The Three Cities Trilogy: Rome, Volume 3

Produced by Dagny []
and David Widger []








On the following day as Pierre, after a long ramble, once more found
himself in front of the Vatican, whither a harassing attraction ever led
him, he again encountered Monsignor Nani. It was a Wednesday evening, and
the Assessor of the Holy Office had just come from his weekly audience
with the Pope, whom he had acquainted with the proceedings of the
Congregation at its meeting that morning. “What a fortunate chance, my
dear sir,” said he; “I was thinking of you. Would you like to see his
Holiness in public while you are waiting for a private audience?”

Nani had put on his pleasant expression of smiling civility, beneath
which one would barely detect the faint irony of a superior man who knew
everything, prepared everything, and could do everything.

“Why, yes, Monsignor,” Pierre replied, somewhat astonished by the
abruptness of the offer. “Anything of a nature to divert one’s mind is
welcome when one loses one’s time in waiting.”

“No, no, you are not losing your time,” replied the prelate. “You are
looking round you, reflecting, and enlightening yourself. Well, this is
the point. You are doubtless aware that the great international
pilgrimage of the Peter’s Pence Fund will arrive in Rome on Friday, and
be received on Saturday by his Holiness. On Sunday, moreover, the Holy
Father will celebrate mass at the Basilica. Well, I have a few cards
left, and here are some very good places for both ceremonies.” So saying
he produced an elegant little pocketbook bearing a gilt monogram and
handed Pierre two cards, one green and the other pink. “If you only knew
how people fight for them,” he resumed. “You remember that I told you of
two French ladies who are consumed by a desire to see his Holiness. Well,
I did not like to support their request for an audience in too pressing a
way, and they have had to content themselves with cards like these. The
fact is, the Holy Father is somewhat fatigued at the present time. I
found him looking yellow and feverish just now. But he has so much
courage; he nowadays only lives by force of soul.” Then Nani’s smile came
back with its almost imperceptible touch of derision as he resumed:
“Impatient ones ought to find a great example in him, my dear son. I
heard that Monsignor Gamba del Zoppo had been unable to help you. But you
must not be too much distressed on that account. This long delay is
assuredly a grace of Providence in order that you may instruct yourself
and come to understand certain things which you French priests do not,
unfortunately, realise when you arrive in Rome. And perhaps it will
prevent you from making certain mistakes. Come, calm yourself, and
remember that the course of events is in the hands of God, who, in His
sovereign wisdom, fixes the hour for all things.”

Thereupon Nani offered Pierre his plump, supple, shapely hand, a hand
soft like a woman’s but with the grasp of a vice. And afterwards he
climbed into his carriage, which was waiting for him.

It so happened that the letter which Pierre had received from Viscount
Philibert de la Choue was a long cry of spite and despair in connection
with the great international pilgrimage of the Peter’s Pence Fund. The
Viscount wrote from his bed, to which he was confined by a very severe
attack of gout, and his grief at being unable to come to Rome was the
greater as the President of the Committee, who would naturally present
the pilgrims to the Pope, happened to be Baron de Fouras, one of his most
bitter adversaries of the old conservative, Catholic party. M. de la
Choue felt certain that the Baron would profit by his opportunity to win
the Pope over to the theory of free corporations; whereas he, the
Viscount, believed that the salvation of Catholicism and the world could
only be worked by a system in which the corporations should be closed and
obligatory. And so he urged Pierre to exert himself with such cardinals
as were favourable, to secure an audience with the Holy Father whatever
the obstacles, and to remain in Rome until he should have secured the
Pontiff’s approbation, which alone could decide the victory. The letter
further mentioned that the pilgrimage would be made up of a number of
groups headed by bishops and other ecclesiastical dignitaries, and would
comprise three thousand people from France, Belgium, Spain, Austria, and
even Germany. Two thousand of these would come from France alone. An
international committee had assembled in Paris to organise everything and
select the pilgrims, which last had proved a delicate task, as a
representative gathering had been desired, a commingling of members of
the aristocracy, sisterhood of middle-class ladies, and associations of
the working classes, among whom all social differences would be forgotten
in the union of a common faith. And the Viscount added that the
pilgrimage would bring the Pope a large sum of money, and had settled the
date of its arrival in the Eternal City in such wise that it would figure
as a solemn protest of the Catholic world against the festivities of
September 20, by which the Quirinal had just celebrated the anniversary
of the occupation of Rome.

The reception of the pilgrimage being fixed for noon, Pierre in all
simplicity thought that he would be sufficiently early if he reached St.
Peter’s at eleven. The function was to take place in the Hall of
Beatifications, which is a large and handsome apartment over the portico,
and has been arranged as a chapel since 1890. One of its windows opens on
to the central balcony, whence the popes formerly blessed the people, the
city, and the world. To reach the apartment you pass through two other
halls of audience, the Sala Regia and Sala Ducale, and when Pierre wished
to gain the place to which his green card entitled him he found both
those rooms so extremely crowded that he could only elbow his way forward
with the greatest difficulty. For an hour already the three or four
thousand people assembled there had been stifling, full of growing
emotion and feverishness. At last the young priest managed to reach the
threshold of the third hall, but was so discouraged at sight of the
extraordinary multitude of heads before him that he did not attempt to go
any further.

The apartment, which he could survey at a glance by rising on tip-toe,
appeared to him to be very rich of aspect, with walls gilded and painted
under a severe and lofty ceiling. On a low platform, where the altar
usually stood, facing the entry, the pontifical throne had now been set:
a large arm-chair upholstered in red velvet with glittering golden back
and arms; whilst the hangings of the /baldacchino/, also of red velvet,
fell behind and spread out on either side like a pair of huge purple
wings. However, what more particularly interested Pierre was the wildly
passionate concourse of people whose hearts he could almost hear beating
and whose eyes sought to beguile their feverish impatience by
contemplating and adoring the empty throne. As if it had been some golden
monstrance which the Divinity in person would soon deign to occupy, that
throne dazzled them, disturbed them, filled them all with devout rapture.
Among the throng were workmen rigged out in their Sunday best, with clear
childish eyes and rough ecstatic faces; ladies of the upper classes
wearing black, as the regulations required, and looking intensely pale
from the sacred awe which mingled with their excessive desire; and
gentlemen in evening dress, who appeared quite glorious, inflated with
the conviction that they were saving both the Church and the nations. One
cluster of dress-coats assembled near the throne, was particularly
noticeable; it comprised the members of the International Committee,
headed by Baron de Fouras, a very tall, stout, fair man of fifty, who
bestirred and exerted himself and issued orders like some commander on
the morning of a decisive victory. Then, amidst the general mass of grey,
neutral hue, there gleamed the violet silk of some bishop’s cassock, for
each pastor had desired to remain with his flock; whilst members of
various religious orders, superiors in brown, black, and white habits,
rose up above all others with lofty bearded or shaven heads. Right and
left drooped banners which associations and congregations had brought to
present to the Pope. And the sea of pilgrims ever waved and surged with a
growing clamour: so much impatient love being exhaled by those perspiring
faces, burning eyes, and hungry mouths that the atmosphere, reeking with
the odour of the throng, seemed thickened and darkened.

All at once, however, Pierre perceived Monsignor Nani standing near the
throne and beckoning him to approach; and although the young priest
replied by a modest gesture, implying that he preferred to remain where
he was, the prelate insisted and even sent an usher to make way for him.
Directly the usher had led him forward, Nani inquired: “Why did you not
come to take your place? Your card entitled you to be here, on the left
of the throne.”

“The truth is,” answered the priest, “I did not like to disturb so many
people. Besides, this is an undue honour for me.”

“No, no; I gave you that place in order that you should occupy it. I want
you to be in the first rank, so that you may see everything of the

Pierre could not do otherwise than thank him. Then, on looking round, he
saw that several cardinals and many other prelates were likewise waiting
on either side of the throne. But it was in vain that he sought Cardinal
Boccanera, who only came to St. Peter’s and the Vatican on the days when
his functions required his presence there. However, he recognised
Cardinal Sanguinetti, who, broad and sturdy and red of face, was talking
in a loud voice to Baron de Fouras. And Nani, with his obliging air,
stepped up again to point out two other Eminences who were high and
mighty personages—the Cardinal Vicar, a short, fat man, with a feverish
countenance scorched by ambition, and the Cardinal Secretary, who was
robust and bony, fashioned as with a hatchet, suggesting a romantic type
of Sicilian bandit, who, to other courses, had preferred the discreet,
smiling diplomacy of the Church. A few steps further on, and quite alone,
the Grand Penitentiary, silent and seemingly suffering, showed his grey,
lean, ascetic profile.

Noon had struck. There was a false alert, a burst of emotion, which swept
in like a wave from the other halls. But it was merely the ushers opening
a passage for the /cortege/. Then, all at once, acclamations arose in the
first hall, gathered volume, and drew nearer. This time it was the
/cortege/ itself. First came a detachment of the Swiss Guard in undress,
headed by a sergeant; then a party of chair-bearers in red; and next the
domestic prelates, including the four /Camerieri segreti partecipanti/.
And finally, between two rows of Noble Guards, in semi-gala uniforms,
walked the Holy Father, alone, smiling a pale smile, and slowly blessing
the pilgrims on either hand. In his wake the clamour which had risen in
the other apartments swept into the Hall of Beatifications with the
violence of delirious love; and, under his slender, white, benedictive
hand, all those distracted creatures fell upon both knees, nought
remaining but the prostration of a devout multitude, overwhelmed, as it
were, by the apparition of its god.

Quivering, carried away, Pierre had knelt like the others. Ah! that
omnipotence, that irresistible contagion of faith, of the redoubtable
current from the spheres beyond, increased tenfold by a /scenario/ and a
pomp of sovereign grandeur! Profound silence fell when Leo XIII was
seated on the throne surrounded by the cardinals and his court; and then
the ceremony proceeded according to rite and usage. First a bishop spoke,
kneeling and laying the homage of the faithful of all Christendom at his
Holiness’s feet. The President of the Committee, Baron de Fouras,
followed, remaining erect whilst he read a long address in which he
introduced the pilgrimage and explained its motive, investing it with all
the gravity of a political and religious protest. This stout man had a
shrill and piercing voice, and his words jarred like the grating of a
gimlet as he proclaimed the grief of the Catholic world at the spoliation
which the Holy See had endured for a quarter of a century, and the desire
of all the nations there represented by the pilgrims to console the
supreme and venerated Head of the Church by bringing him the offerings of
rich and poor, even to the mites of the humblest, in order that the
Papacy might retain the pride of independence and be able to treat its
enemies with contempt. And he also spoke of France, deplored her errors,
predicted her return to healthy traditions, and gave it to be understood
that she remained in spite of everything the most opulent and generous of
the Christian nations, the donor whose gold and presents flowed into Rome
in a never ending stream. At last Leo XIII arose to reply to the bishop
and the baron. His voice was full, with a strong nasal twang, and
surprised one coming from a man so slight of build. In a few sentences he
expressed his gratitude, saying how touched he was by the devotion of the
nations to the Holy See. Although the times might be bad, the final
triumph could not be delayed much longer. There were evident signs that
mankind was returning to faith, and that iniquity would soon cease under
the universal dominion of the Christ. As for France, was she not the
eldest daughter of the Church, and had she not given too many proofs of
her affection for the Holy See for the latter ever to cease loving her?
Then, raising his arm, he bestowed on all the pilgrims present, on the
societies and enterprises they represented, on their families and
friends, on France, on all the nations of the Catholic world, his
apostolic benediction, in gratitude for the precious help which they sent
him. And whilst he was again seating himself applause burst forth,
frantic salvoes of applause lasting for ten minutes and mingling with
vivats and inarticulate cries—a passionate, tempestuous outburst, which
made the very building shake.

Amidst this blast of frantic adoration Pierre gazed at Leo XIII, now
again motionless on his throne. With the papal cap on his head and the
red cape edged with ermine about his shoulders, he retained in his long
white cassock the rigid, sacerdotal attitude of an idol venerated by two
hundred and fifty millions of Christians. Against the purple background
of the hangings of the /baldacchino/, between the wing-like drapery on
either side, enclosing, as it were, a brasier of glory, he assumed real
majesty of aspect. He was no longer the feeble old man with the slow,
jerky walk and the slender, scraggy neck of a poor ailing bird. The
simious ugliness of his face, the largeness of his nose, the long slit of
his mouth, the hugeness of his ears, the conflicting jumble of his
withered features disappeared. In that waxen countenance you only
distinguished the admirable, dark, deep eyes, beaming with eternal youth,
with extraordinary intelligence and penetration. And then there was a
resolute bracing of his entire person, a consciousness of the eternity
which he represented, a regal nobility, born of the very circumstance
that he was now but a mere breath, a soul set in so pellucid a body of
ivory that it became visible as though it were already freed from the
bonds of earth. And Pierre realised what such a man—the Sovereign
Pontiff, the king obeyed by two hundred and fifty millions of
subjects—must be for the devout and dolent creatures who came to adore
him from so far, and who fell at his feet awestruck by the splendour of
the powers incarnate in him. Behind him, amidst the purple of the
hangings, what a gleam was suddenly afforded of the spheres beyond, what
an Infinite of ideality and blinding glory! So many centuries of history
from the Apostle Peter downward, so much strength and genius, so many
struggles and triumphs to be summed up in one being, the Elect, the
Unique, the Superhuman! And what a miracle, incessantly renewed, was that
of Heaven deigning to descend into human flesh, of the Deity fixing His
abode in His chosen servant, whom He consecrated above and beyond all
others, endowing him with all power and all science! What sacred
perturbation, what emotion fraught with distracted love might one not
feel at the thought of the Deity being ever there in the depths of that
man’s eyes, speaking with his voice and emanating from his hand each time
that he raised it to bless! Could one imagine the exorbitant absoluteness
of that sovereign who was infallible, who disposed of the totality of
authority in this world and of salvation in the next! At all events, how
well one understood that souls consumed by a craving for faith should fly
towards him, that those who at last found the certainty they had so
ardently sought should seek annihilation in him, the consolation of
self-bestowal and disappearance within the Deity Himself.

Meantime, the ceremony was drawing to an end; Baron de Fouras was now
presenting the members of the committee and a few other persons of
importance. There was a slow procession with trembling genuflections and
much greedy kissing of the papal ring and slipper. Then the banners were
offered, and Pierre felt a pang on seeing that the finest and richest of
them was one of Lourdes, an offering no doubt from the Fathers of the
Immaculate Conception. On one side of the white, gold-bordered silk Our
Lady of Lourdes was painted, while on the other appeared a portrait of
Leo XIII. Pierre saw the Pope smile at the presentment of himself, and
was greatly grieved thereat, as though, indeed, his whole dream of an
intellectual, evangelical Pope, disentangled from all low superstition,
were crumbling away. And just then his eyes met those of Nani, who from
the outset had been watching him with the inquisitive air of a man who is
making an experiment.

“That banner is superb, isn’t it?” said Nani, drawing near. “How it must
please his Holiness to be so nicely painted in company with so pretty a
virgin.” And as the young priest, turning pale, did not reply, the
prelate added, with an air of devout enjoyment: “We are very fond of
Lourdes in Rome; that story of Bernadette is so delightful.”

However, the scene which followed was so extraordinary that for a long
time Pierre remained overcome by it. He had beheld never-to-be-forgotten
idolatry at Lourdes, incidents of naive faith and frantic religious
passion which yet made him quiver with alarm and grief. But the crowds
rushing on the grotto, the sick dying of divine love before the Virgin’s
statue, the multitudes delirious with the contagion of the
miraculous—nothing of all that gave an idea of the blast of madness
which suddenly inflamed the pilgrims at the feet of the Pope. Some
bishops, superiors of religious orders, and other delegates of various
kinds had stepped forward to deposit near the throne the offerings which
they brought from the whole Catholic world, the universal “collection” of
St. Peter’s Pence. It was the voluntary tribute of the nations to their
sovereign: silver, gold, and bank notes in purses, bags, and cases.
Ladies came and fell on their knees to offer silk and velvet alms-bags
which they themselves had embroidered. Others had caused the note cases
which they tendered to be adorned with the monogram of Leo XIII in
diamonds. And at one moment the enthusiasm became so intense that several
women stripped themselves of their adornments, flung their own purses on
to the platform, and emptied their pockets even to the very coppers they
had about them. One lady, tall and slender, very beautiful and very dark,
wrenched her watch from about her neck, pulled off her rings, and threw
everything upon the carpet. Had it been possible, they would have torn
away their flesh to pluck out their love-burnt hearts and fling them
likewise to the demi-god. They would even have flung themselves, have
given themselves without reserve. It was a rain of presents, an explosion
of the passion which impels one to strip oneself for the object of one’s
cult, happy at having nothing of one’s own that shall not belong to him.
And meantime the clamour grew, vivats and shrill cries of adoration arose
amidst pushing and jostling of increased violence, one and all yielding
to the irresistible desire to kiss the idol!

But a signal was given, and Leo XIII made haste to quit the throne and
take his place in the /cortege/ in order to return to his apartments. The
Swiss Guards energetically thrust back the throng, seeking to open a way
through the three halls. But at sight of his Holiness’s departure a
lamentation of despair arose and spread, as if heaven had suddenly closed
again and shut out those who had not yet been able to approach. What a
frightful disappointment—to have beheld the living manifestation of the
Deity and to see it disappear before gaining salvation by just touching
it! So terrible became the scramble, so extraordinary the confusion, that
the Swiss Guards were swept away. And ladies were seen to dart after the
Pope, to drag themselves on all fours over the marble slabs and kiss his
footprints and lap up the dust of his steps! The tall dark lady suddenly
fell at the edge of the platform, raised a loud shriek, and fainted; and
two gentlemen of the committee had to hold her so that she might not do
herself an injury in the convulsions of the hysterical fit which had come
upon her. Another, a plump blonde, was wildly, desperately kissing one of
the golden arms of the throne-chair, on which the old man’s poor, bony
elbow had just rested. And others, on seeing her, came to dispute
possession, seized both arms, gilding and velvet, and pressed their
mouths to wood-work or upholstery, their bodies meanwhile shaking with
their sobs. Force had to be employed in order to drag them away.

When it was all over Pierre went off, emerging as it were from a painful
dream, sick at heart, and with his mind revolting. And again he
encountered Nani’s glance, which never left him. “It was a superb
ceremony, was it not?” said the prelate. “It consoles one for many

“Yes, no doubt; but what idolatry!” the young priest murmured despite

Nani, however, merely smiled, as if he had not heard the last word. At
that same moment the two French ladies whom he had provided with tickets
came up to thank him, and. Pierre was surprised to recognise the mother
and daughter whom he had met at the Catacombs. Charming, bright, and
healthy as they were, their enthusiasm was only for the spectacle: they
declared that they were well pleased at having seen it—that it was
really astonishing, unique.

As the crowd slowly withdrew Pierre all at once felt a tap on his
shoulder, and, on turning his head, perceived Narcisse Habert, who also
was very enthusiastic. “I made signs to you, my dear Abbe,” said he, “but
you didn’t see me. Ah! how superb was the expression of that dark woman
who fell rigid beside the platform with her arms outstretched. She
reminded me of a masterpiece of one of the primitives, Cimabue, Giotto,
or Fra Angelico. And the others, those who devoured the chair arms with
their kisses, what suavity, beauty, and love! I never miss these
ceremonies: there are always some fine scenes, perfect pictures, in which
souls reveal themselves.”

The long stream of pilgrims slowly descended the stairs, and Pierre,
followed by Nani and Narcisse, who had begun to chat, tried to bring the
ideas which were tumultuously throbbing in his brain into something like
order. There was certainly grandeur and beauty in that Pope who had shut
himself up in his Vatican, and who, the more he became a purely moral,
spiritual authority, freed from all terrestrial cares, had grown in the
adoration and awe of mankind. Such a flight into the ideal deeply stirred
Pierre, whose dream of rejuvenated Christianity rested on the idea of the
supreme Head of the Church exercising only a purified, spiritual
authority. He had just seen what an increase of majesty and power was in
that way gained by the Supreme Pontiff of the spheres beyond, at whose
feet the women fainted, and behind whom they beheld a vision of the
Deity. But at the same moment the pecuniary side of the question had
risen before him and spoilt his joy. If the enforced relinquishment of
the temporal power had exalted the Pope by freeing him from the worries
of a petty sovereignty which was ever threatened, the need of money still
remained like a chain about his feet tying him to earth. As he could not
accept the proffered subvention of the Italian Government,* there was
certainly in the Peter’s Pence a means of placing the Holy See above all
material cares, provided, however, that this Peter’s Pence were really
the Catholic /sou/, the mite of each believer, levied on his daily income
and sent direct to Rome. Such a voluntary tribute paid by the flock to
its pastor would, moreover, suffice for the wants of the Church if each
of the 250,000,000 of Catholics gave his or her /sou/ every week. In this
wise the Pope, indebted to each and all of his children, would be
indebted to none in particular. A /sou/ was so little and so easy to
give, and there was also something so touching about the idea. But,
unhappily, things were not worked in that way; the great majority of
Catholics gave nothing whatever, while the rich ones sent large sums from
motives of political passion; and a particular objection was that the
gifts were centralised in the hands of certain bishops and religious
orders, so that these became ostensibly the benefactors of the papacy,
the indispensable cashiers from whom it drew the sinews of life. The
lowly and humble whose mites filled the collection boxes were, so to say,
suppressed, and the Pope became dependent on the intermediaries, and was
compelled to act cautiously with them, listen to their remonstrances, and
even at times obey their passions, lest the stream of gifts should
suddenly dry up. And so, although he was disburdened of the dead weight
of the temporal power, he was not free; but remained the tributary of his
clergy, with interests and appetites around him which he must needs
satisfy. And Pierre remembered the “Grotto of Lourdes” in the Vatican
gardens, and the banner which he had just seen, and he knew that the
Lourdes fathers levied 200,000 francs a year on their receipts to send
them as a present to the Holy Father. Was not that the chief reason of
their great power? He quivered, and suddenly became conscious that, do
what he might, he would be defeated, and his book would be condemned.

* 110,000 pounds per annum. It has never been accepted, and the
accumulations lapse to the Government every five years, and
cannot afterwards be recovered.—Trans.

At last, as he was coming out on to the Piazza of St. Peter’s, he heard
Narcisse asking Monsignor Nani: “Indeed! Do you really think that
to-day’s gifts exceeded that figure?”

“Yes, more than three millions,* I’m convinced of it,” the prelate

* All the amounts given on this and the following pages are
calculated in francs. The reader will bear in mind that a
million francs is equivalent to 40,000 pounds.—Trans.

For a moment the three men halted under the right-hand colonnade and

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