When Victoriana descended for breakfast the following morning, she was intercepted by Rusty before she could enter the dining room.
‘I have sent a letter to the stationmaster at East Broadway station with an enclosure which I have asked him to pass to Messrs Irving and – er – Fingers,’ he hissed in a conspiratorial whisper. ‘The enclosure contains a graphic description of the diamonds in the Intensifier, and a suggestion that these gems may be obtainable if they were to meet with a lady named V outside A Certain Cellar on Lower East Side at 8 p.m. tonight. They’re bound to want to find out more,’ he said confidently, chinking the At tokens in his pocket, ‘and then we can get into the cellar and find out what’s going on.’
A little thrill ran down Victoriana’s spine as she sat down at the table: she shivered with excitement, and a little brass plate fell from her handkerchief pocket to the floor with a clatter.
‘Eh? Eh? Wassat?’ muttered Dawe Hinge senior, startled into dropping the newspaper he was reading into his cornflakes. ‘Oh, botheration!’
He scooped the metal plate up from the floor and perused it carefully.
‘McCavity and Brown, Master Engineers,’ he read. ‘Well, well, well, well,well. And where did you get this, young lady?’
‘I found it in the road just outside the Museum yesterday,’ said Victoriana, who had forgotten all about it. ‘Are they famous?’
‘Well, well, well, well, well,’ said Dawe Hinge again, his eyes moistening at some distant memory. ‘D’you know, I went to college with young Phil McCavity back in – er – a long, long time ago, before I met your Mama, Rory. Back then he was studying dentistry, of course, before he became interested in engineering and met that rich fellow Brown who provided the money for him to build his tunnelling machines.’
‘Of course, there were three of them originally,’mused Dawe Hinge, ‘that ghastly fellow Hamish McHerring who did all the selling for the project, Brown was the money man – a genius with the cash, he was …’
‘I thought McCavity and Brown went bust?’ Rusty interrupted.
‘Well, they did declare bankruptcy at one time, I believe, but that was mainly because of the funds Hamish McHerring had spent on campaigning for Scottish independence. Imagine, the United Kingdom without Scotland – unthinkable!’ Dawe Hinge pounded the table with his cereal spoon, causing Mrs Dawe Hinge to blanch as a shower of soggy cornflakes landed in the raspberry jam.
‘But McCavity was the inventor, of course – “Why make money filling cavities when you can make more money digging them,” he used to say,’ Dawe Hinge continued. ‘At least, that’s what I think he said. He had a very strong Glaswegian accent, you know. By George, I think I still have the McCavity Miner!’
He jumped to his feet and rushed over to the glass display cabinet, removing what looked like a large set of false teeth fitted into a brass box and placing it on the table.
Victoriana and Rusty gazed at the object in wonder.
‘What does this do, Papa?’ asked Rusty, reaching out and pressing down a tiny lever.
‘Wait!’ cried Dawe Hinge, ‘you need to attach a chain first,’ and dashed to the cabinet again to retrieve a length of stout brass chain.
But he was too late.
With a loud snort and a couple of coughs, the set of teeth started gnashing together, rolling slowly but inexorably on tiny wheels towards the edge of the table. Dawe Hinge reached forward with the chain, but only succeeded in tipping the engine onto its face, where the teeth started to take huge bites out of the surface of the table. As soon as it sensed solid opposition to its munching, the engine noise rose to a high pitched whine as the motor revved up, and before their startled gaze the McCavity Miner chomped its way rapidly through the heavy mahogany to land face down on the carpet, barely pausing in its chewing motion. Within seconds the infernal device had dug a passage through the carpet and into the floor below before crashing noisily down into the cellar beneath the house.
An awed silence was broken by Mrs Dawe Hinge.
‘I thought you said you had removed the fuel, my love,’ she said icily.
* * *
‘No peekin’ now, li’l lady an’ gen’l’m’n,’ growled Fingers, ‘dis is sumthun’ ya don’ rightly wanna know ’bout.’
Victoriana and Rusty obediently faced away from the door through which she had so recently escaped.
‘Nice woik, Fingers,’ grunted Irving as the door swung open, revealing little but shadows as the streetlight in the alley threw an ugly yellowish gleam through the doorway.
‘Quick, in youse goes,’ urged Irving, pushing the youngsters forward as Fingers pulled the door closed behind them.
Irving flicked on his torch and ran it round the walls: they were in the room once filled with wooden cases, of which only a few were now left. The wheelbarrow and shovels were still leaning against the wall beside the dank doorway.
‘Which way now?’ asked Irving hoarsely.
Just as Victoriana opened her mouth to speak there came a series of thuds from above, followed by voices and footsteps getting rapidly closer.
She pointed to the hole in the wall from whence the stench of digging issued. ‘Through there!’ she said decisively.
This chapter by HB. © Tachybaptus et al. 2017.