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The Stories of the Three Burglars

Frank Richard Stockton

  Produced by Steven desJardins and the Online Distributed ProofreadingTeam

  Frank R. Stockton]

  The Storiesof theThree Burglars




  I am a householder in a pleasant country neighbourhood, about twentymiles from New York. My family consists of myself and wife, our boy,George William, aged two, two maid-servants, and a man; but in thesummer we have frequent visitors, and at the time of which I am about towrite my Aunt Martha was staying with us.

  My house is large and pleasant, and we have neighbours near enough forsocial purposes and yet not too near or too many to detract from therural aspect of our surroundings. But we do not live in a paradise; weare occasionally troubled by mosquitoes and burglars.

  Against the first of these annoyances we have always been able to guardourselves, at least in a measure, and our man and the cook declare thatthey have become so used to them that they do not mind them; but toguard against burglars is much more difficult, and to become used tothem would, I think, require a great deal of practice.

  For several months before the period of this narrative our neighbourhoodhad been subject to visits from burglars. From time to time houses hadbeen entered and robbed, and the offenders had never been detected.

  We had no police force, not even a village organization. There was asmall railway station near our house, and six miles away was the countytown. For fire and police protection each household was obliged todepend upon itself.

  Before the beginning of the burglarious enterprises in our midst, we hadnot felt the need of much protection in this direction; sometimespoultry was stolen, but this was a rare occurrence, and, althoughwindows and doors were generally fastened for the night, this labour wasoften considered much more troublesome than necessary. But now a greatchange had taken place in the feelings of our community. When the firstrobbery occurred the neighbours were inclined to laugh about it, and tosay that Captain Hubbard's habit of sitting up after the rest of hisfamily had gone to bed and then retiring and forgetting to close thefront door had invited the entrance of a passing tramp. But when asecond and a third house, where windows and doors had not been leftopen, had been entered, and, in a measure, despoiled, people ceased tolaugh; and if there had been any merriment at all on the subject, itwould have been caused by the extraordinary and remarkable precautionstaken against the entrance of thieves by night. The loaded pistol becamethe favourite companion of the head of the house; those who had nowatch-dogs bought them; there were new locks, new bolts, new fastenings.At one time there was a mounted patrol of young men, which, however, wassoon broken up by their mothers. But this trouble was unavailing, for atintervals the burglaries continued.

  As a matter of course a great many theories were broached as to thereasons for this disturbance in our hitherto peaceful neighbourhood. Wewere at such a distance from the ordinary centres of crime that it wasgenerally considered that professional burglars would hardly take thetrouble to get to us or to get away from us, and that, therefore, theoffences were probably committed by unsuspected persons living in thispart of the country who had easy means of determining which houses wereworth breaking into and what method of entrance would be most feasible.In this way some families, hitherto regarded as respectable families,had fallen under suspicion.

  So far, mine was the only house of any importance within the distance ofa mile from the station which had not in some way suffered fromburglars. In one or two of these cases the offenders had been frightenedaway before they had done any other injury than the breaking of awindow-shutter; but we had been spared any visitation whatever. After atime we began to consider that this was an invidious distinction. Ofcourse we did not desire that robbers should break into our house andsteal, but it was a sort of implied insult that robbers should thinkthat our house was not worth breaking into. We contrived, however, tobear up under this implied contempt and even under the facetiousimputations of some of our lively neighbours, who declared that itlooked very suspicious that we should lose nothing, and even continue toadd to our worldly goods, while everybody else was suffering fromabstractions.

  I did not, however, allow any relaxation in my vigilance in theprotection of my house and family. My time to suffer had not yetarrived, and it might not arrive at all; but if it did come it shouldnot be my fault. I therefore carefully examined all the new precautionsmy neighbours had taken against the entrance of thieves, and where Iapproved of them I adopted them.

  Of some of these my wife and I did not approve. For instance, a tin pancontaining iron spoons, the dinner bell, and a miscellaneous collectionof hardware balanced on the top stair of the staircase, and so connectedwith fine cords that a thief coming up the stairs would send it rattlingand bounding to the bottom, was looked upon by us with great disfavour.The descent of the pan, whether by innocent accident or the approach ofa burglar, might throw our little boy into a fit, to say nothing of theterrible fright it would give my Aunt Martha, who was a maiden lady ofmiddle age, and not accustomed to a clatter in the night. A bull-dog inthe house my wife would not have, nor, indeed, a dog of any kind. GeorgeWilliam was not yet old enough to play with dogs, especially a sharpone; and if the dog was not sharp it was of no use to have him in thehouse. To the ordinary burglar-alarm she strongly objected. She had beenin houses where these things went off of their own accord, occasioninggreat consternation; and, besides, she said that if thieves got into thehouse she did not want to know it and she did not want me to know it;the quicker they found what they came for and went away with it thebetter. Of course, she wished them kept out, if such a thing werepossible; but if they did get in, our duty as parents of the dearestlittle boy was non-interference. She insisted, however, that the room inwhich the loveliest of children slept, and which was also occupied byourselves, should be made absolutely burglar proof; and this object, bymeans of extraordinary bolts and chains, I flattered myself Iaccomplished. My Aunt Martha had a patent contrivance for fastening adoor that she always used, whether at home or travelling, and in whosemerit she placed implicit confidence. Therefore we did not feel itnecessary to be anxious about her; and the servants slept at the top ofthe house, where thieves would not be likely to go.

  "They may continue to slight us by their absence," said my wife, "but Ido not believe that they will be able to frighten us by their presence."

  I was not, however, so easily contented as my wife. Of course I wishedto do everything possible to protect George William and the rest of thefamily, but I was also very anxious to protect our property in all partsof the house. Therefore, in addition to everything else I had done, Idevised a scheme for interfering with the plans of men who shouldfeloniously break into our home.

  After a consultation with a friend, who was a physician greatlyinterested in the study of narcotic drugs, I procured a mixture whichwas almost tasteless and without peculiar odour, and of which a smallquantity would in less than a minute throw an ordinary man into a stateof unconsciousness. The potion was, however, no more dangerous in itseffects than that quantity of ardent spirits which would cause entireinsensibility. After the lapse of several hours, the person under theinfluence of the drug would recover consciousness without assistance.But in order to provide against all contingencies my friend prepared apowerful antidote, which would almost immediately revive one who hadbeen made unconscious by our potion.

  The scheme that I had devised may possibly have been put into use byothers. But of this I know not. I thought it a good scheme anddetermined to experiment with it, and, if possible, to make a trap whichshould catch a burglar. I would reveal this plan to no one but my friendthe physician and my wife. S
ecrecy would be an important element in itssuccess.

  Our library was a large and pleasant room on the ground floor of thehouse, and here I set my trap. It was my habit to remain in this room anhour or so after the rest of the family had gone to bed, and, as I wasan early riser, I was always in it again before it was necessary for aservant to enter it in the morning.

  Before leaving the library for the night I placed in a conspicuousposition in the room a small table, on which was a tray holding twodecanters partially filled with wine, in the one red and in the otherwhite. There was also upon the tray an open box of biscuit and threewine-glasses, two of them with a little wine at the bottom. I took painsto make it appear that these refreshments had been recently partaken of.There were biscuit crumbs upon the tray, and a drop or two of wine wasfreshly spilled upon it every time the trap was set. The table, thusarranged, was left in the room during the night, and early in themorning I put the tray and its contents into a closet and locked it up.

  A portion of my narcotic