Father Payne stopped, and looked at me with one of his great clear smiles.
“Well, I must say,” I began—
“No, you mustn’t,” said Father Payne. “I know all the excellent arguments you would advance. Why shouldn’t two people be happy and not look ahead, and all that? I do look ahead, and I’m going to make her happy if I can. Shall I use my influence in your favour, my boy? How does that strike you?”
I laughed and reddened. Father Payne put his arm in mine, and said: “Now, I have turned my heart out for your inspection, and you can’t convert me. Let the pretty child go her way! I only wish she was likely to get more fun out of the Wetheralls. Such excellent people too: but a lack of inspiration—not propelled from quite the central fount of beauty, I fancy! But it will do Phyllis good to make the best of them, and I fancy she is trying pretty hard. Dear me, I wish she were my niece! But I couldn’t have her here—we should all be at daggers drawn in a fortnight: that’s the puzzling thing about these beautiful people, that they light up such conflagrations, and make such havoc of divine philosophy, old boy!”
We were returning from a walk, Father Payne and I; as we passed the churchyard, he said: “Do you remember that story of Lamennais at La Chenaie? He was sitting behind the chapel under two Scotch firs which grew there, with some of his young disciples. He took his stick, and marked out a grave on the turf, and said: ’It is there I would wish to be buried, but no tombstone! Only a simple mound of grass. Oh, how well I shall be there!’ That is what I call sentiment. If Lamennais really thought he would be confined in spirit to such a place, he would not tolerate it—least of all a combative fellow like Lamennais—it would be a perpetual solitary confinement. Such a cry is merely a theatrical way of saying that he felt tired. Yet it is such sayings which impress people, because men love rhetoric.”
Presently he went on: “It is strange that what one fears in death is the vagueness and the solitude of it—we are afraid of finding ourselves lost in the night. It would be agitating, but not frightful, if we were sure of finding company; and if we were sure of meeting those whom we had loved and lost, death would not frighten us at all. Dying is simple enough, and indeed easy, for most of us. But I expect that something very precise and definite happens to us, the moment we die. It is probable, I think, that we shall set about building up a new body to inhabit at once, as a snail builds its shell. We are very definite creatures, all of us, with clearly apportioned tastes and energies, preferences and dislikes. The only puzzling thing is that we do not all of us seem to have the bodies which suit us here on earth: fiery spirits should have large phlegmatic bodies, and they too often have weak and inadequate bodies.