Certainly he feared death for himself; yet, as he paced up and down, he could honestly and sincerely tell himself that this was not foremost in his mind. Rather it was a sense of bewildered shock and horror that such things could have broken in upon that orderly, disciplined world with which he had become familiar. It was this horror that hung over him–its impression deepened by the bleak April morning, the nervous strain under which he suffered, the brusque discourtesy of the men who had received him, and the knowledge that scarcely thirty-six hours before an envoy who had come alone and peaceably had been done to death in this silent city. And the horror also centred for him now, as in a symbol, in the old Cardinal whom he was learning to love.
He framed, as men do when the imagination is stimulated to the highest pitch, a dozen possible events–each seen by him mentally, clear, in a picture. He constructed for himself the Cardinal’s return with news of a compromise, with an announcement at least of delay. (He knew a few of the proposals that were to be made by sanction of the Pope.) Or he saw him coming back, anxious and perturbed, with nothing decided. Or he imagined himself being sent for in haste. . . . And there were other pictures, more terrible; and against these he strove with all his will, telling himself that it was inconceivable that such things should be. Yet not one of his imaginings was as terrible as the event itself. . . .
It came swift and sudden, without the faintest sign or premonition.
As he turned in his endless pacings, down at the farther end of the room, his ears for the instant filled with the clatter of some cart outside the open, barred windows, a figure came swiftly into the room, without the sound of a footstep to warn him. Behind he could make out two faces waiting. . . .
It was the Cardinal who stood there, upright and serene as ever, with a look in his eyes that silenced the priest. He lifted his hand on which shone his great amethyst, and at the motion, scarcely knowing what he did, the priest was on his knees.
“_Benedictio Dei omnipotentis Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti, descendat super te, et maneat semper._”
That was all; not a word more.
And as the priest sprang up with a choking cry, the slender figure was gone, and the door shut and locked.
All day long there had hung a strange silence over the city, unlike in its quality that ordinary comparative quiet of modern towns to which the man who had lost his memory had become by now accustomed. He knew well by now the gentle, almost soothing, hum of busy streets, as the traffic and the footsteps went over the noiseless pavements, and the air murmured with the clear subdued notes of the bells and the melodious horns of the swifter vehicles; all this had something of a reassuring quality, reminding the listener that he lived in a world of men, active and occupied indeed, but also civilized and self-controlled.
But the silence of this inner quarter of Berlin was completely different. Its profoundness was sinister and suggestive. Now and again came a rapid hooting note, growing louder and more insistent, as some car, bound on revolutionary work, tore up some street out of sight at forty miles an hour and away again into silence. Several times he heard voices in sharp talk pass beneath his window. Occasionally somewhere overhead in the great buildings sounded the whir of a lift, a footstep, the throwing up of a window. And to each sound he listened eagerly and intently, ignorant as to whether it might not mark the news of some fresh catastrophe, the tidings of some decision that would precipitate his world about him.
As to the progress of events he knew nothing at all.
Since that horrible instant when the door had closed in his face and the Cardinal had gone again as mysteriously as he had come–now three days ago–he had heard no hint that could tell him how things developed. He had not even dared to ask the taciturn servant in uniform who brought him food as to the fate of the old man. For he knew with a certainty as clear as if he had seen the dreadful thing done, that his friend and master was dead–dead, as the Revolutionary Committee had said he would be, if he came with any message other than that of submission. As to the manner of his death he dared not even conjecture. It would be swift, at least. . . .
Ten thousand thoughts, recurring and recurring, like pictures thrown on a wall, ran past his attention as the hours went by. He saw the gathering of armaments–the horizon tinged by the gathering war-vessels of the air–the advance, the sudden storm of battle, the gigantic destruction from these vast engines of power of which he had learned nothing but their ghastly potentialities. Or he saw the advance of this desperate garrison, dispersing this way and that for their war upon the world–silent vessels, moving in the clouds, to Rome, to London, to Paris and Versailles, each capable of obliterating a city. Or he saw, again, the submission of the world to the caprice of these desperate children who feared nothing–not even death itself–who crouched like an ape in a powder-magazine, lighted match in hand, careless as to whether or no themselves died so long as the world died with them.
He formulated nothing; concluded nothing; he rejected every conjecture which temporarily constructed itself in his almost passive mind. He did not even yet fully understand that the question he had asked of himself months before–the question that had tortured him so keenly–as to whether these Christians who ruled had not forgotten how to suffer–had been answered with dreadful distinctness. He just perceived that the young Roman prince had been gallant; that the old man had been more gallant still, since those to whom he came had already proved that they would keep their word. And now the third day was drawing to an end, and by midnight suspense would be over.
The fog still hung over the city; but towards sunset it lifted a little, and he raised his heavy head from his breast as he lay, half sitting, half lying, on the tumbled sofa and blankets on which he had slept, to see the red sunlight on the wall above him. It was a curious room to a man who had grown accustomed to modern ways; there was a faded carpet on the floor, paper on the walls, and the old-fashioned electric globes hung, each on its wire, from the whitewashed ceiling. He saw that it must be a survival, or perhaps a deliberate archaicism. . . .
The sunlight crept slowly up the wall. . . .
Then the door was unlocked from the outside, and he turned his head, to see James Hardy come smiling towards him.
“Good evening, Monsignor. I am ashamed that I have not paid you a visit before. But we have been very busy these days.”
He sat down without offering to shake hands.
The priest saw, with one of those sudden inexplicable intuitions more certain than any acquired knowledge, two things: first, that his having been left alone for three days had been by deliberation and not carelessness; and second, that this visit to him only a few hours before the time of truce expired was equally deliberate. His brain was too confused for him to draw any definite conclusion from these facts; but he made at least one provisional decision, as swift as lightning, that he must hold his tongue.
“You have had an anxious time, I am afraid,” went on the other. “But so have we all. You must bear no malice, Monsignor.”
The priest said nothing. He looked between his half-closed eyelids at the heavy, clean-shaven, clever face of the man who sat opposite him, the strong, capable and rather humorous mouth, his close-cut hair turning a little grey by the ears, watching for any sign of discomposure. But there was none at all.
The man glanced up, caught his eye, and smiled a little.
“Well, I am afraid you’re not altogether pleased with us. But you must bear in mind, Monsignor, that you’ve driven–” (he corrected his phrase)–“you drove us into a corner. I regret the deaths of the two envoys as much as you yourself. But we were forced to keep our word. Obviously your party did not believe us, or they would have communicated by other means. Well, we had to prove our sincerity.” (He paused). “And we shall have to prove it again to-night, it seems.”
Again there was silence.
“I think you’re foolish to take this line, Monsignor,” went on the other briskly–“this not speaking to me, I mean. I’m quite willing to tell you all I know, if you care to ask me. I’ve not come to bully you or to triumph over you. And after all, you know, we might easily have treated you as an envoy, too. To be quite frank, it was I who pleaded for you. . . . Oh! not out of any tenderness; we have got past that. You Christians have taught us that. But I thought that so long as we kept our word we need not go beyond it. And it’s proved that I’m right. . . . Aren’t you curious to know why?”
The priest looked at him again.
“Well, we are going to send you back after midnight. You will have to witness the last scene, I am afraid, so that you can give a true account of it–the Emperor’s death, I mean.”
He paused again, waiting for an answer. Then he stood up, at last, it seemed, pricked into impatience.
“Kindly come with me, Monsignor,” he said abruptly. “I have to take you before the Council.”
It was a large hall, resembling a concert-room, into which the priest came at last, an hour later, under the escort of James Hardy and a couple of police, and he had plenty of time to observe it, as he stood waiting by the little door through which he stepped on to the back of the platform.
This platform stood at the upper end of the hall, and was set with a long semicircle of chairs and desks, as if for judges, and these were occupied by perhaps thirty persons, dressed, he saw, in dull colours, all alike. The dresses seemed curiously familiar; he supposed he must have seen them in pictures. Then he remembered a long while ago Father Jervis telling him that the Socialists resented the modern developments in matters of costume.
The President’s desk and seat were raised a little above the others, but from behind the priest could see nothing of him but his black gown and his rather long iron-grey hair; he seemed to be answering in rapid German some question that one of his colleagues had just put to him.
The rest of the hall was almost empty. A table stood at the foot of the platform, and here were three or four of the usual recording machines; a dozen men sat here too, some writing, some listening, leaning back in their chairs. In the middle, on the opposite side of the table, stood a structure resembling a witness-box, ascended by two steps, railed in on the three other sides. A man with a pointed grey beard was leaving the box as the priest came in. Standing about the hall also were perhaps twenty other persons apparently listening to the President or waiting their turn. There were tall doors at the end of the hall, closed and guarded by police, and in the middle of each of the long sides two other doors, also closed, communicating with other rooms and passages, in one of which the priest had waited just now until the Council could see him.
Except for the rapid, heavy voice of the President the hall was very quiet, and from the very silence and motionlessness of those present there exhaled a certain air of tenseness. It would have been impossible for any intelligent person not to notice it, and for the priest, with his nerves strung, as they now were, to an extreme pitch of sensitiveness and attention, the atmosphere was overwhelmingly significant. Of what it signified he had no idea, beyond the knowledge he already possessed–that the hours were running out, and that midnight would see a decisive event which, though it must mean ultimately the ruin of every person present, might, for all that, change the line of the world’s development. A protest so desperate as this could not but have a tremendous effect upon human sentiment. He had caught a glimpse an hour before, as he whirled through the streets, far up against the luminous slay westwards, of a string of floating specks, which he knew to be the guard-boats, strung out now, night and day, in a vast circle round the city. At midnight they would surely move. . . .
Dark had already fallen outside, but the hall was as light as day with the hidden electric burners above the cornices, and he could see not only the faces, but the very expressions that characterized them. One thing at least was common to them all–a silent, fierce excitement. . . .
It would be about ten minutes before the priest’s turn came to face the Council. It seemed that the member to whom the President was speaking was not satisfied, and question and answer, all in rapid, unintelligible German, went on without intermission. Once or twice there was a murmur of applause, and more than once the President beat his hand heavily and emphatically upon the desk before him to enforce his point. The priest guessed that the unanimity was not perhaps as perfect as the world had been given to believe. However, guessing was useless. The President leaned back at last, and Hardy stepped forward to his chair and whispered. The President nodded, and the next moment, at a sign from Hardy, the two police urged the priest forward by the arms across the platform, down the steps, and so round to the right up into the witness-box. Then the President, who had still been whispering behind his hand, turned abruptly in his chair and faced him.
Monsignor related afterwards what an extraordinary moment that had been. His nerves were already tight-stretched and his expectation was at the highest; but the face of this man who now looked at him (tremendous though he knew such a personality must be, which could conceive and drive through such a revolt as this),–the face of him was beyond all imagining.
In the fashion of the day it was clean-shaven, and the absence of hair, except where that of his head framed the face, increased the impressions of those lines and shadow. It was a priestly face, saw Monsignor, with all the power and searchingness of one who can deal with living souls; but the face of a fallen priest. In complexion it was sallow, but the sallowness of health, not of weakness; full-shaped, but without being fat; the lips were straight and thin, the nose sharp and jutting and well curved, and the black eyes blazed at him with immense power from beneath heavy brows. His hair was brushed straight back from the forehead, and fell rather long behind. The face resembled a carefully modelled mask, through the eyes of which alone the tremendous life was visible.
The priest met those eyes straight for an instant, then he lowered his own, knowing that he could not be wholly himself if he looked that man in the face.
He was surprised to hear words of English uttered. He looked up again, and there was Hardy speaking, from beside the President’s chair.
“Monsignor, you would not answer me just now. Now that I am speaking in the Council’s name, will you consent to do so?”
“I will answer what I think right to answer.”
There was a touch of amusement in Hardy’s voice as he went on.
“You need not be afraid, Monsignor. We do not extort answers by the rack. I only wished to know if you would be reasonable.”
The priest said nothing.
“Very good, then. . . . First we will tell you our intentions. At midnight, as you know, we keep our word, and the Emperor will have to go the way of the others. It is regrettable, but the Christians do not seem to understand even yet that we are in earnest. You will have to be present at that scene, I am sorry to say; but you can comfort yourself by ministering to your co-religionist. He has not had a priest admitted to him since his arrest.
“Immediately afterwards you will be set at liberty, and put on board the air-boat on which you travelled from Rome, with the same driver who brought you here, on one single condition. That condition is that you go straight to the Holy Father, tell him all that you have seen, and take with you one or two little objects.”
He paused and beckoned to some one behind. A man came forward with a little box which he laid on the table. Hardy opened it.
“This is the box you are to take. Yes; I see that you recognize them. They are the biretta, the skullcap, the cross, and the ring of the late Cardinal Bellairs. There are also in this box the ring and a medal belonging to the late Prince Otteone. . . . You will take these with you as pledges of what you say. . . . Will you consent to do this?”
The priest bowed. For the moment he was unable to speak.
“You will also tell the Holy Father,” went on the other, replacing, as he spoke, the things in the box, “what you have seen of our dispositions. You will say that you saw us entirely resolute and unafraid. We do not fear anybody, Monsignor–not anything at all; I think you understand that by now.
“You will have a letter, of course, to take with you. It will contain our final terms. Because–(and I assure you that you are the first of the outside world to hear this news)–because we have decided to extend our patience for one more week. We shall, during that week, in order to prove the genuineness of our intentions, make a raid upon a certain city and, we hope, destroy it. (Naturally, I shall not inform you where that city stands.) And if, at the end of that week, our former terms are not accepted, we shall carry out our promises to the full. You may also add,” he went on more deliberately, “that our party is represented in every capital of Europe, and that these may be expected to act in the same way as that in which we have acted, as soon as the week expires. We have no objection to telling you this: our plans are completely made, and no precautions on your side can hinder them. Is that clear, Monsignor?”
“Yes,” said the priest.
“You are satisfied that we mean what we say?”
“I suppose so.”
Hardy’s manner changed a little. Up to now he had been speaking coldly and sharply, except where once or twice a slightly ironical tone had come into his voice. Now he bent forward a little with his hands upon the table, and his tone became a trifle friendly.
“Now there are just one or two questions that the Council wish me to put to you.”
Monsignor glanced up at the circle of watching faces, and as he looked at the President, he could have sworn that a look of displeasure came over the man’s face.
“Well, our first question is this (I dare say you will not answer it; but if you will oblige us, we shall be grateful): Can you tell us whether, when you left Rome, the Holy Father, or the European Powers, showed any signs of yielding?”
The priest drew a breath.
“I am absolutely sure,” he said quietly, “that they had no idea of yielding, and that they never will.”
“Why did they send envoys then?”
“They were willing to make other concessions.”
“What were these concessions?”
“I am not an envoy; I have no power to say.”
“Do you know what they were?”
“Why will you not say? Is it not the wish of the Powers to come to terms?”
“It was their wish.”
“Do you mean that it is so no longer?”
“I cannot imagine it being their wish any longer.”
“Because you murdered the two envoys they sent,” said the priest, beginning suddenly to shake all over with uncontrollable nervous excitement.
“Have you any reason for saying that?”
“I know what I would do myself under such circumstances.”
“And that is—-“
The priest straightened himself, and seized the rail before him to steady himself.
“I would wipe out of existence every soul that was concerned in those murders. I would have no more civilized dealings with savages.”
There was a sudden movement and murmur in the circle on the platform. From the intentness with which they had followed the questions and answers, Monsignor saw that they understood English well enough. One man sprang to his feet. But simultaneously the President was on his own, and with a gesture and a sharp word or two restored order.
“That is very deplorable violence,” said Hardy. “But it is most Christian.”
“I am beginning to think so myself,” said the priest.
“Well, well,” said the other, tapping the table irritably. “We must get on—-“
A door behind him, communicating with the offices behind the hall, opened suddenly as he spoke these words, and he broke off. Monsignor followed the direction of his eyes, and saw a man enter who was plainly in a state of extreme excitement. He was across the platform in three or four quick steps, and laid a paper before the President, pushing by Hardy to do so. Then he stood back abruptly and waited. The President took up the paper deliberately and read it. Then he laid it down again, and a question too was asked smartly in the same rapid German, and answered as smartly.
Then he turned, and creasing the paper between his fingers as he spoke, uttered a sentence that brought every man to his feet.
In the confusion that followed Monsignor stood for a while disregarded. The man who had brought the message, had, after one more sentence snapped at him over the President’s shoulder, vanished once more. For the rest–they were up now, forming into groups, talking excitedly, dissolving again, and re-forming. Only two remained quiet–Hardy and the President; the latter still in his chair, staring out moodily, with the Englishman whispering into his ear. Then Hardy too stood back and stared about him. One or two men came up, but he waved them aside. Then his eyes fell upon the priest, still waiting: he slipped away from the chair, came down the steps, and beckoned to him.
Monsignor was in a whirl; but he turned and came obediently out of his place into the corner by the steps. He noticed as he came that even those who guarded the lower doors were talking.
“There’s news,” whispered Hardy sharply. “Another envoy is coming. Who is it?”
The priest shook his head. “I have no idea.”
“He’ll be here in ten minutes,” said Hardy. “He passed the line of guard-boats five minutes ago. Monsignor—-“
“Just come behind here a moment. I want to have a word with you.”
As they crossed the platform he slipped off again to the President’s chair, whispered a word to him, and returned.
“Come through here,” he whispered.
Together they passed through the door at the back, and so into one of the little rooms through which they had come together half an hour before. There he closed both doors carefully and came up to the priest.
“Monsignor,” he said, and hesitated.
The priest looked at him curiously. He began to see that a disclosure was coming.
“Monsignor, I have not been hard on you. . . . I came as soon as I could. . . .”
“I . . . I don’t know what’s going to happen. The envoy’s coming at the last hour. The Council is in a very divided state of mind. You saw that?”
“They’re wavering. It’s no use denying it. They’d accept almost anything. It’s perfectly desperate. They see that now.”
He was fingering the priest’s sleeve by now, and his eyes were full of a pitiable anxiety.
“What do you wish me to do?”
“Well, they’ll say I was responsible–if the negotiations come to anything, I mean. They’ll say I urged them on. They’ll sacrifice me–me and the President. They’ll say they never would have gone to such lengths—-What’s that noise?”
Monsignor jerked his head impatiently. He began to see light.
“Well,” went on the other nervously, “I want you to speak for me, if necessary–_if necessary_, you understand? You’re a Christian, Monsignor. . . You’ll stand by me.”
The priest waited before answering; as the situation took shape before his eyes, he began to understand more and more clearly; and yet—-
A voice called out sharply beyond the door, and Hardy leapt to the handle, beckoning with his head; and as the priest obediently followed, he gave him one more look of entreaty and opened the door. The President stood there. The great man, more impressive than ever now, as his great height showed itself, ran his eyes slowly over the two.
“Come back to the hall,” he said, so slowly that even the priest understood it, and turned.
“The envoy’s coming,” whispered Hardy breathlessly, as he paused before following. “You’ll remember, Monsignor? . . .”
It was hardly a minute since they had left, and yet all confusion had vanished. Every man was back in his seat, with that same impassive and yet attentive air that they had worn when Monsignor first saw them. Yet, with his new knowledge, it seemed to him as if he could detect, beneath all that, something of the indecisiveness of which he had just learned. Certainly they were under admirable discipline; yet he began to see that even socialistic discipline had its limitations.
The President was already in the act of sitting down, Hardy was stepping up behind him, and the priest was still hesitating by the door, when down at the lower end of the hall there was a movement among those who guarded it, the great doors opened, and a figure walked straight in, without looking to right or left.
He came on and up; and as he came the hush fell deeper. It was impossible even to see his face; he was in a long travelling cloak that fell to his feet; a travelling cap covered his head; and about his throat and face was thrown a great white scarf, such as the air-travellers often use. He came on, still without looking to right or left, walking as if he had some kind of right to be there, straight up to the witness-box, ascended the steps, and stood there for an instant motionless.
Then he unwound his scarf, lifted his cap and dropped it beside him, threw back his cloak with a single movement, and stood there–a white figure from head to foot, white capped. . . . There was a great sigh from the men on the platform; two or three sprang to their feet, and sat down again as suddenly. Only the President did not move. Then there fell an absolute silence.
“Eh well,” said the Pope in delicate French; “I am arrived in time then.”
He looked round from side to side, smiling and peering–this little commonplace-looking Frenchman, who had in his hand at this period of the world’s history an incalculably greater power than any living being on earth had ever before wielded–Father of Princes and Kings, Arbiter of the East, Father as well as Sovereign Lord of considerably more than a thousand million souls. He stood there, utterly alone with a single servant waiting out there, half a mile away, at the flying-stage, in the presence of the Council who in the name of the malcontents of the human race had declared war on the world of which he was now all but absolute master. No European nation could pass a law which he had not the right to veto; not one monarch claimed to hold his crown except at the hands of this man. And the East–even the pagan East–had learned at last that the Vicar of Christ was the Friend of Peace and Progress.
And he stood here, smiling and peering at the faces.
“I come as my own envoy,” said the Pope presently, adjusting his collar. “‘The King said, “They will reverence My Son,”‘ so I am come as the Vicar of that Son. You have killed my two messengers, I hear. Why have you done that?”
There was no answer. From where the priest stood he could hear laboured breathing on all sides, but not a man moved or spoke.
“Eh well then, I have come to offer you a last opportunity of submitting peacefully. In less than an hour from now the armed truce expires. After that we shall be compelled to use force. We do not wish to use force; but society must now protect itself. I do not speak to you in the name of Christ; that name means nothing to you. So I speak in the name of society, which you profess to love. Submit, gentlemen, and let me be the bearer of the good news.”
He spoke still in that absolutely quiet and conversational tone in which he had begun. One hand rested lightly on the rail before him; the other gently fingered the great cross on his breast, naturally and easily, as the priest had seen him finger it once before in his own palace. It was unthinkable that such a weight in the world’s history rested on so slight a foundation. Yet for a few frozen moments no one else moved or spoke. It is probable that the scene they witnessed seemed to them unsubstantial and untrue.
Then, as the priest still stood, fascinated and overwhelmed, he noticed a movement in the great chair before him. Very slowly the President shifted his position, clasping his hands loosely before him and bending forward a little. Then a dialogue began, of which every word remained in the priest’s mind as if written there. It was in French throughout, the smooth delicacy of the Pope’s intonation contrasting strangely with the heavy German accent of the other.
“You come as an envoy, sir. Do you then accept our terms?”
“I accept no terms. I offer them.”
“Absolute and unconditional submission to myself.”
“You received our notice as to the treatment of such envoys?”
(There was a rustle in the hall, but the other paid no attention.)
“You come armed then–protected in some manner?”
The Pope smiled. He made a little opening gesture with his hands.
“I come as you see me; no more.”
“Your armies are behind you?”
“The European air-fleets start from every quarter at midnight.”
“With your consent?”
“You understand that this means immeasurable bloodshed?”
“You defend that?”
“My Master came bringing not peace, but a sword. But I am not here to teach theology.”
“But until midnight—-“
“Until midnight I am in your hands.”
Again the silence fell, deeper than ever. Monsignor took his eyes off the Pope’s face for an instant to glance round what he could see of the circle. All were staring steadily, some half sunk down in their seats, others stretched forward, clasping the outer edges of the desks with strained hands, all staring at this quiet white figure who faced them. He looked again at that face. If there had been in it, not merely agitation or fear, but even unusual paleness, if there had been in those hands, one of which bore the great Papal ring, not merely trembling, but even a sign of constriction or tenseness, it might well have been, thought the priest afterwards, that the scene would have ended very differently. But the naturalness and ease of the pose were absolute. He stood there, the hands lightly laid one upon the other, his face palish certainly, but not colourless. There was even a slight flush in his cheeks from his quick walk up the long hall. It was a situation in which the weight of a hair would turn the scale. . . .
Then the President lifted his head slightly, and a tremor ran round the circle.
“I see no reason for delay,” he said heavily. “Our terms were clear. This man came with the full knowledge of them and the consequences of disregarding them—-“
The Pope lifted his hand.
“One instant, Mr. President—-“
“I see no reason—-“
A murmur of consent rolled round the thirty persons sitting there, so unmistakable that the man who up to now had ruled them all with a hint or gesture dropped his head again. Then the Pope went on.
“Gentlemen, I have really no more to say than that which I have said. But I beg of you to reconsider. You propose to kill me as you have killed my messengers. Well, I am at your disposal. I did not expect to live so long when I set out from Rome this morning. But, then, what will you gain? At midnight every civilized nation is in arms. And I will tell you what perhaps you do not know–that the East is supporting Europe. The Eastern fleets are actually on their way at this moment that I speak. You propose to reform Society. I will not argue as to those reforms; I say only that they are too late. I will not argue as to the truth of the Christian religion. I say only that the Christian religion is already ruling this world. You kill me? My successor will reign to-morrow. . . . You kill the Emperor; his son, now in Rome, at that moment begins to reign. Gentlemen, what do you gain? Merely this–that in days to come your names will be foul in all men’s mouths. . . . At this moment you have an opportunity to submit; in a few minutes it will be too late.”
He paused a moment.
Then, to the priest’s eyes, it seemed as if some subtle change passed over his face and figure. Up to now he had spoken, conversationally and quietly, as a man might speak to a company of friends. But, though he had not noticed it at the time, he remembered later how there had been gathering during his little speech a certain secret intensity and force like the kindling of a fire. In this pause it swept on and up, flushing his face with sudden colour, lifting his hands as on a rising tide, breaking out suddenly in his eyes like fire, and in his voice in passion. The rest saw it too; and in that tense atmosphere it laid hold of them as with a giant’s hand; it struck their tight-strung nerves; it broke down the last barriers on which their own fears had been at work.
“My children,” cried the White Father, no longer a Frenchman now, but a very Son of Man. “My children, do not break my heart! So long and hard the labour–two thousand years long–two thousand years since Christ died; and you to wreck and break the peace that comes at last; that peace into which through so great tribulations the people of God are entering at last. You say you know no God, and cannot love Him; but you know man—poor wilful man–and would you fling him back once more into wrath and passion and lust for blood?–those lusts from which even now he might pass to peace if it were not for you. You say that Christ is hard–that His Church is cruel, and that man must have liberty? I too say that man must have liberty–he was made for it; but what liberty would that be which he has not learned to use?
“My children! have pity on men, and on me who strive to be their father. Never yet has Christ reigned on earth till now–Christ who Himself died, as I, His poor servant, am ready to die a thousand times, if men may but themselves learn to die to self and to live to Him. Have pity, then, on the world you love and hope to serve. Serve it indeed as best you can. Let us serve it together!”
* * * * *
There was an instant’s silence.
He stood there, his hands clasped in agony upon his cross. Then he flung his hands wide in sudden, silent appeal.
There was a crash of an overturned desk; the crying out of desperate voices all together, and as from the great tower overhead there beat out the first stroke of midnight, the priest, on his knees now, saw through eyes blind with tears, figures moving and falling and kneeling towards that central form that stood there, a white pillar of Royalty and sorrow, calling for the last time all the world unto him.
* * * * *
But the President sat still at his desk, motionless.
The sight on which the watcher’s eyes rested, as he sat, hung here in motionlessness above Westminster, a hundred feet higher than the great St. Edward’s Tower itself, was one not only undreamed of, but even inconceivable to men of earlier days.
For it seemed as if some vast invisible air-way had been flung straight from the midst of London, down away to the south-west horizon, where it ran into the faint summer haze thirty miles away. So level was the line held by the waiting volors on either side–vast barges shining like silver, hung with the great state-cloths of modern days–that it appeared as if the eye itself were deceived, as if there were indeed a pavement of crystal, a river of glass, so clear as itself to be unseen, on whose surface floated this navy of a dream such as the world itself had never imagined.
Now and again, like a fly on water, there darted from one side to the other a tiny boat, in the blue and silver of the city guards, or dropped, ducked and vanished; now and again it wheeled, and came whirling up the line, vanishing at last in the long perspective. But, for the rest, the monsters waited motionless in the sunlight, their state-cloths, hung as from the old barges, from stem to stern, as motionless as themselves, except when now and again the summer breeze stirred from the south-west, lifting the lazy streamers, wafting softly the heavy embroideries, and stirring, even as the wind stirs the wheat, the glittering giants that waited to do their Lord honour.
Opposite the air-barge where the watcher sat, perhaps a hundred yards away, floated the royal boat, between a pair of warships, one blaze of scarlet, blue, and gold, flapping out the Royal Standard of England, and flashing the glass of the stern-cabin as the great creature rocked gently now and again in the breeze; and upon its deck rose up the canopy where the king and his consort sat together, and the line of scarlet guards visible behind. On the warships on either side the crew waited, the ship itself dressed as for a review, every man motionless at his post, with the crash of brass sounding from the lower decks. And so down the line the eye of the watcher went again and again, fascinated by the beauty and the glory, down past where the great ducal barges hung, each in order, past the officers of state, past the Parliament barges, down to where the boats, in numbers beyond all reckoning, faded away into the haze.
To those who looked across to where the man himself sat the sight must have been no less amazing. For he sat there, in his new dress of Cardinal’s scarlet, on the throne of ceremony beneath his canopy with his attendants about him, on a wide deck laid down with scarlet, its prow crowned by the silver cross–a silent watching figure, with a splendour of romance about him more suggestive even than the material glory that showed his newly won dignity.
There was not a soul there in those astounding crowds, whether among those who, hanging here between heaven and earth, awaited for the ceremonial reception, the coming of him who was Vicar of one and Lord of the other, or even among those incalculable multitudes beneath, who packed the streets, crowded the flat roofs and looked from every window. It was this man, they knew, this tiny red figure, sitting solitary and motionless, who scarcely three months before had stood before the revolutionary Council of Berlin, of his own will and choice–who had gone there and faced what seemed a certain death, for love of the old man whose body now lay beneath the high-altar of the tremendous cathedral beneath, and to whose office and honours he had succeeded, and for the sake of the message he had carried. It was this man, alone of the whole Christian world, who after looking into the face of death, not for himself only, but for one who was dearer to him and to that Christian world than life itself, had seen in one moment the last storm roll away from human history for ever; who had seen with his own eyes, Christ in His Vicar–_Princeps gloriosus_ come at last–take the power and reign.
He too was conscious of all this, at least subconsciously, as he sat motionless, a figure carved in ivory, a man who had found peace at last. Here, in the contemplating brain, as with his eyes he looked over the vast city of London, enormous and exquisite beyond the dreams of either the reformers or the artists of a century ago, seen as through the crystal of the summer air, as he lifted his eyes now and again to the solemn barges opposite with all that that dignity meant; above all as he looked down that immeasurable line, that roadway of a god, along which presently at least the Vicar of a God should come–all this and a thousand memories more–memories of events such as few experience in a lifetime, crowded into twelve months–passed in endless defile, coherent and consistent at last under the pointing finger of Him who had directed and evolved them all.
* * * * *
First, then, he saw himself, a child in knowledge, beginning life at a point where many leave it off, plunged into a world that was wholly strange and bewildering, a world which, though Christian in name, seemed brutal in nature–brutal as the pagan empires were brutal, yet without the excuse of their ignorance and passion.
Yet his intellect had seemed unable to refute the conclusion of that march of events, that coherence of all ideals in a reasoned whole, that fulfilment of instincts, that play of forces, upon which, as upon a tide, Catholicism had floated to final victory in the history of mankind. Not one element had seemed wanting; and, as if to convince by sensible visions that brain which shrank from merely argued logic, one by one he had seen for himself as in a picture lesson, how at Versailles the social tangle of an individual kingdom had once more submitted to monarchy–that faulty mirror of the Divine government of the world; how at Rome the stability of rival kingdoms, had found itself once more in an arbiter whose kingdom was not of this world; how finally, at Lourdes, in the widest circle of all, the very science of the world itself had found itself not confronted or opposed, but welcomed and transcended, by a school of thinkers whose limitations lay only in the Infinite.
Once more then he had returned. Yet he had found that the head and the imagination are not all; that man has a heart as well; and that this has its demands no less inexorable that those of intellect. And it was this heart of his that had seemed outraged and silenced. For he had found in Christianity a synthesis of ideas–a coincidence of knowledge–which, while satisfying that head, emerged in a system to which his heart could be no party. He had learned that “Christian society must protect itself”; and he had seemed in this to find a denial of the essential Christian doctrine that success comes only by defeat, and triumph by the Cross. It had seemed to him that Christ had accepted the taunts at last, had come down from the Cross and won the homage only of those who did not understand Him. He had been quieted indeed for a time, under the power of men who, whatever the rest of the world might do, still thought that suffering was the better part. Yet he had been quieted; not convinced.
Then he had sought a glimpse of the reverse of the picture–of that which now seemed the sole alternative to that faith which he feared–a glimpse only; yet full of significance. For he had seen men to whom the better part of themselves seemed nothing; men who walked with downcast eyes, piling mud and stones together, and fancying the heap to be a very City of God.
Then, swift as grace itself, had come his answer.
He had seen men who had already all that the world could give, men who, he had thought, lusted only for power, go to an unknown and yet a certain death for the sake of a world over which he had thought they cared only to reign–and go with smiles and cheerfulness. And while he still hung in indecision, still hesitated as to whether this or that were the Kingdom of God–this shrinking dream of a world sufficient to itself, or this brightening vision–then the last light had come, and he had seen one to be victor by sheer self-abnegation, by contempt of his own life, by the all but divine power of an ordinary man walking in grace. There had been no rhetoric in that triumph, no promises, no intoxication of phrases, no overwhelming personality such as that which had faced him. There had been nothing but a little quiet personage with a father’s heart, who by his very fidelity to his human type, by the absolute simplicity of his presence had first climbed to the highest point that man could reach, and then by that same fidelity and simplicity, had cast himself down, and in the very hour that followed the unconditional surrender which his enemies had made, had granted them a measure of liberty such as they had never dreamed of. In the name of the Powers, whose super-lord and representative he was, he had abolished the death-penalty for opinions subversive of society or faith, substituting in its place deportation to the new American colonies; he had flung open certain positions in Catholic states hitherto tenable only on a profession of the Christian religion to all men alike; and he had guaranteed to the new colonies in America a freedom from external control and a place among civilized powers such as they had never expected or asked.
This then was the new type of man who had at last conquered the world. It was not a superman that had been waited for so long, not a demigod armed with powers of light; not man raising himself above his stature, building towers on earthly foundations that should reach to heaven; but just man, utterly true to himself and his instincts, walking humbly before his God; looking for a city that has no foundations, coming down to him out of heaven. It was supernature, not superman; grace and truth transfiguring nature; not nature wrenching itself vainly towards the stature of grace. It was man who could suffer, who could reign; since he only who knows his weakness, dares to be strong. . . . _Vicisti Galilaee!_
Slowly then he had come to see that, as had been told him long before, the kingdoms of this world were already passing into the hands of a higher dominion–and this was the significance of this microcosm of those kingdoms that now lay before his bodily eyes.
There, opposite to him, in the blaze of sunlight, stood the throne that for a thousand years had faced the throne of the Fisherman, now as a dependant, now as a rebel–stable and fixed at last in its allegiance. Here beneath him lay London, the finest city in the world, where, if ever anywhere, had been tried the experiment of a religion resting on the strength of a national isolation instead of an universal supernationalism;–it had been tried, and found wanting. Beneath him lay his own cathedral, already blazing within like a treasure-cave, ready for its consummation, without, tranquil and strong; behind him the ancient Abbey once again in the hands of its children; far away to the right, seeming strangely near in this lucid atmosphere, hung, like a bubble, the great dome below which, as he knew, stood the first basilican altar in London, newly consecrated as a sign of its papal dignities and privileges. And beyond that again London; and yet again London, a wonderful white city, gleaming at a thousand points with cross and spire and dome and pinnacle, patched with green in square and park and open space–London come back again at last to her ancient faith and her old prosperity.
But this was not all.
For he knew and his imagination circled out wider and wider that he might take it in–he knew that Europe itself at last dwelt again with one mind in her house. There beyond the channel–across which ten minutes ago, as the thunder of guns had told him, the Arbiter of the World had come at last with his train of kings behind him–there lay the huge continent, the great plains of France, the forests of Germany, the giant tumbled debris of Switzerland, the warm and radiant coasts, the ancient world-stage of Italy, passionate Spain which never yet had wholly lost her love. There all lay, at one at last, each her own, with her own liberties and customs and traditions, yet each in the service of her neighbour, since each and all alike lay beneath the Peace of God.
Still wider fled his thought. . . . He saw to the southwards and far away westwards across the seas, how now this country, now that, flew its flag and administered its laws, yet how those flags all together saluted the Crossed Keys; how those laws, however diverse, bowed all together before the Law of Liberty; and how there, farther yet, already the gates of the East had rolled back, and how there peered out across half the world the patient seeking faces of those old children of earth, awakened at last to destinies greater than their own–awakened, not as men had once feared, by the thunder of Christian guns, but by the call of the Shepherd to sheep that were not of His Fold. . . .
So there the vision lay before him–this man who had lost his memory and had found a greater gift instead.
* * * * *
An old priest in the white fur of a canon came gently up the deck from behind. . . .
“Your Eminence . . .” he said, “they have signalled up the line. . . . I thought, perhaps—-“
The new Cardinal started as one from a dream.
“What is it, Father Jervis? . . .”
The old man looked at him closely; then he laid his hand on his arm.
“Your Eminence, the King is waiting. Do you not remember? Your Eminence was to give the signal.”
Beneath, like huge voices speaking a single word all at once, roared the old guns from the Tower and Greenwich and the palaces.
The Cardinal shook his head.
“I . . . I forget,” he said; “I was thinking. . . . What am I to do?”
The old priest looked at him again earnestly, without speaking. Then he leaned forward closer still.
“Will your Eminence authorize me to give the signals?”
“Yes, yes, Father . . . anything. What am I to do? Have I to say anything?”
His eyes had a look of dawning terror in them as he glanced from side to side. The priest once again laid his hand on the lace-covered wrist and held it there steadily.
“Nothing at all, your Eminence. You have simply to sit still. I will arrange everything.”
Still standing there, he turned slightly and made a sharp gesture behind the throne with his left hand. A bell sounded instantly. There was a moment’s silence. Then once again a bell; and a chorus answered it.
Very slowly the Cardinal lifted his head, and saw before him the Royal barge sway ever so slightly, conscious himself that through his own vessel a vibration was beginning to run as the huge engines beneath moved into action. Again roared the guns far down the river, and, as the bellow ceased, from a thousand steeples broke out the clamour of brazen tongues. . . .
He sat still; he knew at least that this he must do. . . . Surely this obscurity of brain would pass again in a moment. He was going to meet the Holy Father, was he not? . . . down there, down that road of light and air, along which now his great barge floated side by side with the King’s. That was it. He remembered again now as his memory flickered in glimpses. This was the great Progress round the world of the new Arbiter of the World, the Vicar of the Prince of Peace, come into his Kingdom at last.
He kept his eyes steadily before him, scarcely seeing the flash of the river as it swept beneath him and away, or on all sides the dipping flags, the monstrous gilded prows, the bravery of colour, down this broad road on which he went, scarcely conscious that, as he passed, the great barges wheeled behind him to follow to the meeting; scarcely hearing the tremendous music that, sweeping up from the crowded streets below, wafted up to him the adoration of a free people who had learned at last that the Law of Liberty was the Law of Love. . . .
Ah! there at last they came. . . .
Far down, rising every instant higher above the summer haze, outlined against a heaven of intensest blue, approached a cloud that sparkled as it came, that broke into a thousand points of colour–a long, flat cloud, seen at first as a steamer stretched across the sky, curving down behind, as it seemed, into the haze from which it came. On and up it came, growing every instant, widening and deepening, ever more and more clear in colour and form and depth.
It could be seen now of what elements it was made–a throng of tiny specks, moving like stately birds, which, even as the eye watched, seemed to spread their wings upon the breeze that followed; to expand their bulk, and to glow, as the distance lessened, into the separate colours of each. . . .
Then once again bellowed the guns, heard now like the voice of articulate thunder five miles behind, rolling up the river as if to welcome this fleet upon its way; and still he kept his eyes upon those who came so swiftly.
There in front moved the great guard-ships, monsters of polished steel, decked at prow and stern with the huge banners that stood out straight behind in the swiftness of their coming, but which, even as he looked, flapped and bellied to this side and that as the speed decreased. Then, wheeling outwards, disclosing as they wheeled the insignia that each bore, the eagles of Germany, the lilies of France and the rest, the guard of thirty giants fell once more into line, half a mile apart, as those that followed came on, and waited; beating the air with the shimmer of their netted wings.
Then ship after ship came up, each wheeling in its turn and waiting, building now up with the speed of thought a vast semicircle, expanding ever more and more swiftly, as the watcher looked–himself halted now, with the royal barge on his right and his train of boats behind. There each in its turn passed the air-navies of the Great Powers, come to bring their Lord with honour on his progress through the world–vast armaments of inconceivable war, enrolled at last in the service of the Prince of Peace.
Then when the movement was complete, and there lay there across the burning blue of the sky, five hundred feet in air, this vast curve of glittering splendour, ten miles from horn to horn, on came the great fleet that they had escorted.
There, then, the watcher saw two by two, first the barges of the Papal Orders, the Order of the Holy Sepulchre with its five-fold cross, and the Golden Spur, leading–huge medieval galleons, carved at prow and stem, each bearing its insignia; then came couple after couple bearing the Papal Court, followed closely by great barges, each with its canopy and throne, and the coat of the Cardinal whom each bore flying overhead.
And then a glorious sight.
For, moving alone in a solid phalanx, each vessel separated only by the space necessary for close manoeuvring, came the royal barges of Europe, ranked on either side by a line of guard-boats–France, Austria, and Germany, then Belgium and Holland, then the Scandinavian kingdoms, then a crowd of lesser States from the Balkan, Greece, and the Black Sea; then the black-eagled barge of Russia, and finally the great galleons of Spain and Italy: and on each sat a royal figure beneath a canopy of state. And last of all moved a huge vessel, in scarlet and white, with a banner of white and gold and cross-keys at the prow; scarcely seen at first through the crowding craft, with a squadron of guard-ships coming after.
There, then, the man who had lost his memory sat motionless, and watched it all–this astounding display of inner grace transformed into glory at last, that Royalty which since first the Fisherman took his seat in Holy Rome, had little by little, through reverse and success, forced its way outwards on the world–the leaven hid in the meal till all was leavened. . . . And it seemed to him as he looked, as if, through the splendour of the midday sun, the glitter of that sea of air-craft–through the pealing of the bells beneath and the shock of the guns and the shrill crying that filled the air–there moved other Presences, too, in yet a third medium than those of air and earth; as if diffused throughout this material plane was a world of more than matter and mind, more than of sense and perception–a world where all was reconciled and made at one–this clash of flesh and spirit–and that at last each answered to each, and spirit inspired flesh, and flesh expressed spirit. It seemed to him, for one blinding instant, as if at last he saw how distance was contained in a single point, colour in whiteness, and sound in silence, as at the very Word of Him who now at last had taken His power and reigned, whose Kingdom at last had come indeed, to whom in very truth All Power was given in heaven and earth. . . .
The white-skirted, clean-looking doctor came briskly and noiselessly into the little room that opened off Ward No. IV in the Westminster Hospital as the clock pointed to nine o’clock in the morning, and the nursing-sister stood up to receive him.
“Good morning, sister,” he said. “Any change?”
“He seemed a little disturbed about an hour ago by the bells,” she said. “But he hasn’t spoken at all.”
Together they stood and looked down on the unconscious man. He lay there motionless with closed eyes, his unshaven cheek resting on his hand, his face fallen into folds and hollows, colourless and sallow. The red coverlet drawn up over his shoulder helped to emphasize his deadly pallor.
“It’s a curious case,” said the doctor. “I’ve never seen coma in such a case last so long.”
He still stared at him a moment or two; then he laid the back of his hand gently against the dying man’s cheek, then again he consulted through his glasses the chart that hung over the head of the bed.
“Will he recover consciousness before the end, doctor?”
“It’s very likely; it’s impossible to say. Send for me if there’s any change.”
“I mayn’t send for a priest, doctor?” she said hesitatingly. “You know—“
He shook his head sharply.
“No, no. He distinctly refused, you remember. It’s impossible, sister. . . . I’m very sorry.”
When he had gone, she sat down again, and drew out her beads furtively upon her lap.
It was a horrible position for her. She, a Catholic, knew now pretty well the history of this man–that he himself was a priest who had lost the faith, who had associated himself with an historian who was writing a history of the Popes from what he called an impartial standpoint, who had, as the doctor said, distinctly and resentfully refused the suggestion that another priest should be sent to help him to make his peace before he died. And, for her, as a convinced Catholic, the position had a terror that is simply inconceivable to those of a less positive faith.
She could do nothing more. . . . She said her beads.
* * * * *
There was a curious mixture of silence and sound here on this Easter Sunday in this bare, airy little ward, with the door closed, and the windows open only at the top. The room had a remote kind of atmosphere about it, obtained perhaps partly by the solidity of the walls, partly by the fact that it looked out on to a comparatively unfrequented lane, partly by the suggestiveness of a professional sick-room. The world was all about it; yet it seemed rather to this nurse, sitting alone at her prayers and duties, as if she had a window into the common world of life rather than that she actually was a part of it. Even the sounds that entered here had this remote tone about them; the footsteps and talking of strayed holiday-makers, occasional fragmentary peals of bells, the striking of the clock in the high Victoria Tower–all these noises came into the room delicately and suggestively rather than as interruptions, yet distinct and noticeable because of the absence of the usual rush of traffic across the great square outside.
The nurse dozed a little over her beads. (She had been on duty since the evening before, and would not be relieved for another hour yet.) And it seemed to her, as so often in that half-sleep, half-wakefulness, when the drowsy brain knows all necessary things and awakes alert again in an instant at any unusual movement or sound, as if these sounds began to take on them tones of other causes than those of themselves.
It seemed, for example, as if the steady murmur were the shouting of phantom crowds at an immeasurable distance, punctuated now again by the noise of distant guns, as, somewhere round a corner a vehicle passed over a crossing of cobble-stones; as if the bells of the churches rang with a deliberate purpose, to welcome or rejoice over some event . . . some entry of a king, she fancied, in a far-off city. Once even, so deep grew her drowsiness, she fancied herself looking down on some such city, herself up in the sunlight and air, floating on the cloudy vessel of her own sleep. . . .
“Pray for us sinners,” she murmured, “now and in the hour of our death.”
Then she awoke in earnest, and saw the eyes of the patient fixed intelligently upon her.
“Fetch a priest,” he said.
* * * * *
“Father,” said the dying man an hour later, “is that all? Have you finished?”
“Yes, my dear father–thank God!” . . .
“Well; sit down a minute or two. I want to talk to you.”
The young priest, sent for nearly an hour ago in haste from the Cathedral, finished putting up again into his little leather case the tiny stocks of holy oil with which he had just anointed the dying man. He had heard his confession . . . he had returned again to fetch the _Viaticum_ and the oils; and now all was done; and the old priest was reconciled and at peace. The young man was still a little tremulous; it was his first reconciliation of a dying apostate, and it seemed to him a marvellous thing that a man could come back after so long, and so simply–and an apostate priest at that! He had heard this man’s name before, and heard his story. . . .
But he was intensely anxious to know what it was that had wrought the miracle. The sister had told him that until this moment the patient had steadily refused even the suggestion to send for a priest. And then, when he had come, there had been no preliminaries. He had simply slipped on his stole as the sister went to the door, sat down by the bedside, heard the confession, and undertaken one or two little acts of restitution on his penitent’s behalf.
He sat down again now and waited.
The man in the bed lay with closed eyes, and an extraordinary peace rested over him. It was almost impossible to believe, so white were the reflections of these clean walls, so white the linen, that there was not a certain interior luminosity that shone over his features. His chin and lips and jaws were covered with a week’s stubble, his eyelids were sunk in the sockets, and the temples looked shrunken and hollow; yet there was a clearness of skin, not yet dusky with the shadow of death, that appeared almost supernatural to this young man who looked at him.
“The sign of the Prophet Jonas,” said the dying priest suddenly. . . . “Resurrection.”
“That is what I have seen,” he said. . . “No; I know it was a dream. . . But it is possible; the Church has the power within her. It may happen some day; or it may not. But there is no reason why it should not.”
The other leant over him.
“My dear father—-” he began. The older priest smiled.
“It is a long time since I heard that,” he said. . . . “What’s your name, father?”
“Jervis . . . Father Jervis. I come from the Cathedral.”
The eyes opened and looked at him curiously.
“Father Jervis,” said the young priest again.
“Some nephews–children. That’s all of my name.”
“Ah well! Perhaps-” (He broke off). “Did they tell me your name, before I became unconscious?”
“It’s very likely. I’m the visiting chaplain here.”
“Ah well! Who knows—? But that doesn’t matter. . . . Father, how long have I to live?”
The young priest leaned forward and laid his hand on the other’s arm.
“A few hours only, father,” he said gently. . . . “You are not afraid?”
His eyes closed, and he smiled naturally and easily.
“Well; listen. Lean closer. . . . No . . . call the sister in. I want her to hear too.”
She came forward, her eyes heavy with sleep, but they were bright too with an immense joy.
“Can you wait up a little longer, sister?” said Father Jervis. “He wants us both to hear what he has to say.”
“Why, of course.”
She sat down on the other side of the bed.
Still the sounds from outside went on–the footsteps and the voices and the bells. They were beginning to ring for the Easter morning service in the Abbey; and still, within this room, was this air of silence and remoteness.
“Now, listen carefully,” said the dying man. . . .