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- Mrs. Wiggs Of The Cabbage Patch - 10/14 -


"Ain't it?" said Mrs. Wiggs, with the awed tone one uses in the presence of genius. "Sometimes I jes' can't believe my eyes, when I see what my childern kin do! They inherit their education after Mr. Wiggs; he was so smart, an' b'longed to such a fine fambly. Why, Mr. Wiggs had real Injun blood in his veins; his grandpa was a squaw-- a full-blood Injun squaw!"

Lucy made a heroic effort to keep a solemn face, as she asked if Asia looked like him.

"Oh, my, no!" continued Mrs. Wiggs. "He was a blunette, real dark complected. I remember when he fus' come a-courtin' me folks thought he was a Dago. Pa wasn't to say well off in those days." Mrs. Wiggs never applied superlatives to misfortunes. "He had a good many of us to take keer of, an' after Mr. Wiggs had been keepin' company with me fer 'bout two weeks he drove up one night with a load of coal an' kindlin', an' called pa out to the fence. 'Mr. Smoot,' sez he, 'as long as I am courtin' your daughter, I think I orter furnish the fire to do it by. Ef you don't mind,' sez he, 'I'll jes' put this wagon-load of fuel in the coal-house. I 'spect by the time it's used up Nance'll be of my way of think-in'.' An' I was!" added Mrs. Wiggs, laughing.

Ordinarily Lucy found endless diversion in listening to the family reminiscences, but to-day another subject was on her mind.

"How is Billy getting along?" she asked.

"Jes' fine!" said Mrs. Wiggs; "only he comes home at night 'most dead. I give him money to ride, but ever' day last week he et up his nickel."

"Who--who has charge of him now?" Lucy blushed at her subterfuge.

"Mr. Bob," said Mrs. Wiggs; "he's the gentleman that took us to supper. He's got money. Asia said he give the nigger waiter a quarter. Billy is jes' crazy 'bout Mr. Bob; says he's goin' to be jes' like him when he grows up. He will, too, if he sets his head to it! Only he never kin have them big brown eyes an' white teeth Mr. Bob's got. Why, when Mr. Bob smiles it jes' sort of breaks up his whole face."

Lucy's eyes were fixed on the mammoth butterfly upon whose iridescent wings Asia was putting the finishing touches, but her thoughts were far away.

"I jes' wish you could see him!" went on Mrs. Wiggs, enthusiastically.

"I wish I could!" said Lucy, with such fervor that Mrs. Wiggs paused on her way to answer a knock at the outside door.

There was a scraping of feet in the passage.

"I have been driving all over the country looking for you," said a man's voice. "I have some Christmas traps for the kids."

Lucy rose hastily, and turned just as Redding entered.

"Mr. Bob, this is Miss Lucy," announced Mrs. Wiggs, triumphantly; "she was jes' 'lowin' she'd like to see you."

If a blue-eyed angel straight from the peaks of paradise had been presented to him, Redding could not have been more astounded nor more enraptured.

But to Lucy it was a moment of intense chagrin and embarrassment. During the long silence of the past year she had persuaded herself that Redding no longer cared for her. To be thrust upon him in this way was intolerable. All the blood in her veins rushed to her face.

"Do you know where my muff is, Mrs. Wiggs?" she asked, after a formal greeting.

"Oh! you ain't a-goin'?" asked the hostess, anxiously. "I wanted you all to git acquainted."

"Yes, I must go," said Lucy, hurriedly, "if you will find my muff."

She stood nervously pulling on her gloves, while Mrs. Wiggs searched for the lost property. There was a deafening tumult in her heart, and though she bit her lips to keep from laughing, the tears stood in her eyes.

"Austry's under the bed," announced Europena, who had joined in the quest.

"I ain't!" came in shrill, indignant tones, as Mrs. Wiggs dragged forth the culprit, and restored the muff.

"May I drive you over to the avenue? I am going that way." It was Redding's voice, but it sounded queer and unnatural.

"Oh, no! No, thank you," gasped Lucy, hardly knowing what she said. Her one idea was to get away before she broke down completely.

Redding held the door open as she passed out. His face was cold, calm, inscrutable; not a quiver of the mouth, not a flutter of the lids, but the light went out of his eyes and hope died in his heart.

Mrs. Wiggs stood watching the scene in perplexity.

"I dunno what ailed Miss Lucy," she said, apologetically; "hope it wasn't the toothache."

CHAPTER IX

HOW SPRING CAME TO THE CABBAGE PATCH

"The roads, the woods, the heavens, the hills Are not a world to-day-- But just a place God made for us In which to play."

WHEN the last snow of the winter had melted, and the water was no longer frozen about the corner pump, the commons lost their hard, brown look, and a soft green tinge appeared instead. There were not many ways of telling when spring came to the Cabbage Patch; no trees shook forth their glad little leaves of welcome, no anemones and snow-drops brought the gentle message, even the birds that winged their way from the South-land hurried by, without so much as a chirp of greeting.

But the Cabbage Patch knew it was spring, nevertheless; something whispered it in the air, a dozen little signs gave the secret away; weeds were springing up in the fence corners, the puddles which a few months ago were covered with ice now reflected bits of blue sky, and the best token of all was the bright, warm sunshine that clung to the earth as if to love it back into beauty and life again.

One afternoon Mrs. Wiggs stood at her gate talking to Redding. It was the first time he had been there since Christmas day, for his first visit had been too painful for him to desire to repeat it.

"Yes, indeed, Billy kin go," Mrs. Wiggs was saying. "I'm mighty glad you drove him by home to git on his good coat. He never was to the fair grounds before; it'll be a big treat. How's Mr. Dick to-day?"

"No better," said Redding; "he coughed all night."

"He was takin' a nap o' sleep when I went to clean up this mornin'," said Mrs. Wiggs, "so I didn't disturb him. He ain't fer long, pore feller!"

"No, poor chap," said Redding, sadly.

Mrs. Wiggs saw the shadow on his face, and hastened to change the subject. "What do you think of Asia's fence?" she asked.

"What about it?"

"She done it herself," said Mrs. Wiggs. "That an' the pavement, too. Mrs. Krasmier's goat et up her flowers las' year, an' this year she 'lowed she'd fix it different. Chris Hazy, that boy over yonder with the peg-stick, helped her dig the post-boles, but she done the rest herself."

"Well, she is pretty clever!" said Redding, almost incredulously, as he examined the fence and sidewalk. "How old is she?"

"Fourteen, goin' on to fifteen. Asia, come here."

The girl left the flower-bed she was digging, and came forward.

"Not a very big girl, are you?" said Redding, smiling at her. "How would you like to go up to the tile factory, and learn to do decorating?"

Her serious face lit up with great enthusiasm; she forgot her shyness, and said, eagerly: "Oh, yes, sir! Could I?"

Before Redding could answer, Mrs. Wiggs broke in:

"You'd be gittin' a artist, Mr. Bob! Them fingers of hers kin do anything. Last fall she built that there little greenhouse out of ole planks, an' kep' it full of flowers all winter; put a lamp in durin' the cold spell. You orter see the things she's painted. And talk about mud pictures! She could jes' take some of that there mud under that hoss's feet, an' make it look so much like you, you wouldn't know which was which."

Billy's appearance at this moment saved Redding from immediate disgrace.

"You come to the office with Billy in the morning," he called to Asia, as they started off; "we'll see what can be done."

Asia went back to her digging with a will; the prospect of work, of learning how to do things right, and, above all, of learning how to paint, filled her with happiness.

"If I was you I'd make that bed in the shape of a star," said her mother, breaking in on her rejections. "Why don't you make it a mason star? Yer pa was a fine mason; it would be a sort of compliment to him."


Mrs. Wiggs Of The Cabbage Patch - 10/14

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