“Aunt Meggie!” cried Jim as he raised the elderly lady’s head on his knee…

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, November 16, 1935.

“Twice,” said Jimmie Frise, “in the past month, my Aunt Meggie’s house has been tried by burglars.”

“How tried?” I inquired.

“Well,” said Jim, “the first time, the dog waked the family with its barking, and they heard feet-steps running out the side drive.”

“It might have been the milkman,” I suggested.

“The second time,” said Jim, “the dog barked, and my Aunt Meggie sprang out of bed and saw two men vanish over the back fence. When they examined the doors and windows, they found a brand new jemmie mark on the kitchen window.”

“What’s a jemmie?” I asked.

“It’s a kind of curved cold chisel, a big one,” said Jim, “for prying up windows.”

“Twice ought to be enough,” I assured Jim. “Those chaps will give up, now that they feel they have been suspected.”

“Unfortunately,” said Jim, “my aunt is going away for several days, starting tomorrow, and she has asked me if I’d mind sleeping over at her place until she gets back.”

“What a curious request,” I supposed.

“My Aunt Meggie is a curious person,” explained Jim. “She thinks nothing of asking you for breakfast, and that sort of thing. She’s odd, but we all love her. So I guess I’ll have to sleep at her place the next few nights.”

“You’ll enjoy it,” I said, “being a family man. It will be a nice quiet holiday.”

“The house,” said Jim, “is one of those lonely places, out on the edge of the city. It just beckons burglars.”

“Leave the lights on,” I suggested.

“A very good idea,” agreed Jim. “But I was hoping you might suggest coming with me. You like adventure.”

“Could I bring my shotgun?” I asked. “The double-barrelled one?”

“Sure,” said Jim. “And get some buckshot loads. You could pot one of them even if he was going over the back fence.”

“Maybe we could trap them,” I supposed. “We ought to be able to think up some funny scheme for trapping burglars. How would you go about trapping a burglar?”

“Set a live wire across all the windows and doors,” thought Jim.

“I don’t mean to kill them,” I said, “And, anyway, haven’t you read about all the poor chaps that set loaded guns for traps? They always forget, sooner or later, and get shot themselves by their own trap. I mean something comical, but efficacious. Sort of like flypaper or something.”

“Or set a rabbit snare in the windows,” offered Jimmie; “that would catch them around the neck when they crawled through.”

“And come down in the morning and find a dead burglar strangled to death half way into the kitchen?” I remonstrated. “I think not.”

“Then what have you in mind?” asked Jim.

“Well,” I invented, “say a pail of purple indelible dye suspended over the window or door. And when the burglar came in, the pail would upset all over him. Then we could inform the police and have it printed in the newspapers that a man covered with purple dye was wanted. They have dyes now that a man could never get off in weeks of scrubbing. He’d practically have to be skinned alive to get it off.”

To Cure a Burglar

“A swell idea,” cried Jim. “Even if we used that dye so that he got it on his hands. That’s an idea for banks and all sorts of institutions. Indelible dye that would get on the hands of the criminal. He couldn’t wear gloves forever.”

“Another idea,” I went on, “is a sort of perfume bomb that would explode when the burglar entered. It would spray him with some terribly strong perfume, like skunk. The smell would follow him everywhere, no matter how he fled. All we’d have to do would be call the police, tell them the burglar is now escaping but is saturated with skunk, and all the night patrols would have to do would be cruise around the district looking for a man who left rich trail of skunk behind him. Even in a motor car he would be given away. If he succeeded in getting home, the neighbors would smell it for a day or two, and that would aid the police in their search.”

“Except for the fact that it would stink up my Aunt Meggie’s house,” said Jim, “I think it is a wonderful idea. It’s a wonder you don’t capitalize your ideas. I bet you could make a fortune thinking things up.”

“Oh, ideas come easy to some people,” I confessed, “but I have still more. For example, nothing is so terrible to a burglar as noise. I have often thought I’d like to rig up a sort of combination alarm, with empty garbage cans, fifteen alarm clocks, a siren, several bunches of those little lady fire crackers, half a dozen giant fire crackers, and a tray of old dishes and glassware. And the minute the burglar trips the alarm, everything would start going off at once. Bells ringing, shots fired, old dishes crashing, sirens screaming. I bet I could do more to cure a burglar than fifteen years in the penitentiary. Scare the very living daylights out of him. Make him a nervous wreck. Cure him for keeps.”

“How would you make it all go off?” asked Jim, breathlessly.

“With wires and fuses,” I explained. “Everything could be set out in a kitchen so that it would never be suspected. On the floor, under the table, on top of the kitchen cabinet. All stowed neatly around. And the minute the intruder bumped against an invisible cord the whole shebang would start. Boy, I’d give a thousand dollars to be there to see that burglar.”

“Let’s try it,” urged Jim. “Let’s try it out at Aunt Meggie’s. It won’t make much mess, will it? We could clean it up easily?”

“No muss at all,” I assured him. “A few fire crackers to sweep up. Nothing else.”

Half the fun of being an inventive genius is in getting the things ready. We got twelve feet of instantaneous fuse from a friend in the construction business. We got a truck horn, one of those blasting ones, from a wrecking company, and they fitted in with a switch that worked on a simple contact. Fire crackers are hard to get at this time of year, but we managed a good supply from a storekeeper who was saving them over, in his cellar, until the next 24th of May.

The night Aunt Meggie went out of town Jim and I moved in, bag and baggage.

We selected the kitchen of Aunt Meggie’s house for the scene of operations. It was a large and spacious kitchen and it had three wall plugs for various things like ironers and other electrical devices.

On top of the kitchen cabinet we balanced three large empty garbage cans, placing under the three a long wooden lath. This was my invention, too. So delicately balanced were the garbage cans that when the lath sprung it tipped the cans six feet to the floor. The lath was sprung by a common string attached to a flat iron. The iron, resting on a slightly sloping piece of board, was set within six inches of the large mouth of the big truck horn. So fierce were the vibrations of the truck horn that they caused the glossy flat iron to slide down the sloping board, drop into space, yank the cord, and the lath precipitated the cans to the floor with a magnificent sound.

The setting off of the truck horn was simply a matter of a small 15-cent switch attached to the trip cord.

The trip cord, plain, heavy linen thread, we strung criss-cross around the floor, a little above the linoleum.

The same switch that put the juice into the truck horn ignited three short lengths of instantaneous fuse, at the end of which were two gangs of giant fire crackers and one gang of little lady crackers, twelve festoons of them in the gang.

From Aunt Meggie’s cupboard we selected a couple of cracked plates, three glasses with chips out of the rims, a broken platter and other odds and ends that we were sure she would not miss. These we spread out on a big tin tray she had on the ice box. And, balancing it also on the top of the kitchen cabinet, we fixed it so the leaping lath would spill it even quicker than the ash cans.

“How about some bells?” asked Jim.

So after a little deep thinking we detached the wiring of the front door bell and connected it in on the horn hook-up. On a general tour of inspection of the house we found several small items, such as a rat trap, a Chinese dinner gong and an old parrot cage in the attic, standing on a tall single stem. This we rigged up to the flat iron in such a way that it would topple with a terrible crash to the floor, spilling its tin floor, its glass feed bowls and water troughs in all directions. The other items we worked into the general scheme, and last of all, about ten p.m., we screwed some little picture frame screw-eyes into the base board around the kitchen floor, six inches off the linoleum, and through these threaded a maze of linen thread in such a way that no burglar could step into that kitchen without bringing pandemonium loose about his head.

“Oh, oh, oh,” moaned Jimmie, who had been laughing for nearly an hour, as one by one the items were laid.

“I won’t sleep a wink to-night,” I agreed.

“We’ll have to be careful,” said Jim; “you sit at the front window and I’ll sit at the back, in the dark, and whenever we see anybody approaching we can psst and call the other a warning.”

“Suppose nobody comes?” I supposed.

“We can leave everything just as it is,” said Jim; “we’ve got four days. If the birds that have been trying to break in here are around they’ll notice by the look of the place that everybody is away.”

Stupendous Racket

“Then to-morrow night,” I declared, “we won’t turn on any lights at all. We’ll just sneak in quietly after supper and sit in the dark. How’s that?”

“O.K.,” agreed Jim, and we turned off the downstairs lights, and I sat at the front window and Jim sat at the back, upstairs.

Sitting at windows in the dark, looking out on a lonely and deserted suburban street, is a patient business. Every little while Jim would tip-toe in to see me, or I’d tip-toe back to see him. We could not smoke at the windows.

“It’s just about midnight,” said Jim.

“Two or three o’clock is the usual time for burglars,” I confessed. “And I’m getting sleepy.”

“Let’s wait,” said Jim.

“Nice old house your aunt’s got,” I offered.

“She’s a great old card,” said Jim.

“Does she live here all alone?” I inquired.

“Oh no,” said Jim briefly. “She has a husband.”

“I never heard you speak of him,” said I.

“We don’t talk about him much,” said Jim in a low voice. “He’s a kind of a gambler and that sort of thing. Never had a job for twenty years. Aunt Meggie has the money.”

“Are they happy?”

“Kind of,” admitted Jim. “He goes off for days or weeks at a time, following the races and all that sort of thing. But he always turns up. He’s kind of the black sheep of the family.”

“Funny the way women marry men like that,” I mused.

“Aunt Meggie was the good-looking one of the family,” said Jim. “And had plenty of money. She married him because he was romantic looking.”

“Mmmmm,” said I.

So Jim crept out of the dark room and along the hall to keep vigil out the back window. The house was still, save the long tick-tock of a downstairs grandfather clock. The house was filled with the faintly sweet odor of old furniture, old pictures, old-fashioned things.

“Psst,” I heard him. “Psst, psst!”

Tip-toe, I hurried back to the room Jim was in.

Jim was staring out the window, and past his shoulder I looked down into the garden shadowed with bare bushes and hedges. Moving swiftly toward the back of the house was a shadowy figure, hurrying bent forward.

“Only one,” whispered Jim. “Oh, my gosh!”

Straining our ears to hear past the thumping of our hearts, we listened for the prying of the window. We heard a door close.

“Door!” gasped Jim.

But instantly the night was filled, the silent, echoing house was thunderously filled by the stupendous racket we had contrived. Jim and I clutched each other. The ash cans crashed, the motor horn set loose its awful raucous bellow, endless, endless; we heard the parrot cage crash and the fire crackers start a wild staccato firing, but from the midst of the hubbub rose a thin, shrill blade of sound, the steady screaming of a human voice.

“Boy,” gasped Jim, “that doesn’t sound very good.”

“It sounds like a woman to me,” I cried.

As we ran downstairs the sounds all died but the brazen bray of the horn and a few expiring fire crackers, plus the faint, silly tingle of the front door bell.

“Everything worked anyway,” I said breathlessly, feeling for the hall light switches which turned on the pantry and the kitchen.

“Catch him, unless he’s armed,” said Jim as we crept cautiously into the pantry. Or unless he’s gone.”

Jim kicked the swing door open, into the kitchen.

“Aunt Meggie,” he bellowed.

And there, breathing heavily, at full length on the floor, was an elderly lady, amidst the ash cans, parrot cages and smouldering red bits of fire crackers.

Jim leaped in and lifted her head to his knee.

“Aunt Meggie,” he cried, shaking her.

“What the dickens,” said Aunt Meggie, thickly, “was all that!”

“What are you doing here?” demanded Jim. The old lady drew herself into a sitting posture and surveyed the wrecked kitchen.

“Is Eddie here yet?” demanded the old lady sharply.

“No, I thought he was away with you,” said Jim blankly.

“Drat you,” said Aunt Meggie. “Drat me. Drat Eddie. Drat all burglars. And drat you, too, whoever you are.”

“This is Mr. Clark, auntie,” said Jim. “The newspaper writer, you know?”

“Drat him, anyway,” said the old lady, struggling. “Help me up, and what the devil is all this?”

“We set a burglar alarm,” explained Jim anxiously.

“So did I,” sneered Aunt Meggie. She was a peculiar old lady.

“You said you were going to be out of town for several days,” persisted Jim.

“Listen, James,” said Aunt Meggie, leaning on the table, “Eddie has been away three weeks on one of his periodicals. I got a post card yesterday saying he was coming home to-night. He always comes home the same way. Through that kitchen window. It wasn’t burglars made that jemmie mark a month ago. It was him, my husband. So I planned to have you stay here and I warned you against burglars so you would give him a warm reception.”

“My dear aunt,” said Jim, shocked.

“I hoped you would bring a gun,” said Aunt Meggie. “Or at least I figured you would rough-house him a little anyway before you discovered who it was. I’m tired of this business of his coming home like a burglar.”

“But where did you come from?” asked Jim.

“I’ve been hiding in the garden since nine o’clock,” said the old lady, rubbing her chilled muscles. “And I got tired waiting. So I came in.”

She sniffed, tearfully.

“But Eddie might have killed me for a burglar,” protested Jimmie, still shocked. “He’s a hard customer to tangle with.”

“You men,” said Aunt Meggie, and there were undeniably tears in her eyes now, “are all alike. You have no sympathy with a woman.”

“We’ll clean this up,” said Jim, reaching for an ash can.

“No,” she said, “get out. Go on home. You can’t do anything right.”

“I’m sorry, Aunt Meggie.”

“Go on get out; I’ll rid this all up.”

And when we drove down the dark suburban street we didn’t meet anybody headed home.

Editor’s Notes: A “jemmie” is another name for a crowbar.

Shooting someone at a distance with buck shot might not kill them, but it seems awfully dangerous to me.

May 24th is Victoria Day in Canada, and used to be the only day it was legal to set off fireworks.

Wood Laths are narrow strips of wood which were originally used as nailing strips for walls or ceilings in plaster lath construction, which was the common usage before drywall. Now, lath is utilized as the main component in the manufacturing of snow/beach erosion fencing.

Lady firecrackers are also called Ladyfingers fireworks, small tubes strung together, and sometimes referred to as noise makers.

Ridding something up means to clean or tidy it.