Though you believe it not, I care not much: but an honest man, and of good judgment, believeth still what is told him, and that which he finds written.—Rabelais.
Though you believe it not, I care not much: but an honest man, and of good judgment, believeth still what is told him, and that which he finds written.—Rabelais.
When the Little Boy first went to the Old Tobacco Shop, he stood a long while before going in, to look at the wooden figure which stood beside the door.
His father was sitting at home in his carpet-slippers, waiting for tobacco for his pipe, but when the Little Boy saw the wooden figure he forgot all about hurrying,—"Now don't be long," his mother had said, and his father had said "Hurry back,"—but he forgot all about hurrying, and stood and looked at the wooden figure a long time: a little hunchbacked man, not so very much taller than himself, on a low wooden box, holding out in one hand a packet of black wooden cigars. His back was terribly humped up between his shoulders, his face was square and bony, if wood can be said to be bony, he was bareheaded and bald-headed, he had a wide mouth, and his high nose curved down over it and his pointed chin curved up under it; and his breast stuck out in front almost as much as his shoulders stuck out behind.
The Little Boy's name was Freddie; his mother called him that, and his father usually called him Fred; but sometimes his father called him Frederick, in fact whenever he didn't come back after he had been told to hurry, and then his father looked at him—you know that look—and said "Frederick!" just like that. But his mother never called him anything but Freddie, even when he was late.
He grasped his money tight in his hand, as he had been told to do, and stood and looked at the little hunchbacked wooden man holding out his packet of black wooden cigars. "I wonder," thought Freddie, "what makes him so crooked?" He walked around him and looked at his back. He walked around in front of him again and wondered if the black cigars in his hand would smoke; he decided he would ask about it. The little man wore blue knee breeches and black stockings and buckled shoes, and his coat was cut away in front over his stomach and had two tails behind, down to his knees. It was easy to see that he wasn't a boy, though, even if he did wear knee breeches; you only had to look at his face, for he had the kind of hard boniness in his face that grown-ups have. Freddie made up his mind that he liked him, anyway; and it must have been hard to have to stand out there all day without moving, rain or shine, and offer that bunch of cigars to all the people who went by, and never get a single soul to take them. Freddie put out his other hand (not the one with the money in it) towards the cigars, but he quickly drew it back, for he looked at the little man's face at the same time, and there was something about his eyes—anyhow, he stood back a little.
"Better be careful o' Mr. Punch, young feller," said a deep voice from the shop door.
Freddie looked, and in the doorway, leaning against the doorpost, with his hands in his trousers' pockets, and one foot crossed over the other, stood a little man, not so very much taller than himself, and certainly no taller than the figure on the stand, who stared at Freddie as if he knew all about human boys and did not trust them out of his sight. Freddie looked at him and then at the wooden figure beside the door; they might have been brothers. The little man had a hump on his back, and his breast stuck out in front; his head was big and square, and he had high cheek-bones; his face was bony and his mouth wide, and his big nose curved down and his chin curved up; but he did not wear knee breeches; his trousers were the trousers of grown-ups, and his coat was a square coat, buttoned tight over his chest from top to bottom. He was bareheaded, and he had plenty of hair, brushed from the top of his head down towards his forehead. He looked as if he belonged to the tobacco shop; or perhaps the tobacco shop belonged to him.
He stared at Freddie without blinking, and there was something in his eyes—anyway, Freddie stepped back, and held his money tighter in his hand behind him.
"You'd better stand away from Mr. Punch," said the hunchbacked man, without moving.
"Yes, sir," said Freddie.
"Did you say 'why'? Because you know I'm terrible deef, and can't never hear boys when they talk down in their stomicks. I'll tell you why, as long as you ast me. Do you see that clock on the church-tower over there?" He nodded his big wooden head up the street, without taking his hands from his pockets. Freddie looked, and there the clock was, plain enough. "Well," said the hunchbacked man, "I'll tell you, seeing as you insist upon it, and won't take no for an answer: but you mustn't never tell it to no one. Do you promise me that? Cross your heart?"
"Done," said the hunchback. "Mr. Punch's father lives up there behind that clock. And sometimes, just exactly when the two hands of that clock come together, one on top of the other, mind you, like you lay one stick along another, Mr. Punch's father comes out and stands on that there sill under the clock; he's a little old man with a long white beard; and he stands there and puts his hand to his mouth and calls down here to Mr. Punch, and Mr. Punch climbs down off his little perch and goes over to that church, and climbs up the inside of that tower to the very top and meets his father! And I've heard tell that they have regular high jinks up there all by theirselves, and vittles! more vittles and drink than you ever seen at one time; yes, sir; a regular feast, as sure as you're born; and they don't only eat vittles; no, sir; if they can only get hold of a nice plump little boy or two, with plenty o' meat to him, that's what they like best; and if it happens to be night-time, there's a lot of queer ones with 'em up there, and all sorts of queer noises—you ask the sextant over there about it—he's heard 'em; and if you should just happen to be around when Mr. Punch climbs down off of this here perch, you'd better look out; for he's just as likely as not to snatch you up and carry you off with him up there into that church-tower to his father, and if he does that, that's the last of you; and your ma and your pa could cry their eyes out, and it wouldn't be no use; you'd be gone! And never come back no more. They say there's many a boy been took up into that tower by Mr. Punch here when his father comes out and calls him. But he don't always come out when the hands of the clock come together; nobody ever knows when he's going to do it, no sirree; Mr. Punch himself never knows when his father's going to call him. Lord bless us!" cried the little hunchback, looking up again in alarm at the clock in the church-tower. "Lord bless us, look at that!"
Freddie stared at the clock. It was twenty-five minutes past five. He knew how to tell twelve o'clock and ten minutes to ten, but he had never got as far as twenty-five minutes past five; he could easily see, however, that the big hand was almost on top of the little hand. He edged away further from the wooden figure on the box; he was almost sure that the hand which held the cigars moved a little.
The hunchbacked man in the doorway stood up straight on his two feet and took his hands out of his pockets.
"Look alive, young feller!" he said. "It's pretty near time! In another minute! I can't help it if Mr. Punch's father comes out and—Quick, boy! Come here to me, before it's too late! I'll see if I can save you!"
Freddie gave another look at the clock; the hands were surely almost together, and quick as a flash he darted to the hunchback and hid behind him and held on to his coat, peeping around him through the doorway. The little man put his arm about Freddie and held him close; it was a strong muscular arm, and Freddie felt quite safe. The little man could not have been laughing, for his face was as solemn and wooden-looking as ever; but Freddie could feel his body shaking all over, he couldn't tell why.
"You'd better come in and see Aunt Amanda," he said, "before it's too late. You'll be safe in there."
He took Freddie by the hand and drew him into the shop.
The Old Tobacco Shop stands at the corner of two streets, as you surely must know if you have ever been in the city that lies on the river called Patapsco, which runs along ever so far out of a great bay where ships sail from all over the world, called ChesapeakeBay. It is an old brick house, and you go into the shop by the door that opens in the side just round the corner, not in the front, for there isn't any door at the front, but only a window with pipes and cigars and tobacco in it, and the stuffed head of a bull-dog with a pipe in his mouth. The house is only one story and a half high, and has a steep gabled roof, with two dormer windows in the slope of the roof above the side of the house, and one dormer window in the slope of the roof above the shop-window in front, where the bull-dog is. All the other houses fronting in the row are good high two-story houses; why this corner house never grew up like the others, no one knows.
When Freddie was standing at the corner of the street, before he had seen the wooden figure offering his bundle of wooden cigars there beside the door, he looked down the street that runs along the side of the shop, across the street that crosses it, and saw the masts of tall ships in the harbor beside the wharves; some with their sails up, some with their sails hanging most untidily, and some with their sails neatly rolled up and tied; and he would certainly have gone down there, only his father had told him to hurry.
Freddie lived in a fine two-story brick house in a row like this one, a long, long way off; three squares off (they say "squares" in that city when they mean a straight line between two streets and not a square at all) down the same street on which the Old Tobacco Shop fronts; and it really takes a good while to go all that way, for there is a boy half-way down, a big boy, who belongs to a Gang, and likes to bully little boys, and you have to watch your chance to get out of his way, and there is a place with a knot-hole in the fence where you can see all kinds of rusty springs and bed-rails and birdcages and barrel hoops piled up inside the yard, and a tin-can factory where you can pick up little round pieces of tin just as good as dollars, and a church (where the clock is) with a fat old man sitting on the pavement in a chair tilted back against the church wall smoking a long pipe, who doesn't mind being stared at from the curbstone, and a street-car track where you have to look out for the horse-car, which is very dangerous when the horse begins to trot, and—but Freddie hadn't lived long in his fine two-story house in that street, and these things were new to him and took time. But the newest and biggest thing he had yet found (not that it was really big, you know) was the wooden hunchback outside the door of the Old Tobacco Shop; and you have seen how much time that took.
Freddie found himself inside the shop, and his hand grasped tight by the big strong hand of the hunchback, so tight that he wriggled a little to get loose; but the hunchback only held him tighter. "Come along," he said, "you'd better come in here and see my Aunt Amanda, or Mr. Punch may step out and get you; and then where would you be?"
Freddie looked back out of doors over his shoulder, but it did not seem as if Mr. Punch meant to step out that time. He breathed easier. The shop was a very little shop, with shelves on the wall behind the counter, and a window in front where he saw the back of the bull-dog's head. The two show-cases on the counter were full of pipes of all kinds, and cigars and tobacco and cigarettes, and piled on the shelves were boxes of cigars and jars and tins of tobacco, and on the wooden top of the counter between the two show-cases stood a tobacco-cutter and a little pair of scales with a scoop lying beside it and little iron weights in a box. The counter ran from the front window lengthwise to the back of the shop, and at the back, on your left as you went in, was a closed door. A wooden chair with arms stood beside the front window. You could get behind the counter only by a swinging gate at the back end. There was a delightful warm odour about the place, very much the same odour Freddie liked to smell when his father opened his old tobacco-box on the mantel-piece in the sitting-room upstairs and filled his pipe, when he came home in the evening and put on his carpet-slippers and spread out that everlasting newspaper that had no pictures in it. He never could understand why his mother opened all the windows the next morning.
"All right, young feller," said the hunchback, "we'll get on the other side of that door, and then we'll be safe. Here we are."
They reached the door at the back of the shop, and the hunchback opened it and pulled Freddie into the back room and closed the door behind them. Freddie hung back a little, but his hand was gripped tight, and he couldn't have got away if he had tugged with all his might. He was not so much afraid now of Mr. Punch and his father, but he didn't know what this little man was going to do with him; and besides, his father had told him to hurry.
In this back room, near a window which looked out on the street, sat a lady. The hunchback marched Freddie up to her and stopped there before her, and wagged his head sidewise towards the Little Boy. The hunchback and the Little Boy stood hand in hand, and the lady looked at them steadily.
"Here's Aunt Amanda," said the hunchback, standing before the lady who was sitting near the window, and letting go of Freddie's hand, "and here's a boy that Mr. Punch pretty near got hold of, if I hadn't come along just in time and hustled him in here. Just look out of that window, Aunt Amanda, and see if Mr. Punch has moved yet."
The lady did not look out of the window, but stared at Freddie with her mouth shut tight. She had very thin lips and she pressed them tight together; and without opening them more than a wee mite she said to the hunchback, sternly:
Freddie could not understand this at all. He looked at her closely. She was very thin, and had a high beaked nose and reddish hair and a reddish skin, and on the left side of her chin was a mole, with three little reddish hairs sticking out of it; she wore a rusty black dress, very tight above the waist and very wide below, and in the bosom of this dress were sticking dozens, maybe hundreds, for all Freddie could tell, of pins and needles. She must have been very tall when she stood up. A cane leaned against the back of her chair; she was a little lame; not very lame, but enough to make her limp when she walked, and to make her cane useful in getting about. If she had had a stiff starched ruff about her neck and a lace thing on her head pointed in front, she would have done very well for Queen Elizabeth, the one you see the picture of in that history-book. There was a thimble on the second finger of her right hand, and a pair of scissors hung by a tape at her waist; and around her neck she wore a measuring tape. On the floor at her feet lay a pile of goods, and some of it was in her lap; the kind of goods that Mother has around her when she is turning and making over that old blue serge, and gathers up out of Father's way when she hears him coming in towards the sitting-room.
At Aunt Amanda's elbow stood an oval marble-topped table, and besides a work-basket there were several fascinating things on it. In the center was a glass dome, and under the glass dome was the most beautiful basket of wax flowers—calla lilies mostly, with a wonderful yellow spike like a finger sticking up out of each one. On one side of the wax flowers was a thick book with blue plush covers, and the word "Album" across it in slanting gold letters. On the other side was a kind of a—well, it had a handle under a piece of wood to hold it up by, and a frame at one end to stick up a picture in, and two pieces of thick glass in a frame at the other end to look through at the picture and make the picture look all—you know!—as if the people in the back of it were a long way behind, and the people in front right close up in front, and all that; Freddie's father had one.
The chairs in the room had thin curved legs and those slippery horse-hair seats which Freddie hated to sit on. On the walls were portraits in oval frames of men with chin-whiskers and no mustaches, and ladies in shawls and bonnets; but there was one square frame, and it had no picture under its glass, but a sheaf of real wheat, standing up as natural as life, with some kind of curly writing over it; it was simply beautiful. There was a clock on the marble mantel-piece, tall and square-cornered, with a clear circle in the glass below where you could see the round weight of the pendulum go back and forth, and a picture of the sun on the face, very red, with a big nose and eyes, and stiff red hair floating off from it.
Aunt Amanda stuck a pin in the goods in her lap and folded her hands. Freddie, after glancing around the room, looked at her again and wondered who she was; plain sewing she was, that was sure, also an aunt; and besides that, although Freddie did not know it, she was an old—I hate to say it, though it wasn't anything really against her, if you come to that,—an old—well, you know what you call them behind their backs, or shout after them as they go down the street and then whip around the corner when they turn, just simply because they haven't ever been married, like Mother,—well, then, an Old Maid.
Being an Old Maid, she of course wore no wedding ring; but on her wedding-finger, the third finger of her left hand, there was a mark at the place where a wedding ring would have been; a kind of birth-mark, ruby red, in shape and size like the ruby stone of a ring. Freddie looked at it often afterwards.
"Now you look here, Aunt Amanda," said her nephew, taking hold of Freddie's hand again, "you know well enough I can't understand you with all them pins—"
Aunt Amanda put a hand to her lips and drew out of her mouth a pin and stuck it in the bosom of her dress. She put her hand to her lips again and drew forth another pin and stuck it in the bosom of her dress. She drew forth another and another, and stuck each one in her dress. Freddie's eyes opened wide; did this lady eat pins? Her mouth seemed to be full of them; didn't they hurt? It didn't seem possible she could eat them, and yet there they were. No wonder she couldn't talk plainly. There seemed to be no end to the pins, but there was, and at last her mouth was clear of them so that she could talk.
"Toby Littleback," said she, "you're up to one o' your tricks again. Ain't you ashamed of yourself?" That was what she had meant by saying, "Obelilackyoomuptwonyerix," with her mouth full of pins.
Toby was quite crestfallen. "Well," he said, "I guess it ain't no hangin' matter. All I done was to bring the boy in to see you. 'N' this is what I get fer it every time. I ain't a-going to bring 'em in any more, that's flat."
"Let go o' the child," said Aunt Amanda, sharply. "Can't you see you're hurting his hand? Come here, boy."
Mr. Littleback dropped Freddie's hand and walked over to the table beside his aunt. Freddie came forward timidly and stood at Aunt Amanda's knee. She examined him carefully.
"It's the best one yet," she said. "Boy, do you know you're as pretty as a—Well, anyway, what is your name?"
If there was one thing Freddie loathed, it was to be called pretty; he had heard it before, in the parlor at home, when he had been trotted out to be inspected by female visitors, and he had tried many a time to scrub off the rosy redness from his cheeks, but he had found it only made it worse. He hung his head a little, and could not find his voice. Aunt Amanda took his chin in her hand and gently held up his head.
"It's all right, my dear," said she. "What is your name, now?"
"Fweddie," said the Little Boy.
"It ain't neither!" cried Mr. Littleback. "There ain't no such name. It's Freddie! Come on, now, say Freddie!"
"No, no!" cried Toby. "Try it again, now. Say Freddie!"
"Toby," said Aunt Amanda, "shut up. Freddie, I haven't any little boy, and I don't get out very much, and I'd like you to come and see me sometimes. Would you like to do that?"
Freddie stared at her, and said, "Yes'm."
"I hope you will, often. Be sure you do. I suppose you don't like gingerbread? Toby."
The little hunchback went out briskly through a back door and returned with a slice of gingerbread. "Baked today," said his aunt. "But what time is it? Quarter to six. Too near suppertime. You mustn't eat it now, Freddie. Toby, wrap it up."
Toby went into the shop and returned with a paper sack, and putting the gingerbread into it gave it to Freddie.
"Now," said Aunt Amanda, "take it home with you and eat it after supper. Will you come to see me?"
"Yes'm," said Freddie as if he meant it. You couldn't get gingerbread at home between meals every day in the week.
"That's a good boy. Now run away home."
"Please, sir," said Freddie, holding out the money in his hand, "my farver wants half a pound of Cage-Roach Mitchner."
"What? Oh!" said Toby. "I see. Half a pound of Stage-Coach Mixture. All right, young feller, come along into the shop."
"Good-bye, Freddie, and don't break the gingerbread before you get home," said Aunt Amanda, taking into her mouth a palmful of pins with a back toss of her head. Had she swallowed them? Freddie stared at her in alarm.
Freddie followed him into the shop.
"You'll have to wait your turn, young feller," said Toby. "I can't keep these customers waiting no longer. What'll you have, Mr. Applejohn?"
Freddie looked around for Mr. Applejohn, but so far as he could see there was no one in the shop but himself and Mr. Littleback. The hunchback went through the swinging gate and stood behind the counter, and looked over it (his head and shoulders just came over the top) at Mr. Applejohn.
"No," said Toby, "we're just out of it. Very sorry. But I have something just as good. No? Well, then, come around tomorrow; yes, sir; between ten and eleven. Now, then, Tom, it's your turn. You want what? No, sir, I won't sell no cigarettes to no boy, so you can clear out. You ought to be ashamed o' yourself, smoking cigarettes at your age. No use arguin', I won't do it. You can get right out o' here." The big wooden-looking head winked an eye at Freddie. "That's the way I treat 'em. Did you see how he skipped off in a hurry? You saw him go, didn't you?"
Freddie looked at the door. He hadn't seen anybody, but after all that talk there must have been somebody there; he couldn't be sure; probably he had been mistaken about it; grown-up people ought to know what they were talking about; perhaps he had seen somebody. He hesitated.
"I—I think so; I believe so; yes, sir."
"Don't you fool yourself, young man. You can't smoke cigarettes if you ever want to grow up. Look at me. Do you see this?" He turned his back and reached over his shoulder to his hump. "Cigarettes. That's what done it. Cigarettes. I smoked 'em along with my bottle of milk, regular, when I was a kid, and look at me now, not much bigger than Mr. Punch out there. Cigarettes. Maybe you might think it was the bottle o' milk done it, instead of the cigarettes, being as they was at the same time; but don't you never believe it. Cigarettes! You keep off of 'em. Now pipe-tobacco! That's a different thing. If I'd only stuck to a pipe, along with that bottle o' milk, look how high I'd 'a' been now! What kind o' tobacco did you say your farver wanted? Housewife's Favorite?"
"No, sir," said Freddie. "My farver he wants half a pound of Cage-Roach Mitchner."
"That's it," said Toby. "I don't see how I come to forget that name. Your father's a man o' good common sense. Nothing like Cage-Roach. Here it is." He turned to the shelf behind him and mounted a little ladder and took down a large tin. While he was scooping out the tobacco at the counter and weighing it on the scales and doing it up, he was singing to himself, and Freddie stared at him with rapt attention.
"Some day," said Mr. Littleback, without pausing in his work or looking at Freddie, "them eyes of yourn will pop right out of your head, if you ain't careful. Did you ever hear that song?"
"No, sir," said Freddie.
"Would you like to hear it?"
"Yes, sir," said Freddie.
"It's about two old codgers—friends of mine; they come in here regular. One of 'em's a good customer and pays spot cash; the other one never buys nothing; and I can't say which one of 'em I like worse. Anyway, here's how it goes:
"Oh-h-h! There was an old codger, and he had a wooden leg,
And he never bought tobacco when tobacco he could beg."
"Don't you never let yourself get into that habit, young man. Always buy your tobacco fair and square. I've known 'em—this feller and many another one—never have a grain o' tobacco left in their pouch—just used up the very last bit two minutes before, and always a-beggin' a pipeful, and right here in my own shop too, where I sell tobacco, mind you—I'd like 'em better if they sneaked in and stoleit, I would, any day. But the other one! I don't know that I'd want to be him neither, if I had to choose between 'em,—however—
"Another old codger, as sly as a fox!
And he always had tobacco in his old tobacco box.
"Count on him for that! He never begs no tobacco, nor gives away none either. However, he ain't such a general nuisance as the other one, and he pays spot cash. I'll have to say that much for him. But in spite o' everything and all, I can't seem to make myself care for him, much. Anyway—
"Said the one old codger, Won't ye gimme a chew?
Said the other old codger, I'll be hanged if I do!
"They're a fine pair now, ain't they? One of 'em a nuisance and the other one a grouch. You'll see 'em here both in my shop one o' these days, when you're a-visitin' Aunt Amanda, and one of them times—you see the way I bounced that boy that wanted cigarettes, didn't you? Well, that's what I'm goin' to do to them two old codgers one of these days, you watch and see if I don't; yes, sir; both of 'em, as sure as I've got a hump on my back. But it's pretty good advice, after all, what the song says,—
"So save up your pennies and put away your rocks,
And you'll always have tobacco in your old tobacco box!
"Here's your Cage-Roach. Gimme your money. There's your change; five, ten, fifteen, seventeen. Now run along. Come back again; what did you say your name was?"
"You mean Freddie, don't you?"
"Why don't you say what you mean? Well, Freddie, there's plenty of tobacco left in this shop, so you can come in whenever the old tobacco box at home runs out. And don't forget to come in to see Aunt Amanda. Plenty of goods left in the shop whenever—you see all that?" He pointed up towards the shelves. "I'll tell you something I ain't told to but mighty few people before. There's a jar of smoking tobacco up there that's just plain magic. Magic! You know what that means?"
Freddie started, and looked up at the shelves in alarm. He nodded.
"It's that one, on the middle shelf; the Chinaman's head. Do you see it?"
He pointed to a white porcelain jar, shaped like a human head. Freddie could see that it was the head of some foreign kind of man, with a little round blue cap on top, which was probably the lid.
"That tobacco in that Chinaman's head is magic, as sure as you're alive. I wouldn't smoke it if you'd give me all the plum puddings in this city next Christmas; no, sir; and I wouldn't allow nobody else to smoke it, neither: I just naturally wouldn't dare to. Do you know where that tobacco come from? A sailor off of one them ships down there in the harbor, that come all the way from China—yes, sir,China!—give it to me once for a quid of plug-cut; what you might call broke, he was, and it wasn't any use to him because he didn't smoke, but he did chew; and he told me all about it; he stole it from an old sorcerer in China, where he'd just come from. Don't you never touch it! I wouldn't want to be in your boots if you ever smoked that tobacco in that there Chinaman's head! You can steal anything else in this shop, and it wouldn't do much harm to anybody; but you keep your hands off of that Chinaman's tobacco, mind what I'm telling you!"
"Yes, sir," said Freddie. He had never thought about smoking before, in connection with himself, but now for the first time he began to wish that he knew how to smoke. It would be worth risking something to take a whiff or two of the magic tobacco in that Chinaman's head, just to see what would happen.
"Do you think you'd better go home now?" said Mr. Littleback.
"Yes, sir," said Freddie. "My farver told me to hurry."
"Oh, he did! Indeed!"
The hunchback followed Freddie to the door, and they looked up together at the clock in the church-tower.
"Ah!" said Toby. "You're safe. Just six o'clock. Mr. Punch's father can't come out for about half an hour yet."
Freddie looked back as he crossed the street, and saw the live hunchback leaning against the wooden hunchback, with one foot crossed over the other; he could hardly tell which was which, except for the coat and breeches. He went on up the street with his package of tobacco in one hand and his package of gingerbread in the other. As he passed the church, he lingered a moment to stare at the great fat man with spectacles, who was sitting on the pavement in a chair tilted back against the church-wall, smoking a long pipe and reading a newspaper; could this be the "sextant" of the church, whom Mr. Toby had mentioned, and who had heard the queer noises from the top of the tower when Mr. Punch and his father were up there having their high jinks? He tried to get up his courage to ask the fat man about it, but he could not get the words out. He stared so long that the fat man finally put down his paper and took the pipe from his mouth and looked over his spectacles and said:
"If you're considerin' making a bid for the property, young man, I'll see what the senior Churchwarden has to say about it. How much do you offer?"
"No, sir," said Freddie, blushing in confusion, and went on up the street. He understood nothing of what the fat man had said, but he caught the word "churchwarden," and remembered it.
He did not walk very fast, for he had a good deal to think about; so many things had never happened to him in one day before. He dwelt especially, in his mind, on the two old codgers who were friends of Mr. Toby, and he supposed that his own father never saved up his pennies, otherwise his old tobacco box would not be empty every now and then. However, he was glad that his father was a spendthrift, because it would give him a chance to go to the Old Tobacco Shop sometimes for more tobacco for the box; and apart from Aunt Amanda and her gingerbread, he was very anxious to look again at the Chinaman's head in which lay the magic tobacco which he must not touch. One thing was sure; he would never go without looking carefully first at the hands of the clock. He wished he knew how to smoke; only not cigarettes; he shivered when he thought of the terrible consequences.
When he came to the street-car track, the horse-car was going past; at least, it was coming down the street, and he did not want to be run over by that horse; he had better wait, for the horse was trotting; his mother had warned him about it; he sat down on the curb. He had quite a moment or two to wait, and there would be time to give a hasty glance at the gingerbread. He laid the tobacco-sack beside him on the curb, and opened the other package; the car-horse had dropped into a walk and his bell was hardly jingling; there was no hurry after all; it would never do to cross in front of that horse even though he was walking. He looked at the gingerbread; it was fresh and soft, and its smell, when held close to the nose, was nothing less than heavenly; it was a pity it had to be hidden away again in the sack, but the horse was going by and the danger would soon be past. He held the gingerbread under his nose, merely to smell it; the edge of it touched his upper lip by chance, and there was something peculiar about the feel of it, he couldn't tell exactly what; it was very interesting; he touched it with the tip of his tongue, to see if it felt the same to his tongue as to his lip; it was just the same; perhaps teeth would be different; his teeth sank into it, just for a trial. The horse was going by now, and the driver was looking at him. He forgot what he was about, in watching the horse and his driver, as they went on past him; the gingerbread completely slipped his mind, and when he turned his head back from the horse-car and came to himself he found, to his amazement, that his mouth was full of gingerbread. He wondered at first how it got there, but there was no use in wondering; there it was, and it had to be swallowed; his mother would never approve of his spitting it out; and so, to please his mother, he swallowed it. The horse-car was nearly a square away; he could cross the track at any time now; there was no hurry.
When he came into the fine two-story brick house where he lived, with only one package in his hand, his mother threw up her hands and said:
"Why, Freddie! Where on earth have you been? Did you get lost? Are you hungry?"
"No'm. Yes'm," said Freddie.
"Frederick," said his father, looking at him with that look, "where have you been? Didn't I tell you to hurry?"
"Yes, sir, to Mr. Punch's, and I didn't see his farver at all, but the hands come'd right over on top of each other and he didn't get down off of his perch, he didn't, so Mr. Toby took me in to see Aunt Namanda and she eats pins, and it's cigarettes that gives you that hump on the back, only tobacco's all right 'cause you smoke it in a pipe and it doesn't do you any harm at all, and that's what Mr. Toby says and he ought to know 'cause he's got one on his back his own self, but you mustn't touch that tobacco in the head 'cause it's magic and the sailor said so, and here's the Cage-Roach Mitchner, and that's all."
You will notice that he said nothing about the gingerbread.