Chapter 14

in which the nuns organize a day-long celebration of their students' achievements.

In July, 1922, there were now so many pupils at the nuns' school that Reverend Mother felt quite justified in asking Lady Ippecacuanha to present the prizes, and Lady Ippecacuanha was graciously pleased to accept, appearing on the platform in a new check costume with a copy of If Winter Comes under one arm and a roll of music under the other, because there was to be a concert afterwards and she had also been invited to sing. Her Greek god of a son came, too, only he was no longer a Greek god, because he had been so hacked about in the war, but he looked so saintly on his crutches that the nuns all felt sure that he would become a Catholic, too, one of these fine days. His lordship the Bishop was also on the platform, on the right of Reverend Mother with the sun making him blink behind his glasses, and Mother Leclerc and Mother de la Tour were on the platform as well, because they were the most important nuns after Reverend Mother. Monsignor O'Duffy was among the grand persons, too, sitting in the second row to hide his big feet, so he said, and wearing the new purple stock that he had bought in Rome the year before when he had had a fine pow-wow with the Pope. Father Bonnyboat and Father Smith were there as well, only Father Bonnyboat now signed himself Christopher Canon Bonnyboat because he had been promoted by the Bishop.

The proceedings opened with prayer by the Bishop and a little speech by the Bishop, in which his lordship said that Catholic youth would do well to turn its eyes to Italy where a man called Mussolini was doing so much for his country and Lady Ippecacuanha clapped and said 'Hear, hear,' because she knew Italy well, having once lost her connection at Ventimiglia.

Then Lady Ippecacuanha stood up to present the prizes and said how very proud she was to do so. While congratulating those who had won prizes, she reminded those who had not that it was not always the girl who won the most prizes at the school who got on best in after life. However, she hoped that they would all go on working hard and trying to please the nuns, who were imparting to them both knowledge and character so that they might grow up fine and worthy women. And women in the new world were going to have ever such a better chance than women in the old world, because the war to end wars had been fought and won, and now they would be able to become worthy mothers of tomorrow. Father Smith looked along at the Bishop to see how he was taking this part of Lady Ippecacuanha's speech, but his lordship's face was wreathed in a smile of benign approval, so the priest concluded that the war must have been properly won, after all, although the people as a whole didn't seem any more religious than they had been in the past and the nuns hadn't been allowed back to France and there had been a big coal strike only the previous year.

The children, however, looked very sweet as they went up to their prizes, curtseying to the Bishop and Reverend Mother and Lady Ippecacuanha, who dished out the works of Miss Bessie Marchant with brisk benevolence. Elvira Sarno received three prizes: one for elocution, one for Christian doctrine, and one for French. She was fourteen now and very dark and grave and lovely in her white dress, and everybody clapped a lot when she received her prizes. When she came up for the third time, Reverend Mother leaned forward and seemed to whisper something quite special to the Bishop and his lordship nodded his wise old head several times and looked very pleased.

The concert followed immediately afterwards and the nuns and the clergy all got down from the platform to make room for the performers, with the exception of Monsignor O'Duffy, who was to play the accompaniments. Lady Ippecacuanha opened the concert by singing 'Down in the Forest Something Stirred.' She had wanted to sing her old favourite 'Have You Ever Seen an Oyster Walk Upstairs?' but her husband had suggested that it would perhaps sound rather horsy in a convent, old gal, and that she had better choose something more poetic, but with nothing about spooning by the light of the silvery moon in it, because the nuns probably wouldn't like that either. She was hugely applauded and was about to sing 'I'll Sing Thee Songs of Araby' as an encore, but Reverend Mother came forward and explained that, much as they had enjoyed her ladyship's singing, there really wasn't time. Then Canon Bonnyboat sang Mozart's 'Ave Verum Corpus,' which made everybody feel quite religious, because he was a very fine singer and meant every word he sang. After that Elvira Sarno recited King Henry V's speech before the battle of Agincourt with such verve that she brought the house down. As the clear young voice said out the thrilling words, deep down within him Father Smith wondered if it wasn't wrong to teach children to recite poems about war, however beautifully they were written, but he supposed that he must be wrong, otherwise the clergy and the nuns would not have applauded so loudly, and anyway if one went as far as that there were quite a lot of other customs in the world one would have to change, such as giving small boys toy soldiers at Christmas, for example. Then Monsignor O'Duffy rose and said that, by the shamrock, everybody was getting applauded except the priest at the piany, and that whether they wanted it or not he was bally well going to sing them 'Danny Boy,' and sing them 'Danny Boy' he did, and Lady Ippecacuanha whispered to the Bishop that she really thought it rather sporting of the monsignore to have used a great big manly word like 'bally.'

Tea was served in the refectory, with the Bishop and Reverend Mother and the clergy all sitting at a special table with plenty of penny pink iced cakes, only now they cost twopence, because of the war. The Bishop said that he very much disapproved of a new game that the university students had started recently, that of shouting out 'beaver' at the top of their voices whenever they met in the street a man with a beard, and he believed that there was something even ruder that they shouted when they met a man with a beard riding a green bicycle, which, fortunately, wasn't often. The custom was doubly deplorable from the point of view of Catholics because, not only was it a breach of good manners, which was another name for charity, which was another name for doing unto others as you would they should do unto you, but it was also highly discourteous to missionaries, and it appeared that the poor Franciscan friars at Kincairns had been having a pretty poor time of late. With his mouth bung full of twopenny cake, Monsignor O'Duffy said that that just showed ye that the youth of the country was in the toils of the Jews, the Sunday press, and Satan, but Reverend Mother said she didn't think the offence quite as serious as all that, and that no doubt the craze would soon pass and that the friars at Kincairns would be well advised to apply the merit they gained from their discomfort to the suffering souls in purgatory.

The grass smelled soft and fresh and green when they all went out on the lawn for the sports afterwards. Mother de la Tour said that they must be careful not to spoil the flowers, because they were the Lord's handiwork. Monsignor O'Duffy was the official starter and he fairly enjoyed firing the pistol, screwing up his eyes and holding his great ham of a hand high in the air. Watching the happy pattern of the girls running and the nuns' habits beside the trees and Mother Leclerc fishing for her spectacles in her huge wide pocket, Father Smith breathed a swift prayer of thanks to God for having made holiness so simple and so joyful and so beautiful. Blinking the glad tears back from his eyes, he saw Elvira Sarno standing in front of him with Joseph Scott, who was now at Saint Francis Xavier's Academy, but had been invited across for the afternoon.

'Father, Jo and I have just been having a terrible argument,' she announced.

'Elvira says that it's a sin to drink lemonade when you're in retreat and I say it isn't,' the boy said.

Bless them, bless them, Father Smith thought, and was about to explain that there was no real theological issue at stake unless one wanted to please our Lord by giving up something that one really liked when Elvira shouted out that there was the parents' race starting and that it looked as though Monsignor O'Duffy was going to run in it himself because he was handing over his pistol to the Bishop. And run in the parents' race the monsignore did and came in puffing and blowing third last, even although he took off his frock coat and showed his liquorice all-sort shirt-sleeves; but Elvira said to Joseph that they mustn't laugh at his shirts because her mother had told her that the monsignore always bought cheap shirts so that he might have more money to give away to the poor.

When the Bishop had presented the prizes, Reverend Mother asked the clergy if they would be kind enough to come and see what was the matter with Mother de Ia Tour's wireless set, as the crystal didn't seem to be working properly and men knew so much more about these things than women. The Bishop said that he knew nothing at all about these newfangled matters, but Monsignor O'Duffy said that he hadn't a brother who kept a wee bicycle shop in Inveraray for nothing. So they all trooped into the parlour and Monsignor O'Duffy put on the earphones and scratched about the crystal right under the portrait of Pope Pius XI who had so recently been elected to the Supreme Pontificate, and Mother de la Tour said, 'C'était vraiment malheureux, mais elle n'y comprenait rien, mais absolument rien du tout.' At first Monsignor O'Duffy said that he could hear nothing. Father Smith felt that it was a pity that one ever heard anything at all on wireless sets, because it seemed to him that new inventions were coming out much too quickly, and that if amusements went on becoming more and more mechanized as they seemed to be doing, people would no longer require to use their intelligence to fill their leisure, and literature, poetry, and the drama would be pop goes the weasel per omnia saecula saeculorum; but he didn't say so, because he felt that it was up to the Bishop. However, when Monsignor O'Duffy said that he thought he could hear a girl singing that 'the roses round the door made her love mother more,' he could contain himself no longer and said almost angrily that it was a pity that the fine inventions of scientific brains should be used for such mean ends and that it advanced people neither spiritually nor culturally that they should be able to hear from Scotland a girl in London debasing family life by singing sugary twaddle about mother-love.

Both the clergy and the nuns seemed so surprised by his vehemence that Father Smith hastened to add that he hadn't meant to criticize the nuns for having a wireless set. Reverend Mother said that that was quite all right and that she thought she understood what Father Smith meant. The Bishop said he thought he understood, too, but Monsignor O'Duffy said that all yon blether about culture was much too highfalutin' for him.

Walking back to the presbytery with Canon Bonnyboat, Father Smith thought that he saw Annie Rooney going into a bar with a sailor, but he told himself later that he must have made a mistake, for Annie Rooney had been married to Angus McNab for two years now and always brought her new hat to Mass on Sundays.


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