Sherlock Holmes Investigates. The Lascar's Fate.(2)
Author:Philip van Wulven

    Beyond the crevasse, which wasten feet across, the water filled the tunnel from side to side, butsince I could see the rocky bottom through the clear water, Iestimated the depth at about eighteen inches at the most.

    I said, “Quite a spectacle,and an admirable illustration of the forces which have carved thesecaverns, and of the means by which these several layers or levels oftunnel have developed. If we hurry, we might yet find a late lunchavailable at the hotel in Bournemouth.”

    Holmes, however, was of adifferent mind, and set out to clamber along the rough side wall,damp as it was with spray from the cascade, to the side of the livestream.

    He managed that with his usualathleticism, and all the while held the lantern in his left hand, thecarrying loop hooked over his thumb, so he could use the fingers toaid his balance against the stone wall.

    I stuck my walking stick in mybelt, hooked my lantern’s handle over that, and followed him withsome trepidation, and with the use of both hands.

    On the far side we stood on anarrow area of tumbled rock beside the flow, while I readjusted stickand lamp, so that I held one in each hand again.

    “Let us see where this mightlead us, shall we? Since we have been on an upward slope, if slight,nevertheless for some distance, the surface cannot be far above us atthis point,” I said.

    We waded through rushing coldwater, for the tunnel had narrowed again, although some relief wasgiven by the higher roof in this section. I noticed none of thegrowth of stalagmites and stalactites we had encountered in thedeeper reaches, which indicated to me that this area had been carvedout comparatively recently, in geologic terms.

    For once, I was the one whoseprognostication proved correct, for we saw a faint gray hue in thedistance, and soon could see the shape of an opening against thelight ahead. We kept the lanterns lit until we reached the pointwhere light from outside rendered their feeble glow of no utility.

    The cave mouth we emerged fromwas partially covered by a tangle of briars, and was situated in adell, a bowl shaped hollow in thick woods. The air was fresh andcool, scented with spring, and very pleasant. I would have beencontent to stand a while and enjoy the sensations of freely movingbreezes and green growth all around, but Holmes, of course, was benton further discovery.

    “Come, Watson. Here is thefootpath we must follow. It is faint, but discernible. This route hasindeed been used, and recently, too.”

    I had quite forgotten hismention that others had gone the way we had followed. So much forlunch at our hotel, or anywhere.

    I took a reviving sip at myflask, and followed.

    Out of the sheltered dell theair was dryer, and the day more lively, as we threaded the slighttrace of previous footsteps through a woodland of large and widelyspaced trees, with little undergrowth.

    I saw an opening ahead, aclearing in this forest, at about the same time as I became aware ofa series of repetitive, or rhythmic, sounds. There was a clanking,but also an intermittent hiss, as of a steam boiler relieving anexcess of pressure. I was reminded of the noise of the Ransome &Jefferies Steam Powered Threshing Machine I had seen exhibited at theWindsor Agricultural Fair the previous summer. I frowned, but forboreto comment, as I was sure Holmes had also heard, and we would bothsee for ourselves very shortly what sort of machinery was employed inthis rural setting. I fully expected to see something suited to awoodland enterprise, as an automated sawmill, or perhaps alog-hauler.

    Words quite failed me when theclearing came into view. Rather, I should say, when the object whichsat in the clearing became entirely discernible. I had noted a massof a blueish-green hue, and had thought that merely some differentspecies of tree on the far side of the opening. It proved to be avery large object, that entirely filled the space between the trees,but was suspended above the ground, at a height of perhaps twentyfeet. It was a gigantic swollen bladder, constructed of some sort ofpainted fabric, likely canvas, held down, and not, as I’d firstthought, up, by several thick hawsers attached to tree trunks. Therewas a steam engine of sorts, puffing industriously to one side of theclearing, attached by a thick tube or flexible pipe to the bladderabove.

    Holmes knew instantly what itwas. “Upon my soul, Watson, this is remarkable. A dirigible, anairship. I have heard of such, and had intended a visit to Count vonZeppelin to observe his device. This is indeed a most felicitousfinding. We have stumbled upon it just at the point of flight, as Isee the engine is still engaged in inflating the envelope with whatmust be some sort of gas. Come, let us introduce ourselves to thefabricator.”

    No such person was visible,though there was a rather rustic structure of logs on the far side ofthe open space, from which the pumping engine must draw whatevercharge it fed into the vast receptacle that hung over all, for asecond pipe led from this building to the pump-engine.

Most Read
Top Books