For a moment as he stared within he could not understand: he had expected a passage—a guard-room—at least something secular. Yet it was some kind of a chapel or sacristy into which he was looking: he observed the outline of an altar with its crucifix; and two figures.
Then one of the figures—in the habit of a Franciscan, barefooted, with a purple stole across its shoulders—had sprung towards him, and half pushed, half waved him backwards again.
“What are you doing here? How dare you——I beg pardon, Monsignor, but——”
“I beg pardon, father; I had lost my way. . . . I am a stranger.”
“Back—back that way, Monsignor,” stammered the friar. “The guard should have told you.”
The truth was dawning on the prelate little by little, helped by the flash of the other kneeling white figure he had seen within.
“Yes,” stammered the friar again. “The Holy Father. Back that way, Monsignor. Yes, yes—that door straight opposite.”
It was over; the two doors had closed almost simultaneously, behind the friar as he had gone back to his duty, and behind the priest who now stood again at the end of the long corridor down which he had come. He stood here now, strangely moved and affected.
He had seen nothing remarkable in itself—the Pope at confession. And yet in some manner, beyond the startling fact that he had groped his way, all unknowing, to the Pope’s private apartments, and at such a moment, the dramatic contrast between the glare and noise of the reception outside—itself the climax of a series of brilliant external splendours—and the silent half-lighted chapel where the Lord of All kneeled to confess his sins, caused a surprising disturbance in his soul.
Up to now he had been introduced step by step into a new set of experiences, Christian indeed, yet amazingly worldly in their aspect; he had begun to learn that religion could transform the outer world, and affect and use for its own purposes all the pomps and glories of outward existence; he had begun to realize that there was nothing alien to God—no line of division between the Creator and the creature; and now, in one instant, he had been brought face to face again with inner realities, and had seen, as it were, a glimpse of the secret core of all the splendour. The Pope attended by princes—the Pope on his knees before a barefooted friar. These were the two magnetic points between which blazed Religion.
He stood there, trembling a little, trying to steady his bewildered brain—even now, in spite of his years, not unlike the brain of a child. He passed his tongue over his suddenly dry lips. Then he began to move down the passage again, to find his friends.