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   Chapter 14 GETTING IN THE EARLY CROPS

Hiram the Young Farmer By Burbank L. Todd Characters: 16891

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07


Mother Atterson had breakfast the next morning by lamplight, because the truckman wanted to make an early start.

Hiram had already begun early rising, however, for the farmer who does not get up before the sun in the spring needs must do his chores at night by lantern-light. The eight-hour law can never be a rule on the farm.

But Sister was up, too, and out of the house, running as wild as a rabbit. Hiram caught her in the barnyard trying to clamber on the cow's back to ride her about the enclosure. Sister was afraid of nothing that lived and walked, having all the courage of ignorance.

She found that she could not in safety clamber over the pig-lot fence and catch one of the shoats. Old Mother Hog ran at her with open mouth and Sister came back from that expedition with a torn frock and some new experience.

"I never knew anything so fat could run," she confided to Hiram. "Old Missus Poundly, who lived on our block, and weighed three hundred pounds, couldn't run, I bet!"

Mr. Camp was not disturbed by Mrs. Atterson, but was allowed to sleep as long as he liked, while she kept a little breakfast hot for him and the coffeepot on the back of the stove.

The old lady became interested at once in all Hiram had done toward beginning the spring work. She learned about the seed in the window boxes (some of them were already breaking the soil) about watering them and covering them properly and immediately took those duties off Hiram's hands.

"If Sister an' me can't do the light chores around this place and leave you to 'tend to the bigger things, then we ain't no good and had better go back to the boarding house," she announced.

"Oh, Mis' Atterson! You wouldn't go back to town, would you?" pleaded Sister. "Why, there's real hens-and a cow that will give milk bimeby, Hi says-and a horse that wiggles his ears and talks right out loud when he's hungry, for I heard him-and pigs that squeal and run, an' they're jest as fat as butter--"

"Well, to stay here we've all got to work, Sister," declared her mistress. "So get at them dishes now and be quick about it. There's forty times more chores to do here than there was back in Crawberry-But, thanks be! there ain't no gravy to worry about."

"And there ain't no boarders to make fun of me," said Sister, thoughtfully. Then, she announced, after some rumination: "I like pigs better than I do boarders Mis' Atterson."

"Well, I should think you would!" exclaimed that lady, tartly. "Pigs has got some sense."

Hiram laughed at this. "You'll find the pigs demanding gravy, just the same-and very urgent about it they are, too," he told them.

But he was glad to give the small chores over into their hands, and went to work immediately to prepare for putting in the early crops.

He had already cleared the rubbish off the piece of ground selected for the garden, and had burned it. He hauled out stable manure from the barnyard and gave an acre and a half of this piece of land a good dressing.

The other half-acre was for early potatoes, and he wished to put the manure in the furrow for them, so did not top dress that strip of land. The frost was pretty well out of the ground by now; but even if some remained, plowing this high, well-drained piece would do no harm. Beside, Hiram was eager to get in early crops.

It was a still, hazy morning when he geared the old horse to the plow and headed him into the garden piece. He had determined to plow the entire plot at once, and instead of plowing "around and around" had paced off his lands and started in the middle, plowing "gee" instead of "haw".

This system is a bit more particular, and hard for the careless plowman; but it overcomes that unsightly "dead-furrow" in the middle of a field and brings the "finishing-furrow" on the edge. This insures better surface drainage and is a more scientific method of tillage.

The plow was rusty and the point was not in the very best condition; but after the first few rounds the share was cleaned off, and it began to slip through the moist earth and roll it over in a long, brown ribbon behind him.

Hiram Strong clung to the plow handles, a rope-rein in each hand, and watched the plow and the horse and the land ahead with an eye as keen as that of a river-pilot.

As the strip of turned earth grew wider and longer Sister ran out to see him work. She watched the plow turn the mulch into the furrow and lay the brown, greasy mold upon it, with wide-open eyes.

"Why!" cried she, "wouldn't it be nice if we could go right along with a plow and bury our past like that-cover everything mean and nasty up, and forget it! That institution they put me in-and the old woman I lived with before that, who drank so much gin and beat me-and the boarders-and that boy who used to pull my braids whenever he met me-My that would be fine!"

"I reckon that is what Life does do for us," returned Hiram, thoughtfully, stopping at the end of the furrow to mop his brow and let the old horse breathe. "Yes, sir! Life plows all the experience under, and it ought to enrich our future existence, just as this stuff I'm plowing under here will decay and enrich the soil."

"But the plow don't turn it quite under in spots," said Sister, with a sigh. "Leastways, I can't help remembering the bad things once in a while."

There were certain other individuals who found out very soon that Hiram was plowing, too. Those were the hens. There were not more than fifteen or twenty of the scrubby creatures, and they began to follow the plow and pick up grubs and worms.

"I tell you one thing that I've got to do before we put in much," Hiram told the ex-boarding house mistress at noon.

"What's that, Hi? Don't go very deep down into my pocket, for it won't stand it. After paying my bills, and paying for moving out here, I ain't got much money left-and that's a fact!"

"It won't cost much, but we've got to have a yard for the hens. Hens and a garden will never mix successfully. Unless you enclose them you might as well have no garden in that spot where I'm plowing."

"There warn't but five eggs to-day," said Mrs. Atterson. "Mebbe we'd better chop the heads off 'em, one after the other, and eat 'em."

"They'll lay better as it grows warmer. That henhouse must be fixed before next winter. It's too draughty," said Hi. "And then, hens can't lay well-especially through the winter-if they haven't the proper kind of food."

"But three or four of the dratted things want to stay on the nest all the time," complained the old lady.

"If I was you, Mrs. Atterson," Hiram said, soberly, "I'd spend five dollars for a hundred eggs of well-bred stock.

"I'd set these hens as fast as they get broody, and raise a decent flock of biddies for next year. Scrub hens are just as bad as scrub cows. The scrubs will eat quite as much as full-bloods, yet the returns from the scrubs are much less."

"I declare!" exclaimed Mrs. Atterson, "a hen's always been just a hen to me-one's the same as another, exceptin' the feathers on some is prettier."

"To-night I'll show you some breeders' catalogs and you can think the matter over as to what kind of a fowl you want," said the young farmer.

He went back to his job after dinner and kept steadily at work until three o'clock before there came a break. Then he saw a carriage drive into the yard, and a few moments later a man In a long gray coat came striding across the lot toward him.

Hiram knew the gentleman at once-it was Mr. Bronson, the father of the girl he had saved from the runaway. To tell the truth, the boy had rather wondered about his non-appearance during the days that had elapsed. But now he came with hand held out, and his first words explained the seeming omission:

"I've been away for more than a week, my boy, or I should have seen you before. You're Hiram Strong, aren't you-the boy my little girl has been talking so much about?"

"I don't know how much Miss Lettie has been talking about me," laughed Hiram. "Full and plenty, I expect."

"And small blame to her," declared Mr. Bronson. "I won't waste time telling you how grateful I am. I had just time to turn that boy of Dickerson's off before I was called away. Now, my lad, I want you to come and work for me."

"Why, much as I might like to, sir, I couldn't do that," said Hiram.

"Now, now! we'll fix it somehow. Lettie has set her heart on having you around the place.

"

You're the second young man I've been after whom I was sure would suit me, since we moved on to the old Fleigler place. The first fellow I can't find; but don't tell me that I am going to be disappointed in you, too."

"Mr. Bronson," said Hiram, gravely, "I'm sorry to say 'No.' A little while ago I'd have been delighted to take up with any fair offer you might have made me. But I have agreed with Mrs. Atterson to run her place for two seasons."

"Two years!" exclaimed Mr. Bronson.

"Yes, sir. Practically. I must put her on her feet and make the old farm show a profit."

"You're pretty young to take such responsibility upon your shoulders, are you not?" queried the gentleman, eyeing him curiously.

"I'm seventeen. I began to work with my father as soon as I could lift a hoe. I love farm work. And I've passed my word to stick to Mrs. Atterson."

"That's the old lady up to the house?"

"Yes, sir."

"But she wouldn't hold you to your bargain if she saw you could better yourself, would she?"

"She would not have to," Hiram said, firmly, and he began to feel a little disappointed in his caller. "A bargain's a bargain-there's no backing out of it."

"But suppose I should make it worth her while to give you up?" pursued Mr. Bronson. "I'll sound her a bit, eh? I tell you that Lettie has set her heart on having you, as we cannot find another chap whom we were looking for."

Now, Hiram knew that this referred to him; but he said nothing. Besides, he did not feel too greatly pleased that the strongest reason for Mr. Bronson's wishing to hire him was his little daughter's demand. It was just a fancy of Miss Lettie's. And another day, she might have the fancy to turn him off.

"No, sir," spoke Hiram, more firmly. "It is useless. I am obliged to you; but I must stick by Mrs. Atterson."

"Well, my lad," said the Westerner, putting out his hand again. "I am glad to see you know how to keep a promise, even if it isn't to your advantage. And I am grateful to you for turning that trick for my little girl the other day."

"I hope you'll come over and see us-and I shall watch your work here. Most of these fellows around here are pretty slovenly farmers in my estimation; I hope you will do better than the average."

He went back across the field and Hiram returned to his plowing. The young farmer saw the bay horses driven slowly out of the yard and along the road.

He saw the flutter of a scarf from the carriage and knew that Lettie Bronson was with her father; but she did not look out at him as he toiled behind the old horse in the furrow.

However, there was no feeling of disappointment in Hiram Strong's mind-and this fact somewhat surprised him. He had been so attracted by the girl, and had wished in the beginning so much to be engaged by Mr. Bronson, that he had considered it a mighty disappointment when he had lost the Westerner's card.

However, his apathy in the matter was easily explained. He had taken hold of the work on the Atterson place. His plans were growing in his mind for the campaign before him. His interest was fastened upon the contract he had made with the old lady.

His hand was, literally now, "to the plow"-and he was not looking back.

He finished the piece that day, and likewise drew out some lime that he had bought at Scoville and spread it broadcast upon all the garden patch save that in which he intended to put potatoes.

Although it is an exploded doctrine that the application of lime to potato ground causes scab, it is a fact that it will aid in spreading the disease. Hiram was sure enough-because of the sheep-sorrel on the piece-that it all needed sweetening, but he decided against the lime at this time.

As soon as Hiram had drag-harrowed the piece he laid off two rows down the far end, as being less tempting to the straying hens, and planted early peas-the round-seeded variety, hardier than the wrinkled kinds. These pea-rows were thirty inches apart, and he dropped the peas by hand and planted them very thickly.

It doesn't pay to be niggardly with seed in putting in early peas, at any rate-the thicker they come up the better, and in these low bush varieties the thickly growing vines help support each other.

This garden piece-almost two acres-was oblong in shape. An acre is just about seventy paces square. Hiram's garden was seventy by a hundred and forty paces, or thereabout.

Therefore, the young farmer had two seventy-yard rows of peas, or over four hundred feet of drill. He planted two quarts of peas at a cost of seventy cents.

With ordinary fortune the crop should be much more than sufficient for the needs of the house while the peas were in a green state, for being a quick growing vegetable, they are soon past.

Hiram, however, proposed putting in a surplus of almost everything he planted in this big garden-especially of the early vegetables-for he believed that there would be a market for them in Scoville.

The ground was very cold yet, and snow flurries swept over the field every few days; but the peas were under cover and were off his mind; Hiram knew they would be ready to pop up above the surface just as soon as the warm weather came in earnest, and peas do not easily rot in the ground.

In two weeks, or when the weather was settled, he proposed planting other kinds of peas alongside these first two rows, so as to have a succession up to mid-summer.

Next the young farmer laid off his furrows for early potatoes. He had bought a sack of an extra-early variety, yet a potato that, if left in the ground the full length of the season, would make a good winter variety-a "long keeper."

His potato rows he planned to have three feet apart, and he plowed the furrows twice, so as to have them clean and deep.

Henry Pollock happened to come by while he was doing this, and stopped to talk and watch Hiram. To tell the truth, Henry and his folks were more than a little interested in what the young farmer would do with the Atterson place.

Like other neighbors they doubted if the stranger knew as much about the practical work of farming as he claimed to know. "That feller from the city," the neighbors called Hiram behind his back, and that is an expression that completely condemns a man in the mind of the average countryman.

"What yer bein' so particular with them furrers for, Hiram?" asked Henry.

"If a job's worth doing at all, it's worth doing well, isn't it?" laughed the young farmer.

"We spread our manure broadcast-when we use any at all-for potatoes," said Henry, slowly. "Dad says if manure comes in contact with potatoes, they are apt to rot."

"That seems to be a general opinion," replied Hiram. "And it may be so under certain conditions. For that reason I am going to make sure that not much of this fertilizer comes in direct contact with my seed."

"How'll you do that?" "I'll show you," said Hiram.

Having run out his rows and covered the bottom of each furrow several inches deep with the manure, he ran his plow down one side of each furrow and turned the soil back upon the fertilizer, covering it and leaving a well pulverized seed bed for the potatoes to lie in.

"Well," said Henry, "that's a good wrinkle, too."

Hiram had purchased some formalin, mixed it with water according to the Government expert's instructions, and from time to time soaked his seed potatoes two hours in the antiseptic bath. In the evening he brought them into the kitchen and they all-even Old Lem Camp-cut up the potatoes, leaving two or three good eyes in each piece.

"I'd ruther do this than peel 'em for the boarders," remarked Sister, looking at her deeply-stained fingers reflectively. "And then, nobody won't say nothin' about my hands to me when I'm passin' dishes at the table."

The following day she helped Hiram drop the seed, and by night he had covered them by running his plow down the other side of the row and then smoothed the potato plat with a home-made "board" in lieu of a land-roller.

It was the twentieth of March, and not a farmer in the locality had yet put in either potatoes, or peas. Some had not as yet plowed for early potatoes, and Henry Pollock warned Hiram that he was "rushing the season."

"That may be," declared the young farmer to Mrs. Atterson. "But I believe the risk is worth taking. If we do get 'em good, we'll get 'em early and skim the cream of the local market. Now, you see!"

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