Episode 190: Oh... Tahiti...
"Upper Lookout to Bridge," came Loris's voice over the intercom. "Land ho,
half a point off the port bow, bearing 110."
In the control car, Captain Everett shaded his eyes against the morning sun.
To the east, a dark green peak was rising above the horizon. It grew
steadily as the airship approached, drawing closer at nearly a mile a
minute. He glanced at the chronometer and nodded.
"That would be Maupiti, in the Leeward Islands, right on schedule," he
observed. "A nice bit of navigation, Mister MacKiernan. I will note this
in the log. What's our estimated time of arrival at Papeete?"
"0930 hours," said the exec.
"Very good. Jenkins, please contact the Air Station and tell them to expect
us at 0930."
"What's it like: Tahiti?" asked MacKiernan after the signalman had left.
"I've never been there. I gather it's different from Ireland."
"There may be some truth to this observation," said Everett. "The Comte de
Bougainville called it the Island of Venus. The missionaries seem to regard
this as a challenge, but one suspects their efforts to alter local
sensibilities must ultimately end in failure."
"Why do they bother?" wondered the Irishman.
"I'm not entirely certain," said Everett. "It.s the sort of thing
"What are our plans once we reach the Station?"
The captain gazed thoughtfully toward the east. "That remains to be
determined. It will depend on who else arrives for this particular ball.
But our ultimate goal is to find Lord Milbridge first."
"There it is," Lord Warfield announced. "Tahiti." He gestured toward the
east, where a dark green peak was visible against the morning light.
'I understand some people call it the �Island of Venus�," said Lady
Warfield. She seemed annoyed, as if she would have preferred something
"There's no accounting for tastes," said the baron, "but didn't the ancient
Sumerians believe the Goddess of Love was also the Goddess of War?"
The baroness's expression brightened. "So they did. There may be some hope
for the place after all. What are our plans?"
"We'll call at Papao, on the southern side of the island. It�s large enough
to provide us with anonymity and sufficiently secluded to escape notice of
'he authorities. Then we'll have another conversation with our guests
'egarding the Professor's itinerary. If we can track the fellow down, we
could be in a position to collect both the gambling machine and
Lord Milbridge. Just as long as we find Milbridge first."
Vincenzo steered the Salgari in a broad circle around Pukapuka
while he studied the atoll through night glasses. Dawn was still an hour
away, but a waning moon lingered in the sky, and through the heavy pair of
binoculars, the reef and islands were as plain as day.
"I see no sign of our passengers," he announced. "They should have made a
signal by now. I hope they have not suffered some disavventura."
"Shall we send down someone to look?" asked Marat.
"Not immediatamente. I do not wish to approach Wale until we know
the situation there. First we will contact our agent on Ko."
Little remained of the air station on Ko except for memories. Masts,
rigging, housing, and sheds had long since succumbed to the weather or been
plundered by the islanders for materials. But the clearing where it had
been was a convenient place to land a party, and its location, on the
islet's southern shore, was hidden from the rest of the atoll.
Vincenzo brought the airship in low, a dozen yards above the surf, and turned
upwind over the field. A moment to clamber down a rope ladder, then he and
Marat were striding toward the trees as the vessel stood offshore. A few
small fales nestled beneath the palms. As they approached, a young
couple emerged from one.
"Master Vincenzo," the man said delightedly, "welcome to Ko!"
"Ah, Roberto," laughed the Italian, "I see you have found a friend.
Roberto, meet my sergeant, Marat. Marat, meet Roberto Frisbie, an author
"An auteur?" said Marat. "What brings you to such a remote spot?"
The American gave a grand gesture that took in the sea, the sky, and the
dark-haired island beauty who clung to his arm. "I was seeking a place
beyond the reach of the faintest echo from the noisy clamor of the
't took the Frenchman several moments to parse this statement after he�d
torn his eyes away from the girl. "Oui," he smiled.
"Three days ago we landed a party on Wale," said Vincenzo. "They seem to
have vanished. Do you have any idea what became of them?"
"Perhaps," said the American. "I heard that two young Englishmen made their
way to the old marae, where they were apprehended by a gentleman
and his party. This gentleman forced his prisoners onto a motor launch,
carried them out to his yacht, and departed toward the east-southeast."
"Merde," swore Marat. "That must have been Lord Warfield."
"And he set a course for Tahiti, the Island of Venus," mused Vincenzo.
"This cannot be a coincidence. He must be looking forthe viscount too. If
we're to rescue our two young friends, we�ll have to find the Professor and
hope he can lead us to Lord Milbridge first."
Isobel pointed south, where a dark green peak was visible on the horizon.
"Is that really Tahiti?" she asked. "How exciting!"
"Da," said Professor Otkupshchikov. "The great French explorer,
Bougainville, once called it the Island of Venus."
The girl giggled. "Why did he name it after a Greek goddess?"
The Professor smiled. "What would you expect? He was French."
"What does that have to do with anything?" asked Isobel. Professor
Otkupshchikov paused in surprise, took in the girl's innocent expression,
her governess's glare, and Lieutenant Murdock's look of incipient panic and
decided discretion was the better part of pedagogy. "It would take too
long to explain."
Murdock sighed in relief. "What are your plans now, sir?" he asked his
"I will call at Papeete, put the Delphin ashore, and make
arrangements to put the blimp in storage. I assume you will wish to go
ashore there as well. Then I'll have Captain Ray take me down the coast
to meet my friend Lord Milbridge."
Murdock, Isobel, and Miss Stewart exchanged glances. "Lord Milbridge?"
Lord Milbridge entered the cabin to find his wife adding final touches to
another piece of macrame. The viscount watched fondly as his wife tied
off the last few knots and inspected the result. By now, their stateroom
was cluttered with creations that ranged from conventional to the exotic
-- one of the latter looked almost like a winged squid -- but he would
never have dreamed of objecting. Eccentricities like this were one of the
charms of married life.
"Good evening, Atalanta," he said pleasantly. "What are you working on
"It's an Andean pattern," she replied. "Jean came across some alpaca wool
in the hold, so the project seemed appropriate."
"Ah yes, our young Jean. I wonder if he knows we know."
"There's no reason why he should."
"I imagine he'll forgive us. I came to let you know that we�ve raised
Tahiti. Would you like to come on deck for a look?"
Lady Milbridge reached for her handbag. "The Island of Venus? Why, Edmund,
I'd be delighted! Just give me a moment to put this work away."
Next week: Passing Through Papeete...
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