THE BURGLARY AT THE VICARAGE
The facts of the burglary at the vicarage came to us chiefly through
the medium of the vicar and his wife. It occurred in the small hours of
Whit Monday, the day devoted in Iping to the Club festivities. Mrs.
Bunting, it seems, woke up suddenly in the stillness that comes before
the dawn, with the strong impression that the door of their bedroom had
opened and closed. She did not arouse her husband at first, but sat up
in bed listening. She then distinctly heard the pad, pad, pad of bare
feet coming out of the adjoining dressing-room and walking along the
passage towards the staircase. As soon as she felt assured of this, she
aroused the Rev. Mr. Bunting as quietly as possible. He did not strike
a light, but putting on his spectacles, her dressing-gown and his bath
slippers, he went out on the landing to listen. He heard quite
distinctly a fumbling going on at his study desk down-stairs, and then
a violent sneeze.
At that he returned to his bedroom, armed himself with the most obvious
weapon, the poker, and descended the staircase as noiselessly as
possible. Mrs. Bunting came out on the landing.
The hour was about four, and the ultimate darkness of the night was
past. There was a faint shimmer of light in the hall, but the study
doorway yawned impenetrably black. Everything was still except the
faint creaking of the stairs under Mr. Bunting’s tread, and the slight
movements in the study. Then something snapped, the drawer was opened,
and there was a rustle of papers. Then came an imprecation, and a match
was struck and the study was flooded with yellow light. Mr. Bunting was
now in the hall, and through the crack of the door he could see the
desk and the open drawer and a candle burning on the desk. But the
robber he could not see. He stood there in the hall undecided what to
do, and Mrs. Bunting, her face white and intent, crept slowly
downstairs after him. One thing kept Mr. Bunting’s courage; the
persuasion that this burglar was a resident in the village.
They heard the chink of money, and realised that the robber had found
the housekeeping reserve of gold—two pounds ten in half sovereigns
altogether. At that sound Mr. Bunting was nerved to abrupt action.
Gripping the poker firmly, he rushed into the room, closely followed by
Mrs. Bunting. “Surrender!” cried Mr. Bunting, fiercely, and then
stooped amazed. Apparently the room was perfectly empty.
Yet their conviction that they had, that very moment, heard somebody
moving in the room had amounted to a certainty. For half a minute,
perhaps, they stood gaping, then Mrs. Bunting went across the room and
looked behind the screen, while Mr. Bunting, by a kindred impulse,
peered under the desk. Then Mrs. Bunting turned back the
window-curtains, and Mr. Bunting looked up the chimney and probed it
with the poker. Then Mrs. Bunting scrutinised the waste-paper basket
and Mr. Bunting opened the lid of the coal-scuttle. Then they came to a
stop and stood with eyes interrogating each other.
“I could have sworn—” said Mr. Bunting.
“The candle!” said Mr. Bunting. “Who lit the candle?”
“The drawer!” said Mrs. Bunting. “And the money’s gone!”
She went hastily to the doorway.
“Of all the strange occurrences—”
There was a violent sneeze in the passage. They rushed out, and as they
did so the kitchen door slammed. “Bring the candle,” said Mr. Bunting,
and led the way. They both heard a sound of bolts being hastily shot
As he opened the kitchen door he saw through the scullery that the back
door was just opening, and the faint light of early dawn displayed the
dark masses of the garden beyond. He is certain that nothing went out
of the door. It opened, stood open for a moment, and then closed with a
slam. As it did so, the candle Mrs. Bunting was carrying from the study
flickered and flared. It was a minute or more before they entered the
The place was empty. They refastened the back door, examined the
kitchen, pantry, and scullery thoroughly, and at last went down into
the cellar. There was not a soul to be found in the house, search as
Daylight found the vicar and his wife, a quaintly-costumed little
couple, still marvelling about on their own ground floor by the
unnecessary light of a guttering candle.
Check back tomorrow for chapter 6: THE FURNITURE THAT WENT MAD