Episode 157: Catching Up Is Hard To Do
Lord Warfield was not in a good mood. The train journey from Mount Molloy
had turned into a fiasco, with insufferable delays due to poor track
maintenance. The directorís carriage had been intolerable, with poorly
fitted upholstery, mismatched crystal, and missing silverware, and their
supplies of champagne and caviar had grown perilously low. His temper was
not improved when his manservant, Bludge, returned from town with news.
"Thereís no sign of our quarry, milord," said the butler. "Iíve checked
every lodging establishment in Cairns suitable for a gentleman of quality,
but none of their recent guests match his description."
The baronís frown was menacing. "Did you check the Air Station as well?"
"Yes, milord. Their only visitors in residence were two young women. I
imagine theyíre relatives of one of the officers. But there was some
interesting news. It appears the Stationís commander ordered a gunboat,
the Thumper, out a few days ago."
The baronís expression eased slightly. "That would be Milbridge," he
announced. "We would expect him to travel in style."
"Do we know the vesselís destination?" asked the baroness, avid for the chase.
"Our source could not provide this information, milady, but it appears they
took a reef pilot aboard. This suggests that theyíre headed north, to
Cooktown or possibly Port Moresby."
"We will follow them," said the baron. "Locate a suitable means of
"Iíve already done so, milord. A businessman from Sydney arrived here
yesterday aboard a fast motoryacht, the Make a Good Fist. I took
the liberty of arranging purchase. The vessel is one hundred twenty seven
feet long and one hundred fifteen tons burden, with twelve staterooms, a
salon adequate to receive guests of stature, a dining hall furnished in
contemporary style, and two Clark diesels of 450 horsepower each, capable of
driving her 15 knots."
"The Fist," said Lady Warfield delightedly. "The name has a
"So it does," agreed the baron. "Bludge, see that the vessel is fueled
and ready, have our belongings taken aboard, and arrange with the Marine
Board for a pilot."
Digby was saying goodbye to the horses when Michael returned. The road
leading south from Mount Malloy to Cairns had been difficult -- blocked by
several slides, washed out in places, with a long flooded stretch where it
passed by Kuranda -- but the mounts had handled it well, and heíd be sorry
to see them go. He gave them one last pat of affection, shook the ostlerís
hand, then watched as the man led the animals away, leaving the twins to
talk in privacy.
"Did we get a good price?" asked Michael.
"Tolerable," said Digby. "It should see us through the next few days. Did
you find any word of Milbridge?"
"No," said Michael, "but there was a curious development at the wharves
yesterday. It seems that a businessman from Sydney sold his motor yacht to
some unknown party who put to sea that very afternoon. And this was quite
the vessel -- the size of a small naval auxiliary, with powerful engines,
elaborate fittings, and first-class appointments. The buyer must have been
someone of considerable means."
"Our quarry, do you think?"
"Itís possible. We know that he arrived in Australia in a certain amount of
style. We could expect him to continue."
"Then thereís no way weíll catch him by land," said Digby. "Weíd best get
back to Vincenzo with the news."
The road to Port Douglas had been long, and the cattle truck, driven by an
Australian of greater than usual height, had not been particularly swift,
but Lord and Lady Milbridge had enjoyed the excursion. The track had led
north from Mount Molloy, through a quaint little village at the foot of the
mountains whose residents seemed preoccupied by something in one of their
fields. From there, it wound east through the Dividing Range, past dramatic
vistas, stands of exotic flora, and an ever-changing menagerie of
marsupials. This was an engaging change from England, and the rustic
quality of their conveyance was a continuing source of novelty. Their
youngest crewman, Jean, had set up a table and chairs in back so the
viscount and his lady could enjoy a cup of tea -- provided that they
possessed catlike balance, lightning reflexes, and a casual attitude toward
"This is rather charming," observed the viscount, snatching at the pot to
keep it from flying overboard as the truck bounced over a particularly deep
set of ruts.
"Yes," agreed the viscountess. "And that odor of... 'manure', is it?...
adds an element of piquancy to the journey."
Lord Milbridge ducked to avoid an overhanging branch, adjusted his collar,
then turned to glance over his shoulder. "Delightful though itís been, I
fear that itís coming to an end, my dear. We seem to be approaching the
coast. Captain Spencer, would that be Port Douglas ahead?"
"I believe so," said the airman, with evident relief. Not as agile as the
viscount, he and his fellow airmen had accumulated a fair number of bruises
during the trip.
"Very good," said Milbridge. "We will disembark, recompense Mister Shorty
for his troubles, then determine the best way to continue our journey."
Like many towns along the southern coast of the Cape York Peninsula, Port
Douglas had experienced a brief boom late in the previous century, when gold
had been discovered at the nearby Hodgkinson River. The boom had run its
course, leaving the place to dwindle into obscurity, and the townís fate had
been sealed when decision was made to terminate the railway line farther
south, at Cairns. Now it was little more than a fishing village, with a
modest harbor, a few small draggers, and some decaying hotels as reminders
of its former grandeur.
"Iíve made inquiries and itís a pity we didnít arrive a bit earlier," said
Spencer. "It appears that a Royal Navy gunboat, the Thumper,
passed by two days ago on the way to Cooktown, and yesterday some
businessman from Sydney paid a visit in a yacht named the
Make a Good Fist."
"What a peculiar name," said Lady Milbridge.
"I believe itís a local colloquialism referring to the dignity of labor,"
observed the viscount. "Well, Mister Spencer, it would appear weíve missed
our chance to get a lift. Do these people have any vessels capable of
making an offshore voyage?"
The captain shook his head. "The largest craft I could find was a shrimp
boat, thirty-two feet long, eight tons burden, with a three horsepower
"That should serve," said Milbridge. "Is the owner is willing to sell?"
"Uh... yes," said Spencer, his expression a mixture of incredulity and
"Excellent! Weíll see to fuel, water, and provisions, make the necessary
change to the name, and then weíll be off!"
Next week: Moresby Trouble Than We Anticipated...
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