The Cabbage Patch by Alice Hegan Rice
Chapter V. A Reminiscence
"It is easy enough to be pleasant When life flows along like a song, But the man worth while is the one who will smile When everything goes dead wrong."
When Miss Hazy was awakened early that morning by a resonant neigh at the head of her bed, she mistook it for the trump of doom. Miss Hazy's cottage, as has been said, was built on the bias in the Wiggses' side yard, and the little lean-to, immediately behind Miss Hazy's bedroom, had been pressed into service as Cuba's temporary abiding-place.
After her first agonized fright, the old woman ventured to push the door open a crack and peep out.
"Chris," she said, in a tense whisper, to her sleeping nephew-- "Chris, what on airth is this here hitched to our shutter?"
Chris, usually deaf to all calls less emphatic than cold water and a broomstick, raised a rumpled head from the bed-clothes.
"Where at?" he asked.
"Right here!" said Miss Hazy, still in a terrified whisper, and holding fast the door, as if the specter might attempt an entrance. Chris did not stop to adjust his wooden leg, but hopped over to the door, and cautiously put an eye to the opening.
"Why, shucks, 't ain't nothin' but a hoss!" he said, in disgust, having nerved himself for nothing less than a rhinoceros, such as he had seen in the circus.
"How'd he git there?" demanded Miss Hazy.
Chris was not prepared to say.
All through breakfast Miss Hazy was in a flutter of excitement. She had once heard of a baby being left on a doorstep, but never a horse. When the limit of her curiosity was about reached, she saw Mrs. Wiggs coming across the yard carrying a bucket. She hastened to meet her.
"Mornin'," called Mrs. Wiggs, brightly, in spite of her night's vigil; "ain't we got a fine hoss?"
Miss Hazy put the ash-barrel between herself and the animal, and hazarded a timid inspection, while Mrs. Wiggs made explanations, and called attention to Cuba's fine points.
"Can't you come in an' take a warm?" asked Miss Hazy, as she concluded.
"Well, I b'lieve I will," said Mrs. Wiggs. "I ain't been over fer quite a spell. The childern kin clean up, bein' it's Saturday." From seven to nine in the morning were the favorite calling-hours in the Cabbage Patch.
Mrs. Wiggs chose the chair which had the least on it, and leaned back, smiling affably as she remarked: "We 're used to hosses; this here's the second one we 've had."
"My!" said Miss Hazy, "you muster been well to do!"
"Yes," continued Mrs. Wiggs, "we was--up to the time of the fire. Did I ever tell you 'bout how Jim brought our other hoss to town?"
Miss Hazy had heard the story a number of times, but she knew the duties of a hostess.
"It was this a-way," went on Mrs. Wiggs, drawing her chair closer to the fire, and preparing for a good, long talk. "You see, me an' the childern was comin' on the steam-car train, but ther' wasn't no way to git the hoss here, 'ceptin' fer somebody to ride him. Course Jim said he'd do it. Poor Jim, always ready to do the hard part!" She paused to wipe her eyes on her apron, and Miss Hazy wept in sympathy.
"Never min', Miss Wiggs; don't cry. Go on an' tell me what you done next."
"Well," said Mrs. Wiggs, swallowing the lump in her throat, "Jim said he'd go. He never had been to the city, an' he was jes' a little shaver, but I knowed I could trust him."
"I don't see how you could stand to risk it!" exclaimed Miss Hazy.
"Oh, I reckon whatever you got to do, you kin do. I didn't see no other way; so one mornin' I put a old fo-patch quilt over the hoss, tied a bucket of oats on behin' it an' fixed some vittles fer Jim, an' started 'em off. It was a forty-mile ride to the city, so I calkerlated to start Jim so's he'd git to Dr. White's 'bout nightfall."
"Dr. White was your old doctor, wasn't he?" prompted Miss Hazy.
"Yes'm. He used to tend Mr. Wiggs before we moved over into Bullitt County. You know Mr. Wiggs was a widow man when I married him. He had head trouble. Looked like all his inflictions gethered together in that head of hisn. He uster go into reg'lar transoms!"
Miss Hazy was awe-struck, but more dreadful revelations were to follow.
"I guess you knew I killed him," continued Mrs. Wiggs, calmly. "The doctor an' ever'body said so. He was jes' gitten over typhoid, an' I give him pork an' beans. He was a wonderful man! Kept his senses plumb to the end. I remember his very las' words. I was settin' by him, waitin' fer the doctor to git there, an' I kep' saying 'Oh, Mr. Wiggs! You don't think you are dying do you?' an' he answered up jes' as natural an' fretful-like, 'Good lan', Nancy! How do I know? I ain't never died before.' An' them was the very las' words he ever spoke."
"Was he a church member, Miss Wiggs?" inquired Miss Hazy.
"Well, no, not exactly," admitted Mrs. Wiggs, reluctantly. "But he was what you might say a well-wisher. But, as I was tellin' you, Dr. White was a old friend, an' I pinned a note on Jim's coat tellin' who he was an' where he was going an' knowed the doctor would have a eye on him when he got as fur as Smithville. As fer the rest of the trip, I wasn't so certain. The only person I knowed in the city was Pete Jenkins, an' if there was one man in the world I didn't have no use fer, it was Pete. But when I don't like folks I try to do somethin' nice fer 'em. Seems like that's the only way I kin weed out my meanness. So I jes' sez to Jim, 'You keep on astin' till you git to No. 6 Injun House, an' then you ast fer Pete Jenkins. You tell him,' sez I, 'you are Hiram Wiggs's boy, an' as long as he done so much harm to yer pa, mebbe he'd be glad to do a good turn by you, an' keep you an' the hoss fer the night, till yer ma comes fer you.' Well, Jim started off, lookin' mighty little settin' up on that big hoss, an' I waved my apron long as I could; then I hid behin' a tree to keep him from seein' me cry. He rode all that day, an' 'bout sundown he come to Dr. White's. Pore little feller, he was so tired an' stiff he couldn't hardly walk, but he tied the hoss to the post an' went 'round to the back door an' knocked real easy. Mrs. White come to the door an' sez, real cross, 'No, doctor ain't here,' an' slammed it shut agin. I ain't meanin' to blame her; mebbe her bread was in the oven, or her baby crying or somethin', but seems to me I couldn't have treated a dog that a-way!
"Pore Jim, he dragged out to the road agin, an' set there beside the hoss, not knowin' what to do nex'. Night was a-comin' on, he hadn't had no supper, an' he was dead beat. By an' by he went to sleep, an' didn't know nothin' till somebody shuck his shoulder an' sez, 'Git up from here! What you doin' sleepin' here in the road?' Then he went stumblin' 'long, with somebody holdin' his arm, an' he was took into a big, bright room, an' the doctor was lookin' at him an' astin' him questions. An' Jim said he never did know what he answered, but it must 'a' been right, fer the doctor grabbed holt of his hand, an' sez: 'Bless my soul! It's little Jimmy Wiggs, all the way from Curryville!'
"Then they give him his supper, an' Mrs. White sez: 'Where'll he sleep at, Doctor? There ain't no spare bed.' Then Jim sez the doctor frowned like ever'thin', an' sez: 'Sleep? Why, he'll sleep in the bed with my boys, an' they orter be proud to have sech a plucky bedfeller!'
"Jim never did fergit them words; they meant a good deal more to him than his supper.
"Early the nex' mornin' he started out agin, the doctor pointin' him on the way. He didn't git into the city till 'long 'bout four o'clock, an' he sez he never was so mixed in all his life. All my childern was green about town; it made ever' one of 'em sick when they first rode on the street-cars, an' Europena was skeered to death of the newsboys, 'cause she thought they called 'Babies,' 'stid of 'Papers.' Jim kep' right on the main road, like he was tole to, but things kep' a-happenin' 'round him so fast, he said he couldn't do no more 'n jes' keep out the way. All of a suddint a ice-wagon come rattlin' up behin' him. It was runnin' off, an' 'fore he knowed it a man hit it in the head an' veered it 'round towards him; Jim said his hoss turned a clean somerset, an' he was th'owed up in the air, an'--"
"Ma!" called a shrill voice from the Wiggses' porch, "Australia's in the rain-barrel!"
Mrs. Wiggs looked exasperated. "I never was havin' a good time in my life that one of my childern didn't git in that rain-barrel!"
"Well, go on an' finish," said Miss Hazy, to whom the story had lost nothing by repetition.
"Ther' ain't much more," said Mrs. Wiggs, picking up her bucket. "Our hoss had two legs an' his neck broke, but Jim never had a scratch. A policeman took him to No. 6 Injun House, an' Pete Jenkins jes' treated him like he'd been his own son. I was done cured then an' there fer my feelin' aginst Pete."
"Ma!" again came the warning cry across the yard.
"All right, I'm comin'! Good-by, Miss Hazy; you have a eye to Cuby till we git our shed ready. He ain't as sperited as he looks."
And, with a cordial hand-shake, Mrs. Wiggs went cheerfully away to administer chastisement to her erring offspring.