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   Chapter 4 THE LOST CARD

Hiram the Young Farmer By Burbank L. Todd Characters: 7086

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07


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 carriage.

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 himself.

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 again?"

"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 up."

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 occurred.

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 off.

"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 coat.

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.

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