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.