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   Chapter 11 A GIRL RIDES INTO THE TALE

Hiram the Young Farmer By Burbank L. Todd Characters: 12195

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07


There was no bend in the highway for some distance, but the overhanging trees masked the track completely, save for a few hundred yards. The horse, whether driven or running at large, was plainly spurred by fright.

Into the peacefulness of this place its hoof-beats were bringing the element of peril.

Lying prostrate on the sloping trunk, Hiram could see much farther up the road. The outstretched head and lathered breast of a tall bay horse leaped into view, and like a picture in a kinetoscope, growing larger and more vivid second by second, the maddened animal came down the road.

Hiram could see that the beast was not riderless, but it was a moment or two-a long-drawn, anxious space of heart-beaten seconds-ere he realized what manner of rider it was who clung so desperately to the masterless creature.

"It's a girl-a little girl!" gasped Hiram.

She was only a speck of color, with white, drawn face, on the back of the racing horse.

Every plunge of the oncoming animal shook the little figure as though it must fall from the saddle. But Hiram could see that she hung with phenomenal pluck to the broken bridle and to the single horn of her side-saddle.

If the horse fell, or if she were shaken free, she would be flung to instant death, or be fearfully bruised under the pounding hoofs of the big horse.

The young farmer's appreciation of the peril was instant; unused as he was to meeting such emergency, there was neither panic nor hesitancy in his actions.

He writhed farther out upon the limb of the leaning oak until he was direct above the road. The big bay naturally kept to the middle, for there was no obstruction in its path.

To have dropped to the highway would have put Hiram to instant disadvantage; for before he could have recovered himself after the drop the horse would have been upon him.

Now, swinging with both legs wrapped around the tough limb, and his left hand gripping a smaller branch, but with his back to the plunging brute, the youth glanced under his right armpit to judge the distance and the on-rush of the horse and its helpless rider.

He knew she saw him. Swift as was the steed's approach, Hiram had seen the change come into the expression of the girl's face.

"Clear your foot of the stirrup!" he shouted, hoping the girl would understand.

With a confusing thunder of hoofbeats the bay came on-was beneath him-had passed!

Hiram's right arm shot out, curved slightly, and as his fingers gripped her sleeve, the girl let go. She was whisked out of the saddle and the horse swept on without her.

The strain of the girl's slight weight upon his arm lasted but a moment, for Hiram let go with his feet, swung down, and dropped.

They alighted in the roadway with so slight a jar that he scarcely staggered, but set the girl down gently, and for the passing of a breath her body swayed against him, seeking support.

Then she sprang a little away, and they stood looking at each other-Hiram panting and flushed, the girl with wide-open eyes out of which the terror had not yet faded, and cheeks still colorless.

So they stood, for fully half a minute, speechless, while the thunder of the bay's hoofs passed further and further away and finally was lost in the distance.

And it wasn't excitement that kept the boy dumb; for that was all over, and he had been as cool as need be through the incident. But it was unbounded amazement that made him stare so at the slight girl confronting him.

He had seen her brilliant, dark little face before. Only once-but that one occasion had served to photograph her features on his memory.

For the second time he had been of service to her; but he knew instantly-and the fact did not puzzle him-that she did not recognize him.

It had been so dark in the unlighted side street back in Crawberry the evening of their first meeting that Hiram believed (and was glad) that neither she nor her father would recognize him as the boy who had kept their carriage from going into the open ditch.

And he had played rescuer again-and in a much more heroic manner. This was the daughter of the man whom he had thought to be a prosperous farmer, and whose card Hiram had lost.

He had hoped the gentleman might have a job for him; but now Hiram was not looking for a job. He had given himself heartily to the project of making the old Atterson farm pay; nor was he the sort of fellow to show fickleness in such a project.

Before either Hiram or the girl broke the silence-before that silence could become awkward, indeed-there started into hearing the ring of rapid hoofbeats again. But it was not the runaway returning.

The mate of the latter appeared, and he came jogging along the road, very much in hand, the rider seemingly quite unflurried.

This was a big, ungainly, beak-nosed boy, whose sleeves were much too short, and trousers-legs likewise, to hide Nature's abundant gift to him in the matter of bone and knuckle. He was freckled and wore a grin that was not even sheepish.

Somehow, this stolidity and inappreciation of the peril the girl had so recently escaped, made Hiram feel sudden indignation.

But the girl herself took the lout to task-before Hiram could say a word.

"I told you that horse could not bear the whip, Peter!" she exclaimed, with wrathful gaze. "How dared you strike him?"

"Aw-I only touched him up a bit," drawled the youth. "You said you could ride anything, didn't you?" and his grin grew wider. "But I see ye had to get off."

Here Hiram could stand it no longer, and he blurted out:

"She might have been killed! I believe that horse is running yet--"

"Well, why didn't you stop it?" demanded the other youth, "impudently. You had a chance."

"He saved me," cried the girl, looking at Hiram now with shining eyes. "I don't know how to thank him."

"He might have stopped the horse while he was about it," growled the fellow, picking up his own reins again. "Now I'll have to ride after it."

"You'd better," said the little lady, sharply. "If father knew that horse had run away with me he w

ould be dreadfully put out. You hurry after him, Peter."

The lout never said a word in reply, but his horse carried him swiftly out of sight in the wake of the runaway. Then the girl turned again to Hiram and the young farmer knew that he was being keenly examined by her bright black eyes.

"I am very sure father will not keep him," declared the girl, looking at Hiram thoughtfully. "He is too careless-and I don't like him, anyway. Do you live around here?"

"I expect to," replied Hiram, smiling. "I have just come. I am going to stay at this next house, along the road."

"Oh! where the old gentleman died last week?"

"Yes. Mrs. Atterson was left the place by her uncle, and I am going to run it for her."

"Oh, dear! then you've got a place to work?" queried the little lady, with plain disappointment in her tone. "I am sure father would like to have you instead of Peter."

But Hiram shook his head slowly, though still smiling,

"I'm obliged to you," he said; "but I have agreed to stop with Mrs. Atterson for a time."

"I want father to meet you just the same," she declared.

She had a way about her that impressed Hiram with the idea that she seldom failed in getting what she wanted. If she was not a spoiled child, she certainly was a very much indulged one.

But she was pretty! Dark, petite, with a brilliant smile, flashing eyes, and a riot of blue-black curls, she was verily the daintiest and prettiest little creature the young farmer had ever seen.

"I am Lettie Bronson," she said, frankly. "I live down the road toward Scoville. We have only just come here."

"I know where you live," said Hiram, smiling and nodding.

"You must come and see us. I want you to know father. He's the very nicest man there is, I think."

"He came all the way East here so as to live near my school-I go to the St. Beris school in Scoville. It's awfully nice, and the girls are very fashionable; but I'd be too lonely to live if daddy wasn't right near me all the time.

"What is your name?" she asked suddenly.

Hiram told her.

"Why! that's a regular farmer's name, isn't it-Hiram?" and she laughed-a clear and sweet sound, that made an inquisitive squirrel that had been watching them scamper away to his hollow, chattering.

"I don't know about that," returned the young farmer, shaking his head and smiling. "I ought by good rights to be 'a worker in brass', according to the Bible. That was the trade of Hiram, of the tribe of Naphtali, who came out of Tyre to make all the brass work for Solomon's temple."

"Oh! and there was a King Hiram, of Tyre, too, wasn't there," cried Lettie, laughing. "You might be a king, you know."

"That seems to be an unprofitable trade now-a-days," returned the young fellow, shaking his head. "I think I will be the namesake of Hiram, the brass-smith, for it is said of him that he was 'filled with wisdom and understanding' and that is what I want to be if I am going to run Mrs. Atterson's farm and make it pay."

"You're a funny boy," said the girl, eyeing him furiously. "You're-you're not at all like Pete-or these other boys about Scoville."

"And that Pete Dickerson isn't any good at all! I shall tell daddy all about how he touched up that horse and made him run. Here he comes now!"

They had been walking steadily along the road toward the Atterson house, and in the direction the runaway had taken. Pete Dickerson appeared, riding one of the bays and leading the one that had been frightened.

The latter was all of a lather, was blowing hard, and before the horses reached them, Hiram saw that the runaway was in bad shape.

"Hold on!" he cried to the lout. "Breathe that horse a while. Let him stand. He ought to be rubbed down, too. Don't you see the shape he is in?"

"Aw, what's eatin' you?" demanded Pete, eyeing the speaker with much disfavor.

The horse, when he stopped, was trembling all over. His nostrils were dilated and as red as blood, and strings of foam were dripping from his bit.

"Don't let him stand there in the shade," spoke Hiram, more "mildly. He'll take a chill. Here! let me have him."

He approached the still frightened horse, and Pete jerked the bridle-rein. The horse started back and snorted.

"Stand 'round there, ye 'tarnal nuisance!" exclaimed Pete.

But Hiram caught the bridle and snatched it from the other fellow's hand.

"Just let me manage him a minute," said Hiram, leading the horse into the sunshine.

He patted him, and soothed him, and the horse ceased trembling and his ears pricked up. Hiram, still keeping the reins in his hand, loosened the cinches and eased the saddle so that the animal could breathe better.

There were bunches of dried sage-grass growing by the roadside, and the young farmer tore off a couple of these bunches and used them to wipe down the horse's legs. Pretty soon the creature forgot his fright and looked like a normal horse again.

"If he was mine I'd give him whip a-plenty-till he learned better," drawled Pete Dickerson, finally.

"Don't you ever dare touch him with the whip again!" cried the girl, stamping her foot. "He will not stand it. You were told--"

"Aw, well," said the fellow, "'I didn't think he was going to cut up as bad as that. These Western horses ain't more'n half broke, anyway."

"I think he is perfectly safe for you to ride now, Miss Bronson," said Hiram, quietly. "I'll give you a hand up. But walk him home, please."

He had tightened the cinches again. Lettie put her tiny booted foot in his hand (she wore a very pretty dark green habit) and with perfect ease the young farmer lifted her into the saddle.

"Good-bye-and thank you again!" she said, softly, giving him her free hand just as the horse started.

"Say! you're the fellow who's going to live at Atterson's place?" observed Pete. "I'll see you later," and he waved his hand airily as he rode off.

"So that's Pete Dickerson, is it?" ruminated Hiram, as he watched the horses out of sight. "Well, if his father, Sam, is anything like him, we certainly have got a sweet pair of neighbors!"

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