Pokey Bags a Burglar
NORMA PHILLIPS MUIR
In which a knight sounds ye alarum and a prowler by dark discovers the strange uses of midnight golf
PETER," I said gravely. "I feel an inhibition coming on."
"Try a mustard plaster." he suggested worriedly.
"An inhibition, dear,” I said patiently, “is not a physical ill. It is a prohibition within oneself.”
“That's all right, all the more for me,” he grinned.
“If it becomes acute ...”
“Listen, if it gets to the point where it becomes an ex-hibition you'll qualify for a nice satin-lined show-case,” he warned me. “1 could stand a little of the peaceful life. What’s brought on your attack?”
“The house furnishings,” I said. "1 never could be in mental harmony with a room done in mulberry, Peter. My ego demands ...”
“What vour ego is going to get is one big ache,” declared my husband.
“Some people go mad if forced to inhabit uncongenial surroundings,” I said patiently. “I’ve had a headache for three days already and today it felt as though some one were tightening all the cords . . . and ...”
“Guess the nuts need oiling,” he said heartlessly. “Now, Ruth, cutting out all the fancy work and tactical manoeuvres and getting right down to brass tacks . . . what do you want?”
"I want to do the house over,” I said.
"What’s the matter with the house?”
“Everything,” I said. “If you’d only be psycho-analyzed . . . Peter!” But with a whoop of rage he left his chair, and a moment later I was flat on the chesterfield with a pillow crushed over my face and Peter, flushed and grinning, making mock but terrible threats over my prone body.
“Nuff,” I gasped. “Nuff, I said. Peter, you big bully . . . if you wake the Bits ...”
“Now, attain a sitting posture and act your age,” he ordered.
Eventually he gave in. I used cajolery and tact, and suggested that once the house was in suitable condition I would delight in entertaining the neighbors, which pride had heretofore kept me from doing.
“I think the Bigsbys are very fine people.” I said artlessly. "I like their looks.”
“I like the looks of Bigsby’s business,” said Peter thoughtfully. “1 could use him in my own.”
“Not that we are motivated by anything ulterior,” I said nobly.
“. . . certainly not,” agreed my spouse. “Guess you’re right. Ruth. Go to it, but remember, five hundred is the limit.”
The following night he burst into the house as though some one were after him.
“Tax returns or prohibited parking?” I yelled.
“Are you crazy? Whatcha mean by that?”
"Somebody after you isn’t there?” I asked, quieting down a bit.
“Not after me. I’m after you. What’s the idea of taking all the front curtains down and ...” He looked around the lower part of the house and sank with a groan on the stairs.
“I simply can’t plan coherently when I am not in accord with my surroundings,” I said with dignity. “I have merely tried to achieve a spirit of simplicity in order to make an intelligent choice.”
“Where’s the chesterfield. I want to sit. What’d you do with my chair and the footstool? My gosh, gimme food! Or can’t you eat without disturbing your simple spirit?” he stormed.
“For the next few weeks we’re having buffet meals,” I said inexorably. “The dining room was too cluttered for me to get a vision.”
“If I did just what I’m moved to at the moment,” said Peter with cold fury, “I’d fix it so that your vision would be quite limited for some time to come. D’you mean that I eat my dinner standing up?”
“C-c-certainly,” I quavered.
“ ’N how can I cut steak standing?” he bellowed.
“It’s m-m-m-inced,” I told him, trying to smile.
“And I drinks my soup and chases my peas all over the floor and eats soppy puddings instead of pies,” he roared. “I haven’t eaten standing up since I was eleven, and then there was blistered alibi why I should. I—I—”
He strode into the kitchen, came back with the tray Pansy drains the dishes on, piled up his food on it, and carrying it into the living room put it on the piano bench and sat on the telephone chair, while I ate in solitary grandeur from the candle-lighted buffet.
We might almost pass over what happened that evening. Outsiders can’t be really interested in what happens within the bosom of one’s family. Only Peter decided that he would go West, and I didn’t tell him then, but as soon as he’d left I sent the Bits to his mother for a few weeks until the worst was over.
PETER and I have never been social climbers, but one’s home is one’s guinea stamp these days and I recognized our shortcomings. By dint of much studying, consulting interior specialists and always buying one shade less brilliant than I really liked, I was all a-twitter over the result.
“Your hall is the spirit key to your home, madame,” the specialist had told me. “When one steps within your portals they must sense welcome, and this is only achieved if there are life and color and movement in your hall.”
Well, I’d always wanted a knight in armor, and I got one and put it in the corner so that the eyes fell on it when first one entered the house. I had it wired on an automatic arrangement, so that at night the eyes would light up and then go dead, and, if I do say it myself, the effect was decidedly original even if it was a bit eerie. That, I thought, filled the bill so far as light and movement went.
For color I had a huge banner, like those carried by the knights of old, hung on the wall behind the knight in armor. It was scarlet and gold and black, and since the walls were hung with a rough paper, dull gold in color, the effect was quite royalist. It was simplicity itself, too; nothing cluttered, nothing superfluous. Just the knight against the crimson glory of his banner—and, of course, the aquarium. It was of black glass on a black and gold 'acquer stand, and in it were just two of the finest specimens I had been able to locate. The specialist had been dubious about the gold fish, but I was adamant. He thought flowers would have supplied life as well as the gold fish, but I knew we’d never run to fresh flowers from November until March, and even if I have a good imagination I felt that wax or paper flowers couldn’t supply the missing link of life which the hall needed. Hence the gold fish.
The living room was a perfect gem. The old furniture, with the exception of the chesterfield, I had retained, for it was carved walnut that had been mother’s. The walls were done in a paper that l;x>ked like crimson damask, the rug was dull green, and all the pictures I had re-framed in gold. So with the really good furniture the room was perfect. I realize now that Isaiah was a bit of an anachronism, but I did want him to sort of tone down the gold and red, and it wasn’t much trouble to create a little niche for him, and drape it in black—against that background the crackled white pottery figure certainly sUx)d out. After all, there has to be a certain fusion of the ages to attain perspective, and if the living room was supix>sed to be Victorian, that made it all right, for Victoria was a go;xJ woman and she would certainly have known her Isaiah.
I’d like to go into details about the whole house, for there were original little touches here and there, of which I feel I can lx justly proud, but the house as a whole didn’t really figure in the almost tragic events of that memorable night.
Everything was done and I had gone proudly from room to room on a last tour of inspection lx*fore retiring. Pansy and the Hits had both been asleep for some hours, but a restlessness possessed me and I couldn’t seem to settle down. I sat for quite a while on the bottom step and watched Lancelot, as I had named our knight, winking at me in the dark, and then I made me an onion sandwich to ensure the presence of Morpheus, and toddled off to bed.
That was about eleven-thirty, and I didn’t hurry. When one has slept in modern beds all one’s life, there is something which decrees leisurely movement about preparing for sleep in a canopied bed, and. to tell the truth, I could hardly wait for Peter to come home and see our room. It was so
utterly utter! As English as savories, but with little touches of the New World hither and yon . . . such as the jade-green telephone extension beside the bed, the bed lights cunningly concealed behind rose-sprigged bed curtains which gave one a feeling of tremendous importance and of regal isolation—and the bedside table with its thermos carafe of ice water. A cunning fusion again, if I do say it myself.
Possibly the trickiest time I experienced had been over persuading the specialist to put in steps leading to the bed; but I won, and the bed was on a raised dais two steps high.
Gosh, you know I almost hoped for a sick headache or something when callers were coming, so I could receive them in the bedroom and let them see.
Anyway I went to bed. tired but completely happy, anxious only for the three days before Peter’s return to pass swiftly, so I could bask in his pride of my handiwork. He had no idea how much work it had been. In fact, he thought I had finished a week ago and would only reach home the day he was to return, after visiting his
mother and collecting the Hits. I wish now I had, but what’s past is finished, as Pansy says, and the only thing to do is to let bygones be memories.
T WAKENED out of a sound and ¡xa ce ful sleep to hear
someone at the front door. It was opening. I could see the angled beam of light from the street gradually widening as it swung in; and. after that, things happened too swiftly for me to reckon time or sequence.
There was a sudden guttural snarl, and then I heard a hiss:
“Stick ’em up and keep ’em up!”
“My Godfrey! there’s two of them,” I gasped, and I shot out of my canopied cot and grabbed for the elaborate robe I had got to go with the room.
I wasn’t in it before there was the most frightful crash downstairs and grunts and groans; and I tore into the nursery and, yanking Jack and Joan out of their adjoining beds without ceremony, I hiked for the attic with one under each arm, and even with the long robe and the weight of the twins I bet I only hit every other step. I do know that the sjx'ed I made was so great that I was in Pansy’s room and had dumped the Hits on her bed before they were awake.
"Pansy, wake up,” I hissed, as I locked the ;x>r and pulled the chest of drawers across it. “Get up. We’re being besieged.”
“Are y’insured?” she gasped, bounding out of bed.
“That’s Act-of-God insurance and we haven’t any,” I told her. “We’ve got two desperadoes lighting in the hall, though! Close your mouth and help me push ...” And together we got the bed in front of the chest of drawers. “They can’t move those without knowing it,” I chattered. “I. . .”
“Didja call the p-p-p-p-olice?” stuttered Pansy.
“I didn’t have time to do anything but collect the Hits.” I told her. “Pa-pa-Pansy . . . Listen to that ...” for another crash resounded through the house, followed by a hollow groan.
“One o’ them’s killed the other,” she said hopefully. “Gosh Agnes, Missus R-r-r-r-onald,” she wailed the next minute, “he’s coming up.”
It was true. We were still as the night is supposed to be, and in the silence we could hear footsteps coming up the stairs and a steady mumbling and a queer sloshing sound came with it.
“Th-e-e-e-re was a loonytick escaped y-e-e-e-sterday,” stammered Pansy Evangeline.
“That’s right, cheer me up,” I snapped. “Jack’s waking up, don’t let him make a noise. I gotta find a weapon.”
Somehow Pansy managed to make Jack understand that he had to keep quiet while I silently looked about for something with which the primitive mother might defend her young.
“How’s tricks?” asked Jack in a stage whisper.
“There’s a naughty man downstairs and we don’t want
him to know we’re here, son,” I told him. “You keep very still and don’t waken Joan.”
"I’d bop him one if I could get close enough,” he said bravely, and Pansy and I glowed with the knowledge that, even half fledged, we had the spirit of the unconquerable male with us.
"I gotta find a weapon.” I worried. And then Pansy Evangeline solved the problem by pulling out of the closet Peter’s bag of discarded golf clubs.
“Here’s a bagful of ’em, ma’am,” she said gleefully . . . and then we made a grab for each other, for from below us came the sound of a heavy body falling, mingled with curses, and then we could hear a threshing around and feet beating a tattoo and smothered yowls.
“Awa-a-a-, they’re both upstairs,” wailed Pansy, and she swung a mashie and just missed me with it.
“Put that down and get on the bed and listen,” I told her, getting my courage back as the danger increased. “If you ¿ear a foot on the attic stairs yell like thunder, but not unless. You hear me. Not unless.”
“Y-y-y-y-esm’m,” she quavered, and to the tune of that threshing and stumbling which was no less menacing because it had oecome less vocal, I found me a golf ball and went out on to the little balcony.
WHAT I did was inspired. To this day I don’t know what moved me to do it, but the sight of the chair on the balcony, the moonlight on the Higsbys’ plate-glass window, and the menace to me and my offspring, must have fused into a single unit of motivation, for the minute after 1 became conscious of the fundamental factors at my disposal I had taken advantage of them. I was up on the chair, had teed the golf ball on the railing, and taking my precarious stance I had measured the distance and the angle, and with one swing had connected with that ball and driven it clean through the Higsbys’ window to make a hole in one.
Results followed almost immediately. There was a crash and a shriek that must have sent St. Peter scurrying for reinforcements.
I hissed at Pansy to put her light on and the next minute Mr. Higsby appeared in greenand white-striped glory at the front window. He caught sight of me at once.
“Police,” I yelled. “Help! S. O. S! Murder!”
He disappeared, and I got shakily down off my perch. “Saved,” I sobbed. “A sail, a sail . . . Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink ...”
“Another loony!” shrieked Pansy.
"They are not tears of sorrow," I told her. "They’re tears of . . . ” And then I stopped, for Pansy’s eyes had grown like saucers and all the color had faded from her usually ruddy face.
"It’s ’im,” she whispered; " e’s cornin’ up. Shall l yell?” I sh;x)k my head at her. and put my finger on my lips. Jack’s face puckered but I made a |>ass at him and he ducked and pulled his lower lip into place. The
retreated again and an ominous silence filled the house.
The next few minutes felt like years. Now 1 know the meaning of the phrase: "It may lx* for years and it may be for ever.” for I thought Mr. Higsby and the cops would never come. Actually it was only minutes before I heard voices in the street and then the bell rang.
“The morons,“ I stormed. "Do they think it’s a pink tea and he’ll take their cards at the door. Why don’t they bash it in and take him. He’ll escape out the back.
Hut at that moment I heard a car come roaring up the street, and it stopfxd before the house and there was a rush of number elevens shod in authority, and the front door banged open and the reinforcements rushed in.
Downstairs there was the sound of many voices and loud, and of feet pounding up the stairs. Pansy and I got the chest of drawers pushed back, left Joan still asleep and started down, me leading the way with Jack’s hand in mine, and Pansy bringing up a timid rear.
"Have you got him? Is
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; it safe to come down?” I called . . . And then everything went black and there was ; sound of roaring waters in my ears, and I I went cold and clammy all over, for a voice I knew roared, “Not if I know it.” Suddenly ! I realized the truth. Peter was home again —to quote James Whitcombe Riley’s loving words -“home agin’ with me.”
“Papapapansy, you take Jack and go right back upstairs,” I said faintly. "M-m-m-m-m-ister Ronald seems to have ' a-a-a-rived.” And Pansy Evangeline turned j and marched back to the attic with a proI testing Jack at her side while I went down to j meet my Waterloo.
“Where’s the fire brigade and the brass ! band?” howled Peter as I came into sight.
! “Didja forget the life savers and the militia reserves? Where are the boys of the old brigade and the members of trades unions? Isn't there a representative of the clergy present? Where ...”
“Darling, I didn’t expect you for t-t-t-wo days,” I said, going up warily to greet him.
“And you did all this without preparation?
! Planned a surprise party at a minute’s ! notice?” he frothed . . . and as I turned to j smile nonchalantly at the policemen and the I neighbors whom Mr. Bigsby had roused I and brought with him as advance guard or i shock troops, the smile froze on my face, for I my beautiful bedroom was a wreck.
“Whatcha think you are, Pompadour or ! Du Barry, that you gotta have a circus ¡ bedroom complete with pucker string draft protectors on a platform?” howled my mate. *‘Who hired that blinking Cromwell I engaged in combat? When did we go out of I the legal business and into fish fanciering? Do I wear ruffles on my wrists and short 1 liants when I come into this historical i mixture?”
i I looked past him as though I’d never met him and descended the broad stairway to gaze on the devastation below. And it was plenty !
The aquarium was reduced to a pool, in which black glass fragments glittered while the gold fish flopped about feebly and \yaved their fins in mute appeal for watery aid. The knight in armor lay upon his back, his eyes sightless, and his beauty dinted and bruised.
I turned the living-room light on, and heaved a sigh of relief. Isaiah had escaped.
BY THIS TIME the field had followed me and Peter was silent but apoplectic. I glanced past him to smile sweetly at Mr. Bigsby, but that glance took in the fact that Peter’s nose had bled, and I was pleased to note also a large egg-shaped swelling on his head.
“The fact that the marauder turned out to be my husband, who thoughtlessly failed to notify me of his intention,” I said to Mr. Bigsby, “and that with his usual perspicacity he leaps before he looks and so brings this -ah—unhappy experience to us, in no way lessens my gratitude to you for your promptness and courage in coming to give me succor.”
’Taint what I’d like to give you,” muttered Peter. “How was I to know?”
“The Safety League says, ‘Stop, Look and Listen,”’ I said frigidly. “Suppose you add your thanks to mine and then we’ll let these gentlemen,” and I stressed the word, “go home to their rest.”
“That’s all right, Mrs. Ronald,” said Mr. Bigsby, his green and white stripes fluttering beneath his overcoat. “Say . . . I didn’t wait to see, but what was it you shot with?”
“I didn’t shoot,” I told him. “I never thought about shooting ...”
“That’s something to be glad about,” said Peter nastily.
“Then, then what?” Mr. Bigsby said in bewilderment.
"I teed a golf ball up on the verandah
railing and drove it through the window.”
1 told him.
“Through the window?” he shouted. "Are you sure you shot it through the window?” “Certainly,” I said proudly. “It was the crash that wakened you. wasn't it?”
“It was the mirror in the dressing table that crashed,” he said dazedly: and then, before we could stop him, he turned and ran for home like a hare.
“See, you’ve driven him nuts, too.” said Peter. Ánd after a moment he asked curiously.
“Honestly, Ruth, did you drive a golf ball off that railing true enough to go through his window? At that angle and across the street and the width of two lots ...”
“Yes, I did. and par would be three, at least,” I told him angrily. “Give these cops some smokes and let’s get at the mess upstairs,” I whispered, and Peter, still looking doubtful, took the humidor from me and passed it around while I ran into the kitchen and came back with a basin of native element for the poor fish.
THE POLICE shook hands with me rather sheepishly—I think my gorgeous chamber robe, which was a copy of one Mary Stuart wore in a picture, overawed them—and they left. Peter was just about to close the front door and indulge in the good old English custom of telling his wife where she belonged, when Mr. Bigsby crossed the street again in a series of adipose bounds and shot into the hall, without pausing to see if there was welcome or life or movement.
“You did it,” he shouted, “you actually did it. I know you did, for I found it, my dear lady, I found it!”
Peter and I looked at him, and I drew closer to my husband. I’d had quite a night of it already without steering another man toward the booby hatch.
“Sure I did, and I’m glad you found it,”
I said heartily. “Now I’ll tell you what I think would be a good idea. I’ll give it to you, F.O.B., gratis and ad lib, and you can take it home and to bed with you. How’s that?”
“But—I mean to say it’s marvellous,” he gloated.
“Sure it is, pure rubber, and a guaranteed mileage of seventy-two holes if you don’t drive it into the rough,” I giggled as he waved the golf ball before me.
“You don’t get me,” he said, becoming grave. “This golf ball is worth about ten thousand dollars to me right now.”
“I’ll sell,” I told him eagerly.
“And I’ll buy,” he said with a wide grin. “Honestly, Mrs. Ronald, you’ve done a great thing for Bigsby and Co. tonight. Here’s the situation ...”
“Could we sit down while you tell us about it?” I suggested, leading the way into the Jiving room: and I hope I may never again see such a look on my husband’s face as he turned to me wThen he saw Isaiah and the antimacassars.
Mr. Bigsby, however, only saw the golf ball.
“It’s like this,” he enthused. “Bigsby’s have manufactured a glass that positively won’t splinter. It will, under certain adverse conditions, break, but it will not splinter. To date we haven’t been able to put it across on the market because, while it has stood up to tests, we haven’t hit on any one sufficiently spectacular and with a sufficiently sensational appeal to the public to make them demand it. Tonight,” he said unctuously, “Tonight, Mrs. Ronald, you have provided us with that spectacular and sensational test which our advertising and
publicity men have failed to supply. I ] congratulate you. I thank you. I am delighted. I—I—”
I stole a look at Peter and there was that in his eye that told me I was forgiven for Isaiah, my knight in armor, the aquarium, and even the bed on the dais.
“You want to protect legally the use of that particular test from being pirated by any other company, sir,” he said gravely.
“That’s right,” said Mr. Bigsby thoughtfully. “It’s worth money to us, Ronald, and big money. What must I do?”
Peter went into details while our affluent neighbor listened avidly.
“But ...” concluded Peter after a fairly long peroration, “your own corporation lawyer will advise you, sir. You don’t need my advice, although if I can be of any service to you ...”
“We haven’t actually got a lawyer who is retained to handle our work.” Mr. Bigsby said. “There was a chap in the building where we have our offices, who has looked after any little legal matters, and advised us, but he died recently. In a matter of this sort ...”
“It isn’t so intricate, but I wouldn’t want to see you unprotected in the matter if it is of real moment to you,” Peter said gravely.
“No—no.” said Mr. Bigsby, and after a long pause he asked:
“I suppose you couldn’t handle it for me, could you, Ronald?”
“Certainly, I could,’’ said Peter diffidently. “But I wouldn’t want to step in and handle this one matter for you, and then have you go to some one else with your other work, if possibly, by so doing, it might appear that my work on your behalf had not been satisfactory. You get the point?” “Quite,” he said, “quite. It is well taken. No, Mr. Ronald I know you are busy, and perhaps after all your wife has done for me,
I shouldn’t ask you to take us on. We are growing and will be a big company some day, but we are not the biggest in our field now. However, with the possibilities of our new glass unlimited I feel, unlimited you understand, it might lie worth your while to consider it.”
“Consider what?” asked Peter smiling. "Consider accepting a retainer to look after the legal end of things for us.” said Mr. Bigsby. “Think it over, Ronald! Think it over, and let me know.”
“I will,” said Peter.
“And now we must let this little woman get to bed,” he said gallantly, and his pyjamas disappeared over the horizon as I I put some gold fish food in the basin and | stumbled upstairs.
“Wipe up that water before you come up,” I told Peter.
“Who’re you talking to?” he asked.
“Not Bigsby’s legal adviser,” I said tartly. “I’m talking to the despoiler of my home.” “Home?” asked Peter, with a slanting glance at Isaiah and the knight. "Do you call this historical —stew—a home . . . ?” "I’ve made a hole in one once tonight. If necessary I can do it again,” I told him. “Who do you think you are?” he asked. “For one thing I’m the little woman who got you a new job,” I told him, “and for a couple more I’m the primitive female who was seeking to save her young. I’m also Mary Queen of Scots when I’m not too busy with my other rôles . . . And when you’ve wiped up the mess you’ve made, you can come upstairs and pretend you’re Rizzio or Darnley or what have you?”
Peter opened his mouth and then he closed it again, and came over and put his arms around me.
“I was mad, but I forgive you, dear,” he said.
I just looked him in the fat of the eye. “Go on,” I said.
“Go on what?” he asked.
“Go on pretending you’re Mr. Magnanimous,” I said; “go on and get the rag to wipe the water. Go on record as the complete ...”
“Okay,” he said, “Okay. And after that, : what?”
“Come to bed and mind the steps,” I said. | Which he did. !
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