Mary was not wholly pleased at the prospect of visitors, but she fell to wor_ith Humpy to put the house in order. At five o'clock not one, but thre_utomobiles drove into the yard, filling Humpy with alarm lest at last Th_opper's sins had overtaken him, and they were all about to be hauled away t_pend the rest of their lives in prison. It was not the police, but the youn_albots, with Billie and his grandfathers, on their way to a famil_elebration at the house of an aunt of Muriel's.
The grandfathers were restored to perfect amity, and were deeply curious no_bout The Hopper, whom the peace-loving Muriel had cajoled into robbing thei_ouses.
"And you're only an honest chicken farmer, after all!" exclaimed Talbot,
senior, when they were all sitting in a semicircle about the fireplace i_ary's parlor. "I hoped you were really a burglar; I always wanted to know _urglar."
Humpy had chopped down a small fir that had adorned the front yard and had se_t up as a Christmas tree—an attention that was not lost upon Billie. Th_opper had brought some mechanical toys from town, and Humpy essayed th_greeable task of teaching the youngster how to operate them. Mary produce_offee and pound cake for the guests; The Hopper assumed the rôle of lord o_he manor with a benevolent air that was intended as much to impress Mary an_umpy as the guests.
"Of course," said Mr. Wilton, whose appearance was the least bit comical b_eason of his bandaged head,—"of course it was very foolish for a man of you_terling character to allow a young woman like my daughter to bully you int_obbing houses for her. Why, when Roger fired at you as you were jumping ou_f the window, he didn't miss you more than a foot! It would have been ghastl_or all of us if he had killed you!"
"Well, o' course it all begun from my goin' into th' little house lookin' fe_haver's folks," replied The Hopper.
"But you haven't told us how you came to find our house," said Roger,
suggesting a perfectly natural line of inquiries that caused Humpy to becom_eeply preoccupied with a pump he was operating in a basin of water fo_illie's benefit.
"Well, ut jes' looked like a house that Shaver would belong to, cute an'
comfortable like," said The Hopper; "I jes' suspicioned it wuz th' place as _uz passin' along."
"I don't think we'd better begin trying to establish alibis," remarked Muriel,
very gently, "for we might get into terrible scrapes. Why, if Mr. Steven_adn't been so splendid about _everything_ and wasn't just the kindest man i_he world, he could make it very ugly for me."
"I shudder to think of what he might do to me," said Wilton, glancin_uardedly at his neighbor.
"The main thing," said Talbot,—"the main thing is that Mr. Stevens has don_or us all what nobody else could ever have done. He's made us see how foolis_t is to quarrel about mere baubles. He's settled all our troubles for us, an_or my part I'll say his solution is entirely satisfactory."
"Quite right," ejaculated Wilton. "If I ever have any delicate busines_egotiations that are beyond my powers I'm going to engage Mr. Stevens t_andle them."
"My business's hens an' eggs," said The Hopper modestly; "an' we're doin'
When they rose to go (a move that evoked strident protests from Billie, wh_as enjoying himself hugely with Humpy) they were all in the jolliest humor.
"We must be neighborly," said Muriel, shaking hands with Mary, who was at th_oint of tears so great was her emotion at the success of The Hopper's party.
"And we're going to buy all our chickens and eggs from you. We never have an_uck raising our own."
Whereupon The Hopper imperturbably pressed upon each of the visitors a nea_ard stating his name (his latest and let us hope his last!) with the prope_ural route designation of Happy Hill Farm.
The Hopper carried Billie out to his Grandfather Wilton's car, while Hump_alked beside him bearing the gifts from the Happy Hill Farm Christmas tree.
From the door Mary watched them depart amid a chorus of merry Christmases, ou_f which Billie's little pipe rang cheerily.
When The Hopper and Humpy returned to the house, they abandoned the parlor fo_he greater coziness of the kitchen and there took account of the events o_he momentous twenty-four hours.
"Them's what I call nice folks," said Humpy. "They jes' put us on an' wore u_ike we wuz a pair o' ole slippers."
"They wuzn't uppish—not to speak of," Mary agreed. "I guess that girl's go_ore gumption than any of 'em. She's got 'em straightened up now and I gues_he'll take care they don't cut up no more monkey-shines about that Chines_tuff. Her husban' seemed sort o' gentle like."
"Artists is that way," volunteered The Hopper, as though from deep experienc_f art and life. "I jes' been thinkin' that knowin' folks like that an'
findin' 'em humin, makin' mistakes like th' rest of us, kind o' makes ut see_asier fer us all t' play th' game straight. Ut's goin' to be th' white car_er me—jes' chickens an' eggs, an' here's hopin' the bulls don't ever find ou_e're settled here."
Humpy, having gone into the parlor to tend the fire, returned with tw_nvelopes he had found on the mantel. There was a check for a thousand dollar_n each, one from Wilton, the other from Talbot, with "Merry Christmas"
written across the visiting-cards of those gentlemen. The Hopper permitte_ary and Humpy to examine them and then laid them on the kitchen table, whil_e deliberated. His meditations were so prolonged that they grew nervous.
"I reckon they could spare ut, after all ye done fer 'em, Hop," remarke_umpy.
"They's millionaires, an' money ain't nothin' to 'em," said The Hopper.
"We can buy a motor-truck," suggested Mary, "to haul our stuff to town; an'
mebbe we can build a new shed to keep ut in."
The Hopper set the catsup bottle on the checks and rubbed his cheek, squintin_t the ceiling in the manner of one who means to be careful of his speech.
"They's things wot is an' things wot ain't," he began. "We ain't none o' u_ver got nowheres bein' crooked. I been figurin' that I still got about twent_housan' o' that bunch o' green I pulled out o' that express car, planted i_laces where 'taint doin' nobody no good. I guess ef I do ut careful I ki_end ut back to the company, a little at a time, an' they'd never know wher_t come from."
Mary wept; Humpy stared, his mouth open, his one eye rolling queerly.
"I guess we kin put a little chunk away every year," The Hopper went on. "We'_e comfortabler doin' ut. We could square up ef we lived long enough, which w_on't need t' worry about, that bein' the Lord's business. You an' me'_racked a good many safes, Hump, but we never made no money at ut, takin' ou_h' time we done."
"He's got religion; that's wot he's got!" moaned Humpy, as though this marke_he ultimate tragedy of The Hopper's life.
"Mebbe ut's religion an' mebbe ut's jes' sense," pursued The Hopper, unshake_y Humpy's charge. "They wuz a chaplin in th' Minnesoty pen as used t' say e_e're all square with our own selves ut's goin' to be all right with God. _uess I got a good deal o' squarin' t' do, but I'm goin' t' begin ut. An' al_hese things happenin' along o' Chris'mus, an' little Shaver an' his ma bein'
so friendly like, an' her gittin' me t' help straighten out them ole gents,
an' doin' all I done an' not gettin' pinched seems more 'n jes' luck; it'_rovidential's wot ut is!"
This, uttered in a challenging tone, evoked a sob from Humpy, who announce_hat he "felt like" he was going to die.
"It's th' Chris'mus time, I reckon," said Mary, watching The Hopper deposi_he two checks in the clock. "It's the only decent Chris'mus I ever knowed!"