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- Lovey Mary - 10/15 -


The proximity of the river decided the matter.

"I won't hardly take a swim!" said Jake, going through the motions, to the discomfort of the two little girls who were hanging their feet from the back of the wagon.

"I'm afraid it's going to rain so hard that you can take your swim before you get there," said Lovey Mary, as the big drops began to fall.

The picnic party huddled on the floor of the wagon in a state of great merriment, while Mrs. Wiggs spread an old quilt over as many of them as it would cover.

"'T ain't nothin' but a summer shower," she said, holding her head on one side to keep the rain from driving in her face. "I 'spect the sun is shinin' at the cemetery right now."

As the rickety wagon, with its drenched and shivering load, rattled across Main street, an ominous sound fell upon the air:

_One--two--three! One--two!_

Mrs. Wiggs wrapped the lines about her wrists and braced herself for the struggle. But Cuba had heard the summons, his heart had responded to the old call, and with one joyous bound he started for the fire.

"Hold on tight!" yelled Mrs. Wiggs. "Don't none of you fall out. Whoa, Cuby! Whoa! I'll stop him in a minute. Hold tight!"

Cuba kicked the stiffness out of his legs, and laying his ears back, raced valiantly for five squares neck and neck with the engine-horses. But the odds were against him; Mrs. Wiggs and Chris sawing on one line, and Billy and Jake pulling on the other, proved too heavy a handicap. Within sight of the fire he came to a sudden halt.

"It's the lumber-yards!" called Chris, climbing over the wheels. "Looks like the whole town's on fire."

"Let's unhitch Cuby an' tie him, an' stand in the wagon an' watch it," cried Mrs. Wiggs, in great excitement.

The boys were not content to be stationary, so they rushed away, leaving Mrs. Wiggs and the girls, with Tommy and the duck, to view the conflagration at a safe distance.

For two hours the fire raged, leaping from one stack of lumber to another, and threatening the adjacent buildings. Every fire-engine in the department was called out, the commons were black with people, and the excitement was intense.

"Ain't you glad we come!" cried Lovey Mary, dancing up and down in the wagon.

"We never come. We was brought," said Asia.

Long before the fire was under control the sun had come through the clouds and was shining brightly. Picnics, however, were not to be considered when an attraction like this was to be had. When the boys finally came straggling back the fire was nearly out, the crowd had dispersed, and only the picnic party was left on the commons.

"It's too late to start to the cemetery," said Mrs. Wiggs, thoughtfully. "What do you all think of havin' the picnic right here an' now?"

The suggestion was regarded as nothing short of an inspiration.

"The only trouble," continued Mrs. Wiggs, "is 'bout the water. Where we goin' to git any to drink? I know one of the firemen, Pete Jenkins; if I could see him I'd ast him to pour us some outen the hose."

"Gimme the pail; I'll go after him," cried Jake.

"Naw, you don't; I'm a-goin'. It's my maw that knows him," said Billy.

"That ain't nothin'. My uncle knows the chief of police! Can't I go, Mrs. Wiggs?"

Meanwhile Chris had seized the hint and the bucket, and was off in search of Mr. Peter Jenkins, whose name would prove an open sesame to that small boy's paradise--the engine side of the rope.

The old quilt, still damp, was spread on the ground, and around it sat the picnic party, partaking ravenously of dry sandwiches and cheese and cheer. Such laughing and crowding and romping as there was! Jake gave correct imitations of everybody in the Cabbage Patch, Chris did some marvelous stunts with his wooden leg, and Lovey Mary sang every funny song that she knew. Mrs. Wiggs stood in the wagon above them, and dispensed hospitality as long as it lasted. Cuba, hitched to a fence near by, needed no material nourishment. He was contentedly sniffing the smoke-filled air, and living over again the days of his youth.

When the party reached home, tired and grimy, they were still enthusiastic over the fine time they had had.

"It's jes the way I said," proclaimed Mrs. Wiggs, as she drove up with a flourish; "you never kin tell which way pleasure is a-comin'. Who ever would 'a' thought, when we aimed at the cemetery, that we'd land up at a first-class fire?"

CHAPTER X

A TIMELY VISIT

"The love of praise, howe'er concealed by art, Reigns more or less, and glows in ev'ry heart."

Weeks and months slipped by, and the Cabbage Patch ate breakfast and supper by lamplight. Those who could afford it were laying in their winter coal, and those who could not were providently pasting brown paper over broken window-panes, and preparing to keep Jack Frost at bay as long as possible.

One Saturday, as Lovey Mary came home from the factory, she saw a well-dressed figure disappearing in the distance.

"Who is that lady?" she demanded suspiciously of Europena Wiggs, who was swinging violently on the gate.

"'T ain't no lady," said Europena. "It's my Sunday-school teacher."

"Mrs. Redding?"

"Uh-huh. She wants Asia to come over to her house this evenin'."

"Wisht I could go," said Lovey Mary.

"Why can't you?" asked Mrs. Wiggs, coming to the open door. "Asia would jes love to show Mrs. Reddin' how stylish you look in that red dress. I'll curl yer hair on the poker if you want me to."

Any diversion from the routine of work was acceptable, so late that afternoon the two girls, arrayed in their best garments, started forth to call on the Reddings.

"I wisht I had some gloves," said Lovey Mary, rubbing her blue fingers.

"If I'd 'a' thought about it I'd 'a' made you some before we started. It don't take no time." Asia held out her hands, which were covered with warm red mitts. "I make 'em outen Billy's old socks after the feet's wore off."

"I don't see how you know how to do so many things!" said Lovey Mary, admiringly.

[Illustration: "Asia held out her hands, which were covered with warm red mitts."]

"'T ain't nothin'," disclaimed Asia, modestly. "It's jes the way maw brought us up. Whenever we started out to do a thing she made us finish it someway or 'nother. Oncet when we was all little we lived in the country. She sent Billy out on the hoss to git two watermelon, an' told him fer him not to come home without 'em. When Billy got out to the field he found all the watermelon so big he couldn't carry one, let alone two. What do you think he done?"

"Come home without 'em?"

"No, sir, he never! He jes set on the fence an' thought awhile, then he took off en his jeans pants an' put a watermelon in each leg an' hanged 'em 'crost old Rollie's back an' come ridin' home barelegged."

"I think he's the nicest boy in the Cabbage Patch," said Lovey Mary, laughing over the incident. "He never does tease Tommy."

"That's 'cause he likes you. He says you've got grit. He likes the way you cleaned up Miss Hazy an' stood up to Mr. Stubbins."

A deeper color than even the fresh air warranted came into Lovey Mary's cheeks, and she walked on for a few minutes in pleased silence.

"Don't you want to wear my gloves awhile?" asked Asia.

"No; my hands ain't cold any more," said Lovey Mary.

As they turned into Terrace Park, with its beautiful grounds, its fountains and statuary, Asia stopped to explain.

"Jes rich folks live over here. That there is the Reddin's' house, the big white one where them curbstone ladies are in the yard. I wisht you could git a peek in the parlor; they've got chairs made outer real gold, an' strandaliers that look like icicles all hitched together."

"Do they set on the gold chairs?"

"No, indeed; the legs is too wabbly fer that. I reckon they're jes to show how rich they are. This here is where the carriage drives in. Their hired man wears a high-style hat, an' a fur cape jes like Mrs. Reddin's."

"I 'spect they have turkey every day, don't they, Asia?"

Before Asia's veracity was tested to the limit, the girls were


Lovey Mary - 10/15

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