I will begin by saying that Editha was always rather a queer little girl, and not much like other children. She was not a strong, healthy little girl, and had never been able to run about and play; and, as she had no sisters or brothers, or companions of her own size, she was rather old-fashioned, as her aunts used to call it. She had always been very fond of books, and had learned to read when she was such a tiny child, that I should almost be afraid to say how tiny she was when she read her first volume through. Her papa wrote books himself, and was also the editor of a newspaper; and, as he had a large library, Editha perhaps read more than was quite good for her. She lived in London; and, as her mamma was very young and pretty, and went out a great deal, and her papa was so busy, and her governess only came in the morning, she was left to herself a good many hours in the day, and when she was left to herself, she spent the greater part of her time in the library reading her papa’s big books, and even his newspapers.
She was very fond of the newspapers, because she found so many curious things in them,—stories, for instance, of strange events which happened every day in the great city of London, and yet never seemed to happen anywhere near where she lived. Through the newspapers, she found that there were actually men who lived by breaking into peoples’ houses and stealing all the nice things they could carry away, and she read that such men were called burglars. When she first began to read about burglars, she was very much troubled. In the first place, she felt rather timid about going to bed at night, and, in the second place, she felt rather sorry for the burglars.
“I suppose no one ever taught them any better,” she thought.
In fact, she thought so much about the matter, that she could not help asking her papa some questions one morning when he was at breakfast. He was reading his paper and eating his chops both at once when she spoke to him.
“Papa,” she said, in a solemn little voice, and looking at him in a very solemn manner, “papa dear, what do you think of burglars—as a class?” (She said “as a class,” because she had heard one of her papa’s friends say it, and as he was a gentleman she admired very much, she liked to talk as he did.) Her papa gave a little jump in his chair, as if she had startled him, and then he pushed his hair off his forehead and stared at her.
“Burglars! As a class!” he said, and then he stared at her a minute again in rather a puzzled way. “Bless my soul!” he said. “As a class, Nixie!” (that was his queer pet name for her.) “Nixie, where is your mother?”
“She is in bed, papa dear, and we mustn’t disturb her,” said Editha. “The party last night tired her out. I peeped into her room softly as I came down. She looks so pretty when she is asleep. What do you think of burglars, papa?”
“I think they’re a bad lot, Nixie,” said her papa, “a bad lot.”
“Are there no good burglars, papa?”
“Well, Nixie,” answered papa, “I should say not. As a rule you know,—” and here he began to smile, as people often smiled at Editha when she asked questions—“As a rule burglars are not distinguished for moral perspicuity and blameless character.”
But Editha did not understand what moral perspicuity meant, and besides she was thinking again.
“Miss Lane was talking to me the other day, about some poor children who had never been taught anything; they had never had any French or music lessons, and scarcely knew how to read, and she said they had never had any advantages. Perhaps that is the way with the burglars, papa,—perhaps they have never had any advantages,—perhaps if they had had advantages they mightn’t have been burglars.”
“Lessons in French and music are very elevating to the mind, my dear Nixie,” papa began in his laughing way, which was always a trial to Editha, but suddenly he stopped, and looked at her rather sadly.
“How old are you, Nixie?” he asked.
“I am seven,” answered Editha, “seven years, going on eight.”
“Come here, little one,” he said, holding out his strong white hand to her.
She left her chair and went to him, and he put his arms around her, and kissed her, and stroked her long brown hair.
“Don’t puzzle your little brain too much,” he said, “never mind about the burglars, Nixie.”
“Well,” said Editha, “I can’t help thinking about them a little, and it seems to me that there must be, perhaps, one good burglar among all the bad ones, and I can’t help being rather sorry, even for the bad ones. You see, they must have to be up all night, and out in the rain sometimes, and they can’t help not having had advantages.”
It was strange that the first thing she heard, when she went up to her mamma’s room, was something about burglars.
She was very, very fond of her mamma, and very proud of her. She even tried to take care of her in her small way; she never disturbed her when she was asleep, and she always helped her to dress, bringing her things to her, buttoning her little shoes and gloves, putting the perfume on her handkerchiefs, and holding her wraps until she wanted them.
This morning, when she went into the dressing room, she found the chamber-maid there before her, and her dear little mamma looking very pale.
“Ah mem! if you please mem!” the chambermaid was saying, “what a blessing it was they didn’t come here!”
“Who, Janet?” Editha asked.
“The burglars, Miss, that broke into Number Eighteen last night, and carried off all the silver, and the missus’s jewelry.”
“If burglars ever do break in here,” said mamma, “I hope none of us will hear them, though it would almost break my heart to have my things taken. If I should waken in the night, and find a burglar in my room, I think it would kill me, and I know I should scream, and then there is no knowing what they might do. If ever you think there is a burglar in the house, Nixie, whatever you do, don’t scream or make any noise. It would be better to have one’s things stolen, than to be killed by burglars for screaming.”
She was not a very wise little mamma, and often said rather thoughtless things; but she was very gentle and loving, and Editha was so fond of her that she put her arms round her waist and said to her:
“Mamma, dearest, I will never let any burglars hurt you or frighten you if I can help it. I do believe I could persuade them not to. I should think even a burglar would listen to reason.”
That made her mamma laugh, so that she forgot all about the burglars and began to get her color again, and it was not long before she was quite gay, and was singing a song she had heard at the opera, while Editha was helping her to dress.
But that very night Editha met a burglar.
Just before dinner, her papa came up from the city in a great hurry. He dashed up to the front door in a cab, and, jumping out, ran upstairs to mamma, who was sitting in the drawing room, while Editha read aloud to her.
“Kitty, my dear,” he said, “I am obliged to go to Glasgow by the ‘five’ train. I must throw a few things into a portmanteau and go at once.”
“Oh, Francis!” said mamma. “And just after that burglary at the Norris’s! I don’t like to be left alone.”
“The servants are here,” said papa, “and Nixie will take care of you; wont you, Nixie? Nixie is interested in burglars.”
“I am sure Nixie could do more than the servants,” said mamma. “All three of them sleep in one room at the top of the house when you are away, and even if they awakened they would only scream.”
“Nixie wouldn’t scream,” said papa, laughing; “Nixie would do something heroic. I will leave you in her hands.”
He was only joking, but Editha did not think of what he said as a joke; she felt that her mamma was really left in her care, and that it was a very serious matter.
She thought about it so seriously that she hardly talked at all at dinner, and was so quiet afterward that her mamma said, “Dear me, Nixie, what are you thinking of? You look as solemn as a little owl.”
“I am thinking of you, mamma,” the child answered.
And then her mamma laughed and kissed her, and said: “Well, I must say I don’t see why you should look so grave about me. I didn’t think I was such a solemn subject.”
At last bed-time came, and the little girl went to her mother’s room, because she was to sleep there.
“I am glad I have you with me, Nixie,” said mamma, with a rather nervous little laugh. “I am sure I shouldn’t like to sleep in this big room alone.”
But, after she was in bed, she soon fell asleep, and lay looking so happy and sweet and comfortable that Editha thought it was lovely to see her.
Editha did not go to sleep for a long time. She thought of her papa trying to sleep on the train, rushing through the dark night on its way to Scotland; she thought of a new book she had just begun to read; she thought of a child she had once heard singing in the street; and when her eyes closed at length, her mind had just gone back to the burglars at Number Eighteen. She slept until midnight, and then something wakened her. At first she did not know what it was, but in a few minutes she found that it was a queer little sound coming from down-stairs,—a sound like a stealthy filing of iron.
She understood in a moment then, because she had heard the chamber-maid say that the burglars broke into Number Eighteen by filing through the bars of the shutters.
“It is a burglar,” she thought, “and he will awaken mamma.”
If she had been older, and had known more of the habits of burglars, she might have been more frightened than she was. She did not think of herself at all, however, but of her mother.
She began to reason the matter over as quickly as possible, and she made up her mind that the burglar must not be allowed to make a noise.
“I’ll go down and ask him to please be as quiet as he can,” she said to herself, “and I’ll tell him why.”
Certainly, this was a queer thing to think of doing, but I told you when I began my story that she was a queer little girl.
She slipped out of bed so quietly that she scarcely stirred the clothes, and then slipped just as quietly out of the room and down the stairs.
The filing had ceased, but she heard a sound of stealthy feet in the kitchen; and, though it must be confessed her heart beat rather faster than usual, she made her way to the kitchen and opened the door.
Imagine the astonishment of that burglar when, on hearing the door open, he turned round and found himself looking at a slender little girl, in a white frilled night-gown, and with bare feet,—a little girl whose large brown eyes rested on him in a by no means unfriendly way.
“I’ll be polite to him,” Editha had said, as she was coming down-stairs. “I am sure he’ll be more obliging if I am very polite. Miss Lane says politeness always wins its way.”
So the first words she spoke were as polite as she could make them.
“Don’t be frightened,” she said, in a soft voice. “I don’t want to hurt you; I came to ask a favor of you.”
The burglar was so amazed that he actually forgot he was a burglar, and staggered back against the wall. I think he thought at first that Editha was a little ghost. “You see I couldn’t hurt you if I wanted to,” she went on, wishing to encourage him. “I’m too little. I’m only seven,—and a little over,—and I’m not going to scream, because that would waken mamma, and that’s just what I don’t want to do.”
That did encourage the burglar, but still he was so astonished that he did not know what to do.
“Well, I’m blowed,” he said in a whisper, “if this ain’t a rummy go!” which was extremely vulgar language; but, unfortunately, he was one of those burglars who, as Miss Lane said, “had not had any advantages,” which is indeed the case with the majority of the burglars of my acquaintance.
Then he began to laugh,—in a whisper also, if one can be said to laugh in a whisper. He put his hand over his mouth, and made no noise, but he laughed so hard that he doubled up and rocked himself to and fro.
“The rummiest go!” he said, in his uneducated way. “An’ she haint agoin’ to ’urt me. Oh, my heye!”
He was evidently very badly educated, indeed, for he not only used singular words, but sounded his h’s all in the wrong places. Editha noticed this, even in the midst of her surprise at his laughter. She could not understand what he was laughing at. Then it occurred to her that she might have made a mistake.
“If you please,” she said with great delicacy, “are you really a burglar?”
He stopped laughing just long enough to answer her.
“Lor’ no, miss,” he said, “by no manner o’ means. I’m a dear friend o’ yer Par’s, come to make a evenin’ call, an’ not a wishin’ to trouble the servants, I stepped in through the winder.”
“Ah!” said Editha, looking very gravely at him; “I see you are joking with me, as papa does sometimes. But what I wanted to say to you was this: Papa has gone to Scotland, and all our servants are women, and mamma would be so frightened if you were to waken her, that I am sure it would make her ill. And if you are going to burgle, would you please burgle as quietly as you can, so that you wont disturb her?”
The burglar stopped laughing, and, staring at her, once more uttered his vulgar exclamation:
“Well, I’ll be blowed!”
“Why don’t you say ‘I’ll be blown?’” asked Editha. “I’m sure it isn’t correct to say you’ll be blowed.”
She thought he was going off into one of his unaccountable fits of laughter again, but he did not; he seemed to check himself with an effort.
“There haint no time to waste,” she heard him mutter.
“No, I suppose there isn’t,” she answered, “Mamma might wake and miss me. What are you going to burgle first?”
“You’d better go upstairs to yer mar,” he said, rather sulkily.
Editha thought deeply for a few seconds.
“You oughtn’t to burgle anything,” she said. “Of course you know that, but if you have really made up your mind to do it, I would like to show you the things you’d better take.”
“What, fer instance?” said the burglar, with interest.
“You mustn’t take any of mamma’s things,” said Editha, “because they are all in her room, and you would waken her, and besides, she said it would break her heart; and don’t take any of the things papa is fond of. I’ll tell you what,” turning rather pale, “you can take my things.”
“What kind o’ things?” asked the burglar.
“My locket, and the little watch papa gave me, and the necklace and bracelets my grandmamma left me,—they are worth a great deal of money, and they are very pretty, and I was to wear them when I grew to be a young lady, but—you can take them. And—then—” very slowly, and with a deep sigh, “there are—my books. I’m very fond of them, but——”
“I don’t want no books,” said the burglar.
“Don’t you?” exclaimed she, “Ah, thank you.”
“Well,” said the burglar, as if to himself, and staring hard at her brightening face, “I never see no sich a start afore.”
“Shall I go upstairs and get the other things?” said Editha.
“No,” he said. “You stay where you are—or stay, come along o’ me inter the pantry, an’ sit down while I’m occypied.”
He led the way into the pantry, and pushed her down on a step, and then began to open the drawers where the silver was kept.
“Its curious that you should know just where to look for things, and that your key should fit, isn’t it?” said Editha.
“Yes,” he answered, “It’s werry sing’lar, indeed. There’s a good deal in bein’ eddicated.”
“Are you educated?” asked Editha with a look of surprise.
“Did yer think I wasn’t?” said the burglar.
“Well,” said Editha, not wishing to offend him, “you see, you pronounce your words so very strangely.”
“It’s all a matter o’ taste,” interrupted the burglar. “Oxford an’ Cambridge ’as different vocabillaries.”
“Did you go to Oxford?” asked Editha politely.
“No,” said he, “nor yet to Cambridge.”
Then he laughed again, and seemed to be quite enjoying himself as he made some forks and spoons up into a bundle. “I ’ope there haint no plated stuff ’ere,” he said. “Plate’s wulgar, an’ I ’ope yer parents haint wulgar, cos that’d be settin’ yer a werry bad example an’ sp’ilin’ yer morals.”
“I am sure papa and mamma are not vulgar,” said Editha.
The burglar opened another drawer, and chuckled again, and this suggested to Editha’s mind another question.
“Is your business a good one?” she suddenly inquired of him.
“’Taint as good as it ought to be, by no manner o’ means,” said the burglar. “Every one haint as hobligin’ as you, my little dear.”
“Oh!” said Editha. “You know you obliged me by not making a noise.”
“Well,” said the burglar, “as a rule, we don’t make a practice o’ makin’ no more noise than we can help. It haint considered ’ealthy in the perfession.”
“Would you mind leaving us a few forks and spoons to eat with, if you please? I beg pardon for interrupting you, but I’m afraid we shall not have any to use at breakfast.”
“Haint yer got no steel uns?” inquired the burglar.
“Mamma wouldn’t like to use steel ones, I’m sure,” Editha answered. “I’ll tell you what you can do: please leave out enough for mamma, and I can use steel. I don’t care about myself, much.”
The man seemed to think a moment, and then he was really so accommodating as to do as she asked, and even went to the length of leaving out her own little fork and knife and spoon.
“Oh! you are very kind,” said Editha, when she saw him do this.
“That’s a reward o’ merit, cos yer didn’t squeal,” said the burglar.
He was so busy for the next few minutes that he did not speak, though now and then he broke into a low laugh, as if he was thinking of something very funny, indeed. During the silence, Editha sat holding her little feet in her night-gown, and watching him very curiously. A great many new thoughts came into her active brain, and at last she could not help asking some more questions.
“Would you really rather be a burglar than anything else?” she inquired, respectfully.
“Well,” said the man, “p’r’aps I’d prefer to be Lord Mayor, or a member o’ the ’Ouse o’ Lords, or heven the Prince o’ Wales, honly for there bein’ hobstacles in the way of it.”
“Oh!” said Editha; “you couldn’t be the Prince of Wales, you know. I meant wouldn’t you rather be in some other profession? My papa is an editor,” she added. “How would you like to be an editor?”
“Well,” said the burglar, “hif yer par ud change with me, or hif he chanced to know hany heditor with a roarin’ trade as ud be so hobligin’ as to ’and it hover, hits wot I’ve allers ’ad a leanin’ to.”
“I am sure papa would not like to be a burglar,” said Editha, thoughtfully; “but perhaps he might speak to his friends about you, if you would give me your name and address, and if I were to tell him how obliging you were, and if I told him you really didn’t like being a burglar.”
The burglar put his hand to his pocket and gave a start of great surprise.
“To think o’ me a forgettin’ my card-case,” he said, “an’ a leavin’ it on the pianner when I come hout. I’m sich a bloomin’ forgetful cove. I might hev knowed I’d hev wanted it.”
“It is a pity,” said Editha; “but if you told me your name and your number, I think I could remember it.”
“I’m afeared yer couldn’t,” said the burglar, regretfully, “but I’ll try yer. Lord Halgernon Hedward Halbert de Pentonwille, YdePark. Can you think o’ that?”
“Are you a lord?” exclaimed Editha. “Dear me, how strange!”
“It is sing’lar,” said the burglar, shaking his head. “I’ve hoften thought so myself. But not wishin’ to detain a lady no longer than can be ’elped, s’pose we take a turn in the lib’ery among yer respected par’s things.”
“Don’t make a noise,” said Editha, as she led the way.
But when they reached the library her loving little heart failed her. All the things her father valued most were there, and he would be sure to be so sorry if one thing was missing when he returned. She stood on the threshold a moment and looked about her.
“Oh,” she whispered, “please do me another favor, wont you? Please let me slip quietly upstairs and bring down my own things instead. They will be so easy to carry away, and they are very valuable, and—and I will make you a present of them if you will not touch anything that belongs to papa. He is so fond of his things and, besides that, he is so good.”
The burglar gave a rather strange and disturbed look at her.
“Go an’ get yer gimcracks,” he said in a somewhat grumbling voice.
Her treasures were in her own room, and her bare feet made no sound as she crept slowly up the staircase and then down again. But when she handed the little box to the burglar her eyes were wet.
“Papa gave me the watch, and mamma gave me the locket,” she whispered, tremulously; “and the pearls were grandmamma’s, and grandmamma is in heaven.”
It would not be easy to know what the burglar thought; he looked queerer than ever. Perhaps he was not quite so bad as some burglars, and felt rather ashamed of taking her treasures from a little girl who loved other people so much better than she loved herself. But he did not touch any of papa’s belongings, and, indeed, did not remain much longer. He grumbled a little when he looked into the drawing-room, saying something to himself about “folks never ’avin’ no consideration for a cove, an’ leavin’ nothin’ portable ’andy, a expectin’ of him to carry off seventy-five pound bronze clocks an’ marble stattoos;” but though Editha was sorry to see that he appeared annoyed, she did not understand him.
After that, he returned to the pantry and helped himself to some cold game pie, and seemed to enjoy it, and then poured out a tumbler of wine, which Editha thought a great deal to drink at once.
“Yer ’e’lth, my dear,” he said, “an’ ’appy returns, an’ many on ’em. May yer grow up a hornyment to yer sect, an’ a comfort to yer respected mar an’ par.”
And he threw his head very far back, and drank the very last drop in the glass, which was vulgar, to say the least of it.
Then he took up his bundles of silver and the other articles he had appropriated, and seeing that he was going away, Editha rose from the pantry step.
“Are you going out through the window?” she asked.
“Yes, my dear,” he answered with a chuckle, “it’s a little ’abit I’ve got into. I prefers ’em to doors.”
“Well, good-by,” she said, holding out her hand politely. “And thank you, my lord.”
She felt it only respectable to say that, even if he had fallen into bad habits and become a burglar.
He shook hands with her in quite a friendly manner, and even made a bow.
“Yer welcome, my dear,” he said. “An’ I must hadd that if I ever see a queerer or better behaved little kid, may I be blowed—or, as yer told me it would be more correcter to say, I’ll be blown.”
Editha did not know he was joking; she thought he was improving, and that if he had had advantages he might have been a very nice man.
It was astonishing how neatly he slipped through the window; he was gone in a second, and Editha found herself standing alone in the dark, as he had taken his lantern with him.
She groped her way out and up the stairs, and then, for the first time, she began to feel cold and rather weak and strange; it was more like being frightened than any feeling she had had while the burglar was in the house.
“Perhaps, if he had been a very bad burglar, he might have killed me,” she said to herself, trembling a little. “I am very glad he did not kill me, for—for it would have hurt mamma so, and papa too, when he came back, and they told him.”
Her mamma wakened in the morning with a bright smile.
“Nobody hurt us, Nixie,” she said. “We are all right, aren’t we?”
“Yes, mamma dear,” said Editha.
She did not want to startle her just then, so she said nothing more, and she even said nothing all through the excitement that followed the discovery of the robbery, and indeed, said nothing until her papa came home, and then he wondered so at her pale face, and petted her so tenderly, and thought it so strange that nothing but her treasures had been taken from upstairs, that she could keep her secret no longer.
“Papa,” she cried out all at once in a trembling voice, “I gave them to him myself.”
“You, Nixie! You!” exclaimed her papa, looking alarmed. “Kitty, the fright has made the poor little thing ill.”
“No, papa,” said Editha, her hands shaking, and the tears rushing into her eyes, she did not know why. “I heard him, and—I knew mamma would be so frightened,—and it came into my mind to ask him—not to waken her,—and I crept down stairs—and asked him;—and he was not at all unkind though he laughed. And I stayed with him, and—and told him I would give him all my things if he would not touch yours nor mamma’s. He—he wasn’t such a bad burglar, papa,—and he told me he would rather be something more respectable.”
And she hid her face on her papa’s shoulder.
“Kitty!” papa cried out. “Oh, Kitty!”
Then her mamma flew to her and knelt down by her, kissing her, and crying aloud:
“Oh, Nixie! if he had hurt you,—if he had hurt you.”
“He knew I was not going to scream, mamma,” said Editha. “And he knew I was too little to hurt him. I told him so.”
She scarcely understood why mamma cried so much more at this, and why even papa’s eyes were wet as he held her close up to his breast.
“It is my fault, Francis,” wept the poor little mamma. “I have left her too much to herself, and I have not been a wise mother. Oh, to think of her risking her dear little life just to save me from being frightened, and to think of her giving up the things she loves for our sakes. I will be a better mother to her, after this, and take care of her more.”
But I am happy to say that the watch and locket and pearls were not altogether lost, and came back to their gentle little owner in time. About six months after, the burglar was caught, as burglars are apt to be, and, after being tried and sentenced to transportation to the penal settlements (which means that he was to be sent away to be a prisoner in a far country), a police officer came one day to see Editha’s papa, and he actually came from that burglar, who was in jail and wanted to see Editha for a special reason. Editha’s papa took her to see him, and the moment she entered his cell she knew him.
“How do you do, my lord?” she said, in a gentle tone.
“Not as lively as common, miss,” he answered, “in consekence o’ the confinement not bein’ good fer my ’e’lth.”
“None of your chaff,” said the police officer. “Say what you have to say.”
And then, strange to say, the burglar brought forth from under his mattress a box, which he handed to the little girl.
“One o’ my wisitors brought ’em in to me this mornin,” he said. “I thought yer might as well hev ’em. I kep’ ’em partly ’cos it was more convenienter, an’ partly ’cos I took a fancy to yer. I’ve seed a many curi’s things, sir,” he said to Editha’s papa, “but never nothin’ as bloomin’ queer as that little kid a-comin’ in an’ tellin’ me she wont ’urt me, nor yet wont scream, and please wont I burgle quietly so as to not disturb her mar. It brought my ’art in my mouth when first I see her, an’ then, lor’, how I larft. I almost made up my mind to give her things back to her afore I left, but I didn’t quite do that—it was agin human natur’.”
But they were in the box now, and Editha was so glad to see them that she could scarcely speak for a few seconds. Then she thanked the burglar politely.
“I am much obliged to you,” she said, “and I’m really very sorry you are to be sent so far away. I am sure papa would have tried to help you if he could, though he says he is afraid you would not do for an editor.”
The burglar closed one eye and made a very singular grimace at the police officer, who turned away suddenly and did not look round until Editha had bidden her acquaintance good-bye.
And even this was not quite all. A few weeks later, a box was left for Editha by a very shabby, queer-looking man, who quickly disappeared as soon as he had given it to the servant at the door; and in this box was a very large, old-fashioned silver watch, almost as big as a turnip, and inside the lid were scratched these words:
To the little Kid, From ’er fr’end and wel wisher, Lord halgernon hedward halbert de pentonwill, ide park.