Part 4 out of 5
This little toddler amused his younger brother, and brought water
to the field for the workers.
Other families in the neighborhood did the same, Hiram noticed.
They all strained every effort to put in corn, cultivating as big
a crop as they possibly could handle.
This was why locally grown vegetables were scarce in Scoville.
And the young farmer proposed to take advantage of this condition
of affairs to the best of his ability.
If they were only to remain here on the farm long enough to
handle this one crop, Hiram determined to make that crop pay his
employer as well as possible, although he, himself, had no share
in such profit.
Henry Pollock, however, came along while Hiram was making ready
his plat in the garden for tomatoes. The young farmer was
setting several rows of two-inch thick stakes across the garden,
sixteen feet apart in the row, the rows four feet apart. The
stakes themselves were about four feet out of the ground.
"What ye doin' there, Hiram?" asked Henry, curiously. "Building
"Ain't goin' to have a chicken run out here in the garden, be
"I should hope not! The chickens on this place will never mix
with the garden trucks, if I have any say about it," declared
"By Jo!" exclaimed Henry. "Dad says Maw's dratted hens eat up a
couple hundred dollars' worth of corn and clover every year for
him-runnin' loose as they do."
"Why doesn't he build your mother proper runs, then, plant green
stuff in several yards, and change the flock over, from yard
to yard?" "Oh, hens won't do well shut up; Maw says so," said
Henry, repeating the lazy farmer's unfounded declaration-probably
originated ages ago, when poultry was first domesticated.
"I'll show you, next year, if we are around here," said Hiram, "
whether poultry will do well enclosed in yards."
"I told mother you didn't let your chickens run free, and had no
hens with them," said Henry, thoughtfully.
"No. I do not believe in letting anything on a farm get into lazy
habits. A hen is primarily intended to lay eggs. I send them
back to work when they have hatched out their brood.
"Those home-made brooders of ours keep the chicks quite as warm,
and never peck the little fellows, or step upon them, as the old
hen often does."
"That's right, I allow," admitted Henry, grinning broadly.
"And some hens will traipse chicks through the grass and weeds as
far as turkeys. No, sir! Send the hens back to business, and let
the chicks shift for themselves. They'll do better."
"Them there in the pens certainly do look healthy," said his
friend. "But you ain't said what you was doin' here, Hiram,
setting these stakes?"
"Why, I'll tell you," returned Hiram. "This is my tomato patch."
"By Jo!" ejaculated Henry. "You don't want to set tomatoes so fur
apart, do you?"
"No, no," laughed Hiram. "The posts are to string wires on. The
tomatoes will be two feet apart in the row. As they grow I tie
them to the wires, and so keep the fruit off the ground.
"The tomato ripens better and more evenly, and the fruit will
come earlier, especially if I pinch back the ends of the vine
from time to time, and remove some of the side branches."
"We don't do all that to raise a tomato crop. And we'll put in
five acres for the cannery this year, as usual," said Henry, with
"We run the rows out four feet apart, like you do, throwing up a
list, in fact. Then father goes ahead with a stick, making a hole
for the plant every three feet, so't they'll be check-rowed and
we can cultivate them both ways--and we all set the plants.
"We never hand-hoe 'em--it don't pay. The cannery isn't giving
but fifteen cents a basket this year--and it's got to be a full
five-eighths basket, too, for they weigh 'em."
Hiram looked at him with a quizzical smile.
"So you set about thirty-six hundred and forty plants to the
acre?" he said.
"I reckon so."
"And you'll have five acres of tomatoes?"
"Yep. So Dad says. He has contracted for that many. But our
plants don't begin to be big enough to set out yet. We have to
keep 'em covered nights."
"And I expect to have about five hundred plants in this patch,"
said Hiram, smiling. I tell you what, Henry."
"Huh?" said the other boy. "I bet I take in from my patch--net
income, I mean--this year as much as your father gets at the
cannery for his whole crop."
"Nonsense!" cried Henry. "Maybe Dad'll make a hundred, or a
hundred and twenty-five dollars. Sometimes tomatoes run as high
as thirty dollars an acre around here."
"Wait and see," said Hiram, laughing. "It is going to cost me
more to raise my crop, and market it, that's true. But if your
father doesn't do better with his five acres than you say, I'll
"You can't do it, Hiram," cried Henry. "I can try, anyway," said
Hiram, more quietly, but with confidence. "We'll see."
"And say," Henry added, suddenly, "I was going to tell you
something. You won't raise these tomatoes--nor no other crop--if
Pete Dickerson can stop ye."
"What's the matter with Pete now?" asked Hiram, troubled by
thought of the secret enemy who had already struck at him in the
"He was blowing about what he'd do to you down at the crossroads
last evening," said Henry. "He and his father both hate you like
poison, I expect.
"And the fellers down to Cale Schell's are always stirrin' up
trouble. They think it is sport. Why, Pete got so mad last night
he could ha' chewed tacks!"
"I have said nothing about Pete to anybody," said Hiram, firmly.
"That don't matter. They say you have. They tell Pete a whole
lot of stuff just to see him git riled.
"And last night he slopped over. He said if you reported around
that he put fire to Mis' Atterson's woods, he'd put it to the
house and barns! Oh, he was wild."
Hiram's face flushed, and then paled.
"Did Pete try to bum the woods, Hiram?" queried Henry, shrewdly.
"I never even said I thought so to you, have I?" asked the young
"Nope. I only heard that fire got into the woods by accident,
when I was in town. Somebody was hunting through there for coon,
and saw the burned-over place. That's all the fellers at Cale's
place knew, too, I reckon; but they jest put it up to Pete to mad
"And they succeeded, did they?" said Hiram, sternly.
"Loose-mouthed people make more trouble in a community than
downright mean ones," declared Hiram. "If I have any serious
trouble with the Dickersons, like enough it will be because of
the interference of the other neighbors."
"But," said Henry, preparing to go on, "Pete wouldn't dare fire
your stable now--after sayin' he'd do it. He ain't quite so big
a fool as all that."
But Hiram was not so sure. He had this additional trouble on
his mind from this very hour, though he never said a word to
Mrs. Atterson about it.
But every night before he went to bed be made around of the
outbuildings to make sure that everything was right before he
"CORN THAT'S CORN"
Hiram caught sight of Pepper in town one day and went after him.
He knew the real estate man had returned from his business trip,
and the fact that the matter of the option was hanging fire, and
troubling Mrs. Atterson exceedingly, urged Hiram go counter to
Mr. Strickland's advice.
The lawyer had said: " Let sleeping dogs lie." Pepper had made no
move, however, and the uncertainty was very trying both for the
young farmer and his employer.
"How about that option you talked about, Mr. Pepper?" asked the
"youth. Are you going to exercise it?"
"I've got time enough, ain't I?" returned the real estate man,
eyeing Hiram in his very slyest way.
"I expect you have--if it really runs a year."
"You seen it, didn't you?" demanded Pepper.
"But we'd like Mr. Strickland to see it."
"He's goin' to act for Mrs. Atterson?" queried the man, with a
"Well, he'll see it-when I'm ready to take it up. Don't you
fret," retorted Pepper, and turned away.
This did not encourage the young farmer, nor was there anything
in the man's manner to yield hope to Mrs. Atterson that she could
feel secure in her title to the farm. So Hiram said nothing to
her about meeting the man.
But the youth was very much puzzled. It really did seem as
though Pepper was afraid to show that paper to Mr. Strickland.
"There's something queer about it, I believe," declared the
youth to himself. "Somewhere there is a trick. He's afraid of
being tripped up on it. But, why does he wait, if he knows the
railroad is going to demand a strip of the farm and he can get a
good price for it?
"Perhaps he is waiting to make sure that the railroad will
condemn a piece of Mrs. Atterson's farm. If the board should
change the route again, Pepper would have a farm on his hands
that he might not be able to sell immediately at a profit.
"For we must confess, that sixteen hundred dollars, as farms have
sold in the past around here, is a good price for the Atterson
place. That's why Uncle Jeptha was willing to give an option for
a month--if that was, in the beginning, the understanding the old
man had of his agreement with Pepper.
"However, we might as well go ahead with the work, and take what
comes to us in the end. I know no other way to do," quoth Hiram,
with a sigh.
For he could not be very cheerful with the prospect of making
only a single crop on the place. His profit was to have come out
of the second year's crop--and, he felt, out of that bottom land
which had so charmed him on the day he and Henry Pollock had gone
over the Atterson Place.
Riches lay buried in that six acres of bottom. Hiram had read up
on onion culture, and he believed that, if he planted his seed in
hot beds, and transplanted the young onions to the rich soil in
this bottom, he could raise fully as large onions as they did in
either Texas or the Bermudas.
"Of course, they have the advantage of a longer season down
there," thought Hiram, "and cheap labor. But maybe I can get
cheap labor right around here. The children of these farmers are
used to working in the fields. I ought to be able to get help
"And when it comes to the market--why, I've got the Texas
growers, at least, skinned a little! I can reach either the
Philadelphia or New York market in a day. Yes; given the right
conditions, onions ought to pay big down there on that lowland."
But this was not the only crop possibility be turned over in his
mind. There were other vegetables that would grow luxuriantly on
that bottom land--providing, always, the flood did not come and
fulfill Henry Pollock's prophecy.
"Two feet of water on that meadow, eh?" thought Hiram. "Well,
that certainly would be bad. I wouldn't want that to happen
after the ground was plowed this year, even. It would tear up
the land, and sour it, and spoil it for a corn-crop, indeed."
So he was down a good deal to the river's edge, watching the ebb
and flow of the stream. A heavy rain would, over night, fill the
river to its very brim and the open field, even beyond the marshy
spot, would be a-slop with standing water.
"It sure wouldn't grow alfalfa," chuckled Hiram to himself one
day. "For the water rises here a good deal closer to the surface
than four feet, and alfalfa farmers declare that if the springs
rise that high, there is no use in putting in alfalfa. Why! I
reckon just now the water is within four inches of the top of the
If the river remained so high, and the low ground so saturated
with water, he knew, too, that he could not get the six acres
plowed in time to put in corn this year. And it was this year's
crop he must think about first.
Even if Pepper did not exercise his option, and turn
Mrs. Atterson out of the place, a big commercial crop of onions,
or any other better-paying crop, could only be tried the second
Hiram had got his seed corn for the upland piece of the man
who raised the best corn in the community. He had tried the
fertility of each ear, discarded those which proved weakly,
or infertile, and his stand of corn for the four acres, which
was now half hand high, was the best of any farmer between the
Atterson place and town.
But this corn was a hundred-and-ten-day variety. The farmer he
got it of told him that he had raised a crop from a piece planted
the day before the Fourth of July; but it was safer to get it in
at least by June fifteenth.
And here it was past June first, and the meadow land had not yet
"However," Hiram said to Henry, when they walked down to the
riverside on Sunday afternoon, "I'm going ahead on Faith--just
as the minister said in church this morning. If Faith can move
mountains, we'll give it a chance to move something right down
"I dunno, Hiram," returned the other boy, shaking his head.
"Father says he'll git in here for you with three head and a
Number 3 plow by the middle of this week if you say so--'nless it
rains again, of course. But he's afeared you're goin' to waste
Mrs. Atterson's money for her."
"Nothing ventured, nothing gained," quoted Hiram, grimly. "If
a farmer didn't take chances every year, the whole world would
starve to death!"
"Well," returned Henry, smiling too, "let the other fellow take
the chances--that's dad's motter."
"Yes. And the 'chancey' fellow skims the cream of things every
time. No, sir!" declared the young fellow, "I'm going to be
among the cream-skimmers, or I won't be a farmer at all."
So the plow was put into the bottom-land Wednesday--and put in
deep. By Friday night the whole piece was plowed and partly
Hiram had drawn lime for this bottom-land, proposing to use
beside only a small amount of fertilizer. He spread this lime
from his one-horse wagon, while Henry drag-harrowed behind him,
and by Saturday noon the job was done.
The horses had not mired at all, much to Mr. Pollock's surprise.
And the plow had bit deep. All the heavy sod of the piece was
covered well, and the seed bed was fairly level--for corn.
Although the Pollocks did not work on Saturday afternoon, Hiram
did not feel as though he could stop at this time. Most of the
farmers had already planted their last piece of corn. Monday
would be the fifteenth of the month.
So the young farmer got his home-made corn-row marker down to the
river-bottom and began marking the piece that afternoon.
This marker ran out three rows at each trip across the field, and
with a white stake at either end, the youth managed to run his
rows very straight. He had a good eye.
In this case he did not check-row his field. The land was
rich--phenomenally rich, he believed. If he was going to have a
crop of corn here, he wanted a crop worth while.
On the uplands the farmers were satisfied with from thirty to
fifty baskets of ear-corn to the acre. If this lowland was what
he believed it was, Hiram was sure it would make twice that.
And at that his corn crop here would only average twenty-five
dollars to the acre--not a phenomenal profit for Mrs. Atterson in
But the land would be getting into shape for a better crop, and
although corn is a crop that will soon impoverish ground, if
planted year after year on the same piece, Hiram knew that the
humus in this soil on the lowland was almost inexhaustible.
So he marked his rows the long way of the field--running with the
One of the implements left by Uncle Jeptha had been a one-horse
corn-planter with a fertilizer attachment. Hiram used this,
dropping two or three grains twenty-four inches apart, and
setting the fertilizer attachment to one hundred and fifty pounds
to the acre.
He was until the next Wednesday night planting the piece.
Meanwhile it had not rained, and the river continued to recede.
It was now almost as low as it had been the day Lettie Bronson's
boating party had been "wrecked" under the big sycamore.
Hiram had not seen the Bronsons for some weeks, but about the
time he got his late corn planted, Mr. Bronson drove into the
Atterson yard, and found Hiram cultivating his first corn with
the five-tooth cultivator.
"Well, well, Hiram!" exclaimed the Westerner, looking with a
broad smile over the field. "That's as pretty a field of corn as
I ever saw. I don't believe there is a hill missing."
"Only a few on the far edge, where the moles have been at work."
"Moles don't eat corn, Hiram."
"So they say," returned the young farmer, quietly. "I never could
make up my mind about it.
"I'm sure, however, that if they are only after slugs and worms
which are drawn to the corn hills by the commercial fertilizer,
the moles do fully as much damage as the slugs would.
"You see, they make a cavity under the corn hill, and the roots
of the plant wither. Excuse me, but I'd rather have Mr. Mole in
somebody else's garden."
Mr. Bronson laughed. "Well, what the little gray fellows eat
won't kill us. But they do spoil otherwise handsome rows. How
did you get such a good stand of corn, Hiram?"
"I tested the seed in a seed box early in the spring. I wouldn't
plant corn any other way. Aside from the hills the moles have
spoiled, and a few an old crow pulled up, I've got no re-planting
"And replanted hills are always behind the crop, and seldom make
anything but fodder. If it wasn't for the look of the field, I'd
never re-plant a hill of corn.
"Of course, I've got to thin this--two grains in the hill is
enough on this land."
Mr. Bronson looked at him with growing surprise.
"Why, my boy, you talk just as though you had tilled the ground
for a score of years. Who taught you so much about farming?"
"One of the best farmers who ever lived," said Hiram, with a
smile. "My father. And he taught me to go to the correct
sources for information, too."
"I believe you!" exclaimed Mr. Bronson. "And you're going to
have 'corn that's corn', as we say in my part of the country, on
this piece of land."
"Wait!" said Hiram, smiling and shaking his head.
"Wait for what?"
"Wait till you see the corn on my bottom-land--if the river down
there doesn't drown it out. If we don't have too much rain, I'm
going to have corn on that river-bottom that will beat anything
in this county, Mr. Bronson."
And the young farmer spoke with assurance.
On the seventeenth day of June Hiram had "grappled out" a mess of
potatoes for their dinner. They were larger than hen's eggs and
came upon the table mealy and white.
Potatoes were selling at retail in Scoville for two dollars the
bushel. Before the end of that week--after the lowland corn was
planted--Hiram dug two rows of potatoes, sorted them, and carted
them to town, together with some bunched beets, a few bunches of
young carrots, radishes and salad.
The potatoes he sold for fifty cents the five-eighth basket, from
house to house, and he brought back, for his load of vegetables,
ten dollars and twenty cents, which he handed to Mrs. Atterson,
much to that lady's joy.
"My soul and body, Hiram!" she exclaimed. "This is just a
God-send--no less. Do you know that we've sold nigh twenty-five
dollars' worth of stuff already this spring, besides that pair of
pigs I let Pollock have, and the butter to St. Beris?"
"And it's only a beginning," Hiram told her. "Wait til' the peas
come along--we'll have a mess for the table in a few days now.
And the sweet corn and tomatoes.
"If you and Sister can do the selling, it will help out a whole
lot, of course. I wish we had another horse."
"Or an automobile," said Sister, clapping her hands. "Wouldn't
it be fine to run into town in an auto, with a lot of vegetables?
Then Hiram could keep right at work with the horse and not have
to stop to harness up for us."
"Shucks, child!" admonished Mrs. Atterson. "What big idees you do
get in that noddle o' yourn."
The girls' boarding school and the two hotels proved good
customers for Hiram's early vegetables; for nobody around
Scoville had potatoes at this time, and Hiram's early peas were
two weeks ahead of other people's.
Having got a certain number of towns folks to expect him at least
thrice a week, when other farmers had green stuff for sale they
could not easily "cut out" Hiram later in the season.
And not always did the young farmer have to leave his work at
home to deliver the vegetables and Mrs. Atterson's butter.
Sister, or the old lady herself, could go to town if the load was
not too heavy.
Of course, it cost considerable to live. And hogfood and grain
for the horse and cow had to be bought. Hiram was fattening four
of the spring shoats against winter. Two they could sell and two
kill for their own use.
"Goin' to be big doin's on the Fourth this year, Hiram," said
Henry Pollock, meeting the young farmer on the road from town one
day. "Heard about it?"
"In Scoville, do you mean? They're going to have a 'Safe and
Sane' Fourth, the Banner says."
"Nope. We don't think much of goin' to town Fourth of July.
And this year there's goin' to be a big picnic in Langdon's
Grove--that's up the river, you know."
"A public picnic?"
"Sure. A barbecue, we call it," said Henry. "We have one at the
Grove ev'ry year. This time the two Sunday Schools is goin' to
join and have a big time. You and Sister don't want to miss
it. That Mr. Bronson's goin' to give a whole side o' beef, they
tell me, to roast over the fires."
"A big banquet is in prospect, is it?" asked Hiram, smiling.
"And a stew! Gee! you never eat one o' these barbecue stews, did
ye? Some of us will go huntin' the day before, and there'll be
birds, and squirrels, as well as chickens in that stew--and lima
beans, and corn, and everything good you can think of!" and Henry
smacked his lips in prospect.
Then he added, bethinking himself of his errand:
"Everybody chips in and gives the things to eat. What'll you
"Some vegetables," said Hiram, quickly. "Mrs. Atterson won't
object, I guess. Do they want tomatoes for their stew?"
"Won't be no tomatoes ripe, Hiram," said Henry, decidedly.
"There won't, eh? You come out and take a look at mine," said
Of all the rows of vegetables in Hiram's garden plot, the
thriftiest and handsomest were the trellised tomato plants. It
took nearly half of Sister's time to keep the plants tied up and
pinched back, as Hiram had taught her.
But the stalks were already heavily laden with fruit; and those
hanging lowest on the sturdy vines were already blushing.
"By Jo!" gasped Henry. "You've done it, ain't you? But the
cannery won't take 'em yet awhile--and they'll all be gone before
"The cannery won't get many of my tomatoes," laughed Hiram. "And
these vines properly trained and cultivated as they are, will
bear fruit up to frost. You wait and see."
"I'll have to tell dad to come and look at these. I dunno, Hiram,
if you can sell 'em at retail, but you'll git as much for 'em as
dad does for his whole crop--just as you said."
"That's what I'm aiming for," responded Hiram. But would the
ladies who cook the barbecue stew care for tomatoes, do you
"We never git tomatoes this early," said Henry. "How about
potatoes? And there ain't many folks dug any of theirn yet, but
So, after speaking with Mrs. Atterson, Hiram agreed to supply
a barrel of potatoes for the barbecue, and the day before the
Fourth, one of the farmers came with a wagon to pick up the
Everybody at the Atterson farm would go to the grove--that was
"If one knocks off work, the others can," declared Mother
Atterson. "You see that things is left all right for the
critters, Hiram, and we'll tend to things indoors so that we can
be gone till night."
"And do, Hiram, look out for my poults the last thing," cried
Mrs. Larriper had given Sister a setting of ten turkey eggs
and every one of them had hatched under one of Mrs. Atterson's
motherly old hens. At first the girl had kept the young turkeys
and their foster mother right near the house, so that she could
watch them carefully.
But poults are rangy, and these being particularly strong and
thrifty, they soon ran the old hen pretty nearly to death.
So Hiram had built a coop into which they could go at night, safe
from any vermin, and set it far down in the east lot, near the
woods. Sister usually went down with a little grain twice a day
to call them up, and keep them tame.
"But when they get big enough to roost in the fall, I expect
we'll have to gather that crop with a gun," Hiram told her,
Many of the farmers teams were strung out along the road long
before Hiram was ready to set out. He had made sure that the
spring wagon was in good shape, and he had built an extra seat
for it, so that the four rode very comfortably.
Like every other Fourth of July, the sun was broiling hot! And
the dust rose in clouds as the faster teams passed their slow old
Mrs. Atterson sat up very primly in her best silk, holding a
parasol and wearing a pair of lace mits that had appeared on
state occasions for the past twenty years, at least.
Sister was growing like a weed, and it was hard to keep her
skirts and sleeves at a proper length. But she was an entirely
different looking girl from the boarding house slavey whom Hiram
remembered so keenly back in Crawberry.
As for Old Lem Camp, he was as cheerful as Hiram had ever seen
him, and showed a deal of interest in everything about the farm,
and had proved himself, as Mrs. Atterson had prophesied, a great
Scarcely a house along the road was not shut up and the dooryard
deserted--for everybody was going to the barbecue. All but the
Dickerson family. Sam was at work in the fields, and the haggard
Mrs. Dickerson looked dumbly from her porch, with a crying baby
in her scrawny arms as the Attersons and Hiram passed.
But Pete was at the barbecue. He was there when Hiram arrived,
and he was making himself quite as prominent as anybody.
Indeed, he made himself so obnoxious finally, that one of the
rough men who was keeping up the fires threatened to chuck Pete
into the biggest one, and then cool him off in the river.
Otherwise, however, the barbecue passed off very pleasantly. The
men who governed it saw that no liquor was brought along, and the
unruly element to which Pete belonged was kept under with an iron
There was so little "fun", of a kind, in Pete's estimation that,
after the big event of the day--the banquet--he and some of
his friends disappeared. And the picnicking ground was a much
quieter and pleasanter place after their departure.
The newcomers into the community made many friends and
acquaintances that day. Sister was going to school in the fall,
and she found many girls of her age whom she would meet there.
Mrs. Atterson met the older ladies, and was invited to join no
less than two "Ladies' Aids", and, as she said, "if she called
on all the folks she'd agreed to visit, she'd be goin' ev'ry day
from then till Christmas!"
As for Hiram, the men and older boys were rather inclined to
jolly him a bit. Not many of them had been upon the Atterson
place to see what he had done, but they had heard some stories of
his proposed crops that amused them.
When Mr. Bronson, however, whom the local men knew to be a big
farmer in the Middle West, and who owned many farms out there
now, spoke favorably of Hiram's work, the local men listened
"The boy's got it in him to do something," the Westerner said,
in his hearty fashion. "You're eating his potatoes now, I
understand. Which one of you can dig early potatoes like those?
"And he's got the best stand of corn in the county."
"On that river-bottom, you mean?" asked one.
"And on the upland, too. You fellows want to look about you a
little. Most of you don't see beyond the end of your noses. You
watch out, or Hiram Strong is going to beat every last one of you
this year--and that's a run-down farm he's got, at that."
But Lettie was not at the barbecue, and to tell the truth, Hiram
Strong was disappointed.
Despite the fact that she had seemed inclined to snub him, the
young farmer was vastly taken with the pretty girl. He had seen
nobody about Scoville as attractive as Lettie--nor anywhere else,
for that matter!
He was too proud to call at the Bronson place, although
Mr. Bronson invited him whenever he saw Hiram. And at first,
Lettie had asked him to come, too.
But the Western girl did not like being thwarted in any
matter--even the smallest. And when Hiram would not come to take
Pete Dickerson's place, the very much indulged girl had showed
the young farmer that she was offended.
However, the afternoon at Langdon's Grove passed very pleasantly,
and Hiram and his party did not arrive at the farm again until
dusk had fallen.
"I'll go down and shut your turkeys up for the night, Sister,"
Hiram said, after he had done the other chores for he knew
the girl would be afraid to go so far from the house by
And when he reached the turkey coop, 'way down in the field,
Hiram was very glad indeed that he had come instead of the girl.
For the coop was empty. There wasn't a turkey inside, or
thereabout. It had been dark an hour and more, then, and the
poults should long since have been hovered in the coop.
Had some marauding fox, or other "varmint", run the young turkeys
off their reservation? That seemed improbable at this time of
year--and so early in the evening. Foxes do not usually go
hunting before midnight, nor do other predatory animals.
Hiram had brought the barn lantern with him, and he took a look
around the neighborhood of the empty coop.
"My goodness!" he mused, "Sister will cry her eyes out if
anything's happened to those little turks. Now, what's this?"
The ground was cut up at a little distance from the coop. He
examined the tracks closely.
They were fresh--very fresh indeed. The wheel tracks of a light
wagon showed, and the prints of a horse's shod hoofs.
The wagon had been driven down from the main road, and had turned
sharply here by the coop. Hiram knew, too, that it had stood
there for some time, for the horse had moved uneasily.
Of course, that proved the driver had gotten out of the
wagon and left the horse alone. Doubtless there was but one
thief--for it was positive that the turkeys had been removed by a
two-footed--not a four-footed--marauder.
"And who would be mean enough to steal Sister's turkeys?
Almost everybody in the neighborhood has a few to fatten for
Thanksgiving and Christmas. Who--did--this?"
He followed the wheel marks of the wagon to the road. He saw the
track where it turned into the field, and where it turned out
again. And it showed plainly that the thief came from town, and
returned in that direction.
Of course, in the roadway it was impossible to trace the
particular tracks made by the thief's horse and wagon. Too many
other vehicles had been over the road within the past hour.
The thief must have driven into the field just after night-fall,
plucked the ten young turkeys, one by one, out of the coop,
tying their feet and flinging them into the bottom of his wagon.
Covered with a bag, the frightened turkeys would never utter a
peep while it remained dark.
"I hate to tell Sister--I can't tell her," Hiram said, as he went
slowly back to the house. For Sister had been "counting chickens"
again, and she had figured that, at eighteen cents per pound,
live weight, the ten turkeys would pay for all the clothes she
would need that winter, and give her "Christmas money", too.
The young farmer shrank from meeting the girl again that night,
and he delayed going into the house as long as possible. Then he
found they had all retired, leaving him a cold supper at the end
of the kitchen table.
The disappearance of the turkeys kept Hiram tossing, wakeful,
upon his bed for some hours. He could not fail to connect this
robbery with the other things that had been done, during the past
weeks, to injure those living at the Atterson farm.
Was the secret enemy really Peter Dickerson? And had Pete
committed this crime now?
Yet the horse and wagon had come from the direction opposite the
Dickerson farm, and had returned as it came.
"I don't know whether I am accusing that fellow wrongfully,
or not," muttered Hiram, at last. "But I am going to find
out. Sister isn't going to lose her turkeys without my doing
everything in my power to get them back and punish the thief."
He usually arose in the morning before anybody else was astir, so
it was easy for Hiram to slip out of the house and down to the
field to the empty turkey coop.
The marks of horse and wagon were quite as plain in the faint
light of dawn as they had been the night before. In the darkness
the thief had driven his wagon over some small stumps, amid which
his horse had scrambled in some difficulty, it was plain.
Hiram, tracing out these marks as a Red Indian follows a trail,
saw something upon the edge of one of the half-decayed stumps
that interested him greatly.
He stood up the next moment with this clue in his hand--a white,
coarse hair, perhaps four inches in length.
"That was scraped off the horse's fetlock as he scrambled over
this stump," muttered Hiram. "Now, who drives a white horse, or
a horse with white feet, in this neighborhood?
"Can I narrow the search down in this way, I wonder?" and for
some moments the youth stood there, in the growing light of early
morning, canvassing the subject from that angle.
RUN TO EARTH
A broad streak of crimson along the eastern horizon, over the
treetops, announced the coming of the sun when Hiram Strong
reached the automobile road to which he, on the previous night,
had traced the thief that had stolen Sister's poults.
Now he looked at the track again. It surely had come from the
direction of Scoville, and it turned back that way.
Yet he looked at the white horse-hair scraped off upon the stump,
and he turned his back upon these signs and strode along the road
toward his own home.
Smoke was just curling from the Atterson chimney; Sister, or Mrs.
Atterson, was just building the fire. But they did not see Hiram
as he went by.
Hiram's quest led him past the place and to the Dickerson farm.
There nobody was yet astir, save the mules and horses in the
barnyard, who called as he went by, hoping for their breakfast.
Hiram knew that the Dickersons had turkeys and, like most of the
other farmers, cooped them in distant fields away from the house.
He found three coops in the middle of an old oat-field tinder a
The old turks roosted upon the limbs of the beech at night; they
were already up and away, hunting grasshoppers for breakfast.
But quite a few poults were running and peeping about the coops,
with two hen turkeys playing guard to them.
Hiram saw where a wagon had been driven in here, and turned, too.
The tracks were made recently. And one of the coops was shut
tight, although be knew by the rustling within that there were
young turkeys in it.
It was too dark within the hutch, however, for the youth to
number the poults confined there.
He strolled back across the fields to the rear of the Dickerson
house. Passing the barnyard first, he halted and examined the
bright bay horse, with white feet--the one that Pete had driven
to the barbecue the day before--the only one Pete was ever
allowed to drive off the farm.
The Dickersons, father and son, were not as early risers as most
farmers in those parts. At least, they were not up betimes on
But Mrs. Dickerson had built the fire now and was stirring about
the porch when Hiram arrived at the step, filling her kettle at
"Mornin', Mr. Strong," she said, in her startled way, eyeing
She was a lean, sharp-featured woman, with a hopeless droop to
"Good-morning, Mrs. Dickerson," said Hiram, gravely. "How many
young turkeys have you this year?"
The woman shrank back and almost dropped the kettle she had
filled to the pump-bench. Her eyes glared.
Somewhere in the house a baby squatted; then a door banged and
Hiram heard Dickerson's heavy step descending the stair.
"You have a coop of poults down there, Mrs. Dickerson," continued
Hiram, confidently," that I know belongs to us. I traced Pete's
tracks with the wagon and the white-footed horse. Now, this is
going to make trouble for Pete---"
"What's the matter with Pete, now?" demanded Dickerson's harsh
voice, and he came out upon the porch.
He scowled at sight of Hiram, and continued:
"What are you roaming around here for, Strong? Can't you keep on
your own side of the fence?"
"It's little I'll ever trouble you, Mr. Dickerson," said Hiram,
"sharply, if you and yours don't trouble me, I can assure you."
"What's eating you now?" demanded the man, roughly.
"Why, I'll tell you, Mr. Dickerson," said Hiram, quickly. "
Somebody's stolen our turkeys--ten of them. And I have found
them down there where your turkeys roost. The natural inference
is that somebody here knows about it---"
Dickerson--just out of his bed and as ugly as many people are
when they first get up--leaped for the young farmer from the
porch, and had him in his grip before Hiram could help himself.
The woman screamed. There was a racket in the house, for some of
the children had been watching from the window.
"Dad's goin' to lick him!" squalled one of the girls.
"You come here and intermate that any of my family's thieves, do
you?" the angry man roared.
"Stop that, Sam Dickerson!" cried his wife. She suddenly gained
courage and ran to the struggling pair, and tried to haul Sam
away from Hiram.
"The boy's right," she gasped. "I heard Pete tellin' little Sam
last night what he'd done. It's come to a pretty pass, so it
has, if you are goin' to uphold that bad boy in thieving---"
"Hush up, Maw!" cried Pete's voice from the house.
"Come out here, you scalawag!" ordered his father, relaxing his
hold on Hiram.
Pete slouched out on the porch, wearing a grin that was half
sheepish, half worried.
"What's this Strong says about turkeys?" demanded Sam Dickerson,
"'Tain't so!" declared Pete. "I ain't seen no turkeys."
"I have found them," said Hiram, quietly. "And the coopful is
down yonder in your lot. You thought to fool me by turning into
our farm from the direction of Scoville, and driving back that
way; but you turned around in the road under that overhanging
oak, where I picked Lettie Bronson off the back of the runaway
horse last Spring.
"Now, those ten turkeys belong to Sister. She'll be heart-broken
if anything happens to them. You have played me several mean
tricks since I have been here, Pete Dickerson---"
"No, I ain't!" interrupted the boy.
"Who took the burr off the end of my axle and let me down in the
road that night?" demanded Hiram, his rage rising.
Pete could not forbear a grin at this remembrance.
"And who tampered with our pump the next morning? And who
watched and waited till we left the lower meadow that night we
burned the rubbish, and then set fire to our woods---"
Mrs. Dickerson screamed again. "I knew that fire never come by
accident," she moaned.
"You shut up, Maw!" admonished her hopeful son again.
"And now, I've got you," declared Hiram, with confidence. "I
can tell those ten poults. I marked them for Sister long ago
so that, if they went to the neighbors, they could be easily
"They're in that shut-up coop down yonder," continued Hiram, "and
unless you agree to bring them back at once, and put them in our
coop, I shall hitch up and go to town, first thing, and get out a
warrant for your arrest."
Sam had remained silent for a minute, or two. Now he said,
"You needn't threaten no more, young feller. I can see plain
enough that Pete's been carrying his fun too far---"
"Fun!" ejaculated Hiram.
"That's what I said," growled Sam. "He'll bring the turkeys
back-and before he has his breakfast, too."
"All right," said Hiram, knowing full well that there was nothing
to be made by quarreling with Sam Dickerson. "His returning
the turkeys, how- ever, will not keep me from speaking to the
constable the very next time Pete plays any of his tricks around
"It may be 'fun' for him; but it won't look so funny from the
inside of the town jail."
He walked off after this threat. And he was sorry he had said
it. For he had no real intention of having Pete arrested, and an
empty threat is of no use to anybody.
The turkeys came back; Sister did not even know that they had
been stolen, for when she went down to feed them about the middle
of the forenoon, all ten came running to her call.
But Pete Dickerson ceased from troubling for a time, much to
Meanwhile the crops were coming on finely. Hiram's tomatoes were
bringing good prices in Scoville, and as he had such a quantity
and was so much earlier than the other farmers around about,
he did, as he told Henry he would do, "skim the cream off the
He bought some crates and baskets in town, too, and shipped some
of the tomatoes to a produce man he knew in Crawberry--a man whom
he could trust to treat him fairly. During the season that man's
checks to Mrs. Atterson amounted to fifty-four dollars.
Three times a week the spring wagon went to town with vegetables
for the school, the hotels, and their retail customers. The
whole family worked long hours, and worked hard; but nobody
No rain fell of any consequence until the latter part of July;
and then there was no danger of the river overflowing and
drowning out the corn.
And that corn! By the last of July it was waist high, growing
rank and strong, and of that black-green color which delights the
Mr. Bronson walked down to the river especially to see it. Like
Hiram's upland corn, there was scarcely a hill missing, save
where the muskrats had dug in from the river bank and disturbed
the corn hills.
"That's the finest-looking corn in this county, bar none, Hiram,"
declared Bronson. "I have seldom seen better looking in the rich
bottom-lands of the West. And you certainly do keep it clean,
" No use in putting in a crop if you don't 'tend it," said the
young farmer, sententiously.
"And what's this along here?" asked the gentleman, pointing to a
row or two of small stuff along the inner edge of the field.
"I'm trying onions and celery down here. I want to put a
commercial crop into this field next year--if we are let stay
here--that will pay Mrs. Atterson and me a real profit," and
"What do you call a real profit?" inquired Mr. Bronson,
"Four hundred dollars an acre, net," said the young farmer,
"Why, Hiram, you can't do that!" cried the gentleman.
"It's being done--in other localities and on soil not so rich as
this--and I believe I can do it."
"With onions or celery?" "Yes, sir." "Which--or both?" asked the
"I am trying them out here, as you see. I believe it will be
celery. This soil is naturally wet, and celery is a glutton
for water. Then, it is a late piece, and celery should be
transplanted twice before it is put in the field, I believe."
"A lot of work, boy," said Mr. Bronson, shaking his head.
"Well, I never expect to get something for nothing," remarked
"And how about the onions?"
"Why, they don't seem to do so well. There is something lacking
in the land to make them do their best. I believe it is too
cold. And, then, I am watching the onion market, and I am afraid
that too many people have gone into the game in certain sections,
and are bound to create an over-supply."
The gentleman looked at him curiously.
"You certainly are an able-minded youngster, Hiram," he observed.
"I s'pose if you do so well here next year as you expect, a
charge of dynamite wouldn't blast you away from the Atterson
"Why, Mr. Bronson," responded the young farmer, "I don't want to
run a one-horse farm all my life. And this never can be much
more. It isn't near enough to any big city to be a real truck
farm--and I'm interested in bigger things.
"No, sir. The Atterson Eighty is only a stepping stone for me.
I hope I'll go higher before long."
But Hiram was not at all sure that he would ever see a celery
crop in this bottom-land. Pepper still "hung fire" and he would
not go to Mr. Strickland with his option.
"I don't hafter," he told Hiram. "When I git ready I'll let ye
know, be sure o' that."
The fact was that the railroad had made no further move.
Mr. Strickland admitted to Mrs. Atterson that if the strip along
the east boundary of the farm was condemned by the railroad, she
ought to get a thousand dollars for it.
"But if the railroad board should change its mind again," added
the lawyer, "sixteen hundred dollars would not be a speculative
price to pay for your farm--and well Pepper knows it."
"Then Mr. Damocles's sword has got to hang over us, has it?"
demanded the old lady.
"I am afraid so," admitted the lawyer, smiling.
Mrs. Atterson could not be more troubled than was Hiram himself.
Youth feels the sting of such arrows of fortune more keenly than
does age. We get "case-hardened" to trouble as the years bend
The thought that he might, after all, get nothing but a hundred
dollars and his board for all the work he had done in preparation
for the second year's crop sometimes embittered Hiram's thoughts.
Once, when he spoke to Pepper, and the snaky man sneered at him
and laughed, the young farmer came near attacking him then and
there in the street.
"I certainly could have given that Pepper as good a thrashing as
ever he got," muttered Hiram. "And even Pete Dickerson never
deserved one more than Pepper."
Pete fought shy of Hiram these days, and as the summer waned the
young farmer gradually became less watchful and expectant of
trouble from the direction of the west boundary of the Atterson
But there was little breathing spell for him in the work of the
"When we lay by the corn, you bet dad an' me goes fishing!" Henry
Pollock told Hiram, one day.
But it wasn't often that the young farmer could take half a day
off for any such pleasure.
"You've bit off more'n you kin chaw," observed Henry.
"That's all right; I'll keep chewing at it, just the same,"
returned Hiram cheerfully.
For the truck crop was bringing them in a bigger sum of money
than even Hiram had expected. The season had been very
favorable, indeed; Hiram's vegetables had come along in good
time, and even the barrels of sweet corn he shipped to Crawberry
brought a fair price--much better than he could have got at the
When the tomato pack came on, however, he did sell many baskets
of his "seconds" to the cannery. But the selected tomatoes
he continued to ship to Crawberry, and having established a
reputation with his produce man for handsome and evenly ripened
fruit, the prices received were good all through the season.
He saw the sum for tomatoes pass the hundred and fifty dollar
mark before frost struck the vines. Even then he was not
satisfied. There was a small cellar under the Atterson house,
and when the frosty nights of October came, Hiram dragged up the
vines still bearing fruit, by the roots, and hung them in the
cellar, where the tomatoes continued to ripen slowly nearly up to
Other crops did almost as well in proportion. He had put in no
late potatoes; but in September he harvested the balance of his
early crop and, as they were a good keeping variety, he knew
there would be enough to keep the family supplied until the next
Of other roots, including a patch of well-grown mangels for Mrs.
Atterson's handsome flock of chickens, there were plenty to carry
the family over the winter.
As the frosts became harder Hiram dug his root pits in the high,
light soil of the garden, drew pinetags to cover them, and,
gradually, as the winter advanced, heaped the earth over the
various piles of roots to keep them through the winter.
Meanwhile, in September, corn harvest had come on. The four acres
Hiram had planted below the stables yielded a fair crop, that
part of the land he bad been able to enrich with coarse manure
showing a much better average than the remainder.
The four acres yielded them something over one hundred and sixty
baskets of sound corn which, as corn was then selling for fifty
cents per bushel, meant that the crop was worth about forty
As near as Hiram could figure it had cost about fifteen dollars
to raise the crop; therefore the profit to Mrs. Atterson was some
Besides the profit from some of the garden crops, this was very
small indeed; as Hiram said, it did not pay well enough to plant
small patches of corn for them to fool with it much.
"The only way to make a good profit out of corn corn a place like
this," he said to Henry, who would not be convinced, "is to have
a big drove of hogs and turn them into the field to fatten on the
"But that would be wasteful!" cried Henry, shocked at the
"Big pork producers do not find it so," returned Hiram,
confidently. "Or else one wants a drove of cattle to fatten, and
cuts the corn green and shreds it, blowing it into a silo.
"The idea is to get the cost of the corn crop back through the
price paid by the butcher for your stock, or hogs."
"Nobody ever did that around here," declared young Pollock.
"And that's why nobody gets ahead very fast around here. Henry,
why don't you strike out and do something new--just to surprise
"Stop selling a little tad of this, and a little tad of that
off the farm and stick to the good farmer's rule: 'Never sell
anything off the place that can't walk off.'"
"I've heard that before," said Henry, sighing.
"And even then just so much fertility goes with every yoke of
steers or pair of fat hogs. But it is less loss, in proportion,
than when the corn, or oats, or wheat itself is sold."
LETTIE BRONSON'S CORN HUSKING
Sister had begun school on the very first day it opened--in
September. She was delighted, for although she had had "lessons"
at the "institution", they had not been like this regular
attendance, with other free and happy children, at a good country
Sister was growing not alone in body, but in mind. And the
improvement in her appearance was something marvelous.
"It certainly does astonish me, every time I think o' that
youngun and the way she looked when she come to me from the
charity school," declared Mother Atterson.
"Who'd want a better lookin' young'un now? She'd be the pride of
any mother's heart, she'd be.
"If there's folks belongin' to her, and they have neglected her
all these years, in my opinion they're lackin' in sense, Hiram."
"They certainly have been lacking in the milk of human kindness,"
admitted the young farmer.
"Huh! That milk's easily soured in many folks," responded
"Mrs. Atterson. But Sister's folks, whoever they be, will be
"sorry some day."
"You don't suppose she really has any family, do you?" demanded
"No father nor mother, I expect. But many a family will get rid
of a young'un too small to be of any use, when they probably have
many children of their own.
"And if there was a little bait of money coming to the child, as
that lawyer told the institution matron, that would be another
reason for losing her in this great world."
"I'm afraid Sister will never find her folks, Mrs. Atterson,"
said Hiram, shaking his head.
"Huh! If she don't, it's no loss to her. It's loss to them,"
declared the old lady. "And I'd hate to have anybody come and
take her away from us now."
Sister no longer wore her short hair in four "pigtails". She
had learned to dress it neatly like other girls of her age, and
although it would never be like the beautiful blue-black tresses
of Lettie Bronson, Hiram had to admit that the soft brown of
Sister's hair, waving so prettily over her forehead, made the
girl's features more than a little attractive.
She was an entirely different person, too, from the one who had
helped Lettie and her friends ashore from the grounded motor-boat
that day, so long ago--and so Lettie herself thought when she
rode into the Atterson yard one October day on her bay horse, and
Sister met her on the porch.
"Why, you're Mrs. Atterson's girl, aren't you?" cried Lettie,
leaning from her saddle to offer her hand to Sister. "I wouldn't
have known you."
Sister was getting plump, she had roses in her cheeks, and she
wore a neat, whole, and becoming dress.
"You're Miss Bronson," said Sister, gravely. "I wouldn't forget
Perhaps there was something in what Sister said that stung Lettie
Bronson's memory. She flushed a little; but then she smiled most
charmingly and asked for Hiram.
"Husking corn, Miss, with Henry Pollock, down on the
"Oh! way down there? Well! you tell him--Why, I'll want you to
come, too," laughed Lettie, quite at her best now.
Nobody could fail to answer Lettie Bronson's smile with its
reflection, when she chose to exert herself in that direction.
"Why, I just came to tell you both that on Friday we're going to
have an old-fashioned husking-bee for all the young folks of the
neighborhood, at our place. You must come yourself--er--Sister,
and tell Hiram to come, too.
"Seven o'clock, sharp, remember--and I'll be dreadfully
disappointed if you don't come," added Lettie, turning her
horse's head homeward, and saying it with so much cordiality that
her hearer's heart warmed.
"She is pretty," mused Sister, watching the bay horse and its
rider flying along the road. "I don't blame Hiram for thinking
she's the very finest girl in these parts.
"She is," declared Sister, emphatically, and shook herself.
Hiram had finished husking the lowland corn that day, with
Henry's help, and it was all drawn in at night. When the last
measured basket was heaped in the crib by lantern light, the
young farmer added up the figures chalked up on the lintel of the
"For goodness' sake, Hiram! it isn't as much as that, is it?"
gasped Henry, viewing the figures the young farmer wrote proudly
in his memorandum book.
"Six acres--six hundred and eighty baskets of sound corn," crowed
"Hiram. And it's corn that is corn, as Mr. Bronson says.
"It's not quite as hard as the upland corn, for the growing
season was not quite long enough for it; but it's better than the
average in the county---"
"Three hundred and forty bushel of shelled corn from six acres?"
cried Henry. "I should say it was! It's worth fifty cents now
right at the orib--a hundred and seventy dollars. Hiram! that'll
make dad let me go to the agricultural college."
"What?" cried Hiram, surprised and pleased. "Have you really got
that idea in your head?"
"I been gnawin' on it ever since you talked so last spring,"
admitted his friend, rather shyly. "I told father, and at first
"But I kept on pointing out to him how much more you knowed than
"That's nonsense, Henry," interrupted Hiram. "Only about some
things. I wouldn't want to set myself up over the farmers of
this neighborhood as knowing so much."
"Well, you've proved it. Dad says so himself. He was taken all
aback when I showed him how you had beat him on the tomato crop.
And I been talking to him about your corn.
"That hit father where he lived," chuckled Henry, "for father's
a corn-growing man--and always has been considered so in this
"He watched the way you tilled your crop, and he believed so much
shallow cultivating was wrong, and said so. But he says you beat
him on poor ground; and when I tell him what that lowland figures
up, he'll throw up his hands.
"And I'm going to take a course in fertilizers, farm management,
and the chemistry of soils," continued Henry.
"Just as you say, I believe we have been planting the wrong crops
on the right land! Anyway, I'll find out. I believe we've got a
good farm, but we're not getting out of it what we should."
"Well, Henry," admitted Hiram, slowly, "nothing's pleased me so
much since I came into this neighborhood, as to hear you say
this. You get all you can at the experiment station this winter,
and I believe that your father will soon begin to believe that
there is something in 'book farming', after all."
If it had not been for the hair-hung sword over them,
Mrs. Atterson and Hiram would have taken great delight in the
generous crops that had been vouchsafed to them.
"Still, we can't complain," said the old lady, and for the first
time for more'n twenty years I'm going to be really thankful at
"Oh, I believe you!" cried Sister, who heard her. "No boarders."
"Nope," said the old lady, quietly. "You're wrong. For we're
going to have boarders on Thanksgiving Day. I've writ to
Crawberry. Anybody that's in the old house now that wants to
come to eat dinner with us, can come. I'm going to cook the best
dinner I ever cooked--and make a milkpail full of gravy.
"I know," said the good old soul, shaking her head, "that them
two old maids I sold out to have half starved them boys. We
ought to be able to stand even Fred Crackit, and Mr. Peebles, one
day in the year."
"Well!" returned Sister, thoughtfully. "If you can stand 'em I
can. I never did think I could forgive 'em all--so mean they was
to me--and the hair-pulling and all.
"But I guess you're right, Mis' Atterson. It's heapin' coals of
fire on their heads, like what the minister at the chapel says."
"Good Land o' Goshen, child!" exclaimed the old lady, briskly.
"Hot coals would scotch 'em, and I only want to fill their
stomachs for once."
The husking at the Bronsons was a very well attended feast,
indeed. There was a great barn floor, and on this were heaped the
ear-corn in the husks--not too much, for Lettie proposed having
the floor cleared and swept for square dancing, and later for the
She had a lot of her school friends at the husking, and at first
the neighborhood boys and girls were bashful in the company of
the city girls.
But after they got to work husking the corn, and a few red ears
had been found (for which each girl or boy had to pay a forfeit)
they became a very hilarious company indeed.
Now, Lettie, broadly hospitable, had invited the young folk far
and wide. Even those whom she had not personally seen, were
expected to attend.
So it was not surprising that Pete Dickerson should come, despite
the fact that Mr. Bronson had once discharged him from his
employ--and for serious cause.
But Pete was not a thin-skinned person. Where there was
anything "doing" he wanted to cut a figure. And his desire to
be important, and be marked by the company, began to make him
objectionable before the evening was half over.
For instance, he thought it was funny to take a run down the long
barn floor and leap over the heads of those huskers squatting
about a heap of corn, and land with his heavy boots on the apex
of the pile, thus scattering the ears in all directions.
He got long straws, too, and tickled the backs, of the girls'
necks; or he dumped handfuls of bran down their backs, or shook
oats into their hair--and the oats stuck.
Mr. Bronson could not see to everything; and Pete was very sly
at his tricks. A girl would shriek in one corner, and the lout
would quickly transport himself to a distant spot.
When the corn was swept aside, and the floor cleared for the
dance, Pete went beyond the limit, however. He had found a pail
of soft-soap in the shed and while the crowd was out of the barn,
playing a "round game" in the yard while it was being swept, Pete
slunk in with the soap and a swab, and managed to spread a good
deal of the slippery stuff around on the boards.
A broom would not remove this soft-soap. When the hostler swept,
he only spread it. And when the dancing began many a couple
measured their length on the planks, to Pete's great delight.
But the hired man had observed Pete sneaking about while he
was removing the last of the corn, and Hiram Strong discovered
soft-soap on Pete's clothes, and the smell of it strong upon his
"You get out of here," Mr. Bronson told the boy. "I had occasion
to put you off my land once, and don't let me have to do it a
third time," and he shoved him with no gentle hand through the
door and down the driveway.
But Pete laid it all to Hiram. He called back over his shoulder:
"I'll be square with you, yet, Hi Strong! You wait!"
But Hiram bad been threatened so often from that quarter by now,
that he was not much interested.
ONE SNOWY MIDNIGHT
The fun went on after that with more moderation, and everybody
had a pleasant time. That is, so supposed Hiram Strong until,
in going out of the barn again to get a breath of cool air after
one of the dances, he almost stumbled over a figure hiding in a
corner, and crying.
"Why, Sister!" he cried, taking the girl by the shoulders, and
turning her about. "What's the matter?"
"Oh, I want to go home, Hi. This isn't any place for me. Let
me--me run--run home!" she sobbed.
"I guess not! Who's bothered you? Has that Pete Dickerson come
"No!" sobbed Sister.
"What is it, then?"
"They--they don't want me here. They don't like me."
"Who don't?" demanded Hiram, sternly.
"Those--those girls from St. Beris. I--I tried to dance, and I
slipped on some of that horrid soap and--and fell down. And they
said I was clumsy. And one said:
"'Oh, all these country girls are like that. I don't see what
Let wanted them here for.'
"'So't we could all show off better,' said another, laughing some
"And I guess that's right enough," finished Sister. "They don't
want me here. Only to make fun of. And I wish I hadn't come."
Hiram was smitten dumb for a moment. He had danced once with
Lettie, but the other town girls had given him no opportunity to
do so. And it was plain that Lettie's school friends preferred
the few boys who had come up from town to any of the farmers'
sons who had come to the husking.
"I guess you're right, Sister. They don't want us--much,"
admitted Hiram, slowly.
"Then let's both go home," said Sister, sadly.
"No. That wouldn't be serving Mr. Bronson--or Lettie--right. We
were invited in good faith, I reckon, and the Bronsons haven't
done anything to offend us.
"But you and I'll go back there and dance together. You dance
with me--or with Henry; and I'll stick to the country girls. If
Lettie Bronson's friends from boarding school think they are so
much better than us folks out here in the country, let us show
them that we can have a good time without them."
"Oh, I'll go back with you, Hiram," cried Sister, gladly, and
the young fellow was a bit conscience-stricken as he noted her
changed tone and saw the sparkle that came into her eye.
Had he neglected Sister because Lettie Bronson was about? Well!
perhaps he had. But he made up for it with the attention he paid
to Sister during the remainder of the evening.
They went home early, however, and Hiram felt somewhat grave
after the corn husking. Had Lettie Bronson invited the
country-bred young folk living about her father's home, to meet
her boarding school friends, and the town boys, merely that the
latter might be compared with the farmer-folk to their disfavor?
He could not believe that--really. Lettie Bronson might be
thoughtless, and a little proud; but she was still a princess to
Hiram, and he could not think this evil of her.
But there were too many duties every day for the young farmer to
give much thought to such problems. Harvesting was not complete
yet, and soon flurries of snow began to drive across the fields
and threaten the approach of winter.
Finally the wind came out of the northwest for more than a day,
and toward evening the flakes began to fall, faster and faster,
thicker and thicker.
"It's going to be a snowy night--a real baby blizzard," declared
Hiram, stamping his feet on the porch before coming into the warm
kitchen with the milkpail.
"Oh, dear! And I thought you'd go over to Pollock's with me
to-night, Hi," said Sister.
"Mabel an' I are goin' to make our Christmas presents together,
and she's expecting me."
"Shucks! 'Twon't be fit for a girl to go out if it snows," said
But Hiram saw that Sister was much disappointed, and he had tried
to be kinder to her since that night of the corn husking.
"What's a little snow? " he demanded, laughing. "Bundle up good,
Sister, and I'll go over with you. I want to see Henry, anyway."
"Crazy young'uns," observed Mother Atterson. But she made no real
objection. Whatever Hiram said was right, in the old lady's
They tramped through the snowy fields with a lantern, and found
it half-knee deep in some drifts before they arrived at the
Pollocks, short as had been the duration of the fall.
But they were welcomed vociferously at the neighbor's;
preparations were made for a long evening's fun; for with the
snow coming down so steadily there would be little work done out
of doors the following day, so the family need not seek their
The Pollock children had made a good store of nuts, like the
squirrels; and there was plenty of corn to pop, and molasses for
candy, or corn-balls, and red apples to roast, and sweet cider
from the casks in the cellar.
The older girls retired to a corner of the wide hearth with their
work-boxes, and Hiram and Henry worked out several problems
regarding the latter's eleven-week course at the agricultural
college, which would begin the following week; while the young
ones played games until they fell fast asleep in odd corners of
the big kitchen.
It was nearly midnight, indeed, when Hiram and Sister started
home. And it was still snowing, and snowing heavily.
"We'll have to get all the plows out to-morrow morning!" Henry
shouted after them from the porch.
And it was no easy matter to wade home through the heavy drifts.
"I never could have done it without you, Hi," declared the girl,
when she finally floundered onto the Atterson porch, panting and
"I'll take a look around the barns before I come in," remarked
the careful young farmer.
This was a duty he never neglected, no matter how late he went
to bed, nor how tired he was. Half way to the barn he halted. A
light was waving wildly by the Dickerson back door.
It was a lantern, and Hiram knew that it was being whirled around
and around somebody's head. He thought he heard, too, a shouting
through the falling snow.
"Something's wrong over yonder," thought the young farmer.
He hesitated but for a moment. He had never stepped upon the
Dickerson place, nor spoken to Sam Dickerson since the trouble
about the turkeys. The lantern continued to swing. Eagerly as
the snow came down, it could not blind Hiram to the waving light.
"I've got to see about this," he muttered, and started as fast as
he could go through the drifts, across the fields.
Soon he heard the voice shouting. It was Sam Dickerson. And he
evidently had been shouting to Hiram, seeing his lantern in the
"Help, Strong! Help!" he called.
"What is it, man?" demanded Hiram, climbing the last pair of bars
and struggling through the drifts in the dooryard.
"Will you take my horse and go for the doctor? I don't know where
Pete is--down to Cale Schell's, I expect."
"What's the matter, Mr. Dickerson?"
"Sarah's fell down the bark stairs--fell backward. Struck her
head an' ain't spoke since. Will you go, Mr. Strong?"
"Certainly. Which horse will I take?"
"The bay's saddled-under the shed--get any doctor--I don't care
which one. But get him here."
"I will, Mr. Dickerson. Leave it to me," promised Hiram, and ran
to the shed at once.
"MR. DAMOCLES'S SWORD"
Hiram Strong was not likely to forget that long and arduous
night. It was impossible to force the horse out of a walk, for
the drifts were in some places to the creature's girth.
He stopped at the house for a minute and roused Mrs. Atterson and
Old Lem and sent them over to help the unhappy Dickersons.
He was nearly an hour getting to the crossroads store. There
were lights and revelry there. Some of the lingering crowd were
snowbound for the night and were making merry with hard cider and
provisions which Schell was not loath to sell them.
Pete was one of the number, and Hiram sent him home with the news
of his mother's serious hurt.
He forced the horse to take him into town to Dr. Broderick. It
was nearly two o'clock when he routed out the doctor, and it was
four o'clock when the physician and himself, in a heavy sleigh
and behind a pair of mules, reached the Dickerson farmhouse.
The woman had not returned to consciousness, and Mrs. Atterson
remained through the day to do what she could. But it was many
a tedious week before Mrs. Dickerson was on her feet again, and
able to move about.
Meanwhile, more than one kindly act had Mother Atterson done for
the neighbors who had seemed so careless of her rights. Pete
never appeared when either Mrs. Atterson or Sister came to the
house; but in his sour, gloomy way, Sam Dickerson seemed to be
Hiram kept away, as there was nothing he could do to help them.
And he saw when Pete chanced to pass him, that the youth felt no
more kindly toward him than he had before.
"Well, let him be as ugly as he wants to be--only let him keep
away from the place and let our things alone," thought Hiram.
"Goodness knows! I'm not anxious to be counted among Pete
Dickerson's particular friends."
Thanksgiving came on apace, and every one of the old boarders of
Mother Atterson had written that he would come to the farm to
spend the holiday. Even Mr. Peebles acknowledged the invitation
with thanks, but adding that he hoped Sister would not forget he
must "eschew any viands at all greasy, and that his hot water was
to be at 101, exactly."
"The poor ninny!" ejaculated Mother Atterson. "He doesn't know
what he wants. Sister only poured it out of the teakettle, and
he had to wait for it to cool, anyway, before he could drink it."
But it was determined to give the city folk a good time, and this
determination was accomplished. Two of Sister's turkeys, bought
and paid for in hard cash by Mother Atterson, graced the long
table in the sitting-room.
Many of the good things with which the table was laden came from
the farm. And, without Hiram and Sister, and Old Lem Camp,
Mrs. Atterson made even Fred Crackit understand, these good
things had not been possible!
But the Crawberry folk, as a whole, were much subdued. They had
missed Mother Atterson dreadfully; and, really, they had felt
some affection for their old landlady, after all.
After dinner Fred Crackit, in a speech that was designed to be
humorous, presented a massive silver plated water-pitcher with
"Mother Atterson" engraved upon it. And really, the old lady
broke down at that.
"Good Land o' Goshen!" she exclaimed. "Why, you boys do think
something of the old woman, after all, don't ye?
"I must say that I got ye out here more than anything to show ye
what we could do in the country. 'Specially how it had improved
Sister. And how Hiram Strong warn't the ninny you seemed to
think he was. And that Mr. Camp only needed a chance to be
something in the world again.
"Well, well! It wasn't a generous feeling I had toward you,
mebbe; but I'm glad you come and--I hope you all had enough
So the occasion proved a very pleasant one indeed. And it made a
happy break in the hard work of preparing for the winter.
The crops were all gathered ere this, and they could make up
their books for the season just passed.
But there was wood to get in, for all along they had not had wood
enough, and to try and get wood out of the snowy forest in winter
for immediate use in the stoves was a task that Hiram did not
He had Henry to help him saw a goodly pile before the first snow
fell; and Mr. Camp split most of it and he and Sister piled it in
"We've got to haul up enough logs by March--or earlier--to have
a wood sawing in earnest," announced Hiram. " We must get a
gasoline engine and saw, and call on the neighbors for help, and
have a sawing-bee."
"But what will be the use of that if we've got to leave here in
February?" demanded Mrs. Atterson, worriedly. "The last time I
saw that Pepper in town he grinned at me in a way that made me
want to break my old umbrel' over his dratted head!"
"I don't care," said Hiram, sullenly. "I don't want to sit idle
all winter. I'll cut the logs, anyway, and draw 'em out from
time to time. If we have to leave, why, we have to, that's all."
"And we can't tell a thing to do about next year till we know
what Pepper is going to do," groaned Mrs. Atterson.
"That is very true. But if he doesn't exercise his option before
February tenth, we needn't worry any more. And after that will
be time enough to make our plans for next season's crops,"
declared Hiram, trying to speak more cheerfully.
But Mrs. Atterson went around with clouded brow again, and was
heard to whisper, more than once, something about "Mr. Damocles's
THE CLOUD IS LIFTED
Despite Hiram Strong's warning to his employer when they started
work on the old Atterson Eighty, that she must expect no profit
for this season's, work, the Christmas-tide, when they settled
their accounts for the year, proved the young fellow to have been
a bad prophet.
"Why, Hiram, after I pay you this hundred dollars, I shall have
a little money left--I shall indeed. And all that corn in the
crib--and stacks of fodder, beside the barn loft full, and the
roots, and the chickens, and the pork, and the calf---"
"Why, Hiram! I'm a richer woman to-day than when I came out here
to the farm, that's sure. How do you account for it?"
Hiram had to admit that they had been favored beyond his
"If that Pepper man would only come for'ard and say what he was
going to do!" sighed Mother Atterson.
That was the continual complaint now. As the winter advanced all
four of the family bore the option in mind continually. There
was talk of the railroad going before the Legislature to ask for
the condemnation of the property it needed, in the spring.
It seemed pretty well settled that the survey along the edge of
the Atterson Eighty would be the route selected. And, if that
was the case, why did Pepper not try to exercise his option?
Mr. Strickland had said that there was no way by which the real
estate man's hand could be forced; so they had to abide Pepper's
"If we only knew we'd stay," said Hiram, "I'd cut a few well
grown pine trees, while I am cutting the firewood, have them
dragged to the mill, and saw the boards we shall need if we go
into the celery business this coming season."
"What do you want boards for?" demanded Henry, who chanced to be
home over Christmas, and was at the house.
"For bleaching. Saves time, room, and trouble. Banking celery,
even with a plow, is not alone old-fashioned, and cumbersome, but
is apt to leave the blanched celery much dirtier."
"But you'll need an awful lot of board for six acres, Hiram!"
"I don't know. I shall run the trenches four feet apart, and
you mustn't suppose, Henry, that I shall blanch all six acres at
once. The boards can be used over and over again."
"I didn't think of that," admitted his friend.
Henry was eagerly interested in his selected studies at the
experiment station and college, and Abel Pollock followed his
son's work there with growing approval, too.
"It does beat all," he admitted to Hiram, "what that boy has
learned already about practical things. Book-farming ain't all
flapdoodle, that's sure!"
So the year ended--quietly, peacefully, and with no little
happiness in the Atterson farmhouse, despite the cloud that
overshadowed the farm-title, and the doubts which faced them
about the next season's work.
They sat up on New Year's eve to see the old year out and the new
in, and had a merry evening although there were only the family.
When the distant whistles blew at midnight they went out upon the
back porch to listen.
It was a dark night, for thick clouds shrouded the stars. Only
the unbroken coverlet of snow (it had fallen that morning) aided
them to see about the empty fields.
In the far distance was the twinkle of a single light--that in an
upper chamber of the Pollock house. Dickersons' was mantled in
shadow, and those two houses were the only ones in sight of the
"And I was afraid when we came out here that I'd be dead of
loneliness in a month--with no near neighbors," admitted Mother
Atterson. " But I've been so busy that I ain't never minded it---
"What's that light, Hiram?"
Her cry was echoed by Sister. Behind the bam a sudden glow was
spreading against the low-hung clouds. It was too far away
for one of their out-buildings to be afire; but Hiram set off
immediately, although he only had slippers on, for the corner of
the barnyard fence.
When he reached this point he saw that one of the fodder stacks
in the cornfield was afire. The whole top of the stack was
"Oh, dear! Oh, dear!" cried Sister, who had followed him. "What
can we do?"
"Nothing,", said Hiram. "There's no wind, and it won't spread to
another stack. But that one is past redemption, for sure!"
Hiram hastened back to the house and put on his boots. But
he did not wade through the snow to the fodder stack that was
burning so briskly. He merely made a detour around it, at some
yards distant. Nowhere did he see the mark of a footprint.
How the stack had been set afire was a mystery. Hiram had stacked
the fodder himself, with the help of Sister, who had pitched the
bundles up to him. The young farmer did not smoke, and he seldom
carried matches loose in his pockets.
Therefore, the idea that he had dropped a match in the fodder and
a field mouse, burrowing for some nubbin of corn, had come across
the match. nibbled the head, and so set the blaze, was scarcely
Yet, how else had the fire started?
When daylight came Hiram could find no footprint near the
stack--only his own where he had circled it while it was blazing.
It was the stack nearest to the Dickerson line. Hiram, naturally,
thought of Pete.
Since Mrs. Dickerson's sickness, Mother Atterson had been back
and forth to help her neighbor, and whenever Sam Dickerson saw
Hiram he was as friendly as it was in the nature of the man to