The pope said a grand mass for them, and at the gospel he enters the pulpit, a burly figure of a man with sad eyes.
"The blessing of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost be with you and about you, Amen.
"It is not to you, Nicolo Polo, that I wish to speak, nor to you, Matthew Polo, for neither of you are my ambassadors to the Great Khan. Merchant and sportsmen, I honor you, and you have my blessing, but you have no hopes of mine. The dirty diversions of the world are between your eyes and glory," said he. "It's only myself, an old and sorrowful man, and this child, a young and hopeful one, can understand; old men having sight of visions, and young men dreaming dreams. . .
"Now in the matter of converting the Great Khan and his numerous millions, first let wisdom speak. I have little hopes. He wants to be argued into it, you see. Religion is not a matter of argument. It is a wisdom that surpasses wisdom. It drifts in men's souls as the foggy dew comes unbidden to the trees. It is born before our soul, as the horned moon is born before our eyes.
"And now, my child, you might say, 'What is the use of sending me to China if he knows I cannot bring these millions into the fold? My dear son, there is the wisdom surpassing wisdom. A great and noble thought must not die. Things of the spirit we cannot reckon as a husband-man reckons his crops. There is a folk on the marches of Europe, and they are ever going into battle, and they always fall. Their results are nothing. But their name and their glory will endure forever. . .
"My dear son, God has put wisdom in my head and beauty into yours. Wisdom is needed for the governance of this world, but beauty is needed for its existence. In arid deserts there is no life. Birds do not sing in the dark of night. Show me a waste country, and I'll show you a brutal people. No faith can live that is not beautiful. . .
"The beauty God has put in your heart, child, you must always keep. .How much I think of it I'll tell you. I'm an old man now, an old and broken man, and in a few years I'll stand before my Master.
"'What have you seen on my earth,' He'll ask me, 'you who followed St. Peter!'
"'Lord! Lord!' I'll tell Him, 'I've seen mighty things. I've seen the bridegroom leave his bride and the king his kingdom, the huckster leave his booth, and the reaper drop his hook, that they might rescue Your Holy Sepulchre from pagan hands.'
"'And anything else?' He'll ask.
"'And I've seen a young man go out into the desert and over his head was a star. . .'
"You may think you have failed, child, but remember that in the coming times your name and fame will awaken beauty, and many's the traveler on the hard road will find his courage again, and he thinking of Marco Polo. And many's the young man will dream dreams, and many's the old man will see visions, and they reading the book by the golden candle-light; and many's the young girl will give you love, and you dead for centuries. But for this you must keep your dream.
"Now you'll think it's the queer pope I am to be telling you things like this instead of demanding converts. But the wisdom that surpasses wisdom comes to you with the Annointing of the Oil. 'I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago,' writes Saint Paul, '(whether in the body I cannot tell, or whether out of the body I cannot tell. God knoweth.)
"'How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which is not lawful for a man to utter.'
"Now you see there is a wisdom surpassing wisdom, and it is out of this fount of wisdom I am drawing when I speak to you these words.
"Child, I will not keep you any longer. Only to say this, and this is the chiefest thing: never let your dream be taken from you. Keep it unspotted from the world. In darkness and in tribulation it will go with you as a friend; but in wealth and power hold fast to it, for then is danger. Let not the mists of the world, the gay diversions, the little trifles, draw you from glory.
"Si oblitus fuero tui Jerusalem, -- If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, --
"Oblivioni detur dextera mea, -- let my right hand forget her cunning --
"Adhaereat lingua mea faucibus meis, si non meminero tui, -- if I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth --
"Si non proposuero Jerusalem, in principis laetitiae meae, -- If I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.
"I shall now send a prayer to Heaven," he said, "to keep you safe in the strange foreign ways, to protect you against wind and tempest, against pestilence and sudden death, against the powers of darkness, and Him who goes up and down the world for the ruin of souls."
And he turned to the high altar again, and now you'd hear his voice loud and powerful, and now low and secret, and the bell struck, and the acolyte intoned the responses, and all of a sudden he turned and spread forth his hands.
"Ite! Let you go now. Missa est."
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