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A little girl named Martha is inadvertently left home alone one day. Her family members are busy with their own affairs, and the servants disperse too. (Indications through the story show that Martha's is a well-to-do family of Prairie Avenue, Chicago.) While playing with her dolls, Martha remembers an old dollhouse stored in the attic. Up in the attic, she finds an old chest that was sent to the family from Italy by Uncle Walter, before he went elephant hunting in Africa and never returned.
Her curiosity aroused, Martha hunts through the house's collection of old keys until she finds one that fits the chest's lock. She opens the chest, only to be astonished when three Italian bandits climb out. They are dressed in traditional garb, and sport large mustaches; they are fully equipped with pistols and daggers in their waistbands.
The bandits engage the amazed little girl in conversation. As surprised as she is by them, so they are astounded to learn that they are in Chicago in America. They inquire about local conditions — the police, and potential victims. Martha tries to suggest other lines of work for the men, like trolley-car motor men, or department store clerks, or even aldermen — but the bandits are determined to pursue their ancient and honorable calling. They begin by robbing Martha's own house; they pile the attic with their plunder — the family silver, the copper kettle, the parlor clock, papa's fur overcoat, etc.
A desperate Martha finds a way out of her predicament when the doorbell rings. The bandits are amazed and alarmed; looking out the window, Martha sees that it is only the postman, who delivered a letter and went on his way. The girl cleverly tells the bandits that the police have arrived to arrest them; she talks them into climbing back into the chest, and locks them in there once more.
The moral of the tale: "This story should teach us not to interfere in matters that do not concern us. For had Martha refrained from opening Uncle Walter's mysterious chest she would not have been obliged to carry downstairs all the plunder the robbers had brought into the attic."
"The Box of Robbers" is one of the eight stories in the collection illustrated by Ike Morgan.
Baum later adapted the story into A Box of Bandits, one of the four films in the quartet Violet's Dreams.
The story contains some mild satire. When the bandits inquire about people in Chicago to rob, Martha supposes that everyone has been robbed already. When she suggests that the bandits can become police inspectors, they agree that "The police need to be inspected, especially in Italy."
Another story in the same volume, "The Girl Who Owned a Bear," employs a very similar ending: the girl protagonist's difficulties are resolved by a doorbell's ring.