#3 Penny Dreadful
The Life and Crimes of Lockhart and Doppler
An Illustrated journal of amusement, adventure and instruction
The German Affair (Teil drei)
It was chilly to say the least, out here on the broad window ledge with only my underwear to protect me from the elements. I could hear the conversation coming from the open window just six feet above my head – oh my schatzi! You are ill? Hilde my darling, I feel terrible. My little liebe hase - and so on and so sickeningly forth. But, I reflected, I did now have my passport to travel and open archaeological sites (assuming little ‘love bunny’ kept his promise.)
Schloss Hartundschnell was situated on a rather stunningly forested mountainside, the descent from the window ledge would incorporate the twenty feet or so to the base of the building then another few hundred should I fall. Pulling on my shoes, then shimmying back into my dress I surveyed the surrounding vista. Balloons, dirigibles and airships dotted the sky above the town. Behind us the mountain rose into snowy pine forest, splitting in two the expansive lake, I could only see one half to my right, down below a toy village with twinkling lights. Before the schloss was the bridge with the private rail track of the Count. Approximately half a mile away, across the lake, an indistinct, uneven plume of dark smoke ascended from amidst the trees. Now that I noticed it and focused, I could feel a gentle, almost imperceptible vibration. In the chilly, silent dusk, hidden amidst the forest, someone was busy.
Having made my way along the ledge to another window and being lucky enough to discover it occupied by Hywel Lloyd, the startled engineer hastily brought me inside. I asked the Welshman about his various engineering projects, leading him to explain about noise variability in underground mining, different equipment, equipment location, mine opening geometry, and mining activity. Noise variability during haulage unit loading as well as other operations like drilling, bolting, and coal transporting with haulage equipment…and so I had what I required.
I left the schloss attired in my regular clothes; sturdy boots, twill pants, duster style coat with deep pockets and accessories. My accessories usually consisted of at least one shooter and throwing knives amongst other personal items. It was night time yet the clear sky allowed for moonlight to cause the snowy ground to illuminate and show the way. I wended my way downhill, through the scented pines towards the jetty. The commercial steam boats were moored like tethered metal beasts, small rowboats bobbed nearby like their offspring. A couple of boat men were leaving for home having secured their vessel, nets hung like ragged laundry on huge wooden frames. From a hut at the far end came a yellow glow, the night watchman I presumed. I snuck closer, hearing a hummed ditty I gauged him to be mature. A hacking cough broke the sigh and susurration of the lapping water. I edged up to the door that stood ajar, removed a small police cosh (that I affectionately called Sergeant Snooze) out of an inner pocket and silently edged towards the figure. One well aimed strike and he toppled before he could light his roll-up. I propped the slumbering figure in his chair, poured a small amount of whiskey between his lips and down his front, left the bottle on his meagre table and stole out into the dark to procure a powered vessel.
It took a mere twenty minutes to get the eighteen foot steam launch across the lake. After tethering the boat I took my bearings; standing in silence for some minutes, listening, sensing vibrations and smelling the air. I headed off. The incline was steep to begin with, especially as I was avoiding any paths and my calves and thighs soon began to ache. Above me I espied a chap with a rifle resting casually across his forearm, a cigarette hung limply from his lips. I must be close. I circled around the lone figure and eventually encountered a vast hole surrounded by winches, pulleys, bracers and so forth, it was as if a ship had run aground.
Milling about this assemblage was a variety of men; most were wheeling carts of earth away from the vicinity along a short stretch of track. Some were sat around smoking, eating or napping. They also looked pretty downtrodden, grubby and weary. From the fissure beneath the earth emerged a wooden box the size of a bathing hut and from this emerged a short, stout angry looking fellow. The dwarfen sized being began to berate the men who sat at rest, they evidently feared him and set to work. I left the gathering to follow where the carts had gone and came across the slag heap of mined earth and rock, the sad men tipping and turning back to continue. I bid my time. Eventually a young ‘un dawdled for a sneaky smoke. I introduced him to Sergeant Snooze and donning his clothing, shuffled back to the mine entrance pushing the empty cart.
Beneath the mountain they were like ants. Goliath machinery churned and thrummed away, chewing at the earth and reducing it to rubble. I had found the source of the vibrations I had sensed earlier. Smoke billowed up to a vent, yet it was still smoky and the kerchief across my nose and mouth did little to alleviate the choking at the back of my throat. I skirted the tunnel walls, slouching from cart to crate to rubble pile. Picking up a shovel to ‘work’ when I felt observed, although there was little in the way of security, the men just scraped and cleared. However, the massive screw- tipped mole was operated by a person who appeared to be dressed the same as the outside guard – and he was alert. I estimated that I was practically under the lake at this point when I noticed a constructed platform some fifty feet in length with an erection on top. Steps led up to it from both ends. A kind of underground warehouse I supposed, and headed in that direction. I took my time, traversing from work team to work team, picking up snippets of conversation then adding my own...It was a great treasure they were after. All they had found so far was nothing as compared to what Albert was after. Albert it turned out was the geezer in charge of the whole operation, the angry miniature up top. It was said that a huge serpent lived beneath the lake. No it was a foul tempered giant.
“But the curse isn’t true” I interjected.
“What curse?!” came the superstitious cry.
“Oh, it is simply stories to frighten children, you have not heard? Digging for treasure beneath the mountain will bring the wrath of the Old Ones down on whoever it is.”
I watched over my smutty kerchief. Tightened lips, wary glances.
“But it is all nonsense of course.” I said and moved off to the next team.
Before I had reached the foot of the wooden steps, the gossip of the curse had overtaken me.
“Have you heard about the curse laid by the Graf’s ancestors?”
No I hadn’t,
“His dead ancestors will arise if a certain item is removed from beneath the land of his forefathers.”
I feigned terror but smiled beneath my mucky mask and wondered what this mysterious treasure was that Albert was after. I stole up the steps, pressed tight to the shadows. The door to the unit was locked. I blew on my fingertips and bent to the task. It was a mere trifle. I dodged inside. There were a number of shelves and crates with tarp covering most of it. I passed along the rows curiously. A glow drawing me to the farther end. A small table with a lit oil lamp illuminated books, sheaves of paper and a diagram that made me glance up quickly. I pulled the tarp off the nearest shelf and almost choked.
A click behind caused me to turn. The mole digger man was pointing a pistol at me.
“Ja, das gold der Nibelungen”
To be continued…