“I, Joseph of Arimathea, took the body of Jesus, the Nazarene, from the tomb where it was first laid and hid it in this place.”
A press report on this discovery just outside Jerusalem says: “There now seems no shadow of doubt that the disappearance of the body of Christ from the first tomb is accounted for, and the Resurrection as told in the Gospels did not take place. Joseph of Arimathea here confesses that he stole away the body, probably in order to spare the Disciples and friends of the dead Teacher, with whom he was in sympathy, the shame and misery of the final end to their hopes.”
This is proof, welcomed by many, that Jesus was not who he claimed to be, the Son of God, but was nothing more than a good teacher who was treated cruelly by those in authority. Churches quickly empty. Over a year, society begins to break down around a world with no traditional standard to live by.
A young curate, a journalist, and a music hall singer who is the mistress of a famous man, put their lives in danger as they set out to discredit the discovery, believing that a wealthy, militant atheist could be responsible for the hoax -- if indeed it is a hoax. This story by popular fiction writer Guy Thorne was first published in 1903. Dan Brown was definitely not the first writer to imagine the Christian faith under threat from archaeology!
First published 1903
This new edition ©Lewis Faber 2016
Published in conjunction with
White Tree Publishing
When it Was Dark is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior written permission of the copyright owner of this edition.
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Table of Contents
About the Book
More thrillers from North View Publishing
Guy Thorne (also writing using his real name, C Ranger Gull) was the English author of many adventure stories in the early twentieth century. The original of this book is 110,000 words in length, and in many places extremely wordy. I have reduced much of the description that slowed down the action, and cut out some relatively unimportant incidents, making a book in which the story moves forward at a better pace for readers today, who expect a story like this to hit the ground running on the first page. A hundred and more years ago the reader wanted to be launched into a story in a more leisurely way, with much musing and often unnecessary background filling the opening pages or chapters.
Although this book is abridged considerably, the original story is unchanged. There are, however, some descriptions of Jews in the original which readers today would find offensive, even if they were acceptable when the book was written. Some people have branded the original as anti-Semitic. I can see no need for any character to be Jewish, as their race and background never has any bearing on the story. I have therefore removed all Jewish references, apart from of course mentioning Jews living in Jerusalem.
The value of money has changed considerably since the end of the Victorian era, by approximately 100 times, so 10,000 pounds is 1,000,000 pounds or 1,500,000 US dollars today. Cabs and omnibuses were pulled by horses when this story takes place, although the occasional early privately owned motorcar might be seen. The book was first published in 1903, but takes place in an unspecified year in the Victorian era which ended in 1901. Turkey was occupying Jerusalem and what was then Palestine as part of the Ottoman Empire.
The world was already connected by a vast network of undersea cables and overhead telegraph wires, enabling messages to be sent quickly to and from Jerusalem. The world was more connected with early keyboards in Victorian times than many people realise. However, travel between England and Jerusalem had to be done by steamer and horse, taking many days.
“I see Schuabe is going to address a great meeting in the Free Trade Hall on the Education Bill.”
“That antichrist is here at Mount Prospect?” asked Basil in surprise.
The vicar nodded slowly and thoughtfully. “He arrived from London yesterday.”
The two men looked at each other in silence. Mr. Byars, the vicar, seemed ill at ease. His foot tapped the brass rail of the fender as he put down his pipe which was nearly smoked away.
Basil Gortre’s face became dark and gloomy. The light died out of it, the kindliness of expression, which was habitual, left his eyes. “We have never really told each other what we think of Schuabe and how we think of him, Vicar,” he said. “Let’s have it out here and now while we’re thinking of him and while we have the opportunity.”
There was a tense silence for a time, only broken by the dropping of the coals in the grate. The vicar was the first to break it. “Let me sum up my personal impression of the man, for and against,” he said.
Basil Gortre nodded.
"There can be no doubt whatever," said Mr. Byars, "that among all the great North country millionaires -- men of power and influence, I mean -- Schuabe stands first and pre-eminent. His wealth is enormous to begin with. Then he is young -- can hardly be forty yet, I should say. He belongs to the new generation. Here in Walktown he stands entirely alone. Then his brilliancy, his tremendous intellectual powers, are equalled by few men in England. His career at Oxford was marvellous. His political life, only just beginning as it is, seems to promise the very highest success. His private life, as far as we know is without excess or vice of any kind. In appearance he is one of the ten most striking-looking men in England. His manners are fascinating."
Basil laughed shortly, a mirthless, bitter laugh. “So far,” he said, “you have drawn a picture which approaches the ideal of what a strong man should be. And I grant you every detail of it. But let me complete it. You will agree with me that mine also is true.”
His voice trembled a little. Half unconsciously the young curate’s eyes wandered to the crucifix on the writing table. “Yes,” he said, “Schuabe is all that you say. In a hard, godless, and material age he is an embodiment of it. Today, men have forgotten that this world is but an inn, a stopping place for a few years. Schuabe, of all men living in England today, is the armed enemy of Our Lord. But he is no loud-mouthed atheist, sincere and blatant in his ignorance, no honest searcher after truth. All his great wealth, all his attainments, are forged into one devilish weapon. He is already, and will be in the future, the great enemy of Christianity. His attacks on the faith are something quite different to those of other men. As his skill is greater, so his intention is more evil. He hates Christ, and yet the mass of Christians praise his charities, his efforts for social improvement. They do not know, they cannot see, this man as he is at heart, accursed and, I repeat, antichrist!” Basil’s voice dropped, tired by its passion and vehemence. He continued in a lower and more intimate vein.
“Do you think I’m a fanatic, Vicar? Am I touched with obsession when I tell you that of late I have thought much on the prophetic indications of the coming of ‘the Man of Sin,’ the Antichrist in Holy Writ? Can it be, I keep asking myself, as I watch the comet-like brilliance of this man’s career, can it be that in my own lifetime and the lifetime of those I love, the veritable enemy of our Saviour is to appear? Is this man the one of whom the Bible prophesies?”
“You are overwrought, Basil,” said the elder man kindly. “You have let yourself dwell too much on this man Schuabe and his influences. But I don’t condemn you. I have also had my doubts and wonderings. The outside world would laugh at us as they laugh at people who are moved as we are at these things. But God alone knows the outcome of the trend of these antichristian influences, of which, I fear, Schuabe is the head. Opinions as to the nature and personality of Antichrist have been very varied,” he continued. “Some of the very early Christian writers say he will be a devil in a phantom body; others that he will be an incarnate demon, true man and true devil, in fearful and diabolic parody of the Incarnation of our Lord. There is a third view also, that he will be merely a desperately wicked man, acting on diabolic inspirations, just as the saints act on Divine inspirations.”
Basil Gortre, who was listening with extreme attention, had risen from his seat and stood by the mantelshelf, leaning his elbow on it.
One of the ornaments of the mantel was a head of Christ, printed on china, from Murillo, and held in a large silver frame like a photograph frame.
Just as the vicar had finished speaking there came a sudden knock at the door. It startled Basil Gortre, and he moved suddenly. His elbow slid along the marble of the shelf and dislodged the picture, which fell on the floor and was broken into a hundred pieces, crashing loudly against the fender.
The housemaid, who had knocked, stood for a moment looking with dismay at the breakage. Then she turned to the vicar.
“Mr. Schuabe from Mount Prospect to see you, sir,” she said. “I have shown him into the drawing room.”
The servant had turned on the lights in the drawing room, where a low fire still glowed red upon the hearth, and left Constantine Schuabe alone to await the vicar’s arrival.
On either side of the fireplace were heavy hangings of emerald and copper woven stuff, a present to the Vicar’s daughter, Helena, from an uncle who had bought them at Benares. Schuabe stood motionless before this background.
The man was tall, and the heavy coat of fur he was wearing increased the impression of size, of massiveness, which was part of his personality. His hair was dark red, smooth and abundant. The eyes were large and black, coldly, terribly aware, with something of the sinister and untroubled regard seen in a reptile’s eyes.
The jaw, which dominated the face and completed its remarkable ensemble, was massive, reminding people of steel covered with olive-coloured parchment. Handsome was hardly the word which fitted him. He was a strikingly handsome man; but that, like "distinction," was only one of the qualities which made up his personality. Force, power -- the relentless and conscious power suggested by some great marine engine -- surrounded him in an almost indescribable way. Most people, with the casual view, called him merely resolute, but there were others who thought they saw something evil and monstrous about the man.
The door opened with a quick click of the handle, and the vicar entered, having lingered, hesitant, in the hall, as though nerving himself for this encounter.
Mr. Byars advanced to take the hand of his visitor. Beside the big man he seemed shrunken and a little ineffectual. He was slightly nervous in his manner also, for his curate’s impassioned and terror-ridden words still rang in his ears.
The coincidence of the millionaire’s arrival was altogether too sudden and bizarre.
When they had made greetings, cordial enough on the surface, and were seated on either side of the fire, Schuabe spoke at once on the object of his visit.
“I have come, Mr. Byars,” he said, in a singularly clear, vibrant voice, “to discuss certain educational proposals with you. As you probably know, just at present I’m taking a very prominent part in the House of Commons in connection with the whole problem of primary education. Within the last few weeks I have been in active correspondence with your School Board, and you will know all about the scholarships I founded.
“I’m here to propose something of the same sort in connection with your own Church schools. My opinions on religious matters are, of course, not yours. But despite my position I have always recognised that, with whatever means, both the clergy and my own party are broadly working towards one end.
“The mills and other businesses in Walktown provide me with many thousands of pounds a year, and I see it as my duty in some way or another to help the people. My proposal is roughly this: I will found and endow two yearly scholarships for two boys in the national schools. The money will be sufficient, in the first instance, to send them to one of the great Northern grammar schools, and afterwards, always providing the early promise is maintained, to Oxford or Cambridge.
“My only stipulation is this. The tests will be purely and simply intellectual, and have nothing whatever to do with the religious teaching of the schools, with which I am not in sympathy. Nevertheless, it is only fair that a clever boy in a church school should have the same opportunities as in a secular school. I should tell you that I have made the same offer to the Roman Catholic school authorities and it has been declined.”
The vicar listened with great attention. The offer was extremely generous, and showed a most open-minded determination to put the donor's personal prejudices out of the question. There could be no doubt as to his answer -- none whatever.
“My dear sir,” he said, “your generosity is very great. I see your point about the examinations. Religion is to form no part of them. But by the time one of our boys submits himself for examination, we would naturally hope that he would already be so firmly fixed in Christian principles that his future career would have no influence on his faith. Holding the opinions that you do, your offer shows a great freedom from any prejudice. I hope I’m broadminded enough to recognise that philanthropy is a fine thing, despite the banner under which the philanthropist may stand. I accept your generous offer in the spirit that it is made. Of course, the scheme must be submitted to the managers of the schools, of whom I am chief, but the matter practically lies with me, and my lead will be followed.”
“I’m only too glad,” said the big man, with a sudden and transforming smile, “to help on the cause of knowledge. All the details of the scheme I will send you in a few days, and now I will detain you no longer.”
He rose to go.
During their brief conversation, the vicar had been conscious of many emotions. He blamed himself for his narrowness and the somewhat far-fetched lengths to which his recent talk with his curate had gone. This man was an atheist, no doubt. His intellectual attacks on the Christian faith were damaging and subversive. Still, his love for his fellowmen was sincere, it seemed. He attacked the faith, but not the preachers of it. And -- a half thought crossed his mind -- he might have been sent to him for some good purpose. St. Paul had not borne the name of Paul when he had attacked Christians!
These thoughts, only half formulated in his brain, had their immediate effect in concrete action. “Won’t you take off your coat, Mr. Schuabe,” he said, “and smoke a cigar with me in my study?”
The other hesitated a moment, looked doubtful, and then assented. He hung his coat up in the hall and went into the other room with the vicar.
During the conversation in the drawing room, the vicar’s daughter, Helena, had come back from the concert, and Basil, hearing her, had left the study and gone to her own private sanctum for a last few minutes before saying goodnight to her, for they were now engaged.
His fiancée sat in a low chair by the fire. She explained she was a little tired by the concert, where a local pianist had been playing a nocturne of Chopin’s as if he wanted to make it into soup. Here, the quiet of her own sitting room, the intimate comfort of it all, and the sense of happiness that Basil’s presence gave her, were in delightful contrast.
“It was very stupid, Basil,” she said. “Mrs. Pryde was rather trying, full of dull gossip about everyone, and the music wasn’t good. Mr. Cuthbert played as if he was playing the organ in church. His touch is utterly unfitted for anything except the War March from Athalie with the stops out. He knows nothing of the piano. I was in a front seat, and I could see his knee feeling for the swell all the time. He played the Moonlight Sonata as if he was throwing the moonlight at us in great solid chunks. I’m glad to be back. How nice it is to sit here with you, Basil,” she concluded with a little laugh of content and happiness at this moment of acute physical and mental ease.
He looked lovingly at her as she lay back in rest, and the firelight played over her white arms and pale gold hair.
“It’s wonderful to think,” he said, with a little catch in his voice, “it’s wonderful to me, an ever-recurring wonder, to think that some day you and I will always be together for all our life, here and afterwards. What supreme, unutterable happiness God gives to His children! Do you know, Helena, sometimes as I read prayers in our church or stand inside the communion rail, I’m filled with a sort of rapture of thankfulness which is voiceless in its intensity.”
“It’s good to feel like that sometimes,” she answered; “but it is well, I think, not to get into the way of inducing such feelings.” She looked at him more closely. “You look tired, Basil. Have you been overworking?”
He did not answer immediately.
"No," he said slowly, "but I have been having a long talk with your father. We were talking about Mr. Schuabe and his influence. Helena, that man is the most active of God's enemies in England. When I was mentioning his name, by some coincidence, or perhaps for some deeper, more mysterious reason, the maid announced him. He'd come to see your father on business, and -- please don't think I'm unduly fanciful -- the Murillo photo print of the head of Christ on the mantelshelf fell down and was broken. Schuabe is here still, I think."
“Yes,” said Helena; “Mr. Schuabe is in the study with Father. But, Basil dear, it’s quite evident to me that you have been doing too much. I look on Mr. Schuabe as a really good man. I have often thought about him, and even prayed that he may learn the truth. Mr. Schuabe is sincere in his unbelief. His life and all his actions are for the good of others. It's terrible -- it's deplorable -- to know he attacks Christianity; but he's tolerant and large-minded also. Yes, I call him a good man. He will come to God some day. God would not have given him such power over the minds and bodies of men otherwise."
Basil Gortre smiled a little sadly -- a rather wan smile, which sat strangely on his strong and hearty face -- but he said no more.
Basil knew his attitude was illogical, perhaps it could be called bigoted and intolerant, but he knew his conviction came from something outside or beyond his reason, and would not be stifled.
“Well, Helena,” he said, “perhaps it is as you say. I'll go down now and say goodnight to your father and Mr. Schuabe -- just to show there's no ill feeling. Goodnight, Helena. God bless you. Remember me also in your prayers tonight."
As Basil went into the study he found Mr. Byars and Schuabe in eager, animated talk. A spirit decanter had been brought in during his absence, and the vicar was taking the single glass of whisky and water he allowed himself before going to bed. Basil, who was in a singularly alert and observant mood, noticed that a glass of plain seltzer water stood before the millionaire.
Basil’s personal acquaintance with Constantine Schuabe was small. He had met him once or twice on the platform of big meetings, and that was all. As a simple curate, soon to take up a new post in London, he would not be very likely to come in the way of this mammoth.
But Schuabe greeted him with marked cordiality, and he sat down to listen to the two men.
In two minutes he was fascinated. In five he realised, with a quick and unpleasant sense of inferiority, how ignorant he was beside these two. In Schuabe, the vicar had found a man whose knowledge was as wide, and scholarship as profound, as his own.
From a purely intellectual standpoint, probably Basil and Schuabe were more nearly on a level, but in pure knowledge, Basil knew he was nowhere. He wondered, as he listened, if the generation immediately preceding his own had been blessed with more time for culture.
They were discussing archaeological questions connected with the Holy Land, which Schuabe, although an atheist, had visited many times. He possessed a profound and masterly knowledge of the whole background to the New Testament picture.
Every now and again the conversation turned towards a direction that, pursued, would have led to controversy. But, with mutual tact, the debatable ground was avoided. That Christ was a historic fact, Schuabe, of course, admitted; and when the question of His Divinity seemed likely to occur he was careful to avoid any discussion.
To the young man, burning with the zeal of youth, this seemed a missed opportunity. Unconsciously, he blamed the vicar for not pressing certain points home.
What an opening was here! The rarity of such a visit, the obvious interest the two men were beginning to take in each other -- should not a great blow for Christ be struck on such an auspicious night?
Basil felt his brain on fire with passionate longing to speak. But, nevertheless, he controlled it. None knew better than he the depth and worth of the vicar’s character. And he felt himself a junior, with no right to question the decision of his superior.
"You have missed much, Mr. Byars," said Schuabe, as he arose to go at last, "in never having visited Jerusalem. One can get the knowledge of it, but never the colour. Even today the city must appear, in many respects, exactly as it did under the rule of Pilate. The Egyptian peasant women sell their vegetables; the camels come in loaded with roots for fuel; the Bedouin; the Jews with their long gowns and slippers -- I wish you could see it all. I have eaten the meals of the Gospels, drunk the red wine of Saron, the spiced wine mixed with honey and black pepper, the 'wine mixed with myrrh' mentioned in the Gospel of Mark. I have dined with Jewish tradesmen and gone through the same formalities of hand-washing we read of two thousand years ago. I have seen the poor ostentatiously gathered in out of the streets and the best part of the meal given them for a self-righteous show. And yet, an hour afterwards, I have sat in a café by King David's Tower and played dice with Turkish soldiers armed with Martini rifles!"
The vicar seemed reluctant to let his guest go, though the hour was late, but Schuabe refused to stay longer. Mr. Byars, with a somewhat transparent eagerness, mentioned that Basil Gortre’s road home lay for part of the way in the same direction as the millionaire’s. He seemed to wish the young man to accompany him.
Accordingly, in agreement with the vicar’s evident wish, but with an inexplicable ice-cold feeling in his heart, the young curate left the house with Schuabe and began to walk with him through the silent, lamp-lit streets.
The two men strode along without speaking for some way, their feet echoing in the empty streets.
Suddenly Schuabe turned to Basil. “Well, Mr. Gortre,” he said, “I have given you your opportunity. Aren’t you going to speak the ‘word in season’ after all?”
Basil jumped. Who was this man who had been reading his inner thoughts and could quote Scripture? How could Schuabe have fathomed his repressed desire as he sat in the vicarage study? And why did he speak now, when he knew some chilling influence had him in its grip, that his tongue was tied, his power weakened?
“It is late, Mr. Schuabe,” he said at length. “My brain is tired and my enthusiasm chilled. Nor are you anxious to hear what I have to say. But your taunt is ungenerous. It almost seems as if you’re not always so tolerant as men think!”
The other laughed, a cold laugh, but not an unkindly one. “Forgive me,” Schuabe said. “One shouldn’t jest with conviction. But I would like to talk with you tonight. I’m in the mood for conversation.”
They were approaching a side road which led to Basil’s rooms. Schuabe’s great stone house was still a quarter of a mile away up the hill.
“Don’t go home yet,” said Schuabe. “Come to my house, see my books, and let’s have a talk. Make friends with the mammon of unrighteousness, Mr. Gortre! I sense you’re disturbed and upset tonight. You’ll not be able to sleep. Come with me.”
Basil hesitated for a moment, then continued with the great millionaire and militant atheist. He was hardly conscious why he did so, but even as he accepted the invitation his nerves seemed recovered as by some powerful tonic. A strange confidence possessed him, and he strode on with the air and manner of a man who has some fixed purpose in his mind.
As he talked casually with Schuabe, he no longer felt towards him the cold fear, the inexplicable shrinking. He regarded him rather as a vast and powerful enemy. An evil, sinister influence indeed, but one against which he was armed with an armour not his own, but with weapons forged by God Almighty.
So they entered the drive and walked up among the gaunt black trees towards the house.
Mount Prospect was a large, castellated building of stone. In a neighbourhood where architectural monstrosities abounded, perhaps this one outdid them all in its almost brutal ugliness and vulgarity. It had been built by Constantine Schuabe’s grandfather.
Schuabe was rarely up here in the north of England in Walktown. His Parliamentary and social duties tied him to London, where he had a private set of rooms at one of the great hotels. But despite his rare visits, the hideous stone palace in the smoky North held treasures which he himself had collected, and others which had been left to him by his father.
It was understood that at his death, the pictures and library were to become the property of the citizens of Manchester, held in trust for them by the corporation.
Schuabe took a key from his pocket and opened the heavy door in the porch.
“I always keep the house full of servants,” he said, “even when I’m away, but they will be all gone to bed now, and we must look after ourselves.”
Opening an inner door, they passed through some heavy padded curtains which fell behind them with a dull thud, and came into the great hall.
Ugly as the shell of the great building was, the interior was different.
Here, set like a jewel in the midst of the harsh, forbidding country, was a treasure house of ordered beauty which had few equals in England.
Basil Gortre drew a long breath as he looked round. Every aesthetic influence within him responded to what he saw. How simple and severe it all was. Here was a great domed hall of white marble, brilliantly lit by electric light hidden high above their heads. On every side slender columns rose towards the dome, and beyond them were tall archways leading to the rooms of the house. Dull, formless curtains, striking no note of colour, hung from the archways.
As Basil stood there, he knew, as if some special message had been given him, that he had come for some great hidden purpose -- that it had been foreordained. His whole soul seemed filled with a holy power, while unseen powers and principalities thronged round him like sweet but awful friends.
He turned inquiringly towards his host. Schuabe’s face was pale; the calm, cruel eyes seemed agitated; he was staring at the curate. “Come,” he said in a voice which seemed to be without its usual confidence. “Come, this place is cold. I have sometimes thought it a little too bare and extraordinary. Come into the library. Let us eat and talk.”
He turned and passed through the pillars on the right. Basil followed him through the dark, heavy curtains which led to the library.
They found themselves in an immense low-ceilinged room. “My valet is in bed,” said Schuabe. “I prefer to wait on myself at night. If you wait here a few moments I will get some food. I know where to find some. Pray amuse yourself by looking at my books.”
Basil had, from his earliest Oxford days, been a lover of books and a collector in a moderate, discriminating way. As a rule he was roused to a great enthusiasm by such a fine library as this. But as his practised eye ran over the shelves, noting the beauty and variety of the contents, he was unmoved by any special interest.
His hand had been wandering unconsciously over the books when it was suddenly arrested, and stopped on a familiar black binding with plain gold letters. It was an ordinary reference edition of the Holy Bible from the Oxford University Press.
There was something familiar and homely in the little dark volume, which showed signs of constant use. A few feet away, a long shelf held Bibles of all kinds: rare editions, expensive copies bound up with famous commentaries -- all the luxuries of Holy Writ. But the book beneath his fingers was the same size and shape as the one which stood near his own bedside in his rooms -- the one which his father had given him when he went to Harrow, with "Flee youthful lusts" written on the fly-leaf in faded ink. It was homelike and familiar.
He drew it out with a half smile at himself for choosing the one book he knew by heart from among this new wealth of literature.
The familiar touch, the pleasant sensation of the limp, rough leather on his fingertips gave him a feeling of security. But that very fact seemed to remind him that some danger, some subtle mental danger, was near. Was this Bible sent to him? Were his eyes and hands directed to it by the vibrating, invisible presence of God he felt near?
Then a swift impulse came to him. He took the book in his right hand, breathed a prayer for help and guidance, and opened it at random.
He was about to make a trial of that old medieval practice of “searching”. He opened the book with his eyes fixed in front of him, and then let them drop towards it. For a moment the small type was blurred and indistinct, and then one text from the Gospel of Mark seemed to leap out at him.
“Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is.”
This, then, was his message! He was to watch, to pray, for the time was at hand when——
The curtain slid aside and Schuabe entered with a tray. He had changed his morning coat for a long dressing gown of camel’s-hair, and wore scarlet leather slippers.
Basil slipped the Bible back into its place and turned to face him.
“I live very simply,” Schuabe said, “and can offer you nothing very elaborate. But here is some cold chicken, a watercress salad, and a bottle of claret.”
They sat opposite each other at the round table and said little. Both men were tired and hungry. After he had eaten, Basil bent his head for a second or two in an inaudible grace, and made the sign of the Cross before he rose from his chair.
“Symbol!” said Schuabe, with a cold smile, as he saw him.
The truce was over.
“What is that Cross to which all Christians bow?” Schuabe continued. “It was the symbol of the water-god of the Gauls, a mere piece of their iconography. The Phoenician ruin of Gigantica is built in the shape of a cross; the Druids used it in their ceremonies; it was Thor’s hammer long before it became Christ’s gibbet; it is used by the pagan Icelanders to this day as a magic sign in connection with storms of wind. Why, the symbol of Buddha on the reverse of a coin found at Ugain is the same cross, the ‘fylfot’ of Thor. The cross was carved by Brahmins a thousand years before Christ in the caves of Elephanta. I have seen it in India with my own eyes in the hands of Siva Brahma and Vishnu. The worshipper of Vishnu attributes as many virtues to it as the pious Roman Catholics here in Salford to the Christian cross. There’s the very strongest evidence that the origin of the cross is phallic! The crux ansata was the sign of Venus. It appears beside Baal and Astarte!”
“Very possibly, Mr. Schuabe,” said Basil, quietly. “Your knowledge on such points is far wider than mine, but that doesn’t affect Christianity in the slightest.”
“Of course not! Whoever said it did? But this reverence for the Cross, the instrument of execution on which an excellent teacher, and as far as we know a really good man, suffered, angers me because it reminds me of the absurd and unreasoning superstitions which cloud the minds of so many educated men like yourself.”
“Ah,” said Basil, quietly, “now we have come to the point.”
“If you choose, Mr. Gortre,” Schuabe answered. “You’re an intellectual man, and one intellectual man has a certain right to challenge another. I was staying with Lord Haileybury the other day, and I spent two whole mornings walking over the country with the Bishop of London, talking on these subjects. I answered him easily enough, but when he tried to prove a revelation -- Christianity -- he utterly broke down. We parted very good friends, and I gave him a thousand pounds for the East London poor fund. But still, say what you will to me. I am here to listen."
He looked calmly at the young man with his unsmiling eyes. He held a Russian cigarette in his fingers, and waved it with a gentle gesture of invitation as if from an immeasurable superiority.
As Basil watched him, he knew that here was an intelligence far keener and finer than his own. But with all that certainty, he felt entirely undismayed, strangely uplifted.
“I have a message for you, Mr. Schuabe,” he began, and the other bowed slightly, without irony, at his words. “I have a message for you, one which I firmly believe I have been sent here to deliver, but it is not the message or the argument you expect to hear.”
He stopped for a short time, marshalling his mental forces, and noticing a slight but perceptible look of surprise in his host’s eyes.
"I know you better than you imagine, sir," Basil said gravely, "and not as many other good and devout Christians see you. I tell you here tonight with absolute certainty that you are the active enemy of Christ -- I say active enemy.”
The face opposite became slightly less tranquil, but the voice was as calm as ever.
“You speak according to your beliefs, Mr. Gortre,” he said. “I am no Christian, but there is much good in Christianity. My words and writings may have helped lift the veil of superstition and hereditary influences from the eyes of many men, and in that sense I suppose I am an enemy of the Christian faith. My sincerity is my only apology -- if one were needed. You speak with more harshness and less tolerance than I would have thought it your pleasure or your duty to use."
Basil Gortre rose. “Man,” he cried, with sudden sternness, “I know you hate our Lord, and would work Him evil. You are as Judas was, for tonight it is given me to read far into your brain.”
Schuabe rose quickly from his chair and stood facing him. His face was now pallid. Something looked out of his eyes which almost frightened Basil.
“What do you know?” Schuabe cried, as if in a swift stroke of pain. “Who——?” He stopped by a tremendous effort.
Some thought seemed to come to reassure him. “Listen,” Schuabe continued. “I tell you, paid priest as you are, a blind man leading the blind, that a day is coming when all your boasted fabric of Christianity will disappear. It will go suddenly, and be swept utterly away. And you, you will see it. You will be left naked of your faith, stripped and bare, with all Christendom beside you. Your pale Nazarene will die amid the bitter laughter of the world. Die as surely as He died two thousand years ago, and no man or woman will resurrect Him. You know nothing, but you will remember my words of tonight, until you also become as nothing, and endure the inevitable fate of mankind.”
He had spoken with extraordinary vehemence, hissing the words out with a venom and malice from which Basil Gortre shrunk. There was such unutterable conviction in Schuabe’s thin, evil voice that for a moment the pain of it was like a spasm of physical agony.
Schuabe had thrown down the mask. It was even as Basil said, the soul of Judas Iscariot looked out from those eyes. The millionaire saw the clergyman’s sudden shrinking. The smile of a devil flashed over his face.
Basil had turned to Schuabe once more and saw the look. As he watched, an awful certainty grew within him, a thought so appalling that all that had gone before sank into utter insignificance. He staggered for a moment and then rose to his full height, a fearful loathing in his eyes, a scorn like a whip of fire in his voice.
Schuabe blanched before him, for he saw the truth in the curate’s soul.
“As the Lord of Hosts is my witness,” cried Basil loudly, “I know you now for what you are! You know that Christ is God!”
Schuabe shrank into his chair.
“Antichrist!” pealed out Basil’s accusing voice. “You know the truth full well, and you have dared to lift your hand against God!”
Then there was a dead silence in the room. Schuabe sat motionless by the dying fire.
Very slowly the colour crept back into his cheeks. Slowly the strength and light entered his eyes. He moved slightly.
At last he spoke.
“Go,” he said. “Go, and never let me see your face again. You have spoken. Yet I tell you still that such a blinding blow shall descend on Christendom that——”
He rose quickly from his chair. His manner changed utterly with a stunning swiftness.
He went to the window and pulled aside the curtain. A chill and ghostly dawn crept into the library.
“Let us make an end of this,” Schuabe said quietly. “Of what use is it for you and me, atoms that we are, to wrangle and thunder through the night over an infinity in which we have neither part nor lot? Come, get you homewards. Rest, as I am about to do. The night has been an unpleasant dream. Treat it as such. We differ on great matters. Let that be so, and we will forget it. You may have a friend in me, if you wish it so.”
Basil, hardly conscious of any voluntary movements, his brain in a stupor, the arteries all over his body beating like drums, took the hat and coat the other handed him and stumbled out of the house.
It was five o’clock in the morning, raw, damp, and cold.
With a white face, drawn and haggard with emotion, Basil strode down the hill. The keen air revived his physical powers, but his brain was whirling, whirling, till connected thought was impossible.
What was it? What was the truth about that nightmare, that long, horrid night in the warm, rich room? His powers were failing. He must see a doctor after breakfast.
When he reached the foot of the hill, and was about to turn down the road which led to his rooms, he stopped to rest for a moment.
From far behind the hill, over the dark, silhouetted houses of the wealthy people who lived on it, a huge, formless pall of purple smoke was rising, almost blotting out the dawn in a Titanic curtain of gloom. The feeble newborn sun flickered red through it, the colour of blood. There was no wind that morning, and the fog and smoke from the newly lit factory chimneys in the Irwell valley could not be dispersed. It crept over the town like doom itself -- menacing, vast, unconquerable.
Basil pulled out his latchkey with trembling hand, and turned to enter his own door.
The cloud was spreading.
“Lighten our darkness,” he whispered, half consciously as he fell fainting on the doorstep.
He was soon found, and carried in to the sickbed, where he would lie ill with brain fever for more than two months.
In his g reat room at the British Museum -- great, that is, for the private room of a Museum official -- Robert Llwellyn sat at his writing desk finishing the last few lines of his article on the Hebrew inscription in mosaic discovered at Kefr Kenna.
It was nearly four in the afternoon, growing dark with the twilight of a winter’s afternoon in central London. A reading lamp on the desk threw a bright circle of light on the sheet of white paper covered with minute writing, which lay before the keeper of Biblical antiquities.
The view from the tall windows was grim. Nothing met the eye but the gloomy backs of some of the great dingy lodging houses which surrounded the Museum: bedroom windows, back bedrooms with grimy curtains, tastelessly unpleasant.
Although his great room looked official, it was far from uncomfortable. There were many bookshelves lining the walls. Over them hung large framed photographs and drawings of inscriptions. On a stand by itself, covered with a glass shade, was a duplicate of Dr. Schick’s model of the Haram area during the Christian occupation of Jerusalem.
A dull fire glowed in the large open fireplace.
Llwellyn wrote a final line with a sigh of relief and leaned back in his swivel chair. His face was gloomy, and his eyes were dull with some inward communing, apparently of a disturbing and unpleasant kind.
The door opened noiselessly, and Lambert, the assistant keeper and secretary, entered.
He drew up a chair to the writing desk. “The permit has been granted!” he said.
A quick interest shone on Professor Llwellyn’s face. “Ah,” he said, “it has come at last, then, after all these months of waiting. I began to despair of the Turkish Government. I never thought it would be granted. Now the Society can begin to excavate in the prohibited spots. Really that is splendid news, Lambert. We’ll have some startling results. I doubt but that the whole theory of the Gospel narrative will have to be reconstructed during the next few years!”
“It is possible,” said Lambert, “but on the other hand it may happen that nothing whatever of importance is found.”
Llwellyn nodded. Then a sudden thought seemed to strike him. “But how do you know of this permit, Lambert?”
“Last night I was dining with my uncle, Sir Michael Manichoe. The Home Secretary was there, a great friend of my uncle’s. You know the great interest he takes in the work of the Palestine Exploring Society, and his general interest in the Holy Land?”
“Yes, of course,” said Llwellyn. “Well?”
"It is owing to his personal interest in the work that the Sultan has granted the permit. After dinner he took me aside, and we had a longish talk. He spoke of you, sir, as the greatest living authority -- wouldn't hear of Conrad Schick or Clermont-Ganneau in the same breath as you. He went on to say in confidence, and he hinted to me that I had his permission to tell you, that they are going to offer you knighthood in a few days."
A sudden flush suffused the face of the elder man. Then he laughed a little. “Your news is certainly unexpected, my dear boy,” he said. “For my part, knighthood is not an especially welcome thing personally, but it means recognition of my work, you see. In that way only, it is good news that you have brought.”
“That’s just it, Professor,” the young man answered enthusiastically. “That’s exactly it. It’s a proper thing that the greatest living authority on the antiquities and history of Asia Minor should be officially recognised. It encourages all of us, you see, Professor.”
The young man’s generous excitement pleased Llwellyn. He placed his hand on his shoulder with a kindly, affectionate gesture.
At that moment a messenger knocked and entered with a bundle of letters which had just arrived by the quarter past four post. With a congratulatory shake of the hand, Lambert left his chief to his correspondence.
The great specialist, when Lambert had left the room, rose from his chair, went towards the door with swift, cat-like steps, and locked it.
The letters the messenger had brought were many in number and various in shape and style. Five or six of them bore foreign stamps and indications that they came from the Continental antiquarian societies. He put these on one side to be opened later.
Then he took up an envelope addressed to him in firm black writing and turned it over. On the flap was the white, embossed oval and crown, showing it came from the House of Commons. His face became pale. The letter ran as follows:
HOUSE OF COMMONS
I am writing to you now to say I am determined that the present situation cannot continue. You must understand that my patience is exhausted, and that, unless the large sum you owe me is repaid within the next week, my solicitors have my instructions, which are quite unalterable, to proceed in bankruptcy against you without further delay.
The principal and interest now total to the sum of fourteen thousand pounds. Your promises to repay, and your innumerable requests for more time in which to do so, now extend over a period of three years. I have preserved all your letters on the subject at issue between us, and I find that so far from decreasing your indebtedness when your promises became due, you have invariably asked me for further sums, which, in foolish confidence, as I feel now, I have advanced to you.
It would be superfluous to point out what bankruptcy would mean to you in your position. Ruin would be the only word. And it would be no ordinary bankruptcy. I know where these large sums have gone, and my knowledge can hardly fail to be shared by others in London society.
I have still an opportunity to offer you, however, and perhaps you will find me by no means the tyrant you think.
There are certain services you can do me, and which, if you fall in with my views, will not only wipe off the many thousands of your indebtedness, but provide you with a capital sum which will place you above the necessity for any such financial manoeuvres in the future as your -- shall I say infatuation ? -- has led you to resort to in the past.
If you care to lunch with me at my rooms in the Hotel Cecil at two o'clock the day after tomorrow -- Friday -- we may discuss your affairs quietly. If not, then I must refer you to my solicitors entirely.
The big man gave a horrid groan -- half snarl, half groan -- the sound which comes from a strong animal desperate and at bay.
He crossed over to the fireplace and pushed the letter into a glowing cavern among the coals, holding it there with the poker until it was utterly consumed, and fluttered up the chimney from his sight in a sheet of ash -- the very colour of his relaxed and pendulous cheeks.
He opened another letter, a small, fragile thing written on mauve paper with heavy underlining, in a large, irregular hand -- a woman's hand.
15 BLOOMSBURY COURT MANSIONS
I will expect you at the flat tonight at eleven, . You’d better come, or things which you won’t like will happen.
You’ve just to come.
He put this letter into his pocket and began to walk the room in long, silent strides.
A little after five he put on a heavy fur coat and left the now silent and gloomy halls of the British Museum.
The lamps of Holborn were lit, and a blaze of light came from Oxford Circus where the winking electric advertisements had just begun their work on the tops of the houses.
Llwellyn walked steadily on towards the Marble Arch and the Edgware Road. The continual background noise of horse-drawn traffic helped his brain. It became active and able to think, to plan once more. The steady exercise warmed his blood and exhilarated him.
For many years, while his name became great in Europe and the solid brilliancy of his work grew in lustre as he grew in age, he had lived two lives, finding an engrossing joy in each.
The lofty scientific world had no points of contact with that other and unspeakable half-life. There had been rumours, things said in secret by envious and less distinguished men, but they had never harmed him. His professional colleagues hardly understood them and cared nothing. His work was all-sufficient. What did it matter if smaller people with forked tongues hissed horrors of his private life?
The other circles -- the lost slaves of pleasure -- knew him well and were content. He came into the night world as a welcome guest. They knew nothing of his work or fame beyond dim whispers of things too uninteresting for them to bother about.
He turned down the Edgware Road and into quiet Upper Berkeley Street, a big, florid, prosperous-looking man, seeming content with all the world had to offer.
His house was but a few doors down the street and he went upstairs to dress at once. He intended to dine at home that night.
His dressing room, out of which a small bedroom opened, was large and luxurious. A clear fire glowed on the hearth; the carpet was soft and thick. The great dressing table with its three-sided mirror was covered with brushes and ivory jars, gleaming brightly in the rays of the electric lights which framed the mirror. A huge wardrobe, full of clothes neatly folded and put away, suggested a man about town, a dandy with many sartorial interests.
A timid knock fell on the door. It opened and Mrs. Llwellyn came slowly in.
The Professor’s wife was a tall, thin woman. Her untidy clothes hung round her body in unlovely folds. It was in her eyes that one read the secret of this lady. They were large and blue, once beautiful, so one might have fancied. Now the light had faded from them and they were blurred and full of pain.
She came slowly up to her husband’s chair, placing one hand timidly on it.
“Oh, is that you?” he said, not brutally, but with a complete and utter indifference. “I want dinner at home tonight. I’ll be going out about ten to a supper engagement. See about it now. Something light. And tell one of the maids to bring up some hot water.”
“Yes, Robert,” she said, and went out with no further word, but sighing a little as she closed the door quietly.
They had been married fifteen years. For fourteen of them he had hardly spoken to her except in anger at some household accident. On her own private income of six hundred a year she had to do what she could to keep the house going. Robert Llwellyn never gave her anything of the thousand a year which was his salary at the British Museum, and the greater sums he earned by his work outside it.
The Professor treated the house as a hotel, sleeping there occasionally, breakfasting, and dressing. His private rooms were the only habitable parts of the house. All the rest was old, faded, and without comfort. Mrs. Llwellyn spent most of her life with the two servants in the kitchen.
She always swept and tidied her husband’s rooms herself. That afternoon she had built and coaxed the fire with her own hands.
She slept in a small room at the top of the house, next to the maids, for company.
This was her life.
Over the head of the little iron bedstead of her room hung a great crucifix.
That was her hope.
When Llwellyn was rioting in nameless places, she prayed for him during the night. She prayed for him, for herself, and for the two servant girls, very simply -- that Heaven might receive them all some day.
The maid brought up some dinner for the Professor -- a little soup, a sole, and some camembert.
He ate slowly, and smoked a short light-brown cigar with his coffee. Then he bathed, put on evening clothes, dressing himself with care and circumspection, and left the house.
In the Edgware Road he got into a hansom cab and told the man to drive him to Bloomsbury Court Mansions.
Robert Llwellyn paid the cabman outside the main gateway which led into the courtyard, and dismissed him.
Bloomsbury Court Mansions were but a few hundred yards from the British Museum itself, though he never visited here in the daytime. A huge building, like a great hotel, rose skyward in a square.
The Professor strode under the archway and entered one of the doorways, and turning to the right of the ground floor. He stopped at No. 15.
He took a latchkey from his pocket, opened the door, and entered. He stood perfectly silent for a moment in the warm, scented air. He could hear no sound but the ticking of a French clock. The flat was obviously empty; and pulling aside one of the curtains, he went into the dining room.
The place was full of light. Either Gertrude Hunt or her maid had, with characteristic carelessness, forgotten to turn off the switches. Llwellyn sat down and looked around him. The casual visitor would have recognised at a glance that the occupant of the room belonged to the stage.
The satinwood overmantel was crowded with photographs in heavy frames of chased silver. Bold enlargements hung on the crimson walls. Theatre programmes and other announcements were stacked in disorderly heaps on the grand piano.
All were of one woman -- a girl with eyes full of a fixed fascination, a trained regard of allurement.
The dining table was in a curious litter. Half empty cups of eggshell china stood on a tray of Japanese lacquer inlaid with ivory and silver. A cake basket held pink and honey-coloured bonbons, among which some cigarette ends had fallen. Two empty champagne bottles stood side by side. On a gilt tray was a miniature methyl lamp and some steel curling tongs.
The whole place reeked with a well-known perfume -- an evil, sickly smell of ripe lilies, mixed with the acrid smoke of Egyptian tobacco.
The room would have struck an ordinary visitor with a sense of nausea almost like a physical blow. There was something sordidly shameless about it. The most sober-living and innocent-minded man, brought suddenly into such a place, would have known it instantly for what it was, and turned to flee as from a pestilence.
A week or two before, a picture of this den had appeared in one of the illustrated papers. Underneath the photograph had been printed:
THE BOUDOIR OF ONE OF LONDON’S POPULAR FAVOURITES. MISS GERTRUDE HUNT AT HOME
Below had been another picture:
MISS HUNT IN HER NEW MOTORCAR
Robert Llwellyn had paid four hundred pounds for the machine.
The big man seemed to fit into these surroundings as a hand into a glove. In his room at the Museum, or on a platform at the Royal Society, his intellect always animated his face. In such places his personality was eminent, as his work also.
Here he was changed. He sniffed the perfume with pleasure and stretched himself to the heat and warmth like a great cat. He was an integral part of the scene -- lost, and arrogant of his degradation.
A key clicked in the lock, there was a rustling of silk, and Gertrude Hunt swept into the room.
"So you're come on time, then," she said in a deep, musical voice, but spoilt by an unpleasing Cockney twang. "I'm dead tired. The theatre was crammed. I had to sing three of the favourites twice. Get me a brandy and soda, Bob. There's a good boy -- the decanter's in the sideboard."
She threw off her long cloak and sank into a chair. The sticky greasepaint of the theatre had not been fully removed. She looked, as she said, worn out.
They chatted for a few moments on indifferent subjects, and she lit a cigarette.
“Well,” she said at length, “somehow or other you must pay those bills I sent on to you. They must be paid. I can’t do it. I’m only getting twenty-five pounds from the theatre now, and that’s just about enough to pay my drink bill.”
Llwellyn’s face clouded. “I’m just about at my last gasp myself,” he said. “I’m threatened with bankruptcy as it is.”
“Oh, cheer up!” she cried. “Have a brandy and soda yourself. I do hate to hear anyone talk like that. It gives me the hump at once. Now look here, Bob, you know I like you better than anyone else. We have been pals for seven or eight years now, and I’d rather have you a thousand times than the others. You understand that, don’t you?”
He nodded back at her. His face was pleased at her expression of affection, at the kindness of this dancing girl to the great scholar.
"But," she continued, "you know me, and you know I can't go on unless I have what I want all the time. And I want a lot, too. If you can't give it me, Bob, it must be someone else -- that's all. Captain Parker's ready to do anything, any time. He's almost a millionaire, you know. Can't you raise any money anyhow? If I had a thousand pounds now, and another in a week or two, I could manage for a bit. But I must have a river house at Shepperton. That cat, Lulu Wallace, has one, and an electric launch and all. What about your German friend -- the MP? He’s got tons of stuff. Touch him for a bit more.”
“I had a letter from him this afternoon,” said Llwellyn. “It was a demand for fourteen thousand pounds I owe him. Threatens to sell me up. But there was something which looked brighter at the end of the letter, though I couldn’t quite make out what he was driving at.”
“What was that?”
“The tone of the letter changed. It had been nasty before. He said I could do him a service for which he would not only wipe out the old debt, but for which I could get a lot more money.”
“You’ll go to him at once, Bob, won’t you?”
“I suppose I must. There’s no way out of it. I can’t think, though, how I can do him any service. He’s a dabbler, an amateur in my own archaeological work, but he’s not going to pay a good many thousands for any help in that.”
“Let it alone till you find out,” Gertrude Hunt said. She got up and rang the bell for her maid and supper.
For some reason Llwellyn could eat nothing. A weight oppressed him -- a portent of danger and disaster. His indulgent life had acted upon him with a dire physical effect. His nerves were unstrung and he became absurdly superstitious. The slightest hint of misfortune set his brain throbbing with a horrid fear. The spectre of overwhelming disaster was always waiting, and he was unable to banish it.
Two accidental and trivial facts that the knives at his place were crossed, and that he spilt the salt as he was passing it to his mistress, set him crossing himself with nervous rapidity.
The girl laughed at him, but she was interested nevertheless. For the moment they were on an intellectual level. He explained that the sign of the Cross was said to avert misfortune, and she imitated him clumsily.
Llwellyn thought nothing of it at the time, but the meaningless travesty came back afterwards when he thought over that eventful night.
Their conversation grew fitful and strained. Gertrude Hunt was physically tired from her work at the theatre, and the dark cloud of menace crept more rapidly into the archaeologist’s brain. The hour grew late. At last Llwellyn rose to go.
“You’ll get the cash somehow, dear, won’t you?” she said with tired eagerness.
"Yes, yes, Gertie," he replied. "I suppose I can get it somehow. I'll go home now. If it's a clear night I'll walk there. I'm depressed -- it's liver, I suppose -- and I need exercise."
“Have another drink before you go?”
“No, I have had two, and I can’t take spirits at this time.”
He went out with a perfunctory kiss.
London was now quite silent in its most mysterious and curious hour. The streets were deserted, but brilliantly lit by the long rows of lamps.
The Professor’s feet echoed loudly on the pavement as he approached the open space. Never had he seemed to hear the noises of his own footsteps so clearly before. It was disconcerting, and emphasised the fact of his solitary presence in this lighted city of the dead.
Llwellyn walked onwards, when just as he was passing the Oxford Music Hall he became conscious of quick footsteps behind him. He turned as a man came up. He was of middle size, with polite, watchful eyes and a clean shaven face.
The stranger put his hand into the pocket of his neat, unobtrusive black overcoat and drew out a letter.
“For you, sir,” he said in calm, ordinary tones. “Please read it immediately.”
The Professor stared in surprise and took the envelope, opening it under a lamp. He recognised the handwriting at once.
Kindly excuse the suddenness of my request and come down to the Cecil Hotel with my valet. I have sent him to meet you. I want to settle our business tonight, and I am certain we will be able to make some satisfactory arrangement. I know you do not go to bed early.
Most sincerely yours,
“This is a very sudden request,” he said to the servant rather doubtfully, but somewhat reassured by the friendly signature of the note. “Why, it is two o’clock in the morning!”
“Extremely sorry to trouble you, sir,” replied the valet civilly, “but my master’s strict orders were that I should find you and deliver the note. He told me you would probably be visiting at Bloomsbury Court Mansions, so I waited about, hoping to meet you. I brought the carriage, sir, in case we were not able to get you a cab.”
Following the direction of his glance, Llwellyn saw a small rubber-tired brougham to seat two people coming slowly down the road. The coachman touched his hat as the Professor got in, and turning down Charing Cross Road, in a few minutes they drove rapidly into the courtyard of the Cecil Hotel.
Schuabe found the life at the hotel convenient and suited to his temperament. His suite of rooms was one of the most costly even in that great river palace, but such considerations never needed to enter his life.
Llwellyn had not visited Schuabe in his private apartments before. As he was driven to the meeting he nerved himself for what lay ahead. He swept aside the debilitating influences of the last few hours.
Schuabe was waiting in the large sitting room with balconies from which he could look down on the Embankment and the Thames. It was his favourite among all the rooms of the suite.
He looked gravely and also a little curiously at the Professor as he entered the room. There was a question in Schuabe’s eyes. Robert Llwellyn had a sensation of being measured and weighed with some definite purpose.
The greeting was cordial enough. “I’m very sorry, Llwellyn, to catch you suddenly like this,” Schuabe said, “but I would like to settle the business between us without delay. I have certain proposals to make you, and if we agree upon them there will be much to consider, as the thing is a big one. But before we talk of this, let me offer you something to eat.”
Professor Llwellyn had recovered his hunger. The chill of the night air, the sudden excitement of the summons, and, though he did not realise it, the absence of overpowering perfume in his nostrils, had recalled an appetite.
The space and air of the huge room, with its high roof, was soothing after Bloomsbury Court Mansions.
Supper was spread for two on a small round table by the windows. Schuabe ate little, but watched the other with keen eyes, talking meanwhile of ordinary, trivial things. Nothing escaped him: the little gleam of pleasure in Llwellyn's eyes at the freshness of the caviar, the Spanish olives he took with his partridge -- rejecting the smaller French variety. The impassive watchful eyes saw it all.
It was too late for coffee, Llwellyn said when the man brought it, in a long-handled brass pan from Constantinople, but he took a liqueur instead.
The two men faced each other on opposite sides of the table. Both were smoking. For a moment there was silence. The critical time was at hand. Then Schuabe spoke. His voice was cold and steady and businesslike. As he talked, the voice seemed to wrap round Llwellyn like steel bands.
“I am going to be quite frank with you, Llwellyn,” Schuabe said, “and you will find it better to be quite frank with me.”
He took a sheet of paper from the pocket of his smoking jacket and referred to it occasionally.
“You owe me now almost fourteen thousand pounds?”
“Yes, it is roughly that.”
“Please correct me if I’m wrong in any point. Your salary at the British Museum is a thousand pounds a year, and you make about fifteen hundred more.”
“Yes, about that, but how do you——?”
“I have made it my business to know everything, Professor. For example, they are about to offer you a knighthood.”
Llwellyn stirred uneasily, and his hand shook a little as it stretched out for another cigarette.
“I need hardly point out to you,” the cold words went on, and a certain sternness began to enforce them, “I need hardly point out that if I were to take certain steps, your position would be utterly ruined.”
“Bankruptcy need not entirely ruin a man.”
“It would ruin you. You see, I know where the money has gone. Your private tastes are nothing to me, and it is not my business if you choose to spend a fortune on a fashionable prostitute. But in your position, as the very mainspring and arm of Bible scholarship, the revelations which would most certainly be made would ruin you irreparably. Your official posts would all go at once, and your name would become a public scandal everywhere. In the eyes of the great mass of English people you would be stamped as an irredeemably immoral man. That is what they would call you -- if everything came out. At one blow everything -- knighthood, honour, place -- all would flash away. Moreover, you would have to give up the other side of your life. There would be no more suppers with Miss Hunt or rides to Richmond in her new motorcar."
Schuabe laughed, a low, contemptuous laugh which stung. Llwellyn’s face had grown pale. His large, white fingers picked uneasily at the tablecloth.
His position was now shown to him, with greater horror and vividness than ever it had come to him before, even in his moments of deepest depression.
The overthrow would indeed be utter and complete. He saw himself living in some cheap foreign town, Bruges perhaps, or Brussels, surviving on his wife’s small income, bereft alike of work and pleasure.
“All you say is true,” he murmured as the other made an end. “I am in your power. What is your alternative?”
"My alternative will mean certain changes to you. First of all, it will be necessary for you to obtain a year's leave from the British Museum. I had thought of asking you to resign your position, but that will not be necessary. Even if your health doesn't really warrant it, a word from me to Sir James Fyfe will manage that. You will have to travel. In return for your services and your absolute secrecy -- though when you hear my proposals you'll realise that perhaps in the whole history of the world secrecy was never so important to any man's safety -- I will do as follows. I will wipe off your debt at once. In addition, I will pay you ten thousand pounds in cash this week. And during the year, as may be agreed on between us, I will make over forty thousand pounds more to you. In all, fifty thousand pounds, exclusive of your debt."
His voice had not been raised, nor did it show any excitement during this incredible proposal. The effect on Llwellyn was different. He rose from his chair, trembling with excitement, staring with bloodshot eyes at the handsome, chiselled face below.
"You -- you mean it?” he said huskily.
The millionaire made a single confirmatory gesture.
Then the whole magnitude and splendour of the offer became gradually plain to him in all its significance. “I suppose,” Llwellyn said, “that as the payment is great, the risk is equally great.”
“There will be no risk if you do what I ask correctly. Only two other men living could expose it, so first and foremost you will have to guard against their vigilance.”
“Then, in God’s name, what do you ask?” Llwellyn almost shouted. The tension was unbearable.
Schuabe rose from his seat. For the first time the Professor saw that he was terribly agitated. His eyes glowed, the apple in his throat worked convulsively. “You are to change the history of the world!”
He drew Llwellyn into the very centre of the room, and held him firmly by the elbows. Tall as the Professor was, Schuabe was taller, and he bent and whispered into the other’s ear for a full five minutes.
There was no sound in the room but the low hissing of his sibilants.
Llwellyn’s face became white, then ashen grey. His whole body seemed to shrink from his clothes. He trembled.
Then he broke away from his host and ran to the fireplace with an odd, juddering movement, and sank cowering into an armchair, filled with an unutterable dread.
As morning stole into the room, Professor Llwellyn took the bundle of financial demands from Schuabe and thrust them into the fire with a great sob of relief.
Then he turned into a bedroom and sank into the deep slumber of absolute exhaustion.
He did not go to the Museum that day.
It was nearly four months later, in the north of England, when the great building of the Walktown national school blazed with light. Every window was a patch of vivid orange in the darkness of the walls. The whole place was pervaded by a loud, whirring hum of talk and laughter, and a rattle of plates and saucers.
In one of the classrooms downstairs, Helena Byars, the vicar’s daughter, with a dozen other ladies of the parish, presided over a scene of intense activity. Huge urns of tea ready mixed with the milk and sugar were being carried up the stone stairs to the big schoolroom by willing hands. Piles of thick sandwiches of ham, breakfast cups of mustard, hundreds of slices of moist cake covered the tables, reducing rapidly as they were carried away to the crowded rooms above.
A Lancashire church tea party was in full swing, for this was the occasion when Basil Gortre was to say an official farewell to the people among whom he had worked in the North as the curate to Mr. Byars. He had never felt fully at ease with the people, although he knew they loved him.
In the tearoom itself several hundred people were making an enormous meal at long tables, under flaring, naked gaslights, which sent shimmering vapours of heat up to the pitch pine beams of the room above.
At one end of the room was a platform running along its length. Some palms and tree ferns in pots, chairs, a grand piano, and some music stands, promised a concert when tea was over.
There could be no doubt that the people were in a state of high good humour and enjoyment. Every now and again a great roar of laughter would break through the prevailing hum from one table or another. Despite the almost stifling heat and a mixed odour of humanity and ham, which a sensitive person might have shrunk from, the rough, merry Lancashire folk were happy as could be.
Basil Gortre, in his long, black coat, his skin somewhat pale from his long illness, walked from table to table, spending a few minutes at each. With a perpetual smile on his face, roars of laughter followed each sally of his wit, a homely cut-and-thrust style of humour adapted to his audience.
The fat mothers of families, wives of prosperous colliers and artisans, with their thick gold earrings and magenta frocks, beamed motherhood and kindliness at him. The Sunday school teachers giggled and blushed with pleasure when he spoke.
The vicar, the Reverend James Byars, smiling paternally as was his wont, walking up and down the gangways, toying with the pince-nez at his chest, and successfully concealing the fact from everyone that he was by no means in the seventh heaven of happiness. Tea parties, so numerous and popular in the North, were always somewhat of a trial to him.
Basil and Mr. Byars met in the middle of the room when the tea was nearly over. Tears were gleaming in the eyes of the younger man.
“It is hard to leave them all,” he said. “When I came here from the South, I misread them. How good and kind they are, how hearty! And these are the people I thought disliked me and misunderstood me. I once resented what I thought was an improper familiarity. But how different they are beneath the surface!”
“They have warm, loyal hearts, Basil,” said the vicar. “It is a pity that such exteriors should go with them. During your long illness the whole parish thought of little else. And tonight you will have very practical evidence of their friendship. You know, of course, there’s going to be a presentation?”
“Yes. I couldn’t help knowing that much, though I wish they wouldn’t.”
“It is very good of them. Now I’ll call for grace to end the meal.”
The vicar made his way onto the platform and loudly clapped his hands. The tumult died suddenly away into silence, punctuated here and there by a belated rattle of a teacup and the spasmodic choking of someone endeavouring to bolt a large piece of cake in a hurry.
"We will now sing grace," Mr. Byars said in a clear and audible voice, -- "the Old Hundred, following our usual custom.”
As he spoke, a bearded man in a frockcoat clambered up beside him. This was Mr. Cuthbert, the organist of the parish church. The little man pulled a tuning fork from his pocket and struck it on the back of a chair.
Then he held it to his ear for a moment. The people had all risen, and the room was now silent.
“La!” sang the little organist, giving the note in a long, melodious call.
He raised his hand, gave a couple of beats in the air, and the famous old hymn burst out royally. The great volume of sound seemed too fierce and urgent even for that spacious room. It pressed against the eardrums almost with pain, though sung with the perfect time and tune which was the heritage of the sweet-voiced North country folk:
“All people that on earth do dwell,
Sing to the Lord with cheerful voice!”
As Basil Gortre listened, his heart expanded in love and fellowship towards these brother Christians. The dark phantoms which had rioted in his sick brain during the long weeks of his illness lay dead and harmless now. Constantine Schuabe was almost forgotten. The monstrous visions of a conventional and formal Christianity, covering a world of secret and mocking atheism, seemed incredibly far removed from the glorious truth, as these strong, homely people sang a full voiced shout of welcome to the great Trinity of Power and Love, unseen, but all around them.
Basil smiled to himself. Who was he to be refined and too sophisticated for God’s use? There seemed nothing incongruous now in the picture before his eyes. The remnants of broken ham, the sloppy cups, the black-coated men with brilliant sky-blue satin ties, the women with thick gnarled hands and clothes the colour of a copper kettle: what were they now but his very own brethren, united in this burst of praise?
And he joined in the doxology with all his heart and voice, his voice soaring joyously above the rest:
“To Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,
The God whom heaven and earth adore,
From men and from the Angel host
Be praise and glory evermore. Amen.”
It ceased with suddenness. There was the satisfied silence of a second, and then the attendant helpers, assisted by the feasters, fell swiftly on the tables. Cloths and crockery vanished like snow melting in sunlight. As soon as each table was laid bare it was turned up by an ingenious arrangement underneath, and became a long bench with a back, which was added to the rows of seats facing the platform. As each iron framed seat was pushed noisily into its place, it was filled at once with a laughing crowd, full but active, smacking anticipatory chops over the entertainment and speechmaking to come.
Mr. Cuthbert, a painstaking pianist, whose repertoire was noisily commonplace, opened the concert with a solo.
Songs and recitations followed. All were well received by an audience determined to enjoy itself, but it was obvious that the real event of the gathering was eagerly awaited.
At last the moment arrived. A table covered with green baize and bearing some objects concealed by a cloth was carried onto the platform, and a row of chairs placed on either side of it.
The vicar, with Basil, and a little group of black-coated churchwardens and sidesmen filed onto the platform amid tumultuous cheering and clapping of hands.
After several lengthy speeches, Mr. Byars announced, “And now I will simply ask Mr. Gortre to accept this silver tea service, and watch, in the name of the congregation of St. Thomas as a token of their esteem and goodwill.”
He pulled the cloth away and displayed some glittering silver vessels. Then he handed the young man a gold watch in a leather case.
Basil faced the shouting, enthusiastic crowd, staring through dimmed eyes at the long rows of animated faces.
When there was a little silence he began to speak in a voice of great emotion. Very simply and earnestly he thanked them for their goodwill and kindness.
“This may be,” he said, “the last time I will ever have the privilege and pleasure of speaking to you. I want to give you one last message before I take up my new post as curate in a large parish in Bloomsbury in London. I want to urge one and all here tonight to do one thing.”
He paused for a moment, to be sure he had the attention of everyone in the hall. “Keep your faith unspotted, unstained by doubts, uninfluenced by fears. Do that, and all will be well with you here and hereafter.”
His voice sank a full tone and he spoke with marked emphasis. “ I have sometimes thought and felt of late that possibly the time may be at hand when the Powers and Principalities of evil will make a great and determined onslaught on the Christian Faith. I may not read the signs of the times aright. My premonitions -- for they have sometimes amounted even to that -- may be unfounded or imaginary. But if such a time is coming, if the 'horror of great darkness,' a spiritual horror that we read of in Genesis, descends on the world and envelops it in its gloom and terror, let us have faith. Keep the light burning steadily. 'Let nothing disturb thee; let nothing affright thee. All passeth: God only remaineth.' And now, dear brothers and sisters in the Holy Faith, thank you, God bless you, and farewell."
There was a tense silence as his voice dropped to a close.
Here and there a woman sobbed.
There was something uncharacteristic about his warning. He spoke almost in prophecy, as if he knew of some terror coming, and saw its advance from afar. His face, still pale and thin from fever, his bright, earnest eyes, not the glittering eyes of a fanatic, but the saner, wiser ones of the earnest single-minded man, had an immense influence with the people there.
And that night, as they trudged home to simple dwellings, or suburban villas, or rolled away in carriages, each person heard the intense, quiet voice warning them of the future, exhorting them to be steadfast in the Faith.
Two weeks later, Helena Byars stood with her hand raised to her eyes, close by the port paddle box of the steamer, staring straight in front of her at a faint grey line on the horizon.
A stiff breeze was blowing in the English Channel, though the sun was shining brightly on the tossing waters.
By the tall, graceful figure of the girl, swaying with the motion of the paddle steamer and bending gracefully to the sudden onslaughts of the wind, stood a thickset man of middle height, dressed in a tweed suit. His face was a strong one. Heavy reddish eyebrows hung over a pair of clear grey eyes, intellectual and kindly.
This was Harold Spence, the journalist with whom Basil Gortre was to live after the holiday was over and he began his work in the parish church in Bloomsbury. Spence was snatching a few days from his work in Fleet Street, in order to accompany Basil and Mr. and Miss Byars to Dieppe. It had been his first introduction to the vicar and his daughter.
“So that is really France, Mr. Spence!” said Helena. “The very first view of a foreign country I have ever had. I don’t suppose you have any idea of what I’m feeling now? It seems so wonderful; something I have been waiting for all my life.”
Spence smiled kindly, irradiating his face with good humour as he did so. “Well, my sensations or emotions at present, Miss Byars, are entirely confined to wondering whether I’m going to be seasick or not.”
“Don’t speak of it!” said a thin voice, a voice from which all the blood seemed to be drained. Turning, they saw the vicar at their elbow.
His face was white, his beard hung in lank dejection, a sincere misery poured from his wretched eyes.
“Basil,” he said, “Basil is down in the saloon eating greasy cold chicken and ham and drinking pale ale. I told him it was an outrage!” His feelings overcame him and he staggered away towards the stern.
“Poor Father,” said the girl. “He never could stand the sea. But he very soon gets all right when he’s on dry land again. Oh, look, that must be a church tower! I can see it quite distinctly, and the sun glinting from the roofs of the houses.”
“That’s St. Jacques,” said Spence, “and that dome some way to the right is St. Remy. Farthest of all to the right, on the cliffs, you can just see the château where the military garrison is.”
Helena gazed eagerly and became silent in her excitement. Basil, who came up from the saloon and joined them, watched her tenderly. There was something childishly sweet in his fiancée’s delight as the broad, tub-like paddle steamer kicked its way rapidly towards the quaint foreign town.
In smoky Walktown he had not often seen Helena like this. Life was a more sober thing there, and her nature was graver than that of many girls. But at the beginning of this holiday time, under a brilliant spring sun which she was already beginning to imagine had a foreign charm about it, she was in a holiday mood.
Basil pulled out his new and glorious gold watch, which had replaced the battered old gunmetal one he usually wore. Though not a poor man, he was simple in all his tastes, and the new toy gave him a recurring pleasure whenever he looked at it.
“We ought to land in about twenty minutes,” he said. “Have you noticed that the tossing of the ship has almost stopped? The land protects us. I wonder if you’ll remember any of your French, Helena. I almost wish I was like you, seeing a foreign country for the first time. Spence is the real voyageur though. He’s been all over the world for his newspaper.”
The vicar came up to them again, just as there was a general movement of the passengers towards the deck. A hooting cry from the steam whistle wailed over the water as the boat began to slow.
In a few minutes they had passed the breakwater and were gliding slowly past the wharves towards the landing stage.
Suddenly Helena clutched hold of Basil's arm. "Oh, Basil," she whispered, "how beautiful -- look! Guarding the harbour!"
He turned and followed the direction of her glance. An enormous crucifix, more than life-size, planted in the ground, rose from the low cliffs on the right for all entering the harbour to see.
They watched the symbol in silence as the passengers chattered on every side and gathered up their rugs and hand luggage.
Basil Gortre slipped his arm through Helena’s.
The reminder was so vivid and sudden it affected them powerfully. They were both people living in the world and enjoying the pleasures of life that came their way. But his faith, like Helena’s, was always and for ever with him a transmuting force which changed his life each hour in a way of which the nominal believer has no conception.
A letter he had once written to Helena during a holiday compressed all his belief, and his joy in his belief, into a few short lines. Thus had run the sincere and simple statement, unadorned by any effort of literary grace to give it point and force:
Day by day as your letters come, I go on saying my prayers for you, and with you, in fresh faith and confidence. You know that I absolutely trust the Lord Jesus Christ, who is, I believe, the God who made the worlds, and I pray to Him continually, relying on His promises.
I keep on reading all sides of the question, as your father does also, and while admitting all that honest criticism and sincere intellectual doubt can teach me, I grow more and more convinced that the Gospels and Paul’s letters relate facts and not imaginations or hallucinations. And the more strongly my intellect is convinced, so much more does my heart delight in the love of God, who has given Himself for me.
How magnificent is that finale of St. John’s Gospel! ‘Thomas saith unto Him, My Lord and my God.’ And, then, how exquisite is the supplement about the bodily appearance of Jesus by the lake shore after His resurrection. I see Mrs. Humphry Ward says it was a dream which the old man at Ephesus related, and his disciples thought it was fact. And she is a literary person!
So, as the engaged couple glided slowly past the high symbol of God’s pain, the worship in their hearts found but little utterance on their lips, though they were deeply touched.
It seemed a good omen to welcome them to France.
Spence remained to look after the luggage and see it through the Customs, and the three others resolved to walk to the rooms they had taken in the Faubourg de la Barre on the steep hill behind the château.
They passed over the railway line in the middle of the road, past the cafés clustered round the landing stage, and into the quaint marketplace with the great Gothic Cathedral Church of St. Jacques on one side, and the colossal statue of Duquesne surrounded by baskets of spring flowers in the centre.
To Helena Byars, that simple progress was one of unalloyed excitement and delight. The small and wiry soldiers in their unfamiliar uniforms; an officer sipping vermouth in a café, with spurs, sword, and helmet shining in the sun; two black priests, with huge furry hats -- all the moving colour of the scene gave her new and delightful sensations.
“It is all so different!” she said breathlessly. “So bright and cheerful. Look at that red thing over the tobacco shop, and that little brass dish over the hairdresser’s. Think of Walktown or Salford, now!”
The house in the Faubourg de la Barre was kept by Madame Varnier, who spoke English well, and was in the habit of letting her rooms to English people. A late déjeuner was ready for them.
The omelette was a revelation to Helena, and the rognons sautés filled her with respect for such cooking, but she was impatient, nevertheless, to be out sightseeing.
The vicar was tired, and proposed to stay indoors with the Spectator, and Harold Spence had some letters to write, so Basil and Helena went out alone.
They turned down a narrow street of quiet houses, and came out onto la Plage. There were a good many people walking up and down the great promenade from the Casino to the harbour mouth. An air of fullness and prosperity floated round the magnificent hotels which faced the sea.
They began a steady walk towards the pier and lighthouse. The wind was fresh, though not troublesome, and at five o’clock the sun, low in the sky, was still bright.
Helena Byars held her own among the cosmopolitan crowd of women who walked on la Plage. Her beauty was Saxon, very English, and not of a type always appreciated to its full value on the Continent, but it shone the more from Latin contrasts, and could not escape remark.
Every now and again they turned, at distances of a quarter of a mile or so, and during the recurrence of their beat they began to notice a man they passed several times, coming and going.
He was an enormous man, broad and tall, dressed expensively and with care. His size alone was sufficient to mark him out of the usual, but his personality seemed to them no less arresting and strange.
His large, smooth face was fat, the eyes small and brilliant, with heavy pouches under them. Basil said he seemed to belong to the Prince Regent’s period. “I can imagine him on the lawns at Brighton or dining in the Pavilion,” he said. “What a sensual, evil face the man has! Of course it may mean nothing, though. A Bishop I know, whose work on the Gospels is the most wonderful thing ever done in the way of Christian apologetics, has a face like one of the grotesque devils carved on the roof of Notre Dame or Lincoln Cathedral. But this man seems by his face to have no soul. I cannot feel it is there, as I can, thank God, with most people.”
“But what an intellect such a man must have,” said Helena. “Look at him now. Look at the shape of his head. He must be some distinguished person. I seem to remember pictures of him, just lately too, in the illustrated papers, only I can’t get a name to him. I’m certain he’s English, and someone of importance.”
The big man passed them again with a quiet and swift glance of appreciation at Helena. He seemed lonely. Basil and Helena suspected he would have welcomed a chance word of greeting, some overture of friendship.
But neither of them responded to the unspoken wish they felt in the stranger. They were happy with each other, and presently they saw the man light a cigar and enter one of the great hotels.
They discussed the man for a few minutes -- he had made an odd impression on them by his personality -- then realised it was time for the rendezvous at the Café des Tribuneaux.
By this time dusk was falling, and the sea moaned with a certain melancholy. They turned away to the left, leaving the sea behind them, and passing through a narrow street by the Government tobacco factory they came into the town again, and after a short walk to the café.
The place was bright and animated -- lights, mirrors, and gilding; the stir and movement of the pavement area outside; all combined to make a novel and attractive picture for the English girl. The night was not cold, and they sat under the awning at a small round table watching the merry groups with interest.
In a few minutes after their arrival they saw Harold Spence and Helena’s father, now quite restored and well, coming towards them. They had decided not to order anything before the arrival of their companions.
The journalist took them under his wing at once. It amused Spence to be a guide to help them to a feeling of being at home. Basil Gortre and Mr. Byars had been to Switzerland, and the latter to Rome on one occasion, but under the wing of a bishop’s son who made his livelihood out of personally conducting parties to Continental towns for a fixed fee. There was little freedom in these cut-and-dried tours, with their lectures en route and the very dinners in the hotel ordered for the tourists, and everything so arranged that they need not speak a word of any foreign language.
For the vicar, Spence prescribed a vermouth sec ; Basil, being still a courtesy invalid, was given a minute glass of an amber-coloured liquid with quinine in it -- " Dubonnet " Spence called it -- and Helena had a sirop de menthe.
They were all happy together in the simple way of quiet, intellectual people. Their enjoyment of the liqueurs in a small café at tourist-haunted Dieppe, was as great as that of any hedonist at the Hotel Ritz in Paris, or at a rare dinner at Ciro’s in Monte Carlo.
Suddenly Helena turned to Basil. “Oh, look!” she said. “There’s our friend from la Plage.”
The big stranger, now in evening dress and a heavy fur coat, had just come into the café and was sitting there with a cigarette and a Paris paper. He seemed lost in some sort of anxious speculation -- at least so it seemed by the drooping of the journal in his massive fingers, and the set expression which lingered in his eyes and spread a veil over his countenance.
They all turned at Helena’s exclamation and looked towards the other side of the café, where the man was sitting.
“Why, that’s Sir Robert Llwellyn,” said Spence.
The vicar looked up eagerly. “The great authority on the antiquities of the Holy Land?”
“Yes, that’s the man. They knighted him the other day. He’s supposed to be the greatest living authority, you know.”
“Do you know him, then?” asked the vicar.
“Oh, yes,” said Spence casually. “One knows everyone in my trade. I have often gone to him for information when anything special has been discovered. And I have met him in clubs and at lectures or at first nights at the theatre. He’s a great play-goer.”
“A decent sort of man?” said Basil, in a tone which implied a doubt.
Spence hesitated a moment. “Oh, well, I suppose so,” he said. “There are tales about his private life, but probably quite untrue. He’s a man of the world as well as a great scholar, and I suppose the rather unusual combination makes people talk. But he’s right up at the top of the tree. Travels everywhere. I’ll go over and speak to him.”
“If he’ll come over,” said the vicar, his eyes alight with anticipation and the hope of a talk with this famous expert on the subjects nearest his own heart, “bring him, please. There’s nothing I would like better than a chat with him. I know his Modern Discoveries and Holy Writ almost by heart.”
They watched Spence go across to Sir Robert’s table. The big man jumped as he was spoken to, looked up in surprise, then smiled with pleasure and extended a welcoming hand. Spence sat down beside him and they were soon in the middle of a brisk conversation.
“The poor man looked bored until Mr. Spence spoke to him,” said Helena. “Father, I’m sure you’ll have your wish. He seems glad to have someone to talk to.”
She was right. After a minute or two the journalist returned with Sir Robert Llwellyn, and the five of them were soon in a full flood of talk.
“I was going to dine alone at my hotel,” said the Professor, at length, “but Spence says he knows of a decent restaurant here called the Pannier d’Or. I wonder if you would let me be one of your party? I’m quite alone in Dieppe for a couple of days. I’m waiting for a friend with whom I’m going to travel.”
“Oh, do come with us, Sir Robert,” said the vicar, with manifest pleasure. “Are you going to be away from England for long?”
“I have leave of absence from the British Museum for a year,” said the Professor. “My doctor says I require absolute rest. I’m en route for Marseilles and from there to Alexandria.”
The Pannier d’Or proved a pleasant place, and the dinner was excellent. The Professor surprised and then amused the others by his observations on the various dishes.
Many times, despite his impatience to get to deeper and more congenial subjects, the vicar smiled at the purring of this gourmet, who seemed to prefer a sauce to an inscription, and rissoles to research.
But with the special coffee -- covered with fine yellow foam and sweetened with crystals of amber sugar -- the vicar's hour came. Sir Robert must have realised it was inevitable and with a half sigh gave the required opening.
The conversation threatened to be a long one. Harold Spence saw this, and proposed to go on to see the Casino with Helena, leaving the two clergymen with Llwellyn. It was when they had gone that the trio settled down completely.
It resolved itself at first into a duologue between the two elder men. Basil’s knowledge was too general and superficial on these purely antiquarian matters to allow him to take much part in it. He sat sipping his coffee and listening with keen attention and great enjoyment to this talk of experts.
He had not liked Robert Llwellyn from the first, and could not do so even now, but he was forced to recognise the enormous intellectual activity and power of the big man before him.
Step by step Sir Robert and Basil’s future father-in-law went over the new discoveries being made in the ground between the City Wall of Jerusalem and the hill of Jeremiah’s Grotto. They talked of the blue and purple mosaics found on the Mount of Olives, of all that had been done by the English and German excavators during the past years.
Gradually the discussion became more intimate and began to touch on great issues.
Mr. Byars was in a state of extraordinary interest. His knowledge was wide, and Llwellyn early realised this, speaking to him as an equal.
“I suppose,” Mr. Byars said at length, “that the true situation of the Holy Sepulchre is still a matter of considerable doubt, Professor. Your view would interest me extremely.”
“My view,” said Llwellyn, with remarkable earnestness and with an emphasis which left no doubt about his convictions, “is that the Sepulchre has not yet been located.”
“And your view is authoritative of course,” said Mr. Byars.
The Professor bowed. “I have no doubt on the subject. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is quite out of the question. There is really no historical evidence for it, beyond a foolish dream of the Empress Helena in AD 326. The people who know, dismiss the traditional site at once.
“Then there is the question of the second site, in which a great many people believe they have found the true Golgotha and Sepulchre. ‘The Gordon Tomb,’ as it has been called, excited a great deal of attention at the time of its discovery. You may remember I went to Jerusalem on behalf of the Times to investigate the matter. You may recollect that I proved beyond dispute that the tomb was not Jewish at all, but indubitably Christian and long subsequent to the time of Christ. As a matter of fact, when the tomb was excavated in 1873 it was full of human bones and the mould of decomposed bodies, and there were two red-painted crosses on the walls.
“The tomb was close to a large Crusading hospice, and I have no doubt that it was used for the burial of pilgrims. Besides, my excavations proved the second city wall must have included the new site, so the Gospel narrative at once demolishes the new theory. I embodied twenty-seven other minor proofs in my letters to the Times. No, Mr. Byars, my conviction is that we are not yet able to locate in any way the position of Golgotha and the Holy Tomb.”
“You think that is to come?” asked Gortre.
“I feel certain,” answered the Professor, with great deliberation and meaning. “I feel certain that we are on the eve of stupendous discoveries in this direction.”
His tones were so extraordinary that the two clergymen looked quickly at each other. It seemed obvious that Llwellyn was aware of some impending discoveries. He must, they knew, be in constant touch with all that was being done in Palestine. Curiously enough, his words gave each of them a certain sense of chill, of uneasiness. There seemed to be something behind them, something of sinister suggestion.
Llwellyn’s position in the religious world was extraordinary. His knowledge of Biblical history was one of its assets, but he was not known as a believer. His attitude had always been absolutely non-committal. He did the work he had to do without taking sides.
There was rather a tense silence for a short time.
The Professor broke it.
“Let me draw you,” he said, taking a gold pencil from his pocket, “a little map like the one I published at the time of the agitation about Gordon’s Tomb. I can trace the course of the city walls for you.”
He felt in his pocket for some paper on which to make the drawing, and took out a letter.
Gortre and the vicar drew their chairs closer.
Suddenly a curious pain shot through Basil's head, and all his pulses throbbed violently. He experienced a terribly familiar sensation -- the sick fear and repulsion of the night before his illness in the great library with Constantine Schuabe nearly five months ago. The aroma of some utterly evil and abominable personality seemed to come into his brain.
For, as he had looked down at the paper on which the great white fingers were now tracing thin lines, he had seen, before Llwellyn quickly turned it over, a firm, plain signature.
With some excuse about the heat of the room, he went out into the night.
His brain was busy with terrible intuitive forebodings. He felt himself caught up in some great net. The phantoms of his illness came round him once more. The dark air was thick with their wings -- vague, and because of that, more hideous.
He passed the lighted kiosk at the Casino entrance with a white, set face.
He was going back to their lodgings to pray.
It was at Victoria Station that Basil Gortre said goodbye to Helena. Harold Spence had been back in London for a fortnight. Mr. Byars and his daughter were to go straight back to Manchester the same day, and Basil was to take possession of his new quarters in Lincoln’s Inn with Spence, and enter his duties at St. Mary’s without delay.
It had been a pleasant holiday in France, the three agreed, as the train brought them up from Newhaven. Basil had come to know Mr. Byars with far more completeness than had been possible during their busy parochial life at Walktown. The elder man’s calm and steadfast belief, his wide knowledge and culture, the Christian sanity of his life, were never more manifest than in the uninterrupted time of rest and pleasure.
He saw in his future father-in-law such a man as he himself humbly hoped that he might become. Certainly Mr. Byars’s had no simple, childlike nature to whom goodness and belief came easily. He was subtle yet complex, and Basil could see that Byars’ victory over himself had cost him more than it costs most men.
To Helena, this time of holiday had been precious. To mark the fervour of her chosen one, the energy Basil threw into Life, Love, and Religion, to find him a man and yet a priest -- these were her uplifting feelings . As they walked and talked, listened to the music at the Casino, explored the ancient forest and castle at Arques, or knelt with bowed heads in the French church -- these had been the united bond of the great knowledge and faith they shared together.
After the farewells had been said in the noisy station, and Basil’s hansom cab drove him rapidly towards his new home, he felt wonderfully ready and prepared for his new work.
The cab moved slowly up Chancery Lane, then turned into the sudden quiet of Lincoln’s Inn. It was almost like going back to Oxford, he thought, with a quick glow of pleasure to see himself surrounded by mellow, ancient buildings once more.
All his heavy personal effects had been sent here from Walktown some days before, and when he had carried up his two portmanteaus he knocked at the outside door of the chambers, and saw that his name was freshly painted on the lintel of the door under the two others:
MR. HAROLD M. SPENCE
MR. CYRIL HANDS
REV. BASIL GORTRE
In a minute he heard footsteps. The inner door was opened and he saw a tall, thin man, bearded and brown, peering at him through spectacles.
“Ah! Gortre, I suppose,” said the other. “We were expecting you. I’m Hands, you know, home for another month yet. Give me these bags. Come in, come in.”
Basil followed the big, stooping fellow with a sense of well-being at the cheery informality of his greeting.
He found himself in a large room, panelled from floor to ceiling, the woodwork painted a sage green. Three great windows, each with a cushioned seat in its recess, looked down into the quadrangle below. Doors faced him on all sides of the room, which was oddly shaped and full of nooks and angles. Books and newspapers covered three writing tables, and more were piled on shelves between the doors.
“I have got you a sort of meal, Gortre,” said Hands, pleasantly, “though we were rather in doubt as to what a man could want at four o’clock in the afternoon. Spence suggested afternoon tea, as you’ll be wanting to dine later on. But Mrs. Buscall, our housekeeper, suggested cold beef and Bass’s beer, after a sea voyage which she regards as a sort of Columbus adventure. So here you are. Harold is just getting up.”
Indeed, as he spoke there came a noise of vigorous splashing from behind one of the closed doors, and Spence’s voice bellowed out a greeting.
Basil looked puzzled for a moment and Hands laughed as he saw it.
“You must appreciate that Spence doesn’t get back from The Daily Wire office till three in the morning,” he said. “He’s writing four leaders a week for The Wire now, and on his late nights, when he comes back, his brain is too alert and excited to sleep. So he has some Bovril and just works away at other stuff till morning. He won’t interfere with us, though. I never hear him come in, nor will you. These chambers are a regular rabbit warren for size and ramification.”
Basil went into the bedroom he was to have, a spacious, clean, and simply furnished place, and when he came out again for his meal he found Spence, wearing a loose suit of flannels. The journalist joined him at the table.
In a very short time Basil felt thoroughly at home. He knew by a kind of instinct he would be happy in Lincoln’s Inn. Cyril Hands had still a month to spend in London before he went back to Palestine to continue his work for the Exploring Society, and he looked forward to many interesting talks with him. Hands, he learnt, was the agent and superintendent of the work in Jerusalem, the trained eye and arm of the great and influential Palestine Exploring Society.
As for Harold Spence, he had known him ever since his first Oxford days, many years ago now. Spence was like a brother to him -- had always been that.
After the noisy isolation of Walktown, Basil felt he was now in the centre of things. Both Spence and Hands were thoroughly cultured men, and both were distinguished above the crowd in their respective spheres.
Basil heard keen, critical, "inside" talk for almost the first time. His two companions knew everybody, were at the hub of things. Two nights ago Spence had been talking to the Prime Minister for ten minutes. -- The Daily Wire was the unofficial Government organ. Hands had been at Lambeth with the Archbishop, who was the president and patron of the Palestine Exploring Society.
“I’m sorry, Basil,” Spence said suddenly, “I have a note for you from Father Ripon. I forgot to give it to you. He sent it down by a special messenger this morning.”
Father Ripon was the vicar of St. Mary’s, Basil Gortre’s new chief. He took the note and opened it.
THE CLERGY HOUSE
ST MARY’S, BLOOMSBURY.
Dear Mr. Gortre,
Friend Spence says you will arrive in London this afternoon. I don’t believe in wasting time and I want a good long talk with you before you begin your work with us. Tonight I am due at Bethnal Green to give a lecture. I will be driving home about ten and I’ll call at Lincoln’s Inn on my way. If this will not be too late for you, we can then talk matters over.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Basil passed the note to Spence.
"That will be all right," he said. "I'll be at work, and Hands will be in his own room. What a man Ripon is! He's just the incarnation of breezy energy. Brusque, unconventional, but one of the sincerest Christians and best men I ever met or ever will meet. He signs his note like that because he means it. He hates hypocrisy, and what in some men would appear a rather unnecessary form of ending, is to him just an ordinary everyday fact. You'll get on with Father Ripon, Basil, I'm sure, and get to love the man as we all do. I never knew anyone as absolutely joyous as he is. His private income is nearly two thousand a year, and his living's worth something too, yet I don't suppose his own expenses are fifty pounds. He lives more or less on porridge -- when he remembers to eat at all -- and his only extravagance is hansom cabs, so that he can cram more work into the day."
They all laughed, and Spence began to tell anecdotes of the famous “ritualistic” parson who daily filled more stomachs, saved more souls, and shocked more narrow-minded people than any two clergymen in the Crockford directory.
At seven o'clock they all went out together -- Spence to his adjacent newspaper office in Fleet Street, the other two to dine quietly at the University Club.
“London depresses me,” said Hands, when they were seated on the top of a horse drawn omnibus and rolling westward through the Strand. “I’m afraid I’ll never be in love with London anymore. I always dislike my vacations, or rather my business visits here to town. It is necessary that I attend the annual meeting of the Palestine Exploring Society and see people in authority. And of course I have to give a few lectures. But I hate it all the same. I love the simple life of the Middle East: the sun, the deep blue shadows, my silent Arab workers. I know of no more beautiful sight than the Holy City when the hills are covered with the January snows. Why do they call Rome the Holy City? Jerusalem is the Holy City. It is a wonderful, immemorial land, Gortre -- a silent, beautiful country. Just before I came over here I spent a fortnight working at some inscriptions in a very ancient Latin monastery. I never knew such peace. And then I come back and I'm plunged into this!"
He threw out his hand over the side of the omnibus with a note of disgust in his rather dreamy voice. The Strand was brilliantly lit and waiting crowds stood by all the theatre doors. Men and women passed in and out of the bright orange light of bars and restaurants, and small filthy boys stabbed the sound of the traffic with their shrill voices as they called out the evening papers.
They dined quietly and simply at Hands’ big warm club in Piccadilly. Hands did most of the talking and Basil was content to listen to the pleasant monotony of the low, level voice and fall under the man’s peculiar spell or charm.
As he listened, Basil also began to feel something of the mystery and enchanting influence of that country of the Son of God’s birth.
It was half-past nine when they got back to the chambers. Hands went at once to his room to work, and Basil sat in front of a red, glowing fire, gazing into the hot caverns, lost in reverie. It was as though he had taken some opiate and there was nothing better in life than to sit and dream in the warm silence of the fire-lit room.
A few minutes after ten he was suddenly called out of the clouds by a furious knocking at the door of the chambers.
The sound cut into his thoughts like a knife.
He went to open the door, and Father Ripon, his new vicar, came in like a whirlwind. His voluminous black cloak brought cold air in its folds. His breezy, genial personality struck such a strident, material note, that dreams and reverie fled before it.
Basil turned up the gas jets and flooded the room with light.
Father Ripon was a tall, well-made man, too active to be portly, but with hints of a tendency towards plumpness, which was never allowed to ripen. The mobile face glowed and flashed continually with changing expression. In the ordinary business of life, the large humanity of the man gave him a readier title to the hearts of his people than their knowledge of the underlying saintliness of his character.
“Whisky?” he said, as Basil offered him some. “No, thanks. Teetotaller for sake of example, always have been. Don’t like the stuff either, never did. But I’ll have some coffee and some bread and butter if you’ve got it, and some of those oranges I see there. Forgot to lunch and had no time to dine!”
He began ravenously on the oranges and with little further preamble plunged at once into the business of the parish. To emphasise a point, he flung a piece of orange peel into the fire now and again.
“Our congregation,” he said, “is peculiar to the church. You’ll realise that when you get among them. I don’t suppose in the whole of London there’s a more difficult class of people to reach than our own. In the first place, it is a young congregation, speaking generally. ‘Good,’ you’ll say; ‘ductile material, plenty of enthusiasm to work on.’ Not a bit of it. Most of the men are engaged in the City as clerks on a small wage. The lowest and the highest classes are far easier to get at because they are temperamentally more alike. As they have no settled place in society, these are horribly afraid of ridicule. They are a far more difficult lot than their colleagues who live in the suburbs and have chances for healthier recreations.
“Then much of our work lies among women who seem irretrievably lost, and, I fear, very often are. The Bloomsbury district is honeycombed with well-conducted dens of impurity. The women of a certain class have fixed on the parish as their home. I don’t mean the starving prostitute one finds in the East End. I mean the fairly prosperous, utterly immoral women. In the great and luxurious buildings of flats which have sprung up in all the squares, the well-known London people who dance on the stage, and whose pictures glare on one from every hoarding, have made their homes. They constantly parade before the eyes of others the wealth which is the reward of lust.
"This is a wicked part of London, Gortre. And yet, day by day, in our beautiful church, where the Holy Communion is celebrated and prayers go up unceasingly, we have evidences that our work is acceptable and that the power of our Lord is with us. The prostitute still comes with her jewels and her tears of repentance. I ask and beg of you to remember certain things -- keep them always before your eyes -- during your ministry among us. Whenever a man or woman comes to you, and tells of incredible sins, welcome the very slightest movement towards the light. Cultivate an all-embracing sympathy. I firmly believe that more souls have been lost by a repellent manner on the part of a church minister, or an apparent lack of understanding, than anyone has any idea of. Err rather on the side of compassion. Who are we to judge?"
As Basil listened with deep attention to the vicar’s earnest words, he began to realise more clearly the difficulties of his new life. And yet the obstacles did not daunt him. They seemed rather a trumpet note for battle. Ripon’s enthusiasm was contagious. He felt the exhilaration of the tried soldier at a coming contest.
"One more thing," said the vicar. "In all your teaching and preaching, hammer away at the great central fact of the Incarnation of our Lord. No system of morals will reach these people -- however plausible, however pure -- unless you constantly bring the spiritual side of our faith before them. Preach the Incarnation day in, day out. Don't, like so many men, regard the truth of God being born as Man, and His death on the Cross to forgive our sins, as an accepted fact by all. Get that central truth into the hearts of a congregation, and everything else will follow. I have kept you late, but I wished to have a talk with you. A good deal will devolve on you. You are to preach at Sunday Evensong. Sir Michael Manichoe, our patron, will be there, and there will certainly be a large congregation."
He turned, said goodnight with sudden abruptness as if he had been lingering too long and was displeased with himself, and hurried away. Basil was soon to discover that this was his usual manner of farewell.
A few minutes afterwards, Basil went to bed. He found it difficult to believe that he had walked down the Faubourg de la Barre in France that morning. It had been a crowded day.
Sir Michael Manichoe was the great supporter of St. Mary’s. His father had been a wealthy banker in Rome. The son, who had enormously increased his inherited wealth, took up a strong Christian faith during his Oxford days in England. He was the Conservative member for a division in Lincolnshire, where his great country house was situated, and had become a pillar of the Church and State in England.
He was the great opponent of Constantine Schuabe, having equal wealth and position. Although Schuabe was by far the more brilliant of the two men, Sir Michael devoted all his energies to the opposition of the secular and agnostic influences of his political rival.
Every Sunday during the session, when he was in London, Sir Michael drove to St. Mary’s for both the morning and evening services. He was churchwarden, intimately concerned in all the parochial business, while his purse was always open at Father Ripon’s request.
Basil had been introduced to Sir Michael during the week, and he knew the great man would be attending to hear his first sermon at St. Mary’s on the Sunday evening.
He prepared his discourse with extreme care. A natural wish to make a good first impression animated him; but as he sat late on the Saturday night, finally arranging his notes, he began to be conscious of new and surprising thoughts about the coming event. Earlier in the evening he had been talking to Cyril Hands, but the archaologist had gone to bed and left him alone.
The day had been a gloomy one. A black pall of fog had fallen over London at dawn and remained all day, almost choking him as he conducted evensong in the Saturday service in the almost empty church.
All day long he had felt strangely overburdened and depressed. A chance paragraph in an evening paper, stating that Mr. Schuabe, MP, had returned from a short Continental trip, started an uneasy train of thought. The memory of the terrible night with Schuabe at Walktown, all those months ago, recurred to him with a horrible sense of unreality. The picture was blurred somewhat, as if the fingers of the disease which had struck him down after their first meeting, were again pressing on his brain.
Much of what he remembered of that dread interview in Schuabe’s house must surely have been delusion. And yet in all other matters he was sane enough. Many times he had met and argued with unbelievers. They had saddened him, but no more. Why did this man, notorious atheist as he was, fill him with a shuddering fear, a horror for which he had no name?
Then also, what had been the significance of the incident at Dieppe -- its true significance? Sir Robert Llwellyn had also inspired him with a feeling of utter loathing and abhorrence, though perhaps in a lesser degree. There was the sudden glimpse of Schuabe's signature on the letter. What was the connection between the two men? How could the Antichristian be in friendly communion with the greatest Bible scholar of the time?
He recalled an even more sinister occurrence, or so it had seemed to him. Two days after his first introduction to Sir Robert Llwellyn and the dinner at the Pannier d’Or, he had seen him enter the Paris train with Schuabe himself, who had just arrived from England. He had said nothing of the incident to Mr. Byars or Helena. They would have regarded it as ordinary enough. They knew nothing of what had earlier passed between him and Schuabe. Sir Robert Llwellyn’s deliberate words in the restaurant of new discoveries at Jerusalem came back to him again and again, taking possession of his brain and ousting all other thoughts. What new discoveries was the Professor hinting at?
What did the whole obsession of his brain mean?
Curiously enough, he felt certain that these thoughts were in no way heralds of a new attack of brain fever. It seemed as if the persistent whisperings within him were rather the results of some spiritual message with some definite end and purpose in view.
The more he prayed, the stronger his premonitions became. Added force was given to them, as if they were the direct causes of his supplications.
It seemed that God was speaking to him.
He had questioned Cyril Hands cautiously, trying to learn if any new and important facts bearing on Biblical history were indeed likely to be discovered in the near future.
The answer did not amount to much. The new and extensive excavations, under the permission of the lately granted permit from the Turkish Government, were only just beginning. The real work was to commence when Hands finished his work in London and returned to take charge of the operations.
Of course, Hands had said there were possibilities of discovery of first-class importance, but he doubted it. The locality of Golgotha and the Holy Sepulchre was already established, in Hands’s opinion. He had but little doubt of the authenticity of the established sites. Llwellyn’s theories he dismissed altogether, while agreeing with him in his dismissal of the Gordon Tomb.
So there had been very little from Hands that was in any way satisfactory to Basil.
But as he sat in the great silence of the night and read over the headings of his sermon, a great sense of comfort came to him. He felt a mysterious sense of power, not merely because he knew the sermon was good, but something beyond that. He was conscious that for some reason or other that particular sermon which he was about to preach was one on which much depended. He could not say how or why he knew the thing was fraught with destiny to himself or others. He only knew it.
When he looked back on the terrible and stupendous events in which he was to play so prominent a part, he was able to see clearly the chain of events, and to place his experience about what he always afterwards called his “Resurrection sermon” in their proper sequence.
But that night as he prayed before going to sleep, he only felt a sweet security as he placed the sermon on the chair by his bedside.
The pulpit was high above the heads of the people, much higher than is usual, a box of stone set in the great arch of the chancel.
As Basil stood for a moment after the prayer before he preached, he looked down the great building and saw the hundreds of watchful, expectant faces, and felt an uplifting sense of power. He felt as if he were a mouthpiece of an unseen force. The air seemed full of wings.
For a moment he paused and sent a keen glance over the congregation below. He saw Sir Michael Manichoe sitting in his front pew. A few seats behind him, with a sudden throb of surprise but nothing else, he saw the calm and evil magnificence of Constantine Schuabe’s face looking up at him.
The strangeness of the appearance and the shock of it had at that moment no menace or intimidation for him. Standing there to deliver God’s message, in God’s house, his enemy seemed to have no power to throw his brain into its old fear and tumult.
Another face, unknown to him, arrested his attention.
The sexes were not separated for worship in St. Mary’s. In the same pew where Schuabe sat was a woman, handsome, expensively dressed.
They sat apart, and it was obvious there was no connection between her and the millionaire. Her face, as Basil’s eyes rested on it for a second, seemed to be curiously familiar, as if he saw it every day of his life, but it nevertheless struck no personal note.
Basil began to speak, taking for his text part of a verse from the Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans -- "Declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection of the dead."
“In this world of today,” he began calmly, and with a certain deliberation and precision in his utterance, “what people in general are hungering after is a positive assurance of actual spiritual agency in the world. They crave for something to hold which is outside themselves, and which cannot have grown out of their inner persuasions. If I can tonight show that any appearance of the Risen Lord is attested in the same way as are certain facts commonly accepted as history, I will have accomplished as much as I can hope.”
Then, very carefully, Basil went through the scientific and historical evidences for the truth of the Resurrection. The eyewitnesses who became changed men and women, the Apostles who faced death as they passed on this good news of the Resurrection they had witnessed, to countries far and wide. Gradually, as he marshalled his proofs and brought forth one after the other, he began to make his objective the pew where Schuabe and the unknown woman sat.
Slowly Basil's voice became more resonant and triumphant. To many of the congregation, the overwhelming and stupendous evidences for the truth of the Gospel narratives which the study of late years had collected was entirely new. The fact that it is not only in science that "discoveries" can be made; the excavations in the Middle East and the newly discovered manuscripts, with their variations of reading; the possibility that the lost Aramaic original of St. Matthew's Gospel may yet be discovered -- these were all things which came to them for the first time in their lives. Their interest was profoundly quickened.
As he began to bring his arguments to a close, Basil was conscious that the people were with him. He could feel the minds around him thinking in unison. It was almost as if he heard the thoughts of the congregation. The striking woman stared straight up at him. Trouble was in her eyes, an awakened consciousness, and Basil knew that the truth was dropping steadily into her mind, and it seemed to be unwelcome and alarming to her.
He felt also the bitter antagonism which was alive and working behind the impassive face and half-closed eyes of the millionaire below. It was a silent duel between them. He knew his words were full of meaning, even of conviction to Schuabe, and yet he was subjectively conscious of some reserve of force, some hidden sense of fearful power, a desperate resolve he could not overcome.
Basil felt his soul wrestle in this dark, mysterious conflict as with a devil, but he could not prevail.
He finished his arguments, the last of his proofs. There was a hushed silence in the church.
Then swiftly, with a voice which trembled with the power that was given him, he called them to repentance and a new life. If, he said, his words had carried conviction of the truth of Christ’s resurrection, of His divinity, then there was only one course open to them all: to come to Christ for forgiveness and salvation. To know the truth, to believe it, and continue in indifference, was to kill the soul.
It was over. Father Ripon had pronounced the blessing, the great organ was thundering out the ending of another Sunday, and Sir Michael was shaking hands warmly with Basil in the vestry.
Basil felt exhausted by the long, nervous strain, but the evident pleasure of Father Ripon and Sir Michael, the knowledge that he had acquitted himself well, was comforting and sustaining.
He walked home, down quiet Holborn which was curiously dead without the traffic of a week day. Lincoln's Inn was wonderfully soothing and quiet as his footsteps echoed in the old quadrangle. After a lonely, tranquil supper -- Hands was at a dinner party somewhere in Mayfair, and Spence was at the office of The Daily Wire preparing for Monday's paper -- he pulled a small writing desk up to the fireside and began a long letter of news and thankfulness to Helena.
He pictured the pleasant dining room at Walktown, the Sunday night's supper, -- an institution at the Vicarage after the labours of the busiest day in the week, -- with a guest or two perhaps.
He knew they would be thinking of him, as he was now of them, and pictured the love-light in his fiancée’s calm eyes.
Autumn came to London, a warm, lingering season. Basil Gortre had settled down to steady, regular work. At no time before had a routine been so pleasant to him. His days were full of work, which, hard as it was, came to him with far more appeal than his previous duties at Walktown. Nothing ever stagnated here in London, at the very hub and centre of things.
There was the splendid energy and force of Father Ripon, with his magnificent, unconventional methods as he animated his staff to constant and unflagging exertions. Basil felt he had suddenly “grown up,” that his life before had been spent in futile playtime compared to the present.
One central fact in St. Mary's parish held all the great organisation together -- the daily services in the great church. Priests, deacons, sisters of mercy, school teachers, and lay helpers all drew their strength and inspiration from this source. The daily Holy Communion, matins, evensong, were a stimulus and stimulant of enormous power.
Church brought the mysteries in which they lived, moved, and had their being into intimate relation with every circumstance of daily life.
The extraordinary thing, which many of Father Ripon’s staff were almost unable to understand, was that more people did not avail themselves of such helpful opportunities.
"They are always coming to me," the vicar had said on one occasion, "and complaining that they find such a tremendous difficulty in leading a holy life. They say the worldly surroundings and so forth kill their good impulses -- and yet they won’t come to church. People are such fools! My young men imagine they can become good Christians by a sort of sudden magic -- misdemeanours on Saturday night, and after a visit to church and a few tears in the vestry, a saint for evermore! And then when they get drunk or do something awful the next week, they rail against the Christian Faith because it isn't a sort of spiritual handcuffs! Yet if you told them you could manage a bank after a short experience in a shipping office, they would see the absurdity of that at once. Donkeys!"
This with a genial smile of tenderness and compassion, for this Whirlwind in a Cassock loved his flock.
So from the very first Basil found his life pleasant. Privately he blessed his good fortune in living in Lincoln’s Inn with Harold Spence.
Basil admired Spence greatly for some of his qualities. His intellect was, of course, first class -- his high position on the great daily paper guaranteed that. His reading and sympathies were wide. Moreover, Basil found great refreshment in the fact that, in an age of indifference, at a time when the best intellects of younger London life were professedly agnostic, Harold Spence was a declared Christian.
As Basil got to know Spence better, when the silence and detachment of midnight in the old Inn broke down reticence, Spence had hinted of days of sin and secret shame. And now, very soberly and without any emotion, he clung to Christ for help.
And he had conquered.
This was ever a glorious fact to Basil. Another miracle in those thousands of daily miracles which were happening all around him. But his anxiety for Harold Spence came from his realisation of his friend’s exact spiritual grip. Spence’s Christian faith was rather basic. Perhaps the deep inward conviction was weak. He often prayed long that nothing would ever occur to shake Spence’s belief; for he felt, if that should happen, the disaster would prove irreparable.
But he kept all these thoughts locked in his heart, and never spoke of them to his friend.
Since the evening of his first sermon in St. Mary’s, Basil had never seen Constantine Schuabe again. Now and then the thought of the millionaire passed through his mind, and his mental sight seemed obscured for a moment, as though great wings hid the sun from him. But since the silent duel in the church, the curious and malign influence of the militant atheist was without force. Fine health, the tonic of constant work, the armour of continual prayer, were able to banish much of what he now looked back on as his sickness, sinister though it had been.
Nevertheless, one thing often reminded him of that night. The young lady he had seen sitting in the same pew with Schuabe often came to church on Sunday nights when he was preaching. The bold and beautiful face looked up at him with steady interest. The fierce regard had something passionate and yet wistful in it.
Sometimes Basil found himself preaching almost directly to the face and soul of the unknown woman. There was an understanding between them. He knew it; he felt it most certainly.
Sometimes she would remain in her seat after the throng had shuffled away into the night. She did not pray, but sat still, with her musing eyes fixed on the huge ten foot cross that swung down from the chancel arch.
Once, as he passed the pew on the way to baptise the child of a poor woman of the streets -- brought in furtively after the Sunday evensong -- she made a movement as if to speak to him. He had waited in expectation for a moment, but she remained still, and he passed on to the font with its sad cluster of outcasts, its dim gas jets, and the tiny child of shame with its thin cry of distress.
He was asking the mother the tremendous question: “Dost thou, in the name of this child, renounce the devil and all his works, the vain pomp and glory of the world, with all covetous desires of the same, and the carnal desires of the flesh, so that thou wilt not follow nor be led by them?” when he saw the unknown woman standing close by, within the shadow of a pillar. A gleam of yellow light fell on her rich dress, and her eye glittered behind her white veil. He thought there was a teardrop in it. But when he finished saying the exhortation he realised the tall, silent figure had departed.
He often wondered who the woman was, if he would ever know her.
Something told him she wanted help. Something assured him he would some day give that help to her.
And beyond this, there was an unexplained conviction within him that the stranger was in some way concerned and bound up in the part he was to play in life.
The episode of the cigarettes happened in this way.
Stokes, one of Basil Gortre’s fellow-curates, came to supper one night in Lincoln’s Inn. Harold Spence was there also, as it was one of his free nights.
About ten o’clock supper was over and they proposed to have a little music. Stokes was a fine pianist, and he had brought some of the nocturnes and ballads of Chopin with him, to try on the small black-cased piano which stood at the end of the large sitting room.
“Will you smoke, Stokes?” Spence said.
“Thank you, I’ll have a cigarette,” the young man replied. “I can’t stand cigars, and I have left my pipe at the Clergy House.”
They looked for cigarettes in the silver box lined with cedar which stood on the mantelshelf, but the box was empty.
“Never mind,” Spence said. “I have been meaning to run out and get a late copy of The Westminster and I’ll buy some cigarettes, too. There’s a shop at the Holborn end of the Lane, next to the shop where the oysters come from, and it won’t be shut yet.”
In a few minutes he came back. “I have brought Virginian,” he said. “I know you can’t stand Egyptian.”
Till eleven o'clock Stokes played to them -- Chopin's wild music of melancholy and fire -- and as the hour struck he went home.
Gortre and Spence sat and talked casually after he had gone, about the music they had heard, the cartoon in the evening paper, anything that came.
Basil had not been smoking during the evening. He had been too intent on the nocturnes, and now he felt a want of tobacco. One of the packets of cigarettes lay by him on the table. He pulled up the flaps and took one. Without thinking what he was doing he drew a small photograph from the cardboard case.
He glanced at it casually.
It was one of those pictures of burlesque actresses given away with this kind of tobacco. A tall girl with short skirts and a large picture hat was shown in a seductive attitude that was meant to be full of invitation.
Basil looked at it steadily with a curious expression on his face. Then he took a large reading glass from the table and examined it again. It was the portrait of the strange girl who came to St. Mary’s.
Basil had already told Spence of this woman, and now he passed the photograph on to him.
"Harold, that's the girl who comes to church and looks so unhappy. She's an actress, of course. The name is underneath -- Miss Gertrude Hunt. Who's Gertrude Hunt?"
Spence took the card. “How very strange,” he said, “to find your unknown like this. Gertrude Hunt? Why, she’s a well-known musical comedy girl. Sings and dances at the Regent. There are all the usual stories about the lady, but possibly they’re all lies. I’m sure I don’t know. I have chucked that sort of society long ago. Are you sure it is the same person?”
“Absolutely sure! Of course, this shows the girl in a different dress and so on, but it is her without a doubt. I’m glad she comes to church.”
He sighed, thinking of the many chilling experiences of the last few months in the vice-haunted streets and squares of Bloomsbury.
“Well,” said Spence, “I hope you’ll be able to do some good. Personally, anything of the sort would be impossible to me. Goodnight, old man. I’m going to turn in. I have a hard day’s work tomorrow. Sleep well.”
He went out of the room with a yawn.
When he was left alone, with his little mystery solved in so strange a fashion, Basil was conscious of a curious disappointment. It was an anti-climax.
He had no narrow objection to the theatre. Now and then he had been to see famous actors in great plays. His occasional visits to the theatres of Irving or Wyndham had given him pleasure. However much the apologists of the stage may cry “art” or “beneficial influence,” Basil knew there was sometimes a kind of wonder in the heart of a sincere Christian who attends a theatre as he remembers his body is the Temple of the Holy Spirit.
Still Basil was tolerant enough. But this case which had thrust itself before him was quite different. He knew the burlesque, the modern music play, made, first and foremost, a frank appeal to the senses. Its hopeless vulgarity and coarseness of sentiment, its entire lack of appeal to anything that was not debased and materialistic, were ordinary indisputable facts of everyday life.
And so his lady of evensong was a high priestess of nothing better than this cult of froth and gaudy sensuality. More than all others, his experiences of late had taught him that women of this type seemed to be very nearly soulless. Their souls had dissolved in champagne; their consciences were burnt up by the feverish excitement and pleasure of their lives. They sold themselves for luxury and the adulation of coarse men.
His disappointment made him bitter and contemptuous more than usual.
Then his eye lit on a photogravure hung on the opposite wall. It was the reproduction of a quaint, decorative, stilted picture by an artist of the early Umbrian school, and represented St. Mary Magdalene.
The coincidence checked his contemptuous thoughts.
He began to reconstruct the scene in his brain, a favourite and profitable exercise of his, using his knowledge and study of New Testament times to animate the picture and make it vivid.
They were all resting, or rather lying, around the table, their bodies resting on the couch, their feet turned away from the table in the direction of the wall, while their left elbows rested on the table.
And then, from the open courtyard, up the veranda step, perhaps through an antechamber. and by the open door passed a woman into the festive reception room and dining hall. How had she gained access? How incongruous her figure must have been there. In those days the Jewish prejudice against any conversation with women -- even those of the most lofty character -- was extreme.
The shadow of her form must have fallen on all who sat at meat. But no one spoke, nor did she heed any but Jesus only.
The woman had brought with her an alabaster box of perfume. It was a flask of precious foliatum, probably, which women wore round the neck, and which hung over the breast. The woman stood behind Jesus, and as she bowed reverently a shower of tears, like sudden summer rain, bedewed His feet.
Basil went through the whole scene until the final words of Jesus: “Go into peace” not go in peace, as some would have it.
And so she, who had come to Him for spiritual healing, went out into the better light, and into the eternal peace of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Basil tore up the little photograph and forgot that aspect of the dancer. He remembered instead the dim figure by the font.
There was a sudden furious knocking on the outer door of the chambers, and he went to open it.
Basil knew for certain that his vicar stood outside. The knocking was full of militant Christianity. Father Ripon refused to live by any standard of measured time. He refused -- so he said -- to believe that a wretched little clock really knew what the great golden sun was doing. He explained he had found it impossible to call before this late hour, and he came regardless of it now. He wished to see Basil.
As usual, the worthy man was hungry, and the remains of supper on the table reminded him of that. He sat down at once and began to eat rapidly, telling his story between mouthfuls.
"I bring you news of a wonderful opportunity," he said. "If you go to work in the right way you may win a soul. It is a poor dancer at the theatres. She came to me in her carriage, her furs, and finery, and had a serious talk in my study. I gave her tea and a cigarette -- you know I always keep some cigarettes. All these women smoke. It is a great thing to treat these people with understanding and knowledge, Gortre. Don't 'come the priest' over them, as a seller with a handcart said to me last week. When they realise that you are a nonjudgmental man, then they are fifty times more willing to allow the other and more important thing.
"Well, this poor girl told me the same sordid story one's always hearing. She's a favourite burlesque actress, and she lives very expensively in those gorgeous new flats -- Bloomsbury Court. Some wealthy scoundrel pays for it all. A man 'in a very high position,' as she said with a pathetic touch of pride which made me want to weep. Oh, my dear fellow, if the world only knew what I know! Great and honoured names in the senate, the forum, the Court, unsullied before the eyes of men. And then these hideous establishments and secret ties. This is a wicked city, Gortre. The deadly lusts which war against the soul are great, powerful, and militant all around us.
“This poor woman has been coming regularly to church on Sundays. The first time was when you preached your capital sermon on the Resurrection. Now she’s dying from a slow complaint. She will live a year or two, the doctors think, and that’s all. It doesn’t prevent her from living her ordinary life, but it will strike her down suddenly some day.
“She’s expressed a wish to see you to talk things over. She thinks you can help her. Go to her and save her. We must.”
He handed Basil a visiting card, on which he saw the name of Gertrude Hunt, with a curious lack of surprise.
“Well, I must be off,” said Father Ripon, rising from the table with a large hunk of bread and cheese in one hand. “Go and see this poor woman tomorrow evening. She tells me she’s not acting for a week or two. Rehearsing some new play. Isn’t it wonderful to think of the things that are going on every day? Just think of the Holy Spirit pouring into this sinning woman’s heart, catching her in the middle of her champagne and frivolity, and turning her, almost compelling her towards Christ! And men like Constantine Schuabe say there's no truth in Christianity -- I'll take one of these apples -- poor fools! Now I must go and write my sermon."
He was gone in a clattering rush.
For a long time Basil sat thinking. The mysterious links of some great chain were being revealed inch by inch. He felt sure there was far more behind them than he knew as yet. There was some unseen tie, some influence that drew his thoughts ever more and more towards the disagreement in Schuabe’s library in Manchester.
The next evening a maid showed Basil into the hall of the flat of Bloomsbury Court Mansions, eyeing him curiously as she did so.
He passed down the richly carpeted passage with a quickening of all his pulses, noticing the Moorish lamps of copper studded with turquoise which threw a dim crimson light over everything, marking the ostentatious luxury of the place with wonder.
Gertrude Hunt lay back in a low armchair. She was dressed in a long, crimson tea gown of cashmere, with a broad white band round the neck opening, of white Indian needlework embroidered with dark green leaves.
Her face looked pale and tired.
Despite the general warmth of the time, a fire burnt steadily on the hearth.
Basil sat down at her invitation, and they fell into a half-hearted conversation. He waited for her to open up on the real subjects that had brought him there.
He watched the weary but attractive face. This woman, who lived the life of a doll, had character. He could see that. Perhaps, he thought, as he looked at her, that the very eagerness and greed for pleasure marked in her face, the passionate determination to tear the heart and core out of life, might still be directed to purer ends.
Then she began to talk to him frankly, with no disguise or passing over the facts of her life.
"I'm sick and tired of it all, Mr. Gortre," she said bitterly. "You can't know what it means a bit -- lucky for you. Imagine spending all your life in a room painted bright yellow, eating nothing but chocolate creams, with a band playing comic songs for ever and ever. And even then you won't get it."
Basil shook his head. There was something so poignant and forceful in her words that they hurt, stung like a whiplash. He was being brought into grim contact not only with the grip of sin, but with its results. The hideous staleness and torture of it appalled him as he looked at this human personification of it in the crimson gown.
“That’s how it was at first,” she continued. “I knew there was something more than this in life, though. I could read it in people’s faces. So I came to the service at your church one Sunday evening. I’d never made fun of religion and all that at any time. I simply couldn’t believe it, that was all. Then I heard you preach on the Resurrection. I heard all the proofs for the first time. Of course, I could see there wasn’t any doubt about the matter at all. Then, curiously, directly I began to believe in Jesus, I began to hate the way I was going on, so I went to Father Ripon, who was very nice, and he said you’d call.”
“I quite understand you, Miss Hunt,” said Basil. “That’s the beauty of faith. When once you believe, then you’ve got to change. It is a great pity, a very great pity, that church ministers don’t attempt to explain things more than they do. If one isn’t built in a certain way, I can quite understand and sympathise with anyone who isn’t able to take a parson’s mere statement on trust, so to speak. But that’s beside the way. You believe at any rate. And now what are you going to do? I’m here to help you in every possible way. I want to hear your views, just as you’ve thought them out.”
“I like that,” she said. “That’s practical and sensible. I have never cared very much for sentimental ways of looking at things. You already know I can’t live very long. I have got enough to live quietly on for some years, put away in a bank, money I have made acting. I haven’t spent a penny of my salary for years. I tell men I don’t have any money, and make them pay for everything. I’ll go quietly away to the country and be alone with my thoughts, close to a little quiet church. You’ll find a place for me, won’t you? That’s what I want to do. But there’s something in the way, and a big something, too.”
“I’m here to help that,” said Basil.
“It’s Bob,” she answered. “The man that keeps me. I’m afraid of him. He’s been away for months, out of England, but he’s coming back. Tomorrow as likely as not. He couldn’t say to a day. I had a letter from Brindisi last week. He’s been to Palestine, via Alexandria.”
A quick premonition took hold of Basil. “Who is he?” he asked.
She took a photograph from the mantelshelf and gave it to him. It was one of the Stereoscopic Company's series of "celebrities." Under the portrait was printed -- "Sir Robert Llwellyn."
Gortre jumped violently. “I know him,” he said thickly. “I felt when I met him…. What does it all mean?”
He dropped his head into his hands, filled with the old, nameless, unreasoning fear.
She looked steadily at him, wondering at his manner.
There was a tense silence for a time.
In the silence they heard a sound, clear and distinct. A key was being inserted into the door of the flat.
They waited breathlessly. Gertrude Hunt grew white. Without any words from her, Basil knew whose fingers were even now on the handle of the door.
Llwellyn entered. His huge form was dressed in a light grey suit and he carried a straw hat in his hand. His face was burned a deep brown.
He stopped suddenly as he saw Basil, and an ugly look flashed out on the sensual, intellectual face. Some swift intuition seemed to give him the key of the situation, or something near it.
“The curate of Dieppe!” he said in a cold, mirthless voice. “And what, Mr. Gortre, may I ask, are you doing here?”
“Miss Hunt has asked me to come and see her,” answered Basil.
“Consoling yourself with the Church, Gertie, while your proprietor is away?” Llwellyn said with a sneer.
Then his manner changed suddenly.
He turned to Basil. “Now then, my man,” he snarled, “get out of this place at once! You may not know that I pay the rent and other expenses of this establishment. It’s mine. I know all about you. Your reputation has reached me from sources of which you have little idea. I saw you at Dieppe, and I don’t propose to resume our acquaintance in London. Kindly go. At once!”
Basil looked at the woman. He saw pleading, a horrifying entreaty in her eyes. If he left her now, the power of this man, his strength of will, might drag her back for ever into hell. He could see the girl regarded Llwellyn with terror. There was a great surprise in her face also. The man seemed so strong and purposeful. Basil remembered that Sir Robert Llwellyn had worn no such indefinable air of confidence and triumph when they met in France.
“Miss Hunt wants me to stay, sir,” he answered quietly, “and so I’m going to stay. But perhaps you had better be given an explanation at once. Miss Hunt is going to leave you tomorrow. She will never see you again.”
“And may I ask,” the big man answered, “why you have interfered in my private affairs and why you think -- for she is going to do nothing of the sort -- Miss Hunt is going from here?"
“Simply because the Holy Spirit wills it so,” said Basil.
Llwellyn looked steadily at him and then at the woman. Something he saw in their faces told him the truth.
He laughed shortly. “Let me tell you,” he said in a voice which quivered with ugly passion, “that in a short time all meddling priests will lose their power over the minds of others. For ever. Your Christ, your God, the pale dreamer of Palestine, will be revealed to you and all men at last!”
His manner had changed once more. Fierce as it was, there was an intense meaning and power in it. He spoke as one having authority, with a concentrated hate in his words, so real and bitter that it gave them a certain authority.
Basil answered him, “You lie and you know you lie! And by the powers given to me I will tell you from God Himself: Christ is risen! As the day follows the night, so the Spirit of God remains on the earth God once visited, and works on and in the hearts of men and women.”
“Are you going?” said Llwellyn, stepping towards Basil.
“No,” Basil answered in sharp, angry tones. “It is you who are going, Sir Robert. You know as well as I do that I can do exactly as I like with you if it comes to force. And really I’m not at all disinclined to do so, despite my parson’s coat. The newly made knight fighting a clergyman under such very curious circumstances? If this thing is to become open talk, then let us have it so. You can do me no harm. I came here at my vicar’s request and Miss Hunt’s. You know best if you can stand a scandal of this kind in your position. Now, are you going at once, or shall I knock you down and kick you out?”
He could not help a note of exultation in his voice, try as he did. He was still a young man, full of power and virility. As he heard the arrogant denial of Christ’s Godhead coming from those polluted lips, a wild longing flared up inside him. Like a sudden flame, the impulse to strike a clean, hard blow fired all his blood. The old Oxford days of athletic triumphs on field, flood, and river came back to him.
He measured the man carefully with his eyes, judging his distance, alert to strike.
Llwellyn did not seem in the least afraid of Basil or in any way intimidated by him. Indeed, he laughed, a laugh which was hollow, mirthless, and cold.
“Ah, my boy,” he said, “I have a worse harm with which to work you than you can dream of yet. You will remember me some day. You cannot frighten me now. I will go. I want no scandal. Goodbye, Gertrude. You also will remember and regret some day. Goodbye.”
He went noiselessly out of the room, still with the strange flickering smile of insight and fate on his evil face.
When he had gone, Gertrude fell into a passion of weeping. The strain had been too great. Basil comforted her as well as he could do so decorously, and before he went promised to see Father Ripon that night and make arrangements for her to quietly disappear the next day to some distant, undiscoverable haven.
Then he went out into the night.
Sir Robert walked swiftly to Oxford Street, where he found a cab. He ordered the man to drive him to the Sheridan Club. On the way he stopped at Charing Cross Station and ordered his luggage to be sent home at once to his house in Upper Berkeley Street. He had only been in London two or three hours, having crossed from Calais that afternoon.
He washed when he arrived at the famous club, before going upstairs to the grill room for some supper. It was the hour when the Sheridan was full of the upper Bohemian world. Great actors and musicians, a judge on his way through town from one watering place to another, -- for it was now the long vacation, -- a good many well-known journalists, all sorts and conditions of men. All were eminent in their field, for that was a condition of membership.
Llwellyn was welcomed on all sides, though men noticed he seemed preoccupied. His healthy appearance was commented on: his face browned, as was supposed, by the sun of the Riviera, his general fitness of manner and carriage.
He took supper by himself at a small table, choosing the menu with his usual extreme care, and more than once summoning the head waiter to conference. Although he kept glancing at his watch as if expecting an arrival, he made a good meal, mixing his own salad of crisp white lettuce with deliberation.
He had sent a page early on his arrival to find out if Mr. Constantine Schuabe was in the club.
He was standing at the desk in the middle of the room, paying his bill, when the swing doors were pushed open and Schuabe entered. He was in evening dress and carried a light overcoat on his arm.
Although the meeting between the two men was obviously prearranged, neither of the two men smiled as they shook hands. Both were expectant of each other, almost with some apprehension, it might have been fancied; and though the meeting seemed a relief to each, there was little human kindliness in it.
“Come down to my Hotel,” said Schuabe. “We cannot possibly say anything here. Every room is full.”
They walked out of the club together, two figures of noticeable distinction, very obviously belonging to the ruling classes of England. The millionaire’s pale and striking face was worn and lined as they walked to the Cecil Hotel, no great distance, saying little by the way, and presently they were in the millionaire’s great room, with its spacious view over the Thames.
The two men sat down in the centre of the room on light chairs, with a small Turkish table and cool drinks between them.
“You have received all my letters, my last from Jaffa?” asked Sir Robert.
“Yes, all of them,” said Schuabe. “Each one was carefully destroyed after I read it and memorised the contents. Let me say that you have done your work with extraordinary brilliance. It’s been an intellectual pleasure of a high order to follow your proceedings and know your plans. There’s not another man in the world who could do what you have done. Everything seems guarded against, all is secure.”
“You are right, Schuabe,” said Llwellyn, in a matter-of-fact voice. “You bade me make a certain thing possible. You paid me proportionately to the terrible risks, and for my unrivalled knowledge. Well, you and I are going to shake the whole world as no two other men have ever done. And what will be the end?”
"The end?" cried Schuabe, in a high, strained, unnatural voice. "Who can say? What man can know? For evermore the gigantic fable of the Cross and the Man God will be overthrown. The temples of the world will fall into the abomination of desolation, and you and I, latter-day bringers of light -- Lucifers! -- will kill the Nazarene more surely than the Jewish leaders and Roman soldiers of the past."
The great figure of the scholar shifted uneasily in its chair. “That fellow Gortre, that abominable young priest, has been getting in my way tonight,” Llwellyn said with a savage curse. “I found him with Gertrude Hunt, the woman I have spent thousands on! The priests have got her. She’s going to ‘lead a new life.’ She’s ‘found Christ’!”
Schuabe smiled, a cunning smile of unutterable malice. “That man has crossed my path also,” he said. “In some way, by a series of coincidences, he’s become involved in our lives. Leave the matter to me. So small a thing as the fanaticism of one obscure young man is nothing to trouble us. I will see to his future. But he will live to know what is coming to the world. Then -- it's easy enough to dispose of him."
They were silent for a minute or two. Sir Robert lifted a long glass to his lips. His hand shook with passion, and the ice in the liquid clinked and tinkled.
“Everything is ready,” he said at last, glancing at Schuabe. “Every detail. My Greek assistant, Ionides, knows what he has to do when he receives the signal. He’s a mere tool, and knows and cares nothing of what will happen. He has to direct the excavators in certain directions. That’s all. It will be three months, so I calculate, after we have set the machinery in motion, before the blow falls. It rests with you now to begin.”
“Why wait? The letter will go at once,” said Schuabe. His eyes glittered, his mouth worked with emotion. “It is a sheet of paper with a single sign on it.”
“What is the sign?”
“A drawing of a broken cross. Before the day dawns we will send the broken cross to Jerusalem.”
In the winter, two or three weeks before Christmas, Basil Gortre asked Father Ripon for a ten days’ holiday, and went north to Walktown to spend the time with Helena and Mr. Byars. Christmas itself could be no time of vacation for him. The duties of St. Mary’s would be heavy, so he snatched a respite from work before the actual time of festival.
Harold Spence was left alone in the chambers at Lincoln’s Inn. The journalist found himself discontented, lonely, and bored. He had not realised before how much Basil’s companionship had contributed to his happiness during the past few months.
He had spent a hard summer and autumn over very uncongenial work with the paper. For months there had been a curious lull and calm in the news world. Yet day by day The Daily Wire had to be filled. Not that there was any lack of material. Even in the dullest season the expert journalist will say that his difficulty is what to leave out of his paper, not what to put in, but the material was uninteresting and dull.
He felt himself that his leaders were growing stale, lacking in spontaneity. His style did not glitter and ring quite as usual. And Basil had helped him through this time wonderfully.
One Wednesday -- he remembered the day afterwards -- he awoke about midday. He had been late at the office the night before and afterwards had gone to a club, not going to bed till after four.
He heard the housekeeper moving about the chambers preparing his breakfast. He called to her, and in a minute or two she came in with his letters and a cup of tea. She went to the window and pulled up the blind, letting a dreary grey-yellow December light into the room.
“Nasty day, Mrs. Buscall,” he said, sipping his tea.
“It is, sir,” the woman said, a lean, kindly-faced Londoner from a court in Drury Lane. “Gives me a frog in my throat all the time, this fog does. You’d better let me pour a drop of hot water into your bath, sir. I have got the kettle on the gas stove.”
The woman had an objection to cold baths, deep-rooted and a matter of principle. The daily cold tub she regarded as suicidal, and when Basil Gortre had arrived, her pained surprise at finding him also -- a clergyman too! -- addicted to such adventurous and injudicious habits had been as extreme as her disappointment.
Spence agreed to humour her, and she began to prepare the bath.
“Letter from Mr. Cyril, I see, sir,” she remarked.
Mrs. Buscall loved the archaologist more than she did her other two charges. The unusual and mysterious had a real fascination for her uneducated Cockney brain. Cyril Hands's rare stays at the chambers, the Middle Eastern dresses and pictures in his room, his strange and perilous life -- as she considered it -- in the actual Bible land where Satan roamed the desert in the form of a lion seeking whom he might devour: all these stimulated her imagination and brought colour into the dreary courts of Drury Lane.
Most of the women around Mrs. Buscall drank gin. The doings of Cyril Hands were sufficient tonic for her.
Spence glanced at the bulky packet with its Turkish stamps, taking in the aroma which the London fog had not yet killed. Hands was a good correspondent. Sometimes he sent general articles on the work he was doing, not too technical, and Ommaney, the editor of Spence’s paper, used and paid well for them.
But at this moment Spence did not feel inclined to open the packet. It could wait. He was not in the humour for it now. It would be too tantalising to read of those deep skies like a hard, hollow turquoise, of the flaming white sun, the white mosques and minarets throwing purple shadows round the cypress and olive trees.
And now, after the chill of his bath and the rasping torture of shaving in winter, he must light all the gas jets as he sat down to his late breakfast in his sitting room.
He opened The Wire and glanced at his own work of the night before. How lifeless it seemed.
There were one or two invitations among his letters, two books sent by a young publisher, a friend of his, asking if he could get them “noticed” in The Wire, and a syllabus of some winter lectures to be given at Oxford House. His name was there. He was to lecture in January on “The Brotherhood of the Knights of St. John”.
After breakfast, the lunchtime of most of the world, he found it impossible to settle down to anything. He was not due at the office that night, and the long hours, without the excitement of his work, stretched rather hopelessly before him. He thought of paying calls in the various parts of the West End where he had friends whom he had rather neglected of late. But he dismissed that idea when it came, for he did not feel as if he could make himself very agreeable to anyone.
He wanted a complete change of some sort. He half thought of taking the train down to Brighton, fighting the cold, bracing winter sea winds on the lawns at Hove, and returning the next day.
He was certainly out of sorts, and the solution to his difficulties presented itself to him in the prospect of a Turkish bath.
He put his correspondence into the pocket of his overcoat, to be read at leisure, and took a cab to a bath in Jermyn Street.
The physical warmth, the silence, the dim lights and Oriental decorations, induced a supreme sense of comfort that brought Constantinople back to him in vague reverie.
Perhaps, he thought, a Turkish bath in London was the only easy way to obtain a sudden and absolute change of environment. Nothing else brought detachment so readily, was so instinct with change and the unusual.
And all the while the letter from Jerusalem was in his overcoat pocket, forgotten, hung in the entrance hall, while the church bells all over London were tolling for Evensong.
At length, as night was falling, Spence went out into the lighted streets with their sudden roar of welcome. He was immensely refreshed in brain and body. His thoughts moved quickly and well, depression had left him, the activity of his brain was unceasing.
He turned into St. James Street where his club was, intending to find someone who would go to a music hall with him. There was no one he knew intimately in the smoking room, but soon after he arrived, Lambert, one of the deputy curators from the British Museum, came in. Spence and Lambert had been at Marlborough together.
Spence asked Lambert, who was in evening dress, to be his companion.
"Sorry, I can't, old man," he answered. "I have got to dine with my uncle, Sir Michael. It's a bore, of course, but it's policy. The place will be full of bishops, minor Cabinet Ministers, and people of that sort. I only hope old Ripon will be there -- he's my uncle's tame vicar, you know. Uncle runs a church like some men run a theatre -- for he's always bright and amusing. You're not working tonight, then?"
“No, not tonight. I have just come from a Turkish bath, and I thought I would wind up a day of mild dissipation by going to the Empire.”
"Sorry I can't go -- awful bore. I have had a tiring day, too, and a ballet would be refreshing. The governor's been in a state of filthy irritation and nerves for the last fortnight."
“Sir Robert Llwellyn, the famous archaeologist, isn’t it?”
"Yes, he's my chief at the Museum, and a very good fellow too, as a rule. He went away for several months, you know -- travelled abroad for his health. When he first came back he looked as fit as a fiddle, and seemed awfully pleased with himself all round. But lately he's been decidedly off colour. He seems worried about something; does hardly any work, and always seems waiting and looking out for a coming event. He bothers me out of my life, always coming into my room and talking about nothing, or speculating on the possibility of all sorts of new discoveries which will upset everyone's theories."
Spence said, “I met him in Dieppe in the spring. He seemed all right then, just at the beginning of his leave.”
“Well, he’s certainly not that now, worse luck. And confound him, he interferes with my work no end. Goodbye; sorry I must go.”
Lambert passed softly over the heavy carpet of the smoking room, and Spence was left alone once more.
It was after seven o’clock.
Spence resolved to go to the Empire, not because the idea of going alone seemed particularly attractive, but because he had planned it and could think of no other way of spending the evening.
So about nine o’clock he strolled into the huge, garish music hall. Already his contentment was beginning to die away. The day seemed a day of trivialities, a sordid, uneventful day of London gloom, which he had vainly tried to disperse with little futile rockets of amusement.
He sat down in a stall and watched a juggler doing wonderful things with billiard balls. After the juggler a handsome Spanish girl came onto the stage -- he remembered her at La Scala, in Paris. She was said to be one of the beauties of Europe, and a king's favourite.
After the Spanish woman there were two men, “brothers” someone. One was disguised as a donkey, the other as a tramp, and together they did what some in the theatre obviously thought were laughable things.
With a sigh he went upstairs and moved slowly through the thronged promenade. The hard faces of the men and women repelled him. He turned into the American bar at one extremity of the horseshoe. It was early yet, and the big room, pleasantly cool, was almost empty. A man brought him a long, coloured drink.
He felt the pressure of a packet in his pocket. It was Cyril Hands’s letter he realised, as he took it out. He thought of young Lambert at the club, a friend of Hands and fellow-worker in the same field, and slowly opened the package.
Two women came in and sat at a table not far from him as he began to read. He was the only man in the place, and they regarded him with a tense, conscious interest.
They saw him open a bulky envelope in a casual manner. He would look up soon, they expected.
But as they watched they saw a sudden, swift contraction of the brows, a momentous convulsion of every feature. His head bent lower towards the papers. They saw him become pale.
In a minute or two, what had at first seemed a singular paleness became a frightful ashen colour.
“That Johnny’s going to be ill,” one of the women said to the other.
As she spoke they saw the face change. A shocking animation burst on it like a flame. The eyes glowed, the mouth settled into swift purpose.
Spence took up his hat and left the room with quick, decided steps. He threaded his way through the crowd and almost ran into the street.
A cab was waiting. He got into it, and inspired by his words and appearance the man drove furiously down dark Garrick Street and the blazing Strand towards the offices of The Daily Wire.
The great building of dressed stone which stood in the middle of Fleet Street was dark. The advertisement halls and business offices were closed.
Spence paid his man and dived down a long, narrow passage, with high walls on either side. At the end of the passage he pushed open some battered swing doors. A commissionaire in a little hutch touched his cap as Spence ran up a broad flight of stone stairs.
The journalist turned down a long corridor with doors on either side. The glass fanlights over the doors showed that all the rooms were brilliantly lit within. The place was quiet, save for the distant clicking of a typewriter and the thud of a column-printer tape machine receiving messages from around the world as the wheel carrier shot back for a new line.
He opened a door with his own name painted on it and went inside. At a large writing table, on which stood two shaded electric lights, Folliott Farmer, an elderly man, heavily built and bearded, was writing on small slips of paper.
The big man looked up as Spence came in, lifted a cup of tea which was standing by him and drank a little. He nodded without speaking, and continued preparing his leading article.
Spence took off his hat and coat, drew the sheets of Hands’s letter from his pocket, and went out into the passage. At the extreme end he opened a door, and passing round a red baize screen found himself in Ommaney’s room, the centre of the great web of brains and machinery which daily gave The Wire to the world.
Ommaney’s room was large, warm, and bright. It was also extremely tidy. The writing table had little on it save a great blotting pad and an inkstand. The books on the shelves were neatly arranged.
The editor sat at a table in the centre of the room, facing several doors which led into various departments of the staff. The chief sub-editor, a short, alert person, stood by Ommaney’s side as Spence came in. He had the proof of the third page in his hand, the portion of the paper which consisted of news accumulated through the day. He was submitting it to the editor, so the whole sheet might be finally passed for press and go to the foundry where the type would be pressed into moulds, from which the final curved plates for the roller machines would be cast.
“Not at all a bad make-up,” Ommaney said, as he initialled the margin in blue pencil. The sub-editor hurried from the room.
“I need an hour,” Spence said. “I have just got what may be the most stupendous news any newspaper has ever published.”
Ommaney looked up quickly. A flash of interest passed over his pale, immobile face and was gone. He knew that if Spence spoke like this, the occasion was momentous.
He looked at his watch. “Is it news for tonight’s paper?” he asked.
“No,” said Spence. “I’m the only man in England, I think, who has it yet. We’ll gain nothing by printing tonight. But we must settle on a course of action at once. It won’t wait. You’ll understand when I explain.”
The editor nodded. On the writing table was a mahogany stand about a foot square. A circle was described on it, and all round the circle, like the figures on the face of a clock, were little ivory tablets an inch long, with a name printed on each. In the centre of the circle a vulcanite handle moved a steel bar working on a pivot. Ommaney turned the handle till the end of the bar rested over the tablet marked
He picked up the receiver and transmitter of a telephone and asked one or two questions.
When he had communicated with several other rooms in this way, Ommaney turned to Spence.
“All right,” he said, “I can give you an hour now. Things are fairly easy tonight.”
He got up from the writing table and sat down by the fire. Spence took a chair opposite, feeling dazed. He was trembling, his face was pale, yet above and beyond this agitation there was fear in his eyes.
"It is a discovery in Palestine -- at Jerusalem," he said in a low, vibrating voice, spreading out the thin, crackling sheets of foreign notepaper on his knee and arranging them in order. "Do you know Cyril Hands, the agent of the Palestine Exploring Society?"
“Yes, quite well by reputation,” said Ommaney, “and I have met him once or twice. Very sound man.”
“These papers are from him. They seem to be of tremendous importance, of a significance I can hardly grasp yet.”
“What is the nature of them?” asked the editor, rising from his chair, powerfully affected by Spence’s manner.
Spence put his hand up to his throat, pulling at his collar; the apple moved up and down convulsively. “The Tomb!” he gasped. “The Holy Tomb!”
"What do you mean?" asked Ommaney. "Another supposed burial place of Christ -- like the Times business, when they found the Gordon Tomb, and Canon MacColl wrote such a lot?”
His face fell a little. This, though interesting enough, and fine “news copy,” was less than he hoped.
“No, no,” cried Spence, getting his voice back at last and speaking like a man in acute physical pain. “A new tomb has been found. There’s an inscription in Greek, written by Joseph of Arimathea, and there are other traces.”
His voice failed him.
“Go on, man, go on!” said the editor.
“The inscription … tells that Joseph … took the body of Jesus … from his own garden tomb…. He hid it in this place…. The disciples never knew. It is a confession.”
Ommaney was as white as Spence now.
“There are other contributory proofs,” Spence continued. “Hands says it is certain. All the details are here. Read——”
Ommaney stared fixedly at his lieutenant. “Then, if this is true, Spence,” he whispered, “it means——”
“That Christ never rose from the dead, that Christianity is all a lie.” Spence slipped back in his chair a little and looked ready to faint,
While Ommaney read through Hands’ papers and examined the drawings and a photograph, Spence sat nervously in his chair.
The editor finished at last. “Pull yourself together, Spence,” he said sharply. “This is no time for sentiment. I know your beliefs, though I don’t share them, and I can sympathise with you. But keep yourself off all private thoughts now. We must be extremely careful what we’re doing. Now listen carefully to me.”
The keen voice roused Spence. He made a tremendous effort at self-control.
"It seems," Ommaney went on, "that we alone know of this discovery. Hands says the secretary of the Palestine Exploring Society won't receive the news for another week. He seems stunned, and no wonder. In about a fortnight his detailed papers will probably be published. I see he's already telegraphed privately for Dr. Schmöulder, the German expert. Of course you and I are hardly competent to judge the value of this communication. To me -- speaking as a layman -- it seems extremely clear. But we must of course see a specialist before publishing anything. If this news is true -- and I would give all I am worth if it were not, though I am no Christian -- of course you realise that the future history of the world is changed? I hold in my hand something that will come to millions and millions of people as an utter extinction of hope and light. It is impossible to say what will happen...."
His voice faltered as an awful picture of crime and chaos grew in his brain.
Both men felt that mere words were utterly unable to express the horrors they saw dawning.
“We don’t know the truth yet,” said Spence, at length.
“No,” answered Ommaney. “I’m not going to speculate on it either. I’m only just beginning to understand what we’re dealing with. One man’s brain cannot hold all this. So let me ask you to regard this matter for the present simply from the standpoint of the paper, and through it, of course, from the standpoint of public policy in——”
He broke off suddenly, for there was a knock at the door. A commissionaire entered with a telegram. It was for Spence. He opened the envelope, read the contents with a groan, and passed it to the editor.
The telegram was from Hands.
SCHMOULDER ENTIRELY CONFIRMS DISCOVERY, IS COMMUNICATING FIRST INSTANCE WITH KAISER PRIVATELY, FULLER DETAILS IN MAIL, CONFER OMMANEY, MAKE STATEMENT TO SECRETARY SOCIETY, USE WIRE MEDIUM PUBLICITY, LEAVE ALL TO YOU, SEE PRIME MINISTER, SEND OUT LLWELLYN ON BEHALF GOVERNMENT IMMEDIATELY, MEANWHILE SUGGEST ATTITUDE SUSPENDED DECISION, PERSONALLY FEAR LITTLE DOUBT. HANDS
“We must act at once,” said Ommaney. “We have a fearful responsibility now. It is not too much to say that everything depends on us. Have you got any of that brandy left? My head throbs like an engine.”
A sub-editor who came in and was briefly dismissed, told his colleagues that something was going on in the editor’s room of an extraordinary nature. “The chief was actually drinking a peg, and his hand shook like a leaf.”
Ommaney drank the spirits -- he was an absolute teetotaller as a rule, though not pledged in any way to abstinence -- and it revived him.
“Now let’s try and think,” he said, taking a cigarette and walking up and down the room.
Spence lit a match. As he did so, he gave a sudden, sharp, unnatural chuckle. He was lighting the match, when the Light of the World -- the whole great world! -- was flickering into darkness.
Ommaney saw him and interpreted the thought. He pulled him up at once with a few sharp words, for he could see Spence was close to panic.
“From a news point of view,” Ommaney continued, “we hold all the cards. No one else knows what we know. I’m certain that the German papers will publish nothing for a day or two. The Emperor will tell them nothing, and they can have no other source of information, as I gather from this telegram. Dr. Schmöulder will not say anything until he has instructions from Potsdam. That means I need not publish anything in tomorrow’s paper. It will relieve me of a great responsibility. We’ll be first in the field, but I’ll still have a few hours to consult with others.”
He pressed a bell on the table. “Tell Mr. Jones I wish to see him,” he told the boy who answered the summons.
A young man came in, the editor of the personal column.
“Is the Prime Minister in town, Mr. Jones?” Ommaney asked.
“Yes, sir, he’s here for three more days.”
“I’ll send a message now,” said Ommaney, “asking for an interview in an hour’s time. I know he’ll see me. He knows I wouldn’t call at this hour unless the matter was of national importance. As you know, we’re very much in the confidence of the Cabinet just now. I dare not wait till tomorrow.” He rapidly wrote a note and sent for Mr. Folliott Farmer.
The big-bearded man from Spence’s room entered, smoking a briar pipe.
“Mr. Farmer,” said Ommaney, “I suppose you have finished your leader?”
“Sent it upstairs ten minutes ago,” said the big man.
“Then I want you to do me a favour. The matter is so important that I don’t like to trust anyone else. I want you to take a cab to Downing Street at once, as quickly as you can go. Take this letter for the Prime Minister. It is making an appointment for me in an hour’s time. He must read it himself at once -- take my card. One of the secretaries will try and put you off, of course. This is irregular, but it is of international importance. The Prime Minister must see the note. Bring me back the answer as rapidly as you can.”
The elderly man -- his name was a household word as a political writer all over England and the Continent -- nodded without speaking, took the letter, and left the room. He knew Ommaney, and realised that if he was making a messenger boy of him, Folliott Farmer, the matter was of supreme importance.
“That’s the only thing we can do,” said Ommaney. “No one else would be possible. The Archbishop would laugh. We must go to the real head. I want to put myself on the safe side before publishing. If they meet me, then for the next few days we can control public opinion. If not, then it is my duty to publish, and if I’m not officially backed up there may be war in a week. Macedonia would be flaming, Turkish fanatics would embroil Europe. But that will be seen at once in Downing Street, unless I’m very much mistaken.”
“It is an awful, horrible risk we’re running,” said Spence. “But I admit Hands’ letter and diagrams seem so flawless. Just look at the clarity of that photograph. He’s exhausted every means of disproving what he says. But supposing it is all untrue!”
“I look at it this way,” said Ommaney. “It is perfectly obvious that the discovery is of the first importance, regarded as news. Hands has the reputation of being a thoroughly safe man, and now he’s supported by Schmöulder, an archaeologist of worldwide reputation. As these two are certain, even if later opinion or discovery proves the thing to be untrue, the paper cannot suffer. Our attitude will of course be non-committal, until certainty one way or the other comes. At any rate, it seems to me that you’ve brought in the greatest newspaper scoop that has ever been known or thought of.”
Ommaney paused a moment before continuing. “For my part, Spence, I have little doubt of the truth of this. Can’t go into it now, but it seems so very, very probable. In a way it can be regarded as good news for Christians, because it explains, and even corroborates so much of the Gospel narrative.”
“Apart from the Resurrection,” Spence said.
“Yes, apart from that. We’ll see what Sir Robert Llwellyn says. I have more to go into, but meanwhile I must make arrangements for setting up Hands’s papers. Then there are the inscriptions. As we can’t print in halftone, I must have this photograph turned into an absolutely correct line drawing, and have line blocks made. I’ll have pulls of the whole thing prepared and sent by post tomorrow at midnight to the editors of all the dailies in London and Paris, and to the heads of the various Christian Churches. I’ll also prepare a statement, showing exactly how the documents have come into our possession and what steps we’re taking. I’ll write the thing tonight, after I have seen the Prime Minister.”
He went to his writing table once more, moved the telephone indicator and summoned the foreman printer.
Arrangements made, Ommaney turned to Harold Spence. “You must go to Jerusalem at once. Start for Paris tomorrow morning at nine. You’d better go round to your chambers and pack up now, then come back here till it is time to start. You can sleep en route. I’ll be here till breakfast time, and I can give you final instructions.”
He used the telephone once more and his secretary, an alert young man, came in.
“Mr. Spence starts for Palestine tomorrow morning, Marriott,” he said. “He’s going straight through to Jerusalem as fast as may be. Oblige me by getting out a route for him at once, marking all the times for steamers and trains in a clear scheme for Mr. Spence to take with him. Be very careful with the Continental timetables. If you can see any delay anywhere likely to occur, go down to Cook’s early in the morning and make full inquiries. If you have to, arrange for any special trains that may be necessary. Mr. Spence must not be delayed a day. Also map out various points on the journey, with the proper times, where we can telegraph instructions to Mr. Spence. Go down to Mr. Woolford and ask him for a hundred pounds in notes and give them to Mr. Spence. Arrange the usual letter of credit during the day, and wire Mr. Spence at Paris after lunch.”
The young man went out to do his part in the great organisation which Ommaney controlled.
“Then you’ll be back between three and four this morning?” Ommaney said to Spence.
“Yes, I’ll go and pack at once,” Spence answered. “My passport from the Foreign Office is up to date.”
He rose to go, vigorous, and with an inexpressible sense of relief at the active prospect before him. He was going to the very heart of things, to see and gain personal knowledge of these events which would soon be overshadowing the world.
The door opened as he rose and Folliott Farmer strode in. With him was a tall, distinguished man in his mid thirties. wearing evening dress, and rather bald.
It was Lord Trelyon, the Prime Minister’s private secretary.
“I thought I would come myself with your Mr. Farmer, Mr. Ommaney,” he said, shaking hands cordially. “The Prime Minister tells me to say that if it is absolutely imperative, he will see you. I suppose there is no doubt of that?”
“None whatever, I’m sorry to say, Lord Trelyon,” the editor answered. “Farmer, will you take charge till I return?”
With that, they left for Downing Street, and Spence made his way to Lincoln’s Inn to pack.
Fleet Street was brilliantly lit and almost silent. A few cabs hovered about and that was all. Presently all the air would be filled with the dull roar and hum of the great printing machines in their underground halls, but the press hour was not yet.
The porter let Spence into the Inn, and in a few moments he was striking matches and lighting the gas. Mrs. Buscall had cleared away the breakfast things, but the fire had long since gone out. The big rooms looked bare and solitary, unfamiliar almost, as the gas jets hissed in the silence.
One or two letters were in the box. One envelope bore the Manchester postmark. It was from Basil Gortre. A curious pang, half wonder and anticipation, half fear, passed through his mind as he saw the familiar handwriting of his friend. But it was a pang for Basil, not for himself. He himself was wholly detached now that the time for action had arrived. Personal consideration would come later.
He felt a fierce joy and exultation throbbing in his veins after the inactivity of the last few weeks.
He sat down at the table, first getting some bread and cheese from a cupboard, for he was hungry. He opened a bottle of beer. The beer tasted wonderfully good. He laughed exultingly in the flow of his high spirits.
He wrote a note to Mrs. Buscall, long since trained to accept these sudden midnight departures, and another to Basil Gortre. To Basil he said that some great and momentous discoveries were made at Jerusalem by Hands, and he was starting at once for the Holy City as special correspondent for The Wire. He would write en route, he explained. There was no time for any details now.
“Poor chap,” he said to himself. “He’ll know soon enough now. I hope he won’t take it too badly.”
Then he went into his bedroom and hauled down the great pigskin kitbag, covered with foreign labels, which had accompanied him half over the world.
He packed quickly and completely, the result of long practice. The pads of paper, the stylographic pens with the special ink for hot countries which would not dry up or corrode, his revolver, riding breeches, boots and spurs, the Kodak with spare films and light-tight zinc cases, the old sun helmet -- he forgot nothing.
When he finished, and the big bag, with a small Gladstone also, was strapped and locked, he changed joyously from the black coat of cities into his travelling tweeds of tough cloth. At length everything seemed prepared. He sat on the bed and looked round, willing to be gone.
His eye fell on the opposite wall. A crucifix hung there, carved in ebony and ivory. During his short holiday at Dieppe, nearly nine months ago now, he had gone into the famous shop where carved work of all kinds was sold. Basil and Helena were with him and they had all bought mementoes. Helena had given him that.
As he looked at it now, he wondered what his journey would bring forth. Was he, indeed, chosen out of men to go to this far country to tear Christ from that awful and holy Cross? Was it to be his mission to extinguish the Light of the World?
As he gazed at the sacred emblem he felt this could not be.
No, no! A thousand times no. Jesus had risen to save him and all other sinners. It was so, must be so, should be so.
The Holy Name was in itself enough. He whispered it to himself. That was eternally, gloriously true.
Humbly, faithfully, gladly, he knelt and said the Lord’s Prayer.
Sir Michael Manichoe was a man of great natural gifts. The owner of one of those colossal fortunes which had such far-reaching influence on English life, he employed it in a way which, for a man in his position, was unique.
In political life Sir Michael was a steady, rather than a brilliant, force. He had been Home Secretary under a former Conservative administration, but had retired from office. At the present moment he was a private member for the division in which his large country house stood, and he enjoyed the confidence of the chiefs of his party.
His great talent was for organisation, and all his powers in that direction were devoted towards the preservation and unification of the Christian faith to which he was a convert.
The day after the news arrived in Fleet Street from Palestine, while nothing was yet known, and Harold Spence was rushing through Amiens en route for Paris and the Middle East, a routine house party began to collect at Fencastle in Lincolnshire, the magnificent country home of Sir Michael, one of many such parties held throughout the year.
Some important people were to meet once more under Sir Michael’s roof to discuss the affairs of Church and State. The large country house in the fenlands was frequently the scene of such notable gatherings.
As Father Ripon drove to Liverpool Street Station from the vicarage in Bloomsbury after lunch, to catch the afternoon train to the eastern counties, he was reading a letter from Sir Michael Manichoe as his cab turned into Cheapside and crawled slowly through the heavy afternoon traffic of the city.
… It will be as well for you to see Constantine Schuabe behind closed doors and form your own opinions. There can be no doubt that he is a force to be reckoned with, and he is, moreover, as I think you will agree after inspection, far more brilliant and able than any other openly professed antichristian of the front rank.
Then there will also be Mrs. Hubert Armstrong. She is a pseudo-intellectual force, but her writings have a certain heaviness and authoritative note which I believe have real influence with the large class of semi-educated people who mistake a hint of knowledge for knowledge itself. A very charming woman, by the way, and I think sincere.
… I hope that as a representative of English Churchmen you will be able to define what we think in an unmistakable way. This will have value. Among my other guests you will meet Canon Walke. He is preaching in Lincoln Cathedral on the Sunday, fresh from Windsor.
I am, Father, yours most sincerely,
Still thinking carefully over Sir Michael’s letter, Father Ripon bought his ticket and made his way to the platform.
He got into a first class carriage. While in London he lived a life of asceticism and simplicity which was not so much a considered thing as the outcome of an absolute and unconscious carelessness about personal and material comfort. When he went thus to a great country house, he complied with convention because it was prudent.
The carriage was empty, though a pile of newspapers and a travelling rug in one corner showed Father Ripon that he was to have one companion at any rate on the journey.
He had bought the Church Times at the bookstall and was soon deeply immersed in the report of a Bampton Lecture delivered during the week at the University Church in Oxford.
Someone entered the carriage, the door was shut, and the train began to move out of the station, but he was too interested to look up to see who his companion might be.
A voice broke in on his thoughts as they were tearing through the widespread slums of Bethnal Green.
“Do you mind if I smoke, sir? This isn’t a smoking carriage, but we are alone.”
It was an ordinary query enough. “Oh, please do!” said Ripon. “Please do, to your heart’s content. It doesn’t inconvenience me.”
Father Ripon’s quick, breezy manner seemed to interest the stranger. Obviously this clergyman was someone of note. The heavy brows, the hawk-like nose, the large, firm, and yet kindly mouth, all these seemed familiar in some vague way.
For his part, Father Ripon experienced much the same sensation as he glanced at the tall fellow-traveller. His hair, which could be seen beneath his ordinary hard felt hat, was dark red and somewhat abundant. The large black eyes were neither dull nor lifeless, but simply cold and alert. A massive jaw completed an impression which was remarkable in its fineness and almost sinister looks.
The priest found it remarkable, but with no sense of strangeness. He had seen the man before.
Recognition came to Schuabe first.
“Excuse me,” he said, “but surely you are Father Ripon? I am Constantine Schuabe.”
Ripon gave a merry chuckle. “I knew I knew you!” he said, “but I couldn’t think quite who you were for a moment. Sir Michael tells me you’re going to Fencastle. So am I.”
Schuabe leaned back in his seat and regarded Father Ripon with a steady and calm scrutiny, somewhat with the manner of a naturalist examining a curious specimen, with a suggestion of aloofness in his eyes.
Suddenly Father Ripon smiled rather sternly, and the deep furrows which sprang into his cheeks showed the latent strength and power of the face.
“Well, Mr. Schuabe,” he said abruptly, “the train doesn’t stop anywhere for an hour, so no matter what, you’re locked up with a priest!”
“A welcome opportunity, Father Ripon, to convince you that perhaps the devil isn’t as black as he’s painted.”
“I have read your books,” said Ripon, “and I believe you are sincere, Mr. Schuabe. It is not a personal question at all. At the same time, if I had the power, you know I would cheerfully execute you or imprison you for life: not out of revenge for what you have done, but as a precautionary measure. You would then have no further opportunity for doing harm.” He smiled as he spoke.
“Rather severe,” said Schuabe laughing. “Because I find that in a rational view of history there’s no place for a Resurrection and Ascension, you would give me your blessing and a sentence of burning for heresy!”
“I sometimes believe in stern measures,” answered the clergyman, with an underlying seriousness, though he spoke half in jest. “Not for all heretics, you know -- only the dangerous ones."
“You’re afraid of intellect when it is brought to bear on these questions.”
“I thought that would be your rejoinder, Mr. Schuabe. Superficially it is a very telling one, because there’s nothing as insidious as a half-truth. In a sense what you say is true. There are a great many Christians whose faith is weak and whose natural inclinations, assisted by supernatural temptations, are towards a life of sin. Faith in Jesus Christ keeps them from it. Now, your books come in the way of such people as these far more readily and easily than works of Christian apologetics written with equal power. An attack on our position has all the elements of popularity and novelty. For example, ten thousand people have heard of your Christ Reconceived, for every ten who know Lathom’s Risen Master. You have said the last word for agnosticism and made it widely public, whereas the Master of Trinity Hall has said the last word for Christianity and only scholars know of it. It is not the strength of your case which makes you dangerous, it is the ignorance of the public and a condition of affairs which makes it possible for you to shout loudest.”
“Well, there is at least a half-truth in what you say, Mr. Ripon,” said Schuabe. “But you don’t seem to have brought anything to eat. Will you share my luncheon basket? There’s quite enough for two people.”
Father Ripon had been called away after the early Communion, and had forgotten to have any breakfast.
“Thank you very much,” he said; “I will. I suddenly seem to be hungry, and after all, there is scriptural precedent for spoiling the Egyptians!”
Both laughed again, sheathed their weapons, and began to eat.
Each of them was a man with a knowledge of the world, cultured, with a charming personality. Each knew the other was impervious to attack.
Only once, as the short afternoon was darkening and they were approaching their destination, did Schuabe refer to controversial subjects. The carriage was shadowed and dusky as they rushed through the desolate fenlands. The millionaire lit a match for a cigarette, and the sudden flare showed him the priest’s face, set and stern. He seemed to be thinking deeply.
“What would you say or do, Father Ripon,” Schuabe asked, in a tone of interested curiosity, “what would you do if some stupendous thing were to happen, something to occur which proved without doubt that Christ was not divine? Supposing it suddenly became an absolute fact, a historical fact which everyone must accept?”
“Some new discovery, you mean?”
“Well, if you like. Never mind the actual means. Assume for a moment that it became certain as a historical fact that the Resurrection did not take place. You see, I firmly believe that the ignorant love of Christ’s first disciples wreathed His life in legend; that the true story was from the beginning obscured by error, hysteria, and mistake. Supposing something proved what I say in such a way as to leave no loophole for denial. As a representative Christian, what would you do? This interests me.”
“Well, you’re assuming an impossibility, and I cannot argue on such a hypothesis. But, if for a moment what you say could happen, I might not be able to deny these proofs, but I should never believe them.”
“Christ is within. I have found Him myself, with no possibility of mistake. Day and night I am in communion with Him.”
“Ah!” said Schuabe, dryly, “there is no convincing a person who takes that attitude. But it is rare.”
“Faith is weak in the world,” said Ripon with a sigh, as the train drew up in the little wayside station.
A footman took their luggage to a carriage which was waiting, and they drove off rapidly through the twilight, over the bare brown fen with a chill, leaden sky meeting it on the horizon, towards Fencastle.
Sir Michael’s house was an ancient feature of those parts. Josiah Manichoe, his father, had bought it from old Lord Lostorich. To this day Sir Michael paid two pounds each year, as “Knight’s fee,” to the lord of the manor at Denton, a fee first paid in 1236. As it stood now, the house was Tudor in exterior, covering a vast area with its stately, explicit, and yet homelike, rather than “homely,” beauty.
The interior of the house was treated with great judgment and artistic ability. A successful effort had been made to combine the greatest measure of modern comfort without unduly disturbing the essential character of the place. Thus Father Ripon found himself in an ancient bedroom with a painted ceiling and panelled walls. The furniture was in keeping with the design, but electric lamps had been fitted to the massive pewter sconces on the wall, and the towel rail by the washstand was made of copper tubing through which hot water passed constantly.
The dinner gong boomed at eight and Ripon went down into the great hall, where a group of people stood round an open fire of peat and coal.
Mrs. Bardilly, a widowed sister of Sir Michael’s, acted as hostess. She was a quiet, matronly woman, shrewd and placid in character, an admirable woman to take charge of the large house.
Talking to her was Mrs. Hubert Armstrong, the famous woman novelist. Mrs. Armstrong was tall and grandly built. Her grey hair was drawn over a massive, manlike brow in smooth folds; her face was finely chiselled. The mouth was large, with a slight hinting of “superiority” in repose and condescension in movement. A champion of women’s rights, when she spoke, always in full, well-chosen phrases, it was with an air of final pronouncement.
The lady’s position was a great one. Every two or three years she published a weighty novel, admirably written, full of real culture, and without a trace of humour. In those productions, treatises rather than novels, the theme was generally that of a high-bred philosophical negation of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. Mrs. Armstrong pitied Christians with passionate certainty. Gently and lovingly she endeavoured to open blinded eyes to the truth as she saw it. With great condescension she still believed in God, and preached Christ as a mighty, but human teacher.
One of her utterances showed Ripon the colossal arrogance -- almost laughable were it not so bizarre -- of her intellect:
“The world has expanded since Jesus preached in the dim, ancient cities of the Middle East. Men and women of today cannot learn the complete lesson of God from Jesus now -- indeed they could not in those old times. But His teaching is most necessary in forming character. It makes for pureness and clarity of soul. This Jesus still has something for us as He had for the people of His own time."
After the enormous success of her book, John Mulgrave, Mrs. Armstrong more than half believed she had struck a final blow at the errors of Christianity.
The woman was highly educated, but her success was with half-educated readers. Her works excited to a sort of frenzy clergymen who realised their own dangerous hollowness. Her success was real; her influence appeared to be real also. To Ripon, it was a deplorable fact that she swayed fools.
By laying on the paint very thick and using bright colours, Mrs. Armstrong caught the class immediately below that which read the works of Constantine Schuabe. They were captain and lieutenant, formidable in coalition.
A short, casually dressed man -- his evening tie was badly arranged and his trousers were ill cut -- was the Duke of Suffolk. His face was covered with dust-coloured hair, his eyes bright and restless. The Duke was the greatest Roman Catholic nobleman in England. His vast wealth and eager, though not first-class brain, were devoted entirely to the conversion of the country. He was beloved by men of all creeds.
Canon Walke, the great popular preacher, was a handsome man, portly, large, and gracious in manner. He was destined for high preferment, welcomed at Court, suave and redolent of the lofty circles in which he moved.
Canon Walke was talking to Schuabe with great animation and a sort of purring geniality.
Dinner was a pleasant meal. Everyone talked well. Great events in Society and politics were discussed by the people who were themselves responsible for them.
Here was the inner circle itself, serene, bland, and guarded from the crowd outside. Perhaps, with the single exception of Father Ripon, who never thought about it at all, everyone was pleasantly conscious of pulling the strings. They sat kindly tolerant of lesser mortals, discussing over a dessert what they would do for the world.
At eleven nearly everyone had retired for the night. Father Ripon and his host, Sir Michael Manichoe, sat talking in the library for another hour discussing church matters. At twelve these two also retired.
And now the great house was silent save for the bitter winter wind which sobbed and moaned round the towers.
It was the eve of the twelfth of December. The world was as usual, and the night came to England with no hints of the morrow.
Far away in Lancashire, Basil Gortre was sleeping calmly after a long, quiet evening with Helena and her father.
Here in Lincolnshire, Father Ripon had said his prayers and lay half dreaming in bed, watching the firelight glows and shadows on the panelling, and listening to the fierce wind outside as if it were a lullaby.
Mrs. Hubert Armstrong was touching up an article for the Nineteenth Century in her bedroom. An open volume by the French scholar Ernest Renan stood by her side. Here and there the lady deftly paraphrased a few lines. Occasionally she sipped a cup of blackcurrant tea -- an amiable weakness of this paragon when engaged on her stirring labours.
In the next room Schuabe, with haggard face and twitching lips, paced rapidly up and down. Why had no news come from Jerusalem? Had the plot been exposed? Impossible!
From the door to the dressing table -- seven steps. From there to the fireplace -- ten steps -- avoiding the flower pattern of the carpet, stepping only on the blue squares. Seven! Ten! Then back again.
Ten, seven, turn. A cold, soft dew came out on his face, dried, hardened, and burst forth again.
Seven, ten, stop for a glass of water, and then on again, rapidly, hurriedly; the dawn is coming very near.
Ten! Seven! Turn!
Just after nine o’clock the next morning there was a knock at Father Ripon’s door and Lindner, Sir Michael’s confidential man, entered.
He seemed agitated. “I beg your pardon,” he said, “but Sir Michael instructed me to come to you at once. Sir Michael begs that you will read the columns marked in this paper and then join him in his own room.”
The man bowed slightly and went noiselessly away.
Impressed with Lindner’s manner, Father Ripon sat up in bed and opened the paper. It was a copy of The Daily Wire which had just arrived by special messenger from the station.
His eyes fell first on the news summary. A paragraph was heavily scored round with ink.
Page 7. -- A communication of the utmost gravity and importance reaches us from Palestine, dealing with certain discoveries at Jerusalem made by Mr. Cyril Hands, the agent of the Palestine Exploring Society, and Herr Schmöulder, the famous German historian."
Ripon turned hastily to the seventh page of the paper where all the foreign telegraphic despatches were. This is what he read:
In reference to the following statements, the Editor wishes it to be distinctly understood that he prints them without comment or bias. Nothing can yet be definitely known as to the truth of what is stated here until the strictest investigations have been made. Our special Commissioner left London for the Middle East twenty-four hours ago. The Editor of this paper is in communication with the Prime Minister and His Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury. A special edition of The Daily Wire will be published at two o’clock this afternoon.
MOMENTOUS NEWS FROM JERUSALEM
For the last three months, under a new permit granted by the Turkish Government, the authorities of the Palestine Exploring Society have been engaged in extensive operations in the waste ground beyond the Damascus Gate at Jerusalem.
It is in this quarter, as archaeologists and students will be aware, that some years ago the new reputed site of Calvary and the Holy Sepulchre was placed. Considerable discussion was raised at the time and the evidence for and against the new and the traditional sites was hotly debated.
Ten days ago, Mr. Cyril Hands, M.A., the learned and trusted English explorer, made a further discovery which may prove to be far-reaching in its influence on Christian peoples.
During the excavations, a system of tombs was discovered, dating from forty or fifty years before Christ according to Mr. Hands’s estimate. The tombs are indisputably Jewish and not Christian, a fact proved by the presence of kôkîm, characteristic of Jewish tombs in preference to the usual Christian arcosolia. They are Herodian in character.
These tombs consist of an irregularly cut group of two chambers. The door is coarsely moulded. Both chambers are crooked, and in their floors are four-sided depressions, 1 foot 2 inches deep in the outer, 2 feet in the inner chamber. The roof of the outer chamber is 6 feet above its floor, that of the inner 5 feet 2 inches.
The doorway leading to the inner tomb was built up into stone blocks. Fragments of that coating of broken brick and pounded pottery are still used in Palestine under the name hamra. This hamra lay at the foot of the sealed entrance, showing that it had at one time been plastered over, and was in the nature of a secret room.
In the depression in the floor of the outer room was found a minute fragment of a glass receptacle containing a small quantity of blackish powder. This has been analysed by M. Constant Allard, the French chemist. The glass vessel he found to be an ordinary silicate which had become devitrified and coloured by oxide of iron. The contents were finely divided lead and traces of antimony, showing it to be one of the cosmetics prepared for purposes of burial.
When the interior of the second tomb had been reached, a single loculus or stone slab for the reception of a body was found.
Over the loculus the following Greek inscription in uncial characters was found in a state of good preservation, with the exception of two letters:
[[_ See drawing of the inscription on this page, made from photographs in our possession. We print the inscription below in cursive Greek text, afterwards dividing it into its component words and giving its translation. -- Editor, The Daily Wire. _]]
FACSIMILE IN MODERN GREEK SCRIPT
=lacunæ of two letters.
FINAL READING OF THE INSCRIPTION
Εγω Ιωσηφ ὁ ἀπο Αριμαθειας λαβων το σωμα του Ιησου του ἀπο Να[ζα]ρετ ἀπο του μνημειου ὁπου το πρωτον ἐκειτο ἐν τω τοπω τουτω ἐνεκρυψα
[ ] = letters supplied.
TRANSLATION INTO ENGLISH OF THE INSCRIPTION:
“I, JOSEPH OF ARIMATHEA, TOOK THE BODY OF JESUS, THE NAZARENE, FROM THE TOMB WHERE IT WAS FIRST LAID AND HID IT IN THIS PLACE.
The slight mould on the stone slab, which may or may not be that of a decomposed body, has been reverently gathered into a sealed vessel by Mr. Hands, who is waiting instructions.
Dr. Schmöulder, the famous scholar from Berlin, has arrived at Jerusalem and is in communication with the German Emperor regarding the discovery.
At present it would be presumptuous and idle to comment on these stupendous facts. It seems our duty, however, to quote a final passage from Mr. Hands’s communication, and to state that we have a cablegram in our possession from Dr. Schmöulder, which states that he is in entire agreement with Mr. Hands’s conclusions.
To sum up, there now seems no shadow of doubt that the disappearance of the body of Christ from the first tomb is accounted for, and the Resurrection as told in the Gospels did not take place. Joseph of Arimathea here confesses he stole away the body, probably in order to spare the Disciples and friends of the dead Teacher, with whom he was in sympathy, the shame and misery of the final end to their hopes.
The use of the first aorist ‘ἐνεκρυψα,’ ‘I hid,’ seems to indicate that Joseph was making a confession to satisfy his own mind, with only a vague idea of it ever being read. Were his confession written for future ages, we may surmise that the perfect tense, ‘κεκρυφα,’ ‘I have hidden,’ would have been used.”
(A photograph of a replica of the inscription, from the 1907 edition of When It Was Dark.)
So the simple, bald narrative ended, without a single attempt at sensationalism on the part of the newspaper.
Just as Father Ripon laid down the newspaper, with shaking hands and a pallid face, Sir Michael Manichoe strode into the room.
Tears of anger and shame were in his eyes. He glanced at Father Ripon and sank into a chair by the bedside.
The clergyman rose and dressed hastily. “We will speak of this in the library,” he said, controlling himself by a tremendous effort. “Meanwhile——”
He took some sal volatile from his dressing case, gave some to his host, and drank some also.
As they went downstairs, a brilliant sun streamed into the great hall. The world outside was bright and frost-bound.
The bell of the private chapel was tolling for matins.
The sound struck on both their minds strangely. Sir Michael shuddered and grew ashen grey. Ripon recovered himself first.
He placed his arm in his host’s and turned towards the passage which led to the chapel. “Come, my friend,” he said in low, sweet tones. “Let us pray together for Christendom. Peace waits us. Say the creed with me, for God will not desert us.”
They passed into the vaulted chapel and knelt down in the chancel stalls. Some of the servants came in and then the house chaplain began the confession.
The stately monotone went on, echoing through the damp breath of the morning.
Father Ripon and Sir Michael turned to the east. The sun was pouring through the great window of stained glass, where Christ was painted ascending to heaven.
The two elderly men said the creed after the priest in firm, almost triumphant voices:
“I believe in God the Father … and in Jesus Christ His only Son our Lord…. The third day he arose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven….”
Those two, as they came gravely out of the chapel and walked to the library, knew that a great and awful lie was resounding through the world. The Risen Christ had spoken with them, bidding them be of good courage for what was to come.
The voice of the apostle Peter called down the ages:
“This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we are all witnesses.”
When Mrs. Armstrong came down to breakfast her hostess told her, with many apologies, that Sir Michael had left for London with Father Ripon. They had gone by an early train. Matters of great moment were afoot.
As this was being explained, Mr. Wilson the private chaplain, Schuabe, and Canon Walke entered the room. The Duke of Suffolk did not appear.
A long, low room panelled in white, over which a huge fire of logs cast occasional cheery reflections, was used as a breakfast room.
The glowing fire, the luxurious domesticity of the round table, with its shining silver and gleaming china, the great quiet of the park outside, gave a singular peace and remoteness to the room. Here one seemed far away from strife and disturbance.
This was the usual aspect and atmosphere of all Fencastle, but as the members of the house party came together for the meal, the air became suddenly electrified. Invisible waves of excitement, of surmise, doubt, and fear radiated from these people. All had seen the paper, though at first not one of them referred to it.
Mrs. Hubert Armstrong at length broke the silence. Her speech was deliberate, her words were chosen with extreme care, her tone was hushed and almost reverential.
“Today,” she said, “what I perceive we have all heard, may mean the sudden dawning of a New Light in the world. If this stupendous statement is true -- and it bears every hallmark of the truth even at this early stage -- a new image of Jesus of Nazareth will be for ever indelibly graven on the hearts of mankind."
At her words there was a sudden movement of relief among the others. The ice had been broken. Formless and terrifying things assumed a shape that could be handled, discussed. Her words acted as a trigger which made analysis possible.
The lady’s calm, intellectual face, with its clear eyes and smooth bands of hair, waited with interest, but without impatience, for other views.
Canon Walke took up her challenge. His words were assured enough, but Schuabe, listening with keen and sinister attention, detected a faint tremble, an alarmed lack of conviction. The Churchman, with his commanding presence, his grand manner, spoke without any real force. His language was beautifully chosen, but it had not the ring of utter conviction, of passionate rejection of all that warred with Faith.
Canon Walke was a chaplain of the Court, the husband of an earl’s daughter, a friend of royal folk, a future bishop. There were those who called him time-serving, exclusively ambitious. Schuabe realised that not here, indeed, was the great champion of Christianity. For a brief moment his mind flashed to a memory of Gortre, the young curate at Manchester, then with a little shudder of dislike he bent his attention to Canon Walke’s words.
“No, Mrs. Armstrong,” the Canon was saying, “an article such as this in a newspaper will be dangerous. It will unsettle weak brains, until it is proved to be either a blasphemous fabrication or an ignorant mistake. It cannot be. Whatever the upshot of such rumours, they can only have a temporary effect. It may be that those at the head of the Church will have to sit close, to lay firm hold of principles, or anything that will steady the vessel as the storm sweeps up. But, despite your anticipations, Mrs. Armstrong, you will see that the Church, as she has ever done, will weather the storm. I myself will leave for town at midday, and follow the example of our host. My place is there. The Archbishop will doubtless hold a conference if this story from Palestine seems to receive further confirmation. Such dangerous heresies must not be allowed to spread.”
Then Schuabe took up the discussion. "I fear for you, Canon Walke," he said, "and for the Church you represent. This news, it seems to me, is merely the evidence for the confirmation of what all thoughtful men believe today, though the majority of them do not speak out. I agree with Mrs. Armstrong, in the extreme probability of this news being absolute fact, for Hands and Schmöulder are names of weight -- everything must be reconstructed and changed. The churches will go. The antichristian movement has so far been guided by emotions, hardly by principles. At last we have the great discovery which will rouse the world to sanity. Even as I speak in this quiet room, the whole world is thrilling with this news. It is awaking from a long slumber."
Walke heard his ringing words with manifest uneasiness. He was unequal to the situation. He represented the earthly pomp and show of Christianity, wore the ceremonial vestments. He feared the concrete power, the vehement opposition of the mouthpiece of secularism. He saw the crisis, but from one side only. The deep spiritual love was not there.
“You are exultant, Mr. Schuabe,” he said coldly, “but you will hardly be so for long.”
“You do not appreciate the situation, sir,” Schuabe answered. “I can see further than you. I repeat that the discovery we hear of today makes a thorough, intellectual sanity possible for every living man.”
"Yes, Mr. Schuabe," said Mrs. Armstrong, "you are right, incalculably right. It is to human intellect and that alone -- the great Intellect of The Nazarene among others -- that we must look from henceforth. As long as the world was content to believe that Jesus actually rose from the dead, for so long has error hindered development."
While these imposing figures had been speaking, Father Wilson, the domestic chaplain at Fencastle, remained silent but attentive.
He was a lean, dark man, monk-like in appearance, somewhat glum on the surface. It was Sir Michael’s wish, not the chaplain’s, that he should sit with the guests as one of them, and experience some of the great ones of the world.
The voices of strong opinion died away. Everyone was a little exhausted, great matters had been dealt with. There came a little clink and clatter as they sought food.
Suddenly Wilson looked up and began to speak. His voice was somewhat harsh , his manner was uncompromising. As he spoke, everyone realised with a sense of unpleasant shock that he cared little or nothing for the society he was in.
“It is very interesting, sir,” he said, turning to Schuabe, “to hear all you have been saying. I have seen the paper and read of this so-called discovery too. Of course, such a thing harmonises exactly with the opinions of those who want to believe it. But go and tell a devoted Christian that he has been fed with sacraments which are no sacraments, and all he has done has been at best the honest mistake of a deceived man, and he will laugh in your face -- as I do!
“There are memories, far back in his life, when his whole being was quickened and braced, which refuse to be explained as the hallucinations of a well-meaning but deceived man. There are memories when Christ drew near to his soul and helped him. Struggles with temptation are remembered when God’s grace saved him. He also says, as the blind man said about Jesus when questioned by the authorities, ‘Whether he be a sinner or no, I know not: one thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see.’
“It is easy to part with one in whom we have never really believed. We can easily surrender what we have never held. But you do not have a notion of the real Christian’s convictions, Mr. Schuabe. Your estimate of the future is based on utter ignorance of the true Christian’s heart. You are incapable of understanding the heart to which experience has made it clear that Jesus was indeed the very Christ.
“There are many people who are called Christians with whom your sayings and writings, and those of this lady here, have great power. It is because they have never found Christ. Unreal words, shallow emotions, unbalanced sentiment, leave such as these without armour in a time of tumult and conflicting cries. But if we know Him, if we can look back over a life richer and fuller because we have known Him; if we know, every man, the plague of his own heart, then your explorers may discover anything and we will not believe. It is easy to prophesy as you have been doing all this meal-time the end of the Christian faith. It is popular once more to shout the malignant 'Crucify' -- but events will show you how utterly wrong you are in your estimate of the Christian character."
They all stared at the chaplain. His sudden vigorous outburst, the contempt in his voice, was almost stupefying at first.
Up to now they had regarded the silent, rather forbidding priest in his cassock and robe, in the light of an upper servant. Nor was it so much his interference they resented as his manner of interfering. The supreme confidence of the man galled them; it was patronising in its strength.
Mrs. Armstrong heard the outburst with a slight frown of displeasure, which as the priest continued changed into a smile of kindly tolerance, the attitude of a housemaid who spares a spider. She remembered that, after all, her duty lay in being kind to those of less power than herself.
The speech touched Schuabe more closely. He seemed to hear a familiar echo of Basil Gortre, a voice he hated and feared. There was something chilling in these men who drew a confidence and certainty from the Unseen. He felt, as he had felt before, the hated barrier which he could in no wise pass; this calm fanaticism which would not even listen to him, which was beyond his influence.
The bitter hate which welled up in his heart, the terrible scorn which he had to repress, gave him almost a sense of physical nausea. His pale face became pallid, but he showed no other sign of the tempest within. He smiled slightly. That was all.
As for Canon Walke, his feelings were varied. He was conscious of the lack of life, fire, and conviction in what he himself had said. His own windy commonplaces shrank to nothingness and failure before the witnessing of the undistinguished priest. Before the two hostile intellects, the man and the woman, he had left the burden of the fight to this nobody. He was quick and jealous to mark the strength of Wilson’s words, and his own failure had put him in an entirely false position. And yet a shrewd blow had been struck at Schuabe and Mrs. Armstrong. There was consolation in the fact.
Father Wilson, when he had finished what he had to say, rose from his seat without more ado. “I will say a grace,” he said. He made the sign of the Cross, muttered a short Latin thanksgiving, and strode from the room.
“A fanatic,” said Mrs. Armstrong.
Neither Walke nor Schuabe replied.
It was getting late in the morning. The sun had risen higher and flooded the level wastes of snow outside the large windows. The little party finished their meal in silence.
In the chapel, Wilson knelt on the chancel step, praying that help and light might come to men, and the imminent darkness pass away.
The vast network of cables and telegraph wires that encircled the world, those tentacles which may be called the nerves of the world’s brain, throbbed unceasingly after the tremendous announcement for which Ommaney had undertaken the responsibility.
A battalion of special correspondents from every European and American paper of importance followed hot on Harold Spence’s trail.
Nevertheless, for the first two or three days, the world at large hardly realised the importance of what was happening. Nothing was certain. The whole statement depended on two men. To the mass of people these two names, Hands, Schmöulder, conveyed no meaning whatever. Nine tenths of the population of England knew nothing of the work of archaeologists in Palestine, and had never even heard of the Exploring Society.
Had British government bonds fallen a point or two the effect would have been far greater, and the fact would have made more stir.
The great dailies of equal standing with The Wire were making every preparation for a supply of news and a consensus of opinion. But all this activity went on behind the scenes. The article in The Wire was quoted from, but opinions on it were printed with the greatest caution and reserve.
The mass of the clergy, at any rate in public, chose to ignore, or did genuinely dismiss as impossible, the whole question. A few words of earnest exhortation and indignant denial were all they permitted themselves.
But beneath the surface, and among the real influencers of public opinion, great anxiety was felt.
The Patriarch of the Greek Church called a council of Bishops, and Dr. Procopides, an expert of antiquities from Athens, was sent immediately to Palestine.
The following paragraph, in substance, appeared in the leader page of all the English papers:
We are in a position to state, that in order to allay the feeling of uneasiness produced among the churches by a recent article in The Daily Wire making extraordinary statements as to a discovery in Jerusalem, a conference was held yesterday at Lambeth. Their Graces the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, the Bishops of Manchester, Gloucester, Durham, Lincoln, and London were present. Other well-known Churchmen consisted of Sir Michael Manichoe, Lord Robert Verulam, Canons Baragwaneth and Walke, the Dean of Christchurch and the Master of Trinity Hall. The Prime Minister was not present, but was represented by Mr. Alured King. Mr. Ommaney, the editor of The Daily Wire, was included in the conference. Although, from the names mentioned, it will be seen that the conference is considered to be of great importance, nothing has been allowed to become known as to the result of its deliberations.
The paragraph began to attract great attention throughout the United Kingdom during the early part of the day.
The Westminster Gazette in its third edition then published a further statement. The public learned:
Professor Clermont-Ganneau, the Professor of Biblical Antiquities at the French University of La Sorbonne, arrived in London yesterday night. He took a carriage straight to the house of Sir Robert Llwellyn, the famous archaologist. Early this morning both gentlemen drove to Downing Street, where they remained closeted with the Prime Minister for an hour. While there, they were joined by Dr. Grier, the learned Bishop of Leeds, and Dr. Carr, the Warden of Wyckham College, Oxford. The four gentlemen were later driven to Charing Cross Station in a brougham. On the platform from which the Paris train starts they were met by Major-General Adams, the Vice-President of the Palestine Exploring Society, and Sir Michael Manichoe. The distinguished party entered a reserved saloon and left, en route for Paris, at midday. We are able to state on undeniable authority that the party, which represents all that is most authoritative in historical research and archaeological knowledge, are a committee from a recent conference at Lambeth, and are proceeding to Jerusalem to investigate the recent discovery in the Holy City.
All that evening countless families discussed the information with curious unrest and foreboding. In the towns, the churches were exceptionally full at evensong. One fact was more discussed than any other, more particularly in London. Could it be true?
Although the six men who had left England so suddenly, almost furtively, were obviously on a mission of the highest importance, no reputable paper published more than the bare fact of their departure. Comment on it, more detailed explanation of it, was sought by readers in the columns of all the journals in vain.
The next morning was big with shadow and gloom. A shudder passed over the country. Reports appeared in all the papers which struck a chill of fear to the very heart of all who read them, Christian and indifferent alike.
It was as though a great and ominous bell had begun to toll over the world.
The faces of people in the streets were universally pale.
It was remarked that the noises of London, the traffic, the movement of crowds engaged on their daily business, lost half their noise.
The shops were full of Christmas gifts, but no one seemed to enter them.
In addition to the telegraphic despatches, a single leading article appeared in The Daily Wire, which burnt itself, as the most extreme cold burns, into the brains of Englishmen.
TERRIBLE RIOTS IN JERUSALEM
The French Consul-General and Staff, who were paying a ceremonial visit to the Latin Patriarch, have been attacked by fanatical Muslims, and only escaped from the fury of the crowd with great difficulty, aided by the Turkish Guards. A vast concourse of Armenian Christians, Russian pilgrims, and Greeks afterwards gathered round the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The strange discovery said to have been made by the English excavator, Mr. Hands, and the German Doctor Schmöulder, has aroused the mob to furious protest against it. For nearly an hour fervent cries of ‘Hadda Kuber Saidna,’ ‘This is the tomb of our Lord,’ filled all the air. The Muslims and lower-class Jews made a wild attack on the protesting Christians in the courtyard of the church. Many hundreds are reported dead and dying.
LATER -- Strong drafts of Turkish troops have marched into Jerusalem. By special order from the Sultan to the Governor of the city, the 'New Tomb,' discovered by Mr. Hands and Doctor Schmöulder, is guarded by a triple cordon of troops. The two gentlemen are guests of the Governor. The concentration of troops round the 'New Tomb' has left various portions of the city unguarded. Muslim fanatics, armed with swords, are calling for a general massacre of Christians. The city is in a state of utter anarchy. By the Jaffa gate and round the Mosque of Omar the fanatics are preaching massacre."
SIR ROBERT LLWELLYN’S PARTY TO BE CONVEYED IN A WARSHIP
MALTA -- Orders have been received here from the Admiralty that the gunboat Velox is to proceed at once to Alexandria, there to await the coming of Sir Robert Llwellyn and the other members of the English Commission by the Indian mail steamer from Brindisi. The Velox will then leave at once for Jaffa with the six gentlemen. At Jaffa an escort of mounted Turkish troops will accompany the party on the day’s ride to Jerusalem.
BERLIN -- The German Emperor has convened the principal clergy of the empire to meet him in conference at Potsdam. The conference will sit with closed doors.
ROME -- A decree, or short letter, has just been issued from the Vatican to all the Patriarchs, Primates, Archbishops, Bishops and other local ordinaries having peace and communion with the Holy See. The decree deals with the alleged discoveries in Jerusalem. In it Catholics are forbidden to read newspaper accounts of the proceedings in Palestine, nor may they discuss them with their friends. The decree has had the effect of drawing great attention to the affairs in the Middle East, and has excited much adverse comment among the secularist party, and in the Voce della Populo.
Quite suddenly, as if a curtain were withdrawn, the world began to realise the fact that something almost beyond imagination was taking place in the far-off city.
During the afternoon preceding the publication of the above article, the three principal proprietors had met at the offices of The Wire and had held a long conference with Mr. Ommaney, the editor.
Constantine Schuabe was among the group. His words had more weight than any others. The largest holding in the paper was his. The tentacles of this man were far-reaching and strong.
“For my part, gentlemen,” Ommaney said, “I am entirely with Mr. Schuabe. I agree with him that we should at once take the boldest possible attitude. Sir Robert Llwellyn’s opinion before he left was conclusive. We will therefore publish a leader tomorrow taking up our standpoint. We will make it quite plain and simple. Strong and simple, but with no subtleties to puzzle and obscure the ordinary reader. It is no use touching on history or metaphysics, or anything but pure simplicity.”
“Then, Mr. Ommaney,” Schuabe said quietly, “since we are exactly agreed on the best thing to do, and since these other gentlemen are prepared to leave the thing in our hands, if you will allow me I will write the leading article myself.”
It was Wednesday evening in Walktown. Mr. Byars was taking the service. The huge, ugly church was lit with rows of gas jets, arranged in the shape of crowns painted a drab green. But the vicar’s voice, strained and worn, echoed sadly, with a melancholy cadence through the great barn-like place.
Two or three girls, a couple of men, and half a dozen boys made up the choir, which had dwindled to less than a fifth of its usual size. The organ was silent.
Down the church Byars saw row upon row of cushioned empty seats. Here and there a small group of people broke the chilling monotony of line, but the worshippers were very few. In the galleries an occasional couple, almost secure from observation, whispered to each other. The church was warm, the seats not uncomfortable. It was better to flirt here than in the cold, frost-bound streets.
Never had Evensong been so cheerless and gloomy in that vast, unlovely building. There was no sermon. The vicar was suffering under such obvious strain, he looked so worn and ill that even this lifeless congregation seemed to feel it a relief when the Blessing was said and everyone was free to shuffle out into the streets.
The harsh trumpeting of the vestry clerk’s final “Amen,” was almost jubilant.
As Mr. Byars walked home he saw that the great Unitarian chapel which he had to pass en route was blazing with light. Policemen were standing at the doors to prevent the entrance of any more people into the overcrowded building. A tremendous life and energy pulsated within.
On each side of the great polished mahogany doors were large placards, printed in black and red, vividly illuminated by electric arc lights. These announced that on this night Mr. Constantine Schuabe, MP, would lecture on the recent discovery in Jerusalem. The title of the lecture, in staring black type, seemed to Mr. Byars as if it possessed an almost physical power. It struck him like a blow.
And then in smaller type,
AN EXPLODED SUPERSTITION
Glancing back, with a bitter sigh the vicar saw the lights in St. Thomas were already extinguished. The tower in which the illuminated church clock glowed sullenly, rose stark and cold into the dark winter sky. He walked on more hurriedly through the dark.
Schuabe had returned to Mount Prospect from London.
His long-sustained position as head of the antichristian party in Parliament, in England indeed, Schuabe’s political connection with the place, his wealth, the ties of family and relationship, all combined to make him the greatest power of the moment in the North.
His speeches of enormous power and force were delivered daily and reported verbatim in all the newspapers. He became the leading light of the campaign to remove all forms of religion from mankind.
On every side the churches were almost deserted. Day by day ominous political murmurs were heard in street and factory. With a sickness of heart, an utter weariness that was almost physical nausea, the vicar let himself into his house with a latchkey.
He went into his study where Helena rose to meet him. Her face was pale and worn as if by long vigils. Small lines of care had crept round her eyes, though the eyes themselves were as calm and steadfast as of old.
Basil was unable to return to London in time for the celebration of Christmas at St. Mary’s, Bloomsbury. For two weeks he had lain prostrate in the house of his fiancée and future father-in-law. It was as though he had some inner awareness of evil that was overwhelming his brain.
“Basil feels much stronger tonight, Father,” she said. “He’s dressing now, and will come down to supper. He wishes to have a long talk with you.”
He had watched the waters gradually rising round him until at last he was submerged in a merciful unconsciousness. The doctor said he was enduring a very slight attack of brain-fever, but one which need cause no one any alarm, and which was in fact nothing at all in comparison to his former illness.
Basil’s fine physical strength asserted itself and helped him to an easy recovery.
To Basil, with returning health and a clearer brain, came a renewal of mental power. A great strain was removed, the strain of waiting and watching, the tension of a sick anticipation of a forthcoming evil.
During the days of darkness, Helena’s lot had been hard. While her father was attending the conferences at the Bishop’s palace, speaking at meetings, visiting the sick with passionate assurance that the Truth would prevail and the Light of the World once more shine out undimmed, she had to live and pray alone.
Her faith never weakened, but all around her she saw the enemies of Christ prevailing with a great shout of triumph and exultation which resounded through the world. The Church she loved seemed to be tottering.
All that she could do was pray. But as she moved about her household duties, as she tended her sick fiancé with an almost wifely care, her prayers went on unceasingly, and every action was interwoven with supplication.
Pale, subdued, but with a quiet clearness and resolution in his eyes, Basil came down to the meal. There was but little conversation during it. Afterwards, Helena went to her own room, knowing that her father and Basil wished to be left alone.
In the study the two men sat on either side of the fireplace. Basil would not smoke, the doctor had forbidden it, but Mr. Byars lit his pipe with a sigh of satisfaction.
“To think, Basil,” the older man said in a broken voice, “to think that Christmas is upon us now. The vigil of Christmas, and never since our Lord’s Passion has the world been in such a state. And worse than all is our utter impotence!” His voice grew almost angry. “We know, know as surely as we know anything, that this terrible business is some stupendous mistake or fraud. But there isn’t the slightest possibility of anyone listening to us. On one side is the weightiest expert proof, on the other nothing but a conviction in the soul to oppose what appear to be the hardest facts. Viewing the thing clearly and without prejudice, I can’t blame anyone, Christian or not. It is only the smallest minority, even of professing Christians, whose faith is strong enough to keep them from an utter denial of our Lord’s Divinity.”
He put down his pipe on the table and rested his head in his outstretched hands. “It is awful, Basil,” he said in a broken voice, with his eyes full of tears. “In my old age I have seen this. I wish I had gone with my dear wife. But what is so bitter to me, my dear boy, is the sight of the utter overthrow of Faith. It all shows how terribly weak the majority of Christians are.”
“It won’t last long,” said Basil, gravely. “For my part, I think this terrible trial is allowed and permitted by God to bring about a great and future triumph for His Son, which will marshal, organise, and consolidate Faith as nothing has ever done before. I’m convinced of it.”
“Yes, it must be that,” answered the vicar. “Undoubtedly that is God’s purpose. But I would that the light might come in my time. I fear I’ll not live to see it. I’m an old man now, Basil. This has aged me very much, and I won’t live much longer. It is hard to think I’ll die seeing Christ dethroned in the hearts of men: the Cross broken.”
"While I have been quietly upstairs," said Basil, "many strange thoughts have come to me, of which I want to speak to you tonight. I have things to tell you which I have not mentioned to anyone. But before I go into these matters -- very dark and terrible ones, I fear -- I want you to give me a summary of the position of things as they are now. The present state is not clear in my mind. I have not read many of the papers, and I want a sort of bird's eye view of what's going on."
“The position at present,” said Mr. Byars, “from our point of view, is a kind of anarchy. Within every Christian denomination there are those who absolutely refuse to credit the truth of the discovery, but they are in the minority. Abroad, in France especially, wild free-thought has broken out everywhere in a kind of hysterical rage against Christianity. All the papers are taking a horribly cynical view. They say the delusion of Christianity has clouded men’s brains for so long that they are now incapable of bearing the truth. The vast majority of Roman Catholics, both abroad and in England, have remained utterly uninfluenced. It is one of the most marvellous triumphs of discipline and order that history has ever witnessed.”
“Then I wish we had something of that unity and discipline,” said Basil. “But is submission, possibly without the fire of an inward conviction, worth very much?”
“It is not for us to judge,” answered the vicar. “But the result has been that the Catholic Church, both here and on the Continent, is undergoing a storm of persecution and popular hatred. There have been fearful fights in Liverpool, and riots between the Irish dock labourers and a mob of people who called themselves ‘Protestants’ last year and ‘Rationalists’ today.
“The attitude of the Low Church party is varied. Some have accepted the discovery as being a true one, and evolved an entirely new theory from it, while using it as a party weapon also. This attitude is reflected in The Tower in an article which says that, though the actual body of Christ is now proved never to have risen from the dead, the spiritual body was what the Disciples saw. It is a clever piece of work, Basil, which has attracted an immense number of people. The Moderate and High Church parties are in some ways in a worse position than any other. They find themselves unable to compromise. The majority of the clergy say it is utterly impossible to accept the discovery and remain Christian. The result everywhere is chaos. Churchmen are resigning their livings, there have been several suicides -- isn't it horrible to think of? Congregations are dwindling everywhere, although the Methodists and Wesleyans are more successful than anyone. They are holding revival meetings all over the country. Very few of these two bodies have joined the atheist ranks. Dissent has always implied an act of choice, which, at any rate, means a man is not indifferent to the whole thing. I suppose that's why the Wesleyans seem to be making a firmer and more spiritual stand than any of us. To my shame I say it, but the Churchmen of England are not bearing witness as these others are."
“And the Bishops?”
“Most of them don’t know what to do. But see the horror of their position. The only way in which this awful thing can be combated is by just the methods which only scholars and cultivated people can understand. How are people who read the hard, material, logical speeches of people like Schuabe, or that abominable woman, Mrs. Hubert Armstrong, going to be convinced by the subtleties of the intellect or by the reiteration of a personal conviction which they cannot share?”
“It is all very terrible to see how much less Christianity means to mankind than earnest Christians believed,” said Basil, sadly. “To see the edifice tumbling round us like a house of paper when we thought it so secure and strong. What a terrible lesson this will be in the future to everyone; what frightful shame and humiliation will come to those who’ve denied their Lord when this is over!”
“When will that be, Basil?” said the vicar, wearily. “It seems as if the real hour of test is at hand, and now, finally and for ever, God means to separate the true believers from the rest. I have thought that all this may be but a prelude to the Last Day of all, and Christ’s Second Coming is very near. But what I cannot understand, what is utterly beyond the power of any of us to appreciate, is what this all means. How can this new tomb have been discovered after all these years? Can all these great experts be deceived? There have been historical forgeries before, but surely this cannot be one. And yet, I know, you know, that our Lord rose from the dead.”
“I believe that of all the men in England, The Hand of God has given me the key to the mystery,” said Basil.
Mr. Byars looked uneasily at him. “Basil,” he said, “I have been thoughtless. We have talked too long. You’re not quite clear as to what you’re saying. Let us pray together and go to bed.”
He watched Basil as he spoke, but before he had finished his sentence he saw something in the young man’s face which sent the blood leaping and tearing through his veins.
In a sudden, utterly unreasoning way, he saw a truth, a certain knowledge in Basil’s eyes which flooded his whole heart and soul with exaltation and joy.
Basil’s good and almost saintly face looked as the apostle John’s might have looked when, after the octave of the Resurrection Day, the heavy-hearted disciples were once more returning to the daily round and common task, and met the resurrected Lord upon the shore.
“I have been piecing things together gradually, as I lay silent upstairs,” said Basil, drawing his chair a little closer to the fire.
“Slowly, little by little, I have added link and link to a chain of circumstantial evidence which has led me to an almost incredible conclusion. When you have heard what I have to say you will realise two things. One is that there are depths of human wickedness so abysmal and awful that the mind can hardly conceive of them. The other is that I have been led, by a most extraordinary series of events and coincidences, to something very near the truth about the discovery in Jerusalem.”
The vicar leaned forward in his chair. “Continue, Basil,” he said, knowing now that this young man who was engaged to his daughter, did indeed have something of importance to tell.
“You’ll remember that many months ago Constantine Schuabe called here to discuss the school scholarships. I left the house with him and he invited me to go on to Mount Prospect. Earlier in the evening we had been talking of the antichrist. When Schuabe invited me to his house, something impelled me to go. I went, feeling I was on the threshold of some discovery.”
Basil paused for a moment, white and tired with the intensity of his narrative.
"When we got to Schuabe's house we began upon the controversial points you and he had carefully avoided here. At first our talk was quiet, mere argument between two people having different points of view. Schuabe went out to get some supper -- the servants were all in bed. While he was gone, I felt a sense of direct spiritual protection. I went to the bookshelf and took down a Bible. I opened it at random, half ashamed of myself for the tinge of superstition, and my eyes fell on the words of Jesus to His disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane:
WATCH AND PRAY
“I couldn’t help taking it as a direct message. Then Schuabe came back. Gradually, as I saw his bitter hatred and contempt for our Lord and the Christian faith becoming revealed, some power was given to me to see far into the man’s soul. He knew it, and all pretence between us was utterly swept away. Then I told him that his hate was real and active, that I saw him as he was. And these were the words in which he answered me, standing like Lucifer before me. For months these words have haunted me. They are burnt into my brain for all time. ‘I tell you, paid priest as you are, a blind man leading the blind, that a day is coming when all your boasted fabric of Christianity will disappear. It will go suddenly, and be swept utterly away. And you, you will see it. You will be left naked of your faith, stripped and bare, with all Christendom beside you. Your pale Nazarene will die amid the bitter laughter of the world, die as surely as He died two thousand years ago, and no man or woman will resurrect Him. You know nothing, but you will remember my words of tonight, until you also become as nothing and endure the inevitable fate of mankind.’”
Mr. Byars started. As yet he realised nothing of where Basil’s story was to lead. “A prophecy!” he cried. “It is as if Schuabe was gifted to know the future. Something of what he said has already come to pass.”
“My story’s a long one,” said Basil, “and as yet it is only begun. You will see plainer soon. Well, as he said these words I knew with certainty that this man was afraid of God. I saw his awful secret in his eyes. This man, this antichrist, believes in our Lord , and in terrible presumption dares to lift his hand against Him. Little more of importance happened on that night. The next day, as you know, I fell ill for some weeks. When I recovered and remembered perfectly all that had happened -- do you remember how the picture of Christ fell and broke when Schuabe came into the room? -- I saw I must keep all these things locked within my own mind. What could I do or say more than that I, a fanatical curate -- that's what people would have said -- had been involved in a row with the famous atheist millionaire and politician? I couldn't hope to explain to anyone the reality of that evening, the certain knowledge I had of it being only a prelude to some horror I could not foresee or name. So I kept my own counsel. Perhaps you remember on the night of the tea party when I said goodbye to the people, I urged them to keep fast hold on faith?"
Again Mr. Byars showed his intense interest by a sudden movement of the muscles of his face. But he did not speak, and Basil continued.
“Now we come to Dieppe when we were all there together. You remember how Spence introduced us to Sir Robert Llwellyn, and how we talked over dinner at the Pannier d’Or. Since then, Sir Robert Llwellyn’s evidence in favour of the absolute authenticity of Hands’s discovery has had more weight with the world than that of anyone else. He is, of course, known to be the greatest living expert. And that fact also has a very important bearing on my story. After that dinner, the conversation turned on discoveries in exactly the direction that the recent discovery has been made. Llwellyn expressed himself as believing that -- I think I remember something like his actual words -- 'We are on the eve of stupendous discoveries in this direction.' None of us liked to pursue the discussion further."
“Yes!” said the vicar. “I remember it perfectly now. It all comes back to me vividly. Certainly I never thought of it in detail. But go on, Basil.”
“Sir Robert drew a plan of the walls of Jerusalem on the back of a letter he took from his pocket. As he turned the letter over, I couldn’t help seeing whom it was from. I read the signature quite distinctly. ‘Constantine Schuabe.’ This brings us up to a curious fact. Two eminent men, one antichristian, the other a famous archaologist, both express an opinion in my hearing. The first says openly that something is about to occur that will destroy faith in Christ, and the other hints at some wonderful impending discovery in the Holy Land. The connection between the two statements, startling enough in any case, becomes still more so when it is discovered that these two eminent people are in correspondence one with the other. And there’s more. Two days after that dinner I was taking a stroll down by the quays in Dieppe when I saw Sir Robert Llwellyn, and Mr. Schuabe who had just landed from the Newhaven boat, get into the Paris train together.”
A sudden short exclamation came from the chair on the opposite side of the fire. Very dimly and vaguely the vicar was beginning to see where Basil’s story was leading. The fire had grown low, and Mr. Byars replenished it. The noise of the falling coals accentuated the tension which filled the quiet room.
Then Basil’s tired, but even and deliberate, voice continued. “I ask you to consider one or two other points. Professor Llwellyn told us he had a year’s leave from the British Museum owing to ill health. So long a rest presupposes a real illness, does it not? Now, of course, one can never be sure of anything of this sort, but I find it curious and worthy of remark that Sir Robert seemed outwardly in perfect health and with a hearty appetite. He also said he was en route for Alexandria. Well, Alexandria is the nearest port to Jaffa, which is but one day’s ride from Jerusalem.
“Now comes a still more curious part of my story. As I have told you, our parish in Bloomsbury is a centre of some shameless vice. Much of the work of the clergy lies among women of a certain class, and great tact and resolution is needed to deal with the problems these people present. Some months ago a woman, whose face seemed in some vague way familiar to me, began to come to church. Once or twice she seemed to show an inclination to speak to me or my colleagues after the service, but she never actually did. Eventually she called on Ripon and confessed her way of life. Her repentance and faith in Christ seemed sincere.”
The vicar nodded, but looked puzzled. “Go on, my boy.”
“It appeared the girl was a well-known dancer at one of the burlesque theatres, and I must have seen her portrait on the hoardings and advertisements of these places. She’d been touched by something in one of my sermons, it seems, and Ripon requested me to go and see her. I went to the flat where she lived, and we had a chat. The poor girl is suffering from an internal disease, and has only a year or two to live. She seems a kindly, sensible creature enough, vulgar and pleasure-loving, but without any very great wickedness about her, despite her wretched life. She wanted to get away, to bury herself in the country, and live a pure and new life as a Christian until she died. The great difficulty in the way was the man whose mistress she was, and of whom she seemed in considerable fear. I explained to her that with the help of Father Ripon and myself, no harm would come to her from him, and her quiet disappearance from the scenes of her past life could be very easily managed. Then it came out that the man in whose power she was, was none other than Sir Robert Llwellyn.”
The vicar looked shocked. “Surely this cannot be coincidence,” he said quietly.
“I don’t believe so. She told me Sir Robert had been for some time in Palestine . While we were talking, Sir Robert actually entered the room, fresh from his journey. We had a fearful row, of course, and he wouldn't go until I threatened to use force, and then only because he was afraid of the scandal. But before he went he seemed filled with a sort of coarse triumph even in a moment of what must have been great humiliation for him. I told him frankly that Miss Hunt -- that's the woman's name -- was, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, about to lead a new and different life. Then this sort of triumph burst forth. He said that in a short time meddling priests would lose all their power over the minds of others. He said Christ, 'the pale dreamer of Palestine,' would be revealed to all men at last. And it was said with a great confidence and certainty."
Basil stopped, worn out, and glanced inquiringly at Mr. Byars.
The vicar was evidently much moved and agitated by the narrative. “The most curious point of all,” he said, “in what you tell me is the fact of Sir Robert’s private and secret visit to Palestine some months before the discovery was made. Such a recent visit is surely unknown to the public. The newspapers have said nothing of it. Otherwise, I suggest that in some way or other, Mr. Schuabe and Sir Robert may have already known of this tomb, and their hints of a catastrophe to faith may have simply been because of this knowledge which they were unwilling to publish.”
Basil shook his head. “No, it is not that,” he said. “It is not that. They would never have kept the knowledge secret. You have not been through the scenes with these men that I have. There are a hundred objections to that theory. I’m absolutely persuaded that this ‘discovery’ is a forgery, executed with the highest skill, by the one man living capable of doing it, at the instigation of the one man evil enough to suggest it. The hand of God is leading me towards the truth.”
“But the proof!” said the vicar. “The proof! Think of the tremendous forces arrayed against us. What can we do? No one would listen to what you have told me.”
“God will show a way,” said Basil. “I know it. I had a letter from Harold Spence this morning. His work is done, and he’s now returned. At the end of the week the doctor says I’ll be able to get back to Lincoln’s Inn. I’ll take counsel with Harold. He’s brilliant, and a man with his feet firmly planted on the ground. Together we’ll work to overthrow these devils.”
“And meanwhile,” answered Mr. Byars, with a despairing gesture, “meanwhile hope and faith are dying out of millions of hearts. Men are turning to sinful pleasures, unafraid, hopeless, desolate.”
The strain had been too great, he was growing older. He bent his head on his hands while the darkness crept into his soul.
The long Manchester station was full of the sullen and almost unbearable roar of escaping steam. Every now and again the noise ceased with a suddenness that seemed painful, and the groups of people waiting to see the London train start on its four hours’ rush could hear each other’s voices strange and thin after the mighty vibration.
The feast of Christmas was over. Throughout the world the festival had fallen chill and cold on the hearts of mankind. The Adeste Fideles had summoned few to worship, and the praise had sounded thin and hollow.
Basil, Helena, and Mr. Byars stood together by the train. Basil still looked pale and worn, but visibly better and stronger. His face was fixed and resolute. The vicar seemed much older, shrunken somewhat, and his manner was more unsteady than before. His arm was in Helena’s.
“Basil,” said the vicar, “you’re going from us into what must be the unknown. May God grant a happy issue out of the perils and difficulties before you. For my part, I seem to be in an unhappy and doubting state. It may be that you have the key to this dark mystery and will one day dispel the clouds. I will pray daily that it may be soon. It is now in the hands of God.”
He sighed heavily as he gripped Basil’s hand in farewell. In truth, he had but little hope, and had hardly been able to absorb the young man’s story. It was almost inconceivable to him that the possibility of this great cloud could come on the world at the action of two men he had known. He had found Schuabe and Llwellyn pleasant, cultured people, and he rather liked them. The thought confused and stunned him. This good man could still believe in the eternal truths of the Gospel, despite this apparent contrary evidence, but could not believe in the malignancy which Basil’s story had seemed to indicate.
Helena had not been told any details of Basil’s suspicions, only of his hopes. She knew there was something in his mind which might lead once more to light, and disperse the clouds. The mutual trust between them was absolute. In her love and admiration for Basil, Helena saw nothing incongruous or incredible in the fact that an almost unknown curate, going up to London in a third-class railway carriage, hoped to bring peace back to the world.
Wearing his clerical suit, Basil walked with Helena slowly up and down the platform, saying farewell.
He thought long of her as the train began to gather speed and rush through the smoky Northern towns. He looked at the carriage, noticing for the first time, at least consciously, the people who sat there. He had two fellow passengers, a man and a woman. The man seemed to belong to the skilled artisan class, decently dressed, of sober and quiet manner. The woman was old, past sixty, a little withered creature, insignificant of face, her hair grey, scanty, and ill-nourished.
The man was sitting opposite Basil, and after a time they fell into talk on trivial subjects. The stranger was civil, but somewhat assertive. Suddenly, with a slight smile of anticipation, he seemed to gather himself up for discussion.
“Well,” he said, “I don’t wish individuals no particular harm, you’ll understand, but speaking general, I suppose you realise your job’s over. The Church will be swept away for good ‘n’ all in a few months, and to my way of thinking it’ll be the best thing as has ever come to the country. The Church has always failed to reach the labouring man.”
“Because the labouring man has generally failed to reach the Church,” said Basil, smiling. “But you mean Church and State will separate, I suppose? Disestablishment.”
“That’s it, mister,” said the man. “It must come now, and about time too, after all these centuries of humbug. I used to go to church years back and sing ‘The Church’s One Foundation.’ Its foundation’s been proved a pack of lies now, and down it comes. Disestablishment will prove the salvation of England. When religion’s swept away by act of Parliament, then men will have an opportunity of talking sense and seeing things clearly.”
He spoke without rudeness but with a certain arrogance and an obvious satisfaction at the situation. Here was a parson cornered, literally, forced to listen to him, with no way of escape. Basil imagined the man was congratulating himself that this was not a corridor train.
“I think Disestablishment is very likely to come indeed,” said Basil, “and it will come the sooner for recent events. I’m not at all sure it wouldn’t be an excellent thing for the Church after all. But you seem to think Disestablishment will destroy the Christian faith. That is an entire mistake, as you will find.”
“It is destroyed already,” said the man, “let alone what’s going to happen. Since what they’ve found out in Jerusalem, the whole thing’s gone puff! Like blowing out a match. You can’t get fifty people together in any town what believe in religion anymore. The religion of commonsense has come instead, and it is come to stay.”
A voice with a curious singing inflection came from the corner of the carriage, a voice utterly unlike the harsh North-country accent of the workman. The old woman was beginning to speak.
Basil recognised the curious Cornish tones at once, and looked up with sudden interest.
“You’m wrong, my son,” said the old woman, “bitter wrong you be, and ‘tis carnal vanity that spakes within you. To Lostwithul, where I bide, I could show ‘ee different to what you do say.”
The workman smiled a superior smile at the odd old thing. The wrinkled face had become animated. Two deep lines ran from her nostrils to the corner of her lips, hard and uncompromising. Her eyes were bright.
“Well, mother,” he said, “let’s hear what you’ve got to say. Fair do’s in argument is only just and proper.”
“Ah,” she replied, “it is easy to laugh when you’ve not got love of the Lard in your heart. I be gone sixty years of age, and many as I can mind back-along as have trodden the path of sorrow. There be a lot of fools about.”
The workman winked at Basil with huge enjoyment, and settled himself comfortably in his place.
“Then you don’t hold with Disestablishing the Church, mother?” he said.
"I do take no stock in Church," she replied, "begging the gentleman's pardon" -- this to Basil. "I was born and bred a Wesleyan and such I'm like to die. How should I know what they'll be doing up to London church town? This here is my first visit to England to see my daughter, and it'll be the last I have a mind to take. You should come to Cornwall, my dear, and then you'll see if our faith is over and done away with."
Basil was quietly amused at the traditional Cornish view that refused to accept that the county of Cornwall was part of England. But he was fascinated by the old woman’s words, and stayed quiet.
“But you’ve heard of all they’ve just found out Jerusalem, surely?” said the young workman. “It is known now that Christ never was what He made Himself out to be. He won’t save no more sinners. It is all false what the Bible says. It has been proved. I suppose you’ve heard about that in Cornwall?”
“I was down to the shop,” said the old lady, with the gentle contempt of one speaking to a foolish child. “I was down to the shop December month, and Mrs. Baragwaneth showed me the Western Morning News with a picture and a lot of talk saying the Bible was ontrue, and Captain Billy Peters, of Treurthian mine, he was down-along too. How he did laugh at ‘un! ‘My dear,’ he says, ‘tis like the coastguards going mackerel-seining. Night after night have they been out, and shot the nets, too, for they be alwass seein’ something briming, thinking it a school of fish, and not knowing ‘tis but moonshine. It is want of experience that do make folk talk so.’”
“That’s all very well, mother,” answered the man, slightly nettled by the placid assurance of her tone. “That’s all pretty enough, and though I don’t understand your fishing terms I can guess at your meaning. But here’s the proof on one side and nothing at all on the other. Here’s all the learned men of all countries as says the Bible isn’t true, and proving it, and here’s you with no learning at all just saying it is, with no proof whatever!”
"Do 'ee want proof, then?" she answered eagerly, the odd see-saw of her voice becoming more and more accentuated in her excitement. "I tell 'ee ther's as many proofs as there is pilchards in the say. Ever since the Lard died -- ah! 'twas a bitter nailing, a bitter nailing, my dear!" She paused, almost with tears in her voice, and the whole atmosphere of the little compartment seemed to Basil to be irradiated, glorified by the shining faith of the old woman. "Ever since that time the proofs have been going on. Now I'll tell 'ee as some as I have see'd, my son. Samson Trevorrow to Carbiswater married my sister, May Rosewarne, forty years ago. He would drink something terrible bad, and swear like a foreigner. He'd a half-share in a trawler, three cottages, and money in the bank. First his money went, then his cottages, and he led a life of sin and brawling. He were a bad man, my dear. Everyone were at 'un for an ongodly wastrel, but 'a kept on. An' the Lard gave him no children. My sister May could not make a child to him, for she were onfruitful, but he would not change. All that folk with sense could do was done, but 'twere no use."
“Well, I know the sort of man,” said the workman, with conviction. His interest was roused.
“Then you do know that nothing won’t turn them from their evil ways?”
“When a chap gets the drink in him like that,” replied the artisan, “there’s no power that will take him from it. He’d go through sheet iron for it.”
"And so would Samson Trevorrow, my dear," she continued. "One night he came home from Penzance market, market-peart, as the saying is -- drunk if you will. My sister said something to 'un, what 'twas I couldn't say, but he struck her, for the first time. Next morning was the Sunday, and when she told him of what he'd done overnight, he was shamed of himself, and she got him to come along with her to chapel. 'Twas a minister from Bodmin as prached, and 'ee did prache the Lard at Sam until the Word got hold on 'un and the man shook with repentance at his bad life. He did kneel down before them all and prayed for forgiveness, and for the Lard to help 'un to lead a new life. From that Sabbath till he died, many years after, Sam never took anything of liquor. He stopped his sweering and carrying on, and he lived as a good man should. And in a year the Lard sent 'un a son, and if God wills, I'll see the boy this afternoon, for he's to meet the train. There now, my son, that be Gospel truth what I tell 'ee. After that, can you expect anyone with a grain of sense to listen to such foolish truck as you do tell? The Lard did that for Samson Trevorrow: changed 'un from evil to pure, 'a did. If the Queen herself were to tell me the Lard Jesus wasn't He, I wouldn't believe her."
As Basil took a cab from Euston through the thronged veins of London towards the Inn, he thought much and with great thankfulness of the little episode in the train. Such simple faith, such supreme conviction, was, he knew, the precious possession of thousands still. What did it matter to these sturdy Nonconformists in the lone West that scholars denied Christ?
All over England the serene triumph of the Gospel, deep, deep down in the hearts of quiet people, gave the eternal lie to Schuabe and his followers. Never could they overcome the Risen Lord in the human heart. He began to realise more and more the overwhelming wonder of the Incarnation, how God could lower Himself to become Man, to die for the sins of the world.
Before he arrived at Chancery Lane, the London streets began to take hold of him once more with the old familiar grip. It seemed but a day since he had left them. It was impossible at the moment to realise all that had passed since he had gone away.
He was to have an immediate and almost terrifying reminder of it. The door of the chambers was not locked. Pushing it open, he entered.
Always most sensitive to the atmosphere of a room, moral as well as material, Basil was immediately struck by that of the chambers, most unpleasantly so, indeed. Certain indications of what had been going on there were easily seen.
The air was stale with the pungent smell of Turkish tobacco and spirits. It was obvious the windows had not been opened. A litter of theatre programmes lay on one chair. On another was a programme of a Covent Garden ball and a girl’s shoe of white satin, into which a fading bouquet of hothouse flowers had been crushed. The table was covered with the remains of a supper, a pâté, some long-necked bottles which had held Niersteiner, a hideous pink satin box with light blue ribbons half full of glacé plums and chocolates.
The little bust of the Hermes of Praxiteles, which stood on one of the bookcases, had been maltreated with a vulgarity which hurt Basil like a blow. The delicate contour of the features, the pure white of the plaster, were soiled and degraded. The cheeks had been rouged up to the eyes, which were picked out in violet ink. The brows were arched with an eyebrow pencil and the lips with a vivid cardinal red, no doubt the deed of a visitor.
Basil put down his portmanteau and looked round on these and many other evidences of sordid and unlovely riot. His heart sank within him. He began to fear for Harold Spence.
Even as he looked round, Spence came into the room, alone, from his bedroom. He was dressed in a smoking jacket and flannel trousers. Basil saw at once he had been drinking heavily. The cheeks were swollen under the pouch of the eye, he was unshaven, and his manner was full of noisy and tremulous geniality.
Basil was astounded at the change, but one thing he had learnt in this London parish was tact. The situation was obvious, it explained itself at once, and he nerved himself to deal with it warily and carefully.
Spence himself was ill at ease at they went through the commonplaces of meeting. Then, when they were both seated by the fire, he began to speak frankly.
“You can see I’m rather sick, Gortre,” he said. “Better have it out and done with, don’t you think?”
“Tell me all about it,” said Basil.
“Well, there isn’t very much to tell; only when I came back from Palestine after all that excitement I felt lost and miserable. Something seemed taken out of my life. There didn’t seem much to do, and some of the old set looked me up and I have been racketing about town a good bit.”
“I thought you’d got over all that, Harold; because, putting it on no other grounds, you know the game is not worth the candle.”
“So I had got over it, Basil, before” … he swallowed something in his throat … “before this happened. I didn’t believe it at first, of course, or at least not properly when I received Hands’s letter. But when I got out to Jerusalem and saw what Hands had found, everything seemed slipping away. Then the Commission came over with Sir Robert Llwellyn, and I was with them all, listening to what they had to say. I know the whole private history of the thing from first to last. It made me feel completely hopeless -- a terrible feeling. Of course, thousands of people must have felt just the same during the past weeks. But to have the one thing I leaned on, the one hope that kept me straight in this life, the hope of another and happier one, cut suddenly out of my consciousness! Is it any wonder I have gone back to the old temptations? I don't think so, Basil."
An enormous pity was in Basil’s heart as he saw this friend’s weakness and misery. He realised what he had only guessed at before or seen but dimly. He would not have believed this transformation possible. He had thought Harold stronger. But even as he pitied him, he marvelled at the Power which had been able to keep the man pure and straight so long. Even this horrid debacle was but another, if indirect, testimony to the power of Christ.
As Basil listened to his friend's story, a deep anger, a righteous wrath as fierce as flame burned within, as he thought of the two men who, he was now convinced, had brought this ruin on another. In Spence he was able to see but a single case out of thousands which he knew must be similar to it -- all because of the appalling conspiracy of Schuabe and Llwellyn.
"I understand it all, Harold," he said, "and you needn't tell me any more. I can sympathise with you, but I have much to tell you -- news, or at least theories, which you'll be astounded to hear. Listen carefully to me. I believe you and I are going to unearth the most wicked conspiracy in the world's history. Pull yourself together and follow me with all your power. All hope is not yet gone."
Basil saw, with some relief, the set and attentive face before him, a face more like the old Harold Spence. As he began to tell his story, suddenly it was as though scales fell from his eyes. Gertrude Hunt. She might know something that she had not yet revealed to anyone. Was it possible that Sir Robert Llwellyn had confided in her a confession of his involvement in this terrible deception, in a moment of unguarded intimacy?
Sir Michael Manichoe, Father Ripon, and Harold Spence were sitting in Sir Michael’s own study in his London house in Berkeley Square. A small circular table with the remains of a simple meal showed that they had dined there, without formality, more of necessity than pleasure.
A grim resolution, something of horror, a great expectation looked out of their eyes.
Sir Michael glanced at his watch. “Gortre ought to be here shortly,” he said. “It won’t take him long to get here from Victoria. The train must be in already.”
Father Ripon nodded, without speaking.
There was another interval of silence.
Then Spence spoke. “Of course it is only a chance,” he said. “Gertrude Hunt may very likely be able to give us no information whatever. One can hardly suppose that Llwellyn would confide in her.”
“Not fully,” said Father Ripon. “But there will be letters probably. I feel sure that Gortre will come back with some contributory evidence, at all events. We must go to work slowly, and with the greatest care.”
“The greatest possible care,” repeated Sir Michael. “On the shoulders of us four people hangs an incredible burden. We must do nothing until we are sure. But ever since Basil Gortre’s suspicions have been known to me, ever since Constantine Schuabe asked you that curious question in the train, Ripon, everything becomes clear at once. The only difficulty is the difficulty of believing in such colossal wickedness, coupled with such supreme daring.”
“It is hard,” said Father Ripon, “but probably our minds have been dazzled with the consequences, the size of the fraud. Apart from this question of size, it may be that there is no more danger or difficulty for Llwellyn and Schuabe in doing such gigantic evil than in doing evil on a smaller scale.”
“Perhaps the size of the operation blinds people to——” Spence was continuing, when the door opened and the butler showed Basil into the room.
He wore a heavy black cloak and carried a Paisley travelling rug on his arm.
The three waiting men jumped to their feet, with an unspoken question on their lips.
Basil was slightly flushed from his ride through the keen, frosty air of the evening. His manner was brisk, hopeful.
“The interview with Miss Hunt was excessively painful, as I had anticipated,” he began. “I have been able to get no direct absolute confirmation of our suspicions. On the other hand, what I have heard establishes something and has made me morally certain that we’re on the right track. I think there can be no doubt about that. Again, there’s a strong possibility that we’ll know more shortly.”
“Have you had anything to eat?” asked Sir Michael.
“No, sir, and I’m hungry after my journey. I’ll have some of this cold beef, and tell you everything that’s happened while I eat.”
He sat down, began his meal, and told his story in detail.
“I found Miss Hunt,” he said, “in her little cottage by the coastguard watch house, looking over the sea. Of course, as you know, she’s known as Mrs. Hunt in the village. Only the rector there knows her story. She’s made herself very much loved in Eastworld, even in the short time she’s been there. I asked her, first of all, about her life in general. Then, without in any way indicating the object of my visit, I led the conversation up to the subject of the Palestine discovery.
“Of course she’d heard of it, and knew all the details. The country rector had preached on it, and the whole village, so it seems, was in a ferment for a week or so. Miss Hunt is a woman with a good brain, and she saw at once what it would mean to her. Her own words were infinitely moving. She told me that when she first realised what the news meant or would mean, she had a black time of terror and struggle.
“‘When I first heard the news I went out on the sands,’ she said, ‘and walked for miles. Then when I was tired out I sat down and cried, to think that there would never be any Jesus anymore to save poor girls. It seemed so empty and terrible, and I’d only been trying to be good such a short time. I went to evensong when I got back. The bell was tolling just as usual. As I sat there I saw that it couldn’t be true that Jesus was just a good man, and not God. I wondered at myself for doubting, seeing what He'd done for me. If the paper was right, then why was it I was so happy, happier than ever before in my life -- even though I'm going to die soon? Why was it I could go away and leave Bob and the old life? Why was it I could see Jesus in my walks, hear the wind praying -- feel everything was speaking of Him?'
"That's the substance of what she said, though there was much more. I wish I could tell you adequately of the deep conviction in her voice and eyes. One doesn't often see it, except in very old people. She told me that in both Church and the Dissenting chapels -- there are two -- the whole thing died away in a marvellous manner. Everyone came to the services just the same as usual, and life went on in unbroken placidity.
“The fishermen, who compose the whole population of the village, absolutely refused to believe or discuss the thing. So utterly different from townspeople. They simply felt and knew intuitively that the statements made in the papers must be untrue. So without argument or worry they ignored it. Miss Hunt said the church has been fuller than ever before, the people coming as a sort of stubborn protest against any attack on the faith of their fathers.
“After this, I began to speak of our suspicions as delicately as possible. It was horribly difficult. I was afraid of awakening old longings and recalling that man’s influence. I was relieved to find she took it very well indeed. Her feelings towards the man have undergone a complete change. She fears him, not because he has yet an influence over her, but with a hearty fear and horror of the life she was living with him. When I told her what we thought, she said that from what she knew of Llwellyn, he wouldn’t stop even at such wickedness as this. She said he only cared for two things, and kept them quite distinct. When he’s working he throws his whole heart into what he’s doing, and he’ll let no obstacle stand in his way. He wants to constantly assure himself of his own pre-eminence in his Museum studies. He must be first at any cost.
“When his work is over he dismisses it absolutely from his thoughts, and lives entirely for gross, material pleasures. The man seems to pursue these with an overwhelming eagerness. I gather he must be one of the coldest and most calculating pleasure seekers that breathes. The actual points I have gathered are these, and I think you’ll see that they’re extremely important. Llwellyn was enormously in debt to Schuabe. Suddenly, Miss Hunt tells me, when Llwellyn’s financial position got to be very shaky, Schuabe forgave him the old debts and paid him a large sum of money.
"Llwellyn then paid the girl generously, and told her the money had come from Schuabe. It wasn't a loan from Schuabe this time, he said to her, but a payment for some work he was about to do. He also impressed the necessity of silence on her. While away, he wrote several times to her -- once from Alexandria, from one or two places on the Continent, and twice from the German hotel, the Sabîl, in Jerusalem.”
There was a sudden murmur from the men who were listening to Basil’s narrative. He had long since forgotten to eat and was leaning forward on the table. He paused for a moment, drank a glass of water, and concluded:
“This then is all I know at present, but it gives us a basis. We now know Sir Robert Llwellyn was staying privately in Jerusalem. Miss Hunt was instructed to write to him under the name of the Reverend Robert Lake, and she did so, thinking his incognito was assumed owing to the kind of pleasures he was pursuing, and especially because of his recent knighthood. In a week’s time Miss Hunt has asked me to go down to Eastworld again, as she has hopes of remembering more facts that can be used as evidence.”
“This is of great importance, Gortre,” said Sir Michael. “We now have something definite to go on.”
“I’ll start again for Jerusalem without loss of a day,” said Spence, his whole face lighting up and hardening at the thought of active occupation.
“I was going to suggest it, Mr. Spence,” said Sir Michael. “You will do what is necessary better than any of us, and your departure will attract less notice. You will of course draw on me for any money that may be necessary. No financial considerations must stand in the way. We’re working for the peace and happiness of millions. We’re in very deep waters.”
Father Ripon gave a long sigh. Then, in an instant, his face hardened and flushed till it was almost unrecognisable. The others started back from him in amazement. He began to tremble violently. Then he spoke.
“God forgive me,” he said in a thick, husky voice. “God forgive me! But when I think of those two men, devils that they are, devils, when I regard the broken lives, the suicides, the fearful mass of crime, I——”
His voice failed him. The frightful wrath and anger took him and shook this tall, black-robed figure like a reed. It twisted him with a physical convulsion inexpressibly painful to witness.
For near a minute Father Ripon stood among them like this, and they were rigid with sympathy, with alarm.
Then, with a heavy sob, he turned and fell on his knees in silent prayer.
The little village of Eastworld is set on a low headland by the sea, remote from towns and any haunt of men. The white cottages of the fisher folk, an inn, a chapel, the church, and a low block of coastguard buildings, are the only buildings there. Below the headland there are miles upon miles of utterly lonely sands which edge the sea in a great yellow scimitar as far as the eye can carry, from east to west.
Hardly any human footsteps ever disturb the vast smoothness of the sands, for the fisher folk sail up the mouth of a sluggish tidal river to reach the village. All day long the melancholy seabirds call to each other over the wastes, and away on the skyline, or so it seems to anyone walking on the sands, the great white breakers roll and boom for ever.
Over the flat expanses, with no obstacle to slacken or impede its progress, the tide rushes with furious haste -- as fast, so the fisher folks tell, as a good horse in full gallop.
It was the beginning of the winter afternoon on the day after Basil had visited Eastworld. There was little wind, but the sky hung low in cold and menacing clouds, cheerless and gloomy.
A single figure moved slowly through these forbidding solitudes. It was Gertrude Hunt. She wore a simple coat and skirt of grey tweed, a tam-o’-shanter cap of crimson wool, and carried a walking cane.
She had come alone to resolve a problem out there between the sea and sky, with no human help or sympathy to aid her.
The strong, passionate face was paler than before and worn by suffering. Yet as she strode along, there was a wild beauty in her appearance which seemed to harmonise with the very spirit and meaning of the place, although the face had lost the old jaunty hardihood. Qualities in it which had before spoken of an impudent self-sufficiency now were changed to quiet purpose. There was an appeal for pity in the eyes which had once been bright with shamelessness and sin.
The woman was thinking deeply. Her head was bowed as she walked, the lips set close together.
Mr. Gortre’s visit moved her deeply. When she heard his story, something within her, an intuition beyond calm reason, told her instantly of its truth. She could not have said why she knew this, but she was utterly certain.
Her long connection with Bob Llwellyn left no traces of affection now. As she often knelt in the little windy church on the headland and listened to the rector, an old friend of Father Ripon’s, reading prayers, she looked back on her past life as someone in sunlight remembers a horrid nightmare of the night past. She but rarely allowed her thoughts to dwell on the former partner of her sin, but when she did so, it was with a sense of shrinking and dislike.
As the new Light filled her life, she endeavoured to think of the man with Christian charity and sometimes to pray that his heart also might be touched. But perhaps this was the most difficult of all the duties she set herself. She had no illusions about the past, realised his kindness to her, and also knew that she had been at least as bad as he. But now there seemed a great gulf between them which she never cared to pass even in thought.
Her repentance was so sincere and deep, her mourning for her misspent life so genuine, that it never allowed her the least iota of spiritual pride -- the snare of weaker penitents when they have turned from evil courses. Yet, try as she would, she could never manage to really identify her hopes and prayers with Bob Llwellyn in any vivid way.
And now the young clergyman from St. Mary’s, the actual instrument of her own salvation as she regarded him, had come to her with this story in which she recognised the truth.
In sad and eloquent words he had painted for her what the great fraud meant to thousands. He told of upright and godly men stricken down because their faith was not strong enough to bear the blow. There was the curate at Wigan who had shot himself, and left a heart-breaking letter of mad mockery behind. There were other cases of suicide.
There was also the surging tide of crime, rising ever higher and higher as the clergy lost their influence in the slums of London and the great towns. He told her of Harold Spence, explaining he was a journalist friend, a good man who had overcome his temptations with the aid of faith and trust in Jesus. And he described his own return to Lincoln’s Inn, the disorder, and Harold’s miserable story.
She could picture it all so well, that side of life. She knew its every detail. And, moreover, Mr. Gortre had said that the evil was growing and spreading each day, each hour. Men were becoming reckless; the hosts of evil triumphed on every side.
The thought which came to her as Mr. Gortre gradually unfolded the object of his visit was startling. She herself might perhaps prove to be the pivot on which these great events were turning. It was possible that by her words, that by means of her help, the dark conspiracy might be unveiled and the world freed from its burden. She herself might be able to do all this, a kind of thank offering for the miraculous change God had wrought in her life.
Yet, when it was all summed up, how little she had to tell Mr. Gortre after all. True, her memories of things said by Bob in the past seemed to be of some value. They seemed to confirm what he and his friends suspected. But still it was very little. Could she provide another key to open this dark door?
She had asked Mr. Gortre to come to her again in a week, wanting more time to recall any scrap of things she had heard back in Bloomsbury Court Mansion.
In that time, she said, she might have some further information for him. And now she was out here, alone on the sands, to ask her soul and God what she was to do.
The clouds fell lower, a cutting wind began to moan and cry over the sand, which was swept up and swirled in her face. And still she went on with a bitterness and chill as of death in her heart.
She knew her power over her former lover. Knew her power well. He would be as wax in her hands, and it had always been so. From the very first she had done what she liked with him. There had always been an undercurrent of contempt in her thoughts that a man could be led so easily, could be made the puppet of his own passion. Nor did she doubt that her power still remained. She felt sure of that.
Even in her seclusion, some news of Bob's frantic attempts to find her had reached her. Her beauty still remained, heightened indeed by the slow complaint from which she was suffering. He knew nothing of that. And, as for the rest -- the rouge pot, the belladonna -- well, they were still available, though she had thought to have done with them for ever.
The idea began to emerge from the mist, as it were, and to take form and colour. She thought definitely of it, though with horror; looked it in the face, though shuddering as she did so.
It resolved itself into a statement, a formula, which rang and dinned itself repeatedly into her consciousness like the ominous strokes of a bell heard through the turmoil of the gathering storm.
“If I go back to Bob and pretend I’m tired of being good, he’ll tell me what he’s done.”
Over and over again she repeated the sentence to herself. It glowed in her brain, and burnt it like letters of heated wire. She looked up at the leaden canopy which held the wind, and it flashed out at her in letters of violet lightning. The wind carved it in the sand.
“If I go back to Bob and pretend I’m tired of being good, he’ll tell me what he’s done.”
Could she do this thing for the sake of Mr. Gortre, for the sake of the world? What did it mean exactly? She would be sinning terribly once more, going back to the old life. It was possible she might never be able to break away again after achieving her purpose. Surely one did not twice escape hell. It would mean sinning a deadly sin in order to help others. Ought she to do that? Was that right?
The wind plucked at her, shrieking.
Could she do this thing?
She would only be sinning with her body, not with her heart, and Jesus would know why she did it. Would He cast her out for this?
The struggle went on in her brain. If she went back it might mean utter damnation, even though she discovered what she wanted to find out. She had been a Christian so short a time, and she knew very little of the truth about these matters.
Suddenly she saw the thing, as she fancied, and indeed said half aloud to herself, “It is better that one person, especially one that’s been as bad as I have, should go to hell than hundreds and thousands of others.”
And then her decision was taken.
The light died out of her face, the hope also. She became old in a sudden moment.
W ith one despairing prayer for forgiveness, she began to walk towards her cottage -- there was a fast train to London in the morning.
She believed there could hardly be forgiveness for her act, and yet the thought of “the others” gave her strength to sin.
And so, out of her great love for Christ, Gertrude Hunt, Gertie, set out to be a harlot again, a sin which she thought would take Him away from her for ever.
In the large, open fireplaces of the Sheridan Club dining room, logs of pine and cedar wood gave out a regular and well-diffused warmth. Outside, the snow was still falling, and beyond the long windows, covered with their crimson curtains, the fog-bound air was full of soft and silent movement.
Sir Robert Llwellyn was sitting at one of the tables, laid for two people. He was in evening dress, and his massive face was closely scrutinising a printed list propped against a wine glass before him. His expression was interested and intent. By his side was a sheet of the club notepaper, and from time to time he jotted down something on it with a slender gold pencil.
The great Professor was ordering dinner for himself and a guest with much thought and care.
Crême d’asperge à la Reine in his neat writing, the letters distinct from one another -- almost like an inscription in Uncial Greek character, one might have fancied.
Turbot à l’Amiral promised well; the plump, powerful fingers wrote it down.
Poulardes du Mans rôties with petits pois à la Française with a salade Niçoise to follow; that would be excellent! Then just a little suprème de pêches, à la Montreuil, quite the best kind of suprème, then some Parmesan before the coffee.
“Quite a simple dinner, Painter,” he said to the steward of the room. “Of course you will tell Maurice it is for me. I want him to do quite his best.”
They went carefully into the wines.
“Remember, we’ll want the large liqueur glasses,” Llwellyn said, “with the Tuileries brandy. In fact, I think I’ll take a little now, as an apéritif.”
The steward bowed and went away. He returned with a long bottle of curious shape with an imperial crown blown in the glass. It was some of the famous brandy which had been lately found bricked up in a cellar close to the Place du Carrousel in Paris, and was worth its weight in gold.
On the tray stood one of the curious liqueur glasses lately introduced into the club by Sir Robert. It was the shape of a port wine glass, but enormously large, capable of holding a pint or more, and made of glass as thin as tissue paper and fragile as straw. The steward poured a little of the brandy into the great glass and twirled it round rapidly by the stem. This was considered to be the most epicurean device for bringing out the bouquet.
Llwellyn sipped the precious liquid with an air of the most intense enjoyment. His face glowed with enthusiasm.
“Wonderful, wonderful!” he said in a hushed voice. “There, take it away and bring me an olive. Then I’ll go downstairs and wait for my friend in the smoking room. You will serve the soup at five minutes past eight.”
He got up from the table and moved silently over the heavy carpet to the door.
It was about seven o’clock. Constantine Schuabe was coming to the Sheridan Club to dine at eight.
Sir Robert Llwellyn sat in the smoking room with a tiny cigarette of South American tobacco, wrapped in maize leaf and tied round the centre with a tiny cord of green silk. His face expressed nothing but the most absolute repose. His correspondence with life was at that moment as complete as the most perfect health and discriminating luxury could make it.
He stretched out his feet to the blaze and idly watched the reflection in the points of his shining boots.
The room was almost silent now. A few men sat about reading the evening papers, and there was a subdued hum of talk from a table where two men were playing a casual game of chess, in which neither of them seemed much interested. A large clock on the oak mantelshelf ticked with muffled and soothing regularity.
Llwellyn picked up a sixpenny illustrated paper devoted to amusements and the lighter side of life, and lazily opened it.
His eye fell on a double page article interspersed with photographs of actors and actresses. The article was a summing-up of the year’s events on the lighter stage by an accepted expert in such matters.
The six Trocadero girls, whom I remember in Paris recently billed as ‘The Cocktails,’ never forget that grace is more important in dancing than mere agility. They are youthful looking, pretty and supple, and their manoeuvres are cunningly devised. The diseuse of the troupe, Mdlle. Nepinasse, sings the Parisian success, Viens Poupoule, with considerable ‘go’ and swing. But in hearing her at the ‘Gloucester’ the other night I could not help regretting the disappearance of brilliant Gertrude Hunt from the boards where she was so great an attraction. Poupoule, or its English equivalent, is just the type of song, with its attendant descriptive dance, in which that cheerful little lady was seen at her best. In losing her, the musical comedy stage has lost a player whose peculiar individuality will not easily be replaced. Gertrude Hunt stood quite alone among her sisters of the Profession. Who will readily forget the pert insouciance, the little trick of the gloved hands, the mellow calling voice? It has been announced that this popular favourite has disappeared for ever from the stage. But there is a distinct mystery about the sudden eclipse of this star, and one which conjecture and inquiry have utterly failed to solve. Well, I, in common with thousands of others, can only sigh and regret it. Yet I would like to think that if these lines should meet her eye, she would know that I am only voicing the wishes of the public when I call to her to come back and delight our eyes and ears as before.
By the side of the paragraph was a photograph of his Gertie. He stared at it, his mind busy with memories and evil longing. The bold, striking face, the great eyes, looked him full in the face. Never had any woman been able to hold him as this one. She had become part of his life. In his mad passion for the dancer he had risked everything, until his whole career had depended upon the goodwill of Constantine Schuabe.
There had been no greater pleasure than to satisfy her wishes, however tasteless, however vulgar. And then, hastening back to her side with a fortune for her (the second he had poured into the white grasping hands), he had found her with the ruthless young priest. A power he was unable to understand had risen up as a bar to his enormous egoism. She had gone, utterly disappeared, vanished as a shadow vanishes at the moving of a stage light.
And all his resources, all those of the theatre people with whom she had been so long associated, had utterly failed to trace her.
The Church had swallowed her up in its mystery and gloom. She was lost to him for ever. And the fierce longing to be with her once more burnt within him like the unhallowed flame on the altar of an idol.
As he regarded the chaos into which the Church was plunged, he laughed to himself. His indifference to all forms of Christian congregations had gone. He felt an active and bitter hatred now, hardly less than that of Schuabe himself. And all the concentrated hatred and incalculable malice that his poisoned brain distilled, was focused and directed on the young curate who had been the means and instrument of his discomfiture. Basil Gortre. He had begun to plan schemes of swift revenge, laughing at himself sometimes for the crude melodrama of his thoughts.
As a waiter with his powdered hair and white silk stockings showed Schuabe into the smoking room, the millionaire saw with surprise the flushed and agitated face of his host, Robert Llwellyn, so unlike its usual sensual serenity. He wondered what had arisen to disturb Llwellyn, and he made up his mind to know it before the evening was over.
Schuabe also seemed depressed and in poor spirits. There was a restlessness, quite foreign to his usual composure, which appeared in little nervous tricks of his fingers. He toyed with his wine glass and did poor justice to the careful dinner.
"Everything is going well," Llwellyn said. "My book on the discovery is nearly finished, and the American rights were sold yesterday. The Council of the Free Churches have appointed Dr. Barker to write a counterblast. Who could have foreseen the stir and tumult in the world? Everything is toppling over in the religious world. I have read of your triumphal progress in the North of England -- this asparagus soup is excellent."
“I don’t feel very much inclined to talk of these things tonight,” said Schuabe. “To tell the truth, my nerves are a little out of order, and I have been doing too much. I have got myself into that ridiculous state in which one is constantly apprehending some sinister event. Everything has gone well, and yet I’m like this. It is foolish. How humiliating a thought it is, Llwellyn, that even intellects like yours and mine are entirely dependent on the secretions of the liver!”
He smiled grimly, and the disturbance of the regular repose and immobility of his face showed depths of weary unhappiness which betrayed the tumult within.
He recovered himself quickly, anxious it seemed to betray his thoughts no further. “You seemed upset when I came into the club,” Schuabe said. “You ought to be happy enough, Llwellyn. Debts all gone, fifty thousand in the bank, reputation higher than ever, and all the world listening to everything you have to say.” He smiled rather bitterly as Llwellyn raised a glass of champagne to his lips.
“Exactly,” said Llwellyn. “I have all the money I wanted a few months ago, but one of the principal inducements for wanting it has gone.”
“Oh, you mean that girl?” answered Schuabe, contemptuously. “Well, buy another. They’re for sale in all the theatres, you know.”
“It is all very well to sneer like that,” replied Llwellyn. “It is nothing to me that you’re about as coldblooded as a fish, but you needn’t sneer at a man who isn’t. I’m fond of this one girl. She’s become necessary to my life. I spent thousands on her, and then this abominable young parson takes her away to——” He ground his teeth savagely, his face became purple, and he was unable to finish his sentence.
Curiously enough Schuabe seemed to be in sympathy with his host’s rage. A deadly and vindictive expression crept into his eyes, which were more glittering and cold than before.
“Gortre is living back in London,” said Schuabe, quickly.
The other started. “You know his movements then? What has he to do with you?”
“More than, perhaps, you think. Llwellyn, that young man is dangerous!”
"He's done me all the harm he can already. There's nothing else he can do, unless he elopes with Lady Llwellyn -- an event I would view with great satisfaction."
“At any rate,” said Schuabe, “I take sufficient interest in that young curate’s movements to have them reported to me daily.”
“Why on earth——?”
“Simply because he guesses, or will guess, the truth about the Damascus Gate sepulchre!”
Llwellyn grew white. When he spoke it was with several preliminary moistenings of the lips. “But what proof can he have?”
“There is no need to be alarmed, Llwellyn. We’re perfectly safe in every way. The man is an enemy of mine, and even small enemies are obnoxious. He won’t disturb either of us for long.”
The big man gave a sigh of relief. “Well, you manage as you think best,” he said. “Confound Gortre! He deserves all he gets. Let’s change the subject. It is a little too uncomfortable to be amusing.”
“I’m going to hear Pachmann playing in the St. James’s Hall. Will you come, Llwellyn?”
Llwellyn considered a moment. "No, I don't think I will. I'm going out to a supper party in St. John's Wood later -- Charlie Fitzgerald's, the lessee of the Piccadilly. I'll go home and read a novel quietly. To tell the truth, I also feel rather depressed. Everything seems going too well, doesn't it?"
Schuabe’s voice shook a little as he replied shortly. “Don’t say that.”
For a brief moment the veil was raised. Each saw the other with eyes full of the fear that was lurking within them.
For weeks they had been at cross purposes, suggesting a courage and indifference neither felt.
Now each knew the truth.
They knew the burden of their terrible secret was beginning to press and enclose them with its awful weight. Each had imagined the other free from his own terror, that terror that lifts up its head in times of night and silence, the dread demon that murders sleep.
The two men went out of the club together without speaking. Their hearts were beating like drums within them. It was the beginning of the agony.
Llwellyn, his coat exchanged for a smoking jacket, lay back in a leather chair in his library where he now lived. Since his return from Palestine he had transferred most of his belongings to a small flat in New Bond Street. He hardly ever visited his wife now. The flat in Bloomsbury Court Mansions was given up when Gertrude Hunt had gone.
In New Bond Street Sir Robert lived alone. A housekeeper in the basement of the buildings looked after his rooms, and his valet slept above.
The new apartment was furnished with great luxury. It was not the garish luxury and vulgar splendour of Bloomsbury Court -- that had been the dancer's taste. Here he had gathered round him all that could make life pleasant, and his own taste had seen to everything.
As he sat alone, in an utter depression of spirits, his thoughts once more went back to his lost mistress.
It was in times like these that he needed her most. She would distract him, amuse him, where a less common, more intellectual woman would have increased his boredom.
He sighed heavily, pitying himself, utterly unconscious of his degradation. The books on the shelves, learned and weighty monographs in all languages, his own brilliant contributions to historical science among them, had no power to help him. He sighed for his alluring mistress.
The electric bell of the flat rang sharply outside in the passage. His man was out, and he rose to answer it himself.
A friend probably looking him up for a drink and smoke. He was glad. He wanted companionship, easy, genial companionship, not that pale devil Schuabe with his dreary talk and everlasting reminder of what they had done.
He went out into the passage and opened the front door. A woman stood there.
She moved, and the light from the hall shone on her face.
The eyes were brilliant, the lips were half parted.
It was Gertrude Hunt.
They were sitting on each side of the fire. Gertrude was pale, but her dark beauty blazed at him.
She was smoking a cigarette, just as in the old time.
A little table with a carafe of brandy and bottles of seltzer in a silver stand stood between them.
Llwellyn’s face was one large circle of pleasure and contentment. His eyes gleamed with an evil triumph as he looked at the girl.
“Wonderful!” he cried. “Why, Gertie, it was almost worthwhile losing you to have you back again like this. It is just exactly as it used to be, only better. Yes, better! So you got tired of it all, and you have come back. What a little fool you were ever to go away, dear!”
“Yes, I got tired of it,” she repeated, but in a curiously strained voice.
He was too exhilarated to notice the strange manner of her reply.
“Well, I have got any amount of ready cash now,” he said joyously. “You can have anything you like now you’ve given up the confounded parsons and become sensible again.”
She seemed to make an effort to throw off something that oppressed her. “Now, Bob,” she said, “don’t talk about it. I have been a little fool, but that’s over, and now I have managed to track you down to here. What a lot you’ve got to tell me! What did you do all the time you were away? Where did you raise the money from? Tell me everything. Let’s be as we were before. No more secrets!”
He seemed to hesitate for a moment.
She saw that, and stood up. “Come and kiss me, Bob,” she said. He went to her with unsteady footsteps, as if he were intoxicated by the fury of his passion.
“Tell me everything, Bob,” she whispered into his ear.
The man surrendered himself to her, utterly, absolutely. “Gertie,” he said, “I’ll tell you the strangest story you ever heard.”
He laughed wildly.
“I have tricked the whole world, by Jove! Cleared fifty thousand pounds, and made fools of the whole world.”
She laughed, a shrill, high treble.
“Dear old Bob,” she cried. “Clever old Bob, you’re the best of them all! What have you done this time? Tell me all about it.”
“By God, I will,” he cried. “I’ll tell you the whole story, little girl.” His voice was utterly changed.
“Yes, everything!” she repeated fiercely.
Her body shook violently as she spoke.
The man thought it was in response to his caresses.
“No more secrets, Bob?”
“No more secrets, Gertie. But how pale you look! Take some brandy, little girl. Now, I’m going to make you laugh. Listen!”
Cyril Hands’s return was utterly bewildered by the rush of events in which he was expected to take part, and he had little or no time for thought.
His days were filled by official conferences with his chiefs at the Exploring Society, from which important but by no means wealthy body he had suddenly attained more than financial security.
Meeting succeeded meeting. He was in constant communication with the heads of the Church, Government, and Society. Interviewers from all the important papers shadowed him everywhere. Despite his protests, for he was a quiet and retiring man, photographers fought for him. His long, somewhat melancholy face and pointed fair beard stared at him everywhere.
He had to read papers at learned societies, and afterwards women came and carried him off to evening parties without possibility of escape.
Everywhere he was flattered, caressed, and made much of. In fact, he underwent what to some natures is the grimmest torture of a humane age -- he became the MAN OF THE HOUR. Even Churchmen and others most interested in denying the truth of the discovery, treated Hands with consideration and deference. His own testimony in the matter was undoubted, his long and notable record forbade suspicion.
Of Basil Gortre, Hands saw but little. Their greeting had been cordial, but there was some natural restraint, one fearing the attitude of the other. Basil, no less than Hands, was much away from the chambers, and the pair had few confidences. Hands felt, naturally enough under the circumstances, that he would have been more comfortable with Harold Spence. He was surprised to find him absent, but all he was able to glean was that the journalist had suddenly left for the Continent on a special mission. Hands supposed that Continental feeling was to be thoroughly tested by The Wire, and the work had fallen to Spence.
Far away in the ancient Middle Eastern city, he had indeed realised the momentous nature of the strange and awful thing he had found. But of the consequences to himself he had thought nothing, and of the effects on the world he had not had time to think.
Hands had never wished to be celebrated. His temperament was poetic in essence, retiring in action. He longed to be back under the eye of the sun, to move among the memorials of the past with his Arab helpers, to lie on the beach of the Dead Sea when no airs stirred, and suddenly hear a vast, mysterious breaker coming from nowhere, with no visible cause, like some great beast crashing through the jungle.
And he had exchanged all this for lunches at institutions, for hot rooms full of flowers, and fools of women who said, “Oh, do tell me all about your delightful discovery,” smiling through their paint while the world’s heart was breaking. And there was worse to come. At no distant date he would have to stand on the platform at the Albert Hall where Mr. Constantine Schuabe, MP, and Mrs. Hubert Armstrong, the writing woman, would hand him a cheque for some preposterous sum of money which he did not in the least want. There would be speeches….
He was not made for this life.
His own convictions of Christianity had never been thoroughly formulated or marked out in his mind, although all that was mystical in the great history of Christ had always attracted him. He took an intellectual pleasure in the beautiful story. To him more than to most men it had become a vivid panoramic vision. The background and accessories had been part of his daily life for years. It was as the figure of King Arthur and his old knights might be to some loving student of Malory.
I t had always been thus to him -- a lovely and poetic picture, and no more. He had never made a personal application of it to himself. His heart had never been touched, and he had never heard the Son of God calling to him.
At the end of a fortnight Hands found that he could stand the strain no longer. His nerves were failing him. There was a constant babble of meaningless voices in his ear which took all the zest and savour from life. His doctor told him quite unmistakably that he was doing too much, and he must go away to some solitude by the sea to rest.
The advice not only coincided with his own wishes, but made them possible. A good many engagements were cancelled, a paragraph appeared in the newspapers to say that Mr. Hands’s medical adviser had insisted on a thorough rest, and the man of the moment disappeared. Save only Basil and the secretary of the Exploring Society, no one knew of his whereabouts.
In a week he was forgotten. Greater things began to animate Society -- harsh, terrible, ugly things. There was no time to think of Cyril Hands, the instrument which had brought them about.
The doctor had recommended the remotest parts of Cornwall. Standing in his comfortable room at Harley Street, the doctor explained the peace that was to be found in that lost country of frowning rocks and bottle-green seas, where Cornishmen still talk of “going into England” as if it were an adventure to foreign parts.
Two days found him at a lonely fishing cove, rather than a village, lodging in the house of a coastguard not far from Saint Ives.
A few whitewashed houses ran down to the beach of the little natural harbour where the boats sheltered.
On the shores of the little "Porth," as it was called, the fishermen sat about with sleepy eyes, waiting for the signal of watchmen on the moor above -- the shrill Cornish cry of "Ubba! Ubba!" which would tell them the mackerel or pilchard shoals were in sight.
Behind the cove, running inland, were the vast, lonely moors which run between the Atlantic and the Channel. It is always grey and sad on these rolling solitudes; sad and silent. As far as the eye could reach, they stretched away with a forlorn immensity that struck cold to Hands’s heart. Peace was here indeed, but how austere. Quiet, but what a brooding and cruel silence.
Every now and again his roving eye, in its search for incident and colour, was caught and arrested by the bleak engine house of some ancient deserted tin mine and the gaunt chimney which pointed like a leaden finger to the stormy skies above. Great humming winds swept over the moor, driving flocks of Titanic clouds, an Olympian army in rout, before their fierce breath.
Here, day by day, Cyril Hands took his solitary walk; or sometimes he would sit sheltered in a hollow of the jagged volcanic rocks which set round about the cove like a barrier of jagged teeth. Down below him a hard, green sea boiled and seethed in an agony of fierce unrest. The black cormorants in the middle distance dived for their cold prey. The seabirds were tossed on the currents of the wild air, calling to each other with forlorn, melancholy voices.
In the afternoon a weary postman tramped over the moor. He brought the London newspapers of the day before, and Hands read them with a strange sensation of spectatorship.
He had more time to think about what he read. It was in this lost corner of the world that the chill began to creep over him. As his brain grew clearer, the words his eyes conveyed to it filled it with a more awful reverberation.
The awful weight grew. He began to realise with terrible distinctness the consequences of his discovery. They stunned him. A carved inscription, a crumbling tomb in half an acre of waste ground. He had stumbled upon so much. He, Cyril Hands, had found this.
His straining eyes day by day turned to the columns of the papers.
Hands awoke to terrible realisation. The newspapers provided him with a bird’s-eye view, a summary of a world in tumult. Out of a wealth of detail, culled from innumerable telegraphic despatches and articles, certain facts stood out clearly.
In the Balkan States, always in unrest, a crisis, graver than ever before, suddenly came about. The situation flared up like a petrol explosion.
A great revival of Muslim enthusiasm had begun to spread from Jerusalem as soon as Europe had more or less definitely accepted the discovery he had made, and subsequently confirmed by the international committee.
Hands read an extract from a leading article in The Daily Wire showing that the underlying reason and cause was thoroughly appreciated and understood in England no less than it was abroad.
In this labyrinth of myth and murder, is a sudden and spontaneous outburst of Muslim hatred for the Christian. The stupendous fact which has lately burst upon the world has had effects which, while they might have been anticipated in some degree, have already passed far beyond the bounds of the most confirmed political pessimist’s dream.
Then news of unrest in India shook the whole country to its depths. Men began to look into each other’s eyes and ask what these things might mean. English officers and civilians began to send their wives home. The great P&O boats were inconveniently crowded as troops from all over India began to concentrate near the Sri Ulang Pass in the Hindu-Kush.
Simultaneously with these ominous rumours of war came an extraordinary outburst of Christian fanaticism in Russia. The peasantry burst into a flame of anger against England. The priests of the Orthodox Church not only refused to believe in the Palestine discovery, but they refused to ignore it, as the Roman Catholics of the world were endeavouring to do.
They began to preach war against Great Britain for its infidelity, and the political powers seized the opportunity to use religious fanaticism for their own ends.
All these events happened with appalling swiftness.
In the remote Cornish village, Hands moved as in a dream. His eyes saw nothing of his surroundings. His face was pallid under the brown of his skin. Sometimes, as he sat alone on the moors or by the sea, he laughed loudly. When a passing coastguard heard him, the man told of it among the fishermen, and they regarded their silent visitor with something of awe, with the Celtic compassion for those mentally afflicted.
One Sunday, Hands heard the deep singing of hymns coming from the little white chapel on the cliff. He entered in time for the sermon, which was preached by a minister who had walked over from Penzance.
Here all the turmoil of the world beyond was ignored. It seemed as though nothing had ever been heard of the thing that was shaking the world. The pastor preached and prayed, the men and women answered with deep “Amens.” The discovery mattered nothing to them. They heeded it no more than the wailing wind in the cove. The voice of Christ was not stilled in the hearts of this little congregation of the Faithful.
This chilled Hands. He could find no meaning or comfort in it.
That evening he heard the daughter of the coastguard with whom he lodged singing. It was a wild night, and Hands was sitting by the fire in his little sitting room. Outside, the wind and rain and waves were shouting furiously in the dark.
The girl was playing a few simple chords on the harmonium and singing to them.
“For ever with the Lord.”
An untuneful voice, louder than need be, but with what conviction!
Hands tried to fix his attention on the newspaper he held.
He read that in Rhodesia the mine capitalists were moving for slavery pure and simple. It was proposed openly that slavery should be the penalty for law-breaking for natives. This was the only way, it asserted, by which the labour problem in South Africa could be solved.
“Life from the dead is in that word,
It seemed that there was small opposition to this proposal. It would be the best thing for the Kaffir, perhaps, this wise and kindly discipline. So the proposal was wrapped up.
“And nightly pitch my moving tent
A day’s march nearer home.”
Hands saw that, quite suddenly, the old horror against slavery had disappeared.
This, too, was coming, then? This old horror which Christians had banished from the world?
“So when my latest breath
Shall rend the veil in twain.”
His thoughts came back to the house in which he sat. The girl’s voice touched him immeasurably. He heard it clearly in a lull of the storm. Then another tremendous gust of wind drowned it.
Two great tears rolled down his cheeks.
It was midnight, and all the people in the house were long since asleep. The firelight played on the pictures on the wall, the simple ornaments, the ship worked in worsted when the coastguard was a boy in the Navy, the shells from a Pacific island, a model gun under a glass shade. But his thoughts were not imprisoned by these humble walls and the humble room in which he sat. He heard the groaning of the peoples of the world, the tramp of armies, the bitter cry of souls from whom hope had been plucked for ever.
He remembered the fair morning in Jerusalem when, with the earliest light of dawn, he had gone to work with his Arab helpers before the heat of the day.
How utterly unaware he had been on that radiant morning outside the Damascus Gate! He had seen the men at work, and was sitting under his sun tent writing on his pad. He was just lighting a cigarette, he remembered, when Ionides, the Greek foreman, came running up to him, his shrewd, brown face wrinkled with excitement.
He had opened the little rock tombs Ionides had shown him, and it seemed that the blows of the picks had set free a troop of ruinous spirits who were devastating mankind.
Pandora's box -- that legend fitted what he had done, but with a deadly difference.
He could not find that Hope remained. It would have been better a thousand times if the hot Eastern sun had struck him down that distant morning on his way through the city.
The awful weight, the initial responsibility rested with him.
He alone had been the means by which the world was being shaken with horrors -- horrors growing daily, and that seemed as if the end would be unutterable night.
How the wind shrieked and wailed!
Εγω Ιωσηφ ὁ ἀπο Αριμαθειας.
“I, Joseph of Arimathea.”
The words were written in fire on his mind.
The wind outside was shrieking louder and louder.
So the government were asking for another commission! Well, they might try that as a forlorn hope, but he knew his discovery was real. Could he possibly be mistaken? Could that congress of the learned which had visited the site all be mistaken? It was not possible. It could not be. Would that it were possible.
There was no hope. For centuries the world had been living in a fool’s paradise. He had destroyed it. It would be a hundred years before the echoes of his deed died away.
But the terrible weight of the world’s burden was too heavy for him to bear. He knew that. Not for much longer could he endure it.
The life seemed oozing out of him, pressed out by a weight -- the sensation in his chest was physical.
He wished it was all over. He had no hope for the future, and no fear.
The weight was too heavy. The outside dark came through the walls and began to close in on him. His heart beat loudly. It seemed to rise up in his throat and choke him.
The pressure grew each moment. Mountains were being piled on him, heavier, heavier.
The wind was but a distant murmur now, but the weight was crushing him. Only a few more moments and his heart would burst.
The dark thing huddled on the hearth rug, which the girl found when she came down in the morning, was the scholar’s body.
A newspaper he had been reading lay on his chest.
Constantine Schuabe’s great room at the Hotel Cecil had been entirely refurnished and arranged for the winter months.
The fur of great Arctic beasts lay on the heavy Teheran carpets, which had replaced the summer matting -- furs of enormous value. The dark red curtains which hung by windows and over doors were worked with threads of dull gold.
The morning papers were resting on a chair by his side. He was reading one of them. It announced the death from heart disease of Mr. Cyril Hands while taking a few days’ rest in a remote village of Cornwall. Not a shadow of regret passed over the regular, impassive face. The eyes remained in fixed thought.
He paced the long room slowly. On the whole, the incident seemed without meaning for him. If it meant anything at all it meant that his position was stronger than ever. The voice of the discoverer was now for ever silent. His testimony, his reluctant but convinced opinion, was on record. Nothing could alter that. Cyril Hands might perhaps have had doubts in the future. He might have looked more keenly into the way in which he came to examine the ground where the new tomb was hidden. Yes, this death of Hands was better. That danger, remote as it had been, was over.
As his eyes wandered over the rest of the news columns they became more alert, speculative, and anxious. Parts of the world were in tumult, which grew louder and louder every hour.
He sank down in his chair with a sigh, passing his hand wearily over his face. Who could have foreseen this? It was beyond belief. He gazed at the havoc and ruin in terrified surprise, as a child might who had lit a little fire of straw, which had grown and devoured a great city.
It was in this very room -- just over there in the centre -- that he had bought the brain and soul of Robert Llwellyn, the great Professor of ancient history.
The big man had stood exactly on that spot, blanched and trembling. His miserable promises to pay had flamed up in this fire.
And now? India was slipping swiftly away; a bloody civil war was brewing in America; Central Europe was a smouldering torch; the whips of Africa were cracking in the ears of Englishmen; the fortunes of thousands were melting away like ice in the sun. In London, gentlemen were going from their clubs to their houses at night carrying pistols and sword-sticks. North of Holborn, south of the Thames, no woman was safe after darkness had fallen.
He saw his face in an oval silver glass. It fascinated him as it had never done before. He gripped the leather back of a chair and stared fiercely, hungrily, at the image. It was this , this man he was looking at, some stranger it seemed, who had done all this. He laughed -- a mirthless, hollow laugh. His brain became darkened for a time, lost in an awful wonder he could not realise or understand.
And no one knew, except his partner and instrument. No one knew!
The secret seemed to be bursting and straining within him like some live, terrible creature that longed to rush into the light. For weeks the haunting thought had grown and harassed him. If only he could share his own dark knowledge.
Turning away from the mirror, he shuddered as a man who has escaped from a sudden danger. He knew, none better, the end, the extinction of the brain that has got beyond control. No, come what may, he must watch himself, that he did not succumb. A tiny speck in the brain, and then goodbye to thought and life for ever.
He was a benefactor of the Lancashire Asylum -- had been a visitor there several times -- and he had seen the soulless lumps of flesh the doctors called "patients."
“I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul,” he repeated to himself, and even as he did so, his other self sneered at the weakness which must comfort itself with a poet’s rhyme.
He tried to shut out the world’s alarm from his mental eyes and ears. He went back to the scenes of his first triumph. They had been sweet indeed.
Yes! Worth all the price he had paid and might be called on to pay.
All over England his life's ambition had been gloriously vindicated. They had hailed him as the prophet of Truth at first -- a prophet who had cried in the wilderness for years, and who had at last come into his own.
The voices of great men and vast multitudes had come to him as incense. He was to be the leader of the new religion of common sense. Why had they doubted him before, led away by the old superstitions?
Men who had hated and feared him in the old days, who had spoken against him and his doctrines as if both were abhorred and unclean, were now his friends and servants. Christians had humbled themselves to the representatives of the new power. Bishops had consulted him as to the saving of the Church, and its reconstruction on "newer, broader, more illuminated lines." They had come to him with fear -- anxious, eager to confess the errors of the past; swift to flatter and suggest that, with his help, the fabric and political power of the Church might yet stand.
They showed him, with furtive eyes and hesitating lips from which the shame had not yet been cleansed, how desirable and necessary it was that in the reconstruction of Christianity the Church should still have a prominent and influential part. Fools!
He had been a colossus among them all. But -- and he thought of it with anger and amazement -- all this had been at first, when the discovery flashed over a startled world. While the thing was new it had been a great question, truly the greatest of all.
At first, only religious people -- a vast host, but small beside the mass of Englishmen -- were seriously disturbed by what had happened. The price of bread had remained the same, and beef was no dearer.
During these first weeks, Schuabe had been all-powerful. He and his friends had lived in a constant and stupendous triumph.
But now -- and in his frightful self-centredness he frowned at the thick black headlines in the newspapers -- the whole attitude of everyone was changed. There was a reflex action. In the noise it made, Schuabe was forgotten.
Men had more to think of now. There was no time to congratulate the man who had been so splendidly right.
British government bonds were down to 65!
Bread was now rising each week. War was imminent. On all sides great mercantile houses were crashing. Each fall meant a thousand minor catastrophes all over the country.
The antichristians had no time to jeer at the Faithful; they must work and strain to save their own fortunes from the wreck.
The mob, who were swiftly bereft of the luxuries which kept them in good humour, were turning on the antichristian party now. In their blind, selfish unreason they cried them down, saying that they were responsible for the misery and terror that lay over the world.
With an absolute lack of logic, the churches were crowded again. The ones who were most irreligious cried for the good old times. Those who had exulted over the broken Cross now bewailed it as the most awful of calamities.
It was bizarre beyond thinking, sordid in its immensity, vulgar in its mighty soulless greed, but true, real, a fearful fact.
A stupendous confusion.
Two great currents had met in a maelstrom. The din of the disturbance beat on the world’s ear with sickening clamour.
Louder and louder, day by day.
And the man who had done all this, the brain which had called up these legions from hell, which had loosed these fiery sorrows on mankind, was in a rich room in a luxurious hotel, alone there. Again, the shock and marvel took hold of Schuabe and shook him like a reed.
His thoughts flashed hither and thither, now surveying a world in torture, now weaving a trivial and whimsical romance about a waiter who had caught his eye. The frightful activity of his brain, inflamed by thoughts beyond the power of even that wonderful machine, began to have a consuming physical effect.
He felt the grey matter bubbling. Agonising pains shot from temple to temple, little knives seemed hacking at the back of his eyes. Once again, in a wave of unutterable terror, the fear of madness submerged him.
And now he was unable to regain his composure by any effort which came from within himself. He stumbled into his adjoining dressing room and selected a bottle from a shelf. It was bromide of potassium, which he had been taking of late to deaden the clamour and vibration of his nerves.
In half an hour the drug had calmed him. His face was pale, but set and rigid. The storm was over. He felt shattered by its violence, but in an artificial peace.
He took a cigarette.
As he was lighting it, his valet entered and announced that Mr. Dawlish was waiting in an anteroom.
He ordered that he should be shown in.
Mr. Dawlish was a partner of the well-known firm of city solicitors, Burrington & Tuite. That was his official description. In effect he was Schuabe’s principal man of business. His time was taken up by the millionaire’s affairs all over England.
He came in quickly -- a tall, well-dressed man, hair thin on the forehead, moustache carefully trained.
“You look unwell, Mr. Schuabe,” he said, with a keen glance. “Don’t let these affairs overwhelm you. Nothing is so dangerous as to let the nerves go in times like these.”
Schuabe looked up quickly. “How are things, Dawlish?” he said.
“Very shaky, very shaky indeed. The shares of the Budapest Railway are to be bought for a shilling. I’m afraid your investments in that concern are utterly lost. When the Stock Exchange closed last night, dealings in Foreign Government Stock were at a standstill. Turkish C&O bonds are worthless.”
The millionaire looked shocked. “You bring me a record of disaster,” he said.
“Baumann went yesterday,” continued the level voice.
“My cousin,” said Schuabe.
“The worst of it is that the situation is getting worse and worse. We have, as you know, made enormous efforts. But all attempts you have made to uphold your securities have only been throwing money away. The last fortnight has been frightful. More than two hundred thousand pounds have gone. In fact, an ordinary man would be ruined by the last month or two. Your position is better because of the real property in the Manchester mills.”
Schuabe shook his head. “Trade there has almost ceased.”
“Close the mills down and wait. You cannot go on.”
“If I do, ten thousand workers will be let loose with nothing but the Union funds to fall back on.”
"If you don't, you will be what Baumann is today -- a bankrupt."
“I have eighty thousand cash on deposit at the Bank of England.”
“And if you throw that away after the rest you’ll be done for. You don’t realise the situation. It can’t recover. War is inevitable. India will go, I feel it. England is going to turn into a camp. Religion is the pretext of war everywhere. Take your money from the bank in cash and lock it up in the safe deposit strong rooms. Keep that sum, earning nothing, for emergencies, then wait for the other properties to recover. It will be years perhaps, but you will win through in the end. The freehold sites of the mills are alone worth a fortune. It is only paper millionaires that are easily ruined. You're a great property owner. But you must walk very warily, even you. Who could have foreseen all this? I see that fellow Hands is dead -- couldn't stand the sight of the mischief he'd done, I suppose. The fool! The eternal fool! Why couldn't he have kept his sham discovery to himself? Look at the unutterable misery it has brought on the world."
“You yourself, Dawlish, are you suffering the common fate?”
“I? Certainly not! That’s to say, I suffer of course, but not fatally. All my investments are in buildings in safe quarters. I may have to reduce rents for a year or two, but my houses will not be empty. And they are my own.”
“Fortunate man,” said Schuabe. He suddenly stopped as he absorbed what Dawlish had said. “Why did you say sham discovery?”
“Out of business hours,” said the solicitor, with some stiffness and hesitation, “I’m a Roman Catholic, Mr. Schuabe. Good-morning. I’ll send the transfer round for you to sign.”
The cool, machine-like man went away. Schuabe knew his fortune was tottering, but it moved him little. He knew his power in the country was nearly over, had dwindled to nothing in the stir of greater things around. Money was only useful as a means of power, and with a sure insight he saw that he would never regain his old position.
The one appalling thought which burned within him, and seemed to be eating out his life, was the knowledge that he and no other man had set in motion this terrible machinery which was grinding up the civilised world.
Day and night from that, there was no relief.
His valet again entered and reminded his master that some people were coming to lunch. He went away and began to dress with the man’s help.
The guests were only two in number. One was Ommaney, the editor of The Daily Wire, the other Mrs. Hubert Armstrong.
Both the lady and gentleman came in together just after two o’clock.
Mrs. Armstrong was much changed in appearance. Her face had lost its serenity; her manner was quick and anxious; her voice strained.
The slim, quiet editor, on the other hand, seemed to be untouched by worry. Quiet and inscrutable as ever, the only change in him, perhaps, was a slight briskness, an aroma rather than an actual expression of good humour.
They sat down to the meal. Schuabe, in his dark grey frock-coat seemed to be beyond all mundane cares. Only the lady was ill at ease.
The conversation at first was all of the actual news of the day, as it had appeared in the morning’s newspapers. Hands’s death was discussed.
“Poor fellow!” said Mrs. Armstrong, with a sigh. “It is sad to think of his sudden ending. The burden was too much for him to bear. I can understand it when I look round upon all that’s happening. It is without doubt terrible!”
“Surely you don’t regret the discovery of the truth?” said Schuabe, quickly.
“I am beginning to fear truth,” said the lady. “The world, it seems, was not ripe for it. In a hundred years, perhaps, our work would have paved the way. But it is premature. Look at the chaos all around us. The public has ceased to think or read. They are reading nothing. Three publishers have put up the shutters during the week.”
The journalist interrupted with a dry chuckle. “They are reading The Daily Wire,” he said. “The circulation is almost doubled.” He sent a congratulatory glance to Schuabe.
The millionaire’s great holding in the paper was a secret known only to a few. In the stress of greater affairs he had half forgotten it. A swift feeling of relief crossed his brain as he realised what this meant to his tottering fortunes.
“Poor Hands!” said the editor. “He was a nice fellow. Rather unpractical and dreamy, but nice enough. Owing to him we had the greatest chance that any paper has ever had in the history of journalism. We owe him a great debt. The present popularity and influence of the paper has dwarfed, positively dwarfed, all its rivals. I have given the poor fellow three columns today. I wish I could do more.”
“Do you not think, Mr. Ommaney,” asked Mrs. Armstrong, “that in the enormous publication of telegraphic despatches and political foreign news, the glorious fact that the world has at last awakened to a knowledge of the glorious truths of freedom from religion, is being swamped and forgotten? After all, what will be the greatest thing in history a hundred years from now? Will it not be the death of the old superstitions rather than a short mutiny in the Middle East or a war with Russia? Will not the names of the pioneers of truth remain more firmly fixed in the minds of mankind than those of generals and chancellors?”
The editor wanted to make it plain that these were speculations with which he had nothing whatever to do. “It is dead, Mrs. Armstrong,” he said brutally. “The religious aspect is utterly dead, and wouldn’t sell one extra copy of the paper. It would be madness to touch it now. The public gaze is fixed on Kabul River and St. Petersburg, Belgrade and Constantinople. They have almost forgotten that Jerusalem exists. I sent out twelve special correspondents to these places ten days ago.”
Mrs. Armstrong sighed deeply. It was true, bitterly true. She was no longer of any importance in the public eye. No one asked her to lecture. The mass meetings were over. Not a single copy of her book John Mulgrave had been sold for a month. How differently she had pictured it all on that winter’s morning at Sir Michael’s. How brightly and gloriously it had begun, and now how bitter the conclusion, how utterly beyond foresight. What was this superstition, this Christianity which in its death struggles could overthrow a world?
There was no role for women now . That was the bitterest thought of all. The woman's rights movement was over -- done with. A private in the Guards was a greater hero than the leader of an intellectual movement. What a monstrous overturning of everything!
Again the lady sighed deeply.
“No,” she said, “the world was not yet strong enough to bear the truth. I have sold my British government bonds. I have been advised to do so. I was investing for my daughter when I’m gone. Newspaper shares are the things to buy now, I suppose. My brokers told me I was doing the wisest thing. They said my bonds could not recover for years.”
“The money market is a thing in which I have very little concern, except inasmuch as it affects large public issues,” said the editor. “But I heard a curious piece of news last night. I don’t know what it portends. Perhaps Mr. Schuabe can tell me; he knows all about these things. Sir Michael Manichoe, the head of the Church political party, has been buying British government bonds enormously. Keith, my city editor, told me. He has, so it appears, invested enormous sums. It seems as if Sir Michael is buying for a permanent recovery. And I assure you nothing can bring that about.” He paused for a moment. “Yes, there is one thing.”
“What is that?” asked both Mrs. Armstrong and Schuabe together.
A faint smile flickered over the editor's face. "Ah," he said, "an impossibility, of course. If anyone could prove that 'The Discovery' was a fraud -- a great forgery, for instance -- then we would see a universal relief.”
“That, of course, is asking for an impossibility,” said Mrs. Armstrong, rather shortly. She resented the somewhat flippant tone of the great man.
“You’re not well!” said the editor, suddenly turning to Schuabe, who had grown pale.
Schuabe’s voice reassured them. It was without a trace of weakness. The “Perfectly well, thank you” was deliberate and calm as ever.
Ommaney, however, noticed that, with a very steady hand, the host poured out nearly a tumbler of Burgundy and drank it in one draught.
Schuabe had been taking nothing stronger than water hitherto during the progress of the meal. After Ommaney had spoken, there was a slight, almost embarrassed, silence.
A sudden interruption came from the door of the room.
It opened with a quick turn of the handle and push, quite unlike the deliberate movements of one of the attendants.
Sir Robert Llwellyn strode into the room. It was obvious he was labouring under some almost uncontrollable agitation. The great face, usually so jolly and fresh-coloured, looked ghastly pale. There was a fixed stare of fright in the eyes. He had forgotten to remove his silk hat, which was grotesquely tilted on his head, showing the hair matted with perspiration.
Ommaney and Mrs. Armstrong sat perfectly still.
They were paralysed with wonder at the sudden apparition of this famous person, obviously in such urgent hurry and distress.
Then, with the natural instinct of well-bred people, their heads turned away, their eyes fell to their plates, and they began to converse in an undertone on trivial matters.
Schuabe had risen with a quick, snake-like movement, utterly unlike his general deliberation. In a moment he had crossed the room and taken Llwellyn’s arm in a firm grip, looking him steadily in the face with an ominous and warning frown.
That clear, sword-like glance seemed to steer the big man into more restraint. A wave of artificial composure passed over him. He removed his hat and breathed deeply.
Then he spoke in a voice which trembled somewhat, but which nevertheless attained something of control.
"I am really very sorry," he said, with an attempt at a smile, "to have burst in on you like this. I didn't know you had friends with you. Please excuse me. But the truth is -- the truth is I'm in rather a hurry to see you. I have an important message for you from -- " he hesitated a single moment before he found the ready lie -- "from the Prime Minister. There are -- there is something going on at the House of Commons which.... But I'll tell you later on. How do you do, Mrs. Armstrong? How are you, Ommaney? Fearfully rushed, of course! We archaeologists are the only people who have leisure nowadays. No, thanks, Schuabe, I lunched before I came. Coffee? Oh, yes; excellent!"
His manner was noticeably forced and unnatural in its artificial geniality. The attendant, who had now entered with coffee, brought the tray to him, but instead of taking any, Llwellyn half filled an empty cup with liqueur and drank it.
His hurried explanation hardly deceived the two shrewd people at the table, but at least it made it obvious that he wished to be alone with their host.
There was a little desultory conversation over the coffee, then Mrs. Armstrong got up to go. Ommaney followed her.
Schuabe walked with them a little way down the corridor. While he was out of the room, Llwellyn walked unsteadily to a sideboard. With shaking hand he mixed himself a large brandy and soda. The intense greed with which he swallowed the mixture was horrible in its sensual revelation. The mask of pleasantness had gone; the reserve of good manners disappeared.
He stood there naked, as it were -- a vast bulk of a man in deadly fear.
Schuabe came back and closed the door silently. He drew Llwellyn to the centre of the great room. There was a wild question in his eyes which his lips seemed powerless to utter.
“Gertrude!” gasped the big man. “You know she came back to me. I told you at the club that it was all right between us again?”
An immeasurable relief crossed Schuabe’s face. He pushed his friend away with a snarl of concentrated disgust. “You come here,” he hissed venomously, “and burst into my rooms to tell me of your petty love affairs. Have I not put up with the story of your lust and degradation enough? You come here as if the——” He stopped suddenly. The words died away on his lips.
Llwellyn was transformed.
Even in his terror and agitation an ugly sneer blazed out from his face. His nostrils curled with evil laughter. His voice became low and threatening. Something subtly crude and common stole into it. It was this last that arrested Schuabe.
"Not quite so fast, my good friend," said Llwellyn. "Wait and hear my story. And confound you, if you talk to me like that again, I'll kill you! Things are equal now, my wealthy partner -- equal between us. If I am in danger, why, so are you. So either you speak civilly or you pay the penalty."
A curious thing happened. The enormous overbearing brutality of the man, his vitality, seemed to cow and beat down the master mind.
Schuabe, for the moment, was weak in the hands of his inferior. As yet he had heard nothing of what the other had come to tell. He was conscious only of fingers of cold fear knocking at his heart.
So, for a second or two, in loathsome pantomime the men bowed and salaamed to each other in the centre of the room, not knowing what they did.
It was Sir Robert Llwellyn who pulled himself together first. The fear rushing over him in waves gave him back a semblance of control.
“We must not quarrel now,” he said in a swift, impatient voice. “Listen to me. We’re on the brink of terrible things. Gertrude Hunt came back to me, as you know. She told me she was sick to death of her friends the priests, that the old life called her, that she could not live apart from me. She mocked her sudden conversion. I laughed and mocked with her. I trusted her as I would trust myself.”
He paused for a moment, choking down the immense agitation which rose up in his throat and half strangled his speech.
Schuabe’s eyes, attentive and fixed, were still uncomprehending, unable to see where Llwellyn was leading.
“She’s gone!” said the big man, all colour fading absolutely from his face. “And, Schuabe, in my mad folly and infatuation, in my incredible foolishness … I told her everything.”
A sudden sharp animal moan burst from Schuabe's lips -- clear, vibrant, and bestial in the silence.
His rigidity changed into an extraordinary trembling. It was a temporary palsy which set every separate limb trembling with an independent motion. He waited like this, with an ashen face, to hear more.
Llwellyn, when the irretrievable fact had passed his lips, when the enormous difficulty of confession was surmounted, proceeded with slight relief:
“This might, you will think, be just possibly without significance for us. It might be a coincidence. But it is not so, Schuabe. I know now, as certainly as I can know anything, that she came to me, was sent to me, by the people who got hold of her. There has been suspicion for some time, there must have been. We have been ruined by this woman I trusted.”
“But why … how?”
“Because, Schuabe, as I was walking down Chancery Lane not an hour since, I saw Gertrude come out of Lincoln’s Inn with the clergyman Gortre. They got into a cab together and drove away. And more. I learn from Lambert, my assistant at the Museum, that Harold Spence, the journalist, who is a member of his club and a friend of his, left for Palestine several days ago.”
“I have just heard,” whispered Schuabe, “that Sir Michael Manichoe has been buying large parcels of British government bonds.”
“The thing is over. We must——”
“Hush!” said Schuabe, menacingly. “All is not lost yet. Perhaps only Gortre knows of this. Even if anything is known to others, it cannot be substantiated until the man in Palestine gets the opportunity to investigate more fully. Without this woman and Gortre, we’re safe. I know a man who can resolve our problem. I think you understand.”
Llwellyn looked at him and understood. There was no terror in his face, only a faint film of relief.
Five minutes afterwards the two distinguished men, talking easily together, walked through the vestibule of the hotel, down the great courtyard and into the roaring Strand.
A hotel clerk explained the celebrities to a voluble group of American tourists as they went by.
It was early morning, the morning after Spence's arrival in Jerusalem. He slept well and soundly in his hotel room, tired by the long ride -- for yesterday he had come here on horseback over the moonlit slopes of Ajalon at the foot of the Bethoron pass.
When at length he awoke it was with a sensation of mental and bodily vigour, a quickening of all his pulses in hope and expectation.
A bright sun poured into the room.
He got up and went to the window. There was a deep, unspoken prayer in his heart.
The hotel was in Acra, the European and Christian quarter of Jerusalem, close by the Jaffa Gate, with the Tower of Hippicus frowning down upon it.
The whole extent of the city lay beneath the windows in a glorious panorama, washed as it was in the brilliant morning light. Far beyond, a dark shadow yet, the Mount of Olives rose in background to the minarets and cupolas below it.
His eye roved over the panorama, marking and recognising the buildings.
There was the purple dome of the great Mosque of Omar, very clear against the amber-primrose lights of dawn.
Where now the muezzin called to Allah, the burnt-offerings had once been offered in the courts of the Temple. It was in that spot that the massive temple curtain had parted from the top to the bottom in symbol of God’s pain and death, opening the way between man and God. It was in the porches bounding the court of the Gentiles that Christ had taught.
Closer, below the Antonia Tower, rose the dark, lead-covered cupola of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
Great emotion came to him as he gazed at the shrine, sacred above all others for so many centuries. He thought of that holy spot, now diminished in its ancient glory in the eyes of half the Christian world.
Perhaps no more would the Holy Fire burst forth from the yellow, aged marble of the Tomb at Easter time.
Who could say? Was not he, Harold Spence, there to try that awful issue?
He wondered, as he gazed, if another Easter would still see the wild messengers bursting away to Nazareth and Bethlehem bearing The Holy Flame.
The sun became suddenly more powerful. It threw a warmer light into the grey dome, and deep down, the cold, dark waters of Hezekiah’s Pool became bright and golden.
The sacred places focused the light and sprang into a new life.
He made the sign of the Cross, wondering fancifully if this were an omen. Then with a shudder he looked to the left towards the ogre-grey Turkish battlements of the Damascus Gate.
It was there, over by the Temple Quarries of Bezetha, the New Tomb of Joseph lay.
Straight away to the north lay the rock-hewn sepulchre where the learned experts had sorrowfully pronounced the end of so many Christian hopes.
How difficult to believe that so short a distance away lay the centre of the world’s trouble. He could actually distinguish the Turkish guardhouse in the wall which had been built round the spot.
Over the sad city -- for Jerusalem is always sad, as if the ancient stones were still conscious of Christ's passion -- he gazed towards the terrible place, wondering, hoping, fearing.
When he had partaken the first meal of the day and was confronted with the actual fact of what he had to do, he was aghast at what seemed his own lack of power.
He had no plan of action, no method. For an hour he felt absolutely hopeless.
Sir Robert Llwellyn, so his friends believed, had secretly been in Jerusalem prior to the discovery of the New Tomb.
The first duty of the investigator was to find out whether that was true.
How was he to do it?
He decided to go out into the city. He would call on various people he knew, friends of Cyril Hands, and trust to events for guiding his further movements.
The rooms where he knew Hands had always stayed were close to the schools of the Church Missionary Society. He would go there. Down in the Mûristan area he could also chat with the doctor at the English Ophthalmic Hospice. He could call there on his way to the New Tomb.
He set out, down the roughly paved streets, through the arched and shaded bazaars to the heart of the city where the streets were bounded by the vision of the distant hills of Olivet.
The religious riots and unrest were long since over. The pilgrims to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre were less in number, and were mostly members of the Orthodox Church, who still accepted the Church of the Holy Sepulchre as the true goal of their desires.
The Greeks and Armenians hated each other no more than usual. The Turks were held in good control by a strong governor of Jerusalem. Nor was this a time of special festival. The city, never quite at rest, was still in its normal condition.
The Bedouin women with their unveiled faces, tattooed in blue, strode to the bazaars with the butter they had brought in from their desert herds. They wore gaudy headdresses and high red boots, and they jostled the “pale townsmen” as they passed them; free, untamed creatures of the sun and air.
The sun grew hotter as he walked, though the purple shadows of the narrow streets were cool enough. As he left the European heights of Acra and dived deep into the eastern central city, the well-remembered scenes and smells rose up like a wall before him.
Harold Spence began to walk more slowly, in harmony with the slow-moving forms around. He had been to Omdurman with the avenging army, knew Constantinople during the Greek war -- the Middle East had meaning for him.
As the atmosphere closed round him, his doubts and self-ridicule vanished. His strange mission seemed possible as he went on towards his destination.
Not far from the missionary establishment was a building which was the headquarters of the Palestine Exploring Society in Jerusalem.
Although Cyril Hands had always lived up in Acra among the Europeans, much of his time was necessarily spent in the Mûristan district. The building was known as the Research Museum, where Hands and his assistants had gathered a valuable collection of ancient curiosities.
Here were hundreds of drawings and photographs of various excavations. Accurate measurements of tombs, buried houses, ancient churches, were entered in great books.
Glass cases held fragments of ancient pottery, old Hebrew seals, scarabs, antique fragments of jewellery -- all the varied objects from which high scholarship and expert training was gradually, year by year, providing a luminous and entirely fresh commentary on Scripture.
Attached to the museum was a library and drawing office, a photographic darkroom, and apartments for the curator, Ionides, and his wife. Ionides was the man who engaged the native labour required for the excavations, superintended the work of the men, and acted as general agent and intermediary between the European officials and all locals with whom they came in contact.
The man was well known in the city -- a character in his way. In the reports of the Exploring Society he was often referred to as an invaluable assistant. A year ago his portrait had been published in the annual statement of the fund, and the face of the Greek in his turban now lay on the study tables of many a quiet English vicarage.
Spence entered the courtyard of the building. It was quiet and deserted; some pigeons were feeding there.
He turned under a stone archway to the right, pushed open a door, and entered the museum.
There was a babel of voices.
A small group of people stood by a wooden pedestal in the centre of the room, which supported the famous cruciform font found at Bîâr Es-seb’a.
They turned at Spence’s entrance. He saw some familiar faces of people with whom he had been brought in contact during the time of the first discovery.
Two English missionaries, one in orders, the English Consul, and Professor Theodore Adams, the American archaologist who lived all the year round in the new western suburb, stood speaking in grave tones and with distressed faces -- so it seemed to Spence.
An Egyptian servant, dressed in white linen, carrying a bunch of keys, stood with them.
An enormous surprise shone out on the faces of these people as Spence walked up to him.
“Mr. Spence!” said the Consul. “We never expected you, or heard of your coming. This is most fortunate, however. You were Cyril Hand’s great friend. I think you both shared chambers together in London?”
Spence looked at him in wonder, mechanically shaking the proffered hand. “I don’t think I quite understand,” he said. “I came here quite by chance, just to see if I could find anyone I knew.”
“Then you have not heard——” said the clergyman.
“I have heard nothing.”
“Your friend, our distinguished fellow-worker, Professor Hands, is no more. We have just received a cable. Poor, dear Hands died of heart disease while taking a seaside holiday.”
Spence felt genuinely affected.
Hands was an old and dear friend. His sweet, kindly nature, too dreamy and retiring perhaps for the rush and hurry of Western life, had always been wonderfully welcome for a month or two each year in Lincoln’s Inn. His quaint, learned letters, his enthusiasm for his work had become part of the journalist’s life. They were recurring pleasures. And now he was gone!
Now it was all over. Never more would he hear the quiet voice, hear the water-pipe bubble in the quiet old Inn as night gave way to dawn….
His brain whirled with the sudden shock. He grew pale, waiting to hear further details.
“We know little more,” said the Consul, with a sigh. “A cable from the central office of the Society has just stated the fact and asked me to take official charge of everything here. We were just about to begin sealing up the rooms when you came. There are many important documents which must be seen to. Mr. Forbes, poor Hands’s assistant, is away on the shores of the Dead Sea, but we have sent for him by the camel garrison post. But it will probably be some weeks before he can be here.”
“This is terribly sad news for me,” said Spence at length. “We were the greatest friends. The months when Hands was in town were always the pleasantest. Of course, lately we didn’t see so much of each other because he’d become a public figure. He was becoming depressed and unwell. Terrified, I almost think, at what was going on in the world owing to his discovery. Yes, he was going away to recuperate. But I knew nothing of this.”
"I am sorry," said the Consul, "to have to tell you of such a sad business, but we naturally thought that somehow you knew -- though, of course, in point of time that would hardly be possible, or only just so."
“I’m here,” said Spence, giving an explanation that he had previously prepared if it became necessary to account for his presence, “on a mission for my newspaper, to ascertain various points about public opinion in view of all these imminent international complications.”
“Quite so, quite so,” said the Consul. “I’ll be glad to help you in any way I can, of course. But when you came in we were wondering what we should do exactly about poor Hands’s private effects, papers, and so on. When he went on leave all his things were packed in cases and sent down here from his rooms in the upper city. I suppose they had better be shipped to England. Perhaps you would take charge of them on your return?”
“I expect you’ll be hearing from his brother, the Reverend John Hands, a Leicestershire clergyman, when the mail comes in,” said Spence. “This is a great blow to me. I would like to pay my poor friend some public tribute. Maybe write something for English people to read: a sketch of his life and work here in Jerusalem, and his daily work among you all.”
His voice faltered. His eyes had fallen on a photograph which hung on the wall. A group of Arabs sat at the mouth of a rock tomb. In front of them, wearing a sun helmet and holding a ten foot surveyor’s pole, stood the dead professor. A kindly smile was on his face as he looked down on the white figures of his men.
“It would be a gracious tribute,” said one of the missionaries. “Everyone loved him, whatever their race or creed. We can tell you about him as we saw him in our midst. It is a great pity that old Ionides has gone. He was the confidential sharer of all the work here, and Hands trusted him implicitly. Ionides could have told you so much.”
“I remember Ionides well,” said Spence. “At the time of the discovery, of course, he was very much in evidence, and he was questioned by the committee. Is the old fellow dead, then?”
“No,” answered the missionary. “Some time ago, just after the Commission left, in fact, he came into a considerable sum of money. He was getting on in years, and he resigned his position here. He’s taken an olive farm somewhere by Nabulûs, a Turkish city by Mount Gerizim. I fear we’ll never see him more. He would grieve at this news.”
“I think,” said Spence, “I’ll go back to my hotel. I would like to be alone today. I’ll call on you this evening, if I may,” he added, turning to the Consul.
He left the melancholy group, once more beginning their sad business, and went out into the narrow street.
He wanted to be alone in the cool darkness of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
Words written by the apostle Paul to the Church in Corinth came into his mind. How did it go?
“So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality; Then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?”
Always, all his life long he had thought these were perhaps the most beautiful of written words.
He turned to the right, passed the Turkish guard at the entrance, and went down the narrow steps to the Calvary chapel.
The gloom and glory of the great church, its rich and sombre light, the cool yet heavy air, saddened his soul. He knelt in humble prayer.
When he came out into the brilliant sunlight and the noises of the city, he felt braver and more confident. He began to turn his thoughts earnestly and resolutely to his mission.
He entered the yellow stone portico of his hotel with a sigh of relief. The hall was large, flagged, and cool. A pool of clear water was in the centre, glimmering green over its tiles. His eye rested on it with pleasure. He sank into a deckchair and clapped his hands. He felt exhausted, tired, and thirsty.
An Arab boy came in answer to his handclapping. He brought an envelope on a tray.
It was a cable from England.
Spence went upstairs to his bedroom. From his kitbag he drew a small volume, bound in thick leather, with a locked clasp.
It was Sir Michael Manichoe's private cable code -- a precious volume which great commercial houses all over the world would have paid great sums to see, which the great man in his anxiety and trust had confided to his representative.
Slowly and laboriously Spence decoded the message.
THE WOMAN HAS DISCOVERED EVERYTHING FROM LLWELLYN. ALL SUSPICIONS CONFIRMED. CONSPIRACY BETWEEN LLWELLYN AND SCHUABE. YOU WILL FIND FULL CONFIRMATION FROM IONIDES, THE GREEK CURATOR AND SENIOR ASSISTANT OF SOCIETY EXPLORATIONS. GET STATEMENT OF TRUTH BY ANY MEANS, COERCION OR MONEY TO ANY AMOUNT. ALL IS LEGITIMATE. HAVING OBTAINED, HASTEN HOME, SPECIAL STEAMER IF QUICKER. CAN DO NOTHING CERTAIN WITHOUT YOUR EVIDENCE. WE TRUST IN YOU. HASTEN. MANICHOE
He trembled with excitement as he relocked the code book. It was a light in a dark place. Ionides! The trusted assistant for many years! The eager helper! The traitor bought by Llwellyn!
It was afternoon now. He must go out again. A caravan, camels, and guides must be found for a start tomorrow.
It would not be a very difficult journey to Nabulûs, a little over thirty miles, but it must be made with speed.
He passed out of the hotel and walked by the Tower of Hippicus. A new drinking fountain had been erected there, a domed building, with pillars of red stone, and a glittering roof surmounted by a golden crescent.
Some camel drivers were drinking there. He was passing by when a tall, white-robed figure bowed low before him. A voice, speaking French, bade him good day.
The face of the man seemed familiar. He asked him his name and business.
It was Ibrahim, the Egyptian servant he had seen at the museum in the morning holding the bunch of keys.
The rooms had been sealed up, and the man had just been to the Consul’s private house to deliver the keys.
This man had temporarily succeeded the Greek Ionides.
Spence turned back to the hotel and bade Ibrahim follow him.
The night was cold and still, the starlight brilliant in the huge hollow sapphire of the sky. Wrapped in a heavy cloak, Spence sat at the door of one of the two little tents which composed his caravan.
Ibrahim the Egyptian, a Roman Catholic as it seemed, had volunteered to act as interpreter and guide. In a few hours this man had got together the necessary animals and equipment for the expedition to Nabulûs.
Spence rode a little grey horse of the wiry Moabite breed, Ibrahim a Damascus bay. The other men, a cook and two muleteers, all Syrians of the Greek Church, rode mules.
The day’s march had been long and tiring. Night, with its overwhelming peace and rest, was very welcome.
On the evening of the morrow they would be on the slopes of Ebal and Gerizim, near to the homestead of the man they sought.
All the long day Spence had asked himself what would be the outcome of this wild journey. He was full of a grim determination to wring the truth from the renegade. In his hip pocket his revolver pressed against his thigh. He was strung up for action. Whatever course presented itself, that he would take, regardless of any law that there might be even in these faraway districts.
His passport was specially endorsed by the Foreign Office; he bore a letter, obtained by the Consul, from the Governor of Jerusalem to the Turkish officer in command of Nabulûs.
He had little doubt of the ultimate result. Money or force would obtain a full confession, and then, a swift rush for London with the charter of salvation -- for it would be little less than that -- and the engine of destruction for the two criminals at home.
As they marched over the plains, the red anemone and blue iris peeped from the herbage. The ibex, the roebuck, the wild boar, fled from the advancing caravan.
Eagles and vultures moved heavily through the sky at vast heights. Quails, partridges, and plovers started from beneath the horses’ feet.
As the sun plunged away, the owls began to mourn in the olive groves, the restless chirping of the grasshoppers began to die away; and as the stars grew bright, the nightingale -- the lonely songbird of these solitudes -- poured out his melody to the night.
The camp had been formed under the shade of a clump of terebinth and acacia trees, close to a spring of clear water which made the grass around it a vivid green, in pleasant contrast to the dry, withered herbage in the open.
The men had dug out tree roots for fuel, and a red fire glowed a few yards away from Spence’s tent.
A group of silent figures sat round the fire. Now and then a low murmur of talk sounded for a minute, then died away. A slight breeze, cool and keen, rustled in the trees overhead. Save for that, and the occasional movement of one of the horses, no sound broke the stillness of the glorious night.
It was here, so Spence thought, that the Lord must have walked with His disciples on the journey between Jerusalem and Nazareth.
On such a night as this the little group may have sat in the vale of El Makhna in quiet talk at suppertime.
The same stars looked down on him as they did on those others nearly two thousand years ago. How real and true it all seemed here. How much easier it was to realise and believe it than in Chancery Lane!
Why did men live in cities?
Was it not far better for the soul’s health to be here alone with God?
Here, and in such places as these, God spoke clear and loud to the hearts of men. He shuddered as the thought of his own lack of faith came back to him.
In rapid review he saw the recent time of his hopelessness and shame. How utterly he had fallen to pieces. It was difficult to understand the pit into which he was falling when Basil had come to him.
Now, the love of God ran in his veins like fire, every sight and sound spoke to him of Christ the Consoler.
It was more than mere cold belief. A love or personal devotion to Christ welled up in him. The figure of the Man of Sorrows was very near him -- there was a great fiery cross of stars in the sky above him.
He entered the little tent to pray. He prayed humbly that it might be even thus until the end. He prayed that this new and sweet communion with his Master might never fade or lessen, till the glorious daylight of Death dawned and this sojourning far from home was over.
In the name of all the unknown millions whom he was come to this far land to aid, he prayed for success, for the Truth to be made manifest, and for a happy issue out of all these afflictions.
“And this we beg for Jesus Christ, His sake.”
Then much refreshed and comforted he emerged once more into the serene beauty of the night.
Presently Ibrahim the Egyptian began to croon a low song, one of the Egyptian songs that soldiers sang round the campfires.
The man had done his term of compulsory service in the past, and perhaps this sudden transition from the comfortable quarters in Jerusalem to the old life of campfire and open air had its way with him and opened the springs of memory.
The long drawn-out notes vibrated mournfully in the night air. The singer put his hand to one side of his head, bending as if he were wailing.
The quaint, imaginative song-story throbbed through many phases and incidents, and every now and again the motionless figures round the red embers wailed in sympathy.
At last came the end, a happy climax, no less loved by these simple children of the desert than by the European novel reader.
Ibrahim, the converted Christian, sang the Muslim songs of his youth; for here, in El Makhna, the plain of Shechem, there were no missionaries with their cold reproof and little hymns in simple couplets.
The fire died away, and they slept until dawn flooded the plain.
When, on the next day the sun was waning, though still high in the western heavens, the travellers came within view of the ancient city of Nabulûs.
There was a great tumult of excitement in Spence’s pulses as he saw the town far away, radiant in the long afternoon light.
Here, in the confines of this distant glittering town, lay the last link in the terrible secret he was to solve.
On either side, the purple slopes of the mountains made a mighty frame to the rows of houses below. Ebal and Gerizim kept solemn watch and ward over the city.
The sun was just sinking as they rode into the outskirts of Nabulûs. It was a lovely, placid evening.
The abundant cascades of water, which flow from great fissures in the mountain to make this town the jewel of the Middle East, glittered in the light.
Below them the broad, still reservoirs lay like plates of gold.
They rode through luxuriant groves of olives, figs, and vines, wonderfully refreshing to the eye after the burnt brown herbage of the plain, going towards the regular camping ground where all travellers lay.
In the cool of the evening, Spence and Ibrahim rode through the teeming streets to the Governor’s house.
It was a city of fanatics, so the Englishman had heard, and during the great Muslim festivals the members of the various, and rather extensive missionary establishments were in constant danger. But as the two men rode among the wild, armed men who sat in the bazaars or pushed along the narrow streets, they were not in any way troubled.
After a ceremonious introduction and the delivery of the letter from the Governor of Jerusalem, Spence made known his business over the coffee and cigarettes which were brought immediately on his arrival.
The Governor was a placid, pleasant mannered man, very ready to give his visitor any help he could.
It was represented to him that the man Ionides, who had but lately settled in the town, was in possession of some important secrets affecting the welfare of many wealthy residents in Jerusalem. These, it was hinted, were of a private nature, and in all probability great pressure would have to be put on the Greek in order to receive any satisfactory confession.
The conversation, which was carried on in French, ended in an eminently satisfactory way.
“Monsieur will understand,” said the Governor, “that I make no inquiry into the nature of the information monsieur wishes to obtain. I may or may not have my ideas on that subject. The Greek was, I understand, intimately connected with the recent discoveries in Jerusalem. Let that pass. It is none of my business. Here I am a good Muslim, Allah be praised! It is a necessity of my official position.”
He laughed cynically, clapped his hands for a new brass vessel of creaming coffee and continued.
"A political necessity, Monsieur, as a man of the world will quite understand me. I have been in London, at the Embassy, and I myself am free from foolish prejudices. I am not Muslim in heart nor am I Christian -- some coffee, Monsieur? -- yes, Monsieur also is a man of the world."
Spence, sitting cross-legged opposite his host, had smiled an answering cynical smile at these words. He shrugged his shoulders and threw out his hands. Everything depended on making a good impression on this local autocrat.
"I repeat, it is not my affair. But this letter from my brother of Jerusalem makes me of anxiety to serve your interests. And, moreover, the man you have come to see is a Greek, of no great importance -- we are not fond of the Greeks, we Turks. Now it is most probable that the man will not speak without persuasion. Moreover, that persuasion would be better if it was officially applied. To assist monsieur, I shall send Tewfik Pasha, my nephew, and captain commandant of the northern fort, with half a dozen men. If this dog will not talk, they will know how to make him. I suppose you have no scruples as to any means they may employ? There are foolish prejudices among the Western people."
Spence took his decision quickly. He was a man who had been on many battlefields, knew the grimness of life in many lands. Whatever was necessary, it must be so. The man deserved it. The end was great even if the means were evil. It must be remembered that Spence was a man to whom the very loftiest and highest Christian ideals had not yet been made manifest. He saw these questions of conduct roughly, crudely. His conscience animated his deeds, but it was a conscience as yet ungrown.
“Sir,” said the journalist, “the man must be made to speak. The methods are indifferent to me.”
“Oh, that can be done; we have a way,” said the Governor.
He shifted a little among his cushions. A certain dryness came into his voice as he resumed.
“Monsieur, however, a man of the world like you will understand, no doubt, that when a private individual finds it necessary to invoke the powers of law, it is a vast undertaking to move so ponderous a machine. It is not, of course, a personal matter, but there are certain unavoidable and indeed quite necessary expenses which must be satisfied.”
Spence well understood the polite humbug of all this. He knew that here in the Middle East one buys justice -- or injustice -- as one can afford it. As the correspondent of The Daily Wire, that great paper over which Ommaney presided, he had always been able to spend money like water when necessary. He had those powers now. There was nothing unusual to him in the situation, nor did he hesitate.
“Your Excellency,” he said, “speaks with great truth on these points. It is ever from a man of your Excellency’s penetration that one hears those dicta which govern affairs. I have a certain object in view, and I realise that to obtain it, there are certain necessary formalities to be gone through. I have with me letters of credit on the bank of Lelain Delaunay et Cie., of Jaffa, Jerusalem, and Athens.”
“A sound, estimable house,” said the Governor, with a very pleased smile.
“It but then remains,” said Spence, “to confer with the secretary of your Excellency as to the sum which is necessary to pay for the legal expenses of the inquiry.”
“You speak most sensibly,” said the Turk. “In the morning I will send the captain commandant and the soldiers to the encampment. My secretary will accompany them. Then, Monsieur, when the little preliminaries are arranged, you will be free to start for the farm of this dog Ionides. It is not more than four miles from your camp, and my nephew will guide you there.”
That night, in the suburbs of the town, sweet and fragrant as the olive groves and fig trees were, cool and fresh as the night wind was, Spence slept little.
He could hear the prowling dogs of the streets baying at the Eastern moon, the owls hooted in the trees; but it was not these distant sounds, all mellowed by the distance, which drove rest and sleep away. It was the imminent sense of the great issues of the morrow, a wild and fierce excitement which forbade sleep or rest, and filled his veins with fire.
He could not quite realise what awful things hung on the event of the coming day. He knew his brain could not contain the whole terror and vastness of the thought.
Indeed, he felt that no brain could adequately realise the importance of it all.
Yet even that partial realisation of which he was capable was enough to drive all peace away the live-long night, to leave him nothing but the mournful, burning thought.
He was relieved when the cool, hopeful dawn came.
The nightmare of vigil was gone. Action was at hand. He prayed in the morning air.
Presently, from the city gates, he saw a little cavalcade drawing near: twelve soldiers on wiry Damascene horses, an officer, with the Governor’s secretary riding by his side.
The preliminaries of a signed draft upon the bank, which greed and the occasion demanded, were soon over.
These twelve soldiers and their commandant cost him two hundred pounds “English”; but that was nothing.
The world was waiting.
On through the olive groves and the vines laden with purple. On, over the little stone-bridged cascades and streams -- sweet gifts of lordly Ebal -- round the eastern wall of the town, crumbling stone where the mailed lizards were sleeping in the sun; and on to the low roofs and vivid trees where the Greek traitor had made his home.
At length the red road opened before them onto a burnt plain which was the edge and brim of the farm.
It lay direct and obvious to the view, the place of the great secret.
Ionides had seen them coming over the plain. A little elderly olive-skinned man, with restless eyes the colour of sherry, bowed and bent before them with terrified inquiry in every gesture.
His gaze flickered over the arms and shabby uniforms of the soldiers with hate and fear in it, mingled with a piteous cringing.
Then he saw Spence and recognised him as the Englishman who had been the friend of Professor Hands, and was at the meetings of the Conference.
The sight of the journalist affected him like a sudden blow. The fear and uneasiness he had shown at the first sight of the Turkish soldiers were intensified a thousand fold.
The man seemed to shrink and collapse. His face became ashen grey, his lips parched suddenly, and his tongue began to curl round them in order to moisten their rigidity.
With a great effort he forced himself to speak in English first, fluent enough but elementary, and then in a rush of French, the language of all Europe, and one with which the cosmopolitan Greek is ever at home.
The captain gave an order. His men dismounted and tied up the horses. Then, taking the conduct of the affair into his own hands at once, he spoke to Ionides with a snarling contempt and brutality.
“The English gentleman has come to ask you some questions, dog. See to it that you give a true answer and speedy. For, if not, there are many ways to make you. I have the warrant of his Excellency the Governor to do as I please with you and yours.”
The Greek made an inarticulate noise. He raised one long-fingered, delicate hand to his throat.
Spence, as he watched, could not help a feeling of pity. The whole attitude of the man was inexpressibly painful in its sheer terror.
His face had become a white wedge of fear.
The officer spoke again. “You will take the English pasha into a private room,” he said sternly, “where he will ask you all he wishes. I will post two of my men at the door. Take heed that they do not have to summon me. And meanwhile bring out food and entertainment for me and my soldiers.”
He clapped his hands and the women of the house, who were peering round the end of the veranda, ran to bring pilaff and tobacco.
Spence, with two soldiers, followed the swaying, tottering figure of Ionides into a cool chamber opening on to the little central courtyard round which the house was built.
It was a bare room, with just a low bench and an ottoman. But, on the walls, oddly incongruous in such a setting, were some framed photographs. Cyril Hands in a white linen suit and a wide Panama hat was there. There was a photograph of the museum at Jerusalem, and a picture cut from an English illustrated paper of the Society’s great excavations at Tell Sandahannah.
It was odd, Spence thought gravely, that the man cared to keep these records of his life in Jerusalem, crowned as it was with such an act of treachery.
He sat down on the ottoman. The Greek stood before him, cowering against the wall.
It was a little difficult to know how he should begin. What was the best method to ensure a full confession?
“What did Sir Robert Llwellyn give you? How much?” Hands said suddenly.
Again the look of ashen fear came over the Greek’s face. He struggled with it before he spoke. “I am sorry that your meaning is not plain to me, sir. I do not know of whom you speak.”
“I speak of him whom you served secretly. It was with your aid that the ‘new’ tomb was found. But before it was found you and Sir Robert Llwellyn were at work there. I have come to obtain from you a detailed confession of how the thing was done. Who cut the inscription? I must know everything. If not, I tell you with perfect truth, your life is not safe. The Governor has sent men with me and you will be made to speak.”
He spoke with a deep menace in his tone, and at the same time drew his revolver from the hip pocket of his riding-breeches and held it on his knee.
He began to realise the awful nature of this man’s deed more and more poignantly in his presence. True, he was the tool of greater intelligences, and his guilt was not as heavy as theirs. Nevertheless, the Greek was no fool. He had something of an education, and had not done this thing blindly.
The man crouched against the wall, desperate and hopeless.
One of the soldiers outside the door moved, and his sabre clanked.
The sound was decisive. With a broken, husky voice Ionides began his miserable confession.
How simple the task had been. Wild astonishment at the ease with which the whole thing had been done filled the journalist’s brain.
The tomb, already known to the Greek but not yet reported officially, the slow carving of the inscription at dead of night by Llwellyn, dirt to give it the appearance of age, the new coating of hamra sealing up the inner chamber.
And yet, so skilfully had the forgeries been committed, chance had aided the forgers, and their secret had been so well preserved that the whole world of experts was deceived.
In the overpowering relief of the confession, Spence was little interested in the details. But at length they were duly set down and signed by the Greek in the presence of the officer who then signed as a witness.
By midnight the journalist was far away on the road back to Jerusalem.
In Sir Robert Llwellyn’s flat in Bond Street the electric bell suddenly rang, a shrill tinkle in the silence.
Schuabe, who sat by the window, looked up with a strained, white face.
Avoiding his glance, Llwellyn rose and went out into the passage. The latch of the door clicked, there was a murmur of voices, and Llwellyn returned, following a third person.
Schuabe recognised the visitor, and gave a scarcely perceptible shudder as this man entered.
The man was a thick-set person of medium height, clean shaven. He was dressed in a frock-coat and carried a silk hat, neither new nor smart, yet not seedy or showing any evidences of poverty. The man’s face was one to inspire a sensitive or alert person with a sudden disgust and terror for which a name could hardly be found. It was an utterly abominable and black soul that looked out of the sadistic eyes.
The eyes seemed much older than the rest of the face. They were full of a cold and deliberate cruelty and, worse even than this, such a hideous knowledge of unmentionable crime was there. The lips made a thin, wicked curve which hardly varied in direction, for this man could not smile.
He belonged to a certain gang who infest the West End of London, bringing terror and ruin to all they meet. These people haunt the bars and music halls of the “pleasure” part of London.
Constantine Schuabe, in the moment when he saw this man, knew the bitterest moment of his life. “This is Nunc Wallace,” he said to Llwellyn, who stood pale and trembling.
The man looked keenly at his two hosts. Then he sat down in a chair. "Well, gentlemen," he said in correct English, but with a curious lack of life and feeling in his voice -- he spoke as one might think a corpse would speak -- "I'm sorry to say it's all off. It simply can't be done at any price. Even I myself, 'King of the boys' as they call me, confess myself beaten."
Schuabe gave a sudden start, almost of relief it seemed. He cleared his throat once or twice before he could speak. When the words came at length there was a nauseous eagerness in them. “Why not, Wallace? Surely you and your friends -- it must be something very serious if you cannot manage."
“Give me a drink, and I’ll tell you the reason,” said the man. “You see, it is like this. We can generally calculate on ‘putting a man through it’ if he’s anything to do with racing on the Turf. I have seen a man’s face kicked liver colour before he died, and no one knew who did it. But this parson is a more difficult thing altogether. Then it has been very much complicated by the fact of his friend coming back.
“The idea was to get into the chambers on the evening of this man Spence’s arrival and see to them both. In fact, we’d arranged everything fairly well. But two nights ago, as I was in the American bar at the Horsecloth, a man touched me on the arm. It was Detective Inspector Melton. He knows everything. ‘Nunc,’ he says, ‘sit down at one of these little tables and have a drink. I want to say a few words to you.’ Well, of course I had to. He knows every one of the boys.
“‘Now, look here,’ he says straight out, ‘some of your crowd have been watching the Reverend Basil Gortre of Lincoln’s Inn. Also, you’ve had a man at Charing Cross waiting for the continental express. Now, I have nothing against you yet , but I'll just tell you this. The people behind you aren't any guarantee for you. It is not as you think. This is a big thing. I'll tell you something more. This Mr. Gortre and this Mr. Spence you're waiting for are guarded night and day by order of the Home Secretary. It is an international affair. You can no more touch them than you can touch the Prince of Wales. Is that clear? If it is not, then you'll come with me at once on suspicion. I can put my finger on Bunny Watson' -- he's my organising pal, gentlemen -- 'inside of an hour.'"
The unhappy men became aware that Nunc Wallace was looking at them both with a new expression. There was wonder in his cold eyes now, and a sort of fear also. When Schuabe had first sought him with the proposal, there had been none of this. It had seemed ordinary enough to him, the reason for it he did not inquire or seek to know.
But now there was inquiry in his eyes.
Both Schuabe and Llwellyn saw it, knew the cause, and shuddered.
There was a tense silence, and then the creature spoke again, this time to Schuabe. There was a loathsome confidential note in his voice.
“Now, sir,” he said, “you’ve already paid me well for any little kindness I may have been able to try to do for you. I suppose, now that the job is off I’ll not get the rest of the sum agreed upon?”
Schuabe, without speaking, made a sign to Llwellyn. The big man got up and went to a little nest of mahogany drawers which stood on his writing table. Opening one of them, he took from it a bundle of banknotes.
He gave them to the assassin. “There, he said. “No doubt you have done all you could. You won’t find us ungrateful. But I want to ask you a few questions.”
The man took the banknotes, counted them deliberately, and looked up with a gleam of satisfied greed passing over his face -- the gleam of a pale sunbeam in hell.
“Ask anything you like, sir,” he said. “I’ll give you any help I can.”
Already there was a ring almost of patronage in his voice. The word “help” was emphasised.
“This inspector, who is he exactly? I mean, is he an important person?”
“He’s the man who has charge of all the big things. He goes abroad when one of the big city men bunk to South America. He generally works straight from the Home Office. He’s the Government man. To tell the truth, I was surprised to meet him in the Horsecloth. One of the others generally goes there. When he began to talk, I knew there was something important, more than usual.”
"He definitely said that he knew your -- backers?"
“He did. And what’s more, gentlemen, he seemed to know too much altogether about the business. I don’t pretend to understand it. I don't know why a young parson and a press reporter are being looked after by Government as if they were continental sovereigns, and the Anarchists were trying to get at them -- no more than I know why two such gentlemen as you are wanting two smaller men seen to. But all's well that ends well. I’m satisfied enough, and I'm extremely glad I got this notice in time to stop it off. But whatever you do, gentlemen, give up any idea of doing those two any harm. You couldn't do it -- couldn't get near them. Somehow or other they know all about it. Be careful. Now I'm off. Good-day, gentlemen. Look after yourselves. I fear there's trouble brewing somewhere, though it won't come through me. They can’t prove anything on our side.”
He backed slowly out of the room, into the darkness of the pit whence he came.
Llwellyn sank heavily into a chair. He covered his face with his hands and moaned.
“Oh, fool that I was to try anything of the sort!” hissed Schuabe. “I might have known!”
“What is the state of things, really, do you suppose?” said Llwellyn.
“Imminent with doom for us!” Schuabe answered in a deep and melancholy voice. “It is all clear to me now. Your woman was set on to you by these men from the first. They are clever men. Sir Michael Manichoe is behind them all. Your woman got the story. Spence has been sent to Palestine to verify it. He will have got a confession from Ionides. The Government has been told. These things have been going on during the last few hours. Spence will have cabled something of his news directly from Jerusalem, perhaps not all. He’ll be back today, this afternoon. He’ll have left Paris by now, and almost be nearing Amiens. In that train, Llwellyn, lies our death warrant. Nothing can stop it. They will send the news all over the world tonight. It will be announced in London by dinnertime, probably.”
Llwellyn groaned again. His life told heavily. He looked up. His face was green-grey save where, here and there, his fingers had pressed into, and left red marks on the cheeks. “What do you think will be the end?” he said.
“The end is here,” said Schuabe. “What does it matter, the form or manner of it? They may bring in a bill and hang us. They will certainly give us penal servitude for life, but probably we’ll be torn in pieces by the mob. There’s only one thing left.”
He made an expressive gesture across his throat.
Llwellyn shuddered. “All is not necessarily at an end,” he said. “I’ll make a last effort to get away. I still have the clergyman’s clothes I wore when I went in disguise to Jerusalem to forge the inscription. There will be time to get out of London before this evening.”
Schuabe gave a mirthless laugh. “All over the continent and America you would be known. There’s no getting away nowadays. As for me, I’ll go north to my place in Manchester by the midday train. There’s just time to catch it. And there I shall die before they can come to me.”
He got up and strode away out of the flat with a set, stern face. Never a passing look did he give to the man he had enriched and damned for ever. Never a gesture of farewell. Already he was as one in the grave.
Llwellyn, left to himself in the silent, richly furnished flat, fell into hysterical sobbing. His big body shook with the intensity of his unnatural terror. His moans and cries were utterly without dignity or pathos. He was filled with the immense self-pity of the sensualist.
In the hour of blackness, every moment of physical gratification or sin added its weight to the terrible burden. But perhaps hope was not quite dead. He called on all his courage to make a last attempt at escape.
He must leave this place at once. He would go first to his house in Upper Berkeley Street, the house of Lady Llwellyn, his wife.
Something strange and long forgotten moved within him at that word. What might his life have been by her side, a life lived in open honour? What had he done with it all? His great name, his fame, were built up slowly by his long and brilliant work in the world of Biblical archaeology. Yet all the time the lusts of the flesh were deep below the structure, their hammers always tapping -- and now it was all over.
He drove up to his own door in Upper Berkeley Street, unlocked it, and went up the stairs to his own rooms.
Though he had not been near them for weeks, he saw -- with how keen a pang of regret -- that they were swept and tidy, ready for his coming at any time.
He rang the bell in his room.
The door opened softly. A long beam of late winter sunshine which had been pouring in at the opposite window and striking the door with its projection of golden powder suddenly framed, played over, and lighted up the figure of Lady Llwellyn.
Sir Robert stood in the middle of the pleasant room and looked at her.
The sunlight showed up the grey pallor of his wife’s face, the lines of sorrow and resignation, the faded hair, the thin and bony hands.
“Kate,” he said in a weak voice.
It was the first time he had called her by her name for many years.
The tired face lit up with a swift and divine tenderness.
She made a step forward into the room.
He was swaying a little, giddy, it seemed.
She looked him full in the face and saw things she had never seen before. A great horror was on him, a frightful awakening from the long, sensual sloth of his life.
Moving, working, in that great countenance, generally so impassive, uninfluenced by any emotion -- at least to her long watchings -- except by a moody irritation, she saw Doom, Fate, Tragedy.
It came to the woman in a sudden wave of illuminating certainty.
She knew the end had come.
Yet strangely enough she felt nothing but a quickening of the pulses, a swift embracing pity which was almost a joy in its breaking away of barriers.
If the end were here, it w ould be together -- at last together. She loved this cruel, sinning man; this man of purple, fine linen, and the sparkling deadly wines of life.
He said it once more.
Her manner changed. Shrinking, timidity, fear, fled. In her overpowering rush of protecting love, all the differences of temperament, all the bars which he had forced her to build around her instincts, were swept utterly away.
She went quickly up to him, folded him in her arms.
“Robert!” she said, “poor boy, the end has come to it all. I knew it must come some day. Well, we have not been happy. I wonder if you have been happy? No, I don’t think so. But now, Robert, you have me to comfort you with my love once more, my poor Robert; once more, as in the old, simple days when we were young.”
She led him to a couch.
He trembled violently. His decision of movement seemed to have gone. His purpose of flight had for the moment become forgotten.
And now, into his heart came a remorse and regret so awful, a realisation so sudden and strong, with a pain for which there is no name, that everything before his eyes turned to burning fire.
The flames of his agony burnt up the veils which had for so long obscured the truth. They shrivelled and vanished.
Too late, too late, he knew what he had lost.
The last agony wrenched his brain round again to another and more terrible contemplation.
His thoughts were in other and outside hands, which pulled his brain from one scene to another.
F or the first time he realised what he had done -- realised, that is, in its entirety, the whole horror and consequences of that action of his which was to kill him now.
He had not been able to see the magnitude and extent of his crime before -- either at the time when it was proposed to him, except at the first moment of speech, or after its committal.
His brain and temperament had been wrapped round in the hideous fact of sensuality, deadening and destroying sensation.
And now, with his wife’s thin arms round him, her withered cheek pressed to his, her words of glad love, a martyr’s swan song in his ears, he saw, knew, and understood.
Through the terror of his thoughts her words began to penetrate.
"I know, Robert -- husband, I know the end is here. But what has happened? Tell me everything, that I may comfort you the more. Tell me, Robert, for the dear Christ’s sake!”
At those words the man stiffened. “For the dear Christ’s sake?”
“For the dear Christ’s sake, tell me, Robert!”
How could he tell this?
This was his last moment of peace, his last chance of any help or hope.
He had begun to cling to her, to mingle foolish tears with hers -- while his fired brain ranged all the halls of agony.
For if he told her -- this gentle Christian lady, to whom he had been so unkind -- then she would never touch him again.
The last hours -- there was but little time remaining -- would be alone. Alone!
This new revelation that her love was still his, wonder of mysteries! This came at the last moments to aid him.
A last grace before the running waters closed over him. Was he to give this up?
The thought of flight lay like a wounded bird in his brain. It crept about it like some paralysed thing. Not yet dead, but inactive. Though he knew how terribly the moments called to him, yet he could not act.
The myriad agonies he was enduring now, agonies so various and great that he knew Hell had none greater; these, even these were alleviated by the wonder of his wife’s love.
The terrible remorse that was knocking at his heart could not undo that.
He clung to her.
“Tell me all about it, Robert. I’ll forgive you, whatever you have done. I have long ago forgiven everything in my heart. There are only the words to say.”
She rested her worn, tired head on his shoulder. The sunbeams gave it a glory.
Again he suffered a terrible agony. She had asked him to tell her all his trouble in a voice full of gentle pleading.
Whose voice did her voice recall to him? What fatal hour? A coarser voice, a richer voice, trembling, so he had thought, with love for him.
“Tell me everything, Bob!” It was Gertrude’s voice.
The day of his undoing! The day when his horrid secret was wrested from him by the levers of his own passions. The day which had brought him to this.
The great fires round his soul had burnt his lust away. There was no more regret or longing for the evil past. All the joys of a sensual life seemed as if they had never been. Now, the pain was the pain of a man, not who knows the worst too soon, but who knows the best too late.
“I’m waiting, Robert, dear.”
Then he knew he must speak. In rapid words, which seemed to come from a vast distance, he confessed it all.
He told her how Schuabe had tempted him with a vast fortune; how he was already in the man’s power when the temptation came. How his lustful desires had so gripped him; how his life of sin had become like air itself to him.
He told of the secret visit to Palestine and the forgery which had stirred the world.
As he spoke, he felt, in some subtle way, that the life and warmth were dying out of the arms which were round him.
The electric current of devotion which had been flowing from this lady seemed to flicker and die away.
The awful story was ended at last.
Then with a face in which the horror came out in waves, inexpressibly terrible to see, with each beat of the pulses a wave of unutterable horror, she slowly rose.
Her arms fell heavily to her sides. Slowly, slowly, she turned.
Her feet made no noise as she moved across the room. Her garments did not rustle. But she walked, not as an elderly woman, but as a very old woman.
The door clicked softly. He was left alone in the comfortable room.
He stood up, tottered a few steps in the direction she had gone, and then, with a resounding crash which shook the furniture in a succession of quick rattles, his great form fell prone on the floor.
He lay there, face downwards, with the sunshine pouring on him, with no sign of movement.
The afternoon was begun. London was as it had been for days. The uneasiness and unrest which were now become the common nightmare of its inhabitants neither grew nor lessened.
The afternoon papers were merely repetitions of former days. Great financial houses were tottering, rumours of wars were growing every hour, no country was at rest, no colony secure.
In the pale winter sunshine men moved heavily about their business. The common burden was shared by all, but there was no loud trumpet note during those hours.
About four o’clock some carriages drove to Downing Street. In one sat Sir Michael Manichoe, Father Ripon, Harold Spence, and Basil Gortre.
In another was the English Consul at Jerusalem, who had arrived with Spence from the Holy City, Dr. Schmöulder from Berlin, and the Duke of Suffolk.
The carriages stopped at the house of the Prime Minister and the party entered.
Nothing occurred, visibly, for an hour, though urgent messages were passing over the telephone wires.
In an hour’s time a cab came driving furiously down the Embankment, round by the new Scotland Yard and St. Stephen’s Club, into Parliament Street.
The cab contained the Editor of the Times. Following his arrival, in a few seconds a number of other cabs drove up, all at a fast pace. Each one contained a prominent journalist. Ommaney was among the first to arrive, and Folliott Farmer was with him.
It was nearly an hour later when these people left Downing Street, all with grave faces.
A few minutes after their departure, Sir Michael and his party came out, accompanied by several ministers, including the Home Secretary and the Chief Commissioner of Police.
Though the distance to Scotland Yard was only a few hundred yards, the latter gentleman jumped into a passing hansom and was driven rapidly to his office.
This brings the time up to about six o’clock.
It was not quite dark in Sir Robert Llwellyn’s room. A faint yellow flicker came through the window from a gas lamp in the street. A dull and distant murmur from the Edgware Road could be dimly heard, otherwise the room was silent.
Llwellyn did not lie where he had fallen. His loss of consciousness had lasted long and no one had come to help him. But the end was not just yet. The merciful oblivion of passing from a faint into death was denied him.
He came to his senses late in the afternoon, about the time the large party of people emerged on foot and in carriages from the narrow cul-de-sac of Downing Street.
He felt cold, an icy cold. There came a terrible moment. The physical sensation was swamped and forgotten in one frightful flash of realisation. He was alone, the end was at hand.
Instinctively he tried to rise. His legs would not answer the message of his brain when he tried to move them. They lay like long dead cylinders behind him. He was able to drag himself slowly, for a yard or two, until he reached an ottoman. He could not lift the vast weight of his body off the floor. It was utterly beyond his strength. He propped his body against the seat. It was all he was able to accomplish. Icy cold sweat ran down his cheeks at the exertion. After he finished moving, he found all strength had left him.
He was paralysed from the waist downwards. The rest of his body was too weak to move him.
Only his brain was working with a terrible activity as he lay alone in the chill dark.
There came into his molten brain the impulse to pray. Deep down in every human heart that impulse lies. It is a seed planted there by God that it may grow into the tree of salvation.
The effort was subconscious. Almost simultaneously with it came the awful remembrance of what he had done.
A name danced in letters of flame in his brain -- Judas.
He looked round for some means to end this unbearable torture. He could see nothing. The room was cold and dark, but he knew there was a container of razors on a table by the window.
When he tried to move he found the paralysis was growing upwards.
Then this was to be the end?
A momentary flood of relief came over him. His blood seemed warm again.
But the sensation died rapidly away, the physical and mental glow alike.
He remembered those cases, frequent enough, when the whole body loses the power of movement, but the brain survives, active, alive, helpless.
And all the sweat which the physical glow had induced turned to little icicles all over his body, even as the thought froze in his brain.
An hour went by.
Alone in the dark.
His tongue was parched and dry. A sudden wonder came to him -- could he speak still?
Without realising what word he used as a test he spoke.
It was a gaunt whisper in the silence.
Silence. How silent it was. Yet no, he could hear the distant rumbling of the traffic. He became suddenly conscious of it. Surely it was unusually loud?
It must be this physical change which was creeping over him. His head was swimming, disordered.
Yet the traffic seemed louder now.
And louder, as he began to listen intently. He could not move his head to catch the sound more clearly, but he was beginning to hear it well enough.
No traffic ever sounded quite like that. It was like an advancing tide, thundering, as a horse gallops over flat, level sands.
A great sea rushing towards -- towards what?
Then he knew what that sound was.
At last he knew.
He could hear the individual shouts that made up the enormous mass of menacing sound.
The nation was coming to take its revenge on its betrayer.
They had found him out. It was as Schuabe had said -- the great conspiracy was at an end. The stunning truth was out, flying round the world with its glad message.
Yet, although once more the dishonoured Cross gleamed as the one solace in the hearts of men whose faith had been weak, though at that moment the glad news was racing round the world, yet the evil was not over.
The Prince of the Powers of the air had reigned too long. Not lightly was he to relinquish his sceptre and dominion.
They were in the street below. The whole space was packed with the screaming multitude. The cries and curses came up to him in one roaring volume of sound, sounds that one looking over the brink of the pit of Hell might hear.
A heavy blow on the stout door of the old well-built house shook the walls where the palsied Judas lay impotent.
Another crash. The room was much lighter now. The crowd below had lights with them.
The door opened silently. Lady Llwellyn came swiftly into the room.
She wore a long white robe. Her face was lighted as if a lamp shone behind it.
In her hand was the great cross which had been hanging above her bed.
When Christ died and bade the dying thief ascend with him to Paradise, can we say that His silence condemned the other?
Her face was all aglow with love.
“Robert!” she said. Her voice was like the voice of an angel.
Her arms went round him, her kisses pressed on him, the great cross was lifted to his dying eyes.
A great thunder on the stairs, furious voices, the tide rising higher, higher.
Chapter 32 (Last Chapter)
The news came to Walktown, the final confirmation of what had been so long suspected, in a short telegram from Basil, dispatched immediately he left Downing Street.
Mr. Byars and Helena had been kept well acquainted with every step in the progress of the investigation.
Ever since Basil had left Walktown, after his holiday visit, his suspicions had been ringing in the vicar’s ears.
Then, when the matter had been communicated to Sir Michael and Father Ripon, when Spence had started out to Jerusalem, and Mr. Byars knew that all the powers of wealth and intellect were at work, his hopes revived.
The vicar’s faith had never for a single moment wavered.
He had been one of the faithful thousands: the learned, the simple, the Methodists, the ritualists, who knew this thing could not be.
Nevertheless, his courage had been failing him. In his own immediate neighbourhood the consequences of the false “Discovery” nearly broke his heart. He had no need to look beyond Walktown. He heard the Holy Names blasphemed with all the inventions of obscene imaginations, assailed with all the wit of full-blooded men amazed and rejoicing that they could stifle their consciences at last. And this after all his life’s work among these folk. He had given them of his best. His prayers, his intellect, much of his money had been theirs.
The elder man knew that fraud had been at work, but he suspected no such modern and insolent attempt as Basil indicated. It was too much to believe. But his interest had soon become quickened and alive as the private reports from London reached him.
When he knew that great people were moving quietly, that the weight of Sir Michael was behind Basil, he knew at once that in all probability the curate’s suspicions were right, and his preaching changed to one of assurance of the true faith.
A curious change then came over the his public appearances and utterances. His sermons were full of fire, almost Pauline in their strength. People began to flow and flock into the great empty church at Walktown. Mr. Byars’s fame spread.
Then, swiftly had come the beginning of the great financial depression.
It was felt acutely in Manchester.
All the wealthy, comfortable, easy-going folk who grudgingly paid a small pew rent out of their superfluity became alarmed, horribly alarmed. In the fall of Christianity they saw their own fortunes falling. And these self-deceivers were now being swept back upon the tide of this reaction into the arms of the Christian churches they had despised.
The vicar saw all this. He was a keen expert in, and student of, human affairs, and withal a psychologist. He saw his opportunity.
His words lashed and stung these renegades. They were made to see themselves as they were, as the preacher cut away all the ground from under them. They were left face to face with naked shame for believing what Byars said would soon be proven to be a lie, a huge deception.
What puzzled and yet uplifted the congregation at St. Thomas’s had been their vicar’s extraordinary certainty that the spiritual darkness over the land was shortly to be removed.
It had been commented on, keenly observed, greatly wondered at.
“Mr. Byars speaks,” Mr. Pryde, a wealthy solicitor, had said, “as if he had some private information about this Jerusalem discovery. He is so confident that he magnetises one into his own state of mind, and Byars is not a very emotional man either. His conviction is real. It is not hysteria.”
And, being a shrewd, silent man, the solicitor formed his own conclusions, but said nothing of them as the church continued full of worshippers.
When the news from Basil came, the vicar was sitting before the fire in his lighted study. He had been expecting the telegram all day.
His brain had been haunted by the picture of that distinguished figure with the dark red hair he had so often met.
Again he pictured Constantine Schuabe standing in his drawing room, proffering money for scholarships. And later in Dieppe.
How well and clearly he recalled the huge figure of Robert Llwellyn, the scholar in his coat of astrakhan, with his babble of soups and entrée!
Try as he would, the vicar could not hate these two men. The sin, the awful sin, yes, a thousand times. Horror could not be stretched far enough, no hatred could be too great for such an immensity of crime.
But in his great heart, in his large, human nature there was a Divine pity for this wretched pair. He could not help it. It was part of him. He wondered if he were not erring in feeling this pity. Was not this, indeed, that mysterious sin against the Holy Spirit for which there was no forgiveness? Was it not said of Judas that for his deed he would lie for ever in Hell?
The telegram was brought in by a neat, unconcerned housemaid.
Then the vicar got up and locked the inner door of his study. He knelt in prayer and thanksgiving.
This good man, who had given his vigorous life and active intellect to God, knelt humbly at his study table while a joy and happiness not of this earth filled his soul.
At that supreme moment, when the sense of the glorious vindication of Christ flooded the vicar’s whole being with ecstasy, he knew, perhaps, a faint foreshadowing of the life the Blessed live in Heaven.
For a few brief moments that imperfect instrument, the human body, was permitted a glimpse, a flash of the eternal joy prepared for the saints of God.
The vicar drew very near the Veil.
Helena knocked at the study door. He opened it to her, the tall, gracious lady.
She saw the news in her father’s face.
They embraced with deep and silent emotion.
Two hours later the vicarage was full of people. The news had arrived.
Special editions of the evening papers were being shouted through the streets. Downing Street had spoken, and in Manchester -- as in almost every great city in England -- the Truth was pulsing and throbbing in the air, spreading from house to house, from heart to heart.
Everyone knew it in Walktown now.
There was a sudden unanimous rush of people to the vicarage.
Each house sent out its eager citizens into the night.
They came to show the pastor, who had not failed them in the darkness, their joy and gratitude now that light had come at last.
How warm and hearty these north country people were. Mr. Byars had never penetrated so deeply beneath the somewhat forbidding crust of manner and surface-hardness before.
Mingled with the sense of shame and misery at their own luke warmness, there was a fine and genuine desire to show the vicar how they honoured him for his steadfastness.
“You’ve been an example to all of us, vicar,” said a hard-faced, brassy-voiced cotton spinner, a kindly light in his eyes, his lips somewhat tremulous.
“We haven’t done as we ought to by t’church,” said another, “but you’ll see that altered, Mr. Byars. Eh, but our faith has been weak! There’ll be many a Christian’s heart full of shame and sorrow for the past months this night, I’m thinking.”
They crowded round him, this knot of parishioners, hard-faced and harsh-spoken, with a warmth and contrition which moved the old man inexpressibly.
Never before had he been so near to them. Dimly he began to think he saw a wise and awful purpose of God, who had allowed this iniquity and calamity, that the faith of the world might be tested and then strengthened.
“We’ll never forget what you’ve done for us, Mr. Byars.”
“If we’ve been lukewarm before, vicar, ‘twill be all boiling now!”
“Praise God He has spoken at last, and God forgive us for forgetting Him.”
The air was electric with love and praise.
“Will you say a prayer, vicar?” asked one of the churchwardens. “It seems the time for prayer and a word or two like.”
The company knelt down.
Here and there a shoulder shook with suppressed emotion, a faint sob was heard. This, to many of them, was the greatest spiritual moment they had ever known. Confirmation, Communion, all the episodic milestones of the professing Christian's life in the parish church had been experienced and passed decorously enough. But the inward fire had not been there. The deep certainty of God's mysterious commune with the soul, the deep love for Christ which glows so purely and steadfastly among the saints still on earth -- these were coming to them now.
As the fires of the Holy Spirit had descended on the Apostles nearly two thousand years before, so now the Holy Spirit began to stir and move these Christians at Walktown.
The vicar offered up the joy and thanks of his people. He prayed that, in His mercy, God would never again let such extreme darkness descend upon the world. Even as God had said, “Neither will I again smite any more every thing living, as I have done.”
He prayed that all those who had been cast into spiritual darkness, or who had left the fold of Christ, would now return to it with contrite hearts and be in peace.
Finally, they said the Lord’s Prayer with deep feeling, and the vicar blessed them.
For each one there, that night became a precious, helpful memory which remained with them for many years.
Afterwards, while servants brought coffee, always the accompaniment to any sort of function in Walktown, the talk broke out into a hushed amazement.
The news which had been telegraphed everywhere consisted of a statement signed by the Secretary of State and the Archbishops that the discovery in Palestine was a forgery executed by Sir Robert Llwellyn at the instigation of Constantine Schuabe.
“Ample and completely satisfying evidence is in our possession,” so the wording ran. “We render heartfelt gratitude to Almighty God that He has in His wisdom caused this outrageous conspiracy to be discovered. The thanks of the whole world, the gratitude of all Christians, must be for those devoted and faithful men who have been the instruments of God in discovering the Truth. Sir Michael Manichoe, the Rev. Basil Gortre, the Rev. Arthur Ripon, and Mr. Harold Spence have alone dispelled the clouds that have hung over the Christian world.”
No mention, in the official statement, was made of Gertrude Hunt.
It was a frightful shock to these people to know how a great magnate among them, a business colleague, the Parliamentary member for their own division, a friend, should have done this thing.
It was incredible that this antichrist had been long housed among them, a mile from where they stood.
“What will they do to him?”
“Who can say? There’s never been a case like it before, you see.”
"Well, the paper doesn't say, but I expect they've got them safe enough in London -- Mr. Schuabe and the other fellow."
“Just to think of our Mr. Gortre helping to find it out. Pity we ever let him go away from the parish church!”
“They can’t do less than make him a bishop, I should think.”
“Miss Byars, you ought to be proud of your young man. There’s many folk blessing him in England this night.”
And so on, and so forth. Simple, homely speeches, not indeed free from a somewhat hard commercial view, but informed with kindliness and gratitude.
At last, one by one, they went away. It was close on midnight when the last visitor departed.
The vicar read a psalm to his daughter:
“Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word. For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people.”
Basil was to come to them on the morrow for a long stay.
Five Years Later
Two figures walked over the cliffs.
The day was wild and stormy. Huge clouds, bursting with sombre light, sailed over the pewter-coloured sea. The bleak magnificence of the moor stretched away in endless billows, as sad and desolate as the sea on which no sail was to be seen.
The wayfarers turned out of the struggle of the bitter wind into a slight depression. A few scattered cottages began to come into the field of their vision.
Soon they saw the whitewashed buildings of a coastguard station and the high, square tower of a church.
“So it is all settled, Spence,” said one of the men, a tall, noble-faced man, dressed as a clerk in Holy Orders.
“Yes, Father Ripon,” Spence said. “They have offered me The Wire. It was one of Ommaney’s last wishes. Of course, we were injured in our circulation by the fact that we were the first to publish the news of the great forgery. But in two years Ommaney had brought the paper to the front again. He was wonderful, the first editor of his age.”
Spence paused for a moment to take in the bleak landscape. “I was there when Ommaney died,” he continued. “It was the first time I had ever been in his flat, though we had worked together all these years. The simplest place you ever saw. Just a couple of rooms, where he slept all the daytime. No luxury, hardly even comfort. Ommaney had no existence apart from his work. A goodhearted man, a brilliant editor, but utterly detached from any personal contact with life.”
Father Ripon’s keen face, still as eager and powerful as before, set into lines of thought. He sighed a little. “A modern product,” he said at length. “A modern product; a sign of the times. Well, Spence, a power is entrusted to you now such as no priest can enjoy. I pray that your editorship of this great paper will be fine. Try to be fine always. I believe the Holy Spirit will be with you.”
“Have you seen Constantine Schuabe?” Spence asked.
Father Ripon shook his head. “The man, or what remains of the man, is in the county asylum of which he was a benefactor. His mind has gone. He receives few visitors now. His money was confiscated by order of the Government, but they allow two hundred a year for him. Otherwise he would be among the paupers.”
They rose up towards the moor again. “There’s the church,” said Spence, “where she lies buried. Basil Gortre sees that the grave is kept beautiful with flowers. It was surely an odd impulse of yours to propose this visit.”
"I do odd things sometimes," said Father Ripon, simply. "I thought that the sight of this poor woman's resting place might remind you and me of what has passed, of what she did for the world -- though no one knows it but our group of friends. I hope it will remind us, remind you very solemnly, my friend, in your new responsibility, of what Christ means to the world. The shadows of the time of darkness, when it was dark during the horror of great darkness, have gone from us. And this poor sister did this for her Saviour's sake."
They stood by Gertrude Hunt’s grave as they spoke.
A slender copper cross rose above it, some six feet high.
“I wonder how the poor girl managed it,” said Spence at length. “Her testimony was wonderfully complete. Sir Michael showed me her letter five years ago when the great deception was exposed. She was wonderfully adroit. I suppose Llwellyn had left papers about or something. But I do wonder how she did it.”
“That,” said Father Ripon, “was what she would never tell anybody.”
A Sunday evensong. The grim old Lancashire church of Walktown is full of people. The galleries are crowded, every seat in the aisles below is packed.
This night, Easter night, the church looks less forbidding. The harsh note is gone; something of the supreme joy of Holy Easter has driven it away.
Old Mr. Byars sits in his stall. He is tired by the long, happy day, and as the choir sings the last verse of the hymn before the sermon he sits down.
The delicate, intellectual face is a little pinched and transparent. Age has come, but it is to this faithful vicar as the rare bloom on the fruits of peace and quiet.
The thunderous voices peal in exultation.
“Christ is risen!”
The old man turns his head. His eyes are full of happy tears. He sees his daughter, a young and gracious married woman now, standing in a pew close to the chancel steps. He hears her voice, full of triumph. “Christ is risen!”
From his oak chair behind the altar rails Dean Gortre comes down towards the pulpit.
Young still -- strangely young for the title they pressed on him for two years before he would accept it -- Basil ascends the steps.
“Christ is risen!”
The organ crashes; there is silence.
The lights in the church are suddenly lowered to half their height.
The two candles in the pulpit shine brightly on the preacher’s face.
They all see it filled with holy fire.
Christ is risen!
Basil reads the apostle Paul’s words to the Corinthian church. “If Christ be not risen your faith is vain.”
The church is absolutely still as the words of the text ring out.
The people are thinking humbly, with contrite hearts, of the shame five years ago.
“Christ is risen!” Basil says. “Away with the illusions which may have kept us from Him. Let us also arise and live!”
“Christ is risen!” the people call back.
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