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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Associate Hermits - Chapter 4. A Cataract Of Information
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The Associate Hermits - Chapter 4. A Cataract Of Information Post by :Dusty13 Category :Long Stories Author :Frank R Stockton Date :May 2012 Read :2044

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The Associate Hermits - Chapter 4. A Cataract Of Information


Peter Sadler would have been glad to have the Archibald party stay at his hotel for a few days, and Mrs. Archibald would have been perfectly satisfied to remain there until they were ready to return to their own house, but her husband and Margery were impatient to be in the woods, and it was therefore decided to start for the camp the next day. Peter Sadler was a man of system, and his arrangements were made promptly and rapidly.

"You've got to have a guide," said he, "and another man to help him, and I think I'll give you Phil Matlack. Phil is an old hand at the business, and if you don't know what you want, he'll tell you. If you are in Phil's hands, you needn't be afraid anything will happen to you. Whatever you want, ask him for it, and ten to one he'll have it, whether it's information or fishhooks. I tell you again, you're lucky to be here early and get the best of everything. Camp Rob with Phil Matlack will stand at a premium in three or four weeks from now."

That evening after supper Mr. Archibald lighted a cigar and went out into the grounds in front of the hotel, where he was presently joined by his wife.

"Where is Margery?" asked he.

"She is in her room," replied Mrs. Archibald, "but she called to me that she would be down directly."

In about ten minutes down came Margery and floated out upon the lawn. She was dressed in white, with flowers in her hair, and she was more charming, Mr. Archibald said, as she approached, than even the sunset sky.

"You should not speak in that way of works of nature," said his wife.

"Isn't she a work of nature?" he asked.

"Not altogether," was the wise reply. "Why did you dress yourself in that fashion?" she asked Margery. "I did not suppose you would bring such a fine gown, as we started out to go into camp. And even in this hotel a travelling-suit is good enough for any one."

"Oh, I tucked this into one of my bags," replied Margery. "I always like to have something nice to fall back upon. Don't you want to take a little stroll, Aunt Harriet?"

Mr. Archibald leaned back in his garden-chair and slowly puffed his cigar, and as he puffed he took his eyes from the sunset sky and watched his wife and Margery.

A little beyond them, as they walked, sat two elderly ladies on a bench, wearing shawls, and near by stood a girl in a short dress, with no hat on, and a long plait down her back. A little farther on was a tennis-court, and four people, apparently young, were playing tennis. There were two men, and neither of them wore a tennis-suit. One was attired as a bicyclist, and the other wore ordinary summer clothes. The young women were dressed in dark-blue flannel and little round hats, which suggested to Mr. Archibald the deck of a yacht.

Near the hotel was an elderly gentleman walking up and down by himself, and on the piazza were the rest of the guests he had seen at the table; not very many of them, for it was early in the season.

Mr. Archibald now turned his eyes again to the sky. It was still beautiful, although its colors were fading, and after a time he looked back towards his wife. She was now talking to the two elderly ladies on the bench, and Margery was engaged in conversation with the girl with the plait down her back.

"When I finish my cigar," thought Mr. Archibald, "I will go myself and take a stroll." And it struck him that he might talk to the old gentleman, who was still walking up and down in front of the hotel. After contemplating the tops of some forest trees against the greenish-yellow of the middle sky, he turned his eyes again towards his wife, and found that the two elderly ladies had made room for her on the bench, that the tennis-game had ceased, and that one of the girls in blue flannel had joined this group and was talking to Margery.

In a few moments all the ladies on the bench rose, and Mrs. Archibald and one of them walked slowly towards an opening in the woods. The other lady followed with the little girl, and Margery and the young woman in blue walked in the same direction, but not in company with the rest of the party. The two young men, with the other tennis-player between them, walked over from the tennis-court and joined the first group, and they all stopped just as they reached the woods. There they stood and began talking to each other, after which one of the young men and the young woman approached a large tree, and he poked with a stick into what was probably a hole near its roots, and Mr. Archibald supposed that the discussion concerned a snake-hole or a hornets' nest. Then Margery and the other young woman came up, and they looked at the hole. Now the whole company walked into the woods and disappeared. In about ten minutes Mr. Archibald finished his cigar and was thinking of following his wife and Margery, when the two elderly ladies and Mrs. Archibald came out into the open and walked towards the hotel. Then came the little girl, running very fast as she passed the tree with the hole near its roots. In a few minutes Mrs. Archibald stopped and looked back towards the woods; then she walked a little way in that direction, leaving her companions to go to the hotel. Now the young man in the bicycle suit emerged from the woods, with a girl in dark-blue flannel on each side of him.

"Upon my word!" exclaimed Mr. Archibald, and rising to his feet, advanced towards his wife; but before he reached her, Margery emerged from the wood road, escorted by the young man in the summer suit.

"Upon my word," Mr. Archibald remarked, this time to his wife, "that ward of ours is not given to wasting time."

"It seems so, truly," said she, "and I think her mother was right when she called her a creature of impulse. Let us wait here until they come up. We must all go in; it is getting chilly."

In a few minutes Margery and the young man had reached them.

"Thank you very much," said this creature of impulse to her escort. "My uncle and aunt will take care of me now. Aunt Harriet and Uncle Archibald, this is Mr. Clyde. He saw a great snake go into a hole over there just before supper-time, and I think we ought all to be very careful how we pass that way."

"I don't think there is very much danger after nightfall," said Mr. Clyde, who was a pleasant youth with brown hair, "and to-morrow I'll see if I can kill him. It's a bad place for a snake to have a hole, just where ladies would be apt to take their walks."

"I don't think the snake will trouble us much," said Mrs. Archibald, "for we leave to-morrow. Still, it would be a good thing to kill it."

After this there were a few remarks made about snakes, and then Mr. Clyde bade them good-evening.

"How in the world, Margery," said Mrs. Archibald, "did you get acquainted so quickly with that young man--and who is he?"

"Oh, it all happened quite naturally," said she. "As we turned to go out of the woods he was the gentleman nearest to me, and so of course he came with me. Those two girls are sisters, and their name is Dodworth. They introduced Mr. Clyde and the other gentleman, Mr. Raybold, to me. But that was after you had been talking to Mrs. Dodworth, their mother, who is Mr. Raybold's aunt. The other lady, with the shawl on, is Mrs. Henderson, and--would you believe it?--she's grandmother to that girl in the short dress! She doesn't begin to look old enough. The Dodworths don't go into camp at all, but expect to stay here for two weeks longer, and then they go to the sea-shore. Mrs. Henderson leaves day after to-morrow.

"Mr. Clyde and his friend live in Boston. They are both just beginning to practise law, though Mr. Clyde says that Mr. Raybold would rather be an actor, but his family objects. The old gentleman who is walking up and down in front of the hotel has heart-disease, some people say--but that is not certain. He stayed here all last summer, and perhaps he will this year. In two weeks hardly any of the people now in this hotel will be here. One family is going into camp when the father and two sons come on to join them, and the rest are going to the sea-shore, except one lady. You may have noticed her--the one with a dark-purple dress and a little purple cap. She's a school-teacher, and she will spend the rest of the summer with her sister in Pennsylvania.

"That man Phil Matlack, who is going with us to-morrow, is quite a character, and I expect I shall like him awfully. They say that about five years ago he killed a man who made an attack on him in the woods, but he was never tried for it, nor was anything whatever done to him, because Mr. Sadler said he was right, and he would not have any nonsense about it. There are people about here who believe that Phil Matlack would fight a bear single-handed if it happened to be necessary. Mr. Sadler would do it himself if he could walk. Nobody knows how many men he killed when he was fighting Indians; and, would you believe it? his wife is a plain, little, quiet woman, who lives in some part of the hotel where nobody ever sees her, because she is rather bashful and dislikes company.

"The other person who is going with us is not very much more than a boy, though they say he is very strong and a good hunter. His name is Martin Sanders, and I forgot to say that the old gentleman with the heart-disease is named Parker.

"It's generally thought that Phil Matlack would rather have some one else than Martin Sanders to go with him, because he says Martin knows too much. The fact is that Martin is well educated, and could have gone into some good business, but he was so fond of the woods that he gave up everything to come out here and learn guiding. You know we were told that our camp in the woods has three rooms in it? Well, it really has four, for there was an artist there last year who built a little room for a studio for rainy days. I expect Mr. Sadler forgot that, or didn't think it worth counting. There are no snakes at all where we are going to camp, but two miles farther on there are lots of them."

"Over the brink of Niagara," interjected Mr. Archibald, "they say eighteen million cubic feet of water pour every minute. Where on earth, Margery, did you fill your mind with all that information?"

"I got it from those two Dodworth girls and Mr. Clyde," said she. "Mr. Raybold told me some things, too, but mostly about his bicycle. He feels badly about it, because he brought it here, and now he finds there is no place to use it. I should think he ought to have known that the primeval forest isn't any place for a bicycle."

"Mr. Archibald," said Mrs. Archibald, when they had retired to their room, "I did not agree with you when you wished we could have started for camp to-day, but now I am quite of your mind."

Tuesday was fine, and preparations were made for the Archibald party to start for their camp after an early luncheon.

The bluff and hearty Peter took such an interest in everything that was being done for their comfort, giving special heed to all the possible requirements of Mrs. Archibald, that the heart of Mr. Archibald was touched.

"I wish," said he to his good-natured host, "that you were going with us. I do not know any one I would rather camp with than you."

"If I could do it," replied Peter, "I'd like it ever so well. So far as I have been able to make you out, you are the sort of a man I'd be willing to run a camp for. What I like about you is that you haven't any mind of your own. There is nothing I hate worse than to run against a man with a mind of his own. Of course there have to be such fellows, but let them keep away from me. There is no room here for more than one mind, and I have pre-empted the whole section."

Mr. Archibald laughed. "Your opinion of me does not sound very complimentary," he said.

"It is complimentary!" roared Peter Sadler, striking the table with his fist. "Why, I tell you, sir, I couldn't say anything more commendable of you if I tried! It shows that you are a man of common-sense, and that's pretty high praise. Everything I've told you to do you've done. Everything I've proposed you've agreed to. You see for yourself that I know what is better for you and your party than you do, and you stand up like a man and say so. Yes, sir; if a rolling-chair wasn't as bad for the woods as the bicycle that Boston chap brought down here, I'd go along with you."

Mr. Archibald had a very sharp sense of the humorous, and in his enjoyment of a comical situation he liked company. His heart was stirred to put his expedition in its true light before this man who was so honest and plain-spoken. "Mr. Sadler," said he, "if you will take it as a piece of confidential information, and not intended for the general ear, I will tell you what sort of a holiday my wife and I are taking. We are on a wedding-journey." And then he told the story of the proxy bridal tour.

Peter Sadler threw himself back in his chair and laughed with such great roars that two hunting-dogs, who were asleep in the hall, sprang to their feet and dashed out of the back door, their tails between their legs.

"By the Lord Harry!" cried Peter Sadler, "you and your wife are a pair of giants. I don't say anything about that young woman, for I don't believe it would have made any difference to her whether you were on a wedding-trip or travelling into the woods to bury a child. I tell you, sir, you mayn't have a mind that can give out much, but you've got a mind that can take in the biggest kind of thing, and that is what I call grand. It is the difference between a canyon and a mountain. There are lots of good mountains in this world, and mighty few good canyons. Tom, you Tom, come here!"

In answer to the loud call a boy came running up.

"Go into my room," said Peter Sadler, "and bring out a barrel bottle, large size, and one of the stone jars with a red seal on it. Now, sir," said he to Mr. Archibald, "I am going to give you a bottle of the very best whiskey that ever a human being took into the woods, and a jar of smoking-tobacco a great deal too good for any king on any throne. They belong to my private stock, and I am proud to make them a present to a man who will take a wedding-trip to save his grown-up daughter the trouble. As for your wife, there'll be a basket that will go to her with my compliments, that will show her what I think of her. By-the-way, sir, have you met Phil Matlack?"

"No, I have not!" exclaimed Mr. Archibald, with animation. "I have heard something about him, and before we start I should like to see the man who is going to take charge of us in camp."

"Well, there he is, just passing the back door. Hello, Phil! come in here."

When the eminent guide, Phil Matlack, entered the hall, Mr. Archibald looked at him with some surprise, for he was not the conventional tall, gaunt, wiry, keen-eyed backwoodsman who had naturally appeared to his mental vision. This man was of medium height, a little round-shouldered, dressed in a gray shirt, faded brown trousers very baggy at the knees, a pair of conspicuous blue woollen socks, and slippers made of carpet. His short beard and his hair were touched with gray, and he wore a small jockey cap. With the exception of his eyes, Mr. Matlack's facial features were large, and the expression upon them was that of a mild and generally good-natured tolerance of the world and all that is in it. It may be stated that this expression, combined with his manner, indicated also a desire on his part that the world and all that is in it should tolerate him. Mr. Archibald's first impressions of the man did not formulate themselves in these terms; he simply thought that the guide was a slipshod sort of a fellow.

"Phil," said Mr. Sadler, "here is the gentleman you are going to take into camp."

"Glad to see him," said Matlack; "hope he'll like it."

"And I want to say to you, Phil," continued Sadler, "right before him, that he is a first-class man for you to have in charge. I don't believe you ever had a better one. He's a city man, and it's my opinion he don't know one thing about hunting, fishing, making a camp-fire, or even digging bait. I don't suppose he ever spent a night outside of a house, and doesn't know any more about the weather than he does about planting cabbages. He's just clean, bright, and empty, like a new peach-basket. What you tell him he'll know, and what you ask him to do he'll do, and if you want a better man than that to take into camp, you want too much. That's all I've got to say."

Matlack looked at Peter Sadler and then at Mr. Archibald, who was leaning back in his chair, his bright eyes twinkling.

"How did you find out all that about him?" he asked.

"Humph!" exclaimed Peter Sadler. "Don't you suppose I can read a man's character when I've had a good chance at him? Now how about the stores--have they all gone on?"

"They were sent out early this mornin'," said Matlack, "and we can start as soon as the folks are ready."

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