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   Chapter 18 A HEAVY CLOUD

Hiram the Young Farmer By Burbank L. Todd Characters: 8804

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07

Now, a rattlesnake is poisonous, but he gives fair warning; a swamp moccasin lies in wait for the unwary and strikes without sign or sound. Into Hiram Strong's troubled mind came the thought that Mr. Pepper was striking like his prototype of the swamps.

A snaky sort of a man was Mr. Pepper-sly, a hand-rubber as he talked, with a little, sickly grin playing about his thin, mean mouth. When he opened it Hiram almost expected to see a forked tongue run out.

At least, of one thing was the young farmer sure: Mr. Pepper was no more to be trusted than a serpent. Therefore, he did not take a word that the man said on trust.

He recovered from the shock which the statement of the real estate man had caused, and he uttered no expression of either surprise, or trouble. Mrs. Atterson he could see was vastly disturbed by the statement; but somebody had to keep a cool bead in this matter.

"Let's see your option," Hiram demanded, bruskly.

"Why-if Mrs. Atterson wishes to see it--"

"You show it to Hi, you Pepper-man," snapped the old lady. "I wouldn't do a thing without his advice."

"Oh, well, if you consider a boy's advice material--"

"I know Hi's honest," declared the old lady, tartly. "And that's what I'm sure you ain't! Besides," she added, sadly, "Hi's as much interested in this thing as I be. If the farm's got to be sold, it puts Hi out of a job."

"Oh, very well," said the real estate man, and he drew a rather soiled, folded paper from his inner pocket.

He seemed to hesitate the fraction of a second about showing the paper. It increased Hi's suspicion-this hesitancy. If the man had a perfectly good option on the farm, why didn't he go about the matter boldly?

But when he got the paper in his own hands he could see nothing wrong with it. It seemed written in straight-forward language, the signatures were clear enough, and as he had seen and read Uncle Jeptha's will, he was quite sure that this was the old man's signature to the option which, for the sum of twenty dollars in hand paid to him, he agreed to sell his farm, situated so-and-so, for sixteen hundred dollars, cash, same to be paid over within one year of date.

"Of course," said Hiram, slowly, handing back the paper-indeed, Pepper had kept the grip of his forefinger and thumb on it all the time-"Of course, Mrs. Atterson's lawyer must see this before she agrees to anything."

"Why, Hiram! I ain't got no lawyer," exclaimed the old lady.

"Go to Mr. Strickland, who made Uncle Jeptha's will," Hiram said to her. Then he turned to Pepper:

"What's the name of the witness to that old man's signature?"

"Abel Pollock."

"Oh! Henry's father?"

"Yes. He's got a son named Henry."

"And who's the Notary Public?"

"Caleb Schell. He keeps the store just at the crossroads as you go into town."

"I remember the store," said Hiram, thoughtfully.

"But Hiram!" cried Mrs. Atterson, "I don't want to sell the farm."

"We'll be sure this paper is all straight before you do sell, Mrs. Atterson."

"Why, I just won't sell!" she exclaimed. "Uncle Jeptha never said nothing in his will about giving this option. And that lawyer says that in a couple of years the farm will be worth a good deal more than this Pepper offers."

"Why, Mrs. Atterson!" exclaimed the real estate man, cheerfully, "as property is selling in this locality now, sixteen hundred dollars is a mighty good offer for your farm. You ask anybody. Why, Uncle Jeptha knew it was; otherwise he wouldn't have given me the option, for he didn't believe I'd come up with the price. He knew it was a high offer."

"And if it's worth so much to you, why isn't it worth more to Mrs. Atterson to keep?" demanded Hiram, sharply.

"Ah! that's my secret-why I want it," said Pepper, nodding. "Leave that to me. If I get bit by buying it, I shall have to suffer for my lack of wisdom."

"You ain't bought it yet-you Pepper," snapped Mrs. Atterson.

"But I'm going to buy it, ma'am," replied he, rather viciously, as he stood up, ready to depart. "I shall expect to hear from you no later than Monday."

"I won't sell it!"

"You'll have to. If you refuse to sign I'll go to the Chancery Court. I'll make you."

"Well. Mebbe you will. But I don't know. I never was made to do anything yet. By no man named Pepper-you can take that home with you," she flung after him as he walked out and climbed into

the buggy.

But whereas Mrs. Atterson showed anger, Hiram went back to work in the field with a much deeper feeling racking his mind. If the option was all right-and of course it must be-this would settle their occupancy of the farm.

Of course he could not hold Mrs. Atterson to her contract. She could not help the situation that had now arisen.

His Spring's work had gone for nothing. Sixteen hundred dollars, even in cash, would not be any great sum for the old lady. And she had burdened herself with the support of Sister-and with Old Lem Camp, too!

"Surely, I can't be a burden on her. I'll have to hustle around and find another job. I wonder if Mr. Bronson would take me on now?"

But he knew that the Westerner already had a man who suited him, since Hiram had refused the chance Bronson offered. And, then, Lettie had shown that she felt he had not appreciated their offer. Perhaps her father felt the same way.

Besides, Hiram had a secret wish not to put himself under obligation to the Bronsons. This feeling may have sprung from a foolish source; nevertheless it was strong with the young farmer.

It looked very much to him as though this sudden turn of circumstances was "a facer". If Mrs. Atterson had to sell the farm he was likely to be thrown on his own resources again.

For his own selfish sake Hiram was worried, too. After all, he would be unable to "make good" and to show people that he could make the old, run-down farm pay a profit to its owner.

But Hiram Strong couldn't believe it.

The more he milled over the thing in his mind, the less he understood why Uncle Jeptha, who was of acute mind right up to the hour of his death, so all the neighbors said, should have neglected to speak about the option he had given Pepper on the farm.

And here they were, right in the middle of the Spring work, with crops in the ground and-as Mrs. Atterson agreed-it would be too late to go hunting a farm for this present season.

But Hiram kept to work. He had Sister and Old Lem Camp out in the garden, hand-weeding and thinning the carrots, onions, and other tender plants. That Saturday he went through the entire garden-that part already planted-with either the horse cultivator, or his wheel-hoe.

In planting parsnips, carrots, and other slow-germinating seeds, he had mixed a few radish seed in the seeding machine; these sprang up quickly and defined the rows, so that the space between rows could be cultivated before the other plants had scarcely broke the surface of the soil.

Now these radish were beginning to be big enough to pull. Hiram brought in a few bunches for their dinner on Saturday-the first fruits of the garden.

"Now, I dunno why it is," said Mrs. Atterson, complacently, after setting her teeth in the first radish and relishing its crispness, "but this seems a whole lot better than the radishes we used to buy in Crawberry. I 'spect what's your very own always seems better than other folks's," and she sighed and shook her head.

She was thinking of the thing she had to face on Monday. Hiram hated to see them all so downhearted. Sister's eyes were red from weeping; Old Lem Camp sat at the table, muttering and playing with his food again instead of eating.

But Hiram felt as though he could not give up to the disaster that had come to them. The thought that-in some way-Pepper was taking an unfair advantage of Mother Atterson knocked continually at the door of his mind.

He went over, to himself, all that had passed in the kitchen the day before when the real estate man had come to speak with Mrs. Atterson. How had Pepper spoken about the option? Hadn't there been some hesitancy in the fellow's manner-in his speech, indeed? Just what had Pepper said? Hiram concentrated his mind upon this one thing. What had the man said?

"The option had-er-one year to run."

Those were the fellow's very words. He hesitated before he pronounced the length of time. And he was not a man who, in speaking, had any stammering of tongue.

Why had he hesitated? Why should it trouble him to state the time limit of the option?

Was it because he was speaking a falsehood?

The thought stung Hiram like a thorn in the flesh. He put away the tool with which he was working, slipped on a coat, and started for Henry Pollock's house, which lay not more than half a mile from the Atterson farm, across the fields.

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