The Naylors

The Naylors by J.I.M. Stewart

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Authors: J.I.M. Stewart
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And anyway, daddy, I don’t see what it has to do with the Prowses.’
    ‘It’s as if we were stacking up parsons against your uncle.’
    For a moment Hilda found nothing to say. This, she was thinking, was what comes out of those absurd public schools. Obtuse business men like daddy, not all of them wholly scrupulous when in their offices, roam the land exhibiting a hypertrophied sense of fair play.
    ‘But Mr Prowse is just a parson,’ she asserted a shade impatiently. ‘Whereas Uncle George, before he took to the slums and so on, was on his way to being rather a good theologian. No doubt Father Hooker is that too. Even if they get going on the thing after dinner – which is extremely improbable in itself – Mr Prowse will simply keep mum and sip your port. He sips tea with the kind of old women who waste their pennies on your bingo, and he could probably give both the others points at that. But he won’t weigh in about Jesus Christ having perhaps been a sacred mushroom.’
    Edward Naylor, although without the reading that might have enabled him to make something of this last crude remark, appeared reassured by his daughter’s picture of the situation, and he didn’t even resent that bit about bingo. The wholesale purveyors of leisure-time diversions were coming to stand where the wholesale purveyors of beer and stout had stood: in the socially impregnable position of those who make humble life bearable. He could afford the routine family jokes about the basis of the family prosperity.
    ‘And there’s the bell,’ he said. ‘I expect there’s only that gawky girl. You go.’
     
    The dinner started off quite well. Father Hooker, counselled by Henry, had made only slight changes in his attire. That George Naylor was in mufti wouldn’t strike the Prowses as out of the way: it was normal enough in a clergyman on holiday. Christopher Prowse was in his usual frayed but well-laundered dog-collar: it was only his jacket and trousers that showed spotty in places – this because the Prowses had to think twice about dry-cleaning. The near-poverty of the Vicar of Plumley and his household was a source of embarrassment to Edward Naylor. It was difficult to do anything about it with proper tact. Edward had recently gathered that a ten-pound note put in the bag at Easter no longer goes prescriptively into the clerical pocket. The embarrassment was shared to some extent by George, who had felt unable (without ungraciousness) to divest himself of a small private income deriving from the family business. Even Mrs Naylor was not untouched by it. She had been obliged to arrange for a plain dinner on occasions like the present ever since she had heard her elder son say something coarse-grained about treating the poor devil to a square meal. To describe a clergyman as a devil struck her as peculiarly wrong.
    That things went well was largely due to George, who talked with animation. Hilda saw with satisfaction that her uncle’s troubles were outweighed for the moment by the simple pleasure he took in a family gathering. She backed him up by taking a larger share in the conversation than was usual with her. Asked about her Italian trip by Mr Prowse, she gave a full account of it, avoiding the awkward issues that had cropped up in her discussion with Uncle George. This was a success. The vicar had visited Italy as a young man, and was given to recalling the occasion on a nostalgic note. He said it was a source of lasting regret to him that he had failed to see Assisi. The tour, he explained, hadn’t run to it. Hilda saw that Mr Prowse, like most Anglican parsons, was prepared to regard as of peculiar sanctity the city that had been the birthplace of St Francis.
    But at this point Henry Naylor behaved badly by announcing, plainly with malicious intent, that he had heard Assisi was a well-run little place since the municipality had been taken over by the Communists. The claim, whether fact or invention, upset the Prowses, and it

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