Roderick nodded uncertainly. "I guess so. Then what? Do I have to eat a cushion? I’m not sure my digestive tract can—"
"No. Don’t eat it. Pull out some stuffing and drag it back here."
Hildegarde looked at him impatiently. "You’ll see. We don’t have much time, Roderick! Father Murphy is going to be here any second. Bring back the stuffing. I’ll be up on that shelf. Go!"
Roderick scurried away.
"And you: be quiet!" Hildegarde called to Lucretia. Then she jumped to the arm of a chair, and from there to the sink counter. She eyed the distance to the shelf. It was still pretty far. She jumped next to a hook on the wall, and from there took a deep breath, then leapt to the shelf.
There! Now she was where she needed to be. Not a bad leap for an old lady, she thought.
She stood erect, held tightly with her paws to the glass bottle, and nudged at the stopper with her nose. The cork moved slightly. She nudged again. And again. There. It was out. It bounced once on the shelf, and fell to the carpeting.
"Roderick?" she called. He appeared in the doorway, dragging a length of gray cushion stuffing with his mouth. Still holding it, he looked up at her questioningly.
"Good!" she said. "Now I need that up here. Jump first to the arm of the chair. Don’t drop the stuffing!"
He did that, and looked up at her again.
"Now to the sink. It’s an easy jump."
He made it to the sink.
"Get a really good grip on the stuffing now, Roderick, because the next one’s quite a leap!"
Looking nervous, Roderick rearranged the position of his teeth a bit. "Over and up to that hook," she directed him. "You can do it! I did!"
From the trap on the floor came a small voice. "I’m praying for you!" Lucretia called.
Well, that’s a first, thought Hildegarde. "Go, Roderick!"
He took a deep breath, around the stuffing, and jumped to the hook.
"Now to the shelf!" she called to him.
He did it, and dropped the stuffing by her side.
"That was scary," he said. "And it was scary in the sanctuary, with the organ playing! I grabbed a cushion in the first pew, and—"
"Later, Roderick. Tell me later. No time now. I need you to wrap my tail with the stuffing."
He looked very puzzled. But he followed Hildegarde’s directions and carefully wound the gray fluffy material around her tail as she held it out to him.
"Good. Ignatious said to use a Q-tip, but of course we don’t have one. This should do. Now stand right here. I’m going to climb you."
Roderick leaned against the crystal and silver container and Hildegarde carefully climbed to his shoulders, then placed her rear paws, one by one, on the top of his head.
"Can’t be helped!" she told him. "Now hold very still."
He did so, and she lifted her cotton-coated tail up, and up, then curled it and dipped it into the open top of the container.
"What’s in there?" Roderick asked when she brought her tail out, dripping.
"Chrism? What’s that?" As she lowered her tail, he sniffed it. "Smells like the pine trees in the cemetery."
"It’s holy oil," she told him. "Actually, olive oil scented with balsam. Help me down now."
Getting down was slightly easier than getting up had been, even though her tail was heavy with wadded, oily cotton stuffing. Hildegarde went first. Holding her tail up so as not to smear the carpeting, she scurried over to where Lucretia waited.
"Hold my tail so it doesn’t touch the glue, Roderick, and then squeeze," she directed him.
Little by little they dabbed the oil on Lucretia’s glued parts while she whimpered. Several whiskers were hopelessly lost. But carefully, one by one, they were able to extricate her legs. Finally, only her tail was still stuck to the trap. With one last squeeze of the remaining oil, they moistened it, then tugged. Lucretia howled in pain, but the tail came loose at last and she toppled onto the carpet. Her fur was torn and mottled, and one paw was bleeding. She was weak, and weeping. But she was free. "Thank you," she gasped.
"Go and hide quickly," Hildegarde told her. "The service will be starting soon. Roderick and I will clean up in here."
Lucretia turned and limped heavily toward the door. Then she looked back with gratitude. "Hildegarde," she said, "you’re a saint."
The Blessing of the Animals
Ignatious appeared at the slightly opened door. "The pews are filling up! And the procession’s lining up outside!" he said. "Dripping wet!"
They could hear Father Murphy approaching the sacristy. "Hide in here with us, Ignatious!" Hildegarde suggested quickly. "Get behind the draperies, and be quiet while he puts his vestments on. Then we can go peek out and watch, after he leaves."
Ignatious scurried across the room and crouched behind the heavy draperies with Hildegarde and Roderick. "Oh my lord, what’s that?" he whispered, pointing to the glue trap which they had pushed against the wall. "And whose fur is on it?"
"Shhh. Lucretia’s. But she’s all right. We got her out."
"Duck!" said Roderick. "Here he comes."
Father Murphy entered and looked around. They held their breath. Hildegarde watched his black shoes move across the carpet, and then his hand reach down and pick up the cork that was lying on the floor. There was no way that she and Roderick could have returned the cork to the shelf.
"Oops! Popped your cork, did you?" They heard him chuckle. The sounds indicated that he had reached for the container of holy oil and moved it to the sink counter.
Then he opened the closet, removed his hanging vestments, and clothed himself for the ceremony. He was humming. Finally he took a deep breath and left the sacristy.
They could hear Trevor play a loud chord and the congregation began to sing. "All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small…" After all the verses of the hymn, Father Murphy would make some announcements, as always. Then the procession of the animals would begin.
Hildegarde whispered to Ignatious, a little shyly, "She called me a saint."
"Lucretia. Because I got her out of the glue trap. I used holy oil."
"Well, you are a saint, then! And actually, there is a Saint Hildegarde! Right up there among Saint Helena, Saint Honorata, Saint Hyacinth…"
Roderick interrupted. "What exactly is a saint, Ignatious?"
Well! As if it weren’t obvious! What a downright silly question! Hildegarde sniffed and raised an eyebrow at Roderick. What an old fool! But he was so sweet.
Ignatious frowned, and thought for a moment about the question. Then he said, "Someone who is especially blessed."
They were all silent for a moment. The music had stopped. They could hear Father Murphy say a few words about the Youth Group, about a special choir rehearsal, about a potluck supper. Then he announced loudly, "If the sexton would please open the doors now? Let the Blessing of the Animals begin!"
The doors of the church opened, and a small boy wearing a yellow slicker entered, carrying a wiggling puppy. Grinning broadly, he walked down the aisle. Father Murphy began:
"Heavenly Father, we give thanks
for the creatures of Thy creation,
each unique and wonderful…" The little boy reached the chancel steps, where Father Murphy was standing. The container of holy oil was beside him on a small table. He dipped his fingers into it. The priest touched the head of the puppy, smiled when it tried to lick his fingers, and murmured, "Bless this pet." Then he went on:
"…for enormous ones like the elephant
those that are humped like the camel,
or horned like the rhino…" "That’s just downright silly," Hildegarde whispered.
"Bless this pet," Father Murphy murmured, touching a bunny held up by a little girl.
"No camels here! No rhinoceros!" Hildegarde said. "What on earth is he talking about?"
"Shhh," Ignatious cautioned her.
"…for funny monkeys, furry bunnies,
friendly dogs and cats…" "Friendly? Cat? That’s outrageous!" Hildegarde could barely contain herself.
But Father Murphy had now said "Bless this pet" to several cats as well as a large three-legged dog, and next was a parrot in a cage entwined with flowers. One by one the owners with their animals, each decorated with ribbons or flowers for the occasion, approached him.
"…for timid birds, sleek golden fish, for the
lowly turtle and the majestic horse…" "No horse in sight," Roderick said.
"Pony coming, though," Ignatious pointed out.
Indeed, a young girl led a pony with a braided mane down the aisle. The pony actually seemed to bow its head as Father Murphy touched it gently and murmured his blessing.
"… for jungle beasts like the lion and
Hildegarde snorted. Lion and leopard? The idiocy!
More cats. Many more cats.
"… for the awkward giraffe and the
curious fawn…" Next, a turtle—there seemed to be a turtle every year. Then yet another cat, followed by a Dalmatian with a flower tucked into its collar.
And more cats still. The procession moved forward slowly.
"I cannot stand this another minute! Follow me!" Hildegarde suddenly ordered her two friends. She turned and scurried out the back door of the sacristy then into the wall and down the tangle of wires into the basement.
Ignatious and Roderick hurried along behind her, puzzled. She jumped up to the breaker panel and reached behind it into her cache of treasured things. "Here!" she said to Ignatious and Roderick, who were waiting on the floor, looking up at her. She nudged the contents of the little collection and the things fell down to them. Hildegarde jumped down and stood upright on her hind paws. She said, "Decorate me."
"What?" Roderick said in astonishment.
"Timid birds and sleek golden fish? Excuse me? And no mice? They thought they could get away with ignoring mice? There’s going to be a mouse in this ceremony! And I’m it!"
"But there are cats!" Roderick said nervously. "Many, many cats."
"I’ll risk it. It isn’t fair that he doesn’t bless a mouse! I’ll risk it on behalf of all of us!
"Saints do this kind of thing all the time," she added gently, as an explanation.
Ignatious had pawed though the little pile of her collected treasures. He picked up a green gumdrop and placed it carefully on Hildegarde’s head.
"Tie it down," she commanded.
"Oh, dear," said Roderick. "How?" He picked up the red satin ribbon that had once been a bookmark in the Book of Common Prayer, and tossed it over the gumdrop so that both ends fell to the sides of her face, behind her ears. Then he tied a bow beneath her chin.
"There!" he said. "Very becoming!"
Ignatious agreed, with an admiring nod.
"What else?" Hildegarde asked. She couldn’t look down. She had to hold her head quite carefully because of the gumdrop hat.
"Two gold threads. Quite lovely." Roderick held them up.