Lord of the World - Robert Hugh Benson - ebook
Kategoria: Religia i duchowość Język: angielski Rok wydania: 1907

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Robert Hugh Benson

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Opis ebooka Lord of the World - Robert Hugh Benson

In or about the year 2000, humanity has reached "that incredibly lofty goal to which its intrinsic efforts can carry it" — but rejected everything but crass materialism. Technology has advanced to the point where no one need work for a living, while the social sciences have achieved a smoothly-running if almost unbearably sterile social order. Formal religious beliefs except for Catholicism have been uprooted and eliminated as coherent systems, and the Catholic Church has been completely discredited in the eyes of the world, finally being outlawed. The result is everything the late Victorians and Edwardians believed would bring human happiness — and which brings nothing but the advent of new superstitions, despair, and the end of the world … maybe.

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Fragment ebooka Lord of the World - Robert Hugh Benson

About
PROLOGUE
Part 1 - THE ADVENT
Chapter 1
Chapter 2

About Benson:

Robert Hugh Benson (born November 18, 1871; died October 19, 1914) was the youngest son of Edward White Benson, Archbishop of Canterbury, and younger brother of Edward Frederic Benson. Benson studied Classics and Theology at Trinity College, Cambridge, from 1890 to 1893. In 1895, he was ordained a priest in the Church of England by his father, Edward White Benson, who was then Archbishop of Canterbury. His father died suddenly in 1896, and Benson was sent on a trip to the Middle East to recover his own health. While there, he began to question the status of the Church of England and to consider the claims of the Roman Catholic Church. His own piety began to tend toward the High Church variety, and he started exploring religious life in various Anglican communities, eventually obtaining permission to join the Community of the Resurrection. Benson made his profession as a member of the community in 1901, at which time he had no thoughts of leaving the Church of England. But as he continued his studies and began writing, he became more and more uneasy with his own doctrinal position, and on September 11, 1903, he was received into the Roman Catholic Church. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 1904 and sent to Cambridge. He continued his writing career along with the usual elements of priestly ministry. He was named a monsignor in 1911. "Robert Hugh Benson: Life and Works," a biography by Janet Grayson was published in 1998.

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PROLOGUE

"You must give me a moment," said the old man, leaning back.

Percy resettled himself in his chair and waited, chin on hand.

It was a very silent room in which the three men sat, furnished with the extreme common sense of the period. It had neither window nor door; for it was now sixty years since the world, recognising that space is not confined to the surface of the globe, had begun to burrow in earnest. Old Mr. Templeton's house stood some forty feet below the level of the Thames embankment, in what was considered a somewhat commodious position, for he had only a hundred yards to walk before he reached the station of the Second Central Motor-circle, and a quarter of a mile to the volor-station at Blackfriars. He was over ninety years old, however, and seldom left his house now. The room itself was lined throughout with the delicate green jade-enamel prescribed by the Board of Health, and was suffused with the artificial sunlight discovered by the great Reuter forty years before; it had the colour-tone of a spring wood, and was warmed and ventilated through the classical frieze grating to the exact temperature of 18 degrees Centigrade. Mr. Templeton was a plain man, content to live as his father had lived before him. The furniture, too, was a little old-fashioned in make and design, constructed however according to the prevailing system of soft asbestos enamel welded over iron, indestructible, pleasant to the touch, and resembling mahogany. A couple of book-cases well filled ran on either side of the bronze pedestal electric fire before which sat the three men; and in the further corners stood the hydraulic lifts that gave entrance, the one to the bedroom, the other to the corridor fifty feet up which opened on to the Embankment.

Father Percy Franklin, the elder of the two priests, was rather a remarkable-looking man, not more than thirty-five years old, but with hair that was white throughout; his grey eyes, under black eyebrows, were peculiarly bright and almost passionate; but his prominent nose and chin and the extreme decisiveness of his mouth reassured the observer as to his will. Strangers usually looked twice at him.

Father Francis, however, sitting in his upright chair on the other side of the hearth, brought down the average; for, though his brown eyes were pleasant and pathetic, there was no strength in his face; there was even a tendency to feminine melancholy in the corners of his mouth and the marked droop of his eyelids.

Mr. Templeton was just a very old man, with a strong face in folds, clean-shaven like the rest of the world, and was now lying back on his water-pillows with the quilt over his feet.

 

At last he spoke, glancing first at Percy, on his left.

"Well," he said, "it is a great business to remember exactly; but this is how I put it to myself."

"In England our party was first seriously alarmed at the Labour Parliament of 1917. That showed us how deeply Herveism had impregnated the whole social atmosphere. There had been Socialists before, but none like Gustave Herve in his old age—at least no one of the same power. He, perhaps you have read, taught absolute Materialism and Socialism developed to their logical issues. Patriotism, he said, was a relic of barbarism; and sensual enjoyment was the only certain good. Of course, every one laughed at him. It was said that without religion there could be no adequate motive among the masses for even the simplest social order. But he was right, it seemed. After the fall of the French Church at the beginning of the century and the massacres of 1914, the bourgeoisie settled down to organise itself; and that extraordinary movement began in earnest, pushed through by the middle classes, with no patriotism, no class distinctions, practically no army. Of course, Freemasonry directed it all. This spread to Germany, where the influence of Karl Marx had already—-"

"Yes, sir," put in Percy smoothly, "but what of England, if you don't mind—-"

"Ah, yes; England. Well, in 1917 the Labour party gathered up the reins, and Communism really began. That was long before I can remember, of course, but my father used to date it from then. The only wonder was that things did not go forward more quickly; but I suppose there was a good deal of Tory leaven left. Besides, centuries generally run slower than is expected, especially after beginning with an impulse. But the new order began then; and the Communists have never suffered a serious reverse since, except the little one in '25. Blenkin founded 'The New People' then; and the 'Times' dropped out; but it was not, strangely enough, till '35 that the House of Lords fell for the last time. The Established Church had gone finally in '29."

"And the religious effect of that?" asked Percy swiftly, as the old man paused to cough slightly, lifting his inhaler. The priest was anxious to keep to the point.

"It was an effect itself," said the other, "rather than a cause. You see, the Ritualists, as they used to call them, after a desperate attempt to get into the Labour swim, came into the Church after the Convocation of '19, when the Nicene Creed dropped out; and there was no real enthusiasm except among them. But so far as there was an effect from the final Disestablishment, I think it was that what was left of the State Church melted into the Free Church, and the Free Church was, after all, nothing more than a little sentiment. The Bible was completely given up as an authority after the renewed German attacks in the twenties; and the Divinity of our Lord, some think, had gone all but in name by the beginning of the century. The Kenotic theory had provided for that. Then there was that strange little movement among the Free Churchmen even earlier; when ministers who did no more than follow the swim—who were sensitive to draughts, so to speak—broke off from their old positions. It is curious to read in the history of the time how they were hailed as independent thinkers. It was just exactly what they were not… . Where was I? Oh, yes… . Well, that cleared the ground for us, and the Church made extraordinary progress for a while—extraordinary, that is, under the circumstances, because you must remember, things were very different from twenty, or even ten, years before. I mean that, roughly speaking, the severing of the sheep and the goats had begun. The religious people were practically all Catholics and Individualists; the irreligious people rejected the supernatural altogether, and were, to a man, Materialists and Communists. But we made progress because we had a few exceptional men—Delaney the philosopher, McArthur and Largent, the philanthropists, and so on. It really seemed as if Delaney and his disciples might carry everything before them. You remember his 'Analogy'? Oh, yes, it is all in the text-books… .

"Well, then, at the close of the Vatican Council, which had been called in the nineteenth century, and never dissolved, we lost a great number through the final definitions. The 'Exodus of the Intellectuals' the world called it—-"

"The Biblical decisions," put in the younger priest.

"That partly; and the whole conflict that began with the rise of Modernism at the beginning of the century but much more the condemnation of Delaney, and of the New Transcendentalism generally, as it was then understood. He died outside the Church, you know. Then there was the condemnation of Sciotti's book on Comparative Religion… . After that the Communists went on by strides, although by very slow ones. It seems extraordinary to you, I dare say, but you cannot imagine the excitement when the Necessary Trades Bill became law in '60. People thought that all enterprise would stop when so many professions were nationalised; but, you know, it didn't. Certainly the nation was behind it."

"What year was the Two-Thirds Majority Bill passed?" asked Percy.

"Oh! long before—within a year or two of the fall of the House of Lords. It was necessary, I think, or the Individualists would have gone raving mad… . Well, the Necessary Trades Bill was inevitable: people had begun to see that even so far back as the time when the railways were municipalised. For a while there was a burst of art; because all the Individualists who could went in for it (it was then that the Toller school was founded); but they soon drifted back into Government employment; after all, the six-per-cent limit for all individual enterprise was not much of a temptation; and Government paid well."

Percy shook his head.

"Yes; but I cannot understand the present state of affairs. You said just now that things went slowly?"

"Yes," said the old man, "but you must remember the Poor Laws. That established the Communists for ever. Certainly Braithwaite knew his business."

The younger priest looked up inquiringly.

"The abolition of the old workhouse system," said Mr. Templeton. "It is all ancient history to you, of course; but I remember as if it was yesterday. It was that which brought down what was still called the Monarchy and the Universities."

"Ah," said Percy. "I should like to hear you talk about that, sir."

"Presently, father… . Well, this is what Braithwaite did. By the old system all paupers were treated alike, and resented it. By the new system there were the three grades that we have now, and the enfranchisement of the two higher grades. Only the absolutely worthless were assigned to the third grade, and treated more or less as criminals—of course after careful examination. Then there was the reorganisation of the Old Age Pensions. Well, don't you see how strong that made the Communists? The Individualists—they were still called Tories when I was a boy—the Individualists have had no chance since. They are no more than a worn-out drag now. The whole of the working classes—and that meant ninety-nine of a hundred—were all against them."

Percy looked up; but the other went on.

"Then there was the Prison Reform Bill under Macpherson, and the abolition of capital punishment; there was the final Education Act of '59, whereby dogmatic secularism was established; the practical abolition of inheritance under the reformation of the Death Duties—-"

"I forget what the old system was," said Percy.

"Why, it seems incredible, but the old system was that all paid alike. First came the Heirloom Act, and then the change by which inherited wealth paid three times the duty of earned wealth, leading up to the acceptance of Karl Marx's doctrines in '89—but the former came in '77… . Well, all these things kept England up to the level of the Continent; she had only been just in time to join in with the final scheme of Western Free Trade. That was the first effect, you remember, of the Socialists' victory in Germany."

"And how did we keep out of the Eastern War?" asked Percy anxiously.

"Oh! that's a long story; but, in a word, America stopped us; so we lost India and Australia. I think that was the nearest to the downfall of the Communists since '25. But Braithwaite got out of it very cleverly by getting us the protectorate of South Africa once and for all. He was an old man then, too."

Mr. Templeton stopped to cough again. Father Francis sighed and shifted in his chair.

"And America?" asked Percy.

"Ah! all that is very complicated. But she knew her strength and annexed Canada the same year. That was when we were at our weakest."

Percy stood up.

"Have you a Comparative Atlas, sir?" he asked.

The old man pointed to a shelf.

"There," he said.

 

Percy looked at the sheets a minute or two in silence, spreading them on his knees.

"It is all much simpler, certainly," he murmured, glancing first at the old complicated colouring of the beginning of the twentieth century, and then at the three great washes of the twenty-first.

He moved his finger along Asia. The words EASTERN EMPIRE ran across the pale yellow, from the Ural Mountains on the left to the Behring Straits on the right, curling round in giant letters through India, Australia, and New Zealand. He glanced at the red; it was considerably smaller, but still important enough, considering that it covered not only Europe proper, but all Russia up to the Ural Mountains, and Africa to the south. The blue-labelled AMERICAN REPUBLIC swept over the whole of that continent, and disappeared right round to the left of the Western Hemisphere in a shower of blue sparks on the white sea.

"Yes, it's simpler," said the old man drily.

Percy shut the book and set it by his chair.

"And what next, sir? What will happen?"

The old Tory statesman smiled.

"God knows," he said. "If the Eastern Empire chooses to move, we can do nothing. I don't know why they have not moved. I suppose it is because of religious differences."

"Europe will not split?" asked the priest.

"No, no. We know our danger now. And America would certainly help us. But, all the same, God help us—or you, I should rather say—if the Empire does move! She knows her strength at last."

There was silence for a moment or two. A faint vibration trembled through the deep-sunk room as some huge machine went past on the broad boulevard overhead.

"Prophesy, sir," said Percy suddenly. "I mean about religion."

Mr. Templeton inhaled another long breath from his instrument. Then again he took up his discourse.

"Briefly," he said, "there are three forces—Catholicism, Humanitarianism, and the Eastern religions. About the third I cannot prophesy, though I think the Sufis will be victorious. Anything may happen; Esotericism is making enormous strides—and that means Pantheism; and the blending of the Chinese and Japanese dynasties throws out all our calculations. But in Europe and America, there is no doubt that the struggle lies between the other two. We can neglect everything else. And, I think, if you wish me to say what I think, that, humanly speaking, Catholicism will decrease rapidly now. It is perfectly true that Protestantism is dead. Men do recognise at last that a supernatural Religion involves an absolute authority, and that Private Judgment in matters of faith is nothing else than the beginning of disintegration. And it is also true that since the Catholic Church is the only institution that even claims supernatural authority, with all its merciless logic, she has again the allegiance of practically all Christians who have any supernatural belief left. There are a few faddists left, especially in America and here; but they are negligible. That is all very well; but, on the other hand, you must remember that Humanitarianism, contrary to all persons' expectations, is becoming an actual religion itself, though anti-supernatural. It is Pantheism; it is developing a ritual under Freemasonry; it has a creed, 'God is Man,' and the rest. It has therefore a real food of a sort to offer to religious cravings; it idealises, and yet it makes no demand upon the spiritual faculties. Then, they have the use of all the churches except ours, and all the Cathedrals; and they are beginning at last to encourage sentiment. Then, they may display their symbols and we may not: I think that they will be established legally in another ten years at the latest.

"Now, we Catholics, remember, are losing; we have lost steadily for more than fifty years. I suppose that we have, nominally, about one-fortieth of America now—and that is the result of the Catholic movement of the early twenties. In France and Spain we are nowhere; in Germany we are less. We hold our position in the East, certainly; but even there we have not more than one in two hundred—so the statistics say—and we are scattered. In Italy? Well, we have Rome again to ourselves, but nothing else; here, we have Ireland altogether and perhaps one in sixty of England, Wales and Scotland; but we had one in forty seventy years ago. Then there is the enormous progress of psychology—all clean against us for at least a century. First, you see, there was Materialism, pure and simple that failed more or less—it was too crude—until psychology came to the rescue. Now psychology claims all the rest of the ground; and the supernatural sense seems accounted for. That's the claim. No, father, we are losing; and we shall go on losing, and I think we must even be ready for a catastrophe at any moment."

"But—-" began Percy.

"You think that weak for an old man on the edge of the grave. Well, it is what I think. I see no hope. In fact, it seems to me that even now something may come on us quickly. No; I see no hope until—-"

Percy looked up sharply.

"Until our Lord comes back," said the old statesman.

Father Francis sighed once more, and there fell a silence.

 

"And the fall of the Universities?" said Percy at last.

"My dear father, it was exactly like the fall of the Monasteries under Henry VIII—the same results, the same arguments, the same incidents. They were the strongholds of Individualism, as the Monasteries were the strongholds of Papalism; and they were regarded with the same kind of awe and envy. Then the usual sort of remarks began about the amount of port wine drunk; and suddenly people said that they had done their work, that the inmates were mistaking means for ends; and there was a great deal more reason for saying it. After all, granted the supernatural, Religious Houses are an obvious consequence; but the object of secular education is presumably the production of something visible—either character or competence; and it became quite impossible to prove that the Universities produced either—which was worth having. The distinction between [Greek: ou] and [Greek: me] is not an end in itself; and the kind of person produced by its study was not one which appealed to England in the twentieth century. I am not sure that it appealed even to me much (and I was always a strong Individualist)—except by way of pathos—-"

"Yes?" said Percy.

"Oh, it was pathetic enough. The Science Schools of Cambridge and the Colonial Department of Oxford were the last hope; and then those went. The old dons crept about with their books, but nobody wanted them—they were too purely theoretical; some drifted into the poorhouses, first or second grade; some were taken care of by charitable clergymen; there was that attempt to concentrate in Dublin; but it failed, and people soon forgot them. The buildings, as you know, were used for all kinds of things. Oxford became an engineering establishment for a while, and Cambridge a kind of Government laboratory. I was at King's College, you know. Of course it was all as horrible as it could be—though I am glad they kept the chapel open even as a museum. It was not nice to see the chantries filled with anatomical specimens. However, I don't think it was much worse than keeping stoves and surplices in them."

"What happened to you?"

"Oh! I was in Parliament very soon; and I had a little money of my own, too. But it was very hard on some of them; they had little pensions, at least all who were past work. And yet, I don't know: I suppose it had to come. They were very little more than picturesque survivals, you know; and had not even the grace of a religious faith about them."

Percy sighed again, looking at the humorously reminiscent face of the old man. Then he suddenly changed the subject again.

"What about this European parliament?" he said.

The old man started.

"Oh!… I think it will pass," he said, "if a man can be found to push it. All this last century has been leading up to it, as you see. Patriotism has been dying fast; but it ought to have died, like slavery and so forth, under the influence of the Catholic Church. As it is, the work has been done without the Church; and the result is that the world is beginning to range itself against us: it is an organised antagonism— a kind of Catholic anti-Church. Democracy has done what the Divine Monarchy should have done. If the proposal passes I think we may expect something like persecution once more… . But, again, the Eastern invasion may save us, if it comes off… . I do not know… ."

Percy sat still yet a moment; then he stood up suddenly.

"I must go, sir," he said, relapsing into Esperanto. "It is past nineteen o'clock. Thank you so much. Are you coming, father?"

Father Francis stood up also, in the dark grey suit permitted to priests, and took up his hat.

"Well, father," said the old man again, "come again some day, if I haven't been too discursive. I suppose you have to write your letter yet?"

Percy nodded.

"I did half of it this morning," he said, "but I felt I wanted another bird's-eye view before I could understand properly: I am so grateful to you for giving it me. It is really a great labour, this daily letter to the Cardinal-Protector. I am thinking of resigning if I am allowed."

"My dear father, don't do that. If I may say so to your face, I think you have a very shrewd mind; and unless Rome has balanced information she can do nothing. I don't suppose your colleagues are as careful as yourself."

Percy smiled, lifting his dark eyebrows deprecatingly.

"Come, father," he said.

 

The two priests parted at the steps of the corridor, and Percy stood for a minute or two staring out at the familiar autumn scene, trying to understand what it all meant. What he had heard downstairs seemed strangely to illuminate that vision of splendid prosperity that lay before him.

The air was as bright as day; artificial sunlight had carried all before it, and London now knew no difference between dark and light. He stood in a kind of glazed cloister, heavily floored with a preparation of rubber on which footsteps made no sound. Beneath him, at the foot of the stairs, poured an endless double line of persons severed by a partition, going to right and left, noiselessly, except for the murmur of Esperanto talking that sounded ceaselessly as they went. Through the clear, hardened glass of the public passage showed a broad sleek black roadway, ribbed from side to side, and puckered in the centre, significantly empty, but even as he stood there a note sounded far away from Old Westminster, like the hum of a giant hive, rising as it came, and an instant later a transparent thing shot past, flashing from every angle, and the note died to a hum again and a silence as the great Government motor from the south whirled eastwards with the mails. This was a privileged roadway; nothing but state-vehicles were allowed to use it, and those at a speed not exceeding one hundred miles an hour.

Other noises were subdued in this city of rubber; the passenger-circles were a hundred yards away, and the subterranean traffic lay too deep for anything but a vibration to make itself felt. It was to remove this vibration, and silence the hum of the ordinary vehicles, that the Government experts had been working for the last twenty years.

Once again before he moved there came a long cry from overhead, startlingly beautiful and piercing, and, as he lifted his eyes from the glimpse of the steady river which alone had refused to be transformed, he saw high above him against the heavy illuminated clouds, a long slender object, glowing with soft light, slide northwards and vanish on outstretched wings. That musical cry, he told himself, was the voice of one of the European line of volors announcing its arrival in the capital of Great Britain.

"Until our Lord comes back," he thought to himself; and for an instant the old misery stabbed at his heart. How difficult it was to hold the eyes focussed on that far horizon when this world lay in the foreground so compelling in its splendour and its strength! Oh, he had argued with Father Francis an hour ago that size was not the same as greatness, and that an insistent external could not exclude a subtle internal; and he had believed what he had then said; but the doubt yet remained till he silenced it by a fierce effort, crying in his heart to the Poor Man of Nazareth to keep his heart as the heart of a little child.

Then he set his lips, wondering how long Father Francis would bear the pressure, and went down the steps.


Part 1
THE ADVENT


Chapter 1

 

1.

Oliver Brand, the new member for Croydon (4), sat in his study, looking out of the window over the top of his typewriter.

His house stood facing northwards at the extreme end of a spur of the Surrey Hills, now cut and tunnelled out of all recognition; only to a Communist the view was an inspiriting one. Immediately below the wide windows the embanked ground fell away rapidly for perhaps a hundred feet, ending in a high wall, and beyond that the world and works of men were triumphant as far as eye could see. Two vast tracks like streaked race-courses, each not less than a quarter of a mile in width, and sunk twenty feet below the surface of the ground, swept up to a meeting a mile ahead at the huge junction. Of those, that on his left was the First Trunk road to Brighton, inscribed in capital letters in the Railroad Guide, that to the right the Second Trunk to the Tunbridge and Hastings district. Each was divided length-ways by a cement wall, on one side of which, on steel rails, ran the electric trams, and on the other lay the motor-track itself again divided into three, on which ran, first the Government coaches at a speed of one hundred and fifty miles an hour, second the private motors at not more than sixty, third the cheap Government line at thirty, with stations every five miles. This was further bordered by a road confined to pedestrians, cyclists and ordinary cars on which no vehicle was allowed to move at more than twelve miles an hour.

Beyond these great tracks lay an immense plain of house-roofs, with short towers here and there marking public buildings, from the Caterham district on the left to Croydon in front, all clear and bright in smokeless air; and far away to the west and north showed the low suburban hills against the April sky.

There was surprisingly little sound, considering the pressure of the population; and, with the exception of the buzz of the steel rails as a train fled north or south, and the occasional sweet chord of the great motors as they neared or left the junction, there was little to be heard in this study except a smooth, soothing murmur that filled the air like the murmur of bees in a garden.

Oliver loved every hint of human life—all busy sights and sounds—and was listening now, smiling faintly to himself as he stared out into the clear air. Then he set his lips, laid his fingers on the keys once more, and went on speech-constructing.

 

He was very fortunate in the situation of his house. It stood in an angle of one of those huge spider-webs with which the country was covered, and for his purposes was all that he could expect. It was close enough to London to be extremely cheap, for all wealthy persons had retired at least a hundred miles from the throbbing heart of England; and yet it was as quiet as he could wish. He was within ten minutes of Westminster on the one side, and twenty minutes of the sea on the other, and his constituency lay before him like a raised map. Further, since the great London termini were but ten minutes away, there were at his disposal the First Trunk lines to every big town in England. For a politician of no great means, who was asked to speak at Edinburgh on one evening and in Marseilles on the next, he was as well placed as any man in Europe.

He was a pleasant-looking man, not much over thirty years old; black wire-haired, clean-shaven, thin, virile, magnetic, blue-eyed and white-skinned; and he appeared this day extremely content with himself and the world. His lips moved slightly as he worked, his eyes enlarged and diminished with excitement, and more than once he paused and stared out again, smiling and flushed.

Then a door opened; a middle-aged man came nervously in with a bundle of papers, laid them down on the table without a word, and turned to go out. Oliver lifted his hand for attention, snapped a lever, and spoke.

"Well, Mr. Phillips?" he said.

"There is news from the East, sir," said the secretary.

Oliver shot a glance sideways, and laid his hand on the bundle.

"Any complete message?" he asked.

"No, sir; it is interrupted again. Mr. Felsenburgh's name is mentioned."

Oliver did not seem to hear; he lifted the flimsy printed sheets with a sudden movement, and began turning them.

"The fourth from the top, Mr. Brand," said the secretary.

Oliver jerked his head impatiently, and the other went out as if at a signal.

The fourth sheet from the top, printed in red on green, seemed to absorb Oliver's attention altogether, for he read it through two or three times, leaning back motionless in his chair. Then he sighed, and stared again through the window.

Then once more the door opened, and a tall girl came in.

"Well, my dear?" she observed.

Oliver shook his head, with compressed lips.

"Nothing definite," he said. "Even less than usual. Listen."

He took up the green sheet and began to read aloud as the girl sat down in a window-seat on his left.

She was a very charming-looking creature, tall and slender, with serious, ardent grey eyes, firm red lips, and a beautiful carriage of head and shoulders. She had walked slowly across the room as Oliver took up the paper, and now sat back in her brown dress in a very graceful and stately attitude. She seemed to listen with a deliberate kind of patience; but her eyes flickered with interest.

"'Irkutsk—April fourteen—Yesterday—as—usual—But—rumoured— defection—from—Sufi—party—Troops—continue—gathering— Felsenburgh—addressed—Buddhist—crowd—Attempt—on—Llama—last— Friday—work—of—Anarchists—Felsenburgh—leaving—for—Moscow—as —arranged—he… .' There—that is absolutely all," ended Oliver dispiritedly. "It's interrupted as usual."

The girl began to swing a foot.

"I don't understand in the least," she said. "Who is Felsenburgh, after all?"

"My dear child, that is what all the world is asking. Nothing is known except that he was included in the American deputation at the last moment. The Herald published his life last week; but it has been contradicted. It is certain that he is quite a young man, and that he has been quite obscure until now."

"Well, he is not obscure now," observed the girl.

"I know; it seems as if he were running the whole thing. One never hears a word of the others. It's lucky he's on the right side."

"And what do you think?"

Oliver turned vacant eyes again out of the window.

"I think it is touch and go," he said. "The only remarkable thing is that here hardly anybody seems to realise it. It's too big for the imagination, I suppose. There is no doubt that the East has been preparing for a descent on Europe for these last five years. They have only been checked by America; and this is one last attempt to stop them. But why Felsenburgh should come to the front—-" he broke off. "He must be a good linguist, at any rate. This is at least the fifth crowd he has addressed; perhaps he is just the American interpreter. Christ! I wonder who he is."

"Has he any other name?"

"Julian, I believe. One message said so."

"How did this come through?"

Oliver shook his head.

"Private enterprise," he said. "The European agencies have stopped work. Every telegraph station is guarded night and day. There are lines of volors strung out on every frontier. The Empire means to settle this business without us."

"And if it goes wrong?"

"My dear Mabel—if hell breaks loose—-" he threw out his hands deprecatingly.

"And what is the Government doing?"

"Working night and day; so is the rest of Europe. It'll be Armageddon with a vengeance if it comes to war."

"What chance do you see?"

"I see two chances," said Oliver slowly: "one, that they may be afraid of America, and may hold their hands from sheer fear; the other that they may be induced to hold their hands from charity; if only they can be made to understand that co-operation is the one hope of the world. But those damned religions of theirs—-"

The girl sighed, and looked out again on to the wide plain of house-roofs below the window.

The situation was indeed as serious as it could be. That huge Empire, consisting of a federalism of States under the Son of Heaven (made possible by the merging of the Japanese and Chinese dynasties and the fall of Russia), had been consolidating its forces and learning its own power during the last thirty-five years, ever since, in fact, it had laid its lean yellow hands upon Australia and India. While the rest of the world had learned the folly of war, ever since the fall of the Russian republic under the combined attack of the yellow races, the last had grasped its possibilities. It seemed now as if the civilisation of the last century was to be swept back once more into chaos. It was not that the mob of the East cared very greatly; it was their rulers who had begun to stretch themselves after an almost eternal lethargy, and it was hard to imagine how they could be checked at this point. There was a touch of grimness too in the rumour that religious fanaticism was behind the movement, and that the patient East proposed at last to proselytise by the modern equivalents of fire and sword those who had laid aside for the most part all religious beliefs except that in Humanity. To Oliver it was simply maddening. As he looked from his window and saw that vast limit of London laid peaceably before him, as his imagination ran out over Europe and saw everywhere that steady triumph of common sense and fact over the wild fairy-stories of Christianity, it seemed intolerable that there should be even a possibility that all this should be swept back again into the barbarous turmoil of sects and dogmas; for no less than this would be the result if the East laid hands on Europe. Even Catholicism would revive, he told himself, that strange faith that had blazed so often as persecution had been dashed to quench it; and, of all forms of faith, to Oliver's mind Catholicism was the most grotesque and enslaving. And the prospect of all this honestly troubled him, far more than the thought of the physical catastrophe and bloodshed that would fall on Europe with the advent of the East. There was but one hope on the religious side, as he had told Mabel a dozen times, and that was that the Quietistic Pantheism which for the last century had made such giant strides in East and West alike, among Mohammedans, Buddhists, Hindus, Confucianists and the rest, should avail to check the supernatural frenzy that inspired their exoteric brethren. Pantheism, he understood, was what he held himself; for him "God" was the developing sum of created life, and impersonal Unity was the essence of His being; competition then was the great heresy that set men one against another and delayed all progress; for, to his mind, progress lay in the merging of the individual in the family, of the family in the commonwealth, of the commonwealth in the continent, and of the continent in the world. Finally, the world itself at any moment was no more than the mood of impersonal life. It was, in fact, the Catholic idea with the supernatural left out, a union of earthly fortunes, an abandonment of individualism on the one side, and of supernaturalism on the other. It was treason to appeal from God Immanent to God Transcendent; there was no God transcendent; God, so far as He could be known, was man.

Yet these two, husband and wife after a fashion—for they had entered into that terminable contract now recognised explicitly by the State—these two were very far from sharing in the usual heavy dulness of mere materialists. The world, for them, beat with one ardent life blossoming in flower and beast and man, a torrent of beautiful vigour flowing from a deep source and irrigating all that moved or felt. Its romance was the more appreciable because it was comprehensible to the minds that sprang from it; there were mysteries in it, but mysteries that enticed rather than baffled, for they unfolded new glories with every discovery that man could make; even inanimate objects, the fossil, the electric current, the far-off stars, these were dust thrown off by the Spirit of the World—fragrant with His Presence and eloquent of His Nature. For example, the announcement made by Klein, the astronomer, twenty years before, that the inhabitation of certain planets had become a certified fact—how vastly this had altered men's views of themselves. But the one condition of progress and the building of Jerusalem, on the planet that happened to be men's dwelling place, was peace, not the sword which Christ brought or that which Mahomet wielded; but peace that arose from, not passed, understanding; the peace that sprang from a knowledge that man was all and was able to develop himself only by sympathy with his fellows. To Oliver and his wife, then, the last century seemed like a revelation; little by little the old superstitions had died, and the new light broadened; the Spirit of the World had roused Himself, the sun had dawned in the west; and now with horror and loathing they had seen the clouds gather once more in the quarter whence all superstition had had its birth.

 

Mabel got up presently and came across to her husband.

"My dear," she said, "you must not be downhearted. It all may pass as it passed before. It is a great thing that they are listening to America at all. And this Mr. Felsenburgh seems to be on the right side."

Oliver took her hand and kissed it.


Chapter 2

 

1.

Percy Franklin's correspondence with the Cardinal-Protector of England occupied him directly for at least two hours every day, and for nearly eight hours indirectly.

For the past eight years the methods of the Holy See had once more been revised with a view to modern needs, and now every important province throughout the world possessed not only an administrative metropolitan but a representative in Rome whose business it was to be in touch with the Pope on the one side and the people he represented on the other. In other words, centralisation had gone forward rapidly, in accordance with the laws of life; and, with centralisation, freedom of method and expansion of power. England's Cardinal-Protector was one Abbot Martin, a Benedictine, and it was Percy's business, as of a dozen more bishops, priests and laymen (with whom, by the way, he was forbidden to hold any formal consultation), to write a long daily letter to him on affairs that came under his notice.

It was a curious life, therefore, that Percy led. He had a couple of rooms assigned to him in Archbishop's House at Westminster, and was attached loosely to the Cathedral staff, although with considerable liberty. He rose early, and went to meditation for an hour, after which he said his mass. He took his coffee soon after, said a little office, and then settled down to map out his letter. At ten o'clock he was ready to receive callers, and till noon he was generally busy with both those who came to see him on their own responsibility and his staff of half-a-dozen reporters whose business it was to bring him marked paragraphs in the newspapers and their own comments. He then breakfasted with the other priests in the house, and set out soon after to call on people whose opinion was necessary, returning for a cup of tea soon after sixteen o'clock. Then he settled down, after the rest of his office and a visit to the Blessed Sacrament, to compose his letter, which though short, needed a great deal of care and sifting. After dinner he made a few notes for next day, received visitors again, and went to bed soon after twenty-two o'clock. Twice a week it was his business to assist at Vespers in the afternoon, and he usually sang high mass on Saturdays.

It was, therefore, a curiously distracting life, with peculiar dangers.

It was one day, a week or two after his visit to Brighton, that he was just finishing his letter, when his servant looked in to tell him that Father Francis was below.

"In ten minutes," said Percy, without looking up.

He snapped off his last lines, drew out the sheet, and settled down to read it over, translating it unconsciously from Latin to English.

"WESTMINSTER, May 14th.

"EMINENCE: Since yesterday I have a little more information. It appears certain that the Bill establishing Esperanto for all State purposes will be brought in in June. I have had this from Johnson. This, as I have pointed out before, is the very last stone in our consolidation with the continent, which, at present, is to be regretted… . A great access of Jews to Freemasonry is to be expected; hitherto they have held aloof to some extent, but the 'abolition of the Idea of God' is tending to draw in those Jews, now greatly on the increase once more, who repudiate all notion of a personal Messiah. It is 'Humanity' here, too, that is at work. To-day I heard the Rabbi Simeon speak to this effect in the City, and was impressed by the applause he received… . Yet among others an expectation is growing that a man will presently be found to lead the Communist movement and unite their forces more closely. I enclose a verbose cutting from the New People to that effect; and it is echoed everywhere. They say that the cause must give birth to one such soon; that they have had prophets and precursors for a hundred years past, and lately a cessation of them. It is strange how this coincides superficially with Christian ideas. Your Eminence will observe that a simile of the 'ninth wave' is used with some eloquence… . I hear to-day of the secession of an old Catholic family, the Wargraves of Norfolk, with their chaplain Micklem, who it seems has been busy in this direction for some while. The Epoch announces it with satisfaction, owing to the peculiar circumstances; but unhappily such events are not uncommon now… . There is much distrust among the laity. Seven priests in Westminster diocese have left us within the last three months; on the other hand, I have pleasure in telling your Eminence that his Grace received into Catholic Communion this morning the ex-Anglican Bishop of Carlisle, with half-a-dozen of his clergy. This has been expected for some weeks past. I append also cuttings from the Tribune, the London Trumpet, and the Observer, with my comments upon them. Your Eminence will see how great the excitement is with regard to the last.

"Recommendation. That formal excommunication of the Wargraves and these eight priests should be issued in Norfolk and Westminster respectively, and no further notice taken."

Percy laid down the sheet, gathered up the half dozen other papers that contained his extracts and running commentary, signed the last, and slipped the whole into the printed envelope that lay ready.

Then he took up his biretta and went to the lift.

 

The moment he came into the glass-doored parlour he saw that the crisis was come, if not passed already. Father Francis looked miserably ill, but there was a curious hardness, too, about his eyes and mouth, as he stood waiting. He shook his head abruptly.

"I have come to say good-bye, father. I can bear it no more."

Percy was careful to show no emotion at all. He made a little sign to a chair, and himself sat down too. "It is an end of everything," said the other again in a perfectly steady voice. "I believe nothing. I have believed nothing for a year now."

"You have felt nothing, you mean," said Percy.

"That won't do, father," went on the other. "I tell you there is nothing left. I can't even argue now. It is just good-bye."

Percy had nothing to say. He had talked to this man during a period of over eight months, ever since Father Francis had first confided in him that his faith was going. He understood perfectly what a strain it had been; he felt bitterly compassionate towards this poor creature who had become caught up somehow into the dizzy triumphant whirl of the New Humanity. External facts were horribly strong just now; and faith, except to one who had learned that Will and Grace were all and emotion nothing, was as a child crawling about in the midst of some huge machinery: it might survive or it might not; but it required nerves of steel to keep steady. It was hard to know where blame could be assigned; yet Percy's faith told him that there was blame due. In the ages of faith a very inadequate grasp of religion would pass muster; in these searching days none but the humble and the pure could stand the test for long, unless indeed they were protected by a miracle of ignorance. The alliance of Psychology and Materialism did indeed seem, looked at from one angle, to account for everything; it needed a robust supernatural perception to understand their practical inadequacy. And as regards Father Francis's personal responsibility, he could not help feeling that the other had allowed ceremonial to play too great a part in his religion, and prayer too little. In him the external had absorbed the internal.

So he did not allow his sympathy to show itself in his bright eyes.

"You think it my fault, of course," said the other sharply.

"My dear father," said Percy, motionless in his chair, "I know it is your fault. Listen to me. You say Christianity is absurd and impossible. Now, you know, it cannot be that! It may be untrue—I am not speaking of that now, even though I am perfectly certain that it is absolutely true—but it cannot be absurd so long as educated and virtuous people continue to hold it. To say that it is absurd is simple pride; it is to dismiss all who believe in it as not merely mistaken, but unintelligent as well—-"

"Very well, then," interrupted the other; "then suppose I withdraw that, and simply say that I do not believe it to be true."

"You do not withdraw it," continued Percy serenely; "you still really believe it to be absurd: you have told me so a dozen times. Well, I repeat, that is pride, and quite sufficient to account for it all. It is the moral attitude that matters. There may be other things too—-"

Father Francis looked up sharply.

"Oh! the old story!" he said sneeringly.

"If you tell me on your word of honour that there is no woman in the case, or no particular programme of sin you propose to work out, I shall believe you. But it is an old story, as you say."

"I swear to you there is not," cried the other.

"Thank God then!" said Percy. "There are fewer obstacles to a return of faith."

There was silence for a moment after that. Percy had really no more to say. He had talked to him of the inner life again and again, in which verities are seen to be true, and acts of faith are ratified; he had urged prayer and humility till he was almost weary of the names; and had been met by the retort that this was to advise sheer self-hypnotism; and he had despaired of making clear to one who did not see it for himself that while Love and Faith may be called self-hypnotism from one angle, yet from another they are as much realities as, for example, artistic faculties, and need similar cultivation; that they produce a conviction that they are convictions, that they handle and taste things which when handled and tasted are overwhelmingly more real and objective than the things of sense. Evidences seemed to mean nothing to this man.

So he was silent now, chilled himself by the presence of this crisis, looking unseeingly out upon the plain, little old-world parlour, its tall window, its strip of matting, conscious chiefly of the dreary hopelessness of this human brother of his who had eyes but did not see, ears and was deaf. He wished he would say good-bye, and go. There was no more to be done.

Father Francis, who had been sitting in a lax kind of huddle, seemed to know his thoughts, and sat up suddenly.

"You are tired of me," he said. "I will go."

"I am not tired of you, my dear father," said Percy simply. "I am only terribly sorry. You see I know that it is all true."

The other looked at him heavily.

"And I know that it is not," he said. "It is very beautiful; I wish I could believe it. I don't think I shall be ever happy again—but—but there it is."

Percy sighed. He had told him so often that the heart is as divine a gift as the mind, and that to neglect it in the search for God is to seek ruin, but this priest had scarcely seen the application to himself. He had answered with the old psychological arguments that the suggestions of education accounted for everything.

"I suppose you will cast me off," said the other.

"It is you who are leaving me," said Percy. "I cannot follow, if you mean that."

"But—but cannot we be friends?"

A sudden heat touched the elder priest's heart.

"Friends?" he said. "Is sentimentality all you mean by friendship? What kind of friends can we be?"

The other's face became suddenly heavy.

"I thought so."

"John!" cried Percy. "You see that, do you not? How can we pretend anything when you do not believe in God? For I do you the honour of thinking that you do not."

Francis sprang up.

"Well—-" he snapped. "I could not have believed—I am going."

He wheeled towards the door.

"John!" said Percy again. "Are you going like this? Can you not shake hands?"

The other wheeled again, with heavy anger in his face.

"Why, you said you could not be friends with me!"

Percy's mouth opened. Then he understood, and smiled. "Oh! that is all you mean by friendship, is it?—I beg your pardon. Oh! we can be polite to one another, if you like."

He still stood holding out his hand. Father Francis looked at it a moment, his lips shook: then once more he turned, and went out without a word.