HAVING brought a pistol with me to the residence of Mrs. Rankin, I do not believe I can be blamed for wishing to know where the weapon had been put. But my friend censured me severely. She said that she valued her life, and made other remarks not calculated to soothe my mind. She informed me that the reason she had felt it safe to stay in the tent with me for so long was that I seemed to have forgotten that there was such a thing beneath the same canvas with us. As she talked thus she was lying nearly swallowed up in the embrace of an enormously thick feather bed in the smallest bedroom which can be made. We are often told admiringly of the superior physical condition of our ancestors; how they could endure hardships, how tough they were, etc. Indeed, they must have been tough who could live to maturity, if they passed their nights in such little boxes as are these bedrooms which we find in nearly all the very old houses in New England. Literally they are boxes, with one small window, which in winter was rarely, if ever, opened. If a boy or girl lived to grow up, it was surely a case, of the survival of the fittest. The fact of one's being alive at all after infancy was proof enough of toughness.

This was the kind of room in which we were to pass the night,--a night so hot, now that every breath of wind had gone down, that only a panting perspiring half-existence seemed possible. We thought of our tent as of something very far away and unutterably comfortable in contrast. The one diminutive window was open to its fullest extent, but the mosquito netting draped across it did not stir a fold. If there should be any breeze, you could be sure by looking at that window that it would never come in that direction.

I waited in silence at the door while Carlos discoursed thus cruelly. When she made a slight pause I left her to prosecute my search. I had a kind of feeling-- "womanish" is, I suppose, the adjective to apply to the feeling--that if that revolver were left lying in some place unknown to me it might take it into its mind to explode by itself, just from sheer depravity. I believe firearms capable of such deeds. And then I had a curious, unreasonable conviction that if burglars should come I could frighten them terribly if I chose to do so. In fact, I should have the matter entirely in my own hands.

I crept through the kitchen and out into the "sink-room," where I had seen Randy take the bag. Randy had gone up-stairs to sleep, in a room a trifle larger than the one she had given us, and a bide hotter also, for the sun had been heating the roof all day, and to open the "chamber-way door" was to receive a blast of air which made us almost thankful for our down-stairs apartment.

I did not wish Randy to hear me. But every board in the floor creaked maliciously, and I barely saved myself from tumbling over the cat, which was curled up in an entirely unexpected place. This room had a sink in one corner; across the other end was piled systematically several tiers of wood ready for the stove. The rafters and joists were bare and blackened, and bunches of herbs hung from them. The whole place seemed seething in the memory of the sun which had been shining on it all day, and the smell of pennyroyal and thoroughwort was thick upon the air.

I held my lamp high' and looked about me. On a low stool which had been pushed under the sink I saw the leather bag I had brought. Yes, the pistol was in it. Now if it burst it should do so under my own eye. I went back slowly, and found my friend had fallen asleep in my absence.

The next few hours passed silently in hot darkness. I had not even thought of sleeping. At least I shall always believe I had not slept. Neither had I heard a sound, save the shrill noises of the summer-night insects. A tree-toad, apparently on the window- sill, two or three times uttered its strange, bubbling sort of cry, prophesying rain.

Suddenly, close to my side, I heard Randy Rankin whisper.

"The house is surrounded by burglars," she said.

I sat up, and groped out toward where the voice came from.

"You must be mistaken," I whispered. "I have n't slept, and I have heard nothing."

"I guess I know what I 'm talking about," she responded. "I tell you we are surrounded. I'm goin' for that pistol of yourn. Which end do you take hold of?"

Before I could say anything more she was in the next room, and I dared not raise my voice. She knew the house so well that she could manage to find her way in the dark.

My friend seized my arm with a painful clinch.

"Good heavens!" she cried in my ear. "She'll kill herself! Just think of her firing the pistol from the wrong end! Oh, why did you bring it?"

I hastened to assure Carlos that Randy was at present safe, for she wouldn't find that revolver, since it was at this moment under my pillow.

"Oh!" cried Carlos, with a spring away from me.

"As you have been sleeping so soundly near it, can't you compose yourself when awake?" I asked; with some bitterness. Even if I were not a first-class shot, I did not see why people should act as if I had the pestilence when they knew a weapon was near me.

In a moment I was aware that my friend had crept out of bed. I saw a dim, wavering figure going toward the door. I also rose as silently as I could.

"Didn't you hear her say we are surrounded by burglars?" I asked.

Carlos made a kind of hysterical sound, and then managed to tell me that she did n't know which she feared most, a regiment of burglars or me with a pistol. Then I asked her where she intended going, and she said she wasn't going anywhere; she meant to lie down on the floor, for she thought the floor was the safest place, as whichever way I might fire, it was n't likely the bullet would go that way.

"As for burglars," she went on in a shrill whisper, "I don't believe a word about them. Have n't I been awake all the time? Randy has had a nightmare. She went to bed with her mind made up that burglars should come, and this is the result. Ah!"


As these exclamations were uttered, we caught hold of each other with eager fingers. Then Carlos disengaged my grasp, and silently laid herself down on the braided rug in front of the bed.

"It's the best I can do," she said. "When you have a pistol I feel just as I do in a thunder-storm; I never know where the lightning will strike. What do you think it was that we heard? I can converse while lying here just as well as anywhere."

We had certainly heard something. Impossible to tell whether the noise was made by our hostess or by unknown assailants. We remained perfectly still for some moments, I with the revolver in my hand. As time passed we began to be anxious about Randy. She must have found before this that the weapon she sought was not where she put it. Things began to grow more and more mysterious. Mrs. Rankin appeared to have been swallowed up.

At last my companion spoke: -

"Mind, I don't believe there's a burglar anywhere near here; but if there is one, do you think he has chloroformed Mrs. Rankin? If you will put your pistol down and swear not to touch it without warning me, I will go with you to find Randy. It seems kind of cowardly to stay here like this."

How could I relinquish my only means of defense? I hesitated, and while I hesitated we heard another sound. Somebody was walking deliberately by our bedroom window. It was a curious tread,--the tread of two people, my friend insisted. We felt now that things were beginning in earnest. Oh, where was Randy? I took a few steps out into the suffocating darkness of the next room, and stood sniffing, to learn if I could detect any odor of chloroform. Nothing.

I have no idea how much time passed as we lingered like poltroons, while Mrs. Rankin might have been abducted and taken leagues away. I was already beginning to wonder if we could raise a ransom for her; and all that I had ever read of banditti went rioting through my mind in helpless confusion. Finally I gave a solemn promise that if I might be allowed to take my revolver, I would keep the hammer down on an empty chamber, unless I gave due warning of a change.

In this arrangement I naturally forgot that if one wants to use a pistol, the necessity is generally so urgent that there is scant chance for explanation or warning.

We kindled our lamp, and I marched ahead with it. We went in procession out through the kitchen, where odors of huckleberry slump still lingered. Alas! Should we ever more eat huckleberry slump? I was fast becoming so ruled by one idea that every scent smelled to me like chloroform.

We paused often to sniff and to listen. The door into the sink-room was slightly open. Randy must have come this way, for she was going for the pistol she had hidden under the sink. Tremulously I pushed open that door, holding my lamp extended, and feeling Carlos pushing me from behind.

There was Randy, sitting flat on the floor in front of the sink. She turned her wild eyes on us, as we came forward, and she lifted a hand and said --

"Sh! Sh!"

We immediately obeyed, standing still and waiting

"They 've ben in here once 'n' got the pistol," she said, "'n' I c'n hear um walkin'. See that busted screen. What 'd ye light a lamp for?"

We saw the busted screen. Directly over the sink was a square window, once covered by netting. This had been entirely torn off, the shreds hanging to the tacks. The water-pail had been tipped over, probably at the same time, and there was a large puddle of water glittering in a hollow place on the floor. Randy's face was pale and streaming with perspiration. She was dressed in a loose gown of faded pink with sprigs on it. I shall never forget her as she sat there waiting for burglars. I did not know then, and do not know now, why she chose that position instead of any other. Her reasons must have been good, for she had held the place ever since she had found that the revolver was gone, instantly assuming that the burglars had taken it.

Again we heard a noise outside.

"There they come again!" cried Randy, holding herself down on the floor, as one holds one's self who is bathing in the ocean, and sees a big roller rushing forward.

For an instant I hardly think any of us breathed. In that instant something huge and tawny jumped in through the window, falling in its leap a trifle beyond Mrs. Rankin, who huddled herself all up, but who did not retreat an inch.

A great wave of relief and joy came over me. The being that had thus entered came writhing and wriggling its great body up to us, and deprecatingly licked our hands, whining gently as it did so.

It was Max.

I set my lamp down in a pool of water, and went on my knees that I might more conveniently hug him.

"Oh land!" cried Randy, rising and drawing her skirts closely about her, as if there were a mouse in the room. "I declare, I s'pose he's the feller that's ben a-surroundin' this house all night. I wish you'd shet him up tight somewhere. I d' know which I'd rusher have, him or a burglar. But who took the pistol?" in an access of alarm.

I told her. She seemed a little chagrined at the collapse of her theory. But she only said she guessed "the dorg was oneasy at bein' alone in the tent," and had scented us out.

Max went to our bedroom with us, and he slept, and snored, and dreamed in calm content until morning.

At breakfast Randy said she thought "p'r'aps it might be jest as well for us not to say anything about them burglars;" and we agreed with her. We expressed our regret that we, who had come to protect her, should have been the cause of felonious breaking and entering.


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