“Bil-lee,” he gurgled delightedly.
The Hopper was so astonished at being addressed in his own lawful name by a strange baby that he barely averted a collision with a passing motor truck. It was unbelievable that the baby really knew his name, but perhaps it was a good omen that he had hit upon it. The Hopper’s resentment against the dark fate that seemed to pursue him vanished. Even though he had stolen a baby, it was a merry, brave little baby who didn’t mind at all being run away with! He dismissed the thought of planting the little shaver at a door, ringing the bell and running away; this was no way to treat a friendly child that had done him no injury, and The Hopper highly resolved to do the square thing by the youngster even at personal inconvenience and risk.
The snow was now falling in generous Christmasy flakes, and the high speed the car had again attained was evidently deeply gratifying to the young person, whose reckless tumbling about made it necessary for The Hopper to keep a hand on him.
“Steady, little un; steady!” The Hopper kept mumbling.
His wits were busy trying to devise some means of getting rid of the youngster without exposing himself to the danger of arrest. By this time some one was undoubtedly busily engaged in searching for both baby and car; the police far and near would be notified, and would be on the lookout for a smart roadster containing 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 of his 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. His reference to his grandfather’s Christmas tree impinged sharply upon The Hopper’s conscience. Christmas had never figured very prominently in his scheme of life. About the only Christmases that he recalled with any pleasure were those that he had spent in prison, and those were marked only by Christmas dinners varying with the generosity of a series of wardens.
But Shaver was entitled to all the joys of Christmas, and The Hopper had no desire to deprive him of them.
“Keep a-larfin’, Shaver, keep a-larfin’,” said the Hopper. “Ole Hop ain’t a-goin’ to hurt ye!”
The Hopper, feeling his way cautiously round the fringes of New Haven, arrived presently at Happy Hill Farm, where he ran the car in among the chicken sheds behind the cottage and carefully extinguished the lights.
“Now, Shaver, out ye come!”
Whereupon Shaver obediently jumped into his arms.