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13: I Lay Down my Pen

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Author Topic: 13: I Lay Down my Pen  (Read 46 times)
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« on: November 20, 2023, 07:40:01 am »

I HAVE finished. To the best of my ability I have set down the events of that summer. At the outset I warned my readers that I was no literary man: had there been anyone else willing to tackle the job I would willingly have resigned in his favour.

There will be many even now who will in all probability shrug their shoulders incredulously. Well, as I have said more than once, I cannot make any man believe me. If people choose to think that Gaunt's description of the sinking of the Hermione is a madman's delusion based on what he had read in the papers, they are welcome to their opinion. But the Hermione has never been heard of again, and it is now more than a year since she sailed from Southampton. And I have, at any rate, put forward a theory to account for her loss.

What is of far more interest to me is what would have happened had the attack been carried out on the Megalithic. What would have happened if Drummond had not chanced to pick out the scent of death in his glass, from the heavy languorous smell of the hot-house flowers that filled the cabin in which we dined? Can't you picture that one terrible moment, as with one accord every man and woman round that table pitched forward dead, under the mocking cynical eyes of Wilmot, and the great airship with its ghastly load tore on through the night?

And then---what would have happened? Would the attack have been successful? I know not, but sometimes I try to visualise the scene. The dirigible---no longer blazing with light---but dark and ghostly, keeping pace with the liner low down on top of her. Those thirty desperate men: the shattered wireless: and over everything the rain of death. And then the strange craft capable of such speed in spite of her lines, alongside. Everywhere panic-stricken women and men dashing to and fro, and finding no escape. Perhaps the siren blaring madly into the night, until that too ceased because no man was left to sound it.

Then in the grey dawn the transfer of the bullion to the other vessel: the descent of Wilmot from the airship: perhaps a torpedo. A torpedo was all that was necessary for the Lusitania.

And then, last of all, I can see Wilmot---his hands in his pockets, a cigar drawing evenly between his lips---standing on the bridge of his ship. The swirling water has calmed down: only some floating wreckage marks the grave of the Megalithic. Suddenly from overhead there comes a blinding sheet of flame, and the doomed airship falls blazing into the sea.

Guess-work, I admit---but that is what I believe would have happened. But it didn't, and so guesswork it must remain to the end. There are other things too we shall never know. What happened to the vessel with the strange lines? There is no one known to us who can describe her save Robin Gaunt, and he is incurably insane. Where is she? What is she doing now? Is she some harmless ocean-going tramp, or is she rotting in some deserted harbour?

What happened to the men we had left bound in Black Mine? For when the police got there next day there was no sign of them. How did they get away? Where are they now? Pawns---I admit; but they might have told us something.

And finally, the thing that intrigues Drummond most. How much did Peterson think we knew?

Personally I do not think that Peterson believed we knew anything at all until the end. Obviously he had no idea that we had been to Black Mine the night before, until Drummond told him so. Obviously he believed himself perfectly safe, and but for the discovery of Gaunt's diary he would have been. Should we, or rather Drummond, ever have suspected that liqueur except for the knowledge we had? I doubt it, and so does Drummond. Even though we knew that smell so well---the smell of death---I doubt if we should have picked it out from the heavy exotic scent of the flowers.

They are questions which for ever will remain unanswered, though it is possible that some day a little light may be thrown on them.

And now there is but one thing more. Drummond and his wife are in Deauville, so I must rely on my memory.

It was four days after the airship had crashed in flames. The scent of the poison no longer hung about the wreckage: the charred bodies had all been recovered. And as Drummond stood looking at the debris a woman in deep black approached him.

"You have killed the man I loved, Hugh Drummond," she said. "But do not think it is the end."

He took off his hat.

"It would be idle to pretend, Mademoiselle," he said, "that I do not know you. But may I ask why you state that I killed Carl Peterson? Is not that how he died?"

With his hand he indicated the wreckage.

She shook her head.

"The airship came down in flames at half-past one," she said. "It was at ten o'clock that Carl died."

"That is so," he said gravely. "I said the other to spare your feelings. You have seen, I presume, someone who was on board?"

"I have seen no one," she answered.

"But those details have been kept out of the papers," he exclaimed.

"I have read no paper," she replied.

"Then how did you know?"

"He spoke to me as he died," she said quietly. "And as I said before, it is not the end."

Without another word she left him. Was she speaking the truth, or was there indeed some strange rapport between her and Peterson? Did the personality of that arch-criminal project itself through space to the woman he had lived with for so many years? And if so, what terrible message of hatred against Drummond did it give to her?

He has not seen her since: the memory of that brief interview is getting a little blurred. Perhaps she too has forgotten: perhaps not. Who knows?


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