By Arthur Christopher Benson
Often as I have thought of my old friend "Father Payne," as we affectionately called him, I had somehow never intended to write about him, or if I did, it was "like as a dream when one awaketh," a vision that melted away at the touch of common life. Yet I always felt that his was one of those rich personalities well worth depicting, if the attitude and gesture with which he faced the world could be caught and fixed. The difficulty was that he was a man of ideas rather than of performance, suggestive rather than active: and the whole history of his experiment with life was evasive, and even to ordinary views fantastic.
Besides, my own life has been a busy one, full of hard ordinary work: it was not until the war gave me, like many craftsmen, a most reluctant and unwelcome space of leisure, that I ever had the opportunity of considering the possibility of writing this book. I am too old to be a combatant, and too much of a specialist in literature to transmute my activities. I lately found myself with my professional occupations suddenly suspended, and moreover, like many men who have followed a wholly peaceful profession, plunged in a dark bewilderment as to the onset of the forces governing the social life of Europe. In the sad inactivity which followed, I set to work to look through my old papers, for the sake of distraction and employment, and found much material almost ready for use, careful notes of conversations, personal reminiscences, jottings of characteristic touches, which seemed as if they could be easily shaped. Moreover, the past suddenly revived, and became eloquent and vivid. I found in the beautiful memories of those glowing days that I spent with Father Payne—it was only three years—some consolation and encouragement in my distress.
This little volume is the result. I am well aware that the busy years which have intervened have taken the edge off some of my recollections, while the lapse of time has possibly touched others with a sunset glow. That can hardly be avoided, and I am not sure that I wish to avoid it.
I am not here concerned with either criticising or endorsing Father Payne's views. I see both inconsistencies and fallacies in them. I even detect prejudices and misinterpretations of which I was not conscious at the time. I have no wish to idealise my subject unduly, but it is clear to me, and I hope I have made it clear to others, that Father Payne was a man who had a very definite theory of life and faith, and who at all events lived sincerely and even passionately in the light of his beliefs. Moreover, when he came to put them to the supreme test, the test of death, they did not desert or betray him: he passed on his way rejoicing.
He used, I remember, to warn us against attempting too close an analysis of character. He used to say that the consciousness of a man, the intuitive instinct which impelled him, his attack upon experience, was a thing almost independent both of his circumstances and of his reason. He used to take his parable from the weaving of a tapestry, and say that a box full of thread and a loom made up a very small part of the process. It was the inventive instinct of the craftsman, the faculty of designing, that was all-important.
He himself was a man of large designs, but he lacked perhaps the practical gift of embodiment. I looked upon him as a man of high poetical powers, with a great range of hopes and visions, but without the technical accomplishment which lends these their final coherence. He was fully aware of this himself, but he neither regretted it nor disguised it. The truth was that his interest in existence was so intense, that he lacked the power of self-limitation needed for an artistic success. What, however, he gave to all who came in touch with him, was a strong sense of the richness and greatness of life and all its issues. He taught us to approach it with no preconceived theories, no fears, no preferences. He had a great mistrust of conventional interpretation and traditional explanations. At the same time he abhorred controversy and wrangling. He had no wish to expunge the ideals of others, so long as they were sincerely formed rather than meekly received. Though I have come myself to somewhat different conclusions, he at least taught me to draw my own inferences from my own experiences, without either deferring to or despising the conclusions of others.
The charm of his personality lay in his independence, his sympathy, his eager freshness of view, his purity of motive, his perfect simplicity; and it is all this which I have attempted to depict, rather than to trace his theories, or to present a philosophy which was always concrete rather than abstract, and passionate rather than deliberate. To use a homely proverb, Father Payne was a man who filled his chair!
Of one thing I feel sure, and that is that wherever Father Payne is, and whatever he may be doing—for I have as absolute a conviction of the continued existence of his fine spirit as I have of the present existence of my own—he will value my attempt to depict him as he was. I remember his telling me a story of Dr. Johnson, how in the course of his last illness, when he could not open his letters, he asked Boswell to read them for him. Boswell opened a letter from some person in the North of England, of a complimentary kind, and thinking it would fatigue Dr. Johnson to have it read aloud, merely observed that it was highly in his praise. Dr. Johnson at once desired it to be read to him, and said with great earnestness, "The applause of a single human being is of great consequence." Father Payne added that it was one of Johnson's finest sayings, and had no touch of vanity or self-satisfaction in it, but the vital stuff of humanity. That I believe to be profoundly true: and that is the spirit in which I have set all this down.
September 30, 1915.
I. FATHER PAYNE II. AVELEY III. THE SOCIETY IV. THE SUMMONS V. THE SYSTEM VI. FATHER PAYNE VII. THE MEN VIII. THE METHOD IX. FATHER PAYNE X. CHARACTERISTICS XI. CONVERSATION XII. OF GOING TO CHURCH XIII. OF NEWSPAPERS XIV. OF HATE XV. OF WRITING XVI. OF MARRIAGE XVII. OF LOVING GOD XVIII. OF FRIENDSHIP XIX. OF PHYLLIS XX. OF CERTAINTY XXI. OF BEAUTY XXII. OF WAR XXIII. OF CADS AND PHARISEES XXIV. OF CONTINUANCE XXV. OF PHILANTHROPY XXVI. OF FEAR XXVII. OF ARISTOCRACY XXVIII. OF CRYSTALS XXIX. EARLY LIFE XXX. OF BLOODSUCKERS XXXI. OF INSTINCTS XXXII. OF HUMILITY XXXIII. OF MEEKNESS XXXIV. OF CRITICISM XXXV. OF THE SENSE OF BEAUTY XXXVI. OF BIOGRAPHY XXXVII. OF POSSESSIONS XXXVIII. OF LONELINESS XXXIX. OF THE WRITER'S LIFE XL. OF WASTE XLI. OF EDUCATION XLII. OF RELIGION XLIII. OF CRITICS XLIV. OF WORSHIP XLV. OF A CHANGE OF RELIGION XLVI. OF AFFECTION XLVII. OF RESPECT OF PERSONS XLVIII. OF AMBIGUITY XLIX. OF BELIEF L. OF HONOUR LI. OF WORK LII. OF COMPANIONSHIP LIII. OF MONEY LIV. OF PEACEABLENESS LV. OF LIFE-FORCE LVI. OF CONSCIENCE LVII. OF RANK LVIII. OF BIOGRAPHY LIX. OF EXCLUSIVENESS LX. OF TAKING LIFE LXI. OF BOOKISHNESS LXII. OF CONSISTENCY LXIII. OF WRENS AND LILIES LXIV. OF POSE LXV. OF REVENANTS LXVI. OF DISCIPLINE LXVII. OF INCREASE LXVIII. OF PRAYER LXIX. THE SHADOW LXX. OF WEAKNESS LXXI. THE BANK OF THE RIVER LXXII. THE CROSSING LXXIII. AFTER-THOUGHTS LXXIV. DEPARTURE
It was a good many years ago, soon after I left Oxford, when I was twenty-three years old, that all this happened. I had taken a degree in Classics, and I had not given much thought to my future profession. There was no very obvious opening for me, no family business, no influence in any particular direction. My father had been in the Army, but was long dead. My mother and only sister lived quietly in the country. I had no prosaic and practical uncles to push me into any particular line; while on coming of age I had inherited a little capital which brought me in some two hundred a year, so that I could afford to wait and look round. My only real taste was for literature. I wanted to write, but I had no very pressing aspirations or inspirations. I may confess that I was indolent, fond of company, but not afraid of comparative solitude, and I was moreover an entire dilettante. I read a good many books, and tried feverishly to write in the style of the authors who most attracted me, I settled down at home, more or less, in a country village where I knew everyone; I travelled a little; and I paid occasional visits to London, where several of my undergraduate and school friends lived, with a vague idea of getting to know literary people; but they were not very easy to meet, and, when I did meet them, they did not betray any very marked interest in my designs and visions.
I was dining one night at a restaurant with a College friend of mine, Jack Vincent, whose tastes were much the same as my own, only more strenuous; his father and mother lived in London, and when I went there I generally stayed with them. They were well-to-do, good-natured people; but, beyond occasionally reminding Jack that he ought to be thinking about a profession, they left him very much to his own devices, and he had begun to write a novel, and a play, and two or three other masterpieces.
That particular night his father and mother were dining out, so we determined to go to a restaurant. And it was there that Vincent told me about "Father" Payne, as he was called by his friends, though he was a layman and an Anglican. He had heard all about him from an Oxford man, Leonard Barthrop, some years older than ourselves, who was one of the circle of men whom Father Payne had collected about him. Vincent was very full of the subject. He said that Father Payne was an elderly man, who had been for a good many years a rather unsuccessful teacher in London, and that he had unexpectedly inherited a little country estate in Northamptonshire. He had gradually gathered about him a small knot of men, mainly interested in literature, who were lodged and boarded free, and were a sort of informal community, bound by no very strict regulations, except that they were pledged to produce a certain amount of work at stated intervals for Father Payne's inspection. As long as they did this, they were allowed to work very much as they liked, and Father Payne was always ready to give criticism and advice. Father Payne reserved the right of dismissing them if they were idle, quarrelsome, or troublesome in any way, and exercised it decisively. But Barthrop had told him that it was a most delightful life; that Father Payne was a very interesting, good-natured, and amusing man; and that the whole thing was both pleasant and stimulating. There were certain rules about work and hours, and members of the circle were not allowed to absent themselves without leave, while Father Payne sometimes sent them off for a time, if he thought they required a change. "I gather," said Vincent, "that he is an absolute autocrat, and that you have to do what he tells you; but that he doesn't preach, and he doesn't fuss. Barthrop says he has never been so happy in his life." He went on to say that there were at least two vacancies in the circle—one of the number had lately married, and another had accepted a journalistic post. "Now what do you say," said Vincent, "to us two trying to go there for a bit? You can try it, I believe, without pledging yourself, for two or three months; and then if Father Payne approves, and you want to go on, you can regularly join."
I confess that it seemed to me a very attractive affair, and all that Vincent told me of the place, and particularly of Father Payne, attracted me. Vincent said that he had mentioned me to Barthrop, and that Barthrop had said that I might have a chance of getting in. It appeared that we should have to go down to the place to be interviewed.
We made up our minds to apply, and that night Vincent wrote to Barthrop. The answer was favourable. Two days later Vincent received a note from Father Payne, written in a big, finely-formed hand, to the effect that he would be glad to see Vincent any night that he could come down, and that I might also arrange an interview, if I wished, but that we were to come separately. "Mind," said the letter, "I can make no promises and can give no reasons; but I will not keep either of you waiting."
Vincent went first. He spent a night at Aveley Hall, as the place was called. I continued my visit to his people, and awaited his return with great interest.
He told me what had happened. He had been met at the station by an odd little trap, had driven up to the house—a biggish place, close to a small church, on the outskirts of a tiny village. It was dark when he arrived, and he had found Father Payne at tea with four or five men, in a flagged hall. There had been a good deal of talk and laughter. "He is a big man, Father Payne, with a beard, dressed rather badly, like a country squire, very good-natured and talkative. Everyone seemed to say pretty much what they liked, but he kept them in order, too, I could see that!" Then he had been carried off to a little study and questioned. "He simply turned me inside out," said Vincent, "and I told him all my biography, and everything I had ever done and thought of. He didn't seem to look at me much, but I felt he was overhauling me somehow. Then I went and read in a sort of library, and then we had dinner—just the same business. Then the men mostly disappeared, and Barthrop carried me off for a talk, and told me a lot about everything. Then I went to my room, a big, ugly, comfortable bedroom; and in the morning there was breakfast, where people dropped in, read papers or letters, did not talk, and went off when they had done. Then I walked about in a nice, rather wild garden. There seemed a lot of fields and trees beyond, all belonging to the house, but no park, and only a small stable, with a kitchen-garden. There were very few servants that I saw—an old butler and some elderly maids—and then I came away. Father Payne just came out and shook hands, and said he would write to me. It seemed exactly the sort of thing I should like. I only hope we shall both get in."
It certainly sounded attractive, and it was with great curiosity that I went off on the following day, as appointed, for my own interview.
The train drew up at a little wayside station soon after four o'clock on a November afternoon. It was a bare, but rather an attractive landscape. The line ran along a wide, shallow valley, with a stream running at the bottom, with many willows, and pools fringed with withered sedges. The fields were mostly pastures, with here and there a fallow. There were a good many bits of woodland all about, and a tall spire of pale stone, far to the south, overtopped the roofs of a little town. I was met by an old groom or coachman, with a little ancient open cart, and we drove sedately along pleasant lanes, among woods, till we entered a tiny village, which he told me was Aveley, consisting of three or four farmhouses, with barns and ricks, and some rows of stone-built cottages. We turned out of the village in the direction of a small and plain church of some antiquity, behind which I saw a grove of trees and the chimneys of a house surmounted by a small cupola. The house stood close by the church, having an open space of grass in front, with an old sundial, and a low wall separating it from the churchyard. We drove in at a big gate, standing open, with stone gate-posts. The Hall was a long, stone-built Georgian house, perhaps a hundred and fifty years old, with two shallow wings and a stone-tiled roof, and was obviously of considerable size. Some withered creepers straggled over it, and it was neatly kept, but with no sort of smartness. The trees grew rather thickly to the east of the house, and I could see to the right a stable-yard, and beyond that the trees of the garden. We drew up—it was getting dark—and an old manservant with a paternal air came out, took possession of my bag, and led me through a small vestibule into a long hall, with a fire burning in a great open fireplace. There was a gallery at one end, with a big organ in it. The hall was paved with black and white stone, and there were some comfortable chairs, a cabinet or two, and some dim paintings on the walls. Tea was spread at a small table by the fire, and four or five men, two of them quite young, the others rather older, were sitting about on chairs and sofas, or helping themselves to tea at the table. On the hearth, with his back to the fire, stood a great, burly man with a short, grizzled beard and tumbled gray hair, rather bald, dressed in a rough suit of light-brown homespun, with huge shooting boots, whom I saw at once to be my host. The talk stopped as I entered, and I was aware that I was being scrutinised with some curiosity. Father Payne did not move, but extended a hand, which I advanced and shook, and said: "Very glad to see you, Mr. Duncan—you are just in time for tea." He mentioned the names of the men present, who came and shook hands very cordially. Barthrop gave me some tea, and I was inducted into a chair by the fire. I thought for a moment that I was taking Father Payne's place, and feebly murmured something about taking his chair. "They're all mine, thanks!" he said with a smile, "but I claim no privileges." Someone gave a faint whistle at this, and Father Payne, turning his eyes but not his head towards the young man who had uttered the sound, said: "All right, Pollard, if you are going to be mutinous, we shall have a little business to transact together, as Mr. Squeers said." "Oh, I'm not mutinous, sir," said the young man—"I'm quite submissive—I was just betrayed into it by amazement!" "You shouldn't get into the habit of thinking aloud," said Father Payne; "at least not among bachelors—when you are married you can do as you like!—I hope you are polite?" he went on, looking round at me. "I think so," I said, feeling rather shy, "That's right," he said. "It's the first and only form of virtue! If you are only polite, there is nothing that you may not do. This is a school of manners, you know!" One of the men, Rose by name, laughed—a pleasant musical laugh. "I remember," he said, "that when I was a boy at Eton, my excellent but very bluff and rough old tutor called upon us, and was so much taken up with being hearty, that he knocked over the coal-scuttle, and didn't let anyone get a word in; and when he went off in a sort of whirlwind, my old aunt, who was an incisive lady, said in a meditative tone: 'How strange it is that the only thing that the Eton masters seem able to teach their boys is the only thing they don't themselves possess!'"
Father Payne uttered a short, loud laugh at this, and said: "Is there any chance of meeting your aunt?" "No, sir, she is long since dead!" "Blew off too much steam, perhaps," said Father Payne. "That woman must have had the steam up! I should have liked to have known her—a remarkable woman! Have you any more stories of the same sort about her?"
"Not to-day," said Rose, smiling.
"Quite right," said Father Payne. "You keep them for an acceptable time. Never tell strings of stories—and, by the way, my young friends, that's the art of writing. Don't cram in good things—space them out, Barthrop!"
"I think I can spread the butter as thin as anyone," said Barthrop, smiling.
"So you can, so you can!" said Father Payne enthusiastically, "and very thin slices too! I give you full credit for that!"
The men had begun to drift away, and I was presently left alone with Father Payne. "Now you come along of me!" he said to me; and when I got up, he took my arm in a pleasant fashion, led me to a big curtained archway at the far end of the hall, under the gallery, and along a flagged passage to the right. As we went he pointed to the doors—"Smoking-room—Library"—and at the end of the passage he opened a door, and led me into a small panelled room with a big window, closely curtained. It was a solid and stately place, wholly bare of ornament. It had a writing-table, a bookcase, two armchairs of leather, a fine fireplace with marble pillars, and an old painting let into the panelling above it. There was a bright, unshaded lamp on the table. "This is my room," he said, "and there's nothing in it that I don't use, except those pillars; and when I haul on them, like Samson, the house comes down. Now you sit down there, and we'll have a talk. Do you mind the light? No? Well, that's all right, as I want to have a good look at you, you know! You can get a smoke afterwards—this is business!"
He sate down in the chair opposite me, and stirred the fire. He had fine, large, solid hands, the softness of which, like silk, had struck me when I shook hands with him; and, though he was both elderly and bulky, he moved with a certain grace and alertness. "Tell me your tale from the beginning," he said, "Don't leave out any details—I like details. Let's have your life and death and Christian sufferings, as the tracts say."
He heard me with much patience, sometimes smiling, sometimes nodding, when I had finished, he said: "Now I must ask you a few questions—you don't mind if they are plain questions—rather unpleasant questions?" He bent his brows upon me and smiled. "No," I said, "not at all." "Well, then," he said, "where's the vocation in all this? This place, to be brief, is for men who have a real vocation for writing, and yet never would otherwise have the time or the leisure to train for it. You see, in England, people think that you needn't train for writing—that you have just got to begin, and there you are. Very few people have the money to wait a few years—they have to write, not what they want to write, but what other people want to read. And so it comes about that by the time that they have earned the money and the leisure, the spring is gone, the freshness is gone, there's no invention and no zest. Writing can't be done in a little corner of life. You have to give up your life to it—and then that means giving up your life to a great deal of what looks like pure laziness—loafing about, looking about, travelling, talking, mooning; that is the only way to learn proportion; and it is the only way, too, of learning what not to write about—a great many things that are written about are not really material for writing at all. And all this can't be done in a drivelling mood—you must pick your way if you are going to write. That's a long preface; but I mean this place to be a place to give men the right sort of start. I happen to be able to teach people, more or less, how to write, if they have got the stuff in them—and to be frank, I'm not sure that you have! You think this would be a pleasant sort of experience—so it can be; but it isn't done on slack and chattering lines. It is just meant to save people from hanging about at the start, a thing which spoils a lot of good writers. But it's deadly serious, and it isn't a dilettante life at all. Do you grasp all that?"
"Yes," I said, "and I believe I can work! I know I have wasted my time, but it was not because I wanted to waste time, but because the sort of things I have always had to do—the classics—always seemed to me so absolutely pointless. No one who taught me ever distinguished between what was good and what was bad. Whatever it was—a Greek play, Homer, Livy, Tacitus—it was always supposed to be the best thing of the kind. I was always sure that much of it was rot, and some of it was excellent; but I didn't know why, and no one ever told me why."
"You thought all that?" said he. "Well, that's more hopeful! Have you ever done any essay work?"
"Yes," I said, "and that was the worst of all—no one ever showed me how to do it in my own way, but always in some one else's way."
He sate a little in silence. Then he said: "But mind you, that's not all! I don't think writing is the end of life. The real point is to feel the things, to understand the business, to have ideas about life. I don't want people to learn how to write interestingly about things in which they are not interested—but to be interested first, and then to write if they can. I like to turn out a good writer, who can say what he feels and believes. But I'm just as pleased when a man tells me that writing is rubbish, and that he is going away to do something real. The real—that's what I care about! I don't want men to come and pick up grains of truth and reality, and work them into their stuff. I have turned out a few men like that, and those are my worst failures. You have got to care about ideas, if you come here, and to get the ideas into shape. You have got to learn what is beautiful and what is not, because the only business of a real writer is with beauty—not a sickly exotic sort of beauty, but the beauty of health and strength and generous feeling. I can't have any humbugs here, though I have sent out some humbugs. It's a hard life this, and a tiring life; though if you are the right sort of fellow, you will get plenty of fun out of it. But we don't waste time here; and if a man wastes time, out he goes."
"I believe I can work as hard as anyone," I said, "though I have shown no signs of it—and anyhow, I should like to try. And I do really want to learn how to distinguish between things, how to know what matters. No one has ever shown me how to do that!"
"That's all right!" he said, "But are you sure you don't want simply to make a bit of a name—to be known as a clever man? It's very convenient, you know, in England, to have a label. Because I want you clearly to understand that this place of mine has nothing whatever to do with that. I take no stock in what is called success. This is a sort of monastery, you know; and the worst of some monasteries is that they cultivate dreams. That's a beautiful thing in its way, but it isn't what I aim at. I don't want men to drug themselves with dreams. The great dreamers don't do that. Shelley, for instance—his dreams were all made out of real feeling, real beauty. He wanted to put things right in his own way. He was enraged with life because he was fine, while Byron was enraged with life because he was vulgar. Vulgarity—that's the one fatal complaint; it goes down deep to the bottom of the mind. And I may as well say plainly that that is what I fight against here."
"I don't honestly think I am vulgar," I said.
"Not on the surface, perhaps," he said, "but present-day education is a snare. We are a vulgar nation, you know. That is what is really the matter with us—our ambitions are vulgar, our pride is vulgar. We want to fit into the world and get the most we can out of it; we don't, most of us, just want to give it our best. That's what I mean by vulgarity, wanting to take and not wanting to give."
He was silent for a minute, and then he said: "Do you believe in God?"
"I hardly know," I said. "Not very much, I am afraid, in the kind of God that I have heard preached about."
"What do you mean?" he said.
"Well," I said, "it's rather a large question—but I used to think, both at school and at Oxford, that many of the men who were rather disapproved of, that did quite bad things, and tried experiments, and knocked up against nastiness of various kinds, but who were brave in their way and kind, and not mean or spiteful or fault-finding, were more the sort of people that the force—or whatever it is, behind the world—was trying to produce than many of the virtuous people. What was called virtue and piety had something stifling and choking about it, I used to think. I had a tutor at school who was a parson, and he was a good sort of man, too, in a way. But I used to feel suddenly dreary with him, as if there were a whole lot of real things and interesting things which he was afraid of. I couldn't say what I thought to him—only what I felt he wanted me to think. That's a bad answer," I went on, "but I haven't really considered it."
"No, it isn't a bad answer," he said, "It's all right! The moment you feel stifled with anyone, whatever the subject is—art, books, religion, life—there is something wrong. Do you say any prayers?"
"No," I said, "to be honest, I don't."
"You must take to it again," he said. "You can't get on without prayer. And if you come here," he said, "you may expect to hear about God. I talk a good deal about God. I don't believe in things being too sacred to talk about—it's the bad things that ought not to be mentioned. I am interested in God, more than I am interested in anything else. I can't make Him out—and yet I believe that He needs me, in a way, as much as I need Him. Does that sound profane to you?"
"No," I said, "it's new to me. No one ever spoke about God to me like that before."
"We have to suffer with Him!" he said in a curious tone, his face lighting up. "That is the point of Christianity, that God suffers, because He wants to remake the world, and cannot do it all at once. That is the secret of all life and hope, that if we believe in God, we must suffer with Him. It's a fight, a hard fight; and He needs us on His side: But I won't talk about that now; yet if you don't want to believe in God, and to be friends with Him, and to fight and suffer with Him, you needn't think of coming here. That's behind all I do. And to come here is simply that you may find out where He needs you. Why writing is important is, because the world needs freer and plainer talk about God—about beauty and health and happiness and energy, and all the things which He stands for. Half the evil comes from silence, and the end of all my experiments is the word in the New Testament, Ephphatha—Be opened! That is what I try for, to give men the power of opening their hearts and minds to others, without fear and yet without offence. I don't want men to attack things or to criticise things, but just to speak plainly about what is beautiful and wholesome and true. So you see this isn't a place for lazy and fanciful people—not a fortress of quiet, and still less a place for asses to slake their thirst! We don't set out to amuse ourselves, but to perceive things, and to say them if we can. My men must be sound and serious, and they must be civil and amusing too. They have got to learn how to get on with each other, and with me, and with the village people—and with God! If you want just to dangle about, this isn't the place for you; but if you want to work hard and be knocked into shape, I'll consider it."
There was something tremendous about Father Payne! I looked at him with a sense of terror. His face dissolved in a smile. "You needn't look at me like that!" he said. "I only want you to know exactly what you are in for!"
"I would like to try," I said.
"Well, we'll see!" he said. "And now you must be off!" he added. "We shall dine in an hour—you needn't dress. Here, you don't know which your room is, I suppose?"
He rang the bell, and I went off with the old butler, who was amiable and communicative. "So, you think of becoming one of the gentlemen, sir?" he said. "If you'll have me," I replied. "Oh, that will be all right, sir," he said. "I could see that the Father took to you at first sight!"
He showed me my room—a big bare place. It had a small bed and accessories, but it was also fitted as a sitting-room, with a writing-table, an armchair, and a bookcase full of books. The house was warmed, I saw, with hot water to a comfortable temperature. "Would you like a fire?" he said. I declined, and he went on: "Now if you lived here, sir, you would have to do that yourself!" He gave a little laugh. "Anyone may have a fire, but they have to lay it, and fetch the coal, and clean the grate. Very few of the gentlemen do it. Anything else, sir? I have put out your things, and you will find hot water laid on."
He left me, and I flung myself into the chair. I had a good deal to think about.
A very quiet evening followed. A bell rang out above the roof at 8.15. I went down to the hall, where the men assembled. Father Payne came in. He had changed his clothes, and was wearing a dark, loose-fitting suit, which became him well—he always looked at home in his clothes. The others wore similar suits or smoking jackets. Father Payne appeared abstracted, and only gave me a nod. A gong sounded, and he marched straight out through a door by the fireplace into the dining-room.
The dining-room was a rather grand place, panelled in dark wood, and with a few portraits. At each end of the room was a section cut off from the central portion by an oak column on each side. Three windows on one side looked into the garden. It was lighted by candles only. We were seven in all, and I sate by Father Payne. Dinner was very plain. There was soup, a joint with vegetables, and a great apple-tart. The things were mostly passed about from hand to hand, but the old butler kept a benignant eye upon the proceedings, and saw that I was well supplied. There was a good and simple claret in large flat-bottomed decanters, which most of the men drank. There was a good deal of talk of a lively kind. Father Payne was rather silent, though he struck in now and then, but his silence imposed no constraint on the party. He was pressed to tell a story for my benefit, which he did with much relish, but briefly. I was pleased at the simplicity of it all. There was only one man who seemed a little out of tune—a clerical-looking, handsome fellow of about thirty, called Lestrange, with an air of some solemnity. He made remarks of rather an earnest type, and was ironically assailed once or twice. Father Payne intervened once, and said: "Lestrange is perfectly right, and you would think so too, if only he could give what he said a more secular twist. 'Be soople in things immaterial,' Lestrange, as the minister says in Kidnapped." "But who is to judge if it is immaterial?" said Lestrange rather pertinaciously. "It mostly is," said Father Payne. "Anything is better than being shocked! It's better to be ashamed afterwards of not speaking up than to feel you have made a circle uncomfortable. You must not rebuke people unless you really hate doing it. If you like doing it, you may be pretty sure that it is vanity; a Christian ought not to feel out of place in a smoking-room!"
The whole thing did not take more than three-quarters of an hour. Coffee was brought in, very strong and good. Some of the party went off, and Father Payne disappeared. I went to the smoking-room with two of the men, and we talked a little. Finally I went away to my room, and tried to commit my impressions of the whole thing to my diary before I went to bed. It certainly seemed a happy life, and I was struck with the curious mixture of freedom, frankness, and yet courtesy about the whole. There was no roughness or wrangling or stupidity, nor had I any sense either of exclusion, or of being elaborately included in the life of the circle. I would call the atmosphere brotherly, if brotherliness did not often mean the sort of frankness which is so unpleasant to strangers. There certainly was an atmosphere about it, and I felt too that Father Payne, for all his easiness, had somehow got the reins in his hands.
The next morning I went down to breakfast, which was, I found, like breakfast at a club, as Vincent had said. It was a plain meal—cold bacon, a vast dish of scrambled eggs kept hot by a spirit lamp and a hot-water arrangement. You could make toast for yourself if you wished, and there was a big fresh loaf, with excellent butter, marmalade, and jam—not an ascetic breakfast at all. There were daily papers on the table, and no one talked. I did not see Father Payne, who must have come in later.
After breakfast, Barthrop showed me the rooms of the house. The library was fitted up with bookshelves and easy-chairs for reading, with a big round oak table in the centre. The floor was of stained oak boards and covered with rugs. There was also a capacious smoking-room, and I learned that smoking was not allowed elsewhere. It was, in fact, a solid old family mansion of some dignity. There were three or four oil paintings in all the rooms, portraits and landscapes. The general tone of decoration was dark—red wall-papers and fittings stained brown. It was all clean and simple, and there was a total absence of ornament, I went and walked in the garden, which was of the same very straightforward kind—plain grass, shrubberies, winding paths, with comfortable wooden seats in sheltered places; one or two big beds, evidently of old-fashioned perennials, and some trellises for ramblers. The garden was adjoined by a sort of wilderness, with big trees and ground-ivy, and open spaces in which aconites and snowdrops were beginning to show themselves. Father Payne, I gathered, was fond of the garden and often worked there; but there were no curiosities—it was all very simple. Beyond that were pasture-fields, with a good many clumps and hedgerow trees, running down to a stream, which had been enlarged into a deep pool at one place, where there was a timbered bathing-shed. The stream fed, through little sluices, a big, square pond, full, I was told, in summer of bulrushes and water-lilies. I noticed a couple of lawn-tennis courts, and there was a bowling-green by the house. Then there was a large kitchen-garden, with standards and espaliers, and box-edged beds. The stables, which were spacious, contained only a pony and the little cart I had driven up in, and a few bicycles. I liked the solid air of the big house, which had two wings at the back, corresponding to the wings in front; the long row of stone pedimented windows, with heavy white casements, was plain and stately, and there were some fine magnolias and wisterias trained upon the walls. It all looked stately, and yet home-like; there was nothing neglected about it, and yet it looked wholesomely left alone; everything was neat, but nothing was smart.
I was strolling about, enjoying the gleams of bright sunshine and the cold air, when I saw Father Payne coming down the garden towards me. He gave me a pleasant nod: I said something about the beauty of the place; he smiled, and said "Yes, it is the kind of thing I like—but I am so used to it that I can hardly even see it! That's the worst of habit; but there is nothing about the place to get on your nerves. It's a well-bred old house, I think, and knows how to hold its tongue, without making you uncomfortable," Then he went on presently: "You know how I came by it? It's an odd story. It had been in my family, till my grandfather left it to his second wife, and cut my father out. There was a son by the second wife, who was meant to have it; but he died, and it went to a brother of the second wife, and his widow left it back to me. It was an entire surprise, because I did not know her, and the only time I had ever seen the house was once when I came down on the sly, just to look at the old place, little thinking I should ever come here. She had some superstition about it, I fancy! Anyhow, while I was grubbing away in town, fifteen years ago, and hardly able to make two ends meet, I suddenly found myself put in possession of it; and though I am poor, as squires go, the farms and cottages bring me in quite enough to rub along. At any rate it enabled me to try some experiments, and I have been doing so ever since. Leisure and solitude! Those are the only two things worth having that money can buy. Perhaps you don't think there's much solitude about our life? But solitude only means the power to think your own thoughts, without having other people's thoughts trailed across the track. Loneliness is quite a different thing, and that's not wholesome."
He strolled on, looking about him. "Do you ever garden?" he said. "It's the best fun in the world—making plants do as you like, while all the time they think they are doing as they like. That's the secret of it! You can't bully these wild things, but they are very obedient, as long as they believe they are free. They are like children; they will take any amount of trouble as long as you don't call it work."
Presently we heard the clatter of hoofs in the stable-yard. "That's for you!" he said. "Will you go and see that they have brought your things down? I'll meet you at the door." I went up and found my things had been packed by the old butler. I gave him a little tip, and he said confidentially: "I daresay we shall be seeing you back here, sir, one of these days." "I hope so," I said, to which he replied with a mysterious wink and nod.
Father Payne shook hands. "Well, good-bye!" he said. "It's good of you to have come down, and I'm glad to have made acquaintance, whatever happens—I'll drop you a line." I drove away, and he stood at the door looking after me, till the little cart drove out of the gate.
I must confess that I was much excited about my visit; the whole thing seemed to me to be almost too good to be true, and I hardly dared hope that I should be allowed to return. I went back to town and rejoined Vincent, and we talked much about the delights of Aveley.
The following morning we each received a letter in Father Payne's firm hand. That to Vincent was very short. It ran as follows:
DEAR VINCENT,—I shall be glad to take you in if you wish to join us, for three months. At the end of that time, we shall both be entirely free to choose. I hope you will be happy here. You can come as soon as you like; and if Duncan, after reading my letter, decides to come too, you had better arrange to arrive together. It will save me the trouble of describing our way of life to each separately. Please let me have a line, and I will see that your room is ready for you.—Sincerely yours,
"That's all right!" said Vincent, with an air of relief. "Now what does he say to you?" My letter was a longer one. It ran:
MY DEAR YOUNG MAN,—I am going to be very frank with you, and to say that, though I liked you very much, I nearly decided that I could not ask you to join us. I will tell you why. I am not sure that you are not too easy-going and impulsive. We should all find you agreeable, and I am sure you would find the whole thing great fun at first; but I rather think you would get bored. It does not seem to me as if you had ever had the smallest discipline, and I doubt if you have ever disciplined yourself; and discipline is a tiresome thing, unless you like it. I think you are quick, receptive, and polite—all that is to the good. But are you serious? I found in you a very quick perception, and you held up a flattering mirror with great spontaneity to my mind and heart—that was probably why I liked you so much. But I don't want people here to reflect me or anyone else. The whole point of my scheme is independence, with just enough discipline to keep things together, like the hem on a handkerchief.
But you may have a try, if you wish; and in any case, I think you will have a pleasant three months here, and make us all sorry to lose you if you do not return. I have told your friend Vincent he can come, and I think he is more likely to stay than you are, because he is more himself. I don't suppose that he took in the whole place and the idea of it as quickly as you did. I expect you could write a very interesting description of it, and I don't expect he could.
Still, I will say that I shall be truly sorry if, after this letter, you decide not to come to us. I like your company; and I shall not get tired of it. But to be more frank still, I think you are one of those charming and sympathetic people who is tough inside, with a toughness which is based on the determination to find things amusing and interesting—and that is not the sort of toughness I can do anything with. People like yourself are incapable as a rule of suffering, whatever happens to them. It's a very happy disposition, but it does not grow. You are sensitive enough, but I don't want sensitiveness, I want men who are not sensitive, and who yet can suffer at not getting nearer and more quickly than they can to the purpose ahead of them, whatever that may be. It is a stiff sort of thing that I want. I can help to make a stiff nature pliable; I'm not very good at making a pliable nature stiff. That's the truth.
So I shall be delighted—more than you think—if you say "Yes." but in a way more hopeful about you if you say "No."
Come with Vincent, if you come; and as soon as you like.—Ever yours truly,
"Does he want me to go, or does he not?" I said. "Is he letting me down with a compliment?"
"Oh no," said Vincent, "it's all right. He only thinks that you are a butterfly which will flutter by, and he would rather like you to do a little fluttering down there."
"But I'm not going to go there," I said, "to wear a cap and bells for a bit, and then to be spun when I have left my golden store, like the radiant morn; he puts me on my mettle. I will go, and he shall keep me! I don't want to fool about any more."
"All right!" said Vincent. "It's a bargain, then! Will you be ready to go the day after to-morrow? There are some things I want to buy, now that I'm going to school again. But I'm awfully relieved—it's just what I want. I was getting into a mess with all my work, and becoming a muddled loafer."
"And I an elegant trifler, it appears," I said.
We went off together on the Saturday, and I think we were both decidedly nervous. What were we in for? I had a feeling that I had plunged headlong into rather a foolish adventure.
We did not talk much on the way down; it was all rather solemn. We were going to put the bit in our mouths again, and Father Payne was an unknown quantity. We both felt that there was something decidedly big and strong there to be reckoned with.
We arrived, as before, at tea-time, and we both received a cordial greeting. After tea Father Payne took us away, and told us the rules of the house. They were simple enough; he described the day. Breakfast was from 8.30 to 9.15, and was a silent meal. "It's a bad thing to begin the day by chattering and arguing," said Father Payne. Then we were supposed to work in our own rooms or the library till one. We might stroll about, if we wished, but there was to be no talking to anyone else, unless he himself gave leave for any special reason. Luncheon was a cold meal, quite informal, and was on the table for an hour. There was to be no talk then either. From two to five we could do as we liked, and it was expected that we should take at least an hour's exercise, and if possible two. Tea at five, and work afterwards. At 8.15, dinner, and we could do as we wished afterwards, but we were not to congregate in anyone's room, and it was understood that no one was to go to another man's bedroom, which was also his study, at any time, unless he was definitely invited, or just to ask a question. The smoking-room was always free for general talk, but Father Payne said that on the whole he discouraged any gatherings or cliques. The point of the whole was solitary work, with enough company to keep things fresh and comfortable.
He said that we were expected to valet ourselves entirely, and that if we wanted a fire, we must lay it and clean it up afterwards. If we wanted to get anything, or have anything done, we could ask him or the butler. "But I rather expect everyone to look after himself," he said. We were not to absent ourselves without his leave, and we were to go away if he told us to do so. "Sometimes a man wants a little change and does not know it," he said.
Then he also said that he would ask us, from time to time, what we were doing—hear it read, and criticise it; and that one of the most definite conditions of our remaining was that he must be satisfied that we really were at work. If we wanted any special books, he said, we might ask him, and he could generally get them from the London Library; but that we should find a good many books of reference and standard works in the library.
He told us, too, of certain conditions of which we had not heard—that we were to be away, either at home, or travelling wherever he chose to send us, for three months in the year, and that he supplied the funds if necessary. Moreover, for one month in the summer he kept open house. Half of us were to go away for the first fortnight in July, and the other half were to stay and entertain his guests, or even our own, if we wished to invite them; then the other half of the men returned, and had their guests to entertain, while the first half went away; and that during that time there was to be very little work done. We were not to be always writing, but there was to be reading, about which he would advise. Once a week there was a meeting, on Saturday evening, when one of the men had to read something aloud, and be generally criticised. "You see the idea?" he said. "It sounds complicated now, but it really is very simple. It is just to get solid work done regularly, with a certain amount of supervision and criticism, and, what is more important still, real intervals of travelling. I shall send you to a particular place for a particular purpose, and you will have to write about it on lines which I shall indicate. The danger of this sort of life is that of getting stale. That's why I don't want you to see too much of each other. And last of all," he said, rather gravely, "you must do what I tell you to do. There must be no mistake about that—but with all the apparent discipline of it, I believe you will find it worth while."
Then he saw us each separately. He inquired into our finances. Vincent had a small allowance from his parents, about L50, which he was told to keep for pocket-money, but Father Payne said he would pay his travelling expenses. I gathered that he gave an allowance to men who had nothing of their own. He told me that I should have to travel at my own expense, but he was careful first to inquire whether my mother was in any way dependent on me. Then he said to me with a smile: "I am glad you decided to come—I thought my letter would have offended you. No? That's all right. Now, I don't expect heroic exertions—just hard work. Mind," he said, "I will add one thing to my letter, and that is that I think you may make a success of this—if you do take to it, you will do well; but you will have to be patient, and you may have a dreary time; but I want you to tell me exactly at any time how you are feeling about it. You won't be driven, and I think your danger is that you may try to make the pace too much."
He further asked me exactly what I was writing. It happened to be some essays on literary subjects. He mentioned a few books, and told me it would do very well to start with. He was very kind and fatherly in his manner, and when I rose to go, he put his arm through mine and said: "Come, it will be strange if we can't hit it off together. I like your presence and talk, and am glad to think you are in the house. Don't be anxious! The difficulty with you is that you will foresee all your troubles beforehand, and try to bolt them in a lump, instead of swallowing them one by one as they come. Live for the day!" There was something magnetic about him, for by these few words he established a little special relation with me which was never broken.
When he dismissed me, I went and changed my things, and then came down. I found that it was the custom for the men to go down to the hall about eight. Father Payne said that it was a great mistake to work to the last minute, and then to rush in to dinner. He said it made people nervous and dyspeptic. He generally strolled in himself a few minutes before, and sate silent by the fire.
Just as it struck eight, and the hum of the clock in the hall died away, a little tune in harmony, like a gavotte, was played by softly-tingling tiny bells. I could not tell where the music came from; it seemed to me like the Ariel music in The Tempest, between earth and heaven, or the "chiming shower of rare device" in The Beryl Stone.
Father Payne smiled at the little gesture I involuntarily made. "You're right!" he said, when it was over. "How can people talk through that? It's the clock in the gallery that does it—they say it belonged to George III. I hope, if so, that it gave him a few happier moments! It is an ingenious little thing, with silver bells and hammers; I'll show it you some day. It rings every four hours."
"I think I had rather not see the machinery," I said. "I never heard anything so delicious."
"You're right again," said Father Payne;
"'The isle is full of noises, Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.'
Let it stay at that!"
I little thought how much I should grow to connect that fairy gavotte with Aveley. It always seemed to me like a choir of spirits. I would awake sometimes on summer nights and hear it chiming in the silent house, or at noon it would come faintly through the passages. That, and the songs of the birds in the shrubberies, always flash into my mind when I think of the place; because it was essentially a silent house, more noiseless than any I have ever lived in; and I love the thought of its silence; and of its fragrance—for that was another note of the place. In the hall stood great china jars with pierced covers, which were always full of pot-pourri; there was another in the library, and another in Father Payne's study, and two more in the passage above which looked out by the little gallery upon the hall. Silence and fragrance always, in the background of all we did; and outlining itself upon the stillness, the little melody, jetting out like a fountain of silver sound.
That evening after dinner we two were left with Barthrop in the smoking-room, and we talked freely about Father Payne. Barthrop said that his past was a little mysterious. "He was at Marlborough, you know, and Oxford; and after that, he lived in town, took pupils, and tried to write—but he was not successful, and had much difficulty in getting along." "What is his line exactly?" said Vincent. "That's just it," said Barthrop, "he hasn't any line. He has a wide knowledge of things, and is quicker at picking up the drift of a subject than anyone I know; and he has a rare power of criticism. But he isn't anything in particular. He can't write a bit, he is not a speaker, he isn't learned, he can teach able people, but he couldn't teach stupid men—he hasn't enough patience. I can't imagine any line of life for which he would be exactly fitted: and yet he's the biggest person I have ever met; he carries us all along with him, like a river. You can't resist him, you can't contradict him. That is the one danger, that he exerts more influence than he knows, so that when you are with him, it is hard to be quite yourself. But he puts the wind into your sails; and, my word, he can take it out of your sails, if he likes! I have only seen him really angry about twice, and then it was really appalling. Once was when a man lied to him, and once was when a man was impertinent to him. He simply blasted them with his displeasure—that is the only word. He hates getting angry—I expect he had a bad temper once—and he apologises afterwards; but it's no use—it's like a thunderstorm apologising to a tree which has been struck. I don't think he knows his strength. He believes himself to be sensitive and weak-willed—I have heard him say so. The fact is that he dislikes doing an unpleasant thing or speaking severely; and he will take a lot of trouble to avoid a scene, or to keep an irritable man in a good temper. But if he lets himself loose! I can't express to you the sort of terror I have in thinking of those two occasions. He didn't say very much, but he looked as if he were possessed by any number of devils."
"He was never married, I suppose?" I said.
"No," said Barthrop, "and yet he seems to make friends with women very easily—in fact, they tend to fall in love with him, if I may say so. He has got a beautiful manner with them, and he is simply devoted to children. You will see that they really rather worship him in the village. He knows everyone in the place, and never forgets a fact about them."
"What does he do mostly?" I said.
"I really don't know," said Barthrop. "He is rather a solitary man. He very often has one of us in for an hour in the evening or morning—but we don't see much of him in the afternoon; he gardens or walks about. He has a quick eye for things, birds and plants, and so on; and he can find more nests in an hour than any man I ever saw. Sometimes he will go and shut himself up in the church—he is rather fond of going to church; he always goes to the Communion."
"Does he expect us to go?" I said.
"No," said Barthrop. "He rather likes us to go, but he doesn't at all like us going to please him. 'I want you to want to go,' I heard him say once, 'but I don't want you to go because I want you.' And he has no particular views, I think, about the whole thing—at least not for other people."
"Tell me some more about him," I said.
"What is there to say?" said Barthrop. "He is just there—the biggest fact on the horizon. Oh yes, there is one thing; he is tremendously devoted to music. We have some music in the evenings very often. You saw the organ in the gallery—it is rather a fine one, and he generally has someone here who can play. Lestrange is a first-rate musician. Father Payne can't play himself, but he knows all about it, and composes sometimes. But I think he looks on music as rather a dangerous indulgence, and does not allow himself very much of it. You can see how it affects him. And you mustn't be taken in by his manner. You might think him heavy and unperceptive, with that quiet and rather secret eye of his; yet he notices everything, always, and far quicker than anyone else. But it is hard to describe him, because he can't do anything much, and you might think he was indolent; and yet he is the biggest person I have ever seen, the one drawback being that he credits other people with being big too."
"I notice that you call him 'Father Payne,'" said Vincent. "Does that mean anything in particular?"
"No," said Barthrop, smiling. "It began as a sort of joke, I believe—but it seemed to fit him; and it's rather convenient. We can't begin by calling him 'Payne,' and 'Mr. Payne' is a little formal. Some of the men call him 'sir,' but I think he likes 'Father Payne' best, or simply 'Father,' You will find it exactly expresses him."
"Yes," I said, "I am sure it does!"
I did not sleep much that night. The great change in my life had all taken place with such rapidity and ease that I felt bewildered, and the thought of the time ahead was full of a vague excitement. But most of all the thought of Father Payne ran in my mind, I regarded him with a singular mixture of interest, liking, admiration, and dread. Yet he had contrived to kindle a curious flame in my mind. It was not that I fully understood what he was working for, but I was conscious of a great desire to prove to him that I could do something, exhibit some tenacity, approve myself to him. I wanted to make him retract what he had said about me; and, further on, I had a dim sense of an initiation into ideas, familiar enough, but which had only been words to me hitherto—power, purpose, seriousness. They had been ideas which before this had just vaguely troubled my peace, clouds hanging in a bright sky. I had the sense that there were some duties which I ought to perform, efforts to be made, ends to fulfil; but they had seemed to me expressed in rather priggish phrases, words which oppressed me, and ruffled the surface of my easy joy. Now they loomed up before me as big realities which could not be escaped, hills to climb, with no pleasant path round about their bases. I seemed in sight of some inspiring secret. I could not tell what it was, but Father Payne knew it, might show it me?
Thus I drowsed and woke, a dozen times, till in the glimmer of the early light I rose and drew back my curtains. The dawn was struggling up fitfully in the east, among cloudy bars, tipping and edging them with smouldering flashes of light, and there was a lustrous radiance in the air. Then, to my surprise, looking down at the silent garden, pale with dew, I saw the great figure of Father Payne, bare-headed, wrapt in a cloak, pacing solidly and, I thought, happily among the shrubberies, stopping every now and then to watch the fiery light and to breathe the invigorating air—and I felt then that, whatever he might be doing, he at all events was something, in a sense which applied to but few people I knew. He was not hard, unimaginative, fenced in by stupidity and self-righteousness from unhappiness and doubt, as were some of the men accounted successful whom I knew. No, it was something positive, some self-created light, some stirring of hidden force, that emanated from him, such as I had never encountered before.
I can attempt no sort of chronicle of our days, which indeed were quiet and simple enough. I have only preserved in my diary the record of a few scenes and talks and incidents. I will, however, first indicate how our party, as I knew it, was constituted, so that the record may be intelligible.
First of us came Leonard Barthrop, who was, partly by his seniority and partly by his temperament, a sort of second-in-command in the house, much consulted and trusted by Father Payne. He was a man of about thirty-five, grave, humorous, pleasant. If one was in a minor difficulty, too trivial to take to Father Payne, it was natural to consult Barthrop; and he sometimes, too, would say a word of warning to a man, if a storm seemed to be brewing. It must not be denied that men occasionally got on Father Payne's nerves, quite unconsciously, through tactlessness or stupid mannerisms—and Barthrop was able to smooth the situation out by a word in season. He had a power of doing this without giving offence, from the obvious goodwill which permeated all he did. Barthrop was not very sociable or talkative, and he was occupied, I think, in some sort of historical research—I believe he has since made his name as a judicious and interesting historian; but I knew little of what he was doing, and indeed was hardly intimate with him, though always at ease in his company. He was not a man with strong preferences or prejudices, nor was he in any sense a brilliant or suggestive writer, I think he had merged himself very much in the life of our little society, and kept things together more than I was at first aware.
Then came Kaye, one of the least conspicuous of the whole group, though he has since become perhaps the best known, by his poems and his beautiful critical studies in both art and literature. Kaye is known as one of those rare figures in literature, a creative critic. His rich and elaborate style, his exquisite sidelights, his poetical faculty of interpretation, make his work famous, though hardly popular. But I found that he worked very slowly and even painfully, deliberately secreting his honey, and depositing it cell by cell. He had a peculiar intimacy with Father Payne, who treated him with a marked respect. Kaye was by far the most absorbed of the party, went and came like a great moth, was the first to disappear, and generally the last to arrive. Neither did he make any attempt at friendship. He was a handsome and graceful fellow, now about thirty, with a worn sort of beauty in his striking features, curling hair, long languid frame, and fine hands. His hands, I used to think, were the most eloquent things about him, and he was ever making silent little gestures with them, as though they were accompanying unuttered trains of thought; but he had, too, a strained and impatient air, as if he found the pursuit of phrases a wearing and hazardous occupation. I used to feel Kaye the most attractive and impressive of our society; but he neither made nor noticed any signals of goodwill, though always courteous and kindly.
Pollard was a totally different man: he was about twenty-eight, and he was writing some work of fiction. He was a small, sturdy, rubicund creature, with beady eyes and pink cheeks, cherubic in aspect, entirely good-natured and lively, full of not very exalted humour, and with a tendency to wild and even hysterical giggling. I used to think that Father Payne did not like him very much; but he was a quick and regular worker, and it was impossible to find fault with him. He was extremely sociable and appreciative, and I used to find his company a relief from the strain which at times made itself felt. Pollard had a way of getting involved in absurd adventures, which he related with immense gusto; and he had a really wonderful power of description—more so in conversation than in writing—and of humorous exaggeration, which made him a delightful companion. But he was never able to put the best of himself into his books, which tended to be sentimental and even conventional.
Then there was Lestrange; and I think he was the least congenial of the lot. He was a handsome, rather clerical-looking man of about twenty-eight, who had been brought up to take orders, and had decided against doing so. He was very much in earnest, in rather a tiresome way, and his phrases were conventional and pietistic. I used to feel that he jarred a good deal on Father Payne, but much was forgiven him because of his musical talents, which were really remarkable. His organ-playing, with its verve, its delicacy, and its quiet mastery, was delicious to hear, he was engaged in writing music mainly, and had a piano all to himself in a little remote room beyond the dining-room, which looked out to the stable-yard and had formerly been an estate-office. We used to hear faint sounds wafted down the garden when the wind was in the west. He was friendly, but he had the absorption of the musician in his art, which is unlike all other artistic absorptions, because it seems literally to check the growth of other qualities and interests. In fact, in many ways Lestrange was like a pious child. He was apt to be snubbed by Father Payne, but he was wholly indifferent to all irony. I used to listen to him playing the organ in the evenings, and a language of emotions and visions certainly streamed from his fingers which he was never able to put into words. Father Payne treated him as one might treat an inspired fool, with a mixture of respect and sharpness.
Then there was Rose, a man of twenty-five, a curious mixture of knowledge, cynicism, energy, and affectionateness. I found Rose a very congenial companion, though I never felt sure what he thought, and never aired my enthusiasms in his presence. He had great aplomb, and was troubled by no shyness nor hesitation. There was a touch of frostiness at times between him and Father Payne. Rose was paradoxical and whimsical, and was apt to support fantastic positions with apparent earnestness. But he was an extremely capable and sensible man, and had a knack of dropping his contentiousness the moment it began to give offence. He was by far the most mundane of us, and had some command of money. I used to fancy that Father Payne was a little afraid of him, when he displayed his very considerable knowledge of the world. His father was a wealthy man, a member of Parliament, and Rose really knew social personages of the day. I doubt if he was ever quite in sympathy with the idea of the place, but I used to feel that his presence was a wholesome sort of corrective, like the vinegar in the salad. I believe he was writing a play, but he has done nothing since in literature, and was in many ways more like a visitor than an inmate.
Then came my friend Vincent, a solid, good-natured, hard-working man, with a real enthusiasm for literature, not very critical or even imaginative, but with a faculty for clear and careful writing. He was at work on a realistic novel, which made some little reputation; but he has become since, what I think he always was meant to be, an able journalist and an excellent leader-writer on political and social topics. Vincent was the most interested of all of us in current affairs, but at the same time had a quiet sort of enthusiasm, and a power of idealising people, ardently but unsentimentally, which made him the most loyal of friends.
The only other person of whom we saw anything was the Vicar of the parish—a safe, decorous, useful man, a distant cousin of Father Payne's. His wife was a good-humoured and conventional woman. Their two daughters were pleasant, unaffected girls, just come to womanhood. Lestrange afterwards married one of them.
We were not much troubled by sociabilities. The place was rather isolated, and Father Payne had the reputation of being something of an eccentric. Moreover, the big neighbouring domain, Whitbury Park, blocked all access to north and west. The owner was an old and invalid peer, who lived a very secluded life and entertained no one. To the south there was nothing for miles but farms and hamlets, while the only near neighbour in the east was a hunting squire, who thought Father Payne kept a sort of boarding-house, and ignored him entirely. The result was that callers were absolutely unknown, and the wildest form of dissipation was that Pollard and Rose occasionally played lawn-tennis at neighbouring vicarages.
We were not often all there together, because Father Payne's scheme of travel was strictly adhered to. He considered it a very integral part of our life. I never quite knew what his plan was; but he would send a man off, generally alone, with a solid sum for travelling expenses. Thus Lestrange was sent for a month to Berlin when Joachim held court there, or to Dresden and Munich. I remember Pollard and Vincent being packed off to Switzerland together to climb mountains, with stern injunctions to be sociable. Rose went to Spain, to Paris, to St. Petersburg. Kaye went more than once to Italy; but we often went to different parts of England, and then we were generally allowed to go together; but Father Payne's theory was that we should travel alone, learn to pick up friends, and to fend for ourselves. He had acquaintances in several parts of the Continent, and we were generally provided with a letter of introduction to some one. We had a fortnight in June and a fortnight at Christmas to go home—so that we were always away for three months in the year, while Father Payne was apt to send us off for a week at a time, if he thought we needed a change. Barthrop, I think, made his own plans, and it was all reasonable enough, as Father Payne would always listen to objections. Some of us paid for ourselves on those tours, but he was always willing to supplement it generously.
It used to be a puzzle to me how Father Payne had the command of so much money; his estate was not large; but in the first place he spent very little on himself, and our life was extremely simple. Moreover, I became aware that some of his former pupils and friends used to send him money at times for this express purpose.
The staff consisted of the old butler, whose wife was cook. There were three other maid-servants; the gardener was also coachman. The house was certainly clean and well-kept; we looked after ourselves to a great extent; but there was never any apparent lack of money, though, on the other hand, there was every sign of careful economy. Father Payne never talked about money. "It's an interesting thing, money," I have heard him say, "and it's curious to see how people handle it—but we must not do it too much honour, and it isn't a thing that can be spoken of in general conversation."
I do not propose to make any history of events, or to say how, within a very short time, I fell into the life of the place. I will only say what were the features of the scheme, and how the rule, such as it was, worked out.
First of all, and above all, came the personality of Father Payne, which permeated and sustained the whole affair. It was not that he made it his business to drive us along. It was not a case of "the guiding hand in front and the propelling foot behind." He seldom interfered, and sometimes for a considerable space one would have no very direct contact with him. He was a man who was always intent, but by no means always intent on shepherding. I should find it hard to say how he spent his time. He was sometimes to all appearances entirely indolent and good-natured, when he would stroll about, talk to the people in the village, and look after the little farm which he kept in his own hands under a bailiff. At another time he would be for long together in an abstracted mood, silent, absent-minded, pursuing some train of thought. At another time he would be very busy with what we were doing, and hold long interviews with us, making us read our work to him and giving us detailed criticisms. On these occasions he was extremely stimulating, for the simple reason that he always seemed to grasp what it was that one was aiming at, and his criticisms were all directed to the question of how far the original conception was being worked out. He did not, as a rule, point out a different conception, or indicate how the work could be done on other lines. He always grasped the plan and intention, and really seemed to be inside the mind of the contriver. He would say; "I think the theme is weak here—and you can't make a weak place strong by filling it with details, however good in themselves. That is like trying to mend the Slough of Despond with cartloads of texts. The thing is not to fall in, or, if you fall in, to get out." His three divisions of a subject were "what you say, what you wanted to say, what you ought to have wanted to say." Sometimes he would listen in silence, and then say: "I can't criticise that—it is all off the lines. You had better destroy it and begin again," Or he would say: "You had better revise that and polish it up. It won't be any good when it is done—these patched-up things never are; but it will be good practice," He was encouraging, because he never overlooked the good points of any piece of writing. He would say: "The detail is good, but it is all too big for its place, quite out of scale; it is like a huge ear on a small head," Or he would say: "Those are all things worth saying and well said, but they are much too diffuse." He used to tell me that I was apt to stop the carriage when I was bound on a rapid transit, and go for a saunter among fields. "I don't object to your sauntering, but you must intend to saunter—you must not be attracted by a pleasant footpath." Sometimes he could be severe, "That's vulgar," he once said to me, "and you can't make it attractive by throwing scent about," Or he would say: "That's a platitude—which means that it may be worth thinking and feeling, but not worth saying. You can depend upon your reader feeling it without your help," Or he would say: "You don't understand that point. It is a case of the blind leading the blind. Cut the whole passage, and think it out again," Or he would say: "That is all too compressed. You began by walking, and now you are jumping." Or he would say: "There is a note of personal irritation about that; it sounds as if you had been reading an unpleasant review. It is like the complaint of the nightingale leaning her breast against a thorn in order to get the sensation of pain. You seem to be wiping your eyes all through—you have not got far enough away from your vexation. Your attempt to give it a humorous turn reminds me of Miss Squeers' titter—you must never titter!" Once or twice in early times I used to ask him how he would do it. "Don't ask me!" he said. "I haven't got to do it—that's your business; it's no use your doing it in my way; all I know is that you are not doing it in your way." He was very quick at noticing any mannerisms or favourite words. "All good writers have mannerisms, of course," he would say, "but the moment that the reader sees that it is a mannerism the charm is gone." His praise was rarely given, and when it came it was generous and rich. "That is excellent," I can hear him say, "You have filled your space exactly, and filled it well. There is not a word to add or to take away." He was always prepared to listen to argument or defence. "Very well—read it again." Then, at the end, he would say: "Yes, there is something in that. You meant to anticipate? I don't mind that! But you have anticipated too much, made it too clear; it should just be a hint, no more, which will be explained later. Don't blurt! You have taken the wind out of your sails by explaining it too fully."
Sometimes he would leave us alone for two or three weeks together, and then say frankly that one had been wasting time, or the reverse. "You must not depend upon me too much; you must learn to walk alone."
Every week we had a meeting, at which some one read a fragment aloud. At these meetings he criticised little himself, but devoted his attention to our criticisms. He would not allow harshness or abruptness in what we said. "We don't want your conclusions or your impressions—we want your reasons." Or he would say: "That is a fair criticism, but unsympathetic. It is in the spirit of a reviewer who wants to smash a man. We don't want Stephen to be stoned here, we want him confuted." I remember once how he said with indignation: "That is simply throwing a rotten egg! And its maturity shows that it was kept for that purpose! You are not criticising, you are only paying off an old score!"
But I think that the two ways in which he most impressed himself were by his conversation, when we were all together, and by his tete-a-tete talks, if one happened to be his companion. When we were all together he was humorous, ironical, frank. He did not mind what was said to him, so long as it was courteously phrased; but I have heard him say: "We must remember we are fencing—we must not use bludgeons." Or: "You must not talk as if you were scaring birds away—we are all equal here." He was very unguarded himself in what he said, and always maintained that talkers ought to contribute their own impressions freely and easily. He used to quote with much approval Dr. Johnson's remark about his garrulous old school-fellow, Edwards. Boswell said, when Edwards had gone, that he thought him a weak man. "Why, yes, sir," said Johnson. "Here is a man who has passed through life without experiences; yet I would rather have him with me than a more sensible man who will not talk readily. This man is always willing to say what he has to say." Father Payne used to add: "The point is to talk; you must not consider your reputation; say whatever comes into your head, and when you have learnt to talk, you can begin to select." I have heard him say; "Go on, some one! It is everybody's business here to avoid a pause. Don't be sticky! Pauses are for a tete-a-tete." Or, again, I have heard him say: "You mustn't examine witnesses here! You should never ask more than three questions running." He did not by any means keep his own rules; but he would apologise sometimes for his shortcomings. "I'm hopeless to-day. I can't attend, I can't think of anything in particular. I'm diluted, I'm weltering—I'm coming down like a shower."
The result of this certainly was that we most of us did learn to talk. He liked to thrash a subject out, but he hated too protracted a discussion. "Here, we've had enough of this. It's very important, but I'm getting bored. I feel priggish. Help, help!"
On the other hand, he was even more delightful in a tete-a-tete. He would say profound and tender things, let his emotions escape him. He had with me, and I expect with others, a sort of indulgent and paternal way with him. He never forgot a confidence, and he used to listen delightedly to stories of one's home circle. "Tell me some stories about Aunt Jane," he would say to me. "There is something impotently fiery about that good lady that I like. Tell me again what she said when she found cousin Frank in a smoking-cap reading Thomas-a-Kempis." He had a way of quoting one's own stories which was subtly flattering, and he liked sidelights of a good-natured kind on the character of other members. "Why won't he say such things to me?" he used to say. "He thinks I should respect him less, when really I should admire him more. He won't let me see when his box is empty! I suspect him of reading Bartlett's Familiar Quotations before he goes a walk with me!" Or he would say: "In a general talk you must think about your companions; in a tete-a-tete you must only feel him."
But the most striking thing about Father Payne was this. Though we were all very conscious of his influence, and indeed of his authority; though we knew that he meant to have his own way, and was quite prepared to speak frankly and act decisively, we were never conscious of being watched or censured or interfered with. In ninety-nine cases out of a hundred it was a pure pleasure to meet him and to be with him, and many a time have I seen him, in a moment of leisure, strolling in the garden, and hurried out just on the chance of getting a word or a smile, or, if he was in an expansive mood, having my arm taken by him for a little turn. In the hundredth case, it happened that one might have said or done something which one knew that he would disapprove. But, as he never stored things up or kept you waiting, you could be sure he would speak soon or not at all. Often, too, he would just say: "I don't think that your remark to Kaye gave a fair impression of yourself," or, "Why waste your powder as you did to-night?" I was only once or twice directly rebuked by him, and that was for a prolonged neglect. "You don't care," he once said to me emphatically. "I can't do anything for you if you don't care!" But he was the most entirely placable of men. A word of regret or apology, and he would say: "Don't give it another thought, my boy," or, "That's all right, then."
The real secret of his influence was that he took not a critical or even a dispassionate view of each of us, but an enthusiastic view. He took no pleasure in our shortcomings; they were rather of the nature of an active personal disappointment. The result was simply that you were natural with him, but natural with the added sense that he liked you and thought well of you, and expected friendship and even brilliance from you. You felt that he knew you well, and recognised your faults and weaknesses, but that he knew your best side even better, and enjoyed the presence of it. I never knew anyone who was so appreciative, and though I said foolish things to him sometimes, I felt that he was glad that I should be my undisguised self. It was thus delicately flattering to be with him, and it gave confidence and self-respect. That was the basis of our whole life, the goodwill and affection of Father Payne, and the desire to please him.
Father Payne was a big solid man, as I have said, but he contrived to give the impression of being even bigger than he was. It was like the Irish estate, of which its owner said that it had more land to the acre than any place he knew. This was the result, I suppose, of what Barthrop once dryly called the "effortless expansion" of Father Payne's personality. I suppose he was about six-foot-two in height, and he must have weighed fifteen stone or even more. He was not stout, but all his limbs were solid, so that he filled his clothes. His hands were big, his feet were big. He wore a rather full beard: he was slightly bald when I knew him, but his hair grew rather long and curly. He always wore old clothes—but you were never conscious of what he wore: he never looked, as some people do, like a suit of clothes with a person inside them. Thinking it over, it seems to me that the reason why you noticed his clothes so little, when you were with him, was because you were always observing his face, or his hands, which were extremely characteristic of him, or his motions, which had a lounging sort of grace about them. Heavy men are apt on occasions to look lumbering, but Father Payne never looked that. His whole body was under his full control. When he walked, he swung easily along; when he moved, he moved impetuously and eagerly. But his face was the most remarkable thing about him. It had no great distinction of feature, and it was sanguine, often sunburnt, in hue. But, solid as it was, it was all alive. His big dark eyes were brimful of amusement and kindliness, and it was like coming into a warm room on a cold day to have his friendly glance directed upon you. As he talked, his eyebrows moved swiftly, and he had a look, with his eyes half-closed and his brows drawn up, as he waited for an answer, of what the old books call "quizzical"—a sort of half-caressing irony, which was very attractive. He had an impatient little frown which passed over his face, like a ruffle of wind, if things went too slowly or heavily for his taste; and he had, too, on occasions a deep, abstracted look, as if he were following a thought far. There was also another look, well known to his companions, when he turned his eyes upwards with a sort of resignation, generally accompanied by a deprecating gesture of the hand. Altogether it was a most expressive face, because, except in his abstracted mood, he always seemed to be entirely there, not concealing or repressing anything, but bending his whole mind upon what was being said. Moreover, if you said anything personal or intimate to him, a word of gratitude or pleasure, he had a quick, beautiful, affectionate look, so rewarding, so embracing that I often tried to evoke it—though an attempt to evoke it deliberately often produced no more than a half-smile, accompanied by a little wink, as if he saw through the attempt.
His great soft white hands, always spotlessly clean—he was the cleanest-looking man I ever saw—were really rather extraordinary. They looked at first sight clumsy, and even limp; but he was unusually deft and adroit with his fingers, and his touch on plants, in gardening, his tying of strings—he liked doing up parcels—was very quick and delicate. He was fond of all sorts of little puzzles, toys of wood and metal, which had to be fitted together; and the puzzles took shape or fell to pieces under his fingers like magic. They were extremely sensitive to pain, his hands, and a little pinch or abrasion would cause him marked discomfort. His handwriting was rapid and fine, and he occasionally would draw a tiny sketch to illustrate something, which showed much artistic skill. He often deplored his ignorance of handicraft, which, he said would have been a great relief to him.
His voice, again, was remarkable. It was not in ordinary talk either deep or profound, though it could and did become both on occasions, especially when he made a quotation, which he did with some solemnity. I used at first to think that there was a touch of rhetorical affectation about his quotations. They were made in a high musical tone, and as often as not ended with the tears coming into his eyes. He spoke to me once about this. He said that it was a mistake to think he was deeply affected by a quotation. "In fact," he said, "I am not easily affected by passionate or tragic emotion—what does affect me is a peculiar touch of beauty, but it is a luxurious and superficial thing. It would entirely prevent me," he added, "from reading many poems or prose passages aloud which I greatly admire. I simply could not command myself! In fact," he went on, smiling, "I very often can only get to the end of a quotation by fixing my mind on something else. I add up the digits giving the number of the page, or I count the plates at the dinner-table. It's very absurd—but it takes me in just the same way when I am alone. I could not read the last chapter of the Book of Revelation aloud to myself, or the chapter on 'The Wilderness' in Isaiah, without shedding tears. But it doesn't mean anything; it is just the hysterica passio, you know!"
His voice, when he first joined in a talk, was often low and even hesitating; but when he became interested and absorbed, it gathered volume and emphasis. Barthrop once said to me that Father Payne was the only person he knew who always talked in italics. But he very seldom harangued, though it is difficult to make that clear in recording his talks, because he often spoke continuously. Yet it was never a soliloquy: he always included the listeners. He used to look round at them, explore their faces, catch an eye and smile, indicate the particular person addressed by a darted-out finger; and he had many little free gestures with his hands as he talked. He would trace little hieroglyphics with his finger, as if he were writing a word, sweep an argument aside, bring his hands together as though he were shaping something. This was a little confusing at first, and used to divert my attention, because of the great mobility of his hands; but after a little it seemed to me to bring out and illustrate his points in a remarkably salient way.
His habits were curious and a little mysterious. They were by no means regular. Sometimes for days together we hardly saw him. He often rose early and walked in the garden. If he found a book which interested him, he would read it with absorbed attention, quite unconscious of the flight of time. "I do love getting really buried in a book," he would say; "it's the best of tests." Sometimes he wrote, sometimes he composed music, sometimes he would have his table covered with bits of paper full of unintelligible designs and patterns. He did not mind being questioned, but he would not satisfy one's curiosity. "It's only some nonsense of mine," he would say. He did not write many letters, and they were generally short. At times he would be very busy on his farm, at times occupied in the village, at times he took long walks alone; very occasionally he went away for a day or two. He was both uncommunicative and communicative. He would often talk with the utmost frankness and abandon about his private affairs; but, on the other hand, I always had the sense of much that was hidden in his life. And I have no doubt that he spent much time in prayer and meditation. He seldom spoke of this, but it played a large part in his life. He gave the impression of great ease, cheerfulness, and tranquillity, attained by some deliberate resolve, because he was both restless and sensitive, took sorrows and troubles hardly, and was deeply shocked and distressed by sad news of any kind. I have heard him say that he often had great difficulty in forcing himself to open a letter which he thought likely to be distressing or unpleasant. He was naturally, I imagine, of an almost neurotic tendency; but he did not seem so much to combat this by occupation and determination as to have arrived at some mechanical way of dealing with it. I remember that he said to me once: "If you have a bad business on hand, an unhappy or wounding affair, it is best to receive it fully and quietly. Let it do its worst, realise it, take it in—don't resist it, don't try to distract your mind: see the full misery of it, don't attempt to minimise it. If you do that, you will suddenly find something within you come to your rescue and say, 'Well, I can bear that!' and then it is all right. But if you try to dodge it, it's my experience that there comes a kind of back-wash which hurts very much indeed. Let the stream go over you, and then emerge. To fight against it simply prolongs the agony." He certainly recovered himself quicker than anyone I have ever known: indeed I think his recuperation was the best sign of his enormous vitality. "I'm sensitive," he said to me once, "but I'm tough—I have a fearful power of forgetting—it's much better than forgiving." But the thing which remains most strongly in my mind about him is the way in which he pervaded the whole place. It was fancy, perhaps, but I used to think I knew whether he was in the house or not. Certainly, if I wanted to speak to him, I used to go off to his study on occasions, quite sure that I should find him; while on other occasions—and I more than once put this to the test—I have thought to myself, "It's no use going—the Father is out." His presence at any sort of gathering was entirely unmistakable. It was not that you felt hampered or controlled: it was more like the flowing of some clear stream. When he was away, the thing seemed tame and spiritless; when he was there, it was all full of life. But his presence was not, at least to me, at all wearisome or straining. I have known men of great vitality who were undeniably fatiguing, because they overcame one like a whirlwind. But with Father Payne it always seemed as though he put wind into one's sails, but left one to steer one's own course. He did not thwart or deflect, or even direct: he simply multiplied one's own energy. I never had the sensation with him of suppressing any thought in my mind, or of saying to myself, "The Father won't care about that." He always did care, and I used to feel that he was glad to be inquired of, glad to have his own thoughts diverted, glad to be of use. He never nagged; or found petty fault, or "chivied" you, as the boys say. If you asked him a question, or asked him to stroll or walk, you always felt that he was delighted, that it was the one thing he enjoyed. He liked to have childish secrets. He and I had several little caches in the holes of trees, or the chinks of buildings, where we concealed small coins or curious stones on our walks, and at a later date revisited them. We were frankly silly about certain things. He and I had some imaginary personages—Dr. Waddilove, supposed to be a rich beneficed clergyman of Tory views; Mr. McTurk, a matter-of-fact Scotsman; Henry Bland, a retired schoolmaster with copious stores of information; and others—and we used often to discourse in character. But he always knew when to stop. He would say to me suddenly: "Dr. Waddilove said to me yesterday that he never argued with atheists or radicals, because they always came round in the end." Or he would say, in Henry Bland's flute-like tones: "Your mention of Robert Browning induces me to relate an anecdote, which I think may prove not wholly uninteresting to you." At times we used to tell long stories on our walks, stopping short in the middle of a sentence, when the other had instantly to continue the narrative. I do not mean that the wit was very choice or the humour at all remarkable—it would not bear being written down—but it amused us both. "Come, what shall we do to-day?" I can hear him say. "Dr. Waddilove and Mr. Bland might have a walk and discuss the signs of the times?" And then the ridiculous dialogue would begin.