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StocktonFrank R


    The Widow Ducket lived in a small village about ten milesfrom the New Jersey sea-coast. In this village she was bornhere she hadmarried and buried her husbandand here she expected somebody to bury her; butshe was in no hurry for thisfor she had scarcely reached middle age. She was atall woman with no apparent fat in her compositionand full of activitybothmuscular and mental.

    She rose at six o'clock in the morningcooked breakfastset the tablewashed the dishes when the meal was overmilkedchurnedsweptwashedironedworked in her little gardenattended to the flowers in thefront yardand in the afternoon knitted and quilted and sewedand after teashe either went to see her neighbors or had them come to see her. When it wasreally dark she lighted the lamp in her parlor and read for an hourand if ithappened to be one of Miss Mary Wilkins's books that she read she expresseddoubts as to the realism of the characters therein described.

    These doubts she expressed to Dorcas Networthywho was asmallplump womanwith a solemn facewho had lived with the widow for manyyears and who had become her devoted disciple. Whatever the


widow didthat also did Dorcas -- not so wellfor her heart told her she couldnever expect to do thatbut with a yearning anxiety to do everything as well asshe could. She rose at five minutes past sixand in a subsidiary way she helpedto get the breakfastto eat itto wash up the dishesto work in the gardento quiltto sewto visit and receiveand no one could have tried harder thanshe did to keep awake when the widow read aloud in the evening.


    All these things happened every day in the summertimebutin the winter the widow and Dorcas cleared the snow from their little front pathinstead of attending to the flowersand in the evening they lighted a fire aswell as a lamp in the parlor.

    Sometimeshoweversomething different happenedbut thiswas not oftenonly a few times in the year. One of the different thingsoccurred when Mrs. Ducket and Dorcas were sitting on their little front porchone summer afternoonone on the little bench on one side of the doorand theother on the little bench on the other side of the dooreach waiting until sheshould hear the clock strike fiveto prepare tea. But it was not yet a quarterto five when a one-horse wagon containing four men came slowly down the street.Dorcas first saw the wagonand she instantly stopped knitting.

    "Mercy on me!" she exclaimed. "Whoeverthose people arethey are strangers hereand they don't know where to stopfor they first go to one side of the street and then to the other."

    The widow looked around sharply. "Humph!" saidshe. "Those men are sailormen. You might see that in a twinklin' of an eye.Sailormen always


drive that waybecause that is the way they sail ships. They first tack in onedirection and then in another."


    "Mr. Ducket didn't like the sea?" remarkedDorcasfor about the three hundredth time.

    "Nohe didn't" answered the widowfor aboutthe two hundred and fiftieth timefor there had been occasions when she thoughtDorcas put this question inopportunely. "He hated itand he was drowned init through trustin' a sailormanwhich I never did nor shall. Do you reallybelieve those men are comin' here?"

    "Upon my word I do!" said Dorcasand heropinion was correct.

    The wagon drew up in front of Mrs. Ducket's little whitehouseand the two women sat rigidlytheir hands in their lapsstaring at theman who drove.

    This was an elderly personage with whitish hairand underhis chin a thin whitish beardwhich waved in the gentle breeze and gave Dorcasthe idea that his head was filled with hair which was leaking out from below.

    "Is this the Widow Ducket's?" inquired thiselderly manin a strongpenetrating voice.

    "That's my name" said the widowand laying herknitting on the bench beside hershe went to the gate. Dorcas also laid herknitting on the bench beside her and went to the gate.

    "I was told" said the elderly man"at ahouse we touched at about a quarter of a mile backthat the Widow Ducket's wasthe only house in this village where there was any chance of me and my matesgetting a meal. We are four sailorsand we are making from the bay over toCuppertownand that's eight


miles ahead yetand we are all pretty sharp set for something to eat."


    "This is the place" said the widow"and Ido give meals if there is enough in the house and everything comes handy."

    "Does everything come handy to-day?" said he.

    "It does" said she"and you can hitchyour horse and come in; but I haven't got anything for him."

    "Ohthat's all right" said the man"webrought along stores for himso we'll just make fast and then come in."

    The two women hurried into the house in a state ofbustling preparationfor the furnishing of this meal meant one dollar in cash.

    The four marinersall elderly mendescended from thewagoneach one scrambling with alacrity over a different wheel.

    A box of broken ship-biscuit was brought out and put onthe ground in front of the horsewho immediately set himself to eating withgreat satisfaction.

    Tea was a little late that daybecause there were sixpersons to provide for instead of twobut it was a good mealand after thefour seamen had washed their hands and faces at the pump in the back yard andhad wiped them on two towels furnished by Dorcasthey all came in and sat down.Mrs. Ducket seated herself at the head of the table with the dignity proper tothe mistress of the houseand Dorcas seated herself at the other end with thedignity proper to the disciple of the mistress. No service was necessaryforeverything that was to be eaten or drunk was on the table.

    When each of the elderly mariners had had as much


bread and butterquickly baked soda-biscuitdried beefcold hamcold tongueand preserved fruit of every variety knownas his storage capacity would permitthe mariner in commandCaptain Birdpushed back his chairwhereupon the othermariners pushed back their chairs.


    "Madam" said Captain Bird"we have allmade a good mealwhich didn't need to be no better nor more of itand we'resatisfied; but that horse out there has not had time to rest himself enough togo the eight miles that lies ahead of ussoif it's all the same to you andthis good ladywe'd like to sit on that front porch awhile and smoke our pipes.I was a-looking at that porch when I came inand I bethought to myself what arare good place it was to smoke a pipe in."

    "There's pipes been smoked there" said thewidowrising"and it can be done again. Inside the house I don't allowtobaccobut on the porch neither of us minds."

    So the four captains betook themselves to the porchtwoof them seating themselves on the little bench on one side of the doorand twoof them on the little bench on the other side of the doorand lighted theirpipes.

    "Shall we clear off the table and wash up the dishes"said Dorcas"or wait until they are gone?"

    "We will wait until they are gone" said thewidow"for now that they are here we might as well have a bit of a chatwith them. When a sailorman lights his pipe he is generally willin' to talkbutwhen he is eatin' you can't get a word out of him."

    Without thinking it necessary to ask permissionfor thehouse belonged to herthe Widow Ducket


brought a chair and put it in the hall close to the open front doorand Dorcasbrought another chair and seated herself by the side of the widow.


    "Do all you sailormen belong down there at thebay?" asked Mrs. Ducket; thus the conversation beganand in a few minutesit had reached a point at which Captain Bird thought it proper to say that agreat many strange things happen to seamen sailing on the sea which lands-peoplenever dream of.

    "Such as anything in particular?" asked thewidowat which remark Dorcas clasped her hands in expectancy.

    At this question each of the mariners took his pipe fromhis mouth and gazed upon the floor in thought.

    "There's a good many strange things happened to meand my mates at sea. Would you and that other lady like to hear any of them?"asked Captain Bird.

    "We would like to hear them if they are true"said the widow.

    "There's nothing happened to me and my mates thatisn't true" said Captain Bird"and here is something that oncehappened to me: I was on a whaling v'yage when a big sperm-whalejust as mad asa fiery bullcame at ushead onand struck the ship at the stern with suchtremendous force that his head crashed right through her timbers and he wentnearly half his length into her hull. The hold was mostly filled with emptybarrelsfor we was just beginning our v'yageand when he had madekindling-wood of these there was room enough for him. We all expected that itwouldn't take five minutes for the vessel to fill and go to the bottomand wemade ready to take to the boats; but it turned out we didn't need to take to no


boatsfor as fast as the water rushed into the hold of the shipthat whaledrank it and squirted it up through the two blow-holes in the top of his headand as there was an open hatchway just over his headthe water all went intothe sea againand that whale kept working day and night pumping the water outuntil we beached the vessel on the island of Trinidad -- the whale helping uswonderful on our way over by the powerful working of his tailwhichbeingoutside in the wateracted like a propeller. I don't believe any thing strangerthan that ever happened to a whaling ship."


    "No" said the widow"I don't believeanything ever did."

    Captain Bird now looked at Captain Sandersonand thelatter took his pipe out of his mouth and said that in all his sailing aroundthe world he had never known anything queerer than what happened to a bigsteamship he chanced to be onwhich ran into an island in a fog. Everybody onboard thought the ship was wreckedbut it had twin screwsand was going atsuch a tremendous speed that it turned the island entirely upside down andsailed over itand he had heard tell that even now people sailing over the spotcould look down into the water and see the roots of the trees and the cellars ofthe houses.

    Captain Sanderson now put his pipe back into his mouthand Captain Burress took out his pipe.

    "I was once in an obelisk-ship" said he"thatused to trade regular between Egypt and New Yorkcarrying obelisks. We had abig obelisk on board. The way they ship obelisks is to make a hole in the sternof the shipand run the obelisk inp'inted end foremost;


and this obelisk filled up nearly the whole of that ship from stern to bow. Wewas about ten days outand sailing afore a northeast gale with the engines atfull speedwhen suddenly we spied breakers aheadand our Captain saw we wasabout to run on a bank. Now if we hadn't had an obelisk on board we might havesailed over that bankbut the captain knew that with an obelisk on board wedrew too much water for thisand that we'd be wrecked in about fifty-fiveseconds if something wasn't done quick. So he had to do something quickandthis is what he did: He ordered all steam onand drove slam-bang on that bank.Just as he expectedwe stopped so suddint that that big obelisk bounced for'ardits p'inted end foremostand went clean through the bow and shot out into thesea. The minute it did that the vessel was so lightened that it rose in thewater and we easily steamed over the bank. There was one man knocked overboardby the shock when we struckbut as soon as we missed him we went back after himand we got him all right. You seewhen that obelisk went overboarditsbutt-endwhich was heaviestwent down firstand when it touched the bottom itjust stood thereand as it was such a big obelisk there was about five and ahalf feet of it stuck out of the water. The man who was knocked overboard hejust swum for that obelisk and he climbed up the hiryglyphics. It was a mightyfine obeliskand the Egyptians had cut their hiryglyphics good and deepsothat the man could get hand and foot-hold; and when we got to him and took himoffhe was sitting high and dry on the p'inted end of that obelisk. It was agreat pity about the obeliskfor it was a good obeliskbut as I


never heard the company tried to raise itI expect it is standing there yet."


    Captain Burress now put his pipe back into his mouth andlooked at Captain Jenkinsonwho removed his pipe and said:

    "The queerest thing that ever happened to me wasabout a shark. We was off the Banksand the time of year was Julyand the icewas coming downand we got in among a lot of it. Not far awayoff our weatherbowthere was a little iceberg which had such a queerness about it that thecaptain and three men went in a boat to look at it. The ice was mighty cleariceand you could see almost through itand right inside of itnot more thanthree feet above the waterlineand about two feetor maybe twenty inchesinside the icewas a whopping big sharkabout fourteen feet long-- a regularman-eater-- frozen in there hard and fast. `Bless my soul' said the captain`this is a wonderful curiosityand I'm going to git him out.' Just then one ofthe men said he saw that shark winkbut the captain wouldn't believe himforhe said that shark was frozen stiff and hard and couldn't wink. You seethecaptain had his own idees about thingsand he knew that whales was warm-bloodedand would freeze if they was shut up in icebut he forgot that sharks was notwhales and that they're cold-blooded just like toads. And there is toads thathas been shut up in rocks for thousands of yearsand they stayed alivenomatter how cold the place wasbecause they was cold-bloodedand when the rockswas splitout hopped the frog. Butas I said beforethe captain forgot sharkswas cold-bloodedand he determined to git that one out.



    "Now you both knowbeing housekeepersthat if youtake a needle and drive it into a hunk of ice you can split it. The captain hada sail-needle with himand so he drove it into the iceberg right alongside ofthe shark and split it. Now the minute he did it he knew that the man was rightwhen he said he saw the shark winkfor it flopped out of that iceberg quickernor a flash of lightning."

    "What a happy fish he must have been!"ejaculated Dorcasforgetful of precedentso great was her emotion.

    "Yes" said Captain Jenkinson"it was ahappy fish enoughbut it wasn't a happy captain. You seethat shark hadn't hadanything to eatperhaps for a thousand yearsuntil the captain came along withhis sail-needle."

    "Surely you sailormen do see strange things"now said the widow"and the strangest thing about them is that they aretrue."

    "Yesindeed" said Dorcas"that is themost wonderful thing."

    "You wouldn't suppose" said the Widow Ducketglancing from one bench of mariners to the other"that I have a sea-storyto tellbut I haveand if you like I will tell it to you."

    Captain Bird looked up a little surprised.

    "We would like to hear it -- indeedwe wouldmadam"said he.

    "Ayay!" said Captain Burressand the twoother mariners nodded.

    "It was a good while ago" she said"whenI was living on the shore near the head of the baythat my husband was away andI was left alone in the house.


One mornin' my sister-in-lawwho lived on the other side of the baysent meword by a boy on a horse that she hadn't any oil in the house to fill the lampthat she always put in the window to light her husband homewho was a fishermanand if I would send her some by the boy she would pay me back as soon as theybought oil. The boy said he would stop on his way home and take the oil to herbut he never did stopor perhaps he never went backand about five o'clock Ibegan to get dreadfully worriedfor I knew if that lamp wasn't in mysister-in-law's window by dark she might be a widow before midnight. So I saidto myself`I've got to get that oil to herno matter what happens or how it'sdone.' Of course I couldn't tell what might happenbut there was only one wayit could be doneand that was for me to get into the boat that was tied to thepost down by the waterand take it to herfor it was too far for me to walkaround by the head of the bay. Nowthe trouble wasI didn't know no more abouta boat and the managin' of it than any one of you sailormen knows about clearstarchin'. But there wasn't no use of thinkin' what I knew and what I didn'tknowfor I had to take it to herand there was no way of doin' it except inthat boat. So I filled a gallon canfor I thought I might as well take enoughwhile I was about itand I went down to the water and I unhitched that boat andI put the oil-can into herand then I got inand off I startedand when I wasabout a quarter of a mile from the shore -- "


    "Madam" interrupted Captain Bird"did yourow or -- or was there a sail to the boat?"

    The widow looked at the questioner for a moment.


"No" said she"I didn't row. I forgot to bring the oars fromthe house; but it didn't matterfor I didn't know how to use themand if therehad been a sail I couldn't have put it upfor I didn't know how to use iteither. I used the rudder to make the boat go. The rudder was the only thing Iknew anything about. I'd held a rudder when I was a little girland I knew howto work it. So I just took hold of the handle of the rudder and turned it roundand roundand that made the boat go aheadyou knowand -- "


    "Madam!" exclaimed Captain Birdand the otherelderly mariners took their pipes from their mouths.

    "Yesthat is the way I did it" continued thewidowbriskly. "Big steamships are made to go by a propeller turning roundand round at their back endsand I made the rudder work in the same wayand Igot along very welltoountil suddenlywhen I was about a quarter of a milefrom the shorea most terrible and awful storm arose. There must have been atyphoon or a cyclone out at seafor the waves came up the bay bigger thanhousesand when they got to the head of the bay they turned around and tried toget out to sea again. So in this way they continually metand made the mostawful and roarin' pilin' up of waves that ever was known.

    "My little boat was pitched about as if it had been afeather in a breezeand when the front part of it was cleavin' itself down intothe water the hind part was stickin' up until the rudder whizzed around like apatent churn with no milk in it. The thunder began to roar and the lightnin'flashedand three seagullsso nearly frightened to death that they began toturn up the whites of their eyesflew down and sat


on one of the seats of the boatforgettin' in that awful moment that man wastheir nat'ral enemy. I had a couple of biscuits in my pocketbecause I hadthought I might want a bite in crossingand I crumbled up one of these and fedthe poor creatures. Then I began to wonder what I was goin' to dofor thingswere gettin' awfuller and awfuller every instantand the little boat wasa-heavin' and a-pitchin' and a-rollin' and h'istin' itself upfirst on one endand then on the otherto such an extent that if I hadn't kept tight hold of therudder-handle I'd slipped off the seat I was sittin' on.


    "All of a sudden I remembered that oil in the can;but just as I was puttin' my fingers on the cork my conscience smote me. `Am Igoin' to use this oil' I said to myself`and let my sister-in-law's husband bewrecked for want of it?' And then I thought that he wouldn't want it all thatnightand perhaps they would buy oil the next dayand so I poured out about atumblerful of it on the waterand I can just tell you sailormen that you neversaw anything act as prompt as that did. In three secondsor perhaps fivethewater all around mefor the distance of a small front yardwas just as flat asa table and as smooth as glassand so invitin' in appearance that the threegulls jumped out of the boat and began to swim about on itprimin' theirfeathers and lookin' at themselves in the transparent depthsthough I must saythat one of them made an awful face as he dipped his bill into the water andtasted kerosene.

    "Now I had time to sit quiet in the midst of theplacid space I had made for myselfand rest from workin' of the rudder. Trulyit was a wonderful and


marvellous thing to look at. The waves was roarin' and leapin' up all around mehigher than the roof of this houseand sometimes their tops would reach over sothat they nearly met and shut out all view of the stormy skywhich seemed as ifit was bein' torn to pieces by blazin' lightnin'while the thunder pealed sotremendous that it almost drowned the roar of the waves. Not only above and allaround me was every thing terrific and fearfulbut even under me it was thesamefor there was a big crack in the bottom of the boat as wide as my handand through this I could see down into the water beneathand there was --"


    "Madam!" ejaculated Captain Birdthe hand whichhad been holding his pipe a few inches from his mouth now dropping to his knee;and at this motion the hands which held the pipes of the three other marinersdropped to their knees.

    "Of course it sounds strange" continued thewidow"but I know that people can see down into clear waterand the waterunder me was clearand the crack was wide enough for me to see throughanddown under me was sharks and swordfishes and other horrible water creatureswhich I had never seen beforeall driven into the bayI haven't a doubtbythe violence of the storm out at sea. The thought of my bein' upset and fallin'in among those monsters made my very blood run coldand involuntary-like Ibegan to turn the handle of the rudderand in a moment I shot into a wall ofragin' sea-water that was towerin' around me. For a second I was fairly blindedand stunnedbut I had the cork out of that oil-can in no timeand very soon --you'd scarcely believe it if I told you how


soon -- I had another placid mill-pond surroundin' of me. I sat there a-pantin'and fannin' with my straw hatfor you'd better believe I was flusteredandthen I began to think how long it would take me to make a line of mill-pondsclean across the head of the bayand how much oil it would needand whether Ihad enough. So I sat and calculated that if a tumblerful of oil would make asmooth place about seven yards acrosswhich I should say was the width of theone I was in-- which I calculated by a measure of my eye as to how manybreadths of carpet it would take to cover it-- and if the bay was two milesacross betwixt our house and my sister-in-law'sandalthough I couldn't getthe thing down to exact figuresI saw pretty soon that I wouldn't have oilenough to make a level cuttin' through all those mountainous billowsandbesideseven if I had enough to take me acrosswhat would be the good of goin'if there wasn't any oil left to fill my sister-in-law's lamp?


    "While I was thinkin' and calculatin' a perfectlydreadful thing happenedwhich made me think if I didn't get out of this prettysoon I'd find myself in a mighty risky predicament. The oil-canwhich I hadforgotten to put the cork intoppled overand before I could grab it everydrop of the oil ran into the hind part of the boatwhere it was soaked up by alot of dry dust that was there. No wonder my heart sank when I saw this.Glancin' wildly around meas people will do when they are scaredI saw thesmooth place I was in gettin' smaller and smallerfor the kerosene wasevaporatin'as it will do even off woollen clothes if you give it time enough.The first pond I had come out of seemed to be covered upand the greattower


in'throbbin' precipice of sea-water was a-closin' around me.


    "Castin' down my eyes in despairI happened to lookthrough the crack in the bottom of the boatand ohwhat a blessed relief itwas! for down there everything was smooth and stilland I could see the sand onthe bottomas level and hardno doubtas it was on the beach. Suddenly thethought struck me that that bottom would give me the only chance I had ofgettin' out of the frightful fix I was in. If I could fill that oil-can withairand then puttin' it under my arm and takin' a long breath if I could dropdown on that smooth bottomI might run along toward shoreas far as I couldand thenwhen I felt my breath was givin' outI could take a pull at theoil-can and take another runand then take another pull and another runandperhaps the can would hold air enough for me until I got near enough to shore towade to dry land. To be surethe sharks and other monsters were down therebutthen they must have been awfully frightenedand perhaps they might not rememberthat man was their nat'ral enemy. AnywayI thought it would be better to trythe smooth water passage down there than stay and be swallowed up by the ragin'waves on top.

    "So I blew the can full of air and corked itandthen I tore up some of the boards from the bottom of the boat so as to make ahole big enough for me to get through-- and you sailormen needn't wriggle sowhen I say thatfor you all know a divin'-bell hasn't any bottom at all and thewater never comes in-- and so when I got the hole big enough I took theoil-can

"Things were gettin' awfuller and awfuller every instant."


under my armand was just about to slip down through it when I saw an awfulturtle a-walkin' through the sand at the bottom. NowI might trust sharks andswordfishes and sea-serpents to be frightened and forget about their nat'ralenemiesbut I never could trust a gray turtle as big as a cartwith a blackneck a yard longwith yellow bags to its jawsto forget anything or toremember anything. I'd as lieve get into a bath-tub with a live crab as to godown there. It wasn't of no use even so much as thinkin' of itso I gave upthat plan and didn't once look through that hole again."


    "And what did you domadam?" asked Captain Birdwho was regarding her with a face of stone.

    "I used electricity" she said. "Now don'tstart as if you had a shock of it. That's what I used. When I was younger than Iwas thenand sometimes visited friends in the citywe often amused ourselvesby rubbing our feet on the carpet until we got ourselves so full of electricitythat we could put up our fingers and light the gas. So I said to myself that ifI could get full of electricity for the purpose of lightin' the gas I could getfull of it for other purposesand sowithout losin' a momentI set to work. Istood up on one of the seatswhich was dryand I rubbed the bottoms of myshoes backward and forward on it with such violence and swiftness that theypretty soon got warm and I began fillin' with electricityand when I was fullycharged with it from my toes to the top of my headI just sprang into the waterand swam ashore. Of course I couldn't sinkbein' full of electricity."

    Captain Bird heaved a long sigh and rose to his feet


whereupon the other mariners rose to their feet "Madam" said CaptainBird"what's to pay for the supper and -- the rest of theentertainment?"


    "The supper is twenty-five cents apiece" saidthe Widow Ducket"and everything else is freegratis."

    Whereupon each mariner put his hand into his trouserspocketpulled out a silver quarterand handed it to the widow. Thenwith foursolemn "Good evenin's" they went ont to the front gate.

    "Cast offCaptain Jenkinson" said Captain Bird"and youCaptain Burressclew him up for'ard. You can stay in the bowCaptain Sandersonand take the sheet-lines. I'll go aft."

    All being readyeach of the elderly mariners clamberedover a wheeland having seated themselvesthey prepared to lay their coursefor Cuppertown.

    But just as they were about to startCaptain Jenkinsonasked that they lay to a bitand clambering down over his wheelhe reenteredthe front gate and went up to the door of the housewhere the widow and Dorcaswere still standing.

    "Madam" said he"I just came back to askwhat became of your brother-in-law through his wife's not bein' able to put nolight in the window?"

    "The storm drove him ashore on our side of thebay" said she"and the next mornin' he came up to our houseand Itold him all that had happened to me. And when he took our boat and went homeand told that story to his wifeshe just packed up and went out Westand gotdivorced from him. And it served him righttoo."

    "Thank youma'am" said Captain Jenkinsonand


going out of the gatehe clambered up over the wheeland the wagon cleared forCuppertown.


    When the elderly mariners were gonethe Widow Ducketstill standing in the doorturned to Dorcas.

    "Think of it!" she said. "To tell all thatto mein my own house! And after I had opened my one jar of brandied peachesthat I'd been keepin' for special company!"

    "In your own house!" ejaculated Dorcas."And not one of them brandied peaches left!"

    The widow jingled the four quarters in her hand before sheslipped them into her pocket.

    "AnywayDorcas" she remarked"I think wecan now say we are square with all the worldand so let's go in and wash thedishes."

    "Yes" said Dorcas"we're square."