The Hopper knocked twice at the back door, waited an instant, and knocke_gain. As he completed the signal the door was opened guardedly. A man an_oman surveyed him in hostile silence as he pushed past them, kicked the doo_hut, and deposited the blinking child on the kitchen table. Humpy, the one- eyed, jumped to the windows and jammed the green shades close into the frames.
The woman scowlingly waited for the head of the house to explain himself, an_his, with the perversity of one who knows the dramatic value of suspense, h_as in no haste to do.
"Well," Mary questioned sharply. "What ye got there, Bill?"
The Hopper was regarding Shaver with a grin of benevolent satisfaction. Th_oungster had seized a bottle of catsup and was making heroic efforts to rais_t to his mouth, and the Hopper was intensely tickled by Shaver's efforts t_wallow the bottle. Mrs. Stevens, _alias_ Weeping Mary, was not amused, an_er husband's enjoyment of the child's antics irritated her.
"Come out with ut, Bill!" she commanded, seizing the bottle. "What ye bee_oin'?"
Shaver's big blue eyes expressed surprise and displeasure at being deprived o_is plaything, but he recovered quickly and reached for a plate with which h_egan thumping the table.
"Out with ut, Hop!" snapped Humpy nervously. "Nothin' wuz said abou_idnapin', an' I don't stand for ut!"
"When I heard the machine comin' in the yard I knowed somethin' was wrong an'
I guess it couldn't be no worse," added Mary, beginning to cry. "You hadn't n_ight to do ut, Bill. Hookin' a buzz-buzz an' a kid an' when we wuz playin'
the white card! You ought t' 'a' told me, Bill, what ye went to town fer, an'
it bein' Christmas, an' all."
That he should have chosen for his fall the Christmas season of all times wa_eprehensible, a fact which Mary and Humpy impressed upon him in the stronges_erms. The Hopper was fully aware of the inopportuneness of hi_ransgressions, but not to the point of encouraging his wife to abuse him.
As he clumsily tried to unfasten Shaver's hood, Mary pushed him aside and wit_haking fingers removed the child's wraps. Shaver's cheeks were rosy from hi_rive through the cold; he was a plump, healthy little shaver and The Hoppe_iewed him with intense pride. Mary held the hood and coat to the light an_nspected them with a sophisticated eye. They were of excellent quality an_orkmanship, and she shook her head and sighed deeply as she placed the_arefully on a chair.
"It ain't on the square, Hop," protested Humpy, whose lone eye expressed th_ost poignant sorrow at The Hopper's derelictions. Humpy was tall and lean, with a thin, many-lined face. He was an ill-favored person at best, and hi_abit of turning his head constantly as though to compel his single eye t_erform double service gave one an impression of restless watchfulness.
"Cute little Shaver, ain't 'e? Give Shaver somethin' to eat, Mary. I gues_ilk'll be the right ticket considerin' th' size of 'im. How ole you make 'im?
Not more'n three, I reckon?"
"Two. He ain't more'n two, that kid."
"A nice little feller; you're a cute un, ain't ye, Shaver?"
Shaver nodded his head solemnly. Having wearied of playing with the plate h_ravely inspected the trio; found something amusing in Humpy's bizarr_ountenance and laughed merrily. Finding no response to his friendly overture_e appealed to Mary.
"Me wants me's paw-widge," he announced.
"Porridge," interpreted Humpy with the air of one whose superior breedin_akes him the proper arbiter of the speech of children of high social station.
Whereupon Shaver appreciatively poked his forefinger into Humpy's survivin_ptic.
"I'll see what I got," muttered Mary. "What ye used t' eatin' for supper, honey?"
The "honey" was a concession, and The Hopper, who was giving Shaver his watc_o play with, bent a commendatory glance upon his spouse.
"Go on an' tell us what ye done," said Mary, doggedly busying herself abou_he stove.
The Hopper drew a chair to the table to be within reach of Shaver and relate_uccinctly his day's adventures.
"A dip!" moaned Mary as he described the seizure of the purse in the subway.
"You hadn't no right to do ut, Hop!" bleated Humpy, who had tipped his chai_gainst the wall and was sucking a cold pipe. And then, professional curiosit_vermastering his shocked conscience, he added: "What'd she measure, Hop?"
The Hopper grinned.
"Flubbed! Nothin' but papers," he confessed ruefully.
Mary and Humpy expressed their indignation and contempt in unequivocal terms, which they repeated after he told of the suspected "bull" whose presence o_he local had so alarmed him. A frank description of his flight and of hi_eizure of the roadster only added to their bitterness.
Humpy rose and paced the floor with the quick, short stride of men habituate_o narrow spaces. The Hopper watched the telltale step so disagreeabl_eminiscent of evil times and shrugged his shoulders impatiently.
"Set down, Hump; ye make me nervous. I got thinkin' to do."
"Ye'd better be quick about doin' ut!" Humpy snorted with an oath.
"Cut the cussin'!" The Hopper admonished sharply. Since his retirement t_rivate life he had sought diligently to free his speech of profanity an_hieves' slang, as not only unbecoming in a respectable chicken farmer, bu_ikely to arouse suspicions as to his origin and previous condition o_ervitude. "Can't ye see Shaver ain't use to ut? Shaver's a little gent; he'_ reg'ler little juke; that's wot Shaver is."
"The more 'way up he is the worse fer us," whimpered Humpy. "It's kidnapin', that's wot ut is!"
"That's wot it _ain't_ ," declared The Hopper, averting a calamity to hi_atch, which Shaver was swinging by its chain. "He was took by accident I tel_e! I'm goin' to take Shaver back to his ma—ain't I, Shaver?"
"Take 'im back!" echoed Mary.
Humpy crumpled up in his chair at this new evidence of The Hopper's insanity.
"I'm goin' to make a Chris'mas present o' Shaver to his ma," reaffirmed Th_opper, pinching the nearer ruddy cheek of the merry, contented guest.
Shaver kicked The Hopper in the stomach and emitted a chortle expressive o_nshakable confidence in The Hopper's ability to restore him to his lawfu_wners. This confidence was not, however, manifested toward Mary, who ha_repared with care the only cereal her pantry afforded, and now approache_haver, bowl and spoon in hand. Shaver, taken by surprise, inspected hi_upper with disdain and spurned it with a vigor that sent the spoon rattlin_cross the floor.
Mary expostulated; Humpy offered advice as to the best manner of dealing wit_he refractory Shaver, who gave further expression to his resentment b_hrowing The Hopper's watch with violence against the wall. That the table- service of The Hopper's establishment was not to Shaver's liking wa_anifested in repeated rejections of the plain white bowl in which Mar_ffered the porridge. He demanded his very own porridge bowl with th_ncreasing vehemence of one who is willing to starve rather than accept s_alpable a substitute. He threw himself back on the table and lay ther_icking and crying. Other needs now occurred to Shaver: he wanted his papa; h_anted his mamma; he wanted to go to his gwan'pa's. He clamored for Sant_laus and numerous Christmas trees which, it seemed, had been promised him a_he houses of his kinsfolk. It was amazing and bewildering that the heart o_ne so young could desire so many things that were not immediately attainable.
He had begun to suspect that he was among strangers who were not of his way o_ife, and this was fraught with the gravest danger.
"They'll hear 'im hollerin' in China," wailed the pessimistic Humpy, runnin_bout the room and examining the fastenings of doors and windows. "Folks goin'
along the road'll hear 'im, an' it's terms fer the whole bunch!"
The Hopper began pacing the floor with Shaver, while Humpy and Mary denounce_he child for unreasonableness and lack of discipline, not overlooking th_tupidity and criminal carelessness of The Hopper in projecting so lawless _oungster into their domestic circle.
"Twenty years, that's wot ut is!" mourned Humpy.
"Ye kin get the chair fer kidnapin'," Mary added dolefully. "Ye gotta get 'i_ut o' here, Bill."
Pleasant predictions of a long prison term with capital punishment as th_appy alternative failed to disturb The Hopper. To their surprise and somewha_o their shame he won the Shaver to a tractable humor. There was nothing i_he Hopper's known past to justify any expectation that he could quiet _rying baby, and yet Shaver with a child's unerring instinct realized that Th_opper meant to be kind. He patted The Hopper's face with one fat little paw, chokingly declaring that he was hungry.
'"Course Shaver's hungry; an' Shaver's goin' to eat nice porridge Aunt Mar_ade fer 'im. Shaver's goin' to have 'is own porridge bowl to-morry—yes, sir- ee, oo is, little Shaver!"
Restored to the table, Shaver opened his mouth in obedience to The Hopper'_atient pleading and swallowed a spoonful of the mush, Humpy holding the bow_ut of sight in tactful deference to the child's delicate æstheti_ensibilities. A tumbler of milk was sipped with grateful gasps.
The Hopper grinned, proud of his success, while Mary and Humpy viewed hi_fforts with somewhat grudging admiration, and waited patiently until Th_opper took the wholly surfeited Shaver in his arms and began pacing th_loor, humming softly. In normal circumstances The Hopper was not musical, an_umpy and Mary exchanged looks which, when interpreted, pointed to nothin_ess than a belief that the owner of Happy Hill Farm was bereft of his senses.
There was some question as to whether Shaver should be undressed. Mar_iscouraged the idea and Humpy took a like view.
"Ye gotta chuck 'im quick; that's what ye gotta do," said Mary hoarsely. "W_on't want 'im sleepin' here."
Whereupon The Hopper demonstrated his entire independence by carrying th_haver to Humpy's bed and partially undressing him. While this was i_rogress, Shaver suddenly opened his eyes wide and raising one foot until i_pproximated the perpendicular, reached for it with his chubby hands.
"Sant' Claus comin'; m'y Kwismus!"
"Jes' listen to Shaver!" chuckled The Hopper. "'Course Santy is comin,' an'
we're goin' to hang up Shaver's stockin', ain't we, Shaver?"
He pinned both stockings to the foot-board of Humpy's bed. By the time thi_as accomplished under the hostile eyes of Mary and Humpy, Shaver slept th_leep of the innocent.