A WOMAN AND A BURGLAR.
The wind was whistling shrilly around the corners of the house, sobbing and sighing through the evergreens in the yard, and howling dismally up among the chimney-tops, as Dr. Baird, one winter evening, turned up the collar of his overcoat, drew on his gloves, and pulled his seal-skin cap down over his ears.
"I shall not be in again until morning, Mary," he said to Mrs. Baird, who sat by a low table in front of the grate, reading a newspaper by the light of a shaded lamp. "Mrs. Murray is no better, and requires constant attendance. Dr. Graves has been with her all day, and I must relieve him tonight. Her condition is quite serious, but I think she will pull through. However, the crisis will hardly be reached before tomorrow noon."
Mrs. Baird laid down the newspaper, and sighed. Twenty years of wedded happiness had not fully reconciled her to the conditions of a busy physician's life; and she often longed for the time when her husband could retire from the active practice of his profession. But as Dr. Baird was still what is called a young man, and by no means as rich as he hoped to become, Mrs. Baird had resigned herself to the inevitable, and endured the discomfort of irregular meals and broken sleep without murmuring. So she merely looked up and sighed as her husband made this announcement.
"Have you set the burglar alarm?" she asked.
"Yes, for all the lower floor except the side door to the library. I shall take the key to that door, so that I can come in without disturbing you. I shall try to get back by six in the morning. Good night." And the Doctor took his way across the grounds, toward the sanitarium.
The burglar alarm had been placed in the house a short time before, at Mrs. Baird's suggestion. A man-servant had formerly slept in the house, but he had moved to a room in the sanitarium; and in view of the Doctor's frequent absence from home, Mrs. Baird had persuaded him to have a burglar alarm put into the house. The Doctor had laughed at her fears, and had to be reminded of the burglar alarm, or he frequently forgot to adjust it. She would not touch it herself; it made her nervous, she said.
The sanitarium was a local institution, in which the people of the village of Wellington took a great deal of pride. It was owned by a syndicate of wealthy men, who had selected the town on account of its healthy location, pastoral surroundings, and fine scenery, as the site of a large hotel, which, by virtue of these attractions, supplemented by a competent medical staff and judicious advertising, had become quite a popular health resort. Dr. Baird was resident physician-in-chief of the establishment, and with his family occupied a cottage on the opposite side of the extensive grounds, and several minutes' walk from the main building.
Mrs. Murray was one of the nurses at the sanitarium, who had herself been taken ill. Dr. Baird entered the sickroom and inquired of Dr. Graves:
"How is she now?"
"Sinking rapidly," was the reply. "I do not think she will live until morning."
A short consultation followed, and it was decided that both doctors should remain by the patient's side until there was some further change in her condition.
After the Doctor left, Mrs. Baird finished her newspaper, and then looked over the latest fashion-plates with her daughter Mollie, a trim-looking lass of sixteen summers, who was trying to solve the important problem of how to make a new dress. At 9 o'clock, with a caution to Mollie about the fire and the lights, Mrs. Baird went upstairs to bed.
Mollie dawdled over her fashions a little while longer, and then sought her room, which was a small apartment on the lower floor, and opening off the sitting room.
After midnight the burglar alarm went off with a great racket and woke Mrs. Baird from a sound sleep.
She realized, of course, that some one was in the house, or attempting to gain entrance. Her second thought was for Mollie's safety. Mollie was down stairs, and her room one which a burglar would be most likely to enter in any search for valuables. Hastily opening a drawer in the chiffonier which stood in her bedroom, Mrs. Baird took out a revolver and glanced at it by the light of the night-lamp to see if it were loaded. Weapon in hand, she went softly and swiftly down the stairs, her heart a prey to a thousand apprehensions. Every instant she expected to hear a scream. Suppose Mollie should cry out, or resist the burglars? Suppose her youth and beauty should tempt them to a worse crime than burglary? As she neared the foot of the stairs she heard voices in the parlor! Horror of horrors! the burglars were really in the house! They must have known beforehand that her husband was away.
A few steps farther brought her to the parlor door opening upon the hall into which the staircase descended. It stood partly open, and looking in she saw that the folding doors which separated the parlor from the sitting-room stood open, and beyond off the sitting-room she could see the open door of Mollie's chamber.
But what riveted her attention and froze her blood was the scene she saw in the parlor. Two men were standing in the middle of the room, and bending over a white-clad figure which they were laying on the floor.
Was her daughter dead? Had she fainted? Had she been chloroformed? Had the fiends—she raised her revolver and fired it at the nearest man, and then her over-wrought nerves gave way, and with a wild shriek she fell fainting to the floor.
When she recovered consciousness, it was to see her husband bending over her, with a vinaigrette in his hand, from which he had been administering a restorative.
"Mollie, Mollie," she gasped.
"Here, mamma," and Mollie was at her side, alive and well, and showing no sign of distress except concern for her mother.
When Mrs. Baird had recovered sufficiently to listen, her husband explained to her what had taken place. There had been no burglary, and Mrs. Baird had made, naturally enough, a mistake that had nearly proved fatal.
The two doctors had remained by the bedside of the sick nurse until after midnight, when she took a sudden turn for the worse and died a few minutes before 1 o'clock. The two of them had wrapped her body in a sheet from the bed, and placing it on a shutter had brought it to Dr. Baird's house to be laid out. Funerals were never held from the sanitarium, and though sometimes a patient died, the body was generally taken away as soon as possible, because of the depressing effect which the presence of a corpse in the house would have upon its inmates.
The two doctor's[sic] had brought the body to the front of the cottage, which was the entrance nearest the sanitarium. The key to the side door would also unlock the front door. He hardly thought of the burglar alarm, knowing of course that his presence in the house would be known immediately, and not anticipating any such heroic measures on the part of his wife. They had borne the body through the hall into the parlor, and were just in the act of depositing it on the floor, when Mrs. Baird, seeing them in the dim light from a shaded gas-jet turned down low in the adjoining sitting room, had mistaken them for strangers and the white-robed body for the unconscious figure of her daughter Mollie, and had fired her pistol.
But the excitement of the moment had confused her aim, or the dim light had rendered it uncertain, and the bullet, which at such close quarters would have been dangerous coming from any hand, had sped on its way without further damage than nipping Dr. Graves' ear and shattering a fine sevres vase which stood on the mantle opposite the door. It was a close call, however.
Dr. Baird now has great confidence in the efficacy of burglar alarms, and has since applied to them the old maxim about playing with edge tools. He has also secretly substituted blank for ball cartridges in Mrs. Baird's revolver, as his business still calls him out at night very often, and he does not care to run any unnecessary risks. On the whole, his view of the matter is a very sensible one.