WHO WAS THE THIEF?

BY FRANCES HENSHAW BADEN.

Fred Loring's toilet was at length completed, and turning from the glass, he said:

"Well, I'm off now, Nellie. Good-by."

"At last! Excuse me, Fred, but just now quietness is more desirable than your society. It is impossible to get baby to sleep while you are flying about the room. She sees you, and wants to get to you," answered Nellie.

"All right. I'll get out of the way. By-by, baby."

And kissing the little one, Fred hurried out.

Ten or fifteen minutes passed. Baby was quiet at last, almost asleep, when the door opened, and in rushed Fred again. And up started baby, with a shout of welcome. An impatient look came into Nellie's eyes, and the tone to her words:

"Oh, Fred, I had almost gotten her to sleep. And now see! And I am so tired. What has brought you back so soon?

"Well, well, I'm sorry. But I left my revolver behind. I guess she'll soon be quiet again," Fred said, unlocking the drawer and taking out his revolver.

"Fred, I declare I never did see such a man. You cannot leave the house without being armed. Do you forget there is a law against carrying concealed weapons?"

"I remember to be on my guard, and prepared to defend myself if it be necessary. Every day we read accounts of persons being robbed, knocked down, and such like. I tell you, Nellie, sensible persons go armed always."

"Perhaps, Fred. But I think the nervous and suspicious persons are more likely to. Indeed, I never like to see you carrying off your revolver. I'm in constant fear of something dreadful happening."

"But never in dread of any one murdering and robbing me. Of course not!" Fred snapped forth.

"Oh, Fred! You are so quick and suspicious of every one, that my great fear is you'll hurt the wrong person some time!" said Nellie, with a really anxious look on her pretty face.

"Indeed I am not aware of ever having gotten hold of the wrong person. I think you are calling on your imagination for facts, Mrs. Loring!" Fred said angrily.

"Now, Fred, to defend myself I shall have to point to facts. Do you forget catching hold of poor old Uncle Tom, and choking him so he could not explain he was carrying the clothes to his wife to wash, instead of being a thief, as you supposed? And—"

"And will I ever forget your handing me over to a policeman, for having attempted to pick your pocket in the streetcar?" exclaimed a bright, merry-looking girl, who entered the room during Nellie's attempt to defend herself from Fred's accusation.

"Oh, Fan, don't, for mercy's sake, I cry quarter. Two at a time is more than I can stand. And besides, I had hoped that you would not have exposed that miserable mistake!" Fred said, with a reproachful look.

"I intended to keep the secret. But really, Fred, I've been almost dying to have a good laugh with Nellie over it. And to-night the opportunity was too tempting to resist."

"Mercy, Fan! If you tell Nellie, I'll never hear the last of it."

"Oh, I must. It is too late to recede. Nellie will imagine it worse, if possible, than it really is. But I'll not prolong your agony. I'll be as brief as possible," said Fannie.

And amidst the cries of "Don't! don't!" and "Yes, do, do!" Fannie began.

"The day I reached here, just as I came out of the depot, I spied my beloved and respected cousin Fred entering the street car. I hurried up, and got in immediately after him. Even if my veil had been raised I could hardly have expected him to know me, as I have changed much in five years. As it was, my face was completely hidden. The car was much crowded, many standing—I next behind Fred. I was well laden with lots of little packages, so the idea struck me to drop a few into Fred's overcoat pockets. Without discovery I put what I washed into one, and was about slipping my porte-monnaie into the other, when my hand was caught with such a grip that I screamed right out. At the same time Fred exclaimed, 'Here is a pickpocket!' And of course there was a policeman there, as none was needed. I was too frightened to speak for an instant. At length I found voice enough to say to the officer, who was making his way toward me, 'The gentleman will find he is mistaken in a moment.'

"After the first fright, I was really amused, notwithstanding the mortifying situation. By that time Fred had drawn forth my porte-monnaie. Nodding to the policeman, he said:

"'An old dodge. Putting into my pocket what she has taken from some one else. Has any one here lost this?' he asked, holding up my porte-monnaie.

"No one claimed it. I managed to get off my veil then, that I had been tugging at. I had gotten a lady in the depot to tie it tightly behind, as it was blowing a perfect gale when I arrived. All eyes were on me then, of course. And the officer, not recognizing an old offender, and not a very guilty-looking young one, hesitated. I looked eagerly at Fred, to see if he would not recognize me, but he did not. There was a very embarrassing pause then, that had to be ended; so I said, not trying to restrain my smiles:

"'If you will open that porte-monnaie, Mr. Loring, you will see my card. I thought my acquaintance would justify my loading you with some of my bundles. If you will notice, your other pocket is full.'

"Every one waited eagerly the result. Quickly Fred did my bidding. You may imagine his look, when he exclaimed:

"'Fannie Loring! Bless my soul, coz, can you ever forgive me? But how could I know you? I've not seen you since you were a child.'

"There was a shout of laughter heard then, in which Fred and I joined. But Fred's was not a very hearty laugh; and I think he was glad to get out of that car, for he made me walk at least three times as far as ever you and I walk when we leave the car."

Nellie was almost convulsed with laughter, which baby seemed to enjoy very much. And Fred exclaimed:

"It was not half as bad as you have made it out, Fan. And just for a punishment for your laughing so, Nellie, I hope baby will not go to sleep for hours. I'm off now."

Merry rippling laughter followed him. And Fred ran down the stairs, and out of the house, almost hoping somebody might attempt to rob, or murder him even, so that his revolver might prove of great avail, and thus silence Nellie, who was ever talking about what she called his suspicious nature, when it was only necessary caution, he thought.

Soon baby was sleeping soundly, notwithstanding Fred's wish to the contrary. And Nellie, putting her into the crib, went to the bureau to arrange her hair.

"Why, Fred has gone without his watch!" she exclaimed. "I don't think he ever did that in his life before. I wonder he has not been back again before this!"

The hours passed swiftly by. Fannie, with her merry heart, fully compensating Nellie for Fred's absence. Eleven o'clock came before they imagined it near so late. And just then they heard the hall door close, and a moment after Fred entered the room, and in an excited voice exclaimed:

"Now, ladies, perhaps you will admit the good of carrying a revolver, when I tell you that to-night I have been robbed."

"Robbed!" exclaimed Nellie and Fannie simultaneously.

"Yes, robbed. But I did not stay so, many minutes, thanks to my revolver! Listen, and I'll tell you all about it. On my way home I turned Gray's corner into Fourteenth street. You know how dark and dismal it is about there—no lights. Well, as I turned, a fellow came rushing along, knocked against and nearly sent me down. And saying quickly, 'Excuse me, sir,' hurried on. I suspected what it was—a dodge they have when relieving a man of his watch or pocket-book. I hastened to feel for my watch. It was gone."

"Why, Fred, your watch—"

"Stop! Don't interrupt me. Wait until I've done."

The girls exchanged looks—mirthful first, anxious after.

"In a second I was after him. Presenting my revolver, I bade him hand me the watch. He resisted. I covered him with my pistol, and spoke again in a tone which convinced him I was in a dangerous mood.

"'Hand me that watch.'

"Out it came; and without taking a second look at me, he left. And thanks to my little beauty here," tapping his revolver, "I am home again, no worse off than when I started. Now, what say you?"

"Oh, Fred! Oh, my dear, what have you done? Oh, you have robbed that man of his watch! Yours is on the bureau. You left it home," Nellie cried, in a voice of real agitation.

"What? No! Surely not!" exclaimed Fred, growing very red, and starting toward the bureau.

Fannie handed to Fred his own watch, at the same time fairly shaking with the laughter she had tried so hard to suppress.

"Oh, Fred, forgive me. I'm only human; I must laugh or die."

Peal after peal came from the merry girl, who could not restrain herself, although Nellie looked so reproachfully, and Fred really angrily at her; the former saying:

"Indeed, Fannie, I'm too much frightened to laugh."

Fred was too mortified to say another word for some time. At length, turning to Fannie, who had grown a little quiet, he snappishly said:

"Pray, don't stop! I'm very happy to afford you so much amusement."

Of course Fannie began anew; and Nellie trying to stop her by looks and motions, asked:

"What shall you do, Fred?"

"It is not a matter of such vital importance that you need look so worried, Nellie. I'll go to the police head-quarters, explain the matter, and leave the watch. That will be the end of it," said Fred, trying to assume a light, careless tone.

Nellie hoped it might be the end of it; but still fearful of something unpleasant, asked:

"Is it too late to-night to go, Fred?"

"Certainly it is," Fred answered.

Seeing Nellie's face still retain its anxious and frightened expression, Fred broke out laughing himself, saying:

"You look as much frightened, Nell, as I imagine that man looked when I went for his watch."

Next morning Fred was longer than usual getting off from home, and all Nellie's urging haste seemed to have the tendency to retard instead of accelerating his motions. But at last, to her great relief, he was off. After getting a few rods from home, he drew forth the stolen watch, and found of course it had run down. Having no key to fit it, he approached a jewelry store, intending to have it wound up. He had failed to notice the very particular attention with which a policeman was regarding him. Just as he was about to enter the store, he was tapped on the shoulder. Turning, he beheld the officer, a total stranger to Fred, so he knew it was not a bit of use to explain the case to him. So to attract as little notice as possible, he walked quietly along with his not very agreeable companion until they reached the police head-quarters.

There he began his explanation. All were strange faces around him, on which he saw unmistakable signs of merriment when he said it was "a mistake." And to his immense surprise, after he had handed over the dreadful watch, and was turning to leave, he was made to understand he was a prisoner—the accusation, "Robbery and assault, with intent to kill!"

He sank on the bench for a moment, so overwhelmed with surprise and mortification that he could with difficulty collect his senses enough to know what to do. Just then a gentleman entered, and said to an officer near:

"I was surprised to hear you had caught the rascal so speedily. Where is the scoundrel? What does he say?"

"That it was all a mistake!" answered the officer, with a very significant smile. "There he is," pointing to Fred.

"Of course—the villain! And if I had been so unfortunate as not to have had a watch to hand over, he would have murdered and robbed me of what I might have of any value. The murderous rascal!—Ah! how are you, Loring? You here!" advancing and shaking Fred's hand cordially, and continuing, "Show me that cut-throat! Which is he?"

The expression on Fred's countenance may possibly be imagined, but I cannot describe it. And when, in answer to the call, "Prisoner, stand up," he arose, his friend's—the plaintiff's—surprise was stupendous for a moment; and then breaking into a hearty chuckle, he exclaimed:

"Of course now I know it was a mistake."

The dignity of the place was forgotten by all then, and never was such a shout of laughter heard before within those walls. But Fred could not join in it, to save him. He had too lately stood in the place of an individual bearing quite too many opprobrious epithets, to feel very light-hearted.

He returned home to relieve Nellie's mind, telling her it was all settled—she need have now no more anxiety about it. But he never told her how it was settled. One thing, however, she noticed—he was not so fond of his revolver's companionship as he used to be. And once she heard him say:

"If the law was more strenuous with regard to the carrying of concealed weapons, there would be fewer criminal indictments."