Rex Stout Fullscreen Officer and Lady (1917)


An Officer and a Lady

BILL FARDEN HAD HAD HIS EYE on the big brick house on the corner for some time.

He had worked one in that block—the white frame with the latticed porch farther down toward Madison Street—during the early part of March, and had got rather a nice bag.

Then, warned off by the scare and hullabaloo that followed, he had fought shy of that part of town for a full month, confining his operations to one or two minor hauls in the Parkdale section.

He figured that by now things would have calmed down sufficiently in this neighborhood to permit a quiet hour’s work without undue danger.

It was a dark night, or would have been but for the street lamp on the corner.

That mattered little, since the right side of the house was in deep shadow anyway.

By an oversight I have neglected to place the scene of the story in the vicinity of a clock tower, so Bill Farden was obliged to take out his watch and look at it in order to call attention to the fact that it was an hour past midnight. He nodded his head with satisfaction, then advanced across the lawn to that side of the house left in deep shadow.

Two large windows loomed up side by side, then a wide expanse of brick, then two more.

After a leisurely examination he chose the second of the first pair.

A ray from his electric flash showed the old-fashioned catch snapped to.

Grinning professionally, he took a thin shining instrument from his pocket, climbed noiselessly onto the ledge and inserted the steel blade in the slit.

A quick jerk, a sharp snap, and he leaped down again. He cocked his ear.

No sound.

The window slid smoothly upward to his push, and the next instant his deft accustomed hand had noiselessly raised the inner shade.

Again he lifted himself onto the ledge, and this time across it, too. He was inside the house.

He stood for a time absolutely motionless, listening.

The faintest of scratching noises came from the right.

“Bird,” Bill observed mentally, and his experienced ear was corroborated a moment later when the light of his electric flash revealed a canary blinking through the bars of its cage.

There was no other sound, and he let the cone of light travel boldly about the apartment.

It was a well-furnished library and music room, with a large shining table, shelves of books along the walls, a grand piano at one end, and several comfortable chairs.

Bill grunted and moved toward a door at the farther corner.

He passed through, and a glance showed him the dining room.

Stepping noiselessly to the windows to make sure that the shades were drawn tight, he then switched on the electric chandelier.

There was promise in the array of china and cut glass spread over the buffet and sideboard, and with an expectant gleam in his eye he sprang to open the heavy drawers.

The first held linen; he didn’t bother to close it again.

The second was full of silver, dozens, scores of pieces of old family silver.

In a trice Bill flew to the ledge of the window by which he had entered and was back again with a suitcase in his hand.

When the silver, wrapped in napkins, was safely in the suitcase, Bill straightened and glanced sharply around.

Should he leave at once with this rare booty so easily gathered?

He shook his head with decision and returned to place the suitcase on the window ledge in the library; then he came back, switched off the light in the dining room, and entered the kitchen.

By unerring instinct he stepped to the refrigerator.

A flash of his pocket-lamp, and he gave a satisfied grunt.

He turned on the light.

From the recesses of the ice-box he brought forth a dish of peas, some sliced beef, half a chicken, some cold potatoes, and part of a strawberry shortcake.

In a drawer in the kitchen cabinet he found a knife and fork and some spoons.

From a common-sense viewpoint the performance was idiotic.

Having broken into an inhabited house in the dead of night, rifled the silver drawer and deposited the loot on the window sill, I for one would not be guilty of the artistic crime of tacking on an anticlimax by returning to the kitchen to rob the refrigerator and grossly stuff myself.

But Bill Farden was an old and experienced hand, thoroughly versed in the best burglar tradition.

Also, perhaps he was hungry.

He ate as one who respects food but has no time for formalities.

He had finished the meat and vegetables and was beginning on the shortcake, when all of a sudden he sprang noiselessly from his chair to the electric button on the wall.

A tiny click and the room was in darkness.

He crouched low against the wall, while the footsteps that had startled him from above became louder as they began to descend the back stairs.

There might still be a chance to make the door into the dining room, but he decided against it.

Scarcely breathing, he pulled himself together and waited.

The footsteps became louder still; they halted, and he heard a hand fumbling at the knob of the stairway door.

The noise of the opening door followed.

Bill’s mind was working like lightning.

Probably someone had been awake and seen the light from a slit through the window shade.