Episode 320: You've Seen One Pestilential Swamp, You've Seen 'em All
Miss Perkins tapped her foot impatiently while Clarice and Emily made the
Drudge ready for departure. This was a daunting operation, for
the ancient dragger had not been designed with an eye to efficiency, but
the two young women had been raised in a fishing village and knew their
way around boats. At last the engine was running, mooring lines has been
cast off and coiled away, and the vessel was underway.
"Where will we go now?" asked Clarice.
"East, back the way we came," said the secretary. "It seems our friends
on that freighter have a landing place somewhere near Lagrange Bay."
Emily raised her eyebrows. "How could we have missed something like
"It's at the head of an estuary, which makes it difficult to spot from
offshore, but I found the firm they hired to dredge the entrance, and the
manager drew up a description of the place. Can you make any sense of
this?" She handed Clarice and Emily a sketch accompanied by several rows
The two Aussies studied the diagram with interest. "Those must be
soundings," Emily said cheerfully, "and these look like range markers to
guide people up the channel. This should be fun!"
Miss Perkins glanced at her companions. She'd learned to mistrust the
Australian definition of `fun'. "You're quite sure about this?" she asked
"Dinki di!" said Clarice. "If we don't hit a rock, sink, and get eaten by
Lagrange Bay was a place of ill-repute -- scene of some particularly
unfortunate encounters between European settlers and the aboriginal
inhabitants. It was also a singularly unpromising stretch of coast. The
gold rushes of the previous century had passed it by, and the only
settlement of any significance was a small Catholic mission. The
Drudge motored past a succession of estuaries, ranging from
insignificant creeks to outflows that might almost have been the mouths of
small rivers. At each one, Clarice and Emily slowed to compare the coast
with the diagram Miss Perkins had obtained.
At last Emily pointed to two white blotches on a pair of hills to the
south. "That must be the first range markers on that sketch," she
announced. "If we line up those two spots and head in, that should take
us through the bar."
"What happens after that?" asked Miss Perkins.
The brunette chuckled. "It gets more complicated."
Miss Perkins studied the blotches. From this distance they looked more
like the work of avian metabolism than human hands. Should they risk the
passage? `Eaten by crocs' might not be a promising career move.
But she'd learned to trust her companions' boat-handling skills.
"Let's give it a go," she replied.
Sometime later they were threading their way up the channel, surrounded by
an impenetrable maze of mangroves. Emily steered the Drudge up the
channel while Clarice stood on the bow, calling out directions, ready to
swing the lead if they lost their way, but the dredgers had done good work,
and a passage substantial enough for a small island freighter posed little
challenge to a fishing boat. At last they rounded a bend to see a
substantial wharf. The site seemed deserted, but a large sign proclaimed it
to be part of, 'Public Works Department of Western Australia: State
Vermin Fence Number Four'.
"They're building a fourth rabbit-proof fence, here?" marveled Clarice.
"Whatever for? This is miles east of the other three."
"Perhaps it's a clerical error," suggested Emily.
"Or it might be cover for something else," said Miss Perkins. "Let's have a
look at this place."
On impulse, Clarice and Emily took the Drudge some distance
upstream and hid the boat in an inlet where it wouldn't be visible from the
main channel. Then they made their way back along the shore, scrambling over
roots and fallen trees. By the time they'd scrambled up the ladder to the
landing stage, Clarice and Emily were flecked with mud and smiling with glee.
Miss Perkins, as always, was immaculate.
The facility was quite obviously new, surrounded by fresh stumps where
builders had cleared away the brush. It was also more substantial than it
had appeared from the water. At the near end of the dock, a small derrick
had been lowered so it wouldn't be visible from offshore. A warehouse and
a bunkhouse stood beside it -- the latter looked empty, with doors closed
and windows shuttered. Beyond this, a set of railway tracks led inland.
Clarice and Emily crossed to the warehouse and examined the entrance. This
was secured with a heavy padlock. Emily lifted the lock and let it fall.
It struck the door with a clunk.
"It's a pity Jenkins isn't here," she observed. "He'd have this open in a
"You sound like you miss him," Clarice chuckled.
"I reckon you miss someone too," Emily replied archly.
"I don't know what you're talking about."
Miss Perkins sighed, brushed past the two women, and produced a pick and
torque bar from her purse. Moments later she was heaving the door aside
to reveal a neatly stacked row of oil drums. She cleaned her hands
with a kerchief, inspected her manicure, then nodded toward the drums.
"That would be our diesel fuel, I believe," she said. "But this can
hardly be its final destination. Let's have a look at those railway
The tracks climbed a shallow slope and disappeared into the brush. Emily
noted that they were the same gauge as the line to Darwin -- this was food
for thought. No rolling stock was in evidence, but when the three women
peered south, they could see the smoke from an approaching train.
"Should we wait and see who those fellows are?" asked Emily.
Miss Perkins glanced around the deserted wharf. It seemed safe to
conclude there was something suspicious about the place. "This might be
premature," she observed dryly. "We have no idea who these people are
working for or what they're up to. I believe we should head back to the
boat before we're spotted."
"That might be a problem," Clarice said, pointing north.
They turned to see a modest-sized airship approaching from offshore. "That
looks like a Wolesley," said Emily. "There's some writing on the side.
Can you make it out?"
Clarice lifted the pair of binoculars she'd brought along. "It says
'Public Works Department of Western Australia: Office of Vermin
Control'. I wonder what they're about."
The airship slowed -- apparently her crew had spotted the Drudge. As the
three women watched, the vessel made a wide circle to the right, then
straightened on a course that would take her directly over the dragger.
Seconds later, a small object detached itself from the ship and fell.
They heard a descending shriek, followed by the thud of an explosion. A
fountain of debris rose from the place their boat had been.
"I say," Emily remarked. "these people seem to take vermin control quite
Miss Perkins studied the airship's lines, spotting subtle details in the
shape of the fins and engine cars her companions had missed. "That isn't
a Vickers product," she told them. "It's one of the copies the Americans
built under license."
Clarice put two and two together. "Do you think it could be Lady Warfield
on the Philadelphian?"
The ship was headed their way now. Lines dropped down from her hold and a
landing party abseiled down to the wharf. Behind them, they heard the train
come to a stop, the sound of men disembarking, and the rattle of rifles
Miss Perkins sighed. "Yes," she said ruefully, "that would be Lady
Next week: Called To Task...
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