The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 158: Somewhat Moresby Trouble Than We Anticipated

Everett and his guests comment on local garb.

"What do you think of our guests, sir?" Iverson asked Captain Everett that evening.

The two men sat in the bow station with Jenkins and Sarah, taking their tea as they watched the ocean roll past below. The view was magnificent, and the spot secluded enough that there was no possibility of being overheard.

"I endeavor to think of the governess as little as possible," said the captain, "but Miss Isobel presents us with several mysteries. Jenkins, what have you discovered?"

"There is no reason to doubt the lady's bona fides," said the signalman. "She's Isobel Elmsford, from the Newcastle branch of the family. She was orphaned during the War -- she would have been about six at the time -- and sent to live with a relative, Sir Reginald Calhoun."

"I remember the fellow," mused Everett. "A fine man. He was caught up in some sort of scandal back in '23."

"That would have been the Burmah Oil affair," said Jenkins. "I queried one of the wire services for details. It appears that the company engaged a member of Parliament as a `consultant' to acquire exclusive rights to the fields in Persia. This led to an outcry, followed by demands for a scapegoat. The party at Burmah Oil was never identified, and the MP was too powerful to be brought down -- indeed, he's since become Chancellor of the Exchequer -- but Sir Reginald had recently acquired shares in the company under circumstances the tabloids deemed suspicious."

Everett sighed, "Sic transit honestum nobilis. What became of our Miss Isobel?"

"She was placed under the guardianship of Lord Milbridge until she came of age. Until recently, she has been attending Miss Absticia's Finishing School for Girls. It's not entirely clear how she managed to escape to Australia, nor what her photograph was doing on that yacht."

"Perhaps she had a lover aboard, and traveled here to meet him," suggested Sarah, clearly enthralled by the concept.

"I doubt the explanation is so simple," Everett said kindly, "but I imagine we'll find out eventually. Let us hope this discovery does not prove too expensive."

They reached Port Moresby early the next morning. The settlement was same as ever -- a small piece of England, set in a landscape straight out of the stone age. The surrounding jungle seemed almost primordial, and pterodactyls would not have seemed out of place above the Owen Stanley Range to the north.

The port's handling parties were every bit as efficient as one would expect at an outpost of the Empire, and soon the Flying Cloud was swinging from a mast at the air station. To no one's surprise, their passengers insisted on going ashore. This involved some delay while the two ladies donned appropriate attire. Everett waited philosophically. The outcome was almost certain to be unfortunate, but the experiment would be interesting.

"This is charming!" gushed Isobel as the party alighted from the elevator. "What's the name of the dress that woman is wearing?"

Everett glanced at the garment in question, which was more in the nature of a short sleeveless blouse than a dress, but before he could reply, the governess had taken her charge by the elbow. "Come along, Miss Isobel. That is hardly an appropriate sight for a lady of breeding."

"Sir," Iverson whispered in alarm when the two were out of earshot.

"I know," Everett whispered back, recognizing the cause of his lieutenant's concern. "We will let Jenkins deal with the circumstance when it arises. The Signal Corps is trained to deal with such matters."

The road from the air station to town skirted the eastern shore of Fairfax Harbor, passing every manner of structure from airship hangers to grass huts. Modern shops nestled next to aging mission schools, Motuan stilt houses, ceremonial lodges of the Hiri traders, and a neglected stone pillar decorated with carvings of what appeared to be a bat-winged squid. Miss Isobel seemed fascinated by the architecture, pausing several times to stare while her guardian tried to hurry her along.

Traffic grew denser as they approached the settlement. Lorries laden with ore trundled past horse-drawn wagons, drays, handcarts, and porters bearing crates of coagulated rubber. The pedestrians were as diverse as the vehicles. Uniformed colonial police rubbed shoulders with Australian businessmen, Dutch traders, Anglican clerics, the ubiquitous Japanese tourists, and native men sporting a jaunty assortment of penis sheaths.

To Everett's surprise, Isobel didn't seem to notice the latter. He wondered if she was even aware of what she was looking at. Young women of the upper classes were often raised in ignorance of certain basic facts of nature. Miss Stewart's reaction was somewhat more forceful.

"What is that?" snapped the governess.

"Traditional native garb," observed Jenkins, with remarkable aplomb. "In the local dialect, it is referred to as a numbah. Members of different tribes can be distinguished by the style of their apparel. I believe these gentlemen would be from the Big Numbah tribe."

Miss Stewart scowled. "This is hardly an appropriate way to dress! Why doesn't the Administrator or the Church enforce some minimal standard of decency?"

"There have been proposals along these lines, but in a warm climate like this, the outfit has proved too practical to abolish. Indeed, I understand that the evangelical community has been considering an ecclesiastical version. I don't care to speculate what form this might take."

Miss Stewart glared at Jenkins, as if uncertain whether she was being made sport of, but the signalman's expression gave nothing away. At last, realizing she was not going to win this particular encounter, she turned away.

Lieutenant-Governor Sir Hubert Murray received them on a verandah of the Residence -- a sensible choice given the humidity. He seemed remarkably unflustered by the presence of two upper-class lady guests, but Everett imagined he must have seen far stranger things in course of his duties.

"Lord Milbridge," mused Sir Hubert, "I remember his visit quite well. It's not often we receive a member of the peerage."

"Did he mention what brought him to the Pacific?" asked Everett.

"No, but I imagine it was more than idle curiosity -- the flight must have been quite the odyssey for a Junior Shorts class. For what it's worth, he did express some interest in the doings of a local scientist."

Everett and Jenkins exchanged glances. Could this be some fugitive from one of the hidden White Russian laboratories? "A scientist?" asked Everett.

"An archaeologist... or perhaps it was an anthropologist, I never was quite clear which. I don't recall the fellow's name, but it appears he goes gallivanting about the islands on an old War-era blimp to do his archeology... or anthropology, as the case may be. Those vessels don't have much range, so I gather he ships the craft upwind at the beginning of each season, then works his way northwest from island to island with the trade wind behind him."

"Professor Otkupshchikov, do you think?" asked Iverson.

"It's hard to imagine who else it could be," observed Everett. "How many archaeologists can there be traveling about the South Pacific in War-surplus blimps?"

Next week: There's Never An Archeologist Around When You Need One...

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