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The Master-christian by Marie Corelli

XXVIII. There are certain moments in life which seem weighted with the history of ages --à

There are certain moments in life which seem weighted with the history of ages -- when all the past, present and future merge into the one omnipresent Now, -- moments, which if we are able to live through them with courage, may decide a very eternity of after- glory -- but which, if we fail to comprehend their mission, pass, taking with them the last opportunity of all good that shall ever be granted to us in this life. Such a moment appeared, to the reflective mind of Cardinal Bonpre, to have presented itself to him, as for the second time in ten days, he found himself face to face with the Sovereign Pontiff, the pale and aged man with the deep dark eyes set in such cavernous sockets, that as they looked out on the world through that depth of shadow, seemed more like great jewels in the head of a galvanised skeleton than the eyes of a living human being. On this occasion the Pope was enthroned in a kind of semi- state, on a gilded chair covered with crimson velvet; and a rich canopy of the same material, embroidered and fringed with gold, drooped in heavy folds above him. Attired in the usual white, -- white cassock, white skull cap, and white sash ornamented with the emblematic keys of St. Peter, embroidered in gold thread at the ends, -- his unhandsome features, pallid as marble, and seemingly as cold, -- bloodless everywhere, even to the lips, -- suggested with dreadful exactitude a corpse in burial clothes just lifted from its coffin and placed stiffly upright in a sitting position. Involuntarily Cardinal Bonpre, as he made the usual necessary genuflections, thought, with a shrinking interior sense of horror at the profanity of his own idea, that the Holy Father as he then appeared, might have posed to a painter of allegories, as the frail ghost of a dead Faith. For he looked so white and slender and fragile and transparent, -- he sat so rigidly, so coldly, without a movement or a gesture, that it seemed as if the touch of a hand might break him into atoms, so brittle and delicate a figure of clay was he. When he spoke, his harsh voice, issuing from the long thin lips which scarcely moved, even in utterance, was startling in its unmelodious loudness, the more so when its intonation was querulous, as now.

|It is regrettable, my lord Cardinal,| he said slowly, keeping his dark eyes immovably fixed on the venerable Felix, -- |that I should be compelled to send for you so soon again on the same matters which, since your arrival in Rome, have caused me so much anxiety. This miracle, -- of which you are declared to be the worker, -- though for some inscrutable reason, you persist in denying your own act, -- is not yet properly authenticated. And, to make the case worse, it seems that the unfortunate man, Claude Cazeau, whom we entrusted with our instructions to the Archbishop of Rouen, has suddenly disappeared, leaving no trace. Naturally there are strong suspicions that he has met with a violent death, -- perhaps at the hands of the Freemasons, who are ever at work conspiring against the Faith, -- or else through the intrigues of the so-called 'Christian Democrats,' of whom 'Gys Grandit' is a leader. In any case, it is most reprehensible that you, a Cardinal-prince of the Church, should have permitted yourself to become involved in such a doubtful business. The miracle may have taken place, -- but if so, you should have no cause to deny your share in it; and however much you may be gifted with the power of healing, I cannot reconcile your duty to us with the Vergniaud scandal! Since you were here last, I have investigated that matter thoroughly, -- I have read a full report of the blasphemous address the Abbe preached from his pulpit in Paris, and I cannot, no I cannot| -- here the Pope raised his thin white hand with a gesture of menace that was curiously powerful for one so seemingly frail -- |I cannot forgive or forget the part you have taken in this deplorable affair!|

The Cardinal looked up with a touch of pain and protest.

|Holy Father, I strove to obey the command of Christ -- 'Forgive that ye may be forgiven'! -- I cannot be sorry that I did so obey it; -- for now the offender is beyond the reach of either punishment or absolution. He must answer for his deeds to God alone!|

The Pope turned his eyes slowly round in his waxenlike head to Gherardi -- then to Moretti -- and seeing confirmation of the news in their looks, fixed them again as immovably as before upon the Cardinal. The faint shadow of a cold smile flickered on his long slit-like mouth.

|Dead!| he murmured, and he nodded slowly, and beat with one finger on the back of the other hand, as though keeping time mechanically to some funeral march in his brain. |Dead! A fortunate thing for him! An escape from worse than death, so far as this life is concerned! But what of the next? -- 'where the worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched!'| And here the representative of St. Peter smiled pallidly. |Dead! -- but his works live after him; and his sin- begotten son also lives, to spread his pernicious writings through the world, and incite the already disobedient to further license. Therefore the Church must still publicly condemn his memory, as a warning to the faithful. And you, Cardinal Bonpre, must receive from us a necessary measure of correction, for having pardoned one who in his last discourse to humanity attacked the Church and slandered it. To one of your eminence and reputation, the lesson may seem hard, but a chastening reproof can but purify the spirit, and free it from that pride which apes humility!|

The Cardinal bent his head patiently and remained silent.

Monsignor Moretti advanced a step towards the Papal throne.

|The boy| -- he began.

A slight animation warmed the chill lifelessness of the Pope's features. |True! I had almost forgotten!| he said. Then to the Cardinal, |Where is the boy you rescued from the streets, who lives with you, and who witnessed the miracle at Rouen?|

Manuel had till now stood aside, half hidden in the shadow of the crimson damask which, falling from ceiling to floor in rich luxurious folds, draped the corners of the room, but at these words he advanced at once.

|I am here!| he said.

Fronting the Pope, with his fair head thrown back, and his blue eyes flashing with all the soul-light of a swift, unwarped intelligence, he stood, -- and the white shrunken figure of the old man in the gilded chair raised itself as if by some interior electric force, slowly, slowly -- higher and higher -- the deep-set old eyes staring into the brilliant youthful ones -- staring -- staring till they seemed to protrude and tremble under their shelving brows, like the last sparks of a flame about to fall into extinction. Gherardi made a quick step forward.

|My lord Cardinal!| he said significantly, |Should not your waif and stray have been taught how to comport himself before he came here? He does not kneel to the Holy Father!|

The Cardinal opened his lips to speak, but Manuel stayed him by a slight gesture.

|I may not kneel to any man!| he said, |But to God only! For it is written,' Call no man your Father upon the earth, for One is your Father which is in Heaven. Neither be ye called Masters, for One is your Master, even Christ.' How then,| and he came nearer to the Pope's foot-stool, |can you be called 'Father'? or 'Holy'? For there is none Holy but God!|

The deep silence which had fallen like a spell upon them all in the antechamber, fell now with redoubled impressiveness. The Pope, gripping the arms of his gilded chair, forced himself fully upright, and his lips trembled.

|Whence came you, and of what parentage are you?| he asked slowly, enunciating his words with even more than his usual harsh distinctness.

|That is my own secret!| answered the boy -- |The Cardinal accepted me without question!|

|Which is but a fresh proof of the Cardinal's unwisdom,| said the Pope severely, |And we shall not follow his example in this or in any other matter!| And turning to Moretti he enquired, |Does this boy understand he is here as a witness to the miracle effected at Rouen?|

|As a witness to the Truth -- yes! I understand!| said Manuel quickly, before Moretti could answer. |The miracle was no miracle!|

|No miracle!| exclaimed the Pope, moved at last from his usual inflexibility, |Do you hear that, Domenico?| turning excitedly to Gherardi, |No miracle!|

|No miracle!| repeated Manuel, steadily -- |Nothing but the law of Nature working in response to the law of God, which is Love! The child was healed of his infirmity by the power of unselfish prayer. Are we not told 'Ask and ye shall receive'? But the asking must be pure! The prayer must be untainted by self-interest! God does not answer prayer that is paid for in this world's coin! No miracle was ever wrought for a fee! Only when perfect love and perfect faith exist between the creature and the Creator, are all things possible!|

A nervous twitching of the Pope's features showed his suppressed irritation at this reply.

|The boy jests with us!| he said angrily, |He defends his benefactor, but he either does not understand, or else is regardless of our authority!|

|What, do you not also believe?| asked Manuel, placing one foot on the first step of the Pope's throne, and looking him straightly in the face, |Do you not even affirm that God answers prayers? Do YOU not pray? Do you not assert that you yourself are benefited and helped -- nay, even kept alive by the prayers of the faithful? Then why should you doubt that Cardinal Bonpre has, by his prayer, rescued one life -- the life of a little child? Is not your Church built up for prayer? Do you not command it? Do you not even insist upon the 'vain repetitions' which Christ forbade? Do you not summon the people to pray in public? -- though Christ bade all who truly sought to follow Him to pray in secret? And amid all the false prayers, the unthinking, selfish petitions, the blasphemous demands for curses and confusion to fall upon enemies and contradictors, the cowardly cryings for pardon from sinners who do not repent, that are sent up to the throne of the Most High, -- is it marvellous that one prayer, pure of all self and sophistry, ascending to God, simply to ask for the life of a child should be heard and granted?|

His voice rang through the silence with a pure intonation, unlike any human voice in the world -- and as he spoke, the Pope slowly drew back in his chair, further and further away from the young, beautiful face that confronted his own so steadily. The dumb sense of stupefaction that had before possessed Gherardi and Moretti in the presence of this child, seized them again now, -- and slow tears welled up into the Cardinal's eyes, as, clasping his withered hands, he waited in fear and awe, listening and wondering, -- overwhelmed by the strangeness of the scene. Like a shrunken white mummy set in a gilded sarcophagus, the representative of St. Peter huddled himself together, reflections of the daylight on the crimson hangings around him casting occasional gleams of crimson athwart his bony hands and cadaverous features; -- while on the first step of his throne the aerial form of the beautiful boy, with his fair face, full flashing eyes, and radiant hair, stood like an Angel suddenly descended at the portal of the mummy's tomb.

|Faith must surely be weaker in these days than in the days of Christ,| continued Manuel, |The disciples were not always wise or brave; but they believed in the power of their Master! You, -- with so many centuries of prayer behind you, -- will surely not say as John did -- 'Master, we saw one casting out devils in Thy name, and he followeth not us!' Because this miracle is unexpected and exceptional, do you say of your good Cardinal, 'He followeth not us'? Remember how Christ answered, -- 'Forbid him not, for there is no man which shall do a miracle in my name that can speak evil of me!'|

Still the same silence reigned. A shaft of sunlight falling through the high oriel window, touched the boy's hair with a Pentecostal flame of glory.

|You sent for me,| he went on, |and I have come! They say I must be taught. Will you teach me? I would know many things! Tell me for one, why are You here, shut away from the cities, and the people? Should you not be among them? Why do you stay here all alone? You must be very unhappy!|

A sudden quivering light illumined the jewel-like dark eyes of the seeming mummy in the chair -- its lips moved -- but no sound came from them.

|To be here all alone!| went on Manuel, |And a whole world outside waiting to be comforted! To have vast wealth lying about you unused- -with millions and millions of poor, starving, struggling, dying creatures, near at hand, cursing the God whom they have never been taught to know or to bless! To be safely sheltered while others are in danger! To know that even kings and emperors are trembling on their thrones because of the evil days that are drawing near in punishment for evil deeds! -- to feel the great pulsating ache of the world's heart beating through every hour of time, and never to stretch forth a hand of consolation! Surely this must make you very sad! WILL YOU NOT COME OUT WITH ME?|

With a strong effort the Pope raised himself and looked into the pleading Angel-face. With his sudden movement, Gherardi and Moretti also stirred from their frozen attitudes of speechless amazement, and would have approached, but that the Pope signed them away with so fierce and impatient a gesture that they shrank back appalled. And still he gazed at Manuel as if his very soul were passing through his eyes.

|Come out with you!| he said, in a hoarse, faint whisper -- |Come out with you!|

|Yes! -- come out with me!| repeated Manuel, his accents vibrating with a strange compelling sweetness, |Come out and see the poor lying at the great gates of St. Peter's -- the lame, the halt, the blind -- come and heal them by a touch, a prayer! You can, you must, you shall heal them! -- if you WILL! Pour money into the thin hands of the starving! -- come with me into the miserable places of the world,- -come and give comfort! Come freely into the courts of kings, and see how the brows ache under the crowns! -- and the hearts break beneath the folds of velvet and ermine! Why stand in the way of happiness, or deny even emperors peace when they crave it? Your mission is to comfort, not to condemn! You need no throne! You want no kingdom! -- no settled place -- no temporal power! Enough for you to work and live as the poorest of all Christ's ministers, -- without pomp, without ostentation or public ceremonial, but simply clothed in pure holiness! So shall God love you more! So shall you pass unscathed through the thick of battle, and command Brotherhood in place of Murder! Go out and welcome Progress! -- take Science by the hand! -- encourage Intellect! -- for all these things are of God, and are God's gifts divine! Live as Christ lived, teaching the people personally and openly; -- loving them, pitying them, sharing their joys and sorrows, blessing their little children! Deny yourself to no man; -- and make of this cold temple in which you now dwell selfimprisoned, a home and refuge for the friendless and the poor! COME OUT WITH ME!|

As he thus spoke, with a living, breathing enthusiasm of entreaty, which might have moved even the dry bones in the valley of the prophet's vision to rise up and become a great standing army, the Pope's figure seemed to grow more and more attenuated, -- his worn white hands grasping the gilt arms of his chair, looked like the claws of a dead bird -- and his face, shrunken and withered, like a Chinese ivory carving of some forgotten idol.

|Come out with me and minister with your own hands to the aged and dying!| pursued Manuel, |And so shall you grow young! Command that the great pictures, the tapestries, the jewels, the world's trash of St. Peter's, be sold to the rich, who can afford to set them in free and open places where all the poorest may possess them! But do not You retain them! You do not need them -- your treasure must be sympathy for all the world! Not ONE section of the world, -- not ONE form of creed, -- but for all! -- if you are truly the Dispenser of Christ's Message to the earth! Come -- unprotected, save by the Cross! Come with no weapon of defence -- 'heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils! Freely ye have received, freely give! Provide neither gold nor silver nor brass in your purse,' -- come, and by your patience -- your gentleness -- your pardon -- your love to all men, show that 'the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!' Walk fearless in the thick of battles, and your very presence shall engender peace! For the Holy Spirit shall surround and encompass you; the fiercest warriors shall bend before you, as they never would if you assumed a world's throne or a world's sovereignty! Come, uncrowned, defenceless; -- but strong in the Spirit of God! Think of all the evil which has served as the foundation for this palace in which you dwell! Can you not hear in the silence of the night, the shrieks of the tortured and dying of the Inquisition? Do you never think of those dark days, ten and twelve hundred years after Christ, when no virtue seemed left upon the earth? -- when the way to this very throne was paved by poison and cold steel? -- when those who then reigned here, and occupied Your place, led such infamous lives that the very dogs might have been ashamed to follow in their footsteps! -- when they professed to be able to sell the Power of the Holy Ghost for so much gold and silver? Remember the words, 'Whoso shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost it shall not be forgiven him, either in this world or in the world to come.' Look back upon the Past -- and look out upon the Present! Try to understand the sufferings of the forsaken people! -- the pain -- the bewilderment -- the groping for life in death! -- and come out with me! Come and preach Christ as He lived and died, and WAS, and IS! COME OUT WITH ME!|

The dreadful, dumb spell remained unbroken. The loom seemed invested with a strange solemnity -- the figures of the human beings in it were like images frozen into rigidity -- even Cardinal Bonpre appeared stricken by this mental paralysis, and not a fold of his rich attire stirred with so much as a pulsation of natural breath. Only Manuel seemed truly alive -- his slight boyish figure was instinct with ardour -- his face was radiant, and his eyes brilliant as stars. And now, withdrawing himself a little from the motionless creature seated stiffly on the Papal throne, with its deep, dark eyes alone giving sign of life by their unwearied stare and feverish glitter, he raised his head with a royal gesture of mingled appeal and warning.

|Come out with me!| he exclaimed, |For there are wonderful things in the world to-day! -- wonderful, beautiful, and terrible! Take your share in them, and find God in every glory! For with all the wisdom and the splendour, -- with all the flashing light of Heaven poured out upon the darkness of the Sorrowful Star, its people are weary, -- they are lost in the confusion and clamour of their own desires -- they would fain serve God, but know not where to find Him, because a thousand, aye a million churches stand in the way! -- churches, which are like a forest of dark trees, blocking out the radiance of the Sun! God, who manifests His power and tenderness in the making of the simplest leaf, the smallest bird, is lost to the understanding and affection of humanity in the multitude of Creeds! Come out with me, -- simple and pure, gentle and strong! Tell all the lost and the wandering that there never was, and never will be but one God supreme and perfect, whose name is Love, whose work is Love! -- and whose Messenger, Christ, pronounced the New Commandment Love instead of Hate! Come out with me while it is yet day, for the night cometh when no man can work! Come and lift up the world by your very coming! Stretch out your hands in benediction over kings and beggars alike! -- there are other roses to give than Golden ones to Queens! There are poor women who share half they earn with those still poorer -- there are obscure lives which in their very obscurity, are forming the angel-nature, and weaving the angel's crown! -- look for these in the world -- give THEM your Golden Roses! Leave rulers and governments alone, for you should be above and beyond all rulers and governments! You should be the Herald of peace, -- the Pardoner of sin, the Rescuer of the fallen, and the Refuge of the distressed! Come out with me, and be all this to the world, so that when the Master comes He may truly find you working in His vineyard!|

Another dead pause ensued. Not a sound, not a breath disturbed the heavy silence which seemed to have grown deeper than before. And Manuel, looking eagerly again and closely into the Pope's face, went on with increasing ardour and passion.

|Come out with me!| he said, |Or if you will not come, -- then beware of the evil days which are at hand! The people are wandering to and fro, crossing all lands, struggling one against the other, hoarding up useless gold, and fighting for supremacy! -- but 'the day of the Lord shall come like a thief in the night, and blessed is he who shall be found watching!' Watch! The hour is growing dark and full of menace! -- the nations are as frightened children, losing faith, losing hope, losing strength! Put away, -- put away from you the toys of time! -- quench in your soul the thirst for gold, for of this shall come nothing but corruption! Why trifle with the Spirit of holy things? Why let your servants use the Name of the Most High to cover hypocrisy? Why crave for the power of temporal things which passes away in the dust of destroyed kingdoms? For the Power of the Spirit is greater than all! And so it shall be proved! The Spirit shall work in ways where it has never been found before! -- it shall depart from the Churches which are unworthy of its Divine inspiration! -- it shall invest the oaths of Science! -- it shall open the doors of the locked stars! It shall display the worlds invisible; -- the secrets of men's hearts, and of closed graves! -- there will be terror and loss and confusion and shame to mankind, -- and this world shall keep nothing of all its treasures but the Cross of Christ! Rome, like Babylon, shall fall! -- and the Powers of the Church shall be judged as the Powers of Darkness rather than of Light, because they have rejected the Word of their Master, and 'teach for doctrine the commandments of men!' Disaster shall follow swift upon disaster, and the cup of trembling shall be drained again to its last dregs, as in the olden days, unless, -- unless perchance -- you will come out with me!|

With the last words a sort of galvanic shock seemed to be imparted to the rigid figure in the chair. Springing upright suddenly, his voice rang out like a clarion, discordantly yet clearly.

|In the name of God,| he cried, |Who and what is this boy! How came he with Cardinal Bonpre? And you, Domenico! -- do you stand by and permit this affront to me! -- the living Head of the Church! From a child! -- a tramp of the streets! -- who dares to speak to me! -- who dares to reproach, to prophesy -- aye, to blaspheme! and teach Me, -- |

|As One having authority, -- and not as the Scribes!| said Manuel, with one swift flashing glance, which like a shaft of lightning seemed to pierce through flesh and bone, -- for, as he met that radiant and commanding look, the jewel-like eyes of the Pope lost their lustre and became fixed and glassy, -- he put his hand to his throat with a choking gasp for breath, -- and like a dead body which had only been kept in place by some secret mechanical action, he fell back in his chair senseless, his limbs stretching themselves out with a convulsive shudder into stark immovability.

Gherardi started from his stupor, and rushed to his assistance, ringing the bell violently which summoned the valet from the antechamber, -- and Moretti, with a fierce oath, pushing Manuel aside, rushed to the chair in which the Pope's fainting figure lay, -- all was confusion; -- and in the excitement and terror which had overwhelmed Cardinal Bonpre at the unprecedented scene, Manuel suddenly touched him on the arm.

|Follow me!| he said, |We are no longer needed here! Come! -- let us go hence!|

Hardly knowing what he did the old man obeyed, trembling in every limb as Manuel, grasping him firmly by the hand, led him from the apartment, and on through the winding corridors of the huge building, out into the open air. No one questioned them, -- no one interfered with their progress. Benediction was being sung in one of the many chapels of St. Peter's, and the solemn sound of the organ reached them, softened and mellowed by distance, as they stood on the steps of the Vatican, where the Cardinal, pausing to recover breath and equanimity, gazed at his strange foundling in alarm and bewilderment.

|Manuel!| he murmured feebly, |Child! -- what have you done!|

|Only what I am bound to do!| replied Manuel simply, |I have said no more than it is right to say, if Christ's words are true! Dear friend, be at peace! You will not suffer misjudgment long!|

The music stealing out from the distant chapel, floated round them in large circles of solemn melody, -- and the glow of sunset lit the clear sky with a warm red radiance, flecked with golden clouds of glory.

|He would not come with me!| said Manuel, with a slight gesture backward to the sombre portals they had just passed, |And he will never come! But YOU will!|

And smiling, -- with his fair face turned to the radiant sky, -- he rested his hand lightly on the Cardinal's arm as they descended the broad marble steps, and left the great Palace of the Popes together.

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