There was a general inclination to smile among the audience. And yet there was something in the man's manner and voice which made them hang on every word.
"Things have now reached a climax. The very idea of progress has been made material. It is progress to go swiftly, to send swift messages, to build new machinery. All this is a diversion of real ambition. There is only one real progress -- spiritual progress. Mankind gives it a lip tribute but presses on upon its false road of material science.
"The Central Intelligence recognized that amid all the apathy there was also much honest doubt which had out-grown old creeds and had a right to fresh evidence. Therefore fresh evidence was sent -- evidence which made the life after death as clear as the sun in the heavens. It was laughed at by scientists, condemned by the churches, became the butt of the newspapers, and was discarded with contempt. That was the last and greatest blunder of humanity."
The audience had their chins up now. General speculations were beyond their mental horizon. But this was very clear to their comprehension. There was a murmur of sympathy and applause.
"The thing was now hopeless. It had got beyond all control. Therefore something sterner was needed since Heaven's gift had been disregarded. The blow fell. Ten million young men were laid dead upon the ground. Twice as many were mutilated. That was God's first warning to mankind. But it was vain. The same dull materialism prevailed as before. Years of grace were given, and save the stirrings of the spirit seen in such churches as these, no change was anywhere to be seen. The nations heaped up fresh loads of sin, and sin must ever be atoned for. Russia became a cesspool. Germany was unrepentant of her terrible materialism which had been the prime cause of the war. Spain and Italy were sunk in alternate atheism and superstition. France had no religious ideal. Britain was confused and distracted, full of wooden sects which had nothing of life in them. America had abused her glorious opportunities and, instead of being the loving younger brother to a stricken Europe, she held up all economic reconstruction by her money claims; she dishonoured the signature of her own president, and she refused to join that League of Peace which was the one hope of the future. All have sinned, but some more than others, and their punishment will be in exact proportion.
"And that punishment soon comes. These are the exact words I have been asked to give you. I read them lest I should in any way garble them."
He took a slip of paper from his pocket and read:
"'What we want is, not that folk should be frightened, but that they should begin to change themselves -- to develop themselves on more spiritual lines. We are not trying to make people nervous, but to prepare while there is yet time. The world cannot go on as it has done. It would destroy itself if it did. Above all we must sweep away the dark cloud of theology which has come between mankind and God'."
He folded up the paper and replaced it in his pocket. "That is what I have been asked to tell you. Spread the news where there seems to be a window in the soul. Say to them, 'Repent! Reform! the Time is at hand'."
He had paused and seemed about to turn. The spell was broken. The audience rustled and leaned back in its seats. Then a voice from the back:
"Is this the end of the world, mister?"
"No," said the stranger, curtly.
"Is it the Second Coming?" asked another voice.
With quick light steps he threaded his way among the chairs on the platform and stood near the door. When Malone next looked round he was gone.
"He is one of these Second-coming fanatics," he whispered to Enid. "There are a lot of them -- Christadelphians, Russellites, Bible Students and what-not. But he was impressive."
"Very," said Enid.
"We have, I am sure, been very interested in what our friend has told us," said the chairman. "Mr. Miromar is in hearty sympathy with our movement even though he cannot be said actually to belong to it.