At three o'clock The Hopper reached Happy Hill Farm, knocked as before at th_itchen door, and was admitted by Humpy.
"Wot ye got now?" snarled the reformed yeggman.
"He's gone and done ut ag'in!" wailed Mary, as she spied the basket.
"I sure done ut, all right," admitted The Hopper good-naturedly, as he set th_asket on the table where a few hours earlier he had deposited Shaver. "How'_he kid?"
Grudging assurances that Shaver was asleep and hostile glances directed at th_ysterious basket did not disturb his equanimity.
Humpy was thwarted in an attempt to pry into the contents of the basket by _art reprimand from The Hopper, who with maddening deliberation drew forth th_wo glazes, found that they had come through the night's vicissitude_nscathed, and held them at arm's length, turning them about in leisurel_ashion as though lost in admiration of their loveliness. Then he lighted hi_ipe, seated himself in Mary's rocker, and told his story.
It was no easy matter to communicate to his irritable and contumeliou_uditors the sense of Muriel's charm, or the reasonableness of her reques_hat he commit burglary merely to assist her in settling a family row. Mar_ould not understand it; Humpy paced the room nervously, shaking his head an_uttering. It was their judgment, stated with much frankness, that if he ha_een a fool in the first place to steal the child, his character was no_lackened beyond any hope by his later crimes. Mary wept copiously; Humpy mos_nnoyingly kept counting upon his fingers as he reckoned the "time" that wa_n store for all of them.
"I guess I got into ut an' I guess I'll git out," remarked The Hoppe_erenely. He was disposed to treat them with high condescension, as incapabl_f appreciating the lofty philosophy of life by which he was sustained.
Meanwhile, he gloated over the loot of the night.
"Them things is wurt' mints; they's more valible than di'mon's, them thing_s! Only eddicated folks knows about 'em. They's fer emp'rors and kings t' se_p in their palaces, an' men goes nutty jes' hankerin' fer 'em. The pigtail_ade 'em thousand o' years back, an' th' secret died with 'em. They ain'_ever goin' to be no more jugs like them settin' right there. An' them two ol_ports give up their business jes' t' chase things like them. They's som_olks goes loony about chickens, an' hosses, an' fancy dogs, but this her_ind o' collectin' 's only fer millionaires. They's more difficult t' pic_han a lucky race-hoss. They's barrels o' that stuff in them houses, tha_ooked jes' as good as them there, but nowheres as valible."
An informal lecture on Chinese ceramics before daylight on Christmas mornin_as not to the liking of the anxious and nerve-torn Mary and Humpy. The_rought The Hopper down from his lofty heights to practical questions touchin_is plans, for the disposal of Shaver in the first instance, and the ceramic_n the second. The Hopper was singularly unmoved by their forebodings.
"I guess th' lady got me to do ut!" he retorted finally. "Ef I do time fer u_ reckon's how she's in fer ut, too! An' I seen her pap breakin' into a hous_n' I guess I'd be a state's witness fer that! I reckon they ain't goin' t'
put nothin' over on Hop! I guess they won't peep much about kidnapin' with th'
kid safe an' us pickin' 'im up out o' th' road an' shelterin' 'im. Them folk_s goin' to be awful nice to Hop fer all he done fer 'em." And then, findin_hat they were impressed by his defense, thus elaborated, he magnanimousl_eferred to the bill-book which had started him on his downward course.
"That were a mistake; I grant ye ut were a mistake o' jedgment. I'm goin' t_eep to th' white card. But ut's kind o' funny about that poke—queerest thin_hat ever happened."
He drew out the book and eyed the name on the flap. Humpy tried to grab it,
but The Hopper, frustrating the attempt, read his colleague a sharp lesson i_ood manners. He restored it to his pocket and glanced at the clock.
"We gotta do somethin' about Shaver's stockin's. Ut ain't fair fer a kid t_ake up an' think Santy missed 'im. Ye got some candy, Mary; we kin put cand_nto 'em; that's reg'ler."
Humpy brought in Shaver's stockings and they were stuffed with the candy an_opcorn Mary had provided to adorn their Christmas feast. Humpy inventorie_is belongings, but could think of nothing but a revolver that seemed _uitable gift for Shaver. This Mary scornfully rejected as improper for one s_oung. Whereupon Humpy produced a Mexican silver dollar, a treasured pocket-
piece preserved through many tribulations, and dropped it reverently into on_f the stockings. Two brass buttons of unknown history, a mouth-organ Mary ha_ought for a neighbor boy who assisted at times in the poultry yard, and _ilver spectacle case of uncertain antecedents were added.
"We ought t' 'a' colored eggs fer 'im!" said The Hopper with sudde_nspiration, after the stockings had been restored to Shaver's bed. "Som_aller an' pink eggs would 'a' been the right ticket."
Mary scoffed at the idea. Eggs wasn't proper fer Christmas; eggs was fe_aster. Humpy added the weight of his personal experience of Christia_olidays to this statement. While a trusty in the Missouri penitentiary wit_he chicken yard in his keeping, he remembered distinctly that eggs were i_emand for purposes of decoration by the warden's children sometime in th_pring; mebbe it was Easter, mebbe it was Decoration Day; Humpy was not sur_f anything except that it wasn't Christmas.
The Hopper was meek under correction. It having been settled that colored egg_ould not be appropriate for Christmas he yielded to their demand that he sho_ome enthusiasm for disposing of his ill-gotten treasures before the polic_rrived to take the matter out of his hands.
"I guess that Muriel'll be glad to see me," he remarked. "I guess me and he_nderstands each other. They's things wot is an' things wot ain't; an' I gues_op ain't goin' to spend no Chris'mas in jail. It's the white card an' poultr_n' eggs fer us; an' we're goin' t' put in a couple more incubators righ_way. I'm thinkin' some o' rentin' that acre across th' brook back yonder an'
raisin' turkeys. They's mints in turks, ef ye kin keep 'em from gettin' thei_eet wet an' dyin' o' pneumonia, which wipes out thousands o' them birds. _eckon ye might make some coffee, Mary."
The Christmas dawn found them at the table, where they were renewing a pledg_o play "the white card" when a cry from Shaver brought them to their feet.
Shaver was highly pleased with his Christmas stockings, but his pleasure wa_othing to that of The Hopper, Mary, and Humpy, as they stood about the be_nd watched him. Mary and Humpy were so relieved by The Hopper's promises t_ead a better life that they were now disposed to treat their guest with th_ost distinguished consideration. Humpy, absenting himself to perform hi_orning tasks in the poultry-houses, returned bringing a basket containing si_ewly hatched chicks. These cheeped and ran over Shaver's fat legs an_erformed exactly as though they knew they were a part of his Christma_ntertainment. Humpy, proud of having thought of the chicks, demanded th_rivilege of serving Shaver's breakfast. Shaver ate his porridge without _urmur, so happy was he over his new playthings.
Mary bathed and dressed him with care. As the candy had stuck to the stocking_n spots, it was decided after a family conference that Shaver would have t_ear them wrong side out as there was no time to be wasted in washing them. B_ight o'clock The Hopper announced that it was time for Shaver to go home.
Shaver expressed alarm at the thought of leaving his chicks; whereupon Hump_onferred two of them upon him in the best imitation of baby talk that h_ould muster.
"Me's tate um to me's gwanpas," said Shaver; "chickee for me's two gwanpas,"—_emark which caused The Hopper to shake for a moment with mirth as he recalle_is last view of Shaver's "gwanpas" in a death grip upon the floor of "Gwanpa"