(Again a murmur of applause rose, and sank again instantly.)
“You have kindly asked me to make this little speech, and I do not wish to turn it into a sermon, but I must conclude by saying that, splendid as is the history of England in many points, there is one black blot upon the page, and that, the act of hers by which she renounced Christ’s Vicar, by whom kings reign. You have done justice at last in returning to us those possessions which our forefathers dedicated to God’s service. But there remains one more thing to do, formally and deliberately, as one kingdom, to return to Him who is King of kings. I know it will come some day. As individuals, Englishmen have already returned to Him. But a corporate crime must be expiated by corporate reparation, and it is that reparation which has already waited too long. I am an old man, gentlemen. That, no doubt, is why I have been so verbose, but my one prayer for the last thirty years has been that that corporate reparation may be made within my own lifetime. . . .”
The voice suddenly trembled.
Then the watcher saw the chair pushed back, and the little scarlet cap, covering the white hair, rise above it. Simultaneously every man rose to his feet.
“That is all, gentlemen.”
There was a moment’s silence.
Then the applause broke out. It was not loud or noisy, as there were scarcely two dozen men in the room, yet it was astonishingly affecting, just the tapping of hands on the table and a murmur of voices.
The Cardinal silenced it by a gesture.
“One word, gentlemen. . . . I have said nothing of any opposition. Perhaps it would have been better if I had. But I will only say this, and it is something of a warning too. I do not believe that this Bill that is spoken of will necessarily mean peace. I am aware of the dangers that are threatening; perhaps I am even more aware of them than any other person present. And yet, for all that, I am not in favour of delay.”
He turned suddenly, and with his long smooth step was at the door almost before Monsignor had time to open it and step aside. There was no time for any other man to speak.
The car had hardly moved off from the door before Monsignor turned to his chief.
* * * * *
“Your Eminence,” he said, “what was that about danger? I did not understand.”
The thin face was a little pale with the exertions of the speech, as it turned to him in answer.
“I will tell you that,” he said, “as soon as the Bill becomes law.”
It was an astounding scene in which Monsignor found himself, six weeks later—extraordinary from the extreme quietness of it, and the enormous importance of the issue for which they waited.
* * * * *
The Cardinal and he had gone down to Lord Southminster’s house on the coast of Kent for three or four days to wait for the final news, as it was wished to avoid the possibility of any dangerous excitement on the night of the division; and it was thought that the Cardinal’s absence might be of service in preventing any formidable demonstration at Westminster. He was to return to London, in the event of the Bill passing, on the following morning.