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   Chapter 15 TROUBLE BREWS

Hiram the Young Farmer By Burbank L. Todd Characters: 19378

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07


"Old Lem Camp," as he had been called for so many years that there seemed no disrespect in the title, was waking up. Not many mornings was he a lie-abed. And the lines in his forehead seemed to be smoothing out, and his eyes had lost something of their dullness.

It was true that, at first, he wandered about the farmstead muttering to himself in his old way-an endless monologue which was a jumble of comment, gratitude, and the brief memories of other days. It took some time to adjust his poor mind to the fact that he had no longer to fear that Poverty which had stalked ever before him like a threatening spirit.

Gratitude spurred him to the use of his hands. He was not a broken man-not bodily. Many light tasks soon fell to his share, and Mrs. Atterson told Hiram and Sister to let him do what he would. To busy himself would be the best thing in the world for the old fellow.

"That's what's been the matter with Mr. Camp for years," she declared, with conviction. "Because he passed the sixty-year mark, and it was against the practise of the paper company to keep employees on the payroll over that age, they turned Lem Camp off.

"Ridiculous! He was just as well able to do the tasks that he had learned to do mechanically as he had been any time for the previous twenty years. He had worked in that office forty years, and more, you understand.

"That's the worst thing about a corporation of that kind-it has no thought beyond its 'rules.' Old Mr. Bundy remembered Lem-that's all. If he hadn't so much stock in the concern they'd turn him off, too. I expect he knows it and that's what softened his heart to Old Lem.

"Now, let Lem take hold of whatever he can do, and git interested in it," declared the practical Mrs. Atterson, "and he'll show you that there's work left in him yet. Yes-sir-ree-sir! And if he'll work in the open air, all the better for him."

There was plenty for everybody to do, and Hiram would not say the old man nay. The seed boxes needed a good deal of attention, for they were to be lifted out into the air on warm days, and placed in the sun. And Old Lem could do this-and stir the soil in them, and pull out the grass and other weeds that started.

Hiram had planted early cabbage and cauliflower and egg-plant in other boxes, and the beets were almost big enough to transplant to the open ground. Beets are hardy and although hair-roots are apt to form on transplanted garden beets, the transplanting aids the growth in other ways and Hiram expected to have table-beets very early.

In the garden itself he had already run out two rows of later beets, the width of the plot. Bunched beets will sell for a fair price the whole season through.

Hiram was giving his whole heart and soul to the work-he was wrapped up in the effort to make the farm pay. And for good reason.

It was "up to him" to not alone turn a profit for his employer, and himself; but he desired-oh, how strongly!-to show the city folk who had sneered at him that he could be a success in the right environment.

Besides, and in addition, Hiram Strong was ambitious-very ambitious indeed for a youth of his age. He wanted to own a farm of his own in time-and it was no "one-horse farm" he aimed at.

No, indeed! Hiram had read of the scientific farming of the Middle West, and the enormous tracts in the Northwest devoted to grain and other staple crops, where the work was done for the most part by machinery.

He longed to see all this-and to take part in it. He desired the big things in farming, nor would he ever be content to remain a helper.

"I'm going to be my own boss, some day-and I'm going to boss other men. I'll show these fellows around here that I know what I want, and when I get it I'll handle it right!" Hiram soliloquized.

"It's up to me to save every cent I can. Henry thinks I'm niggardly, I expect, because I wouldn't go to town Saturday night with him. But I haven't any money to waste.

"The hundred I'm to get next Christmas from Mrs. Atterson I don't wish to draw on at all. I'll get along with such old clothes as I've got."

Hiram was not naturally a miser; he frequently bought some little thing for Sister when he went to town-a hair-ribbon, or the like, which he knew would please the girl; but for himself he was determined to be saving.

At the end of his contract with Mrs. Atterson he would have two hundred dollars anyway. But that was not the end and aim of Hiram Strong's hopes.

"It's the clause in our agreement about the profits of our second season that is my bright and shining star," he told the good lady more than once. "I don't know yet what we had better put in next year to bring us a fortune; but we'll know before it comes time to plant it."

Meanwhile the wheel-hoe and seeder he had insisted upon Mrs. Atterson buying had arrived, and Hiram, after studying the instructions which came with it, set the machine up as a seed-sower. Later, after the bulk of the seeds were in the ground, he would take off the seeding attachment and bolt on the hoe, or cultivator attachments, with which to stir the soil between the narrower rows of vegetables.

As he made ready to plant seeds such as carrot, parsnip, onion, salsify, and leaf-beet, as well as spring spinach, early turnips, radishes and kohlrabi, Hiram worked that part of his plowed land over again and again with the spike harrow, finally boarding the strips down smoothly as he wished to plant them. The seedbed must be as level as a floor, and compact, for good use to be made of the wheel-seeder.

When he had lined out one row with his garden line, from side to side of the plowed strip, the marking arrangement attached to his seeder would mark the following lines plainly, and at just the distance he desired.

Onions, carrots, and the like, he put in fifteen inches apart, intending to do all the cultivating of those extremely small plants with the wheel-hoe, after they were large enough. But he foresaw the many hours of cultivating before him and marked the rows for the bulk of the vegetables far enough apart, as he had first intended, to make possible the use of the horse-hoe.

Meanwhile he spike-harrowed the potato patch, running cross-wise of the rows to break the crust and keep down the quick-springing weed seeds. The early peas were already above ground and when they were two inches high Hiram ran his 14-tooth cultivator-or "seed harrow" as it is called in some localities-close to the rows so as to throw the soil toward the plants, almost burying them from sight again. This was to give the peas deep rootage, which is a point necessary for the quick and stable growth of this vegetable.

In odd moments Hiram had cut and set a few posts, bought poultry netting in Scoville, and enclosed Mrs. Atterson's chicken-run. She had taken his advice and sent for eggs, and already had four hens setting and expected to set the remainder of the of the eggs in a few days.

Sister took an enormous interest in this poultry-raising venture. She "counted chickens before they were hatched" with a vengeance, and after reading a few of the poultry catalogs she figured out that, in three years, from the increase of Mother Atterson's hundred eggs, the eighty-acre farm would not be large enough to contain the flock.

"And all from five dollars!" gasped Sister. "I don't see why everybody doesn't go to raising chickens-then there'd be no poor folks, everybody would be rich-Well! I expect there'd always have to be institutions for orphans-and boarding houses!"

The new-springing things from the ground, the "hen industry" and the repairing and beautifying of the outside of the farmhouse did not take up all their attention. There were serious matters to be discussed in the evening, after the others had gone to bed, 'twixt Hiram and his employer.

There was the five or six acres of bottom land-the richest piece of soil of the entire eighty. Hiram had not forgotten this, and the second Sunday of their stay at the farm, after the whole family had attended service at a chapel less than half a mile up the road, he had urged Mrs. Atterson to walk with him through the timber to the riverside.

"For the Land o' Goshen!" the ex-boarding house mistress had finally exclaimed. "To think that I own all of this. Why, Hi, it don't seem as if it was so. I can't get used to it. And this timber, you say, is all worth money? And if I cut it off, it will grow up again--"

"In thirty to forty years the pine will be worth cutting again-and some of the other trees," said Hiram, with a smile.

"Well! that would be something for Sister to look forward to," said the old lady, evidently thinking aloud. "And I don't expect her folks-whoever they be-will ever look her up now, Hiram."

"But with the timber cut and this side hill cleared, you would have a very valuable thirty acres, or so, of tillage-valuable for almost any crop, and early, too, for it slopes toward the sun," said the young farmer, ignoring the other's observation.

"Well, well! it's wonderful," returned Mrs. Atterson.

But she listened attentively to what he had to say about clearing the bottom land, which was a much more easily accomplished task, as Hiram showed her. It would cost something to put the land into shape for late corn, and so prepare it for some more valuable crop the following season.

"Well, nothing ventured, nothing have!" Mrs. Atterson finally agreed. "Go ahead-if it won't cost much more than what you say to get the corn in. I understand it's a gamble, and I'm taking a gambler's chance. If the river rises and floods the corn in June, or July, then we get nothing this season?"

"Tha

t is a possibility," admitted Hiram.

"Go ahead," exclaimed Mother Atterson. "I never did know that there was sporting blood in me; but I kinder feel it risin', Hi, with the sap in the trees. We'll chance it!"

Occasionally Hiram had stepped down to the pasture and squinted across to the water-hole. The grass was not long enough yet to turn the cow into the field, so he was obliged to make these special trips to the pasture.

He had seen nothing of the Dickersons-to speak to, that is-since his trouble with Pete. And, of a sudden, just before dinner one noon, Hiram took a look at the pasture and beheld a figure seemingly working down in the corner.

Hiram ran swiftly in that direction. Half-way there he saw that it was Pete, and that he had deliberately cut out a panel of the fence and was letting a pair of horses he had been plowing with, drink at the pool, before he took them home to the Dickerson stable.

Hiram stopped running and recovered his breath before he reached the lower corner of the pasture. Pete saw him coming, and grinned impudently at him.

"What are you doing here, Dickerson?" demanded the young farmer, indignantly.

"Well, if you wanter keep us out, you'd better keep up your fences better," returned Pete. "I seen the wires down, and it's handy--"

"You cut those wires!" interrupted Hiram, angrily.

"You're another," drawled Pete, but grinning in a way to exasperate the young farmer.

"I know you did so."

"Wal, if you know so much, what are you going to do about it?" demanded the other. "I guess you'll find that these wires will snap 'bout as fast as you can mend 'em. Now, you can put that in your pipe an' smoke it!"

"But I don't smoke." Hiram observed, growing calm immediately. There was no use in giving this lout the advantage of showing anger with him.

"Mr. Smartie!" snarled Pete Dickerson. "Now, you see, there's somebody just as smart as you be. These horses have drunk there, and they're going to drink again."

"Is that your father yonder?" demanded Hiram, shortly.

"Yes, it is."

"Call him over here."

"Why, if he comes over here, he'll eat you alive!" cried Pete, laughing. "You don't know my dad."

"I don't; but I want to," Hiram said, calmly. "That's why you'd better call him over. I have got pretty well acquainted with you, and the rest of your family can't be any worse, as I look at it. Call him over," and the young farmer stepped nearer to the lout.

"You call him yourself!" cried Pete, beginning to back away, for he remembered how he had been treated at his previous encounter with Hiram.

Hiram seized the bridles of the work horses, and shook them out of Pete's clutch.

"Tell your father to come here," commanded the young farmer, fire in his eyes. "We'll settle this thing here and now.

"These horses are on Mrs. Atterson's land. I know the county stock law as well as you do. You cut this fence, and your cattle are on her ground.

"It will cost you a dollar a head to get them off again-if Mrs. Atterson wishes to demand it. Now, call your father."

Pete raised a yell which startled the long-legged man striding over the hill toward the Dickerson farmhouse. Hiram saw the older Dickerson turn, stare, and then start toward them.

Pete continued to beckon, and began to yell:

"Dad! Dad! He won't let me have the hosses!"

Sam Dickerson came striding down to the waterhole-a lean, long, sour-looking man he was, with a brown face knotted into a continual scowl, and hard, bony hands. Yet Hiram was not afraid of him.

"What's the trouble here?" growled the farmer.

"He's got the hosses. I told you the fence was down and I was goin' to water 'em--"

"Shut up!" commanded his father, eyeing Hiram. "I'm talking to this fellow: What's the trouble here?"

"Your horses are on Mrs. Atterson's land," Hiram said, quietly. "You know that stock which strays can be held for a dollar a head-damage or no damage to crops. I warn you, keep your horses on your own land."

"That's your fence; if you don't keep it up, who's fault is it if my horses get on your land?" growled Dickerson, evidently making the matter a personal one with Hiram.

"Your boy here cut the wires."

"No I didn't, Dad!" interposed Pete.

Quick as a flash Hiram dropped the bridle reins, sprang for Pete, seized him in a wrestler's grip, twisted him around, and tore from his pocket a pair of heavy wire-cutters.

"What were you doing with these in your pocket, then?" demanded Hiram, disdainfully, tossing the plyers upon the ground at Pete's feet, and stepping back to keep the restless horses from leaving the edge of the water-hole.

Sam Dickerson seemed to take a grim pleasure in his son's overthrow. He growled:

"He's got you there, Pete. You'd better stop monkeyin' around here. Pick up them bridles and come on."

He turned to depart without another word to Hiram; but the latter did not propose to be put off that way.

"Hold on!" he called. "Who's going to mend this fence, Mr. Dickerson?"

Dickerson turned and eyed him coldly again.

"What's that to me? Mend your own fence," he said.

"Then I shall take these horses up to our barn. You can come and settle the matter with Mrs. Atterson-unless you wish to pay me two dollars here and now," said the young farmer, his voice carrying clearly to where the man stood upon the rising ground above him.

"Why, you young whelp!" roared Dickerson, suddenly starting down the slope.

But Hiram Strong neither moved nor showed fear. Somehow, this sturdy young fellow, in the high laced boots, with his flannel shirt open at the throat, raw as was the day, his sleeves rolled back to his elbows, was a figure to make even a more muscular man than Sam Dickerson hesitate.

"Pete!" exclaimed the farmer, harshly, still eyeing Hiram. "Run up to the house and bring my shotgun. Be quick about it."

Hiram said never a word, and the horses, yoked together, began to crop the short grass springing upon the bank of the water-hole.

"You'll find out you're fooling with the wrong man, you whippersnapper!" promised Dickerson.

"You can pay me two dollars and I'll mend the fence; or you can mend the fence and we'll call it square," said Hiram, slowly, and evenly. "I'm a boy, but I'm not to be frightened with a threat--"

Pete's long legs brought him flying back across the fields. Nothing he had done in a long while pleased him quite as much as this errand.

Hiram turned, jerked at the horses' bridle-reins, turned them around, and with a sharp slap on the nigh one's flank, sent them both trotting up into the Atterson pasture.

"Stop that, you rascal!" cried Dickerson, grabbing the gun from his hopeful son, and losing his head now entirely. "Bring that team back!"

"You mend the fence, and I will," declared Hiram, unshaken.

The angry man sprang down to his level, flourishing the gun in a way that would have been dangerous indeed had Hiram believed it to be loaded. And as it was, the young farmer was very angry.

The right was on his side; if he allowed these Dickersons, father and son, to browbeat him this once, it would only lead to future trouble.

This thing had to be settled right here and now. It would never do for Hiram to show fear. And if both of the long-legged Dickersons pitched upon him, of course, he would be no match for them.

But Sam Dickerson stumbled and almost fell as he reached the edge of the water-hole, and before he could recover himself, Hiram leaped upon him, seized the shotgun, and wrenched it from his hands.

He reversed the weapon in a flash, clubbed it, and raised it over his head with a threatening swing that made Pete yell from the top of the bank:

"Look out, Dad! He's a-goin' ter swat yer!"

Sam tried to scramble out of the way. But down came the gun butt with all the force of Hiram's good muscle, and-the stock was splintered and the lock shattered upon the big stone that here cropped out of the bank.

"There's your gun-what's left of it," panted the young farmer, tossing the broken weapon from him. "Now, don't you ever threaten me with a gun again, for if you do I'll have you arrested.

"We've got to be neighbors, and we've got to get along in a neighborly manner. But I'm not going to allow you to take advantage of Mrs. Atterson, because she is a woman.

"Now, Mr. Dickerson," he added, as the man scrambled up, glaring at him evidently with more surprise than anger, "if you'll make Pete mend this fence, you can have your horses. Otherwise I'm going to 'pound' them according to the stock law of the county."

"Pete," said his father, briefly, "go get your hammer and staples and mend this fence up as good as you found it."

"And now," said Hiram, "I'm going home to gear the horse to the wagon, and I'll drive over to your house, Mr. Dickerson. From time to time you have borrowed while Uncle Jeptha was alive quite a number of tools. I want them. I have made inquiries and I know what tools they are. Just be prepared to put them into my wagon, will you?"

He turned on his heel without further words and left the Dickersons to catch their horses, and to repair the fence-both of which they did promptly.

Not only that, but when Hiram drove into the Dickerson dooryard an hour later he had no trouble about recovering the tools which the neighbor had borrowed and failed to return.

Pete scowled at him and muttered uncomplimentary remarks; but Sam phlegmatically smoked his pipe and sat watching the young farmer without any comment.

"And so, that much is accomplished," ruminated Hiram, as he drove home. "But I'm not sure whether hostilities are finished, or have just begun."

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