Episode 273: Good Enough for Now
That evening's departure from Ponapai had been uneventful. The officials at
the air station had seemed somewhat subdued,
for reasons that were not readily apparent,
but the handling parties worked with all their previous
competence, and soon the Philadelphian was climbing away from the
field. Mister Cartwell waited until his ship had reached a cruising altitude
of 3000', then flipped open his notebook.
"What course, sir?" asked Rawling.
It seemed the industrialist could do vector calculations in his head.
"Bring us right to 190, then ring for full power on all three engines," he
replied. "That should get us to our next destination by 7 PM tomorrow."
"Where would that be?" asked Emily.
"It's a place called..." Mister Cartwell chuckled, "...Goodenough Island."
"That would be part of the D'Entrecasteux chain," Aunt Behema said
dismissively, as if this represented some grave moral failure on the part
of the land mass.
"So it is," said their host. "Heaven knows how the place got its name, but
some American naturalist reported sighting a creature that might have been
a squidbat there, so we'll give it a look."
The station on Goodenough might not have been run with German efficiency,
but its managers seemed to feel some obligation to live up to the island's
title, and a crew of brawny villagers walked the Philadelphian to the
mast without too much trouble. It seemed too late to seek accommodations
ashore, and no one was quite sure what form these might take in a place
called Mud Bay, so Mister Cartwell elected to spend the night aboard.
The next morning they rode the elevator
down to the field to take stock of their surroundings.
These were unusually rustic, even by Micronesian standards. A row of grass
huts seemed to have been erected by beginners in the art of grass hut
construction, and the few European buildings might have been textbook
examples for concepts such as `utilitarian', `it gets the job done', and
`when it falls down, we'll put up a new one'. Their airship seemed quite
out of place here -- a glaring intrusion of modern world into a scene from
some previous century.
Mister Cartwell's butler ventured a frown.
"Are we sure we came to the right place, sir?"
The industrialist chuckled. "It may not be Chestnut Hill, Peters, but let's
reserve judgment until we've had a look around."
"Where should we look first?" asked Emily.
Mister Cartwell glanced around until he caught sight of what appeared to be
the local equivalent of a steeple. "We'll try that mission," he said, "and
see what they can tell us something about their parish."
The mission proved to be a German Lutheran church. Mister Cartwell seemed
familiar with such an establishment -- Emily and Clarice gathered there
might be a small German community somewhere in this place called
`Pennsylvania'. "Good day," he told the abbot. "I am Mister Cartwell, and
these are my guests, Mrs. Behema, Miss Blaine, and Miss Wilcox."
"Gutentag," said the cleric. "My name is Kurtz. How may I help
"We're trying to find a creature known as a `squidbat'," said Mister
Cartwell. "We understand they've been seen on this island."
The abbot shook his head in disapproval. "These are pagan animals," he
replied. "I would not know about such things."
"What are pagan animals?" Clarice whispered to Emily.
"I think he means they weren't baptized," said Emily.
"How do you baptize a squidbat?"
Emily thought this over. "In pagan water?"
Mister Cartwell tried a different tack. "I was told that an American
scientist reported the sightings. Have you met this person?"
"Perhaps," said the abbot. "There was an American couple who came here to
study tribal customs. The man played a mean game of tennis."
"That doesn't sound like the people I'm looking for," said Mister
Cartwell, "Were there any others?"
"I believe there was an ichthyologist who headed up to Watalamu."
"That sounds more promising," said Mister Cartwell. "How can we get there?"
"It's several kilometers up the coast," said the cleric. "It's a long walk,
but we'd be happy to take you there on the mission yacht."
"It was them!" said Devers, "the two women our allies are worried about. I
spotted them at the mission with the owner of that airship. They were making
arrangements to voyage up the coast."
"Are you sure?" asked Roth. The other agent seemed skeptical.
"They fit the description. I imagine the Lady would be pleased if we
managed to take them."
Roth thought this over. "They'll be travelling by boat, our allies have a
boat here as well, and the mission's mechanic is in their pay. It may be
time for some creative sabotage. Two helpless women and an idle Aemrican
millionaire: this will leave them easy prey for the Germans."
There were several vessels in the harbor: native fishing craft, island
schooners, and a powerful-looking motor yacht with quasi-military lines.
"That belongs to the Calvinists," the abbot informed them, as if no other
explanation was necessary. The mission's vessel was almost as incongruous
-- a solid-looking craft with the grandiose name
Eine Máchtige Festung.
She appeared to have begun life as a North Sea trawler, and her bluff bow
and sturdy lines seemed entirely out of place among the islanders'
The clerics started the ancient petrol engine, cast off, and soon the craft
was lifting to a following sea as they made their way north. To port, the
island was a dark green wall of jungle. It looked like fertile ground for
cannibals -- missionaries' natural prey.
They hadn't gone far before the engine slowed to a sputtering idle.
Aunt Behema scowled and planted her hands on her hips.
"What's wrong?" she demanded.
"The throttle doesn't seem to be working," replied the helmsman. "Look."
He wiggled the lever helplessly.
His accuser was unimpressed. "Oh?" she announced, rolling up her sleaves.
"We'll see about that!"
The matron stormed below, followed by the others. A quick inspection showed
that the throttle quadrant had sheared off next to the carburettor body.
"There's no place to attach a replacement," she said indignantly. "It looks
almost as though it's been cut!".
Mister Cartwell nodded thoughtfully. "Metal fatigue can do strange things,"
he observed, "but I'm sure I can rig up something."
"How?" she asked.
The industrialist smiled, reached into his jacket pocket, and drew out an
adjustable spanner . "Well," he told her, "my family did make its fortune by
The rest of the voyage was uneventful. They reached Watalamu's harbor
around lunchtime and anchored behind an old copra schooner. As they were
climbing aboard a skiff for the row ashore, the saw the sleek motor yacht
they'd noticed at Mud Bay thunder past offshore, leaving a long rolling
wake behind it.
"Where are those drongos headed?" asked Emily. "The way they're going,
you'd think they were chasing someone."
The abbott watched the craft disappear around the curve of the coastline,
then shrugged. "They're Calvinists," he replied. "It must have something
to do with Predestination."
Next week: The House of Flying Cloaks and Daggers...
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