Lord of the World
By Robert Hugh Benson
Public Domain Books
What Mabel saw and heard and felt from eleven o’clock to half-an-hour after noon on that first morning of the New Year she could never adequately remember. For the time she lost the continuous consciousness of self, the power of reflection, for she was still weak from her struggle; there was no longer in her the process by which events are stored, labelled and recorded; she was no more than a being who observed as it were in one long act, across which considerations played at uncertain intervals. Eyes and ear seemed her sole functions, communicating direct with a burning heart.
She did not even know at what point her senses told her that this was Felsenburgh. She seemed to have known it even before he entered, and she watched Him as in complete silence He came deliberately up the red carpet, superbly alone, rising a step or two at the entrance of the choir, passing on and up before her. He was in his English judicial dress of scarlet and black, but she scarcely noticed it. For her, too, no one else existed but, He; this vast assemblage was gone, poised and transfigured in one vibrating atmosphere of an immense human emotion. There was no one, anywhere, but Julian Felsenburgh. Peace and light burned like a glory about Him.
For an instant after passing he disappeared beyond the speaker’s tribune, and the instant after reappeared once more, coming up the steps. He reached his place–she could see His profile beneath her and slightly to the left, pure and keen as the blade of a knife, beneath His white hair. He lifted one white-furred sleeve, made a single motion, and with a surge and a rumble, the ten thousand were seated. He motioned again and with a roar they were on their feet.
Again there was a silence. He stood now, perfectly still, His hands laid together on the rail, and His face looking steadily before Him; it seemed as if He who had drawn all eyes and stilled all sounds were waiting until His domination were complete, and there was but one will, one desire, and that beneath His hand. Then He began to speak....
In this again, as Mabel perceived afterwards, there was no precise or verbal record within her of what he said; there was no conscious process by which she received, tested, or approved what she heard. The nearest image under which she could afterwards describe her emotions to herself, was that when He spoke it was she who was speaking. Her own thoughts, her predispositions, her griefs, her disappointment, her passion, her hopes–all these interior acts of the soul known scarcely even to herself, down even, it seemed, to the minutest whorls and eddies of thought, were, by this man, lifted up, cleansed, kindled, satisfied and proclaimed. For the first time in her life she became perfectly aware of what human nature meant; for it was her own heart that passed out upon the air, borne on that immense voice. Again, as once before for a few moments in Paul’s House, it seemed that creation, groaning so long, had spoken articulate words at last–had come to growth and coherent thought and perfect speech. Yet then He had spoken to men; now it was Man Himself speaking. It was not one man who spoke there, it was Man–Man conscious of his origin, his destiny, and his pilgrimage between, Man sane again after a night of madness–knowing his strength, declaring his law, lamenting in a voice as eloquent as stringed instruments his own failure to correspond. It was a soliloquy rather than an oration. Rome had fallen, English and Italian streets had run with blood, smoke and flame had gone up to heaven, because man had for an instant sunk back to the tiger. Yet it was done, cried the great voice, and there was no repentance; it was done, and ages hence man must still do penance and flush scarlet with shame to remember that once he turned his back on the risen light.
There was no appeal to the lurid, no picture of the tumbling palaces, the running figures, the coughing explosions, the shaking of the earth and the dying of the doomed. It was rather with those hot hearts shouting in the English and German streets, or aloft in the winter air of Italy, the ugly passions that warred there, as the volors rocked at their stations, generating and fulfilling revenge, paying back plot with plot, and violence with violence. For there, cried the voice, was man as he had been, fallen in an instant to the cruel old ages before he had learned what he was and why.
There was no repentance, said the voice again, but there was something better; and as the hard, stinging tones melted, the girl’s dry eyes of shame filled in an instant with tears. There was something better–the knowledge of what crimes man was yet capable of, and the will to use that knowledge. Rome was gone, and it was a lamentable shame; Rome was gone, and the air was the sweeter for it; and then in an instant, like the soar of a bird, He was up and away–away from the horrid gulf where He had looked just now, from the fragments of charred bodies, and tumbled houses and all the signs of man’s disgrace, to the pure air and sunlight to which man must once more set his face. Yet He bore with Him in that wonderful flight the dew of tears and the aroma of earth. He had not spared words with which to lash and whip the naked human heart, and He did not spare words to lift up the bleeding, shrinking thing, and comfort it with the divine vision of love....
Historically speaking, it was about forty minutes before He turned to the shrouded image behind the altar.
“Oh! Maternity!” he cried. “Mother of us all–-”
And then, to those who heard Him, the supreme miracle took place.... For it seemed now in an instant that it was no longer man who spoke, but One who stood upon the stage of the superhuman. The curtain ripped back, as one who stood by it tore, panting, at the strings; and there, it seemed, face to face stood the Mother above the altar, huge, white and protective, and the Child, one passionate incarnation of love, crying to her from the tribune.
“Oh! Mother of us all, and Mother of Me!”
So He praised her to her face, that sublime principle of life, declared her glories and her strength, her Immaculate Motherhood, her seven swords of anguish driven through her heart by the passion and the follies of her Son–He promised her great things, the recognition of her countless children, the love and service of the unborn, the welcome of those yet quickening within the womb. He named her the Wisdom of the Most High, that sweetly orders all things, the Gate of Heaven, House of Ivory, Comforter of the afflicted, Queen of the World; and, to the delirious eyes of those who looked on her it seemed that the grave face smiled to hear Him....
A great panting as of some monstrous life began to fill the air as the mob swayed behind Him, and the torrential voice poured on. Waves of emotion swept up and down; there were cries and sobs, the yelping of a man beside himself at last, from somewhere among the crowded seats, the crash of a bench, and another and another, and the gangways were full, for He no longer held them passive to listen; He was rousing them to some supreme act. The tide crawled nearer, and the faces stared no longer at the Son but the Mother; the girl in the gallery tore at the heavy railing, and sank down sobbing upon her knees. And above all the voice pealed on–and the thin hands blanched to whiteness strained from the wide and sumptuous sleeves as if to reach across the sanctuary itself.
It was a new tale He was telling now, and all to her glory. He was from the East, now they knew, come from some triumph. He had been hailed as King, adored as Divine, as was meet and right–He, the humble superhuman son of a Human Mother–who bore not a sword but peace, not a cross but a crown. So it seemed He was saying; yet no man there knew whether He said it or not–whether the voice proclaimed it, or their hearts asserted it. He was on the steps of the sanctuary now, still with outstretched hands and pouring words, and the mob rolled after him to the rumble of ten thousand feet and the sighing of ten thousand hearts.... He was at the altar; He was upon it. Again in one last cry, as the crowd broke against the steps beneath, He hailed her Queen and Mother.
The end came in a moment, swift and inevitable. And for an instant, before the girl in the gallery sank down, blind with tears, she saw the tiny figure poised there at the knees of the huge image, beneath the expectant hands, silent and transfigured in the blaze of light. The Mother, it seemed, had found her Son at last.
For an instant she saw it, the soaring columns, the gilding and the colours, the swaying heads, the tossing hands. It was a sea that heaved before her, lights went up and down, the rose window whirled overhead, presences filled the air, heaven flashed away, and the earth shook it ecstasy. Then in the heavenly light, to the crash of drums, above the screaming of the women and the battering of feet, in one thunder-peal of worship ten thousand voices hailed Him Lord and God.