THE MAN WHO WAS SHIF'LESS
By Jennette Lee
TO GERALD STANLEY LEE
"Let him sing to me Who sees the watching of the stars above the day, Who hears the singing of the sunrise On its way Through all the night.
* * * * *
Let him sing to me Who is the sky-voice, the thunder-lover, Who hears above the winds' fast flying shrouds The drifted darkness, the heavenly strife, The singing on the sunny sides of all the clouds Of his own life."
"Yes, I'm shif'less. I'm gen'ally considered shif'less," said William Benslow. He spoke in a tone of satisfaction, and hitched his trousers skilfully into place by their one suspender.
His companion shifted his easel a little, squinting across the harbor at the changing light. There was a mysterious green in the water that he failed to find in his color-box.
William Benslow watched him patiently. "Kind o' ticklish business, ain't it?" he said.
The artist admitted that it was.
"I reckon I wouldn't ever 'a' done for a painter," said the old man, readjusting his legs. "It's settin'-work, and that's good; but you have to keep at it steady-like—keep a-daubin' and a-scrapin' and a-daubin' and a-scrapin', day in and day out. I shouldn't like it. Sailin' 's more in my line," he added, scanning the horizon. "You have to step lively when you do step, but there's plenty of off times when you can set and look and the boat just goes skimmin' along all o' herself, with the water and the sky all round you. I've been thankful a good many times the Lord saw fit to make a sailor of me."
The artist glanced a little quizzically at the tumble-down house on the cliff above them and then at the old boat, with its tattered maroon sail, anchored below. "There's not much money in it?" he suggested.
"Money? Dunno's there is," returned the other. "You don't reely need money if you're a sailor."
"No, I suppose not—no more than an artist."
"Don't you need money, either?" The old man spoke with cordial interest.
"Well, occasionally—not much. I have to buy canvas now and then, and colors—"
The old man nodded. "Same as me. Canvas costs a little, and color. I dye mine in magenta. You get it cheap in the bulk—"
The artist laughed out. "All right, Uncle William, all right," he said. "You teach me to trust in the Lord and I'll teach you art. You see that color out there,—deep green like shadowed grass—"
The old man nodded. "I've seen that a good many times," he said. "Cur'us, ain't it?—just the color of lobsters when you haul 'em."
The young man started. He glanced again at the harbor. "Hum-m!" he said under his breath. He searched in his color-box and mixed a fresh color rapidly on the palette, transferring it swiftly to the canvas. "Ah-h!" he said, again under his breath. It held a note of satisfaction.
Uncle William hitched up his suspender and came leisurely across the sand. He squinted at the canvas and then at the sliding water, rising and falling across the bay. "Putty good," he said approvingly. "You've got it just about the way it looks—"
"Just about," assented the young man, with quick satisfaction. "Just about. Thank you."
Uncle William nodded. "Cur'us, ain't it? there's a lot in the way you see a thing."
"There certainly is," said the painter. His brush moved in swift strokes across the canvas. "There certainly is. I've been studying that water for two hours. I never thought of lobsters." He laughed happily.
Uncle William joined him, chuckling gently. "That's nateral enough," he said kindly. "You hain't been seein' it every day for sixty year, the way I hev." He looked at it again, lovingly, from his height.
"What's the good of being an artist if I can't see things that you can't?" demanded the young man, swinging about on his stool.
"Well, what is the use? I dunno; do you?" said Uncle William, genially. "I've thought about that a good many times, too, when I've been sailin'," he went on—"how them artists come up here summer after summer makin' picters,—putty poor, most on 'em,—and what's the use? I can see better ones settin' out there in my boat, any day.—Not but that's better'n some," he added politely, indicating the half-finished canvas.
The young man laughed. "Thanks to you," he said. "Come on in and make a chowder. It's too late to do any more to-day—and that's enough." He glanced with satisfaction at the glowing canvas with its touch of green. He set it carefully to one side and gathered up his tubes and brushes.
Uncle William bent from his height and lifted the easel, knocking it apart and folding it with quick skill.
The artist looked up with a nod of thanks. "All right," he said, "go ahead."
Uncle William reached out a friendly hand for the canvas, but the artist drew it back quickly. "No, no," he said. "You'd rub it off."
"Like enough," returned the old man, placidly. "I gen'ally do get in a muss when there's fresh paint around. But I don't mind my clothes. They're ust to it—same as yourn."
The young man laughed anxiously. "I wouldn't risk it," he said. "Come on."
They turned to the path that zigzagged its way up the cliff, and with bent backs and hinged knees they mounted to the little house perched on its edge.
The old man pushed open the door with a friendly kick. "Go right along in," he said. "I'll be there 's soon as I've got an armful of wood."
The artist entered the glowing room. Turkey-red blazed at the windows and decorated the walls. It ran along the line of shelves by the fire and covered the big lounge. One stepped into the light of it with a sudden sense of crude comfort.
The artist set his canvas carefully on a projecting beam and looked about him, smiling. A cat leaped down from the turkey-red lounge and came across, rubbing his legs. He bent and stroked her absently.
She arched her back to his hand. Then, moving from him with stately step, she approached the door, looking back at him with calm, imperious gaze.
"All right, Juno," he said. "He'll be along in a minute. Don't you worry."
She turned her back on him and, seating herself, began to wash her face gravely and slowly.
The door opened with a puff, and she leaped forward, dashing upon the big leg that entered and digging her claws into it in ecstasy of welcome.
Uncle William, over the armful of wood, surveyed her with shrewd eyes. He reached down a long arm and, seizing her by the tail, swung her clear of his path, landing her on the big lounge. With a purr of satisfaction, she settled herself, kneading her claws in its red softness.
He deposited the wood in the box and stood up. His bluff, kind gaze swept the little room affectionately. He took off the stove-lid and poked together the few coals that glowed beneath. "That's all right," he said. "She'll heat up quick." He thrust in some light sticks and pushed forward the kettle. "Now, if you'll reach into that box behind you and get the potatoes," he said, "I'll do the rest of the fixin's."
He removed his hat, and taking down a big oil-cloth apron, checked red and black, tied it about his ample waist. He reached up and drew from behind the clock a pair of spectacles in steel bows. He adjusted them to his blue eyes with a little frown. "They're a terrible bother," he said, squinting through them and readjusting them. "But I don't dare resk it without. I got hold of the pepper-box last time. Thought it was the salt—same shape. The chowder was hot." He chuckled. "I can see a boat a mile off," he said, lifting the basket of clams to the sink, "but a pepper-box two feet's beyond me." He stood at the sink, rubbing the clams with slow, thoughtful fingers. His big head, outlined against the window, was not unlike the line of sea-coast that stretched below, far as the eye could see, rough and jagged. Tufts of hair framed his shining baldness and tufts of beard embraced the chin, losing themselves in the vast expanse of neckerchief knotted, sailor fashion, about his throat.
Over the clams and the potatoes and the steaming kettles he hovered with a kind of slow patience,—in a smaller man it would have been fussiness,—and when the fragrant chowder was done he dipped it out with careful hand. The light had lessened, and the little room, in spite of its ruddy glow, was growing dark. Uncle William glanced toward the window. Across the harbor a single star had come out. "Time to set my light," he said. He lighted a ship's lantern and placed it carefully in the window.
The artist watched him with amused eyes. "You waste a lot of oil on the government, Uncle William," he said laughingly. "Why don't you apply for a salary?"
Uncle William smiled genially. "Well, I s'pose the guvernment would say the' wa'n't any reel need for a light here. And I don't s'pose the' is, myself—not any reel need. But it's a comfort. The boys like to see it, comin' in at night. They've sailed by it a good many year now, and I reckon they'd miss it. It's cur'us how you do miss a thing that's a comfort—more'n you do one 't you reely need sometimes." He lighted the lamp swinging, ship fashion, from a beam above, and surveyed the table. He drew up his chair. "Well, it's ready," he said, "such as it is."
"That's all airs, Uncle William," said the young man, drawing up. "You know it's fit for a king."
"Yes, it's good," said the old man, beaming on him. "I've thought a good many times there wa'n't anything in the world that tasted better than chowder—real good clam chowder." His mouth opened to take in a spoonful, and his ponderous jaws worked slowly. There was nothing gross in the action, but it might have been ambrosia. He had pushed the big spectacles up on his head for comfort, and they made an iron-gray bridge from tuft to tuft, framing the ruddy face.
"There was a man up here to Arichat one summer," he said, chewing slowly, "that e't my chowder. And he was sort o' possessed to have me go back home with him."
The artist smiled. "Just to make chowder for him?"
The old man nodded. "Sounds cur'us, don't it? But that was what he wanted. He was a big hotel keeper and he sort o' got the idea that if he could have chowder like that it would be a big thing for the hotel. He offered me a good deal o' money if I'd go with him—said he'd give me five hunderd a year and keep." The old man chuckled. "I told him I wouldn't go for a thousand—not for two thousand," he said emphatically. "Why, I don't s'pose there's money enough in New York to tempt me to live there.
"Have you been there?"
"Yes, I've been there a good many times. We've put in for repairs and one thing and another, and I sailed a couple of years between there and Liverpool once. It's a terrible shet-in place," he said suddenly.
"I believe you're right," admitted the young man. He had lighted his pipe and was leaning back, watching the smoke. "You do feel shut in—sometimes. But there are a lot of nice people shut in with you."
"That's what I meant," he said, quickly. "I can't stan' so many folks."
"You're not much crowded here." The young man lifted his head. Down below they could hear the surf beating. The wind had risen. It rushed against the little house whirlingly.
The old man listened a minute. "I shall have to go down and reef her down," he said thoughtfully. "It's goin' to blow."
"I should say it is blowing," said the young man.
"Not yet," returned Uncle William. "You'll hear it blow afore mornin' if you stay awake to listen—though it won't sound so loud up the shore where you be. This is the place for it. A good stiff blow and nobody on either side of you—for half a mile." A kind of mellow enthusiasm held the tone.
The young man smiled. "You are a hermit. Suppose somebody should build next you?"
"I own it."
The old man nodded. "Not the shore, of course. That's free to all. But where anybody could build I own." He said it almost exultantly. "I guess maybe I'm part Indian." He smiled apologetically. "I can't seem to breathe without I have room enough, and it just come over me once, how I should feel if folks crowded down on me too much. So I bought it. I'm what they call around here 'land-poor.'" He said it with satisfaction. "I can't scrape together money enough to buy a new boat, and it's 's much as I can do to keep the Jennie patched up and going. But I'm comfortable. I don't really want for anything."
"Yes, you're comfortable." The young man glanced about the snug room.
"There ain't a lot of folks shying up over the rocks at me." He got up with deliberation, knocking the ashes from his pipe. "I'm goin' to make things snug and put down the other anchor," he said. "You stay till I come back and we'll have suthin' hot."
He put on his oil-skin hat and coat, and taking the lantern from its hook, went out into the night.
Within, the light of the swinging lamp fell on the turkey-red. It glowed. The cat purred in its depths.
The artist had been dreaming. In his hand he held an open locket. The face within it was dark, like a boy's, with careless hair brushed from the temples, and strong lines. The artist knew the lines by heart, and the soft collar and loose-flowing tie and careless dress. He had been leaning back with closed eyes, watching the lithe figure, tall and spare, with the rude grace of the Steppes, the freshness of the wind. . . . How she would enjoy it—this very night—the red room perched aloft in the gale!
A fresh blast struck the house and it creaked and groaned, and righted itself. In the lull that followed, steps sounded up the rocky path. With a snap, the young man closed the locket and sat up. The door opened on Uncle William, shining and gruff. The lantern in his hand had gone out. His hat and coat were covered with fine mist. He came across to the fire, shaking it off.
"It's goin' to blow all right," he said, nodding to the artist.
"And it's raining. You're wet."
"Well, not wet, so to speak." He took off his hat, shaking it lightly over the stove. A crackling and fine mist rose from the hot drops. Juno lifted her head and yawned. She purred softly. The old man hung his hat and coat on the wooden pegs behind the door and seated himself by the stove, opening wide the drafts. A fresh blaze sprang up. The artist leaned forward, holding out his hands to it.
"You were gone a good while," he said. The locket had slipped from his fingers and hung lightly on its steel chain, swinging a little as he bent to the fire.
The old man nodded. "I see the Andrew Halloran had dragged her anchor a little, as I went out, and I stopped to fix her. It took quite a spell. I couldn't find the extry anchor. He'd got it stowed away for'ard somewheres, and by the time I found it she was driftin' putty bad. I found a good bottom for her and made things fast before I left. I reckon she'll hold."
"Won't he be down himself to look after her?"
"Mebbe not. It's a goodish step, from his place, down and back. He knows I keep an eye out for her.
"Why doesn't he anchor up there," said the artist, "near by?"
The old man shook his head. "He's a kind o' set man, Andy is—part Irish and part Scotch. He al'ays has anchored here and I reckon he al'ays will. I told him when I bought the land of him he was welcome to."
"It was his land, then?"
"Most on it—I do' know as he wanted to sell reely, but I offered him more'n he could stan'. He's a little near—Andy is." He chuckled.
The artist laughed out. "So he keeps the anchorage and right of way and you look after his boat. I don't see but he's fairly well fixed."
"Yes, he's putty well fixed," said the old man, slowly. "'S fur as this world's goods go Andy is comf'tably provided for." His eyes twinkled a little, but most of the big face was sober. "We've been neighbors, Andy 'n' me, ever sence we was boys," he said. "I guess there ain't a mean thing about Andy that I don't know, and he the same about me. I should feel kind o' lonesome nights not to hev his boat to look after—and know, like as not, in the mornin' he'll come down, cussin' and swearin' 'cause she wa'n't fixed jest right." He peered into the kettle on the stove. "'Most empty." He filled it from the pail by the sink, and resumed his seat, stretching his great legs comfortably. Juno sprang from the lounge and perched herself on his knee. He tumbled her a little, in rough affection, and rubbed his big fingers in her neck. She purred loudly, kneading her claws with swift strokes in the heavy cloth. He watched her benignly, a kind of detached humor in his eyes. "Wimmen folks is a good deal alike," he remarked dryly. "They like to be comf'tabul."
"Some of them," assented the artist.
The old man looked up with a swift twinkle. "So-o?" he said.
The artist sat up quickly. The locket swayed on its chain and his hand touched it. "What do you mean?" he said.
"Why, nuthin', nuthin'," said Uncle William, soothingly. "Only I thought you was occupied with art and so on—"?
Uncle William said nothing.
Presently the artist leaned forward. "Do you want to see her?" he said. He was holding it out.
Uncle William peered at it uncertainly. He rose and took down the spectacles from behind the clock and placed them on his nose. Then he reached out his great hand for the locket. The quizzical humor had gone from his face. It was full of gentleness.
Without a word the artist laid the locket in his hand.
The light swung down from the lamp on it, touching the dark face. The old man studied it thoughtfully. On the stove the kettle had begun to hum. Its gentle sighing filled the room. The artist dreamed.
Uncle William pushed up his spectacles and regarded him with a satisfied look. "You've had a good deal more sense'n I was afraid you'd have," he said dryly.
The artist woke. "You can't tell—from that." He held out his hand.
Uncle William gave it up, slowly. "I can tell more'n you'd think, perhaps. Wimmen and the sea are alike—some ways a good deal alike. I've lived by the sea sixty year, you know, and I've watched all kinds of doings. But what I'm surest of is that it's deeper'n we be." He chuckled softly. "Now, I wouldn't pertend to know all about her,"—he waved his hand,—"but she's big and she's fresh—salt, too—and she makes your heart big just to look at her—the way it ought to, I reckon. There's things about her I don't know," he nodded toward the picture. "She may not go to church and I don't doubt but what she has tantrums, but she's better'n we be, and she—What did you say her name was?"
"Sergia Lvova," repeated the old man, slowly, yet with a certain ease. "That's a cur'us name. I've heard suthin' like it, somewhere—"
"Russian—jest so! I might'n' known it! I touched Russia once, ran up to St. Petersburg. Now there's a country that don't hev breathin' space. She don't hev half the sea room she'd o't to. Look at her—all hemmed in and froze up. You hev to squeeze past all the nations of the earth to get to her—half choked afore you fairly get there. Yes, I sailed there once, up through Skager Rack and Cattegat along up the Baltic and the Gulf of Finland, just edging along—" He held out his hand again for the locket, and studied it carefully. "Russian, is she? I might 'a' known it," he said nodding. "She's the sort—same look—eager and kind o' waitin'." He looked up. "How'd you come to know her? You been there?"
"In Russia? No. She's not there now. She's in New York. She lives there."
"Is that so? Poor thing!" Uncle William looked at the pictured face with compassion.
The artist smiled. "Oh, it's not so bad. She's happy."
"Yes, she's happy. I can see that easy enough. She's the kind that's goin' to be happy." He looked again at the clear, fearless eyes. "You couldn't put her anywheres she wouldn't sing—"
"She does sing. How did you know?"
Uncle William's eyes twinkled to the boyish face. "Well, I didn't know it—not jest that way. I didn't know as she sung songs on a platform, dressed up, like I've heard 'em. What I meant was, her heart kind o' bubbles and sings—"
"Yes"—the artist leaned forward—"that is Sergia. It's the way she is. She doesn't sing in public. But her voice"—his eyes grew dark—"it makes you want to laugh and cry. It's like the wind and the sun shining—" He broke off, listening.
The old man's eyes dwelt on him kindly. "She's with her folks, is she?"
He roused himself. "She hasn't any. They all died over there—her father and brother in the riots, her mother after that. She has no one. She teaches music—piano and violin—night and day. Sometimes she gives a recital with her pupils—and she has me." He laughed a little bitterly. "It isn't an exciting life."
"I dunno's I'd say jest that," said Uncle William, slowly. "It ain't exactly the things that happen—" He broke off, looking at something far away. "Why, I've had things happen to me—shipwreck, you know—winds a-blowin' and sousin' the deck—and a-gettin' out the boats and yellin' and shoutin'—Seems 's if it ought to 'a' been excitin'. But Lord! 'twa'n't nuthin' to what I've felt other times—times when it was all still-like on the island here—and big—so's 't you kind o' hear suthin' comin' to ye over the water. Why, some days it's been so's I'd feel's if I'd bust if I didn't do suthin'—suthin' to let off steam."
The young man nodded. "You ought to be an artist. That's the way they feel—some of them."
Uncle William beamed on him. "You don't say so! Must be kind o' hard work, settin' still and doin' art when you feel like that. I gen'ally go clammin', or suthin'."
The artist laughed out, boyishly. He reached out a hand for the locket.
But Uncle William held it a moment, looking down at it. "Things happen to her—every day," he said. "You can see that, plain enough. She don't hev to be most drowned to hev feelin's." He looked up. "When you goin' to be married?"
"Not till we can afford it—years." The tone was somber.
Uncle William shook his head. "Now, I wouldn't talk like that, Mr. Woodworth!" He handed back the locket and pushed up his spectacles again, beaming beneath them. "Seems to me," he said slowly, studying the fire—"seems to me I wouldn't wait. I'd be married right off—soon's I got back."
"What would you live on?" said the artist.
Uncle William waited. "There's resk," he said at last—"there's resk in it. But there's resk in 'most everything that tastes good. I meant to get married once," he said after a pause. "I didn't. I guess it's about the wust mistake I ever made. I thought this house wa'n't good enough for her." He looked about the quaint room. "'T wa'n't, neither," he added with conviction. "But she'd 'a' rather come—I didn't know it then," he said gently.
The artist waited, and the fire crackled between them.
"If I'd 'a' married her, I'd 'a' seen things sooner," went on the old man. "I didn't see much beauty them days—on sea or land. I was all for a good ketch and makin' money and gettin' a better boat. And about that time she died. I begun to learn things then—slow-like—when I hadn't the heart to work. If I'd married Jennie, I'd 'a' seen 'em sooner, bein' happy. You learn jest about the same bein' happy as you do bein' miserable—only you learn it quicker."
"I can't give up my art," said the young man. He was looking at Uncle William with the superior smile of youth, a little lofty yet kind. "You don't allow for art," he said.
"I dunno's I do," returned Uncle William. "It's like makin' money, I guess—suthin' extry, thrown in, good enough if you get it, but not necessary—no, not necessary. Livin's the thing to live for, I reckon." He stopped suddenly, as if there were no more to be said.
The artist looked at him curiously. "That's what all the great artists have said," he commented.
Uncle William nodded. "Like enough. I ain't an artist. But I've had sixty year of livin', off and on."
"But you'll die poor," said the artist, with a glance about the little room. He was thinking what a dear old duffer the man was—with his curious, impracticable philosophy of life and his big, kind ways. "You'll die poor if you don't look out," he said again.
"Yes, I s'pose I shall," said Uncle William, placidly, "'thout I make my fortune aforehand. That hot water looks to me just about right." He eyed the tea-kettle critically. "You hand over them glasses and we'll mix a little suthin' hot, and then we'll wash the dishes and go to bed."
The artist looked up with a start. "I must be getting back." He glanced at the dark window with its whirling sleet.
"You won't get back anywheres to-night," said Uncle William. "You couldn't hear yourself think out there—let alone findin' the path. I'll jest shake up a bed for ye here on the lounge,—it's a fust-rate bed; I've slep' on it myself, time and again,—and then in the mornin' you'll be on hand to go to work—save a trip for ye. Hand me that biggest glass and a teaspoon. I want that biggest there—second one—and a teaspoon. We'll have things fixed up fust-rate here."
Far into the night the artist watched the ruddy room. Gleams from the fire darted up the wall and ran quivering along the red. Outside the wind struck the house and beat upon it and went back, hoarse and slow.
Down the beach the surf boomed in long rolls, holding its steady beat through the uproar. When the wind lulled for a moment the house creaked mysteriously, whispering, and when the gale returned a sound of flying missiles came with it. Now and then something struck the roof and thudded to the ground with heavier crash.
About three o'clock Uncle William's round face was thrust through the crack of the door. "You can go to sleep all right, now," he said soothingly. "There wa'n't but seven bricks left in the chimney, anyhow, and the last one's jest come down. I counted 'em fallin'."
The artist stood on the beach, his hands in his pockets. Near by, seated on a bit of driftwood, a man was cleaning fish. For a few minutes the artist watched the swift motion of the knife, flashing monotonously. Then he glanced at the harbor and at the two sailboats bobbing and pulling their ropes. He was tired with a long strain of work. The summer was almost done. For weeks—since the night of the big storm—he had worked incessantly. A new light had come over things,—"The light that never was on sea or land," he called it,—and he had worked feverishly. He saw the water and the rugged land as Uncle William saw them. Through his eyes, he painted them. They took on color and bigness—simplicity. "They will call it my third style," said the artist, smiling, as he worked. "They ought to call it the Uncle William style. I didn't do it—I shall never do it again," and he worked fast.
But now the sketches were done. They were safely packed and corded. To-morrow he was going. To-day he would rest himself and do the things he would like to remember.
He looked again at the man cleaning fish. "Pretty steady work," he said, nodding toward the red pile.
The man looked up with a grunt. "Everything's steady—that pays," he said indifferently.
The artist's eyebrows lifted a little. "So?"
"Yep." The man tossed aside another fish. "Ye can't earn money stan'in' with your hands in your pockets."
"I guess that's so," said the artist, cheerfully. He did not remove the hands. The fingers found a few pennies in the depths and jingled them merrily.
"There's Willum," said the man, aggressively, sweeping his red knife toward the cliff. "He's poor—poor as poverty—an' he al'ays will be."
"What do you think is the reason?" asked the artist. The tone held respectful interest.
The man looked at him more tolerantly. "Too fond of settin'."
The artist nodded. "I'm afraid he is."
"An' then he's al'ays a-givin'—a little here and a little there. Why, what Willum Benslow's give away would 'a' made a rich man of him."
"Yep. I don't s'pose I know half he's give. But it's a heap, Lord knows! And then he's foolish—plumb foolish." He rested his arms on his legs, leaning forward. "How much d'you s'pose he give me for that land—from here to my house?" He pointed up the coast.
The artist turned and squinted toward it with half-closed lids. It glowed—a riot of color, green and red, cool against the mounting sky. "I haven't the least idea," he said slowly.
"Well, you won't believe it when I tell you;—nobody'd believe it. He paid me five hunderd dollars for it—five hunderd! It ain't wuth fifty."
The artist smiled at him genially. "Well—he's satisfied."
"But it ain't right," said the man, gloomily. He had returned to his fish. "It ain't right. I can't bear to have Willum such a fool."
"I think I'll go for a sail," said the artist.
The other glanced at the horizon. "It's going to storm," he said indifferently.
"I'll keep an eye out."
"Ye better not go."
"Think not?" He looked again at the harbor. "It's my last chance for a sail—I'll watch out."
"All right. 'T ain't my business," said the man. He went on slitting fish.
The harbor held a still light—ominously—grey with a tinge of yellow in its depths. Uncle William hurried down the face of the cliff, a telescope in his hand. Now and then he paused on the zigzag path and swept the bay with it. The grey stillness deepened.
On the beach below, the man paused in his work to look up. As Uncle William approached he grunted stiffly. "She's off the island," he said. He jerked a fishy thumb toward the water.
Uncle William's telescope fixed the boat and held it. His throat hummed, holding a kind of conversation with itself.
The man had returned to his fish, slitting in rough haste and tossing to one side. "Fool to go out—I told him it was coming."
The telescope descended. Uncle William regarded him mildly. "I o't to 'a' kept an eye on him," he said humbly. "I didn't jest sense he was goin'. I guess mebbe he did mention it. But I was mixin' a batch of biscuit and kind o' thinkin' to myself. When I looked up he wa'n't there." He slid the telescope together and slipped it into his pocket. "I'll hev to go after him," he said.
The other looked up quickly. "How'll you go?"
Uncle William nodded toward the boat that dipped securely at anchor. "I'll take her," he said.
The man laughed shortly. "The Andrew Halloran? I guess not!" He shut his knife with a decisive snap and stood up. "I don't trust her—not in such a storm as that's going to be." He waved his arm toward the harbor. The greyness was shifting rapidly. It moved in swift green touches, heavy and clear—a kind of luminous dread. In its sallow light the man's face stood out tragically. "I won't resk her," he cried.
"You'll hev to, Andrew." Uncle William bent to the bow of the dory that was beached near by. "Jump in," he said.
The man drew back a step. The hand with the clasped knife fell to his side. "Don't you make me go, William," he said pacifically. "You can take the boat in welcome, but don't take me. It's too much resk!"
"It's al'ays a resk to do your duty," said Uncle William. "Jump in. I can't stand talkin'." An edge of impatience grazed the words.
The man stepped in and seized the oars. "I'll help get her off," he said, "but I won't go."
In the green light of the harbor a smile played over Uncle William's face grotesquely. He gave a shove to the boat and sprang in. "I guess you'll go, Andrew," he said; "you wouldn't want a man drowned right at your door-yard."
"You can't live in it," said Andrew. He lifted his face to the light. Far to the east a boat crawled against it. "It'll strike in five minutes," he said.
"Like enough," said Uncle William—"like enough. Easy there!" He seized the stern of the Andrew Halloran and sprang on board. They worked in swift silence, hoisting the anchor, letting out the sail,—a single reef,—making it fast. "All she'll stan'," said Uncle William. He turned to the helm.
Andrew, seated on the tiller bench, glared at him defiantly. "If she's going out, I take her," he said.
"You get right over there and tend the sheet, Andy," said Uncle William.
In silence the other obeyed. He undid the rope, letting it out with cautious hand. The low sail caught the breeze and stiffened to it. The boat came round to the wind, dipping lightly. She moved through the murky light as if drawn by unseen hands.
The light thickened and grew black—clouded and dense and swift. Then, with a wrench, heaven parted about them. The water descended in sheets, gray-black planes that shut them in—blinded them, crushed them. Andrew, crouching to the blows, drew in the sheet, closer, closer—hugging the wind with tense grasp. About them, the water flattened like a plate beneath the flood. When the rain shifted a second they saw it, a gray-white floor, stretching as far as the eye could reach. Uncle William bent to it, scanning the east. "Hold her tight, Andy," he yelled. His leg was braced against the tiller, and his back strained to it. His hat was gone. The tufts of hair, lashed flat to the big skull, were mere lines. "Hold her tight! Make fast!" he yelled again.
Through the dark they drove, stunned and grim. The minutes lengthened to ages and beat them, eternally, in torment. Water and clouds were all about them—underneath them, and over. The boat, towering on each wave, dropped from its crest like a ball. Andy, crouching on the bottom of the boat, held on like grim death. Then, in a breath the storm was gone. With a sucking sound it had swept beyond them, its black skirts hurtling behind it as it ran, kicking a wake of foam.
Andrew from beneath the bench lifted his sopped head, like a turtle, breathless. Uncle William, bent far to the right, gazed to the east. Slowly his face lightened. He drew his big hand down its length, mopping off the wet. "There she is!" he said in a deep voice. "Let her out, Andy."
With stiff fingers, Andrew reached to the sail, untying a second reef and loosing it to the wind.
The water still tossed in tumbling waves and the fitful rain blew past. But the force of the storm was gone. Away to the north it towered, monstrous and black.
With his eyes strained to the east, Uncle William held the tiller. "We'll make it, Andy," he said quietly. "We'll make it yet if the Jennie holds out—" Suddenly he stood upright, his hand on the tiller, his eyes glued fast.
"Luff her," he cried. "She's gone—Luff her, I tell you!" He sprang back, jamming the tiller from him. "Let her out, Andy, every inch!"
The canvas flew wide to the wind. The great boat responded to its touch. She rose like a bird and dipped, in sweeping sidewise flight, to the race.
Across the water something bobbed—black, uncertain.
"Look sharp, Andy," said Uncle William.
Andrew peered with blinking eyes across the waste. The spirit of the chase was on him. His indifference had washed from him, like a husk, in that center of terror. His eyes leaped to the mass and glowed on it. "Yep," he said solemnly, "he's held on—he's there!"
"Keep your eye on her, Andy. Don't lose her." Uncle William's big arms strained to the wind, forcing the great bird in her course. Nearer she came and nearer, circling with white wings that opened and closed silently, softly. Close to the bobbing boat she grazed, hung poised a moment, and swept away with swift stroke.
The artist had swung through the air at the end of a huge arm. As he looked up from the bottom of the boat where he lay, the old man's head, round and smooth, like a boulder, stood out against the black above him. It grew and expanded and filled the horizon—thick and nebulous and dizzy.
"Roll him over, Andy," said Uncle William, "roll him over. He's shipped too much."
Uncle William sat on the beach mending his nets. He drew the twine deftly in and out, squinting now and then across the harbor at a line of smoke that dwindled into the sky. Each time he looked it was fainter on the horizon. He whistled a little as he bent to his work.
Over the rocks Andrew appeared, bearing on his back a huge bundle of nets. He threw it on the sand with a grunt. Straightening himself, he glanced at the line of smoke. "He's gone," he said, jerking his thumb toward it.
"He's gone," assented Uncle William, cheerfully.
Andrew kicked the bundle of nets apart and drew an end toward him, spreading it along the beach. "He's left you poorer'n he found you," he said. His tough fingers worked swiftly among the nets, untying knots and straightening meshes.
"I dunno 'bout that," said Uncle William. His eyes followed the whiff of smoke kindly.
"You kep' him a good deal, off and on. He must 'a' e't considerable," said Andrew. "And now he's up and lost your boat for you." He glanced complacently at the Andrew Halloran swinging at anchor. "You'll never see her again," he said. He gave a final toss to the net.
"Mebbe not," said Uncle William. "Mebbe not." His eyes were on the horizon, where the gray-blue haze lingered lightly. The blue sky dipped to meet it. It melted in sunlight. Uncle William's eyes returned to his nets.
"How you going to get along 'bout a bout?" asked Andrew, carelessly.
Uncle William paused. He looked up to the clear sky. "I shouldn't need her much more this fall, anyways," he said. "An' come spring, I'll get another. I've been needin' a new boat a good while."
Andrew grunted. He glanced a little jealously at the Andrew Halloran. "Got the money?" he asked.
"Well, not got it, so to speak," said Uncle William, "but I reckon I shall have it when the time comes."
Andrew's face lightened a little. "What you countin' on?" he said.
Uncle William considered. "There's the fish. Gunnion hain't settled with me yet for my fish."
Andrew nodded. "Seventy-five dollars."
"And I've got quite a count of lobsters up to the boardin'-house—"
Andrew's small eyes squinted knowingly. "Out o' season?"
Uncle William returned the look benignly. "We didn't date the 'count—just lumped 'em, so much a catch; saves trouble."
Andrew chuckled. "I've saved trouble that way myself." He made a rough calculation. "It won't make a hunderd, all told. How you goin' to get the rest?"
"Mebbe I shall borrow it," said Uncle William. He looked serenely at the sky. "Like enough he'll send a little suthin'," he added.
"Like enough!" said Andrew.
"He mentioned it," said Uncle William.
"He's gone," said Andrew. He gave a light p-f-f with his lips and screwed up his eyes, seeming to watch a bubble sail away.
Uncle William smiled. "You don't have faith, Andy," he said reproachfully. "Folks do do things, a good many times—things that they say they will. You o't to have faith."
Andrew snuffed. "When I pin my faith to a thing, Willum, I like to hev suthin' to stick the pin into," he said scornfully.
They worked in silence. Seagulls dipped about them. Off shore the sea-lions bobbed their thick, flabby black heads inquiringly in the water and climbed clumsily over the kelp-covered rocks.
Andrew's eyes rested impassively on their gambols. "Wuthless critters," he said.
Uncle William's face softened as he watched them. "I kind o' like to see 'em, Andy—up and down and bobbin' and sloppin' and scramblin'; you never know where they'll come up next."
"Don't need to," grumbled Andy. "Can't eat the blamed things—nor wear 'em. I tell you, Willum,"—he turned a gloomy eye on his companion,—"I tell you, you set too much store by wuthless things."
"Mebbe I do," said William, humbly.
"This one, now—this painter fellow." Andrew gave a wave of his hand that condensed scorn. "What'd you get out o' him, a-gabblin' and sailin' all summer?"
"I dunno, Andy, as I could jest put into words," said William, thoughtfully, "what I did get out o' him."
"Ump! I guess you couldn't—nor anybody else. When he sends you anything for that boat o' yourn, you jest let me know it, will you?"
"Why, yes, Andy, I'll let you know if you want me to. I'll be reel pleased to let you know," said Uncle William.
It was Indian summer. Uncle William was mending his chimney. He had built a platform to work on. Another man would have clung to the sloping roof while he laid the bricks and spread the mortar. But Uncle William had constructed an elaborate platform with plenty of room for bricks and the pail of mortar, and space in which to stretch his great legs. It was a comfortable place to sit and look out over Arichat harbor. Andy, who had watched the preparations with scornful eye, had suggested an arm-chair and cushion.
"I like to be comf'tabul," assented Uncle William. "I know I do. I don't like to work none too well, anyhow. Might as well be comf'tabul if you can."
The platform was comfortable. Even Andy admitted that, when Uncle William persuaded him to climb up one day, on the pretext of advising whether the row of bricks below the roof line would hold. It was a clear, warm day, with little clouds floating lightly, as in summer. Andy had climbed the ladder grumbling.
"Nice place to see," suggested Uncle William.
Andy peered down the chimney hole. "You will have to take off the top row all around," he said resentfully.
"Ye think so, do ye? I kind o' thought so myself. They seemed sort o' tottery. But I thought mebbe they'd hold. Sit down, Andy, sit down." He pushed the pail of mortar a little to one side to make room.
Andy edged away. "Can't stop," he said. He was searching with his foot for the ladder.
"What you going to do?" demanded Uncle William.
Andy glanced at the sky. "I'm going to take in the Andrew Halloran." He was already on his way down the ladder.
Uncle William pursued him, peering over. "You'll have to have me to help ye, Andy. Can't you jest wait till to-morrow—till I get my chimbley done?"
"You've been a month now," said Andy. He was glowering at the bay and the little boat bobbing below.
"I know it, Andy, I know it." Uncle William was descending the ladder with slow care. "But I don't want my mortar to freeze, and I'm kind o' 'fraid of its comin' off cold again to-night. I was jest goin' to begin to hurry up. I was goin' to begin to-day."
"I can get along without you," said Andrew, doggedly.
"Why, no, you can't, Andy. How you goin' to haul her up?" Uncle William spoke reproachfully.
Andy moved away. "I can do it, I guess." He was mumbling it to his teeth. "I don't need anybody's help."
With a sigh and a look of affection at the platform and the pail and the blue sky above, Uncle William followed him down the rocky path.
They worked busily all the morning, towing in the Andrew Halloran, cleaning her up and stowing away tackle, making her ready for the winter.
In the afternoon Uncle William mounted the roof again. His face, under its vast calm, wore a look of resolve. He looked thoughtfully down the chimney hole. Then he sat down on the platform and took up his trowel. He balanced it on his palm and looked at the pile of bricks. His gaze wandered to the sky. It swept the bay and came back across the moors. A look of soft happiness filled it; the thin edges of resolve melted before it. "Best kind of weather," murmured Uncle William, "best kind—" His eye fell on the pile of bricks and he took up one, looking at it affectionately. He laid it in place and patted down the mortar, rumbling to himself.
When Andy came by, half an hour later, three bricks were in place. Uncle William nodded to him affably. "Where goin', Andy?"
"How much you got done?" demanded Andy.
Uncle William looked at it thoughtfully. "Well, there's quite a piece. Comin' up?" he said hopefully.
"It don't show any."
"No, it don't show much—yet. It's kind of down below.—Think we're goin' to have a change?" The tone was full of hopeful interest.
Andy nodded. "Freeze inside of twenty-four hours."
Uncle William scanned the horizon.
"When you calculatin' to finish?" asked Andy.
"Well, I was thinkin' of finishin' to-night."
Andy's gaze sought the sun.
Uncle William took up another brick.
Andy seated himself on a rock. He had done a good day's work. His conscience was clear; and then William worked better when Andy was around, and Andy took pride in it. "Where'd you get your bricks?" he asked.
Uncle William looked at the one in his hand. "I wheeled them over from the Bodet cellar-place. The' 's quite a pile left there yet."
"They all good?"
"Putty good." Uncle William was working thoughtfully. "We've set by them bricks a good many times, Andy."
"You remember the things she used to give us to eat?"
Andy swung about. "Who give us?"
"Old Mis' Bodet."
Andy's eye lighted. "So she did. I'd forgot all about 'em."
Uncle William nodded. "There was a kind of tart she used to make—"
Andy broke in. A look of genuine enthusiasm filled his eye. "I know—that gingery, pumpkin kind—"
"That's it. And you and me and Benjy used to sit and toast our toes by the fire and eat it—"
"He was a mean cuss," said Andy.
"Who Benjy? Why, we was al'ays fond of Benjy!" Uncle William's face beamed over the edge of the roof. "We was fond of him, wa'n't we?"
"I wa'n't," said Andy, shortly. "He' lick a feller every chance he got."
"Yes, that's so—I guess that's so." Uncle William was slapping on the mortar with heavy skill. "But he did it kind o' neat, didn't he?" His eye twinkled to his work. "'Member that time you 'borrowed' his lobster-pot—took it up when it happened to have lobsters in it, and kep' the lobsters—not to hev 'em waste?"
Andy's face was impassive.
"Oh, you was fond of Benjy!" Uncle William spoke cheeringly. "You've kind o' forgot, I guess. And I set a heap o' store by him. He was jest about our age—twelve year the summer they moved away. I cried much as a week, off and on I should think. Couldn't seem to get ust to not havin' him around."
"Reckon he's dead by this time?" Andy spoke hopefully. A little green gleam had crept into his eye.
Uncle William leaned over, looking down at him reproachfully. "Now, what makes you say that, Andy? He don't hev no more call to be dead'n we do. We was both fond of him."
Andy stirred uneasily. "I liked him well enough, but it ain't any use talkin' about folks that's moved away, or dead."
"Do you feel that way, Andy? Now I don't feel so." Uncle William's gaze was following a floating cloud. "I feel as if they was kind o' near us; not touching close, but round somewheres. Now, I wouldn't really say Benjy Bodet was in that cloud—"
Andy stared at it suspiciously.
"He ain't really there, but it makes me feel the way he did. I used to get up kind o' light in the mornin', 'cause I was goin' to see Benjy. The' wa'n't ever anybody I was so fond of, except Jennie—and you, mebbe."
Andy's gaze was looking out to sea. "You was mighty thick with that painter chap," he said gruffly.
"That wa'n't the same,"—Uncle William spoke thoughtfully,—"not quite the same."
The gloom in Andy's face lifted.
"I've thought about that a good many times," went on Uncle William. "It's cur'us. You get to know folks that's a good deal nicer than your own folks that you was born and brought up and have lived and quarreled with,—and you get to know 'em a good deal better some ways—but they ain't the same as your own."
Andy's face had grown almost mild. "I guess that's right," he said. "Now there's Harr'et—I've lived with Harr'et a good many year."
Uncle William nodded. "She come from Digby way, didn't she?"
"Northeast o' Digby. And some days I feel as if I wa'n't even acquainted with her."
Uncle William chuckled.
Andy glanced at the sun. "I must be gettin' home. It's supper-time." His gaze sought the ridge-pole. The few rows of bricks set above its line gleamed red and white in the sun. "You won't get that done to-night." The tone was not acrid. It was almost sympathetic—for Andy.
Uncle William glanced at it placidly. "I reckon I shall. There's a moon, you know. And this is a pleasant place to set. It ought to be quite nice up here by moonlight."
He set and watched Andy's figure down the road. Then he took up the trowel once more, whistling. The floating cloud had sailed to the horizon. It grew rosy red and opened softly, spreading in little flames. The glow of color spread from north to south. A breeze had sprung up and ruffled the bay. Uncle William glanced at it and fell to work. "Andy's right—it's goin' to change."
He worked till the cold, clear moon came over the hill behind him. It shone on the chimney rising, straight and firm, above the little house. By its light William put on the finishing touches.
The winter was a hard one. The cold that had set in the night the chimney was finished did not abate. The island froze to its core and a stinging keenness held the air. The very rocks seemed charged with it. One almost listened to hear them crack in the stillness of the long nights. Little snow fell, and it was soon dispersed—whirled away on the fierce blasts that swept the island. Uncle William went back and forth between woodshed and house, carrying great armfuls of wood. A roaring fire warmed the red room, Juno purred in comfort in its depths. The pile of wood in the shed lowered fast, and the pile of money hoarded behind the loose brick in the chimney lowered with it—the money faster than the wood, perhaps. There was a widow with three children, a mile down the shore. Her husband had been drowned the year before, and there was no brick loose in her chimney to look behind as the woodpile diminished. Old Grandma Gruchy, too, who had outlived all her men folks and at ninety-three was still tough and hearty, had need of things.
Between filling the wood-box and looking after the weather and keeping a casual eye on the widows and the fatherless, Uncle William had a full winter. He was not a model housekeeper at best, and ten o'clock of winter mornings often found him with breakfast dishes unwashed and the floor unswept. Andy, coming in for his daily visit, would cast an uncritical eye at the frying-pan, and seat himself comfortably by the stove. It did not occur to either of them, as Uncle William pottered about, finishing the dishes, that Andy should take a hand. Andy had women folks to do for him.
As the winter wore on, letters came from the artist—sometimes gay and full of hope sometimes a little despondent. Uncle William read the letters to Andy, who commented on them according to his lights. "He don't seem to be makin' much money," he would say from time to time. The letters revealed flashes of poverty and a kind of fierce struggle. "He's got another done," Uncle William would respond: "that makes three; that's putty good." Andy had ceased to ask about the money for the boat—when it was coming. He seemed to have accepted the fact that there would never be any, as placidly as William himself. If there was dawning in his mind the virtuous resolve to help out a little when the time came, no one would have guessed it from the grim face that surveyed Uncle William's movements with a kind of detached scorn. Now and then Andy let fall a word of advice as to the best way of adjusting a tin on the stove, or better methods for cleaning the coffee-pot. Sometimes Uncle William followed the advice. It generally failed to work.
It was late in the winter that Andy appeared one morning bringing a letter from the artist. Uncle William searched for his spectacles and placed them on his nose with a genial smile.
Andy had not relinquished the letter. "I can read it for ye," he volunteered.
"I can read it all right now, Andy, thank ye." Uncle William reached out a hand for it.
Andy's fingers relaxed on it grudgingly. He had once or twice been allowed to open and read the letters in the temporary absence of Uncle William's spectacles. He found them more entertaining than when Uncle William read them. He privately suspected him of suppressing bits of news.
Uncle William looked up from the lines with pleased countenance. "Now, that's good. He's finished up five on 'em."
"Picters," responded Uncle William, spelling it out slowly. "There's one of my house,"—lofty pride held the voice,—"and one of the cove down below, and two up by the end of old Bodet place, and one on the hill, this side of your place. Now, that's quite a nice lot, ain't it?"
"What's he going to do with 'em," asked Andy.
"There's a kind of exhibit goin' on." Uncle William consulted the letter. "'The Exhibition of American Artists'—suthin' like a fair, I take it. And he's goin' to send 'em."
"Thinks he'll take a prize, I s'pose." Andy's tone held fine scepticism.
"Well, I dunno. He don't say nuthin' about a prize. He does kind o' hint that he'll be sendin' me suthin' pretty soon. I guess likely there'll be prizes. He o't to take one if there is. He made fust-rate picters, fust-rate—"
"The whole lot wa'n't wuth the Jennie." Andy spoke with sharp jealousy.
"Well, mebbe not—mebbe not. Want a game of checkers, Andy?"
"I don't care," sullenly. Uncle William brought out the board and arranged the pieces with stiff fingers.
Andy watched the movements, his eye callous to pleasure.
"It's your move, Andy."
Andy drew up to the table and reached out a hand. . . . The spirit of the game descended upon him. He pushed forward a man with quick fingers. "Go ahead."
Uncle William took time. His fingers hovered here and there in loving calculation. At last he lifted the piece and moved it slowly forward.
"Same move you al'ays make," said Andy, contemptuously.
"Sometimes I beat that way, don't I?"
"And sometimes you don't." Andy shoved forward another piece. The quick movement expressed scorn of dawdlers.
Uncle William met it mildly. He set his man in place with slow care.
Andy paused. He snorted a little. He bent above the board, knitting his forehead. His hand reached out and drew back. The fingers reached out and drew back. The fingers drummed a little on the edge of the board.
Uncle William, leaning forward, a hand on either knee, beamed on him benignantly.
Andy shifted a little in his chair. "You're going to get into trouble," he said warningly, "if you move that way."
"Like enough, like enough. I gen'ally do. Is it my move?"
"No," growled Andy. He returned to the board. The game was on in earnest. Now and then Andy grunted or moved a leg, and once or twice Uncle William arose to put more wood into the glowing stove. But he did it with the gaze of a sleep-walker. Outside the wind had risen and dashed fiercely against the little house. Neither man lifted his head to listen. Their hands reached mechanically to the pieces. They jumped men and placed them one side with impassive faces. The board was clearing fast. Only seven men remained. Andy moved forward a piece with a swift flourish. He gave a little growl of triumph.
Uncle William studied the board. At last, with a heavy sigh, he lifted a piece and moved it cautiously.
Andy made the counter move in triumphant haste. "King," he announced.
Uncle William covered the man, a little smile dawning in his eye. He looked at the pieces affectionately. A chuckle sounded somewhere in the room.
Andy looked up quickly. He glanced again at the board. Wrath froze his gaze.
Uncle William leaned back, nodding at him with genial meaning. A little conscious triumph flavored the nod.
Andy shoved back from the board. "Well, why don't you take it? Take it if you're goin' to, and don't set there cackling!"
"Why, Andy!" Uncle William moved the man mildly.
Andy shoved the counter in place with scornful touch.
Uncle William moved again.
Andy got up, looking sternly for his hat.
"Can't you stay to dinner, Andy?"
"I was goin' to have a little meat."
"It's stormin' putty hard."
"I don't care!" He moved toward the door.
Uncle William took down an oil-skin coat from its peg. "You better put this on if ye can't stay. No use in gettin' wet through."
Andy put it on and buttoned it up in fierce silence.
Uncle William watched him benignly. "If 't was so 's 't you could stay, we could play another after dinner—play the rubber. You beat me last time, you know." He took off the stove-lid and peered in.
Andy's eye had relaxed a little under its gloom. "When you goin' to have dinner?" he asked.
"I was thinkin' of havin' it putty soon. I can have it right off if you'll stay—must be 'most time." He pulled a great watch from its fob pocket and looked at it with absent eye. His gaze deepened. He looked up slowly. Then he smiled—a cheerful smile that took in Andy, the board with its scattered checkers, Juno on the lounge, and the whole red room.
"Well, what time is it?" said Andy.
"It's five minutes to three, Andy. Guess you'd better stay," said Uncle William.
Uncle William carried the letter up the zigzag rocks in his big fingers. A touch of spring was in the air, but the Andrew Halloran rocked alone at the foot of the cliff. Uncle William turned back once to look at her. Then he pursued his way up the rocky cliff. He had not heard from the artist for over a month. He glanced down curiously at the letter in his hand, once or twice, as he climbed the cliff. It was a woman's handwriting.
He sat down by the table, tearing open the envelope with cautious fingers. A strip of bluish paper fluttered from it and fell to the floor. Uncle William bent over and picked it up. He looked at it a little bashfully and laid it on the table. He spread the letter before him, resting his elbows on the table and bending above it laboriously. As he read, an anxious line came between his eyes. "Now, that's too bad—sick in bed—I want to know—Well, well! Pshaw, you needn't 'a' done that! Of course I'll go." He picked up the bluish slip and looked at it. He pushed the spectacles back on his head and sat surveying the red room. He shook his head slowly. "He must be putty sick to feel like that," he said.
He took up the letter again, spelling it out slowly.
"MY DEAR MR. BENSLOW: You have not forgotten Alan Woodworth, the artist who was in Arichat last summer? I am writing to tell you that he is very ill. He has not been well for two months or more, and for the last three weeks he has been very ill indeed. He is in his rooms alone and there is no one to look after him. His friends have tried all along to have him go to a hospital, or to let them take care of him. But until two or three weeks ago he would have times of partial recovery—days when he seemed perfectly well. So no one has guessed how really ill he is, and they suppose now that he has gone away from the city to recuperate. No one, except me, knows that he is still in his rooms. The door is locked and no one answers if you go there. I am writing you as a last resort. He has told me about you—how good you were to him last summer—"
Uncle William looked up, perplexed. "Sho, now! What does she mean by that? I didn't do nuthin'—nuthin' to speak of."
"I feel as if he would let you in and let you do things for him. He has talked about you to me, since he came back; and in his illness, earlier, when the fever was on, he would call for you—talking and muttering in his sleep. If you could come down for a little while, I feel almost sure that it would give him the start he needs. The fever makes him distrustful of every one, but I know that he would see you. I am inclosing a check for the trip. It is really money that belongs to him—to Alan. He gave me last year a beautiful present—something far too expensive for him to give; and now that he needs the money—needs to see you—more than I need the jewel. I am sending it to you, begging that you will come very soon if you can. Alan said that he had told you about me. You will not wonder who I am or why I am writing. I hope that I shall see you and know you when you come.
Uncle William nodded at the letter with a genial smile, as if he saw the girl herself and responded to the wish. He returned the letter with the blue slip to the envelope and stowed it away in his pocket. He surveyed the room again, shaking his head. "I couldn't take their money, nohow," he said slowly. "I must go and see Andy. He'll help out. He'll be reel glad to."
He rose and began to set the table, bringing out the smoked herring and bread and tea and foxberries with lavish hand. He sat down with a look of satisfaction. Juno, from the red lounge, came across, jumping into the chair beside him. She rubbed expectantly against him. He fed her bits of the herring with impartial hand. When the meal was over, he went to the chimney and took out the loose brick, reaching in behind for the money. He counted it slowly. "Not near enough," he said, shaking his head. "I knew there wa'n't. I must go and see Andy."
He washed the dishes and put them away, then he combed his tufts of hair and tied his neckerchief anew.
He found Andrew outside his house, feeding the hens. They stood in silence, watching the scramble for bits. "Shoo!" said Andrew, making a dash for a big cochin-china. "She eats a lot more 'an her share," he grumbled, shaking out the dish. "Comin' in?"
"I've got a little suthin' to talk over with ye," said William.
"Come out behind the barn," said Andrew.
Seated on a well-worn bench with a glimpse of the bay in the distance, William drew out the envelope. "I've got a letter—"
Andy eyed it. "From that painter chap?"
"Well, not exactly. But it's about him. He's in a good deal of trouble—"
"What's he been doin'?" demanded Andy.
"He's been bein' sick," said William, reproachfully.
"Oh!" Andy's face fell.
"He's sick now," went on Uncle William. He drew the letter from its envelope. "He's feeling putty bad."
"What's the matter of him?" said Andy, gruffly.
Uncle William studied the letter.
"It's a kind o' fever—I guess—intermittent. Runs for a while, then lets up a day or two, and then runs again. We had it once—don't you remember?—the whole crew, that time we broke down off Madagascar? 'Member how sick we felt?" Uncle William looked at him mildly.
Andy's eye was fixed on the bay. "How d' you know it's the same?" he said.
"Well, I don't know it's the same—not just the same, but she says—"
"Who says?" Andy whirled about.
"Why, she says—Sergia says.—Didn't I jest tell you, Andy?"
"You didn't tell me nuthin'," said Andy. He had returned to the bay.
"She is his—she is goin' to marry him," said William.
There was silence for a minute, while Andrew digested the morsel. "When they goin' to be married?" he said at last.
Uncle William shook his head. "That's jest it, Andy. They're in a heap o' trouble."
Andy stirred uneasily. "What'd she write to you for?"
"I'm comin' to that—if you'll give me time. She thought mebbe I could help—"
Andy moved a little away. "You hain't got the means," he said decisively.
"No"—the tone was soothing—"but I can get it, mebbe. She wants me to come down."
"To New York? You!" Andy looked at him.
William returned the look apologetically. "Does sound ridiculous, don't it, Andy? I shouldn't ever 'a' thought of the thing myself, but she says he kind o' needs me. Keeps askin' for me when the fever is on, and don't seem to get along much when it lets up. She kind o' thinks if I was there, it would help him to brace up, somehow, a little."
Andy made no response. The green light was dawning far down in his eye.
Uncle William watched it. "It's jest a sick man's fancy, like enough."
"When you goin'?" said Andy.
"I though 'bout day after to-morrow."
"It'll cost a heap."
"I know it."
"You've got it, I s'pose?" indifferently.
"Some of it," said William.
Andy moved a little farther away. He was very near the edge of the bench.
Uncle William moved over by him, and laid a hand on his knee. "I was goin' to ask you to lend me a hunderd, Andy."
Andy wriggled a little. "You don't hev to go," he said feebly.
"If he needs me, I'll have to. I ain't ever been needed much—livin' alone so. You don't know how 't is. You have somebody to need you. Harriet needs you—"
"Lord, yes, Harr'et needs me. Don't doubt she needs me this minute—pail o' water or suthin'." Andrew chuckled gloomily.
"And you hev your chickens, too." Uncle William fixed his glance placidly on a strutting fowl that had appeared around the corner, cocking a surprised eye at them. William regarded her thoughtfully. "When a man's alone, there ain't much he can do for folks," he said slowly, "except feed Juno night and mornin',—and she catches so many mice it ain't really wuth while. Now a hen needs to be fed."
"Guess they do," grumbled Andy.
"And a cow," went on Uncle William, "but there—" he checked himself. "What am I talkin' about? How'd I ever keep a cow? What'd I do with the milk? I couldn't eat a whole cowful." He sat gazing with far-off eyes at the glimpse of blue water.
Andy chewed scornfully on a bit of dry grass.
William turned to him suddenly. "We'll go down and draw out the money to-morrow morning," he said.
Andy chewed anxiously. "I dunno as I can let you have it," he protested.
"Oh, yes, you'll let me. You see I need it, Andy, and I'm goin' to pay you six per cent. How much do you get at the bank? Not more'n five, do you?"
"Four and a half," said Andy, grudgingly.
"Four and a half. Well, you see, I give you six. So there's a dollar and a half clear gain."
Andrew's eyes narrowed to the dollar and a half and fed on it awhile. "I shall hev to ask Harr'et," he said.
"Now, I wouldn't ask Harriet." Uncle William spoke soothingly. "She don't agree with you and me a good many times—Harriet don't."
Andrew admitted it. He chewed awhile in silence. "You'll give me a mortgage?" he said at last. The tone was crafty.
"On my place!" Uncle William was roused. "No, sir, I don't give mortgages to nobody."
"Then I don't see as I can let you hev it," said Andy. "It's fair to ask for a mortgage. What if anything should happen to ye—down there in New York? Where'd I be?" He looked at him reproachfully.
"You would miss me, Andy, and I know it. I'm goin' to be careful. I shan't take no more resks 'n I have to."
"Nor me, neither," said Andy.
"That's right, Andy, you be careful, too, while I'm gone. Why, 't wouldn't ever be like home—to come back and not find you here."
Andy's eyes widened. "What you talkin' 'bout?" he said.
Uncle William's gaze was on him affectionately. He looked a little puzzled. "I dunno jest what I did start to say," he said apologetically. "I was thinkin' what a store I set by you, Andy."
Andy's face softened a trifle. "Now, look here, Willum, a mortgage is fair. It wouldn't hurt you none, nor your place—"
William shook his head. "I couldn't do it, Andy. I wouldn't reely trust you with a mortgage. You might get scared and foreclose some day if I couldn't pay the interest, and you'd be ashamed enough—doin' a thing like that."
The next day Andy drew the hundred from the bank and turned it over to William without even a note to guard his sacred rights. Andy had tried in the night watches to formulate a note. He had selected the best, from a row of crafty suggestions, about four o'clock. But later, as he and William went up the road, the note dropped by the way.
Uncle William stowed the money in his pocket with a comfortable smile. "You've done the right thing, Andy, and I shall pay you back when I can. You'll get your interest reg'lar—six per cent."
Andy's face held a kind of subdued gloom. He mourned not as those without hope, but with a chastened expectancy. To lend William money had almost the fine flavor of gambling.
He saw him off the following morning, with a sense of widened interests. He carried, moreover, an additional burden. "Remember, Andy," Uncle William called to him as the boat moved away, "she don't like potato, and she won't touch a mite of fish—'ceptin' herrin'." Juno had been intrusted to him.
Andy grinned a sickly good-by. "Good-by, Willum; I'll do as well as I can by her." He turned away with a sudden sense of loss. The island seemed very empty. Juno did not like Andy, and he was needed at home. The mental effort of thinking up a menu three times a day that did not include fish and potato for a magnificent creature like Juno weighed heavily on him. He had proposed bringing her down to the house, thinking to shift the burden on to Harriet, but Uncle William had refused sternly. "She wouldn't be comfortable, Andy. The' 's a good deal of soap and water down to your house and she wouldn't like it. You can run up two or three times, easy, to see she's all right. Mebbe you'll get fond of her."
Andrew had no rosy hopes of fondness, but as he turned away from the wharf, there seemed no place on the island that would hold him so comfortably as the little house on the cliff. He climbed the rocky path to it and opened the door. Juno sprang down from her lounge. When she saw who it was she gave an indifferent lick to her front leg, as if she always jumped down to lick her leg. Then she jumped back on the lounge and tuned her back to the room, looking out of the window and blinking from time to time. The smoke of the steamer was dwindling in the distance.
Andy sat down in a vacant chair by the stove, staring at nothing. The sun poured in. It filled the room with warmth. Andy's eyes rested on it vacantly. The stillness was warm and big. It seemed a kind of presence. Andy drew his hand across his eyes and got up. He went over and stood by the lounge, peering out. The smoke was gone. Juno turned her head and blinked an eye or two, indifferent. She ignored him pointedly. Her gaze returned to the sea. Andy had half put out his hand to stroke her. He drew it back. He had a sudden bitter desire to swear or kick something. He went out hastily, closing the door behind him. Juno, with her immovable gaze, stared out to sea.
Uncle William sniffed the air of the docks with keen relish. The spring warmth had brought out the smells of lower New York teemingly. There was a dash of salt air and tar, and a dim odor of floating—of decayed vegetables and engine-grease and dirt. It was the universal port-smell the world over, and Uncle William took it in in leisurely whiffs as he watched the play of life in the dockshed—the backing of horses and the shouting of the men, the hollow sound of hoofs on the worn planks and the trundling hither and thither of boxes and barrels and bales.
He was in no hurry to leave the dock. It was a part of the journey—the sense of leisure. Men who travel habitually by sea do not rush from the vessel that has brought them to port, gripsack in hand. There are innumerable details—duties, inspections and quarantines, and delays and questionings. The sea gives up her cargo slowly. The customs move with the swift leisure of those who live daily between Life and the Deep Sea—without hurry and without rest.
Uncle William watched it all in good-humored detachment. He made friends with half the shed, wandering in and out through the crowd, his great bulk towering above it. Here and there he helped a fat, heavy baby down the length of the shed, or lifted aside a big box that blocked the way. He might have been the Presiding Genius of the place. Men took him in with a good-humored wink, as he towered along, and women looked after him gratefully. Amid the bustle and enforced waiting, he was the only soul at rest. Time belonged to him. He was at home. He had played his part in similar scenes in hundreds of ports. The city bubbling and calling outside had no bewilderments for Uncle William. New York was only one more foreign port, and he had touched too many to have fear of them. They were all alike—exorbitant cab-men, who came down on their fare if you stood by your box and refused to let it be lifted till terms were made; rum-shops and gambling-holes, and worse, hedging the way from the wharf; soiled women haunting one's steps, if one halted a bit or turned to the right or left in indecision. He had talked with women of every port. They were a huge band, a great sisterhood that reached thin hands about the earth, touching it with shame; and they congregated most where the rivers empty their burden of filth into the sea. Uncle William knew them well. He could steer a safe path among them; and he could turn a young man, hesitating, with foolish, confident smile on his face. Uncle William had not been in New York for twelve years, but he had a sailor's unerring instinct for the dangers and the comforts of a port. He knew which way hell lay, and which of the drivers, backing and cursing and calling, one could trust. He signaled to one with his eye.
"What'll ye charge to give this young feller a lift?" Uncle William indicated the youth beside him.
The driver looked him over with keen eye. "That's all right." He moved along on the seat to make room. "Come on, young man."
The youth climbed up with clumsy foot.
"You might know of a job," suggested Uncle William. "He looks strong and willin'."
The man nodded back. "I'll keep an eye on him, sir." The van rumbled away and Uncle William faced the crowed once more.
He made friends as he moved among the throngs of hurrying men and women. Men who never saw him again recalled his face sometimes at night, as they wakened for a minute from sleep. The big smile reached to them across time and gave them a sense of the goodness of life before they turned again and slept.
If he had been a little man, Uncle William would still have run hither and thither through the crowd, a kind of gnome of usefulness. But his great frame gave him advantage. He was like a mountain among them—with the breath of winds about it—or some huge, quiet engine at sea, making its way with throbbing power.
If the thought of the artist crossed Uncle William's mind, it did not disturb him. He was accustomed to do what he called his duty; and it had for him the simplicity, common to big men, of being the thing next at hand. Like a force of nature he laid hold on it, and out of the ground and the sky and the thrill of life, he wrought beauty upon it. If this were philosophy or religion, Uncle William did not know it. He called it "jest livin' along."
It was ten o'clock before he reached the artist's rooms, and his rap at the door, gentle as a woman's, brought no response. He rapped again.
"What's wanted?" It was the querulous voice of a sick man.
Uncle William set the door ajar with his foot while he reached behind him for his box.
The artist had sprung up in bed and was staring at the door. In the dim light from the street below, his face stood out rigidly white.
Uncle William looked at it kindly as he came across. "There, there," he said soothingly. "I guess I'd lie down." He put his hands on the young man's shoulders, pushing him back gently.
The artist yielded to the touch, staring at him with wide eyes. "Who—are—you?" he said. The words were a whisper.
Uncle Williams' smile deepened. "I guess ye know me all right, don't ye?"
The artist continued to stare at him. "You came through the door. It was locked."
"Shucks, no!" said Uncle William. "'T wa'n't locked any more'n I be. You jest forgot it."
"Did I?" The tense look broke. "I thought you had come again."
"Well, I hev."
"I don't mean that way. Sit down." He looked feebly for a chair.
Uncle William had drawn one up to the bed. He sat down, bending forward a little. One big hand rested on the young man's wrist. "Now, tell me all about it," he said quietly.
The artist raised his eyes with a smile. He drew a deep breath. "Yes—you've come," he said. "You've come."
"I've come," said Uncle William. His big bulk had not stirred. It seemed to fill the room.
The sick man rested in it. His eyes closed. "I've wanted—you."
Uncle William nodded. "Sick folks get fancies," he said.
"—and I kept seeing you in the fever—and you—" The voice droned away and was still.
Uncle William sat quiet, one hand on the thin wrist. The galloping pulse slowed—and leaped again—and fluttered, and fell at last to even beats. The tense muscles relaxed. The parted lips closed with a half-smile.
Uncle William bent forward, watching it. In the dim light of the room, his face had a kind of gentleness—a kindliness and bigness that watched over the night and reached out beyond it to the ends of the earth.
In the morning the big form was still there. The artist turned to it as he opened his eyes. "You are not gone!"
"Gone? Land, no!" Uncle William sat up from a cat-nap, rubbing his eyes and blinking a little. "I cal'ate to stay quite a spell yet." He stretched his great legs slowly, first one and then the other, as if testing them.
Reproach filled the artist's eyes. "You've not lain down all night!"
"Didn't need to," said Uncle William. He got to his feet briskly. "I slep' a good deal comin' down in the boat. There wa'n't a great deal goin' on. If you've got a little water and soap handy, I reckon I could use it."
The artist half started to get up, but a firm hand held him back. "Now, stay right there. You jest tell me where things be—"
He pointed to a door at the left. "You won't find it in very good order, I'm afraid."
"Don't you mind." Uncle William had disappeared through the doorway. "It won't bother me a mite." His voice came back sociably. "I'm considabul ust to havin' things mussed up."
The artist lay with a smile, listening to the sounds that came through the half-open door—thumping and blowing and splashing.
Uncle William reappeared with shining face. "It seems good to hev suthin' bigger'n a teacup to wash in," he said. "I like the hull ocean, myself, but a tub does putty well. Now, jest let me see."
He drew up to the bed, looking at the young man with keen glance.
"Oh, I'm all right—now."
"Had a fever?"
"You all alone?"
"There's a man comes in by and by. He'll clean up and get things for me."
Uncle William ignored the pride in the tone. "Jest roll over a little mite. There—" He placed his broad hand under the thin back. "Feel sore there? Kind o' hurts, don't it? I thought so—There." He laid him back gently. "You jest wait a minute." He was fumbling at the lock that held his box.
"Are you a doctor?" The young man was watching him with half-amused eyes.
"Well, not a doctor exactly." Uncle William had taken out a small bottle and was holding it up to the light, squinting through it. "But I had a fever once, myself—kep' a-runnin'." He had come over to the bedside, the bottle in his hand. "You got a doctor?"
The young man shook his head. "He will come if I send for him."
Uncle William nodded. "That's the best kind." He held out the bottle. "I'd like to give you 'bout five on 'em."
"What are they?"
"Well, that's what I don't know, but it took about five on 'em to break up mine." He had poured one into the palm of his hand and held it out. It was a small, roughly shaped pill, with grayish surface pitted with black.
The young man eyed it doubtfully.
"It don't look very nice," said Uncle William, "and the man that made it never had a stitch of clothes on his back in his life; but I guess you better take it."
The young man opened his lips. The thing slid down, leaving a sickish, sweetish taste behind it.
Uncle William brought him a glass of water. "I know how it tastes, but I reckon it'll do the work. Now, let's see." he stood back, surveying the untidy room, a mellow smile on his lips. "'T is kind o' cluttered up," he said. "I'll jest make a path through." He gathered up a handful of shoes and slippers and thrust them under the bed, drawing the spread down to hid them. The cups and glasses and scattered spoons and knives he bore away to the bath-room, and the artist heard them descending into the tub with a sound of rushing water. Uncle William returned triumphant. "I've put 'em a-soak," he explained. The table-spread, with its stumps of cigars, bits of torn papers, and collars and neckties and books and paint-brushes and tubes, he gathered up by the four corners, dumping it into a half-open drawer. He closed the drawer firmly. "Might 's well start fresh." He replaced the spread and stood back, surveying it proudly. "What's that door?" He pointed across the room.
"It's your bedroom," said the artist, a little uneasily. "But I don't believe you can get in."
Uncle William approached cautiously. He pushed open the door and looked in. He came back beaming. "The' 's quite a nice lot of room," he said, taking hold of the end of his box and dragging it away.
The artist lay looking about the room with brightening eyes. The window-shades were still askew and there were garments here and there, but Uncle William's path was a success. The sun was coming over the tops of the houses opposite, and Uncle William reappeared with shining face.
"You reely needed a man around," he said. "I'm putty glad I come."
"What made you come?" asked the artist.
"What made me?" Uncle William paused, looking about him. "Where's my spectacles? Must 'a' left 'em in there." He disappeared once more.
While the artist was waiting for him to return he dozed again, and when he opened his eyes, Uncle William was standing by the bed with a cup of something hot. He slipped a hand under the young man's head, raising it while he drank.
The artist took his time—in slow, surprised sips. "It's good!" he said. He released the cup slowly.
Uncle William nodded. "I've been overhaulin' your locker a little."
"You didn't find that in it." The artist motioned to the cup.
"Well—all but a drop or two," said Uncle William, setting it down. "A drop o' suthin' hot'll make 'most anything tasty, I reckon. I'll go out and stock up pretty soon."
A slow color had come into the artist's face. He turned it away. "I don't need much," he said.
"No more'n a robin," said Uncle William, cheerfully; "but I can't live on bird-seed myself. I reckon I'll lay in suthin'—two-three crackers, mebbe, enough to make a chowder."
The young man laughed out. "I feel better," he declared.
"It's a good pill," said Uncle William. "Must be 'most time for another." He pulled out his great watch. "Jest about." He doled out the pill with careful hand.
The young man looked at the bottle. "You haven't many left?"
"Eight more," said Uncle William, rapping the cork into place. "That 'lows for one more fever for me afore I die—I don't cal'ate to have but one more." He looked about for his hat. "I'm goin' out a little while," he said, settling it on his head.
"Wait a minute, Uncle William." The young man stretched out his hand. "How did you come to know I needed you?"
Uncle William took the hand in his, patting it slowly. "Why, that was nateral enough," he said. "When Sergia wrote me, sayin' you was sick—"
"Sergia wrote you?" the young man had turned away his eyes. "She should not have done it. She had no right—"
"Why not?" said Uncle William. He seated himself by the bed. There was something keen in the glance of his blue eyes. "You're goin' to be married, ain't you?"
The head on the pillow turned uneasily. "No—not now."
"I shall never be able to take care of her."
"Shucks!" said Uncle William. "Let her take care of you, then."
The tears of weakness came into the young man's eyes.
Uncle William's gaze was fixed on space. "You've been foolish," he said—"turrible foolish. I don't doubt she wants to marry you this minute."
"She shall not do it." He spoke almost fiercely.
"There, there," said Uncle William, soothingly, "I wouldn't make such a fuss about it. Nobody's goin' to marry you 'thout you want 'em to. You jest quiet down and go to sleep. We'll talk it over when I come back."
When he returned the artist was awake. His eyes had a clearer look.
Uncle William surveyed them over the top of his parcels. "Feelin' better?" he said.
He carried the parcels into the next room, and the artist heard him pottering around and humming. He came out presently in his shirt-sleeves. His spectacles were mounted on the gray tufts. "I've got a chowder going'," he said. "You take another pill and then you'll be about ready to eat some of it, when it's done."
"Can I eat chowder?" The tone was dubious, but meek.
"You've got all your teeth, hain't you?"
"Well, then, I guess you can eat it."
"I haven't been eating much."
"I shouldn't think you had." Uncle William spoke dryly. "You needn't be a mite afraid o' one o' my chowders. A baby could eat 'em, if it had got its teeth."
The artist ate the chowder, when it came, and called for more, but Uncle William refused him sternly. "You jest wait awhile," he said, bearing away the empty plate. "There ain't more'n enough for a comfortable dish for me. You don't want to eat it all, do you?"
"No," said the artist, flushing.
"I thought not." It took Uncle William a long time to eat his portion, and the artist fell asleep again, watching the rhythmic motion of the great jaw as it went slowly back and forth.
When he wakened again it was almost dark in the room. Uncle William sat by the window, looking down into the street. He came across to the bed as the artist stirred. "You've had a good long sleep." He laid a hand on the moist forehead. "That's good. Fever's gone."
"It will come back. It always does." There was anxious dread in the tone.
"It won't this time." Uncle William sat nodding at him mildly. "I know how you feel—kind o' scared to believe anything—anything that's good."
The artist smiled. "You never felt that way!"
"Jest that way," said Uncle William. "I didn't want to believe I wa'n't al'ays goin' to be sick. I kep' kind o' thinkin' I'd rather be sick'n not—jest as if the devil had me."
"Yes"—the young man spoke almost eagerly—"it's the way I've been! Only I didn't know it till you said so."
"The' 's a good many things we don't know—not jest exactly know—till somebody says 'em."
They sat quiet, listening to the hum from the street.
"I've done some queer things," said the artist.
"Like enough." Uncle William did not ask what they were.
"They begin to look foolish." He turned his head a little.
"Do you good—best thing in the world."
"I don't see how I could." The tone was uneasy. "I must have been beastly to her."
Uncle William said nothing.
"She didn't tell you?" The artist was looking at him.
"She? Lord, no! women don't tell anything you've done to 'em—not if it's anything bad."
"I might have known. . . . I fairly turned her out. But she kept coming back. She wanted me to marry her, so she could stay and take care of me." He was not looking at Uncle William.
"And you wouldn't let her?"
"I couldn't—There was no money," he said at last.
Uncle William glanced about him in the clear dusk. "Comf'tabul place," he said.
The artist flushed. "She pays the rent, I suppose. They would have turned me out long since. I haven't asked, but I know she pays it. There is no one else."
"She is rich, probably," said Uncle William.
"Rich?" The young man smiled bitterly. "She has what she earns. She works day and night. If she should stop, there would be nothing for either of us."
"Not unless suthin' come in," said Uncle William. "Suthin' might come in. You'd kind o' like to see her, wouldn't you?"
The artist held out a hand as if to stop him. "Not till I can pay her back, every cent!"
"Guess you need another pill, likely," said Uncle William. He got up in the dark and groped about for the bottle. His great form loomed large above the bed as he handed it to the young man. "That's four," he said soothingly. "Jest about one more'll fix ye."
The young man swallowed it almost grudgingly. He lay back upon the pillow. "I can pay her the money sometime." His gaunt eyes were staring into the dark. "But I can never make up to her for the way I treated her."
"Mebbe she didn't mind," said Uncle William, non-committally. "Sometimes they don't."
"Mind? She couldn't help minding. I was a fiend to her. I did everything but strike her."
A smile grew, out of the dark, in Uncle William's face. "I was thinkin' about that ol' chief," he said slowly—"the one that give me the pills. I treated him—why, I treated him wuss 'n anything. 'Course, he wa'n't like white folks; but I was fightin' crazy with the fever, not sick enough to go to bed, but jest sittin' around and jawin' at things. I dunno how he come to take such a likin' to me. Might 'a' been on account o' my size—we was about the same build. I'd set and jaw at him, callin' him names. Don't s'pose he understood half of 'em, but he could see plain enough I was spittin' mad. He'd kind o' edge up to me, grinnin' like and noddin', and fust thing I knew, one day, he'd fetched a pill and made me take it. I was mad enough to 'a' killed him easy, but 'fore I could get up to do it, I fell asleep somehow. And when I woke up I felt different. You feel different, don't you?"
The artist smiled through the soft dark. "I would like to get down on my knees."
Uncle William smoothed the spread in place. "They'd feel kind o' sharp, I guess. I wouldn't try it—not yet. You wait till Sergia comes."
"Will she come?"
"She'd come to-night if she knew you wanted her. You go to sleep, and in the mornin' you'll take that other pill." He lifted the pillow and turned it over, patting it in place. "Why, that ol' chief he was so glad when he see me feelin' better he acted kind o' crazy-like. I held out my hand to him when I woke up; but he didn't know anything about shakin' hands. He jest got down and took my feet and hugged 'em. It made me feel queer," said Uncle William. "You do feel queer when you hain't acted jest right."
"Can I see her to-day?" It was the first question in the morning.
"You feelin' well enough to sit up?"
"Well, then, you can stay where you be another day." Uncle William smiled cheerfully.
"Can I see her?"
"We'll see about that. I've got a good many things to tend to." Uncle William bustled away.
After a time his head was thrust in the door. "I'll go see her, myself, byme-by," he said kindly. "Mebbe she'll come back with me."
"It's too late now." The artist spoke a little bitterly.
"Too late!" Uncle William came out, reproachful and surprised. "What d'you mean?"
"It's quarter to nine. She goes to work at nine. She has pupils—she teaches all day."
Uncle William's face dropped a little. "That's too bad now, ain't it! But don't you mind. I wa'n't just certain I'd let you see her to-day, anyhow."
"When can I?"
Uncle William pondered. "You're in a good deal of a hurry, ain't you?"
"I want to tell her—"
"Yes, yes, I know. Well, 'bout to-morrow. How'd that do?"
"You could send her a note," said the artist.
"I'm goin' to see her," said Uncle William. "She'll be to home this evenin', won't she?"
"I'll go see her."
The artist looked doubtful.
"Can't I got see her?" said Uncle William.
"I was wondering whether you could find the way."
"H'm-m. Where'd you say it was?"
"Eighteenth Street, near Broadway."
"Eighteenth? That's somewheres between Seventeenth and Nineteenth, ain't it?" said Uncle William, dryly.
"Yes." The artist smiled faintly.
Uncle William nodded. "I thought so. And I don't s'pose they've changed the lay of Broadway a gre' deal?"
"Well, I reckon I can find it. I gen'ally do; and I can't get far out o' the way with this." He touched the compass that hung from the fob of the great watch. "I've been putty much all over the world with that. I reckon it'll p'int about the same in New York as it does in Arichat. Now, I've got your breakfast 'most ready, but I can't seem to remember about your coffee.—You take sugar and milk in it, don't you?"
"Yes." The tone was almost sulky.
Uncle William looked at him shrewdly over his spectacles. "I don't believe you feel well enough to see anybody for a good while, do you?"
The artist's face changed subtly—like a child's. It was almost cheerful.
Uncle William laughed out. "That's better—a little mite better. I guess 'bout day after to-morrow you'll do to see company."
The young man stretched out a hand. "I must see her. I shall get up—"
"There, there. I wouldn't try to get up if I was you," said Uncle William, genially. "I've put away your clothes, different places. I don't jest know where they be, myself. It'll be quite a chore to get 'em all together. You jest lie still, and let me manage."
The young man ate his breakfast with relish. A subtle resolve to get up and do things was in his eye.
Uncle William watched it, chuckling. "Sha'n't be able to keep him there more'n a day longer," he said. "Better feed him well whilst I can." He prepared clam-broth and toast, and wondered about an omelet, rolling in and out of the room with comfortable gait.
The artist ate everything that was set before him, eagerly. The resolve in his eye yielded to appreciation. "You ought to have been a chef, Uncle William. I never tasted anything better than that." He was eating a last bit of toast, searching with his fork for stray crumbs.
Uncle William nodded. "The' 's a good many things I'd o't to 'a' been if I'd had time. That's the trouble with livin'. You don't hev time. You jest practise a day or two on suthin'—get kind o' ust to it—and then you up and hev to do suthin' else. I like cookin' fust rate while I'm doin' it. . . . I dunno as I should like it reg'lar, though. It'd be kind o' fiddlin' work, gettin' up and makin' omelets every mornin'."
"You're an artist," said the young man.
"Mebbe. Don't you think you've licked that plat about clean?" Uncle William looked at it approvingly. "It ain't much work to wash dishes for you."
At intervals during the day the artist demanded his clothes, each time a little more vigorously. Uncle William put him off. "I don't see that picter of my house anywheres 'round," he said when pressed too close.
"You sent it off?"
"Yes." The young man was silent a minute. "Sergia took them—all of them—when I fell sick. They were not ready—not even framed. She was to send them to the committee. I have not heard."
"I'll go see 'em in the mornin'," said Uncle William.
"I don't know that you can—"
"Can't anybody go in—if it's an exhibit—by payin' suthin'?"
"I mean, I don't know that they're hung."
"Well, I wouldn't bother about that. I'd like to see 'em jest as well if they ain't hung. I'm putty tall, but I can scooch down as well as anybody. It'll seem kind o' good to see the ol' place. I was thinkin' this mornin' I wish't there was two-three rocks round somewheres. I guess that's what picters are for. Some folks hev to live in New York—can't get away. I sha'n't mind if they ain't hung up. I can see 'em all right, scoochin' a little."