Last of all, as the sun began to sink behind the monstrous dome, and Rome stood out like an Oriental city of dreams, and the purple lights came out on the low-lying hills, and the illuminations glowed from every window, and blazed beneath the feet and round the heads of the gigantic apostolic figures gathered round their Lord—there, watching again from his window, he saw, in a sudden hush over the heads of the countless crowds the tiny white figure standing above the tapestries with the Papal triple cross glinting beside him like a thread, and heard the thin voice, gnat-like and clear, declare the “help of the Lord who,” as the thunder of the square answered him, “hath made heaven and earth,” and then invoke upon the city and the world, before the tremendous Amen, the blessing of God Almighty, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
It was a few minutes after they had finished their almost silent meal that evening, that Monsignor suddenly leaned forward from his chair in the great cool loggia and passed his hands over his eyes like a sleepy man. From the streets outside still came the murmur of innumerable footsteps and voices and snatches of music.
“Tired?” asked the other gently. (He had not spoken for some minutes, and remembering the long silence, had wondered if, after all, it had been wise to bring a man with such an experience behind him to such a rush and excitement as that through which they had passed to-day.)
Monsignor said nothing for an instant. He looked round the room, opened and closed his lips, and then, leaning back again, suddenly smiled. Then he took up the pipe he had laid aside just now and blew through it.
“No,” he said. “Exactly the opposite. I feel awake at last.”
“It seems to have got into me at last. All this . . . all this very odd world. I have begun to see.”
Monsignor began to fill his pipe slowly.
“Well, Versailles, even, didn’t quite do it,” he said. “It seemed to me a kind of game—certainly a very pleasant one; but——” (He broke off.) “But what we’ve seen to-day seems somehow the real thing.”
“I don’t quite understand.”
“Well, I can see for myself now that all that you’ve told me is real—that the world’s really Christian, and so on. It was those Chinese guards, I think, which as much as anything——”
“Chinese? . . . I don’t remember them.”
The prelate smiled again.
“Well, I scarcely noticed them at the time, either. But I’ve been thinking about them. And then all the rest of it . . . and the Pope. . . . By the way, I couldn’t make out his face very well. Is that a picture of him?”
He stood up suddenly and stepped across to where the portrait hung. There was nothing very startling about the picture. It showed just a very ordinary face with straight closed lips, of a man seated in an embossed chair, with the familiar white cap, cassock, and embroidered stole with spade-ends.