Смешные рассказы / The Funny Stories, стр. 2

“He was smoking a pipe. I said, ‘My friend, we do not allow smoking in this room.’ He said he was a stranger, and could not be expected to know the rules of the house. He said he had been in many houses just as good as this one, and it had never been a problem before. He added that usually such rules had never been considered to apply to burglars, anyway.

“I said: ‘Smoke along, then, if it is the custom, though I think that giving a burglar the privilege which is denied to a bishop is a sign of the looseness of the times. But what business do you have in this house, why have you entered it without ringing the burglar alarm?’

“He looked confused and ashamed, and said, with embarrassment: ‘I beg a thousand pardons. I did not know you had a burglar alarm, or I would have rung it. I beg you not to mention where my parents may hear of it, for they are old and feeble, and such a breach of the conventionalities of our Christian civilization might disappoint them and affect their health. May I trouble you for a match?’

“I said: ‘Here you are. But to return to business: how did you get in here?’

“’Through a window on the second floor.’

“It was even so. I redeemed the tinware at pawnbroker’s rates, bade the burglar good-night, closed the window after him, and retired to headquarters to report. Next morning we sent for the burglar-alarm man, and he came up and explained that the reason the alarm did not ‘go off’ was that no part of the house but the first floor was attached to the alarm. This was simply idiotic; one might as well have no armor on at all but for on his legs. The expert now put the whole second story on the alarm, charged three hundred dollars for it, and went his way. By and by, one night, I found a burglar in the third story, about to go down a ladder with a lot of miscellaneous property. My first impulse was to crack his head with a billiard cue; but I refrained, and proceeded to compromise. I redeemed the property at the familiar rates, after charging ten per cent for use of my ladder. Next day we sent down for the expert once more, and had the third story attached to the alarm, for three hundred dollars.

“By this time the ‘annunciator’ had grown to formidable dimensions. It had forty-seven tags on it, marked with the names of the various rooms and chimneys, and it occupied the space of an ordinary wardrobe. The gong was the size of a washbowl, and was placed above the head of our bed. There was a wire from the house to the coachman’s room in the stable, and a noble gong alongside his pillow.

“We should have been comfortable now but for one defect. Every morning at five the cook opened the kitchen door, and rip went that gong! The first time this happened I thought the last day had come. I didn’t think it in bed – no, but out of it – for the first effect of that frightful gong is to hurl you across the house, and slam you against the wall, and then curl you up like a spider on a stove lid, till somebody closes the kitchen door. Well, this catastrophe happened every morning regularly at five o’clock, and lost us three hours sleep.

“Well, we were gradually fading toward a better land, on account of the daily loss of sleep; so we finally had the expert up again. He ran a wire to the outside of the door, and placed a switch there, where Thomas, the butler, always made one little mistake – he switched the alarm off at night when he went to bed, and switched it on again at daybreak in the morning, just in time for the cook to open the kitchen door, and let that gong slam us across the house, sometimes breaking a window with one or the other of us. At the end of a week we recognized that this switch business was a snare. We also discovered that a band of burglars had been living in the house the whole time – not to steal, for there wasn’t much left now, but to hide from the police. They decided that the detectives would never think of a tribe of burglars taking sanctuary in a house notoriously protected by the most elaborate burglar alarm in America.

“Sent down for the expert again, and this time he struck a most dazzling idea – he fixed the thing so that opening the kitchen door would take off the alarm. It was a noble idea, and he charged accordingly. But you already foresee the result. I switched on the alarm every night at bed-time, no longer trusting on Thomas’s memory; and as soon as the lights were out the burglars walked in at the kitchen door, thus taking the alarm off without waiting for the cook to do it in the morning. For months we couldn’t have any company. Not a spare bed in the house; all occupied by burglars.

“Finally, I got up a cure of my own. The expert answered the call, and ran another wire to the stable, and established a switch there, so that the coachman could put on and take off the alarm. That worked first rate, and we even got to inviting company once more and enjoying life.

“But one winter night we were flung out of bed by the sudden music of that awful gong, and when we ran to the annunciator and saw the word ‘Nursery’ exposed, Mrs. McWilliams fainted, and I was close to it myself. I seized my shotgun, and stood waiting for the coachman. I knew that his gong had flung him out, too, and that he would be along with his gun as soon as he could jump into his clothes. When I judged that he was ready, I crept to the room next the nursery, looked through the window, and saw the coachman in the yard below. Then I hopped into the nursery and fired, and in the same instant the coachman fired at the red flash of my gun. Both of us were successful; I crippled a nurse, and he shot off all my back hair. We telephoned for a surgeon. There was not a sign of a burglar, and no window had been raised. One glass was absent, but that was where the coachman’s charge had come through. Here was a fine mystery – a burglar alarm ‘going off’ at midnight of its own accord, and not a burglar in the neighborhood!

“The expert answered the usual call, and explained that it was a ‘False alarm.’ Said it was easily fixed.

“What we suffered from false alarms for the next three years. During the next three months I always flew with my gun to the room indicated, and the coachman was always ready to support me. But there was never anything to shoot at – windows all tight and secure. We always sent down for the expert next day, and he fixed those particular windows so they would keep quiet a week or so, and always remembered to send us a bill.

“After we had answered three or four hundred false alarms, we stopped answering them. Yes, I simply rose up calmly, when slammed across the house by the alarm, calmly inspected the annunciator, took note of the room indicated; and then calmly disconnected that room from the alarm, and went back to bed as if nothing had happened. Moreover, I did not send for the expert. Well, it goes without saying that in the course of time all the rooms were taken off, and the entire machine was out of service.

“It was at this unprotected time that the burglars walked in one night and carried off the burglar alarm! yes, sir, ripped it out, springs, bells, gongs, battery, and all; they took a hundred and fifty miles of copper wire; they just cleaned it out.

“We got it back, we accomplished it finally, for money. The alarm firm said that what we needed now was to have her put in right – with their new springs in the windows to make false alarms impossible, and their new clock attached to take off and put on the alarm morning and night without human assistance. That seemed a good scheme. They promised to have the whole thing finished in ten days. They began work, and we left for the summer. They worked a couple of days; then they left for the summer. After which the burglars moved in, and began their summer vacation. When we returned in the fall, the house was empty. We refurnished, and then sent down to hurry up the expert. He came up and finished the job, and said: ‘Now this clock is set to put on the alarm every night at 10, and take it off every morning at 5:45. All you’ve got to do is to wind her up every week, and then leave her alone – she will take care of the alarm herself.’