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A Busy Year at the Old Squire's by C. A. Stephens

At four o'clock Hilburn stood on the house steps


"Don't

hurry, Ad," I said, smiling, as we passed each other. "The snow's soft! Pails of sap are heavy!"

He grinned, but said nothing. Afterward I saw him slyly slipping handfuls of those chips into his pocket. What he wanted them for I could not imagine; and later, after sunset, as we were going home, I asked him why he had carried away a pocketful of auger chips.

He looked at me shrewdly, but would not reply. Then, after a minute, he asked me whether I thought that Ben or Willis had seen him pick them up.

"What if they did?" I asked. But I could get nothing further from him.

It was that very evening I think, after we got home, that we saw the notice the tax collector had put in the county paper announcing the sale at public auction of the Cranston farm on the following Thursday, for delinquent taxes. The paper had come that night, and Theodora read the notice aloud at supper. The announcement briefly described the farm property, and among other values mentioned five hundred cords of rock-maple wood ready to cut and go to market.

"That's that old sugar lot up by the big ledge, where Willis and Ben were making syrup," said I. "Ad, whatever did you do with that pocketful of auger chips?"

Addison glanced at me queerly. He seemed disturbed, but said nothing. The following forenoon,

when he and I were making a hot-bed for early garden vegetables, he remarked that he meant to go to that auction.

It was not the kind of auction sale that draws a crowd of people; there was only one piece of property to be sold, and that was an expensive one. Not more than twenty persons came to it--mostly prosperous farmers or lumbermen, who intended to buy the place as a speculation if it should go at a low price. The old Squire was not there; he had gone to Portland the day before; but Addison went over, as he had planned, and Willis Murch and I went with him.

Hilburn, the tax collector, was there, and two of the selectmen of the town, besides Cole, the auctioneer. At four o'clock Hilburn stood on the house steps, read the published notice of the sale and the court warrant for it. The town, he said, would deduct $114--the amount of unpaid taxes--from the sum received for the farm. Otherwise the place would be sold intact to the highest bidder.

The auctioneer then mounted the steps, read the Cranston warranty deed of the farm, as copied from the county records, describing the premises, lines, and corners. "A fine piece of property, which can soon be put into good shape," he added. "How much am I offered for it?"

After a pause, Zachary Lurvey, the owner of Lurvey's Lumber Mills, started the bidding by offering $1,000.

"One thousand dollars," repeated the auctioneer. "I am offered one thousand dollars. Of course that isn't what this farm is really worth. Only one thousand! Who offers more?"

"Fifteen hundred," said a man named Haines, who had arrived from the southern part of the township while the deed was being read.

"Sixteen," said another: and presently another said, "Seventeen!"


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