" By using the device which ministers at the same time to the vanity and the necessity of man, the clipping bureau," I replied. " We will subscribe to that distributer of special information, and get every clipping for the last six months that bears upon falling blinds, signs lost, or stolen iron. They can ransack the files for us, and send us the result of their labor."
" Just the trick," cried Tom enthusiastically. " We'll go straight to work on it. Now let's get out of here."
Bearing our precious tube of gas, we started back, leaving Swenton to close the laboratory and follow later. No such delightful wandering was provided for our return as for our coming. All too soon we were back at the Savoy with our day's labor over, ready to follow the new trail wherever it might lead us.
Two mornings after the eventful day in Heidenmuller's laboratory, I knocked at Dorothy's door, and entered to find the broad table of her sunny parlor covered with piles of neat clippings, each with a docketed slip at the top. The clipping bureau had exceeded my best hopes, and had turned in the information in quantities. Tom and Dorothy were bending over the piles sorting them, as the maid ushered me in.
" If you hadn't told them to sort these things at their office, we should have been swamped beyond all hope of salvation," grumbled Tom, as he stood with a bundle of clippings between every finger of both hands. " Where are the Westminster shutters, Dorothy?"
" Here they are," said Dorothy. " Now I want the Chelsea signs. It's just like solitaire. The signs are my cards. The blinds go to Tom, and you can take stolen iron. That's stolen iron, that heap of packets over on the other side of the table."
I sat down to my task. Hour after hour passed, and we sorted, read, and rejected. Now and then a clipping would go aside for further reference. Occasionally a packet or a single slip would pass from one to another. Lunch took an hour, but after lunch we turned again to our labors, and afternoon tea time came and went before we were done. At length Tom rose and gave a mighty yawn. " Eight that look good," he remarked.
" Eight from me," I echoed.
" Ten," chimed in Dorothy.
" That's not half bad," said Tom reflectively. " There were hundreds of clippings there, and we've brought them down pretty low, all things considered."
We three dined alone that night, and when the coffee came on, Tom reached into his pocket and pulled out a long envelope with the twenty-six clippings. " Which comes first ?" he asked, " Signs or blinds or stolen iron ? "
" Match you to decide," I answered, and I pulled out a sovereign. " I'll take signs, you take shutters." Tom won.
" Shutters against stolen iron then," cried Dorothy.
" I'll match you this time," said Tom. We matched again, and again Tom won.
" Then one of my eight shutters is the trump card," exclaimed Tom. " I'll number them one to eight, and then pass the bunch around so we can each pick the two that look like winners. Then I'll pass the signs to pick a second choice."
Dorothy, in her gray gown of shimmering silk, her face flushed with the excitement of the decision, pored over the little list carefully for some minutes before she returned them to Tom, who passed them on to me, remarking briefly, " I made up my mind when I picked the eight out of the bunch." Three times over I read the list which told of blinds dropping on still days and injuring passers-by. Tom had eliminated the accounts which told of signs and shutters blown off in gales. It might easily happen that a gale and the escape of the destructive power would occur simultaneously, but the unusual was the thing we were after; there, most of all, would lie the clue we sought. At last I came to a decision and looked up, " One in the first lot and three in the second," I said.
" One and three," echoed Dorothy.
" The same," said Tom. " Great thing to be unanimous. Read 'em aloud, Jim." I obeyed.
" ' A shutter which fell from a house on Gower Street, just off Tottenham Court Road, struck a passing laborer yesterday morning, and inflicted injuries of so grave a character that he was immediately removed in an unconscious condition to the hospital. His identity has not yet been established.' That's number one."
" ' A large sign which fell from a second story at Chelsea yesterday broke in pieces on the sidewalk beneath, but fortunately inflicted no serious injury.' That's number three. Which do we choose ? "
" Both of those look rather good to me," answered Tom. " But I think the one near Tottenham Court Road looks best. The chances of finding the man's laboratory would be greater in Bloomsbury than farther out." Dorothy nodded her approval.
" All right," I said, as we rose. " The corps will move upon Bloomsbury at dawn, under command of General Dorothy Haldane."
" Dawn being interpreted nine thirty, we will," answered Dorothy laughing.
The next morning found us bowling along towards our destination, discussing meanwhile the method of attack. " Leave it to inspiration," I said, as we drew up at the door. " Let me play a lone hand on this."
Luck was with me. There was a sign of " Lodgings " in the window. Leaping out I walked up the steps and rang the bell, while the cab went on down the street. The maid who opened the door was trimmer than I had expected to find. The mistress of the lodging house, when she appeared, though a perfect mountain of flesh, gave signs of a very considerable intelligence. " Yes, there were lodgings. A second and fourth floor front." Up the stairs panted and wheezed the stout landlady, while I followed in her train. On the fourth floor we halted and entered the small hall bedroom at the top of the stairs. I threw the window open and leaned out, and looked up and down the street.
" Bad thing if a shutter fell from here," I said. " Wasn't it in one of the houses near this that the shutter fell and injured a laborer a couple of months ago ? "
The landlady seized my lead instantly. " It was the right hand shutter," she said, " in the very window you're looking out of now."
I bent eagerly to look at the hinges. They were brand new, while those on the other side were strained and worn through years of exposure to wind and sun and rain.
" You don't say," I replied. " Most interesting. I suppose the hinges rusted and broke."
" No," said the landlady, " that was one of the queerest things about it. After the whole thing was over, and I came to look at the place where the shutter fell, there was no trace of a hinge. It must have pulled right out of the brick, and when I went next day to look at the shutters in the kitchen, the hinges, screws, and everything were gone, and I never saw the least trace of them from that day to this. We had the new shutter put up a week later."
" What luck! " I thought to myself, as I looked around over the adjoining housetops. " Hit it first time trying. Somewhere, behind those roofs, lies the laboratory of the man who is trying to stop all war." I parted with the landlady, promising an early decision, and went in search of Tom and Dorothy.
They left the carriage as I approached and hurried towards me. " The iron of the shutter disappeared," I said significantly.
Tom gave the long, low whistle which always typified interest and surprise to him.
" You think the man's laboratory is somewhere near here, then," asked Dorothy excitedly.
" Judging by Hamerly's experience with the sign opposite Dr. Heidenmuller's laboratory, I certainly do," I answered seriously. " This probably happened just as that did."
" Then," said Tom, " it's probably up to us to make a house to house canvass of the neighborhood. It looks to me as if the chances were better in one of the buildings on Tottenham Court Road than in any of the houses round here."
" That's right," I answered briefly. " Tell you what we'll do. We'll ask at every shop if they know of any chemical laboratory. Tell 'em we're hunting for a man who works in such a laboratory. Lay it on thick and give 'em plenty of detail. That's the way to get the information you want."
" I'll wait for you in the carriage round the corner," Dorothy called after us, as we started away.
From bakeshop to dairy, from furniture store to shoe shop, I travelled, searching for some news of my poor Cousin George, who had worked in a laboratory somewhere near the corner of Tottenham Court Road and Gower Street, and who had disappeared. Persistently diplomatic, I forced my way on, under rebuff after rebuff, leaving no store until I had a pretty vivid idea of the various occupations which made their home on every floor of its building. As I left after receiving one particularly stinging answer, I caught sight of Tom across the street, beckoning. I followed him at a little distance until he turned a sharp corner into a little alley. He appeared slightly dishevelled as he turned around.
" See here," he said abruptly, " I'm afraid we'll be run in if we keep this up much longer. I've been in one row already. Had to knock a man down who made caustic remarks about sneak thieves. What have you got hold of, anyway ? "
" Haven't got hold of a thing," I responded.
" Well, then," said Tom, " let's cast back and take another look at the topography, just where the shutter fell."
Back we went over the ground once more, and stopped to examine cautiously the window with its green blind.
" That's a fourth story corner room," said Tom reflectively, " and the house next to it is only three stories. Why, you blind man," he went on suddenly, " only one side of the shutter fell, so the attack couldn't have come from the front. It must have come from the back of the house. Let's go round and see what is just behind this."
Round the square we circumnavigated, landing finally at a building some five stories high, whose first story showed the shelves and cluttered window of a second-hand book shop. Beside the shop a flight of stairs led to the upper stories. No sign gave evidence of any business carried on above the first.
" Here goes for the book shop," said Tom, and we marched in.
A tall, stooping youth of exaggerated height, with lank and flaming red moustache, came wearily forward, stifling a cavernous yawn as he came. We repeated our stock inquiry to him. We were Colonials from Australia seeking our Cousin George, who worked in a laboratory. Did our friend with the red moustache know of any laboratory near ? A gleam of interest lighted the slightly watery eyes.
" H'I don't rightly know w'ether h'it's h'a laboritory h'or not," he began, " but there's some sort h'of a bloomin' show h'occupies h'our 'ole fifth. H'l've never been h'ible to see h'inside h'it yet. You might try h'a shot h'at h'it 'owever."
We received the volley of misplaced aspirates with joyous hearts, noting the gleam of avid curiosity in the watery eyes, as the clerk thought of the mysterious laboratory on the top floor. All he could tell was that the top floor had been let a few months before to a tall man. With the usual vagueness of his type of mind, that was as far as he could go. Over and over again he repeated the same indefinite phrase, a tall man. When the man moved in, a couple of vans had brought strange furnishings, a small furnace, glassware and instrument cases. A little while ago an assistant had appeared, a foreigner who knew no English, or at least refused to understand the language. The two, the man and his assistant, often worked together till late at night. Sometimes, the clerk believed, they worked all night. As for him, he would have repeated the thing to the police. He didn't believe in having mysteries like that around, but his master, the proprietor of the book shop, refused to part with regular paying tenants. Yes, sir, he'd tried again and again to see what they were doing, but there was a curtain over the door, and you couldn't see anything through the keyhole. The door was always locked, so that the adventurous spirit of the clerk had to be content with imagining the horrible crimes perpetrated behind the curtained door.
This certainly looked good. With anxious hearts, Tom and I started up the stairs in search once more of our Cousin George, halting, however, at the second story, once the clerk was left safely behind.
" It certainly looks like queer street, anyway," remarked Tom reflectively. " It may be the man, or it may be some bunch of counterfeiters or other criminals. I'm not going to back down for a minute, but I think one of us had better hunt up Dorothy, tell her where we are, and have her put the police on the trail, if we shouldn't happen to turn up to-night. Strikes me that that would be only an elementary precaution."
" I'll do it," I said. " You watch here."
Before Tom could object, I was half way down the stairs and out on the street. On Tottenham Court Road, I found Dorothy driving up and down. She leaned forward questioningly as I jumped in. I nodded in answer, " Yes. We've got the place, but we need your help now." Warned by experience as to its necessity, I had mapped out my line of argument carefully, as I hurried along. " We have the very place, but we want you to stay outside and send us help, if we should get into trouble."
Dorothy's face fell. " I want to go with you the worst way," she said. "Yet I don't like the idea of you two going into danger without any outside assistance. What have you found out ? "
It was no easy matter to convince her, yet when Dorothy saw the condition of affairs, there was really nothing she could do but give in. For us to explore that unknown territory, without some line on the outside to protect us in case of peril, was manifestly unwise. Certainly it was not possible for us to let so plain a clue go by.
At my command, the cabman drove past the old book store, up the street, and round the square. Back on the main thoroughfare again, I made ready to return and join Tom.
" You've got the place fixed clearly in mind ? " I asked, looking up at her from the sidewalk.
To my surprise, Dorothy's eyes were filled with tears, and her voice came pleadingly. " I wish you did not feel you had to go. I don't know why I feel so strangely about your going, but I do. Isn't there some other way out ? "
I felt my resolution waning, as an almost overmastering desire to seize her in my arms, in the face of shocked and respectable Bloomsbury, swept over me.
" We've got to follow the trail to the end, Dorothy," I answered. " Everything's going to be all right, don't worry."
As I turned away, I felt a light touch, almost like a caress, on my coat sleeve. Accident or not, no knight ever went into battle more inspired by his lady's gage than I, bearing that accolade, strode towards the old book shop and the mysterious laboratory on the fifth floor.
Tom greeted me eagerly as I reached the second story. " Not a sound from the laboratory," he began. "And, luck of lucks, there's an open, empty room opposite, where we can wait. Come on up."
Up the stairs and into the empty room we passed, pausing briefly to examine the blank and heavy door of the mysterious workers fastened by heavy locks. Our waiting place proved nothing more than a bare attic chamber, with a constricted view of roofs and chimney pots.
" Not exactly the abode of luxury," I said, glancing around critically, " but then it's all in the day's work. I've waited in worse places for a lot smaller stakes."
Folding his great coat for a cushion, Tom seated himself back against the wall. He had left the door a trace ajar. " I'm practically sure that there's no one in there now, and we'll wait here till they arrive. We shall be sure to hear them when they come up the stairs. By Jove, never thought of it. Not a thing to read with us. There's the book shop downstairs; I wonder if I dare to try a sortie." He thought a moment. " No, not yet, anyway. Tell you what I'll do. Here's a sporting proposition for you." He pulled out his penknife and opened it. " Here's a bully bare floor. I'll play you a game of stick knife to while away the time."
Nobody but an eternal boy like Tom would have conceived of a game of stick knife to while away the time of waiting before the mystery hidden by the blank face of the oaken door across the passage. Nobody but an eternal boy would have won so exasperatingly. Expert in all intricacies of the art, Tom had far outdistanced me as a knife juggler and I was lagging far in the rear, when we heard the quiet closing of the door five stories below. In an instant we were on our feet, waiting for the ascending heavy footsteps. Tom's mobile face stiffened into rigid lines as he crouched, poised beside the door, while I stood ready to swing the door open, and spring if necessary on the man who came. As the footsteps halted on the landing before us, Tom bent towards me.
" The assistant," he whispered, " let him unlock the door and we'll push our way in with him."
Everything happened in the twinkling of an eye. The jingle of keys, the slight creak of the opening door, then a sudden bound and we were across the hall and in an anteroom facing a bewildered man, evidently a Norwegian, whose blond face was framed in flaxen hair and spade-shaped flaxen beard, and whose somewhat cowlike eyes peered out from spectacles of massive frame. He was clothed in a queer, straight-fronted, long, blue sack coat with voluminous, almost sailor-like trousers. As he saw us standing on either side of him, he started back for a moment, but then stopped short, his keys still dangling from his hand.
" Pardon this somewhat sudden entrance," I said, in my politest tone, " but we are inspectors to visit the laboratory."
A flood of unintelligible gutturals followed my statement. This was accompanied by vehement pointings at the door by which we had entered, and which was now closed, with Tom before it. I sat on the table swinging my legs till the torrent passed. Then, as it died away, I walked boldly to one of the two doors on the opposite side to that which we entered, tried it, and then tried the other. Both were locked. Carefully watching the assistant's face, I pointed first at the keys still dangling forgotten in his hand, and then pointed at the first door I had tried, going to it and shaking the lock. To our surprise, the indignation in the man's countenance suddenly ceased. A mild acquiescence shone from behind his glasses and, going forward, he unlocked the door, opened to a twilight behind and went in. We stumbled in to the half light, Tom closing the door behind us. As we entered, I tripped over a chair and fell headlong, throwing Tom, who was following. As I scrambled to my feet, a guttural laugh rang in my ears and a door slammed. There was a sound of bolts run home as I dashed forward, only to come headlong against a closed door. I rushed back to the door through which we had entered, and shook it in vain, hearing, to my bitter mortification, a bolt running into its slide as I shook, a sound followed by another outburst of Northern Teutonic glee. Foiled on both sides, I wheeled to look about me, and saw Tom already making a rapid investigation of the premises.
We were in a small room, perhaps ten by twelve, surrounded by blank walls, save for openings made by the two doors on opposite sides. The only passage to the outer air was through an iron plate, perhaps nine inches by three feet, placed in the flat roof. In this were set small glass bull's-eyes, of the same type as those used to light basements from sidewalks. A couple of wooden stools made the only furnishings of the room. Tom turned to me at the end of his inspection and shook his head.
" I've made many a bad break in my life," he said regretfully, " but coming in here after you and closing that door is the worst yet. That assistant, with his fool face, tricked me completely."
" Same here," I answered, " but there's no use in wasting time talking about it. If there's any possible way to do it, we must be out of here before the man can notify the master."
" Right," said Tom. " Let's try smashing our way out, first, by aid of these stools."
In the pause that followed this proposal, we heard the heavy, slow step of the assistant cross the anteroom, heard the opening and the closing of the outer door. We were left alone.
" Good," said Tom, " Now we can make all the noise we want to."
Suiting the action to the word, he gave a mighty blow to the door with the wooden stool. The door stood like a rock, but the stool flew to pieces, the fragments of its seat narrowly missing me as they flew by.
" A well-made door," said Tom reflectively. " They don't have doors like that in most modern houses."
As he spoke, he crossed the room to examine the door on the opposite side. " Same staunch build," he remarked judicially. " We couldn't be caged better, outside a prison. I'm rather lighter than you, Jim," he went on, " let me get up on your shoulders and try this small roof window."
He climbed up, and in a minute or two came down again. " Padlocked with an iron bar and staple from the outside," he said briefly. " There's just one thing left. To dig our way out with our knives through that solid oak door. I don't know, of course, whether we can do it or not, but I think it's the only alternative."
" That's one way, but not the only one," I said. " One thing we can do first, put a signal out for Dorothy."
" How can you signal Dorothy ? " asked Tom.
" Break a hole in one of those glass bull's-eyes up there," I answered, " and put a rung of the broken stool up through, with my handkerchief tied on it."
" Good work," said Tom. " Just the ticket."
In two minutes our flag of distress was waving on the roof.
" Now for the door," I cried, and we both set to work on the hard oak about the lock. British oak is proverbially tough, but that oak was the toughest that ever came out of Britain's primeval forests, I verily believe. When we had worked on it for what seemed an endless time, we had but a slight furrow on either side of the lock, and two broken blades to show for our labors. Still we kept doggedly on, chiseling and cutting, little by little, till some impression really began to be made. At length Tom straightened up painfully.
" That's backbreaking work, all right," he remarked, with a groan. " I never knew how much I sympathized with escaping prisoners till now."
As we leaned against the wall, I heard a slight movement outside. "Hush," I muttered, "there's a sound."
The noise grew louder. It was a key turning in the inside door. Then not one, but three or four persons, came hurriedly across the floor towards the door by which we had entered. Tom seized the whole stool and poised it ready to rush out, while I gripped a rung of the broken one. The bolt shot back, the key turned, the door swung open, and there in the rectangle stood Dorothy, Hamerly, the assistant who had imprisoned us and an unknown elderly man. In a moment Dorothy was in Tom's arms, but her hand groped for mine as she clung to him. She sobbed only for a moment, recovering herself almost as swiftly as she had broken down.
" Good work, old girl," said Tom, patting her. " I don't think, frankly, that I was ever so glad to see you in all my life."
As Dorothy, still with a slightly tremulous smile, turned towards me, Tom gave his hand to Hamerly.
" How in blazes did Dorothy do this trick, anyway ? " he asked.
" I saw your signal of distress from the other side of the street," broke in Dorothy, " and I drove straight to the Museum for one of our friends there. I didn't want to bother with police if I could help it. I met Mr. Hamerly just where you met him before, on the steps. And just think, this good man here is the book shop man. We met him as we came down to the door after trying the place."
" So you and Hamerly charged the lion's den alone, did you ? " I interrupted.
" Why, of course," said Dorothy.
" It's all due to her," said Hamerly.
" No, it's due to the assistant's getting frightened," said Dorothy. " Isn't it, Mr. Elder ? "
" If you'd not been here. Miss Haldane," said the book store proprietor, " I never should have known what he was after. I couldn't make out at all."
"What kind of laboratory is this?" I asked, determined not to be thrown off the scent.
The old man laughed. " I fancy my clerk must have been telling you some queer things. I've never told him all I knew. I don't mind keeping him wondering. This is my brother's laboratory, and as to what he does, look here! "
He threw open the second door and we gazed in. Sets on sets of false teeth, boxes of dentist's supplies and dental machinery met our view. I suddenly began to laugh. Tom looked at me for a moment and burst into peal on peal of laughter, while the whole crowd, even the assistant, who had been gazing anxiously at us meanwhile, finally joined in. At last, weak with laughter, I asked, " Why did the assistant shut us up ." "
" He thought you were burglars," explained the book shop man, " and as my brother is out of town, he ran for me. My brother is a little careful whom he lets in, as he does his main business in another place, and this is a side affair."
And so the incident of the false teeth laboratory closed.
The outer air had never seemed so good to me save twice before, — when I left the New York prison in Tom's motor car headed for Dorothy, and when I came up from the bottom of Portsmouth Harbor. I took in long breaths of it, as we walked towards the carriage and as we drove towards the hotel. Dorothy sat silent beside Tom, but every now and then I met her eyes, and they fell. The old look seemed gone. There was a change, a new and very sweet timidity.
As we entered the hotel, Tom drew a long breath. " A good night's sleep," he said, " and we'll tackle clipping number three."
" Agreed," said I.
" Agreed," chimed in Dorothy, " provided you'll take me with you. But I won't go through another afternoon like this for anybody."