Chapter 3

in which Father Smith recovers from his injury in the hospital and remembers the moment he was called to priesthood.

The only times that Father Smith remembered being really happy out of church during the last fifteen years had been when he was travelling in trains, but lying recovering in the hospital was almost as good, because, as in the trains, he had nothing immediate to do. The Bishop had insisted on his having a room all to himself and the Protestant nurses were very kind; although they kept asking questions about why Father Bonnyboat had always to be popping in every morning to give him holy communion.

He had reason to feel happy, too, because the whole town had been shocked at the news of the assault which had been made upon the Bishop and the other priests and himself, and contributions were beginning to flow in for his new church. Even Protestants were subscribing. Sir Dugald and Lady Ippecacuanha had each sent a cheque for a hundred pounds. He was almost glad that that stone had made such a nasty cut on his temple now that the cause of religion had benefited so manifestly.

The novel which he was trying to read was called Temporal Power, by Marie Corelli. One of the nurses had lent it to him because she thought that Father Smith would be even nicer as a Scottish Episcopal clergyman than he was as a Roman Catholic priest and hoped that the book would convert him; but the priest found the book stupid and flamboyant and he let it fall on the coverlet and lay back on his pillow.

Outside in the street an invisible message boy passed singing up into the blue and gold morning:

'Anybody here seen Kelly,
Kay-ee-double ell-wye,
Anybody here seen Kelly,
Kelly from the Isle of Man?'

The song normally amused Father Smith, because it made him think of Monsignor Francis Canon Kelly, vicar general and protonotary apostolic, who always gave himself airs when he deputized for the Bishop and was allowed to sing pontifical High Mass in a white mitre; but today he didn't listen, because he was thinking of the events of long ago which had moved him to become a priest.

Hew was never quite able to make up his mind whether it was the girl at the dance or the woman in the lending library that had first made him conscious that God was calling him. All that the girl at the dance had said was, 'Kitty says that I'm sure to have a grand time at Ascot,' and all that the woman in the lending library had said was, 'Please give me a novel: something to while away the afternoon'; but both remarks had pierced the eighteen-year-old soul of Thomas Edmund Smith like nails and made him understand that Christ hadn't died sorely upon the cross so that girls might have grand times at Ascot and the hairy-cheeked wives of successful solicitors while away long afternoons by reading drivel. He could still see the woman's dresses reflected in pretty balloons of colour on the ballroom floor and he could still see the vast checked overcoat which the solicitor's horsey wife had been wearing, and stamped across them both the knowledge that these easy futile things were not for him.

From then on he had been shocked by the dreadful realization that to the majority of people in the world, the spiritual, the search to correspond with the good and the beautiful thing, simply did not matter at all. Once, in a train, a great lout of a baboon-faced doctor had asked him, 'What do you young men do with your spare time nowadays: booze or women or both?' Then young Thomas Edmund Smith, determined, at the risk of appearing a prig, not to deny from motives of human respect the truth that was in him, had answered, 'I don't know because I'm going to be a priest, you see.' At which the doctor had laughed with enormous violent hatred and said, 'What you want to do, young man, is to grow up.' Well, if to grow up meant to condone the ugly things that made for man's huge unhappiness, Father Smith was glad to think that he had not grown up yet.

It had not been easy to become a priest, of course. It had not been easy to give up the soft comfortable things of the world which were not sinful in themselves. Girls, too. Almighty God had made their lovely bodies, and it had not been easy to give up the hope of some day meeting one whose mind would be as beautiful as her hair; but nowadays, when he saw and heard the women he might have married yattering in public places, he did not think that God had asked such a tremendous sacrifice from him after all. And then, when. he had seen a few of them, all wet and dripping in their bathing dresses, the practice of chastity did not seem quite as difficult as some of the saints had made out.

There had been, too, the tremendous consolations: the days begun, continued, and ended with prayer; the early morning Masses on weekdays in the seminary, with the world outside all cool and still before men got up to make it dirty again; the Bishop who had ordained him saying in English, after the young priest had promised to obey him in Latin, `Thomas Edmund, me darling boy, I do believe you really mean it'; his first Mass, with his grey quiet old mother at the altar rails, waiting to receive the Body of God at his hands.

His mother was dead now, buried by himself in the new cemetery on the mountain-side. She who had first taught him to pray had seemed proud to be anointed by her own son, but Father Smith had felt very humble and very sure that the old lady was going straight to heaven. He still felt humble when he thought of her and countered his occasional temptations to spiritual pride by the method which she had taught him and which she herself, so she said, had learned from an Irish Benedictine. 'Always remember that you can't see into other people's souls, but you can see into your own, and so as far as you really know there is nobody alive more wicked and ungrateful to Almighty God than yourself,' she had said.

He tried her remedy now, lying back and praying with cool hands upon the cool sheets. He prayed for himself, because he knew that he ought to have been much holier than he was, because he was a priest. Then he prayed for the repose of the soul of Judas Iscariot, because he knew that even his case wasn't desperate, because God might have granted him the grace of final repentance as he fell from the tree. Then he prayed for Marie Corelli, because he thought she really ought to have known better and thought that God would think so too. Down in the street another message boy began to sing, 'Anybody here seen Kelly?' but Father Smith didn't hear him, because he had fallen asleep.


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