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   Chapter 34 CLEANING UP A PROFIT

Hiram the Young Farmer By Burbank L. Todd Characters: 15118

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07


Hiram crawled through the wires, and followed the plain foot-marks back to the Dickerson sheds. He lost them there, of course, but he knew by the size of the footprints that either Sam Dickerson or his oldest son had been over to the line fence.

"And that shooting-star!" considered Hiram. "There was something peculiar about that. I wonder if there wasn't a shooting star, also, away back there at New Year's when our other stack of fodder was burned?"

He loitered about the sheds for a few moments. It appeared as though all the Dickersons were indoors. Nobody interfered with him.

Of a sudden Hiram began to sniff an odor that seemed strange about a cart-shed. At least, no wise farmer would have naphtha, or gasoline, in his outbuildings, for it would make his insurance invalid.

But that was the smell Hiram discovered. And he was not long in finding the cause of it.

Back in a dark corner, upon a beam, lay a big sling-shot-one of those that boys swing around their heads with a stone in the heel of it, and then let go one end to shoot the missile to a distance.

The leather loop was saturated with the gasoline, and it had been scorched, too. The smell of burning, as well as the smell of gasoline, was very distinct.

Hiram took the sling-shot with him, and went up to the Dickerson house.

He had got along so well with the Dickersons for these past months that he honestly shrank from "starting anything" now. Yet he could not overlook this flagrant piece of malicious mischief. Indeed, it was more than that. Two stacks had already been burned, and it might be some of the outbuildings-or even Mrs. Atterson's house-next time!

Besides, Hiram felt himself responsible for his employer's property. The old lady could not afford to lose the fodder, and Hiram was determined that both of the burned stacks should be paid for in full.

He looked through the window of the Dickerson kitchen. The family was around the supper table-Mr. and Mrs. Dickerson, Pete, and the children, little and big. It was a cheerful family group, after all. Rough and uncouth as the farmer was, Dickerson likely had his feelings like other people. Instead of bursting right in at the door as had been Hiram's intention, and accusing Pete to his face, the indignant young fellow hesitated.

He hadn't any sympathy for Pete, not the slightest. If he gave him-or the elder Dickerson-a chance to clear up matters by making good to Mrs. Atterson for what she had lost, Hiram Strong decided that he was being very lenient indeed.

He stepped quietly onto the porch and rapped on the door. Then he backed off and waited for some response from within.

"Hullo, Mr. Strong!" exclaimed the farmer, coming himself to the "door. Why! is that your stack burning?"

"Yes, sir," said Hiram, quietly.

"Another one!"

"That is the second," admitted Hiram. "But I don't propose that another shall be set afire in just the same way."

Sam Dickerson stepped suddenly down to the young farmer's level, and asked:

"What do you mean by that? Do you know how it got afire?"

Hiram held out the sling-shot in the light of his lantern.

"A rag, saturated with gasoline, was wrapped around a pebble, then set afire, and stone and blazing rag were shot from our line fence into the fodderstack.

"I found the footprints of the incendiary on New Year's morning at the same place. And I'll wager a good deal that your son Pete's boots will fit the footprints over there at the line now!"

Sam Dickerson's face had turned exceedingly red, and then paled. But he spoke very quietly.

"What are you going to do with him, Mr. Strong?" he asked. "It will be five years for him at least, if you take it to court-and maybe longer."

"I don't believe, Mr. Dickerson, that you have upheld Pete in all the mean tricks he has played on me."

"Indeed I haven't! And since I got a look at myself-back there when the wife was hurt--"

Sam Dickerson's voice broke and he turned away for a moment so that his visitor should not see his face.

"Well!" he continued. "You've got Pete right this time-no doubt of that. I dunno what makes him such a mean whelp. I'll lambaste him good for this, now I tell you. But the stacks--"

"Make him pay for them out of his own money. Mrs. Atterson ought not to lose the stacks," said Hiram, slowly.

"Oh, he'll do that, anyway, you can bet!" exclaimed Dickerson, with conviction.

"I don't believe that sending a boy like him to jail will either improve his morals, or do anybody else any good," observed Hiram, reflectively.

"And it'll jest about finish his mother," spoke Sam.

"That's right, too," said the young farmer. "I tell you. I don't want to see him-not just now. But you do what you think is best about this matter, and make Peter pay the bill-ten dollars for the two stacks of fodder."

"He shall do it, Mr. Strong," declared Sam Dickerson, warmly. "And he shall beg your pardon, too, or I'll larrup him until he can't stand. He's too big for a lickin', but he ain't too big for me to lick!"

And the elder Dickerson was as good as his word. An hour later yells from the cart shed denoted that Pete was finally getting what he should have received when he was a younger boy.

Before noon Sam marched the youth over to Mrs. Atterson. Pete was very puffy about the eyes, and his cheeks were streaked with tears. Nor did he seem to care to more than sit upon the extreme edge of a chair.

But he paid Mrs. Atterson ten dollars, and then, nudged by his father, turned to Hiram and begged the young farmer's pardon.

"That's all right, etc.," said Hiram, laying his hand upon the boy's shoulder. "Just because we haven't got on well together heretofore, needn't make any difference between us after this.

"Come over and see me. If you have time this summer and want the work, I'll be glad to hire you to help handle my celery crop.

"Neighbors ought to be neighborly; and it won't do either of us any good to hug to ourselves any injury which we fancy the other has done. We'll be friends if you say so, Peter-though I tell you right now that if you turn another mean trick against me, I'll take the law into my own hands and give you worse than you've got already."

Pete looked sheepish enough, and shook hands. He knew very well that Hiram could do as he promised.

But from that time on the young farmer had no further trouble with him.

Meanwhile Hiram's crops on the Atterson Eighty grew almost as well this second season as they had the first. There was a bad drouth this year, and the upland corn did not do so well; yet the young farmer's corn crop compared well with the crops in the neighborhood.

He had put in but eight acres of corn this year; but they had plenty of old corn in the crib when it came time to take down this second season's crop.

It was upon the celery that Hiram bent all his energies. He had to pay out considerable for help, but that was no more than he expected. Celery takes a deal of handling.

When the long, hot, dry days came, when the uplands parched and the earth fairly seemed to radiate the heat, the acres of tender plants which Hiram and his helpers had just set out in the trenches began to wilt most discouragingly.

Henry Pollock, who did all he could to aid Hiram on the crop, shook his head in despair.

"It's a-layin' down on you, Hiram-it's a-layin' down on you. Another day like this and your celery crop will be pretty small pertaters!"

"And that would be a transformation worthy of the attention of all the agr

icultural schools, Henry," returned the young farmer, grimly laughing.

"You got a heart-to laugh at your own loss," said Henry.

"There isn't any loss-yet," declared Hiram.

"But there's bound to be," said his friend, a regular "Job's comforter" for the nonce.

"Look here, Henry; you'd have me give up too easy. 'Never say die!' That's the farmer's motto."

"Jinks!" exclaimed young Pollock, "they're dying all around us just the same-and their crops, too. We ain't going to have half a corn crop if this spell of dry weather keeps on. And the papers don't give us a sign of hope."

"When there doesn't seem to be a sign of hope is when the really up-to-date farmer begins to actually work," chuckled Hiram.

"And just tell me what you're going to do for this field of wilted celery?" demanded Henry.

"Come on up to the house and I'll get Mother Atterson to give us an early supper," quoth Hiram. "I'm going to town and I invite you to go with me."

Henry had got used by this time to Hiram's little mysteries. But this seemed to him a case where man had done all that could be done for the crop, and without Providential interposition, "the whole field would have to go to pot", as he expressed it.

And in his heart the young farmer knew that the outlook for a paying crop of celery right then was very small indeed. He had done his best in preparing the soil, in enriching it, in raising the sets and transplanting them-up to this point he had brought his big commercial crop, at considerable expense. If the drouth really "got" it, he would have, at the most, but a poor and stunted crop to ship in the Fall.

But Hiram Strong was not the fellow to throw up his hands and own himself beaten at such a time as this. Here was an obstacle that must be overcome. The harder the problem looked the more determined he was to solve it.

The two boys drove to town that evening and Hiram sought out a man who contracted to move houses, clean cisterns and wells, and various work of that kind. He knew this man had just the thing he needed, and after a conference with him, Hiram loaded some bulky paraphernalia into the light wagon-it was so dark Henry could not see what it was-and they drove home again.

"I'd like to know what the Jim Hickey you're about, Hiram," sniffed Henry, in disgust. "What's all this litter back here in the wagon?"

"You come over and give me a hand in the morning-early now, say by sun-up-and you'll find out. I want a couple of husky chaps like you," chuckled Hiram. "I'll get Pete Dickerson to work against me."

"If you do, you tell Pete he'll have to work lively," said Henry, with a grin. "I don't know what it is you want us to do, but I reckon I can keep my end up with Pete, from hoein' 'taters to cuttin' cord-wood."

"You can keep your end up with him, can you?" chuckled Hiram. "Well! I bet you can't in this game I'm going to put you two fellows up against."

"What! Pete Dickerson beat me at anything-unless it's sleeping?" grunted Henry, with vast disgust. "I'll keep my end up with him at anything."

And the more assured he was of this the more Hiram was amused. "Come on over early, Henry," said the young farmer, "and I'll show you that there's at least one thing in which you can't keep your end up with Pete."

His friend was almost angry when he started off across the fields for home; but he was mighty curious, too. That curiosity, if nothing more, would have brought him to the Atterson house in good season the following morning.

Already, however, Hiram and Pete-with the light wagon-had gone down to the riverside. Henry hurried after them and reached the celery field just as the red face of the sun appeared.

There had been little dew during the night and the tender transplants had scarcely lifted their heads. Indeed, the last acre set out the day before were flat.

On the bank of the river, and near that suffering acre, were Hiram and Pete Dickerson. Henry hurried to them, wondering at the thing he saw upon the bank.

Hiram was already laying out between the celery rows a long hosepipe. This was attached to a good-sized force-pump, the feedpipe of which was in the river. It was a two-man pump and was worked by an up-and-down "brake."

"Catch hold here, Henry," laughed Hiram. "One of you on each side now, and pump for all you're worth. And see if I'm not right, my boy. You can't keep your end up with Pete at this job; for if you do, the water won't flow!"

Henry admitted that he had, been badly sold by the joke; but he was enthusiastic in his praise of Hiram's ingenuity, too.

"Aw, say!" said the young farmer, "what do you suppose the Good Lord gave us brains for? Just so as to keep our fingers out of the fire? No, sir! With all this perfectly good and wet water running past my field, could I have the heart to let this celery die? I guess not!"

He had a fine spray nozzle on the pipe and the pipe itself was long enough so that, by moving the pump occasionally, he could water every square foot of the big piece. And the three young fellows, by changing about, went over the field every other day in about four hours without difficulty.

By and by the celery plants got rooted well; they no longer drooped in the morning; before the drouth was past the young farmer had as handsome a field of celery as one would wish. Indeed, when he began to ship the crop, even his earliest crates were rated A-1 by the produce men, and he bad no difficulty in selling the entire crop at the top of the market, right through the season.

The garden paid a profit; the potatoes did even better than the year before, and Hiram harvested and sold seventy-five dollars' worth while the price for new potatoes was high.

He shipped most of his tomatoes this year, for he could not pay attention to the local market as he had the first season; but the tomato crop was a good one.

They raised to eight weeks and sold, during the year, five pair of shoats, and Mrs. Atterson bought a grade cow with her calf by her side, for a hundred dollars, and made ten pounds of butter a week right through the season.

Old Lem Camp, looking ten years younger than when he came to the farm, muscular and brown, did all the work about the barns now, milked the cows, and relieved Hiram of all the chores.

Indeed, with some little help about the plowing and cultivating, Hiram knew very well that Mrs. Atterson and Old Lem could run the farm another year without his help.

Of course, the old lady could not expect to put in any crop that would pay her like the celery; for when they footed up their books, the bottom-land had yielded, as Hiram had once prophesied to Mr. Bronson over four hundred dollars the acre, net.

Twenty-four hundred dollars income from six acres; and the profit was more than fifty per cent. Indeed, Hiram's share of the profit amounted to three hundred and seventy dollars.

With his hundred dollar wage, and the money he had saved the previous season, when the crops were harvested this second season, the young farmer's bank book showed a balance of over five hundred dollars to his credit.

"I'm eighteen years old and over," soliloquized the young farmer. "And I've got a capital of five hundred dollars. Can't I turn that capital some way go as to give me a bigger-a broader-chance?

"Thus far I've been a one-horse farmer; I want to be something better than that. Now, there's no use in my hanging around here, waiting for something to turn up. I must get a move on me and turn something up for myself."

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