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!”