwards.
The eternal river flowed beneath him, clean and steady and strong, between the high embankments. (He knew by now all about the lock-system that counteracted the ebb and flow of the tides.) Scarcely a hundred yards away curved out another bridge, and behind that another and another, down into the distance, all outlined in half-lights that shone like stars and flashed back like heaven itself from the smooth-running water beneath. An extraordinary silence lay over all–the silence of a sleeping city–though it was scarcely yet midnight, and though the city itself on either side of the river lay white and glowing in the lights that burned everywhere till dawn.
At first it quieted him–this vision of earthly peace, this perfection to which order and civilization had come; and then, as he regarded it, it enraged him. . . .
For was not this very vision an embodiment of the force that he hated? It was this very thing that oppressed and confined his spirit–this inexorable application of eternal principles to temporal affairs. Here was a city of living men, each an individual personality, of individual tastes, thoughts, and passions, each a world to himself and monarch of that world. Yet by some abominable trick, it seemed, these individuals were not merely in external matters forced to conform to the Society which they helped to compose, but interiorly too; they actually had been tyrannized over in their consciences and judgments, and loved their chains. If he had known that the fires of revolt lay there sleeping beneath this smooth exterior he would have hated it far less; but he had seen with his own eyes that it was not so. The crowds that had swarmed a while ago round the Cathedral, pouring in and filling it for the _Te Deum_ of thanksgiving that one more country had been brought under the yoke; the sea of faces that had softly applauded and bowed beneath the blessing of those two Cardinals in scarlet; the enthusiasm, the more amazing in its silent orderliness, which had greeted the restoration of the old national Abbey to its Benedictine founders–even the very interviews he had had with quiet, deferential men, who, he understood, stood at the very head of the secular powers; the memory of the young King kissing the ring of the abbot at the steps into the choir–all these things proved plainly enough that by some supernatural alchemy the very minds of men had been transformed, that they were no longer free to rebel and resent and assert inalienable rights–in short, that a revolution had passed over the world such as history had never before known, that men no longer lived free and independent lives of their own, but had been persuaded to contribute all that made them men to the Society which they composed.
He perceived now clearly that it was this forced contribution that he hated—this merging of the individual in the body, and the body one of principles that were at once precise and immutable. It was the extinction of Self.
Then, almost without perceiving the connection, he turned in his mind to Christianity as he conceived it to be–to his ideal figure of Christ; and in an instant he saw the contrast, and why it was that the moral instinct within him loathed and resented this modern Christian State.
For it was a gentle Figure that stood to him for Christ–God? yes, in some profound and mysterious way, but, for all earthly purposes of love and imitation, a meek and persuasive Man whose kingdom was not of this world, who repudiated violence and inculcated love; One who went through the world with simple tasks and soft words, who suffered without striking, who obeyed with no desire to rule.
And what had this tranquil, tolerant Figure in common with the strong discipline of this Church that bore His name–a Church that had waited so long, preaching His precepts, until she grew mighty and could afford to let them drop: this Church which, after centuries of blood and tears, at last had laid her hands upon the sceptre, and ruled the world with whom she had pleaded in vain so long; this Church who, after two thousand years of pain, had at last put her enemies under her feet–“repressed” the infidel and killed the heretic?
And so the interior conflict went on within this man, who found within him a Christianity with which the Christian world in which he lived had no share or part. He still stared out in the soft autumn night at the huge quiet city, his chin on his hands and his elbows on the parapet, half perceiving the parable at which he looked. Once it was this river beneath him that had made the city; now the city set the river within bars and ordered its goings. Once it was Christianity–the meek and gentle spirit of Christ–that had made civilization; now civilization had fettered Christianity in unbreakable chains. . . . Yet even as he resented and rebelled, he felt he dared not speak. There were great forces about him, forces he had experienced for himself–Science tamed at last, self-control, organization, and a Peace which he could not understand. Every man with whom he had to do seemed kind and tender; there was the patient old priest who taught him and bore with him as with a child, the fatherly cardinal, the quiet, serene ecclesiastics of the house in which he lived, the controlled crowds, the deferential great men with whom he talked. But it was their very strength, he saw, that made them tender; the appalling power of the machine, which even now he felt that he but half understood, was the very thing that made it run so smoothly. It had the horror of a perfectly controlled steel piston that moves as delicately as a feather fan.
For he saw how inexorable was that strength which controlled the world; how ruthless, in spite of smooth and compassionate words, towards those who resisted it. The Socialists were to be “repressed”; the heretic was to be tried for his life; and in all that wide world in which he lived it seemed that there was not one Christian who recoiled, not one breath of public opinion that could express itself.
And he–he who hated it–must take his part. A Fate utterly beyond his understanding had set him there as a wheel in that