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- Mrs. Wiggs Of The Cabbage Patch - 2/14 -
"Mith Wiggs, make Tommy thop thpittin' terbaccer juice in my hat!"
"Miss Wiggs, I know who hit you!"
"Teacher, kin I git a drink?"
It was not until Mrs. Wiggs, with a stocking tied over her eye, emerged from the bedroom and again took command that order was restored.
"Where is Bethlehem?" she began, reading from an old lesson-paper.
"You kin search me!" promptly answered Chris.
She ignored his remark, and passed to the next, who said, half doubtfully:
"Ain't it in Alabama?"
"No, it's in the Holy Land," she said.
A sudden commotion arose in the back of the room. Billy, by a series of skilful manoeuvers, had succeeded in removing the chair that held one of the planks, and a cascade of small, indignant girls were tobogganing sidewise down the incline. A fight was imminent, but before any further trouble occurred Mrs. Wiggs locked Billy in the bedroom, and became mistress of the situation.
"What I think you childern need is a talk about fussin' an' fightin'. There ain't no use in me teachin' what they done a thousand years ago, when you ain't got manners enough to listen at what I am sayin'. I recollect one time durin' the war, when the soldiers was layin' 'round the camp, tryin' they best to keep from freezin' to death, a preacher come 'long to hold a service. An' when he got up to preach he sez, 'Friends,' sez he, 'my tex' is Chillblains. They ain't no use a-preachin' religion to men whose whole thought is set on their feet. Now, you fellows git some soft-soap an' pour it in yer shoes, an' jes' keep them shoes on till yer feet gits well, an' the nex' time I come 'round yer minds'll be better prepared to receive the word of the Lord.' Now, that's the way I feel 'bout this here Sunday-school. First an' fo'most, I am goin' to learn you all manners. Jes' one thought I want you to take away, an' that is, it's sinful to fuss. Ma use' to say livin' was like quiltin'--you orter keep the peace an' do 'way with the scraps. Now, what do I want you all to remember?"
"Don't fuss!" came the prompt answer.
"That's right; now we'll sing 'Pull fer the shore.'"
When the windows had ceased to rattle from the vibrations of the lusty chorus, Mrs. Wiggs lifted her hands for silence.
"O Lord!" she prayed earnestly, "help these here childern to be good an' kind to each other, an' to their mas an' their pas. Make 'em thankful fer whatever they 'are got, even if it ain't but a little. Show us all how to live like you want us to live, an' praise God from whom all blessin's flow. Amen."
As the last youngster scampered out of the yard, Mrs. Wiggs turned to the window where Jim was standing. He had taken no part in the singing, and was silent and preoccupied. "Jim," said his mother, trying to look into his face, "you never had on yer overcoat when you come in. You ain't gone an' sold it?"
"Yes," said the boy, heavily; "but 't ain't 'nough fer the rent. I got to figger it out some other way."
Mrs. Wiggs put her arm about his shoulder, and together they looked out across the dreary commons.
"Don't you worry so, Jimmy," said she. "Mebbe I kin git work to-morrow, or you'll git a raise, or somethin'; they'll be some way."
Little she guessed what the way was to be.
WAYS AND MEANS
"Ah! well may the children weep before you! They are weary ere they run;
They have never seen the sunshine, nor the glory Which is brighter than the Sun."
THE cold wave that was ushered in that December morning was the beginning of a long series of days that vied with each other as to which could induce the mercury to drop the lowest. The descent of the temperature seemed to have a like effect on the barrel of potatoes and the load of coal in the Wiggses' parlor.
Mrs. Wiggs's untiring efforts to find employment had met with no success, and Jim's exertions were redoubled; day by day his scanty earnings became less sufficient to meet the demands of the family.
On Christmas eve they sat over the stove, after the little ones had gone to bed, and discussed the situation. The wind hurled itself against the house in a very frenzy of rage, shaking the icicles from the window-ledge and hissing through the patched panes. The snow that sifted in through the loose sash lay unmelted on the sill. Jim had a piece of old carpet about him, and coughed with almost every breath. Mrs. Wiggs's head was in her hands, and the tears that trickled through her crooked fingers hissed as they fell on the stove. It was the first time Jim had ever seen her give up.
"Seems like we'll have to ast fer help, Jim," she said. "I can't ast fer credit at Mr. Bagby's; seems like I'd never have the courage to pull agin a debt. What do you think? I guess--it looks like mebbe we'll have to apply to the organization."
Jim's eyes flashed. "Not yet, ma!" he said, firmly. "It 'ud be with us like it was with the Hornbys; they didn't have nothin' to eat, and they went to the organization ant the man asted 'em if they had a bed or a table, an' when they said yes, he said, 'Well, why don't you sell 'em?' No, ma! As long as we've got coal I'll git the vittles some way!" He had to pause, for a violent attack of coughing shook him from head to foot. "I think I can git a night job next week; one of the market-men comes in from the country ever' night to git a early start next morning an' he ast me if I'd sleep in his wagon from three to six an' keep his vegetables from bein' stole. That 'ud gimme time to git home an' git breakfast, an' be down to the fact'ry by seven."
"But, Jimmy boy," cried his mother, her voice quivering with anxiety, "you never could stan' it night an' day too! No, I'll watch the wagon; I'll--"
A knock on the parlor door interrupted her. she hastily dried her eyes and smoothed her hair. Jim went to the door.
"I've a Christmas basket for you!" cried a cheery voice.
"Is this Christmas?" Jim asked dully.
The girl in the doorway laughed. She was tall and slender, but Jim could only see a pair of sparkling eyes between the brim of the hat and her high fur collar. It was nice to hear her laugh, though; it made things seem warmer somehow. The colored man behind her deposited a large basket on the doorstep.
"It's from the church," she explained; "a crowd of us are out in the omnibus distributing baskets."
"Well, how'd you ever happen to come here?" cried Mrs. Wiggs, who had come to the door.
"There is one for each of the mission-school families; just a little Christmas greeting, you know."
Mrs. Wiggs's spirits were rising every minute. "Well, that certainly is kind an' thoughtful like," she said. "Won't you--" she hesitated; the room she had just left was not in a condition to receive guests, but Mrs. Wiggs was a Kentuckian. "Come right in an' git warm," she said cordially; "the stove's died down some, but you could git thawed out."
"No. thank you, I can't come in," said the young lady, with a side glance at Jim, who was leaning against the door. "Have you plenty of coal?" she asked, in an undertone.
"Oh, yes'm, thank you," said Mrs. Wiggs, smiling reassuringly. Her tone might have been less confident, but for Jim's warning glance. Every fiber of his sensitive nature shrank from asking help.
The girl was puzzled; she noticed the stamp of poverty on everything in sight except the bright face of the little woman before her.
"Well," she said doubtfully, "if you ever want--to come to see me, ask for Miss Lucy Olcott at Terrace Park. Good night, and a happy Christmas!"
She was gone, and the doorway looked very black and lonesome in consequence. But there was the big basket to prove she was not merely an apparition, and it took both Jim and his mother to carry it in. Sitting on the floor, they unpacked it. There were vegetables, oatmeal, fruit, and even tea and coffee. But the surprise was at the very bottom! A big turkey, looking so comical with his legs stuck in his body that Jim laughed outright.
"It's the first turkey that's been in this house fer many a day!" said Mrs. Wiggs, delightedly, as she pinched the fat fowl. "I 'spect Europena'll be skeered of it, it's so big. My, but we'll have a good dinner to-morrow! I'll git Miss Hazy an' Chris to come over an' spend the day, and I'll carry a plate over to Mrs. Schultz, an' take a little o' this here tea to ole Mrs. Lawson."
The cloud had turned inside out for Mrs. Wiggs, and only the silver lining was visible. Jim was doing a sum on the brown paper that came over the basket, and presently he looked up and said slowly:
"Ma, I guess we can't have the turkey this year. I kin sell it fer a dollar seventy-five, and that would buy us hog-meat fer a good while."
Mrs. Wiggs's face fell, and she twisted her apron-string in silence.
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