The House of the Peacock” by Gilbert Keith Chesterton
… He had a curious innocence which often appeared as impudence. Like other human beings, he was quite capable of doing wrong knowingly and being ashamed of it. But so long as he meant no wrong, it never even occurred to him that there could be anything to be ashamed of. For him burglary meant stealing; and he might have strolled, so to speak, down the chimney into a king’s bedchamber, so long as he had no intent to steal. The invitation of the leaning ladder and the open window was something almost too obvious even to be called an adventure. He began to mount the ladder as if he were going up the front steps of an hotel. But when he came up to the upper rungs he seemed to stop a moment, frowned at something; and, accelerating his ascent, slipped quickly over the window-sill into the room.
The twilight of the room seemed like darkness after the golden glare of the evening sunlight, and it was a second or two before the glimmer of light reflected from a round mirror opposite enabled him to make out the main features of the interior. The room itself seemed dusty and even defaced; the dark blue-green hangings, of a peacock pattern, as if carrying out the same scheme as the living decoration of the garden, were themselves, nevertheless, a background of dead colours; and, peering into the dusty mirror, he saw it was cracked. Nevertheless, the neglected room was evidently partly redecorated for a new festivity, for a long table was elaborately laid out for a dinner-party. By every plate, was a group of quaint and varied glasses for the wines of every course; and the blue vases on the table and the mantelpiece were filled with the same red and white blooms from the garden which he had seen on the window-sill. Nevertheless, there were odd things about the dinner-table, and his first thought was that it had already been the scene of some struggle or stampede, in which the salt-cellar had been knocked over and, for all he knew, the looking-glass broken. Then he looked at the knives on the table, and a light was beginning to dawn on his eyes, when the door opened and a sturdy, grey-haired man came rapidly into the room.
And at that he came back to common sense like a man flung from a flying ship into the cold shock of the sea. He remembered suddenly where he was and how he had got there. It was characteristic of him that, though he saw a practical point belatedly – and, perhaps, too late – when he did see it he saw it lucidly in all its logical ramifications. Nobody would believe in any legitimate reason for entering a strange house by the window instead of knocking at the door. Also, as it happened, he had no legitimate reason – or none that he could explain without a lecture on poetry and philosophy. He even realized the ugly detail that he was at that very moment fidgeting with the knives on the table, and that a large number of them were silver. After an instant of hesitation, he put down the knife and politely removed his hat.
“Well,” he said at last, with inconsequent irony, “I shouldn’t shoot if I were you; but I suppose you’ll send for the police.”
The new-comer, who was apparently the householder, was also fixed for the moment in a somewhat baffling attitude. When first he opened the door he had given a convulsive start, had opened his mouth as if to shout, and shut it again grimly, as if he was not even going to speak. He was a man with a strong, shrewd face, spoilt by painfully prominent eyes which gave him a look of perpetual protest. But by some accident it was not at these accusing eyes that the sleepy blue eyes of the poetical burglar were directed. The trick by which his rambling eye was so often riveted by some trivial object led him to look no higher at the moment than the stud in the old gentleman’s shirt-front, which was an unusually large and luminous opal. Having uttered his highly perverse and even suicidal remark, the poet smiled as if in relief, and waited for the other to speak.
“Are you a burglar?” asked the owner of the house at last.
“To make a clean breast of it, I’m not,” answered Gale. “But if you ask me what else I am, I really don’t know.”
The other man came rapidly round the table towards him, and made a motion as if offering his hand, or even both his hands.
“Of course you’re a burglar,” he said; “but it doesn’t matter. Won’t you stay to dinner?”
Then, after a sort of agitated pause, he repeated:
‘come, you really must stay to dinner; there’s place laid for you.”