The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 258: That's Good Enough

Goodeough Island

It might have been some pulp fiction writer's vision of a cannibal island: a broad circle of jungle rising to a tall volcanic peak. Groves of mangroves, ringing the coast, completed the picture. Only one thing seemed incongruous.

"Goodenough Island?" asked Iverson. "Is that really it's name?"

"I'm afraid so," said Everett. "The old charts called it Morota, but our ubiquitous Captain Moresby renamed it in 1874 after the Commander in Chief of the Australia Station, Commodore James Goodenough."

The lieutenant shook his head. "Was this intended as a compliment?"

"History does not record the answer," Everett observed dryly, "but matters could have been worse. A few years earlier and it might have become Wiseman Island. Mister MacKiernan, what does the Almanac have to say about the place?"

The Exec skimmed through the entry. This did not take long. "For some reason, the island is part of British New Guinea, even though it's a member of the D'Entrecasteaux chain. I imagine we're hoping the French will attempt to reclaim the place. Its principal imports are steel tools, tobacco, and missionaries, and its principal export appears to be... hmm... copra. There have been some attempts to explore the interior for gold, but none were successful. The Almanac remains curiously vague about the reason for these failures. The population is small, no more than a few thousand, but these people seem to be over-achievers from a linguistic standpoint. They maintain four distinct indigenous languages."

"What a strange thing for them to do," said Iverson.

The Irishman shrugged. "I don't imagine the place offers much else in the way of recreation."

"Perhaps we can offer them something to break the monotony," Everett remarked. "That should be the air station ahead. Jenkins, please make our signal."

"What precisely are we looking for here, sir?" asked Iverson.

"We've been ordered to seek information about a French steamship named the Cordelia that called a few days ago. This is one of the vessels on which our hypothetical stowaway might have traveled to Cairns."

Goodenough's air station lay next to Bwaidoga, a small village on the shore of the aptly named Mud Bay. The facility was modest: two old-style high masts surrounded by a smattering of tin shacks. One mast was occupied by one of the quaint Parseval semi-rigids the French used for inter-island commerce. The other was empty, but after studying the structure through binoculars, Everett decided it might be wiser to remain aloft and send down a party aboard the launch.

A short time later, Iverson, Sarah, Murdock, Abercrombie, and Pierre stood by the shore, deciding upon their next move. Their inquiries at the Station had proved singularly uninformative. No one bothered to maintain records in such an insignificant place and officials of any kind were conspicuous by their absence. The Administrator of this part of British New Guinea lived on Dobu Island, some distance to the south, and Iverson found it hard to blame him.

"What shall we do now, Mister Iverson?" asked Murdock.

"No one here seems to have heard of the Cordelia, so we'll have to inquire elsewhere," said Iverson. "If this chart is to be believed, there are only two other roadsteads of any size on this island. We'll drop you, Abercrombie, and Pierre, off here, at this place called Vivigani, while Miss Sarah and I take the launch up this coast to Wataluma."

Murdock drew himself up proudly, pleased at the opportunity to command a shore party. Behind him, Abercrombie gave Iverson a nod to assure him he'd keep the junior lieutenant out of trouble.

Vivigani bore little resemblance to the neighborhood in London where Murdock had grown up. It had considerably more palm trees, considerably fewer omnibuses, and its inhabitants wore considerably fewer clothes. The women in particular seemed to have a dramatically different concept of suitable attire than the one to which the lieutenant had become accustomed. He kept his eyes focused straight ahead and tried not to notice.

At last they came upon a crudely-thatched structure that served some of the functions of a pub. Inside -- to the extent that this concept was meaningful -- an alarmingly-clad barmaid was serving bottles of warm IPA to a pair of men in field garb.

"Good day," said one of the men. "Welcome to the This Will Do For Now, best public house on Goodenough Island. I'm Roth and this is my associate Devers."

"Pleased to meet you," said Murdock. "I'm Lieutenant Murdock, Royal Navy Airship Service, and these are my companions, Abercrombie and Pierre. What brings you to this part of the Pacific?"

"Devers and I are surveyors," said Roth. "We've been hired to evaluate the suitability of this place for the establishment of a naval air station."

"A naval air station?" marveled Murdock. "Whatever need could there be for such a thing here?"

"It would be for defense against the Russians," Roth explained, "should they decide on a policy of expansion in the South Pacific."

This did not sound particularly likely to Murdock, given Russia's almost complete lack of a Pacific Fleet, but he was too well-bred to comment on this. "Have there been any French vessels about?" he asked politely. "In particular, have you seen a freighter named the Cordelia?"

"The Cordelia?" Devers said to Roth. "Didn't we notice a vessel by that name after that Japanese airship was here?"

Murdock's eyes widened. "A Japanese airship?" he asked. "Who were they?"

"She was the Something-or-other Maru," said Devers. "I imagine that should narrow it down. Some rather shifty-looking characters disembarked, but I don't see them around any more. Now that I think of it, I believe they vanished around the time the Cordelia left."

"Well," Murdock said sometime later, as they were waiting for Iverson and Sarah to return with the launch, "those fellows seemed rather helpful."

"Perhaps," said Pierre, "but I wonder of they weren't too helpful."

Wataluma made Bwaidoga seem like a bustling metropolis. A few huts clustered next to what might have been a decaying wharf, or might just have been a chance collection of driftwood. The inhabitants eyed Iverson with suspicion and seemed even more wary of Sarah.

"These people seem rather reserved," Iverson remarked to his companion.

"I can't imagine why," she replied brightly. "My ancestors didn't raid this place very often. The food here wasn't very good."

"Oh," said Iverson. As he was wondering what to say next, something caught his eye -- a canoe drawn up on the beach with what looked like an elongated eggbeater attached to the stern. "Hullo, what's this? That looks like an old Motogodille outboard motor. Wherever could that have come from?"

"We carry it on the Tortue Volante for travel along these coasts," came a voice from behind them. "It is much more civilized than paddling."

They turned to see cheerful-looking Frenchman in his late-thirties. Iverson was reminded of Pierre. "The Tortue Volante," he said. "I take it this would be the Parseval we saw moored back at the Station."

"Oui," said the man. "I am René , once of the Service Aéronautique, now a free-lance airshipman. And who might I have the honor of addressing?"

"I'm Lieutenant Iverson, Royal Navy Airship Service, and this is Miss Sarah, our ballast officer."

"Enchante," said René, bowing to kiss Sarah's hand. "This island has had many visitors recently, but none so attractive as you."

"Why, thank you!" Sarah said innocently. "Who were these other visitors?"

"They were strangers, for the most part," said René," but a few days ago I spotted someone who looked just like my old friend Captain Ritter in the company of two Englishmen."

Iverson and Sarah exchanged glances. "Would he be the master of the Inselmädchen?" asked Iverson.

"Oui," said René. "I take it you've met the gentleman."

Next week: The Big Smoke...

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