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1: The Bishop's Fool (part 1)

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Author Topic: 1: The Bishop's Fool (part 1)  (Read 3 times)
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« on: January 20, 2023, 10:39:10 pm »

RETURNING from Sweden a short while ago, in the M.S. Volsung, a sumptuous ship, I experienced the utter peace which only sea-travel can provide. A few passengers, I among them, had made their way to the sun-lounge beyond the American bar. We wallowed in deep cushioned receptacles, rocked upon the gently heaving sea; a music programme of the Swedish radio crooned away at a suitable distance. Like all peace it was artificial, and no doubt a little sugary, but all of us were conditioned to appreciate any kind of peace. It was one of the appropriate amenities of a neutral vessel: we were going back to blood, sweat, and tears No. 3. Even the boastful growl of the alcoholic American which could be heard from within, nearer the bar where he crouched over a table, vainglorious but confidential, even this was soothing, like the rumbling of a volcano not in eruption. And upstairs three young Englishmen, innocent of vulgar emulation, hurled deck quoits or whatever they were called, and when their quoit was expelled from its transitory nest complimented the other fellow and obviously preferred to be the loser. Success is always a little beastly. It is less glorious to sit upon another fellow's chest than to be sat on by another fellow—if he is a decent fellow. For this voyage at least we were all to be out of reach of human passions. Even the unseemly effort involved in the propulsion of this luxurious monster from one side of the North Sea to the other was only felt as a muffled throb, an agreeable subterranean tom-tom.

For some reason I began to think just then of Rymer. Were Rymer on board, I said to myself, what a different ship this would be. He would be arguing with the American within, or with one of these peace-loving inmates of the all-glass sun-lounge, arguing that Soviet Russia was maligned by Press-magnates, and that the North Koreans were as a matter of fact in no way connected with the Kremlin: that the South Koreans (very corrupt and scheming puppets) had been the first to attack, and were of course the actual aggressors, though the Press unanimously asserted the opposite. Then on the upper deck, where the quoit players were, Rymer would have taken a quoit from one of the young Englishmen and proceeded to demonstrate how the game ought really to be played. There is little doubt that before we had reached Tilbury the captain would have received some valuable tips as to how to navigate his ship, and had Rymer got into the engine-room the chief engineer would soon have acquired a good deal more knowledge about the handling of marine engines than he had possessed twenty-four hours before. Finally, should this energetic friend of mine have happened to be crossing at a week-end with Sunday supervening, he would have insisted upon holding divine service anglo-catholicly for English passengers, with a parade of Roman formularies, which (few English tourists today belonging to classes susceptible to ritual) would not have been well received. But whatever the special circumstances, with Rymer on board the ship would have ceased to be at peace. Such pacific bliss as I have dwelt upon would have been out of the question: politics, religion, and the itch-to-teach would have combined, a trinity of irritants, to sow disquiet in the ship from one end to the other.


Whether this is the best way to approach the subject of Rymer I hardly know, but there is this: you are introduced not to the man-in-the-flesh, with all his physical irrelevancies, but to disembodied action. You see only ideally what he does, what only he would do, like the action of a Poltergeist: an invisible something, with the famous Yorkshire name of Rymer. So, anyway we start with the functional essence of Rymer. Having begun with the effect I will turn to the cause; give an account of this unusual creature, whom you may judge to be a Christian pest, a dangerous busybody, or a saint in motley.

We met in the following manner. It was not in fact a meeting but he had the next place to me in the Reading Room of the British Museum. This accident has no more significance than sitting next to somebody in a bus—it does not, happily, constitute a "meeting": and if it is converted into a meeting by one of the parties, is properly resented. Not a Webb addict, I had on this occasion, by the purest chance, put in a slip for some Fabian tracts and this was the uppermost of a half-dozen books awaiting me on my return from lunch. I should perhaps add, for the benefit of those unacquainted with the B. M. Reading Room, that the official ticket protruding from each book brought by the attendant displays the name as well as the seat number of the reader for whom it is destined. This may be a relevant fact.

I was preparing to begin work when a shadowy figure existing only in the corner of my eye, occupying the chair and desk-space to my right, unexpectedly thrust out a hand and gave the Fabian tracts an emphatic slap.

"Splendid stuff, Mr. Wyndham Lewis!" was the unwelcome oral accompaniment of the pawing of my book. Then there was another vigorous pat. I looked fixedly and coldly at the intrusive hand, ignoring the shadow in the corner of my right eye to which it belonged and from which it had strayed uninvited into my reading territory. I turned to the left, presenting my back to so unduly extrovert an organism. This is all I remember, beyond the fact that when I had finished my reading and stood up to go, I noticed that the chair to my right was vacant.

It was ten days later that a letter arrived, with a Midland postmark, at the foot of which I read Samuel Hartley Rymer (Rev). This was fairly carefully written: for these were the only words in the whole letter that I felt absolutely certain about. However, I thought I gathered that my correspondent—"if not", as he feared, "quite beyond my means"—desired to purchase a work of mine: "a small painting? or a drawing which is probably all I could afford." I disentangled these sentences from the shapeless jumble of his script. Finally, he was reminding me, it came to light, of the impertinent stranger who had spoken to me in the Reading Room of the Museum. "I am afraid that was me." So! My neighbour who had smacked my pile of books was a parson? I saw at once how that might be.

The Museum episode was not calculated to recommend me to Mr. Rymer but I thought I would see him. It was two hundred years since the Enlightenment and six centuries since the Age of Faith. And of course I knew that in its "dry" form the Rot was in the wood roof of the churches, in reredos, in pulpit, and in pew. It was my idea that this might be a good opportunity to learn whether the Rot has entered into the Cloth. Did it rage beneath the surplice and eat away the roots of faith, in the impalpable centres of belief? For though faith began to die in the flock half a millennium ago, I have always supposed that a priest must secrete a little of it.

When I went to the door in answer to Rymer's knock, a large passionate and weary and frustrated face was thrust up towards mine—a not unhandsome one I thought. (We are of the same height, but it was thrust up because of the clerical crouch, and there was the prayerful angle of the supplicant's eyes.)

To a Frenchman, in my place, a slovenly overgrown schoolboy would have been standing there on the doorstep: which would have been to overlook or ignore the English tradition of expressing superiority by means of shabby garments: and then the fact that it is not the Englishman's idea to get mature. Maturity pertains to another ethos, continental and not insular. Let me add in this context, that irresponsible boyish "mischief" is a favourite alibi with the Anglo-Saxon.

But to return from the general to the particular, my visitor was a hulking forty-something, hatless, spectacled. Not come as the well-heeled patron, surely. Just dropped up from a by-no-means fashionable watering-place to get a glass of milk, trying to look at once commanding and appealing as the farmer's wife comes to the door.

My first impressions I was obliged later very radically to scrap, to Rymer's advantage, I mean. I am the possessor of a tough eye. It does not soften what it sees: it hands me everything like a photographer's untouched photograph. In this case, it noted with a relentless acuity what had narrowly escaped being a lantern jaw, which it was only prevented from degenerating into by his masterful vitality. It registered the eloquent feminine mouth which pursed itself almost primly and then shot out its lips at right angles, the rest of the mouth not moving, to be a spout for speech to rabble-rouse or to exhort—as urchins do in their word-battles. He reads verse better than anyone I have ever heard: he was the quietest crooner, he was soft like a man talking to himself about something he had seen, at once matter-of-fact and unearthly. And he knew the weight in Heaven of every word in the dictionary.

As I saw him for the first time I observed of course the eyes of a somewhat worried but stubbornly amused, big dog. I saw that the nose was shapely, the brow large. Those first impressions did not have to be modified: but in the end one would forget the ecclesiastical chin-line; one would assess at their proper value the disfigurements associated with eloquent verbal discharges—such as the spout-like propensities of the shooting-lips, the wildly wrinkled brow.

There was no clerical collar on his large weather-beaten neck. It was framed instead with the gaping collar of a soft blue shirt. "Where is your collar?" I demanded. Minus his master's name upon a brass-plate, collarless and unidentifiable, this big dog was at large in London. But, "Got it in my pocket!" came popping out the brisk rejoinder: "Do you want me to put it on?" He had produced it and held it in his hand. "Not before coming in," I said. "Not at once," he echoed, putting the collar back in the pocket.

The collar had looked authentic. "Please come this way," said I, leading my incognito man-of-god upstairs, into my work room. I looked narrowly at him of course. We were there under the vast sculptor's window: he exposed his rugged worried countenance to the glare of the sky without an unbecoming diffidence, but quite simply as if to say, "Well here I am. Since you seem inclined to scrutinize my person, this is what I look like." I was searching for signs of the Rot, of course.

What he actually said was: "You must have thought it great cheek for me to write to you. I feel I am here under false pretences."

"You must not feel that," I said. "Why should you?"

"It is very good of you to say so."

"Please sit down," I told him as I sat down myself. He followed suit, silently. Rather stiffly expectant he sat there as if awaiting my next move. I sat studying him, however, and he did not look at me.

It was not that he really felt in a false position, I'm sure of that: and there is nothing shy about Rymer. At this first meeting, for a little while, I had a sense of a youthful manner: of an attempt rather curious in view of his massive maturity—to suggest the early years of manhood. This did not survive our first meeting. It was perhaps a manner he adopted, under certain circumstances, with strangers. I think he produces (however battered it may be) the undergraduate he once was. In any case, it was a very different approach to the aggressive book-slapping of the Museum.

"You like pictures?" I enquired, as I saw him looking at a Rowlandson which hung near him.

"I do very much. I have some. Two or three, perhaps you might like."

"I understand you wish to add to your collection?" I then said, for this patron would have to be brought to the point, if he was a patron. And if he was not, it was best to find out what his errand was. His response was satisfactorily prompt and clear.

"Yes. I should like to acquire a work of yours, unless it is altogether beyond my means."

After I had produced two small canvases, and perhaps a dozen drawings, he stuck one of the drawings up against the back of a chair, returned to where he had been sitting and proceeded to examine it (from much too far off, as a matter of fact). It was a large, strongly coloured, gouache of a number of nude horsemen. Rigidly stylized, certainly; but with the black arcs of the horses' legs against a shining lagoon, and so on, possessing enough romantic literary appeal to recommend it to an intelligent clergyman. I knew it would look far better on his walls than he could foresee.

I left him in front of the drawing, and went downstairs to answer the telephone. When I returned he was standing up. He asked me whether I would sell the drawing—he liked it very much. I told him I was glad and the price of it was thirty pounds.

He began making out a cheque, saying as he did so, "May I take it away with me?" There was no objection of course, and shortly he handed me that cheque and received the drawing wrapped in brown paper, with an arrow to show where it should be held. I pushed cigarettes over; he took a horrific pipe from his pocket and asked if he might be allowed to smoke. We neither of us wished to terminate the interview with the production of the cheque (I was quite prepared to find that it bounced). We talked for a short while about pictures—my hours of work, my training in Paris—the disadvantages of the naked overhead sky as a source of light. Then he had pipe-trouble, and when we were able to converse again I asked him about himself. What manner of life did he live at Bagwick Rectory and if he came up to London?

No, he did not come to London often. He could not afford to: and very quickly I found we had passed into astonishingly uninhibited intercourse. Yielding to my discreet invitations he opened up, and I looked in, as if into a woman's handbag. I must confess that what I saw there in the matter of hard cash embarrassed me for a moment. The thirty pounds in my pocket (in the form of a cheque) had left about tuppence three farthings; all mixed up with the bus-tickets and hair-pins and little girlish secrets. And far from being averse, I found, from laying bare economic secrets, he relished exposing them. Somewhat abashed, as I have said, by his unexpected exhibitions, I steered off on to more general subjects. I attempted to distract him with racontars and perhaps a few caustic indiscretions. In these early hours of our friendship, I recall, Rymer played the parson a little. For instance, in response to one of my exposures of a colleague's vanity he exclaimed "You wicked man!" as parsons had in England in the heyday of the Cloth, over muffins and seed cake—the parsons the inimitable du Maurier, and Trollope, too, of course, were acquainted with.

While these pleasantries were occurring I had time to think. My new patron's annual income as Rector of Bagwick was, he disclosed, theoretically six pounds a week, but naturally it was not tax-free and neither he nor his wife had any means of their own. The pound sterling slides downhill all the time, but there is one thing that is stationary as a rock in England, namely the clergyman's stipend. That does not rise correspondingly. Clergymen cannot strike so their wages are not adjustable to meet rises in the cost of living. Had I unaware got a dustman for a patron I should have been amused: as it was I said a little crossly, "So you are paying me a month's salary?" "Yes," with firm relish he assented—it amused him as much as if he had been a ragpicker: "Yes—about."

I privately examined the likelihood of his being a phoney. Of course I could have given him the thing. If he was really so poor a clergyman I would do that. I decided to be cautious. Then I enquired, "Why are you indulging, Mr. Rymer, in this absurd extravagance?" and something like the following dialogue ensued:

Myself. "You have about five shillings a week pocket money?"

Rev. Rymer. "Sometimes!"

Myself. "Is not this drawing an absurd extravagance?"

Rev. Rymer. "That's what my daughter says!" (In a classy rhetorical whine—apt to terminate in a comic wail—to which he was sometimes addicted.)

Myself. "You're a wicked man!"

Rev. Rymer. "Yes," with unabated promptitude, "I'm a miserable sinner!"

Myself (kindly). "Does not your conscience prick you?"

Rev. Rymer. "Ought it to?" (Parsonically quizzical.)

Myself. "I know mine ought to, if I accept money for that drawing, now I know your circumstances."

Rev. Rymer. "That is absurd. It was generous of you to let me have it so cheaply. I make a little money on the side."

Myself. "How?"

Rev Rymer. "Oh, by coaching. Not very much, but it is a little. I only spend that, on my London trips—and this, of course."

Myself. "I have a special cheap rate for poor men of religion, 'rich of holy thought and work'. You could have availed yourself of that. Had I known...."

Rev. Rymer. "Have you a special fee?" (He gurgled merrily.) "Have you many of us as clients?"

Myself. "Quite a few. But you can't even afford.... You would be straining your resources if you bought a picture-postcard Sunflower of Van Gogh!"

Rev. Rymer. "Oh well, provided we can laugh at such embarrassments."

Myself. "Poverty is not a laughing matter—for an artist. For a priest it is the preordained condition and affluence is disgraceful. You can go on laughing."

Rev. Rymer. "But I am not really poor. I live in the country. You do not realize how inexpensive life is at Bagwick."

Myself. "You six-quid-a-week capitalist!"

Rymer is an individual not without dignity. He is large and serious and worried. And he is quite exceptionally arrogant. If he heard this he would not like it, but he is the most aggressive dogmatist I know, as was indicated in my preamble. If your electric oven is a serious problem, or your studio painfully hot in summer, he will, with his invariable promptitude and patness, and with an affectation of salesmanship technique, propose a gadget to regulate the first, and install (in theory) a novel ventilation system to correct the second. There is no handicap he will not convert in the twinkling of an eye into a triumphant asset. Should you suffer from asthma he will be your doctor: if you are a philosopher assailed with doubt he will overhaul your system—or if you do not fancy a system, he will show you the best way to get on without one, as a light-hearted empiricist.

It is easy to see how a village-priest is apt to develop into a wiseacre, and where this technique might be highly appropriate. Of course with me he has to behave himself up to a point, but he would be a bad man to have around if one were in a wordly position defenceless against this amateur lawgiver. Though a kind man, he could not resist the opportunity. He literally boils with the heat of his private absolute. Sometimes I have had to wrestle jovially for hours with this didactic dragon.

If this is a fault which takes up a good deal of room here, out of proportion to its importance, his virtues are unusual. He is one of those men with whom one finds oneself conversing at once with the freedom of two tramps meeting at a dusty cross-road, open to one another in the freemasonry of the propertyless. He is touched with the heroism of the destitute, even if it is malgré lui that he is of that caste. He is not a throw-back to the religious mendicant, he is an advance copy (imperfect but authentic) of the hobo-holiness of Tomorrow. So actually we get on because both are poor, and a fastidious absence of dignity (the intelligent hall-mark of English education) neutralizes, in its operation, such faults as the relic of class-bossiness, in its parsonic form, which I have described. Oxford has cooked Rymer so successfully that whatever else he may be he is not raw. At times I have felt he is over-cooked, or perhaps it would be better to say overoxfordized.

A clerical playboy he emphatically is not. But at times il en a l'air. Much is, as I have suggested, mannerism induced by métier. I hope the man of parts I write of is not disappearing beneath such elaboration: not this poor clergyman who forgets he has no money, who yearns for honour—who certainly has dreamt of fame, but who dreams incessantly now of social justice and a new, bright, bossy, fraternal world—a new Jerusalem. He comes from a part of England that has bred rebels like rabbits. His verse is of a wizard elegance, the song of a rather mechanically cheerful bird, on the highest and frostiest bough in a frost like the last frost of all, celebrating the winter of our discontent as though it were the morning of the world.

With a brave curl of the chapped lip Rymer is ready to take on his cavernous jaw whatever buffet, in spite of his prayers, cruel Providence swings at him. This, if not mute, inglorious Rymer, eating his heart out in a remote rectory, risks going short of fuel or food every time he buys a ticket for King's Cross for no strictly clerical purpose—just to come up for air: to spend a few days in London, go to hear Grosser preach, go to see a high-brow film at the Academy, or stare at paintings in the small Galleries.

It took quite some time to digest Rymer. It was like overcoming the flamboyance of French prose in an author who by chance has something to say. His verse is the reverse of the personality however. If he conversationally bludgeons his way through the world, if that is the outer animal, within he is attentive and quiet. On top of all is social splashings, but beneath there abides in the Rymerian deeps something which is only seen in his verse, which has at times a submerged quality of great intensity. It might be the noiseless canticle of a cephalopod. I shall have to take back the wintry mechanical bird, this is a better image.

How it was we came, at our first meeting, to be communicating with such rugged readiness immediately will be a little plainer presently perhaps. Rymer did not come in as a stranger you see—almost with a "hallo!" He refuses to be a stranger to anybody. He has the secret I think of his divine Master, he is no mere official of the Church. Within five minutes, with someone he had never seen before in his life, he would be telling him how to fix his lighter, the best way to get to sleep at night, or in what to invest his money.


The talk about his status as a patron, to go back to that, died down. Further personal revelations however followed. His situation looked to me a very ugly one. At this point the actual field-work began. What he was telling me, now, concerned his position as Rector, and it was related to the new standing of all the rural clergy in England. The final ruin of the landed society was factor number one, though Heaven knows no traditional Squire would have tolerated Rymer—he himself representing a new brand of parson. However, before I proceed I ought to say that the information I am about to impart was not all acquired on the first day we met. Nor, of course, was Rymer the Rymer I now know yet. The process of progressive understanding by means of which density is acquired by the phantom stranger, even with such an extrovert as Rymer demands some little time. Again, the facts he divulged concerning his life at Bagwick I only fully grasped the meaning of when a little later I passed some time in the different parts of the post-war English countryside. I went where he lived and functioned too, and checked at first-hand. So what is the narrative proper will now begin, ending with the last news I have had of him—most disagreeable events which I fear will change his life for the worse.


English village life until quite recently was, of course, dominated by the Squire: the old order, which had long ceased to have any meaning in the towns, clung on in the English villages. It was with the Squire that the Rector, or Vicar, had to deal. Often he owed his appointment to the local big landowner, and in any case he was apt to have the most say in questions relating to the Church. That is still the position in many places, certainly, though it is manifest that this last faint shadow of the feudal situation is about to disappear completely. From the fifteenth to the twentieth century has been an interminable fade-out. In what an American magazine described as "the Crippsean Ice Age" there is no room for the "country gentleman"; even a clergyman in the old sense must be an outrageous exotic.

Those of the landowning class who have disposed of their "seats", parks and estates, may even now not be the majority. Comedy to which they are not averse, lightens the lot of those who will not be frozen out of their seats, or who retain a toe-hold in some cumbersome seventeenth-century Renaissance palace. Some convert their country seats into apartment houses for local businessmen (I know of such cases in Wales for instance), themselves occupying a modest suite in one of the flanking towers—from which vantage-point they can keep an eye on their lodgers. One, I know, lived alone with a man-servant and his now decrepit nannie, in a house about the size of Wellington Barracks. The Park is now a golf-links, the Club-house a hundred yards or so from the Hall: tradesmen from the neighbouring city put and stibble all around the main entrance. Then I remember being told of a well-known Marquess and his Marchioness who dig and hoe side by side in the vegetable garden adjacent to their palace (which they would describe of course as a "country-house"), inhabiting the few rooms that can be kept clean with a vacuum cleaner wielded by an elderly domestic or by the not very robust Marchioness. Finally, there are those who live in a gardener's house upon the estate and act as cicerone to sightseers come to visit the huge and ostentatious shell where one of the greatest lords of England used to live in state. There is one case of this sort in which a handsome young Countess, a former "school teacher", married to the earl during the blitz, escorts parties around. It is reported that she levels some very caustic cracks at her husband's ancestors, whose portraits snootily placard the towering walls of the rooms of state.

Seeing how long ago the feudal age ended, it is remarkable how intense a sentiment of pleasurable inferiority still subsisted in the English countryside as late as the first years of the present century, from which the Church derived advantage, and which sentiment it encouraged. Anyone familiar with the countryside before the radio and the automobile, would be inclined to feel that the end of the Manor must mean the end of the Church. But Rymer has a quite different destiny for the Church. What he would really like, I believe, is that it should replace the Manor.

However, a new power has come on the scene, most unexpectedly, in many parts of the country, and automatically has occupied the place left vacant by the Squire. I refer to the new-rich Farmer (rich partly owing to Government subsidies). The men who have the big farms, of a thousand acres up, are the new variety of big bug, once you get outside the town, for they are in fact the biggest thing in sight. Wherever a Squire, or other aristocratic authority, has dropped out, the force of circumstances, if not their own volition, pushes these other agricultural bosses in. The Farmer's tenure of power will be brief: but there he is. He will remain until such time as this Government, or the next, as it must be, much more radical, collectivises his property. Who can say, without unwarrantable optimism, that he will not be shot as a Kulak?

In the rural parish of which Rymer is the agent of salvation such a transference of power as I have indicated has taken place—much to his disgust. A farmer possessed of fifteen hundred acres, himself coming of a long line of yeomen farmers, but (odious complication) grammar-schooled at the school once attended as a day-boy by Rymer himself, and hovering between yeoman and gentleman, is the big man in the eyes of the village now. Most of his labourers in fact live there.

The Squire is a highly intelligent man, not cut out to play that part at all. He has sold his farms and other property, is seldom down at Bagwick—which is a perfectly hideous place, though the Manor is a fine specimen of the Dutch Gable period proper in the manorial architecture of England. So he has little say in village affairs, and the fact that he is well-disposed to my friend does not alter the situation. It is Jack Cox, the young farmer, with whom Rymer for his sins is confronted. This little rustic capitalist is Samuel Hartley Rymer's cross. For Jack Cox neither likes Rymer's politics, nor his brand of religion (Anglo-Catholic), nor his big sweet worried argumentative face.

For ten years Farmer and Rector have not spoken to one another: or if the latter has proffered a Christian greeting, the former—the farmer—had disdainfully declined to return it. Rather, this was the position until only the other day, to which I will come later on. The farmer's aggressiveness has become much more marked since the war: he has addressed complaints personally to the Bishop; then he drew up a petition, for which he obtained a number of signatures in the neighbourhood, for Rymer's removal. Several times my friend has been visited by the Archdeacon who acts as a one-man Gestapo, the Bishop's emissary detailed to investigate any case of this kind and report. If a few vague and desultory enquiries can be called a cross-examination, Rymer underwent that at the hands of the Archdeacon. The Rural Dean has bent a puzzled eye upon him. So poor Rymer has been the object of too much attention to be comfortable, But the last time the meek envoy of the Cathedral showed up, with elaborate casualness he observed: "Let us see, Rymer, did I not hear it said that you wrote—er—articles? It seems to me I did." When Rymer agreed that he had indeed done that, the Archdeacon added, smiling a little slyly and shyly, "And verse—or am I wrong?" Rymer made no difficulty about admitting that he was married to immortal verse. But the interpretation he put upon this interrogatory surprised me at first. He regarded it as a very favourable omen. His literary habits, he felt, would excuse a good deal, especially the writing of verse. The farmer's indictment would melt away confronted with that fact, or at least would be blunted.

The charges brought by the farmer, it seems, are multiple. First, there is the usual one with which all clergymen have to contend, namely that he is lazy, lies down on the job, keeps the church in a dirty condition, never visits the sick for fear of infection: that he just draws his pay and lazes around, except for an hour or two of very hot air on Sunday—which does not however warm the church and the children come home sneezing their heads off, and old people who were fond of going there had stopped doing so because it was too dangerous after October the first.

Next come his papist habits: the stink of incense that one can smell half the way down the road, the flexing of the knees and other ungodliness. All farmers like a "broad churchman" and dislike and suspect a "high churchman", and Jack Cox was no exception to the rule. But there was another charge that may have carried far more weight, if only because it is not often heard. Jack Cox accused the Rector of being a "red"—the farmer's bane—of stirring up his labourers, of contaminating the parish with radical doctrine, of being a disturbing and immoral influence.

When first Rymer disclosed this latter charge I stared at him. I said "A Red, too!" He gave his little short breathless laugh, his eyes never participating. "Yes. It is true," he told me, "that I am in favour of telling the United States to keep its beastly dollars, and to trade with Russia instead." He stirred about vigorously in his chair, I noticed. Any mention of the United States inflamed him, but because of his sacred calling he was obliged to smother the flames within, or to bottle them up. This engendered a physical uneasiness.

"Is that being a red?" he asked. "If so I am one."

"But you advertise a desire for more social justice?"

"Certainly!" he protested. "Don't you?"

"Well, you are a socialist."

"Call it that, if you like."

"Which of course would make Mr. Attlee 'a red'."


That was as far as I got upon that occasion. He did tell me a little later that he had "sat on the same platform" as the Red Dean (of Canterbury). I, of course, do not know everything. The farmer had a case, I suppose. He could be described as a "political priest", no doubt, which is all, under certain circumstances, the farmer would need. But those circumstances did not exist as it happened.

The Archdeacon, dispatched by the Cathedral the first time, unseen by Rymer, poked around the neighbourhood in his shabby clerical automobile, discussed with some the weather, with others the crops, learned that Rymer was a total abstainer, that he affected to smoke a pipe—but there was rarely any tobacco in it: that he had never been known to make passes at the maid at the rectory (there had never been any there). The Archdeacon had had some practice in mollifying parishioners on the score of the "redness" (or "liberalism", as he had learned to call it) of their vicars. He had got rather to enjoy doing this, as people who play a game well welcome opportunities of displaying their skill.

As for Anglo-Catholicism, that was apple-pie to the Archdeacon. One might almost say that he had been specially trained in the art of turning people's minds away from the swinging of the censers in the churches of the diocese—and he had had reason to observe that a certain "redness" or "pinkness" was frequently associated with these liturgical eccentricities. The Bishop no one could accuse of a tendency to totalitarianism; on the other hand he was one of the "highest" bishops in the country. So of course this conjunction of the "pink" and the "high" was not invariable.

As an ecclesiastical administrator the Bishop was no man of iron. A rather picturesque-looking aristocrat, he would listen, his eyes half-closed, the graceful silver-curling head bowed far more in sorrow than in anger, to the reports of his clerical watchdog—who was not a very fierce dog either. "Ah!" the Bishop would intone despondently as the Archdeacon uttered the dreadful word drink. "Mum!" the Bishop would softly ejaculate as the Archdeacon muttered young girls of fifteen (or choirboys in the Vestry) as he reported his findings in connection with some poison pen letter, or on some accusation levelled at a curate who was said to use scent.

But it is probable that were Rymer discovered (to make use of an extreme illustration), when the teller's back was turned, with his hand in the till of the local branch bank in the nearby market-town, the Bishop would only murmur, "Rymer is an extremely impetuous clergyman, defective in judgement, I think. He is apt, don't you agree, to forget that he is now a weighty and responsible incumbent and acts as wild curates sometimes do. In the present case he would undoubtedly have returned the bundle of five-pound notes later: for I assume he was testing the vigilance of the bank clerk. It is most like him to interfere in what does not concern him. Poor Rymer! Always his actions rather resemble those of the practical joker." And were it further alleged that Rymer, when discovered, had produced a gun, which he pointed at the teller, the Bishop would have observed: "A revolver? Rymer would be more likely to blow himself up with such a weapon than to harm anyone else. It was clearly some prank—everything points to that, I think. Poor Rymer! I have often thought Rymer missed his vocation, he should have been an actor. However, I regard him as the right man for Bagwick, quite the right man. The people like him. And ... as a living Bagwick is not a very attractive proposition." Were Rymer on the other hand to murder the gamekeeper of a neighbouring Coal Board executive, it would not be because the famished Rymer had been caught poaching—no. It would be because Rymer had mistaken the gamekeeper for a poacher. There was no imaginable crime of which a clergyman stood accused, which would not have received this treatment—been melted away in the mellow mildness of the Bishop's mind.

It was the Bishop of Storby's invariable belief that clergymen in his diocese were popular. Then the anglican priesthood is the worst-paid calling in Great Britain today. This is a major fact that must be ever present to the mind of a high functionary of the Church. Indeed, should any man be so eccentric as to express a desire to join the greatly depleted ranks of the clergy, a warm welcome would be given to a ticket-of-leave man, an ex-Borstal boy, or a tubercular hunchback who could with difficulty sign his name. It is as bad as that: and in this particular diocese the position was exceptionally acute, because of the county's marked absence of amenities. As it was, nearly half the clergy made themselves responsible for two churches. Should the pound sterling continue to lose its value, many churches would have to be closed down, clergymen seeking other work. Rural populations would have in their midst a large empty building, standing in a graveyard, symbolising the vacuum where once there was Faith. The ex-Anglican parishes would become the missionary field for the witch-doctors of a variety of cults.

Accordingly anyone prepared to face the rigours involved in entering holy orders, is eligible—rigours which might make a holy calling of this again. In the rural diocese of which Rymer's parish formed a part, one of the vicars was an ex-hairdresser. He made a first-rate clergyman and on Saturdays cut his parishioners' hair free of charge. Though he lacked the equipment to give them a "perm", he interviewed the local belles at the vicarage and advised them as to the style of dressing most suited to their hair and personality. So you can see that it really was not much use signing petitions to have a clergyman removed. And were Rymer removed the See would be obliged to find him another living—such, it seems, is the law of the Church. The rectory he vacated might quite well remain untenanted, its church padlocked, its bell unrung, a bad advertisement for Jesus. In view of all this Rymer (as he put it in his letters) "sat back". Why should he worry? It was tails I win, heads you lose. He felt completely master of the situation—up to June 28. But he was a fretful, discontented man, his bubbling masterful surface-self, his big arrogant poker-face the bluff, as he recklessly played his hand, of a very pessimistic player.

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