Episode 259: The Big Smoke
They'd taken the Flying Cloud to the government air station for
resupply. This lay on Dobu Island -- a diminutive spot of land between
Fergusson and Normanby in the D'Entrecasteaux chain. The islet's modest
dimensions made it somewhat more manageable than its larger neighbors. In
some places, swaths of jungle had been cleared to make room for plantations
that might almost have been productive. In others, visiting missionaries
with more ambition than sense had raised villages that -- except for their
grass huts, palm trees, and clouds of biting insects -- would not have
seemed out of place in rural England.
The station itself wasn't significantly larger than the one in Bwaidoga,
but it seemed better maintained. In particular, its facilities did not
seem in quite as immediate danger of collapse. Now the ship rode from the
Number One mast, next to an ancient R-23 Class packet whose angular lines
and archaic external cars seemed entirely appropriate in these rustic
Everett studied the vessel and smiled, remembering his training days. Then
reached into his pocket to retrieve the cufflink Michaelson's men had found
on the field in Cairns. It had most certainly belonged to
Lieutenant-Commander Forsyth. He couldn't imagine anyone else who would
have chosen a Coastal Class blimp as the subject for an engraving. How had
it made its way to back to Australia? Where was its owner now? Who else
had survived the crash of the R-212? And how many of them
were still alive?
These questions weighed on his mind. He'd lost men before -- this was one
of the burdens of command -- but it never got easier, and if there was
chance that some could be saved...
A discreet cough sounded from the door to the mess hall. He looked up to
see Jenkins and the others waiting outside. "Gentlemen. And lady," he said
after they'd entered and taken their seats, "it is time to review our
findings. We've made some discoveries, but these have raised as many
questions as they answered. Mister Murdock, could you describe what you
"Yes, sir," said the junior lieutenant. "When we reached Vivigani, we met
two English surveyors who'd been hired to study the site's potential for an
air station. According to them, the Cordelia called at Goodenough shortly
after a visit by a Japanese commercial airship. Their report suggests that
one or more passengers from the Japanese vessel may have departed aboard the
"Pierre, I take it you have reservations about these men's report."
"Oui," said the Frenchman. "Their appearance was too convenient,
and they seemed too ready with their information. One wonders if the
encounter was arranged."
"Quite," said Everettt, "and this brings us to Mister Iverson's discoveries.
"Miss Sarah and I traveled to the village of Wataluma, ay the north end of
the island. There we came upon the master of the French airship we saw at
the station. In the course of our conversation, he mentioned that he'd seen
our old friend Captain Ritter in the company of two Englishmen. One wonders
if these were the same men Mister Murdock encountered."
"Is there any reason to doubt this man's information?"
"I don't believe so," said Iverson. "Our encounter happened entirely by
chance, and it's difficult to imagine what reason he might have had to
"Jenkins, what are your conclusions?"
"We know that Ritter is one of the Fat Man's agents," the signalman
observed. "His appearance suggests that these two `surveyors' were planted
on Goodenough for us find."
"Such is my conclusion as well," said Everett. "This means someone was
aware of our orders to investigate Goodenough. Who might have had access to
"The possibilities seem limited," said Jenkins. "I believe we can safely
discount Captain Michaelson. The man may have a penchant for elaboration,
but this seems excessive, even for him. This leaves only the person who
encoded the document."
There were several sharp intakes of breath as others grasped the
"Are you suggesting that Phelps is an agent?" exclaimed Iverson.
"The evidence does seem to point in that direction," mused Everett. "And I
imagine that Michaelson already knew this when he sent us here. Whatever
could the man be up to?"
With a population of slightly more than a million, Sydney may not have been
as big as London or Paris, but to two young women from Darwin, it was every
bit as exciting. They gazed from the windows, taking in the sights, as the
R-67 descended toward the great civil air station at Botany Bay. This might
have begun life as bullock paddock, but it had grown since the Peace, and
now it was a substantial facility with dozens of masts, long rows of sheds,
and the latest mechanical handing facilities.
After the ship was moored, Emily and Clarice made their way to the telegraph
station to wire Lany that they'd arrived. They emerged to find a
sour-looking spinster from the Station's clerical staff waiting for them.
"I take it you're our guests from... Darwin," the woman announced, as if
residence in North Australia represented some severe moral failure.
"Dinky-di!" Emily said brightly. "What's your moniker?"
"I am Miss Evangeline Caustic," the woman answered. "The Company has
instructed me to be your chaperone."
"Why do we need a chaperone?" asked Clarice, fearing the worst.
The woman gave them a stern glance, "I'm not sure what the standard of
behavior might be in... Darwin, but here in Sydney, it would not be
appropriate for two young ladies to gallivant about town without an
Emily and Clarice exchanged glances. 'Galivanting' was excatly what
they'd had in mind. "This is crook," Clarice whispered.
"What should we do?"
"Make a good fist of it," Emily whispered back. "Maybe
she's not quite the drongo she seems."
Emily's optimism proved misplaced. As the morning wore on, she and Clarice
grew increasingly dissatisfied with their escort. Evangeline seemed to be
one of those unfortunate individuals who was determined to make sure no one
else enjoyed any of the opportunities for adventure that she herself had
"Shall we go to Gardner Island to see the Fleet?" asked Clarice.
"Whatever for?" scolded Evangeline. "Young ladies are not interested in
warships or sailors."
"Can we visit Bondi Beach?" asked Emily.
"That would not be appropriate. You might witness young men frolicking in
"What about a cinema?" asked Clarice.
"Certainly not! Movie actors..." their chaperone sighed, "...are hardly
suitable entertainment for a lady."
"Than what can we do?" asked Emily.
"We can take an omnibus across the new Harbor Bridge they completed this
spring. I'm sure you'll enjoy it. It's the largest steel span bridge in
the Southern Hemisphere."
To their credit, Emily and Clarice did appreciate the view from the bridge,
though Clarice's suggestion that the harbor might be improved by the
addition of an opera house was met with a stern lecture on the evils of
popular entertainment. They disembarked near the Botanical Gardens --
apparently Miss Caustic didn't feel that vegetation represented a threat to
her charges' virtue.
The two young women drew appreciative glances as they strolled through the
gardens. So, when she bothered to smile, did Evangeline. Emily notice her
gaze wistfully at the men they passed. This suggested a possibility.
"Excuse me," she asked a well-dressed gentleman who'd been
pretending not to look at their escort. "Do you know where we
might happen to find some tea?"
"Miss Wilcox!" snapped Evangeline. "It's inappropriate for a young lady to
address men without an introduction."
Emily's expression was pure innocence. "Then why don't you introduce us?"
she said sweetly. "Sir, this is Evangeline."
"And I'm Craig," the man said, taking the older woman's hand. "Pleased to
"Em, that was brilliant!" exclaimed Clarice as their erstwhile chaperone
departed with her new beau. "What should we do now?"
Emily thought for a moment, then beamed. "Let's visit the Naval Air Station
to look at the airships!"
Next week: The Girls From A.U.N.T....
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