Frank Stockton.

The Casting Away of Mrs. Lecks and Mrs. Aleshine



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Knowing Mr. Dusante, and knowing Mrs. Lecks, I pictured to myself a box containing a ginger-jar, and covered with numerous half-obliterated addresses, traveling backward and forward between the Sandwich Islands and Pennsylvania during the lifetime of the contestants, and, probably, if testamentary desires should be regarded, during a great part of the lifetime of their heirs. That the wear and tear of the box might make it necessary to inclose it in a keg, and that, eventually, the keg might have to be placed in a barrel, and that, after a time, in a hogshead, seemed to me as likely as any other contingencies which might befall this peregrinating ginger-jar.

We spent three days in Ogden City, and then, the weather having moderated very much, and the snow on the mountains having melted sufficiently to allow the vehicles to be brought down, our effects were forwarded to us, and my party and that of Mr. Dusante prepared to proceed on our different ways. An eastward-bound train left that evening an hour after we received our baggage, but we did not care to depart upon such short notice, and so determined to remain until the next day.

In the evening Mr. Dusante came to me to say that he was very glad to find that the westward train would leave Ogden City early in the morning, so that he and his family would start on their journey some hours before we should leave. "This suits my plans exactly," he said. "I have left the ginger-jar, securely wrapped, and addressed to Mrs. Lecks, with the clerk of the hotel, who will deliver it to-morrow immediately after my departure. All our preparations are made, and we purpose this evening to bid farewell to you and our other kind friends, from whom, I assure you, we are most deeply grieved to part."

I had just replied that we also regretted extremely the necessity for this separation, when a boy brought me a letter. I opened it, and found it was from Mr. Enderton. It read as follows:

Dear Sir: I have determined not to wait here until to-morrow, but to proceed eastward by this evening's train. I desire to spend a day in Chicago, and as you and the others will probably not wish to stop there, I shall, by this means, attain my object without detaining you. My sudden resolution will not give me time to see you all before I start, but I have taken a hurried leave of my daughter, and this letter will explain my departure to the rest.

I will also mention that I have thought it proper, as the natural head of our party both by age and position, to settle the amicable dispute in regard to the reception and disposition of the money paid, under an excusable misapprehension, for our board and lodging upon a desert island. I discovered that the receptacle of this money had been left in the custody of the clerk, addressed to Mrs. Lecks, who has not only already refused to receive it, and would probably do so again, but who is, in my opinion, in no wise entitled to hold, possess, or dispose of it.

I therefore, without making any disturbance whatever, have taken charge of the package, and shall convey it with me to Chicago. When you arrive there, I will apportion the contents among us according to our several claims. This I regard as a very sensible and prudent solution of the little difficulty which has confronted us in regard to the disposition of this money. Yours hurriedly,

David J. Enderton.

P.S. I shall stop at Brandiger's Hotel, where I shall await you.

PART VI

Mr. Enderton's letter astonished and angered me, but in spite of my indignation, I could not help smiling at the unexpected way in which he had put a stop to the probable perpetual peregrinations of the ginger-jar. I handed the letter to Mr. Dusante, and when he had read it his face flushed, and I could see that he was very angry, although he kept his temper under excellent control.

"Sir," he said presently, "this shall not be allowed. That jar, with its contents, is my property until Mrs. Lecks has consented to receive it. It is of my own option that I return it at all, and I have decided to return it to Mrs. Lecks. Any one interfering with my intentions steps entirely beyond the line of just and warrantable procedure. Sir, I shall not go westward to-morrow morning, but, with my family, will accompany you to Chicago, where I shall require Mr. Enderton to return to me my property, which I shall then dispose of as I see fit. You must excuse me, sir, if anything I have said regarding this gentleman with whom you are connected has wounded your sensibilities."

"Oh, don't think of that," I exclaimed. "Pitch into Enderton as much as you please, and you may be sure that I shall not object. When I took the daughter to wife, I did not marry the father. But, of course, for my wife's sake I hope this matter will not be made the subject of public comment."

"You need have no fear of that," said Mr. Dusante; "and you will allow me to remark that Mr. Enderton's wife must have been a most charming lady."

"Why do you think so?" I asked.

"I judge so," he answered, with a bow, "from my acquaintance with Mrs. Craig."

I now went immediately to Ruth, who, I found, knew nothing of what had occurred, except that her father had gone on to Chicago in advance of our party, and had had time only to bid her a hasty good-by. I made no remarks on this haste, which would not allow Mr. Enderton to take leave of us, but which gave him time to write a letter of some length; and as Ruth knew nothing of this letter, I determined not to mention it to her. Her father's sudden departure surprised her but little, for she told me that he always liked to get to places before the rest of the party with whom he might be journeying.

"Even when we go to church," she said, "he always walks ahead of the rest of us. I don't understand why he likes to do so, but this is one of his habits."

When I informed Mrs. Lecks and Mrs. Aleshine of what had happened, they fairly blazed.

"I don't know what Mr. Dusante calls it," exclaimed Mrs. Lecks, "but I know what I call it."

"Yes, indeed!" cried Mrs. Aleshine, her round eyes sparkling with excitement; "if that isn't ex-honesty, then he ain't no ex-missionary! I pity the heathen he converted!"

"I'll convert him," said Mrs. Lecks, "if ever I lay eyes on him! Walkin' away with a package with my name on it! He might as well take my gold spectacles or my tortoise-shell comb! I suppose there's no such thing as ketchin' up with him, but I'll telegraph after him; an' I'll let him know that if he dares to open a package of mine, I'll put the law on him!"

"That's so," said Mrs. Aleshine. "You kin send telegraphs all along the line to one station an' another for conductors to give to him in the cars, an' directed to Mr. Enderton, a tall man with gray-mixed hair an' a stolen bundle. That's the way they did in our place when Abram Marly's wife fell into the cistern, an' he'd jus' took the cars to the city, an' they telegraphed to him at five different stations to know where he'd left the ladder."

"Which ain't a bad idea," said Mrs. Lecks, "though his name will be enough on it without no description; an' I'll do that this minute, an' find out about the stations from the clerk."

"You must be very careful," I said, "about anything of that kind, for the telegrams will be read at the stations, and Mr. Enderton might be brought into trouble in a way which we all should regret; but a despatch may be worded so that he, and no one else, would understand it."

"Very well," said Mrs. Lecks, "an' let's get at it; but I must say that he don't deserve bein' saved no trouble, for I'm as sure as that I'm a livin' woman that he never saved nobody else no trouble sence the first minute he was born."

The following despatch was concocted and sent on to Bridger, to be delivered to Mr. Enderton on the train:

The package you know of has been stolen. You will recognize the thief. If he leaves it at Chicago hotel, let him go. If he opens it, clap him in jail.

Mrs. Lecks.

"I think that will make him keep his fingers off it," said Mrs. Lecks; "an' if Mr. Dusante chooses to send somethin' of the same kind to some other station, it won't do no harm. An' if that Enderton gets so skeered that he keeps out of sight and hearin' of all of us, it'll be the best thing that's happened yet. An' I want you to understan', Mr. Craig, that nothin' 's goin' to be said or done to make your wife feel bad; an' there's no need of her hearin' about what's been done or what's goin' to be done. But I'll say for her that though, of course, Mr. Enderton is her father, and she looks up to him as such, she's a mighty deal livelier and gayer-hearted when he's away than when he's with her. An' as for the rest of us, there's no use sayin' anything about our resignedness to the loss of his company."

"I should say so," said Mrs. Aleshine; "for if there ever was a man who thought of himself ninety-nine times before he thought of anybody else once, an' then as like as not to forgit that once, he's the man. An' it's not, by no means, that I'm down on missionaries, for it's many a box I've made up for 'em, an' never begrudged neither money nor trouble, an' will do it ag'in many times, I hope. But he oughtn't to be called one, havin' given it up, – unless they gave him up, which there's no knowin' which it was, – for if there's anything which shows the good in a man, it's his bein' willin' to give up the comforts of a Christian land an' go an' convert heathens; though bein' willin' to give up the heathens an' go for the comforts shows him quite different, besides, as like as not, chargin' double, an' only half convertin'."

Mr. Dusante was fully determined to go on with us until he had recovered possession of the ginger-jar. His courteous feelings toward Mrs. Craig and myself prevented his saying much about Mr. Enderton, but I had good reason to believe that his opinions in regard to my father-in-law were not very different from those of Mrs. Lecks and Mrs. Aleshine. Ever since Mr. Enderton had shown his petulant selfishness, when obliged to give up his room at the railroad-station for the use of the women of his party, Mr. Dusante had looked upon him coldly, and the two had had but little to say to each other.

We were all very glad that our pleasant party was not to be broken up; and although there was no resignation at the absence of the ginger-jar, we started on our journey the next day in a pleasanter mood for the absence of Mr. Enderton. Before we left, Mr. Dusante sent a telegram to Kearney Junction, to be delivered to Mr. Enderton when he arrived there. What this message was I do not know, but I imagine its tone was decided.

Our journey to Chicago was a pleasant one. We had now all become very well acquainted with each other, and there was no discordant element in the combined party. Some of us were a little apprehensive of trouble, or annoyance at least, awaiting us in Chicago, but we did not speak of it; and while Ruth knew nothing of her father's misbehavior, it might have been supposed that the rest had forgotten it.

At Chicago we went at once to Brandiger's Hotel, and there we found, instead of Mr. Enderton, a letter from him to Ruth. It read as follows:

My dear Daughter: I have determined not to wait here, as originally intended, but to go on by myself. I am sorry not to meet you here, but it will not be long before we are together again, and you know I do not like to travel with a party. Its various members always incommode me in one way or another. I had proposed to go to Philadelphia and wait for you there, but have since concluded to stop at Meadowville, a village in the interior of Pennsylvania, where, as they have informed me, the two women, Mrs. Lecks and Mrs. Aleshine, reside. I wish to see the party all together before I take final leave of them, and I suppose the two women will not consent to go any farther than the country town in which they live. Inclosed is a note to your husband relating to business matters. I hope that he will take the best of care of you during the rest of the journey, and thus very much oblige

Your affectionate Father.

This was my note:

Mr. Craig. Sir: I should have supposed that you would have been able to prevent the insolent messages which have been telegraphed to me from some members of your party, but it is my lot to be disappointed in those in whom I trust. I shall make no answer to these messages, but will say to you that I am not to be browbeaten in my intention to divide among its rightful claimants the money now in my possession. It is not that I care for the comparatively paltry sum that will fall to myself and my daughter, but it is the principle of the matter for which I am contending. It was due to me that the amount should have been returned to me, and to no other, that I might make the proper division. I therefore rest upon my principles and my rights; and, desiring to avoid needless altercations, shall proceed to Meadowville, where, when the rest of my party arrive, I shall justly apportion the money. I suppose the man Dusante will not be foolish enough to protract his useless journey farther than Chicago. It is your duty to make him see the impropriety of so doing. Yours, etc.,

D. J. Enderton.

Ruth's letter was shown to all the party, and mine in private to Mr. Dusante, Mrs. Lecks, and Mrs. Aleshine. When the first moments of astonishment were over, Mrs. Lecks exclaimed:

"Well, after all, I don't know that I'm so very sorry that the old sneak has done this, for now we're rid of him for the rest of the trip; and I'm pretty certain, from the way he writes, that he hasn't dipped into that jar yet. We've skeered him from doin' that."

"But the impidence of him!" said Mrs. Aleshine. "Think of his goin' to the very town where we live an' gittin' there fust! He'll be settin' on that tavern porch, with every loafer in the place about him, an' tellin' 'em the whole story of what happened to us from beginnin' to end, till by the time we git there it'll be all over the place an' as stale as last week's bread."

"'The man Dusante,'" quietly remarked that individual, "will not abandon the purpose of his journey. He left his island to place in the hands of Mrs. Lecks, on behalf of her party, the ginger-jar with the money inclosed. He will therefore go on with you to Meadowville, and will there make formal demand, and, if necessary, legal requisition, for the possession of that jar and that money; after which he will proceed to carry out his original intentions."

We all expressed our pleasure at having him, with his ladies, as companions for the remainder of our journey, and Mrs. Lecks immediately offered them the hospitalities of her house for as long a time as they might wish to stay with her.

"The weather there," she said, "is often splendid till past Thanksgivin' day, an' nobody could be welcomer than you."

"I'd have asked you myself," said Mrs. Aleshine, "if Mrs. Lecks hadn't done it, – which of course she would, bein' alive, – but I'm goin' to have Mr. Craig an' his wife, an' as our houses is near, we'll see each other all the time. An' if Mr. Enderton chooses to stay awhile at the tavern, he can come over to see his daughter whenever he likes. I'll go as fur as that, though no further can I go. I'm not the one to turn anybody from my door, be he heathen, or jus' as bad, or wuss. But tea once, or perhaps twice, is all that I can find it in my heart to offer that man after what he's done."

As the Dusantes and Ruth expressed a desire to see something of Chicago, where they had never been before, we remained in this city for two days, feeling that, as Mr. Enderton would await our coming, there was no necessity for haste.

Early in the afternoon of the second day I went into the parlor of the hotel, where I expected to find our party prepared for a sight-seeing excursion; but I found the room tenanted only by Mrs. Aleshine, who was sitting with her bonnet and wraps on, ready to start forth. I had said but a few words to her when Mrs. Lecks entered, without bonnet or shawl, and with her knitting in her hand. She took a seat in a large easy-chair, put on her spectacles, and proceeded to knit.

"Mrs. Lecks!" exclaimed her friend, in surprise, "don't you intend goin' out this afternoon?"

"No," said Mrs. Lecks. "I've seen all I want to see, an' I'm goin' to stay in the house an' keep quiet."

"Isn't Mr. Dusante goin' out this afternoon?" asked Mrs. Aleshine.

Mrs. Lecks laid her knitting in her lap; then she took off her spectacles, folded them, and placed them beside the ball of yarn, and, turning her chair around, she faced her friend. "Barb'ry Aleshine," said she, speaking very deliberately, "has any such a thing got into your mind as that I'm settin' my cap at Mr. Dusante?"

"I don't say you have, an' I don't say you haven't," answered Mrs. Aleshine, her fat hands folded on her knees, and her round face shining from under her new bonnet with an expression of hearty good will; "but this I will say, – an' I don't care who hears it, – that if you was to set your cap at Mr. Dusante, there needn't nobody say anythin' ag'in' it, so long as you are content. He isn't what I'd choose for you, if I had the choosin', for I'd git one with an American name an' no islands. But that's neither here nor there, for you're a grown woman an' can do your own choosin'. An' whether there's any choosin' to be done is your own business, too, for it's full eleven years sence you've been done with widder fixin's; an' if Mr. Lecks was to rise up out of his grave this minute, he couldn't put his hand on his heart an' say that you hadn't done your full duty by him, both before an' after he was laid away. An' so, if you did want to do choosin', an' made up your mind to set your cap at Mr. Dusante, there's no word to be said. Both of you is ripe-aged an' qualified to know your own minds, an' both of you is well off enough, to all intents an' purposes, to settle down together, if so inclined. An' as to his sister, I don't expect she will be on his hands for long. An' if you can put up with an adopted mother-in-law, that's your business, not mine; though I allus did say, Mrs. Lecks, that if you'd been 'Piscopalian, you'd been Low-church."

"Is that all?" said Mrs. Lecks.

"Yes," replied the other; "it's all I have to say jus' now, though more might come to me if I gave my mind to it."

"Well, then," said Mrs. Lecks, "I've somethin' to say on this p'int, and I'm very glad Mr. Craig is here to hear it. If I had a feelin' in the direction of Mr. Dusante that he was a man, though not exactly what I might wish, havin' somethin' of foreign manners, with ties in the Sandwich Islands, which I shouldn't have had so if I'd had the orderin' of it, who was still a Christian gentleman, – as showed by his acts, not his words, – a lovin' brother, an' a kind an' attentive son by his own adoption, and who would make me a good husband for the rest of our two lives, then I'd go and I'd set my cap at him – not bold nor flauntin' nor unbecomin' to a woman of my age, but just so much settin' of it at him that if he had any feelin's in my direction, and thought, although it was rather late in life for him to make a change, that if he was goin' to do it he'd rather make that change with a woman who had age enough, and experience enough, in downs as well as ups, and in married life as well as single, to make him feel that as he got her so he'd always find her, then I say all he'd have to do would be to come to me an' say what he thought, an' I'd say what I thought, an' the thing would be settled, an' nobody in this world need have one word to say, except to wish us joy, an' then go along and attend to their own business.

"But now I say to you, Barb'ry Aleshine, an' just the same to you, Mr. Craig, that I haven't got no such feelin's in the direction of Mr. Dusante, an' I don't intend to set my cap at him; an' if he wore such a thing, and set it at me, I'd say to him, kind, though firm, that he could put it straight again as far as I was concerned, an' that if he chose to set it at any other woman, if the nearest an' dearest friend I have on earth, I'd do what I could to make their married lives as happy as they could be under the circumstances, and no matter what happened, I wouldn't say one word, though I might think what I pleased. An' now you have it, all straight and plain: if I wanted to set caps, I'd set 'em; and if I didn't want to set 'em, I wouldn't. I don't want to, and I don't."

And, putting on her spectacles, she resumed her knitting.

Mrs. Aleshine turned upon her friend a beaming face.

"Mrs. Lecks," she said, "your words has lifted a load from off my mind. It wouldn't ha' broke me down, an' you wouldn't never have knowed I carried it; but it's gone, an' I'm mighty glad of it. An' as for me an' my cap, – an' when you spoke of nearest and dearest friends you couldn't mean nobody but me, – you needn't be afraid. No matter what I was, nor what he was, nor what I thought of him, nor what he thought of me, I couldn't never say to my son, when he comes to his mother's arms all the way from Japan: 'George, here's a Frenchman who I give to you for a father!'"



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