A Tall Ship Tale #49: Que Thera, Thera

By Paul de Anguera.

The silver bell over the china-shop door tinkled as George stepped in. He brushed at his coat in annoyance and approached the First Mate. “Here is your letter, Mr. Cilantro,” he said, handing the First Mate a battered envelope. He opened it and read the familiar, perplexing message once again:

Your oar, dears! Art, to prose — cede to thee!
Why douse, Anisette? Fie, you’re due wit!

His eye fell to a line added in a different hand. “Rita Hentrack finished decoding it!” he gasped.


The sailors turned and looked out the shop window. The crowded rooftops of Thera fell away steeply toward the sea, where the American brig Goober and their own frigate Legume lay anchored. All of the houses were white.

“Cilantro could be anywhere!” the First Mate groaned.

“But I thought you were…” George started to object.

“Listen!” the Captain interrupted.

They paused and heard a rhythmic bubbling noise. So had Cilantro’s water-pipe sounded when he was on the Legume in the North Sea. The First Mate pointed meaningfully at a narrow door at the rear of the shop. In a thrice, the men burst through it into a back room — only to find a bespectacled figure peacefully brewing tea.

“That’s all right!” he said, refusing their apologies. “It is my pleasure, gentlemen! I don’t get much company here. Professor Cornelius Peabody at your service! I keep the shop for Dr. Fraude, and so he lets me use this space for my own interests.” He gestured at shelves and a worktable cluttered with clocks in various stages of creation.

“So, what are your interests?” George asked in puzzlement.

“Why, as you can see, I am an horologist,” Peabody replied.

“Fascinating!” the First Mate enthused. “You must join our ship! The men would welcome someone whose studies complement their own.”

“Perhaps you misunderstood me,” Peabody cautioned. “I said I was a…”

“My uncle Albert was once an up-and-coming whorologist, ” the First Mate continued. “He arranged with the presiding madame of a Liverpool knocking-shop to periodically evaluate her girls’ performance. At the same time, he recorded weather phenomena such as humidity and barometric pressure. His plan was to derive a formula for predicting performance based upon the weather.

“But the girls kept getting married, leaving both the business and his study. He’d see a thunderstorm on the way and hurry to the brothel to revisit a promising subject, only to find her being fitted for a lacy wedding dress.” The First Mate paused meditatively, reflecting on the harsh intrusions of reality upon science. “What happened to him?” George asked after a moment.

“Uncle Albert? Why, after the third wedding he threw a fit and gave up the whole study! It had been his life’s work, and the old gentleman was terribly upset. I still remember him flinging his graphs and charts out the window and crying:

“…’Whore today — gown tomorrow!'”

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