Episode 269: Marvels Strange And Terrific
The Caroline islands were a string of undistinguished coral atolls to the
north of New Guinea. Originally settled by Micronesian voyagers too
impatient to press on toward the larger and more promising islands to the
east, they'd languished in obscurity until their rediscovery by a luckless
pair of Portuguese navigators in 1525. Toward the end of the Sixteenth
Century, a Spanish adventurer named them after Carlos II, King of Spain
-- it is unknown whether His Most Catholic Majesty appreciated the
compliment. The Spanish had clung to the islands for two hundred years
hoping they might someday prove of value. At last, recognizing
opportunity when it knocked on their door, they'd sold their possession to
Germany for 17 million goldmarks in 1899. The Germans, unwilling to admit
they'd received the worse side of this bargain, had launched an ambitious
program of development, interrupted only by the War, when Japan had
briefly seized possession of the archipelago and then -- presumably with
some sense of relief -- relinquished it under the terms of the Armistice.
The Philadelphian called at Ponapai, capital of His Imperial
Majesty's Territory of Karolinen, as the air station sunlight was coming
to life. The facility was quite obviously German: a small slice of Bavaria
in this distant land. A row of half-timbered houses and shops, marvelously
unsuited to this environment, stood next to the field, accompanied by a
church, some shops, and what looked like a beer hall. Beside these, a
small railway ran down to the harbor in anticipation of the unlikely day
this colony produced something besides the ubiquitous copra.
Mister Cartwell waited patiently while the handling parties walked the ship
to the mast. As soon as the vessel was secure, he set off for the elevator,
beckoning his guests to follow. The American's enthusiasm was infectious,
and Emily and Clarice found themselves smiling during the ride down to the
surface. Only Aunt Behema seemed unaffected. She stood in the back of the
car, arms folded, scowling at the island with an expression of disapproval.
"What will we do now?" Clarice asked as the doors slid open.
Mister Cartwell consulted his notes. "There's supposed to be an
ethnographer named Rossman on this island, here to study native mythology.
If these islanders have any legends of squidbats, he's the one who'd know."
Professor Rossman received them on the verandah of his bungalow. He was a
short pretentious figure with a conservatively-tailored suit, a monocle, and
an almost comically heavy German accent. Clarice thought he sounded like a
character from a radio drama.
"Squidbats," he said, "othervise known as
Bate de Calamar, or
Pepetualuas in the island tongue. Professor Otkupshchikov has
reported several sightings, but the man is an eccentric, not to be trusted.
The creatures are almost certainly mythological -- a metaphor for the
conflict between ocean und sky. This vould be a 163 on the Aarne Scale."
Mister Cartwell nodded, unfazed by the scholar's manner. It appeared he'd
dealt with this personality type before. "I've read that they're associated
"I vouldn't put much..." the German groped for a word, "...stock in such
things. These islanders haf all sorts of legends. According to them,
Ponapai vas supposed to have been built by the very first settlers from a
pile of rocks. Later it vas said to be ruled by two sorcerers, Olisihpa and
Olosohpa, from some distant land called Kanamvayso, who came here in a
magical vessel to raise an altar to zee god Nahnisohn Sahp. They
are supposed have built the ruined city of Nan Madol vith the aid of a
flying dragon. Professor Karolen has suggested these brothers were voyagers
from the Baltic who journeyed here aboard primitive airships during
Sumerian times, but this is clearly absurd. The Sumerians did not haf
Mister Cartwell was careful not to give this digression the attention it
didn't deserve. "Getting back to these legendary squidbats," he said
politely, "what was their connection with ruins?"
The professor seemed glad of the opportunity to lecture. "Island legend
distinguishes between creatures of fire und creatures of vater," he said
smugly. "The former are associated vith volcanic activity. The latter are
associated vith the encroaching sea. These islands are alvays at the mercy
of the ocean. Two years ago, some Svedish seaman -- I think Johanson vas his
name -- claimed to see one rise from the sea, then sink back beneath the
vaves in a matter of days. A squidbat, if such a thing existed, vould be
creature of vater, und vould naturally be found in ruins by the sea."
"Such as this Nan Madol," said Mister Cartwell. "How do we get there?"
Rossman shrugged. "It's on Temven island, just off the coast. You can hire
a boat to take you there. But I don't think you'll find anything."
"We'll have a look anyway," said Mister Cartwell. "Thank you for your time."
After his guests had left, Professor Rossman returned to his bungalow and
nodded to the lean sharp-eyed man who was waiting inside. "It went as you
predicted," he reported. "They suspect nothing."
The man nodded in satisfacation. "Did the two frauleins reveal anything?"
The professor shook his head. "Nein. They pretended to be simple tourists,
here with that American to look for those ridiculous animals."
"Did you tell them about the ruins?"
"Ja," said the professor. "I pretended to dissuade them, just as we
planned, and they took the bait. They are on their way now."
"Good," said the man. "They will find a little surprise waiting for them."
The ruined city of Nan Madol stood in a lagoon on southern shore of Temwan.
It was as unlike the German settlement as it was possible to imagine -- a
maze of crumbling walls, choked by vegetation, half-submerged by the sea.
The stonework was crude, and couldn't have been more than a few centuries
old, but in this setting, it seemed immeasurably ancient.
"Who built this place?" Aunt Behema asked accusingly. It appeared she did
not approve of clutter.
Mister Cartwell ran his hand over the ancient masonry. Some of it was
precariously balanced and threatened to topple at a touch. "From what I've
read, it doesn't seem anyone knows," he replied. "The present-day
islanders do not build in stone, so it must have been created by some
"Inhabitants of some ancient land that sank beneath the waves, I suppose,"
the matron said dismissively.
"I suppose that's possible," said Mister Cartwell, "but this part of the
world is filled with young island chains, as if some process is raising new
land to the surface."
Clarice shuffled her feet nervously, knowing what her aunt could be like in
this mood. She glanced at Emily for reassurance and spotted her companion
some distance away, smiling as she balanced her way along the top of a wall.
She rushed over on horror.
"Em!" she hissed, "What are you doing?"
"Come up and join me!" the brunette replied. "This is fun!"
"But people can see you!"
"What's wrong with that?"
Clarice made an involuntary gesture, as if to smooth down her skirt.
"People can see you!"
"Oh," said Emily. She jumped down, dislodging a large stone behind her in
the process. From the other side of the wall, they heard a thump, followed
by something that sounded almost like a groan.
"What was that?" asked Clarice.
Emily made as if to leap back onto the wall, then thought better of it.
"Who knows," she replied with a shrug. "Let's get back before Aunt Behema
gets her knickers in a twist."
Next week: Catspaw...
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