As if it wasn’t bad enough to be left hanging there by one hand, gripping a six-inch lever, naked and cold, desperate for a pee and in all probability about to drop back into the clutches of Moriarty and his henchmen, I was about to be the victim of yet another catastrophe.
At that very moment, an horrendous metallic screeching assaulted my delicate ears. In all the confusion and madness of the last few minutes, I had forgotten about the SS Mangochutney. The great liner must, of course, still be sinking, disgorging hundreds of poor passengers into the freezing sea.
“Fuck me!” screamed Moriarty, his eyes as wide as tea-plates.
Still clutching the lever, I twisted round to look up at the wall behind me. As if to remind us of its plight, the prow of the ship had smashed into the iceberg, gouging a hole in the vessel’s side as if it were a tin of tuna fish. Seconds later, the sea gushed in through the twenty-feet long laceration, gallons of water pouring down the steeply-sloping floor towards the evil villain and his equally evil companions.
A lurching sensation in my stomach served to emphasise the horror of my situation and I felt my bowels loosen in the way my dear Johnny’s own bowels have often loosened when I’ve surprised him with my womanly demands at the breakfast table. (Oh, how I wished at that moment my concerns were nothing more than the cleaning of my husband’s trousers.)
The irony was not lost on me – we had leaped from a sinking ship into a sinking iceberg and already the sea had half-filled the room we were in, lapping around my naked thighs.
Staring downwards, I was rewarded in some small way by the sight of four disembodied heads bobbing around in the water like four disembodied heads.
I almost felt sorry for the Professor, Mr Claw and their stupid-faced henchmen, and had it not been for what happened next, I might have offered a few words of sympathy.
My husband told me later it had been the force of the liner smashing into us that had dislodged the bolts holding the air vent in place, for directly above my head, the very section that had a few minutes earlier held my pert little bottom, collapsed from its housing and fell away, crashing on top of the four bobbing heads in a rather satisfying manner (I had quickly discarded any thoughts of sympathy).
“Tally-ho, old girl,” called a familiar voice.
Never have I felt so overjoyed to see the round, moustachioed little face of my own dear Doctor Watson. Leaning though the gap made by the ripped vent, he threw down a length of twine, the end of which landed on the bench near my free hand. Reaching out, I grabbed it firmly, then letting go of the lever, proceeded to concentrate all my efforts in climbing hand-over-hand, up the oddly-hairy rope towards my husband. And even in my relieved state, hauling myself towards the grinning faces gazing down at me, I recall wondering where on earth they had acquired such a convenient means of escape. It was only later, in the comfort of our cabin aboard the SS Doncaster, that Johnny admitted that he and Holmes had knitted the cord themselves utilising two pencils and the entire body hair from Mr Passepartout.
Within minutes, my companions were pulling me through the hole into the room above. Johnny threw his coat around me and hugged me for several minutes until Holmes reminded us of our still-sticky situation.
“No time for that, Watsons, make haste, make haste.”
The rip in the side of the iceberg had continued its ripping yawn upwards into the space we now occupied, but the sea had not yet risen to that height. Holmes and Phogg were already clambering up the wall by means of the benches that were welded in place, giving us the means to climb up to the huge rent in the side of our most recent place of confinement.
Holmes was through first and reached down to help the rest of us clamber through and onto what was now the sloping side of the iceberg. Above us, the SS Mangochutney had somehow righted itself. Far above our heads I could make out several individuals throwing down rope ladders towards not only myself and my friends, but the remaining passengers who were still flailing around in the sea.
I won’t bore you with the full details of our rescue and subsequent transfer to the SS Doncaster, but I feel I should mention that I did feel a pang of sorrow as we stood on deck and watched the tip of the iceberg (otherwise known as Moriarty’s secret steam-powered undersea torpedo-ship), disappear below the waves.
As Johnny and I retired for the night, a feeling of liberation washed over me, knowing that our adventure with the Hooded Claw was over at last.
Naturally, I was wrong.