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Father Payne by Arthur Christopher Benson

Part 6 out of 6

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on paper. I wish he would see a doctor, or go away for a bit; but I can't
advise him to do that--he hates a fuss about anything, and most of all
about health. He says you ought never to tell people how you are feeling,
because they have to pretend to be interested!"

I smiled at this, and said, "I don't think there really is much the matter!
People can't be always at the top of their game, and he takes a lot out of
himself, of course. He's always giving out!"

"He is indeed," said Barthrop; "but I won't say more now. I feel better for
having told you. Just you keep your eyes open--but, for Heaven's sake,
don't watch him--you know how sharp he is."

I went off a little depressed by the talk, because it seemed so impossible
to connect anything but buoyant health with Father Payne. I did not see him
at breakfast, but he came in to lunch; and I saw at once that there was
something amiss with him. He ate little, and he looked tired. However, as I
rose to go--we did not, as I have said, talk at lunch--he just beckoned to
me, and pointed with his finger in the direction of his room. It was a
well-known gesture if he wanted to speak to one. I went there, and stood
before the fire surveying the room, which looked unwontedly tidy, the table
being almost free from books and papers. But there lay a long folded folio
sheet on the table, a legal document, and it gave me a chill to see the
word _Will_ on the top of it. Father Payne came in a moment later with
a smile. Then somehow divining, as he so often did, exactly what had
happened, he said, as if answering an unspoken question, "Yes, that's my
will! I have been, in fact, making it. It's a wholesome occupation for an
elderly man. But I only wanted to know if you would come for a stroll? Yes?
That's all right! You are sure I'm not interfering with any arrangement?"

It was a late autumn day in November: the air was cold and damp, the roads
wet, the hedges hung with moisture and the leaves were almost gone from the
trees. "Most people don't like this sort of day," said Father Payne, as we
went out of the gate; "but I like it even better than spring. Everything
seems going contentedly to sleep, like a tired child. All the plants are
withdrawing into themselves, into the inner life. They have had a pleasant
time, waving their banners about--but they have no use for them any more.
They are all going to be alone for a bit. Do you remember that epithet of
Keats, about the 'cool-rooted' flowers? That's a bit of genius. That's what
makes the difference between people, I think--whether they are cool-rooted
or not."

He walked more slowly than was his wont to-day, but he seemed in equable
spirits, and made many exclamations of delight. He said suddenly, "Do you
know one of the advantages of growing old? It is that if you have an
unpleasant thing ahead of you, instead of shadowing the mind, as it does
when you are young, it gives a sort of relish to the intervening time. I
can even imagine a man in the condemned cell, till the end gets close,
being able to look ahead to the day, when he wakes in the morning--the
square meals, the pipe--I believe they allow them to smoke--the talk with
the chaplain. It's always nice to feel it is your duty to talk about
yourself, and to explain how it all came about, and why you couldn't do
otherwise. Now I have got to go up to town on some tiresome business at the
end of this week, and I'm going to enjoy the days in between."

He stopped and spoke with all his accustomed good humour to half a dozen
people whom we met. Then he said to me: "Do you know, my boy, I want to
tell you that you have been one of my successes! I did not honestly think
you would buckle to as you have done, and I don't think you are quite as
sympathetic as I once feared!" He gave me a smile as he said it, and went
on: "You know what I mean--I thought you would reflect people too much, and
be too responsive to your companions. And you have been a great comfort to
me, I don't deny it. But I thankfully discern a good hard stone in the
middle of all the juiciness, with a tight little kernel inside it--I'll
quote Keats again, and say 'a sweet-hearted kernel,' Mind, I don't say you
will do great things. You are facile, and you see things very quickly and
accurately, and you have a style. But I don't think you have got the tragic
quality or the passionate gift. You are too placid and contented--but you
spin along, and I think you see something of the reality of things. You
will be led forth beside the waters of comfort--you will lack nothing--your
cup will be full. But the great work is done by people with large empty
cups that take some filling--the people who are given the plenteousness of
tears to drink. It's a bitter draught--you won't have to drink it. But I
think you are on right and happy lines, and you must be content with good
work. Anyhow, you will always write like a gentleman, and that's a good
deal to say."

This pleased and touched me very deeply. I began to murmur something. "Oh
no," said Father Payne, "you needn't! A boy at a prize-giving isn't
required to enter into easy talk with the presiding buffer! I have just
handed you your prize."

He talked after this lightly of many small things--about Barthrop in
particular, and asked me many questions about him. "I am afraid I haven't
allowed him enough initiative," said Father Payne; "that's a bad habit of
mine. But if he had really had it, we should have squabbled--he's not quite
fiery enough, the beloved Barthrop! He's awfully judicious, but he must
have a lead. He's a submissioner, I'm afraid, as a witty prelate once said!
You know the two sides of the choir, _Decani_ and _Cantoris_ as
they are called. _Decani_ always begin the psalms and say the
versicles, _Cantoris_ always respond. People are always one or the
other, and Barthrop is a born _Cantoris_."

We did not go very far, and he soon proposed to return. But just as we were
nearing home, he said, "I think the hardest thing in life to
understand--the very hardest of all--is our pleasure in the sense of
permanence! It's the supreme and constant illusion. I can't think where it
comes from, or why it is there, or what it is supposed to do for us. Do you
remember," he said with a smile, "how Shelley, the most hopelessly restless
of mortals, whenever he settled anywhere, always wrote to his friends that
he had established himself _for ever_? It's the instinct which is most
contrary to reason. Everything contradicts it--we are not the same people
for five minutes together, nothing that we see or hear or taste
continues--and yet we feel eternally and immutably fixed; and instead of
living each day as if it was our last--which is a thoroughly bad piece of
advice--we live each day as if it was one of an endlessly revolving chain
of days, and as if we were going to live to all eternity--as indeed I
believe we are! Probably the reason for it is to give us a hint that we
_are_ immortal, after all, though we are tempted to think that all
things come to an end. It is strange to think that nothing on which our
eyes rest at this moment is the same as it was when we started our
walk--the very stones of the wall are altered. It ought to make us ashamed
of pretending that we are anything but ourselves; and yet we do change a
little, thank God, and for the better. I've a fancy--though I can't say
more than that of that we aren't meant to _know_ anything: and I think
that the times when we know, or think we know, are the times when we stand
still. That seems hard!"--he broke off with an unusual emotion: but he was
himself again in a moment, and said, "I don't know why--it's the weather,
perhaps: but I feel inclined to do nothing but thank people all day, like
the man in _Happy Thoughts_ you know, who came down late for breakfast
and could say nothing but 'Thanks, thanks, awfully thanks--thanks (to the
butler), thanks (to the hostess)--thanks, thanks!' but it means
something--a real emotion, though grotesquely phrased!--I've enjoyed this
bit of a walk, my boy!"

LXX

OF WEAKNESS

This was, I think, the last talk I had with Father Payne before he left us,
so suddenly and so quietly, for his last encounter.

It was a calm and sunny day, though the air was cold and fresh. I finished
some work I was doing, a little after noonday, and I walked down the
garden. I was on the grass, and turning the corner of a tiny thicket of
yews and hollies, where there was a secluded seat facing the south, I saw
that Father Payne was sitting there in the sun alone. I came up to him, and
was just about to speak, when I saw that his eyes were closed, though his
lips were moving. He sat in an attitude of fatigue and lassitude, I
thought, with one leg crossed over the other and his arm stretched out
along the seat-back. I would have stolen away again unobserved, when he
opened his eyes and saw me; he gave me one of his big smiles, and motioned
to me to come and sit down beside him. I did so, and he put his arm through
mine. I said something about disturbing him, and he said, "Not a bit of
it--I shall be glad of your company, old boy." Presently he said, "Do you
know what it is to feel _sad_? I suppose not. I don't mean troubled
about anything in particular--there's nothing to be troubled about--but
simply sad, in a causeless, listless way?"

"Yes, I think so," I said. He smiled at that, and said, "Then you
_don't_ know what I mean, old man! You would be quite sure, if you had
ever felt it. I mean a sense of feebleness and wretchedness, as if there
was much to be done, and no desire to do it--as if your life had been a
long mistake from beginning to end. Of course it is quite morbid and
unreal, I know that! It is a temptation of the devil, sure enough, and it
is an uncommonly effective one. He gets inside the weakness of our mortal
nature, and tells us that we have come down to the truth at last. It's all
nonsense, of course, but it's infernally ingenious nonsense. He brings all
the failures of the world before your mind and heart, the thought of all
the people who have fallen by the roadside and can't get up, and, worse
still, all the people who have lost hope and pride, and don't want to be
different. He points out how brief our time is, and how little we know what
lies beyond. He shows us how the strong and unscrupulous and cruel people
succeed and have a good time, and how many well-meaning, sensitive, muddled
people come to hopeless grief. Oh, he has a score of instances, a quiver
full of poisonous shafts." He was silent for a minute, and then he said,
"Old boy, we won't heed him, you and I. We'll say, 'Yes, my dear Apollyon,
all that is undoubtedly true. You do a lot of mischief, but your time is
short. You wound us and disable us--you can even kill us; but it's a poor
policy at best. You defeat yourself, because we slip away and you can't
follow us. And when we are refreshed and renewed, we will come back, and go
on with the battle.' That's what well say, like old Sir Andrew Barton:

"'I'll but lie down and bleed awhile,
And then I'll rise and fight again.'

You must never mind being defeated, old man. You must never say that your
sins have done for you! I don't care what a man has done, I don't care how
cruel, wicked, sensual, evil he has been, if in the bottom of his heart he
can say, 'I belong to God, after all!' That's the last and worst assault of
the devil, when he comes and whispers to you that you have cut yourself off
from God. You can't do that, whatever you feel. I have been thinking to-day
of all the mistakes I have made, how I have drifted along, how I have
enjoyed myself, when I might have been helping other people; what a lazy,
greedy, ugly business it has all been, how little I have ever _made_
myself do anything. But I don't care. I go straight to God and I say,
'Father, I have sinned against Heaven and before Thee, and am no more
worthy to be called Thy son.' But I am His son, for all that, and I know it
and He knows it; and Apollyon may straddle across the way as much as he
likes, but he can't stop me. If he does stop me, he only sends me straight
home."

I saw the tears stand in Father Payne's eyes, and I said hurriedly and
eagerly, "Why, Father, you have done so much, for me, for all of us, for
everyone you have ever had to do with. Don't speak so; it isn't true, it
hasn't been a failure. You are the only person I have met who has showed me
what goodness really is."

Father Payne pressed my arm, but he did not speak for a moment.

"You are very good to me, old man," he said in a moment. "I was not trying
to get a testimonial out of you, you know; and of course you can't judge
how far I have fallen short of all I might have done. But your affection
and your kindness are very precious to me. You give me a message from God!
It matters little how near the truth you are or how far away. God doesn't
think of that. He isn't a hard reckoner; He's only glad when we return to
Him, and put down our tired head upon His shoulder for a little. But even
so, that isn't the end. As soon as we are strong again, we must begin
again. There's plenty left to do. The battle isn't over because you or I
are tired. He is tired Himself, I dare say. But it all goes on, and there
is victory ahead. Don't forget that, dear boy. It's no good being
heart-broken or worn out. Rise and fight again as soon as you can. I'm
quite ready--I haven't had enough. I have had an easy post, I don't deny
that. I have suffered very little, as suffering goes; and I'm grateful for
that; but we mustn't fall in love with rest. If we sleep, it is only that
we may rise refreshed, and go off again singing. We mustn't be afraid of
weakness and suffering, and we mustn't be afraid of joy and strength
either. That's treachery, you know."

Presently he said, "Now you must leave me here a little! You came in the
nick of time, and you brought me a message. It always comes, if you ask for
it! And I shall say a prayer for the Little Master himself, as Sintram
called him, before I go. He has his points, you know. He is uncommonly
shrewd and tenacious and brave. He's fighting for his life, and I pity him
whenever he suspects--and it must be pretty often--that things are not
going his way. I don't despair of the old fellow himself, if I may say so.
I suspect him of a sense of humour. I can't help thinking he will
capitulate and cut his losses some day, and then we shall get things right
in a trice. He will be conquered, and perhaps convinced; but he won't be
used vindictively, whatever happens. My knowledge of that, and of the fact
that he has got defeat ahead of him, and knows it, is the best defence
against him, even when it is his hour, and the power of darkness, as it has
been to-day."

I got up and left him; he smiled at me and waved his hand.

LXXI

THE BANK OF THE RIVER

The week passed without anything further occurring to arouse our anxieties,
and Father Payne went up to town on the Monday: he went off in apparently
good spirits: but we got a wire in the course of the day to say that he was
detained in town by business and would write. On the following morning,
Barthrop came into my room in silence, shortly after breakfast, and handed
me a letter without a word. It was very short: it ran as follows:

"DEAR LEONARD,--_I want you to come up to town to-morrow to see
me, and if Duncan cares to come, I shall be delighted to see him
too, though I know he has an artistic objection to seeing people
who are ill, and I understand that I am ill. I saw a doctor
yesterday, and he advised me to see a specialist, who advised me
to have an operation. It seems better to get it over at once; so
I went without delay into a nursing home, where I feel like a
child in the nursery again. I want to talk over matters, and it
will be better to say nothing which will cause a fuss. So just
run up to-morrow, there's a good man, and you can get back in the
evening. Ever yours,_

"C.P."

It happened that there were only two of us at Aveley at the time, Kaye, and
a younger man, Raven, who had just joined. We determined to say nothing
about it till the following morning: the day passed heavily enough. I found
I could do nothing with the dread of what it might all mean overhanging me.
I admired Barthrop's common-sense: he spent the day, he told me, in doing
accounts--he acted as a sort of bursar--and he kept up a quiet conversation
at dinner in which I confess I played a very poor part. Kaye never noticed
anything, and had no curiosity, and Raven had no suspicion of anything
unusual. I slept ill that night, and found myself in a very much depressed
mood on the following morning. I realised at every moment how entirely
everything at Aveley was centred upon Father Payne, and how he was both in
the foreground as well as in the background of all that we did or thought.
Our journey passed almost in silence, and we drove straight to the nursing
home in Mayfair. We were admitted to a little waiting-room in a bright,
fresh-looking house, and were presently greeted by a genial and motherly
old lady, dressed in a sort of nursing uniform, who told us that Mr. Payne
was expecting us. We asked anxiously how he was. "Oh, he is very cheerful,"
she said; "his nurse, Sister Jane, thinks he is the most amusing man she
ever saw. You must not worry about him. The operation is to be on
Friday--he seems very well and strong in himself, and we will soon have him
all right again--you will see! He is just the sort of man to make a good
recovery." Then she added, "Mr. Payne said he thought you would like to see
the doctor, so he is going to look in here in half an hour from now--he
will see Mr. Payne first, and then you can have a good talk to him. You are
going back this afternoon, I think?"

"That depends!" said Barthrop.

"Oh, Mr. Payne is expecting you to go back, I know--we will just run up and
see him now."

We went up two flights of stairs: the matron knocked at a door in the
passage, and we went in. Father Payne was sitting up in bed, in a sort of
blue wrapper which gave him, I thought, a curiously monastic air--he was
reading quietly. The room was large and airy, and looked out on the backs
of tall houses: it was quiet enough: there was just a far-off murmur of the
town in the air.

He greeted us with much animation, and smiled at me. "It's good of you to
come, I'm sure," he said, "with your feeling about ill people. I don't
object to that," he added in the familiar manner. "I think it's a sign of
health, you know!" We sat down beside him. "Now," said Father Payne, "don't
let's have any grave looks or hushed voices--you remember what Baines told
us, when he joined the Church of Rome, that when he got back after his
reception, his friends all spoke to him as if he had had a serious illness.
The matter is simple enough--and I'm going to speak plainly. I have got
some internal mischief, something that obstructs the passages, and it has
got to be removed. There's a risk, of course--they never can tell exactly
what they will find, but they don't think it has gone too far to be
remedied. I don't pretend to like it--in fact it's decidedly inconvenient.
I like my own little plans as well as anyone! and this time I don't seem
able to look ahead--there's a sort of wall ahead of me. I feel as if I had
come, like the boy in the _Water Babies_, to the place which was
called _Stop_!" He paused a moment and smiled on us, his big
good-natured smile.

"But if I put my head out of the other end of the tunnel, I shall go on as
usual. If I _don't_, then I had better tell you what I have done. You
know I have no near relations. The noble family of Payne is practically
summed up in me. The Vicar's a sort of cousin, but a very diluted one. I
have arranged by my will that if you two fellows think you can keep the
place going on its present lines, you can have a try. But I don't think it
will do, I think it will be artificial and possibly ridiculous. I don't
think it has got life! And if you decide not to try, then it will all go to
my old College, which is quite alive. I would rather they would not sell
it--but bless me, what does it matter? It is a mistake to try and grip
anything with a dead hand. But if I get through, and I believe I have a
good chance of doing so, you must just keep things going till I get
back--which won't be long. There's the case in a nutshell! You quite
understand? I don't want you to do what you think I should wish, because I
_don't_ wish. And now we won't say another word about it, unless there
are any questions you would like to ask. By the way, I have arranged the
programme for the day. The doctor is coming to see me presently, and while
he is here you can have some lunch--they will see to that--and then you can
have a talk to him, while I have my lunch--I can tell you they do feed me
up here!--and then we will have a talk, and you can catch the 4.30. You
know how I like planning out a day."

"But we thought we would like to stay in town, and see it all through,"
said Barthrop. "We have brought up some things."

"Stuff and nonsense!" said Father Payne in his old manner. "Back you go by
the 4.30, things and all! I have got the best nurse in the world, Sister
Jane. By George, it's a treat exploring that woman's mind. She's full of
kindness and common sense and courage, without a grain of reason. There's
nothing in the world that woman wouldn't do, and nothing she wouldn't
believe--she's entirely mediaeval. Then I have some books: and I'm going to
read and talk and play patience--I'm quite good at that already--and eat
and drink and sleep. I'm not to be disturbed, I tell you! To-morrow is a
complete holiday: and on Friday the great event comes off. I won't have any
useless emotion, or any bedside thoughts!" He glanced at us smiling and
said, "Oh, of course, my dear boys, I'm only joking. I know you would like
to stay, and I would like to have you here well enough: but see here--if
all goes well, what's the use of this drama?--people can't behave quite
naturally, however much they would like to, and I don't want any melting
looks: and if it goes the other way--well, I don't like good-byes. I agree
with dear old Mrs. Barbauld:

"'Say not Good-night, but in some brighter clime
Bid me Good-morning.'"

He was silent for a moment--and just at that moment the doctor arrived.

We went off to lunch with the old matron, who talked cheerfully about
things in general: and it was strange to feel that what was to us so deep a
tragedy was to her just a familiar experience, a thing that happened day by
day.

Then the doctor came in, a tall, thin, pale, unembarrassed man, very frank
and simple.

"Yes," he said, "there's a risk--I don't deny that! One never knows exactly
what the mischief is or how far it extends. I told Mr. Payne exactly what I
thought. He is the sort of man to whom one can do that. But he is strong,
he has lived a healthy life, he has a great vitality--everything is in his
favour. How long has he seemed to be ill, by the way?"

"Some three or four months, I think," said Barthrop. "But it is difficult
when you see anyone every day to realise a change--and then he is always
cheerful."

"He is," said the doctor. "I never saw a better patient. He told me his
symptoms like a doctor describing someone else's case, I never heard
anything so impersonal! We managed to catch Dr. Angus--that's the
specialist, you know, who will operate. Mr. Payne wasn't in the least
flurried. He showed no sign of being surprised: we sent him in here at
once, and he seems to have made friends with everyone. That's all to the
good, of course. He's not a nervous subject. No," he added reflectively,
"he has an excellent chance of recovery. But I should deceive you if I
pretended there was no risk. There _is_ a risk, and we must hope for
the best. By the way, gentlemen," he added, taking up his hat, "I hope you
won't think of staying in town. Mr. Payne seems most anxious that you
should go back, and I think his wish should be paramount. You can do
nothing here, and I think your remaining would fret him. I won't attempt to
dictate, but I feel that you would do well to go!"

"Oh, yes, we will go," said Barthrop. "You will let us know how all goes?"

"Of course!" said the doctor. "You shall hear at once!"

We went back, and spent an hour with Father Payne. I shall never forget
that hour: he talked on quietly, seeing that we were unable to do our part.
He spoke about the men and their work, and gave pleasant, half-humorous
summaries of their characters. He gave us some little reminiscences of his
life in London; he talked about the villagers at Aveley, and the servants.
I realised afterwards that he had spoken a few words about every single
person in the circle, small or great. The time sped past, and presently
they told us that our cab was at the door, "Now don't make me think you are
going to miss the train, old boys!" said Father Payne, raising himself up
to shake hands. "I have enjoyed the sight of you. Give them all my love: be
good and wise! God bless you both!" He shook hands with Barthrop and with
me, and I felt the soft touch of his firm hand, as I had done at our first
meeting. Barthrop did not speak, and went hurriedly from the room, without
looking round. I could not help it, but I bent down and kissed his hand.
"Well, well!" he said indulgently, and gave me a most tender and beautiful
look out of his big eyes, and then he mentioned to me to go. I went in
silence.

We felt, both of us, a premonition of the worst disaster. I knew in my
heart that it was the end. It seemed to me characteristic of Father Payne
to make his farewells simply, and without any dramatic emphasis. The way in
which he had spoken of all his friends, in that last hour we spent with
him, had been a series of adieux, and even as I recalled his words, they
seemed to me to shape themselves into unspoken messages. His own calmness
had been unmistakable, and was marvellous to me; but it was all the more
impressive because he did not, as one has read in some of the well-known
scenes recorded in history of the deaths of famous men, seem to be
attempting to say anything memorable or magnanimous. "What can I say that
will be worthy of myself?"--that question appears to me to be sometimes
lurking in the minds of men who have played a great part in the world, and
who are determined to play it to the end. It is, of course a noble sort of
courage which enables a man, at the very threshold of death, to force
himself to behave with dignity and grandeur: but it seemed to me now to be
an even more supreme courage to be, as Father Payne was, simply himself.
Sir Walter Raleigh, Sir Thomas More, Charles II, Archbishop Laud all died
with a real greatness of undismayed bravery, but with just a sense of
enacting a part rehearsed. The death scene of Socrates, which is, I
suppose, a romantically constructed tale, does indeed give a picture of
perfect naturalness: and I thought that Father Payne's demeanour, like that
of Socrates, showed clearly enough that the idea of death was not an
overshadowing dread dispelled by an effort of the will, but that it was not
present as a fear in his mind at all, and rather regarded with a reverent
curiosity: and I was reminded of a saying of Father Payne's which I have
elsewhere recorded, that the virtues to which we give our most unhesitating
admiration are the instinctive virtues rather than the reasoned virtues. If
Father Payne had appeared to be keeping a firm hold on himself, and to be
obliging himself to speak things timely and fitting, I should have admired
him deeply: but I admired him all the more because of his unaffected
tranquillity and unuttered affection. He had just enveloped us in his own
calmness, and gone straight forward.

We made our journey almost in silence: Barthrop was too much moved to
speak: and my own mind was dim with trouble, at all that we were to lose,
and yet drawn away into an infinite loyalty and tenderness for one who had
been more than a father to me.

LXXII

THE CROSSING

The end is soon told. On the following day, we thought it best to tell our
two companions and the Vicar what was happening, and we also told the old
butler that Father Payne was ill. It was a day of infinite dreariness to
me, with outbursts of sharp emotion at the sight of everything so closely
connected with Father Payne, and with the thought that he would see them no
more.

I was sitting in my room on the Friday morning, after a sleepless night,
when Barthrop came in and handed me a telegram from the doctor. "Mr. Payne
never recovered consciousness, and died an hour after the operation. All
details arranged. Please await letter." I raised my eyes to Barthrop's
face, but saw that he could not speak. I could say nothing either: my mind
and heart seemed to crumble suddenly into a hopeless despair.

A letter reached us the same evening by train. It was to the effect that
Father Payne had written down some exact directions the day before and
given them to the matron. He did not wish, in case of his death, that
anyone should see his body: he wished to be placed in the simplest of
coffins, as soon as possible, and that the coffin should be sent down by
train to Aveley, be taken from the station straight to the church, and if
possible to be buried at once. But even so, that was only his wish, and he
particularly desired to avoid alike all ceremony and inconvenience. But
besides that there were two notes enclosed addressed in Father Payne's hand
to Barthrop and myself, which ran as follows:

"My dear Leonard,--_I thought it very good of you to come up to
see me, and no less good of you to go away as I desired. It is
possible, of course, that I may return to you, and all be as
before. But to be frank, I do not think it will be so. Even if I
survive, I shall, I think, be much weakened by this operation,
and shall have the possibility of a recurrence of the disease
hanging over me. Much as I love life, and the world where I have
found it pleasant to live, I do not want to lead a broken sort of
existence, with invalid precautions and limitations. I think that
this would bring out all that is worst in me, and would lead to
unhappiness both in myself and in all those about me. If it has
to be so, I shall do my best, but I think it would be a
discreditable performance. I do not, however, think that I shall
have this trial laid upon me. I feel that I am summoned
elsewhere, and I am glad to think that my passage will be a swift
one. I am not afraid of what lies beyond, because I believe death
to be simple and natural enough, and a perfectly definite thing.
Of what lies beyond it, I can form no idea; all our theories are
probably quite wide of the mark. But it will be the same for me
as it has been for all others who have died, and as it will some
day be for you; and when we know, we shall be surprised that we
did not see what it would be. I confess that I love the things
that I know, and dislike the unknown. The world is very dear and
familiar, and it has been kind and beautiful to me, as well as
full of interest. But I expect that things will be much
simplified. And please bear this in mind, that such a scene which
we went through yesterday is worse for those who stand by and can
do nothing than for the man himself; and you will believe me when
I say that I am neither afraid nor unhappy._

"_With regard to my wishes about the place being kept on, on
its present lines, remember that it is only a wish, and not to be
regarded as a binding obligation or undertaken against your
judgment. I trust you fully in this, as I have always trusted
you; and I will just thank you, once and for all, for all that
you have done and been. I shall always think of you with deep
gratitude and lasting affection. God bless you now and always.
Your old friend,_

"CHARLES PAYNE."

To me he had written:

"My dear boy,--_Please read my letter to Barthrop, which is
meant for you as well. I won't repeat myself--you know I dislike
that. But I would like just to say that you have been more like a
son to me than anyone I ever have known, and I thank God for
bringing you into my life, and for all your kind and faithful
affection. You must just go on as you have begun; and I can only
say that if I still have any knowledge of what goes on in the
world, my affection and interest will not fail; and if I have
not, I shall believe that we shall still find each other again,
and rejoice in mutual knowledge and confidence. You are very dear
to me, and always will be._

"_Settle everything with Leonard. I know that you will be able
to interpret my wishes as I should wish them to be interpreted.
Your affectionate old friend,_

"C. PAYNE."

The last act was simple enough. The preparations were soon made. The coffin
arrived at midday, and was buried in the afternoon, between the church and
the Hall. It was sad and beautiful to see the heartfelt grief of the
villagers: and it was wonderful to me that at that moment I recovered a
kind of serenity on the surface of the grief below, so that in the still
afternoon as we walked away from the grave it seemed to me strange rather
than sorrowful. With those last letters in mind, it seemed to me almost
traitorous to mourn. He at least had his heart's desire, and I did not
doubt that he was abundantly satisfied.

LXXIII

AFTER-THOUGHTS

Barthrop and I decided that we could not hope to continue the scheme. We
had neither the force nor the experience. The whole society was, we felt,
just the expression of Father Payne's personality, and without it, it had
neither stability nor significance. Barthrop and the Vicar were left money
legacies: the servants all received little pensions: there was a sum for
distribution in the village, and a fund endowed to meet certain practical
needs of the place. We handed over the estate to Father Payne's old
College, the furniture and pictures to go with the house, which was to be
let, if possible, to a tenant who would be inclined to settle there and
make it his home: the income of the estate was to provide travelling
scholarships. All had been carefully thought out with much practical sense
and insight.

Our other two companions went away. Barthrop and I stayed on at the Hall
together for some weeks to settle the final arrangements. We had some
wonderfully touching letters from old pupils and friends of Father Payne's.
One in particular, saying that the writer owed an infinite debt of
gratitude to Father Payne, for having saved him from himself and given him
a new life.

We talked much of Father Payne in those days; and I went alone to all the
places where I had walked with him, recalling more gratefully than sadly
how he had looked and moved and talked and smiled.

It came to the last night that we were to spend at the Hall together.
Everything had been gone through and arranged, and we were glad, I think,
to be departing.

"I don't know what to say and think about it all," said Barthrop; "I feel
at present quite lost and stranded, as if my motive for living were gone,
and as if I could hardly take up my work again. I know it is wrong, and I
am ashamed of it. Father Payne always said that we must not depend
helplessly upon persons or institutions, but must find our own real life
and live it--you remember?"

"Yes," I said, "indeed I do remember! But I do not think he ever realised
quite how strong he was, and how he affected those about him. He did not
need us--I sometimes think he did not need anyone--and he credited everyone
with living the same intent life that he lived. But I shall always be
infinitely grateful to him for showing me just that--that one must live
one's own life, through and in spite of everything grievous that happens.
The temptation is to indulge grief, and to feel that collapse in such a
case is a sign of loyalty. It isn't so--if one collapses, it only means
that one has been living an artificial and parasitical life. Father Payne
would have hated that--and I don't mean to do it. He has given me not only
an example, but an inspiration--a real current of life has flowed into my
life from his--or perhaps rather through his from some deeper origin."

"That is so," said Barthrop, "that is perfectly true! and don't you
remember too how he always said life must be a _real_ fight--a joining
in the fight that was going forwards? It need not be wrangling or
disputing, or finding fault with other people, or maintaining and
confuting. He used to say that people fought in a hundred ways--with their
humour, their companionableness, their kindness, their friendliness--it
need not be violent, and indeed if it was violent, that was fighting on the
wrong side--it had only to be calm and sincere and dutiful."

"Did he say that?" I said. "Yes, I am sure he did--no one else could say it
or think of it. Of course, we have to fight, but not by dealing injury and
harm, but by seeking and following peace and goodwill. Well, we must
try--and it may be that we shall find him again, though he is hidden for a
little while with God."

"Yes," said Barthrop, "we shall find him, or he will find us--it makes
little difference: and he will always be the same, though I hope we may be
different!"

LXXIV

DEPARTURE

It was a soft and delicious spring morning when I left Aveley--and I have
never had the heart to visit it again. I had had a sleepless night, with
the thought of Father Payne continually in my mind. I saw him in a score of
attitudes, as he loitered in the garden with that look of inexpressible and
tender interest that he had for all that grew out of the
earth--worshipping, I used to think, at the shrine of life--or as he sat
rapt in thought in church, or as he strode beside me along the uplands, or
as he came and went in a hurried abstraction, or as he argued and
discussed, with his great animated smile and his quick little gestures. I
felt how his personality had filled our lives to the brim, as a spring
whose waters fail not. It was not that he was a perfect character, with a
tranquil and effortless superiority, or with a high intellectual tenacity,
or with an unruffled serenity. He was sensitive, impatient, fitful,
prejudiced. He had little constructive capacity, no creative or dramatic
power, no loftiness of tragic emotion. I knew all that; I did not regard
him with a false or uncritical reverence. But he was vital, generous, rich
in zest and joy, heroic, as no other man I had ever known. He had no petty
ambition, no thirst for recognition, no acidity of judgment. He never
sought to impress himself: but his was a large, affectionate, liberal
nature, more responsive to life, more lavish of self, more disinterested
than any human being that had crossed my path. He had never desired to make
disciples--he was not self-confident or self-regarding enough for that. But
he had continued to draw us all with him into a vortex of life, where the
stream ran swiftly, and where it seemed disgraceful to be either listless
or unconcerned. I blessed the kindly fate that had guided me to him, and
had won for me his deep regard. I did not wish to copy or imitate him--he
had infected me with a deep distrust for dependence--I only wished to live
my own life in the same eager spirit. As he had said to me once, the motto
for every man was to be _Amor Fati_--not a reluctant acquiescence, or
a feeble optimism, or a gentle resignation, but a passion for one's own
destiny, a deep desire to make the most and the best out of life, and a
strong purpose to share one's best with all who were journeying at one's
side.

So the night passed, thick with recollections and regrets, deepening into a
horror of loss and darkness, and then slowly brightening into the calm
prelude of a day of farewell. The birds began to chirp and twitter in the
ivy; the thrush uttered her long-drawn notes, sweetly repeated and
sustained in the dusky bushes. That sound was much connected in my mind
with Aveley. To be awakened thus in the summer dawn, to listen awhile to
the delicious sound, to fall asleep again with the thought of the long
pleasant day of work and friendship ahead of me, had been one of my
greatest luxuries.

I rose early, and made my last preparations, and then, having got a little
time before the last meal I was to take with Barthrop, I went round about
the garden with a desire to draw into my spirit for the last time the pure
and happy atmosphere of the place.

I saw the beds fringed with purple polyanthus, and the daffodils in the
dewy grass. I gazed at the long lines of the low hills across the stream,
with the woodland spaces all flushed with spring. I heard the cawing of the
rooks in the soft air, and the bubbling song of the chaffinches filled the
shrubberies.

I knew the mood of old--the mood in which, after a holiday sojourn in some
place which one has learned to love, a happy space of time stained by no
base anxiety, shadowed by no calamity, the call to rejoin the routine of
life makes itself heard half reluctantly, half ardently. The heart at such
moments tries to be grateful without regret, and hopeful without
indifference. The purpose to go, the desire to stay, wrestle together; and
now at the end of the happiest and most fruitful period I had ever known or
was ever, I thought, likely to know, I felt like Jacob wrestling with the
angel till the breaking of the day, and crying out, half in weakness, half
in strength, "I will not let thee go until thou bless me."

It came, the sudden blessing which I desired. It fell like some full warm
shower upon the thirsty earth. In that moment I had the blissful instinct
which had before been but a reasoned conviction, that Father Payne was near
me, with me, about me, enfolding me with a swift tenderness, and yet at the
same time pointing me forward, bidding me clearly and almost, it seemed,
petulantly, to disengage myself from all dependence upon himself or his
example. He had other things to do, I felt with something like a smile,
than to hover over me and haunt my path with tenderness. Such weakness of
sentiment was worthy neither of himself nor of myself. I had all the world
before me, and I was to take my part in it with spirit and even gaiety. To
shrink into the shadow, to live in tearful retrospect--it was not to be
thought of; and I had in that moment a glow of thankful energy which made
light of grief and pain alike. I must take hold of life instantly and with
both hands. I saw it in a sudden flash of light.

I went to the churchyard, I stood for an instant beside the grave, now
turfed over and planted with daffodils. I put aside from my heart, once and
for all, the old wistful instinct which ties the living to the dead. The
poor body that lay there, dust in dust, had no more to do with Father Payne
than the stained candle-socket with the flame that had leapt away upon the
air. That was a moment of true and certain joy; so that when I went back to
the house and joined Barthrop, I felt no longer the uneasy quivering of the
spirit which had long overmastered me. He too was calm and brave; we sat
together for the last time, we talked with an unaffected cheerfulness of
the future. He too, I saw, had experienced the same loosening of the spirit
from its trivial bonds, dear and beautiful as they were, so long as one did
not hug them close.

"I never thought," he said to me at last, "to go light-heartedly away--and
yet I can do even that! I have heard something, I can hardly say what,
which tells me to go forward, not to hanker, not to look back--and which
tells me best of all that it would be almost like treachery to wish the
Father back again. It is better so! I say this," he went on, "not with
resignation, not with a mild desire to make the best of a bad business, but
with a serene certainty that it is not a bad business at all. I cannot tell
where it is gone, the cloud that has oppressed me--but it is gone, and it
will not come back."

"Yes," I said, "I recognise that--I feel it too; our work here is done, and
we have work waiting for us. We shall meet, we shall compare experiences,
we shall love our fate. Life is to be a new quest, not an old worship. That
is to be our loyalty to Father Payne, that we are to believe in life, and
not only to believe in memory."

It was soon over. Barthrop was to go later, and he came out to see me go.
Just before I started, the old clock played its sweet tune; we stood in
silence listening. "That is the best of omens," I said, "to depart with
thanksgiving and the voice of melody." He smiled in my face, we clasped
hands; I drove up the little road, while he stood at the door, smiling and
waving his hand, till I turned into the main road, between the blossoming
hedges, and saw Aveley no more.

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