A Royale Flush by Jack Heart & Orage
The deathbed wishes of King Edward VII and the ascension to power of the swashbuckling Duke of Westminster. With special thanks to Jon Valentine-Lee.
The Rolls-Royce Silver Ghosts 40/50 h.p. engine finally idled down, Steads back was stiff and his legs numb but he knew it was nothing compared to what he was in for. Hugh Grosvenor, the second Duke of Westminster was driving. Most people called him Bendor but his friends called him Benny. Tall and angular with receding dirty blond hair Bendor was built just like the thoroughbred racehorse, also named Bendor, owned by his grandfather the first Duke that won 1880 Epsom Derby. He smiled wryly at Stead, “I do hope I didn’t break you old man, I’ve been waiting for this car for months. Autocar Magazine says it’s the best car in the world and now it’s got my endorsement too.” Bendor cut the engine right in front of Yarrow Town Hall quipping over his shoulder as he got out, “the mayor will park it properly.” They had made the almost three-hundred-mile journey from London to South Tyneside in less than ten hours, likely a new speed record for Bendor but he had stopped counting in 1908 when he raced powerboats for England in the London Olympics.
It was late April 1910. An ornamental carriage drawn by six massive white draft horses awaited them. The curtains were tightly drawn and when the two men stepped through the door held open by the impeccably dressed valet they saw the familiar face of Christopher Furness, 1st Baron Furness and the new owner of Palmers Shipbuilding and Iron Company Limited seated opposite them. Bendor looked at him slyly and said, “not a word of this Christopher, if I even suspect that Haldane or Esher got wind of it I shall take a switch to your ass right in the middle of the House of Lords.” Baron Furness looking gravely at him addressed him by his formal title to demonstrate his subservience, “you have my word as a gentlemen Duke of Westminster, I shall say nothing ever again about it.” Bendor smiled mirthfully and said, “I hope not, I shall pull your pants down when I do it then everyone will know what a little penus you have, not good. Especially with Lloyd George going about bragging how big his is...” The three men laughed; the Baron not so hard.
As the carriage made its way down to Palmers docks on the River Tyne the Baron outlined the itinerary, “You can sleep aboard the Viking tonight and leave at daybreak. My captain shall have the helm through the channel to Guernsey where you will take on fuel and Bendor will take the helm for her sea trials in the open Atlantic. There is a prevailing north wind that’s expected to develop into a strong gale within the next few days, just in time for Bendor to do his best to sink my Destroyer. You can refuel at La Rochelle if he doesn’t succeed. From there it’s just a few hundred knots to Biarritz. Please give my regards to King Edward and tell him we are all praying for his most speedy recovery.” Bendor chimed irreverently, “I hear the fat bastards not going to make it this time. No loss. England will live on without him, no telling how it’s going to effect the prostitutes in Paris though.”
The sun was setting vivid red in the smog choked sky by the time they arrived dockside and boarded the Viking. A reassured smile crossed Steads face as he remembered the old sailors saying, red sky at night sailors delight red sky in the morning sailors take warning.
The two hundred and ninety foot Tribal-class destroyer had spent the next day leisurely cruising down England’s coastline from the North Sea and through the English Chanel to Guernsey Island where it refueled. Stead spread his legs for balance as the sea grew more disturbed. He watched from the stern as the sun rose angry red over Guernsey, now receding in their wake like a pleasant dream in the cold light of morning. He made his way past each of the six steam funnels and up into the bridge, as he lurched with the boat in the following seas. The wind was now blowing in a light gale from out of the north. Bendor was standing stoically next to the captain who held the wheel. Bendor, whose remarkable balance kept his long legs underneath him as surely as if he had been welded to the deck, spoke curtly, “Set a course for Ouessant and proceed at cruising speed. We shall pass west of it then set a course for La Rochelle. By the time we leave La Rochelle the Bay of Biscayne should be at its best. I want the roughest seas possible. We can’t have these pint-sized dreadnaughts capsizing in the North Sea full of our boys. No one’s yet given a Tribal-class destroyer a proper sea test.” He looked at Stead smiling and said, “the captains been telling me these six engines are expected to push the Viking to forty knots at full steam. We shall see. We shall see in twenty-foot seas. These boats are expected to protect England’s coastline where in some places twenty-foot seas are as common as Winston Churchill...”