By this time they had reached the barn and they sat down upon a pile of hay at the foot of the mow.
“Now my plan’s this,” said Strout. “You know Bob Wood; well, he’s the biggest feller and the best fighter in town. I’m goin’ to post Bob up as to how to pick a quarrel with that city feller. When he gets the lickin’ that he deserves, I rayther think that Deacon Mason will lose a boarder.”
“But s’posin’ Mr. Sawyer licks Bob Wood?” queried Ezekiel.
“Oh! I don’t count much on that,” said Strout; “but if it should turn out that way we’re goin’ to turn in and get up a surprise party for Miss Mason and jist leave him out.”
“I hope you ain’t goin’ to do any fightin’ down to Deacon Mason’s?” remarked Ezekiel.
“Oh, no!” protested Strout, “it’ll be kind o’ quiet, underminin’ work, as it were. Remarks and sayin’s and side whispers and odd looks, the cold shoulder business, you know, that soon tells a feller that his company ain’t appreciated.”
“Well, I don’t think that’s quite fair,” said Ezekiel. “You don’t like him, Mr. Strout, but I don’t think the whole town will take it up.”
The Professor said sternly, “He has insulted me and in doing that he has insulted the whole town of Eastborough.”
A smothered laugh was heard.
“By George! What was that?” cried Strout.
Ezekiel was at a loss what to say, and before he could reply, Mandy’s laughing had caused the hay to move. As it began to slide she clutched at Hiram in a vain effort to save herself, and the next instant a large pile of hay, bearing Hiram and Mandy, came down, falling upon Ezekiel and Strout and covering them from sight.
When all had struggled to their feet, Ezekiel turned to Mandy and said sharply, “What were you doin’ up there, Mandy?”
“Looking for eggs,” said she, as she ran out of the barn and started for the house.
Hiram stood with his mouth distended with a huge smile. Strout turned towards him and said savagely, “Well, if you’re the only egg she got, ’twas a mighty bad one.”
Hiram retorted, “I would rather be called a bad egg than somethin’ I heard about you.”
Strout, in a passion, cried out, “Who said anything about me?”
Hiram made for the barn door and then said, “heard a gentleman say as how there was only one jackass in Eastborough and he taught the singin’ school.”
Strout caught up a rake to throw at him, but Hiram was out of sight before he could carry out his purpose. Turning to Ezekiel, Strout said, “I bet a dollar, Pettengill, it was that city feller that said that, and as I have twice remarked and this makes three times, this town ain’t big enough to hold both on us.”
City skill versus country muscle.
Hiram Maxwell was not called upon to perform very arduous duties at Deacon Mason’s. The Deacon had given up farming several years before, and Hiram’s duties consisted in doing the chores about the house. He had plenty of spare time, and he used it by going down to the Pettengill place and talking to Mandy Skinner.