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   Chapter 24 “CORN THAT’S CORN”

Hiram the Young Farmer By Burbank L. Todd Characters: 11270

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07


Hiram caught sight of Pepper in town one day and went after him. He knew the real estate man had returned from his business trip, and the fact that the matter of the option was hanging fire, and troubling Mrs. Atterson exceedingly, urged Hiram go counter to Mr. Strickland's advice.

The lawyer had said: "Let sleeping dogs lie." Pepper had made no move, however, and the uncertainty was very trying both for the young farmer and his employer.

"How about that option you talked about, Mr. Pepper?" asked the "youth. Are you going to exercise it?"

"I've got time enough, ain't I?" returned the real estate man, eyeing Hiram in his very slyest way.

"I expect you have-if it really runs a year."

"You seen it, didn't you?" demanded Pepper.

"But we'd like Mr. Strickland to see it."

"He's goin' to act for Mrs. Atterson?" queried the man, with a scowl.

"Oh, yes."

"Well, he'll see it-when I'm ready to take it up. Don't you fret," retorted Pepper, and turned away.

This did not encourage the young farmer, nor was there anything in the man's manner to yield hope to Mrs. Atterson that she could feel secure in her title to the farm. So Hiram said nothing to her about meeting the man.

But the youth was very much puzzled. It really did seem as though Pepper was afraid to show that paper to Mr. Strickland.

"There's something queer about it, I believe," declared the youth to himself. "Somewhere there is a trick. He's afraid of being tripped up on it. But, why does he wait, if he knows the railroad is going to demand a strip of the farm and he can get a good price for it?

"Perhaps he is waiting to make sure that the railroad will condemn a piece of Mrs. Atterson's farm. If the board should change the route again, Pepper would have a farm on his hands that he might not be able to sell immediately at a profit.

"For we must confess, that sixteen hundred dollars, as farms have sold in the past around here, is a good price for the Atterson place. That's why Uncle Jeptha was willing to give an option for a month-if that was, in the beginning, the understanding the old man had of his agreement with Pepper.

"However, we might as well go ahead with the work, and take what comes to us in the end. I know no other way to do," quoth Hiram, with a sigh.

For he could not be very cheerful with the prospect of making only a single crop on the place. His profit was to have come out of the second year's crop-and, he felt, out of that bottom land which had so charmed him on the day he and Henry Pollock had gone over the Atterson Place.

Riches lay buried in that six acres of bottom. Hiram had read up on onion culture, and he believed that, if he planted his seed in hot beds, and transplanted the young onions to the rich soil in this bottom, he could raise fully as large onions as they did in either Texas or the Bermudas.

"Of course, they have the advantage of a longer season down there," thought Hiram, "and cheap labor. But maybe I can get cheap labor right around here. The children of these farmers are used to working in the fields. I ought to be able to get help pretty cheap.

"And when it comes to the market-why, I've got the Texas growers, at least, skinned a little! I can reach either the Philadelphia or New York market in a day. Yes; given the right conditions, onions ought to pay big down there on that lowland."

But this was not the only crop possibility be turned over in his mind. There were other vegetables that would grow luxuriantly on that bottom land-providing, always, the flood did not come and fulfill Henry Pollock's prophecy.

"Two feet of water on that meadow, eh?" thought Hiram. "Well, that certainly would be bad. I wouldn't want that to happen after the ground was plowed this year, even. It would tear up the land, and sour it, and spoil it for a corn-crop, indeed."

So he was down a good deal to the river's edge, watching the ebb and flow of the stream. A heavy rain would, over night, fill the river to its very brim and the open field, even beyond the marshy spot, would be a-slop with standing water.

"It sure wouldn't grow alfalfa," chuckled Hiram to himself one day. "For the water rises here a good deal closer to the surface than four feet, and alfalfa farmers declare that if the springs rise that high, there is no use in putting in alfalfa. Why! I reckon just now the water is within four inches of the top of the ground."

If the river remained so high, and the low ground so saturated with water, he knew, too, that he could not get the six acres plowed in time to put in corn this year. And it was this year's crop he must think about first.

Even if Pepper did not exercise his option, and turn Mrs. Atterson out of the place, a big commercial crop of onions, or any other better-paying crop, could only be tried the second year.

Hiram had got his seed corn for the upland piece of the man who raised the best corn in the community. He had tried the fertility of each ear, discarded those which proved weakly, or infertile, and his stand of corn for the four acres, which was now half hand high, was the best of any farmer between the Atterson place and town.

But this corn was a hundred-and-ten-day variety. The farmer he got it of told him that he had raised a crop from a piece planted the day before the Fourth of July; but it was safer to get it in at least by June fifteenth.

And here it was past June first, and the meadow land had not yet been plowed.

"However," Hiram said to Henry, when they walked down to the riverside on Sunday afternoon, "I'm going ahead on Faith-just as the ministe

r said in church this morning. If Faith can move mountains, we'll give it a chance to move something right down here."

"I dunno, Hiram," returned the other boy, shaking his head. "Father says he'll git in here for you with three head and a Number 3 plow by the middle of this week if you say so-'nless it rains again, of course. But he's afeared you're goin' to waste Mrs. Atterson's money for her."

"Nothing ventured, nothing gained," quoted Hiram, grimly. "If a farmer didn't take chances every year, the whole world would starve to death!"

"Well," returned Henry, smiling too, "let the other fellow take the chances-that's dad's motter."

"Yes. And the 'chancey' fellow skims the cream of things every time. No, sir!" declared the young fellow, "I'm going to be among the cream-skimmers, or I won't be a farmer at all."

So the plow was put into the bottom-land Wednesday-and put in deep. By Friday night the whole piece was plowed and partly harrowed.

Hiram had drawn lime for this bottom-land, proposing to use beside only a small amount of fertilizer. He spread this lime from his one-horse wagon, while Henry drag-harrowed behind him, and by Saturday noon the job was done.

The horses had not mired at all, much to Mr. Pollock's surprise. And the plow had bit deep. All the heavy sod of the piece was covered well, and the seed bed was fairly level-for corn.

Although the Pollocks did not work on Saturday afternoon, Hiram did not feel as though he could stop at this time. Most of the farmers had already planted their last piece of corn. Monday would be the fifteenth of the month.

So the young farmer got his home-made corn-row marker down to the river-bottom and began marking the piece that afternoon.

This marker ran out three rows at each trip across the field, and with a white stake at either end, the youth managed to run his rows very straight. He had a good eye.

In this case he did not check-row his field. The land was rich-phenomenally rich, he believed. If he was going to have a crop of corn here, he wanted a crop worth while.

On the uplands the farmers were satisfied with from thirty to fifty baskets of ear-corn to the acre. If this lowland was what he believed it was, Hiram was sure it would make twice that.

And at that his corn crop here would only average twenty-five dollars to the acre-not a phenomenal profit for Mrs. Atterson in that.

But the land would be getting into shape for a better crop, and although corn is a crop that will soon impoverish ground, if planted year after year on the same piece, Hiram knew that the humus in this soil on the lowland was almost inexhaustible.

So he marked his rows the long way of the field-running with the river.

One of the implements left by Uncle Jeptha had been a one-horse corn-planter with a fertilizer attachment. Hiram used this, dropping two or three grains twenty-four inches apart, and setting the fertilizer attachment to one hundred and fifty pounds to the acre.

He was until the next Wednesday night planting the piece. Meanwhile it had not rained, and the river continued to recede. It was now almost as low as it had been the day Lettie Bronson's boating party had been "wrecked" under the big sycamore.

Hiram had not seen the Bronsons for some weeks, but about the time he got his late corn planted, Mr. Bronson drove into the Atterson yard, and found Hiram cultivating his first corn with the five-tooth cultivator.

"Well, well, Hiram!" exclaimed the Westerner, looking with a broad smile over the field. "That's as pretty a field of corn as I ever saw. I don't believe there is a hill missing."

"Only a few on the far edge, where the moles have been at work."

"Moles don't eat corn, Hiram."

"So they say," returned the young farmer, quietly. "I never could make up my mind about it.

"I'm sure, however, that if they are only after slugs and worms which are drawn to the corn hills by the commercial fertilizer, the moles do fully as much damage as the slugs would.

"You see, they make a cavity under the corn hill, and the roots of the plant wither. Excuse me, but I'd rather have Mr. Mole in somebody else's garden."

Mr. Bronson laughed. "Well, what the little gray fellows eat won't kill us. But they do spoil otherwise handsome rows. How did you get such a good stand of corn, Hiram?"

"I tested the seed in a seed box early in the spring. I wouldn't plant corn any other way. Aside from the hills the moles have spoiled, and a few an old crow pulled up, I've got no re-planting to do.

"And replanted hills are always behind the crop, and seldom make anything but fodder. If it wasn't for the look of the field, I'd never re-plant a hill of corn.

"Of course, I've got to thin this-two grains in the hill is enough on this land."

Mr. Bronson looked at him with growing surprise.

"Why, my boy, you talk just as though you had tilled the ground for a score of years. Who taught you so much about farming?"

"One of the best farmers who ever lived," said Hiram, with a smile. "My father. And he taught me to go to the correct sources for information, too."

"I believe you!" exclaimed Mr. Bronson. "And you're going to have 'corn that's corn', as we say in my part of the country, on this piece of land."

"Wait!" said Hiram, smiling and shaking his head.

"Wait for what?"

"Wait till you see the corn on my bottom-land-if the river down there doesn't drown it out. If we don't have too much rain, I'm going to have corn on that river-bottom that will beat anything in this county, Mr. Bronson."

And the young farmer spoke with assurance.

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