Episode 258: That's Good Enough
It might have been some pulp fiction writer's vision of a cannibal island:
a broad circle of jungle rising to a tall volcanic peak. Groves of
mangroves, ringing the coast, completed the picture. Only one thing
"Goodenough Island?" asked Iverson. "Is that really it's name?"
"I'm afraid so," said Everett. "The old charts called it Morota, but our
ubiquitous Captain Moresby renamed it in 1874 after the Commander in Chief
of the Australia Station, Commodore James Goodenough."
The lieutenant shook his head. "Was this intended as a compliment?"
"History does not record the answer," Everett observed dryly, "but matters
could have been worse. A few years earlier and it might have become
Wiseman Island. Mister MacKiernan, what does the Almanac have to say about
The Exec skimmed through the entry. This did not take long. "For some
reason, the island is part of British New Guinea, even though it's a member
of the D'Entrecasteaux chain. I imagine we're hoping the French will
attempt to reclaim the place. Its principal imports are steel tools,
tobacco, and missionaries, and its principal export appears to be...
hmm... copra. There have been some attempts to explore the interior for
gold, but none were successful. The Almanac remains curiously vague about
the reason for these failures. The population is small, no more than a few
thousand, but these people seem to be over-achievers from a linguistic
standpoint. They maintain four distinct indigenous languages."
"What a strange thing for them to do," said Iverson.
The Irishman shrugged. "I don't imagine the place offers much else in the
way of recreation."
"Perhaps we can offer them something to break the monotony," Everett
remarked. "That should be the air station ahead. Jenkins, please make our
"What precisely are we looking for here, sir?" asked Iverson.
"We've been ordered to seek information about a French steamship named the
Cordelia that called a few days ago. This is one of the vessels on
which our hypothetical stowaway might have traveled to Cairns."
Goodenough's air station lay next to Bwaidoga, a small village on the shore
of the aptly named Mud Bay. The facility was modest: two old-style high
masts surrounded by a smattering of tin shacks. One mast was occupied by
one of the quaint Parseval semi-rigids the French used for inter-island
commerce. The other was empty, but after studying the structure through
binoculars, Everett decided it might be wiser to remain aloft
and send down a party aboard the launch.
A short time later, Iverson, Sarah, Murdock, Abercrombie, and Pierre stood
by the shore, deciding upon their next move. Their inquiries at the Station
had proved singularly uninformative. No one bothered to maintain records in
such an insignificant place and officials of any kind were conspicuous by
their absence. The Administrator of this part of British New Guinea lived
on Dobu Island, some distance to the south, and Iverson found it hard to
"What shall we do now, Mister Iverson?" asked Murdock.
"No one here seems to have heard of the Cordelia, so we'll have to
inquire elsewhere," said Iverson. "If this chart is to be believed, there are
only two other roadsteads of any size on this island. We'll drop you,
Abercrombie, and Pierre, off here, at this place called Vivigani, while
Miss Sarah and I take the launch up this coast to Wataluma."
Murdock drew himself up proudly, pleased at the opportunity to command a
shore party. Behind him, Abercrombie gave Iverson a nod to assure him
he'd keep the junior lieutenant out of trouble.
Vivigani bore little resemblance to the neighborhood in London where Murdock
had grown up. It had considerably more palm trees, considerably fewer
omnibuses, and its inhabitants wore considerably fewer clothes. The women
in particular seemed to have a dramatically different concept of suitable
attire than the one to which the lieutenant had become accustomed. He kept
his eyes focused straight ahead and tried not to notice.
At last they came upon a crudely-thatched structure that served some of the
functions of a pub. Inside -- to the extent that this concept was
meaningful -- an alarmingly-clad barmaid was serving bottles of warm IPA to
a pair of men in field garb.
"Good day," said one of the men. "Welcome to the
This Will Do For Now, best public house on Goodenough Island. I'm
Roth and this is my associate Devers."
"Pleased to meet you," said Murdock. "I'm Lieutenant Murdock, Royal Navy
Airship Service, and these are my companions, Abercrombie and Pierre. What
brings you to this part of the Pacific?"
"Devers and I are surveyors," said Roth. "We've been hired to evaluate the
suitability of this place for the establishment of a naval air station."
"A naval air station?" marveled Murdock. "Whatever need could there be for
such a thing here?"
"It would be for defense against the Russians," Roth explained, "should they
decide on a policy of expansion in the South Pacific."
This did not sound particularly likely to Murdock, given Russia's almost
complete lack of a Pacific Fleet, but he was too well-bred to comment on
this. "Have there been any French vessels about?" he asked politely. "In
particular, have you seen a freighter named the Cordelia?"
"The Cordelia?" Devers said to Roth. "Didn't we notice a vessel by
that name after that Japanese airship was here?"
Murdock's eyes widened. "A Japanese airship?" he asked. "Who were they?"
"She was the Something-or-other Maru," said Devers. "I imagine
that should narrow it down. Some rather shifty-looking characters
disembarked, but I don't see them around any more. Now that I think of it,
I believe they vanished around the time the Cordelia left."
"Well," Murdock said sometime later, as they were waiting for Iverson and
Sarah to return with the launch, "those fellows seemed rather helpful."
"Perhaps," said Pierre, "but I wonder of they weren't too helpful."
Wataluma made Bwaidoga seem like a bustling metropolis. A few huts clustered
next to what might have been a decaying wharf, or might just have been a
chance collection of driftwood. The inhabitants eyed Iverson with
suspicion and seemed even more wary of Sarah.
"These people seem rather reserved," Iverson remarked to his companion.
"I can't imagine why," she replied brightly. "My ancestors didn't raid
this place very often. The food here wasn't very good."
"Oh," said Iverson. As he was wondering what to say next, something caught
his eye -- a canoe drawn up on the beach with what looked like an elongated
eggbeater attached to the stern. "Hullo, what's this? That looks like an
old Motogodille outboard motor. Wherever could that have come from?"
"We carry it on the Tortue Volante for travel along these coasts,"
came a voice from behind them. "It is much more civilized than paddling."
They turned to see cheerful-looking Frenchman in his late-thirties.
Iverson was reminded of Pierre. "The Tortue Volante," he said.
"I take it this would be the Parseval we saw moored back at the Station."
"Oui," said the man. "I am René , once of the
Service Aéronautique, now a free-lance airshipman.
And who might I have the honor of addressing?"
"I'm Lieutenant Iverson, Royal Navy Airship Service, and this is Miss Sarah,
our ballast officer."
"Enchante," said René, bowing to kiss Sarah's hand. "This
island has had many visitors recently, but none so attractive as you."
"Why, thank you!" Sarah said innocently. "Who were these other visitors?"
"They were strangers, for the most part," said René," but a few days
ago I spotted someone who looked just like my old friend Captain Ritter in
the company of two Englishmen."
Iverson and Sarah exchanged glances. "Would he be the master of the
Inselmädchen?" asked Iverson.
"Oui," said René. "I take it you've met the gentleman."
Next week: The Big Smoke...
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