The Assembler

Chapter 5 - The Airship Empress

Jean G Hontz

@copyright 2009 all rights reserved

How exactly his father had managed to get him a berth on the very next airship out of the London terminal headed for the Americas still confused Cyril, three days later. There was always a waiting list, and berths had to be booked months in advance. However he had done it, though, Cyril had found himself and a hastily packed valise, climbing the gangplank or whatever it was they called it, onto HMAS The Empress the evening after he'd received the note which had all but shattered his world.

The Empress represented the very latest in airship technology - not to mention airship luxury. It was capable of making the crossing from London to New York in three days. It was the largest class of airship and could easily carry 75 first class passengers as well as cargo in the base of the gondola. His room was quite comfortable, spacious compared to say the steam ship HMS Queen Victoria, and despite everything Cyril found himself enjoying the travel and the accommodations, food and company of first class travel. It was far nicer than by steamship, he thought, which was how most people made the crossing from England to its colonies in the Americas. And he wasn't even getting airsick the way he sometimes got seasick.

They’d left England the night after he'd received the note, following a rather death-defying race horseback across the estate and to the railway station. From there it had been a confusing rush on trains and then on to London, by private car. He'd had a few hours to rest then they'd rushed him off by private car in order to reach the aerodrome barely in time to board the Empress. If he didn't know better, he'd believe they'd held the great monstrous thing just for him, they left so soon after his foot left solid ground.

Three mornings later they’d arrived at the airship terminal near New York. They’d spent the night there, whilst the great ship was unloaded, reloaded, its engines refueled, and its stores refreshed with food and water and it took on a fresh crew. Now it headed southward toward Bermuda. From there it would go on to the Bahamas and Jamaica before turning back westward to England once again.

He’d be getting off at Hamilton Aerodrome on Bermuda. He’d never been there - well, he’d never been anywhere though, other than just Paris - so he wasn’t sure how long or how daunting a trek it might be to reach the ever so confusing address he had for a retired Don he’d barely known but one who’d been close to Ned. Cyril figured if anyone knew where Ned was, it would be Septimus Marchant.

And it was vital that Cyril find Ned. Emmie’s life, or so whoever had taken her claimed. The note had been clear. Unless Cyril found Ned and brought him back to London, Emmie’s life was forfeit.

They’d followed up, of course. They knew she'd gone to the Museum Tavern and left from there with Richard Ainsworth. And Cyril had received a telegram during the flight saying that Richard Ainsworth was missing too. It frightened Cyril no end. There was only one entity he thought that would be quite so bold as to kidnap an Earl’s daughter as well as the son of a major industrialist: the British government.

Thinking that, Cyril had studied everyone aboard the Empress. He spent his time trying to decide if anyone might possibly be a member of the Security Services, or perhaps some military man in mufti.

The Metropolitan Police Special Branch had approach most of Ned’s friends last year, searching for him. They’d bothered not only himself, Emmie and other former students from Oxford who knew him, but also had the nerve to apprach Ned’s so-called father and his rather flaky mother. Even the Earl had reported to Cyril they'd come to the manor asking for him.

But, so far as Cyril knew, no one had known exactly where Ned was. Not even him. Especially not him or Emmie. Ned had explained that they’d be the first questioned. How prophetic that had been.

He wondered if Dr Marchant had known, and if he’d been questioned. Probably considering that even the old pater had been questioned. But the Earl, despite his many dire faults, liked Ned. Had liked him as a boy, had liked him when Cyril brought him home on holidays from school, had liked him even when they'd heard he had been deemed some sort of traitor to his country.

The old man had snarled at those who'd accused Ned and come to question him. Absolutely snarled at them. It had amused Cyril no end, and had made him wonder a good deal. Cyril suspected his father knew a good deal more about what was behind it all than Cyril or Emmie did. And God knows you could never get a word out of Ned when he was determined to keep secrets.

So it was no surprise that Cyril wondered now if it wasn't the government who’d taken Emmie as a way to find Ned. The pater did not think so, or at least so he'd said. And besides, he'd pointed out to Cyril, it really didn't matter. They needed Ned to help them get her back from whomever it was. And, thinking about it, Cyril knew Ned would want to help. Even if it meant turning himself in to save her. Well, or so Cyril hoped.

----

It was late afternoon before the car Cyril had hired pulled up in front of a brilliantly painted house. But then all the houses here sported brilliantly painted stucco and even more brilliant white roofs. The white roofs, he’d been told, were used to collect rainwater since natural wells were at a premium. Most underground water was brinish if not downright salty.

At any rate, Cyril grabbed his valise and exited the car. He stood on the side of the narrow lane and looked up at the front veranda directly before him. It was a pleasant looking house. But then all of what he'd seen of Bermuda was pleasant. The water cerulean blue, or in the shallower areas emerald green. Palm trees, brilliant white sand, sea breezes, intriguing smells of exotic foods.

He hitched up his courage and approached the house. And besides the hired car had already pulled off, leaving him little choice. He walked up the four steps to the veranda and the front door.

He pushed a button that rang the bell.

He could see through the house to a sunny veranda on the back of the house. He also could hear voices, one woman’s laughing, and a deeper male voice answering her.

Then he heard steps approaching, the light tread of a woman. He could only see her in outline given the glare and brilliance of outdoor light compared to the cooler and darker interior. Then she was at the door, and meeting his eyes.

First thing he noticed was that she was every bit as tall as he. She had short bobbed hair, and eyes the color of the sea. She had full lips that were now slightly open. He wanted nothing better in that first instant but to kiss them.

He cleared his throat and muttered, “Wha?” He hadn't heard a word she'd said.

“I said,” she replied, carefully enunciating, “What can I do for you?”

Oh, absolutely the wrong question. He'd like to answer her, in detail, but now was definitely not the time.

“I’m looking for Septimus Marchant. Am I at the right house? It seems, or so I’ve been told, houses do not have numbers here but instead have names, and one is told to look for the blue house on that lane next to the Shady Nest Bungalow but that if you reach the canary yellow house you’ve gone to far. So, am I at the right house? Is this the Old Crow’s Retreat?”

Her lips twitched. “Welcome to Bermuda. Yes, you’ve found the right house. What is it you want with my father?” she asked, making no move to let him in. Dammit. He wanted to get closer to her.

“I, uh, we have a mutual acquaintance. It is imperative that I find this mutual acquaintance. I’d like to ask your father if he can tell me where to look.”

She hesitated and frowned, lines forming between her wideset eyes.

Cyril wanted desperately to erase any lines of worry or concern. What was wrong with him? His sister’s life was in danger and he was falling in love after one glance?

“I expect you ought to come in then. Your name?”

“Cyril Hollis-Reynolds,” Cyril replied. “I’m a ...”

“I know who you are,” she cut him off ruthlessly, her voice gone hard and cold.

What had he said?

“Come in,” she told him, as she held the door open for him. “We’re back on the veranda having drinks. I expect I’ll have to feed you, too.”

“I, uh, I can find a hotel. Or something.” He followed her, still clutching his valise. He felt dizzy, conflicted, confused. The heavy scent of some flower or other wafted through on the breeze from the back of the house. It was nearly too much for him, after having so soon left England’s damned damp and rainy shores.

She led him through the house and out onto a spacious veranda. The world dropped away under it, to give an aerie view of what he recognized as Hamilton Harbor below them. He could even see the air ship aerodrome from here, off to the right, southwestward, in the distance.

The sun cast brilliant sparks on the water as it danced in the wind. Palm fronds rustled in that breeze and the scent of the tropical flowers were all nearly too much for him. Cyril felt the valise fall from his nearly nerveless hand.

“Hullo, Cyril,” said a voice he knew as well as his own

 

 

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