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Chapter 8 LISTENING HILL

  • The Holton farmhouse, a pretentious place in the day of Frederick Holton'_randfather, was now habitable and that was the most that could be said fo_t. When the second generation spurned the soil and became urbanized, th_esidence was transformed from its primal state into a country home, and th_amily called it "Listening Hill Farm." Its austere parlor of the usual rura_ype was thrown together with the living-room, the original fireplace wa_econstructed, and running water was pumped to the house by means of _indmill. The best of the old furniture had been carried off to adorn the tow_ouse, so that when Fred succeeded to the ownership it was a pretty bare an_omfortless place. Samuel had never lived there, though the farm had fallen t_im in the distribution of his father's estate; but he had farmed it at lon_ange, first from Montgomery, and latterly, and with decreasing success, fro_ndianapolis after his removal to the capital. The year before Fred's arriva_o tenant had been willing to take it owing to the impoverished state of th_and.
  • Most of the farms in the neighborhood were owned by town people, and operate_y tenants. As for Fred, he knew little about agriculture. On the Mexica_lantation which his father and Uncle William had controlled, he had learne_othing that was likely to prove of the slightest value in his attempt t_rest a living from these neglected Hoosier acres. His main qualifications fo_ farming career were a dogged determination to succeed and a vigorous, healthy body.
  • The Holtons had always carried their failures lightly, and even Samuel, wh_ad died at Indianapolis amid a clutter of dead or shaky financial schemes, was spoken of kindly in Montgomery. Samuel had saved himself with the group o_oliticians he had persuaded to invest in the Mexican mine by selling out to _erman syndicate just before he died; and Samuel had always made a point o_aking care of his friends. He had carried through several noteworth_romotion schemes with profit before his Mexican disasters, and but for th_ecessity of saving harmless his personal and political friends he might no_ave left so little for his children. So spake the people of Montgomery.
  • Charles Holton was nearing thirty, and having participated in his father'_olitical adventures, and been initiated into the mysteries of promotion, h_ad a wide acquaintance throughout central Indiana. He had been graduated fro_adison, and in his day at college had done much to relieve the gra_alvinistic tone of that sedate institution. It was he who had transformed th_ld "college chorus"—it had been a "chorus" almost from the foundation—into _lee club, and he had organized the first guitar and banjo club. The pleasan_low he left behind him still hung over the campus when Fred entered fou_ears later. Charles's meteoric social career had dimmed the fact (save to _ew sober professors) that he had got through by the skin of his teeth. Fred'_lodding ways, relieved only by his prowess at football, had left a ver_ifferent impression. Fred worked hard at his studies because he had to; an_ven with persistence and industry he had not shone brilliantly in th_cientific courses he had elected. The venerable dean once said that Fred wa_ digger, not a skimmer and skipper, and that he would be all right if only h_ug long enough. He was graduated without honors and went South to throw i_is fortunes with his father's Mexican projects. He was mourned at the colleg_s the best all-round player a Madison eleven had ever boasted; but this wa_bout all.
  • When he accepted Listening Hill Farm as his share of his father's estate, Fre_ad a little less than one thousand dollars in cash, which he had saved fro_he salaries paid him respectively by the plantation and mining companies.
  • This had been deposited as a matter of convenience in an Indianapolis bank an_e allowed it to remain there. He realized that this money must carry him _ong way, and that every cent must go into the farm before anything came ou_f it. He had moved to the farm late in the summer—just in time to witness th_bundant harvests of his neighbors.
  • One of the friendliest of these was a young man named Perry, who had charge o_mzi Montgomery's place. Perry belonged to the new school of farmers, and h_ad done much in the four years that he had been in the banker's employ t_ncourage faith in "book farming," as it had not yet ceased to be calle_erisively. He was a frank, earnest, hard-working fellow whose ambition was t_et hold of a farm of his own as quickly as possible. He worked Amzi's farm o_hares, with certain privileges in the matter of feeding cattle. Amzi picke_im up by chance and with misgivings; but Perry had earned the bigges_ividends the land had ever paid. Perry confided to Fred a hope he ha_ntertained of leasing the Holton farm for himself when his contract wit_ontgomery expired. Now that Fred had arrived on the scene he explained to th_yro exactly what he had meant to do with the property. As he had seriousl_anvassed the situation for a couple of years, witnessing the failures of th_ast two tenants employed by Samuel Holton, Fred gladly availed himself of hi_dvice.
  • Fred caught from Perry the spirit of the new era in farming. It no longe_ufficed to scratch the earth with a stick and drop in a seed; the eart_tself must be studied as to its weaknesses and the seed must be chosen wit_ntelligent care. One of the experts from the state agricultural school, i_he field to gather data for statistics, passed through the country, and spen_ week with Fred for the unflattering reason that the Holton acres afforde_aterial for needed information as to exhausted soils. He recommended book_or Fred to read, and what was more to the point sent a young man to plan hi_ork and initiate him into the mysteries of tilling and fertilizing. The soi_xpert was an enthusiast, and he left behind him the nucleus of a club whic_e suggested that the young men of the neighborhood enlarge during the winte_or the discussion of new methods of farm efficiency.
  • Fred hired a man and went to work. He first repaired the windmill and assure_he water-supply of the house and barn. A farmer unembarrassed by crops, h_lanned his campaign a year ahead. He worked harder on his barren acres tha_is neighbors with the reward of their labor in sight. He tilled the low lan_n one of his fallow fields and repaired the fences wherever necessary. Hi_ost careful scrutiny failed to disclose anything on which money could b_ealized at once beyond half a dozen cords of wood which he sent to town an_old and the apples he had offered for sale in the streets of Montgomery.
  • These by-products hardly paid for the time required to market them. Perry ha_uggested that winter wheat be tried on fifty acres which he chose for th_xperiment, and in preparing and sowing the land Fred found his spirit_ising. The hired man proved to be intelligent and capable, and Fred was no_bove learning from him. Fred did the cooking for both of them as part of hi_wn labor.
  • Some of his old friends, meeting him in Main Street on his visits to town, commiserated him on his lot; and others thought William Holton ought to d_omething for Fred, as it was understood that he was backing Charles in hi_nterprises. Still other gossips, pointing to the failure of the Mexica_entures, inclined to the belief that Fred was a dull fellow, and that h_ould do as well on the farm as anywhere else.
  • On a Sunday afternoon in this same November, Fred had cleaned up after hi_idday meal with the hired man and was sprawled on an old settle reading whe_ motor arrived noisily in the dooryard. Charles was driving and with him wer_hree strangers. Fred went out to meet his brother, who introduced hi_ompanions as business men from Indianapolis.
  • "We're taking a run over the route of the new trolley line you've probabl_ead about in the papers. Hadn't heard of it yet? Well, it's going to cut th_ycamore line at right angles in Montgomery, and run down into the coa_ields. We're going to haul coal by electricity—a new idea in these parts—an_t's going to be a big factor in stimulating manufactures in small centers.
  • It's going to be a big thing for this section—your farm is worth twent_ollars more an acre just on our prospectus."
  • "No doubt you'd be glad to take that twenty right now," remarked one of th_trangers.
  • "Oh, I'll wait for it," replied Fred, laughing.
  • "Are you implying that you're likely to have to wait?" demanded Charles. "M_ear boy, we're doing this just for you farmers. In the old days the railroad_ere all in league against the poor but honest farmer; he was crippled as muc_s he was helped by the railroads; but with the trolley the farmer can be i_he deal from the jump. We want every farmer on this line to have an interest; we're going to give him a chance to go in. Am I right, Evans?"
  • Evans warmed to the topic. He was a young broker and wore city clothes quit_s good as Charles's. It was going to be a great thing for the country people; the possibilities of the trolley line had not yet been realized. Social an_conomic conditions were to be revolutionized, and the world generally woul_e a very different place when the proposed line was built. Charles allowe_is friends to do most of the talking and they discussed the projec_loquently for an hour.
  • The men refused Fred's invitation to go indoors, and said they would walk t_he highway and the machine could pick them up.
  • When the brothers were alone, Charles spoke of the farm.
  • "I see you've got to work. The whole thing looks better than I ever saw it.
  • I'm glad you've painted the barn red; there's nothing like red for a barn. _ust make a note of that; all barns should be painted red."
  • With a gesture he colored all the barns in the world to his taste. Fre_rinned his appreciation of his brother's humor.
  • "I thought that on Sundays all you young farmers hitched a side-bar buggy to _olt and gave some pretty girl a good time."
  • "I'd be doing just that but for two reasons—I haven't the colt or the side- bar, and I don't know any girls. What about this trolley line? I thought th_ield was crowded now."
  • "Oh, Uncle Will and I are going to put this one through and we're going t_ake some money out of it, too. There's money in these things if you know ho_o handle 'em. It's in the promotion, not the operating."
  • "But I heard in town that the Sycamore line isn't doing well. There ar_umors—"
  • "Oh, I know about that; it's only a fuss among the fellows who are trying t_ontrol it to reorganize and squeeze the bondholders. If father had lived he'_ave kept it level. But we're all out of it—away out and up the street."
  • "Glad to hear it," Fred remarked. The gift of easy and picturesque speech ha_een denied him. All his life he had heard his father talk in just thi_train; and his Uncle William, while less voluble, was even more persuasiv_nd convincing. Charles did not always ring true, but any deficiencies in thi_espect were compensated for by his agreeable and winning manners. Fred ha_he quiet man's distrust of ready talkers; but he admired his brother. Charle_as no end of a bright fellow and would undoubtedly get on.
  • "I tell you what I'll do with you, old man," Charles continued. "I suppose yo_lready know some of these farmers around here. We're going to give them ever_hance to go in with us—let 'em in on the ground floor. We feel that thi_hould be the people's line in the broadest sense,—give 'em a share of th_enefits,—not merely that they can flip a can of milk on board one of our car_nd hustle it direct to the consumer and get back coal right at their door, but they shall participate in the profits they help to create. Now listen t_his; there's not much you can do this winter out here and I stopped to mak_ou an offer to solicit stock subscriptions among the country people. A lot o_hese farmers are rich fellows,—the farmers are getting altogether too muc_oney for their own good,—and here's an ideal investment for them, a chance t_dd to the value of their farms and at the same time earn a clean six per cen_n our bonds and share in the profits on a percentage of common that we'r_iving bondholders free gratis for nothing. What do you say to taking a han_ith us? We'll put you on a salary right away if you say so. The very fac_hat you've chosen to come here to live and take up farming will give yo_tanding with the country folks."
  • Fred smiled at this.
  • "On the other side of the sketch the fact that I'm as ignorant of farming a_he man in the moon is likely to rouse their suspicions. I'm much obliged, Charlie, but my job's right here. I'm going to try to raise something that _an haul to town in a wagon and get money for. I haven't your business genius.
  • It would seem queer to me to go about asking people to take their money out o_he bank to give me in exchange for pieces of paper that might not be good i_he end. And besides, a good many of these country people swallowed the sam_ook when it was baited with Sycamore. It's not a good time to try the sam_ait in this neighborhood,—not for the Holton family, at any rate."
  • "Mossback! I tell you we're out of Sycamore with clean hands. Don't you kno_hat the big fellows in New York are the men who get in on such promotions a_his and clean up on it! I'm giving you a chance that lots of men right her_n this county would jump at. It's a little short of a miracle that a trolle_oal road hasn't been built already. And think, too, of the prestige ou_amily will get out of it. We've always been the only people in Montgomer_hat had any 'git up and git.' You don't want to forget that your name Holto_s an asset—an asset! Why, over in Indianapolis the fact that I'm one of th_ontgomery Holtons helps me over a lot of hard places, I can tell you. O_ourse, father had plowed the ground, and the more I hear about him the more _dmire him. He had vision—he saw things ahead."
  • "And he came pretty near dying busted," observed Fred.
  • "But no man lost a cent through him!" Charles flashed. "That makes me swell u_ith pride every time I think of it—that he took care of his friends. He sa_hings big, and those Mexican schemes were all right. If he'd lived, the_ould have pulled through and been big moneymakers."
  • They had been walking slowly towards Charles's machine.
  • "I'm not saying anything against father," said Fred; "but the kind of thing_e took up strike me as dangerous. I know all about that plantation and th_ine, too, for that matter. I don't blame father for sending me down there, but I wish I had back the years I put on those jobs."
  • "Oh, rot! The experience was a big thing for you. And you got paid for it. Yo_ust have saved some money—wasn't any way to spend money down there."
  • "I don't keep an automobile," remarked Fred ruefully.
  • "By Jove, I can't afford it myself, but I've got to make a front. Now thos_ellows—"
  • His companions were hallooing from the highway to attract his attention. H_aved and shouted that he was coming.
  • "Those fellows are in touch with a lot of investors. Nice chaps. I promised t_et 'em home for dinner, and I must skip. You'd better think over m_roposition before turning it down for good. I don't like to think of you_eing out here all winter doing nothing. You might as well take a hand wit_s. I'll guarantee that you won't regret it."
  • "I don't believe I care to try it. I'm a born rube, I guess; I like it ou_ere. And I'm going to stick until I make good or bust."
  • Charles had cranked his machine and jumped in.
  • "Look here, Fred," he said, raising his voice above the noise of the engine,
  • "when I can do anything for you, I want you to call on me. And if you nee_oney at any time, I want you to come to me or go to Uncle Will. In fact, he'_ little sore because you don't drop in on him oftener. So long!"
  • The machine went skimming down the road, and when it reached the pike an_harles picked up his friends, Fred watched its slow ascent of Listening Hill, and waited for it to disappear beyond the crest.