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 some time, when he had a free moment,-- some time 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 úperceptible 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' dog-warpin' 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 table-cloths 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 loaves 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'."
Wiggin's Short Stories -by- Kate Douglas Wiggin