The Pope glanced across at the priest.
“Why do you wish to go, Monsignor? Do you understand to what you are going?”
“Holy Father, I understand everything. I wish to go because it is not right that the Cardinal should go alone. Let there be a witness this time. The Rector of the English College here can receive all necessary instructions from His Eminence and myself.”
“And you, Eminence?”
“I do not wish him to go because there is no need why two should go, Holiness. One can carry the message as well as two.”
There was silence for a moment. The Pope began to play with a pen that lay before him. Then Monsignor burst out again.
“Holy Father, I beg of you to let me go. I am afraid of death; . . . that is one reason why I should go. I am crippled mentally; my memory left me a few months ago; it may leave me again, and this time helpless and useless. And it is possible that I may be of some service. Two are better than one.”
For a moment the Pope said nothing. He had glanced up curiously as the priest had said that he was “afraid of death.” Then he had looked down again, his lips twitching slightly.
“Eh well,” he said. “You shall go if you wish it.”
There was only a very small group of people collected to see the second envoy leave for Berlin. The hour and place of starting had been kept secret, on purpose to avoid a crowd; and beyond three or four from the English College, with half a dozen private friends of the Cardinal, a few servants, and perhaps a dozen passers-by who had collected below in curiosity at seeing a racing-volor attached to one of the disused flying stages on the hill behind the Vatican—no one else, in the crowds that swarmed now in the streets and squares of Rome, was even certain that an envoy was going, still less of his identity.
Monsignor found himself, ten minutes before the start, standing alone on the alighting-stage, while the Cardinal still talked below.
As he stood there, now looking out over the city, where beneath the still luminous sky the lights were already beginning to kindle, and where in one or two of the larger squares he could make out the great crowds moving to and fro—now staring at the long and polished sides of the racing boat that swayed light as a flower with the buoyancy of the inrushing gas—as he saw all these things with his outward eyes, he was trying to understand something of the new impulses and thoughts that surged through him. He could have given little or no account of the reasons why he was here; of his hopes or fears or expectations. He was as one who watches on a sheet shadow-figures whirl past confusedly, catching a glimpse here of a face or body, now of a fragmentary movement, that appeared to have some meaning—yet grasping nothing of the intention or plan of the whole. Or, even better, he was as one caught in a mill-race, tossed along and battered, yet feeling nothing acutely, curious indeed as to what the end would be, and why it had had a beginning, yet fundamentally unconcerned. The thing was so: there was no more to be said. He knew that it was necessary that he should be here, about to start for almost certain death, as that his soul should be inhabiting his body.