Chapter XVIII. Miss Cobb's Burglar
 

I went to bed early that night. What with worrying and being alternately chilled by tramping through the snow and roasted as if I was sitting on a volcano with an eruption due, I was about all in. We'd been obliged to tell Mrs. Sam about the Summers woman, and I had to put hot flannels on her from nine to ten. She was quieter when I left her, but, as I told Mr. Sam, it was the stillness of despair, not resignation.

I guess it was about four o'clock in the morning when a hand slid over my face, and I sat up and yelled. The hand covered my mouth at that, and something long and white and very thin beside the bed said: "Sh! For heaven's sake, Minnie!"

It was Miss Cobb! It was lucky I came to my senses when I did, for her knees gave way under her just then and she doubled up on the floor beside the bed with her face in my comfort.

I lighted a candle and set it on a chair beside the bed and took a good look at her. She was shaking all over, which wasn't strange, for I sleep with my window open, and she had a key in her hand.

"Here," she gasped, holding out the key, "here, Minnie, wake the house and get him, but, oh, Minnie, for heaven's sake, save my reputation!"

"Get who?" I demanded, for I saw it was her room key.

"I have been coming here for ten years," she groaned, out of the comfort, "and now, to be bandied about by the cold breath of scandal!"

I shook her by the shoulder

"The cold breath you are raving about is four degrees below zero.

If you can't tell me what's the matter I'm going back to bed and cover my feet."

She got up at that and stood swaying, with her nightgown flapping around her like a tent.

"I have locked a man in my room !" she declared in a terrible voice, and collapsed into the middle of the bed.

Well, I leaned over and tried to tell her she'd made a mistake. The more I looked at her, with her hair standing straight out over her head, and her cambric nightgown with a high collar and long sleeves, and the hump on her nose where her brother Willie had hit her in childhood with a baseball bat, the surer I was that somebody had made a mistake--likely the man.

Now there's two ways to handle a situation like that: one of them is to rouse the house--and many a good sanatorium has been hurt by a scandal and killed by a divorce; the other way is to take one strong man who can hold his tongue, find the guilty person, and send him a fake telegram the next morning that his mother is sick. I've done that more than once.

I sat down on the side of the bed and put on my slippers.

"What did he look like?" I asked. "Could you see him?"

She uncovered one eye.

"Not--not distinctly," she said. "I--think he was large, and-- and rather handsome. That beast of a dog must have got in my room and was asleep under the bed, for it wakened me by snarling."

There was nothing in that to make me nervous, but it did. As I put on my kimono I was thinking pretty hard.

I could not waken Mr. Pierce by knocking, so I went in and shook him. He was sound asleep, with his arms over his head, and when I caught his shoulder he just took my hand and, turning over, tucked it under his cheek and went asleep again.

"Mr. Pierce! Mr. Pierce !" He wakened a little at that, but not enough to open his eyes. He seemed to know that the hand wasn't his, however, for he kissed it. And with that I slapped him and he wakened. He lay there blinking at my candle and then he yawned.

"Musht have been ashleep!" he said, and turned over on his other side and shut his eyes.

It was two or three minutes at least before I had him sitting on the side of the bed, with a blanket spread over his knees, and was telling him about Miss Cobb.

"Miss Cobb!" he said. "Oh, heavens, Minnie, tell her to go back to bed!" He yawned. "If there's anybody there it's a miskake. I'm sleepy. What time is it?"

"I'm not going out of this room until you get up!" I declared grimly.

"Oh, very well!" he said, and put his feet back into bed. "If you think I'm going to get up while you're here--"

After he seemed pretty well wakened I went out. I waited in the sitting-room and I heard him growling as he put on his clothes. When he came out, however, he was more cheerful, and he stopped in the hall to fish a case out of Mr. Sam's dressing-gown pocket and light a cigarette.

"Now!" he said, taking my arm. "Forward, the light-ly clad brigade! But--" he stopped--"Minnie, we are unarmed! Shall I get the patent folding corkscrew?"

He had to be quiet when we got to the bedroom floors, however, and when we stopped outside Miss Cobb's door he was as sober as any one could wish him.

"You needn't come in," he whispered. "Ten to one she dreamed it, but if she didn't you're better outside. And whatever you hear, don't yell."

I gave him the key and he fitted it quietly in the lock. Arabella, just inside, must have heard, for she snarled. But the snarl turned into a yelp, as if she'd been suddenly kicked.

Mr. Pierce, with his hand on the knob, turned and looked at me in the candle-light. Then he opened the door.

Arabella gave another yelp and rushed out; she went between my feet like a shot and almost overthrew me, and when I'd got my balance again I looked into the room. Mr. Pierce was at the window, staring out, and the room was empty.

"The idiot!" Mr. Pierce said. "If it hadn't been for that snow- bank! Here, give me that candle!"

He stood there waving it in circles, but there was neither sight nor sound from below. After a minute Mr. Pierce put the window down and we stared at the room. All the bureau drawers were out on the floor, and the lid of poor Miss Cobb's trunk was open and the tray upset. But her silver-backed brush was still on the bureau and the ring the insurance agent had given her lay beside it.

We brought her back to her room, and she didn't know whether to be happy that she was vindicated or mad at the state her things were in. I tucked her up in bed after she'd gone over her belongings and Mr. Pierce had double-locked the window and gone out. She drew my head down to her and her eyes were fairly popping out of her head.

"I feel as though I'm going crazy, Minnie!" she whispered, "but the only things that are gone are my letters from Mr. Jones, and--my black woolen tights!"