The Hopper waited for a limousine to pass and then crawled out of his hiding-
place, jumped into the roadster, and was at once in motion. He glanced back,
fearing that the owner might have heard his departure, and then, satisfied o_is immediate security, negotiated a difficult turn in the road and settle_imself with a feeling of relief to careful but expeditious flight. It was a_his moment, when he had urged the car to its highest speed, that a nois_tartled him—an amazing little chirrupy sound which corresponded to none o_he familiar forewarnings of engine trouble. With his eyes to the front h_istened for a repetition of the sound. It rose again—it was like a perplexin_heep and chirrup, changing to a chortle of glee.
The car was skimming a dark stretch of road and a superstitious awe fell upo_he Hopper. Murder, he gratefully remembered, had never been among his crimes,
though he had once winged a too-inquisitive policeman in Kansas City. H_lanced over his shoulder, but saw no pursuing ghost in the snowy highway;
then, looking down apprehensively, he detected on the seat beside him wha_ppeared to be an animate bundle, and, prompted by a louder "goo-goo," he pu_ut his hand. His fingers touched something warm and soft and were promptl_eized and held by Something.
The Hopper snatched his hand free of the tentacles of the unknown and shook i_iolently. The nature of the Something troubled him. He renewed hi_xperiments, steering with his left hand and exposing the right to what no_eemed to be the grasp of two very small mittened hands.
"Goo-goo! Goody; teep wunnin'!"
"A kid!" The Hopper gasped.
That he had eloped with a child was the blackest of the day's calamities. H_xperienced a strange sinking feeling in the stomach. In moments o_pprehension a crook's thoughts run naturally into periods of penal servitude,
and the punishment for kidnaping, The Hopper recalled, was severe. He stoppe_he car and inspected his unwelcome fellow passenger by the light of matches.
Two big blue eyes stared at him from a hood and two mittens were poked int_is face. Two small feet, wrapped tightly in a blanket, kicked at hi_nergetically.
"Detup! Mate um skedaddle!"
Obedient to this command The Hopper made the car skedaddle, but superstitiou_read settled upon him more heavily. He was satisfied now that from the momen_e transferred the strap-hanger's bill-book to his own pocket he had bee_oodooed. Only a jinx of the most malevolent type could have prompted hi_urried exit from a train to dodge an imaginary "bull." Only the blackest o_vil spirits could be responsible for this involuntary kidnaping!
"Mate um wun! Mate um 'ippity stip!"
The mittened hands reached for the wheel at this juncture and an unlooked-for
"jippity skip" precipitated the young passenger into The Hopper's lap.
This mishap was attended with the jolliest baby laughter. Gently but with muc_irmness The Hopper restored the youngster to an upright position an_upported him until sure he was able to sustain himself.
"Ye better set still, little feller," he admonished.
The little feller seemed in no wise astonished to find himself abroad with _erfect stranger and his courage and good cheer were not lost upon The Hopper.
He wanted to be severe, to vent his rage for the day's calamities upon th_nly human being within range, but in spite of himself he felt no animosit_oward the friendly little bundle of humanity beside him. Still, he had stole_ baby and it was incumbent upon him to free himself at once of the appallin_urden; but a baby is not so easily disposed of. He could not, withou_eriously imperiling his liberty, return to the cottage. It was the rule o_ouse-breakers, he recalled, to avoid babies. He had heard it said by burglar_f wide experience and unquestioned wisdom that babies were the most dangerou_f all burglar alarms. All things considered, kidnaping and automobile thef_ere not a happy combination with which to appear before a criminal court. Th_opper was vexed because the child did not cry; if he had shown a ba_isposition The Hopper might have abandoned him; but the youngster was th_heeriest and most agreeable of traveling companions. Indeed, The Hopper'_pirits rose under his continued "goo-gooing" and chirruping.
"Nice little Shaver!" he said, patting the child's knees.
Little Shaver was so pleased by this friendly demonstration that he threw u_is arms in an effort to embrace The Hopper.
"Bil-lee," he gurgled delightedly.
The Hopper was so astonished at being addressed in his own lawful name by _trange baby that he barely averted a collision with a passing motor truck. I_as unbelievable that the baby really knew his name, but perhaps it was a goo_men that he had hit upon it. The Hopper's resentment against the dark fat_hat seemed to pursue him vanished. Even though he had stolen a baby, it was _erry, brave little baby who didn't mind at all being run away with! H_ismissed the thought of planting the little shaver at a door, ringing th_ell and running away; this was no way to treat a friendly child that had don_im no injury, and The Hopper highly resolved to do the square thing by th_oungster even at personal inconvenience and risk.
The snow was now falling in generous Christmasy flakes, and the high speed th_ar had again attained was evidently deeply gratifying to the young person,
whose reckless tumbling about made it necessary for The Hopper to keep a han_n him.
"Steady, little un; steady!" The Hopper kept mumbling.
His wits were busy trying to devise some means of getting rid of the youngste_ithout exposing himself to the danger of arrest. By this time some one wa_ndoubtedly busily engaged in searching for both baby and car; the police fa_nd near would be notified, and would be on the lookout for a smart roadste_ontaining a stolen child.
"Merry Christmas!" a boy shouted from a farm gate.
"M'y Kwismus!" piped Shaver.
The Hopper decided to run the machine home and there ponder the disposition o_is blithe companion with the care the unusual circumstances demanded.
"'Urry up; me's goin' 'ome to me's gwanpa's kwismus t'ee!"
"Right ye be, little un; right ye be!" affirmed The Hopper.
The youngster was evidently blessed with a sanguine and confiding nature. Hi_eference to his grandfather's Christmas tree impinged sharply upon Th_opper's conscience. Christmas had never figured very prominently in hi_cheme of life. About the only Christmases that he recalled with any pleasur_ere those that he had spent in prison, and those were marked only b_hristmas dinners varying with the generosity of a series of wardens.
But Shaver was entitled to all the joys of Christmas, and The Hopper had n_esire to deprive him of them.
"Keep a-larfin', Shaver, keep a-larfin'," said the Hopper. "Ole Hop ain'_-goin' to hurt ye!"
The Hopper, feeling his way cautiously round the fringes of New Haven, arrive_resently at Happy Hill Farm, where he ran the car in among the chicken shed_ehind the cottage and carefully extinguished the lights.