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Hiram the Young Farmer By Burbank L. Todd Characters: 12443

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07

Henry showed Hiram the "branch", a little stream flowing into the river, which marked the westerly boundary of the farm for some ways, and they set off up the steep bank of this stream.

This back end of the farm-quite forty acres, or half of the whole tract-had been entirely neglected by the last owner of the property for a great many years. It was some distance from the house, for the farm was a long and narrow strip of land from the highway to the river, and Uncle Jeptha had had quite all he could do to till the uplands and the fields adjacent to his home.

They came upon these open fields-many of them filthy with dead weeds and littered with sprouting bushes-from the rear. Hiram saw that the fences were in bad repair and that the back of the premises gave every indication of neglect and shiftlessness.

Perhaps not exactly the latter; Uncle Jeptha had been an old man and unable to do much active work for some years. But he had cropped certain of his fields "on shares" with the usual results-impoverished soil, illy-tilled crops, and the land left in a slovenly condition which several years of careful tillage would hardly overcome.

Now, although Hiram's father had been of the tenant class, he had farmed other men's land as he would his own. Owners of outlying farms had been glad to get Mr. Strong to till their fields.

He had known how to work, he knew the reasons for every bit of labor he performed, and he had not kept his son in ignorance of them. As they worked together the father had explained to the son what he did, and why he did it, The results of their work spoke for themselves, and Hiram had a retentive memory.

Mr. Strong, too, had been a great, reader-especially in the winter when the farmer naturally has more time in-doors.

Yet he was a "twelve months farmer"; he knew that the winter, despite the broken nature of the work, was quite as valuable to the successful farmer as the other seasons of the year.

The elder Strong knew that men with more money, and more time for experimenting than he had, were writing and publishing all the time helps for the wise farmer. He subscribed for several papers, and read and digested them carefully.

Hiram, even during his two years in the city, had continued his subscription (although it was hard to find the money sometimes) to two or three of those publications that his father had most approved. And the boy had read them faithfully.

He was as up-to-date in farming lore now, if not in actual practise, as he had been when he left the country to try his fortune in Crawberry.

Beyond the place where the branch turned back upon itself and hid its source in the thicker timber, Hiram saw that the fields were open on both sides of this westerly line of the farm.

"Who's our neighbor over yonder, Henry?" he asked.

"Dickerson-Sam Dickerson," said Henry. "And he's got a boy, Pete, no older than us. Say, Hiram, you'll have trouble with Pete Dickerson."

"Oh, I guess not," returned the young farmer, laughing. "Trouble is something that I don't go about hunting for."

"You don't have to hunt it when Pete is round," said Henry with a wry grin. "But mebbe he won't bother you, for he's workin' near town-for that new man that's moved into the old Fleigler place. Bronson's his name. But if Pete don't bother you, Sam may."

"Sam's the father?"

"Yep. And one poor farmer and mean man, if ever there was one! Oh, Pete comes by his orneriness honestly enough."

"Oh, I hope I'll have no trouble with any neighbor," said Hiram, hopefully.

They came briskly to the outbuildings belonging to Mrs. Atterson's newly acquired legacy. Hiram glanced into the hog lot. She looked like a good sow, and the six-weeks-old shoats were in good condition. In a couple of weeks they would be big enough to sell if Mrs. Atterson did not care to raise them.

The shoats were worth six dollars a pair, too; he had inquired the day before about them. There was practically eighteen dollars squealing in that pen-and eighteen dollars would go a long way toward feeding the horse and cow until there was good pasturage for them.

These animals named were in the small fenced barnyard. In the fall and winter the old man had fed a good deal of fodder and other roughage, and during the winter the horse and cow had tramped this coarse material, and the stable scrapings, into a mat of fairly good manure.

He looked the horse and cow over with more care. It was a fact that the horse looked pretty shaggy; but he had been used little during the winter, and had been seldom curried. A ragged coat upon a horse sometimes covers quite as many good points as the same quality of garment does upon a man.

When Hiram spoke to the beast it came to the fence with a friendly forward thrust of its ears, and the confidence of a horse that has been kindly treated and looks upon even a strange human as a friend.

It was a strong and well-shaped animal, more than twelve years old, as Hiram discovered when he opened the creature's mouth, but seemingly sound in limb. Nor was he too large for work on the cultivator, while sturdy enough to carry a single plow.

Hiram passed him over with a satisfactory pat on the nose and turned to look at the white-faced cow that had so terrified Mrs. Atterson. She wasn't a bad looking beast, either, and would freshen shortly. Her calf would be worth from twelve to fifteen dollars if Mrs. Atterson did not wish to raise it. Another future asset to mention to the old lady when he returned.

The youth turned his attention to the buildings themselves-the barn, the cart shed, the henhouse, and the smaller buildings. That famous old decorating firm of Wind & Weather had contracted for all painting done around the Atterson place for the many years; but the buildings were not otherwise in a bad state of repair.

A few shingles had been blown off the roofs; here and there a board was loose. With a hammer and a few nails, and in a few hours, many of these small repairs could be accomplished. And a coat or two of properly mixed and applied whitewash would freshen up the whole place and-like charity-cover a multitude of sins.

Henry bade him good-bye now, they sho

ok hands, and Hiram agreed to let his new friend know at once if he decided to come with Mrs. Atterson to the farm.

"We can have heaps of fun-you and me," declared Henry.

"It isn't so bad," soliloquized the young farmer when he was alone. "There'd be time to put the buildings and fences in good shape before the spring work came on with a rush. There's fertilizer enough in the barnyard and the pig pen and the hen run-with the help of a few pounds of salts and some bone meal, perhaps-to enrich a right smart kitchen garden and spread for corn on that four acre lot yonder.

"Of course, this land up here on the hill needs humus. If it has been cropped on shares, as Henry says, all the enrichment it has received has been from commercial fertilizers. And necessarily they have made the land sour. It probably needs lime badly.

"Yes, I can't encourage Mrs. Atterson to look for a profit in anything this year. It will take a year to get that rich bottom into shape for-for what, I wonder? Onions? Celery? It would raise 'em both. I'll think about that and look over the market prospects more fully before I decide."

For already, you see, Hiram had come to the decision that this old farm could be made to pay. Why not? The true farmer has to have imagination as well as the knowledge and the perseverance to grow crops. He must be able in his mind's eye to see a field ready for the reaping before he puts in a seed.

He did not go to the house on this occasion, but after casually examining the tools and harness, and the like, left by the old man, he cut off across the upper end of the farm and gave the neglected open fields of this upper forty a casual examination.

"If she had the money to invest, I'd say buy sheep and fence these fields and so get rid of the weeds. They've grown very foul through neglect, and cultivating them for years would not destroy the weeds as sheep would in two seasons.

"But wire fencing is expensive-and so are good sheep to begin with. No. Slow but sure must be our motto. I mustn't advise any great outlay of money-that would scare her to death.

"It will be hard enough for her to put out money all season long before there are any returns. We'll go, slow," repeated Hiram.

But when he left the farm that afternoon he went swiftly enough to Scoville and took the train for the not far distant city of Crawberry. This was Tuesday evening and he arrived just about supper time at Mrs. Atterson's.

The reason for Hiram's absence, and the matter of Mrs. Atterson's legacy altogether, had been kept from the boarders. And there was no time until after the principal meal of the day was off the lady's mind for Hiram to say anything to her.

"She's a good old soul," thought Hiram. "And if it's in my power to make that farm pay, and yield her a competency for her old age, I'll do it."

Meanwhile he was not losing sight of the fact that there was something due to him in this matter. He was bound to see that he got his share-and a just share-of any profits that might accrue from the venture.

So, after the other boarders had scattered, and Mrs. Atterson had eaten her own late supper, and Sister was swashing plates and knives and forks about in a big pan of hot water in the kitchen sink, (between whiles doing her best to listen at the crack of the door) the landlady and Hiram Strong threshed out the project fully.

It was not all one-sided; for Mrs. Atterson, after all, had been bargaining all her life and could see the "main chance" as quickly as the next one. She had not bickered with hucksters, chivvied grocerymen, fought battles royal with butchers, and endured the existence of a Red Indian amidst allied foes for two decades without having her wits ground to a razor edge.

On the other hand, Hiram Strong, although a boy in years, had been his own master long enough to take care of himself in most transactions, and withal had a fund of native caution. They jotted down memoranda of the points on which they were agreed, which included the following:

Mrs. Atterson, as "party of the first part", agreed to board Hiram until the crops were harvested the second year. In addition she was to pay him one hundred dollars at Christmas time this first year, and another hundred at the conclusion of the agreement-i. e., when the second year's crop was harvested.

Beside, of the estimated profits of the second year's crop, Hiram was to have twenty-five per cent. This profit was to be that balance in the farm's favor (if such balance there was) over and above the actual cost of labor, seed, and such purchased fertilizer or other supplies as were necessary. Mrs. Atterson agreed likewise to supply one serviceable horse and such tools as might be needed, for the place was to be run as "a one-horse farm."

On the other hand Hiram agreed to give his entire time to the farm, to work for Mrs. Atterson's interest in all things, to make no expenditures without discussing them first with her, and to give his best care and attention generally to the farm and all that pertained thereto. Of course, the old lady was taking Hiram a good deal on trust. But she had known the boy almost two years and he had been faithful and prompt in discharging his debts to her.

But it was up to the young fellow to "make good." He could not expect to make any profit for his employer the first year; but he would be expected to do so the second season, or "show cause."

When these matters were all discussed and the little memorandum signed, Hiram Strong, in his own room, thought the situation over very seriously. He was facing the biggest responsibility that he had obliged to assume in his whole life.

This was no boyish job; it was man's work. He had put his hand to an agreement that might influence his whole future, and certainly would make or break his credit as a trustworthy youth and one of his word.

During these past days Hiram had determined to "get back to the soil" and to get back to it in a business-like way. He desired to make good for Mrs. Atterson so that he might some time have the chance to make good for somebody else on a bigger scale.

He did not propose to be "a one-horse farmer" all his days.

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