Episode 8: The Mysterious Airship
Everett studied the moored airship through the field glasses he'd salvaged
from the wreck. She was a trim vessel, her sleek lines seeming at odds with
the dark German cross on her prow. Below this, he could just barely make out
a number and a name.
"L-505, Wolkenflieger," he said aloud.
"Wolkenflieger?" asked Abercrombie. "What does that mean?"
"It translates to something like `Cloud Flier'," replied Iverson, when he
was able to take his eyes off Sarah.
"What a dreadful name!" said the girl. "What were they thinking?"
"I'm more interested in learning where she came from," said Everett.
"Fleming was right. Those lines don't look like anything from Jane's,
except for the Junior Vickers class, and that's an English design."
The young Australian airman brightened at this sign of his captain's
confidence. He'd only had time for the briefest of glances from the
cockpit, such as it was, of his tiny Lilienthal glider. Under such
conditions, it would have been easy to make a mistake.
"Could Howden have sold one to the Huns?" he asked.
"I can't imagine why they would," said Everett. "They only built two,
those were still undergoing trials when we left, and from what I
understand, the trials were not going well -- something about static
weight and problems with the engineering plant. In any case, it seems
unlikely the Admiralty would allow the yard to sell a warship to the
"Whatever is a German vessel is doing here?" asked Jenkins. "This seems
Everett nodded, for his signalman was right. The nameless island on which
they stood was part of the New Caledonia chain. This belonged to France,
and the two nations were still very much at odds.
"Perhaps they're looking for a place to ship prisoners," suggested
MacKiernan. "The French did use these islands as a penal colony."
"I understand that they ceased this practice in 1922," said Fleming.
"Don't you believe it!" said Sarah. "The Governor brought a new batch of
convicts here last year to serve as workers after he shipped my father and
his tribe off to France. The gall of that man! I should have hit him
harder with Father's war club when he tried to seduce me."
"I'm sure you'll have another chance, mademoiselle," Pierre said
"I'd much rather rescue Father," she sniffed. "Do you think we can find some
way to reach France?"
"I imagine so," Pierre replied, reaching out to put his arm around the girl,
then recoiling when she shouldered her spear.
"Heaven help the French if she does!" Davies whispered to Fleming.
"Strewth!" the Aussie whispered back.
"This complicates our plans," Everett observed. "I'd intended to contact
the Governor and claim assistance as distressed airmen, but the young lady's
story and the presence of this airship suggest the man is up to no good. We
will wish to obtain more information before we proceed. This will require a
They set off again toward the settlement, creeping after Rashid, who seemed
to be developing a talent for leading the way through the jungle. From time
to time, the airmen had to pause and remove leeches and other unsavory
creatures from their clothing, but Everett noticed that their new companions
didn't seem inconvenienced by their surroundings. The man's suit and the
girl's dress both looked immaculate, and her coiffure remained flawless -- a
cascade of rich dark tresses that would have put any society lady to shame.
From time to time she brushed back a curl to reveal a delicate pair of bone
earrings, carved in the shape of fish.
"Those are beautiful," Iverson told her.
"Why, thank you," she replied, with a heart-stopping smile.
The lieutenant smiled back and ventured a laugh. "From the way Fleming
described these islands, I expected the natives to wear human finger bones."
"Hardly," giggled the girl. "These are toe bones. They belonged to my
"What did she mean by that?" Fleming whispered to Davies. "Did they belong
to her grandmother or did they... uh... belong to her grandmother?"
"Gentlemen," hissed Jenkins. "Speculation of this sort is inappropriate."
While his men paid court to the girl, Everett found his attention returning
to the mysterious airship that loomed ahead between the trees. She was
indeed a thing of beauty -- a small version of the famous R-100 that had put
the Howden yard on the map back in 1924. Like her larger sister, she had a
sleek modern control car that promised speed, and her three streamlined
engine cars -- with single pusher propeller each rather than the
twin-engined tractor-pusher arrangement of Barnes Wallis's two-year-old
masterpiece -- seemed larger than necessary on a vessel of this size.
Beyond her lay the harbor, where the tramp steamer Fleming had reported lay
next to a small wharf. Through his binoculars, Everett could just make out
the name Duck.
The mooring mast from which the airship rode was a primitive as the vessel
was modern -- a crude wooden structure, lashed together with vines, that
might have served as an illustration for a textbook on safety hazards. A
flimsy-looking rope ladder hung from the handling platform down to the
ground. As Everett watched, a party of men clad in German naval uniforms
began the perilous descent. From their numbers, it seemed that most of the
crew were involved. He wondered what they were about.
At last, after several changes of position, they found a spot from which
they could watch the Governor's house undisturbed. It was a substantial
mansion, built in a European fashion, with artful changes to adapt it to the
local environment. The workmanship was excellent -- quite clearly a labor
of love -- and Everett's opinion of its occupant fell even farther when he
learned the man had stolen the place from Sarah's father.
"He has a terrible reputation," said the girl. "None of the other Governors
is willing to visit him anymore."
"Rather convenient if he's hiding some secrets," observed Jenkins.
"Perhaps," Sarah said dubiously. "But it doesn't do much for his social
life. His dinner companions are pretty much limited to his chief of police,
the maid, and whatever woman he's hired to share his... table. He must be
starved for company these days."
"I imagine you're right," said Fleming. "Here comes some now."
Everett looked where the Aussie was pointing to see the airmen from the ship
filing up the path to the mansion. They seemed in high spirits, as if they
looked forward to some celebration. Even from this distance, he could see
the gleam of a bottle.
"Abercrombie," he said thoughtfully. "How many crew do you expect would be
required for a vessel of that size."
"I'd ken aboot a score, Captain."
"That would be my guess too," said Everett, "and I count fourteen in that
Jenkins's eyes widened as he realized what his captain had in mind. "Sir!"
he protested, "Surely you're not contemplating a cutting-out expedition!"
"Why not?" Everett replied. "It's not something one gets a chance to do
Next week: A Cutting-Out Expedition...