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Hiram The Young Farmer by Burbank L. Todd

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"Well, after all, the country isn't such a bad place as some city
folk think."

The young fellow who said this stood upon the highest point of
the Ridge Road, where the land sloped abruptly to the valley in
which lay the small municipality of Crawberry on the one hand,
while on the other open fields and patches of woodland, in a huge
green-and-brown checkerboard pattern, fell more easily to the
bank of the distant river.

Dotted here and there about the farming country lying before
the youth as he looked westward were cottages, or the more
important-looking homesteads on the larger farms; and in the
distance a white church spire behind the trees marked the tiny
settlement of Blaine's Smithy.

A Sabbath calm lay over the fields and woods. It was
mid-afternoon of an early February Sunday--the time of the
mid-winter thaw, that false prophet of the real springtime.

Although not a furrow had been turned as yet in the fields, and
the snow lay deep in some fence corners and beneath the hedges,
there was, after all, a smell of fresh earth--a clean, live
smell--that Hiram Strong had missed all week down in Crawberry.

"I'm glad I came up here," he muttered, drawing in great breaths
of the clean air. "Just to look at the open fields, without any
brick and mortar around, makes a fellow feel fine!"

He stretched his arms above his head and, standing alone there on
the upland, felt bigger and better than he had in weeks.

For Hiram Strong was a country boy, born and bred, and the town
stifled him. Besides, he had begun to see that his two years in
Crawberry had been wasted.

"As a hustler after fortune in the city I am not a howling
success," mused Hiram. "Somehow, I'm cramped down yonder," and
he glanced back at the squalid brick houses below him, the smoky
roofs, and the ugly factory chimneys.

"And I declare," he pursued, reflectively, "I don't believe
I can stand Old Dan Dwight much longer. Dan, Junior, is bad
enough--when he is around the store; but the boss would drive a
fellow to death."

He shook his head, now turning from the pleasanter prospect of
the farming land and staring down into the town.

"Maybe I'm not a success because I don't stick to one thing.
I've had six jobs in less'n two years. That's a bad record for a
boy, I believe. But there hasn't any of them suited me, nor have
I suited them.

"And Dwight's Emporium beats 'em all!" finished Hiram, shaking
his head.

He turned his back upon the town once more, as though to wipe his
failure out of his memory. Before him sloped a field of wheat
and clover.

It had kept as green under the snow as though winter was an
unknown season. Every cloverleaf sparkled and the leaves of
wheat bristled like tiny spears.

Spring was on the way. He could hear the call of it!

Two years before Hiram had left the farm. He had no immediate
relatives after his father died. The latter had been a
tenant-farmer only, and when his tools and stock and the few
household chattels had been sold to pay the debts that had
accumulated during his last illness, there was very little money
left for Hiram.

There was nobody to say him nay when he packed his bag and
started for Crawberry, which was the metropolis of his part of
the country. He had set out boldly, believing that he could get
ahead faster, and become master of his own fortune more quickly
in town than in the locality where he was born.

He was a rugged, well-set-up youth of seventeen, not over-tall,
but sturdy and able to do a man's work. Indeed, he had long done
a man's work before he left the farm.

Hiram's hands were calloused, he shuffled a bit when walked, and
his shoulders were just a little bowed from holding the plow
handles since he had been big enough to bridle his father's old

Yes, the work on the farm had been hard--especially for a growing
boy. Many farm boys work under better conditions than Hiram had.

Nevertheless, after a two years' trial of what the city has
in store for most country boys who cut loose from their old
environment, Hiram Strong felt to-day as though he must get back
to the land.

"There's nothing for me in town. Clerking in Dwight's Emporium
will never get me anywhere," he thought, turning finally away
from the open country and starting down the steep hill.

"Why, there are college boys working on our street cars
here--waiting for some better job to turn up. What chance does a
fellow stand who's only got a country school education?

"And there isn't any clean fun for a fellow in Crawberry--fun
that doesn't cost money. And goodness knows I can't make more
than enough to pay Mrs. Atterson, and for my laundry, and buy a
new suit of overalls and a pair of shoes occasionally.

"No, sir!" concluded Hiram. "There's nothing in it. Not for a
fellow like me, at any rate. I'd better be back on the farm--and
I wish I was there now."

He had been to church that morning; but after the late dinner
at his boarding house had set out on this lonely walk. Now he
had nothing to look forward to as he returned but the stuffy
parlor of Mrs. Atterson's boarding house, the cold supper in the
dining-room, which was attended in a desultory fashion by such
of the boarders as were at home, and then a long, dull evening
in his room, or bed after attending the evening service at the
church around the corner.

Hiram even shrank from meeting the same faces at the boarding
house table, hearing the same stale jokes or caustic remarks
about Mrs. Atterson's food from Fred Crackit and the young men
boarders of his class, or the grumbling of Mr. Peebles, the
dyspeptic invalid, or the inane monologue of Old Lem Camp.

And Mrs. Atterson herself--good soul though she was--had gotten
on Hiram Strong's nerves, too. With her heat-blistered face,
near-sighted eyes peering through beclouded spectacles, and her
gown buttoned up hurriedly and with a gap here and there where
a button was missing, she was the typically frowsy, hurried,
nagged-to-death boarding house mistress.

And as for "Sister," Mrs. Atterson's little slavey and

"Well, Sister's the limit!" smiled Hiram, as he turned into the
street, with its rows of ugly brick houses on either hand. "I
believe Fred Crackit has got it right. Mrs. Atterson keeps
Sister instead of a cat--so there'll be something to kick."

The half-grown girl--narrow-chested, round shouldered, and
sallow--had been taken by Mrs. Atterson from some charity
institution. "Sister," as the boarders all called her, for
lack of any other cognomen, would have her yellow hair in four
attenuated pigtails hanging down her back, and she would shuffle
about the dining-room in a pair of Mrs. Atterson's old shoes---

"By Jove! there she is now," exclaimed the startled youth.

At the corner of the street several "slices" of the brick
block had been torn away and the lot cleared for the erection
of some business building. Running across this open space
with wild shrieks and spilling the milk from the big pitcher
she carried--milk for the boarders' tea, Hi knew--came
Mrs. Atterson's maid.

Behind her, and driving her like a horse by the ever present
"pigtails," bounded a boy of about her own age--a laughing,
yelling imp of a boy whom Hiram knew very well.

"That Dan Dwight is the meanest little scamp at this end of the
town!" he said to himself.

The noise the two made attracted only the idle curiosity of a few
people. It was a locality where, even on Sundays, there was more
or less noise.

Sister begged and screamed. She feared she would spill the milk
and told Dan, Junior, so. But he only drove her the harder,
yelling to her to "Get up!" and yanking as hard as he could on
the braids.

"Here! that's enough of that!" called Hiram, stepping quickly
toward the two.

For Sister had stopped exhausted, and in tears.

"Be off with you!" commanded Hiram. "You've plagued the girl

"Mind your business, Hi-ram-Lo-ram!" returned Dan, Junior,
grabbing at Sister's hair again.

Hiram caught the younger boy by the shoulder and whirled him

"You run along to Mrs. Atterson, Sister," he said, quietly. "No,
you don't!" he added, gripping Dan, Junior, more firmly. "You'll
stop right here."

"Lemme be, Hi Strong!" bawled the other, when he found he could
not easily jerk away. "It'll be the worse for you if you don't."

"Just you wait until the girl is home," returned Hiram, laughing.
It was an easy matter for him to hold the writhing Dan, Junior.

"I'll fix you for this!" squalled the boy. "Wait till I tell my

"You wouldn't dare tell your father the truth," laughed Hi.

"I'll fix you," repeated Dan, Junior, and suddenly aimed a
vicious kick at his captor.

Had the kick landed where Dan, Junior, intended--under Hi's
kneecap--the latter certainly would have been "fixed." But the
country youth was too agile for him.

He jumped aside, dragged Dan, Junior, suddenly toward him, and
then gave him a backward thrust which sent the lighter boy

Now, it had rained the day before and in a hollow beside the path
was a puddle several inches deep. Dan, Junior, lost his balance,
staggered back, tripped over his own clumsy heels, and splashed
full length into it.

"Oh, oh!" he bawled, managing to get well soaked before he
scrambled out. " I'll tell my father on you, Hi Strong. You'll
catch it for this!"

"You'd better run home before you catch cold," said Hiram, who
could not help laughing at the young rascal's plight. "And let
girls alone another time."

To himself he said: "Well, the goodness knows I couldn't be much
more in bad odor with Mr. Dwight than I am already. But this
escapade of his precious son ought to about 'fix' me, as Dan,
Junior, says.

"Whether I want to, or not, I reckon I will be looking for
another job in a very few days."



When you came into "Mother" Atterson's front hall (the young men
boarders gave her that appellation in irony) the ghosts of many
ancient boiled dinners met you with--if you were sensitive and
unused to the odors of cheap boarding houses--a certain shock.

He was starting up the stairs, on which the ragged carpet
threatened to send less agile persons than Mrs. Atterson's
boarders headlong to the bottom at every downward trip, when the
clang of the gong in the dining-room announced the usual cold
spread which the landlady thought due to her household on the
first day of the week.

Hiram hesitated, decided that he would skip the meal, and started
up again. But just then Fred Crackit lounged out of the parlor,
with Mr. Peebles following him. Dyspeptic as he was, Mr. Peebles
never missed a meal himself, and Crackit said:

"Come on, Hi-Low-Jack! Aren't you coming down to the usual feast
of reason and flow of soul?"

Crackit thought he was a natural humorist, and he had to keep
up his reputation at all times and seasons. He was rather a
dissipated-looking man of thirty years or so, given to gay
waistcoats and wonderfully knit ties. A brilliant as large as
a hazel-nut--and which, in some lights, really sparkled like a
diamond--adorned the tie he wore this evening.

"I don't believe I want any supper," responded Hiram, pleasantly.

"What's the matter? Got some inside information as to what
Mother Atterson has laid out for us? You're pretty thick with
the old girl, Hi."

"That's not a nice way to speak of her, Mr. Crackit," said Hi, in
a low voice.

The other boarders--those who were in the house-straggled into
the basement dining-room one after the other, and took their
places at the long table, each in his customary manner.

That dining-room at Mother Atterson's never could have been a
cheerful place. It was long, and low-ceiled, and the paper on
the walls was a dingy red, so old that the figure on it had
retired into the background--been absorbed by it, so to speak.

The two long, dusty, windows looked upon an area, and were
grilled half way up by wrought-iron screens which, too, helped to
shut out the light of day.

The long table was covered by a red figured table cloth. The
"castors" at both ends and in the middle were the ugliest--Hiram
was sure--to be found in all the city of Crawberry. The
crockery was of the coarsest kind. The knives and forks were
antediluvian. The napkins were as coarse as huck towels.

But Mrs. Atterson's food--considering the cost of provisions and
the charge she made for her table--was very good. Only it had
become a habit for certain of the boarders, led by the jester,
Crackit, to criticise the viands.

Sometimes they succeeded in making Mrs. Atterson angry; and
sometimes, Hiram knew, she wept, alone in the dining-room, after
the harumscarum, thoughtless crowd had gone.

Old Lem Camp--nobody save Hiram thought to put "Mr." before the
old gentleman's name--sidled in and sat down beside the country
boy, as usual. He was a queer, colorless sort of person--a
man who never looked into the face of another if he could help
it. He would look all around Hiram when he spoke to him--at his
shoulder, his shirtfront, his hands, even at his feet if they
were visible, but never at his face.

And at the table he kept up a continual monologue. It was
difficult sometimes for Hiram to know when he was being
addressed, and when poor Mr. Camp was merely talking to himself.

"Let's see--where has Sister put my napkin--Oh! here it
is--You've been for a walk, have you, young man?--No, that's not
my napkin; I didn't spill any gravy at dinner--Nice day out,
but raw--Goodness me! can't I have a knife and fork?--Where's
my knife and fork?--Sister certainly has forgotten my knife and
fork.--Oh! Here they are--Yes, a very nice day indeed for this
time of year."

And so on. It was quite immaterial to Mr. Camp whether he got an
answer to his remarks to Hiram, or not. He went on muttering to
himself, all through the meal, sometimes commenting upon what the
others said at the table--and that quite shrewdly, Hiram noticed;
but the other boarders considered him a little cracked.

Sister smiled sheepishly at Hiram as she passed the tea. She
drowned his tea with milk and put in no less than four spoonfuls
of sugar. But although the fluid was utterly spoiled for Hiram's
taste he drank it with fortitude, knowing that the girl's
generosity was the child of her gratitude; for both sugar and
milk were articles very scantily supplied at Mother Atterson's

The mistress herself did not appear. Now that he was down here
in the dining-room, Hiram lingered. He hated the thought of
going up to his lonely and narrow quarters at the top of the

The other boarders trailed out of the room and up stairs, one
after another, Old Lem Camp being the last to go. Sister brought
in a dish of hot toast between two plates and set it at the upper
end of the table. Then Mrs. Atterson appeared.

Hiram knew at once that something had gone wrong with the
boarding house mistress. She had been crying, and when a woman
of the age of Mrs. Atterson indulges in tears, her personal
appearance is never improved.

"Oh, that you, Hi?" she drawled, with a snuffle. "Did you get
enough to eat?"

"Yes, Mrs. Atterson," returned the youth, starting to get up. "I
have had plenty."

"I'm glad you did," said the lady. "And you're easy 'side of
most of 'em, Hiram. You're a real good boy."

"I reckon I get all I pay for, Mrs. Atterson," said her youngest

"Well, there ain't many of 'em would say that. And they was
awful provokin' this noon. That roast of veal was just as
good meat as I could find in market; and I don't know what any
sensible party would want better than that prune pie.

"Well! I hope I won't have to keep a boarding house all my life.
It's a thankless task. An' it ties a body down so.

"Here's my uncle--my poor mother's only brother and about the
only relative I've got in the world--here's Uncle Jeptha down
with the grip, or suthin', and goodness knows if he'll ever get
over it. And I can't leave to go and see him die peaceable."

"Does he live far from here?" asked Hiram, politely, although he
had no particular reason for being interested in Uncle Jeptha.

"He lives on a farm out Scoville way. He's lived there most all
his life. He used to make a right good living off'n that farm,
too; but it's run down some now.

"The last time I was out there, two years ago, he was just
keepin' along and that's all. And now I expect he's dying,
without a chick or child of his own by him," and she burst out
crying again, the tears sprinkling the square of toast into which
she continued to bite.

Of course, it was ridiculous. A middle-aged woman weeping and
eating toast and drinking strong boiled tea is not a romantic
picture. But as Hiram climbed to his room he wished with all his
heart that he could help Mrs. Atterson.

He wasn't the only person in the world who seemed to have got
into a wrong environment--lots of people didn't fit right into
their circumstances in life.

"We're square pegs in round holes--that's what we are," mused
Hiram. "That's what I am. I wish I was out of it. I wish I was
back on the farm."



Daniel Dwight's Emporium, the general store was called, and it
was in a very populous part of the town of Crawberry. Old Daniel
was a driver, he seldom had clerks enough to handle his trade
properly, and nobody could suit him. As general helper and
junior clerk, Hiram Strong had remained with the concern longer
than any other boy Daniel had hired in years.

When the early Monday morning rush was over, and there was
moment's breathing space, Hiram went to the door to re-arrange
the trays of vegetables which were his particular care. Hiram
had a knack of making a bank of the most plebeian vegetable and
salads look like the display-window of a florist.

Now the youth looked out upon a typical city street, the
dwellings on either side being four and five story tenement
houses, occupied by artisans and mechanics.

A few quarreling children paddled sticks, or sailed chip boats,
in the gutters.

"Come on, now! Get a move on you, Hi!" sounded the raucous voice
of Daniel Dwight the elder, behind him in the store.

Hiram went at his task with neither interest nor energy.

All about him the houses and the street were grimy and
depressing. It had been a gray and murky morning; but overhead
a patch of sky was as blue as June. He suddenly saw a flock of
pigeons wheeling above the tunnel of the street, and the boy's
heart leaped at the sight.

He longed for freedom. He wished he could fly, up, up, up above
the housetops and the streets, like those feathered fowl.

He knew he was stagnating here in this dingy store; the deadly
sameness of his life chafed him sorely.

"I'd take another job if I could find one," he muttered, stirring
up the bunches of yellowing radish leaves and trying to make them
look fresh. "And Old Daniel is likely to give me a chance to
hunt a job pretty sudden--the way he talks. But if Dan, Junior,
told him what happened yesterday, I wonder the old gentleman
hasn't been after me with a sharp stick."

From somewhere--out of the far-distant open country where it
had been breathing all night the quivering pines, and brown
swamps, and the white and gray checkered fields that would soon
be upturned by the plowshares--a vagrant wind wandered into the
city street.

The lingering, but faint perfume wafted here from God's open
world to die in this man-made town inspired in the youth thoughts
and desires that had been struggling within him for expression
for days past.

"I know what I want," said Hiram Strong, aloud. "I want to get
back to the land!"

The progress of the day was not inducive to a hopeful outlook
for Hiram. When closing time came he was heartily sick of the
business of storekeeping, if he never had been before.

And when he dragged himself home to the boarding house, he
found the atmosphere there as dreary as the street itself. The
boarders were grumpy and Mrs. Atterson was in a tearful state

Hiram could not stay in his room. It was a narrow, cold place at
the end of the back hall at the top of the house. There was a
little, painted bureau in it, one leg of which had been replaced
by a brick, and the little glass was so blue and blurred that he
never could see in it whether his tie was straight or not.

There was a chair, a shelf for books, and a narrow folding bed.
When the bed was dropped down for his occupancy at night, he
could not get the door open. Had there ever been a fire at
Atterson's at night, Hiram's best chance for escape would have
been by the window.

So this evening, to kill the miserable stretch of time until
sleep should come to him, the boy went out and walked the

Two things had saved Hiram Strong from getting into bad company
on these evening rambles. One was the small amount of money he
earned, and the other was the naturally clean nature of the boy.
The cheap amusements which lured on either hand did not attract

But the dangers are there in every city, and they lurk for every
boy in a like position.

The main thoroughfare in this part of the town where Hiram
boarded was brightly lighted, gaudy electric signs attracting
notice to cheap picture shows, catch-penny arcades, cheap jewelry
stores, and the ever present saloons and pool rooms.

It looked bright, and warm, and lively in many of these places;
but the country-bred boy was cautious.

Now and then a raucous-voiced automobile shot along the street;
the electric cars made their usual clangor, and there was still
some ordinary traffic of the day dribbling away into the side
streets, for it was early in the evening.

Hiram was about to turn into one of these side streets on his way
back to Mrs. Atterson's. Turning the corner was a handsome span
of horses attached to a comfortable but mud-bespattered carriage.
It was plainly from the country.

The light at the corner of the street shone brightly into the
carriage. Hiram saw a well-built man in a gray greatcoat and
slouch hat, holding the reins over the backs of the spirited

Beside him sat a girl. She could have been no more than twelve
or fourteen--not so old as Sister, by a year or two. But how
different she was from the starved-looking, boarding house

She was framed in furs--rich, gray and black furs that muffled
her from top to toe, only leaving her brilliant, dark little face
with its perfect features shining like a jewel in its setting.

She was talking laughingly to the big man beside her, and he was
looking down at her. Perhaps this was why he did not see what
lay just ahead--or perhaps the glare of the street light blinded
him, as it must have the horses, as the equipage turned into the
darker side street.

But Hiram saw their peril. He sprang into the street with a cry
of warning. And he was lucky enough to seize the nigh horse by
the bridle and pull both the high-steppers around.

There was an excavation--an opening for a water-main--in this
street. The workmen had either neglected to leave a red lantern,
or malicious boys had stolen it.

Another moment and the horses would have been in this excavation
and even now the carriage swayed. One forward wheel went over
the edge of the hole, and for the minute it was doubtful whether
Hiram had saved the occupants of the carriage by his quick
action, or had accelerated the catastrophe.



Had Hiram Strong not been a muscular youth for his age, and
sturdy withal, the excited horses would have broken away from him
and the carriage would certainly have gone into the ditch.

But he had a grip on the bridle reins now that could not be
broken, although the horses plunged and struck fire from the
stones of the street with their shoes. He dragged them forward,
the carriage pitched and rolled for a moment, and then stood
upright again, squarely on its four wheels.

"All right, lad! I've got 'em!" exclaimed the gentleman in the

He had a hearty, husky sort of voice--a voice that came from deep
down in his chest and was more than a little hoarse. But there
was no quiver of excitement in it. Indeed, he who had been in
peril was much less disturbed by the incident than was Hiram

Nor had the girl screamed, or otherwise voiced her terror. Now
Hiram heard her say, as he stepped back from the plunging horses:

"That is a good boy, Daddy. Speak to him again."

The man in gray laughed. He was now holding in the frightened
team with one firm hand while he fumbled in the pocket of his big
coat with the other.

"He certainly has got some muscle, that lad," announced the
"gentleman. Here, son, where can I find you when I'm in town

"I work at Dwight's Emporium," replied Hiram, rather diffidently.

"All right. Thanks. Here's my card. You're the kind of a boy
I like. I'll surely look you up."

He held out the bit of pasteboard to Hiram; but as the youth
stepped nearer to reach it, the impatient horses sprang forward
and the carriage rolled swiftly by him.

The card flipped from the man's fingers. Hiram grabbed for it,
but missed the card. It fluttered into the excavation in the
street and the shadow hid it completely from the boy's gaze.

Had there been a lantern nearby, as there should have been, Hiram
would have taken it to search for the lost card. For he felt
suddenly as though Opportunity had brushed past him.

The man in the carriage evidently lived out of town. He might be
a prosperous farmer. And, being a farmer, he might be able to
give Hiram just the sort of job he was looking for.

The card, of course, would have put Hiram in touch with the man.
And he seemed like a hearty, good-natured individual.

"And the girl--his daughter--was as pretty as a picture," thought
Hiram, as he turned wearily toward the boarding house. "Well!
I don't know that I'll ever see either of them again; but if I
could learn that man's name and address I'd certainly look him

So much did this thought disturb him that he was up an hour
earlier than usual the next morning and hurried to work by the
way of the excavation in the street where the incident had

But he could not find the card, although he got down into the
ditch to search for it. The loose sand, perhaps, rattling down
from the sides of the excavation during the night, had buried the
bit of pasteboard, and Hiram went on to Dwight's Emporium more
disheartened than ever.

The work there went worse that morning. Old Daniel Dwight drove
the young fellow from one task to another. The other clerks got
a minute's time to themselves now and then; but the proprietor of
the store seemed to have his keen eyes on Hiram continually.

There was always a slow-up in the work about ten o'clock, and
Hiram had a request to make. He asked Old Daniel for an hour

"An hour off--with all this work to do? What do you mean, boy?"
roared the proprietor. "What do you want an hour for?"

"I've got an errand," replied Hiram, quietly.

"Well, what is it?" snarled the old man, curiously.

"Why--it's a private matter. I can't tell you," returned the
youth, coolly.

"No good, I'll be bound--no good. I don't see why I should let
you off an hour---"

"I work many an hour overtime for you, Mr. Dwight," put in Hiram.

"Yes, yes; that's all right. That's the agreement. You knew
you'd have to when you came to work at the Emporium. Stick to
your contract, boy."

"Then why don't you stick to yours?" demanded the youth, boldly.

"Eh! Eh! What do you mean by that?" cried Mr. Dwight, glaring
at Hiram through his spectacles.

"I mean that when I came to work for you seven months ago, you
promised that, if I suited after six months, you would raise my
wages. And you haven't done so," said the young fellow, firmly.

For a moment the proprietor of the Emporium was dumb. It was
true. He had promised just that. He had got the boy cheaper by
so doing. But never before had he hired a boy who stayed as long
as six months, so he had never had to raise his wages.

"Well, well!"

He stammered for a moment; then a shrewd thought came to his
mind. He actually smiled. When Mr. Dwight smiled it was worse
than when he didn't.

"I told you that if you suited me I'd raise your pay, did I?" he
snarled. "Well, you don't suit me. You never have suited me.
Therefore, you get no raise, young man."

Hiram was not astonished; he was only indignant. Another boy
might have expressed his anger by flaring up and tendering his
resignation on the spot.

But Hiram had that fear of debt in his breast which is almost
always a characteristic of the frugal, country-bred person. He
had saved little. He had no prospect of another job. And every
Saturday night he was expected to pay Mrs. Atterson three dollars
and a half.

"At any rate, Mr. Dwight," he said, quietly, after a minute's
silence, "I want an hour to myself this morning."

"And I'll dock ye ten cents for it," declared the old man.

"You can do as you like about that," returned Hiram, and he
walked into the back room, took off his apron, and got into his

He had it in mind to go to the big market, where the farmers
drove in from out of town, and see if he could meet one of his
old neighbors, or anybody else who could tell him of prospect
of work for the coming season. It was early yet for farmers to
be looking for extra hands; but Hiram hoped that he might see
something in prospect for the future. He had made up his mind
that, if possible, he would not take another job in town.

"And I can see pretty plainly that I've got about through at the
Emporium," he thought, as he approached the open space devoted by
the City of Crawberry to a market for the truckmen and farmers
who drove in with their wares from the surrounding country.

At this time of day the bustle of market was over. The farmers
would have had their breakfasts in the little restaurants which
encircled the market-place, or would be preparing to drive home
again. The hucksters and push-cart merchants were picking up
"seconds" and lot-ends of vegetables for their trade. The
cobbles of the market-place was a litter of cabbage leaves,
spilled sprouts, spoiled potatoes, and other refuse.

Hiram walked about, looking for somebody whom he knew; but most
of the faces around the market were strange to him. Several
farmers he spoke to about work; but they were not hiring hands,
so, when his hour was up, he went back to the Emporium, more
despondent than before.



By chance that evening Hiram got home to his boarding house in
good season. The early boarders--"early birds" Crackit always
termed them--had not yet sat down to the long table in the dingy

Indeed, the supper gong had not been pounded by Sister, and some
of the young men were grouped impatiently in the half-lighted

Through the swinging door into the steaming kitchen Hiram saw
a huge black woman waddling about the range, and heard her
husky voice berating Sister for not moving faster. Chloe only
appeared when a catastrophe happened at the boarding-house--and
a catastrophe meant the removal of Mrs. Atterson from her usual

"She's gone to the funeral. That Uncle Jeptha of hern is dead,"
whispered Sister in Hiram's ear when she put his soup in front of

"Ah-ha!" observed Mr. Crackit, eyeing Hiram with his head on one
"side, secrets, eh? Inside information of what's in the pudding

Nothing went right at the boarding-house during the next two
days. And for Hiram Strong nothing seemed to go right anywhere!

He demanded--and got the permission, with another ten-cent
tax--another hour off to visit the market. But he found nobody
who would hire a boy at once. Some of the farmers doubted if
he knew as much about farm-work as he claimed to know. He was,
after all, a boy, and some of them would not believe that he had
even worked in the country.

Affairs at the Emporium were getting strained, too. Daniel
Dwight was as shrewd a man as the next one. He saw plainly that
his junior clerk was getting ready--like the many who had gone
before him--for a flitting.

He knew the signs of discontent, although Hiram prided himself on
doing his work just as well as ever.

Then, there was a squabble with Dan, Junior. The imp was always
underfoot on Saturdays. He was supposed to help--to run errands,
and take out in a basket certain orders to nearby customers who
might be in a hurry.

But usually when you wanted the boy he was in the alley pitching
buttons with loafing urchins of his own kind--"alley rats" his
father angrily called them--or leading a predatory gang of
the same unsavory companions in raids on other stores in the

And Dan, Junior "had it in" for Hiram. He had not forgiven the
bigger boy for pitching him into the puddle.

"An' them was my best clo'es, and now maw says I've got to wear
'em just the same on Sunday, and they're shrunk and stained,"
snarled the younger Dan, hovering about Hiram as the latter
re-dressed the fruit stand during a moment's let-up in the
Saturday morning rush. "Gimme an orange."

"What! At five cents apiece?" exclaimed Hiram. "Guess not. Go
look in the basket under the bench; maybe there's a specked one

"Nope. Dad took 'em all home last night and maw cut out the
specks and sliced 'em for supper. Gimme a good orange."

"Ask your father," said Hiram.

"Naw, I won't!" declared young Dwight, knowing very well what his
father's answer would be.

He suddenly made a grab for the golden globe on the apex of
Hiram's handsomest pyramid.

"Let that alone, Dan!" cried Hiram, and seized the youngster by
the wrist.

Dan, Junior, was a wiry little scamp, and he twisted and turned,
and kicked and squalled, and Hiram was just wrenching the orange
from his hand when Mr. Dwight came to the door.

"What's this? What's this?" he demanded. "Fighting, are ye?
Why don't you tackle a fellow of your own size, Hi Strong?"

At that Dan, Junior, saw his chance and broke into woeful sobs.
He was a good actor.

"I've a mind to turn you over to a policeman, Hiram," cried
"Mr. Dwight, That's what I've a mind to do."

"I suppose you'll discharge me first, won't you?" suggested
Hiram, scornfully.

"You can come in and git your money right now, young man," said
the proprietor of the Emporium. "Dan! let them oranges alone.
And don't you go away from here. I'll want you all day to-day.
I shall be short-handed with this young scalawag leaving me in
the lurch like this."

It had come so suddenly that Hiram almost lost his breath. He
had part of his wish, that was sure. He was not likely to work
for Daniel Dwight any longer.

The old man led the way back to his office. He had a little pile
of money already counted out upon the desk. It was plain that
he had intended quarreling with Hiram and getting rid of him at
this time, for he had the young fellow's wages figured up to t
hat very hour--and twenty cents deducted for the two hours Hiram
had had "off."

"But that isn't fair. I'm willing to work to the end of the day.
I ought to get my wages in full for the week, save for the twenty
cents," said Hiram mildly.

To tell the truth, now that he had lost his job--unpleasant as it
had been--Hiram was more than a little troubled. He was indeed
about to be cast adrift.

"You'll git jest that sum, and not a cent more," declared
Mr. Dwight, sharply. "And if you start any trouble here I'll
call in the officer on the beat--yes, I will! I don't know but I
ought to deduct the cost of Dan, Junior's, spoiled suit, too. He
says you an' he was skylarkin' on Sunday and that's how he fell
into the water."

Hiram had no answer to make to this. What was the use? He took
the money, slipped it into his pocket, and went out.

He did not linger around the Emporium. Nor was he scarcely out
of sight when a man driving a span of handsome bay horses halted
his team before the store, jumped out, and went in.

"Are you the proprietor of Dwight's Emporium ?" asked the man in
the gray coat and hat, in his hearty tones. "You are? Glad to
meet you! I'm looking for a young man who works for you."

"Who's that? What do you want of him?" asked Dan, Senior,
doubtfully, and rubbing his hand, for the stranger's grip had
been as hearty as his voice.

The other laughed in his jovial way. "Why, to tell the truth, I
don't know his name. I didn't ask him. He's not much more than
a boy--a sturdy youngster with a quick way with him. He did me a
service the other evening and I wanted to see him."

"There ain't any boy working here," snapped Mr. Dwight. "Them's
all the clerks I got behind the counter--and there ain't one of
'em under thirty, I'll be bound."

"That's so," admitted the stranger. "And although it was so dark
I could not see that fellow's face, and I didn't ask his name, I
am sure he was young."

"I jest discharged the only boy I had--and scamp enough he was,"
snarled Mr. Dwight. "If you were looking for him, you'd have
been sorry to find him. I didn't know but I'd have to send for a
policeman to git him off the premises."


"That's what I tell you. He was a bad egg. Mebbe he's the boy
you want--but you won't get no good of him when you find him.
And I've no idea where he's to be found now," and the old man
turned his back on the man in the gray coat and went into his

The stranger climbed back into his buggy and took up the lines
again with a preoccupied headshake.

"Now, I promised Lettie," he muttered, "that I'd find out all
about that boy--and maybe bring him home with me. Funny that man
gave his such a bad character. Wish I could have seen the lad's
face the other night--that would have told the story.

"Well," and he dismissed the matter with a sigh, for he was busy
man, "if he's got my card, and he is out of a job, perhaps he'll
look me up. Then we'll see."



"I've sure got plenty of time now to look for a job," observed
Hiram Strong when he was two blocks away from Dwight's Emporium.
"But I declare I don't know where to begin."

For his experience in talking with the farmers around the market
had rather dashed Hiram's hope of getting a place in the country
at once. It was too early in the season. Nor did it look so
much like Spring as it had a week ago. Already Hiram had to turn
up the collar of his rough coat, and a few flakes of snow were
settling on his shoulders as he walked.

"It's winter yet," he mused. "If I can't get something to do in
the city for a few weeks to tide me over, I'm afraid I shall have
to find a cheaper place to board than at Mother Atterson's."

After half an hour of strolling from street to street, however,
Hiram decided that there was nothing in that game. He must break
in somewhere, so he turned into the very next warehouse.

"Want a job? I'll be looking for one myself pretty soon, if
business isn't better," was the answer he got from the first man
he approached.

But Hiram kept at it, and got short answers and long answers,
pleasant ones and some that were not so pleasant; but all could
be summed up in the single monosyllable:


"I certainly am a failure here in town," Hiram thought, as he
walked through the snow-blown streets. "How foolish I was ever
to have come away from the country.

"A fellow ought to stick to the job he is fitted for--and that's
sure. But I didn't know. I thought there would be forty chances
in town to one in the country.

"And there doesn't seem to be a single chance right now. Why,
I'll have to leave Mrs. Atterson's, if I can't find a job before
next week is out!

"This mean old town is over-crowded with fellows like me looking
for work. And when it comes to office positions, I haven't a
high-school diploma, nor am I fitted for that kind of a job.

"I want to be out of doors. Working in a stuffy office wouldn't
suit me. Oh, as a worker in the city I am a rank failure, and
that's all there is about it!"

He went home to supper much more tired than he would have been
had he done a full day's work at Dwight's Emporium. Indeed, the
job he had lost now loomed up in his troubled mind as much more
important than it had seemed when he had desired to change it for

Mother Atterson was at home. She hadn't more than taken off her
bonnet, however, and had had but a single clash with Chloe in the

"I smelled it burnin' the minute I set my foot on the front
step!" she declared. "You can't fool my nose when it comes to
smelling burned stuff.

"Well, Hiram," she continued, too full of news to remark that he
was at home long before his time, "I saw the poor old soul laid
away, at least. I wish now I'd got Chloe in before, and gone to
see Uncle Jeptha before he was in his coffin.

"But I didn't think I could afford it, and that's a fact. We
poor folks can't have many pleasures in this world of toil and
trouble!" added the boarding house mistress, to whom even the
break of a funeral, or a death-bed visit, was in the nature of a
solemn amusement.

"And there the old man went and made his will years ago,
unbeknownst to anybody, and me bein' his only blood relation, as
you might say, though it was years since I seen him much, but he
remembered my mother with love," and she began to wipe her eyes.

"Poor old man! And me with a white-faced cow that I'm afraid of
my life of, and an old horse that looks like a moth-eaten hide
trunk we to have in our garret at home when I was a little girl,
and belonged to my great-great-grandmother Atterson---

"And there's a mess of chickens that eat all day long and don't
lay an egg as far as I could see, besides a sow and a litter of
six pigs that squeal worse than the the switch-engine down yonder
in the freight yard---

"And they're all to be fed, and how I'm to do it, and feed
the boarders, too, I don't for the life of me see!" finished
Mrs. Atterson, completely out of breath.

"What do you mean?" cried Hiram, suddenly waking to the
significance of the old lady's chatter. "Do you mean he willed
you these things?"

"Of course," she returned, smoothing down her best black skirt.
"They go with the house and outbuildings--`all the chattels and
appurtenances thereto', the will read."

"Why, Mrs. Atterson!" gasped Hiram. "He must have left you the

"That's what I said," returned the old lady, complacently. "And
what I'm to do with it I've no more idea than the man in the

"A farm!" repeated Hiram, his face flushing and his eyes
beginning to shine.

Now, Hiram Strong was not a particularly handsome youth, but in
his excitement he almost looked so.

"Eighty acres, so many rods, and so many perches," pursued
Mrs. Atterson, nodding. "That's the way it reads. The perches
is in the henhouse, I s'pose--though why the description included
them and not the hens' nests I dunno."

"Eighty acres of land!" repeated Hiram in a daze.

"All free and clear. Not a dollar against it--only encumbrances
is the chickens, the cow, the horse and the pigs," declared
Mrs. Atterson. "If it wasn't for them it might not be so bad.
Scoville's an awfully nice place, and the farm's on an automobile
road. A body needn't go blind looking for somebody to go by the
door occasionally.

"And if it got so bad here finally that I couldn't make a livin'
keeping boarders," pursued the lady, "I might go out there and
live in the old house--which isn't much, I know, but it's a
shelter, and my tastes are simple, goodness knows."

"But a farm, Mrs. Atterson!" broke in Hiram. "Think what you can
do with it!"

"That's what I'd like to have, you, or somebody else tell me,"
exclaimed the old lady, tartly. "I ain't got no more use for a
farm than a cat has for two tails!"

"But--but isn't it a good farm?" queried Hiram, puzzled.

"How do I know?" snapped the boarding house mistress. "I
wouldn't know one farm from another, exceptin' two can't be in
exactly the same spot. Oh! do you mean, could I sell it?"


"The lawyer advised me not to sell just now. He said something
about the state of the real estate market in that section.
Prices would be better in a year or two. And then, the old place
is mighty run down."

"That's what I mean," Hiram hastened to say. "Has it been
cropped to death? Is the soil worn out? Can't you run it and
make something out of it?"

"For pity's sake!" ejaculated the good lady, "how should I know?
And I couldn't run it--I shouldn't know how.

"I've got a neighbor-woman in the house just now to 'tend to
things--and that's costin' me a dollar and a half a week. And
there'll be taxes to pay, and--and-- Well, I just guess I'll have
to try and sell it now and take what I can get.

"Though that lawyer says that if the place was fixed up a little
and crops put in it would make a thousand dollars' difference in
the selling price. That is, after a year or two.

"But bless us and save us" cried Mrs. Atterson, "I'd be swamped
with expenses before that time."

"Mebbe not," said Hiram Strong, trying to repress his eagerness.
"Why not try it?"

"Try to run that farm?" cried she. "Why, I'd jest as lief go up
in one o' those aeroplanes and try to run it. I wouldn't be no
more up in the air then than I would be on a farm," she added,

"Get somebody to run it for you--do the outside work, I mean,
Mrs. Atterson," said Hiram. "You could keep house out there
just as well as you do here. And it would be easy for you to
learn to milk---"

"That whitefaced cow? My goodness! I'd just as quick learn to
milk a switch-engine!"

"But it's only her head that looks so wicked to you," laughed
Hiram. "And you don't milk that end."

"Well--mebbe," admitted Mrs. Atterson, doubtfully. "I reckon I
could make butter again--I used to do that when I was a girl at
my aunt's. And either I'd make those hens lay or I'd have their
dratted heads off!

"And my goodness me! To get rid of the boarders--Oh, stop your
talkin', Hi Strong! That is too good to ever be true. Don't
talk to me no more."

"But I want to talk to you, Mrs. Atterson," persisted the youth,

"Well, who'd I get to do the outside work--put in crops, and
'tend 'em, and look out for that old horse?"

Hiram almost choked. This opportunity should not get past him if
he could help it!

"Let me do it, Mrs. Atterson. Give me a chance to show you what
I can do," he cried. "Let me run the farm for you!"

"Why--why do you suppose that it could be made to pay us, Hi?"
demanded his landlady, in wonder.

"Other farms pay; why not this one?" rejoined Hiram,
sententiously. "Of course," he added, his native caution coming
to the surface, "I'd want to see the place--to look it over
pretty well, in fact--before I made any agreement. And I can
assure you, Mrs. Atterson, if I saw no chance of both you and me
making something out of it I should tell you so."

"But--but your job, Hiram? And I wouldn't approve of your going
out there and lookin' at the place on a Sunday."

"I'll take the early train Monday morning," said the youth,

"But what will they say at the store? Mr. Dwight---"

"He turned me off to-day," said Hiram, steadily. "So I won't
lose anything by going out there.

"I tell you what I'll do," he added briskly. "I won't have any
too much money while I'm out of a job, of course. And I shall be
out there at Scoville a couple of days looking the place over,
it's probable.

"So, if you will let me keep this three dollars and a half I
should pay you for my next week's board to-night, I'll pay my own
expenses out there at the farm and if nothing comes of it, all
well and good."

Mrs. Atterson had fumbled for her spectacles and now put them on
to survey the boy's earnest face.

"Do you mean to say you can run a farm, Hi Strong?" she asked.

"I do," and he smiled confidently at her.

"And make it pay?"

"Perhaps not much profit the first season; but if the farm is
fertile, and the marketing conditions are right, I know I can
make it pay us both in two years."

"I've got a little money saved up. I could sell the house in a
week, for it's always full and there are always lone women like
me with a little driblet of money to exchange for a boarding
house--heaven help us for the fools we are!" Mrs. Atterson

"And I expect you could raise vegetables enough to part keep us,
Hi, even if the farm wasn't a great success?"

"And eggs, and chickens, and the pigs, and milk from the cow,"
suggested Hiram.

"Well! I declare, that's so," admitted Mrs. Atterson. "I'd been
lookin' on all them things as an expense. They could be made an
asset, eh?"

"I should hope so," responded Hiram, smiling.

"And I could get rid of these boarders-- My soul and body!"
gasped the tired woman, suddenly. "Do you suppose it's true,
Hi? Get rid of worryin' about paying the bills, and whether the
boarders are all going to keep their jobs and be able to pay
regularly-- And the gravy!

"Hiram Strong! If you can show me a way out of this valley of
tribulation I'll be the thankfullest woman that you ever seen.
It's a bargain. Don't you pay me a cent for this coming week.
And I shouldn't have taken it, anyway, when you're throwed out of
work so. That's a mighty mean man, that Daniel Dwight.

"You go right ahead and look that farm over. If it looks good,
you come back and we'll strike a bargain, I know. And--and--
Just to think of getting rid of this house and these boarders!"
and Mrs. Atterson finished by wiping her eyes again vigorously.



Hiram Strong was up betimes on Monday morning--Sister saw to
that. She rapped on his door at four-thirty.

Sometimes Hiram wondered when the girl ever slept. She was
still dragging about the kitchen or dining-room when he went to
bed, and she was first down in the morning--even earlier than
Mrs. Atterson herself.

The boarding house mistress was not intentionally severe with
Sister; but the much harassed lady had never learned to make
her own work easy, so how should she be expected to be easy on

Once or twice Hiram had talked with the orphan. Sister had
a dreadful fear of returning to the "institution" from which
Mrs. Atterson had taken her. And Sister's other fearful
remembrance was of an old woman who beat her and drank much gin
and water.

Not that she had been ill-treated at the institution; but she had
been dressed in an ugly uniform, and the girls had been rough and
pulled her "pigtails" like Dan, Junior.

"Once a gentleman came to see me," Sister confided to Hiram. "He
was a lawyer gentleman, the matron told me. He knew my name--but
I've forgotten it now.

"And he said that somebody who once belonged to me--or I once
belonged to them--had died and perhaps there would be some money
coming to me. But it couldn't have been the old woman I lived
with, for she never had only money enough for gin!

"Anyhow, I was glad. I axed him how much money--was it enough
to treat all the girls in the institution one round of ice-cream
soda, and he laffed, he did. And he said yes--just about enough
for that, if he could get it for me. And I ran away and told the

"I promised them all a treat. But the man never came again, and
by and by the big girls said they believed I storied about it,
and one night they came and dragged me out of bed and hung me
out of the window by my wrists, till I thought my arms would be
pulled right out of the sockets,

They was awful cruel--them girls. But when I axed the matron
why the man didn't come no more, she put me off. I guess he was
only foolin'," decided Sister, with a sigh. Folks like to fool
me--like Mr. Crackit--eh?"

But Mrs. Atterson told Hiram, when he asked about Sister's meagre
little story, that the institution had promised to let her know
if the lawyer ever returned to make further inquiries about the
orphan. Somebody really had died who was of kin to the girl, but
through some error the institution had not made a proper record
of her pedigree and the lawyer who had instituted the search a
seemed to have dropped out of sight.

But Hiram was not troubled by poor Sister's private affairs upon
this Monday morning. It was the beginning of a new week, indeed,
to him. He had turned over a new leaf of experience. He hoped
that he was pretty near to the end of his harsh city existence.

He hurried downstairs, long in advance of the other boarders, and
Mrs. Atterson served him some breakfast, although there was no
milk for the coffee.

"I dunno where that plague o' my life, Sister's, gone," sputtered
the old lady, fussing about, between dining-room and kitchen. "I
sent her out ten minutes ago for the milk. And if you want to
get that first train to Scoville you've got to hurry."

"Never mind the milk," laughed the young fellow. "The train's
more important this morning."

So he bolted the remainder of his breakfast, swallowed the black
coffee, and ran out.

He arrived at Scoville while the morning was still young. It was
not his intention to go at once to the Atterson farm. There were
matters which he desired to look into in addition to judging the
quality of the soil on the place and the possibility of making it

He went to the storekeepers and asked questions about the prices
paid for garden truck. He walked about the town and saw the
quality of the residences, and noted what proportion of the
townsfolk cultivated gardens of their own.

There was a big girls' boarding-school, and two small, but
well-patronized hotels. The proprietors of these each owned a
farm; but they told Hiram that it was necessary for them to buy
much of their table vegetables from city produce men, as the
neighboring farmers did not grow much.

In talking with one storekeeper Hiram mentioned the fact that he
was going to look at the Atterson place with a view to farming
it for its new owner. When he walked out of the store he found
himself accosted by a lean, snaky-looking man who had stood
within the store the moment before.

"What's this widder woman goin' to do with the farm old Jeptha
left her?" inquired the man, looking at Hiram slyly.

"We don't know yet, sir, what we shall do with it," the young
fellow replied.

"You her son?"

"No. I may work for her--can't tell till I've looked at the

"It ain't much to look at," said the man, quickly. "I come near
buying it once, though. In fact--"

He hesitated, still eyeing Hiram sideways. The boy waited for
him to speak again. He did not wish to be impolite; but he did
not like the man's appearance.

"What do y' reckon this Mis' Atterson would sell for?" finally
demanded the man.

"She has been advised not to sell--at present."

"Who by?"

"Mr. Strickland, the lawyer."

"Humph! Mebbe I'd buy it--and give her a good price for
it--right now."

"What do you consider a good price?" asked Hiram, quietly.

"Twelve hundred dollars," said the man.

"I will tell her. But I do not think she would sell for that
price--nothing like it, in fact."

"Well, mebbe she'll feel different when she comes to think it
over. No use for a woman trying to run a farm. And if she has
to pay for everything to be done, she'll be in a hole at the end
of the season. I guess she ain't thought of that?"

"It wouldn't be my place to point it out to her," returned Hiram,
"coolly, if it were so, and I wanted to work for her."

"Humph! Mebbe not. Well, my name's Pepper. Mebbe I'll be out
to see her some day," he said, and turned away.

"He's one of the people who will discourage Mrs. Atterson,"
thought Hiram. "And he has an axe to grind. If I decide to take
the job of making this farm pay, I'm going to have the agreement
in black and white with Mrs. Atterson; for there will be a raft
of Job's comforters, perhaps when we get settled on the place."

It was late in the afternoon before Hiram was ready to start for
the farm itself. He had made some enquiries, and had decided to
stop at a neighbor's for overnight, instead of going to the house
where a lone woman had been left in charge by Mrs. Atterson.

The Pollocks had been recommended to Hiram, and by leaving the
road within half a mile of the Atterson farm, and cutting across
the fields, he came into the dooryard of the Pollock place. A
well-grown boy, not much older than himself, was splitting some
chunks at the woodpile. He stopped work to gaze at the visitor
with much curiosity.

"From what they told me in town," Hi said, holding out his hand
with a smile, "you must be Henry Pollock?"

The boy blushed, but awkwardly took and shook Hi's hand.

"That's what they call me--Henry Pollock--when they don't call me

"Well, I'll make a bargain with you, Henry," laughed Hiram. "I
don't like to have my name cut off short, either. My name's
Hiram Strong. So if you'll agree to always call me `Hiram' I'll
always call you `Henry.'"

"It's a go!" returned the other, shaking hands again. "You going
to live around here? Or are you jest visiting?"

"I don't know yet," confessed Hiram, sitting down beside the boy.
"You see, I've come out to look at the Atterson place."

"That's right over yonder. You can see the roof if you stand
up," said Henry, quickly.

Hiram stood up and, in the light of the early sunset, he caught a
glimpse of the roof in question.

"Your folks going to buy it of the old lady Uncle Jeptha left "
it to? asked Henry, with pardonable curiosity. "Or are you "
going to rent it? "

"What do you think of renting it?" queried Hiram, showing that he
had Yankee blood in him by answering one question with another.

"Well--it's pretty well run down, and that's a fact. The old
man couldn't do much the last few years, and them Dickersons who
farmed it for him ain't no great shakes of farmers, now I tell

"Well, I want to look the farm over before I decide what
I'll do," said Hiram, slowly. "And of course I can't do
that to-night. They told me in town that sometimes you take

"In the summer we do," returned Henry.

"Do you think your folks will put me up overnight?"

"Why, I reckon so--Hiram Strong, did you say your name was? Come
right in," added Henry, hospitably, "and I'll ask mother."



The Pollocks proved to be a neighborly family--and a large one.
As Henry said, there was a "whole raft of young 'uns" younger
than he was. They made Hiram very welcome at the supper table,
and showed much curiosity about his personal affairs.

But the young fellow had been used to just such people before.
They were not a bad sort, and if they were keenly interested in
the affairs of other people, it was because they had few books
and newspapers, and small chance to amuse themselves in the many
ways which city people have.

Hiram slept with Henry that night, and Henry agreed to show the
visitor over the Atterson place the next day.

"I know every stick and stone of it as well as I do ourn,"
declared Henry. "And Dad won't mind my taking time now.
Later--Whew! I tell you, we hafter just git up an' dust to make
a crop. Not much chance for fun after a week or two until the
corn's laid by."

"You know all the boundaries of the Atterson farm, do you?"
Hiram asked.

"Yes, sir!" replied Henry, eagerly. "And say! do you like to

"Of course; who doesn't?"

"Then we'll take some lines and hooks along--and mother'll lend
us a pan and kettle. Say! We'll start early--'fore anybody's
a-stir--and I bet there'll be a big trout jumping in the pool
under the big sycamore."

"That certain-sure sounds good to me!" cried Hiram,

So it was agreed, and before day, while the mist was yet rolling
across the fields, and the hedge sparrows were beginning to
chirp, the two set forth from the Pollock place, crossed the wet
fields, and the road, and set off down the slope of a long hill,
following, as Henry said, near the east boundary of the Atterson
farm--the line running from the automobile road to the river.

It was a dull spring morning. The faint breeze that stirred on
the hillside was damp, but odorous with new-springing herbs. As
Hiram and Henry descended the aisle of the pinewood, the treetops
whispered together as though curious of these bold humans who
disturbed their solitude.

"It doesn't look as though anybody had been here at the back end
of old Jeptha Atterson's farm for years," said Hiram.

"And it's a fact that nobody gets down this way often," Henry

The brown tags sprung under their feet; now and then a dew-wet
branch swept Hiram's cheek, seeking with its cold fingers to
stay his progress. It was an enchanted forest, and the boy,
heart-hungry from his two years of city life, was enchanted, too!

Hiram learned from talking with his companion that at one time
the piece of thirty-year-old timber they were walking through had
been tilled--after a fashion. But it had never been properly
cleared, as the hacked and ancient stumpage betrayed.

Here and there the lines of corn rows which had been plowed
when the last crop was laid by were plainly revealed to Hiram's
observing eye. Where corn had grown once, it should grow again;
and the pine timber would more than pay for being cut, for
blowing out the big stumps with dynamite, and tam-harrowing the
side hill.

Finally they reached a point where the ground fell away more
abruptly and the character of the timber changed, as well.
Instead of the stately pines, this more abrupt declivity was
covered with hickory and oak. The sparse brush sprang out of
rank, black mold.

Charmed by the prospect, Hiram and Henry descended this hill and
came suddenly, through a fringe of brush, to the border of an
open cove, or bottom.

At some time this lowland, too, had been cleared and cultivated;
but now young pines, quick-springing and lush, dotted the five or
six acres of practically open land which was as level as one's

It was two hundred yards, or more, in width and at the farther
side a hedge of alders and pussywillows grew, with the green mist
of young leaves upon them, and here and there a ghostly sycamore,
stretching its slender bole into the air, edged the course of the

Hiram viewed the scene with growing delight. His eyes sparkled
and a smile came to his lips as he crossed, with springy steps,
the open meadow on which the grass was already showing green in

Between the line of the wood they had left and the breadth of the
meadow was a narrow, marshy strip into which a few stones had
been cast, and on these they crossed dry shod. The remainder of
the bottom-land was firm.

"Ain't this jest a scrumptious place?" demanded Henry, and Hiram

At the river's edge they parted the bushes and looked down upon
the oily-flowing brown flood. It was some thirty feet broad and
with the melting of the snows in the mountains was so deep that
no sign was apparent here of the rocks which covered its bed.

Henry led the way up the bank of the stream toward a huge
sycamore that leaned lovingly over the water. An ancient wild
grape vine, its butt four inches through and its roots fairly in
the water, had a strangle-hold upon this decrepit forest monarch,
its tendrils reaching the sycamore's topmost branch.

Under the tree was a deep hole where flotsam leaves and twigs
performed an endless treadmill dance in the grasp of the eddy.

Suddenly, while their gaze clung to the dimpling water, there was
a flash of a bronze body--a streak of light along the surface of
the pool--and two widening circles showed where the master of the
hole had leaped for some insect prey.

"See him?" called Henry, but under his breath.

Hiram nodded, but squeezed his companion's hand for silence. He
almost held his own breath for the moment, as they moved back
from the pool with the soundless step of an Indian.

"That big feller is my meat," declared Henry.

"Go to it, boy!" urged Hiram, and set about preparing the camp.

He cut with his big jack-knife and set up a tripod of green rods
in a jiffy, skirmished for dry wood, lit his fire, filled the
kettle from the river at a little distance from the eddy, and
hung it over the blaze to boil.

Meanwhile Henry fished out a line and an envelope of hooks from
an inner pocket, cut a springy pole back on the hillside, rigged
his line and hook, and kicked a hole in the soft, rich soil until
he unearthed a fat angleworm.

With this impaled upon the hook he cautiously approached the pool
under the sycamore and cast gently. The struggling worm sank
slowly; the water wrinkled about the line; but there followed
no tug at the hook, although Henry stood patiently for several
moments. He cast again, and yet again, with like result.

"Ah, ba!" muttered Hiram, in his ear; "this fellow's appetite
needs tickling. He is being fed too well and turns up his nose
at a common earthworm, does he? Let me show you a wrinkle,

Henry drew the line ashore again and shook off the useless bait.

"You're, not fishing," Hiram continued with a grim smile.
"You've just been drowning a worm. But I'll show that old fellow
sulking down below there that he is no match this early in the
spring for a pair of hungry boys!"

He recrossed the meadow, and the stepping stones, to the wood.
He had noticed a log lying in the path as he descended the
hillside. With the toe of his boot he kicked a patch of bark
from the log, and thereby lay bare the wavering trail of a busy
grub. Following the trail he quickly found the fat, juicy
insect, which immediately took the earthworm's place upon the

Again Henry cast and this time, before the grub even touched the
surface of the pool, the fish leaped and swallowed the tempting
morsel, hook and all!

There was no playing of the fish on Henry's part. A quick jerk
and the gasping spotted beauty, a pound and a quarter, or more,
in weight, lay upon the sward beside the crackling fire.

"Whoop-ee!" called Henry, excitedly. "That's Number One!"

While Hiram dexterously scaled and cleaned the first trout, Henry
caught a couple more. Hiram brought forth, too, the coffee, salt
and pepper, sugar, a piece of fat salt pork and two table knives
and forks.

He raked a smooth bed in the glowing coals, sliced the pork thin,
laid some slices in the pan and set that upon the coals, where
the pork began to sputter almost at once.

The water in the kettle was boiling and he made the coffee. Then
he laid the trout upon the pan with three slices of pork upon
each, and sat back upon his haunches beside Henry enjoying the
delicious odor in anticipation of the more solid delights of

They had hard crackers and with these, and drinking the coffee
from the kettle itself, when it was cool enough, the two boys
feasted like monarchs.

"By Jo!" exclaimed Henry. "This beats maw's soda biscuit and fat
meat gravy!"

But as he ate, Hiram's gaze traveled again and again across
the scrub-grown meadow. The lay of the land pleased him.
The richness of the soil had been revealed when they dug the

For thousands of years the riches of yonder hillside had been
washing down upon the bottom, and this alluvial was rich beyond

Here were several acres, the young farmer knew, which, however
over-cropped the remainder of Uncle Jeptha's land had been, could
not be impoverished in many seasons.

"It's as rich as cream!" muttered he, thoughtfully. "Grubbing
out these young pines wouldn't take long. There's a heavy sod
and it would have to be ploughed deeply. Then a crop of corn
this year, perhaps--late corn for fear the river might overflow
it in June. And then---

"Great Scot!" ejaculated Hiram, slapping his knee, "what wouldn't
grow on this bottom land?"

"Yes, it's mighty rich," agreed Henry. "But it's a long way from
the house--and then, the river might flood it over. I've seen
water running over this bottom two feet deep--once."

They finished the al fresco meal and Hiram leaped up, inspired by
his thoughts to brisker movements.

"Whatever else this old farm has on it, I vow and declare," he
said, "this five or six acres alone might be made to pay a profit
on the whole investment!"



Henry showed Hiram the "branch", a little stream flowing into the
river, which marked the westerly boundary of the farm for some
ways, and they set off up the steep bank of this stream.

This back end of the farm--quite forty acres, or half of the
whole tract--had been entirely neglected by the last owner of the
property for a great many years. It was some distance from the
house, for the farm was a long and narrow strip of land from the
highway to the river, and Uncle Jeptha had had quite all he could
do to till the uplands and the fields adjacent to his home.

They came upon these open fields--many of them filthy with dead
weeds and littered with sprouting bushes--from the rear. Hiram
saw that the fences were in bad repair and that the back of the
premises gave every indication of neglect and shiftlessness.

Perhaps not exactly the latter; Uncle Jeptha had been an old
man and unable to do much active work for some years. But he
had cropped certain of his fields "on shares" with the usual
results--impoverished soil, illy-tilled crops, and the land left
in a slovenly condition which several years of careful tillage
would hardly overcome.

Now, although Hiram's father had been of the tenant class, he had
farmed other men's land as he would his own. Owners of outlying
farms had been glad to get Mr. Strong to till their fields.

He had known how to work, he knew the reasons for every bit of
labor he performed, and he had not kept his son in ignorance of
them. As they worked together the father had explained to the
son what he did, and why he did it, The results of their work
spoke for themselves, and Hiram had a retentive memory.

Mr. Strong, too, had been a great, reader--especially in the
winter when the farmer naturally has more time in-doors.

Yet he was a "twelve months farmer"; he knew that the winter,
despite the broken nature of the work, was quite as valuable to
the successful farmer as the other seasons of the year.

The elder Strong knew that men with more money, and more time
for experimenting than he had, were writing and publishing all
the time helps for the wise farmer. He subscribed for several
papers, and read and digested them carefully.

Hiram, even during his two years in the city, had continued his
subscription (although it was hard to find the money sometimes)
to two or three of those publications that his father had most
approved. And the boy had read them faithfully.

He was as up-to-date in farming lore now, if not in actual
practise, as he had been when he left the country to try his
fortune in Crawberry.

Beyond the place where the branch turned back upon itself and hid
its source in the thicker timber, Hiram saw that the fields were
open on both sides of this westerly line of the farm.

"Who's our neighbor over yonder, Henry?" he asked.

"Dickerson--Sam Dickerson," said Henry. "And he's got a boy,
Pete, no older than us. Say, Hiram, you'll have trouble with
Pete Dickerson."

"Oh, I guess not," returned the young farmer, laughing. "Trouble
is something that I don't go about hunting for."

"You don't have to hunt it when Pete is round," said Henry with a
wry grin. "But mebbe he won't bother you, for he's workin' near
town--for that new man that's moved into the old Fleigler place.
Bronson's his name. But if Pete don't bother you, Sam may."

"Sam's the father?"

"Yep. And one poor farmer and mean man, if ever there was one!
Oh, Pete comes by his orneriness honestly enough."

"Oh, I hope I'll have no trouble with any neighbor," said Hiram,

They came briskly to the outbuildings belonging to
Mrs. Atterson's newly acquired legacy. Hiram glanced into the
hog lot. She looked like a good sow, and the six-weeks-old
shoats were in good condition. In a couple of weeks they would
be big enough to sell if Mrs. Atterson did not care to raise

The shoats were worth six dollars a pair, too; he had inquired
the day before about them. There was practically eighteen
dollars squealing in that pen--and eighteen dollars would go a
long way toward feeding the horse and cow until there was good
pasturage for them.

These animals named were in the small fenced barnyard. In the
fall and winter the old man had fed a good deal of fodder and
other roughage, and during the winter the horse and cow had
tramped this coarse material, and the stable scrapings, into a
mat of fairly good manure.

He looked the horse and cow over with more care. It was a fact
that the horse looked pretty shaggy; but he had been used little
during the winter, and had been seldom curried. A ragged coat
upon a horse sometimes covers quite as many good points as the
same quality of garment does upon a man.

When Hiram spoke to the beast it came to the fence with a
friendly forward thrust of its ears, and the confidence of a
horse that has been kindly treated and looks upon even a strange
human as a friend.

It was a strong and well-shaped animal, more than twelve years
old, as Hiram discovered when he opened the creature's mouth, but
seemingly sound in limb. Nor was he too large for work on the
cultivator, while sturdy enough to carry a single plow.

Hiram passed him over with a satisfactory pat on the nose and
turned to look at the white-faced cow that had so terrified
Mrs. Atterson. She wasn't a bad looking beast, either, and would
freshen shortly. Her calf would be worth from twelve to fifteen
dollars if Mrs. Atterson did not wish to raise it. Another
future asset to mention to the old lady when he returned.

The youth turned his attention to the buildings themselves--the
barn, the cart shed, the henhouse, and the smaller buildings.
That famous old decorating firm of Wind & Weather had contracted
for all painting done around the Atterson place for the many
years; but the buildings were not otherwise in a bad state of

A few shingles had been blown off the roofs; here and there a
board was loose. With a hammer and a few nails, and in a few
hours, many of these small repairs could be accomplished. And a
coat or two of properly mixed and applied whitewash would freshen
up the whole place and--like charity--cover a multitude of sins.

Henry bade him good-bye now, they shook hands, and Hiram agreed
to let his new friend know at once if he decided to come with
Mrs. Atterson to the farm.

"We can have heaps of fun--you and me," declared Henry.

"It isn't so bad," soliloquized the young farmer when he was
alone. "There'd be time to put the buildings and fences in
good shape before the spring work came on with a rush. There's
fertilizer enough in the barnyard and the pig pen and the hen
run--with the help of a few pounds of salts and some bone meal,
perhaps--to enrich a right smart kitchen garden and spread for
corn on that four acre lot yonder.

"Of course, this land up here on the hill needs humus. If it has
been cropped on shares, as Henry says, all the enrichment it has
received has been from commercial fertilizers. And necessarily
they have made the land sour. It probably needs lime badly.

"Yes, I can't encourage Mrs. Atterson to look for a profit in
anything this year. It will take a year to get that rich bottom
into shape for--for what, I wonder? Onions? Celery? It would
raise 'em both. I'll think about that and look over the market
prospects more fully before I decide."

For already, you see, Hiram had come to the decision that this
old farm could be made to pay. Why not? The true farmer has to
have imagination as well as the knowledge and the perseverance
to grow crops. He must be able in his mind's eye to see a field
ready for the reaping before he puts in a seed.

He did not go to the house on this occasion, but after casually
examining the tools and harness, and the like, left by the old
man, he cut off across the upper end of the farm and gave the
neglected open fields of this upper forty a casual examination.

"If she had the money to invest, I'd say buy sheep and fence
these fields and so get rid of the weeds. They've grown very
foul through neglect, and cultivating them for years would not
destroy the weeds as sheep would in two seasons.

"But wire fencing is expensive--and so are good sheep to begin
with. No. Slow but sure must be our motto. I mustn't advise
any great outlay of money--that would scare her to death.

"It will be hard enough for her to put out money all season long
before there are any returns. We'll go, slow," repeated Hiram.

But when he left the farm that afternoon he went swiftly enough
to Scoville and took the train for the not far distant city of
Crawberry. This was Tuesday evening and he arrived just about
supper time at Mrs. Atterson's.

The reason for Hiram's absence, and the matter of Mrs. Atterson's
legacy altogether, had been kept from the boarders. And there
was no time until after the principal meal of the day was off the
lady's mind for Hiram to say anything to her.

"She's a good old soul," thought Hiram. "And if it's in my power
to make that farm pay, and yield her a competency for her old
age, I'll do it."

Meanwhile he was not losing sight of the fact that there was
something due to him in this matter. He was bound to see that he
got his share--and a just share--of any profits that might accrue
from the venture.

So, after the other boarders had scattered, and Mrs. Atterson had
eaten her own late supper, and Sister was swashing plates and
knives and forks about in a big pan of hot water in the kitchen
sink, (between whiles doing her best to listen at the crack of
the door) the landlady and Hiram Strong threshed out the project

It was not all one-sided; for Mrs. Atterson, after all, had
been bargaining all her life and could see the "main chance" as
quickly as the next one. She had not bickered with hucksters,
chivvied grocerymen, fought battles royal with butchers, and
endured the existence of a Red Indian amidst allied foes for two
decades without having her wits ground to a razor edge.

On the other hand, Hiram Strong, although a boy in years, had
been his own master long enough to take care of himself in most
transactions, and withal had a fund of native caution. They
jotted down memoranda of the points on which they were agreed,
which included the following:

Mrs. Atterson, as "party of the first part", agreed to board
Hiram until the crops were harvested the second year. In
addition she was to pay him one hundred dollars at Christmas time
this first year, and another hundred at the conclusion of the
agreement--i. e., when the second year's crop was harvested.

Beside, of the estimated profits of the second year's crop, Hiram
was to have twenty-five per cent. This profit was to be that
balance in the farm's favor (if such balance there was) over
and above the actual cost of labor, seed, and such purchased
fertilizer or other supplies as were necessary. Mrs. Atterson
agreed likewise to supply one serviceable horse and such tools
as might be needed, for the place was to be run as "a one-horse

On the other hand Hiram agreed to give his entire time to the
farm, to work for Mrs. Atterson's interest in all things, to make
no expenditures without discussing them first with her, and to
give his best care and attention generally to the farm and all
that pertained thereto. Of course, the old lady was taking Hiram
a good deal on trust. But she had known the boy almost two years
and he had been faithful and prompt in discharging his debts to

But it was up to the young fellow to "make good." He could not
expect to make any profit for his employer the first year; but he
would be expected to do so the second season, or "show cause."

When these matters were all discussed and the little memorandum
signed, Hiram Strong, in his own room, thought the situation over
very seriously. He was facing the biggest responsibility that he
had obliged to assume in his whole life.

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