So he sat—this poor man bewildered by simplicity and almost shocked by the obvious—listening with unheeding ears to the steady rush of air past the ship, voices talking naturally and easily, heard through the roof above his head, an occasional footstep, and once or twice a bell as the steersman communicated some message to one of his subordinates. Here he sat—John Masterman, Domestic Prelate to His Holiness Gregory XIX, Secretary to His Eminence Gabriel Cardinal Bellairs, and priest of the Holy Roman Church, trying to assimilate the fact that he was on an air-ship, bound to the court of the Catholic French King, and that practically the whole civilized world believed and acted on the belief which he, as a priest, naturally also held and was accustomed to teach.
A tap on his door roused him at last.
“It’s time to be moving, Monsignor,” said Father Jervis through the half-open door. “We’re in communication with St. Germains.”
“Tell me a little about the costumes,” said Monsignor, as the two set out on foot from their lodgings in Versailles after breakfast next morning, to present their letters of introduction. “They seem to me rather fantastic, somehow.”
Their lodgings were situated in one of the great palaces on the vast road that runs straight from the gates of the royal palace itself into Paris. They had come straight on by car from St. Germains, had been received with immense respect by the proprietor, who, it appeared, had received very particular instructions from the English Cardinal; and had been conducted straight upstairs to a little suite of rooms, decorated in eighteenth-century fashion, and consisting of a couple of bedrooms for themselves, opening to a central sitting-room and oratory; the two men-servants they had brought with them were lodged immediately across the landing outside.
“Fantastic?” asked Father Jervis, smiling. “Don’t you think they’re attractive?”
“Oh yes; but——”
“Remember human nature, Monsignor. After all, it was only intense self-importance that used to make men say that they were independent of exterior beauty. It’s far more natural and simple to like beauty. Every child does, after all.”
“Yes, yes; I see that, I suppose. But I didn’t mean only that. I was on the point of asking you yesterday, again and again, but something marvellous distracted me each time,” said the prelate, smiling. “They’re extraordinarily picturesque, of course; but I can’t help thinking that they must all mean something.”
“Of course they do. And I never can imagine how people ever got on without the system. Why, even less than a hundred years ago, I understand that every one dressed, or tried to dress alike. How in the world could they tell who they were talking to?”
“I . . . I expect that was deliberate,” faltered the other. “You see, I think people used to be ashamed of their trades sometimes, and wanted to be thought gentlemen.”