A Monster-Powered Fire Ship Goes Wrong
By John Powell
Patron Saint, George, Prime Minister, Merlin, and George’s man, ex-leading seaman, Jack, want to provide King Freddie’s navy with a monster-powered fire ship, and the old Royal Acorn has been adapted to carry eight of George’s fire-breathers. They are attempting to train the megafauna with a sheepdog trainer’s silent whistle but they need a target at which the flames can be aimed.
The First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Salty Biscuit was very reluctant to commit another of his precious ships, especially as it might end up badly singed. ‘Don’t you have an old wreck that can be towed far behind an operational warship?’ asked Merlin.
‘We’ve given you our only old wreck,’ said Sir Salty.
‘What about that heap of rotting timber in the harbour?’ insisted a frustrated prime minister.
‘That heap of rotting timber is my admiral’s barge,’ said the First Sea Lord, ‘but as it’s fit for nothing else, you can have it. I’ll arrange for HMS Royal Willow to tow it.’
‘Royal Willow!’ exclaimed the navy’s technical expert, Dr. Knotty Wood, packing his pipe with freshly dried doc leaves, ‘You are honoured! She’s one of our latest and best men of war.’
‘Isn’t it funny,’ said George, ‘how you call a man of war ‘she.’ Shouldn’t it be a woman of war?’
Sir Salty held back a withering nautical expletive and with a great effort contented himself with a regulation grimace.
They put out to sea and the training resumed. One by one the monsters were taught to respond to the double silent whistle blast by flaming away at the admiral’s barge. The Hungarian woggalogs and Irish whatsits learned quickly, but the native Scottish and Welsh breeds were much slower.
At length, however, George thought they were ready to try a broadside: simultaneous flaming by the four monsters on the starboard side of the ship. Unfortunately, the four monsters on the port side, hearing the signal but seeing no target, rushed over to starboard, and with their great transfer of weight almost caused the Royal Acorn to capsize.
Royal Willow, seeing the near catastrophe, cast off the towrope and turned back to offer assistance. Not wishing to come near the blazing admiral’s barge she approached the port side of Royal Acorn, and the monsters, seeing a new target, all rushed to that side and flamed in unison. The violent roll of the ship sent most of the flames harmlessly into the sea, but when the great steam cloud cleared away, it was seen to everyone’s horror that Royal Willow’s sails were hanging in charred tatters.
‘Oh dear,’ said George, ‘oh dear, oh dear.’
‘Yes,’ added Merlin, ‘that’s rather unfortunate.’
‘Don’t worry,’ said Jack, ‘I’ll explain to Salty Seasick; I still remember a few things about our voyage to West Africa that he wouldn’t want anyone else to know.’
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