Chapter 13

in which Monsignor O'Duffy preaches a mission in the new church and Angus, Father Smith's former altar boy, decides to marry Annie, a girl of ill-repute.

When on Ash Wednesday, 1920, there were still no signs of a religious revival in the land, even Father Bonnyboat began to be afraid that liturgy alone wouldn't do the trick, so he asked Monsignor O'Duffy to come along from the pro-Cathedral and preach a mission. Monsignor O'Duffy said that he thought that a grand idea and that he would preach the congregation of the Holy Name such a humdinger of a mission that nobody in the whole parish would commit a mortal sin for three weeks at least, only he thought the sooner he got going the better, because the Devil was out with a blare and blast these days and no mistake. So the mission started on the first Sunday in Lent, with High Mass by Monsignor O'Duffy himself. He preached his first sermon from the altar steps and after the priest's communion instead of after the Gospel, because he had made up his mind to preach the snorter of a sermon and didn't want to have to do a lot of high-class singing afterwards.

'Stand away from yon door,' he bawled down the church at the pass-keepers, 'stand away from yon door so that I can see if anybody tries for to get out. Move up there and let the lassie in,' he bellowed at Lady Ippecacuanha. 'Ye canna have the corner seat all the time. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen. My dear brethren, as there is so much sin rampant in this parish, your good rector has called me in to give a mission and to frighten ye back into the way of the Lord. As a matter of fact, I propose to give two missions: one in the English language for Scots and Irish people and one in the Eyetalian language for Eyetalian people. The Scots and Irish mission will be at eight o'clock in the evenings and the Eyetalian mission will be at seven o'clock in the evenings, but let me point out that it's no good one Eyetalian from each family attending the Eyetalian mission, but every Eyetalian in the parish must attend.

'My dear brethren in Jesus Christ, looking out upon the world today we see a great roaring, grunting, boozing, lusting, blaspheming, ranting, rampaging heathen mass swarming along the pavements of our cities and thinking themselves respectable citizens just because they wear hats on their heids and mackintoshes you can see through and carry umberellies forbye. But they're no respectable. They're no respectable because they pay no attention to God's Commandments. And this great roaring, grunting, boozing, lusting, blaspheming, ranting, rampaging heathen mass will gang doon the drain tae burn in hell fire for all eternity if it's no very careful. And you, my dear brethren in Jesus Christ, are part of this great roaring, grunting, boozing, lusting, blaspheming, ranting, rampaging heathen mass.'

Father Smith, who was sub-deacon, gave up listening at this point, although from time to time he caught one of the monsignore's phrases, cracking across the church with a fine smack: 'No young couples in this parish should walk down dark lanes after ten o'clock at night'; 'Almighty God never intended young girls to wear flesh-coloured silk stockings at any time of the year, let alone during the holy season of Lent.' Was this, after all, what was wanted? Was it not an awakening to the more subtle requirements of the Lord's service which was needed? The gaudy sins had to be avoided, of course, because drunkenness' and fornication clouded the lens of the soul and hid the cool vision of God from those who committed them. But was not respectability, which banned drunkenness and fornication almost as rigorously as did the Church of God, was not respectability the greatest sin of all, since it mistook semblance for sincerity? The bank managers, the stockbrokers, the lawyers, the company directors, those who encouraged young men to get on in the world and lose the glow in their eyes, were not they bigger sinners than the drunkards and the fornicators, since the sins they committed in their counting-houses spread out all over the world and stained the innocent? But there were no bank managers, stockbrokers, lawyers, or company directors in the congregation of the Holy Name, because in Scotland only the poor were Catholics. Perhaps that was why God loved them so much and gave them only the easier hoops to jump through, sobriety and purity, because they had had such a rough lot on earth that it was only fair that they should be allowed into heaven more easily than the rich. He glanced along the sedilia to see how Father Bonnyboat was taking the sermon, but Father Bonnyboat was sitting with his biretta cocked well over his eyes so that it was impossible to tell what he was thinking.

At the top of the altar steps, after having warned those who had never been further afield than Dunoon about the dangers to be met in Paris from 'bedizened and bejewelled Jezebels, flaunting their baseness in marble palaces,' Monsignor O'Duffy drew thunderingly to a close. 'Aye and I ken fine what you're thinking,' he said. 'Ye're thinking that och that's all very well and that you've plenty of time for repentance before ye die and that ye might as well have another wee keek at the world, the flesh, and the Devil, and maybe another wee taste as well. Well, you've no got plenty of time. This very night the Lord may say to any of you, "Aundry or Bessie or Jimmie, thy soul is required of thee," and if it's no free from mortal sin and as bricht as a polished frying pan in a well-kept kitchen doon, ye'll gang to hell to yell and shriek for all eternity with the damned. Twenty years ago in this very town there were two miners: one was called Pat and the other was called Mike and neither of them had been to their Easter duties for years. And one fine day, I met them both in the street and I said to them, "Pat and Mike," I said, "Pat and Mike, ye both ken just as well as I do what'll happen to you if you die without going to confession and holy communion." Well, Pat listened to my warning and went to his duties, but Mike didn't listen and the next time I saw Mike there, he was on the floor, vomiting oot his heart's blood. A blessing which I wish you all in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.'

Exceptionally, Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament was given after Mass, because it was a special occasion. As Father Smith knelt in front of the Host in the monstrance, he thanked Almighty God again for having given the Church hard certain words which could not fail however much priests might flop and flounder in the pulpit when they spoke with their own human voices. The new male choir in their starched surplices sang the O Salutaris and the Tantum Ergo with happy vehemence, but Father Smith did not think they sang it any more beautifully than Miss O'Hara's cock-and-hen choir with their gaiters, their goloshes, and their false notes. Then Monsignor O'Duffy raised the monstrance and made with it a big sign of the cross over all the kneeling people and Father Smith could see that his big sweating face was really loving our Lord and that shouting and ranting and fuming was just his way of trying to make other people love Him too.

As he passed down the church after the service, Father Smith saw quite a crowd of women lined up on a bench outside the confessional which had been allocated to Monsignor O'Duffy for the duration of the mission. Lady Ippecacuanha was among them and there was a slattern or two, for the monsignore had quite a way with the ladies of the profession when they accosted him in error at night when he was returning from sick calls. 'Ye'll burn like a faggot, you scum,' he would roar instead of taking off his hat like the Episcopal dean and saying, 'Not tonight, my dear.' Even now he was lecturing them prior to entering his confessional, standing in front of them and shouting out his injunctions at the feather in Lady Ippecacuanha's hat. 'I'm delighted to see that my words have had such good effect, but please cut out the havers when you make your confessions because I'm in a hurry to get home for my dinner,' he was saying. 'So begin at once with your real sins, such as when you were last drunk and all that, and remember that it's no use confessing that you stole a rope if you forget to mention that there was a horse tied to the other end of it.'

At the back of the church where the very poor worshipped, there was the usual smell of dirty clothes and human sweat, but Father Smith didn't mind it too much, because he knew that it was the odour of sanctity, although he hoped that God would give the poor a more pleasant perfume in paradise. Each time he smelt that smell, he knew what Christ had meant when He had said 'For the first shall be last and the last shall be first,' and it pleased him to think that one day the poor would have compensation for all their discomforts and humiliations, when they sat back in the front row of the stalls in high heaven and cried cock-a-hoop to God with Saint Ignatius and Saint Dominic and all the rest of the aristocracy.

At the back of the church, among the piles of tracts and the ropes of rosaries and the platoons of Sacred Hearts, he came upon Angus McNab and Annie Rooney standing arm-in-arm. He smiled at Angus McNab because he had been so brave and won the D.C.M., but he did not smile at Annie Rooney, because he knew that it was still years and years since she had last been to the Sacraments. Angus was wearing a new brown suit which seemed all curves and smart creases, but Father Smith thought that he didn't look half as smart as he did in his commissionaire's uniform, parading up and down outside the advertisements for Mae Murray and Eddie Lyons and Lee Moran. Annie Rooney was dressed in the height of fashion, too, in a pale blue costume and a pink blouse so low cut that it had only one button on it.

'Father, you'll have to congratulate us,' Angus said. 'Annie and me's getting married.'

The news was a blow to Father Smith, because he had always liked Angus and he knew that Annie Rooney was just a baggage, tarting it round with drunken sailors whenever she had the chance; but he couldn't say that to Angus McNab now, not with Annie Rooney standing there staring at him out of her great hostile cat's eyes.

'Marriage is a sacrament of the Church and not to be entered upon lightly,' he said, more to Annie Rooney than to Angus, but for all the effect the remark made on her great puffed-out face he saw that he might just as well have said: 'As the Church teaches that the moon is made of green cheese, no Catholic has the right to believe that it is made of butter.'

'It's all right, Father,' Angus said. 'Annie's a good girl now and we're both coming to holy communion together before we're married, aren't we, Annie?'

Annie neither answered nor smiled, but nodded her head several times at Father Smith to make the priest realize that things were all right really and that deep-down beneath her pink blouse Annie was a true Christian, although she didn't take much pains to let people know.

Monsignor O'Duffy was still hearing confessions when Father Smith turned back into the church, but the mutter of his voice came quite quietly from the box, as though even he knew that a priest had to be tender and soothing when applying the merits of Christ's Passion to weak human souls.


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