Episode 424: Some Historical Research
MacKiernan and Miss Perkins had met in MacKiernan's cabin -- with
Abercrombie as a chaperone -- to study the teapot and crucifix. Viewed
side by side, the artifacts might have suggested a novel interpretation of
one of the sacraments, but otherwise they told no tales.
At last Miss Perkins reached for the Almanac and flipped it open to a page.
"We will need to make inquiries if we're to determine where these items
came from," she said. "I believe our best place to find the relevant
experts is here."
MacKiernan looked at the entry the secretary had indicated. "Why do
you recommend Guam?" he asked.
"It's as good a place as any," said Miss Perkins. "It's not too far away,
we're on good terms with the commander of the American air station, and the
Royal Navy maintains an attaché there who might be able to provide
information about this HMS Charybdis."
"What about the nationalists?" asked Abercrombie.
"We ken the Germans and Japanese both have agents on the island."
"That may be true, but we can hope they won't have a major presence on
an American possession. Also, our adversaries will be
looking for the Flying Cloud. They're unlikely to associate
this..." she glanced around the compartment as if wrestling with her
sensibilities, "... airship with a Royal Navy investigation."
MacKiernan nodded ruefully. Somewhere in the distance, a rigging cable
creaked. He hoped it wasn't about to break.
"I imagine you will be right," he admitted.
The flight from Truk to Guam strained the R-46's capabilities. So did the
mooring operation. Even Abercrombie'sw heroic efforts hadn't been able
to correct the sag in the vessel's tail -- a fault that led to pitch control
problems at low speed. The vessel also lacked the necessary fittings to
use modern mechanical handling equipment. This meant she had to be walked
to a high mast by hand, the way the gods had meant man to moor airships
when they wanted to punish him for some infraction.
The air station's commander was waiting to greet them as they emerged from
the lift. Like all American officers, he seemed filled with the boundless
enthusiam one would expect from representatives of a young and rising
"Welcome back to Guam, Lieutenant-Commander MacKiernan," he announced
cheerfully. "I see they've given you the R-46."
There was an awkward pause.
"Quite," said MacKiernan. "We're on a mission that requires some
discretion, and we wanted to ensure no one would associate this visit with
our previous one."
"That's a clever move," said the commander.
"I assume you'll want to speak with your naval attaché."
"If you could be so kind as to tell us where we might find him."
The attaché, Lieutenant Roderick Williamson, was young man whose
expression suggested he'd met with some recent disappointment. MacKiernan
was too courteous to inquire what this might be. Instead he let his gaze
roam across the shelves until he spotted a small statuette. Its attire was
noteworthy for its inadequacy.
"That's an interesting figure," he observed. "I take it this is not Royal
Williamson frowned at the figure as if it brought back unhappy memories.
"It's a representation of Inanna, the ancient Sumerian goddess of Love
and War," he said curtly.
"Love and War?" asked MacKiernan.
The lieutenant sighed. "Those ancient Sumerians didn't make our modern
distinction between the two, and I can't say that I blame them. How may
I help you?"
MacKiernan unwrapped the teapot and crucifix and set them on the table.
"We recovered these artifacts during an investigation, the details and
purpose of which needn't concern you," he said. "Now we need to
determine where they came from."
Williamson picked up the teapot and examined the inscription. "A gift
from Her Majesty and the captain, officers, and crew of the
HMS Charybdis?" he read. "There can't have been too many
vessels by that name. Let us see what we can discover."
The lieutenant turned to his shelves and began leafing through copies of
Jane's. When these proved inadequate, he resorted to its
predecessor, Brassey's Naval Almanac. At last he paused at an
entry. "How about this one?" he said. "The HMS Charybdis, an
Astra class protected cruiser, ordered under the Naval Defense Act
of 1889. She was completed in 1896 at Sheerness Dockyard, served in
Channel Fleet as flagship of the 12th Cruiser Squadron, and was sold into
commercial service in 1918."
"Commercial service?" asked Miss Perkins.
"In today's challenging business environment, you never know when you
might need a 4,000 tonne warship with a battery of 6" guns," said
MacKiernan glanced the lieutenant, but the other man was maintaining a
straight face. He sighed inwardly. "The name may be right, but I wonder
about the timing," he observed, hoping this might keep the conversation
from straying. "Why would the vessel be carrying a gift from Queen
Victoria when most of her active service occurred during the reigns of
Edward VII and George V? Also, how did a teapot from a cruiser in the
Channel Fleet end up in the Pacific?"
"Some retired officer might have brought it here as a memento," suggested
"It might also have been the work of international tea service thieves,"
said Miss Perkins. "I understand they were quite a problem after the War."
MacKiernan glanced at Miss Perkins, but she too had mastered the art of
looking innocent. It seemed he was not fated to win today. "Do you have
records for any earlier time periods?" he asked the attaché.
"After a fashion," said Williamson. "It will take some time to review
them, but I should be finished by lunchtime."
"That should serve," said MacKiernan. "Do you have any idea where this
crucifix might have come from?"
Something that might have been a scowl flickered across the young man's
face. "No, but you might try Miss Mariane Smythe, over at the town
library," he said with more than a hint of spite. "She fancies herself a
Apra's Municipal Library was easy enough to find -- it wasn't as if
establishments of this sort were particularly numerous on Guam. MacKiernan
and Miss Perkins expected its custodian to be the traditional aging
spinster, but instead, they found an attractive young woman sporting the
latest fashions from America. These seemed admirably suited for wear in a
tropical climate, as was the attire of the statuette MacKiernan noticed on
the shelf behind her.
"That figure looks quite old," he remarked. "Was it made here on Guam?"
"It's a representation of Inanna, the ancient Sumerian goddess of War and
Love," the girl said with what might have been a trace of bitterness.
"Those ancient Sumerians knew what they were talking about."
Her manner suggested he'd touched on a difficult topic, so MacKiernan
hastened to change the subject. "We're conducting an investigation for the
Royal Navy," he told her. "As part of this investigation, we need to
determine the origin of this crucifix. We understand you're an expert on
This praise seemed to improve Miss Smythe's mood. She produced a magnifying
glass from wherever it was librarians kept such things and began to examine
details of the engraving. "It's definitely Spanish workmanship, from
sometime during the Seventeenth Century" she said after a moment. "It might
take me some time to narrow this down, but I should be done by lunch."
"We're not in any immediate hurry," said MacKiernan. "We're waiting for our
attaché, Lieutenant Williamson, to complete a related inquiry. He
also expects to finish by lunchtime."
Something about this statement seemed to annoy the girl. "Does he?" she
exclaimed. "I'll show him!"
"It would seem that Mister Williamson and Miss Smyth are acquainted,"
MacKiernan observed as they made their way back to the lieutenant's office.
"They also don't seem on the best of terms," said Miss Perkins. "I wonder
what he did to offend her?"
MacKiernan opened his mouth to comment on her immediate assumption that the
man was at fault, then thought better of it. If the ancient Sumerians ever
needed a Goddess of Secretaries and War, he knew who to suggest as a
When they got back to the office, they
found the attaché studying a dog-eared volume titled
The Cruise of the Flying Squadron, by M McCausland. He looked up as
they entered. "I believe I've found your HMS Charybdis," he informed
them. "This one is a Pearl class screw corvette, launched in 1859 at
Chatham. She circumnavigated the world as part of the Royal navy Flying
Squadron of 1869, with calls in Australia, New Zealand, and Japan."
"That sounds like the vessel we want," said MacKiernan. "Do we know what ports
"Not yet, but I believe this information will be contained in this account by one
of her midshipmen," said Williamson. "His presentation was quite succinct, so
it shouldn't take much more than an hour to review it."
"There's no hurry," said MacKiernan. "We'll go back to the library and see if
Miss Smythe has learned where the crucifix came from. She suggested she might
be done by now."
"Did she now?" growled the lieutenant. "You tell her that I accept her
"Challenge?" wondered Miss Perkins as they made their way back to the library.
"It would seem that our hosts are at odds," said MacKiernan. "From their
vehemence, one imagines this is some long-standing feud. We must hope it
doesn't interfere with their investigations."
Miss Perkins nodded. "Perhaps they should have chosen a different pair of
statues, skipped the Sumerians, and gone straight to the Roman god of War."
"I imagine they might welcome that suggestion."
The library was much as they'd left it. Inside, Miss Smythe was flipping
through the pages of a book titled A Boy's Guide To Seventeenth Century
Spanish Altar Furniture. She smiled when they entered.
"Did Roderick find the information you wanted?" she asked them.
"He was still doing research when we left," said MacKiernan.
The librarian's smile broadened. "That shirker!" she snickered. "I'm
already done! This crucifix came from a firm in Cordoba that mass-produced
these things for Jesuit missions during the Hapsburg era. Those guys had
all over this part of the Pacific. The one here in Guam had big sign
that said "Over 10 million saved!" They changed it every few years."
MacKiernan considered the possibilities. Perhaps they could compare the
Charybdis's ports of call with the locations of these missions and
search for a match. "Can we discover which missions were established after
this crucifix was made?"
"You bet!" said the girl. "And tell that Williamson pill I'll be done
"Do you have any idea what Miss Smythe meant by that last remark?"
MacKierann asked Miss Perkins as they made their way back to Williamson's
"From the context, one would imagine that `pill' was an expression of
approbation," said the secretary. "We seem to be caught between a pair of
"Such was my thought as well," said MacKiernan. "I hope we fare better
Miss Perkins glanced at him oddly, then laughed. "I suppose I deserved that
for my comment about tea service thieves."
"All's fair in Humor and War."
"So it would seem."
When the office came into view, it was obvious that something had happened
while they were gone. The door hung open and papers lay where wind had
scattered them across the floor. There was no sign of the attaché.
Several onlookers stood in front of the building. MacKiernan cornered one
of them -- an American seaman, judging from his clothing -- while Miss
Perkins made a quick inspection of the room.
"Did you happen to notice what happened here?" he asked.
"Yeah," said the sailor. "A few minutes ago this guy comes running out and
takes off down the street like he owes someone money. Was it you?"
It took MacKiernan several moments to parse this statement. While he was
wrestling with its grammatical innovations, Miss Perkins emerged from the
office and handed him a crumpled sheet of paper.
"Fergus," she said urgently, "I found this in the dustbin."
The Irishman smoothed the sheet to discover a typewritten message.
You're trying to embarrass us. You'll quit now if you know what's good for
It took little imagination to grasp the implications. "It would appear some
of our nationalist foes realized he was working for us," he said. "Who do
you think they were?"
"I imagine the Japanese," said Miss Perkins. "They didn't trust their
command of English, so they drew their text from some radio drama. Do you
think they're also aware of Miss Smythe?"
"We will not want to take this risk," said MacKiernan. "Let us make haste
back to the library."
Like the attaché's office, the library appeared to have been the
scene of some altercation. The door was open, several objects from the
desk lay next to it, as if they'd been hurled as weapons, and Miss
Smythe's chair had been overturned. Of the librarian herself there was
no sign. A small group of patrons from the bar across the street had
"What happened here?" MacKiernan asked one.
"I dunno," said the man. "A big black car pulled up, then a guy in
uniform jumped out, grabbed the librarian, and drove off with her."
"What kind of uniform?" asked MacKiernan.
The man scratched his head. "Is there any difference? They all look the
same to me."
"Which way did they go?"
"That way. Or maybe it was that way."
While MacKiernan was restraining his temper, Miss Perkins emerged from the
library holding a note. "I found this in the trash," she said. "I believe
it was typed on a different machine, but it's every bit as threatening as
the other one."
You were warned, Miss Smythe. Now you must face the consequences.
"This one must be from the Germans," said MacKiernan. "It has that
authoritarian turn of phrase of which they are so fond."
"It seems our adversaries have taken both our informants," said Miss
Perkins. "Which one should we try to rescue?"
"Our first concern must be for the lady," MacKiernan replied gallantly.
"Lieutenant Williamson will have to fend for himself for the moment.
He's English. I trust he will manage."
The car proved easy to follow. There was only one major street in Apra,
which did much to simplify the pursuit. This road branched several times
after they left town, but the soft earth retained impressions of the tire
tracks, so they had little difficulty determining which branch the vehicle
Soon they came to the car itself, parked beside a stand of trees. Its
motor was off, the doors were closed, and there was no trace of its
occupants. MacKiernan didn't find this reassuring. Had they matched
their captive off to kill her, or worse?
Miss Perkins seemed to share his apprehension. "We'd better find her
before it's too late," she said. "Do you see any sign of a trail?"
MacKiernan glanced around until he spotted several sets of prints leading
into the grove. He couldn't tell how many had been in the party, but one
set had obviously been left by a woman.
"This must be it," he said. "I can't imagine many people set of into the
jungle wearing high-heeled shoes."
"You might be surprised," Miss Perkins informed him. "We can discuss
They hurried down the trail as quickly as they dared, pausing from time to
time to listen for their quarry. During one pause, MacKiernan glanced back
at their own prints. Of course, he thought. I should have
At last they heard voices ahead. These were too muffled for them to make
out the words, but one voice seemed to be pleading.
"Is that Williamson?" Miss Perkins whispered.
MacKiernan looked where his companion was pointing and spotted the lieutenant
standing by a tree, staring at some figure that was hidden behind it. His
face was contorted in some extreme of emotion.
"Good lord!" whispered MacKiernan. "He looks as if someone's about to
"We'll have to save him," said Miss Perkins. "Are you armed?"
"No, but I am an Irishman.
If we get close enough, I can handle the matter."
They resumed their advance, being careful to keep the tree between
themselves and whoever Williamson was facing. If they couldn't see their
adversary, their adversary couldn't see them. The lieutenant seemed to be
getting the worst of his encounter. He'd gone to his knees, as if begging
for his life, but some unfortunate trick of acoustics kept them from making
out what he was saying.
"Hurry or we'll be too late!" hissed Miss Perkins.
"Go sábhála Dia sinn!" muttered MacKiernan. "We're
already too late!"
Williamson had reached into his pocket to pull out a box -- a bribe,
perhaps, in some last desperate effort to purchase his life. With shaking
hands, he offered it to whoever was standing behind the tree. MacKiernan
checked the distance. It was too far to rush. And there was nothing he
could throw, even if he'd been able to see Williamson's adversary. They
could only watch helplessly while the lieutenant met his fate.
A gasp sounded from behind the tree. Seconds later, Miss Smythe stepped into
the light, staring at the ring on her finger. She rubbed her eyes and gazed
up into the lieutenant's face. Then she flung her arms around him and kissed
For several long moments, neither MacKiernan nor Miss Perkins spoke.
"Oh dear," MacKiernan said at last. "It appears that we've been
laboring under a misapprehension regarding the precise nature of the
relationship between those two young people."
"So it would seem," Miss Perkins said dryly. "It's not as if we didn't
have any clues. Those statues..."
"It's also not as if we didn't have experience with just this sort of
thing ourselves," mused MacKiernan. He paused in alarm, realizing he'd
"Fergus?" said Miss Perkins.
He turned and realized she was smiling.
Next week: The What of Tahiti?...
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