Lord of the World
By Robert Hugh Benson
Public Domain Books
“Oh, mother,” said Mabel, kneeling by the bed; “cannot you understand what has happened?”
She had tried desperately to tell the old lady of the extraordinary change that had taken place in the world–and without success. It seemed to her that some great issue depended on it; that it would be piteous if the old woman went out into the dark unconscious of what had come. It was as if a Christian knelt by the death-bed of a Jew on the first Easter Monday. But the old lady lay in her bed, terrified but obdurate.
“Mother,” said the girl, “let me tell you again. Do you not understand that all which Jesus Christ promised has come true, though in another way? The reign of God has really begun; but we know now who God is. You said just now you wanted the Forgiveness of Sins; well, you have that; we all have it, because there is no such thing as sin. There is only Crime. And then Communion. You used to believe that that made you a partaker of God; well, we are all partakers of God, because we are human beings. Don’t you see that Christianity is only one way of saying all that? I dare say it was the only way, for a time; but that is all over now. Oh! and how much better this is! It is true–true. You can see it to be true!”
She paused a moment, forcing herself to look at that piteous old face, the flushed wrinkled cheeks, the writhing knotted hands on the coverlet.
“Look how Christianity has failed–how it has divided people; think of all the cruelties–the Inquisition, the Religious Wars; the separations between husband and wife and parents and children–the disobedience to the State, the treasons. Oh! you cannot believe that these were right. What kind of a God would that be! And then Hell; how could you ever have believed in that?... Oh! mother, don’t believe anything so frightful.... Don’t you understand that that God has gone–that He never existed at all–that it was all a hideous nightmare; and that now we all know at last what the truth is.... Mother! think of what happened last night–how He came–the Man of whom you were so frightened. I told you what He was like–so quiet and strong–how every one was silent–of the–the extraordinary atmosphere, and how six millions of people saw Him. And think what He has done–how He has healed all the old wounds–how the whole world is at peace at last–and of what is going to happen. Oh! mother, give up those horrible old lies; give them up; be brave.”
“The priest, the priest!” moaned the old woman at last.
“Oh! no, no, no–not the priest; he can do nothing. He knows it’s all lies, too!”
“The priest! the priest!” moaned the other again. “He can tell you; he knows the answer.”
Her face was convulsed with effort, and her old fingers fumbled and twisted with the rosary. Mabel grew suddenly frightened, and stood up.
“Oh! mother!” She stooped and kissed her. “There! I won’t say any more now. But just think about it quietly. Don’t be in the least afraid; it is all perfectly right.”
She stood a moment, still looking compassionately down; torn by sympathy and desire. No! it was no use now; she must wait till the next day.
“I’ll look in again presently,” she said, “when you have had dinner. Mother! don’t look like that! Kiss me!”
It was astonishing, she told herself that evening, how any one could be so blind. And what a confession of weakness, too, to call only for the priest! It was ludicrous, absurd! She herself was filled with an extraordinary peace. Even death itself seemed now no longer terrible, for was not death swallowed up in victory? She contrasted the selfish individualism of the Christian, who sobbed and shrank from death, or, at the best, thought of it only as the gate to his own eternal life, with the free altruism of the New Believer who asked no more than that Man should live and grow, that the Spirit of the World should triumph and reveal Himself, while he, the unit, was content to sink back into that reservoir of energy from which he drew his life. At this moment she would have suffered anything, faced death cheerfully–she contemplated even the old woman upstairs with pity–for was it not piteous that death should not bring her to herself and reality?
She was in a quiet whirl of intoxication; it was as if the heavy veil of sense had rolled back at last and shown a sweet, eternal landscape behind–a shadowless land of peace where the lion lay down with the lamb, and the leopard with the kid. There should be war no more: that bloody spectre was dead, and with him the brood of evil that lived in his shadow–superstition, conflict, terror, and unreality. The idols were smashed, and rats had run out; Jehovah was fallen; the wild-eyed dreamer of Galilee was in his grave; the reign of priests was ended. And in their place stood a strange, quiet figure of indomitable power and unruffled tenderness.... He whom she had seen–the Son of Man, the Saviour of the world, as she had called Him just now–He who bore these titles was no longer a monstrous figure, half God and half man, claiming both natures and possessing neither; one who was tempted without temptation, and who conquered without merit, as his followers said. Here was one instead whom she could follow, a god indeed and a man as well–a god because human, and a man because so divine.
She said no more that night. She looked into the bedroom for a few minutes, and saw the old woman asleep. Her old hand lay out on the coverlet, and still between the fingers was twisted the silly string of beads. Mabel went softly across in the shaded light, and tried to detach it; but the wrinkled fingers writhed and closed, and a murmur came from the half-open lips. Ah! how piteous it was, thought the girl, how hopeless that a soul should flow out into such darkness, unwilling to make the supreme, generous surrender, and lay down its life because life itself demanded it!
Then she went to her own room.
The clocks were chiming three, and the grey dawn lay on the walls, when she awoke to find by her bed the woman who had sat with the old lady.
“Come at once, madam; Mrs. Brand is dying.”