Frank Stockton.

The Casting Away of Mrs. Lecks and Mrs. Aleshine

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Here I burst out laughing; but Mrs. Lecks gravely remarked: "Now I hope this business of cap-settin' is settled an' done with."

"Which it is," said Mrs. Aleshine, as she rose to meet the rest of our party as they entered the room.

For several days I could not look upon the dignified and almost courtly Mr. Dusante without laughing internally, and wondering what he would think if he knew how, without the slightest provocation on his side, a matrimonial connection with him had been discussed by these good women, and how the matter had been finally settled. I think he would have considered this the most surprising incident in the whole series of his adventures.

On our journey from Chicago to the little country town in the interior of Pennsylvania we made a few stops at points of interest for the sake of Ruth and the Dusante ladies, Mrs. Lecks and Mrs. Aleshine generously consenting to these delays, although I knew they felt impatient to reach their homes. They were now on most social terms with Mrs. Dusante, and the three chatted together like old friends.

"I asked her if we might call her Emily," said Mrs. Aleshine in confidence to me, "an' she said yes, an' we're goin' to do it. I've all along wanted to, because it seemed to come nat'ral, considerin' we knowed 'em as Emily and Lucille before we set eyes on 'em. But as long as I had that load on my mind about Mrs. Lecks and Mr. Dusante I could n't 'Emily' his adopted mother. My feelin's wouldn't ha' stood it. But now it's all right; an' though Emily isn't the woman I expected her to be, Lucille is the very picter of what I thought she was. And as for Emily, I never knowed a nicer-mannered lady, an' more willin' to learn from people that's had experience, than she is."

We arrived at Meadowville early in the afternoon, and when our party alighted from the train we were surprised not to see Mr. Enderton on the platform of the little station. Instead of him, there stood three persons whose appearance amazed and delighted us. They were the red-bearded coxswain and the two sailormen, all in neat new clothes, and with their hands raised in maritime salute.

There was a cry of joy. Mrs. Aleshine dropped her bag and umbrella, and rushed toward them with outstretched hands. In a moment Mrs. Lecks, Ruth, and myself joined the group, and greeted warmly our nautical companions of the island.

The Dusante party, when they were made acquainted with the mariners, were almost as much delighted as we were, and Mr. Dusante expressed in cordial words his pleasure in meeting the other members of the party to whom his island had given refuge.

"I am so glad to see you," said Mrs. Aleshine, "that I don't know my bonnet from my shoes! But how, in the name of all that's wonderful, did you get here?"

"'T ain't much of a story," said the coxswain, "an' this is just the whole of it. When you left us at 'Frisco we felt pretty downsome, an' the more that way because we couldn't find no vessel that we cared to ship on; an' then there come to town the agent of the house that owned our brig, and we was paid off for our last v'yage.

Then, when we had fitted ourselves out with new togs, we began to think different about this shippin' on board a merchant-vessel, an' gettin' cussed at, an' livin' on hard-tack an' salt prog, an' jus' as like as not the ship springin' a leak an' all hands pumpin' night an' day, an' goin' to Davy Jones, after all. An' after talkin' this all over, we was struck hard on the weather-bow with a feelin' that it was a blamed sight better – beggin' your pardon, ma'am – to dig garden-beds in nice soft dirt, an' plant peas, an' ketch fish, an' all that kind of shore work, an' eatin' them good things you used to cook for us, Mrs. Aleshine, and dancin' hornpipes for ye, and tamin' birds when our watch was off. Wasn't that so, Jim an' Bill?"

"Aye, aye, sir!" said the black-bearded sailormen.

"Then says I, 'Now look here, mates; don't let's go and lark away all this money, but take it an' make a land trip to where Mrs. Aleshine lives' – which port I had the name of on a piece of paper which you gave me, ma'am."

And here Mrs. Aleshine nodded vigorously, not being willing to interrupt this entrancing story.

"'An' if she's got another garden, an' wants it dug in, an' things planted, an' fish caught, an' any other kind of shore work done, why, we're the men for her; an' we'll sign the papers for as long a v'yage as she likes, and stick by her in fair weather or foul, bein' good for day work an' night work, an' allus ready to fall in when she passes the word.' Ain't that so, Jim an' Bill?"

"Aye, aye, sir!" returned the sailormen, with sonorous earnestness.

"Upon my word!" cried Mrs. Aleshine, tears of joy running down her cheeks, "them papers shall be signed, if I have to work night an' day to find somethin' for you to do. I've got a man takin' keer of my place now; but many a time have I said to myself that if I had anybody I could trust to do the work right, I'd buy them two fields of Squire Ramsey's, an' go into the onion business. An' now you sailormen has come like three sea angels, an' if it suits you we'll go into the onion business on sheers."

"That suits us tiptop, ma'am," said the coxswain; "an' we'll plant inyans for ye on the shears, on the stocks, or in the dry-dock. It don't make no dif'rence to us where you have 'em; just pass the word."

"Well, well," said Mrs. Lecks, "I don't know how that's goin' to work, but we won't talk about it now. An' so you came straight on to this place?"

"That did we, ma'am," said the coxswain. "An' when we got here we found the parson, but none of you folks. That took us aback a little at fust, but he said he didn't live here, an' you was comin' pretty soon. An' so we took lodgin's at the tavern, an' for three days we've been down here to meet every train, expectin' you might be on it."

Our baggage had been put on the platform, the train had moved on, and we had stood engrossed in the coxswain's narrative; but now I thought it necessary to make a move. There was but one small vehicle to hire at the station. This would hold but two persons, and in it I placed Mrs. Dusante and Ruth, the first being not accustomed to walking, and the latter very anxious to meet her father. I ordered the man to drive them to the inn, where we would stay until Mrs. Lecks and Mrs. Aleshine' should get their houses properly aired and ready for our reception.

"Mrs. Craig will be glad to get to the tavern and see her father," said Mrs. Aleshine. "I expect he forgot all about its bein' time for the train to come."

"Bless you, ma'am!" exclaimed the coxswain, "is she gone to the tavern? The parson's not there!"

"Where is he, then?" asked Mrs. Aleshine.

"He's at your house, ma'am," replied the coxswain.

"An' what, in the name of common sense, is he doin' at my house?" exclaimed Mrs. Aleshine, her eyes sparkling with amazement and indignation.

"Well, ma'am, for one thing," said the coxswain, "he's had the front door painted."

"What!" cried Mrs. Lecks and Mrs. Aleshine, in one breath.

"Yes," continued the coxswain; "the parson said he hated to see men hangin' around doin' nothin'. An' then he looked about, an' said the paint was all wore off the front door, an' we might as well go to work an' paint that; an' he sent Jim to a shop to git the paint an' brushes – "

"An' have 'em charged to me?" cried Mrs. Aleshine.

"Yes, ma'am," continued the coxswain. "An' Jim an' Bill holystoned all the old paint off the door, an' I painted it, havin' done lots of that sort of thing on shipboard; an' I think it's a pretty good job, ma'am – red at top and bottom, an' white in the middle, like a steamer's smoke-stack."

Mrs. Lecks and Mrs. Aleshine looked at each other. "An' he told you to do that?" said Mrs. Lecks.

"Yes, ma'am," answered the coxswain. "The parson said he never liked to be nowhere without doin' what good he could. An' there was some other paintin' he talked of havin' done, but we ain't got at it yet. I s'posed he was actin' under your orders, an' I hope I haven't done no wrong, ma'am."

"You're not a bit to blame," said Mrs. Aleshine; "but I'll look into this thing. No fear about that! An' how did he come to go to my house? An' how did he get in, I'd like to know?"

"All I know about that," said the coxswain, "is what the gal that's livin' there told me, which she did along of askin' us if we was comin' to live there too, an' if she should rig up beds for us somewhere in the top-loft; but we told her no, not havin' no orders, an' payin' our own way at the tavern. She said, said she, that the parson come there, an' 'lowed he was a friend of Mrs. Aleshine's an' travelin' with her, an' that if she was at home she wouldn't let him stay at no tavern; an' that, knowin' her wishes, he'd come right there, an' 'spected to be took care of till she come. She said she felt uncertain about it, but she tuck him in till she could think it over, an' then we come an' certified that he was the parson who'd been along with Mrs. Aleshine an' the rest of us. Arter that she thought it was all right, an', beggin' your pardon if we was wrong, so did Jim an' Bill an' me, ma'am."

"Now," exclaimed Mrs. Aleshine, "if that isn't exactly like Elizabeth Grootenheimer! To think of Elizabeth Grootenheimer thinkin'! The Grootenheimers always was the dumbest family in the township, an' Elizabeth Grootenheimer is the dumbest of 'em all! I did say to myself, when I went away: 'Now, Elizabeth Grootenheimer is so stone dumb that she'll jus' stay here an' do the little I tell her to do, an' hasn't sense enough to get into no mischief.' An' now, look at her!"

She waved her hand in the direction of the invisible Elizabeth Grootenheimer.

Mrs. Lecks had said very little during this startling communication, but her face had assumed a stern and determined expression. Now she spoke:

"I guess we've heard about enough, an' we'd better be steppin' along an' see what else Mr. Enderton an' Elizabeth Grootenheimer is doin'."

The homes of Mrs. Lecks and Mrs. Aleshine were not far from each other, and were situated about midway between the station and the village inn, and in the direction of these our party now started. Mrs. Aleshine, contrary to her custom, took the lead, and walked away with strides of unusual length. Mrs. Lecks was close behind her, followed by the two Dusantes and myself, while the three mariners, who insisted upon carrying all the hand-baggage, brought up the rear. We stepped quickly, for we were all much interested in what might happen next; and very soon we reached Mrs. Aleshine's house. It was a good-sized and pleasant-looking dwelling, painted white, with green shutters, and with a long covered piazza at the front. Between the road and the house was a neat yard with grass and flower-beds, and from the gate of the picket-fence in front of the yard a brick-paved path led up to the house.

Our approach had been perceived, for on the piazza, in front of the gaily painted door, stood Mr. Enderton, erect, and with a bland and benignant smile upon his face. One hand was stretched out as if in welcome, and with the other he gracefully held the ginger-jar, now divested of its wrappings.

At this sight Mrs. Lecks and Mrs. Aleshine made a simultaneous dash at the gate; but it was locked. The two women stamped their feet in fury.

"Put down that jar!" shouted Mrs. Lecks.

"Elizabeth Grootenheimer! Elizabeth Grootenheimer!" screamed Mrs. Aleshine. "Come here and open this gate."

"Break it down!" said Mrs. Lecks, turning to the sailors.

"Don't you do it!" exclaimed Mrs. Aleshine, throwing herself in front of it. "Don't you break my gate! Elizabeth Grootenheimer!"

"My friends," said Mr. Enderton, in clear, distinct tones, "be calm. I have the key of that gate in my pocket. I locked it because I feared that on your first arrival you would hurry up to the house in a promiscuous way, and give heed to irrelevant matters. I wished to address you in a body, and in a position where your attention would not be diverted from me. I hold here, my friends, the receptacle containing the money which, under a misapprehension, was paid for our board while on a desert island. This money I have taken care of, and have carefully guarded for the benefit of us all. Unfortunately, objections have arisen to this guardianship, which were forwarded to me by telegraph; but I have not heeded them. If you cannot see for yourselves the propriety of my assumption of this trust, I will not now undertake to enlighten you. But I hope there is no necessity for this, for, having had time to give the matter your fullest attention, I doubt not that you entirely agree with me. I will merely add, for I see you are impatient, that the sum which will fall to the share of each of us is comparatively insignificant and in itself not worth striving for; but what I have done has been for the sake of principle. For the sake of principle I have insisted that this money should be received by its rightful owners; for the sake of principle I assumed the custody of it; and for the sake of principle I shall now empty the contents of this jar – which by me has not been examined or touched – upon the floor of this piazza, and I shall then proceed to divide said contents into five suitable portions – the three mariners, as I understand, having paid no board. The gate can then be opened, and each one can come forward and take the portion which belongs to him or to her. The portion of my daughter, whom I saw pass here in a carriage, going, doubtless, to the inn, will be taken charge of by myself."

"You man!" shrieked Mrs. Lecks, shaking her fist over the fence, "if you as much as lift that paper of fish-hooks from out the top of that ginger-jar, I'll – "

Here she was interrupted by the loud, clear voice of Mr. Dusante, who called out: "Sir, I require you to put down that jar, which is my property."

"I'll let you know," said Mrs. Lecks, "that other people have principles!"

But what more she said was drowned by the voice of Mrs. Aleshine, who screamed for Elizabeth Grootenheimer, and who was now so much excited that she was actually trying to break open her own gate.

I called out to Mr. Enderton not to make trouble by disturbing the contents of the jar; and even Miss Lucille, who was intensely amused at the scene, could be heard joining her voice to the general clamor.

But the threats and demands of our united party had no effect upon Mr. Enderton. He stood up, serene and bland, fully appreciating the advantage of having the key of the gate's padlock in his pocket and the ginger-jar in his hand.

"I will now proceed," said he. But at that moment his attention was attracted by the three mariners, who had clambered over the pointed pales of the fence, and who now appeared on the piazza, Bill to the right hand of Mr. Enderton, Jim to the left, and the red-bearded coxswain at his back. They all seemed to speak at once, though what they said we could not hear, nothing but a few hoarse mutterings coming down to us.

But in consequence of what Bill said, Mr. Enderton handed him the key of the gate; and in consequence of what Jim said, Mr. Enderton delivered to him the ginger-jar; and in consequence of what the coxswain said, he and Mr. Enderton walked off the piazza; and the two proceeded to a distant corner of the yard, where they stood out of the way, as it were, while the gate was opened. Bill bungled a little, but the padlock was soon removed, and we all hurried through the gate and up to the piazza, where Jim still stood, the ginger-jar held reverently in his hands.

The coxswain now left Mr. Enderton, and that gentleman proceeded to the open gate, through which he passed into the road, and then turned, and in a loud and severe tone addressed Mrs. Aleshine:

"I leave your inhospitable house, and go to join my daughter at the inn, where I request you to send my valise and umbrella as soon as possible."

Mrs. Aleshine's indignation at this invasion of her home and this trampling on her right to open her own gate had entirely driven away her accustomed geniality, and in angry tones she cried:

"Jus' you stop at that paint-shop, when you git to the village, an' pay for the paint you had charged to me; an' when you've done that you can send for your things."

"Come, now, Barb'ry," said Mrs. Lecks, "don't let your feelin's run away with you. You ought to be thankful that he's let you off so easy, an' that he's gone."

"I'm all that," said Mrs. Aleshine; "an', on second thoughts, every whip-stitch of his bag and baggage shall be trundled after him as soon as I kin git it away."

We all now stood upon the piazza, and Mrs. Aleshine, in calmer tones, but with her face still flushed from her recent excitement, turned to us and said: "Now, isn't this a pretty comin' home? My front gate fastened in my very face; my front door painted red and white; the inside of the house, as like as not, turned upside down by that man jus' as much as the outside; an' where in the world, I'd like to know, is Elizabeth Grootenheimer?"

"Now don't you be too hard on her," said Mrs. Lecks, "after havin' been away from her so long. I haven't a doubt she's feedin' the pigs; and you know very well she never would leave them as long as she felt they needed her. You needn't mind if your house is upset, for none of us is comin' in, havin' only intended to see you to your door, which I must say is a pretty blazin' one."

"And now, Mrs. Lecks," said Mr. Dusante, taking, as he spoke, the ginger-jar from the hand of Jim, "I think this is a suitable opportunity for me to accomplish the object for which my present journey was undertaken, and to return to you the contents of this jar."

"Which," said Mrs. Lecks, in a very decided tone, "I don't take now no more'n I did before."

Mr. Dusante looked surprised and troubled. After all the dangers and adventures through which that ginger-jar had gone, I believe that he expected Mrs. Lecks would at last relent and consent to accept it from him.

"Now, look here," said Mrs. Aleshine, "don't let us have any more fuss about the ginger-jar, or anything else. Let's put off talkin' about that till we're all settled and fixed. It won't do for you to take the jar to the tavern with you, Mr. Dusante, for like as not Mr. Enderton will git hold of it ag'in, an' I know Mrs. Lecks won't let it come into her house; so, if you like, you may jus' leave it here for the present, and you may make up your minds nobody'll touch it while I'm about. An' about I intend to be."

This arrangement was gladly agreed upon, and the jar being delivered to Mrs. Aleshine, we took our leave of her.

Mrs. Lecks found no difficulty in entering her gate, where she was duly welcomed by a man and his wife she had left in charge, while the Dusantes and myself walked on to the inn, or "Hotel," as its sign imported, about which the greater part of the little town clustered. The three mariners remained behind to await further orders from Mrs. Aleshine.

By the afternoon of the next day the abodes of those two most energetic and capable housewives, Mrs. Lecks and Mrs. Aleshine, were fully prepared for the reception of their visitors, and the Dusante family were ensconced beneath the roof of the one, while my wife and I were most warmly welcomed at the gaily adorned door of the other.

Mr. Enderton remained at the inn, where he found very comfortable quarters, an arrangement satisfactory to all parties.

In Mrs. Aleshine's dwelling, where, from the very first, Lucille took her position as a most constant visitor, being equally welcomed by Ruth and the mistress of the house, all was satisfaction and high good humor. The ceaseless activity and cheerful spirits of our hostess seemed to animate us all. At Mrs. Lecks's home the case was different. There, I could plainly see, there was a certain uneasiness amounting almost to stiffness between Mrs. Lecks and Mr. Dusante. The latter had not accomplished the purpose for which he had made this long journey; and though, if things had turned out as he wished, he would have been very glad to be the guest of Mrs. Lecks, still, under the present circumstances, the situation did not suit him. Mrs. Lecks, too, possessed an unsettled mind. She did not know when Mr. Dusante would again endeavor to force back upon her the board money in the ginger-jar, and in this state of uneasy expectancy she was not at her best.

"He's not satisfied," said she to me, on the morning after the Dusantes had come to her; "he wants to do somethin', or else to go away. I wish that ginger-jar had dropped into the bottom of the sea while he was bringin' it, or else had smashed itself into a thousand bits while he was slidin' down the mountain, and the money had melted itself into the snow. S'posin' at the end of the week he was to come to me and offer to pay me board for himself and his family, sayin' that was no more than I'd done to him! Of course the two cases are not a bit alike; for we went to his house strangers, without leave or license, while he comes to mine as a friend, bein' fully invited and pressed. But I don't suppose I could make him see it in that light, and it worries me."

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