Episode 123: More Gentlemen Than You Can
Shake a Stick At
It was raining when they arrived at Port Moresby's air station -- a
relentless tropical downpour that turned the field to mud, clutching at
boots, sucking down handling equipment, making mooring operations pure
misery. At last, after an arduous struggle, the Flying Cloud was
on the mast. MacKiernan noted the time down in the ship's log and sighed
"I believe we've earned our pay today," he observed to his command crew.
"Mister Iverson, signal Finished With Engines."
The lieutenant pulled the engine telegraphs back from Stop.
Behind them, the rumble of diesels faded to silence. "What's our next
move, sir?" he asked.
"We'll give the men shore leave, in the unlikely event anyone wants to take
it," said MacKiernan, eying the rain in disgust. "Meanwhile, Miss Perkins
and I will visit the local branch of Lloyds to maintain this charade that
we're looking for missing ships. After that we'll pay our respects to the
The local representative of Lloyds of London shared an office with a copra
merchant and a distributor of chickens. His records were limited to ships
registered in New Guinea, but he was quite happy to send a wire to Sydney to
request more information. This suited MacKiernan's purposes, for he was
trying to attract as much notice as possible. Satisfied, he set off with
Miss Perkins to visit the Administrator.
The Residence was situated on a hill that gave it an excellent view of the
harbor during the dry season, and reliable drainage when the weather was
wet. A butler ushered them to a verandah where the Lieutenant-Governor,
Sir Hubert Murray, was working on a manuscript. Sir Hubert was a tall
white-haired gentleman with the build of an athlete. He gave MacKiernan a
firm handshake and offered Miss Perkins a bow.
"Welcome to the Territory of Papua, " he announced, eying the Irishman's
uniform. "You would be the Executive Officer, Lieutenant Commander
"At your service," said the Irishman. "Captain Everett sends his greetings
and regrets that he was unable to leave the ship due to the press of
"I quite understand," said Sir Hubert. "We've had our share to deal with
here with this recent rash of criminal activity."
"I should think you'd be comparatively untouched by such things here in New
Guinea," said MacKiernan.
"So it would seem, but this has been an unusual year. It began back in
April, when someone stole a safe from a visiting Russian freighter, right
out of the captain's stateroom," the Administrator shook his head. "I can't
imagine how they managed it, since the thing must have weighed close to a
ton. Then someone started stirring up trouble among the islanders. I find
that sort of thing quite unforgivable. The welfare of these people is our
sacred trust. Finally, toward the end of August, a party of German seamen
attempted to kidnap a visiting gentleman from England."
"An English gentleman?" asked MacKiernan and Miss Perkins simultaneously.
"Yes," said Sir Hubert, "a retired Brigadier named R.B.D. Blakeney, now
manager of the Egyptian State Railways. He's here to evaluate the
possibility of a rail line over the Owen Stanley Range. Eccentric fellow,
with a passion for obscure political causes. And his traveling companion
has a... novel view of history. They've rented a villa near Karema."
No livery stable was willing to risk an animal in this weather, so MacKiernan
and Miss Perkins were forced to use the motorcycle Everett had purchased in
Darwin. Navigation was straightforward -- there was only one road leading
north -- but MacKiernan lacked Iverson's facility with the machine, and by
the time they reached their destination, he was liberally splattered with mud.
Miss Perkins seemed quite dry. The rain must fear her, thought the
Mister Blakeney received them on his verandah. By now, MacKiernan had
concluded that verandah construction was one of the South Pacific's major
industries. If the copra and logwood trade ever failed, perhaps they could
export verandahs to poor Third World nations that couldn't afford
verandahs of their own. Like Sir Hubert, Mister Blakeney was a trim
middle-aged man with a military bearing. But he lacked some of the
Lieutenant-Governor's conciseness, and his companion, a Mrs. Nesta Webster,
seemed vague to the point of distraction.
"I understand you were in the army," said MacKiernan after introductions were
"Yes. Served in Egypt and the Sudan under Sir Percy Girouard. Got a DSO at
Khartoum. Posted to South Africa during the Boer War, where I commanded the
3rd Balloon Section. But my passion was always railroads. They're the
Arteries of Civilization, carrying Trade and Commerce to the far corners of
the world, bringing Hope, Industry, and Opportunity to the far corners of
"Yes," said MacKiernan, as their host paused for breath. "I understand
you've also been active in politics."
"I was president of the British Fascists," the Brigadier said proudly.
"Marvelous organization! Gives our youth a sense of purpose! Clean air,
camping, defending our culture from the taint of Communism -- what better
upbringing could there be for a young gentleman? "
"We're not too familiar with Fascism here in the Pacific," said MacKiernan.
"What is their doctrine?"
"I've never been too clear on it myself," said Blakeney apologetically.
"But it's hardly important. Fresh air, good exercise, and appreciating
nature: that's the thing!"
"What brings you to New Guinea?" asked MacKiernan, turning to Mrs. Webster.
The woman stirred two spoons of sugar into her tea, took a cautious sip, and
stirred in another.
"These islands were once part of the lost continent of Mu," she announced.
"My late husband Arthur discovered this while we were investigating the
activities of the Illuminati. Of course, I already knew this because I was
a princess here in a previous life."
"Oh dear," said Miss Perkins, before she could stop herself.
"Who are these Illuminati?" asked MacKiernan, hoping to cover up his
companion's lapse of manners.
"They're a secret society that began in the Middle Ages. They caused the
French Revolution. This was part of their conspiracy with the Freemasons
to spread Communism throughout the world."
"But Marx didn't write until 19th century," protested MacKiernan.
"He was one of their agents," said Mister Blakeney smugly.
"What do you think?" MacKiernan whispered to Miss Perkins.
"I think they're absolutely dotty."
The woman didn't notice this exchange. She was staring heavenwards, as if
in a trance. "I see an altercation in your future," she announced. "A
force from the North, representing Pentagrams, will ally with a force from
the South, representing Wands..."
Before she could say more, bushes parted and a party of islanders appeared,
armed with clubs. They were led by a familiar figure.
"Wasserman!" exclaimed MacKiernan. "I thought we'd seen the last of you in
New Caledonia! What are you doing here?"
"I was after the historian," the Dutchman explained, pointing at Mrs. Webster,
"but you bring an even greater prize. The young fraulein will do
Miss Perkins stood, hands on her hips, and glared at the islanders. "Put
down those clubs, right this instant!'
"Ha!" laughed Wasserman. "I have learned from our previous encounter.
These gentlemen do not understand English."
"Baisse ces clubs, tout de suite!"
As Miss Perkins worked through her repertoire of languages, MacKiernan turned
to the Mister Blakeney. "Might I borrow your cane?" he asked.
"Of course," said the general.
Whirling the walking stick like a shillelagh, the Irishman charged down the
steps toward the foe. Before the islanders could react, he'd laid two of them
low. But then the others recovered from their surprise and spread out to
surround him, leaving MacKiernan hard-pressed to defend himself.
"Laskekaa nuo nuijat, heti!" shouted Miss Perkins.
The islanders stepped back and looked at the secretary in embarrassment.
"Heti!' she said, pointing at the ground.
Slowly, reluctantly, the islanders set down their clubs. Under the
secretary's stern gaze, they picked up their unconscious companions and
vanished into the jungle. MacKiernan searched for Wasserman but the Dutchman
had vanished as well.
"That was very noble of you, to leap to our defense like that," said Miss
Perkins after the attackers were gone.
"We have certain traditions to uphold in the Royal Navy," MacKiernan replied
modestly. "Now I believe we'd best get back to the ship to see if there's
any word from the Captain."
Next week: Darwin, Damsels, and Deduction...
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