“The Bishop of Sebaste enquires whether you are at home, Monsignor?”
Monsignor glanced at Father Jervis.
“He’s come out as chaplain to Prince George,” explained the priest in rapid Latin. “We’d better see him.”
“Very good. . . . Yes,” said Monsignor.
He turned to the priest again.
“Hadn’t you better tell him about me?”
“You don’t mind?”
“Of course not.”
Father Jervis got up and slipped quickly out of the room.
“I’m delighted to see you again, Monsignor,” began the Bishop, coming in, followed by Father Jervis three minutes later.
Monsignor straightened himself after the kissing of the ring.
“You’re very kind, my lord,” he said.
As the Bishop sat down, he examined him carefully, noticing that there was nothing noticeable about him. He seemed a characteristic prelate—large, genial, ruddy and smiling, with bright eyes and well-cut mouth. He was in his purple and ferraiuola, and carried himself briskly and cheerfully.
“I came to see if you were going to the reception to-night. If so, we might go together. But it’s rather late!”
“We haven’t heard about that.”
“Oh! it’s purely informal. The Holy Father probably won’t appear himself, except perhaps for a moment.”
“Oh! At the Vatican?”
“Yes. There will be an enormous crowd, of course. . . . The Prince has gone to bed, poor little chap! He’s done up altogether; and I thought of slipping over for a half-hour or so.”
Monsignor glanced at his friend.
“I think it would be an excellent thing,” observed the old priest.
“Well, there’s a carriage waiting,” said the Bishop, rising. “I think we’d better go, if we’re going. We shall be back within the hour.”
It was within ten minutes of the time that the three had arranged to meet again at the foot of the Scala Regia that Monsignor suddenly realized that he had lost himself.
He had wandered for half an hour, after making his salutations to the Master of the Apostolic Palace, who, in the Pope’s absence, was receiving the visitors; and, at first with Father Jervis and the Bishop, who had pointed out to him the notabilities, and presently drifting from them in the crowds, by himself, had gone up and down and in and out through endless corridors, courts, loggie, and great reception-rooms of the enormous place, watching the amazing crowds, and exchanging bows and nods with persons who bowed and nodded to him.
The whole system of the thing seemed new to him. He had imagined (he scarcely knew why) the Vatican to be a place of silence and solemn dignity and darkness, with a few sentries here and there, a few prelates, a cardinal or two—with occasionally a group of very particular visitors, or, on still rarer occasions, a troop of pilgrims being escorted to some sight or some audience.