Red Sands

Down, Down, Deeper and Down (24th October 1888)

24th October 1888

AS soon as the parks gates opened at 6.30 am a nondescript horse drawn wagon entered, and drove around to the north eastern edge of the lake. On reporting back to Professor Bottoms the previous evening Sebastian had enquired if the Explorers Society could procure any Diving Gear: this was the result.

Four figures emerged, clad in what the Professor had described as “Dr. Rickmann’s Improved Siebe- Fluess Self Contained Diving Apparatus.” It was both similar to the Siebe Suit that Marko had some familiarity with, and different in that it hosted a self contained air supply on its back, and a special demand valve mouthpiece apparatus was contained within the brass diving helmet. With the help of the driver and the accompanying Explorer’s Society Technician, they were lowered into the Serpentine.

For those unfamiliar with diving the moment of submersion was one of acute panic and fear-especially so for Sebastian who was not a good swimmer. The Serpentine was hardly the North Sea however, and was little more than a dozen feet deep: the manoeuvre process was more akin to hill walking than actual swimming, although the novice divers were probably not quite as efficient in their breathing and use of air as the more experienced Marko.

The beams of their lamps led them across to the middle of the lake, and here they noticed a faint current leading towards the eastern edge, which they decided to follow. The reason soon became apparent. A large metal circular grate, some two yards or more in diameter had been removed-cut with some tool by the look of it. Behind this was a circular tunner which led, Henry surmised, towards the Thames. By means of gesture and signs they determined to follow it- they still had plenty of air.

After half an hour they were relieved to see an exit, and peering around them saw that they were the grey slatted mud of the river itself: the depth here was still not too great, maybe only thirty feet or so.

Ahead of them however hung something looking for all the world like some sinister metal whale: hanging in the water, with its tower only a few feet below the surface, was some sort of small submersible vehicle some sixty or seventy feet long. Moving gingerly across the open river bed-a distance of only twenty yards or so, they could see that underneath the vehicle was an open circular entrance-no doubt emerging into a chamber in the fashion of a Diving Bell. They started to climb up the metal ladders.

They emerged, not without a clatter, in a rectangular room lined with lockers and pipework, with two hatches exiting fore and aft. Sebastian winced as his diving weights caught the end of the metal ladder with a clang.

As quickly as they could Marko, Sebastian and Bertie divested themselves of helmets and boot weights, while Henry curiously opened one of the lockers to the south: inside were four of the frog-like giving suits, and metal tridents. He was about to alert the others of the discovery when the wheel on the rear hatch spun round, and a woolen skullcap festooned head glared out at them.

“Sacre Bleu” he screamed, “C’est le Peelers!” A waft of garlic filled the small chamber and he dropped a small round cheese in shock. With a clatter of dropped baguettes and wooden plates behind them, another three annoyed matelots emerged, armed with knives and whatever else they had managed to grab to hand.

Still in his heavy diving suit, Henry took an unorthodox approach. Bear hugging the man in front of him he toppled down into the water, the two of them entering the chill and murky embrace of the Thames.

Grabbing their diving knives and hatchets the others engaged the sailors, and all was going well until the front hatch also opened and four more men appeared-this time dressed more formally, and armed with pistols.

In the close confines of the compartment however close combat was equally effective, and soon only two of the Bridge Crew remained.

“Surrender now Froggies!” called Bertie.

“Ah speet een your face you pathetic Eenglish beiur swillers!” called their leader. “With your terrible roast dinneurs and stodgy food. We can only triumph against zuch Barbarians!”

As the three rushed the cabin Marko stumbled with a bullet in his shoulder, but one of the matelots also fell to the ground. Out of bullets the sneering Captain drew a rapier he carried at his side, but finally, with both Bertie and Sebastian being in extremely poor shape, Henry managed to clamber back up the ladder, and fire into the melee with a fallen pistol. It was a lucky shot, and the man fell to the ground with a small hole in his forehead.

As Henry removed his diving gear and saw to Marko’s wound, the others searched the small bridge, finding a small cupboard type room with a very frightened looking young man and woman.

“The missing pair I assume” said Sebastian triumphantly, and so indeed it proved.

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