Lord of the World
By Robert Hugh Benson
Public Domain Books
The volor-stage was comparatively empty this afternoon, as the little party of six stepped out on to it from the lift. There was nothing to distinguish these from ordinary travellers. The two Cardinals of Germany and England were wrapped in plain furs, without insignia of any kind; their chaplains stood near them, while the two men-servants hurried forward with the bags to secure a private compartment.
The four kept complete silence, watching the busy movements of the officials on board, staring unseeingly at the sleek, polished monster that lay netted in steel at their feet, and the great folded fins that would presently be cutting the thin air at a hundred and fifty miles an hour.
Then Percy, by a sudden movement, turned from the others, went to the open window that looked over Rome, and leaned there with his elbows on the sill, looking.
It was a strange view before him.
It was darkening now towards sunset, and the sky, primrose-green overhead, deepened to a clear tawny orange above the horizon, with a sanguine line or two at the edge, and beneath that lay the deep evening violet of the city, blotted here and there by the black of cypresses and cut by the thin leafless pinnacles of a poplar grove that aspired without the walls. But right across the picture rose the enormous dome, of an indescribable tint; it was grey, it was violet–it was what the eye chose to make it–and through it, giving its solidity the air of a bubble, shone the southern sky, flushed too with faint orange. It was this that was supreme and dominant; the serrated line of domes, spires and pinnacles, the crowded roofs beneath, in the valley dell’ Inferno, the fairy hills far away–all were but the annexe to this mighty tabernacle of God. Already lights were beginning to shine, as for thirty centuries they had shone; thin straight skeins of smoke were ascending against the darkening sky. The hum of this Mother of cities was beginning to be still, for the keen air kept folks indoors; and the evening peace was descending that closed another day and another year. Beneath in the narrow streets Percy could see tiny figures, hurrying like belated ants; the crack of a whip, the cry of a woman, the wail of a child came up to this immense elevation like details of a murmur from another world. They, too, would soon be quiet, and there would be peace.
A heavy bell beat faintly from far away, and the drowsy city turned to murmur its good-night to the Mother of God. From a thousand towers came the tiny melody, floating across the great air spaces, in a thousand accents, the solemn bass of St. Peter’s, the mellow tenor of the Lateran, the rough cry from some old slum church, the peevish tinkle of convents and chapels–all softened and made mystical in this grave evening air–it was the wedding of delicate sound and clear light. Above, the liquid orange sky; beneath, this sweet, subdued ecstasy of bells.
“_Alma Redemptoris Mater,” whispered Percy, his eyes wet with tears. “_Gentle Mother of the Redeemer–the open door of the sky, star of the sea–have mercy on sinners. The Angel of the Lord announced it to Mary, and she conceived of the Holy Ghost.... Pour, therefore, Lord, Thy grace into our hearts. Let us, who know Christ’s incarnation, rise through passion and cross to the glory of Resurrection–through the same Christ our Lord.”
Another bell clanged sharply close at hand, calling him down to earth, and wrong, and labour and grief; and he turned to see the motionless volor itself one blaze of brilliant internal light, and the two priests following the German Cardinal across the gangway.
It was the rear compartment that the men had taken; and when he had seen that the old man was comfortable, still without a word he passed out again into the central passage to see the last of Rome.
The exit-door had now been snapped, and as Percy stood at the opposite window looking out at the high wall that would presently sink beneath him, throughout the whole of the delicate frame began to run the vibration of the electric engine. There was the murmur of talking somewhere, a heavy step shook the floor, a bell clanged again, twice, and a sweet wind-chord sounded. Again it sounded; the vibration ceased, and the edge of the high wall against the tawny sky on which he had fixed his eyes sank suddenly like a dropped bar, and he staggered a little in his place. A moment later the dome rose again, and itself sank, the city, a fringe of towers and a mass of dark roofs, pricked with light, span like a whirlpool; the jewelled stars themselves sprang this way and that; and with one more long cry the marvellous machine righted itself, beat with its wings, and settled down, with the note of the flying air passing through rising shrillness into vibrant silence, to its long voyage to the north.
Further and further sank the city behind; it was a patch now: greyness on black. The sky seemed to grow more huge and all-containing as the earth relapsed into darkness; it glowed like a vast dome of wonderful glass, darkening even as it glowed; and as Percy dropped his eyes once more round the extreme edge of the car the city was but a line and a bubble–a line and a swelling–a line, and nothingness.
He drew a long breath, and went back to his friends.