Mark Tidd, Manufacturer
MARK TIDD, MANUFACTURER
Binney Jenks, Tallow Martin, and I weresitting on Mark Tidd’s front porch, waitingfor him to get through supper. Maybeyou’ve got an idea that didn’t take any patience,but you want to change your mind pretty quick.Eating supper wasn’t any two-second job withMarcus Aurelius Fortunatus Tidd. You canbet it wasn’t. He didn’t just grab a bite andrun like us fellows do, but he sat down to thetable with his stummick about six inches awayfrom the edge of it, and kept on eating till hetouched.
He knew we were waiting for him, but thatdidn’t make a bit of difference. If GeneralGrant and the Emperor Napoleon were hangingaround waiting for him to come out and playtag with them, he’d have eaten just as much andnot a mite faster. When you weigh as much ashe does I calc’late it takes more to keep yougoing, just like it takes more wood to run abig stove than it does a little one. It didn’ttake him much more than an hour to get hisstummick filled up this time, and out he waddled,looking kind of pleased and peaceful, with hishand resting gentle on his belt.
“Um!...” says he.
“Hope you didn’t hustle out before you gotplenty,” says I.
He looked at me out of his little eyes that hadto sort of peer over the tops of his dumplingcheeks. “Plunk,” says he, “if you d-d-doeverythin’ in your l-life as thorough as I eat,folks is goin’ to admire you consid’able. Istarted in with vegetable soup at six o’clock,and I don’t recall neglectin’ a dish from that toapple pie. Two pieces of apple pie,” says he.
“It’s lucky,” says Binney, “that your pa’srich. If he wasn’t he couldn’t afford to keepyou. A poor fam’ly would have to drown youin a pail of water like folks does kittens theycan’t figger to take care of.”
“Take a kind of big pail of water,” saidTallow. “Guess they’d need the village standpipe.”
“How’s your pa and ma?” says I.
“Oh,” says Mark, “Ma she’s b-b-busy, asusual. Just a-hustlin’ from git-up to go-tobed. Claims she’s p-plumb tired out, but thetireder she gets the harder she works. She justsent Dad out to put over the kittle while shecleared the table.”
“Did he do it?” says I.
Mark grinned. “When I l-looked through thekitchen door,” says he, “Dad he’d gone andset the dust-pan careful on the stove, and wassettin’ in front of the stove, a-holdin’ the kittlein his lap and restin’ a volume of Gibbon’s Declineand Fall on top of it. You could ’a’ holleredfire and he wouldn’t budge.”
That was Mr. Tidd all over. He was one ofthese inventor folks, and that dreamy andabsent-minded you wouldn’t believe it. Alwaysa-thinking about something besides what heought to be thinking about, and always gettinginto trouble with Mrs. Tidd—and forever readingthe Decline and Fall. There’s eight volumes ofit, and I’ll bet he can recite it word for word.Yes, sir, if Mrs. Tidd was to send him to thestore for a pound of tea, as like as not he wouldcome home bringin’ a knife-sharpener or a boxof cough-drops or a sick dog. Mrs. Tidd alwaysfiggered on sendin’ him at least twice for anything—andthen, ’most generally, she had tosend one of us boys to git it, after all. And hewas rich. Made so much money out of inventin’a turbine engine that he’s got a bankfull of it. But you’d never think it. Why, himand Mrs. Tidd lives just like they did when hedidn’t have two dollars to his name. He dressesjust the same, and she won’t even keep a hiredgirl. Fine folks, I can tell you, and us fellowsthink a heap of them.
“Well,” says Mark, “what’ll we d-do thisevenin’?”
Before anybody could answer a man camethrough the gate and sort of shuffled up thewalk toward the porch. He was nigh seven foothigh and he wore enough whiskers to stop amattress—the kind of whiskers that grow outevery which way and waves around franticwhen the wind blows. They made his head lookas if it was about as big around as a bushelbasket—but from there down you couldn’thardly see him at all. He had a sort of looklike a pumpkin lantern bein’ carried on theend of a long pole.
“Here’s Silas Doolittle Bugg,” says I.
We didn’t say anything till he got up to thesteps. Then, all of a sudden, he seemed to seeus and stopped and reached for a handful ofthem whiskers. Sort of gathered together all hecould in one grab and jerked ’em like he aimedto haul ’em out by the roots.
“Howdy!” says he.
“Howdy!” says we.
He kind of leaned over like he was breakingin two in the middle and pointed a finger nighsix inches long right in Mark’s face. “You’rethe Tidd boy,” he says, in a voice like shootingoff a giant firecracker. He didn’t speak; heexploded!
There wasn’t any use in Mark’s trying to denyit. Nobody would have believed him, so hesays he was the Tidd boy.
“Pa home?” says Silas.
“Yes, sir,” says Mark.
“I come to see him,” says Silas, exploding itagain. But then the queerest thing happened tohis voice. It sort of faded away. It got littlerand littler. “But,” he says, turning around onhis heels, “I don’t calc’late I’ll wait. I guess I’llbe goin’. Somehow it don’t seem’s though Ineeded to see him to amount to anythin’. Iguess maybe he druther not see me.... Say,young feller, how’s he feelin’ to-night? Savageor jest so-so?”
“I don’t call to m-m-mind a time when Dadwas s-savage,” says Mark.
“You figger I better see him, then,” says Silas.
“I don’t f-figger he’ll harm you none.”
Silas gives out a big sigh that came all theway from his shoes. “I’m plumb scairt,” says he.
“I’ll call him,” says Mark.
“No. No. Whoa there, boy. Hold on aminnit. Lemme git ready first. Seems like Igot to brace myself for this meetin’. Sure he’sfeelin’ mild and gentle?”
“As a lamb,” says Mark.
“Wisht I could git a peek at him before Itackle him,” says Silas.
“Just walk around and look through thekitchen window,” says Mark.
Silas stood still a minute, and then he tip-toedaround the house, and we saw him put hisnose against the window and stand there, staringin. In a couple of jiffies he was back again.
“Looks stern and kind of war-like,” he says.
“Dad never bit nobody,” says Mark.
“You calc’late it’s safe for me to see him?”
“Course,” says Mark.
“Well,” says Silas, letting off another ofthose big sighs, “I guess it’s got to be did.Hain’t no way of puttin’ it off; but, gosh! howI dread it!”
Mark got up and went in to call his father.In a minute he was back with Mr. Tidd, whohad his thumb in the Decline and Fall and wasblinking peaceful and looking as gentle andserene as a ten-year-old rabbit-hound. WhenSilas saw him coming he was like to have takento his heels, and he fidgeted and moved from onefoot to the other and twisted his fingers likehe was trying to braid them, and breathed hard.You would have thought he was going to runinto a tribe of massacreeing Injuns.
Mr. Tidd stood on the top step and peereddown at Silas with those mild eyes of his, andnodded, and says, “It’s Silas, hain’t it?”
“Yes,” says Silas, with all the explosion goneout of his voice. “How you feelin’, Mr. Tidd?Be you patient and long-sufferin’ to-night, orbe you kind of riled about somethin’? ’Cause ifyou be I kin come back to-morrow.”
“I calc’late I feel perty peaceful, Silas.Wouldn’t you say I was feelin’ peaceful, MarcusAurelius?”
“I’d call you so,” says Mark.
“You’ll need to be,” says Silas, “when Ibreak it to you.”
“Oh,” says Mr. Tidd, kind of vague, “yougot somethin’ to break to me?”
“You ought to know what,” says Silas.
Mr. Tidd waggled his head and opened hisbook and shut it again, and scratched hisleg. “Calc’late somebody must be sick,” sayshe.
“’Tain’t that,” says Silas.
“I hain’t much good at guessin’, Silas....Say, Silas, set a minute and listen to this herepassage out of Gibbon. I was just a-readin’it over. You’ll find it jam full of pleasure andprofit.” He leaned against a post and openedup the book, but Silas spoke up, anxious-like,and says:
“I don’t calc’late I got any heart to listen toreadin’, Mr. Tidd, and neither will you havewhen I git around to breakin’ it to you.”
“No?” says Mr. Tidd. “Well, then, Silas,admittin’ you got somethin’ to break, why don’tyou up and break it?”
“Seems like I hain’t got the courage. I washopin’ maybe you’d guess.”
“I’m willin’ to try,” says Mr. Tidd, in thatgentle voice of his. “I’ll guess maybe the houseis on fire.”
“What house?” says Silas, sort of taken bysurprise.
“Why,” says Mr. Tidd, as mild as could be,“this house.”
Silas looked up at the roof and craned hisneck to peer around to the side. “This house,”says he, all flabbergasted. “Say, if you thinkthis house is on fire, why hain’t you doin’ somethin’about it?”
“Well,” said Mr. Tidd, “what would youadvise doin’?”
“Yellin’,” says Silas.
“I hain’t much on yellin’,” says Mr. Tidd.
“If my house was on fire I’d calc’late to makesome racket,” says Silas.
“But I don’t know this house is on fire. Ijest guessed it was.”
“Hain’t you goin’ to find out?”
“Why,” says Mr. Tidd, “if it’s on fire we’llfind out quick enough, won’t we?”
Maybe you think Mr. Tidd was joking withSilas Doolittle Bugg, but he wasn’t. That washis way. He’d have acted just that way if thehouse really was on fire, and probably he’d havestopped the fire company on the lawn to readto them out of the Decline and Fall if the roofwas blazing.
“Well, I swan!” says Silas.
“Hain’t that what you wanted to break tome, Silas?” Mr. Tidd says.
“No,” says Silas; “it was somethin’ else.”
“Oh!” says Mr. Tidd. “Want me to guessag’in?”
“’Twouldn’t do no good,” says Silas, droopingwith discouragement. “You wouldn’t guessright.”
“Maybe so,” says Mr. Tidd.
“It’s about me,” says Silas.
“You?” says Mr. Tidd.
“Me and you.”
“Oh, you and me? I want to know!”
“Don’t you remember?” says Silas.
“I hain’t certain,” says Mr. Tidd, scratchinghis leg again. “Don’t seem to remember anythin’.”
“Money,” says Silas.
“Oh, money?” Mr. Tidd says, as vague as acloud of fog.
“Lots of money,” says Silas.
“Do tell,” says Mr. Tidd.
“And my mill.”
“Oh,” says Mr. Tidd. “It’s your mill that’son fire?”
“My mill hain’t afire. Nothin’s afire. Youhain’t standin’ there tellin’ me you plumb cleanforgot?”
“I hain’t forgot exactly, Silas, but it don’tseem like I remember clear. You might sortof give me a hint.”
“Promissory note,” says Silas.
“Promissory note, eh? What about it, Silas?Um!... I’ve heard of promissory notes. Gibbonhe don’t mention ’em, but I’ve heard tellof ’em somewheres. Now where was it? Lemmesee.... Promissory note....”
“I give you one.”
“Much obleeged,” says Mr. Tidd. “What’llI