Extracts from a Diary
by Amelia Bourne-Phipps
-edited by Simon Barber-
18 July, 1937 to 19 July, 1937
Sunday 18th July, 1937
A fine warm day and one that we definitely used to the full. Maria is walking more comfortably than she sits down, so getting across on a water taxi to the Eastern Island seaplane slips was not much of a problem. Having fuelled the 506 we improvised a “bombardier’s couch” with blankets for her to lie on her front, and so managed to kill two birds with one stone. There was no point in paying for water-taxis to South Island when we have a much faster way of getting to Haio Beach now, and need flight time. Of course that would hardly be much of a test flight, so we diverted via Bell’s Pyramid, that seabird-covered rock fifty miles out that just sits on the edge of the local chart. The 506 flies very nicely, though in the cockpit it is a lot noisier than Songmark’s Junkers 86 what with the third engine in the nose. A third engine at least gives us more safety margin if one fails in flight; half way across the Pacific it would be hard to keep flying on half power but more hopeful on two-thirds especially if we have burned a lot of fuel off. Of course, if there is an engine fire it is rather better to know it is back in the wings rather than a few inches away from our paws on the far side of a firewall we have not put to the test. Italian Schneider Trophy aircraft do seem to burn disconcertingly easily, but any lightweight magnesium airframe packed with the highest possible energy fuel and the minimum of heavy safety features would.
By ten we were touched down in the lagoon and drawing quite a crowd. The South coast of South Island has no official facilities for anything but canoes to beach, but we made good use of the sand anchors and by now we should certainly not get surprised by the tides around here. While Helen, Marti and I went up to the Hoele’toemi compound Miss Cabot put in some more hours flying with Maria navigating.
Saimmi had a surprise for me – she says the one good thing about our being held up with Maria is I now have time to spend my night on Sacred Island as Helen did before her wedding. Just to doubly shock me, it is tonight! I will need to be a fully paid-up Warrior Priestess considering the places she has seen me going in her fires, she says. Certainly I need all the qualifications I can get.
All other plans were suddenly off as I prepared the rituals, breaking only for a substantial luncheon with Mrs. H (I expect I will always think of her as such although now of course Helen is a Mrs. Hoele’toemi as well.) A Warrior Priestess has fewer traditions for her rituals than a regular one and although Saimmi freely admits she is making some of then up, at least the details are ones she feels right rather than having being passed down across the generations from conditions that were very different and might not really apply. After all, the previous generation of Warrior Priestesses gave their lives four hundred years ago protecting the survivors from what the catastrophically unsuccessful Great Ritual had unleashed, of which the changes to the landscape were far the less dangerous part.
It is definitely our last chance for many things – for the first time in ages I met that strange ex-Japanese priestess Oharu whom Saimmi had summoned from her remote spot on Main Island. I had heard that aside from Tatiana’s wedding she had been forbidden by Saimmi to contact any of the Songmark girls – which had been much to Molly’s approval. Now term is over that no longer applies. In fact she is getting a lot more contact with one of us than I had thought – she and Belle are getting married! I congratulated her of course; I have not seen any of Prudence’s dorm in awhile. That will make five Songmark girls who are married that way, considering Nancy and Alpha Rote are married to each other under Cranium Island rules (which may or may not mean a lot considering the “ruling elite” of that island are reputed to be absolutely screaming mad.) I am still convinced worldwide that the interest of such things is at most one in several hundred girls, but of course Songmark scarcely takes an average student.
What Saimmi had brought Oharu down specifically for was to take another look at Miss Cabot and see what might be done for her. She has taken Miss Cabot to Main Island previously, but says she has contemplated some ideas since then. Saimmi herself looked in detail as soon as we returned from Kuo Han and could not undo what happened to her there, but we have often heard that Oharu is from a very different arcane tradition and has some other directions to approach seemingly impossible problems from. Even Mount Kiribatori can be climbed easily enough from the right side by the right paths. She took Miss Cabot off for the evening to see if anything could be done – I hardly see how, we have only one doe and Miss Cabot is her. I had visions of them “hot-bunking” a body as sailors on different watches take turns with limited bed space. How one would change shifts might be a matter of some argument. It is tricky enough with my “being” Kim-Anh Soosay but at least that was my idea and I could drop that role should I ever wish to. Anyway, Saimmi says this is the last halfway good chance they may ever get. If Miss Cabot chooses to stay with the Cabot family and never return to Spontoon, let alone more unfortunate possibilities Saimmi will doubtless have seen in her fires, this really will be the last chance.
Then – it was a matter of my getting down to serious ritual preparation for tonight. Not something that can be easily written down, not even in Lexarc shorthand! I am to travel to Sacred Island alone and unaided; Helen happily loaned be the canoe made for her and Marti as a wedding present. Crossing the open waters alone is liable to be the very least of it.
Monday 19th July, 1937
Dear Diary: I might not have “graduated” from Songmark but at least I have passed this exam – even though there is no certificate to go with it. What happens on a Priestess’s night on Sacred Island is apparently different in detail for everyone – except that one is tested within an inch of one’s life and soul. When I finished at sunrise after the longest night of my life, Saimmi revealed that although no Priestess sends any candidate here if she sees any flaw within her, still about one in thirty lose their lives or their sanity even nowadays. Saimmi says that has not happened since she became High Priestess, and having heard tales from Huakava she rather dreads the first time it will happen to someone she sends (and it will, sooner or later. Songmark has not yet had a fatal air crash either, but one day that is sure to happen. It did to the Ave Argentum this Summer but they never had a wonderful safety record even before coming here.) The new Priestess having to return unaided to the main Spontoon shores afterwards is something of a safety test, helping ensure nobody of fractured mind but possibly awakened powers gets back to trouble the population.
Actually, when I got home to the Hoele’toemi compound to find everyone waiting me with congratulations, all I really wanted to do was throw myself down in a darkened hut and sleep – I felt rather the way we did on our return from the Aleutians, though at least freezing fur was not involved this time. I was in something of a turmoil and badly needed the sleep to settle myself. Any wisecracking tourist opening the rattan blinds of a certain “quaint Native hut” and disturbing my rest with a camera flash would I fear have rather more happen to them than they deserved and a lot more than the Tourist Board would like.
Happily, I slept well till midday and was much refreshed. When I awoke Miss Cabot was busy with fuel calculations and supplies list – this time tomorrow we will be on our way, and Helen is off with Maria in the 506 collecting our orders from the seaplane slips on Eastern Island. I checked Miss Cabot’s figures and could find nothing wrong with them – it is most unfair our Tutors refused to sign her graduation certificate as she is perfectly well qualified in every practical skill Songmark taught us. She is infinitely less likely than Molly was to set any buildings alight and laugh wildly at the sight, which was always a black mark against her with our Tutors who are still living down having unleashed that dorm of highly successful Air Pirates on the Pacific.
We had some unexpected visitors who were keen to say farewell, now Songmark has finished for the other years and they have some time on their paws. The unlikely dorm-mates Meera Singh, Rosa Marquetta and Eva Schiller, living proof of how our dear Tutors love to put folk together who will sharpen each other’s edges, so to speak. A lot of loud and painful grinding is sure to be involved. Especially in the first year. A jolly British-educated Indian princess, an utterly uncompromising Bakuninite Anarchist and a star member of the League of German Maidens, who is in very good odour with her Party back in Germany especially since she found the Horn of Heimdal for them last month. One expects they will not be playing Jazz tunes on it. Alpha Rote is the other (absent) member of the dorm, but it goes without saying that after another whole term forbidden to speak with her “wife” Nancy in Songmark they will have a lot of catching-up to do right now. Chatting with my dorm (who they always seemed to have something of a down on for some reason) is really not their priority.
Meera had some interesting photographs her lower-school chums back in England had sent her, of how they are progressing without her. The Congreve Club is progressing nicely since a very practical Physics Mistress joined forces and got a gas liquefaction plant working. It is only the second Public School in the country to have one! There are pictures of cheerful third-formers with their neat uniforms supplemented with heavy gauntlets and leather splash-proof aprons, standing by their latest torpedo-like efforts holding hosepipes that seem to be spewing dense fog as the damp English air condenses around the super-cold liquid. As modern aircraft use compressed oxygen cylinders rather than liquid oxygen for high-altitude flights it is nothing we have handled ourselves in Songmark, but is said to be nasty stuff – being so cold splashes can do exposed skin as much damage as molten lead would. Still, Roedean is a famous school that takes some very distinguished girls and I am sure their Science Mistress is taking all possible precaution with her young pupils as they prepare another postal rocket that is destined to put the “Express” back into “Express delivery” across the English Channel. At least liquid oxygen evaporates harmlessly; Meera has mentioned they used to play around with hydrogen peroxide or red fuming nitric acid for that place in the rocket diet.
Intriguingly, there are all sorts of rules and regulations to get around had they gone for cordite or black-powder propellant, but absolutely none bar aircraft safety overhead when using the much more powerful and volatile liquid fuels. Still, cordite is a registered military material and liquid oxygen and alcohol are not. Anything using such tricky materials would be far too difficult for the average soldier to use in the field, and be much too expensive to build. So many advanced systems have proved to be vulnerable to that levelling factor in military life, the soldier’s boot. In fifty years or so there will quite possibly be postal rockets punching out of the atmosphere like a Paris Cannon shell, but the world has nothing to fear from liquid-fuelled rockets!
Rosa is not someone I have had much contact with, and from what I hear I have not missed much. She is what she describes as an “anarcho-surrealist” and loves pointing out the many absurdities of modern civilisation. She asks me if our travels are likely to include Spain, where her many relatives are fighting on all sides. Her own brother is a “pistolero” or hired gun for the Nationalist landowners, she says, and her father has joined the communists. I expect her family reunions are likely to be rather turbulent. I had to disappoint her – if I have anything to do with it we are going nowhere near Spain, whose raging Civil War seems likely enough to come to us. English furs are fighting on both sides, and (amazing to Maria) our Government is letting any remaining Reds freely leave the country to join the International Brigade - presumably because fewer will be expected back.
As her uncle mentioned last week, Eva Schiller is leaving in a few days as they are both heading back to Germany. She says she looks forward to showing us the wonders and triumphs of her homeland, and hints that for the right people there is a lot more to be seen than features in the newsreels. Her Leader is famous for having strong opinions on who are the right people, and indeed who counts as “people” at all. Not someone I would really trust with the sort of artefact Eva sent to Berlin special-delivery. Hopefully the Horn of Heimdal will prove more problematic than other impossibly ancient artefacts to get working for its new wielders. Violins and bagpipes are not the sort of thing one can just pick up and work out a useful tune from first principles, and if half the legends are true the genuine Gjallarhorn has rather more possibilities than just playing parade music, even if the outwardly similar ancient bronze battle lurs is now again the official Germanic instrument replacing the decadent saxophones of the Weimaraner Republic *. As any Spontoon Priestess knows all too well from the island’s history when such powers were more widely used, [complex and little-understood rituals] x [absurdly high power levels] = abundant chances of things going HIDEOUSLY wrong.
Exactly how Eva and Rosa are managing to get along without having each other “killed in a horrible workshop accident” I may never know. They certainly spend a lot of time hauling each other up rock faces on ropes, where it would be all too easy to accidentally let go or kick a melon-sized stone down. Red Dorm managed not to bump each other off and they too have done quite well on points although they started with a lot of vigorous intra-dorm “self-defence practice” in their spare time. No doubt they are gloating over the one obviously well-matched dorm, Crusader Dorm having finished bottom of their year. A Songmark course demands one hundred percent, and any distractions however noble for sleuthing or anything else cannot fail to have an impact. At least our distractions with Mr. Sapohatan and suchlike have been semi-officially approved by our Tutors – at least they had plenty they might have said about them, and never did.
The Cant 506 made a fine landing in the lagoon, much to the united envy of the first-years. They will have to wait another whole year to fly a multi-engined floatplane, unless Songmark acquires more in the meantime. At least I could offer them a treat, if only a back-seat ride for an hour with Miss Cabot navigating. We headed out into the Kanim Islands at full throttle, this being a good time to check just what the fuel consumption is. Rather heavy, as I push the throttle past cruise speed – this is not an aircraft designed to outrun a fighter, as some of the other “mail planes” are. That German adventure film we saw last year showing an honest independent postal delivery firm in Africa flying Heinkel 111s attacked by Air Pirates who had somehow “acquired” Gloster Gladiators which could not catch them, was probably more than it seemed.
Thinking of pirates, it was with something of a pang that I looked down on the beach where Molly and I were cast ashore with Lars last year, after the sinking of the Parsifal. It was quite an adventure. Although we are fairly certain it was Lars all the time who ended up selling us to Kuo Han, it is nothing we can prove in a court of law, and indeed on Krupmark anyone is liable to sell anything whether or not it is theirs. Helen and Maria were given every possible assistance to get after us, though it might be Lars did not want a Warrior Priestess to deal with. They even salvaged that Vostok-built “crop sprayer” and a full tank of fuel, which Maria donated to the Rain Island military on Moon Island for study (though she has not heard of such, it may well be one of the technologies Vostok is sharing with Italy. If not, she says Il Puce will be very interested to find out why not.)
I know Molly would have been liable to want to storm ashore on Krupmark and roast Lars to charred venison with his own gift even on the circumstantial evidence we have. Miss Cabot agrees we cannot prove it, Krupmark being what it is. She is perfectly capable of using such a weapon, but less liable to howl with manic laughter and note it as one of the high points of her year having done so. It is doubly galling our Tutors will not give her a graduation certificate, considering she has lost all the unfortunate behaviour they used to take marks off Molly Procyk for in the first place!
Back to South Island bang on time, with three excited first-years in the back all clamouring for a go at the controls. I had to disappoint them – we need this aircraft tomorrow and are taking no extra chances with it. Their Songmark fees will pay to pull any dents out of the school’s Sea Osprey, when they get round to flying that.
Then – over to Main Island where our final supplies were awaiting and we could put Meera, Rosa and Eva to good use as “supercargo” loading the aircraft up. I left it at Superior Engineering where furs there will be giving a final check on the engines before we head out tomorrow with the wide Pacific to cross. It will be the first time I have navigated so far over open ocean since the return from the Albanian South Indies last year with Zara and Brigit. At least this time I am in better company. The only thing I want with Miss Mulvaney is exactly who this “Doctor Phil” may be whose signed photograph is in pride of place on her desk – although I know it is about the last thing she would be inclined to tell me. Both Major Hawkins and Post Box Nine would be very interested to know.
Farewell to Meera and Rosa, then “Au Revoir” to Eva as we may meet later on this Summer. Back on a water-taxi to North Beach, then a slow walk back down to Haio Beach for the last time in what may be a very long while. It seems very strange, thinking about it all. Nearly three years ago I arrived on the cruise-ship from Hawaii, when I had expected to be starting my final term at Saint Winifred’s. I hope some of the girls there who were junior-years at the time will remember me – on the face of it arriving as a qualified Adventuress having become Lady Allworthy in the least likely place on the planet, Krupmark Island! If they invite me to speak as a Saint Winifred’s “old girl” I would rather shock them if I told them the full facts about all that! Ironically, making the same speech at Saint T’s would be roundly applauded, with most of the girls taking detailed notes and asking extremely practical questions afterwards.
One final evening at the Hoele’toemi compound, finishing after supper (two finger poi, clay-roast fish) when we regretfully helped each other remove the fur oiling and all the patterns. I have never seen Helen cry but she was jolly upset to comb out her “married” markings especially as traditional Spontoonie weddings do not use a Euro style wedding ring and she never thought to get one. Losing my own Warrior Priestess markings was bad enough, but Helen lost both. At least she has enjoyed a week of Marti’s company, indeed almost every night since we got back. It is ironic, having spent three years learning to be active Adventuresses and following Mrs. Oelabe’s practical advice as best we can – either one, two or three of my dorm will be leaving Spontoon with a kitten on the way. In Helen’s case, of course, that would be a perfectly natural and welcome idea.
Helen and I performed Evening Song for the village, our last public duty here. Tomorrow we will be up before dawn and heading straight over carrying little more than the clothes on our back and our passports; a water-taxi is booked for six at North Beach, and before even the keenest tourist is awake we should be starting engines and flying out over Main Island, heading East towards our first refuelling stop in Tillamook three and a half hours away.
Off to the Hoele’toemi longhouse for an early night – my diary being the last thing to go in my satchel apart from the alarm clock which is set for four. Then farewell to Spontoon!
end of the diary section "Back Into Daylight"
* Editor’s note: see “The Cabaret of Doctor Caligari”, a shockingly decadent 1925 expressionist film shot in the unnatural nightclub of the same name. Copies of the film may be found in its homeland on top of the pile at any good public book-burning; ask your friendly local brown or black-shirted public service official for details.
continue as she heads across the globe,
in “Storm Birds”.