A Tall Ship Tale #79: A Rouened Woman

Paul DeAnguera’s story continues.

“Now, you might suppose that crossing the Pacific would be really boring,” the First Mate told Wang Mang as they descended from the maindeck. “But don’t worry! This ship was built for long crossings. Have you noticed how tall this stairway is?” Wang Mang nodded.

“The shipyard that laid the H.M.S. Legume’s keel had never built a frigate before, and they underestimated the time required. They built their way diligently upward, but at length they realized they weren’t going to make the deadline to finish her. So they subcontracted another shipyard to build the top half of the ship while they finished the bottom half.

“When the two halves were put together they didn’t fit too well. So the space between the maindeck and the gundeck where they hadn’t fit tightly enough was planked over to pass inspection. That space between decks turned out to be quite useful for entertaining the crew during monotonous passages between continents, and now we call it the hollow deck. Come on — I’ll show you!”

The First Mate led the former emperor partway back up the stairs. They took an unexpected turn to the left and found themselves in a narrow, dimly-lit space. “Did the fire marshall clear this?” Wang Mang wondered.

“In case of a fire on the hollow deck, those nozzles — watch your head! — will release halon gas. To prevent a panic, these other nozzles will release halcyon gas.” He paused and peered into the gloom. “Why, there’s Professor Peabody. Have you arranged an entertainment for us, Professor?”

“Yes, indeed! Dr. Talligeist and I are going on a virtual-reality art heist. Would you like to come along?”

“Sounds interesting. What are these pipes for?” Wang Mang asked, fingering a bank of wide tubes that emerged from the aft bulkhead.

“Those are what make our hollow deck fantasies possible,” Peabody explained. “We call them Jeffrey’s Tubes.” He thumped one of the pipes soundly, then called into it: “Jeffrey! Throw another kilo on the fire!” Shortly a plume of lavender smoke emerged from the tubes and assumed the shape of a long, pillared building. As the crew approached it, it became larger and more detailed until they found themselves striding up broad granite steps. Drifting spray from the fountains below them provided a pleasant contrast to the hot summer sun.

Under the building’s stately pillars they found a group of brownish birds. The creatures were squabbling and flapping about so much that they scarcely took notice of the intruders. Peabody stepped around the brush-up impatiently. “We have no time for a wren war; we’re here to collect one of Monet’s most famous paintings — ‘The Cathedrale of Rouen.'”

They continued into the museum’s cool marble interior. “But surely we can’t just walk in and lift a painting off the wall,” Emma Talligeist objected.

“Shhh! The guards might hear you. Besides, we’re just here to canvas the place. We’ll come back tonight and steal it.” An approaching museum guard frowned. “I mean, some spray-fix will seal it,” Peabody hastily amended.

“Can I direct you somewhere, lady and gentlemen?” the guard inquired. “A bit of refreshment, perhaps?” he said, waving toward the cafe.

Wang Mang shook his head. “I don’t have the palette for it. We’re looking for a picture of a cathedral; perhaps you could help us?”

The guard conducted them through Louvred doors to a black-and-white picture of a cathedral surrounded by water. “Escher’s ‘Engulfed Cathedral,'” he announced.

“Thank you so much!” Wang Mang said with a bow. “But, actually,” he added after some thought, “This is the wrong sort of cathedral.”

“Yes, quite the wrong sort,” Emma concurred, frowning at the woodcut.

“We’re looking for something impressionistic,” Peabody suggested.

“Something that’s worth a lot of dough,” the First Mate added, fingering the velvet rope.

“I beg your pardon!” The guard huffed. “It’s plain why you have come here. I show you the painting, and tomorrow when we open it’s gone. And who do they blame for it? Me!”

“We promise you won’t be framed,” Emma soothed him. “Now, don’t try to easel out of it…”

“…Show me the Monet!”

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