“I have no father nor mother,” said Paul, sadly enough.
“Well, you had somebody to take care of you, I calculate. Where did you live?”
“If I tell you, you won’t carry me back?” said Paul, anxiously.
“Not a bit of it. I’ve got too much business on hand for that.”
Relieved by this assurance, Paul told his story, encouraged thereto by frequent questions from his companion, who seemed to take a lively interest in the adventures of his young companion.
“That’s a capital trick you played on old Mudge,” he said with a hearty laugh which almost made the tins rattle. “I don’t blame you a bit for running away. I’ve got a story to tell you about Mrs. Mudge. She’s a regular skinflint.”
This was the pedler’s promised story about Mrs. Mudge.
“The last time I was round that way, I stopped, thinking maybe they might have some rags to dispose of for tin-ware. The old lady seemed glad to see me, and pretty soon she brought down a lot of white rags. I thought they seemed quite heavy for their bulk,—howsomever, I wasn’t looking for any tricks, and I let it go. By-and-by, when I happened to be ransacking one of the bags, I came across half a dozen pounds or more of old iron tied up in a white cloth. That let the cat out of the bag. I knew why they were so heavy, then, I reckon I shan’t call on Mrs. Mudge next time I go by.”
“So you’ve run off,” he continued, after a pause, “I like your spunk,—just what I should have done myself. But tell me how you managed to get off without the old chap’s finding it out.”
Paul related such of his adventures as he had not before told, his companion listening with marked approval.
“I wish I’d been there,” he said. “I’d have given fifty cents, right out, to see how old Mudge looked, I calc’late he’s pretty well tired with his wild-goose chase by this time.”
It was now twelve o’clock, and both the travelers began to feel the pangs of hunger.
“It’s about time to bait, I calc’late,” remarked the pedler.
The unsophisticated reader is informed that the word “bait,” in New England phraseology, is applied to taking lunch or dining.
At this point a green lane opened out of the public road, skirted on either side by a row of trees. Carpeted with green, it made a very pleasant dining-room. A red-and-white heifer browsing at a little distance looked up from her meal and surveyed the intruders with mild attention, but apparently satisfied that they contemplated no invasion of her rights, resumed her agreeable employment. Over an irregular stone wall our travelers looked into a thrifty apple-orchard laden with fruit. They halted beneath a spreading chestnut-tree which towered above its neighbors, and offered them a grateful shelter from the noonday sun.