in which Lady Ippecacuanha is mistaken for a Mormon
and receives a lesson on humility from Father Smith.
On God's clock it was the Feast of Saints Perpetua and Felicity, Martyrs, 1914, when Lady Ippecacuanha went snooping into Father Smith's new tin church to see how the building of the sanctuary was getting on. In her Donegal tweed costume and tackety golf brogues and with her monocle like a half-crown in her eye, she clacked up the aisle and entered a front pew, where she knelt with well-bred arrogance, for, although she was a suffragette and had set fire to the bookstall at Kincairn's Junction, she was a religious woman and believed that God was in most places, even in Roman Catholic churches. Kneeling there, she came to the conclusion that she rather liked the smell of incense, which was, after all, ever so much pleasanter a disinfectant than carbolic.
The sacristan, who now had a full-time job looking after the church and cleaning it, came out from putting fresh flowers on the Lady altar and saw her kneeling there. Mistaking her, by reason of her monocle, for a man, he came up from behind and tapped her on the shoulder.
'Take off your hat in the hoose o' God,' he commanded.
With a jerk of her head Lady Ippecacuanha turned her full frosty face and red hair upon him.
'Can't you see that I'm a woman?' she asked.
'Mormon or no Mormon, take off your hat in the hoose o' God,' the sacristan commanded.
In the presbytery Father Smith was sitting reading the Catholic Trumpet, which, as usual, was full of parish pump and diocesan drain. 'Ne lisez jamais les petits journaux religieux,' his confessor was reported to have counselled Baron von Hügel. As he read the holy bilge and sacred bunk, Father Smith could believe that the Baron had been well-advised. He was not able to think about this for long, however, for the front-door bell rang loudly and Lady Ippecacuanha came marching in just as though she were looking for a golf ball to hit with a brassie.
'Father Smith, I must ask you to dismiss that rude verger of yours immediately,' she said, as flaming as her red, red hair.
Father Smith had met Lady Ippecacuanha twice in his life before: once when he had called at Glenclachan to thank her and Sir Dugald for their generous contribution towards his new church; and once at a non-sectarian charity concert where she had sung 'Have You Ever Seen an Oyster Walk Upstairs?' and knocked a flower pot over into the orchestra.
'Perhaps if you were to tell me exactly what the matter is,' he suggested.
Lady Ippecacuanha told him briefly, bluntly, and blisteringly. She said that she had never been so insulted in her life. Observing a twinkle in the priest's eye as she spoke, she concluded with vehemence:
'I can see that you are amused, Father Smith; I am not amused and I do not think that my husband will be amused either when I tell him what has occurred. I must say, however, that I am rather surprised at your attitude, because, in spite of the fact that you are a Roman Catholic clergyman, you have always impressed me as being a gentleman and not at all like some of your colleagues, that dreadful man Monsignor O'Duffy, for instance.'
'My ,dear Lady Ippecacuanha,' Father Smith began, praying quickly to God to help him because he had been amused and because Lady Ippecacuanha and Sir Dugald had each given a hundred pounds towards the building of his new church, 'my dear Lady Ippecacuanha, I am sorry indeed if my sense of the grotesque has run away with me. For it is as grotesque that you should be mistaken for a Mormon as myself for a prizefighter, and I think that I should pardon you a smile, Lady Ippecacuanha, if I were indeed to be mistaken for a prizefighter. I cannot, however, dismiss my sacristan for such a misunderstanding, because he, after all, was only doing his duty, seeking to exact reverence towards our Blessed Lord in the Sacrament of the altar even from those whom he presumed to be ignorant of His presence. I cannot do it, Lady Ippecacuanha, even although you and your husband have been so generous to my church, and I cannot give you back your money, because it has all been spent long ago. And Roman Catholic clergymen are all God's gentlemen, Lady Ippecacuanha, in that they fulfill Cardinal Newman's definition of the term, as never wittingly wishing to do hurt to anyone. Monsignor O'Duffy may not see to eye with you and me on certain points of social etiquette, but he never smokes his pipe in God's drawing-room, which is a much more important matter. He has a big free and he loves our Lord with the simplicity of a little child. If he were to be mistaken for a Mormon or even for a tight-rope walker, I think that not only would he be amused himself, but that he would expect other people to be amused too, since his vocation as a priest of God is so plain for all to see.' He did not look at Lady Ippecacuanha until he had finished making this speech, and when he did look, he was surprised to see that her eyes were full of tears and that her prominent big yellow teeth were sticking right out of her mouth like piano keys. 'I am sorry, Lady Ippecacuanha,' he said. 'I assure you that I had no idea ...'
'There is nothing whatever to be sorry about, Father Smith,' she said, smiling through her tears as she dabbed at them with a mighty handkerchief. 'I am a wicked, proud, vain, arrogant woman and I thank you for a most efficient lesson in humility.' She thrust out a great paw at him as she spoke, and Father Smith, feeling rather foolish, shook it, because he did not see what else he could do.
As he accompanied her to the door, Lady Ippecacuanha began to talk about Father Bernard Vaughan and how she had heard him on two occasions in Farm Street and what a very fine preacher she thought him. Father Smith said that the Sunday on which the Jesuit had preached the first of his famous sermons on the sins of society had come to be known as the First Sunday After Ascot, and Lady Ippecacuanha, who was not very subtle, said that she wished the priest would pitch into golfers as well, because there were some dirty cads who smoothed down the sand in bunkers with their niblicks when they thought their opponents weren't looking.
As they stood on the top of the steps at the entrance to the presbytery, a surge of ragged scruffy children came screeching and scampering up the street from the parish school. Some of them were barefooted and some were dirty and some of them had jammy rings round their mouths, but those of the boys who had caps on took them off as they passed the church, because they knew that Jesus was there in the tabernacle, and they took them off to Father Smith as well, and most of the little girls waved their hands. Seeing the involuntary expression of distaste sweep over Lady Ippecacuanha's rocky well-bred face and knowing that she was going to feel humble again a second afterwards, Father Smith helped her by explaining:
'In this country the Church is the Church of the poor, Lady Ippecacuanha, and on the whole I'm not sorry, since it tends to keep both clergy and people in the invigorating and spiritual and material conditions of primitive Christianity. In Scotland our bishops are not asked to meet visiting princes or to exchange courtesies with diplomats, and so they accept their episcopal dignity as God intended that they should accept it, simply and humbly, as a duty rather than a privilege. And our lay-folk, who know that it is easier for a camel to pass through a needle's eye than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven, accept their poverty as a proof of God's love and offer up their slavings, their ticket-punchings, and their scourings as a psalm to His greater honour and glory. They are not very clever, most of them, it is true, but both the stupid and the intelligent have always crowded out the Church of God; it is the half-educated who have always been too proud to come in.' Thinking that he had perhaps gone too far, Father Smith was glad when Lady Ippecacuanha drew his attention to her husband, swaggering up the street with their fifteen-year-old son, who, it was obvious from a distance, had no jammy ring round his mouth.
Sir Dugald Ippecacuanha had a purple club-window face and smelt of Harris tweed, liquorice pellets, and cigars. He had been a professional soldier for ten years, but had retired from the army to manage his estate. His son was a golden boy who had already won his school colours for cricket.
'Father Smith's just been giving me a most salutary lesson in humility,' Lady Ippecacuanha explained.
'Glad somebody's able to keep her in order, Father,' Sir Dugald rumbled. 'And to tell you the truth I'm not altogether surprised that it should be an R.C. padre. Met a lot of them in the army and they always struck me as being good fellows. You know, no nonsense about them. Didn't give a damn about religion any more than anybody else did. We had one with us in the mess at Delhi. Drank like a fish and played a rattling good game of polo.'
Father Smith didn't quite agree that the characteristics which Sir Dugald had mentioned were an essential qualification of a priest, but he decided that he had done enough preaching for one morning, and besides Sir Dugald was obviously trying to be kind.
'Looks as though there's going to be trouble soon,' Sir Dugald said as Lady Ippecacuanha and he took their leave. 'I don't like the look of Germany at all. Well, if it comes to the bit, I'll be ready enough to get into the scrap. Soldiering's a washout in time of peace, but it's grand in time of war. And perhaps Alistair'll be in it too. He's a sergeant already in his O.T.C. at school. If it comes to the bit, every boy with grit'll long to be in it.'
Father Smith could see that Lady Ippecacuanha didn't share her husband's enthusiasm and he didn't share it himself, because he thought wars between nations could only hinder men from living as our Lord would have them live. When he went back into the presbytery, he found it difficult to begin his office because Sir Dugald's words had disturbed him so much.
|Back to index||
This page has been visited
00151 times since May 22, 2016