Episode 485: Girl's Night Out
The young Chinese teamster reined in his horses, set the brake, and gestured
at the building to their right. "We have reached your hotel, Miss Wilcox
and Miss Blaine," he announced.
Clarice and Emily hopped down from the wagon and turned to smile at their
benefactor. "Thanks for the lift!" Emily told him.
The man bowed in reply. "It was an honor to be of service. If you ever
need another ride to Manila, let my master know."
He flicked the reins to get his horses moving. Clarice and Emily watched
him drive off, then turned to enter the hostlery. It had been several days
since they'd seen it, for their return to Manila had taken longer than they
expected. Along the way, they'd encountered White Russian nationalists,
Red Russian revolutionaries, a Masonic lodge, and an exiled Chinese
aristocrat. The latter had been happy to provide them with a ride a back to
"It was nice of Mister Fu to help us," said Emily. "I'd say things went
Clarice had some reservations about this. "I wonder if they didn't go a
bit too well," she remarked. "I'd like to think this was all the result of
our own cleverness, but there were times it almost seemed as though someone
was been manipulating events in our favor."
"Who would do such a thing, and why?" asked Emily.
There seemed no answer to this question, so the two young women made their
way to their room for a much-appreciated bath and change of clothing. Then
they set off for the customs office to ask what vessels had called during
their absence. This enterprise might have contravened some of the office's
regulations regarding inquiries by private citizens, but experience had
taught them that regulations didn't always apply to private citizens of
their age and gender.
"We also had a visitor from Australia," said the customs officer as he
summarized the recent commercial traffic. "This was a salvage tug named
the Red Horse, out of Port Hedding."
Clarice and Emily exchanged glances. "Who was the master?" asked Clarice.
"She was..." the customs officer began, but words failed him and he was
reduced to making gestures that suggested a substantial physical
"That would be Aunt Prodigia," Clarice whispered to Emily. "We must have
just missed her. I wonder if she found our note."
"Let's find out," Emily whispered back. "Did she leave any message for her
nieces?" she asked their host.
The officer hesitated, as if he found it difficult to reconcile two
dramatically different images. "That would be you?" he asked in amazement.
"Dinki di," Emily said cheerfully. "I'm Emily Wilcox and my friend is
"Then I suppose this is for you," said the man. He rummaged through a
drawer to hand Emily a sheet of paper. Glancing over the blonde's
shoulder, Clarice saw what appeared to be a random succession of characters.
ZZUL XTEE GHBX PBWI AOQH MJTZ XOEE VZZT HZFW HXBT YPAT ZZWF QDEM UHFR
HXXV MIKC IKLF KHBD NUMS PKYT KZOL SIIL HMNA
The two young women thanked the officer, and they left the building to find
a cafe. Over tea, Emily worked on the cipher, jotting down figures and
comparing them with the copy of Masefield's Sea Fever she was using
as a key. "What do you make of this?" she asked when she was done.
Clarice examined the clear text.
IMPERATIVE PREVENT TRANQUILITY DELIVER VACCUM TUBES HERRING TO
SAIGON CLOUD TO HAIPHONG THEN MEET DANANG
"That does sounds important," she observed. "I wonder it's all about."
"Saigon, Haiphong, and Danang," mused Emily. "Those are the three ports
where the British Union maintains agents in French Indochina. Your
boyfriend must be trying to prevent the Warfields from getting their hands
on some cargo the Tranquility is carrying. It's a pity we didn't
know about this when we were aboard the freighter."
"Captain Everett is not my boyfriend!" Clarice said indignantly. "You're
the one who's sweet on Jenkins."
"It's just a casual acquaintance," said Emily. "Do you think we could
catch up with our mates in this Danang place?"
Clarice thought this over. "It's worth a try," she decided. "Let's see if
we can find passage."
Suitable passage to French Indochina proved difficult to obtain. Clarice
and Emily spent several hours touring the wharves, finding any number of
vessels that were either too slow or departing too late to meet their
schedule. As evening approached, Emily frowned and gestured toward a sleek
steam yacht that was moored nearby.
"This is crook!" she grumbled. "We need a boat like that!"
Clarice glanced at the vessel, noticed the name, and grasped her
companion's arm. "Em!" she exclaimed. "That's the
Make a Good Fist! Isn't that the yacht the Warfields were forced
to abandon in Tahiti?"
"Strewth!" said Emily. "Their people must have managed to recover the
vessel. We'd better get out of sight in case they have our description."
"It may be too late for that," said Clarice, indicating the deckhouse, where
two men in yachting apparel were staring in their direction. "What should
we do now?"
Emily thought quickly. "We'll try one of Jenkins' tricks. Follow me and
act as if you haven't noticed those chappies."
They continued down the street, then took a turn leading back toward town.
A curious charade ensued, with the two young women pretending not to be
aware of the two men who were pretending not to follow them. At last they
came to a row of shops, where a streetcar from Manila's famous Tranvia
system was loading passengers.
"It can't be that easy," Clarice protested when she realized what her
"No worries," said Emily. "If we get the timing right, she'll be apples."
They waited until the car was about to move, then hopped aboard, squeezed
past the packed passengers, and jumped off the other side. By the time the
men had boarded after them, they''d taken cover in one of the shops. Through
the window, they could see their pursuers glancing about with worried
expressions as the train pulled away.
"Bonzer!" said Emily. "They won't dare get off until they're sure we aren't
aboard. That should give us plenty of time to have a look at their vessel."
The yacht was dark when Clarice and Emily got back to the wharf. Her only
lights were a glimmer from the fo'c'sle ports and the beam of the watchman's
lantern. They had no trouble avoiding the latter as they snuck into the
deckhouse. Inside, a dimly lit companionway ran aft. They crept down it
until they reached what must have been the owner's stateroom, where Emily
used a safety pin to jimmy the latch.
''You check the shelves, I'll check the desk," she whispered to Clarice.
"What are we looking for?" Clarice whispered back.
"I'm not sure, but I imagine we'll discover something interesting."
This discovery took an unexpected form. As the two young women were
searching the cabin, a surprised voice spoke from the doorway.
"However did you get here?"
They turned and stared in astonishment. "You!" said Clarice.
Next week: Middle Ground...
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