The two dark figures, giving a glance
through the rain in either direction, stole down beneath
the stately marble steps of N Washington Square,
and Matilda unlocked the servants’ door.
They slipped inside; the door was cautiously relocked.
Breathless, they stood listening. A vast, noble
silence pervaded the great house. They flung
their arms about each other, and thus embraced tottered
against the wall; and Mrs. De Peyster relaxed in an
Home again! Her own home!
Odorless of pot-roasts and frying batter-cakes.
The phrase was rather common and sentimental but,
in truth, this was “home, sweet home.”
And free of that unthinkable Mr. Pyecroft!
While Mrs. De Peyster leaned there
in the blackness, gathering strength, her mind mounted
in sweet expectancy to her suite. Only a few
minutes of soft treading of stairways certainly
they could avoid arousing Jack and she
would be locked in her comfortable rooms. A cautious
bath! Clean clothes! Her own bed! All
of the luxuries she had been so long denied!
Cautiously they crept through the
basement hallway; cautiously crept up the butler’s
stairs and turned off through the door into the great
hall of the first floor; cautiously they crept up to
the drawing-room floor and trod ever so softly over
woven treasures of the Orient, through the spacious
ducal gloom. One more flight, then peace, security.
With unbreathing care, Mrs. De Peyster set foot upon
the first step of her journey’s end.
And then, suddenly, the servants’
bell burst into ringing. And there was a terrific
hammering against the servants’ door and also
against the door in the boarding.
“Matilda what’s that?”
breathed Mrs. De Peyster.
“M maybe the police saw us come in,”
They did not pause for discussion. Discarding caution,
they plunged frantically and noisily up the stairs; until from out of the
overhead blackness descended a voice:
“Stop! Or I’ll shoot!”
It was Jack’s voice.
“Who are you?” the voice demanded.
They clung to each other, wordless.
“Who are you?” repeated Jack.
Their voices were still palsied.
They heard his feet begin determinedly to descend.
Mrs. De Peyster loosed her grip on Matilda’s
arm and vanished noiselessly downward.
“Speak up there,” commanded
Jack, “or I’ll fire on the chance of getting
you in the dark.”
“It’s only me, Mr. Jack,” trembled
“What, Matilda!” cried
Jack; and from above, like an echo transposed an octave
higher, sounded another, “What, Matilda!”
“Yes, Mr. Jack. Yes, ma’a yes,
“But where the devil have you
been?” exclaimed Jack, coming to her side.
Mary had also hurried down to her.
“Matilda, the way you ran away from us!”
“I got a er sudden message.
There was no time
“Never mind about explaining
now,” interrupted Jack. “Go down and
stop that racket before they break in the doors.
And thank God you’re here just in time, Matilda!
You’re just the person to do it: housekeeper,
caretaker. But be careful if they’re reporters.
Jack and Mary scuttled back to the
haven of upstairs, and Matilda shivered down through
the blackness. As she passed through the lower
hall, a hand reached out of the dark and touched her.
She managed not to cry out.
“Don’t let them know about
me!” implored Mrs. De Peyster.
do my best, ma’am,” quavered Matilda, and
glided weakly on.
When she opened the servants’
door, a dripping policeman caught her arm. “Down
here, Bill,” he called to the man battering at
the door above; and a minute later two officers were
inside, and the door was closed, and a light was flashing
in Matilda’s face.
“Now, old girl,” said
the first officer, tightly gripping her arm and giving
it that twist which if a policeman does not give an
arm he is no policeman, “what’s your little
“I I live here, sir. I’m
“Now don’t try to put that over on us.
You know you ain’t.”
“You must be new policemen,
in this neighborhood,” trembled Matilda, “or
you’d know I am.”
“We may be new cops, but we
don’t fall for old stuff like that. I was
talkin’ to Mrs. De Peyster’s coachman only
yesterday. He told me the housekeeper wasn’t
here no more. So better change your line o’
dope. Where’s the other one?”
“Wha what other one?”
“The one what come in here with you.”
“I’m the only person in
the house,” Matilda tried to declare valiantly.
“Drop it!” said the officer.
“Didn’t the boss tell us to keep our eyes
on these here millionaires’ closed houses; all
kinds o’ slick crooks likely to clean ’em
out. An’ didn’t we see two women come
in this house, hey, Bill?”
“Sure I was a block
off, but I seen ’em plain as day,” said
“So I guess,” again the
twist that proved him a policeman, “you’d
better lead us to your pal.”
He pushed her before him, lighting
the way with his flash-lantern, up stairways and back
into the dining-room, where she turned on the one
shaded electric bulb that had been left connected.
In Matilda all hope was gone; resistance was useless;
fate had conquered. And when the officer again
demanded that she bring forth her accomplice, she dumbly
and obediently made search; and finally brought Mrs.
De Peyster forth from the china closet.
The officer pulled up Mrs. De Peyster’s
veil, and closely scanned her features; which, to
be just to the officer, were so distorted that they
bore little semblance to the Mrs. De Peyster of her
“Recognize her, Bill?” he queried.
“Looks a bit like the pictures
of Chicago Sal,” said Bill. “But I
ain’t ever handled her. I guess she ain’t
worked none around New York.”
“Well, now,” said the
officer, with policial jocularity, “since
you two ladies already got your hats on, I guess we’ll
just offer you our arms to the station.”
Mrs. De Peyster gave Matilda a look
of frenzied appeal. But Matilda needed not the
spur of another’s desperation. For herself
she saw a prison cell agape.
“But I tell you I’m Matilda
Simpson, Mrs. De Peyster’s housekeeper!”
“If so, who’s the other
mourner?” inquired the humorous policeman.
“And what’s she doin’ here?”
“She’s she’s” and
then Matilda plunged blindly at a lie “she’s
my sister.” And having started, she went
on: “My sister Angelica, who lives in Syracuse.
She’s come to visit me awhile.”
The officer grinned. “Well,
Matilda and Angelica, we’ll give you a chance
to tell that to the lieutenant. Come on.”
“But I tell you I’m Matilda
Simpson!” cried Matilda. She was now thinking
solely of her own imminent disgrace. Inspiration
came to her. “You say you talked to William,
the coachman. He’ll tell you who I am.
There’s the bell ring for him!”
The officer scratched his chin.
Then he eyed his co-laborer meditatively.
“Not a bad idea, Bill.
There’s a chance she may be on the level, and
there’d be hell to pay at headquarters if we
got in bad with any of these swells. No harm
He pressed a big thumb against the
bell Matilda had indicated.
They all sat down, the two officers’
oilskins guttering water all over Mrs. De Peyster’s
Kirmanshah rug and parquet floor. But Mrs. De
Peyster was unconscious of this deluge. She gave
Matilda a glance of reproachful dismay; then she edged
into the dimmest corner of the dusky room and turned
her chair away from the door through which this new
disaster was about to stalk in upon her, and unnoticed
drew down her veil.
There was a long, sickening wait.
Plainly William had gone to bed, and had to dress
before he could answer the bell.
At length, however, William appeared.
He started at sight of the four figures; then his
gaze fastened on Matilda and grew hard. Mrs. De
Peyster tried to collapse within herself.
“Friend,” said the officer,
“here’s a lady as says she’s Matilda
Simpson, Mrs. De Peyster’s housekeeper.
How about it?”
“She is,” William affirmed coldly.
“The devil!” said the
officer; and then in a low voice apart to the other:
“Lucky we didn’t go no further hey,
Bill?” And again to William: “Miss
Simpson says this other lady is her sister, visitin’
her from Syracuse. Can you identify her?”
William did not alter a line in his face.
“Miss Simpson has a sister living
near Syracuse. I have never seen her. I
cannot identify her.”
“H’m,” said the officer.
“Is that all?” asked William.
“Yes, that’ll do. Thanks.”
With a cold blighting glare at Matilda, William withdrew.
“Well, ladies,” said the
officer with ingratiating pleasantness, “I’m
mighty glad it’s all right. If you have
occasion, Miss Simpson, to speak o’ this here
little incident to Mrs. De Peyster when she gets back
from Europe, just explain it as due to over-zealousness,
if you don’t mind desire to safeguard
her interests. D’you get me? Headquarters
is awful sensitive to kicks from you rich people; and
the boss comes down on you like a ton o’ bricks.
It’ll be mighty kind o’ you. Good-night.
Don’t bother to come down with us. I noticed
it was a spring lock. We can let ourselves out.”
When the two policemen were out of
the room, Mrs. De Peyster and Matilda collapsed into
each others’ arms and their bodies sank limply
forward from their chairs upon the dining-table.
“Matilda, what an escape!” shivered Mrs.
De Peyster; and she lay there, gathering breath, regathering
strength, regathering poise, while the officers’
steps grew dimmer and more dim. She was palpitant,
yet able to think. Certainly it had been a narrow
escape. But that danger was now over. There
now remained only the feat of getting into her room,
unnoticed by Jack. This they could manage when
they were certain that Jack and Mary were asleep.
Relief, hope, courage once more began to rise within
Then suddenly she sat upright.
Footsteps were sounding below growing nearer heavy
footsteps what sounded like more than two
pairs of footsteps. She sat as one palsied; and
before she could recover strength or faculties, there
in the doorway were the two policemen. And with
them was a gentleman in a cap and tan summer overcoat
buttoned to the chin.
The gentleman was the Reverend Mr.
Pyecroft; and the Mr. Pyecroft they had first seen:
bland, oh, so bland, with that odd, elderish look of
“Met him goin’ down the
servants’ steps as we were goin’ out, and
he asked us ” the officer was beginning.
But Mr. Pyecroft was already crossing
toward Matilda, smiling affectionately.
“My dear Matilda!” He
kissed her upon the cheek. “I arrived in
New York very unexpectedly less than half an hour
ago, and could not delay coming to see you. How
are you, sister?”
“Wha what?” stammered Matilda.
Mr. Pyecroft with his bland affectionate
smile crossed to Mrs. De Peyster, slipped an arm across
her shoulders and kissed her veil somewhere about
the forehead. “And how are you, dear sister?”
he inquired with deep concern.
Mrs. De Peyster gasped and stiffened.
“You ladies don’t seem
very glad to see him,” put in the officer.
“When we told him about you two bein’ sisters,
he said he was your brother. Is he?”
“Of course I am,” Mr.
Pyecroft answered pleasantly. “They weren’t
expecting me; therefore this very natural surprise
which you observe. Of course, I am your brother,
am I not?” patting Mrs. De Peyster’s
arm with the appearance of affection, and then closing
on it warningly.
Mrs. De Peyster nodded her head.
“Matilda,” turning to
her, in frank fraternal fashion, “you might tell
these officers that I am not only your brother, but
in fact the only brother you have. That is true,
isn’t it, sister?”
“Yes,” gulped Matilda.
“Well,” said the officer,
“since everything is all right, we’ll be
leavin’ you. But, believe me, this is certainly
some sudden family reunion.”
When they had gone Mr. Pyecroft calmly
removed cap and overcoat and stood forth in his clericals.
Again he wore the youngish face of their interview
of an hour before. Mrs. De Peyster watched him
in sickening fear. What was he going to do?
Surely he must now know her identity!
He smiled at them amiably.
“Well, my dears, so you tried
to give me the slip. I rather thought you’d
bear watching, so I followed you. And when I saw
the officers come out without you I knew you had successfully
entertained them with some sort of plausible explanation.”
His gaze fixed on Matilda. “So,
my dear sister, you’re really the housekeeper
here.” He shook his head chidingly.
“And the usual crook of a housekeeper, eh trying
to make a safe clean-up while her mistress is away.
You’re deeper than I thought, Matilda. I
understand the whole affair now. You and our
sister Angelica had already been planning some kind
of a game similar to the one I suggested. I just
happened to think of the same thing. I don’t
blame you a lot for not wanting to take me into the
game; it was quite natural for you to want all there
is in it for yourselves. Not the least hard feeling
in the world, my dears. But, of course,” apologetically, “you
could hardly expect me to give up a rich thing like
this, could you?”
His easy, familiar, ironic talk had
brought Mrs. De Peyster one large item of relief.
Evidently he didn’t suspect who she was yet.
“What are you going to do?” she managed
“Stay right here with you, my
sisters, and in due time we’ll go ahead with
our game as per previous specifications.”
He surveyed the high, paneled dining-room, sumptuous,
distinguished even in the semi-dusk. “Cozy
little flat, eh, my dears?”
Suddenly that wide mouth of his slipped
up to one side, and he laughed in exultant, impish
“Say, isn’t this the funniest
ever! Beats my plan a mile. We’ll
make ourselves at home hang out together for the summer in Mrs. De Peysters own
own house, and when we hear she’s
coming back we vacate and then do our little act of
buying out the stores in Lady De Peyster’s name.
Was there ever such a lark!” For a moment his
low laugh of wild glee cut off his speech. “What’s
more, it’s the safest place in the world for
us. Nobody’d ever think of our being here!”
Mrs. De Peyster stared at Matilda,
Matilda stared at Mrs. De Peyster.
“And it’s just what I
needed,” continued Mr. Pyecroft in amicable
confidence. “I just had a tip that the police
were closing in on me, and I had to disappear quick.
An hour ago, I’d never have dreamed of falling
into such a safe little retreat as this. Luck
favors the deserving.”
Mrs. De Peyster gazed at him, faint.
“And of course, Matilda,”
he went on, “if, say, any of the neighbors happen
to drop in for a cup of tea and see me, or if the police
should manage to trail me here, and they
may, you know, of course, Matilda, you’ll
speak right up and say I’m your dear brother.”
At that moment it was beyond either
of them to speak right up.
“Remember, my dears, that we’re
all crooks together,” he prompted in a soft
voice, that had a steely suggestion beneath it.
“And in case you fail to stand by me it would
give me very great pain very great pain,
I assure you to have to blow on you.”
Matilda gulped, blinked her eyes,
and looked helplessly at Mrs. De Peyster. Mr.
Pyecroft turned to the latter.
“Of course, Angelica, dear,
you’re going to stand by me?”
Mrs. De Peyster hesitated, then breathed
a barely audible “Yes.”
“And you, Matilda, who were
always my favorite sister, you, too, will stand by
“Yes,” breathed Matilda.
“Ah,” said Mr. Pyecroft,
in a moved tone, “such family loyalty is truly
touching. I foresee a most pleasant summer.”