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Chapter 42 - The Purser’s Safe

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« on: January 04, 2023, 10:46:48 am »

AS WE regained the main deck, it became evident that something extraordinary was afoot. The purser, in uniform, but wearing a white muffler in lieu of a collar, was standing by the door of his room with the second engineer and another officer. He looked very pale, I thought, and as Sir Lionel came in Voorden fixed a rather wild gaze upon him.

Before he had time to speak, the captain also hastily dressed, appeared from an alleyway and joined the group.

“Something’s wrong!” Ramin whispered.

A sort of embarrassed hush descended when we came down; then:

“Sir Lionel Barton, I believe?” said the captain, stepping forward. “Your name is well known in my country. But I have not before had the pleasure of meeting you. My name is Vanderhaye.”

“How d’you do, Captain,” growled the chief, and shook hands. “What’s the trouble?”

The captain glanced at the purser and shrugged helplessly.

“I’m afraid, sir,” said the latter, addressing Sir Lionel, “that you have suffered a heavy loss.”

“What!”

“It is,” explained Captain Vanderhaye, his steady blue eyes fixed upon the chief, “a case of minor piracy. Nothing of the kind has ever occurred to me in the forty years I have been at sea. I regret your loss, Sir Lionel, more deeply because it has happened in my ship. But here are the facts: you may judge if I or my officers are to blame.”

He stepped to the door of the purser’s room, which, as I saw now, was open, and indicated the keyhole with an outstretched finger. The chief, Rima and I, grouped around him, and as I bent forward I saw a really amazing thing.

Where the keyhole had been, as the fitting belonging to a brass flap clearly indicated, was a jagged hole, perhaps an inch and a half in diameter, going clean through the door!

It was sufficiently obvious that such a tunnel must have destroyed the lock, leaving the door at the mercy of any intruder.

“This,” said the captain, “is strange enough. How such a thing could be done silently I cannot explain. But be good enough to step inside.”

He entered the office. The chief’s face was very grim, but, knowing him, I could see that he was stifling a smile. Ramin stayed very close to me.

“Look!”

Captain Vanderhaye was pointing to the big safe. The pale-faced purser stood beside him, watching us almost pathetically. And, as I looked, I wondered; looking longer—my wonder grew.

In one hand the commander held a lock, with the other he pointed to a gap, roughly square and some six or seven inches across, in the steel door of the safe.

“This steel,” he said, and tapped the lock, “has been cut through like a piece of cheese. No blow lamp could have been used—it would have taken too long and would have aroused some of the people in neighbouring cabins. But see——”

He ran his forefinger along the edge of the cutout lock. The frayed steel crumbled away like biscuit!

Placing the lock on the purser’s table, he shrugged his broad shoulders.

“It is magic!” he declared. “A safebreaker armed with some new thing of science. What can I say? He sprang overboard with his booty and was picked up by that strange seaplane.” He swung the door widely open. “Look for yourselves. Nothing has been disturbed, except . . .”

“Your three sealed parcels, Sir Lionel,” said the purser huskily, “which were here, in the bottom of the safe. They are gone!”
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