Episode 196: Buccaneers of the Skyways
The crew of the Make a Good Fist stared at the sky in astonishment.
As well they might. It couldn't be every day they were attacked by
pirates with a semi-rigid dirigible.
They were still staring when the airship dropped lines and the first borders
abseiled to the deck. Even so, numbers were on their side, and matters
might have gone poorly for the buccaneers if Everett and his companions
hadn't charged from the deckhouse to take the yacht's crew in the flank.
From that point on, the outcome was never in doubt. A moment's brisk work
and the engagement was over. Captain Everett waited while Jenkins produced
a clothes brush to put his jacket in order, then set off in search of the
The man was easy enough to find -- a curly-haired Italian with fine aquiline
features and a fiery disposition. Everett was reminded of Antonio
Notariello, the opera singer they'd had aboard the previous year. He gave
the man a nod.
"Captain Vincenzo, I assume."
"So I am called," said the Italian. "And you would be Captain Everett. I
know of you by reputation."
"Thank you for coming to our assistance. Your timing was most opportune."
"It was also molto redditizio," Vincenzo observed, "this is a fine
haul!" He gestured towards his men, who were sorting through their plunder
for items that were reasonably compact and weighed less than a dozen pounds,
loading these into baskets, and swaying them up to their ship with a block
and tackle -- the vessel was too small for refinements such as a
"What will you do with the yacht?" asked Michael. He'd fared somewhat worse
than Everett and Jenkins and sported a fine set of bruises.
The Italian smiled. "With a different name, and a more convenient set of
papers, she should fetch a fine price in Mahina. But come aboard the
Salgari, all of you, and let us celebrate our victory!"
The Norge class airship was a superb example of Italian craftsmanship.
Her builders had substituted art for engineering to produce a vessel that
might be temperamental, but was almost certainly fast. A streamlined
envelope, framed by a graceful curving keel, carried a control car forward
and three powerful engine cars aft. Everything about the ship seemed to
The vessel's accommodations left something to be desired -- the word
'cramped' would have suggested a degree of spaciousness that was
conspicuous by its absence. Everett and his companions followed their
host up a flimsy rope ladder, then threaded their way down a narrow keel
passage to a mess deck that was smaller than some closets he'd seen. A
young Englishman, identical to Michael, but with wetter clothing and fewer
bruises, looked up as they entered.
"Digby!" said Michael. "However did you manage to arrange all this!"
"It wasn't my doing," the other youth said modestly. "I'd escaped from Lord
Warfield and was heading back to free you when Vincenzo flew overhead and
"Thank you," Michael told Vincenzo. "It's fortunate you happened to be in
this part of Tahiti."
The Italian produced a bottle of wine, inspected the label, and began to
work on the cork. "Thank this young lady," he said graciously, nodding
toward a figure who'd emerged from the passageway behind him. "She was the
one who told me where to find the baron's yacht."
"Miss Stewart!" exclaimed several people in unison. Captain Everett raised
his hand to forestall an outcry.
"Good afternoon, Miss Stewart," he said politely, "it's good to find you
well. We'd grown concerned during your absence. But I must inform you that
some serious charges have been leveled against you. In particular, you've
been accused of being an agent of Lord Warfield. Viewed in this light, your
awareness of the baron's movements becomes suspicious. I must ask you: how
did you know his vessel was in Papao?"
The governess seemed unprepared for this interrogation. She fidgeted,
unwilling to meet his gaze. "A man in Mahina told me," she said
defensively. "I assumed this was common knowledge."
Everett studied the woman. It was clear she was withholding information,
but some instinct moved him to trust her. He turned to Digby. "You say you
escaped from the baron. Where is the man now?"
The youth chuckled. "We tricked him into heading for Taravao, I imagine
the baroness has followed him. Won't they be surprised when they find
they've been on a wild goose chase!"
Everett and Jenkins exchanged glances.
"Taravao?" said the signalman. "Oh dear."
"What's wrong?" Michael asked in alarm.
"We have reason to believe the Professor will be there," Everett explained.
"The Milbridges may be there as well."
"Goodness!" exclaimed Digby. "There's no way they can possibly face the
"I fear you're right," said Everett. "Captain Vincenzo, can I prevail upon
you to undertake a rescue mission?"
"Certamete," said the Italian. "This was always my intention."
Lady Warfield strode down the trail like a fury. If any of the islanders
she passed thought it odd to see an English lady dressed in riding clothes
with a rapier at her side on the trail to Taravao, they wisely kept
silent. A crewman followed behind, carrying a satchel packed with
toiletries and edged weapons. The baroness had left the rest of her men
back at the yacht, for she wanted to be alone with her thoughts.
How dare Everett chose this moment to intrude on their plans! His
appearance complicated what was already a difficult situation. It was also
an unwelcome reminder of a time best forgotten. With a scowl, she set aside
memories of what might have been to concentrate on the present. The arrival
of the Royal Navy meant they had little time to secure the gambling machine,
account for the Milbridges, and depart. The Calhoun twins might have helped
with the first goal, but the whereabouts of the second remained a mystery.
Where had that dim-witted viscount and his insufferable wife have got to?
This chase had gone on far too long.
"I believe I see a party of two approaching on the road, milady," said her
Lady Warfield peered ahead and recognized a figure. Her eyes widened.
Could it be? she asked herself.
Grinning, she loosened her sword in its scabbard. This might turn into a
good day after all.
It had taken Lord Warfield some time to locate a suitable watercraft. At
last he managed to find a flat-bottomed skiff with a small petrol engine at
one of the missions. It might not have been sufficient for an offshore
passage, but it was more than adequate to carry him around Tahiti Iti. The
missionaries were reluctant to sell, but gave in when he assured them the
purchase was for humanitarian purposes.
For someone less bloody-minded than the baron, the trip to Taravao might
have been pleasant. The coastline was green and unspoiled, the sea and sky
were a heart-stopping shade of blue, and the only other Western vessel in
sight -- an obsolete German three-stack light cruiser anchored off the
village of Tautira -- added a rustic touch to this idyllic tropical scene.
But Lord Warfield had never been a man to notice such things, and now his
mind was filled with thoughts of the coming prize.
Landmarks grew sparse as he neared the isthmus that separated Tahiti Itu
from Tahiti Nua. Lord Warfield throttled back the engine and compared the
coastline with the chart spread across his knee. A pile of stone near the
'ater seemed to match the spot marked `marae'. Three figures stood
next to it. One looked familiar. The baron's eyes widened.
Could it be?
Smiling, he unwrapped the oilcloth beside him to reveal a Thompson
submachine gun. This was turning into an excellent day.
Next week: Gladiators All...
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