New Chronicles of Rebecca by Kate Douglas Wiggin
Seventh Chronicle: The Little Prophet
"I guess York County will never get red of that Simpson crew!" exclaimed Miranda Sawyer to Jane. "I thought when the family moved to Acreville we'd seen the last of em, but we ain't! The big, cross-eyed, stutterin' boy has got a place at the mills in Maplewood; that's near enough to come over to Riverboro once in a while of a Sunday mornin' and set in the meetin' house starin' at Rebecca same as he used to do, only it's reskier now both of em are older. Then Mrs. Fogg must go and bring back the biggest girl to help her take care of her baby,--as if there wa'n't plenty of help nearer home! Now I hear say that the youngest twin has come to stop the summer with the Cames up to Edgewood Lower Corner."
"I thought two twins were always the same age," said Rebecca, reflectively, as she came into the kitchen with the milk pail.
"So they be," snapped Miranda, flushing and correcting herself. "But that pasty-faced Simpson twin looks younger and is smaller than the other one. He's meek as Moses and the other one is as bold as a brass kettle; I don't see how they come to be twins; they ain't a mite alike."
"Elijah was always called the fighting twin' at school," said Rebecca, "and Elisha's other name was Nimbi-Pamby; but I think he's a nice little boy, and I'm glad he has come back. He won't like living with Mr. Came, but he'll be almost next door to the minister's, and Mrs. Baxter is sure to let him play in her garden."
"I wonder why the boy's stayin' with Cassius Came," said Jane. "To be sure they haven't got any of their own, but the child's too young to be much use."
"I know why," remarked Rebecca promptly, "for I heard all about it over to Watson's when I was getting the milk. Mr. Came traded something with Mr. Simpson two years ago and got the best of the bargain, and Uncle Jerry says he's the only man that ever did, and he ought to have a monument put up to him. So Mr. Came owes Mr. Simpson money and won't pay it, and Mr. Simpson said he'd send over a child and board part of it out, and take the rest in stock--a pig or a calf or something."
"That's all stuff and nonsense," exclaimed Miranda; "nothin' in the world but store-talk. You git a clump o' men-folks settin' round Watson's stove, or out on the bench at the door, an' they'll make up stories as fast as their tongues can wag. The man don't live that's smart enough to cheat Abner Simpson in a trade, and who ever heard of anybody's owin' him money? Tain't supposable that a woman like Mrs. Came would allow her husband to be in debt to a man like Abner Simpson. It's a sight likelier that she heard that Mrs. Simpson was ailin' and sent for the boy so as to help the family along. She always had Mrs. Simpson to wash for her once a month, if you remember Jane?"
There are some facts so shrouded in obscurity that the most skillful and patient investigator cannot drag them into the light of day. There are also (but only occasionally) certain motives, acts, speeches, lines of conduct, that can never be wholly and satisfactorily explained, even in a village post-office or on the loafers' bench outside the tavern door.
Cassius Came was a close man, close of mouth and close of purse; and all that Riverboro ever knew as to the three months' visit of the Simpson twin was that it actually occurred. Elisha, otherwise Nimbi-Pamby, came; Nimbi-Pamby stayed; and Nimbi-Pamby, when he finally rejoined his own domestic circle, did not go empty-handed (so to speak), for he was accompanied on his homeward travels by a large, red, bony, somewhat truculent cow, who was tied on behind the wagon, and who made the journey a lively and eventful one by her total lack of desire to proceed over the road from Edgewood to Acreville. But that, the cow's tale, belongs to another time and place, and the coward's tale must come first; for Elisha Simpson was held to be sadly lacking in the manly quality of courage.
It was the new minister's wife who called Nimbi-Pamby the Little Prophet. His full name was Elisha Jeremiah Simpson, but one seldom heard it at full length, since, if he escaped the ignominy of Nimbi-Pamby, Lishe was quite enough for an urchin just in his first trousers and those assumed somewhat prematurely. He was " Lishe," therefore, to the village, but the Little Prophet to the young minister's wife.
Rebecca could see the Cames' brown farmhouse from Mrs. Baxter's sitting-room window. The little-traveled road with strips of tufted green between the wheel tracks curled dustily up to the very doorstep, and inside the screen door of pink mosquito netting was a wonderful drawn-in rug, shaped like a half pie, with "Welcome" in saffron letters on a green ground.
Rebecca liked Mrs. Cassius Came, who was a friend of her Aunt Miranda's and one of the few persons who exchanged calls with that somewhat unsociable lady. The Came farm was not a long walk from the brick house, for Rebecca could go across the fields when haying-time was over, and her delight at being sent on an errand in that direction could not be measured, now that the new minister and his wife had grown to be such a resource in her life. She liked to see Mrs. Came shake the Welcome rug, flinging the cheery word out into the summer sunshine like a bright greeting to the day. She liked to see her go to the screen door a dozen times in a morning, open it a crack and chase an imaginary fly from the sacred precincts within. She liked to see her come up the cellar steps into the side garden, appearing mysteriously as from the bowels of the earth, carrying a shining pan of milk in both hands, and disappearing through the beds of hollyhocks and sunflowers to the pig-pen or the hen-house.
Rebecca was not fond of Mr. Came, and neither was Mrs. Baxter, nor Elisha, for that matter; in fact Mr. Came was rather a difficult person to grow fond of, with his fiery red beard, his freckled skin, and his gruff way of speaking; for there were no children in the brown house to smooth the creases from his forehead or the roughness from his voice.
The new minister's wife was sitting under the shade of her great maple early one morning, when she first saw the Little Prophet. A tiny figure came down the grass-grown road leading a cow by a rope. If it had been a small boy and a small cow, a middle-sized boy and an ordinary cow, or a grown man and a big cow, she might not have noticed them; but it was the combination of an infinitesimal boy and a huge cow that attracted her attention. She could not guess the child's years, she only knew that he was small for his age, whatever it was.
The cow was a dark red beast with a crumpled horn, a white star on her forehead, and a large surprised sort of eye. She had, of course, two eyes, and both were surprised, but the left one had an added hint of amazement in it by virtue of a few white hairs lurking accidentally in the centre of the eyebrow.
The boy had a thin sensitive face and curtly brown hair, short trousers patched on both knees, and a ragged straw hat on the back of his head. He pattered along behind the cow, sometimes holding the rope with both hands, and getting over the ground in a jerky way, as the animal left him no time to think of a smooth path for bare feet.
The Came pasture was a good half-mile distant, and the cow seemed in no hurry to reach it; accordingly she forsook the road now and then, and rambled in the hollows, where the grass was sweeter to her way of thinking. She started on one of these exploring expeditions just as she passed the minister's great maple, and gave Mrs. Baxter time to call out to the little fellow, "Is that your cow?"
Elisha blushed and smiled, and tried to speak modestly, but there was a quiver of pride in his voice as he answered suggestively:
"It's--nearly my cow."
"How is that?" asked Mrs. Baxter.
"Why, Mr. Came says when I drive her twenty-nine more times to pasture thout her gettin' her foot over the rope or thout my bein' afraid, she's goin' to be my truly cow. Are you fraid of cows?"
"Ye-e-es," Mrs. Baxter confessed, "I am, just a little. You see, I am nothing but a woman, and boys can't understand how we feel about cows."
"I can! They're awful big things, aren't they?"
"Perfectly enormous! I've always thought a cow coming towards you one of the biggest things in the world."
"Yes; me, too. Don't let's think about it. Do they hook people so very often?"
"No indeed, in fact one scarcely ever hears of such a case."
"If they stepped on your bare foot they'd scrunch it, wouldn't they?"
"Yes, but you are the driver; you mustn't let them do that; you are a free-will boy, and they are nothing but cows."
"I know; but p'raps there is free-will cows, and if they just would do it you couldn't help being scrunched, for you mustn't let go of the rope nor run, Mr. Came says.
"No, of course that would never do."
"Where you used to live did all the cows go down into the boggy places when you drove em to pasture, or did some walk in the road?"
"There weren't any cows or any pastures where I used to live; that's what makes me so foolish; why does your cow need a rope?"
"She don't like to go to pasture, Mr. Came says. Sometimes she'd druther stay to home, and so when she gets part way she turns round and comes backwards."
"Dear me!" thought Mrs. Baxter, "what becomes of this boy-mite if the cow has a spell of going backwards?--Do you like to drive her?" she asked.
"N-no, not erzackly; but you see, it'll be my cow if I drive her twenty-nine more times thout her gettin' her foot over the rope and thout my bein' afraid," and a beaming smile gave a transient brightness to his harassed little face. "Will she feed in the ditch much longer?" he asked. "Shall I say Hurrap'? That's what Mr. Came says-- hurrap!' like that, and it means to hurry up."
It was rather a feeble warning that he sounded and the cow fed on peacefully. The little fellow looked up at the minister's wife confidingly, and then glanced back at the farm to see if Cassius Came were watching the progress of events.
"What shall we do next?" he asked.
Mrs. Baxter delighted in that warm, cosy little 'WE;' it took her into the firm so pleasantly. She was a weak prop indeed when it came to cows, but all the courage in her soul rose to arms when Elisha said, "What shall WE do next?" She became alert, ingenious, strong, on the instant.
"What is the cow's name?" she asked, sitting up straight in the swing-chair.
"Buttercup; but she don't seem to know it very well. She ain't a mite like a buttercup."
"Never mind; you must shout 'Buttercup!' at the top of your voice, and twitch the rope hard; then I'll call, 'Hurrap!' with all my might at the same moment. And if she starts quickly we mustn't run nor seem frightened!"
They did this; it worked to a charm, and Mrs. Baxter looked affectionately after her Little Prophet as the cow pulled him down Tory Hill.
The lovely August days wore on. Rebecca was often at the parsonage and saw Elisha frequently, but Buttercup was seldom present at their interviews, as the boy now drove her to the pasture very early in the morning, the journey thither being one of considerable length and her method of reaching the goal being exceedingly roundabout.
Mr. Came had pointed out the necessity of getting her into the pasture at least a few minutes before she had to be taken out again at night, and though Rebecca didn't like Mr. Came, she saw the common sense of this remark. Sometimes Mrs. Baxter and Rebecca caught a glimpse of the two at sundown, as they returned from the pasture to the twilight milking, Buttercup chewing her peaceful cud, her soft white bag of milk hanging full, her surprised eye rolling in its accustomed "fine frenzy." The frenzied roll did not mean anything, they used to assure Elisha; but if it didn't, it was an awful pity she had to do it, Rebecca thought; and Mrs. Baxter agreed. To have an expression of eye that meant murder, and yet to be a perfectly virtuous and well-meaning animal, this was a calamity indeed.
Mrs. Baxter was looking at the sun one evening as it dropped like a ball of red fire into Wilkins's woods, when the Little Prophet passed.
"It's the twenty-ninth night," he called joyously.
"I am so glad," she answered, for she had often feared some accident might prevent his claiming the promised reward. "Then tomorrow Buttercup will be your own cow?"
"I guess so. That's what Mr. Came said. He's off to Acreville now, but he'll be home tonight, and father's going to send my new hat by him. When Buttercup's my own cow I wish I could change her name and call her Red Rover, but p'r'aps her mother wouldn't like it. When she b'longs to me, mebbe I won't be so fraid of gettin' hooked and scrunched, because she'll know she's mine, and she'll go better. I haven't let her get snarled up in the rope one single time, and I don't show I'm afraid, do I?"
"I should never suspect it for an instant," said Mrs. Baxter encouragingly. "I've often envied you your bold, brave look!"
Elisha appeared distinctly pleased. "I haven't cried, either, when she's dragged me over the pasture bars and peeled my legs. Bill Petes's little brother Charlie says he ain't afraid of anything, not even bears. He says he would walk right up close and cuff em if they dared to yip; but I ain't like that! He ain't scared of elephants or tigers or lions either; he says they're all the same as frogs or chickens to him!"
Rebecca told her Aunt Miranda that evening that it was the Prophet's twenty-ninth night, and that the big red cow was to be his on the morrow.
"Well, I hope it'll turn out that way," she said. "But I ain't a mite sure that Cassius Came will give up that cow when it comes to the point. It won't be the first time he's tried to crawl out of a bargain with folks a good deal bigger than Lisha, for he's terrible close, Cassius is. To be sure he's stiff in his joints and he's glad enough to have a boy to take the cow to the pasture in summer time, but he always has hired help when it comes harvestin'. So Lisha'll be no use from this on; and I dare say the cow is Abner Simpson's anyway. If you want a walk tonight, I wish you'd go up there and ask Mis' Came if she'll lend me an' your Aunt Jane half her yeast-cake. Tell her we'll pay it back when we get ours a Saturday. Don't you want to take Thirza Meserve with you? She's alone as usual while Huldy's entertainin' beaux on the side porch. Don't stay too long at the parsonage!"
Rebecca was used to this sort of errand, for the whole village of Riverboro would sometimes be rocked to the very centre of its being by simultaneous desire for a yeast-cake. As the nearest repository was a mile and a half distant, as the yeast-cake was valued at two cents and wouldn't keep, as the demand was uncertain, being dependent entirely on a fluctuating desire for "riz bread," the storekeeper refused to order more than three yeast-cakes a day at his own risk. Sometimes they remained on his hands a dead loss; sometimes eight or ten persons would "hitch up" and drive from distant farms for the coveted article, only to be met with the flat, "No, I'm all out o' yeast-cake; Mis' Simmons took the last; mebbe you can borry half o' hern, she hain't much of a bread-eater."
So Rebecca climbed the hills to Mrs. Came's, knowing that her daily bread depended on the successful issue of the call.
Thirza was barefooted, and tough as her little feet were, the long walk over the stubble fields tired her. When they came within sight of the Came barn, she coaxed Rebecca to take a short cut through the turnips growing in long, beautifully weeded rows.
"You know Mr. Came is awfully cross, Thirza, and can't bear anybody to tread on his crops or touch a tree or a bush that belongs to him. I'm kind of afraid, but come along and mind you step softly in between the rows and hold up your petticoat, so you can't possibly touch the turnip plants. I'll do the same. Skip along fast, because then we won't leave any deep footprints."
The children passed safely and noiselessly along, their pleasure a trifle enhanced by the felt dangers of their progress. Rebecca knew that they were doing no harm, but that did not prevent her hoping to escape the gimlet eye of Mr. Came.
As they neared the outer edge of the turnip patch they paused suddenly, petticoats in air.
A great clump of elderberry bushes hid them from the barn, but from the other side of the clump came the sound of conversation: the timid voice of the Little Prophet and the gruff tones of Cassius Came.
Rebecca was afraid to interrupt, and too honest to wish to overhear. She could only hope the man and the boy would pass on to the house as they talked, so she motioned to the paralyzed Thirza to take two more steps and stand with her behind the elderberry bushes. But no! In a moment they heard Mr. Came drag a stool over beside the grindstone as he said:
"Well, now Elisha Jeremiah, we'll talk about the red cow. You say you've drove her a month, do ye? And the trade between us was that if you could drive her a month, without her getting the rope over her foot and without bein' afraid, you was to have her. That's straight, ain't it?"
The Prophet's face burned with excitement, his gingham shirt rose and fell as if he were breathing hard, but he only nodded assent and said nothing.
"Now," continued Mr. Came, "have you made out to keep the rope from under her feet?"
"She ain't got t-t-tangled up one s-single time," said Elisha, stuttering in his excitement, but looking up with some courage from his bare toes, with which he was assiduously threading the grass.
"So far, so good. Now bout bein' afraid. As you seem so certain of gettin' the cow, I suppose you hain't been a speck scared, hev you? Honor bright, now!"
"I--I--not but just a little mite. I"--
"Hold up a minute. Of course you didn't say you was afraid, and didn't show you was afraid, and nobody knew you was afraid, but that ain't the way we fixed it up. You was to call the cow your'n if you could drive her to the pasture for a month without bein' afraid. Own up square now, hev you be'n afraid?"
A long pause, then a faint, "Yes."
"Where's your manners?"
"I mean yes, sir."
"How often? If it hain't be'n too many times mebbe I'll let ye off, though you're a reg'lar girl-boy, and'll be runnin' away from the cat bimeby. Has it be'n--twice?"
"Yes," and the Little Prophet's voice was very faint now, and had a decided tear in it.
"Has it be'n four times?"
"Y-es, sir." More heaving of the gingham shirt.
"Well, you air a thunderin' coward! How many times? Speak up now."
More digging of the bare toes in the earth, and one premonitory tear drop stealing from under the downcast lids, then,--
"A little, most every day, and you can keep the cow," wailed the Prophet, as he turned abruptly and fled behind the shed, where he flung himself into the green depths of a tansy bed, and gave himself up to unmanly sobs.
Cassius Came gave a sort of shamefaced guffaw at the abrupt departure of the boy, and went on into the house, while Rebecca and Thirza made a stealthy circuit of the barn and a polite and circumspect entrance through the parsonage front gate.
Rebecca told the minister's wife what she could remember of the interview between Cassius Came and Elisha Simpson, and tender-hearted Mrs. Baxter longed to seek and comfort her Little Prophet sobbing in the tansy bed, the brand of coward on his forehead, and what was much worse, the fear in his heart that he deserved it.
Rebecca could hardly be prevented from bearding Mr. Came and openly espousing the cause of Elisha, for she was an impetuous, reckless, valiant creature when a weaker vessel was attacked or threatened unjustly.
Mrs. Baxter acknowledged that Mr. Came had been true, in a way, to his word and bargain, but she confessed that she had never heard of so cruel and hard a bargain since the days of Shylock, and it was all the worse for being made with a child.
Rebecca hurried home, her visit quite spoiled and her errand quite forgotten till she reached the brick house door, where she told her aunts, with her customary picturesqueness of speech, that she would rather eat buttermilk bread till she died than partake of food mixed with one of Mr. Came's yeast-cakes; that it would choke her, even in the shape of good raised bread.
"That's all very fine, Rebecky," said her Aunt Miranda, who had a pin-prick for almost every bubble; "but don't forget there's two other mouths to feed in this house, and you might at least give your aunt and me the privilege of chokin' if we feel to want to!"
Mrs. Baxter finally heard from Mrs. Came, through whom all information was sure to filter if you gave it time, that her husband despised a coward, that he considered Elisha a regular mother's-apron-string boy, and that he was "learnin'" him to be brave.
Bill Peters, the hired man, now drove Buttercup to pasture, though whenever Mr. Came went to Moderation or Bonnie Eagle, as he often did, Mrs. Baxter noticed that Elisha took the hired man's place. She often joined him on these anxious expeditions, and, a like terror in both their souls, they attempted to train the red cow and give her some idea of obedience.
"If she only wouldn't look at us that way we would get along real nicely with her, wouldn't we?" prattled the Prophet, straggling along by her side; "and she is a splendid cow; she gives twenty-one quarts a day, and Mr. Came says it's more'n half cream."
The minister's wife assented to all this, thinking that if Buttercup would give up her habit of turning completely round in the road to roll her eyes and elevate her white-tipped eyebrow, she might indeed be an enjoyable companion; but in her present state of development her society was not agreeable, even did she give sixty-one quarts of milk a day. Furthermore, when Mrs. Baxter discovered that she never did any of these reprehensible things with Bill Peters, she began to believe cows more intelligent creatures than she had supposed them to be, and she was indignant to think Buttercup could count so confidently on the weakness of a small boy and a timid woman.
One evening, when Buttercup was more than usually exasperating, Mrs. Baxter said to the Prophet, who was bracing himself to keep from being pulled into a wayside brook where Buttercup loved to dabble, "Elisha, do you know anything about the superiority of mind over matter?"
No, he didn't, though it was not a fair time to ask the question, for he had sat down in the road to get a better purchase on the rope.
"Well, it doesn't signify. What I mean is that we can die but once, and it is a glorious thing to die for a great principle. Give me that rope. I can pull like an ox in my present frame of mind. You run down on the opposite side of the brook, take that big stick wade right in--you are barefooted,--brandish the stick, and, if necessary, do more than brandish. I would go myself, but it is better she should recognize you as her master, and I am in as much danger as you are, anyway. She may try to hook you, of course, but you must keep waving the stick,--die brandishing, Prophet, that's the idea! She may turn and run for me, in which case I shall run too; but I shall die running, and the minister can bury us under our favorite sweet-apple tree!"
The Prophet's soul was fired by the lovely lady's eloquence. Their spirits mounted simultaneously, and they were flushed with a splendid courage in which death looked a mean and paltry thing compared with vanquishing that cow. She had already stepped into the pool, but the Prophet waded in towards her, moving the alder branch menacingly. She looked up with the familiar roll of the eye that had done her such good service all summer, but she quailed beneath the stern justice and the new valor of the Prophet's gaze.
In that moment perhaps she felt ashamed of the misery she had caused the helpless mite. At any rate, actuated by fear, surprise, or remorse, she turned and walked back into the road without a sign of passion or indignation, leaving the boy and the lady rather disappointed at their easy victory. To be prepared for a violent death and receive not even a scratch made them fear that they might possibly have overestimated the danger.
They were better friends than ever after that, the young minister's wife and the forlorn little boy from Acreville, sent away from home he knew not why, unless it were that there was little to eat there and considerably more at the Cash Cames', as they were called in Edgewood. Cassius was familiarly known as Uncle Cash, partly because there was a disposition in Edgewood to abbreviate all Christian names, and partly because the old man paid cash, and expected to be paid cash, for everything.
The late summer grew into autumn, and the minister's great maple flung a flaming bough of scarlet over Mrs. Baxter's swing-chair. Uncle Cash found Elisha very useful at picking up potatoes and apples, but the boy was going back to his family as soon as the harvesting was over.
One Friday evening Mrs. Baxter and Rebecca, wrapped in shawls and "fascinators," were sitting on Mrs. Came's front steps enjoying the sunset. Rebecca was in a tremulous state of happiness, for she had come directly from the Seminary at Wareham to the parsonage, and as the minister was absent at a church conference, she was to stay the night with Mrs. Baxter and go with her to Portland next day.
They were to go to the Islands, have ice cream for luncheon, ride on a horse-car, and walk by the Longfellow house, a programme that so unsettled Rebecca's never very steady mind that she radiated flashes and sparkles of joy, making Mrs. Baxter wonder if flesh could be translucent, enabling the spirit-fires within to shine through?
Buttercup was being milked on the grassy slope near the shed door. As she walked to the barn, after giving up her pailfuls of yellow milk, she bent her neck and snatched a hasty bite from a pile of turnips lying temptingly near. In her haste she took more of a mouthful than would be considered good manners even among cows, and as she disappeared in the barn door they could see a forest of green tops hanging from her mouth, while she painfully attempted to grind up the mass of stolen material without allowing a single turnip to escape.
It grew dark soon afterward and they went into the house to see Mrs. Came's new lamp lighted for the first time, to examine her last drawn-in rug (a wonderful achievement produced entirely from dyed flannel petticoats), and to hear the doctor's wife play "Oft in the Still Night," on the dulcimer.
As they closed the sitting-room door opening on the piazza facing the barn, the women heard the cow coughing and said to one another: "Buttercup was too greedy, and now she has indigestion."
Elisha always went to bed at sundown, and Uncle Cash had gone to the doctor's to have his hand dressed, for he had hurt it is some way in the threshing-machine. Bill Peters, the hired man, came in presently and asked for him, saying that the cow coughed more and more, and it must be that something was wrong, but he could not get her to open her mouth wide enough for him to see anything. "She'd up an' die ruther 'n obleege anybody, that tarnal, ugly cow would!" he said.
When Uncle Cash had driven into the yard, he came in for a lantern, and went directly out to the barn. After a half-hour or so, in which the little party had forgotten the whole occurrence, he came in again.
"I'm blamed if we ain't goin' to lose that cow," he said. "Come out, will ye, Hannah, and hold the lantern? I can't do anything with my right hand in a sling, and Bill is the stupidest critter in the country."
Everybody went out to the barn accordingly, except the doctor's wife, who ran over to her house to see if her brother Moses had come home from Milltown, and could come and take a hand in the exercises.
Buttercup was in a bad way; there was no doubt of it. Something, one of the turnips, presumably, had lodged in her throat, and would move neither way, despite her attempts to dislodge it. Her breathing was labored, and her eyes bloodshot from straining and choking. Once or twice they succeeded in getting her mouth partly open, but before they could fairly discover the cause of trouble she had wrested her head away.
"I can see a little tuft of green sticking straight up in the middle," said Uncle Cash, while Bill Peters and Moses held a lantern on each side of Buttercup's head; "but, land! It's so far down, and such a mite of a thing, I couldn't git it, even if I could use my right hand. S'pose you try, Bill."
Bill hemmed and hawed, and confessed he didn't care to try. Buttercup's grinders were of good size and excellent quality, and he had no fancy for leaving his hand within her jaws. He said he was no good at that kind of work, but that he would help Uncle Cash hold the cow's head; that was just as necessary, and considerable safer.
Moses was more inclined to the service of humanity, and did his best, wrapping his wrist in a cloth, and making desperate but ineffectual dabs at the slippery green turnip-tops in the reluctantly opened throat. But the cow tossed her head and stamped her feet and switched her tail and wriggled from under Bill's hands, so that it seemed altogether impossible to reach the seat of the trouble.
Uncle Cash was in despair, fuming and fretting the more because of his own crippled hand.
"Hitch up, Bill,:" he said, "and, Hannah, you drive over to Milliken's Mills for the horse-doctor. I know we can git out that turnip if we can hit on the right tools and somebody to manage em right; but we've got to be quick about it or the critter'll choke to death, sure! Your hand's so clumsy, Mose, she thinks her time's come when she feels it in her mouth, and your fingers are so big you can't ketch holt o' that green stuff thout its slippin'!"
"Mine ain't big; let me try," said a timid voice, and turning round, they saw little Elisha Simpson, his trousers pulled on over his night-shirt, his curly hair ruffled, his eyes vague with sleep.
Uncle Cash gave a laugh of good-humored derision. "You--that's afraid to drive a cow to pasture? No, sir; you hain't got sand enough for this job, I guess!"
Buttercup just then gave a worse cough than ever, and her eyes rolled in her head as if she were giving up the ghost.
"I'd rather do it than see her choke to death!" cried the boy, in despair.
"Then, by ginger, you can try it, sonny!" said Uncle Cash. "Now this time we'll tie her head up. Take it slow, and make a good job of it."
Accordingly they pried poor Buttercup's jaws open to put a wooden gag between them, tied her head up, and kept her as still as they could while the women held the lanterns.
"Now, sonny, strip up your sleeve and reach as fur down's you can! Wind your little fingers in among that green stuff stickin' up there that ain't hardly big enough to call green stuff, give it a twist, and pull for all you're worth. Land! What a skinny little pipe stem!"
The Little Prophet had stripped up his sleeve. It was a slender thing, his arm; but he had driven the red cow all summer, borne her tantrums, protected her from the consequences of her own obstinacy, taking (as he thought) a future owner's pride in her splendid flow of milk--grown fond of her, in a word, and now she was choking to death. A skinny little pipe stem is capable of a deal at such a time, and only a slender hand and arm could have done the work.
Elisha trembled with nervousness, but he made a dexterous and dashing entrance into the awful cavern of Buttercup's mouth; descended upon the tiny clump of green spills or spikes, wound his little fingers in among them as firmly as he could, and then gave a long, steady, determined pull with all the strength in this body. That was not so much in itself, to be sure, but he borrowed a good deal more from some reserve quarter, the location of which nobody knows anything about, but upon which everybody draws in time of need.
Such a valiant pull you would never have expected of the Little Prophet. Such a pull it was that, to his own utter amazement, he suddenly found himself lying flat on his back on the barn floor with a very slippery something in his hand, and a fair-sized but rather dilapidated turnip at the end of it.
"That's the business!" cried Moses.
"I could 'a' done it as easy as nothin' if my arm had been a leetle mite smaller," said Bill Peters.
"You're a trump, sonny!" exclaimed Uncle Cash, as he helped Moses untie Buttercup's head and took the gag out.
"You're a trump, Lisha, and, by ginger, the cow's your'n; only don't you let your blessed pa drink none of her cream!"
The welcome air rushed into Buttercup's lungs and cooled her parched, torn throat. She was pretty nearly spent, poor thing, and bent her head (rather gently for her) over the Little Prophet's shoulder as he threw his arms joyfully about her neck, and whispered, "You're my truly cow now, ain't you, Buttercup?"
"Mrs. Baxter, dear," said Rebecca, as they walked home to the parsonage together under the young harvest moon; "there are all sorts of cowards, aren't there, and don't you think Elisha is one of the best kind."
"I don't quite know what to think about cowards, Rebecca Rowena," said the minister's wife hesitatingly. "The Little Prophet is the third coward I have known in my short life who turned out to be a hero when the real testing time came. Meanwhile the heroes themselves--or the ones that were taken for heroes--were always busy doing something, or being somewhere, else."