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Hiram the Young Farmer By Burbank L. Todd Characters: 9942

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07

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 fish?"

"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, enthusiastically.

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 responded.

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 palm.

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 river.

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 patches.

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 agreed.

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 reach

ing 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."

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 hook.

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 breakfast.

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 earthworm.

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

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!"

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