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The directness of his questions

by tangwei 中國1 年前

Father Soledano wrote to Francis and thanked him pro tourisme , and Francis invited him to come and see him. The invitation was accepted, and the two men found that they had many things in common outside their profession, and they had many a long talk about old Dublin days. Soledano was amused by the Anglican’s easy-going optimism, and Francis was shocked, interested, and stimulated by the priest’s almost cynical pessimism. They never discussed religion. To a certain extent they secretly allied forces in their work of dealing with the moral and economic difficulties of their poor, a certain substratum of whom were ultimately Catholic and Anglican according as they could win the attention and sympathy of the district visitors or the Little Sisters, though they hardly ever attended service either in the Cathedral or in St. Paul’s.

Every now and then Soledano would come to supper at Fern Square on Sundays Conference organisers , and it so happened that he was there when Bennett Lawrie appeared for the first time dressed sprucely for the occasion with a new suit and a very high collar and a blue birds-eye tie. The whole family was present, having been to church in full force—Serge read the Lessons—and they had sat down to their meal, having forgotten all about young Lawrie, when there came a resounding peal at the bell. The servant was out and Gertrude opened the door to him. His face was utterly tragic, and he could hardly find his voice to ask if Mrs. Folyat were in. Gertrude admitted him, showed him into the dining-room, where several people were talking all at once, and disappeared into the kitchen to fetch him plate, knife, and fork. It was some moments before Frederic recognised him—two gas-jets in glass globes do not give very much light—and Bennett suffered agonies of shyness and began to wish he had never come. He saw Francis open his mouth and insert a large piece of cold beef and his beard wag as he chewed it slowly, and he rather resented it. He had romanticised Francis, and had always pictured him in his vestments very saintly and impressive. The other man, Soledano, sitting between Mrs. Folyat and Minna, looked much more like a saint. . . . [Pg 98]Minna gazed at Bennett with mischievous approval, and he thought her very beautiful and cast down his eyes. Frederic said “Hullo” and told his mother who Bennett was, and Mrs. Folyat bade Serge and Mary make room for the young man between them. Gertrude returned with plate, knife and fork. Bennett sat down at the place made for him, and conversation was resumed and flowed on over him. It was chiefly concerned with food, and Mrs. Folyat was very anxious to know what Father Soledano had to eat at the priests’ house. He told her they ate very little meat and a great deal of macaroni. Mary tried to talk to Bennett but could get nothing out of him but “Yes” and “No.” He liked music but knew nothing about it, and had never been to a concert.

Serge tackled him. The directness of his questions embarrassed Bennett, and the kindliness of his interest moved him so that a lump rose in his throat and he could hardly get out his replies. He had, he said, been born in the town and had hardly ever been away from it; once to Scotland, where his father came from, and once to Westmoreland and once to Derbyshire. His family were so poor, you see, though they had once been quite rich and lived in a big house with a garden. He could just remember the garden. He was nineteen and had been in business since he was sixteen, first of all in a little office where there was only one clerk, and then, by the influence of his uncles, in a great firm of shippers where, if you did not earn very much, you were at any rate safe. His mother was Low Church and his father was a Presbyterian but never went to any place of worship. He had two brothers and two sisters, but they were all older than himself and didn’t care about the things he cared for, though one of his brothers sang in the choir at the Church of the Ascension, where they only wore surplices and no cassocks. . . . Timidly he asked Serge if it was true that he was an artist, and Serge laughed and said he was a sort of middle-aged embryo.

“That must be splendid,” said Bennett, wistfully. “I draw, but not real things, only dreams and horrible grotesques vacation packages to Hong Kong . We started a family paper once but the [Pg 99]others wouldn’t do anything, and I had to write it all myself and draw all the pictures, and they laughed at everything I did, and I drew a picture of my mother being carried off by the devil and they burnt it. I write verses about the people in the office, but they don’t like them unless they’re—you know—rather nasty. We can’t smoke in our office and everybody takes snuff. I think I’d like to have been a clergyman.”

 

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