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Jennette Lee.

Happy Island : a new Uncle William story online

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" It s a nice day," he said briefly.

She smiled at him straight and quick.
Then she lifted the basket and set it on the
table. " I couldn t a got it here, ever, if
Jim Grunnion s team hadn t come along,"
she said. She opened the basket.
11 There s your pickles and biscuit
and pie and cheese She set the
things on the table, at one side * and
here s your tablecloth. She blew the bits
of shavings from the bench and spread a
red cloth across its width.

Uncle William s eyes followed her,
with a little twinkle somewhere below
them.

" It s nice not to have to come home
to dinner," said Bodet impersonally.

"Yes, sir I couldn t have you all
down there to-day. I m too busy." She
stood back, looking at the table. " That s
all you need Here s the salt and the



Happy Island 131

pepper and the stew is nice and hot."
She took the lid from the smoking pail and
peered in. "I put coals under the pail,"
she said. " You want to look out and not
set things afire. ... I m going now. You
can bring the dishes tonight when you
come She stood in the door and
was gone.

Uncle William laughed out and looked
at Manning. The young man was regard
ing him soberly.

" Draw up, George," said Uncle Will
iam, It looks to me as if the was enough
for three easy."

" I ve got mine outside," said the
young man. He lingered a little, appar
ently examining the bricks in the fireplace.

Uncle William looked at him and then
drew up to the table. " Celia s a dretful
good cook, he said. He helped himself to
the stew.

The young man went slowly toward the



132 Happy Island

door. "I guess I ll go see Marshall
about the well."

Uncle William looked over his shoulder.
" Oh and George f "

" Yes, sir? "

" If you happen to be goin by this eve
ning, you know, along after dark, you
might stop in. I ve got suthin to tell you
kind of an idee bout the well.

* You might tell me now before I see
Marshall ? " suggested Manning.

Uncle William shook his head. I can t
tell ye not yet. It s suthin about the
old well and pipes and things. I m kind
o thinkin it out "

" All right. I ll be in along after
supper.

" Yes, that s a good time. I ll have it
thought up by that time, like enough."

The young man went out and Uncle Will
iam continued to chew slowly, his eyes on
the red table cloth. Presently he looked



Happy Island 133

up and his eye met Bodet s He shook his
head.

" I do no what I 11 tell him about that
well," he said.

1 Tell him the idea you had just now
the one you spoke of. It will come back to
you by that time, maybe."

Uncle William shook his head again
slowly. " That idee can t come back to
me, Benjy I ain t ever had it.

Bodet stared at him. " You told
him "

" I know I told him, Benjy." Uncle
William was a little testy. "I do no
what I lie so easy for. . . . Seems s if
sometimes there was lies all round in the
air just waiting to slip in. ... I never
had no idee bout that well I 11 have to
have one."

Bodet s eye rested on him reflectively.
" You must have had some reason "

Uncle William looked up hastily, " I



134 Happy Island

don t believe I did, Benjy. I say things
like that sometimes things that don t
mean a thing things that ain t so. It
makes me a lot of trouble."

He got up and went to the window.
There s your Portland cement, out there,
and your windows. I thought the sky was
gettin kind o smudgy."

Bodet followed him and they stood to
gether, looking down at the big harbor
where the sails went to and fro and the
little black steamer was coming in.



XII

THE little room was shining-clean.
The window shone, the stove shone,
and the boards of the floor were sand-
white. Uncle William, standing in the
door, looked at them cautiously. Then he
looked down at his feet and wiped them
on a piece of sacking spread on the
step. " Clean enough to eat off of," he
said, stepping carefully on to the white
floor.

The girl at the sink nodded, the little
curls bobbing about her face. " I ve been
scrubbing," she said.

"I should say you had!" He
stepped forward gingerly. " You ve done
a lot to it. " He was looking about

135



136 Happy Island

vaguely, as if to find a place to put his feet
down.

The girl s look relaxed subtly. " I
thought you d like to have it clean I
wanted to do it the way you like? She
was looking at him a little wistfully
" You do like it, don t you? "

"It s just right, Celia I shouldn t
know anybody d lived in it ever. You
ain t seen Juno anywheres round, have
you?

A subdued look flitted in the girl s face.
" She went off when I began to beat the
lounge. I saw her flying over the rocks
I had to beat it hard, you know?

" Twas kind o dusty, wa n t it? " said
Uncle William, looking at it affectionately.
" I ve been meaning to do it myself but
when I was thinkin and settin on it, I
couldn t do it and when I wa n t settin on
it, I wa n t thinkin about it." He moved
toward the sink.



Happy Island 137

" I Ve put your washing-duds outside,"
said Celia, " your wash-basin and towel
and soap and things out by the door, you
know." She motioned him off.

Uncle William stopped and looked at
her. " That s the way Harr et has em,"
he said. " How d you come to think of
that, Celia? "

The girl bubbled a little laugh. " I
didn t think very hard Is Mr. Bodet
coming? "

" He ll be right along," said Uncle Will
iam. " He stopped to talk with George
Manning about plans and so on. He ll
be here pretty quick now." He went out
of the door, and the room was very quiet.
The girl stood twisting a corner of her
apron in her fingers and looking about the
shining room. There was a little dimple
in her cheek that came and went.

" What you thinking about, Celia?
asked Uncle William, coming in. His face



138 Happy Island

glowed from its washing and the tufts of
hair stood up straight.

The girl started a little. " I wasn t
thinking about anything I guess. * She
looked at the stove * They 11 cook all to
pieces if he doesn t come pretty quick,"
she said.

11 He s coming." Uncle William went
to the window. " He s right up the road
a piece You ain t had time to get home
sick, have you, Celia? He was standing
with his back to her.

No, sir Is that man coming, too ?

"That man?" Uncle William
wheeled about. . . . " Oh, George? You
mean George Manning, I guess."

" That s his name the one that was up
there this morning fussing around.

Uncle William nodded, his shrewd eyes
on the little curls that were bending over
the sink. " That s George Manning -
He s a nice boy," he added, seating him-



Happy Island 139

self on the lounge. " He s a putty good
boy George is.

Her interest was absorbed in something
in the kettle on the stove that steamed
and swirled about her. She took a fork
and tested it tenderly. Then she glanced
at the window. " He s coming Mr. Bo-
det You go show him where to wash
while I take up the dumplings " She
lifted the kettle, and Uncle William went
meekly to the door. " You wash up out
here, Benjy," said Uncle William. He
waved his hand at the toilet articles ranged
on the bench by the door " It s a nice
place, you see soap, and there s your
towel. . . . She ll let us come in rainy
days and cold days, maybe," he said
thoughtfully.

Bodet gave a dry chuckle. " Suits me,"
he said.

Uncle William s face lightened. " I
don t mind a mite myself " he ex-



140 Happy Island

plained, " but I was kind o fraid you d
want to be inside where folks can t see
you doing things so."

"Never!" said Bodet, "with the
sky for a ceiling and the clouds for fres
coes what more could a man want f
He waved his towel briskly at the land
scape.

Uncle William tiptoed back to the house.
" He likes it out there," he said.

Her face twinkled and she set the dump
lings on the table with a brisk movement.
" He s a nice man," she said.

" You comin , Benjy? called Uncle
William.

While they ate, the handmaiden flitted in
and out. She looked out for their wants
and washed pots and kettles on the bench
by the door and hummed bits of song
and once a little whistle was wafted in the
door but it stopped suddenly, as if quick
fingers had cut it off.



Happy Island 141

Uncle William looked at Benjy and
chuckled. " Some like having a canary
around, ain t it? Kind o bubbles and
goes along by itself! She likes doin
em," he added. " The s a lot of comfort
having folks around you that like doin
things. . . . Now, Harr et you ain t
ever seen the way Harr et does em, hev
you? "

Bodet shook his head.

Uncle William smiled, looking at some
thing in his mind. " Harr et don t really
like doin em/ he said confidingly, " I ve
seen her look at the bottom of a pan as if
she hated it, kind of. ... She gets em
clean, you know, but she don t really enjoy
her cleanness not really. ... If you re
down there a spell, watchin her and kind
o settin round you get to feelin s if
nobody d o t to live men-folks, special.
... I do no what it is about her," said
Uncle William reflectively about Har-



142 Happy Island



r et. . . . She s kind o straight in the
back and her shoulders don t bend much.
. . . Seems s if the was suthin wrong
about a woman an old woman like Har-
r et if her shoulders don t give a little."
He sat looking before him. . . . " The s
suthin about em, I do no what it is
about women when their shoulders get
a little mite bent, that makes me feel
happy inside Seems s if the Lord had
made em that way a-purpose kind o
gentle-like, you know so s t they could
bend easy and stay kind o curved over,
and not mind. I ve set and watched em
in meetin , a good many times, when they
didn t know I was looking and I ve took
a sight o comfort with em.

Bodet looked at him critically. " I don t
see that you bend very much, William."

Uncle William s broad shoulders spread
themselves and he drew a deep breath.
" That s different, Ben jy. . . . Men hadn t



Happy Island 143

o t to bend not without they have rheu
matism or cramps and things."

Celia whisked in at the door and out.

Benjy s eye followed her and returned
to William.

" I know what you re thinkin , Benjy,"
said Uncle William. " She s straight as
one o them rushes, up t the pond and
she ought to be. . . . She won t bend for
a spell yet she s got to know things
first Hello ! There s George !

They pushed back from the table and
went outside.



xm

flHHE three men looked across the har-
JL bor far in the distance something
troubled the surface of the water as if
a bit of the dusk had fallen on it and trav
eled with little restless waves.

Uncle William s eye grew round. . . .
" Mackerel! " he said solemnly.

" Been schooling all day," answered
Manning. His teeth closed on the bit of
grass between them and held it hard.

Uncle William looked at him sympathet
ically. * Any luck ! " he asked.

Bergen seven barrel and Thompson
about three, I guess. He set for a big
school, but they got away all but the tail
end. . . . They re running shy."

" They ve been bothered down below,"

144



Happy Island 145

said Uncle William. " That s why they re
here so early, like enough It s much as
your life is worth being a mackerel these
days Steve get any ?

Manning shook his head. " He started
out soon as Uncle Noah give the word
Uncle Noah d been up on the cliffs since
daylight, you know smelled em comin ,
I guess. Manning smiled.

Uncle William nodded. " He s part
mackerel, anyway, Noah is Went out,
I suppose? "

l Everybody went except me. The
young man s eye was gloomy. " That s a
big school." His hand moved toward the
harbor and the reddish bit of dusk glint
ing on it.

Too late tonight, said Uncle William.
He felt in his pockets Now, where d I
put that paper must a left it inside
You go look, George a kind o * crumpled
up paper with figgers on it. He felt



146 Happy Island

again in his pocket and the young man
went obediently toward the door.

Uncle William s eye sought Benjy s.
It 11 take him quite a few minutes to find
it, I reckon, he said placidly.

" Isn t it there? "

" Well it s there if it s anywheres, I
guess His eye returned to the water.
" It s a dretful pity George can t go
He s just aching to You can see that
plain enough

" He ll make more money," said Bodet
decisively, " working on my house."

"Well I do no bout that He d
make a good many hunderd out there :
Uncle William motioned to the harbor,
" a good many hunderd if he had
luck"

" He ll make a good many hundred on
the house. It s steady work and sure
pay," said Bodet.

Uncle William smiled. " I reckon that s



Happy Island 147

what s the matter with it The s suthin
dretful unsatisfyin about sure pay."

Bodet smiled skeptically.

" You don t understand about mackerel,
Benjy, I guess the mackerel feelin ."
Uncle William s eye rested affectionately
on the water. . . . " The s suthin about
it out there He waved his hand
" Suthin t keeps sayin , Come and
find me Come and find me kind o
low like. Why, some days I go out and
sail around just sail around. Don t
ketch anything don t try to, you know
just sail right out. . . . You ain t ever felt
it, I guess? "

Benjy shook his head.

" I kind o* knew you hadn t. . . .
You ve al ays had things had em done
for ye on dry land It s all right . . .
and you ve got things " Uncle William
looked at him admiringly, " Things t
Greorge and me won t ever get, like



148 Happy Island

enough." He smiled on him affection
ately, " But we wouldn t swap with ye,
Benjy."

" Wouldn t swap what? " asked Bodet.
His little laugh teased the words You
haven t got anything as far as I see-
to swap just a sense that there s some
thing you won t ever get."

Uncle William nodded. " That s it,
Benjy ! You see it don t you ? -
Suthin t I can t get can t ever get," he
looked far out over the water . . . " and
some day I ll sail out there and ketch
twenty barrel, like enough and bring
em in, and it s all hurrah-boys down t
the dock and sayin How many d you
get? and How d you do it? and runnin
and fussin and then, come along toward
night, and it ll get kind o big and dark
out there . . . and I ll forget all about the
twenty barrel and about gettin money for
em sensible I ll just want to heave



Happy Island 149

em out and go again." Uncle William
paused drawing a big sigh from some

deep place " That s the way George

feels, I reckon. ... If he stays and works
on your house, Benjy twon t be because
he wants money."

The young man appeared in the door
" I can t find any paper in here," he said.
There was a little note of defiance in the
words and the color in his face was clear
scarlet.

Uncle William looked at him quizzically.
" Maybe you didn t look in the right place,
Georgie," he said. " We re coming right
in, anyway."

In the clear, soft dusk of the room
Celia s face had a dancing look. She
stood by the sink, her dish towel caught
across her arm and her chin lifted a lit
tle as if she were listening to something
pleasant that no one had said. She
turned away hanging up the towel and



150 Happy Island



brushing off the top of the stove with
emphatic little movements and a far-away
face.

" Now, maybe I left that figgering up to
Benjy s." Uncle William glanced casu
ally about him. " You sit down, George,
and I ll look around a little for it." He
fumbled with some papers by the window
and went into the bedroom and came out,
humming gently to himself. He glanced at
the two men who sat on the red lounge
The younger one had drawn some lines on
a scrap of paper and was leaning forward
talking earnestly his hat on the floor be
side him and his hair pushed carelessly
back. He had forgotten the room and
Uncle William and all the little move
ments that danced. His fingers moved
with the terse, short words, drawing new
lines on the paper and crossing them out
and drawing new ones.

Uncle William s placid face held no



Happy Island 151

comment. " D you see a piece of paper,
Celia? " he asked, " a kind of
crumpled-up piece? "

She shook her head. Her eyes were on
the two figures on the lounge and on Juno,
who rose and stretched herself, drawing
her feet together and yawning high and
opening her pink-curved tongue. " I left
some scraps for her on the plate by the
sink," said Celia in a low voice. She un
tied her apron and hung it by the door.
Then she put on her hat and a light jacket
and stood looking about her as if there
might be something in the red room
something that would keep her a minute
longer.

" Set down, Celia," suggested Uncle
William.

" I ve got to go," she said. She moved
a little, toward the door.

Uncle William bustled about and
knocked down the tongs and three or four



152 Happy Island

sticks of wood, and picked them up. He
grumbled a little. Bodet looked up,
with a smile. " What s the matter, Will
iam? *

Manning got to his feet, crowding the
scrap of paper into his pocket, " I ll have
to go, he said. " It s getting late.

" Why, yes tis kind o late as
sented Uncle William: " Gets late dretful
early, these days. ... If you re going
right along, George, you might s well
walk along with Celia so s t the won t
anything happen to her

11 I don t need anyone," said the girl
quickly, " I ve got my lantern." She held
it out.

The young man searched for his hat.

" I don t need any company," repeated
the girl. She passed quickly from the
open door and vanished.

George stood up, gazing after her light
flickering on the path. He had found his



Happy Island 153

hat and was twirling it in stiff, slow fin
gers.

11 Kun along, George," said Uncle Will
iam kindly. " You can ketch her, easy."

" I don t run after any girl," said
George. There was a deep glint in his
eye.

Uncle William looked at it and then at
the lantern, flicking and dancing on the
path. He stepped to the door. " 0-ho!
Celia ! "he called sternly.

The light wavered a little and paused
and danced. . . . Then it went on.

Uncle William stepped out into the
night. " Cel-i-a! " he called and his big
voice boomed over the rocks. The lantern
stopped. It came back with little wav
ering steps and halted before him.

" What d you go running off like that
for? "

Her face, above the lantern, was demure.
" I didn t run," she said.



154 Happy Island



" Well, you might jest as well a run
I wanted you to. take suthin for me."
Uncle William was feeling about in the
darkness by the door.

"Oh I didn t know " Her voice
was very contrite now, and meek.

" I didn t suppose you knew but you
could a waited. . . . Here they be!
He dragged forward a heavy sack of pota
toes and untied the neck "I told Har-
r et I d send her down a mess of new pota
toes for breakfast," he said. He dipped
into the sack with generous hand filling
a basket that stood by the door.

The girl looked at it with round eyes.

" You d just as lives carry it along,
wouldn t you, Celia?

She reached out her hand and lifted it a
little. Then she looked at him.

* Like enough you need a little help with
it, said Uncle William wickedly. * Oh -
George "he stepped to the door. * You



Happy Island 155

just give Celia a lift with this basket,
won t you? It s a little mite heavy for
her."

The young man appeared in the door.
He lifted the basket with decisive hand and
held out the other " I ll take that lan
tern," he said.

She hesitated an instant holding it a
little behind her. Then she gave it up. * I
can carry lanterns well enough. "

" I ll take it," replied George. He
strode away over the rocks and she fol
lowed with little tripping steps that half
ran to keep up.

Uncle William, standing by the open
door, followed the flicker of the lantern
with benignant eye Then he went into
the house. " Sent Harr et quite a mess
of potatoes," he said comfortably.

Benjy looked at him. Not the new
ones," he said quickly.

Uncle William nodded. " I kind o* felt



156 Happy Island

as if suthin had to be sent to Harr et, and
that bag of potatoes was the fust thing
I laid hold of." He chuckled a little.
"She ll be some s prised, I guess -
s prised and pleased Harr et will to
get a new mess of potatoes and all and
not having to pay for em, or anything,"
said Uncle William thoughtfully.



XIV

HERE you be, Juno ! " Uncle Will
iam set the plate of scraps on the
floor, and Juno walked across with lei
surely gait.

He watched her a moment, smiling
then he reached for his lantern. " Guess
I d better go see t everything s all right,"
he said. " I ve got to make a putty early
start."

Bodet looked at him inquiringly.
" Where are you going? "

11 Now? Down to see t the Jennie."

11 You re not going out? "

Uncle William laughed. " Not tonight,
Benjy I jest want to get a start, you
know have things ready. He lighted
the lantern and threw the match on the
floor.

157



158 Happy Island



Benjy watched him soberly. " You ll
be gone a week, I suppose."

11 Well, I do no ." Uncle William put
his lantern on the floor and sat down. " I
come in every day Soon s I get a
catch.

Bodet scowled at his cigarette and
threw it aside. " It s the last I ll see of
you this season."

Uncle William crossed his legs. " Won t
run more n a day or two, mebbe, he said
consolingly. " You can t tell about mack
erel. You look out and see little patches
of em wrinkling around and the next day
you won t see a wrinkle." His hand felt
for its lantern.

Bodet s eye was on the clock. Suddenly
he got up and crossed over to it and took
down something, almost tucked in around
behind the clock. He glared at it a minute
and threw it on the table. "It s a let
ter! " he said.



Happy Island 159

* "Why, so tis ! Uncle William leaned
forward with a pleased look of interest.
" Celia didn t tell us about it, did she? "
He looked at Benjy for sympathy. But
there was no sympathy in Benjy s eye.-
He lifted the letter and tore it open It
might have lain there a week," he said
sternly.

* * Like enough t would if you hadn t
seen it. You ve got terrible good eyes,
Benjy." Uncle William all but patted him
on the back.

Benjy shrugged his shoulders. His eyes
ran over the letter " It s from the chil
dren. You want to read it now? " He
was holding it out.

Uncle William looked down at his lan
tern. He took it up. . . . Then he looked
at the letter. I kind o hate to have you
read it first without me."

" I ll wait," said Bodet obligingly.

Uncle William shook his head. " I do*



160 Happy Island

no s we d better wait." He blew gently
into his lantern and set it down. " Might
as well have it whilst we can. ... I ve
come to think that s the best way, mebbe.
The s two-three things I didn t take when
I could a got em easy. They ve been
always tagging me around since. He set
tled a little more comfortably in his chair
and stretched his big legs. " Go ahead,
Benjy," he said.

Bodet fixed his glasses on his nose
and cleared his throat. Juno jumped on
Uncle William s knee, and his hand
traveled thoughtfully up and down the
grey back while the letter was being
read.

A pleased, puzzled look held his face
" Goin right to Russia, be they? I can t
seem to understand that, Benjy What
was it she said?

Bodet turned back and found the
place.



Happy Island 161

" We have decided to go straight to St. Petersburg and
then to Vilna, taking a house and spending the winter.
Captain Spaulding will take the boat around to Yokohama
and we shall join him in the spring going overland. "

Uncle William s face still held its puz
zled look " They won t touch Iceland
. . . nor Norway n Sweden? " He shook
hig head. Jumped the whole thing far
as I see Europe, Asia n Africa, and
the Pacific Isles. . . . Now, what do you
suppose they re up to, doin that, Benjy? "
He looked at him anxiously.

Bodet folded the letter in his slim fin
gers and creased it a little. " Perhaps she
was homesick thought how good it would
seem to have a home for a little while
again.

" Mebbe she did ..." Uncle William
lighted the lantern, peering at it with
shrewd, wrinkled eyes. " Don t you set up
for me, Benjy. He looked at him kindly.
* The 11 be a moon, byme-by, you know



1 62 Happy Island

Like as not I ll be putterin round quite a
spell. You go to bed."

"Well I ll see." Bodet had taken
up the newspaper and was scanning the
lines his glasses perched high. Juno,
on the floor beside him, looked up as if she
would like to be invited.

Uncle William looked at them both affec
tionately. Then he stepped out into the
night, closing the door with gentle touch.

The night was softly dark, with high
stars, and a little breeze blew up from the
water. . . . His lantern swung down the


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