Episode 472: Perhaps We Weren't The Only Ones With This Idea...
"Who is the Countess?" Miss Perkins asked MacKiernan as they headed back to
the accommodations section at the end of his watch.
"She's the Gravin Margaetha Zelle," said MacKiernan. "She maintains a tea
plantation on Java."
Miss Perkins raised her eyebrows. "This would the Margaretha
Zelle?" she asked.
"So it would," said MacKiernan. "I understand the title was awarded by the
Dutch government after the Peace."
"I believe she earned it," said Miss Perkins. "She's become a legend in
certain circles. However did Captain Everett happen to meet her? They can
hardly have crossed paths while she was... working in her professional
capacity during the War."
"I don't have any idea," MacKiernan admitted. "It never seemed my place to
Miss Perkins paused to think this over. In the dim light of the keel
passage, her expression looked troubled. "Perhaps I shouldn't tell you
this, Fergus," she said quietly, "but it seems that Captain Michaelson is
acquainted with her too. I wonder of this has any connection with..."
"...Lady Warfield?" said MacKiernan. "So do I, Alice. So do I."
The Flying Cloud reached Jakarta the next evening. The air
station at Pademangan was busy as ever and their arrival went unnoticed
amidst other traffic. It was too late to contemplate negotiating Java's
network of roads after dark, but the next morning, Everett hired a motorcar
and driver for the journey to the Countess' plantation.
The party consisted of the captain, MacKiernan, and Miss Perkins. This was
MacKiernan's first visit to the Zelle estate, and he studied his
surroundings with interest as they drove past a gate that read
Eye Of The Day Tea. Their route climbed to the top of a hill where
a small mansion -- something that might have been home to a Dutch merchant
from some previous century -- stood at the head of a lawn. A fountain
ornamented with sculptures in the style of the Chola dynasty added a touch
of the East, while a pair of temple dogs with batlike wings and quaint
tentacled faces flanked the stairs leading to the entrance.
A butler met them at the door. "Captain Everett," he said politely. "The
Countess is expecting you. If you'll accompany me."
"How did she know we were coming?" MacKiernan whispered to Miss Perkins.
"She must maintain an agent at the station," said Miss Perkins. "It seems
she hasn't abandoned her previous career."
The butler led them down a corridor decorated with art entirely unlike the
heroic and religious themes MacKiernan remembered from his childhood in
Ireland. He glanced at Miss Perkins, but she seemed unfazed by the subject
matter. For his part, he was relived when their guide ushered them into a
sitting room. Inside, a slender middle-aged woman with the figure and
poise of a dancer rose to greet the captain.
"Roland!" she said in delight. "How kind of you to visit!"
"It was kind of you to make time for us, Mata," Everett replied. "I'm
afraid our visit is not motivated purely by sentiment. We're seeking
"This would be about the British Union?" said the Countess.
Everett smiled ruefully. "I should have realized you'd guess."
The Countess touched his arm in sympathy. "I was aware that the Warfields
had returned to the Pacific -- it is my business to hear about such things
-- so it seemed a reasonable assumption. How are they involved?"
"They're in race with the Fat Man to intercept a shipment of vacuum tubes
aboard a freighter named the Tranquility," said Everett. "Along
they way, they kidnapped two young women you'll recall from our visit
earlier this year."
A smile flickered across the Countess' face. "That would be Emily and
Clarice. They showed promise."
Everett wasn't entirely certain what this might be a promise of, but before
he could reply, the butler appeared. The Countess listened to his
message, then beckoned them to follow her to a window. "It appears you
aren't the only visitors today,' she said.
They followed her gaze to see an ungainly vehicle approaching up the drive.
Its shape suggested some hybrid between camel and turtle that combined the
grace and elegance of the former with the speed and agility of the latter.
Its engine rumbled as it crested the hill.
Miss Perkins studied the machine with a professional eye. "That's a modern
German armored car," she said, "one of Horch AG's products. What's it doing
"One imagines it belongs to the Fat Man's people," said Everett. "This may
not be a positive development."
The car halted at the head of the lawn and the sound of its engine dropped
to an idle. There was a brief pause, then a speaker came to life with a
screech of feedback.
"Grafín Zelle," crackled an over-amplified voice. "You have
information we require. You will provide it to us."
The Countess called back out the window. "Why should I?" she demanded. "I
know the specifications for your vehicle. It mounts one
Maschinegewehr 34 and carries a crew of four. You can't hope to
storm my mansion with such a force."
"These walls are proof against machine gun fire?" Miss Perkins asked her in
"Of course," said the Countess. "Tea cultivation can be a highly
"We do not need to take your schloss by storm," announced the
voice. "We can simply destroy it. This spahwagen has been
modified, as you shall see."
The turret swung to point at the fountain, a cannon spoke, and the structure
was blown to fragments.
Everett frowned thoughtfully.
"That would be a 20 mm cannon, similar to what we carried on the old
Mayfly class," he observed. "This may be somewhat more competition
than your estate was designed to withstand."
"You may be right," the Countess admitted. "Do you have any suggestions?"
"Perhaps," said Everett. "Let us put this to the test."
Everett strode across the lawn with an air of confidence -- such things were
expected from officers in the Royal Navy Airship Service. As he approached
the armored car, its side hatch swung open and a man with a similar bearing
and posture emerged. Everett nodded to himself. He'd guessed correctly.
"Captain Ritter, I presume," he said.
The other man raised an eyebrow. "You know me?"
"I expected to find you here," said Everett. "We have a mutual acquaintance
-- my lieutenant who you held captive last year -- and it's become a
tradition for naval officers to command armored car units."
"Ja," said the German. "You have come to negotiate your surrender?"
Everett shook his head. "We both know otherwise. You weren't aware that
I'd called at Java. If you had been, you wouldn't have approached the
Countess in such a vulnerable machine. You may be able to destroy her
mansion, but I've already summoned my airship, and you can't possibly
hope to escape after it arrives."
Ritter nodded glumly. "That may be true," he admitted. "Unfortunately I
have my orders. I must learn where the shipment of vacuum tubes from
Melbourne might be bound."
"So I understand," said Everett. "You wish to prevent that shipment from
reaching the Japanese nationalists or their allies in the British Union.
So do we. Our interests coincide."
This observation seemed to catch the German by surprise.
"What do you propose?"
"The Warfields have abducted two young ladies who had the misfortune to cross
their path. We will share the Countess's information and agree that whoever
intercepts them will rescue their captives and destroy the cargo."
Next week: Meanwhile, Over At The Coffee Plantations...
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