And now as to the Piccolomini affair. It was certain that when Aeneas was first raised to the Sacred College. . . .
Why . . . what was happening to the ceiling? How could he attend to Aeneas while the ceiling behaved like that? He had no idea that ceilings in the Westminster Hospital could go up like lifts. How very ingenious! It must be to give him more air. Certainly he wanted more air. . . . The walls too. . . . Ought not they also to revolve? They could change the whole air in the room in a moment. What an extraordinarily ingenious . . . Ah! and he wanted it. . . . He wanted more air. . . . Why don’t these doctors know their business better? . . . What was the good of catching hold of him like that? . . . He wanted air . . . more air . . . He must get to the window! . . . Air . . . air! . . .
The first objects of which he became aware were his own hands clasped on his lap before him, and the cloth cuffs from which they emerged; and it was these latter that puzzled him. So engrossed was he that at first he could not pay attention to the strange sounds in the air about him; for these cuffs, though black, were marked at their upper edges with a purpled line such as prelates wear. He mechanically turned the backs of his hands upwards; but there was no ring on his finger. Then he lifted his eyes and looked.
He was seated on some kind of raised chair beneath a canopy. A carpet ran down over a couple of steps beneath his feet, and beyond stood the backs of a company of ecclesiastics—secular priests in cotta, cassock, and biretta, with three or four bare-footed Franciscans and a couple of Benedictines. Ten yards away there rose a temporary pulpit with a back and a sounding-board beneath the open sky; and in it was the tall figure of a young friar, preaching, it seemed, with extraordinary fervour. Around the pulpit, beyond it, and on all sides to an immense distance, so far as he could see, stretched the heads of an incalculable multitude, dead silent, and beyond them again trees, green against a blue summer sky.
He looked on all this, but it meant nothing to him. It fitted on nowhere with his experience; he knew neither where he was, nor at what he was assisting, nor who these people were, nor who the friar was, nor who he was himself. He simply looked at his surroundings, then back at his hands and down his figure.
He gained no knowledge there, for he was dressed as he had never been dressed before. His caped cassock was black, with purple buttons and a purple cincture. He noticed that his shoes shone with gold buckles; he glanced at his breast, but no cross hung there. He took off his biretta, nervously, lest some one should notice, and perceived that it was black with a purple tassel. He was dressed then, it seemed, in the costume of a Domestic Prelate. He put on his biretta again.