Part 2 out of 5
This was no boyish job; it was man's work. He had put his hand
to an agreement that might influence his whole future, and
certainly would make or break his credit as a trustworthy youth
and one of his word.
During these past days Hiram had determined to "get back to the
soil" and to get back to it in a business-like way. He desired
to make good for Mrs. Atterson so that he might some time have
the chance to make good for somebody else on a bigger scale.
He did not propose to be "a one-horse farmer" all his days.
THE SOUND OF BEATING HOOFS
On Monday morning Mrs. Atterson put her house in the agent's
hands. On Wednesday a pair of spinster ladies came to look at
it. They came again on Thursday and again on Friday.
Friday being considered an "unlucky" day they did not bind the
bargain; but on Saturday money was passed, and the new keepers
of the house were to take possession in a week. Not until
then were the boarders informed of Mother Atterson's change of
circumstances, and the fact that she was going to graduate from
the boarding house kitchen to the farm.
After all, they were sorry--those light-headed, irresponsible
young men. There wasn't one of them, from Crackit down the line,
who could not easily remember some special kindness that marked
the old lady's intercourse with him.
As soon as the fact was announced that the boarding house had
changed hands, the boarders were up in arms. There was a wild
gabble of voices, over the supper table that night. Crackit led
"It's a mean trick. Mother Atterson has sold us like so many
cattle to the highest bidder. Ungrateful--right down ungrateful,
I call it," he declared. "What do you say, Feeble?"
"It is particularly distasteful to me just now," complained the
invalid. "When Sister has learned to give me my hot water at
just the right temperature," and he took a sip of that innocent
beverage. "Don't you suppose we could prevail upon the old lady
"She's bound to put us off with half rations for the rest of
the time she stays," declared Crackit, shaking his head wisely.
"She's got nothing to lose now. She don't care if we all up and
leave--after she gets hers."
"That's always the way," feebly remarked Mr. Peebles. "Just as
soon as I really get settled down into a half-decent lodging,
Mr. Peebles had been a fixture at Mother Atterson's for nearly
ten years. Only Old Lem Camp had been longer at the place.
The latter was the only boarder who had no adverse criticism
for the mistress's new move. Indeed this evening Mr. Camp said
nothing whatever; even his usual mumblings to himself were not
He ate slowly, and but little. He was still sitting at the table
when all the others had departed.
Mrs. Atterson started into the dining-room with her own supper
between two plates when she saw the old man sitting there
despondent in looks and attitude, his head resting on one
clawlike hand, his elbow on the soiled table cloth.
He did not look up, nor move. The mistress glanced back over
her shoulder, and there was Sister, sniffling and occasionally
rubbing her wrist into her red eyes as she scraped the tower of
plates from the dinner table.
"My soul and body!" gasped Mother Atterson, almost dropping her
supper on the floor. "There's Sister--and there's Old Lem Camp!
Whatever will I do with 'em?"
Meanwhile Hiram Strong had already left for the farm on the
Wednesday previous. The other boarders knew nothing about his
agreement with Mother Atterson; he had agreed to go to the place
and begin work, and take care of the stock and all, "choring for
himself", as the good lady called it, until she could complete
her city affairs and move herself and her personal chattels to
Hiram bore a note to the woman who had promised to care for the
Atterson place, and money to pay her what the boarding-house
mistress had agreed.
"You can 'bach' it in the house as well as poor old Uncle Jeptha
did, I reckon," this woman told the youth.
She showed him where certain provisions were--the pork barrel,
ham and bacon of the old man's curing, and the few vegetables
remaining from the winter's store.
"The cow was about gone dry, anyway," said the woman,
Mrs. Larriper, who was a widow and lived with her married
daughter some half-mile down the road toward Scoville, "so I
didn't bother to milk her.
"You'll have to go to town to buy grain, if you want to feed her
up--and for the chickens and the horse. The old man didn't make
much of a crop last year--or them shiftless Dickersons didn't
make much for him.
"I saw Sam Dickerson around here this morning. He borrowed some
of the old man's tools when Uncle Jeptha was sick, and you'll
have to go after 'em, I reckon.
"Sam's the best borrower that ever was; but he never can remember
to bring things back. He says it's bad enough to have to borrow;
it's too much to expect the same man to return what he borrows.
"Now, Mrs. Dickerson," pursued Mrs. Larriper, "was as nice a
girl before she married--she was a Stepney--as ever walked in
shoe-leather. And I guess she'd be right friendly with the
neighbors if Sam would let her.
"But the poor thing never gits to go out--no, sir! She's jest
tied to the house. They lost a child once--four year ago.
That's the only time I remember of seeing Sarah Stepney in church
since the day she was married--and she's got a boy--Pete--as old
as you be.
"Now, on the other side o' ye there's Darrell's tract, and you
won't have no trouble there, for there ain't a house on his
place, and he lets it lie idle. Waiting for a rise in price, I
"Some rich folks is comin' in and buying up pieces of land and
making what they calls 'gentlemen's estates' out o' them. A
family named Bronson--Mr. Stephen Bronson, with one little
girl-- bought the Fleigler place only last month.
"They're nice folks," pursued this amiable but talkative lady,
"and they don't live but a mile or so along the Scoville
road. You passed the place--white, with green shutters, and a
water-tower in the back, when you walked up."
"I remember it," said Hiram, nodding.
"They're western folk. Come clear from out in Injiany, or
Illiny, or the like. The girl's going to school and she ain't
got no mother, so her father's come on East with her to be near
"Well, I can't help you no more. Them hens! Well, I'd sell 'em
if I was Mis' Atterson.
"Hens ain't much nowadays, anyhow; and I expect a good many
of those are too old to lay. Uncle Jeptha couldn't fuss with
chickens, and he didn't raise only a smitch of 'em last year and
the year before--just them that the hens hatched themselves in
stolen nests, and chanced to bring up alive.
"You better grease the cart before you use it. It's stood since
they hauled in corn last fall.
"And look out for Dickerson. Ask him for the things he borrowed.
You'll need 'em, p'r'aps, if you're goin' to do any farmin' for
She bustled away. Hiram thought he had heard enough about his
neighbors for a while, and he went out to look over the pasture
fencing, which was to be his first repair job. He would have
that ready to turn the cow and her calf into as soon as the grass
began to grow.
He rummaged about in what had been half woodshed and half
workshop in Uncle Jeptha's time, and found a heavy claw-hammer, a
pair of wire cutters, and a pocket full of fence staples.
With this outfit he prepared to follow the line fence, which
was likewise the pasture fence on the west side, between
Mrs. Atterson's and Dickerson's.
Where he could, he mended the broken strands of wire. In other
places the wires had sagged and were loose. The claw-hammer
fixed these like a charm. Slipping the wire into the claw, a
single twist of the wrist would usually pick up the sag and make
the wire taut again at that point.
He drove a few staples, as needed, as he walked along. The
pasture partook of the general conformation of the farm--it was
rather long and narrow.
It had grown to clumps of bushes in spots, and there was
sufficient shade. But he did not come to the water until he
reached the lower end of the lot.
The branch trickled from a spring, or springs, farther east. It
made an elbow at the corner of the pasture--the lower south-west
corner--and there a water-hole had been scooped out at some past
This waterhole was deep enough for all purposes, and was shaded
by a great oak that had stood there long before the house
belonging to Jeptha Atterson had been built.
Here Hiram struck something that puzzled him. The boundary fence
crossed this water-hole at a tangent, and recrossed to the west
bank of the outflowing branch a few yards below, leaving perhaps
half of the water-hole upon the neighbor's side of the fence.
Some of this wire at the water-hole was practically new. So
were the posts. And after a little Hiram traced the line of old
postholes which had followed a straight line on the west side of
In other words, this water-privilege for Dickerson's land was
of recent arrangement--so recent indeed, that the young farmer
believed he could see some fresh-turned earth about the newly-set
That's something to be looked into, I am afraid," thought Hiram,
as he moved along the southern pasture fence.
But the trickle of the branch beckoned him; he had not found the
fountain-head of the little stream when he had walked over a part
of the timbered land with Henry Pollock, and now he struck into
the open woods again, digging into the soil here and there with
his heavy boot, marking the quality and age of the timber, and
casting-up in his mind the possibilities and expense of clearing
these overgrown acres.
"Mrs. Atterson may have a very valuable piece of land here in
time," muttered Hiram. "A sawmill set up in here could cut many
a hundred thousand feet of lumber--and good lumber, too. But it
would spoil the beauty of the farm."
However, as must ever be in the case of the utility farm, the
house was set on its ugliest part. The cleared fields along the
road had nothing but the background of woods on the south and
east to relieve their monotony.
On the brow of the steeper descent, which he had noted on his
former visit to the back end of the farm, he found a certain
clearing in the wood. Here the pines surrounded the opening on
To the south, through a break in the wooded hillside, he obtained
a far-reaching view of the river valley as it lay, to the east
and to the west. The prospect was delightful.
Here and there, on the farther bank of the river, which rose less
abruptly there than on this side, lay several cheerful looking
farmsteads. The white dwellings and outbuildings dotted the
checkered fields of green and brown.
Cowbells tinkled in the distance, for the weather tempted farmers
to let their cattle run in the pastures even so early in the
season. A horse whinnied shrilly to a mate in a distant field.
The creaking of the heavy wheels of a laden farm-cart was a
mellow sound in Hiram's ears. Beyond a fir plantation, high on
the hillside, the sharply outlined steeple of a little church lay
against the soft blue horizon.
"A beauty-spot!" Hiram muttered. "What a site for a home! And
yet people want to build their houses right on an automobile
road, and in sight of the rural mail box!"
His imagination began to riot, spurred by the outlook and by the
nearer prospect of wood and hillside. The sun now lay warmly
upon him as he sat upon a stump and drank in the beauty of it
After a time his ear, becoming attuned to the multitudinous
voices of the wood, descried the silvery note of falling water.
He arose and traced the sound.
Less than twenty yards away, and not far from the bluff, a
vigorous rivulet started from beneath the half-bared roots of a
monster beech, and fell over an outcropping boulder into a pool
so clear that sand on its bottom, worked mysteriously into a
pattern by the action of the water, lay revealed.
Hiram knelt on a mossy rock beside the pool, and bending put his
lips to the water. It was the sweetest, most satisfying drink,
he had imbibed for many a day.
But the morning was growing old, and Hiram wanted to trace the
farther line of the farm. He went down to the river, crossed the
open meadow again where they had built the campfire the morning
before, and found the deeply scarred oak which stood exactly on
the boundary line between the Atterson and Darrell tracts.
He turned to the north, and followed the line as nearly as might
be. The Darrell tract was entirely wooded, and when he reached
the uplands he kept on in the shadowy aisles of the sap-pines
which covered his neighbor's property.
He came finally to where the ground fell away again, and the
yellow, deeply-rutted road lay at his feet. The winter had
played havoc with the automobile track.
The highway was unfenced and the bank dropped fifteen feet to the
beaten path. A leaning oak overhung the road and Hiram lingered
here, lying on its broad trunk, face upward, with his hat pulled
over his eyes to shield them from the sunlight which filtered
through the branches.
This land hereabout was beautiful. The boy could appreciate the
beauty as well as the utility of the soil. It was so pleasing
to the eye that he wished with all his heart it had been his own
land he had surveyed.
"And I'll not be a tenant farmer all my life, nor a farm-foreman,
as father was," determined the boy. "I'll get ahead. If I work
for the benefit of other people for a few years, surely I'll win
the chance in time to at last work for myself."
In the midst of his ruminations a sound broke upon his ear--a
jarring note in the peaceful murmur of the woodland life. It was
the thud of a horse's hoofs.
Not the sedate tunk-tunk of iron-shod feet on the damp earth, but
an erratic and rapid pounding of hoof-beats which came on with
such startling swiftness that Hiram sat up instantly, and craned
his neck to see up the road.
"That horse is running away!" gasped the young farmer, and
he swung himself out upon the lowest branch of the leaning
tree which overhung the carttrack, the better to see along the
A GIRL RIDES INTO THE TALE
There was no bend in the highway for some distance, but the
overhanging trees masked the track completely, save for a few
hundred yards. The horse, whether driven or running at large,
was plainly spurred by fright.
Into the peacefulness of this place its hoof-beats were bringing
the element of peril.
Lying prostrate on the sloping trunk, Hiram could see much
farther up the road. The outstretched head and lathered breast
of a tall bay horse leaped into view, and like a picture in a
kinetoscope, growing larger and more vivid second by second, the
maddened animal came down the road.
Hiram could see that the beast was not riderless, but it was
a moment or two--a long-drawn, anxious space of heart-beaten
seconds--ere he realized what manner of rider it was who clung so
desperately to the masterless creature.
"It's a girl--a little girl!" gasped Hiram.
She was only a speck of color, with white, drawn face, on the
back of the racing horse.
Every plunge of the oncoming animal shook the little figure as
though it must fall from the saddle. But Hiram could see that
she hung with phenomenal pluck to the broken bridle and to the
single horn of her side-saddle.
If the horse fell, or if she were shaken free, she would be flung
to instant death, or be fearfully bruised under the pounding
hoofs of the big horse.
The young farmer's appreciation of the peril was instant; unused
as he was to meeting such emergency, there was neither panic nor
hesitancy in his actions.
He writhed farther out upon the limb of the leaning oak until he
was direct above the road. The big bay naturally kept to the
middle, for there was no obstruction in its path.
To have dropped to the highway would have put Hiram to instant
disadvantage; for before he could have recovered himself after
the drop the horse would have been upon him.
Now, swinging with both legs wrapped around the tough limb, and
his left hand gripping a smaller branch, but with his back to the
plunging brute, the youth glanced under his right armpit to judge
the distance and the on-rush of the horse and its helpless rider.
He knew she saw him. Swift as was the steed's approach, Hiram
had seen the change come into the expression of the girl's face.
"Clear your foot of the stirrup!" he shouted, hoping the girl
With a confusing thunder of hoofbeats the bay came on--was
beneath him--had passed!
Hiram's right arm shot out, curved slightly, and as his fingers
gripped her sleeve, the girl let go. She was whisked out of the
saddle and the horse swept on without her.
The strain of the girl's slight weight upon his arm lasted but a
moment, for Hiram let go with his feet, swung down, and dropped.
They alighted in the roadway with so slight a jar that he
scarcely staggered, but set the girl down gently, and for the
passing of a breath her body swayed against him, seeking support.
Then she sprang a little away, and they stood looking at each
other--Hiram panting and flushed, the girl with wide-open eyes
out of which the terror had not yet faded, and cheeks still
So they stood, for fully half a minute, speechless, while the
thunder of the bay's hoofs passed further and further away and
finally was lost in the distance.
And it wasn't excitement that kept the boy dumb; for that was all
over, and he had been as cool as need be through the incident.
But it was unbounded amazement that made him stare so at the
slight girl confronting him.
He had seen her brilliant, dark little face before. Only
once--but that one occasion had served to photograph her features
on his memory.
For the second time he had been of service to her; but he knew
instantly--and the fact did not puzzle him--that she did not
It had been so dark in the unlighted side street back in
Crawberry the evening of their first meeting that Hiram believed
(and was glad) that neither she nor her father would recognize
him as the boy who had kept their carriage from going into the
And he had played rescuer again--and in a much more heroic
manner. This was the daughter of the man whom he had thought to
be a prosperous farmer, and whose card Hiram had lost.
He had hoped the gentleman might have a job for him; but now
Hiram was not looking for a job. He had given himself heartily
to the project of making the old Atterson farm pay; nor was he
the sort of fellow to show fickleness in such a project.
Before either Hiram or the girl broke the silence--before that
silence could become awkward, indeed--there started into hearing
the ring of rapid hoofbeats again. But it was not the runaway
The mate of the latter appeared, and he came jogging along the
road, very much in hand, the rider seemingly quite unflurried.
This was a big, ungainly, beak-nosed boy, whose sleeves were much
too short, and trousers-legs likewise, to hide Nature's abundant
gift to him in the matter of bone and knuckle. He was freckled
and wore a grin that was not even sheepish.
Somehow, this stolidity and inappreciation of the peril the girl
had so recently escaped, made Hiram feel sudden indignation.
But the girl herself took the lout to task--before Hiram could
say a word.
"I told you that horse could not bear the whip, Peter!" she
exclaimed, with wrathful gaze. "How dared you strike him?"
"Aw--I only touched him up a bit," drawled the youth. "You said
you could ride anything, didn't you?" and his grin grew wider.
"But I see ye had to get off."
Here Hiram could stand it no longer, and he blurted out:
"She might have been killed! I believe that horse is running
"Well, why didn't you stop it?" demanded the other youth,
"impudently. You had a chance."
"He saved me," cried the girl, looking at Hiram now with shining
eyes. "I don't know how to thank him."
"He might have stopped the horse while he was about it," growled
the fellow, picking up his own reins again. "Now I'll have to
ride after it."
"You'd better," said the little lady, sharply. "If father knew
that horse had run away with me he would be dreadfully put out.
You hurry after him, Peter."
The lout never said a word in reply, but his horse carried him
swiftly out of sight in the wake of the runaway. Then the girl
turned again to Hiram and the young farmer knew that he was being
keenly examined by her bright black eyes.
"I am very sure father will not keep him," declared the girl,
looking at Hiram thoughtfully. "He is too careless--and I don't
like him, anyway. Do you live around here?"
"I expect to," replied Hiram, smiling. "I have just come. I am
going to stay at this next house, along the road."
"Oh! where the old gentleman died last week?"
"Yes. Mrs. Atterson was left the place by her uncle, and I am
going to run it for her."
"Oh, dear! then you've got a place to work?" queried the little
lady, with plain disappointment in her tone. "I am sure father
would like to have you instead of Peter."
But Hiram shook his head slowly, though still smiling,
"I'm obliged to you," he said; "but I have agreed to stop with
Mrs. Atterson for a time."
"I want father to meet you just the same," she declared.
She had a way about her that impressed Hiram with the idea that
she seldom failed in getting what she wanted. If she was not a
spoiled child, she certainly was a very much indulged one.
But she was pretty! Dark, petite, with a brilliant smile,
flashing eyes, and a riot of blue-black curls, she was verily the
daintiest and prettiest little creature the young farmer had ever
"I am Lettie Bronson," she said, frankly. "I live down the road
toward Scoville. We have only just come here."
"I know where you live," said Hiram, smiling and nodding.
"You must come and see us. I want you to know father. He's the
very nicest man there is, I think."
"He came all the way East here so as to live near my school--I
go to the St. Beris school in Scoville. It's awfully nice, and
the girls are very fashionable; but I'd be too lonely to live if
daddy wasn't right near me all the time.
"What is your name?" she asked suddenly.
Hiram told her.
"Why! that's a regular farmer's name, isn't it--Hiram?" and
she laughed--a clear and sweet sound, that made an inquisitive
squirrel that had been watching them scamper away to his hollow,
"I don't know about that," returned the young farmer, shaking his
head and smiling. "I ought by good rights to be 'a worker in
brass', according to the Bible. That was the trade of Hiram, of
the tribe of Naphtali, who came out of Tyre to make all the brass
work for Solomon's temple."
"Oh! and there was a King Hiram, of Tyre, too, wasn't there,"
cried Lettie, laughing. "You might be a king, you know."
"That seems to be an unprofitable trade now-a-days," returned the
young fellow, shaking his head. "I think I will be the namesake
of Hiram, the brass-smith, for it is said of him that he was
'filled with wisdom and understanding' and that is what I want to
be if I am going to run Mrs. Atterson's farm and make it pay."
"You're a funny boy," said the girl, eyeing him furiously.
"You're--you're not at all like Pete--or these other boys about
"And that Pete Dickerson isn't any good at all! I shall tell
daddy all about how he touched up that horse and made him run.
Here he comes now!"
They had been walking steadily along the road toward the Atterson
house, and in the direction the runaway had taken. Pete
Dickerson appeared, riding one of the bays and leading the one
that had been frightened.
The latter was all of a lather, was blowing hard, and before the
horses reached them, Hiram saw that the runaway was in bad shape.
"Hold on!" he cried to the lout. "Breathe that horse a while.
Let him stand. He ought to be rubbed down, too. Don't you see
the shape he is in?"
"Aw, what's eatin' you?" demanded Pete, eyeing the speaker with
The horse, when he stopped, was trembling all over. His nostrils
were dilated and as red as blood, and strings of foam were
dripping from his bit.
"Don't let him stand there in the shade," spoke Hiram, more
"mildly. He'll take a chill. Here! let me have him."
He approached the still frightened horse, and Pete jerked the
bridle-rein. The horse started back and snorted.
"Stand 'round there, ye 'tarnal nuisance!" exclaimed Pete.
But Hiram caught the bridle and snatched it from the other
"Just let me manage him a minute," said Hiram, leading the horse
into the sunshine.
He patted him, and soothed him, and the horse ceased trembling
and his ears pricked up. Hiram, still keeping the reins in his
hand, loosened the cinches and eased the saddle so that the
animal could breathe better.
There were bunches of dried sage-grass growing by the roadside,
and the young farmer tore off a couple of these bunches and used
them to wipe down the horse's legs. Pretty soon the creature
forgot his fright and looked like a normal horse again.
"If he was mine I'd give him whip a-plenty--till he learned
better," drawled Pete Dickerson, finally.
"Don't you ever dare touch him with the whip again!" cried the
girl, stamping her foot. "He will not stand it. You were
"Aw, well," said the fellow, "'I didn't think he was going to cut
up as bad as that. These Western horses ain't more'n half broke,
"I think he is perfectly safe for you to ride now, Miss Bronson,"
said Hiram, quietly. "I'll give you a hand up. But walk him
He had tightened the cinches again. Lettie put her tiny booted
foot in his hand (she wore a very pretty dark green habit) and
with perfect ease the young farmer lifted her into the saddle.
"Good-bye--and thank you again!" she said, softly, giving him her
free hand just as the horse started.
"Say! you're the fellow who's going to live at Atterson's place?"
observed Pete. "I'll see you later," and he waved his hand
airily as he rode off.
"So that's Pete Dickerson, is it?" ruminated Hiram, as he watched
the horses out of sight. "Well, if his father, Sam, is anything
like him, we certainly have got a sweet pair of neighbors!"
SOMETHING ABOUT A PASTURE FENCE
That afternoon Hiram hitched up the old horse and drove into
He went to see the lawyer who had transacted Uncle Jeptha
Atterson's small business in the old man's lifetime, and had made
his will--Mr. Strickland. Hiram judged that this gentleman would
know as much about the Atterson place as anybody.
"No--Mr. Atterson never said anything to me about giving a
neighbor water-rights," the lawyer said. "Indeed, Mr. Atterson
was not a man likely to give anything away--until he had got
through with it himself.
"Dickerson once tried to buy a right at that corner of the
Atterson pasture; but he and the old gentleman couldn't come to
"Dickerson has no water on his place, saving his well and his
rights on the river. It makes it bad for him, I suppose; but I
do not advise Mrs. Atterson to let that fence stand. Give that
sort of a man an inch and he'll take a mile."
"But what shall I do?"
"That's professional advice, young man," returned the lawyer,
"smiling. But I will give it to you without charge.
"Merely go and pull the new posts up and replace them on the
line. If Dickerson interferes with you, come to me and we'll
have him bound over before the Justice of the Peace.
"You represent Mrs. Atterson and are within her rights. That's
the best I can tell you."
Now, Hiram was not desirous of starting any trouble--legal or
otherwise--with a neighbor; but neither did he wish to see
anybody take advantage of his old boarding mistress. He knew
that, beside farming for her, he would probably have to defend
her from many petty annoyances like the present case.
So he bought the wire he needed for repairs, a few other things
that were necessary, and drove back to the farm, determined to go
right ahead and await the consequences.
Among his purchases was an axe. In the workshop on the farm was
a fairly good grindstone; only the treadle was broken and Hiram
had to repair this before he could make much headway in grinding
the axe. Henry Pollock lived too far away to be called upon in
such a small emergency.
Being obliged to work alone sharpens one's wits. The young
farmer had to resort to shifts and expedients on every hand, as
he went along.
The day before, while wandering in the wood, he had marked
several white oaks of the right size for posts. He would have
preferred cedars, of course; but those trees were scarce on the
Atterson tract--and they might be needed for some more important
job later on.
When he came up to the house at noon to feed the stock and make
his own frugal meal in the farm house kitchen, the posts were
cut. After dinner he harnessed the horse to the farm wagon, and
went down for the posts, taking the rolls of wire along to drop
beside the fence.
The horse was a steady, willing creature, and seemed to have no
tricks. He did not drive very well on the road, of course; but
that wasn't what they needed a horse for.
Driving was a secondary matter.
Hiram loaded his posts and hauled them to the pasture, driving
inside the fence line and dropping a post wherever one had rotted
Yet posts that had rotted at the ground were not so easy to draw
out, as the young farmer very well knew, and he set his wits to
work to make the removal of the old posts easy of accomplishment.
He found an old, but strong, carpenter's horse in the shed, to
act as a fulcrum, and a seasoned bar of hickory as a lever.
There was never an old farm yet that didn't have a useful heap
of junk, and Hiram had already scratched over Uncle Jeptha's
collection of many years' standng.
He found what he sought in a wrought iron band some half inch in
thickness with a heavy hook attached to it by a single strong
link. He fitted this band upon the larger end of the hickory
bar, wedging it tightly into place.
A short length of trace chain completed his simple post-puller.
And he could easily carry the outfit from place to place as it
When he found a weak or rotting post, he pulled the staples that
held the strands of wire to it and and then set the trestle
alongside the post. Resting the lever on the trestle, he dropped
the end link of the chain on the hook, looped the chain around
the post, and hooked on with another link. Bearing down on the
lever brought the post out of the ground every time.
With a long-handled spade Hiram cleaned out the old holes, or
enlarged them, and set his new posts, one after the other. He
left the wires to be tightened and stapled later.
lt was not until the next afternoon that he worked down as far as
the water-hole. Meanwhile he had seen nothing of the neighbors
and neither knew, nor cared, whether they were watching him or
But it was evident that the Dickersons had kept tabs on the young
farmer's progress, for, he had no more than pulled the posts out
of the water-hole and started to reset them on the proper line,
than the long-legged Pete Dickerson appeared.
"Hey, you!" shouted Pete. "What are you monkeying with that line
"Because I won't have time to fix it later," responded Hiram,
"Fresh Ike, ain't yer?" demanded young Dickerson.
He was half a head taller than Hiram, and plainly felt himself
safe in adopting bullying tactics.
"You put them posts back where you found 'em and string the wires
again in a hurry--or I'll make yer."
"This is Mrs. Atterson's fence," said Hiram, quietly. "I
havemade inquiries about the line, and I know where it belongs.
"No part of this water-hole belongs on your side of the fence,
Dickerson, and as long as I represent Mrs. Atterson it's not
going to be grabbed."
"Say! the old man gave my father the right to a part of this hole
"Show your legal paper to that effect," promptly suggested Hiram.
"Then we will let it stand until the lawyers decide the matter."
Pete was silent for a minute; meanwhile Hiram continued to dig
his hole, and finally set the first post into place.
"I tell you to take that post out o' there, Mister," exclaimed
Pete, suddenly approaching the other. "I don't like you, anyway.
You helped git me turned off up there to Bronson's yesterday. If
you wouldn't have put your fresh mouth in about the horse that
gal wouldn't have knowed so much to tell her father. Now you
stop foolin' with this fence or I'll lick you."
Hiram Strong's disposition was far from being quarrelsome. He
only laughed at first and said:
"Why, that won't do you any good in the end, Peter. Thrashing me
won't give you and your father the right to usurp rights at this
"There was very good reason, as I can see, for old Mr. Atterson
refusing to let you water your stock here. In time of drouth
the branch probably furnished no more water than his own cattle
needed. And it will be the same with my employer."
"You'd better have less talk about it, and set back them posts,"
declared Pete, decidedly, laying off his coat and pulling up his
"I hope you won't try anything foolish, Peter," said Hiram,
resting on his shovel handle.
"Huh!" grunted Pete, eyeing him sideways as might an
"We're not well matched," observed Hiram, quietly, "and whether
you thra shed me, or I thrashed you, nothing would be proved by
it in regard to the line fence."
"I'll show you what I can prove!" cried Pete, and rushed for him.
In a catch-as-catch-can wrestle Pete Dickerson might have been
able to overturn Hiram Strong. But the latter did not propose to
give the longarmed youth that advantage.
He dropped the spade, stepped nimbly aside, and as Pete lunged
past him the young farmer doubled his fist and struck his
antagonist solidly under the ear.
That was the only blow struck--that and the one when Pete struck
the ground. The bigger fellow rolled over, grunted, and gazed up
at Hiram with amazement struggling with the rage expressed in his
"I told you we were not well matched, Peter," spoke Hiram,
calmly. "Why fight about it? You have no right on your side,
and I do not propose to see Mrs. Atterson robbed of this water
Pete climbed to his feet slowly, and picked up his coat. He felt
of his neck carefully and then looked at his hand, with the idea
evidently that such a heavy blow must have brought blood. But of
course there was none.
"I'll tell my dad--that's what I'll do," ejaculated the bully,
at length, and he started immediately across the field, his long
legs working like a pair of tongs in his haste to get over the
But Hiram completed the setting of the posts at the water-hole
without hearing further from any member of the Dickerson family.
These early Spring days were busy ones for Hiram Strong. The
mornings were frosty and he could not get to his fencing work
until midforenoon. But there were plenty of other tasks ready to
There were two south windows in the farmhouse kitchen. He tried
to keep some fire in the stove there day and night, sleeping as
he did in Uncle Jeptha's old bedroom nearby.
Before these two windows he erected wide shelves and on these he
set shallow boxes of rich earth which he had prepared under the
cart shed. There was no frost under there, the earth was dry and
the hens had scratched in it during the winter, so Hiram got all
the well-sifted earth he needed for his seed boxes.
He used a very little commercial fertilizer in each box, and
planted some of the seeds he had bought in Crawberry at an
agricultural warehouse on Main Street.
Mrs. Atterson had expressed the hope that he would put in a
variety of vegetables for their own use, and Hiram had followed
her wishes. When the earth in the boxes had warmed up for
several days he put in the long-germinating seeds, like tomato,
onions, the salads, leek, celery, pepper, eggplant, and some beet
seed to transplant for the early garden. It was too early yet to
put in cabbage and cauliflower.
These boxes caught the sun for a good part of the day. In the
afternoon when the sun had gone, Hiram covered the boxes with
old quilts and did not uncover them again until the sun shone in
the next morning. He had decided to start his early plants in
this way because he hadn't the time at present to build frames
During the early mornings and late afternoons, too, he began
to make the small repairs around the house and outbuildings.
Hiram was handy with tools; indeed, a true farmer should be a
good mechanic as well. He must often combine carpentry and
wheelwrighting and work at the forge, with his agricultural
pursuits. Hiram was something better than a "cold-iron
When it came to stretching the wire of the pasture fence he had
to resort to his inventive powers. There are plenty of wire
stretchers that can be purchased; but they cost money.
The young farmer knew that Mrs. Atterson had no money to waste,
and he worked for her just as he would have worked for himself.
One man working alone cannot easily stretch wire and make a good
job of it without some mechanism to help him. Hiram's was simple
and easily made.
A twelve-inch section of perfectly round post, seven or eight
inches through, served as the drum around which to wind the
wire, and two twenty-penny nails driven into the side of the
drum, close together, were sufficient to prevent the wire from
To either end of the drum Hiram passed two lengths of Number 9
wire through large screweyes, making a double loop into which the
hook of a light timber chain would easily catch. Into one end of
the drum he drove a headless spike, upon which the hand-crank of
the grindstone fitted, and was wedged tight.
In using this ingenious wire stretcher, he stapled his wire to
post number one, carried the length past post number two, looped
the chain around post number three, having the chain long enough
so that he might tauten the wire and hold the crankhandle steady
with his knee or left arm while he drove the holding staple in
post number two. And so repeat, ad infinitum.
After he had made this wire-stretcher the young fellow got along
famously upon his fencing and could soon turn his attention to
other matters, knowing that the cattle would be perfectly safe in
the pasture for the coming season.
The old posts he collected on the wagon and drew into the
dooryard, piling them beside the woodshed. There was not an
overabundant supply of firewood cut and Hiram realized that
Mrs. Atterson would use considerable in her kitchen stove before
the next winter, even if she did not run a sitting room fire for
long this spring.
Using a bucksaw is not only a thankless job at any time, but it
is no saving of time or money. There was a good two-handed saw
in the shed and Hiram found a good rat-tail file. With the aid
of a home-made saw-holder and a monkey wrench he sharpened and
set this saw and then got Henry Pollock to help him for a day.
Henry wasn't afraid of work, and the two boys sawed and split the
old and well-seasoned posts, and some other wood, so that Hiram
was enabled to pile several tiers of stove-wood under the shed
against the coming of Mrs. Atterson to her farm.
"If the season wasn't so far advanced, I could cut a lot of
wood, draw it up, and hire a gasoline engine and saw to come on
the place and saw us enough to last a year. I'll do that next
winter," Hiram said.
"That's what we all ought to do," agreed his friend.
Henry Pollock was an observing farmer's boy and through him Hiram
gained many pointers as to the way the farmers in that locality
put in their crops and cultivated them.
He learned, too, through Henry who was supposed to be the best
farmer in the neighborhood, who had special success with certain
crops, and who had raised the best seedcorn in the locality.
It was not particularly a trucking community; although, since
Scoville had begun to grow so fast and many city people had moved
into that pleasant town, the local demand for garden produce had
"It used to be a saying here," said Henry, "that a bushel of
winter turnips would supply all the needs of Scoville. But that
ain't exactly so now.
"The stores all want green stuff in season, and are beginning to
pay cash for truck instead of only offering to exchange groceries
for the stuff we raise. I guess if a man understood truck
raising he could make something in this market."
Hiram decided that this was so, on looking over the marketing
possibilities of Scoville.
There was a canning factory which put up string beans, corn, and
tomatoes; but the prices per hundred-weight for these commodities
did not encourage Hiram to advise Mrs. Atterson to try and raise
anything for the canneries. A profit could not be made out of
such crops on a one-horse farm.
For instance, the neighboring farmers did not plant their tomato
seeds until it was pretty safe to do so in the open ground. The
cannery did not want the tomato pack to come on until late in
August. By that time the cream of the prices for garden-grown
tomatoes had been skimmed by the early truckers.
The same with sweet corn and green beans. The cannery demanded
these vegetables at so late a date that the market-price was
These facts Hiram bore in mind as he planned his season's work,
and especially the kitchen garden. This latter he planned to be
about two acres in extent--rather a large plot, but he proposed
to set his rows of almost every vegetable far enough apart to be
worked with a horse cultivator.
Some crops--for instance onions, carrots, and other "fine
stuff"--must be weeded by hand to an extent, and if the soil
is rich enough rows twelve or fifteen inches apart show better
Between such rows a wheelhoe can be used to good advantage, and
that was one tool--with a seed-sowing combination--that Hiram had
told Mrs. Atterson she must buy if he was to practically attend
to the whole farm for her. Hand-hoeing, in both field and garden
crops, is antediluvian.
Thus, during this week and a half of preparation, Hiram made
ready for the uprooting of Mrs. Atterson from the boarding house
in Crawberry to the farm some distance out of Scoville.
The good lady had but one wagon load of goods to be transferred
from her old quarters to the new home. Many of the articles
she brought were heirlooms which she had stored in the boarding
house cellar, or articles associated with her happy married life,
which had been shortened by her husband's death when he was
comparatively a young man.
These Mrs. Atterson saw piled on the wagon early on Saturday
morning, and she had insisted upon climbing upon the seat beside
the driver herself and riding with him all the way.
The boarders gathered on the steps to see her go. The two
spinster ladies had already taken possession, and had served
breakfast to the disgruntled members of Mother Atterson's family.
"You'll be back again," prophesied Mr. Crackit, shaking the old
lady by the hand. "And when you do, just let me know. I'll come
and board with you."
"I wouldn't have you in my house again, Fred Crackit, for two
farms," declared the ex-boarding house keeper, with asperity.
"I hope you told these people about my hot water, Mrs. Atterson,"
croaked Mr. Peebles, from the step, where he stood muffled in a
shawl because of the raw morning air.
"If I didn't you can tell 'em yourself," returned she, with
And so it went--the good-byes of these unappreciative boarders
selfish to the last! Mother Atterson sighed--a long, happy,
and satisfying sigh--when the lumbering wagon turned the first
"Thanks be!" she murmured. "I sha'n't care if they don't have a
driblet of gravy at supper tonight."
Then she shook herself and stared straight ahead. On the very
next corner--she had insisted that none of the other people at
the house should observe their flitting--stood two figures, both
Old Lem Camp, with a lean suit-case at his feet, and Sister with
a bulging carpetbag which she had brought with her months before
from the charity institution, and into which she had stuffed
everything she owned in the world.
Their faces brightened perceptibly when they beheld Mrs. Atterson
perched high beside the driver on the load of furniture and
bedding. The driver drew in his span of big horses and the
wheels grated against the curb.
"You climb right in behind, Mr. Camp," said the good lady.
"There's room for you up under the canvas top--and I had him
spread a mattress so't you can take it easy all the way, if you
"Sister, you scramble up here and sit in betwixt me and this man.
And do look out--you're spillin' things out o' that bag like it
was a Christmas cornucopia. Come on, now! Toss it behind us,
onto them other things. There! we'll go on--and no more stops, I
hope, till we reach the farm."
But that couldn't be. It was a long drive, and the man was
good to his team. He rested them at the top of every hill, and
sometimes at the bottom. They had to stop two hours for dinner
and to "breathe 'em," as the man said.
At that time Mother Atterson produced a goodsized market
basket--her familiar companion when she had hunted bargains in
the city--and it was filled with sandwiches, and pickles, and
crackers, and cookies, and a whole boiled fowl (fowl were cheaper
and more satisfying than the scrawny chickens then in market)
and hard-boiled eggs, and cheese, with numbers of other less
important eatables tucked into corners of the basket to "wedge"
the larger packages of food.
The four picnicked in the sun, with the furniture wagon to break
the keen wind, passing around hot coffee in a can, from hand
to hand, the driver having built a campfire to heat the coffee
beside the country road.
But after that stop--for they were well into the country
now--there was no keeping Sister on the wagon-seat. She had
learned to drop down and mount again as lively as a cricket.
She tore along the edge of the road, with her hair flying,
and her hat hanging by its ribbons. She chased a rabbit, and
squirrels, and picked certain green branches, and managed to get
her hands and the front of her dress all "stuck up" with spruce
gum in trying to get a piece big enough to chew.
"Drat the young'un!" exclaimed Mother Atterson. "I can see
plainly I'd never ought to brought her, but should have sent
her back to the institution. She'll be as wild as Mr. March's
hare--whoever he was--out here in the country."
But Old Lem Camp gave her no trouble. He effaced himself
just as he had at the boarding house supper table. He seldom
spoke--never unless he was spoken to; and he lay up under the
roof of the furniture wagon, whether asleep, or no, Mrs. Atterson
could not tell.
"He's as odd as Dick's hat-band," the ex-boarding house mistress
confided to the driver. "But, bless you! the easiest critter to
get along with--you never saw his beat. If I'd a house full of
Lem Camps to cook for, I'd think I was next door to heaven."
It was dusk when they arrived in sight of the little house
beside the road in which Uncle Jeptha Atterson had lived out his
long life. Hiram had a good fire going in both the kitchen and
sitting room, and the lamplight flung through the windows made
the place look cheerful indeed to the travelers.
"My soul and body!" croaked the good lady, when she got down from
the wagon and Hiram caught her in his arms to save her from a
fall. "I'm as stiff as a poker--and that's a fact. But I'm glad
to get here."
Hiram's amazement when he saw Sister and Old Lem Camp was only
expressed in his look. He said nothing. The driver of the wagon
backed it to the porch step and then took out his team and, with
Hiram's help, led them to the stable, fed them, and bedded them
down for the night. He was to sleep in one of the spare beds and
go back to town the following day.
Mother Atterson took off her best dress, slipped into a familiar
old gingham and bustled around the kitchen as naturally as though
she had been there all her life.
She fried ham and eggs, and made biscuit, and opened a couple
of tins of peaches she had brought, and finally set before them
a repast satisfying if not dainty, and seasoned with a cheerful
spirit at least.
"I vum!" she exclaimed, sitting down for the first time in years
"at the first table." "If this don't beat Crawberry and them
boarders, I'm crazy as a loon. Pour the coffee, Sister--and
don't be stingy with the milk. Milk's only five cents a quart
here, and it's eight in town. But, gracious, child! sugar don't
cost no less."
Old Lem Camp sat beside Hiram, as he had at the boarding-house
table. He had scarcely spoken since his arrival; but now, under
cover of the talk of Mother Atterson, the driver of the furniture
van, and Sister, he began one of his old-time monologues:
"Old, old--nothing to look forward to--then the prospect
opens up--just like light breaking through the clouds after a
storm--let's see; I want a piece of bread--bread's on Sister's
side--I can reach it--hum! no Crackit to-night--fool jokes--silly
fellow--ah! the butter--Where's the butterknife?--Sister's
forgotten the butter-knife--no! here 'tis--That woman's an
angel--nothing less--an angel in a last season's bonnet and a
shabby gown--Hah! practical angels couldn't use wings--they'd be
in the way in the kitchen--ham and eggs--gravy--fit for gods to
eat--and not to worry again where next week's victuals are to
Hiram noted all the old mail said, and the last phrase
enlightened him immensely as to why Old Lem Camp was so
"queer." That was the trouble on the old man's mind--the trouble
that had stifled him, and made him appear "half cracked" as the
boarding-house jester and Peebles had said.
Lem Camp, too old to ever get another job in the city, had
for five years been worrying from day to day about his bare
existence. And evidently he saw that bogie of the superannuated
disappearing in the distance.
After the truck driver had gone to bed, and Camp himself, and
Sister had fallen asleep over the last of the dish-wiping, Mother
Atterson confided in Hiram, to a degree.
"Now, this gal can be made useful. She can help me in the house,
and she can help outside, too.
"She's a poor, unfortunate creature--I know and humbly is no name
for her looks! But mebbe we can send her to the school nearby,
and she ought to get some color in her face if she's out o' doors
some--and some flesh on her skinny body.
"I don't know as I could get along without Sister," ruminated
Mother Atterson, shaking her head.
"And as for Lem Camp--bless you! he won't eat more'n a fly,
and who else would give him houseroom? Why, Hiram, I just
had to bring him with me. If I hadn't, I'd felt just as
conscience-stricken as though I'd moved and left a cat behind in
an empty house!"
GETTING IN THE EARLY CROPS
Mother Atterson had breakfast the next morning by lamplight,
because the truckman wanted to make an early start.
Hiram had already begun early rising, however, for the farmer who
does not get up before the sun in the spring needs must do his
chores at night by lantern-light. The eight-hour law can never
be a rule on the farm.
But Sister was up, too, and out of the house, running as wild as
a rabbit. Hiram caught her in the barnyard trying to clamber
on the cow's back to ride her about the enclosure. Sister was
afraid of nothing that lived and walked, having all the courage
She found that she could not in safety clamber over the pig-lot
fence and catch one of the shoats. Old Mother Hog ran at her
with open mouth and Sister came back from that expedition with a
torn frock and some new experience.
"I never knew anything so fat could run," she confided to Hiram.
"Old Missus Poundly, who lived on our block, and weighed three
hundred pounds, couldn't run, I bet!"
Mr. Camp was not disturbed by Mrs. Atterson, but was allowed to
sleep as long as he liked, while she kept a little breakfast hot
for him and the coffeepot on the back of the stove.
The old lady became interested at once in all Hiram had done
toward beginning the spring work. She learned about the seed in
the window boxes (some of them were already breaking the soil)
about watering them and covering them properly and immediately
took those duties off Hiram's hands.
"If Sister an' me can't do the light chores around this place and
leave you to 'tend to the bigger things, then we ain't no good
and had better go back to the boarding house," she announced.
"Oh, Mis' Atterson! You wouldn't go back to town, would you?"
pleaded Sister. "Why, there's real hens--and a cow that will
give milk bimeby, Hi says--and a horse that wiggles his ears and
talks right out loud when he's hungry, for I heard him--and pigs
that squeal and run, an' they're jest as fat as butter---"
"Well, to stay here we've all got to work, Sister," declared her
mistress. "So get at them dishes now and be quick about it.
There's forty times more chores to do here than there was back in
Crawberry--But, thanks be! there ain't no gravy to worry about."
"And there ain't no boarders to make fun of me," said Sister,
thoughtfully. Then, she announced, after some rumination: "I
like pigs better than I do boarders Mis' Atterson."
"Well, I should think you would!" exclaimed that lady, tartly.
"Pigs has got some sense."
Hiram laughed at this. "You'll find the pigs demanding gravy,
just the same--and very urgent about it they are, too," he told
But he was glad to give the small chores over into their hands,
and went to work immediately to prepare for putting in the early
He had already cleared the rubbish off the piece of ground
selected for the garden, and had burned it. He hauled out stable
manure from the barnyard and gave an acre and a half of this
piece of land a good dressing.
The other half-acre was for early potatoes, and he wished to put
the manure in the furrow for them, so did not top dress that
strip of land. The frost was pretty well out of the ground by
now; but even if some remained, plowing this high, well-drained
piece would do no harm. Beside, Hiram was eager to get in early
It was a still, hazy morning when he geared the old horse to the
plow and headed him into the garden piece. He had determined
to plow the entire plot at once, and instead of plowing "around
and around" had paced off his lands and started in the middle,
plowing "gee" instead of "haw".
This system is a bit more particular, and hard for the careless
plowman; but it overcomes that unsightly "dead-furrow" in the
middle of a field and brings the "finishing-furrow" on the edge.
This insures better surface drainage and is a more scientific
method of tillage.
The plow was rusty and the point was not in the very best
condition; but after the first few rounds the share was cleaned
off, and it began to slip through the moist earth and roll it
over in a long, brown ribbon behind him.
Hiram Strong clung to the plow handles, a rope-rein in each hand,
and watched the plow and the horse and the land ahead with an eye
as keen as that of a river-pilot.
As the strip of turned earth grew wider and longer Sister ran out
to see him work. She watched the plow turn the mulch into the
furrow and lay the brown, greasy mold upon it, with wide-open
"Why!" cried she," wouldn't it be nice if we could go right
along with a plow and bury our past like that--cover everything
mean and nasty up, and forget it! That institution they put me
in--and the old woman I lived with before that, who drank so much
gin and beat me--and the boarders--and that boy who used to pull
my braids whenever he met me-- My that would be fine!"
"I reckon that is what Life does do for us," returned Hiram,
thoughtfully, stopping at the end of the furrow to mop his brow
and let the old horse breathe. "Yes, sir! Life plows all the
experience under, and it ought to enrich our future existence,
just as this stuff I'm plowing under here will decay and enrich
But the plow don't turn it quite under in spots," said Sister,
with a sigh. "Leastways, I can't help remembering the bad things
once in a while."
There were certain other individuals who found out very soon that
Hiram was plowing, too. Those were the hens. There were not
more than fifteen or twenty of the scrubby creatures, and they
began to follow the plow and pick up grubs and worms.
"I tell you one thing that I've got to do before we put in much,"
Hiram told the ex-boarding house mistress at noon.
"What's that, Hi? Don't go very deep down into my pocket, for it
won't stand it. After paying my bills, and paying for moving out
here, I ain't got much money left--and that's a fact!"
"It won't cost much, but we've got to have a yard for the hens.
Hens and a garden will never mix successfully. Unless you
enclose them you might as well have no garden in that spot where
"There warn't but five eggs to-day," said Mrs. Atterson. "Mebbe
we'd better chop the heads off 'em, one after the other, and eat
"They'll lay better as it grows warmer. That henhouse must be
fixed before next winter. It's too draughty," said Hi. "And
then, hens can't lay well--especially through the winter--if they
haven't the proper kind of food."
"But three or four of the dratted things want to stay on the nest
all the time," complained the old lady.
"If I was you, Mrs. Atterson," Hiram said, soberly, "I'd spend
five dollars for a hundred eggs of well-bred stock.
"I'd set these hens as fast as they get broody, and raise a
decent flock of biddies for next year. Scrub hens are just as bad
as scrub cows. The scrubs will eat quite as much as full-bloods,
yet the returns from the scrubs are much less."
"I declare!" exclaimed Mrs. Atterson, "a hen's always been just a
hen to me--one's the same as another, exceptin' the feathers on
some is prettier."
"To-night I'll show you some breeders' catalogs and you can think
the matter over as to what kind of a fowl you want," said the
He went back to his job after dinner and kept steadily at work
until three o'clock before there came a break. Then he saw a
carriage drive into the yard, and a few moments later a man In a
long gray coat came striding across the lot toward him.
Hiram knew the gentleman at once--it was Mr. Bronson, the father
of the girl he had saved from the runaway. To tell the truth,
the boy had rather wondered about his non-appearance during the
days that had elapsed. But now he came with hand held out, and
his first words explained the seeming omission:
"I've been away for more than a week, my boy, or I should have
seen you before. You're Hiram Strong, aren't you--the boy my
little girl has been talking so much about?"
"I don't know how much Miss Lettie has been talking about me,"
laughed Hiram. "Full and plenty, I expect."
"And small blame to her," declared Mr. Bronson. "I won't waste
time telling you how grateful I am. I had just time to turn that
boy of Dickerson's off before I was called away. Now, my lad, I
want you to come and work for me."
"Why, much as I might like to, sir, I couldn't do that," said
"Now, now! we'll fix it somehow. Lettie has set her heart on
having you around the place.
"You're the second young man I've been after whom I was sure
would suit me, since we moved on to the old Fleigler place. The
first fellow I can't find; but don't tell me that I am going to
be disappointed in you, too."
"Mr. Bronson," said Hiram, gravely, "I'm sorry to say 'No.' A
little while ago I'd have been delighted to take up with any
fair offer you might have made me. But I have agreed with Mrs.
Atterson to run her place for two seasons."
"Two years!" exclaimed Mr. Bronson.
"Yes, sir. Practically. I must put her on her feet and make the
old farm show a profit."
"You're pretty young to take such responsibility upon your
shoulders, are you not?" queried the gentleman, eyeing him
"I'm seventeen. I began to work with my father as soon as I
could lift a hoe. I love farm work. And I've passed my word to
stick to Mrs. Atterson."
"That's the old lady up to the house?"
"But she wouldn't hold you to your bargain if she saw you could
better yourself, would she?"
"She would not have to," Hiram said, firmly, and he began to
feel a little disappointed in his caller. "A bargain's a
bargain--there's no backing out of it."
"But suppose I should make it worth her while to give you up?"
pursued Mr. Bronson. "I'll sound her a bit, eh? I tell you
that Lettie has set her heart on having you, as we cannot find
another chap whom we were looking for."
Now, Hiram knew that this referred to him; but he said nothing.
Besides, he did not feel too greatly pleased that the strongest
reason for Mr. Bronson's wishing to hire him was his little
daughter's demand. It was just a fancy of Miss Lettie's. And
another day, she might have the fancy to turn him off.
"No, sir," spoke Hiram, more firmly. "It is useless. I am
obliged to you; but I must stick by Mrs. Atterson."
"Well, my lad," said the Westerner, putting out his hand
again." I am glad to see you know how to keep a promise, even if
it isn't to your advantage. And I am grateful to you for turning
that trick for my little girl the other day.
"I hope you'll come over and see us--and I shall watch your work
here. Most of these fellows around here are pretty slovenly
farmers in my estimation; I hope you will do better than the
He went back across the field and Hiram returned to his plowing.
The young farmer saw the bay horses driven slowly out of the yard
and along the road.
He saw the flutter of a scarf from the carriage and knew that
Lettie Bronson was with her father; but she did not look out at
him as he toiled behind the old horse in the furrow.
However, there was no feeling of disappointment in Hiram Strong's
mind--and this fact somewhat surprised him. He had been so
attracted by the girl, and had wished in the beginning so much to
be engaged by Mr. Bronson, that he had considered it a mighty
disappointment when he had lost the Westerner's card.
However, his apathy in the matter was easily explained. He had
taken hold of the work on the Atterson place. His plans were
growing in his mind for the campaign before him. His interest
was fastened upon the contract he had made with the old lady.
His hand was, literally now, "to the plow"--and he was not
He finished the piece that day, and likewise drew out some lime
that he had bought at Scoville and spread it broadcast upon all
the garden patch save that in which he intended to put potatoes.
Although it is an exploded doctrine that the application of lime
to potato ground causes scab, it is a fact that it will aid in
spreading the disease. Hiram was sure enough--because of the
sheep-sorrel on the piece--that it all needed sweetening, but he
decided against the lime at this time.
As soon as Hiram had drag-harrowed the piece he laid off two rows
down the far end, as being less tempting to the straying hens,
and planted early peas--the round-seeded variety, hardier than
the wrinkled kinds. These pea-rows were thirty inches apart, and
he dropped the peas by hand and planted them very thickly.
It doesn't pay to be niggardly with seed in putting in early
peas, at any rate--the thicker they come up the better, and in
these low bush varieties the thickly growing vines help support
This garden piece--almost two acres--was oblong in shape. An
acre is just about seventy paces square. Hiram's garden was
seventy by a hundred and forty paces, or thereabout.
Therefore, the young farmer had two seventy-yard rows of peas, or
over four hundred feet of drill. He planted two quarts of peas
at a cost of seventy cents.
With ordinary fortune the crop should be much more than
sufficient for the needs of the house while the peas were in a
green state, for being a quick growing vegetable, they are soon
Hiram, however, proposed putting in a surplus of almost
everything he planted in this big garden--especially of the early
vegetables--for he believed that there would be a market for them
The ground was very cold yet, and snow flurries swept over the
field every few days; but the peas were under cover and were off
his mind; Hiram knew they would be ready to pop up above the
surface just as soon as the warm weather came in earnest, and
peas do not easily rot in the ground.
In two weeks, or when the weather was settled, he proposed
planting other kinds of peas alongside these first two rows, so
as to have a succession up to mid-summer.
Next the young farmer laid off his furrows for early potatoes.
He had bought a sack of an extra-early variety, yet a potato
that, if left in the ground the full length of the season, would
make a good winter variety--a "long keeper."
His potato rows he planned to have three feet apart, and he
plowed the furrows twice, so as to have them clean and deep.
Henry Pollock happened to come by while he was doing this, and
stopped to talk and watch Hiram. To tell the truth, Henry and
his folks were more than a little interested in what the young
farmer would do with the Atterson place.
Like other neighbors they doubted if the stranger knew as much
about the practical work of farming as he claimed to know. "That
feller from the city," the neighbors called Hiram behind his
back, and that is an expression that completely condemns a man in
the mind of the average countryman.
"What yer bein' so particular with them furrers for, Hiram?"
"If a job's worth doing at all, it's worth doing well, isn't it?"
laughed the young farmer.
"We spread our manure broadcast--when we use any at all--for
potatoes," said Henry, slowly. "Dad says if manure comes in
contact with potatoes, they are apt to rot."
"That seems to be a general opinion," replied Hiram. "And it
may be so under certain conditions. For that reason I am going
to make sure that not much of this fertilizer comes in direct
contact with my seed."
"How'll you do that?" "I'll show you," said Hiram.
Having run out his rows and covered the bottom of each furrow
several inches deep with the manure, he ran his plow down one
side of each furrow and turned the soil back upon the fertilizer,
covering it and leaving a well pulverized seed bed for the
potatoes to lie in.
"Well," said Henry, " that's a good wrinkle, too."
Hiram had purchased some formalin, mixed it with water according
to the Government expert's instructions, and from time to time
soaked his seed potatoes two hours in the antiseptic bath. In
the evening he brought them into the kitchen and they all--even
Old Lem Camp--cut up the potatoes, leaving two or three good eyes
in each piece.
"I'd ruther do this than peel 'em for the boarders," remarked
Sister, looking at her deeply-stained fingers reflectively. "And
then, nobody won't say nothin' about my hands to me when I'm
passin' dishes at the table."
The following day she helped Hiram drop the seed, and by night he
had covered them by running his plow down the other side of the
row and then smoothed the potato plat with a home-made "board" in
lieu of a land-roller.
It was the twentieth of March, and not a farmer in the locality
had yet put in either potatoes, or peas. Some had not as yet
plowed for early potatoes, and Henry Pollock warned Hiram that he
was "rushing the season."
"That may be," declared the young farmer to Mrs. Atterson. "But
I believe the risk is worth taking. If we do get 'em good, we'll
get 'em early and skim the cream of the local market. Now, you
"Old Lem Camp," as he had been called for so many years that
there seemed no disrespect in the title, was waking up. Not many
mornings was he a lie-abed. And the lines in his forehead seemed
to be smoothing out, and his eyes had lost something of their
It was true that, at first, he wandered about the farmstead
muttering to himself in his old way--an endless monologue which
was a jumble of comment, gratitude, and the brief memories of
other days. It took some time to adjust his poor mind to the
fact that he had no longer to fear that Poverty which had stalked
ever before him like a threatening spirit.
Gratitude spurred him to the use of his hands. He was not a
broken man--not bodily. Many light tasks soon fell to his share,
and Mrs. Atterson told Hiram and Sister to let him do what he
would. To busy himself would be the best thing in the world for
the old fellow.
"That's what's been the matter with Mr. Camp for years," she
declared, with conviction. "Because he passed the sixty-year
mark, and it was against the practise of the paper company to
keep employees on the payroll over that age, they turned Lem Camp
"Ridiculous! He was just as well able to do the tasks that he
had learned to do mechanically as he had been any time for the
previous twenty years. He had worked in that office forty years,
and more, you understand.
"That's the worst thing about a corporation of that kind--it
has no thought beyond its 'rules.' Old Mr. Bundy remembered
Lem--that's all. If he hadn't so much stock in the concern
they'd turn him off, too. I expect he knows it and that's what
softened his heart to Old Lem.
"Now, let Lem take hold of whatever he can do, and git interested
in it," declared the practical Mrs. Atterson, "and he'll show
you that there's work left in him yet. Yes-sir-ree-sir! And if
he'll work in the open air, all the better for him."
There was plenty for everybody to do, and Hiram would not say the
old man nay. The seed boxes needed a good deal of attention,
for they were to be lifted out into the air on warm days, and
placed in the sun. And Old Lem could do this--and stir the soil
in them, and pull out the grass and other weeds that started.
Hiram had planted early cabbage and cauliflower and egg-plant in
other boxes, and the beets were almost big enough to transplant
to the open ground. Beets are hardy and although hair-roots are
apt to form on transplanted garden beets, the transplanting aids
the growth in other ways and Hiram expected to have table-beets
In the garden itself he had already run out two rows of later
beets, the width of the plot. Bunched beets will sell for a fair
price the whole season through.
Hiram was giving his whole heart and soul to the work--he was
wrapped up in the effort to make the farm pay. And for good
It was "up to him" to not alone turn a profit for his employer,
and himself; but he desired--oh, how strongly!--to show the city
folk who had sneered at him that he could be a success in the
Besides, and in addition, Hiram Strong was ambitious--very
ambitious indeed for a youth of his age. He wanted to own a farm
of his own in time--and it was no "one-horse farm" he aimed at.
No, indeed! Hiram had read of the scientific farming of the
Middle West, and the enormous tracts in the Northwest devoted to
grain and other staple crops, where the work was done for the
most part by machinery.
He longed to see all this--and to take part in it. He desired the
big things in farming, nor would he ever be content to remain a
"I'm going to be my own boss, some day--and I'm going to boss
other men. I'll show these fellows around here that I know
what I want, and when I get it I'll handle it right!" Hiram
"It's up to me to save every cent I can. Henry thinks I'm
niggardly, I expect, because I wouldn't go to town Saturday night
with him. But I haven't any money to waste.
"The hundred I'm to get next Christmas from Mrs. Atterson I don't
wish to draw on at all. I'll get along with such old clothes as
Hiram was not naturally a miser; he frequently bought some little
thing for Sister when he went to town--a hair-ribbon, or the
like, which he knew would please the girl; but for himself he was
determined to be saving.
At the end of his contract with Mrs. Atterson he would have two
hundred dollars anyway. But that was not the end and aim of
Hiram Strong's hopes.
"It's the clause in our agreement about the profits of our second
season that is my bright and shining star," he told the good lady
more than once. "I don't know yet what we had better put in next
year to bring us a fortune; but we'll know before it comes time
to plant it."
Meanwhile the wheel-hoe and seeder he had insisted upon
Mrs. Atterson buying had arrived, and Hiram, after studying
the instructions which came with it, set the machine up as a
seed-sower. Later, after the bulk of the seeds were in the
ground, he would take off the seeding attachment and bolt on
the hoe, or cultivator attachments, with which to stir the soil
between the narrower rows of vegetables.
As he made ready to plant seeds such as carrot, parsnip, onion,
salsify, and leaf-beet, as well as spring spinach, early turnips,
radishes and kohlrabi, Hiram worked that part of his plowed land
over again and again with the spike harrow, finally boarding the
strips down smoothly as he wished to plant them. The seedbed
must be as level as a floor, and compact, for good use to be made
of the wheel-seeder.
When he had lined out one row with his garden line, from side to
side of the plowed strip, the marking arrangement attached to his
seeder would mark the following lines plainly, and at just the
distance he desired.
Onions, carrots, and the like, he put in fifteen inches apart,
intending to do all the cultivating of those extremely small
plants with the wheel-hoe, after they were large enough. But he
foresaw the many hours of cultivating before him and marked the
rows for the bulk of the vegetables far enough apart, as he had
first intended, to make possible the use of the horse-hoe.
Meanwhile he spike-harrowed the potato patch, running cross-wise
of the rows to break the crust and keep down the quick-springing
weed seeds. The early peas were already above ground and when
they were two inches high Hiram ran his 14-tooth cultivator--or
"seed harrow" as it is called in some localities--close to the
rows so as to throw the soil toward the plants, almost burying
them from sight again. This was to give the peas deep rootage,
which is a point necessary for the quick and stable growth of
In odd moments Hiram had cut and set a few posts, bought poultry
netting in Scoville, and enclosed Mrs. Atterson's chicken-run.
She had taken his advice and sent for eggs, and already had four
hens setting and expected to set the remainder of the of the eggs
in a few days.
Sister took an enormous interest in this poultry-raising venture.
She "counted chickens before they were hatched" with a vengeance,
and after reading a few of the poultry catalogs she figured out
that, in three years, from the increase of Mother Atterson's
hundred eggs, the eighty-acre farm would not be large enough to
contain the flock.
"And all from five dollars!" gasped Sister. "I don't see why
everybody doesn't go to raising chickens--then there'd be no poor
folks, everybody would be rich-- Well! I expect there'd always
have to be institutions for orphans--and boarding houses!
The new-springing things from the ground, the "hen industry" and
the repairing and beautifying of the outside of the farmhouse did
not take up all their attention. There were serious matters to
be discussed in the evening, after the others had gone to bed,
'twixt Hiram and his employer.
There was the five or six acres of bottom land--the richest piece
of soil of the entire eighty. Hiram had not forgotten this, and
the second Sunday of their stay at the farm, after the whole
family had attended service at a chapel less than half a mile up
the road, he had urged Mrs. Atterson to walk with him through the
timber to the riverside.
"For the Land o' Goshen!" the ex-boarding house mistress had
finally exclaimed. "To think that I own all of this. Why, Hi,
it don't seem as if it was so. I can't get used to it. And this
timber, you say, is all worth money? And if I cut it off, it
will grow up again---"
"In thirty to forty years the pine will be worth cutting
again--and some of the other trees," said Hiram, with a smile.
"Well! that would be something for Sister to look forward to,"
said the old lady, evidently thinking aloud. "And I don't expect
her folks--whoever they be--will ever look her up now, Hiram."
"But with the timber cut and this side hill cleared, you would
have a very valuable thirty acres, or so, of tillage--valuable
for almost any crop, and early, too, for it slopes toward the
sun," said the young farmer, ignoring the other's observation.
"Well, well! it's wonderful," returned Mrs. Atterson.
But she listened attentively to what he had to say about clearing
the bottom land, which was a much more easily accomplished
task, as Hiram showed her. It would cost something to put the
land into shape for late corn, and so prepare it for some more
valuable crop the following season.
"Well, nothing ventured, nothing have!" Mrs. Atterson finally
agreed. "Go ahead--if it won't cost much more than what you say
to get the corn in. I understand it's a gamble, and I'm taking
a gambler's chance. If the river rises and floods the corn in
June, or July, then we get nothing this season?"
"That is a possibility," admitted Hiram.
"Go ahead," exclaimed Mother Atterson. "I never did know that
there was sporting blood in me; but I kinder feel it risin', Hi,
with the sap in the trees. We'll chance it!"
Occasionally Hiram had stepped down to the pasture and squinted
across to the water-hole. The grass was not long enough yet to
turn the cow into the field, so he was obliged to make these
special trips to the pasture.
He had seen nothing of the Dickersons--to speak to, that
is--since his trouble with Pete. And, of a sudden, just before
dinner one noon, Hiram took a look at the pasture and beheld a
figure seemingly working down in the corner.
Hiram ran swiftly in that direction. Half-way there he saw that
it was Pete, and that he had deliberately cut out a panel of the
fence and was letting a pair of horses he had been plowing with,
drink at the pool, before he took them home to the Dickerson
Hiram stopped running and recovered his breath before he reached
the lower corner of the pasture. Pete saw him coming, and
grinned impudently at him.
"What are you doing here, Dickerson?" demanded the young farmer,
"Well, if you wanter keep us out, you'd better keep up your
fences better," returned Pete. "I seen the wires down, and it's
"You cut those wires!" interrupted Hiram, angrily.
"You're another," drawled Pete, but grinning in a way to
exasperate the young farmer.
"I know you did so."
"Wal, if you know so much, what are you going to do about it?"
demanded the other. "I guess you'll find that these wires will
snap 'bout as fast as you can mend 'em. Now, you can put that in
your pipe an' smoke it!"
"But I don't smoke." Hiram observed, growing calm immediately.
There was no use in giving this lout the advantage of showing
anger with him.
"Mr. Smartie!" snarled Pete Dickerson. "Now, you see, there's
somebody just as smart as you be. These horses have drunk there,
and they're going to drink again."
"Is that your father yonder?" demanded Hiram, shortly.
"Yes, it is."
"Call him over here."
"Why, if he comes over here, he'll eat you alive! " cried Pete,
"laughing. You don't know my dad."
"I don't; but I want to," Hiram said, calmly. "That's why you'd
better call him over. I have got pretty well acquainted with you,
and the rest of your family can't be any worse, as I look at it.
Call him over," and the young farmer stepped nearer to the lout.
"You call him yourself!" cried Pete, beginning to back away, for
he remembered how he had been treated at his previous encounter
Hiram seized the bridles of the work horses, and shook them out
of Pete's clutch.
"Tell your father to come here," commanded the young farmer, fire
in his eyes. "We'll settle this thing here and now.
"These horses are on Mrs. Atterson's land. I know the county
stock law as well as you do. You cut this fence, and your cattle
are on her ground.
"It will cost you a dollar a head to get them off again--if
Mrs. Atterson wishes to demand it. Now, call your father."
Pete raised a yell which startled the long-legged man striding
over the hill toward the Dickerson farmhouse. Hiram saw the
older Dickerson turn, stare, and then start toward them.
Pete continued to beckon, and began to yell:
"Dad! Dad! He won't let me have the hosses!"
Sam Dickerson came striding down to the waterhole--a lean,
long, sour-looking man he was, with a brown face knotted into a
continual scowl, and hard, bony hands. Yet Hiram was not afraid
"What's the trouble here?" growled the farmer.
"He's got the hosses. I told you the fence was down and I was
goin' to water 'em---"
"Shut up!" commanded his father, eyeing Hiram. "I'm talking to
this fellow: What's the trouble here?"
"Your horses are on Mrs. Atterson's land," Hiram said, quietly.
"You know that stock which strays can be held for a dollar a
head--damage or no damage to crops. I warn you, keep your horses
on your own land."
"That's your fence; if you don't keep it up, who's fault is it if
my horses get on your land?" growled Dickerson, evidently making
the matter a personal one with Hiram.
"Your boy here cut the wires."
"No I didn't, Dad!" interposed Pete.
Quick as a flash Hiram dropped the bridle reins, sprang for Pete,
seized him in a wrestler's grip, twisted him around, and tore
from his pocket a pair of heavy wire-cutters.
"What were you doing with these in your pocket, then?" demanded
Hiram, disdainfully, tossing the plyers upon the ground at Pete's
feet, and stepping back to keep the restless horses from leaving
the edge of the water-hole.
Sam Dickerson seemed to take a grim pleasure in his son's
overthrow. He growled:
"He's got you there, Pete. You'd better stop monkeyin' around
here. Pick up them bridles and come on."
He turned to depart without another word to Hiram; but the latter
did not propose to be put off that way.
"Hold on!" he called. "Who's going to mend this fence,
Dickerson turned and eyed him coldly again.
"What's that to me? Mend your own fence," he said.
"Then I shall take these horses up to our barn. You can come and
settle the matter with Mrs. Atterson--unless you wish to pay
me two dollars here and now," said the young farmer, his voice
carrying clearly to where the man stood upon the rising ground
"Why, you young whelp!" roared Dickerson, suddenly starting down
But Hiram Strong neither moved nor showed fear. Somehow, this
sturdy young fellow, in the high laced boots, with his flannel
shirt open at the throat, raw as was the day, his sleeves rolled
back to his elbows, was a figure to make even a more muscular man
than Sam Dickerson hesitate.
"Pete!" exclaimed the farmer, harshly, still eyeing Hiram. "Run
up to the house and bring my shotgun. Be quick about it."