Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch
THE BENEFIT DANCE
"Those there are whose hearts have a slope southward,
NOTWITHSTANDING the fact that calamities seldom come singly, it was not until the Fourth of July that the Cabbage Patch was again the scene of an accident.
Mrs. Wiggs had been hanging out clothes, and was turning to pick up the empty basket, when Billy precipitated himself into the yard, yelling wildly:
"Chris Hazy's broke his leg!"
Mrs. Wiggs threw up her hands in horror. "Good lands, Billy! Where's he at?"
"They 're bringin' him up the railroad track."
Mrs. Wiggs rushed into the house. "Don't let on to Miss Hazy till we git him in," she cautioned, snatching up a bundle of rags and a bottle of liniment. "Pore chile! How it must hurt him! I'll run down the track an' meet 'em."
She was breathless and trembling from excitement as she turned the corner at Mrs. Schultz's. A crowd of boys were coming up the track, trundling a wheelbarrow, in which sat Chris Hazy, the merriest of the lot, waving a piece of his wooden leg in the air.
Mrs. Wiggs turned upon Billy;
"I never lied, ma! I said he broke his leg," the boy gasped out as best he could for laughing, "an' you never ast which one. Oh, boys! Git on to the rags an' arniky!"
Such a shout went up that Mrs. Wiggs laughed with the rest, but only for a moment, for she spied Miss Hazy tottering toward them, and she hastened forward to relieve her anxiety.
"It's his peg-stick!" she shouted. "P-e-g-stick!"
This information, instead of bringing relief to Miss Hazy, caused a fresh burst of tears. She sat down on the track, with her apron over her face, and swayed backward and forward.
"Don't make much difference which one 't was," she sobbed; "it would be 'bout as easy to git another sure-'nough leg as to git a new wooden one. That las' one cost seven dollars. I jes' sewed an' saved an' scrimped to git it, an' now it's—busted!"
The boys stood around in silent sympathy, and when nobody was looking Chris wiped his eyes on his coat sleeve. Miss Hazy's arrival had changed their point of view.
Mrs. Wiggs rose to the occasion.
"Boys," she said, and her voice had an inspiring ring, "I'll tell you what let's do! Let's give a benefit dance to-night, an' buy Chris Hazy a new peg-stick. Every feller that's willin' to help, hol' up his hand."
A dozen grimy hands were waved on high, and offers of assistance came from all sides. Mrs. Wiggs saw that now was the time to utilize their enthusiasm.
"I'll go right back to the house, an' git Asia to write out the tickets, an' all you boys kin sell ten apiece. Miss Hazy, you kin come over an' help me git the house ready, an' we'll put Chris to cleanin' lamp-chimbleys."
Under this able generalship, the work was soon under way; the boys were despatched with the tickets, and the house was being put straight—at least the parlor was. It would have required many days to restore order to the chaos that habitually existed in the house of Wiggs.
"Asia, you help me roll these here barrels out on the porch, an' I 'll mop up the floor," said Mrs. Wiggs. "Miss Hazy, you look 'round in the kitchen, an' see if you can't find a taller candle. Seems like I put one in the sugar-bowl—that's it! Now, if you'll jes' cut it up right fine it'll be all ready to put on the floor when I git done."
When the floor was dry and the candle sprinkled over it, Australia and Europena were detailed to slide upon it until it became slick.
"Would you ast ever'body to bring a cheer, or would you have 'em already here?" asked Mrs. Wiggs.
"Oh, le' 's bring 'em ourselves!" insisted Asia, who had been to a church social.
So a raid was made on the neighborhood, and every available chair borrowed and ranged against the parlor wall.
By noon the boys reported most of the tickets sold, and Mrs. Wiggs received the funds, which amounted to six dollars.
It being a holiday, everybody was glad to come to the dance, especially as the proceeds were to help little Miss Hazy.
At one time there threatened to be trouble about the music; some wanted Uncle Tom, the old negro who usually fiddled at the dances, and others preferred to patronize home talent and have Jake Schultz, whose accordion could be heard at all hours in the Cabbage Patch.
Mrs. Wiggs effected a compromise. "They kin take turn about," she argued; "when one gits tired, the other kin pick up right where he left oft, an' the young folks kin shake the'r feet till they shoes drop off. Uncle Tom an' Jake, too, is a heap sight better than them mud-gutter bands that play 'round the streets."
"Wisht we could fix the yard up some," said Asia, when there was nothing more to be done in the parlor.
"I got a Japanee lantern," suggested Miss Hazy, doubtfully.
"The very thing!" said Mrs. Wiggs. "We'll hang it in the front door. Billy's makin' a Jack o' lantern to set on the fence. Fer the land's sake! what's John Bagby a-bringing' in here?"
The grocery boy, staggering under the weight of an ice-cream freezer and carrying something wrapped in white paper, came up the path.
"It's fer you," he said, grinning broadly. John was cross-eyed, so Miss Hazy thought he looked at Mrs. Wiggs, and Mrs. Wiggs thought he looked at Miss Hazy.
However, the card on the freezer dispelled all doubt: "Fer mrs Wiggs on her 50 Birthday compelments of The Naybors."
Under the white paper was a large, white iced cake, with a "W" in cinnamon drops on top.
"How'd they ever know it was my birthday?" exclaimed Mrs. Wiggs, in delight. "Why, I'd even forgot it myself! We'll have the cake fer the party to-night. Somehow, I never feel like good things b'long to me till I pass 'em on to somebody else."
This necessitated a supply of saucers and spoons, and friends were again called upon to provide as many as possible.
The Wiggses were quite busy until seven o'clock, when they stopped to make their toilets.
"Where's Europena?" asked Asia.
Nobody had seen her for some time. Search was made, and she was discovered standing on a chair in a corner of the parlor, calmly eating the cinnamon drops off the birthday cake. Fingers and mouth were crimson, and the first stroke of the "W" was missing. Billy was so indignant that he insisted on immediate punishment.
"No, I ain't a-goin' to whip her on my birthday, Billy. She's sorry; she says she is. Besides, the cake ain't spoiled; it's jes' a 'N' now, 'stid of a 'W,' an' N stands fer Nancy jes' as good as W stands fer Wiggs!"
The first guest to arrive was Mr. Krasmier; he had paid ten cents toward the refreshments, and proposed to get his money's worth. Mrs. Eichorn came early, too, but for a different reason; she was very stout, and her happiness for the evening depended largely upon the size of the chair she secured.
Half the spectators had arrived before the hostess appeared. Her delay was caused by the loss of her false curls, which she had not worn since the memorable night at the Opera House. They were very black and very frizzled, and had been bought at a reduced price from a traveling salesman some ten years before. Mrs. Wiggs considered them absolutely necessary to her toilet on state occasions. Hence consternation prevailed when they could not be found. Drawers were upset and boxes emptied, but with no success.
When hope was about abandoned, Asia suddenly darted out to the shed where the children kept their play-things. When she returned she triumphantly displayed a battered doll, armless and footless, but with a magnificent crowning glory of black, frizzed hair.
Mrs. Wiggs waited until all the guests assembled before she made her speech of thanks for the cake and cream. It was a very fine speech, having been written out beforehand by Mr. Bagby. It began, "Ladies and gents, it gives me pleasure—" but before Mrs. Wiggs got half through she forgot it, and had to tell them in her own way how grateful she was. In conclusion she said: "Couldn't nobody be more obliged than what I am! Looks like nice things is always comin' my way. Hope God'll bless you all! The musicianers have come, so we 'll begin the party with a Virginer reel."
The young people scampered to their places, and when Mr. Eichorn made a bow to Mrs. Wiggs she laughingly took her place at the head of the line, and at the first strains of "Old Dan Tucker" she went down the middle with a grace and spirit that flatly contradicted the little red fifty on the birthday cake.
"Swing yer pahtners, balance all, Swing dat gal wid a water-fall. Skip light, ladies, de cake's all dough, Nebber min' de weather, so de win' don't blow."
Old Uncle Tom was warming up to his work, and the fun waxed furious. Asia, looking very pretty in her new crepon, cast shy glances at Joe Eichorn, who had been "keeping company" of late. Billy, for whom there was no room in the reel, let off his energy in the corner by a noisy execution of the "Mobile Buck." Australia and Europena sat in the window with Chris Hazy, and delightedly clapped time to the music.
When the dance ended, Mrs. Wiggs went to the door to get cool. She was completely out of breath, and her false front had worked its way down over her eyebrows.
"Look—comin', ma!" called Billy.
When Mrs. Wiggs saw who it was she hastened down to the gate.
"Howdy, Mr. Bob; howdy, Miss Lucy! Can't you git right out an' come in? We 're havin' a birthday party an' a benefit dance fer Chris Hazy's leg."
"No, thanks," said Redding, trying in vain not to look at Mrs. Wiggs's head. "We just stopped by to tell you the good news."
"'Bout Asia's position?" asked Mrs. Wiggs, eagerly.
"Yes, about that, and something else besides. What would you say if I told you that I was going to marry the prettiest, sweetest, dearest girl in the world?"
"Why, that's Miss Lucy!" gasped Mrs. Wiggs, more breathless than ever. Then the truth flashed upon her, and she laughed with them.
"Oh, sure 'nough! Sure 'nough! I'm jes' pleased to death!" She did not have to tell them; her eyes, though suffering a partial eclipse, fairly beamed with joy and satisfaction. "An' so," she added, "it wasn't the paint, after all!"
When they had driven away, she lingered a moment at the gate. Music and laughter came from the house behind her, as she stood smiling out across the moonlit Cabbage Patch. Her face still held the reflected happiness of the departed lovers, as the sky holds the rose-tints after the sun has gone.
"An' they 're goin' to git married," she whispered softly to herself; "an' Billy's got promoted, an' Asia's got a place, an' Chris'll have a new peg-stick. Looks like ever'thing in the world comes right, if we jes' wait long enough!"