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Title: Worrals of the Islands--A Story of the War in the Pacific

Date of first publication: 1945

Author: Capt. W. E. (William Earl) Johns (1893-1968)

Illustrator: Leslie Stead (1899-1966)

Date first posted: Nov. 19, 2022

Date last updated: Dec. 1, 2022

Faded Page eBook #20221134

This eBook was produced by: Al Haines, akaitharam, Cindy Beyer & the online Distributed Proofreaders Canada team at https://www.pgdpcanada.net

Holding up her hands, palms forward, to show that they did not hold a weapon. (p. 74)




A Story of the

War in the Pacific






Pictures by Stead





First printed, October, 1945

Made and Printed in Great Britain for Hodder & Stoughton, Limited, London

by Wyman & Sons Limited, London, Reading and Fakenham


Holding up her hands, palms forward, to show that they did not hold a weapon. (p. 74)Front
“Help. Nine British girls . . . alive . . . island . . . south-east Singapore. . . . Reward this man.” (p. 11)32
“Are you Billy Maguire?” queried Worrals. (p. 29)33
What she had taken to be a mangrove branch thrown up by the tide, moved. (p. 41)48
Worrals looked. “You’re right,” she agreed. “I think it’s trying to attract our attention.” (p. 48)49
Worrals took a compass bearing of the direction indicated. (p. 58)96
In a few minutes the canoe, freshly provisioned, was moving at a steady pace through the blue water. (p. 93)97
“It’ll be all right as long as they don’t come ashore, but if they do. . . .” (p. 105)112
It was a hat, dirty and sodden with sea water; a blue, tricorn hat. (p. 109)113
Worrals standing in the canoe waving, at imminent risk of capsizing it. (p. 111)144
One of them was a tall, powerfully-built fellow. (p. 135)145
Her finger tightened on the trigger. (p. 138)160
The distance between the two aircraft closed swiftly. There came a glittering streak of tracer. (p. 155)161


A slight fall of snow had covered the airfield with a thin, untidy mantle, and a mass of indigo cloud piling up on the northern horizon gave promise of more to come. Squadron Officer Joan Worralson, W.A.A.F., regarded it for a moment with disfavour; then, leaving the Spitfire, which she had just landed, in the hands of mechanics who had run out to meet it, with her flying kit over her arm she made her way towards her quarter. But in passing Station Headquarters a hail brought her to a halt, to wait for her friend and comrade of the skyways. Flight Officer Betty Lovell, more commonly called “Frecks.”

Frecks jerked an apprehensive thumb in the direction of the clouds. “Hello, Worrals. You just about made it,” she remarked, “The Old Man was getting in a flap for fear you got tangled up in the snowflakes.”

Worrals received this information without emotion. “What does he think I am—one of the Babes in the Wood?” she inquired coldly. “He’s got two flights up topsides, but does he worry about them? No. Why not? Because they’re being coaxed through the cumulus by pilots in pants. Men! They can take care of themselves, but we’re poor little waifs who can’t be trusted to find a way home unless the sun is shining. Fiddlesticks to him.” Worrals’ voice was crisp with sarcasm.

“He means well, poor brute,” murmured Frecks condescendingly. “The old damsel-in-distress stuff dies hard in some of these whiskered warriors.”

“Is that what you came to tell me?” asked Worrals.

“No. Guess who’s here?”

“Santa Claus?”

“Don’t be a fool. It’s Marcus.”


“Squadron Leader Yorke, of Air Intelligence, no less.”

Disapproval clouded Worrals’ eyes. “If I were you,” she advised, “I wouldn’t be so free and easy with Christian names. To call a man by his first name is to put all sorts of conceited notions in his head. What does he want?”

“He wants to see you.”

“What about?”

“Search me. He thinks you’re the cat’s whisker, but apparently I’m only a loose hair on the end of its tail. Anyway, he said he’d wait for you. You’d better come. The Old Man’s blowing down his nose as it is—you know how he gets when Intelligence rolls up with a bright idea.”

“What a nuisance men are,” sighed Worrals. “I’m panting for a cup of tea.”

“He’s got tea waiting in the office.”

“That’s different,” declared Worrals, and walked on towards the building.

“Ha! Managed to get back, I see,” greeted the C.O., Wing Commander McNavish, D.S.O.

“Considering I’ve always managed to get back, so far, sir, I don’t see why you need give Squadron Leader Yorke the impression that I’ve done something astonishing,” returned Worrals curtly.

“Some men are finding the new Spitfire a bit of a handful, my gal,” explained the C.O.

“That must be because they’re ham-fisted,” averred Worrals. “With me, she practically flies herself.”

Squadron Leader Yorke, after a quick, amused glance from one to the other, played peacemaker. “Hello, Worrals,” he interposed with a friendly smile.

Worrals considered him with affected suspicion before dropping her flying kit on the floor and reaching for the tea-pot. “What glad tidings have you brought from the seats of the mighty?” she inquired.

The Squadron Leader looked pained. “Now what have I done?” he asked plaintively.

“Nothing—yet. But I’m getting clairvoyant where men are concerned. You haven’t come here to ask me if I’d like a spot of leave, or anything like that. Am I right?”

“Dead right,” admitted Yorke wanly. “Leave was the last thing I had in mind.”

Worrals smiled. “Brave man—he dares to tell the truth. All right, I’ll forgive you. I’ve been dodging snowstorms for the last hour and I found them rather tiresome. I shall feel better when I’ve had a cup of tea. Break it gently, though.” She sipped hot tea with a relish she made no attempt to conceal.

The Squadron Leader picked up a scrap of paper that lay on the desk. It was a photograph that appeared to have been torn roughly from corner to corner. The larger part was missing.

“Do you know this girl?” he asked quietly.

Worrals’ expression changed in a flash as she took the mutilated portrait. “Yes,” she answered in a curious voice. “I know her. Frecks knows her, too—or rather, knew her. She’s Julia Carson. We were at the training depôt together. She was killed at Singapore when the Japs crashed in—or at any rate, she’s been missing ever since. It upset me when I heard about it. She was a grand kid . . . the life and soul of the party. Came from Birmingham, I believe.” Worrals raised her eyes. “Why do you show this to me? Where did it come from, anyway? It looks as though it’s been in a battle.”

“It has,” answered Yorke drily. “I learned from the Record Office that you were on the same training course as Section Officer Julia Carson, so I ran down to confirm that it was her.”

“What led you to suppose it was her?”

“Her name is on the back—but I’ll talk about that in a minute.”

“Why come to me?” queried Worrals. “Why not consult her parents?”

“Because at the moment it would be a cruel thing to raise hopes that might never mature.”

“What do you mean?”

The Squadron Leader took out a tobacco pouch and filled his pipe pensively, “There is a chance that Julia Carson may be alive,” he announced. “Sit down and I’ll tell you why we think so.”

“This promises to be interesting,” murmured Worrals, as she and Frecks pulled up chairs.

“It may strike you as slightly fantastic,” asserted the Intelligence Officer.

Worrals reached for her tea cup. “Go ahead,” she invited.

“Julia Carson disappeared with several thousand other people when Singapore fell,” began Yorke. “With a few exceptions we don’t know what happened to these unlucky men and women. We may never know. If you read the papers you will have seen that we have time and time again pressed the Japanese government, through an intermediary power, to submit a list of prisoners in their hands; but for reasons known only to themselves they have ignored the request. So much for Singapore. It is a fact that Julia Carson was there until the finish. She was offered a chance to get out in a British Overseas Airways flying-boat, and accepted; but at the last minute she gave up her seat to an old lady, the mother of a planter.”

“She would,” interposed Worrals softly.

“It’s a long jump to the second part of the story,” continued Yorke. “About three months ago a British flying-boat pilot, on patrol over the Timor Sea, investigating what at first he took to be a piece of wreckage, made it out to be a canoe, with someone in it. The sea was calm, so he landed. There was one occupant in the canoe—or the remains of what had once been a man; a native. He was dead, and judging from the state of the body he had been dead for some time. In the ordinary course of things there would have been nothing remarkable about this; such little human tragedies are not uncommon in the Pacific. But investigation revealed that this man was, or had been, the bearer of a message. Around his neck, suspended by a shoelace, was a piece of tin—to be precise, the lid of a fruit-can. Through it, by means of perforations, had been punched a message, a message just about as grim as one can imagine. Here it is; you may read it for yourself.” Squadron Leader Yorke took from his wallet a disc of thin, rust-stained metal, about four inches in diameter.

Worrals held it up to the light, so that the tiny holes could be more clearly seen, and read aloud, slowly: “Help. Nine British girls . . . alive . . . island . . . south-east Singapore. . . . Reward this man.”

In dead silence Worrals handed the disc back to the Squadron Leader, who continued: “That was not all. We now come to a tragedy within a tragedy. Thrust through the native’s mop of hair was a piece of bamboo—a tube, so to speak. In passing, I may say that it is customary for many islanders to carry their primitive possessions in this way. The bamboo had been sealed with clay at both ends, to keep secure what it contained. Inside, tightly rolled, was that photograph. It had been used in lieu of paper, for on the back, in pencil, a message had been written. Julia had brains. She sent the message in duplicate. It seems likely that the photograph was the original message; then, realising that it might not survive a long journey in an open boat, she contrived an alternative which was pretty certain to endure—the tin lid. But by the very nature of it the message had to be brief. It may be supposed that the message on the photograph was more comprehensive, more explicit; in fact, we know it was. But only about a third of it reached us. By a lamentable mischance the clay seals defeated their object, for inside the bamboo was a small beetle. Whether it was already there when the photograph was put in, or whether it crawled in just before the tube was sealed, we don’t know. It may have been a tiny grub at the time. But it was there. It couldn’t escape, and it grew to maturity in its prison. The creature had to eat to keep itself alive. There was only one thing available. The photograph. For just how long it ate the paper we do not know, but it managed to get through about two thirds of it. So, unfortunately, the vital part of the message is missing, and can never be recovered.”

“What ghastly luck,” muttered Frecks.

Yorke nodded. “It boils down to this. As it stands, the photo tells us little more than the metal disc. It is obvious that there was a list of names of all the girls in the party, but with the exception of one surname, none remains, although, ironically, we can see the services to which the girls belonged—four members of the W.A.A.F., two of the A.T.S., two W.R.N.S., and a member of Queen Alexandra’s Royal Nursing Service. The most vital part of the message, which might have given us a clue to the position of the island, has gone. So has the date on which the message was written—except the year, 1943, which doesn’t help us much. Apparently the girls were wrecked. A period of time is mentioned, but all that remains is the one word ‘weeks,’ and we have no idea to what that refers. It may have been the time interval between leaving Singapore and the wreck of the boat. That information would have been useful, but it has gone, and guessing won’t help us. In short, for any practical purpose the photo is no more use than the tin. All we know for certain from these pathetic relics is that the girls left Singapore in a boat. We don’t know where they went, or where they are.”

“What about the nationality of the native?” queried Worrals. “Didn’t that tell you something?”

“Not a thing,” was the reply. “The pilot who found the canoe could only say that the body looked like that of a typical islander. He himself came from Perth, in south-west Australia, and had no experience of the islands. In any case, the body was too far gone in decomposition for any tribal marks, paint or tattooing, to be observed. For the same reason he couldn’t bring the body home.”

“No indication of why the man died?”

“Practically none. There was no water in the boat, so he may have died of thirst. But let me finish. The enquiry which we at once set on foot produced the following meagre, yet intensely interesting, information. First, we have the evidence of a nursing sister named Worton—one of the lucky ones who escaped the enemy bombs and got away when surrender became inevitable. She was taken to Ceylon and is now in this country. We have questioned everyone who got back. Sister Worton states that on the evening of the capitulation, one of her nurses, Pamela Deacon, came hurrying to her to say that a friend of hers, a girl in the W.R.N.S., was going to try to get a party of girls away in a small boat. Could she go with her? Sister Worton said yes. Everything was at sixes and sevens and it was a case of everyone for himself. She never saw Nurse Deacon again, but, thinking the matter over, she recalled that Pamela was friendly with a Wren named Angela Wishart. Both are on the list of missing. This evidence is of importance because it proves that a party of girls did intend to escape by boat, even if they did not succeed in doing so. It begins to look now as if they did get away. There were plenty of small craft available. The R.A.F. had its own sailing club there. The girls may have taken one of these boats, or a naval or R.A.F. power-boat. We think a sailing craft was used, for this reason. On her application for enlistment form, Angela Wishart made a note in the qualifications column that she had had experience with small sailing craft. It may have been for that reason that she was accepted in the category of boat’s crew. We feel that Angela would probably choose a sail boat; first, because she knew how to handle one, and secondly, because there is practically no limit to how far such a craft can travel, whereas the range of a power-boat is governed by the amount of fuel in its tank. We get another link-up when we find that Angela Wishart, besides knowing Nurse Deacon, was often seen with Section Officer Julia Carson, of the W.A.A.F. These three girls, then, knew each other, and it would be the most natural thing in the world if they tried to get away together.” The Squadron Leader relit his pipe, which had gone out.

“The only other evidence we have,” he resumed, “was provided by a pilot of British Overseas Airways who was engaged in transporting government records from Singapore to Australia. He reports that on the day after the base surrendered he saw a small sailing craft well out to sea on a south-easterly course. This has been confirmed by the captain of a Dutch tanker, who made a note in his log-book. This shows that two days later, the same, or a similar craft, tacking under mains’l and mizzen, made signals to him at a position roughly a hundred miles south-east of where it was seen by the air pilot. He couldn’t alter course, however, because his ship had been attacked and was in a sinking condition. It did, in fact, sink, but the crew was picked up by a British destroyer. The captain saved his log. That is all the evidence a searching enquiry has produced, but it fits very well, and suggests, if it does not actually prove, that at least one small boat got away. It may, or may not, have been the one taken by the girls.”

“What a story,” breathed Frecks.

“It certainly is,” agreed Yorke. “Now let us try to reconstruct the incident as it may have happened. When the defence of Singapore collapsed a lot of people tried to escape falling into Japanese hands by any means they could discover. A girl, a Wren named Angela Wishart, gets together a party of girls and sets sail in a small boat, which takes up a south-easterly course. It holds that course for at least three days, and we may suppose that it was making for Australia. Had it been making for India, the only other British territory within striking distance, it would have headed north-west. The first question is, how far did the boat get before it was wrecked—assuming it was wrecked—causing the girls to take refuge on an island?”

“But just a minute,” put in Worrals. “I think you’re taking rather a lot for granted. Speaking from memory, Australia is about two thousand miles from Singapore. The nearest point of India is nearly as far. I doubt if the girls had such an ambitious—not to say dangerous—project in mind. Let us put ourselves in their position. Personally, I should have set a course for the nearest port still in Allied hands, hoping to be picked up on the way. The main thing would be to get out of Singapore before the Japs arrived. Sumatra and Java had not then been occupied by the Japs, so it seems to me more likely that the girls would try to reach one of the big Dutch ports, like Batavia. Of course, when they discovered that the Japs were there ahead of them, they would have to keep on. A lot of refugees, including natives, were on the move, and the girls might have got the news from them. What I really mean is, I doubt if the girls originally set out for Australia, although that may have been their ultimate objective.”

“You may be right,” agreed Yorke.

“They would certainly not start without a map,” averred Worrals. “But it seems unlikely that they would manage to get hold of instruments for deep-sea navigation. Such instruments would not be in a small sailing boat normally used for pleasure cruising in and around the harbour. Without instruments they would soon be lost, so when they went ashore it is unlikely that they knew just where they were. They may have encountered storms. In short, after they were seen by the Dutch captain anything could have happened to them. As far as I can see, the position where the canoe was found, with the dead native, means nothing at all. You say he had been dead for a long time. With no one to control it the canoe might have drifted hundreds of miles from its original course.”

“I quite agree,” admitted Yorke. “Let us assume that these desperate girls just tried to get as far from Singapore as they could, calling at the islands for food. Eventually the boat was wrecked. Where? We have no idea. And when I tell you that there are, in these seas, some ten thousand islands, large and small, you begin to see what a hopeless task it is to look for them. It would be easier to find a button on a shingle beach.”

“But you have looked for them?” put in Worrals quickly.

“Of course. For three months we have been making regular reconnaissance flights. Apart from that, Allied aircraft operating in the zone have been asked to keep a look-out. All this has been without result. As the islands are nearly all covered with jungle it is difficult to see anything through it. Smoke has been seen, but that may mean nothing. There are Japanese on many of the islands, as well as natives. It does really seem a hopeless proposition, particularly when the time factor is taken into consideration.”

“What exactly do you mean by that?” asked Worrals.

“I mean, anything can have happened since the girls were cast away, or since they despatched their message. They may have died from hunger, or fever. They may have been rounded up by Japanese patrols. They may have been captured by hostile natives. Admittedly, most of the natives are reasonably tame—or they were, at the outbreak of war. But they used to be a pretty wild lot, and since the white man’s restraining influence has been absent for a long time, they might have lapsed into their bad old habits—one of which was cannibalism. Again, Japanese aggression may have made them savage. But this is all surmise. When we come down to brass tacks, this is the position. The girls may no longer be on the island. They may not even be alive. If they are alive, still on their island, it might be any one of at least a thousand which they would have to pass on a passage to Australia. They might be on Borneo, which embraces two hundred and forty thousand square miles; Sumatra, a hundred and sixty-four thousand square miles; Java, forty-six thousand square miles—to name three of the largest. I doubt if they could have reached New Guinea. They might be a thousand miles away, on Timor, which covers twenty-six thousand square miles, or on a mere atoll stuck somewhere in the Flores Sea. The more one thinks about it, the more futile does a search become.”

“You’re not likely to find them by sitting at home,” Worrals pointed out, with some asperity. “You may be sure that those girls, having sent their S.O.S., and knowing that this government doesn’t ignore such signals, are waiting confidently for someone to rescue them. No matter how hopeless it seems the search must go on. It mustn’t stop while there is a chance, however remote, that they may be alive. We—and when I say we I mean the services to which the girls belonged—owe them that.” Worrals warmed up. “Don’t you see, the belief that help is on the way will keep them alive, and fighting? If they ever learned that you had chucked up the sponge they’d die of heartbreak and shame—and so would I.”

“We’ve done everything possible, and we shall carry on,” asserted Yorke.

“From the way you spoke just now it doesn’t sound like that to me,” declared Worrals. “I have an uncomfortable feeling that this search has been conducted in a haphazard sort of way. It needs a personal interest behind it.”

“What can we do?” cried Yorke. “The islands are in Japanese hands. To search every island would be a tremendous undertaking, requiring thousands of men—even without Japanese interference.”

“All right, then, put thousands of men on it, and be dashed to the Japanese.”

“That’s impossible,” snapped Yorke. “We can’t spare the men—not thousands of men.”

“Very well, then put someone on the job who has the spirit to say, I will find these girls—and mean it; someone who will tackle the thing with method, comb the whole area systematically.”

“That’s all very well, but where are we going to find such a man?” demanded the squadron leader.

“Why a man, necessarily?”

“What do you mean?”

“Why not a woman? She would understand more clearly than you evidently do how these girls must be feeling.”

“Rubbish!” exploded Wing Commander McNavish.

“I take exception to that remark, sir,” said Worrals, with a frosty light in her eyes.

“Wars aren’t for women,” growled the C.O.

“If you said they shouldn’t be I’d agree with you,” rapped out Worrals. “Who started the war, anyway? Men. Take a look at the world and see what a nice mess men have made of it. No wonder they had to appeal to women to help them out.”

The C.O. moved uncomfortably. “I was thinking about certain jobs,” he countered.

“What jobs?” flared Worrals. “As far as I know there’s only one job in this war that hasn’t been done by women. I’ve never heard of a girl commanding a battleship—but maybe that’s only because there are more spare admirals than ships.”

“Here, I say,” broke in Yorke. “This is getting a bit hot.”

“You asked for it,” muttered Frecks.

Yorke looked at Worrals. “Do you mean that you’ll take over this search?”

“You’ve been a long time arriving at that simple fact, but it’s just what I do mean,” confirmed Worrals.

“Pah! The gal’s out of her mind,” snorted the C.O.

“You’ve said that before, sir, and there are times when I’m inclined to agree with you,” replied Worrals, with dangerous calm. “Then I remember what a lot more fun I get than the chairborne division,[1] and I’m not so sure of it. Being utterly sane must be dreadfully dull.”

[1] Air Force slang. A play on the word airborne, meaning those who work in offices, as opposed to those who fly.

“All right—all right. If that’s how you feel about it let’s get down to brass tacks,” suggested the squadron leader nervously. “I don’t suppose for a moment the A.O.C. will let you go, but——”

“Won’t he,” broke in Worrals hotly. “Won’t he? You wait and see.”

The C.O. snorted. “Ha! What do you think you are—a wizard?”

“No,” replied Worrals evenly, “just a prophet.”


The little town of Darwin, in the Northern Territory of Australia, crouched on its forked peninsular under the fierce bars of white heat flung down by the tropic sun. Tall coconut palms, regardless, threw feathery crowns high into the air, far above the twisted limbs of ancient tamarind and banyan trees; above the pink and white perfumed flowers of frangipani, scarlet poinciana, trailing purple bougainvillea, blood-red hibiscus, canary yellow cascara, and the golden bells of alamander. Among the branches fluttered butterflies, finches and parakeets of brilliant plumage, watched by jewel-eyed lizards. Along the curving beach, where the blue combers of the Timor and Arafura Seas roll in, a million sandpipers moved about among the crawling hermit crabs.

Regardless, too, of the heat, for the war had crept uncomfortably close, men and women went about their business urgently—government officials, in spotless white; cattlemen in wide sombreros; sea-bronzed men from the pearling luggers; airmen in blue; stalwart Malays; fuzzy-haired Fijians; swarthy Philippines; Chinese in baggy trousers, carrying sunshades; black boys, half naked, often incongruous on bicycles, and others that make up Darwin’s cosmopolitan population.

Three miles away, in the room that had been allotted to them at the airfield, Worrals and Frecks, shirt-sleeved, studied a map that more than covered the table.

Worrals’ assertion in the field of prophecy turned out to be correct, although she had only managed to get her way after a long tussle with the Air Officer Commanding, who—not without some justification—declared that the undertaking was so hazardous that he would think twice before allowing anyone to attempt it. However, Worrals had countered every argument, and in the end had managed to get his reluctant approval. Once this had been settled every facility was put at her disposal, with the result that five weeks later she and Frecks arrived in Australia. They had been in Darwin for a week, and they had not been idle.

With the assistance of Australian Headquarters Intelligence, through the medium of a cheerful and hardworking flight-lieutenant named Dan Lynch, their plans had been brought almost to completion. The first task had been to find the aircraft best suited to their purpose, and after a long discussion the choice had been made. The machine selected was an amphibious flying-boat of the Scud type, which embodied most of the features desirable, if not essential, for the work on hand. As most of the flying would be over water a marine aircraft was the first demand; but, as Worrals pointed out, the occasion might arise when a beach landing would be called for—as, for example, if the castaways were found. Hence, the ideal aircraft was one that could land on, and take off from, both land and water. Several amphibious types available in Australia were considered, but in the end the Scud, a civil transport twin-engined flying-boat, modified to meet military requirements as a submarine chaser, had been decided on. In the civil version there were seats for eight passengers, not counting the crew. Worrals had the seats taken out. Not only were they so much dead weight, but they would be in the way of the fuel and stores she proposed carrying in lieu of passengers. These stores could now run up to half a ton, if necessary. If the castaways were found they would be happy enough to squat on the floor, averred Worrals. Other modifications for anti-submarine work had been the mounting of twin cannon firing forward, and for defence, the installation of a dorsal gun turret, also with twin guns. Worrals stated frankly that she hoped these would never be needed; she had no intention of engaging in combat if it could be avoided, but she was prepared to defend her aircraft should it be attacked. For which reason, after debating the question, a supply of ammunition was requisitioned. As Frecks said, as the guns were fitted they might as well take some shells; they would not be in the way, even if they were never used. Other equipment included radio, a rifle, two automatics, binoculars and a signalling pistol. As an afterthought Worrals added a light automatic gun—a Sten gun, to be precise—observing that it might be useful to scare natives should they prove hostile, in the event of a forced landing. The upper surfaces of the aircraft had been camouflaged in shades of blue and green.

Worrals’ plan was simple. Using Darwin as a permanent base, the Scud would make reconnaissance flights over the islands, working on a definite system. The nearest was Timor, about four hundred miles distant. From Timor they were strung out like a chain all the way to Singapore, two thousand miles distant. To systemise the search, the map, an Admiralty chart, had been roughly squared into a number of divisions, each one bearing a letter. Worrals intended dealing with one letter at a time, surveying each island in that area before passing on to the next. The first letter had not yet been decided on. The factor which caused Worrals most concern was the distance of open sea that lay between them and their hunting grounds. This would be anything from four to five hundred miles at the eastern end, to four times that distance as they worked westward. It was apparent that flying to and fro would occupy a great deal of time, and the endurance range of the aircraft would set a limit to the time they would be able to spend over the objective when they reached it. Then again, Darwin was the Australian base nearest to the enemy. Worrals, of course, had chosen it for that very reason. But this cut two ways. Enemy aircraft, both bomber and photographic reconnaissance machines, often flew to Darwin. With the Scud operating from that base it seemed likely that in its comings and goings, sooner or later it would run into hostile planes. It was this problem which Worrals and Frecks were now discussing.

“If we could establish a base somewhere among the islands it would save an awful lot of time beetling backwards and forwards,” remarked Frecks. “We should be able to cover the squares about six times as fast.”

“Quite so,” agreed Worrals. “But the idea of sitting down in an area occupied by enemy troops, patrolled by enemy warships and flown over by enemy aircraft, strikes me as being a somewhat rash proceeding.” She tapped the chart thoughtfully with her compasses. “Still, if we could get nearer it would be worth a risk,” she went on. “I wonder if there is a place where we could hide up when we were not in the air? We could carry enough stuff in the empty cabin to last us a week or ten days at a stretch.”

“What we really need is a guy who knows these islands,” opined Frecks. “I mean a man who really knows them, knows all the creeks and coves and corners. Apart from anything else he might be able to give us some useful tips.”

Worrals looked up. “You know, Frecks, I think you’ve got something there. Why didn’t you think of it sooner? I wonder if there is such a man available?”

“We could put an advertisement in the local paper,” suggested Frecks.

“And tell the Japanese what we intend doing?” queried Worrals sarcastically. “Have a heart! Let’s ask Dan Lynch. He’ll know of such a man, if anyone does. It’s got to be someone we can trust to keep his mouth shut. Call Dan on the ’phone and ask him to step over.”

Frecks complied, and presently Dan came in.

“How’s it going?” he asked brightly. “Nearly ready to move off?”

“Almost,” answered Worrals. “The machine flies nicely. I gave her quite an airing this morning, to get the feel of everything. All being well we ought to be able to move off first thing to-morrow morning.”

“If you get away before piccaninny daylight—that’s what our natives call the first streak of dawn—you would reduce your chances of being spotted by the enemy, if he’s about.” Dan’s expression became serious. “No offence meant, but it seems all wrong to let a coupla girls like you loose on a job like this. There’s a lot of water out there, you know.” He inclined his head towards the ocean. “Are we running short of men, or something?”

Worrals held out her hands. “See anything wrong with these?”

Dan looked surprised. “Why—er—no.”

Worrals pointed to her eyes. “Or these?”

Dan grinned. “I’d say not.”

“Then what leads you to suppose that you, or any other man, can navigate the Scud through the atmosphere better than I can?”

“I wasn’t thinking about that, exactly,” protested Dan, “I was thinking of what might happen if you ran into a bunch of Zeros and caught a packet.”

“I can answer that,” replied Worrals evenly. “We should hit the drink[2] just as hard—no more, no less—as if a couple of rugged males were on board. The sharks would probably find us a bit tenderer, that’s all.”

[2] R.A.F. slang, meaning the sea, or any expanse of water.

“But suppose the Japs catch you alive?”

Worrals shook her head, slowly, smiling faintly. “Don’t worry, big boy; that won’t happen. There will always be one bullet left in my gun. But isn’t the conversation getting a trifle morbid? Moreover, we’re wasting time.” She explained the factor that had been the subject of debate. “What I’m anxious to know is,” she concluded, “do you by any chance know of a man who knows these islands inside-out, one who might be able to tell us of a little cove where we could lie doggo between sorties, so save rushing to and fro every day? Bear in mind that we should be in the air most of the time, and only use the mooring after dusk, when there wouldn’t be much chance of our being spotted. Even if we didn’t actually stay, it would be useful to know of such a place should we find it necessary to do some running repairs.”

“Yes, I know just the man,” stated Dan. “I could name half a dozen if it came to that. But the man I have in mind has already given us a lot of useful information. He owns a lugger, and has spent most of his life among the islands, trading, pearling and beachcombing generally.”

“Is he handy?”

“Right here, in Darwin.”

“What’s his name?”

“Billy Maguire.”

“Where does he live? We’ve got to step into the town to collect a few things. We could call on him at the same time.”

“If he isn’t on a bender, you’ll——”

“On a what?”

“A bender. That’s what we call a spree in this part of the world. As I was saying, if he isn’t having fun and games ashore you’ll find him on his lugger, Annie, in the harbour.”

“Is he reliable?”

“One hundred per cent., lady. Mind you, he’s tough. We don’t raise sissies, in these parts.”

“The tougher the better.”

“And his adjectives, when anything upsets him, are not the sort you’d hand round in a Sunday school.”

“I don’t care two hoots about that as long as he knows his stuff,” declared Worrals.

“I’m warning you, he calls a spade a spade.”

“No use calling a spade a shovel at a time like this, Dan.”

“Okay—as long as you know. Go and call on Billy. Tell him I sent you. Is that all?”

“That’s all, Dan, thanks.”

“Let me know how you go on.” With a wave Dan turned to go. At the door he looked back over his shoulder. “Don’t forget, you’ve only got three weeks to the wet.”

“To the what?” asked Frecks, frowning.

“The wet.” Dan smiled. “We’ve only two seasons here, the dry and the wet. The wet arrives in December with the monsoon, and runs on to March. We look forward to it because it’s cooler. But it rains. And when I say it rains I mean it rains. In our three months of wet we get more water slung down on us than you get at home in three years. When you see it you’ll know what I mean. You won’t do much flying while it’s on. The wet starts in three weeks, if it’s on time, so get busy—and don’t get caught out.”

“Thanks for the tip, Dan,” called Worrals. “Can we have transport to the town?”

“Help yourself to a jeep from the car-park.” Dan departed.

Worrals reached for her tunic and cap. “Let’s go and see Billy Maguire,” she suggested.

A quarter of an hour later they were walking across the gangplank of the Annie, a lugger of uncertain age but with a definite aroma.

“She stinks,” remarked Frecks.

“So would you, gal, if you’d carried as much dead fish as she has,” boomed a voice, so close, so vibrant, that Frecks started.

A man appeared at the head of the companion-way. Worrals was prepared for something unusual, but not for what she saw. Frecks clutched Worrals’ arm as from the companion emerged the biggest man she had ever seen. It was not only his height, which could not have been less than six and a half feet, but his vast bulk, his width across the shoulders, that took her breath away. Here, in fact, was a veritable giant. And a skin-tight singlet, the only garment he wore above a belted waist, merely served to emphasize the girth of his enormous torso. Not that he was fat. Never in her life had Frecks seen such muscles. His arms, with their bulging biceps, terrified yet fascinated her. His age might have been anything between forty and sixty-five, for the lower part of his face was lost in a tangle of black beard. A mop of curly hair of the same colour crowned his head. Between the two, dark eyes, eyes with a steady, searching look, from under bushy brows surveyed the girls with frank curiosity blended with tolerant amusement.

“Are you Billy Maguire?” queried Worrals.

The giant took a short clay pipe from between his lips and spat overboard. “That’s me. What can I do for yer?” he boomed, with disconcerting candour.

“We’d like a word with you—Dan Lynch sent us,” answered Worrals.

“Oh. So you know Dan, do yer? Let’s go below.”

The girls followed him to the cabin; and here Frecks had another shock. She expected something in the nature of a pigsty; instead of which everything was shipshape and spotless, although the strange pungent reek was more pronounced.

“It’s the dugong oil,” explained Billy, hearing Frecks sniff. “You don’t notice it after a time. Sit down and make yourselves at home. Drink?” He reached for a square bottle.

“Thanks, but we never drink between tea and dinner,” explained Worrals.

“You won’t mind if I have one?”

“Not in the least.”

Billy poured himself a generous measure and sat down. “Now, what do you want to know? If it’s anything to do with these Japanese rats, I’m your man.” He started to say something else, but checked himself.

Worrals smiled. “Go ahead and swear if it’ll help you to feel better.”

Billy frowned. “Who told you I swore, eh? Dan?”

Worrals nodded.

Billy tapped the table with a great gnarled finger. “You go back and tell him I never swear in front of ladies. Maybe he reckons he’s the only gentleman in the Territory.”

“I’ll tell him,” promised Worrals, and opening her chart on the table told the story of the castaways, concluding with the question that was the real object of her visit.

“I’d say there ain’t no call for you to keep tackin’ backwards and forwards,” said Billy. He had followed the story with keen interest and appeared to grasp instantly the problems involved. “Where did you reckon on makin’ a start?”

Worrals pointed to the square lettered D. “Somewhere near Sunda. It’s the island nearest to the spot where the canoe was found.”

“Well, there’s plenty of snug anchorages round there; the thing is to choose the best, and at the same time one that the Japs won’t be likely to use,” said Billy. “It’s my opinion that there ain’t so many Japs as our people seem to think there are. Work it out for yourself. Why, to put even a handful of men on every island they’d need millions. Course, you’ll find Japs on all the big islands, but I reckon you won’t find many on the little ’uns, though no doubt they cruise round them once in a while. Seein’ I’ve spent me life amongst the islands, there ain’t much I don’t know about ’em. I’d say the berth for you is Ingles Island—no, t’aint no use lookin’ for the name on the map; t’aint there. They’ve found names for most nearly every lump of rock that sticks out of the sea, but not every one. Most people in these parts have heard of Ingles Island, though it’s only a small ’un. No one had found a name for Ingles Island, so we just naturally call it that.”

“Why, naturally?”

“On account of Ingles. Maybe you, being a stranger, never heard of him? Ingles was a writer, one of these fellers who fill up the newspapers. Some years ago he turns up here full of a tale about a sailor named Robinson Crusoe, who got stuck on an island for years. He wants to do likewise, so he can write a story about it. So he arranges with old Tom Bunce, skipper of the lugger Opal, to drop him on an uninhabited island, and pick him up on his way back. ’Bout six weeks he reckoned it would be. Tom drops him. Coming back he piles the Opal on a reef near Bali, with the result that it’s six months, not six weeks, afore he calls for Mr. Ingles. And by that time Ingles had had enough. More than enough. He was wilder than the wildest man on Borneo. Clean out of his mind, he was.”

“What a terrible story,” murmured Frecks.

“I ain’t saying it’s a place I should choose for a holiday,” went on Bill. “But I’ve never found much wrong with Ingles island, and I’ve anchored in the lagoon there scores of times. It’s no better and no worse than most of the smaller islands. It ought to suit you. ’Course, it’s only a little place, but there’s some high ground in the middle which even the biggest seas couldn’t get near. There’s a lagoon, pretty near land-locked, and plenty of mangrove trees for cover. Barin’ a Jap patrol boat comin’ in I reckon anyone could stay there for years without being noticed. There’s even a billabong.”

“Sounds the very place,” declared Worrals. “But what’s a billabong?”

“Where have you bin all your life that you don’t know what a billabong is? You’d know if you lived in these parts. Either we have too much water or not enough. A billabong’s a water-hole—fresh water. You’ll need water, maybe.”

Worrals smiled. “It would be useful. We wash occasionally.”

“When yer run in the lagoon you’ll see a spit of sand—if it ain’t been washed away by a big sea. You’ll find the water about a couple of hundred yards to the south-east. There’s nuts, too—nuts and crabs. If there hadn’t been, I reckon Ingles would have starved. You can always make do on nuts and crabs—I have, many a time.”

“I hope we never have to,” murmured Frecks.

“How do I get to this island?” asked Worrals.

“If you’ll foller my sailin’ directions you can’t miss it,” answered Billy. “T’aint so very big, but you’ll know it the minute you claps eyes on it, ’cause it’s shaped like a pair o’ boxin’ gloves. Here, I’ll show you.”

The next ten minutes were occupied with sheer navigation, at the end of which time Worrals, with a compass course worked out, expressed herself satisfied.

“Thanks a heap, Billy,” she said. “You’ve told us just what we wanted to know.”

“When you aimin’ to weigh anchor?”

“Early to-morrow morning.”

“Well, good luck to you.” Billy held out an enormous hand.

The girls shook it in turn.

“If anything goes wrong, send me a signal on your wireless and I’ll slip across to pick you up,” promised Billy, as they reached the deck.

Worrals looked surprised. “So you’ve got wireless?”

Billy spat into the sea. “Course I’ve got wireless. Ladies like to be up-to-date, don’t they? Annie’s my best gel. The other sort let you down—but not Annie, bless ’er. Last year I made her a present of an auxiliary motor. Not that I’ve much time for engines, mind you. I’ll own they’re useful for getting around the islands, and for picking up dugong.”

Help. Nine British girls . . . alive . . . island . . . south-east Singapore. Reward this man.” (p. 11)

“Are you Billy Maguire?” queried Worrals. (p. 29)

“And what, may I ask, is dugong?” inquired Frecks curiously.

Billy answered: “Fancy you not knowing that. The dugong is a sea animal what lives in these waters—half-way between a cow and a seal. Carries plenty of fat, and fat means oil. Oil’s money these days. When you’re on Ingles, if you hear a noise like a ghost moaning you’ll know there’s a dugong around. There’s nothing to be scared of, though. Make’s good eating if you’re stuck for grub, too.”

“I’ll remember it,” promised Frecks.

Billy turned to Worrals. “And you’ll be comin’ back every ten days, you reckon?”

“Every fortnight at the outside.”

“Look in and see me when you’re passin’, to let me know how you go on.”

“We will,” agreed Worrals, as they walked across the gangplank. Reaching the wharf the girls turned and waved.

Billy raised a gigantic paw. “Watch out for the scalies!” he called.

“What do you suppose he meant by that?” asked Frecks, as they climbed into the jeep.

“Goodness only knows.”

“Ought we to go back to ask him?”

Worrals thought for a moment. “I don’t think it matters. We can ask Dan when we get back to the station. He’ll know. I’m glad we met Billy. I like him. He’s what I call a man. He says what he thinks and no beating about the bush—the sort of man you could rely on if you were in a jam. I’d bet my clothing coupons that his heart’s as big as the rest of him.”


Lavender-tinted dawn was creeping into the sky when the Scud arrived over its objective. As Billy Maguire had said, there was no mistaking Ingles Island. His description of its shape was apt. Floating, it seemed, on a sea as tranquil as a bowl of milk, was a gigantic pair of boxing-gloves, joined together at the “wrist” end by a coral causeway. Between the twin islands—for there were really two, linked by coral—almost land-locked by the “thumbs,” nestled the lagoon, oval in shape, perhaps six acres in extent, its placid surface reflecting with the fidelity of a mirror the sombre mangroves which in places fringed the shore. The rest was mostly rock, or coral. There was no beach, except at one point where a tongue of storm-powdered coral splayed out into the water from some rising ground, forming a natural slipway and providing a foothold for a small colony of coconut palms. The sun was not yet up, but away to the north a jagged ridge, like a row of broken teeth, marked the course of the larger islands of the group—the islands that comprised square D of Worrals’ map.

The passage out had been uneventful. Most of it had been made in windless starlight. Keeping low, flying by dead reckoning, Worrals had made her landfall without difficulty. Nothing had been seen, not even a piece of floating wreckage. As Frecks had remarked, it seemed impossible that there could be so much water with nothing on it.

After a final searching scrutiny of sea and sky Worrals throttled back, made a circuit of the island as she lost height, and then, scattering clouds of sea birds, put the Scud down on the lagoon so that its run took it near the fringe of coral sand. She lowered her wheels, and a burst of throttle carried the aircraft on to dry land. She cut the engines. Movement stopped. Silence returned.

“Well, here we are,” she announced. “Let’s get busy.”

Frecks pointed at the beach, where an army of crabs, such crabs as she had never seen before, with long waving antennae and ridiculous stilt-like legs, marched up and down with military precision, making a curious clicking noise.

“Did you ever see so many crabs in your life?” she cried.

Worrals smiled. “Funny little fellers, aren’t they? Come on. Let’s have a look round. I want to get the machine out of sight before broad daylight in case an odd Jap pilot comes along.”

It had been decided that the morning should be devoted to making a thorough inspection of the island, so that in the event of trouble they would know just what lay about them. But Worrals’ immediate concern was to find a place where the aircraft could be parked without being seen either from the open sea or from the air. This would determine the site of the camp, and the dump—that is, for the half-ton of petrol, oil and stores, which at present occupied the cabin, but would have to be taken out so that they could sleep in the machine. This arrangement saved the pitching of a tent. In any case, Worrals had no intention of carrying this load about with her; that was the whole point of using the island as a temporary base.

A short walk up the spit of coral sand provided Worrals with the answer to her first problem. The sand quickly petered out in a depression that merged into a mangrove swamp, but dry ground persisted far enough under the trees to suit her purpose.

“Billy was right,” she declared. “This is an ideal place. We’ll run the machine up right away. Here, I don’t think it could be seen either from the sea or the lagoon. An aircraft would have to fly pretty low for the pilot to see through the branches of these mangroves. According to Billy, the water-hole should be somewhere over there.” She indicated with an inclination of her head some higher ground not far away.

“That looks like a track,” said Frecks, pointing. “Don’t tell me there’s someone here.”

“It’s probably the path made by Ingles, in his travels between the water-hole and the lagoon,” returned Worrals. “I imagine it was round the lagoon that he caught his crabs and collected coconuts.”

A short walk practically confirmed this. The water-hole was smaller than Worrals expected, being nothing more than a shallow well with the sides built up with pieces of rock, carefully fitted together.

“Yes, this must be Ingles’ work,” she observed. “The poor chap had plenty of time to spare. I’d hate to be stuck here for any length of time.”

“That reminds me of something,” said Frecks. “We forgot to ask Dan what Billy meant by scalies.”

“So we did,” confessed Worrals. “No matter. If it is anything unpleasant no doubt we shall soon find it—or it’ll find us. Come on; let’s get the machine snug and the stores unloaded. We’ve less time to waste than Ingles had. After that, I want to make a tour of the lagoon, to check the depth of the water. We should look silly if we tore the keel off the boat on a lump of coral—and I believe that isn’t very hard to do. If coral will rip the bottom out of a ship, I fancy it would make short work of a flying-boat.”

The next two hours they worked with hardly a pause. The Scud, scattering the crabs, was run up into its arboreal hangar. The petrol, oil and stores were unloaded, and stacked neatly on a bed of sand a short distance away. This done, a spirit lamp, which made no smoke, provided heat for the preparation of a late breakfast.

One package of stores had been left in the aircraft. This was Frecks’ idea. It consisted of a waterproof bag containing a small but carefully prepared selection of articles. She had pointed out that it was not beyond the bounds of possibility that if the castaways were found, they would be hiding in some place where an immediate landing was out of the question. Yet they might be in a bad way for food and restoratives. So into the bag had been put a supply of concentrated foods, some medical stores, a signalling pistol and a note of encouragement. Attached to the bag was a small parachute. Thus, it could be dropped to provide temporary relief until such time as arrangements could be made for rescue.

“You know,” remarked Frecks, as she sipped her coffee, “this place doesn’t line up with my idea of a South Sea island. There’s something grim, something sinister about it. It’s too harsh. Where are all the beautiful flowers, and birds and butterflies one reads about? I haven’t noticed any. As for that mangrove swamp, it stinks. I can smell it from here.”

“This is a search party, not a natural history class,” reminded Worrals. “It suits me. We shall have to take care we don’t collide with those birds,” she added, nodding to where clouds of sea birds, wing to wing, were returning to their feeding grounds. “We’ll have a look round—hark!”

From far away to the north came the steady drone of aircraft.

Worrals walked to the edge of the trees, and without going out, looked up. Frecks joined her. And there for some minutes they stood, while an irregular cluster of specks in the sky gradually took shape.

“Twelve Mitsubishi army bombers, with an escort of Zero fighters,” murmured Worrals. “Flying at between ten and twelve thousand, for a guess. From the course they’re on I’d say they’re bound for Darwin. This is the sort of thing we must expect; it’s no use kidding ourselves because we’re on a desert island that the sky is our own.”

They watched while the hostile aircraft droned on, and finally faded into the blue.

“Let’s have a walk round,” suggested Worrals.

“Okay. We’ll get the guns.”

“Guns?” queried Worrals. “What are you going to shoot—crabs?”

“You never know,” returned Frecks. “Anyhow, I feel happier with a shooting-iron. I don’t feel so lonely.”

“All right,” agreed Worrals. “We’ve got the guns, so I suppose we may as well carry them.”

They returned to the Scud. Having loaded the automatics, they pocketed them, and made their way across a bleak area, devoid of vegetation except for a short, wiry, sword-grass, to the highest point of the island—a mound of loose rock perhaps forty feet above the level of the lagoon and a quarter of a mile from it. Here they found poignant reminders of the unlucky journalist, Mr. Ingles—a rough bough-shelter supported by large pieces of rock, a litter of sea shells, coconut husks, and, close at hand, a heap of driftwood piled in the manner of a bonfire. It had never been lighted. Altogether it was a depressing spectacle in a lonely scene.

“I don’t wonder that Ingles went off his rocker,” remarked Frecks. “A week here, alone, and I should have the screaming heeby-jeebies. It’s clear to me that desert islands aren’t all they’re made out to be, I imagine Ingles called this spot Lookout Hill.”

“It’s as good a name as any,” returned Worrals.

From the elevation it was possible to judge the size of the island. It was smaller than it had appeared to be from the air, perhaps two miles by three, although from the indentations of the coastline in no place was it possible to get more than a quarter of a mile from the sea. Two thirds of the land was covered by melancholy-looking mangroves; they almost entirely concealed the far part of the island, where, running down into the sea, they made it impossible to tell just where the land ended and the water began. Worrals retraced her steps to the lagoon, and from a little rocky promontory surveyed the aquamarine depths in a check for shallow water or obstructions.

“It looks so beautiful I could throw myself into it,” remarked Frecks.

“Look again, and maybe you’ll think twice about that,” retorted Worrals.

Frecks looked, bending forward, and then pursed her lips in a low whistle. There was no need to say anything.

The lagoon, with its fascinating hues of turquoise, emerald and violet, was a thing of beauty; but its denizens were not—or not all of them. And there were many. The water was alive with marine creatures. There were myriads of fish the size of sardines, flashing like quicksilver as they turned over to feed. There were fish of all colours and shapes, some small, some running up to thirty or forty pounds. There was a blue fish, wearing on a lizard-like face a sardonic grin. Sea-snakes, striped and mottled, wriggled. Lower in the water moved small, goggle-eyed cuttlefish, their tentacles waving dreamily. Barnacles and sea-urchins festooned the coral, over which crawled little octopuses, sometimes squirting brown ink, multitudes of star-fish, and lobsters, and crabs the size of dinner plates. Worrals nudged Frecks as, following a sudden scattering, into the picture cruised a fifteen foot shark, the embodiment of grace and latent power.

“No,” said Frecks quietly, “I don’t think I shall bathe.”

Worrals walked on, completed her survey of the lagoon, and then turned to the rough causeway that linked the two halves of the island. It was about a hundred yards long, and between ten and thirty feet in its varying width, sinking slightly in the middle. Closer inspection revealed it to be dead, colourless coral, pitted with holes, around which thousands of big blue crabs sat basking in the sun. They disappeared with surprising speed at the approach of the intruders who, reaching the far side without mishap, were brought to a halt by a barrier of mangroves, standing up out of the water on a tangle of exposed roots.

If the lagoon had been a place of beauty the mangrove swamp was a place of slimy horror. The lower parts of the trees themselves were hideous; huge, misshapen, mud-caked boles rising from a tangle of roots that looked like nothing so much as a seething army of grey snakes. Within the maze thus formed, water moved uneasily with many gurglings and suckings. There were other noises, too; stealthy splashings and ploppings.

“I can see as much of that as I want to from here,” murmured Worrals.

Nevertheless, there was a sinister fascination about the place, which gave the impression of belonging to another age, or another world. They watched for some time, trying to see the hidden life that caused the furtive noises.

Suddenly Worrals whirled round. “I’m a fool,” she snapped, pointing to the causeway over which a rising tide was flooding. The lower, middle part was already awash.

She started running, but she did not get far. She pulled up with a jerk when what she had taken to be a mangrove branch thrown up by the tide, moved. A fourteen foot crocodile turned its head and coughed. Ahead, dragging themselves out of the water, were others.

Frecks screamed.

Worrals’ face was pale. “So these are the scalies!” she cried with sudden understanding. “I should have remembered—these waters are stiff with the brutes. We’ve got to get across.”

“No!” Frecks’ voice was shrill with fear. “Let’s go back.”

“I’m not spending the night in that mangrove swamp,” declared Worrals grimly, and taking out her automatic fired at the nearest crocodile.

At the crash of the shot the whole island seemed to come to life. Birds rose in thousands. The causeway heaved as a score or more of mud-coloured bodies rose up and flung themselves into the sea.

“Come on!” yelled Worrals, and firing as she ran, made a dash for the far side.

The crocodiles did not reappear. Nothing else was seen to cause alarm, but Frecks gasped her relief when the passage was made and they stood gazing back from the rising ground above the aircraft. In two minutes the causeway had disappeared from sight as the swirling seas poured over it.

“We were just in time,” observed Worrals, who was still slightly breathless. “I remember Dan telling me that there is a thirty foot rise and fall of tide in these waters.”

“The more I see of this place the less I like it,” said Frecks bitterly. “I don’t think we did anything very clever in coming here.”

“It’s all right. We shall just have to be careful,” replied Worrals. “We’re new to this sort of game, but we should have remembered that there are such things as tides. I think we’ve seen the worst.”

“I sincerely hope so,” answered Frecks fervently. “Obviously it isn’t the place to send children to paddle. Suppose those brutes attack us?”

Worrals shook her head. “I don’t think we need worry about that. The croc. is a devil of a fellow in the water, but according to what I’ve read he’s a coward on land.”

“I hope the book was right,” murmured Frecks dubiously.

They walked on to the camp, which was precisely as they had left it, except that the rising water had crept a little nearer.

“Hark!” said Worrals. She listened for a moment. “Sounds like the Mitsubishis coming back.”

From the cover of a tree they watched the return of the hostile aircraft. “Seven,” counted Worrals. “Looks as though the boys at Darwin have chewed them up a bit. There aren’t as many Zeros as there were, either.”

“Look out!” cried Frecks, and pointed to a bomber that had not previously been noticed because it was much lower than the others, and some distance behind. Slowly losing height, it was at not more than two thousand feet.

“He’s having trouble,” observed Worrals anxiously. “I hope he doesn’t try to land here. If he decides to sit down on Ingles Island we’re in for a brisk time.”

To her great satisfaction the machine did not land, but roared on towards the distant chain of islands. Still, it passed over uncomfortably close.

With a thoughtful expression on her face Worrals watched the enemy aircraft until they disappeared from sight. “See what I mean about keeping the Scud under cover?” she said quietly. “We’ve got to be careful. I doubt if the Japs will do another sortie to-day, so now we’ve got our bearings I suggest we have a spot of lunch and then start work. Every island we cover is one off the list, so the sooner we get mobile the sooner we shall be back in the land where we can step in the water without losing our feet.”


The sun was climbing over its zenith by the time lunch was finished. Preparations were made for instant departure.

“One or two points have occurred to me since those machines went over this morning,” remarked Worrals, as they walked to the Scud. “The first is, we must always be prepared for that sort of thing. Of course, while the machine is parked we shall always hear other aircraft, but once our engines are started up all other sounds will be drowned. I suggest that to prevent any chance of being caught napping, while the motors are running, whoever is not in the cockpit should watch the sky all round. Point two: we should make it a rule that once the machine is moved into the open we should take off as quickly as possible. That again should help to reduce the risk of being spotted.”

“What happens if we are chased?” asked Frecks. “Do we come back here?”

“That’s a knotty problem,” muttered Worrals. “I’ve been thinking about it. We shall be lucky if it doesn’t happen sooner or later. Any Jap fighter could easily overtake us. If we landed here we should give the pilot a sitting target. I think the answer to the question depends upon circumstances. Anyway, I’ll think about it some more. After we get off I’m going to keep low—really low; we shall be more likely to see anyone on the ground, and less likely to be spotted ourselves by a high-flying machine.”

“We shall be more likely to be spotted by Japs on the ground,” Frecks pointed out.

Worrals shrugged. “We can’t have it all ways. Let’s get cracking. I hope the motors will scare those birds off the lagoon. They’re a bit of a menace. Collision with a bird has more than once brought down a machine. You can sit beside me, but if we run into opposition you’ll have to handle the guns. Your job is to watch the sky. I’ll watch the islands.”

The Scud was soon on the lagoon, the roar of its engines sending the birds wheeling away in alarm. Another two minutes and the machine was airborne; being lightly loaded it needed only a short run to “unstick” from the placid water. With the control column forward it flashed over the blue water, and was soon speeding over the face of the ocean, heading north. Once in the air Worrals settled down at a height of not more than twenty feet, which created an impression of tremendous speed. Travelling actually at six miles a minute the Scud needed little time to reach the nearest of the islands, where the search began, and where, to avoid high ground, the aircraft was sometimes compelled to take a little altitude.

Worrals had already decided in her mind on a general line of procedure, although it was subject to modification according to the size of each island. In the case of a small island she would fly straight across the middle, twice, in two directions, and then circumnavigate it by following the beach, doing this twice or three times; how often would depend on how far the land was covered by vegetation. Not for a moment did she imagine that this would be sufficient to enable her to see anyone on the island; but she knew that anyone below would be able to see the Scud, with its British nationality markings. The straight crossings were intended to call attention to their presence. It seemed reasonable to suppose that the castaways, should they be there, would at once make for the beach, or an open space, where they could reveal themselves. She fully expected that in most cases the centre of the island would be covered by trees and bushes, and in this she was not mistaken.

Frecks, for her part, was appalled. As far as she could see, in the short glances she snatched from her sky-watching, there were islands, large and small, to north, east and west. They stretched to the distant horizon. To look at them on the map was one thing; to see them in reality was another. For the first time she realised the magnitude of their task, and her heart sank. Squadron Leader Yorke had been right when he had said that the undertaking was practically hopeless. She did not express her thoughts aloud, however.

Worrals made a mark on her chart, in the letter D, to show that the island had been covered, and then cruised across a narrow channel to the next. It was rather larger, embracing about ten square miles. Another mark on the chart and she went on to the next. There was nothing—nothing, that is, except jungle, scattered coconut palms, and a beach of white coral sand. She perceived that the work was likely to become monotonous.

The fourth island was of considerable extent—about twenty miles long by ten wide. It was a different proposition. Not only was it inhabited, but it was thickly populated with a native population. There was one quite large town and a number of villages. The houses were palm-thatched huts. Out of them, like ants, the people poured, and after one look at the low-flying plane, with wild gesticulations fled to the jungle-clad hills.

“That’s funny behaviour,” said Frecks. “Why do they run away from us?”

The answer was forthcoming, although it was not immediately apparent. Worrals swerved wildly as a cloud of black smoke appeared in front of the Scud. Others followed, and it was soon clear that an enemy ack-ack battery was in action. Worrals jammed the control column forward, and skimming the water banked steeply round a protective headland.

“That’s the answer,” she called. “Those wretched natives are getting wise. They thought we were going to bomb the Japs. Keep your eyes skinned. If there isn’t an enemy landing field here there may be one not far away; if there is, the flak battery will soon be in touch with it. We’ll push along. No use staying. If the Japs are in occupation the girls won’t be there; they’d have been captured long ago. And I don’t think we need bother about the islands in the immediate vicinity.” Still flying low she raced on, and did not resume the search until the big island was a smudge on the skyline.

About an hour later, while they were investigating an attractive cluster of atolls, Frecks let out a yell. “Bandits!”

Following the direction of Frecks’ outstretched finger Worrals saw nine Zeros in a ragged formation, flying high, a few miles to the west. Without a moment’s hesitation she cut the throttle and glided down to land in a convenient lagoon, afterwards taxiing cautiously to the encircling reef. She switched off. The drone of the Japanese aircraft could at once be heard.

“Are you crazy?” demanded Frecks.

“I acted on the spur of the moment,” replied Worrals. “Those Zeros may be looking for us. Sitting here, the Scud should look like a lump of coral from above. We can neither fight nor run away from that bunch, so our only chance is to avoid being seen. It doesn’t mean that we shall always be able to do this. It just happened that we were near an ideal spot for landing.” Worrals spoke without taking her eyes off the enemy machines.

“This is developing into a glorified game of hide and seek,” declared Frecks.

Worrals smiled. “Quite right. And we’re it. Those planes are looking for us all right,” she added. “At any rate, they’re cruising round on no definite course.”

It was twenty minutes before the enemy machines disappeared to the northward.

Worrals glanced at her instrument panel. “I think we’d better be getting back home,” she decided. “We’ve learned something. That big island is one to avoid. Even if we don’t find the girls we look like picking up some useful information for the Higher Command.”

“What about sending a radio signal to Darwin, to bring the boys along to prang that ack-ack battery?” suggested Frecks.

“Not on your life,” answered Worrals. “I’m not using radio unless things are absolutely desperate. The Japs have ears, as well as our people.” Her hand moved towards the starter.

“Just a minute,” said Frecks sharply. “Did you hear something?”

Worrals looked round. “Yes. I thought it was a sea bird.”

“To me it sounded more like a human voice. Listen.”

Presently the sound came again. This time there was no mistake. It was definitely a hail.

“It came from over there,” said Frecks, pointing to a long, low atoll, the nearest point of which was rather more than a quarter of a mile away.

Shading her eyes with her hands, Frecks gazed long and steadily at the atoll. “I can see something,” she asserted. “It looks like a big monkey gone mad . . . just to the left of that fringe of palms.”

Worrals looked. “You’re right,” she agreed. “Whatever it is, I think it’s trying to attract our attention. Just a minute.” She reached for the binoculars and focused them. “It’s a brown man, with a beard, wearing shorts,” she went on. “He’s facing this way, and he’s waving.” She lowered the glasses. “I’m going to taxi over.”

What she had taken to be a mangrove branch, thrown up by the tide, moved. (p. 41)

Worrals looked. “You’re right,” she agreed. “I think he’s trying to attract our attention.” (p. 48)

“Say! Be careful what you’re doing,” said Frecks nervously. “We don’t want a cannibal in the cockpit.”

“You keep your eyes up topsides,” requested Worrals.

After a final scrutiny of the surrounding scene for possible danger she started the motors, an action which had the effect of causing the distant figure to run up and down the beach. The Scud churned the water into foam as it swung round, and then skimmed lightly across the smooth channel that lay between it and its objective.

“It’s a native,” declared Frecks, when they were half way.

“You can’t be sure of that,” answered Worrals. “A white man is soon tanned a nice shade of chestnut in this climate.”

A cable’s length from the white coral beach on which the man was tearing up and down like a creature demented, she cut the throttle, and opening the cockpit cover, stood up. “Hi!” she shouted. “Are you signalling to us?”

The man did not answer. He plunged into the sea and swam strongly towards the aircraft. Worrals waited. Frecks took out her pistol.

“Hi!” shouted Worrals again as the man drew close. “That’s near enough. Who are you?”

She did not expect an answer, and her astonishment was unbounded when the answer came, in rich Cockney English; “Blimy! I thought you were going off without me.”

“For the love of Mike,” gasped Frecks. “He’s British.”

“Eggsactly,” said the swimmer.

“Open the cabin door and let him in,” ordered Worrals.

Frecks obeyed. Dripping water, a strange figure clambered aboard and lay panting on the floor. It was a man. He wore only one garment—a pair of ragged shorts. His skin was the colour of coffee, but his eyes were blue. A tangle of reddish beard covered his chin and a mop of hair of the same tint hung far over his neck. His eyes opened wide as he stared from Worrals to Frecks and back again at Worrals. “Ladybirds!”[3] he cried in a voice of wonder. “I don’t believe it.”

[3] Ladybird—R.A.F. slang for a W.A.A.F. officer.

“Who are you?” demanded Worrals.

“Timms, is the name,” was the reply. “Number 873 Corporal Timms, H.L., R.A.F.—that’s me. Late 906 Squadron, flying Beaufighters. The H stands for ’Enery, but in ’Ammersmith they call me ’Arry.”

“What are doing here?” asked Frecks.

“Nothing—and I’ve had bags of time to do it in,” was the frank answer. “This happens to be the place where I ’it the deck.”

“Ah,” said Worrals softly, suddenly understanding. “Are you alone here?”

“Eggsactly,” said the corporal heavily. “There was two of us—me and Flying Officer Tuke. He’s over there—under the sand.” The corporal pointed to the beach.

“I see,” said Worrals quietly. “Well, we can’t stay here. Is there anything you want to fetch from the island?”

“No, I’m here—that’s all that matters.”


“Not particularly; I’ve just had a basin of turtle eggs.”

“All right,” said Worrals. “Make yourself comfortable. We’ll have a talk presently. Shut the door, Frecks.” She turned again to the corporal as an idea struck her. “What’s your service category?”


[4] R.A.F. slang, meaning wireless-operator/air gunner. Derived from the initial letters.

“Good. Man the dorsal turret. We’ve some way to go, and there’s a bunch of Zeros nosing round.”

“Ah,” breathed Harry, spitting on his hands. “Zeros. Just what I’ve been waiting for.”

“Well, we’re not waiting for them,” retorted Worrals. “We’ve other things to do.”

She returned to the cockpit, and without further parley took off and headed for Ingles Island. As on the outward journey she kept low. No aircraft of any sort was seen, although she noticed what she took to be a small coastal supply ship steaming between the islands. In less than half an hour, with the setting sun turning the water into streaming gold, the Scud settled lightly on its home lagoon.

“What’s the idea?” cried Harry, with something like consternation in his voice, as Worrals lowered the wheels, ran up into the camp and switched off.

“We’re home,” announced Worrals as she climbed down.

“Home!” The corporal was incredulous—not without reason. “Do you mean I’ve only swopped one island for another? I’m sick of islands. They’re all the same—nothing but water round them.”

“But you’re not alone any longer, and we’ll see that you have plenty to do,” said Frecks, grinning.

“Well, strike me puce!” exclaimed the corporal helplessly.

“Sit down, Harry, and let’s compare notes,” requested Worrals. “First of all, is there anything you want urgently?”

“I could do with a gasper,” declared Harry.

Worrals smiled sympathetically. “Sorry, but we don’t smoke. Bad luck.”

“You ain’t got a razor by any chance?”

“What would we do with a razor?” murmured Frecks.

The corporal received this information with a sad shake of the head, “Eggsactly,” he murmured. “How about some Christian grub? Imagine it; I used to spend quids heaving balls at coconuts on ’Amstead ’Eath. I never want to see another. Coconuts and raw turtle. What a diet!” Harry shuddered.

“Why eat the turtle raw?” asked Frecks.

“Because I’d nothing to light a fire with,” was the simple explanation. “This business of rubbin’ two sticks together don’t work—at least, not with me it don’t, although I’ll own it’s a quick way to take the skin off your ’ands. If I’d had a light I’d have lit a fire the first time you flew over. As it was, all I could do was dance. But you didn’t see me. Was I glad when I saw you go down at the next island!”

“I’ll bet you were,” murmured Frecks.

“Even then I was afraid you’d push off without noticing me,” declared Harry. “I nearly yelled my head off.”

“Tell me this,” put in Worrals. “How long have you been marooned?”

“About four months, as near I can reckon.”

“Have you ever heard anything about any girls being cast away?”

“Girls?” Harry looked amazed. “Good lor’ no! Who’d tell me? I ain’t seen no one. No, that’s a lie. I did see two natives one day, about a couple of months ago, it’d be. They came ashore in a canoe that was falling to bits. I couldn’t talk their lingo and they couldn’t talk mine, so we didn’t get far.”

“Couldn’t they have taken you off?”

“The boat was full of rotten fish. Phew! Did it stink? Not that I’d a minded that, but there wasn’t room for me. One more sprat would have sunk it. And how did I know where they were going? For all I knew they might have handed me over to Sammy.”

Worrals’ eyes opened wide. “To whom?”


“Who’s he?”

Harry’s eyebrows went up. “You ain’t been long in these parts if you ain’t heard of Sammy. He’s the king bogey-man.”

“Who is he, exactly?”

“He’s the Jap in charge of the islands. Real name is Prince Sammara—or something like that. The story is, he was sent to school in America to learn the language. He threw his weight about and got the bird. One day someone told him he might be a big noise in Japan but he was less than a squeak in the U.S.A. Finished up by giving him a poke on the boko. The story got out and he never got over it. Now he’s getting his own back by personally cutting the heads off any white troops who fall into his hands. You must have read in the papers about him cutting the head off an American pilot who had been shot down. They found a picture of him doing it, on a prisoner.”

“Now you mention it, I recall reading about that,” said Worrals. “His photo was in the papers. He looks a nasty little piece of work.”

“Eggsactly,” said Harry. “Not only looks it. It’s best to keep out of his way. That’s why I wasn’t too happy about those natives. They might have handed me over. They did a lot of jabbering, and making signs, but I couldn’t make head or tail of it. I thought maybe they meant they would come back later on. I kept watch for days.”

“But they didn’t come?”

“If they did, I didn’t see ’em. Mind you, I kept well out of sight, for fear of the Japs.”

“You were lucky they didn’t eat you, anyway,” stated Frecks.

“They were lucky I didn’t eat them,” returned Harry. “I was gettin’ pretty sick of turtle. Ever tried gettin’ a turtle out of its shell?”

“No,” answered Worrals.

“Don’t,” advised Harry warmly. “It’s a messy business.”

“Let’s not go into that,” said Worrals quickly. “Tell me about yourself. Frecks, open a can of bully and bring some biscuits and chocolate.”

“There ain’t much to tell,” said the corporal. “We was one of a formation of six, doing a recco.[5] We ran into trouble over Bali—that’s some way to the west of here. There must have been twenty Zeros. We copped a packet. My pilot was killed straight out. I tried to get the kite home, but both engines had been hit; they were nearly red hot and looked like going on fire at any minute, so I tried to get down to save the machine; but I piled up among the coconuts on the little island where you found me. The wings took most of the shock, and I got away with a shaking. I’ve been there ever since. I saw some of our boys going over once in a while, but of course they didn’t see me. Japs was always about. I was getting pretty browned-off[6] when you rolled up. That’s all. What are we staying here for? I mean, where’s the main camp, with the boys?”

[5] R.A.F. slang for reconnaissance.

[6] R.A.F. slang, meaning bored.

Worrals smiled. “This is it—only there aren’t any boys.”

Harry frowned. “You mean—you’re here alone?”

“The nearest base is Darwin.”

The corporal looked shocked. “Suffering seahorses! That’s a knockout. How long are you staying here?”

“We shall be going back to Darwin in a week or so. We’re a search party.”

“I reckon there must be a lot of boys sitting around on these islands,” asserted Harry. “A lot of our machines have had to come down and there’s plenty of islands to choose from.”

“As a matter of fact, we’re looking for some girls,” said Worrals. Briefly, she told the story of the quest.

“Did you say nine girls?” queried Harry at the finish, with a curious expression on his face.

“Yes. I——”

The corporal held up a calloused hand. “Just a minute—just a minute—that reminds me of somethin’,” he said tersely. “I wonder . . . ?”

“You wonder—what?”

“If that’s what them two fuzzy-wuzzies was trying to tell me.” Harry got excited. “I told you how they kept making signs. Well, one thing they did was to keep holding up nine fingers and pointing to the north-west. I couldn’t guess what they were gettin’ at. How was I to know? Then one of ’em scratched a row of funny things in the sand. They looked to me like a row of coconuts on stilts, with a mop on top. There were nine of ’em. I had an idea the mops meant hair, but naturally, I was thinkin’ of Japs. Funny there were nine, though. Of course, it might just be a coincidence.”

Worrals did not answer at once. Her eyes, alive with a new interest, were on the corporal’s face. “Nine,” she breathed. “We’ve got to follow this up. If it’s a coincidence it would be an uncanny one. You say they pointed to the north-west?”

“Eggsactly. One of the natives drew a thing like a spear, near the figures, pointing in that direction. The marks are still there. I noticed ’em only the other day.”

Worrals looked at Frecks. “To-morrow we shall start by concentrating in that direction,” she announced. “I wonder where those two natives came from? It couldn’t be very far away if their boat was only a crazy canoe—and loaded to the gunwales with fish, at that.” She looked back at Harry. “This sounds hopeful. But look here,” she went on, “you’ve had a pretty sticky time, corporal. If you like I’ll run you back to Darwin first thing in the morning.”

“If you’re going back in a week or so, anyway, there’s no need to do that,” declared Harry. “Another few days, more or less, don’t make any difference to me,” he grinned. “Besides, what sort of man would I be, to run away when there are nine girls floating loose?”

Worrals smiled. “All right, if that’s how you feel about it. You can be useful. You’ve flown over the islands before, and you could, on occasion, act as gunner. If we have to use the radio you can take over as wireless-operator. Or you could look after things here while we’re away—keep the camp tidy, and that sort of thing.”

“Okydoke,” agreed Harry readily. “Blimy! What a war. Who’d have thought, when I signed on the dotted line at the depôt, that in twelve months I’d be picnicking on a desert island with a couple a . . . with—er—two W.A.A.F. officers,” corrected Harry, catching a glint in Worrals’ eye.

“Forget that angle,” requested Worrals. “This is no picnic. You’d better start fixing quarters for yourself while it’s still light enough to see. You can have that patch of ground under the coconut palms for your personal property.”

“Yes, ma’am,” agreed the corporal respectfully. “Do you happen to have a pair of scissors on board?”

“I expect there’s a pair in the first-aid outfit. Why?”

Harry smiled sheepishly. “I wonder if one of you ladies would mind shearing some of this hair off my face. I’d feel less like a bird’s nest?”

Worrals laughed. “I’ll soon have that off, corporal,” she promised. “Get the scissors, Frecks.”


The following morning, as soon as it was light enough to see, the search was continued. Leaving Harry in charge of the camp, Worrals headed straight for the island from which they had picked him up. She had announced to Frecks her intention of doing this, saying: “I want to see these marks made by the natives, if they are still there. Harry didn’t attach to them the same importance as we do, and he may have missed something. Afterwards we’ll carry on with square D. We ought to finish it to-day.”

The Pacific, living up to its name, remained dead calm, and no difficulty was experienced in making a landing on the water close to the beach. Lowering the Scud’s wheels, Worrals taxied ashore and brought the aircraft to rest in the deep shade on the western side of the palm grove. Leaving the machine there, with frequent glances at the sky, they made their way quickly along the beach, following the high-water mark. A walk of five minutes brought them to what they sought, on the lip of a little bay. The primitive drawings were still there, just as Harry had described them. There was nothing else; just the nine golliwog figures and an arrow, pointing. Worrals took a compass bearing of the direction indicated.

“I wonder how accurate that arrow is?” she remarked. “It might be nothing more than a rough indication. Still, it’s better than nothing. Obviously, there must be something in that direction, something likely to interest Harry, otherwise, why should the natives have gone to all this trouble? The whole thing rests on the fact that there are nine figures. What else could they stand for, if not the girls? I can’t think of anything. Pity we can’t get hold of those two natives; with patience we might be able to get more definite information out of them. Well, there’s no point in staying here; we’ll carry on with square D, paying particular attention to any islands that happen to lie in the direction given by the arrow.”

They returned to the Scud, and were soon in the air again, taking the islands in turn, using the same tactics as on the previous day. It was slow work, slow and monotonous, because nothing was seen. Land, sea and air were alike deserted. They might have had the world to themselves. There was a wearying similarity between the islands, too, except in the matter of shape.

“The trouble about desert islands is, when you’ve seen one you’ve seen the lot,” remarked Frecks, as Worrals struck another one off her chart.

For nearly four hours they pursued the quest, Worrals flying methodically, and with relentless energy. Then the sagging needle of the petrol gauge told them it was time to return to base to refuel.

“That finishes square D,” said Worrals, as she turned for home. “This afternoon we’ll start on square E. There is this about it: there’s no trouble in finding the islands.”

“The trouble is, there are too many of them,” observed Frecks. “Whichever way I look I see islands.”

“And on any one of them we may find what we’re looking for,” replied Worrals cheerfully. “That thought should keep us going.”

“I need a little encouragement once in a while to keep me going flat out,” said Frecks.

“As long as we’re not discouraged by a bunch of Zeros I shan’t complain,” declared Worrals, as she glided down towards Ingles Island.

Harry was waiting. He had nothing to report. No aircraft, friendly or hostile, had been seen or heard, a state of affairs with which Worrals expressed herself well satisfied. Harry said he was content to have somebody to talk to.

“That’s fine; then everyone’s happy,” asserted Worrals. “Let’s refuel before we eat. We never know when we may want to get in the air in a hurry.”

After an uninteresting meal of corned beef and biscuits, helped by coconut-milk, Worrals and Frecks returned to their task, working now in the new square, beginning along the bearing given by the arrow, memory of which added a new zest to the search. But it was in vain. There were more islands than ever, comprising a great sickle-shaped archipelago, but the result was a repetition of the morning’s work. Nothing was seen.

“There’s something queer about this,” averred Worrals, late in the afternoon, as with petrol again running low she headed back for Ingles Island. “I’m sure there must be natives on some of these islands. Why do we never see them?”

“You tell me,” invited Frecks.

“Yes, I think I can do that,” answered Worrals. “It’s my opinion that as soon as the natives hear us—and they must hear us before they see us—they bolt, and hide in the jungle. We can’t blame them for that. With Allied and enemy planes spraying lead about, and heaving bombs all over the place, I’d do the same. All aircraft are enemies as far as they’re concerned—or maybe they don’t wait to check up on the nationality marks, even if they know them. I’d wager that a lot of eyes have looked up at us to-day, and a lot of voices have said good riddance when we departed.”

Soon after this conversation they landed on the lagoon, and having run the machine to its temporary base made it snug for the night. Harry had amused himself fishing from the causeway—successfully. Too successfully, in fact. There was a heap of more fish than could be consumed before they went putrid. He had nothing to report. After that there was nothing to do so they sat under the palms while Harry gave a fuller account of his adventures as a Crusoe.

The sky was beginning to turn from azure to egg-shell blue when Worrals held up a hand for silence. “Hark!” she ordered.

“That’s planes all right,” declared Harry, rolling over and gazing to the south, whence came the distant drone of aircraft.

“I can hear machine-gun fire,” announced Frecks presently, “Hark at the engines moaning, too. There’s something going on out there.”

“Eggsactly! And it’s coming this way,” said Harry.

No one disputed this statement, for it was obviously correct. High over the southern horizon black specks were weaving and circling against the blue, like midges over a garden path on a June evening. The combat—for clearly a dogfight was in progress—did not last long. A few machines fell, leaving long, thin feathers of smoke to mark the course of their headlong plunge to the sea; others broke away, some disappearing to the south, others heading northward. The drone of engines increased quickly in volume.

“Ah-huh,” murmured Frecks. “Let’s get ready to duck. One of ’em’s coming smack over us.”

“He’s losing height, too,” said Worrals, backing further under the trees. “The same thing happened yesterday,” she went on. “There must be a big Japanese base somewhere to the north of us. I’m beginning to wonder if we were wise to plant ourselves on a line between it and Darwin. It is even possible that the Japs may use this place as an emergency landing ground. After all, the lagoon is a ready-made marine aircraft base.”

The low-flying aircraft, a single-engined float seaplane of unknown type, came on. It was some distance from the rest, which were scattered over the sky more to the east, and a slight change of course put it on a track direct for Ingles Island. Suddenly puffs of white smoke, accompanied by simultaneous explosions, appeared behind it; whereupon the roar of the engine ended abruptly, and the nose of the aircraft dropped as it went into a glide.

“That machine’s in trouble,” said Worrals tersely. “It’ll never reach the main archipelago. It’s going to land here—there’s nowhere else. The pilot will try to get down on the lagoon. We’d better make ourselves scarce.”

“This is going to be a bit awkward, isn’t it?” remarked Harry, as they backed hastily into the depression in which the Scud was parked.

“It will be, if that machine stays here,” answered Worrals. “The crew may be able to put the trouble right, in which case they’ll soon clear off—I hope. If they can’t. . . .”

“If they can’t, they’ll send a signal to their base for a working party,” concluded Frecks. “That will be more than awkward. It’ll send the balloon up as far as we’re concerned.”

Worrals shrugged. “Let’s wait and see. If the worst comes to the worst we shall have to fight it out—that is, unless we abandon the place while we have the chance, and I don’t feel like doing that. We’d better get ready for a rough house though—in case. Harry, you’ll find a rifle in the Scud; you’d better take it. We’ve got our automatics.”

Harry hurried to the machine and came back with the rifle, which he loaded, and then dropped beside the others, who were lying flat just below the rim of the depression, a position that commanded a view of the lagoon.

During this time the Japanese aircraft had been coming down on a course that left no possible doubt as to its objective. Straight over the island it glided with its airscrew stationary, the Rising Sun insignia on the underside of its wings clearly visible. Reaching the northern extremity of the island it made a flat turn, and then, steepening its dive, came back towards the lagoon.

“He’ll never get in; he’s got too much height,” observed Frecks critically.

This was apparent to the others, and to the enemy pilot, who tried to sideslip off his surplus altitude. To some extent he succeeded, but the slip took him out of line with his projected landing ground. The aircraft, having no power, could not get round for a second attempt. For a moment or two it looked as if the machine would pile up in the very trees under which the watchers were regarding these manœuvres with growing alarm. But disaster was averted by inches. Brushing the crowns of the palms with its floats the seaplane came down with a splash on the seaward side of the causeway, and only a few yards from it.

“That was a ham-fisted effort if ever I saw one,” remarked Worrals.

The seaplane rocked on, slowly losing way. With a scraping jar the cockpit cover was thrown back and a head appeared. There was some talking. Then the man, carrying a length of line, climbed down on a float, crawled to the tip, and throwing a grapnel to the rocks hauled the machine close against the shore.

In order to observe this the watchers had to move to the far side of the depression.

“Thank goodness it’s only a two-seater,” whispered Frecks.

“You’re wrong,” corrected Worrals. “There are three of them. I can see a second pilot in the cockpit and there’s bound to be a gunner in the turret.”

This was soon confirmed; the three men jumped ashore, and standing on the causeway held what seemed to be an excited debate. The sound of their voices reached the watchers clearly, but, of course, they had no idea of what was said, the language spoken, presumably, being Japanese. The conference ended, the men returned to the aircraft. A tool kit was produced and the engine cover thrown open.

“Good,” murmured Worrals. “They think they can repair the damage. At any rate, they’re going to try.”

“How about bumping them off and grabbing the machine?” suggested Harry.

“No,” decided Worrals without hesitation. “We don’t want the machine; it would only be a nuisance. Moreover, if it doesn’t go back the enemy will send someone out to look for it. This is a case where we mind our own business, and let other people look after theirs.”

With much chattering the Japanese proceeded with their task for about half an hour. At the end of that time one of the men, presumably the pilot, got into the cockpit and started the engine. It ran smoothly. There was a brief bellow as he ran it up to full revs.; then the throttle was cut and comparative silence returned. The pilot got out. There was another discussion.

“Why don’t they go home?” muttered Frecks impatiently.

“Eggsactly,” murmured Harry.

“I think I know what the argument is about,” said Worrals quietly. “The sun is nearly down. Once it dips it will be dark in five minutes. They’re afraid of being caught out—or perhaps they’re not equipped for night flying. For all we know they may be some way from their airfield. They might even be based on an aircraft carrier. Unless I’ve missed my guess they’ve decided to stay the night here.”

“That will be nice,” growled Frecks.

All this, of course, was pure surmise, but it may have been correct. The truth was never known, for at this juncture one of the men, happening to glance along the causeway in the direction of the lagoon, evidently saw something that interested him, for he began to walk along the rocks. For a little while the object of his curiosity was not clear, but when he pulled up by the heap of fish left on the rocks by Harry, Worrals understood.

“That’s done it,” she murmured.

Thereafter things moved swiftly. Presumably to get a wider view of the island the man ran the short distance that separated him from the rim of the depression, so that he almost fell over the startled watchers. He could not fail to see them, and the aircraft. Nor did he. In a flash he had turned and was racing back towards his companions, shouting, jumping from rock to rock like a big monkey. Harry fired. But the light was failing, and the jerking target was not easy to hit. He missed.

“Get the pilot!” shouted Worrals, and firing as she ran, made for the seaplane, swerving to keep out of Harry’s line of fire.

By this time the two men who had remained near the machine were fully aware of what was happening. The pilot jumped aboard, and was climbing into the cockpit when a shot hit him. Who actually fired the shot was never known, for Harry and Frecks were both shooting, as well as Worrals. The Jap fell over the side of the cockpit into the sea. The man who had been with him reached the aircraft at this moment and took a flying leap on to a float. The result of this was, under the impetus of his jump and his weight, the seaplane was pushed several yards from the causeway. The man responsible nearly went overboard, but he managed to hang on, and having recovered his balance scrambled with desperate haste into the cockpit. The upshot of it all was, when the third man, he who had given the alarm, reached the spot, it was to find that the aircraft was out of his reach by some ten yards. He hesitated. It is to be supposed that he could not swim; or he may have been aware of the perils that lurked in the water; at any rate, instead of trying to swim to the aircraft he sought to escape the fusilade of shots that whistled about him by bolting along the causeway—a decision that was quite understandable. He may have thought that his friend would pick him up—but this again is pure surmise.

One thing that had puzzled Worrals was explained when the man who had got aboard reappeared with a revolver in his hand. She guessed then that the enemy’s precipitate retreat was due to the fact that they had left their small arms in the machine when they had come ashore, assuming, not unnaturally, that the island was uninhabited. In any case they could hardly have supposed it to be occupied by a British force. But the affair was not yet over.

The man with the revolver opened fire on Worrals, who was nearest to the machine. Dodging from rock to rock she was still advancing, shooting as occasion offered. But this state of affairs did not last long. The man in the aircraft, seeing his companion running away, evidently decided to abandon him in an attempt to save himself. He dropped into his seat. The motor roared and the aircraft started to move. Seeing that the man was about to escape, and knowing what the result would be if he succeeded, in sheer desperation Worrals ran forward, and from the edge of the causeway took deliberate aim at the pilot. She fired. Instead of the expected report there was a click. With a mixed sensation of despair and impotence she realised that the magazine was empty. There was nothing she could do, for the aircraft was now gathering speed.

Harry’s voice, shrill with urgency, came from somewhere just behind her. “Look out!”

Without any idea of what the warning meant, Worrals obeyed instinctively by dodging behind the nearest rock, at the same time snatching a glance along the causeway, thinking that perhaps the man who had gone that way was coming back. He was just disappearing into the mangroves at the far end. An instant later, above the roar of the aircraft, there came the devastating clatter of a machine gun, and a stream of bullets whistled over Worrals’ head. She lay flat, slightly dazed by the unexpectedness of this development. Burst after burst of fire came from the gun. Then came a pause, and a wild yell from Harry, in which Frecks’ treble voice was joined.

Worrals looked up, and understood. The seaplane was leaping about on the water like a dolphin, obviously out of control. A final bounce and it struck the water nose first with a mighty splash. Only its tail remained in view, and this, too, sank slowly out of sight. Looking back along the causeway she saw Harry getting up from behind a rock holding the Sten gun. No further explanation was needed. Still bewildered by the suddenness of it all she waved a greeting. “Nice shooting, Harry,” she called. “I thought we’d lost him.”

Frecks’ head appeared above a mess of coral. “Is it all over?” she inquired.

“For the moment, I fancy,” answered Worrals. “What a scramble!”

They all converged on the place where the Japanese had come ashore.

“That was well thought out, corporal,” complimented Worrals. “I was a fool to run out of ammunition. Had that machine got away we should have had to pack up here.”

“What about the one who fell in the drink?” asked Frecks.

They walked to the brink of the coral, but there was no sign of a body.

“He must have sunk,” opined Worrals.

“Or else the crocs got him,” murmured Frecks, with a shiver.

“Eggsactly,” said Harry.

“I’m more concerned about the man who got away,” said Worrals thoughtfully. “What are we going to do about him?” She gazed through the fast fading twilight towards the mangroves. “I don’t like the idea of having a loose Jap on the island. I wonder will he surrender if we call to him?”

They called for a minute or two, but there was no reply.

“This means we shall have to keep watch,” declared Frecks.

“Not for long,” answered Worrals. “The tide will be over the causeway in half an hour. When its awash the crocs come up for a spot of fresh air, and it would need a brave man, or a lunatic, to try to cross then. There’s nothing we can do until morning. Pity this had to happen just when things were going smoothly.”

Without further parley they walked back to the camp.

“There’s one thing I should like to know,” remarked Worrals as they sat down and gazed across the lagoon.

“What’s that?” inquired Frecks.

“Whether that seaplane was seen to go down by one of the other machines that were making for home at the same time, or if the seaplane sent out a radio S.O.S. before it landed, giving its position. In either case the enemy would certainly send out a search party. That may happen, anyway.”

“How about tuning in, to see if we can pick up any messages?” suggested Harry.

Worrals smiled. “It’s an idea, but it won’t work. It happens that the Japs have a language of their own, and none of us can speak it. To make the matter more complicated they would certainly use a code. Still, we might tune in to Australia to get the news. It won’t seem quite so lonely. After that we’ll have a bite and get some sleep. I want to be on the move early in the morning.”

Darkness fell. The moon came up, and with the stars went about its business unconcerned by the puny affairs of mankind. The Milky Way stretched a shimmering girdle across the heavens, marking a great arc over the lagoon, which lay without a ripple, like a mountain lake. The only sounds were the surge of the tide over the causeway, the faint clicking of crabs, like falling hail-stones, and the gentle rustle of palm fronds as they drooped silently to rest.

Suddenly the solitude was shattered by a sound so unexpected, so horrible, that Frecks sprang to her feet with a cry of fear. Pulsing from the mangrove swamp it came, a human voice, stark and clear, raised in a scream of mortal terror. It ended abruptly, like a radio switched off on a high note. It was not repeated. Silence returned, although in some sinister way the dreadful sound seemed to linger on.

For several seconds nobody spoke. Then Harry said, calmly: “I should say that Jap stepped on something which wasn’t what he thought it was.”

After a moment Worrals answered: “I don’t want to appear callous, but if he has it may save us a lot of trouble.”

“Eggsactly what I was thinkin’,” said Harry.

Frecks said nothing. But from time to time she gazed nervously towards the mangroves, inky black in the soft light of the moon.


Before the stars had been driven from the sky by the probing beams of the rising sun Worrals was astir, studying the chart and making preparations for the day’s work. Harry, his beard now close clipped, watched these proceedings with such a woe-begone expression on his alert Cockney face that Frecks was constrained to ask him if he had something on his mind. Harry answered gloomily that as far as he could see he had merely stepped from a frying pan into a fire. He saw himself being left alone all day, and having had four months of his own company he was getting a bit browned-off with it. “Could he,” he asked, “come on the sortie?”

To this Worrals agreed readily, saying that there appeared to be no reason why he should stay alone on the island. Far from that, he might do a useful job by manning the gun turret, the particular job for which he had been trained. There was also a chance that they might find the two natives who had made the drawings in the sand; if he were with them he would recognise them, and friendly contact would soon be established.

So it came about that as the first glowing fingers of another day set the eastern sky ablaze, the Scud took off with a crew of three. Frecks sat beside Worrals, able now to devote her entire attention to the search, leaving Harry to take care of the atmosphere. Worrals headed straight for that part of square E which lay to the north-west of Harry’s Island—this, for want of another name, being the agreed description of the fragment of land from which the corporal had been picked up. Suddenly she started to climb steeply.

“What goes on?” asked Frecks, somewhat surprised by this change of tactics.

“Just an idea,” answered Worrals. “You remember what I said yesterday about the natives bolting at our approach? It just struck me that we might put that theory to test. If I grab some altitude, and then cut the throttle, we ought to be able to glide down quietly without being spotted. We shall then know if these islands are really uninhabited. I think it’s worth trying. Of course, it means that there will be a greater chance of our being seen by the enemy, but that can’t be prevented. Sooner or later the word will go round that we’re about, anyway.”

As a result of this device they arrived over the fringe of the area to be surveyed at a height of ten thousand feet. Overhead the sky was a dome of lapis lazuli, clear, serene, unbroken by a cloud, or any of the little specks for which Harry kept anxious watch. Cutting the throttle Worrals began a long, slow glide. The only sounds were the hum of the idling engines and the gentle sighing of air over the planes. This stealthy approach achieved its object, as was soon apparent.

“Look!” said Frecks sharply. “Smoke!” She pointed to an island some distance ahead, and to the west.

“Yes, and there’s more over there.” Worrals nodded towards the north. “This time we’ve caught them napping. It will be interesting to see how close we can get without being noticed. We’ll try your island first,” she decided. “It’s no great distance from Harry’s Island, and lies to the north-west of it, which is all to the good.”

She continued in the glide, and the island, a fairly large one, seemed to float towards them. In a few minutes it was possible to see people moving about on a white beach, casually, without haste.

“They haven’t seen us yet,” murmured Worrals. “You watch them skidaddle when they do.”

“If they happen to be Japs, with an ack-ack gun, we shall do the skidaddling,” returned Frecks.

“They don’t look like soldiers to me,” said Worrals.

The Scud was down to a thousand feet and less than a mile from the island when it was seen. There was no doubt as to when this occurred. The effect of the discovery was surprising, and not without humour. Everyone dropped what he or she was doing and bolted for the cover of the trees. Children scrambled like little brown monkeys. In an instant there was not a soul in sight.

“What did I tell you?” said Worrals, a note of amused triumph in her voice. “No wonder we never saw anybody.”

Gliding low along the beach it was possible to make out a considerable village nestling under the inevitable palms. It would have needed a very keen eye to detect the huts, thatched as they were with palm fronds, from an altitude. At the end of the beach Worrals opened the throttle, turned, and came back. No flak came up to oppose the Scud’s passage.

“I’m going down to have a word with these people,” decided Worrals suddenly. “There are no Japs here or they’d be having a crack at us by this time.”

“Have a heart!” cried Frecks. “They may be cannibals.”

“Don’t worry, I shall find out how they feel about us before I hand my body over to the cook,” retorted Worrals. “I take a lot of this cannibal talk with a pinch of salt.”

“Yeah! And they’ll probably take us with a pinch of salt,” sneered Frecks.

Worrals smiled, but did not answer. She cruised up and down for a few minutes studying the lie of the land and the depth of the water. Depth was easy to determine, for in the shallows the colour of the water was pale turquoise, whereas the deeper parts varied in hue from ultramarine to violet-blue. Choosing a channel of deep water, Worrals put the Scud down and taxied on slowly towards the gently shelving beach of coral sand until the machine floated lightly on three feet of translucent water. Throwing open the cockpit cover, she stood up and hailed.

“Hi, there! Does anyone speak English?” She repeated the question in French, but there was no answer. Not a soul was in sight. Only the palm fronds nodded in a slant of breeze.

“They don’t like us,” said Frecks. “Let’s go.”

“I’ll bet they’re having a jolly good look at us from those bushes, all the same,” declared Worrals. “I’m going ashore.”

“Don’t be a fool.”

“We shan’t get anywhere standing here.”

“That suits me,” asserted Frecks.

“If they wanted to shoot us, with guns or arrows, they could do it just as well here as if we were on the beach,” Worrals pointed out.

Frecks did not dispute this.

“When they see we are only women I’ll warrant the men will show up,” said Worrals, with emphasis on the word only.

“When the women see we’re women they may have something to say,” argued Frecks.

Worrals turned to where Harry was watching these proceedings with bored indifference. “Keep your guns trained on the beach in case of accidents,” she warned. “But, for heaven’s sake, don’t shoot unless they start any rough stuff, and only then if you think I’m in real danger.” So saying, she jumped into the water, waded ashore, and stood, a rather incongruous figure, on the deserted beach.

“Hi—Ho!” she hailed, shaking loose her hair and holding up her hands, palms forward, to show that they did not hold a weapon.

This had the desired effect. Voices could be heard talking, and presently a man’s head appeared above the nearest bush.

“What name blong you?” he demanded, suspiciously.

“Name blong me Worrals.”

“You blong English?”

“Yes, we blong English,” answered Worrals, feeling rather silly.

The man emerged, slowly, obviously as nervous as a kitten. Other heads appeared.

“Hey, Worrals, watch out!” called Frecks anxiously. “They look a pretty ropey lot to me.” In spite of this, she jumped into the water and made her way to the beach.

Worrals did not take her eyes off the nearest native, for he was armed with a bow and a handful of nasty-looking, fishbone-pointed arrows. “Hello!” she greeted. Then, in a quick aside to Frecks, “He’s more scared than you are.”

“I doubt it,” answered Frecks feelingly.

“I can’t imagine that these people were always as nervous as this, with big islands like Bali and Java no great distance away,” remarked Worrals. “I should say the abominable Japanese are responsible for it—they’ve probably been raiding the village for slave labour.” As she finished speaking she advanced, apparently unconcerned, and spoke again to the man who had addressed her. “You speak English?” she queried.

“You sing out I speakum,” said the man in quaint pidgin English.

“What name blong you?” queried Worrals.

“Name blong me Oko,” was the answer.

It was now possible to see that he was lighter in colour than the rest, as if he was of a mixed breed, or a member of a different tribe. Also, he wore an ancient pair of blue dungaree trousers. His contact with civilization was made even more apparent by the belt that held them up. It was of webbing, with brass tags, such as is worn by British military forces. Fastened to the belt were a number of regimental cap badges and shoulder cyphers. All this Worrals noted with satisfaction.

“Where you from?” she inquired, automatically falling into the man’s clipped jargon.

“I live Singapore one time no more,” answered the man vaguely, holding out a hand with a flourish to indicate that he understood European courtesies.

They shook hands with great ceremony, a proceeding which, judging from the buzz of conversation, excited the admiration of the spectators, who now advanced with more confidence into the open.

At this juncture there was a hail from Harry. “There are the two guys who came to my island,” he called and, jumping into the sea, splashed his way ashore.

Friendly contact having been established, the visitors were soon surrounded by an excited crowd, and it was only with difficulty that Worrals was able to keep the situation under control. She was anxious to interrogate the men who had made the crude drawings on Harry’s Island, but it seemed that they knew no language but their own, and their gesticulations in answer to her questions were so vague that she could make nothing of them. In fact, the only person with whom conversation of any kind was possible was Oko, and his English left much to be desired. To make matters worse, he spoke the island language only imperfectly, which practically confirmed Worrals’ opinion that he belonged to a distant tribe. It seemed likely that he himself was a refugee. As an interpreter between the visitors and the two men who had been to Harry’s Island he was not a great success, but, as Worrals observed, he was better than none. By the exercise of infinite patience a certain amount of information was extracted. It amounted to this:

It was well known that there were, on an island, nine “Marys.” Mary, it seemed was the pidgin English for woman. Everyone had heard of these nine Marys, for at first they had a boat, and had gone from island to island asking for food. But—and this was the disappointing part—nobody knew where the island was—that is, the island on which they were now supposed to be. The natives had no idea of time, and it was soon clear to Worrals that this talk of nine girls was hearsay. Moreover, it was stale news. Every attempt to get specific information about the position of the island, and the time since the girls were last heard of, resulted in such argument amongst the natives themselves that Worrals gave it up. It was obvious that nobody knew for certain. But, it seemed, according to Oko, there was another island, and on this island was a man who spoke English “plenty good.” He had worn a uniform at Singapore. Here Oko tied a piece of rag round his head and went through a pantomime performance of directing traffic.

“I’ve got it,” Worrals told the others. “The rag on his head indicates a turban. The chap he’s talking about must have been an Indian policeman, a Sikh. Sikhs do most of the police work in Singapore.” She turned back to Oko.

This policeman (it was gathered) was also a refugee. According to Oko, who had seen him, he “sang out plenty about Marys.” Oko held up nine fingers to indicate the number. Whether this ex-policeman knew where the girls were, or might know, was not clear. A final point, a disconcerting one, was this. The Japanese also knew about the girls, and had been looking for them, or were looking for them. This again was not clear—probably, thought Worrals, because the natives did not know themselves for certain.

This, then, was the sum total of the information which Worrals extracted from Oko. She was by no means sure that she had got it right.

“It’s quite obvious that these people don’t know where the girls are,” she told the others. “But the Sikh policeman might be able to tell us, if we can find him.” She turned again to Oko. “What name blong island blong feller sing out English?” she demanded.

“Maital,” answered Oko without hesitation, pointing to the north.

Worrals spent five minutes looking for the island on her chart, but could not find it. “Maital must be the native name,” she decided. “On the chart it probably appears under a different name.” She asked Oko to point out the island on the map, but this he was unable to do. From his manner it seemed doubtful if he even knew what the map represented.

More hard work produced the following information. Oko knew how to find Maital. He often went there. He was willing to take Worrals in his canoe. But nothing would induce him to go in the “ship that flew like a bird.” On that point he was adamant. Not even bribes could move him. The island was a day’s journey away.

“It looks as if I shall have to go with him in the canoe,” decided Worrals.

Frecks contested this hotly. “We may never see you again,” she declared vehemently.

Worrals allowed that this was possible. “I admit that it is a dangerous thing to split up the party in a place like this, and I can’t think of anything else that would induce me to do it,” she told Frecks. “But this is a chance we simply can’t afford to let slide—a better chance than I dared to hope for. It justifies almost any risk. If this ex-policeman knows where the girls are, then all we have to do is pick them up. The big risk lies in something unexpected happening. Otherwise, the thing should be simple. After all, Oko knows the island. I ought to be back in a couple of days. All you have to do is collect me here. Meanwhile, you and Harry go back to Ingles Island and wait there.”

“Why not wait here?”

“For one thing, because the anchorage is too exposed. If a sea got up the machine would be crashed on the beach. Again, if a Jap plane went over it would spot the aircraft. I think it’s better that you should go back to Ingles. You’ll be able to find this place again.”

“I’m not worried about that,” asserted Frecks. “I can find my way back. It’s far more likely that you won’t get back.”

“Why not?”

“I could think of a score of reasons,” stated Frecks. “For all you know, this fellow Oko may be a spy. Even if he isn’t, he may rat on you and hand you over to the Japs. Then again, suppose a storm blows up? What chance would you have on the open sea in a ramshackle canoe?”

“These islanders go hundreds of miles in their canoes,” argued Worrals.

“Yes, and look what happened to the one who tried to get to Australia with the message.”

“I don’t suppose we shall ever be far from land,” contended Worrals. “Look; we can see other islands from here. We shall probably travel from one to the other. But let’s not argue. I’m no more in love with the idea than you are, but I say again I think the possibilities justify the risks. If all goes well everything should be easy.”

“If all goes well! I wouldn’t gamble on that. No sortie we ever did went right all the time.”

“I’m going to Maital with Oko,” declared Worrals. “You take the Scud back to Ingles Island. Stay there for two days, then come back here and pick me up. If I’m not back, come the next day, and keep coming until I do turn up. I shall bring the Sikh with me, if he’ll come. And if I don’t get some useful information I shall be disappointed. If this ex-policeman so much as knows the district the girls are in it will be a great help. Even if he is only able to say that they were alive until recently, it will be encouraging.”

“Okay—have it your own way,” assented Frecks, without enthusiasm. “Suppose you don’t come back?”

“For goodness sake don’t be so depressing. What’s the matter with you to-day?”

“I can’t help it. I’ve got a feeling that this show is coming unstuck,” explained Frecks, morosely.

“All right,” returned Worrals simply. “If I don’t come back you can either pack up and go home, or you can carry on the search with Harry.”

“Why can’t I follow the canoe in the aircraft?”

“Because Maital is twelve hours from here. By the time Oko and I got there you’d have used up all the petrol—or we shouldn’t have enough petrol to get the girls home if we found them. That would be clever wouldn’t it?” Worrals turned to Oko and expressed her desire to be taken to Maital in the canoe. To give him a personal interest in the expedition she promised him a gun when they got back.

Oko asked for nothing more. In a minute he had his canoe floating on the limpid water. Willing hands loaded it with water, coconuts and bananas.

Frecks shook her head sadly when she looked at the frail craft, for by the time Worrals had got in the gunwales were within an inch of the water.

Oko took up his position in the stern. His paddle flashed.

“Be seeing you!” Worrals called to Frecks and Harry, who stood watching.

“I hope you’re right,” answered Frecks disconsolately as she turned and walked towards the Scud.


Worrals’ journey was comparatively uneventful, and less monotonous than she expected it would be, largely due to the fact that they were never out of sight of land. Oko’s method of navigation consisted simply of travelling from one island to another, picking up a prominent headland here, and a peak there. These were his signposts and his milestones. Even by night the silhouettes of the islands stood clear and stark against the cloudless sky, so that he always knew just where he was. Worrals was satisfied that while visibility remained good this system could hardly be improved on.

During the afternoon she suffered a little from sun-glare, but night brought relief. Her quarters were cramped, but not to such an extent that she suffered serious discomfort. She employed the time usefully—and, perhaps, intuitively—by noting the landmarks, as if she were flying over strange country. Also, without any real hope of success, she kept close watch on each island as they passed it for signs of the lost girls. During the night she managed to snatch short intervals of sleep; or rather, she dozed, a broken slumber in which she was always conscious of the swish of Oko’s paddle. Sometimes Oko sang quietly as he worked, the refrain keeping time with the lift and thrust of his paddle. He was indefatigable, moving with the rhythm and precision of a machine. There was no stopping to eat. Occasionally Worrals ate a banana. Neither ships nor aircraft were sighted before darkness fell. About midnight Worrals thought she heard distant gunfire, but it was too far away to cause her any concern. She only hoped it was not thunder, for sharks and other big fish were often seen. One shark followed them for miles. Sometimes Oko spoke to it. He astonished Worrals by informing her casually that the shark might be his father. At any rate, his father was “walking about” in the body of a shark. Worrals did not question this, but not liking the look of the ugly dorsal fin cutting the water so close to them she suggested that Oko told his father to go away. Oko complied, shouting to the shark to “finish along him altogether.” And, curiously enough, the shark went. The sea remained calm.

There were a few minutes of tense anxiety the following morning, soon after dawn, when an enemy seaplane passed over at no great height. Oko knew the machine was an enemy. Said he: “My word! S’pose that fella he see you with eye blong him, he shoot’m plenty too much.” Worrals lay flat in the bottom of the canoe and camouflaged herself with bananas and coconuts. The pilot of the aircraft evidently saw the canoe, for he circled round it before passing on, soon to be lost in the distance. Oko celebrated the occasion by selecting a nut. With a single adroit swipe of his heavy knife he cut the top off and passed it to Worrals, who drank the milk, and made a breakfast of bananas. She smiled as all the silly songs she had heard about bananas floated into her memory. They seemed more inane than ever.

About eleven Oko pointed with his paddle at a long low coastline backed by hills. “Maital,” said he.

“Good,” said Worrals.

Oko resumed his labours, singing a paddler’s song of the islands. Worrals picked up the queer minor key and joined in. Oko smiled approval.

In half an hour, after threading through a maze of picturesque atolls, the canoe shot through an opening in the reef that surrounded Maital and forged on to a palm-fringed beach where a little crowd of natives, men, women and children, had collected to meet them. Through the slender boles of the palms, in a little clearing, their village could be seen.

Worrals picked out the man whom she had come to see even before she stepped ashore. As she had guessed, he was a Sikh, an ex-policeman, for he still wore the tattered remains of his white uniform. Several things made him conspicuous: his height, his turban, and his characteristic beard. As Worrals stepped ashore he came forward to meet her, touching his forehead. He was a fine figure of a man, about fifty years of age.

“Welcome, memsahib,” said he respectfully, with all the dignity of his caste. “This is an unexpected honour. You, too, have had ill fortune, no doubt?”

“On the contrary,” answered Worrals. “I came here with a definite purpose. I am Squadron Officer Worralson, of the British Air Force.”

The Sikh bowed. “I am Rama Pindra, of the Singapore Police, at your service. For what purpose came you here?”

“I came to see you,” answered Worrals frankly. She indicated Oko, whom, she noted, did not come near the Sikh. She presumed he did not know him personally, only by hearsay. “He told me you were here,” she went on. “I’m anxious to talk with you, but first I should like a few minutes to recover from my journey, for I have come a long way. Then we will talk.”

“I await your orders, memsahib,” said Rama Pindra.

The arrival of the canoe, with its unusual passenger, had created a stir. The island people seemed a cheerful, happy crowd. The women were almost embarrassing in their attentions and their desire to please, with the result that it was some time before Worrals could rejoin the stalwart Indian policeman. When she did so she suggested that they should find a secluded spot where they could talk without interruption; and when he had led the way to a fallen palm on the outskirts of the village she lost no time in getting down to the business that had brought her to the island.

“I’m looking for a party of nine British girls who escaped from Singapore and are believed to be hiding somewhere in these waters,” she began. “I understand from Oko, the man who brought me here, that these girls are a subject of common talk among the people of the islands, but as I do not speak the language I have been unable to get any definite information. Oko said he thought that you, speaking English, would be able to help me. If you can, please tell me all you know.”

Rama replied: “I will tell you all I know, which is not much, for I, too, am a refugee from Singapore; and although I have heard much talk of these ladies I have not seen them. Yet I have sometimes been near them, I think. It was on Sumatra that I first heard of them. I was making my way along the coast, with the Japanese not far behind. At the villages I was told of nine white girls who had escaped in a boat from Singapore. But who was I to help them? I was too concerned with my own plight to care much about others who seemed able to take care of themselves. The girls, I was told, had called for food, and because the people of the islands are kind, and hold the British in respect, they did their best for them. It was the same at Java, where I arrived to find that these same girls were just ahead of me. On the large islands I walked; when I came to the end I travelled on in one of the canoes that are forever going between the islands. Sometimes, I think, I must have been very near the memsahibs, but as I have said, I never saw them. Thus it was at Bali. The girls had been there, but had left the day before I arrived.”

“Then I can take it that they actually got as far east as that?”

“Without a doubt. But by that time weeks had passed, and the Japanese were in full control, on land, sea and in the air. It was more and more difficult to travel, so at the end, not to be caught by the Japanese, I stayed here, where so far they have not come.”

“What was the last you heard of the girls?” asked Worrals anxiously. “Do you know where they are now?”

“No,” was the disappointing answer. “Rumour says they are on an island, somewhere to the east, on which they wrecked their boat on a hidden reef. For a long time I have heard nothing, but the last story that went from mouth to mouth among the island people was that the girls had found a man who, for a reward, was to take a message to Australia.”

“That was true, anyway,” declared Worrals. “The messenger died on the way; but his body was found; that was how we learned of the girls; but there was no clue to help us to locate the island on which they were stranded. I have been sent to find them. Can you think of anything else that might help me in my search?”

“I have told you all I know,” said Rama. “Except,” he added, “that there has been too much talk about these ladies. Through their spies the Japanese have heard of them, and they, too, have been searching.”

Worrals stared. “Are you sure of that?”

“Alas. Too sure, memsahib,” answered Rama. “They have asked questions at many places concerning them, and when the people of the islands did not, or could not, tell where the girls were hiding, they were killed.”

“But as far as you know the girls have not been found?”

“Of that I am sure.”

“How can you be sure?”

“Because the search continues. Besides, if the girls had been found, someone would know of it and the word would go round. News travels in these islands like the wireless. Had the girls been caught I am sure I should have heard of it, for canoes from other islands call here frequently.”

“That’s something to be thankful for, anyway,” said Worrals. “And that’s all you know?”

“That is all I know.”

“And no one on the island could tell me more?”

“We have little to do here but talk, so I should know of any news that came. You see, the people here live in great fear.”

“Fear of what?”

“Of the Japanese. That they may come here, seeking the lost white girls. As I have told you, they have been to other islands, most of them larger than this one. Soon they will start on the small islands; and where they go they leave their mark. If the people run away their villages are burnt. The Tamaroa may come here any day.”

“The Tamaroa?”

“That is the name of the small Japanese gunboat that conducts the search. On it is the Japanese commander of the islands. It is not far away. Three days ago we fled to the hills when it came into sight, thinking it was coming here; but it passed on, steaming at full speed towards the east, as if on an urgent mission. It may be that it has received news of the girls. I do not know. All I can say for certain is, for this I saw with my own eyes, the ship was in a hurry. That is all I know. If I can be of further service, please to tell me.”

“Thank you, Rama Pindra,” acknowledged Worrals gratefully. “If there is nothing more to be learned here I might as well find Oko and start back.”

“Start back for where, memsahib?”

“The island where Oko lives, where my friend is to pick me up in a flying-boat, which we have hidden among the islands. It enables me to travel far and fast; but Oko would not fly with me, so I had to come here in this canoe.”

“Which I think may have been lucky for you,” said Rama with a grave smile. “These people find their way by water because from birth they have travelled that way; but in the air, who knows where Oko might have taken you?”

“I didn’t think of that,” admitted Worrals. “But let us go now. I will ask Oko to take me back. I will get him to tell you the name of his island, which I do not know, so that if you hear any news, you will perhaps be good enough to send word to me? Later, I may be able to pick you up and take you to Australia, so keep in touch with me if you can.”

Still talking, they made their way back through the palms towards the village; and they were just emerging, to walk along the beach, when ahead of them pandemonium broke loose. They stopped. For a few seconds they stared at each other in anxious alarm. Then Rama ran forward. Worrals followed. But Rama came to a dead stop. And so, too, did Worrals; for leaving the undergrowth she saw before her a scene more frightful than she in her wildest fears could have imagined. For a full half minute she stood still, almost paralysed by shock, hardly able to think. The beach was swarming with Japanese sailors.

Where they had come from, how they had got there, she could not guess—until she saw a sinister grey hull creep into sight, close inshore, round a promontory that cut off the view at the northern end of the bay. Then she understood. She realised that the sailors had landed on the deserted shore above the beach, and had made their way to the village through the jungle that cloaked most of the island. Never was a military operation more successful. The surprise was complete.

The whole picture, from peace and quiet, was on the instant transformed to one of war and uproar, of consternation and confusion, as the islanders fled, or sought to escape. Some did not succeed. Children screamed as they were snatched up by their distraught mothers. Men shouted; a few hurled spears; but there was no order amongst them and the result was chaos. The Japanese, obviously working to orders, were fast forming a cordon round the area. It seemed to Worrals that they were trying to round up the entire population, although in this they failed. In a futile attempt to stem the panic some of them opened fire. This defeated its object. Even those islanders who had at first submitted now took to their heels. A machine gun chattered; the beach was swept by bullets and many of the natives fell. Cries of pain and anguish filled the air. Some of the wounded tried to crawl into the sea; others to the jungle, where a tumult of crashing revealed that a few had been lucky enough to get clear.

This horrible picture Worrals took in at a glance. And while she stood there, bereft of the power of movement by the suddenness of the calamity, bullets kicked up the sand and splintered through the pithy boles of the palms near which she stood. Rama staggered and nearly fell, but recovered himself. Worrals cried, “Are you wounded?” He answered, “It is nothing. Run, or you are lost.”

This was such sound advice that Worrals backed into the bushes behind her. She drew her pistol. But still she hesitated. “We can’t leave these poor people——”

“You can do no good here,” broke in Rama hoarsely, trying to stem with his hand blood that was spurting from his thigh. “Let us go.”

Worrals realised that this was the only sensible thing to do. There were between twenty and thirty Japanese on the beach, many of them firing indiscriminately. Alone, she could do nothing against such a crowd. So far she had not been seen, but she realised that if once she was observed the Japanese would not leave the island until she was found. Sick at heart she followed Rama to a jungle path that zig-zagged upward to the hills. They went on for perhaps ten minutes, then Rama sank down.

“From here we can watch the beach,” he panted.

Worrals’ first concern was to attend to his wound, for he had lost a lot of blood, and obviously could not afford to lose much more. In spite of his protests she found the wound, a gash in the thigh caused by a ricochetting bullet. Fortunately the bullet had gone clean through without touching the bone. The Sikh said not a word as she took his turban, and rolling part of it to form a pad used the rest for bandages. This stopped the flow of blood. She rested his heel on a rock that was higher than his head.

“Now, lie still,” she ordered curtly, and turned to see what was happening on the beach.

“It is the Tamaroa,” said Rama. “The Japanese will ask questions about the girls, no doubt, as they have done elsewhere.”

“Then they may learn that I am here,” said Worrals thoughtfully.

“Never,” denied Rama vehemently. “You can lead these people, but drive them—never. We must stay here until these savages have gone.”

Worrals did not answer. Her eyes were on a pale-coloured native who lay in a grotesque heap on the beach. There was only one such man—Oko, he who had brought her to the island. It seemed unlikely that he would take her back. With a sinking feeling in the stomach she perceived that her fears had come to pass. The unexpected had happened. With a shock she remembered that only Oko knew the name of the island from which they had started. Even if there were men among the natives who had escaped, who would be willing to take her back, she could not ask them to take her to an island the name of which she did not know.

The Japanese remained on the beach for about an hour. Then they entered small boats that were sent ashore to take them off and returned to the parent vessel, which was soon under way, heading eastward. From the palms near the beach a column of smoke rose high against the blue of heaven. From its base came a vicious crackling.

“They have set fire to the village,” said Rama through his teeth. “May they be accursed, and their children, and their children’s children.”

“They’ll be accursed in due course, with a dose of their own medicine wrapped up in bomb cases,” announced Worrals grimly. “Let us return to the beach. Put a hand on my shoulder, so that you won’t have to use the wounded leg.”

They walked down, Rama limping.

Worrals had seen something of war, but the scene now presented on the coral strand was one which she knew she would never forget. The sun seemed to lose its heat, and her body went cold, numb, as she gazed around. Every feminine instinct in her urged her to scream, to run away. She felt physically sick, but she held herself in check, biting her lower lip until the flesh showed white, and clenching her hands so that Rama should not see the trembling of her fingers. A lump in her throat seemed to be choking her. She could not speak.

The beach was a shambles. The bodies of the men and women who so short a while ago had received her with happy, childish sincerity, now lay about on sand that was no longer white, but stained with ugly pools and smears of crimson. There were children among the dead. Overhead rolled smoke, filling the air with a stench of burning. And into the air, too, rose a heart-rending wailing of returning natives as they found their loved ones among the dead.

“What manner of men are these who would do a thing like this?” asked Rama wonderingly.

“You have eyes to see,” grated Worrals, through dry lips.

“Yes,” said Rama. “Yes, I have seen,” he went on with dreadful earnestness. “And this I swear. I will kill without mercy every one of these yellow dogs who falls into my hands.”

They went over to Oko. He was just expiring, shot through the stomach. He did not speak, but smiled and died, and at the expression of dog-like devotion in his glazing eyes Worrals’ fortitude broke down, so that for the first time she was able to gauge the extent of the toughness of which she sometimes boasted. With tears welling into her eyes she turned away. “Let us go,” she said chokingly. “I can’t stand any more of this.”

“Be not ashamed to weep, O lady,” said Rama quietly. “For at such a sight as this the very Gods must weep. And,” he added, “I have seen warriors weep for less. Where shall we go?”

Worrals shook her head. “I don’t know.” And at that moment she didn’t much care. Vaguely she wondered what Frecks would do when she failed to show up at the rendezvous. She looked at her watch and saw that it was exactly noon. An idea struck her and she turned back to Rama. “Do you think any of these people would know the name of the island where Oko lived?” she asked.

“It is possible that some might know the name of it,” answered Rama. “But how would that help you? The name would be the native one, not to be found on your map. To know such a name would not help you to find the place.”

“But if the natives knew the name, they would know how to find it.”

“Perhaps,” admitted Rama. “But there is no way by which they could give that information to you. They steer from habit, by instinct, by something which is inside them; something which cannot be explained in words. They know not latitudes and longitudes.”

“But if they know the island perhaps they will take me to it?” suggested Worrals.

Rama shook his head. “Look at them, memsahib. Are they in a state to be asked to undertake a voyage—or to be asked anything? They are not like us. They are but children. All they know now is grief.”

“How long will they remain in this state?”

“For days; perhaps for weeks. When at last their grief is ended they will think only of building another village. At such a time no man would leave the island.”

“I see,” said Worrals slowly. “In that case I shall have to try to get back by myself. Oko’s canoe still lies on the beach. I think I can find my way because I took good note of landmarks as I came.”

“Such a voyage is not to be recommended,” protested Rama doubtfully.

“That may be so, but, nevertheless, it is one that must be attempted,” averred Worrals. “I can’t stay here indefinitely, and that is the alternative.”

“I will come with you.”

“That would be foolish, Rama. What need is there for you to risk your life?”

“What sort of man would I be to let you make this journey alone?” returned Rama simply. “I should forever after live in shame. Besides, this is not my home. I would see India again, and my mother, who lives in Patiala, before I die. With two paddles we shall make better progress.”

“What about your wound?”

“It will heal as quickly on the sea as on land. This is not the first time I have been wounded, memsahib.”

“Very well, if that’s how you feel about it,” consented Worrals. “We may as well start right away, according to my original schedule, as it is understood by my friend who has charge of the flying-boat.”

In a few minutes the canoe, freshly provisioned, was moving at a steady pace through the blue water, leaving the island to its grief, the sounds of which became fainter as the little craft, under the impulse of two paddles, stood out to sea. In an hour Maital was a blue shadow on the skyline, and Worrals’ next island landmark was clear over the starboard bow.

Suddenly Rama stopped paddling, his expression fixed. “Alas!” he said quietly, “I shall not see my mother after all.”

Worrals did not understand. “What do you mean by that?” she inquired.

“Look,” said Rama simply. He pointed with his paddle.

Following with her eyes the direction indicated, Worrals caught her breath. Rama’s words needed no qualification. His meaning was clear—all too clear. From between two islands that lay on the port side had appeared a grey shape. Worrals recognised the Tamaroa. It had not occurred to her that it might be coming back so soon. In fact, in the pressure of events, she had forgotten all about it. An icy hand seemed to close over her heart as she realised that there was no escape. The canoe, alone on the open sea, was as conspicuous as a fly floating on a glass of milk. Even as she watched, the Tamaroa changed course and stood directly towards them.

“They have seen us,” said Rama without emotion.

“Yes, I’m afraid they have,” admitted Worrals. She took out her automatic and considered it reflectively.


After watching Worrals set off for Maital Frecks and Harry returned to Ingles Island without mishap; or at least, they came in sight of the base without any event to cause them undue anxiety. Frecks put the machine in a gentle glide; she barely glanced at the island; as a plover returning to its nest is aware that danger lies around, not in the nest, she was more concerned with watching the sky for potential enemies. Not for a moment did it occur to her that there might be one on the ground. Her first intimation of this came when Harry shouted: “Look! The island!”

Frecks stared, hoping for a moment that what she saw was a low cloud. But she could not long deceive herself. A plume of smoke was rising sluggishly not only from the island, but from that part of it on which the camp had been made.

“Go easy,” advised Harry. “There must be somebody there, and whoever it is, he won’t be no pal of ours.”

“The camp’s on fire,” returned Frecks, alarm pitching her voice high.

“We didn’t leave no fire,” swore Harry.

Frecks knew that this was true. “You get back to your guns,” she ordered curtly. “I’ve got a nasty feeling that anything may happen at any moment.”

She made a swift reconnaissance of the coastline, by this time fully prepared to see a vessel of some sort. She surveyed the lagoon, but there was neither boat nor aircraft on it. Its turquoise surface was unruffled. Yet somebody was there, or had been there, for there was no possible doubt about the smoke. The camp was on fire. She was close enough now to see that it was, in fact, burnt out. The smoke was rising from the embers. Frowning in her effort to solve the mystery, she opened the throttle to keep the aircraft airborne for a little while longer, until she had satisfied herself that it was safe to land.

This, or the sudden burst of sound the action produced, answered the question. A man burst into sight from the trees that concealed the camp, and crouching low in a vain attempt to avoid being seen made off across the causeway towards the mangroves. Frecks knew, then, what had happened.

Harry also understood, and his surprise found expression in words. “Strewth! It’s that perishing Jap!” he yelled. “He’s still alive after all.”

This was so obviously true that Frecks did not trouble to answer. Her mind was thrown into such a turmoil by this unforseen development that she did not know what to do next. At least, she wanted time to think. For no particular reason, unless it was to get a closer view of the running man, she turned to follow him, at the same time steepening her dive.

By this time Harry was shouting. “Tallyho! That’s the stuff! Keep going—give her the works. After him—after him!”

The words came to Frecks’ ears without any real meaning, but she obeyed intuitively; without knowing what Harry had in mind, she swept low across the causeway in the track of the runner, who snatched a glance over his shoulder and then redoubled his efforts to reach the cover of the trees. In this he did not succeed. As the Scud roared over him, Harry’s guns began their vicious chatter. He fired only one burst. Chips of coral flew up round the fugitive, who pitched headlong with such force that there could be no sham about the fall. He rolled over and over and finished half in the water.

“Got ’im!” cried Harry, with infinite satisfaction in his voice.

Worrals took a compass bearing of the direction indicated. (p. 58)

In a few minutes the canoe, freshly provisioned, was moving at a steady pace through the blue water. (p. 93)

Frecks said nothing. There seemed to be nothing to say. She pulled the Scud out of its dive, and swinging round, landed on the lagoon. Still without speaking, she taxied on, lowered her wheels and ran on to the camp. Before the aircraft had stopped moving Harry was out, running on ahead. Topping the ridge beyond the burnt-out stores, he disappeared in the direction of the causeway.

By this time Frecks knew the worst. Petrol, oil and stores were represented by a circle of blackened sand with a heap of glowing embers, that had once been metal containers, in the middle. All that had survived the flames were a few empty petrol cans that had been thrown aside when they had refuelled. Dazed by the shock of the calamity, she was gazing at the ruin when Harry reappeared.

“Dead as mutton,” he announced cheerfully. “He pulled a fast one on us when he gave that yell last night, but I just pulled a faster one on him. It looks like the crocs’ll get their rations after all.”

“Don’t be beastly,” muttered Frecks despondently. “If the man’s dead, let it go at that. He can’t do us any more damage. As far as we’re concerned, he’s done enough. Look at this.” She pointed at the ruin. “Do you realise what this means?”

“More or less,” answered Harry lightly. “We’ve lost our grub.”

“Worse than that, we’ve lost our petrol.”

“So what?”

“We’re stuck here, on this island.”

Harry grinned. “Okay then—we’re stuck.” His optimism seemed not in the slightest degree affected.

“It’s nothing to laugh about,” said Frecks curtly. “Don’t you realise that we haven’t enough petrol to get back to the rendezvous where we are to pick up Miss Worralson?”

“Then we shall have to get some from somewhere,” declared Harry.

“And where,” demanded Frecks with biting sarcasm, “are we to get petrol in a hole like this?”

“Yes, where?” asked Harry, scratching his head.

“I’m asking you,” returned Frecks coldly.

Harry sat down and gazed across the lagoon for inspiration. “Begins to look as if I’m going back to a diet of nuts and turtle,” he remarked.

“Ah! I thought that would dawn on you sooner or later,” sneered Frecks. “Trust something to go wrong as soon as I take over. Well, I’d better see how much petrol we’ve got left in the machine.”

“And I’ll knock off a few nuts to be going on with,” offered Harry. “It was all my fault,” he added contritely. “I ought to have stayed at home this morning and looked after things.”

“We’re all to blame, if it comes to that, for taking the death of that confounded Japanese for granted. When he yelled last night it was a trick to make us think he had been collared by a croc. and it came off.” She walked on to the Scud and read the gauges. “We’ve enough petrol for about sixty miles,” she told Harry when she came back. “Cruising, we might eke it out a bit, but I’d be sorry to try to get much farther over the open sea. One thing is certain. We can’t get to Darwin. Australia is out of the question. What is even worse, we haven’t enough to get to the rendezvous to pick up Miss Worralson.”

Harry looked worried for the first time. “That’s tough. Are you sure we can’t manage it?”

Frecks shook her head. “Petrol isn’t elastic. It won’t stretch. What we’ve got will take us just so far and no farther.”

“Looks like we shall have to call Darwin on the radio, and tell them how we’re fixed,” suggested Harry.

“I’m afraid you’re right,” agreed Frecks moodily. “I can’t think of any alternative. If Worrals was here it wouldn’t be so bad, but with her out there it would be taking an awful risk. We can’t go back without her. There are enemy bases a lot nearer than Darwin, and if the Japs pick up our signal—and they are pretty certain to—they’ll be along first. But we shall have to take the chance. Without petrol we’re completely cheesed.”

“Just a minute . . . just a minute,” broke in Harry, placing a finger against the side of his head and twisting it in a gimlet-like motion. “D’you know what they used to call me at the depôt?”



“Why?” asked Frecks ingenuously.

Harry looked hurt. “Now I ask you,” he expostulated. “Why would they call me brainy if it wasn’t because I’d got something more solid than coconut-milk in my nut?”

“Well, what of it?” demanded Frecks. “If you’d some petrol in your head we could use it.”

“That’s just what I have got,” asserted Harry. “You remember me telling you how I piled up the old Beau when I tried to put her down on my island?”

“Perfectly well.”

“It didn’t catch fire.”

“Lucky for you. So what?”

“That island isn’t more than fifty miles from here—sixty at most; which means that we could just about make it.”

“I should have thought you’d seen enough of it. Why go there?”

“Because there should be some petrol there,” said Many. “There should be a fair dose of juice in the Beau’s tanks. We could switch it over to our own. How’s that?”

“Marvellous!” cried Frecks, delighted. “Harry, you’re terrific. How much petrol do you reckon you had left when you cracked up?”

“I’ve no idea,” admitted Harry frankly.

“A few odd gallons won’t be much help.”

“There must be more than that. We couldn’t have used much more than half our load. We’d got to get back to Australia, don’t forget.”

“But four months,” muttered Frecks. “It may have evaporated.”

“It couldn’t—not unless the tank was holed,” argued Harry.

“I think it’s worth investigating,” decided Frecks. “We shall use our last drop of petrol getting there, so if the Beau’s tanks turn out to be dry we shall be faced with the entrancing prospect of staying there for the duration.”

“At least,” responded Harry cheerfully. “Just think of our pay piling up all that time, and nothing to spend it on. What a beano we’ll be able to have when we do get back.”

If we get back,” said Frecks without enthusiasm.

“Well, we shall have somebody to talk to,” observed Harry. “When I was there alone I had nobody but myself.”

Frecks smiled. Then she sat down and considered the position for a little while. “I’ll tell you what we’ll do,” she said at last. “We’ll go to your island. It’s no use thinking beyond that. The quantity of petrol we find there will determine what we do next.”

“Eggsactly. And if we don’t find any we shan’t even have to think about it,” declared Harry.

“If there’s enough petrol there to take us to the rendezvous, and back to Darwin, of course we shall go on for Miss Worralson,” said Frecks. “If there’s only enough to get us to Darwin we’ll dash straight there for a fresh load of stuff. But what’s the use of guessing? There’s a chance that we may find some petrol. We can hardly be worse off than we are here, so let’s go.”

“Suits me,” agreed Harry. “When do we start?”

“We may as well start right away,” answered Frecks. “There’s nothing to be gained by staying here. Let’s know the worst. We’ve just about enough time to get to the Beau before dark. Bring a couple of those empty cans along; they may come in handy for transfering the petrol—if there is any. Come on.”

In a few minutes the Scud was again in the air, heading back over its recent course, and by the time the sun was sinking into the ocean Frecks was surveying the atoll for the best landing-place. She chose a little bay that seemed to offer a snug anchorage, which also had the advantage of being near the crashed machine. Harry confirmed that the bay was free from reefs and other obstructions, whereupon Frecks landed, and lowering her wheels ran up on to the beach.

“Pretty work,” said Harry, and started humming a tune.

“I don’t see anything to sing about,” muttered Frecks. “I should like you to understand that we’re a long, long way from home, with about one pint of petrol in the tank. If that isn’t enough to give a pilot nightmare, I don’t know what is. In other words, my gay corporal, if we don’t find what we’ve come here for, it’s Swiss Family Robinson for us, maybe for the rest of our lives.”

“Eggsactly,” agreed Harry.

Frecks frowned, “If you say that word again I shall hit you on the head with a lump of rock. My nerves won’t stand it.” She looked at the Scud, then at the sky. “I don’t think we can leave the machine here. If a Jap came over he could hardly fail to see it. For the sake of a little extra trouble we’d better be on the safe side. We should look fools if we found some petrol and lost the machine.”

“I’d look a bigger fool than you, to put myself back where I started from, after having got half-way home,” returned Harry, grinning. “You give the orders, ma’am.”

Frecks said no more. She taxied along the beach until she found an opening in the palms wide enough to take the wing span of the Scud. Into this she turned, ran on a little way and then switched off. Dismounting, she noticed a quantity of dead palm fronds lying about, evidently blown down by a storm. These she began to pick up and arrange on and around the aircraft. “Nothing like a spot of camouflage,” she observed. “The Japs are pretty hot at it, I understand.”

“You’re telling me,” replied Harry, helping with the work.

Frecks fetched one or two simple tools from the outfit in the cabin—a hacksaw, spanner, and pliers among them—and invited Harry to lead the way to the Beaufighter. “Bring those empty cans along,” she ordered.

A walk of about ten minutes through sparse jungle of no particular interest brought them to the spot where Harry had tried his amateur hand at landing an aircraft. He had not, on his own admission, made a good job of it. This, thought Frecks, as she gazed on the wreck, was understatement. The Beaufighter was not a pretty sight. Minus undercarriage, with both wings mutilated and torn off at the roots, the fuselage lay askew under the debris of the palms it had shattered in its last and final landing.

“My word! You certainly made a mess,” remarked Frecks, as she advanced to the nearest wing to examine the tank which it contained. One glance was enough. The tank had been crushed out of recognition. It was empty. Rather pale she went on to the other wing. “Dry as a bone,” she announced, and made for the centre-section.

There are four self-sealing tanks in the standard Beaufighter; two, each containing 188 gallons of spirit, in the centre-section, and one of 87 gallons in each outer wing-section. There is a separate lubricating oil tank, with a capacity of 18 gallons, for each of the two engines.

Harry said nothing while Frecks completed her tour of inspection, but he watched her with interest, and growing anxiety in his blue eyes, as, using a twig stripped of its leaves for a dip-stick, she probed the two centre-section tanks. As she looked up he raised his eyebrows. “What luck?”

“It might have been better and it might have been worse,” replied Frecks. “The two wing tanks are dry. Both main tanks are intact, though, and as one would expect, they both hold about the same amount. Its hard to judge exactly, but I make them to be a quarter full—say, forty gallons in each tank. We’re going to have a bit of a job to get it out, because as you so thoroughly wiped off the undercarriage the draining taps are practically in the ground. I’m afraid it’ll mean siphoning it out. We’ll cut out a length of petrol lead for a tube.”

“Does this mean we’ve got enough juice to get back to Darwin?”

“Plenty. We’ve enough to pick up Miss Worralson first—if she’s back. If she isn’t, we’ll chance it and wait. Help me to get this piece of tube out. We’ve a few minutes of daylight left, so we may as well make the most of them.”

To remove a piece of undamaged petrol lead of sufficient length was more easily said than done, and it was pitch dark before they were ready to begin the actual work of siphoning from the tanks into the empty petrol cans. This, Frecks decided, would have to be left until the following morning. “Fortunately,” she observed, straightening her back and wiping an oil-streaked face, “there’s no immediate hurry. We’ll go back to the machine to pass the night.”

On the way she remarked: “Perhaps it’s a good thing Miss Worralson doesn’t know what’s happened, or she’d probably turn back. Oko said that Maital Island was a day’s journey away; that means they won’t get there until to-morrow morning. Even if all goes well I don’t suppose they’ll start back until afternoon, so if we have finished by then we should be all right. We can safely spend an hour looking for the canoe, but if we haven’t found it by then we shall either have to land at the rendezvous and wait, or head back for Darwin for a fresh supply of petrol. We’ll see what happens.” Still talking over the situation they strolled back to the glade in which the Scud, with its camouflage of loose palm fronds, looked like a huge, moulting bird.

“What are we going to do about supper—nibble a coconut?” asked Harry.

“I think we can do better than that,” returned Frecks. “There are some emergency rations in the machine. Actually, they were intended for the girls if we found them, but in the circumstances——” She broke off short as she happened to glance through the trees across the starlit bay. “For heaven’s sake! What’s that?”

Harry looked. His casual manner vanished, leaving him rigid, staring. “Cripes!” he breathed. “A Jap gunboat. If that ain’t the Tamaroa, the ship Sammy uses to patrol the islands, I’ll eat this hacksaw.”

“Have you ever seen it?” asked Frecks quickly.

“No, but a description of it was circulated to all air crews operating in this area,” declared Harry. “We were told to keep an eye open for it, and radio its position if it was spotted. It isn’t a gunboat, really, though it’s got up to look like one. They say it’s the Diana, a steam yacht that used to belong to Lord somebody-or-other. The Japs pinched it at Singapore, gave it a coat of battleship grey and stuck some guns in it.”

As may well be imagined, this conversation was carried on in a terse, anxious undertone.

“I wonder have any of them come ashore?” asked Frecks breathlessly, looking up and down the beach.

“I shouldn’t think so,” replied Harry. “She’s only just arrived—look, she’s still moving. There goes the anchor. I reckon that means she’s going to stay where she is for the night. This is tricky water, amongst all these atolls and reefs, for night navigation. Blimy! What a thing to happen. It’ll be all right as long as they don’t come ashore, but if they do . . .”

“Well, we can only stay where we are and watch,” asserted Frecks. “If I see a boat coming ashore I shall make a bolt for it. We daren’t risk losing the aircraft. In the general shimozzle of our engines starting up we ought to be able to get off without being hit—not that we’ve enough petrol to get far. But perhaps it won’t come to that.” She found a comfortable position behind some shrubs that commanded a view of the bay. They sat down to watch.

Deep night dimmed the scene. With it fell that nervous silence that comes with early starlight in the tropics, just before the moon arrives to ease the tension with its mellow light. It was as if all nature waited, watching. Wavelets whispered softly as they died upon the sand. Palm fronds shivered in an imperceptible breeze, as if with apprehension. From a nearby reef came the clicking of innumerable crabs. Hardly a sound came from the gunboat, which, blacked out, crouched like a deep-sea monster upon a sea that glistened faintly to the stars.

Frecks watched it with anxious brooding eyes. Harry sat beside her, silent, thoughtful, alert. By tacit consent, it seemed, neither mentioned sleep; the peril was too imminent. The moon, a gleaming crescent, swung into sight on its eternal march across the heavens, to blaze a path of molten silver across the little bay.

Some time after midnight Harry stirred. “They won’t come ashore to-night, not now, I reckon.”

“Dawn will be the danger period,” answered Frecks. “The moment they start lowering a boat, I’m off. We’ve enough petrol to get a mile or two, anyway.”

“Why don’t you lay down and try to get some sleep?” suggested Harry. “There’s no need for us both to watch. You’ll want all your wits about you to-morrow. If anything happens I’ll let you know.”

“All right,” agreed Frecks. “Here, take my watch. Rouse me at three and I’ll carry on.” She unstrapped her wrist watch, passed it over, and then, sinking back on the still warm earth, courted sleep. But her brain was racing, and for a long time sleep eluded her. At length, however, after lying for a long time in that curious state which is half-way between sleep and consciousness, she dropped off.


Frecks was awakened by the firm pressure of the corporal’s hand on her shoulder. Alert on the instant she started up. “What goes on?” she whispered quickly.

“It’s moving off,” answered Harry. “I thought you’d be glad to know.”

“Glad! I’ll say I’m glad,” muttered Frecks, looking out across the bay. The vessel was still there, but clearly across the water came the sound of orders being given, the clatter of an engine and the rasping of the anchor chain. The east was aglow.

“Good gracious! It’s dawn,” said Frecks sharply. “Harry, why didn’t you wake me as I told you?”

“I was okay,” returned Harry. “I shouldn’t have gone to sleep, anyway.”

“That was kind of you, but I’d be obliged if in future you’d let me take my turn,” rejoined Frecks. She turned back to the ship. It was moving. “Thank goodness,” she breathed. “We’ll let them get clear before we start operations.”

For half an hour they sat still behind their leafy screen, watching the gunboat steaming, as it seemed, towards the edge of the world. By that time day had come. At last Frecks stood up. “Let’s get cracking,” she suggested.

The transfer of the oil and petrol from the Beaufighter to the Scud was a long and tedious task, but except for an occasional break to survey sea and sky they stuck to it without pause. Time, said Frecks, was too valuable to waste. It was high noon by the time they had finished.

“I’m glad that’s done,” observed Frecks, dabbing her hands and face with sea water and drying them with her handkerchief. “Now listen, Harry; this is what I’ve decided to do,” she went on, as they prepared a simple meal from the reserve stores. “I’m going to devote twenty minutes to looking for the canoe. In that time we shall cover a good distance. Of course, the canoe may not have left Maital. That’s something we must take on chance. If we don’t find it, I shall dump you on the rendezvous island and dash back to Darwin for fuel.”

Harry looked startled. “Why leave me behind?”

“Because sooner or later Miss Worralson will return to the rendezvous. If you are there you will be able to tell her what has happened—should she turn up before I get back.”

“I shouldn’t have thought of that,” confessed Harry.

“If we find the canoe so well and good,” continued Frecks. “Miss Worralson will decide on the next move. Let’s get weaving.”

The camouflage was thrown off the Scud, and in a few minutes it was on the water, moving slowly into a position to take off. To do this it had to pass close to an ugly line of oil and garbage that had drained, or had been thrown overboard, from the Tamaroa. Happening to glance at it in passing, Frecks stiffened, her eyes on something that floated with the rubbish. Without a word she climbed out on a wing, reached down, and recovered the object from the water. It was a hat, dirty and sodden with sea water; a blue, tricorn hat. Pale as death she returned to the cockpit, and after wringing out the hat looked at it more closely. There was a badge, a crown on an anchor, interlaced with a double A. Conscious of a suffocating palpitation she looked inside, turned the band and found a name. It was upside-down, but she knew what it was before she reversed it. “Pamela Deacon,” she breathed.

In a flash she realised the full significance of her tragic find. She looked at Harry, for the moment too overcome to speak.

“What’s the matter?” asked Harry, with deep concern, noting her expression. “What’s that you’ve found?”

“It’s a hat,” answered Frecks, in a dull voice. “That badge is the badge of Queen Alexandra’s Royal Nursing Service. It belonged to Pamela Deacon, one of the girls we’re looking for.”

“Then she can’t be far away!” cried Harry hopefully.

Frecks looked at him with stony sarcasm. “Where are those brains you were boasting about a little while ago? This hat could only have come from one place—the Tamaroa. And if it came from the Tamaroa it means that Pam Deacon must be, or has been, on board. And if she is on board, the chances are that the others are there, too.” Frecks could hardly get out the last word.

“Blimy! That’s tough,” said Harry in a shocked voice. “What are we going to do about it?”

“There’s nothing we can do about it,” answered Frecks, in a voice of utter despair. “Except find Worrals,” she added in a low voice, as if speaking her thoughts aloud. “We’ve got to find her now. She must know about this—at once.”

Dropping the hat on the floor she settled herself in the seat and roared into the air. She headed straight for the island where she was to meet Worrals. It was no great distance away. She did not for a moment suppose that Worrals would be back, but it was necessary for her to go first to the island in order to get a line on the direction of Maital. As soon as she saw the rendezvous in front of her she put the control column forward and raced low, twice, along the beach, to make sure that Worrals was not there; then, zooming, she swung away in the general direction of Maital. She did not, of course, know the precise whereabouts of the island, but she did not mind that. Travelling at a speed fifty times greater than that of the canoe she felt certain that if it had started back she ought to be able to find it. On such a lonely waste of water a barrel, miles away, would have been a conspicuous object.

With eager anticipation she gazed ahead. And she did see something. It was a vessel. But it was not the one she sought. It was, in fact, the Tamaroa, and at the sight of it she cried out in chagrin and alarm. And yet, as she realised an instant later, there was no reason for surprise. It just happened that with other things filling her mind she had forgotten all about it. Angry and mortified, and conscious of a new, terrible fear—for if the Tamaroa was not actually on a course for Maital it was obviously going to pass very near it—she glared savagely at the enemy ship. For a moment she saw nothing else, for this, as may be supposed, was ample to occupy her entire attention.

Her first instinctive reaction was to turn away before the Tamaroa could bring its anti-aircraft armament into action, for she knew that by this time the Scud must have been seen. She noted from the curve of its wake that the ship had just changed direction, and automatically following its new course with her eyes she saw the reason. It was the canoe. Or a canoe. All canoes look alike, and admittedly there was nothing about this one to indicate that it was the one she had been seeking—except its position. She felt that it was hardly likely that there could be a second canoe in the vicinity. It was, perhaps, half a mile from the gunboat, but the gap was fast closing. It was all too plain that the larger vessel had altered course to intercept the smaller one. For the rest, it needed no effort of the imagination to grasp the situation, and the terrible realisation of it drove her to a sort of frenzy.

With a wild yell to Harry to “hold tight” she thrust the control column forward in a reckless dive, straight for the canoe, but keeping one eye on the gunboat, so to speak. She saw the flashes of its guns as they came into action. At first the shells went behind her; she knew that because, being “tracer” she could follow their trajectory as they curved through space; then oily black stains appeared ahead of her, and to her ears came the angry whoof-whoof-whoof of high explosive. By this time she was, of course, taking evading action, taking it with an abandon not to be contemplated in practice; but her general course was still towards the canoe, although this unavoidably took her nearer to the gunboat. She heard Harry’s guns open up; saw his bullets tearing the surface off the water round the enemy ship; but this was only subconscious, for Worrals had now appeared standing in the stern of the canoe waving, at imminent risk of capsizing it.

Frecks told herself, forced herself, to remain calm, although in this she was not entirely successful. It was hardly to be expected. In such circumstances a war-hardened veteran might well have given way to excitement. But she kept her head, perhaps because she knew that the worst was yet to come. The peak of peril would be reached when the aircraft landed, and was stationary on the water, as it was bound to be while she was picking up the occupants of the canoe. She could see now that there were two people in it.

Common sense told her that she could not get away with this; that the attempt was crazy—unless the enemy, in their desperate haste to get her, fired wildly. Yet, curiously enough, she was not afraid—or if she were she was not conscious of it. She was aware only of a breath-taking exhilaration, a strange sensation of uplift that made her unconscious of her limbs. Time seemed to be standing still. She was, in fact, learning what any old soldier could have told her; that it is not in the heat of action, when there is no time for lucid thought, that fear comes. It is the cold contemplation of an action that invites apprehension, and the subsequent reaction when it is all over, and one perceives clearly in retrospect the fearful risks that were taken.

She was now within striking distance of the canoe, so cutting the motors she put the machine into a steady glide towards it. The deadly moment was at hand. As the roar of the engines died away the furious thunder of the guns came plainly to her ears. Their menace came nearer, became more real. The Scud shuddered as, with a noise like a whiplash, it was struck by a piece of hurtling metal. It happened again, and again. Incredibly, Frecks thought, the aircraft continued to respond to the controls.

It’ll be alright as long as they don’t come ashore, but if they do . . .” (p. 105)

It was a hat, dirty and sodden with sea water; a blue, tricorn hat. (p. 109)

With a calmness which even at that moment of dire peril astonished her, she flattened out, and an instant later the keel hissed as it tore a long white scar in the smooth face of the sea. The canoe appeared to rush towards the aircraft, and Frecks realised that in spite of her intention to avoid it, she had come in fast. Collision appeared certain. There could be no question of turning without inviting disaster. For a few seconds, while the aircraft sank lower in the water, and as a result lost speed, the outcome remained in doubt. In point of fact the bows of the Scud did hit the canoe, but by the time it did so its speed was negligible, and the result was, if anything, an advantage; for the canoe being struck forward, the stern was swung round against the hull of the aircraft. And there Frecks lost sight of it, for the way on the machine still carried it forward so that the canoe was lost to view astern.

For Frecks, unable to do anything, this was the worst moment. There was some splashing and shouting, and explosions as shells burst near. The Scud rocked. Then Harry’s voice yelled, “Okay—right away!”

With a convulsive jerk of her hand Frecks knocked the throttle open. The engines roared. The aircraft quivered. A pillar of water leapt high into the air in front of it, to collapse with a crash, and the Scud bucked like a wild horse as it struck the turbulent area. Clinging grimly to the joystick Frecks managed to keep control, and the aircraft raced on, swiftly gathering speed. Holding her breath Frecks snatched the control column back. She gasped when the Scud “unstuck.” Airborne, it leapt forward, swerving like a startled bird as she applied rudder—the only evading action she dare take so near to the water. She made no attempt to climb, but swerving first one way and then the other she tore on towards the nearest island. Not for several seconds did she dare to zoom. At the top of the zoom, she banked steeply, turning almost at right-angles, and then went on again towards the island. She began to feel strangely weak.

Worrals, splashing water, dropped into the seat beside her. Her face was flushed with excitement. “Grand going!” she shouted, in an unusual burst of exuberance.

Frecks managed to croak. “Sez you. Are we out of range? I don’t know where we are or where we’re going. I don’t know anything.” The palms of the island were now flashing past her wing-tip.

“You’re doing fine,” declared Worrals. “You can ease up; we’ve got the island between us and the ship.”

“Phew! Thank goodness for that,” panted Frecks. “I feel as though I’d just run a sprint. You’d better take over. I feel I’m liable to pass out.”

“Not you,” replied Worrals warmly. “Still, I’ll take over if you like.”

As they changed places Frecks asked: “Who was that with you in the canoe? It didn’t look like Oko.”

“No. It’s Rama Pindra, the Singapore policeman. He’s aboard.”

“Go easy on the throttle,” cautioned Frecks.

Worrals looked surprised. “Why?”

“Because there isn’t too much juice in the tank, and what there is, is all that stands between us and Darwin.”

“Are you kidding?” asked Worrals.

“I wish I were,” returned Frecks. “That Jap who we thought was dead sneaked out while we were away and scuppered the camp. Burnt everything. He’s dead now, though—properly dead. Harry saw to that. I’ll tell you about it later.”

Worrals looked at the petrol gauge. “Then how do you come to have this much petrol?”

“Harry and I got it out of his crashed Beaufighter.”

“Good heavens! You have been busy.”

“I’ll say we have,” declared Frecks.

“Well, now I’ve heard the worst, I’d better make for Darwin,” decided Worrals. “By this time that gunboat will be screaming over its radio for aircraft to intercept us.”

“That’s just it; you haven’t heard the worst,” answered Frecks. She reached down and picked up the tricorn hat. “Take a look at that.”

Worrals’ eyes opened wide. “What is it?”

“A hat.”

“Don’t be a fool—I can see that.”

“Sorry. It’s a nurses hat—Pam Deacon’s hat, to be precise. Her name is inside.”

Worrals looked incredulous. “Where on earth did you get it?”

“It either fell, or was thrown overboard, from that Jap gunboat,” said Frecks. “I picked it up out of the garbage, where it anchored last night.”

“But . . . but this means——”

“I know. Don’t tell me,” pleaded Frecks. “Pam’s in that gunboat. And if she’s in it, I guess the others are in it, too. I’m afraid we’ve arrived just too late.”

Worrals drew a deep breath. “This makes a difference,” she said grimly, and altered course.

“Where are you going?” asked Frecks.

“That island ahead is the one where we picked up Oko,” answered Worrals. “We know that’s safe. I’m going to land there. I’ve got to think—and I can do that without burning petrol.”


Worrals put the Scud down close by Oko’s island—the real name of which she still did not know, for it was not shown on the map—and taxiing quickly to the lee of the reef, made fast. The heavily camouflaged upper surfaces of the aircraft were so much the colour of the rock that she was satisfied there was little chance of their being spotted except by an enemy pilot flying very low. She taxied quickly because she knew that the machine had been struck by several shell splinters, and so far there had been no time to examine the damage; she was afraid that the keel might have been holed. Nor was she certain that neither Harry nor Rama had been hit. For which reason, as soon as the aircraft had come to rest, she hastened through to the cabin. A glance was enough to show that the two men were all right. Her eyes went to the floor. There was no sign of water, as by this time there would have been had the hull been damaged below the water-line.

“Is everything all right here?” she asked crisply.

“Right as ninepence,” answered Harry, putting his fist through a gaping hole in the upper part of the hull. “That bit nearly gave me a shave,” he added, grinning.

A quick examination of the Scud revealed a good deal of superficial damage, which looked worse than it was, in that there was nothing likely to interfere with the performance of the machine; or at any rate, there was nothing that could not be temporarily repaired. The worst scar was a nasty-looking tear in the port plane, near the leading edge. This called for attention. Worrals knew that in such a condition a sudden turn might cause the whole of the wing fabric to “balloon,” and perhaps rip off, due to air rushing into the hole. “We’ll attend to that right away,” she decided.

Calling everyone together in the cabin, she remarked that, as she did not intend to stay for any length of time, it was not worth while taking the Scud ashore. At this juncture one or two canoes came out to them. Through Rama, acting as interpreter, the natives were informed of what had happened on Maital, and the fate of Oko. They were warned to be ready to take cover should an enemy ship appear, otherwise the island might suffer a similar fate. This created a sensation. The canoes returned to the beach and did not come back. Presently, natives could be seen transporting their belongings into the jungle-covered hills of the interior.

“Now let’s get down to business,” said Worrals briskly. “First of all, tell me what happened on Ingles Island.”

Frecks recounted her adventures with Harry, telling how the stores had been burnt, the fate of the man responsible for the damage, how they had found petrol in the Beaufighter on Harry’s Island, and the visit there of the Tamaroa. “I reckon we’ve enough petrol for three hours’ flying,” she concluded.

Worrals gave a more detailed account of what had happened on Maital. “On the whole, we haven’t much to grumble about,” she averred. “Had you not come along when you did, our little outing would have had a melancholy end. You put up a terrific show, Frecks—thanks very much. The one really black cloud on the horizon is this finding of Pamela Deacon’s hat. We must assume that she is on the Tamaroa; perhaps the others are there too; yet here we are, stuck without any reserve fuel. If we still hope to effect a rescue—and I do—it’s no earthly use our going back to Darwin; at least, if we do, we might as well stay there. By the time we got back here the Tamaroa might be anywhere in this labyrinth of islands. As I see it, we’ve only one chance now of getting the girls. We’ve got to shadow the Tamaroa.”

“How can we do that without petrol?” queried Frecks.

“We can’t—at any rate, not for long,” answered Worrals. “We’ve got to get petrol, and there’s only one way. We must radio to Darwin to send some out. I haven’t forgotten what I said about not using radio, but the situation has changed. We’ve been seen. They must know by now that a British marine aircraft is on the loose in these waters. But still, they don’t know our base. We’re mobile, and as far as they’re concerned we might be anywhere in a wide area. They don’t know how we’re stuck for fuel. Even if they pick up our signal we shall be no worse off, because, in the first place, we shall not transmit it from Ingles Island; and, secondly, as Dan Lynch knows where we are, or where we should be, there will be no need for us to name Ingles Island in the signal. He will send the stuff there automatically—assuming, of course, that he can get it out to us. All the Japs will learn is that we are still about. They won’t know precisely where. They’ll look for us, of course; on that point we need have no doubt. In fact, we may assume that as the Tamaroa will certainly be equipped with wireless, they are looking for us already.”

“But what’s the point in stalking the Tamaroa?” demanded Frecks. “It would be no use shooting it up, even if we could, while there is a chance that the girls are on board; we might kill them; and we are hardly in a position to capture a ship carrying, so you say, not fewer than thirty sailors.”

“I know all that, but it is absolutely vital that we should make contact with Pam Deacon, if she is in the Tamaroa.”


“I haven’t the remotest idea,” admitted Worrals frankly. “An opportunity may occur, or we may have a chance of making one. Admittedly, looking at the thing in cold blood the chances are not too bright; but we shall certainly get nowhere if we just sit around—we might as well go home. The least we can do is carry on while our petrol lasts—always watching, of course, that we keep enough in hand to get back to Ingles Island.”

Frecks shook her head, “Sounds crazy to me. I don’t see how we can ever hope to get near the Tamaroa. They’d shoot us to bits.”

“They would try, no doubt, if we were silly enough to offer ourselves as a target,” agreed Worrals. “But that isn’t my idea. These are tricky waters. We know that the Tamaroa hove to last night rather than risk tearing her bottom off on a reef, groping about in the dark. It seems likely that she does that every night, or from time to time, according to how dangerous the water is. If we can find the Tamaroa at anchor near an island, we might, during the hours of darkness, be able to do something.”

Frecks shrugged. “Okay. We’ve precious little petrol. That in itself, considering where we are, would be enough to give any ordinary pilot grey hairs. As if that isn’t sufficient, you sit there and calmly tell me that you propose beetling about in a sky which you expect to be stiff with enemy aircraft; on top of that we are going to try to have a chat with a prisoner in a Japanese gunboat. You won’t mind my saying that I think you’re out of your mind?”

Worrals smiled. “Ah! But you’re talking about an ordinary pilot.” Her smile broadened. “Who wants to be an ordinary pilot, anyway? The atmosphere is crawling with ordinary pilots. Surely, in times like these, anybody with a grain of pride would try to be something more than that?”

“Eggsactly,” murmured Harry.

“Thank you, Harry,” murmured Worrals. She turned back to Frecks. “I think I can promise you that I shan’t attempt anything quite so harebrained as what you did this morning, when you picked us up. And you got away with it, don’t forget.” She became serious. “We can do our flying by night,” she asserted. “There’s a moon. We shall be able to see the Tamaroa, but she won’t be able to see us.”

“In addition to a moon there will also be several Rising Suns,” reminded Frecks. “They will be able to see us.”

“Perhaps,” agreed Worrals. “What about it? After all, we never imagined that this trip was going to be a Sunday school outing. If everyone in this war had packed up when it got sticky, we should have lost it long ago. Really, if we had had any sense we should have packed up after Dunkirk—only we didn’t. The whole blessed country might well have packed up when the Luftwaffe came over all cock-a-hoop to toss bombs about. But it didn’t. Not being entirely a fool, I realise as well as you do that we are in such a jam that the only sensible thing to do would be to go home. But we’re not going.”

“Okay—okay,” growled Frecks. “I wasn’t thinking so much of the danger of the thing as the hopelessness of trying to do anything, fixed as we are. Let’s carry on, by all means.”

Worrals turned to Harry. “Is that all right with you?”

Harry, who had been listening to this conversation with interest, grinned. “Anything that’s all right with you is all right with me,” he announced.

“And what about you, Rama Pindra? This is no affair of yours. You may go ashore if you wish.”

The Sikh’s expression did not change. “You are in command, memsahib,” said he. “I await your orders.”

“That’s the spirit. How’s your wound, by the way?”

“I had forgotten it.”

“Good.” Worrals stood up. “That’s all. Let’s get busy. First we shall have to do a bit of patching. When that’s done we’ll get into the atmosphere and send the signal to Darwin. I’ll write it out, and you, Harry, can send it. Keep sending till you get an answer from Darwin. After that it would be as well to keep the earphones on in case Darwin has anything to say to us. As soon as we have the okay from Dan Lynch we’ll waffle along and have a peep at the Tamaroa. She can’t have got far. I’m afraid we shall have to send the signal in ‘clear.’ There was no question of bringing out a code-book on a job like this. Pass me the pad, Harry.”

Worrals wrote out the signal, and after one or two corrections read it aloud. “I think this ought to do,” she said. “NTA is the call sign for Darwin. Our own identification symbol is BMX. How’s this?

BMX calling NTA. Stores lost by enemy action. Repeat same quantity same place. Urgent. Message ends.

“Dan Lynch, our liaison officer, knows where we are based, and what stores we took, so he’ll understand,” continued Worrals, passing the pad to Harry. “Keep calling until you pick up Darwin; then go on sending the signal until you get an acknowledgment. Rama, I shall trust you to keep a look-out while we are working on the machine. Let me know if you hear an aircraft approaching.”

Rama bowed. “It shall be done.”

“We can eat while we work,” stated Worrals. “Let’s make a start.”

In a little under two hours she was satisfied that all had been done that could be done. Aircraft had been heard in the distance, but none had been sighted, so under a clear sky she took off and began climbing in wide circles, the western extremity of each turn taking the machine a little nearer to the place where the Tamaroa was last seen. When the altimeter registered twelve thousand feet Harry put his head into the cockpit.

“Okay,” he called. “Darwin has picked us up. They’ve got the signal. They say stand by for a reply.”

“Let me have it as soon as you receive it.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

The Scud was at fifteen thousand when Harry again appeared. “Darwin advises us to return to Australia,” he reported.

“Are you sure about that word ‘advises’? I mean, it wasn’t an order?”

“No. They gave me ‘advises.’ ”

“Tell them we can’t return at present.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

At eighteen thousand feet Worrals throttled back and put the Scud into a gentle glide on a westerly course. “From this height we should spot the Tamaroa very soon,” she told Frecks, who was sitting beside her.

Harry reported again. “I don’t understand what they mean, but Darwin repeats, return immediately as the wet is approaching fourteen days ahead of schedule. I don’t get what they mean by ‘wet.’ I made them check up on it twice. Does it make sense to you?”

Worrals grimaced. “Too true, it does. It means that the monsoon is on its way a fortnight ahead of time—which means that it may reach us here within the next forty-eight hours.”

“Ah! I guessed it was something like that,” said Harry. “The air is stiff with signals—sounds like all Australia is recalling its machines to base.”

“Trust the weather to be awkward,” muttered Worrals petulantly. “As if things weren’t complicated enough! Repeat the signal to Darwin, Harry, and say that we have special reasons for carrying on.”


Worrals looked at Frecks. “We shall have to take a chance on the weather.”

Frecks smiled wanly. “We’re taking so many chances already that another one can’t make much difference.” She was gazing ahead. She reached for the binoculars and looked again. “I can see the Tamaroa. There she is. See that long island half-left? There’s a vessel moving up the far side, hugging the coast. Yes, it’s the Tamaroa all right.”

“Watch it,” requested Worrals, and continued to glide on a course that would put the Scud in the glare of the setting sun—that is, between the Tamaroa and the sun, which was now low in the western sky.

“It’s turning into a bay,” reported Frecks. “I think it must be going to stop—otherwise there would be no reason for it to turn in.”

“Paying another call, perhaps,” rejoined Worrals in a hard voice. “Let’s hope that it repeats last night’s performance and stays where it is until morning.”

“It’s stopped, anyway,” returned Frecks, still watching through the glasses. “At least I can’t see any wake.” She made a note of the position of the bay.

Worrals turned away. “We’d better not go any nearer—not that there’s anything more we can do for the time being. We’ll get back to Oko’s island. I think I’ll go down to sea level; I’m scared stiff of being caught up here by a bunch of Zeros. We shouldn’t have a hope.” With the engine still ticking over, she dived steeply towards the sea on a course for Oko’s island.

Harry appeared again. “Darwin says okay. The decision to return or carry on rests with you. They’ll get the stuff out to us as quickly as they can.”

“That’s fine,” acknowledged Worrals.

“Is there any reason why we shouldn’t go back to Ingles Island right away?” queried Frecks.

“Yes,” answered Worrals. “It’s too late for Darwin to send a machine out to-day, so the petrol won’t arrive until to-morrow at the earliest. We’ve things to do here, so there’s no point in using petrol going all the way to Ingles Island, merely to come back later. Besides, the less time we put in the air in daylight the less chance there will be of us bumping into trouble.”

“What do you intend to do at Oko’s island?”

“Wait until the moon comes up and then slink back to the island where, I hope, the Tamaroa has anchored for the night. They won’t see us in the dark.”

“But they may hear us.”

“Not if we go in with a long glide, and land this side of the island—that is, about four miles from the ship.”

“And having glided to the island, what then?”

“I shall walk right across it and—for a start—try to get a close view of the Tamaroa. After that—well, I don’t know. I only know that there doesn’t seem much point in chasing round these islands any longer looking for the girls, when they might be on board that ship—particularly as we are now pressed for time. If what Darwin says is correct, and I imagine it is, in forty-eight hours or so the monsoon will be along and effectually put an end to the operation. Which means that we’ve got to hurry—and hurrying means taking big chances.”

“Yes, I’m afraid you’re right,” admitted Frecks.

Worrals made her landfall at Oko’s island and landed on the same spot as before. Hardly had they made fast when a formation of three Zeros roared over, high up. The crew of the Scud lay still, watching. No sooner had the enemy machines disappeared when a Japanese flying-boat came into sight, flying low. Fortunately it was some distance from the island, and appeared to be on a course for the Tamaroa. Worrals was thankful when it passed by without changing course.

“We were just about in time,” she observed. “I don’t think there’s much doubt but that these machines are looking for us. Thank goodness, it will soon be dark. There’ll be nothing to fear after the sun goes down. While we are doing nothing we might as well have a meal. I’m afraid we’re digging rather deep into the emergency bag. Harry, I think you might go ashore and try to scrounge a few bananas and nuts, or any fruit that happens to be going. If the natives haven’t all departed no doubt they’ll let you have some.”

Darkness came. With hunger appeased, nothing more could be done until moonrise; so while they were waiting they sat in the cabin and discussed the situation in all its aspects—without, however, discovering any better plan than the one which Worrals had already outlined.

“I see no great difficulty in making a landing without being spotted,” she averred. “Where the actual landing is concerned, the biggest danger will be unseen obstructions in the water. It would, of course, be bad luck to hit a lump of coral, or a dead tree, or something of that sort; but the risk is there, and it can’t be avoided. Having got down, our next move will be to cross the island.”

“What about natives?” asked Frecks.

“There may be none on the island,” answered Worrals. “If there are some, they will probably have bolted into hiding when the Tamaroa showed up—always supposing that they saw it. The only thing we have to fear is that they may take us for Japanese, and stick us full of arrows before giving us a chance to say who we are. We could hardly blame them if they did.”

“Are you going to cross the island alone, or do we all go?” asked Harry.

“You’ve put your finger on a knotty problem there,” replied Worrals. “I’ve been thinking about that. I’m inclined to think we should all keep together. Once a party splits it can so easily lose touch; then it’s hard to get together again—particularly in the dark. For instance, suppose someone stays with the machine. If he isn’t attacked, he’s wasting his time; if he is attacked, what could he do, single handed? Nothing. He has no idea of what is happening to the rest of the party, so even if they ran into trouble he couldn’t help them. Even if he knew about it, and tried to help, he would probably do more harm than good. From previous experience in France we know that there is no comparison between doing a job like this in daylight, and in the dark; at night, if you get parted, anything can happen. It’s the easiest thing in the world for any scheme to come unstuck.”

“I vote we keep together,” interposed Frecks. “Nothing is likely to happen to the machine in the dark, and we ought to be back by dawn.”

“Come to think of it, if anyone stayed it would have to be you, since, apart from myself, you’re the only one able to handle the aircraft,” said Worrals.

“I’d already worked that out,” returned Frecks ingenuously. “I don’t like the dark—when there may be cannibals in the offing.”

“Harry is handy with a machine gun, so he ought to go,” resumed Worrals thoughtfully. “Rama, being the only one who can speak the local language, must go, in case we meet natives. Yes, I think if we can find a safe anchorage for the machine we’ll keep the party intact.”

“And having got to the far side of the island, what then?” queried Frecks.

“I should try to get hold of a native canoe and make a reconnaissance; failing that, I should swim out to the Tamaroa,” answered Worrals. “There’s just a chance that the girls may be on deck; they’d have to come up for air and exercise from time to time, or they’d die. After all, the last thing the enemy will imagine is that there is a rescue party on the spot. That’s our trump card. We know they’re there, but they don’t know we’re here. For the rest, we’ll just snatch at any opportunity that may occur. It’s no use trying to make a fixed plan at this distance. If, by to-morrow morning, we haven’t found out whether the girls are on board or not, it will be our own fault, either through lack of intelligence to deal with the thing, or sheer blundering. But here comes the moon. Let’s push along. It’s a relief to know that we’ve more petrol on the way; we needn’t be so particular how much we use, as long as we keep enough in hand to get back to Ingles Island.”

The Scud was soon in the air, circling the island in wide sweeps as Worrals settled down to climb to the ceiling. Well aware that sound travels far across water at night, she knew that their only chance of reaching the objective without their presence being detected was a straight glide of many miles. The fact that the machine was lightly loaded was in her favour; she counted on at least a mile of distance for every thousand feet of altitude.

At twenty thousand she levelled out, throttled back to cruising speed, and flew on for a few miles; then, cutting the engines, she began a long glide over a scene devoid of life and movement, heart-chilling in its utter loneliness; a waste of water under a sky of immutable serenity, with fragments of land dotting the ocean like prehistoric monsters risen from the depths to sleep in a world of their own. At ten thousand feet she switched off. The airscrews stopped. Noise ceased. But the aircraft glided on, a phantom shape in eternal space.

The objective island, black, sullen, forbidding, crept up over the rim of the pitiless distance. Slowly, in some mysterious way it seemed, it grew larger, blacker and more sullen. Frecks reached for the binoculars and studied it long and intently. She made out a minute speck, detached from the land, where she had last seen the Tamaroa.

“It’s still there,” she informed Worrals.


Nothing more was said, Worrals had no time to spare for idle conversation. All her faculties were concentrated on the task before her—that of putting the aircraft down, safely, close to the shore, without having to open up the engines, which would be fatal to the scheme. Fine judgment was demanded. Moonlight, however bright, can be deceptive. It can play strange tricks. A landing, however well made, would be useless if it ended a quarter of a mile from the beach; for from that position a landing on the island could not be effected without the use of the engines.

Worrals braced herself, her nerves tightening intuitively, when the critical moment came. She flattened out. The sombre silhouette of the island, towering above them now, appeared to race past at fantastic speed. A few seconds of acute suspense; then came a vicious hiss as the keel touched, followed by a surge of water as the aircraft settled down, still forging on, but at swiftly diminishing speed towards the palm-fringed shore. For a little while it drifted, rocking gently, then came to rest, perhaps forty yards from the sweeping crescent of sand that formed the beach. Worrals relaxed.

“Nice work, partner,” said Frecks softly.

For a moment or two Worrals did not answer. With thoughtful, anxious eyes she surveyed the sandy shore, gleaming wanly in the pallid moonlight, broken here and there by the lattice-like shadows of the palms. Nothing moved. “I think it’s all quiet,” she said in a low voice. “Ask Harry to take the line, swim ashore and haul us in. He hasn’t far to go.”

Harry was soon on the beach, leaning back on the cable. The Scud nosed its way in, its keel grating gently on the powdered coral.

“She’ll do,” said Worrals. “We can’t get any farther ashore without the engines. We’ll make her snug where she is. She can’t take any harm unless a sea gets up, and there’s no sign yet of a break in the weather.”

A few minutes were devoted to the safe mooring of the aircraft, then Worrals turned to her queerly-assorted party: Harry, unshaven, brown as a native, clad only in his ragged shorts; Rama, in the tattered remains of his tropical outfit; Frecks, in a uniform that was still intact, but stained by salt water and generally beginning to look the worse for wear.

“Harry, you’ll carry the Sten gun, and as much ammunition as you can conveniently manage,” ordered Worrals. “You may find yourself fighting a rearguard action before morning. Rama, you take the rifle. We may need all our weapons. If things go badly we shall, I hope, be able to account for a few of the enemy before they account for us. No noise, please, and no talking unless it is absolutely necessary. Keep in single file. I’ll lead.”

So saying she took out her pocket compass and turned her face to the rising hinterland of the island.


It did not take Worrals long to perceive that she had been guilty of an error of judgment, one that was likely to have a serious effect on the enterprise. She had spoken of the march across the island as if it were merely a matter of routine, not to be compared in difficulty with the landing, and the subsequent reconnaissance of the enemy ship. For this, admittedly, she had some excuse, never having crossed the island—or, for that matter, any Pacific island. From ground level she had seen only the vegetation round the perimeter of the islands, and there it was sparse, presenting no difficulty that could not easily be surmounted. She had assumed that the jungle in the more central part of the island would be similar; but in this she was mistaken, very much mistaken, as she soon discovered. Before she had gone a hundred yards she was fighting her way through undergrowth which, while it did not actually halt the advance, prevented anything like reasonable progress. There were trees, big trees. The moonlight failed to penetrate the canopy of their leaves, with the result that progress was not only slow, but dangerous. Thorns took a firm hold on flesh and clothing, and twigs had a nasty habit of flying back to deal painful blows across the face. After a five minutes struggle, by which time it was clear that matters were likely to get worse rather than better, she gave up.

“This is no use,” she said tersely. “At this rate we shall be a week getting across. Rama, you know these islands better than we do; what do you suggest?”

“There are two ways of reaching the far side of an island such as this,” replied Rama. “One is to walk round, following the beach——”

“That’s out of the question,” broke in Worrals. “It would mean a march of at least twelve miles, and we’ve no time for such a walk.”

“The other way is to find a native path,” concluded Rama. “There are always paths—if they can be found.”

“That sounds better,” declared Worrals. “Let us find a path.”

“Our best plan, then, is to go back a little way, and turn, keeping parallel with the coast,” said Rama. “If there is a path we shall strike it.”

“This is going to make compass work difficult, if not impossible, but I’m afraid there’s nothing else for it,” murmured Worrals as she turned aside.

After a quarter of a mile of tedious progress they found a path, a narrow track that wound a serpentine course uphill towards a ridge, a sort of saddleback, that traversed the island lengthways, forming, as it were, a backbone. Up this path, with an exclamation of satisfaction, Worrals turned her steps, only to meet with fresh disappointment when she discovered that the way was littered with rocks and boulders. The path was, in fact, as Rama presently pointed out, the dried bed of a narrow stream. It had, admittedly, been used as a path, but no attempt had been made by the natives to improve the surface. Worrals kept on, trying to make up for lost time, pointing out that if they did no better than this, daylight would find them blundering about in the middle of the island. That they might actually become lost did not occur to her until the path forked, one way going off half-left, the other half right. She took the right hand path, observing that as they did not know where either path ended, one was as good as the other. She was beginning to get desperate.

For what seemed hours they struggled on up a path that became ever steeper, and steadily worse. Indeed, it became so bad that they were not always sure that they were on it; and still they had not reached the watershed which loomed darkly, like a great hog’s back, above them. Panting and dishevelled Worrals pulled up, looked at her compass, and her watch. With mounting alarm she saw that it was nearly midnight.

“Listen, everybody,” she said quietly. “I’m sorry, but it’s no use denying that when I proposed walking across this island I didn’t know what I was talking about. Reckoning it to be about four miles I allowed two hours, thinking that would be ample time. It is now three hours since we left the beach, and thanks to the path wandering all over the place we are not yet half way. There is no reason to suppose that the going will get any better, so it looks as if it will be dawn before we get across. Clearly, the only sensible thing to do is to turn back.”

“That’s awful,” muttered Frecks, aghast. “After coming all this way! The going may improve, for all we know.”

“I shall go on, but I think the rest of you had better go back to the aircraft,” continued Worrals.

“I can’t see any point in breaking up the party,” objected Frecks.

“Well, rather than be caught on the beach in broad daylight, you could fly the machine back to Ingles Island, and fetch me later on,” Worrals pointed out.

“If we had unlimited petrol that might be worth considering,” argued Frecks. “The new petrol, as you yourself said a little while ago, will hardly arrive to-night. I can see you being stuck here and me there. No. I vote that having come so far we take the bull by the horns and push on together. If we have to come back in daylight we ought to make better time.”

“We should jolly well have to, or we’d probably find that the aircraft had been spotted by the enemy and shot to bits,” declared Worrals. “All right—let’s carry on.”

Spirits revived somewhat when, nearing the central ridge, with rock underfoot the vegetation opened out considerably, permitting a better rate of advance, although there was no hope now of making up for lost time. It was after one o’clock when they started down the far side of the divide, and, as Worrals suspected, when the rock again gave way to alluvial soil they once more found themselves engulfed in luxuriant vegetation.

To avoid wearisome repetition it may as well be said that dawn was turning the eastern sky to pearly grey when the party, footsore and weary, mud-stained and scratched, broke from a tangle of undergrowth to see, some distance in front and below them, the bay in which the Tamaroa had been anchored. But the ship had gone.

Worrals sat down. “What a mess I’ve made of this,” she muttered bitterly. “Now, to cap all, the Tamaroa has pulled out. Not that it matters much, I suppose; now that it’s daylight we couldn’t have got near it. I must have been crazy to come on. I suppose this is the bay?”

“I’m sure of that,” answered Frecks despondently. “I marked it down by that double-pointed hill behind us. I don’t think the ship can have got far. Come to think of it, it was about this time yesterday when it weighed anchor. I’m a fool! I should have guessed it would be gone by the time we got here.”

“Well, I suppose we might as well start hiking back to the Scud,” decided Worrals, getting up. “If——”

She got no further, but spun round, and then stood rigid, as from no great distance away there came a volley of musketry, followed by shouts and more sporadic shooting. These sounds were too much like those she had heard on Maital for her to be in any doubt as to what caused them.

“That’s the Tamaroa, up to it’s old tricks,” she rapped out.

“You mean it’s attacking the island?” cried Frecks.

“What else?”

“Then for Pete’s sake let’s get out of this.”

“Not on your life,” snapped Worrals. “This may be our chance. If nothing else, we may be able to hit these murdering Japanese a crack.”

“Eggsactly. That’s what I say,” declared Harry. “How about it?”

Worrals did not answer. Forcing her way quickly to the lower ground where the scrub gave way to an open coconut grove, she turned sharply and began running in the direction from which the shots had come, keeping more or less parallel with the shore and some fifty or sixty yards from it. The others followed. They had not far to go—perhaps a quarter of a mile. Then, rounding a headland, they came upon a drama which, except for one detail, was much as Worrals expected. It was a repetition of the Maital massacre, on a smaller scale; but on this occasion a new factor was introduced by the presence of two white men. They had been captured, and were in the hands of some Japanese sailors. One of them was a tall, fair, powerfully-built fellow of middle age; he was still struggling violently, in spite of the fact that a sailor struck him again and again with the butt of his rifle. The other man made no such resistance. He was emaciated, and looked ill, as if he could hardly stand.

This spectacle was being watched by an officer in a white uniform resplendent with gold braid. He was a short, thick-set man, with the usual squat features and prominent cheek bones of the Japanese. A black moustache, drooping at the ends, made it difficult to judge his age. He might have been thirty—not more. He wore glasses. Holding a revolver in one hand, and a drawn sword in the other, he took no part in the struggle apart from uttering an occasional word of command. Altogether there were about a dozen sailors. A boat had been drawn up on the beach not far away. Just off-shore rode the Tamaroa. Among the palm trees that fringed the bay were some native huts.

All this Worrals took in at a glance as she stopped abruptly in the cover provided by the palms.

Harry drew in his breath with a hiss. “My Gawd! That looks like Sammy himself,” he ejaculated.

Worrals made no reply. Her brain was racing. Her face was pale, and her breath came faster as the tragedy developed. The struggling white man was now being forced to his knees. The officer, feeling the edge of his sword significantly, drew nearer. His intention was all too plain.

“He’s going to—behead him,” said Frecks in a strangled voice. She clapped a hand over her mouth to repress a scream.

Although her brain was in a turmoil, Worrals attempted to keep pace with a situation that had no precedent in her career. She hesitated, at a loss to know what to do. For a moment she was in a state not far removed from panic. For battle in the air she was always prepared, had always been prepared since she first flew a military aircraft overseas, knowing that sooner or later combat would almost certainly be forced upon her. In this respect her decision was clean cut. She would avoid conflict if it were possible; if it were not possible, then she would defend her aircraft with the weapons provided for that purpose. But this was different. This was war, soldiers’ war—and she was not a soldier. Nor had she any inclination to become one. But the issue before her was also clean cut. She saw that she must either retire, leaving the two men to be brutally murdered, or she must endeavour to prevent that by every means in her power. There could be no middle course. She had taken on a man’s job, so it was up to her to act as a man would act. She made up her mind suddenly.

“We can’t stand by and watch this,” she said breathlessly. “We must help those men, and talking won’t do any good. Harry, give those sailors a squirt.[7] Get as many of them as you can. Rama, get busy with that rifle. Don’t shoot the officer—I want him. Everything depends on the first minute.” Worrals drew her automatic. “Let ’em have it, Harry!” she cried in a curious high-pitched voice.

[7] R.A.F. slang—a burst of machine-gun fire.

It has long been an accepted maxim of warfare that surprise, fully exploited, can offset a numerical inferiority of men and equipment. Thus was it in this case. Harry’s gun blazed, point blank, cutting down half of the enemy at one burst; and from that moment it was clear that the attack would be as successful as it had been sudden. In a moment all was confusion on the beach. The surviving Japanese fell into disorder, doing nothing to meet the attack. Rama was using the rifle with the deadly deliberation of an old soldier, and the enemy continued to fall as he picked them off at a range so close that he could hardly miss. In their consternation and agitation the sailors who had been holding the struggling white man released their grip, a situation of which the prisoner was not slow to take advantage. Snatching up a fallen rifle by the muzzle he swung the butt round his head and fell upon his tormentors in a paroxysm of fury. The officer lifted his revolver, but a sweep of the rifle sent it flying. Shouting orders hysterically—or he may have been shouting for help—he backed hastily away, defending himself with his sword.

“Come on!” shouted Worrals, and with her pistol at the ready she dashed forward, making for the officer, who did not see her until she ran in close behind him and yelled, “Hands up!”

He did not put his hands up, but stared like a man who cannot believe what he sees.

“Drop that sword,” snarled Worrals, who was beginning to respond to the madness of war fever, for Harry was yelling like a Dervish. She took deliberate aim. Her lips came tightly together. Her finger tightened on the trigger.

The officer may have been alarmed by what he saw in her eyes: at any rate, he dropped the sword on the sand and put his hands up. There were a few more shots from somewhere near at hand and the affair was over. Worrals snatched a glance round. Three sailors only were still on their feet; they had dropped their weapons and were standing together, staring with bovine expressions of fear and amazement at Harry, who, crouching, was menacing them with his gun, telling them in plain Cockney English what he would do to them if they moved. It was obvious that he meant it, too. One white man, the one with the rifle, panting in his fury, looked round for more victims. His eyes fell on the officer. Growling like a wounded tiger he made a rush at him.

Worrals intervened. “Lay off!” she shouted. “That’ll do.”

The man stopped, lowering the rifle, breathing heavily, staring at Worrals with an expression of resentment and astonishment.

The other stranger, the sick one, was sitting down. Frecks was talking to him. Rama, who had lost nothing of his dignity, was advancing on the officer.

“That’s enough, Rama,” ordered Worrals curtly.

“But I must kill this man,” said Rama earnestly. “I have sworn to do it.”

“I’m in command here,” reminded Worrals, in a brittle voice.

There was some shouting on the Tamaroa. Ignoring it, she addressed the officer. “You speak English?”

“Yes,” was the reply, with an American drawl that came strangely from such a face and figure.

“You are my prisoner,” said Worrals. “What is your name?”

The Japanese drew himself up in a theatrical attitude which on the stage would have been criticised as over-acting. “I am General His Highness the Prince Samurai,” said he. “I demand——”

“You’ve finished demanding anything for a little while,” broke in Worrals coldly. “When I arrived you were about to commit murder, so you have no right to expect to be treated as a prisoner of war. You will do well to obey my orders. First, call to your ship and tell your men that if any attempt is made to lower a boat you will be shot like the wild beast you are.”

The general did not move.

Worrals drew a deep breath, then spoke softly but clearly. “Unless you obey my orders I shall put you ashore at Maital, where the natives will see to it that you die the sort of death you deserve. Do as I tell you.”

The general walked to the edge of the sea and shouted something in his own language. This done he turned to face his captor.

“You would be foolish to try any tricks,” warned Worrals. “Always remember that if there are to be more casualties you will be the first. Now answer my questions. How many white women have you on that ship?”

“We have no white prisoners,” answered the general.

“Don’t lie to me,” snapped Worrals. “You have a British girl named Pamela Deacon—haven’t you?”

The general’s expression betrayed him. He looked at Worrals, then at Rama, then back at Worrals. “Yes,” he admitted.

“Any more?”

“That is for you to find out.”

“Very well,” said Worrals. “Send one of your men in the boat to the ship and bring Pamela Deacon ashore.”

“Is this an exchange of prisoners?”

“I promise nothing—but it may be if you obey my orders.”

The general called one of the sailors to him and gave an order. The man ran to the boat and rowed quickly towards the ship.

The man who was to have been beheaded now stepped into the conversation. Addressing Worrals he said, in English with a strong accent: “I thank you for saving us.”

“Who are you?” asked Worrals.

“Jan Vandergroot is my name.”



“What are you doing here?”

“With my friend Uleef I was a planter in Java. We tried to escape. We get only here and my friend is sick.”

“I see. You were on this island when the Japanese landed?”

“Yes. In this village. We can go no farther because my friend has fever bad.”

“Why didn’t you run away? You must have seen the Tamaroa?”

“Yes, we see. But my friend is ill. I stay with him.”

“That was noble of you. You would like to come with us when we go?”

“Thank you so much.”

“We’ll talk about that later,” said Worrals. Her eyes were on the returning boat. There was one passenger in it, a girl, a fair-haired white girl in a salt-stained blue uniform, hatless. When the keel of the boat grated on the sand she jumped out.

“Come here,” called Worrals.

The girl came. She was painfully thin; her face was pale and drawn, as though with anxiety, hardship and weariness.

“You’re Pam Deacon, I think?” greeted Worrals.

“Yes. Who——?”

“Let me ask the questions for a moment, Pam. Are there any more girls on board?”


“You are absolutely the only one?”


“You know where the others are?”

“Yes—I think so. That is, if they are still there.”

“How long since you were captured?”

“Three days.”

“How was it they caught you alone?”

“I was in a canoe, trying to get to another island. We thought there might be people there, someone who would get us nearer to Australia. The canoe would only carry one. I was chosen because I was the best swimmer.”

“The other girls are all right?”

“More or less—those of us who are left. Some are sick with fever. We have no quinine.”

“What do you mean—those who are left?”

“There were nine of us. Two are dead. One was killed when a Jap ship shelled the village we were hiding in. Mary Cullen died of fever nearly a year ago.”

Worrals nodded, “All right, Pam. Are you fit enough to face a stiffish walk?”

“I think so.”

“Good. Stand by. We shall be leaving in a minute.” Worrals turned to the General. “We are going now. You will come with us as far as I shall decide, to ensure our safe conduct. We shan’t want your men; they can go on board, taking this message. The ship must wait here for you. If any attempt is made to move, or if anyone tries to follow us, you will be killed. If I haven’t made that quite clear, say so, because if any mistake is made you will be the first to suffer by it. I can’t prevent your ship from using its radio, but I assure you that reinforcements, either by sea or air, won’t help you personally.”

“Are you going to let these rats go?” cried Harry indignantly.

“I am,” answered Worrals. “We can’t clutter ourselves up with prisoners.”


“Don’t argue, Harry, please. Get ready to march. Frecks, you will lead the way. Mr. Vandergroot, you will go next, helping your friend. Rama, you will be responsible for the prisoner. Shoot him if he attempts to escape. Harry, you will bring up the rear.”

The General spoke to his men. They hurried to the boat and rowed towards the ship. Worrals looked at it. Men could be seen lining the rail, but no move had been made to lower a boat. She was not afraid of the crew using the guns while the General was with them. Turning to the jungle-clad hill behind her, she gave the order to march.

The return trip across the island, in daylight, was a good deal easier than the night journey, but even so it was one that called for endurance, and taxed their reserves of strength to the utmost. With eyes heavy and bloodshot from lack of sleep, their faces drawn with strain, both mental and physical, their clothes torn and streaked with dirt, the party forged on. Rama was limping badly, and Kleef had to be supported. His friend carried him part of the way. But to help them—and it did help them—was the uplifting knowledge that the enterprise had been more successful than they would have dared to hope. The prisoner, with the muzzle of Rama’s rifle never far from his back, was obedient.

Reaching the central ridge, Worrals told him that he was free to go. He went without a word.

“Seems a pity,” said Harry thoughtfully, fingering his gun.

“I agree, but we’ve never made a practice of shooting prisoners and I don’t propose to start. I sent him off now because I don’t want him to see the aircraft.”

“What about a rest?” suggested Frecks.

“Not now,” returned Worrals. “For one thing we’ve no time to waste and, secondly, in this state the best thing is to keep going. Once you rest, it’s hard to get started again. Lead on.”

The journey was resumed, and now travelling downhill the party made good time. An hour later the beach where the aircraft had been left could be seen through gaps in the trees. To Worrals’ unspeakable relief, the Scud was still there. She had not expressed her fears, but in her heart had been a gnawing anxiety that something—she knew not what—might have happened to it.

As they emerged on to the beach Frecks took a side-long look at Worrals. “I swear you aren’t fit to fly,” she asserted. “You’ll fall asleep over the stick.”

“I’ve got to fly,” answered Worrals.

“What’s the hurry?”

“We’ve got to get well clear of this place before the Tamaroa can bring the Japanese air force along.”

“Where are you going to make for?”

“Ingles Island, where I hope we shall find petrol waiting for us. We’re doing fine, but there’s a lot of work to be done yet. Once on Ingles Island, all we shall need is a couple of hours’ sleep and some petrol. Let’s get aboard.”


The Scud had not been long in the air, heading for Ingles Island, when Harry shouted a warning that there were “bandits” to the north, Worrals, who was flying low—she was in fact flying on full throttle at a height of about ten feet—swerved away to the south for several miles before resuming her course. She herself saw the enemy aircraft—three Zeros, flying high, but apparently the pilots did not notice the machine skimming the water far below them.

“We’ve started something,” remarked Frecks, with more than a trace of anxiety in her voice. “In fact,” she added, “by insulting their beastly General I should say we’ve got the Japs in this particular area of the Pacific fairly foaming at the mouth.”

Worrals, standing in the canoe waving, at imminent risk of capsizing it. (p. 111)

One of them was a tall, fair, powerfully-built fellow. (p. 135)

“Yes, we’ve stirred things up,” admitted Worrals. “I’d say that every radio in the zone has gone incoherent broadcasting a description of us. Won’t Australia be puzzled, when their listening posts pick up the signals.”

“Won’t we be puzzled, too, when we bump into a cloud of Zeros?” returned Frecks cynically.

“In a sky fairly crawling with Japs I imagine that’s almost bound to happen,” replied Worrals imperturbably.

“Are you telling me?” snapped Frecks, who was staring through the windscreen. “There’s a machine—look—away up over that atoll to the left—another Zero, I think. I don’t like the way he’s just changed course. He’s seen us. He’s coming down!” Frecks’ voice rose with her alarm.

Worrals flew on.

“What are you going to do?” asked Frecks with desperate urgency.

“Nothing—yet,” answered Worrals. “We must get to Ingles Island. Tell Harry to get ready to do his stuff. If he prangs[8] that Zero I’ll recommend him for the D.F.M.”

[8] In R.A.F. slang, to prang means to damage or destroy.

“If he doesn’t get him there’ll be no need for anyone to recommend anybody for anything,” said Frecks grimly. She went aft, but was soon back.

By this time there was no doubt about the nationality of the aircraft, and its immediate concern. It was coming down in a wide circle, cautiously, as if suspecting a trap. This manœuvre, however, did not last long. Satisfied that the seaplane was alone, it steepened its dive and launched its attack from astern.

“This is awful,” said Frecks. “How far are we from Ingles Island?”

“About twenty miles—we shall be there in five minutes.”

“You hope,” muttered Frecks.

Worrals was looking at her reflector. “Here he comes,” she murmured.

“Then, for heaven’s sake, do something about it.”

“Not yet. I’d rather he thought we hadn’t seen him. I shall move fast enough when he opens up, don’t you worry.” Worrals spoke calmly, but she was conscious of an uncomfortable tightening of the heart-strings, a feeling common enough in the early stages of air combat, which resembles nothing on the ground. Not for an instant did she take her eyes from the reflecting mirror.

The attacking aircraft did not so much appear to draw nearer, as to grow bigger. As it drew within range, its dive flattened, as Worrals knew it must, otherwise the pilot, should he overshoot his mark, would collide with the water that was flashing past a few feet under the Scud’s keel. This, she realised, was the moment when the enemy pilot would shoot. She decided to make the first move.

When she did move, it was in no half-hearted manner. Lifting the Scud’s nose sharply, she made a turn so tight that a string of islands spun across the windscreen. The result of this was to bring her face to face with her assailant; and this in turn, had the effect of making him alter his course quickly, to avoid collision. It also spoiled his aim; or, more correctly, it made shooting on his part futile, for the Zero, being fitted only with fixed guns forward, was forced off its target. This did not apply to Harry, who, having mobile guns, gave the hostile machine a brisk burst as it flashed by. Whether or not this had any effect neither Frecks nor Worrals knew, for by this time the Scud was back on its course for Ingles Island, with the enemy aircraft out of their field of vision.

Of course, Worrals was aware that this sort of thing could not go on. The enemy pilot knew now that he had been seen, and would, presumably, change his tactics. What he would do next Worrals did not know, nor did she waste time on futile speculation. She had plenty to occupy her mind with one major problem; which was, what should she do if she reached Ingles Island with the Zero still in pursuit? To land on the lagoon would be to invite catastrophe by offering the Jap a sitting target. At the same time, it would reveal their hiding-place. With ample petrol she might have dragged a red herring by dodging about among the islands; she might even give her pursuer the slip. But every pint of petrol was precious, and she was desperately anxious to conserve as much as possible until she had learned from Pam Deacon the location of the island on which the rest of the girls were hiding.

Looking at the reflector, she saw the Zero about half a mile behind and a thousand feet above her. It was still following. The pilot seemed to be in no great hurry to renew the attack. What was more disconcerting was the fact that Ingles Island was now in sight, although between the Scud and its base lay ten miles of open water, with that flat, unruffled surface, that only the Pacific in its most tranquil mood can present.

“This is awkward,” said Worrals. “Why doesn’t that fellow make up his mind? I daren’t land at Ingles Island while he’s watching us.”

“If you go on flying round you’ll use up all the petrol.”


“What are you going to do, then?”

“I’m going to land,” decided Worrals.


“Right here.”


“To end this matter one way or the other.”

“I don’t get it.”

“If I throw the machine about a bit, and then go down, he’ll think we’re in trouble.”

“So what?”

“He’ll come in to finish us off.”

“He probably will finish us off.”

“As you say, he probably will. But I think that Harry, with his guns on a steady platform, should stand as good a chance of hitting him as he has of hitting us. That is, if he attacks. There’s a chance that, thinking we are down, he will call it a day and go home to report a victory—but I’m not counting on that.”

“Neither would I,” answered Frecks with biting sarcasm.

“Tell Harry this is the best chance he’ll ever have of getting a Zero.”

“Okay.” Frecks went aft to the dorsal turret.

Worrals put her scheme into execution. It was simple enough. First she steered an erratic course, and then, blipping her engines as if they were failing, she landed. The Scud ran to rest on the broad surface of the ocean.

The Zero pilot evidently decided that this was his opportunity to make a kill, for without further hesitation he came swooping down in a long, shallow dive.

Frecks came back.

“Get on the floor,” ordered Worrals tersely. “This is going to be an unhealthy spot in a minute.”

“Harry is spitting on his hands,” declared Frecks.

“I’d rather he spat on that Zero,” returned Worrals frankly. “Here he comes. Hold your hat!”

She gave the port engine a burst of throttle that brought the Scud round at right-angles to the Zero’s line of flight, and then opened both engines sufficiently to cause the aircraft to move forward, slowly, but enough, she thought, to upset the enemy pilot’s aim. She was only just in time, for an instant later the surface of the water on which the machine had rested was slashed by a hail of bullets. Harry opened fire at the same time, the snarling of his guns drowning those of the attacking aircraft. This state of affairs persisted for perhaps three seconds, without either of the machines being seriously affected—as far as could be seen—although several bullets struck the Scud. The only visible result was a strip of fabric ripped off the Scud’s port wing. Then, with a terrific bellow of power, the Zero roared low overhead, and zoomed up and on, followed by a long burst from Harry’s guns. Worrals could see tracer boring into its tail, but for a moment, a disappointing moment, nothing happened.

“He’s away!” cried Frecks, who was standing up to watch.

Her remark was justified, but, as it turned out, premature. A thin trail of pale blue smoke appeared behind the Zero, a trail that increased in density as the machine banked steeply and sped away towards the distant archipelago.

“He’s on fire!” exclaimed Frecks.

“No, that’s petrol vapour,” disputed Worrals. “Harry must have hit a tank. One spark from the exhaust will do the trick, though.”

Apparently there was a spark. At any rate, there was a flash, followed by a violent explosion. The Zero seemed to disintegrate in the air, pieces falling over a wide area. Thrusting the throttle open, Worrals raced to the spot, a matter of some three miles, but all that remained to be seen were irridescent oil stains on the surface of the water. Without comment, she turned the Scud and two minutes later landed on the lagoon.

Harry, beaming, put a tousled head into the cockpit. “How was that?” he cried jubilantly.

“Pretty shooting,” complimented Worrals. “You’ll get credit for it when I make out my report.” Lowering the wheels, she taxied up the sandy ramp, ran on to the depression, switched off and jumped down, looking about her.

Frecks knew what she was looking for, “No petrol arrived yet,” she breathed.

“Not a sign of it,” answered Worrals. She ran a little way to some rising ground and surveyed the landscape. She came back. “Nothing doing,” she said. “I hope nothing has gone wrong.” Briefly, she explained the position to the others, who had now got out of the machine. “So, you see, we can’t do much until the petrol comes,” she remarked. “There’s no need to get upset, though. We shall just have to wait. We can all do with a rest, anyway. At the moment I’m content that we didn’t have a casualty when that Zero had a crack at us. Unfortunately, the enemy knows we’re about, so I’m afraid our sortie has reached what the military experts call the critical stage.” She looked at her watch. It was still only nine o’clock. “To-day will probably see the end of it, one way or the other. All right, make the machine snug, some of you, while I have a word with Pam Deacon. You’ll find some quinine in the first-aid outfit in the cabin; Mr. Uleef looks as though he could do with some.” She sat down and invited Frecks and Pam to do the same. “Now, Pam, where are the girls?” she asked.

“I can’t say exactly, although I should know the island if I saw it,” answered Pam.

“Well, tell us all you know,” returned Worrals. “To set you right, I had better say that we know about you getting away from Singapore. We know you sent a messenger, but he died on the way. His canoe was found, but only part of your message reached us.”

“So that was it,” went on Pam. “We wondered why no one came. Well, there isn’t much to tell. I’ve lost all count of time. I feel that I’ve been wandering about among these islands all my life. We started in a sailing boat, you know, but we lost it long ago.”

“But where are the girls now, that’s what I want to know?” put in Worrals.

Pam continued: “There is, somewhere, it can’t be a great distance from here, a group of three atolls, close together. We’ve been on the largest one for months—or it may be for years—living on fish, coconuts, and anything that came along. One day a native came in a canoe. He couldn’t speak English, but he knew what we meant when we said Australia, and to make a long story short we persuaded him to take a message. It gave us new hope, but we never saw him again. No one else came. The other day a canoe was washed ashore. It was rotten, falling to pieces, but we patched it up as well as we could with the idea of someone trying to get to a large island which we could see in the distance. We felt sure that there would be someone on it. We didn’t care if there were only natives there; we hoped they would come out in a big canoe and take us all across. It was obvious that we couldn’t last much longer where we were. As I told you, it was decided that I should make the trip because I’m a strong swimmer—in case the canoe came unstuck. I’d got about half-way over, about four or five miles perhaps, and was doing fine when a ship came along. It was Japanese, of course. There was nothing I could do. They took me on board. The captain spoke English like an American—as you heard. He told me he had been looking for us, and wanted to know where the rest were. I wouldn’t tell him. They locked me in a cabin. I dropped things through the porthole, hoping they would be washed ashore on the island where the girls were, to let them know I hadn’t got across. First I took a sheet, tore it into strips, and wrote messages with a scrap of lipstick I happened to have in my pocket. Then I threw anything that would float. Finally, last night, seeing that we had anchored near an island, I threw my hat overboard. It had my name in it.”

“It was a good shot,” declared Frecks. “I found it.”

“Well, you know the rest,” concluded Pam. “We went on to another island. The captain asked me if it was the one the girls were hiding on. I told him he had better land and find out. Which he did—or tried to. You know what happened there better than I do.”

“Tell me this,” said Worrals. “How long had you been on the ship when you jettisoned your hat?”

“That was the third evening.”

“And you had been calling at islands?”


“So the girls can’t be a great way from there?”

“Not more than a hundred miles, at the most.”

“Did you make a note of the ship’s course?”

“More or less. It dodged about from island to island, but the general direction was slightly north of west, as if the ship was going back to Singapore.”

“And you say you would recognise the atoll if you saw it?”

“Yes. I could hardly mistake it. Actually, there are three islands, long, low atolls, all part of the same formation, I should think. They enclose a large lagoon, two or three miles across. It might be the crater of an old volcano. The atolls would be the lip, broken down in the low places by the action of the water.”

“A hundred miles,” murmured Worrals pensively, “We’ve got enough petrol to fly out that distance and get back here, but if we did that we shouldn’t have enough juice to get to Darwin, or anything like it. In the ordinary way, the most prudent course would be to wait here for more petrol before trying to pick up the girls; but we’ve got the monsoon to reckon with. It must be getting close. The alternative is to make a dash for the atoll, pick up the girls, and come back here, trusting that a fresh supply of juice will have arrived by the time we return. Actually, it might be here any minute now.”

“Then why not give it a chance to get here?” suggested Frecks. “We can’t go on without sleep. I suggest that we all have something to eat. Then, while some keep watch, the others can sleep, even if its only for an hour or two. At the end of that time, whether the petrol has come or not, we could make a dash to pick up the girls.”

Worrals nodded, “I think you’re right,” she agreed. “Let’s do that. The only other thing that worries me is, if we do pick up the girls we shall have a pretty hefty load to take to Darwin. There are seven of us here now, and we have six more to pick up. We could all crowd in, no doubt, but the machine would be overloaded.”

“The girls are pretty thin, believe me,” put in Pam.

“None of us are what you’d call bursting with fat, if it comes to that,” observed Frecks.

“We’ll chance it, anyway,” declared Worrals, getting up. “Let’s see what we can raise in the way of food.”

In a few minutes, sitting in a circle on the sand, the party was enjoying a scrappy meal. Worrals took the opportunity of explaining the situation more clearly to the two Dutchmen. The sick man had already responded to the quinine. They asserted—as did Rama and Harry—that rather than risk overloading the Scud they would remain behind to be picked up at some future date. Worrals said she thought that would not be necessary, but the final decision could be left until the party was complete. In the end it was agreed that Worrals, Frecks, Pam and Harry, should go out on the rescue trip, Pam to act as guide and Harry as gunner. These could now sleep for two hours while the others kept watch. At the end of that time they were to be awakened, and the sortie would be made whether the petrol had arrived or not. This being settled, the unused food was put back in the bag, and the party disposed itself as arranged.

Even making allowance for the swift passage of time in a dreamless sleep, Worrals felt that her two hours had gone quickly when she was awakened by Rama shaking her shoulder. She sat up, feeling rather more tired than when she had gone to sleep. “All right,” she yawned.

“It is not yet two hours,” said Rama apologetically, “but there is an aeroplane coming this way and we thought you should know. It may be the petrol.”

This information banished sleep. Worrals sprang to her feet, and seeing that the others had been awakened by the conversation she hurried to the rim of the depression where the two Dutchmen were watching an approaching aircraft. It was two miles away, flying at a height of about six thousand feet. She recognised the type.

“Why, it’s an old Walrus,” she told Frecks, who now joined her, “I wonder where they dug that one up. It’s coming this way, so it can only be the petrol. That’s fine,” She frowned. “It’s making a lot of noise for a. . . .” Her voice trailed off as her questing eyes picked out a speck that was racing across the sky from the east. “Zero,” she breathed.

“Yeah! It’s a Zero all right,” murmured Frecks.

“Many machines such as that one passed while you slept,” said Rama evenly. “They were far off so we did not wake you.”

“It’s spotted the Walrus,” said Frecks, in a thin voice.

“The trouble is, I’m afraid the lad in the Walrus hasn’t seen the Zero,” returned Worrals.

“Can’t we warn him, somehow?” put in Harry.

“Warn him—how?”

“There’s the radio.”

Worrals shook her head. “The affair will be over long before we can get that going.”

Standing in a little group, helpless spectators, those on the island watched, all eyes on the speck that was now dropping from the azure dome above. Nobody spoke. Nobody moved. All saw the drama begin, develop and end. The whole thing occupied less than three minutes of time.

The Walrus flew straight on towards the island, and Worrals realised, with a numb feeling creeping over her, that the pilot, with his objective in sight, had relaxed his vigilance. He was looking at the island, studying it no doubt, as was natural enough; and from the way he pursued his steady course it was obvious that he had no idea of what was hurtling down behind him. The distance between the two aircraft closed so swiftly that an impression was created that the Walrus was not moving. There came a glittering streak of tracer. The Walrus staggered, swerved sickeningly, and then plunged seaward. A feather of black smoke appeared, like a funeral plume attached to its tail. The Zero pulled out of its dive in a terrific zoom and swerved away in a sweeping bank. The Walrus went on down, spurting behind it an ever lengthening trail of smoke.

“There goes our petrol,” said Harry, in a hard voice.

“And what is even more important, there goes one of our boys, I’m afraid,” said Worrals heavily.

At this moment a figure dropped sheer from the Walrus towards the sea. A ribbon of flimsy fabric fluttered out behind it; a parachute mushroomed. The Zero, which had continued its circle, as if satisfied with its victory raced away towards the distant Archipelago.

Worrals jabbed Frecks. “Quick!” she shouted, suddenly coming to life and movement. “We may be in time.” She dashed to the Scud and started up. The aircraft rumbled towards the lagoon. There was a smother of foam as it took off. “Watch that Zero,” Worrals adjured Frecks crisply.

A minute saw the Scud over the scene of the tragedy. The Walrus was just disappearing from sight, but close at hand a figure splashed vigorously. Worrals landed and taxied to the swimming pilot. Frecks, who had already opened the cabin door, and was waiting, stretched out a hand and helped him aboard. The man dragged himself across the floor and lay gasping like a stranded fish. Confirming that he had slipped his parachute Frecks closed the door and shouted, “Okay!” to Worrals. As the aircraft flew back to the island she asked, “Were you bringing petrol to Ingles Island?”

“Yes,” answered the pilot.

“You didn’t make a very bright job of it, did you?” queried Frecks, with gentle sarcasm. “You ought to try looking behind you once in a while.”

“I was working out the quickest way of getting down,” explained the pilot ruefully.

“Well, you certainly found it,” observed Frecks moodily.

At this juncture the Scud landed and cut off a conversation that promised to become embarrassing.

Worrals put her head into the cabin. “Was that our petrol?”

“You do well to use the past tense,” replied Frecks. “It was.”

“Pity,” said Worrals. She smiled at the pilot, noting that he was a sergeant pilot of the Australian Air Force. “Are you all right?”

The sergeant smiled wanly. “A trifle damp, that’s all. Thanks for scooping me out of the drink. I deserved to drown for letting that Zero slink in on me like it did.”

“It’s always easy to be critical afterwards,” returned Worrals philosophically. “Were you alone?”


“That’s a blessing, anyway. What’s your name?”

“Crane—Jimmy Crane.”

“Okay, Jimmy. Get ashore and dry out.”

“What do you girls reckon you’re doing in this out-of-the-way hole, anyway?” asked Jimmy.

“Well, between you and me we came here on a rescue job,” answered Worrals. “As a matter of detail we’ve done little else but rescue people; the only thing is, so far we haven’t got the people we came here to fetch. But we shan’t be long now, I hope.”

The sergeant joined the others on the beach.

“That settles the petrol question,” remarked Frecks. “What are you going to do next?”

“I’m going to get the girls,” returned Worrals. “We can’t play about any longer.”

“Your idea of playing isn’t mine,” said Frecks tartly.

“It’s now or never,” continued Worrals. “Tell Pam and Harry to get aboard.”

“You realise that we haven’t anything like enough petrol to get to Darwin?”

“We’ve enough to get the girls here, if Pam can show us where they are; and that’ll be enough to go on with,” declared Worrals, “When we get in the air Harry will have to repeat his signal to Darwin, asking for another load of juice to be sent out.”


The time was twelve noon when the Scud took off on what Worrals hoped fervently would be the machine’s last trip before returning to its Australian base with its mission completed. Her hope was justified, but having learned from bitter experience that military operations seldom mature as planned, and aware that the closing phases of such an enterprise are usually more difficult than the opening ones, she kept tight rein on over-confidence. If anything, she veered towards extra caution; at least, that was her resolution as, with Pam sitting beside her to act as guide, she headed for that particular area of ocean in which the refugees were presumed to be hiding. She was tired. She knew she was tired, and her face was beginning to show signs of strain. She flew with one eye on the sky, fully prepared for hostile interference. There were plenty of islands. Indeed, as Frecks had remarked on a previous occasion, the trouble was, there were too many, and she soon gave up saying to Pam, “Is that the one?” The answer was always no. “Tell me when you spot it,” she said at last.

Harry reported that he had made contact with Darwin, asking for more petrol. “They didn’t seem very pleased about it,” he remarked casually.

In an hour, from an altitude of eight thousand feet, the Scud had surveyed some hundreds of square miles without result, and Worrals began to get worried. She looked at the petrol gauge more often. Without voicing her thoughts she wondered whether Pam had been in error over the course taken by the Tamaroa; it would be easy enough, she reflected, with the ship dodging from island to island, to make a mistake.

At length she turned to Pam and said: “I’m afraid we’re hunting in the wrong district. That ship must have travelled farther to the north-west than you supposed.”

“I marked our course by the sun and the moon,” said Pam miserably.

“But you had to sleep sometimes,” Worrals pointed out. “The Tamaroa may have done all sorts of things while your eyes were shut.”

“Yes, I suppose so,” admitted Pam.

“I shouldn’t worry, but in twenty minutes I shall have to head back for Ingles Island, or we shall run out of juice,” said Worrals. “I can make one more run. We’ll try north-west, although I don’t like that direction—it’s taking us too close to the Tamaroa.”

Pam did not answer at once. She leaned forward, looking through the windscreen. “Why, there’s the ship now—look, running up the far coast of that long island to the left.”

Worrals looked. “It’s the Tamaroa all right,” she announced grimly. “We’d better get out of this.” She started to turn away.

“Wait!” exclaimed Pam. “There are the islands we’re looking for—yes, that’s them. The girls are on the largest one.” She was pointing at three long, narrow, low-lying pieces of land, each shaped like a bow, so that together they formed a rough circle. They lay over and beyond the large island along the far side of which the Tamaroa was travelling—at high speed, judging by its foaming wake. While they watched, it turned at a sharp angle and made straight for the atolls.

“Is that piece of water between the island and the three atolls the place where the Tamaroa picked you up?” Worrals questioned shrewdly.

“Yes. This must have been the island I was making for. The channel isn’t as wide as I thought it was.”

“Ah-huh,” murmured Worrals. “Not being entire fools the Japs have come back to the place, reckoning that you couldn’t have travelled far in that crazy canoe. It looks as if it’s going to be a case of who gets to the atolls first—us or the Tamaroa.”

“Surely we can race the ship?”

“It won’t be much use racing it, if, while we are finding the girls and getting them on board, we are within range of its guns. Tell Frecks I want to speak to her. Hello! They’ve seen us. Here comes the flak.”

Her finger tightened on the trigger. (p. 138)

The distance between the two aircraft closed swiftly. There came a glittering streak of tracer. (p. 155)

The relative positions of the ship, the aircraft, the long island and the atolls, were these: the Scud was heading directly for the largest atoll, the nearest point of which was about fifteen miles distant. Half way between it and its objective was the big island. On the far side of this island, also heading for the atoll, was the Tamaroa. Worrals estimated that it had about six miles to go—but it would not have to travel as far as that, of course, to bring the atoll within range of its guns.

In a straight run the Scud could easily reach the large atoll before the Tamaroa, but Worrals hesitated to take this course because it would mean passing directly over the Tamaroa, which was in line between her and the atoll. To do this would mean running the gauntlet of the ship’s ack-ack batteries. As a matter of fact, the Tamaroa’s guns were already in action, but the range was as yet too long and the shells were bursting short. It was clear to Worrals that the wiser course would be to make a detour round the enemy ship; but this, naturally, would mean going much farther. This, in turn, would mean loss of time. Another factor she noted with growing concern was that the sea, for no visible reason, was getting rough; or so it would seem, for little “white horses” were flecking the surface, and a fringe of lacey foam round every piece of land denoted an area of turbulent water, as if waves were breaking. This was something new. It implied a swell, and a swell would make a landing out of the question. The only water unaffected was the lagoon that lay within the circle formed by the three atolls. So far the surface was only ruffled.

Frecks looked into the cockpit. “I’ve seen it,” she announced laconically.

Worrals nodded. “I’m afraid we’re going to have a rough passage. Be ready for anything.” She was still flying on a straight course.

“We shall have a rough passage if you hold to that course,” declared Frecks. “Why not go round?”

“At school we were taught that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line,” answered Worrals. “We’ve no time for fancy work. I’m going through. We’ve got to get to that atoll well ahead of the Tamaroa or we’re sunk. Get ready for the fireworks.” With her jaw set at an aggressive angle she pushed the control column steadily but firmly forward. The Scud’s nose went down. The roar of its engines rose to a howling crescendo.

By this time flak was flashing uncomfortably close; not a great deal of it, for the Tamaroa, a small pleasure yacht converted for coastal patrol work, could not carry a big weight of anti-aircraft equipment; but it mounted at least two quick-firing guns, and these were sufficient to make an ugly pattern of black smoke against the blue.

Worrals increased the angle of the Scud’s dive and the aircraft roared on, leaving most of the flak behind it, on a line that would take it straight over the Tamaroa. She looked down at the ship in passing, wishing she had a stick of bombs on board; she noted a long foaming wake as its propeller thrust the water behind it, and realised with something like dismay that it had a better turn of speed than she had supposed. It almost seemed as if the captain had guessed the errand on which she was bound, and was doing his utmost to forestall her. Indeed, this might have been the case, since those on board might have been aware that only an aircraft could have been responsible for the rescue of their late prisoner, who knew where the girls were hiding. At the rate the Tamaroa was travelling, Worrals estimated that ten minutes would take it to within easy range of the atoll—if not actually into the lagoon. Assuming that the Scud was not hit, she could cover the same distance in something less than two minutes; but it would take a good two minutes to land, and another two minutes to taxi in, which left only four minutes for the Scud to pick up the castaways and get off again. If the girls were waiting on the beach, at the very spot where the Scud nosed in, it might be done, thought Worrals. If they were not, then it looked like being a bad business. In any case it was going to be a close thing.

So far fortune had favoured her. The Tamaroa had been overtaken and passed without the Scud receiving anything like a direct hit, although a few small pieces of shrapnel had gone through the starboard wing. The machine, down to fifteen hundred feet, and still going—to use Frecks’ expression—like a scalded cat, was now fast drawing out of effective range. The long atoll lay directly ahead at a distance of perhaps two miles, and upon this Worrals now concentrated her attention.

It was a narrow strip of land, sickle-shaped, perhaps four miles long by half a mile wide at the widest part. Not by any stretch of the imagination could it be called beautiful. Much of it was rock: both ends tailed off to points of sheer rock, but the centre part was evidently soil of some sort, for it provided foothold for straggling undergrowth, from which rose a few isolated, weather-beaten coconut palms. The lagoon was, of course, on the inside of the curve, and here the beach was broad and sandy; but the outer, seaward side, exposed to the attacks of the mighty Pacific rollers in times of storm, was broken and rugged. Here, foam boiled as it swirled against the coral rock, making it clear that a landing was not to be attempted.

“What part of the island did you occupy?” Worrals asked Pam.

The reply was disappointing. “We made a rough camp amongst those bushes in the middle, as far from the sea as possible. The water was there, and we thought there would be less chance of our being seen. Look! There are the girls, now.”

Some scarecrow figures had emerged from the bushes, and were running towards the sandy beach, waving an assortment of rags. But Worrals could count only three, and she remarked to this effect. But as she finished speaking three more figures appeared. They also were making for the beach, but they moved slowly, and as the Scud roared low over them Worrals saw that two of the girls were half supporting, half carrying, a third. This group was a quarter of a mile from the lagoon beach.

“That must be Julia Carson they’re helping,” volunteered Pam. “She was down with fever when I left.”

Worrals was aghast. “It’ll take them at least twenty minutes to get to the sea at that rate,” she groaned. “The Tamaroa will be in before we can pick them up.” She made a swift survey of the ground near the girls, but it was broken, and occasional bushes made a landing out of the question. “I can’t get down anywhere near them,” she muttered.

“Couldn’t you land on the beach?” suggested Pam.

“I think so, but it wouldn’t make much difference,” answered Worrals. “The girls have still got to get to the beach.” As she cut the throttle to glide in an idea struck her, and she again looked at the ground. “How high above sea level is the middle of the island?” she asked.

“About thirty feet—not more.”

Worrals glanced back at the Tamaroa, still coming on at full speed towards the nearest part of the atoll. This was, of course, the outer side. The beach was on the inner side. Between the two—if Pam was right—there was ground rising to thirty feet; which meant that if the Scud landed on the beach it would be out of sight of those on the ship. They would see the aircraft go down, and guess roughly where it was; they might throw shells over the rising ground, but they would be shooting blind—an altogether different matter from shooting direct at a sitting target which could be seen. In order to view the target the Tamaroa would have to go round the nearest end of the atoll into the lagoon, and that would take time—three or four minutes at least. Without giving the matter serious thought she assumed that this was what it would do.

In a moment her mind was made up, and she side-slipped steeply towards the beach. “As soon as I’m down run for all you’re worth to the girls and hurry them along,” she told Pam tersely. “Is that beach dead level?”


Worrals said no more. She took the Scud out of its slip, brought it in line with the beach, lowered the wheels, went down and flattened out. Only then, as the sand appeared to glide sideways under her, did she become aware of something which, from the air, had not been evident. Wind. For the first time since she had left Darwin a wind was blowing, blowing hard. And she was landing cross-wind.

It is at such moments as this that a pilot’s ability is tested. Almost anyone can maintain an aircraft in level flight while all goes well; it is in dealing with the unexpected—and in the air the unexpected often happens—that real pilotage is called for. A decision must be made, and because of the speed at which an aircraft moves the time allowed may be a second, or even less. And the knowledge that the difference between doing the right thing, and the wrong, may be life or death, does nothing to help the situation. Fortunately, the human brain is capable of much, and, with training, at such moments gives of its best.

Worrals knew from the speed of her “drift” that a straight landing was impossible. The wheels, not designed for lateral strain, would be wiped off, and a bad crack-up would result. Two courses were open to her. One, which would automatically be taken in normal circumstances, was to open up the engines, make another circuit, and land into the wind. But the circumstances were not normal. Such a manœuvre would take time, which she could not afford. The alternative was to attempt a one-wheel landing, making allowance for the wind. This was the course she took, and never were her nerves subjected to greater stress than while she was putting the dangerous expedient into practice. With the control column held over, so that the aircraft was, so to speak, leaning at an angle against the wind, she allowed the machine to sink. There was a jar, causing the hull to shudder, as the port wheel touched the sand. Running on, trying hard to swerve, the undercarriage leg groaning under the strain, the aircraft returned slowly to even keel as it lost speed. Both wheels came into action. Both tore deep grooves in the sand, but they bore their burden and the Scud came slowly to a bumpy standstill. Worrals let out her pent-up breath with a gasp, her relaxed nerves vibrating like banjo strings.

As soon as the machine had stopped she was on her feet, shouting orders. “Pam, you get to the girls. Frecks, go where you can see that ship and let me know what it does. Harry, grab my wing and help me swing round into the wind ready to take off. When we go it will be in a hurry.”

As soon as these commands were obeyed she dropped back into her seat, and giving the starboard engine a burst of throttle, with Harry’s help brought the machine round in its own length dead into the eye of the wind. “Okay!” she called, and throttled back. Leaving the engines ticking over she stood up again to see what was happening.

Frecks and Pam were running hard up the slope down which the leading three girls were stumbling in the rough going. The other three were not yet in sight. Meeting the girls Pam stopped to speak to them, but Frecks ran on. Reaching the top of the rising ground she took one look and then came pelting back.

Worrals knew from her frantic actions that something was amiss. “What is it?” she called.

“They’ve lowered a boat. It’s packed with sailors, and coming flat out for the shore,” was the answer, in a shrill voice.

This information gave Worrals a jolt. It was a contingency she had not foreseen. She realised that she had been too sanguine about the Tamaroa going round the point of the atoll into the lagoon. “How far away are they?” she asked.

“About two hundred yards when I last saw them. I don’t think the Tamaroa dare come any closer in on account of the sea that’s running.”

Worrals looked up at the rising ground—it could hardly be called a hill. The leading three girls were now on the beach, but those behind had only just started down the slope. The sick girl was being carried, and it was clear that nothing more could be done to speed her progress. There was no question of taxiing to meet her; the ground was much too rough. It would take them a good ten minutes to reach the Scud; before that time had elapsed the Japanese sailors would be on the brow of the high ground, and the refugees would find themselves under fire. On open sand, without any sort of cover, even if the aircraft was not put out of action, there would certainly be serious casualties.

“The whole thing’s crazy,” lamented Frecks.

“There’s only one thing to do,” announced Worrals grimly. “I’ve got to get that boat before it can land. You stay here and get the girls together.” She called Harry. “Get aboard and shoot straight,” she ordered crisply. “We’re going to get that boat. If those sailors get ashore we’re done.”

She scrambled into her seat and roared into the air. As the machine rose above the level of the high ground she saw both the boat and its parent ship. The Tamaroa had hove to. It’s guns were flashing again. Those in the boat were hanging on their oars at the edge of the surf as if waiting for a suitable wave to bring them in.

With a thrill of savage satisfaction she swung the Scud round and felt for the loading handle of the anti-submarine cannon. Tracer from the Tamaroa flashed past. Ignoring it, she brought her sights in line with the boat and jabbed her thumb on the firing button. A twin line of flaming shells appeared like magic in front of her. At first they went over the boat, tearing the water into spray. Slowly, but deliberately she pressed the control column forward until they found their mark. A smother of foam leapt high. Splinters of wood spun into the air. For three seconds she held her fire and then zoomed, banking steeply. As the Scud soared like a rocket Harry’s guns began their vicious crackle. Still holding the machine in its turn she looked down. The boat had gone to pieces. Men were in the water. Some were swimming; others clung to pieces of wreckage.

To Worrals the whole thing was taking on the unreal character of a dream. A doubt crossed her mind as to whether this could really be happening. But a violent explosion, which nearly threw the Scud out of her hands, brought her back to the world of reality. Recovering, she tried her controls with feverish haste. The machine still answered to them. Harry staggered into the cockpit. There was blood on his face. “They got me guns,” he croaked.

Worrals hardly heard him. She was glaring at the Tamaroa. Something had happened to her—she knew not what. A sort of frenzy surged through her. She was being hit. She would hit back. Her face was chalk white; her eyes were blazing; but all sense of fear had departed, and with it, coherent thought. Her entire being had become one irresistible impulse to hit. Dragging on the control column she whirled the Scud round in a vertical turn, pushed its nose down and roared straight at the Tamaroa, her guns streaming. Exultation seized her as she saw her shells going home. “Hold that,” she forced out through clenched teeth. Smoke in increasing quantities arose from her target.

“Hey!” yelled Harry in her ear. “Have you gone nuts?” He looked scared.

With a shock Worrals realised that he might be right. Taking a fresh grip on herself she remembered that there were other people to be considered. Automatically taking evading action she tore back to the lagoon. This time she knew about the wind, and although it meant overshooting the place where the girls were waiting, now that the need for haste was not so pressing she could afford to choose the best landing ground.

“Are you badly hurt?” she asked Harry, as the machine ran to a stop.

“I’m as right as rain,” answered Harry. “It’s only my nose. That burst blew me sideways.”

“Good. Watch that high ground in case any Japs get ashore.”

The girls came running down the beach, and Worrals felt a lump stick in her throat when she saw the state they were in. Suddenly, anything that she had done to rescue them became trivial. “Okay, kids; we’ll soon have you home,” she greeted them huskily. “Get ’em aboard, Frecks—look lively.”

The moment the cabin door was closed she took off. But she took no more chances with the Tamaroa, although it seemed to be on fire. Holding the machine down she flew out over the lagoon, to keep out of sight until she was out of range. Not until she was satisfied that this was so did she swing round on a course for Ingles Island. She dare hardly look at her petrol gauge.

Frecks joined her in the cockpit. “We’ve got ’em!” she cried jubilantly.

“About time,” answered Worrals. “A little more of this sort of thing and I shall be ripe for the madhouse. Heavens above! What a scramble!”

“You behaved like you were dotty.”

Worrals nodded. “I must have been. But I’ve learnt something. This air combat is a dangerous game. It goes to your head. I know now why Bill Ashton, that day he was shot down and baled out, ran like a lunatic to another machine and tore into the air for more.”

“Where’s all this wind come from suddenly?” asked Frecks. “It shook me.”

“Not so much as it shook me,” returned Worrals. “I’ve got an idea where it’s coming from—but don’t talk now. Keep your eyes open for Zeros. Pray there aren’t any. I’ve had about as much as I can stand for one day.”

As it happened, no enemy aircraft were sighted. But even before Ingles Island came into view Worrals knew that they had an even more relentless enemy to contend with. Every island they passed was ringed by surf. Ingles Island was no exception. The palms were thrashing their fronds, and even the mangroves were bending under the wind. The lagoon was no longer placid. Seas were pouring through the opening in the reef, causing the water to move uneasily and whitening its surface, although so far there were no waves of any size.

Worrals landed and taxied quickly through stinging spray to the shelving tongue of sand. “Turn out all hands to hold her down when I run ashore!” she yelled above the howl of the gale. She glanced in her reflector. “Look behind you,” she added.

Frecks looked. From east to west, in a mighty curve from horizon to horizon, a lead-coloured curtain, frightening in its immensity and the speed at which it was travelling, was being drawn across the blue.

Frecks clapped a hand over her heart. “What on earth’s that?” she cried in a voice of wonder.

“That, I imagine, is the wet,” answered Worrals wearily.

Frecks stared. “How much petrol have we got left?” she asked weakly.

“About a pint,” answered Worrals.


Destiny delights in irony, and Worrals’ predicament affords a good example. After days of intense effort she had succeeded in her purpose of picking up the castaways, but not only was she too occupied to even speak to them, it began to look as though she had merely moved them from one island to another. The weather had chosen this critical moment to break; simultaneously, the Scud had broken into its last gallon of petrol. By rights, thought Frecks, having achieved their purpose their troubles should be over: instead, she had an uneasy suspicion that they were just beginning.

For a little while something like chaos reigned on Ingles Island. Seas were thundering against the causeway. Spindrift swirled in blinding sheets. The air was full of flying sand, and dead palm fronds were whirled about like scraps of wind-blown paper. A palm fell with a crash, missing the Scud by a narrow margin.

“One like that across the hull and we’re here for keeps,” observed Worrals harshly.

She hardly knew what to do first. The girls needed food. One at least was in urgent need of medical attention. Yet all she could do for the time being was to shout to them to find such cover from the wind as the depression provided. Calling on the others for help she turned to the Scud. It was not a pretty sight. For the first time the damage done by the Tamaroa’s flak could be seen. Nothing vital appeared to have been hit, but there were several holes through the wings and upper part of the hull. Strips of torn fabric flapped and fluttered in the wind.

“We’ve got to get this machine pegged down before the real weather hits us or we can say good-bye to it,” Worrals told Frecks, Harry and Jimmy Crane—the professionals of the party.

“What abart it?” returned Harry. “A plane without petrol is abart as much use as a gun without any ammo.”

“Now, don’t you get gloomy, Harry,” pleaded Worrals. “Hang on to that wing.”

All hands helped in the task of making the aircraft fast. It was hard work. First, the machine was run into the depression, out of the full blast of the gale, with its nose into the wind. Then, bringing into use every scrap of line on board, it was pegged down and anchored to the nearest trees, as circumstances permitted. The food sack was emptied, filled with sand, and used as an anchor under the tail unit, the rope passing over the hull just forward of the fin.

“That’s about as much as we can do,” asserted Worrals, standing back to observe the general effect. She turned to the castaways, who, cowering under the bank, were watching the proceedings. “All right—get aboard,” she ordered. “The more weight we have to hold her down, the better. Pam, take charge inside. Dish out what food there is. You’ll find some quinine somewhere.”

A minute later, with a roar and a crash, the storm struck the island. With it came the rain. And the rain did not fall in drops. It came in a solid sheet, as if heaven itself had burst wide open under the weight of a deluge. An eerie darkness dimmed the scene. Speech being impossible, there was a general scramble to get into the straining aircraft.

“For the love of Mike,” gasped Frecks, as she fell inside. Sitting on the floor, she parted the hair that was plastered to her face. “This is the finish,” she decided. “I’m through.”

Worrals was now able to pay some attention to the castaways—not that there was much that she could say or do. She gave them a short account of how they were situated, but took a cheerful view of things. “Darwin knows where we are,” she concluded. “They’ll get petrol out to us somehow. It may mean a wait until the weather blows itself out a bit, but in the meantime we shan’t starve, even if crabs and coconuts do get a bit tiresome.”

“There won’t be any flying in this,” asserted Jimmy practically. “Not only is visibility zero, but that rain’s heavy enough to beat a machine down on the water. I’ve known it happen.”

“It’s a fortnight before its time,” said Frecks bitterly.

Jimmy answered: “Yes, I know. The met.[9] people were talking about it when I left Darwin. I reckon we’ve got one chance. When the monsoon breaks early, like this, it sometimes lets up for a bit before settling down to the real thing. I should say this willy-willy is the advance guard of the monsoon proper. A willy-willy, by the way, is what we call this sort of storm along the north-west coast.”

[9] Abbreviation for meteorological.

“I hope you’re right about it letting up,” murmured Frecks. “The din alone is enough to scare you stiff.”

The day died without the storm showing any signs of abatement. Harry went out and at no small risk collected some fallen nuts, which provided both food and drink; apart from that, nothing could be done, so they settled down to pass the night as comfortably as circumstances would permit. What with reaction and being worn out, most of them did sleep. Worrals slept the sleep of exhaustion; she was not even kept awake by Julia Carson’s fitful muttering as her fever abated under the influence of the quinine.

Dawn, such as it was, brought a respite, as Jimmy had predicted. They were informed of it by a cold, grey, dismal light. Worrals, feeling refreshed, went out to find that the rain had stopped, although the sky was still covered by an evil-looking blanket of indigo cloud. Under it, on all sides, roiled black, tumbling seas. The palms stood stark against the sky. The mangroves were a black wall. The wind still blew in sporadic gusts. The lagoon was in a turmoil. Visibility was about a mile; at that distance sky and sea merged in sombre mist.

Worrals asked Harry if he thought he could rig up the radio to get in touch with Darwin; and he was doing this when, to Worrals’ surprise, there came an unmistakable drone of an aircraft.

Frecks let out a cheer. “It’s the petrol!” she shouted.

It might have been, but they never saw it, or the plane. They could hear the machine for some time, the sound approaching and then receding as if the aircraft was quartering the area. Worrals was pretty sure of what was happening. The pilot was looking for the island, but could not find it in the murk. Every time the drone drew near she sent coloured flares into the air from the signalling pistol; but apparently the pilot did not see them, and after a while the sound faded, not to return.

“He’s gone,” said Worrals simply. “I don’t blame him. It was a stout effort to even try to find us—but nobody could find anything in weather like this. No matter; it may clear later; if it does he may come back.”

Harry returned to the radio. He sent out the call sign at regular intervals, but could get no reply. “The air’s fairly crackling with electricity,” he explained. “The atmospherics would blow your eardrums out. I’m afraid it ain’t no use.”

An hour later, with everyone busy tidying up and the weather slowly improving, there was a different sort of thrill. A sudden roar announced the approach of a low-flying aircraft, and the general—and natural—assumption was that the petrol plane had returned. As far as Worrals was concerned, no other thought occurred to her. Snatching up the signalling pistol, followed by the others, she dashed into the open and sent a red flare curving skyward. A dark blur emerged from the mist. It took shape, and Worrals instantly perceived her error. Shouting a warning to the others to get out of sight, she made for the trees. But it was too late. A Mitsubishi navy bomber roared overhead at a height of not more than fifty feet.

What it was doing out in such weather, where it had been, or where it was going, Worrals could not for a moment imagine; then she remembered Harry and the radio, and a possible solution occurred to her. The Mitsubishi was out to locate the source of the signals, and by constantly sending the call sign Harry had brought it to the spot. Worrals was furious with herself for making such a stupid blunder. Not that it mattered now. The damage had been done. The Mitsubishi came back, and circling low, obviously had a good look at the island. Everyone lay flat, fully expecting a stick of bombs; but none came, and presently the enemy machine levelled out and made off to the north. There were exclamations of surprise and relief at this unexpected ending to what had promised to be a nasty situation.

“Yet he must have seen us,” declared Jimmy, wonderingly.

“Maybe, but evidently he isn’t going to do anything about it,” averred Frecks.

“I wouldn’t care to bet on that,” murmured Worrals cautiously.

“But if he was going to bomb us, surely he would have done it then?” stated Harry.

“Always supposing that he had bombs on board,” Worrals pointed out. She nearly added, maybe he’s gone to fetch some, but checked herself. She had no wish to make things look blacker than they were.

“The weather’s thickening again,” observed Jimmy. “The next storm that hits us will be the real thing. It may go on for weeks. There’ll be no hope of a petrol plane finding us if it gets any worse.”

“That cuts two ways,” remarked Worrals. “The Mitsubishi won’t be able to find us either, should it come back. You’d better lay off the radio, Harry; no use giving the Japs a beam to fly on.”

After that they stood about and watched the weather. There was nothing else to do, and it was the only thing that mattered. Sometimes it seemed to be getting better, sometimes worse. Once there was a break in the clouds, showing a thin streak of watery blue; but it quickly closed again, leaving the scene more depressing than before.

“I wish it’d make up its mind one way or the other,” muttered Frecks impatiently.

Then Jimmy made a remark which echoed a thought that for some time had been in Worrals’ mind, although she had purposely refrained from mentioning it. “Even if a machine come with a load of petrol I don’t see how it’s going to get down,” said he. “And if it did get down, how are we going to get off?”

Everyone looked at the lagoon, the only possible landing-place. Comment was unnecessary. Since dawn, regardless of what had been happening overhead, the water in the lagoon had been getting more turbulent. Waves poured in through the gap in the reef to meet a tide that was trying to withdraw, and the result was a nasty, short, choppy sea, in the middle of the landing area, although nearer the shore it was not so bad. A landing might just have been possible, but a take off, which would require the full length of the lagoon, was obviously impossible. And there seemed no reason to suppose that the sea would subside; on the contrary, the likelihood was that it would get worse.

With visibility extending now to about half a mile, Worrals looked across the reef at the crested waves beyond. In her heart she was finding it increasingly difficult to convince herself that there remained the slightest hope of getting off. Suddenly her eyes focused on a spot in the gloom that seemed darker than the rest. She stiffened, and stared again. She raised a finger, pointing. “Look!” she cried. “What’s this coming?”

A grey shape, obviously a small vessel of some sort, had now emerged from the mist and was standing straight towards the island.

“My Gawd! It’s the Tamaroa!” said Harry in a tense voice.

No one answered. And before the statement could be confirmed a driving squall of rain had blotted out the scene.

“I thought I’d sunk that confounded ship,” grated Worrals furiously. “I ought to have made sure of it, while I was about it.”

“What are we going to do abart it?” asked Harry.

Worrals shrugged. “The idea of tamely surrendering makes me squirm,” she said. “It’s no use trying to hide. The alternative is to put up a fight—to try to stop ’em getting ashore. They may not know we’re here, I mean, they may be coming into the lagoon to anchor until the storm passes. Not that it matters much. We can’t move the Scud, and they’re bound to spot it. Still, we ought to be able to give them a run for their money. Here they come.”

The squall had passed, leaving the air comparatively clear. The vessel, still a vague grey shape, was chugging its way confidently towards the opening in the reef.

“Queer. They head for that gap as if they could find it with their eyes shut—as if they’d been through it a score of times,” remarked Worrals.

The little ship came on, and as its outlines became dearer Harry let out a yell. “That ain’t the Tamaroa!”

Worrals stared. There seemed to be something vaguely familiar about the craft, but for the moment she could not recall where she had seen it before—if, in fact, she had seen it. Ships did not register in her memory in the same way as aircraft.

Frecks found the answer first. “It’s the Annie!” she cried wildly. “It’s Billy Maguire. Good old Billy. Ahoy, there!” She began running along the sand, waving her arms like semaphores.

Conscious of a strange feeling of excitement blended with emotion, for a few seconds Worrals did not move. So utterly unprepared was she for such an event that she could only stare at the lugger, and stare again, as it came on into the lagoon with the assurance of a rabbit entering its burrow. Billy Maguire’s massive figure loomed behind the wheel. Two shock-headed native boys were busy with the gear. Billy waved. His bellow of greeting came faintly over the water.

Worrals waved back. “It’s the lugger Annie, of Darwin,” she told the men who were standing beside her, watching the drama. “Billy Maguire, the owner, is a friend of ours. This is going to alter things considerably.”

The vessel edged its way cautiously through deep water towards the coral embankment. The native boys flung fenders overboard. Cables were thrown ashore, fore and aft, and made fast. Billy leapt on to the rock.

Such was the excitement that it was a minute before Worrals could make herself heard. “What in the name of all that’s wonderful brings you here, Billy?” she questioned, making no effort to conceal her satisfaction.

Billy grinned. “You did.”

“I don’t get it,” declared Frecks.

“What do you think I carry radio for?” inquired Billy. “I’ve bin picking up your signals for the last two days.”

“But how did you get from Darwin to here in the time?” asked Worrals, puzzled.

Billy winked. “Who said I was at Darwin? It was like this. You remember I told you I did business in dugong oil? When the war started I’d just finished boiling out close on a thousand gallons at Kalo Island—that’s about fifty miles east of here. With the Japs in sight I had to hide it and skip. But I didn’t forget about it—not me; and with the price of oil, any sort of oil, going up and up, lately I thought about it more and more. So the other day—the day after you came to see me—I decided it was worth a chance to slip out and fetch it. And I’ve got it, every drop of it, under hatches. When the weather broke, and I heard you were still here—well, I thought I’d slip along to pay my respects and see how you were fixed.” Billy winked again. “These planes of yours may be all right in fair weather, but with a willy-willy stirring things up I reckon they ain’t so hot. Me and Annie, why, we don’t mind what the weather does. I’m heading back for Darwin now. Would anybody like a passage?” Billy spoke as if he were joking, and Worrals realised that he did not expect to be taken seriously.

“We shall be glad to accept that offer, Billy,” she announced. “We’re in just about as big a jam as you could imagine.”

“Why, what’s wrong?”

“Everything. First and foremost, we’re out of petrol, with small chance of getting any.”

Billy let out his booming laugh. “If that’s all you want mebbe I can fix you up.”

“You mean—you’ve got petrol?”

“What’s the use of an engine without petrol? You didn’t notice me carrying sail as I came in through the reef, did you? I told you in Darwin I’d got an auxiliary motor—not that I use it much. I use the wind—that don’t cost money.”

Worrals was amazed—but she was still dubious. “How much have you got?”

“Couple o’ hundred gallons—should be.”

“In cans?”


Worrals hesitated. She looked at Jimmy. “It won’t be aviation spirit, of course? What do you think?”

Jimmy lifted a shoulder. “The stuff won’t pull like hundred-octane aviation spirit, but if its petrol the motor should run on it, even if they get a trifle warm.”

Worrals turned back to Billy. “Can we have it?”


“Then let’s see about getting it into our tanks,” suggested Worrals in a businesslike voice. Then she remembered something and looked at the lagoon, now a creamy area of broken water.

Billy must have guessed what was passing in her mind. “Yes, I was wondering what you aimed to do about that,” he said. “That three-ply flying canoe of yours will fall to bits if you try to launch it in that sea.”

“And I reckon there ain’t no answer to that conundrum,” put in Harry.

Worrals smiled. “There’s always an answer—it’s just a matter of thinking of it, that’s all,” she said softly. “Billy, I’m afraid you’ll have to sell the government your dugong oil. You’ll get your money when I put in a voucher showing for what purpose it was used.”

Billy blinked. His jaw dropped. “Now, what are you going to do with that?” he asked in an astonished voice.

“Spill it,” answered Worrals succinctly.

“Spill it?”

“That’s right. Throw it overboard. It’ll flatten that water as if a steam-roller was running over it.”

Billy let out a bellow. “Holy sea-serpents! What sort of a landlubber am I not to think of that?” He shook his great head. “I don’t know where you gels get all this eddication. Beats me.”

Worrals laughed. “Come on, everybody. Let’s get busy while this lull lasts. We’ll handle the petrol first.”

Half an hour’s feverish activity saw the petrol transferred from the Annie to the Scud. A heap of empty cans behind the aircraft bore witness to the amount of petrol taken in.

“Okay!” cried Worrals, “No need to hang about. Start jettisoning that oil, Billy.”

Billy, who had been helping to carry up the petrol, waved acquiescence, and started back for the ship; but he had only got half-way when he stopped, wheeled round, and stared into the northern sky. “What’s this a’ comin’?” he shouted.

Worrals took one look, and knew. Knew that what she had feared, but had forgotten in the excitement, had come to pass. The Mitsubishi was coming back; and behind it, in line ahead, were three aircraft which she could not identify. But she knew from their cut that they were enemies. And not for a moment was the intention of the hostile machines in doubt.


The machines with the Rising Sun insignia came on, as inexorable as death itself. Worrals shouted a warning and there was a wild rush for cover. Everyone seemed to know what to expect. Even the two island boys on the Annie leapt ashore and dived into a fissure of the rock. Only Billy stood still, staring at the machines. Why he did this was not clear, for he must have been aware of his peril. Worrals ran to him, caught him by the arm and dragged him towards the depression. Still glaring at the machines, he submitted.

“Staring at ’em won’t do any good,” said Worrals tersely. “All we can do is lie flat and hope for the best. We shall have to take what they hand us.”

Harry, muttering savagely to himself, appeared with the Sten gun, and took up a position close at hand.

“You keep your head down when they unload the cookies,[10]” cautioned Worrals. “They’re more likely to get you, than you them. Here they come!” Worrals went flat and put her hands over her head.

[10] R.A.F. slang, meaning bombs.

Flying at about a thousand feet, the leading machine, the Mitsubishi, came on and dropped its bombs. They could be seen falling through the open bomb-doors like a string of sausages. There came the usual shrill whine, short-lived; then the island rocked as the bombs exploded. For three long seconds the world was a place of smoke and flame, of screaming metal and flying sand. Then it was all over, except for the patter of falling debris. The bombs had straddled the island; some had fallen in the lagoon, sending up cascades of foam; but as far as Worrals could make out from a swift survey, no damage had been done. The nearest bomb was fifty yards away.

She could never find an entirely satisfactory explanation for what followed. She felt sure that the Mitsubishi had fetched the three dive-bombers, as they turned out to be, and that being so, it was reasonable to suppose that the target had been named. Of course, there was no proof that the Mitsubishi had spotted the Scud on the occasion of its first visit; the crew may have seen only the people on the island. At that time the Annie had not been there. Be that as it may, the dive-bombers, to the exclusion of everything else, concentrated on the most obvious target, one that they could see clearly—the lugger. This was natural enough. The presence of the aircraft might have been unsuspected—but this again is surmise. All that really matters is, they went for the ship. They may have reasoned that if it was sunk, anyone on the island would have to stay there.

Each machine carried two bombs, slung on racks, one under each wing close against the fuselage. Their weight, Worrals estimated, was in the order of five hundred pounds. Fascinated, she watched the first machine make its dive, saw the bombs come off, watched them all the way to the ground. Both missed. One fell in the middle of the lagoon, the other on the causeway, sending up a great cloud of rock splinters. A piece of coral weighing the best part of a hundredweight came down and buried itself in the sand a yard from the Scud.

The second machine did no better, and Worrals began to hope that the Annie might escape after all. Both bombs fell beyond their mark, and again the island quivered under the concussion. Two palm trees went down before the blast. More rock splinters pattered. Then the third machine fell off on its wing, dived—and settled the business. Its first bomb, a near miss, fell just astern of the Annie, and the explosion lifted the after part clean out of the water. Before it had time to recover the second bomb went home fair and square just forward of the mainmast. It must have gone clean through, from deck to keelson. There was a mighty plume of smoke, water and splinters, mixed. The lugger reared up like a wounded horse, fell back, and at once began to settle down. Harry was blazing away with the Sten gun, and Rama was using the rifle, but both weapons were inadequate to deal with the situation, and as far as could be seen the bullets had no effect. The enemy machines, still in line ahead, roared away in the direction from which they had come.

Billy stood up, “There goes my ship,” he said in a flat, dull voice. “There goes little Annie.”

Considering the bulk of the man, this last remark sounded childish; at least, so thought Worrals, and she looked at him sharply, wondering if he were joking, although, admittedly, it seemed no occasion for humour. She never forgot the expression on his face. Tears were rolling down his weather-beaten cheeks. He made no attempt to check them. Nor did he appear to notice the questioning eyes that were on him. He was oblivious to everything except the ship.

Worrals laid a sympathetic hand on his arm. “Sorry, Billy,” she said quietly. “Don’t take it too hard. There’ll be other ships.”

Billy shook his head. “That may go for airplanes,” he said heavily, “but there’ll never be another Annie. Me and her have bin together for close on twenty years, and we’d sort o’ got part of each other. She was all I had, and all I wanted. I always reckoned that when she went I’d go with ’er. I ought to ’ave stayed aboard.”

“In which case you’d have been blown to pieces without serving any useful purpose,” Worrals pointed out. “Annie would have gone down just the same.”

“There she goes,” said Billy.

Annie disappeared; only the tip of a mast remained above water, like an accusing finger pointing at heaven.

Now, Worrals was very sorry indeed about Annie, but being a practical person, with a heavy load of responsibility on her shoulders, she could not allow sentiment to submerge her common sense. If the truth is to be admitted, at that moment she was more concerned with the loss of the dugong oil, which alone, as far as she could see, could have got them out of their difficulties by spreading itself over the troubled waters, thus enabling the Scud to take off. Out of respect for Billy’s grief, however, she did not mention this. She just stood gazing at the place where Annie had disappeared. And as she watched she saw an astonishing spectacle. What she had taken to be bubbles she now perceived were not bubbles. They were great globules of oil, although doubtless there were bubbles as well. The globules seemed to fade in an ever-widening sheet of irridescence; and as the oil spread itself over the water the crests of the waves no longer broke. Slowly, as if it were being forced flat by a giant press, the surface of the lagoon became calm. Of course, she realised what had happened. The bomb that had sent Annie to the bottom had either gone through the oil storage tanks, or had burst them by blast, or had torn them open with splinters. At any rate, the oil was escaping and rising to the surface. She had often heard of the effect of oil on rough water; knew that lifeboats sometimes resorted to this device in bad weather to approach a sinking ship; but this was the first time she had witnessed the phenomenon, and she watched with fascinated curiosity. So did the others.

Billy, too, suddenly became aware of what was happening. “Look at that!” he roared. “She’s never let me down. Gone to Davy Jones, she has, but she still has the last word. She knew what we wanted—bless ’er.”

Frankly, Worrals doubted this, but she was not prepared to argue about it. “We have cause to be grateful to her,” she acknowledged, with her eyes on the northern sky, which had now become more threatening. “But it won’t do us any good if we stand here talking about it. This is our chance and we’d better grab it. Let’s be going while the going’s good.” She spoke confidently, but she was wondering if the Scud would get off the water with its load—now augmented by Billy and his two native deck hands. Fortunately, as it now transpired, due to their privations most of the castaways were well below average weight; but Billy Maguire weighed as much as two ordinary men.

Jimmy, being a pilot, was just as much aware of this as Worrals. “Some of us had better stay here,” he suggested casually.

“That’s very nice of you, Jimmy, but there’s nothing doing,” answered Worrals firmly. “We all go or we all stay.”

“That sounds daft to me.”

“It probably does, but that’s our way of doing things.”

“I know all about that. But how——?”

“Just a minute, Jimmy,” interrupted Worrals. “Don’t you realise that if we adopted your plan, there would be such an argument about who is going and who is going to stay, that it would finish by none of us going? That would be daft. It’s better not to even raise the question. Give me a hand.”

It is not to be supposed that the storm had given way to dead calm. Far from it. But the weather was not so bad as it had been; that was all that could be said for it. The sky was still covered, and the wind blew in gusts that sometimes reached gale force. It rained, more or less, at frequent intervals, and from the colour of approaching clouds it was evident that another deluge was on the way. However, it was coming from the north-west; the Scud’s course lay south-east, so if they could get off before it arrived there seemed to be no reason why they should not race it to Darwin.

All equipment not likely to be needed was now thrown out to reduce weight. Climbing into her seat, Worrals started the engines. The mooring ropes were cast off, and with Harry and Jimmy each hanging on to a wing-tip, she taxied down to the lagoon. The water still rose and fell in long, greasy undulations, but it was now black, for the oil prevented the seas from breaking. Worrals regarded it critically. The longest run the lagoon offered was from the point where she had entered the water to the gap in the reef, and this, fortunately, was into the wind. She was by no means certain that the machine, heavily loaded as it would be, would “unstick” in that distance, but there was no opportunity for experiment. The risk would have to be taken. If it did not lift—but she did not pursue that line of thought any further.

Frecks got everybody aboard and arranged the weight to the best advantage. Billy Maguire, by far the heaviest, she put well forward, as near as possible to the machine’s centre of gravity. She ordered everyone to lay flat on the floor, braced to prevent movement, so that should the aircraft roll there would be no sudden shifting of weight. This command, for some reason not apparent, produced laughter. Curiously enough, everyone seemed to be in high good humour. Or perhaps it was not curious, but merely the traditional British habit of finding fun in a situation which, regarded logically, was anything but funny.

Frecks joined Worrals in the cockpit. “All set,” she announced.

Worrals’ hand went to the throttle. “Here we go,” she murmured. “Either this will be it—or it won’t.”

She pushed the throttle open. The engines roared, and the Scud, moving slowly at first but gathering speed, headed for the opening in the reef. It seemed, rather, to Frecks, that the gap, with its line of churning foam, was racing towards the Scud. The aircraft became more buoyant as its wings began to take the weight, but the movement was barely perceptible. With only fifty yards to go the keel was still clinging to the water.

“We shan’t do it,” she said, with surprising calmness.

The Scud tore on, apparently to inescapable disaster. There was no question of stopping, even if Worrals had lost her nerve and attempted it. “Hold tight,” was all she said.

Whether it was a providential gust of wind, or the first wave that kicked the Scud into the air, Worrals never knew. There was a noise like a burst of machine gun fire as the front of the hull slapped against the outer surge of the incoming flood. Knowing that if the machine did not unstick now it never would, she snatched the control column back. The Scud responded by leaving the water. For a few seconds there was some doubt as to whether it would remain airborne; the engines tried to hold it up, but the tail still sagged. For a moment the aircraft wallowed on the brink of a stall, the control column going “sloppy”; then, slowly, the “stick” became rigid, vibrating in Worrals’ hand, and the machine bored steadily upwards. Spray spattered like bullets. Ahead, the sky was as black as midnight. But Worrals didn’t mind. They were off. She laughed, a dry little laugh without any humour in it, revealing to Frecks, who understood, how near was her nerve to breaking-point. At five hundred feet she turned, and raced away before the storm. She laughed again. “Done it!” she cried.

Frecks shook her head sadly. “How you could do a thing like that I can’t imagine. I was frozen to my seat.”

Worrals ran her tongue over her lips, “So was I,” she admitted frankly, peering ahead through the windscreen. The air was reasonably clear. “With any luck we ought to get through, now,” she added.

“There is this about it,” observed Frecks. “We’re not likely to meet any Zeros—or anything else.”

And she was right.

An hour and a half later the long, low, storm-lashed coastline of Northern Australia came into view, and with it the end of the adventure. The entire airfield turned out to watch the machine land, and when it did so, wings and fuselage were seized by willing hands to prevent it from being blown over. Dan Lynch was there. As Worrals staggered out he waved his hands helplessly.

“You’re mad,” he remarked in a matter-of-fact voice, as if the assertion was beyond denial.

Worrals smiled faintly. “We’ll discuss that later, Dan,” she announced. “I’ve got a load of human freight on board that needs attention. I’ll leave you to take care of it. I’m just a little bit tired. See you later. Come on, Frecks.” She steered a course for her quarters.

*      *      *      *      *

There is little more to tell. Worrals and Frecks slept a sleep of exhaustion for fourteen hours, and then made an unhurried toilet before turning out to submit their reports, and to discover, much to Worrals’ annoyance, that the newspapers had got hold of the story and were making what, in her opinion, was an unnecessary fuss about the affair.

“All because we happen to be girls, and the papers are run by men,” she informed Frecks irritably. “Had men made the sortie, probably nothing would have been said. From this attitude of profound amazement every time a job is done successfully by girls you can judge the vanity of the male tribe, my dear. The fuss over women pilots even before the war was not so much what they did as because they were women. Such conceit!”

“Be fair,” protested Frecks. “Men have come off the high horse quite a lot since the war started.”

“I notice they climb back on again, though, at every opportunity,” countered Worrals.

They found the castaways in good hands. All were progressing satisfactorily. In fact, there was nothing much wrong with any of them, and in two days even Julia Carson had sufficiently recovered from her bout of fever to attend a dinner given by the officers of the station to celebrate the event. Worrals recommended Harry for the Distinguished Flying Medal as she had promised, and he got it. Billy Maguire was, of course, compensated by the government for the loss he had sustained, and was given command of one of the new anti-submarine corvettes. Worrals and Frecks took ten days’ leave, and as guests of the Commonwealth Government spent a memorable holiday seeing the many fine sights that Australia has to offer.

The long journey back to England, made by sea, the rescuers and the rescued travelling together, was an extension of the holiday, and at the finish Worrals and Frecks agreed that, taking one thing with another, it had been a good show.



Misspelled words and printer errors have been corrected. Where multiple spellings occur, majority use has been employed.

Punctuation has been maintained except where obvious printer errors occur.

Some illustrations were moved to facilitate page layout.


[The end of Worrals of the Islands--A Story of the War in the Pacific by Capt. W. E. (William Earl) Johns]