The Lost Diaries - Book Two

 

Sarawak Sojourn - service in the Brooke Raj, being volume 2 of Captain Arjun Khan's diaries.

Chapter 6 - A Rather Loud Explosion

In August that year there was much excitement in the town of Kuching, for the famous Wilson’s Great World Circus had arrived in the Dutch city of Batavia, and everyone who could afford to was eager to see it.  And so we obtained leave from the Raja, and sailed to Java to attend the show.  I was on my part keen to see Mr Holtum, a Danish strongman who whose act included catching a flying cannonball with his bare hands!

 

We arrived on Friday (the 24th), and put up at the Hotel des Indes, which comfort was a welcome change from the Spartan conditions at Fort Magherita.

 

(Here follows an account of Batavia and the circus show.)

 

We were taking a walk by Waterloo Plain after our luncheon at the Concordia Military Club (which was built by the English at the beginning of the century and quite the finest building in the country), when a strange rumbling began to be heard coming from the west. Soon afterwards news was received from the station at Anjer that the volcano on the island of Rakata had begun to spew forth smoke from it summit, and a gathering gloom could be seen over the horizon, and by five o’clock in the afternoon it became dark in the streets of Batavia.

 

It was not long afterwards that we all came to suspect that the infernal Dr Doomeira might be behind this unnatural event.  Was this what he meant when he said he sought to rid the lands of the Dutch ‘by fire and by water’?

 

Taking little thought for our safety, we determined to sail to the island itself to find out for certain.  But we would not risk the lives of the men under us, and Captain Cavor left the choice to them. But not a single one of the brave men wavered, and we soon put out of port.

 

Long before we espied the island of Rakata, we could see a hint of the destruction which Dr Doomeira sought to unleash upon the inhabitants of the East Indies.  St Elmo’s fire danced upon the masts and rigging of the ship, which the sailors took as a bad omen. The winds bore a sulphurous stench, and carried a hail of ash and pumice upon them, such that we could not endure being on the open decks, and must retire below them.

 

At dawn on the 27th we finally saw the island.  With the skies still covered with darkness, the terrible island stood like a beacon in the distance, while streams of flames spewed forth from her tallest peak. We felt like we about to descend into the maws of Hades...

 

When we arrived upon the island the very earth itself was trembling. A quick search revealed where our quarry would be – a ramp had been built at the mouth of a volcanic vent.

 

Major Chard, Captain Cavor and Mr Korzeniowski led the party into the vent, while I remained at the surface with several of the other crew. The account of the battle was afterwards related to me by the participants.

 

The vent led close to a mile under the earth, and eventually they emerged in a large subterranean cavern lit by incandescent lamps.  In the centre of the cavern stood a towering derrick that resembled an oil rig; and around them were the by-now familiar figures of the Timorese and the steam-masons.

 

Once again they were caught by surprise, but once more they put up a fierce fight. Major Chard charged headlong into the enemy, intent on reaching the strange contraption which no doubt was the cause of all the volcanic activity. Major Chard’s impetuosity had once again placed him ahead of his troops, and the remaining Timorese would have overcome him with numbers had not a timely volley from Number Two-Ox’s rocket cart spread destruction and panic amongst them.

 

Now he fell upon the duplicitous Mat Soontul, who after a short, sharp fight fled onto the platform and began to climb onto the derrick, from where he no doubt intended to shoot at us. But before he could do this evil deed, he was struck by a bullet from Captain Cavor’s pistol, and fell to his death.

 

Seeing Major Chard so close to his infernal engine, Dr Doomeira himself and his bodyguards now sought Major Chard in mortal combat to prevent him from thwarting his scheme. But even then they could not withstand his fury. A second steam-mason now joined him and Major Chard was struck a blow upon his head by a rock thrown by the mechanical monster and fell to the ground.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the meantime Mr Korzeniowski’s party were prevented from reaching the derrick by one of the steam-mason.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At this moment the earth shook in a violent fit, and a blast of heat assailed all in the cavern as lava spewed from the bottom of the rig.  Dr Doomeira’s infernal drilling machine must have breached the very core of the earth!

 

The brave marines, instead of running away from this new terror, ran forward and saved Major Chard from certain death, and together they soon surrounded Dr Doomiera. Finally he had this elusive enemy within his sword’s reach!  But the floor of the cavern had begun to split, and the lava began to flow in large tracts across it. Captain Cavor ordered his men back towards the vent, but many fell to a fiery death as the ground opened up under their feet and swallowed them. Major Chard too, now so close to defeating his enemy, was likewise forced to retreat, suffering severe burns as he leapt across a river of lava to reach safety.

 

 

 

As he ran towards the vent he saw one of the steam-masons, its driver loyal to the last to his master, attempt to throw a boulder across one of the lava streams to allow Dr Doomeira to escape. But the ground opened up beneath it and it too fell into certain death, and Dr Doomeira was left with no resort but to attempt to jump to safety.  The desperate man, by now exhausted from the fight and the heat, had no hope of success.

 

On the surface, we all heaved a sigh of relief when Major Chard finally emerged. But there was little time for rejoicing, as the trembling of the earth became stronger with each passing minute. We fled pell-mell onto the Abang II, and Captain Cavor gave orders to sail northwards at full steam.

 

At a little past ten o’clock we heard a fearful explosion, and following in the wake of that noise the sea rose in a gigantic wave which picked up our ship as if it was a sampan, and threw us several miles inland onto the island of Java.  

 

So great was the eruption, that we found out later that Major Domine, who at that moment was in Saigon, had heard the sound of the same explosion!

 

... How did we meet and speak to Major Domine? ... Now that is the subject of another story...