A Tall Ship Tale #84: Burning Down The House

Paul Anguera continues his tale.

With the year dial of its chronomotor restored to 1812, the flying frigate H.M.S. Legume now proceeded across-country to the enemy capital. Drifting northward from the tidal basin, the ship cast a monstrous shadow over the memorial to the treasonous signers of the Declaration of Independence, the Society of the D.A.R. Library and the Zero Milestone. They heard musketfire in the distance, and saw Redcoats slipping through the rush-hour traffic on E Street. “What’s that row of dots?” the First Mate wondered, peering down from the quarter-deck:

“Is that the punch line already?”

“No, that’s the Ellipse,” Captain Quid supplied. “Let’s have a look at the spy Cilantro’s ciphered orders again.”

The First Mate pulled a much-worn envelope out of his shirt. But before he could open it an aggravated reader ran across the deck. “No, no! Not the letter again!” He seized it, wadded it up, threw it overboard and jumped screaming after it. The shocked officers looked over the rail, then at each other.

“Anyway,” Quid continued, “Cilantro was supposed to set fire to the White House. It’s time to decide what to do about it.”

“We could analyze the story up to this point and figure out whose side Cilantro is really on,” the First Mate considered. “But that irate reader might come back if we poop around. So let’s just say he’s on our side and get on with it.”

“No!” Sir Hillary pleaded from the main deck, dragging his ball and chain behind him with a rattle. “The Americans are our brothers! You must stop him from burning it.”

“Who knows how to do that?” Quid wondered.

“Marvelous idea!” exclaimed Professor Marvel as he slid down the ratlines from the maintop. “Use the nose! The nose of the Sphinx we’ve been carrying in the hold since Chapter 28. It proves that aliens built the pyramids. Show it to the combatants, and they will be so awestruck they’ll forget all about the war.”

Under the First Mate’s direction, the crew rigged a block and tackle over the main hatch. With mighty heaves they drew out the elephantine stone nose and dangled it over the starboard side.

“Look at this! An alien nose! What’s the good of fighting, when aliens have visited the earth?” they called down to the soldiers.

Below, a British Captain turned, perplexed, to his aide. “I can’t hear what they’re saying. Have the signal officer ask them what that is they’re dangling about.” Two signalmen approached the ship and began anxiously waving semaphore flags. With a dreadful sound, the massive stone nose began breaking loose from the derrick over their heads. “Run away! Run away!” they cried, galloping out from under the ship. (They had no horses, but held their right hands stiffly in front of them and sort of skipped along. “Independence Day” meets “The Holy Grail!” Okay, on with the story.)

With a fine smashing sound, the nose fell through the roof of the White House. A succession of crashes documented its progress through each floor to the cellar. Flames shot up; evidently the nose had broken a kerosene lamp at some point in its trajectory. In the ensuing confusion, a sinister figure emerged from the bushes on the south lawn. It was Cilantro. He withdrew a tinderbox from his pocket and advanced stealthily toward the building.

“Okay, that tears it,” Quid decided. “Let’s head out to sea.”

“To see what?” the First Mate wondered.

“To see what the punch-line is!”

“You know, that was the wrong sort of nose,” the Professor mused.

“What do you mean, the wrong sort of nose?”

“If we hadn’t skipped Chapter 30 we might instead have obtained the nose from the alien mummy inside the pyramid — not just a stone replica,” Marvel pointed out.

“I concede it would have been more easily portable,” the First Mate replied dubiously. “But, in the end, what difference would that have made? It would have been too small for the armies to see from the ground.”

“It would have been a far superior nose,” Marvel insisted.

“Mummy nose best!”

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