Harry's Island/Chapter 15
THE FLOATING ARTIST
SURE enough, there it was; although from where they were it was hard to get a good look at it. So they hurried along the beach until they came up to it. It was lying close against Round Head, its deck almost on a level with the top of the big rock, two ropes—Chub called them “hawsers” and no one dared dispute with him—holding the boat at bow and stern.
The first thing they noticed when they arrived abreast of the boat was a big, handsome red setter watching them intently from his place on the deck. His head lay between his paws and he never moved at their approach, but his brown eyes watched them suspiciously every moment. It was doubtless the presence of the setter which had so excited Snip. Snip was still excited, and said so plainly and at the top of his lungs, but the red setter paid absolutely no attention to him. There was no one in sight on the boat. The four stopped at the edge of the wood and examined the odd craft to their hearts’ content.
For it was odd; there was no doubt about that. In the first place, it was painted in such a funny way. The lower part of the hull was green—a real pea-green like the boat that the Owl and the Pussy-Cat went to sea in—and above that was a foot-wide streak of reddish-pink, and above that again the hull was finished off in white. She looked very much like a scow with a little cottage on board. There was a suggestion of a bow, however, and a rudder-post arose a few inches above the level of the deck at the stern. In length she was about thirty feet and in breadth about ten. There was a few feet of deck space at the bow and a few more at the stern, just enough to accommodate a small dinghy and leave room to pass, and it seemed just possible to walk along the side of the boat without falling off. But the rest of the deck was monopolized by a cabin, or, more properly, house, some eight feet high. This was painted a dazzling white, while the two doors and the six one-sash windows which faced them were trimmed with green. The top of the house seemed to be something between a promenade deck and a roof-garden. There was a railing about it and it was covered with a faded red-and-white canvas awning. Here and there about the edge were red flower-boxes filled with crimson geraniums which were masses of bloom, German ivy which was already creeping up and along the iron railing and the white-and-green-leaved vinca whose drooping sprays made a swaying festoon along the top of the house. There were several green willow chairs on the roof-deck, a small table holding magazines and books and some bright-hued rugs beneath. At the stern a flight of steps gave access from the deck below, while at the bow the house was crowned with a small pilot-house.
The windows were curtained with white dimity and through one of the doors, which stood partly open, they saw an engine. (“Gasolene,” murmured Dick knowingly.) On the hull at the bow was painted the name in bold black letters: Jolly Roger; and above, from a pole at the forward end of the roof-deck was a white flag which, when the little breeze spread its folds, displayed the gruesome skull-and-cross-bones in black!
“Must be a pirate ship,” said Roy, and Harry looked somewhat uneasy until she saw that the others took it as a joke.
“Isn’t she a wonder, though!” exclaimed Chub, half in admiration and half in derision.
“I think she’s perfectly lovely!” cried Harry. “Wouldn’t it be the biggest fun to live in a boat like that and travel all around the world?”
“Well,” Roy laughed, “I don’t believe I’d want to go across the ocean in her! Still you could have lots of fun.”
“Why don’t you buy her?” asked Chub. “She’s for sale, you see.”
Which was true, since on the forward end of the house was a board bearing the inscription in startlingly large letters:
“What’s it mean by ‘without’?” asked Harry.
“Without any money,” Chub suggested.
“I suppose,” said Dick, “it means that if the owner isn’t inside he’s up there on top.”
“He should have said ‘Inquire above or below,’ then,” said Roy.
“Let’s change it for him,” Chub proposed genially. But Roy glanced at the dog and shook his head.
“There’s no sense in carrying philanthropy too far,” he answered. “We’ll let him make his own changes.”
“I wish we could see inside of it,” said Dick. “Do you suppose he’s in there? We might say we wanted to purchase and would like to look it over first.”
“That’s so,” said Chub. “We could tell him we were particular about the drains. I wonder how much land goes with it?”
“Just what’s in the flower-boxes, I suppose,” answered Roy.
“Let’s call out and see if he’s at home,” whispered Harry.
“All right; you shout,” Roy said. But Harry told him it wasn’t a lady’s place to shout.
“I guess if he was at home,” remarked Dick, “he’d been out here five minutes ago to see what the trouble was; Snip’s been making enough racket to wake the dead.”
“Who do you suppose he is?” wondered Harry. “And how long do you suppose he’s going to stay here?”
“I think,” said Chub, “that he’s a traveling salesman for a paint factory, and this is his color card. I think I’ll go in and order a gallon of that old-shrimp pink.”
“I think it’s painted very prettily,” murmured Harry.
“Ought to have a touch of blue, though,” said Dick.
“And orange,” Chub added. “There ought to be more variety; it’s too—too somber as it is.” The others laughed; all save Harry. She had advanced across the rock until she had only to take a step to reach the deck of the house-boat. The setter didn’t move an inch, but he kept his eyes on her very intently.
“How do you do, Mr. Red Setter?” inquired Harry affably. The red setter flapped his tail once or twice, feebly but good-naturedly. “Will you kindly tell us where your master is?” For reply the dog arose, stretched himself luxuriously, and walked dignifiedly to the edge of the deck. Harry had no fear of any dog that ever was born, and so she reached forward and patted the setter’s head. He responded by wagging his tail in a leisurely and friendly manner and looking up into her face with a pair of very intelligent brown eyes.
“Isn’t he a dear?” cried Harry.
“He’s a rascal, that’s what he is,” laughed Chub. “Here he had us all scared stiff and he’s just an amiable old Towser, after all!” And Chub started across the rock to join Harry. But he thought better of it, for the setter turned his head toward him and growled warningly, the hair along his back standing on end.
“Well, of all the rank partiality!” cried Chub, rejoining Dick and Roy, who were laughing at his discomfiture.
“He knows I love dogs, don’t you, you old dear?” murmured Harry.
“I love dogs myself, don’t I?” asked Chub offendedly. “Why doesn’t he know that?”
“It’s your face, Chub,” said Roy. “He has only to look at that to see that you’re a suspicious character. He’s a very intelligent animal, isn’t he, Dick?”
“Oh, I don’t know; ’most anybody could size Chub up after a glance at him. Well, if we can’t see any more, suppose we go on about our business and come back later on when the chap’s at home? I’d sure like to get a look inside, fellows.”
“Oh, so would I!” cried Harry. “Do you suppose that he’d invite us in if he was here?”
“No,” replied Chub, somewhat disgustedly, eying the setter in disfavor. “I’ll bet he’s a regular old bear! A man that’ll have a dog with as suspicious a disposition as that one isn’t going to invite us in to see his old boat.”
“A Daniel come to judgment!” exclaimed a deep voice behind them.
Snip, who had ceased barking for very weariness, broke out again frantically as the boys turned startledly about. At the edge of the wood, a few yards away, stood a big, brown-bearded man viewing them solemnly with his legs apart and his hands thrust into the pockets of a pair of yellow corduroy trousers. I say yellow because they were possibly a little more yellow than they were anything else, but there were many other colors to be found on those trousers; spots of red and blue and green, splashes of brown and white and black, and smears of all the variants possible. Even in his surprise and embarrassment Chub remembered his guess that the owner of the Jolly Roger was a paint salesman, and silently congratulated himself on his acumen.
I have said that the man was big, but that doesn’t begin to convey an idea of the impression received by Roy and Dick, Chub and Harry, as they turned and found him there. At first glance he seemed to them the biggest man outside of a museum. He was tall, well above six feet, and more than correspondingly broad, with huge muscles that indicated great strength. He was wonderfully good looking, with a long, straight nose, wide, brown eyes, a heavy head of wavy brown hair and a thick brown beard trimmed to a point. He suggested strength, health, sanity, and kindness. And after the first instant even his intense solemnity of countenance didn’t deceive the campers. For there was a half-hidden twinkle in the brown eyes. The red setter began to bark joyfully and so for a moment the dogs had everything their own way. Then:
“Be quiet, Jack,” commanded the man, and the setter dropped obediently to the deck and restricted his manifestations of delight to a frantic wagging of his tail. Snip was not so easily controlled, but Dick grabbed him up and muzzled him with his hand.
“Well, here’s the bear,” said the man, still regarding them solemnly. “A big brown bear ready to eat you up. Aren’t you frightened?”
“No,” said Harry, “not a bit! That was just some of Chub’s nonsense. He didn’t mean anything.”
“You’re sure?” asked the man anxiously. He had a splendid deep voice that made one almost love him at once.
“Yes, quite sure,” laughed Harry.
“I am relieved,” said the man soberly. He took his hands from his pockets and came toward them with long, easy steps which showed that, in spite of his size, he was far more graceful than many a smaller man. “So you’d like to see inside the bear’s den, would you?” he asked. “Well, come along then, ladies and gentlemen; this way to the grand salon.”
They followed him on to the boat, Harry, Dick, Roy, and Chub, Chub still looking a trifle abashed and keeping to the rear. Their guide led them along the side of the house to the space at the rear, threw open a door and bowed them in. They found themselves in a little room about ten feet square. The sunlight streamed through the two windows on the island side and cast a golden glow over the apartment. It was furnished with a table, which still held the remains of a meal, two chairs, a large easel holding a clean canvas, a high stand bearing a huge paint-box, brushes, knives, and tubes, and a green bench. There was a cupboard built against the wall in one corner, a pile of canvases under the table and a few pictures between the windows.
“This is the workroom,” explained the host. “Not lavishly furnished, you see.”
No one answered. What they were all wondering was, how on earth the man managed to move around in that tiny room without upsetting the easel or the table! Perhaps he surmised their thoughts, for:
“Rather a small den for a big bear, isn’t it?” he laughed, showing a set of big white teeth through his beard.
“It’s very nice,” murmured Harry. “Do you make pictures?”
“Yes, I’m a painter,” he answered, as he opened another door.
“Told you he was!” whispered Chub to Roy, and received a scathing glance in reply.
Out of the living-room was a tiny kitchen with an oil-stove, cupboards for dishes and food, a sink, and, in short, all the requirements for housekeeping. Harry went into raptures over the place, and the boys agreed that it was “just about all right.” On the other side of the kitchen, or the “galley,” as their host termed it, was a small engine-room with a twenty horse-power gasolene engine. That interested Dick, and he had to know all about it before he would consent to go on. The man explained smilingly, obligingly.
“It’s a fairish engine, I guess,” he said, “but I’m free to confess that I don’t understand it and never shall. Engines and machinery are beyond me. I start it going and if it wants to it keeps on. If it doesn’t want to it stops. And I stay there until it gets ready to go again. It’s stopped now, as it happens. That’s why I’m here.”
From the engine-room he conducted them on deck and then through a door near the bow. Here was a narrow entry crossing the boat, opening on one side into a bedroom and on the other into a sitting-room. The bedroom was simply and comfortably furnished and had a real brass bedstead in it. The sitting-room was very cozy and inviting, and was the largest room of all. There were two windows on each side and one looking over the bow. A queer circular iron stairway popped straight upward to the pilot-house above. There was a window-seat along the front containing some comfortable leather cushions—the sort a fellow isn’t afraid of soiling—a table in the center, three comfortable chairs, a bookcase half full of volumes and holding a bowl of geraniums, a talking-machine which pointed its horn threateningly toward the front window as though ready to be fired at any moment, and, to Harry’s delighted approval, a big, gray Angora cat asleep on the window-seat.
“Isn’t he a perfect beauty,” cried Harry, falling on her knees beside him. “Oh, I never felt such long, silky hair! Dick, maybe you’d better put Snip outside. You know he sometimes chases cats that he isn’t acquainted with.”
Dick, who still held the excited Snip in his arms, turned toward the door but his host stopped him.
“Put him down, put him down,” he said. “Let him get acquainted with my family. The cat won’t hurt him, and if he wants to tackle the cat—well, I believe in letting folks fight their own battles. It’s good for them. Beastie, observe the fox-terrier. Behave yourself, now. You, too, Jack.”
Snip was set at liberty. Approaching Beastie cautiously he gave one experimental bark. Beastie only blinked at him. Whereupon Snip paid no more attention to the cat, but proceeded to make friends with the red setter.
“I don’t use this room much,” said their host as they sat down at his invitation, “so I fancy it doesn’t look very well. I’m a poor housekeeper. Well, boys, what do you think of the bear’s den?”
“It’s just swell!” answered Chub earnestly. “I shouldn’t think you’d want to sell it, sir.”
“No,” murmured Roy and Dick.
“Had it four years,” said the painter, “and been all around in it. Besides, it’s too big for comfort. Two rooms are all I need. So I’ll sell when I get a chance. But I’ve been trying to get rid of the thing for over a year and haven’t done it yet.”
“Wish I could buy it,” said Dick seriously. “I suppose, though, it would be worth a lot of money, sir?”
“Not a bit of it, my boy! You can have it to-morrow for a thousand dollars. It cost me just short of three, engine and all. But I’ll sell it cheap. It’s in the best of condition, too; nothing run down—except the engine.” He chuckled. “Or I’ll take the engine out and you can have the boat for fifteen hundred! Want to buy?”
Dick shook his head ruefully. “I’d like to,” he said, “but I guess I couldn’t find that much money right now.”
“Well, when you do you let me know and maybe the boat will still be waiting for you. Cole’s my name, Forbes Cole, and ‘New York City’ will reach me any time. You see, I began to lose interest in this boat when I’d worked out the last combination in color on her. How do you like the way she’s painted now?”
“Very nice,” answered Dick, after an appreciable pause.
Mr. Cole burst into a bellow of deep laughter.
“Don’t care for it, eh? Well, you should have seen her two years ago; she was worth while then. I had her in Roman stripes. Beginning at the water line, she was blue, white, orange, cerise, purple, and pale green; stripes about six inches broad. Well, she attracted a lot of attention that summer. Folks thought I was crazy.” And he chuckled enjoyably, his brown eyes twinkling. “Then, the year before, I had the hull all bright green and the house burnt-orange. But I didn’t care much for that myself; it was a bit too plain.”
The boys laughed.
“Are you going to stay here long?” asked Roy politely.
“Ask the engine,” replied the artist, “ask the engine. I give her a few turns every morning. If she starts, why, I go on; if she doesn’t I stay. It’s simple enough. Saves me the bother of deciding, too. But I’ve never stopped just here before, and it looks as though I might find some paintable bits around. Where am I, by the way? Is this a private island I’m hitched to? Any law against trespassing?”
“It’s Fox Island,” answered Roy, “and it belongs to Doctor Emery, Miss Harriet Emery’s father.” He nodded toward Harry. “He is principal of Ferry Hill School which is just across there on the hill. I don’t believe he would mind your staying here as long as you—as long as your engine likes.”
“Do you boys go to school there?”
“Yes, that is, Chub and I have just graduated and Dick has another year of it. We three are camping out here, and Harry comes over every day. It’s pretty good fun.”
“Yes, but it would be more fun in a boat like this,” said Dick. “I’m going to have one some day, you bet!”
“So’m I,” said Harry, lifting her face from where it had been buried in Beastie’s silken coat. “And I’m going to travel all around in it, Japan, Greece, Africa, Venice, Holland—everywhere!”
Mr. Cole laughed again until Chub wondered why the windows didn’t fall out.
“Bless me,” said the artist, “you’re adventurous for a young lady, Miss—er—Emery! I’ll have to sell the Roger to you.”
“Roy says,” remarked Chub, “that you ought to have your sign read: ‘Inquire above or below.’ We wanted to change it for you,” he added audaciously, “only we didn’t like the look of the dog.”
“‘Above or below,’ eh? Ho, that’s not bad, boys, that’s not bad! I’ll do it, I’ll change it myself. ‘Above or below,’ eh? Yes, yes, that’s a splendid idea. Folks will think I’m dead, maybe.”
“Roy meant,” began Harry anxiously, “that—”
“Don’t tell me,” interrupted Mr. Cole. “It might spoil it. Now, where’s this camp of yours, boys?”
Roy explained and told him that they would like very much to have him come and see them.
“Of course I’ll come,” answered the artist heartily. “And you come and see me, any time. If I’m at work, why, here’s some books and there’s the ready-made music.” He pointed to the talking-machine. “You can’t disturb me, so come around whenever you like while I’m here. And we’ll have a dinner-party some time, maybe, when I get some provisions in.”
They made their adieus, their host accompanying them to land and shaking them each by the hand with a pressure that made them gasp. Jack, too, followed, wagging his tail in friendly farewell, and Beastie stood at the doorway and blinked benevolently.
“You needn’t be afraid of Jack the next time,” said Mr. Cole. “He knows you now. Good-by, good-by. Come again. The bear’s den is always open, and if I’m not here make yourselves at home.” He waved one big brown hand in farewell as they passed around the point.
“Isn’t he jolly?” exclaimed Dick when they were out of his hearing.
“Bully,” said Dick.
“He’s all right,” added Chub. “Nothing stuck-up about him. I knew an artist chap at home once and he was a chump. Always talking about when he studied in Rome. I asked him once if he meant Rome, Georgia, and he got all het up about it.”
They went back to camp by way of Point Harriet and Billy Noon’s camping place, but, as usual, Billy wasn’t at home.
“If people keep on coming here,” said Roy, “we’ll have a regular village pretty soon. Already the population has increased fifty per cent. That’s pretty near the record, I guess.”
“We ought to establish a form of government,” said Chub. “I’ll be mayor.”
“You’re too modest,” replied Roy. “You ought to try and fight against it, Chub.”
“It’s no use,” Chub sighed. “I was born that way. Lots of folks have spoken about it.”
“Well, I don’t care who’s mayor,” said Dick, “if I can be chief of police.”
When they got back to camp Dick remarked casually: “This would be a dandy afternoon to do a little painting, wouldn’t it?”
“Yes, and it would be a dandy afternoon to do no painting at all,” answered Chub. “Let’s go out in the launch and bum around up and down the river. Let’s go over to Coleville and make faces at Hammond. By the way, I wonder if Mr. Cole comes from Coleville.”
Dick finally allowed himself to be persuaded that it would do them more good to take a sail than to paint, and so they all four piled into the Pup and, as Chub put it, went barking around for an hour or more, Harry serenely happy at being allowed to take the wheel and steer, Snip fast asleep in her lap. Harry reverted to the subject of the birthday party that they were to give her and begged them not to forget to invite the Licensed Poet.
“We won’t,” said Chub. “And, say, why not ask the Floating Artist, too?”
“That’ll be lovely!” cried Harry, laughingly. “A Licensed Poet and a Floating Artist for supper!”
“That’s all right,” answered Dick, “but I’d rather have a Broiled Beefsteak.”
“I have an idea,” remarked Chub, “that the Licensed Poet won’t be able to accept.”
“Why?” demanded Harry anxiously.
“I think he’s going to be busy Thursday night.”
“Well, I don’t know just what,” answered Chub mysteriously, “but something.”
And although they tried their best to make him explain he only shook his head and frowned darkly at the passing shore.