This was, I think, the last talk I had with Father Payne before he left us, so suddenly and so quietly, for his last encounter.
It was a calm and sunny day, though the air was cold and fresh. I finished some work I was doing, a little after noonday, and I walked down the garden. I was on the grass, and turning the corner of a tiny thicket of yews and hollies, where there was a secluded seat facing the south, I saw that Father Payne was sitting there in the sun alone. I came up to him, and was just about to speak, when I saw that his eyes were closed, though his lips were moving. He sat in an attitude of fatigue and lassitude, I thought, with one leg crossed over the other and his arm stretched out along the seat-back. I would have stolen away again unobserved, when he opened his eyes and saw me; he gave me one of his big smiles, and motioned to me to come and sit down beside him. I did so, and he put his arm through mine. I said something about disturbing him, and he said, “Not a bit of it—I shall be glad of your company, old boy.” Presently he said, “Do you know what it is to feel sad? I suppose not. I don’t mean troubled about anything in particular—there’s nothing to be troubled about—but simply sad, in a causeless, listless way?”
“Yes, I think so,” I said. He smiled at that, and said, “Then you don’t know what I mean, old man! You would be quite sure, if you had ever felt it. I mean a sense of feebleness and wretchedness, as if there was much to be done, and no desire to do it—as if your life had been a long mistake from beginning to end. Of course it is quite morbid and unreal, I know that! It is a temptation of the devil, sure enough, and it is an uncommonly effective one. He gets inside the weakness of our mortal nature, and tells us that we have come down to the truth at last. It’s all nonsense, of course, but it’s infernally ingenious nonsense. He brings all the failures of the world before your mind and heart, the thought of all the people who have fallen by the roadside and can’t get up, and, worse still, all the people who have lost hope and pride, and don’t want to be different. He points out how brief our time is, and how little we know what lies beyond. He shows us how the strong and unscrupulous and cruel people succeed and have a good time, and how many well-meaning, sensitive, muddled people come to hopeless grief. Oh, he has a score of instances, a quiver full of poisonous shafts.” He was silent for a minute, and then he said, “Old boy, we won’t heed him, you and I. We’ll say, ’Yes, my dear Apollyon, all that is undoubtedly true. You do a lot of mischief, but your time is short. You wound us and disable us—you can even kill us; but it’s a poor policy at best. You defeat yourself, because we slip away and you can’t follow us. And when we are refreshed and renewed, we will come back, and go on with the battle.’ That’s what well say, like old Sir Andrew Barton: