Sherlock Holmes Investigates. The Lascar's Fate.(8)
Author:Philip van Wulven

    Smeenk replied, “Patents? Ohyes, well, I have filed some in the last few years, you know. Iderive considerable revenue from licensing such items as my methodfor synthesis of a type of alum for use in the paper manufactoriesand leather tanneries. Also, an improved machine for shredding linenand cotton rags into suitable fibres for use in high quality paper. Agentleman from Portsmouth has paid me a considerable sum for justthose items this past month. Then there is the rock drill, which Idevised to allow insertion of cables and pipes through the cavernsystem, together with the particular metal alloy I found, that serveswell as drill bits for the same. I hear they are currently usingthose in construction of a system of tunnels under the streets ofLondon, for use in a new underground transport system.”

    He glanced briefly at us, andsaid, “You need have no fear on my behalf, Mr Holmes, I am wellversed in the requirements and will file for suitable patents in duecourse.”

    He glanced again at hisvisitors. “Oh, I forget myself. Please help yourself to some of thecomestibles. The ham is excellent, and I have some good burgundy. MayI pour you a glass of that?”

    He didn’t wait for an answer,but went to a cupboard and took out glasses and a dusty bottle. Hethen spent a full minute rummaging in a drawer packed with a jumbleof items, before he shook his head and muttered something brief, butno doubt pungent, to himself, and took a large folding knife from hispocket, with the comment, “This is something I had hoped the WarOffice would adopt. I named it the British Army Knife, inanticipation of an immediate enthusiasm for such a multi-tool device.Sadly, the consensus was, it would be too expensive to issue totroops, and would encourage indulgence in alcohol, by reason of theconvenience of the corkscrew always available for use. They alsodecided against issue to officers as standard equipment, because itwas a tool, and officers should not be concerned with any form ofmanual labour, and so have no need of any sort of tool. One generalsaid, ‘Officers most certainly do not need to carry any sort oftool, and to issue them would be an insult to their status asgentlemen.’ He was using one of the samples I’d given out, toclean his pipe bowl as he spoke, which circumstance I forbore topoint out.”

    He began to fold the varioustools back into the handle - he had opened a startling series ofvariously shaped blades and devices as he spoke - then remembered hisfirst intention, and used the corkscrew, before he returned the knifeto his trouser pocket.

    The burgundy was quitedrinkable, though I was sure it would be even better for twentyminutes or so of exposure to air, of time to breathe, as oenologistsput it, before it was drunk. As it was, however, it went well withthe bread and ham.

    “Well, this is mostpleasant,” I said. “I see your craft floats above the ground atthe ready. How long before you undertake another test flight?”

    Smeenk said, “Why, veryshortly. I intend to try a rather more demanding itinerary than forthe initial test flight, and also will be using the automatic landingsystem I have devised, so will not require a ground crew. Would yougentlemen care to accompany me?”

    My friend was a man of greatcapabilities, and had long training in self-control, so he was ableto reply, “Why, certainly, that would be most interesting.” Allthe while remaining seated. He was even able to demonstrate his calmstate by pouring another glass of Burgundy without spilling any onthe wooden work surface, although the neck of the bottle made a fastrhythmic jingle when it contacted the rim of the glass, very briefly.

    “Can I pour you another glassof your own excellent wine? It will go to waste unless we drink itbefore we embark on the tour, which would be a shame, for it is avery good vintage, I think.”

    “Good idea. Certainly, let usdrink a toast, to the ship, Icarus, and all who fly in her!”

    He gave us a brief summary ofsome pertinent features of his craft and his facilities.

    The winches on the ground wereset up to allow operation by one person, from the controls aboard thecraft, and the cables would fly free once they unspooled to the end,to be drawn up onto the onboard winch drums, for use on landing.There were grappling hooks ready with quick-connect fittings, anotherSmeenk patent, which would allow the returning pilot to attach theship to the great rings provided for this purpose, and then theonboard winches would draw her firmly down to earth once more.Buoyancy was easily controlled by pumping ballast and compressing ordecompressing gas, as needed. The craft relied partly on forwardspeed to remain aloft, as the weight of passengers and equipmentbrought her to neutral buoyancy in air at the sea-level.

    With cargo aboard, morereliance would be on the aerodynamic qualities of the craft than onits innate buoyancy. This served to facilitate landing without aground crew, or substantial and powerful winches to draw her down, aswell as stabilising her in strong winds, when on the ground.

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