“Good!” he said. “We might collaborate.”
“There’s another thing we might collaborate on,” I said, “and that’s breakfast. I’m sure you haven’t had any.”
“No,” he said, “I don’t think I have. I never lie when I know I shan’t be believed.”
“I haven’t had any, either,” I said. I thought that to tell an untruth would be the least thing I could do to reward the little man for his unselfishness.
“Well,” he said, “I really thought that by this time—”
He broke off. “Was that Bock barking?” he asked sharply.
We had been walking slowly, and had not yet reached the spot where the lane branched from the main road. We were still about three quarters of a mile from the place where I had camped overnight. We both listened carefully, but I could hear nothing but the singing of the telephone wires along the road.
“No matter,” he said. “I thought I heard a dog.” But I noticed that he quickened his pace.
“I was saying,” he continued, “that I had really thought to have lost Parnassus for good by this morning, but I’m tickled to death to have a chance to see her again. I hope she’ll be as good a friend to you as she has been to me. I suppose you’ll sell her when you return to the Sage?”
“I don’t know I’m sure,” I said. “I must confess I’m still a little at sea. My desire for an adventure seems to have let me in deeper than I expected. I begin to see that there’s more in this bookselling game than I thought. Honestly, it’s getting into my blood.”
“Well, that’s fine,” he said heartily. “I couldn’t have left Parnassus in better hands. You must let me know what you do with her, and then perhaps, when I’ve finished my book, I can buy her back.”
We struck off into the lane. The ground was slippery under the trees and we went single file, Mifflin in front. I looked at my watch—it was nine o’clock, just an hour since I had left the van. As we neared the spot Mifflin kept looking ahead through the birch trees in a queer way.
“What’s the matter?” I said. “We’re almost there, aren’t we?”
“We are there,” he said. “Here’s the place.”
Parnassus was gone!
We stood in complete dismay—I did, at any rate—for about as long as it takes to peel a potato. There could be no doubt in which direction the van had moved, for the track of the wheels was plain. It had gone farther up the lane toward the quarry. In the earth, which was still soggy, were a number of footprints.
“By the bones of Polycarp!” exclaimed the Professor, “those hoboes have stolen the van. I guess they think it’ll make a fine Pullman sleeper for them. If I’d realized there was more than one of them I’d have hung around closer. They need a lesson.”
Good Lord! I thought, here’s Don Quixote about to wade into another fight.