He gave me a little shake with his hand. “Yes, the habit of being able to do a thing,” he said, “not the habit of being unable to do anything else! Hang these metaphysics, if that is what they are! What I want you young men to do is to get a firm hold upon life, and to feel that it is a finer thing than any little presentment of it. I want you to feel and enjoy for yourselves, and to live freely and generously. Bad things happen to all of us, of course; but we mustn’t mind that—not to be petty or quarrelsome, or hidebound or prudish or over-particular, that’s the point. To leave other people alone, except on the rare occasions when they are not letting other people alone; to be peaceable, and yet not to be afraid; not to be hurt and vexed; to practise forgetting; not to want to pouch things! It’s all very well for me to talk,” he said; “I made a sufficient hash of it, when I was poor and miserable and overworked; and then I was transplanted out of a slum window-box into a sunny garden, just in time; yet I’m sure that most of my old troubles were in a way of my own making, because I hated being so insignificant; but I fear that was a little poison lurking in me from the Earls of Shropshire. That is the odd thing about ambitions, that they seem so often like regaining a lost position rather than making a new one. The truth is that we are caged; and the only thing to do is to think about the cage as little as we can.”
One day I was strolling down the garden among the winding paths, when I came suddenly upon Father Payne, who was hurrying towards the house. He had in each of his hands a large roughly spherical stone, and looked at me a little shamefacedly.
“You look, Father,” I said, “as if you were going to stone Stephen.”
He laughed, and looked at the stones. “Yes,” he said, “they are what the Greeks called ‘hand-fillers,’ for use in battle—but I have no nefarious designs.”
“What are you going to do with them?” I said
“That’s a secret!” he said, and made as if he were going in. Then he said, “Come, you shall hear it—you shall share my secret, and be a partner in my dreams, as the fisherman says in Theocritus.” But he did not tell me what he was going to do, and seemed half shy of doing so.
“It’s like Dr. Johnson and the orange-peel,” I said. “’Nay, Sir, you shall know their fate no further.’”
“Well, the truth is,” he said at last, “that I’m a perfect baby. I never can resist looking into a hole in the ground, and I happened to look into the pit where we dig gravel. I can’t tell you how long I spent there.”
“What were you doing?” I said.
“Looking for fossils,” he said; “I had a great gift for finding them when I was a child. I didn’t find any fossils to-day, but I found these stones, and I think they contain crystals. I am going to break them and see.”