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- The Garotters - 1/8 -
by William D. Howells
SCENE I: MRS. ROBERTS; THEN MR. ROBERTS
At the window of her apartment in Hotel Bellingham, Mrs. Roberts stands looking out into the early nightfall. A heavy snow is driving without, and from time to time the rush of the wind and the sweep of the flakes against the panes are heard. At the sound of hurried steps in the anteroom, Mrs. Roberts turns from the window, and runs to the portiere, through which she puts her head.
MRS. ROBERTS: 'Is that you, Edward? So dark here! We ought really to keep the gas turned up all the time.'
MR. ROBERTS, in a muffled voice, from without: 'Yes, it's I.'
MRS. ROBERTS: 'Well, hurry in to the fire, do! Ugh, what a storm! Do you suppose anybody will come? You must be half frozen, you poor thing! Come quick, or you'll certainly perish!' She flies from the portiere to the fire burning on the hearth, pokes it, flings on a log, jumps back, brushes from her dress with a light shriek the sparks driven out upon it, and continues talking incessantly in a voice lifted for her husband to hear in the anteroom. 'If I'd dreamed it was any such storm as this, I should never have let you go out in it in the world. It wasn't at all necessary to have the flowers. I could have got on perfectly well, and I believe NOW the table would look better without them. The chrysanthemums would have been quite enough; and I know you've taken more cold. I could tell it by your voice as soon as you spoke; and just as quick as they're gone to-night I'm going to have you bathe your feet in mustard and hot water, and take eight of aconite, and go straight to bed. And I don't want you to eat very much at dinner, dear, and you must be sure not to drink any coffee, or the aconite won't be of the least use.' She turns and encounters her husband, who enters through the portiere, his face pale, his eyes wild, his white necktie pulled out of knot, and his shirt front rumpled. 'Why, Edward, what in the world is the matter? What has happened?'
ROBERTS, sinking into a chair: 'Get me a glass of water, Agnes-- wine--whisky--brandy--'
MRS. ROBERTS, bustling wildly about: 'Yes, yes. But what--Bella! Bridget! Maggy!--Oh, I'll go for it myself, and I WON'T stop to listen! Only--only don't die!' While Roberts remains with his eyes shut, and his head sunk on his breast in token of extreme exhaustion, she disappears and reappears through the door leading to her chamber, and then through the portiere cutting off the dining- room. She finally descends upon her husband with a flagon of cologne in one hand, a small decanter of brandy in the other, and a wineglass held in the hollow of her arm against her breast. She contrives to set the glass down on the mantel and fill it from the flagon, then she turns with the decanter in her hand, and while she presses the glass to her husband's lips, begins to pour the brandy on his head. 'Here! this will revive you, and it'll refresh you to have this cologne on your head.'
ROBERTS, rejecting a mouthful of the cologne with a furious sputter, and springing to his feet: 'Why, you've given me the cologne to DRINK, Agnes! What are you about? Do you want to poison me? Isn't it enough to be robbed at six o'clock on the Common, without having your head soaked in brandy, and your whole system scented up like a barber's shop, when you get home?'
MRS. ROBERTS: 'Robbed?' She drops the wineglass, puts the decanter down on the hearth, and carefully bestowing the flagon of cologne in the wood-box, abandons herself to justice: 'Then let them come for me at once, Edward! If I could have the heart to send you out in such a night as this for a few wretched rosebuds, I'm quite equal to poisoning you. Oh, Edward, WHO robbed you?'
ROBERTS: 'That's what I don't know.' He continues to wipe his head with his handkerchief, and to sputter a little from time to time. 'All I know is that when I got--phew!--to that dark spot by the Frog Pond, just by--phew!--that little group of--phew!--evergreens, you know--phew!--'
MRS. ROBERTS: 'Yes, yes; go on! I can bear it, Edward.'
ROBERTS: '--a man brushed heavily against me, and then hurried on in the other direction. I had unbuttoned my coat to look at my watch under the lamp-post, and after he struck against me I clapped my hand to my waistcoat, and--phew!--'
MRS. ROBERTS: 'Waistcoat! Yes!'
ROBERTS: '--found my watch gone.'
MRS. ROBERTS: 'What! Your watch? The watch Willis gave you? Made out of the gold that he mined himself when he first went out to California? Don't ask me to believe it, Edward! But I'm only too glad that you escaped with your life. Let them have the watch and welcome. Oh, nay dear, dear husband!' She approaches him with extended arms, and then suddenly arrests herself. 'But you've got it on!'
ROBERTS, with as much returning dignity as can comport with his dishevelled appearance: 'Yes; I took it from him.' At his wife's speechless astonishment: 'I went after him and took it from him.' He sits down, and continues with resolute calm, while his wife remains standing before him motionless: 'Agnes, I don't know how I came to do it. I wouldn't have believed I could do it. I've never thought that I had much courage--physical courage; but when I felt my watch was gone, a sort of frenzy came over me. I wasn't hurt; and for the first time in my life I realised what an abominable outrage theft was. The thought that at six o'clock in the evening, in the very heart of a great city like Boston, an inoffensive citizen could be assaulted and robbed, made me furious. I didn't call out. I simply buttoned my coat tight round me and turned and ran after the fellow.'
MRS. ROBERTS: 'Edward!'
ROBERTS: 'Yes, I did. He hadn't got half-a-dozen rods away--it all took place in a flash--and I could easily run him down. He was considerably larger than I--'
MRS. ROBERTS: 'Oh!'
ROBERTS: '--and he looked young and very athletic; but these things didn't seem to make any impression on me.'
MRS. ROBERTS: 'Oh, I wonder that you live to tell the tale, Edward!'
ROBERTS: 'Well, I wonder a little at myself. I don't set up for a great deal of--'
MRS. ROBERTS: 'But I always knew you had it! Go on. Oh, when I tell Willis of this! Had the robber any accomplices? Were there many of them?'
ROBERTS: 'I only saw one. And I saw that my only chance was to take him at a disadvantage. I sprang upon him, and pulled him over on his back. I merely said, "I'll trouble you for that watch of mine, if you please," jerked open his coat, snatched the watch from his pocket--I broke the chain, I see--and then left him and ran again. He didn't make the slightest resistance nor utter a word. Of course it wouldn't do for him to make any noise about it, and I dare say he was glad to get off so easily.' With affected nonchalance: 'I'm pretty badly rumpled, I see. He fell against me, and a scuffle like that doesn't improve one's appearance.'
MRS. ROBERTS, very solemnly: 'Edward! I don't know what to say! Of course it makes my blood run cold to realise what you have been through, and to think what might have happened; but I think you behaved splendidly. Why, I never heard of such perfect heroism! You needn't tell ME that he made no resistance. There was a deadly struggle--your necktie and everything about you shows it. And you needn't think there was only one of them--'
ROBERTS, modestly: 'I don't believe there was more.'
MRS. ROBERTS: 'Nonsense! There are ALWAYS two! I've read the accounts of those garottings. And to think you not only got out of their clutches alive, but got your property back--Willis's watch! Oh, what WILL Willis say? But I know how proud of you he'll be. Oh, I wish I could scream it from the house-tops. Why didn't you call the police?'
ROBERTS: 'I didn't think--I hadn't time to think.'
MRS. ROBERTS: 'No matter. I'm glad you have ALL the glory of it. I don't believe you half realise what you've been through now. And perhaps this was the robbers' first attempt, and it will be a lesson to them. Oh yes! I'm glad you let them escape, Edward. They may have families. If every one behaved as you've done, there would soon be an end of garotting. But, oh! I can't bear to think of the danger you've run. And I want you to promise me never, never to undertake such a thing again!'
ROBERTS: 'Well, I don't know--'
MRS. ROBERTS: 'Yes, yes; you must! Suppose you had got killed in that awful struggle with those reckless wretches tugging to get away from you! Think of the children! Why, you might have burst a blood-vessel! Will you promise, Edward? Promise this instant, on your bended knees, just as if you were in a court of justice!' Mrs. Roberts's excitement mounts, and she flings herself at her husband's feet, and pulls his face down to hers with the arm she has thrown about his neck. 'Will you promise?'
SCENE II: MRS. CRASHAW; MR. AND MRS. ROBERTS
MRS. CRASHAW, entering unobserved: 'Promise you what, Agnes? The
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