THE MAN WHO WAS SHIF’LESS
By Jennette Lee
To Gerald Stanley Lee
“Let him sing
Who sees the watching of the stars above the day,
Who hears the singing of the sunrise
On its way
Through all the night.
* * * * *
Let him sing to me
Who is the sky-voice, the thunder-lover,
Who hears above the winds’ fast flying shrouds
The drifted darkness, the heavenly strife,
The singing on the sunny sides of all the clouds
Of his own life.”
“Yes, I’m shif’less. I’m gen’ally considered shif’less,” said William Benslow. He spoke in a tone of satisfaction, and hitched his trousers skilfully into place by their one suspender.
His companion shifted his easel a little, squinting across the harbor at the changing light. There was a mysterious green in the water that he failed to find in his color-box.
William Benslow watched him patiently. “Kind o’ ticklish business, ain’t it?” he said.
The artist admitted that it was.
“I reckon I wouldn’t ever ‘a’ done for a painter,” said the old man, readjusting his legs. “It’s settin’-work, and that’s good; but you have to keep at it steady-like—keep a-daubin’ and a-scrapin’ and a-daubin’ and a-scrapin’, day in and day out. I shouldn’t like it. Sailin’ ’s more in my line,” he added, scanning the horizon. “You have to step lively when you do step, but there’s plenty of off times when you can set and look and the boat just goes skimmin’ along all o’ herself, with the water and the sky all round you. I’ve been thankful a good many times the Lord saw fit to make a sailor of me.”
The artist glanced a little quizzically at the tumble-down house on the cliff above them and then at the old boat, with its tattered maroon sail, anchored below. “There’s not much money in it?” he suggested.
“Money? Dunno’s there is,” returned the other. “You don’t reely need money if you’re a sailor.”
“No, I suppose not—no more than an artist.”
“Don’t you need money, either?” The old man spoke with cordial interest.
“Well, occasionally—not much. I have to buy canvas now and then, and colors—”
The old man nodded. “Same as me. Canvas costs a little, and color. I dye mine in magenta. You get it cheap in the bulk—”
The artist laughed out. “All right, Uncle William, all right,” he said. “You teach me to trust in the Lord and I’ll teach you art. You see that color out there,—deep green like shadowed grass—”
The old man nodded. “I’ve seen that a good many times,” he said. “Cur’us, ain’t it?—just the color of lobsters when you haul ’em.”