Chapter IX. Labor Day
 
     "And cloudy the day, or stormy the night,
      The sky of her heart was always bright."

"It wouldn't s'prise me none if we had cyclones an' tornadoes by evenin', it looks so thundery outdoors."

It was inconsiderate of Miss Hazy to make the above observation in the very face of the most elaborate preparations for a picnic, but Miss Hazy's evil predictions were too frequent to be effective.

"I'll scurry round an' git another loaf of bread," said Mrs. Wiggs, briskly, as she put a tin pail into the corner of the basket. "Lovey Mary, you put in the eggs an' git them cookies outen the stove. I promised them boys a picnic on Labor Day, an' we are goin' if it snows."

"Awful dangerous in the woods when it storms," continued Miss Hazy. "I heared of a man oncet that would go to a picnic in the rain, and he got struck so bad it burned his shoes plump off."

"Must have been the same man that got drownded, when he was little, fer goin' in swimmin' on Sunday," answered Mrs. Wiggs, wiping her hands on her apron.

"Mebbe 't was," said Miss Hazy.

Lovey Mary vibrated between the door and the window, alternating between hope and despair. She had set her heart on the picnic with the same intensity of desire that had characterized her yearning for goodness and affection and curly hair.

"I believe there is a tiny speck more blue," she said, scanning the heavens for the hundredth time.

"Course there is!" cried Mrs. Wiggs, "an' even if there ain't, we'll have the picnic anyway. I b'lieve in havin' a good time when you start out to have it. If you git knocked out of one plan, you want to git yerself another right quick, before yer sperrits has a chance to fall. Here comes Jake an' Chris with their baskets. Suppose you rench off yer hands an' go gether up the rest of the childern. I 'spect Billy's done hitched up by this time."

At the last moment Miss Hazy was still trying to make up her mind whether or not she would go. "Them wheels don't look none too stiddy fer sich a big load," she said cautiously.

"Them wheels is a heap sight stiddier than your legs," declared Mrs. Wiggs.

"An' there ain't a meeker hoss in Kentucky than Cuby. He looks like he might 'a' belonged to a preacher 'stid of bein' a broken-down engine- hoss."

An unforeseen delay was occasioned by a heated controversy between Lovey Mary and Tommy concerning the advisability of taking Cusmoodle.

"There ain't more than room enough to squeeze you in, Tommy," she said, "let alone that fat old duck."

"'T ain't a fat old duck."

"'T is, too! He sha'n't go. You'll have to stay at home yourself if you can't be good."

"I feel like I was doin' to det limber," threatened Tommy.

Mrs. Wiggs recognized a real danger. She also knew that discretion was the better part of valor. "Here's a nice little place up here by me, jes big enough fer you an' Cusmoodle. You kin set on the basket; it won't mash nothin'. If we're packed in good an' tight, can't none of us fall out."

When the last basket was stored away, the party started off in glee, leaving Miss Hazy still irresolute in the doorway, declaring that "she almost wisht she had 'a' went."

The destination had not been decided upon, so it was discussed as the wagon jolted along over the cobblestones.

"Let's go out past Miss Viny's," suggested Jake; "there's a bully woods out there."

"Aw, no! Let's go to Tick Creek an' go in wadin'."

Mrs. Wiggs, seated high above the party and slapping the reins on Cuba's back, allowed the lively debate to continue until trouble threatened, then she interfered:

"I think it would be nice to go over to the cemetery. We'd have to cross the city, but when you git out there there's plenty of grass an' trees, an' it runs right 'longside the river."

The proximity of the river decided the matter.

"I won't hardly take a swim!" said Jake, going through the motions, to the discomfort of the two little girls who were hanging their feet from the back of the wagon.

"I'm afraid it's going to rain so hard that you can take your swim before you get there," said Lovey Mary, as the big drops began to fall.

The picnic party huddled on the floor of the wagon in a state of great merriment, while Mrs. Wiggs spread an old quilt over as many of them as it would cover.

"'T ain't nothin' but a summer shower," she said, holding her head on one side to keep the rain from driving in her face. "I 'spect the sun is shinin' at the cemetery right now."

As the rickety wagon, with its drenched and shivering load, rattled across Main street, an ominous sound fell upon the air:

One--two--three! One--two!

Mrs. Wiggs wrapped the lines about her wrists and braced herself for the struggle. But Cuba had heard the summons, his heart had responded to the old call, and with one joyous bound he started for the fire.

"Hold on tight!" yelled Mrs. Wiggs. "Don't none of you fall out. Whoa, Cuby! Whoa! I'll stop him in a minute. Hold tight!"

Cuba kicked the stiffness out of his legs, and laying his ears back, raced valiantly for five squares neck and neck with the engine-horses. But the odds were against him; Mrs. Wiggs and Chris sawing on one line, and Billy and Jake pulling on the other, proved too heavy a handicap. Within sight of the fire he came to a sudden halt.

"It's the lumber-yards!" called Chris, climbing over the wheels. "Looks like the whole town's on fire."

"Let's unhitch Cuby an' tie him, an' stand in the wagon an' watch it," cried Mrs. Wiggs, in great excitement.

The boys were not content to be stationary, so they rushed away, leaving Mrs. Wiggs and the girls, with Tommy and the duck, to view the conflagration at a safe distance.

For two hours the fire raged, leaping from one stack of lumber to another, and threatening the adjacent buildings. Every fire-engine in the department was called out, the commons were black with people, and the excitement was intense.

"Ain't you glad we come!" cried Lovey Mary, dancing up and down in the wagon.

"We never come. We was brought," said Asia.

Long before the fire was under control the sun had come through the clouds and was shining brightly. Picnics, however, were not to be considered when an attraction like this was to be had. When the boys finally came straggling back the fire was nearly out, the crowd had dispersed, and only the picnic party was left on the commons.

"It's too late to start to the cemetery," said Mrs. Wiggs, thoughtfully. "What do you all think of havin' the picnic right here an' now?"

The suggestion was regarded as nothing short of an inspiration.

"The only trouble," continued Mrs. Wiggs, "is 'bout the water. Where we goin' to git any to drink? I know one of the firemen, Pete Jenkins; if I could see him I'd ast him to pour us some outen the hose."

"Gimme the pail; I'll go after him," cried Jake.

"Naw, you don't; I'm a-goin'. It's my maw that knows him," said Billy.

"That ain't nothin'. My uncle knows the chief of police! Can't I go, Mrs. Wiggs?"

Meanwhile Chris had seized the hint and the bucket, and was off in search of Mr. Peter Jenkins, whose name would prove an open sesame to that small boy's paradise--the engine side of the rope.

The old quilt, still damp, was spread on the ground, and around it sat the picnic party, partaking ravenously of dry sandwiches and cheese and cheer. Such laughing and crowding and romping as there was! Jake gave correct imitations of everybody in the Cabbage Patch, Chris did some marvelous stunts with his wooden leg, and Lovey Mary sang every funny song that she knew. Mrs. Wiggs stood in the wagon above them, and dispensed hospitality as long as it lasted. Cuba, hitched to a fence near by, needed no material nourishment. He was contentedly sniffing the smoke-filled air, and living over again the days of his youth.

When the party reached home, tired and grimy, they were still enthusiastic over the fine time they had had.

"It's jes the way I said," proclaimed Mrs. Wiggs, as she drove up with a flourish; "you never kin tell which way pleasure is a-comin'. Who ever would 'a' thought, when we aimed at the cemetery, that we'd land up at a first-class fire?"