This story was originally published in “The People’s Friend” on October 15, 1906.
Mrs MacPeever popped up in bed like a Jill-in-the-box, and strained her shell-like ears listening for the next noise. Burglarious noises always run in series.
During the two and twenty years of her reign of terror as a married woman, she had never previously heard a noise of this sort at this time of night. False alarms and mysterious sounds frequently; a genuine burglar alarm with a classified sound, never!
With true womanly instinct, she recognised it now indisputably. The kitchen window downstairs was being gently raised.
“MacPeever,” she whispered hoarsely. A glance at the recumbent MacPeever told her that he slept. Strange but true, he had been wide awake the very minute before.
“Colin MacPeever, will ye wake up?” she insisted sibilantly. It was as near a scream as a whisper could get, but MacPeever remained as irresponsive as Baal to his bawling priests.
At this moment, Mrs MacPeever heard the next sound, that of a man stealthily creeping in at the open window, and she shook MacPeever till the bed rattled.
As a result, MacPeever emitted a long-drawn, peaceful snore.
“We’re a’ goin’ to be murdered in oor beds”
“Preserve us a’! He’s fair sunk into a comma,” she groaned distractedly, and by way of putting a period to this state of suspended animation, she seized him by his luxuriant hair and massive forearm, and simply made a human roly-poly of him.
It being impossible, under these conditions, for MacPeever (who had heard and felt everything) to feign the sleep of innocence and longer, he officially awoke.
“What is’t, Jean?” he inquired, rubbing his eyes with the colourable air of a second Rip Van Winkle.
“It’s burglars in the house, ye sleepy-heid,” was Jean’s respectful response. “We’re a’ goin’ to be murdered in oor beds. Hoo I wish to guidness Jeemsie was here.”
Jeemsie, whose attendance at the function was so earnestly desired, was their eldest son. Two hours ago unfortunately he had left their house in the Dumbarton Road, Partick, to catch the last train for Edinburgh.
“Were ye wantin’ Jeems to be added to the list o’ victims like?” demanded MacPeever scathingly.
He had a reputation for reckless courage to maintain
“No, ye unfeeling wretch. But I wud then hae the assurance that there was a man in the hoose.”
The thrust missed fire, to use the mixed metaphor of a warlike lady novelist.
“I thocht ye woke me for the express purpose o’ gi’en me the assurance that there was a man in the hoose?” Thus retaliated MacPeever with subtle density.
“And ye’re feared to gang doon to him, I suppose? I dinna ken hooever onybody believed in ye when ye volunteered for the front at the time o’ the Boer War.
“Nae doot ye wer relying’ on the age leemit and your bein’ a married man for your rejection.”
This stirred up MacPeever somewhat. As a Captain in the Partick Rifles, he had a reputation for reckless courage to maintain.
Crawling disgustedly out of bed, he tightened the waistband of his pyjamas, and set about making reluctant preparations for death or glory, or, perchance, a pleasing blend of both.
“I’m thinkin’ this poker’ll no stand muckle chance against a revolver”
“It wud be an easy maitter,” he grumbled, “to gang to the front in broad daylicht, wi’ your uniform on, and tour sword drawn, and the pipes playin’, and an admirin’ populace cheerin’ ye to the echo.
“But to gang slinkin’ doonstairs in the deid o’ nicht, wi’ a poker and pyjamas, and a solitary pelican o’ the female in curlin’-pins revilin’ ye while ye’re hurryin’ to your daith is a different thing athegither.”
“I dinna see muckle hurryin’ masel,” satirised Mrs MacPeever, “though ye’ll maybe get your daith o’ cauld if ye dally aboot ony langer.”
MacPeever, be it explained, was selecting the poker from amongst the other fire irons with the deliberation of David choosing his five smooth stones from the brook.
“I’m thinkin’ this poker’ll no stand muckle chance against a revolver,” he pondered disparagingly. Aloud, too, in the hope that the burglar would hear his voice and flee dismayed.
He then tried to sheath the polished steel in his waistband, but it promptly slid down his leg to the floor, causing him to shudder at its icy progress.
“A weepon for close quarters,” he continued didactically, “ranks, in meelitary acceptance, far below a weepon for lang range. The closer the quarters —”
The heroic MacPeever ignored the remark
“The farther awa’ ye’ll stay frae them, it wud seem,” broke in Mrs MacPeever. “And while ye’re standing haverin’ there the villain’ll be makin’ awa’ wi’ ma silver teapot, the very finest present I got to console me for mairryin’ a hen-he’rted scarecraw —”
“Hen-pecked, I’ve heard and I’m willin’ to admit. The neebours hae your measure in that respect, guidwife.
“A scarecrow sometimes. Like the noo. Napoleon himsel’ couldna look dignified in a suit o’ auld torn pyjamas. But hen-he’rted, no! I never retired frae onything except the grocery business yet, and I’m no goin’ to stairt noo.”
“I dinna believe ye’ll ever stairt doonstairs, as lang as that burglar’s there onyway,” conjectured Mrs MacPeever placidly.
The heroic MacPeever ignored the remark.
“I wish I kent the stren’th o’ the scoondrel’s armament,” he moaned. “The futeelity o’ pyjamas when revolver bullets are fleein’ aboot has been demonstrated in modern warfare again and again.
“I never fully realised the inestimable value o’ Herr Dhow’s bullet-proof shirts afore. A bullet-proof nichtshirt maun be a blessin’ beyond words. I wonder if I could extemporise onything o’ the kind.”
Mrs MacPeever’s Patent Squeezeezi Stays (steel-boned, double-hasped, super-flexible and hyper-elegant) caught MacPeever’s glittering eye, and he essayed to gird them round his manly form. A yawning gap of some fourteen inches, precisely over the most vulnerable spot in pugilism, looked bad for the usefulness of stays as armour.
A fleeting glance in the wardrobe mirror showed that he also looked pretty bad from a purely artistic point of view.
“Ye’ll fricht the marauder awa’ afore I can get at him.”
“Never mind, Colin,” cooed his wife soothingly. “Ye’re protected whaur ye’ll be maist exposed. Your back’ll be turned to the enemy whenever the fechtin’ begins — if ever.”
“Perish the thocht, Jean MacPeever,” quoth her husband, dashing the squeezeezi outfit on the floor. “And, incidentally, perish thae infernal stays. I’ve cut ma thumb on their dooble-dodgasted hasps. It’s my belief I’ve severed an artery —“
“It’s my belief ye’re malingerin’,” sympathised Mrs MacPeever.
“Keep ye’re everylastin’ly clackin’ tongue still, Jean Rattray,” said MacPeever sternly, addressing her by her maiden name. “Ye’ll fricht the marauder awa’ afore I can get at him.”
Then, in tones of cold-blooded ferocity, he concluded, “The defendin’ force will noo advance.”
“And no afore time,” commented the impetuous Jingo lady quite tartly.
The defending force advanced, put its head boldly out of the door, and paused — for reasons of strategy.
MacPeever’s worst fears — no, not fears, suspicions — were confirmed. A light showed distinctly from the kitchen door. Hitherto he had fondly hoped it might have been the cat. MacPeever recoiled in horror.
“Great Dalmarnock!” he groaned. “The kitchen gas is turned on full flare —”
Regairdless o’ the rate per thousand feet, the blackgaird. Gang doon and turn it aff this very meenit, MacPeever —”
“And, sae faur as I can gether —”
“Which is nae further than that doorpost —”
“The malefactor’s gorgin’ himsel’ wi’ the remains o’ that leathery steak pie ye made yesterday week. I hear dishes clatterin’.
A bloodless evacuation of the capital was what he wanted
“There’s one consolation, onyway; if he feenishes it Ill no’ hae to chew it up in my spare time. And he’ll probably dee a lingerin’ daith forbye.”
“If ye linger there waitin’ till he dees, I’ll gang down mysel’,” retorted his Amazonian spouse. “What are ye hankerin’ there for noo?”
“I’m evolvin’ my strategy. A’ great meelitary leaders, frae Joshua to Oyama, hae recognised that as the first preenciple o’ warfare.”
“I wud like to see some o’ the ither preenciples, and maybe a bit o’ the warfare itsel’, if ye could work it in.”
MacPeever’s strategy inclined to the Robertsian — a bloodless evacuation of the capital was what he wanted.
It might be the best, but the difficulty lay in getting the burglar to understand it.
And as Mrs MacPeever was thirsting for action — on the part of MacPeever — he was forced to sterner measures forthwith.
Stepping out to the landing, he hurled a soap dish, with devastating effect, in the direction of the chink of light in the kitchen doorway. He followed it up, in quick succession, with a cake of soap and two hairbrushes, and unlimbered the tongs and fire-shovel for a general engagement.
Then it burst, like a lyddite shell
Then the kitchen door opened wide, and the figure of a man offered a splendid target for the bottle of hair wash that, with unerring aim, struck the wall in his vicinity.
There it burst, like a lyddite shell, spreading its odoriferous contents far and wide.
“Whatever are you playing at, Dad?” marvelled the burglar at this stage of the conflict, and Mr MacPeever then identified the Jeemsie hereinbefore alluded to.
It transpired that Jeemsie had missed his train, and with a dutiful desire to avoid disturbing his parents, had made free of the house as described.
“It’s a’ ower that mither o’ yours, Jeems,” explained father MacPeever. “She wuldna let me tak’ time to investigate. Naething but immediate bloodshed wud pacifee her.”
“It’s a’richt, Jeemsie,” supplemented mother MacPeever invidiously. “Noo that ye’re in I feel safe, which is mair than I could say when your faither was a’ I had to depend on.”
“I can assure you, mother, that when dad was on the warpath I scarcely felt safe myself.”
Which diplomatic pronouncement of James gratified both parties exceedingly.
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