Chapter 8

in which Father Smith is seen off at the railway station by the Bishop, his compadres and the nuns before leaving for war as a chaplain.

When Father Smith left for the front as a chaplain, the Bishop insisted on accompanying him to the station. Monsignor O'Duffy and Father Bonnyboat had gone on ahead in the cab with the priest's luggage, because they knew that the Bishop wanted to walk alone with Father Smith, so that he could explain about Father Bonnyboat having been appointed to look after his parish during his absence. Quite a lot of soldiers as they passed saluted Father Smith because of his officer's uniform and Father Smith saluted back and the Bishop took off his hat as well because he thought it was only polite.

'You see,' the Bishop began as they walked along the war­like streets with sailors lurching out of public houses and gaudy women in high laced boots lurching out with them, 'you see, you've been away from the Holy Name for nearly a year now, and Father Bonnyboat's curate at Our Lady, Mirror of Justice, is quite capable of taking over from him. And the Holy Name has become such a very much more important parish than Our Lady, Mirror of Justice, that I felt that only a priest with Father Bonnyboat's experience...

'Your lordship has no need to explain,' Father Smith said. 'I understand perfectly, and I assure you that I find the arrangement most reasonable.'

'I was sorry that you should be among the first of my clergy to go, but I do not think that I should have willed it otherwise,' the Bishop said. 'I cannot help feeling that a great and lasting spiritual good is going to come out of this war. How could it be otherwise with so many of our bravest and fairest and youngest dying so nobly for so great a cause? There is going to be a great opportunity for the Church of God after this war, Father, and those priests will best be able to take advantage of it who have known the comradeship and shared the hardships of the gallant men who shall make the world anew.'

Father Smith did not know quite what to say because, although he wanted to agree with the Bishop, he knew that the majority of the men with whom he served had no consciousness of fighting in a spiritual crusade. For one came to know men as much by what they didn't talk about as by what they did. The conversations in the anteroom and at the table of all the messes he had known had all been distressingly similar: Bruce Bairnsfather, Alice Delysia, George Robey, Phyllis Monkman, a good time on leave, ready for another crack at the Hun. He had never heard anyone talking about the war being fought to usher in the Kingdom of Christ on earth, although the politicians and prelates in Parliament, press, and pulpit kept on asserting that that was indeed the case. But how could it be the case if the very men who were fighting the war were not fired with the same purpose? Indeed, did they not very often give the impression of being willing to go to almost any lengths to keep the Kingdom of Christ as far in the background as possible? If the war were not a crusade, then ought not His Holiness Pope Benedict XV to do something about stopping it, since there were pious practising Catholics fighting on both sides? Looking at the Bishop's placid peaceful white hair creeping out from under his broad black hat, Father Smith abandoned his perplexities. The war must be being fought for some good end if so holy a man as the Bishop tolerated it and Pope Benedict XV, deep in the panting heart of Rome, surely knew his own business better than any pernickety quibbling parish priest. Then a large empty-eyed loose-mouthed slut chewing chocolate at the entrance to a public house caught his attention and Father Smith recognized Annie Rooney, a child of Mary who hadn't been to Mass for the last two years. The priest gazed at her appealingly, but the girl stared back rudely and then strutted off with a sailor. The Bishop had been looking at the public house too.

'Perhaps public houses look more wicked from the outside than from the inside,' he said.

'That unhappy girl is one of my parishioners or at least she used to be,' Father Smith said.

'Perhaps she looks more wicked from the outside too,' the Bishop said. 'In any case, I shouldn't worry too much about her if I were you, Father. She may be like that just now, but once the war's over and righteousness enthroned, she'll be a good-living Christian like everyone else or she will feel horribly unfashionable if she isn't.'

When they arrived at the station, Father Bonnyboat was waiting for them by the big new advertisement for Bovril. He took Father Smith by the arm and fairly lugged him onto the platform, where Miss O'Hara was waiting with a fair selection of her cock-and-hen choir and Monsignor O'Duffy, his tram ticket still stuck in the side of his hat, ready to conduct it. As soon as the Bishop and Father Smith appeared, they broke into 'Ecce Sacerdos Magnus,' because, although it was chiefly Father Smith whom they had come to honour, they couldn't very well forget the Bishop, especially when he was always so kind and friendly to everybody and not the least little bit stuck up about being a bishop. Then when they had sung their Latin they sang their Scots: 'Bonny Chairlie's Noo Awa.' The tears came to Father Smith's eyes as he watched them, because he knew that it wasn't about Prince Charlie at all that they were singing, but about himself, because he was leaving them and they didn't want him to go and were shy about saying so right loud out. Reverend Mother and Mother Leclerc and Mother de la Tour were there also, but they weren't singing, because it would have been wrong for nuns to sing secular songs in public, but Father Smith knew that down beneath their holy bibs their hearts were singing just as loudly as anybody else's. Then, 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 the train that was to bear him away came rolling tinily along the embankment.

Monsignor O'Duffy stopped the choir at once and, mopping his brow with his red handkerchief, said, 'I now call upon his lordship the Bishop to make a wee speech.'

'My dear children in Jesus Christ, we are gathered together today to bid farewell to one of our most beloved priests and pastors, the Reverend Father Thomas Edmund Smith, or perhaps I should say Captain Smith,' the Bishop began. Father Smith looked away from the Bishop, because he knew that the Bishop was looking at him and meaning every word he said. He looked at the bookstall, piled with Gene Stratton Porter's A Girl of the Limberlost, Jean Webster's Daddy Longlegs, and Nash's Magazine serializing Saints' Progress by John Galsworthy, but he couldn't help hearing some of the flattering things the Bishop was saying. It all made him feel humble and rather guilty because he knew he wasn't really the saint the Bishop was trying to make him out to be, but an unworthy servant of his Lord who often lost his temper and let his mind wander during his prayers, which were things no really devout priest would ever do. Then little Elvira Sarno, who was nine now, stepped forward and presented him with a bouquet of roses, which she said were from the nuns and the school-children and which they had picked from Mother de la Tour's garden, and might his thoughts of them be always as sweet. There was a great deal of clapping and Monsieur O'Duffy shouted 'Speech!' and Father Smith somehow heard himself talking back at them, thanking them for their kindness and telling them about how good our Lord wanted them all to be, especially in time of war. Then Monsignor O'Duffy raised his hand again and they all sang 'For He's a Jolly Good Fellow,' and this time Father Smith was almost sure that he could see the nuns singing as well, although he supposed that they oughtn't to be. Then they all broke up and churned along in a crowd to pack him into his compartment.

The priest was rather shamed to be travelling first-class in front of them all, because he knew that none of them ever travelled first-class, not even his lordship the Bishop, when he was jogging about the Highlands on episcopal visitations, and he explained to the Bishop and the nuns that it wasn't really his fault, but that there was a rule about it in the army. The Bishop and the nuns said that they quite understood, and Monsignor O'Duffy said that he and the Vicar General had once travelled first-class for nothing from Kincairns Junction to Gormnevis, because there had been no more room in the third-class carriages owing to the Sodality of the Sacred Heart and the Bona Mors Society both having their annual outings on the same day that year. Mother de la Tour said that she had never sat in a first-class carriage before, because she had always been brought up to believe that people who travelled in first-class carriages went straight to hell when they died, and she asked Reverend Mother if she thought that there would be any sin in her trying the cushions just to see how soft they really were, and Reverend Mother said, 'Puisque c'est comme ça, allez-y les essayer un peu.' So in front of the eyes of a block-faced captain of artillery who was pretending to read The Rough Road by W. J. Locke, Mother de la Tour tried out the cushions and bounced up and down on them to the greater glory of God and cried through the open window that, even in paradise itself, cherubim and seraphim could desire no more comfortable choir stalls.

Then the Bishop said that it was time for Father Smith to be getting into the carriage himself, because the engine had shunted round to the other end of the train and he could see the guard getting ready with his green flag. So Father Smith shook hands with them all and knelt down and kissed the Bishop's ring and the Bishop gave him his blessing in a swift little Latin patter. Then Father Smith got into the carriage and shook hands with them through the window all over again. The captain of artillery in his corner looked more imperturbable than ever. Then the minister of the High Kirk and Lady Ippecacuanha both appeared from nowhere and the minister said that, although he had not the honour of belonging to the same great communion as Father Smith, he nevertheless wished him Godspeed and a safe return, and Lady Ippecacuanha said that Father Smith mustn't say a word to her husband, but she felt in her bones that she was going to become a Roman Catholic one of these fine days, which wasn't altogether as strange as it might sound because she had once known a countess who had been to Lourdes. Out on the platform Monsignor O'Duffy raised his hand, and because they didn't know any more secular songs the Bishop and the choir and the nuns sang the 'Non Nobis, Domine,' because they knew that they were not sufficient to think anything of themselves as of themselves, but that their sufficiency was from God. They were still singing as the train moved away and Father Smith's eyes were too full of tears to see the captain of artillery rudely staring.


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