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The Cheated Juliet
by [?]



Extracted from the Memoirs of a Retired Burglar.

The house in question was what Peter the Scholar (who corrects my proof-sheets) calls one of the rusinurby sort–the front facing a street and the back looking over a turfed garden with a lime tree or two, a laburnum, and a lawn-tennis court marked out, its white lines plain to see in the starlight. At the end of the garden a door, painted dark green, led into a narrow lane between high walls, where, if two persons met, one had to turn sideways to let the other pass. The entrance to this lane was cut in two by a wooden post about the height of your hip, and just beyond this, in the high road, George was waiting for us with the dog-cart.

We had picked the usual time–the dinner-hour. It had just turned dark, and the church-clock, two streets away, was chiming the quarter after eight, when Peter and I let ourselves in by the green door I spoke of and felt along the wall for the gardener’s ladder that we knew was hanging there. A simpler job there never was. The bedroom window we had marked on the first-floor stood right open to the night air; and inside there was the light of a candle or two flickering, just as a careless maid will leave them after her mistress has gone down to dinner. To be sure there was a chance of her coming back to put them out; but we could hear her voice going in the servants’ hall as we lifted the ladder and rested it against the sill.

“She’s good for half a hour yet,” Peter whispered, holding the ladder while I began to climb; “but if I hear her voice stop, I’ll give the signal to be cautious.”

I went up softly, pushed my head gently above the level of the sill, and looked in.

It was a roomy place with a great half-tester bed, hung with curtains, standing out from the wall on my right. The curtains were of chintz, a dark background with flaming red poppies sprawling over it; and the further curtain hid the dressing-table, and the candles upon it and the jewel-case that I confidently hoped to stand upon it also. A bright Brussels carpet covered the floor, and the wall-paper, I remember–though for the life of me I can’t tell why–was a pale grey ground, worked up to imitate watered silk, with sprigs of gilt honeysuckle upon it.

I looked round and listened for half a minute. The house was still as death up here–not a sound in the room or in the passages beyond. With a nod to Peter to hold the ladder firm I lifted one leg over the sill, then the other, dropped my feet carefully upon the thick carpet and went quickly round the bed to the dressing-table.

But at the corner, and as soon as ever I saw round the chintz curtain, my knees gave way, and I put out a hand towards the bed-post.

Before the dressing-table, and in front of the big glass, in which she could see my white face, was an old lady seated.

She wore a blaze of jewels and a low gown out of which rose the scraggiest neck and shoulders I have ever looked on. Her hair was thick with black dye and fastened with a diamond star. The powder between the two candles showed on her cheek-bones like flour on a miller’s coat. Chin on hand, she was gazing steadily into the mirror before her, and even in my fright I had time to note that a glass of sherry and a plate of rice and curry stood at her elbow, among the rouge-pots and powder-puffs.

While I stood stock still and pretty well scared out of my wits, she rose, still staring at my image in the glass, folded her hands modestly over her bosom, and spoke in a deep tragical voice–