It was fortunate for Mrs. Frost that she was so soon called upon to think for others. It gave her less time to grieve over her husband's absence, which was naturally a severe trial to her. As for Frank, though the harvest was gathered in, there were plenty of small jobs to occupy his attention. He divided with Jacob the care of the cows, and was up betimes in the morning to do his share of the milking. Then the pigs and chickens must be fed every day, and this Frank took entirely into his own charge. Wood, also, must be prepared for the daily wants of the house, and this labor he shared with Jacob.
In the afternoon, however, Frank usually had two or three hours at his own disposal, and this, in accordance with a previous determination, he resolved to devote to keeping up his studies. He did not expect to make the same progress that he would have done if he had been able to continue at school, but it was something to feel that he was not remaining stationary.
Frank resolved to say nothing to his classmates about his private studies. They would think he was falling far behind, and at some future time he would surprise them.
Still, there were times when he felt the need of a teacher. He would occasionally encounter difficulties which he found himself unable to surmount without assistance. At such times he thought of Mr Rathburn's kind offer. But his old teacher lived nearly a mile distant, and he felt averse to troubling him, knowing that his duties in school were arduous.
Occasionally he met some of his schoolmates. As nearly all of them were friendly and well-disposed to him, this gave him pleasure, and brought back sometimes the wish that he was as free as they. But this wish was almost instantly checked by the thought that he had made a sacrifice for his country's sake.
A few days after the incident narrated in the last chapter, Frank was out in the woods not far from Chloe's cottage, collecting brushwood, to be afterward carried home, when his attention was called to an altercation, one of the parties in which he readily recognized as little Pomp. To explain how it came about, we shall have to go back a little.
Pomp was returning from Mrs. Frost's, swinging a tin kettle containing provisions for his mother and himself, when all at once he met John Haynes, who was coming from the opposite direction.
Now, John was something of a bully, and liked to exercise authority over the boys who were small enough to render the attempt a safe one. On the present occasion he felt in a hectoring mood.
"I'll have some fun out of the little nigger," he said to himself, as he espied Pomp.
Pomp approached, swinging his pail as before, and whistling a plantation melody.
"What have you got there, Pomp?" asked John.
"I'se got a pail," said Pomp independently. "Don't yer know a pail when you see him?"
"I know an impudent little nigger when I see him," retorted John, not overpleased with the answer. "Come here directly, and let me see what you've got in your pail."
"I ain't got noffin for you," said Pomp defiantly.
"We'll see about that," said John. "Now, do you mean to come here or not? I'm going to count three, and I'll give you that time to decide. One--two--three!"
Pomp apparently had no intention of complying with John's request. He had halted about three rods from him, and stood swinging his pail, meanwhile watching John warily.
"I see you want me to come after you," said John angrily.
He ran toward Pomp, but the little contraband dodged him adroitly, and got on the other side of a tree.
Opposition only stimulated John to new efforts. He had become excited in the pursuit, and had made up his mind to capture Pomp, who dodged in and out among the trees with such quickness and dexterity that John was foiled for a considerable time. The ardor of his pursuit and its unexpected difficulty excited his anger. He lost sight of the fact that Pomp was under no obligation to comply with his demand. But this is generally the way with tyrants, who are seldom careful to keep within the bounds of justice and reason.
"Just let me catch you, you little rascal, and I will give you the worst licking you ever had," John exclaimed, with passion.
"Wait till you catch me," returned Pomp, slipping, eel-like, from his grasp.
But Pomp, in dodging, had now come to an open space, where he was at a disadvantage. John was close upon him, when suddenly he stood stock-still, bending his back so as to obtain a firm footing. The consequence was that his too ardent pursuer tumbled over him, and stretched his length upon the ground.
Unfortunately for Pomp, John grasped his leg in falling, and held it by so firm a grip that he was unable to get free. In the moment of his downfall John attained his object.
"Now I've got you," he said, white with passion, "and I'm going to teach you a lesson."
Clinging to Pomp with one hand, he drew a stout string from his pocket with the other, and secured the hands of the little contraband, notwithstanding his efforts to escape.
"Le' me go, you debble," he said, using a word which had grown familiar to him on the plantation.
There was a cruel light in John's eyes which augured little good to poor Pomp. Suddenly, as if a new idea had struck him, he loosened the cord, and taking the boy carried him, in spite of his kicking and screaming, to a small tree, around which he clasped his hands, which he again confined with cords.
He then sought out a stout stick, and divested it of twigs.
Pomp watched his preparations with terror. Too well he knew what they meant. More than once he had seen those of his own color whipped on the plantation. Unconsciously, he glided into the language which he would have used there.
"Don't whip me, Massa John," he whimpered in terror. "For the lub of Heaven, lef me be. I ain't done noffin' to you."
"You'd better have thought of that before," said John, his eyes blazing anew with vengeful light. "If I whip you, you little black rascal, it's only because you richly deserve it."
"I'll nebber do so again," pleaded Pomp, rolling his eyes in terror. Though what it was he promised not to do the poor little fellow would have found it hard to tell.
It would have been as easy to soften the heart of a nether millstone as that of John Haynes.
By the time he had completed his preparations, and whirled his stick in the air preparatory to bringing it down with full force on Pomp's back, rapid steps were heard, and a voice asked, "What are you doing there, John Haynes?"
John looked round, and saw standing near him Frank Frost, whose attention had been excited by what he had heard of Pomp's cries.
"Save me, save me, Mass' Frank," pleaded poor little Pomp.
"What has he tied you up there for, Pomp?"
"It's none of your business, Frank Frost," said John passionately.
"I think it's some of my business," said Frank coolly, "when I find you playing the part of a Southern overseer. You are not in Richmond, John Haynes, and you'll get into trouble if you undertake to act as if you were."
"If you say much more, I'll flog you too!" screamed John, beside himself with excitement and rage.
Frank had not a particle of cowardice in his composition. He was not fond of fighting, but he felt that circumstances made it necessary for him to do so now. He did not easily lose his temper, and this at present gave him the advantage over John.
"You are too excited to know what you are talking about," he said coolly. "Pomp, why has he tied you up?"
Pomp explained that John had tried to get his pail from him. He closed by imploring "Mass' Frank" to prevent John from whipping him.
"He shall not whip you, Pomp," said Frank quietly. As he spoke he stepped to the tree and faced John intrepidly.
John, in a moment of less passion, would not have ventured to attack a boy so near his own size. Like all bullies, he was essentially a coward, but now his rage got the better of his prudence.
"I'll flog you both!" he exclaimed hoarsely, and sprang forward with upraised stick.
Frank was about half a head shorter than John, and was more than a year younger, but he was stout and compactly built; besides, he was cool and collected, and this is always an advantage.
Before John realized what had happened, his stick had flown from his hand, and he was forcibly pushed back, so that he narrowly escaped falling to the ground.
"Gib it to him, Mass' Frank!" shouted little Pomp. "Gib it to him!"
This increased John's exasperation. By this time he was almost foaming at the mouth.
"I'll kill you, Frank Frost," he exclaimed, this time rushing at him without a stick.
Frank had been in the habit of wrestling for sport with the boys of his own size. In this way he had acquired a certain amount of dexterity in "tripping up." John, on the contrary, was unpractised. His quick temper was so easily roused that other boys had declined engaging in friendly contests with him, knowing that in most cases they would degenerate into a fight.
John rushed forward, and attempted to throw Frank by the strength of his arms alone. Frank eluded his grasp, and, getting one of his legs around John's, with a quick movement tripped him up. He fell heavily upon his back.
"This is all foolish, John," said Frank, bending over his fallen foe. "What are you fighting for? The privilege of savagely whipping a poor little fellow less than half your age?"
"I care more about whipping you, a cursed sight!" said John, taking advantage of Frank's withdrawing his pressure to spring to his feet. "You first, and him afterward!"
Again he threw himself upon Frank; but again coolness and practice prevailed against blind fury and untaught strength, and again he lay prostrate.
By this time Pomp had freed himself from the string that fettered his wrists, and danced in glee round John Haynes, in whose discomfiture he felt great delight.
"You'd better pick up your pail and run home," said Frank. He was generously desirous of saving John from further humiliation. "Will you go away quietly if I will let you up, John?" he asked.
"No, d----you!" returned John, writhing, his face almost livid with passion.
"I am sorry," said Frank, "for in that case I must continue to hold you down."
"What is the trouble, boys?" came from an unexpected quarter.
It was Mr. Maynard, who, chancing to pass along the road, had been attracted by the noise of the struggle.
Frank explained in a few words.
"Let him up, Frank," said the old man. "I'll see that he does no further harm."
John rose to his feet, and looked scowlingly from one to the other, as if undecided whether he had not better attack both.
"You've disgraced yourself, John Haynes," said the old farmer scornfully. "So you would turn negro-whipper, would you? Your talents are misapplied here at the North. Brutality isn't respectable here, my lad. You'd better find your way within the rebel lines, and then perhaps you can gratify your propensity for whipping the helpless."
"Some day I'll be revenged on you for this," said John, turning wrathfully upon Frank. "Perhaps you think I don't mean it, but the day will come when you'll remember what I say."
"I wish you no harm, John," said Frank composedly, "but I sha'n't stand by and see you beat a boy like Pomp."
"No," said the farmer sternly; "and if ever I hear of your doing it, I'll horsewhip you till you beg for mercy. Now go home, and carry your disgrace with you."
Mr. Maynard spoke contemptuously, but with decision, and pointed up the road.
With smothered wrath John obeyed his order, because he saw that it would not be safe to refuse.
"I'll come up with him yet," he muttered to himself, as he walked quietly toward home. "If he doesn't rue this day, my name isn't John Haynes."
John did not see fit to make known the circumstances of his quarrel with Frank, feeling, justly, that neither his design nor the result would reflect any credit upon himself. But his wrath was none the less deep because he brooded over it in secret. He would have renewed his attempt upon Pomp, but there was something in Mr. Maynard's eye which assured him that his threat would be carried out. Frank, solicitous for the little fellow's safety, kept vigilant watch over him for some days, but no violence was attempted. He hoped John had forgotten his threats.