The Casting Away of Mrs. Lecks and Mrs. Aleshine
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I was convinced that something ought to be done to end this unpleasant state of affairs, and I took my wife and Miss Lucille into council on the subject. After we had deliberated a little while an idea came to Ruth.
"In my opinion," said she, "the best thing we can do with that board money is to give it to those three sailors. They are poor and will be glad to get it; Mr. Dusante and Mrs. Lecks ought to be fully satisfied, for the one doesn't keep it and the other doesn't take it back; and I'm sure that this plan will please all the rest of us."
This proposition was agreed to by the council, and I was appointed to go immediately and lay it before the parties interested.
Mr. Dusante gave his ready consent to this proposal. "It is not what I intended to do," said he, "but it amounts to almost the same thing. The money is in fact restored to its owners, and they agree to make a certain disposition of it. I am satisfied."
Mrs. Lecks hesitated a little. "All right," said she. "He takes the money and gives it to who he chooses. I've nothin' to say against it."
Of course no opposition to the plan was to be expected from anybody else, except Mr. Enderton. But when I mentioned it to him, I found, to my surprise, that he was not unwilling to agree to it. Half closing the book he had been reading, he said: "What I have done was on behalf of principle. I did not believe, and do not believe, that upon an entirely deserted island money should be paid for board. I paid it under protest, and I do not withdraw that protest. According to all the laws of justice and hospitality, the man who owned that island should not retain that money, and Mrs. Lecks had no right to insist upon such retention. But if it is proposed to give the sum total to three mariners who paid no board, and to whom the gift is an absolute charity, I am content. To be sure, they interfered with me at a moment when I was about to make a suitable settlement of the matter, but I have no doubt they were told to do so; and I must admit that while they carried out their orders with a certain firmness, characteristic of persons accustomed to unreasoning obedience, they treated me with entire respect. If equal respect had been shown to me at the beginning of these disputes, it would have been much better for all concerned."
And opening his book, he recommenced his reading.
That afternoon all of us, except Mr. Enderton, assembled on Mrs. Aleshine's piazza to witness the presentation of the board money. The three sailors, who had been informed of the nature of the proceedings, stood in line on the second step of the piazza, clad in their best toggery, and with their new tarpaulin hats in their hands. Mrs. Aleshine went into the house, and soon reappeared carrying the ginger-jar, which she presented to Mr. Dusante. That gentleman took it, and stood holding it for a moment as if he were about to speak; but even if he had intended to say anything, he had no further opportunity, for Mrs.Lecks now stepped forward and addressed him.
"Mr. Dusante," said she, "from what I have seen of you myself and heard tell of you from others, I believe you are a man who tries to do his duty, as he sees it, with a single heart and no turnin' from one side to the other. You made up your mind that you'd travel over the whole world, if it had to be done, with that ginger-jar and the board money inside of it, till you'd found the people who'd been livin' in your house; and then that you'd give back that jar, jus' as you'd found it, to the person who took upon herself the overseein' of the reg'lar payin' of the money and the puttin' of it therein. With that purpose in your mind you carried that jar over the ocean; you wandered with it up and down California; and holdin' it tight fast in your arms, you slid down the slipperiest mountain that was ever made yet, I believe, and if it had been your only infant child, you couldn't have held it firmer, nor regarded it more careful. Through ups and downs, and thicks and smooths, you carried that jar or followed it, and for the sake of doin' what you'd set your mind on you came all the way to this place; to which, if it hadn't been for that one idea, it isn't likely you'd ever dreamed of comin'. Now, Mr. Dusante, we've all agreed on what we think is the right thing to do, and you agreed with us, but I can see by your face that you're disapp'inted. The thing you set out to do you haven't done; and I'm not goin' to have it to say to myself that you was the only one of all of us that wasn't satisfied, and that I was the stumblin'-block that stood in your way. So I'll back down from sayin' that I'd never touch that jar again, and you can put it into my hands, as you set out to do."
Mr. Dusante made no answer, but stepped forward, and taking Mrs. Lecks's large brown and work-worn hand, he respectfully touched it with his lips. It is not probable that Mrs. Lecks's hand had ever before been kissed. It is not probable that she had ever seen any one kiss the hand of another. But the hard sense and keen insight of that independent countrywoman made her instantly aware of what was meant by that old-fashioned act of courteous homage. Her tall form grew more erect; she slightly bowed her head, and received the salute with a quiet dignity which would have become a duchess.
This little scene touched us all, and Mrs. Aleshine afterward informed me that for a moment she hadn't a dry eye in her head.
Mr. Dusante now handed the ginger-jar to Mrs. Lecks, who immediately stepped toward Ruth and Lucille.
"You two young ones," she said, "can jus' take this jar, an' your hands can be the first to lift off that paper of fish-hooks and take out the money, which you will then divide among our good friends, these sailormen."
Ruth and Lucille immediately sat down on the floor of the piazza, and the one emptied the board money into the lap of the other, where it was speedily divided into three equal portions, one of which was placed in the hands of each mariner.
The men stood motionless, each holding his money in his open right hand, and then the red-bearded coxswain spoke.
"It ain't for me, nor for Bill, nor for Jim nuther, to say a word ag'in' what you all think is right and square. We've stood by ye an' obeyed orders since we first shipped on that island, an' we intend to do so straight along. Don't we, Jim an' Bill?"
"Aye, aye, sir!" said Jim and Bill, in hearty hoarse response.
"There's some of ye, specially Mrs. Aleshine, though meanin' no disrespec' to anybody else, that we'd follow to the crosstrees of the topgallantmast of the tallest ship that ever floated in the middle of the ragin'est typhoon that ever blowed. Wouldn't we, Jim an' Bill?"
"Aye, aye, sir!" sang out Jim and Bill.
"But though we stand ready to obey orders," said the coxswain, "we made up our minds, when we heard what was goin' to be done, that we'd listen keerful fer one thing, an' we have listened keerful, an' we haven't heard that one thing, an' that thing was what we should do with this money. An' not havin' heard it, an' so bein' under no orders as to the spendin' of it, we take the money, an' thank you kindly, one an' all. Don't we, Jim an' Bill?"
"Aye, aye, sir!" said Jim and Bill.
And into the pocket of each mariner clinked the money.
Mr. Dusante now took up the ginger-jar, and approached Mrs. Lecks. "I hope, madam," he said, "that as the subject of our little differences has now been removed from this jar, you will consent to accept it from me as a memento of the somewhat remarkable experiences through which it has accompanied us."
"Take it, sir?" said she. "To be sure I will. An' very glad am I to get it. As long as I live it shall stand on the mantelpiece in my parlor; an' when I die it shall be left to my heirs, to be taken care of as long as it holds together."
Every reason for dissatisfaction having now been banished from our little company, we all settled down for a season of enjoyment. Even Mr. Enderton, who had found on the top shelf of a closet in his room at the inn a lot of old books, appeared to be in a state of perfect content. To the Dusantes a residence in this absolutely rural portion of our Middle States in the autumnal season was an entirely novel experience. The crisp and invigorating air, the mists and the glowing hues of the Indian-summer time, the softness of the sunshine, and even those masses of limbs and twigs which had already dropped their leaves and spread themselves in a delicate network against the clear blue sky, were all full of a novel beauty for these people who had lived so long in tropical lands and among perennial foliage, and had never known the delights of an American country life out of season. Having enjoyed Mrs. Lecks's hospitality for a suitable period, they proposed to that sensible woman that she should receive them as boarders until the winter should set in; and to this practical proposition she gave a ready assent, hoping that the really cold weather would long defer its coming.
Ruth and I established ourselves on the same terms with Mrs. Aleshine. A prolonged holiday from the labors of my business had been the object of my attempted journey to Japan, and I could think of no place where it would better please my young wife and myself to rest for a time than here among these good friends.
A continual source of amusement to us were the acts and doings of Mrs. Aleshine and her three sailormen. These bold mariners had enlisted, soul and body, into the service of the thrifty housewife; and as it was impossible to do anything in connection with the growing of the onions until the desired fields should be acquired and the spring should open, many and diverse were the labors at which the coxswain and those two able-bodied seamen Bill and Jim set themselves, or were set by Mrs. Aleshine.
The brilliantly painted front door, which at first had excited the good woman's ire, gradually came to command her admiration; and when her sailormen had done everything else that they could in the barns, the fields, or at the woodpile, she gave them the privilege to paint various portions of her property, leaving designs and colors to their own taste and fancy. Whether they milked the cows, cut the wood, or painted the sides of the house, they always worked like good fellows, and in nautical costume. They holystoned the front deck, as they called the floor of the piazza, until it seemed sacrilegious to set foot upon it; and when the house and the pale-fence had been suitably painted, they allowed their fancies lofty flights in the decoration of the smaller outbuildings and various objects in the grounds. One of the men had a pocket-chart of the colors adopted by the different steamship companies all over the world, and now smoke-houses, corn-cribs, chicken-houses, and so on, down to pumps and hitching-posts, were painted in great bands of blue and red and white and black, arranged in alternating orders, until an observer might have supposed that a commercial navy had been sunk beneath Mrs. Aleshine's house grounds, leaving nothing but its smoke-stacks visible.
The greatest work of decoration, however, was reserved by the red-bearded coxswain for himself, designed by his own brain, and executed by his own hands.
This was the tattooing of the barn. Around this building, the sides of which were already of a color sufficiently resembling a well-tanned human skin, the coxswain painted, in blue spots resembling tattooing, an immense cable passing several times about the structure, a sea-serpent almost as long as the cable, eight anchors, two ships under full sail, with a variety of cannons and flags which filled up all the remaining spaces. This great work was a long time in execution, and before it was half finished its fame had spread over the surrounding country.
The decoration of her premises was greatly enjoyed by Mrs. Aleshine. "It gives 'em somethin' to do," said she, "till the onion season comes on; it makes 'em happy; an' the leaves an' flowers bein' pretty nigh gone, I like to see the place blossomin' out as if it was a cold-weather garden."
In the evenings, in the large kitchen, the sailormen danced their hornpipes, and around the great fireplace they spun long yarns of haps and mishaps on distant seas. Mrs. Aleshine always, and the rest of us often, sat by the fire and enjoyed these nautical recreations.
"Havin' myself done housekeepin' in the torrid zone," she once said, "a lot of the things they tell come home to me quite nat'ral. An' I'd do anything in the world to make 'em content to live on dry land like common Christians, instead of cavortin' about on the pitchin' ocean, runnin' into each other, an' springin' leaks, with no likelihood of findin' a furnished island at every p'int where their ship happened to go down."
On one subject only did any trouble now come into the mind of Mrs. Aleshine, and she once had a little talk with me in regard to it.
"I've been afeard from the very beginnin'," she said, "an' after a while I more'n half believed it, that Elizabeth Grootenheimer was settin' her cap at the coxswain; so I just went to him an' I spoke to him plain. 'This sort o' thing won't do at all,' says I; 'an' although I haven't a doubt you see it for yourself, I thought it my dooty to speak my mind about it. There's plenty of young women in this township that would make you sailormen fust-rate wives, an' glad enough I'd be to see you all married an' settled an' gone to farmin' right here amongst us; but Elizabeth Grootenheimer won't do. Settin' aside everythin' else, if there was to be any children, they might be little coxswains, but they'd be Grootenheimers too, stone-dumb Grootenheimers; an' I tell you plain that this county can't stand no more Grootenheimers!' To which he says, says he, 'I want you to understan', ma'am, that if ever me or Jim or Bill makes up our mind to set sail for any sort of a weddin' port, we won't weigh anchor till we've got our clearance papers from you.' By which he meant that he'd ask my advice about courtin'. An' now my mind is easy, an' I can look ahead with comfort to onion-time."
I found it necessary to go to Philadelphia for a day or two to attend to some business matters; and, the evening before I started, the coxswain came to me and asked a favor for himself and his mates.
"It mayn't have passed out of your mind, sir," said he, "that when me an' Jim an' Bill took that money that you all give us, which wasn't 'zackly like prize-money, because the rest of the crew, to put it that way, didn't get any, we listened keerful to see if anything was said as to what we was to do with the money; an' nothin' bein' said, we took it, and we wasn't long makin' up our minds as to what we was goin' to do with it. What we wanted to do was to put up some sort of signal what couldn't get blowed away, or, more like, a kind of reg'lar moniment as would make them that looked at it remember the rough squalls and the jolly larks we've gone through with together; an' it was when we was talkin' about Mrs. Lecks bein' give' the ginger-jar to put on her mantelpiece an' keep forever that me an' Jim an' Bill we said, says we, that Mrs. Aleshine should have a ginger-jar too, havin' as much right to one as her mate, an' that that would be the signal-flag or the moniment that we'd put up. Now, sir, as you're goin' to town, we ask you to take this money, which is the whole lot that was give' us, an' have a ginger-jar built, jus' the size an' shape an' gen'ral trim of that other one, but of no pottery-stuff, for you kin buy 'em jus' like that, an' that ain't what we want. We want her built of good oak, stout an' strong, with live-oak knees inside to keep her stiff an' save her from bein' stove in, in case of a collision. We want her bottom coppered up above the water-line with real silver, an' we want a turtle-back deck with a round hatchway, with a tight-fittin' hatch, jus' like common jars. We want her sides calked with oakum, an' well scraped an' painted, so that with water inside of her or outside of her she won't leak. An' on the bottom of her, so they kin be seen if she keels over, we wants the names of me an' Jim an' Bill, which we've wrote on this piece of paper. An' on her sides, below the water-line, on the silver copperin', we want the names of all the rest of you, an' the latitood an' longitood of that island, an' anything out of the logs that might 'a' been kep' by any of you, as might help to be remembered the thing what happened. An' then, if there's any room left on the copperin', an' any money lef' to pay for 'em, you might have cut on as many anchors, an' hearts, an' bits of cable, an' such like suitable things as would fill up. An' that jar we're goin' to give to Mrs. Aleshine to put on her mantelpiece, to stay there as long as she lives, or anybody that belongs to her. An', by George, sir!" he added behind his hand, although there was nobody to hear, "if ever them two jars run into each other, it won't be Mrs. Aleshine's that'll go down!"
I undertook this commission, and in due course of time there came to the village the most astonishing ginger-jar that was ever built, and which satisfied the three mariners in every particular. When it was presented to Mrs. Aleshine, her admiration of this work of art, her delight in its ownership, and her gratitude to the donors were alike boundless.
"However could I have had the idee," said she privately to me, "that any one of them noble sailormen could have brought himself down to marry Elizabeth Grootenheimer!"
It was not long after this happy event that another great joy came to Mrs. Aleshine. Her son returned from Japan. He had heard of the loss of the steamer in which his mother and Mrs. Lecks had set sail, and was in great trouble of mind until he received a letter from his mother which brought him speedily home. He had no intention of settling in Meadowville, but it had been a long time since he had seen his mother.
He was a fine young man, handsome and well educated, and we were all delighted with him; and in a very short time he and Lucille Dusante, being the only young bachelor and maiden of the company, became so intimate and super-friendly that it was easy to see that to Mrs. Aleshine might come the unexpected rapture of eventually being the mother of Lucille.
We stayed much later at Meadowville than we had expected. Even after the little hills and vales had been well covered with snow, sleighing and coasting parties, led by the lively new-comer, offered attractions, especially to Lucille, which bound us to the cheery homes of Mrs. Lecks and Mrs. Aleshine. But, after a time, the Dusantes considered it prudent to go to Florida for the rest of the winter; Mr. Enderton had long since read all the books on his closet shelf and departed for New York; and Ruth and I determined that we, too, must move eastward.
But, before our little company separated, Mrs. Aleshine's son and Lucille Dusante had settled it between them that when the springtime came they would set sail for a wedding port. This match was a highly satisfactory one to all concerned, for Mr. Dusante could scarcely have found a young brother-in-law who would make his sister so happy, and who was, at the same time, so well fitted by disposition and previous occupation to assist in his increasing business cares.
In the spring the Dusante family came North again, and Lucille and her lover were married; and then all of us, except Mr. Enderton, who had obtained a most congenial position as assistant librarian in a public institution seldom visited, gathered at Meadowville to spend a week or two together, after which Ruth and I would repair to the New England town which was to be our home, and the Dusante family, the young husband included, would set out on a tour, partly of business and partly of pleasure, through Canada and the far Northwest.
It was arranged that, whenever it should be possible, Lucille and Mrs. Dusante should spend their summers at Meadowville; and as this would also give her much of the society of her son, the heart of Mrs. Aleshine could ask no more.
This visit to Meadowville was in the onion season; and one morning Ruth and I sat upon a fence and watched the three sailormen busily at work. The soil looked so fine and smooth that one might almost have supposed that it had been holystoned; and the three nautical farmers, in their tight-waisted, loose-bottomed trousers, their tarpaulin hats, and their wide-collared shirts, were seated on the ground at different points, engrossed in the absorbing task of setting out young onions as onions had never been set out before. All the careful attention to patient minuti? which nautical handiwork had taught them was now displayed in their new vocation. In a portion of the field which had been first planted the onions had sprouted, and we could see evidences of astonishing designs. Here were anchors in onions; hearts in onions; brigs, barks, and schooners in onions; and more things pertaining to ships, the heart's affections, and the raging main outlined in onions than Ruth and I could give names to.
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