The Incident of the Pearl Necklace
ENTERTAINING SHORT STORIES
BY FORREST CRISSEY IN AINSLEES MAGAZINE
A short story showing the deception practised by a skilful burglar. The story is intended also as a warning to the reader.
"FURN” Freeling was a man with a specialty, and had a specialist’s pride in the superiority and selectiveness of the particular line of burglarizing which he had elected to follow. In a way, he looked upon all members of his shady craft who did “general work” as blunderers, lacking the wit, the initiative, and the nice discrimination to see an original and interesting phase of work and to develop it to a high point.
Then, too, there were several other reasons for his feeling of conscious superiority over his professional fellows. He was a college man—and the fraternity-pin which he usually wore was the one example of the goldsmith’s art in his possession for which he had paid clean coin, and to which he had undisputed claim. He was too shrewd not to recognize the imprudence of wearing anything that might serve to catch the eye, and thus to impress the mind of any with whom he came in contact “ in the course of business ;” but his pride in the emblem and in what it signified gave him a dare-devil joy in wearing it freely. He “handled” hundreds of gems, jewels and precious trinkets, but he would not have foregone the satisfaction of wearing his simple “frat.”-pin for the privilege of safely displaying the finest solitaire that had ever come within the grasp of his skilful fingers.' It was his—honestly his—and so was all that it stood for.
There was still another matter in which Freeling was also inclined to
feel his professional oats after the manner of the specialist in other lines. He believed that it was far “higher practice” to use his wits than his hands ; he had never in his life, even at the very outset of his “career,” found it necessary to descend to violence, and gradually he had come into the habit of playing the game of thievery with a view to seeing how little of physical effort of any kind he could put into it.
At last he found himself in the possession of a distinct specialty, which he defined to his fellow craftsmen, one night, in these words : “You porch-climbers have always considered yourselves the fancy artists in the profession, because you can force a window so quietly as not to disturb the people ; but I’d rather do my work in such a way that the lady of the house will voluntarily open the door for me herself, and will invite me to come again when I leave. It’s a neater sort of work, and appeals to me more.”
Among the men who plied his outlawed and dangerous craft, Freeling was envied for things other than his education, his skill, and his steady nerve. Men in honest walks of life naturally are pleased to find themselves distinguished from their fellows by some point of good looks which will impress even the casual observer, and be remembered. But these touches of personal distinction are not coveted by the burglar, nor by any member of the underworld whose ambition is to be completely forgotten by all who may see them.
Freeling was counted fortunate, in the eyes of his fellows, in possessing a face so completely commonplace as to have not a single distinguishing trait in the sight of the average stranger.
His countenance was neither handsome nore homely, keen nor dull, coarse nor refined ; it was simply commonplace and hopelessly forgetable.
Freeling roomed with the family of a clergyman—the pastor of a struggling church—and represented himself to be a real estate broker and renting agent. He quietly disclaimed any particular religious convictions, but occasionally attended the services, and even the social functions, of the little church presided over by the Reverend Doctor Shilling. Freeling's habits were quiet, and his life apparently exemplary; he was, as the pastor’s wife expressed it, “ just an ideal roomer,” because it was almost impossible to tell whether he was in the house or not, and ^>o it made little difference, either way. His bedroom being on the ground floor of the cottage, and accessible from the porch entrance, it was almost literally true that Mrs. Shilling seldom knew, without special investigation, whether he was at home or not.
The only thing in his colorless personal habits which attracted the attention of the pastor’s wife was the fact that he regularly received most of the morning newspapers, and spent considerable time in scrutinizing the small ads of the “rent” pages. In view of his statement that he was in the renting and real estate business, this seemed to her not only natural, but a commendable proof of his industry and attention to business. She knewy in fact, that he had enabled two or three of the people in
the church, who had made his acquaintance at sociables, to find better quarters through his agency.
As usual, on one particular April morning, the quiet roomer was scanning the “small-ad” column of the Tribune ; but on this occasion his face lighted up with a smile of more than usual animation.
“That looks good to father,” he remarked to himself as he cut from the paper an advertisement reading :
Richly furnished apartment of eight rooms—must rent at once for the summer. Starting for Europe in three days. Terms reasonable to right party. Bachelor or couple without children preferred. Call and inspect.
It was signed W. H. Weather all. The address given was that of a fashionable apartment building overlooking Lincoln Park, and within ten minutes’ ride from the little parsonage.
“Mighty kind of ’em to give the name, too,” he muttered, reaching for the volume called “Who’s Who in Chicago” which occupied the place of honor on his modest table by the side of a set of “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.” He had excused his liking for the latter books, in speaking with Mrs. Shilling, on the ground that he found them “so immensely humorous.” She later read the books, and failed to understand how he could consider them as humorous. although they were the most exciting stories she had ever allowed herself to read since her marriage.
His handy volume gave him, at a glance, the information that Mr. Willoughby Hyde Wether all was a person of social importance, a member of the leading clubs, a yachtsman, and a lover of good horses. A dip into the city directory was equally satisfactory, as it informed him
that Mr. Weatherall was in the wholesale jewelry business.
“If I don't get good picking there” was his mental comment, “it’ll be because the lady of the house is uncommonly careful.”
To the maid who answered his ring at the Weatherall door-bell he said :
“I’ve called in answer to the advertisement about renting the apartment.”
“Step in, please,” was the answer. “Mrs. Weatherall will see you in the library.”
She appeared promptly, and the keen eyes of the caller at once made note of the fact that she was a pretty woman, evidently a little immature, and perhaps a bit flighty and unsystematic in her habits.
“My home is in Philadelphia,” he explained, “but I am making improvements in certain Chicago property which has been in the family a long time, and the necessity of overseeing this work will keep me here until fall, I regret to say. I have only my mother now, and she is so unhappy at the thought of being left alone, that I have finally decided to bring her out here, so that she may be with me. I under, stand Chicago is not so bad in summer.”
“We have the breeze direct from the lake,” was Mrs. Weatherall’s answer, “and I can assure you that it makes our apartment most comfortable. Would you like to go through the rooms ?”
“Yes,” shortly responded Freeling, “after you tell me what you want for the apartment.”
“A hundred and fifty a month.”
“ That certainly does not seem unreasonable to an Easterner— especially when the taste with which your home is furnished is taken into consideration.”
Freeling’s pleasantest smile accompanied this comment—and there was tomething decidedly agreeable about his commonplace face when lighted by the smile which he reserved as a “confidence clincher.”
“I presume,” he added, “that my local banker, here, will be sufficient as a reference—if I should decide to take the place ?”
“Oh ! certainly,” interrupted Mrs. Weatherall, who was evidently pleased at the ease with which she was carrying off the honors of the negotiations. As he followed into the hall, his plans matured quickly, and he remarked :
“No doubt your kitchen arrangements are first-class.”
“We think so,” she answered. “But come and see for yourself.” After the kitchen and dining-room had been carefully inspected, the mistress of the house led the way to the sleeping-rooms, with the remark: “There is one room which I cannot show you until my mother comes out. But here is my own room. I think it very pleasant.”
“Delightful!” answered Freeling, as he caught a passing glimpse of an open jewel case on the antique dressing table. Coiled against its pale blue lining was a necklace of pearls which his experienced eye told him was worth several thousand dollars.
He knew that quick action was necessary. Stepping to the window as if to take in the outlook, he said: “Would you mind asking your cook if she would care to remain with my mother and myself ?—I take it for granted she is competent, or else she would not be in your service.” A note of quiet imperativeness in his voice and the fact that he glanced at his watch seemed to suggest action instead of conversation, and Mrs.
Weatherall at once left the room in the direction of the kitchen.
Instantly his hand flicked the string of pearls from its soft nest and closed the lid of the box, which was left on the dresser. But, as he slipped the necklace into his pocket, he glanced into the mirror of the dressing table, and saw the reflection of the white face of an elderly woman suddenly withdrawn from a partially open door at the opposite side of the room. Then he heard quick, soft footsteps, and knew that the mother was carrying the news of what she had seen to the other members of the household. A moment later a smiling little girl entered with a doll in her arms and shyly seated herself in a tiny rocker—with an air which plainly said : “I’ve
been told to come in here and sit down until mamma comes—but I don’t understand why.”
Freeling understood, however, and his mental comment was : “Keen
old lady, that ! But two can play at this game. Yes—there she is at the phone, calling the police.”
“Will you ask your mother to speak with me for a moment, little lady ?” he said to the child. “I’m late to an appointment, and must hurry.”
The “little lady,” however, sat quietly, stubbornly, in her small chair, made no answer, and continued to play with her doll’s clothing.
“Knows her orders, all right,” thought Freeling. Then Mrs. Weatherall entered at one door and her mother at another.
“This is my mother, Mrs. Hyde,” said the younger woman.
Mrs. Hyde bowed coldly and motioned Freeling to a seat. He took it easily and then turned his best smile upon Mrs. Weatherall.
“Perhaps I’m presuming, for a
total stranger,” he remarked, “but a certain experience which my mother went through a short time ago has tempted me to—well, to teach you a lesson, Mrs. Weatherall.”
His manner was full of easy and delightful assurance as he slipped his hand into his side pocket and continued :
“In spite of my continued warnings, my mother would leave her jewels about her chamber, and, one day, a fellow posing as a telephone inspector made away with a diamond pin given her by my father—an heir-loom of considerable intrinsic value and especially prized for its associations. It has never been recovered, and she is inconsolable. I observed that you are cpiite as careless as she, but I hope that this experience will effectually cure you—for it will show you what might have happened.”
As he drew the necklace from his pocket, and, with a steady hand, dropped it into the trembling palm of the young matron, the elderly woman exclaimed :
“But—but—I’ve—called the police. I saw you take it. Oh ! what shall we do ? I hear the police now.” “Just tell them that you had missed the jewels, and thought a servant had taken them—but that they turned up all right a few moments ago. All a mistake !” ^ Then Freeling took from the table a current magazine and leaned back comfortable in the bedroom rocker. The officers were received in the library, and the explanation that he suggested was given in detail, and readily accepted by the officers, who took their departure without asking any disagreeable questions. When the women again returned to the room, the older one exclaimed : “Goodness ! but wasn’t it fortunate that I didn’t have time to go
into details over the phone. All I could say was to ‘send some officers, quick,’ and give our number.”
“Yes,” genially answered Freeling. “It certainly was lucky. Perhaps I'd have been the one to get the lesson for my presumption, if you’d gone into the situation more fully. Anyhow, I’ll know better than to attempt any benevolent pranks again.”
“And you may be sure,” interrupted Mrs. Weatherall, “ that I shall never again be careless about my jewels.”
When Freeling left the apartment, a few minutes later, he had arranged to rent it for the season. His references were written upon the engraved card of a Philadelphia gentleman who had lost a diamond ring and a valuable watch—not to speak of a handsome card-case—a year before.
“That’s about the closest call I ever had,” Freeling remarked to himself as he made his way back to the little parsonage. “If those people weren’t in such a hurry to get off to Europe, they might wake up and make me trouble.”
At about noon he intercepted a telegraph messenger-boy on the street, handed him a message and a half-dollar, saying :
“Keep the change, son, and hurry on with that wire. It’s rush.”
When Mrs. Weatherall received it her face clouded, as she read :
“Just received message stating serious illness of mother. Cannot take apartment.”
“I’m sorry,” commented Mrs. Weatherall. “He seemed such a nice, kindly man. And I did want to show Harry that I could let the apartment just as well as he could.”
How can you take the greatest possible advantage with the least possible strain ? By cultivating system. I say cultivating advisedly, since some of you will find the acquisition of systematic habits very hard. There are minds congenitally systematic ; others have a life-long fight against an inherited tendency to diffusiveness and carelessness in work. A few brilliant fellows have to dispense with it altogether, but they are a burden to their brethren and a sore trial to their intimates.—Dr. William Osier.