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   Chapter 27 RUN TO EARTH

Hiram the Young Farmer By Burbank L. Todd Characters: 10818

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07


A broad streak of crimson along the eastern horizon, over the treetops, announced the coming of the sun when Hiram Strong reached the automobile road to which he, on the previous night, had traced the thief that had stolen Sister's poults.

Now he looked at the track again. It surely had come from the direction of Scoville, and it turned back that way.

Yet he looked at the white horse-hair scraped off upon the stump, and he turned his back upon these signs and strode along the road toward his own home.

Smoke was just curling from the Atterson chimney; Sister, or Mrs. Atterson, was just building the fire. But they did not see Hiram as he went by.

Hiram's quest led him past the place and to the Dickerson farm. There nobody was yet astir, save the mules and horses in the barnyard, who called as he went by, hoping for their breakfast.

Hiram knew that the Dickersons had turkeys and, like most of the other farmers, cooped them in distant fields away from the house. He found three coops in the middle of an old oat-field tinder a spreading beech.

The old turks roosted upon the limbs of the beech at night; they were already up and away, hunting grasshoppers for breakfast. But quite a few poults were running and peeping about the coops, with two hen turkeys playing guard to them.

Hiram saw where a wagon had been driven in here, and turned, too. The tracks were made recently. And one of the coops was shut tight, although he knew by the rustling within that there were young turkeys in it.

It was too dark within the hutch, however, for the youth to number the poults confined there.

He strolled back across the fields to the rear of the Dickerson house. Passing the barnyard first, he halted and examined the bright bay horse, with white feet-the one that Pete had driven to the barbecue the day before-the only one Pete was ever allowed to drive off the farm.

The Dickersons, father and son, were not as early risers as most farmers in those parts. At least, they were not up betimes on this morning.

But Mrs. Dickerson had built the fire now and was stirring about the porch when Hiram arrived at the step, filling her kettle at the pump.

"Mornin', Mr. Strong," she said, in her startled way, eyeing Hiram askance.

She was a lean, sharp-featured woman, with a hopeless droop to her shoulders.

"Good-morning, Mrs. Dickerson," said Hiram, gravely. "How many young turkeys have you this year?"

The woman shrank back and almost dropped the kettle she had filled to the pump-bench. Her eyes glared.

Somewhere in the house a baby squatted; then a door banged and Hiram heard Dickerson's heavy step descending the stair.

"You have a coop of poults down there, Mrs. Dickerson," continued Hiram, confidently, "that I know belongs to us. I traced Pete's tracks with the wagon and the white-footed horse. Now, this is going to make trouble for Pete--"

"What's the matter with Pete, now?" demanded Dickerson's harsh voice, and he came out upon the porch.

He scowled at sight of Hiram, and continued:

"What are you roaming around here for, Strong? Can't you keep on your own side of the fence?"

"It's little I'll ever trouble you, Mr. Dickerson," said Hiram, "sharply, if you and yours don't trouble me, I can assure you."

"What's eating you now?" demanded the man, roughly.

"Why, I'll tell you, Mr. Dickerson," said Hiram, quickly. "Somebody's stolen our turkeys-ten of them. And I have found them down there where your turkeys roost. The natural inference is that somebody here knows about it--"

Dickerson-just out of his bed and as ugly as many people are when they first get up-leaped for the young farmer from the porch, and had him in his grip before Hiram could help himself.

The woman screamed. There was a racket in the house, for some of the children had been watching from the window.

"Dad's goin' to lick him!" squalled one of the girls.

"You come here and intermate that any of my family's thieves, do you?" the angry man roared.

"Stop that, Sam Dickerson!" cried his wife. She suddenly gained courage and ran to the struggling pair, and tried to haul Sam away from Hiram.

"The boy's right," she gasped. "I heard Pete tellin' little Sam last night what he'd done. It's come to a pretty pass, so it has, if you are goin' to uphold that bad boy in thieving--"

"Hush up, Maw!" cried Pete's voice from the house.

"Come out here, you scalawag!" ordered his father, relaxing his hold on Hiram.

Pete slouched out on the porch, wearing a grin that was half sheepish, half worried.

"What's this Strong says about turkeys?" demanded Sam Dickerson, sternly.

"'Tain't so!" declared Pete. "I ain't seen no turkeys."

"I have found them," said Hiram, quietly. "And the coopful is down yonder in your lot. You thought to fool me by turning into our farm from the direction of Scoville, and driving back that way; but you turned around in the road under that overhanging oak, where I picked Lettie Bronson off the back of the runaway horse last Spring.

"Now, those ten turkeys belong to Sister. She'll be heart-broken if anything happens to them. You have played me several mean tricks since I have been here, Pete Dickerson--"

"No, I ain't!" interrupted the boy.

"Who took the burr off the end of my axle and let me down in the road that night?" demanded Hiram, his rage rising.

Pete could not

forbear a grin at this remembrance.

"And who tampered with our pump the next morning? And who watched and waited till we left the lower meadow that night we burned the rubbish, and then set fire to our woods--"

Mrs. Dickerson screamed again. "I knew that fire never come by accident," she moaned.

"You shut up, Maw!" admonished her hopeful son again.

"And now, I've got you," declared Hiram, with confidence. "I can tell those ten poults. I marked them for Sister long ago so that, if they went to the neighbors, they could be easily identified.

"They're in that shut-up coop down yonder," continued Hiram, "and unless you agree to bring them back at once, and put them in our coop, I shall hitch up and go to town, first thing, and get out a warrant for your arrest."

Sam had remained silent for a minute, or two. Now he said, decidedly:

"You needn't threaten no more, young feller. I can see plain enough that Pete's been carrying his fun too far--"

"Fun!" ejaculated Hiram.

"That's what I said," growled Sam. "He'll bring the turkeys back-and before he has his breakfast, too."

"All right," said Hiram, knowing full well that there was nothing to be made by quarreling with Sam Dickerson. "His returning the turkeys, however, will not keep me from speaking to the constable the very next time Pete plays any of his tricks around our place.

"It may be 'fun' for him; but it won't look so funny from the inside of the town jail."

He walked off after this threat. And he was sorry he had said it. For he had no real intention of having Pete arrested, and an empty threat is of no use to anybody.

The turkeys came back; Sister did not even know that they had been stolen, for when she went down to feed them about the middle of the forenoon, all ten came running to her call.

But Pete Dickerson ceased from troubling for a time, much to Hiram's satisfaction.

Meanwhile the crops were coming on finely. Hiram's tomatoes were bringing good prices in Scoville, and as he had such a quantity and was so much earlier than the other farmers around about, he did, as he told Henry he would do, "skim the cream off the market."

He bought some crates and baskets in town, too, and shipped some of the tomatoes to a produce man he knew in Crawberry-a man whom he could trust to treat him fairly. During the season that man's checks to Mrs. Atterson amounted to fifty-four dollars.

Three times a week the spring wagon went to town with vegetables for the school, the hotels, and their retail customers. The whole family worked long hours, and worked hard; but nobody complained.

No rain fell of any consequence until the latter part of July; and then there was no danger of the river overflowing and drowning out the corn.

And that corn! By the last of July it was waist high, growing rank and strong, and of that black-green color which delights the farmer's eye.

Mr. Bronson walked down to the river especially to see it. Like Hiram's upland corn, there was scarcely a hill missing, save where the muskrats had dug in from the river bank and disturbed the corn hills.

"That's the finest-looking corn in this county, bar none, Hiram," declared Bronson. "I have seldom seen better looking in the rich bottom-lands of the West. And you certainly do keep it clean, boy."

"No use in putting in a crop if you don't 'tend it," said the young farmer, sententiously.

"And what's this along here?" asked the gentleman, pointing to a row or two of small stuff along the inner edge of the field.

"I'm trying onions and celery down here. I want to put a commercial crop into this field next year-if we are let stay here-that will pay Mrs. Atterson and me a real profit," and Hiram laughed.

"What do you call a real profit?" inquired Mr. Bronson, seriously.

"Four hundred dollars an acre, net," said the young farmer, promptly.

"Why, Hiram, you can't do that!" cried the gentleman.

"It's being done-in other localities and on soil not so rich as this-and I believe I can do it."

"With onions or celery?" "Yes, sir." "Which-or both?" asked the Westerner, interested.

"I am trying them out here, as you see. I believe it will be celery. This soil is naturally wet, and celery is a glutton for water. Then, it is a late piece, and celery should be transplanted twice before it is put in the field, I believe."

"A lot of work, boy," said Mr. Bronson, shaking his head.

"Well, I never expect to get something for nothing," remarked Hiram.

"And how about the onions?"

"Why, they don't seem to do so well. There is something lacking in the land to make them do their best. I believe it is too cold. And, then, I am watching the onion market, and I am afraid that too many people have gone into the game in certain sections, and are bound to create an over-supply."

The gentleman looked at him curiously.

"You certainly are an able-minded youngster, Hiram," he observed. "I s'pose if you do so well here next year as you expect, a charge of dynamite wouldn't blast you away from the Atterson farm?"

"Why, Mr. Bronson," responded the young farmer, "I don't want to run a one-horse farm all my life. And this never can be much more. It isn't near enough to any big city to be a real truck farm-and I'm interested in bigger things.

"No, sir. The Atterson Eighty is only a stepping stone for me. I hope I'll go higher before long."

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