The Cabbage Patch by Alice Hegan Rice
Chapter IV. The Annexation of Cuby
"They well deserve to have, That know the strongest and surest way to get."
Almost a year rolled over the Cabbage Patch, and it was nearing Christmas again. The void left in Mrs. Wiggs's heart by Jim's death could never be filled, but time was beginning to soften her grief, and the necessity for steady employment kept her from brooding over her trouble.
It was still needful to maintain the strictest economy, for half the money which had been given them was in Miss Olcott's keeping as a safeguard against another rainy day. Mrs. Wiggs had got as much washing as she could do; Asia helped about the house, and Billy did odd jobs wherever he could find them.
The direct road to fortune, however, according to Billy's ideas, could best be traveled in a kindling-wagon, and, while he was the proud possessor of a dilapidated wagon, sole relic of the late Mr. Wiggs, he had nothing to hitch to it. Scarcely a week passed that he did not agitate the question, and, as Mrs. Wiggs often said, "When Billy Wiggs done set his head to a thing, he's as good as got it!"
So she was not surprised when he rushed breathlessly into the kitchen one evening, about supper-time, and exclaimed in excited tones: "Ma, I 've got a horse! He was havin' a fit on the commons an' they was goin' to shoot him, an' I ast the man to give him to me!"
"My land, Billy! What do you want with a fit-horse?" asked his mother.
"'Cause I knowed you could cure him. The man said if I took him I'd have to pay fer cartin' away his carcass, but I said, 'All right, I 'll take him, anyway.' Come on, ma, an' see him!" and Billy hurried back to his new possession.
Mrs. Wiggs pinned a shawl over her head and ran across the commons. A group of men stood around the writhing animal, but the late owner had departed.
"He's 'most gone," said one of the men, as she came up. "I tole Billy you'd beat him fer takin' that ole nag offen the man's han's."
"Well, I won't," said Mrs. Wiggs, stoutly. "Billy Wiggs's got more sense than most men I know. That hoss's carcass is worth something I 'spect he'd bring 'bout two dollars dead, an' mebbe more living. Anyway, I'm goin' to save him if there's any save to him!"
She stood with her arms on her hips, and critically surveyed her patient. "I'll tell you what's the matter with him," was her final diagnosis; "his lights is riz. Billy, I'm goin' home fer some medicine; you set on his head so's he can't git up, an' ma'll be right back in a minute."
The crowd which had collected to see the horse shot began to disperse, for it was supper-time, and there was nothing to see now but the poor suffering animal, with Billy Wiggs patiently sitting on its head.
When Mrs. Wiggs returned she carried a bottle, and what appeared to be a large marble. "This here is a calomel pill," she explained. "I jes' rolled the calomel in with some soft, light bread. Now, you prop his jaw open with a little stick, an' I'll shove it in, an' then hole his head back, while I pour down some water an' turkentine outen this bottle."
It was with great difficulty that this was accomplished, for the old horse had evidently seen a vision of the happy hunting-ground, and was loath to return to the sordid earth. His limbs were already stiffening in death, and the whites of his eyes only were visible. Mrs. Wiggs noted these discouraging symptoms, and saw that violent measures were necessary.
"Gether some sticks an' build a fire quick as you kin. I 've got to run over home. Build it right up clost to him, Billy; we 've got to git him het up."
She rushed into the kitchen, and, taking several cakes of tallow from the shelf, threw them into a tin bucket. Then she hesitated for a moment. The kettle of soup was steaming away on the stove ready for supper. Mrs. Wiggs did not believe in sacrificing the present need to the future comfort. She threw in a liberal portion of pepper, and, seizing the kettle in one hand and the bucket of tallow in the other, staggered back to the bonfire.
"Now, Billy," she commanded, "put this bucket of tallow down there in the hottest part of the fire. Look out; don't tip it--there! Now, you come here an' help me pour this soup into the bottle. I'm goin' to git that ole hoss so het up he'll think he's havin' a sunstroke! Seems sorter bad to keep on pestering him when he's so near gone, but this here soup'll feel good when it once gits inside him."
When the kettle was empty, the soup was impartially distributed over Mrs. Wiggs and the patient, but a goodly amount had "got inside," and already the horse was losing his rigidity.
Only once did Billy pause in his work, and that was to ask:
"Ma, what do you think I'd better name him?"
Giving names was one of Mrs. Wiggs's chief accomplishments, and usually required much thoughtful consideration; but in this case if there was to be a christening it must be at once.
"I'd like a jography name," suggested Billy, feeling that nothing was too good to bestow upon his treasure.
Mrs. Wiggs stood with the soup dripping from her hands, and earnestly contemplated the horse. Babies, pigs, goats, and puppies had drawn largely on her supply of late, and geography names especially were scarce. Suddenly a thought struck her.
"I'll tell you what, Billy! We'll call him Cuby! It's a town I heared 'em talkin' 'bout at the grocery."
By this time the tallow was melted, and Mrs. Wiggs carried it over by the horse, and put each of his hoofs into the hot liquid, while Billy rubbed the legs with all the strength of his young arms.
"That's right," she said; "now you run home an' git that piece of carpet by my bed, an' we'll kiver him up. I am goin' to git them fence rails over yonder to keep the fire goin'."
Through the long night they worked with their patient, and when the first glow of morning appeared in the east, a triumphant procession wended its way across the Cabbage Patch. First came an old woman, bearing sundry pails, kettles, and bottles; next came a very sleepy little boy, leading a trembling old horse, with soup all over its head, tallow on its feet, and a strip of rag-carpet tied about its middle.
And thus Cuba, like his geographical namesake, emerged from the violent ordeal of reconstruction with a mangled constitution, internal dissension, a decided preponderance of foreign element, but a firm and abiding trust in the new power with which his fortunes had been irrevocably cast.