The priest stood up too.
“I must come with you to His Holiness,” he said. “I will abide by his decision.”
The other shook his head, again smiling almost indulgently. Monsignor turned swiftly to the Italian.
“Your Eminence,” he said, “will you get this favour for me? I must see the Holy Father after Cardinal Bellairs has seen him, since I may not go with him.”
The English Cardinal turned with a little abrupt movement and stood looking at him. There was a silence.
“Well—come,” he said.
The contrast between these two great Princes of the Church and their Lord and Master struck Monsignor very strongly, in spite of his excitement, as he followed his chief into the Pope’s room, and saw an almost startlingly commonplace man, of middle size, rise up from the table at which he was writing.
He was a Frenchman, Monsignor knew, and not an exceptional Frenchman. There was nothing sensational or even impressive about his appearance, except his white dress and insignia; and even these, upon him, seemed somehow rather tame and ordinary. His voice, when he spoke presently, was of an ordinary kind of pitch and his speaking rather rapid; his eyes were a commonplace grey, his nose a little fleshy, and his mouth completely undistinguished. He was, in short, completely unlike the Pope of fiction and imagination; there was nothing of the Pontiff about him in his manner. He might have been a clean-shaven business man of average ability, who had chosen to dress himself up in a white cassock and to sit in an enormous room furnished in crimson damask and gold, with chandeliers, at a rather inconvenient writing-desk. Even at this dramatic moment Monsignor found himself wondering how in the world this man had risen to the highest office on earth. (He had been the son of a postmaster in Tours, the priest remembered.)
The Pope murmured an unintelligible greeting as the two, after kissing his ring, sat down beside the writing-table.
“So you have come to take your leave, your Eminence?” he began. “We should all be very grateful for your willingness to go. God will reward you.”
“Plainly it must be a Cardinal this time, Holy Father,” said the Englishman, smiling. “We have still four days. And one of my nationality has affinity with the Germans, and yet is not one of them, as I remarked to your Holiness last night. Besides, I am getting an old man.”
There was nothing whatever of the gallant poseur in his manner, whatever were the words. Monsignor perceived that somehow or another these persons stood in an attitude towards death that was beyond his comprehension altogether. They spoke of it lightly and genially.
“Eh well,” said the Pope, “it is decided so. You go to-night?”
“Yes, Holy Father, it is absolutely necessary for me to arrange my affairs first. I have chartered a private volor. One of my own servants has volunteered to drive it. But there is one more matter before I receive your Holiness’ instructions. This priest here, my secretary, Monsignor Masterman, wishes to come with me. I ask your Holiness to forbid that. I wish him to be Vicar-Capitular of my diocese, if possible, in the event of my death.”