Here is the next excerpt from Beatrice Allen Page’s unpublished manuscript, Landscape with Figures:
“Mr. Hollis, the carpenter I talked with on the phone last week, appeared at seven o’clock this morning. He arrived in an ancient jalopy which he drove with joyous abandon: I heard it coming before I saw it swing around that blind curve, right in the middle of the road, and head this way with an acceleration I was afraid would bring him crashing into the garage. He applied the brakes more or less at the last moment as he drove up beside it, and the engine stalled simultaneously. The jolting stop somehow created the impression of an intentional flourish worthy of a Roman Charioteer.
Watching through the kitchen window I felt grave misgivings when he climbed out of the car: I had been told he was an old man but I wasn’t prepared for one so old it seemed likely he might collapse while working for me. He fitted my conception of an Old Testament patriarch with a full beard and white hair almost to his shoulders except for one pare pink area on the top of his head. He was slightly bent and shrunk with age so that his overalls looked too big for him, and he walked not with a limp exactly but with a jerky step as if his knees were stiff. However, there was certainly nothing halting or hesitant in the way he moved. He came pegging along the gravel path to the back door as if he were so eager to begin work he could hardly keep from running.
When I opened the door he looked at me with bright blue eyes as clear and alert as a young man’s, with a hint of amused twinkle in them, and asked, ‘All set to go?’
It sounded like an invitation to join him on an outing of some kind, and for a moment I couldn’t think up a proper reply. He saved me the trouble by suggesting he take a quick look around to see what needed to be done.
I watched discreetly from the windows as he made his tour of inspection. It was clear that every lugubrious shake of the head and folding in of the lips as he viewed the rotten back steps, the sagging corner of the porch and other manifestation of decay, indicated great satisfaction. It really made me feel good to think I was going to give him so much pleasure by letting him repair them. However, when he came back to the door and said he’d just take a look at the roof now, I deeply regretted having mentioned a leak to him on the phone. I felt I had somehow to keep that old man from climbing around on top of the house.
‘But I don’t have a ladder,’ I said with sudden inspiration and relief, since it was clear he hadn’t brought one.
‘Don’t need a ladda. Skylight up there opens, don’t it?’
‘I don’t think it does,’ I lied.
‘Course it does,’ he assured me. ‘Whole point is to let the heat outta the attic.’ He made such a confident movement to come in that I instinctively fell back a step to admit him.
‘May need this,’ he said, picking up the kitchen stool, and headed toward the stairs with me following meekly. I had a feeling his leg or his back pained him somewhat as we went up but he wasn’t going to let on.
To my intense relief the skylight, swollen or warped by weather, wouldn’t open when he pushed on it.
‘It’s stuck,’ I said happily.
‘We’ll fix that in a jiffy,’ and taking a hammer and a screwdriver out of his pocket, he made a few passes at the thing and it opened.
As long as he just stood on the stepladder with his hands braced on the sides of the propped-open window and peered out, I didn’t mind. But when he started to hoist himself out on the roof, I couldn’t stand it.
‘The leak is so small it’s really not worth bothering about, Mr. Hollis. I’m sure it was just because we had such an unusual amount of rain last week. Suppose you just go ahead with the important thing.’
By that time he was out on the roof.
‘Oh please, Mr. Hollis, I’m so afraid you’ll fall!’
‘I been workin’ on roofs since before you were born,’ he assured me. I couldn’t insult him by saying that was exactly why I was worried.
I held my breath the whole time he was climbing around over my head. It’s true, there are things to hang on to, like dormer windows, but still…
It seemed an age before he let himself down inside again and said with obvious disappointment, ‘Ain’t nothin’ wrong with that roof a few shingles won’t fix.’ Then as we started down the stairs, he added, ‘Trouble is I did too durn good a job last time. It’s still holdin’ up.’
‘You’ve worked on this house before?’
‘Ayah. I was the one shingled it last time, when you wrote the real estate lady to see to it the place was fixed up before she tried to rent it.’ He stopped on the landing and looked at me with his eyes really twinkling now at the little surprise he was about to spring on me. ‘Know this house better’n you do, prob’ly. Used to do a lot of work for your folks. I remember you and your brother and sister from when you was little tykes.’
I searched my memory and brought up some vague recollections of carpenters working on the house but it was not surprising that none of them fitted the old man beside me.
‘There was one time,’ he went on with a chuckle, ‘when you was out in the back yard practicin’ your fancy dancin’, and seemed like all that trompin’ around over their heads brough the angleworms out. Every few minutes you’d ask me real polite if I’d mind pickin’ up another worm and takin’ it away because you couldn’t stand to touch ’em. I put ’em in a jar and that night I took home a nice mess of worms for fishin’.’
‘Oh, I remember that!’
I laughed with him, and by the time we’d reached the bottom of the stairs he was calling me ‘Miss Bee’ rather playfully and affectionately as if I were a child.
After all the silence and solitude of the past month I’ve enjoyed having him around today. The noise of old boards being ripped off the steps and tossed on top of one another, and of sawing and other carpenterish sounds struck me as being rather jolly.
When it came time to leave, he climbed into his jalopy and sat and raced the motor for a full minute or more as if he were revving up a plane, and then took off up the road with the same joyous abandon with which he arrived this morning. Thank goodness there isn’t much traffic around here.’