Slowly and carefully a man unpacked himself from the chest, stepped out upon the floor, stretched his limbs and then took off his hat and bowed politely to the astonished child.
He was tall and thin and his face seemed badly tanned or sunburnt.
Then another man emerged from the chest, yawning and rubbing his eyes like a sleepy schoolboy. He was of middle size and his skin seemed as badly tanned as that of the first.
While Martha stared open-mouthed at the remarkable sight a third man crawled from the chest. He had the same complexion as his fellows, but was short and fat.
All three were dressed in a curious manner. They wore short jackets of red velvet braided with gold, and knee breeches of sky-blue satin with silver buttons. Over their stockings were laced wide ribbons of red and yellow and blue, while their hats had broad brims with high, peaked crowns, from which fluttered yards of bright-colored ribbons.
They had big gold rings in their ears and rows of knives and pistols in their belts. Their eyes were black and glittering and they wore long, fierce mustaches, curling at the ends like a pig's tail.
"My! but you were heavy," exclaimed the fat one, when he had pulled down his velvet jacket and brushed the dust from his sky-blue breeches. "And you squeezed me all out of shape."
"It was unavoidable, Luigi," responded the thin man, lightly; "the lid of the chest pressed me down upon you. Yet I tender you my regrets."
"As for me," said the middle-sized man, carelessly rolling a cigarette and lighting it, "you must acknowledge I have been your nearest friend for years; so do not be disagreeable."
"You mustn't smoke in the attic," said Martha, recovering herself at sight of the cigarette. "You might set the house on fire."
The middle-sized man, who had not noticed her before, at this speech turned to the girl and bowed.
"Since a lady requests it," said he, "I shall abandon my cigarette," and he threw it on the floor and extinguished it with his foot.
"Who are you?" asked Martha, who until now had been too astonished to be frightened.
"Permit us to introduce ourselves," said the thin man, flourishing his hat gracefully. "This is Lugui," the fat man nodded; "and this is Beni," the middle-sized man bowed; "and I am Victor. We are three bandits--Italian bandits."
"Bandits!" cried Martha, with a look of horror.
"Exactly. Perhaps in all the world there are not three other bandits so terrible and fierce as ourselves," said Victor, proudly.
"'Tis so," said the fat man, nodding gravely.
"But it's wicked!" exclaimed Martha.
"Yes, indeed," replied Victor. "We are extremely and tremendously wicked. Perhaps in all the world you could not find three men more wicked than those who now stand before you."
"'Tis so," said the fat man, approvingly.
"But you shouldn't be so wicked," said the girl; "it's--it's--naughty!"
Victor cast down his eyes and blushed.
"Naughty!" gasped Beni, with a horrified look.
"'Tis a hard word," said Luigi, sadly, and buried his face in his hands.
"I little thought," murmured Victor, in a voice broken by emotion, "ever to be so reviled--and by a lady! Yet, perhaps you spoke thoughtlessly. You must consider, miss, that our wickedness has an excuse. For how are we to be bandits, let me ask, unless we are wicked?"
Martha was puzzled and shook her head, thoughtfully. Then she remembered something.
"You can't remain bandits any longer," said she, "because you are now in America."
"America!" cried the three, together.
"Certainly. You are on Prairie avenue, in Chicago. Uncle Walter sent you here from Italy in this chest."
The bandits seemed greatly bewildered by this announcement. Lugui sat down on an old chair with a broken rocker and wiped his forehead with a yellow silk handkerchief. Beni and Victor fell back upon the chest and looked at her with pale faces and staring eyes.
When he had somewhat recovered himself Victor spoke.
"Your Uncle Walter has greatly wronged us," he said, reproachfully. "He has taken us from our beloved Italy, where bandits are highly respected, and brought us to a strange country where we shall not know whom to rob or how much to ask for a ransom."
"'Tis so!" said the fat man, slapping his leg sharply.