"Thinkers," he said once to a young and ardent novice, studying for the priesthood, "are generally socialists and revolutionists. They are an offence to the Church and a danger to the community."
"Surely," murmured the novice timidly, -- "Our Lord Himself was a thinker? And a Socialist likewise?"
But at this the Archbishop rose up in wrath and flashed forth menace; --
"If you are a follower of Renan, sir, you had better admit it before proceeding further in your studies," he said irately, -- "The Church is too much troubled in these days by the members of a useless and degenerate apostasy!" Whereupon the young man had left his presence abashed, puzzled, and humiliated; but scarcely penitent, inasmuch as his New Testament taught him that he was right and that the Archbishop was wrong.
Truth to tell, the Archbishop was very often wrong. Wrapped up in himself and his own fixed notions as to how life should be lived, he seldom looked out upon the larger world, and obstinately refused to take any thoughtful notice of the general tendency of public opinion in all countries concerning religion and morality. All that he was unable to explain, he flatly denied, -- and his prejudices were as violent as his hatred of contradiction was keen. The saintly life and noble deeds of Felix Bonpre had reached him from time to time through various rumours repeated by different priests and dignitaries of the Church, who had travelled as far as the distant little Cathedral-town embowered among towering pines and elm trees, where the Cardinal had his abiding seat of duty; -- and he had been anxious to meet the man who in these days of fastidious feeding and luxurious living, had managed to gain such a holy reputation as to be almost canonized in some folks' estimation before he was dead. Hearing that Bonpre intended to stay a couple of nights in Rouen, he cordially invited him to spend that time at his house, -- but the invitation had been gratefully yet firmly refused, much to the Archbishop's amazement. This amazement increased considerably when he learned that the dingy, comfortless, little Hotel Poitiers had been selected by the Cardinal as his temporary lodging, -- and it was not without a pious murmur concerning "the pride which apes humility" that he betook himself to that ancient and despised hostelry, which had nothing whatever in the way of a modern advantage to recommend it, -- neither electric light, nor electric bell, nor telephone. But he felt it incumbent upon him to pay a fraternal visit to the Cardinal, who had become in a manner famous without being at all aware of his fame, -- and when finally in his presence, he was conscious not only of a singular disappointment, but an equally singular perplexity. Felix Bonpre was not at all the sort of personage he had expected to see. He had imagined that a Churchman who was able to obtain a character for saintliness in days like these, must needs be worldly-wise and crafty, with a keen perception and comprehension of the follies of mankind, and an ability to use these follies advantageously to further his own ends. Something of the cunning and foresight of an ancient Egyptian sorcerer was in the composition of the Archbishop himself, for he judged mankind alone by its general stupidity and credulity; -- stupidity and credulity which formed excellent ground for the working of miracles, whether such miracles were wrought in the name of Osiris or Christ. Mokanna, the "Veiled Prophet," while corrupt to the core with unnameable vices, had managed in his time to delude the people into thinking him a holy man; and, -- without any adequate reason for his assumption, -- the Archbishop had certainly prepared himself to meet in Felix Bonpre, a shrewd, calculating, clever priest, absorbed in acting the part of an excessive holiness in order to secure such honour in his diocese as should attract the particular notice of the Vatican. "Playing for Pope," in fact, had been the idea with which the archbishop had invested the Cardinal's reputed sanctity, and he was astonished and in a manner irritated to find himself completely mistaken. He had opened the conversation by the usual cordial trivialities of ordinary greeting, to which Bonpre had responded with the suave courtesy and refined gentleness which always dignified his manner, -- and then the Archbishop had ventured to offer a remonstrance on the unconventional -- "Shall we call it eccentric?" he suggested, smiling amicably, -- conduct of the Cardinal in choosing to abide in such a comfortless lodging as the Hotel Poitiers.
"It would have been a pleasure and an honour to me to welcome you at my house" -- he said -- "Really, it is quite a violation of custom and usage that you should be in this wretched place; the accommodation is not at all fitted for a prince of the Church."
Cardinal Felix raised one hand in gentle yet pained protest.
"Pardon me!" he said, "I do not like that term, 'prince of the Church.' There are no princes in the Church -- or if there are, there should be none."
The archbishop opened his eyes widely.
"That is a strange remark!" he ejaculated -- "Princes of the Church there have always been since Cardinals were created; and you, being a Cardinal and an Archbishop as well, cannot be otherwise than one of them."
Felix Bonpre sighed.
"Still, I maintain that the term is a wrong one," he answered, "and used in the wrong place. The Church has nothing, or should have nothing to do with differing titles or places. The ordinary priest who toils among his congregation day and night, scarcely resting himself, working and praying for the spiritual welfare of others, should to my thinking be as greatly held in honour as the bishop who commands him and who often -- so it chances -- is able to do less for our Lord than he. In things temporal, owing to the constant injustice of man practised against his brother-man, we can seldom attain to strict impartiality of judgment, -- but in things spiritual, there surely should be perfect equality."
"Seriously speaking, are those your views?" enquired the Archbishop, his features expressing more and more astonishment.
"Assuredly!" responded the Cardinal gently, -- "Are they not yours? Did not the Master Himself say 'Whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant'? And 'Whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased'? These statements are plain and true, -- there is no mistaking them."
The Archbishop was silent for a minute or so.
"Unfortunately we cannot apply our Lord's words literally to every- day exigencies," he murmured suavely -- "If we could do so -- "
"We SHOULD do so," said the Cardinal with emphasis -- "The outside world may be disinclined to do so, -- but we -- we who are the representatives of a God-given faith, are solemnly bound to do so. And I fear -- I very much fear -- that it is because in many cases we have not shown the example expected of us, that heresy and atheism are so common among the people of the present day."
"Are you a would-be reformer?" asked the Archbishop good-humouredly, yet not without a touch of satire in his tone, -- "If so, you are not alone -- there have already been many!"
"Nay, I desire no reforms," responded the Cardinal, a faint flush warming the habitual pallor of his cheeks -- "I simply wish to maintain -- not alter -- the doctrine of our Lord. No reform is necessary in that, -- it is clear, concise, and simple enough for a child to understand. His command to His disciples was, -- 'Feed my sheep' -- and I have of late been troubled and perplexed, because it seems to me that the sheep are not fed; -- that despite churches and teachers and preachers, whole flocks are starving."
The Archbishop moved uneasily in his chair. His habitual violent spirit of contradiction rose up rebelliously in him, and he longed to give a sharp answer in confutation of the Cardinal's words, but there was a touch of the sycophant in his nature despite his personal pride, and he could not but reflect that Cardinals ranked above Archbishops, and that Felix Bonpre was in very truth a "prince of the Church" however much he himself elected to disclaim the title. And as in secular affairs lesser men will always bow the knee to royalty, so the Archbishop felt the necessity of temporising with one who was spiritually royal. Therefore he considered a moment before replying.
"I think," he said at last, in soft persuasive tones, "that your conscience may perhaps be a little tender on this subject. But I cannot agree with you in your supposition that whole flocks are starving; -- for Christianity dominates the better and more intellectual part of the civilized world, and through its doctrines, men are gradually learning to be more tolerant and less unjust. When we recollect the barbarous condition of humanity before the coming of Christ -- "
"Barbarous?" interrupted the Cardinal with half a smile, -- "You would hardly apply that term to the luxury-loving peoples of Tyre and Babylon? -- or to the ancient splendours of Athens and Rome?"
"They were heathens," said the Archbishop sententiously.
"But they were men and women," replied Bonpre, "And they too had immortal souls. They were all more or less struggling towards the fundamental Idea of good. Of course then, as now that Idea was overgrown by superstitious myths and observances -- but the working tendency of the whole universe being ever towards Good, not Evil, an impulse to press on in the right direction was always in the brain of man, no matter how dimly felt. Primitive notions of honour were strange indeed; nevertheless honour existed in the minds of the early barbarians in a vague sense, though distorted out of shape and noblest meaning. No, -- we dare not take upon ourselves to assert that men were altogether barbarous before the coming of Christ. They were cruel and unjust certainly, -- and alas! they are cruel and unjust still! Eighteen hundred years of Christian teaching have not eradicated these ingrained sins from any one unit of the entire mass."
"You are a severe judge!" said the Archbishop.
Cardinal Bonpre lifted his mild blue eyes protestingly.
"Severe? I? God forbid that I should be severe, or presume to sit in judgment on any poor soul that sought my sympathy! I do not judge, -- I simply feel. And my feelings have for a long time, I confess, been poignantly sorrowful."
"Sorrowful! And why?"
"Because the impression has steadily gained upon me that if our Church were all it was originally intended to be by its Divine Founder, we should at this time have neither heresies or apostasies, and all the world would be gathered into the 'one fold under one Shepherd.' But if we, who are its ministers, persist in occupying ourselves more with 'things temporal' than 'things spiritual,' we fail to perform our mission, or to show the example required of us, and we do not attract, so much as we repel. The very children of the present day are beginning to doubt our calling and election."
"Oh, of course there are, and always have been heretics and atheists," said the Archbishop, -- "And apparently there always will be."
"And I venture to maintain that it is our fault that heretics and atheists continue to exist," replied the Cardinal; "If our Divine faith were lived divinely, there would be no room for heresy or atheism. The Church itself supplies the loophole for apostasy."
The Archbishop's handsome face crimsoned.
"You amaze me by such an expression!" he said, raising his voice a little in the indignation he could scarcely conceal -- "you talk -- pardon me -- as if you yourself were uncertain of the Church's ability to withstand unbelief."
"I speak but as I think," answered the Cardinal gently. And I admit I AM uncertain. In the leading points of reed I am very steadfastly convinced; -- namely, that Christ was divine, and that the following of His Gospel is the saving of the immortal soul. But if you ask me whether I think we do truly follow that Gospel, I must own that I have doubts upon the matter."
"An elected favourite son of the Church should surely have no doubts!" said the Archbishop.
"Ah, there you come back to the beginning from which we started, when I ventured to object to your term 'prince of the Church.' According to our Master, all men should be equal before Him; therefore we err in marking differences of rank or favoritism in questions of religion. The very idea of rank is anti-Christian."
At this the Archbishop began to look seriously annoyed.
"I am afraid you are indulging in very unorthodox ideas," he said with impatience -- "In fact I consider you altogether mistake your calling and position."
These were the words which had reached the attentive ears of the Patoux children on their way up to bed, and had caused Henri to declare that the Archbishop and the Cardinal were quarrelling. Felix Bonpre took the somewhat violent remark, however, with perfect equanimity.
"Possibly I may do so," he responded peaceably. "We are all subject to error. My calling, as I take it, is that of a servant of Christ, whose instructions for work are plainly set down in His own words. It is for me to follow these instructions as literally and exactly as I can. With regard to my position, I am placed as the spiritual head of a very small diocese, where the people for the most part lead very innocent and harmless lives. But I should be selfish and narrow in spirit if I allowed myself to limit my views to my own circle of influence. My flock are mere rustics in intellectual capacity, and have no conception of the manner in which the larger tide of human events is flowing. Now and then one or two of the people grow weary of their quiet pastures and woodlands, -- and being young, hopeful, and ardent, start forth into the great world, there to seek fairer fortunes. Sometimes they come back to their old homes. Far more frequently they never return. But those who do come back are changed utterly. I recognise no more the young men and maidens whom I confirmed in their faith, and laid my hands on in blessing ere they fared forth to other lives and scenes. The men are grown callous and worldly; without a heart, -- without a thought, -- save for the gain or loss of gold. The women are -- ruined!"
He paused a moment. The Archbishop said nothing.
"I love my people," went on the Cardinal pathetically -- "No child is baptised in our old Cathedral without my praying for its future good, -- without my hope that it may grow into that exquisite mingling of the Divine and Human which our Lord taught us was the perfection of life, and His desire to see fulfilled in those He called His own. Yes, -- I love my people! -- and when any of them go away from me, and then return to the scenes of their childhood broken-hearted, I cannot meet them with reproach. My own heart is half broken to see them thus cast down. And their sorrows have compelled me naturally to meditate on the sorrows of others, -- to consider what it is in the world which thus corrodes the pure gold of innocence and robs life of its greatest charm. For if Christ's spirit ruled us all, then innocence should be held more sacred. Life should engender happiness. I have studied, read, and thought long, upon these matters, so that I not only feel, but know the truth of what I say. Brother! -- " and the Cardinal, strongly moved, rose suddenly and confronted the Archbishop with a passionate gesture -- "My great grief is that the spirit of Christ does NOT rule the world! Christ is being re-crucified by this generation! And the Church is looking on, and silently permitting His second murder!"
Startled by the force of this expression, the Archbishop sprang up in his turn, his lips parted as if to speak -- then -- his angry glance met the clear, calm, steadfast look of Felix Bonpre, and he faltered. His eyes drooped -- and his massive figure seemed for a moment to shrink with a sort of abasement. Like an inspired apostle the Cardinal stood, one hand outstretched, -- his whole frame sentient with the strong emotion which possessed him.
"You know that what I say is true," he continued in quieter but no less intensely passionate accents -- "You know that every day sees our Master crowned with new thorns and exposed to fresh torture! You know that we do nothing! -- We stand beside Him in His second agony as dumb as though we were unconscious of it! You know that we MIGHT speak and will not! You know that we fear the ephemera of temporary governments, policies, and social conventionalities, more than the great, real, and terrible judgment of the world to come!"
"But all these things have been said before," began the Archbishop, recovering a little from the confusion that had momentarily seized him, -- "And as I just now observed, you should remember that there have always been heretics from the very beginning."
"Oh, I remember!" and the Cardinal sighed, "How is it possible that any of us should forget! Heretics, whom we have tortured with unheard-of agonies and burned in the flames, as a proof of our love and sympathy with the tenderness of Christ Jesus!"
"You are going too far back in time!" said the Archbishop quickly. "We erred in the beginning through excess of zeal, but now -- now -- "
"Now we do exactly the same thing," returned Bonpre -- "Only we do not burn physically our heretics, but morally. We condemn all who oppose us. Good men and brave thinkers, whom in our arrogance we consign to eternal damnation, instead of endeavouring to draw out the heart of their mystery, and gather up the gems of their learning as fresh proofs of the active presence of God's working in, and through all things! Think of the Church's invincible and overpowering obstinacy in the case of Galileo! He declared the existence of God to us by the utterance of a Truth, -- inasmuch as every truth is a new message from God. Had he pronounced his theories before our divine Master, that Master would have confirmed, not denied them! Have we one single example of Christ putting to the torture any poor soul that did not believe in Him? Nay -- He Himself submitted to be tortured; but for those who wronged Him, His prayer was only -- 'Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.' THEY KNOW NOT WHAT THEY DO! The ministers of truth should rather suffer themselves than let others suffer. The horrors of the Inquisition are a blot on religious history; our Master never meant us to burn and torture men into faith. He desired us to love and lead them into the way of life as the shepherd leads a flock into the fold. I repeat again, there would have been no room for atheism if we -- we -- the servants of Christ, had been strictly true to our vocation."
By this time the Archbishop had recovered his equanimity. He sat down and surveyed the up-standing figure of the Cardinal with curiosity and a touch of pity.
"You think too much of these things," he said soothingly -- "You are evidently overwrought with study and excessive zeal. Much that you say may be true; nevertheless the Church -- OUR Church -- stands firm among overwhelming contradictions, -- and we, its ministers, do what we can. I myself am disposed to think that the multitude of the saved is greater than the multitude of the lost."
"I envy you the consolation such a thought must give," responded the Cardinal, as he resumed his seat opposite his visitor -- "I, on the contrary, have the pained and bitter sense that we are to blame for all this 'multitude of the lost,' or at any rate that we could have done more in the way of rescue than we have done." He paused a moment, passing one hand across his forehead wearily. "In truth this is what has for a long time weighed upon my mind, and depressed my spirits even to the detriment of bodily health. I am nearing the grave, and must soon give an account of my stewardship; -- and the knowledge of the increasing growth of evil in the world is almost more than I can bear."
"But you are not to blame," said the Archbishop wonderingly, -- "In your own diocese you have fulfilled your duty; more than this is not expected of you. You have done your best for the people you serve, -- and reports of your charities and good works are not lacking -- "
"Do not credit such reports," interrupted the Cardinal, almost sternly, -- "I have done nothing -- absolutely nothing! My life has been too peaceful, -- too many undeserved blessings have been bestowed upon me. I much fear that the calm and quiet of my days have rendered me selfish. I think I should long ago have sought some means of engaging in more active duties. I feel as if I should have gone into the thick of the religious contest, and spoken and fought, and helped the sick and wounded of the mental battle, -- but now -- now it is too late!"
"Nothing is too late for one in your position," said the Archbishop- -"You may yet sit in St. Peter's chair!"
"God forbid!" ejaculated Bonpre fervently -- "I would rather die! I have never wished to rule, -- I have only sought to help and to comfort. But sixty-eight years of life weigh heavily on the faculties, -- I cannot wear the sword and buckler of energetic manhood. I am old -- old! -- and to a certain extent, incapacitated for useful labour. Hence I almost grudge my halcyon time spent among simple folk, -- time made sweet by all the surroundings of Nature's pastoral loveliness; -- the sorrow of the wider world knocks at my heart and makes it ache! I feel that I am one of those who stand by, idly watching the Master's second death without one word of protest!"
The archbishop listened in silence. There was a curious shamed look upon his face, as if some secret sin within himself had suddenly been laid bare in all its vileness to the light of day. The golden crucifix he wore moved restlessly with a certain agitated quickness in his breathing, and he did not raise his eyes, when, after a little pause, he said --
"I tell you, as I told you before, that you think too much; you are altogether too sensitive. I admit that at the present day the world is full of terrible heresies and open blasphemy, but this is part of what we are always bound to expect, -- we are told that we must 'suffer for righteousness' sake -- '"
"We!" said the Cardinal -- "Yes, WE! that is, OURSELVES; -- the Church -- WE think, when we hear of heresies and blasphemies that it is we who are 'suffering for righteousness' sake,' but in our egotism we forget that WE are not suffering at all if we are able to retain our faith! It is the very heretics and blasphemers whom we condemn that are suffering -- suffering absolute tortures -- perchance 'for righteousness' sake'!"
"Dare we call a heretic 'righteous'?" enquired the Archbishop -- "Is he not, in his very heresy, accursed?"
"According to our Lord, no one is accursed save traitors, -- that is to say those who are not true. If a man doubts, it is better he should admit his doubt than make a pretence of belief. The persons whom we call heretics may have their conception of the truth, -- they may say that they cannot accept a creed which is so ignorant of its own tenets as to condemn all those who do not follow it, -- inasmuch as the very Founder of it distinctly says -- 'If any man hear my words and believe not, I judge him not; for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world.' Now we, His followers, judge, but do not save. The atheist is judged by us, but not rescued from his unbelief; the thinker is condemned, -- the scientist who reveals the beauty and wisdom of God as made manifest in the composition of the lightning, or the germinating of a flower, is accused of destroying religion. And we continue to pass our opinion, and thunder our vetoes and bans of excommunication against our fellowmen, in the full front of the plain command 'Judge not, that ye be not judged'!"
"I see it is no use arguing with you," said the Archbishop, forcing a smile, with a vexation the smile could not altogether conceal, -- "You are determined to take these sayings absolutely, -- and to fret your spirit over the non-performance of imaginary duties which do not exist. This Church is a system, -- founded on our Lord's teaching, but applied to the needs of modern civilization. It is not humanly possible to literally obey all Christ's commands."
"For the outside world I grant it may be difficult, -- but for the ministers of religion, however difficult it may be, it should be done," replied the Cardinal firmly. "I said this before, and I deliberately maintain it. The Church IS a system, -- but whether it is as much founded on the teaching of our Lord, who was divine, as on the teaching of St. Paul, who was NOT divine, is a question to me of much perplexity."
"St. Paul was directly inspired by our Lord," said the Archbishop -- "I am amazed that you should even hint a doubt of his apostleship!"
"I do not decry St. Paul," answered Bonpre quietly -- "He was a gifted and clever man, but he was a Man -- he was not God-in-Man. Christ's doctrine leaves no place for differing sects; St. Paul's method of applying that doctrine serves as authority for the establishment of any and every quarrelsome sect ever known!"
"I cannot agree with you," said the Archbishop coldly.
"I do not expect to be agreed with" -- and Bonpre smiled a little -- "An opinion which excites no opposition at all is not worth having! I am quite honest in my scruples, such as they are; -- I do not think we fit, as you say, the Church system to the needs of modern civilization. On the contrary, we must fail in many ways to do this, else there would not be such a crying out for help and comfort as there is at present among all Christian peoples. We no longer speak with a grand certainty as we ought to do. We only offer vague hopes and dubious promises to those who thirst for the living waters of salvation and immortality, -- it is as if we did not feel sure enough of God ourselves to make others sure. All this is wrong -- wrong! It forebodes heavy punishment and disaster. If I were younger, I could express perhaps my meaning more clearly, -- but as it is, my soul is weighted with unutterable thoughts, -- I would almost call them warnings, -- of some threatening evil; . . . and today -- only this afternoon -- when I sat for an hour in the Cathedral yonder and listened to the music of the great organ -- "
The Archbishop started.
"What did you say?"
The Cardinal repeated his words gently, --
"I said that I sat in the Cathedral and listened to the music of the great organ -- "
"The great organ!" interrupted the Archbishop, -- "You must have been dreaming! You could not possibly have heard the great organ, -- it is old and all out of gear; -- it is never used. The only one we have for service just now is a much smaller instrument in the left-hand choir-chapel, -- but no person could have played even on that without the key. And the key was unobtainable, as the organist is absent from the town to-day."
The Cardinal looked completely bewildered.
"Are you quite sure of this?" he asked falteringly.
"Sure -- absolutely sure!" declared the Archbishop with a smile -- "No doubt you thought you heard music; overwrought nerves often play these tricks upon us. And it is owing to this same cause that you are weary and dispirited, and that you take such a gloomy view of the social and religious outlook. You are evidently out of health and unstrung; -- but after you have had sufficient rest and change, you will see things in quite a different aspect. I will not for a moment believe that you could possibly be as unorthodox as your conversation would imply, -- it would be a total misconception of your true character," and the Archbishop laughed softly. "A total misconception," he repeated, -- "Why, yes, of course it would be! No Cardinal-Archbishop of Holy Mother Church could bring such accusations against its ministry as you would have suggested, unless he were afflicted by nervous depression, which, as we all know, has the uncomfortable effect of creating darkness even where all is light. Do you stay long in Rouen?"
"No," replied the Cardinal abstractedly, answering the question mechanically though his thoughts were far away -- "I leave for Paris to-morrow."
"For Paris? And then?"
"I go to Rome with my niece, Angela Sovrani, -- she is in Paris awaiting my arrival now."
"Ah! You must be very proud of your niece!" murmured the Archbishop softly -- "She is famous everywhere, -- a great artist! -- a wonderful genius!"
"Angela paints well -- yes," said the Cardinal quietly, -- "But she has still a great deal to learn. And she is unfortunately much more alone now than she used to be, -- her mother's death last year was a terrible blow to her."
"Her mother was your sister?"
"My only sister," answered the Cardinal -- "A good, sweet woman! -- may her soul rest in peace! Her character was never spoilt by the social life she was compelled to lead. My brother-in-law, Prince Sovrani, kept open house, -- and all the gay world of Rome was accustomed to flock thither; but now -- since he has lost his wife, things have changed very much, -- sadness has taken the place of mirth, -- and Angela is very solitary."
"Is she not affianced to the celebrated Florian Varillo?"
A fleeting shadow of pain darkened the Cardinal's clear eyes.
"Yes. But she sees very little of him, -- you know the strictness of Roman etiquette in such matters. She sees little -- and sometimes -- so I think -- knows less. However, I hope all will be well. But my niece is over sensitive, brilliantly endowed, and ambitious, -- at times I have fears for her future."
"Depression again!" declared the Archbishop, rising and preparing to take his leave -- "Believe me, the world is full of excellence when we look upon it with clear eyes; -- things are never as bad as they seem. To my thinking, you are the last man alive who should indulge in melancholy forebodings. You have led a peaceful and happy life, graced with the reputation of many good deeds, and you are generally beloved by the people of whom you have charge. Then, though celibacy is your appointed lot, heaven has given you a niece as dear to you as any child of your own could be, who has won a pre-eminent place among the world's great artists, and is moreover endowed with beauty and distinction. What more can you desire?"
He smiled expansively as he spoke; the Cardinal looked at him steadfastly.
"I desire nothing!" he answered -- "I never have desired anything! I told you before that I consider I have received many more blessings than I deserve. It is not any personal grief which at present troubles me, -- it is something beyond myself. It is a sense of wrong, -- an appeal for truth, -- a cry from those who are lost in the world, -- the lost whom the Church might have saved!"
"Merely fancy!" said the Archbishop cheerily -- "Like the music in the Cathedral! Do not permit your imagination to get the better of you in such matters! When you return from Rome, I shall be glad to see you if you happen to come through Normandy on your way back to your own people. I trust you will so far honour me?"
"I know nothing of my future movements," answered the Cardinal gently, -- "But if I should again visit Rouen, I will certainly let you know, and will, if you desire it, accept your friendly hospitality."
With this, the two dignitaries shook hands and the Archbishop took his leave. As he picked his way carefully down the rough stairs and along the dingy little passage of the Hotel Poitiers, he was met by Jean Patoux holding a lighted candle above his head to show him the way.
"It is dark, Monseigneur," said Patoux apologetically.
"It is very dark," agreed Monseigneur, stumbling as he spoke, and feeling rather inclined to indulge in very uncanonical language. "It is altogether a miserable hole, mon Patoux!"
"It is for poor people only," returned Jean calmly -- "And poverty is not a crime, Monseigneur."
"No, it is not a crime," said the stately Churchman as he reached the door at last, and paused for a moment on the threshold, -- a broad smile wrinkling up his fat cheeks and making comfortable creases round his small eyes -- "But it is an inconvenience!"
"Cardinal Bonpre does not say so," observed Patoux.
"Cardinal Bonpre is one of two things -- a saint or a fool! Remember that, mon Patoux! Bon soir! Benedicite!"
And the Archbishop, still smiling to himself, walked leisurely across the square in the direction of his own house, where his supper awaited him. The moon had risen, and was clambering slowly up between the two tall towers of Notre Dame, her pure silver radiance streaming mockingly against the candle Jean Patoux still held in the doorway of his inn, and almost extinguishing its flame.
"One of two things -- a saint or a fool," murmured Jean with a chuckle -- "Well! -- it is very certain that the Archbishop is neither!"
He turned in, and shut his door as far as it would allow him to do so, and went comfortably to bed, where Madame had gone before him. And throughout the Hotel Poitiers deep peace and silence reigned. Every one in the house slept, save Cardinal Bonpre, who with the Testament before him, sat reading and meditating deeply for an hour before retiring to rest. A fresh cause of anxiety had come upon him in the idea that perhaps his slight indisposition was more serious than he had deemed. If, as the Archbishop had said, there could have been no music possible in the Cathedral that afternoon, how came it that he had heard such solemn and entrancing harmonies? Was his mind affected? Was he in truth imagining what did not exist? Were the griefs of the world his own distorted view of things? Did the Church faithfully follow the beautiful and perfect teachings of Christ after all? He tried to reason the question out from a different and more hopeful standpoint, but vainly; -- the conviction that Christianity was by no means the supreme regenerating force, or the vivifying Principle of Human Life which it was originally meant to be, was borne in upon him with increasing certainty, and the more he read the Gospels, the more he became aware that the Church -- system as it existed was utterly opposed to Christ's own command, and moreover was drifting further and further away from Him with every passing year.
"The music in the Cathedral may have been my fancy," he said, -- "But the discord in the world sounds clear and is NOT imagination. A casuist in religion may say 'It was to be'; -- that heresies and dissensions were prophesied by Christ, when He said 'Because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall grow cold'; -- but this does not excuse the Church from the sin of neglect, if any neglects exists. One thing we have never seemed to thoroughly understand, and this is that Christ's teaching is God's teaching, and that it has not stopped with the enunciation of the Gospel. It is going on even now -- in every fresh discovery of science, -- in every new national experience, -- in everything we can do, or think, or plan, the Divine instruction steadily continues through the Divine influence imparted to us when the Godhead became man, to show men how they might in turn become gods. This is what we forget and what we are always forgetting; so that instead of accepting every truth, we quarrel with it and reject it, even as Judaea rejected Christ Himself. It is very strange and cruel; -- and the world's religious perplexities are neither to be wondered at nor blamed, -- there is just and grave cause for their continuance and increase."
He closed the Testament, and being thoroughly fatigued in body as well as mind, he at last retired. Lying down contentedly upon the hard and narrow bed which was the best the inn provided, he murmured his usual prayer, -- "If this should be the sleep of death, Jesus receive my soul!" -- and remained for a little while with his eyes open, looking at the white glory of the moonlight as it poured through his lattice window and formed delicate traceries of silver luminance on the bare wooden floor. He could just see the dark towers of Notre Dame from where he lay, -- a black mass in the moonbeams -- a monument of half-forgotten history -- a dream of centuries, hallowed or blasphemed by the prayers and aspirations of dead and gone multitudes who had appealed to the incarnate God-in- Man before its altars. God-in-Man had been made manifest! -- how long would, the world have to wait before Man-in-God was equally created and declared? For that was evidently intended to be the final triumph of the Christian creed.
"We should have gained such a victory long ago," mused Cardinal Bonpre -- "only that we ourselves have set up stumbling-blocks, and rejected God at every step of the way."
Closing his eyes he soon slept; the rays of the moon fell upon his pale face and silvery hair like a visible radiant benediction, -- and the bells of the city chimed the hours loudly and softly, clanging in every direction, without waking him from his rest. But slumbering as he was, he had no peace, -- for in his sleep he was troubled by a strange vision.