The young man smiled. "I don't know that they're accepted."
"Why not—if she sent 'em?"
"Oh, she sent them all right. They may have been refused."
"At an exhibit?"
"Well, up our way we don't do like that. We take everything that comes in—pies and pickles and bedquilts and pumpkins and everything; putty triflin' stuff, some of it, but they take it. This is different, I s'pose?"
"A little. Yes. They only take the best—or what they call the best." The tone was bitter.
Uncle William looked at him mildly. "Then they took yourn—every one on 'em. They was as good picters as I ever see."
The artist's face lightened a little. "They were good." His thought dwelt on them lovingly.
Uncle William slipped quietly away to his room. The artist heard him moving about, opening and shutting bureau drawers, humming gently and fussing and talking in broken bits. Time passed. It was growing dark in the room.
The artist turned a little impatiently. "Hallo there!"
Uncle William stuck out his head. "Want suthin'?"
"What are you doing?" said the artist. It was almost querulous.
Uncle William came out, smoothing his neckerchief. It was a new one, blue like the sky. "I was fixin' up a little to go see her. Do I look to suit you?" He moved nearer in the dusk with a kind of high pride. The tufts of hair stood erect on his round head, the neckerchief had a breezy knot with fluttering ends, and the coat hung from his great shoulders like a sail afloat.
The artist looked him over admiringly. "You're great!" he said. "How did you come to know enough not to change?"
"I've changed everything!" declared Uncle William. His air of pride drooped a little.
The artist laughed out. "I mean you kept your same kind of clothes. A good many people, when they come down here to New York, try to dress like other folks—get new things."
Uncle William's face cleared. He looked down his great bulk with a smile. "I like my own things," he said. "I feel to home in 'em."
Uncle William found the door of the studio, and bent to examine the card tacked on the panel. "Sergia Lvova, Teacher of Piano and Violin."
He knocked gently.
"Come in." The call came clear and straight.
Uncle William opened the door.
A girl sat at a table across the room, her eyes protected by a green shade from the lamp that burned near and threw its light on the page she was copying. She glanced up as the door opened and pushed up the green shade, looking out from under it inquiringly. She peered a moment and then sprang up, thrusting aside the shade with a quick turn. "I am so glad you've come." She crossed the room, holding out her hands. There was something clear and fresh in the motion—like a free creature, out of doors.
Uncle William stood smiling at her. "How do you know it's me?" he said.
The girl laughed quietly. "There couldn't be two." Her voice had a running, musical quality, with deep notes in it and a little accent that caught at the words, tripping them lightly. She had taken his hands with a swift movement and was holding them, looking at him earnestly. "You are just as he said," she nodded.
Uncle William returned the look. The upturned face flushed a little, but it did not fall. He put out his hand and touched it. "Some like a flower," he said, "as near as I can make out—in the dark." He looked about the huge, bare room, with its single flame shining on the page.
She moved away and lighted a gas-jet on the wall, and then another. She faced about, smiling. "Will that do?"
Uncle William nodded. "I like a considabul light," he said.
"Yes." She drew forward a chair. "Sit down."
She folded her hands lightly, still scanning him. Uncle William settled his frame in the big chair. His glance traveled about the room. The two gas-jets flared at dark corners. A piano emerged mistily. Music-racks sketched themselves on the blackness. The girl's face was the only bit of color. It glowed like a red flower, out of the gloom. Uncle William's glance came back to it. "I got your letter all right," he said.
"I knew you would come."
"Yes." He was searching absently in his pocket. He drew out the bluish slip of paper with rough edge. He handed it to her gravely. "I couldn't take that, my dear, you know."
She put it aside on the table. "I thought you might not have money enough to come at once, and he needed you."
"Yes, he needed me. He's better."
Her face lightened. The rays of color awoke and played in it. "You have cured him."
"Well,"—Uncle William was judicious,—"I give him a pill."
She laughed out. "He needed you," she said.
"Did he?" Uncle William leaned forward. "I never had anybody need me—not really need me." His tone confided it to her.
She looked back at him. "I should think every one would."
He looked a little puzzled. "I dunno. But I see, from the way you wrote, that he did, so I come right along."
"He will get well now."
"He was middlin' discouraged," said Uncle William.
"He couldn't see anything the way it is." Her face had flushed a little, but the light in her eyes was clear.
Uncle William met it. "You showed a good deal of sense," he said.
The face, as she pushed back the hair from it, looked tired. "I had to think for two."
Uncle William nodded. "He wants to see you."
She mused over it. "Do you think I'd better?"
"No," said Uncle William, promptly.
Her lips remained parted. "Not to-morrow?" she said. Her lips closed on the word gently.
"Not for a considabul spell." Uncle William shook his head. "He ain't acted right."
"He was ill."
"He was sick," admitted Uncle William, "—some. But it was some cussedness, too. That ain't the main thing though." Uncle William leaned nearer. "He'll get well faster if he has suthin' to kind o' pester him."
She looked at him with open eyes.
"It's the way men be," said Uncle William. "The Lord knew how 't was, I reckon, when he made 'em. He hadn't more'n got 'em done, 'fore he made wimmen." He beamed on her genially. "He'll get well a good deal faster if the' 's suthin' he thinks he wants and can't have."
"Yes. How will you keep him away?" A little twinkle sounded in her voice.
"I'll take him home with me," said Uncle William, "up to Arichat."
"Well, in a day or two—soon's it's safe. It'd do anybody good." His face grew wistful. "If you jest see it once, the way it is, you'd know what I mean: kind o' big sweeps,"—he waved his arm over acres of moor,—"an' a good deal o' sky—room enough for clouds, sizable ones, and wind. You'd o't to hear our wind." He paused, helpless, before the wind. He could not convey it.
"I have heard it."
He stared at her. "You been there?"
"I've seen it, I mean—in Alan's pictures."
"Oh, them!" His tone reduced them to mere art. But a thought hung on it. "Where be they?" he asked.
"At the 'Exhibition of American Artists.'" It was the tone of sheer pride.
"They took 'em, did they?" said William.
"They couldn't help it. They sent back one for lack of room, but he will have four hung."
"That's good. You haven't told him?"
"I only heard an hour ago, and I had copying to finish. I have a little recital, of my pupils, this evening. I was planning to write the letter and mail it on the way out."
Uncle William started up. "I'm hinderin' ye."
"No—please." She had forced him back gently. "I shall not have to write the letter now. Tell me about him." Her face was alight.
Uncle William considered. "The' ain't much to tell, I guess. He's gettin' better. He's actin' the way men gen'ally do."
"Yes—?" Her voice sang a little. "And he wants to see me?"
"Wust way," said Uncle William; "but he ain't goin' to. What was you copyin' when I come in?"
"Some music—for one of the big houses. It helps out."
Uncle William was looking at her thoughtfully. "He'd better give up his place when we go," he said. "He'll, like enough, stay with me all summer."
"His rooms, you mean?" She mused a little. "Yes, perhaps—"
"They must cost a good deal," said Uncle William.
"They do." She paused a minute. "He is almost sure to take a prize," she said. "It's the best work he has done."
"That'll be good," said Uncle William. "But we won't count too much on it. He won't need money in Arichat. A little goes a long ways up there. Good night." He was holding out his hand.
She placed hers in it slowly. Uncle William lifted the slim fingers. He patted them benignly. "They don't look good for much, but they're pretty," he said.
She laughed out quietly. "They have to be," she said. "They're my tools. I have to be careful of them. That is one of the things we quarreled about—Alan and I. He knew I ought not to use them and he wouldn't let me do things for him, and he wouldn't have a nurse, nor go to the hospital." She sighed a little. "He was very obstinate."
"Just like a mule," assented Uncle William. He was stroking the fingers gently. "But he's got a new driver this time." He chuckled a little.
She looked up quickly. "Has he consented to go?"
"Well, we're goin'.—It comes to the same thing I reckon," said Uncle William. He was looking at the dark face with the darker lines beneath the eyes. "You'll hev an easier time," he said. "It's been putty hard on you."
"Oh, I don't mind," quickly, "—only the misunderstandings—and the quarrels—"
"That was the fever," said Uncle William.
"But I didn't have the fever," said the girl. "I might have been patient."
"Well, I reckon the Angil Gabriel himself'd quarrel with a man that had one of them intermittent fevers," said the old man thoughtfully. "They're powerful trying'. You feel better—a little—and you perk up and think you're goin' to get well, and then, fust thing you know, there you are—all to do over again. If I had my ch'ice of all the diseases in the calendar, that's the one I wouldn't take. Some on 'em you hev the comfort of knowin' you'll die of 'em—if ye live long enough." He chuckled a little. "But this one, ye can't die and ye can't get well."
"But he is going to get well?" The girl's eyes held him.
"Yes, he'll be all right if he can set out in the wind a spell—and the sun. The fever's broke. What he wants now is plenty to eat and good company. You'll be comin' up to see us byme-by, mebbe?" He looked at her hopefully.
"Do you think I could?"
"Well, I dunno why not. He'll be gettin' restless in a month or so. You might as well be married up there as anywhere. We've got a good minister—a fust-rate one."
She smiled a little wistfully. "He won't have me," she said.
"Shucks!" said Uncle William. "You come up, and if he don't marry you, I will."
A bell sounded somewhere. She started. "I must go." A thought crossed her face. "I wonder if you would like it—the recital?" She was looking at him, an amused question in her eyes.
"Is it speaking pieces?" said Uncle William, cautiously.
"Playing them, and singing—one or two. It's a musicale, you know. You might like it—" She was still thinking, her forehead a little wrinkled. "They are nice girls and—Oh—?" the forehead suddenly lifted, "you would like it. There are sea-pieces—MacDowell's. They're just the thing.—" She held him hospitably.—"Do come. You would be sure to enjoy it."
"Like enough," said Uncle William. "It takes all kinds of singing to make a world. I might like 'em fust-rate. And it won't take long?"
"No—only an hour or two. You can leave him, can't you?" The pretty forehead had wrinkled again.
"Easy as not," said Uncle William. "Best thing for him. He'll have a chance to miss me a little."
She smiled at him reproachfully. "We'll have to hurry, I'm afraid. It's only a step. But we ought to go at once."
Uncle William followed in her wake, admiring the quick, lithe movements of the tall figure. Now that the flower-like face was turned away, she seemed larger, more vigorous. "A reg'lar clipper, and built for all kinds of weather," said Uncle William as he followed fast. "I wouldn't be afraid to trust her anywheres. She'd reef down quick in a blow." He chuckled to himself.
She looked around. "Here we are."
They had paused at the foot of a flight of stairs. Down the narrow hall-way floated a mingled sound of voices, high and low, with drifting strains of violin-bows laid across strings and quickly withdrawn.
The old man looked at her inquiringly. "They hain't begun?"
She shook her head. "They're tuning up."
His face lifted a little. "I reckoned that couldn't be the beginnin'. But ye can't al'ays tell. They make queer noises sometimes."
"Yes.—I must leave you now." She had ushered him into a small hall. "I'm going to have you sit here, quite near the platform, where I can see you." She looked at him a little anxiously. "You don't need to stay if you don't like it, you know."
"Oh, I shall like it fust-rate," he responded. "It looks like a real comf'tabul chair to set in."
He seated himself in it and beamed upon the room. The place she had selected for him was near the platform and facing a little toward the audience. It had occurred to her, in a last moment of indecision, that Uncle William might enjoy the audience if the music proved too classic for him. She left him with a little murmur of apology.
A young girl in pink chiffon, with a bunch of huge pink roses, fluttered forward with a program.
Uncle William took it in pleased fingers. He searched for his spectacles and mounted them on his nose, staring at the printed lines. The audience had settled down to attention. Amused glances traveled toward the big figure absorbed in its program. Sergia had whispered a word here and there as she left the room. It made its way back through the crowd—"A friend of Mademoiselle Lvova's—a sea-captain. She has brought him to hear the MacDowell pieces." The audience smiled and relaxed. The music was beginning. Two young girls played a concerto from Rubenstein, with scared, flying fingers. They were relieved when it was done, and the audience clapped long and loud. Some one brought them bunches of flowers—twin lilies, tied exactly alike, with long white ribbons. Uncle William, his spectacles pushed up on the tufts of hair, watched with admiring glance as they escaped from the stage. He turned to his right-hand neighbor, an old gentleman with white hair and big, smooth, soft hands, who had watched the performance with gentle care.
"Putty girls," said Uncle William, cordially.
The man looked at him, smiling. "One of them is my granddaughter, sir," he responded affably.
She came from the door by the platform and sat down near her grandfather, the lilies and the long white ribbons trailing from nervous fingers. Uncle William leaned forward and smiled at her, nodding encouragement.
She replied with a quick, shy smile and fixed her eyes on the platform.
More pupils followed—young girls and old ones, and a youth with a violin that fluttered and wailed and grew harmonious at last as the youth forgot himself. Uncle William's big, round face beamed upon him. Sergia, watching him from behind the scenes, could see that he regarded them all as nice children. He would have looked the same had they played on jews'-harps and tin horns. But he was enjoying it. She was glad of that.
She came out during the intermission to speak with him. "They're all through now," she said encouragingly.
He looked down at his program bewildered, and a little disappointed, she thought. "They got 'em all done?—I didn't hear that 'Wanderin' Iceberg' one," he said regretfully. "I cal'ated to listen to that. But I was so interested in the children that I clean forgot.—They're nice children." He looked about the room where they were laughing and talking in groups. "Time to go, is it?"
"Not yet. That was only the first half—the pupils' half. The rest is what I wanted you to hear—the sea-pieces and the others. They are played by real musicians."
"You goin' to do one?" asked Uncle William.
"Yes, one." She smiled at him.
"I'll stay." He settled back comfortably.
"That's right. I must go now and speak to some of the mothers. They only come for the first half. They will be going home." She moved away.
Uncle William's eyes followed her admiringly. He turned to the old gentleman beside him. "Nice girl," he said.
"She is a fine teacher," responded the old gentleman. "She had not been here long, but she had a good following. She has temperament."
"Has she?" Uncle William looked after her a little quizzically. "Makes 'em stand around does she? You can't ever tell about temper. Sometimes it's the quietest ones has the wust. But she makes 'em work good. You can see that."
"Yes, she makes them work." The old gentleman smiled upon him kindly and patronizingly. He had been born and brought up in New York. He was receptive to new ideas and people. There was something about Uncle William—a subtle tang—that he liked. It was a new flavor.
Uncle William studied his program. "Sounds more sensible'n some of it." He had laid a big finger on a section near the end. "I can understand that, now, 'To an Old White Pine.' That's interestin'. Now that one there." He spelled out the strange sounds slowly, "'Opus 6, No. 2, A minor, All-e-gro.' Now mebbe you know what that means—I don't. But an ol' white-pine tree—anybody can see that. We don't hev 'em up my way—pine-trees. But I like 'em—al'ays did—al'ays set under 'em when they're handy. You don't hev many round here?"
The old gentleman smiled. "No; there are not many old white pines in New York. I can remember a few, as a boy."
"Can ye?—Right in the center here?" Uncle William was interested.
"Well, not just here—a little out. But they're gone." The old gentleman sighed. "MacDowell has caught the spirit. You can hear the wind soughing through them and the branches creaking a little and rubbing, and a still kind of light all around. It's very nice."
"Good poetry, I s'pose," assented Uncle William. "I don't care so much for poetry myself. Some on it's good," he added thoughtfully. "'The Boy Stood on the Burning Deck,' that swings off kind o' nice, and 'Horatius at the Bridge.' But most on it has a kind o' travelin' round way with it—has to go round by Robin Hood's barn to get anywheres. I'm gen'ally sort o' drowsy whilst it's bein' read."
The old gentleman had laughed out genially. "MacDowell doesn't write poetry, except short things—lines for headings. He makes it on the piano."
"Makes an old white-pine tree?" demanded Uncle William.
"Well—something like that."
Uncle William returned to his program. "There'll be a 'water-lily,' then, will the'? and an 'eagle,' and a 'medder brook,' and a 'wanderin' iceberg,' and a 'pair o' bars'?" He looked up with a soft twinkle. "And like enough a rooster or two, and a knock-kneed horse. I keep a-wonderin' what that wanderin' iceberg'll be like. I've seen a wanderin' iceberg,—leastways I've come mighty near one,—but I ain't ever heard it. You ever met a wanderin' iceberg?" His tone was friendly and solicitous.
The New York man shook his head. "Only the human kind."
Uncle William chuckled. "I've met that kind myself—and the other kind, too." He paused suddenly. The audience had hushed itself. Sergia was seated at the piano.
It was a Beethoven number, a sonata. Uncle William apparently went to sleep. Sergia, watching him, smiled gently. He must be very tired, poor dear. The next number will keep him awake all right. It did. It was sung by a famous baritone—"Fifteen men on a dead man's chest! Yo ho! Yo ho!" Uncle William sat up. Joy radiated from him. He clutched his chair with both hands and beamed. The audience laughed with delight and clapped an encore.
"Goin' to do it again, is he?" said Uncle William. "Now that's good of him, ain't it? But I should think he'd kind o' like to. I'd like to do it myself if I could."
"Fifteen men on a dead man's chest!" rolled out the voice.
"He gets the spirit of it," said the old gentleman when the song had ended and the applause had subsided.
"Jest so. I've been there myself—come within an ace o' havin' my chest set on once. They was all fightin' drunk, too—jest like that. Gives ye the same kind o' feelin's—creepy and shivery-like. What's he goin' to do?" A long-haired youth had appeared on the platform. He approached the piano and stood looking at it thoughtfully, his head a little to one side.
"It's Flanders. He plays the MacDowell—the 'Wandering Iceberg,' you know."
"H'm-m." Uncle William took down his spectacles to look at the youth through them. "You think he can do it all right? He ain't very hefty."
The youth had seated himself. He struck a heavy, thundering chord on the keys and subsided. His hands hung relaxed at his sides and his eyes were fixed dreamily on the wall before him.
"Has he got her started?" It was a loud whisper from Uncle William.
The old gentleman shook his head.
Uncle William waited patiently. There was a gentle trickle on the keys—and another. Then a pause and more trickles—then some galloping notes, with heavy work in the bass.
Uncle William looked interested. "She's gettin' under way, like enough.
"Sh-h!" The old gentleman held up a hand.
There were some long, flowing lines and a swirling sound that might have been water, and low growls in the bass, and a general rumbling and gritting and sliding and tumbling among the notes. The sounds stopped altogether. The youth sat staring before him. Applause broke from the audience. The youth got up and left the platform.
Uncle William stared after him with open mouth. "Has he got her done?" He turned to the man at his side.
"All done. How did you like it?"
"Well"—Uncle William squinted thoughtfully at his program—"I thought I was goin' to like it fust-rate—if he'd got to it."
"He didn't get there, then?" The man laughed.
"Not to the iceberg." Uncle William shook his head. A kindly look grew in his face. "I dunno's he's so much to blame, though. An iceberg must be kind o' hard to do, I should think likely."
"I should think it might be. Music isn't cold enough."
"'T ain't the cold," said Uncle William, hastily. "I run acrost an iceberg once. We was skirmishin' round up North, in a kind o' white fog, frosty-like, and cold—cold as blazes; and all of a sudden we was on her—close by her, somewheres, behind the frost. We wa'n't cold any more. It was about the hottest time I ever knew," he said thoughtfully.
Uncle William roused himself. "Well, after a spell we knew she wa'n't there any more, and we cooled down some. But we wa'n't real cold—not for much as a day or so."
The youth had returned to the piano. The audience met him with wild applause, half-way, and he bowed solemnly from his hips. There was a weary look in his face.
Uncle William looked him over critically. "He don't more'n half like it, does he?"
The other man coughed a little. Then he laughed out.
Uncle William smiled genially. "I've seen his kind—a good many times. Looks as if they was goin' to cry when you was feedin' 'em sugar. They gen'ally like it real well, too." He consulted his program. "Goin' to do a hammock, is he?"
The hammock began to sway, and Uncle William's big head rocked softly in time to it. "Some like it," he said when it was done; "not enough to make you sea-sick—jest easy swingin'."
The youth had not left the piano. He played "The Bars at Sunset," and "A Water Lily," and "The Eagle," and then the two sea pieces. Uncle William listened with mild attention.
When it was over and the audience had begun to disperse, Sergia came out. She approached Uncle William, scanning his face. "How did you like it?"
"They all done?" he demanded.
"Yes. Did you like the sea pieces?"
"I liked 'em. Yes—I liked 'em." Uncle William's tone was moderate.
Sergia was smiling at him a little. "The 'Depths of the Ocean'—you liked that best, didn't you?"
Uncle William looked guilty. "I knew you was goin' to ask me about that one," he said, "and I'd meant to listen hard—real hard—to it. I hain't ever been quite so far down as that, but I thought mebbe I could gauge it. But you see,"—his tone grew confidential and a little apologetic,—"when they got that far along, I couldn't really tell which was which. I wa'n't plumb sure whether it was the eagle he was doin' or the dep'hs, and it mixed me up some. I didn't jest know whether to soar up aloft or dive considabul deep. It kep' me kind o' teeterin' betwixt and between—" He looked at her appealingly, yet with a little twinkle somewhere below.
"I see." Sergia's face was dancing. "The names do help."
"That's it," said Uncle William, gallantly. "If he'd 'a' read off the names, or stopped quite a spell between the pieces, I'd 'a' done fust-rate. He was playin' 'em nice. I could see the folks liked 'em." He smiled at her kindly.
Sergia smiled back. "Yes, they like MacDowell. They think they understand him—when they know which it is." Her smile had grown frank, like a boy's. "But which did you like best of all?"
"Of the hull thing?" he demanded. He looked down at the program. "They was all nice," he said slowly—"real nice. I dunno when I've heard nicer singin' 'n playin'. But I reckon that one was about the nicest of the lot." He laid his big thumb on a number.
Sergia and the old gentleman bent to look. It was the Beethoven sonata.
Sergia glanced at the old gentleman. He met the glance, smiling. "A tribute to our hostess," he said.
"A tribute to Beethoven," returned Sergia. Then, after a moment, she laughed softly. Sergia was not addicted to MacDowell.
Uncle William crept into the rooms like a thief, but the artist was sleeping soundly. He did not stir as the latch gave a little click in the lock. "That's good," said Uncle William. He had slipped off his shoes and was in his stocking feet. He stole over to the bed and stood looking down at the thin face. It was a little drawn, with hollow eyes. "He'll perk considabul when he hears about them picters," said Uncle William.
But in the morning when, after breakfast, Uncle William announced his great news, the artist ignored it. "Is she coming—Sergia?"
Uncle William scowled his forehead in recollection. "Now, I can't seem to remember 't she said so."
"What did she say?" The tone was imperative.
"Well, she asked how you was gettin' along. I told her that—as well as I could."
"Didn't you tell her I wanted to see her?"
"Yes, I told her that." Uncle William's voice was impartial.
"She didn't seem to think much of it. I guess if I was you I'd hurry up and get well so 's to go see her."
The artist's face had grown hard. "I shall not go until I can carry her the money in my hand—all that I owe her."
"Is 't a good deal?" asked Uncle William.
But the artist had turned his face to the wall.
Uncle William looked down at him with a kind of compassionate justice. "If I was you—"
A whistle sounded and an arm, holding a letter, was thrust in at the door.
"What is it?" The artist had turned. He half raised himself, reaching out a hand. "What is it? Give it to me."
Uncle William examined the lines slowly. "Why, it seems to be for me," he said kindly. "I dunno anybody that'd be writin' to me."
He found his glasses and opened it, studying the address once or twice and shaking his head.
The artist had sunk back, indifferent.
"Why!" The paper rustled in Uncle William's hand. He looked up. "She's gone!" he said.
The artist started up, glaring at him.
Uncle William shook his head, looking at him pityingly. "Like as not we sha'n't see her again, ever."
The artist's hand groped. "What is it?" he whispered.
"She's gone—left in the night."
"She will come back." The gaunt eyes were fixed on his face
Uncle William shook his head again, returning the gaze with a kind of sternness. "I dunno," he says. "When a man treats her like Andy has, she must kind o' hate him—like pizen."
The artist sat up, a look of hope faint and perplexed, dawning beneath his stare. He leaned forward, speaking slowly. "What are you talking about?"
"I'm talkin' about that." Uncle William held out the letter. "It's from Andy, and Juno's left him. Took to the woods. She couldn't stan' havin' him round, I guess." Uncle William chuckled a little.
The young man lay back. He moistened his lips a little with his tongue. "You were talking about her?" The words were a whisper.
Uncle William looked at him over his glasses. "Didn't you hear me say so?"
There was a long silence. "I thought you meant—Sergia."
"Sergia!—What!" Uncle William looked down at the letter. A light dawned slowly in his eye. He fixed it on the young man. A chuckle sounded somewhere and grew in little rolls, tumbling up from the depths. "You thought I meant—her!" Uncle William's sides shook gently. "Lord, no! Sergia didn't run away. She'll stan' by till the last man's hung. She's that kind."
"I know." The tone was jealous. "I ought to know."
"Yes, you ought to know." Uncle William left the moral to take care of itself. He did up the work, singing hopefully as he rolled about the room, giving things what he called "a lick and a promise."
"You were late last night," said the artist, watching him.
"Yes, considabul late," said Uncle William. He had come upon another pile of cigar-ashes behind a picture on the shelf, and was brushing it up, whistling softly. "You must 'a' smoked a good deal," he said, rapping out the ashes. "I've been sweepin' 'em up ever since I come."
"I did. It helped me forget."
"It didn't help you get well, I reckon," said Uncle William. "What you need," he added, "is fresh air and wind—and rocks."
The artist mused. "It would seem good."
The old man had paused in his work. "Will you go—to-morrow?"
The artist looked about him, hesitating. "I couldn't get ready—"
"I'll get ye ready."
"We might—in a week?"
"I can't wait," said Uncle William, decisively. "I've got to look up Juno. She'll like enough get desperate—drown herself the first thing I know. I'm goin' to start to-morrow. If you want to go along, I'll pack ye up."
The young man looked at him helplessly. "I can't get along without you. You know I need you."
"Yes, I know you need me," said Uncle William. "I kind o' counted on that." He began to pack vigorously, emerging now and then out of the dust and clatter to beam on the young man. "Now, don't you worry a mite. You're goin' to get well and earn money and come back and pay her, and everything's comin' out all right."
In the afternoon tickets arrived from Sergia. There was a line with them, asking Uncle William to call for her, at eight, that evening. The artist looked at the tickets a little enviously. "I should like to go, myself," he said. "It's the first view." He glanced at Uncle William appealingly.
The old man ignored it. "You couldn't go, noways," he said; "not if we're goin' to start to-morrow."
The artist sighed. He was sitting in an arm-chair, wrapped in a blanket, a pillow behind his head. "I don't suppose I could." He sighed again.
Uncle William looked at him keenly. "The' 's a good deal of leg-work to an exhibit, ain't they?"
"Yes." The artist smiled faintly.
Uncle William nodded. "I thought so. Well, it's all you can do to set in a chair with a piller behind you. I wouldn't say no more about picters if I was you." He took down the mirror and laid it between two cushions, holding it in place while he reached for the knot. "I don't suppose you have the least idee how you look," he said. "I cal'ate to have you look a sight better'n that 'fore Sergia sees you."
The artist's face flushed. "Give me the glass."
Uncle William shook his head. "I've got to hustle to get these things done." He drew the sailor's knot firmly in place. "I cal'ate to have everything ready so 's to get an early start."
"She wouldn't mind how I looked," said the young man, defensively.
"Mebbe not." Uncle William was gathering together the trifles from the shelf and table, and knotting them in a table-spread. "You want to save this out?" he asked indifferently. It was a picture of the girl in an oval frame.
The young man seized it. He was looking at it with warm eyes.
Uncle William glanced down on them from his height. "Mebbe not," he said gently, "but I reckon she'd hate to see ye lookin' like that. It's about all I can stan' to see ye, myself."
The girl looked up from her copying. Uncle William stood in the doorway, beaming on her. She got up quickly. "You are early."
Uncle William held out a hand detainingly. "You set right down and go to work. I come early a-purpose. I thought I'd like to set a spell and watch ye."
The girl resumed her copying. The lamp beside her shed its dull glow on the page, and on her face and neck, as she bent to it. The dark room rose mysteriously behind her. Uncle William settled himself in his chair with a breath of relief.
When she had finished the copying she came across to him. "It is done now." She smiled to him through the dim light.
"Keeps you workin' pretty steady, don't it?" said Uncle William.
"Yes." There was no complaint in the word.
Uncle William nodded. "I reckoned I'd find you doin' it. That's why I come early. I kind o' wanted a chance to set—where 't was quiet and things wa'n't worryin'."
She leaned forward. "Is he worse?"
"Well, not worse, so to speak, but kind o' triflin'—wanting his own way a good deal. If I was home, I wouldn't mind it a mite. I'd go outdoor and take two-three good whiffs, look at the water and see how things was comin' on. I'd be all right in no time. But here—" He drew a kind of caged breath. "It's worse outdoor 'n 't is in."
"You mind the noise, don't you?" She was looking at him sympathetically.
"Well, 't ain't the noise so much,—I've heard the ocean roar,—it's folks. Pesters me havin' 'em round—so many on 'em."
Her look changed to a little wonder. "I should think you would like to be with them. You help them." She spoke the words softly, almost shyly. The clear glow of her eyes rested on his face.
The face showed no pride. "Yes, I reckon I help 'em—some. There's gen'ally suthin' to do, if you're where folks be; but I have to get away from 'em. Can't breathe if I don't. And there ain't any place to go to. I was feelin' a good deal cooped up to-night, and then I thought o' your place here." He moved his hand toward the dark recesses. "It's kind o' clean and high."
They sat in silence, the girl's head resting on her hand.
Uncle William watched her face in the half-light. "You're gettin' tired and kind o' peaked."
She looked up. "I am resting."
"Yes—yes, I know how it is. You stan' all you can and byme-by you come to a place you can rest in, and you jest rest—hard."
"You ought to 'a' asked somebody to help ye," said Uncle William, gently.
"There wasn't any one."
"There was me."
"Yes. I did ask you when I couldn't go on."
"That wa'n't the way. Somebody would 'a' helped—your folks, like enough—" He stopped, remembering.
"They are dead."
He nodded. "I know. He told me. But I'd forgot—for a minute. They been dead long?"
"Two years. It was before I came away—at home, in Russia. We were all coming—father and mother and I, and my brother. Then they died; but I wanted to be free." She had flung out her arms with a light movement.
"It's a dretful good place to get away from," said Uncle William. "Nice folks come from there, too. I never saw one that wa'n't glad to come," he added.
She smiled. "I was glad; and I am glad I came here. It has been hard—a little—but I found Alan." Her voice sang.
"Some folks would say that was the wust of it," said Uncle William. "You found him and he fell sick, and you had him to take care on—cross as two sticks some of the time." He regarded her mildly.
"You don't think so," she said.
"Well, mebbe not, mebbe not," responded Uncle William. "I'm sort o' queer, perhaps."
She had turned to him half wistfully. "Don't you think I might see him—just a little while?"
Uncle William shook his head. "You've been too good to him. That's the wust of wimmen folks. What he needs now is a tonic—suthin' kind o' bitter." He chuckled. "He's got me."
She smiled. "When are you going to take him away?"
She started. "It is very soon," she said softly.
"Sooner the better," said Uncle William. "It'll do us both good to smell the sea." He pulled out the great watch. "Must be 'most time to be startin'." He peered at it uncertainly.
"Yes, we must go." She rose and brought her hat, a fragile thing of lace and mist, and a little lace mantle with long floating ends. She put them on before the mirror that hung above the table where the copying lay, giving little turns and touches of feminine pleasure.
Uncle William's eyes followed her good-humoredly.
She turned to him, her face glowing, starlike, out of the lace and mist. "You're laughing at me," she said, reproachfully.
"No, I wa'n't laughing, so to speak," returned Uncle William. "I was thinkin' what a sight o' comfort there is in a bunnit. If men folks wore 'em I reckon they'd take life easier." He placed his hat firmly on the gray tufts. "That's one o' the cur'us things—about 'em." They were going down the long flight of stairs and he had placed his hand protectingly beneath her arm. "That's one o' the cur'us things—how different they be, men and women. I've thought about it a good many times, how it must 'a' tickled the Lord a good deal when he found how different they turned out—made o' the same kind o' stuff, so."
"Don't you suppose he meant it?" She was smiling under the frilling lace.
"Well, like enough," returned Uncle William, thoughtfully. "It's like the rest o' the world—kind o' comical and big. Like enough he did plan it that way."
The room was filled with the hum of light—faces and flowers and color everywhere. Uncle William walked among them erect, overtopping the crowd, his gaze, for the most part, on the sky-line. Sergia, beside him, seemed a slight figure. Glances followed them as they went, amused or curious or a little admiring. Uncle William, oblivious to the glances and to the crowd that opened before him, and closed silently behind the great figure, beamed upon it all. He was used to making his way through a crowd unhindered. To Sergia the experience was more novel, and she watched the crowd and the pictures and the old man moving serene among them, with amused eyes. Once she called his attention to a celebrated painter in the crowd. Uncle William's eye rested impartially upon him for a moment and returned to its sky-line. "He looks to me kind o' pindlin'. One o' the best, is he?"
"He's not strong, you mean?"
"Well, not strong, and not much to him—as if the Lord was kind o' skimped for material. Is that one o' his picters?"
Her eyes followed his hand. "Alan's! Come." They moved quickly to it across the larger room. "They are all here." Her glance had swept the walls. "In the best light, too." She moved eagerly from one to the other. "See how well they are hung."
Uncle William's eye surveyed them. "Middlin' plumb," he assented. "That fu'ther one looks to me a leetle mite off the level. It's the one o' my house, too." He moved toward it and straightened the frame with careful hand, then he stepped back, gazing at it with pride. "Putty good, ain't it?" he said.
She smiled, quietly. "Perfect. He has never done anything so good."
"It is a putty nice house," said Uncle William. His eye dwelt on it fondly. "I'd a'most forgot how nice it was. You see that little cloud there—that one jest over the edge? That means suthin' 'fore mornin'." He lifted his hand to it. "I wouldn't trust a sky like that—not without reefin' down good." He drew a breath. "Cur'us how it makes you feel right there!" he said. "I'd a'most forgot." He glanced at the moving crowd a little hostilely and drew another deep breath.
"The atmosphere is fine," said the girl. She was studying it with half-shut eyes, her head thrown a little back. "It is clear and deep. You can almost breathe it."
"It is a good climate," assented Uncle William. "You couldn't get sick there if you tried. Can't hardly die." He chuckled a little. "Sam'l Gruchy's been tryin' for six year now. He was ninety-seven last month. We don't think nuthin' o' roundin' out a hunderd up there—not the cheerful ones. 'Course if you fret, you can die 'most anywhere."
"Yes, if you fret." The girl was looking at him with pleased eyes. "I don't suppose you've ever known what it was to fret?"
"Me? Lord, yes! I ust to fret about everything—fretted for fear it would blow and for fear it wouldn't blow." His eyes were on the shifting green waves. "I never put down a net nor a lobster-pot that I didn't see 'em bein' chewed up or knocked to pieces. I'd see a shark a-swimmin' right through a big hole—rip-p—tear. I could see it as plain as if I was down there under the water—all kind o' green and cool, and things swimmin' through it. I can see it jest the same now if I shut my eyes, only it's fishes I see swimmin' into my net now—shoals of 'em. The' ain't a shark in sight." He was looking down at her, smiling.
She nodded. "You're an optimist now."
He stared a little. "No, I don't reckon I'm anything that sounds like that, but I do take life comf'tabul. The' ain't a place anywheres 'round to set and rest, is the'? You look to me kind o' used up."
"I am tired—a little. Come. There won't be any one here." She led the way into a small room beyond. A bench facing the large room was vacant, and they sat down on it. Through the vista of the open door they could see two of Alan's pictures. They sat in silence for a few minutes, watching the crowd come and go in front of the pictures. She turned to him at last with a little smile. "They are making a hit," she said.
"Be they?" He peered at them intently. His face softened. "They'd o't to. They're nice picters."
"Yes." She had started forward a little, her breath coming swiftly. "Do you see that man—the tall one with the gray hair and pointed beard?"
Uncle William adjusted his spectacles. "That kind o' peaked one, you mean, that dips along some like a government lighter?"
She laughed out, her hands moving with little gestures of pleasure. "That's the one. I know him."
"Do you?" Uncle William looked at him again politely. "He has a good deal o' trimmin' on, but he looks like a nice sort o' man."
"He is—he is—if he's the one I think—"
The man, who wore on his coat the decoration of several orders, had turned a little and was looking back over the crowd.
The girl clasped her hands tightly. "Oh, it is," she said under her breath. "It is."
Uncle William looked down almost jealously. "You set a good deal o' store by seein' him," he said.
"It isn't that. I like him, yes, but he knows good work. If he really takes them in, he'll not let them go."
Uncle William adjusted his spectacles again. "You mean—"
"He will buy them, yes. Hush!" She held out her hand.
The man had turned back to the pictures. He lifted a pair of eyeglasses that swung at the end of a long chain and placed them on his nose. He looked again at the picture before him. The glasses dropped from his nose, and he dipped to the catalogue he held in his hand.
Uncle William's glance followed him a little uneasily. "You mean he'll buy my house?" he asked.
She nodded, her face overflowing with happiness.
Uncle William surveyed it. "I was cal'atin' to have that one myself." He said it almost grudgingly.
"You were? Could you?" she faced him.
"Couldn't I have it as well as him?" He nodded toward the man in the distance intent on his catalogue.
The girl's brow wrinkled a little. "He is rich," she said. "I didn't know—"
"Well, I ain't rich," said Uncle William, "but I reckon I could scrape together enough to pay for a picter."
The girl's face lighted. "Of course, Alan would rather you had it. And he may buy one of the others."
The man had moved on a little, out of sight. The picture remained facing them. For a minute the crowd had parted in front of it and they saw it at the end of a long pathway. Uncle William drew a proud breath. "How much will it cost?" he said.
She took up the catalogue from her lap and opened it, glancing down the page. "It must be here—somewhere. Yes, this is it—'The House on the Rocks,' $2000."
Uncle William's jaw clicked a little as it came together. He held out a hand. "Will you jest let me look at that a minute?" he said.
He ran his great finger down the page. When it came to the $2000, he pressed it a little with his thumb, as if expecting it to rub off. Then he looked at her, shaking his head. "It's a leetle higher'n I can go," he said slowly. "I wa'n't expectin' it would cost so much. You see, the house itself didn't cost more'n three hunderd, all told, and I thought a picter of it wouldn't cost more'n five or six."
"Five or six hundred?" Her eyes laughed.
Uncle William shook his head guiltily. "Not more'n five or six dollars," he said. "I reckon mebbe I did put it a leetle low." A smile had bloomed again in his face. "If he can pay the price, he'll have to have it, I reckon—for all o' me."
"Yes, he can pay it. He is very rich, and he cares for pictures. He has hundreds. He buys them everywhere—in Paris, London, St. Petersburg, Italy—It only depends on whether he likes—"
The man had come into view again and was studying the picture, dipping toward it in little sidewise flights. Uncle William watched the pantomime jealously. "How'd you come to know him?" he asked.
"He knew my mother. He had known her from a girl. I think he loved her," she said quietly, her eyes on the man. "He was on the legation at St. Petersburg—See! He does like them!" She had leaned forward.
Uncle William glanced up.
The man was standing a little removed from the painting, his arms folded, his head thrown back, oblivious to the crowd.
She rose quickly. "I am going to speak to him," she said. "Wait here for me." She passed into the changing throng that filled the room beyond.
Uncle William waited patiently, his eyes studying the swift kaleidoscope of the doorway. When she reappeared in it, her face was alight with color. "Come." She held out her hand. "I want you to meet him. He likes them—oh, very much!" She pressed her hands together lightly. "I think he will buy them—two, at least."
Uncle William got to his feet. "I s'pose ye told him about Alan and about my place."
She stopped short, looking at him reproachfully. "Not a word," she said—"not a single word!"
Uncle William's countenance fell. "Wa'n't that what you went out for?"
"No; and you must not mention it. I only told him that you liked them."
"Can't I even say that's my house out there?" He waved his hand.
"Never!" It was energetic. "You would spoil it all."
"Will it hurt it any to be my house?" he asked, a little sore.
"You know it is not that." She laid her hand on his arm affectionately. "We shall tell him all about it some day; but now, just now, while he is making up his mind, it would distract him. He wants to look at them as art."
Uncle William sighed gently. "Well, I'll do my best, but it's goin' agen' nature not to bust right out with it." They passed into the larger room. On the opposite side the man was standing, his eyeglasses on his nose, looking expectantly toward the door.
When he saw them, he smiled and moved forward with suave grace.
They met midway in the room. The two tall men stood facing each other, overtopping the crowd. The Frenchman held out his hand. "I am glad to meet you," he said.
Uncle William took the thin hand in his hearty one. "I am glad to meet you," he responded. "Sergia's been tellin' me about you. She said you liked the picter over yonder." Uncle William's thumb described the arc of a circle.
The Frenchman's eye followed it. "I do," he said, cordially. "Don't you?"
"Well, it's middlin' good." Uncle William spoke craftily. They were moving toward it.
"It's great!" said the Frenchman. He swung his eyeglasses to his nose and gazed at it. They came to a standstill a little distance away.
"The house ain't much to boast on," said Uncle William, modestly.
"The house?" The Frenchman stared at him politely.
Uncle William motioned with his hand. "It's a kind o' ramshackle ol' thing—no chimbley to speak of—"
The man's face cleared. "Oh, the house—a mere hut!" He dismissed it with a wave.
Uncle William's face wore a subdued look. "It might be comf'tabul inside," he hazarded after a silence.
The Frenchman stared again. "Comfortable? Oh, without doubt." He granted the point in passing. "But the color in the rocks—do you see?—and the clear light and the sky—you see how it lifts itself!" His long finger made swift stabs here and there at the canvas. A little crowd had gathered near.
Uncle William pushed his spectacles farther up on the tufts. His face glowed. "The sky is all right," he said, "if ye know how to take it; but ye wouldn't trust a sky like that, would ye?"
The Frenchman turned to him, blinking a little. His glasses had slipped from his nose. They hung dangling from the end of the long chain. "Trust it?" he said vaguely. "It's the real thing!"
Uncle William's face assumed an air of explanation. "It's good as far as it goes. The' ain't anything the matter with it—not anything you can lay your finger on—not till you get over there, a little east by sou'east. Don't you see anything the matter over there?" He asked the question with cordial interest.
The Frenchman held the eyeglass chain in his fingers. He swung the glasses to his nose and stared at the spot indicated.
Uncle William regarded him hopefully.
The glasses dropped. He faced about, shaking his head. "I'm afraid I don't see it." He spoke in polite deprecation. "It seems to me very nearly perfect." He faced it again. "I can breathe that air."
"So can I," said Uncle William. "So can I."
They stood looking at it in silence. "It'll be fo'-five hours before it strikes," said Uncle William, thoughtfully.
"Before it—" The Frenchman had half turned. The rapt look in his face wrinkled a little.
"Before it strikes," repeated Uncle William. "That cloud I p'inted out to you means business."
The Frenchman looked again. The wrinkles crept to the corners of his eyes. He turned them on Uncle William. "I see. You were speaking of the weather?"
"Wa'n't you?" demanded Uncle William.
"Well—partly. Yes, partly. But I'm afraid I was thinking how well it is done." His face grew dreamy. "To think that paint and canvas and a few careless strokes—"
"He worked putty hard," broke in Uncle William. Sergia's hand on his arm stayed him. He remained open-mouthed, staring at his blunder.
But the Frenchman had not perceived it. He accepted the correction with a cordial nod. "Of course—infinite patience. And then a thing like that!" he lifted his hand toward it slowly. It was a kind of courteous salute—the obeisance due to royalty.
Uncle William watched it a little grudgingly. "They're putty good rocks," he said—"without paint."
The Frenchman faced him. "Don't I know?" He checked himself. "I've not mentioned it to you, but I was born and brought up on those rocks."
"You was!" Uncle William confronted him.
The stranger nodded, smiling affably. His long nose was reminiscent. "I've played there many a time."
Sergia's face watched him hopefully.
Uncle William's had grown a little stern. He bent toward the stranger. "I don't think I jest caught your name," he said slowly.
"My name is Curie," said the man, politely—"Benjamin F. Curie." He extracted a card from his pocket and handed it to Uncle William with a deep bow.
Uncle William pinched it between his thumb and forefinger. He drew down the spectacles from his tufts and examined it carefully. Then he bent and snapped it in his fingers. "I don't know no such—"
A hand was laid lightly on his arm. "Come, we must look at the other pictures. It is almost time to go."
The crowd had thinned a little and they walked through it easily, three abreast. But Uncle William had moved to the other side of the girl, as far away from the Frenchman as he could get. Now and then he cast a glance of disapproval at the tall, dipping figure as it bent to the girl or lifted itself to gaze at some picture. There was distrust in Uncle William's glance, mingled with vague disturbance. When they paused again, he moved around in front of the man. "The' 's suthin' kind o' familiar about your face—" he began.
Sergia's hand was again on his arm.
He patted it lightly. "Don't you worry a mite, Sergia. I ain't goin' to say anything rash. But it does seem to me as if I've seen Mr. Curie's face somewheres or other. 'T ain't a face you're liable to forget."
The Frenchman acknowledged the compliment. "It is possible we have met. You have traveled?"
"A leetle," admitted Uncle William.
Sergia's face relaxed. She moved away for a minute.
The Frenchman nodded. "We have doubtless met; but one forgets—" He lifted his eyeglasses and surveyed Uncle William's round, good face. "It doesn't seem as if I could have forgotten yours," he said thoughtfully. "And yet I don't place it."
Sergia had returned. "He has been to St. Petersburg," she suggested.
The Frenchman's look cleared. "Ah—! It must have been there. It is a privilege to have met you again, sir." He held out his long, slim hand. "I wish you would come and see me. You have my address." He motioned to the card.
Uncle William looked down at it. "I'm startin' for home to-morrow," he said dryly.
"Indeed! And your home is—"
Sergia interposed a graceful hand. "Good-night, M. Curie. You will come and see me. Mama would be glad I have found you again."
He looked down at her mistily. His gaze lingered on her face. "I shall come, my child," he said gallantly, almost tenderly. "I shall come many times."
"Yes, I shall look for you. Be sure." She took Uncle William's arm and moved away to the staircase.
Uncle William's mouth opened and closed once or twice with a little puff. When they reached the foot of the stairs he broke out. "He says he's a Curie." He flipped the card in his hand. "I've known Arichat, man and boy, for sixty year. The' wa'n't never any Curies there."
She looked up at him a little perplexed. "Couldn't you have forgotten?"
Uncle William shook his head. "I wish 't I had. You set a good deal o' store by him, I can see. But I ain't likely to forget anybody that's been brought up there. The' was suthin' kind o' familiar about him, too." He said it almost irascibly.
The girl sighed softly. "Well, he may have been romancing. Frenchmen do—at times—"
"I call it lying," snorted Uncle William.
"Yes, yes." She patted his arm. "But can't you understand how you would feel if you saw something beautiful—some place that made you feel the way you used to feel when you were a child? You might think for a moment that you had really been there, and say it—without meaning to tell a lie. That's what I meant."
Uncle William looked down at her admiringly. "You do put that mighty nice, don't you? You 'most make me believe I could do it, and I guess mebbe I could. But Andy couldn't," he added, with conviction.
The girl followed her thought. "And what does it matter—if he buys the pictures."
"Well, it matters some," said Uncle William, slowly. "I dunno 's I want a liar, not a real liar, ownin' a picter o' my house. But if he jest romances, mebbe I could stand it. It does seem different somehow."
When they parted, she looked at him a little wistfully. "I should like to see him again," she said, waiting.
"Like enough," said Uncle William, gently—"like enough. But I reckon he don't need you just now." He held her hand, looking down at her kindly.
"I could see him," she suggested.
"I could come down to the boat. I would be careful not to let him see me."
Uncle William considered it. "Well, I dunno 's that would do any harm—if you're sure you could keep out o' the way."
"We're goin' by the Halifax boat," said Uncle William. "I can make better 'rangements that way. I know the captain."
"Yes?" It was a question.
"Well, I guess 't you can come. Good night, my dear." He bent and kissed her gravely.
Her eyes followed the tall figure till it loomed away in the dark.
The boat eased away from the wharf. The invalid on deck gazed back at the city. A little spot of red lay in the hollow of either cheek. Uncle William hovered about, adjusting pillows and rugs. Now and then his eye dropped to the wharf and picked out, casually, a figure that moved in the crowd. "There—that's a leetle mite easier, ain't it?"
The young man nodded almost fretfully. "I'm all right, Uncle William. Don't you fuss any more." He leaned forward, looking toward the wharf. "Who is that?"
Uncle William pushed up his spectacles and peered. "I don't seem to see anybody," he said truthfully. He was gazing with some painstaking in the opposite direction.
"Not there. Look!—She's gone!" He sank back with a sigh.
"Somebody you knew, like enough?" The question was indifferent.
"I thought it was—her."
"She, now! She wouldn't be likely to be down here this time o' day."
"No, I suppose not. It was just a fancy."
"That's all. You comf'tabul?"
"Yes—" a little impatiently.
"That's good. Now we're off." Uncle William beamed on the water that billowed before and behind. He went off to find the captain.
When he came back, the young man had ceased to look toward the shore. "I made a mistake," he said regretfully.
"That's nateral," said Uncle William. "I s'pose you've been thinkin' of her, off and on, and you jest thought you saw her. I wouldn't think any—"
"It wasn't that," the young man broke in. "I did see her. I know now. I saw her face for a minute as plain as I see yours. She was looking straight at me and I saw all of a sudden what a fool I was."
"You're getting better," said Uncle William.
"Do you think so? I was afraid—" he hesitated.
"You thought mebbe you was a-goin' to die?"
"Well—I have heard that people see clearly—It came over me in a flash so—"
"Lord, no!" Uncle William chuckled. "You're jest gettin' your wits back, that's all. I shouldn't wonder if you'd be real pert by the time we get there. I cal'ate you'll be considabul help to me—dish-washin' an' so on."
The towers and chimneys behind them dwindled. The smoke of the city faded to a blur and grew to clear azure. The wind blew against their faces. After a little the young man got to his feet. "I'm going to walk awhile." He spoke defiantly.
"Walk right along," said Uncle William, cheerfully.
He tottered a few steps, and held out his hand.
Uncle William chuckled. "I reckoned you'd want a lift." He placed a strong hand under the young man's arm. They paced back and forth the length of the deck. "Feel good?" asked Uncle William.
The young man nodded. "I shall go alone to-morrow."
"Yes, I reckon you will," soothingly. "And the further north we get, the better you'll feel. It's cur'us about the North. The' 's suthin' up there keeps drawin' you like a needle. I've known a man to be cured jut by turnin' and sailin' that way when he was sick. Seem 's if he stopped pullin' against things and just let go. You look to me a little mite tired. I'd go below for a spell if I was you."
The young man went below and slept. When he woke he felt better, as Uncle William had predicted. At Halifax he insisted on sending a telegram to Sergia. After that he watched the water with gleaming face, and when they boarded the John L. Cann and the shores of Arichat shaped themselves out of space, he was like a boy.
Uncle William leaned forward, scanning the wharf. "There's Andy!" he exclaimed.
"Right there. Don't you see him—dangling his legs over the edge?"
"Hallo, Andy!" The young man's voice had a joyous note.
When they landed, he held out a limp hand. "Got any duds?" he asked indifferently.
"There's my box and hisn and some traps down below. He's gone down to look after 'em," said Uncle William. "Juno come back?"
The young man appeared on deck with his hand-bag. "How are you, Andy?"
"He says she ain't come back," said Uncle William.
"Juno. She must 'a' been gone as much as a week, ain't she, Andy?"
"Two weeks last night," said Andy.
"Tuh-tuh!" Uncle William's tongue expressed concern. "We'll hev to go look for her. You goin' to row us up?"
"Guess so," said Andy.
"I thought ye'd want to. Set right there, Mr. Woodworth. Don't you mind bein' in the way. Andy's used to it."
They rowed up through the clear light. The harbor stretched away, gleaming, to darkness. The cliffs rose on the right, somber and waiting. Uncle William lifted his face. The little house on the cliff caught a gleam and twinkled. The boat grated on the beach. There was a stiff climb up the path, with long pauses for breath. Uncle William opened the door. He moved back swiftly. A gray avalanche had descended upon him. She clawed at his shoulder and perched there, looking down at him.
A smile overspread Uncle William's face. He put up a hand to the gray fur, stroking it. "Now, don't that beat all!" he said. "She's been here all along, like enough, Andy."
"Durned if I know," said Andy. He looked at her aggressively. "I hain't seen hide nor hair of her for two weeks."
Juno returned the look, purring indifferently. She leaped from Uncle William's shoulder, leading the way into the house, her back arched and her tail erect; her toes scarcely touched the boards she trod upon.
She disappeared under the red lounge. In a moment her head reappeared—with something dangling from the mouth. She laid it proudly at Uncle William's feet.
He peered at it. "Ketched a mouse, hev ye? I reckoned she wouldn't starve, Andy!" He beamed on him.
"That ain't a mouse," said Andy.
"Why, so 't ain't. Juno!" Uncle William's voice was stern. "You come here!"
Juno came—with another. She laid it at his feet and departed for a third. By the time the fifth was deposited before him, Uncle William said feebly: "That's enough for this time, Juno. Don't you do no more."
She added one more to the wriggling row, and seated herself calmly beside it, looking up for approval.
Uncle William glared at her for a minute. Then a sunny smile broke his face. "That's all right, Juno." He bent and stroked the impassive head. "I was prepared to mourn for ye, if need be, but not to rejoice—not to this extent. But it's all right." Juno purred in proud content.
It was fortunate that the artist was better, for Uncle William became lost in the kittens and their welfare. The weakest thing at hand claimed his interest. He carried them in a clam-basket from point to point, seeing the best spots for their comfort and development. Juno marched at his side, proud and happy. She purred approval of the universe and the ways of man. Wherever Uncle William deposited the basket, she took up her abode, serenely pleased; and when, a few hours later, he shifted it on account of wind or rain or sun, she followed without demur. For her the sun rose and set in Uncle William's round face and the depths of the clam-basket.
The artist watched the comedy with amused disapproval. He suspected Uncle William of trifling away the time. The spring was fairly upon them, and the Andrew Halloran still swung at anchor alone at the foot of the cliff. Whenever the artist broached the subject of a new boat, Uncle William turned it aside with a jest and trotted off to his clam-basket. The artist brooded in silence over his indebtedness and the scant chance of making it good. He got out canvas and brushes and began to paint, urged by a vague sense that it might bring in something, some time. When he saw that Uncle William was pleased, he kept on. The work took his mind off himself, and he grew strong and vigorous. Andy, coming upon him one day on the beach, looked at his brown face almost in disapproval. "You're a-feelin' putty well, ain't you?" he said grudgingly.
"I am," responded the artist. He mixed the color slowly on his palette. A new idea had come into his head. He turned it over once and then looked at Andy. The look was not altogether encouraging. But he brought it out quickly. "You're a rich man, aren't you, Andy?"
Andy, pleased and resentful, hitched the leg of his trousers. "I dunno's I be," he said slowly. "I've got money—some. But it takes a pile to live on."
"Yes?" The artist stood away from his canvas, looking at it. "You and Uncle William are pretty good friends, aren't you?"
"Good enough," replied Andy. His mouth shut itself securely.
The artist did not look at it. He hastened on. "He misses his boat a good deal."
"I know that," snapped Andy. His green eye glowered at the bay. "Ef it hadn't been for foolishness he'd hev it now."
The artist worked on quietly. "I lost his boat for him, Andy. I know that as well as you do. You needn't rub it in."
"What you goin' to do about it?" demanded Andy.
"I'm goin' to ask you to lend me the money for a new one."
"No, sir!" Andy put his hands in his pockets.
"I'll give you my note for it," said the artist.
"I do' want your note," retorted Andy. "I'd rather have William's and his ain't wuth the paper it's writ on."
The artist flushed under his new color. "I don't know just why you say that. I shall pay all I owe—in time."
"Well, you may, and then again you mayn't," said Andy. His tone was less crusty. "All I know is, you've cost William a heap o' money, fust and last. You've et a good deal, and you lost the Jennie, and he had to borrow a hunderd of me to go to New York with." Andy spoke with unction. He was relieving his mind.
The artist looked up. "I didn't know that." He began to gather up his materials.
"What you goin' to do?" asked Andy.
"I'm going to find Uncle William," said the artist.
Andy fidgeted a little. He looked off at the water. "I wa'n't findin' no fault," he said uneasily. "I was just explainin' why I couldn't resk any more o' my money on him."
"That's all right," said the artist. "I want to see him."
He found Uncle William sunning the kittens at the east of the house. He looked up with a nod as the artist appeared. "They're doin' fust-rate," he said, adjusting the clam-basket a little. "They'll be a credit to their raisin'. Set down."
The artist seated himself on a rock near by. The sun fell warm on his back. Across the harbor a little breeze ran rippling. At the foot of the cliff Andy was making ready to lift anchor. The artist watched him a minute. "You've wasted a good deal of money on me," he said soberly.
Uncle William looked at him. He dropped an eye to the Andrew Halloran. "He been talkin' to ye?" he asked cheerfully.
"He told me you borrowed of him—"
"Now, don't you mind that a mite. Andy don't. He's proud as Punch to hev me owe him suthin'. He reminds me of it every day or two. All I mind about is your frettin' and takin' on so. If you'd jest be easy in your mind, we'd have a reel comf'tabul time—with the kittens and all." He replaced one that had sprawled over the edge. "The' 's a lot o' comfort in doin' for dumb things," he went on cheerfully. "They can't find fault with the way you fix 'em." He chuckled a little.
The artist smiled. "Look here, Uncle William, you can't fool me any longer. You're just pining for a boat. Look at that!" He waved his hand at the water dimpling below.
Uncle William's gaze dwelt on it fondly for a minute.
"And you sit here dawdling over that basket of kittens!" Scorn and disgust struggled in the artist's voice.
Uncle William laughed out. He stood up. "What is 't you want me to do?" he asked.
The artist eyed him miserably. "That's the worst of it—I don't know."
"Well, I'll tell ye," said Uncle William. "We'll row down and get the mail, and after that we'll plan about the boat. I ain't quite so daft as I look," he said half apologetically. "I've been turnin' it over in my mind whilst I've been doin' the kittens, and I've 'bout decided what to do. But fust, we'll get the mail."
There was a letter for the artist. It contained a check from the Frenchman. He had bought three of the pictures—the one of Uncle William's house and the two of the old Bodet place.
"Did you know it?" demanded the artist. He was facing Uncle William in the boat as they rowed home.
"I didn't know it," said Uncle William, with a long, easy pull, "but I reckoned suthin' 'd be along putty soon. If it hadn't come to-day, I was goin' to make Andy give us enough to begin on."
"He wouldn't have done it."
"Oh, yes, he'd 'a' done it. He'd 'a' squirmed and twisted some, but he'd 'a' done it. He'd 'a' had to!"
The artist laughed out happily. "Well, now you can do as you like. We'll have the best boat there is going."
Uncle William nodded. "I knew you'd want to. I've been kind o' plannin' for it. We'll go down to-morrow or next day and see about it."
The artist looked at him curiously. "I don't believe you care half as much as I do!"
Uncle William returned the look, smiling broadly. "It'll seem putty good to feel my own boards under me again," he said cheerfully.
"But you didn't care when you didn't have them," said the artist. "You just toted those infernal kittens—"
Uncle William's chuckle was genial. "Kittens ain't everything," he said mildly. "But I've seen the time when kittens wa'n't to be despised. You jest set that way a little mite, Mr. Woodworth, and I'll beach her even."
"One thing I'm glad of," said the artist, as the boat grated along the pebbles. "You can pay Andy."
"Andy'll be glad," responded Uncle William, "but it'll be quite a spell before he has a chance to." He waved his arm toward the bay. "He's off for the day."
The artist scanned the horizon with disappointed face. "He'll be back by noon, perhaps?"
Uncle William shook his head. "Not afore night. I can tell by the way he's movin'. We'll come up and hev dinner and then we can plan her out."
They sat on the rocks all the afternoon, looking at the dancing waves and planning for the new Jennie. Uncle William drew models on the back of an old envelope and explained figures. The artist followed him with eager eyes. Now and then his chest expanded and he drew a deep breath of satisfaction.
"Feel's good, don't it?" said Uncle William. "I ust to feel that way when I'd been in debt a good while and made a big ketch. Seemed 's if the whole world slid off my shoulders." He shook his head. "But it was kind o' foolishness."
"Wouldn't you feel that way now?" demanded the artist.
"I don't believe I would," said Uncle William, slowly. "It's a kind o' wicked feelin'—when the sun's a-shinin' jest the same, and the water's movin' up and down,—" he motioned toward the harbor,—"and the boats are comin' in at night, settlin' down like birds, and the lights." He looked affectionately at the water. "It's all there jest the same whether I owe anybody or not. And the rocks don't budge much—" He laid his big brown hand on the warm surface beside him, smoothing it in slow content.
The artist looked at him, smiling a little wistfully. "It sounds all very well to talk about," he said, "but the world would go to rack and ruin if everybody felt that way."
"I ust to think so," said Uncle William, placidly. "I ust to lie awake nights worryin' about it. But late years I've give it up. Seems to jog along jest about the same as when I was worryin'—and I take a heap sight more comfort. Seems kind o' ridiculous, don't it, when the Lord's made a world as good as this one, not to enjoy it some?"
"Don't you feel any responsibility toward society?" asked the artist, curiously.
Uncle William shook his head with a slow smile. "I don't believe I do. I ust to. Lord, yes! I ust to think about folks that was hungry till my stummick clean caved in. I ust to eat my dinner like it was sawdust, for fear I'd get a little comfort out of it, while somebody somewheres was starvin'—little childern, like enough. That was al'ays the hardest part of it—little childern. I ust to think some of foundin' a'sylum up here on the rocks—sailin' round the world and pickin' up a boat-load and then bringin' 'em up here and turnin' 'em loose on the rocks, givin' 'em all they could stuff to eat. And then one night, when I was cal'atin' and figgerin' on it, I saw that I couldn't get half of 'em into my boat, nor a quarter, nor a tenth—jest a little corner of 'em. And then it come over me, all of a sudden, what a big job I'd tackled, and I jest turned it over to the Lord, then an there. And all the next day I kep' kind o' thinkin' about it out here on the rocks—how he'd took a thousand year—mebbe 't was more; a good long spell, they say—to get the rocks ready for folks to live on—jest the rocks! And like enough he knew what he was plannin' to do, and didn't expect me to finish it all up for him in fo'-five years. Since then I've been leavin' it to him more—takin' a hand when I could, but payin' more attention to livin'. I sort o' reckon that's what he made us for—to live. The' 's a good deal o' fin in it if you go at it right."
"That's a great idea, Uncle William," said the artist.
"It's comf'tabul," assented Uncle William. "You get your livin' as you go along, and a little suthin' over. Seems 's if some folks didn't even get a livin' they're so busy doing things."
He was silent for a while, his blue eyes following the light on the water. "The' was a man I sailed with once,—a cur'us sort o' chap,—and when he wa'n't sober he could tell you interestin' things. He hadn't been a sailor al'ays—took to it 'cause he liked it, he said. And he tol' me a good deal about the goings-on of the earth. Like enough 't wa'n't so—some on it—but it was interestin'. He told me 't the earth was all red-hot once, and cooled off quicker on the outside—like a hot pertater, I s'pose. You've heard about it?" He looked inquiringly at the artist.
The artist nodded. "Yes."
"Well, I've thought about that a good many times when I've been sailin'. I could see it all, jest the way he put it, the earth a-whirlin' and twirlin', and the fire and flames a-shootin' up to the sky, and rocks and stones and stuff a'b'ilin' and flyin'—" Uncle William's eye dwelt lovingly on the picture. "I'd seem to see it all jest the way he tol' it, and then I'd put my hand out over the side of the boat and trail it along in the water to cool off a little." Uncle William chuckled. "Sometimes it seems 's if you'd come a million miles all in a minute—rocks all along the shore, good hard rocks 't you could set on, and the hill up to the sky with grass on it, green and soft, and the water all round. It a'most takes your breath away to come back like that from that red-hot ball he talked about and see it all lyin' there, so cool and still, and the sun shinin' on it. I got to thinkin' 'bout it, days when I was sailin', and wondering if mebbe the Lord wa'n't gettin' folks ready jest the way he did the rocks—rollin' 'em over and havin' 'em pound each other and claw and fight and cool off, slow-like, till byme-by they'd be good sweet earth and grass and little flowers—comf'tabul to live with."
The artist sat up. "Do you mean to say you wouldn't stop folks fighting if you could?"
Uncle William eyed the proposition. "Well I dunno's I'd say jest that. I've thought about it a good many times. Men al'ays hev fit and I reckon they will—quite a spell yet. There's Russia and Japan now: you couldn't 'a' stopped them fightin' no more'n two boys that had got at it. All them Russians and them little Japs—we couldn't 'a' stopped 'em fightin'—the whole of us couldn't hev stopped 'em—not unless we'd 'a' took 'em by the scruff o' the neck and thrown 'em down and set on 'em—one apiece. And I dunno's that'd be much better'n fightin'—settin' on 'em one apiece."
The artist laughed out.
Uncle William beamed on him. "You see, this is the way I figger it: Russia and Japan wa'n't fightin' so much for anything they reely wanted to git. It was suthin' in 'em that made 'em go for each other, tooth and nail, and pommel so—a kind o' pizen bubbling and sizzling inside 'em; we've all got a little of it." He smiled genially. "It has to work out slow-like. Some does it by fightin' and some does it by prayin'; and I reckon the Lord's in the fightin', same as in the prayin'."
The artist looked at him curiously. "Some people call that the devil, you know."
Uncle William cleared his throat. He picked up a little stone and balanced it thoughtfully on the palm of his hand. Then he looked up with a slow smile. "I ain't so well acquainted with the devil as I ust to be," he said. "I ust to know him reel well; ust to think about him when I was out sailin'—figger how to get ahead of him. But late years I'd kind o' forgot—He's livin' still, is he?"
The artist laughed quietly. "They say so—some of them."
Uncle William's smile grew wider and sweeter. "Well, let him live. Poor old thing! 'T won't hurt none, and he is a kind o' comfort to lay things on when you've been, more'n usual, cussed. That's the Andrew Halloran over there to the left." He pointed to a dusky boat that was coming in slowly. "That's his last tack, if he makes it, and I reckon he will. Now, if you'll go in and start the chowder, I'll see if he want's any help about makin' fast."
Andy eased in to the wharf with cautious eye. He threw the rope to Uncle William and busied himself with the sail.
Uncle William peered down upon him. "Got quite a nice mess, didn't ye?"
"How'd they run?"
"Ye got some halibut."
"A few." Andy admitted it grudgingly. His tone implied that the Creator withheld halibut out of pure spite. The ways of the universe were a personal grievance to Andy.
"Quite a nice mess," said Uncle William. "Goin' to unload?"
"Nope—wait for the tide."
"Ye'll jest about make it," said Uncle William. He glanced at the sky. "I'll come down and help ye clean, like enough, after supper."
Andy climbed up in silence. His somber face appeared above the edge of the wharf. Uncle William looked down on it, smiling. "I've got good news for ye, Andy."
"Huh?" Andy paused half way.
Uncle William nodded. "You'll be reel tickled about it. I'm goin' to have a new boat—right off."
"Ye be?" Andy's mouth remained open. It took in the sky and the bay and Uncle William's smile.
"Right off. I knew ye'd be glad."
The mouth came together. "Where you goin' to get it?"
"He's got some money." Uncle William nodded toward the cliff.
Andy looked. "He's poor as poverty. He's said so—times enough."
Uncle William smiled. "He's had luck—quite a run o' luck. He's been sellin' picters—three-four on 'em."
"What's picters!" said Andrew, scornfully. He scrambled on to the wharf with a backward glance at the Andrew Halloran. "You won't buy no boat off o' picters, Willum. A boat costs three hunderd dollars—a good one."
"I was cal'atin' to pay five hunderd," said Uncle William.
"You was?" Andy wheeled about. "You wont' get it out o' him!" He jerked a thumb at the cliff.
Uncle William chuckled. "Now, ye've made a mistake, Andy. He's got that much and he's got more." The gentle triumph in Uncle William's tone diffused itself over the landscape.
Andy took it in slowly. "How much?" he asked at last.
"Six-seven thousand," said Uncle William.
"What!" Andy's feet scuffed a little. "'T ain't reasonable," he said feebly.
"No, 't ain't reasonable." Uncle William spoke gently. "I was a good deal s'prised myself, Andy, when I found how high they come—picters. Ye can't own a gre't many of 'em—not at one time."
"Don't want to," said Andy, caustically.
"No, you wouldn't take much comfort in 'em," said William. "'T is cur'us 't anybody should want a picter o' my old hut up there 'nough to pay—how much d'ye s'pose they did pay for it, Andy?"
Andy glanced at it contemptuously. It glowed in the light of the late sun, warm and radiant. "'T ain't wuth a hunderd," he said.
Uncle William's face fell a little. "Well, I wouldn't say jest that, Andy.
"Roof leaks," said Andrew.
"A leetle," admitted Uncle William, "over 'n the southeast corner, She's weather-tight all but that." He gazed at the little structure affectionately. The sun flamed at the windows, turning them to gold. The artist's face appeared at one of them, beckoning and smiling. Uncle William turned to Andy. "A man give him two thousand for it," he said. There was sheer pride in the words.
"For that?" Andy looked at him for a minute. Then he looked at the house and the bay and the flaming sky. His left eyelid lowered itself slowly and he tapped his forehead significantly with one long finger.
Uncle William shook his head. "He's as sensible as you be, Andy—or me."
Andy pondered the statement. A look of craft crept into his eye. "What'll ye bet he ain't foolin' ye?" he said.
Uncle William returned the look with slow dignity. "I don't speak that way o' my friends, Andy," he said gently. "I'd a heap rather trust 'em and get fooled, than not to trust 'em and hev 'em all right."
Andy looked guilty. "When's it comin'?" he said gruffly.
"It's come a'ready," replied Uncle William; "this mornin'. We've been figgerin' on a new boat all day, off and on. He's goin' to give me five hunderd to make up for the Jennie."
"She wa'n't wuth it!" Andy spoke with conviction. He dropped a jealous eye to the Andrew Halloran rising slowly on the tide.
"No, she wa'n't wuth more'n three hunderd, if she was that," admitted Uncle William. "I'm goin' to take the three hunderd outright and borrow the rest. I'm goin' to pay you, too, Andy."
Andy's face, in the light of the setting sun, grew almost mellow. He turned it slowly. "When you goin' to pay me, Willum?"
"To-morrow," answered William, promptly, "or mebbe next day. I reckoned we'd all go down and see about the boat together."
Andy looked at him helplessly. "Everything seems kind o' turnin' upside down," he said. He drew a deep breath. "What d'ye s'pose it is, Willum—about 'em—picters—that makes 'em cost so like the devil?"
Uncle William looked thoughtful. "I dunno," he said slowly. "I've thought about that, myself. Can't be the paint nor the canvas."
"Cheap as dirt," said Andy.
"Must be the way he does 'em."
"Just a-settin' and a-daubin', and a-settin' and a-daubin'," sneered Andrew.
"I dunno's I'd say that, Andy," said Uncle William, reprovingly. "He sweat and fussed a lot."
Andy's eye roamed the landscape. "'T ain't reasonable," he said, jealously. "A thing o't to be wuth more'n a picter of it. There's more to a thing." He struck the solid ground of fact with relief.
Uncle William's eye rested on him mildly. "Ye can't figger it that way, Andy. I've tried it. A shark's bigger'n a halibut, but he ain't wuth much—'cept for manure."
"Chowder!" The call rang down from the little house, clear and full.
Both men looked up. "He's a-callin' ye," said Andrew. There was mingled scorn and respect in the tone.
"You come on up to supper, Andy. We can talk it over whilst we're eatin'."
Andy looked down at his clothes. "I'm all dirt."
Uncle William surveyed him impartially. "Ye ain't any dirtier 'n ye al'ays be."
"I dunno's I be," admitted Andy.
"Well, you come right along, and after supper we'll all turn to and help you clean."
The artist looked up as they entered. "How are you, Andy? The fish are running great to-day."
Andy grinned feebly. "I've heard about it," he said. He drew up to the table with a subdued air and took his chowder in gulps, glancing now and then at the smiling face and supple hands on the opposite side of the table. It was a look of awe tinged with incredulity, and a little resentment grazing the edges of it.
The noon sun shone down upon the harbor. The warmth of early summer was in the air. A little breeze ran through it, ruffling the surface of the water. The artist, from his perch on the rock, looked out over it with kindling eye.
His easel, on the rock before him, had held him all morning. He had been trying to catch the look of coming summer, the crisp, salt tang of the water, and the scudding breeze. When he looked at the canvas, a scowl held his forehead, but when he glanced back at the water, it vanished in swift delight. It was color to dream on, to gloat over—to wait for. Some day it would grow of itself on his palette, and then, before it could slip away, he would catch it. It only needed a stroke—he would wait. His eye wandered to the horizon.
A face appeared over the edge of the cliff and cut off the vision. It was Uncle William, puffing a little and warm. "Hello." He climbed up and seated himself on the rock, stretching his legs slowly to the sun. "I reckoned I'd find ye here. Been doin' her?" He nodded toward the horizon.
The artist looked into the distance with puzzled eyes. "Her?" He put the word doubtingly.
Uncle William glanced at him sharply. "Don't you see nuthin' over there?" He waved a huge arm at the horizon.
The artist looked again and shook his head slowly. "I see a color I'd give my eyes to get."
Uncle William chuckled a little. "Reckon they ain't wuth much to ye." His hand slid into the pocket of his coat and brought out a small spy-glass. He slipped the parts into place and adjusted it to his eye. "There!" He handed it to the young man. "See if that'll help ye any."
The young man took it, looking out over the bay. "Yes, I see her now. She's a schooner." He put down the glass. "Do you mean to say you can see that with the naked eye?"
"Al'ays could." Uncle William held out his hand again for the glass. "I don't make her out a schooner, though."
"Yes." Uncle William's eye was glued to the glass. "But she's lighter built, trimmer. Some pleasure-craft, like enough. You can see her walk—same as if she was a lady—a-bowin' and bobbin'." He laid down the glass, a look of pleasure in his face. "She's comin' right in, whoever she is. She'll drop anchor by noon-time." He glanced at the easel. "You been paintin'?"
"'Bout a thousand dollars' wuth, I s'pose?"
"Not ten cents' worth."
"Sho, now! Is that so?" He got up and looked down at the canvas, bending above it like some genial giraffe. He straightened himself, smiling. "'Tis kind o' dobby," he admitted. "Mebbe you'll do better to-morrow."
"Maybe. Was there a letter for me?"
The old man shook his head. "Nary letter.—I reckon 't ain't time yet," he added consolingly.
The young man looked gloomily at the water. "She must be ill."
"Busy, more likely," said Uncle William.
"It's been six weeks."
"You're feelin' putty well," said Uncle William.
"I shall go down to-morrow," said the young man. He had begun to gather up his brushes. The hands that lifted them were firm and strong. A clear color ran beneath the tan of his face.
Uncle William watched him with a little smile. "I dunno's I'd go to-morrow. You could go next week if you don't hear nuthin'."
"I shall go to-morrow. I've been a fool to wait so long."
Uncle William's eye twinkled. "You've been gettin' well," he said.
"I'm well now."
"Yes, you're—Hello, there's Andy." He leaned over the edge of the cliff. "What d'ye make her?" he called down.
Andy squinted at the distance. "Coaster," he announced.
"Come up here and take a look at her."
Andy climbed slowly up the cliff. "Got your glass?" He took it and fixed the moving speck. "'T ain't a coaster," he muttered. "What you folks been doin' all the mornin'?"
"Well, I've been for the mail and some things, and Mr. Woodworth here he's been paintin'."
Andy cast a side glance at the easel. Then he gazed fixedly at the bay. He seated himself on a rock. "It's time for me to go home," he said.
No one paid any attention to it—Andy least of all. He sat with one leg swinging over the other, chewing a bit of grass and staring gloomily out to sea. The look of baffled humility in his face made it almost tragic. The artist fell to sketching it under cover of his hand. Uncle William studied the approaching boat. "She's never been in these waters afore," he announced. "She's comin' in keerful." No one replied. Andy stared at fate and the artist worked fast. Uncle William reached out for the glass. He took a long look. He dropped it hastily and glanced at the young man, who was working with serene touch—oblivious to the bay. Uncle William looked through the glass again—a long, slow look. Then he slipped it into his pocket and got up, decision in his face. "Comin' in to dinner, Andy?"
Andy looked up mildly. "I reckon Harr'et's waitin' for me." He got slowly to his feet. "You've got another done, I s'pose?" He glanced enviously at the easel.
The artist laughed out. "Want to see it?" He withdrew his hand.
Andy shambled across. He looked down at it casually. A sheepish grin crept into this face, and spread. "You've made me look kind o' queer, hain't you?" He gazed, fascinated, at his tragic face.
Uncle William came over and bent to the canvas. He drew out his spectacles and peered at it, almost rubbing the paint with his great nose. "It's Andy!" he said with shrewd delight. "It's Andy! And it's the spittin' image of him!" He pushed up the glasses, beaming upon Andrew.
Andrew returned the look somberly. "It's a good likeness, you think, do you?"
"Fust-rate, Andy, fust-rate; couldn't be better." Uncle William laid an affectionate hand on his shoulder. "It looks jest as mean as you do—and jest as good, too, Andy."
Andy cast a glance at the young man. "How long was ye makin' it?"
"Half an hour, perhaps; while we've been sitting here."
Andy sighed heavily. "Wuth more'n I be, too, I reckon?"
The artist stared at him.
"I mean—" Andy was almost apologetic. "I know they come high—picters. I don't suppose I could afford to buy it of ye—"
The artist's face lighted. "Do you want it?"
"Harr'et might,"—cautiously,—"if 't wa'n't too high. She's got an easel for it. She al'ays cal'ated to have me done, and she'd got as fur as the easel." His eye returned almost wistfully to the canvas. "Willum says it's a good likeness." He spoke with a kind of dubious pride.
"It is good." The young man's eye rested on it affectionately. "It's a ripping good sketch—and you may have it and welcome."
Andy drew back a step. "You mean—"
"I'll give it to you, yes." The artist was holding it out laughingly. "And some day you'll sit for me again. That'll be pay enough."
Andy rubbed his hands carefully on the sides of his trousers. He reached them out for the canvas. "It's kind o' wet," he said. "I'll have to hold it keerful." He took it in both hands, beaming upon it with a kind of somber joy. Carrying it at arm's-length, he bore it away over the rocks. The artist watched the stern, angular figure loom against the sky and dip down over the cliff out of sight.
"I shall do a sketch of him some day that will make us famous," he said quietly.
"It's time for dinner," responded Uncle William.
Uncle William set the table, with one eye on the harbor. As he pottered about with the bread and cheese and salmon, a smile widened his round face.
The artist looked up from the brushes he was cleaning at the door. "You look as happy as if you'd had a fortune left you," he said.
"Well, I'm considabul contented. I gen'ally am, ain't I?" he added quickly.
"So-so," admitted the young man. "You're shiftless, that's what's the matter with you."
Uncle William gave his long, low chuckle. "I guess I be," he said softly. "I guess I be. But I do take a sight o' comfort."
The young man finished the brushes and brought them in, standing them up in a quart cup. "Dinner ready?" he asked.
"I reckon it is." Uncle William scowled at the lavish table. "'Pears to me there's suthin' I've forgot. Oh, pickles!" He said it triumphantly. "If you wouldn't mind takin' that plate, Mr. Woodworth, and goin' down cellar?"
"All right." The young man took the plate and disappeared down the ladder that served as a stairway to the tiny hole beneath.
Uncle William looked cautiously at the trap-door. Then he tiptoed to the window. He drew the glass from his pocket and pointed it at the harbor. The boat had come to anchor just off the island. Uncle William fixed her with his glass. "Uh-huh, jest as I thought," he said softly.
A step sounded on the ladder and he shut the glass, thrusting it into his pocket and turning a bland, innocent face upon the room. "Does beat all how good pickles be with fish. Set 'em right there, Mr. Woodworth. Now we're ready."
Uncle William's chair faced the window, and as he ate his eye dropped, now and then, to the bay below. Once it lighted with a swift gleam and he craned his neck a little.
"What is it?" asked the artist, half turning.
"Nuthin'," said Uncle William, hastily, "nuthin'. 'T ain't wuth turnin' your head for. I'm al'ays seein' things. Get up in the night, like enough, and wander round the island, jest to see 'em. Go all over the island some nights. You see a good deal that way—fust and last: little critturs runnin' round, softlike, and the moon and stars—" Uncle William was talking against time. His eye had lost interest in the bay. It seemed to be fixed on the moon and stars. One ear was turned expectantly toward the door.