Oliver Brand, seated in his little private room at Whitehall, was expecting a visitor. It was already close upon ten o'clock, and at half-past he must be in the House. He had hoped that Mr. Francis, whoever he might be, would not detain him long. Even now, every moment was a respite, for the work had become simply prodigious during the last weeks.
But he was not reprieved for more than a minute, for the last boom from the Victoria Tower had scarcely ceased to throb when the door opened and a clerkly voice uttered the name he was expecting.
Oliver shot one quick look at the stranger, at his drooping lids and down-turned mouth, summed him up fairly and accurately in the moments during which they seated themselves, and went briskly to business.
"At twenty-five minutes past, sir, I must leave this room," he said. "Until then—-" he made a little gesture. Mr. Francis reassured him.
"Thank you, Mr. Brand—that is ample time. Then, if you will excuse me—-" He groped in his breast-pocket, and drew out a long envelope.
"I will leave this with you," he said, "when I go. It sets out our desires at length and our names. And this is what I have to say, sir."
He sat back, crossed his legs, and went on, with a touch of eagerness in his voice.
"I am a kind of deputation, as you know," he said. "We have something both to ask and to offer. I am chosen because it was my own idea. First, may I ask a question?"
"I wish to ask nothing that I ought not. But I believe it is practically certain, is it not?—that Divine Worship is to be restored throughout the kingdom?"
"I suppose so," he said. "The bill has been read for the third time, and, as you know, the President is to speak upon it this evening."
"He will not veto it?"
"We suppose not. He has assented to it in Germany."
"Just so," said Mr. Francis. "And if he assents here, I suppose it will become law immediately."
Oliver leaned over this table, and drew out the green paper that contained the Bill.
"You have this, of course—-" he said. "Well, it becomes law at once; and the first feast will be observed on the first of October. 'Paternity,' is it not? Yes, Paternity."
"There will be something of a rush then," said the other eagerly. "Why, that is only a week hence."
"I have not charge of this department," said Oliver, laying back the Bill. "But I understand that the ritual will be that already in use in Germany. There is no reason why we should be peculiar." "And the Abbey will be used?"
"Well, sir," said Mr. Francis, "of course I know the Government Commission has studied it all very closely, and no doubt has its own plans. But it appears to me that they will want all the experience they can get."
"Well, Mr. Brand, the society which I represent consists entirely of men who were once Catholic priests. We number about two hundred in London. I will leave a pamphlet with you, if I may, stating our objects, our constitution, and so on. It seemed to us that here was a matter in which our past experience might be of service to the Government. Catholic ceremonies, as you know, are very intricate, and some of us studied them very deeply in old days. We used to say that Masters of Ceremonies were born, not made, and we have a fair number of those amongst us. But indeed every priest is something of a ceremonialist."
"Yes, Mr. Francis?"
"I am sure the Government realises the immense importance of all going smoothly. If Divine Service was at all grotesque or disorderly, it would largely defeat its own object. So I have been deputed to see you, Mr. Brand, and to suggest to you that here is a body of men—reckon it as at least twenty-five—who have had special experience in this kind of thing, and are perfectly ready to put themselves at the disposal of the Government."
Oliver could not resist a faint flicker of a smile at the corner of his mouth. It was a very grim bit of irony, he thought, but it seemed sensible enough.
"I quite understand, Mr. Francis. It seems a very reasonable suggestion. But I do not think I am the proper person. Mr. Snowford—-" "Yes, yes, sir, I know. But your speech the other day inspired us all. You said exactly what was in all our hearts—that the world could not live without worship; and that now that God was found at last—-"
Oliver waved his hand. He hated even a touch of flattery.
"It is very good of you, Mr. Francis. I will certainly speak to Mr. Snowford. I understand that you offer yourselves as—as Masters of Ceremonies—?" "Yes, sir; and sacristans. I have studied the German ritual very carefully; it is more elaborate than I had thought it. It will need a good deal of adroitness. I imagine that you will want at least a dozen Ceremoniarii in the Abbey; and a dozen more in the vestries will scarcely be too much."
Oliver nodded abruptly, looking curiously at the eager pathetic face of the man opposite him; yet it had something, too, of that mask-like priestly look that he had seen before in others like him. This was evidently a devotee.
"You are all Masons, of course?" he said.
"Why, of course, Mr. Brand."
"Very good. I will speak to Mr. Snowford to-day if I can catch him."
He glanced at the clock. There were yet three or four minutes.
"You have seen the new appointment in Rome, sir," went on Mr. Francis.
Oliver shook his head. He was not particularly interested in Rome just now.
"Cardinal Martin is dead—he died on Tuesday—and his place is already filled."
"Yes—the new man was once a friend of mine—Franklin, his name is—Percy Franklin."
"What is the matter, Mr. Brand? Did you know him?"
Oliver was eyeing him darkly, a little pale.
"Yes; I knew him," he said quietly. "At least, I think so."
"He was at Westminster until a month or two ago."
"Yes, yes," said Oliver, still looking at him. "And you knew him, Mr. Francis?" "I knew him—yes."
"Ah!—well, I should like to have a talk some day about him."
He broke off. It yet wanted a minute to his time.
"And that is all?" he asked.
"That is all my actual business, sir," answered the other. "But I hope you will allow me to say how much we all appreciate what you have done, Mr. Brand. I do not think it is possible for any, except ourselves, to understand what the loss of worship means to us. It was very strange at first—-"
His voice trembled a little, and he stopped. Oliver felt interested, and checked himself in his movement to rise.
"Yes, Mr. Francis?"
The melancholy brown eyes turned on him full.
"It was an illusion, of course, sir—we know that. But I, at any rate, dare to hope that it was not all wasted—all our aspirations and penitence and praise. We mistook our God, but none the less it reached Him—it found its way to the Spirit of the World. It taught us that the individual was nothing, and that He was all. And now—-"
"Yes, sir," said the other softly. He was really touched.
The sad brown eyes opened full.
"And now Mr. Felsenburgh is come." He swallowed in his throat. "Julian Felsenburgh!" There was a world of sudden passion in his gentle voice, and Oliver's own heart responded.
"I know, sir," he said; "I know all that you mean."
"Oh! to have a Saviour at last!" cried Francis. "One that can be seen and handled and praised to His Face! It is like a dream—too good to be true!"
Oliver glanced at the clock, and rose abruptly, holding out his hand.
"Forgive me, sir. I must not stay. You have touched me very deeply…. I will speak to Snowford. Your address is here, I understand?"
He pointed to the papers.
"Yes, Mr. Brand. There is one more question."
"I must not stay, sir," said Oliver, shaking his head.
"One instant—is it true that this worship will be compulsory?"
Oliver bowed as he gathered up his papers.
Mabel, seated in the gallery that evening behind the President's chair, had already glanced at her watch half-a-dozen times in the last hour, hoping each time that twenty-one o'clock was nearer than she feared. She knew well enough by now that the President of Europe would not be half-a-minute either before or after his time. His supreme punctuality was famous all over the continent. He had said Twenty-One, so it was to be twenty-one.
A sharp bell-note impinged from beneath, and in a moment the drawling voice of the speaker stopped. Once more she lifted her wrist, saw that it wanted five minutes of the hour; then she leaned forward from her corner and stared down into the House.
A great change had passed over it at the metallic noise. All down the long brown seats members were shifting and arranging themselves more decorously, uncrossing their legs, slipping their hats beneath the leather fringes. As she looked, too, she saw the President of the House coming down the three steps from his chair, for Another would need it in a few moments.
The house was full from end to end; a late comer ran in from the twilight of the south door and looked distractedly about him in the full light before he saw his vacant place. The galleries at the lower end were occupied too, down there, where she had failed to obtain a seat. Yet from all the crowded interior there was no sound but a sibilant whispering; from the passages behind she could hear again the quick bell-note repeat itself as the lobbies were cleared; and from Parliament Square outside once more came the heavy murmur of the crowd that had been inaudible for the last twenty minutes. When that ceased she would know that he was come.
How strange and wonderful it was to be here—on this night of all, when the President was to speak! A month ago he had assented to a similar Bill in Germany, and had delivered a speech on the same subject at Turin. To-morrow he was to be in Spain. No one knew where he had been during the past week. A rumour had spread that his volor had been seen passing over Lake Como, and had been instantly contradicted. No one knew either what he would say to-night. It might be three words or twenty thousand. There were a few clauses in the Bill—notably those bearing on the point as to when the new worship was to be made compulsory on all subjects over the age of seven—it might be he would object and veto these. In that case all must be done again, and the Bill re-passed, unless the House accepted his amendment instantly by acclamation.
Mabel herself was inclined to these clauses. They provided that, although worship was to be offered in every parish church of England on the ensuing first day of October, this was not to be compulsory on all subjects till the New Year; whereas, Germany, who had passed the Bill only a month before, had caused it to come into full force immediately, thus compelling all her Catholic subjects either to leave the country without delay or suffer the penalties. These penalties were not vindictive: on a first offence a week's detention only was to be given; on the second, one month's imprisonment; on the third, one year's; and on the fourth, perpetual imprisonment until the criminal yielded. These were merciful terms, it seemed; for even imprisonment itself meant no more than reasonable confinement and employment on Government works. There were no mediaeval horrors here; and the act of worship demanded was so little, too; it consisted of no more than bodily presence in the church or cathedral on the four new festivals of Maternity, Life, Sustenance and Paternity, celebrated on the first day of each quarter. Sunday worship was to be purely voluntary.
She could not understand how any man could refuse this homage. These four things were facts—they were the manifestations of what she called the Spirit of the World—and if others called that Power God, yet surely these ought to be considered as His functions. Where then was the difficulty? It was not as if Christian worship were not permitted, under the usual regulations. Catholics could still go to mass. And yet appalling things were threatened in Germany: not less than twelve thousand persons had already left for Rome; and it was rumoured that forty thousand would refuse this simple act of homage a few days hence. It bewildered and angered her to think of it.
For herself the new worship was a crowning sign of the triumph of Humanity. Her heart had yearned for some such thing as this—some public corporate profession of what all now believed. She had so resented the dulness of folk who were content with action and never considered its springs. Surely this instinct within her was a true one; she desired to stand with her fellows in some solemn place, consecrated not by priests but by the will of man; to have as her inspirers sweet singing and the peal of organs; to utter her sorrow with thousands beside her at her own feebleness of immolation before the Spirit of all; to sing aloud her praise of the glory of life, and to offer by sacrifice and incense an emblematic homage to That from which she drew her being, and to whom one day she must render it again. Ah! these Christians had understood human nature, she had told herself a hundred times: it was true that they had degraded it, darkened light, poisoned thought, misinterpreted instinct; but they had understood that man must worship —must worship or sink.
For herself she intended to go at least once a week to the little old church half-a-mile away from her home, to kneel there before the sunlit sanctuary, to meditate on sweet mysteries, to present herself to That which she was yearning to love, and to drink, it might be, new draughts of life and power.
Ah! but the Bill must pass first…. She clenched her hands on the rail, and stared steadily before her on the ranks of heads, the open gangways, the great mace on the table, and heard, above the murmur of the crowd outside and the dying whispers within, her own heart beat.
She could not see Him, she knew. He would come in from beneath through the door that none but He might use, straight into the seat beneath the canopy. But she would hear His voice—that must be joy enough for her….
Ah! there was silence now outside; the soft roar had died. He had come then. And through swimming eyes she saw the long ridges of heads rise beneath her, and through drumming ears heard the murmur of many feet. All faces looked this way; and she watched them as a mirror to see the reflected light of His presence. There was a gentle sobbing somewhere in the air—was it her own or another's? … the click of a door; a great mellow booming over-head, shock after shock, as the huge tenor bells tolled their three strokes; and, in an instant, over the white faces passed a ripple, as if some breeze of passion shook the souls within; there was a swaying here and there; and a passionless voice spoke half a dozen words in Esperanto, out of sight:
"Englishmen, I assent to the Bill of Worship."
It was not until mid-day breakfast on the following morning that husband and wife met again. Oliver had slept in town and telephoned about eleven o'clock that he would be home immediately, bringing a guest with him: and shortly before noon she heard their voices in the hall.
Mr. Francis, who was presently introduced to her, seemed a harmless kind of man, she thought, not interesting, though he seemed in earnest about this Bill. It was not until breakfast was nearly over that she understood who he was.
"Don't go, Mabel," said her husband, as she made a movement to rise. "You will like to hear about this, I expect. My wife knows all that I know," he added.
Mr. Francis smiled and bowed.
"I may tell her about you, sir?" said Oliver again.
Then she heard that he had been a Catholic priest a few months before, and that Mr. Snowford was in consultation with him as to the ceremonies in the Abbey. She was conscious of a sudden interest as she heard this.
"Oh! do talk," she said. "I want to hear everything."
It seemed that Mr. Francis had seen the new Minister of Public Worship that morning, and had received a definite commission from him to take charge of the ceremonies on the first of October. Two dozen of his colleagues, too, were to be enrolled among the ceremoniarii, at least temporarily—and after the event they were to be sent on a lecturing tour to organise the national worship throughout the country.
Of course things would be somewhat sloppy at first, said Mr. Francis; but by the New Year it was hoped that all would be in order, at least in the cathedrals and principal towns.
"It is important," he said, "that this should be done as soon as possible. It is very necessary to make a good impression. There are thousands who have the instinct of worship, without knowing how to satisfy it."
"That is perfectly true," said Oliver. "I have felt that for a long time. I suppose it is the deepest instinct in man."
"As to the ceremonies—-" went on the other, with a slightly important air. His eyes roved round a moment; then he dived into his breast-pocket, and drew out a thin red-covered book.
"Here is the Order of Worship for the Feast of Paternity," he said. "I have had it interleaved, and have made a few notes."
He began to turn the pages, and Mabel, with considerable excitement, drew her chair a little closer to listen.
"That is right, sir," said the other. "Now give us a little lecture."
Mr. Francis closed the book on his finger, pushed his plate aside, and began to discourse.
"First," he said, "we must remember that this ritual is based almost entirely upon that of the Masons. Three-quarters at least of the entire function will be occupied by that. With that the ceremoniarii will not interfere, beyond seeing that the insignia are ready in the vestries and properly put on. The proper officials will conduct the rest…. I need not speak of that then. The difficulties begin with the last quarter."
He paused, and with a glance of apology began arranging forks and glasses before him on the cloth.
"Now here," he said, "we have the old sanctuary of the abbey. In the place of the reredos and Communion table there will be erected the large altar of which the ritual speaks, with the steps leading up to it from the floor. Behind the altar—extending almost to the old shrine of the Confessor—will stand the pedestal with the emblematic figure upon it; and—so far as I understand from the absence of directions—each such figure will remain in place until the eve of the next quarterly feast."
"What kind of figure?" put in the girl.
Francis glanced at her husband.
"I understand that Mr. Markenheim has been consulted," he said. "He will design and execute them. Each is to represent its own feast. This for Paternity—-"
He paused again.
"Yes, Mr. Francis?"
"This one, I understand, is to be the naked figure of a man."
"A kind of Apollo—or Jupiter, my dear," put in Oliver.
Yes—that seemed all right, thought Mabel. Mr. Francis's voice moved on hastily.
"A new procession enters at this point, after the discourse," he said. "It is this that will need special marshalling. I suppose no rehearsal will be possible?"
"Scarcely," said Oliver, smiling.
The Master of Ceremonies sighed.
"I feared not. Then we must issue very precise printed instructions. Those who take part will withdraw, I imagine, during the hymn, to the old chapel of St. Faith. That is what seems to me the best."
He indicated the chapel.
"After the entrance of the procession all will take their places on these two sides—here—and here—while the celebrant with the sacred ministers—-"
Mr. Francis permitted a slight grimace to appear on his face; he flushed a little.
"The President of Europe—-" He broke off. "Ah! that is the point. Will the President take part? That is not made clear in the ritual."
"We think so," said Oliver. "He is to be approached."
"Well, if not, I suppose the Minister of Public Worship will officiate. He with his supporters pass straight up to the foot of the altar. Remember that the figure is still veiled, and that the candles have been lighted during the approach of the procession. There follow the Aspirations printed in the ritual with the responds. These are sung by the choir, and will be most impressive, I think. Then the officiant ascends the altar alone, and, standing, declaims the Address, as it is called. At the close of it—at the point, that is to say, marked here with a star, the thurifers will leave the chapel, four in number. One ascends the altar, leaving the others swinging their thurifers at its foot—hands his to the officiant and retires. Upon the sounding of a bell the curtains are drawn back, the officiant tenses the image in silence with four double swings, and, as he ceases the choir sings the appointed antiphon."
He waved his hands.
"The rest is easy," he said. "We need not discuss that."
To Mabel's mind even the previous ceremonies seemed easy enough. But she was undeceived.
"You have no idea, Mrs. Brand," went on the ceremoniarius, "of the difficulties involved even in such a simple matter as this. The stupidity of people is prodigious. I foresee a great deal of hard work for us all…. Who is to deliver the discourse, Mr. Brand?"
Oliver shook his head.
"I have no idea," he said. "I suppose Mr. Snowford will select."
Mr. Francis looked at him doubtfully.
"What is your opinion of the whole affair, sir?" he said.
Oliver paused a moment.
"I think it is necessary," he began. "There would not be such a cry for worship if it was not a real need. I think too—yes, I think that on the whole the ritual is impressive. I do not see how it could be bettered…."
"Yes, Oliver?" put in his wife, questioningly.
"No—there is nothing—except … except I hope the people will understand it."
Mr. Francis broke in.
"My dear sir, worship involves a touch of mystery. You must remember that. It was the lack of that that made Empire Day fail in the last century. For myself, I think it is admirable. Of course much must depend on the manner in which it is presented. I see many details at present undecided—the colour of the curtains, and so forth. But the main plan is magnificent. It is simple, impressive, and, above all, it is unmistakable in its main lesson—-"
"And that you take to be—?"
"I take it that it is homage offered to Life," said the other slowly. "Life under four aspects—Maternity corresponds to Christmas and the Christian fable; it is the feast of home, love, faithfulness. Life itself is approached in spring, teeming, young, passionate. Sustenance in midsummer, abundance, comfort, plenty, and the rest, corresponding somewhat to the Catholic Corpus Christi; and Paternity, the protective, generative, masterful idea, as winter draws on…. I understand it was a German thought."
"Yes," he said. "And I suppose it will be the business of the speaker to explain all this."
"I take it so. It appears to me far more suggestive than the alternative plan—Citizenship, Labour, and so forth. These, after all, are subordinate to Life."
Mr. Francis spoke with an extraordinary suppressed enthusiasm, and the priestly look was more evident than ever. It was plain that his heart at least demanded worship.
Mabel clasped her hands suddenly.
"I think it is beautiful," she said softly, "and—and it is so real."
Mr. Francis turned on her with a glow in his brown eyes.
"Ah! yes, madam. That is it. There is no Faith, as we used to call it: it is the vision of Facts that no one can doubt; and the incense declares the sole divinity of Life as well as its mystery."
"What of the figures?" put in Oliver.
"A stone image is impossible, of course. It must be clay for the present. Mr. Markenheim is to set to work immediately. If the figures are approved they can then be executed in marble."
Again Mabel spoke with a soft gravity.
"It seems to me," she said, "that this is the last thing that we needed. It is so hard to keep our principles clear—we must have a body for them—some kind of expression—-"
"I do not mean," she went on, "that some cannot live without it, but many cannot. The unimaginative need concrete images. There must be some channel for their aspirations to flow through—- Ah! I cannot express myself!"
Oliver nodded slowly. He, too, seemed to be in a meditative mood.
"Yes," he said. "And this, I suppose, will mould men's thoughts too: it will keep out all danger of superstition."
Mr. Francis turned on him abruptly.
"What do you think of the Pope's new Religious Order, sir?"
Oliver's face took on it a tinge of grimness.
"I think it is the worst step he ever took—for himself, I mean. Either it is a real effort, in which case it will provoke immense indignation—or it is a sham, and will discredit him. Why do you ask?"
"I was wondering whether any disturbance will be made in the abbey."
"I should be sorry for the brawler."
A bell rang sharply from the row of telephone labels. Oliver rose and went to it. Mabel watched him as he touched a button—mentioned his name, and put his ear to the opening.
"It is Snowford's secretary," he said abruptly to the two expectant faces. "Snowford wants to—ah!"
Again he mentioned his name and listened. They heard a sentence or two from him that seemed significant.
"Ah! that is certain, is it? I am sorry…. Yes…. Oh! but that is better than nothing…. Yes; he is here…. Indeed. Very well; we will be with you directly."
He looked on the tube, touched the button again, and came back to them.
"I am sorry," he said. "The President will take no part at the Feast. But it is uncertain whether he will not be present. Mr. Snowford wants to see us both at once, Mr. Francis. Markenheim is with him."
But though Mabel was herself disappointed, she thought he looked graver than the disappointment warranted.