R505: the Flying Cloud

Episode 7: An Island Maiden, at Last!

Sultry island maiden with a spear

The crest of the hills was behind them. Some distance ahead lay the coast and the small French settlement where the mysterious German airship was moored. Everett and his men advanced more cautiously now, for they had no idea what they’d find when they arrived. France and Germany might be coexisting on friendly terms back in Europe, but the two nations were still technically at war, and strange things had been known to happen here in the colonies.

Rashid took the lead, his sling at ready. This jungle was quite different from the slopes of the Zagros Mountains where he'd spent his youth, but he was still the closest they had to a wilderness scout. At one bend in the trail, he raised his hand to call a halt.

"There’s someone ahead of us," he whispered.

Moments later, a man came into view: a slender dark-haired figure in a light tropical suit. He stopped when he saw the party, taking in their English naval uniforms with an expression of surprise.

"Who are you?" asked Everett.

"I might ask the same," the man replied in a light French accent. "Is eet common for a party of English airmen to be prowling through the jungles of a foreign colony? A suspicious person might wonder if you were spies."

Everett studied the stranger. He appeared to be a gentleman of breeding, with well-groomed hair, an innocent-seeming face, and clothes that seemed altogether too fine for someone who was sneaking around in the woods. Perhaps he could trust the fellow, but he wanted more information before he decided.

"We have the advantage of numbers," he observed. "So I think it only proper if you answer first. Who are you?"

"Advantage is a relative term," the other replied. "You may have us outnumbered, but my companion and I have the advantage of surprise. Sarah?"

Leaves rustled, and Everett turned to see a startling apparition emerge from the jungle. She was short and slender, with a dusky Melanesian complexion on a face that would not have seemed out of place in a London drawing room. Her dress was subdued but fashionable, suitable for the finest of finishing schools. An elegant spear, fitted to a stylish spear-thrower carved with an interlocking pattern of birds, complemented her outfit. The spear was pointed at his chest.

Behind him, Davies reached for his Lewis gun. "Steady there, man," said Everett. If she wanted to skewer me, she’d have done so already.

"I am Captain Roland P. Everett," he said, turning back to the Frenchman, "commander of His Majesty’s Airship Flying Lady, R-212. Several days ago, our vessel was destroyed by a foreign cruiser that approached under false colors and attacked us by surprise. My men and I contrived to navigate part of the wreck to this island. Now we’re conducting a reconnaissance to see which way the land lies, and to discover why a German airship is moored at a French colony."

"I have been wondering that myself," said the man. "But allow me to introduce myself. I am Pierre Vincent, an entrepreneur who was forced to take an unplanned sabbatical as a result of a minor disagreement with the authorities."

"You were sentenced to transportation as a convict?"

"These are such ugly terms. I prefer to think of myself as a tourist, and I was planning the next stage of my itinerary when you appeared on the scene. This vessel you noticed caught my eye as well. It’s presence here cannot possibly be legal, and I had contemplated stowing aboard with my companion."

"Who’s the girl?" asked Davies.

"She is Sarah, daughter of a local chief who was displaced by the French."

Everett looked at the woman. Now that the confrontation was over, she had lowered her spear and was examining him with an expression of curiosity. He wondered how much of his conversation with Pierre she’d understood.

"You savvy mekim toktok English?" he asked cautiously.

"I dare say!" the woman replied, "though my tutor always found fault with my enunciation. There’s no pleasing some people. You practice your exercises, listen to their examples, and it’s still, ‘Sarah, you’re drawing out you’re ‘A’s’, or ‘Sarah, you’re speaking like a Frenchwoman’." She thumped her spear against the ground in frustration.

"I am pleased to make your acquaintance, Miss Sarah," said Everett, nonplussed. "I believe I’ve already introduced myself. These are my officers and men, Lieutenant-Commander MacKiernan, Lieutenant Iverson, Abercrombie, Davies, Fleming, Jenkins, Rashid, and Wallace."

It seemed like a good time to stop for lunch, so they found a place to sit while Jenkins produced some of the Waltham Patent Emergency Rations (‘Still guaranteed to sustain airmen in distress’) that they’d salvaged from the ship. The Frenchman examined these skeptically, as well he might, for in taste and texture, they were indistinguishable from the satchel in which they’d been carried. His companion nibbled hers with delight, and continued with her tale while the men gathered around, vying for her attention. Iverson seemed particularly taken by the girl.

"My father was chief of the Tcho-tcho tribe," she said. My mother was a Presbyterian missionary from Cincinnati."

"Good Lord!" said Iverson. "Do you mean to say that your father ravished your mother and carried her off into the brush to live in some grass hut?"

"Oh no. I believe the ravishing was Mother’s idea. And we had quite a nice house, with a library, a parlor, and a fine dining room, with crystal chandeliers and a row of human skulls along the wall. Father ran a successful trading post, and he’d begun to diversify into commodities and manufacture. But Mother insisted on learning all the old recipes for evenings when we invited competitors over for dinner. She was quite a good cook."

"How did she reconcile eating human flesh with the tenets of her Christian faith?" asked Abercrombie, appalled.

"Oh, she was Presbyterian," said Sarah with a wave of dismissal. "Their tenets only apply to other Presbyterians."

Abercrombie scowled. As a Scottish Presbyterian, he had to admit that the girl’s observation contained a grain of truth. "What is your faith, lass?" he asked

"Well, my father’s tribe used to worship the Great Old Ones, who filtered down from the stars in distant eons and now lie dreaming in a great stone city beneath the waves, waiting until the stars are right for their return. I remember how Grandma used to sing me to sleep with lullabies about dear old Dagon his wonderful fishy friends. But Father found Thomas Huxley’s essays more convincing so he converted his people to agnosticism. Mother was quite upset."

"Where are your people now?" asked Iverson.

"Oh, they got in a row with the French governor, who wanted to force them to work in the nitrate mines. So he called in his soldiers, rounded them up, shipped them all off to some prison in France, then brought a load of French prisoners here to replace them."

"What about you, lass? How do you come to be livin’ in the jungle?" asked MacKiernan.

"Oh, the Governor wanted me to live with him, but I was suspicious of his intentions, so I hit him with one of Daddy’s war clubs, grabbed some supplies, and slipped off into the brush. From time to time, I sneak back into the village to steal more clothes from some of his mistresses. That’s how I met Pierre."

"Indeed," said the Frenchman. "I was examining the architecture of the Governor’s house, admiring the latches on some of the windows, when this lovely madmoiselle rushed by, pursued by several gendarmes. They seemed like unsavory creatures, so I seized a handy shovel, clouted them over the head, and offered to assist her with her luggage."

Next week: The Mysterious Airship...

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