The Hammerpond Burglary by H. G. Wells
The Story of an Artist
It is a moot point whether burglary is to be considered
as a sport, a trade, or an art. For a trade the technique
is scarcely rigid enough, and its claims to be considered
an art are vitiated by the mercenary element that qualifies
triumphs. On the whole it seems to be most justly
ranked as sport, a sport for which no rules are at present
formulated, and of which the prizes are distributed in an
extremely informal manner. It was this informality of
burglary that led to the regrettable extinction of two promising
beginners at Hammerpond Park.
The stakes offered in this affair consisted chiefly of diamonds
and other personal bric-à-brac belonging to the newly
married Lady Aveling. Lady Aveling, as the reader will
remember, was the only daughter of Mrs. Montague Pangs,
the well-known hostess. Her marriage to Lord Aveling
was extensively advertised in the papers, the quantity and
quality of her wedding presents, and the fact that the honeymoon
was to be spent at Hammerpond. The announcement
of these valuable prizes created a considerable sensation
in the small circle in which Mr. Teddy Watkins was the
undisputed leader, and it was decided that, accompanied
by a duly qualified assistant, he should visit the village of
Hammerpond in his professional capacity.
Being a man of naturally retiring and modest disposition,
Mr. Watkins determined to make his visit incog, and, after
due consideration of the conditions of his enterprise, he
selected the rôle of a landscape artist, and the unassuming
surname of Smith. He preceded his assistant, who, it was
decided, should join him only on the last afternoon of his
stay at Hammerpond. Now the village of Hammerpond
is perhaps one of the prettiest little corners in Sussex;
many thatched houses still survive, the flint-built church,
with its tall spire nestling under the down, is one of the finest
and least restored in the county, and the beech-woods and
bracken jungles through which the road runs to the great
house are singularly rich in what the vulgar artist and photographer
call "bits." So that Mr. Watkins, on his arrival
with two virgin canvases, a brand-new easel, a paint-boy,
portmanteau, an ingenious little ladder made in sections;
(after the pattern of that lamented master, Charles Peace),
crowbar, and wire coils, found himself welcomed with effusion
and some curiosity by half a dozen other brethren of
the brush. It rendered the disguise he had chosen unexpectedly
plausible, but it inflicted upon him a considerable
amount of æsthetic conversation for which he was very
"Have you exhibited very much?" said young Porson
in the bar-parlor of the "Coach and Horses," where Mr.
Watkins was skilfully accumulating local information on
the night of his arrival.
"Very little," said Mr. Watkins; "just a snack here and
"In course. And at the Crystal Palace."
"Did they hang you well?" said Porson.
"Don't rot," said Mr. Watkins; "I don't like it."
"I mean did they put you in a good place?"
"Whatyer mean?" said Mr. Watkins suspiciously. "One
'ud think you were trying to make out I'd been put
Porson was a gentlemanly young man even for an artist,
and he did not know what being "put away" meant, but
he thought it best to explain that he intended nothing of
the sort. As the question of hanging seemed a sore point
with Mr. Watkins, he tried to divert the conversation a little.
"Did you do figure work at all?"
"No, never had a head for figures," said Mr. Watkins.
"My miss—Mrs. Smith, I mean, does all that."
"She paints too!" said Porson. "That's rather jolly."
"Very," said Mr. Watkins, though he really did not think
so, and, feeling the conversation was drifting a little beyond
his grasp, added: "I came down here to paint Hammerpond
House by moonlight."
"Really!" said Porson. "That's rather a novel idea."
"Yes," said Mr. Watkins, "I thought it rather a good
notion when it occurred to me. I expect to begin to-morrow
"What! You don't mean to paint in the open, by night?"
"I do, though."
"But how will you see your canvas?"
"Have a bloomin' cop's——" began Mr. Watkins, rising
too quickly to the question, and then realizing this,
bawled to Miss Durgan for another glass of beer. "I'm
goin' to have a thing called a dark lantern," he said to
"But it's about new moon now," objected Porson.
"There won't be any moon."
"There'll be the house," said Watkins, "at any rate.
I'm goin', you see, to paint the house first and the moon
"Oh!" said Porson, too staggered to continue the conversation.
Toward sunset next day Mr. Watkins, virgin canvas,
easel, and a very considerable case of other appliances in
hand, strolled up the pleasant pathway through the beech-woods
to Hammerpond Park, and pitched his apparatus
in a strategic position commanding the house. Here he
was observed by Mr. Raphael Sant, who was returning
across the park from a study of the chalk-pits. His curiosity
having been fired by Porson's account of the new arrival,
he turned aside with the idea of discussing nocturnal art.
Mr. Watkins was mixing color with an air of great
industry. Sant, approaching more nearly, was surprised
to see the color in question was as harsh and brilliant an
emerald green as it is possible to imagine. Having cultivated
an extreme sensibility to color from his earliest years, he drew
the air in sharply between his teeth at the very first glimpse of
this brew. Mr. Watkins turned round. He looked annoyed.
"What on earth are you going to do with that beastly
green?" said Sant.
Mr. Watkins realized that his zeal to appear busy in
the eyes of the butler had evidently betrayed him into some
technical error. He looked at Sant and hesitated.
"Pardon my rudeness," said Sant; "but, really, that
green is altogether too amazing. It came as a shock. What
do you mean to do with it?"
Mr. Watkins was collecting his resources. Nothing could
save the situation but decision. "If you come here interrupting
my work," he said, "I'm a-goin' to paint your face
Sant retired, for he was a humorist and a peaceful man.
Going down the hill he met Porson and Wainwright. "Either
that man is a genius or he is a dangerous lunatic," said he.
"Just go up and look at his green." And he continued his
way, his countenance brightened by a pleasant anticipation
of a cheerful affray round an easel in the gloaming, and
the shedding of much green paint.
But to Porson and Wainwright Mr. Watkins was less
aggressive, and explained that the green was intended to
be the first coating of his picture. It was, he admitted,
in response to a remark, an absolutely new method, invented
Twilight deepened, first one then another star appeared.
The rooks amid the tall trees to the left of the house had
long since lapsed into slumberous silence, the house itself
lost all the details of its architecture and became a dark
gray outline, and then the windows of the salon shone out
brilliantly, the conservatory was lighted up, and here and
there a bedroom window burnt yellow. Had any one
approached the easel in the park it would have been found
deserted. One brief uncivil word in brilliant green sullied
the purity of its canvas. Mr. Watkins was busy in the
shrubbery with his assistant, who had discreetly joined him
from the carriage-drive.
Mr. Watkins was inclined to be self-congratulatory upon
the ingenious device by which he had carried all his apparatus
boldly, and in the sight of all men, right up to the scene
of operations. "That's the dressing-room," he said to
his assistant, "and, as soon as the maid takes the candle
away and goes down to supper, we'll call in. My! how
nice the house do look, to be sure, against the starlight,
and with all its windows and lights! Swop me, Jim, I almost
wish I was a painter-chap. Have you fixed that there wire
across the path from the laundry?"
He cautiously approached the house until he stood below
the dressing-room window, and began to put together
his folding ladder. He was too experienced a practitioner
to feel any unusual excitement. Jim was reconnoitring
the smoking-room. Suddenly, close beside Mr.
Watkins in the bushes, there was a violent crash and a stifled
curse. Some one had tumbled over the wire which his
assistant had just arranged. He heard feet running on
the gravel pathway beyond. Mr. Watkins, like all true
artists, was a singularly shy man, and he incontinently dropped
his folding ladder and began running circumspectly through
the shrubbery. He was indistinctly aware of two people
hot upon his heels, and he fancied that he distinguished
the outline of his assistant in front of him. In another
moment he had vaulted the low stone wall bounding the
shrubbery, and was in the open park. Two thuds on the
turf followed his own leap.
It was a close chase in the darkness through the trees.
Mr. Watkins was a loosely built man and in good training,
and he gained hand over hand upon the hoarsely panting
figure in front. Neither spoke, but, as Mr. Watkins
pulled up alongside, a qualm of awful doubt came over him.
The other man turned his head at the same moment and
gave an exclamation of surprise. "It's not Jim," thought
Mr. Watkins, and simultaneously the stranger flung himself,
as it were, at Watkins's knees, and they were forthwith
grappling on the ground together. "Lend a hand,
Bill," cried the stranger, as the third man came up. And
Bill did—two hands, in fact, and some accentuated feet.
The fourth man, presumably Jim, had apparently turned
aside and made off in a different direction. At any rate,
he did not join the trio.
Mr. Watkins's memory of the incidents of the next two
minutes is extremely vague. He has a dim recollection
of having his thumb in the corner of the mouth of the first
man, and feeling anxious about its safety, and for some
seconds at least he held the head of the gentleman answering
to the name of Bill to the ground by the hair. He was
also kicked in a great number of different places, and apparently
by a vast multitude of people. Then the gentleman
who was not Bill got his knee below Mr. Watkins's diaphragm
and tried to curl him up upon it.
When his sensations became less entangled he was sitting
upon the turf, and eight or ten men—the night was
dark, and he was rather too confused to count—standing
around him, apparently waiting for him to recover.
He mournfully assumed that he was captured, and would
probably have made some philosophical reflections on the
fickleness of fortune, had not his internal sensations disinclined
him to speech.
He noticed very quickly that his wrists were not handcuffed,
and then a flask of brandy was put in his hands.
This touched him a little—it was such unexpected kindness.
"He's a-comin' round," said a voice which he fancied
he recognized as belonging to the Hammerpond second
"We've got 'em, sir, both of 'em," said the Hammerpond
butler, the man who had handed him the flask. "Thanks
No one answered his remark. Yet he failed to see how
it applied to him.
"He's fair dazed," said a strange voice; "the villain's
Mr. Teddy Watkins decided to remain fair dazed until
he had a better grasp of the situation. He perceived that
two of the black figures round him stood side by side with
a dejected air, and there was something in the carriage of
their shoulders that suggested to his experienced eye hands
that were bound together. In a flash he rose to his position.
He emptied the little flask and staggered—obsequious
hands assisting him—to his feet. There was a
"Shake hands, sir, shake hands," said one of the
figures near him. "Permit me to introduce myself. I
am very greatly indebted to you. It was the jewels of
my wife, Lady Aveling, which attracted these scoundrels
to the house."
"Very glad to make your lordship's acquaintance," said
"I presume you saw the rascals making for the shrubbery,
and dropped down on them?"
"That's exactly how it happened," said Mr. Watkins.
"You should have waited till they got in at the window,"
said Lord Aveling; "they would get it hotter if they had
actually committed the burglary. And it was lucky for
you two of the policemen were out by the gates, and followed
up the three of you. I doubt if you could have secured
the two of them—though it was confoundedly plucky of
you, all the same."
"Yes, I ought to have thought of all that," said Mr. Watkins;
"but one can't think of everything."
"Certainly not," said Lord Aveling. "I am afraid they
have mauled you a little," he added. The party was now
moving toward the house. "You walk rather lame. May
I offer you my arm?"
And instead of entering Hammerpond House by the dressing-room
window, Mr. Watkins entered it—slightly intoxicated,
and inclined now to cheerfulness again—on the arm
of a real live peer, and by the front door. "This," thought
Mr. Watkins, "is burgling in style!" The "scoundrels,"
seen by the gaslight, proved to be mere local amateurs unknown
to Mr. Watkins, and they were taken down into
the pantry and there watched over by the three policemen,
two gamekeepers with loaded guns, the butler, an ostler,
and a carman, until the dawn allowed of their removal to
Hazelhurst police-station. Mr. Watkins was made much
of in the salon. They devoted a sofa to him, and would
not hear of a return to the village that night. Lady Aveling
was sure he was brilliantly original, and said her idea of
Turner was just such another rough, half-inebriated, deep-eyed,
brave, and clever man. Some one brought up a remarkable
little folding-ladder that had been picked up in the
shrubbery, and showed him how it was put together. They
also described how wires had been found in the shrubbery,
evidently placed there to trip up unwary pursuers. It was
lucky he had escaped these snares. And they showed him
Mr. Watkins had the sense not to talk too much, and in
any conversational difficulty fell back on his internal pains.
At last he was seized with stiffness in the back and yawning.
Everyone suddenly awoke to the fact that it was a shame
to keep him talking after his affray, so he retired early to his
room, the little red room next to Lord Aveling's suite.
The dawn found a deserted easel bearing a canvas with
a green inscription, in the Hammerpond Park, and it found
Hammerpond House in commotion. But if the dawn found
Mr. Teddy Watkins and the Aveling diamonds, it did not
communicate the information to the police.