The City and the World and Other Stories
FRANCIS CLEMENT KELLEY
"The Last Battle of the Gods," "Letters to Jack." "The Book of Red and Yellow." Etc., Etc.
EXTENSION PRESS 223 W. Jackson Boulevard CHICAGO
These stories were not written at one time, nor were they intended for publication in book form. For the most part they were contributions to Extension Magazine, of which the author is Editor, and which is, above all, a missionary publication. Most of them, therefore, were intended primarily to be appeals, as well as stories. In fact, there was not even a remote idea in the author's mind when he wrote them that some day they might be introduced to other readers than those reached by the magazine itself. In fact, he might almost say that the real object of most of the stories was to present a Catholic missionary appeal in a new way. Apparently the stories succeeded in doing that, and a few of them were made up separately in booklets and used for the propaganda work of The Catholic Church Extension Society. Then came a demand for the collection, so the writer consented to allow the stories to appear in book form; hoping that, thus gathered together, his little appeals for what he considers the greatest cause in the world may win a few new friends to the ideas which gave them life and name.
FRANCIS CLEMENT KELLEY.
CHICAGO, ILLINOIS, July 30, 1913.
The City and the World 1 The Flaming Cross 20 The Vicar-General 44 The Resurrection of Alta 53 The Man with a Dead Soul 67 The Autobiography of a Dollar 74 Le Braillard de la Magdeleine 82 The Legend of Deschamps 84 The Thousand Dollar Note 89 The Occasion 109 The Yankee Tramp 119 How Father Tom Connolly Began to Be a Saint 127 The Unbroken Seal 136 Mac of the Island 144
THE CITY AND THE WORLD
Father Denfili, old and blind, telling his beads in the corner of the cloister garden, sighed. Father Tomasso, who had brought him from his confessional in the great church to the bench where day after day he kept his sightless vigil over the pond of the goldfish, turned back at the sound, then, seeing the peace of Father Denfili's face, thought he must have fancied the sigh. For sadness came alien to the little garden of the Community of San Ambrogio on Via Paoli, a lustrous gem of a little garden under its square of Roman sky. The dripping of the tiny fountain, tinkling like a bit of familiar music, and the swelling tones of the organ, drifting over the flowers that clustered beneath the statue of Our Lady of Lourdes, so merged their murmurings into the peacefulness of San Ambrogio, that Father Tomasso, just from the novitiate, felt intensely that he knew he must have dreamed Father Denfili's sigh. For what could trouble the old man here in San Ambrogio on this, the greatest day of the Community?
For to-day Father Ramoni had returned to Rome. Even as Father Tomasso passed the fountain a group of Fathers and novices were gathering around one of the younger priests, who still wore his fereoula and wide-brimmed hat, just as he had entered from Via Paoli. The newcomer's eyes traveled joyously over his breathless audience, calling Father Tomasso to join in hearing his news.
"Yes, it is true," he was saying. "I have just come from the audience. Father General and Father Ramoni stopped to call at the Secretariate of State, but I came straight home to tell you. His Holiness was most kind, and Father Ramoni was not a mite abashed, even in the presence of the Pope. When he knelt down the Holy Father raised him up and gave him a seat. 'Tell me all about your wonderful people and your wonderful work,' he said. And Father Ramoni told him of the thousands he had converted and how easy it was, with the blessing of God, to do so much. The Holy Father asked him every manner of question. He was full of enthusiasm for the great things our Father Ramoni has done. He is the greatest man in Rome to-day, is Ramoni. He will be honored by the Holy See. The Pope showed it plainly. This is a red-letter day for our Community." The little priest paused for breath, then hastened on. "Rome knows that our Father Ramoni has come back," he cried, "and Rome has not forgotten ten years ago."
"Was it ten years that Father Ramoni passed in South America?" a tall novice asked Father Tomasso.
"Ten years," said Father Tomasso. "He was the great preacher of Rome when the old General"—he nodded toward the cloister corner where Father Denfili prayed—"sent him away from Rome. No one knew why. His fame was at its height. Men and women of all the city crowded the church to listen to him, and he was but thirty-four years old. But Father Denfili sent him away to Marqua, commanding the Superior of our Order out there to send him to those far-off mountain people of whom the papers were telling at that time. I did not know Father Romani well. I was a novice at the time. But I knew that he did not want to go from Rome; though, being a good religious, he obeyed. Now, see what has happened. He has converted over one-third of that people, and the rest are only waiting for missionaries."
"And the work is all Father Ramoni's?" the novice asked.
"All." Father Tomasso drew him a little farther from the group that still listened to the little priest who had come from the Vatican. "Father Ramoni found that the people had many Christian traditions and were almost white; but it was he who instilled the Faith in their hearts. There must be thirty of our Fathers in Marqua now," he continued proudly, "and sooner or later, all novices will have to go out there. Father Ramoni has made a splendid Prefect-Apostolic. No wonder they have summoned him to Rome for consultation. I have heard"—he lowered his voice as he glanced over his shoulder to where Father Denfili sat on the bench by the pond—"that it is certain that Marqua is to be made a Province, with an archbishop and two bishops. There is a seminary in Marqua, even now, and they are training some of the natives to be catechists. I tell you, Brother Luigi, missionary history has never chronicled such wonders as our Father Ramoni has wrought."
From behind them came the rising voice of the little priest, bubbling into laughter. "And as I came through the Pincio all that I heard was his name. I had to wait for a duchessa's carriage to pass. She was telling an American woman of the times when Father Ramoni had preached at San Carlo. 'His words would convert a Hindu,' she was saying. And the Marchesi di San Quevo leaned from his horse to tell me that he had heard that Father Ramoni will be one of the Cardinals of the next Consistory. Is it not wonderful?"
The murmur of their responses went across the garden to old Father Denfili. Father Tomasso, crossing the path with the novice, suddenly saw a strange look of pain on the old priest's face, and started toward him just as the gate to the cloister garden swung back, revealing a picture that held him waiting. Four men—a great Roman prelate, the General of San Ambrogio, Father Ramoni and Father Pietro, Ramoni's secretary—were coming into the garden. Of the four Father Ramoni stood out in the center of the group as vividly as if a searchlight were playing on his magnificent bigness. His deep black eyes, set in a face whose strength had been emphasized by its exposure to sun and wind, gleamed joyous with his mood. His mouth, large, expressive, the plastic mouth of the orator, was curving into a smile as he gave heed to the speech of the prelate beside him. Once he shook his head as the great man, oblivious of their coming before a crowd of intent watchers, continued the words he had been saying on Via Paoli.
"And the Holy See is about to make your Marqua into a Province. Is it not wonderful, Father Ramoni, that you will go back with that gift to the people you converted? And yet to me it is more wonderful that you wish to go back. Why do you not stay here? You, a Roman, would advance."
"Not now, Monsignore," the missionary answered quickly. They were passing the group near the fountain, going toward the bench where Father Denfili sat. Ramoni's secretary, a thin, serious-visaged priest of about the same age as his Superior, with bald head and timid, shrinking eyes, took with the greatest deference the cloak and hat Father Ramoni handed to him. Then he fell back of the old General. The prelate answered Ramoni. "But you are right, of course," he admitted. "It is best that you return. The Church needs you there now. But later on—chi lo sa? You are to preach Sunday afternoon at San Carlo? I shall be there to hear you. So will all Rome, I suppose. Ah, you do well here! 'Filius urbis et orbis—son of the city and the world.' It's a great title, Ramoni!"
They had come in front of the bench where Father Denfili told his beads. The prelate turned to the old General of San Ambrogio with deference. "Is it not so, Father?" he asked. But Father Denfili raised his sightless eyes as if he sought to focus them upon the group before him. Father Ramoni, laughingly dissenting, suddenly felt his joy congealing into a cold fear that bound his heart. He turned away angrily, then recovered himself in time. Father Denfili was no longer on the bench beside the pond. He was groping his way back to the chapel.
It was a month before the Consistory met to nominate the new hierarchy for Marqua. It had been expected that the first meeting would end in decisive action and that, immediately afterward, the great missionary of the Community of San Ambrogio would return with increased authority and dignity to his charge. But something—one of those mysterious "somethings" peculiar to Rome—had happened, and the nominations were postponed.
In the month that Father Ramoni remained in Rome he had tasted the fruits of his old popular success. On his first Sunday at home he preached in San Carlo as well as ever—better than ever. And the awed crowd he looked down on at the end of his sermon took away from the church the tidings of his greater power. From that time nearly every moment was taken by the demands of people of position and authority, who wished to make the most of him before he went back to Marqua. He scarcely saw his brethren at all, except after his Mass, when he went to the refectory for his morning coffee. He had no time to loiter in the garden, and the story of the conversion of the people of Marqua was left to the quiet Fr. Pietro, who told the splendid tales of his Superior's great work, till Father Tomasso and Brother Luigi prayed to be given the opportunity to be Ramoni's servants in the far-away land of the western world. But, if Ramoni was but seldom in the cloister, he did not avoid Father Denfili. The old blind priest seemed to meet him everywhere, in the afternoons on the Pincio, in the churches where he preached, in the subdued crowds at ecclesiastical assemblies. Once Ramoni caught a glimpse of his face lifted toward him during a conference; and a remembrance of that old look in the cloister garden gave him the sensation of belief that the old General could see, even though Ramoni himself, was the only one whom he saw.
On the day the letter from the Vatican came, Father Ramoni, detained in the cloister by the expected visit of a prelate who had expressed his desire to meet the missionary of Marqua, passed Father Denfili on his way to the reception-room. While Father Ramoni, summoning his secretary to bring some photographs for better explanation of the South American missions, went on his way, the blind man groped along the wall till he reached the General's office. He had come to the door when he felt that undercurrent of anxiety which showed itself on the white faces of the General and his assistant, who stood gazing mutely at the letter the former held. He heard the General call Father Tomasso. "Take this to Father Pietro, my son," he said. Then he listened to the younger priest's retreating footsteps.
Father Tomasso, frightened by the unwonted strangeness of the General's tone, carried the atmosphere of tense and troubled excitement with him when he entered the room the prelate was just leaving. Father Pietro glanced up at him from the table where he was returning to their case the photographs of Marqua. Tomasso laid the letter before him and left the room just as Father Ramoni, bidding his visitor a gay good-bye, turned back.
Father Pietro was taking the letter from its large square envelope. He read it with puzzled wonder rising to his eyes. Before he came to its end he was on his feet.
"No! No!" he cried. "It is impossible. It is a mistake."
Father Ramoni turned quickly. The man who had been his faithful servant for ten years in Marqua was very dear to him. "What is a mistake, Pietro?" he asked, coming to the table.
"The Consistory," Father Pietro stammered, "the Consistory has made a mistake. They have done an impossible thing. They have mixed our names. This letter to the General—this letter—" he pointed to the document on the table "—says that I have been made Archbishop of Marqua."
Ramoni took the letter. As he read it he knew what Pietro had not known. The news was genuine. The name signed at the letter's end guaranteed that. Ramoni caught the edge of the table. The pain of the blow gripped him relentlessly and he knew that it was a pain that would stay. He had been passed over, ignored, set down for Pietro, who sat weeping beside the table, his head buried in his hands.
"I can't take it," he was sobbing; "I am not able. It's a mistake, a terrible mistake."
Ramoni put his hand on the other man's head. "It is true, Pietro," he said. "You are Archbishop of Marqua. May God bless you!"
But he could say no more. Pietro was still weeping when Ramoni went away, crossing the cloister on his way to his cell, where, with the door closed behind him, he fought the battle of his soul.
In the beginning Ramoni could not think. He sat looking dully at the softened tones of the wall, trying to evolve some order of thought from the chaos into which the shock of his disappointment had plunged his mind. It was late in the night before the situation began to outline itself dimly.
His first thought was, curiously enough, not of himself directly, but of the people out in Marqua who were anxiously looking for his return as their leader, confident of his appointment to the new Archbishopric. He could not face them as the servant of another man. From the crowd afar his thoughts traveled back to the crowd on the Pincio—the crowd that welcomed him as the great missionary. He would go no more to the Pincio, for now they would point him out with that cynical amusement of the Romans as the man who had been shelved for his servant. He resented the fate that had uprooted him from Rome ten years before, sending him to Marqua. He resented the people he had converted, Pietro, the Consistory—everything. For that black and bitter night the Church, which he had loved and reverenced, looked to him like the root of all injustice. The more he thought of the slight that had been put upon him, the worse it became, till the thought arose in him that he would leave the Community, leave Rome, leave it all. After long hours, anger had full sway in the heart of Father Ramoni.
At midnight he heard the striking of the city's clocks through the windows, the lattices of which he had forgotten to close. The sound of the city brought back to him the words of the great prelate who had returned with him to San Ambrogio from his first audience with the Holy Father—"Filius urbis et orbis." How bitterly the city had treated him!
A knock sounded at his door. He walked to it and flung it open. His anger had come to the overflowing of speech. At first he saw only a hand at the door-casing, groping with a blind man's uncertainty. Then he saw the old General.
In the soul of Ramoni rose an awful revulsion against the old man. Instantly, with a memory of that first day in the cloister garden, of those following days that gave him the unexpected, uncanny glimpses of the priest, he centered all his bitterness upon Denfili. So fearful was his anger as he held it back with the rein of years of self-control, that he wondered to see Father Denfili smiling.
"May I enter, my son?" he asked.
"You may enter."
The old man groped his way to a chair. Ramoni watched him with glowering rage. When Father Denfili turned his sightless eyes upon him he did not flinch.
"You are disappointed, my son?" the old man asked with a gentleness that Ramoni could not apprehend, "and you can not sleep?"
Ramoni's anger swept the question aside. "Have you come here, Father Denfili," he cried, "to find out how well you have finished the persecution you began ten years ago? If you have, you may be quite consoled. It is finished to-night." His anger, rushing over the gates, beat down upon the old man, who sat wordless before its flood. It was a passionate story Ramoni told, a story of years in the novitiate when the old man had ever repressed him, a story of checks that had been put upon him as a preacher, of his banishment from Rome, and now of this crowning humiliation. Furiously Ramoni told of them all while the old man sat, letting the torrent wear itself out on the rocks of patience. Then, after Ramoni had been silent long moments, he spoke.
"You did not pray, my son?"
"Pray?" Ramoni's laughter rasped. "How can I pray? My life is ruined. I am ashamed even to meet my brethren in the chapel."
"And yet, it is God one meets in the chapel," the old man said. "God, and God alone; even if there be a thousand present."
"God?" flung back the missionary. "What has He done to me? Do you think I can thank Him for this? Yet I am a fool to ask you, for it was not God who did it—it was you! You interfered with His work. I know it."
"I hope, my son, that it was God who did it. If He did, then it is right for you. As for me, perhaps I am somewhat responsible. I was consulted, and I advised Pietro."
"Don't call me 'my son,'" cried the other.
"Is it as bad as that with you?" There was only compassion in the old voice. "Yet must I say it—my son. With even more reason than ever before I must say it to you to-night."
The old man's thin hands were groping about his girdle to find the beads that hung down from it. He pulled them up to him and laid the string across his knees; but the crucifix that he could not see he kept tightly clasped in his hand. His poor, dull, pathetic eyes were turned to Ramoni who felt again that strange impression that he could see, as they fixed on his face and stared straight at him without a movement of their lashes. And Ramoni knew how it was that a man may be given a finer vision than that of earth, for Father Denfili was looking where only a saint could look, deep down into the soul of another.
"Son of the city and the world," he said. "I heard Monsignore call you that, and he was right. A son of the city and of the world you are; but alas! less of the city than you know, and more of the world than you have realized. My son, I am a very old man. Perhaps I have not long to live; and so it is that I may tell you why I have come to you to-night." Ramoni started to speak, but the other put out his hand. "I received you, a little boy, into this Community. No one knows you better than I do. I saw in you before any one else the gifts that God had given you for some great purpose. I saw them budding. I knew before any one else knew that some day you would do a great thing, though I did not know what it was that you would do. I was a man with little, but I could admire the man who had much. I had no gifts to lay before Him, yet I, too, wanted to do a great work. I wanted to make you my great work. That was my hope. You are the Apostle of Marqua. I am the Apostle of Ramoni. For that I have lived, always in the fear that I would be cheated of my reward."
Ramoni turned to him. "Your reward? I do not understand."
"My reward," the old man repeated. "I watched over you, I instructed you, I prayed for you, I loved you. I tried to teach you by checking you, the way to govern yourself. I tried to make a channel in your soul that your great genius might not burst its bonds. I knew that there was conflict ever within you between your duty to God and what the world had to offer you—the old, old conflict between the city and the world. I always feared it. All unknown to you I watched the fight, and I saw that the world was winning. Then, my son, I sent you to Marqua."
The old man paused, and his trembling hand wiped away the tears that streamed down his face. Ramoni did not move. "I am afraid, my son," the voice came again, "that you never knew the city—well called the Eternal—where with all the evil the world has put within its walls the good still shines always. This, my son, is the city of the soul, and you were born in it. It lives only for souls. It has no other right to existence at all. There is only one royalty that may live in Rome. We, who are of the true city, know that.
"And you, too, might have been of the city. The power of saving thousands was given to you. I prayed only for the power of saving one. I had to send you away, for you were not a Philip Neri. Only a saint may live to be praised and save himself—in Rome.
"When you went away, my son, you went away with a sacrifice as your merit, your salvation. Of that sacrifice the Church in Marqua was born. It will grow on another sacrifice. Ask your heart if you could make it? Alas, you can not! Then it will have to grow on Pietro's pain.
"I have not seen you, for I am blind, but I have heard you. You want to go back an Archbishop to finish what you say is 'your work.' You think that your people are waiting. You want to bring the splendor of the city to the world. My son, the work is not yours. The people are not yours. The city, the true city, does not know you, for you have forgotten the spirit of sacrifice. You went out to the world an apostle, and you came back to the city a conqueror, but no longer an apostle. Can't you see that God does not need conquerors?"
The old priest pressed the crucifix tightly against his breast. "What would you take back to Marqua?" he demanded. "Nothing but your purple and your eloquence. How could you, who have forgotten to pray in the midst of affliction, teach your people how to pray in the midst of their sorrows? Marqua does not need you, for Marqua needs the man you might have been, but which you are not. The city does not need you, for the city needs no man; but it is you who need the city, that you may learn again the lesson that once made you the missionary of a people."
Faintly, through the silence that fell the deeper as the old man's words died away, there came the sound of footsteps pacing in another room. Once more the old man took up his speech.
"They are Pietro's steps," he said. "All night long I have heard you both. He has been sobbing under the burden he believes he is unworthy to bear, while you have been raging that you were not permitted to bear it. Pietro was only your servant. He would be your servant again if he could. He loves you. I, too, love you. Perhaps I was selfish in loving you, but I wanted for God your soul and the souls you were leading to Him."
The old man arose. He put out his hand to grope his way back to the door. It touched Ramoni, sitting rigid. He did not stir. The hand reached over him, caught the lintel of the door and guided the blind man to the hall. Then Ramoni stood up. Without a word he followed the other. When he had overtaken him he laid his hand gently on the blind man's arm and led him back to his cell.
When he came back the door of the chapel was open. Ramoni, going within, found Pietro there, prostrate at the foot of the altar. Ramoni knelt at the door, his eyes brimming with tears. He did not pray. He only gazed upon the far-off tabernacle. And while he knelt the Great Plan unfolded itself to him. He looked back on Marqua as a man who has traveled up the hills looks down on the valleys. And, looking back, he could see that Pietro's had been the labor that had won Marqua. There came back to him all the memories of his servant's love of souls, his ceaseless teaching, his long journeys to distant villages, his zeal, his solicitude to save his superior for the more serious work of preaching. Pietro had been jealous of the slightest infringement on his right to suffer. Pietro had been the apostle. Before God the conquest of Marqua had been Pietro's first, since he it was who had toiled and claimed no reward.
A great peace suddenly mantled the troubled soul of Father Ramoni, and with it a great love for the old General whose hand had struck him. He thought of the painting hanging near where he knelt—"Moses Striking the Rock." The features of Father Denfili merged into the features of the Law Giver, and Father Ramoni knew himself for the rock, barren and unprofitable. He fell on his face, and then his prayer came:
"Christ, humble and meek, soften me, and if there be aught of living water within, let me give one drop for thirsty souls yet ere I am called."
He could utter no other prayer.
Morning found both master and servant, now servant and master, before the altar where both were servants.
It was fifteen years later when the brethren of the little Community of San Ambrogio gathered in their chapel to sing the requiem over their founder and first General, Father Denfili, who died, old and blind, after twenty years of retirement into obscurity. But there were more than his brethren there. For all those years he had occupied, day after day, the solitude of a little confessional in the chapel. He had had his penitents there, and, in a general way, the brethren of San Ambrogio knew that there were among them many distinguished ones; but they were not prepared for the revelation that his obsequies gave them. Cardinals, Roman nobles, soldiers, prelates, priests and citizens crowded into the little chapel. They were those who had knelt week after week at the feet of the saint.
But there was one penitent, greater than them all in dignity and sanctity, who could not come. The tears blinded him that morning when he said Mass in his own chapel at the Vatican for the soul of Father Denfili. At the hour of the requiem he looked longingly toward Via Paoli, where his old spiritual father was lying dead before the altar of the cloister chapel; and the tears came again into eyes that needed all their vision to gaze far out, from his watch-tower, on the City and the World.
THE FLAMING CROSS
It was already midnight when Orville, Thornton and Callovan arose from a table of the club dining-room and came down in the elevator for their hats and coats. They had spent an evening together, delightful to all three. This dinner and chat had become an annual affair, to give the old chums of St. Wilbur's a chance to live over college days, and keep a fine friendship bright and lasting. Not one of them was old enough to feel much change from the spirit of youth. St. Wilbur's was a fresh memory and a pleasant one; and no friends of business or society had grown half so precious for any one of these three men as were the other two, whom the old college had introduced and had bound to him.
The difference in the appearance of the friends was very marked. Thornton had kept his promise of growing up as he had started: short, fat and jovial. Baldness was beginning to show at thirty-five. His stubby mustache was as unmanageable as the masters of St. Wilbur's had found its owner to be. He had never affected anything, for he had always been openly whatever he allowed himself to drift into. Neither of his friends liked many of his actions, nor the stories told of him; but they liked him personally and were inclined to be silently sorry for him, but not to sit in judgment upon him. Both Orville and Callovan waited and hoped for "old Thornton"; but the wait had been long and the hope very much deferred.
Callovan was frankly Irish. The curly black hair of the Milesian spoke for him as clearly as the blue-gray eye. He shaved clean and he looked clean. An ancestry of hard workers left limbs that lifted him to almost six feet of strong manhood. His skin was ruddy and fresh. Two years younger than Thornton, he yet looked younger by five. And Callovan, like Thornton, was inwardly what the outward signs promised.
Orville was tall and straight. The ghost of a black mustache was on his lip. His hair was scanty, and was parted carefully. His dress showed taste, but not fastidiousness. He was handsome, well groomed and particular, without obtrusiveness in any one of the points. He was just a little taller than Callovan; but he was grayer and a great deal more thoughtful. He was a hard book to read, even for an intimate; but the print was large, if the text was puzzling. He looked to be "in" the world, but who could say if he were "of" it?
All three of these friends were very rich. Thornton had made his money within five years—a lucky mining strike, a quick sale, a move to the city, speculation, politics were mixed up in a sort of rapid-fire story that the other friends never cared to hear the details of. Callovan inherited his wealth from his hard-fisted old father, who had died but a year before. Orville was the richest of the three. He had always been rich. His father had died a month before he was born. His mother paid for her only child with her life. Orville's guardian had, as soon as possible, placed him in St. Wilbur's Preparatory School and then in the College; but he was a careful and wise man, this guardian, so, though plenty of money was allowed him, yet the college authorities had charge of it. They doled it out to the growing boy and youth in amounts that could neither spoil nor starve him. It was good for Orville that the guardian had been thus wise and the college authorities thus prudent. He himself was generous and kind-hearted; by nature a spendthrift, but by training just a bit of a miser. He had learned a little about values during these school and college days.
"Your car is not here yet, Mr. Orville," said the doorman, when the three moved to leave the club.
"Very unlike your careful Michael," remarked Callovan.
Orville came at once to the defense of his exemplary chauffeur. "I gave him permission to go to St. Mary's to-night for confession," he said. "Michael will be here in a moment. He goes to confession every Saturday night and is a weekly communicant. I can stand a little tardiness once a week for the sake of having a man like Michael around."
"Good boy is Michael," put in Thornton. "I wish I could get just a small dose of his piety. Candidly, I am awfully lonesome sometimes without a little of it.
A page came running up. "Telephone for you, Mr. Orville," he said; and at almost the same moment the doorman called out: "Your car is here now, sir." Orville went to the telephone booth, but returned in a moment.
"Lucky for us that we waited," he said. "It was Marion who called. She is at the Congress, and she wants me to take her home. She came down-town with her brother to meet the Dixes from Omaha, and that worthless pup has gone off and left her. She knew that I was here to-night, and 'phoned, hoping to catch me. We will pass around by the hotel and take her back with us."
When the friends came out, Michael was standing with his hand on the knob of the big limousine's door. "I am sorry if I made you wait, sir," he said. "I had a fainting spell in the church and could not get away sooner. A doctor said it was a little heart attack; but I am all right now."
Orville answered kindly. "I am sorry you were ill, Michael, but we are glad enough that you were late. That ill wind for you blew good to us, for we have Miss Fayall home with us. If you had been on time we would have missed her. Go around to the Congress first."
The car glided down Michigan avenue to the hotel, where Marion was already waiting in the ladies' lobby. She looked just what she was, the pampered and petted daughter of a rich man. Tonight her cheeks were flushed and her hand was very unsteady. Orville noticed both when she entered the car. He was startled, for Marion was his fiancee. He knew that she was usually full of life and spirit; but this midnight gaiety worried him, and all the more that he loved the girl sincerely.
Marion talked fast and furiously, railing continually at her brother; but she averted her face from Orville as much as possible and spoke to Thornton. Orville said nothing after he had greeted her.
The car sped on, passed the club again and down toward the bridge at the foot of the avenue. Marion was scolding at Thornton as they approached the bridge at a good rate of speed. Orville was staring straight ahead, so only he saw Michael's hand make a quick movement toward the controller, and another movement, at the same time, as if his foot were trying to press on the brake; but both movements seemed to fall short and Michael's head dropped on his breast. Alarmed, Orville looked up. He had a swift glimpse of a flashing red light. A chain snapped like a pistol shot. He heard an oath from Thornton, and a scream from Marion. Then, in an instant, he felt the great weight falling, and a flood of cold water poured through the open window of the car. He tried to open the door, but the weight of water against it made this impossible. The car filled and the door moved. He was pushed out. He thought of saving Marion; but all was dark around him. He tried to call, but the water choked him. He could only think a prayer, before he seemed to be falling asleep. Everything was fading away before him, in a strange feeling of dreamy satisfaction; so only vaguely did he realize the tragedy that had fallen upon him.
When light and vision came back to Orville, he was standing up and vaguely wondering why. Before him he saw Thornton and Marion, side by side. Near them was Callovan with Michael. All were changed; but Orville could not understand just in what the change consisted. In Thornton and Marion the change was not good to look at, and Orville somehow felt that it was becoming more marked as he gazed. Michael was almost transformed, and was looking at Orville with a smile on his face. Callovan was smiling also, so Orville naturally smiled back at them. Thornton was frowning, and Marion looked horrible in her terror. Orville could understand nothing of it. He glanced about him and saw thousands of men and women, all smiling or frowning, like his companions. Several seemed to be about to begin a journey and were moving away from the groups, most of them alone. Some had burdens strapped to their shoulders and bent under them as they walked. Those who were not departing were preparing for departure; but Orville could see no guides about. All the travelers appeared to understand where they were to go.
Orville watched the groups divide again and again, wondering still, not knowing the reason for the division. Some took a road that led upward to a mountain. It was a rough, hard and tiresome road. Orville could see men and women far above on that road, dragging themselves along painfully. Another road led down into a valley; but Orville could not see deep into that valley, because of a haze which hung over it. He looked long at the road before he noticed letters on a rock which rose up like a gateway to it, and he vaguely resolved that later he would go over and read them. But first he wanted to ask questions.
"Michael, what does all this mean?" Orville said; all the time marveling that it was to his servant he turned for information.
Michael still smiled, and answered: "It means, sir, that we are dead."
Orville was astonished that he felt neither shocked nor startled. "Dead? I do not quite understand, Michael. You are not joking?"
"No, sir. It happened quickly. We went over the bridge a minute ago. Our bodies are in the river now, but we are here."
"Where?" asked Orville.
Michael answered, "That I do not know, sir, except that we are in The Land of the Dead."
"But you seem to know a great deal, Michael," said Orville.
"Yes," answered Michael; "I died a minute before you, sir, so I came earlier. I was dead on my seat when we struck the chain and broke it. One learns much in a minute here. But tell me, sir, can you see anything at the top of that mountain?"
Orville looked up and saw a bright light before him on the very summit and seemingly at the end of the road. As he gazed it took the form of a Flaming Cross.
"I see a Cross on fire, Michael," he said. Michael answered simply: "Thank God."
"I can see a Flaming Cross, too," said Callovan, speaking for the first time. "I can see it, and what is more, I am going up to it; let us not delay an instant"; and Callovan began to gird his strange-looking garment about him for the climb.
Then Orville knew that he himself was drawn toward that Flaming Cross. There was a something urging him on. His whole being was filled with a desire to get to that goal, and he, too, prepared quickly for the ascent.
"Wait a moment, sir," said Michael. "Do the others see nothing on the mountain?"
Thornton and Marion, still frowning, were looking down into the haze of the valley. They were paying no attention to their friends.
"Come, let us go," said Thornton to the girl, as he pointed to the road which led down into the valley.
"No, no," said Michael, "not there. Look up at the mountain. What do you see?"
Both Marion and Thornton glanced upward. "I see nothing," said Marion.
"I see a Cross, but it is black and repellant-looking," said Thornton. "Come, Marion, let us go at once."
Orville, alarmed, called out: "Marion, you will surely come with me."
The frown on her face changed to a look of awful sadness, but she put her hand into Thornton's while saying to Orville: "I can not go there with you—not upward. I must enter the valley with him." She moved away, her hand still in Thornton's. Orville watched them go, only wondering why he had no regrets.
"Michael," he said, "I loved her on earth. Why am I unmoved to see her leave me?"
But Michael answered, "It is not strange in The Land of the Dead. There are stranger partings here; but all of them are like yours—tearless for those who see the Cross."
Thornton and Marion by this time had entered the valley road and were on the other side of the rock gateway. But when their feet touched the road they turned and looked their terror. Suddenly they recoiled and struck viciously at each other. Then they parted. With the wide road between them they went down into the valley and the haze together.
Orville read the words on the rock gateway, for now they stood out so that he could see plainly, and they were: "THE ROAD WITHOUT ENDING." "Michael," he said, "what does it mean?"
Michael answered, "She could not see the Cross here, who would not see it on earth. It repelled him, who so often had repelled it in life."
Neither Orville nor Callovan was at all moved by the tragedy each had witnessed. Orville's love for Marion was as if it had never existed. The friendship of both for Thornton did not in the slightest assert itself. They felt moved to sorrow, but the overpowering sense of another feeling—a feeling of victory for some Great Friend or Cause—left the vague sorrow forgotten in an instant. Both men knew that Thornton and Marion had passed out of their ken forever, and in the future would be to them as if they had not been. All three made haste to go toward the road which led up to the Flaming Cross. Then upon Orville's shoulders he felt a heavy burden, but still heavier was one which was bending Callovan down. Michael alone stood straight, without a weight upon him.
"It will be hard to climb to the Cross with these burdens, Michael," said Orville.
"Yes, sir, it will," said Michael, "but you must carry them. You brought them here. They are the burdens of your wealth. They will hamper you; but you saw the Cross, and in the end all will be well."
"Then these burdens, Michael, are our riches?" asked both Orville and Callovan in the same breath.
"They are your riches," replied Michael. "I have no burden, for I had no riches. Poor was I on earth, and unhampered am I now for the climb to the Cross. Look yonder." He pointed to a man standing at the fork of the roads. His burden was weighing him to the earth. "He brought it all with him, sir," continued Michael; "in life he gave nothing to God. Now he must carry the burden up to the Cross, or leave it and go the other road. He sees the Cross, too; but it will take ages for him to reach it."
The man had thrown down the burden and now started to climb without it. But unseen hands lifted it back to his shoulders. Men and women going to the other road beckoned him to throw it away again and come with them; but he had seen the Cross and, keeping his eyes fixed upon it, he crawled along with his burden upon him, inch by inch, up the mountain.
"In life he was good and faithful, but he did not understand that riches were given him to use for a purpose and that he was not, himself, the purpose," said Michael. "It was a miracle of grace that he could see the Cross at all."
"I knew that man in life," said Callovan. "But why is not my burden heavier than his? I was richer by far."
"You lightened it by more charity than he," said Michael, "but you did not lighten it sufficiently: Had you given even one-tenth of all that you had, you would now be even as I am—free of all burden."
"I wish I had known that," said Callovan.
"But, alas! you did know," replied Michael. "We all knew these things. We are not learning them now. But look up, sir, and see the old man with the heavy burden above you. You are going to pass him on your way, yet he has been dead now for a year."
Callovan looked up and gasped: "My father!"
"Yes; your father," said Michael. "You had more charity than he, and when you did give you gave with better motives; yet he always saw the Cross more plainly than you. He was filled with Faith."
"Is it possible that I will be able to help him when I get to his side?" asked Callovan.
"I think," replied Michael, "that you may; but you could have helped him better in life by prayers and the Great Sacrifice. You probably may go along with him, when you reach him, for you both see the Cross, and perhaps you will be allowed to aid him up the mountain."
They had by this time reached the first steps of the climb. Orville could read the words which marked the mountain road: "THE ROAD OF PAIN AND HOPE."
"But the Cross draws much of the pain out of it," said Michael. "We must leave you here, sir," he said to Callovan, turning to him. "You have far to go to reach your father; but your load is heavier than my master's, and then you must be lonely for a while."
"But why must I be lonely?" asked Callovan.
"For many reasons, sir," replied Michael. "You will know them all as you go along. Knowledge will come. I may tell you but a few things now. In life you loved company, and it was often an occasion of sin to you. You go alone for a while in the Land of Death, on this pilgrimage to the Cross, so that you may contemplate God, Whom you failed to enjoy by meditation, when you could have had Him alone. Then you have few to pray for you now, for such companions as you had in life did not and do not pray. They will cover your coffin with flowers; but the only prayers will be those of the poor whom you befriended. One priest, after your funeral, will offer the Great Sacrifice for you. He was a friend whom you helped to educate. He will remember you at your burial, and again, too, before the climb is over."
"But, Michael," said Callovan, "I gave a great deal to many good works. Will none of the gifts count for me?"
"Yes, sir, it is true that you did give much, but," answered Michael, "the gifts were offerings more often to your own vanity than they were to God. Motives alone govern the value of sacrifice in the Land of Death. Look, now, behind you. There is one who can best answer your question."
Callovan turned to see an old and venerable looking man at the fork of the roads. He was gazing anxiously at the mountain, as if he dimly saw the Cross; but his burden was terrific in its weight. It rested on the ground before him. He scarcely had the courage to take the mountain road, knowing that the burden must go with him.
"I have seen that man before," said Orville. "They gave him a reception at our club once. He was a great philanthropist—yet, look at his burden."
"Philanthropist he was, but I fear he will go on The Road without Ending," said Michael. "He has many amongst those who can hate for eternity to hate him."
Suddenly from the multitude of the dead came men and women, who looked with hatred upon the old man, and surrounded him on every side and menaced him with threatening fists. "Beast!" shouted one. "I saw the Cross in life, when I was young. The unbelief your work taught denies me the sight of it in death. I curse you!"
"One year in the schools you founded," wailed another, "lost me my God."
"Why do you stand at the foot of the hill of the Cross, you hypocrite?" cried another. "You have, in the name of a false science, encouraged by your gifts, destroyed the Faith of thousands. You shall not go by The Road of Pain and Hope, even though you might have to climb till Judgment. You shall go with us."
Screaming in terror, the old man was dragged away. They could hear his voice in the distance, as the multitude drove him along The Road without Ending.
"Alas, I understand—now," sadly said Callovan. He gazed at his friends with some of the pain of his coming solitude in his eyes. "Good-bye. Shall we meet again?"
Michael answered: "We shall meet again. Your pain may be very great; but there is an end. He who sets his foot on this Road has a promise which makes even pain a blessing."
Callovan was left behind, for Orville and Michael climbed faster than he.
"Michael," said his master, "I am greatly favored. He was much better in life than I, yet now he climbs alone."
"You are not favored, sir," answered Michael. "Many pray for you, because you loved the poor and sheltered and aided them. He has all that is his, all that belongs to him. You have all that is yours. Do not forget that we are marching toward the Sun of Justice."
And so they went on, over The Road of Pain and Hope. Orville's feet were weary and bleeding. His hands and knees were bruised by falls. The adders stung him and the thorns pierced him. Cold rain chilled him and warm blasts oppressed him. He was one great pain; but within a voice that was his own kept saying: "I go to the Cross, I go to the Cross," and he forgot the suffering. He thought of earth for an instant; but the thought brought him no longing to return. His breast was swelling and seemed bursting with a wonderful great Love that made him content with every tortured step. He even seemed to love the pain; and he could not stop, nor could he rest for the Flaming Cross that was drawing him on. He longed for it with a burning and intense desire. His eyes were wet with the tears of devotion, and his whole being cried out: "More pain, O Lord! more pain, if only I may sooner reach the Cross!"
But Michael tried to ease his master's burden.
At last Orville said to him: "How many ages have passed since I died?"
"You have been dead for ten minutes, sir," answered Michael. "The minutes are as ages in the Land of Death until you reach the Cross, and then the ages are as minutes."
They kept toiling on, but had known no darkness along The Road of Pain and Hope. Orville's hand sought Michael's, and it opened to draw him closer. "Michael, my brother," he said, "may you tell me why there is no night?"
Michael smiled again when Orville called him "brother" and answered: "Because, my master, on The Road of Pain and Hope there is no despair; but it is always night along The Road without Ending."
"Can you tell me, Michael, my brother," said Orville, "Why my eyes suffer more keenly than all the rest?"
"Because," said Michael, "your eyes, master, have offended most in life, and so are now the weakest."
"But my hands have offended, too," said Orville, "and behold, they are already painless and cured of the bruises."
"Your hands are beautiful and white, master," said Michael, "and were little punished, because they were often outstretched in charity and in good deeds."
They had come to the brink of a Chasm which it seemed impossible to cross, but they hoped, for they knew no despair. Multitudes of people were before them on the brink of the Chasm looking longingly at the other side. A few pilgrims were being lifted, by unseen hands, and carried across the Chasm. Some Power there was to bear them which neither Orville nor Michael understood. Many, however, had waited long, while some were taken quickly. Every hand was outstretched toward the Cross, and it could easily be seen that waiting was a torture worse than the bruises.
"Alas, Michael," said Orville, "it is harder to suffer the wait than the pain."
"Yes, master," Michael replied, "but this is The Chasm of Neglected Duties. We must stay until those we have fulfilled may come to bear us across. The one who goes first will await the other on the opposite side."
"Alas, Michael," said Orville, "you must wait for me. I have few good deeds and few duties well done."
Even as he spoke, Michael's face began to shine and his eyes were melting. Orville looked and saw a little child with great wings, and beautiful beyond all dreaming. Her gaze was fixed on Michael with the deepest love and longing. Her voice was like the music of a harp, and she spoke but one little word:
"Bride! My little Bride," whispered Michael.
Orville knew her, Michael's first-born child, who had died in infancy. He remembered her funeral. In pity for poor Michael, and feeling a duty toward his servant, he had followed the coffin to the church and to the grave, and had borne the expenses of her burial. His friends wondered at such consideration for one so far beneath him.
"Daddy," whispered the beautiful spirit, "I am to bring you across, and master, too. God sent me. And, daddy, there are millions of children who could bring their parents over quickly, if they had only let them be born. It was you and mother, daddy, who gave me life, baptism and Heaven. Had I lived only a minute, it would have been worth it. And, daddy, mother is coming soon, and I am waiting for you both."
Then the beautiful child touched and supported them, and lo! they were wafted across The Chasm of Neglected Duties: Michael, because he followed the command and made his marriage a Holy Sacrament to fulfil the law of God; Orville, because he had shown mercy and recognition of his servant's claim upon him.
Without understanding why, Orville found himself repeating over and over again the words: "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy." Michael heard him and turned to say: "Yes, master, and 'Blessed are the clean of heart, for they shall see God'! How well it was for us that we had the heart of a child to plead our cause when we came to The Chasm of Neglected Duties."
"Michael," said Orville, after a long and tiresome climb over a steep part of the Road, "these rocks are sharp and treacherous, and I have toiled hard and have made but very little progress."
"I know, master," said Michael, "but these rocks are the little faults of our lives. Such rocks cover the mountain at this spot and are constantly growing more numerous, yet one meets only one's own. The Plain is not far away now. We are just reaching it, and these stones are the only way to it."
"What Plain is it, Michael?" asked Orville.
"It is called, master," said Michael, "The Plain of Sinful Things. It is between us and the foot of the Cross."
"Is it hard to pass over, Michael?" again asked Orville.
"It is very hard to most men, sir," said Michael. "No one knows how hard who has not been on it; and yet when one has been over, one remembers nothing, for all is forgotten when The Flaming Cross is reached."
They stood now at the top of the stones, and on the edge of the vast Plain, which lay white and scorching before them. Multitudes, as far as the eye could see, were upon it. They struggled painfully along; but none stopped to rest, for all faces were turned to The Flaming Cross.
Michael took but one step and a great change came over him. Orville looked at him again and again, but Michael did not seem to notice the change in himself. His face shone with a marvelous beauty. His garments became robes of brilliant white. About his head a light played, the like of which Orville had never seen. It was more wondrous than dreams of Paradise. His bleeding feet were healed and shone like his visage. Orville thought that he heard sweet voices about Michael, but voices which spoke to Michael only.
"Michael, my brother," he said, "what is this; tell me?" and Orville's voice sounded soft, as if he were praying. "Michael, who are you?"
But Michael only smiled kindly and humbly. "I am none other than your servant, sir," he answered. "He who serves, reigns; for his glory is in the service. I will be with you to the foot of the Cross. In life you were a good master. You will need me until you reach your own Master there." Michael pointed to where the Cross shone out over the blistering Plain.
Then they went on, but the heat penetrated to Orville's very marrow and he seemed to faint under it, yet he always kept struggling forward. The burning sands cooked his bleeding feet, but the anguish did not halt him. Torrents of tears and sweat rolled down from him, but his hunger for the Cross made him forget. To his pain-racked body it felt as if the Cross gave out the great heat, but Orville was more grateful than ever for it.
"Does this heat really come from the Cross, Michael?" he asked.
"Yes, from the Cross, master," said Michael, "for this is The Plain of Sinful Things, and the Cross is the Sun of Justice."
Then like a flash Orville began to understand, even as Michael had understood from the beginning. Michael saw the change in him. His face became more radiant before he spoke.
"Master," he said, "my service is almost over. It was my prayer constantly that I could return your goodness to me and mine; but on earth you were rich and I was poor. Here, master, in The Land of the Dead, I am rich and you are poor. God let me make my pilgrimage with you. The child you buried when I had nothing, bore you over The Chasm of Neglected Duties, where your hardest lot was to be found. You did not even see another Chasm, which almost all meet, The Chasm of Forgotten Things, for the prayers gathered in a little chapel which you builded in a wilderness, a charity you forgot the day after you did it, filled up the Chasm before you came to it. Here on The Plain of Sinful Things we would naturally separate, for I had never wilfully sinned against God. But you needed me, and He let me stay. Master, your burden has fallen from you."
It was true. Orville was standing erect, with his eyes looking straight at The Flaming Cross, which did not blind him. His burden had vanished, and his face had almost the radiance of Michael's.
"The Cross is near you now, master. Look, It comes toward you. Your pilgrimage is ending."
Orville could see It coming, gently and slowly. The Plain was now all behind him, and yet it seemed as if he had scarcely gone over more than a few yards of it. The harping of a thousand harps was not sweet enough for the music that filled the air. Like the falling of many waters in the distance came the promise of coolness to Orville's parched throat and his burning lips. His breast heaved and he felt his heart, full of Love, break in his bosom; but with it broke the bond of Sin, and he knew that he was dead, indeed, to earth, as out from the stained cover came his purified soul.
The Cross was close to him now. With his new spiritual vision he saw that in form it was One like himself, but One with eyes that were soft and mild and full of tenderness, with arms outstretched and nail-prints like glittering gems upon them, with a wounded side and out from it a flood pouring which cooled the parched sands, so that from them the flowers sprang up, full panoplied in color, form and beauty, and sweetly smelling. Around The Flaming Cross fluttered countless wings, and childish voices made melody, soft and harmonious beyond all compare. All else that Orville ever knew vanished before the glance of the Beloved; faces and forms dearest and nearest, old haunts and older affections, all were melted into this One Great Love that is Eternal. The outstretched arms were wrapped around them. The blood from the wounded side washed all their pains from them. On their foreheads fell the Kiss of Peace, and Orville and Michael had come home.
The Vicar-General was dead. With his long, white hair smoothed back, he lay upon a silk pillow, his hands clasped over a chalice upon his breast. He was clad in priestly vestments; and he looked, as he lay in his coffin before the great altar with the candles burning on it, as if he were just ready to arise and begin a new "Introibo" in Heaven. The bells of the church wherein the Vicar-General lay asleep had called his people all the morning in a sad and solemn tolling. The people had come, as sad and solemn as the bells. They were gathered about the bier of their pastor. Priests from far and near had chanted the Office of the Dead; the Requiem Mass was over, and the venerable chief of the diocese, the Bishop himself, stood in cope and mitre, to give the last Absolution.
The Bishop had loved the Vicar-General—had loved him as a brother. For was it not the Vicar-General who had bidden His Lordship welcome, when he came from his distant parish to take up the cares of a diocese. With all the timidity of a stranger, the Bishop had feared; but the Vicar-General guided his steps safely and well. Now the Bishop, gazing at the white, venerable face, remembered—and wept. In the midst of the Absolution, his voice broke. Priests bit their lips, as their eyes filled with hot tears; but the Sisters who taught in the parochial school and their little charges, did not attempt to keep back their sobs. For others than the Bishop loved the Vicar-General.
There was one standing by the coffin, whom neither the Bishop, priests nor people saw. It was the Vicar-General, himself. He still wore his priestly vestments. Was he not a priest forever? His arms were folded and his face was troubled. He knew every one present; but none of them knew that he was so near. He scanned the lines of the Bishop's face and seemed to wonder at his tears. He was quite unmoved by the sorrow around him, did not seem to care at all. Yet in life the Vicar-General had cared much about the feelings of others toward him. His eyes wandered over the great congregation and rested on the children, but without tenderness in them. This, too, was very unlike the Vicar-General. Then the eyes came back and rested on the priestly form in the coffin, and the trouble of them increased.
The Absolution was over and the coffin was closed when the Vicar-General looked up again, and knew that Another Unseen besides himself was present. The Other was looking over the coffin at the Vicar-General; looking steadily, with eyes that searched down deep and with lashes that were very, very still. He wore a long robe of some texture the Vicar-General had never seen in life. It shimmered like silk, shone like gold, and sparkled as if dusted with tiny diamonds. The hair of the Other was long, and fell, bright and beautiful, over his shoulders. His face seemed to shine out of it, like a jewel in a gold setting. His limbs seemed strong and manly in spite of his beardless face. The Vicar-General noticed what seemed like wings behind him; but they were not wings, only something which gave the impression of them. The Vicar-General could not remove his eyes from the Other. Gradually he knew that he was gazing at an Angel, and an Angel who had intimate relation to himself.
The body was borne out of the church. The Angel moved to follow, and the Vicar-General knew that he also had to go. The day was perfect, for it was in the full glory of the summer; but the Vicar-General noticed little of either the day or the gathering. The Angel did not speak, but his eyes said "come": and so the Vicar-General followed—whither, he did not know.
The Vicar-General was not sure that it was even a place to which the Angel led him; but he felt with increasing trouble that he was to be the center of some momentous event. There were people arriving, most of whom the Vicar-General knew—men and women of his flock, to whom he had ministered and many of whom he had seen die. They all smiled at the Vicar-General as they passed, and ranged themselves on one side. The Silent Angel stood very close to the Vicar-General. As the people came near, the priest felt his vestments grow light upon him, as if they were lifting him in the air. They shone very brightly, too, and took on a new beauty. The Vicar-General felt glad that he was wearing them.
The Silent Angel looked at him, but spoke not a word; yet the Vicar-General understood at once, knew that he was to answer at a stern trial, and that these were his witnesses—the souls of the people to whom he ministered, to whom he had broken the Bread of Life. How many there were! They gladdened the Vicar-General's heart. There were his converts, the children he had baptized, his penitents, the pure virgins whose vows he had consecrated to God, the youths whom his example had won to the altar. They were all there. The Vicar-General counted them, and he could not think of a single one missing.
On the other side, witnesses began to arrive and the Vicar-General's look of trouble returned. He felt his priestly vestments becoming heavy. Especially did he feel the weight of the amice, which was like a heavy iron helmet crushed down over his shoulders. The cincture was binding him very tightly. He felt that he could scarcely move for it. The maniple rendered his left arm almost powerless. The stole was pulling at him, and the weight of the chasuble made him very faint.
He knew some of the witnesses, but only a few. He had seen these few before. They were his neglected spiritual children. He remembered each and every case. One was a missed sick-call: his had been the fault. Another was a man driven from the church by a harsh word spoken in anger. The Vicar-General remembered the day when he referred to this man in his sermon and saw him arise in his pew and leave. He did not return. Another was a priest—his own assistant. The Vicar-General had no patience with his weaknesses. From disgust at them his feelings had turned to rancor against the man—and the assistant was lost. The Vicar-General trembled; for these things he had passed by as either justified by reason of the severity necessary to his office, or as wiped out by his virtues—and he had many virtues.
The Vicar-General's eyes sought those of the Silent Angel, and he lost some of his fear, while the weight of his vestments became a little lighter. But the Silent Angel's gaze caused the Vicar-General again to look at the witnesses. Those against him were increasing. The faces of the new-comers he did not know. The Vicar-General felt like protesting that there must be some mistake, for the new-comers were red men, brown men, yellow men and black men, besides white men whose faces were altogether strange. He was sure none of these had ever been in his parish. The new-comers were dressed in the garbs of every nation under the sun. They all alike looked very sternly at the Vicar-General, so that he could not bear their glances. Still he could not understand how he had ever offended against them, nor could he surmise why they should be witnesses to his hurt.
The Silent Angel still stood beside the Vicar-General; but the troubled soul of the priest could find no enlightenment in his eyes. All the while witnesses kept arriving and the multitude of them filled him with a great terror.
At last he saw a face amongst the strangers which he thought familiar, and he began to understand. It was the face of a priest he had known, who had been in the same diocese, somewhat under the Vicar-General's authority. On earth this priest had been one of the quiet kind, without ambition except to serve in a very humble way. He had always been in a parish so poor and small, that the priest himself had in his manner, his bearing, even his clothes, reflected its humility and its poverty. The Vicar-General remembered that the priest had once come to him as a matter of conscience to say that, while he was not complaining, nevertheless he really needed help and counsel. He said that his scattered flock was being lost for the want of things which could not be supplied out of its poverty. He told the Vicar-General what was needed. The Vicar-General remembered that he had agreed with him; but had informed him very gently that it was the policy of the diocese to let each parish maintain and support itself. The Vicar-General had felt justified in refusing his aid, especially since, at that time, he was collecting for a new organ for his own church, one with three banks of keys—the old one had but two. The Vicar-General now knew that his slight feeling of worry at the time was not groundless; but while then he had felt vaguely that he was wrong in his position, now he was certain of error. His eyes sought all through his own witnesses, but they found no likelihood of a testimony in his favor based on the purchase of that grand organ. Then it all came to the Vicar-General, from the eyes of the Silent Angel, that he had received on earth all the reward that was due to him for it.
The presence of the men of all colors and of strange garbs was still a mystery to the Vicar-General; but at last he saw among them a bent old priest with a long beard and a crucifix in his girdle. At once the Vicar-General recognized him and his heart sank. Too well he remembered the poor missionary who had begged for assistance: money, a letter, a recommendation—anything; and had faced the inflexible official for half an hour during his pleading. The Vicar-General had felt at that time, as he felt when his poor diocesan brother had come to him, that there was so much to be done at home, absolutely nothing could be sent out. There was the Orphanage which the Bishop was building and they were just beginning to gather funds for a new Cathedral. The Bishop had acquiesced in the Vicar-General's ruling. The diocese had flourished and had grown strong. The Vicar-General had always been its pride. He was humbled now under the gaze of the Silent Angel, whose eyes told him wherein he had been at fault. He knew that the fault was not in the building of the great and beautiful things, which of themselves were good because they were for God's glory; but rather was it in this: that he had shut out of his heart, for their sakes, the cry of affliction and the call of pleading voices from the near and far begging but for the crumbs which meant to them Faith here and Life hereafter.
Now, O God! there were the red men, the brown men, the yellow men and the black men; not to speak of these white men whose faces were so strange; and they were going to say something—something against him. He could guess—could well guess what it was they would say. The Vicar-General knew that he had been wrong, and that his wrong had come into Eternity. He doubted if it ever could be made right, for he knew now the value of a soul even in a black body. He knew it, but was it too late? His vestments were as heavy as lead.
Trembling in every limb, the Vicar-General looked for his Judge; but he could not see Him. He only felt His Presence. The Silent Angel had a book in his hand. The Vicar-General could read its title. There was a chalice on the cover, as if it spoke of priests, and under it he read:
THE LAW BY WHICH THEY SHALL BE JUDGED.
The Silent Angel opened the book and the Vicar-General saw that it had but one page. Shining out from the page he read:
"THOU ART A PRIEST FOREVER."
And under it:
"GO YE, THEREFORE, AND TEACH ALL NATIONS."
Sorrow was over the soul of the priest. Only the hope in the eyes of the Silent Angel gave him hope, as he bowed his head before the judgment.
THE RESURRECTION OF ALTA
Father Broidy rushed down the stone steps and ran toward the Bishop's carriage which had just stopped at the curb. He flung open the door before the driver could alight, kissed the ring on the hand extended him, helped its owner out and with a beaming face led the Bishop to the pretty and comfortable rectory.
"Welcome! welcome to Alta, Bishop," he said as they entered the house, "and sure the whole Deanery is here to back it up."
The Bishop smiled as the clergy trooped down the stairs echoing the greeting. The Bishop knew them all, and he was happy, for well was he aware that every man meant what he said. No one really ever admired the Bishop, but all loved him, and each had a private reason of his own for it that he never confided to anyone save his nearest crony. They were all here now to witness the resurrection of Alta—the poorest parish in a not too rich Diocese, hopeless three years ago, but now—well, there it is across the lot, that symphony in stone, every line of its chaste gothic a "Te Deum" that even an agnostic could understand and appreciate; every bit of carving the paragraph of a sermon that passers-by, perforce, must hear. To-day it is to be consecrated, the cap-stone is to be set on Father Broidy's Arch of Triumph and the real life of Alta parish to begin.
"I thought you had but sixteen families here," said the Bishop as he watched the crowd stream into the church.
"There were but eighteen, Bishop," the young priest answered, with a happy smile that had considerable self-satisfaction in it. "There are seventy-five now."
"And how did it come about, my lad?" questioned the Bishop.
"Mostly through my mission bringing back some of the 'ought-to-be's,' but I suppose principally because my friend McDermott opened his factory to Catholics. You know, Bishop, that though he was born one of us he had somehow acquired a bitter hatred of the Church, and he never employed Catholics until I brought him around."
There was a shadow of a smile that had meaning to it on the Bishop's face, as he patted the ardent young pastor on the arm, and said:
"Well, God bless him! God bless him! but I suppose we must begin to vest now. Is it not near ten o'clock?"
Father Broidy turned with a little shade of disappointment on his face to the work of preparation, and soon had the procession started toward the church.
Shall I describe the beauty of it all?—the lights and flowers, the swinging censers, with the glory of the chant and the wealth of mystic symbolism which followed the passing of that solemn procession into the sanctuary? That could best be imagined, like the feeling in the heart of the young pastor who adored every line of the building. He had watched the laying of each stone, and could almost count the chips that had jumped from every chisel. There had never been so beautiful a day to him, and never such a ceremony but one—three years ago in the Seminary chapel. He almost forgot it in the glory of the present. Dear me, how well Kaiser did preach! He always knew it, did Father Broidy, that young Kaiser had it in him. He did not envy him a bit of the congratulations. They were a part of Father Broidy's triumph, too. It was small wonder that the Dean whispered to the Bishop on the way back to the rectory:
"You will have to put Broidy at the top of the list now. He has surely won his spurs to-day."
But again the shadow of the meaning smile was on the Bishop's face, and he said nothing; so the Dean looked wise and mysterious as he slapped the young pastor on the back and said:
"Proficiat, God bless you! You have done well, and I am proud of you, but wait and listen." Then his voice dropped to a whisper. "I was talking to the Bishop about you."
The dinner? Well, Anne excelled herself. Is not that enough to say? But perhaps you have never tasted Anne's cooking? Then you surely have heard of it, for all the Diocese knows about it, and everyone said that Broidy was in his usual good luck when Anne left the Dean's and went to keep house for the priest at Alta.
Story followed story, as dish followed dish, and a chance to rub up the wit that had been growing rusty in the country missions for months never passed by unnoticed.
The Dean was toastmaster.
"Right Reverend Bishop and Reverend Fathers," he began, when he had enforced silence with the handle of his fork, "it is my pleasure and pride to be here to-day. Three years ago a young priest was sent to one of the most miserably poor places in the Diocese. What he found you all know. The sorrowful history of the decline of Alta was never a secret record. Eighteen careless families left. Bigotry rampant. Factories closed to Catholics. Church dilapidated. Only the vestry for a dwelling place. That was three years ago, and look around you to-day. See the church, house and school, and built out of what? That is Father Broidy's work and Father Broidy's triumph, but we are glad of it. No man has made such a record in our Diocese before. What have we others done by the side of his extraordinary effort? Yet we are not jealous. We know well the good qualities of soul and body in our young friend, and God bless him. We are pleased to be with him, though completely outclassed. We rejoice in the resurrection of Alta. Let me now call upon our beloved Bishop, whose presence among us is always a joy."
When the applause subsided the Bishop arose, and for an instant stood again with that meaning smile just lighting his face. For that instant he did not utter a word. When he did speak there was a quiver in his voice that age had never planted and in spite of the jokes which had preceded and the laughter which he had led, it sounded like a forerunner of tears. He had never been called eloquent, this kindly-faced and snow-crowned old man, but when he spoke it was always with a gentle dignity, and a depth of sympathy and feeling that compelled attention.
"It is a great satisfaction, my dear Fathers," he began, "to find so many of you here to rejoice with our young friend and his devoted people, and to thus encourage the growth of a priestly life which he has so well begun in Alta. No one glories in his success more than I. No one more warmly than I, his Bishop, tenders congratulations. This is truly a day the Lord has made—this day in Alta. It is a day of joy and gladness for priest and people. Will you pardon an old man if he stems the tide of mirth for an instant? He could not hope to stem it for long. On such an occasion as this it would burst the barriers, leaving what he would show you once more submerged beneath rippling waters and silver-tipped waves of laughter. It seems wrong even to think of the depths where lie the bodies of the dead and the hulks of the wrecked. But the bottom always has its treasure as well as its tragedy. There are both a tragedy and a treasure in the story I will tell you to-day."
"You remember Father Belmond, the first pastor of Alta? Yes! Then let me tell you a story that your generous priestly souls will treasure as it deserves."
The table was strangely silent. Not one of the guests had ever before known the depth of sympathy in the old Bishop till now. Every chord in the nature of each man vibrated to the touch of his words.
"It was ten years ago," went on the Bishop—"ah, how years fly fast to the old!—a friend of college days, a bishop in an Eastern State, wrote me a long letter concerning a young convert he had just ordained. He was a lad of great talents, brilliant and handsome, the son of wealthy parents, who, however, now cast him off, giving him to understand that he would receive nothing from them. The young man was filled with zeal, and he begged the bishop to give him to some missionary diocese wherein he could work in obscurity for the greater glory of God. He was so useful and so brilliant a man that the bishop desired to attach him to his own household and was loath to lose him, but the priest begged hard and was persistent; so the bishop asked me to take him for a few years and give him actual contact with the hardships of life in a pioneer state. Soon, he thought, the young man would be willing to return to his larger field. The bishop, in other words, wanted to test him. I sadly needed priests, so when he came with the oil still wet on his hands, I gave him a place—the worst I had—I gave him Alta. Some of you older men know what it was then. The story of Alta is full of sorrow. I told it to him, but he thanked me and went to his charge. I expected to see him within a week, but I did not see him for a year. Then I sent for him, and with his annual report in my hand I asked him how he lived on the pittance which he had received. He said that it took very little when one was careful and that he lived well enough—but his coat was threadbare and his shoes were sadly patched. There was a brightness in his eyes too, and a flush on his cheek that I did not quite like. I asked him of his work and he told me that he was hopeful—told me of the little repairs he had made, of a soul won back, but in the conversation I actually stole the sad tale of his poverty from him. Yet he made no complaint and went back cheerfully to Alta.
"The next month he came again, but this time he told me of the dire need of aid, not for himself, but for his church. The people, he said, were poor pioneers, and in the comfortless and ugly old church they were losing their grip on religion. The young people were falling away very fast. All around were well ordered and beautiful sectarian churches. He could see the effect, not visible to less interested eyes but very plain to his. He feared that another generation would be lost and he asked me if there was any possibility of securing temporary aid such as the sects had for their building work. I had to tell him that nothing could be done. I told him of the poverty of my own Diocese, and that, while his was a poor place, there were others approaching it. In my heart I knew there was something sadly lacking in our national work for the Church, but I could do nothing myself. He wrote to his own State for help, but the letters were unanswered. Except for the few stipends I could give him and which he devoted to his work, it was impossible to do anything. He was brave and never faltered though the eyes in him shone brighter and in places his coat was worn through. A few days later I received a letter from his bishop asking how he did and saying that he would appoint him to an excellent parish if he would return home willingly. I sent the letter to Alta with a little note of my own, congratulating him on his changed condition. He returned the letter to me with a few lines saying: 'I can not go. If I desert my people here it would be a sin. There are plenty at home for the rich places but you have no one to send here. Please ask the bishop to let me stay. I think it is God's will.' The day I received that letter I heard one of my priests at the Cathedral say: 'How seedy that young Belmond looks! for an Eastern man he is positively sloppy in his dress. He ought to brace up and think of the dignity of his calling. Surely such a man is not calculated to impress himself upon our separated brethren.' And another chimed in: 'I wonder why he left his own diocese?'"
"I heard no more for two years except for the annual report, and now and then a request for a dispensation. I did hear that he was teaching the few children of the parish himself, and every little while I saw an article in some of the papers, unsigned but suspiciously like his style, and I suspected that he was earning a little money with his pen.
"One winter night, returning alone from a visitation of Vinta, the fast train was stalled by a blizzard at the Alta station. I went out on the platform to secure a breath of fresh air, but I had scarcely closed the door when a boy rushed up to me and asked if I were a Catholic priest. When I nodded he said: 'We have been trying to get a priest all day, but the wires are down in the storm. Father Belmond is sick and the doctor says he will die. He told me to look through every train that came in. He was sure I would find some one.' Reaching at once for my grip and coat I rushed to the home of the Pastor. The home was the lean-to vestry of the old log church. In one corner Father Belmond lived; another was given over to the vestments and linens. Everything was spotlessly clean. On a poor bed the priest was tossing, moaning and delirious. Only the boy had attended him in his sickness until the noon of that day when two good old women heard of his condition and came. One of them was at his bedside when I entered. When she saw my collar she lifted her hands in that peculiarly Hibernian gesture that means so much, and said:
"'Sure, God sent you here this night. He has been waiting since noon to die.'
"The sick priest opened his eyes that now had the brightness of death in them and appeared to look through me. He seemed to be very far away. But slowly the eyes told me that he was coming back—back from the shadows; then at last he spoke:
"'You, Bishop? Thank God!'"
"He made his simple confession. I anointed him and brought him Viaticum from the tabernacle in the church. Then the eyes went wild again, and I saw when they opened and looked at me that he had already turned around, and was again walking through the shadows of the Great Valley that ends the Long Road.
"Through the night we three, the old woman, the boy and myself, watched him and listened to his wanderings. Then I learned—old priest and bishop as I was—I learned my lesson. The lips that never spoke a complaint were moved, but not by his will, to go over the story of two terrible years. It was a sad story. It began with his great zeal. He wanted to do so much, but the black discouragement of everything slowly killed his hopes. He saw the Faith going from his people. He saw that they were ceasing to care. The town was then, as it is to-day, McDermott's town, but McDermott had fallen away when his riches came, and some terrible event, a quarrel with a former priest who had attended Alta from a distant point, had left McDermott bitter. He practically drove the pastor from his door. He closed his factory to the priest's people and one by one they left. Only eighteen families stayed. The dying priest counted them over in his dreams, and sobbed as he told of the others who had gone. Then the bigotry that McDermott's faith had kept concealed broke out under the encouragement of McDermott's infidelity. The boys of the town flung insults at the priest as he passed. The people gave little, and that grudgingly. I could almost feel his pain as he told in his delirium how, day after day, he had dragged his frail body to church and on the round of duty. But every now and then, as if the words came naturally to bear him up, he would say:
"'It's for God's sake. I am nothing. It will all come in His own good time.'
"Then I knew the spirit that kept him to his work. He went over his visit to me. How he had hoped, and then how his hopes were dashed to the ground. Oh, dear Lord, had I known what it all meant to that sensitive, saintly nature, I would have sold my ring and cross to give him what he needed. But my words seemed to have broken him and he came home to die. The night of his return he spent before the altar in his log church, and, Saints of Heaven, how he prayed! When I heard his poor, dry lips whisper over the prayer once more I bowed my head on the coverlet and cried as only a child can cry—and I was only a child at that minute in spite of my white hair and wrinkles. He had offered a supreme sacrifice—his life. I gleaned from his prayers that his parents had done him the one favor of keeping up his insurance and that he had made it over to his church. So he wanted to die at his post and piteously begged God to take him. For his death he knew would give Alta a church. He seemed penetrated with the idea that alive he was useless, but that his death meant the resurrection of Alta. When I heard that same expression used so often to-day I lived over again the whole story of that night in the little vestry. All this time he had been picking the coverlet, and his hands seemed, during the pauses, to be holding the paten as if he were gathering up the minute particles from the corporal. At last his hand found mine. He clung to it, and just an instant his eyes looked at me with reason in them. He smiled, and murmured, 'It is all right, now, Bishop.' I heard a sob back of me where the boy stood, and the old woman was praying. He was trying to speak again, and I caught the words, 'God's sake—I am nothing—His good time.' Then he was still, just as the morning sun broke through the windows.