Yet, as he looked at them en masse, and compared them with his general memories of the type of face that he saw in London streets, there was certainly a difference. He could conceive these people making speeches, recording votes, discussing matters of public interest with great gravity and consideration; he could conceive them distributing alms to the needy after careful and scientific enquiry, administering justice; he could imagine them even, with an effort, inflamed with political passion, denouncing, appealing. . . . But it appeared to him (to his imagination rather, as he angrily told himself) that he could not believe them capable of any absolutely reckless crime or reckless act of virtue. They could calculate, they could plan, they had almost mechanically perfect ideas of justice; they could even love and hate after their kind. But it was inconceivable that their passion, either for good or evil, could wholly carry them away. In one word, there was no light behind these faces, no indication of an incomprehensible Power greater than themselves, no ideal higher than that generated by the common sense of the multitude. In short, they seemed to him to have all the impassivity of the Christian atmosphere, with none of its hidden fire.
He gave the signal presently for the driver to move on, and himself leaned back in his seat with closed eyes. He felt terribly alone in a terrible world. Was the whole human race, then, utterly without heart? Had civilization reached such a pitch of perfection—one part through supernatural forces, and the other through human evolution—that there was no longer any room for a man with feelings and emotions and an individuality of his own? Yet he could no longer conceal from himself that the other was better than this—that it was better to be heartless through too vivid a grasp of eternal realities, than through an equally vivid grasp of earthly facts.
* * * * *
As he reached the door of the great buildings where he lodged, and climbed wearily out, the porter ran out, hat in hand, holding a little green paper.
“Monsignor,” he said, “this arrived an hour ago. We did not know where you were.”
He opened it there and then. It contained half a dozen words in code. He took it upstairs with him, strangely agitated, and there deciphered it. It bade him leave everything, come instantly to Rome, and join the Cardinal.
There was dead silence on the long staircase of the Vatican, leading up to the Cardinal Secretary’s rooms, as Monsignor toiled up within half an hour of his arrival at the stage outside the city. A car was in waiting for him there, had whirled him first to the old palace where he had stayed nine months ago with Father Jervis; and then, on finding that Cardinal Bellairs had been unexpectedly sent for to the Vatican, he had gone on there immediately, according to the instructions that had been left with the majordomo.