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.