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   Chapter 1 THE CALL OF SPRING

Hiram the Young Farmer By Burbank L. Todd Characters: 9823

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07


"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 mare.

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 maid-of-all-work--

"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 enough."

"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 around.

"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 father."

"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 spinning.

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."

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