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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!"
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