His demeanour was generally that of an indulgent uncle, with that particular touch of nearness which in England is apt to exist only among relations. He would consult us about his own private worries with entire frankness, and this more than anything made us ready to confide in him. He used to hand us cheques or money if required, with a little wink. “That’s your screw!” he used to say; and he liked any thanks that seemed natural.
“Natural,”—that is the word that comes before me all through. I can remember no one so unembarrassed, so easy, so transparent. His thought flowed into his talk; and his silences were not reticences, but the busy silence of the child who has “a plan.” He gave himself away without economy and without disguise, and he accepted gratefully and simply whatever you cared to give him of thought or love. I think oftenest of how I sometimes went to see him in the evenings: if he was busy, as he often was, he used just to murmur half to himself, “Well, old man?” indicate a chair, put his finger on his lips, and go on with his work or his book; but at intervals he would just glance at me with a little smile, and I knew that he was glad to have me at hand in that simple companionship when there is no need of speech or explanation. And then the book or paper would be dropped, and he would say: “Well, out with it.” If one said, “Nothing—only company,” he would give one of his best and sweetest smiles.
But whatever may have been Father Payne’s effect upon us individually or collectively, or however the result may have been achieved, there was no question of one thing, and that was the ardent and beautiful happiness of the place. Joy deliberately schemed for and planned is apt to evaporate. But we were not hunting for happiness as men dig for gold. We were looking for something quite different. We were all doing work for which we cared, with kind and yet incisive criticism to help us; and then the simplicity and regularity of the life, the total absence of all indulgence, the exercise, the companionship, the discipline, all generated a kind of high spirits that I have known in no other place and at no other time. I used to awake in the morning fresh and alert, free from all anxiety, all sense of tiresome engagements, all possibility of boredom. All staleness, weariness, all complications and conventional duties, all jealousies and envyings, were absent. We were not competing with each other, we were not bent on asserting ourselves, we had just each our own bit of work to do; moreover our spaces of travel had an invigorating effect, and sent us back to Aveley with the zest of returning to a beloved home. Of course there were little bickerings at times, little complexities of friendship; but these never came to anything in Father Payne’s kindly present. Sometimes a man would get fretful or worried over his work;