The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol Xiii Part 42
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They landed amid unseen men in the c.o.c.kpit, and as he scrambled to his feet the inspector cried, "Follow that boat that just went down-river. But no shooting!"
With thunderous drumfire from its exhausts, the cutter jerked forward so rapidly that it almost threw them from their feet again. It shot out onto the bosom of the dark river that flowed like a black sea between the banks of scattered lights that were London.
The moving lights of yachts and barges coming up-river could be seen gliding in that darkness. The captain of the cutter barked an order and one of his three men, the one crouched at the searchlight, switched its powerful beam out over the waters ahead.
In a moment it picked up a distant gray spot racing eastward on the black river, leaving a white trail of foam.
"There she is!" bawled the man at the searchlight. "She's running without lights!"
"Keep her in the searchlight," ordered the captain. "Sound our siren, and give the cutter her head."
Swaying, rocking, the cutter roared on through the darkness on the trail of that distant fleeing speck. As they raced down Blackwall Reach, the distance between the two craft had already begun to lessen.
"We're overtaking him!" cried Campbell, clutching a stanchion and peering ahead against the rush of wind and spray. "He must be making for whatever spot it is in England that is the center of the Brotherhood of the Door--but he'll never reach it."
"He said that within a few hours Ruth would go with the others through the Door!" cried Ennis, clinging beside him. "Campbell, we mustn't let them get away now!"
Pursuers and pursued flashed on down the dark, broadening river, through mazes of s.h.i.+pping, the cutter hanging doggedly to the motor-boat's trail. The lights of London had dropped behind and those of Tilbury now gleamed away on their left.
Bigger, stronger waves now tossed and pounded the cutter as it raced out of the river mouth toward the heaving black expanse of the sea. The Kent coast was a black blur on their right; the gray motor-boat followed it closely, grazing almost beneath the Sheerness lights.
"He's heading to round North Foreland and follow the coast south to Ramsgate or Dover," the cutter captain cried to Campbell. "But we'll catch him before he pa.s.ses Margate."
The quarry was now but a quarter-mile ahead. Steadily as they roared onward the gap narrowed, until in the glare of the searchlight they could make out every detail of the powerful gray motor-boat plunging through the tossing black waves.
They saw Chandra Da.s.s' dark face turn and look back at them, and the cutter captain raised his speaking-trumpet to his lips and shouted over the roar of motors and dash of waves.
"Stand by or we'll fire at you!"
"He won't obey," muttered Campbell between his teeth. "He knows we daren't fire with the girl in the boat."
"Yes, blast him!" exclaimed the captain. "But we'll have him in a few minutes, anyway."
The thundering chase had brought them into sight of the lights of Margate on the dark coast to their right. Now only a few hundred feet of black water separated them from the fleeing craft.
Ennis and the inspector, gripping the stanchions of the rus.h.i.+ng cutter, saw a white figure suddenly stand erect in the boat ahead and wave its arms to them. The gray motor-boat slowed.
"It's Chandra Da.s.s and he's signaling that he's giving up!" Ennis cried. "He's stopping!"
"By heavens, he is!" Campbell explained. "Drive alongside him, and we'll soon have the irons on him."
The cutter, its own motors hastily throttled down, shot through the water toward the slowing gray craft. Ennis saw Chandra Da.s.s standing erect, awaiting their coming, he and the two Malays beside him holding their hands in the air. He saw a half-dozen or more white-wrapped forms in the bottom of the boat, lying motionless.
"There are their prisoners!" he cried. "Bring the boat closer so we can jump in!"
He and Campbell, their pistols out, hunched to jump as the cutter drove closer to the gray motor-boat. The sides of the two craft b.u.mped, the motors of both idling noisily. Then before Ennis and Campbell could jump into the motor-boat, things happened with cinema-like rapidity. Two of the still white forms at the bottom of the motor-boat leaped up and like suddenly uncoiled springs shot through the air into the cutter. They were two other Malays, their dark faces flaming with fanatic light, keen daggers glinting in their upraised hands.
"'Ware a trick!" yelled Campbell. His gun barked, but the bullet missed and a dagger slit his sleeve.
The Malays, with wild, screeching yells, were laying about them with their daggers in the cutter, insanely.
"G.o.d in heaven, they're running amok!" choked the cutter captain.
His slashed neck spurting blood and his face livid, he fell. One of his men slumped coughing beside him, another victim of the crazy daggers.
3. Up the Water-Tunnel The man at the searchlight sprang for the maddened Malays, tugging at his pistol as he jumped. Before he got the weapon out, a dagger slashed his jugular and he went down gurgling in death. One of the Malays meanwhile had knocked Inspector Campbell from his feet, his knife-hand swooping down, his eyes blazing.
Ennis' gun roared and the bullet hit the Malay between the eyes. But as he slumped limply, the other fanatic was upon Ennis from the side. Before Ennis could whirl to meet him, the attacker's knife grazed down past his cheek like a brand of living fire. He was borne backward by the rush, felt the hot breath of the crazed Malay in his face, the dagger-point at his throat.
Shots roared quickly, one after another, and with each shot the Malay pressing Ennis back jerked convulsively. With the light of murderous madness fading from his eyes, he still strove to drive the dagger home into the American's throat. But a hand jerked him back and he lay prostrate and still.
Ennis scrambled up to find Inspector Campbell, pale and determined, over him. The detective had shot the attacker from behind.
The captain of the cutter and two of his men lay dead in the c.o.c.kpit beside the two Malays. The remaining seaman, the helmsman, held his shoulder and groaned.
Ennis whirled. The motor-boat of Chandra Da.s.s was no longer beside the cutter, and there was no sight of it anywhere on the black sea ahead. The Hindoo had taken advantage of the fight to make good his escape with his two other servants and their prisoners.
"Campbell, he's gone!" cried the young American frantically. "He's got away!"
The inspector's eyes were bright with cold flame of anger. "Yes, Chandra Da.s.s sacrificed these two Malays to hold us up long enough for him to escape."
Campbell whirled to the helmsman. "You're not badly hurt?"
"Only a scratch, but I nearly broke my shoulder when I fell," answered the man.
"Then head on around North Foreland!" Campbell cried. "We may still be able to catch up to them."
"But Captain Wilson and the others are killed," protested the helmsman. "I've got to report----"
"You can report later," rasped the inspector. "Do as I say--I'll be responsible."
"Very well, sir," said the helmsman, and jumped back to the wheel.
In a minute the big cutter was roaring ahead over the heaving black waves, its searchlight clawing the darkness ahead. There was no sign now of the craft of Chandra Da.s.s ahead. They raced abreast of the lights of Margate, started rounding the North Foreland, pounded by bigger seas.
Inspector Campbell had dragged the bodies of the dead policemen and their two slayers down into the cabin of the cutter. He came up and crouched down with Ennis beside Sturt, the helmsman.
"I found these on the two Malays," Campbell shouted to the American, holding out two little objects in his spray-wet hand.
Each was a flat star of gray metal in which was set a large oval, cabochon-cut jewel. The jewels flashed and dazzled with deep color, but it was a color wholly unfamiliar and alien to their eyes.
"They're not any color we know on earth," Campbell shouted. "I believe these jewels came from somewhere beyond the Door, and that these are badges of the Brotherhood of the Door."
Sturt, the helmsman, leaned toward the inspector. "We've rounded North Foreland, sir," he cried. "Head straight south along the coast," Campbell ordered. "Chandra Da.s.s must have gone this way. No doubt he thinks he's shaken us off, and is making for the gathering-place of the Brotherhood, wherever that may be."
"The cutter isn't built for seas like this," Sturt said, shaking his head. "But I'll do it."
They were now following the coast southward, the lights of Ramsgate dropping back on their right. The waters out here in the Channel were wilder, great black waves tossing the cutter to the sky one moment, and then dropping it sickeningly the next. Frequently its screws raced loudly as they encountered no resistance but air.
Ennis, clinging precariously on the foredeck, turned the searchlight's stabbing white beam back and forth on the heaving dark sea ahead, but without any sign of their quarry disclosed.
White foam of breaking waves began to show around them like bared teeth, and there was a humming in the air.
"Storm coming up the Channel," Sturt exclaimed. "It'll do for us if it catches us out here."
"We've got to keep on," Ennis told him desperately. "We must come up with them soon!"
The coast on their right was now one of black, rocky cliffs, towering all along the sh.o.r.e in a jagged, frowning wall against which the waves dashed foamy white. The cutter crept southward over the wild waters, tossed like a chip upon the great waves. Sturt was having a hard time holding the craft out from the rocks, and had its prow pointed obliquely away from them.
The humming in the air changed to a shrill whistling as the outrider winds of the storm came upon them. The cutter tossed still more wildly and black ma.s.ses of water smashed in upon them from the darkness, dazing and drenching them.
Suddenly Ennis yelled, "There's the lights of a boat ahead! There, moving in toward the cliffs!"
He pointed ahead, and Campbell and the helmsman peered through the blinding spray and darkness. A pair of low lights were moving at high speed on the waters there, straight toward the towering black cliffs. Then they vanished suddenly from sight.
"There must be a hidden opening or harbor of some kind in the cliffs!" Inspector Campbell exclaimed. "But that can't be Chandra Da.s.s' boat, for it carried no lights."
"It might be others of the Brotherhood going to the meeting-place!" Ennis exclaimed. "We can follow and see."
Sturt thrust his head through the flying spray and shouted, "There are openings and water-caverns in plenty along these cliffs, but there's nothing in any of them."
"We'll find out," Campbell said. "Head straight toward the cliffs in there where that boat vanished."
"If we can't find the opening we'll be smashed to flinders on those cliffs," Sturt warned.
"I'm gambling that we'll find the opening," Campbell told him. "Go ahead."
Sturt's face set stolidly and he said, "Yes, sir."
He turned the prow of the cutter toward the cliffs. Instantly they dashed forward toward the rock walls with greatly increased speed, wild waves bearing them onward like charging stallions of the sea.
Hunched beside the helmsman, the searchlight stabbing the dark wildly as the cutter was flung forward by the waves, Ennis and the inspector watched as the cliffs loomed closer ahead. The brilliant white beam struck across the rus.h.i.+ng, mountainous waves and showed only the towering barriers of rock, battered and smitten by the raving waters that frothed white. They could hear the booming thunder of the raging ocean striking the rock.
Like a projectile hurled by a giant hand, the cutter fairly flew now toward the cliffs. They now could see even the little streams that ran off the rough rock wall as each giant wave broke against it. They were almost upon it.
Sturt's face was deathly. "I don't see any opening!" he yelled. "And we're going to hit in a moment!"
"To your left!" screamed Inspector Campbell over the booming thunder. "There's an arched opening there."
Now Ennis saw it also, a huge arch-like opening in the cliff that had been concealed by an angle of the wall. Sturt tried frantically to head the cutter toward it, but the wheel was useless as the great waves bore the craft along. Ennis saw they would strike a little to the side of the opening. The cliff loomed ahead, and he closed his eyes to the impact.
There was no impact. And as he heard a hoa.r.s.e cry from Inspector Campbell, he opened his eyes.
The cutter was flying in through the mighty opening, s.n.a.t.c.hed into it by powerful currents. They were whirled irresistibly forward under the huge rock arch, which loomed forty feet over their heads. Before them stretched a winding water-tunnel inside the cliff.
And now they were out of the wild uproar of the storming waters outside, and in an almost stupefying silence. Smoothly, resistlessly, the current bore them on in the tunnel, whose winding turns ahead were lit up by their searchlight.
"G.o.d, that was close!" exclaimed Inspector Campbell.
His eyes flashed. "Ennis, I believe that we have found the gathering-place of the Brotherhood. That boat we sighted is somewhere ahead in here, and so must be Chandra Da.s.s, and your wife."
Ennis' hand tightened on his gun-b.u.t.t. "If that's so--if we can just find them----"
"Blind action won't help if we do," said the inspector swiftly. "There must be all the number of the Brotherhood's members a.s.sembled here, and we can't fight them all."
His eyes suddenly lit and he took the blazing jeweled stars from his pocket. "These badges! With them we can pose as members of the Brotherhood, perhaps long enough to find your wife."
"But Chandra Da.s.s will be there, and if he sees us----"
Campbell shrugged. "We'll have to take that chance. It's the only course open to us."
The current of the inflowing tide was still bearing them smoothly onward through the winding water-tunnel, around bends and angles where they sc.r.a.ped the rock, down long straight stretches. Sturt used the motors to guide them around the turns. Meanwhile, Inspector Campbell and Ennis quickly ripped from the cutter its police-insignia and covered all evidences of its being a police craft.
Sturt suddenly snicked off the searchlight. "Light ahead there!" he exclaimed.
Around the next turn of the water-tunnel showed a gleam of strange, soft light.
"Careful, now!" cautioned the inspector. "Sturt, whatever we do, you stay in the cutter. And try to have it ready for a quick getaway, if we leave it."
Sturt nodded silently. The helmsman's stolid face had become a little pale, but he showed no sign of losing his courage.
The cutter sped around the next turn of the tunnel and emerged into a huge, softly lit cavern. Sturt's eyes bulged and Campbell uttered an exclamation of amazement. For in this mighty water-cavern there floated in a great ma.s.s, scores of sea-going craft, large and small.
All of them were capable of breasting storm and wind, and some were so large they could barely have entered. There were small yachts, big motor-cruisers, sea-going launches, cutters larger than their own, and among them the gray motor-launch of Chandra Da.s.s.
They were ma.s.sed together here, those with masts having lowered them to enter, floating and rubbing sides, quite unoccupied. Around the edges of the water-cavern ran a wide rock ledge. But no living person was visible and there was no visible source for the soft, strange white light that filled the astounding place.
"These craft must have come here from all over earth!" Campbell muttered. "The Brotherhood of the Door has a.s.sembled here--we've found their gathering-place all right."
"But where are they?" exclaimed Ennis. "I don't see anyone."
"We'll soon find out," the inspector said. "Sturt, run close to the ledge there and we'll get out on it."
Sturt obeyed, and as the cutter b.u.mped the ledge, Campbell and Ennis leaped out onto it. They looked this way and that along it, but no one was in sight. The weirdness of it was unnerving, the strangely lit, mighty cavern, the a.s.sembled boats, the utter silence.
"Follow me," Campbell said in a low voice. "They must all be somewhere near."
He and Ennis walked a few steps along the ledge, when the American stopped. "Campbell, listen!" he whispered.
Dimly there whispered to them, as though from a distance and through great walls, a swelling sound of chanting. As they listened, hearts beating rapidly, a square of the rock wall of the cavern abruptly flew open beside them, as though hinged like a door. Inside it was the mouth of a soft-lit, man-high tunnel, and in its opening stood two men. They wore over their clothing shroud-like, loose-hanging robes of gray, asbestos-like material. They wore hoods of the same gray stuff over their heads, pierced with slits at the eyes and mouth. And each wore on his breast the blazing star-badge.
Through the eye-slits the eyes of the two surveyed Campbell and Ennis as they halted, transfixed by the sudden apparition. Then one of the hooded men spoke measuredly in a hissing, Mongolian voice.
The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol Xiii Part 42
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