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A Night Adventure

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I will teil you about nn affair - important as it proved to me ; but you must not hurry me. I have never been in a hurry since then. Up till that time inclusive I was always in a hurry ; my actiona always preceded my thoughts ; experience was of no use, and anybody would have supposed me destined to carry a young head upon oíd shoulders to the grave. However, I was brought np at last " with a round turn." I was allowed a certain space for reflection and plenty of materials, and if it did not do me good it's a pity. My father and mother both died when I was still a great awkward boy ; and I, being the only thing they had to bequeath, became the property of a distant relation. I do not know how it happened, but I had no near relations. I was a kind of waif upon the world from the beginniug, and I suppose it was owing to my having no family anchorage that I acquired the habit of swayiüg to and fro and drifting hither and thither at the pleasure of wind and tide. Not that my guardián was inattentive or unkind - quite the reverse ; but he was indolent and careless, concernmg himself with providing abundantly for my schooling and my pocket, and leaving everything eke to chance. He would have done the same thing to his own son, if he had had one, and he did the same thing to his own daughter. But girls eomehow cling wherever they are cast - anythiüg is an anchorage for them ; and as Laura grew up she gave the care she had never found, and wan the little mother to the whole house. As for the titular mother, she had not an atom of character of any kiad. She might have been a picture, or a vase, or anything else that is useless, except to the taste or the affections. But mamma was indispensable. Itis a vulgar error to suppose that people who have nothing in them are nobody in a house. It is no wonder that I was always in a hurry, for I must have had an instmctive idea that I had my fortune to look for. The governor had nothing more than a geiiteel independence, and this would be a good deal lessened after his death by the lapse of an annuity. But sister Laura was tlius provided for well enough, while I had not a shilling in actual money, although plenty of hypothetical ïousands ftnd sundry castles in the air. It was the consciousness of the latter kind of property, no doubt, that gave me so f ree-and-easy an air, and made me bo completely the master of my om a tions. How I did worry that blessed old woman ! how Laura lectured and scolded ! how the governor stormed ! and how I was forgiven the next minute, and we were all as happy again as the day was long ! But at length the time of separation came. I had grown a great hulking fellow, strong enough to make my bread as a porter, if that had been needed; and so a situation was found for me in a counting-house at Barcelona, and, af ter'a lecture and a hearty cryfrom sister Laura, a blessing and a kiss from mamma, and a great sob kept down by a hurricane laugh from the governor, I went adrift. Four years passed rapidly away. I had attained my full height, and more than my just share of inches. I already enjoyed a fair modicum of whiskers, and had even made eome progresa in the cultivation of a pair of mustaehes, when suddenly the house which I was connected with failed. What to do ? The governor insisted upon my return to England, where bis interest among the mercantile class was considerable. Laura hicted mysteriously that my presence in the house would soon be a matter of great importance to her father; and mamma let out the secret by writing to me that Laura was going to "change her condition." I was glad to hear this, for I knew he would be a model of a fellow who was Laura's husband; and, gulping down my pride, which would fain have persuaded me that it was unmanly to go back again like the ill sixpence, I set out on my return home. The family, I knew, hkd moved to another house; but, being well aequainted with the town, I had no difficulty in finding the place. It was a range of handsome buildings, which had sprung up in the fashionable outskirts during my absence; and, although it was f ar on in the evening, my accustomed eyee soon descried through the gloom the governor's old-fasbioned door-plate. I was just about to knock when a tion carne into my way. One of the área Windows was open, gap ing as ii' for my reception. A quantity of plate lay upon a table close by. Why should I not enter and appear unannounced in the drawing-room, a sunburnt phantom of five f eet eleven ? Why sliould I not present the precise and careful Laura with a handful of her own spoons and forks, left so conveniently at the seivice of any area sneak who laight chance to pass by? Why? That is only a figure of speech. I asked do questions about the matter; the idea was hardly well across my brain when my legs were across the rails. In another moment I hnd crept in by the window; and, chuokling at my own cleverness and the great moral lesson I was about to teach, I was stuffing my pockets with the plate. While thus engaged the opening of a door in the hall above alarmed me, and, afraid of the faüure of my plan, I stepped lightly up the stair, which was partially lighted by the hall lamp. As I was about to emerge at the top a serving-girl was coming out of a room on the opposite side. She instantly retreated, shut the door with a bang, and I could hear a half-suppressed hysterical cry. I bounded on, sprung up the drawingroom stair and entered the first door at a venture. All was dark, and I stopped for a moment to listen. Lights were hurrying across the hall, and I heard the rough voice of a man, as if seolding and taunting some, person. The girl liad doubtlees given the alarm, although her information must have been very indistinct, for, when she saw me, I was in the shadow of the stair, and she could have had little more than a vague impression that she beheld a human figure. However thisinay be, the man's voice appeared to descend the stair to the arearoom, and presently I heard a crashing noise, not as if he was counting the plate, but rather thrusting it aside en masse. Then 1 heard the window closed, the shutters bolted, and an alarm-bell hung upon them, and the man reaseended the stair, half ecolding, half laughing at the girl's superstition. He took care, notwithstanding, to examine the fastenings of the street-door and even to lock it and put the key in his pocket. He retired into a room and all was silence. I began to feel decidedly queer. The governor kept no male servant that I knew of, and had never done so. It was irnpossible he could have introduced thia change into his household without my being infonned of it by sister Laura, whose letters were an exact chronicle of everything, down to the health of the oat. This was puzzling. And, now that I had time to think, the house was much too large forafamilyrequiringonly three sleeping-rooms even when I was at home. It was whnt is called a doublé house, with rooms on both sides of the hall, and the arartment, on the threshold of wbich I was still lingering, nppeared froin the dim light of the windows to be of very considerable size. I now recollected that the quantity of plate I had seen- a portion of which at this moment feit preternaturally hoavy in my pockets - must have been thiee times greater than any the governor ever posseesed, and that various pieoes were of a size and massivness I had never seen in the establishment. In vain I bethought myself that had seen and recognized the well-known door-plate, and that the area from which I entered was immediately under; in vain I argued that since Laura was about to be married the extra quantity of plate might be intended to f orm a part of her trousseau. I could not oonvince myself. But the course of my thoughts suggested an idea, and pulling hastily from my pocket a table-spoon I feit, for I could not see the legend which contained my fate. But my fingerswere tremulous; they seemed to have lost sensation- only I íancied I did feel something more than the governor's plain initials. There was still a light in the hall. If I could but bring that spoon within its illumination ! All was silent, and I ventured to descend step af ter step - not as I had bonnded up, but with the stealthy pace of a thief , and the plate growing heavier and heavier in my pocket. At length I was near enough to see, in spite of a dimness that had gathered over my eyes, and, with a sensation of absolute faintness, I beheld upon the spoon an engraved crest- the red right hand of a Baronet ! I crept back again, holding, by the banisters, fancying every now and then that I heard a door open behind me, and y et my f eet no more consented to quicken their motion than if I had been pursued by a murderer in the nightmare. I at length got into a room, groped for a chair, and sat down. No more hurry now. Oh. no ! There was plenty of time, and plenty to do m ït, for I had to wipe away the perspira ioc that down my face in streams. What was to be done ? What had I done ? Oh, a trifle, a trille! I had only sneaked into a gentleman's house by the areawindow, and pocKeted his table-spoons; and here I was, locked and barred and( belled in sitting very comfortably, in the dark and alone, in hia drawing-room. Very particularly eomfortable. What a capital fellow, to be sure ! What an amusing personage ! Wouldn't the Baronet laugh in the morning ? Wouldn't he ask me to stay to breakfast ? And wonldn't I eat heartily out of tlie spoonr I had stolen? But what name is that? Who calis me a housebreaker ! Whn gives me in charge ? Who lugs me of) by the neck ? I will not stand it. 1 am innocent except of breaking into a Baronet's house. I am a gentleman, witli another gentleman 's spoons in mypockets. I claim the protection of the law. Pólice! pólice. My brain was wandeling. I pressed my hand upon my wet forehead to keep down the thick-eoming fancies, and determined, for the first time in my life, to hold a delibérate consultation with myself. I wae in an awkward predicamen: - itwas impossible to deny the faot, hul was there anything really serious in the case? I liad unquesiionably descendec into the wrong area, the right-liand om instead of the left-hand one; but was 1 not unquestionably the relation - tht distant relation, of the next-door neigh bor? I had been four years absent trom his house, and was there anythiiif more natural than that I should desiri to pay my next visit through a subter ranean window? I had appropriated, i' is true, a quantity of silver-plate I haö found ; but with what other intentioi oould I have done this than to present r to my distant relation's daughter, to re proach her with her earelessness in leav ng it next door ? Finally I was snared eaged, trapped - door and window hm, been bolted upon me without any remonstrance on my part - and I was nov some considerable time in the house, nu suspeeted, y et a prisoner. The positie) was seriou8; but come, suppose th worst, that I was actually laid hold of ft; a malefactor and commanded to give aj account of myself ; well, I was, as said, a distant relation oí the individual next door. I belonged to nobody in the world if not to him ; I bore but an indifferent reputation in regard to eteadiness, and after four years' absence in a foreign country I ha'd returned- idle, peeniless and objectlees - just in time to find an area-window open in the dusk of the evening and a heap of plato lying beland it, within view of the street. This self-examination was not cncouraging ; the case was decidedly queer, and, as I sat thns ponderingin the dark, with the spoon in roy hand, I am quite sure that no malefactor in a dungeon oould have envied my reflections. In fact, the evidence was so dead against me that I began to doubt my own innoc nee. What was I here for if my intentions were really honest ? and how carne it that all this silver píate had fouucl its way into my poekets ? I was angry as well as terriñed. I was Judge and criminal in one, but the instincts of nature got the better of my sense of juatice, and I rose suddenly up to ascertain whether it was not possible to get frem the window into the street. As I moved, however, the horrible booty I had in my pocket moved likewise, appearing to me to shriek, like a pcore of liends, "Pólice! pólice!" and the next instant I heard a quick footstep ascending the stair. Now was the fatal moment come ! I was on my feet; my eyes lared upon the door; my hands were clenched; the perspiration liad dried suddenly upon my skin, and my tongue clave to the roof of my mouth. But the footstep, aceompanied by a gleam of light, passed - paesed, and from very weakness I sat down again, with a dreadful indifference to the sereams of the píate in my pockets. Presently there were more footsteps along the halí; then voices; then drawing of boits; and creaking of locks; then utter darkness; then silence - lasting, terrible, profound. The house had gone to bed; the house would quiokly be asleep; it was time to be up and doing. But first and foremost í must get rid of the píate. Without that hideous corpus delicti I should have some chance. I must at all nazards creep down into the hall, find my way to the lower vegions and replace the accursed thing where I found it. It required nerve to attempt this; but I was thoroughly wound up, and after allowing a reasonable time to elapse, to give my enemies a fair opportunity of falling asleep, I set out upon the adventure. The door creaked as I went out; the plate grated again st my very soul as I descended the step; but slowly, stealthily, I crept along the wall, and at length found selt' upon the levol fioor. There was but one door on tbat side of the hall - the door which led to the area-room, and it ■was with inespreflsible relief I reached it in safety and grasped the knob in my hand. The knob turned- but the door did not open; it was locked; it was my fate to bc a thief, anc1. aí'ter a moment of new dismay, I tuined again doggedly, reached tbë stair and re-entered the appartment I had left. It was like getting home. It was snug and private. I liad a chair there waiting for me. I tliought to myeelf that many a man would take a deal of trouble to break into suoh a house. I had only sneaked. I wondered how Jack Shepherd feit on such occasions. He would make nothing of getting down into the street from the window, spoons and all. I tried this. The shutters were not even ciosed, and the sash moving noiselessly I had no difficulty in raismg it. I stepped out into the balcony and looked over. Nothing was to be seen but a black and yawning gulf beneath, guarded by the imagimry spikes of an invisible ïailing. Jack would have laughed at tliis difficulty ; but then he had more experience in the craft than I, and was provided with all necessary appliances. A.8 for me, Ihadstupidly forgotten even my coil of rope. The governor's house, I found, had either no balcony at all, or it was too f ar apartto be reached. Presently I heard a footstep on the sidewalk a little way off. It was approaching with slow, measured pace. The person was walking as calmly and gravely in the night as if it had been broad day. Suppose I hailed this philosophical stranger and confided to him, in a frieudly way, the fact that the Baronet, witüout the slightest provocation, had locked me up in bis house, with his silver spoons in my pocket ? Perhaps he would take the trouble of knocking at the door or crying flre, and when the servants opened I might rueh out and so make my escape. But while I was looking wistf ully down to seo if I could not diseern the walking figure, which was now under the windows, a sudden glare from the spot dazzled my sight. It was the bull's-eye of a policeman, and, with the instinct of a redatory character, l shrunk back romblinfr, orept into the room and shut ie windcrw. By tliis time I was sensible that there was a little confusión in my thoughts, nd by way oí employing them on procrea! and useful subjects I determined to make a tour of the room. But first it was neceseary to get lid, somehow or other, of my plunder - to plant the property, as we cali it ; and with tb at view I aid it carefully, piece by pieee, in the corner of the sofa, and concealed it with ,he cover. This was a great relief. I almost feit like the injnred party - more ike a captive than a robber ; and I groped my way through the room with a sort of vague idea that I might perhops stumble upon some trap door or slidingpanel which would leart into the open air, or worse, int a secret chamber,where I should be safe f or any given number of years from my persecutors. But there was nothing but a few cabinets and tables, and couches and arm-chairs, devotional-chairs, footstools, lamps and statuettes, and the elabórate girándole hung around with orystol pnsms, which played such an interminable tune agaiust each other when I chanced to move them that I stumbled away as fast as I could and subsided into a fauteuil so rich and so deep that I feit myself swallowed up, as it were, it its billows of swan's down. How long I had been in the house by this time I cannot teil. It seemed to me, vhen I looked back, to form a considerble portion of a lifetime. Indeed, I did not remember the more distant events of the night, althongh every now and tiier. the fact occurred to me with startlinp lisfcinctneBs tliat all I had gone througli was only prelirainnry to something stil! to happen ; that the morning was to come, the family to be astir and the 'ïousebreaker to be apprehended. My reflections were not continuous. It may be that I dozed between wliiles. How dse can I account for my feeling mysel! rasped by the throat, to the very bririk of suffocation, by a hand without a body? How else can Í account for my sister Lnura standing over me where I reolmed. lointiug to the stolen plate on the sofa and lecturing me on my horrible pro'jensities till her voice rose to a wild, unearthly scream which pierced through my brain S When this fnncy oocurred I startcd from my recumbent posture. A voice watiictually in my eara and a living forin bei'Wfe my eyes; a lady stood contemplatiDg me withahnlf-screamon herlips and the color fading from her cheek and as I moved slie would have fallen to the ground had I not Bprucg up and eaught her in my arms. I laid her softly down in the c'hair. It was the morning twilight. The silence was profound. The boundaries of the room were still dim and indistinct. Is it any wonder that I was in some considerable degree of perplexity as to whether I was not still in the land of dreams I "Madam," said I, "if you are a, visión, it is of no conseqiieiice; but if not, I wish particularly to get out." " Offer no injury," she replied, in a tremulous voice, "and no one will molest you. Take what you have come f or, andbegone." ' ' That is sooner said than done. The doors and windows below are lecked and bolted, and beneath those of this room the area is deep and the spikes sharp. I assure you I have been in very considerable perplexity the whole of last night;" and, drawinga chair, I sat down in front of her. Whether it was owing to this action, or to my complaining voice, or to the mere fact of her finding herself in a quiet tete-a-tete with a housebreaker, I can't teil; but the lady broke out in a low, hysterical laugh. " How did you break in ?" said ihe. " Idid not break ; it is f ar from being my eharacter, I assure you. But the area-window was open, and so 1 just thought I would come in." " You were attracted by the plate ! Take it, for Heaven's sake, desperate man, and go away I" "Idid take some of it, but with no evil intentions- only by way of amusement. Here it is ;" and going to the sofa I drew off the cover and showedher the plate. " You have been generous, said she, her voice again trembling ; "for the whole must have been in your power. I will let you out so sof tly that no one will know. Put up in your pockets what you have risked so much to possess andfollow me." "Iwill follow you with pleasure, said I, "were it the world over;" for the increasiug light showed me as lovely a creature as the morning san ever s'hone upon ; " but as for the silver, you must excuse me there ; I never stole anything before, and, please Heaven, I never will again!" "Surely you are the most extraordinary person,'" said the young lady, denly, for the iignt seemeu u urmg revelation to lier likewise ; ' ' you neithcr lo'k nor talk like a robber." " Nor am I. I am not even a robber -I am nothing, and have not property in the world to the value of these articles of plate." "ïhen if you are not a robber, wny are you here ? Why oreep in at the area-window, appropriate other people's epoons. and eet looked tip all night in theirhouee?" "For no other reason than that 1 was in a hurry. I had come home from Barcelona, and -was going to my guardian's, next door, when your unfortunate area wiodow caught my eye, with the plate on the window iuside. In an instant I was over the rails and in through the window like a harlequin, with the mtention of giving the family a pleasing surprise and my old monitress, Sister Laura, a great moral lesson on the impropriety at her leaving her plate about in socareless a manner. " "Then you are Gerald, my dear Laura's cousin, so longingly expected, so beloved by them all." Here the young lady blüshed and cast down her eyes. What these two girls could have been saying to each other about me I never found out; but there was a secret, I will go my death upon it She let me out so quietly that neither her father nor the servants ever knew a sjllable about the matter. I need not s'ay how I was received next door. The governor swept down another sob with another blessing aud another kiss; and Laura was so rejoiced that she gave me another hearty cry and forgot to give me another lecture. My next f our years were spent to better purpose than the last. Being less iu a hurry, I took time to build up a Hourishing business m partnership with Laura's husband. As for the Baronet's daughter- for we must get everybody into the concluding tableaux- why, there she is, that lady cutting bread and butter for the children with as matronly an air as Worter's Charlotte; she is my wife; andwelaugh to this day at the oddity of that first interview which led to so happy a denouement.


Old News
Michigan Argus