The artist stood on the beach, his hands in his pockets. Near by, seated on a bit of driftwood, a man was cleaning fish. For a few minutes the artist watched the swift motion of the knife, flashing monotonously. Then he glanced at the harbor and at the two sailboats bobbing and pulling their ropes. He was tired with a long strain of work. The summer was almost done. For weeks—since the night of the big storm—he had worked incessantly. A new light had come over things,—“The light that never was on sea or land,” he called it,—and he had worked feverishly. He saw the water and the rugged land as Uncle William saw them. Through his eyes, he painted them. They took on color and bigness—simplicity. “They will call it my third style,” said the artist, smiling, as he worked. “They ought to call it the Uncle William style. I didn’t do it—I shall never do it again,” and he worked fast.
But now the sketches were done. They were safely packed and corded. To-morrow he was going. To-day he would rest himself and do the things he would like to remember.
He looked again at the man cleaning fish. “Pretty steady work,” he said, nodding toward the red pile.
The man looked up with a grunt. “Everything’s steady—that pays,” he said indifferently.
The artist’s eyebrows lifted a little. “So?”
“Yep.” The man tossed aside another fish. “Ye can’t earn money stan’in’ with your hands in your pockets.”
“I guess that’s so,” said the artist, cheerfully. He did not remove the hands. The fingers found a few pennies in the depths and jingled them merrily.
“There’s Willum,” said the man, aggressively, sweeping his red knife toward the cliff. “He’s poor—poor as poverty—an’ he al’ays will be.”
“What do you think is the reason?” asked the artist. The tone held respectful interest.
The man looked at him more tolerantly. “Too fond of settin’.”
The artist nodded. “I’m afraid he is.”
“An’ then he’s al’ays a-givin’—a little here and a little there. Why, what Willum Benslow’s give away would ‘a’ made a rich man of him.”
“Yep. I don’t s’pose I know half he’s give. But it’s a heap, Lord knows! And then he’s foolish—plumb foolish.” He rested his arms on his legs, leaning forward. “How much d’you s’pose he give me for that land—from here to my house?” He pointed up the coast.
The artist turned and squinted toward it with half-closed lids. It glowed—a riot of color, green and red, cool against the mounting sky. “I haven’t the least idea,” he said slowly.
“Well, you won’t believe it when I tell you;—nobody’d believe it. He paid me five hunderd dollars for it—five hunderd! It ain’t wuth fifty.”
The artist smiled at him genially. “Well—he’s satisfied.”
“But it ain’t right,” said the man, gloomily. He had returned to his fish. “It ain’t right. I can’t bear to have Willum such a fool.”