Chapter 9





My feelings were as mixed as a crushed nut sundae. So the Professor
hadn't gone to Brooklyn after all! What did he mean by prowling
after me like a sleuth? Was it just homesickness for Parnassus? Not
likely! And then the horrible noises I had heard in the night; had
some tramp been hanging about the van in the hope of robbing me? Had
the tramp attacked Mifflin? Or had Mifflin attacked the tramp? Who
had got the better of it?

I picked up the muddy cap and threw it into the van. Anyway, I had
problems of my own to tackle, and those of the Professor could wait.

Peg whinneyed when she saw me. I examined her foot. Seeing it by
daylight the trouble was not hard to diagnose. A long, jagged piece
of slate was wedged in the frog of the foot. I easily wrenched it
out, heated some water, and gave the hoof another sponging. It
would be all right when shod once more. But where was the shoe?

I gave the horse some oats, cooked an egg and a cup of coffee for
myself at the little kerosene stove, and broke up a dog biscuit
for Bock. I marvelled once more at the completeness of Parnassus'
furnishings. Bock helped me to scour the pan. He sniffed eagerly
at the cap when I showed it to him, and wagged his tail.

It seemed to me that the only thing I could do was to leave
Parnassus and the animals where they were and retrace my steps as
far as the Pratt farm. Undoubtedly Mr. Pratt would be glad to sell
me a horse-shoe and send his hired man to do the job for me. I could
not drive Peg as she was, with a sore foot and without a shoe. I
judged Parnassus would be quite safe: the lane seemed to be a lonely
one leading to a deserted quarry. I tied Bock to the steps to act as
a guard, took my purse and the Professor's cap with me, locked the
door of the van, and set off along the back track. Bock whined and
tugged violently when he saw me disappearing, but I could see no
other course.

The lane rejoined the main road about half a mile back. I must have
been asleep or I could never have made the mistake of turning off.
I don't see why Peg should have made the turn, unless her foot hurt
and she judged the side track would be a good place to rest. She
must have been well used to stopping overnight in the open.

I strode along pondering over my adventures, and resolved to buy a
pistol when I got to Woodbridge. I remember thinking that I could
write quite a book now myself. Already I began to feel quite a
hardened pioneer. It doesn't take an adaptable person long to
accustom one's self to a new way of life, and the humdrum routine of
the farm certainly looked prosy compared to voyaging with Parnassus.
When I had got beyond Woodbridge, and had crossed the river, I would
begin to sell books in earnest. Also I would buy a notebook and jot
down my experiences. I had heard of bookselling as a profession
for women, but I thought that my taste of it was probably unique.
I might even write a book that would rival Andrew's--yes, and
Mifflin's. And that brought my thoughts to Barbarossa again.

Of all extraordinary people, I thought, he certainly takes the
cake--and then, rounding a bend, I saw him sitting on a rail fence,
with his head shining in the sunlight. My heart gave a sort of jump.
I do believe I was getting fond of the Professor. He was examining
something which he held in his hand.

"You'll get sunstroke," I said. "Here's your cap." And I pulled it
out of my pocket and tossed it to him.

"Thanks," he said, as cool as you please. "And here's your
horse-shoe. Fair exchange!"

I burst out laughing, and he looked disconcerted, as I hoped he
would.

"I thought you'd be in Brooklyn by now," I said, "at 600 Abingdon
Avenue, laying out Chapter One. What do you mean by following me
this way? You nearly frightened me to death last night. I felt like
one of Fenimore Cooper's heroines, shut up in the blockhouse while
the redskins prowled about."

He flushed and looked very uncomfortable.

"I owe you an apology," he said. "I certainly never intended that
you should see me. I bought a ticket for New York and checked my
bag through. And then while I was waiting for the train it came
over me that your brother was right, and that it was a darned risky
thing for you to go jaunting about alone in Parnassus. I was afraid
something might happen. I followed along the road behind you,
keeping well out of sight."

"Where were you while I was at Pratt's?"

"Sitting not far down the road eating bread and cheese," he said.
"Also I wrote a poem, a thing I very rarely do."

"Well, I hope your ears burned," I said, "for those Pratts have
certainly raised you to the peerage."

He got more uncomfortable than ever.

"Well," he said, "I dare say it was all an error, but anyway I _did_
follow you. When you turned off into that lane, I kept pretty close
behind you. As it happens, I know this bit of country, and there are
very often some hoboes hanging around the old quarry up that lane.
They have a cave there where they go into winter quarters. I was
afraid some of them might bother you. You could hardly have chosen a
worse place to camp out. By the bones of George Eliot, Pratt ought
to have warned you. I can't conceive why you didn't stop at his
house overnight anyway."

"If you must know, I got weary of hearing them sing your praises."

I could see that he was beginning to get nettled.

"I regret having alarmed you," he said. "I see that Peg has dropped
a shoe. If you'll let me fix it for you, after that I won't bother
you."

We turned back again along the road, and I noticed the right side of
his face for the first time. Under the ear was a large livid bruise.

"That hobo, or whoever he was," I said, "must have been a better
fighter than Andrew. I see he landed on your cheek. Are you always
fighting?"

His annoyance disappeared. Apparently the Professor enjoyed a fight
almost as much as he did a good book.

"Please don't regard the last twenty-four hours as typical of me,"
he said with a chuckle. "I am so unused to being a squire of dames
that perhaps I take the responsibilities too seriously."

"Did you sleep at all last night?" I asked. I think I began to
realize for the first time that the gallant little creature had been
out all night in a drizzling rain, simply to guard me from possible
annoyance; and I had been unforgivably churlish about it.

"I found a very fine haystack in a field overlooking the quarry.
I crawled into the middle of it. A haystack is sometimes more
comfortable than a boarding-house."

"Well," I said penitently, "I can never forgive myself for the
trouble I've caused you. It was awfully good of you to do what
you did. Please put your cap on and don't catch cold."

We walked for several minutes in silence. I watched him out of the
corner of my eye. I was afraid he might have caught his death of
cold from being out all night in the wet, to say nothing of the
scuffle he had had with the tramp; but he really looked as chipper
as ever.

"How do you like the wild life of a bookseller?" he said.
"You must read George Borrow. He would have enjoyed Parnassus."

"I was just thinking, when I met you, that I could write a book
about my adventures."

"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!



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