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   Chapter 16 ONE SATURDAY AFTERNOON

Hiram the Young Farmer By Burbank L. Todd Characters: 10662

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07


"The old Atterson place" as it was called in the neighborhood, began to take on a brisk appearance these days. Sister, with the help of Old Lem Camp, had long since raked the dooryard clean and burned the rubbish which is bound to gather during the winter.

Years before there had been flower beds in front; but Uncle Jeptha had allowed the grass to overrun them. It was a month too early to think of planting many flowers; but Hiram had bought some seeds, and he showed Sister how to prepare boxes for them in the sunny kitchen windows, along with the other plant boxes; and around the front porch he spaded up a strip, enriched it well, and almost the first seeds put into the ground on the farm were the sweet peas around this porch. Mother Atterson was very fond of these flowers and had always managed to coax some of them to grow even in the boarding-house back yard.

At the side porch she proposed to have morning-glories and moon-flowers, while the beds in front would be filled with those old-fashioned flowers which everybody loves.

"But if we can't make our own flower-beds, we can go without them, Hi," said the bustling old lady. "We mustn't take you from your other work to spade beds for us. Every cat's got to catch mice on this place, now I tell ye!"

And Hiram certainly was busy enough these days. The early seeds were all in, however, and he had run the seed-harrow over the potato rows again, lengthwise, to keep the weeds out until the young plants should get a start.

Despite the raw winds and frosts at night, the potatoes had come up well and, with the steadily warming wind and sun, would now begin to grow. Other farmers' potatoes in the vicinity were not yet breaking the ground.

Early on Monday morning Henry Pollock appeared with bush-axe and grubbing hoe, and Hiram shouldered similar tools and they started for the river bottom. It was so far from the house that Mrs. Atterson agreed to send their dinner to them.

"Father says he remembers seeing corn growing on this bottom," said Henry, as they set to work, "so high that the ears were as high up as a tall man. It's splendid corn land-if it don't get flooded out."

"And does the river often over-ran its banks?" queried Hiram, anxiously.

"Pretty frequent. It hasn't yet this year; there wasn't much snow last winter, you see, and the early spring floods weren't very high. But if we have a long wet spell, as we do have sometimes as late as July, you'll see water here."

"That's not very encouraging," said Hiram. "Not for corn prospects, at least."

"Well, corn's our staple crop. You see, if you raise corn enough you're sure of feed for your team. That's the main point."

"But people with bigger farms than they have around here can raise corn cheaper than we can. They use machinery in harvesting it, too. Why not raise a better paying crop, and buy the extra corn you may need?"

"Why," responded Henry, shaking his head, "nobody around here knows much about raising fancy crops. I read about 'em in the farm papers-oh, yes, we take papers-the cheap ones. There is a lot of information in 'em, I guess; but father don't believe much that's printed."

"Doesn't believe much that's printed?" repeated Hiram, curiously.

"Nope. He says it's all lies, made up out of some man's head. You see, we useter take books out of the Sunday School library, and we had story papers, too; and father used to read 'em as much as anybody."

"But one summer we had a summer boarder-a man that wrote things. He had one of these dinky little merchines with him that you play on like a piano, you know--"

"A typewriter?" suggested Hiram, with a smile.

"Yep. Well, he wrote stories. Father learnt as how all that stuff was just imaginary, and so he don't take no stock in printed stuff any more."

"That man just sat down at that merchine, and rattled off a story that he got real money for. It didn't have to be true at all.

"So father soured on it. And he says the stuff in the farm papers is just the same."

"I'm afraid that your father is mistaken there," said Hiram, hiding his amusement. "Men who have spent years in studying agricultural conditions, and experimenting with soils, and seeds, and plants, and fertilizers, and all that, write what facts they have learned for our betterment.

"No trade in the world is so encouraged and aided by Governments, and by private corporations, as the trade of farming. There is scarcely a State which does not have a special agricultural college in which there are winter courses for people who cannot give the open time of the year to practical experiment on the college grounds.

"That is what you need in this locality, I guess," added Hiram. "Some scientific farming."

"Book farming, father calls it," said Henry. "And he says it's no good."

"Why don't you save your money and take a course next winter in some side line and so be able to show him that he's wrong?" suggested Hiram. "I want to do that myself after I have fulfilled my contract with Mrs. Atterson.

"I won't be able to do so next winter, for I shall be on wages. You're going to be a farmer, aren't you?"

"I expect to. We've got a good farm as farms go around here. But it seems about all we can do to pay our fertilizer bills and get a living off it."

"Then why don't you

go about fitting yourself for your job?" "asked Hiram. Be a good farmer-an up-to-date farmer.

"No fellow expects to be a machinist, or an electrician, or the like, without spending some time under good instructors. Most that I know about soils, and fertilizers, and plant development, and the like, I learned from my father, who kept abreast of the times by reading and experiment.

"You can stumble along, working at your trade of farming, and only half knowing it all your life; that's what most farmers do, in fact. They are too lazy to take up the scientific side of it and learn why.

"That's the point-learn why you do things that your father did, and his father did, and his father before him. There's usually good reason why they did it-a scientific reason which somebody dug out by experiment ages ago; but you ought to be able to tell why."

"I suppose that's so," admitted Henry, as they worked on, side by side. "But I don't know what father would say if I sprung a college course on him!"

"I'd find out," returned Hiram, laughing. "You'd better spend your money that way than for a horse and buggy. That's the highest ambition of most boys in the country."

The labor of bushing and grubbing these acres of lowland was no light one. Hiram insisted that every stub and root be removed that a heavy plow could not tear out. They had made some progress by noon, however, when Sister came down with their dinner.

Hiram built a campfire over which the coffee was re-heated, and the three ate together, Sister enjoying the picnic to the full. She insisted on helping in the work by piling the brush and roots into heaps for burning, and she remained until midafternoon.

"I like that Henry boy," she confided to Hiram. "He don't pull my braids, or poke fun at me."

But Sister was developing and growing fast these days. She was putting on flesh and color showed in her cheeks. They were no longer hollow and sallow, and she ran like a colt-and was almost as wild.

The work of clearing the bottom land could not be continued daily; but the boys got in three full days that week, and Saturday morning. Henry, did not wish to work on Saturday afternoon, for in this locality almost all the farmers knocked off work at noon Saturday and went to town.

But when Henry shouldered his tools to go home at noon, Sister appeared as usual with the lunch, and she and Hiram cut fishing rods and planned to have a real picnic.

Trout and mullet were jumping in the pools under the bank; and they caught several before stopping to eat their own meal. The freshly caught fish were a fine addition to the repast.

They went back to fishing after a while and caught enough for supper at the farmhouse. Just as they were reeling up their lines the silence of the place was disturbed by a strange sound.

"There's a motorcycle coming!" cried Sister, jumping up and looking all around.

There was a bend in the river below this bottom, and another above; so they could not see far in either direction unless they climbed to the high ground. For a minute Hiram could not tell in which direction the sound was coming; but he knew the steady put-put-put must be the exhaust of a motor-boat.

It soon poked its nose around the lower turn. It was a good-sized boat and instantly Hiram recognized at least one person aboard.

Miss Lettie Bronson, in a very pretty boating costume, was in the bow. There were half a dozen other girls with her-well dressed girls, who were evidently her friends from the St. Beris school at Scoville.

"Oh, oh! what a pretty spot!" cried Lettie, on the instant. "We'll go ashore here and have our luncheon, girls."

She did not see Hiram and Sister for a moment; but the latter tugged at Hiram's sleeve.

"I've seen that girl before," she whispered. "She came in the carriage with the man who spoke to you-you remember? She asked me if I had always lived in the country, and how I tore my frock."

"Isn't she pretty?" returned Hiram.

"Awfully. But I'm not sure that I like her yet."

Suddenly Lettie saw Hiram and the girl beside him. She started, flushed a little, and then gave Hiram a cool little nod and turned her gaze from him. Her manner showed that he was not "down in her good books," and the young fellow flushed in turn.

"I don't know as we'd better try to make the bank here, Miss," said the man who was directing the motor-boat. "The current's mighty sharp."

"I want to land here," said Lettie, decidedly. "It's the prettiest spot we've seen-isn't it, girls?"

Her friends agreed. Hiram, casting a quick eye over the ruffled surface of the river, saw that the man was right. How well the stream below was fitted for motor-boating he did not know; but he was pretty sure that there were too many ledges just under the surface here to make it safe for the boat to go farther.

"I intend to land here-right by that big tree!" commanded Lettie Bronson, stamping her foot.

"Well, I dunno," drawled the man; and just then the bow of the boat swung around, was forced heavily down stream by the current, and slam it went against a reef!

The man shot off the engine instantly. The bow of the boat was lodged on the rock, and tip-tilted considerably. The girls screamed, and Lettie herself was almost thrown into the water, for she was standing.

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