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I had rushed towards Ruth, who had clung to a cushion, and was now sitting upon it, when Mrs. Lecks, who was close beside her, arose to her feet and stood upright. One foot was thrust through her own bonnet, and her clothes gave evidence of the frenzy and power of Mrs. Aleshine's grasp, but her mien was dignified and her aspect stately.
"Barb'ry Aleshine!" she exclaimed, "if them Dusantes has dropped down from heaven at your very feet, can't you give 'em a minute to feel their ribs and see if their legs and arms is broken ?"
The younger lady now turned her head towards Mrs. Aleshine. "I am Lucille," she said.
In a moment the good woman's arms were around her neck. 66 "I always liked you the best of the two," she whispered into the ear of the astonished young lady.
Having found that Ruth was unhurt, I ran to the assistance of the others. The gentleman had just arisen from a cushion, upon which, lying flat on his back, he had slid over the grass, still holding under one arm the package from which he had refused to part. I helped him to raise the elder lady to her feet. She had been a good deal shaken, and much frightened, but although a little bruised, she had received no important injury.
I went to fill a leather pocket-cup from a brook near by, and when I returned I found the gentleman standing, confronted by Mrs. Lecks, Mrs. Aleshine, and Ruth, while his own companions were regarding the group with eager interest.
"Yes," he was saying, "my name is Dusante, but why do you ask at this moment? Why do you show such excited concern on the subject?"
"Why?" exclaimed Mrs. Lecks. "I will tell you why, sir. My name is Mrs. Lecks, and this is Mrs. Aleshine, and if you are the Mr. Dusante with the house on the desert island, this is the Mrs. Craig who was married in that very house, and the gentleman here with the water is Mr. Craig, who wrote you the letter which I hope you got. And if that is n't rea
son enough for our wanting to know if you are Mr. Dusante, I 'd like to be told what more there could be!"
"It 's them! Of course it's them!" cried Mrs. Aleshine. “I had a feelin' while we were scootin' down hill that they was near and dear to us, though exactly why and how, I did n't know. And she 's told me she 's Lucille, and of course the other must be Emily, though what relations—”
"Am I to understand," interrupted the gentleman, looking with earnest animation from one to the other of us," that these are the good people who inhabited my house on the island?"
"The very ones!" cried Mrs. Aleshine. "And what relation are you to Emily? and Lucille to her?”
The gentleman stepped backward and laid down the package which he had held under his arm, and advancing towards me with outstretched hands, and with tears starting to his eyes, he exclaimed:
"And this man then, to whom I owe so much, is Mr. Craig!"
"Owe me!" I said. "It is to you that we owe our very lives, and our escape from death in mid-ocean."
"Do not speak of it," he said, shaking his head with a sorrowful expression on his face. "You owe me nothing. I would to Heaven it were not so! But we will not talk of that, now. And this is Mrs. Craig," he continued, taking Ruth by the hand,-"the fair lady whose nuptials were celebrated in my house. And Mrs. Lecks, and Mrs. Aleshine." As he spoke he shook hands with each. "How I have longed to meet you! I have thought of you every day since I returned to my island, and discovered that you had been — I wish I could say - my guests. And where is the reverend gentleman? And the three mariners? I hope that nothing has befallen them!"
"Alas! for three of them at least," ejaculated Mrs. Aleshine; "they have left us, but they are all right. And now, sir, if you could tell us what relation you are to Emily, and what Lucille —”
"Barb'ry!" cried Mrs. Lecks, making a dash towards her friend, "can't you give the man a minute to breathe? Don't you see he's so dumbflustered that he hardly knows who he is himself! If them two women was to sink down dead with hunger and hard slidin' right afore your very eyes while you was askin' what relation they was to each other and to him, it would no more 'n serve you right! We'd better be seein' if anythin' 's the matter with 'em, and what we can do for 'em."
At this moment the younger of Mr. Dusante's ladies quickly stepped forward. "O Mrs. Craig, Mrs. Lecks, and Mrs. Aleshine!"
she exclaimed, “I'm just dying to know all about you!"
"And which, contrariwise," cried Mrs. Aleshine, "is the same with us, exactly." "And of all places in the world," continued the young lady," that we should meet here!" No one could have been more desirous than I was to know all about these Dusantes and to discuss the strange manner of our meeting, but I saw that Ruth was looking very pale and faint, and that the elder Dusante lady had sat down again upon the ground as though obliged to do so by sheer exhaustion, and I therefore hailed with a double delight the interruption of further explanations by the appearance of two men on horseback who came galloping toward us.
They belonged to the house which I had noticed from the road above, and one of them had seen our swift descent down the mountain-side. At first he had thought the black object he saw sliding over the snow slopes was a rock or mass of underbrush, but his keen eye soon told him that it was a group of human beings, and summoning a companion, he had set out for the foot of the mountain as soon as horses could be caught and saddled. The men were much surprised when they heard the details of our adventure, but as it was quite plain that some members of our party needed immediate nourishment and attention, the questions and explanations were made very short. The men dismounted from their horses and the elder Dusante lady was placed upon one of them, one man leading the animal and the other supporting the lady. Ruth mounted the other horse, and I walked by her to assist her in keeping her seat, but she held fast to the high pommel of the saddle and got on very well. Mr. Dusante took his younger companion on one arm, and his package under the other, while Mrs. Lecks, having relieved her foot from the encircling bonnet, and Mrs. Aleshine, now free from the entangling shawls, followed in the rear. The men offered to come back with the horses for them if they would wait; but the two women declared that they were quite able to walk and intended to do no waiting, and they trudged vigorously after us. The sun was now high, and the air down here was quite different from that of the mountain-side, being pleasant and almost warm. The men said that the snows above would probably soon melt, as it was much too early in the season for snow to lie long on these lower sides of the mountain.
Our way lay over an almost level plain for about a mile. A portion of it was somewhat rough, so that when we reached the low house to which we were bound, we were all very glad indeed to get there. The house belonged to
the two men who owned a small ranch here. One of them was married, and his wife immediately set herself to work to attend to our needs. Her home was small, its rooms few, and her larder very plain in quality; but everything she had was placed at our disposal. Her own bed was given to the elder Dusante lady, who took immediate possession of it; and after a quickly prepared but plentiful meal of fried pork, corn-bread, and coffee, the rest of us stretched ourselves out to rest wherever we could find a place. Before lying down, however, I had, at Ruth's earnest solicitation, engaged one of the men to ride to the railroad station to inquire about Mr. Enderton, and to inform him of our safety. By taking a route which ran parallel with the mountain chain, but at some distance from it, the station, the man said, could be reached without encountering snow.
None of us had had proper rest during the past two nights and we slept soundly until dark, when we were aroused to partake of supper. All of us, except the elder Dusante lady, who preferred to remain in bed, gathered around the table. After supper a large fire, principally of brush-wood, was built upon the hearth; and with the bright blaze, two candles, and a lamp, the low room appeared quite light and cheery. We drew up about the fire-for the night was cool-on whatever chairs, stools, or boxes we could find, and no sooner had we all seated ourselves than Mrs. Aleshine exclaimed:
"Now, Mr. Dusante, it ain't in the power of mortal man, nor woman neither,—an' if put the other way it might be stronger,- to wait any longer before knowin' what relation Lucille is to Emily, and you to them, an' all about that house of yours on the island. If I'd blown up into bits this day through holdin' in my wantin' to know, I should n't have wondered! An' if it had n't been for hard sleep, I don't believe I could have held in nohow!"
"That's my mind exactly," said Mrs. Lecks; " and though I know there's a time for all things, and don't believe in crowdin' questions on played-out people, I do think, Mr. Dusante, that if I could have caught up with you when we was comin' over here, I'd have asked you to speak out on these p'ints. But you 're a long-legged walker, which Mrs. Aleshine is not, and it would n't have done to leave her behind.”
"Which she would n't 'a' been," said Mrs. Aleshine, "long legs or short."
Ruth and I added our entreaties that Mr. Dusante should tell his story, and the good ranchman and his wife said that if there was anything to be done in the story-telling line
"This lady was a dear friend of my mother, although younger than she. I adopted her as a mother to my little orphan sister, and consequently placed her in the same maternal relation to myself, doing this with much earnest satisfaction, for I hoped to be able to return, as a son, something of the tender care and affection which she would bestow on Lucille as a daughter."
"And this is Emily?" cried Mrs. Aleshine. "She adopted our name," answered the speaker, "and she is Mrs. Emily Dusante." And she is your adopted mother?" said Mrs. Aleshine.
they were in for it, strong; and quitting their work of clearing away supper things, they brought an old hair trunk from another room and sat down just behind Mrs. Lecks.
The younger Dusante lady, who, having been divested of her wraps, her veil, and the woolen shawl that had been tied over her head, now proved to be a very pretty girl with black eyes, here declared that it had been her intention at the very first opportunity to get us to tell our story, but as we had asked first, she supposed we ought to be satisfied first.
"I do not wish, my good friends," said Mr. Dusante, "to delay for a moment longer than necessary your very pardonable curiosity concerning me and my family; and I must say at the same time that, although your letter, sir, gave me a very clear account of your visit to my island, there are many things which naturally could not be contained within the limits of a letter, and about which I am most anxious to make inquiries. But these I will reserve until my own narration is finished.
"My name is Albert Dusante. It may interest you to know that my father was a Frenchman and my mother an American lady from New England. I was born in France, but have lived very little in that country, and for a great part of my life have been a merchant in Honolulu. For the past few years, however, I have been enabled to free myself in a great degree from the trammels of business, and to devote myself to the pursuits of a man of leisure. I have never married, and this young lady is my sister."
"Adopted mother!" ejaculated Mrs. Lecks. "Yes," answered Mr. Dusante.
"And that is the only relation she is to you two?" said Mrs. Lecks.
"And you to her?" added Mrs. Aleshine. "Most assuredly," answered Mr. Dusante. Here Mrs. Lecks leaned back in her chair, folded her hands in her lap, and ejaculated: "Well, well!" and then allowed her face to assume a rigid intention of having nothing more to say at the present moment.
"One thing is certain," remarked Mrs. Aleshine, in a tone which indicated that she did not care who heard her, “ I always liked Lucille the best!"
At this Ruth and I exchanged smiles with Miss Lucille, and Mr. Dusante proceeded:
"I do not wish to occupy too much of your time with our personal affairs, and will therefore state that the island on which you found refuge and where I wish, most heartily, I had been present to act as host, was bought by me
"Then what relation," began Mrs. Aleshine, as a retreat from the annoyances of business "is she to?"
At this moment the hand of Mrs. Lecks, falling heavily into the lap of the speaker, stopped this question, and Mr. Dusante proceeded:
"Our parents died when Lucille was an infant, and we have no near blood relations."
At this, the faces of both Mrs. Aleshine and Mrs. Lecks assumed expressions as if they had each just received a letter superscribed in an unknown hand, and were wondering who it could possibly be from.
"The lady who is now resting in the adjoining room," continued Mr. Dusante, "is a dear friend who has been adopted by me as a mother."
"Upon my word!" burst from Mrs. Lecks and Mrs. Aleshine, in as much unison of time and tone as if the words had been a response in a church service, while Miss Lucille leaned back against the wall near which she sat, and laughed gleefully. Mr. Dusante, however, continued his statements with the same quiet gravity with which he had begun.
and the exactions of society. I built there a good house -”
"Which it truly was," said Mrs. Aleshine, "with fixtures in it for water and letting it off which I never saw in a house so far out of town."
“I furnished it suitably," said Mr. Dusante. "We had books and music, and for several years we passed vacations there which were both enjoyable and profitable. But of late my sister has found the place lonely, and we have traveled a good deal, making intermittent and often short visits to the island.
"As I never cared to leave any one on that lonely spot during our absences from it, I arranged a gateway of bars across the only opening in the reef, with the intention of preventing marauding visits from fishing-boats or other small craft which might be passing that way. As the island was out of the ordinary track of vessels, I did not imagine that my bars would ever prove an obstacle to unfortunate castaways who might seek a refuge there."
"Which they did n't," remarked Mrs. Aleshine, "for under we bobbed.”
"I never exactly understood," said Mr. Dusante," and I hope to have it explained to me in due time, how you passed my bars without removing them, and I have had a sore weight upon my conscience since I discovered that shipwrecked persons,fleeing to my house from the perils of the sea, should have found those inhospitable bars in their way. "Which is a weight you might as well cast off and be done with it," said Mrs. Lecks, her deep-set notions on the rights of property obliging her to speak; "for if a man has n't a right to lock up his house when he goes away and leaves it, I don't know what rights anybody has about anything. Me, or Mrs. Aleshine, or anybody else here who has a house, might just as well go off travelin' or to town visitin' and leave our front door unlocked and the yard gate swingin' on its hinges, because we was afraid that some tramp or other body with no house or home might come along and not be able to get in and make himself comfortable. Your business, sir, when you left that house and all your belongin's on that island was to leave everything tight and safe, and the business of people sailin' in ships was to go on their proper way and not be runnin' into each other. And if these last mentioned did n't see fit to do that and so got into trouble, they should have gone to some island where there were people to attend to 'em, just as the tramps should go to the poor-house. And this is what we would have done—not meanin' the poor-house-if we had n't been so over long-headed as to get into a leaky boat, which, I wish it understood, is sayin' nothin' against Mr. Craig."
"That's true," said Mrs. Aleshine, "for nobody has got a right to complain that a fellow-bein' locks his own door after him. But it does seem to me, sir, that in such scattered neighborhoods as your island is in, it might be a good thing to leave something to eat and drink-perhaps in a bottle or in a tin pail at the outside of your bars for them as might come along shipwrecked and not be able to get inside on account of bein' obliged to come in a boat, an' not as we did; an' so when they found they'd have to go on, they might have somethin' to keep up their strength till they got to another house."
"Now, Barb'ry Aleshine," said Mrs. Lecks, "when you start off on a journey to Japan or any other place an' leave mince-pies and buttered toast a-stickin' on the p'ints of your palin's for tramps that might come along and need 'em, you can do that kind of talkin'. But as that time has n't come, let 's hear the rest of Mr. Dusante's story."
"When I first visited my island this year," continued the narrator, "we made but a short stay, as we were all desirous of taking a somewhat extended sea voyage in my steam yacht. We visited several places of interest, and when we returned, just six weeks ago to-day —" "Just one week, lackin' a day," exclaimed Mrs. Lecks, "after we left that spot!"
"If I'd 'a' knowed," said Mrs. Aleshine, rising to her feet, "that you 'd be back so soon, I'd 'a' made them sailor men live on fish, I'd 'a' eat garden truck myself, and I'd be bound I'd 'a' made the flour hold out for six days more for the rest of 'em, if I 'd 'a' had to work my fingers to the skin and bone to do it!" Then she sat down solemnly.
"When we returned," continued Mr. Dusante, "I was pleased to find my bars intact; and when these were unlocked, and the boat from our yacht went through with ourselves and our servants, it was very agreeable to notice the good order which seemed to prevail everywhere. As we passed from the wharf to the house, not even fallen boughs or weeds were seen to indicate that we had been away from the place for more than two months. When we entered the house, my mother and sister immediately ascended to their chambers, and when the windows had been opened I heard them from above calling to each other and remarking upon the freshness and cleanliness of the rooms. I went to my library, and when I had thrown open the window I was struck with the somewhat peculiar air of order which seemed to obtain in the room. The books stood upon their shelves with a remarkable regularity, and the chairs and other furniture were arranged with a precision which impressed me as unusual. In a moment, sir, I saw your letter upon the table, addressed to me. Greatly astonished, I opened and read it.
"When I had finished it, my amazement was great indeed; but obeying an instant impulse, I stepped into the dining-room, which a servant had opened, and took the ginger-jar from the mantel-piece. When I lifted from it the little brown-paper parcel, and beneath it saw the money which had been mentioned in the letter, you may imagine the condition of my mind. I did not take out the money, nor count it; but covering it again with the paper parcel, which I believe contained fish-hooks, and with the jar in my hands, I returned to the library, where I sat down to ponder upon these most astounding revelations. While so doing, my mother and my sister hastily entered the room. Lucille declared in an excited manner that she believed that the brownies or some other fairies had been there while we were away and had kept the house in order. The whole place was actually cleaner, she said, than when
we left it. She had taken down a thin dress from her closet, and it positively looked as if it had just come from the hand of a laundress, with the ruffles ironed smoother and more evenly than they had ever been since it was first stitched together. 'Albert,' said my mother, her face a little pale, 'there has been somebody in this house!' Then she went on to say that the windows, which were left unwashed because we went away in somewhat of a hurry, were as bright and clean as if the maids had just been rubbing them; the floors and furniture were cleaner and freer from dust than they had ever been before; and the whole house looked as if we had just left it yesterday. In fact,' she said, 'it is unnaturally clean!'"
During this part of Mr. Dusante's story, Mrs. Lecks and Mrs. Aleshine sat very quiet, with an air of sedate humility upon their faces; but I could see by the proud light in their eyes that they felt their superiority to ordinary women, although they were properly resolved not to show such feeling.
"At that moment," continued Mr. Dusante, "a servant came hurrying into the room, and informed us that the flour was all gone, and that there was scarcely anything in the pantries to eat. At this my mother and my sister, who knew that an abundance of provisions had been left in the house, looked at each other aghast. But before they could express their consternation in words, I addressed them. My dear mother,' said I, and Lucille, there truly has been some one in this house. By this letter I am informed that for several weeks eight persons have lived here under this roof; a marriage has been solemnized, and the happy couple have gone forth from our doors. These persons have eaten our food, they have made use of our property, and this has been their temporary home. But they are good people, honest and true-hearted, for they have left the house in better order than they found it, and more than the price of all they have consumed is in that ginger-jar.' And, thereupon, I read them your letter, sir.
"I cannot undertake to describe the wonder and absorbing interest with which this letter filled our minds. All needful stores were brought ashore from the yacht, which lay outside the reef, and we began our usual life on the island; but none of the occupations or recreations in which we formerly employed our time now possessed any attractions for us. Our minds were filled with thoughts of the persons who had been so strangely living in our house; and our conversation was mainly made up of surmises as to what sort of people they were, whether or not we should ever see them again, and similar suppositions." "Yes, indeed!" exclaimed Miss Lucille, VOL. XXXV.-55.
"I thought of you by day and by night, and pictured you all in various ways, but never as you really are. Sometimes I used to think that the boat in which you went away had been sunk in a storm in which you were all drowned, and that perhaps your ghosts would come back and live in our house, and sleep in our beds, and clean our windows, and wash and iron our clothes, and do all sorts of things in the night."
"Goodnessful, gracious me!" cried Mrs. Aleshine, "don't talk that way! The idea of bein' a cold ghost, goin' about in the dark, is worse than slidin' down a snow mountain, even if you had to do it on the bare of your back."
"Barb'ry!" said Mrs. Lecks, severely. "The idea is jus' as chillin'," replied her undaunted friend.
"Two things connected with this matter," continued Mr. Dusante, "weighed heavily on my mind. One of these I have already mentioned the cruel inhospitality of the barred entrance."
I had refrained from adding to the interruptions to Mr. Dusante's narrative, but I now felt impelled to assure the gentleman, on behalf of myself and wife, that we shared the opinions of Mrs. Lecks and Mrs. Aleshine, and felt that he could in no way be blamed for thus protecting his private property.
"You are very good," said Mr. Dusante, "but I will say here that there are now no bars to that entrance. I have left some people on the island, who will take care of my property and succor any unfortunate castaways who may arrive there. The other matter to which I alluded was, however, the heavier load which oppressed me. This was the money in the ginger-jar. I could not endure to reflect that I had been paid actual money for the hospitality I would have been so glad to offer to you poor shipwrecked people. Every sentiment of my being rebelled against such a thing. I was grieved. I was ashamed. At last I determined I would bear no longer the ignominy of this brand of inhospitality, and that, with the ginger-jar in my hand, I would search over the world, if necessary, for the persons who in my absence had paid board to me, and return to them the jar with its contents uncounted and untouched. Your letter informed me of the island to which you were bound, and if I did not find you there I could discover to what port you had taken your departure. There I could make further inquiries, and so follow you. When I proposed this plan to my family they agreed to it instantly, for their interest in the matter was almost as great as mine; and in a day or two we started on our quest.