A Tall Ship Tale #74: It’s a Tzu Out There

Paul DeAnguera’s tale continues.

Captain Quid was chagrined to learn that the monks of the Brotherhood had gone back in time not to destroy but to protect the only copy of Lao-tzu’s Taoist Book of Virtue, and that Sir Hillary Throckmorton-Shillingsworth III of his own crew had burned it. He apologized effusively to the monks, restored the time-traveling pinnace to them and waved a sad farewell.

“We always knew that Sir Hillary was a secret agent, but we never asked for what country,” the First Mate reflected.

“He’s a Russian agent, I’d guess,” Owen Anatu speculated. “He just kept playing us along, you know — Stalin for time.”

“But he was working against the interests of the Brotherhood, and they’re Russian,” the Captain argued. “I think we’ll find he’s an American agent — from the midwest, I expect. The spy who came in from Dakota!” Science officer Peabody approached the group. “How much damage has he done to history?” the Captain asked.

Peabody peered around his own vast nose with difficulty and sighed. “I looked into the Encyclopedia Brittanica to see whether any of the text had changed substantially from what I remember of European and world history.”

“What did it say?”

“I can’t tell. It’s now written in Chinese.” The sailors chewed their mustaches thoughtfully.

“The thing to do,” urged the First Mate, ” is to find Lao-tzu and have him write the book again. Then China will be paralyzed by his fatalistic philosophy again — or enlightened, depending on your point of view — and all will be right with the world!”

“But where will we find him?” Owen asked. Then they heard chanting. Looking down from the quarter-deck rail, they saw a little party of Tibetan monks in orange robes and jade necklaces. As they made their way through the snow they chanted:

I study philosophy. I love my classes!
I’ve got this crazy teacher who comes from Lhasa.
Doin’ all right, gettin’ good grades.
My future’s so bright, I’ve gotta wear jades!
I’ve gotta wear jades!

The flying frigate set sail in pursuit of the monks. Soon it approached a mountain peak crowned by a monastery whose many gables had a peculiar wing-like shape. The sailors disembarked at the main gate. “Why does the roof of your monastery have such a peculiar shape?” the First Mate asked the old gate-keeper.

“It’s because of the very strong winds of the mountain storms,” he proudly explained. “We got the idea from the Severn Bridge. The deck of that bridge has an aerodynamic profile to deflect the wind over and under it. We have adapted the idea to our monastery; the ridge of each gable is topped with a reversed wing designed to hold the building down during high winds. That’s why we call it…

“…The House of Severn Gables!”

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