ENTERTAINING SHORT STORIES

The Gardendale Burglar Cure

E J. RATH IN AMERICAN MAGAZINE January 1 1907
ENTERTAINING SHORT STORIES

The Gardendale Burglar Cure

E J. RATH IN AMERICAN MAGAZINE January 1 1907

WHEN the Fanshawes’ house was robbed, Gardendale simply folded its hands and sighed. The Fanshawe domicile was equipped with all sorts of burglar-proof things—an electric alarm, mysterious window catches, a noisy dog, two pistols, one shotgun, a colicky baby and Mr. Fanshawe’s insomnia. Yet, in spite of such model safeguards, the burglars made a very pretty job of it. Therefore, Gardendale was beyond the point of speech.

Since the Burglar Age began the town police had not captured a single housebreaker. The Citizen’s Protective Association and its two watchmen also had a zero score. The individual citizens, beyond firing stray shots, blowing whistles and tooting tin horns at unseasonable hours, were in the same state of impotence. Several of the men folks wore the distinction of having seen burglars, a few of having shot at them, but nobody, except Mr. McIvor, ever claimed to have hit one, and he could not produce the target.

The Park section of Gardendale contained a transplanted colony of city folk who settled there because it was carefully restricted. You had to have so many feet of land to build on, your house must not have a flat roof, it must not be a tenement, a store or a two-family dwelling—in short, it had to comply with so many exact rules and prohibitions that the Park was highly select and ostentatiously proud of itself.

But it was not restricted against burglars. Since the coming of the first, nearly a year ago, Gardendale passed its nights in a state of excitement and suspense. “The Brace and Bit Gang” began it. They had a villainous way of boring a circle of holes around the lock on a gentleman’s door and then removing the lock. Half a dozen front and back doors were neatly bored before the Brace and Bit Gang became compassionate and quit.

A month had not elapsed before unpretentious yet effective jimmy wielders came to spend their evenings. They made a specialty of splintering window sashes, and they were workmanlike about it. The second storey men who followed them occasioned less alarm, because they worked during the family dinner hour and did not give people horrors in the middle of the night. However, they prospered. They got less of the Park’s silverware, but more of its jewelery. But the coming of the holdup brigade was really a very serious matter. Three respected citizens, who had been detained in town until the last train, were further detained on their walks from the railroad station by insistent wayfarers.

Gardendale’s failure to catch or annihilate a burglar was not clue to lack of effort. After the first affair at Mr. Gates’s house the men bought revolvers. When they had demonstrated their inability to hit live targets at unknown distances on dark nights, they bought dogs. There was the small noisy and cowardly dog, the alert and pugnacious dog; and the large, silent and morose dog, each householder buying according to his fancy and judgment. Some of the dogs barked when their owners came home late and then slept the rest of the night. Mr. Britton’s bull terrier showed promise, because one dark night, as Mr. Britton set foot on his own porch, the dog quite unexpectedly began to chew his leg. But Mr. Britton got his pistol and ungratefully shot “the only really good dog in the Park.” This seemed to discourage the other dogs, who thereafter gave their time to fighting among themselves, killing cats and rooting up flower beds.

Electric burglar alarms went off with and without burglars so impartially that after a while the Gardendale citizen would merely turn of the switch, cuss the gong and go back to bed. Mr. Finch invented a scheme of his own. The central idea was to welcome burglars with uncanny hospitality and disarm them through their own astonishment. At night he hung a sign on the front door: “Don’t use a brace and bit or a jimmy. The dining room window is unlocked.” If they should venture inside after this, they would find little placards, telling where to seek booty and how to get it without damaging the furniture or waking the family. One morning Mr. Finch found that the front door had been jimmied remorselessly, the drawers in the sideboard, defaced, pictures, cut out of their frames, Oriental rugs stained with some of his choicest claret, and everything in a general state of wreck. He couldn’t understand it until he found this note on the dining-room table :

“Mi partner Bill done this. Bill done the work while I staid on the walk and I dident come in til he had it all packed up. Then I seen theme sines and Ime sorry about the damage. Bill can’t reed or rite.”

It was Mr. Hotchkiss who devised a brilliant plan to give Gardendale a reputation for thief killing—such—a desperate name that no burglar would even venture within its precincts again. Pie wrote to the city papers a thrilling story of the killing of a burglar. He said when the burglars read that story they would let Gardendale alone. It was such a good story that the papers sent reporters out to Gardendale to work it up, with pictures. The reporters wrote some line stories, but not the kind that Gardendale expected. Mr. Hotchkiss’s popularity fell so rapidly that it could be heard to whizz through the air, and some of the Park people changed their newspapers and talked about libel suits.

It was no wonder, therefore, when Mr. Fanshawe told the news of his robbery to his fellow members at the Greenlawn Golf Club that they fell into a state of despondency.

“What’s the use of trying to keep ’em out?” said Mr. Gates disgustedly. “Dogs, babies, watchman, guns, alarms—they aren’t worth a hoorah, the lot of ’em.”

“I have an idea,” said Mr. Jackson, “that we haven’t got the right kind of alarms.”

“Hotchkiss had an idea, too,” growled Mr. Fanshawe, “and it made asses out of us.”

“Now, you listen to my idea,” said Mr. Jackson “I’ve been talking about it to Wilson and he’s helped to work it out.”

It was a long and earnest session that the club held.

Late in June Mrs. Wilson was away on a visit to her mother and Mr. Wilson was living all by himself and getting his meals at the club. It was midnight when he awoke, surprised to find a gas jet burning dimly. He was wondering sleepily about it, when a slight tinkle attracted his attention and he twisted his head in the direction of the dresser. There was a man standing in front of it, his back turned toward the bed, and he seemed to be rummaging in the top drawer. Mr. Wilson regarded him quietly for a few seconds and then his hand stole across the bed, under the spread, until it reached the edge, where it rested carelessly. The man continued to rummage for a minute longer and then glanced toward the bed. Mr. Wilson smiled at him and said :

“If you’ll just turn up the light you can see better.’’

The man uttered an exclamation, caught up a revolver from the top of the dresser and said sharply :

“You shut up and don’t wiggle.”

“I promise not to wiggle,” said Mr. Wilson.

The light was turned up cautiously and the man still kept his pistol pointed toward the bed.

“Have you found what you want?” asked Mr. Wilson. “There isn’t much in the house, I’m sorry to say.”

“Oh, I’ve got a few things,” said the burglar, in a puzzled sort of way. He was not a bad-looking young fellow, rather well dressed for a burglar, Mr. Wilson thought.

‘‘Aren’t you afraid to burgle around this place?” continued Mr. Wilson. “It’s considered a dangerous town for burglars.’’

The burglar laughed. “It is, hey?” he said. “Why, it’s got the rep of being the easiest place around New York. But there ain’t much to it, if this house is a sample. I guess I’ve got all that’s worth taking here, so I’ll be going.”

‘‘Don’t be in a hurry,’’ said Mr. Wilson.

“I never go till I’m ready, mister, but I’m ready now,” said the burglar, making a step toward the door. “You just stay tight under the covers for five minutes. Understand?”

“But I want to tell you about the burglar we caught here,” said Mr. Wilson.

‘‘First I ever heard of it,’’ said the burglar, with a short laugh. “When was that?”

“To-night,” said Mr. Wilson.

“Who was he?” asked the burglar, curiously.

“You.” said Mr. Wilson, smiling amiably.

Again the burglar laughed. “You’re a joking sort of a guy,” he said. “Sorry I can’t oblige you by staying.’’

“But you’ll have to stay, my friend. You can’t go.”

“No? Just stay in your little bed and keep quiet, mister. That ’s all you got to do.”

“But if you go out you’ll likely as not get shot a few times,” said Mr. Wilson.

“What do you mean?” asked the burglar roughly, approaching the bed again.

“Why, just this,” said Mr. Wilson. “Our newly patented burglar alarm has been working ever since I woke up and saw you.”

“No funny business now,” said the man sharply. ‘‘What burglar alarm.’’

“It’s a new kind that I helped to invent,” said Mr. Wilson, a note of pride in his voice. “This burglar alarm doesn’t ring in your own house at all. It rings in the other fellows’ houses. See this little switch here?” Mr. Wilson lifted the covers and disclosed a small contrivance fastened to the framework of the bed. “Well, when I first saw you I turned that switch and it started to ring gongs in twenty different houses around here. When my friends woke up and looked at their indicators they saw that No. 9 had dropped. That’s my number. Then they got their revolvers and shotguns and dogs and came around to call. At least, I hope so. You might look and see.”

The burglar sprang to a window and looked out into the moonlight. He drew back with an oath and ran to another window that overlooked the back of the house. Then he swore again and fingered his pistol nervously.

“I thought it would work,” said Mr. Wilson happily.

“Look a-here,” said the burglar menacingly. “It’s up to you to get me out of this.” He poked his revolver into Mr. Wilson’s face.

“My dear man,” said Mr. Wilson, “I couldn’t get you out of it if I tried. There, they’re ringing the doorbell now.”

The burglar stood irresolute. “If I’d known you were working a game on me I’d a-fixed you,” he muttered.

“Of course you would,” said Mr. Wilson consolingly. ‘‘The beauty of this new alarm is that you never know anything about it. Now be a good burglar and put down that gun.’’

For a minute longer the man hesitated, and then the ringing of the doorbell was supplemented with pounding noises and shouts. That decided him, for he laid his pistol on the bed and backed off against the wall.

“You win,” he said briefly.

“Thank you,” said Mr. Wilson, picking up the gun and slipping out of bed. “Now, if you’ll kindly go first we’ll answer the bell. Don’t try to run for it, because they’ve got a bunch of dogs and you wouldn’t have a chance.’’

The burglar led the way into the hall and down the stairs and Mr. Wilson followed closely, with the revolver pointed at the middle of his captive’s back.

“Turn up the light and open the door,” he commanded.

The burglar obeyed meekly, stepping back quickly as he undid the chain and turned the key. Half a dozen of Mr. Wilson.’s neighbors piled into the hall.

“Got him?” they cried.

“There he is, gentlemen,’’ said Mr. Wilson, making a courtly bow. “Burglar, these are my friends, Mr. Gates, Mr. Fanshawe, Mr. Mclvor and others to whom I will present you more formally later. I regret that I must ask them to search you for weapons.’’

Mr. Wilson’s neighbors went at the task rather gingerly and clumsily, but produced only a pocket knife. Then Mr. Gates stepped to the door and called out:

“All right, boys; come on in.”

Other members of the Greenlawn Golf Club, including the radiant burglar alarm inventor, Mr. Jackson, trooped in, bearing pistols and shotguns and leading dogs.

“This is a great night for Gardendale, gentlemen,” said Mr. Wilson, “and I congratulate you all. Now, if one of you will kindly telephone to the club and tell the steward to have things ready, and the rest of you will entertain my friend for a few moments, I’ll go upstairs and dress. Then we’ll all go down, to the club.”

Ten minutes later a curious procesion walked through the quiet streets of the Park, headed for the clubhouse. The steward had lighted up when the party arrived, and he stood grinning at the door.

“Mr. Fanshawe, Mr. Gates and Mr. Jackson,” said Mr. Wilson, “will you kindly take the candidate into the locker-room and prepare him? We will await you in the cafe.”

The trio thus detailed disappeared down the hall with their prisoner, and their fellow members followed Mr. Wilson into the large room on the main floor. At one end of it was a large leather easy chair, raised upon a platform and overhung with a canopy of table cloths that was apparently of hasty construction.

“Now, gentlemen,” said Mr. Wilson, “shall we adhere to the programme?”

“I say, to hand him over to the town police at once,” declared little Mr. Tompkins nervously. “I don’t like this.’’

“Tut! brother,” said Mr. Hotchkiss. “He isn’t your burglar. He belongs to Wilson.”

“That’s right,” chorused the club.

“He belongs to Wilson.”

“Then,” said Mr. Wilson, “I dedicate him to the club.”

A moment later a strange figure, escorted by three solemn guards, entered from the hall. The figure was dressed in a garb of a knight of the fifteenth century. Over his shoulders was thrown a kingly robe. His face, which was that of the man who had carelessly disturbed Mr. Wilson’s sleep, wore an expression of pathetic dismay.

“Burglar,” said Mr Wilson, “what is your name?”

There was no answer from the occupant of the royal seat, whose eyes shifted about the room, nervously.

“He declines to give his name, gentlemen,” said Mr. Wilson.

“Call him Foozle,” suggested the club’s worst golfer.

‘‘Excellent,’’ said Mr. Wilson. “The secretary will make a note of it. Foozle, how old are you?”

The burglar glared sullenly and then exclaimed: ‘‘Aw, cut it out. Send for the cops.’’

“Don’t be rude, Foozle, old boy,” from the back of the room.

“Put him down as two years old,” commanded Mr. Wilson. “Foozle, have you a family?”

No answer from the throne.

“The secretary will record that he has a wife and nine small children at home,’’ announced Mr. Wilson. “Now, Foozle, instead of being a common, everyday burglar, would you like to be a king?”

After half a minute ’s pause the interlocutor reported: “He would like to be a king. Bring forth the crown.’’

Mr. Gates advanced with a gilded crown, bowed low to the burglar and placed it upon his brow. The king shook it off angrily, whereupon Mr. Gates picked it up again and jammed it on with such vigor that the royal one said “Ouch” and winced. “You behave and be a nice quiet king,’’ admonished Mr. Gates, severely.

“Now let the sceptre be brought,” said Mr. Wilson. Mr. Fanshawe advanced and placed a dainty wand in the monarch’s hand.

“Now, gentlemen,” continued the master of ceremonies, “who is this person we see before us?” “He’s a king,” yelled the club. “What’s his name?”

“King Foozle the First.”

“And what is he king of?”

“He is king of all the burglars,” answered the chorus.

“Let his royal insignia be brought,” said Mr. Wilson. Mr. Jackson advanced with a tin pie plate, through which a whole had been bored and a string run. He hung it around the king’s neck and as he stepped back the club read upon it, painted in white letters: “I am king of all the burglars.”

“Good,” said Mr. Wilson. “Now, what are King Foozle’s gifts to his loyal subjects?”

“These,” said Mr. Gates, pointing to the burglar’s clothes.

“Ah, yes,” said Mr. Wilson. “I will inspect them, with the royal permission. In the right-hand coat pocket I find a watch and fob, which I recognize. I will keep them. I further find a dozen silver spoons and seven silver’ forks. These I also recognize. The king is bountiful to his humble subject. In the trousers pocket I find the sum of $38.50. Of this amount I recognize $7.80 as my own. The balance will be turned over to the club. Here is a scarfpin which I do not recognize. With the king’s permission, it will be presented to the steward. These pawn tickets will be set aside for future consideration. This knife, bunch of keys, revolver and cold chisel are presented to the club museum. The clothing will be turned over, with the king’s blessing, to the Salvation Army. The king has no more to give away.’’

The king watched the distribution of royal gifts with some alarm.

“Now, your highness,” said Mr. Wilson, “your subjects would be pleased to listen to a royal address on matters pertaining to your kingdom. ’ ’

Silence and a scowl.

“Or a song,” called a member.

“Or a recitation. Let him recite ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb.’ ”

The king sneered.

“He neither sings, recites nor orates,” announced Mr. Wilson, “but he desires to entertain us with feats of strength and agility in the gymnasium.”

“Hooray!” yelled the club. “Come on, old boy,” and they led him from his chair and escorted him downstairs. First they put him on the parallel bars and beseeched him to do many push-ups, prodding him gently to further exertion when he showed signs of fatigue. The king flunked miserably on the tenth and hung helplessly. On the horizontal bar he was persuaded to chin himself twelve times and was disrespectfully hooted when he failed on the thirteenth. In skinning the cat the royal pie plate and gorgeous cape became entangled in his legs and the king fell head down upon the mat. Then there was royal broad jumping, high jumping, club swinging, weight lifting, pulley manipulating and other feats of which the members of the Greenlawn Golf Club were fertile in invention. The king panted, perspired and became wobbly, but he endured it silently. The Committee on Persuasion had a wonderful knack of getting the royal consent.

“The king desires to give an exhibition of boxing with his humble subject Mclvor,” said Mr. Wilson. A pair of heavily padded gloves were placed upon the royal hands, while the grinning Mclvor donned suspiciously skimpy looking ones. It was not a spirited set-to—at least, not upon the part of the king. He was wilted before he began and he was positively faded when Mclvor got through with him. But there were other things in store for his highness.

“Can you swim, O king?” queried Mr. Wilson, as they fanned damaged royalty.

“Lock me up, boss,” said the king meekly. “You ain’t got no right to do this.”

“The king says he can swim excellently,” reported Mr. Wilson, and they led him to the tank room.

“What’s the temperature of the water?” asked Mr. Gates.

‘‘Fifty-two, sir,’’ said the steward. “The tank is fresh filled.”

“Excellent,” said Mr. Wilson. “Get Gates’s offensively red bathing suit.’’

They got it and into it they put the king.

“I—I can’t swim,” he stammered faintly, but a voice from behind answered, “Too late, my lord,” and over he went. He rose gasping and struck out for the edge of the tank.

“Why, he’s a regular porpoise,” said Mr. Gates, kicking the king’s fingers gently when they sought a grip on the tiled edge. “Swim some more.’’

They wouldn’t let him come ashore, but importuned him to paddle under water, fetch on his back, do the Australian crawl and wiggle like a polliwog. When his teeth chattered and he began to ship water they hauled him out and put him back into his royal robes.

Then lunch was served. They sat at the round table, and the king, his velvet doublet having been covered with a,n apron, was set to carrying dishes. When he balked, the Committee on Persuasion found a way. When he dropped things they threatened to take away his crown and spank him. After lunch they did other things to him; in fact, until 3 o’clock in the morning he was a very busy king. Then they dropped him on the throne again and the master of ceremonies addressed him.

“Your Royal Highness, King of All Burglars,” he said, “we are about to return you to your kingdom. You came to us in the humble garb of the peasant and you go away in the imperial robes of state. I regret that Fanshawe will have to get a new suit, but it is for the best. You will tell your people that we treated you right royally. You will even condescend to explain to them the beauties of the Gardendale system of burglar alarms, the excellence of the armament of its citizens, the watchfulness of their dogs and the unfailing hospitality of their club. You will tell them all these things, in order that they may come and see, if they so wish. They will not only learn it from your lips; they will read it in the newspapers. It will be published abroad in the land. Now, sire, you may go.”

The king arose painfully and slowly from his chair and looked about him in wonder.

“Where’s me clothes?” he asked.

“They have been given to the Salvation Army.” said Mr. Wilson.

“Am I goin’ in these things?” asked the king, surveying his pink tights in dismay.

“Sure you are, Foozle, old scout,” cried Mr. Gates.

“Why, gents, I can’t go nowhere in these,” said the king pathetically. “I’ll get pinched.”

“They wouldn’t be so rude as to pinch a king, I’m sure,” said Mr. Wilson.

“But I ain’t got a cent of money,” protested the king.

“You can draw upon the royal treasurer when you get home,” said the master of ceremonies.

“But how’ll I get there?”

“Walk,” suggested the club.

“I ain’t a-goin’,” said the king, resuming his seat, sullenly.

“He wants another swim,” said Mr. Mclvor. “I can see the look in his eye.’’

The king shivered and looked around as if seeking pity in some face. Then he dropped his eyes to the floor and sighed.

“It’s getting near daylight,” said Mr. Wilson comfortingly, “and if you’re sensative about the kingly robes you’d better mosey along while it’s still dark.”

The Committee on Persuasion became impatient and they removed the king from his throne while he was still considering matters and took him out on the porch. One by one, the club shook hands with him and bade him good-by, all but Mr. Tompkins.

“I’m afraid we’re making a mistake,” said he nervously. “Hadn't we ought to lock him up?”

“Nonsense, man,” said Mr. Wilson. “Why, he’ll be a whole burglar alarm in himself when he gets back with his folks. You’ll be an old, old man, Tompkins, before we catch another burglar around Gardendale.”

“And wait till we give it to the papers,” said Mr. Gates enthusiastically. “Why, we’re as good as famous, now.”

Mr. Tompkins sighed and extended the tips of his fingers to the king.

“I—I suppose I might as well shake hands, too,” he said. “Can’t say I hope to meet you again; though.’’

“Now, king,” said Mr. Wilson, “if you feel any hesitation about going, I may as well tell you that the Gardendale hounds will be unleashed in about five minutes. Are you fond of dogs?”

The king gave him a mournful look and took the highway. As he disappeared in the gloom they heard a crashing in the shrubbery and when daylight came they found his crown, which they took as a sign of abdication.