Mr Lyward's Answer
by Michael Burn

Mr Lyward's Answer (Abridged)

The story of George Lyward and Finchden Manor
First published 1956 by Hamish Hamilton Ltd - All Rights Reserved
Abridged for the World Wide Web


Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12

Home Page

"Mr Lyward's Answer"
in pdf format (732kb)
in word format (388kb)

IN SUCH an atmosphere, among so many opening hearts and minds beginning quietly to become receptive, nothing seemed impossible. One evening Mr Lyward had spent an hour or two in his own part of the house, giving two boys a music lesson. They went back to the dining-room for supper, where he followed them, meaning to finish his remarks about scales. He noticed a boy, John Farmer, a recent arrival, round whom a kind of stalemate had developed. John could do nothing but mooch about, reiterating that he was going to leave.

Mr Lyward decided that this situation could not be allowed to continue, and shouted at the boy, deliberately appearing to have lost his temper. He went on to shake up the others in the room. Two boys who should have been washing up were not there; a custom had evidently grown up that boys who did other people's chores one evening need not do their own the next. He wanted to know why. A discussion began, and continued while he chivvied them, sending two to clean the kitchen, another to sweep the dining-room, and joining another in the scullery who volunteered to wash the plates, 'if you'll do the pots and pans, sir.' Another boy, who had lately won a valuable University scholarship, was kidded into doing the washing by another 'while I do the drying', which meant 'while I do nothing'.

Soon a dozen boys were involved round Mr Lyward. He took them into his confidence and discussed aloud what could be done to help John Farmer to take part in their community life.
'I've never seen you in a temper before,' observed a tiny boy who had just arrived. 'You all shirk the hard work of chores,' Mr Lyward told them. 'It's instinctive. But here you are actually enjoying them.'
'I've noticed it's always enjoyable when you're doing a job and we're helping,' said one boy.
'Well, I'm going to start the history of French literature with you,' Mr Lyward told him, and quoted Ronsard's 'Dieu est en nous et par nous fait miracle'. At that moment a boy who had been out on a 'holiday', and far from certain to return, slipped into the room. No one paid particular attention. Mr Lyward noticed him, went on talking about John Farmer, and added quietly: 'After all, miracles do happen.' One boy muttered: 'Especially here.'

The boys' trust made Mr Lyward's great variety of methods possible. He could 'improvise' a few minutes' parrying with one boy, in order to make something clear to the community, or spar with the whole community, in order to help one boy. On these occasions, too, the boys' detective instinct was provoked. Where was he leading? What was he going to say next, and to whom? The younger boys were rather bewildered, but the relaxed and friendly feeling was probably new to them and since everyone else seemed to listen, most of them listened. A few boys were bored by his circuitousness. The older ones waited quietly; somewhere round a corner of allegory or digression would appear some moral issue, deepened, concentrated to the point where it shone as a fact.

At the 'sessions', which Mr Lyward summoned from time to time, he suggested rather than lectured. If he had decided to attack a particular boy, he normally did it by way of poignard-like questions. The boy thrust back vigorously, merely exposing his defences and weak spots. Mr Lyward might manoeuvre into a position where he could administer a coup-de-grace, or laugh and allow himself - not often - to be worsted, or drop both their weapons and refer the whole issue to discussion. There were so many possibilities that no 'session', just as no boy, seems in retrospect to have been 'typical', except that most ended gaily, and in all Mr Lyward made great play with visual images. If ever people by indirections found directions out, the boys at Finchden did. Mr Lyward would have told the parable of the Good Samaritan as though the accident had just happened on the Tenterden road.

One evening he called all the boys into the hall. They sat waiting for him in a semicircle, on the stage, round the walls, on the floor, on window-ledges. He came in, wearing his Trilby and a woollen scarf; and took a chair in the middle.

'Who knows algebra, I wonder?' he asked vaguely. He had just been doing algebra with one boy; it had suggested the kind of game he was now playing, aimed at discovering whether they could think in symbols. 'Henry, do you know algebra?'
'No, sir.
'Oh, I'm sure you do. What would you say is one more than Z?'
'One more than Z?'
Long silence.
'If you know that, Henry, you know the whole of algebra.' This was said with that kind of double entendre to which I have already referred; as if he knew and they knew he was talking rubbish, and yet there was something serious behind.
'Why Z? Why not another letter?' asked a boy.
'Don't spoil it. Come on, Henry.'
Henry was coaxed into agreeing that one more than Z was Z + 1.
'Now why did I say Z?' Mr Lyward asked.
A boy answered: 'Because if you'd said A, someone might have said that one more than A was B.' 'And ?' 'Well - B's different.' This was good for that particular boy.
'All right. If you know that, you know all algebra.'

Most of the boys received this calmly. Some looked puzzled. Two or three shrugged their shoulders, as if to say 'mad'.
'I'm afraid this session is going to be about money,' said Mr Lyward curtly. 'We don't often have sessions about money, do we?' Silence. 'I thought coming back in the car this evening that we'd have to. I'm going to talk about hop pickers first. Some time ago two or three of you went hop picking. They earned quite a lot of money, and put it in the office as arranged. But the last two apple pickers - your money isn't in the office. How much of it do you have left - Alan?'
'I don't know.'
'You don't know?' Mr Lyward looked amazed. 'You must know. You've got it, haven't you?'
'Some of it.' '
How much?'
'I don't know exactly.' '
You must have quite a lot.' It turned out that Alan had about £6 left.
'And you, Paul?' Paul was a boy all for 'divide and rule'.
'I haven't got any.'
'You haven't got any?' Mr Lyward looked astounded.
'Where is it, then?'
'In the bank.'
'In the bank! The office is the bank. What do you mean by the bank?'

'It's in my father's bank.'
'In your father's bank! Who told you to put it there?'
'No one told me. I sent it home. It's my money.
'Is it your money?'
'I earned it - '
'It was agreed that when any of you went hop picking or apple picking, you should put the money into the office.'
'I don't agree. I made the money and it's mine.'
'The whole question of money is becoming rather urgent,' said Mr Lyward. 'I'll tell you why. People (actually the police) have been inquiring about some unfortunate accidents to Mr Cope's chickens. Mr Cope is our neighbour. It seems that one of our dogs is under suspicion. If convicted he - or rather she - will have to pay. Has she any money to pay, Riff?' to the boy who owned the dog.
'I tied her up. She can't have done it.'
'Is she tied up now?'
'Are all our animals tied up? Eric, is your tortoise tied up?'
'No. She's asleep.'
'How do you know she can't get out when she wakes up?'
'Because she's in my suitcase.'
'It seems the tortoise is acquitted. Still, it looks as if Riff's dog is going to be arrested for destroying Mr Cope's chickens. She'll have to appear in Court. She'll have to get up on her hind legs and say: 'I can't help it, I've been led a dog's life." Is that an excuse? And who'll defend her?'

'I'll defend her,' said Riff.
'Suppose she's guilty?' (She was). 'She can't pay. We'll have to pay. We - who is we?' Long pause. 'Do you really think you had a right to put that money in your father's bank, Paul?'
'And Archie Combe - you've just had ten shillings from the office for your fare home.'
'On top of the ten shillings your mother sent you?'
'Yes,' laughing slightly awkwardly.
'It was bad luck your mother wrote and mentioned it,' said Mr Lyward gaily.
'And you still ask for ten shillings from the office?'
'The other was my own money.
'There!' exclaimed Mr Lyward, slapping his knee. 'That's one we know well, isn't it? Isn't it amazing? "Oh, but I can't spend that on it ! That's my birthday money." But the money from the office isn't different. There's always this special thing that's my own - something that's got nothing to do with us here at Finchden Manor. Why is it your own money?'
'Because my mother gave it to me.'
'And so it's all right for Paul to put his ... ten pounds? ... fifteen pounds?... twenty pounds?...'
'Eleven pounds,' said Paul.
'His eleven pounds in his father's bank?'
'I don't know,' said Archie.
'Paul does. You don't think he's hoping for parental support ? Parents. I'll have to sit up for this.' Mr Lyward sat up. 'Do you want your parents to be involved ?' He surveyed the boys over his spectacles. 'Perhaps I ought to involve them and you in the chickens. When the barn was burnt I was asked to pay for that. I don't know why the boy who burnt the barn didn't wait till the chickens were in it. We could have had it all together.' Mr Lyward opened a book. 'I'll read you something about money. It's from Spenser's Faerie Queen':

God of the world and worldlings I me call,
Great Mammon, greatest god below the sky,
That of my plenty poure out unto all,
And unto none my graces do envye,
Riches, renowne, and principality,
Honour, estate, and all this worldes good ...

'Do you like this metre - the way it goes?'
'Couldn't care less,' Paul answered, but only Paul. The others were enjoying.
Mr Lyward continued, 'Mammon had a daughter', and went on quoting,

'There as in glistring glory she did sitt,
She held a great gold chaine ylincked well,
Whose upper end to highest heven was knit,
And lower part did reach to lowest Hell;
And all that press did round about her swell
To catchen hold of that long chaine, whereby
To climbe aloft, and others to excell:
That was ...

...What was Mammon's daughter's name, do you suppose?'
'Ambition,' said Riff.
'That was Ambition,' Mr Lyward finished the quotation. 'It seems to me you, Paul, and you, Alan, have married her already. Do you really want to have large sums of money floating about this place? Do you, Jimmy?'
'Yes, sir.'
'You'd get into the position of the boy who was here once who used to lend it out at interest.' Mr Lyward closed the book. 'Who thinks money can really supply you with all you want?'
'Nine-tenths,' said one boy.
'Two-tenths,' said a boy particularly keen on money.
'All I know,' said a boy called David Bradley, 'is that I find it difficult to live on four bob a week.'
'Do boys never do anything for nothing? When I was a boy ...' Mr Lyward slipped this in deliberately. It was an old joke and he expected interruption.
Sure enough it came. 'Ah!' said a boy. 'Geoff Miller would have walked out.' Geoff Miller had once sent Mr Lyward a note "forbidding" him to use certain expressions including "When I was a boy".

'Would you go hop-picking for nothing?' asked David Bradley. 'I'd say that anyone who did that was out of his mind.'
Mr Lyward looked round them all. 'People sometimes say "Why not get them all to do some gardening and pay them for it?" I've always refused. It always seemed to me that something would be lost. Do you agree?'
Almost everyone said 'Yes', and obviously sincerely.
'Of course,' Mr Lyward murmured, 'there was the incident of Francis's tent. Remember it caught fire - by an act of internal combustion? Who paid then?' 'We did.' 'You all most gracefully agreed to a suggestion I made at that time (boos). How many of you think I'm going to ask you to pay the thirty-two pounds for the chickens? That's what I think we owe.'
Half the boys held up their hands.
'Hands up those who think I'm not.' Almost all the rest held up theirs. Mr Lyward paused and said, 'Well, I'm not. When is the dance to be, Owen?'
'It's up to you, sir.'

'Of course, you do realize we might have to have the dance without food and without music, if there isn't any money to pay for it?'
Long silence. 'The hop-pickers are having their money kept for them. But' (as it were, underlined in red) 'the apple-pickers' money might even have been used to increase your four shillings a week. That was another possibility I had in mind. I had been thinking of something of that sort.'
Again this was said half-teasingly, since the apple-pickers knew their money was not going to be made community money; and yet there was a serious point. Another long silence.
'I'll contribute one pound towards the dance,' said Paul.
'Who thinks that a good idea?' asked Mr Lyward.
'I don't,' said a boy. 'We'd never hear the last of it.'
'Of course, there's Archie Combe's ten shillings. How many of you think I'm going to ask him for it back?' Half the hands went up.
'I don't know,' said one boy.
'Nor do I yet,' said Mr Lyward. He got up. 'Well, anyhow, the situation's exactly the same as when I came in. We haven't decided anything. You all know perfectly well that I wouldn't let you have a dance here without food or some new records. But you do see that all we've been talking about is related?' General assent.
'Henry, what is one more than Z?'
'Z + 1.'
'Good.' Mr Lyward walked away. A group surrounded him at once, Owen wanting to know about the dance, Riff protesting the innocence of his dog, and Paul offering to surrender all the money in his father's bank to Mr D., an offer which was passed by.

Flynn left Finchden Manor dramatically, after a 'session' far less peaceful than the one just described. Two nights before it took place he had kept the lamp in his and Geoff Miller's shack burning till midnight, in order to read a magazine about horses. Neville had seen the light, come out and taken the lamp away. This had angered Flynn, who had gone into the house and banged on Neville's door, insisting on seeing him. Neville had told him to go away. Flynn was thus in a thoroughly bad mood.
This time the 'session', which Mr Lyward called without any particular reference to Flynn, took place in the staff room. Mr Lyward sat deep in an armchair, with the boys crowded round the walls and on the floor. He began in his usual leisurely fashion, elaborating an allegory about people who preferred the condiments of a meal to the meal itself, which Flynn, who was standing just behind me, accompanied with impatient comments under his breath. When Mr Lyward mentioned pickles and sauces Flynn, who was feeling far from allegorical or poetic, grunted, "We never get them". Mr Lyward spoke next about the boys' growing habit of asking permission to go into Tenterden on Mondays (that day was a Monday). Why? he asked. Was it so necessary for them to get away from Finchden immediately the new week began? Why were they so impatient?
"Do you consider Sunday as a different day from all the rest of the week?" Mr Lyward asked.
"Yes," said some; others, "No". Some thought Monday a special day, because it was then the new film began.
"Is it so necessary for you to see the new film at once?" Mr Lyward asked. This discussion about days of the week went on for some time. Flynn continued his angry mutterings. I thought I could see the point round which Mr Lyward was taking his preliminary ramble. On Sunday the neighbourhood seemed dead; no distractions, above all, no cinema. If therefore the boys all demanded permission to go out the moment Monday dawned, did it not appear that they could not manage without those distractions? Did they use Finchden merely as a hotel, for its accessories, and were they indifferent to its sustenance and spirit? Hence the allegory of the condiments. The telephone rang. Mr Lyward went into his room to answer. When he returned a boy had lit a cigarette.

"Who told you you could smoke?" Mr Lyward demanded angrily, by now aware of hidden possibilities in this session (and saying, "Here goes!" to himself) 'Put it out!' The boy put it out. Mr Lyward went on talking about cinemas.
'Films are a drug,' a boy said virtuously.
'I suppose you sometimes do have to have drugs for sick people,' said Mr Lyward. He started to quote some lines of poetry:

'They pass me by like shadows, crowds on crowds,
Pale ghosts of men, who hover to and fro,
Hugging their bodies round them like thin shrouds,
In which their souls were buried long ago.'

He had forgotten the next lines, said so, and continued:

'Whose ever-open maw by such is fed
Gibber at living men and idly rave,
"We only truly live, and ye are dead"
Poor souls! the anointed eye can surely trace
A dead soul's epitaph in every face.'

The calm tone in which this quotation was delivered particularly angered Flynn, though he told me later that he liked the words. His mutterings became louder and more frequent. Mr Lyward and one or two boys began to discuss what was meant by 'killing time', which led Mr Lyward to talk about the kind of boy who was attracted outside, who went often to the cinema, who sat alone, went for walks alone.

'Yes, you ******', Flynn was rumbling, 'I want to go for a walk now. ... I want to go to the pictures now....'
'Has anyone anything to say?' Mr Lyward asked, as if casually.
'Yes, I've got plenty,' Flynn said under his breath. I heard him and asked in an aside, 'Why don't you say it?' and it was then that he exploded.
'What else is there to do except kill time!' he flung at Mr Lyward. 'What the ******* hell have we got to do here! What do you expect us to do except grub up fag-ends and collect enough ******* empty bottles to get enough money to buy another fag!' He was trembling all over. Geoff Miller, also in a tense excited state, was crushing his hand with a kind of dead man's grip, and without knowing it was crushing his foot too. Flynn could only keep his balance by remaining unnaturally rigid. And all the time Geoff Miller was urging him on in whispers, 'Go on! Give it him!'

All Flynn's frustrations came pouring out, all his pent-up arguments. He felt completely confident for a moment, more confident than he had ever felt.

'If we have any one main thing we can do, we have it taken away from us,' he shouted. 'Wireless - horses - whatever it is! So we've got nothing left except to sit around and go to the pictures. There's no week here, no weekend! The only day that counts is Friday, because that's when we're paid! The day we come here's the beginning of the week and the day we leave's the end and that's all! Weeks are like seconds, they don't count ! Nobody remembers the seconds of an hour that's past, but I'll make bloody sure you remember this second for the rest of your life !'
'Why did you come here?' demanded Mr Lyward, rounding on him deliberately.
'Because I've been kicked here and kicked there and now I've been kicked to ******* Finchden!'
'Why did you come... ?'
'Because I was ******* well made to come....
'You didn't have to come here...'
'I didn't want to come...'

The telephone rang again and Mr Lyward spoke without leaving the room. This telephone call was Flynn's undoing. Before, he had felt in command. Everything had poured out without thought. After the call was finished he tried to collect the threads and lost them. Trying to gain points, thinking before he spoke, he became inarticulate and in a minute or two really hysterical. Amid the rage of words and tears I heard all his hates - names of headmasters, names of doctors, names of psychiatrists - and then Mr Lyward cutting in, attacking him in a hard, cold, deliberate voice. When he spoke of Flynn's 'guttersnipe existence', it seemed for a moment that Flynn might become physically violent. Perhaps he didn't hear.

'You're told you can go when you like,' he shouted, 'and then you are kept here, just by words and talk and being told you're not ready to go, until you ******* well don't know what to think about yourself' He went on for a minute or two, then, when he had no more to let go, shoved his way to the door and left. There was a long silence. Mr Lyward sent Neville to follow Flynn. Two or three boys could not throw off the tension Flynn had left behind and had identified themselves so emotionally with him that they had to say something in his support.

'Where is all this leading to, sir?' one of them exclaimed.
'Nowhere,' retorted Mr Lyward, 'unless it shows you something. Do you think that boy's ready to leave? Did he sound like it just now?'
'All the same,' said another boy, 'Some people do want to go and try things out for themselves.'
Mr Lyward turned on him. 'What effort have you made?' he demanded. 'You've been given permission to look for a job for yourself What have you done about it?' In fact this boy had done nothing.
Mr Lyward gently and slowly recovered the threads of allegory. He knew exactly what he had done, and that the vibrations would be felt for some time by himself and others. He needed and contrived to end the 'session' lightly on laughter and a dying fall, and most of the boys dispersed quietly.

Flynn packed his rucksack and waited to see Mr Lyward in order to get money for his departure. He refused to speak to Neville, went round to the entrance to Mr Lyward's part of the house and arrived just in time for Neville, who had dodged round another way, to put his foot in the door. Flynn refused to wait and left. Neville followed him to Tenterden; not for the first time. They tossed who should pay for a cup of coffee. Neville lost. No wonder; it was a double-headed penny. But somehow Neville managed to coax Flynn back to Finchden, where he came to see me. He resumed his accusations against Mr Lyward and the whole place in a calmer tone of voice. After he had been talking for a few minutes, I interrupted him and went to tell Mr Lyward that he was with me. Mr Lyward consented to see Flynn for ten minutes in the staff room.

They talked like old friends not for ten minutes, but for an hour. Flynn started by saying: 'I want to leave whether it's bad for me, or not.' Mr Lyward answered that if Flynn wanted to do that, he could always feel that he had Finchden behind him, as a place to which he could return not, of course, as a resident, but as a friend; the staff and he himself would always be ready to listen and help with advice. He made it abundantly clear that he thought Flynn in no way ready to leave; but if he did leave, it would be with everyone's best wishes 'though not' (smiling) 'with my blessing'. Flynn became quite relaxed. He apologized for his outburst, and was soon giving an account of the time when he and Geoff Miller had run away and Fitzy had had to fetch them back from Hampshire. When he described the two of them asleep in a ditch with a white flag flying, Mr Lyward laughed and said: 'I wish I'd come to fetch you,' - all this in the room in which Flynn had been swearing at Mr Lyward only two hours earlier.

Finally Flynn asked how much money he could have. Mr Lyward asked how much he had been given on his last hike.
'Five pounds.'
'How long was that for?'
'Ten days.'
'How long are you going for, this time?'
'Well, I shall try to find a fellow who's starting a ranch in Suffolk. I may need a week.'
'What proportion of five pounds does that make?'
'Oh, come on, let me have the whole five pounds.'
Mr Lyward laughed. 'Oh, all right, have it,' he said.

So Flynn went off in search of a job early next morning, with five pounds from the office, a ticket to London he had bought to run away, and three pounds he had extorted out of another boy which he had not mentioned. If he had mentioned the three, he would not have got the five.

He returned for the last time as a boy at Finchden to collect his belongings and acquisitions, and to say goodbye. I was with Mr Lyward when he came in. They talked in a friendly laughing way for a while. Then Mr Lyward said: 'There's something I knew about you when you first came here. I couldn't say it to you then, and I haven't been able to say it the whole time you've been here. Now I can. He took a sheet of paper and drew a large figure, like a small child's drawing, holding out two pin-like arms. Underneath he wrote 'Giver'. Further along he drew a large square package, inscribed 'Gift'; further along still, a much smaller figure, inscribed 'You', holding out its arms to the larger figure. 'What you have always been asking for is the gift,' Mr Lyward said. 'What you have really wanted is the giver.' For a moment Flynn said nothing. He and Mr Lyward bore a strange resemblance to one another at that moment, Mr Lyward seated, his face down on his collarbone, Flynn standing, his face dug into the collar of a blue polo sweater. Then Flynn reached out a hand, folded the paper, put it into his pocket, shook hands and went out. I drove him to the station. He said he had never expected to leave Finchden in so friendly a way. He had expected to be chucked out, he said, 'as I was everywhere else', and he named boys, who - as he thought - had cordially disliked him, but had come up to wish him luck. 'Have you got that bit of paper?' I asked. He tapped his breastpocket. 'I'll keep it all my life,' he said.

Mr Lyward once said that truancy had become more of a problem everywhere since the war. Before the war most boys came to stay, whatever other difficulties they caused. Flynn once said: 'I am a nomad'. Mr Lyward seized the word and used it the same evening half-jokingly to a Probation Officer. 'There is now a nomad population'. Boys who left on their own were an extremely small minority. The overwhelming majority never even thought of walking out. It does stand out, however, that a larger number of boys took their lives into their own hands after the war than before. The reason may be that Mr Lyward now had a different kind of boy. Many now came to him from a much poorer class. They felt the pressure to get on much more acutely than the well-to-do, especially if they had also had difficult homes, or none.

next chapter
previous chapter
top of this page

Mr Lyward's Web Page