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Jennette Lee.

Happy Island : a new Uncle William story online

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day, all out o nothin - and there he was
standin in that door. ..."

The tall man went to the window and
stood with his back to the room looking
out. When he turned about, his eyes were
shining like the lights across the water.
* It was like getting home, he said.

" Yes, twas home," said Uncle William
contentedly. Of course, any place where
you happen to be is home, but if there s
somebody there waitin for ye and needin
ye, it s more homier than any of em."

Andy got slowly to his feet. " Harr et s
waitin for me," he said, " and I might s
well go " He cast a lingering look at
the table. " You boys going to sit up all
night, talking and gabbling?

" Why, no, Andy. I do no s we ll light
up," responded Uncle William. " I was



Happy Island 35

thinkin of going down to look after the
boats a little and then we ll go to bed
like enough."

" Well, good night," said Andy, " I ve
got to go."

" Good night, Andy." They sat listen
ing to his footfalls on the rocky path
below. " He s a good boy," said Uncle
William. "He ll stan a lot without
whimpering but he don t know it no
more n that cat there."

Juno rose and stretched her back, yawn
ing. Then she walked indifferently to the
door and passed out as if a summons
had come to her from the night out there.



IV

UNCLE WILLIAM finished the last
saucepan and carried it, with care
ful flourish, to the stove, where the top was
piled high with pots and kettles. He found
a place for the saucepan and deposited it
with cautious touch. Then he stood back
and surveyed the topply pile with hopeful
eye.

Benjamin, seated on a rock outside, was
whistling softly. You most ready, Will
iam," he called.

Uncle William glanced hastily toward
the window, then his glance traveled about
the room. Pretty near, Benjy, he said.
" You wait a minute whilst I chuck two-
three more things out o sight."

Benjamin rose and stretched his long

. 36



Happy Island 37

legs. The sun shone brilliantly and the
salt air was alive with the freshness of
summer. He strolled to the window and
looked in. ... Uncle William, on his knees
by the red lounge, was poking things under
with swift, efficient touch.

He looked up and nodded. " Don t you
wait, Benjy. I m most done. The s just
two-three things got strayed around -
He gathered up a plate and saucer, with
the remnants of Juno s supper, and carried
them across to the sink. He opened the
cupboard door underneath and thrust them
in. ... " The s a few things left," he
said apologetically, " if I raked way in
under for em, mebbe. But we ve got
enough to run along quite a spell now."
He glanced affectionately at the stove and
the rows of shining cups and plates ranged
on the shelf above the sink.

Benjamin s eye followed the glance with
a touch of amusement and a little imp a-



38 Happy Island

tience, " Oh, come on, AVilliam. You d let
things run a week and then you d scrub all
day"

Uncle William s face beamed. " That s
right, Benjy. That s just the way I like
it now, how d you know? "

11 Well, I have eyes," said Benjamin
dryly, " and I ve been living with you a
month or so, you know."

" That s so, Benjy and don t it seem
good! Uncle William came to the win
dow and patted the thin hand resting on
the sill. "I m coming right along, now,
soon s I get my apron off - His fingers
tugged at the strings of the big oil cloth
pattern that encompassed him.

Benjamin s eye waited, impatient -
" You ll get rid of all that fuss when the
new girl comes," he said.

Uncle William s mouth opened and
looked at him. Then it closed and Uncle
William shook his head. "I d clean for-



Happy Island 39

got her," he said slowly, " and if I don t
send her word today, she can t come for
two weeks nor four, mebbe. The boats
don t run right." He reached up to the
clock for the pen and bottle of ink that
stood there.

Benjamin moved with restless indecision
and Uncle William glanced at him. " You
run along, Benjy," he said kindly, " That
contractor 11 be waiting for you "

" He s been waiting," said Benjy
quickly, " an hour at least.

" Yes, yes I know. Don t you wait "
Uncle William s eye was on the paper and
he was mumbling words to the ink bottle.
. . . "I ll be right along Benjy-
sometime

The tall man turned from the window
and strode over the rocks.

Uncle William s face smoothed to its
genial smile as the steps died away. His
fingers traced big, comfortable words on



4O Happy Island

the paper and his head nodded in a kind of
cheerful, all-round assent while he wrote.
The clock struck ten and he looked up,
blinking a little. His eyes strayed to the
window and he looked out. Then he got
up and went across. After a minute he
took down the spy-glass and fixed it on a
distant point. His face radiated in little
wrinkles of interest. " I do no s I ever
see Andy run like that and cross-lots,
too Harr et wants suthin - bad like
enough. . . . My my ! He hadn t ought
to run like that! "... He bent from the
window. * Hello, Andy ! what you
runnin for?

Andy halted, panting " He s come!
he said. The words sank to a whisper and
he wheeled about, glaring at a man who
was coming up the path from the shore,
trundling a bicycle before him. He was a
young man, with keen, quick glance and a
look of determination. He glanced indif-



Happy Island 41

ferently at Andy and rapped sharply on
the side of the door.

Uncle William came across with easy
gait. Grood morning, he said looking
down from his height . . .

" You re the owner of this house? "
said the young man.

Uncle William s eye traversed it kindly,
I reckon it belongs to me yet awhile.
Will you come in sir?" The figure
towered still higher and Uncle William s
presence exhaled dignity and welcome.

The young man stepped over the sill.
Andy followed sulkily.

" Sit down, sir." Uncle William s hand
motioned to the red lounge.

The stranger crossed and sat down, hold
ing his hat in his hand and glancing with
quick eye about the little room.

Uncle William sat down opposite him, a
hand on either knee, and looked at him
over large spectacles.



42 Happy Island

"I m the new fish-warden," said the
young man as if he answered a polite
question.

" I kind o reckoned you might be a
fish- warden, or something like that,"
said Uncle William. "I m glad to see
you.

The young man smiled a little. You re
the first one that s glad, I guess " The
quick look had relaxed a little in his face.
The warm, sunny room seemed to reach
out and surround him.

Juno, from her place on the lounge,
leaped down and walked with deliberate
step across the room. She seated herself
in the sunshine, with her back to the com
pany, and looked steadily into space.

Uncle William s eye rested on her
kindly. .

"I m looking for lobsters," said the
young man.

Uncle William nodded. "It s a poor



Happy Island 43

time of year for em," he said, " close
season, so."

The man s eyebrows lifted a little.

" I didn t get your name, sir," added
Uncle William, leaning forward.

11 My name is Mason," said the young
man.

" I m glad to meet you, sir, said Uncle
William. He came across and held out a
big hand. ( i My name is Benslow Will
iam Benslow.

The young man took the hand, a little
dazed, it might seem. " I knew it was
Benslow," he said, " I inquired before I
came up down in the village."

* Now, did ye 1 That was kind in you !
Uncle William beamed on him and sat
down. " I ain t ever had the fish- warden
up here, he said thoughtfully 1 1 not as
I can remember. I m real glad to see
you.

The young man nodded stiffly a little



44 Happy Island

color had come into his face as if he did
not propose to be tampered with.

" I ve thought a good deal about fish-
wardens, went on Uncle William comfort
ably, crossing his legs, " when I ve been
out sailing and lobstering and so on-
Seems s if it must be kind o unpleasant
business knowing likely enough folks
don t want to see you come sailin into a
harbor night or day."

The young man turned a little in his
place, looking at him curiously.

" and kind o havin to brace your
self, went on Uncle William, " to do your
duty feelin , I suppose, as if there was
spears always reachin out from the shore
and pinting at ye to keep you off sort
of?"

The young man stirred uneasily. " I
don t know that I ever thought about it
that way," he said.

" Like enough you didn t," said Uncle



Happy Island 45

William, " I do no s I d a thought of it
myself only I m al ays kind o possessed
to know how folks feel inside other
folks, you know and one day, as I was
comin in from lobsterin , I says to my
self Supposin , instead o bringing in
these lobsters, nice and comfortable, I was
a fish-warden, a-sailin in to catch some
body, there on the shore and then, all
of a sudden, I seemed to see them spears,
hundreds of em, pointin right at me, kind
of circle-like, from the shore. There was a
minute in that boat when I wouldn t a
known whether it was you or me, and it
felt uncomfortable real uncomfortable,
said Uncle William.

Andy s face held a wide, half -scared
grin.

The young man looked at Uncle William
curiously. " I could imagine things like
that if I wanted to," he said dryly.

Uncle William nodded. " I don t doubt



46 Happy Island

you could a good deal better. But I
wouldn t if I was you."

" I don t intend to," said the young
man. He half rose from his seat.

" It s cur us, ain t it," said Uncle
William, " Now, I suppose you ve got
a family a wife, like enough, and
children

The young man s hand sought an inside

pocket, as if by instinct. Then it dropped



to his side.

Uncle William smiled and chuckled a
little. " Now, I never thought you d
have pictures of em with you. But why
shouldn t ye? Why shouldn t a fish-
warden hev pictures of his wife and babies,
same as other folks? " He had turned to
Andy, and sat, with spectacles pushed up
on his forehead, looking at him inquiringly.

"I do no why he shouldn t," said
Andy feebly but not as if convinced.

" Of course you d have em," said Uncle



Happy Island 47

William, turning to the young man,
" And I like you all the better for it. I d
taken a liking to you anyhow before
that."

The face opposite him was non-commit
tal. But there was a look of firmness about
the chin.

"I d like to see em," said Uncle Will
iam, " if you wouldn t mind my seein
em." The tone was full of interest and
kindly hope.

The young man took out a small leather
case and handed it to him, without speak
ing.

Uncle William received it in his big,
careful fingers, and adjusted his glasses
before he bent to it.

Andy sat silent, with grudging, watchful
eye, and the young man let his glance wan
der about the room. Juno, seated in the
sunshine, blinked a little. Then she rose
and moved toward the cupboard door and



48 Happy Island

snuffed the crack. She seated herself be
side it, turning a reproachful, indifferent
eye in Uncle William s direction.

Andy, from across the room, glared at
her.

The young man s eye had followed her
with half -cynical smile.

Uncle William looked up from the
leather case and pushed up his glasses.
" You ve got a good wife, Mr. Mason."

* I know about it, said the young man
quietly. He stood up, holding out his hand
for the case. Uncle William beamed help
lessly at the baby handing it back.

The young man replaced the case in his
pocket without comment, but the corners of
his smile softened a little as if in spite
of judgment.

" Well, now, you want to look round a
little, don t ye? said Uncle William,
standing up, Seems a pity to hev to -
things are kind of cluttered up so if I d



Happy Island 49

known you was comin I d a had em
fixed up."

The young man s face broke a little. " I
don t doubt it," he said.

Uncle William chuckled. " You re used
to havin em fixed up for you, I suppose?
Well let s see. I ll tell you the best
places to look. . . . The s under the sink-
Andy s chair scraped the floor with sud
den sound.

Uncle William looked at him mildly.
" The s under the sink," he repeated
firmly, " and under the lounge and under
the bed and up chimbley and down cellar
. . . but they re all kind o hard places to
get to. ... That s another thing I never
thought of, about being a fish-warden -
havin to scooch so much."

" Never mind that," said the young
man, and there was a little impatient flick
to the words, " I ll begin wherever you
say



50 Happy Island

" Why, / don t mind," said Uncle Will
iam kindly. " If / was advising you, /
should say, Don t look anywheres.

Juno moved over and rubbed against
Uncle William s leg. Then she returned
to her seat by the cupboard and lifted her
lip in a silent miaouw.

11 Byme-by, Juno," said Uncle William
cheerfully. " She s hungry, like enough,"
he said, turning to the fish-warden.

But the man had stooped and was lifting
the cover of the red lounge.

"It s a dreadful clutter," said Uncle
William aside to Andy, " Seems s if I
hadn t o t to let him see it looking like
that"

" You d better wring her neck," said
Andy between his set teeth.

"Why, Andy! You don t find any
thing there, Mr. Mason? " said Uncle Will
iam.

The man emerged with red face. " I



Happy Island 5 i

didn t expect to, he said * But it s my
business to look

11 Yes, it s your business. That s what
I was sayin to myself when I was out
sailin :

" I ll take the bedroom next," said the
man shortly.

They disappeared in the next room and
the murmur of their voices, with the mov
ing of a heavy chest and the stir of papers,
came out.

Andy cast a vicious eye at Juno. He
half rose and took a step on tiptoe. But
the bedroom door opened again and he sat
down.

1 I haven t hauled a trap nor set
one since the season closed," said Uncle
William s voice.

11 That s all right, Mr. Benslow. But I
have reason to think. ... I d better make
a thorough search since I am here," he
finished quietly.



52 Happy Island

" You search all you want to," said
Uncle William cordially Get away,
Juno. He pushed her aside with his foot.
" This is my sink cupboard," he opened
the door hospitably. " Lucky I washed
some of the dishes this morning," he said,
" You would a had a time if I hadn t! >:

The man reached in and drew but a pile
of plates. His nose lifted itself as he set
them down and reached in again. He
emerged with a quiet look in his face "I
shall have to trouble you to take out all the
things in that cupboard," he said with a
motion of his hand.

Uncle William s face had dropped a lit
tle. " I most knew you d want me to do
that," he said, " I o t to a done it, this
morning, before you came."

The man laughed out. " That s all
right, Mr. Benslow. I don t mind your
bluffing as long as you play fair. But
that cupboard is a give-away, dead easy."



Happy Island 53

Uncle William sighed a little. " I wish
had my clam-rake," he said.

The man stared at him -

"I gen ally use my clam-rake to haul
em out, explained Uncle William kindly.
" I can shove em in with the broom or a
stick of wood or most anything, but it s
kind o hard gettin em out specially for
a big man like me - He reached in and
drew out an ample armful dippers and
pans and plates and spoons and bowls
then another armful mostly tinware and
kettles and then a third spreading
them on the floor about him with lavish
hand. Now and then he stopped to exclaim
over some lost treasure as it came to light.
If doom must come, Uncle William did not
propose to meet it more than half way nor
with gloomy countenance.

The fish-warden watched him with his
little cynical smile, and Andy hitched un
easily in his chair.



54 Happy Island

* There ! Uncle William drew a
breath and emerged from the cupboard.
" That s the last one I can reach with
out my rake. You get in, Andy. You re
smaller n I be."

Andy took firm hold of the seat of his
chair. * I don t want to, Willum.

11 Oh yes, you get right in and fetch
em out, Andy. I ll hold the candle for
ye."

Uncle William lighted a candle and
Andy crawled miserably into the depths.
His voice came out, gloomy and protesting,
as he handed out a few last articles. Then
there was a long pause and a sound of
scraping on the boards.

Uncle William withdrew the candle.

11 He s comin out," he said.

The fish-warden bent forward, a look of
quick interest in his face.

Slowly Andy backed into the room and
lifted an awed face. In his hand he held



Happy Island 55

a small mouse-trap. " There ain t a
durned thing left, he said, except this.
He held it up and looked at it and
blinked. Then he laid it down on the table
and looked at it again, fondly and
blinked. A large grin stole into his face.
I put that mouse-trap there time Juno
run away, he said the time you was
down to New York." He had turned to
William.

Uncle William was looking at the fish-
warden, a kindly smile on his face.

The warden ignored it. " I ll trouble
you for that candle," he said, " I ll take
a look myself.

Uncle William handed it to him and he
held it far into the cupboard, peering at
the top and sides and floor. He withdrew
it, blowing it out with a quick puff
" You ve got off this time," he said, " but
that smell ought to convict you if there
was any justice in law."



56 Happy Island

* * Well, I do no s there is, said Uncle
William, " do you? It does smell good."
He sniffed a little. " Seems s if they
ought to put that in the schedule they send
us, Any lobsters, claws or smells found in
the possession of any person whatso
ever. Uncle William marked off the
count on his fingers with kindly eye and
beamed. You could fine me fifty dollars,
or some such matter as that for that
cupboard, I should think." The eyes be
hind the big spectacles twinkled with good
fellowship.

The fish-warden looked at him. Then he
looked at the empty cupboard and at Andy
and the mouse-trap He smiled a little.
" You might speak to them about the law
yourself, he said. 1 1 I can testify it ought
to be changed."

" We d like to speak to em," said Un
cle William, about a good many
things. About this lobster-law, now, He



Happy Island 57

motioned toward the mouse-trap, " We
don t want any such law. / ain t a can
ning factory. We ain t pirates, nor law
breakers here :

The young man smiled a little.

11 Not without we have to be," said
Uncle William quickly. " They re our lob
sters, and mostly we know what s good for
em and what s good for us, and if we
want to ketch a few and eat, now and then,
we don t need no inspector. . . . Not but
what we re always glad to see you," he
said. He held out his hand kindly. " I
know by the looks of your wife and ba
bies you re a good man.

The young man took the big hand, smi
ling a little. "I m glad to have met you,
Mr. Benslow," he said slowly. He looked
at him a minute, as if something in the big
face puzzled him. Then he turned away
with a little shake of his head. " I
shouldn t want to meet you regularly



58 Happy Island

not if I m going to keep on being fish-
warden," he said.

Uncle William chuckled a little. * Don t
you worry, Mr. Mason there s lots of
jobs for them that needs em some of
em right and some of em wrong and
I reckon the main thing is to do what we
hev to do as well as we can and not
worry."

He watched the young man down the
rocky path, trundling his wheel beside him.
Then he turned back to the red room. He
stooped and ran his big hand along Juno s
back, as it arched to his touch, smoothing
it slowly.

Andy looked at him with sheepish grin.
" Where d you put em, Willum? " he
said.

Uncle William glanced out of the win
dow at the dimpling harbor. A little
breeze blew across it and the waves dark
ened and ran. He smiled at them and then



Happy Island 59

at Andy. " I see his lights last night," he
said, * along about midnight, off the Point,
and I says to myself, i Least said, soonest
mended, so I took em down and heaved
em. It hurt Juno some - He smoothed
the gray back gently, " But she feels all
right about it now, I guess, same as we
do."



UNCLE WILLIAM was wondering
whether he could leave the frying-
pan another day. He had promised Benjy
he would come up ... the sun was shining
and Benjy needed him. He went to the
door, with the pan in his hand, and looked
out. He took in great sniffs of salt air,
looking over his spectacles at the moor and
the light on the rocks and the stretch of
sky.

His face was mild and happy, and his
look rested casually on a figure that had
left the beach and was coming up the
rocky path. Presently he leaned forward,
waving the frying-pan back and forth.
" Morning, George," he called.

60



Happy Island 61

The young man came on, with even, swift
steps that did not hurry. He held an en
velope in his hand. " Letter for you,
Uncle," he said.

Uncle William laid down the frying-pan
and held out his hand. A mild and benev
olent curiosity held the big face. His look
welcomed the whole world shut up in the
bit of envelope. He took it and studied the
inscription and pushed up his spectacles,
looking at the young man with satisfaction.
"Set down, Georgie," he said "It s
from Celia."

Who s Celia ? asked the young man.
He seated himself on a rock and plucked a
stem of grass, taking it in his teeth.

Uncle William looked at him again and
settled slowly into the doorway filling it,
with the big, checked apron about him
" You ain t ever seen Celia, I reckon? "
he said.

" Don t believe I have," responded



62 Happy Island

George. He was looking across the har
bor, turning the bit of grass between his
teeth. His glance sought the envelope
again, Come from around here f he
asked.

Uncle William opened it with slow, care
ful fingers. " Well, not exactly round
here." He drew out the sheet and
smoothed it on his knee and rubbed his
fingers on his apron, and took up the paper,
holding it arm s length. " It s some
body t s coming to live with us," he
explained kindly.

" Oh? "

Uncle William read on. He laid down
the paper and took off his glasses, waving
them at the landscape. " Some like a
woman ! " he said.

George turned and looked behind him.

" I don t mean off there," said Uncle
William, * I mean here what she says,
He took up the letter, " She says she can t



Happy Island 63

come yet not just yet. He mumbled to
the words kindly. . . . " It s her clothes, *
he volunteered, " She s got to get some
new ones or fix her old ones, or suthin
I don t just understand what tis she s
doin ."

" Don t need to, do you? " said the
young man. His tone was even, and a lit
tle contemptuous.

Uncle William eyed him a minute.
" You wa n t ever much acquainted with
women, was ye, George ?

I don t know as I was, said the young
man. " Too busy, I guess."

* Yes you al ays keep a-doin same
as I do," said Uncle William. " But I ve
kind o watched em between times
women. They re interesting" he added,
a leetle more interesting n men be,,
I reckon.

A little smile held the face opposite him.
" Men are good enough for me," he said.



64 Happy Island

* You can talk to men sensible know
what they mean.

" That s it," said Uncle William, " I
reckon that s what I like about women
you can t tell what they mean it keeps
you guessing, kind of makes you feel
lively in your mind.

" My mind s lively enough without
that," said George carelessly. His eye
was on the dark water and the little white-
caps that rode on it.

11 Well, I do no . I like to have a good
many things to think about when I m
settin ," said Uncle William, " and when
I m sailin . I keep quite a lot of em
tucked away in my mind somewheres
and fetch em out when I have a minute or
two, quiet-like, to myself." He touched
the letter in his hand, almost reverently.
" The s suthin about women t I can t
make out " he said, " If it s a wedding
or a funeral or going away, or whatever



Happy Island 65

tis most the first thing they think about
is their clothes like Celia here "he
touched the letter again. ...-." Now,
that s interestin - - bout their clothes,
ain t it! He beamed on him.

The young man returned the look tol
erantly. " Foolishness," he said.

Uncle William nodded. * I know
foolishness for you and me and Andy
and for Benjy, mebbe. But tain t foolish
ness for women. You can see that, the way
they do it. It s kind o like goin to church,
to em and they don t really feel right
without they re doing it. ... It s kind o
pretty to see em al ays a-makin and
plannin and makin em for the little
ones fore they come turning em over,
and showin em to other women, like
enough not sayin much just lookin


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Online LibraryJennette LeeHappy Island : a new Uncle William story → online text (page 2 of 11)