Part 2: Undercover
When we arrived in Marseille the following morning, I felt unreal. During the rest of our voyage, Cynthia had acted as if the conversation concerning Captain Omen had never happened. Only when we took our evening repose in the confined sleeping car of the train did she suddenly state how glad she was that I had consented to accompany her. Cynthia may naturally have meant just our journey in general, but her strange smile hinted that she was referring to our secret mission.
I still questioned the whole affair. To me, the entire conversation with Cynthia had started to feel like a dream. I had most certainly been dreaming. In fact, I specifically felt that the night had passed deep in a mysterious dream of which I could remember nothing but the sense of the sea. It was amazing, considering how out of sorts I had been when I went to bed. However, I had instantly slipped into a black sleep that lasted until the train attendant knocked on our door, signalling that we were arriving in Marseille.
When the turquoise vastness of the Mediterranean opened before us in the morning, something clicked in my mind. Whatever happened from now on, I was in for an adventure. It almost felt more tempting than turning back and heading home. The fact that I no longer had a home, and that I had promised Aunt Emerald to look after Cynthia (!), also prevented me from escaping.
That day we made some purchases for the voyage – Cynthia seemed to have sufficient funds to restock my wardrobe, in addition to her own. We walked from one boutique to another, and block by block, the porter we had hired carried an increasingly heavy load. Admittedly, if this was adventure, I might someday learn to enjoy it! I recalled Cynthia’s strange remarks only during the embarrassing minutes that we spent in Mlle. de Séduisante’s lingerie outfitters. Cynthia whispered to Mlle. de Séduisante in French. This full-figured lady of a certain age glanced at us, looked amused, and beckoned us to follow her into a locked back room. I found myself among lingerie and accessories of a quality that I feared would irreversibly taint my soul! Certainly I shall not describe in any detail the forms and colours of these translucent, lacy, and frilly articles of clothing. I did not even know that these colours were permissible in undergarments! Quite surely some of them w! ere red, or, goodness me, black!
Cynthia also noticed that she had gone too far, and we departed the store with faces aflush. What in the world had she been thinking! I had to keep her in check – I had followed along with her whims much too frivolously.
Thus, I was not entirely pleased when we finally retreated to our quarters near the Marseille harbour. The ship was bound to leave the following day. Cynthia spent some time downstairs arranging for the transport of her scientific equipment to the ship.
I knew that I should give the young woman a stern talking-to, demanding that she quit acting foolish and plaguing her poor cousin with flights of fancy. That is exactly what I would do.
However, I had not even had time to open my mouth when Cynthia swept into the room full of excitement. She noticed me sitting by the dressing table, and bent down over me.
“I have to warn you now,” Cynthia said in a low voice. “When we set out to sea, we are in immediate… danger,” she nearly whispered the last word.
“That is why I need to prepare you a little now, who knows, maybe tomorrow…” her own thoughts seemed to make her nervous, too. “I should probably have started preparing you some time sooner, but I wanted to enjoy your company freely, dear Maude.” Cynthia cast an appealing look at me, but I could only stare back at her open-mouthed.
She burst into laughter.
“I apologize, I’m nervous too. But isn’t this wonderful?” Cynthia sighed and sat down in the armchair next to me. “The two of us, together, carrying out a secret mission for Her Majesty the Queen!”
I did not feel like it was the least bit wonderful. In fact, I felt that I might soon need my smelling salts, which I fortunately kept close by in my satchel.
“You have probably been wondering about one thing: If and when Captain Omen abducts us, how can we protect ourselves from his mesmerism?”
I had never thought that far. All day, I had shut Cynthia’s secret mission out of my mind. Now that the idea again attacked me in full force, I felt stunned. The sermon that I had planned to deliver to make her come to her senses vanished out of my head, and my fingers began to tremble.
It cannot be denied that Cynthia’s question made sense. How in the world had Cynthia planned to protect us against a ruinous fate worse than death at Captain Omen’s hands?
Cynthia seemed to interpret my silence as a sign of unquenchable curiosity, because she got up and started to rummage through the compartments of her trunk.
“Here!” she finally exclaimed happily. She then offered me a small, brown medicine bottle. “Here you are, this is for you. I have one of my own,” Cynthia said.
“Take one pill every evening before bedtime. Professor Q did explain exactly what is in them, but I wasn’t paying attention,” Cynthia giggled. “He had egg in his whiskers!”
“Cynthia!” I managed to cry out as I squeezed the glass bottle she had given me so hard that I was afraid it would shatter.
“I’m sorry, Maude. I’m much too excited about this whole affair. Even though I don’t know what is in the pills, Q told me how they work. They inhibit the mesmeric effect. We shall, therefore, be able to keep our wits about us even if Captain Omen tries his hardest to make us submit to his will.”
I stared at Cynthia, not believing a word she had said.
“But how about… but how about…” I started to seek words for things I had never talked about.
“On the other hand, this plan does have the disadvantage that if we do get abducted, we must of course pretend to really submit to his will,” Cynthia stated and wrinkled her pretty brow as if the true meaning of what she was saying had only now dawned upon her. Perhaps it had.
“But worry not, dear cousin! I have something to help you with that, too.” Again, Cynthia dug around in her trunk, fishing out a small leaflet, which she handed over to me. To my astonishment, I saw a familiar name on the cover: Mrs. T. G. Honour.
“This is a supplement, of a kind, to a book that I know you hold in high esteem. I had it procured especially for you. You should only read it here in the hotel room or in our own cabin on the ship, but otherwise keep it carefully out of sight,” Cynthia explained as I flipped through the booklet.
… as for the rapid release of male desire, in order to uphold Virtue in dire need, we must forget the usual golden rules of Demure Behaviour, and extend our hand to stroke the Shaft (diagram B). Combined with the Flirty Look described in the previous chapter, this hastens the process leading to release by a span of time that…
My hands trembled so hard that I could no longer read the text. I was certainly never going to look at diagram B! Never! I wanted to smash the booklet on the floor, throw it in the rubbish bin, cast it into a bonfire!
The booklet stayed in my shaking fingers as if glued there.
“Cynthia… what have you brought us to?” I asked, my voice breaking.
“Adventure, dear cousin!” Cynthia came closer and embraced me. Her warm touch comforted me only slightly.
“Have you never been interested in knowing… what it is really all about?”
I did not find out what it was about that evening, nor did I do so the following evenings. I had diligently added Mrs. T. G. Honour’s less honourable supplement to the main body of the book. But when the sea voyage finally started, I could not find it in myself to open the book again. I tried to come to terms with the matter, as I convinced myself, even though in truth I made quite an effort to evade it.
The first day and evening at sea went well. Fortunately, I did not succumb to seasickness, and neither did Cynthia, who seemed to have been born for sea travel. The ship’s captain, Captain Hardy, was a perfect gentleman, who, according to Cynthia, knew about our mission. He kept us out of the crew’s way, and we enjoyed rather pleasant meals in his cabin. No mention was made of our mission during mealtimes. Sometimes it seemed that the captain cast worried, fatherly glances in our direction, but that might well have been my imagination.
Cynthia explained that when we were abducted, the captain would publish an account of our fate in several newspapers that had been agreed upon in advance. If Captain Omen followed the press, he would not suspect us of anything.
When we were abducted. Those were the very words Cynthia used. As several days passed, I began to fear that she had quite simply gone mad, that all this was the result of some kind of mental trauma. What did I have, really? A newspaper clipping, a daring booklet that I did not dare to read, a bottle of pills, and Cynthia’s passionate outbursts.
The poor girl might be a raving lunatic. And I had believed her.
However, Cynthia seemed level-headed and trusting. And we really did our best to get abducted. Every evening, when the ship was anchored for the night and dinner taken, Cynthia and I took a walk on the deck. Cynthia told everyone that we were checking the measuring equipment that she had planted in all parts of the ship. I noticed that most of her equipment was located in places that the ship’s lookouts could not see. We walked from one device to another in the clear late-summer night air of the Mediterranean, thousands of stars sparkling above our heads. Even though our journey was partly uncomfortable and tinted by Cynthia’s madness, I admit to feeling even rapturous at times. I was far from home, adventuring on a foreign sea. I started to look forward to the evenings, to walks on the deck with Cynthia. We could spend as long as three hours outside before withdrawing into our small cabin.
On the fifth night, as I was admiring the sheen of moonlight on the tranquil night sea, I felt it again. Cynthia was an arm’s length away, checking measurements from a device that recorded squalls of wind, but suddenly I was in a world of my own. I gazed at the silvery eye of the moon that was mirrored on the dark surface of the water. The satellite and its reflection were like the gleaming eyes of some immense creature, ready to subject me to its will. I felt my blood rising, and strange shivers and sensations raced along my spine. I could not tear my gaze away from the sea, those eyes, the eyes of Captain Omen. Slowly it dawned upon me that the smell of the sea and the eyes of the moon carried with them a mysterious call, the very same call I had felt in my maidenly tower chamber. That call brought along the familiar nocturnal heat and passion. I was sure that the calm surface of the sea was only a thin veil of enchantment, that beneath it, the tentacles of my dream wer! e roiling and writhing, ready to wrap around me, delve into me, urge me to caress the Shaft (diagram B) and then…
We were abducted.
What happened to Maude and Cynthia? Read Part 3, which will be available here or elsewhere on the Internet at a later date.