“Oh, no, miss; ye couldn’t do that! I guess I can do ut fer ye. Ut’s jes’ a leetle ticklish. I reckon ef yer pa wuz to nab me ut’d go hard with me.”
“I wouldn’t let him be hard on you,” she replied earnestly. “And now I haven’t said anything about a—a—about what we will call a reward for bringing me these porcelains. I shall expect to pay you; I couldn’t think of taking up your time, you know, for nothing!”
“Lor’, miss, I couldn’t take nothin’ at all fer doin’ ut! Ye see ut wuz sort of accidental our meetin’, and besides, I ain’t no housebreaker—not, as ye may say, reg’ler. I’ll be glad to do ut fer ye, miss, an’ ye can rely on me doin’ my best fer ye. Ye’ve treated me right, miss, an’ I ain’t a-goin’ t’ fergit ut!”
The Hopper spoke with feeling. Shaver’s mother had, albeit at the pistol point, confided her most intimate domestic affairs to him. He realized, without finding just these words for it, that she had in effect decorated him with the symbol of her order of knighthood and he had every honorable—or dishonorable!—intention of proving himself worthy of her confidence.
“If ye please, miss,” he said, pointing toward his confiscated revolver.
“Certainly; you may take it. But of course you won’t kill anybody?”
“No, miss; only I’m sort o’ lonesome without ut when I’m on a job.”
“And you do understand,” she said, following him to the door and noting in the distance the headlight of an approaching trolley, “that I’m only doing this in the hope that good may come of it. It isn’t really criminal, you know; if you succeed, it may mean the happiest Christmas of my life!”
“Yes, miss. I won’t come back till mornin’, but don’t you worry none. We gotta play safe, miss, an’ ef I land th’ jugs I’ll find cover till I kin deliver ’em safe.”
“Thank you; oh, thank you ever so much! And good luck!”
She put out her hand; he held it gingerly for a moment in his rough fingers and ran for the car.
The Hopper, in his role of the Reversible Santa Claus, dropped off the car at the crossing Muriel had carefully described, waited for the car to vanish, and warily entered the Wilton estate through a gate set in the stone wall. The clouds of the early evening had passed and the stars marched through the heavens resplendently, proclaiming peace on earth and good-will toward men. They were almost oppressively brilliant, seen through the clear, cold atmosphere, and as The Hopper slipped from one big tree to another on his tangential course to the house, he fortified his courage by muttering, “They’s things wot is an’ things wot ain’t!”—finding much comfort and stimulus in the phrase.