Society soon learned the news of the Countess Hermenstein's betrothal to the |eccentric Englishman,| Aubrey Leigh, -- and with its million tongues discussed the affair in all tones, -- most people preferring to say, with the usual |society| kindness, that -- |Leigh was not quite such a self-sacrificing idealist as he seemed to be, -- he was going to marry for money.| Some few ventured to remark that Sylvie Hermenstein was charming in herself and well worth winning, -- but the more practical pooh-poohed this view of the case at once. |Pretty women are to be had by the score,| they said, |It is the money that tells!| Aubrey Leigh caught these rumours, and was in a manner stung by them, -- he said very little however, and to all the congratulations he received, merely gave coldly civil thanks. And so the gossips went to work again in their own peculiar way, and said, |Well! She will have an iceberg for a husband, that is one thing! A stuck up, insolent sort of chap! -- not a bit of go in him!| Which was true, -- Aubrey had no |go.| |Go| means, in modern parlance, to drink oneself stupid, to bet on the most trifling passing events, and to talk slang that would disgrace a stable-boy, as well as to amuse oneself with all sorts of mean and vulgar intrigues which are carried on through the veriest skulk and caddishness; -- thus Aubrey was a sad failure in |tip-top| circles. But the |tip-top| circles are not a desirable heaven to every man; -- and Aubrey did not care much as to what sort of comments were passed on himself, provided he could see Sylvie always |queen it| over her inferiors in that graceful, gracious way of conquest which was her special peculiarity and charm. Among her friends no one perhaps was happier in Sylvie's happiness than Angela Sovrani; her nature was of that rare quality which vibrates like a harp to every touch, and the joy of others swept over her with a gladness which made her more glad than if she had received some priceless boon for her own benefit. Florian Varillo was exceedingly angry at the whole affair, -- and whenever Sylvie's betrothal was spoken of he assumed an expression of pained and personal offence which was almost grotesque.
|Such a marriage is ridiculous!| he declared, -- |Everyone can see how utterly unsuited the two are in tastes, habits and opinions! They will rue the day they ever met!|
And not all the gentle remonstrances of his own fiancee Angela, could soothe his ruffled humour, or make him accept the inevitable with grace. Angela was exceedingly troubled and puzzled by his almost childish waywardness, -- she did not yet understand the nature of a man who was to himself all in all, and who could not endure the idea that any woman whom he personally condescended to admire should become the possession of another, no matter how completely that woman might be beyond his own reach. Poor Angela! She was very simple -- very foolish indeed; -- she never imagined it could be possible for a man to carry on five or six love-affairs at once, and never be found out. Yet this was the kind of life her |ideal| found the most suitable to his habit and temperament, -- and he had made a mental note of Sylvie Hermenstein as one whom he proposed to add to his little list of conquests. So that her engagement of marriage to one who, though reserved in manner and without |go,| was yet every inch a gentleman, and a determined opposer of sophistry and humbug, had considerably disturbed his little plans, and the unsettlement of anything he had set his heart upon greatly displeased him. He generally had his own way in most things, and could not at all comprehend why he was not to have it now. But among all the people who discussed the intended marriage there were two who were so well satisfied as to be almost jubilant, and these were the Monsignori Moretti and Gherardi. These worthies met together in one of the private chambers set apart for the use of the Papal court in the Vatican, and heartily congratulated each other on the subjugation and enthralment of Aubrey Leigh, which meant, as they considered, the consequent removal of a fierce opponent to the Roman Catholic movement in England.
|Did I not tell you,| said Moretti, as he untied some papers he had been carrying, and sat down at a table to glance over them, |Did I not tell you that when all other arguments fail, the unanswerable one of woman can be brought in to clinch every business?|
Gherardi, though in a way contented, was not altogether so sure of his goal. He remembered, with an uncomfortable thrill of doubt, the little skirmish of words he had had with the fair Sylvie in the Pamphili woods.
|You take your thoughts for deeds, and judge them as fully accomplished while they are still in embryo!| he said, |It is true that the engagement of marriage is settled, -- but can you be certain that in religious matters the wife may not go with her husband?|
|What!| exclaimed Moretti, opening his dark eyes quickly, as a flash of hell-fire illumined them at the very idea, |Do you suggest that Sylvie Hermenstein, -- the last of her race -- a race which, back to its earliest source, has been distinguished for its faithful allegiance to Mother-Church, and has moreover added largely to the Papal revenues -- could be otherwise than our obedient and docile daughter? Per la Santissima Madonna! -- if I thought she could turn against us her marriage should never take place!|
And he brought his fist down with a fierce blow on the papers before him.
|The marriage should never take place!| echoed Gherardi, |How could you prevent it?|
|The Pope himself should intervene!| said Moretti, with increasing fury, losing a little of his self-control, |Gran Dio! Conceive for a moment the wealth of the Hermensteins being used to promulgate the reformer Leigh's threadbare theories, and feed his rascal poor! Do you know what Sylvie Hermenstein's fortune is? No, I suppose you do not! But I do! She tries to keep it a secret, but I have made it my business to find out! It is enormous! -- and it is ever increasing. With all the fanciful creature's clothes and jewels and unthinking way of living her life, she spends not a quarter, nor half a quarter of her income, -- and yet you actually venture to suggest that her power is so slight over the man who is now her promised husband, that she would voluntarily allow him to use all that huge amount of money as he pleased, OUTSIDE the Church?|
Moretti spoke with such passionate insistence that Gherardi thought it prudent not to irritate him further by argument. So he merely said,
|You expect her to persuade him to embrace our faith?|
|Naturally!| answered Moretti, |And she can, and will do so. If she cannot or will not, she must be MADE to do so!|
He bent over his papers again and rustled them impatiently, but his hand trembled. The pale December sunlight glittered through a stained-glass window above him, and cast deep violet rays about his chair, -- Gherardi stood where the same luminance touched his pale face with a crimson glow as of fire.
|This is a busy morning with us,| said Moretti, without looking up, |The excommunication of Denis Vergniaud will be pronounced to-day, -- and, what is even more important, -- Cardinal Bonpre is summoned by His Holiness's command to wait upon him this afternoon, bringing the boy, -- that boy who is always with him -- |
|Ah, there is a history there!| interrupted Gherardi, |It should be remembered that this boy was a witness of the miracle in Rouen, and he was also present at the Vergniaud scandal in Paris -- he should have been sent for ere now. He, more than anyone, must surely know how the miracle was accomplished, -- for the worthy Felix tells me he is 'wise beyond his years'!|
|So! His wisdom will be put to the test to-day!| said Moretti coldly, |Do you not think it strange| -- here he raised his eyes from his papers, |and somewhat incriminating too -- always supposing the miracle is a case of conspiracy -- that no trace has been discovered of the man Claude Cazeau?|
Gherardi had moved to a book-case, and was standing close to it, turning over a vellum-bound manuscript.
|Yes -- the whole business looks as black as murder!| he said.
Moretti looked at him sharply.
|Murder? You suppose -- |
|That Claude Cazeau has been murdered? Certainly I suppose it! It is more than a week now since we heard that he had mysteriously disappeared, and still there is no news. What can it be but murder? But I do not for a moment suppose that our good Saint Felix is concerned in it!|
And he smiled, turning over the vellum volume carelessly.
Moretti knitted his dark brows.
|No -- no!| he said musingly, |That would not be possible! Cardinal Bonpre is not that kind of man -- he would rather bear the heaviest weight of punishment for himself than allow another to suffer. That I KNOW of him; -- and though I do not admire his extreme views on this point, and do not think them politic, I give him full credit for this particular and uncommon form of -- eccentricity!|
|Or Christianity!| said Gherardi, still smiling.
Moretti pushed aside his papers, and leaning his head on one hand frowned meditatively at the amethyst light which streamed radiantly through the jewel-like window above him. |Yes -- or Christianity, if you like!| he said, |For Christianity pur et simple, WOULD be eccentricity. In its primitive simplicity it is an impossible creed. Founded by the Divine it needs divine beings to comprehend and follow it, -- beings not of this world nor addicted to the things of this world. And to exist in the world, made of the world's clay, and the world's inherited associations, and yet not be of it, is to be judged crazed! True, there have been saints and martyrs, -- there are saints and martyrs now, unknown and unheard of, but nevertheless consumed by flames more cruel perhaps than those which physically burn the flesh; -- idealists, thinkers, dreamers, heralds of future progress, -- and how are they estimated? As madmen all! To be human, and yet above humanity, is the supreme sin! For that very affront the multitude cried out, 'Not this man, but Barabbas!' And to this day we all prefer Barabbas to Christ. Hence the power of the Church!|
Gherardi put back the volume he had been glancing at, on its shelf, and looked at his confrere with a certain amount of admiring respect. He had been long an interested student of the various psychological workings of Moretti's mind, -- and he knew that Moretti's scheming brain was ever hard at work designing bold and almost martial plans for securing such conversions to the Church as would seriously trouble the peace of two or three great nations. Moretti was in close personal touch with every crowned head in Europe; he was acquainted more closely than anyone alive with the timidities, the nervous horrors, the sudden scruples, the sickening qualms of conscience, and the overwhelming fears of death which troubled the minds of certain powerful personages apparently presenting a brave front to the world, -- and he held such personages in awe by the very secrets which they had, in weak moments, entrusted to him. Gherardi even was not without his own fears, -- he instinctively felt that Moretti knew more about himself than was either safe or convenient.
|We all live for Barabbas,| pursued Moretti, an ironical smile playing on his thin lips, |Not for Christ! Barabbas, in the shape of the unscrupulous millionaire, robs the world! -- and we share the spoils, pardon his robberies, and set him free. But whosoever lives outside Dogma, serving God purely and preaching truth, -- him we crucify! -- but our Robber, -- our murderer of Truth, we set at liberty! Hence, as I said before, the power of the Church!|
Carried away by his thoughts, he rose, and pacing the room, talked more to himself than to Gherardi.
|The Church supports the robber, because he is always a coward and cannot stand alone. The murderer of his fellow-men's good name is naturally a liar, and fears lest his lies should find him out. Fear! That is the keynote on which we of Rome play our invincible march of triumph! The Church appeals to the ignorant, the base, the sensual, the false, and the timorous; and knowing that they never repent, but are only afraid, retains them by fear! -- fear, not love! Christ taught love -- but hate is the more popular virtue! Hence again, the power of the Church!|
|Your argument is perfectly orthodox!| said Gherardi, with a smile.
|Hate is a grand, a strong quality!| went on Moretti, |It makes nations, it builds up creeds! If men loved one another what should they need of a Church? But Hate! -- the subtle sense which makes the ultra-respectable thank God that he is not as other men are! -- the fierce emotion which almost touches ecstacy when the wronged individual thinks his enemy will go to hell! -- the fine fever which sets father against son, creed against creed, nation against nation! -- hate is the chief mainspring of human motives! From hate and envy spring emulation and conquest -- and we of the Church encourage the haters to hate on! They make Us! -- they emulate each other in the greed of their gifts to us, which give them notoriety and advertise their generosity, -- WE fan the flame and encourage the fury! For the world must have a religion -- it crucified Christ, but the Church, built up in His name, takes just and daily revenge for His murder! We do not save -- we kill! We do not rescue -- we trample down! We humiliate, -- we crush wherever we can, and it is well and fitting we should do so! For Humanity is a brute beast, and serves us best under the lash. Rome made many a blunder in the old days of barbarity and ignorance -- but now we have a thousand forces put into our hands instead of one or two, -- forces to terrorise -- forces to compel! -- and the power of Rome wielded by the Popes of the days to come, shall be indeed a power irresistible!|
He stood enrapt, -- his hand upraised, his eyes flashing, then recalling himself, turned abruptly on Gherardi with an impatient gesture.
|You can repeat all this,| he said sarcastically, |in your next eloquent discourse with Aubrey Leigh! It will save you the trouble of thinking! His influence with the English masses will be but a brief phenomenon, -- the blind and brutal stupidity of the people he seeks to serve will soon dishearten and discourage him, and then he will come to us through his wife, and his conversion will be a triumph worth winning, -- a step in the right direction. And now to other matters. These papers,| and he sat down at the table once more, |are, I think, sufficiently in order to be placed before His Holiness. But you may as well look through them with me first. Later on, the affair of Cardinal Bonpre will occupy all our time . . .|
|It is an 'affair' then?| asked Gherardi, |The 'saint' is in trouble?|
|All 'saints' get into trouble!| answered Moretti, |It is only sinners who receive honour! Cardinal Bonpre has made the fatal mistake of reading Jesus Christ's Gospel instead of Church Doctrine! His creed is Love, -- his duty, as I have just explained to you, if he would be a faithful son of the Church, is Hate!|
|Love forms no part of your nature then?| asked Gherardi, hardly knowing why he put the question, yet curious as to the answer.
|I am of the world!| replied Moretti coldly, |And I hate accordingly. I hate, and in my hate, aspire to crush those who in turn hate me! That is the human code, and one that must be strictly practised by all who would rule mankind. Never do anything for those who can do nothing for you! Firmly oppose those who oppose you! Revenge yourself on those who despitefully use you! We do revenge ourselves, -- and we reward all who help us to our revenge! For example, Denis Vergniaud has cast opprobrium on his calling, and made a scandal and a shame of the Church before his congregation in Paris; -- we excommunicate him! It is no use, but we do it on principle. And we are still unable to explain away, or offer any excuse for Cardinal Bonpre's mistake in condoning and pardoning his offence. Therefore it follows as you say, that the 'saint' is in trouble!|
|Notwithstanding the miracle?|
|Notwithstanding the miracle!| echoed Moretti, |For the miracle is doubtful. The Holy Father is not satisfied of its truth. Yes -- there is no doubt about it, Saint Felix is in trouble! It would be better for him had he never come out of his long retirement. But perhaps he was compelled to look after his Rouen foundling!|
A smile flickered faintly over Gherardi's face, but he said not a word in answer. Discovering an error in one of the documents he was examining, he called Moretti's attention to it, and the conversation drifted to everyday trivial subjects. But the thoughts of both men were elsewhere, and not even the news received that morning of the bequest of one hundred thousand pounds to the Shrine of Lourdes from a deluded believer in the miraculous Virgin there, absorbed so much of their reflective brain powers as the imminent trial -- for it was little else -- of Cardinal Bonpre, in the presence of the boy to whom he so openly gave his confidence and protection.
Meanwhile, the good Felix himself was very sorely troubled. During his sojourn in Rome, he had grown thinner and paler, and the fine, spiritual delicacy of his features had become more intensified, while his clear blue eyes shone from under their deeply arched brows with a flashing luminance that was almost unearthly. Often, when about to enter his room with unthinking haste, his brother-in-law, Prince Pietro, would see him kneeling before his crucifix absorbed, one might almost say entranced, in prayer. And he would softly move away again with a deep sense of awe, and a feeling that some higher power than any on earth, sustained the venerable prelate, and inspired both his words and actions. But with all his patient, sometimes passionate prayer, earnest meditations, and constant study of the Gospels, the Cardinal himself was more or less heavy- hearted, -- and his Master's phrase -- |My soul is exceeding sorrowful even unto death!| was one which he often breathed in the solitude and extremity of his own position. The news of the disappearance of Claude Cazeau had materially added to his difficulties -- and now he had been commanded, with a certain peremptoriness in the summons, to wait upon the Sovereign Pontiff in a private audience, bringing with him the boy who could, or would give no further account of himself than that of a world's waif and stray. Prepared for this visit and arrayed in all the splendour befitting his rank in the Church, the gentle old man looked paler and more fragile than ever, and the vague trouble he felt at the express injunction laid upon him concerning Manuel, showed itself in the deep furrows of anxiety marked upon his brow, and the pain in his thoughtful eyes. Prince Pietro's own man-servant had assisted him to dress for the impending ceremonial, and just as the last folds of his regal attire were being set in place a knock was heard at the door of his apartment, and Prince Pietro himself entered.
|A telegram for you, brother Felix,| he said, |I have brought it myself, thinking it may perhaps immediately concern your visit to the Pope to-day.|
The Cardinal, with a gentle word of thanks, opened the envelope handed to him.
|Praise be to God!| he said simply, as he read its contents, |Vergniaud has passed to the Higher tribunal!|
And he crossed himself reverently on brow and breast.
|Dead?| exclaimed Sovrani.
|To this world, yes!| answered Bonpre, |He died peacefully last night. This message is from his son.|
A faint ironical smile flickered over Sovrani's dark features.
|The ban of excommunication has not been declared!| he said, |It will be a somewhat belated announcement!|
Cardinal Bonpre folded the telegram, ready to take with him to the Vatican.
|The Church can excommunicate even the dead!| he said sorrowfully, |If such an extreme measure is judged politic it will doubtless be carried out!|
|Wonderful Christian charity,| murmured Sovrani under his breath, |to excommunicate a corpse! For that is all they can do. The Soul of the man is God's affair!|
Cardinal Bonpre answered nothing, for just then the young Manuel entered the room, in readiness to accompany his venerable protector and friend to the Vatican, and the old man's eyes rested upon him with a wistful, wondering trouble and anxiety which he could not conceal. Manuel smiled up at him -- that rare and beautiful smile which was like sunshine in darkness -- but the Cardinal's sad expression did not alter.
|The Abbe Vergniaud is no more,| he said gently, as the boy drew near, |His sins and sufferings are ended!|
|And his joys have begun!| answered Manuel, |For he set his life right with the world before he left it!|
|Child, you talk as a very wise man might!| said Prince Sovrani, his rugged brows smoothing into a kindly smile. |But the unfortunate Abbe is not likely to be judged in that way. It will be said of him that he scandalized the world before he left it!|
|When truth is made scandal, and right is made wrong,| said Manuel, |It will surely be a God-forgotten world!|
|WILL be? I think it is already!| said Prince Pietro. |It is said that the patience of the Almighty is unwearied, -- but I do not feel sure of that in my own mind. Science teaches us that many a world has been destroyed before now, -- and sometimes I feel as if our turn were soon coming!|
Here the man-servant having completely finished arranging the Cardinal's attire, made respectful obeisance and left the room, and the Cardinal himself proceeded into the adjoining salon, where he found his niece Angela waiting to see him.
|Dearest uncle,| she said, making her pretty genuflection as he approached her, |I must ask you to forgive me for coming to your rooms just now when your time is so much taken up, and when I know you have to go to the Vatican, -- but I want to tell you one thing that may perhaps please you, -- my picture is finished!|
|Finished!| echoed the Cardinal -- then tenderly taking her hands, he added, |I congratulate you, dear child, with all my heart! -- and I pray that the reward of your long and patient toil may be worthy of you. And when are we to see your work?|
|To-morrow!| answered Angela, and her cheeks flushed, and her eyes sparkled, |I shall be busy all today arranging it for exhibition in the best light. To-morrow morning Florian is to see it first, -- then my father will come, and you -- and Manuel!| and she smiled as she met the boy's gentle look, -- |And Queen Margherita has promised to be here at mid-day.|
|Florian first! And then your father!| said Prince Pietro, with a touch of melancholy in his tone, |Ah well, Angela mia! -- I suppose it must always be so! The lover's love -- the stranger's love, -- is greater than the love of years, the love of home! Yet sometimes, I fancy that the lover's love often turns out to be a passing impulse more than a real truth, and that the home-love reasserts itself afterwards with the best and the holiest power!|
And not trusting himself to say more, he abruptly left the room. Angela looked after him, a little troubled. The Cardinal took her hand.
|He is your father, dear girl!| he said gently, |And he cannot but feel it hard -- at first -- to be relegated to a second place in your affections.|
|I cannot help it!| she said, |Florian is my very life! I should have no ambition -- no joy in anything if he did not love me!|
Over the Cardinal's fine open face there came an expression of great pain.
|That is idolatry, Angela!| he said gravely, |We make a grievous mistake when we love human beings too deeply, -- for they are not the gods we would make of them. Like ourselves, they are subject to sin, and their sins often create more unhappiness for us than our own!|
|Ah! But we can save our beloved ones from sin!| answered Angela, with a beautiful upward look of exaltation, -- |That is love's greatest mission!|
|It is a mission that cannot always be fulfilled| -- said the Cardinal sorrowfully, -- then, after a pause he added -- |The Abbe Vergniaud is dead.|
|Dead!| And Angela turned very pale. |His son -- |
|His son sends the message -- | and he handed her the telegram he had received. She read it, and returned it to him, -- then made the sign of the cross.
|May he rest in peace!| He died true!|
|Yes, he died true. But remember, child, neither Truth nor Love are spared their crown of thorns. Love cannot save -- would that it could! It may warn -- it may pray -- it may watch -- it may hope, -- but if despite its tenderness, the sinner sins, what can love do then?|
|It can pardon!| said Angela softly.
Deeply moved, the good Felix took her hand and patted it gently.
|Dear child, God grant your powers of forgiveness may never be put to the test!| he ejaculated fervently. |The one unforgivable sin according to our Lord, is treachery; -- may THAT never come your way!|
|It can never come my way through Florian!| answered Angela smiling, -- |and for the rest -- I do not care!|
Manuel stood by silently, with thoughtful, downcast eyes -- but at these last words of hers he raised his head and looked full at her with a touch of melancholy in his straight regard.
|Ah, that is wrong!| he said, |You SHOULD care! -- you MUST care for the rest of the world. We must all learn to care for others more than ourselves. And if we will not learn, God sometimes takes a hard way of teaching us!|
Angela's head drooped a little. Then she said,
|I DO care for others, -- I think perhaps my picture will prove that for me. But the tenderness I have for the sorrows of the world is impersonal; and perhaps if I analysed myself honestly, I feel even that through my love for Florian. If he were not in the world, I am afraid I should not love the world so much!|
The Cardinal said no more, for just then a servant entered and announced that His Eminence's carriage was in waiting. Angela bending low once more before her uncle, kissed his apostolic ring, and said softly -- |To-morrow!|
And Manuel echoed the word, |To-morrow!| as she bade them both a smiling |addio| and left the apartment. When she had gone, and he was left alone with his foundling, the Cardinal stood for a few minutes absorbed in silent meditation, mechanically gathering his robes about him. After a pause of evident hesitancy and trouble, he approached the boy and gently laid a hand upon his shoulder.
|Manuel,| he said, |Do you understand whom it is that you are going to see?|
|Yes,| replied Manuel quickly, |The Head of the Church. One who holds an office constituted by man long after Christ. It was founded upon the name and memory of the Apostle Peter, who publicly denied all knowledge of His Master. That is how I understand the person I am to see to-day!|
Cardinal Bonpre's face was a study of varying expressions as he heard these words.
|My child, you must not say these things in the Pope's presence!|
Manuel lifted his radiant eyes with a look of calm confidence.
|Dear friend, you must trust me!| he said, |They have sent for me, have they not, to this place you call the Vatican? They desire to see me, and to question me. That being so, whatever God bids me say, I will say; fearing nothing!|
A strong tremour shook the Cardinal's nerves, -- he essayed to find words of wisdom and instruction, but somehow language failed him, -- he felt blinded and strengthless, and warned by this impending sense of feebleness, made an instant effort to brace himself up and master the strange fainting that threatened to overwhelm him as it had frequently done before. He succeeded, and without speaking again to Manuel, but only bending one earnest look upon him, he quitted his rooms and proceeded slowly down the great marble staircase of the Palazzo Sovrani, -- a staircase famous even in Rome for its architectural beauty -- Manuel stepping lightly at his side -- and reaching his carriage, entered it with his foundling, and was rapidly driven away.
Arrived at the Vatican, the largest palace in the world, which contains, so historians agree in saying, no less than eleven thousand different apartments with their courts and halls and corridors, they descended at the Portone di Bronzo, -- the Swiss Guard on duty saluting as the Cardinal passed in. On they went into the vestibule, chilly and comfortless, of the Scala Pia; -- and so up the stone stairs to the Cortile do San Damaso, and thence towards the steps which lead to the Pope's private apartments. Another Guard met them here and likewise saluted, -- in fact, almost at every step of the way, and on every landing, guards were on duty, either standing motionless, or marching wearily up and down, the clank, clank of their footsteps waking dismal echoes from the high vaulted roofs and uncarpeted stone corridors. At last they reached the Sala Clementina, a vast unfurnished hall, rich only with mural decorations and gilding, and here another Guard met them who, without words, escorted the Cardinal and his young companion through a number of waiting-rooms, made more or less magnificent by glorious paintings, wonderful Gobelin tapestries, and unique sculptures, till they reached at last what is called the anti-camera segreto, where none but Cardinals are permitted to enter and wait for an audience with the Supreme Pontiff. At the door of this |Holy of Holies| stood a Guarda Nobile on sentry duty, -- but he might have been a figure of painted marble for all the notice he took of their approach. As they passed into the room, which was exceedingly high and narrow, Monsignor Gherardi rose from a table near the window, and received the Cardinal with a kind of stately gravity which suitably agreed with the coldness and silence of the general surroundings. A small lean man, habited in black, also came forward, exchanging a few low whispered words with Gherardi as he did so, and this individual, after saluting the Cardinal, mysteriously disappeared through a little door to the right. He was the Pope's confidential valet, -- a personage who was perhaps more in the secrets of everybody and everything than even Gherardi himself.
|I am afraid we shall have to keep you waiting a little while,| said Gherardi, in his smooth rich voice, which despite its mellow ring had something false about it, like the tone produced by an invisible crack in a fine bell, |Your young friend,| and here he swept a keen, inquisitive glance over Manuel from face to feet, and from feet to face again, |will perhaps be tired?|
|I am never tired!| answered Manuel.
|Nor impatient?| asked Gherardi with a patronising air.
|Wonderful boy! If you are never tired or impatient, you will be eminently fitted for the priesthood,| said Gherardi, his lip curling with a faint touch of derision, |For even the best of us grow sometimes weary in well-doing!|
And turning from him with a movement which implied both hauteur and indifference, he addressed himself to Bonpre, whose face was clouded, and whose eyes were troubled.
|The unfortunate affair of our friend Vergniaud will be settled to- day,| he began, when the Cardinal raised one hand with a gentle solemnity.
|It is settled!| he returned, |Not even the Church can intervene between Vergniaud and his Maker now!|
Gherardi uttered an exclamation of undisguised annoyance.
|Dead!| he ejaculated, his forehead growing crimson with the anger he inwardly repressed -- |Since when?|
|Last night he passed away,| replied the Cardinal. |according to the telegram I have just received from -- his son. But he has been dying for some time, and what he told me in Paris was no lie. I explained his exact position to you quite recently, on the day you visited my niece at her studio. He had a serious valvular disease of the heart, -- he might, as the doctors said, have lived, at the utmost, two years -- but the excitement of recent events has evidently proved too much for him. As I told you, he felt that his death might occur at any moment, and he did not wish to leave the world under a false impression of his character. I trust that now the Holy Father may be inclined to pardon him, in death, if not in life!|
Gherardi walked up and down the narrow room impatiently.
|I doubt it!| he said at last, |I very much doubt it! The man may be dead, but the scandal he caused remains. And his death has made the whole position very much more difficult for you, my lord Cardinal! For as Vergniaud is not alive to endure the penalty of his offence, it is probable YOU may have to suffer for having condoned it!|
Felix Bonpre bent his head gently.
|I shall be ready and willing to suffer whatever God commands!| he answered, |For I most faithfully believe that nothing can injure my soul while it rests, as I humbly place it, in His Holy keeping!|
Gherardi paused in his pacing to and fro, and gazed at the frail figure, and fine old face before him, with mingled compassion and curiosity.
|You should have lived in the early days of the Faith,| he said, |You are too literal -- too exact in your following of Christian ethics. That sort of thing does not work nowadays. Dogma must be maintained!|
|What is dogma?| asked Manuel suddenly.
Gherardi gave him a careless glance.
|Cardinal Bonpre must teach you that in extenso!| he replied, with a little smile -- |But briefly, -- dogma is an opinion or theory derived from the Gospels, and formulated as doctrine, by the Church.|
|An opinion or theory of man, founded on the words of Christ?| said Manuel.
|But if Christ was divine, should any man presume to formulate a theory on what He Himself said?| asked Manuel. |Are not his own plain words enough?|
Gherardi stared at the young speaker half angrily.
|His own plain words enough?| he repeated mechanically. |What do you mean, boy?|
|I mean,| answered Manuel simply, |that if He were truly a Manifestation of God in Himself, as the Church declares Him to be, I WONDER THAT MAN CAN DARE TO FORMULATE MERE DOGMA ON GOD'S OWN UTTERANCE!|
There was a dead pause. After a few minutes of chill silence Gherardi addressed the Cardinal.
|Your young friend has a dangerous tongue!| he said sternly, |You had best warn or command him that he set a guard upon it in the Holy Father's presence!|
|There is no need to either warn or command me!| said Manuel, a smile irradiating his fair face as he met the angry eyes of Gherardi with the full calmness of his own -- |I have been sent for, and I am here. Had I not been sent for I should not have come. Now that I have been called to answer for myself I will answer, -- with truth and without fear. For what can any man cause me to suffer if I am to myself true?|
Another heavy pause ensued. An invisible something was in the air, -- a sense of that vast supernatural which is deeply centered at the core of the natural universe, -- a grave mystery which seemed to envelop all visible things with a sudden shadow of premonitory fear. The silence prevailing was painful -- almost terrible. A great ormolu clock in the room, one of the Holy Father's |Jubilee| gifts, ticked the minutes slowly away with a jewel-studded pendulum, which in its regular movements to and fro sounded insolently obtrusive in such a stillness. Gherardi abstractedly raised his eyes to a great ivory crucifix which was displayed upon the wall against a background of rich purple velvet, -- Manuel was standing immediately in front of it, and the tortured head of the carven Christ drooped over him as though in a sorrow-stricken benediction. A dull anger began to irritate Gherardi's usually well-tempered nerves, and he was searching in his mind for some scathing sentence wherewith to overwhelm and reprove the confident ease of the boy, when the door leading to the Pope's apartments was slowly pushed open to admit the entrance of Monsignor Moretti. Cardinal Bonpre had not seen him since the day of the Vergniaud scandal in Paris, -- and a faint colour came into his pale cheeks as he noted the air of overbearing condescension and authority with which Moretti, here on his own ground, as one of the favorites of the Pope, greeted him.
|The Holy Father is ready to receive you,| he said, |But I regret to inform your Eminence that His Holiness can see no way to excuse or condone the grave offence of the Abbe Vergniaud, -- moreover, the fact of the sin-begotten son being known to the world as Gys Grandit, makes it more than ever necessary that the ban of excommunication should be passed upon him. Especially, as those uninstructed in the Faith, are under the delusion that the penalty of excommunication has become more or less obsolete, and we have now an opportunity for making publicly known the truth that it still exists, and may be used by the Church in extreme situations, when judged politic and fitting.|
|Then in this case the Church must excommunicate the dead!| said the Cardinal quietly.
Moretti's face turned livid.
|Dead?| he exclaimed, |I do not believe it!|
Silently Bonpre handed him the telegram received that morning. Moretti read it, his eyes sparkling with rage.
|How do I know this is not a trick?| he said, |The accursed atheist of a son may have telegraphed a lie!|
|I hardly think he would condescend to that!| returned the Cardinal calmly, |It would not be worth his while. You must remember, that to one of his particular views, Church excommunication, either for his father or himself, would mean nothing. He makes himself responsible for his conduct to God only. And whatever his faults he certainly believes in God!|
Moretti read through the telegram again.
|We must place this before His Holiness,| he said, |And it will very seriously annoy him! I fear your Eminence,| here he gave a quick meaning look at Bonpre, |will be all the more severely censured for having pardoned the Abbe's sins.|
|Is it wrong to forgive sinners?| asked Manuel, his clear young voice breaking through the air like a silver bell rung suddenly, -- |And when one cannot reach the guilty, should one punish the innocent?|
Moretti scowled fiercely at the fair candid face turned enquiringly near his own.
|You are too young to ask questions!| he said roughly -- |Wait to be questioned yourself -- and think twice -- aye three times before you answer!|
The bright expression of the boy's countenance seemed to become intensified as he heard.
|'Take no thought how or what ye shall speak, for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak!'| he said softly -- |'For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you!'|
Moretti flushed angrily, and his hand involuntarily clenched.
|Those words were addressed by our Lord to His Apostles,| he retorted -- |Apostles, of whom our Holy Father the Pope is the one infallible representative. They were not spoken to an ignorant lad who barely knows his catechism!|
|Yet were not the Apostles themselves told,| went on Manuel steadily, |to be humble as ignorant children if they would enter the Kingdom of Heaven? And did not Christ say, 'Whoso offendeth one of these little ones which believe in Me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depths of the sea!' I am sure there are many such little ones who believe in Christ, -- perhaps too, without knowing any catechism,- -and even Apostles must beware of offending them!|
|Does this boy follow your teaching in the quoting of Scripture with so glib a tongue?| asked Moretti, turning sharply round upon the Cardinal.
Bonpre returned his angry look with one of undisturbed serenity.
|My son, I have taught him nothing!| he replied, |I have no time as yet -- and I may add -- no inclination, to become his instructor. He speaks from his own nature.|
|It is a nature that needs training!| said Gherardi, smiling blandly, and silencing by a gesture Moretti's threatening outburst of wrath, |To quote Scripture rashly, without due consideration for the purpose to which it is to be applied, does not actually constitute an offence, but it displays a reprehensible disregard and ignorance of theology. However, theology,| here he smiled still more broadly, |is a hard word for the comprehension of the young! This poor little lad cannot be expected to grasp its meaning.|
Manuel raised his bright eyes and fixed them steadily on the priest's countenance.
|Oh, yes!| he said quietly, |I understand it perfectly! Originally it meant the Word or Discourse of God, -- it has now come to mean the words or discourses, or quarrels and differences of men on the things of God! But God's Word remains God's Word -- eternally, invincibly! No man can alter it, and Christ preached it so plainly that the most simple child cannot fail to understand it!|
Moretti was about to speak when again Gherardi interrupted him.
|Patience! Patience!| he said soothingly, |Perchance we must say| -- this with a flash of derision from his dark crafty eyes, |that a prophet hath arisen in Israel! Listen to me, boy! If Christ spoke as plainly as you say, and if all He preached could be understood by the people, why should He have founded a Church to teach His doctrine?|
|He did not found a Church,| answered Manuel, |He tried to make a Human Brotherhood. He trusted twelve men. They all forsook Him in His hour of need, and one betrayed Him! When He died and arose again from the dead, they sought to give themselves a Divine standing on His Divinity. They preached His Word to the world -- true! -- but they preached their own as well! Hence the Church!|
Moretti's angry eyes rolled in his head with an excess of wrath and amazement.
|Surely some evil spirit possesses this boy!| he exclaimed irately, |Retro me Sathanas! He is a rank heretic -- a heathen! And yet he lives in the companionship of Cardinal Felix Bonpre!|
Both priests looked at the Cardinal in angry astonishment, but he stood silent, one wrinkled hand holding up the trailing folds of his scarlet robe, -- his head slightly bent, and his whole attitude expressive of profound patience and resignation. Manuel turned his eyes upon him and smiled tenderly.
|It is not the fault of Cardinal Bonpre that I think my own thoughts,| he said, |or that I speak as I have spoken from the beginning. He found me lost and alone in the world, -- and he sheltered me, knowing not whom he sheltered! Let what blame there is in me therefore be mine alone, and not his or another's!|
His young voice, so full of sweetness, seemed to melt the cold and heavy silence into vibrations of warm feeling, and a sudden sense of confusion and shame swept over the callous and calculating minds of the two men, miscalled priests, as they listened. But before they could determine or contrive an answer, the door was thrown open, and the lean man in black entered, and pausing on the threshold bowed slightly, -- then raising his hand with a gesture which invited all to follow him, turned again and walked on in front, -- then crossing a small antechamber, he drew aside a long curtain of purple damask heavily fringed with gold, and opened a farther door. Here he stood back, and allowed Cardinal Bonpre to pass in first, attended by Manuel, -- Monsignori Gherardi and Moretti followed. And then the valet, closing the door behind them, and pulling the rich curtain across, sat down himself close outside it to be within call when the Holy Father should summon his attendance by means of a bell which hung immediately over his head. And to while away the time he pulled from his pocket that day's issue of a well-known Republican paper, -- one of the most anti-Papal tendency, thereby showing that his constant humble attendance upon the Head of the Church had not made him otherwise than purely human, or eradicated from his nature that peculiar quality with which most of us are endowed, namely, the perversity of spirit which leads us often to say and do things which are least expected of us. The Pope's confidential valet was not exempt from this failing. He like the Monsignori, enjoyed the exciting rush and secret risk of money speculation, -- he also had his little schemes of self-advancement; and, as is natural to all who are engaged in a certain kind of service, he took care to read everything that could be said by outsiders against the person or persons whom he served. Thus, despite the important capacity he filled, he was not a grade higher than the ordinary butler, who makes it his business to know all the peccadilloes and failings of his master. |No man is a hero to his valet| is a very true axiom, -- and even the Head of the Church, the Manifestation of the Divine, the |Infallible in Council,| was a mere Nothing to the little man in black who had the power to insist on His Holiness changing a soiled cassock for a clean one.