The cupboard was gone!
I held the match aloft, and stared at the angle of the wall; stared stupidly, at first unable to believe. Yes, the cupboard was gone! Nothing remained but the mahogany bracket which had supported it. I gazed around, the match burning lower and lower in my hand till it scorched my fingers. The pain of it awakened me, and, dropping the charred end, I stumbled out into the passage, almost falling on the way as my feet entangled themselves in Captain Coffin’s best table-cloth.
A moment later I was rapping at Mr. George Goodfellow’s door. I knew that he sometimes sat up late to practice his violin-playing; and in my confusion of terror I heeded neither that the house was silent nor that the window over his doorway showed a blank and unlit face to the night. I knocked and knocked again, pausing to call his name urgently, at first in hoarse whispers, by-and-by desperately, lifting my voice as loudly as I dared.
At length a voice answered; but it came from the end of the passage next, the street, and it was not Mr. Goodfellow’s.
“D—n my giblets!” it said, in a kind of muffled scream. “Drunk again! Oh, you nasty image!”
It was the barber’s accursed parrot. I could hear it tearing with its beak at the bars of its cage, as if struggling to pull off the cloth which covered it.
A window creaked on its hinges, some way up the court.
“Hallo! Who’s there?” demanded a gruff voice.
I took to my heels, and made a dash up the passage for the street. The cage, as I passed under it, swayed violently with the parrot’s struggles for free speech.
“Drunk again!” it yelled. “Kiss me, kiss me, kiss me—here’s a pretty time o’ night to disturb a lady!”
No longer had I any thought of braving the night and the perils of the road, but pressed my elbows tight against my ribs and raced straight for Stimcoe’s.
By great good fortune, Mr. Stimcoe had been drinking the health of the returned prisoners until his own was temporarily affected. In fact, as I reached Delamere Terrace, panting and excogitating the likeliest excuse to offer Mrs. Stimcoe, the door of No. 7 opened, and the lady herself emerged upon the night, with a shawl swathed carelessly over her masculine neck and shoulders.
I drew up and ducked aside to avoid recognition, but she halted under the lamp and called to me, in no very severe voice—
“You are late, and I have been needing you. Mr. Stimcoe is suffering from an attack.”
“Indeed, ma’am?” said I. “Shall I run for Dr. Spargo?”
She stood for a moment considering. “No,” she decided; “I had better fetch Dr. Spargo myself. Being more familiar with the symptoms, I can describe them to him.”