Jennette Lee.

Happy Island : a new Uncle William story online

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for him.

" The s a good many things might hap
pen," allowed Uncle William, turning it
slowly in his mind. " The Widow De-
man s well might go dry and then where d
you be, with your mortar and plaster and
cement, if that well run dry?

The man looked at him.

11 You d want to put the well in," Uncle
William suggested, " if you should make
the contract

Happy Island 99

11 You can t clutter up a contract that
way. I m not going to make any contract
to build a house on this Island."

" He ll want to do what s fair," said
Uncle William. " S pose you go see about
the well whilst I talk with him," he added

The man moved in the direction of a
little house a few rods away and Uncle
William turned toward the tall figure pac
ing back and forth on the short-cropped

Bodet turned as he came up. " Who
cares about building a house ! " he said.
" Look at that sky and water and all
this ! " His gesture took in the rocks
and turf and the flock of sheep feeding
their way up the hill to the horizon.

Uncle William s eye followed it all plac
idly. You do get over being in a hurry
up here," he said slowly, " I reckon it s
because the Lord s done so well by it got

ioo Happy Island

a chance to finish things up without
folks meddling too much it seems kind
o foolish to hurry bout things. . . . Well,
George 11 do your house for you if you
want him to."

"I m willing to try him," said the
man with a little note of condescension.
" Where s he gone? "

" He s just stepped over to the Widow
Deman s well," said Uncle William.

* * He 11 sign the contract, of course ?

"Well" Uncle William hesitated.
" He ll sign one, I guess, if you say so
If I was buildin a house, I d just go ahead
and build if I could get George Man

The tall man fidgeted a little. " Sup
pose he takes a notion feathers his own
nest while he s building my house," he
said at last.

Uncle William s eyes grew large then
they laughed. " George Manning ain t a

Happy Island 101

bird of the air, Benjy and he s pretty
well past feathers now. . . . Curious, I
didn t understand about that contract, he
said after a little pause. " It never come
over me that you thought George wouldn t
do the square thing by you . . . and I
guess he wouldn t a got it through his
head all summer that you thought he
was going to cheat you ! Lucky I didn t
think of it," he added, "I d a made a
muss of it somehow and you wouldn t a
got your house built not this year, any
how. " He looked at him sympathetically.

Bodet smiled. " I didn t suppose there
was a man left, you could trust like that,"
he said.

" Well, George ain t left exactly. He s
just here with the rest of us," said Uncle
William * * Folks mean to do bout
what s right up here, I guess. And I do
no but that s about as easy way as any.
I ve tried both kinds of places honest

IO2 Happy Island

and say nothin - and places where they
cheats and signs papers, and I do no s
it s any better n our way just going
along and doing as well as you can and ex-
pectin other folks to. ... He s coming
back," said Uncle William. They watched
the young man move across the rocks
toward them thin and spare-built and
firm. His face, tempered fine like a piece
of old bronze, held a thoughtful look, and
the stalk of grass between his teeth turned
with gentle motion as he came.

11 How d you find it? " said Uncle Will

He looked up. " It s all right four
teen feet of water, I guess." He drew a
slip of paper from his pocket and turned
to Bodet " I ve been running it over in
my mind a little," he said slowly " and if
that s any use to you, I m willing to sign

Bodet took the paper in his thin fingers

Happy Island 103

and swung his glasses to his nose. Uncle
William looked at him with pleased smile.

The glasses swung down from the long
nose. " What has the Widow Deman s
well got to do with my house? " he said

Uncle William leaned forward. " That s
my idee, Benjy. He looked over the high

" I will build your house for $25,000, provided

and allowed the Widow Deman s well holds out.


"That s right, George that s fust-
rate," said Uncle William, " You ve put
it high enough to cover you and Benjy,

" It would seem so," said Bodet.
" Ordway had figured twenty thousand
and he s not cheap."

11 I told George to make it high
more n it could possibly figger up to,"
said Uncle William with satisfaction,

IO4 Happy Island

" so s t you d get something back - - stead
o having to pay out more n you expected
to. I thought that was what you wanted
the contract for," he added significantly.

"I see Well, it s a bargain and
without any pieces of paper." He tore
what was in his hands through, and handed
it back with a little courteous gesture of
decision * If I m going to build on the
Island, I ll build as the Island builds."

" That s right, Benjy. Now, let s have
a look at them plans." Uncle William
found a rock and sat down. The other two
men moved from point to point, driving in
stakes, and pulling them out, measuring
lines and putting down new ones. While
they were doing it, a big wind blew in
around and proceeded to pile up clouds and
roll them up the hill behind them. Uncle
William watched the clouds and George
Manning and Bodet, moving to and fro
before them.

Happy Island 105

" Manning says it can t be done," said
Bodet, walking over to him. Two straight
wrinkles stood between his eyes.

11 I don t see how it can be not yet,"
said the man. He held out the plan. l t He
wants his chimney :

Uncle William nodded. " I know
where the old one was."

11 But that chimney isn t any good.
You Ve got to build from the ground up -
You can t use the old foundation ?

" Well, not exactly use it, mebbe."
Uncle William looked at him thoughtfully.
11 I do no s I can tell you, George, what
he wants it that way for You see he set
by that chimney when he was a boy and
the s something about it about the idee,
you know?

The carpenter looked at him with slow,
smiling eyes. " Tain t the chimney, then-
He kind o likes the idea of a chimney -
does he? ... He didn t say anything

106 Happy Island

about the idea," he added, " He just kind
o fussed around when I tried to shift
her He looked at the paper in his
hand. Well I can t tell yet. I ve
got to figure on it I 11 go down now and
order my lumber, I guess." He moved
away toward the road and Uncle William
got up.

He crossed over to the old chimney and
stood looking toward the hill that mounted
above it. The sun had disappeared and the
dark turf was soft. . . . Long reaches of
turf and the cropping sheep that moved
across it in slow shapes. Uncle William
drew a deep breath and turned to the man
who stood silent beside him his eyes on
the hill. " Does seem like home, don t it,
Benjy? " he said quietly, in the big, deep
voice that boomed underneath like the sea.

THE young carpenter approached Bo-
det cautiously with his solution of the
roof -line. They had talked it over a dozen
times and Bodet had become restlessly im
patient. . . . Ordway might be right, after
all. . . . He looked at different forms of
lattice-work and stone foundations and
swore softly at a terrace Ordway s
idea with morning glories alongside.
. . . Uncle William, any day, at any time
of day, was in favor of a new plan alto
gether. He stood ready to furnish de
tails like his own house, mebbe, only big
ger. . . . After this suggestion, every time
it came up, he went out and sat on the rocks
a long while and looked at the water.

Andy coming by hailed him. " What
yon doing? " he called.


io8 Happy Island

" Just a-settin here a little," replied
Uncle William.

" Ain t Benjy to home? demanded

* Yes, he s to home, admitted William.

Andy looked toward the house.

" I wouldn t go in, if I was you,"
said William, " He s kind o tending to
things in his mind.

But if Bodet fretted at delays and slow
decisions and failure of material to arrive,
he caught the spirit of the place, after a
little, and settled down to it and held up
work a week at a time while he
changed details or pottered over new ones.
Uncle William in his element went
back and forth between the old chimney-
place and his house, carrying ideas and
bricks with impartial hand. George Man
ning, with one eye on his plans and the
other on his men, pushed the work or held

Happy Island 109

it back, as the wind blew. When the men
grumbled over a foundation wall torn out
and put in again, with a hair s breadth of
difference, he looked at them with slow,
sympathetic eye and admitted that it
wasn t so very much different, maybe
just enough to look different, some

It was when he had studied on the roof-
line a week or more, that he came in one
morning a look of cautious elation in his

Bodet sat before the fire reading day-
bef ore-yesterday s paper. Uncle William
was pottering about, finishing the last of
the dishes, and Celia was down at Andy s
helping Harriet who was ill.

Bodet looked up as the young man came
in, and laid down his paper. " How is it
coming on? "he said. The tone was mild.
He had had a good night s rest, and he had
come somehow to share Uncle William s

iio Happy Island


belief that Manning would find a way
out only give him time enough and
suthin to figger on."

The young man seated himself on the
red lounge, his hat between his knees. I
don t suppose you d like going up and
down stairs? " he said.

Bodet looked at him a little quizzically
and swung his glasses to his nose. That
depends," he replied.

" It won t be stairs exactly," said Man
ning, " just steps, maybe. You drop the
floor of the south room to get your level
and then put some steps here " He
came over with the paper.

Bodet took it in cautious fingers.

Manning bent over him. " There s the
living-room and the fire-place," He indi
cated the rough lines, just where you
want them You kind of look down into
the room, you see, when the door s open
instead of all on a level T "

Happy Island

T T i

" I see." Bodet studied it with lifting

Uncle William came over and stood by
them, his dish towel on his arm and his
glasses alert " The house sort o climbs
down the rocks, don t it? " he suggested.
" I ve seen them that way foreign
parts a lot. The glow in his face swept
the room. " I do no how we didn t come
to think of it, fust thing easy as settin ."

" Just about," said Bodet. " How did
you get it? He looked at the young man.
" You never saw a room like that, did
you? "

" No, I never saw one," he replied
slowly " but something d got to give
way somewheres. You wouldn t let the
roof-line be touched, nor the ground, and
there wasn t anything left to give way
but the floor. I guess it kind of dropped
down by itself while I was figuring on
it." He looked at it fondly.

1 12 Happy Island

11 It improves the thing fifty per cent,"
said Bodet. He held off the paper, scan
ning it with happy vision, " We ll have a
little railing here, with carving on it, and
something leading up to it It s the fea
ture of the place." He handed it back.
" Go ahead with it. There isn t anything
else to decide, is there ?

* No. Things are coming on. He took
the paper, tucking it in his pocket. * The
* Happy Thought got in last night with
her lumber and the new masons came this
morning. I was kind of bothered about
their not getting here, and the Widow De-
man s well going dryer and dryer all the
while, and no brickwork getting done. I ll
go set em to work. He nodded and was
Uncle William looked after him with
smiling face. " He s a nice boy," he said,
" You just can t find a thing George can t
figger out."

Happy Island 113

" He s a genius," said Bodet thought
fully, " He ought to be somewhere besides
on this island somewhere he d have a

" Chance for what? " asked Uncle Will
iam, with simple interest.

11 A chance to rise," said Bodet with
emphasis. " It s all right for you and
me, William old men with our work

" Mine ain t quite done," said William,
11 your bed and two-three things," and
he flaxed around softly as if he were doing

Bodet smiled at him. " Now what do
you think you are doing, William? " he
said. " We re out of it. We ve had our
day we ve worked and fought and suf
fered ;

" That s it, Benjy." Uncle William
nodded, " We Jiev had a good time, ain t
we? But I do no s I ever had a better

ii4 Happy Island

one n I m having right here on the Is
land specially since you come," he added.

The other shook his head. " It won t
do, William. A young man must go out
into the world and do things.

Uncle William hung his dish towel on
the line. The big face in its tufts of beard
glowed at Benjy over the top "I sup
pose folks d say there s bigger things I
could be doin - than wash dishes but
I do no what they be, he said thought
fully. " There s things I d like better -
it s terrible fussy getting em clean and
keepin ahead, so s t you ll have enough
for a meal and I m putty glad Celia s
coming back. . . . I ve thought about it,
Benjy a good many times - He came
over and sat down, " bout living nere
on the Island. We don t hurry much, but
seems to me we get about as much about
as much living as other folks do." He
looked at him over his glasses. " We ve

Happy Island 115

got enough to eat, and beds putty good
beds and things to wear. ... I keep
a-thinking and a- thinking about it," he
went- on, " and I don t see just what tis
we o t to scratch around so for."

" There s education," said the other,
swinging his long glasses on their slender

" Yes, /ow ve got eddication, Benjy. I
can see it kind o the way you set in a
chair different from my way. Uncle
William regarded his great legs with kindly
eye. " But I do no s you re any hap
pier or your legs any happier ? " he said

* You know I m not happier. The man
turned with a quick smile, There are not
many men happier than you are, William.

" No, I suppose the ain t. Sometimes I
wake up in the night and think how happy
I be Seems kind o shiftless," he added
thoughtfully, Like enough, I ought to be

116 Happy Island

out hustling for suthin But I do no
what it dbe? "

" Manning ought to get out into the
world and he s going to when he s
finished my house. . . .It s all right for
you, William. You ve earned a rest."

Uncle William smiled. " I don t want
any rest, Benjy no more n George Man
ning I like to keep a-doing kind o
gradual-like al ays did. ... I can t see s
the Lord hurries much," he added, with
a glance at the little window.

" You re not the Lord, William," said

William smiled at him his broad, kind
smile, * * Twas a kind o funny idea my
saying that wa n t it? I do no why I
get to thinking about things and about
me and the Lord. ... I reckon it s be
cause I m out in a boat so much kind o
sailin around and watching how he does
things and kind o enjoying his ways,"

Happy Island 117

he added softly. . . . " The s suthin
about it suthin about the way the tides
come in and the sun goes down and the
stars come out that makes you feel glad.
I ve seen George Manning, a good many
times when we was out, and had a ketch,
and was coming along in, towards dark
I ve seen him set and look . . . and I
knew he wa n t thinkin bout how many
fish we d got any more n I was. You
can t think how many fish you ve got
more n about so long said Uncle Will
iam thoughtfully.

He glanced down the road. " There s
Celia comin ," he said happily. He went
over and watched her come " Don t she
kind o skim along good, Benjy! " The
smile on his big face kindled and deepened.
11 It s most too bad George ain t here."
He looked back into the room with a
shrewd glance. " He never see anybody
just like her I reckon.

i 1 8 Happy Island

Bodet shook his head. " You better let
well enough alone, William."

" Well, mebbe I will," said Uncle Will
iam. " Twon t hurt none for him to see
her will it? ... You got back pretty
quick, Celia. He looked kindly at her
glowing cheeks, " How s Harr et? "

" She s feeling better," said the girl.
She glanced about the room, You did the
dishes! I didn t mean you to do the

" I didn t do em so very well," said
Uncle William. We had company whilst
you was gone," he added craftily.

She looked at him * l That young fel
low that s building his house for him?
She nodded at Bodet, who had taken his
hat and gone outside.

Uncle William nodded back " That s
the one, Celia You ain t ever seen him,
have you?

" I ve seen him out of the window," she

Happy Island 119

aaid shortly, " That s near enough for
me seeing him go by.

Uncle William s face fell a little. " I
guess I 11 go long up with Benjy, he said.


GEOBGE MANNING looked about
him with satisfaction. The walls of
the new house were up and boarded in -
so much was safe. He knew Bodet might
appear any minute with a completely new
plan unless it could be staved off but
he reflected comfortably, as he looked up at
the great broadside of boards before him,
that he probably would not tear down the
whole thing any more. . . . The sound of
saws and hammers came with a cheerful
falling rhythm now together, and now in
hurried broken notes and the men on the
roof were singing a great blond Swede
leading them.
Manning stepped into the living-room

and stopped and gave a few directions to

Happy Island 121

the masons and then moved over to the
window and looked out. Far below him,
the harbor reflected the clear sun and he
squinted across it, scanning the horizon
for the little black steamer that was to
bring Portland cement and a consignment
of windows. The windows had been due
three weeks now and the work would be
handicapped if they did not come soon. He
turned away and attacked his work, whis
tling softly.

" Morning, George." It was Uncle
William big and happy in the door
way, beaming down upon him.

Morning, Uncle Mr. Bodet come up
with you ?

" He s outside somewheres. He s got a
new idee about the well.

Manning smiled a little a shrewd, dry
smile and drew the plane toward him,
" I don t mind his having new plans for
wells/ he said.

122 Happy Island

Uncle William sat down on a nail-keg
and picked up a bit of pine, feeling in his
pocket for his knife. He drew it out, and
squinted across it, and opened the smaller
blade, running it casually along his thumb.

George Manning s plane followed a curl
ing shaving down the length of the board
and withdrew. There was a clean smell of
pine mingling with the salt air.

Uncle William whittled a few minutes in
silence. Then he looked through the great
window-space, to the harbor. " I feel
queer, he said thoughtfully "I feel
dretful queer. *

The plane skirled its shaving off and
Manning stopped looking at him
Anything wrong, Uncle William?" he

William shook his head. " I don t mind
so much having things wrong. ... I m
kind o used to it having to fuss and
fiddle some. It s when things are com-

Happy Island 123

fortable-like what most folks call com
fortable that I get grumpy, I guess. . . .
We ve got a new girl down to the house,"
he added kindly.

"Yes I heard about her." Man
ning s eyes laughed. " Puts you out, don t
it? "

Uncle William nodded. "I m a good
deal surprised to see how I feel. I cal -
lated I d come along up here like a colt
turned out to grass. Just set around and
watch things same as ever feeling
kind o light in my mind. ... I don t feel
a mite light. He sighed and returned to
his whittling.

" You ll get used to it," said Manning

"I do no whether I shall or not.
It s been quite a spell now " Uncle
William held off his pine stick and looked
at it. "I m kind o wondering if I didn t
like to have them dishes "

124 Happy Island

11 To wash f "

1 Well not to wash exactly but to
leave around behind suthin I d o t to,
and didn t. . . . All the way up the road
I keep kind o missing em wishing I d
find em under the sink, mebbe, when I get
back. ... I wouldn t want to do em ex
actly, when I got there, I suppose. But I
do miss em." He shook his head.

Manning pushed a heap of shavings
aside with his foot and bent to his plane
again. " I can find things enough, most
any day things I ought to do and
don t easy job, Uncle William."

Uncle William looked at him. " You
ought to be considerable happy, George,"
he said slowly.

Well I am happy as happy as
most folks, I guess." His shrewd, thin
face followed the plane with even look.
" I ve got enough to do if that s what
you mean." He unscrewed his board

Happy Island 125

from the bench and carried it across the

Uncle William s eye followed him. " I
suppose you never thought of getting mar
ried, George? " he said casually.

The young man shook his head at the^
board he was trying to fit in place.
" Never was tempted," he said. He mea
sured a length on the board and took up
his saw.

Uncle William retired into his mind.
Benjamin Bodet came and stood in
the door and looked at the two, and
disappeared. The sound of the ham
mers trooped in and out through the

Uncle William stood up, snapping his
knife together. " I guess I ll go find
Benjy," he said. He wandered out and
sat down on a rock near by. Over the top
of a scattered pile of lumber he could see
Benjy s head moving back and forth.

126 Happy Island

" Best kind of weather," murmured Uncle
William. He sat down.

By and by Benjy appeared around the
corner of the lumber.

" We re going to have dinner up here,"
announced Uncle William. " Celia sent
word by Gunnion s boy she d have it here
by twelve, sharp." Uncle William s face
was guileless.

Benjy sat down. " I can t get it through
Marshall s head what I want about that
well," he said testily. " I ll have to see
Manning about it."

11 George 11 fix it for ye all right," said
Uncle William.

" Have the windows comet " asked Bo-

" Not yet, I reckon He didn t say
You re going to have a nice house,
Benjy! " His eyes rested on the rough
frame, " It s getting to look like I thought
twould nice and low kind o like an

Happy Island 127

old hen, you know spreading her wings
and settling down."

Bodet s face followed his look. " It s
coming out all right. Your George Man
ning knows his business knows what
he s about."

* He s a nice boy, said Uncle William.
" The s things about him might be differ
ent might be a little different," he
added cautiously.

" I don t know what they are. But I
shall have a chance to find out, I sup
pose before we re through."

" Oh, he ll do this all right."

Bodet stared at him a little. He s not
likely to have a much bigger job on
hand is he ? "

" Mebbe not," said Uncle William ha
stily, " I do no what I mean, like enough.
I just had a feeling kind of a feeling,
that George wa n t perfect."

Bodet laughed out. " I should hope

128 Happy Island

not if I m to have dealings with him.
Come on in and talk with him about the

They went toward the house. Through
the window they could see the young man
across the room, measuring a space on the
-wall. He stood back and looked at it
thoughtfully then he turned and saw
them. " I was thinking about the width
here," he said, " If your picture you re
going to put here is five by nine I ll have
to get the space on this side somehow.

" We re coming in," said Bodet, " I
"wanted to talk to you Marshall s all at
sea with that well of his."

I told him said Uncle William.
His mouth closed on the word, and a little
smile crept up to it. Why, Celia I
didn t think you d be along yet not quite
a while yet."

" It s dinner time," she said. She stood
in the doorway, looking in. She wore no

Happy Island 129

hat, and her hair was blown in little curls
by the wind. " You going to have your
dinner in here? " she asked.

" Why, yes I guess we might as well
have it here right here on the bench
can t we, George? "

" For anything I care," said the young
man, * * I ve got to go " He turned
toward the door.

" Oh George - - " Uncle William
stopped him. " I want you to see Celia.
This is our new girl Celia."

The young man stood very straight and
stiff, regarding her. " How do you do,"
he said.

" Oh, I m pretty well, thank you." A
little laugh nodded in the words and
whisked them away. "I m very glad to
see you," she said. She looked down at
her hands. Then she held out one of

The young man marched across and took

130 Happy Island

it he shook it a little and laid it down.

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Online LibraryJennette LeeHappy Island : a new Uncle William story → online text (page 4 of 11)