I do not know exactly what she wanted my Father to do with me; perhaps she did not know herself; she was meddlesome, ignorant and fanatical, and she liked to fancy that she was exercising influence. But the wonderful, the inexplicable thing is that my Father,—who, with all his limitations, was so distinguished and high-minded,—should listen to her for a moment, and still more wonderful is it that he really allowed her, grim vixen that she was, to disturb his plans and retard his purposes. I think the explanation lay in the perfectly logical position she took up. My Father found himself brought face to face at last, not with a disciple, but with a trained expert in his own peculiar scheme of religion. At every point she was armed with arguments the source of which he knew and the validity of which he recognized. He trembled before Mrs. Paget as a man in a dream may tremble before a parody of his own central self, and he could not blame her without laying himself open somewhere to censure.
But my stepmother’s instincts were more primitive and her actions less wire-drawn than my Father’s. She disliked Mrs. Paget as much as one earnest believer can bring herself to dislike a sister in the Lord. My stepmother had quietly devoted herself to what she thought the best way of bringing me up, and she did not propose now to be thwarted by the wife of a lunatic Baptist. At this time I was a mixture of childishness and priggishness, of curious knowledge and dense ignorance. Certain portions of my intellect were growing with unwholesome activity, while others were stunted, or had never stirred at all. I was like a plant on which a pot has been placed, with the effect that the centre is crushed and arrested, while shoots are straggling up to the light on all sides. My Father himself was aware of this, and in a spasmodic way he wished to regulate my thoughts. But all he did was to try to straighten the shoots, without removing the pot which kept them resolutely down.
It was my stepmother who decided that I was now old enough to go to boarding-school, and my Father, having discovered that an elderly couple of Plymouth Brethren kept an ’academy for young gentlemen’ in a neighbouring seaport town,—in the prospectus of which the knowledge and love of the Lord were mentioned as occupying the attention of the head—master and his assistants far more closely than any mere considerations of worldly tuition,—was persuaded to entrust me to its care. He stipulated, however, that I should always come home from Saturday night to Monday morning, not, as he said, that I might receive any carnal indulgence, but that there might be no cessation of my communion as a believer with the Saints in our village on Sundays. To this school, therefore, I presently departed, gawky and homesick, and the rift between my soul and that of my Father widened a little more.