The King of Folly Island
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THE KING OF FOLLY ISLAND.
Sarah Orne Jewett
The Harper's Magazine text
"The King of Folly Island" first appeared in Harper's Magazine in December 1886 and was collected in The King of Folly Island and Other People in 1888.
This text contains the relatively few changes made as it was prepared for the Houghton Mifflin book publication.
- The few typographical changes between the texts have been made, but are not marked.
- Text that Jewett deleted for the book appears in [brackets in red.]
- Text that Jewett added for the book appears in [brackets in blue.]
- When hyphens have been added or removed, the original text is followed by bracketed text showing how it was changed for the book. Except that the Harper's text is inconsistent with "mainland."
THE KING OF FOLLY ISLAND.
THE September afternoon was nearly spent, and the sun was already veiled in a thin cloud of haze that hinted at coming drought and dustiness rather than rain. Nobody could help feeling sure of just such another golden day on the morrow; this was as good weather as heart could wish. There on the Maine coast, where it was hard to distinguish the islands from the irregular outline of the main-land, where the summer greenness was just beginning to change into all manner of yellow and russet and scarlet tints, the [world] [year] seemed to have done its work and begun its holidays.
Along one of the broad highways of the bay, in the John's Island postmaster's boat, came a stranger -- a man of forty-two or forty-three years, not unprosperous[,] but hardly satisfied, and ever on the quest for entertainment, though he called his pleasure by the hard name of work, and liked himself the better for such a wrong translation. Fate had made him a business man of good success and reputation; inclination, at least so he thought, would have led him another way, but his business ventures pleased him more than the best of his holidays. Somehow life was more interesting if one took it by contraries; he persuaded himself that he had been looking forward to this solitary ramble for many months, but the truth remained that he had found it provokingly hard to break away from his city office, his clerks, and his accounts. He had grown much richer in this last twelve-month, and as he leaned back in the stern of the boat with his arm over the rudder, he was pondering with great perplexity the troublesome question what he ought to do with so much money, and why he should have had it put into his careless hands at all. The bulk of it must be only a sort of reservoir for the sake of a later need and ownership. He thought with scorn of some liberal gifts for which he had been aggravatingly thanked and praised, and made such an impatient gesture with his shoulder that the boat gave a surprised flounce out of its straight course, and the old skipper, who was carefully inspecting the meagre contents of the mail-bag, nearly lost his big silver spectacles overboard. It would have been a strange andawesome calamity. There were no new ones to be bought within seven miles.
"Did a flaw strike her?" asked Jabez Pennell, who looked curiously at the sky and sea and then at his passenger. "I've known of a porpus h'isting a boat, or [mayhap] [mought] be you kind o' shifted the rudder?"
Whereupon they both laughed; the passenger with a brilliant smile and indescribably merry sound, and the old postmaster with a mechanical grimace of the face and a rusty chuckle; then he turned to his letters again, and adjusted the rescued spectacles to his weather-beaten nose. He thought the stranger, though a silent young man, was a friendly sort of chap, boiling over with fun, as it were; whereas he was really a little morose -- so much for Jabez's knowledge of human nature. "Feels kind o' strange, 'tis likely[;] that's better than one o' your forrard kind," mused Jabez, who took the visitor for one of the rare specimens of [fancy-goods runners] [commercial travelers] who sometimes visited John's Island -- to little purpose it must be confessed. The postmaster cunningly concealed the fact that he kept the only store on John's Island; he might as well get his pay for setting the stranger across the bay, and it was nobody's business to pry into what he wanted when he got there. So Jabez gave another chuckle, and could not help looking again at the canvas-covered gun case with its neat straps, and the well-packed [travelling bag] [portmanteau] that lay alongside it in the bows.
"I suppose I can find some place to stay in overnight?" asked the stranger, presently.
"Do' know 's you can, I'm sure," replied Mr. Pennell. "There ain't no reg'lar boarding places onto John's Island. Folks keep to theirselves pretty much."
"I suppose money is of some object?" gently inquired the passenger.
"Waal, yes," answered Jabez, without much apparent certainty. "Yes, John's Island folks ain't above nippin' an' squeezin' to get the best of a bargain. They're pretty much like the rest o' the human race, an' want money, whether they've got any use for it or not. Take it in cold weather, when you've got pork enough and potatoes and them things in your sullar, an' it blows an' freezes so 't ain't wuth while to go out, 'most all that money's good for is to set an' look at. Now I need to have more means than most on 'em," continued the speaker, plaintively, as if to excuse himself for any rumor of his grasping ways which might have reached his companion. "Keeping store as I do, I have to [handle -- "] [handle" --] But here he stopped short, conscious of having taken a wrong step. However, they were more than half across now, and the mail was overdue; he would not be forced into going back when it was ascertained that he refused to even look at any samples.
But the passenger took no notice of the news that he was sailing with the chief and only merchant of John's Island, and even turned slowly to look back at the shore they had left, far away now, and fast growing dim on the horizon. John's Island was, on the contrary, growing more distinct, and there were some smaller fragments of land near it; on one he could already distinguish a flock of sheep that moved slowly down a barren slope. It was amazing that they found food enough all summer in that narrow pasture. The suggestion of winter in this remote corner of the world gave Frankfort a feeling of deep pity for the sheep, as well as for all the other inhabitants. Yet it was worth a cheerless year to come occasionally to such weather as this; and he filled his lungs again and again with the delicious air blown to him from the inland country of bayberry and fir balsams across the sparkling salt-water. The fresh northwest wind carried them straight on their course, and the postmaster's passenger could not have told himself why he was going to John's Island, except that when he had apparently come to the end of everything on an outreaching point of the [mainland] [main-land], he had found that there was still a settlement beyond -- John's Island, twelve miles distant, and communication would be that day afforded. "Sheep farmers and fishermen -- a real old-fashioned crowd," he had been told. It was odd to go with the postmaster: perhaps he was addressed by fate to some human being who expected him. Yes, he would find out what could be done for the John's-Islanders; then a wave of defeat seemed to chill his desire. It was better to let them work toward what they needed and wanted; besides, "the gift without the giver were dumb." Though after all it would be a kind of satisfaction to take a poor little neighborhood under one's wing, and make it presents of books and various enlightenments. It wouldn't be a bad thing to send it a Punch and Judy show, or a panorama.
"May I ask your business?" interrupted Jabez Pennell, to whom the long silence was a little oppressive.
"I am a sportsman," responded John Frankfort, the partner in a flourishing private bank, and the merchant-postmaster's face drooped with disappointment. No bargains, then, but perhaps a lucrative boarder for a week or two; and Jabez instantly resolved that for not a cent less than a dollar a day should this man share the privileges and advantages of his own food and lodging. Two dollars a week being the current rate among John's-Islanders, it will be easily seen that Mr. Pennell was a man of far-seeing business enterprise.
On shore, public attention was beginning to centre upon the small white sail that was crossing the bay. At the landing there was at first no human being to be seen, unless one had sharp eyes enough to detect the sallow, unhappy countenance of the postmaster's wife. She sat at the front kitchen window of the low-storied farm-house that was perched nearly at the top of a long green slope. The store, of which the post-office department was a small fraction, stood nearer the water, at the head of the little harbor. It was a high, narrow, smartly painted little building, and looked as if it had strayed from some pretentious inland village, but the tumble-down shed near by had evidently been standing for many years, and was well acquainted with the fish business. The landing-place looked still more weather-beaten; its few timbers were barnacled and overgrown with sea-weeds below high-water mark, and the stone-work was rudely put together. There was a litter of drift-wood, of dilapidated boats and empty barrels and broken lobster pots, and a little higher on the shore stood a tar kettle, and, more prominent still, a melancholy pair of high chaise wheels, with their thoroughbraces drawn uncomfortably tight by exposure to many seasonings of relentless weather.
The tide was high, and on this sheltered side of the island the low waves broke with a quick, fresh sound, and moved the pebbles gently on the narrow beach. The sun looked more and more golden red, and all the shore was glowing with color. The faint reddening tinge of some small oaks among the hemlocks farther up the island shore, the pale green and primrose of a group of birches, were all glorified with the brilliant contrast of the sea and the shining of the autumn sky. Even the green pastures and browner fields looked as if their covering had been changed to some richer material, like velvet, so soft and splendid they looked. High on a barren pasture ridge that sheltered the landing on its seaward side the huckleberry bushes had been brightened with a touch of carmine. Coming towards John's Island one might be reminded of some dull old picture that had been cleansed and wet, all its colors were suddenly grown so clear and gay.
Almost at the same moment two men appeared from different quarters of the shore, and without apparently taking any notice of each other, even by way of greeting, they seated themselves side by side on a worm-eaten piece of ship timber near the tar pot. In a few minutes a third resident of the island joined them, coming over the high pasture slope, and looking for one moment giant-like against the sky.
"Jabez needn't grumble to-day on account o' no head-wind," said one of the first comers. "I was mendin' a piece o' wall that was overset, an' I see him all of a sudden, [']most inshore. My woman has been expecting a letter from her brother's folks in Castine. I s'pose ye've heard? They was all down with the throat distemper last we knew about 'em, an' she was dreadful put about because she got no word by the last mail. Lor', now wa'n't it just like Jabe's contrairiness to go over in that fussin' old dory o' his with no sail to speak of?"
"Wouldn't have took him half the time in his cat-boat," grumbled the elder man of the three. "Thinks he can do as he's a mind to, an' we've got to make the best on't. Ef I was postmaster I should look out, fust thing, for an abler boat nor any he's got. He's [gittin] [gittin'] nearer every year, Jabe is."
"'T ain't fa'r to the citizens," said the first speaker. "Don't git no mail but twice a week anyhow, an' then he l'iters round long 's he's a mind to, dickerin' an' spoutin' politics over to the Foreside. Folks may be layin' dyin', an' there's all kinds o' urgent letters that ought to be in owners' hands direct. Jabe needn't think we mean to put up with him f'rever;" and the irate islander, who never had any letters at all from one year's end to another's[,] looked at both his companions for their assent.
"Don't ye git riled so, Dan'el," softly responded the last-comer, a grizzled little fisherman-farmer, who looked like a pirate, and was really the most amiable man on John's Island -- "don't ye git riled. I don' know as, come to the scratch, ary one of us would want to make two trips back an' forard every week the year round for a hunderd an' twenty dollars. Take it in them high December seas, now, an' 'long in Jenoary an' March. Course he accommodates himself, an' it comes in the way o' his business, an' he gits a passenger now an' then. Well, it all counts up, I s'pose."
"There's somebody or 'nother aboard now," said the opponent. "They may have sent over for our folks from Castine. They was headin' on to be dangerous, three o' the child'n and Wash'n'ton himself. I may have to go up to-night. Dare say they've sent a letter we ['ain't] [ain't] got. Darn that Jabe! I've heard before now of his looking over everything in the bag comin' over -- sortin' he calls it, to save time -- but 't wouldn't be no wonder ef a letter blowed out o' his fingers now an' again."
"There's King George a-layin' off, ain't he?" asked the peace-maker, who was whittling a piece of dry kelp stalk that he had picked up from the pebbles, and all three men took a long look at the gray sail beyond the moorings.
"What a curi's critter that is!" exclaimed one of the group. "I suppose, now, nothin's goin' to tempt him to set foot on John's Island long 's he lives -- do you?" but nobody answered.
"Don' know who he's spitin' but himself," said the peace-maker. "I was underrunning my trawl last week, an' he come by with his fare o' fish, an' hove to to see what I was gittin'. Me and King George's al'a's kind o' [fellowshipped] [fellowshiped] a little by spells. I was off to the Banks, you know, that time he had the gran' flare up an' took himself off, an' so he ['ain't] [ain't] counted me one o' his enemies."
"I always give my vote that he wa'n't in his right mind; 'twa'n't all ugliness, now. I went to school with him, an' he was a clever boy as there was," said the elder man, who had hardly spoken before. "I never more 'n half blamed him, however 'twas, an' it kind o' rankled me that he should ha' been drove off an' outlawed hisself this way. 'Twas Jabe Pennell; he thought George was stan'in' in his light 'bout the postmastership, an' he worked folks up, an' set 'em agin him. George's mother's folks did have a kind of a punky spot somewhere in their heads, but he never give no sign o' anything till Jabe Pennell begun to hunt him an' dare him."
"Well, he's done a good thing sence he bought Folly Island. I hear say King George is gittin' rich," said the peaceful pirate. "'Twas a hard thing for his folks, his wife an' the girl. I think he's been more scattery sence his wife died, anyway. Darn! how lonesome they must be in winter! I should think they'd be afeared a sea would break right over 'em. Pol'tics be hanged, I say, that'll drive a man to do such things as them -- never step foot on any land but his own agin! I tell ye we've each on us got rights."
This was unusual eloquence and excitement on the speaker's part, and his neighbors stole a furtive look at him and then at each other. He was an own cousin to King George Quint, the recluse owner of Folly Island -- an isolated bit of land several miles farther seaward -- and one of the listeners reflected that this relationship must be the cause of his bravery.
The post-boat was nearly in now, and the three men rose and went down to the water's edge. The sail was furled, and the old dory slipped about uneasily on the low waves. The postmaster was greeted by friendly shouts from his late maligners, but he was unnecessarily busy with his sail and with his packages amidships, and took his time, as at least one spectator grumbled, about coming in. King George had also lowered his sail and taken to his oars, but just as he would have been alongside, the postmaster caught up his own oars, and pulled smartly toward the landing. This proceeding stimulated his pursuer to a stern-chase, and presently the boats were together, but Pennell pushed straight on through the low waves to the strand, and his pursuer lingered just outside, took in his oars, and dropped his [killick] [killock] over the bow. He knew perfectly well that the representative of the government would go ashore and take all the time he could to sort the contents of the mail-bag in his place of business. It would even be good luck if he did not go home to supper first, and keep everybody waiting all the while. Sometimes his constituents had hailed him from their fishing-boats on the high seas, and taken their weekly newspaper over the boat's side, but it was only in moments of great amiability or forgetfulness that the King of Folly Island was so kindly served. This was tyranny pure and simple. But what could be done? So was winter cold, and so did the dog-fish spoil the trawls. Even the John's-Islanders needed a fearless patriot to lead them to liberty.
The three men on the strand and King George from the harbor were all watching with curious eyes the stranger who had crossed in Jabez Pennell's boat. He was deeply interested in them also; but at that moment such a dazzling glow of sunlight broke from the cloud in the west that Frankfort turned away to look at the strange, remote landscape that surrounded him. He felt as if he had taken a step backward into an earlier age -- these men had the look of pioneers or of colonists -- yet the little country-side showed marks of long occupancy. He had really got to the outer boundary of civilization.
"Now it's too bad o' you, Jabez, to keep George Quint a-waitin'," deprecated the peace-maker. "He's got a good ways to go ['way] [way] over to Folly Island, an' like 's not he means to underrun his trawl too. We all expected ye sooner with this fair wind." At which the postmaster gave an unintelligible growl.
"This 'ere passenger was comin' over, calc'latin' to stop a spell, an' wants to be accommodated," he announced presently.
But one of the group on the strand interrupted him. He was considered the wag of that neighborhood. "Ever [ben] [b'en] to Folly Island, stranger?" he asked, with great civility. "There's the King of it, layin' off in his boat. George!" he called[,] lustily, "I want to know ef you can't put up a trav'ler that wants to view these parts o' the airth?"
Frankfort somehow caught the spirit of the occasion, and understood that there was a joke underlying this request. Folly Island had an enticing sound, and he listened eagerly for the answer. It was well known by everybody except himself that Jabez Pennell monopolized the entertainment of the [travelling] [traveling] public, and King George roared back, delightedly, that he would do the best he could on short notice, and pulled his boat farther in. Frankfort made ready to transfer his luggage, and laughed again with the men on the shore. He was not sorry to have a longer voyage in that lovely sunset light, and the hospitality of John's Island, already represented by these specimens of householders, was not especially alluring. Jabez Pennell was grumbling to himself, and turned to go to the store. King George reminded him innocently of some groceries which he had promised to have ready, and always fearful of losing one of his few customers, he nodded and went his way. It seemed to be a strange combination of dependence and animosity between the men. The King followed his purveyor with a blasting glance of hatred, and turned his boat, and held it so that Frankfort could step in and reach back afterward for his possessions.
In a few minutes Mr. Pennell returned with some packages and a handful of newspapers.
"Have ye put in the cough drops?" asked the fisherman, gruffly, and was answered by a nod of the merchant's head.
"Bring them haddick before Thu'sday," he commanded the island potentate, who was already setting his small sail.
The wind had freshened. They slid out of the bay, and presently the figures on the shore grew indistinct, and Frankfort found himself outward bound on a new tack toward a low island several miles away. It seemed to be at considerable distance from any other land; the light of the sun was full upon it. Now he certainly was as far away as he could get from city life and the busy haunts of men. He wondered at the curious chain of circumstances that he had followed that day. This man looked like a hermit, and really lived in the outermost island of all.
Frankfort grew more and more amused with the novel experiences of the day. He had wished for a long time to see these Maine islands for himself. A week at Mount Desert had served to make him very impatient of the imported society of that renowned watering-place, so incongruous with the native simplicity and quiet. There was a serious look to the dark forests and bleak rocks that seemed to have been broken into fragments by some convulsion of nature, and scattered in islands and reefs along the coast. A strange population clung to these isolated bits of the world, and it was rewarding to Frankfort's sincere interest in such individualized existence that he should now be brought face to face with it.
The boat sailed steadily. A colder air, like the very breath of the great sea, met the voyagers presently. Two or three light-house [lighthouse] lamps flashed out their first pale rays like stars, and evening had begun. Yet there was still a soft glow of color over the low seaboard. The western sky was slow to fade, and the islands looked soft and mirage-like in the growing gloom. Frankfort found himself drifting away into dreams as if he were listening to music; there was something lulling in the motion of the boat. As for the King, he took no notice of his passenger, but steered with an oar and tended the sheet and hummed a few notes occasionally of some quaint minor tune, which must have been singing itself more plainly to his own consciousness. The stranger waked from his reverie before very long, and observed with delight that the man before him had a most interesting face, a nobly moulded forehead, and brave, commanding eyes. There was truly an air of distinction and dignity about this King of Folly Island, an uncommon directness and independence. He was the son and heir of the old Vikings who had sailed that stormy coast and discovered its harborage and its vines five hundred years before Columbus was born in Italy, or was beggar to the surly lords and gentlemen of Spain.
The silence was growing strange, and provoking curiosity between the new-made host and guest, and Frankfort asked civilly some question about the distance. The King turned to look at him with surprise, as if he had forgotten his companionship. The discovery seemed to give him pleasure, and he answered, in a good clear voice, with a true fisherman's twang and brogue: "We're more 'n half there. Be you cold?" And Frankfort confessed to a stray shiver now and then, which seemed to inspire a more friendly relationship in the boat's crew. Quick as thought, the King pulled off his own rough coat and wrapped it about the shoulders of the paler city man. Then he stepped forward along the boat, after handing the oar to his companion, and busied himself ostentatiously with a rope, with the packages that he had bought from Pennell. One would have thought he had freed himself from his coat merely as a matter of convenience; and Frankfort, who was not a little touched by the kindness, paid his new sovereign complete deference. George Quint was evidently a man whom one must be very careful about thanking, however, and there was another time of silence.
"I hope my coming will not make any trouble in your family," ventured the stranger, after a little while.
"Bless ye, no!" replied the host. "There's only Phebe, my daughter, and nothing would please her better than somebody extra to do for. She's dreadful folksy for a girl that's [had] [hed] to live alone on a far island, Phebe is. 'Tain't every one I'd pick to carry home, though," said the King magnificently. "'T has been my plan to keep clear o' humans much as could be. I had my fill o' the John's-Islanders a good while ago."
"Hard to get on with?" asked the listener, humoring the new tone which his ears had caught.
"I could get on with 'em ef 'twas anyways wuth while," responded the island chieftain. "I didn't see why there was any need o' being badgered and nagged all my days by a pack o' curs like them John's-Islanders. They'd hunt ye to death if ye was anyways their master; and I got me a piece o' land as far off from 'em as I could buy, and here I be. I ['ain't] [ain't] stepped foot on any man's land but my own these twenty-six years. Ef anybody wants to deal with me, he must come to the water's edge."
The speaker's voice trembled with excitement, and Frankfort was conscious of a strange sympathy and exhilaration.
"But why didn't you go ashore and live on the [mainland] [main-land], out of the way of such neighbors altogether?" he asked, and was met by a wondering look.
"I didn't belong there," replied the King, as if the idea had never occurred to him before. "I had my living to get. It took me more than twelve years to finish paying for my island, besides what hard money I laid down. Some years the fish is mighty shy. I always had an eye to the island sence I was a boy; and we've been better off here, as I view it. I was some sorry my woman should be so fur from her folks when she was down with her last sickness."
The sail was lowered suddenly, and the boat rose and fell on the long waves near the floats of a trawl, which Quint pulled over the bows, slipping the long line by with its empty hooks until he came to a small haddock, which he threw behind him to flop and beat itself about at Frankfort's feet as if imploring him not to eat it for his supper. Then the sprit-sail was hoisted again, and they voyaged toward Folly Island slowly with a failing breeze. The King stamped his feet, and even struck his arms together as if they were chilled, but took no notice of the coat which his guest had taken off again a few minutes before. To Frankfort the evening was growing mild, and his blood rushed through his veins with a delicious thrill. The island loomed high and black, as if it were covered with thick woods; but there was a light ashore in the window of a small house, and presently the pilgrim found himself safe on land, quite stiff in his legs, but very serene in temper. A brisk little dog leaped about him with clamorous barks, a large gray cat also appeared belligerent and curious; then a voice came from the doorway: "Late, ain't you, father?"
Without a word of reply, the King of that isle led the way to his castle, haddock in hand. Frankfort and the dog and cat followed after. Before they reached the open door, the light shone out upon a little wilderness of bright flowers, yellow and red and white. The King stepped carefully up the narrow pathway, and waited on the step for his already loyal subject to enter.
"Phebe," he said, jokingly, "I've brought ye some company -- a gentleman from Lord knows where, who couldn't seem to content himself without seeing Folly Island."
Phebe stepped forward with great shyness, but perfect appreciation of the right thing to be done. "I give you welcome," she said, quietly, and offered a thin affectionate hand. She was very plain in her looks, with a hard-worked, New England plainness, but as Frankfort stood in the little kitchen he was immediately conscious of a peculiar delicacy and refinement in his surroundings. There was an atmosphere in this out-of-the-way corner of civilization that he missed in all but a few of the best houses he had ever known.
The ways of the Folly Island housekeeping were too well established to be thrown out of their course by even so uncommon an event as the coming of a stranger. The simple supper was eaten, and Frankfort was ready for his share of it. He was touched at the eagerness of his hostess to serve him, at her wistful questioning of her father to learn whom he had seen and what he had heard that day. There was no actual exile in the fisherman's lot after all; he met his old acquaintances almost daily on the fishing grounds, and it was upon the women of the household that an unmistakable burden of isolation had fallen. Sometimes a man lived with them for a time to help cultivate the small farm, but Phebe was skilled in out-door handicrafts. She could use tools better than her father, the guest was told proudly, and that day she had been digging potatoes -- a great pleasure evidently, as anything would have been that kept one out-of-doors in the sunshiny field.
When the supper was over, the father helped his daughter to clear away the table as simply and fondly as could be, and as if it were as much his duty as hers. It was very evident that the cough drops were for actual need; the poor girl coughed now and then with a sad insistence and hollowness. She looked ill already, so narrow-chested and bent-shouldered, while a bright spot of color flickered in her thin cheeks. She had seemed even elderly to Frankfort when he first saw her, but he discovered from something that was said that her age was much less than his own. What a dreary lifetime! he thought, and then reproached himself, for he had never seen a happier smile than poor Phebe gave her father at that moment. The father was evidently very anxious about the cough; he started uneasily at every repetition of it, with a glance at his guest's face to see if he also were alarmed by the foreboding. The wind had risen again, and whined in the chimney. The pine-trees near the house and the wind and sea united in a solemn, deep sound which affected the new-comer strangely. Above this undertone was the lesser, sharper noise of waves striking the pebbly beach and retreating. There was a loneliness, a remoteness, a feeling of being an infinitesimal point in such a great expanse of sea and stormy sky, that was almost too heavy to be borne. Phebe knitted steadily, with an occasional smile at her own thoughts. The [teakettle] [tea-kettle] sang and whistled away; its cover clicked now and then as if with hardly suppressed cheerfulness, and the King of Folly Island read his newspaper diligently, and doled out bits of information to his companions. Frankfort was surprised at the tenor of these. The reader was evidently a man of uncommon depth of thought and unusual common-sense. It was both less and more surprising that he should have chosen to live alone; one would imagine that his instinct would have led him among people of his own sort. It was no wonder that he had grown impatient of such society as the postmaster's; but at this point of his meditation the [traveller's] [traveler's] eyes began to feel strangely heavy, and he fell asleep in his high-backed rocking-chair. What peacefulness had circled him in! the rush and clamor of his business life had fallen away as if he had begun another existence, without the fretful troubles of this present world.
"He's a pretty man," whispered Phebe to her father, and the old fisherman nodded a grave assent, and folded his hands upon the county newspaper while he took a long honest look at the stranger within his gates.
The next morning Frankfort made his appearance in the kitchen at a nobly early hour, to find that the master of the house had been out in his boat since four o'clock, and would not be in for some time yet. Phebe was waiting to give him his breakfast, and soon [afterward] [after] he saw her going to the potato field, and joined her. The sun was bright, and the island was gay with color; the asters were in their best pale lavender and royal purple tints; the bay was flecked with sails of fishing-boats, because the mackerel had again struck in; and outside the island, at no great distance, was the highway of the coasting vessels to and from the eastern part of the [State] [state] and the more distant [Provinces] [provinces]. There were near two hundred craft in sight, great and small, and John Frankfort dug his potatoes with intermittent industry as he looked off east and west at such a lovely scene. They might have been an abbégallant and a dignified marquise, he and Phebe -- it did not matter what work they toyed with. They were each filled with a charming devotion to the other, a grave reverence and humoring of the mutual desire for quiet and meditation. Toward noon the fishing-boat which Phebe had known constantly and watched with affectionate interest was seen returning deep laden, and she hastened to the little landing. Frankfort had already expressed his disdain of a noonday meal, and throwing down his hoe, betook himself to the highest point of the island. Here was a small company of hemlocks, twisted and bent by the northeast winds, and on the soft brown carpet of their short pins[,] our pilgrim to the outer boundaries spent the middle of the day. A strange drowsiness, such as he had often felt before in such bracing air, seemed to take possession of him, and to a man who had been perplexing himself with hard business problems and erratic ventures in financiering, potato-digging on a warm September day was not exciting.
The hemlocks stood alone on the summit of the island, and must have been a landmark for the King to steer home by. Before Frankfort stretched a half-cleared pasture, where now and then, as he lazily opened his eyes, he could see a moving sheep's back among the small birches and fern and juniper. Behind him were the cleared fields and the house, and a fringe of forest trees stood all round the rocky shore of the domain. From the water one could not see that there was such a well-arranged farm on Folly Island behind [the] [this] barrier of cedars, but the inhabitants of that region thriftily counted upon the natural stockade to keep the winter winds away.
The sun had changed its direction altogether when he finally waked, and shone broadly down upon him from a point much nearer the western horizon. At that moment the owner of the island made his appearance, looking somewhat solicitous.
"We didn't know what had become of ye, young man," he said, in a fatherly way. "'Tain't nateral for ye to go without your dinner, as I view it. We'll soon hearten ye up, Phebe an' me; though she don't eat no more than a chippin'-sparrer, Phebe don't," and his face returned to its sadder lines.
"No," said Frankfort; "she looks very delicate. Don't you think it might be better to take her inland, or to some more sheltered place, this winter?"
The question was asked with hesitation, but the speaker's kind-heartedness was [all in] [in all] his words. The father turned away[,] and snapped a dry hemlock twig with impatient fingers.
"She wouldn't go withouten me," he answered, in a choked voice, "an' my vow is my vow. I [never shall] [shall never] set foot on another man's land while I'm alive."
The day had been so uneventful, and Folly Island had appeared to be such a calm, not to say prosaic[,] place, that its visitor was already forgetting the thrill of interest with which he had first heard its name. Here again, however, was the unmistakable tragic element in the life of the inhabitants; this man, who [might] [should] be armed and defended by his common-sense, was yet made weak by some prejudice or superstition. What could have warped him in this strange way? for, indeed, the people of most unenlightened communities were prone to herd together, to follow each other's lead, to need a dictator, no matter how much they might rebel at his example or demands. This city gentleman was moved by a deep curiosity to know for himself the laws and charts of his new-found acquaintance's existence; he had never felt a keener interest in a first day's acquaintance with any human being.
"Society would be at a stand-still," he said, with apparent lightness, "if each of us who found his neighbors unsatisfactory should strike out for himself as you have done."
The King of Folly Island gave a long shrewd look at his companion, who was still watching the mackerel fleet; then he blushed like a girl through all the sea-changed color of his cheeks.
"Look out for number one, or else number two's got to look out for you," he said, with some uncertainty in the tone of his voice.
"Yes," answered Frankfort, smiling[,] [.] "I have repeated that to myself a great many times. The truth is, I don't belong to my neighbors any more than you do."
"I expect that you have got a better chance nor me; ef I had only been started amon'st Christians, now!" exclaimed Quint, with gathering fury at the thought of his John's-Islanders.
"Human nature is the same the world over," said the guest, quietly, as if more to himself than his listener. "I dare say that the fault is apt to be our own;" but there was no response to this audacious opinion.
Frankfort had risen from the couch of hemlock pins, and the two men walked toward the house together. The cares of modern life could not weigh too [heavy] [heavily] on such a day. The shining sea, the white sails, gleaming or gray-shadowed, and the dark green of the nearer islands made a brilliant picture, and the younger man was impatient with himself for thinking the armada of small craft a parallel to the financial ventures which were made day after day in city life. What a question of chance it was, after all, for either herring or dollars -- some of these boats were sure to go home disappointed, or worse, at night; but at this point he shrugged his shoulders angrily because he could not forget some still undecided ventures of his own. How degraded a man became who chose to be only a money-maker [moneymaker]! The zest of the chase for wealth and the power of it suddenly seemed a very trivial and foolish thing to Frankfort, who confessed anew that he had no purpose in making his gains.
"You ain't a married man; live a bachelor life, don't ye?" asked the King, as if in recognition of these thoughts, and Frankfort, a little startled, nodded assent.
"Makes it a sight easier," was the unexpected response. "You don't feel as if you might be wronging other folks when you do what suits you best. Now my woman was wuth her weight in gold, an' she lays there in the little yard over in the corner of the field -- she never fought me, nor argued the p'int again after she found I was sot, but[,] it aged her[,] fetchin' of her away from all her folks, an' out of where she was wonted. I didn't foresee it at the time."
There was something martyr-like and heroic in the exile's appearance as he spoke, and his listener had almost an admiration for such heroism, until he reminded himself that this withdrawal from society had been willful, and, so far as he knew, quite selfish. It could not be said that Quint had stood in his lot and place as a brave man should, unless he had left John's Island as the Pilgrim Fathers left England, for conscientious scruples and a necessary freedom. How many pilgrims since those have falsely made the same plea for undeserved liberty!
"What was your object in coming here?" the stranger asked, quietly, as if he had heard no reason yet that satisfied him.
"I wanted to be by myself;" and the King rallied his powers of eloquence to make excuses. "I wa'n't one that could stand them folks that overlooked an' harried me, an' was too mean to live. They could go their way, an' I mine; I wouldn't harm em, but I wanted none of 'em. Here, you see, I get my own livin'. I raise my own hog, an' the women-folks have more hens than they want, an' I keep a few sheep a-runnin' over the other side o' the place. The fish o' the sea is had for the catchin', an' I owe no man anything. I should ha' [ben] [b'en] beholden if I'd stopped where we come from;" and he turned with an air of triumph to look at Frankfort, who glanced at him in return with an air of interest.
"I see that you depend upon the larger islands for some supplies -- cough drops, for instance?" said the stranger, with needless clearness. "I cannot help feeling that you would have done better to choose a less exposed island -- one nearer the main-land, you know, in a place better sheltered from the winds."
"They do cut us 'most in two," said the King, meekly, and his face fell. Frankfort felt quite ashamed of himself, but he was conscious already of an antagonistic feeling. Indeed, this was an island of folly; this man, who felt himself to be better than his neighbors, was the sacrificer of his family's comfort[:] [;] he was heaping up riches, and who would gather them? Not the poor pale daughter, that was certain. In this moment they passed the corner of the house, and discovered Phebe herself standing on the door-step [doorstep], watching some distant point of the sea or sky with a heavy, much battered spy-glass.
She looked pleased as she lowered the glass for a moment, and greeted Frankfort with a silent welcome.
"Oh, so 't is; now I forgot 'twas this afternoon," said Quint. "She's a-watchin' the funeral; ain't you, daughter? Old Mis' Danforth, over onto Wall Island, that has been layin' sick all summer -- a cousin o' my mother's," he confessed, in a lower tone, and turned away with feigned unconcern as Frankfort took the spy-glass which Phebe offered. He was sure that his hostess had been wishing that she could share in the family gathering. Was it possible that Quint was a tyrant, and had never let this grown woman leave his chosen isle? Freedom, indeed!
He forgot the affairs of Folly Island the next moment, as he caught sight of the strange procession. He could see the coffin with its black pall in a boat rowed by four men, who had pushed out a little way from shore, and other boats near it. From the low gray house near the water came a little group of women stepping down across the rough beach and getting into their boats; then all fell into a rude sort of orderliness, the hearse-boat going first, and the procession went away across the wide bay toward the [mainland] [main-land]. He lowered the glass for an instant, and Phebe reached for it eagerly.
"They were just bringing out the coffin before you came," she said, with a little sigh; and Frankfort, who had seen many pageants and ceremonials, rebuked himself for having stolen so much of this rare pleasure from his hostess. He could still see the floating funeral. Though it was only a far-away line of boats, there was a strange awe and fascination in watching them follow their single, steady course.
"Danforth's folks bury over to the Foreside," explained the King of Folly Island; but his guest had taken a little book from his pocket, and seated himself on a rock that made one boundary of the gay, disorderly garden. It was very shady and pleasant at this side of the house, and he was too warm after his walk across the unshaded pastures. It was very hot sunshine for that time of the year, and his holiday began to grow dull. Was he, after all, good for nothing but money-making? The thought fairly haunted him[:] [;] he had lost his power of enjoyment, and there might be no remedy.
The fisherman had disappeared; the funeral was a dim speck off there where the sun glittered on the water, yet he saw it still, and his book closed over his listless fingers. Phebe sat on the door-step knitting now, with the old glass laid by her side ready for use. Frankfort looked at her presently with a smile.
"Will you let me see your book?" she asked, with a child's eagerness; and he gave it to her.
"It is an old copy of Wordsworth's shorter poems," he said. "It belonged to my mother. Her name was the same as yours."
"She spelled it with the o," said Phebe, radiant with interest in this discovery, and closely examining the flyleaf. "What a pretty hand she wrote! Is it a book you like?"
"I like it best because it was hers, I am afraid," replied Frankfort, honestly. "Yes, it does one good to read such poems; but I find it hard to read anything in these days; my business fills my mind. You know so little[,] here on your island[,] of the way the great world beyond pushes and fights and wrangles."
"I suppose there are some pleasant folks," said Phebe, simply. "I used to like to read, but I found it made me lonesome. I used to wish I could go ashore and do all the things that folks in books did. But I don't care now; I wouldn't go away from the island for anything."
"No," said Frankfort, kindly; "I wouldn't if I were you. Go on dreaming about the world; that is better. And it does people good to come here and see you so comfortable and contented," he added, with a tenderness in his voice that was quite foreign to it of late years. But Phebe gave one quick look at the far horizon, her thin cheeks grew very rosy, and she looked down again at her knitting.
Presently she went into the house. At tea-time that evening the guest was surprised to find the little table decked out for a festival, with some flowered china, and a straight-backed old mahogany chair from the best room in his own place of honor. Phebe looked gay and excited, and Frankfort wondered at the feast, as well as the master of the house, when they came to take their places.
"You see, you found me unawares last night, coming so unexpected," said the poor pale mistress. "I didn't want you to think that we had forgotten how to treat folks."
And somehow the man whose face was usually so cold and unchanging could hardly keep back his tears while, after the supper was cleared away, he was shown a little model of a meeting-house, steeple and all, which Phebe had made from card-board and covered with small shells a winter or two before. She brought it to him with a splendid sense of its art, and Frankfort said everything that could be said except that it was beautiful. He even begged to be told exactly how it was done, and they sat by the light together and discussed the poor toy, while the King of Folly Island dozed and waked again with renewed pleasure as he contemplated his daughter's enjoyment. But she coughed very often, poor Phebe, and the guest wondered if the postmaster's supply of drugs were equal to this pitiful illness. Poor Phebe! and winter would be here soon!
Day after day, in the bright weather, Frankfort lingered with his new friends, spending a morning now and then in fishing with his host, and coming into closer contact with the inhabitants of that part of the world.
Before the short visit was over, the guest was aware that he had been very tired and out of sorts when he had yielded to the desire to hide away from civilization, and had drifted, under some pilotage that was beyond himself, into this quiet haven. He felt stronger and in much better spirits, and remembered afterward that he had been as merry as a boy on Folly Island in the long evenings when Phebe was busy with her knitting-work, and her father told long and spirited stories of his early experiences along the coast and among the [fishermen] [fisherman]. But business cares began to fret this holiday-maker, and as suddenly as he had come he went away again on a misty morning that promised rain. He was very sorry when he said good-by to Phebe; she was crying as he left the house, and a great wave of compassion poured itself over Frankfort's heart. He never should see her again, that was certain; he wished that he could spirit her away to some gentler climate, and half spoke his thought as he stood hesitating that last minute on the little beach. The next moment he was fairly in the boat and pushing out from shore. George Quint looked as hardy and ruddy and weather-beaten as his daughter was pale and faded, like some frost-bitten flower that tries to lift itself when morning comes and it feels the warmth of the sun. The tough fisherman, with his pet doctrines and angry aversions, could have no idea of the loneliness of his wife and daughter all these unvarying years on his Folly Island. And yet how much they had been saved of useless rivalries and jealousies, of petty tyranny from narrow souls! Frankfort had a bitter sense of all that[,] as he leaned back against the side of the boat, and sailed slowly out into the bay, while Folly Island seemed to retreat into the gathering fog and slowly disappear. His thoughts flew before him to his office, to his clerks and accounts; he thought of his wealth which was buying him nothing, of his friends who were no friends at all, for he had pushed away some who might have been near, strangely impatient of familiarity, and on the defense against either mockery or rivalry. He was the true King of Folly Island, not this work-worn fisherman; he had been a lonelier and a more selfish man these many years.
George Quint was watching Frankfort eagerly, as if he had been waiting for this chance to speak to him alone.
"You seem to be a kind of solitary creatur'," he suggested, with his customary frankness. "I expect it never crossed your thought that 'twould be nateral to git married?"
"Yes, I thought about it once, some years ago," answered Frankfort, seriously.
"[Disappointed] [Disapp'inted], was you? Well, 'twas better soon nor late, if it had to be," said the sage. "My mind has been dwellin' on Phebe's case. She was a master pooty gal 'arlier on, an' I was dreadful set against lettin' of her go, though I call to mind there was a likely chap as found her out, an' made bold to land an' try to court her. I drove him, I tell you, an' ducked him under when I caught him afterward out a-fishin', an' he took the hint. Phebe didn't know what was to pay, though I dare say she liked to have him follerin' about."
Frankfort made no answer[,] -- he was very apt to be silent when you expected him to speak[,] -- and presently the King resumed his suggestions.
"I've been thinking that Phebe ought to have some sort o' brightenin' up. She pines for her mother: they was a sight o' company for each other. Now I s'pose you couldn't take no sort o' fancy for her in course o' time? I've got more hard cash stowed away than folks expects, an' you should have everything your own way. I could git a cousin o' mine, a widow woman, to keep the house winters, an' you an' the gal needn't only summer here. I take it you've got some means?"
Frankfort found himself smiling at this pathetic appeal, and was ashamed of himself directly, and turned to look seaward. "I'm afraid I couldn't think of it," he answered. "You don't [suppose --"] [suppose" --]
"Lor' no," said George Quint, sadly, shifting his sail. "She ['ain't] [ain't] give no sign, except that I never see her take to no stranger as she has to you. I thought you might kind of have a feelin' for her, an' I knowed you thought the island was a sightly place; 'twould do no harm to speak, leastways."
They were on their way to John's Island, where Frankfort was to take the postmaster's boat to the main-land. Quint found his fog-bound way by some mysterious instinct, and at their journey's end the friends parted with little show of sentiment or emotion. Yet there was much expression in Quint's grasp of his hand, Frankfort thought, and both men turned more than once as the boats separated, to give a kindly glance backward. People are not brought together in this world for nothing, and poor Quint had no idea of the confusion that his theories and his manner of life had brought into the well-regulated affairs of John Frankfort. Jabez Pennell was brimful of curiosity about the visit, but he received little satisfaction. "Phebe Quint was the pootiest gal on these islands some ten years ago," he proclaimed, "an' a born lady. Her mother's folks was ministers over to Castine."
The winter was nearly gone when Frankfort received a letter in a yellow envelope, unbusinesslike [unbusiness-like] in its appearance. The King of Folly Island wrote to say that Phebe had been hoping to get strength enough to thank him for the generous Christmas-box which Frankfort had sent. He had taxed both his imagination and memory to supply the minor wants and fancies of the islanders.
But Phebe was steadily failing in health, and the elderly cousin had already been summoned to take care of her and to manage the house-keeping. The King wrote a crabbed hand, as if he had used a fish-hook instead of a pen, and he told the truth about his sad affairs with [a] simple, unlamenting bravery. Phebe only sent a message of thanks, and an assurance that she liked to think of Frankfort's being there in the fall. She would soon send him a small keepsake.
One morning Frankfort opened a much-crushed bundle which lay upon his desk, and found this keepsake, the shell meeting-house, which looked sadly trivial and astray. He was entirely confused by its unexpected appearance; he did not dare to meet the eyes of an office-boy who stood near; there was an uncomfortable feeling in his throat, but he bravely unfastened a letter from the battered steeple, and read it slowly, without a very clear understanding of the [words:] [words: --]
"Dear Friend" (said poor Phebe), -- "I was very thankful for all that you sent in the box -- I take such pleasure in the things. I find it hard to write, but I think about you every day. Father sends his best respects. We have had rough weather, and he stays right here with me. You must keep your promise, and come back to the island; he will be lonesome, and you are one that takes father just right. It seems as if I hadn't been any use in the world, but it rests me, laying here, to think what a sight of use you must be. And so good-by."
A sudden vision of the poor girl came before his eyes as he saw her stand on the door-step the day they watched the boat funeral. She had worn a dress with a quaint pattern, like gray and yellowish willow leaves as one sees them fallen by the country roadsides. A vision of her thin, stooping shoulders and her simple, pleasant look touched him with real sorrow. "Much use in the world!" Alas! alas! how had her affection made her fancy such a thing!
The day was stormy, and Frankfort turned anxiously to look out of the window beside him, as he thought how the wind must blow across the distant bay. He felt a strange desire to sweep away everything that might vex poor Phebe or make her less comfortable. Yet she must die, at any rate, before the summer came. The King of Folly Island would reign only over his sheep pastures and the hemlock-trees and pines. Much use in the world! The words stung him more and more.
The office-boy still stood waiting, and now Frankfort became unhappily conscious of his presence. "I used to see one o' them shell-works where I come from, up in the country," the boy said, with unexpected forbearance and sympathy; but Frankfort dismissed him with a needless question about the price of certain railroad bonds, and dropped the embarrassing gift, the poor little meeting-house, into a deep lower drawer of his desk. He had hardly thought of the lad before except as a willing, half-mechanical [half mechanical] errand-runner; now he was suddenly conscious of the hopeful, bright young face. At that moment a whole new future of human interests spread out before his eyes, from which a veil had suddenly been withdrawn, and Frankfort felt like another man, or as if there had been a revivifying of his old, uninterested, self-occupied nature. Was there really such a thing as taking part in the heavenly warfare against ignorance and selfishness? Had Phebe given him in some mysterious way a legacy of all her unsatisfied hopes and dreams?
Edited by Terry Heller, Coe College
The King of Folly Island
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