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   Chapter 33 “CELERY MAD”

Hiram the Young Farmer By Burbank L. Todd Characters: 10375

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07


The relief to the minds of Hiram Strong and Mrs. Atterson was tremendous.

Especially was the young farmer inspired to greater effort. He saw the second growing season before him. And he saw, too, that now, indeed, he had that chance to prove his efficiency which he had desired all the time.

The past year had cost him little for clothing or other expenses. He had banked the hundred dollars Mrs. Atterson had paid him at Christmas.

But he looked forward to something much bigger than the other hundred when the next Christmas-tide should come. Twenty-five per cent of all the profit of the Atterson Eighty during this second year was to be his own.

The moment "Mr. Damocles's sword", as Mother Atterson had called it, was lifted the young farmer jumped into the work.

He had already cut enough wood to last the family a year; now he got Mr. Pollock, with his team of mules, to haul it up to the house, and then sent for the power saw, asked the neighbors to help, and in less than half a day every stick was cut to stove length.

As he had time Hiram split this wood and Lem Camp piled it in the shed. Hiram knocked together some extra cold-frames, too, and bought some second-hand sash.

And he had already dug a pit for a twelve-foot hotbed. Now, a twelve-foot hotbed will start an enormous number of plants.

Hiram did not plan to have quite so much small stuff in the garden this year, however. He knew that he should have less time to work in the garden. He proposed having more potatoes, about as many tomatoes as the year before, but fewer roots to bunch, salads and the like. He must give the bulk of his time to the big commercial crop that he hoped to put into the bottom-land.

He had little fear of the river overflowing its banks late enough in the season to interfere with the celery crop. For the seedlings were to be handled in the cold-frames and garden-patch until it was time to set them in the trenches. And that would not be until July.

He contented himself with having the logs he cut drawn to the sawmill and the sawed planks brought down to the edge of the bottom-land, and did not propose to put a plow into the land until late June.

Meanwhile he started his celery seed in shallow boxes, and when the plants were an inch and a half, or so, tall, he pricked them out, two inches apart each way into the cold-frames.

Sister and Mr. Camp could help in this work, and they soon filled the cold-frames with celery plants destined to be reset in the garden plat later.

This "handling" of celery aids its growth and development in a most wonderful manner. At the second transplanting, Hiram snipped back the tops, and the roots as well, so that each plant would grow sturdily and not be too "stalky".

Mrs. Atterson declared they were all celery mad. "Whatever will you do with so much of the stuff, I haven't the least idee, Hiram. Can you sell it all? Why, it looks to me as though you had set out enough already to glut the Crawberry market."

"And I guess that's right," returned Hiram. "Especially if I shipped it all at once."

But he was aiming higher than the Crawberry market. He had been in correspondence with firms that handled celery exclusively in some of the big cities, and before ever he put the plow into the bottom-land he had arranged for the marketing of every stalk he could grow on his six acres.

It was a truth that the family of transplanted boarding house people worked harder this second spring than they had the first one. But they knew how better, too, and the garden work did not seem so arduous to Sister and Old Lem Camp.

Mrs. Atterson had a fine flock of hens, and they had laid well after the first of December, and the eggs had brought good prices. She planned to increase her flock, build larger yards, and in time make a business of poultry raising, as that would be something that she and Sister could practically handle alone.

Sister's turkeys had thrived so the year before that she had saved two hens and a handsome gobbler, and determined to breed turkeys for the fall market.

And Sister learned a few things before she had raised "that raft of poults," as Mother Atterson called them. Turkeys are certainly calculated to breed patience-especially if one expects to have a flock of young Toms and hens fit for killing at Thanksgiving-time.

She hatched the turkeys under motherly hens belonging to Mother Atterson, striving to breed poults that would not trail so far from the house; but as soon as the youngsters began to feel their wings they had their foster-mothers pretty well worn out. One flock tolled the old hen off at least a mile from the house and Hiram had some work enticing the poults back again.

There was no raid made upon her turkey coops this year, however. Pete Dickerson was not much in evidence during the spring and early summer. Mrs. Atterson went back and forth to the neighbors; but although whenever Hiram saw the farmer the latter put forth an effort to be pleasant to him, the two households did not well "mix".

Besides, during this busiest time of the year, when the crops were getting started, there seemed to be little opportunity fo

r social intercourse. At least, so it seemed on the Atterson place.

They were a busy and well contented crew, and everything seemed to be running like clockwork, when suddenly "another dish of trouble", as Mother Atterson called it, was served them in a most unexpected manner.

Hiram was coming up from the barn one evening, long after dark, and had just caught sight of Sister standing on the porch waiting for him, when a sudden glow against the dark sky, made him turn.

The flash of fire passed on the instant, and Sister called to him:

"Oh, Hiram! did you see that shooting-star?"

"You never wished on it, Sis," said the young farmer.

"Oh, yes I did!" she returned, dancing down the steps to meet him.

"That quick?"

"Just that quick," she reiterated, seizing his arm and getting into step with him.

"And what was the wish?" demanded Hiram.

"Why-I won't ever get it if I tell you, will I?" she queried, shyly.

"Just as likely to as not, Sister," he said, with serious voice. "Wishes are funny things, you know. Sometimes the very best ones never come true."

"And I'm afraid mine will never come true," she sighed. "Oh, dear! I guess no amount of wishing will ever bring some things to pass."

"Maybe that's so, Sis," he said, chuckling. "I fancy that getting out and hustling for the thing you want is the best way to fulfill wishes."

"Oh, but I can't do that in this case," said the girl, shaking her head, and still speaking very seriously as they came to the porch steps.

"Maybe I can bring it about for you," teased Hiram.

"I guess not," she said. "I want so to be like other girls, Hiram! I'd like to be like that pretty Lettie Bronson. I'm not jealous of her looks and her clothes and her good times and all; no, that's not it," proclaimed Sister, with a little break in her voice.

"But I'd like to know who I really be. I want folks, and-and I want to have a real name of my own!"

"Why, bless you!" exclaimed the young fellow, "'Sister' is a nice name, I'm sure-and we all love it here."

"But it isn't a name. They call me Sissy Atterson at school. But it doesn't belong to me. I-I've thought lots about choosing a name for myself-a real fancy one, you know. There's lots of pretty, names," she said, reflectively.

"Cords of 'em," Hiram agreed.

"But, you see, they wouldn't really be mine," said the girl, earnestly. "Not even after I had chosen them. I want my very own name! I want to know who I am and all about myself. And"-with a half strangled sob-"I guess wishing will never bring me that, will it, Hiram?"

Never before had the young fellow heard Sister express herself upon this topic. He had no idea that the girl felt her unknown and practically unnamed existence so strongly.

"I wouldn't care, Sis," he said, patting her bent shoulders. "We love you here just as well as we would if you had ten names! Don't forget that.

"And maybe it won't be all a mystery some day. Your folks may look you up. They may come here and find you. And they'll be mighty proud of you-you've grown so tall and good looking. Of course they will!"

Sister listened to him and gave a little contented sigh. "And then they might want to take me away-and I'd fight, tooth and nail, if they tried it."

"What?" gasped Hiram.

"Of course I would!" said the girl. "Do you suppose I'd give up Mother Atterson for a dozen families-or for clothes-and houses-or, or anything?" and she ran into the house leaving the young farmer in some amazement.

"Ain't that the girl of it?" he muttered, at last. "Yet I bet she is in earnest about wanting to know about her folks."

And from that time Hiram thought more about Sister's problem himself than he had before. Once, when he went to Crawberry, he went to the charitable institution from which Mother Atterson had taken Sister. But the matron had heard nothing of the lawyer who had once come to talk over the child's affairs, and the path of inquiry seemed shut off right there by an impassable barrier.

However, this is ahead of our story. On this particular night Hiram washed at the pump, and then followed Sister in to supper.

Before they were half through Mr. Camp suddenly started from his chair and pointed through the window.

Flames were rising behind the barn again!

"Another stack burning!" exclaimed Hiram, and be shot out of the door, seizing a pail of water, hoping that he might put it out.

But the stack was doomed. He knew it the moment he saw the extent of the blaze.

He kept away from it, as he had before; yet he did not expect to pick up any trail of the incendiary near the stack.

"Twice in the same place is too much!" declared the young farmer, glowing with wrath. "I'm going to have this mystery explained, or know the reason why."

He left Mr. Camp to watch the burning fodder, to see that sparks from the stack did no harm, and lighting his lantern he went along the line fence again.

Yes! there were the footprints that he had expected to find. But the burning stack was even farther from the fence than the first one had been-and there were no marks of feet in the soft earth on Mrs. Atterson's side of the boundary.

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