Sherlock Holmes Investigates. The Lascar's Fate.(10)
Author:Philip van Wulven

    Holmes knew. “That was meantfor us. It surely must have been an explosive shell, one of those thenavy uses now. They want to destroy your airship. I hope they onlyhad the one.”

    There was no sign of thestrange craft when we stood up and looked anxiously around at thevisible parts of the sky.

    The clearing around the hangarhad grown immensely, to twice the original size, with a tangle ofdowned trees, branches, and splintered wood littering the area wherethe shell had fallen.

    Smeenk was happy when he sawthat. “Well, well. They have done us a great service. I intended toclear just that area, to make landing more simple, especially in awind. I must say, I had not anticipated just how much an airship isat the mercy of the air currents, even more than a water craft in atidal current. From what we have just witnessed this other fellowsuffered from a similar misapprehension. Well, we have both learnedsomewhat.”

    Holmes said, “Do you have ashotgun, Mr Smeenk? In case he comes back for another run at us, oryour craft, I should say. A few bits of lead would do damage to hispassenger cabin and maybe to his airbag, if he comes in range.”

    I said, “If that is Ravendra,he will want to get rid of any possible rivals. Without your craft,Mr Smeenk, he could rule the skies, and do a great deal of damage tonavy ships and dockyard installations. Anything he wishes to dropexplosive shells on is vulnerable. The man is a fugitive fromjustice, and faces severe consequences for his previous actions ifany should apprehend him. His actions show him to be reckless andmalevolent to a point that clearly borders on insanity.”

    Smeenk said, “Now, gentlemen,we have to consider our next actions, not the motives of thisRavendra fellow.”

    We held a quick conferencethere and then, in which Smeenk was apprised of all we knew ofRavendra, after which he gave his thoughts. “I think we should getthe Icarus up in the air, and take a good look around. If he comesback, we will be less vulnerable aloft, and also I would like to testher capabilities against this unexpected rival.”

    Holmes said, “As far as itgoes, a good idea, but surely we need some form of aggressivecapability? Otherwise we will be able to pursue Ravendra, and perhapsdodge anything he might drop on us, but won’t be able to actuallydo anything to force a surrender, or to facilitate his capture by theauthorities on the ground. We could follow at a distance, and reporthis location if he settles to the ground, but that would only help ifhe remains in England, or at least in Britain. A shotgun might dosome minor damage, but cannot cause more than fairly slow gas leaks.”

    I said, “I have an idea.Those great harpoons they use to catch the great whales might servevery well to snare a dirigible. If we could buy one of those, couldthat be mounted on this airship of yours, Mr Smeenk? I mean, it isall well to talk of capturing Ravendra, but we can aim to capture hisship as well.”

    Smeenk was delighted. All threeof us laughed at the prospect of spearing the great grey ship, andthen hauling it helplessly along behind, to a landing of our ownchoosing.

    Smeenk, though in many ways theleast worldly, was also the engineer, so he said, “There areenticing prospects in that proposal. Quite delightful, in fact.However, there may be certain practical difficulties in theexecution. Assuming the harpoon is acquired, and mounted on theIcarus, could we be assured we will not be the ones towed by theother craft? Her engines may be more powerful, or her buoyancy somuch greater that we could neither tow her unwillingly, nor bring herto the ground.”

    Holmes said, “Mr Smeenk, wemust find what information we can about this other craft, of course,but at present we have no firm idea of your own craft’s potential,except purely in theory. Should we not best proceed with the testflights you have already decided to perform? At the same time, wecould pursue the acquisition of some armament. I propose a visit to aretail outlet in Winchester, to purchase a shotgun, as Dr Watson hassuggested. There is a person there who regularly has various itemsfor sale, pledged against monetary advances by gentlemen who wish towager on the outcome of horse races, beyond their immediate cash athand.”

    I said, “What, old manSilver, the pawnbroker? That isn’t his name, silver, I mean. Just anickname, because he never gives out gold coin, but always silver. Hedoes sell for gold, of course. The last time I was in Winchester hehad a good double barrel in his shop. Made by Purdey, custom, ofcourse, a ten gauge. Very heavy for most purposes, so it should stillbe there. Too heavy for birds, and might work perfectly for ourcircumstances.”

    The flight to Winchester wasexhilirating, though uneventful. We sailed with such majesticsmoothness over the toy sized houses and handkerchief fields, theminiature horses and cows in the meadows, that both Holmes and I werestartled when Smeenk put the nose down, and began a long, gentledescent. The racetrack was deserted, and made a perfect landing spot,unencumbered by spectators, until several minutes after we had putdown. I pounded iron stakes into the ground to hold the mooringcables, because the fence around the inner circumference of the tracklooked altogether too flimsy for the duty of holding our greatsky-ship steady against the vagaries of the winds.

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