The Naylors

The Naylors by J.I.M. Stewart Page B

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Authors: J.I.M. Stewart
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have not.’
    ‘I was there quite recently. It’s one’s impression at first that the whole priestly class has been driven from the streets. Not so. The regulars, of course, are as they were. But the seculars – your parish priest, and so on – have taken to mufti. They may just wear a little gold cross – rather as our athletes and footballers are fond of doing nowadays.’
    Again there was silence. George’s kinsfolk probably felt that they had been required to listen to something impressively learned but not quite the thing. It was Mr Prowse who first ventured to speak.
    ‘Fascinating!’ he exclaimed – if with a certain lack of conviction. ‘ Theology, did you say? I must look it up. One gets terribly rusty, you know, under pressure of parochial work.’
    ‘Particularly,’ Mrs Prowse added, ‘since we’ve had Cubs as well as Brownies.’
    ‘I suppose that must be so.’ This came from a George who looked suddenly abashed and his familiar diffident self. ‘Delicious fish,’ he said to his sister-in-law. ‘Turbot, isn’t it? You must have a marvellous cook, Mary.’
    ‘Bream, George,’ Mary Naylor whispered.
    The domestic confidence pleased George. He had certainly come home.

III
    ‘You don’t think it’s going to rain?’ George Naylor asked his niece next morning. He and Hilda were first down to the breakfast table. ‘I’ve been out on the terrace, and there’s a low bank of cloud to the west.’
    ‘No, it’s not going to rain.’ Hilda tried not to sound amused. There had been something wistful in her uncle’s voice.
    ‘Good! I’ve arranged to go for a walk, as it happens, with—’ George braced himself for fun—’with this emissary from Tower Hamlets. I expect he’ll appear at any minute.’
    ‘How nice, Uncle George. I’ll come along too. When I’m at home I always walk the dogs after breakfast. It’s expected of me. One of my roles is kennel-maid.’
    ‘As a matter of fact, my dear . . .’
    ‘Yes, I know. And I won’t have it. Not at this indecent pace. Daddy agrees with me. He says they ought to let you have a breather, and my taking this first walk with you will perhaps be a hint of how we feel.’
    ‘But you mustn’t feel hostile towards Hooker. You see . . .’
    ‘Don’t you?’
    ‘Don’t I what, Hilda?’
    ‘Feel he’s a pain in the neck.’
    ‘Certainly not. I admit that, personally, I don’t find myself terribly attracted to him. But . . .’
    ‘So far, so good.’
    ‘Hilda, you must simply not take that line. For Father Hooker it’s a very serious matter, and we must at least be courteous to him. And I’m not sure I can quite rely on your brothers there. They might forget that he’s their parents’ guest.’
    ‘Willy-nilly, so far as we are concerned.’
    ‘We must put that out of our heads. And be fair to the chap.’
    ‘We must be fair with each other. So now then, Uncle George: honour bright. Why did you get off that train at Oxford?’
    ‘It was weak of me – and I was punished for it by finding the place isn’t even a comfortable bolt-hole any longer.’
    ‘Because its atmosphere is still heavy with Anglican piety? I can’t say I ever noticed it.’
    ‘Nothing of the kind. It was simply . . .’
    But at this moment Father Hooker entered the room. Disconcertingly, he had, like Uncle George, put on a turn-down collar and a tie. In answer to Hilda’s prescriptive question, he said that he had slept very well. Country air, he told her, always agreed with him and gave him an appetite. With this jocular preface, he set about foraging for what appealed to him. Whatever his shortcomings, he couldn’t be called awkward or ill at ease. When the two cocker spaniels came lolloping in to claim their due he made their acquaintance cordially if inexpertly straight away. This was rather a surprise. There had been a positively awkward moment on the previous evening when he had betrayed an almost pathological aversion to the two Plumley cats. These

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