Submarine U93 Part 16
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The rest of the message, according to Crouch, was simplicity itself.
"Vernacular enc.u.mbrance"; in other words, the language would be a great difficulty. As the captain himself was able to testify, all branches of the Kanaka language were extremely difficult to learn; and it is not always easy to make South Sea Islanders understand by means of signs. If the Germans required this island as a secret base, or coaling station, they would first have to make friends with the inhabitants, since obviously they could not afford to keep a permanent garrison in the place. The concluding sentence was altogether apparent. The chief port of German New Guinea, or Kaiser Wilhelm's land, is Stephansort, which lies at the end of Astrolabe Bay, and a s.h.i.+p entering the harbour would naturally steam at half-speed to avoid the numerous shoals.
The captain went on to say that, since there was no doubt that Stork was a German spy, he had probably received definite instructions in regard to the wireless station in New Guinea against which, it was believed, an Australian expedition had already been despatched. It was even probable that the message was not without reference to the German cruiser, the "Emden," which in point of fact had already been overhauled and destroyed.
"None the less," said Crouch in conclusion, "there's mischief enough brewing in all conscience. So far as I can see, there's nothing to prevent the enemy's light cruisers breaking away from Kiel and taking to the high seas, where, by reason of their great speed, they are capable of doing a great deal more damage than the submarines. That this message refers to some secret coaling-station in the Western Pacific I have not a shadow of doubt."
There was something so simple, and yet so probable, in Captain Crouch's explanation, that Jimmy Burke was from the first both interested and filled with admiration for the little captain's ingenuity. The more he read the message the more was he certain that Crouch was on the right track. As for the captain himself, now fairly launched upon the subject of his travels, there is no knowing when he would have left off talking of coral islands, cannibals and great banana festivals, had not, on a sudden, Jimmy's attention been attracted by a very singular thing.
Regarding the message from over Crouch's shoulder, he was struck by an extraordinary coincidence, which he had not noticed before, namely, that the first letters of the first five words were S-E-V-E-N.
He pointed this out at once to Crouch; whereupon it appeared that in similar fas.h.i.+on the first letters of the next four words spelt F-I-V-E.
Captain Crouch was so amazed that he even paused in the act of lighting his pipe, with the result that he burnt his fingers with the match.
"That's strange," said he. "It may be we've got hold of the wrong end of the stick. What about the rest of it? Have the first letters of the remaining words any sort of meaning?"
Letter by letter Jimmy spelt them out.
"There's a flaw there," said Crouch. "It should end up with a T. That last word should be _eight_."
By then Jimmy was wildly excited. The whole affair had suddenly become not only interesting, but vastly thrilling.
"What about the _last_ letters of each word?" he exclaimed.
"T-E-D-G," spelt Crouch. "That means nothing, so far as my knowledge goes."
"What's the next letter?" asked the boy.
"E," said Crouch. "T-E-D-G-E, that spells nothing either." Then suddenly his expression changed. "Wait a moment!" he exclaimed. "What about this? Supposing the last word, which is _half-speed_, counts as one word, and not as two. Take the first letters of each word, and then go back to the beginning and take the last letters. That makes the 't'
at the end of _steamboat_, the last letter of the word 'eight'----"
"And then," cried Jimmy, taking the words out of the captain's mouth, "then the last letters are E-D-G-E-W-A-R-E-R-O-A-D."
"Edgeware Road!" cried Crouch, "by all that's wonderful and mad!"
They looked at one another with the blank expression of men who are half-dazed. Then Crouch produced a pencil from his pocket, and wrote down this new interpretation of Rudolf Stork's mysterious instructions--
It was only natural that Jimmy should look for advice to Captain Crouch, who was considerably older and far more experienced than himself.
"And whatever does that mean?" he demanded.
Crouch made a wry face, and shrugged his shoulders.
"Ask me another!" said he. "I know well enough where the Edgware Road is, and seeing that I was born and bred in London I suppose I ought to.
But, if you want to know what that has got to do with my secret coaling-station in the South Sea Islands, I'm afraid you've come to the wrong shop. Seven hundred and fifty-eight, Edgware Road! Jimmy, my lad, we're no nearer the solution of this mystery than we were before--in fact, it seems to me, we've lost our bearings in a fog."
In addition to which, there is no denying that Captain Crouch felt not a little personally aggrieved that his own lucid explanation, his strange, fantastic solution concerning some mysterious Pacific island, should be supplanted by so commonplace and well-known a locality as the Edgware Road in London.
"My boy," said he, knocking out his pipe on the toe of his cork foot, "we'll go to this address, just you and I, and find out who's at home."
"When?" asked Jimmy, all eagerness.
"When!" repeated Crouch. "Why, now."
CHAPTER XVII--Number 758
The more they thought about the whole strange, mysterious business, the more was it apparent that they were face to face with plain matter-of-fact. It was now obvious that the written message was nothing more than the memorandum of an address. Every Londoner knows the Edgware Road. Stork, however, or perhaps Rosencrantz or von Essling, the German military attache, had thought it advisable to write it down, and that in such a manner that it would be extremely improbable that any one else could read it.
Captain Crouch was once again upon his feet, limping backwards and forwards from one end of the room to the other, talking in a quick, excited voice, and flinging his arms about him like a windmill.
"We must go to London at once," he cried. And at that, he hastened from the room, to find the whole hotel in complete darkness. The "Goat and Compa.s.ses" kept late hours as a rule; but it was now two o'clock in the morning, and everyone had long since gone to bed. Crouch found his bedroom candle and lit it, and with the aid of this searched the smoking-room for a South-Western Railway time-table, a copy of which he at length succeeded in finding. Licking the end of his second finger, he turned over the pages so rapidly that he tore several in half.
"Here we are!" he cried. "There's a workmen's train at three-fifteen.
We'll catch that, and be in London before daybreak."
Crouch woke up the proprietor in order to pay his bill, concerning which neither was much inclined to argue, the one being too sleepy and the other in too great haste even to count his change. They had little in the way of luggage, and Crouch had been well supplied with money by Mr.
Jason, who was determined that Jimmy Burke should want for nothing.
Accordingly, in little more than an hour after they had discovered that Stork's message was nothing more or less than a simple acrostic cypher, they were speeding to London at the rate of forty miles an hour, both sound asleep on the comfortable cus.h.i.+ons in a first-cla.s.s railway carriage.
Crouch had his own rooms in Pimlico, where he had const.i.tuted his headquarters--so to speak--and where he rented two rooms, divided one from the other by folding doors. In one was a camp-bed and a veritable armoury of big-game rifles and shotguns; whereas the other, which he called the dining-room, contained a table, a few basket chairs, and many kinds of curios from all parts of the world. The walls of both rooms were adorned with the heads and antlers of many rare animals: waterbuck and koodoo, white and black leopards, jaguars, tigers and lions.
Thither, on a cold, dark, wintry morning, Crouch and his young companion hastened immediately on their arrival at Waterloo, chartering the only taxi that was to be found at that early hour.
First, it was necessary to have breakfast, during which Crouch explained that it would be certainly advisable for them to disguise themselves.
In all probability, Stork would repair to the house in the Edgware Road, and it would never do for them to be recognized. They had the whole morning at their disposal, and it must be admitted that the precautions that the little sea-captain deemed it expedient to take bordered on the ludicrous.
For himself he purchased an extremely vulgar-looking shepherd's plaid suit, a flaming red tie, and a white bowler hat which he set jauntily on the side of his head at a very acute angle.
As for Jimmy, it has been stated that he was a fair boy, with light brown hair. That was now dyed completely black. A similar darkening of the eyebrows, carried out by an expert in the art of "making up,"
completed the boy's disguise, to the complete satisfaction of Captain Crouch and the delight of Jimmy himself.
"My lad," said Crouch, "I'd lay a sheet-anchor to a safety-pin your best friend wouldn't know you now. As for me, I'll go so far as to shave off my moustache and beard."
A little after, he entered a barber's shop, and having fulfilled his promise, looked, without his moustache and small imperial beard, even more formidable than ever. His great, square, protruding chin suggested a determined and aggressive nature; whereas his thin, tightly compressed lips proved convincingly enough that here was a man who could not be trifled with.
They lunched together in a fas.h.i.+onable restaurant in the West End, where Crouch, in the strange and wonderful costume, was evidently under the impression that he was cutting a dash. Thence, arm-in-arm, they sallied forth up Regent Street and along Oxford Street, in the direction of the Edgware Road, entering a gunsmith's on the way and purchasing a brace of revolvers and a score of rounds of ammunition.
They found Number 758 to be a large block of unoccupied flats. Crouch stationed himself on the opposite side of-the road, and regarded the building for some time in silence.
"There's one thing about the place which is suspicious," he observed.
"Do you notice that every one of those flats is unoccupied, with the exception of one on the first floor? On the ground floor are shop premises, also 'To let.' Now, when you come to think of it, that is a very remarkable thing. This is a popular and central part of London, and one moreover in which rents are fairly moderate. Also, the agent's notice on the ground floor has, by the look of it, been there for months. Come, my boy, we'll look into the matter. But have your revolver ready in case of an emergency, don't hesitate to use it, and take your lead from me."
Submarine U93 Part 16
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Submarine U93 Part 16 summary
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