"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 is n'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 sink.
"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 cai'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_ women-folks."
"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 horse-racin' or tiger- shootin' or tight-rope dancin'; an' he always did from a boy. When he was about twelve to fifteen, he used to help the river-drivers spring and fall, reg'lar. He could n'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,--Stepanfetchit 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 nights."
"Seein' as how Steve built ye a nice pigpen 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 pigpen, no more'n I was by Jed Towle's hencoop, 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 would n't hev to do their courtin' with carpenters' tools."
"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 does n'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-kags 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 women-folks; 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,
Wiggin's Short Stories -by- Kate Douglas Wiggin