Part of: THE VICTORY
From: Lord Of The World
The little room where the new Pope sat reading was a model of
simplicity. Its walls were whitewashed, its roof unpolished rafters, and
its floor beaten mud. A square table stood in the centre, with a chair
beside it; a cold brazier laid for lighting, stood in the wide hearth; a
bookshelf against the wall held a dozen volumes. There were three doors,
one leading to the private oratory, one to the ante-room, and the third
to the little paved court. The south windows were shuttered, but through
the ill-fitting hinges streamed knife-blades of fiery light from the hot
Eastern day outside.
It was the time of the mid-day siesta, and except for the brisk scything
of the cicade from the hill-slope behind the house, all was in deep
* * * * *
The Pope, who had dined an hour before, had hardly shifted His attitude
in all that time, so intent was He upon His reading. For the while, all
was put away, His own memory of those last three months, the bitter
anxiety, the intolerable load of responsibility. The book He held was a
cheap reprint of the famous biography of Julian Felsenburgh, issued a
month before, and He was now drawing to an end.
It was a terse, well-written book, composed by an unknown hand, and some
even suspected it to be the disguised work of Felsenburgh himself. More,
however, considered that it was written at least with Felsenburgh's
consent by one of that small body of intimates whom he had admitted to
his society--that body which under him now conducted the affairs of West
and East. From certain indications in the book it had been argued that
its actual writer was a Westerner.
The main body of the work dealt with his life, or rather with those two
or three years known to the world, from his rapid rise in American
politics and his mediation in the East down to the event of five months
ago, when in swift succession he had been hailed Messiah in Damascus,
had been formally adored in London, and finally elected by an
extraordinary majority to the Tribuniciate of the two Americas.
The Pope had read rapidly through these objective facts, for He knew
them well enough already, and was now studying with close attention the
summary of his character, or rather, as the author rather sententiously
explained, the summary of his self-manifestation to the world. He read
the description of his two main characteristics, his grasp upon words
and facts; "words, the daughters of earth, were wedded in this man to
facts, the sons of heaven, and Superman was their offspring." His minor
characteristics, too, were noticed, his appetite for literature, his
astonishing memory, his linguistic powers. He possessed, it appeared,
both the telescopic and the microscopic eye--he discerned world-wide
tendencies and movements on the one hand; he had a passionate capacity
for detail on the other. Various anecdotes illustrated these remarks,
and a number of terse aphorisms of his were recorded. "No man forgives,"
he said; "he only understands." "It needs supreme faith to renounce a
transcendent God." "A man who believes in himself is almost capable of
believing in his neighbour." Here was a sentence that to the Pope's mind
was significant of that sublime egotism that is alone capable of
confronting the Christian spirit: and again, "To forgive a wrong is to
condone a crime," and "The strong man is accessible to no one, but all
are accessible to him."
There was a certain pompousness in this array of remarks, but it lay, as
the Pope saw very well, not in the speaker but in the scribe. To him who
had seen the speaker it was plain how they had been uttered--with no
pontifical solemnity, but whirled out in a fiery stream of eloquence, or
spoken with that strangely moving simplicity that had constituted his
first assault on London. It was possible to hate Felsenburgh, and to
fear him; but never to be amused at him.
But plainly the supreme pleasure of the writer was to trace the analogy
between his hero and nature. In both there was the same apparent
contradictoriness--the combination of utter tenderness and utter
ruthlessness. "The power that heals wounds also inflicts them: that
clothes the dungheap with sweet growths and grasses, breaks, too, into
fire and earthquake; that causes the partridge to die for her young,
also makes the shrike with his living larder." So, too, with
Felsenburgh; He who had wept over the Fall of Rome, a month later had
spoken of extermination as an instrument that even now might be
judicially used in the service of humanity. Only it must be used with
deliberation, not with passion.
The utterance had aroused extraordinary interest, since it seemed so
paradoxical from one who preached peace and toleration; and argument
had broken out all over the world. But beyond enforcing the dispersal of
the Irish Catholics, and the execution of a few individuals, so far that
utterance had not been acted upon. Yet the world seemed as a whole to
have accepted it, and even now to be waiting for its fulfilment.
As the biographer pointed out, the world enclosed in physical nature
should welcome one who followed its precepts, one who was indeed the
first to introduce deliberately and confessedly into human affairs such
laws as those of the Survival of the Fittest and the immorality of
forgiveness. If there was mystery in the one, there was mystery in the
other, and both must be accepted if man was to develop.
And the secret of this, it seemed, lay in His personality. To see Him
was to believe in Him, or rather to accept Him as inevitably true. "We
do not explain nature or escape from it by sentimental regrets: the bare
cries like a child, the wounded stag weeps great tears, the robin kills
his parents; life exists only on condition of death; and these things
happen however we may weave theories that explain nothing. Life must be
accepted on those terms; we cannot be wrong if we follow nature; rather
to accept them is to find peace--our great mother only reveals her
secrets to those who take her as she is." So, too, with Felsenburgh. "It
is not for us to discriminate: His personality is of a kind that does
not admit it. He is complete and sufficing for those who trust Him and
are willing to suffer; an hostile and hateful enigma to those who are
not. We must prepare ourselves for the logical outcome of this doctrine.
Sentimentality must not be permitted to dominate reason."
Finally, then, the writer showed how to this Man belonged properly all
those titles hitherto lavished upon imagined Supreme Beings. It was in
preparation for Him that these types came into the realms of thought and
influenced men's lives.
He was the Creator, for it was reserved for Him to bring into being
the perfect life of union to which all the world had hitherto groaned in
vain; it was in His own image and likeness that He had made man.
Yet He was the Redeemer too, for that likeness had in one sense always
underlain the tumult of mistake and conflict. He had brought man out of
darkness and the shadow of death, guiding their feet into the way of
peace. He was the Saviour for the same reason--the Son of Man, for
He alone was perfectly human; He was the Absolute, for He was the
content of Ideals; the Eternal, for He had lain always in nature's
potentiality and secured by His being the continuity of that order; the
Infinite, for all finite things fell short of Him who was more than
He was Alpha, then, and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first
and the last. He was Dominus et Deus noster (as Domitian had been, the
Pope reflected). He was as simple and as complex as life itself--simple
in its essence, complex in its activities.
And last of all, the supreme proof of His mission lay in the immortal
nature of His message. There was no more to be added to what He had
brought to light--for in Him all diverging lines at last found their
origin and their end. As to whether or no He would prove to be
personally immortal was an wholly irrelevant thought; it would be indeed
fitting if through His means the vital principle should disclose its
last secret; but no more than fitting. Already His spirit was in the
world; the individual was no more separate from his fellows; death no
more than a wrinkle that came and went across the inviolable sea. For
man had learned at last that the race was all and self was nothing; the
cell had discovered the unity of the body; even, the greatest thinkers
declared, the consciousness of the individual had yielded the title of
Personality to the corporate mass of man--and the restlessness of the
unit had sunk into the peace of a common Humanity, for nothing but this
could explain the cessation of party strife and national
competition--and this, above all, had been the work of Felsenburgh.
"Behold I am with you always," quoted the writer in a passionate
peroration, "even now in the consummation of the world; and, the
Comforter is come unto you. I am the Door--the Way, the Truth and the
Life--the Bread of Life and the Water of Life. My name is Wonderful, the
Prince of Peace, the Father Everlasting. It is I who am the Desire of
all nations, the fairest among the children of men--and of my Kingdom
there shall be no end."
The Pope laid down the book, and leaned back, closing his eyes.
And as for Himself, what had He to say to all this? A Transcendent God
Who hid Himself, a Divine Saviour Who delayed to come, a Comforter heard
no longer in wind nor seen in fire!
There, in the next room, was a little wooden altar, and above it an iron
box, and within that box a silver cup, and within that cup--Something.
Outside the house, a hundred yards away, lay the domes and plaster roofs
of a little village called Nazareth; Carmel was on the right, a mile or
two away, Thabor on the left, the plain of Esdraelon in front; and
behind, Cana and Galilee, and the quiet lake, and Hermon. And far away
to the south lay Jerusalem....
It was to this tiny strip of holy land that the Pope had come--the land
where a Faith had sprouted two thousand years ago, and where, unless God
spoke in fire from heaven, it would presently be cut down as a cumberer
of the ground. It was here on this material earth that One had walked
Whom all men had thought to have been He Who would redeem Israel--in
this village that He had fetched water and made boxes and chairs, on
that long lake that His Feet had walked, on that high hill that He had
flamed in glory, on that smooth, low mountain to the north that He had
declared that the meek were blessed and should inherit the earth, that
peacemakers were the children of God, that they who hungered and
thirsted should be satisfied.
And now it was come to this. Christianity had smouldered away from
Europe like a sunset on darkening peaks; Eternal Rome was a heap of
ruins; in East and West alike a man had been set upon the throne of God,
had been acclaimed as divine. The world had leaped forward; social
science was supreme; men had learned consistency; they had learned, too,
the social lessons of Christianity apart from a Divine Teacher, or,
rather, they said, in spite of Him. There were left, perhaps, three
millions, perhaps five, at the utmost ten millions--it was impossible to
know--throughout the entire inhabited globe who still worshipped Jesus
Christ as God. And the Vicar of Christ sat in a whitewashed room in
Nazareth, dressed as simply as His master, waiting for the end.
* * * * *
He had done what He could. There had been a week five months ago when
it had been doubtful whether anything at all could be done. There were
left three Cardinals alive, Himself, Steinmann, and the Patriarch of
Jerusalem; the rest lay mangled somewhere in the ruins of Rome. There
was no precedent to follow; so the two Europeans had made their way out
to the East, and to the one town in it where quiet still reigned. With
the disappearance of Greek Christianity there had also vanished the last
remnants of internecine war in Christendom; and by a kind of tacit
consent of the world, Christians were allowed a moderate liberty in
Palestine. Russia, which now held the country as a dependency, had
sufficient sentiment left to leave it alone; it was true that the holy
places had been desecrated, and remained now only as spots of
antiquarian interest; the altars were gone but the sites were yet
marked, and, although mass could no longer be said there, it was
understood that private oratories were not forbidden.
It was in this state that the two European Cardinals had found the Holy
City; it was not thought wise to wear insignia of any description in
public; and it was practically certain even now that the civilised world
was unaware of their existence; for within three days of their arrival
the old Patriarch had died, yet not before Percy Franklin, surely under
the strangest circumstances since those of the first century, had been
elected to the Supreme Pontificate. It had all been done in a few
minutes by the dying man's bedside. The two old men had insisted. The
German bad even recurred once more to the strange resemblance between
Percy and Julian Felsenburgh, and had murmured his old half-heard
remarks about the antithesis, and the Finger of God; and Percy,
marvelling at his superstition, had accepted, and the election was
recorded. He had taken the name of Silvester, the last saint in the
year, and was the third of that title. He had then retired to Nazareth
with his chaplain; Steinmann had gone back to Germany, and been hanged
in a riot within a fortnight of his arrival.
The next matter was the creation of new cardinals, and to twenty
persons, with infinite precautions, briefs had been conveyed. Of these,
nine had declined; three more had been approached, of whom only one had
accepted. There were therefore at this moment twelve persons in the
world who constituted the Sacred College--two Englishmen, of whom
Corkran was one; two Americans, a Frenchman, a German, an Italian, a
Spaniard, a Pole, a Chinaman, a Greek, and a Russian. To these were
entrusted vast districts over which their control was supreme, subject
only to the Holy Father Himself.
As regarded the Pope's own life very little need be said. It resembled,
He thought, in its outward circumstances that of such a man as Leo the
Great, without His worldly importance or pomp. Theoretically, the
Christian world was under His dominion; practically, Christian affairs
were administered by local authorities. It was impossible for a hundred
reasons for Him to do what He wished with regard to the exchange of
communications. An elaborate cypher had been designed, and a private
telegraphic station organised on His roof communicating with another in
Damascus where Cardinal Corkran had fixed his residence; and from that
centre messages occasionally were despatched to ecclesiastical
authorities elsewhere; but, for the most part, there was little to be
done. The Pope, however, had the satisfaction of knowing that, with
incredible difficulty, a little progress had been made towards the
reorganisation of the hierarchy in all countries. Bishops were being
consecrated freely; there were not less than two thousand of them all
told, and of priests an unknown number. The Order of Christ Crucified
was doing excellent work, and the tales of not less than four hundred
martyrdoms had reached Nazareth during the last two months, accomplished
mostly at the hands of the mobs.
In other respects, also, as well as in the primary object of the Order's
existence (namely, the affording of an opportunity to all who loved God
to dedicate themselves to Him more perfectly), the new Religious were
doing good work. The more perilous tasks--the work of communication
between prelates, missions to persons of suspected integrity--all the
business, in fact, which was carried on now at the vital risk of the
agent were entrusted solely to members of the Order. Stringent
instructions had been issued from Nazareth that no bishop was to expose
himself unnecessarily; each was to regard himself as the heart of his
diocese to be protected at all costs save that of Christian honour, and
in consequence each had surrounded himself with a group of the new
Religious--men and women--who with extraordinary and generous obedience
undertook such dangerous tasks as they were capable of performing. It
was plain enough by now that had it not been for the Order, the Church
would have been little better than paralysed under these new conditions.
Extraordinary facilities were being issued in all directions. Every
priest who belonged to the Order received universal jurisdiction subject
to the bishop, if any, of the diocese in which he might be; mass might
be said on any day of the year of the Five Wounds, or the Resurrection,
or Our Lady; and all had the privilege of the portable altar, now
permitted to be wood. Further ritual requirements were relaxed; mass
might be said with any decent vessels of any material capable of
destruction, such as glass or china; bread of any description might be
used; and no vestments were obligatory except the thin thread that now
represented the stole; lights were non-essential; none need wear the
clerical habit; and rosary, even without beads, was always permissible
instead of the Office.
In this manner priests were rendered capable of giving the sacraments
and offering the holy sacrifice at the least possible risk to
themselves; and these relaxations had already proved of enormous benefit
in the European prisons, where by this time many thousands of Catholics
were undergoing the penalty of refusing public worship.
* * * * *
The Pope's private life was as simple as His room. He had one Syrian
priest for His chaplain, and two Syrian servants. He said His mass each
morning, Himself wearing vestments and His white habit beneath, and
heard a mass after. He then took His coffee, after changing into the
tunic and burnous of the country, and spent the morning over business.
He dined at noon, slept, and rode out, for the country by reason of its
indeterminate position was still in the simplicity of a hundred years
ago. He returned at dusk, supped, and worked again till late into the
That was all. His chaplain sent what messages were necessary to
Damascus; His servants, themselves ignorant of His dignity, dealt with
the secular world so far as was required, and the utmost that seemed to
be known to His few neighbours was that there lived in the late Sheikh's
little house on the hill an eccentric European with a telegraph office.
His servants, themselves devout Catholics, knew Him for a bishop, but no
more than that. They were told only that there was yet a Pope alive, and
with that and the sacraments were content.
To sum up, therefore--the Catholic world knew that their Pope lived
under the name of Silvester; and thirteen persons of the entire human
race knew that Franklin had been His name, and that the throne of Peter
rested for the time in Nazareth.
It was, as a Frenchman had said, just a hundred years ago. Catholicism
survived; but no more.
And as for His inner life, what can be said of that? He lay now back in
his wooden chair, thinking with closed eyes.
He could not have described it consistently even to Himself, for indeed
He scarcely knew it: He acted rather than indulged in reflex thought.
But the centre of His position was simple faith. The Catholic Religion,
He knew well enough, gave the only adequate explanation of the universe;
it did not unlock all mysteries, but it unlocked more than any other key
known to man; He knew, too, perfectly well, that it was the only system
of thought that satisfied man as a whole, and accounted for him in his
essential nature. Further, He saw well enough that the failure of
Christianity to unite all men one to another rested not upon its
feebleness but its strength; its lines met in eternity, not in time.
Besides, He happened to believe it.
But to this foreground there were other moods whose shifting was out of
his control. In his exalt moods, which came upon Him like a breeze
from Paradise, the background was bright with hope and drama--He saw
Himself and His companions as Peter and the Apostles must have regarded
themselves, as they proclaimed through the world, in temples, slums,
market-places and private houses, the faith that was to shake and
transform the world. They had handled the Lord of Life, seen the empty
sepulchre, grasped the pierced hands of Him Who was their brother and
their God. It was radiantly true, though not a man believed it; the huge
superincumbent weight of incredulity could not disturb a fact that was
as the sun in heaven. Moreover, the very desperateness of the cause was
their inspiration. There was no temptation to lean upon the arm of
flesh, for there was none that fought for them but God. Their nakedness
was their armour, their slow tongues their persuasiveness, their
weakness demanded God's strength, and found it. Yet there was this
difference, and it was a significant one. For Peter the spiritual world
had an interpretation and a guarantee in the outward events he had
witnessed. He had handled the Risen Christ, the external corroborated
the internal. But for Silvester it was not so. For Him it was necessary
so to grasp spiritual truths in the supernatural sphere that the
external events of the Incarnation were proved by rather than proved the
certitude of His spiritual apprehension. Certainly, historically
speaking, Christianity was true--proved by its records--yet to see that
needed illumination. He apprehended the power of the Resurrection,
therefore Christ was risen.
Therefore in heavier moods it was different with him. There were
periods, lasting sometimes for days together, clouding Him when He
awoke, stifling Him as He tried to sleep, dulling the very savour of the
Sacrament and the thrill of the Precious Blood; times in which the
darkness was so intolerable that even the solid objects of faith
attenuated themselves to shadow, when half His nature was blind not only
to Christ, but to God Himself, and the reality of His own
existence--when His own awful dignity seemed as the insignia of a fool.
And was it conceivable, His earthly mind demanded, that He and His
college of twelve and His few thousands should be right, and the entire
consensus of the civilised world wrong? It was not that the world had
not heard the message of the Gospel; it had heard little else for two
thousand years, and now pronounced it false--false in its external
credentials, and false therefore in its spiritual claims. It was a lost
cause for which He suffered; He was not the last of an august line, He
was the smoking wick of a candle of folly; He was the reductio ad
absurdam of a ludicrous syllogism based on impossible premises. He was
not worth killing, He and His company of the insane--they were no more
than the crowned dunces of the world's school. Sanity sat on the solid
benches of materialism. And this heaviness waxed so dark sometimes that
He almost persuaded Himself that His faith was gone; the clamours of
mind so loud that the whisper of the heart was unheard, the desires for
earthly peace so fierce that supernatural ambitions were silenced--so
dense was the gloom, that, hoping against hope, believing against
knowledge, and loving against truth, He cried as One other had cried on
another day like this--Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani! ... But that, at
least, He never failed to cry.
One thing alone gave Him power to go on, so far at least as His
consciousness was concerned, and that was His meditation. He had
travelled far in the mystical life since His agonies of effort. Now He
used no deliberate descents into the spiritual world: He threw, as it
were, His hands over His head, and dropped into spacelessness.
Consciousness would draw Him up, as a cork, to the surface, but He would
do no more than repeat His action, until by that cessation of activity,
which is the supreme energy, He floated in the twilight realm of
transcendence; and there God would deal with Him--now by an articulate
sentence, now by a sword of pain, now by an air like the vivifying
breath of the sea. Sometimes after Communion He would treat Him so,
sometimes as He fell asleep, sometimes in the whirl of work. Yet His
consciousness did not seem to retain for long such experiences; five
minutes later, it might be, He would be wrestling once more with the all
but sensible phantoms of the mind and the heart.
There He lay, then, in the chair, revolving the intolerable blasphemies
that He had read. His white hair was thin upon His browned temples, His
hands were as the hands of a spirit, and His young face lined and
patched with sorrow. His bare feet protruded from beneath His stained
tunic, and His old brown burnous lay on the floor beside Him....
It was an hour before He moved, and the sun had already lost half its
fierceness, when the steps of the horses sounded in the paved court
outside. Then He sat up, slipped His feet into their shoes, and lifted
the burnous from the floor, as the door opened and the lean sun-burned
priest came through.
"The horses, Holiness," said the man.
* * * * *
The Pope spoke not one word that afternoon, until the two came towards
sunset up the bridle-path that leads between Thabor and Nazareth. They
had taken their usual round through Cana, mounting a hillock from which
the long mirror of Gennesareth could be seen, and passing on, always
bearing to the right, under the shadow of Thabor until once more
Esdraelon spread itself beneath like a grey-green carpet, a vast circle,
twenty miles across, sprinkled sparsely with groups of huts, white walls
and roofs, with Nain visible on the other side, Carmel heaving its long
form far off on the right, and Nazareth nestling a mile or two away on
the plateau on which they had halted.
It was a sight of extraordinary peace, and seemed an extract from some
old picture-book designed centuries ago. Here was no crowd of roofs, no
pressure of hot humanity, no terrible evidences of civilisation and
manufactory and strenuous, fruitless effort. A few tired Jews had come
back to this quiet little land, as old people may return to their native
place, with no hope of renewing their youth, or refinding their ideals,
but with a kind of sentimentality that prevails so often over more
logical motives, and a few more barrack-like houses had been added here
and there to the obscure villages in sight. But it was very much as it
had been a hundred years ago.
The plain was half shadowed by Carmel, and half in dusty golden light.
Overhead the clear Eastern sky was flushed with rose, as it had flushed
for Abraham, Jacob, and the Son of David. There was no little cloud
here, as a man's hand, over the sea, charged with both promise and
terror; no sound of chariot-wheels from earth or heaven, no vision of
heavenly horses such as a young man had seen thirty centuries ago in
this very sky. Here was the old earth and the old heaven, unchanged and
unchangeable; the patient, returning spring had starred the thin soil
with flowers of Bethlehem, and those glorious lilies to which Solomon's
scarlet garments might not be compared. There was no whisper from the
Throne as when Gabriel had once stooped through this very air to hail
Her who was blessed among women, no breath of promise or hope beyond
that which God sends through every movement of His created robe of life.
As the two halted, and the horses looked out with steady, inquisitive
eyes at the immensity of light and air beneath them, a soft hooting cry
broke out, and a shepherd passed below along the hillside a hundred
yards away, trailing his long shadow behind him, and to the mellow
tinkle of bells his flock came after, a troop of obedient sheep and
wilful goats, cropping and following and cropping again as they went on
to the fold, called by name in that sad minor voice of him who knew
each, and led instead of driving. The soft clanking grew fainter, the
shadow of the shepherd shot once to their very feet, as he topped the
rise, and vanished again as he stepped down once more; and the call grew
fainter yet, and ceased.
* * * * *
The Pope lifted His hand to His eyes for an instant, then smoothed it
down His face.
He nodded across to a dim patch of white walls glimmering through the
violet haze of the falling twilight.
"That place, father," He said, "what is its name?"
The Syrian priest looked across, back once more at the Pope, and across
"That among the palms, Holiness?"
"That is Megiddo," he said. "Some call it Armageddon."
At twenty-three o'clock that night the Syrian priest went out to watch
for the coming of the messenger from Tiberias. Nearly two hours
previously he had heard the cry of the Russian volor that plied from
Damascus to Tiberias, and Tiberias to Jerusalem, and even as it was the
messenger was a little late.
These were very primitive arrangements, but Palestine was out of the
world--a slip of useless country--and it was necessary for a man to ride
from Tiberias to Nazareth each night with papers from Cardinal Corkran
to the Pope, and to return with correspondence. It was a dangerous task,
and the members of the New Order who surrounded the Cardinal undertook
it by turns. In this manner all matters for which the Pope's personal
attention was required, and which were too long and not too urgent,
could be dealt with at leisure by him, and an answer returned within the
It was a brilliant moonlit night. The great golden shield was riding
high above Thabor, shedding its strange metallic light down the long
slopes and over the moor-like country that rose up from before the
house-door--casting too heavy black shadows that seemed far more
concrete and solid than the brilliant pale surfaces of the rock slabs or
even than the diamond flashes from the quartz and crystal that here and
there sparkled up the stony pathway. Compared with this clear splendour,
the yellow light from the shuttered house seemed a hot and tawdry thing;
and the priest, leaning against the door-post, his eyes alone alight in
his dark face, sank down at last with a kind of Eastern sensuousness to
bathe himself in the glory, and to spread his lean, brown hands out to
This was a very simple man, in faith as well as in life. For him there
were neither the ecstasies nor the desolations of his master. It was an
immense and solemn joy to him to live here at the spot of God's
Incarnation and in attendance upon His Vicar. As regarded the movements
of the world, he observed them as a man in a ship watches the heaving of
the waves far beneath. Of course the world was restless, he half
perceived, for, as the Latin Doctor had said, all hearts were restless
until they found their rest in God. Quare fremuerunt gentes?...
Adversus Dominum, et adversus Christum ejus! As to the end--he was not
greatly concerned. It might well be that the ship would be overwhelmed,
but the moment of the catastrophe would be the end of all things
earthly. The gates of hell shall not prevail: when Rome falls, the world
falls; and when the world falls, Christ is manifest in power. For
himself, he imagined that the end was not far away. When he had named
Megiddo this afternoon it had been in his mind; to him it seemed natural
that at the consummation of all things Christ's Vicar should dwell at
Nazareth where His King had come on earth--and that the Armageddon of
the Divine John should be within sight of the scene where Christ had
first taken His earthly sceptre and should take it again. After all, it
would not be the first battle that Megiddo had seen. Israel and Amalek
had met here; Israel and Assyria; Sesostris had ridden here and
Sennacherib. Christian and Turk had contended here, like Michael and
Satan, over the place where God's Body had lain. As to the exact method
of that end, he had no clear views; it would be a battle of some kind,
and what field could be found more evidently designed for that than this
huge flat circular plain of Esdraelon, twenty miles across, sufficient
to hold all the armies of the earth in its embrace? To his view once
more, ignorant as he was of present statistics, the world was divided
into two large sections, Christians and heathens, and he supposed them
very much of a size. Something would happen, troops would land at
Khaifa, they would stream southwards from Tiberias, Damascus and remote
Asia, northwards from Jerusalem, Egypt and Africa; eastwards from
Europe; westwards from Asia again and the far-off Americas. And, surely,
the time could not be far away, for here was Christ's Vicar; and, as He
Himself had said in His gospel of the Advent, Ubicumque fuerit corpus,
illie congregabuntur et aquilae. Of more subtle interpretations of
prophecy he had no knowledge. For him words were things, not merely
labels upon ideas. What Christ and St. Paul and St. John had said--these
things were so. He had escaped, owing chiefly to his isolation from the
world, that vast expansion of Ritschlian ideas that during the last
century had been responsible for the desertion by so many of any
intelligible creed. For others this had been the supreme struggle--the
difficulty of decision between the facts that words were not things, and
yet that the things they represented were in themselves objective. But
to this man, sitting now in the moonlight, listening to the far-off tap
of hoofs over the hill as the messenger came up from Cana, faith was as
simple as an exact science. Here Gabriel had descended on wide feathered
wings from the Throne of God set beyond the stars, the Holy Ghost had
breathed in a beam of ineffable light, the Word had become Flesh as Mary
folded her arms and bowed her head to the decree of the Eternal. And
here once more, he thought, though it was no more than a guess--yet he
thought that already the running of chariot-wheels was audible--the
tumult of the hosts of God gathering about the camp of the saints--he
thought that already beyond the bars of the dark Gabriel set to his lips
the trumpet of doom and heaven was astir. He might be wrong at this
time, as others had been wrong at other times, but neither he nor they
could be wrong for ever; there must some day be an end to the patience
of God, even though that patience sprang from the eternity of His
nature. He stood up, as down the pale moonlit path a hundred yards away
came a pale figure of one who rode, with a leather bag strapped to his
It would be about three o'clock in the morning that the priest awoke in
his little mud-walled room next to that of the Holy Father's, and heard
a footstep coming up the stairs. Last evening he had left his master as
usual beginning to open the pile of letters arrived from Cardinal
Corkran, and himself had gone straight to his bed and slept. He lay now
a moment or two, still drowsy, listening to the pad of feet, and an
instant later sat up abruptly, for a deliberate tap had sounded on the
door. Again it came; he sprang out of bed in his long night-tunic, drew
it up hastily in his girdle, went to the door and opened it.
The Pope was standing there, with a little lamp in one hand, for the
dawn had scarcely yet begun, and a paper in the other.
"I beg your pardon, Father; but there is a message I must have sent at
once to his Eminence."
Together they went out through the Pope's room, the priest, still
half-blind with sleep, passed up the stairs, and emerged into the clear
cold air of the upper roof. The Pope blew out His lamp, and set it on
"You will be cold, Father; fetch your cloak."
"And you, Holiness?"
The other made a little gesture of denial, and went across to the tiny
temporary shed where the wireless telegraphic instrument stood.
"Fetch your cloak, Father," He said again over His shoulder. "I will
ring up meanwhile."
When the priest came back three minutes later, in his slippers and
cloak, carrying another cloak also for his master, the Pope was still
seated at the table. He did not even move His head as the other came up,
but once more pressed on the lever that, communicating with the
twelve-foot pole that rose through the pent-house overhead, shot out the
quivering energy through the eighty miles of glimmering air that lay
between Nazareth and Damascus.
This simple priest had scarcely even by now become accustomed to this
extraordinary device invented a century ago and perfected through all
those years to this precise exactness--that device by which with the
help of a stick, a bundle of wires, and a box of wheels, something, at
last established to be at the root of all matter, if not at the very
root of physical life, spoke across the spaces of the world to a tiny
receiver tuned by a hair's breadth to the vibration with which it was
set in relations.
The air was surprisingly cold, considering the heat that had preceded
and would follow it, and the priest shivered a little as he stood clear
of the roof, and stared, now at the motionless figure in the chair
before him, now at the vast vault of the sky passing, even as he looked,
from a cold colourless luminosity to a tender tint of yellow, as far
away beyond Thabor and Moab the dawn began to deepen. From the village
half-a-mile away arose the crowing of a cock, thin and brazen as a
trumpet; a dog barked once and was silent again; and then, on a sudden,
a single stroke upon a bell hung in the roof recalled him in an instant,
and told him that his work was to begin.
The Pope pressed the lever again at the sound, twice, and then, after a
pause, once more--waited a moment for an answer, and then when it came,
rose and signed to the priest to take his place.
The Syrian sat down, handing the extra cloak to his master, and waited
until the other had settled Himself in a chair set in such a position at
the side of the table that the face of each was visible to the other.
Then he waited, with his brown fingers poised above the row of keys,
looking at the other's face as He arranged himself to speak. That face,
he thought, looking out from the hood, seemed paler than ever in this
cold light of dawn; the black arched eyebrows accentuated this, and even
the steady lips, preparing to speak, seemed white and bloodless. He had
His paper in His hand, and His eyes were fixed upon this.
"Make sure it is the Cardinal," he said abruptly.
The priest tapped off an enquiry, and, with moving lips, raid off the
printed message, as like magic it precipitated itself on to the tall
white sheet of paper that faced him.
"It is his Eminence, Holiness," he said softly. "He is alone at the
"Very well. Now then; begin."
"We have received your Eminence's letter, and have noted the news.... It
should have been forwarded by telegraphy--why was that not done?"
The voice paused, and the priest who had snapped off the message, more
quickly than a man could write it, read aloud the answer.
"'I did not understand that it was urgent. I thought it was but one
more assault. I had intended to communicate more so soon as I heard
"Of course it was urgent," came the voice again in the deliberate
intonation that was used between these two in the case of messages for
transmission. "Remember that all news of this kind is always urgent."
"'I will remember,' read the priest. " `I regret my mistake.'"
"You tell us," went on the Pope, His eyes still downcast on the paper,
"that this measure is decided upon; you name only three authorities.
Give me, now, all the authorities you have, if you have more."
There was a moment's pause. Then the priest began to read off the names.
"Besides the three Cardinals whose names I sent, the Archbishops of
Thibet, Cairo, Calcutta and Sydney have all asked if the news was true,
and for directions if it is true; besides others whose names I can
communicate if I may leave the table for a moment.'"
"Do so," said the Pope.
Again there was a pause. Then once more the names began.
"'The Bishops of Bukarest, the Marquesas Islands and Newfoundland. The
Franciscans in Japan, the Crutched Friars in Morocco, the Archbishops of
Manitoba and Portland, and the Cardinal-Archbisbop of Pekin. I have
despatched two members of Christ Crucified to England.'"
"Tell us when the news first arrived, and how."
"'I was called up to the instrument yesterday evening at about twenty
o'clock. The Archbishop of Sydney was asking, through our station at
Bombay, whether the news was true. I replied I had heard nothing of it.
Within ten minutes four more inquiries had come to the same effect; and
three minutes later Cardinal Ruspoli sent the positive news from Turin.
This was accompanied by a similar message from Father Petrovski in
Moscow. Then--- '"
"Stop. Why did not Cardinal Dolgorovski communicate it?"
"'He did communicate it three hours later.'"
"Why not at once?"
"'His Eminence had not heard it.'"
"Find out at what hour the news reached Moscow--not now, but within the
"Go on, then."
"'Cardinal Malpas communicated it within five minutes of Cardinal
Ruspoli, and the rest of the inquiries arrived before midnight. China
reported it at twenty-three.'"
"Then when do you suppose the news was made public?"
"'It was decided first at the secret London conference, yesterday, at
about sixteen o'clock by our time. The Plenipotentiaries appear to have
signed it at that hour. After that it was communicated to the world. It
was published here half an hour past midnight.'"
"Then Felsenburgh was in London?"
"'I am not yet sure. Cardinal Malpas tells me that Felsenburgh gave his
provisional consent on the previous day.'"
"Very good. That is all you know, then?"
"'I was called up an hour ago by Cardinal Ruspoli again. He tells me
that he fears a riot in Florence; it will be the first of many
revolutions, he says.'"
"Does he ask for anything?"
"'Only for directions.'"
"Tell him that we send him the Apostolic Benediction, and will forward
directions within the course of two hours. Select twelve members of the
Order for immediate service."
"Communicate that message also, as soon as we have finished, to all the
Sacred College, and bid them communicate it with all discretion to all
metropolitans and bishops, that priests and people may know that We bear
them in our heart."
"'I will, Holiness.'"
"Tell them, finally, that We had foreseen this long ago; that We commend
them to the Eternal Father without Whose Providence no sparrow falls to
the ground. Bid them be quiet and confident; to do nothing, save confess
their faith when they are questioned. All other directions shall be
issued to their pastors immediately!"
"'I will, Holiness.'"
* * * * *
There was again a pause.
The Pope had been speaking with the utmost tranquillity as one in a
dream. His eyes were downcast upon the paper, His whole body as
motionless as an image. Yet to the priest who listened, despatching the
Latin messages, and reading aloud the replies, it seemed, although so
little intelligible news had reached him, as if something very strange
and great was impending. There was the sense of a peculiar strain in the
air, and although he drew no deductions from the fact that apparently
the whole Catholic world was in frantic communication with Damascus, yet
he remembered his meditations of the evening before as he had waited for
the messenger. It seemed as if the powers of this world were
contemplating one more step--with its nature he was not greatly
The Pope spoke again in His natural voice.
"Father," he said, "what I am about to say now is as if I told it in
confession. You understand?--Very well. Now begin."
Then again the intonation began.
"Eminence. We shall say mass of the Holy Ghost in one hour from now. At
the end of that time, you will cause that all the Sacred College shall
be in touch with yourself, and waiting for our commands. This new
decision is unlike any that have preceded it. Surely you understand
that now. Two or three plans are in our mind, yet We are not sure yet
which it is that our Lord intends. After mass We shall communicate to
you that which He shall show Us to be according to His Will. We beg of
you to say mass also, immediately, for Our intention. Whatever must be
done must be done quickly. The matter of Cardinal Dolgorovski you may
leave until later. But we wish to hear the result of your inquiries,
especially in London, before mid-day. Benedicat te Omnipotens Deus,
Pater et Filius et Spiritus Sanctus."
"'Amen!'" murmured the priest, reading it from the sheet.
The little chapel in the house below was scarcely more dignified than
the other rooms. Of ornaments, except those absolutely essential to
liturgy and devotion, there were none. In the plaster of the walls were
indented in slight relief the fourteen stations of the Cross; a small
stone image of the Mother of God stood in a corner, with an iron-work
candlestick before it, and on the solid uncarved stone altar, raised on
a stone step, stood six more iron candlesticks and an iron crucifix. A
tabernacle, also of iron, shrouded by linen curtains, stood beneath the
cross; a small stone slab projecting from the wall served as a credence.
There was but one window, and this looked into the court, so that the
eyes of strangers might not penetrate.
It seemed to the Syrian priest as he went about his business--laying out
the vestments in the little sacristy that opened out at one side of the
altar, preparing the cruets and stripping the covering from the
altar-cloth--that even that slight work was wearying. There seemed a
certain oppression in the air. As to how far that was the result of his
broken rest he did not know, but he feared that it was one more of those
scirocco days that threatened. That yellowish tinge of dawn had not
passed with the sun-rising; even now, as he went noiselessly on his bare
feet between the predella and the prie-dieu where the silent white
figure was still motionless, he caught now and again, above the roof
across the tiny court, a glimpse of that faint sand-tinged sky that was
the promise of beat and heaviness.
He finished at last, lighted the candles, genuflected, and stood with
bowed head waiting for the Holy Father to rise from His knees. A
servant's footstep sounded in the court, coming across to hear mass, and
simultaneously the Pope rose and went towards the sacristy, where the
red vestments of God who came by fire were laid ready for the Sacrifice.
* * * * *
Silvester's bearing at mass was singularly unostentatious. He moved as
swiftly as any young priest, His voice was quite even and quite low, and
his pace neither rapid nor pompous. According to tradition, He occupied
half-an-hour ab amictu ad amictum; and even in the tiny empty chapel
He observed to keep His eyes always downcast. And yet this Syrian never
served His mass without a thrill of something resembling fear; it was
not only his knowledge of the awful dignity of this simple celebrant;
but, although he could not have expressed it so, there was an aroma of
an emotion about the vestmented figure that affected him almost
physically--an entire absence of self-consciousness, and in its place
the consciousness of some other Presence, a perfection of manner even in
the smallest details that could only arise from absolute recollection.
Even in Rome in the old days it had been one of the sights of Rome to
see Father Franklin say mass; seminary students on the eve of ordination
were sent to that sight to learn the perfect manner and method.
To-day all was as usual, but at the Communion the priest looked up
suddenly at the moment when the Host had been consumed, with a half
impression that either a sound or a gesture had invited it; and, as he
looked, his heart began to beat thick and convulsive at the base of his
throat. Yet to the outward eyes there was nothing unusual. The figure
stood there with bowed head, the chin resting on the tips of the long
fingers, the body absolutely upright, and standing with that curious
light poise as if no weight rested upon the feet. But to the inner sense
something was apparent the Syrian could not in the least formulate it to
himself; but afterwards he reflected that he had stared expecting some
visible or audible manifestation to take place. It was an impression
that might be described under the terms of either light or sound; at any
instant that delicate vivid force, that to the eyes of the soul burned
beneath the red chasuble and the white alb, might have suddenly welled
outwards under the appearance of a gush of radiant light rendering
luminous not only the clear brown flesh seen beneath the white hair, but
the very texture of the coarse, dead, stained stuffs that swathed the
rest of the body. Or it might have shown itself in the strain of a long
chord on strings or wind, as if the mystical union of the dedicated soul
with the ineffable Godhead and Humanity of Jesus Christ generated such a
sound as ceaselessly flows out with the river of life from beneath the
Throne of the Lamb. Or yet once more it might have declared itself under
the guise of a perfume--the very essence of distilled sweetness--such a
scent as that which, streaming out through the gross tabernacle of a
saint's body, is to those who observe it as the breath of heavenly
The moments passed in that hush of purity and peace; sounds came and
went outside, the rattle of a cart far away, the sawing of the first
cicada in the coarse grass twenty yards away beyond the wall; some one
behind the priest was breathing short and thick as under the pressure of
an intolerable emotion, and yet the figure stood there still, without a
movement or sway to break the carved motionlessness of the alb-folds or
the perfect poise of the white-shod feet. When He moved at last to
uncover the Precious Blood, to lay His hands on the altar and adore, it
was as if a statue had stirred into life; to the server it was very
nearly as a shock.
Again, when the chalice was empty, that first impression reasserted
itself; the human and the external died in the embrace of the Divine and
Invisible, and once more silence lived and glowed.... And again as the
spiritual energy sank back again into its origin, Silvester stretched
out the chalice.
With knees that shook and eyes wide in expectation, the priest rose,
adored, and went to the credence.
* * * * *
It was customary after the Pope's mass that the priest himself should
offer the Sacrifice in his presence, but to-day so soon as the vestments
had been laid one by one on the rough chest, Silvester turned to the
"Presently," he said softly. "Go up, father, at once to the roof, and
tell the Cardinal to be ready. I shall come in five minutes."
It was surely a scirocco-day, thought the priest, as he came up on to
the flat roof. Overhead, instead of the clear blue proper to that hour
of the morning, lay a pale yellow sky darkening even to brown at the
horizon. Thabor, before him, hung distant and sombre seen through the
impalpable atmosphere of sand, and across the plain, as he glanced
behind him, beyond the white streak of Nain nothing was visible except
the pale outline of the tops of the hills against the sky. Even at this
morning hour, too, the air was hot and breathless, broken only by the
slow-stifling lift of the south-western breeze that, blowing across
countless miles of sand beyond far-away Egypt, gathered up the heat of
the huge waterless continent and was pouring it, with scarcely a streak
of sea to soften its malignity, on this poor strip of land. Carmel, too,
as he turned again, was swathed about its base with mist, half dry and
half damp, and above showed its long bull-head running out defiantly
against the western sky. The very table as he touched it was dry and hot
to the hand, by mid-day the steel would be intolerable.
He pressed the lever, and waited; pressed it again, and waited again.
There came the answering ring, and he tapped across the eighty miles of
air that his Eminence's presence was required at once. A minute or two
passed, and then, after another rap of the bell, a line flicked out on
the new white sheet.
"'I am here. Is it his Holiness?'"
He felt a hand upon his shoulder, and turned to see Silvester, hooded
and in white, behind his chair.
"Tell him yes. Ask him if there is further news."
The Pope went to the chair once more and sat down, and a minute later
the priest, with growing excitement, read out the answer.
"'Inquiries are pouring in. Many expect your Holiness to issue a
challenge. My secretaries have been occupied since four o'clock. The
anxiety is indescribable. Some are denying that they have a Pope.
Something must be done at once.'"
"Is that all?" asked the Pope.
Again the priest read out the answer. "'Yes and no. The news is true. It
will be inforced immediately. Unless a step is taken immediately there
will be widespread and final apostasy.'"
"Very good," murmured the Pope, in his official voice. "Now listen
carefully, Eminence." He was silent for a moment, his fingers joined
beneath his chin as just now at mass. Then he spoke.
"We are about to place ourselves unreservedly in the hands of God. Human
prudence must no longer restrain us. We command you then, using all
discretion that is possible, to communicate these wishes of ours to the
following persons under the strictest secrecy, and to no others
whatsoever. And for this service you are to employ messengers, taken
from the Order of Christ Crucified, two for each message, which is not
to be committed to writing in any form. The members of the Sacred
College, numbering twelve; the metropolitans and Patriarchs through the
entire world, numbering twenty-two; the Generals of the Religious
Orders: the Society of Jesus, the Friars, the Monks Ordinary, and the
Monks Contemplative four. These persons, thirty-eight in number, with
the chaplain of your Eminence, who shall act as notary, and my own who
shall assist him, and Ourself--forty-one all told--these persons are to
present themselves here at our palace of Nazareth not later than the Eve
of Pentecost. We feel Ourselves unwilling to decide the steps necessary
to be taken with reference to the new decree, except we first hear the
counsel of our advisers, and give them an opportunity of communicating
freely one with another. These words, as we have spoken them, are to be
forwarded to all those persons whom we have named; and your Eminence
will further inform them that our deliberations will not occupy more
than four days.
"As regards the questions of provisioning the council and all matters of
that kind, your Eminence will despatch to-day the chaplain of whom we
have spoken, who with my own chaplain will at once set about
preparations, and your Eminence will yourself follow, appointing Father
Marabout to act in your absence, not later than four days hence.
"Finally, to all who have asked explicit directions in the face of this
new decree, communicate this one sentence, and no more.
"Lose not your confidence which hath a great reward. For yet a little
while, and, He that is to come will come and will not delay.--Silvester
the Bishop, Servant of the Servants of God."
Oliver Brand stepped out from the Conference Hall in Westminster on the
Friday evening, so soon as the business was over and the
Plenipotentiaries had risen from the table, more concerned as to the
effect of the news upon his wife than upon the world.
He traced the beginning of the change to the day five months ago when
the President of the World had first declared the development of his
policy, and while Oliver himself had yielded to that development, and
from defending it in public had gradually convinced himself of its
necessity, Mabel, for the first time in her life, had shown herself
The woman to his mind seemed to him to have fallen into some kind of
insanity. Felsenburgh's declaration had been made a week or two after
his Acclamation at Westminster, and Mabel had received the news of it at
first with absolute incredulity.
Then, when there was no longer any doubt that he had declared the
extermination of the Supernaturalists to be a possible necessity, there
had been a terrible scene between husband and wife. She had said that
she had been deceived; that the world's hope was a monstrous mockery;
that the reign of universal peace was as far away as ever; that
Felsenburgh had betrayed his trust and broken his word. There had been
an appalling scene. He did not even now like to recall it to his
imagination. She had quieted after a while, but his arguments, delivered
with infinite patience, seemed to produce very little effect. She
settled down into silence, hardly answering him. One thing only seemed
to touch her, and that was when he spoke of the President himself. It
was becoming plain to him that she was but a woman after all at the
mercy of a strong personality, but utterly beyond the reach of logic. He
was very much disappointed. Yet he trusted to time to cure her.
The Government of England had taken swift and skilful steps to reassure
those who, like Mabel, recoiled from the inevitable logic of the new
policy. An army of speakers traversed the country, defending and
explaining; the press was engineered with extraordinary adroitness, and
it was possible to say that there was not a person among the millions of
England who had not easy access to the Government's defence.
Briefly, shorn of rhetoric, their arguments were as follows, and there
was no doubt that, on the whole, they had the effect of quieting the
amazed revolt of the more sentimental minds.
Peace, it was pointed out, had for the first time in the world's history
become an universal fact. There was no longer one State, however small,
whose interests were not identical with those of one of the three
divisions of the world of which it was a dependency, and that first
stage had been accomplished nearly half-a-century ago. But the second
stage--the reunion of these three divisions under a common head--an
infinitely greater achievement than the former, since the conflicting
interests were incalculably more vast--this had been consummated by a
single Person, Who, it appeared, had emerged from humanity at the very
instant when such a Character was demanded. It was surely not much to
ask that those on whom these benefits had come should assent to the will
and judgment of Him through whom they had come. This, then, was an
appeal to faith.
The second main argument was addressed to reason. Persecution, as all
enlightened persons confessed, was the method of a majority of savages
who desired to force a set of opinions upon a minority who did not
spontaneously share them. Now the peculiar malevolence of persecution in
the past lay, not in the employment of force, but in the abuse of it.
That any one kingdom should dictate religious opinions to a minority of
its members was an intolerable tyranny, for no one State possessed the
right to lay down universal laws, the contrary to which might be held by
its neighbour. This, however, disguised, was nothing else than the
Individualism of Nations, a heresy even more disastrous to the
commonwealth of the world than the Individualism of the Individual. But
with the arrival of the universal community of interests the whole
situation was changed. The single personality of the human race had
succeeded to the incoherence of divided units, and with that
consummation--which might be compared to a coming of age, an entirely
new set of rights had come into being. The human race was now a single
entity with a supreme responsibility towards itself; there were no
longer any private rights at all, such as had certainly existed, in the
period previous to this. Man now possessed dominion over every cell
which composed His Mystical Body, and where any such cell asserted
itself to the detriment of the Body, the rights of the whole were
And there was no religion but one that claimed the equal rights of
universal jurisdiction--and that the Catholic. The sects of the East,
while each retained characteristics of its own, had yet found in the New
Man the incarnation of their ideals, and had therefore given in their
allegiance to the authority of the whole Body of whom He was Head. But
the very essence of the Catholic Religion was treason to the very idea
of man. Christians directed their homage to a supposed supernatural
Being who was not only--so they claimed--outside of the world but
positively transcended it. Christians, then--leaving aside the mad fable
of the Incarnation, which might very well be suffered to die of its own
folly--deliberately severed themselves from that Body of which by human
generation they had been made members. They were as mortified limbs
yielding themselves to the domination of an outside force other than
that which was their only life, and by that very act imperilled the
entire Body. This madness, then, was the one crime which still deserved
the name. Murder, theft, rape, even anarchy itself, were as trifling
faults compared to this monstrous sin, for while these injured indeed
the Body they did not strike at its heart--individuals suffered, and
therefore those minor criminals deserved restraint; but the very Life
was not struck at. But in Christianity there was a poison actually
deadly. Every cell that became infected with it was infected in that
very fibre that bound it to the spring of life. This, and this alone,
was the supreme crime of High Treason against man--and nothing but
complete removal from the world could be an adequate remedy.
These, then, were the main arguments addressed to that section of the
world which still recoiled from the deliberate utterance of Felsenburgh,
and their success had been remarkable. Of course, the logic, in itself
indisputable, had been dressed in a variety of costumes gilded with
rhetoric, flushed with passion, and it had done its work in such a
manner that as summer drew on Felsenburgh had announced privately that
he proposed to introduce a bill which should carry out to its logical
conclusion the policy of which he had spoken.
Now, this too, had been accomplished.
Oliver let himself into his house, and went straight upstairs to Mabel's
room. It would not do to let her hear the news from any but his own
lips. She was not there, and on inquiry he heard that she had gone out
an hour before.
He was disconcerted at this. The decree had been signed half-an-hour
earlier, and in answer to an inquiry from Lord Pemberton it had been
stated that there was no longer any reason for secrecy, and that the
decision might be communicated to the press. Oliver had hurried away
immediately in order to make sure that Mabel should hear the news from
him, and now she was out, and at any moment the placards might tell her
of what had been done.
He felt extremely uneasy, but for another hour or so was ashamed to act.
Then be went to the tube and asked another question or two, but the
servant had no idea of Mabel's movements; it might be she had gone to
the church; sometimes she did at this hour. He sent the woman off to
see, and himself sat down again in the window-seat of his wife's room,
staring out disconsolately at the wide array of roofs in the golden
sunset light, that seemed to his eyes to be strangely beautiful this
evening. The sky was not that pure gold which it had been every night
during this last week; there was a touch of rose in it, and this
extended across the entire vault so far as he could see from west to
east. He reflected on what he had lately read in an old book to the
effect that the abolition of smoke had certainly changed evening colours
for the worse.... There had been a couple of severe earthquakes, too, in
America--he wondered whether there was any connection.... Then his
thoughts flew back to Mabel....
It was about ten minutes before he heard her footstep on the stairs, and
as he stood up she came in.
There was something in her face that told him that she knew everything,
and his heart sickened at her pale rigidity. There was no fury
there--nothing but white, hopeless despair, and an immense
determination. Her lips showed a straight line, and her eyes, beneath
her white summer hat, seemed contracted to pinpricks. She stood there,
closing the door mechanically behind her, and made
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