"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 up."
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 come.
"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 pond-lily."
"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 wharves."
"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!"