List Of Contents | Contents of In the Wilderness, by Charles Dudley Warner
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accompanied by a poet and a philosopher.  They neither understood nor
valued his special knowledge and his shrewd observations: they didn't
even like his shrill voice; his quaint talk bored them.  It was true
that, at this period, Phelps had lost something of the activity of
his youth; and the habit of contemplative sitting on a log and
talking increased with the infirmities induced by the hard life of
the woodsman.  Perhaps he would rather talk, either about the woods-
life or the various problems of existence, than cut wood, or busy
himself in the drudgery of the camp.  His critics went so far as to
say,"Old Phelps is a fraud."  They would have said the same of
Socrates.  Xantippe, who never appreciated the world in which
Socrates lived, thought he was lazy.  Probably Socrates could cook no
better than Old Phelps, and no doubt went "gumming" about Athens with
very little care of what was in the pot for dinner.

If the summer visitors measured Old Phelps, he also measured them by
his own standards.  He used to write out what he called "short-faced
descriptions" of his comrades in the woods, which were never so
flattering as true.  It was curious to see how the various qualities
which are esteemed in society appeared in his eyes, looked at merely
in their relation to the limited world he knew, and judged by their
adaptation to the primitive life.  It was a much subtler comparison
than that of the ordinary guide, who rates his traveler by his
ability to endure on a march, to carry a pack, use an oar, hit a
mark, or sing a song.  Phelps brought his people to a test of their
naturalness and sincerity, tried by contact with the verities of the
woods.  If a person failed to appreciate the woods, Phelps had no
opinion of him or his culture; and yet, although he was perfectly
satisfied with his own philosophy of life, worked out by close
observation of nature and study of the Tri-bune, he was always eager
for converse with superior minds, with those who had the advantage of
travel and much reading, and, above all, with those who had any
original "speckerlation."  Of all the society he was ever permitted
to enjoy, I think he prized most that of Dr. Bushnell.  The doctor
enjoyed the quaint and first-hand observations of the old woodsman,
and Phelps found new worlds open to him in the wide ranges of the
doctor's mind.  They talked by the hour upon all sorts of themes, the
growth of the tree, the habits of wild animals, the migration of
seeds, the succession of oak and pine, not to mention theology, and
the mysteries of the supernatural.

I recall the bearing of Old Phelps, when, several years ago, he
conducted a party to the summit of Mount Marcy by the way he had
"bushed out."  This was his mountain, and he had a peculiar sense of
ownership in it.  In a way, it was holy ground; and he would rather
no one should go on it who did not feel its sanctity.  Perhaps it was
a sense of some divine relation in it that made him always speak of
it as "Mercy."  To him this ridiculously dubbed Mount Marcy was
always "Mount Mercy."  By a like effort to soften the personal
offensiveness of the nomenclature of this region, he invariably spoke
of Dix's Peak, one of the southern peaks of the range, as "Dixie."
It was some time since Phelps himself had visited his mountain; and,
as he pushed on through the miles of forest, we noticed a kind of
eagerness in the old man, as of a lover going to a rendezvous.  Along
the foot of the mountain flows a clear trout stream, secluded and
undisturbed in those awful solitudes, which is the "Mercy Brook" of
the old woodsman.  That day when he crossed it, in advance of his
company, he was heard to say in a low voice, as if greeting some
object of which he was shyly fond, "So, little brook, do I meet you
once more?"  and when we were well up the mountain, and emerged from
the last stunted fringe of vegetation upon the rock-bound slope, I
saw Old Phelps, who was still foremost, cast himself upon the ground,
and heard him cry, with an enthusiasm that was intended for no mortal
ear, "I'm with you once again!"  His great passion very rarely found
expression in any such theatrical burst.  The bare summit that day
was swept by a fierce, cold wind, and lost in an occasional chilling
cloud.  Some of the party, exhausted by the climb, and shivering in
the rude wind, wanted a fire kindled and a cup of tea made, and
thought this the guide's business.  Fire and tea were far enough from
his thought.  He had withdrawn himself quite apart, and wrapped in a
ragged blanket, still and silent as the rock he stood on, was gazing
out upon the wilderness of peaks.  The view from Marcy is peculiar.
It is without softness or relief.  The narrow valleys are only dark
shadows; the lakes are bits of broken mirror.  From horizon to
horizon there is a tumultuous sea of billows turned to stone.  You
stand upon the highest billow; you command the situation; you have
surprised Nature in a high creative act; the mighty primal energy has
only just become repose.  This was a supreme hour to Old Phelps.
Tea!  I believe the boys succeeded in kindling a fire; but the
enthusiastic stoic had no reason to complain of want of appreciation
in the rest of the party.  When we were descending, he told us, with
mingled humor and scorn, of a party of ladies he once led to the top
of the mountain on a still day, who began immediately to talk about
the fashions!  As he related the scene, stopping and facing us in the
trail, his mild, far-in eyes came to the front, and his voice rose
with his language to a kind of scream.

"Why, there they were, right before the greatest view they ever saw,
talkin' about the fashions!"

Impossible to convey the accent of contempt in which he pronounced
the word " fashions," and then added, with a sort of regretful
bitterness, "I was a great mind to come down, and leave 'em there."

In common with the Greeks, Old Phelps personified the woods,
mountains, and streams.  They had not only personality, but
distinctions of sex.  It was something beyond the characterization of
the hunter, which appeared, for instance, when he related a fight
with a panther, in such expressions as, "Then Mr. Panther thought he
would see what he could do," etc.  He was in "imaginative sympathy"
with all wild things.  The afternoon we descended Marcy, we went away
to the west, through the primeval forests, toward Avalanche and
Colden, and followed the course of the charming Opalescent.  When we
reached the leaping stream, Phelps exclaimed,

"Here's little Miss Opalescent!"

"Why don't you say Mr. Opalescent?" some one asked.

"Oh, she's too pretty!"  And too pretty she was, with her foam-white
and rainbow dress, and her downfalls, and fountainlike uprising.  A
bewitching young person we found her all that summer afternoon.

This sylph-like person had little in common with a monstrous lady
whose adventures in the wildernes Phelps was fond of relating.  She
was built some thing on the plan of the mountains, and her ambition
to explore was equal to her size.  Phelps and the other guides once
succeeded in raising her to the top of Marcy; but the feat of getting
a hogshead of molasses up there would have been easier.  In
attempting to give us an idea of her magnitude tha night, as we sat
in the forest camp, Phelps hesitated a moment, while he cast his eye
around the woods: "Waal, there ain't no tree!"

It is only by recalling fragmentary remarks and incidents that I can
put the reader in possession of the peculiarities of my subject; and
this involves the wrenching of things out of their natural order and
continuity, and introducing them abruptly, an abruptness illustrated
by the remark of "Old Man Hoskins" (which Phelps liked to quote),
when one day he suddenly slipped down a bank into a thicket, and
seated himself in a wasps' nest: "I hain't no business here; but here
I be!"

The first time we went into camp on the Upper Au Sable Pond, which
has been justly celebrated as the most prettily set sheet of water in
the region, we were disposed to build our shanty on the south side,
so that we could have in full view the Gothics and that loveliest of
mountain contours.  To our surprise, Old Phelps, whose sentimental
weakness for these mountains we knew, opposed this.  His favorite
camping ground was on the north side,--a pretty site in itself, but
with no special view.  In order to enjoy the lovely mountains, we
should be obliged to row out into the lake: we wanted them always
before our eyes,--at sunrise and sunset, and in the blaze of noon.
With deliberate speech, as if weighing our arguments and disposing of
them, he replied, "Waal, now, them Gothics ain't the kinder scenery
you want ter hog down!"

It was on quiet Sundays in the woods, or in talks by the camp-fire,
that Phelps came out as the philosopher, and commonly contributed the
light of his observations.  Unfortunate marriages, and marriages in
general, were, on one occasion, the subject of discussion; and a good
deal of darkness had been cast on it by various speakers; when Phelps
suddenly piped up, from a log where he had sat silent, almost
invisible, in the shadow and smoke, "Waal, now, when you've said all
there is to be said, marriage is mostly for discipline."

Discipline, certainly, the old man had, in one way or another; and
years of solitary communing in the forest had given him, perhaps, a
childlike insight into spiritual concerns.  Whether he had formulated
any creed or what faith he had, I never knew.  Keene Valley had a
reputation of not ripening Christians any more successfully than
maize, the season there being short; and on our first visit it was
said to contain but one Bible Christian, though I think an accurate
census disclosed three.  Old Phelps, who sometimes made abrupt
remarks in trying situations, was not included in this census; but he
was the disciple of supernaturalism in a most charming form.  I have
heard of his opening his inmost thoughts to a lady, one Sunday, after
a noble sermon of Robertson's had been read in the cathedral
stillness of the forest.  His experience was entirely first-hand, and

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