Moby Dick is a dark horror and a chore to read, but at the same time it is rich with enduring poetry and symbolism. The setting in which I was reading the tale could not have been more perfect. I was on Nantucket, the island where Ishmael and Queequeg signed on with the whaling vessel the Pequod. The main streets of Nantucket are still paved with the same cobble stones that were the ballast for whaling vessels that came in to port two centuries before. Ships were disgorged of the heavy rounded stones and loaded down again with whale oil, candles, and other trades from far off ports. Many of the homes and buildings in the town of Nantucket are original to the whaling community of the early 1800s and are still intact and decorated in much the same style as when they were built. So, it is easy to imagine the ghosts of widows pacing ‘the walk’ and searching the horizon for their sailors out at sea.
I read for about an hour and got up at 7:30 am. By the time that I had my toast and eggs and had finished cleaning all of the rooms in the guest house, the sun had come out and burned off the fog. By 11 am, children, their pails and shovels in hand, were already kicking at the dead carcass of a horse shoe crab and chasing gulls on Children's Beach in front of the guest house. I walked from the beach, up the cobbled Main Street, past the bank that dominates the top of the street and turned left onto a small shady side street.
My second job was both flexible and lucrative. Except for the creepy house that it was in, it would have been the perfect job. The house was built in the late 1700s and I was told that it had been owned by Maria Mitchell’s Quaker parents. Maria Mitchell, born 1818, was one of the first women of note in American science, an award winning astronomer. In the early part of the summer, I was hired to prepare this home for rental. This meant that I would go in, decide what needed to be done, and send a bill for the work. A blank check seems like a great gig except that I couldn't bear being in the house alone. One of the first chores that I tackled was cleaning out the fire place on the first floor. I shoveled out the ash and lemon oiled the cast iron fire dogs, and the swinging hanger that would have held the hanging cooking pots. All of these items were original to the house. The entire time I worked, I could not help looking over my shoulder to see who was watching me. I started to sing loudly to keep myself company. On later visits, I often paid my friends to help clean the house with me, but some of them were more uncomfortable in the home than I was.
I hated the third floor. Of all of the rooms in the house the two on the third floor were the most uncomfortable for me. I made the beds, took out the garbage and vacuumed the floors everywhere else in the house first, before I went up with clean sheets to the third floor. Shortly after I entered the room at the top of the stairs, the sky turned black and there was a loud rumble of thunder. Rain began to pour out of the sky. I was concentrating very hard on working as quickly as I could, when I heard the heavy footsteps of a hard soled shoe coming up the stairs to the third floor toward me.
I put on my 'I'm in charge' voice and demanded, "Who's there!" No answer. "Who's out there!"
I boldly threw the door open and stomped out of the room to where I was sure a man should have been standing. No one was there. A heavy steamer trunk that had been shoved against the attic door was pulled out about a foot from the wall and the attic door was ajar. I slammed the door shut and ran down to the second and then the first floor and then right out of the house and into the yard. With amazement, I noted that it was sunny outside but the grass was wet.
I stood outside looking up at the third floor windows for about 10 minutes. I really didn't want the embarrassment of being caught out in the side yard, not working, when the family returned home so I gathered my wits and marched back into the house and up to the third floor again to finish my task saying, "I'm comin' back in and I don't want any trouble from you!" The attic door was still closed when I got back up to the third floor, but I couldn't budge the steamer trunk to push it back against the door. Leaving it there, I went into the room to finish the beds. Just as I put the last pillow in place, I heard the family return from the beach.
Putting on my cheerful voice this time, I called down the stairs to let them know that I was there. Finished with my tasks, I went downstairs and waited until the children were out of the room to tell their parents what had happened while they were at the beach. To my surprise, the parents were absolutely delighted that they might have a ghost in the house. It seems that it just made for a more interesting vacation story, so I told them that if they really liked ghost stories there was a book that had just come out called, The Ghosts of Nantucket: 23 True Accounts by Blue Balliett which they could find in the book store on Main Street.
The next time that I came up to the house, they told me that when they had gone to the bookstore on Main Street to buy the book, they ran into their friends who were buying the very same book. Their friends said that the reason they had come to buy the book was that they were in home of Maria Mitchell’s birthplace on the same afternoon that I was in her parent's making the third floor beds. At the birthplace, a rocking chair was rocking back and forth slowly for several minutes with no one sitting in it.