Lord of the World
By Robert Hugh Benson
Public Domain Books
Oliver Brand, seated in his little private room at Whitehall, was expecting a visitor. It was already close upon ten o’clock, and at half-past he must be in the House. He had hoped that Mr. Francis, whoever he might be, would not detain him long. Even now, every moment was a respite, for the work had become simply prodigious during the last weeks.
But he was not reprieved for more than a minute, for the last boom from the Victoria Tower had scarcely ceased to throb when the door opened and a clerkly voice uttered the name he was expecting.
Oliver shot one quick look at the stranger, at his drooping lids and down-turned mouth, summed him up fairly and accurately in the moments during which they seated themselves, and went briskly to business.
“At twenty-five minutes past, sir, I must leave this room,” he said. “Until then–-” he made a little gesture.
Mr. Francis reassured him.
“Thank you, Mr. Brand–that is ample time. Then, if you will excuse me–-” He groped in his breast-pocket, and drew out a long envelope.
“I will leave this with you,” he said, “when I go. It sets out our desires at length and our names. And this is what I have to say, sir.”
He sat back, crossed his legs, and went on, with a touch of eagerness in his voice.
“I am a kind of deputation, as you know,” he said. “We have something both to ask and to offer. I am chosen because it was my own idea. First, may I ask a question?”
“I wish to ask nothing that I ought not. But I believe it is practically certain, is it not?–that Divine Worship is to be restored throughout the kingdom?”
“I suppose so,” he said. “The bill has been read for the third time, and, as you know, the President is to speak upon it this evening.”
“He will not veto it?”
“We suppose not. He has assented to it in Germany.”
“Just so,” said Mr. Francis. “And if he assents here, I suppose it will become law immediately.”
Oliver leaned over this table, and drew out the green paper that contained the Bill.
“You have this, of course–-” he said. “Well, it becomes law at once; and the first feast will be observed on the first of October. ’Paternity,’ is it not? Yes, Paternity.”
“There will be something of a rush then,” said the other eagerly. “Why, that is only a week hence.”
“I have not charge of this department,” said Oliver, laying back the Bill. “But I understand that the ritual will be that already in use in Germany. There is no reason why we should be peculiar.”
“And the Abbey will be used?”
“Well, sir,” said Mr. Francis, “of course I know the Government Commission has studied it all very closely, and no doubt has its own plans. But it appears to me that they will want all the experience they can get.”
“Well, Mr. Brand, the society which I represent consists entirely of men who were once Catholic priests. We number about two hundred in London. I will leave a pamphlet with you, if I may, stating our objects, our constitution, and so on. It seemed to us that here was a matter in which our past experience might be of service to the Government. Catholic ceremonies, as you know, are very intricate, and some of us studied them very deeply in old days. We used to say that Masters of Ceremonies were born, not made, and we have a fair number of those amongst us. But indeed every priest is something of a ceremonialist.”
“Yes, Mr. Francis?”
“I am sure the Government realises the immense importance of all going smoothly. If Divine Service was at all grotesque or disorderly, it would largely defeat its own object. So I have been deputed to see you, Mr. Brand, and to suggest to you that here is a body of men–reckon it as at least twenty-five–who have had special experience in this kind of thing, and are perfectly ready to put themselves at the disposal of the Government.”
Oliver could not resist a faint flicker of a smile at the corner of his mouth. It was a very grim bit of irony, he thought, but it seemed sensible enough.
“I quite understand, Mr. Francis. It seems a very reasonable suggestion. But I do not think I am the proper person. Mr. Snowford–-”
“Yes, yes, sir, I know. But your speech the other day inspired us all. You said exactly what was in all our hearts–that the world could not live without worship; and that now that God was found at last–-”
Oliver waved his hand. He hated even a touch of flattery.
“It is very good of you, Mr. Francis. I will certainly speak to Mr. Snowford. I understand that you offer yourselves as–as Masters of Ceremonies–?”
“Yes, sir; and sacristans. I have studied the German ritual very carefully; it is more elaborate than I had thought it. It will need a good deal of adroitness. I imagine that you will want at least a dozen Ceremoniarii in the Abbey; and a dozen more in the vestries will scarcely be too much.”
Oliver nodded abruptly, looking curiously at the eager pathetic face of the man opposite him; yet it had something, too, of that mask-like priestly look that he had seen before in others like him. This was evidently a devotee.
“You are all Masons, of course?” he said.
“Why, of course, Mr. Brand.”
“Very good. I will speak to Mr. Snowford to-day if I can catch him.”
He glanced at the clock. There were yet three or four minutes.
“You have seen the new appointment in Rome, sir,” went on Mr. Francis.
Oliver shook his head. He was not particularly interested in Rome just now.
“Cardinal Martin is dead–he died on Tuesday–and his place is already filled.”
“Yes–the new man was once a friend of mine–Franklin, his name is–Percy Franklin.”
“What is the matter, Mr. Brand? Did you know him?”
Oliver was eyeing him darkly, a little pale.
“Yes; I knew him,” he said quietly. “At least, I think so.”
“He was at Westminster until a month or two ago.”
“Yes, yes,” said Oliver, still looking at him. “And you knew him, Mr. Francis?”
“I knew him–yes.”
“Ah!–well, I should like to have a talk some day about him.”
He broke off. It yet wanted a minute to his time.
“And that is all?” he asked.
“That is all my actual business, sir,” answered the other. “But I hope you will allow me to say how much we all appreciate what you have done, Mr. Brand. I do not think it is possible for any, except ourselves, to understand what the loss of worship means to us. It was very strange at first–-”
His voice trembled a little, and he stopped. Oliver felt interested, and checked himself in his movement to rise.
“Yes, Mr. Francis?”
The melancholy brown eyes turned on him full.
“It was an illusion, of course, sir–we know that. But I, at any rate, dare to hope that it was not all wasted–all our aspirations and penitence and praise. We mistook our God, but none the less it reached Him–it found its way to the Spirit of the World. It taught us that the individual was nothing, and that He was all. And now–-”
“Yes, sir,” said the other softly. He was really touched.
The sad brown eyes opened full.
“And now Mr. Felsenburgh is come.” He swallowed in his throat. “Julian Felsenburgh!” There was a world of sudden passion in his gentle voice, and Oliver’s own heart responded.
“I know, sir,” he said; “I know all that you mean.”
“Oh! to have a Saviour at last!” cried Francis. “One that can be seen and handled and praised to His Face! It is like a dream–too good to be true!”
Oliver glanced at the clock, and rose abruptly, holding out his hand.
“Forgive me, sir. I must not stay. You have touched me very deeply.... I will speak to Snowford. Your address is here, I understand?”
He pointed to the papers.
“Yes, Mr. Brand. There is one more question.”
“I must not stay, sir,” said Oliver, shaking his head.
“One instant–is it true that this worship will be compulsory?”
Oliver bowed as he gathered up his papers.