The burglar plus his innocent sister and a young millionaire are captured by a blizzard and held in a country house. Here they spend the Xmas holiday, while romance and justice accomplish their separate ends.
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The Burglar And The Blizzard
A Christmas Story
Alice Duer Miller
The Burglar And The Blizzard
Cover Design: @mei - Fotolia.com
Jazzybee Verlag Jürgen Beck
86450 Altenmünster, Loschberg 9
Geoffrey Holland stood up and for the second time surveyed the restaurant in search of other members of his party, two fingers in the pocket of his waistcoat, as if they had just relinquished his watch. He was tall enough to be conspicuous and well bred enough to be indifferent to the fact, good looking, in a bronzed, blond clean-shaven way, and branded in the popular imagination as a young and active millionaire.
At a neighbouring table a man lent forward and whispered to the other men and women with him:
"Do you know who that is?—that is young Holland."
"What, that boy! He doesn't look as if he were out of school."
"No," said one of the women, elaborating the comment, "he does not look old enough to order a dinner, let alone managing mines."
"Oh, I guess he can order a dinner all right," said the first man. "He is older than he looks. He must be twenty-six."
"What do you suppose he does with all that money?"
The first thing he did with it, at the moment, was to purchase an evening paper, for just then he snapped his fingers at a boy, who promptly ran to get him one.
"Well, one thing he does," answered the man who had first given information, "he has an apartment in this building, up stairs, and I bet that costs him a pretty penny."
In the meantime Holland had opened his paper, scanned the head lines, and was about to turn to the stock quotations when a paragraph of interest caught his eye. So marked was the gesture with which he raised it to his eyes that his admirers at the next table noticed it, and speculated on the subject of the paragraph.
It was headed: "Millionaires' Summer Homes Looted," and said further:
"Hillsborough, December 21st. The fourth in a series of daring robberies which have been taking place in this neighbourhood during the past month occurred last night when the residence of C.B. Vaughan of New York was entered and valuable wines and bric-a-brac removed. The robbery was not discovered until this morning when a shutter was observed unfastened on the second story. On entering the watchman found the house had been carefully gone over, and although only a few objects seem to be missing, these are of the greatest value. The thief apparently had plenty of time, and probably occupied the whole night in his search. This is the more remarkable because the watchman asserts that he spent at least an hour on the piazza during the night. How the thief effected an entrance by the second story is not clear. During the past five weeks the houses of L.G. Innes, T. Wilson and Abraham Marheim have been entered in a manner almost precisely similar. There was a report yesterday that some of the Marheim silver had been discovered with a dealer in Boston, but that he could not identify the person from whom he bought them further than that she was a young lady to whom they might very well have belonged. The fact that it was a young lady who disposed of them to him suggests that the goods must have changed hands several times. The Marheim family is abroad, and the servants...."
Here a waiter touched his elbow.
"Mr. and Mrs. Vaughan have come, sir," he said.
"Send up to my apartment and tell Mrs. May we are sitting down to dinner," returned Holland promptly, and advanced to meet the prosperous looking couple approaching.
"I'm afraid we are late," said the lady, "but can you blame us? Have you heard? We have been telegraphing to Hillsborough all the afternoon to find out what has gone."
"You are not late. My sister has not come down yet. I was just reading about your robbery. Have you lost anything of value?"
"Oh, I suppose so," said Mrs. Vaughan cheerfully, sitting down and beginning to draw off her gloves. "We had a Van Dyke etching, and some enamels that have gone certainly, and Charlie feels awfully about his wine."
"Yes," said Mr. Vaughan gloomily. "I tell you he is going to have a happy time with that champagne. It is the best I ever tasted."
"Upon my word," said Geoffrey, "they are a nice lot of countrymen up there. Four robberies and not so much as a clue."
"You need not be afraid," said Mrs. Vaughan rather spitefully. "In spite of all your treasures, I don't believe any thief would take the trouble to climb to the top of your mountain."
Holland's selection of a distant hilltop for his large place pleased no true Hillsboroughite. As an eligible bachelor he was inaccessible, and as a property-holder he was too far away to increase the value of Hillsborough real-estate by his wonderful lawns and gardens.
Mrs. Vaughan's irritation did not appear to disturb Geoffrey, for he laughed very amiably, and replied that he could only hope that the thief was as poor a pedestrian as she seemed to imagine as he should not like to lose any of his things; and he added that in his opinion Vaughan ought to be starting for Hillsborough at once.
"Pooh," said that gentleman, "I can't go with the market in this condition,—would lose more than the whole house is worth."
"You would go duck-shooting in a minute," said Holland, "and this would be a good deal better sport."
Mr. Vaughan ignored this remark. "The thing to do," he said, "is to offer a reward, a big enough reward to attract some first-class detective."
"All right," said Geoffrey readily, "I'll join you. Those other fellows ought to be willing to put up a thousand apiece,—that will be five thousand. Is that enough? We can have it in the papers to-morrow. What shall I say? Five thousand dollars reward will be paid for information leading to the conviction—and so on. I'll go and telephone now," and with a promptness which surprised Mr. Vaughan, he was gone.
When he came back his sister was in her place and they were all discussing the burglary with interest. Mrs. May, who was somewhat older than her brother, had some of the more agreeable qualities of a gossip, that is to say she had imagination and a good memory for detail.
"For my part," she was saying, "I have the greatest respect and admiration for him. Do you know he could not find anything worth taking at the Wilsons',—after all his trouble. I have often sat in that drawing-room myself, and wondered if they should offer me anything in it as a present, whether I could find something that would not actually disgrace me. I never could. He evidently felt the same way. The Wilsons make a great to-do about the house having been entered, and tell you how he must have been frightened away,—frightened away by the hideousness of their things! Those woolly paintings on wood, and the black satin parasol that turns out to be an umbrella stand."
"My dear Florence," said her brother mildly, "how can a black satin parasol be an umbrella-stand?"
"Exactly, Geof, how can it? That is what you say all through the Wilsons' house. How can it be! However it is not really black satin, only painted to resemble it. The waste paper baskets look like trunks of trees, and the match boxes like old shoes. Nothing in the house is really what it looks like, except the beds; they look uncomfortable, and some one who had stayed there told me that they were."
"Dear Florence," said Mrs. Vaughan, "is it not like her kindness of heart—it runs in the family—to try and make my burglary into a compliment, but really though it is flattering to be robbed by a connoisseur I could forego the honour. You see you have taken away my last hope that my very best escaped his attention."
"No, indeed, the best is all he cared for. Honestly, Jane, haven't you an admiration for a man of so much taste and ability? Just think, he has entered four houses and there is not the slightest trace of him."
"There must be traces of him," said Geoffrey. "The Inness house was entered after that snow storm in the early part of the month. There must have been footprints."
"Of course," said Mr. Vaughan, "that is what makes me think that the watchmen are in it. It's probably a combination of two or three of them."
"Well, that lets Geoffrey out," said the irrepressible Florence. "No one would take his watchman into any combination,—he is a thousand and two and feeble for his age. However, there is no use in discussing the possibility, for it is not a combination of watchmen, begging your pardon, Mr. Vaughan. It is lonely genius, a slim, dark figure in a slouch hat. That is the way I imagine him. Do you really suppose that a watchman would take six pair of Mrs. Inness' best linen sheets, embroidered in her initials, the monogram so thick that it scratches your nose; and a beautiful light blue silk coverlet,—all just out from Paris. I saw them when she first had them."
"What," said Geoffrey, addressing the other male intellect present, "do you make of the young woman who disposed of some of the Marheim silver in Boston?"
"It was a young lady who disposed of the silver"
But it was Mrs. May who answered: "She is of course the lady of his love—a lady doubtless of high social position in Boston. There was a book about something like that once. He is just waiting to make one more grand coup, rob the bank or something and then the world will be startled by the news of their elopement. They will go and live somewhere luxuriously in the south Pacific, and travellers will bring home strange stories of their happiness and charm. Perhaps, though, he would turn pirate. That would suit his style."
"I hope," said Holland, "that he won't take a fancy to rob the Hillsborough Bank, for I consider it public spirited to keep quite a little money there. You begin to make me nervous."
"No bank robbery would make me nervous," replied his sister, "that is the comfort of being insignificant. I have not enough money in any bank to know the difference, and as for my humble dwelling in Hillsborough, who would take the trouble to rifle it when Geoffrey's palace is within an easy walk. Besides, I haven't anything worth the attention of a respectable burglar like this one."
"Thank you," said Geoffrey, "I'm sorry I spent so much time choosing your Christmas present a year ago."
"Oh, of course, Geof dear, that wonderful old silver is valuable, but it is put away where I defy any burglar to find it. There is only my sable coat, and I am going to send for that as soon as I have time to have it cut over."
"In my opinion," said Mr. Vaughan, "the man is no longer in the neighbourhood. He would scarcely dare try a fifth attempt while the whole country was so aroused. You see Hillsborough has always been an attractive place to thieves. It is such an easy place to get away from,—three railroads within reach. A man would be pretty sure to be able to catch a passing freight train on one of them at almost any time, to say nothing of the increased difficulty of tracing him."
"I don't suppose he will ever be caught," said Florence. "When he has got all he wants he will simply melt away and be forgotten. If he were caught—"
Here she was interrupted by the waiter who laid a telegram at her plate. It had come to her brother's apartment, and been sent down.
"Who is telegraphing me," she said, as she tore it open. "I hope Jack has not been breaking himself."
Opening it, she read:
"Your house was entered about five o'clock this afternoon. Tea-set and sable coat missing."
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