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Hiram the Young Farmer By Burbank L. Todd Characters: 8631

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07

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 Sister?

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 girls.

"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 pay.

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 place."

"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 Hen."

"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 you!"

"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 boarders?"

"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."

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