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Chapter 41 - A Rubber Ball

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« on: January 04, 2023, 10:37:15 am »

IN MUCH the same way, I suppose, as the stopping of a clock will awake a sleeper, the stoppage of the propellers awakened many passengers in the Indramatra. As I pulled on a dressing gown and hurried out into the alleyway, voices and movement were audible all about me.

Then, staring across the yawning black gap of the dining saloon, I saw Ramin, dishevelled, but endeavouring to adjust a hastily grasped bathrobe. His glance met mine from the opposite gallery.

“Oh, Shan!” he cried. “What’s happened? I didn’t get to sleep until about half an hour ago; I thought I heard knockings and voices . . .”

“I don’t know, I’m going to find out.”

No sound came from the chief’s cabin: doubtless he was fast asleep. Ramin and I were apparently the only two passengers sufficiently curious about the stoppage of the engines to have left our rooms. As I joined him at the foot of the staircase the Indramatra got under way again but was putting about, as I could plainly detect.

“We’re turning back!” exclaimed Ramin. “Let’s go up and see what’s happening.”

We went up, and having fought with the fastenings of the starboard door, finally got out on deck. The night was clear enough, and I could see no sign of any craft ahead.

We mounted the ladder to the boat deck. I saw the commander, a seaman of the old school, who, with his fine face and pointed gray beard, might have posed for Vandyck, going forward to the bridge, muffled in a top coat.

Holding Ramin as we craned over between two boats, I saw what had happened.

The seaplane floated on an oily swell about three lengths away from us. Assuming her to be in difficulties, the officer of the watch had put the ship about. And now, the Indrimatra’s searchlight cast a sudden dazzling glare upon the sea; and I saw something else:

An object which looked like a big football was moving in the direction of the seaplane in the wake of a swimmer wearing a life jacket, who, striking out lustily, was apparently towing the ball behind him!

“What ever’s that?” Ramin whispered.

From the bridge of the Indramatra came a roar through a megaphone; the commander doubtless: but since he spoke in Dutch, I could not follow his words. The engines were rung off again. We lay-to very near the sea-and-air craft; but no reply came from her crew.

The swimmer, towing his singular burden, grasped one of the floats. I saw that a ladder had been thrown down to assist him, and as I watched, he began to clamber up. At which moment:

“Greville!” came a hoarse voice. “What the hell’s happening?”

I turned, still holding on to Ramin—and there was the chief, wrapped in his untidy dressing gown.

“I don’t know,” I replied. “But I’m glad you’re here. I have news for you——”

Another challenge came from the bridge—and brought forth no response. The swimmer climbed on board the seaplane. All that I could make out of him was that he wore bathing kit and had a tight cap upon his head. The light touched him momentarily.

That object which resembled a football was hauled up; and, as we watched, I saw the propellers started. There was some commotion before they cleared away. Men were climbing aboard, clearly visible in the glare of the searchlight. Then the seaplane was off, skimming over the surface of the Mediterranean like a seagull; presently to take the air, rise, bank sharply and sweep back for the coast of Egypt.

I heard, dimly, a bell, and the engines came to life again. The Indramatra was being put back on her course.

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