Chapter 28

in which Father Smith, the Bishop, and Monsignor O'Duffy complete the church building while masons become rare during the War.

War had come to Britain again, the sailors were lurching out of the public houses again, and the tough women were lurching with them, only they no longer wore high laced boots, because the rubrics had changed in these matters.

War had come again to the parish of the Holy Name also. Canon Smith no longer had a curate to say his early Masses for him, and on Sundays he had both Masses to say or sing himself and to preach two sermons as well, so that it was quite like old times again except that he was now seventy-one years of age and much more creaky at genuflecting than he used to be.

War had come to the building trade, too, so that it was almost impossible to get any masons to complete the now nearly finished new nave; but Canon Bonnyboat, who had hobnobbed quite a lot with the Benedictines at Buckfast on his highbrow liturgical holidays, said that the monks had taught him quite a lot about church building and that he would be more than pleased to place his knowledge at the service of Canon Smith and show him how, with the aid of a few staunch friends, he could polish off the remainder of the church himself. So on three afternoons a week, Canon Smith and Canon Bonnyboat and Monsignor O'Duffy and Father Scott humphed and plastered and smeared and tapped and felt happy sitting across high stones in the sky. Generally the Bishop came along as well, but he said that heights always made him feel giddy, so he stayed on the ground and mixed the mortar and pushed it about on a wheelbarrow.

It was cold work in March, 1940, sitting up aloft with the wind blowing about their ears, but Monsignor O'Duffy said that any discomfort which they might be experiencing ought to be more than counterbalanced by the knowledge that they were really and truly doing Almighty God's handiwork and that in his opinion wars would cease for ever if men all over the world could be given the high and sweet privilege of tiring their arms and legs and eyes by hewing, smiting, carving, and carrying for God and His saints. He felt so happy as he said this that he said he simply must sing aloud, so with his hat on the back of his head, he bawled a song which he said had been very popular in the music-halls in the nineties:

'No more getting up at half-past six,
Climbing up a ladder with a hodful of bricks;
No more clay pipes, nothing but cigars,
For now I am a driver on the tramway cars.'

Canon Bonnyboat said at once that he didn't think that the Bishop would approve of a priest singing a song like that in the open air, so the monsignore, looking down to the little splodge of Bishop below busy with his wheelbarrow, hastily roared 'Per omnia saecula saeculorum' as loudly as he could.

'I sometimes feel that this war might have been prevented if myself and others had not kept silent from notions of human respect on matters on which we felt deeply,' Canon Smith said. 'If only we had preached more boldly that Christianity is not a respectable habit of restraint, but a loud, vulgar, clamorous heroism.'

'You can say what you like, but in my mind there is no doubt at all,' Canon Bonnyboat said. 'This war is a crusade.'

'I must confess that I am coming to be rather wearied by the phrase,' Father Scott said. 'Indeed, the whole phraseology of wartime rhetoric strikes me as boring, inaccurate, and very often insincere.'

'That's because nothing ever sounds quite so dreadful as the right phrase on the wrong lips,' Canon Bonnyboat said. 'But the fact remains that, whether we like or not the accents and the faces of some of the people who are fighting with us, our cause remains just.'

'All the same I can't help wishing that the politicians would give up taking us for a set of complete nincompoops,' Father Scott said. 'They speak of the present conflict as "the birth pangs of a new Europe." The metaphor is inexact. In birth a mother either recovers or dies, and if the former she herself experiences the joy of possessing her child; whereas in this bloody battle thousands will be maimed in loneliness and the new Europe they have brought forth will probably be eaten up by the fat swine who stayed at home and made money and smoked cigars. And all this cant about fighting for freedom. Is the coal-miner free? Is the labourer free? Is not all freedom dependent upon economic circumstances? And again, isn't there a virtue in obedience?'

'And I must say that I wish some of our apostles of liberty could walk more humbly and righteously,' Canon Smith said as he looked down on the hordes swarming into Signor Sarno's cinema to see Spencer Tracey.

'What a lot of clavering blethers you all are to be sure,' Monsignor O'Duffy said. 'The world's Almighty God's broth, so perhaps ye'd better let Him stir it and boil it His own way.'

None of the priests minded the monsignore speaking like that, because they knew that deep down behind his purple stock he was just as worried about the war as they were and knew that patriotism wasn't enough. Below them, far away out along the bend of the railway line, at the junction of the golf course and Sir Dugald Ippecacuanha's estate, a puff of smoke appeared above the trees and a miniature worm of train rolled tinily along the embankment. In the pattern of their garden the nuns were walking with their hands folded, up and down past Mother de la Tour's flowers no longer, because she too had died and had been buried beside Mother Leclerc. And on the surface of the sea the wind played, ruffling it like a girl's frock. Looking down at the great stamped-out peace of Scotland, Canon Smith was reassured.

'Perhaps we're too impatient,' he thought.

When they finished their work and climbed down to the ground again, they found Sir Dugald Ippecacuanha laying off the Bishop who was washing the mortar off his hands.

'Of course, I've always said all along that Chamberlain ought to go,' Sir Dugald was saying. 'And between you and me, your lordship, I was one of the few who wanted to take a strong stand at Munich. And that fellow Baldwin. The way he led us all up the garden. Only he didn't lead me, I glad to say. I knew Germany too well to be taken in. "Beware of Germany," I used to say. If Churchill and Eden and Duff Cooper and I pointed out to the house once, we pointed out a hundred times. No, sir. With all respect to your cloth, as far as I'm concerned, the only good German's a dead German.'

As they stood and listened, Canon Smith and Father Scott saw with dismay that Sir Dugald really believed what he was saying.


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