Chapter VI. The Losing of Mr. Stubbins
 
    "Love is not love
     Which alters when it alteration finds,
     Or bends with the remover to remove."

If the Cabbage Patch had pinned its faith upon the efficiency of the matrimonial agency in regard to the disposal of Miss Hazy, it was doomed to disappointment. The events that led up to the final catastrophe were unique in that they cast no shadows before.

Miss Hazy's letters, dictated by Mrs. Wiggs and penned by Lovey Mary, were promptly and satisfactorily answered. The original of the spirit picture proved to be one Mr. Stubbins, "a prominent citizen of Bagdad Junction who desired to marry some one in the city. The lady must be of good character and without incumbrances." "That's all right," Mrs. Wiggs had declared; "you needn't have no incumbrances. If he'll take keer of you, we'll all look after Chris."

The wooing had been ideally simple. Mr. Stubbins, with the impetuosity of a new lover, demanded an early meeting. It was a critical time, and the Cabbage Patch realized the necessity of making the first impression a favorable one. Mrs. Wiggs took pictures from her walls and chairs from her parlor to beautify the house of Hazy. Old Mrs. Schultz, who was confined to her bed, sent over her black silk dress for Miss Hazy to wear. Mrs. Eichorn, with deep insight into the nature of man, gave a pound-cake and a pumpkin-pie. Lovey Mary scrubbed, and dusted, and cleaned, and superintended the toilet of the bride elect.

The important day had arrived, and with it Mr. Stubbins. To the many eyes that surveyed him from behind shutters and half-open doors he was something of a disappointment. Mrs. Wiggs's rosy anticipations had invested him with the charms of an Apollo, while Mr. Stubbins, in reality, was far from godlike. "My land! he's lanker 'n a bean-pole," exclaimed Mrs. Eichorn, in disgust. But then Mrs. Eichorn weighed two hundred, and her judgment was warped. Taking everything into consideration, the prospects had been most flattering. Mr. Stubbins, sitting in Mrs. Wiggs's most comfortable chair, with a large slice of pumpkin-pie in his hand, and with Miss Hazy opposite arrayed in Mrs. Schultz's black silk, had declared himself ready to marry at once. And Mrs. Wiggs, believing that a groom in the hand is worth two in the bush, promptly precipitated the courtship into a wedding.

The affair proved the sensation of the hour, and "Miss Hazy's husband" was the cynosure of all eyes. For one brief week the honeymoon shed its beguiling light on the neighborhood, then it suffered a sudden and ignominious eclipse.

The groom got drunk.

Mary was clearing away the supper-dishes when she was startled by a cry from Miss Hazy:

"My sakes! Lovey Mary! Look at Mr. Stubbins a-comin' up the street! Do you s'pose he's had a stroke?"

Lovey Mary ran to the window and beheld the "prominent citizen of Bagdad Junction" in a state of unmistakable intoxication. He was bareheaded and hilarious, and used the fence as a life-preserver. Miss Hazy wrung her hands and wept.

"Oh, what'll I do?" she wailed. "I do b'lieve he's had somethin' to drink. I ain't goin' to stay an' meet him, Mary; I'm goin' to hide. I always was skeered of drunken men."

"I'm not," said Mary, stoutly. "You go on up in my room and lock the door; I'm going to stay here and keep him from messing up this kitchen. I want to tell him what I think of him, anyhow. I just hate that man! I believe you do, too, Miss Hazy."

Miss Hazy wept afresh. "Well, he ain't my kind, Mary. I know I'd hadn't orter marry him, but it 'pears like ever' woman sorter wants to try gittin' married oncet anyways. I never would 'a' done it, though, if Mrs. Wiggs hadn't 'a' sicked me on."

By this time Mr. Stubbins had reached the yard, and Miss Hazy fled. Lovey Mary barricaded Tommy in a corner with his playthings and met the delinquent at the door. Her eyes blazed and her cheeks were aflame. This modern David had no stones and sling to slay her Goliath; she had only a vocabulary full of stinging words which she hurled forth with indignation and scorn. Mr. Stubbins had evidently been abused before, for he paid no attention to the girl's wrath. He passed jauntily to the stove and tried to pour a cup of coffee; the hot liquid missed the cup and streamed over his wrist and hand. Howling with pain and swearing vociferously, he flung the coffee-pot out of the window, kicked a chair across the room, then turned upon Tommy, who was adding shrieks of terror to the general uproar. "Stop that infernal yelling!" he cried savagely, as he struck the child full in the face with his heavy hand.

Lovey Mary sprang forward and seized the poker. All the passion of her wild little nature was roused. She stole up behind him as he knelt before Tommy, and lifted the poker to strike. A pair of terrified blue eyes arrested her. Tommy forgot to cry, in sheer amazement at what she was about to do. Ashamed of herself, she threw the poker aside, and taking advantage of Mr. Stubbins's crouching position, she thrust him suddenly backward into the closet. The manoeuver was a brilliant one, for while Mr. Stubbins was unsteadily separating himself from the debris into which he had been cast, Lovey Mary slammed the door and locked it. Then she picked up Tommy and fled out of the house and across the yard.

Mrs. Wiggs was sitting on her back porch pretending to knit, but in truth absorbed in a wild game of tag which the children were having on the commons. "That's right," she was calling excitedly--"that's right, Chris Hazy! You kin ketch as good as any of 'em, even if you have got a peg-stick." But when she caught sight of Mary's white, distressed face and Tommy's streaming eyes, she dropped her work and held out her arms. When Mary had finished her story Mrs. Wiggs burst forth:

"An' to think I run her up ag'in' this! Ain't men deceivin'? Now I'd 'a' risked Mr. Stubbins myself fer the askin'. It's true he was a widower, an' ma uster allays say, 'Don't fool with widowers, grass nor sod.' But Mr. Stubbins was so slick-tongued! He told me yesterday he had to take liquor sometime fer his war enjury."

"But, Mrs. Wiggs, what must we do?" asked Lovey Mary, too absorbed in the present to be interested in the past.

"Do? Why, we got to git Miss Hazy out of this here hole. It ain't no use consultin' her; I allays have said talkin' to Miss Hazy was like pullin' out bastin'-threads: you jes take out what you put in. Me an' you has got to think out a plan right here an' now, then go to work an' carry it out."

"Couldn't we get the agency to take him back?" suggested Mary.

"No, indeed; they couldn't afford to do that. Lemme see, lemme see--" For five minutes Mrs. Wiggs rocked meditatively, soothing Tommy to sleep as she rocked. When she again spoke it was with inspiration:

"I've got it! It looks sometime, Lovey Mary, 's if I'd sorter caught some of Mr. Wiggs's brains in thinkin' things out. They ain't but one thing to do with Miss Hazy's husband, an' we'll do it this very night."

"What, Mrs. Wiggs? What is it?" asked Lovey Mary, eagerly.

"Why, to lose him, of course! We'll wait till Mr. Stubbins is dead asleep; you know men allays have to sleep off a jag like this. I've seen Mr. Wiggs--I mean I've heared 'em say so many a time. Well, when Mr. Stubbins is sound asleep, you an' me an' Billy will drag him out to the railroad."

Mrs. Wiggs's voice had sunk to a hoarse whisper, and her eyes looked fierce in the twilight.

Lovey Mary shuddered.

"You ain't going to let the train run over him, are you?" she asked.

"Lor', child, I ain't a 'sassinator! No; we'll wait till the midnight freight comes along, an' when it stops fer water, we'll h'ist Mr. Stubbins into one of them empty cars. The train goes 'way out West somewheres, an' by the time Mr. Stubbins wakes up, he'll be so far away from home he won't have no money to git back."

"What'll Miss Hazy say?" asked Mary, giggling in nervous excitement.

"Miss Hazy ain't got a thing to do with it," replied Mrs. Wiggs conclusively.

At midnight, by the dark of the moon, the unconscious groom was borne out of the Hazy cottage. Mrs. Wiggs carried his head, while Billy Wiggs and Mary and Asia and Chris officiated at his arms and legs. The bride surveyed the scene from the chinks of the upstairs shutters.

Silently the little group waited until the lumbering freight train slowed up to take water, then with a concerted effort they lifted the heavy burden into an empty car. As they shrank back into the shadow, Billy whispered to Lovey Mary:

"Say, what was that you put 'longside of him?"

Mary looked shamefaced.

"It was just a little lunch-dinner," she said apologetically; "it seemed sorter mean to send him off without anything to eat."

"Gee!" said Billy. "You're a cur'us girl!"

The engine whistled, and the train moved thunderously away, bearing an unconscious passenger, who, as far as the Cabbage Patch was concerned, was henceforth submerged in the darkness of oblivion.