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Chapter 40 - The Seaplane

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Author Topic: Chapter 40 - The Seaplane  (Read 8 times)
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« on: January 04, 2023, 10:20:09 am »

I CONFESS that I was reluctant to open my door. It was perhaps not surprising after the strain which had been imposed upon me during those past few weeks; but I was conscious of a definite decline of morale. I had many unhappy memories and some dreadful ones: not the least of these that strange lacuna in Cairo, throughout which I had obviously been a passive instrument of the Chinese doctor’s will.

The rapping was repeated, rather more insistently, but yet not loudly.

I laid my pipe down on the bed and moved towards the cabin door. Save for that slight creaking of woodwork as the ship rode a barely perceptible swell, there was no sound.

“Who’s there?” I said sharply, but without shooting the bolt back.

“Urgent radio message for Mr. Greville.”

I heaved a sigh of relief which must have been audible beyond the door, shot the bolt back, and there stood a Marconi operator.

“I shouldn’t have disturbed you in the ordinary way,” he explained, “but the message was marked ‘Immediate delivery.’ ”

“Thanks,” I said; “I hadn’t turned in.”

I took the flimsy envelope.

“Good-night,” I added.

“Good-night, sir.”

I returned and bolted the door. Then, tearing open the message, I read eagerly.

SOMETHING WILL BE ATTEMPTED TONIGHT STOP STAY AWAKE AND KEEP A SHARP LOOK-OUT
NAYLAND SMITH

I dropped the message on the bedcover. From what possible source was such an attempt to be looked for? And what should I do?

Lighting my pipe, I stared at the golf bag propped in a corner of the cabin, a strange repository for a relic which already had such a bloody history; but in Sir Lionel’s opinion a better one than the purser’s safe.

Cudgel my brains as I would—and I was very wide awake now—I could conceive of no plan—even assuming the real whereabouts of the damnable relics to be known to our enemies—whereby they could obtain possession of them, otherwise than by an open raid on my cabin and that of the chief.

It was preposterous! Even if it were admissible that Fu Manchu had servants among the native members of the crew—what could they do?

Yet, here was the message. What in heaven’s name did it mean?

One thing I determined upon: to obey Nayland Smith’s instructions. I would mount guard until daylight, when the normal life of the ship would be resumed. Then, if nothing had occurred, I might safely assume the danger past.

With this laudable object in view, I removed my coat and threw myself on the bed, taking up a booklet issued by the shipping company and illustrated with charts showing the mileage between ports of call.

I read on industriously. Once I thought I detected a faint sound out in the alleyway, but, putting the pamphlet down and listening intently it presently resolved itself into a variation of that endless creaking. I realized that the gentle, soothing motion had become more marked; the swell was slightly increasing.

How long I pursued my reading I cannot say, for, as often occurs at such times, although I imagined myself to be wide awake, I was actually tired out, and probably no more than a few minutes later I was fast asleep.

I suppose I slept lightly, for there could be little doubt about what awakened me. I know that I sat up with a start, and at first was utterly confused by my surroundings. Ash was on the counterpane where I had dropped my pipe; fortunately, it had not set fire to it. I sat listening.

Above the noise of creaking woodwork and the dim vibration of the shaft, a new sound was perceptible. I glanced at my watch. I had slept for two hours.

Stepping to my cabin door, I shot the bolt, opened, and looked out into the alleyway. Darkness and silence. Nothing moved. I returned and even more plainly, now, could hear this new disturbance.

I had carefully closed the porthole, having painful memories of the acrobatic methods employed by agents of Dr. Fu Manchu. I unscrewed the bolts and opened it. The sound became much louder; and curiosity grew overpowering. I was as widely awake as ever now, and I determined to go up on deck for a moment.

I had discovered that my cabin door possessed a key—which is unusual in English ships. I locked it, went quietly along the alleyway, and mounted the stairs. Not a soul was about. Both entrances were closed, but the sound had seemed to come from the port side, and therefore I opened the port door and stepped out on deck.

It was a clear, starry night. And as I looked upward and aft my theory was confirmed.

Some kind of heavy aircraft, to judge from the deep drone of her propellers, was flying on a parallel course and rapidly overtaking the Indramatra. I went up the ladder to the boat deck, thinking I could obtain a better view. In this I was right.

She was, I thought, a seaplane, but by reason of her position in relation to the ship, and the darkness of the night, I could not be sure of this. I glanced forward to the bridge.

The officer of the watch was out on the port wing, his glasses directed upward; and I had time to wonder if the rigid discipline of the Dutch Mercantile Marine necessitated his logging the occurrence.

I turned and went back to my cabin. The seaplane, for such I now clearly saw it to be, had passed the ship, and was some little distance ahead of us.

About to pass the alleyway communicating with the chief’s suite, I pulled up in doubt. The light was bad, but I could not see the wooden crate which formerly had contained the relics of the prophet.

I tiptoed along, to make sure. Undoubtedly, the crate was gone!

This, of course, might have been accounted for in several ways; yet I was practically certain that the crate had been there when I turned in. I entered my own cabin, and automatically plunged my hand in the golf bag. The Sword of God was safe. I felt the pendulous pocket of my Burberry in the wardrobe—and the New Creed remained in its hiding place.

I had just slipped into my pyjamas when again came a knocking on the cabin door.

From the jump which I gave, I knew how badly my nerves had suffered.

“Who is it?” I cried.

“Very sorry, Mr. Greville! Marconi again.”

I opened the door.

“It’s all right,” I said, smiling without effort, for frankly I was relieved. “What is it this time?”

“It’s another urgent message. It looks as though we had a crook aboard!”

“What!”

I took the radiogram and read:

NO M P NAME OF KENNINGTON IN PRESENT COMMONS STOP ADVISE PURSER AT ONCE AND INTERROGATE PASSENGER
NAYLAND SMITH

Looking up, I met the glance of the operator.

“It’s queer, isn’t it?” he commented. “But I don’t see much point in waking the purser at this time of night. Are you by any chance connected with the English police, sir?”

“No. My correspondent is.”

“Oh, I see. Well, if you want to wake the purser, I can show you his room.”

“I’ll think it over,” I replied. “I know where to find you if I decide to see him.”

“Right aft on the boat deck,” he said, and turned.

“Good-night!”

“Good-night.”

I had just reclosed the door, and sitting down was considering Nayland Smith’s second message when there came a sudden lull; a queer stillness. At first, I could not account for it. Then, I knew what had happened.

The engines had been rung off.

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