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   Chapter 3 A DREARY DAY

Hiram the Young Farmer By Burbank L. Todd Characters: 6279

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07


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 again.

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 t

hat 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 streets.

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 him.

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 horses.

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 slavey!

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.

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