Tamawaca Folks/Chapter 3

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CHAPTER III.

WILDER.

When Jarrod arrived at Tamawaca in the course of the next forenoon he found all prophecies most amply fulfilled. Fronting the beautiful bay was a group of frame buildings bearing various signs of one general trend: "Wilder's Grocery;" "Wilder's Ice Cream and Soda Fountain;" "Wilder's Model Market;" "Wilder's Boat Livery;" "Wilder's Post Office" (leased to Uncle Sam;) "Wilder's Bakery;" "Wilder's Fresh-Buttered Pop-Corn;" "Wilder's Bazaar;" "Wilder's Real Estate Office," etc., etc.

As the lawyer helped his family off the car a man dashed out of the grocery, ran up to him and seized both his hands in a welcoming grip. He was a stocky built, middle sized man, with round features chubby and merry, a small mouth, good teeth and soft brown eyes that ought to have been set in a woman's face.

"My dear, dear boy, I'm delighted to see you—indeed I am! Welcome to Tamawaca," said the man, in a cordial, cheery tone. "And these are the dear children! My, my—how they have grown! And Mrs. Jenkins, too, I declare! Nora, my dear," turning to a pleasant faced woman who had followed him out, "here are our dear friends the Jenkinses, that Mr. Merrington wrote us about. Allow me to present Mrs. Wilder, my dear Mrs. Jenkins, and I'm sure she's as glad to see you as I am myself."

"Pardon me," said the lawyer, a little stiffly; "my name is Jarrod."

"Of course—of course!" cried Wilder, unabashed. "Nora, my dear, help me to welcome our good friends the Jarrods, that Dr. Brush has written us about. How nice to see you at last in lovely Tamawaca! And the children will have the time of their lives; and Mrs. Jarrod will be delighted with our swell society—nothing sweller in all Michigan, I assure you!"

"It's awfully nice to see you here," added Mrs. Wilder, as smiling and cheerful as her mate. "Won't you come into the bazaar and sit down for awhile? Perhaps Mr. Jarrod has some business to talk over with my husband."

"Yes," said Jarrod, as his wife and children trooped after the pleasant little lady into the roomy and well-stocked bazaar; "I want to enquire about Grant's cottage. He says you have the rental of it."

Wilder's face fell, and his merry expression gave way to one of absolute despair.

"Dear me!" he exclaimed, as if deeply distressed; "how very unfortunate. Grant's cottage was rented only last evening. How sad that I did not know you wanted it!"

"But there are others, of course," suggested Jarrod, after a moment's thought.

"Let—me—see," mused Wilder, reflectively. "There's the Stakes place—but that's rented; and Kimball's is gone, too; and Smith's, and Johnson's, and McGraw's—all rented and occupied. My dear boy, I'm afraid you're up against it. There is n't a cottage left in Tamawaca to rent! But never mind; you shall stay with me—you and the wife and the dear little ones. I live over the grocery, you know—really swell apartments. You shall stay there as my guests, and you'll be very welcome, I assure you."

"Oh, I can't do that, Wilder," said Jarrod, much annoyed. They had strolled, by this time, to the porch of the grocery and bazaar—a long building facing the bay on one side and the hotel on the other. It had wide porches set with tables for the convenience of consumers of ice-cream sodas. Inside, the building was divided into the meat market, the grocery and the bazaar, all opening on to the same porch.

Jarrod sat down at one of the tables, feeling homeless and despondent. He had eaten a dreadful breakfast in Kochton, an hour before, and it had n't agreed with him. Through the open door of the bazaar he beheld Mrs. Wilder talking earnestly with his wife. She had given his little girl a large and expensive doll to hold and his little boy a full-rigged toy sail-boat to play with.

"Ah!" cried Wilder, slapping the table with emphasis; "I have it! You are saved, dear boy—and not only saved but highly favored by fortune. How lucky I happened to think of it!"

"What is it?" asked Jarrod, with reviving interest.

"Why, I've got Lake View for sale, the prettiest and finest cottage in the whole Park. You shall have it, dear boy—you shall have it for a song."

"But I don't want to buy a cottage," protested Jarrod. "I've not even seen Tamawaca yet, and I don't know as I'll like it."

"Not like it! Not like Tamawaca!" Wilder's voice was sad and reproachful. "My dear boy, everybody likes Tamawaca. You can't help liking it. Come, I'll show you the charms of our little heaven upon earth, and at the same time you shall examine lovely 'Lake View.'"

During this conversation a little group of people had been gathering a few paces behind Wilder, all with anxious faces but a diffidence about interrupting him. Wilder noted this group and excused himself from Jarrod for a moment.

"Yes, Mrs. Jones," he said, in his earnest, winning tones, "give me your baggage checks and I'll have the trunks up to your cottage in a jiffy. Certainly, Miss Vanderslop, I'll be glad to telephone for you—no trouble at all! Here, William," to his clerk in the grocery, "cash this check for Mr. Chambers. What's that, Mrs. Harringford? the bread sour? Too bad, dear girl, too bad! But accidents will sometimes happen. William, give Mrs. Harringford her money back; the bread's sour. What is it, Mr. Harden? Gasoline stove won't work? I'll have a man up to fix it in half an hour; don't worry, dear boy; half an hour at the latest. Good morning, Mrs. Still! here are the keys to your cottage. I've had the women clean it and put it in order and it's all ready for you to walk into and sit down. No trouble at all—no thanks—glad to be of use to you. What is it, my little man? a note from mamma? Ah, yes; tell her it will give me great delight to reserve a berth for her on tomorrow night's boat. And now, Mr. Jarrod, I'm at your service."

"You seem to be a busy man," said Jarrod, with a smile.

"Usually I am," replied Wilder, mopping his forehead; "but there's not much doing this morning; it's too early in the season; I'm resting up for the busy days coming. Let us walk over to the Lake front, and I'll astonish you with the beauty of our fairyland."

So Jarrod, leaving his family to be entertained by Mrs. Wilder, who seemed an eminently fitting spouse for her cheery husband, followed this modern Poo-Bah along a broad cement walk that led past the hotel and through a shady grove. There were cottages on every side, clustered all too thickly to be very enticing, but neatly built and pleasant enough for a summer's outing. A few paces more brought them to a magnificent view of the great inland sea, and soon they emerged upon a broad beach lapped by the rolling waves of grand old Michigan.

Jarrod's eyes sparkled. It was beautiful at this point, he was forced to admit, and the cool breath of the breeze that swept over the waters sent an exhilarating vigor to the bottom of his lungs and brought a sudden glow to his cheek.

Along the lake front was another row of pretty cottages, running north and south for a distance of half a mile or more. At frequent intervals an avenue led from the beach back into the splendid forest, where, Wilder explained, were many more cottages hidden among the trees.

"Some people prefer to live in the forest," said he, "while others like to be nearer the water. The cottage you have just bought is near the big lake, and finely located."

"I did n't know I had purchased it, as yet," remarked Jarrod, drily.

"I forgot," said Wilder, laughing. "There are a good many things for me to think of, you know, and sometimes I get 'em mixed."

"I see."

"Here," continued the guide, as they went south along the wide beach walk, "is the residence of the Father of Tamawaca, my dear partner Mr. Easton. A fine man, sir, but erring in judgment now and then." He stumbled on a loose, worn out plank, and came to a halt. "This walk, dear boy, ought to be repaired. I've talked to Easton about it more than once, but he says he's too poor to squander money on public improvements. It's his idea that the cottagers should repair the walks."

"Is n't this in front of his own residence?" asked Jarrod.

"Y-e-e-e-s; seems to be. But Easton says, and with justice, that all the people living above here are obliged to use this walk to get down town—where the store and post-office are located—and so they ought to see that it's kept in proper condition."

"Who owns the street?" enquired Jarrod.

"Why, we own it, of course—Easton and I. You see, this whole place was once a farm and some men bought it and laid out and platted Tamawaca Park. They incorporated under the laws of Michigan as a summer resort company, and so they kept the control of all the streets and public grounds in their own hands. It's a private settlement, you understand, and when a man buys one of our lots he acquires the right to walk over our streets as much as he likes—as long as he behaves himself."

"And if he does n't?"

"If he does n't we can order him off."

"Was the original plat recorded?" asked Jarrod.

"Yes; of course."

"With the streets and public grounds laid out in detail?"

"Certainly."

"Then," said the lawyer, "the first man that bought a lot here acquired a title to all your public streets and grounds, and you lost the control of them forever."

"Nonsense!" cried Wilder.

"I've read law a bit," said Jarrod, "and I know."

"Michigan law is different, dear boy," announced Wilder, composedly. "Still we mean to do what's right, and to treat every cottage owner fair and square—as long as he does what we tell him to."

Jarrod's face was beaming. He had not been so highly amused for months—not since the Crosbys had sold out. He hadn't seen Lake View Cottage as yet, but already he had decided to buy it. A condition that would have induced an ordinary man to turn tail and avoid Tamawaca was an irresistible charm to this legal pugilist. But his cue was now to be silent and let Wilder talk.

"Here, dear boy," that seraphic individual was explaining, "is where Noggs lives, the wealthy merchant prince of Grand Rapids. And here's the cottage of our distinguished author. Don't have to work, you know. Just writes books and people buy 'em. Snap, ain't it?"

"Looks that way," said Jarrod. "What's that cottage standing in the middle of yonder avenue?"

"Oh, that belongs to old man Easton."

"Why is it there?"

"Why, lake front lots are scarce, you know; but cottages on the lake front rent for good money. So Easton built one in the street, and rents it at a high figure. Clever scheme, ain't it?"

"Did n't the cottage owners object?"

"It was built in the winter, when no one was here. When the resorters came in the spring and saw it, they wailed an' tore their hair. But it was too late, then. While they swore, Easton prayed for 'em; he's religious. The old saint's got lots o' cottages on public grounds, but no one can make him tear 'em down because we control the public grounds ourselves. Whatever's public here belongs to me an' Easton. Understand?"

"Perfectly."

"Here's where the big stock-yards man from Chicago lives. Pretty place, eh? And here's the cottage of George B. Still, the magnate of Quincy."

"I've met him."

"Fine fellow, and so's his wife. One of the largest grocery bills, sir, at the Park! Ah, here we come to the cottage of the famous philanthropist from Chicago Commons—Professor Graylor. Used to be a rich man, but spent everything he had to convert the heathen dagos of the Windy City. Now all he's got left is this cottage and a clear conscience—poor man!"

"Why do you say 'poor man'?"

"Because, dear boy, a clear conscience ain't an available asset. I've got one myself, and I know," said Wilder, plaintively. "But here we are at Maple Walk—one of the most picturesque avenues in town. Please climb these few steps; it is on this walk your charming cottage stands."

"Mine?"

"To be sure. No man of judgment, dear boy, would refuse to buy it, and I can see you 're a good bit wiser than the average resorter. I'm so glad you came!"

"Thank you."

"You 're just the sort of man we need, Mr. Jarrod—the sort we 're always lookin' for."

"To walk on your streets and repair your sidewalks?"

"Exactly."

"And patronize your mercantile establishments?"

Wilder laughed heartily.

"Why not?" he asked, laying a familiar and caressing hand on the other's shoulder. "You've got to live; an' poor Wilder's got to live."

"Poor Wilder can't help living, it seems to me," returned Jarrod, reflectively. "All these people are forced to trade with you, because there's no one else to patronize. You've established a monopoly here."

"It ain't that," said Wilder, becoming serious. "I don't want to monopolize anything, I'm sure. All I want is for people to come here and have a good time, and I can't trust anyone but myself to give 'em the right service and the right goods at the right prices. That's why I run everything myself—and lose money year after year a-doin' it."

"How can you lose money?"

"Why, on the folks that don't come here. If Tamawaca was double the size, I'd make double the money, would n't I? But it's a small place, you see, and no man's so energetic that he can get more than there is. So I work every season just to accommodate the people. When you've been here a little while you'll find that out. I'll cash your checks, lend you money, run your errands, settle your quarrels with your wife, reconcile your hired girl to sleeping in the basement and play blind-man's-buff with your children. That's Wilder—everybody's friend but his own, and too honest for his own good."

"Indeed, Mr. Wilder," said Jarrod, "I can see already that you are a remarkable man. What could Tamawaca do without you?"

"That's it! Why, dear boy, it would bust higher than Guilderoy's kite! That's why I take such good care of my health. But here we are at Lake View. Behold your future home!"

Jarrod liked the place. It was high enough to command an outlook upon the lake and to catch every breeze, yet not too high for an ordinary climb.

"What's the price?" he asked.

"Just step inside and see the rooms. It's magnificently furnished."

"What do you ask for the place?"

"There's a fine pump in the back yard and a sideboard in the dining room."

"How much?"

"It was painted only this spring and everything's in apple-pie order. Just step inside."

Jarrod sat down on the steps.

"I'll give you a thousand dollars for it," he said.

"My dear boy, the lot alone's worth fifteen hundred."

"Is the cottage on the lot?"

"Why do you ask?"

"It don't look it."

"Never mind that. I'll sell you the lot and the cottage. If the house is n't on the lot it's somewhere in the neighborhood, and no one's going to ask any questions."

"Why not?"

"Because they dare n't. They're all in the same boat. There has n't been a surveyor allowed in Tamawaca for ages. When a man wants to build, he buys a lot of me an' Easton an' then hunts for the lot. If he thinks he's found it, he's lucky. If there don't appear to be a lot where he thinks it ought to be, he just builds his cottage and takes the chances."

"All right," said Jarrod. "I'll take my chances. How much for Lake View?"

"Well, dear boy, I've taken a liking to you, and so I'm willing to sacrifice. I'll pay good money to get you here as a resident. But it's a dreadful shame to think how property's advanced here lately. I've tried to keep it down, but I can't. Here's a case, though, where I can forget high prices and be generous. You can have Lake View for four thousand dollars."

"What!"

"And I'll trust to luck to keep Nora and me out o' the poor-house."

Jarrod reflected.

"I'll give you two thousand," he said.

"Then it's yours. Do you want to go in and look around, or shall we walk back and get your wife and children, so they can begin to enjoy their new home?"

"We'll go back," said Jarrod, wondering to what extent he had been bled. "I'll have plenty of chances to see the inside of my cottage later."

"True. And while we're down at the store we'll make out the list for groceries and meats and gasoline and such things, and I'll send 'em up in fifteen minutes."

Mrs. Jarrod was glad to see her husband again, although in his absence Mrs. Wilder had thoroughly posted her in regard to everyone of note at Tamawaca. She was rather astonished at the rapidity with which they had acquired citizenship, but went to William at once to order her groceries and supplies, while Jarrod drew his check to pay for Lake View and then settled with Mrs. Wilder for the doll and the sail-boat—one of which had been broken while the other his dear child refused to part with without a scene.

Two hours later they had taken possession of their cottage, unpacked their trunks and settled themselves for the summer. The children had taken off their shoes and stockings and run down to the lake to paddle around at the water's edge, where it was perfectly safe; Mrs. Jarrod was instructing a maid that Wilder had promptly secured and sent to her, while Jarrod himself—collarless and in his shirtsleeves—had drawn an easy chair out upon the porch and set himself down to think.

On a tree facing him was a sign that read: "Ask Wilder." These signs he had noticed everywhere at Tamawaca, and as he stared at this one he smiled grimly.

"There's no need asking Wilder," he murmured. "Let him alone for a time and he'll tell you everything—even more than he imagines he does. But I'm glad I came. Wilder's a genius, and his nerve is a challenge to all the world!