Francis Richard Stockton - Casting Away Of Mrs. Lecks And Mrs. Aleshine
The success of Mrs. Leeks and Mrs. Aleshine was so great and so immediate that a sequel was loudly called for; and Mr. Stockton wrote The Dusalites, which is now incorporated with the, first story to shake one book and is so presented in this version.
HILE going from San Francisco, to Yokohama I became acquainted with Mrs: Lecks and Mrs. Aleshine; countrywomen —widows both. Mrs. Aleshine was on her way from the little Pennsylvania town in which they lived to Japan, where she expected to visit her son, who was in a mercantile house there, and Mrs. Lecks was going because she wished to see the world.
Mrs. Lecks was tall and strong-looking, with an absolute belief in herself, and a slight acerbity of manner; and Mrs. Aleshine was short and stout and good-humored, but just as self-reliant as her neighbor and fellow-traveler.
Neither saw much of the other passengers, being sufficient unto themselves; and as I was not especially interested in the rest of those on board I saw much of the two plain, sensible, and curiously ungrammatical ladies.
We were two days out from Honolulu when we were run into by another ship, and soon found that we should have to leave our vessel in the small boats.
By what at the time looked like a special providence, a boat was overlooked by the fleeing people, and after the two ladies had calmly adjusted their life-preservers, quite as if shipwrecks were common occurrences in mid-Pennsylvania, we scrambled down a rope into the boat. The ship was steadily sinking, and . we could not afford to stay near her very long; but before we cast off I called out, in order that anyone still on board might have a chance to seek safety with us. No one answering, we cast off and were soon out of harm's way as far as the sinking steamer was concerned, although, as Mrs. Aleshine remarked, it was probably six miles to the bottom of the ocean. We had a small keg of water, some canned goods, and two oars.
We had not gone far before Mrs. Aleshine complained of wet feet, which led to the dismal discovery that our boat was leaking. In fact, that was the reason she had not been crowded like the other boats. She was unseaworthy. And six miles down before we could touch land—not dry land at that!
There was nothing to do but to bail out, and those two housewives bailed as if it were part of their usual duties; but the leak gained on us, and I at last told them that we must let the boat sink and trust to our life-preservers. We had drunk some water and had eaten some cold baked beans, and felt prepared in a measure for what was coming, although we had no idea what it was that was coming. We thought we saw the ship, and fancied that she had sunk as far as she intended, and we might go back to her and wait to be rescued.
Capable Mrs. Lecks and her equally capable friend found that after the boat had sunk the oars came in handy to propel them through the water, and they handled them as if they had been brooms, with good results. I swimming and they sculling, we made progress to the black object.
Sharks were not likely to bother us, for my admirable ladies had encased their legs in black stockings in order to look like negroes, which sharks do not relish, and my trousers were black.
When we felt hungry again Mrs. Lecks drew from her pocket some waterproof sausages that went to the right spot and bore evidence to her forethought in providing them. Mrs. Aleshine drew from her pocket a jar full of bread, and Mrs. Lecks some whisky, so we had a most comforting meal out there in the Pacific, and no trouble about cloth-laying or washing of plates.
The black object that we had been approaching suddenly resolved itself into land and we were fortunate enough to find a landing-place free from surf; and dripping and dropping, we stepped on shore and found a civilized house. I was dumb with astonishment; but my matter-of-fact neighbors evidently felt that it was only what might have been expected. They were very careful not to drip any more than they could in going up to the front door, remembering the golden house-wives' rule. But our ring was not answered. The house was untenanted. After some parley, I entered by an upper window and let them into the house. Being shipwrecked, we had rights that the ordinary afternoon caller would not have.
The kitchen was in a detached house and the door was locked; but Mrs. Lecks went to the most natural place to look for a housekeeper's keys, and there was a bunch of them. We entered the kitchen and soon had a roaring fire going, and began to dry as fast as we could. We still had some biscuits and we found some sardines, and what with hot tea we soon had made a satisfying supper and were ready for bed.
The beds were not made up, showing that the family was not merely away for the day. The ladies found bed-linen and pre-pared the beds for occupancy; and then, with the hope that the owner might not come back until we were rested, we sought our several beds and slept seventeen hours without interruption.
Breakfast was a cozy meal, served on dainty white cloth, and consisted of tea and hot biscuit and warmed-up canned meat of some very palatable sort. If Mrs. Lecks and Mrs. Aleshine had been chronometers, they could not have been less upset in respect to their appointed work. Housekeeping in the Pacific was a mere matter of going ahead and doing the practical thing with little wasting of words, although Mrs. Aleshine was some-what surprised that barbarians should have such modern contraptions as baking-ovens. She had always supposed they offered up their victims on an altar. Mrs. Lecks set her right by remarking that probably the house was owned by some European or American who used it as a summer residence.
It looked as if we might be some time on the island before help came, and so Mrs. Lecks mapped out the work for us to do. She and Mrs. Aleshine were to keep the house in apple-pie order, and I was to look after the garden, which already had fruit in the way of tomatoes, beans, potatoes, and asparagus.
This last vegetable convinced Mrs. Aleshine that they were not "idolaters" who lived in the vacated house.
After dinner next day—which we ate in the dining-room as "became us," according to Mrs. Lecks's expressed opinion—that lady issued the ultimatum that we had no right to come to a house and eat up the food and wear and tear it without paying for what we got. They had taken the precaution to save their money before leaving the ship, and if I had not thought to save mine they would lend me some; but pay for our meals we must, after deducting a reasonable sum for "service." Less my gardening and their housekeeping, the sum that we would owe the owner of the house would be four dollars a week apiece, and after that every week Mrs. Lecks deposited that amount in a ginger-jar on the mantelpiece. Then if the family came back suddenly and said anything, we could point to the ginger-jar and say, "There it all is," and that would free our consciences.
We had found out that the name of the owner was probably A. Dusante, and that there were an Emily and a Lucille in the family; but what the nationality of the people was we could not make up our minds, and what their relationship to one another puzzled the good ladies.
We had lived for some days on the island, varying our canned meat with fresh fish now and then, when one day Mrs. Aleshine, standing on the little wharf, announced that the Dusantes were coming. This was said with the placidity that was natural to Mrs. Aleshine.
"Now," said she, "we'll learn whether they're go'n' to be satisfied with the board-money in the ginger-jar."
It struck me as strange that the owners should come in an open boat. They were more likely to come in a yacht.
My surmise that those approaching were not the owners was correct. They proved to be the Reverend Mr. Enderton, late missionary to China, his daughter, Miss Enderton, and three sailors, one with a red beard and two with black beards. Their vessel had become disabled, and this fact made the going so difficult and the meal service so poor that Mr. Enderton asked to be put ashore at the nearest land, and after a week of delay the captain consented. Mr. Enderton was accustomed to think of the convenience and comfort of his daughter's father before all else; and I could well imagine that the captain was glad to let him go ashore to wait for a steamer from Honolulu.
It was a great disappointment to Mrs. Lecks and Mrs. Ale-shine to learn that the Dusantes had not come. They were curious to learn what relation Lucille was to Emily; but they lost no time in doing what they could for the newcomers.
Miss Ruth I found very agreeable, not to say pretty; but I did not fall in love with her father. He complained at break-fast because he had no soft-boiled eggs, although Mrs. Lecks felt that without hens even hard-boiled eggs would be a rarity.
We were soon on a business basis, thanks to Mrs. Lecks's Pennsylvania conscience. The sailors were to fish eight hours a day in lieu of board-money, and Mr. Enderton (although he did not like the idea, and in a vague way imagined that it was the Dusantes who were levying the money) was to pay eight dollars a week for himself and daughter "without service."
Mrs. Aleshine, comfortable soul, found the company of the sailors very agreeable, and they often used to dance hornpipes for her of an evening.
It was not long before Mrs. Lecks took me aside and told me that I ought to hurry up and "pop the question" to Miss Ruth. This was the first intimation I had had that there was a possibility of my being in love with her, and I refused to believe the rumor. Their reason for wishing me to marry her was that we might put off for a larger island that we had heard of, as the provisions were getting low; and with Ruth my wife I should have the say as to our movements, and the old gentleman would have to come along. Then, too, he was so close-fisted that the ladies were sure he must have plenty of money, and so she would be a good match. And if I didn't take her now I might find it difficult after we got where there were other eligible men. Provisions were running low, and matters must be brought to a crisis.
Another reason for leaving soon was the fact that the sailors needed tobacco; and as Mrs. Lecks made them pay for that of the Dusantes, and they had had but one dollar and forty-three cents between them, they would soon be unable to buy any more, and then what would they do?
Three quarters of a pint of flour a day was our ration; and as I was slow in doing as they wished, the ladies besought me every day to hurry up and propose.
But after a time Mr. Enderton, set on by the ladies, refused to let me go out in a boat with his daughter; and when her company was forbidden I found that I loved her and asked her whether she liked to be with me, and upon her answering that she did, I said, "Let us make it suitable," and she consented.
Her father was pleased with the plan, mainly because he thought he would have more to eat when his daughter should be housekeeper, feeling quite sure that Mrs. Lecks was skimping on his food in order to make money out of his board. In fact, the ladies had purposely made life miserable for the missionary in order to facilitate the match on which they had set their hearts. The wedding was very simple, and there were no guests outside of our own circle.
Mr. Enderton was not at all pleased when he learned that we were to leave the island. He had enjoyed the idleness of it, the browsing in the library, and would have been content to remain indefinitely; but without flour we could not live, and so we went on our wedding-trip accompanied by all who had attended the wedding. Mrs. Lecks left the money in the ginger-jar on the mantel. We spent a comfortable month on the larger island (which was inhabited), and I look, back to our honeymoon there with pleasurable feelings.
At last we took steamer for San Francisco, and arrived there in good order. Mrs. Aleshine had written to her son that he need not expect her. We made several excursions as a party (barring the sailors, who intended to go to sea as soon as they could get berths), and on one of these we took stage to a railroad where we were to take up our journey east.
Mr. Enderton, who was always thinking of himself first, complained bitterly of the skittish horses that drew the stage; but as they were the only ones available his protests were not heeded. A rapid descent down one hill so frightened him that he resolved to save the entire party from a frightful death, and to that end he removed the nut from a bolt on the whiffletree; and when next the horses began to dash down hill he put the handle of his umbrella into the ring of the bolt, and, removing it, freed the horses from the whiffletree and in the ensuing runaway they freed themselves from the pole, and we were left. Fortunately, the coach did nothing more than run into a bank.
The missionary felt that he had performed a public service, but no one else looked on it in that light. Mrs. Lecks was so angry that after Ruth had gotten out of hearing she expressed her opinion regarding Mr. Enderton to that gentleman in such a way as to leave him in no doubt whatever as to her meaning.
As it would be several hours before help could come to us, we decided to seek shelter in the coach, while Mr. Enderton, who did not care to hear any more of Mrs. Lecks's vigorous Pennsylvania English, went down to the village whither we were bound. We went to sleep in the coach. Fortunately Mrs. Lecks had put up a huge luncheon for us, and so we did not suffer hunger.
In the night it began to snow, and when we awoke we found that winter had come to us on the mountain, although in the valley things were still green.
We had breakfast in the coach, with hot tea (again Mrs. Lecks), and spent the morning waiting for help. But it was very cold in the coach, and though I built a fire under the trees the wind blew so hard that it was impossible to remain long by the fire, and so at last I determined to tunnel into the bank of snow alongside the coach, work upward to form a chimney, and then build a fire in the cave and so heat the coach. This plan, after much effort, was put into execution. After a time the heat of the fire caused the roof of the cave to fall in, but the high walls protected us from the wind and we were fairly comfort-able. In the middle of the afternoon it stopped snowing, to our delight.
My companions had gone out to exercise themselves in the open air and I was replenishing the fire, when I saw in the wall of my cave, opposite the stage-coach, the head of a man. From its mouth came the words : " Could you lend me a small iron pot ?" Nothing could exceed my astonishment, although I knew there was something behind this head.
It turned out that there were limbs and a body of a man who, with two ladies, was seeking shelter from the storm in a snowed-in shed just above the road. They had heard our voices through the wall of snow and as they were tired of their food they thought it would be more palatable if they could stew it. They had boiled eggs in a teapot, in order to hold them in their hands and thus keep warm.
Needless to say that Mrs. Lecks's inexhaustible basket provided them with food that they appreciated, which was poked into their cabin through the hole that had held the head.
We spent another night in the coach and began to worry considerably. We could see over the edge of the mountain that the road was blocked by huge drifts and our speedy rescue was impossible. With three more mouths to feed, the lunch-basket would soon be empty, and then what?
During a reconnoissance for the purpose of discovering whether escape were possible, I learned that not far from us the mountain descended somewhat steeply but in an unbroken line to the valley, where lay safety and summer. If we had toboggans or bob-sleds, or even dish-pans, we could coast away from starvation. But we had none of these things. At last, after discussing the matter with our friends, we decided to make a sort of raft of the stage-cushions and, leaving all behind us save what we needed for warmth, to take the risk of coasting from starvation.
When we were all ready I noticed that the gentleman of the other party had under his arm a package of some sort, and I told him that it would be imprudent to take it along. To this he replied that he was perfectly willing to leave everything else of value behind; but that whithersoever he went the package also must go, and that if we could not take that much baggage he would follow us on a plank.
It was no time for parley; the sun was getting high and the crust of the snow might melt before we could leave the mountain, so I allowed him that much personal baggage. Then after tying a rope of shawls around us to keep us together, we started down the mountainside.
Owing to the shape of our "sled," we sometimes moved with a centrifugal motion and arms and legs pointed in a dozen directions. It was speedy, but it was not exhilarating, and when we finally left the region of snow and began to slide over the smooth turf we were sorry we had come. Fearing that it would be dangerous to remain tied together, I released the shawl knot under my arms, and we soon reached our various destinations.
And now from under the mass of shawls came a muffled cry: "Oh, Albert Dusante! Where are you? Lucille! Lucille!"
Mrs. Aleshine, her clothing half torn from her, was all agog at this. "It's the Dusantes!" said she with wild excitement.
And it was the Dusantes! They had returned to their island home after a trip to Europe, had found a note acquainting them of our habitancy, the wedding, and the contents of the ginger-jar, and had immediately set out in pursuit of us, in order that Mr. Dusante might hand back the money, being only too glad to have been of service to shipwrecked people. A ranchero gave us shelter, and we all slept soundly for the rest of the day.
Mrs. Aleshine had always wondered what relationship existed between A. Dusante, Lucille, and Emily, and at supper she found out. Neither was his wife. Lucille was his sister, and Emily he had adopted as a mother. He was of French-American descent and was a merchant in Honolulu. And if he had chased us the world over he never would have rested until he had handed the ginger-jar to Mrs. Leeks. At the conclusion of his narrative he unwrapped the papers that covered the ginger-jar and offered it to her. She sat up very straight and put her arms behind her back. She gave him to understand that when she and Mrs. Aleshine camped out in a man's house for weeks and used his provisions, they paid board. Then she left the room. Mrs. Aleshine gave expression to like sentiments, and then she, too, left the room.
Early the next day a man who had been sent to the railroad station to inquire as to the whereabouts of Mr. Enderton brought back a note from him to his daughter. He was glad to hear she was safe. He hadn't expected to hear anything else, as they were on a main-traveled road. As for him, he had almost been assaulted by the driver and was disconsolate.
While waiting to be taken to the station, the Dusantes listened to our various adventures with great interest, and a pleasant intimacy sprang up between the various ladies, while I found Mr. Dusante to be a very agreeable and cultivated man.
When we reached the railroad station we were met by Mr. Enderton, who was disgusted at having to give up his large room to the ladies; but as it was the only one available he had to do it. He had always felt that he had been robbed by Mrs. Lecks in being forced to pay board, and when he learned that Mr. Dusante wished to pay the money back he thought it would be eminently sensible to accept it.
We all went to Ogden City together to await the arrival of our snow-bound luggage, and the morning after our arrival Mr. Dusante told me that he wished me to take charge of the ginger-jar and hand it to Mrs. Lecks at the proper time. This I was forced to refuse to consent to do, and so he left it with the hotel clerk, instructing him to hand it to Mrs. Lecks after he had gone back to San Francisco.
Mrs. Lecks also took me aside and told me that she surmised what Mr. Dusante intended doing, and that she intended to send the ginger-jar to his business address in Honolulu.
But these plans were interfered with by Mr. Enderton, who went to Chicago, leaving behind a note in which he said he had found that Mrs. Lecks refused to take the jar, and so he had taken it with him; and when we reached Chicago he would apportion its contents among us according to our claims. He said this seemed to him a very sensible and prudent solution of the difficulty.
Angry as I was at Enderton for his high-handed way of settling the difficulty, still the difficulty was settled. I had had visions of that ginger-jar going to and fro over the earth for years. But Mr. Dusante was exceedingly angry, well as he controlled his feelings. He immediately decided to go east with us and get the jar away from Enderton.
In order to prevent Mr. Enderton from opening the jar, he sent a despatch to be delivered to him en route, saying that he knew the package had been stolen, and that he would recognize the thief and, if he opened the jar, clap him into jail. This would be understood by him without incriminating him.
Enderton's receipt of the message caused him to push on east with the jar. He would meet us, he wrote, in Meadowville, where Mrs. Lecks and Mrs. Aleshine lived. They were disgusted enough at the idea of his getting there first and retailing all the news.
With us to Meadowville went the Dusantes, and when we arrived there we found that the sailors were there. They had enjoyed life with us so much that they had given up the sea and wished to do gardening for the ladies. Mr. Enderton, it seemed, had calmly gone to Mrs. Aleshine's house, and in order to keep the men busy he had ordered them to paint her front door red at top and bottom and white in the middle, like a steam-stack.
When we arrived at her house we found our way barred by a locked gate, as Mr. Enderton wished to corral us at it and settle the affair of the jar before we proceeded to irrelevant matters. But the mariners caused him to let us in, and then the whole matter was settled (after one more set of refused proffers had been made) by giving the money to the sailors.
The Dusantes were so pleased with Meadowville that they spent the autumn there. I told Ruth there seemed to have been some sort of enchantment in the island, for it had made us all very happy, and she laid our happiness to the board-money in the ginger-jar.
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
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