"Suit for a Siren" - a 1939 story by Jan Gordon
MISS JANET AVERY looked at her new Siren Suit with delight. It solved a problem. Ever since the black-out started, Janet had been compelled to sleep in her lounging pyjamas, and she was one of those young women who still infinitely preferred the "nightie." After a sleep in pyjamas, she always got up feeling as if she had been to bed in her clothes. But with the menace of air raids, and only some seven minutes from the moment that the "warbled" warning note began, it simply had to be pyjamas. Dressing would have taken up too much of the precious time.
But now she had tested it with the alarm clock in two minutes one could easily slip out of bed, scramble into one's undies, thrust arms and legs into the Siren Suit, and, zip there you were. Fully dressed and ready for any emergency, with five minutes to spare.
So, having duly performed her evening exercises for Janet was a young gymnastic and games mistress, now waiting for a problematic job she got out her daintiest nightdress, slipped it on, saw that her gas-mask and torch were handy, turned out the light and snuggled into bed. Her day had been fairly tiring and she was soon asleep.
She was awakened by a sound in her room. Wide awake in a moment, she realised that somebody had come through the door and had shut it. The darkness was absolute, and into her mind sprang vividly an article she had been reading about the evacuation and black-out burglars. At the same time she realised, with a hint of panic, that she was the only lodger in the house at the moment, and that the landlady and her husband were both out visiting some friends. The intruder must have thought the house completely empty.
Had Janet been a little less gymnastically adept or proud of muscular efficiency, she might possibly have given a shriek and have fainted, to discover later that the burglar had stolen quickly and silently away. But she was, no doubt, a little man-arrogant, already keyed-up to face whatever dangers any possible air raids might bring, and we are all of us tinged with a hint of subconscious belligerence, brought into being by the war. So Janet wasn't going to blench before any mere sneak-thief, black-out burglar. With one cautious hand she found the torch, with the other she drew back the bedclothes. Then, with a vigorous spring, she was in the middle of the floor and had focussed her spotlight on the intruder.
The man, of whom she caught but a momentary glimpse, gave a startled ejaculation and flung forward hands as if to grab her. But Janet, who among other things had studied a bit of practical ju-jitsu, dropped the torch, caught the man's right wrist in a pro fessional grip, swung him about and twisted the arm behind him. He was her prisoner.
"Owch!" cried the captive. "What are you doing? That hurt."
"It was meant to," said Janet grimly. "And if you try to struggle it will hurt more. I can even break your arm. Get that?"
"But look here," protested the man, "this is a mistake--"
"I know it was," retorted Janet. "You imagined that this was an empty house. But it isn't."
"No, I tell you" began the man.
Janet wasn't going to listen to ingenious stories. Every burglar had to have some specious excuse.
"Shut up!" she snapped. "I don't want to hear anything from you."
"But I protest," exclaimed the man, beginning to struggle. "Owch!"
"I told you so," said Janet. "And it '11 be owcher and owcher if you don't shut up."
"But look here ... owch! I tell you ... owch! Stop it!"
"Stop it yourself, then," snapped Janet.
There was a short silence.
Janet suddenly realised that the Siren Suit had, after all, let her down. In pyjamas she could have made her burglar switch on the light and telephone for the police. But under the circum stances her nightie was not at all a suitable garment in which to receive policemen. Both her hands were fully occupied in holding the captive with his back to her, and even then she thanked her stars that the fallen torch had rolled under the bed, and only threw a long, flat beam across the carpet.
She was in the unenviable position of the American farmer who, having caught a grizzly by the tail, couldn't let go.
"Now, then, you," she said at last, "go carefully forward till you find the door. Open it. Go straight on till you get to the stairs. Go down them slowly till you reach the bottom. And I warn you, no monkey tricks, or I'll break your arm. Understand?"
"But look here," began the man again, "I ... owch! All right."
Step by step she manoeuvred him down to the hall, pushed him along, made him open the front door, and held him facing the black night. Suddenly she let go of his arm, planted a bare foot in the middle of his back, and with a sharp thrust shot him out into the darkness. She slammed the door and jammed home the bolts.
"Fixed him. Good girl. And that 's that!" said Janet triumphantly. She ran upstairs, hurried into her Siren Suit, went carefully round the house, and decided he must have got in with a skeleton key. Then she sat up, with the poker at hand, till Mr. and Mrs. James returned from their late party. She decided not to tell them of her adventure.
On the following evening, Janet was returning home on the Underground. Darkness had fallen, and the carriages were lit only with the dim, wartime lights. But women are notoriously quick in realising when a stare passes the limits of everyday interest. And though Janet was pretty enough to get plenty of staring, she became aware of a fixed gaze that seemed to border on impertinence. Raising her eyes, she stared back at the inquisitive young man opposite with a cold glance intended to be withering.
But, to her chagrin, instead of becoming properly confused, the young man half-raised his hat, rose from his seat, deliberately crossed the carriage and sat down in the seat next to her.
"Excuse me," he said, isn't it Miss Janet Avery?"
"It is," answered Janet frigidly. "But I am sure that I don't know you."
"Have you seen the evening paper?" asked the young man. "It should interest you."
He laid it on her lap, open, and folded in the middle.
"There," he said, pointing. A headline could be seen.
"Plucky Gym-Mistress Tackles Burglar."
"But what ... I don't understand ..." stammered Janet.
"Of course, in this light you can't read the text," he said, "but it tells how you found a burglar in your bedroom last night, and how you bravely chucked him out of the house."
"But it 's impossible," cried Janet. "Nobody knew anything about it."
"Except the burglar."
"The burglar? Why, yes," went on the young man.
"He happened to be me, you know. I was coming home late. My torch gave out, and I made a mistake in the house. The key happened to fit, as they often do. Of course, I couldn't find the darned light- switches, but I didn't want to disturb my landlady, who has been having jitters. Never got such a surprise in my life as when you grabbed me."
Janet stared at him.
"And you've put that in the paper, with my name and all?"
"Well," he said defensively, "I 'm a free-lance journalist, you know. And you did give me a jolly old kick in the back."
"And what do you expect me to say about it?"
"I thought," answered the young man, grinning, that you might say "Owch! you know."
Janet stared at him for a moment, then, catching the twinkle in his eyes, burst into a laugh.
Standing at the exit of their mutual station, staring into the darkness, the young man said lightly
"You know, these black-outs make me frightfully nervous. It 's so easy to lose one's way. I wonder if you would mind seeing me safely home?"
The end. All the characters and incidents in this story are imaginary.