“And yet,” he said after a moment, “there’s something here in this bit of copse that whispers to me beautiful secrets—the sunshine among the stems, the rustle of leaves, the wandering breeze, the scent and coolness of it all! It is crammed with beauty; it is all trying to live, and glad to live. You may say, of course, that you don’t see all that in it, and it is I that am abnormal. But that doesn’t explain it away. The fact that I feel it is a better proof that it is there than the fact that you don’t feel it is a proof that it isn’t there! The only thing about it that isn’t beautiful to me is the fact that life can’t live except by taking life—that there is no right to live; and that, I admit, is disconcerting. You may say to me, ’You old bully, crammed with the corpses of sheep and potatoes, which you haven’t even had the honesty to kill for yourself, you dare to come here, and talk this stuff about the beauty of it all, and the joy of living. If all the bodies of the things you have consumed in your bloated life were piled together, it would make a thing as big as a whole row of ricks!’ If you say that, I admit that you take the sentiment out of my sails!”
“But I don’t say it,” said I: “Who dies if Father Payne live?”
He laughed at this, and clapped me on the back. “You’re in the same case as I, old man,” he said, “only you haven’t got such a pile of blood and bones to your credit! Here, we must stow this talk, or we shall become both humbugs and materialists. It’s a puzzling business, talking! It leads you into some very ugly places!”
I went in to see Father Payne one morning about some work. He was reading a book with knitted brows: he looked up, gave a nod, but no smile, pointed to a chair, and I sate down: a minute or two later he shut the book—a neat enough little volume—with a snap, and skimmed it deftly from where he sate, into his large waste-paper basket. This, by the way, was a curious little accomplishment of his,—throwing things with unerring aim. He could skim more cards across a room into a hat than anyone I have ever seen who was not a professed student of legerdemain.
“What are you doing?” I said—“such a nice little book!” I rose and rescued the volume, which was a careful enough edition of some poems and scraps of poems, posthumously discovered, of a well-known poet.
“Pray accept it with my kindest regards,” said Father Payne. “No, I don’t know that I ought to give it you. It is the sort of book I object to.”
“Why?” I said, examining it—“it seems harmless enough.”