He felt all of a sudden big and dirty and burly and clumsy and entirely out of place, and turning slowly to glance about the room, he saw that it was well suited to its occupant.
There was a small dressing table, a chest of drawers, a writing desk, and two or three chairs, all in dainty pink with delicately figured covers.
On one corner of the desk stood a silver telephone instrument.
The wall was pure white, with pink flowers and animals scattered in profusion along the border. A low wide bookcase, with full shelves, stood at one end.
A pair of little white shoes were in the middle of the floor; on a chair nearby were the stockings and other garments.
Bill looked at them, and at the beautiful sleeping child, and at the child’s beautiful room, and he felt something rise in his chest.
Slowly his hand went to his head, and off came his cap.
“My little girl would have a place like this,” he muttered half-aloud.
The fact that Bill had no little girl or big one either, that he was indeed quite unmarried, is no reason to suspect the sincerity of his emotion.
Some fathers might argue that it is in fact a reason to believe in it; but we are interested only in what actually happened. Undoubtedly what Bill meant was this, that if he had had a little girl of his own he would have wanted for her such a room as this one.
He moved close to the bed and stood there looking down at its occupant.
What he was thinking was that he had never before realized that a creature could be so utterly helpless without thereby incurring the contempt of a strong man.
There was something strangely stirring in the thought.
Perhaps after all physical force was not the only power worth having.
Here was this little child lying there utterly helpless before him—utterly helpless, and yet in fact far more secure from injury at his hands than a powerful man would have been.
No, force was not made to be used against helpless beings like her.
What would he do if she should awake and cry out?
He would talk to her and quiet her.
According to the best burglar tradition, it would even be allowable to take her on his knee, and if a tear or so appeared in his eye it would be nothing to be ashamed of.
But what if she would not be quieted?
What if in her fright she should persist in spreading the alarm?
In that case he would simply beat it. He would drop a kiss on her soft brown hair and make his escape.
He did, in fact, bend over the pillow and deposit an extremely clumsy kiss on a lock of her hair, probably in order to have that much done and over with.
He turned away, for he felt one of the tears already halfway to his eye.
A shiny something on the dressing table caught his attention and he moved across to inspect it. It was a tiny gold wristwatch with an enameled rim.
He picked it up and looked at the name of the maker, and his eyes widened with respect.
Expensive trinket, that.
Absurd to trust a child with it.
No doubt she was very proud of the thing.
He put it down again, spared even the impulse to put it in his pocket.
He knew it would be useless to debate the matter with himself.
What burglar would take anything from a sweet helpless child like—
The words came from behind him.
They were uttered in a thin treble voice, as crisp and commanding as the snap of a whip.
Bill wheeled like lightning and stood petrified.
The sweet helpless child was sitting up straight in bed, and in her extended hand was a mean-looking little revolver, with the muzzle directed unerringly one inch above the apex of Bill’s heart.
“Lord above us!” ejaculated our hero, as his jaw dropped open in astonishment.
There was a short silence.
The burglar’s attitude of stupefaction became less pronounced, and his jaw came up again to take part in an amused grin as he relaxed, but the steady brown eyes facing him were unwavering in their direct and businesslike gaze.
“I would advise you to put your hands up before I count ten,” said the sweet, helpless child calmly.
“One, two, three—”
“Really, now,” Bill put in hastily,
“I wouldn’t advise you to shoot, little girl.
You might scare someone.
I won’t hurt you.”
“I don’t shoot to scare people.
I see you don’t take me seriously.