I WAS just dropping off to sleep that night when I heard a sharp rap at m_oor. Jumping up, I opened it, and Tom rushed in.
" I've just thought of something, Jim. The hinges did disappear from tha_lind. We struck the wrong house to-day, but we mustn't give up on tha_ccount. Suppose you go back again to the lodging house in the morning, an_ee if you can get any more light."
" Sure thing," I answered. " But now, for heaven's sake, let me go to sleep."
" Of course," said Tom, in an aggrieved tone. " But I thought you'd want t_ear about that as soon as I struck it."
" Sure thing," I repeated again. " Only, now I know about it, go to bed, an_et me do the same." My head touched the pillow as I heard the sound of th_losing door, and then I slept the clock around.
The next morning I started straight for Bloomsbury, to my destination of th_orning before, the lodging house. My stout friend the landlady was out, s_he maid informed me, but I could see the room again if I wished. Once on th_op story, I flung open the window and gazed about me. The wilderness of bric_as broken only by the waving boughs that keep this part of London from bein_uite the dreary waste that most modern cities are fast becoming, or have lon_ince become. As I stood there striving to pierce the mystery, the maid stoo_t a shambling attention in the doorway. Finally, I turned.
" I was very much interested in the story your mistress told me of the fallin_hutter," I said, slipping a half crown into her ready fingers. " I shoul_ery much like to know if any part of the old shutter is by any chance i_xistence."
The maid's eyes glistened, as she glanced surreptitiously at the coin in he_and. " Wreck's down in t' wash'oose," she said.
" You're from the Coal-pits or the Mines," I said, smiling as I heard he_ialect.
A dim flush showed in her sallow cheek. " I'm fra about there, sir. Hast eve_een there ? There's none like it."
" I've been there," I answered, smiling again. " There's some fine men there."
Her eyes lighted once more. " Happen thou might like to see wreck ? Canst, i_hou wish."
" Just what I would like," I answered, and the maid turned and clattered dow_he stairs. Down in the basement, leaning against the wall beside some tubs, was the wrecked shutter. I brought it out to light. The hinges were gone. No_ bit of iron showed upon it. I turned to the silent maid.
" Queer thing where the hinges went ? " I said questioningly.
" Noa," she replied. " See t'wood-box there I "
" Yes," I answered.
" Thot had t'hinges; Michael took them t'day t' shutter fell."
Eagerly I bent over the rude wood-box and examined the hinges carefully, measuring them with my handkerchief, and comparing the size with the lighte_pots on the shutter, which showed where the hinges had been. There could b_ittle doubt that what the girl said was true. One doubt remained.
" Why did not your mistress know what became of the hinges ? " I asked.
" T' mistress is rarely fogged, and doan't know many a thing goes on," th_aid explained. " But to a man thot knows t' Coal-pits — " She did not finish, but I understood, and a second half crown lighter in purse, I walked away.
All the way home the ludicrousness of our twenty-four hour comedy of error_ept growing on me, and I startled more than one passer-by with a sudde_huckle. Tom and Dorothy sprung up in alarm as I entered and leaned agains_he wall, weak with laughter.
" Are you hurt, Jim ? " cried Dorothy, anxiously turning towards me.
"No ! No !" I gasped, " But the disappearing iron hinge of the blind belong_n the same class as the dentist's laboratory. ' Michael put them on t' wood- box in t' washoose.' That's where they disappeared to."
The full beauty of the situation suddenly dawned upon Tom's mind, and he brok_nto inextinguishable laughter while Dorothy, her face lighting with glee, joined in, a moment later, in silvery accord. The adventure of the two youn_en and the young woman who hunted the disappearing shutter of Bloomsbur_nded with our mirth.
Directly after lunch we started off towards Chelsea. Up the embankment, pas_he Houses of Parliament and the Tate Gallery, by the broad stretches o_helsea Hospital where a few old pensioners were sunning themselves on th_rim walks, our motor car carried us to the very edges of the quaint ol_uburb. Our chauffeur had never heard of the street named in the clipping, an_t was only after diligent search that we found the little back street, _ews, where stables and kennels alternated with houses of stablemen an_arriers, where trig grooms in leggings the chrysalides, and pompous coachme_n severe livery the full grown moths, met on equal terms.
At the end of the little street stood a small public house for the benefit o_he Jehus who congregated in the neighborhood. As we passed it, Tom stoppe_he chauffeur.
" I'll run in here," he said, " and see what I can find." In ten minutes h_as back.
" Have you found anything ? " queried Dorothy, leaning forward.
Tom nodded. " We'll leave the car here," he said laconically. " Come on wit_e."
Down the little street and through an inner court Tom led the way. At lengt_e entered a gate whose rounding arch supported a quaint carved horse's head, that might well have seen the equipages of a century or more ago lumberin_eneath. Within, was a square paved courtyard; straight ahead, a boarde_table; on the right, an old farrier's shop, whose disused bellows and forg_howed through a dusty window; on the left, a slatternly dwelling. A sign o_he stable and the shop stated the whole premises were to let. " Inquire o_he left of the yard."
" They told me in the pub that the sign hung over the gateway with the carve_orse's head," said Tom. " It was called the sign of the three horses. I'_oing to see if they know anything about it at the house."
Dorothy and I waited by the gateway, while Tom crossed the yard. As h_dvanced, the door opened and a tall, rectangular woman came out, clothespi_n mouth and a piece of washing in her hands. A somewhat one-side_onversation followed.
" I want to see the stable for rent," said Tom.
" Um um um um," responded the woman, from her half-closed mouth.
" I beg your pardon," said Tom, " but I don't quite understand."
Another mumble followed, as the woman right about faced and walked into th_ouse. Tom cast a comical look at us.
" That's what comes of not learning the language of the country you're goin_nto," he called, in a loud aside. " I can talk German, French or Italian, read Latin and make a try at Greek, but I never studied a word of Clothespin."
As he ended, the woman reappeared, still grasping the garment for the line, but holding out as well two ponderous iron keys. Tom took them and turned t_s, simply remarking, " We'll look the place over."
Loft, stalls and cellar of the stable offered us nothing, nor did we get mor_rom the windows with their view of littered yards. The old farrier's sho_ooked better. Tom thrust the ponderous key into the lock and threw back th_eavy door. Right where the sun cast its gleam down the dusty floor lay _ittle pile of painted boards. I sprang forward.
" Sliced animals," I called to the others, as I brought the six or seven ol_oards forward and began fitting them into place. I had them sorted an_rranged in a trice. Bruised as they were by their fall, the three horses'
heads on the sign board still showed clear, though the dimming effect of tim_ad dulled the flaring tints of the rude artist.
" Not a nail in it or a bit of iron, though there were six nail holes to ever_oard. This can't be another wood-box hinge case," I remarked.
As we all bent eagerly over the sign, a voice broke in on us. " That sig_early cost us a pretty penny."
We straightened up quickly. In the doorway stood a stout, red-whiskered man.
" I'm the agent for the property," he said, " I heard you were looking i_ver, so I came across. We're ready to put it in good shape for any desirabl_enant. There's few better stable properties in the Chelsea mews."
" Really," said Tom, "I'm not sure whether this will meet my needs or not.
We've just been looking things over and came upon this sign. It must hav_eceived a pretty severe blow, for every screw is out of it."
" Well, sir," said the agent eagerly, " that's the very strangest thing I eve_aw. I saw the sign go down, — I was just across the yard here in that corner, and I happened to be looking out through the archway. There was no wind, not _reath of air stirring, and yet, all of a sudden, the old sign tumbled. A ma_ad gone by not a minute before. It might just as well hit him as not, or hi_e, for that matter. And the pole that held it, and the nails and hinges an_verything must have flown out of it when it struck. Least, I don't see wha_lse could have happened to 'em. They weren't there when I came along, an_hey were good iron, too. I looked that sign over, myself, inside of tw_onths, to make sure things were all right."
Our voluble friend stopped for breath. As Tom addressed him, I spoke in a_side to Dorothy.
" I always supposed years ago that the English were the most silent race o_arth, but I'm finding out my mistake now. It's the upper classes that ar_ilent and the country people. Your Londoner can talk a blue streak, once h_ets going."
Tom had stepped out into the yard with the agent to give us a further chanc_o look over the sign, and we were just about to make another examination o_he nail holes, when Tom sung out to us, " Come out here, will you ? "
Out we came, to see the agent hurrying away and Tom, with key in hand, read_o lock up.
" I really believe we've got something, this time," he said, in a low voice. "
It seems this chap is an understrapper of the agent of the Duke of Moir, wh_wns all this property about here. He tells me that he let three rooms to _an named Cragent, who occupied them as a workshop or a laboratory off and o_or some months, and left about two days ago. Sometimes he'd be gone fo_onths at a time. The man's gone off for the keys now. He's going to let us g_hrough the place. He tells me that Cragent probably made some changes, thoug_e hasn't been inside the place yet."
Tom ended, the agent returned with the keys, and we followed on. Just beyon_he mews on the adjoining street, the agent mounted some stairs beside _ittle bakeshop.
The red-whiskered man slipped a key in the lock and threw open the door.
Eagerly we pressed in. The bare rooms showed some slight litter left by thei_ormer occupant, wrapping paper, broken bits of insulated wire, a shelf whic_howed behind it heavy disconnected wires which must have led to a moto_enerator, a sink with high goose neck tap.
" It was a laboratory, all right," I said to Dorothy, who nodded and passed b_nto the third room. She crossed directly to the rear window.
" Look here, Jim," she called softly.
Tom and the agent were left behind in the large centre room. I followe_orothy's pointing finger with my eyes, as I reached her side. There, betwee_he buildings, showed a narrow, open strip, which ended in the shadow of _ark arch, crowned by a rudely carved horse's head. It was the arch where th_ign of the " Three Horses " had hung.
" If this was the man's laboratory, his destructive power could have escape_rom this window," murmured Dorothy, " gone straight through, and attacke_hat sign, without meeting iron anywhere else on the way. Oh, Jim, do yo_uppose this room corresponded to Dr. Heidenmuller's wooden room? The ma_ight have wooden panels to the windows and a double door, and taken them dow_hen he left."
I shook my head. " If enough of that deadly stuff got away to destroy the iro_f the sign, it would destroy every nail inside the room, and here are iro_ails holding the window casing together."
" That's right," said Dorothy, as she inspected the nail heads. " Those d_ook like iron nails." Then she broke square off. " Got your knife in you_ocket, Jim ? "
Silently I produced and opened it.
" Now try to pry out that nail," she commanded, pointing to one on the windo_asing.
I obeyed, with the full expectation of breaking my knife short off. To m_tter surprise, the blade cut straight through the nail, with less resistanc_han the wood around it offered. The nail head was shorn away. Dorothy and _prang at the same moment to pick it up, and we met in a sudden collision.
Only by the extraordinary presence of mind which I showed in clasping Doroth_losely in my arms was a complete spill averted. A soft tendril of the swee_pring woods swept my cheek, the velvet petal of a flower brushed by my lips, and my whole body was aflame. Scarcely the fraction of a second was Dorothy i_y arms, yet it seemed as if eons of life had passed. As we scrambled to ou_eet, I could feel my face blazing. I looked at Dorothy. Her face was a_uffused as mine felt. Just then Tom entered and stood gazing at us with _uizzical smile. " Head on collision," he exclaimed, in mock alarm. " Anothe_ig accident." Not a word did Dorothy reply to his badinage. She walked in a_specially stately fashion to the window and stood gazing out, while I busie_yself energetically in hunting once more for the end of the nail which m_nife had shorn off. It was lying just by my side, and as I picked it up, i_rumbled.
" Why, these nail heads are putty," I cried in amazement. " They're simpl_mitations of nails."
In a minute Tom's knife was in his hand, and, quite forgetting everythin_lse, he was hacking away at a point where another nail head showed.
" Putty on top to represent an old nail head, and wooden peg doing th_usiness below," he ejaculated. " I don't believe there's a bit of iron in th_lace."
Tom dug at nail head after nail head, and each flew off. " Dorothy, it's _ooden room," he cried.
" Oh, really," said Dorothy, in an entirely lifeless monotone.
" And there is the horse's head out of that window. You must have been blin_ot to have seen it before."
" We did see it," I said testily. " But you're so confoundedly impetuous yo_ush ahead before anybody can tell you anything."
Tom paid but slight attention to my remarks. He was up on a window sill, prying with his knife. " I've got it," he exclaimed finally in triumph. "
Here's the place where they hung the wooden shutters on with wooden pegs, an_hey painted and puttied them over when they took the panels down."
He leaped down and started towards the other room. " I'm going to find ou_hat the agent knows," he called back over his shoulder.
Dorothy still stood by the window, the later afternoon sun making a golde_alo of her somewhat rumpled hair. As I watched her, there seemed to b_omething a trace less energetic in her posture. She was leaning against th_indow and gazing fixedly outward. She did not notice me at all. For te_inutes we remained in a silence broken only when Tom returned, waving a dirt_iece of paper triumphantly.
" The agent didn't know where the chap had gone," he cried, " but I've got _ine on him, anyway. Here's the address of a dealer in electrical supplies, left in a corner on a scrap of paper. We'll drive straight to the city an_ook him up."
Down the embankment the way we came, past the Savoy and the Temple, throug_ueen Victoria Street, and by the Bank to Bishopsgate Street we ran. Doroth_at beside me on the rear seat of the car, Tom next the driver. All the wa_n, she gave me hardly a word, scarcely replied to Tom's occasional chatter. _ad never seen her tongue so strangely silent, her cheek so blushed wit_orning crimson, nor had I ever seen her eyes more deeply thoughtful, mor_oftly beautiful.
We drew up before the supply store and Tom hurried in, followed by Dorothy an_yself. He wanted some wire of the same type as that last ordered by Mr.
Cragent. Could they look up the order and let him have it. Certainly. N_ifficulty at all. The clerk went back to examine the order book, and _ollowed by his side. In the little dingy office at the rear stood a hig_esk, with the tall books above in an ordered row. Down came C. "Cragent, Pag_16," said the index. As the clerk turned to the page, I glanced over hi_houlder. "Mr. H. Cragent." The Chelsea address was crossed out with a line; written below were the words, " 9 Cheapside." That was all I wanted. I nodde_o Tom, as he gave a hurried order for the wire, and we were free for the ne_ddress.
" This is the right one," said Dorothy quietly, as we left the shop.
" How do you know ? " asked Tom. " It looks good, I'll admit, but I don't se_ow you can tell."
" I don't know how I can tell," answered Dorothy, in low tones, " but I fee_ure, this time, as I haven't before."
In ten minutes we were at the corner nearest to the new address, had left th_ar, and were walking up the busy street.
The sign above the door at 9 Cheapside proclaimed a haberdasher's shop within.
The second story showed a dealer in notions, and the third and fourth held n_igns.
" There are leads from the power circuit running into the fourth story," sai_om, as we passed. " Here's the door. No business cards for anything above th_econd. Come on, let's try next door."
Up the stairs by a milliner's shop, past the third story, to the fourth, w_limbed. A wing ran back, with a gallery that opened on one side. At the rea_as a short flight of steps, with a scuttle at the top, which opened out o_he roof. By good fortune, this was unlocked, and we climbed through, out o_he flat roof, into the maze of chimneys. Tom was a little ahead and reache_he parapet on the side of Number 9, while we were still at the scuttle. As h_urned to the edge, he wheeled and beckoned to us expressively. We hurrie_orward. Below, on the fourth story, three shuttered windows faced us. In th_entre one, the wind had blown half the blind open. Behind it, we gazed on _olid wooden panel, which filled the window from top to bottom, from side t_ide, behind the glass.
" An exact duplicate of the window panels of Heidenmuller's wooden room," _hispered. Tom and Dorothy nodded silently.