"You wicked old debble!" exclaimed Pomp wrathfully.
He kicked at the cat; but she was lucky enough to escape, and ran out of the room as fast as her four legs could carry her.
"Big ugly debble!" muttered Pomp, watching the blood ooze from his finger.
"What's the matter, Pomp?"
"Old cat scratch me."
"And what did you do to her, Pomp? I am afraid you deserved your scratch."
"Didn't do noffin', Mass' Frank," said Pomp virtuously.
"I don't think you always tell the truth, Pomp."
"Can't help it, Mass' Frank. 'Spec' I've got a little debble inside of me."
"What do you mean, Pomp! What put that idea in your head?"
"Dat's what mammy says. Dat's what she al'ays tells me."
"Then," said Frank, "I think it will be best to whip it out of you. Where's my stick?"
"Oh, no, Mass' Frank," said Pomp, in alarm; "I'll be good, for sure."
"Then sit down and get your lesson."
Again Pomp assumed his cricket. Before he had time to devise any new mischief, Mrs. Frost came to the head of the stairs and called Frank.
Frank laid aside his books, and presented himself at the foot of the stairs.
"I should like your help a few minutes. Can you leave your studies?"
Before going up, he cautioned Pomp to study quietly, and not get into any mischief while he was gone. Pomp promised very readily.
Frank had hardly got upstairs before his pupil rose from the cricket, and began to look attentively about him. His first proceeding was to, hide his primer carefully in Mrs. Frost's work-basket, which lay on the table. Then, looking curiously about him, his attention was drawn to the old-fashioned clock that stood in the corner.
Now, Pomp's curiosity had been strongly excited by this clock. It was not quite clear to him how the striking part was effected. Here seemed to be a favorable opportunity for instituting an investigation. Pomp drew his cricket to, the clock, and, opening it, tried to reach up to the face. But he was not yet high enough. He tried a chair, and still required a greater elevation. Espying Frank's Latin dictionary, he pressed that into service.
By and by Frank and his mother heard the clock striking an unusual number of times.
"What is the matter with the clock?" inquired Mrs. Frost.
"I don't know," said Frank unsuspiciously.
"It has struck ten times, and it is only four o' clock."
"I wonder if Pomp can have got at it," said Frank, with a sudden thought.
He ran downstairs hastily.
Pomp heard him coming, and in his anxiety to escape detection, contrived to lose his balance and fall to the floor. As he fell, he struck the table, on which a pan of sour milk had been placed, and it was overturned, deluging poor Pomp with the unsavory fluid.
Pomp shrieked and kicked most energetically. His appearance, as he picked himself up, was ludicrous in the extreme. His sable face was plentifully besprinkled with clotted milk, giving him the appearance of a negro who is coming out white in spots. The floor was swimming in milk. Luckily the dictionary had fallen clear of it, and so escaped.
"Is this the way you study?" demanded Frank, as sternly as his sense of the ludicrous plight in which he found Pomp would permit.
For once Pomp's ready wit deserted him. He had nothing to say.
"Go out and wash yourself."
Pomp came back rather shamefaced, his face restored to its original color.
"Now, where is your book?"
Pomp looked about him, but, as he took good care not to look where he knew his book to be, of course he did not find it.
"I 'clare, Mass' Frank, it done lost," he at length asserted.
"How can it be lost when you had it only a few minutes ago?"
"I dunno," answered Pomp stolidly.
"Have you been out of the room?"
Pomp answered in the negative.
"Then it must be somewhere here."
Frank went quietly to the corner of the room and took therefrom a stick.
"Now, Pomp," he said, "I will give you just two minutes to find the book in. If you don't find it, I shall have to give you a whipping."
Pomp looked at his teacher to see if he was in earnest. Seeing that he was, he judged it best to find the book.
Looking into the work-box, he said innocently: "I 'clare to gracious, Mass' Frank, if it hasn't slipped down yere. Dat's mi'ty cur's, dat is."
"Pomp, sit down," said Frank. "I am going to talk to you seriously. What makes you tell so many lies?"
"Dunno any better," replied Pomp, grinning.
"Yes, you do, Pomp. Doesn't your mother tell you not to lie?"
"Lor', Mass' Frank, she's poor ignorant nigger. She don't know nuffin'."
"You mustn't speak so of your mother. She brings you up as well as she knows how. She has to work hard for you, and you ought to love her."
"So I do, 'cept when she licks me."
"If you behave properly she won't whip you. You'll grow up a 'poor, ignorant nigger' yourself, if you don't study."
"Shall I get white, Mass' Frank, if I study?" asked Pomp, showing a double row of white teeth.
"You were white enough just now," said Frank, smiling.
"Yah, yah!" returned Pomp, who appreciated the joke.
"Now, Pomp," Frank continued seriously, "if you will learn your lesson in fifteen minutes I will give you a piece of gingerbread."
"I'll do it, Mass' Frank," said Pomp promptly.
Pomp was very fond of gingerbread, as Frank very well knew. In the time specified the lesson was got, and recited satisfactorily.
As Pomp's education will not again be referred to, it may be said that when Frank had discovered how to manage him, he learned quite rapidly. Chloe, who was herself unable to read, began to look upon Pomp with a new feeling of respect when she found that he could read stories in words of one syllable, and the "lickings" of which he complained became less frequent. But his love of fun still remained, and occasionally got him into trouble, as we shall hereafter have occasion to see.
CHAPTER XXI. THE BATTLE OF FREDERICKSBURG
About the middle of December came the sad tragedy of Fredericksburg, in which thousands of our gallant soldiers yielded up their lives in a hard, unequal struggle, which brought forth nothing but mortification and disaster.
The first telegrams which appeared in the daily papers brought anxiety and bodings of ill to many households. The dwellers at the farm were not exempt. They had been apprised by a recent letter that Mr. Frost's regiment now formed a part of the grand army which lay encamped on the eastern side of the Rappahannock. The probability was that he was engaged in the battle. Frank realized for the first time to what peril his father was exposed, and mingled with the natural feeling which such a thought was likely to produce was the reflection that, but for him, his father would have been in safety at home.
"Did I do right?" Frank asked himself anxiously, the old doubt recurring once more.
Then, above the selfish thought of peril to him and his, rose the consideration of the country's need, and Frank said to himself, "I have done right—whatever happens. I feel sure of that."
Yet his anxiety was by no means diminished, especially when, a day or two afterward, tidings of the disaster came to hand, only redeemed by the masterly retreat across the river, in which a great army, without the loss of a single gun, ambulance, or wagon, withdrew from the scene of a hopeless struggle, under the very eyes of the enemy, yet escaping discovery.
One afternoon Frank went to the post-office a little after the usual time. As he made his way through a group at the door, he notice compassionate glances directed toward him.
His heart gave a sudden bound.
"Has anything happened to my father?" he inquired, with pale face. "Have any of you heard anything?"
"He is wounded, Frank," said the nearest bystander.
"Show it to me," said Frank.
In the evening paper, which was placed in his hands, he read a single line, but of fearful import: "Henry Frost, wounded." Whether the wound was slight or serious, no intimation was given.
Frank heaved a sigh of comparative relief. His father was not dead, as he at first feared. Yet he felt that the suspense would be a serious trial. He did not know how to tell his mother. She met him at the gate. His serious face and lagging steps revealed the truth, exciting at first apprehensions of something even more serious.
For two days they remained without news. Then came a letter from the absent father, which wonderfully lightened all their hearts. The fact that he was able to write a long letter with his own hand showed plainly that his wound must be a trifling one. The letter ran thus:
"DEAR MARY: I fear that the report of my wound will reach you before this letter comes to assure you that it is a mere scratch, and scarcely worth a thought. I cannot for an instant think of it, when I consider how many of our poor fellows have been mown down by instant death, or are now lying with ghastly wounds on pallets in the hospital. We have been through a fearful trial, and the worst thought is that our losses are not compensated by a single advantage.
"Before giving you an account of it from the point of view of a private soldier, let me set your mind at rest by saying that my injury is only a slight flesh-wound in the arm, which will necessitate my carrying it in a sling for a few days; that is all.
"Early on the morning of Thursday, the 10th inst., the first act in the great drama commenced with laying the pontoon bridges over which our men were to make their way into the rebel city. My own division was to cross directly opposite the city. All honor to the brave men who volunteered to lay the bridges. It was a trying and perilous duty. On the other side, in rifle-pits and houses at the brink of the river, were posted the enemy's sharpshooters, and these at a given signal opened fire upon our poor fellows who were necessarily unprotected. The firing was so severe and deadly, and impossible to escape from, that for the time we were obliged to desist. Before anything could be effected it became clear that the sharpshooters must be dislodged.
"Then opened the second scene.
"A deluge of shot and shell from our side of the river rained upon the city, setting some buildings on fire, and severely damaging others. It was a most exciting spectacle to us who watched from the bluffs, knowing that ere long we must make the perilous passage and confront the foe, the mysterious silence of whose batteries inspired alarm, as indicating a consciousness of power.
"The time of our trial came at length.
"Toward the close of the afternoon General Howard's division, to which I belong, crossed the pontoon bridge whose building had cost us more than one gallant soldier. The distance was short, for the Rappahannock at this point is not more than a quarter of a mile wide. In a few minutes we were marching through the streets of Fredericksburg. We gained possession of the lower streets, but not without some street fighting, in which our brigade lost about one hundred in killed and wounded.
"For the first time I witnessed violent death. The man marching by my side suddenly reeled, and, pressing his hand to his breast, fell forward. Only a moment before he had spoken to me, saying, 'I think we are going to have hot work.' Now he was dead, shot through the heart. I turned sick with horror, but there was no time to pause. We must march on, not knowing that our turn might not come next. Each of us felt that he bore his life in his hand.
"But this was soon over, and orders came that we should bivouac for the night. You will not wonder that I lay awake nearly the whole night. A night attack was possible, and the confusion and darkness would have made it fearful. As I lay awake I could not help thinking how anxious you would feel if you had known where I was.
"So closed the first day.
"The next dawned warm and pleasant. In the quiet of the morning it seemed hard to believe that we were on the eve of a bloody struggle. Discipline was not very strictly maintained. Some of our number left the ranks and ransacked the houses, more from curiosity than the desire to pillage.
"I went down to the bank of the river, and took a look at the bridge which it had cost us so much trouble to throw across. It bore frequent marks of the firing of the day previous.
"At one place I came across an old negro, whose white head and wrinkled face indicated an advanced age. Clinging to him were two children, of perhaps four and six years of age, who had been crying.
"'Don't cry, honey,' I heard him say soothingly, wiping the tears from the cheeks of the youngest with a coarse cotton handkerchief.
"'I want mama,' said the child piteously.
"A sad expression came over the old black's face.
"'What is the matter?' I asked, advancing toward him.
"'She is crying for her mother,' he said.
"'Is she dead?'
"'Yes, sir; she'd been ailing for a long time, and the guns of yesterday hastened her death.'
"'Where did you live?'
"'In that house yonder, sir.'
"'Didn't you feel afraid when we fired on the town?'
"'We were all in the cellar, sir. One shot struck the house, but did not injure it much.'
"'You use very good language,' I could not help saying.
"'Yes, sir; I have had more advantages than most of—of my class.' These last words he spoke rather bitterly. 'When I was a young man my master amused himself with teaching me; but he found I learned so fast that he stopped short. But I carried it on by myself.'
"'Didn't you find that difficult?'
"'Yes, sir; but my will was strong. I managed to get books, now one way, now another. I have read considerable, sir.'
"This he said with some pride.
"'Have you ever read Shakespeare?'
"'In part, sir; but I never could get hold of "Hamlet." I have always wanted to read that play.'
"I drew him out, and was astonished at the extent of his information, and the intelligent judgment which he expressed.
"'I wonder that, with your acquirements, you should have been content to remain in a state of slavery.'
"'Content!' he repeated bitterly. 'Do you think I have been content? No, sir. Twice I attempted to escape. Each time I was caught, dragged back, and cruelly whipped. Then I was sold to the father of these little ones. He treated me so well, and I was getting so old, that I gave up the idea of running away.'
"'And where is he now?'
"'He became a colonel in the Confederate service, and was killed at Antietam. Yesterday my mistress died, as I have told you.'
"'And are you left in sole charge of these little children?'
"'Have they no relatives living?'
"'Their uncle lives in Kentucky. I shall try to carry them there.'
"'But you will find it hard work. You have only to cross the river, and in our lines you will be no longer a slave.'
"'I know it, sir. Three of my children have got their freedom, thank God, in that way. But I can't leave these children.'
"I looked down at them. They were beautiful children. The youngest was a girl, with small features, dark hair, and black eyes. The boy, of six, was pale and composed, and uttered no murmur. Both clung confidently to the old negro.
"I could not help admiring the old man, who could resist the prospect of freedom, though he had coveted it all his life, in order to remain loyal to his trust. I felt desirous of drawing him out on the subject of the war.
"'What do you think of this war?' I asked.
"He lifted up his hand, and in a tone of solemnity, said, 'I think it is the cloud by day, and the pillar of fire by night, that's going to draw us out of our bondage into the Promised Land.'
"I was struck by his answer.
"'Do many of you—I mean of those who have not enjoyed your advantages of education—think so?'
"'Yes, sir; we think it is the Lord's doings, and it is marvelous in our eyes. It's a time of trial and of tribulation; but it isn't a-going to last. The children of Israel were forty years in the wilderness, and so it may be with us. The day of deliverance will come.'
"At this moment the little girl began again to cry, and he addressed himself to soothe her.
"This was not the only group I encountered. Some women had come, down to the river with children half-bereft of their senses—some apparently supposing that we should rob or murder them. The rebel leaders and newspapers have so persistently reiterated these assertions, that they have come to believe them.
"The third day was unusually lovely, but our hearts were too anxious to admit of our enjoying it. The rebels were entrenched on heights behind the town. It was necessary that these should be taken, and about noon the movement commenced. Our forces marched steadily across the intervening plain. The rebels reserved their fire till we were half-way across, and then from all sides burst forth the deadly fire. We were completely at their mercy. Twenty men in my own company fell dead or wounded, among them the captain and first lieutenant. Of what followed I can give you little idea. I gave myself up for lost. A desperate impulse enabled me to march on to what seemed certain destruction. All at once I felt a sensation of numbness in my left arm, and looking down, I saw that the blood was trickling from it.
"But I had little time to think of myself. Hearing a smothered groan, I looked round, and saw Frank Grover, pale and reeling.
"'I'm shot in the leg,' he said. 'Don't leave me here. Help me along, and I will try to keep up with you.'
"The poor lad leaned upon me, and we staggered forward. But not for long. A stone wall stared us in the face. Here rebel sharpshooters had been stationed, and they opened a galling fire upon us. We returned it, but what could we do? We were compelled to retire, and did so in good order, but unfortunately not until the sharpshooters had picked off some of our best men.
"Among the victims was the poor lad whom I assisted. A second bullet struck him in the heart. He uttered just one word, 'mother,' and fell. Poor boy, and poor mother! He seemed to have a premonition of his approaching death, and requested me the day previous to take charge of his effects, and send them with his love and a lock of his hair to his mother if anything should befall him. This request I shall at once comply with. I have succeeded in getting the poor fellow's body brought to camp, where it will be decently buried, and have cut from his head two brown locks, one for his mother, and one for myself.
"At last we got back with ranks fearfully diminished. Many old familiar faces were gone—the faces of those now lying stiff and stark in death. More were groaning with anguish in the crowded hospital. My own wound was too trifling to require much attention. I shall have to wear a sling for a few days perhaps.
"There is little more to tell. Until Tuesday evening we maintained our position in daily expectation of an attack. But none was made. This was more fortunate for us. I cannot understand what withheld the enemy from an assault.
"On Tuesday suddenly came the order to re-cross the river. It was a stormy and dreary night, and so, of course, favorable to our purpose. The maneuver was executed in silence, and with commendable expedition. The rebels appeared to have no suspicion of General Burnside's intentions. The measured beat of our double quick was drowned by the fury of the storm, and with minds relieved, though bodies drenched, we once more found ourselves with the river between us and our foes. Nothing was left behind.
"Here we are again, but not all of us. Many a brave soldier has breathed his last, and lies under the sod. 'God's ways are dark, but soon or late they touch the shining hills of day.' So sings our own Whittier, and so I believe, in spite of the sorrowful disaster which we have met with. It is all for the best if we could but see it.
"Our heavy losses of officers have rendered some new appointments necessary. Our second lieutenant has been made captain. The orderly sergeant and second sergeant are now our lieutenants, and the line of promotion has even reached me. I am a corporal.
"I have been drawn into writing a very long letter, and I must now close, with the promise of writing again very soon. After I have concluded, I must write to poor Frank Grover's mother. May God comfort her, for she has lost a boy of whom any mother might feel proud.
"With love to the children, I remain, as ever, your affectionate husband. HENRY FROST."
"How terrible it must have been," said Mrs. Frost, with a shudder, as she folded up the letter and laid it down. "We ought indeed to feel thankful that your father's life was spared."
"If I were three years older, I might have been in the battle," thought Frank.
CHAPTER XXII. FRANK BROACHES A NEW PLAN
For some time Frank had been revolving in his mind the feasibility of a scheme which he hoped to be able to carry into execution. It was no less than this—to form a military company among the boys, which should be organized and drilled in all respects like those composed of older persons. He did not feel like taking any steps in the matter till he had consulted with some one in whose judgment he had confidence.
One evening he mentioned his plan to Mr. Morton.
"It is a capital idea, Frank," said the young man, with warm approval. "If I can be of service to you in this matter, it will afford me much pleasure."
"There is one difficulty," suggested Frank. "None of us boys know anything about military tactics, and we shall need instruction to begin with; but where we are to find a teacher I am sure I can't tell."
"I don't think you will have to look far," said Mr. Morton, with a smile.
"Are you acquainted with the manual?" asked Frank eagerly.
"I believe so. You see you have not yet got to the end of my accomplishments. I shall be happy to act as your drill-master until some one among your number is competent to take my place. I can previously give you some private lessons, if you desire it."
"There's nothing I should like better, Mr. Morton," said Frank joyfully.
"Have you got a musket in the house, then? We shall get along better with one."
"There's one in the attic."
"Very well; if you will get it, we can make a beginning now."
Frank went in search of the musket; but in his haste tumbled down the attic stairs, losing his grasp of the musket, which fell down with a clatter.
Mrs. Frost, opening the door of her bedroom in alarm, saw Frank on his back with the musket lying across his chest.
"What's the matter?" she asked, not a little startled.
Frank got up rubbing himself and looking rather foolish.
"Nothing, mother; only I was in a little too much of a hurry."
"What are you going to do with that musket, Frank?"
"Mr. Morton is going to teach me the manual, that is all, mother."
"I suppose the first position is horizontal," said his mother, with a smile.
"I don't like that position very well," returned Frank, with a laugh. "I prefer the perpendicular."
Under his friend's instructions, Frank progressed rapidly. At the end of the third lesson, Mr. Morton said, "You are nearly as competent to give instructions now as I am. There are some things, however, that cannot be learned alone. You had better take measures to form your company."
Frank called upon Mr. Rathburn, the principal of the academy, and after communicating his plan, which met with the teacher's full approval, arranged to have notice given of a meeting of the boys immediately after the afternoon session.
On Thursday afternoon when the last class had recited, previous to ringing the bell, which was a signal that school was over, Mr. Rathburn gave this brief notice:
"I am requested to ask the boys present to remain in their seats, and in which I think they will all feel interested."
Looks of curiosity were interchanged among the boys, and every one thought, "What's coming now?"
At this moment a modest knock was heard, and Mr. Rathburn, going to the door, admitted Frank. He quietly slipped into the nearest seat.
"Your late schoolfellow, Frank Frost," proceeded Mr. Rathburn, "has the merit of originating the plan to which I have referred, and he is no doubt prepared to unfold it to you."
Mr. Rathburn put on his hat and coat, and left the schoolroom. After his departure Frank rose and spoke modestly, thus:
"Boys, I have been thinking for some time past that we were not doing all that we ought in this crisis, which puts in such danger the welfare of our country. If anything, we boys ought to feel more deeply interested than our elders, for while they will soon pass off the stage we have not yet reached even the threshold of manhood. You will ask me what we can do. Let me remind you that when the war broke out the great want was, not of volunteers, but of men trained to military exercises. Our regiments were at first composed wholly of raw recruits. In Europe, military instruction is given as a matter of course; and in Germany, and perhaps other countries, young men are obliged to serve for a time in the army.
"I think we ought to profit by the lessons of experience. However the present war may turn out, we cannot be certain that other wars will not at some time break out. By that time we shall have grown to manhood, and the duty of defending our country in arms will devolve upon us. Should that time come, let it not find us unprepared. I propose that we organize a military company among the boys, and meet for drill at such times as we may hereafter agree upon. I hope that any who feel interested in the matter will express their opinions freely."
Frank sat down, and a number of the boys testified their approbation by stamping with their feet.
John Haynes rose, with a sneer upon his face.
"I would humbly inquire, Mr. Chairman, for you appear to have assumed that position, whether you intend to favor us with your valuable services as drillmaster."
Frank rose, with a flushed face.
"I am glad to be reminded of one thing, which I had forgotten," he said. "As this is a meeting for the transaction of business, it is proper that it should be regularly organized. Will some one nominate a chairman?"
"Frank Frost!" exclaimed half a dozen voices.
"I thank you for the nomination," said Frank, "but as I have something further to communicate to the meeting, it will be better to select some one else."
"I nominate Charles Reynolds," said one voice.
"Second the motion," said another.
"Those who are in favor of Charles Reynolds, as chairman of this meeting, will please signify it in the usual manner," said Frank.
Charles Reynolds, being declared duly elected, advanced to the teacher's chair.
"Mr. Chairman," said Frank, "I will now answer the question just put to me. I do not propose to offer my services as drill-master, but I am authorized to say that a gentleman whom you have all seen, Mr. Henry Morton, is willing to give instruction till you are sufficiently advanced to get along without it."
John Haynes, who felt disappointed at not having been called upon to preside over the meeting, determined to make as much trouble as possible.
"How are we to know that this Morton is qualified to give instruction?" he asked, looking round at the boys.
"The gentleman is out of order. He will please address his remarks to the Chair, and not to the audience," said the presiding officer.
"I beg pardon, Mr. Chairman," said John mockingly. "I forgot how tenacious some people are of their brief authority."
"Order! order!" called half a dozen voices.
"The gentleman will come to order," said the chairman firmly, "and make way for others unless he can treat the Chair with proper respect."
"Mr. Chairman," said Frank, rising, "I will mention, for the general information, that Mr. Morton has acted as an officer of militia, and that I consider his offer a kind one, since it will take up considerable of his time and put him to some trouble."
"I move that Mr. Morton's offer be accepted, with thanks," said Henry Tufts.
The motion was seconded by Tom Wheeler, and carried unanimously, with the exception of one vote. John Haynes sat sullenly in his seat and took no part in it.
"Who shall belong to the company?" asked the chairman. "Shall a fixed age be required?"
"I move that the age be fixed at eleven," said Robert Ingalls.
This was objected to as too young, and twelve was finally fixed upon.
John Haynes moved not to admit any one who did not attend the academy. Of course, this would exclude Frank, and his motion was not seconded.
It was finally decided to admit any above the age of twelve who desired it, but the boys reserved to themselves the right of rejecting any who should conduct himself in a manner to bring disgrace upon them.
"Mr. Chairman," said Frank, "in order to get under way as soon as possible, I have written down an agreement to which those who wish to join our proposed company can sign their names. If anybody can think of anything better, I shall be glad to have it adopted instead of this."
He handed a sheet of paper to the chairman, who read from it the following form of agreement: "We, the subscribers, agree to form a boys' volunteer company, and to conform to the regulations which may hereafter be made for its government."
"If there is no objection, we will adopt this form, and subscribe our names," said the chairman.
The motion for adoption being carried, the boys came up one by one and signed their names.
John Haynes would have held back, but for the thought that he might be elected an officer of the new company.
"Is there any further business to come before the meeting?" inquired the presiding officer.
"The boys at Webbington had a company three or four years ago," said Joe Barry, "and they used wooden guns."
"Wooden guns!" exclaimed Wilbur Summerfield disdainfully. "You won't catch me training round town with a wooden gun."
"I would remind the last three gentlemen that their remarks should be addressed to the Chair," said the presiding officer. "Of course, I don't care anything about it, but I think you would all prefer to have the meeting conducted properly."
"That's so!" exclaimed several boys.
"Then," said the chairman, "I shall call to order any boy who addresses the meeting except through me."
"Mr. Chairman," said Frank, rising, "as to the wooden guns, I quite agree with the last speaker. It would seem too much like boy's play, and we are too much in earnest for that. I have thought of an arrangement which can be made if the Selectmen will give their consent. Ten or fifteen years ago, longer than most of us can remember, as my father has told me, there was a militia company in Rossville, whose arms were supplied and owned by the town. When the company was disbanded the muskets went back to the town, and I believe they are now kept in the basement of the Town Hall. I presume that we can have the use of them on application. I move that a committee be appointed to lay the matter before the Selectmen and ask their permission."
His motion was agreed to.
"I will appoint John Haynes to serve on that committee," said the chairman, after a pause.
This was a politic appointment, as Squire Haynes was one of the Selectmen, and would be gratified at the compliment paid to his son.
"I accept the duty," said John, rising, and speaking in a tone of importance.
"Is there any other business to come before the meeting?"
"I should like to inquire, Mr. Chairman, when our first meeting will take place, and where is it to be?" asked Herbert Metcalf.
"I will appoint as a committee to make the necessary arrangements, Frank Frost, Tom Wheeler, and Robert Ingalls. Due notice will be given in school of the time and place selected, and a written notice will also be posted up in the postoffice."
"Would it not be well, Mr. Chairman," suggested Frank, "to circulate an invitation to other boys not present to-day to join the company? The larger our number, the more interest will be felt. I can think of quite a number who would be valuable members. There are Dick Bumstead, and William Chamberlain, and many others."
At the sound of Dick Bumstead's name John Haynes looked askance at Frank, but for the moment the thought of Dick's agency in the affair of the pig-pen had escaped his recollection, and he looked quite unconscious of any indirect reference to it.
"Will you make a motion to that effect?"
"Yes, if necessary."
"Is the motion seconded?"
"Second it," said Moses Rogers.
"I will appoint Wilbur Summerfield and Moses Rogers on that committee," said the chairman.
"I move that the meeting adjourn ipse dixit," said Sam Davis, bringing out the latter phrase with considerable emphasis.
A roar of laughter followed which shook the schoolhouse to the very rafters, and then a deafening clamor of applause. The proposer sat down in confusion.
"What are you laughing at?" he burst forth indignantly.
"Mr. Chairman," said Henry Tufts, struggling with his laughter, "I second the gentleman's motion, all except the Latin."
The motion was carried in spite of the manner in which it was worded, and the boys formed little groups, and began eagerly to discuss the plan which had been proposed. Frank had reason to feel satisfied with the success of his suggestion. Several of the boys came up to him and expressed their pleasure that he had brought the matter before them.
"I say, Frank," said Robert Ingalls, "We'll have a bully company."
"Yes," said Wilbur Summerfield, "if John Haynes belongs to it. He's a bully, and no mistake."
"What's that you are saying about me?" blustered John Haynes, who caught a little of what was said.
"Listeners never hear anything good of themselves," answered Wilbur.
"Say that again, Wilbur Summerfield," said John menacingly.
"Certainly, if it will do you any good. I said that you were a bully, John Haynes; and there's not a boy here that doesn't know it to be true."
"Take care!" said John, turning white with passion.
"While I'm about it, there's something more I want to say," continued Wilbur undauntedly. "Yesterday you knocked my little brother off his sled and sent him home crying. If you do it again, you will have somebody else to deal with."
John trembled with anger. It would have done him good to "pitch into" Wilbur, but the latter looked him in the face so calmly and resolutely that discretion seemed to him the better part of valor, and with an oath he turned away.
"I don't know what's got into John Haynes," said Wilbur. "I never liked him, but now he seems to be getting worse and worse every day."
CHAPTER XXIII. POMP TAKES MRS. PAYSON PRISONER
Old Mrs. Payson, who arrived in Rossville at the same time with Henry Morton, had been invited by her daughter, "Cynthy Ann," to pass the winter, and had acquiesced without making any very strenuous objections. Her "bunnit," which she had looked upon as "sp'ilt," had been so far restored by a skilful milliner that she was able to wear it for best. As this restoration cost but one dollar and a half out of the five which had been given her by young Morton, she felt very well satisfied with the way matters had turned out. This did not, however, by any means diminish her rancor against Pomp, who had been the mischievous cause of the calamity.
"Ef I could only get hold on him," Mrs. Payson had remarked on several occasions to Cynthy Ann, "I'd shake the mischief out of him, ef I died for't the very next minute."
Mrs. Payson was destined to meet with a second calamity, which increased, if possible, her antipathy to the "young imp."
Being of a social disposition, she was quite in the habit of dropping in to tea at different homes in the village. Having formerly lived in Rossville, she was acquainted with nearly all the townspeople, and went the rounds about once in two weeks.
One afternoon she put her knitting into a black work-bag, which she was accustomed to carry on her arm, and, arraying herself in a green cloak and hood, which had served her for fifteen years, she set out to call on Mrs. Thompson.
Now, the nearest route to the place of her destination lay across a five-acre lot. The snow lay deep upon the ground, but the outer surface had become so hard as, without difficulty, to bear a person of ordinary weight.
When Mrs. Payson came up to the bars, she said to herself, "'Tain't so fur to go across lots. I guess I'll ventur'."
She let down a bar and, passing through, went on her way complacently. But, alas, for the old lady's peace of mind! She was destined to come to very deep grief.
That very afternoon Pomp had come over to play with Sam Thompson, and the two, after devising various projects of amusement, had determined to make a cave in the snow. They selected a part of the field where it had drifted to the depth of some four or five feet. Beginning at a little distance, they burrowed their way into the heart of the snow, and excavated a place about four feet square by four deep, leaving the upper crust intact, of course, without its ordinary strength.
The two boys had completed their task, and were siting down in their subterranean abode, when the roof suddenly gave way, and a visitor entered in the most unceremonious manner.
The old lady had kept on her way unsuspiciously, using as a cane a faded blue umbrella, which she carried invariably, whatever the weather.
When Mrs. Payson felt herself sinking, she uttered a loud shriek and waved her arms aloft, brandishing her umbrella in a frantic way. She was plunged up to her armpits in the snow, and was, of course, placed in a very unfavorable position for extricating herself.
The two boys were at first nearly smothered by the descent of snow, but when the first surprise was over they recognized their prisoner. I am ashamed to say that their feeling was that of unbounded delight, and they burst into a roar of laughter. The sound, indistinctly heard, terrified the old lady beyond measure, and she struggled frantically to escape, nearly poking out Pomp's eye with the point of her umbrella.
Pomp, always prompt to repel aggression, in return, pinched her foot.
"Massy sakes! Where am I?" ejaculated the affrighted old lady. "There's some wild crittur down there. Oh, Cynthy Ann, ef you could see your marm at this moment!"
She made another vigorous flounder, and managed to kick Sam in the face. Partly as a measure of self-defense, he seized her ankle firmly.
"He's got hold of me!" shrieked the old lady "Help! help! I shall be murdered."
Her struggles became so energetic that the boys soon found it expedient to evacuate the premises. They crawled out by the passage they had made, and appeared on the surface of the snow.
The old lady presented a ludicrous appearance. Her hood had slipped off, her spectacles were resting on the end of her nose, and she had lost her work-bag. But she clung with the most desperate energy to the umbrella, on which apparently depended her sole hope of deliverance.
"Hi yah!" laughed Pomp, as he threw himself back on the snow and began to roll about in an ecstasy of delight.
Instantly Mrs. Payson's apprehensions changed to furious anger.
"So it's you, you little varmint, that's done this. Jest le' me get out, and I'll whip you so you can't stan'. See ef I don't."
"You can't get out, missus; yah, yah!" laughed Pomp. "You's tied, you is, missus."
"Come an' help me out, this minute!" exclaimed the old lady, stamping her foot.
"Lor', missus, you'll whip me. You said you would."
"So I will, I vum," retorted the irate old lady, rather undiplomatically. "As true as I live, I'll whip you till you can't stan'."
As she spoke, she brandished her umbrella in a menacing manner.
"Den, missus, I guess you'd better stay where you is."
"Oh, you imp. See ef I don't have you put in jail. Here, you, Sam Thompson, come and help me out. Ef you don't, I'll tell your mother, an' she'll give you the wust lickin' you ever had. I'm surprised at you."
"You won't tell on me, will you?" said Sam, irresolutely.
"I'll see about it," said the old lady, in a politic tone.
She felt her powerlessness, and that concession must precede victory.
"Then, give me the umbrella," said Sam, who evidently distrusted her.
"You'll run off with it," said Mrs. Payson suspiciously.
"No, I won't."
"Well, there 'tis."
"Come here, Pomp, and help me," said Sam.
Pomp held aloof.
"She'll whip me," he said, shaking his head. "She's an old debble."
"Oh, you—you sarpint!" ejaculated the old lady, almost speechless with indignation.
"You can run away as soon as she gets out," suggested Sam.
Pomp advanced slowly and warily, rolling his eyes in indecision.
"Jest catch hold of my hands, both on ye," said Mrs. Payson, "an' I'll give a jump."
These directions were followed, and the old lady rose to the surface, when, in an evil hour, intent upon avenging herself upon Pomp, she made a clutch for his collar. In doing so she lost her footing and fell back into the pit from which she had just emerged. Her spectacles dropped off and, falling beneath her, were broken.
She rose, half-provoked and half-ashamed of her futile attempt. It was natural that neither of these circumstances should effect an improvement in her temper.
"You did it a purpose," she said, shaking her fist at Pomp, who stood about a rod off, grinning at her discomfiture. "There, I've gone an' broke my specs, that I bought two years ago, come fall, of a pedler. I'll make you pay for 'em."
"Lor', missus, I ain't got no money," said Pomp. "Nebber had none."
Unfortunately for the old lady, it was altogether probable that Pomp spoke the truth this time.
"Three and sixpence gone!" groaned Mrs. Payson. "Fust my bunnit, an' then my specs. I'm the most unfort'nit' crittur. Why don't you help me, Sam Thompson, instead of standin' and gawkin' at me?" she suddenly exclaimed, glaring at Sam.
"I didn't know as you was ready," said Sam. "You might have been out before this, ef you hadn't let go. Here, Pomp, lend a hand." Pomp shook his head decisively.
"Don't catch dis chile again," he said. "I'm goin' home. Ole woman wants to lick me."
Sam endeavored to persuade Pomp, but he was deaf to persuasion. He squatted down on the snow, and watched the efforts his companion made to extricate the old lady. When she was nearly out he started on a run, and was at a safe distance before Mrs. Payson was in a situation to pursue him.
The old lady shook herself to make sure that no bones were broken. Next, she sent Sam down into the hole to pick up her bag, and then, finding, on a careful examination, that she had recovered everything, even to the blue umbrella, fetched the astonished Sam a rousing box on the ear.
"What did you do that for?" he demanded in an aggrieved tone.
"'Taint half as much as you deserve," said the old lady. "I'm goin' to your house right off, to tell your mother what you've been a-doin'. Ef you was my child, I'd beat you black and blue."
"I wish I'd left you down there," muttered Sam.
"What's that?" demanded Mrs. Payson sharply. "Don't you go to bein' sassy. It'll be the wuss for ye. You'll come to the gallows some time, ef you don't mind your p's and q's. I might 'ave stayed there till I died, an' then you'd have been hung."
"What are, you jawing about?" retorted Sam. "How could I know you was comin'?"
"You know'd it well enough," returned the old lady. "You'll bring your mother's gray hairs with sorrer to the grave."
"She ain't got any gray hairs," said Sam doggedly.
"Well, she will have some, ef she lives long enough. I once know'd a boy just like you, an' he was put in jail for stealin'."
"I ain't a-goin to stay and be jawed that way," said Sam. "You won't catch me pulling you out of a hole again. I wouldn't have you for a grandmother for all the world. Tom Baldwin told me, only yesterday, that you was always a-hectorin' him."
Tom Baldwin was the son of Cynthy Ann, and consequently old Mrs. Payson's grandson.
"Did Tom Baldwin tell you that?" demanded the old lady abruptly, looking deeply incensed.
"Yes, he did."
"Well, he's the ungratefullest cub that I ever sot eyes on," exclaimed his indignant grandmother. "Arter all I've done for him. I'm knittin' a pair of socks for him this blessed minute. But he sha'n't have 'em. I'll give 'em to the soldiers, I vum. Did he say anything else?"
"Yes, he said he should be glad when you were gone."
"I'll go right home and tell Cynthy Ann," exclaimed Mrs. Payson, "an' if she don't w'ip him I will. I never see such a bad set of boys as is growin' up. There ain't one on 'em that isn't as full of mischief as a nut is of meat. I'll come up with them, as true as I live."
Full of her indignation, Mrs. Payson gave up her proposed call on Mrs. Thompson, and, turning about, hurried home to lay her complaint before Cynthy Ann.
"I'm glad she's gone," said Sam, looking after her, as with resolute steps she trudged along, punching the snow vigorously with the point of her blue cotton umbrella. "I pity Tom Baldwin; if I had such a grandmother as that, I'd run away to sea. That's so!"
CHAPTER XXIV. A CHAPTER FROM HARDEE
A few rods east of the post-office, on the opposite side of the street, was a two-story building used as an engine-house, The second story consisted of a hall used for company meetings. This the fire company obligingly granted to the boys as a drill-room during the inclement season, until the weather became sufficiently warm to drill out of doors.
On the Monday afternoon succeeding the preliminary meeting at the academy, about thirty boys assembled in this hall, pursuant to a notice which had been given at school and posted up at the tavern and post-office.
At half-past two Frank entered, accompanied by Mr. Morton.
Some of the boys were already acquainted with him, and came up to speak. He had a frank, cordial way with boys, which secured their favor at first sight.
"Well, boys," said he pleasantly, "I believe I am expected to make soldiers of you."
"Yes, sir," said Charles Reynolds respectfully: "I hope we shall learn readily and do credit to your instructions."
"I have no fear on that score," was the reply. "Perhaps you may have some business to transact before we commence our lessons. If so, I will sit down a few minutes and wait till you are ready."
A short business meeting was held, organized as before.
John Haynes reported that he had spoken to his father, and the question of allowing the boys the use of the muskets belonging to the town would be acted upon at the next meeting of the Selectmen. Squire Haynes thought that the request would be granted.
"What are we going to do this afternoon?" asked Robert Ingalls.
"I can answer that question, Mr. Chairman," said Henry Morton. "We are not yet ready for muskets. I shall have to drill you first in the proper position of a soldier, and the military step. Probably it will be a week before I shall wish to place muskets into your hands. May I inquire how soon there will be a meeting of the Selectmen?"
John Haynes announced that the next meeting would be held in less than a week.
"Then there will be no difficulty as to the muskets," said Mr. Morton.
Wilbur Summerfield reported that he had extended an invitation to boys not connected with the academy to join the company. Several were now present. Dick Bumstead, though not able to attend that day, would come to the next meeting. He thought they would be able to raise a company of fifty boys.
This report was considered very satisfactory.
Tom Wheeler arose and inquired by what name the new company would be called.
"I move," said Robert Ingalls, "that we take the name of the Rossville Home Guards."
"If the enemy should invade Rossville, you'd be the first to run," sneered John Haynes.
"Not unless I heard it before you," was the quick reply.
There was a general laugh, and cries of "Bully for you, Bob!" were heard.
"Order!" cried the chairman, pounding the table energetically. "Such disputes cannot be allowed. I think we had better defer obtaining a name for our company till we find how well we are likely to succeed."
This proposal seemed to be acquiesced in by the boys generally. The business meeting terminated, and Mr. Morton was invited to commence his instructions.
"The boys will please form themselves in a line," said the teacher, in a clear, commanding voice.
This was done.
The positions assumed were, most of them, far from military. Some stood with their legs too far apart, others with one behind the other, some with the shoulders of unequal height. Frank alone stood correctly, thanks to the private instructions he had received.
"Now, boys," said Mr. Morton, "when I say 'attention!' you must all look at me and follow my directions implicitly. Attention and subordination are of the first importance to a soldier. Let me say, to begin with, that, with one exception, you are all standing wrong."
Here there was a general shifting of positions. Robert Ingalls, who had been standing with his feet fifteen inches apart, suddenly brought them close together in a parallel position. Tom Wheeler, who had been resting his weight mainly on the left foot, shifted to the right. Moses Rogers, whose head was bent over so as to watch his feet, now threw it so far back that he seemed to be inspecting the ceiling. Frank alone remained stationary.
Mr. Morton smiled at the changes elicited by his remarks, and proceeded to give his first command.
"Heels on the same line!" he ordered.
All the boys turned their heads, and there was a noisy shuffling of feet.
"Quit crowding, Tom Baldwin!" exclaimed Sam Rivers in an audible tone.
"Quit crowding, yourself," was the reply. "You've got more room than I, now."
"Silence in the ranks!" said the instructor authoritatively. "Frank Frost, I desire you to see that the boys stand at regular distances." This was accomplished.
"Turn out your feet equally, so as to form a right angle with each other. So."
Mr. Morton illustrated his meaning practically. This was very necessary, as some of the boys had very confused ideas as to what was meant by a right angle.
After some time this order was satisfactorily carried out.
"The knees must be straight. I see that some are bent, as if the weight of the body were too much for them. Not too stiff! Rivers, yours are too rigid. You couldn't walk a mile in that way without becoming very tired. There, that is much better. Notice my position."
The boys, after adjusting their positions, looked at the rest to see how they had succeeded.
"Don't look at each other," said Mr. Morton. "If you do you will be certain to make blunders. I notice that some of you are standing with one shoulder higher than the other. The shoulders should be square, and the body should be erect upon the hips. Attention! So!"
"Very well. Haynes, you are trying to stand too upright. You must not bend backward. All, incline your bodies a little forward. Frank Ingalls is standing correctly."
"I don't think that's very soldierly," said John Haynes, who felt mortified at being corrected, having flattered himself that he was right and the rest were wrong.
"A soldier shouldn't be round-shouldered, or have a slouching gait," said the instructor quietly; "but you will find when you come to march that the opposite extreme is attended with great inconvenience and discomfort. Until then you must depend upon my assurance."
Mr. Morton ran his eye along the line, and observed that most of the boys were troubled about their arms. Some allowed them to hang in stiff rigidity by their sides. One, even, had his clasped behind his back. Others let theirs dangle loosely, swinging now hither, now thither.
He commented upon these errors, and added, "Let your arms hang naturally, with the elbows near the body, the palm of the hand a little turned to the front, the little finger behind the seam of the pantaloons. This you will find important when you come to drill with muskets. You will find that it will economize space by preventing your occupying more room than is necessary. Frank, will you show Sam Rivers and John Haynes how to hold their hands?"
"You needn't trouble yourself," said John haughtily, but in too low a voice, as he supposed, for Mr. Morton to hear. "I don't want a clodhopper to teach me."
Frank's face flushed slightly, and without a word he passed John and occupied himself with showing Sam Rivers, who proved more tractable.
"No talking in the ranks!" said Mr. Morton, in a tone of authority. "If any boy wishes to ask any explanation of me he may do so, but it is a breach of discipline to speak to each other."
"My next order will be, 'Faces to the front!'" he resumed, after a pause. "Nothing looks worse than to see a file of men with heads turned in various directions. The eyes should be fixed straight before you, striking the ground at about fifteen paces forward."
It required some time to have this direction properly carried out. Half an hour had now passed, and some of the boys showed signs of weariness.
"I will now give you a little, breathing-spell for ten minutes," said Mr. Morton. "After this we will resume our exercises."
The boys stretched their limbs, and began to converse in an animated strain about the lesson which they had just received.
At the expiration of ten minutes the lesson was resumed, and some additional directions were given.
It will not be necessary for us to follow the boys during the remainder of the lesson. Most of them made very creditable progress, and the line presented quite a different appearance at the end of the exercise from what it had at the commencement.
"I shall be prepared to give you a second lesson on Saturday afternoon," announced Mr. Morton. "In the meantime it will be well for you to remember what I have said, and if you should feel inclined to practice by yourselves, it will no doubt make your progress more rapid."
These remarks were followed by a clapping of hands on the part of the boys—a demonstration of applause which Mr. Morton acknowledged by a bow and a smile.
"Well, how do you like it?" asked Frank Frost of Robert Ingalls.
"Oh, it's bully fun!" returned Bob enthusiastically. "I feel like a hero already."
"You're as much of one now, Bob, as you'll ever be," said Wilbur good-naturedly.
"I wouldn't advise you to be a soldier," retorted Bob. "You're too fat to run, and would be too frightened to fight."
"I certainly couldn't expect to keep up with those long legs of yours, Bob," said Wilbur, laughing.
The boys dispersed in excellent humor, fully determined to persevere in their military exercises.
CHAPTER XXV. ELECTION OF OFFICERS
For the six weeks following, Mr. Morton gave lessons twice a week to the boys. At the third lesson they received their muskets, and thenceforth drilled with them. A few, who had not been present at the first two lessons, and were consequently ignorant of the positions, Mr. Morton turned over to Frank, who proved an efficient and competent instructor.
At the end of the twelfth lesson, Mr. Morton, after giving the order "Rest!" addressed the boys as follows:
"Boys, we have now taken twelve lessons together. I have been very much gratified by the rapid improvement which you have made, and feel that it is due quite as much to your attention as to any instructions of mine. I can say with truth that I have known companies of grown men who have made less rapid progress than you.
"The time has now come when I feel that I can safely leave you to yourselves, There are those among you who are competent to carry on the work which I have commenced. It will be desirable for you at once to form a company organization. As there are but fifty on your muster-roll, being about half the usual number, you will not require as many officers. I recommend the election of a captain, first and second lieutenants, three sergeants and three corporals. You have already become somewhat accustomed to company drill, so that you will be able to go on by yourselves under the guidance of your officers. If any doubtful questions should arise, I shall always be happy to give you any information or assistance in my power.
"And now, boys, I will bid you farewell in my capacity of instructor, but I need not say that I shall continue to watch with interest your progress in the military art."
Here Mr. Morton bowed, and sat down.
After the applause which followed his speech had subsided, there was a silence and hush of expectation among the boys, after which Charles Reynolds rose slowly, and, taking from the seat beside him a package, advanced toward Mr. Morton and made a brief speech of presentation, having been deputed by the boys to perform that duty.
"MR MORTON: I stand here in behalf of the boys present, who wish to express to you their sense of your kindness in giving them the course of lessons which has just ended. We have taken up much of your time, and no doubt have tried your patience more than once. If we have improved, as you were kind enough to say, we feel that it is principally owing to our good fortune in having so skilful a teacher. We wish to present you some testimonial of the regard which we have for you, and accordingly ask your acceptance of this copy of 'Abbott's Life of Napoleon.' We should have been glad to give you something more valuable, but we are sure you will value the gift for other reasons than its cost."
Here Charles Reynolds sat down, and all eyes were turned toward Mr. Morton. It was evident that he was taken by surprise. It was equally evident that he was much gratified by this unexpected token of regard.
He rose and with much feeling spoke as follows:
"My dear boys, for you must allow me to call you so, I can hardly tell you how much pleasure your kind gift has afforded me. It gives me the assurance, which indeed, I did not need, that you are as much my friends as I am yours. The connection between us has afforded me much pleasure and satisfaction. In training you to duties which patriotism may hereafter devolve upon you, though I pray Heaven that long before that time our terrible civil strife may be at an end, I feel that I have helped you to do something to show your loyal devotion to the country which we all love and revere." Here there was loud applause. "If you were a few years older, I doubt not that your efforts would be added to those of your fathers and brothers who are now encountering the perils and suffering the privations of war. And with a little practise I am proud to say that you would not need to be ashamed of the figure you would cut in the field.
"I have little more to say. I recognize a fitness in the selection of the work which you have given me. Napoleon is without doubt the greatest military genius which our modern age has produced. Yet he lacked one very essential characteristic of a good soldier. He was more devoted to his own selfish ends than to the welfare of his country. I shall value your gift for the good wishes that accompany it, and the recollection of this day will be among my pleasantest memories."
Mr. Morton here withdrew in the midst of hearty applause.
When he had left the hall a temporary organization for business purposes was at once effected. Wilbur Summerfield was placed in the chair, and the meeting proceeded at once to an election of officers.
For a week or two past there had been considerable private canvassing among the boys. There were several who would like to have been elected captain, and a number of others who, though not aspiring so high, hoped to be first or second lieutenants. Among the first class was John Haynes. Like many persons who are unpopular, he did not seem to be at all aware of the extent of his unpopularity.
But there was another weighty reason why the choice of the boys would never have fallen upon him. Apart from his unpopularity, he was incompetent for the posts to which he aspired. Probably there were not ten boys in the company who were not more proficient in drill than he. This was not owing to any want of natural capacity, but to a feeling that he did not require much instruction and a consequent lack of attention to the directions of Mr. Morton. He had frequently been corrected in mistakes, but always received the correction with sullenness and impatience. He felt in his own mind that he was much better fitted to govern than to obey, forgetting in his ambition that it is those only who have first learned to obey who are best qualified to rule others.
Desirious of ingratiating himself with the boys, and so securing their votes, he had been unusually amiable and generous during the past week. At the previous lesson he had brought half a bushel of apples, from which he had requested the boys to help themselves freely. By this means he hoped to attain the object of his ambition.
Squire Haynes, too, was interested in the success of his son.
"If they elect you captain, John," he promised, "I will furnish you money enough to buy a handsome sash and sword."
Besides John, there were several others who cherished secret hopes of success. Among these were Charles Reynolds and Wilbur Summerfield. As for Frank Frost, though he had thought little about it, he could not help feeling that he was among those best qualified for office, though he would have been quite content with either of the three highest offices, or even with the post of orderly sergeant.
Among those who had acquitted themselves with the greatest credit was our old friend Dick Bumstead, whom we remember last as concerned in rather a questionable adventure. Since that time his general behavior had very much changed for the better. Before, he had always shirked work when it was possible. Now he exhibited a steadiness and industry which surprised no less than it gratified his father.
This change was partly owing to his having given up some companions who had done him no good, and, instead, sought the society of Frank. The energy and manliness exhibited by his new friend, and the sensible views which he took of life and duty, had wrought quite a revolution in Dick's character. He began to see that if he ever meant to accomplish anything he must begin now. At Frank's instance he had given up smoking, and this cut off one of the temptations which had assailed him. Gradually the opinion entertained of Dick in the village as a ne'er-do-well was modified, and he had come to be called as one of the steady and reliable boys—a reputation not to, be lightly regarded.
In the present election Dick did not dream that he could have any interest. While he had been interested in the lessons, and done his best, he felt that his previous reputation would injure his chance, and he had made up his mind that he should have to serve in the ranks. This did not trouble him, for Dick, to his credit be it said, was very free from jealousy, and had not a particle of envy in his composition. He possessed so many good qualities that it would have been a thousand pities if he had kept on in his former course.
"You will bring in your votes for captain," said the chairman.
Tom Wheeler distributed slips of paper among the boys, and there was forthwith a plentiful show of pencils.
"Are the votes all in?" inquired the chairman, a little later. "If so, we will proceed to count them."
There was a general hush of expectation while Wilbur Summerfield, the chairman, and Robert Ingalls, the secretary of the meeting, were counting the votes. John Haynes, was evidently nervous, and fidgeted about, anxious to learn his fate.
At length the count was completed, and Wilbur, rising, announced it as follows:
Whole number of votes...... 49 Necessary for a choice..... 25 Robert Ingalls.............. 2 votes John Haynes................. 2 " Wilbur Summerfield.......... 4 " Moses Rogers................ 4 " Charles Reynolds........... 10 " Frank Frost................ 27 "
"Gentlemen, I have the pleasure of announcing that you have made choice of Frank Frost as your captain."
Frank rose amid a general clapping of hands, and, with heightened color but modest self-possession, spoke as follows "Boys, I thank you very much for this proof of your confidence. All I can say is that I will endeavor to deserve it. I shall no doubt make some mistakes, but I feel sure that you will grant me your indulgence, and not expect too much of my inexperience."
This speech was regarded with favor by all except John Haynes, who would rather have had any one else elected, independent of his own disappointment, which was great.
"You will now prepare your votes for first lieutenant," said the presiding officer.
It will be noticed that two votes were cast for John Haynes. One of these was thrown by a competitor, who wished to give his vote to some one who stood no possible chance of succeeding, and accordingly selected John on account of his well-known unpopularity. This vote, therefore, was far from being a compliment. As for the other vote, John Haynes himself best knew by whom it was cast.
The boys began to prepare their votes for first lieutenant.
John brightened up a little. He felt that it would be something to gain this office. But when the result of the balloting was announced it proved that he had but a single vote.
There were several scattering votes. The two prominent candidates were Dick Bumstead, who received eight votes, and Charles Reynolds, who received thirty-two, and was accordingly declared elected.
No one was more surprised by this announcement than Dick. He felt quite bewildered, not having the slightest expectation of being a candidate. He was almost tempted to believe that the votes had only been cast in jest.
But Dick was destined to a still greater surprise. At the next vote, for second lieutenant, there were five scattering votes. Then came ten for Wilbur Summerfield, and Richard Bumstead led off with thirty-four, and was accordingly declared elected.
"Speech! speech!" exclaimed half a dozen, vociferously.
Dick looked a little confused, and tried to escape the call. But the boys were determined to have him up, and he was finally compelled to rise, looking and feeling rather awkward But his natural good sense and straightforwardness came to his aid, and he acquitted himself quite creditably.
This was Dick's speech:
"Boys, I don't know how to make speeches, and I s'pose you know that as well as I do. I hardly knew who was meant when Richard Bumstead's name was mentioned, having always been called Dick, but if it means me, all I can say is, that I am very much obliged to you for the unexpected honor. One reason why I did not expect to be elected to any office was because I ain't as good a scholar as most of you. I am sure there are a great many of you who would make better officers than I, but I don't think there's any that will try harder to do well than I shall."
Here Dick sat down, very much astonished to find that he had actually made a speech. His speech was modest, and made a favorable impression, as was shown by the noisy stamping of feet and shouts of "Bully for you, Dick!" "You're a trump!" and other terms in which boys are wont to signify their approbation.
Through all this John Haynes looked very much disgusted, and seemed half-decided upon leaving the room. He had some curiosity, however, to learn who would be elected to the subordinate offices, and so remained. He had come into the room with the determination not to accept anything below a lieutenancy, but now made up his mind not to reject the post of orderly sergeant if it should be offered to him. The following list of officers, however will show that he was allowed no choice in the matter:
Captain, Frank Frost. First Lieutenant, Charles Reynolds. Second Lieutenant, Richard Bumstead. Orderly Sergeant, Wilbur Summerfield. Second Sergeant, Robert Ingalls. Third Sergeant, Moses Rogers. First Corporal, Tom Wheeler. Second Corporal, Joseph Barry. Third Corporal, Frank Ingalls.
The entire list of officers was now read and received with applause. If there were some who were disappointed, they acquiesced good-naturedly, with one exception.
When the applause had subsided, John Haynes rose and, in a voice trembling with passion, said:
"Mr. Chairman, I wish to give notice to all present that I resign my place as a member of this company. I don't choose to serve under such officers as you have chosen to-day. I don't think they are fit to have command."
Here there was a general chorus of hisses, drowning John's voice completely. After glancing about him a moment in speechless fury, he seized his hat, and left the room in indignant haste, slamming the door after him.
"He's a mean fellow!" said Frank Ingalls. "I suppose he expected to be captain."
"Shouldn't wonder," said Sam Rivers. "Anyhow, he's a fool to make such a fuss about it. As for me," he added, with a mirthful glance, "I am just as much disappointed as he is. When I came here this afternoon I expected I should be elected captain, and I'd got my speech all ready, but now I'm sorry that it will have to be wasted."
There was a general burst of laughter, for Sam Rivers, whom everybody liked for his good nature, was incorrigibly awkward, and had made a larger number of blunders, probably, than any other member of the company.
"Give us the speech, Sam," said Bob Ingalls.
"Yes, don't let it be wasted."
"Speech! speech!" cried Joseph Barry.
"Very well, gentlemen, if you desire it."
Sam drew from his pocket a blank piece of paper, and pretended to read the following speech, which he made up on the spur of the moment.
"Ahem! gentlemen," he commenced, in a pompous tone, assuming an air of importance; "I am deeply indebted to you for this very unexpected honor."
"Oh, very," said one of the boys near.
"I feel that you have done yourself credit in your selection."
Here there was a round of applause.
"I am sorry that some of you are still very awkward, but I hope under my excellent discipline to make veterans of you in less than no time."
"Good for you!"
"You cannot expect me to remain long with you, as I am now in the line of promotion, and don't mean to stop short of a brigadier. But as long as I am your captain I hope you will appreciate your privileges."
Sam's speech was followed by a chorus of laughter, in which he joined heartily himself.
As for John's defection, nobody seemed to regret it much. It was generally felt that the company would have no difficulty in getting along without him.
CHAPTER XXVI. THE REBEL TRAP
ON the first of April Frank received the following letter from his father. It was the more welcome because nearly a month had elapsed since anything had been received, and the whole family had become quite anxious:
"Dear Frank," the letter commenced, "you are no doubt feeling anxious on account of my long silence. You will understand the cause of it when I tell you that since the date of my last letter I have been for a fortnight in the enemy's hands as a prisoner. Fortunately, I have succeeded in effecting my escape. You will naturally be interested to learn the particulars.
"Three weeks since, a lady occupying an estate about five miles distant from our camp waited on our commanding officer and made an urgent request to have a few soldiers detailed as a guard to protect her and her property from molestation and loss. Our colonel was not at first disposed to grant her request, but finally acceded to it, rather reluctantly, declaring that it was all nonsense. I was selected, with five other men, to serve as a guard. Mrs. Roberts—for this was her name—appeared quite satisfied to find her request granted, and drove slowly home under our escort.
"On arriving, we found a mansion in the old Virginia style, low in elevation, broad upon the ground, and with a piazza extending along the front. Surrounding it was a good-sized plantation. At a little distance from the house was a row of negro huts. These were mostly vacant, the former occupants having secured their freedom by taking refuge within our lines.
"As sergeant in command—you must know that I have been promoted—I inquired of Mrs. Roberts what danger she apprehended. Her answers were vague and unsatisfactory. However, she seemed disposed to treat me very civilly, and at nine o'clock invited the whole party into the house to partake of a little refreshment. This invitation was very welcome to soldiers who had not for months partaken of anything better than camp fare. It was all the more acceptable because outside a cold rain was falling, and the mod was deep and miry.
"In the dining-room we found a plentiful meal spread, including hot coffee, hot corn bread, bacon, and other viands. We were not, however, destined to take our supper in peace. As I was drinking my second cup of coffee I thought I heard a noise outside, and remarked it to Mrs. Roberts.
"'It is only the wind, sergeant,' said she, indifferently.
"It was not long before I became convinced that it was something more serious. I ordered my men to stand to their arms, in spite of the urgent protestations of the old lady, and marched them out upon the lawn, just in time to be confronted by twenty or thirty men on horseback, clad in the rebel uniform.
"Resistance against such odds would have been only productive of useless loss of life, and with my little force I was compelled to surrender myself a prisoner.
"Of course, I no longer doubted that we were the victims of a trick, and had been lured by Mrs. Roberts purposely to be made prisoners. If I had had any doubts on the subject, her conduct would have dissipated them. She received our captors with open arms. They stepped into our places as guests, and the house was thrown open to them. Our arms were taken from us, our hands pinioned, and a scene of festivity ensued. A cask of wine was brought up from the cellar, and the contents freely distributed among the rebels, or gray backs, as we call them here.
"Once, as Mrs. Roberts passed through the little room where we were confined, I said, 'Do you consider this honorable conduct, madam, to lure us here by false representations, and then betray us to our enemies?'
"'Yes, I do!' said she hotly. 'What business have you to come down here and lay waste our territory? There is no true Southern woman but despises you heartily, and would do as much as I have, and more, too. You've got my son a prisoner in one of your Yankee prisons. When I heard that he was taken, I swore to be revenged, and I have kept my word. I've got ten for one, though he's worth a hundred such as you!'
"So saying, she swept out of the room, with a scornful look of triumph in her eyes. The next day, as I afterward learned, she sent word to our colonel that her house had been unexpectedly attacked by a large party of the rebels, and that we had been taken prisoners. Her complicity was suspected, but was not proved till our return to the camp. Of course, a further guard, which she asked for, to divert suspicion, was refused.
"Meanwhile we were carried some twenty miles across the river, and confined in a building which had formerly been used as a storehouse.
"The place was dark and gloomy. There were some dozen others who shared our captivity. Here we had rather a doleful time. We were supplied with food three times a day; but the supply was scanty, and we had meat but once in two days. We gathered that it was intended to send us to Richmond; but from day to day there was a delay in doing so. We decided that our chance of escape would be much better then than after we reached the rebel capital. We, therefore, formed a plan for defeating the intentions of our captors.
"Though the building assigned to us as a prison consisted of two stories, we were confined in the lower part. This was more favorable to our designs. During the night we busied ourselves in loosening two of the planks of the flooring, so that we could remove them at any time. Then lowering two of our number into the cellar, we succeeded in removing enough of the stone foundation to allow the escape of one man at a time through the aperture. Our arrangements were hastened by the assignment of a particular day on which we were to be transferred from our prison, and conveyed to Richmond. Though we should have been glad to enter the city under some circumstances, we did not feel very desirous of going as prisoners of war.
"On the night selected we waited impatiently till midnight. Then, as silently as possible, we removed the planking, and afterwards the stones of the basement wall, and crept through one by one. All this was effected so noiselessly that we were all out without creating any alarm. We could hear the measured tramp of the sentinel, as he paced up and down in front of the empty prison. We pictured to ourselves his surprise when he discovered, the next morning, that we escaped under his nose without his knowing it!
"I need not dwell upon the next twenty-four hours. The utmost vigilance was required to elude the rebel pickets. At last, after nearly twenty hours, during which we had nothing to eat, we walked into camp, exhausted with hunger and fatigue, to the great joy of our comrades from whom we had been absent a fortnight.
"On receiving information of the manner in which we had been captured, our commanding officer at once despatched me with a detachment of men to arrest Mrs. Roberts and her daughter. Her surprise and dismay at seeing me whom she supposed safe in Richmond were intense. She is still under arrest.
"I suppose our campaign will open as soon as the roads are dried up. The mud in Virginia is much more formidable than at the North, and presents an insuperable, perhaps I should say an unfathomable, obstacle to active operations. I hope General Grant will succeed in taking Vicksburg. The loss of that important stronghold would be a great blow to the rebels.
"You ask me, in your last letter, whether I see much of the contrabands. I have talked with a considerable number. One, a very intelligent fellow, had been very much trusted by his master, and had accompanied him to various parts of the South. I asked him the question: 'Is it true that there are a considerable number of slaves who would prefer to remain in their present condition to becoming free?'
"'Nebber see any such niggers, massa,' he answered, shaking his head decisively. 'We all want to be free. My old massa treated me kindly, but I'd a left him any minute to be my own man.'
"I hope the time will soon come, when, from Canada to the Gulf, there will not be a single black who is not his own man. We in the army are doing what we can, but we must be backed up by those who stay at home. My own feeling is that slavery has received its death-blow. It may continue to live for some years, but it has fallen from its pomp and pride of place. It is tottering to its fall. What shall be done with the negroes in the transition state will be a problem for statesmen to consider. I don't think we need fear the consequences of doing right, and on this subject there can be no doubt of what is right; The apparent insensibility and brutish ignorance which we find among some of the slaves will wear away under happier influences.
"There is a little fellow of perhaps a dozen years who comes into our camp and runs of errands and does little services for the men. Yesterday morning he came to my tent, and with a grin, said to me, 'De ol' man died last night.'
"'What, your father?' I inquired in surprise.
"'Yes, massa,' with another grin: 'Goin' to tote him off dis mornin'.'
"As he only lived a quarter of a mile off, I got permission to go over to the house, or cabin, where Scip's father had lived.
"The outer door was open, and I entered without knocking. A woman was bending over a washtub at the back part of the room. I looked around me for the body, but could see no indication of anything having happened out of the ordinary course.
"I thought it possible that Scip had deceived me, and accordingly spoke to the woman, inquiring if she was Scip's mother.
"She replied in the affirmative.
"'And where is his father?' I next inquired.
"'Oh, he's done dead,' she said, continuing her washing.
"'When did he die?'
"'Las' night, massa.'
"'And where is the body?'
"'Toted off, massa, very first t'ing dis mornin'.'
"In spite of this case of apparent insensibility, the negro's family attachments are quite as warm naturally as our own. They have little reason, indeed, to mourn over the loss of a husband or father, since, in most cases, it is the only portal to the freedom which they covet. The separation of families, too, tends, of course, to weaken family ties. While I write these words I cannot help recalling our own happy home, and longing for an hour, if not more, of your society. I am glad that you find Mr. Morton so agreeable an inmate. You ought to feel quite indebted him for his assistance in your studies. I am glad you have formed a boy's company. It is very desirable that the elements of military science should be understood even by boys, since upon them must soon devolve the defense of their country from any blows that may be directed against her, whether by foes from within or enemies from abroad.
"The coming season will be a busy one with you. When you receive this letter it will be about time for you to begin to plow whatever land is to be planted. As I suggested in my first letter from camp, I should like you to devote some space-perhaps half an acre-to the culture of onions. We find them very useful for promoting health in the army. They are quite high on account of the largely increased demand, so that it will be a good crop for financial reasons."
(Here followed some directions with regard to the spring planting, which we omit, as not likely to interest our readers.) The letter ended thus:
"It is nearly time for me to mail this letter, and it is already much longer than I intended to write. May God keep you all in health and happiness is the fervent wish of
"Your affectionate father,
The intelligence that their father had been a prisoner made quite a sensation among the children. Charlie declared that Mrs. Roberts was a wicked woman, and he was glad she was put in prison—an expression of joy in which the rest fully participated.
CHAPTER XXVII. POMP'S LIGHT INFANTRY TACTICS
Little Pomp continued to pursue his studies under Frank as a teacher. By degrees his restlessness diminished, and, finding Frank firm in exacting a certain amount of study before he would dismiss him, he concluded that it was best to study in earnest, and so obtain the courted freedom as speedily as possible. Frank had provided for his use a small chair, which he had himself used when at Pomp's age, but for this the little contraband showed no great liking. He preferred to throw himself on a rug before the open fire-place, and, curling up, not unlike a cat, began to pore over his primer.
Frank often looked up from his own studies and looked down with an amused glance at little Pomp's coal-back face and glistening eyes riveted upon the book before him. There was no lack of brightness or intelligence in the earnest face of his young pupil. He seemed to be studying with all his might. In a wonderfully short time he would uncoil himself, and, coming to his teacher, would say, "I guess I can say it, Mass' Frank."
Finding how readily Pomp learned his lessons, Frank judiciously lengthened them, so that, in two or three months, Pomp could read words of one syllable with considerable ease, and promised very soon to read as well as most boys of his age.
Frank also took considerable pains to cure Pomp of his mischievous propensities, but this he found a more difficult task than teaching him to read. Pomp had an innate love of fun which seemed almost irrepressible, and his convictions of duty sat too lightly upon him to interfere very seriously with its gratification. One adventure into which he was led came near having serious consequences.
Pomp, in common with other village boys of his age, had watched with considerable interest the boys 'company, as they drilled publicly or paraded through the main street, and he had conceived a strong desire to get hold of a musket, to see if he, too, could not go through with the manual.
Frank generally put his musket carefully away, only bringing it out when it was needful. One morning, however, he had been out on a hunting-expedition, and on his return left the musket in the corner of the shed.
Pomp espied it when he entered the house, and resolved, if possible, to take temporary possession of it after his lesson was over. Having this in view, he worked with an uncommon degree of industry, and in less time than usual had learned and said his lesson.
"Very well, Pomp," said his teacher approvingly. "You have worked unusually well to-day. If you keep on you will make quite a scholar some day."
"I's improvin', isn't I?" inquired Pomp, with an appearance of interest.
"Yes, Pomp, you have improved rapidly. By and by you can teach your mother how to read."
"She couldn't learn, Mass' Frank. She's poor ignorant nigger."
"You shouldn't speak so of your mother, Pomp. She's a good mother to you, and works hard to earn money to support you."
"Yes, Mass' Frank," said Pomp, who was getting impatient to go. "I guess I'll go home and help her."
Frank thought that what he had said was producing a good effect. He did not know the secret of Pomp's haste.
Pomp left the room, and, proceeding to the wood-shed, hastily possessed himself of the musket. In a stealthy manner he crept with it through a field behind the house, until he got into the neighboring woods.
He found it a hard tug to carry the gun, which was heavier than those made at the present day. At length he reached an open space in the woods, only a few rods from the road which led from the farmhouse, past the shanty occupied by old Chloe. As this road was not much traveled, Pomp felt pretty safe from discovery, and accordingly here it was that he halted, and made preparations to go through the manual.
"It begins dis yer way," said Pomp, after a little reflection.
Grasping the musket with one hand he called out in an important tone:
For the benefit of the uninitiated it may be explained that Pomp meant "Attention, squad!"
Pomp found it considerably easier to give the word of command than to obey it. With some difficulty he succeeded in accomplishing this movement, and proceeded with the manual, with several original variations which would have astonished a military instructor.
Meanwhile, though Pomp did not realize it, he was exposing himself to considerable danger. The gun had been loaded with buckshot in the morning, and the charge had not been withdrawn.
It seemed to be the lot of poor Mrs. Payson to suffer fright or disaster whenever she encountered Pomp, and this memorable afternoon was to make no exception to the rule.
"Cynthy Ann," she said to her daughter, in the afternoon, "I guess I'll go and spend the arternoon with Mis' Forbes. I hain't been to see her for nigh a month, and I calc'late she'll be glad to see me. Besides, she ginerally bakes Thursdays, an' mos' likely she'll have some hot gingerbread. I'm partic'larly fond of gingerbread, an' she does know how to make it about the best of anybody I know on. You needn't wait supper for me, Cynthy Ann, for ef I don't find Mis' Forbes to home I'll go on to Mis' Frost's."
Mrs. Payson put on her cloak and hood, and, armed with the work-bag and the invariable blue cotton umbrella, sallied out. Mrs. Forbes lived at the distance of a mile, but Mrs. Payson was a good walker for a woman of her age, and less than half an hour brought her to the door of the brown farmhouse in which Mrs. Forbes lived.
She knocked on the door with the handle of her umbrella. The summons was answered by a girl of twelve.
"How dy do, Betsy?" said Mrs. Payson. "Is your ma'am to home?"
"No, she's gone over to Webbington to spend two or three days with Aunt Prudence."
"Then she won't be home to tea," said Mrs. Payson, considerably disappointed.
"No, ma'am, I don't expect her before to-morrow."
"Well, I declare for't, I am disapp'inted," said the old lady regretfully. "I've walked a mile on puppus to see her. I'm most tuckered out."
"Won't you step in and sit down?"
"Well, I don't keer ef I do a few minutes. I feel like to drop. Do you do the cooking while you maam's gone?"
"No, she baked up enough to last before she went away."
"You hain't got any gingerbread in the house?" asked Mrs. Payson, with subdued eagerness. "I always did say Mis' Forbes beat the world at makin' gingerbread."
"I'm very sorry, Mrs. Payson, but we ate the last for supper last night."
"Oh, dear!" sighed the old lady, "I feel sort of faint—kinder gone at the stomach. I didn't have no appetite at dinner, and I s'pose it don't agree with me walkin' so fur on an empty stomach."
"Couldn't you eat a piece of pie?" asked Betsy sympathizingly.
"Well," said the old lady reflectively, "I don't know but I could eat jest a bite. But you needn't trouble yourself. I hate to give trouble to anybody."
"Oh, it won't be any trouble," said Betsy cheerfully.
"And while you're about it," added Mrs. Payson, "ef you have got any of that cider you give me when I was here before, I don't know but I could worry down a little of it."
"Yes, we've got plenty. I'll bring it in with the pie."
"Well," murmured the old lady, "I'll get something for my trouble. I guess I'll go and take supper at Mis' Frost's a'terward."
Betsy brought in a slice of apple and one of pumpkin pie, and set them down before the old lady. In addition she brought a generous mug of cider.
The old lady's eyes brightened, as she saw this substantial refreshment.
"You're a good gal, Betsy," she said in the overflow of her emotions. "I was saying to my darter yesterday that I wish all the gals round here was as good and considerate as you be."
"Oh, no, Mrs. Payson," said Betsy modestly. "I ain't any better than girls generally."
"Yes, you be. There's my granddarter, Jane, ain't so respectful as she'd arter be to her old grandma'am. I often tell her that when she gets to have children of her own, she'll know what tis to be a pilgrim an' a sojourner on the arth without nobody to consider her feelin's. Your cider is putty good." Here the old lady took a large draft, and set down the mug with a sigh of satisfaction. "It's jest the thing to take when a body's tired. It goes to the right spot. Cynthy Ann's husband didn't have none made this year. I wonder ef your ma would sell a quart or two of it."
"You can have it and welcome, Mrs. Payson."
"Can I jest as well as not? Well, that's kind. But I didn't expect you to give it to me."
"Oh, we have got plenty."
"I dunno how I can carry it home," said the lady hesitatingly. "I wonder ef some of your folks won't be going up our way within a day or two."
"We will send it. I guess father'll be going up to-morrow."
"Then ef you can spare it you might send round a gallon, an' ef there's anything to pay I'll pay for it."
This little business arrangement being satisfactorily adjusted, and the pie consumed, Mrs. Payson got up and said she must be going.
"I'm afraid you haven't got rested yet, Mrs. Payson."
"I ain't hardly," was the reply; "but I guess I shall stop on the way at Mis' Frost's. Tell your ma I'll come up an' see her ag'in afore long."
"An' you won't forget to send over that cider?"
"I'm ashamed to trouble ye, but their ain't anybody over to our house that I can send. There's Tom grudges doin' anything for his old grandma'am. A'ter all that I do for him, too! Good-by!"
The old lady set out on her way to Mrs. Frost's.
Her road lay through the woods, where an unforeseen danger lay in wait for her.
Meanwhile Pomp was pursuing military science under difficulties. The weight of the musket made it very awkward for him to handle. Several times he got out of patience with it, and apostrophized it in terms far from complimentary. At last, in one of his awkward maneuvers, he accidentally pulled the trigger. Instantly there was a loud report, followed by a piercing shriek from the road. The charge had entered old Mrs. Payson's umbrella and knocked it out of her hand. The old lady fancied herself hit, and fell backward, kicking energetically, and screaming "murder" at the top of her lungs.
The musket had done double execution. It was too heavily loaded, and as it went off, 'kicked,' leaving Pomp, about as scared as the old lady, sprawling on the ground.
Henry Morton was only a few rods off when he heard the explosion. He at once ran to the old lady's assistance, fancying her hurt. She shrieked the louder on his approach, imagining that he was a robber, and had fired at her.
"Go away!" she cried, in affright. "I ain't got any money. I'm a poor, destitute widder!"
"What do you take me for?" inquired Mr. Morton, somewhat amazed at this mode of address.
"Ain't you a highwayman?" asked the old lady.
"If you look at me close I think you will be able to answer that question for yourself."
The old lady cautiously rose to a sitting posture, and, mechanically adjusting her spectacles, took a good look at the young man.
"Why, I declare for it, ef it ain't Mr. Morton! I thought 'twas you that fired at me."
"I hope you are not hurt," said Mr. Morton, finding a difficulty in preserving his gravity.
"I dunno," said the old lady dubiously, pulling up her sleeve, and examining her arm. "I don't see nothin'; but I expect I've had some injury to my inards. I feel as ef I'd had a shock somewhere. Do you think he'll fire again?" she asked, with a sudden alarm.