LEASING A HOUSE-BOAT

The preceding summer, while camping out on Fox Island–or Harry’s
Island, as they called it now–the boys had made the acquaintance of
the Floating Artist. He had appeared one day in his house-boat, the
_Jolly Roger_, in which he was cruising down the Hudson, sketching
as he went. His real name was Forbes Cole, a name of much importance
in the art world, as the boys discovered later on. He had proved an
agreeable acquaintance, and when camp had been broken the three boys,
together with Harry Emery, the daughter of the school principal, had
voyaged with him as far as New York.

Mr. Cole lived in a rather imposing white stone house within sight of
the Park. The entrance was on the level with the sidewalk. Bay-trees
in green tubs flanked the door which was guarded by a bronze grilling.
The three boys were admitted by a uniformed butler and conducted into
a tiny white-and-gold reception-room. As the heavy curtain fell again
at the doorway after the retreating servant the visitors gazed at each
other with awed surprise. Chub pretended to be fearful of trusting
his weight to the slender chairs, and all three were grinning and
giggling when the man appeared again, suddenly and noiselessly. Down
a marble-tiled hall carpeted with narrow Oriental rugs in dull colors
they were led to an elevator. When they were inside, the butler touched
a button and the tiny car, white-and-gold like the reception-room, shot
up past two floors and stopped, apparently of its own volition, at the
third, and the boys emerged to find themselves in a great studio that
evidently occupied the whole fourth floor of the house.

“Talk about your Arabian Nights!” murmured Chub in Roy’s ear.

The grating closed quietly behind them, the car disappeared and they
stood looking about them in bewilderment and pleasure. So far as they
could see the big apartment was empty of any persons save themselves,
but they couldn’t be certain of that for there were shadowy recesses
where the white light from the big skylights didn’t penetrate, and a
balcony of dark, richly carved oak, screened and curtained, stretched
across the front end of the studio.

[Illustration: In a great studio]

At the other end a broad fireplace was flanked by a tall screen of
Spanish leather which glowed warmly where the light found it. A white
bearskin was laid in front of it. Other rugs were scattered here and
there, queer, low-toned prayer rugs many of them, with tattered borders
and silky sheen. The walls were hung with tapestries against which was
the dull glitter of armor. Strange vessels of pottery and copper and
brass stood about, and two big, black oak chests, elaborately carved,
half hidden by silken cushions and embroideries, guarded the fireplace.
There was a dais under the skylight, and on it was a chair. At a little
distance was a big easel holding a canvas, and beside it a cabinet for
paints and brushes. There were few pictures in sight, but over the room
hung a faint and not unpleasant odor of paint and oil and turpentine.

At one of the broad, low windows–there were only two and both were
wide open–was a great jar of yellow roses. Under the window was a wide
seat upholstered in green leather and piled with cushions. And amidst
the cushions, a fact only now discerned by the visitors, lay a red
setter viewing them calmly with big brown eyes.

“It’s Jack,” Chub whispered. “I’ve met him before. He’s sure to chew
holes in us if we stir. Little Chub stays right here until help comes.”

But evidently Jack had become interested, for he slowly descended from
the window-seat and came across the room, his tail wagging slowly.

“We’d better run,” counseled Chub in pretended terror.

But the red setter’s intentions were apparently friendly. He sniffed
at Roy and allowed himself to be patted. Then he walked around to Dick
and Chub and completed his investigations, finally becoming quite
enthusiastic in his welcome and digging his nose into Chub’s hand.

“Bet you he knows us!” cried Chub, softly and delightedly. “The rascal
forgets that the first time we met he made a face at me and growled.
Well, all is forgiven, Jack. Where’s your master, sir?”

“I suppose we might as well sit down,” said Roy, “instead of standing
here like a lot of ninnies.”

“Did you ever see such a place in your life?” asked Dick. “It looks
like a museum and a palace all rolled into one!”

“Gee, but I wish I was an artist!” sighed Chub. “I wonder what’s on the
easel. Do you think we could look?”

“No, I think we’ll go over there and sit down and not snoop,” answered
Roy severely. “Come on.”

But at that moment the elevator door rolled softly open and with a
start the boys turned to see their host step out of the car. Forbes
Cole was one of the biggest men they had ever seen. He was well over
six feet high and, it seemed, more than proportionately broad. He was a
fine, handsome looking man with a big head of wavy brown hair, kindly,
twinkling blue eyes, and a brown beard trimmed to a point under a
strong chin.

“Sorry to keep you waiting,” he said as he shook hands all around. “I
was just finishing breakfast. And how are you all? Let me see, this
is Roy, isn’t it? I remember every one of you perfectly, but I have a
bad memory for names. Chub, though, I recollect very well; that name
happens to stick. And this is Dick Somes. Yes, yes, now I’ve got you
all. Jack seems to have remembered you, too. Come over here and sit
down and tell me what great things have happened to you since we parted
last year. I suppose each one of you has done something fine for your
school or college. Dear, dear, what a beautiful thing it is to be
young! We never realize it until it’s too late. Now what’s the news?”

They perched themselves side by side on the broad window-seat and the
artist lifted the heavy chair from the dais with one hand as though it
weighed but an ounce and sprawled his great body in it. Jack settled
back amongst the cushions with his head on Dick’s knee.

“I guess there isn’t much to tell,” said Roy. “Chub and I have been at
college and Dick here is coming up in the fall.”

“If I can pass,” muttered Dick.

“And Miss Harry? How is she?” asked Mr. Cole.

“Fine,” said Dick. “I saw her the other day. We often talk about you,
sir, and the good times we had on the _Jolly Roger_.”

“And so you think you’d like to have more good times on it, eh?”
laughed the artist in his jovial roar. “I wish I could go along, if
you’d have me; but I’m going across after awhile. But the boat’s yours
when you want it, and I hope you’ll have the jolliest sort of a time,
boys.”

“It’s mighty nice of you to want us to have it,” said Roy. “We’ll take
very good care of it, Mr. Cole, and–”

“Oh, don’t bother about that,” laughed the painter. “You know I’ve got
tired of it, boys. Besides, it’s well insured and if it happens to go
to the bottom, why, I sha’n’t mind a bit–as long as you get out first!
She’s at Loving’s Landing, if you know where that is; about fifteen
miles up the river. You’ll find her in good condition, I guess. I wrote
the man day before yesterday to open her up and get her in shape. She
needs paint, as I wrote you; but I don’t believe I want to go to the
expense of having her done over. But if you think you’d rather have her
freshened up it won’t cost much to have Higgins put on one coat for
you.”

“I guess she’s all right as she is,” said Chub. He looked at Roy and
that youth took the hint.

“We were wondering,” he began, “how much you’d want for her for a
couple of months, Mr. Cole.”

“You can have her all summer for the same price,” answered the painter
with his eyes twinkling.

“Well, I suppose we couldn’t stay in her more than two months, sir; but
of course we realize that if we took her we ought to pay for the whole
time, because it would be too late to rent her again after we were
through with her, I guess. About how much would she be, sir?”

Mr. Cole looked at them thoughtfully for a moment. Finally,

“Well, I was going to ask you to take her and use her rent free,” he
answered, “but there’s something in Roy’s expression that tells me I’d
get sat on if I did.” He laughed merrily. “Am I right?”

“We wouldn’t sit on you,” answered Chub, “but we’d feel–feel better
about it if we rented it regularly from you. It’s mighty good of you,
though.”

“No, it isn’t, Chub. It isn’t mighty good for anyone to be generous
when it doesn’t cost him anything. The boat’s of no use to me this
summer and I shouldn’t rent it under any conditions–except to you
boys. But if you’d rather not take it as a gift, why, I’ll have to put
a price on it.” He thought a moment. “Suppose we say fifty dollars for
the summer?”

Chub eyed Roy doubtfully and Roy eyed Dick.

“That sounds like an awful little bit,” said Roy at last.

“I don’t think so,” replied their host. “I doubt if the _Jolly Roger’s_
worth much more, fellows. I’m satisfied and I don’t see why you
shouldn’t be. You won’t let me do you a favor, although I thought we
were pretty good friends last summer, but, on the other hand, I don’t
think you ought to insist on my driving a hard bargain with you. Fifty
dollars is my valuation, and there you are; I refuse to go up another
cent!”

“In that case,” laughed Roy, “I guess we’d better accept your terms,
sir. And we’re very much obliged.”

“That’s all right then. I’ll give you a note to Higgins; the boat’s in
his yard up there; and you can take her over as soon as you like and
keep her as long as you wish. That’s settled. Now tell me what you’ve
been doing the three of you. How do you like your college?”

The boys stayed for another hour and talked and were shown over the
studio and were invited to luncheon. But although Chub frowned and
nodded his head emphatically Roy politely declined. They finally
left with the lease of the house-boat _Jolly Roger_ in Roy’s pocket,
promising to call again after they had looked over the craft. Then they
shook hands, entered the elevator car and were dropped to the street
floor.

On the sidewalk Roy turned to the others.

“Let’s go up and see the boat this afternoon,” he said.

“Let’s go now!” exclaimed Chub with enthusiasm.

“Can’t; after making up that fifty dollars there isn’t enough money
in the crowd to pay the car-fares. No, we’ll go along with Dick and
have luncheon. When we get to the hotel we’ll find out how to get to
Loving’s Landing, and then we’ll start out right after luncheon. What
do you say?”

Chub and Dick agreed to the plan and the three strode off toward Dick’s
hostelry.

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