Chapter 11

in which Father Smith, after returning from war, encounters many changes in his diocese and the world around him.

Father Smith had to be brave again on other occasions, but he didn't win the Victoria Cross or the Distinguished Service Order or the Military Cross, and so there was no deputation at the station to greet him when he came back from the war at the beginning of 1919, because everybody was coming back from the war these days. The Bishop, however, was there, waiting on the platform bang in front of the bookstall, piled with The Book of Artemas and The Young Visiters, both of which were reputed to be very funny.

The Bishop broke the bad news in the cab on the way to the presbytery.

'I am sending you back to the Holy Name, Father, but I am afraid that I shall have to allow Father Bonnyboat to remain on as rector,' he said. 'You see, you've been away for three years now and so much has happened during your absence. The church has been completed and a new set of Stations of the Cross blessed and Lady Ippecacuanha received into the Church. I am sure that you will understand that when Father Bonnyboat has worked such wonders, it would be ungracious on my part to send him back to Our Lady, Mirror of Justice, especially when Father McGeechie is doing so well there himself. I know that this may sound harsh and even ungrateful, but I hope that you will understand that my decision has been prompted by the considerations of the good of the diocese as a whole.'

Father Smith had to swallow hard before he was able to answer the Bishop. He was fifty-one now, and it was he who had done the spade work on the Holy Name just as it was he who had done the spade work on Lady Ippecacuanha, and he thought that it was only fair that he should have had the parish for his own, with a curate to say the earlier Masses and take the more distant sick calls. Then he reminded himself of the vows he had made at his ordination and said humbly:

'My lord, I am only too glad to be back at my old church in whatever capacity. You may rely on me to give the same allegiance to Father Bonnyboat as my rector as I have always given to your lordship as my Bishop.'

'Thank you, Father,' the Bishop said.

They talked of more general matters after that. The Bishop said that, although he still maintained that the war had been fought in defence of a righteous cause, he was disappointed to notice that as yet there was no sign of a religious awakening in the land. Indeed, the men returning from the army seemed to be restless and pleasure-seeking and were infecting their women folk with the same spirit. In industry little or no attention was being paid to the maxims laid down by Pope Leo XIII in his encyclical Rerum Novarum, and employers were again seeking to increase their profits by paying scanty wages. In literature and on the stage and on the screen the acquisition of wealth and the gratification of sexual passion were being represented as the only worthwhile objectives in life. In fashion young women were shortening their hair and their skirts and behaving as immodestly as they dressed.

Father Smith said that he was sorry to have to state that he had remarked the same lack of religious fervour among people as a whole, but hoped that the phenomenon was only temporary. After all, both his lordship and he must remember that the men had had a hard time of it in the trenches during the past four years and that it was perhaps natural that they should find it difficult to settle down, especially if, as the Bishop said, civilian employers were unwilling to pay them decent wages. As for women's clothes, he had always felt that it was what women concealed and not what they revealed that did the harm and that the best way to make men pure would be to let all the women in the country walk about naked, so that perhaps the shortening of their skirts was a step in the right direction. The Bishop was rather silent when Father Smith said this, and the priest wondered if he had gone too far and led his lordship to think that life in the army had made him rather worldly. He hastened, therefore, to add that, like the Bishop, he still hoped earnestly for a religious revival, because it was only in consciously seeking to serve our Lord that men could hope to find true peace.

Father Bonnyboat was standing in the doorway of the presbytery to greet them and said that, of course, the Bishop would stay for supper; and the Bishop said that it was really very nice of Father Bonnyboat, but that he must hurry on back home because he still had a lot of his office to say. Father Bonnnyboat said that he quite understood, but Father Smith wondered if it was because of what he had said about women wearing no clothes that the Bishop didn't want to stay to supper.

Father Smith thought that Father Bonnyboat had aged slightly since he had last seen him. His face seemed to have grown more leathery and his hair was thinner and behind his glasses his eyes were paler and colder. They did not talk much during supper which consisted of tea and bread-and-butter and kippers. Father Bonnyboat asked Father Smith some questions about life in the army, but Father Smith could see that he wasn't really interested. Father Smith didn't ask Father Bonnyboat any questions about the parish, because he thought that he still knew the parish better than Father Bonnyboat did and because he was still trying to get used to the idea of having him as a rector.

'I am afraid, Father, that you'll find that I have made some changes since you've been away,' Father Bonnyboat said at length.

Father Smith was silent. He thought that he knew what was coming. Father Bonnyboat was a liturgical scholar and knew exactly how a Benedictine abbot should sing Pontifical High Mass on a double of the second class in the presence of a Cardinal Archbishop of the Ambrosian rite. He himself had never been great shakes at liturgy, although he had tried to be because he knew that liturgy was only another name for Almighty God's table manners; but both his build and his voice had been against him, and he knew that there was all the difference in the world between a monk from Solesmes singing Mass and himself singing Mass, and he never could remember whether the Feast of the Holy Innocents was red or violet when it fell on a Sunday.

'I am referring to liturgical matters, of course,' Father Bonnyboat went on. 'To be quite frank, when I arrived here I found things rather slack. I've scrapped the Roman vestments for Gothic and I've also got rid of Miss O'Hara and her mixed choir.'

Father Smith almost let out a howl.

'But how on earth's the poor woman going to earn her living?' he asked.

'They've taken her on at the pro-Cathedral,' Father Bonnyboat said. 'Monsignor O'Duffy's not quite as particular in these matters as I am.'

Father Smith wanted to cry out that Monsignor O'Duffy was quite right and that kindness to a good woman was more important than the sound of an introit or the set of a biretta; but instead he said:

'But she's been with me for more than ten years now.'

'I am perfectly well aware of that. But you know the motto, "Nihil operi Dei praeponatur," "Let nothing be put before God's office." '

'I also know a text ... ' Father Smith wanted to say, but instead he marched over to the window and. looked out. At first he didn't see the cinema because he was trying to pray for Father Bonnyboat and was finding it very difficult. When he did see the cinema, he noticed that it was all lighted up in red and purple and gold and with new names plastered across it: CONSTANCE TALMADGE, NORMA TALMADGE, THOMAS MEIGHAN. The old notice about afternoon tea being served free of charge to patrons seemed to have gone and the prices of admission were now a shilling for adults and sixpence for children, but the queue of people waiting for admission seemed longer than ever. Beside the queue a man wearing an officer's British warm was turning the handle of a hurdy-gurdy, but people were looking away haughtily when he approached with his hat. On the steps of the cinema itself stood Angus McNab in dark green commissionaire's uniform with the blue-and-red ribbon of the Distinguished Conduct Medal on his breast. Father Smith was glad to see that Angus had found a job, even if the ex-officer hadn't, but it was of the ex-officer that he was thinking when he turned again to Father Bonnyboat.

'Perhaps there's something that God thinks even more important than liturgy, Father; he said. 'I mean justice and decency and human kindness. And that's precisely what those who have fought and risked all for us don't seem to be getting.'

To his surprise Father Bonnyboat didn't bark back at him, but came over and stood with him at the window and took his arm.

'You're right and you're wrong, Father,' he said. 'You're right because man can't live by liturgy alone and you're wrong because man needs beauty in his soul as well as bread in his belly. Tell me: what do you think all these people are standing out there in that queue for if it isn't to slake their longing for excitement and romance and beauty? And Almighty God is ever so much more exciting and romantic and beautiful than the heroine of any cinematograph film, only people don't know that. It's up to us priests of the Catholic Church to make them see it, and that's why we are right to make our services as lovely and austere as possible, because like that we're not only honouring God ourselves, but we're making other people honour Him too. And when they honour Him, they can't help being more kindly and charitable to their fellow men who also are made in His image. I know, Father, that you'r impatient to see the good come out of this horrible war we've just begun fighting, but, believe me, God's old slow sure way of calling men is still the best.'

Father Smith was smiling as he allowed himself to be led back to the table, because he knew that it wasn't going to be difficult any longer for him to pray for Father Bonnyboat, because Father Bonnyboat was as eager as himself about the Lord's cause, only in a different way, that was all.


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