It was half an hour before he stood up, with one determination at least formed in his mind—that he would consult no one. He had learnt in the last few weeks sufficient distrust of himself to refrain from formulating conclusions too soon, and he learnt enough of the world in which he found himself to understand that positions accepted as self-evident by society in general, which yet seemed impossible to himself, after all occasionally turned out to be at least not ridiculous.
But to think that it was the young monk with whom he had talked at Lourdes who was to be the centre of the process he himself had to prepare! . . . He understood now some of the hints that Dom Adrian Bennett had let fall.
A card was brought up to him a couple of evenings later as he sat at his desk; and as he turned it over Father Jervis himself hurried in.
“May I speak to you alone an instant?” he said; and glanced at the secretaries, who rose and went out without a word.
“You look unwell,” said the old priest keenly, as he sat down.
Monsignor waved a deprecatory hand.
“Well—I’m glad I caught you in time,” went on the other. “I saw the man come in; and wondered whether you knew about him.”
“Well—I just know he’s not a Catholic; and something of a politician.”
“Well, he’s quite the shrewdest man the secularists have got. He’s a complete materialist. And I’ve not the slightest doubt he’s heard of your illness and has come to see whether he can fish anything out of you. He’s exceedingly plausible; and very dangerous. I don’t know what he’s come about, but you may be certain it’s something important. It may be to do with the Religious Houses; or the Bill for the re-establishment of the Church. But you may depend upon it, it’s something vital. I thought I’d better remind you who he is.”
The priest stood up.
“Thank you very much, father. Is there anything else? Have you any news for me?”
Father Jervis smiled.
“No, Monsignor. You know more than I do, now. . . . Well, I’ll tell Mr. Hardy you’ll see him. Number one parlour?”
“That’ll do very well. Thanks.”
It was growing towards dusk as Monsignor Masterman passed down the corridor a few minutes later; and he paused a moment to glance out upon the London street through the tall window at the end. Not that there was anything particular to be seen there; indeed the street, at the moment he looked, was entirely empty. But he looked up for an instant at the great electric news-sheet where the headlines were displayed, above the corner shop on the way to Victoria Street where the papers were sold. But there was no news. There was the usual announcement of the weather conditions, a reference to one or two land-cases, and a political statement.