He worked till the cold, clear moon came over the hill behind him. It shone on the chimney rising, straight and firm, above the little house. By its light William put on the finishing touches.
The winter was a hard one. The cold that had set in the night the chimney was finished did not abate. The island froze to its core and a stinging keenness held the air. The very rocks seemed charged with it. One almost listened to hear them crack in the stillness of the long nights. Little snow fell, and it was soon dispersed—whirled away on the fierce blasts that swept the island. Uncle William went back and forth between woodshed and house, carrying great armfuls of wood. A roaring fire warmed the red room, Juno purred in comfort in its depths. The pile of wood in the shed lowered fast, and the pile of money hoarded behind the loose brick in the chimney lowered with it—the money faster than the wood, perhaps. There was a widow with three children, a mile down the shore. Her husband had been drowned the year before, and there was no brick loose in her chimney to look behind as the woodpile diminished. Old Grandma Gruchy, too, who had outlived all her men folks and at ninety-three was still tough and hearty, had need of things.
Between filling the wood-box and looking after the weather and keeping a casual eye on the widows and the fatherless, Uncle William had a full winter. He was not a model housekeeper at best, and ten o’clock of winter mornings often found him with breakfast dishes unwashed and the floor unswept. Andy, coming in for his daily visit, would cast an uncritical eye at the frying-pan, and seat himself comfortably by the stove. It did not occur to either of them, as Uncle William pottered about, finishing the dishes, that Andy should take a hand. Andy had women folks to do for him.
As the winter wore on, letters came from the artist—sometimes gay and full of hope sometimes a little despondent. Uncle William read the letters to Andy, who commented on them according to his lights. “He don’t seem to be makin’ much money,” he would say from time to time. The letters revealed flashes of poverty and a kind of fierce struggle. “He’s got another done,” Uncle William would respond: “that makes three; that’s putty good.” Andy had ceased to ask about the money for the boat—when it was coming. He seemed to have accepted the fact that there would never be any, as placidly as William himself. If there was dawning in his mind the virtuous resolve to help out a little when the time came, no one would have guessed it from the grim face that surveyed Uncle William’s movements with a kind of detached scorn. Now and then Andy let fall a word of advice as to the best way of adjusting a tin on the stove, or better methods for cleaning the coffee-pot. Sometimes Uncle William followed the advice. It generally failed to work.
It was late in the winter that Andy appeared one morning bringing a letter from the artist. Uncle William searched for his spectacles and placed them on his nose with a genial smile.