The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 302: A Clash of Cultures

Two somewhat different flags

The SS Orsova, pride of the Orient Steam Navigation Company, steamed eastward over a peaceful tropical sea. Astern, her wake stretched ruler-straight toward the horizon. To starboard, a pod of dolphins frolicked in the waves. To port, a line of surf washed the shore of one of the many small islands that dotted this part of the Java Sea.

On the promenade deck Lord Beachly reached for a pot of tea. "Would you care for cup, Esmerelda?" he asked his wife.

"I don't mind if I do, Harold," Lady Beachly replied. "What do they have for us today?"

Milord picked up the brochure the Company provided for its First Class passengers and studied the menu. "It's a black variety called Eye of the Sun from some plantation on Java," he told her. "One imagines the proprietors are Dutch, but we shouldn't hold that against them."

"Quite," chuckled his wife. "And I must say the name sounds intriguing."

"So it does," said Lord Beachly. "How have you been enjoying our cruise?"

Lady Beachly gave a gracious shrug. "It has been a change from the noise and bustle of London," she observed, "and the ruins on that sunken island were most engaging, but otherwise, it's been rather dull."

Lord Beachly nodded. "I must confess to the same opinion, my dear. I'd imagined the East Indies might offer more in the way of adventure."

They were interrupted by a cry from the roof of the pilot house, where a lookout was pointing toward the port quarter and shouting down to the bridge. They followed his gesture to see an airship dropping out of the sun. The watch officers seemed to find this cause for concern.

Lady Beachly gave the vessel an incurious glance. "Who do you think they could be, Harold?"

Her husband shielded his eyes against the glare. "I believe they are French. Those lines look like an Astra-Torres. Lord Whelm considered purchasing one for his mistress. She was from Paris, if I remember correctly."

"So she was," his wife said. "I never did approve of her. Whatever would a French vessel be doing in the South Pacific?"

"The Republic does have some possessions in this area," Lord Beachly observed. "One must recall Tahiti."

Smoke began billowing from the liner's stacks. Beneath them, the engines had started to hammer. Lady Beachly glanced toward the bridge, where the watch was shouting things like, "It's them!", "Warn the Captain!", "To arms!", and "Ring for full speed!"

"Whatever are they going on about, Harold?" she asked.

"I cannot begin to imagine," Lord Beachly replied. "They do seem to be making a fuss."

"Might this be cause for apprehension?"

"Certainly not, my sweet. The Line would never allow anything untoward to happen to one of their vessels."

The couple sipped their tea, then returned their attention to the airship. This was arguably a break in the tedium of the voyage. By now the vessel was close enough for them to make out details. She had an old-style external control car, four engine cars, and the long arrow-shaped fins from of an earlier age of airship design. An Aldis lamp blinked from her bridge.

"Can you read what they're saying?" asked Lady Beachly.

Lord Beachly studied the signal, then snorted in disgust. "It's some balderdash about heaving to and surrendering, I can't imagine what it could mean." He grabbed for the tea service as the liner heeled in a sharp turn to port. A plate of biscuits clattered to the floor. Lady Beachly raised an eyebrow.

"I say," she remarked, "that was inconvenient. I'd was just reaching for another."

"It's poor helmsmanship, that's what it is!" Lord Beachly griped. "I shall speak to the Captain at dinner!"

His wife patted his arm. "Don't get upset, my dear. I'll summon Hinks to tidy things up." She rang her bell to call their butler. He emerged from the alcove where the domestic staff had been watching the airship and muttering among themselves. As he approached their table, cannon-fire sounded overhead. A row of spouts rose ahead of the liner.

"They're certainly loud, whoever they are," Lord Beachly remarked.

"They also have no sense of aesthetics," complained his wife. "They're spoiling the ambiance of this peaceful tropical setting. And now the Captain seems to have reduced speed. We shall never reach our next port on schedule."

"I shall speak Lord Inchcape about the matter when we return to England," said Lord Beachly. "We are entitled to a better level of service!"

"Thank you, Harold. Whatever are those fellows doing now?"

Lord Beachly studied the airship, which taken a position directly overhead. As he watched, a team of men swung out from the cargo hold and began abseiling down to the liner's deck. They carried short business-like carbines with drum magazines slung across their backs.

"It appears to be some manner of athletic performance," he decided.

"They don't look particularly French," his wife observed.

"There's no telling how those Continentals will behave, Esmerelda" he told her. "Pay them no heed."

"I certainly shan't," his wife replied. "I have no tolerance for exhibitionism of that sort."

The couple returned to their reading. Beside them, Hinks shuffled his feet, then sighed in resignation. A party of deckhands rushed aft armed with truncheons, fire axes, and belaying pins. Warning shots sounded from the afterdeck, followed by cries of dismay. Moments later, the deckhands reappeared, hands above their heads, escorted by a pair of gunmen.

Hinks coughed to gain his employers' attention. "Milord, Milady, I believe there are some gentlemen here to see you.

Lord Beachly looked up to see two men in cheap American suits grinning at him. He frowned. "What are you doing here?" he demanded. "This deck is reserved for First Class passengers."

"Not anymore!" one announced. "This is a heist!"

"I am unfamiliar with this term," Lord Beachly told him. "Please explain yourself using some civilized language."

The two strangers glanced at each other. They did not seem to have expected this reaction. "You tell him, Books," said the first man.

The second man cleared his throat. "`Heist' is a colloquial American term meaning `robbery', `criminal exploit', or `depredation'. "

"So this is some form of Colonial English," said Lady Beachly. "I fail to see what this has to do with us."

The two men glanced at each other again. "We're robbers!" the first man exclaimed. "We've come to steal your gold, jewelrey, and valuables!"

"Oh, is that all," said Lord Beachly. He nodded to his butler. "Hinks, see to it that these... gentlemen... are provided for. "

Next week: Called to Task...

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