Episode 193: You Can't Escape the Inevitable
The track from Papao to Taravao ran along the south coast of Tahiti Nua,
past villages, groves of breadfruit trees, and stretches of untamed forest.
To the left, lush green slopes climbed toward the peak of Mount Orohino.
To the right, the clear blue waters of the lagoon stretched south to a line
of surf that marked the location of the reef. It was an idyllic setting --
anyone's vision of a tropical paradise. In other company, Digby might have
enjoyed the outing, but now Lord Warfield was an ominous presence at his
side while Bludge watched him with the same casual disregard a buffalo might
show a rodent it was about to trample. The youth weighed his chances of
escape, and decided they were nil.
"What brought you to the Pacific?" he asked sullenly. "You can't have come
all this way for this alleged luck machine."
He didn't expect an answer, but the baron seemed to be in an expansive mood
today. "The prize is Isobel Elsmford, as I'm sure you guessed," he replied.
"She's heir to a substantial fortune, which will be at the disposal of her
guardian until she comes of age. At the moment, she's the ward of Lord
Milbridge, but if anything should happen to the viscount, control of the
girl, and her inheritance, would pass to the successor your late father
named in his will. This would be his dear friend and business associate:
"Friend and associate?" protested Digby. "You betrayed him!"
"True," admitted Lord Warfield," but it would seem he neglected to revise
that particular clause before his unfortunate demise. There's an
irony there. And a warning that one should put one's affairs in order if
one is contemplating a melodramatic gesture."
"How did you know the viscount was coming to the Pacific?"
"The same way you did. We both had agents in the Lord Mibridge's household,
but mine turned yours with a threat to the girl."
Digby put two and two together. "Miss Stewart!"
"You are correct. Though I fear this information arrives too late to do you
The youth's shoulders slumped, but he'd been watching his captors from the
corner of his eye. Believing him cowed, they seemed to have lowered their
guard. This section of trail ran along the edge of a low cliff. The lagoon
was less tranquil here, its waters agitated by break in the reef. Even now
a line of breakers was rolling in toward the rocks. He took a deep breath,
turned right, and leapt into the sea.
"Bloody hell!" cried Warfield. "After him, Bludge!"
"I'd sink, sir."
The baron opened his mouth to repeat his command, then reconsidered. For
all of his admirable qualities as a servant, the butler was not notably
buoyant. "Yes," he sighed, "I suppose you would."
"Shall we return to the yacht?" asked Bludge.
"No," Lord Warfield said sternly. "Digby will almost certainly continue to
Taravao to find his associate. You will travel there by land and try to
redeem your mistake. I will hire a boat and proceed there by water. One of
us is sure to overtake the youth. Even if we don't, we still hold his
The yacht seemed out of place next to the wharf -- a bright bit of
opulence in this rustic island setting. Sunlight gleamed on clean white
topsides, polished brass fittings, and varnished mahogany trim. Black
letters on her transom proclaimed Make A Good Fist, Sydney.
Everett studied the vessel from shore, taking in the empty decks, vacant
wheelhouse, and silent cabins. Jenkins studied his captain, concerned by
this turn of events.
"Sir," he asked. "Are you sure this is wise?"
Everett gave a curt nod. "The crew all seem to be at the village. I very
much doubt the owners have remained aboard in their absence. It should be
safe to investigate as long as we keep our eyes open and maintain a line of
"But, sir..." the signalman began.
Everett's expression hardened. "We will speak no more of this matter," he
announced with uncharacteristic sharpness. "Let's get this over with."
No one challenged the two airmen as they mounted the gangplank. It seemed
the crew had not felt the need to post watchmen. After a pause to make sure
no one was about, they crossed to the deckhouse, and eased open the hatch.
Inside, an elegant companionway, lit by a row of portholes, led aft. The
passageway was still, with no sign of life.
"There's no one here," whispered Jenkins.
"So it would seem," Everett whispered back. "Let's see if the Warfields
left any clues regarding their intentions."
There were no maps or papers on the bridge. The crew quarters were equally
uninformative. Everett gave the owners' stateroom only the briefest of
glances -- out of courtesy, perhaps -- then led the way below to the engine
room. Like the deckhouse, this was unoccupied, its lights off and machinery
silent. The engines themselves -- two modern marine diesels that wouldn't
have been out of place on a patrol boat -- were cold, as if they'd been
shut down some time ago.
"It appears the baron and his lady have departed," Everett observed after
they'd returned to the deck. Was it his imagination, Jenkins wondered, or
did the captain sound relieved?
"What will we do now, sir?" he asked.
"We'll head back to the air station, send word to MacKiernan, then proceed
to Mahina to see if Pierre and Abercrombie have found the Professor."
"Mahina," said someone behind them. "So that's where the fellow's got to."
Jenkins's heart sank as he recognized the voice. He turned to see Lady
Warfield and three armed seamen rise from one of the lifeboats. The
baroness's makeup was flawless, her hair and gown unruffled, as if she'd
just stepped from a ballroom. Her eyes were bright with what the signalman
hoped was only malice. He kicked himself for overlooking a hiding place
that was the staple of radio dramas.
Everett met the baroness's gaze calmly. "Lady Warfield," he said.
"Captain Everett," she replied.
"I never thought we'd meet again."
"Nor did I, but I suppose it was inevitable. And I must thank you for the
information. What are we to do with you now?"
"You could let us go free," Jenkins suggested hopefully.
"I think not," said the baroness. "You can join our other guest. Please
leave your luggage here," she added, indicating Jenkins's satchel.
The baroness's men seemed to have some experience serving as jailors.
They kept their distance, allowing their prisoners no opportunity to seize
their weapons and escape, as they marched the two to a cell down in
the holds. Inside, a young Englishman looked up as they entered, then fell
silent as he realized larger matters were afoot. A guard swung the
door shut, gave the bars a tug to make sure it was locked, bowed to his
mistress, and departed.
Lady Warfield gazed at the captain. "I'm sorry it had to be this way,
Roland," she said. "Under other circumstances..."
"I'm sorry too, Tenera," he replied. "But these are the circumstances we
The baroness nodded sadly. "I suppose they are."
The journey from Mahina had been long, and it had been made even longer by
Isobel's tendency to halt whenever some distraction beckoned, but at last
the trail ended at a small village next to the beach. To the east, the
dark green bulk of Tahiti Iti rose in the distance. Closer at hand, a low
jumble of stones stood by the water.
"There it is!" Professor Otkupshchikov announced. "The marae of
"How exciting!" said Isobel. "Let's go look!"
Lieutenant Murdock glanced around the village. A few islanders rested in
the shade. They gave the newcomers an incurious glance, then went back to
doing nothing. "Where is everybody?" he asked. "Weren't we going to meet
Lord Mibridge here?"
The Professor shrugged as if this was a matter of supreme unimportance.
"I'm sure the others will turn up soon."
Next week: Tricky Times in Taravao...
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