He slipped the money into Bart’s pocket and playfully pushed him through the doorway. Bart’s heart was pretty full. He was alive with tenderness and love for this loyal, patient parent who had not been over kindly handled by the world in a money way.
Then a dozen loud explosions over on the hill, followed by boyish shouts of enthusiasm, made Bart remember that he was a boy, with all a boy’s lively interest in the Fourth of July foremost in his thoughts, and he bounded down the tracks like a whirlwind.
“Waking the natives!”
Turning the corner of the in-freight house Bart came to a quick halt.
He had nearly run down a man who sat between the rails tying his shoe.
The minute Bart set his eyes on the fellow he remembered having seen him twice before—both times in this vicinity, both times looking wretched, dejected and frightened.
The man started up, frightened now. He was about forty years old, very shabby and threadbare in his attire, his thin pale face nearly covered with a thick shock of hair and full black beard.
“Hello!” challenged Bart promptly.
“Oh, it’s you, young Stirling,” muttered the man, the haunted expression in his eyes giving way to one of relief.
“Found a job yet?” asked Bart.
“I—haven’t exactly been looking for work,” responded the man, in an embarrassed way.
“I should think you would,” suggested Bart.
“See here,” spoke the man, livening up suddenly. “I’ll talk with you, because you’re the only friend I’ve found hereabouts. I’m in trouble, and you can call it hiding if you like. I’m grateful to you for the help you gave me the other night, for I was pretty nigh starved. But I don’t think you’d better notice me much, for I’m no good to anybody, and I hope you won’t call attention to my hanging around here.”
“Why should I?” inquired Bart, getting interested. “I want to help you, not harm you. I feel sorry for you, and I’d like to know a little more.”
A tear coursed down the man’s forlorn face and he shook his head dejectedly.
“You can’t sleep forever in empty freight cars, picking up scraps to live on, you know,” said Bart.
“I’ll live there till I find what I came to Pleasantville to find!” cried the man in a sudden passion. Then his emotion died down suddenly and he fell to trembling all over, and cast hasty looks around as if frightened at his own words.
“Don’t mind me,” he choked up, starting suddenly away. “I’m crazy, I guess! I know I’m about as miserable an object as there is in the world.”
Bart ran after him, drawing a quarter from his pocket. He detained the man by seizing his arm.
“See here,” he said, “you take that, and any time you’re hungry just go up to the house and tell my mother, will you?”