It Is Never Too Late to Mend by Charles Reade
A snow-white suburban villa standing alone with its satellites that occupied five times as much space as itself; coach-house, stable, offices, greenhouse clinging to it like dew to a lily, and hot-house farther in the rear. A wall of considerable height inclosed the whole. It booked as secure and peaceful as innocent in the fleeting light the young moon cast on it every time the passing clouds left her clear a moment. Yet at this calm thoughtful hour crime was waiting to invade this pretty little place.
Under the scullery-window lurked brutus and mephistopheles--faces blackened, tools in hand--ready to whip out a pane of said window and so penetrate the kitchen, and from the kitchen the pantry, where they made sure of a few spoons, and up the back stairs to the plate-chest. They would be in the house even now but a circumstance delayed them--a light was burning on the second floor. Now it was contrary to their creed to enter a house where a light was burning, above all, if there was the least chance of that light being in a sitting-room. Now they had been some hours watching the house and that light had been there all the time, therefore, argued mephistopheles, "It is not a farthing glim in a bedroom or we should have seen it lighted. It is some one up. We must wait till they roost."
They waited and waited and waited. Still the light burned. They cursed the light. No wonder. Light seems the natural enemy of evil deeds.
They began to get bitter, and their bodies cold. Even burglary becomes a bore when you have to wait too long idle out in the cold.
At last, at about half past two, the light went out. Then, keenly listening, the two sons of darkness heard a movement in the house, and more than one door open and shut, and then the sound of feet going rapidly down the road toward Sydney.
"Why! it is a party only just broke up. Lucky I would not work till the glim was out."
"But I say, Bill--he is at that corner--the nobs must have passed close to him--suppose they saw him."
"He is not so green as let them see him."
The next question was how long they should wait to let the inmates close their peepers. All had been still and dark more than half an hour when the pair began to work. mephisto took out a large piece of putty and dabbed it on the middle of the pane; this putty he worked in the center up to a pyramid; this he held with his left hand, while with his right be took out his glazier's diamond and cut the pane all round the edges. By the hold the putty gave him, he prevented the pane from falling inside the house and making a noise, and finally whipped it out clean and handed it to brutus. A moment more the two men were in the scullery, thence into the kitchen through a door which they found open; in the kitchen were two doors--trying one they found it open into a larder. Here casting the light of his dark lantern round, brutus discovered some cold fowl and a ham; they took these into the kitchen, and somewhat coolly took out their knives and ate a hasty but hearty supper. Their way of hacking the ham was as lawless as all the rest. They then took off their shoes and dropped them outside the scullery window, and now the serious part of the game began. Creeping like cats, they reached the pantry, and sure enough found more than a dozen silver spoons and forks of different sizes that had been recently used. These they put into a small bag, and mephisto went back through the scullery into the back garden and hid these spoons in a bush. "Then, if we should be interrupted, we can come back for them."
And now the game became more serious and more nervous--the pair drew their clasp knives and placed them in their bosoms ready in case of extremity; then creeping like cats, one foot at a time and then a pause, ascended the back stairs, at the top of which was a door. But this door was not fastened, and in another moment they passed through it and were on the first landing. The plan, correct in every particular, indicated the plate closet to their right. A gleam from the lantern showed it; the key-hole was old-fashioned as also described, and in a moment brutus had it open. Then mephisto whipped out a green baize bag with compartments, and in a minute these adroit hands had stowed away cups, tureens, baskets, soup-spoons, etc., to the value of three hundred pounds, and scarce a chink heard during the whole operation. It was done; a look passed as much as to say this is enough, and they crept back silent and cat-like as they had come, brutus leading with the bag. Now just as he had his hand on the door through which they had come up--snick! click!--a door was locked somewhere down below.
brutus looked round and put the bag gently down. "Where?" he whispered.
"Near the kitchen," was the reply scarce audible. "Sounded to me to come from the hall," whispered the other.
Both men changed color, but retained their presence of mind and their cunning. brutus stepped back to the plate-closet, put the bag in it, and closed it, but without locking it. "Stay there," whispered he, "and if I whistle--run out the back way empty-handed. If I mew--out with the bag and come out by the front door; nothing but inside bolts to it, plan says."
They listened a moment, there was no fresh sound. Then brutus slipped down the front stairs in no time; he found the front door not bolted; he did not quite understand that, and drawing a short bludgeon, he opened it very cautiously; the caution was not superfluous. Two gentlemen made a dash at him from the outside the moment the door was open; one of their heads cracked like a broken bottle under the blow the ready ruffian struck him with his bludgeon, and he dropped like a shot; but another was coming flying across the lawn with a drawn cutlass, and brutus, finding himself overmatched, gave one loud whistle and flew across the hall, making for the kitchen. Flew he never so fast mephisto was there an instant before him. As for the gentleman at the door he was encumbered with his hurt companion, who fell across his knees as he rushed at the burglar. brutus got a start of some seconds and dashed furiously into the kitchen and flew to the only door between them and the scullery-window.
THE DOOR WAS LOCKED.
The burglar's eyes gleamed in their deep caverns, "Back, Will--and cut through them," he cried--and out flashed his long bright knife.