Thursday, November 8, 2007


Rose O' the River by Kate Douglas Wiggin

Rose O' the River
by Kate Douglas Wiggin
Table of Contents
It was not long after sunrise, and Stephen Waterman, fresh from
his dip in the river, had scrambled up the hillside from the hut
in the alder-bushes where he had made his morning toilet.
An early ablution of his sort was not the custom of the farmers
along the banks of the Saco, but the Waterman house was hardly a
stone's throw from the water, and there was a clear, deep
swimming-hole in the Willow Cove that would have tempted the
busiest man, or the least cleanly, in York County. Then, too,
Stephen was a child of the river, born, reared, schooled on its
very brink, never happy unless he were on it, or in it, or beside
it, or at least within sight or sound of it.
The immensity of the sea had always silenced and overawed him,
left him cold in feeling. The river wooed him, caressed him, won
his heart. It was just big enough to love. It was full of
charms and changes, of varying moods and sudden surprises. Its
voice stole in upon his ear with a melody far sweeter and more
subtle than the boom of the ocean. Yet it was not without
strength, and when it was swollen with the freshets of the spring
and brimming with the bounty of its sister streams, it could dash
and roar, boom and crash, with the best of them.
Stephen stood on the side porch, drinking in the glory of the
sunrise, with the Saco winding like a silver ribbon through the
sweet loveliness of the summer landscape.
And the river rolled on toward the sea, singing its morning song,
creating and nourishing beauty at every step of its onward path.
Cradled in the heart of a great mountain-range, it pursued its
gleaming way, here lying silent in glassy lakes, there rushing
into tinkling little falls, foaming great falls, and thundering
cataracts. Scores of bridges spanned its width, but no steamers
flurried its crystal depths. Here and there a rough little
rowboat, tethered to a willow, rocked to and fro in some quiet
bend of the shore. Here the silver gleam of a rising perch,
chub, or trout caught the eye; there a pickerel lay rigid in the
clear water, a fish carved in stone: here eels coiled in the
muddy bottom of some pool; and there, under the deep shadows of
the rocks, lay fat, sleepy bass, old, and incredibly wise, quite
untempted by, and wholly superior to, the rural fisherman's worm.
The river lapped the shores of peaceful meadows; it flowed along
banks green with maple, beech, sycamore, and birch; it fell
tempestuously over darns and fought its way between rocky cliffs
crowned with stately firs. It rolled past forests of pine and
hemlock and spruce, now gentle, now terrible; for there is said
to be an Indian curse upon the Saco, whereby, with every great
sun, the child of a paleface shall be drawn into its cruel
depths. Lashed into fury by the stony reefs that impeded its
progress, the river looked now sapphire, now gold, now white, now
leaden gray; but always it was hurrying, hurrying on its
appointed way to the sea.
After feasting his eyes and filling his heart with a morning
draught of beauty, Stephen went in from the porch and, pausing at
the stairway, called in stentorian tones: "Get up and eat your
breakfast, Rufus! The boys will be picking the side jams today,
and I'm going down to work on the logs. If you come along, bring
your own pick-pole and peavey." Then, going to the kitchen
pantry, he collected, from the various shelves, a pitcher of
milk, a loaf of bread, half an apple-pie, and a bowl of
blueberries, and, with the easy methods of a household unswayed
by feminine rule, moved toward a seat under an apple-tree and
took his morning meal in great apparent content. Having
finished, and washed his dishes with much more thoroughness than
is common to unsuperintended man, and having given Rufus the
second call to breakfast with the vigor and acrimony that usually
marks that unpleasant performance, he strode to a high point on
the river-bank and, shading his eyes with his hand, gazed
steadily down stream.
Patches of green fodder and blossoming potatoes melted into soft
fields that had been lately mown, and there were glimpses of
tasseling corn rising high to catch the sun. Far, far down on
the opposite bank of the river was the hint of a brown roof, and
the tip of a chimney that sent a slender wisp of smoke into the
clear air. Beyond this, and farther back from the water, the
trees apparently hid a cluster of other chimneys, for thin
spirals of smoke ascended here and there. The little brown roof
could never have revealed itself to any but a lover's eye; and
that discerned something even smaller, something like a pinkish
speck, that moved hither and thither on a piece of greensward
that sloped to the waterside.
"She's up!" Stephen exclaimed under his breath, his eyes shining,
his lips smiling. His voice had a note of hushed exaltation
about it, as if "she," whoever she might be, had, in
condescending to rise, conferred a priceless boon upon a waiting
universe. If she were indeed a "up" (so his tone implied), then
the day, somewhat falsely heralded by the sunrise, had really
begun, and the human race might pursue its appointed tasks,
inspired and uplifted by the consciousness of her existence. It
might properly be grateful for the fact of her birth; that she
had grown to woman's estate; and, above all, that, in common with
the sun, the lark, the morning-glory, and other beautiful things
of the early day, she was up and about her lovely, cheery,
heart-warming business.
The handful of chimneys and the smoke spirals rising here and
there among the trees on the river-bank belonged to what was
known as the Brier Neighborhood. There were only a few houses in
all, scattered along a side road leading from the river up to
Liberty Centre. There were no great signs of thrift or
prosperity, but the Wiley cottage, the only one near the water,
was neat and well cared for, and Nature had done her best to
conceal man's indolence, poverty, or neglect.
Bushes of sweetbrier grew in fragrant little forests as tall as
the fences. Clumps of wild roses sprang up at every turn, and
over all the stone walls, as well as on every heap of rocks by
the wayside, prickly blackberry vines ran and clambered and
clung, yielding fruit and thorns impartially to the neighborhood
The pinkish speck that Stephen Waterman had spied from his side
of the river was Rose Wiley of the Brier Neighborhood on the
Edgewood side. As there was another of her name on Brigadier
Hill, the Edgewood minister called one of them the climbing Rose
and the other the brier Rose, or sometimes Rose of the river.
She was well named, the pinkish speck. She had not only some of
the sweetest attributes of the wild rose, but the parallel might
have been extended as far as the thorns, for she had wounded her
scores,--hearts, be it understood, not hands. The wounding was,
on the whole, very innocently done; and if fault could be imputed
anywhere, it might rightly have been laid at the door of the kind
powers who had made her what she was, since the smile that
blesses a single heart is always destined to break many more.
She had not a single silk gown, but she had what is far better, a
figure to show off a cotton one. Not a brooch nor a pair of
earrings was numbered among her possessions, but any ordinary
gems would have looked rather dull and trivial when compelled to
undergo comparison with her bright eyes. As to her hair, the
local milliner declared it impossible for Rose Wiley to get an
unbecoming hat; that on one occasion, being in a frolicsome mood,
Rose had tried on all the headgear in the village emporium,--
children's gingham "Shakers," mourning bonnets for aged dames,
men's haying hats and visored caps,--and she proved superior to
every test, looking as pretty as a pink in the best ones and
simply ravishing in the worst. In fact, she had been so
fashioned and finished by Nature that, had she been set on a
revolving pedestal in a show-window, the bystanders would have
exclaimed, as each new charm came into view: "Look at her
waist!" "See her shoulders!" "And her neck and chin!" "And
her hair!" While the children, gazing with raptured admiration,
would have shrieked, in unison, "I choose her for mine."
All this is as much as to say that Rose of the river was a
beauty, yet it quite fails to explain, nevertheless, the secret
of her power. When she looked her worst the spell was as potent
as when she looked her best. Hidden away somewhere was a vital
spark which warmed every one who came in contact with it. Her
lovely little person was a trifle below medium height, and it
might as well be confessed that her soul, on the morning when
Stephen Waterman saw her hanging out the clothes on the river
bank, was not large enough to be at all out of proportion; but
when eyes and dimples, lips and cheeks, enslave the onlooker, the
soul is seldom subjected to a close or critical scrutiny.
Besides, Rose Wiley was a nice girl, neat as wax, energetic,
merry, amiable, economical. She was a dutiful granddaughter to
two of the most irritating old people in the county; she never
patronized her pug-nosed, pasty-faced girl friends; she made
wonderful pies and doughnuts; and besides, small souls, if they
are of the right sort, sometimes have a way of growing, to the
discomfiture of cynics and the gratification of the angels.
So, on one bank of the river grew the brier rose, a fragile
thing, swaying on a slender stalk and looking at its pretty
reflection in the water; and on the other a sturdy pine tree,
well rooted against wind and storm. And the sturdy pine yearned
for the wild rose; and the rose, so far as it knew, yearned for
nothing at all, certainly not for rugged pine trees standing tall
and grim in rocky soil. If, in its present stage of development,
it gravitated toward anything in particular, it would have been a
well-dressed white birch growing on an irreproachable lawn.
And the river, now deep, now shallow, now smooth, now tumultuous,
now sparkling in sunshine, now gloomy under clouds, rolled on to
the engulfing sea. It could not stop to concern itself with the
petty comedies and tragedies that were being enacted along its
shores, else it would never have reached its destination. Only
last night, under a full moon, there had been pairs of lovers
leaning over the rails of all the bridges along its course; but
that was a common sight, like that of the ardent couples sitting
on its shady banks these summer days, looking only into each
other's eyes, but exclaiming about the beauty of the water.
Lovers would come and go, sometimes reappearing with successive
installments of loves in a way wholly mysterious to the river.
Meantime it had its own work to do and must be about it, for the
side jams were to be broken and the boom "let out" at the
Edgewood bridge.
It was just seven o'clock that same morning when Rose Wiley
smoothed the last wrinkle from her dimity counterpane, picked up
a shred of corn-husk from the spotless floor under the bed,
slapped a mosquito on the window-sill, removed all signs of
murder with a moist towel, and before running down to breakfast
cast a frowning look at her pincushion. Almira, otherwise
"Mite," Shapley had been in her room the afternoon before and
disturbed with her careless hand the pattern of Rose's pins.
They were kept religiously in the form of a Maltese cross; and
if, while she was extricating one from her clothing, there had
been an alarm of fire, Rose would have stuck the pin in its
appointed place in the design, at the risk of losing her life.
Entering the kitchen with her light step, she brought the morning
sunshine with her. The old people had already engaged in
differences of opinion, but they commonly suspended open warfare
in her presence. There were the usual last things to be done for
breakfast, offices that belonged to her as her grandmother's
assistant. She took yesterday's soda biscuits out of the steamer
where they were warming and softening; brought an apple pie and a
plate of seed cakes from the pantry; settled the coffee with a
piece of dried fish skin and an egg shell; and transferred some
fried potatoes from the spider to a covered dish.
"Did you remember the meat, grandpa? We're all out," she said, as
she began buttoning a stiff collar around his reluctant neck.
"Remember? Land, yes! I wish't I ever could forgit anything!
The butcher says he's 'bout tired o' travelin' over the country
lookin' for critters to kill, but if he finds anything he'll be
up along in the course of a week. He ain't a real smart butcher,
Cyse Higgins ain't.--Land, Rose, don't button that dickey
clean through my epperdummis! I have to sport starched collars
in this life on account o' you and your gran'mother bein' so
chock full o' style; but I hope to the Lord I shan't have to wear
'em in another world!"
"You won't," his wife responded with the snap of a dish towel, "or if you do,
they'll wilt with the heat."
Rose smiled, but the soft hand with which she tied the neck-cloth
about the old man's withered neck pacified his spirit, and he
smiled knowingly back at her as she took her seat at the
breakfast table spread near the open kitchen door. She was a
dazzling Rose, and, it is to be feared, a wasted one, for there
was no one present to observe her clean pink calico and the still
more subtle note struck in the green ribbon which was tied round
her throat,--the ribbon that formed a sort of calyx, out of
which sprang the flower of her face, as fresh and radiant as if
it had bloomed that morning.
"Give me my coffee turrible quick," said Mr. Wiley; "I must be
down the bridge 'fore they start dog-warpin' the side jam."
"I notice you're always due at the bridge on churnin' days,"
remarked his spouse, testily.
"'Taint me as app'ints drivin' dates at Edgewood," replied the
old man. "The boys'll hev a turrible job this year. The logs air
ricked up jest like Rose's jackstraws; I never see'em so turrible
ricked up in all my exper'ence; an' Lije Dennett don' know no
more 'bout pickin' a jam than Cooper's cow. Turrible sot in his
ways, too; can't take a mite of advice. I was tellin' him how to
go to work on that bung that's formed between the gre't gray rock
an' the shore,--the awfullest place to bung that there is
between this an' Biddeford,--and says he: 'Look here, I've
be'n boss on this river for twelve year, an' I'll be doggoned if
I'm goin' to be taught my business by any man!' 'This ain't no
river,' says I, 'as you'd know,' says I, 'if you'd ever lived on
the Kennebec.' 'Pity you hedn't stayed on it,' says he. 'I wish
to the land I hed,'says I. An' then I come away, for my
tongue's so turrible spry an' sarcustic that I knew if I stopped
any longer I should stir up strife. There's some folks that'll
set on addled aigs year in an' year out, as if there wan't good
fresh ones bein' laid every day; an' Lije Dennett's one of 'em,
when it comes to river drivin'."
"There's lots o' folks as have made a good livin' by mindin'
their own business," observed the still sententious Mrs. Wiley,
as she speared a soda-biscuit with her fork.
"Mindin' your own business is a turrible selfish trade," responded
her husband loftily. "If your neighbor is more ignorant than what
you are,--partic'larly if he's as ignorant as Cooper's cow,--you'd
ought, as a Kennebec man an' a Christian, to set him on the right
track, though it's always a turrible risky thing to do."
Rose's grandfather was called, by the irreverent younger
generation, sometimes "Turrible Wiley" and sometimes "Old
Kennebec," because of the frequency with which these words
appeared in his conversation. There were not wanting those of
late who dubbed him Uncle Ananias, for reasons too obvious to
mention. After a long, indolent, tolerably truthful, and useless
life, he had, at seventy-five, lost sight of the dividing line
between fact and fancy, and drew on his imagination to such an
extent that he almost staggered himself when he began to indulge
in reminiscence. He was a feature of the Edgewood "drive," being
always present during the five or six days that it was in
progress, sometimes sitting on the river-bank, sometimes leaning
over the bridge, sometimes reclining against the butt-end of a
huge log, but always chewing tobacco and expectorating to
incredible distances as he criticized and damned impartially all
the expedients in use at the particular moment.
"I want to stay down by the river this afternoon," said Rose.
"Ever so many of the girls will be there, and all my sewing is
done up. If grandpa will leave the horse for me, I'll take the
drivers' lunch to them at noon, and bring the dishes back in time
to wash them before supper."
"I suppose you can go, if the rest do," said her grandmother,
"though it's an awful lazy way of spendin' an afternoon. When I
was a girl there was no such dawdlin' goin' on, I can tell you.
Nobody thought o' lookin' at the river in them days; there wasn't
"But it's such fun to watch the logs!" Rose exclaimed. "Next to
dancing, the greatest fun in the world."
"'Specially as all the young men in town will be there, watchin',
too," was the grandmother's reply. "Eben Brooks an' Richard Bean
got home yesterday with their doctors' diplomas in their pockets.
Mrs. Brooks says Eben stood forty-nine in a class o' fifty-five,
an' seemed consid'able proud of him; an' I guess it is the first
time he ever stood anywheres but at the foot. I tell you when
these fifty-five new doctors git scattered over the country
there'll be consid'able many folks keepin' house under ground.
Dick Bean's goin' to stop a spell with Rufe an' Steve Waterman.
That'll make one more to play in the river."
"Rufus ain't hardly got his workin' legs on yit," allowed
Mr.Wiley, "but Steve's all right. He's a turrible smart driver,
an' turrible reckless, too. He'll take all the chances there is,
though to a man that's lived on the Kennebec there ain't what can
rightly be called any turrible chances on the Saco."
"He'd better be 'tendin' to his farm," objected Mrs. Wiley.
"His hay is all in," Rose spoke up quickly, "and he only helps
on the river when the farm work isn't pressing. Besides, though
it's all play to him, he earns his two dollars and a half a day."
"He don't keer about the two and a half," said her grandfather.
"He jest can't keep away from the logs. There's some that can't.
When I first moved here from Gard'ner, where the climate never
suited me"--
"The climate of any place where you hev regular work never did
an' never will suit you," remarked the old man's wife; but the
interruption received no comment: such mistaken views of his
character were too frequent to make any impression.
"As I was sayin', Rose," he continued, "when we first moved here
from Gard'ner, we lived neighbor to the Watermans. Steve an'
Rufus was little boys then, always playin' with a couple o' wild
cousins o' theirn, consid'able older. Steve would scare his
mother pretty nigh to death stealin' away to the mill to ride on
the 'carriage,''side o' the log that was bein' sawed, hitchin'
clean out over the river an' then jerkin' back 'most into the
jaws o' the machinery."
"He never hed any common sense to spare, even when he was a young
one," remarked Mrs. Wiley; " and I don't see as all the 'cademy
education his father throwed away on him has changed him much."
And with this observation she rose from the table and went to the
"Steve ain't nobody's fool," dissented the old man; "but he's
kind o' daft about the river. When he was little he was allers
buildin' dams in the brook, an' sailin' chips, an' runnin' on the
logs; allers choppin' up stickins an' raftin' 'em together in the
pond. I cal'late Mis' Waterman died consid'able afore her time,
jest from fright, lookin' out the winders and seein' her boys
slippin' between the logs an' gittin' their daily dousin'. She
could n't understand it, an' there's a heap o' things women-folks
never do an' never can understand,--jest because they air
"One o' the things is men, I s'pose," interrupted Mrs. Wiley.
"Men in general, but more partic'larly husbands," assented Old
Kennebec; "howsomever, there's another thing they don't an' can't
never take in, an' that's sport. Steve does river drivin' as he
would horseracin' or tiger-shootin' or tight-rope dancin'; an' he
always did from a boy. When he was about twelve or fifteen, he
used to help the river-drivers spring and fall, reg'lar. He
couldn't do nothin' but shin up an' down the rocks after hammers
an' hatchets an' ropes, but he was turrible pleased with his job.
'Stepanfetchit,' they used to call him them days,
--Stephanfetchit Waterman."
"Good name for him yet," came in acid tones from the sink. "He's
still steppin' an' fetchin', only it's Rose that's doin' the
drivin' now."
"I'm not driving anybody, that I know of," answered Rose, with
heightened color, but with no loss of her habitual self-command.
"Then, when he graduated from errants," went on the crafty old
man, who knew that when breakfast ceased, churning must begin,
"Steve used to get seventy-five cents a day helpin' clear up the
river--if you can call this here silv'ry streamlet a river.
He'd pick off a log here an' there an' send it afloat, an' dig
out them that hed got ketched in the rocks, and tidy up the banks
jest like spring house-cleanin'. If he'd hed any kind of a boss,
an' hed be'n trained on the Kennebec, he'd 'a' made a turrible
smart driver, Steve would."
"He'll be drownded, that's what'll become o' him," prophesied
Mrs. Wiley; "'specially if Rose encourages him in such silly
foolishness as ridin' logs from his house down to ourn, dark
"Seein' as how Steve built ye a nice pig pen last month, 'pears
to me you might have a good word for him now an' then, mother,"
remarked Old Kennebec, reaching for his second piece of pie.
"I wa'n't a mite deceived by that pig pen, no more'n I was by Jed
Towle's hen coop, nor Ivory Dunn's well-curb, nor Pitt Packard's
shed-steps. If you hed ever kep' up your buildin's yourself,
Rose's beaux wouldn't hev to do their courtin' with carpenters'
"It's the pigpen an' the hencoop you want to keep your eye on,
mother, not the motives of them as made 'em. It's turrible
onsettlin' to inspeck folks' motives too turrible close."
"Riding a log is no more to Steve than riding a horse, so he
says," interposed Rose, to change the subject; "but I tell him
that a horse doesn't revolve under you, and go sideways at the
same time that it is going forwards."
"Log-ridin' ain't no trick at all to a man of sperit," said Mr.
Wiley. "There's a few places in the Kennebec where the water's
too shaller to let the logs float, so we used to build a flume,
an' the logs would whiz down like arrers shot from a bow. The
boys used to collect by the side o' that there flume to see me
ride a log down, an' I've watched 'em drop in a dead faint when I
spun by the crowd; but land! you can't drownd some folks, not
without you tie nail-kegs to their head an' feet an' drop 'em in
the falls; I 've rid logs down the b'ilin'est rapids o' the
Kennebec an' never lost my head. I remember well the year o' the
gre't freshet, I rid a log from"--
"There, there, father, that'll do," said Mrs. Wiley, decisively.
"I'll put the cream in the churn, an' you jest work off some o'
your steam by bringin' the butter for us afore you start for the
bridge. It don't do no good to brag afore your own womenfolks;
work goes consid'able better'n stories at every place 'cept the
loafers' bench at the tavern."
And the baffled raconteur, who had never done a piece of work
cheerfully in his life, dragged himself reluctantly to the shed,
where, before long, one could hear him moving the dasher up and
down sedately to his favorite "churning tune" of--
Broad is the road that leads to death,
And thousands walk together there;
But Wisdom shows a narrow path,
With here and there a traveler.
Just where the bridge knits together the two little villages of
Pleasant River and Edgewood, the glassy mirror of the Saco
broadens suddenly, sweeping over the dam in a luminous torrent.
Gushes of pure amber mark the middle of the dam, with crystal and
silver at the sides, and from the seething vortex beneath the
golden cascade the white spray dashes up in fountains. In the
crevices and hollows of the rocks the mad water churns itself
into snowy froth, while the foam-decked torrent, deep, strong,
and troubled to its heart, sweeps majestically under the bridge,
then dashes between wooded shores piled high with steep masses of
rock, or torn and riven by great gorges.
There had been much rain during the summer, and the Saco was very
high, so on the third day of the Edgewood drive there was
considerable excitement at the bridge, and a goodly audience of
villagers from both sides of the river. There were some who
never came, some who had no fancy for the sight, some to whom it
was an old story, some who were too busy, but there were many to
whom- it was the event of events, a never-ending source of
Above the fall, covering the placid surface of the river,
thousands of logs lay quietly "in boom" until the "turning out"
process, on the last day of the drive, should release them and
give them their chance of display, their brief moment of
notoriety, their opportunity of interesting, amusing, exciting,
and exasperating the onlookers by their antics.
Heaps of logs had been cast up on the rocks below the dam, where
they lay in hopeless confusion, adding nothing, however, to the
problem of the moment, for they too bided their time. If they
had possessed wisdom, discretion, and caution, they might have
slipped gracefully over the falls and, steering clear of the
hidden ledges (about which it would seem they must have heard
whispers from the old pine trees along the river), have kept a
straight course and reached their destination without costing the
Edgewood Lumber Company a small fortune. Or, if they had
inclined toward a jolly and adventurous career, they could have
joined one of the various jams or "bungs," stimulated by the
thought that any one of them might be a key-log, holding for a
time the entire mass in its despotic power. But they had been
stranded early in the game, and, after lying high and dry for
weeks, would be picked off one by one and sent down-stream.
In the tumultuous boil, the foaming hubbub and flurry at the foot
of the falls, one enormous peeled log wallowed up and down like a
huge rhinoceros, greatly pleasing the children by its clumsy
cavortings. Some conflict of opposing forces kept it ever in
motion, yet never set it free. Below the bridge were always the
real battle-grounds, the scenes of the first and the fiercest
conflicts. A ragged ledge of rock, standing well above the
yeasty torrent, marked the middle of the river. Stephen had been
stranded there once, just at dusk, on a stormy afternoon in
spring. A jam had broken under the men, and Stephen, having
taken too great risks, had been caught on the moving mass, and,
leaping from log to log, his only chance for life had been to
find a footing on Gray Rock, which was nearer than the shore.
Rufus was ill at the time, and Mrs. Waterman so anxious and
nervous that processions of boys had to be sent up to the River
Farm, giving the frightened mother the latest bulletins of her
son's welfare. Luckily, the river was narrow just at the Gray
Rock, and it was a quite possible task, though no easy one, to
lash two ladders together and make a narrow bridge on which the
drenched and shivering man could reach the shore. There were
loud cheers when Stephen ran lightly across the slender pathway
that led to safety--ran so fast that the ladders had scarce time
to bend beneath his weight. He had certainly "taken chances," but
when did he not do that? The logger's life is one of "moving
accidents by flood and field," and Stephen welcomed with wild
exhilaration every hazard that came in his path. To him there
was never a dull hour from the moment that the first notch was
cut in the tree (for he sometimes joined the boys in the lumber
camp just for a frolic) till the later one when the hewn log
reached its final destination. He knew nothing of "tooling" a
four-in-hand through narrow lanes or crowded thoroughfares,--
nothing of guiding a horse over the hedges and through the
pitfalls of a stiff bit of hunting country; his steed was the
rearing, plunging, kicking log, and he rode it like a river god.
The crowd loves daring, and so it welcomed Stephen with braves,
but it knew, as he knew, that he was only doing his duty by the
Company, only showing the Saco that man was master, only keeping
the old Waterman name in good repute.
"Ye can't drownd some folks," Old Kennebec had said, as he stood
in a group on the shore; "not without you tie sand-bags to'em an'
drop 'em in the Great Eddy. I'm the same kind; I remember when I
was stranded on jest sech a rock in the Kennebec, only they left
me there all night for dead, an' I had to swim the rapids when it
come daylight."
"We're well acquainted with that rock and them rapids," exclaimed
one of the river-drivers, to the delight of the company.
Rose had reason to remember Stephen's adventure, for he had
clambered up the bank, smiling and blushing under the hurrahs of
the boys, and, coming to the wagon where she sat waiting for her
grandfather, had seized a moment to whisper: "Did you care
whether I came across safe, Rose? Say you did!"
Stephen recalled that question, too, on this August morning;
perhaps because this was to be a red-letter day, and sometime,
when he had a free moment,--sometime before supper, when he and
Rose were sitting apart from the others, watching the logs,--he
intended again to ask her to marry him. This thought trembled in
him, stirring the deeps of his heart like a great wave, almost
sweeping him off his feet when he held it too close and let it
have full sway. It would be the fourth time that he had asked
Rose this question of all questions, but there was no perceptible
difference in his excitement, for there was always the possible
chance that she might change her mind and say yes, if only for
variety. Wanting a thing continuously, unchangingly, unceasingly,
year after year, he thought,--longing to reach it as the river
longed to reach the sea,--such wanting might, in course of
time, mean having.
Rose drove up to the bridge with the men's luncheon, and the
under boss came up to take the baskets and boxes from the back of
the wagon.
"We've had a reg'lar tussle this mornin', Rose," he said. "The
logs are determined not to move. Ike Billings, that's the
han'somest and fluentest all-round swearer on the Saco, has tried
his best on the side jam. He's all out o' cuss-words and there
hain't a log budged. Now, stid o' dogwarpin' this afternoon, an'
lettin' the oxen haul off all them stubborn logs by main force,
we're goin' to ask you to set up on the bank and smile at the
jam. 'Land! she can do it!' says Ike a minute ago. 'When Rose
starts smilin',' he says, 'there ain't a jam nor a bung in me
that don't melt like wax and jest float right off same as the
logs do when they get into quiet, sunny water.'"
Rose blushed and laughed, and drove up the hill to Mite
Shapley's, where she put up the horse and waited till the men had
eaten their luncheon. The drivers slept and had breakfast and
supper at the Billings house, a mile down river, but for several
years Mrs. Wiley had furnished the noon meal, sending it down
piping hot on the stroke of twelve. The boys always said that up
or down the whole length of the Saco there was no such cooking as
the Wileys', and much of this praise was earned by Rose's
serving. It was the old grandmother who burnished the tin plates
and dippers till they looked like silver; for crotchety and
sharp-tongued as she was--she never allowed Rose to spoil her
hands with soft soap and sand: but it was Rose who planned and
packed, Rose who hemmed squares of old white tablecloths and
sheets to line the baskets and keep things daintily separate,
Rose, also, whose tarts and cakes were the pride and admiration
of church sociables and sewing societies.
Where could such smoking pots of beans be found? A murmur of
ecstatic approval ran through the crowd when the covers were
removed. Pieces of sweet home-fed pork glistened like varnished
mahogany on the top of the beans, and underneath were such deeps
of fragrant juice as come only from slow fires and long, quiet
hours in brick ovens. Who else could steam and bake such mealy
leaves of brown bread, brown as plum-pudding, yet with no
suspicion of sogginess? Who such soda-biscuits, big, feathery,
tasting of cream, and hardly needing butter? And green-apple
pies! Could such candied lower crusts be found elsewhere,or more
delectable filling? Or such rich, nutty doughnuts?--doughnuts
that had spurned the hot fat which is the ruin of so many, and
risen from its waves like golden-brown Venuses.
"By the great seleckmen!" ejaculated Jed Towle, as he swallowed
his fourth, "I'd like to hev a wife, two daughters, and four
sisters like them Wileys, and jest set still on the river-bank
an' hev 'em cook victuals for me. I'd hev nothin' to wish for
then but a mouth as big as the Saco's."
"And I wish this custard pie was the size o' Bonnie Eagle Pond,"
said Ike Billings. "I'd like to fall into the middle of it and
eat my way out!"
"Look at that bunch o' Chiny asters tied on t' the bail o' that
biscuit-pail!" said Ivory Dunn. "That's the girl's doin's, you
bet women-folks don't seem to make no bo'quets after they git
married. Let's divide 'em up an' wear 'em drivin' this
afternoon; mebbe they'll ketch the eye so't our rags won't show
so bad. Land! it's lucky my hundred days is about up! If I
don't git home soon, I shall be arrested for goin' without
clo'es. I set up'bout all night puttin' these blue patches in my
pants an' tryin' to piece together a couple of old red-flannel
shirts to make one whole one. That's the worst o' drivin' in
these places where the pretty girls make a habit of comin' down
to the bridge to see the fun. You hev to keep rigged up jest so
stylish; you can't git no chance at the rum bottle, an' you even
hev to go a leetle mite light on swearin'."
"Steve Waterman's an awful nice feller," exclaimed Ivory Dunn just
then. Stephen had been looking intently across the river,
watching the Shapleys' side door, from which Rose might issue at
any moment; and at this point in the discussion he had lounged
away from the group, and, moving toward the bridge, began to
throw pebbles idly into the water.
"He's an awful smart driver for one that don't foiler drivin' the
year round," continued Ivory; "and he's the awfullest
clean-spoken, soft-spoken feller I ever see."
"There's be'n two black sheep in his family a'ready, an' Steve
kind o' feels as if he'd ought to be extry white," remarked Jed
Towle. "You fellers that belonged to the old drive remember
Pretty Quick Waterman well enough? Steve's mother brought him
Yes; most of them remembered the Waterman twins, Stephen's
cousins, now both dead,--Slow Waterman, so moderate in his
steps and actions that you had to fix a landmark somewhere near
him to see if he moved; and Pretty Quick, who shone by comparison
with his twin.
"I'd kind o' forgot that Pretty Quick Waterman was cousin to
Steve," said the under boss; "he never worked with me much, but
he wa'n't cut off the same piece o' goods as the other Watermans.
Great hemlock! but he kep' a cussin' dictionary, Pretty Quick
did! Whenever he heard any new words he must 'a' writ 'em down,
an' then studied 'em all up in the winter-time, to use in the
spring drive."
"Swearin''s a habit that hed ought to be practiced with turrible
caution," observed old Mr. Wiley, when the drivers had finished
luncheon and taken out their pipes. "There's three kinds o'
swearin',--plain swearin', profane swearin', an' blasphemious
swearin'. Logs air jest like mules: there's times when a man
can't seem to rip up a jam in good style 'thout a few words
that's too strong for the infant classes in Sunday-schools; but a
man hedn't ought to tempt Providence. When he's ridin' a log
near the falls at high water, or cuttin' the key-log in a jam, he
ain't in no place for blasphemious swearin'; jest a little easy,
perlite'damn' is 'bout all he can resk, if he don't want to git
drownded an' hev his ghost walkin' the river-banks till kingdom
"You an' I, Long, was the only ones that seen Pretty Quick go,
wa'n't we?" continued Old Kennebec, glancing at Long Abe
Dennett (cousin to Short Abe), who lay on his back in the grass,
the smoke-wreaths rising from his pipe, and the steel spikes in
his heavy, calked-sole boots shining in the sun.
"There was folks on the bridge," Long answered, "but we was the
only ones near enough to see an' hear. It was so onexpected, an'
so soon over, that them as was watchin' upstream, where the men
was to work on the falls, wouldn't 'a' hed time to see him go
down. But I did, an' nobody ain't heard me swear sence, though
it's ten years ago. I allers said it was rum an' bravadder that
killed Pretty Quick Waterman that day. The boys hedn't give him
a 'dare' that he hedn't took up. He seemed like he was
possessed, an' the logs was the same way; they was fairly wild,
leapin' around in the maddest kind o' water you ever see. The
river was b'ilin' high that spring; it was an awful stubborn jam,
an' Pretty Quick, he'd be'n workin' on it sence dinner."
"He clumb up the bank more'n once to have a pull at the bottle
that was hid in the bushes," interpolated Mr. Wiley.
"Like as not; that was his failin'. Well, most o' the boys were
on the other side o' the river, workin' above the bridge, an' the
boss hed called Pretty Quick to come off an' leave the jam till
mornin', when they'd get horses an' dog-warp it off, log by log.
But when the boss got out o' sight, Pretty Quick jest stood right
still, swingin' his axe, an' blasphemin' so 't would freeze your
blood, vowin' he wouldn't move till the logs did, if he stayed
there till the crack o' doom. Jest then a great, ponderous log
that hed be'n churnin' up an' down in the falls for a week, got
free an' come blunderin' an' thunderin' down-river. Land! it
was chockfull o' water, an' looked 'bout as big as a church! It
come straight along, butt-end foremost, an' struck that jam, full
force, so't every log in it shivered. There was a crack,--the
crack o' doom, sure enough, for Pretty Quick,--an' one o' the
logs le'p' right out an' struck him jest where he stood, with his
axe in the air, blasphemin'. The jam kind o' melted an' crumbled
up, an' in a second Pretty Quick was whirlin' in the white water.
He never riz,--at least where we could see him,--an' we
didn't find him for a week. That's the whole story, an' I guess
Steve takes it as a warnin'. Any way, he ain't no friend to rum
nor swearin', Steve ain't. He knows Pretty Quick's ways
shortened his mother's life, an' you notice what a sharp lookout
he keeps on Rufus."
"He needs it," Ike Billings commented tersely.
"Some men seem to lose their wits when they're workin' on logs,"
observed Mr. Wiley, who had deeply resented Long Dennett's
telling of a story which he knew fully as well and could have
told much better. "Now, nat'rally, I've seen things on the
Kennebec "--
"Three cheers for the Saco! Hats off, boys!" shouted Jed Towle,
and his directions were followed with a will.
"As I was sayin'," continued the old man, peacefully, "I've seen
things on the Kennebec that wouldn't happen on a small river,
an' I've be'n in turrible places an' taken turrible resks--
resks that would 'a' turned a Saco River man's hair white; but
them is the times when my wits work the quickest. I remember
once I was smokin' my pipe when a jam broke under me. 'T was a
small jam, or what we call a small jam on the Kennebec,--only
about three hundred thousand pine logs. The first thing I
knowed, I was shootin' back an' forth in the b'ilin' foam,
hangin' on t' the end of a log like a spider. My hands was
clasped round the log, and I never lost control o' my pipe. They
said I smoked right along, jest as cool an' placid as a
"Why'd you quit drivin'?" inquired Ivory.
"My strength wa'n't ekal to it," Mr. Wiley responded sadly. "I
was all skin, bones, an' nerve. The Comp'ny wouldn't part with
me altogether, so they give me a place in the office down on the
"That wa'n't so bad," said Jed Towle; "why didn't you hang on to
it, so's to keep in sight o' the Kennebec?"
"I found I couldn't be confined under cover. My liver give all
out, my appetite failed me, an' I wa'n't wuth a day's wages. I'd
learned engineerin' when I was a boy, an' I thought I'd try
runnin' on the road a spell, but it didn't suit my constitution.
My kidneys ain't turrible strong, an' the doctors said I'd have
Bright's disease if I didn't git some kind o' work where there
wa'n't no vibrations."
"Hard to find, Mr. Wiley; hard to find!" said Jed Towle.
"You're right," responded the old man feelingly. "I've tried all
kinds o' labor. Some of 'em don't suit my liver, some disagrees
with my stomach, and the rest of 'em has vibrations; so here I
set, high an' dry on the banks of life, you might say, like a
stranded log."
As this well-known simile fell upon the ear, there was a general
stir in the group, for Turrible Wiley, when rhetorical, sometimes
grew tearful, and this was a mood not to be encouraged.
"All right, boss," called Ike Billings, winking to the boys;
"we'll be there in a jiffy!" for the luncheon hour had flown, and
the work of the afternoon was waiting for them. "You make a
chalk-mark where you left off, Mr. Wiley, an' we'll hear the rest
to-morrer; only don't you forgit nothin'! Remember't was the
Kennebec you was talkin' about."
"I will, indeed," responded the old man. "As I was sayin' when
interrupted, I may be a stranded log, but I'm proud that the mark
o' the Gard'ner Lumber Comp'ny is on me, so't when I git to my
journey's end they'll know where I belong and send me back to the
Kennebec. Before I'm sawed up I'd like to forgit this triflin'
brook in the sight of a good-sized river, an' rest my eyes on
some full-grown logs,'stead o' these little damn pipestems you
boys are playin' with!"
There was a roar of laughter at the old man's boast, but in a
moment all was activity. The men ran hither and thither like
ants, gathering their tools. There were some old-fashioned
pickpoles, straight, heavy levers without any "dog," and there
were modern pickpoles and peaveys, for every river has its
favorite equipment in these things. There was no dynamite in
those days to make the stubborn jams yield, and the dog-warp was
in general use. Horses or oxen, sometimes a line of men, stood
on the river-bank. A long rope was attached by means of a steel
spike to one log after another, and it was dragged from the
tangled mass. Sometimes, after unloading the top logs, those at
the bottom would rise and make the task easier; sometimes the
work would go on for hours with no perceptible progress, and Mr.
Wiley would have opportunity to tell the bystanders of a
"turrible jam" on the Kennebec that had cost the Lumber Company
ten thousand dollars to break.
There would be great arguments on shore, among the villagers as
well as among the experts, as to the particular log which might
be a key to the position. The boss would study the problem from
various standpoints, and the drivers themselves would pass from
heated discussion into long consultations.
"They're paid by the day," Old Kennebec would philosophize to the
doctor; "an' when they're consultin' they don't hev to be
doggin', which is a turrible sight harder work."
Rose had created a small sensation, on one occasion, by pointing
out to the under boss the key-log in a jam. She was past
mistress of the pretty game of jackstraws, much in vogue at that
time. The delicate little lengths of polished wood or bone were
shaken together and emptied on the table. Each jackstraw had one
of its ends fashioned in the shape of some sort of implement,--
a rake, hoe, spade, fork, or mallet. All the pieces were
intertwined by the shaking process, and they lay as they fell, in
a hopeless tangle. The task consisted in taking a tiny pickpole,
scarcely bigger than a match, and with the bit of curved wire on
the end lifting off the jackstraws one by one without stirring
the pile or making it tremble. When this occurred, you gave
place to your opponent, who relinquished his turn to you when ill
fortune descended upon him, the game, which was a kind of
river-driving and jam-picking in miniature, being decided by the
number of pieces captured and their value. No wonder that the
under boss asked Rose's advice as to the key-log. She had a
fairy's hand, and her cunning at deciding the pieces to be moved,
and her skill at extricating and lifting them from the heap, were
looked upon in Edgewood as little less than supernatural. It was
a favorite pastime; and although a man's hand is ill adapted to
it, being over-large and heavy; the game has obvious advantages
for a lover in bringing his head very close to that of his
beloved adversary. The jackstraws have to be watched with a
hawk's eagerness, since the "trembling" can be discerned only by
a keen eye; but there were moments when Stephen was willing to
risk the loss of a battle if he could watch Rose's drooping
eyelashes, the delicate down on her pink cheek, and the feathery
curls that broke away from her hair.
He was looking at her now from a distance, for she and Mite
Shapley were assisting Jed Towle to pile up the tin plates and
tie the tin dippers together. Next she peered into one of the
bean-pots, and seemed pleased that there was still something in
its depths; then she gathered the fragments neatly together in a
basket, and, followed by her friend, clambered down the banks to
a shady spot where the Boomshers, otherwise known as the Crambry
family, were "lined up" expectantly.
It is not difficult to find a single fool in any community,
however small; but a family of fools is fortunately somewhat
rarer. Every county, however, can boast of one fool-family, and
Itork County is always in the fashion, with fools as with
everything else. The unique, much-quoted, and undesirable
Boomshers could not be claimed as indigenous to the Saco valley,
for this branch was an offshoot of a still larger tribe
inhabiting a distant township. Its beginnings were shrouded in
mystery. There was a French-Canadian ancestor somewhere, and a
Gipsy or Indian grandmother. They had always intermarried from
time immemorial. When one of the selectmen of their native place
had been asked why the Boomshers always married cousins, and why
the habit was not discouraged, he replied that he really didn't
know; he s'posed they felt it would be kind of odd to go right
out and marry a stranger.
Lest "Boomsher" seem an unusual surname, it must be explained
that the actual name was French and could not be coped with by
Edgewood or Pleasant River, being something quite as impossible
to spell as to pronounce. As the family had lived for the last
few years somewhere near the Killick Cranberry Meadows, they were
called--and completely described in the calling--the Crambry
fool-family. A talented and much traveled gentleman who once
stayed over night at the Edgewood tavern, proclaimed it his
opinion that Boomsher had been gradually corrupted from
Beaumarchais. When he wrote the word on his visiting card and
showed it to Mr. Wiley, Old Kennebec had replied, that in the
judgment of a man who had lived in large places and seen a
turrible lot o' life, such a name could never have been given
either to a Christian or a heathen family,--that the way in
which the letters was thrown together into it, and the way in
which they was sounded when read out loud, was entirely ag'in
reason. It was true, he said, that Beaumarchais, bein' such a
fool name, might 'a' be'n invented a-purpose for a fool family,
but he wouldn't hold even with callin' 'em Boomsher; Crambry was
well enough for'em an' a sight easier to speak.
Stephen knew a good deal about the Crambrys, for he passed their
so-called habitation in going to one of his wood-lots. It was
only a month before that he had found them all sitting outside
their broken-down fence, surrounded by decrepit chairs, sofas,
tables, bedsteads, bits of carpet, and stoves.
"What's the matter?" he called out from his wagon.
"There ain't nothin' the matter," said Alcestis Crambry.
"Father's dead, an we're dividin' up the furnerchure."
Alcestis was the pride of the Crambrys, and the list of his
attainments used often to be on his proud father's lips. It was
he who was the largest, "for his size," in the family; he who
could tell his brothers Paul and Arcadus "by their looks;" he who
knew a sour apple from a sweet one the minute he bit it; he who,
at the early age of ten, was bright enough to point to the
cupboard and say, "Puddin', dad!"
Alcestis had enjoyed, in consequence of his unusual intellectual
powers, some educational privileges, and the Killick
schoolmistress well remembered his first day at the village seat
of learning. Reports of what took place in this classic temple
from day to day may have been wafted to the dull ears of the boy,
who was not thought ready for school until he had attained the
ripe age of twelve. It may even have been that specific rumors
of the signs, symbols, and hieroglyphics used in educational
institutions had reached him in the obscurity of his cranberry
meadows. At all events, when confronted by the alphabet chart,
whose huge black capitals were intended to capture the wandering
eyes of the infant class, Alcestis exhibited unusual, almost
unnatural, excitement.
"That is 'A,' my boy," said the teacher genially, as she pointed
to the first character on the chart.
"Good God, is that 'A'! " exclaimed Alcestis, sitting down
heavily on the nearest bench. And neither teacher nor scholars
could discover whether he was agreeably surprised or disappointed
in the letter,--whether he had expected, if he ever encountered
it, to find it writhing in coils on the floor of a cage, or
whether it simply bore no resemblance to the ideal already
established in his mind.
Mrs. Wiley had once tried to make something of Mercy, the oldest
daughter of the family, but at the end of six weeks she announced
that a girl who couldn't tell whether the clock was going
"forrards or backwards," and who rubbed a pocket handkerchief as
long as she did a sheet, would be no help in her household.
The Crambrys had daily walked the five or six miles from their
home to the Edgewood bridge during the progress of the drive, not
only for the social and intellectual advantages to be gained from
the company present, but for the more solid compensation of a
good meal. They all adored Rose, partly because she gave them
food, and partly because she was sparkling and pretty and wore
pink dresses that caught their dull eyes.
The afternoon proved a lively one. In the first place, one of
the younger men slipped into the water between two logs, part of
a lot chained together waiting to be let out of the boom. The
weight of the mass higher up and the force of the current wedged
him in rather tightly, and when he had been "pried" out he
declared that he felt like an apple after it had been squeezed in
the cider-mill, so he drove home, and Rufus Waterman took his
Two hours' hard work followed this incident, and at the end of
that time the "bung" that reached from the shore to Waterman's
Ledge (the rock where Pretty Quick met his fate) was broken up,
and the logs that composed it were started down river. There
remained now only the great side-jam at Gray Rock. This had been
allowed to grow, gathering logs as they drifted past, thus making
higher water and a stronger current on the other side of the
rock, and allowing an easier passage for the logs at that point.
All was excitement now, for, this particular piece of work
accomplished, the boom above the falls would be "turned out," and
the river would once more be clear and clean at the Edgewood
Small boys, perching on the rocks with their heels hanging, hands
and mouths full of red Astrakhan apples, cheered their favorites
to the echo, while the drivers shouted to one another and watched
the signs and signals of the boss, who could communicate with
them only in that way, so great was the roar of the water.
The jam refused to yield to ordinary measures. It was a
difficult problem, for the rocky river-bed held many a snare and
pitfall. There was a certain ledge under the water, so artfully
placed that every log striking under its projecting edges would
wedge itself firmly there, attracting others by its evil example.
"That galoot-boss ought to hev shoved his crew down to that jam
this mornin'," grumbled Old Kennebec to Alcestis Crambry, who was
always his most loyal and attentive listener. "But he wouldn't
take no advice, not if Pharaoh nor Boat nor Herod nor Nicodemus
come right out o' the Bible an' give it to him. The logs air
contrary to-day. Sometimes they'll go along as easy as an old
shoe, an' other times they'll do nothin' but bung, bung, bung!
There's a log nestlin' down in the middle o' that jam that I've
be'n watchin' for a week. It's a cur'ous one, to begin with; an'
then it has a mark on it that you can reco'nize it by. Did ye
ever hear tell o' George the Third, King of England, Alcestis, or
ain't he known over to the crambry medders? Well, once upon a
time men used to go through the forests over here an' slash a
mark on the trunks o' the biggest trees. That was the royal
sign, as you might say, an' meant that the tree was to be taken
over to England to make masts an' yard-arms for the King's ships.
What made me think of it now is that the King's mark was an
arrer, an' it's an arrer that's on that there log I'm showin' ye.
Well, sir, I seen it fust at Milliken's Mills a Monday. It was
in trouble then, an'it's be'n in trouble ever sence. That's
allers the way; there'll be one pesky, crooked, contrary,
consarn'ed log that can't go anywheres without gittin' into
difficulties. You can yank it out an' set it afloat, an' before
you hardly git your doggin' iron off of it, it'll be snarled up
agin in some new place. From the time it's chopped down to the
day it gets to Saco, it costs the Comp'ny 'bout ten times its
pesky valler as lumber. Now they've sent over to Benson's for a
team of horses, an' I bate ye they can't git'em. I wish I was
the boss on this river, Alcestis."
"I wish I was," echoed the boy.
"Well, your head-fillin' ain't the right kind for a boss,
Alcestis, an' you'd better stick to dry land. You set right down
here while I go back a piece an' git the pipe out o' my coat
pocket. I guess nothin' ain't goin' to happen for a few
The surmise about the horses, unlike most of Old Kennebec's,
proved to be true. Benson's pair had gone to Portland with a
load of hay; accordingly the tackle was brought, the rope was
adjusted to a log, and five of the drivers, standing on the
riverbank, attempted to drag it from its intrenched position. It
refused to yield the fraction of an inch. Rufus and Stephen
joined the five men, and the augmented crew of seven were putting
all their strength on the rope when a cry went up from the
watchers on the bridge. The "dog" had loosened suddenly, and the
men were flung violently to the ground. For a second they were
stunned both by the surprise and by the shock of the blow, but in
the same moment the cry of the crowd swelled louder.
Alcestis Crambry had stolen, all unoticed, to the rope and had
attempted to use his feeble powers for the common good. When
then blow came he fell backward, and, making no effort to control
the situation, slid over the bank and into the water.
The other Crambrys, not realizing the danger, laughed, audibly,
but there was no jeering from the bridge.
Stephan had seen Alcestis slip, and in the fraction of a moment
had taken off his boots and was coasting down the slippery rocks
behind him in a twinkling he was in the water, almost as soon as
the boy himself.
"Doggoned idjut!" exclaimed Old Kennebec, tearfully. "Wuth the
hull fool family! If I hedn't 'a' be'n so old, I'd 'a' jumped
in myself, for you can't drownd a Wiley, not without you tie
nail-kegs to their head an' feet an' drop 'em in the falls."
Alcestis, who had neither brains, courage, nor experience, had,
better still, the luck that follows the witless. He was carried
swiftly down the current; but, only fifty feet away, a long,
slender, log, wedged between two low rocks on the shore, jutted
out over the water, almost touching its surface. The boy's
clothes were admirably adapted to the situation, being full of
enormous rents. In some way the end of the log caught in the
rags of Alcestis's coat and held him just seconds enough to
enable Stephen to swim to him, to seize him by the nape of the
neck, to lift him on the log, and thence to the shore. It was a
particularly bad place for a landing, and there was nothing to do
but to lower ropes and drag the drenched men to the high ground
Alcestis came to his senses in ten or fifteen minutes, and seemed
as bright as usual: with a kind of added swagger at being the
central figure in a dramatic situation.
"I wonder you hedn't stove your brains out, when you landed so
turrible suddent on that rock at the foot of the bank," said Mr.
Wiley to him. "I should, but I took good care to light on my
head," responded Alcestis; a cryptic remark which so puzzled Old
Kennebec that he mused over it for some hours.
Stephen had brought a change of clothes, as he had a habit of
being ducked once at least during the day; and since there was a
halt in the proceedings and no need of his services for an hour
or two, he found Rose and walked with her to a secluded spot
where they could watch the logs and not be seen by the people.
"You frightened everybody almost to death, jumping into the
river," chided Rose.
Stephen laughed. "They thought I was a fool to save a fool, I
"Perhaps not as bad as that, but it did seem reckless."
"I know; and the boy, no doubt, would be better off dead; but so
should I be, if I could have let him die."
Rose regarded this strange point of view for a moment, and then
silently acquiesced in it. She was constantly doing this, and
she often felt that her mental horizon broadened in the act; but
she could not be sure that Stephen grew any dearer to her because
of his moral altitudes.
"Besides," Stephen argued, "I happened to be nearest to the
river, and it was my job."
"How do you always happen to be nearest to the people in trouble,
and why is it always your 'job'!"
"If there are any rewards for good conduct being distributed, I'm
right in line with my hand stretched out," Stephen replied, with
meaning in his voice.
Rose blushed under her flowery hat as he led the way to a bench
under a sycamore tree that overhung the water.
She had almost convinced herself that she was as much in love
with Stephen Waterman as it was in her nature to be with anybody.
He was handsome in his big way, kind, generous, temperate, well
educated, and well-to-do. No fault could be found with his
family, for his mother had been a teacher, and his father, though
a farmer, a college graduate. Stephen himself had had one year
at Bowdoin, but had been recalled, as the head of the house, when
his father died. That was a severe blow; but his mother's death,
three years after, was a grief never to be quite forgotten.
Rose, too, was the child of a gently bred mother, and all her
instincts were refined. Yes; Stephen in himself satisfied her in
all the larger wants of her nature, but she had an unsatisfied
hunger for the world,--the world of Portland, where her cousins
lived; or, better still, the world of Boston, of which she heard
through Mrs. Wealthy Brooks, whose nephew Claude often came to
visit her in Edgewood. Life on a farm a mile and a half distant
from post-office and stores; life in the house with Rufus, who
was rumored to be somewhat wild and unsteady,--this prospect
seemed a trifle dull and uneventful to the trivial part of her,
though to the better part it was enough. The better part of her
loved Stephen Waterman, dimly feeling the richness of his nature,
the tenderness of his affection, the strength of his character.
Rose was not destitute either of imagination or sentiment. She
did not relish this constant weighing of Stephen in the balance:
he was too good to be weighed and considered. She longed to be
carried out of herself on a wave of rapturous assent, but
something seemed to hold her back,--some seed of discontent
with the man's environment and circumstances, some germ of
longing for a gayer, brighter, more varied life. No amount of
self-searching or argument could change the situation. She
always loved Stephen more or less: more when he was away from
her, because she never approved his collars nor the set of his
shirt bosom; and as he naturally wore these despised articles of
apparel whenever he proposed to her, she was always lukewarm
about marrying him and settling down on the River Farm. Still,
to-day she discovered in herself, with positive gratitude, a
warmer feeling for him than she had experienced before. He wore
a new and becoming gray flannel shirt, with the soft turnover
collar that belonged to it, and a blue tie, the color of his kind
eyes. She knew that he had shaved his beard at her request not
long ago, and that when she did not like the effect as much as
she had hoped, he had meekly grown a mustache for her sake; it
did seem as if a man could hardly do more to please an exacting
And she had admired him unreservedly when he pulled off his boots
and jumped into the river to save Alcestis Crambry's life,
without giving a single thought to his own. And was there ever,
after all, such a noble, devoted, unselfish fellow, or a better
brother? And would she not despise herself for rejecting him
simply because he was countrified, and because she longed to see
the world of the fashion-plates in the magazines?
"The logs are so like people!" she exclaimed, as they sat down.
"I could name nearly every one of them for somebody in the
village. Look at Mite Shapley, that dancing little one, slipping
over the falls and skimming along the top of the water, keeping
out of all the deep places, and never once touching the rocks."
Stephen fell into her mood. "There's Squire Anderson coming down
crosswise and bumping everything in reach. You know he's always
buying lumber and logs without knowing what he is going to do
with them. They just lie and rot by the roadside. The boys
always say that a toad-stool is the old Squire's 'mark' on a
"And that stout, clumsy one is Short Dennett.--What are you
doing, Stephen!"
"Only building a fence round this clump of harebells," Stephen
replied. "They've just got well rooted, and if the boys come
skidding down the bank with their spiked shoes, the poor things
will never hold up their heads again. Now they're safe.--Oh,
look, Rose! There come the minister and his wife!"
A portly couple of peeled logs, exactly matched in size, came
ponderously over the falls together, rose within a second of each
other, joined again, and swept under the bridge side by side.
"And--oh! oh! Dr. and Mrs. Cram just after them! Isn't that
funny?" laughed Rose, as a very long, slender pair of pines swam
down, as close to each other as if they had been glued in that
position. Rose thought, as she watched them, who but Stephen
would have cared what became of the clump of delicate harebells.
How gentle such a man would be to a woman! How tender his touch
would be if she were ill or in trouble!
Several single logs followed,--crooked ones, stolid ones,
adventurous ones, feeble swimmers, deep divers. Some of them
tried to start a small jam on their own account; others stranded
themselves for good and all, as Rose and Stephen sat there side
by side, with little Dan Cupid for an invisible third on the
"There never was anything so like people," Rose repeated, leaning
forward excitedly. "And, upon my word, the minister and doctor
couples are still together. I wonder if they'll get as far as
the falls at Union? That would be an odd place to part, wouldn't
it--Union?" Stephen saw his opportunity, and seized it.
"There's a reason, Rose, why two logs go down stream better than
one, and get into less trouble. They make a wider path, create
more force and a better current. It's the same way with men and
women. Oh, Rose, there isn't a man in the world that's loved
you as long, or knows how to love you any better than I do.
You're just like a white birch sapling, and I'm a great, clumsy
fir tree; but if you'll only trust yourself to me, Rose, I'll
take you safely down river."
Stephen's big hand closed on Rose's little one she returned its
pressure softly and gave him the kiss that with her, as with him,
meant a promise for all the years to come. The truth and passion
in the man had broken the girl's bonds for the moment. Her
vision was clearer, and, realizing the treasures of love and
fidelity that were being offered her, she accepted them, half
unconscious that she was not returning them in kind. How is the
belle of two villages to learn that she should "thank Heaven,
fasting, for a good man's love"? And Stephen? He went home in
the dusk, not knowing whether his feet were touching the solid
earth or whether he was treading upon rainbows.
Rose's pink calico seemed to brush him as he walked in the path
that was wide enough only for one. His solitude was peopled
again when he fed the cattle, for Rose's face smiled at him from
the haymow; and when he strained the milk, Rose held the pans.
His nightly tasks over, he went out and took his favorite seat
under the apple tree. All was still, save for the crickets'
ceaseless chirp, the soft thud of an August sweeting dropping in
the grass, and the swish-swash of the water against his boat,
tethered in the Willow Cove.
He remembered when he first saw Rose, for that must have been
when he began to love her, though he was only fourteen and quite
unconscious that the first seed had been dropped in the rich soil
of his boyish heart.
He was seated on the kerosene barrel in the Edgewood post-office,
which was also the general country store, where newspapers,
letters, molasses, nails, salt codfish, hairpins, sugar, liver
pills, canned goods, beans, and ginghams dwelt in genial
proximity. When she entered, just a little pink-and-white slip
of a thing with a tin pail in her hand and a sunbonnet falling
off her wavy hair, Stephen suddenly stopped swinging his feet.
She gravely announced her wants, reading them from a bit of
paper,--1 quart molasses, 1 package ginger, 1 lb. cheese, 2
pairs shoe laces, 1 card shirt buttons.
While the storekeeper drew off the molasses she exchanged shy
looks with Stephen, who, clean, well-dressed, and carefully
mothered as he was, felt all at once uncouth and awkward, rather
as if he were some clumsy lout pitchforked into the presence of a
fairy queen. He offered her the little bunch of bachelor's
buttons he held in his hand, augury of the future, had he known
it,--and she accepted them with a smile. She dropped her
memorandum; he picked it up, and she smiled again, doing still
more fatal damage than in the first instance. No words were
spoken, but Rose, even at ten, had less need of them than most of
her sex, for her dimples, aided by dancing eyes, length of
lashes, and curve of lips, quite took the place of conversation.
The dimples tempted, assented, denied, corroborated, deplored,
protested, sympathized, while the intoxicated beholder cudgeled
his brain for words or deeds which should provoke and evoke more
and more dimples.
The storekeeper hung the molasses pail over Rose's right arm and
tucked the packages under her left, and as he opened the mosquito
netting door to let her pass out she looked back at Stephen,
perched on the kerosene barrel. Just a little girl, a little
glance, a little dimple, and Stephen was never quite the same
again. The years went on, and the boy became man, yet no other
image had ever troubled the deep, placid waters of his heart.
Now, after many denials, the hopes and longings of his nature had
been answered, and Rose had promised to marry him. He would
sacrifice his passion for logging and driving in the future, and
become a staid farmer and man of affairs, only giving himself a
river holiday now and then. How still and peaceful it was under
the trees, and how glad his mother would be to think that the old
farm would wake from its sleep, and a woman's light foot be heard
in the sunny kitchen!
Heaven was full of silent stars, and there was a moonglade on the
water that stretched almost from him to Rose. His heart embarked
on that golden pathway and sailed on it to the farther shore.
The river was free of logs, and under the light of the moon it
shone like a silver mirror. The soft wind among the fir branches
breathed Rose's name; the river, rippling against the shore,
sang, "Rose;" and as Stephen sat there dreaming of the future,
his dreams, too, could have been voiced in one word, and that
word " Rose."
The autumn days flew past like shuttles in a loom. The river
reflected the yellow foliage of the white birch and the scarlet
of the maples. The wayside was bright with goldenrod, with the
red tassels of the sumac, with the purple frost-flower and
feathery clematis.
If Rose was not as happy as Stephen, she was quietly content, and
felt that she had more to be grateful for than most girls, for
Stephen surprised her with first one evidence and then another of
thoughtful generosity. In his heart of hearts he felt that Rose
was not wholly his, that she reserved, withheld something; and it
was the subjugation of this rebellious province that he sought.
He and Rose had agreed to wait a year for their marriage, in
which time Rose's cousin would finish school and be ready to live
with the old people; meanwhile Stephen had learned that his
maiden aunt would be glad to come and keep house for Rufus. The
work at the River Farm was too hard for a girl, so he had
persuaded himself of late, and the house was so far from the
village that Rose was sure to be lonely. He owned a couple of
acres between his place and the Edgewood bridge, and here, one
afternoon only a month after their engagement, he took Rose to
see the foundations of a little house he was building for her.
It was to be only a story-and-a-half cottage of six small rooms,
the two upper chambers to be finished off later on. Stephen had
placed it well back from the road, leaving space in front for
what was to be a most wonderful arrangement of flower-beds, yet
keeping a strip at the back, on the river-brink, for a small
vegetable garden. There had been a house there years before--
so many years that the blackened ruins were entirely overgrown;
but a few elms and an old apple-orchard remained to shade the new
dwelling and give welcome to the coming inmates.
Stephen had fifteen hundred dollars in bank, he could turn his
hand to almost anything, and his love was so deep that Rose's
plumb-line had never sounded bottom; accordingly he was able,
with the help of two steady workers, to have the roof on before
the first of November. The weather was clear and fine, and by
Thanksgiving clapboards, shingles, two coats of brown paint, and
even the blinds had all been added. This exhibition of reckless
energy on Stephen's part did not wholly commend itself to the
"Steve's too turrible spry," said Rose's grandfather; "he'll trip
himself up some o' these times."
"You never will," remarked his better half, sagely.
"The resks in life come along fast enough, without runnin' to
meet 'em," continued the old man. "There's good dough in Rose,
but it ain't more'n half riz. Let somebody come along an' drop
in a little more yeast, or set the dish a little mite nearer the
stove, an' you'll see what'll happen."
"Steve's kept house for himself some time, an' I guess he knows
more about bread-makin' than you do."
"There don't nobody know more'n I do about nothin', when my
pipe's drawin' real good an' nobody's thornin' me to go to work,"
replied Mr. Wiley; "but nobody's willin' to take the advice of a
man that's seen the world an' lived in large places, an' the
risin' generation is in a turrible hurry. I don' know how 't is:
young folks air allers settin' the clock forrard an' the old ones
puttin' it back."
"Did you ketch anything for dinner when you was out this
mornin'?" asked his wife. "No, I fished an' fished, till I was
about ready to drop, an' I did git a few shiners, but land, they
wa'n't as big as the worms I was ketchin' 'em with, so I pitched
'em back in the water an' quit."
During the progress of these remarks Mr. Wiley opened the door
under the sink, and from beneath a huge iron pot drew a round
tray loaded with a glass pitcher and half a dozen tumblers, which
he placed carefully on the kitchen table.
"This is the last day's option I've got on this lemonade-set," he
said, "an' if I'm goin'to Biddeford to-morrer I've got to make up
my mind here an' now."
With this observation he took off his shoes, climbed in his
stocking feet to the vantage ground of a kitchen chair, and
lifted a stone china pitcher from a corner of the highest
cupboard shelf where it had been hidden.
"This lemonade's gittin' kind o' dusty," he complained, "I
cal'lated to hev a kind of a spree on it when I got through
choosin' Rose's weddin' present, but I guess the pig'll hev to
help me out."
The old man filled one of the glasses from the pitcher, pulled up
the kitchen shades to the top,put both hands in his pockets, and
walked solemnly round the table, gazing at his offering from
every possible point of view.
There had been three lemonade sets in the window of a Biddeford
crockery store when Mr. Wiley chanced to pass by, and he had
brought home the blue and green one on approval.
To the casual eye it would have appeared as quite uniquely
hideous until the red and yellow or the purple and orange ones
had been seen; after that, no human being could have made a
decision, where each was so unparalleled in its ugliness, and Old
Kennebec's confusion of mind would have been perfectly understood
by the connoisseur.
"How do you like it with the lemonade in, mother?" he inquired
eagerly. "The thing that plagues me most is that the red an'
yaller one I hed home last week lights up better'n this, an' I
believe I'll settle on that; for as I was thinkin' last night in
bed, lemonade is mostly an evenin' drink an' Rose won't be usin'
the set much by daylight. Root beer looks the han'somest in this
purple set, but Rose loves lemonade better'n beer, so I guess
I'll pack up this one an' change it to-morrer. Mebbe when I get
it out o' sight an' give the lemonade to the pig I'll be easier
in my mind."
In the opinion of the community at large Stephen's forehandedness
in the matter of preparations for his marriage was imprudence,
and his desire for neatness and beauty flagrant extravagance.
The house itself was a foolish idea, it was thought, but there
were extenuating circumstances, for the maiden aunt really needed
a home, and Rufus was likely to marry before long and take his
wife to the River Farm. It was to be hoped in his case that he
would avoid the snares of beauty and choose a good stout girl who
would bring the dairy back to what it was in Mrs. Waterman's
All winter long Stephen labored on the inside of the cottage,
mostly by himself. He learned all trades in succession, Love
being his only master. He had many odd days to spare from his
farm work, and if he had not found days he would have taken
nights. Scarcely a nail was driven without Rose's advice; and
when the plastering was hard and dry, the wall-papers were the
result of weeks of consultation.
Among the quiet joys of life there is probably no other so deep,
so sweet, so full of trembling hope and delight, as the building
and making of a home,--a home where two lives are to be merged
in one and flow on together, a home full of mysterious and
delicious possibilities, hidden in a future which is always
Rose's sweet little nature broadened under Stephen's influence;
but she had her moments of discontent and unrest, always followed
quickly by remorse.
At the Thanksgiving sociable some one had observed her turquoise
engagement ring,--some one who said that such a hand was worthy
of a diamond, that turquoises were a pretty color, but that there
was only one stone for an engagement ring, and that was a
diamond. At the Christmas dance the same some one had said her
waltzing would make her "all the rage" in Boston. She wondered
if it were true, and wondered whether, if she had not promised to
marry Stephen, some splendid being from a city would have
descended from his heights, bearing diamonds in his hand. Not
that she would have accepted them; she only wondered. These
disloyal thoughts came seldom, and she put them resolutely away,
devoting herself with all the greater assiduity to her muslin
curtains and ruffled pillow-shams. Stephen, too, had his
momentary pangs. There were times when he could calm his doubts
only by working on the little house. The mere sight of the
beloved floors and walls and ceilings comforted his heart, and
brought him good cheer.
The winter was a cold one, so bitterly cold that even the rapid
water at the Gray Rock was a mass of curdled yellow ice,
something that had only occurred once or twice before within the
memory of the oldest inhabitant.
It was also a very gay season for Pleasant River and Edgewood.
Never had there been so many card-parties, sleigh rides and
tavern dances, and never such wonderful skating. The river was
one gleaming, glittering thoroughfare of ice from Milliken's
Mills to the dam at the Edgewood bridge. At sundown bonfires
were built here and there on the mirror like surface, and all the
young people from the neighboring villages gathered on the ice;
while detachments of merry, rosycheeked boys and girls, those who
preferred coasting, met at the top of Brigadier Hill, from which
one could get a longer and more perilous slide than from any
other point in the township.
Claude Merrill, in his occasional visits from Boston, was very
much in evidence at the Saturday evening ice parties. He was not
an artist at the sport himself, but he was especially proficient
in the art of strapping on a lady's skates, and mur'muring--as
he adjusted the last buckle,--"The prettiest foot and ankle on
the river!" It cannot be denied that this compliment gave secret
pleasure to the fair village maidens who received it, but it was
a pleasure accompanied by electric shocks of excitement. A
girl's foot might perhaps be mentioned, if a fellow were daring
enough, but the line was rigidly drawn at the ankle, which was
not a part of the human frame ever alluded to in the polite
society of Edgewood at that time.
Rose, in her red linsey-woolsey dress and her squirrel furs and
cap, was the life of every gathering, and when Stephen took her
hand and they glided up stream, alone together in the crowd, he
used to wish that they might skate on and on up the crystal
ice-path of the river, to the moon itself, whither it seemed to
lead them.
But the Saco all this time was meditating of its surprises. The
snapping cold weather and the depth to which the water was frozen
were aiding it in its preparation for the greatest event of the
season. On a certain gray Saturday in March, after a week of
mild temperature, it began to rain as if, after months of
snowing, it really enjoyed a new form of entertainment. Sunday
dawned with the very flood-gates of heaven opening, so it seemed.
All day long the river was rising under its miles of unbroken
ice, rising at the threatening rate of four inches an hour.
Edgewood went to bed as usual that night, for the bridge at that
point was set too high to be carried away by freshets, but at
other villages whose bridges were in less secure position there
was little sleep and much anxiety.
At midnight a cry was heard from the men watching at Milliken's
Mills. The great ice jam had parted from Rolfe's Island and was
swinging out into the open, pushing everything before it. All
the able-bodied men in the village turned out of bed, and with
lanterns in hand began to clear the stores and mills, for it
seemed that everything near the river banks must go before that
avalanche of ice.
Stephen and Rufus were there helping to save the property of
their friends and neighbors; Rose and Mite Shapley had stayed the
night with a friend, and all three girls were shivering with fear
and excitement as they stood near the bridge, watching the
never-to-be-forgtten sight. It is needless to say that the
Crambry family was on hand, for whatever instincts they may have
lacked, the instinct for being on the spot when anything was
happening, was present in them to the most remarkable extent.
The town was supporting them in modest winter quarters somewhat
nearer than Killick to the centre of civilization, and the first
alarm brought them promptly to the scene, Mrs. Crambry remarking
at intervals: "If I'd known there'd be so many out I'd ought to
have worn my bunnit; but I ain't got no bunnit, an' if I had they
say I ain't got no head to wear it on!"
By the time the jam neared the falls it had grown with its
accumulations, until it was made up of tier after tier of huge
ice cakes, piled side by side and one upon another, with heaps of
trees and branches and drifting lumber holding them in place.
Some of the blocks stood erect and towered like icebergs, and
these, glittering in the lights of the twinkling lanterns, pushed
solemnly forward, cracking, crushing, and cutting everything in
their way. When the great mass neared the planing mill on the
east shore the girls covered their eyes, expecting to hear the
crash of the falling building; but, impelled by the force of some
mysterious current, it shook itself ponderously, and then, with
one magnificent movement, slid up the river bank, tier following
tier in grand confusion. This left a water way for the main
drift; the ice broke in every direction, and down, down, down,
from Bonnie Eagle and Moderation swept the harvest of the winter
freezing. It came thundering over the dam, bringing boats,
farming implements, posts, supports, and every sort of floating
lumber with it; and cutting under the flour mill, tipped it
cleverly over on its side and went crashing on its way down
river. At Edgewood it pushed colossal blocks of ice up the banks
into the roadway, piling them end upon end ten feet in air.
Then, tearing and rumbling and booming through the narrows, it
covered the intervale at Pleasant Point and made a huge ice
bridge below Union Falls, a bridge so solid that it stood there
for days, a sight for all the neighboring villages.
This exciting event would have forever set apart this winter from
all others in Stephen's memory, even had it not been also the
winter when he was building a house for his future wife. But
afterwards, in looking back on the wild night of the ice freshet,
Stephen remembered that Rose's manner was strained and cold and
evasive, and that when he had seen her talking with Claude
Merrill, it had seemed to him that that whippersnapper had looked
at her as no honorable man in Edgewood ever looked at an engaged
girl. He recalled his throb of gratitude that Claude lived at a
safe distance, and his subsequent pang of remorse at doubting,
for an instant, Rose's fidelity.
So at length April came, the Saco was still high, turbid, and
angry, and the boys were waiting at Limington Falls for the
"Ossipee drive" to begin. Stephen joined them there, for he was
restless, and the river called him, as it did every spring. Each
stubborn log that he encountered gave him new courage and power of
overcoming. The rush of the water, the noise and roar and dash,
the exposure and danger, all made the blood run in his veins like
new wine. When he came back to the farm, all the cobwebs had been
blown from his brain, and his first interview with Rose was so
intoxicating that he went immediately to Portland, and bought, in
a kind of secret penitence for his former fears, a pale pink-flowered
wall-paper for the bedroom in the new home. It had once been voted
down by the entire advisory committee. Mrs. Wiley said pink was
foolish and was always sure to fade; and the border, being a mass of
solid roses, was five cents a yard, virtually a prohibitive
price. Mr. Wiley said he "should hate to hev a spell of sickness
an' lay abed in a room where there was things growin' all over
the place." He thought "rough-plastered walls, where you could
lay an' count the spots where the roof leaked, was the most
entertainin' in sickness." Rose had longed for the lovely
pattern, but had sided dutifully with the prudent majority, so
that it was with a feeling of unauthorized and illegitimate joy
that Stephen papered the room at night, a few strips at a time.
On the third evening, when he had removed all signs of his work,
he lighted two kerosene lamps and two candles, finding the
effect, under this illumination, almost too brilliant and
beautiful for belief. Rose should never see it now, he
determined, until the furniture was in place. They had already
chosen the kitchen and bedroom things, though they would not be
needed for some months; but the rest was to wait until summer,
when there would be the hay-money to spend.
Stephen did not go back to the River Farm till one o'clock that
night; the pink bedroom held him in fetters too powerful to
break. It looked like the garden of Eden, he thought. To be
sure, it was only fifteen feet square; Eden might have been a
little larger, possibly, but otherwise the pink bedroom had every
advantage. The pattern of roses growing on a frellis was
brighter than any flower-bed in June; and the border--well, if
the border had been five dollars a foot Stephen would not have
grudged the money when he saw the twenty running yards of rosy
bloom rioting under the white ceiling.
Before he blew out the last light he raised it high above his
head and took one fond, final look. "It's the only place I ever
saw," he thought, "that is pretty enough for her. She will look
just as if she was growing here with all the other flowers, and I
shall always think of it as the garden of Eden. I wonder, if I
got the license and the ring and took her by surprise, whether
she'd be married in June instead of August? I could be all ready
if I could only persuade her."
At this moment Stephen touched the summit of happiness; and it is
a curious coincidence that as he was dreaming in his garden of
Eden, the serpent, having just arrived at Edgewood, was sleeping
peacefully at the house of Mrs. Brooks.
It was the serpent's fourth visit that season, and he explained
to inquiring friends that his former employer had sold the
business, and that the new management, while reorganizing, had
determined to enlarge the premises, the three clerks who had been
retained having two weeks' vacation with half pay.
It is extraordinary how frequently "wise serpents" are retained
by the management on half, or even full, salary, while the
services of the "harmless doves" are dispensed with, and they are
set free to flutter where they will.
Rose Wiley had the brightest eyes in Edgewood. It was impossible
to look at her without realizing that her physical sight was
perfect. What mysterious species of blindness is it that
descends, now and then, upon human creatures, and renders them
incapable of judgment or discrimination?
Claude Merrill was a glove salesman in a Boston fancy-goods
store. The calling itself is undoubtedly respectable, and it is
quite conceivable that a man can sell gloves and still be a man;
but Claude Merrill was a manikin. He inhabited a very narrow
space behind a very short counter, but to him it seemed the earth
and the fullness thereof.
When, irreproachably neat and even exquisite in dress, he gave a
Napoleonic glance at his array of glove-boxes to see if the
female assistant had put them in proper order for the day; when,
with that wonderful eye for detail that had wafted him to his
present height of power, he pounced upon the powder-sprinklers
and found them, as he expected, empty; when, with masterly
judgment, he had made up and ticketed a basket of misfits and odd
sizes to attract the eyes of women who were their human
counterparts, he felt himself bursting with the pride and pomp of
circumstance. His cambric handkerchief adjusted in his coat with
the monogram corner well displayed, a last touch to the carefully
trained lock on his forehead, and he was ready for his customers.
"Six, did you say, miss? I should have thought five and three
quarters--Attend to that gentleman, Miss Dir, please; I am very
"Six-and-a-half gray suede? Here they are, an exquisite shade.
Shall I try them on? The right hand, if you will. Perhaps you'd
better remove your elegant ring; I shouldn't like to have
anything catch in the setting."
"Miss Dir! Six-and-a-half black glace--upper shelf, third box
--for this lady. She's in a hurry. We shall see you often
after this, I hope, madam."
"No; we don't keep silk or lisle gloves. We have no call for
them; our customers prefer kid."
Oh, but he was in his element, was Claude Merrill; though the
glamour that surrounded him in the minds of the Edgewood girls
did not emanate wholly from his finicky little person: something
of it was the glamour that belonged to Boston,--remote,
fashionable, gay, rich, almost inaccessible Boston, which none
could see without the expenditure of five or six dollars in
railway fare, with the added extravagance of a night in a hotel,
if one would explore it thoroughly and come home possessed of all
its illimitable treasures of wisdom and experience.
When Claude came to Edgewood for a Sunday, or to spend a vacation
with his aunt, he brought with him something of the magic of a
metropolis. Suddenly, to Rose's eye, Stephen looked larger and
clumsier, his shoes were not the proper sort, his clothes were
ordinary, his neckties were years behind the fashion. Stephen's
dancing, compared with Claude's, was as the deliberate motion of
an ox to the hopping of a neat little robin. When Claude took a
girl's hand in the "grand right-and-left," it was as if he were
about to try on a delicate glove; the manner in which he "held
his lady" in the polka or schottische made her seem a queen.
Mite Shapley was so affected by it that when Rufus attempted to
encircle her for the mazurka she exclaimed, "Don't act as if you
were spearing logs, Rufus!"
Of the two men, Stephen had more to say, but Claude said more. He
was thought brilliant in conversation; but what wonder, when one
considered his advantages and his dazzling experiences! He had
customers who were worth their thousands; ladies whose fingers
never touched dish-water; ladies who wouldn't buy a glove of
anybody else if they went bare-handed to the grave. He lived
with his sister Maude Arthurlena in a house where there were
twenty-two other boarders who could be seated at meals all at the
same time, so immense was the dining-room. He ate his dinner at
a restaurant daily, and expended twenty-five cents for it without
blenching. He went to the theatre once a week, and was often
accompanied by "lady friends" who were "elegant dressers."
In a moment of wrath Stephen had called him a "counter-jumper,"
but it was a libel. So short and rough a means of exit from his
place of power was wholly beneath Claude's dignity. It was with
a "Pardon me, Miss Dir," that, the noon hour having arrived, he
squeezed by that slave and victim, and raising the hinged board
that separated his kingdom from that of the ribbon department,
passed out of the store, hat in hand, serene in the consciousness
that though other clerks might nibble luncheon from a brown paper
bag, he would speedily be indulging in an expensive repast; and
Miss Dir knew it, and it was a part of his almost invincible
attraction for her.
It seemed flying in the face of Providence to decline the
attentions of such a gorgeous butterfly of fashion simply because
one was engaged to marry another man at some distant day.
All Edgewood femininity united in saying that there never was
such a perfect gentleman as Claude Merrill; and during the time
when his popularity was at its height Rose lost sight of the fact
that Stephen could have furnished the stuff for a dozen Claudes
and have had enough left for an ordinary man besides.
April gave place to May, and a veil hung between the lovers,--
an intangible, gossamer-like thing, not to be seen with the naked
eye, but, oh! so plainly to be felt. Rose hid herself thankfully
behind it, while Stephen had not courage to lift a corner. She
had twice been seen driving with Claude Merrill--that Stephen
knew; but she had explained that there were errands to be done,
that her grandfather had taken the horse, and that Mr. Merrill's
escort had been both opportune and convenient for these practical
reasons. Claude was everywhere present, the centre of
attraction, the observed of all observers. He was irresistible,
contagious, almost epidemic. Rose was now gay, now silent; now
affectionate, now distant, now coquettish; in fine, everything
that was capricious, mysterious, agitating, incomprehensible.
One morning Alcestis Crambry went to the post-office for Stephen
and brought him back the newspapers and letters. He had hung
about the River Farm so much that Stephen finally gave him bed
and food in exchange for numberless small errands. Rufus was
temporarily confined in a dark room with some strange pain and
trouble in his eyes, and Alcestis proved of use in many ways. He
had always been Rose's slave, and had often brought messages and
notes from the Brier Neighborhood, so that when Stephen saw a
folded note among the papers his heart gave a throb of
The note was brief, and when he had glanced through it he said:
"This is not mine, Alcestis; it belongs to Miss Rose. Go
straight back and give it to her as you were told; and another
time keep your wits about you, or I'll send you back to Killick."
Alcestis Crambry's ideas on all subjects were extremely vague.
Claude Merrill had given him a letter for Rose, but his notion
was that anything that belonged to her belonged to Stephen, and
the Waterman place was much nea'rer than the Wileys', particularly
at dinner-time!
When the boy had slouched away, Stephen sat under the apple tree,
now a mass of roseate bloom, and buried his face in his hands.
It was not precisely a love-letter that he had read, nevertheless
it blackened the light of the sun for him. Claude asked Rose to
meet him anywhere on the road to the station and to take a little
walk, as he was leaving that afternoon and could not bear to say
good-by to her in the presence of her grandmother. "Under the
circumstances," he wrote, deeply underlining the words, "I cannot
remain a moment longer in Edgewood, where I have been so happy
and so miserable!" He did not refer to the fact that the time
limit on his return-ticket expired that day, for his dramatic
instinct told him that such sordid matters have no place in
Stephen sat motionless under the tree for an hour, deciding on
some plan of action.
He had work at the little house, but he did not dare go there
lest he should see the face of dead Love looking from the windows
of the pink bedroom; dead Love, cold, sad, merciless. His cheeks
burned as he thought of the marriage license and the gold ring
hidden away upstairs in the drawer of his shaving stand. What a
romantic fool he had been, to think he could hasten the glad day
by a single moment! What a piece of boyish folly it had been,
and how it shamed him in his own eyes! When train time drew near
he took his boat and paddled down stream. If for the Finland
lover's reindeer there was but one path in all the world, and
that the one that led to Her, so it was for Stephen's canoe,
which, had it been set free on the river by day or by night,
might have floated straight to Rose.
He landed at the usual place, a bit of sandy shore near the Wiley
house, and walked drearily up the bank through the woods. Under
the shade of the pines the white stars of the hepatica glistened
and the pale anemones were coming into bloom. Partridge-berries
glowed red under their glossy leaves, and clumps of violets
sweetened the air. Squirrels chattered, woodpeckers tapped,
thrushes sang; but Stephen was blind and deaf to all the sweet
harbingers of spring.
Just then he heard voices, realizing with a throb of delight
that, at any rate, Rose had not left home to meet Claude, as he
had asked her to do. Looking through the branches, he saw the
two standing together, Mrs. Brooks's horse; with the offensive
trunk in the back of the wagon, being hitched to a tree near by.
There was nothing in the tableau to stir Stephen to fury, but he
read between the lines and suffered as he read--suffered and
determined to sacrifice himself if he must, so that Rose could
have what she wanted, this miserable apology for a man. He had
never been the husband for Rose; she must take her place in a
larger community, worthy of her beauty and charm.
Claude was talking and gesticulating ardently. Rose's head was
bent and the tears were rolling down her cheeks. Suddenly Claude
raised his hat, and with a passionate gesture of renunciation
walked swiftly to the wagon, and looking back once, drove off
with the utmost speed of which the Brooks's horse was capable,--
Rose waving him a farewell with one hand and wiping her eyes with
the other.
Stephen stood absolutely still in front of the opening in the
trees, and as Rose turned she met him face to face. She had
never dreamed his eyes could be so stern, his mouth so hard, and
she gave a sob like a child.
"You seem to be in trouble," Stephen said in a voice so cold she
thought it could not be his.
"I am not in trouble, exactly," Rose stammered, concealing her
discomfiture as well as possible. "I am a little unhappy because
I have made some one else unhappy; and now that you know it, you
will be unhappy too, and angry besides, I suppose, though you've
seen everything there was to see."
"There is no occasion for sorrow, Stephen said. "I didn't mean
to break in on any interview; I came over to give you back your
freedom. If you ever cared enough for me to marry me, the time
has gone by. I am willing to own that I over-persuaded you, but
I am not the man to take a girl against her inclinations, so we
will say good-by and end the thing here and now. I can only wish
--here his smothered rage at fate almost choked him--"that,
when you were selecting another husband, you had chosen a whole
Rose quivered with the scorn of his tone. "Size isn't
everything!" she blazed.
"Not in bodies, perhaps; but it counts for something in hearts
and brains, and it is convenient to have a sense of honor that's
at least as big as a grain of mustard-seed."
"Claude Merrill is not dishonorable," Rose exclaimed impetuously;
"or at least he isn't as bad as you think: he has never asked
me to marry him."
"Then he probably was not quite ready to speak, or perhaps you
were not quite ready to hear," retorted Stephen, bitterly; "but
don't let us have words,--there'll be enough to regret without
adding those. I have seen, ever since New Year's, that you were
not really happy or contented; only I wouldn't allow it to
myself: I kept hoping against hope that I was mistaken. There
have been times when I would have married you, willing or
unwilling, but I didn't love you so well then; and now that
there's another man in the case, it's different, and I'm strong
enough to do the right thing. Follow your heart and be happy; in
a year or two I shall be glad I had the grit to tell you so.
Good-by, Rose!"
Rose, pale with amazement, summoned all her pride, and drawing
the turquoise engagement ring from her finger, handed it silently
to Stephen, hiding her face as he flung it vehemently down the
river-bank. His dull eyes followed it and half uncomprehendingly
saw it settle and glisten in a nest of brown pine-needles. Then
he put out his hand for a last clasp and strode away without a
Presently Rose heard first the scrape of his boat on the sand,
then the soft sound of his paddles against the water, then
nothing but the squirrels and the woodpeckers and the thrushes,
then not even these,--nothing but the beating of her own heart.
She sat down heavily, feeling as if she were wide awake for the
first time in many weeks. How had things come to this pass with
Claude Merrill had flattered her vanity and given her some
moments of restlessness and dissatisfaction with her lot; but he
had not until to-day really touched her heart or tempted her,
even momentarily, from her allegiance to Stephen. His eyes had
always looked unspeakable things; his voice had seemed to breathe
feelings that he had never dared put in words; but to-day he had
really stirred her, for although he had still been vague, it was
easy to see that his love for her had passed all bounds of
discretion. She remembered his impassioned farewells, his
despair, his doubt as to whether he could forget her by plunging
into the vortex of business, or whether he had better end it all
in the river, as so many other broken-hearted fellows had done.
She had been touched by his misery, even against her better
judgment; and she had intended to confess it all to Stephen
sometime, telling him that she should never again accept
attentions from a stranger, lest a tragedy like this should
happen twice in a lifetime.
She had imagined that Stephen would be his large-minded,
great-hearted, magnanimous self, and beg her to forget this
fascinating will-o'the-wisp by resting in his deeper, serener
love. She had meant to be contrite and faithful, praying nightly
that poor Claude might live down his present anguish, of which
she had been the innocent cause.
Instead, what had happened? She had been put altogether in the
wrong. Stephen had almost cast her off, and that, too, without
argument. He had given her her liberty before she had asked for
it, taking it for granted, without question, that she desired to
be rid of him. Instead of comforting her in her remorse, or
sympathizing with her for so nobly refusing to shine in Claude's
larger world of Boston, Stephen had assumed that she was disloyal
in every particular.
And pray how was she to cope with such a disagreeable and
complicated situation?
It would not be long before the gossips rolled under their
tongues the delicious morsel of a broken engagement, and sooner
or later she must brave the displeasure of her grandmother.
And the little house--that was worse than anything. Her tears
flowed faster as she thought of Stephen's joy in it, of his
faithful labor, of the savings he had invested in it. She hated
and despised her self when she thought of the house, and for the
first time in her life she realized the limitations of her
nature, the poverty of her ideals.
What should she do? She had lost Stephen and ruined his life.
Now, in order that she need not blight a second career, must she
contrive to return Claude's love! To be sure, she thought, it
seemed indecent to marry any other man than Stephen, when they
had built a house together, and chosen wall-papers, and a kitchen
stove, and dining-room chairs; but was it not the only way to
evade the difficulties?
Suppose that Stephen, in a fit of pique, should ask somebody else
to share the new cottage?
As this dreadful possibility came into view, Rose's sobs actually
frightened the birds and the squirrels. She paced back and forth
under the trees, wondering how she could have been engaged to a
man for eight months and know so little about him as she seemed
to know about Stephen Waterman to-day. Who would have believed
he could be so autocratic, so severe, so unapproachable! Who
could have foreseen that she, Rose Wiley, would ever be given up
to another man,--handed over as coolly as if she had been a
bale of cotton? She wanted to return Claude Merrill's love
because it was the only way out of the tangle; but at the moment
she almost hated him for making so much trouble, for hurting
Stephen, for abasing her in her own eyes, and, above all, for
giving her rustic lover the chance of impersonating an injured
It did not simplify the situation to have Mite Shapley come in
during the evening and run upstairs, uninvited, to sit on the
toot of her bed and chatter.
Rose had closed her blinds and lay in the dark, pleading a
Mite was in high feather. She had met Claude Merrill going to
the station that afternoon. He was much too early for the train,
which the station agent reported to be behind time, so he had
asked her to take a drive. She didn't know how it happened, for
he looked at his watch every now and then; but, anyway, they got
to laughing and "carrying on," and when they came back to the
station the train had gone. Wasn't that the greatest joke of
the season? What did Rose suppose they did next?
Rose didn't know and didn't care; her head ached too badly.
Well, they had driven to Wareham, and Claude had hired a livery
team there, and had been taken into Portland with his trunk, and
she had brought Mrs. Brooks's horse back to Edgewood. Wasn't
that ridiculous? And hadn't she cut out Rose where she least
Rose was distinctly apathetic, and Mite Shapley departed after a
very brief call, leaving behind her an entirely new train of
If Claude Merrill were so love-blighted that he could only by the
greatest self-control keep from flinging himself into the river,
how could he conceal his sufferings so completely from Mite
Shapley,--little shallow-pated, scheming coquette?
"So that pretty Merrill feller has gone, has he, mother?"
inquired Old Kennebec that night, as he took off his wet shoes
and warmed his feet at the kitchen oven. "Well, it ain't a mite
too soon. I allers distrust that pink-an'-white, rosy-posy kind
of a man. One of the most turrible things that ever happened in
Gard'ner was brought about by jest sech a feller. Mothers hedn't
hardly ought to name their boy babies Claude without they
expect 'em to play the dickens with the girls. I don' know
nothin' 'bout the fust Claude, there ain't none of 'em in the
Bible, air they, but whoever he was, I bate ye he hed a deceivin'
tongue. If it hedn't be'n for me, that Claude in Gard'ner would
'a' run away with my brother's fust wife; an' I'll tell ye jest
how I contrived to put a spoke in his wheel."
But Mrs. Wiley, being already somewhat familiar with the
circumstances, had taken her candle and retired to her virtuous
Was this the world, after all? Rose asked herself; and, if so,
what was amiss with it, and where was the charm, the
bewilderment, the intoxication, the glamour!
She had been glad to come to Boston, for the last two weeks in
Edgewood had proved intolerable. She had always been a favorite
heretofore, from the days when the boys fought for the privilege
of dragging her sled up the hills, and filling her tiny mitten
with peppermints, down to the year when she came home from the
Wareham Female Seminary, an acknowledged belle and beauty.
Suddenly she had felt her popularity dwindling. There was no
real change in the demeanor of her acquaintances, but there was a
certain subtle difference of atmosphere. Everybody sympathized
tacitly with Stephen, and she did not wonder, for there were
times when she secretly took his part against herself. Only a
few candid friends had referred to the rupture openly in
conversation, but these had been bluntin their disapproval.
It seemed part of her ill fortune that just at this time Rufus
should be threatened with partial blindness, and that Stephen's
heart, already sore, should be torn with new anxieties. She
could hardly bear to see the doctor's carriage drive by day after
day, and hear night after night that Rufus was unresigned,
melancholy, half mad; while Stephen, as the doctor said, was
brother, mother, and father in one, as gentle as a woman, as firm
as Gibraltar.
These foes to her peace of mind all came from within; but without
was the hourly reproach of her grandmother, whose scorching
tongue touched every sensitive spot in the girl's nature and
burned it like fire.
Finally a way of escape opened. Mrs. Wealthy Brooks, who had
always been rheumatic, grew suddenly worse. She had heard of a
"magnetic" physician in Boston, also of one who used electricity
with wonderful effect, and she announced her intention of taking
both treatments impartially and alternately. The neighbors were
quite willing that Wealthy Ann Brooks should spend the deceased
Ezra's money in any way she pleased,--she had earned it,
goodness knows, by living with him for twenty-five years,--but
before the day for her departure arrived her right arm and knee
became so much more painful that it was impossible for her to
travel alone.
At this juncture Rose was called upon to act as nurse and
companion in a friendly way. She seized the opportunity hungrily
as a way out of her present trouble; but, knowing what Mrs.
Brooks's temper was in time of health, she could see clearly what
it was likely to prove when pain and anguish wrung the brow.
Rose had been in Boston now for some weeks, and she was sitting
in the Joy Street boarding-house,--Joy Street, forsooth! It
was nearly bedtime, and she was looking out upon a huddle of
roofs and back yards, upon a landscape filled with clothes-lines,
ash-barrels, and ill-fed cats. There were no sleek country
tabbies, with the memory in their eyes of tasted cream, nothing
but city-born, city-bred, thin, despairing cats of the pavement,
cats no more forlorn than Rose herself.
She had "seen Boston," for she had accompanied Mrs. Brooks in the
horse-cars daily to the two different temples of healing where
that lady worshipped and offered sacrifices. She had also gone
with Maude Arthurlena to Claude Merrill's store to buy pair of
gloves, and had overheard Miss Dir (the fashionable
"lady-assistant" before mentioned) say to Miss Brackett of the
ribbon department, that she thought Mr. Merrill must have worn
his blinders that time he stayed so long in Edgewood. This bit
of polished irony was unintelligible to Rose at first, but she
mastered it after an hour's reflection. She wasn't looking her
best that day, she knew; the cotton dresses that seemed so pretty
at home were common and countrified here, and her best black
cashmere looked cheap and shapeless beside Miss Dir's
brilliantine. Miss Dir's figure was her strong point, and her
dressmaker was particularly skillful in the arts of suggestion,
concealment, and revelation. Beauty has its chosen backgrounds.
Rose in white dimity, standing knee deep in her blossoming brier
bushes, the river running at her feet, dark pine trees behind her
graceful head, sounded depths and touched heights of harmony
forever beyond the reach of the modish Miss Dir, but she was out
of her element and suffered accordingly.
Rose had gone to walk with Claude one evening when she first
arrived. He had shown her the State House and the Park Street
Church, and sat with her on one of the benches in the Common
until nearly ten. She knew that Mrs. Brooks had told her nephew
of the broken engagement, but he made no reference to the matter,
save to congratulate her that she was rid of a man who was so
clumsy, so dull and behind the times, as Stephen Waterman, saying
that he had always marveled she could engage herself to anybody
who could insult her by offering her a turquoise ring.
Claude was very interesting that evening, Rose thought, but
rather gloomy and unlike his former self. He referred to his
grave responsibilities, to the frail health of Maude Arthurlena,
and to the vicissitudes of business. He vaguely intimated that
his daily life in the store was not so pleasant as it had been
formerly; that there were "those" (he would speak no more
plainly) who embarrassed him with undesired attentions, "those"
who, without the smallest shadow of right, vexed him with petty
Rose dared not ask questions on so delicate a topic, but she
remembered in a flash Miss Dir's heavy eyebrows, snapping eyes,
and high color. Claude seemed very happy that Rose had come to
Boston, though he was surprised, knowing what a trial his aunt
must be, now that she was so helpless. It was unfortunate, also,
that Rose could not go on excursions without leaving his aunt
alone, or he should have been glad to offer his escort. He
pressed her hand when he left her at her door, telling her she
could never realize what a comfort her friendship was to him;
could never imagine how thankful he was that she had courageously
freed herself from ties that in time would have made her
wretched. His heart was full, he said, of feelings he dared not
utter; but in the near future, when certain clouds had rolled by,
he would unlock its treasures, and then--but no more to-night:
he could not trust himself.
Rose felt as if she were assuming one of the characters in a
mysterious romance, such as unfolded itself only in books or in
Boston; but, thrilling as it was, it was nevertheless extremely
Convinced that Claude Merrill was passionately in love with her,
one of her reasons for coming to Boston had been to fall more
deeply in love with him, and thus heal some, at least, of the
wounds she had inflicted. It may have been a foolish idea, but
after three weeks it seemed still worse,--a useless one; for
after several interviews she felt herself drifting farther and
farther from Claude; and if he felt any burning ambition to make
her his own, he certainly concealed it with admirable art. Given
up, with the most offensive magnanimity, by Stephen, and not
greatly desired by Claude,--that seemed the present status of
proud Rose Wiley of the Brier Neighborhood.
It was June, she remembered, as she leaned out of the open
window; at least it was June in Edgewood, and she supposed for
convenience's sake they called it June in Boston. Not that it
mattered much what the poor city prisoners called it. How
beautiful the river would be at home, with the trees along the
banks in full leaf! How she hungered and thirsted for the river,
--to see it sparkle in the sunlight; to watch the moonglade
stretching from one bank to the other; to hear the soft lap of
the water on the shore, and the distant murmur of the falls at
the bridge! And the Brier Neighborhood would be at its
loveliest, for the wild roses were in blossom by now. And the
little house! How sweet it must look under the shade of the
elms, with the Saco rippling at the back! Was poor Rufus still
lying in a darkened room, and was Stephen nursing him,--
disappointed Stephen,--dear, noble old Stephen?
Just then Mrs. Brooks groaned in the next room and called Rose,
who went in to minister to her real needs, or to condole with her
fancied ones, whichever course of action appeared to be the more
agreeable at the moment.
Mrs. Brooks desired conversation, it seemed, or at least she
desired an audience for a monologue, for she recognized no
antiphonal obligations on the part of her listeners. The doctors
were not doing her a speck of good, and she was just squandering
money in a miserable boarding-house, when she might be enjoying
poor health in her own home; and she didn't believe her hens
were receiving proper care, and she had forgotten to pull down
the shades in the spare room, and the sun would fade the carpet
out all white before she got back, and she didn't believe Dr.
Smith's magnetism was any more use than a cat's foot, nor Dr.
Robinson's electricity any better than a bumblebee's buzz, and
she had a great mind to go home and try Dr. Lord from Bonnie
Eagle; and there was a letter for Rose on the bureau, which had
come before supper, but the shiftless, lazy, worthless landlady
had forgotten to send it up till just now.
The letter was from Mite Shapley, but Rose could read only half
of it to Mrs. Brooks,--little beside the news that the Waterman
barn, the finest barn in the whole township, had been struck by
lightning and burned to the ground. Stephen was away at the
time, having taken Rufus to Portland, where an operation on his
eyes would shortly be performed at the hospital, and one of the
neighbors was sleeping at the River Farm and taking care of the
cattle; still the house might not have been saved but for one of
Alcestis Crambry's sudden bursts of common sense, which occurred
now quite regularly. He succeeded not only in getting the horses
out of the stalls, but gave the alarm so promptly that the whole
neighborhood was soon on the scene of action. Stephen was the
only man, Mite reminded Rose, who ever had any patience with, or
took any pains to teach, Alcestis, but he never could have
expected to be rewarded in this practical way. The barn was only
partly insured; and when she had met Stephen at the station next
day, and condoled with him on his loss, he had said: "Oh, well,
Mite, a little more or less doesn't make much difference just
"The rest wouldn't interest you, Mrs. Brooks," said Rose,
precipitately preparing to leave the room.
"Something about Claude, I suppose," ventured that astute lady.
"I think Mite kind of fancied him. I don't believe he ever gave
her any real encouragement; but he'd make love to a pump, Claude
Merrill would; and so would his father before him. How my sister
Abby made out to land him we never knew, for they said he'd
proposed to every woman in the town of Bingham, not excepting the
wooden Indian girl in front of the cigar store, and not one of
'em but our Abby ever got a chance to name the day. Abby was as
set as the everlastin' hills, and if she'd made up her mind to
have a man he couldn't wriggle away from her nohow in the world.
It beats all how girls do run after these slick-haired,
sweet-tongued, Miss Nancy kind o' fellers, that ain't but little
good as beaux an' worth less than nothing as husbands."
Rose scarcely noticed what Mrs. Brooks said, she was too anxious
to read the rest of Mite Shapley's letter in the quiet of her own
"Stephen looks thin and pale [so it ran on], but he does not
allow anybody to sympathize with him. I think you ought to know
something that I haven't told you before for fear of hurting your
feelings; but if I were in your place I'd like to hear
everything, and then you'll know how to act when you come home.
Just after you left, Stephen plowed up all the land in front of
your new house,--every inch of it, all up and down the road,
between the fence and the front door-step,--and then he planted
corn where you were going to have your flower-beds.
"He has closed all the blinds and hung a 'To Let' sign on the
large elm at the gate. Stephen never was spiteful in his life,
but this looks a little like spite. Perhaps he only wanted to
save his self-respect and let people know, that everything
between you was over forever. Perhaps he thought it would stop
talk once and for all. But you won't mind, you lucky girl,
staying nearly three months in Boston! [So Almira purled on in
violet ink, with shaded letters.] How I wish it had come my way,
though I'm not good at rubbing rheumatic patients, even when they
are his aunt. Is he as devoted as ever? And when will it be?
How do you like the theatre? Mother thinks you won't attend;
but, by what he used to say, I am sure church members in Boston
always go to amusements.
"Your loving friend,
"Almira Shapley.
"P.S. They say Rufus's doctor's bills here, and the operation
and hospital expenses in Portland, will mount up to five hundred
dollars. Of course Stephen will be dreadfully hampered by the
loss of his barn, and maybe he wants to let your house that was
to be, because he really needs money. In that case the dooryard
won't be very attractive to tenants, with corn planted right up
to the steps--and no path left! It's two feet tall now, and by
August (just when you were intending to move in) it will hide the
front windows. Not that you'll care, with a diamond on your
engagement finger!"
The letter was more than flesh and blood could stand, and Rose
flung herself on her bed to think and regret and repent, and, if
possible, to sob herself to sleep.
She knew now that she had never admired and respected Stephen so
much as at the moment when, under the reproach of his eyes, she
had given him back his ring. When she left Edgewood and parted
with him forever she had really loved him better than when she
had promised to marry him.
Claude Merrill, on his native Boston heath, did not appear the
romantic, inspiring figure he had once been in her eyes. A week
ago she distrusted him; to-night she despised him.
What had happened to Rose was the dilation of her vision. She
saw things under a wider sky and in a clearer light. Above all,
her heart was wrung with pity for Stephen--Stephen, with no
comforting woman's hand to help him in his sore trouble; Stephen,
bearing his losses alone, his burdens and anxieties alone, his
nursing and daily work alone. Oh, how she felt herself needed!
Needed! that was the magic word that unlocked her better nature.
"Darkness is the time for making roots and establishing plants,
whether of the soil or of the soul," and all at once Rose had
become a woman: a little one, perhaps, but a whole woman--and
a bit of an angel, too, with healing in her wings. When and how
had this metamorphosis come about? Last summer the fragile
brier-rose had hung over the river and looked at its pretty
reflection in the placid surface of the water. Its few buds and
blossoms were so lovely, it sighed for nothing more. The changes
in the plant had been wrought secretly and silently. In some
mysterious way, as common to soul as to plant life, the roots had
gathered in more nourishment from the earth, they had stored up
strength and force, and all at once there was a marvelous
fructifying of the plant, hardiness of stalk, new shoots
everywhere, vigorous leafage, and a shower of blossoms.
But everything was awry: Boston was a failure; Claude was a
weakling and a flirt; her turquoise ring was lying on the
riverbank; Stephen did not love her any longer; her flower-beds
were plowed up and planted in corn; and the cottage that Stephen
had built and she had furnished, that beloved cottage, was to
She was in Boston; but what did that amount to, after all? What
was the State House to a bleeding heart, or the Old South Church
to a pride wounded like hers?
At last she fell asleep, but it was only by stopping her ears to
the noises of the city streets and making herself imagine the
sound of the river rippling under her bedroom windows at home.
The back yards of Boston faded, and in their place came the banks
of the Saco, strewn with pine needles, fragrant with wild
flowers. Then there was the bit of sunny beach, where Stephen
moored his boat. She could hear the sound of his paddle. Boston
lovers came a-courting in the horse-cars, but hers had floated
down stream to her just at dusk in a birch-bark canoe, or
sometimes, in the moonlight, on a couple of logs rafted together.
But it was all over now, and she could see only Stephen's stern
face as he flung the despised turquoise ring down the river bank.
It was early in August when Mrs. Wealthy Brooks announced her
speedy return from Boston to Edgewood.
"It's jest as well Rose is comin' back," said Mr. Wiley to his
wife. "I never favored her goin' to Boston, where that rosyposy
Claude feller is. When he was down here he was kep' kind o' tied
up in a boxstall, but there he's caperin' loose round the
"I should think Rose would be ashamed to come back, after the way
she's carried on," remarked Mrs. Wiley, "but if she needed
punishment I guess she's got it bein' comp'ny-keeper to Wealthy
Ann Brooks. Bein' a church member in good an' reg'lar standin',
I s'pose Wealthy Ann'll go to heaven, but I can only say that it
would be a sight pleasanter place for a good many if she didn't."
"Rose has be'n foolish an' flirty an' wrong-headed," allowed her
grandfather; "but it won't do no good to treat her like a
hardened criminile, same's you did afore she went away. She
ain't hardly got her wisdom teeth cut, in love affairs! She
ain't broke the laws of the State o' Maine, nor any o' the ten
commandments; she ain't disgraced the family, an' there's a
chance for her to reform, seein' as how she ain't twenty year old
yet. I was turrible wild an' hot-headed myself afore you ketched
me an' tamed me down."
"You ain't so tame now as I wish you was," Mrs. Wiley replied
"If you could smoke a clay pipe 'twould calm your nerves, mother,
an' help you to git some philosophy inter you; you need a little
philosophy turrible bad."
"I need patience consid'able more," was Mrs. Wiley's withering
"That's the way with folks," said Old Kennebec reflectively, as
he went on peacefully puffing. "If you try to indoose 'em to
take an int'rest in a bran'-new virtue, they won't look at it;
but they'll run down a side street an' buy half a yard more o'
some turrible old shopworn trait o' character that they've kep'
in stock all their lives, an' that everybody's sick to death of.
There was a man in Gard'ner"--
But alas! the experiences of the Gardiner man, though told in the
same delightful fashion that had won Mrs. Wiley's heart many
years before, now fell upon the empty air. In these years of Old
Kennebec's "anecdotage," his pipe was his best listener and his
truest confidant.
Mr. Wiley's constant intercessions with his wife made Rose's
home-coming somewhat easier, and the sight of her own room and
belongings soothed her troubled spirit, but the days went on, and
nothing happened to change the situation. She had lost a lover,
that was all, and there were plenty more to choose from, or there
always had been; but the only one she wanted was the one who made
no sign. She used to think that she could twist Stephen around
her little finger; that she had only to beckon to him and he
would follow her to the ends of the earth. Now fear had entered
her heart. She no longer felt sure, because she no longer felt
worthy, of him, and feeling both uncertainty and unworthiness,
her lips were sealed and she was rendered incapable of making any
bid for forgiveness.
So the little world of Pleasant River went on, to all outward
seeming, as it had ever gone. On one side of the stream a girl's
heart was longing, and pining, and sickening, with hope deferred,
and growing, too, with such astonishing rapidity that the very
angels marveled! And on the other, a man's whole vision of life
and duty was widening and deepening under the fructifying
influence of his sorrow.
The corn waved high and green in front of the vacant riverside
cottage, but Stephen sent no word or message to Rose. He had
seen her once, but only from a distance. She seemed paler and
thinner, he thought,--the result; probably, of her metropolitan
gayeties. He heard no rumor of any engagement, and he wondered
if it were possible that her love for Claude Merrill had not,
after all, been returned in kind. This seemed a wild
impossibility. His mind refused to entertain the supposition
that any man on earth could resist falling in love with Rose, or,
having fallen in, that he could ever contrive to climb out. So
he worked on at his farm harder than ever, and grew soberer and
more careworn daily. Rufus had never seemed so near and dear to
him as in these weeks when he had lived under the shadow of
threatened blindness. The burning of the barn and the strain
upon their slender property brought the brothers together
shoulder to shoulder.
"If you lose your girl, Steve," said the boy, "and I lose my
eyesight, and we both lose the barn, why, t'll be us two against
the world, for a spell!"
The "To Let" sign on the little house was an arrant piece of
hypocrisy. Nothing but the direst extremity could have caused
him to allow an alien step on that sacred threshold. The plowing
up of the flowerbeds and planting of the corn had served a double
purpose. It showed the too curious public the finality of his
break with Rose and her absolute freedom; it also prevented them
from suspecting that he still entered the place. His visits were
not many, but he could not bear to let the dust settle on the
furniture that he and Rose had chosen together; and whenever he
locked the door and went back to the River Farm, he thought of a
verse in the Bible: "Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from
the Garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken."
It was now Friday of the last week in August. The river was full
of logs, thousands upon thousands of them covering the surface of
the water from the bridge almost up to the Brier Neighborhood.
The Edgewood drive was late, owing to a long drought and low
water; but it was to begin on the following Monday, and Lije
Dennett and his under boss were looking over the situation and
planning the campaign. As they leaned over the bridge-rail they
saw Mr. Wiley driving down the river road. When he caught sight
of them he hitched the old white horse at the corner and walked
toward them, filling his pipe the while in his usual leisurely
"We're not busy this forenoon," said Lije Dennett. "S'pose we
stand right here and let Old Kennebec have his say out for once.
We've never heard the end of one of his stories, an' he's be'n
talkin' for twenty years."
"All right," rejoined his companion, with a broad grin at the
idea. "I'm willin', if you are; but who's goin' to tell our
fam'lies the reason we've deserted 'em! I bate yer we sha'n't
budge till the crack o' doom. The road commissioner'll come
along once a year and mend the bridge under our feet, but Old
Kennebec'll talk straight on till the day o' jedgment."
Mr. Wiley had one of the most enjoyable mornings of his life, and
felt that after half a century of neglect his powers were at last
appreciated by his fellow-citizens.
He proposed numerous strategic movements to be made upon the
logs, whereby they would move more swiftly than usual. He
described several successful drives on the Kennebec, when the
logs had melted down the river almost by magic, owing to his
generalship; and he paid a tribute, in passing, to the docility
of the boss, who on that occasion had never moved a single log
without asking his advice.
From this topic he proceeded genially to narrate the
life-histories of the boss, the under boss, and several Indians
belonging to the crew,--histories in which he himself played a
gallant and conspicuous part. The conversation then drifted
naturally to the exploits of river-drivers in general, and Mr.
Wiley narrated the sorts of feats in log-riding,
pickpole-throwing, and the shooting of rapids that he had done in
his youth. These stories were such as had seldom been heard by
the ear of man; and, as they passed into circulation
instantaneously, we are probably enjoying some of them to this
They were still being told when a Crambry child appeared on the
bridge, bearing a note for the old man.
Upon reading it he moved off rapidly in the direction of the
store, ejaculating:
"Bless my soul! I clean forgot that saleratus, and mother's
settin' at the kitchen table with the bowl in her lap, waitin'
for it! Got so int'rested in your list'nin' I never thought o'
the time."
The connubial discussion that followed this breach of discipline
began on the arrival of the saleratus, and lasted through supper;
and Rose went to bed almost immediately afterward for very
dullness and apathy. Her life stretched out before her in the
most aimless and monotonous fashion. She saw nothing but
heartache in the future; and that she richly deserved it made it
none the easier to bear.
Feeling feverish and sleepless, she slipped on her gray Shaker
cloak and stole quietly downstairs for a breath of air. Her
grandfather and grandmother were talking on the piazza, and good
humor seemed to have been restored.
"I was over to the tavern to-night," she heard him say, as she
sat down at a little distance. "I was over to the tavern
to-night, an' a feller from Gorham got to talkin' an' braggin'
'bout what a stock o' goods they kep' in the store over there.
'An','says I, 'I bate ye dollars to doughnuts that there hain't
a darn thing ye can ask for at Bill Pike's store at Pleasant
River that he can't go down cellar, or up attic, or out in the
barn chamber an' git for ye.' Well, sir, he took me up, an' I
borrered the money of Joe Dennett, who held the stakes, an' we
went right over to Bill Pike's with all the boys follerin' on
behind. An' the Gorham man never let on what he was goin' to ask
for till the hull crowd of us got inside the store. Then says
he, as p'lite as a basket o' chips, 'Mr. Pike, I'd like to buy a
pulpit if you can oblige me with one.'
"Bill scratched his head an' I held my breath. Then says he,
'Pears to me I'd ought to hev a pulpit or two, if I can jest
remember where I keep 'em. I don't never cal'late to be out o'
pulpits, but I'm so plagued for room I can't keep 'em in here with
the groc'ries. Jim (that's his new store boy), you jest take a
lantern an' run out in the far corner o' the shed, at the end
o' the hickory woodpile, an' see how many pulpits we've got in
stock!' Well, Jim run out, an' when he come back he says, 'We've
got two, Mr. Pike. Shall I bring one of 'em in?'
"At that the boys all bust out laughin' an' hollerin' an'
tauntin' the Gorham man, an' he paid up with a good will, I tell
"I don't approve of bettin'," said Mrs. Wiley grimly, "but I'll
try to sanctify the money by usin' it for a new wash-boiler."
"The fact is," explained old Kennebec, somewhat confused, "that
the boys made me spend every cent of it then an' there."
Rose heard her grandmother's caustic reply, and then paid no
further attention until her keen ear caught the sound of
Stephen's name. It was a part of her unhappiness that since her
broken engagement no one would ever allude to him, and she longed
to hear him mentioned, so that perchance she could get some
inkling of his movements.
"I met Stephen to-night for the first time in a week," said Mr.
Wiley. "He kind o' keeps out o' my way lately. He's goin' to
drive his span into Portland tomorrow mornin' and bring Rufus
home from the hospital Sunday afternoon. The doctors think
they've made a success of their job, but Rufus has got to be
bandaged up a spell longer. Stephen is goin' to join the drive
Monday mornin' at the bridge here, so I'll get the latest news o'
the boy. Land! I'll be turrible glad if he gets out with his
eyesight, if it's only for Steve's sake. He's a turrible good
fellow, Steve is! He said something to-night that made me set
more store by him than ever. I told you I hedn't heard an unkind
word ag'in' Rose sence she come home from Boston, an' no more I
hev till this evenin: There was two or three fellers talkin' in
the post-office, an' they didn't suspicion I was settin' on the
steps outside the screen door. That Jim Jenkins, that Rose so
everlastin'ly snubbed at the tavern dance, spoke up, an' says he:
'This time last year Rose Wiley could 'a' hed the choice of any
man on the river, an' now I bet ye she can't get nary one.'
"Steve was there, jest goin' out the door, with some bags o'
coffee an' sugar under his arm.
"'I guess you're mistaken about that,' he says, speakin' up jest
like lightnin'; 'so long as Stephen Waterman's alive, Rose Wiley
can have him, for one; and that everybody's welcome to know.'
"He spoke right out, loud an' plain, jest as if he was readin'
the Declaration of Independence. I expected the boys would
everlastin'ly poke fun at him, but they never said a word. I
guess his eyes flashed, for he come out the screen door, slammin'
it after him, and stalked by me as if he was too worked up to
notice anything or anybody. I didn't foiler him, for his long
legs git over the ground too fast for me, but thinks I, 'Mebbe
I'll hev some use for my lemonade-set after all.'"
"I hope to the land you will," responded Mrs. Wiley, "for I'm
about sick o' movin' it round when I sweep under my bed. And I
shall be glad if Rose an' Stephen do make it up, for Wealthy Ann
Brooks's gossip is too much for a Christian woman to stand."
Where was the pale Rose, the faded Rose, that crept noiselessly
down from her room, wanting neither to speak nor to be spoken to!
Nobody ever knew. She vanished forever, and in her place a thing
of sparkles and dimples flashed up the stairway and closed the
door softly. There was a streak of moonshine lying across the
bare floor, and a merry ghost, with dressing-gown held prettily
away from bare feet, danced a gay fandango among the yellow
moonbeams. There were breathless flights to the open window, and
kisses thrown in the direction of the River Farm. There were
impressive declamations at the looking-glass, where a radiant
creature pointed to her reflection and whispered, "Worthless
little pig, he loves you, after all!"
Then, when quiet joy had taken the place of mad delight, there
was a swoop down upon the floor, an impetuous hiding of brimming
eyes in the white counterpane, and a dozen impassioned promises
to herself and to something higher than herself, to be a better
The mood lasted, and deepened, and still Rose did not move. Her
heart was on its knees before Stephen's faithful love, his
chivalry, his strength. Her troubled spirit, like a frail boat
tossed about in the rapids, seemed entering a quiet harbor, where
there were protecting shores and a still, still evening star.
Her sails were all torn and drooping, but the harbor was in
sight, and the poor little weather-beaten craft could rest in
A period of grave reflection now ensued,--under the bedclothes,
where one could think better. Suddenly an inspiration seized
her,--an inspiration so original, so delicious, and above all
so humble and praiseworthy, that it brought her head from her
pillow, and she sat bolt upright, clapping her hands like a
"The very thing!" she whispered to herself gleefully. "It will
take courage, but I'm sure of my ground after what he said before
them all, and I'll do it. Grandma in Biddeford buying church
carpets, Stephen in Portland--was ever such a chance?"
The same glowing Rose came downstairs, two steps at a time, next
morning, bade her grandmother good-by with suspicious pleasure,
and sent her grandfather away on an errand which, with attendant
conversation, would consume half the day. Then bundles after
bundles and baskets after baskets were packed into the wagon,--
behind the seat, beneath the seat, and finally under the
lap-robe. She gave a dramatic flourish to the whip, drove across
the bridge, went through Pleasant River village, and up the leafy
road to the little house, stared the "To Let" sign scornfully in
the eye, alighted, and ran like a deer through the aisles of
waving corn, past the kitchen windows, to the back door.
"If he has kept the big key in the old place under the stone,
where we both used to find it, then he hasn't forgotten me--or
anything," thought Rose.
The key was there, and Rose lifted it with a sob of gratitude.
It was but five minutes' work to carry all the bundles from the
wagon to the back steps, and another five to lead old Tom across
the road into the woods and tie him to a tree quite out of the
sight of any passer-by.
When, after running back, she turned the key in the lock, her
heart gave a leap almost of terror, and she started at the sound
of her own footfall. Through the open door the sunlight streamed
into the dark room. She flew to tables and chairs, and gave a
rapid sweep of the hand over their surfaces.
"He has been dusting here,--and within a few days, too," she
thought triumphantly.
The kitchen was perfection, as she always knew it would be, with
one door opening to the shaded road and the other looking on the
river; windows, too, framing the apple-orchard and the elms. She
had chosen the furniture, but how differently it looked now that
it was actually in place! The tiny shed had piles of split wood,
with great boxes of kindlings and shavings, all in readiness for
the bride, who would do her own cooking. Who but Stephen would
have made the very wood ready for a woman's home-coming; and why
had he done so much in May, when they were not to be married
until August? Then the door of the bedroom was stealthily
opened, and here Rose sat down and cried for joy and shame and
hope and fear. The very flowered paper she had refused as too
expensive! How lovely it looked with the white chamber set! She
brought in her simple wedding outfit of blankets, bed-linen, and
counterpanes, and folded them softly in the closet; and then for
the rest of the morning she went from room to room, doing all
that could remain undiscovered, even to laying a fire in the new
kitchen stove.
This was the plan. Stephen must pass the house on his way from
the River Farm to the bridge, where he was to join the
riverdrivers on Monday morning. She would be out of bed by the
earliest peep of dawn, put on Stephen's favorite pink calico,
leave a note for her grandmother, run like a hare down her side
of the river and up Stephen's, steal into the house, open blinds
and windows, light the fire, and set the kettle boiling. Then
with a sharp knife she would cut down two rows of corn, and thus
make a green pathway from the front kitchen steps to the road.
Next, the false and insulting "To Let" sign would be forcibly
tweaked from the tree and thrown into the grass. She would then
lay the table in the kitchen, and make ready the nicest breakfast
that two people ever sat down to. And oh, would two people sit
down to it; or would one go off in a rage and the other die of
grief and disappointment?
Then, having done all, she would wait and palpitate, and
palpitate and wait, until Stephen came. Surely no property-owner
in the universe could drive along a road, observe his corn
leveled to the earth, his sign removed, his house open, and smoke
issuing from his chimney, without going in to surprise the rogue
and villain who could be guilty of such vandalism.
And when he came in?
Oh, she had all day Sunday in which to forecast, with mingled
dread and gladness and suspense, that all-important, all-decisive
first moment! All day Sunday to frame and unframe penitent
speeches. All day Sunday! Would it ever be Monday? If so, what
would Tuesday bring? Would the sun rise on happy Mrs. Stephen
Waterman of Pleasant River, or on miserable Miss Rose Wiley of
the Prier Neighborhood?
Long ago, when Stephen was a boy of fourteen or fifteen, he had
gone with his father to a distant town to spend the night. After
an early breakfast next morning his father had driven off for a
business interview, and left the boy to walk about during his
absence. He wandered aimlessly along a quiet side street, and
threw himself down on the grass outside a pretty garden to amuse
himself as best he could.
After a few minutes he heard voices, and, turning, peeped through
the bars of the gate in idle, boyish curiosity. It was a small
brown house; the kitchen door was open, and a table spread with a
white cloth was set in the middle of the room. There was a
cradle in a far corner, and a man was seated at the table as
though he might be waiting for his breakfast.
There is a kind of sentiment about the kitchen in New England, a
kind of sentiment not provoked by other rooms. Here the farmer
drops in to spend a few minutes when he comes back from the barn
or field on an errand. Here, in the great, clean, sweet,
comfortable place, the busy housewife lives, sometimes rocking
the cradle, sometimes opening and shutting the oven door,
sometimes stirring the pot, darning stockings, paring vegetables,
or mixing goodies in a yellow bowl. The children sit on the
steps, stringing beans, shelling peas, or hulling berries; the
cat sleeps on the floor near the wood-box; and the visitor feels
exiled if he stays in sitting-room or parlor, for here, where the
mother is always busy, is the heart of the farm-house.
There was an open back door to this kitchen, a door framed in
morning-glories, and the woman (or was she only girl?) standing
at the stove was pretty,--oh, so pretty in Stephen's eyes! His
boyish heart went out to her on the instant. She poured a cup of
coffee and walked with it to the table; then an unexpected,
interesting thing happened--something the boy ought not 'to
have seen, and never forgot. The man, putting out his hand to
take the cup, looked up at the pretty woman with a smile, and she
stooped and kissed him.
Stephen was fifteen. As he looked, on the instant he became a
man, with a man's hopes, desires, ambitions. He looked eagerly,
hungrily, and the scene burned itself on the sensitive plate of
his young heart, so that, as he grew older, he could take the
picture out in the dark, from time to time, and look at it again.
When he first met Rose, he did not know precisely what she was to
mean to him; but before long, when he closed his eyes and the old
familiar picture swam into his field of vision, behold, by some
spiritual chemistry, the pretty woman's face had given place to
that of Rose!
All such teasing visions had been sternly banished during this
sorrowful summer, and it was a thoughtful, sober Stephen who
drove along the road on this mellow August morning. The dust was
deep; the goldenrod waved its imperial plumes, making the humble
waysides gorgeous; the river chattered and sparkled till it met
the logs at the Brier Neighorhood, and then, lapsing into
silence, flowed steadily under them till it found a vent for its
spirits in the dashing and splashing of the falls.
Haying was over; logging was to begin that day; then harvesting;
then wood-cutting; then eternal successions of plowing, sowing,
reaping, haying, logging, harvesting, and so on, to the endless
end of his days. Here and there a red or a yellow branch,
painted only yesterday, caught his eye and made him shiver. He
was not ready for winter; his heart still craved the summer it
had missed.
Hello! What was that? Corn-stalks prone on the earth? Sign
torn down and lying flat in the grass? Blinds open, fire in the
He leaped from the wagon, and, hinging the reins to Alcestis
Crambry, said, "Stay right here out of sight, and don't you move
till I call you!" and striding up the green pathway, hung open
the kitchen door.
A forest of corn waving in the doorway at the back,
morning-glories clambering round and round the window-frames,
table with shining white cloth, kettle humming and steaming,
something bubbling in a pan on the stove, fire throwing out sweet
little gleams of welcome through the open damper. All this was
taken in with one incredulous, rapturous twinkle of an eye; but
something else, too: Rose of all roses, Rose of the river, Rose
of the world, standing behind a chair, her hand pressed against
her heart, her lips parted, her breath coming and going! She was
glowing like a jewel, glowing with the extraordinary brilliancy
that emotion gives to some women. She used to be happy in a gay,
sparkling way, like the shallow part of the stream as it chotters
over white pebbles and bright sands. Now it was a broad, steady,
full happiness like the deeps of the river under the sun.
"Don't speak, Stephen, till you hear what I have to say. It
takes a good deal of courage for a girl to do as I am doing; but
I want to show how sorry I am, and it's the only way." She was
trembling, and the words came faster and faster. "I've been
very wrong and foolish, and made you very unhappy, but I haven't
done what you would have hated most. I haven't been engaged to
Claude Merrill; he hasn't so much as asked me. I am here to beg
you to forgive me, to eat breakfast with me, to drive me to the
minister's and marry me quickly, quickly, before anything happens
to prevent us, and then to bring me home here to live all the
days of my life. Oh, Stephen dear, honestly, honestly, you haven't
lost anything in all this long, miserable summer. I've
suffered, too, and I'm better worth loving than I was. Will you
take me back?"
Rose had a tremendous power of provoking and holding love, and
Stephen of loving. His was too generous a nature for revilings
and complaints and reproaches.
The shores of his heart were strewn with the wreckage of the
troubled summer, but if the tide of love is high enough, it
washes such things out of remembrance. He just opened his arms
and took Rose to his heart, faults and all, with joy--and
gratitude; and she was as happy as a child who has escaped the
scolding it richly deserved, and who determines, for very
thankfulness' sake, never to be naughty again.
"You don't know what you've done for me, Stephen," she whispered,
with her face hidden on his shoulder. "I was just a common
little prickly rosebush when you came along like a good gardener
and 'grafted in' something better; the something better was your
love, Stephen dear, and it's made everything different. The
silly Rose you were engaged to long ago has disappeared
somewhere; I hope you won't be able to find her under the new
"She was all I wanted," said Stephen.
"You thought she was," the girl answered, "because you didn't
see the prickles, but you'd have felt them sometime. The old
Rose was a selfish thing, not good enough for you; the new Rose
is going to be your wife, and Rufus's sister, and your mother's
daughter, all in one."
Then such a breakfast was spread as Stephen, in his sorry years
of bachelor existence, had forgotten could exist; but before he
broke his fast he ran out to the wagon and served the astonished
Alcestis with his wedding refreshments then and there, bidding
him drive back to the River Farm and bring him a package that lay
in the drawer of his shaving-stand, package placed there when hot
youth and love and longing had inspired him to hurry on the
marriage day.
"There's an envelope, Alcestis," he cried, "a long envelope way,
way back in the corner, and a small box on top of it. Bring them
both, and my wallet too, and if you find them all and get them to
me safely you shall be bridesmaid and groomsman and best man and
usher and maid of honor at a wedding, in less than an hour! Off
with you! Drive straight and use the whip on Dolly!"
When he reentered the kitchen, flushed with joy and excitement,
Rose put the various good things on the table and he almost
tremblingly took his seat, fearing that contact with the solid
wood might wake him from this entrancing vision.
"I'd like to put you in your chair like a queen and wait on you,"
he said with a soft boyish stammer; "but I am too dazed with
happiness to be of any use."
"It's my turn to wait upon you, and I--Oh! how I love to have
you dazed," Rose answered. "I'll be at the table presently
myself; but we have been housekeeping only three minutes, and we
have nothing but the tin coffee-pot this morning, so I'll pour
the coffee from the stove."
She filled a cup with housewifely care and brought it to
Stephen's side. As she set it down and was turning, she caught
his look,--a look so full of longing that no loving woman,
however busy, could have resisted it; then she stooped and kissed
him fondly, fervently.
Stephen put his arm about her, and, drawing her down to his knee,
rested his head against her soft shoulder with a sigh of comfort,
like that of a tired child. He had waited for it ten years; and
at last the dream-room had come true.

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