Rudder Grange/Chapter 4
TREATING OF A NOVEL STYLE OF BURGLAR
I have spoken of my pistol. During the early part of our residence at Rudder Grange I never thought of such a thing as owning a pistol.
But it was different now. I kept a Colt's revolver loaded in the bureau drawer in our bedroom.
The cause of this change was burglars. Not that any of these unpleasant persons had visited us, but we much feared they would. Several houses in the vicinity had been entered during the past month, and we could never tell when our turn would come.
To be sure, our boarder suggested that if we were to anchor out a little further at night, no burglar would risk catching his death of cold by swimming out to us; but Euphemia having replied that it would be rather difficult to move a canal-boat every night without paddle-wheels, or sails, or mules, especially if it were aground, this plan was considered to be effectually disposed of.
So we made up our minds that we must fasten up everything very securely, and I bought a pistol and two burglar alarms. One of these I affixed to the most exposed window, and the other to the door, which opened on the deck. These alarms were very simple affairs, but they were good enough. When they were properly attached to a window or door, and it was opened, a little gong sounded like a violently deranged clock, striking all the hours of the day at once.
The window did not trouble us much, but it was rather irksome to have to make the attachment to the door every night and to take it off every morning. However, as Euphemia said, it was better to take a little trouble than to have a house full of burglars, which was true enough.
We made all the necessary arrangements in case burglars should make an inroad upon us. At the first sound of the alarm, Euphemia and the girl were to lie flat on the floor or get under their bed. Then the boarder and I were to stand up, back to back, each with pistol in hand, and fire away, revolving on a common centre the while. In this way, by aiming horizontally at about four feet from the floor, we could rake the premises, and run no risk of shooting each other or the women of the family.
To be sure, there were some slight objections to this plan. The boarder's room was at some distance from ours, and he would probably not hear the alarm, and the burglars might not be willing to wait while I went forward and roused him up, and brought him to our part of the house. But this was a minor difficulty. I had no doubt but that, if it should be necessary, I could manage to get our boarder into position in plenty of time.
It was not very long before there was an opportunity of testing the plan.
About twelve o'clock one night one of the alarms (that on the kitchen window) went off with a whirr and a wild succession of clangs. For a moment I thought the morning train had arrived, and then I woke up. Euphemia was already under the bed.
I hurried on a few clothes, and then I tried to find the bureau in the dark. This was not easy, as I lost my bearings entirely. But I found it at last, got the top drawer open and took out my pistol. Then I slipped out of the room, hurried up the stairs, opened the door (setting off the alarm there, by the way), and ran along the deck (there was a cold night wind), and hastily descended the steep steps that led into the boarder's room. The door that was at the bottom of the steps was not fastened, and as I opened it a little stray moonlight illumined the room. I hastily stepped to the bed and shook the boarder by the shoulder. He kept his pistol under his pillow.
In an instant he was on his feet, his hand grasped my throat, and the cold muzzle of his Derringer pistol was at my forehead. It was an awfully big muzzle like the mouth of a bottle.
I don't know when I lived so long as during the first minute that he held me thus.
"Rascal!" he said. "Do as much as breathe, and I'll pull the trigger."
I didn't breathe.
I had an accident insurance on my life. Would it hold good in a case like this? Or would Euphemia have to go back to her father?
He pushed me back into the little patch of moon-light.
"Oh! is it you?" he said, relaxing his grasp. "What do you want? A mustard plaster?"
He had a package of patent plasters in his room. You took one and dipped it in hot water, and it was all ready.
"No," said I, gasping a little. "Burglars."
"Oh!" he said, and he put down his pistol and put on his clothes.
"Come along!" he said, and away we went over the deck.
When we reached the stairs all was dark and quiet below.
It was a matter of hesitancy as to going down.
I started to go down first, but the boarder held me back.
"Let me go down," he said.
"No," said I; "my wife is there."
"That's the very reason you should not go," he said. "She is safe enough yet, and they would fire only at a man. It would be a bad job for her if you were killed. I'll go down."
So he went down, slowly and cautiously, his pistol in one hand, and his life in the other, as it were.
When he reached the bottom of the steps I changed my mind. I could not remain above while the burglar and Euphemia were below, so I followed.
The boarder was standing in the middle of the dining-room, into which the stairs led. I could not see him, but I put my hand against him as I was feeling my way across the floor.
I whispered to him:
"Shall we put our backs together and revolve and fire?"
"No," he whispered back, "not now; he may be on a shelf by this time, or under a table. Let's look him up."
I confess that I was not very anxious to look him up, but I followed the boarder, as he slowly made his way towards the kitchen door. As we opened the door we instinctively stopped.
The window was open, and by the light of the moon that shone in, we saw the rascal standing on a chair, leaning out of the window, evidently just ready to escape. Fortunately, we were unheard.
"Let's pull him in," whispered the boarder.
"No," I whispered in reply. "We don't want him in. Let's hoist him out."
"All right," returned the boarder.
We laid our pistols on the floor, and softly approached the window. Being barefooted, our steps were noiseless.
"Hoist when I count three," breathed the boarder into my ear.
We reached the chair. Each of us took hold of two of its legs.
"One—two—three!" said the boarder, and together we gave a tremendous lift and shot the wretch out of the window.
The tide was high, and there was a good deal of water around the boat. We heard a rousing splash outside.
Now there was no need of silence.
"Shall we run on deck and shoot him as he swims?" I cried.
"No," said the boarder; "we'll get the boathook, and jab him if he tries to climb up."
We rushed on deck. I seized the boat-hook and looked over the side. But I saw no one.
"He's gone to the bottom!" I exclaimed.
"He didn't go very far then," said the boarder, "for it's not more than two feet deep there."
Just then our attention was attracted by a voice from the shore.
"Will you please let down the gang-plank?"
We looked ashore, and there stood Pomona, dripping from every pore.
We spoke no words, but lowered the gang-plank. She came aboard.
"Good-night!" said the boarder, and he went to bed.
"Pomona!" said I, "what have you been doing?"
"I was lookin' at the moon, sir, when pop! the chair bounced, and out I went."
"You shouldn't do that," I said sternly. "Some day you'll be drowned. Take off your wet things and go to bed."
"Yes, sma'am—sir, I mean," said she, as she went downstairs.
When I reached my room I lighted the lamp, and found Euphemia still under the bed.
"Is it all right?" she asked.
"Yes," I answered. "There was no burglar. Pomona fell out of the window."
"Did you get her a plaster?" asked Euphemia drowsily.
"No, she did not need one. She's all right now. Were you worried about me, dear?"
"No, I trusted in you entirely, and I think I dozed a little under the bed."
In one minute she was asleep.
The boarder and I did not make this matter a subject of conversation afterward, but Euphemia gave the girl a lecture on her careless ways, and made her take several Dover's powders the next day.
An important fact in domestic economy was discovered about this time by Euphemia and myself. Perhaps we were not the first to discover it, but we certainly did find it out—and this fact was, that housekeeping costs money. At the end of every week we counted up our expenditures—it was no trouble at all to count up our receipts—and every week the result was more unsatisfactory.
"If we could only get rid of the disagreeable balance that has to be taken along all the time, and which gets bigger and bigger like a snowball, I think we would find the accounts more satisfactory," said Euphemia.
This was on a Saturday night. We always got our pencils and paper and money at the end of the week.
"Yes," said I, with an attempt to appear facetious and unconcerned, "but it would be all well enough if we could take that snowball to the fire and melt it down."
"But there never is any fire where there are snowballs," said Euphemia.
"No," said I, "and that's just the trouble."
It was on the following Thursday, when I came home in the evening, that Euphemia met me with a glowing face. It rather surprised me to see her look so happy, for she had been very quiet and preoccupied for the first part of the week. So much so, indeed, that I had thought of ordering smaller roasts for a week or two, and taking her to a Thomas concert with the money saved. But this evening she looked as if she did not need Thomas's orchestra.
"What makes you so bright, my dear?" said I, when I had greeted her. "Has anything jolly happened?"
"No," said she; "nothing yet, but I am going to make a fire to melt snowballs."
Of course I was very anxious to know how she was going to do it, but she would not tell me. It was a plan that she intended to keep to herself until she saw how it worked. I did not press her, because she had so few secrets, and I did not hear anything about this plan until it had been carried out.
Her scheme was as follows: After thinking over our financial condition, and puzzling her brain to find out some way of bettering it, she had come to the conclusion that she would make some money by her own exertions, to help defray our household expenses. She never had made any money, but that was no reason why she should not begin. It was too bad that I should have to toil and toil and not make nearly enough money after all. So she would go to work and earn something with her own hands.
She had heard of an establishment in the city where ladies of limited means, or transiently impecunious, could, in a very quiet and private way, get sewing to do. They could thus provide for their needs without anyone but the officers of the institution knowing anything about it.
So Euphemia went to this place, and she got some work. It was not a very large bundle, but it was larger than she had been accustomed to carry, and, what was perfectly dreadful, it was wrapped up in a newspaper! When Euphemia told me the story, she said that this was too much for her courage. She could not go on the cars, and perhaps meet people belonging to our church, with a newspaper bundle under her arm.
But her genius for expedients saved her from this humiliation. She had to purchase some sewing-cotton, and some other little things, and when she had bought them, she handed her bundle to the woman behind the counter, and asked her if she would not be so good as to have that wrapped up with the other things. It was a good deal to ask, she knew, and the woman smiled, for the articles she had bought would not make a package as large as her hand. However, her request was complied with, and she took away a very decent package, with the card of the store stamped on the outside. I suppose that there are not more than half a dozen people in this country who would refuse Euphemia anything that she would be willing to ask for.
So she took the work home, and she laboured faithfully at it for about a week. She did not suppose it would take her so long; but she was not used to such very plain sewing, and was much afraid that she would not do it neatly enough. Besides this, she could only work on it in the daytime—when I was away—and was, of course, interrupted a great deal by her ordinary household duties, and the necessity of a careful oversight of Pomona's somewhat erratic methods of doing her work.
But at last she finished the job and took it into the city. She did not want to spend any more money on the trip than was absolutely necessary, and so was very glad to find that she had a remnant of pocket-money sufficient to pay her fare both ways.
When she reached the city, she walked up to the place where her work was to be delivered, and found it much further when she went on foot than it had seemed to her riding in the street cars. She handed over her bundle to the proper person, and, as it was soon examined and approved, she received her pay therefor.
It amounted to sixty cents. She had made no bargain, but she was a little astonished. However, she said nothing, but she left the place without asking for any more work. In fact, she forgot all about it. She had an idea that everything was all wrong, and that idea engrossed her mind entirely. There was no mistake about the sum paid, for the lady clerk had referred to the printed table of prices when she calculated the amount due. But something was wrong, and, at the moment, Euphemia could not tell what it was. She left the place, and started to walk back to the ferry. But she was so tired and weak and hungry—it was now an hour or two past her regular luncheon-time—that she thought she should faint if she did not go somewhere and get some refreshments.
So, like a sensible little woman as she was, she went into a restaurant. She sat down at a table, and a waiter came to her to see what she would have. She was not accustomed to eating-houses, and perhaps this was the first time that she had ever visited one alone. What she wanted was something simple. So she ordered a cup of tea and some rolls, and a piece of chicken. The meal was a very good one, and Euphemia enjoyed it. When she had finished, she went up to the counter to settle. Her bill was sixty cents. She paid the money that she had just received, and walked down to the ferry—all in a daze, she said. When she got home she thought it over, and then she cried.
After a while she dried her eyes, and when I came home she told me all about it.
"I give it up," she said. "I don't believe I can help you any."
Poor little thing! I took her in my arms and comforted her, and before bedtime I had convinced her that she was fully able to help me better than anyone else on earth, and that without puzzling her brains without business, or wearing herself out by sewing for pay.
So we went on in our old way, and by keeping our attention on our weekly balance, we prevented it from growing very rapidly.
We fell back on our philosophy (it was all the capital we had), and became as calm and contented as circumstances allowed.