Part 5 out of 5
Hiram could not believe that Pete's father would now countenance
any of his son's meannesses; yet when the young farmer went along
the line fence, he saw fresh tracks across the Dickerson fields,
and discovered where the person had stood, on the Dickerson side
of the fence opposite the burned fodder stack.
But these footprints were all of three hundred feet from the
stack, and there was not a mark in the snow upon Hiram's side of
the fence, saving his own footprints.
"Maybe somebody merely ran across to look at the blaze. But it's
strange I did not see him," thought Hiram.
He could not help being suspicious, however, and he prowled about
the stacks and the barns more than ever at night. He could not
shake off the feeling that the enemy in the dark was at work
January passed, and the fatal day--the tenth of February--drew
nearer and nearer. If Pepper proposed to exercise his option he
must do it on or before that date.
Neither Hiram nor Mrs. Atterson had seen the real estate man of
late; but they had seen Mr. Strickland, and on the final day they
drove to town to meet Pepper--if the man was going to show up--in
the lawyer's office.
"I wouldn't trouble him, if I were you," advised the lawyer.
"But if you insist, I'll send over for him."
"I want to know what he means by all this," declared
Mrs. Atterson, angrily. "He's kept me on tenter-hooks for ten
months, and there ought to be some punishment for the crime."
"I am afraid he has been within his rights," said the lawyer,
smiling; but he sent his clerk for the real estate man, probably
being very well convinced of the outcome of the affair.
In came the snaky Mr. Pepper. The moment he saw Mrs. Atterson
and Hiram he began to cackle.
"Ye don't mean to say you come clean in here this stormy day
to try and sell that farm to me?" asked the real estate man.
"No, ma'am! Not for no sixteen hundred dollars. If you'll take
Mrs. Atterson could not find words to reply to him; and Hiram
felt like seizing the scoundrel by the scruff of his neck and
throwing him down to the street. But it was Mr. Strickland who
"So you do not propose to exercise your option?"
"How long since did you give up the idea of purchasing the
Atterson place?" asked the lawyer, curiously.
"Pshaw! I gave up the idee 'way back there last spring,"
"You haven't the paper with you, have you, Mr. Pepper?" asked Mr.
The real estate man looked wondrous sly and tapped the side of
his nose with a lean finger.
"Why, I tore up that old paper long ago. It warn't no good to
me," said Pepper. "I wouldn't take the farm at that price for a
gift," and he departed with a sneering smile upon his lips.
"And well he did destroy it," declared Mr. Strickland. "It was
a forgery--that is what it was. And if we could have once got
Pepper in court with it, he would not have turned another scaly
trick for some years to come."
The relief to the minds of Hiram Strong and Mrs. Atterson was
Especially was the young farmer inspired to greater effort. He
saw the second growing season before him. And he saw, too, that
now, indeed, he had that chance to prove his efficiency which he
had desired all the time.
The past year had cost him little for clothing or other expenses.
He had banked the hundred dollars Mrs. Atterson had paid him at
But he looked forward to something much bigger than the other
hundred when the next Christmas-tide should come. Twenty-five
per cent of all the profit of the Atterson Eighty during this
second year was to be his own.
The moment "Mr. Damocles's sword", as Mother Atterson had called
it, was lifted the young farmer jumped into the work.
He had already cut enough wood to last the family a year; now he
got Mr. Pollock, with his team of mules, to haul it up to the
house, and then sent for the power saw, asked the neighbors to
help, and in less than half a day every stick was cut to stove
As he had time Hiram split this wood and Lem Camp piled it in the
shed. Hiram knocked together some extra cold-frames, too, and
bought some second-hand sash.
And he had already dug a pit for a twelve-foot hotbed. Now, a
twelve-foot hotbed will start an enormous number of plants.
Hiram did not plan to have quite so much small stuff in the
garden this year, however. He knew that he should have less time
to work in the garden. He proposed having more potatoes, about
as many tomatoes as the year before, but fewer roots to bunch,
salads and the like. He must give the bulk of his time to the
big commercial crop that he hoped to put into the bottom-land.
He had little fear of the river overflowing its banks late
enough in the season to interfere with the celery crop. For the
seedlings were to be handled in the cold-frames and garden-patch
until it was time to set them in the trenches. And that would
not be until July.
He contented himself with having the logs he cut drawn to the
sawmill and the sawed planks brought down to the edge of the
bottom-land, and did not propose to put a plow into the land
until late June.
Meanwhile he started his celery seed in shallow boxes, and when
the plants were an inch and a half, or so, tall, he pricked them
out, two inches apart each way into the cold-frames.
Sister and Mr. Camp could help in this work, and they soon filled
the cold-frames with celery plants destined to be reset in the
garden plat later.
This "handling" of celery aids its growth and development in
a most wonderful manner. At the second transplanting, Hiram
snipped back the tops, and the roots as well, so that each plant
would grow sturdily and not be too "stalky".
Mrs. Atterson declared they were all celery mad. "Whatever will
you do with so much of the stuff, I haven't the least idee,
Hiram. Can you sell it all? Why, it looks to me as though you
had set out enough already to glut the Crawberry market."
"And I guess that's right," returned Hiram. Especially if I
shipped it all at once."
But he was aiming higher than the Crawberry market. He had been
in correspondence with firms that handled celery exclusively in
some of the big cities, and before ever he put the plow into the
bottom-land he had arranged for the marketing of every stalk he
could grow on his six acres.
It was a truth that the family of transplanted boarding house
people worked harder this second spring than they had the first
one. But they knew how better, too, and the garden work did not
seem so arduous to Sister and Old Lem Camp.
Mrs. Atterson had a fine flock of hens, and they had laid well
after the first of December, and the eggs had brought good
prices. She planned to increase her flock, build larger yards,
and in time make a business of poultry raising, as that would be
something that she and Sister could practically handle alone.
Sister's turkeys had thrived so the year before that she had
saved two hens and a handsome gobbler, and determined to breed
turkeys for the fall market.
And Sister learned a few things before she had raised "that
raft of poults," as Mother Atterson called them. Turkeys are
certainly calculated to breed patience--especially if one expects
to have a flock of young Toms and hens fit for killing at
She hatched the turkeys under motherly hens belonging to Mother
Atterson, striving to breed poults that would not trail so far
from the house; but as soon as the youngsters began to feel their
wings they had their foster-mothers pretty well worn out. One
flock tolled the old hen off at least a mile from the house and
Hiram had some work enticing the poults back again.
There was no raid made upon her turkey coops this year, however.
Pete Dickerson was not much in evidence during the spring
and early summer. Mrs. Atterson went back and forth to the
neighbors; but although whenever Hiram saw the farmer the latter
put forth an effort to be pleasant to him, the two households did
not well "mix".
Besides, during this busiest time of the year, when the crops
were getting started, there seemed to be little opportunity for
social intercourse. At least, so it seemed on the Atterson
They were a busy and well contented crew, and everything seemed
to be running like clockwork, when suddenly "another dish of
trouble", as Mother Atterson called it, was served them in a most
Hiram was coming up from the barn one evening, long after dark,
and had just caught sight of Sister standing on the porch waiting
for him, when a sudden glow against the dark sky, made him turn.
The flash of fire passed on the instant, and Sister called to
"Oh, Hiram! did you see that shooting-star?"
"You never wished on it, Sis," said the young farmer.
"Oh, yes I did!" she returned, dancing down the steps to meet
"Just that quick," she reiterated, seizing his arm and getting
into step with him.
"And what was the wish?" demanded Hiram.
"Why--I won't ever get it if I tell you, will I?" she queried,
"Just as likely to as not, Sister," he said, with serious voice.
"Wishes are funny things, you know. Sometimes the very best ones
never come true."
"And I'm afraid mine will never come true," she sighed. "Oh,
dear! I guess no amount of wishing will ever bring some things
"Maybe that's so, Sis," he said, chuckling. "I fancy that
getting out and hustling for the thing you want is the best way
to fulfill wishes."
"Oh, but I can't do that in this case," said the girl, shaking
her head, and still speaking very seriously as they came to the
"Maybe I can bring it about for you," teased Hiram.
"I guess not," she said. "I want so to be like other girls,
Hiram! I'd like to be like that pretty Lettie Bronson. I'm not
jealous of her looks and her clothes and her good times and all;
no, that's not it," proclaimed Sister, with a little break in her
"But I'd like to know who I really be. I want folks, and--and I
want to have a real name of my own!"
"Why, bless you!" exclaimed the young fellow, "'Sister' is a nice
name, I'm sure--and we all love it here."
"But it isn't a name. They call me Sissy Atterson at school.
But it doesn't belong to me. I--I've thought lots about choosing
a name for myself--a real fancy one, you know. There's lots of
pretty, names," she said, reflectively.
"Cords of 'em," Hiram agreed.
"But, you see, they wouldn't really be mine," said the girl,
earnestly. "Not even after I had chosen them. I want my
very own name! I want to know who I am and all about myself.
And"--with a half strangled sob--" I guess wishing will never
bring me that, will it, Hiram?"
Never before had the young fellow heard Sister express herself
upon this topic. He had no idea that the girl felt her unknown
and practically unnamed existence so strongly.
"I wouldn't care, Sis," he said, patting her bent shoulders. "We
love you here just as well as we would if you had ten names!
Don't forget that.
"And maybe it won't be all a mystery some day. Your folks may
look you up. They may come here and find you. And they'll be
mighty proud of you--you've grown so tall and good looking. Of
course they will!"
Sister listened to him and gave a little contented sigh. "And
then they might want to take me away--and I'd fight, tooth and
nail, if they tried it."
"What?" gasped Hiram.
"Of course I would! " said the girl. Do you suppose I'd give
up Mother Atterson for a dozen families--or for clothes--and
houses--or, or anything?" and she ran into the house leaving the
young farmer in some amazement.
"Ain't that the girl of it?" he muttered, at last. "Yet I bet she
is in earnest about wanting to know about her folks."
And from that time Hiram thought more about Sister's problem
himself than he had before. Once, when he went to Crawberry, he
went to the charitable institution from which Mother Atterson had
taken Sister. But the matron had heard nothing of the lawyer who
had once come to talk over the child's affairs, and the path of
inquiry seemed shut off right there by an impassable barrier.
However, this is ahead of our story. On this particular night
Hiram washed at the pump, and then followed Sister in to supper.
Before they were half through Mr. Camp suddenly started from his
chair and pointed through the window.
Flames were rising behind the barn again!
"Another stack burning!" exclaimed Hiram, and be shot out of the
door, seizing a pail of water, hoping that he might put it out.
But the stack was doomed. He knew it the moment he saw the
extent of the blaze.
He kept away from it, as he had before; yet he did not expect to
pick up any trail of the incendiary near the stack.
"Twice in the same place is too much!" declared the young farmer,
glowing with wrath. "I'm going to have this mystery explained,
or know the reason why."
He left Mr. Camp to watch the burning fodder, to see that sparks
from the stack did no harm, and lighting his lantern he went
along the line fence again.
Yes! there were the footprints that he had expected to find. But
the burning stack was even farther from the fence than the first
one had been--and there were no marks of feet in the soft earth
on Mrs. Atterson's side of the boundary.
CLEANING UP A PROFIT
Hiram crawled through the wires, and followed the plain
foot-marks back to the Dickerson sheds. He lost them there, of
course, but he knew by the size of the footprints that either Sam
Dickerson or his oldest son had been over to the line fence.
"And that shooting-star!" considered Hiram. There was something
peculiar about that. I wonder if there wasn't a shooting star,
also, away back there at New Year's when our other stack of
fodder was burned?"
He loitered about the sheds for a few moments. It appeared as
though all the Dickersons were indoors. Nobody interfered with
Of a sudden Hiram began to sniff an odor that seemed strange
about a cart-shed. At least, no wise farmer would have naphtha,
or gasoline, in his outbuildings, for it would make his insurance
But that was the smell Hiram discovered. And he was not long in
finding the cause of it.
Back in a dark corner, upon a beam, lay a big sling-shot--one
of those that boys swing around their heads with a stone in the
heel of it, and then let go one end to shoot the missile to a
The leather loop was saturated with the gasoline, and it had been
scorched, too. The smell of burning, as well as the smell of
gasoline, was very distinct.
Hiram took the sling-shot with him, and went up to the Dickerson
He had got along so well with the Dickersons for these past
months that he honestly shrank from "starting anything" now. Yet
he could not overlook this flagrant piece of malicious mischief.
Indeed, it was more than that. Two stacks had already been
burned, and it might be some of the outbuildings--or even
Mrs. Atterson's house--next time!
Besides, Hiram felt himself responsible for his employer's
property. The old lady could not afford to lose the fodder, and
Hiram was determined that both of the burned stacks should be
paid for in full.
He looked through the window of the Dickerson kitchen. The
family was around the supper table-Mr. and Mrs. Dickerson, Pete,
and the children, little and big. It was a cheerful family
group, after all. Rough and uncouth as the farmer was, Dickerson
likely had his feelings like other people. Instead of bursting
right in at the door as had been Hiram's intention, and accusing
Pete to his face, the indignant young fellow hesitated.
He hadn't any sympathy for Pete, not the slightest. If he gave
him--or the elder Dickerson--a chance to clear up matters by
making good to Mrs. Atterson for what she had lost, Hiram Strong
decided that he was being very lenient indeed.
He stepped quietly onto the porch and rapped on the door. Then
he backed off and waited for some response from within.
"Hullo, Mr. Strong!" exclaimed the farmer, coming himself to the
"door. Why! is that your stack burning?"
"Yes, sir," said Hiram, quietly.
"That is the second," admitted Hiram. "But I don't propose that
another shall be set afire in just the same way."
Sam Dickerson stepped suddenly down to the young farmer's level,
"What do you mean by that? Do you know how it got afire?"
Hiram held out the sling-shot in the light of his lantern.
"A rag, saturated with gasoline, was wrapped around a pebble,
then set afire, and stone and blazing rag were shot from our line
fence into the fodderstack.
"I found the footprints of the incendiary on New Year's morning
at the same place. And I'll wager a good deal that your son
Pete's boots will fit the footprints over there at the line now!"
Sam Dickerson's face had turned exceedingly red, and then paled.
But he spoke very quietly.
"What are you going to do with him, Mr. Strong?" he asked. "It
will be five years for him at least, if you take it to court--and
"I don't believe, Mr. Dickerson, that you have upheld Pete in all
the mean tricks he has played on me"
"Indeed I haven't! And since I got a look at myself--back there
when the wife was hurt---"
Sam Dickerson's voice broke and he turned away for a moment so
that his visitor should not see his face.
"Well!" he continued. "You've got Pete right this time--no
doubt of that. I dunno what makes him such a mean whelp. I'll
lambaste him good for this, now I tell you. But the stacks---"
"Make him pay for them out of his own money. Mrs. Atterson ought
not to lose the stacks," said Hiram, slowly.
"Oh, he'll do that, anyway, you can bet!" exclaimed Dickerson,
"I don't believe that sending a boy like him to jail will either
improve his morals, or do anybody else any good," observed Hiram,
"And it'll jest about finish his mother," spoke Sam.
"That's right, too," said the young farmer. "I tell you. I
don't want to see him--not just now. But you do what you think is
best about this matter, and make Peter pay the bill--ten dollars
for the two stacks of fodder."
"He shall do it, Mr. Strong," declared Sam Dickerson, warmly.
"And he shall beg your pardon, too, or I'll larrup him until he
can't stand. He's too big for a lickin', but he ain't too big
for me to lick!"
And the elder Dickerson was as good as his word. An hour later
yells from the cart shed denoted that Pete was finally getting
what he should have received when he was a younger boy.
Before noon Sam marched the youth over to Mrs. Atterson. Pete
was very puffy about the eyes, and his cheeks were streaked with
tears. Nor did he seem to care to more than sit upon the extreme
edge of a chair.
But he paid Mrs. Atterson ten dollars, and then, nudged by his
father, turned to Hiram and begged the young farmer's pardon.
"That's all right, etc.," said Hiram, laying his hand upon the
boy's shoulder. "Just because we haven't got on well together
heretofore, needn't make any difference between us after this.
"Come over and see me. If you have time this summer and want the
work, I'll be glad to hire you to help handle my celery crop.
"Neighbors ought to be neighborly; and it won't do either of
us any good to hug to ourselves any injury which we fancy the
other has done. We'll be friends if you say so, Peter--though I
tell you right now that if you turn another mean trick against
me, I'll take the law into my own hands and give you worse than
you've got already."
Pete looked sheepish enough, and shook hands. He knew very well
that Hiram could do as he promised.
But from that time on the young farmer had no further trouble
Meanwhile Hiram's crops on the Atterson Eighty grew almost as
well this second season as they had the first. There was a bad
drouth this year, and the upland corn did not do so well; yet
the young farmer's corn crop compared well with the crops in the
He had put in but eight acres of corn this year; but they had
plenty of old corn in the crib when it came time to take down
this second season's crop.
It was upon the celery that Hiram bent all his energies. He had
to pay out considerable for help, but that was no more than he
expected. Celery takes a deal of handling.
When the long, hot, dry days came, when the uplands parched
and the earth fairly seemed to radiate the heat, the acres of
tender plants which Hiram and his helpers had just set out in the
trenches began to wilt most discouragingly.
Henry Pollock, who did all he could to aid Hiram on the crop,
shook his head in despair.
"It's a-layin' down on you, Hiram--it's a-layin' down on you.
Another day like this and your celery crop will be pretty small
"And that would be a transformation worthy of the attention of
all the agricultural schools, Henry," returned the young farmer,
"You got a heart--to laugh at your own loss," said Henry.
"There isn't any loss--yet," declared Hiram.
"But there's bound to be," said his friend, a regular "Job's
comforter" for the nonce.
" Look here, Henry; you'd have me give up too easy. 'Never say
die!' That's the farmer's motto."
"Jinks!" exclaimed young Pollock, "they're dying all around us
just the same--and their crops, too. We ain't going to have
half a corn crop if this spell of dry weather keeps on. And the
papers don't give us a sign of hope."
"When there doesn't seem to be a sign of hope is when the really
up-to-date farmer begins to actually work," chuckled Hiram.
"And just tell me what you're going to do for this field of
wilted celery?" demanded Henry.
"Come on up to the house and I'll get Mother Atterson to give us
an early supper," quoth Hiram. "I'm going to town and I invite
you to go with me."
Henry had got used by this time to Hiram's little mysteries. But
this seemed to him a case where man had done all that could be
done for the crop, and without Providential interposition, "the
whole field would have to go to pot", as he expressed it.
And in his heart the young farmer knew that the outlook for a
paying crop of celery right then was very small indeed. He had
done his best in preparing the soil, in enriching it, in raising
the sets and transplanting them--up to this point he had brought
his big commercial crop, at considerable expense. If the drouth
really "got" it, he would have, at the most, but a poor and
stunted crop to ship in the Fall.
But Hiram Strong was not the fellow to throw up his hands and
own himself beaten at such a time as this. Here was an obstacle
that must be overcome. The harder the problem looked the more
determined he was to solve it.
The two boys drove to town that evening and Hiram sought out a
man who contracted to move houses, clean cisterns and wells, and
various work of that kind. He knew this man had just the thing
he needed, and after a conference with him, Hiram loaded some
bulky paraphernalia into the light wagon--it was so dark Henry
could not see what it was--and they drove home again.
"I'd like to know what the Jim Hickey you're about, Hiram,"
sniffed Henry, in disgust. "What's all this litter back here in
"You come over and give me a hand in the morning--early now, say
by sun-up--and you'll find out. I want a couple of husky chaps
like you," chuckled Hiram. "I'll get Pete Dickerson to work
"If you do, you tell Pete he'll have to work lively," said Henry,
with a grin. "I don't know what it is you want us to do, but I
reckon I can keep my end up with Pete, from hoein' 'taters to
"You can keep your end up with him, can you? chuckled Hiram.
"Well! I bet you can't in this game I'm going to put you two
fellows up against."
"What! Pete Dickerson beat me at anything--unless it's sleeping?
" grunted Henry, with vast disgust. " I'll keep my end up with
him at anything."
And the more assured he was of this the more Hiram was amused.
"Come on over early, Henry," said the young farmer, "and I'll
show you that there's at least one thing in which you can't keep
your end up with Pete."
His friend was almost angry when he started off across the fields
for home; but he was mighty curious, too. That curiosity, if
nothing more, would have brought him to the Atterson house in
good season the following morning.
Already, however, Hiram and Pete--with the light wagon--had gone
down to the riverside. Henry hurried after them and reached the
celery field just as the red face of the sun appeared.
There had been little dew during the night and the tender
transplants had scarcely lifted their heads. Indeed, the last
acre set out the day before were flat.
On the bank of the river, and near that suffering acre, were
Hiram and Pete Dickerson. Henry hurried to them, wondering at
the thing he saw upon the bank.
Hiram was already laying out between the celery rows a long
hosepipe. This was attached to a good-sized force-pump, the
feedpipe of which was in the river. It was a two-man pump and
was worked by an up-and-down "brake."
"Catch hold here, Henry," laughed Hiram. One of you on each side
now, and pump for all you're worth. And see if I'm not right, my
boy. You can't keep your end up with Pete at this job; for if you
do, the water won't flow!"
Henry admitted that he had, been badly sold by the joke; but he
was enthusiastic in his praise of Hiram's ingenuity, too.
"Aw, say!" said the young farmer, "what do you suppose the Good
Lord gave us brains for? Just so as to keep our fingers out of
the fire? No, sir! With all this perfectly good and wet water
running past my field, could I have the heart to let this celery
die? I guess not!"
He had a fine spray nozzle on the pipe and the pipe itself was
long enough so that, by moving the pump occasionally, he could
water every square foot of the big piece. And the three young
fellows, by changing about, went over the field every other day
in about four hours without difficulty.
By and by the celery plants got rooted well; they no longer
drooped in the morning; before the drouth was past the young
farmer had as handsome a field of celery as one would wish.
Indeed, when he began to ship the crop, even his earliest crates
were rated A-1 by the produce men, and he bad no difficulty in
selling the entire crop at the top of the market, right through
The garden paid a profit; the potatoes did even better than the
year before, and Hiram harvested and sold seventy-five dollars'
worth while the price for new potatoes was high.
He shipped most of his tomatoes this year, for he could not pay
attention to the local market as he had the first season; but the
tomato crop was a good one.
They raised to eight weeks and sold, during the year, five pair
of shoats, and Mrs. Atterson bought
a grade cow with her calf by her side, for a hundred dollars, and
made ten pounds of butter a week right through the season.
Old Lem Camp, looking ten years younger than when he came to the
farm, muscular and brown, did all the work about the barns now,
milked the cows, and relieved Hiram of all the chores.
Indeed, with some little help about the plowing and cultivating,
Hiram knew very well that Mrs. Atterson and Old Lem could run the
farm another year without his help.
Of course, the old lady could not expect to put in any crop that
would pay her like the celery; for when they footed up their
books, the bottom-land had yielded, as Hiram had once prophesied
to Mr. Bronson over four hundred dollars the acre, net.
Twenty-four hundred dollars income from six acres; and the profit
was more than fifty per cent. Indeed, Hiram's share of the profit
amounted to three hundred and seventy dollars.
With his hundred dollar wage, and the money he had saved the
previous season, when the crops were harvested this second
season, the young farmer's bank book showed a balance of over
five hundred dollars to his credit.
"I'm eighteen years old and over," soliloquized the young
farmer. "And I've got a capital of five hundred dollars. Can't
I turn that capital some way go as to give me a bigger--a
"Thus far I've been a one-horse farmer; I want to be something
better than that. Now, there's no use in my hanging around here,
waiting for something to turn up. I must get a move on me and
turn something up for myself."
During this year Hiram had not seen much of Mr. Bronson, or
Lettie. They had gone back to the West over the summer vacation,
and when Lettie had returned for her last year at St. Beris, her
father had not come on until near Thanksgiving.
Hiram had spoken with Lettie several times during the fail, and
he thought that she had vastly improved in one way, at least.
She could not be any prettier, it seemed to him; but her
manner was more cordial, and she always asked after Sister and
Mrs. Atterson, and showed that her interest in him was not a mere
One day, when Hiram had been shipping some of the last of his
celery, Lettie met him on the street near the Scoville railroad
station. Hiram was in his high boots, and overalls; and Lettie
was with two of her girl friends.
But the girl stopped him and shook hands, and told him that her
father had arrived and wanted to see him.
"We want you to come to dinner Saturday evening, Hiram. Father
insists, and I shall be very much disappointed if you do not
"Why, that's very kind of you, Miss Lettie," responded the young
farmer, slowly, trying to find some good reason for refusing the
invitation. He was determined not to be patronized.
"Now, Hiram! This is very important. We want you to meet
somebody," said Lettie, her eyes dancing. "Somebody very
particular. Now! do say you'll come like a good boy, and not
keep me teasing."
"Well, I'll come, Miss Lettie," he finally agreed, and she gave
him a most charming smile.
Lettie's two friends had waited for her, very much amused.
"I declare, Let!" cried one of them--and her voice reached
Hiram's ears quite plainly. "You do have the queerest friends.
Why did you stop to speak to that yokel?"
"Hush! he'll hear you," said Miss Bronson; yet she smiled, too.
"So you think Hiram is a yokel, do you?"
"Hiram!" repeated her friend. "Goodness me! I should think the
name was enough. And those boots--and overalls!"
"Well," said Lettie, still amused, "I've seen my own father in
just such a costume. And you know very well that he is a pretty
good looking man, dressed up."
"But Let! your father's never a farmer$" gasped the other girl.
"Oh, she's just joking us," laughed the third girl. "Of course
he's a farmer--he owns half a dozen farms. But he's the kind of
a farmer who rides around in his automobile and looks over his
"Well, and this young man may do that--in time," said Lettie. "
At least, my father believes Hi is aimed that way."
"He doesn't look as though he had a cent," said the third girl.
"He is putting away more money of his very own in the bank
than any boy we know, who works. Father says so," declared
Lettie. "He says Hi has done wonderfully well with his crops
this year--and he is only raising them on shares.
"Let me tell you, girls, the farmer is coming into his own, these
days. That is a great saying of father's. He believes that the
man who produces the food-stuffs for the rest of the world should
have a satisfactory share of the proceeds of their sale. And
that is coming, father says.
"Farmers don't have to half starve, and be burdened by mortgages
and ignorance, any longer. The country sections are waking up.
With good schools and good roads, and the grange, and all, many
rural districts are already ahead of the cities in the things
"Listen to Let lecture!" sniffed one of her friends.
" All right. You wait. Maybe you'll see that same young
fellow--Hi Strong--come through this town in his own auto before
you graduate from St. Beris."
"Pshaw!" exclaimed the other. "If I do I'll ask him for a ride,"
and the discussion ended in a laugh.
Perhaps, however, had Hiram heard all Lettie had said he would
not have been so doubtful in regard to fulfilling his promise
about taking dinner with Mr. Bronson and his daughter on Saturday
To tell the truth, the more he thought of it, the more he shrank
from the ordeal. Once he had hoped Mr. Bronson would be the one
to show him the way out of the backwater of Crawberry. Hiram had
not forgotten how terribly disappointed he had been when he could
not find the gentleman's card in the sewer excavation.
And later, when Mr. Bronson had suggested that he leave
Mrs. Atterson and come to him to work, Hiram feared that he had
missed an opportunity that would never be offered him again.
His contract was practically over with his present employer,
and Hiram's ambition urged him to desire greater things in the
It might be in Mr. Bronson's power to aid the young farmer right
along this line. The gentleman owned farms in the Middle West
that were being tilled on up-to-date methods, and by modern
machinery. Hiram desired very strongly to get upon a place
of that character. He wished to learn how to handle tools
and machinery which it would never pay a "one-horse farmer"
to own. But how deeply had the gentleman been offended by
Hiram's refusal to come to work for him when he gave him that
opportunity? That was a question that bit deep into the young
When he went to the Bronson!s house on Saturday, in good season,
Mr. Bronson met him cordially, in the library.
"Well, my boy, they all tell me you have done it!" exclaimed the
"Done what?" queried Hiram.
"Made the most money per acre for Mrs. Atterson that this county
ever saw. Is that right?"
"I've succeeded in what I set out to do," said Hiram, modestly.
"And I did not believe myself that you could do it," declared
the gentleman. "And it's too bad, too, that I was a Doubting
Thomas," added Mr. Bronson, his eyes beginning to dance a good
deal like Lettie's.
"You see, Hiram, I had it in my mind when I took this place to
get a young men from around here and teach him something of my
ways of work, and finally take him back West with me.
"I have several farms that are paying me good incomes; but good
farm-managers are hard to get. I wanted to train one--a young
man. I ran against a promising lad before you came to the
Atterson place; but I lost track of him.
"Had you been willing to leave Mrs. Atterson and come to me,"
continued Mr. Bronson, "I believe I could have licked you into
shape last season so that you would have suited me very well,"
and he laughed outright.
"But now I want you to meet my future farm-manager. He is the
very fellow I wanted before I offered the chance to you. I
reckon you'll be glad to see him---"
While he was talking, Mr. Bronson had put his hand on Hiram's
shoulder, and urged him down the length of the room. They had
come to a heavy portiere; Hiram thought it masked a doorway.
"Here is the fellow himself," exclaimed Bronson. suddenly.
The curtain was whisked away. Hiram heard Lettie giggling
somewhere in the folds of it. And he found himself staring
straight into a long mirror which reflected both himself and the
laughing Mr. Bronson.
"Hiram Strong!" spoke the Westerner, admonishingly, "why didn't
you tell me long ago that you were the lad who turned my horses
out of the ditch that evening back in Crawberry?"
"His fatal modesty," laughed Lettie, appearing and clapping her
"I guess it wasn't that," said Hiram, slowly. "What was the use?
I would have been glad of your assistance at the time; but when
I found you I had already made a contract with Mrs. Atterson,
and--what was the use?"
"Well, perhaps it would have made no difference. When I had dug
up the fact that you were the same fellow whom I had looked for
at Dwight's Emporium, it struck me that possibly the character
that old scoundrel gave you had some basis in fact.
"So I said nothing to you after you had refused to break your
contract. That, Hiram, was a good point in your favor. And what
that little girl at your house has told Lettie about you--and the
way Mrs. Atterson speaks of you, and all--long since convinced me
that you were just the lad I wanted.
"Now, Hiram, I believe you know a good deal about farming that I
don't know myself. And, at any rate, if you can do what you have
done with a run-down place like the Atterson Eighty, I'd like to
see what you can do with a bigger and better farm.
"What do you say? Will you come to me--if only for a year? I'll
make it worth your while."
And that Hiram Strong did not let this opportunity slip past him
will be shown in the next volume of this series, entitled: "Hiram
in the Middle West; Or, A Young Farmer's Upward Struggle."
He was sorry to leave Mrs. Atterson at Christmas time; but the
old lady saw that it was to Hiram's advantage to go.
"And good land o' Goshen, Hiram! I wouldn't stand in no boy's
way--not a boy like you, leastways. You've always been square
with me, and you've given me a new lease of life. For I never
would have dared to give up the boarding house and come to the
farm if it hadn't been for you.
"This is your home--jest as much as it is Sister's home, and Old
Lem Camp's. Don't forgit that, Hiram.
"You'll find us all here whenever you want to come back to
it. For I've talked with Mr. Strickland and I'm going to adopt
Sister, all reg'lar, and she shall have what I leave when I die,
only promising to give Mr. Camp a shelter, if he should outlast
"Sister's folks may never look her up, and she may never git that
money the institution folk think is coming to her. But she'll be
well fixed here, that's sure."
Indeed, taking it all around, everybody of importance to the
story seemed to be "well fixed", as Mother Atterson expressed it.
She herself need never be disturbed by the vagaries of boarders,
or troubled in her mind, either waking or sleeping, about the
gravy--save on Thanksgiving Day.
Old Lem Camp and Sister were provided for by their own exertions
and Mrs. Atterson's kindness. The Dickersons--even Pete--had
become friendly neighbors. Henry Pollock had waked up his
father, and they were running the Pollock farm on much more
modern lines than before.
And Hiram himself was looking ahead to a scheme of life that
suited him, and to a chance "to make good" on a much larger scale
than he had on the Atterson Eighty where, nevertheless, he had
made the soil pay.