‘The good shepherd giveth his life for his sheep’ John 10:11
The riverside dock road stirred with mysterious life. The doorsteps swarmed, the people thronged the streets, silent, grey flocks moving in one direction like birds migrating. Silence accentuated the sense of exaltation, silence and the eagerness that sharpened the lifted white faces.
Timothy Green step down from the crude red buss into a supernatural world. He had not expected anything like this. He could not make out what had happened, or what was happening. It was not a royal visit, for there was no chatter, no flutter of paper streamers, no bunting. It was not the return of a charabanc party, for there were no groups at street corners, no waiting, no gossip. These people moved together, as people impelled by one purpose. They were one.
It could be no common event, but something new and unearthly that possessed them and united them in the integrity of a secret and solemn joy.
Timothy began to move along with the crowd, watching the faces, looking for one less concentrated, less intense than the others, whom he might question without feeling himself an intruder. He found himself beside a young man wearing no shirt under his buttoned coat; the shape of his spine and his shoulders showed through it. Timothy touched his arm, “What is it all about?” he asked.
The young man swung round to him as if he were startled. He answered in a husky, rushing whisper: “Don’t you know? Father Malone is dead.”
Timothy made no answer. He could not understand why their priest’s death move these people to exaltation.
The harsh, rushing voice went on: “I’m not Catholic myself, I’m nothing, but it didn’t make any difference to Father Malone. He’d have given the shirt off his back to the devil himself if he’d have thought he could be cold in hell. He gave me his boots.”
“Gave you his boots?”
“Yes, that’s what he did, happened this way: we were under this very arch that we are under now, it was raining cats and dogs and we were taking shelter. I remember my boots were stiffed with mud and with blood too—”
“Yes, you see on I’d been on the roads—tramping—and my feet were bleeding. All of a sudden Father Malone said to me ’Let’s see the soles of your boots,’ and when he saw them and the holes in them letting the water in, down he went on his knees on the wet pavement, and before I properly knew what was happening, I’d got his boots on and he’d got mine.”
“Shame on you then!” a woman’s voice broke in. The young man went on: “He was a very little man was Father Malone, but he always had his boots a size or two to big, so as he could give them away more often. His were fine for me, but mine were three sizes too big for him. I’ll never forget him shuffling off in them with his umbrella up and the rain dripping off the brim of his hat.”
The woman who had interrupted turned sharply and said: “You should never have taken his boots, Sam Martin—and you a wastrel that never did an honest week’s work. You shouldn’t have taken his boots!”
“No, I shouldn’t have. But somehow or other I couldn’t help it.”
Another voice joined in: “That’s true, that priest was forever giving away what he should have kept for himself, and somehow or another you couldn’t help but take what he gave.”
“Sure,” it was the soft voice of Rose O’Shane, “no one can say no to the charity of Jesus Christ.”
‘Dry Wood’ chapter 1 ‘A Priest Lies Dead’ by Caryll Houselander