Wilder Perkins: Hoare and the missing Mids

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Wilder Perkins Hoare and the missing Mids
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    Hoare and the missing Mids
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    Исторический детектив / на английском языке
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    Английский
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Wilder Perkins


Hoare and the missing Mids

"So, Hoare. You decided to obey the admiral's call after all, eh?" Francis Delancey's voice was supercilious. There was no love lost between him and Bartholomew Hoare; Hoare attributed this to the frequency of the port admiral's summonses. He counted himself lucky to hold a post as general dogsbody to Admiral Sir George Hardcastle. Perhaps Delancey felt the same. Maybe he believed that Hoare was plotting to supersede him as flag secretary.

For his part, Hoare cared nothing for Delancey's opinion of him. As long as the man avoided out-and-out affront, he could talk as toplofty as he pleased.

"Yes," Delancey went on. "Now, let me see. What was it this time? Devil take me." He shuffled the papers on his little desk as if in search of some document that would tell him why the admiral had commanded Hoare to appear at Admiralty House, Portsmouth, upon no notice at all.

"There it is, Delancey," Hoare whispered, "right under that minute on cordage consumption you were just handling." Mute he might almost be, but the bullet that had silenced his once-powerful voice ten years ago, on the Glorious First of June, and set him on the beach forever had left his eyes as sharp as ever.

"Oh. Of course," Delancey whispered in reply, then pretended to catch himself.

"Sorry, I'm sure," he said in a normal voice. "It's so easy to fall into imitation, don't you find?"

Hoare offered no reply but flipped his coattails into place, seated himself, and waited.

"Ah yes," Delancey said at last. "Here we are. Young Harcourt's gone adrift, that's what it is. He wants you to rout him out and get him back aboard his ship before she sails." Delancey made it sound as though he were the Almighty-which, of course, Admiral Sir George Hardcastle was, as far as the two lieutenants were concerned.

"What's so important about a missing midshipman, pray?"

"He's an Honourable, that's what," Delancey said. "The Honourable Gerald Love Percival Timothy Hardcourt, son and heir of Theobald Love Percival Harcourt, Earl Barncastle."

"And?"

Delancey smirked. "Which makes him the grandson of the Duke of Cheshire. His Grace is highly displeased with our admiral that we have misplaced the boy. As of course is the lad's father, the earl. You're to find him forthwith.

"Sir George told me to tell you," the flag secretary added in haste, to forestall Hoare's demand to see the admiral himself.

"I shall take your word for it-for now," Hoare whispered. "Where was he last seen, and by whom?"

"How should I know?"

Hoare sighed. It would take the threat of keel-hauling, he saw, to get Delancey to cooperate, and Hoare doubted his keel-hauling rights over the admiral's pet lamb.

"Well then, what ship does the young gentleman belong to?" he asked.

"Ah… Hebe, 32. She's under orders to the East Indies station."

Hoare envied the missing mid; Hebe, a light frigate, had spent her last cruise snapping up stray Frenchmen, and her people had been cock-of-the-walk in the waterside taverns and brothels ever since she made fast to her designated mooring in the Solent.

"And then there are the other two mids-gone adrift, too," Delancey added casually.

"And that's the total of missing young gentlemen?"

"Yes."

"Are you quite sure, Francis?" Hoare's whisper took on an ominous tone. Levity in the course of professional rivalry was all very well, but every so often the flag secretary must be reminded, however subtly, that Bartholomew Hoare was a dangerous man to meet on the field of honor.

"Quite sure."

"Very good. Be so kind, then, as to inform the admiral that I am taking on the investigation forthwith. I shall report my progress, if any, to him. Good day, Francis."


"Sloop ahoy, there!"

The hail came from Hebe's entry port. At least the frigate's anchor watch was alert, Bartholomew Hoare said to himself. He eased his little sloop Devastation into the wind and let her run up to Hebe's landing stage.

He raised one finger to show that there was an officer aboard-himself, since he was Devastation's sole occupant. While she was coasting up to the stage, slowly losing headway, he busied himself by collecting her flapping, clubbed leg-o'-mutton mainsail and giving it a hasty furl, using the main sheet in lieu of reef points. Then he tossed a coil of dock line to the attendant seaman and cleated his own end of it.

"Let her fall back till she lies astern of the frigate," Hoare ordered in his loudest whisper.

"Sir?"

Hoare was used to this. He beckoned the startled hand closer and leaned forward to repeat his whisper.

"Aye aye, sir," the other bellowed. "Can ye make it up the boardin' ladder yerself, sir, or shall I hail the deck fer a chair to be lowered for ye?"

Hoare was used to this reaction, too. All too often strangers assumed that because he was nearly mute he was deaf as well, and enfeebled. Others, like Delancey, whispered in imitation-unconscious or all too conscious-of Hoare himself. In this case the hand's bellow was perfectly innocent. Hoare merely gave him an insulted stare and swung himself lightly up Hebe's boarding ladder. His purchase of Devastation from a poverty-stricken fellow lieutenant had taken place only a few weeks ago, but he was already feeling the result in an improved physical condition.

The officer of the watch awaited him, telescope under his arm. Hoare raised his hat to the quarterdeck; the other touched his own hat in response.

"And you would be…" he asked.

Hoare had ready one of the explanatory printed slips of paper he used for such occasions.

"Bartholomew Hoare," it read, "Lieutenant, Royal Navy. 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."

"On the matter of your frigate's midshipmen," Hoare whispered.

"Oh yes. I'm Satterly, second lieutenant. Welcome aboard."

The two men shook hands.

"Mr. Steptoe!" Mr. Satterly sang out.

"Sir?" To Hoare's surprise the child who presented himself at his lieutenant's elbow was a midshipman.

"Escort Mr. Hoare here to Captain Davison."

"I had thought," Hoare whispered, "that Hebe's mids had all gone adrift. That's why I'm here, after all."

"Mr. Steptoe is by far the youngest in her cockpit," Mr. Satterly said. "Considering what his seniors were likely to get up to during their run ashore, Mr. Edwardes-that's our first lieutenant, you knowthought it best to make him duty mid the other night. Now, Mr. Hoare, unless you work a miracle on our behalf, he'll be duty mid for the rest of this commission."

At this, Mr. Steptoe looked ready to drown in a sea of dismay. Hoare made what he hoped was a reassuring noise.

"This way, if you please, sir," Mr. Steptoe squeaked. At least, Hoare thought, he can squeak. That was more than Hoare could manage.

Hoare could have found his way aft himself; as he had known immediately by her vestigial poop deck, Hebe was built to the standard lines of the 1791 series of frigates, and he'd shipped in one of her sisters himself. But he followed his guide obediently, ducked through the low door below the quarterdeck into officers' country, and brought to at the door to the captain's cabin. It was guarded by a red-coated marine, of course.

Upon sighting an officer, the lobster came to the "present." Mr. Steptoe opened the door and stood aside.

"Mr. Hoare, sir, from the port admiral," he said.

"Oh yes. Thankee, Mr. Steptoe. Come in, Mr. Hoare."

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