We felt, both of us, a premonition of the worst disaster. I knew in my heart that it was the end. It seemed to me characteristic of Father Payne to make his farewells simply, and without any dramatic emphasis. The way in which he had spoken of all his friends, in that last hour we spent with him, had been a series of adieux, and even as I recalled his words, they seemed to me to shape themselves into unspoken messages. His own calmness had been unmistakable, and was marvellous to me; but it was all the more impressive because he did not, as one has read in some of the well-known scenes recorded in history of the deaths of famous men, seem to be attempting to say anything memorable or magnanimous. “What can I say that will be worthy of myself?”—that question appears to me to be sometimes lurking in the minds of men who have played a great part in the world, and who are determined to play it to the end. It is, of course a noble sort of courage which enables a man, at the very threshold of death, to force himself to behave with dignity and grandeur: but it seemed to me now to be an even more supreme courage to be, as Father Payne was, simply himself. Sir Walter Raleigh, Sir Thomas More, Charles II, Archbishop Laud all died with a real greatness of undismayed bravery, but with just a sense of enacting a part rehearsed. The death scene of Socrates, which is, I suppose, a romantically constructed tale, does indeed give a picture of perfect naturalness: and I thought that Father Payne’s demeanour, like that of Socrates, showed clearly enough that the idea of death was not an overshadowing dread dispelled by an effort of the will, but that it was not present as a fear in his mind at all, and rather regarded with a reverent curiosity: and I was reminded of a saying of Father Payne’s which I have elsewhere recorded, that the virtues to which we give our most unhesitating admiration are the instinctive virtues rather than the reasoned virtues. If Father Payne had appeared to be keeping a firm hold on himself, and to be obliging himself to speak things timely and fitting, I should have admired him deeply: but I admired him all the more because of his unaffected tranquillity and unuttered affection. He had just enveloped us in his own calmness, and gone straight forward.
We made our journey almost in silence: Barthrop was too much moved to speak: and my own mind was dim with trouble, at all that we were to lose, and yet drawn away into an infinite loyalty and tenderness for one who had been more than a father to me.
The end is soon told. On the following day, we thought it best to tell our two companions and the Vicar what was happening, and we also told the old butler that Father Payne was ill. It was a day of infinite dreariness to me, with outbursts of sharp emotion at the sight of everything so closely connected with Father Payne, and with the thought that he would see them no more.