Chapter 27

in which Father Smith, after his annual prayer in the High Kirk, meets Sir Dugald Ippecacuanha.

When he went to say his prayers in the High Kirk on the Feast of Saint Andrew, 1938, Canon Smith knew that he wouldn't meet his old friend the minister because the minister was dead; instead, on the porch there was a grand new notice about the young folks' weekday evening service which said in big letters COME AND BRING A CHUM, because the new minister was very modem and believed in youth. Some of the youth he believed in was standing on the steps when Canon Smith arrived, saying that they thought they'd better sort of attend choir practice next week as the new minister kind of liked it, and instead of saying 'cheerio' when they took farewell of one another, they said 'cheery-bye,' because that was the fashion these days, and even, in certain parts of the diocese, 'cheery-ta-ta' as well.

Kneeling in his accustomed place, the canon prayed quietly and earnestly for the world which seemed to be going from bad to worse. He prayed especially for the great cartloads of dead constantly appearing before Almighty God for judgment from the Spanish civil and from the Sino-Japanese wars, that Christ might grant a special balm to souls so souls so rudely torn from their bodies. He prayed for the old sailor and the boozy major and Angus McNab and Annie Rooney in case they were still in purgatory, and he prayed that they would pray for him if they were already in heaven and making holy whoopee with the saints. Then he prayed for God's erring children in Christ, Adolf and Benito, because they had both been baptized and confirmed and so ought to have known so very much better than to rant and rave and threaten the world. Then he prayed for the Bishop, that he might still continue to govern wisely, and for Father Scott, that God might temper his tongue and still give him courage, and for Elvira in America that she might abound in grace, and for his old pals Monsignor O'Duffy and Canon Bonnyboat, and for himself, too, that God might soften their ending years. Then he went out onto the porch where he found Sir Dugald Ippecacuanha practising mashie shots with his walking-stick.

'Afternoon, padre,' Sir Dugald greeted, and added that he was surprised to meet the priest in such a locality.

Canon Smith explained his practice and the reason for it, and Sir Dugald said that it was a pity that more clergymen weren't as broadminded as he, and the canon said that he wasn't broadminded at all and that, to be quite frank, he was glad he wasn't, because broadmindedness was often another name for shallow thinking. This made Sir Dugald pop his poached eyes a bit, but, being a polite heretic, he quickly changed the subject and asked Canon Smith how the building of his new nave was progressing.

'Not at all badly, thank you,' the canon answered. 'Indeed it should be finished and the church ready for consecration in a year from now if there isn't war.'

'War, of course there won't be war,' Sir Dugald said fiercely. 'Why should there be war? Didn't Hitler say that Czecho-Slovakia was the last territorial demand that he had to make in Europe? Of course, there's the question of colonies, but with a little goodwill on both sides even that shouldn't prove too difficult. And then that agreement Chamberlain brought back with him from Munich. Peace in our time, he said it meant. And then those conversations he's going to have with Old Musso. Of course, I know the warmongers don't like Chamberlain, but I'm not a warmonger and never was. Indeed, I said as much in the House the other day. "There is no earthly reason why two great countries like Britain and Germany shouldn't work together for the maintenance of peace and prosperity," I said. "Let us talk peace to Hitler and we shall have peace," And between you and me and the doorpost I'm beginning to think that the last war was a hideous mistake. Great Britain and Germany ought to have got together years ago. Of course, I know that the Germans are cruel, and there's that business about the Jews and all that, but after all, we're not angels ourselves, so why make such a racket about what doesn't concern us?'

'But it does concern us, Sir Dugald,' the canon said. 'It concerns us because it concerns Almighty God Who wishes us to extend our charity even to those we have never seen and shall never see. It's merely a matter of exercising the imagination, that's all: thinking of their hair and ears and eyes, thinking of them in the tender loneliness of sleep. If we do that, we can no longer hate. And if there's one thing more terrible than war, it's the kind of peace we've been having for the last twenty years: even death and destruction and mangled human bodies couldn't stench more pungently to heaven than all those beastly advertisements about depilatories and toothpastes and children's bowels. And I don't trust Hitler one little bit and I consider that Mussolini is a big blustering baboon.'

'Canon, Canon, you surprise me,' Sir Dugald said.

'Indeed, Sir Dugald, there are times when I surprise myself,' Canon Smith said.

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