Sherlock Holmes Investigates. The Lascar's Fate.
Author:Philip van Wulven

    Since I now believe littlepurpose can be served by continued compliance with the stricturesimposed at that time, I have published this narrative in hopes thatTobias Smeenk may finally receive some of that public acclaim he sorichly deserves, that the public may rest easier for certainknowledge of the fate that befell the villainous Lascar, Ravendra,and that some light may be shed on yet other facets of thatremarkable individual, Sherlock Holmes.

    We had just assisted Holmes’acquaintance, judge Etherington, with an interdiction of a majorsmuggling operation, and were in the village of Kinson, near toBournemouth. Almost the entire population of the hamlet was underarrest and large quantities of contraband were confiscated and inprocess of being removed to bonded warehouses in Southampton. Therebeing little call for our assistance at that point, we decided toexplore further in the system of man made tunnels and natural cavernsthat ran from the village for some distance in several directions.Our discovery of the secret entrances to this warren had led to thistriumph of Her Majesty’s Revenuers over those who sought to floutthe law of the land.

    Holmes said, “I should liketo return to the cavern we have just passed through, Watson. Therewas a side passage we did not explore, though I think others may havegone by that route, rather than along the one that leads to thisvillage. We went past it in the large chamber, just after the areawith the wall paintings.”

    I was quite willing to returnthe way we had come, as matters in Kinson appeared to be currentlyrather uninteresting, with all efforts involved in bureaucraticprocessing, with recording numbers and descriptions of the goods, thenames, ages, and descriptions of the captives, and taking preliminarystatements. Not my personal cup of tea, and certainly of minimalinterest to my friend, whose keen intellect sought always for theunique and challenging, the unsolved problem and the mystery.

    After a few words with thesenior Coast guard, a Captain Young, I believe, we returned to thepublic house, and descended, by means of the iron pegs inset in thewall of the shaft below the cellar, to the cavern beneath.

    We took a lantern each, and Imade sure to appropriate a coil of rope and a stick of chalk. I feltquite encumbered with these items, together with my Nepalese knife,my kukri, as the Gurkhas name them, strapped at my side, and mytrusty army revolver in my jacket pocket. I consoled myself with thethought that each item was of great practical utility, and I would beglad of them when need arose. With the kukri, that need must be direindeed, for this fearsome blade had been given to me under oath toalways draw blood with it on each occasion it was drawn from thesheath. Unlike the revolver, it would not intimidate or disable froma distance, but could only serve in close and deadly combat

    “In case it is needful tomark our route, where several alternative passages branch,” I said,as I took the chalk from an Excise man, who had used it to identifybarrels of liquor with their location, for use as evidence in court.

    Holmes made no comment, butstrode away down the tunnel.

    Approximately three quarters ofan hour later we emerged into the wider space of a great cavern,which was decorated with wall paintings of long horned cattle andponies with flying unkempt manes. Holmes averred, on our previouspassage through this point, that these were likely the product ofancient Celts, or perhaps of Druids, or even of unknown men fromantediluvian times.

    Here the trodden path we hadfollowed was plain.

    My friend pointed to an openinghigh on the side wall of the cavern, at least fifteen feet above thelevel we stood on. This was an almost perfect circle of about sixfeet in diameter, and the tunnel beyond ascended quite steeply.

    After considerable effort, Imanaged to throw a loop of the rope around an outcrop of stone justabove the opening we wished to explore, and we scrambled up by thatmeans.

    Holmes entered first, his leanbody hunched over and his long legs slightly bent, to provide hishead some clearance from the very uneven stone overhead. I followed,with some difficulty.

    The passage levelled out again,and ran straight, at a right angle to our previous direction oftravel, for approximately a mile. The footing was sand and gravel inthis more level section, where I suppose the erstwhile undergroundstream that had carved this tunnel had run slowly, and deposited agood amount of its suspended matter, to our benefit.

    As Holmes said, “There mustbe a layer of harder rock beneath this section, that hindered thestream from grinding its way to a lower level. It can only be drypresently because the water must now be diverted downwards at somepoint before reaching this area. Beware of crevasses or holes in thefloor. If we hear falling water, caution will bring us to asubterranean waterfall.”

    Very shortly we heard the soundhe had expected, of a tumbling underground cascade, and then we sawwater reflecting our lantern light, as it hastened to the brink of ablack chasm, and fell from smooth but rapid current to a turmoil offoam and spray, that vanished below into the blackness.

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