One evening after sunset Almanzo saw a white horse pulling a large, bright-red cart up the road, and he yelled: “The tin-peddler’s coming! The tin-peddler’s coming!”
Alice ran out of the henhouse with her apron full of eggs. Mother and Eliza Jane came to the kitchen door. Royal popped out of the pump-house. And the young horses put their heads through the windows of their stalls and whinnied to the big white horse.
Nick Brown, the tin-peddler, was a jolly, fat man, who told stories and sang songs. In the springtime he went driving along all the country roads, bringing news from far and near.
His cart was like a little house, swinging on stout leather straps between four high wheels. It had a door on either side, and from its rear a platform slanted upward like a bird’s tail, held in place by straps that went to the cart’s top. There was a fancy railing all around the top of the cart, and the cart and the platform and the wheels were all painted bright red, with beautiful scrolls painted bright yellow. High in front rode Nick Brown, on a red seat above the rump of the sturdy white horse.
Almanzo and Alice and Royal and even Eliza Jane were waiting when the cart stopped by the kitchen porch, and Mother was smiling in the doorway.
“How do you do, Mr. Brown!” she called. “Put up your horse and come right in, supper’s almost ready!” And Father called from the barn, “Drive into the Buggy-House, Nick, there’s plenty of room!”
Almanzo unhitched the sleek, big horse and led him to water, then put him in a stall and gave him a double feed of oats and plenty of hay. Mr. Brown carefully currycombed and brushed him and rubbed him down with clean cloths. He was a good horseman. After that he looked at all the stock and gave his opinion of it. He admired Star and Bright and praised Father’s colts.
“You ought to get a good price for those coming four-year-olds,” he said to Father. “Over by Saranac, the New York buyers are looking for driving-horses. One of them paid two hundred dollars apiece last week for a team not a mite better than these.”
Almanzo could not speak while grown-ups were talking, of course. But he could listen. He didn’t miss anything that Mr. Brown said. And he knew that the best time of all was coming after supper.
Nick Brown could tell more funny stories and sing more songs than any other man. He said so himself, and it was true.
“Yes, sir,” he said, “I’ll back myself, not alone against any man, but against any crowd of men. I’ll tell story for story and sing song for song, as long as you’ll bring men up against me, and when they’re all done, I’ll tell the last story and sing the last song.”
Father knew this was true. He had heard Nick Brown do it, in Mr. Case’s store in Malone.
So, after supper they all settled down by the heater, and Mr. Brown began. It was after nine o’clock before anyone went to bed, and Almanzo’s sides ached with laughing.
Next morning after breakfast Mr. Brown hitched the white horse to the cart and drove it up to the kitchen porch, and he opened the red doors. Inside the cart was everything ever made of tin. On shelves along the walls were nests of bright tin pails, and pans, and basins, cake-pans, pie-pans, bread-pans, and dishpans. Overhead dangled cups and dippers, skimmers and strainers, steamers, colanders, and graters. There were tin horns, tin whistles, toy tin dishes and patty- pans, there were all kinds of little animals made of tin and brightly painted.
Mr. Brown had made all these himself, in the wintertime, and every piece was made of good thick tin, well made and solidly soldered.
Mother brought the big rag-bags from the at- tic, and emptied on the porch floor all the rags she had saved during the last year. Mr. Brown examined the good, clean rags of wool and linen, while Mother looked at the shining tinware, and they began to trade.
For a long time, they talked and argued. Shining tinware and piles of rags were all over the porch. For every pile of rags that Nick Brown added to the big pile, Mother asked more tinware than he wanted to trade her. They were both having a good time, joking and laughing and trading. At last Mr. Brown said:
“Well, ma’am, I’ll trade you the milk-pans and pails, the colander and the skimmer, and the three baking-pans, but not the dishpan, and that’s my final offer.”
“Very well, Mr. Brown,” Mother said, unexpectedly. She had got exactly what she wanted. Almanzo knew she did not need the dishpan; she had set it out only to bargain with. Mr. Brown knew that, too, now. He looked surprised, and he looked respectfully at Mother. Mother was a good, shrewd trader. She had bested Mr. Brown. But he was satisfied, too, because he had got plenty of good rags for his tinware.
He gathered up the rags and tied them into a bale and heaved the bale onto the slanting plat- form behind his cart. The platform and the railing around the top of the cart were made to hold the rags he took in trade.
Then Mr. Brown rubbed his hands together and looked around, smiling.
“Well now,” he said, “I wonder what these young folks would like!”
He gave Eliza Jane six little diamond-shaped patty-pans to bake little cakes in, and he gave Alice six heart-shaped ones, and he gave Almanzo a tin horn painted red. They all said:
“Thank you, Mr. Brown!”
Then Mr. Brown climbed to his high seat and took up the reins. The big white horse stepped out eagerly, well fed and brushed and rested. The red cart went past the house and lurched into the road, and Mr. Brown began to whistle.
Mother had her tinware for that year, and Almanzo had his loud-squawking horn, and Nick Brown rode whistling away between the green trees and the fields. Until he came again next spring they would remember his news and laugh at his jokes, and behind the horses in the field, Almanzo would whistle the songs he had sung.