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   Chapter 17 MR. PEPPER APPEARS

Hiram the Young Farmer By Burbank L. Todd Characters: 11657

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07

But Hiram noted again that Lettie Bronson did not display terror. While her friends were screaming and crying, she sat perfectly quiet, and for a minute said never a word.

"Can't you back off?" Hi heard her ask the boatman.

"Not without lightening her, Miss. And she may have smashed a plank up there, too. I dunno."

The Western girl turned immediately to Hiram, who had now come to the bank's edge. She smiled at him charmingly, and her eyes danced. She evidently appreciated the fact that the young farmer had her at a disadvantage-and she had meant to snub him.

"I guess you'll have to help me again, Mr. Strong," she said. "What will we do? Can you push out a plank to us, or something?"

"I'm afraid not, Miss Bronson," he returned. "I could cut a pole and reach it to the boat; but you girls couldn't walk ashore on it."

"Oh, dear! have we got to wade?" cried one of Lettie's friends.

"You can't wade. It's too deep between the shore and the boat," Hiram said, calmly.

"Then-then we'll stay here till the tide rises and dr-dr-drowns us!" wailed another of the girls, giving way to sobs.

"Don't be a goose, Myra Carroll!" exclaimed Lettie. "If you waited here for the tide to rise you'd be gray-haired and decrepit. The tide doesn't rise here. But maybe a spring flood would wash you away."

At that the frightened one sobbed harder than ever. She was one of those who ever see the dark side of adventure. There was no hope on her horizon.

"I dunno what you can do for these girls," said the man. "I'd git out and push off the boat, but I don't dare with them aboard."

But Hiram's mind had not been inactive, if he was standing in seeming idleness. Sister tugged at his sleeve again and whispered:

"Have they got to stay there and drown, Hi?"

"I guess not," he returned, slowly. "Let's see: this old sycamore leans right out over them. I can shin up there with the aid of the big grapevine. Then, if I had a rope--"

"Shall I run and get one?" demanded Sister, listening to him.

"Hullo!" exclaimed Hiram, speaking to the man in the boat.

"Well?" asked the fellow.

"Haven't you got a coil of strong rope aboard?"

"There's the painter," said the man.

"Toss it ashore here," commanded Hiram.

"Oh, Hiram Strong!" cried Lettie. "You don't expect us to walk tightrope, do you?" and she began to giggle.

"No. I want you to unfasten the end of the rope. I want it clear-that's it," said Hiram. "And it's long enough, I can see."

"For what?" asked Sister.

"Wait and you'll see," returned the young farmer, hastily coiling the rope again.

He hung it over his shoulder and then started to climb the big sycamore. He could go up the bole of this leaning tree very quickly, for the huge grapevine gave him a hand-hold all the way.

"Whatever are you going to do?" cried Lettie Bronson, looking up at him, as did the other girls.

"Now," said Hiram, in the first small crotch of the tree, which was almost directly over the stranded launch, "if you girls have any pluck at all, I can get you ashore, one by one."

"What do you mean for us to do, Hiram?" repeated Lettie.

The young farmer quickly fashioned a noose at the end of the line-not a slipnoose, for that would tighten and hurt anybody bearing upon it. This he dropped down to the boat and Lettie caught it.

"Get your head and shoulders through that noose, Miss Bronson," he commanded. "Let it come under your arms. I will lift you out of the boat and swing you back and forth-there's none of you so heavy that I can't do this, and if you wet your feet a little, what's the odds?"

"Oh, dear! I can never do that!" squealed one of the other girls.

"Guess you'll have to do it if you don't want to stay here all night," returned Lettie, promptly. "I see what you want, Hiram," she added, and quickly adjusted the loop.

"Now, when you swing out over the bank, Sister will grab you, and steady you. It will be all right if you have a care. Now!" cried Hiram.

Lettie Bronson showed no fear at all as he drew her up and she swung out of the boat over the swiftly-running current. Hiram laid along the tree-trunk in an easy position, and began swinging the girl at the end of the rope, like a pendulum.

The river bank being at least three feet higher than the surface of the water; he did not have to shift the rope again as he swung the girl back and forth.

Sister, clinging with her left hand to the grapevine, leaned forward and clutched Lettie's hand. When she seized it, Sister backed away, and the swinging girl landed upright upon the bank.

"Oh, that's fun!" Lettie cried, laughing, loosing herself from "the loop. Now you come, Mary Judson!"

Thus encouraged they responded one by one, and even the girl who had broken down and cried agreed to be rescued by this simple means. The boatman then, after removing his shoes and stockings and rolling up his trousers, stepped out upon the sunken rock and pushed off the boat.

But it was leaking badly. He dared not take aboard his passengers again, but turned around and went down stream as fast as he could go so as to beach the boat in a safe place.

"Now how'll we get back to Scoville?" cried one of Lettie's friends. "I can never walk that far."

Sister had dropped back, shyly, behind Hiram, when he descended the tree. She had aided each girl ashore; but only Lettie had thanked her. Now she tugged at Hiram's sleeve.

"Take 'em home in our wagon," she whispered.

"I can take you to Scoville-or to Miss Bronson's-in the farm wagon," Hiram said, smiling. "You can sit on straw in the bottom and be comfortable."

"Oh, a straw ride!" cried Lettie. "What fun! And he can drive us right to St. Beris-And think what the other girls will say and how they'll stare!"

The idea seemed a happy one to all the gir

ls save the cry-baby, Myra Carroll. And her complaints were drowned in the laughter and chatter of the others.

Hiram picked up the tools, Sister got the string of fish, and they set out for the Atterson farmhouse. Lettie chatted most of the way with Hiram; but to Sister, walking on the other side of the young farmer, the Western girl never said a word.

At the house it was the same. While Hiram was cleaning the wagon and putting a bed of straw into it, and currying the horse and gearing him to the wagon, Mrs. Atterson brought a crock of cookies out upon the porch and talked with the girls from St. Beris. Sister had run indoors and changed her shabby and soiled frock for a new gingham; but when she came down to the porch, and stood bashfully in the doorway, none of the girls from town spoke to her.

Hiram drove up with the farm-wagon. Most of the girls had accepted the adventure in the true spirit now, and they climbed into the wagon-bed on the clean straw with laughter and jokes. But nobody invited Sister to join the party.

The orphan looked wistfully after the wagon as Hiram drove out of the yard. Then she turned, with trembling lip, to Mother Atterson: "She-she's awfully pretty," she said, "and Hiram likes her. But she-they're all proud, and I guess they don't think much of folks like us, after all."

"Shucks, Sister! we're just good as they be, every bit," returned Mrs. Atterson, bruskly.

"I know; mebbe we be," admitted Sister, slowly. "But it don't feel so."

And perhaps Hiram had some such thought, too, after he had driven the girls to the big boarding school in Scoville. For they all got out without even thanking him or bidding him good-bye-all save Lettie.

"Really, we are a thousand times obliged to you, Hiram Strong," she said, in her very best manner, and offering him her hand. "As the girls were my guests I felt I must get them home again safely-and you were indeed a friend in need."

But then she spoiled it utterly, by adding:

"Now, how much do I owe you, Hiram?" and took out her purse. "Is two dollars enough?" This put Hiram right in his place. He saw plainly that, friendly as the Bronsons were, they did not look upon a common farm-boy as their equal-not in social matters, at least.

"I could not take anything for doing a neighbor a favor, Miss Bronson," said Hiram, quietly. "Thank you. Good-day."

Hiram drove back home feeling quite as depressed as Sister, perhaps. Finally he said to himself:

"Well, some day I'll show 'em!"

After that he put the matter out of his mind and refused to be troubled by thoughts of Lettie Bronson, or her attitude toward him.

Spring was advancing apace now. Every day saw the development of bud, leaf and plant. Slowly the lowland was cleared and the brush and roots were heaped in great piles, ready for the torch.

Hiram could not depend upon this six acres as their only piece of corn, however. There was the four-acre lot between the barnyard and the pasture in which he proposed to plant the staple crop.

He drew out the remainder of the coarse manure and spread it upon this land, as far as it would go. For enriching the remainder of the corn crop he would have to depend upon a commercial fertilizer. He drew, too, a couple of tons of lime to be used on this corn land, and left it in heaps to slake.

And then, out of the clear sky of their progress, came a bolt as unexpected as could be. They had been less than a month upon the farm. Uncle Jeptha had not been in his grave thirty days, and Hiram was just getting into the work of running the place, with success looming ahead.

He had refused Mr. Bronson's offer of a position and had elected to stick by Mrs. Atterson. He had looked forward to nothing to disturb the contract between them until the time should be fulfilled.

Yet one afternoon, while he was at work in the garden, Sister came out to him all in a flurry.

"Mis' Atterson wants you! Mis' Atterson wants you!" cried the girl. "Oh, Hiram! something dreadful's going to happen. I know, by the way Mis' Atterson looks. And I don' like the looks o' that man that's come to see her."

Hiram unhooked the horse at the end of the row and left Sister to lead him to the stable. He went into the house after knocking the mud off his boots.

There, sitting in the bright kitchen, was the sharp-featured, snaky-looking man with whom Hiram had once talked in town. He knew his name was Pepper, and that he did something in the real estate line, and insurance, and the like.

"Jest listen to what this man says, Hiram," said Mrs. Atterson, grimly.

"My name's Pepper," began the man, eyeing Hiram curiously.

"So I hear," returned the young farmer.

"Before old Mr. Atterson died we got to talking one day when he was in town about his selling."

"Well?" returned Hiram. "You didn't say anything about that when you offered twelve hundred for this place."

"Well," said the man, stubbornly, "that was a good offer."

Hiram turned to Mrs. Atterson. "Do you want to sell for that price?"

"No, I don't, Hi," she said.

"Then that settles it, doesn't it? Mrs. Atterson is the owner, and she knows her own mind."

"I made Uncle Jeptha a better offer," said Mr. Pepper, "and I'll make Mrs. Atterson the same-sixteen hundred dollars. It's a run-down farm, of course--"

"If Mrs. Atterson doesn't want to sell," interrupted Hiram, but here his employer intervened.

"There's something more, Hi," she said, her face working "strangely. Tell him, you Pepper!"

"Why, the old man gave me an option on the place, and I risked a twenty dollar bill on it. The option had-er-a year to run; dated February tenth last; and I've decided to take the option up," said Mr. Pepper, his shrewd little eyes dancing in their gaze from Hiram to the old lady and back again.

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