Friday, November 11, 2011

The Box of Robbers

This story was written by L. Frank Baum, who we know best as the other of all 14 of the “OZ” books beginning with “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.” This is one of the many original stories that appeared in his book of American Fairy Tales, proving that he is a master of fantasy in this world as well as in Oz.

Martha was alone. This, in and of itself, was fairly unusual, as Martha was one of those lucky children who had many people to look after her. Her mother and father, her Aunt Mildred, her father’s friend Glenn and her big sister. Today, however, her mother was at work, her father was shopping, Aunt Mildred wasn’t well and Glenn was out of town on business, which just left Martha’s big sister. Unfortunately, Martha’s big sister was at that age when she didn’t want to stay in the house looking after her little sister.

“Will you be all right if I leave you alone for a little while?” she asked Martha.

“I’ll be fine,” said Martha, and a moment later, Martha’s big sister was gone and Martha was alone in the house. For a while, she kept herself occupied, but soon she fell to boredom. Then she remembered an old doll’s house up in the attic which she could bring downstairs, dust off and put back into service. Once she was up in the attic, however, she found something else: A large wooden trunk that had previously belonged to her great uncle, Pablo. Pablo had brought it with him when he came to America from Italy and had made it known that it was never to be opened under any circumstances. Which was just as well, thought Martha, as there was no key to the lock. That’s when she remembered the key drawer!

A moment later she was in the kitchen emptying that drawer next to the silverware which was full almost to the brim with keys. Keys to old cars and houses long since left behind. Keys to closets from old jobs. Keys to jewelry boxes and toy chests which hadn’t existed for generations. And more than a few keys which seemed to hve no clear function. These were the keys Martha took upstairs and tried, one by one, in the old trunk.

Finally, key number 82 succeeded and turned easily in the lock. For a moment, Martha was nervous, but her curiosity got the best of her and he opened the trunk. The top flew open and to Martha’s considerable surprise, a man stepped out! A tall, thin man, in elegant, old-fashioned clothes (which looked very worn and ratty) who did not look for one second as though he’d be able to fit in that box. He stepped out and reached back into the trunk to help another man get out! This one was shorter and fatter, but just as strangely attired. Martha began to wonder if this was some kind of trick; if perhaps there was no bottom to the trunk. Just then, both of the first two men helped a third man get out. This one was older but had very broad, strong shoulders and his bizarre costume was topped with an elegant hat.

“Why did I have to be on the bottom?” said the man in the hat.

“Sorry, sire,” said the tall one.

“It just sort of happened,” said his fat companion.

“Well, no matter. We’re out now.” Finally, their eyes fell upon Martha. “And who might you be, my dear?”

“Martha,” she said, nervously but politely.

“Well, Martha,” said the man in the hat, noticing the keys strewn about the floor. “We are indebted to you for releasing us from that prison.”

“I don’t understand,” said Martha. “Who are you?”

“We are robbers!” was the answer, and the man who was now clearly the leader of the gang removed his hat and bowed very low indeed. “We are the most fearsome and terrible criminals of all time. A clever man named Pablo trapped us in this horrible box years ago. Speaking of which, what year is it, young lady?” Martha told them and all three men were completely shocked. “I did not realize we had been imprisoned that long! Still, we must not dwell on the past. We must move forward and pick up where we left off.”

“Where you left off?” said Martha. “You mean stealing?”

“Of course. That’s what we do. We’re robbers, after all.”

“You shouldn’t steal! It’s against the law!”

“Well, what else can we do? Thievery is what we’re best at.”

“You could take on some other profession. How do you feel about banking? Teaching? Are you good with animals? How fast can you type?” For fully thirty-six minutes, Martha tried to suggest a career that would appeal to these robbers. But, in the end, they had shaken their head at every idea in turn.

“Sorry, Miss Martha,” said the leader. “But there is one thing we can do and one thing we like to do. And that is to steal. So, gentlemen: To work!” While Martha watched in horror, the men started going through the attic, looking for anything they could steal. And just when they were about to descend the stairs and leave with their ill-gotten booty (or their ill-booten gotty), suddenly the doorbell rang. The robbers, having been prisoners for so long, had never heard an electric doorbell and were frightened.

“It’s just someone at the door,” said Martha and, at the robbers’ request, she went to see who it was. Now, in actual fact, it was just a delivery boy who had left a pacakge on the front step and rang the doorbell before he left. But Martha had a plan. She ran back up the stairs and said, as if in a panic, “It’s the police! They’ve got the house surrounded!”

“How many are out there?” said the terrified robbers.

“At least a hundred,” said Martha. “You had better hide!”


“Back in the trunk. They’d never think three men would fit in there. It’s the safest place.” So the robbers climbed one by one back into the trunk from whence they had so recently emerged. And when the lid was shut, Martha, quick as a flash, turned the key and locked it. Then she took all the keys and put them back in the key drawer in the kitchen, except the key to the robbers trunk. That one she kept with her at all times. Then, the following summer, when her family went on a trip to the beach, she hurled the key into the sea so that nobody could ever open the trunk ever again.

Martha’s big sister came home less than an hour after she had left to find her little sister playing happily in the front room. “I’m glad you’re okay,” she said. “I met my friends and then I started to feel guilty about leaving you alone and came home as fast as I could. I’m sorry, Martha.”

“Don’t be,” said Martha, with a knowing smile. “After all…what could’ve happened?”


If You Liked My Story, You Might Enjoy:
  • American Fairy Tales by L. Frank Baum. Besides "The Box of Robbers" this volume contains such wonderful stories as "The Capture of Father Time," "The Girl Who Owned a Bear" and "The King of the Polar Bears." And, of course, you should definitely check out his Oz stories.

NEXT WEEK: "The Hare and the Hedgehog"

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