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.
Percy stood motionless until he heard the automatic bell outside tell him that Father Francis was really gone, then he went out himself and turned towards the long passage leading to the Cathedral. As he passed out through the sacristy he heard far in front the murmur of an organ, and on coming through into the chapel used as a parish church he perceived that Vespers were not yet over in the great choir. He came straight down the aisle, turned to the right, crossed the centre and knelt down.
It was drawing on towards sunset, and the huge dark place was lighted here and there by patches of ruddy London light that lay on the gorgeous marble and gildings finished at last by a wealthy convert. In front of him rose up the choir, with a line of white surpliced and furred canons on either side, and the vast baldachino in the midst, beneath which burned the six lights as they had burned day by day for more than a century; behind that again lay the high line of the apse-choir with the dim, window-pierced vault above where Christ reigned in majesty. He let his eyes wander round for a few moments before beginning his deliberate prayer, drinking in the glory of the place, listening to the thunderous chorus, the peal of the organ, and the thin mellow voice of the priest. There on the left shone the refracted glow of the lamps that burned before the Lord in the Sacrament, on the right a dozen candles winked here and there at the foot of the gaunt images, high overhead hung the gigantic cross with that lean, emaciated Poor Man Who called all who looked on Him to the embraces of a God.
Then he hid his face in his hands, drew a couple of long breaths, and set to work.
He began, as his custom was in mental prayer, by a deliberate act of self-exclusion from the world of sense. Under the image of sinking beneath a surface he forced himself downwards and inwards, till the peal of the organ, the shuffle of footsteps, the rigidity of the chair-back beneath his wrists—all seemed apart and external, and he was left a single person with a beating heart, an intellect that suggested image after image, and emotions that were too languid to stir themselves. Then he made his second descent, renounced all that he possessed and was, and became conscious that even the body was left behind, and that his mind and heart, awed by the Presence in which they found themselves, clung close and obedient to the will which was their lord and protector. He drew another long breath, or two, as he felt that Presence surge about him; he repeated a few mechanical words, and sank to that peace which follows the relinquishment of thought.
There he rested for a while. Far above him sounded the ecstatic music, the cry of trumpets and the shrilling of the flutes; but they were as insignificant street-noises to one who was falling asleep. He was within the veil of things now, beyond the barriers of sense and reflection, in that secret place to which he had learned the road by endless effort, in that strange region where realities are evident, where perceptions go to and fro with the swiftness of light, where the swaying will catches now this, now that act, moulds it and speeds it; where all things meet, where truth is known and handled and tasted, where God Immanent is one with God Transcendent, where the meaning of the external world is evident through its inner side, and the Church and its mysteries are seen from within a haze of glory.
So he lay a few moments, absorbing and resting.
Then he aroused himself to consciousness and began to speak.
"Lord, I am here, and Thou art here. I know Thee. There is nothing else but Thou and I…. I lay this all in Thy hands—Thy apostate priest, Thy people, the world, and myself. I spread it before Thee—I spread it before Thee."
He paused, poised in the act, till all of which he thought lay like a plain before a peak.
… "Myself, Lord—there but for Thy grace should I be going, in darkness and misery. It is Thou Who dost preserve me. Maintain and finish Thy work within my soul. Let me not falter for one instant. If Thou withdraw Thy hand I fall into utter nothingness."
So his soul stood a moment, with outstretched appealing hands, helpless and confident. Then the will flickered in self-consciousness, and he repeated acts of faith, hope and love to steady it. Then he drew another long breath, feeling the Presence tingle and shake about him, and began again.
"Lord; look on Thy people. Many are falling from Thee. Ne in aeternum irascaris nobis. Ne in aeternum irascaris nobis…. I unite myself with all saints and angels and Mary Queen of Heaven; look on them and me, and hear us. Emitte lucem tuam et veritatem tuam. Thy light and Thy truth! Lay not on us heavier burdens than we can bear. Lord, why dost Thou not speak!"
He writhed himself forward in a passion of expectant desire, hearing his muscles crack in the effort. Once more he relaxed himself; and the swift play of wordless acts began which he knew to be the very heart of prayer. The eyes of his soul flew hither and thither, from Calvary to heaven and back again to the tossing troubled earth. He saw Christ dying of desolation while the earth rocked and groaned; Christ reigning as a priest upon His Throne in robes of light, Christ patient and inexorably silent within the Sacramental species; and to each in turn he directed the eyes of the Eternal Father….
Then he waited for communications, and they came, so soft and delicate, passing like shadows, that his will sweated blood and tears in the effort to catch and fix them and correspond….
He saw the Body Mystical in its agony, strained over the world as on a cross, silent with pain; he saw this and that nerve wrenched and twisted, till pain presented it to himself as under the guise of flashes of colour; he saw the life-blood drop by drop run down from His head and hands and feet. The world was gathered mocking and good-humoured beneath. "He saved others: Himself He cannot save…. Let Christ come down from the Cross and we will believe." Far away behind bushes and in holes of the ground the friends of Jesus peeped and sobbed; Mary herself was silent, pierced by seven swords; the disciple whom He loved had no words of comfort.
He saw, too, how no word would be spoken from heaven; the angels themselves were bidden to put sword into sheath, and wait on the eternal patience of God, for the agony was hardly yet begun; there were a thousand horrors yet before the end could come, that final sum of crucifixion…. He must wait and watch, content to stand there and do nothing; and the Resurrection must seem to him no more than a dreamed-of hope. There was the Sabbath yet to come, while the Body Mystical must lie in its sepulchre cut off from light, and even the dignity of the Cross must be withdrawn and the knowledge that Jesus lived. That inner world, to which by long effort he had learned the way, was all alight with agony; it was bitter as brine, it was of that pale luminosity that is the utmost product of pain, it hummed in his ears with a note that rose to a scream … it pressed upon him, penetrated him, stretched him as on a rack…. And with that his will grew sick and nerveless.
"Lord! I cannot bear it!" he moaned….
In an instant he was back again, drawing long breaths of misery. He passed his tongue over his lips, and opened his eyes on the darkening apse before him. The organ was silent now, and the choir was gone, and the lights out. The sunset colour, too, had faded from the walls, and grim cold faces looked down on him from wall and vault. He was back again on the surface of life; the vision had melted; he scarcely knew what it was that he had seen.
But he must gather up the threads, and by sheer effort absorb them. He must pay his duty, too, to the Lord that gave Himself to the senses as well as to the inner spirit. So he rose, stiff and constrained, and passed across to the Chapel of the Holy Sacrament.
As he came out from the block of chairs, very upright and tall, with his biretta once more on his white hair, he saw an old woman watching him very closely. He hesitated an instant, wondering whether she were a penitent, and as he hesitated she made a movement towards him.
"I beg your pardon, sir," she began.
She was not a Catholic then. He lifted his biretta.
"Can I do anything for you?" he asked.
"I beg your pardon, sir, but were you at Brighton, at the accident two months ago?"
"Ah! I thought so: my daughter-in-law saw you then."
Percy had a spasm of impatience: he was a little tired of being identified by his white hair and young face.
"Were you there, madam?"
She looked at him doubtfully and curiously, moving her old, eyes up and down his figure. Then she recollected herself.
"No, sir; it was my daughter-in-law—I beg your pardon, sir, but—-"
"Well?" asked Percy, trying to keep the impatience out of his voice.
"Are you the Archbishop, sir?"
The priest smiled, showing his white teeth.
"No, madam; I am just a poor priest. Dr. Cholmondeley is Archbishop. I am Father Percy Franklin."
She said nothing, but still looking at him made a little old-world movement of a bow; and Percy passed on to the dim, splendid chapel to pay his devotions.
There was great talk that night at dinner among the priests as to the extraordinary spread of Freemasonry. It had been going on for many years now, and Catholics perfectly recognised its dangers, for the profession of Masonry had been for some centuries rendered incompatible with religion through the Church's unswerving condemnation of it. A man must choose between that and his faith. Things had developed extraordinarily during the last century. First there had been the organised assault upon the Church in France; and what Catholics had always suspected then became a certainty in the revelations of 1918, when P. Gerome, the Dominican and ex-Mason, had made his disclosures with regard to the Mark-Masons. It had become evident then that Catholics had been right, and that Masonry, in its higher grades at least, had been responsible throughout the world for the strange movement against religion. But he had died in his bed, and the public had been impressed by that fact. Then came the splendid donations in France and Italy—to hospitals, orphanages, and the like; and once more suspicion began to disappear. After all, it seemed—and continued to seem—for seventy years and more that Masonry was nothing more than a vast philanthropical society. Now once more men had their doubts.
"I hear that Felsenburgh is a Mason," observed Monsignor Macintosh, the Cathedral Administrator. "A Grand-Master or something." "But who is Felsenburgh?" put in a young priest.
Monsignor pursed his lips and shook his head. He was one of those humble persons as proud of ignorance as others of knowledge. He boasted that he never read the papers nor any book except those that had received the imprimatur; it was a priest's business, he often remarked, to preserve the faith, not to acquire worldly knowledge. Percy had occasionally rather envied his point of view.
"He's a mystery," said another priest, Father Blackmore; "but he seems to be causing great excitement. They were selling his 'Life' to-day on the Embankment."
"I met an American senator," put in Percy, "three days ago, who told me that even there they know nothing of him, except his extraordinary eloquence. He only appeared last year, and seems to have carried everything before him by quite unusual methods. He is a great linguist, too. That is why they took him to Irkutsk."
"Well, the Masons—-" went on Monsignor. "It is very serious. In the last month four of my penitents have left me because of it."
"Their inclusion of women was their master-stroke," growled Father Blackmore, helping himself to claret. "It is extraordinary that they hesitated so long about that," observed Percy. A couple of the others added their evidence. It appeared that they, too, had lost penitents lately through the spread of Masonry. It was rumoured that a Pastoral was a-preparing upstairs on the subject.
Monsignor shook his head ominously.
"More is wanted than that," he said.
Percy pointed out that the Church had said her last word several centuries ago. She had laid her excommunication on all members of secret societies, and there was really no more that she could do.
"Except bring it before her children again and again," put in Monsignor. "I shall preach on it next Sunday." * * * * *
Percy dotted down a note when he reached his room, determining to say another word or two on the subject to the Cardinal-Protector. He had mentioned Freemasonry often before, but it seemed time for another remark. Then he opened his letters, first turning to one which he recognised as from the Cardinal.
It seemed a curious coincidence, as he read a series of questions that Cardinal Martin's letter contained, that one of them should be on this very subject. It ran as follows:
"What of Masonry? Felsenburgh is said to be one. Gather all the gossip you can about him. Send any English or American biographies of him. Are you still losing Catholics through Masonry?"
He ran his eyes down the rest of the questions. They chiefly referred to previous remarks of his own, but twice, even in them, Felsenburgh's name appeared.
He laid the paper down and considered a little.
It was very curious, he thought, how this man's name was in every one's mouth, in spite of the fact that so little was known about him. He had bought in the streets, out of curiosity, three photographs that professed to represent this strange person, and though one of them might be genuine they all three could not be. He drew them out of a pigeon-hole, and spread them before him.
One represented a fierce, bearded creature like a Cossack, with round staring eyes. No; intrinsic evidence condemned this: it was exactly how a coarse imagination would have pictured a man who seemed to be having a great influence in the East.
The second showed a fat face with little eyes and a chin-beard. That might conceivably be genuine: he turned it over and saw the name of a New York firm on the back. Then he turned to the third. This presented a long, clean-shaven face with pince-nez, undeniably clever, but scarcely strong: and Felsenburgh was obviously a strong man.
Percy inclined to think the second was the most probable; but they were all unconvincing; and he shuffled them carelessly together and replaced them.
Then he put his elbows on the table, and began to think.
He tried to remember what Mr. Varhaus, the American senator, had told him of Felsenburgh; yet it did not seem sufficient to account for the facts. Felsenburgh, it seemed, had employed none of those methods common in modern politics. He controlled no newspapers, vituperated nobody, championed nobody: he had no picked underlings; he used no bribes; there were no monstrous crimes alleged against him. It seemed rather as if his originality lay in his clean hands and his stainless past—that, and his magnetic character. He was the kind of figure that belonged rather to the age of chivalry: a pure, clean, compelling personality, like a radiant child. He had taken people by surprise, then, rising out of the heaving dun-coloured waters of American socialism like a vision—from those waters so fiercely restrained from breaking into storm over since the extraordinary social revolution under Mr. Hearst's disciples, a century ago. That had been the end of plutocracy; the famous old laws of 1914 had burst some of the stinking bubbles of the time; and the enactments of 1916 and 1917 had prevented their forming again in any thing like their previous force. It had been the salvation of America, undoubtedly, even if that salvation were of a dreary and uninspiring description; and now out of the flat socialistic level had arisen this romantic figure utterly unlike any that had preceded it…. So the senator had hinted…. It was too complicated for Percy just now, and he gave it up.
It was a weary world, he told himself, turning his eyes homewards. Everything seemed so hopeless and ineffective. He tried not to reflect on his fellow-priests, but for the fiftieth time he could not help seeing that they were not the men for the present situation. It was not that he preferred himself; he knew perfectly well that he, too, was fully as incompetent: had he not proved to be so with poor Father Francis, and scores of others who had clutched at him in their agony during the last ten years? Even the Archbishop, holy man as he was, with all his childlike faith—was that the man to lead English Catholics and confound their enemies? There seemed no giants on the earth in these days. What in the world was to be done? He buried his face in his hands….
Yes; what was wanted was a new Order in the Church; the old ones were rule-bound through no fault of their own. An Order was wanted without habit or tonsure, without traditions or customs, an Order with nothing but entire and whole-hearted devotion, without pride even in their most sacred privileges, without a past history in which they might take complacent refuge. They must be franc-tireurs of Christ's Army; like the Jesuits, but without their fatal reputation, which, again, was no fault of their own. … But there must be a Founder—Who, in God's Name? —a Founder nudus sequens Christum nudum…. Yes—Franc-tireurs —priests, bishops, laymen and women—with the three vows of course, and a special clause forbidding utterly and for ever their ownership of corporate wealth.—Every gift received must be handed to the bishop of the diocese in which it was given, who must provide them himself with necessaries of life and travel. Oh!—what could they not do?… He was off in a rhapsody.
Presently he recovered, and called himself a fool. Was not that scheme as old as the eternal hills, and as useless for practical purposes? Why, it had been the dream of every zealous man since the First Year of Salvation that such an Order should be founded!… He was a fool….
Then once more he began to think of it all over again.
Surely it was this which was wanted against the Masons; and women, too.—Had not scheme after scheme broken down because men had forgotten the power of women? It was that lack that had ruined Napoleon: he had trusted Josephine, and she had failed him; so he had trusted no other woman. In the Catholic Church, too, woman had been given no active work but either menial or connected with education: and was there not room for other activities than those? Well, it was useless to think of it. It was not his affair. If Papa Angelicus who now reigned in Rome had not thought of it, why should a foolish, conceited priest in Westminster set himself up to do so?
So he beat himself on the breast once more, and took up his office-book.
He finished in half an hour, and again sat thinking; but this time it was of poor Father Francis. He wondered what he was doing now; whether he had taken off the Roman collar of Christ's familiar slaves? The poor devil! And how far was he, Percy Franklin, responsible?
When a tap came at his door presently, and Father Blackmore looked in for a talk before going to bed, Percy told him what had happened.
Father Blackmore removed his pipe and sighed deliberately.
"I knew it was coming," he said. "Well, well."
"He has been honest enough," explained Percy. "He told me eight months ago he was in trouble."
Father Blackmore drew upon his pipe thoughtfully.
"Father Franklin," he said, "things are really very serious. There is the same story everywhere. What in the world is happening?"
Percy paused before answering.
"I think these things go in waves," he said.
"Waves, do you think?" said the other.
Father Blackmore looked at him intently.
"It is more like a dead calm, it seems to me," he said. "Have you ever been in a typhoon?"
Percy shook his head.
"Well," went on the other, "the most ominous thing is the calm. The sea is like oil; you feel half-dead: you can do nothing. Then comes the storm."
Percy looked at him, interested. He had not seen this mood in the priest before.
"Before every great crash there comes this calm. It is always so in history. It was so before the Eastern War; it was so before the French Revolution. It was so before the Reformation. There is a kind of oily heaving; and everything is languid. So everything has been in America, too, for over eighty years…. Father Franklin, I think something is going to happen."
"Tell me," said Percy, leaning forward.
"Well, I saw Templeton a week before he died, and he put the idea in my head…. Look here, father. It may be this Eastern affair that is coming on us; but somehow I don't think it is. It is in religion that something is going to happen. At least, so I think…. Father, who in God's name is Felsenburgh?"
Percy was so startled at the sudden introduction of this name again, that he stared a moment without speaking.
Outside, the summer night was very still. There was a faint vibration now and again from the underground track that ran twenty yards from the house where they sat; but the streets were quiet enough round the Cathedral. Once a hoot rang far away, as if some ominous bird of passage were crossing between London and the stars, and once the cry of a woman sounded thin and shrill from the direction of the river. For the rest there was no more than the solemn, subdued hum that never ceased now night or day.
"Yes; Felsenburgh," said Father Blackmore once more. "I cannot get that man out of my head. And yet, what do I know of him? What does any one know of him?"
Percy licked his lips to answer, and drew a breath to still the beating of his heart. He could not imagine why he felt excited. After all, who was old Blackmore to frighten him? But old Blackmore went on before he could speak.
"See how people are leaving the Church! The Wargraves, the Hendersons, Sir James Bartlet, Lady Magnier, and then all the priests. Now they're not all knaves—I wish they were; it would be so much easier to talk of it. But Sir James Bartlet, last month! Now, there's a man who has spent half his fortune on the Church, and he doesn't resent it even now. He says that any religion is better than none, but that, for himself, he just can't believe any longer. Now what does all that mean?… I tell you something is going to happen. God knows what! And I can't get Felsenburgh out of my head…. Father Franklin—-"
"Have you noticed how few great men we've got? It's not like fifty years ago, or even thirty. Then there were Mason, Selborne, Sherbrook, and half-a-dozen others. There was Brightman, too, as Archbishop: and now! Then the Communists, too. Braithwaite is dead fifteen years. Certainly he was big enough; but he was always speaking of the future, not of the present; and tell me what big man they have had since then! And now there's this new man, whom no one knows, who came forward in America a few months ago, and whose name is in every one's mouth. Very well, then!"
Percy knitted his forehead.
"I am not sure that I understand," he said.
Father Blackmore knocked his pipe out before answering.
"Well, this," he said, standing up. "I can't help thinking Felsenburgh is going to do something. I don't know what; it may be for us or against us. But he is a Mason, remember that…. Well, well; I dare say I'm an old fool. Good-night."
"One moment, father," said Percy slowly. "Do you mean—? Good Lord! What do you mean?" He stopped, looking at the other.
The old priest stared back under his bushy eyebrows; it seemed to Percy as if he, too, were afraid of something in spite of his easy talk; but he made no sign.
* * * * *
Percy stood perfectly still a moment when the door was shut. Then he moved across to his prie-dieu.