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Although Bartholomew Hoare has acquitted himself nobly on shipboard and battle, and worked his way up to lieutenant in King George III's Royal Navy, he cannot count his present life a satisfactory one. For one thing, he and his brother (as his father before him, all of them descended from Vikings) have always had to use their fists to defend their name and its implications from schoolboys, shipmates, and generally impolite Britons at every social level. That Bartholomew can handle. But a spent musket ball in the ...
Although Bartholomew Hoare has acquitted himself nobly on shipboard and battle, and worked his way up to lieutenant in King George III's Royal Navy, he cannot count his present life a satisfactory one. For one thing, he and his brother (as his father before him, all of them descended from Vikings) have always had to use their fists to defend their name and its implications from schoolboys, shipmates, and generally impolite Britons at every social level. That Bartholomew can handle. But a spent musket ball in the throat put a halt to a promising career at sea, and Hoare was left with a glowing recommendation and exclusively shore duties. Obviously, a captain whose orders could not be issued above a whisper could never command a ship.
To Hoare, who loves the sea, it is a tragedy, as he is forced to do the land-based tasks assigned to him. His present mission is to discover what has happened to the ship that disappeared in nearby waters, and whether the strange contents of a small keg found in the sand are involved in the mystery. And it is a quest that begins Hoare's acquaintance with the extraordinary Mrs. Eleanor Graves--by his saving her from attacking ruffians, with her active and enthusiastic assistance. It is a meeting that starts a dramatic train of events. For one thing, Hoare is asked to put his talents to work on behalf of a young officer charged with the murder of his captain, a fellow of questionable probity and brutal temper. Hoare's investigation leads to evidence of criminal activity beyond the captain's murder. It's a chance for the lieutenant to further distinguish himself--if he isn't killed first.
But life is not all trouble. Hoare becomes close friends with Eleanor Graves and her retired, and much older, physician husband. He meets a rather suspect visitor from abroad, and encounters assorted townspeople, both high and low--including the Graveses' dinner guest his first night in town, one Miss Jane Austen.
With its strong period atmosphere, its unusual and colorful characters, and its nautical focus, Wilder Perkins's first novel, Hoare and the Portsmouth Atrocities, will entice readers who love historic naval fiction. And many others as well will be delighted to discover this author and his book, and will wait impatiently for Bartholomew Hoare's next adventure.
BARTHOLOMEW HOARE and Eleanor Graves first met on the east reach of Portland Bill, across two sprawled bodies. It was late on a gray afternoon in mid-June of 1805--Trafalgar year.
The week before, a water hoy, returning empty from supplying the ships on the Brest blockade, had brought in Scipio's launch. Scipio, 74--a seventy-four-gunship of the line--had not been reported since she departed Plymouth five weeks ago, bound for that same Brest blockade. The launch was awash, empty, charred in places, badly mauled. Scipio had been well-found, well manned, and there had been no adverse weather on her presumed course.
The condition of the lonely launch had shouted "explosion" to Hoare. Moreover, he had had a brief encounter in May with the contents of an oddly well-made keg. The keg, of the small, ten-gallon size known as an "anker" to the vintner trade, had been picked up by a Coastguardsman on a country roadside near Corfe. It might have been poorly packed on a pony; the pony might have escaped from a midnight caravan; the caravan might have belonged to one of the region's flourishing smuggler gangs. Whatever the anker's provenance, its contents--strange pieces of clockwork--were far more interesting to His Majesty's government, and to Hoare, than mere brandy would have been.
Caught in the narrow grooves between the anker's tarred staves he had found grains of a fine grayish sand, of which he had kept a sample. The anker had been officially spirited out of Hoare's possession and taken off, he believed, to London. It was when he put together the two bits of information--the anker's contents and the ruined launch--that he had placed his suspicions before Sir George Hardcastle, Port Admiral in Portsmouth. An hour later Hoare had set off westward on a wearisome fourteen-hour day of tacking down-Channel in his own little pinnace-yacht Inconceivable, bearing the sand with him.
He had landed last night in Lyme Regis and had spent most of the day conferring with old Richard Dee about where the anker might have come ashore. Old Dee, Hoare had learned a year or more ago, had sold his fishing boat and gear when his aching bones got the better of him and on the proceeds had retired to an overturned barge on the western outskirts of Lyme. Here he had taken up the subject of sand. He claimed to be able to tell the source of any handful of sand, provided it derived from any beach between Land's End and Dover.
Hoare had found himself hard put to it to understand Dee. To his ear, the Dorset dialect comprised nothing but zs and oos. The man sounded like a giant obsolete bee. Moreover, since a spent bah had crushed Hoare's voice box at the Glorious First of June and old Dee was quite deaf, Hoare's remaining whisper of a voice was useless.
To communicate at all, then, he had had to dredge up an interpreter. Young Mary, the oldster's granddaughter, had had some schooling; she could pick up Hoare's whispers, relay them to her gaffer, and interpret his buzzing replies. Hoare felt indebted to her, although finding even her milder accent hard to understand at times.
He had begun by testing Dee's reported gift, using sand specimens whose provenance he knew and which he had brought along in tiny apothecary's vials. He had wholly failed to catch the old man out. Hoare had even set Dee a trap by combining dead-white sand from the Conqueror's landing place at Pevensey with a blood-red grit that he had collected on the beach below the cliff at Goonhilly Downs during a recent passage from Cornwall. Dee had peered at the pink mixture, rolled it between thumb and forefinger, smelled it, and cackled.
"Gaffer says, `Ye'll not gammon Dickon Dee that easy,' sir," young Mary said. When the sand master went on to tell Hoare exactly where he had picked up both moieties, Hoare had to admit his feeble ruse. As penance, he had bought the old fisherman a second pint before offering him the specimen that he really wanted him to identify.
"Buzz. Ooo. Zuzz."
"He says: `Now you'm goin' to tell me you didden pick her up on way past Weymouth,' sir," the girl said." But you'll be wrong again. That there sand be from off easterly side of Portland Bill, she be.
"`Halfway up the Bill, where the tide sets shoreward' he says."
This time, Hoare had taken Dee at his word. After tipping young Mary and buying the old man his third pint, Hoare had hoisted his lanky self back aboard Inconceivable and cast off from Lyme's stone pier.
Today, the westerly wind was wet, raw for the season. Little spits of mixed rain and spray carried across the Bill to sting Hoare's face. Before taking her back up-Channel to her berth in Portsmouth's Inner Camber, he would collect another bit of sand from the spot old Dee had named and see for himself how well it matched his sample. While there, he would snoop a bit to see if any interesting flotsam besides the well-made anker had drifted ashore there.
Now as close to his goal as guesswork permitted, he slipped into Inconceivable's bows and lowered her kedge, deep enough to hang below her keel as a makeshift lead. The tide might be making, but he had no wish to ground her tender bottom on the knobby cobbles whose round tops crowded out the sand hereabouts like so many black grinding teeth.
It was now that Hoare first saw Eleanor Graves: a short woman in brown, her brown hair blowing across her face in the spray-laden gusts. She rose from behind an overturned shallop, to face two tinkerlike men with long cudgels who were approaching her along the beach at a purposeful trot. Fifty feet from her, and the same from him, Hoare could hear their jeering voices.
Putting two fingers into his mouth, Hoare blew a piercing whistle. The attackers paused. Then, seeing they had only one man to contend with, one turned to await Hoare's landing while the other continued his purposeful advance.
The woman reached back. In her left hand she held a sling--a sling! She twirled the ancient weapon underhand as if she were heaving the lead in a man-of-war's chains and slung a rock at her leading assailant. It struck him full in the forehead; he dropped, his legs twitching like a pair of gaffed salmon.
The other attacker stopped in his tracks. This was his mistake, for now the woman took a full step toward him and let fly another rock. She threw it this time, using her right hand and not her left. She must have hit her target in his nose or mouth, for Hoare saw him clap both hands to his face and heard a choked cry of pain.
Inconceivable grounded with a soft crunch at the feet of the two men. Hoare pulled the tiller from its straps to serve as a makeshift quarterstaff and launched himself over her bows at them. There was no need; the two were in no condition to fight on.
"Davids two, Goliaths zero" whispered Hoare to himself, and stepped up the shingly beach toward the woman in brown.
She had already whipped out a length of spun yarn from a coil hidden somewhere about her person and had bent over to secure her first target. The cold rage in her face changed to welcome on seeing Hoare's naval coat, and she finished knotting the man's limbs together in a neat cat's cradle behind him. "Well met, sir" she said, and cut another length of spun yarn. "Would you mind ...?" She handed him the second hank.
The woman would not be able to hear his whispered reply over the louder whisper of the soft surf, so Hoare simply nodded and turned to and triced up the other.
"I am in your debt, sir," she said in a clear contralto voice, "for coming to my rescue, even though I appear to have managed by myself.
"To whom am I indebted, may I ask?"
Even standing erect, she had to tilt her head back to look up into Hoare's faded gray eyes, for she could have been little more than five feet tall. Her figure was sturdy, if not plump; she reminded Hoare of an assertive partridge. Her piercing eyes were brown. There were a few gray streaks in her coarse brown windblown hair.
Hoare reached into an inner pocket of his coat and drew out several pieces of paper. Selecting one, he handed it to the brown woman with an apologetic look and a bow. She read it just loudly enough to be heard over the soft, pulsating rumble of surf.
"`Permit me to present myself: Bartholomew Hoare, Lieutenant, Royal Navy. My deepest respects. That I am not speaking to you is not a matter of intentional discourtesy but is due to my inability to speak above a whisper.'"
Unlike many strangers, the brown woman did not now assume that because Hoare was all but dumb he must be deaf to boot, for her next words were neither shouted nor spoken with the exaggerated care the unthinking use with infants and other incompetent persons who cannot talk back.
"I am Eleanor Graves, sir, wife of Dr. Simon Graves of Weymouth. I know he will add his thanks to mine for coming to my defense against this cowardly attack."
One of the bound bodies on the shingle, the man she had struck in the nose, had already struggled to a sitting posture. He was hunched over as far as his bonds permitted, dripping scarlet steadily onto the shingle between his leather breeches.
From Mrs. Graves's behavior, she and Hoare might have been meeting at a Bath cotillion instead of over their two victims on a cold, wet September beach.
"Now, sir, what shall we do with these rogues?" she asked.
For his answer, Hoare pulled out a set of wax tablets, of the kind the ancient Romans used, and wrote: "My boat--to Weymouth?"
"Excellent," she said. So, between the two of them, they dragged their cocooned captives across the shingle to Inconceivable, attached them to a handy-billy, and hoisted them aboard. They heaped the rogues out of the way but within sight, just aft of her companionway.
Hoare subjected the two men to a quick search. Other than a miscellany of miserable personal effects, seaman's sheath knives, two mason's hammers, and three guineas a man, Hoare found only the cudgels and a length of tough, thin line. He tossed the cudgels over the side, sequestered the hammers, the knives, and their sheaths, and appropriated the line for Inconceivable's small stores. He handed the guineas to Mrs. Graves.
Without any apparent concern about soaking her skirts, Mrs. Graves helped Hoare heave the pinnacle off the beach. She then took the hand he reached down to her, sprang aboard, and got out of his way. He trimmed the flapping sails, returned the tiller to its straps, and set a course alongshore toward Weymouth. It was not far.
His passenger sat silent in the tiny cockpit, facing him. Hoare realized she understood the futility of trying to converse with a stranger when she could not hear his replies. Unlike the few other women he knew, she seemed comfortable enough without speech passing. But as Inconceivable drew into the dock behind Weymouth's breakwater, she spoke.
"Do you know this harbor, Mr. Hoare?"
The town and the slopes behind it gave enough of a lee so that Hoare thought he could make himself heard. He cocked his head and shrugged. "Yes, but not well," he whispered. "I'll welcome local knowledge."
"If you do not choose to continue your voyage tonight--and I hope you will not--you may wish to rest at the Dish of Sprats. Over there to the left of where you are aiming now, this side of St. Ninian's Church. That's the steeple you can see."
Mrs. Graves might not know her nautical terms--she said "left" like a landsman, not "port" like a seaman--but her directions were clear all the same, and Hoare eased his helm to suit.
"Will you hold the tiller for a moment while I take off sail?" he whispered.
She heard the whisper. She hesitated for a moment, then grasped the tiller ahead of his hand, lightly at first, then with increasing assurance.
"So, so," he said. He stepped forward around the captives' surly bodies and dropped Inconceivable's jib onto its club, lashing it in place with its own sheet. He uncleated her main halliard and brought it aft with him to the helm.
"I'll take her now, ma'am," he said. "I'll be dropping the mainsail in a heap, so you should edge over to the rail."
Hoare thrust the tiller smoothly to starboard. As Inconceivable luffed up, he waited until she had just enough way left to make the harbor's sloping shore and let her tall mainsail go with a run to drop on top of the prisoners, together with the boom. He left them there for now, one muttering in a dazed voice. The little yacht's keel grated on the shingle once again, and she came to rest, listing slightly to starboard, while Hoare gave the mainsail its own rough furl and propped it in a pair of jeers.
He locked the cabin hatch and hopped ashore to offer Mrs. Graves a hand down. She took it--more out of courtesy than of necessity, Hoare thought--and leaped nimbly down in her soggy skirts to stand behind him, looking back at Inconceivable.
"We might turn our captives over to the port guard?" she said, half-inquiringly.
"Or the Chief Constable," Hoare suggested. "Whichever is less likely to be their drinking companion." While not actually acquainted with Weymouth's guardians of the law, he knew that all along Britain's beleaguered south coast the lawman and the unlawful were often as close as a virgin's thighs.
Mrs. Graves's laugh was an odd throaty gurgle. "Of course. Sir Thomas Frobisher, then. It would be...what, three o'clock?"
"Then he will be at the Town's Club--as will Dr. Graves, in all likelihood. Come."
She took Hoare's arm and directed him to a building facing the new esplanade below St. Ninian's. It was a large house, which Hoare thought could have belonged to a leading merchant of the town.
"The Club's house once belonged to a prominent merchant of the town," she said as if reading his thoughts. "But he fell on hard times, and a cabal of other leading citizens clubbed together to buy it and make it their meeting place. To be away from their wives, you know."
Hoare laughed. The breathy little noise, according to the waspish wife of a fellow officer, sounded for all the world like an angry butterfly.
The pale, leathery steward of the Town's Club must have seen Mrs. Graves coming, for he opened the massive door himself.
"Why, Mrs. Graves!" he cried. "You must have gone wading in the sea--and in this wet weather, too! Come in to the fire in the Strangers' Room, and make yourself comfortable while I call Dr. Graves!" He bustled ahead of the brown woman and Hoare, stirred up the sea-coal fire in the grate, and was about to leave them to toast in front of it when Mrs. Graves called after him to ask if Sir Thomas was in the house. He was.
"Ask him, Smith, if he would be so kind...And perhaps, too, you would send a man to Dr. Graves' home for my maid. He should tell her to bring my olive twill gown and a cape to me here at the Club."
The fire's growing warmth was welcome.
Mrs. Graves looked up at Hoare. "If you were not present, sir, I would be hoisting these poor skirts to warm my person directly."
"If you wish, ma'am, I shall be happy to withdraw and leave you to your privacy."
"I wish no such thing," she said. "That would be poor return indeed for your services."
"What, ma'am, may I ask, took you to the beach under Portland Bill?" Hoare whispered.
"Stones, Mr. Hoare."
"Stones, ma'am? For use as missiles?"
"Only incidentally, as needed. Ever since I was a child, I have had a fondness for the remarkable shapes and colors of sea-washed stones. They dwell in flat pans filled with water, to keep their colors bright.
"I patrol Portland Bill quite regularly, for the local urchins who collect stones elsewhere--sometimes from under my very nose--remember the old Saxon belief that the Bill was once the druids' Isle of the Dead and shun it.
"Dr. Graves has sometimes chided me for taking up a whole room of our house for my collection. But 'tis a small room in a large house, I remind him, and he need not begrudge me the space.
"After all," she added musingly, "we have no children of our own, and my stepchildren are long since wed and fled ... or dead. In any case, the weather has been foul for a week, and I was feeling housebound. So I went for a walk. That is all there is to it."
"You are Dr. Graves' second wife, then?"
"His third, sir. His first gave him two sons before dying of a consumption, and his second gave birth to stillborn twins before dying from loss of blood. Then he lived alone for over twenty years before we were joined together. Sir Thomas, by the by, claims to stand in lieu of uncle to me, having given me away to my husband two years ago."
Mrs. Graves's speech was interrupted by the entry of a personage who could only be Sir Thomas Frobisher himself. Squat, bandy-legged, and puffy, Sir Thomas had a wide mouth and goggling tawny eyes. He peered suspiciously at Hoare, then turned to Mrs. Graves.
"Eleanor, my dear! What have you done to yourself now?" he cried. "And what have you brought us this time?" he went on, returning his critical glance to Bartholomew Hoare as he stood, plain in his wrinkled Navy coat, wide, loose seaman's trousers, and wet, coarse buckled shoes.
"Permit me, Sir Thomas, to introduce Lieutenant Bartholomew Hoare of the Navy, who has just rescued me from an unknown fate," Mrs. Graves said.
"`Hoare,' eh?" Sir Thomas said. "Well, sir, I'll have you know I am a baronet--and a knight. Which of us takes precedence, eh? The...er...lady of the night or the hereditary knight? Eh?"
Hoare knew from old this reaction to his name. It was predictable from old, and he had learned how to avert most of the hostilities that could otherwise follow. "You, of course, sir. Myself, I am merely Bartholomew Hoare--at your service, now, or anytime." He accompanied his whisper with a cold, gray stare. He also made his leg to the man of superior station.
"Frobisher is a famous name in history, Sir Thomas," Hoare continued. "Have I the honor of addressing a descendant of Sir Martin Frobisher, discoverer of the famous bay of that name?"
Sir Thomas's equivocal look showed he was now of two minds about Bartholomew Hoare. On the one hand, Sir Thomas was pleased at the implied compliment to his ancestry; on the other hand, irritated at being addressed in such a strangely confidential whisper and suspicious that someone--surely not Mrs. Graves--was making game of him. Was he, head of the Frobishers, risking a challenge to his standing by being asked to meet a whispering man with an obscene name? Even when, in a few words, Mrs. Graves explained Hoare's disability, the baronet's air tilted only slightly toward the affable.
"Yes, Mr....er...Hoare," he said. "While the name Frobisher goes back as far as the Conqueror and even beyond, my ancestor Sir Martin Frobisher was the first to bring it into prominence. A century later, of course, Charles II granted the baronetcy to the first Sir Charles, who was my fourth or fifth great-grandfather.
"Since then, the family which I have the honor to head has been prominent in Dorset society. Indeed, the Frobishers are received at court as a matter of course, and each of the eldest Frobisher sons is knighted upon reaching his majority, also as a matter of course. So, you see, we are twice-a-knight men."
Hoare was about to burst into one of his silent laughs when he realized Sir Thomas was in deadly earnest, so he turned his laugh into a breath that he hoped indicated proper admiration.
"As a matter of fact," the knight-baronet went on in a nasal, patronizing voice, "I expect to attend the investiture of my only son--young Martin, you know--the next time he accompanies His Majesty to our little city. He is a captain in the Foot Guards, of course."
Guardee the young Frobisher might be, Hoare told himself, but he would remain undubbed for some time if his knighting must await the King's return to Weymouth. These days the poor monarch, self-isolated in Kew for months at a time, seldom even came to London; he would hardly make his way back soon to his former favorite watering place.
"Tell me...er...Hoare," Sir Thomas said. "From whence does your family derive?"
"They were Orkneymen originally, sir, and we still consider ourselves such, even though my father has bought a small property near Melton Mowbray."
"What say? Speak up, man."
"The Orkneys, sir." To continue at top whisper Hoare had to strain his maimed throat. He felt himself being brought by the lee. The man must know that an attack on his handicap, unlike an attack on his name, was hard to deal with. Sir Thomas was being gratuitously offensive.
"D'ye hunt, then,...er...Hoare?"
"Not as a regular thing, Sir Thomas."
"Hmph." Sir Thomas began to look about him for something more worth his attention than a disheveled junior naval officer with an obscene name who could not speak and who did not hunt.
It was then that Hoare succumbed to temptation and reacted with a sally that was to cause him considerable subsequent grief.
"Of course, sir, my father is MB of our neighborhood's battery."
"Battery, sir? Battery? `MB'? What's an MB, pray? And what has a battery to do with huntin'?"
"You know about falconry, surely, Sir Thomas?"
"Of course. Obsolete now, but a perfectly acceptable avocation for the nobility and gentry."
"Well, sir, we Hoares and our like-minded neighbors in the Northern Islands have trained bats to hunt game and retrieve it."
He paused, gasped, and continued.
"We find that bats, being creatures that nurse their young, are far more intelligent, and more easily trained, than falcons of any species. (Gasp.) They are, in fact, as clever and responsive as the Skye terriers our fellow islanders to the south have taken up so avidly, or the herds of Shetland ponies our neighbors to the north employ to keep down the auk population."
"We fly our nimble little fellows in the dusk, of course. It makes for very good sport. My father, having made himself a skilled flederman, was appointed Master of Battery for our little neighborhood hunt. Hence the `MB.'
"Should you find yourself in Leicestershire, sir, I believe he could promise you an excellent evening in the field."
Hoare heard a smothered sound from Mrs. Graves. He also saw that, while he might not have gained the knight-baronet's respect, he had at least captured his interest.
"What d'ye hunt with 'em, then?" Sir Thomas asked in a reluctant croaking voice.
"Flies, sir. We feed them to our frogs."
By good fortune, Sir Thomas's reaction was cut short; Dr. Simon Graves wheeled himself into the Strangers' Room.
Dr. Graves looked to be in his late sixties; later, Hoare was to learn he was seventy-four. At one time, he would have matched Hoare's height and build, but now he was confined to a peculiar light chair of wicker, bamboo, and ash. The toroidal supplementary wheel outboard of each primary wheel made a continuous handle by which the doctor could roll himself about with his still-powerful arms. Hoare had seen crude, heavy versions of similar invalid's chairs, but this one, light yet obviously strong, was a work of art.
The doctor's wife introduced the two and went on to describe to her husband and the knight her afternoon's affray on the beach. She belittled her own role and exaggerated Hoare's--but not too effusively--and concluded, "So that is how Lieutenant Hoare and I became acquainted and why he is here. I am most grateful to him, my dear."
"As am I," the doctor said in a surprisingly powerful baritone. Hoare thought he could remember what his own voice had sounded like before the Glorious First of June; he thought it had been much the same.
Sir Thomas would allow Dr. Graves to say no more. "But you mean to say there are two rascals tied up aboard your yacht...er...Hoare?
"Why" he added, "I must have 'em taken in charge immediately. I'll have her boarded and relieve you of 'em. Where does she lie?"
Hoare told him and granted permission for Sir Thomas's men to board Inconceivable and remove her cocooned cargo.
"And what's her name, sir?"
"What? Are you attempting to gammon me, sir?" Sir Thomas's eyes opened wide.
Hoare shook his head emphatically. He had been here before and knew his lines.
"No, indeed, Sir Thomas. I also call her Insupportable, or Molly J, or Dryad, or Serene, or Unspeakable. I change her name according to my mood of the moment. I keep several trail boards below and face the spares into the bilges for a cabin sole."
He paused to breathe.
"It makes no difference to her; she answers to none of them. She just answers her helm, and very well, too, at that."
Sir Thomas decided not to take umbrage after all, but his laugh--unlike those of Dr. and Mrs. Graves--sounded more than a trifle forced. "Very good, sir, very good! That way, you can bemuse Boney. But what brings you down-Channel in these difficult times?" Those goggling eyes suddenly turned shrewd.
Speaking slowly to conserve his whisper, Hoare explained no more than his need to consult old Dee.
"Of course; the psammeophile," Dr. Graves said. "We know him well."
"`Psammeophile,' sir?" Sir Thomas asked.
"A Greek neologism of my own, Sir Thomas," the doctor said. "A lover of sand."
Sir Thomas returned his attention to Hoare. "May I inquire the nature of your present duties...er...Hoare?"
"They are miscellaneous, sir. I am at the beck and call of Sir George Hardcastle, Port Admiral at Portsmouth; my visit to Lyme was in connection with one of them." Without saying so, Hoare did his best to indicate that this was as much as he wanted to say about his mission. He must have succeeded, for Sir Thomas turned to Mrs. Graves.
"But, Eleanor, what could have persuaded you outdoors in such weather, and what could have brought your attackers out on your trail?"
Mrs. Graves disregarded the first part of Sir Thomas's question and suggested that the second part would best be answered by the culprits themselves. Then Smith, the steward, appeared at the door to announce that her Agnes had arrived in the chaise and was waiting for her in the kitchen with a valise of dry clothing, so she excused herself and withdrew.
Sir Thomas, in his turn, made his apologies to Dr. Graves, but not to Hoare, and departed to send a file of capable men to unload Inconceivable's passengers, leaving the other two gentlemen to entertain each other at the fireside.
"I observe you have suffered an injury to your larynx, Mr. Hoare," the doctor said. "There must be a story attached to that. Would you enlighten me?"
As briefly and modestly as he could without seeming secretive, Hoare described how a spent musket ball had crushed his larynx, leaving him unable to speak above the hoarse whisper he was using.
Hoare went on at Dr. Graves's request to show the aids he had developed for communicating when his whisper could not be heard. His Roman tablet went unremarked, but then he withdrew from his pocket a silver boatswain's pipe hanging from a black silk ribbon like a quizzing glass and began to play for the doctor a few of the shrill calls he used when making his wishes known to those persons--servants and other subordinates--whom he had trained. He went on to a seductive whistled rendition of "Come into the Garden, Maud," which was self-explanatory. He concluded with the earsplitting whistle through his fingers that he had developed as an emergency cry. When this brought Mr. Smith to the door in alarm, the doctor shook his head and laughed softly.
"Ingenious," he said. "Dr. Franklin would have admired your solutions."
"You knew Dr. Franklin, sir?"
"Yes, indeed. In fact, we corresponded from time to time. His loss to our kingdom when the Americans won their independence was not the least we have suffered through His Majesty's mulishness. I often wonder if the King's madness was not already at work in '76."
Hoare could only agree. "I met many rebels during that sad, fratricidal war," he said, "and came to respect not a few on both sides."
He did not add that his sweet French-Canadian bride from Montreal had died in childbirth while he was at sea in 82, over twenty years ago, leaving an infant daughter in Halifax whom he had never seen. Antoinette's family, ever resentful of their daughter's marriage to an anglais, had snatched the babe back up the Saint Lawrence, out of her father's reach.
"If you would care to meet another American, sir," the doctor said, "Mrs. Graves and I have engaged Mr. Edward Morrow to dine this evening. If you do not plan to attempt a return to Portsmouth tonight, we would welcome your presence, too, at our board."
Hoare had begun to protest that he was not clothed for dining in company when Sir Thomas returned to the Strangers' Room, frowning. His men had stuffed one of Mrs. Graves's assailants into the lockup in the cellars of the town hall, with two drunks and a poacher. The other--apparently the leader--was still senseless. Sir Thomas's men had untied him and locked him into a separate cell until he awoke or died.
Sir Thomas refused Dr. Graves's offer to attend the man. "You would find it difficult to negotiate the narrow stairs down to the lockup," he said. "Besides, Mr. Olney, the surgeon, is medical examiner for the town, as you know. He would take it quite amiss if he were to feel himself overlooked. I know you will understand, sir."
Accepting this small rebuff, the doctor returned to the matter of Hoare's evening dress. "You and I are much of a size," he observed. "Mrs. Graves, I am certain," he said, "would not object to your appearing at her table in a pair of my breeches. I shall send a pair to you at the Dish of Sprats immediately upon my return home."
On Dr. Graves's suggestion, Hoare then instructed one of the Club's servants to take a room there on his behalf.
By now Mrs. Graves had changed into dry clothing and rejoined the others. On her husband's behalf, she refused Hoare's offer to lift the doctor into the waiting chaise. It was clearly a matter of family pride: a Graves needed no stranger's help. So Hoare watched as she and the maid Agnes formed a seat with their crossed hands, slipped them under the doctor, and flung him into the air. He gripped two handles on the chaise with his powerful old arms and swung himself into its seat. He reached down and drew his wife up beside him.
The maid Agnes attached the wheeled chair behind the chaise by an ingenious metal latch and reached up to her master. The doctor drew her, too, into the chaise and clucked to the cob between its shafts; the chaise and the chair trundled off in the light rain. Hoare was oddly sorry to see it go, glad to know he would be seeing the Graves couple again.