CHAPTER I (I)
The first objects of which he became aware were his own hands clasped on his lap before him, and the cloth cuffs from which they emerged; and it was these latter that puzzled him. So engrossed was he that at first he could not pay attention to the strange sounds in the air about him; for these cuffs, though black, were marked at their upper edges with a purpled line such as prelates wear. He mechanically turned the backs of his hands upwards; but there was no ring on his finger. Then he lifted his eyes and looked.
He was seated on some kind of raised chair beneath a canopy. A carpet ran down over a couple of steps beneath his feet, and beyond stood the backs of a company of ecclesiastics—secular priests in cotta, cassock, and biretta, with three or four bare-footed Franciscans and a couple of Benedictines. Ten yards away there rose a temporary pulpit with a back and a sounding-board beneath the open sky; and in it was the tall figure of a young friar, preaching, it seemed, with extraordinary fervour. Around the pulpit, beyond it, and on all sides to an immense distance, so far as he could see, stretched the heads of an incalculable multitude, dead silent, and beyond them again trees, green against a blue summer sky.
He looked on all this, but it meant nothing to him. It fitted on nowhere with his experience; he knew neither where he was, nor at what he was assisting, nor who these people were, nor who the friar was, nor who he was himself. He simply looked at his surroundings, then back at his hands and down his figure.
He gained no knowledge there, for he was dressed as he had never been dressed before. His caped cassock was black, with purple buttons and a purple cincture. He noticed that his shoes shone with gold buckles; he glanced at his breast, but no cross hung there. He took off his biretta, nervously, lest some one should notice, and perceived that it was black with a purple tassel. He was dressed then, it seemed, in the costume of a Domestic Prelate. He put on his biretta again.
Then he closed his eyes and tried to think; but he could remember nothing. There was, it seemed, no continuity anywhere. But it suddenly struck him that if he knew that he was a Domestic Prelate, and if he could recognize a Franciscan, he must have seen those phenomena before. Where? When?
Little pictures began to form before him as a result of his intense mental effort, but they were far away and minute, like figures seen through the wrong end of a telescope; and they afforded no explanation. But, as he bent his whole mind upon it, he remembered that he had been a priest—he had distinct memories of saying mass. But he could not remember where or when; he could not even remember his own name.
This last horror struck him alert again. He did not know who he was. He opened his eyes widely, terrified, and caught the eye of an old priest in cotta and cassock who was looking back at him over his shoulder. Something in the frightened face must have disturbed the old man, for he detached himself from the group and came up the two steps to his side....