Mark Tidd in the Backwoods
MARK TIDD IN THE BACKWOODS
It all started just before school was out.One afternoon when I got home mothershowed me a letter from Uncle Hieronymous,who lives in the woods back of Baldwin, on theMiddle Branch of the Père Marquette River.I never had seen him, but he and mother wroteto each other quite often, and I guess she’dbeen telling him a good deal about me, that’sBinney Jenks, and Mark Tidd and Tallowand Plunk. Of course, Mark Tidd was mostimportant. He always thought us out ofscrapes. So what did this letter of his do butinvite us all to come up to his place and staythe whole summer if we wanted to?
As soon as I read it I was so excited I hadto stand up and prance around the room.I couldn’t sit still.
“Can we go, ma? Can we go?” I asked,over and over again, without giving her achance to answer.
Ma had been thinking it over, because shesaid yes right off. Ma never says yes tothings until she’s had a chance to look atthem from all sides and knows just what thechances are for my coming out alive. “Youcan go if the other boys can,” she told me,and I didn’t wait to hear another word, butwent pelting off to Mark’s house.
Mark was in the back yard talking to hisfather when I got there, and I burst right inon them.
“Can you go?” I hollered. “D’you thinkyou can go?”
“L-l-light somewheres,” says he. “You’refloppin’ around l-l-l-like Bill Durfee’s one-leggedch-chicken.”
“Can you go to my uncle Hieronymous’s?We’re asked in a letter. The whole kit andbilin’ of us. Up in the woods. Right on atrout-stream. In a log cabin.” I broke it allup into short sentences like that, I was soanxious. After a while Mark got it all out ofme so he understood it, then he turned to hisfather.
“C-c-can I go, father?” he asked.
Mr. Tidd, though he’d got to be rich, wasjust as mild and sort of dazed-like and forgetfulas ever—and helpless! You wouldn’tbelieve how helpless he was.
“Way off into the woods?” says he.“Fishin’ and sich like? Um-hum. ’S far’sI’m concerned, Mark, there hain’t a singleobjection, but, Mark, I calc’late you bettersee your ma. She sort of looks after thefamily more’n I do.... And if she letsyou go, son, I’ll give you a new set of Gibbon’sDecline and Fall to take with you. You’llenjoy readin’ it evenin’s.” With that hetook out of his pocket a volume of old Gibbonand sat himself down on the back steps toread it. He was always reading that bookand telling you things out of it. After I’dknown him a year I most knew it by heart.
We went right up-stairs to where Mrs. Tiddwas making her husband a shirt on the sewing-machine.She didn’t have to make him shirts,because they had money enough from theinvention to buy half a dozen to a time ifthey wanted to. But Mrs. Tidd, she saysthere ain’t any use buying shirts for a dollarand a half when you can make them twice asgood for fifty cents and a little work. Thatwas her all over.
Mark called to her from the door. “Ma,”he said, “can I go—”
She didn’t let him get any further than that,but just says sharp-like over her shoulder:“There’s a fresh berry-pie on the second shelf.Can’t you see I’m so busy I dun’no’ where toturn?”
“But, ma,” he says again, “I d-d-d-don’twant pie. I want to g-go—”
“No,” says she, “you can’t.” Just likethat, without finding out where he wantedto go or anything; but that didn’t scare us amite, for we knew her pretty well, I can tellyou. In a second she turned around andwrinkled her forehead at us. “Where youwant to go?” she rapped out.
Mark started in to tell her, but he stutteredso I had to do it myself. I explainedall about it in a jiffy. She thought a minute.
“It’ll get you out from underfoot,” shesays, “and keep us from being et out ofhouse and home. I guess if the others cango you can.”
You always could depend on Mrs. Tidd tobe just that way. She was so busy withhousekeeping or something, and had her headso full that she didn’t get to understand whatyou said at first and always said no just tobe safe, I guess. But I never knew her torefuse Mark anything that he had any businessasking. For all her quickness we fellowsthought a heap of her, I want to tell you.
When the Martins and Smalleys found outwe could go they let Tallow and Plunk comealong, so there we were. We fixed it to leavethe day school was out and to stay just aslong as we could hold out.
We started the day we planned. At firstwe thought we’d take a lunch, but Mrs.Tidd set her foot down.
“You’ll need a hot meal,” she told us, “soyou go right into the dining-car when youget hungry.” Then she gave Mark the moneyfor our dinners, and we all kissed our folksgood-by and got on the train.
It was pretty interesting riding along, andwe enjoyed it fine till we got to Grand Rapids.We had to change there for Baldwin, and fromthen on the ride began to get tiresome. Wetried a lot of things to pass away the time,but nothing helped. I guess it was becausewe were so anxious to get into the woods.We went along and along and along. I hadn’tany idea Michigan was so big. After a whilea colored man came in and yelled that dinnerwas ready in the dining-car. Mark beganto grin. It looked like he was ready for thedinner. So was I, and the other fellows didn’thold back much. We went in and sat downat a little table. Each of us got a card thattold what there was to eat. There were somany things it was hard to make up our minds,but finally we hit on the idea of every fellowtaking something different, and so we gota look at more of it than we would any otherway. We were about two-thirds througheating when all at once that car acted like ithad gone crazy. I looked at the other three,and you never saw folks with such scaredexpressions in all your life. Their eyes bulgedout, their mouths were open.
Well, sir, we just rose right up out of ourchairs; that is, all of us did but Mark Tidd,and he was so wedged in he couldn’t. Itstarted with a crack that we could hear abovethe roaring of the train, then the car saggeddown at the front end and began to bumpand jump and wabble back and forth like aboat in a storm. We hadn’t time to getscared—only startled. Then the car wentover—smash! I don’t believe anybody evergot such a jolt. The next thing I knew I waskicking around in a mess of rubbish with myhead down and my feet up. Busted tablesand dishes and chairs and folks were allscrambled on top of me. First off I thoughtsure it was the end of me, but I didn’t hurtany place, and when my heart settled downbelow my Adam’s apple I began squirmingaround to get loose.
I remember the first thing I thought aboutwas its being so still. Nobody was holleringor groaning or anything. It surprised meand sort of frightened me. I squirmed harderand wriggled a table off me and pushed achair away from the back of my neck. ThenI sat up. You never saw such a sight.The car was lying on its side, and thelower side where I was was nothing buta jumble of things and people. And thewhole jumble looked like it was squirming.
Next I thought about Mark Tidd. He wasso fat and heavy I was afraid he’d be smashedall to pieces. I tried to call him, and at thethird try I got out his name.
“Mark,” says I, faint-like, “are you hurt?”
Over to the left of me, under a dining-tablewith its legs spraddled up, I heard a grunt—adisgusted grunt. It was a familiar grunt, agrunt that belonged to Mark.
“H-h-hurt,” says he, sarcastic-like, but coolas a cucumber, only stuttering more thanusual. “H-h-hurt! Me? Naw; I’m comfortableas a ulcerated t-t-tooth. Hey, you,”says he to somebody down under the rubbish,“quit a-kickin’ me in the s-s-stummick.”
I knew he was all right then, and began figgeringabout Tallow Martin and Plunk Smalley.In a minnit both of them came sort ofoozing out from amongst things looking likethey’d sat down for a friendly chat with acyclone.
“Mother’ll be mad about these pants,” saysPlunk.
“There hain’t much pants left for her toget mad about,” says Tallow, angry-like andrubbing at his shoulder. “What you want todo is get a barrel.”
“W-what you want to do,” says MarkTidd, “is g-git me out of here. There’s afeller keeps k-k-kickin’ me in the ribs andsomebody t-t-tried to ram a table-leg into mye-e-ear.”
Folks was digging their way out all aroundus now, and nobody seemed hurt particular,though some was making an awful fuss, speciallya stout lady that had lost a breastpin.We began mining for Mark, and pretty soonwe got down to where we could see him. Hewas the beat of anything I ever saw. Somehowhe’d wriggled so as to get his head on asoft leather bag that somebody’d broughtinto the diner—most likely some woman. Onearm was pinned down, but the other wasfree, and what do you think he was doingwith it? Eating! Yes, sir; eating! He hadtwo bananas in his pocket that he’d grabbedoff the table just before the smash-up, andthere he lay, gobbling away as calm as aniron hitching-post. It made me mad.
“You’d eat,” says I, “if Gabriel was tootinghis horn!”
“D-d-didn’t know what was goin’ to h-happen,”says he, “so I th-thought I’d g-git whatenjoyment there was t-t-to it.”
We hauled him out, and it took all three ofus. Heavy? I bet he weighs two hundredpounds. We got his head and shoulders freefirst and tried to drag the rest of him fromunder, but he wouldn’t drag. Why, each oneof his legs weighs as much as I do. He has tohave all his clothes made special. I bet Icould rip one of his pant-legs down the front,put sleeves in it, and wear it for an overcoat.
While we were tugging away at him somebodyoutside began smashin’ the door, andpretty soon three or four men crawled in andbegan helping folks out. One of them cameover to us and looked down at Mark.
“Hum,” says he. “Didn’t know there wasa side-show aboard.”
That made Mark kind of mad.
“Mister,” says he,