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   Chapter 13 THE UPROOTING

Hiram the Young Farmer By Burbank L. Todd Characters: 16113

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07


These early Spring days were busy ones for Hiram Strong. The mornings were frosty and he could not get to his fencing work until midforenoon. But there were plenty of other tasks ready to his hand.

There were two south windows in the farmhouse kitchen. He tried to keep some fire in the stove there day and night, sleeping as he did in Uncle Jeptha's old bedroom nearby.

Before these two windows he erected wide shelves and on these he set shallow boxes of rich earth which he had prepared under the cart shed. There was no frost under there, the earth was dry and the hens had scratched in it during the winter, so Hiram got all the well-sifted earth he needed for his seed boxes.

He used a very little commercial fertilizer in each box, and planted some of the seeds he had bought in Crawberry at an agricultural warehouse on Main Street.

Mrs. Atterson had expressed the hope that he would put in a variety of vegetables for their own use, and Hiram had followed her wishes. When the earth in the boxes had warmed up for several days he put in the long-germinating seeds, like tomato, onions, the salads, leek, celery, pepper, eggplant, and some beet seed to transplant for the early garden. It was too early yet to put in cabbage and cauliflower.

These boxes caught the sun for a good part of the day. In the afternoon when the sun had gone, Hiram covered the boxes with old quilts and did not uncover them again until the sun shone in the next morning. He had decided to start his early plants in this way because he hadn't the time at present to build frames outside.

During the early mornings and late afternoons, too, he began to make the small repairs around the house and outbuildings. Hiram was handy with tools; indeed, a true farmer should be a good mechanic as well. He must often combine carpentry and wheelwrighting and work at the forge, with his agricultural pursuits. Hiram was something better than a "cold-iron blacksmith."

When it came to stretching the wire of the pasture fence he had to resort to his inventive powers. There are plenty of wire stretchers that can be purchased; but they cost money.

The young farmer knew that Mrs. Atterson had no money to waste, and he worked for her just as he would have worked for himself.

One man working alone cannot easily stretch wire and make a good job of it without some mechanism to help him. Hiram's was simple and easily made.

A twelve-inch section of perfectly round post, seven or eight inches through, served as the drum around which to wind the wire, and two twenty-penny nails driven into the side of the drum, close together, were sufficient to prevent the wire from slipping.

To either end of the drum Hiram passed two lengths of Number 9 wire through large screweyes, making a double loop into which the hook of a light timber chain would easily catch. Into one end of the drum he drove a headless spike, upon which the hand-crank of the grindstone fitted, and was wedged tight.

In using this ingenious wire stretcher, he stapled his wire to post number one, carried the length past post number two, looped the chain around post number three, having the chain long enough so that he might tauten the wire and hold the crankhandle steady with his knee or left arm while he drove the holding staple in post number two. And so repeat, ad infinitum.

After he had made this wire-stretcher the young fellow got along famously upon his fencing and could soon turn his attention to other matters, knowing that the cattle would be perfectly safe in the pasture for the coming season.

The old posts he collected on the wagon and drew into the dooryard, piling them beside the woodshed. There was not an overabundant supply of firewood cut and Hiram realized that Mrs. Atterson would use considerable in her kitchen stove before the next winter, even if she did not run a sitting room fire for long this spring.

Using a bucksaw is not only a thankless job at any time, but it is no saving of time or money. There was a good two-handed saw in the shed and Hiram found a good rat-tail file. With the aid of a home-made saw-holder and a monkey wrench he sharpened and set this saw and then got Henry Pollock to help him for a day.

Henry wasn't afraid of work, and the two boys sawed and split the old and well-seasoned posts, and some other wood, so that Hiram was enabled to pile several tiers of stove-wood under the shed against the coming of Mrs. Atterson to her farm.

"If the season wasn't so far advanced, I could cut a lot of wood, draw it up, and hire a gasoline engine and saw to come on the place and saw us enough to last a year. I'll do that next winter," Hiram said.

"That's what we all ought to do," agreed his friend.

Henry Pollock was an observing farmer's boy and through him Hiram gained many pointers as to the way the farmers in that locality put in their crops and cultivated them.

He learned, too, through Henry who was supposed to be the best farmer in the neighborhood, who had special success with certain crops, and who had raised the best seedcorn in the locality.

It was not particularly a trucking community; although, since Scoville had begun to grow so fast and many city people had moved into that pleasant town, the local demand for garden produce had increased.

"It used to be a saying here," said Henry, "that a bushel of winter turnips would supply all the needs of Scoville. But that ain't exactly so now.

"The stores all want green stuff in season, and are beginning to pay cash for truck instead of only offering to exchange groceries for the stuff we raise. I guess if a man understood truck raising he could make something in this market."

Hiram decided that this was so, on looking over the marketing possibilities of Scoville.

There was a canning factory which put up string beans, corn, and tomatoes; but the prices per hundred-weight for these commodities did not encourage Hiram to advise Mrs. Atterson to try and raise anything for the canneries. A profit could not be made out of such crops on a one-horse farm.

For instance, the neighboring farmers did not plant their tomato seeds until it was pretty safe to do so in the open ground. The cannery did not want the tomato pack to come on until late in August. By that time the cream of the prices for garden-grown tomatoes had been skimmed by the early truckers.

The same with sweet corn and green beans. The cannery demanded these vegetables at so late a date that the market-price was generally low.

These facts Hiram bore in mind as he planned his season's work, and especially the kitchen garden. This latter he planned to be about two acres in extent-rather a large plot, but he proposed to set his rows of almost every vegetable far enough apart to be worked with a horse cultivator.

Some crops-for instance onions, carrots, and other "fine stuff"-must be weeded by hand to an extent, and if the soil is rich enough rows twelve or fifteen inches apart show better results.

Between such rows a wheelhoe can be used to good advantage, and that was one tool-with a seed-sowing combination-that Hiram had told Mrs. Atterson she must buy if he was to practically attend to the whole farm for her. Hand-hoeing, in both field and garden crops, is antediluvian.

Thus, during this week and a half of preparation, Hiram made ready for the uprooting of Mrs. Atterson from the boarding house in Crawberry to the farm some distance out of Scoville.

The good lady had but one wagon load of goods to be transferred from her old quarters to the new home. Many of the articles she brought were heirlooms which she had stored in the boarding house cellar, or articles associated with her happy married life, which had been shortened by her husband's death when he was comparatively a young man.

These Mrs. Atterson saw piled on the wagon early on Saturday morning, and she had insisted upon climbing upon the seat beside the driver herself and riding with him all the way.

The boarders gathered on the

steps to see her go. The two spinster ladies had already taken possession, and had served breakfast to the disgruntled members of Mother Atterson's family.

"You'll be back again," prophesied Mr. Crackit, shaking the old lady by the hand. "And when you do, just let me know. I'll come and board with you."

"I wouldn't have you in my house again, Fred Crackit, for two farms," declared the ex-boarding house keeper, with asperity.

"I hope you told these people about my hot water, Mrs. Atterson," croaked Mr. Peebles, from the step, where he stood muffled in a shawl because of the raw morning air.

"If I didn't you can tell 'em yourself," returned she, with satisfaction.

And so it went-the good-byes of these unappreciative boarders selfish to the last! Mother Atterson sighed-a long, happy, and satisfying sigh-when the lumbering wagon turned the first corner.

"Thanks be!" she murmured. "I sha'n't care if they don't have a driblet of gravy at supper tonight."

Then she shook herself and stared straight ahead. On the very next corner-she had insisted that none of the other people at the house should observe their flitting-stood two figures, both forlorn.

Old Lem Camp, with a lean suit-case at his feet, and Sister with a bulging carpetbag which she had brought with her months before from the charity institution, and into which she had stuffed everything she owned in the world.

Their faces brightened perceptibly when they beheld Mrs. Atterson perched high beside the driver on the load of furniture and bedding. The driver drew in his span of big horses and the wheels grated against the curb.

"You climb right in behind, Mr. Camp," said the good lady. "There's room for you up under the canvas top-and I had him spread a mattress so't you can take it easy all the way, if you like.

"Sister, you scramble up here and sit in betwixt me and this man. And do look out-you're spillin' things out o' that bag like it was a Christmas cornucopia. Come on, now! Toss it behind us, onto them other things. There! we'll go on-and no more stops, I hope, till we reach the farm."

But that couldn't be. It was a long drive, and the man was good to his team. He rested them at the top of every hill, and sometimes at the bottom. They had to stop two hours for dinner and to "breathe 'em," as the man said.

At that time Mother Atterson produced a goodsized market basket-her familiar companion when she had hunted bargains in the city-and it was filled with sandwiches, and pickles, and crackers, and cookies, and a whole boiled fowl (fowl were cheaper and more satisfying than the scrawny chickens then in market) and hard-boiled eggs, and cheese, with numbers of other less important eatables tucked into corners of the basket to "wedge" the larger packages of food.

The four picnicked in the sun, with the furniture wagon to break the keen wind, passing around hot coffee in a can, from hand to hand, the driver having built a campfire to heat the coffee beside the country road.

But after that stop-for they were well into the country now-there was no keeping Sister on the wagon-seat. She had learned to drop down and mount again as lively as a cricket.

She tore along the edge of the road, with her hair flying, and her hat hanging by its ribbons. She chased a rabbit, and squirrels, and picked certain green branches, and managed to get her hands and the front of her dress all "stuck up" with spruce gum in trying to get a piece big enough to chew.

"Drat the young'un!" exclaimed Mother Atterson. "I can see plainly I'd never ought to brought her, but should have sent her back to the institution. She'll be as wild as Mr. March's hare-whoever he was-out here in the country."

But Old Lem Camp gave her no trouble. He effaced himself just as he had at the boarding house supper table. He seldom spoke-never unless he was spoken to; and he lay up under the roof of the furniture wagon, whether asleep, or no, Mrs. Atterson could not tell.

"He's as odd as Dick's hat-band," the ex-boarding house mistress confided to the driver. "But, bless you! the easiest critter to get along with-you never saw his beat. If I'd a house full of Lem Camps to cook for, I'd think I was next door to heaven."

It was dusk when they arrived in sight of the little house beside the road in which Uncle Jeptha Atterson had lived out his long life. Hiram had a good fire going in both the kitchen and sitting room, and the lamplight flung through the windows made the place look cheerful indeed to the travelers.

"My soul and body!" croaked the good lady, when she got down from the wagon and Hiram caught her in his arms to save her from a fall. "I'm as stiff as a poker-and that's a fact. But I'm glad to get here."

Hiram's amazement when he saw Sister and Old Lem Camp was only expressed in his look. He said nothing. The driver of the wagon backed it to the porch step and then took out his team and, with Hiram's help, led them to the stable, fed them, and bedded them down for the night. He was to sleep in one of the spare beds and go back to town the following day.

Mother Atterson took off her best dress, slipped into a familiar old gingham and bustled around the kitchen as naturally as though she had been there all her life.

She fried ham and eggs, and made biscuit, and opened a couple of tins of peaches she had brought, and finally set before them a repast satisfying if not dainty, and seasoned with a cheerful spirit at least.

"I vum!" she exclaimed, sitting down for the first time in years "at the first table." "If this don't beat Crawberry and them boarders, I'm crazy as a loon. Pour the coffee, Sister-and don't be stingy with the milk. Milk's only five cents a quart here, and it's eight in town. But, gracious, child! sugar don't cost no less."

Old Lem Camp sat beside Hiram, as he had at the boarding-house table. He had scarcely spoken since his arrival; but now, under cover of the talk of Mother Atterson, the driver of the furniture van, and Sister, he began one of his old-time monologues:

"Old, old-nothing to look forward to-then the prospect opens up-just like light breaking through the clouds after a storm-let's see; I want a piece of bread-bread's on Sister's side-I can reach it-hum! no Crackit to-night-fool jokes-silly fellow-ah! the butter-Where's the butterknife?-Sister's forgotten the butter-knife-no! here 'tis-That woman's an angel-nothing less-an angel in a last season's bonnet and a shabby gown-Hah! practical angels couldn't use wings-they'd be in the way in the kitchen-ham and eggs-gravy-fit for gods to eat-and not to worry again where next week's victuals are to come from!"

Hiram noted all the old mail said, and the last phrase enlightened him immensely as to why Old Lem Camp was so "queer." That was the trouble on the old man's mind-the trouble that had stifled him, and made him appear "half cracked" as the boarding-house jester and Peebles had said.

Lem Camp, too old to ever get another job in the city, had for five years been worrying from day to day about his bare existence. And evidently he saw that bogie of the superannuated disappearing in the distance.

After the truck driver had gone to bed, and Camp himself, and Sister had fallen asleep over the last of the dish-wiping, Mother Atterson confided in Hiram, to a degree.

"Now, this gal can be made useful. She can help me in the house, and she can help outside, too.

"She's a poor, unfortunate creature-I know and humbly is no name for her looks! But mebbe we can send her to the school nearby, and she ought to get some color in her face if she's out o' doors some-and some flesh on her skinny body.

"I don't know as I could get along without Sister," ruminated Mother Atterson, shaking her head.

"And as for Lem Camp-bless you! he won't eat more'n a fly, and who else would give him houseroom? Why, Hiram, I just had to bring him with me. If I hadn't, I'd felt just as conscience-stricken as though I'd moved and left a cat behind in an empty house!"

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