Wilder Perkins: Hoare and the Ffrog Prince

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Wilder Perkins Hoare and the Ffrog Prince
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    Hoare and the Ffrog Prince
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    Исторический детектив / на английском языке
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    Английский
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"Un moment, messieurs," Hoare croaked. "I accuse Monsieur the Comte de Montrichard of having murdered his master and admiral, the Duc de Provins."

The Frenchmen on the quarterdeck fell into disarray. Upon seeing that their admiral retained his composure, the Englishmen naturally conformed.

De Montrichard was the first of his countrymen to recover his aplomb. "I demand to know the meaning of this effrontery. It is outrageous. The man is not only mute; he is mad."

Hoare filled his lungs. "I have never been to France," he began, "but I have spent time among French gentry when serving in Canada." Mindful of his dead bride and stolen daughter he lost breath, choked, gestured to Hornblower in silent appeal.

"Mr. Hoare knew," Hornblower said on his behalf, "that a prince of the blood might lie, cheat, and steal at will. He might lie with the wife of his equerry and his best friend; he might cheat at cards; he might steal the honor of a decent maitre d'armes. But…"

Hoare raised his hand and resumed the story on his own.

"But there was one thing he would never do. He would never, never go into a public place like Portsmouth Common without an attendant. Failing any other, that attendant was Monsieur le Comte de Montrichard." He paused for breath. "Kindly empty your pockets, sir," Hoare rasped at the comte.

Hippolyte de Montrichard wasted no time. He spun on his heel like a dancing master, dived over Vendee's taffrail, and began swimming strongly out to sea. "Fire on that man!" Admiral Hardcastle bellowed. His marine guard sprang to obey. A family of fountains sprang to life around the fugitive, but he kept on, using a powerful overhand stroke. Then he paused in the middle of the fairway as if wondering where to go next, thrust his body half out of the water, and made a graceful surface dive. His toes, pointed skyward, were the last to be seen of him.

"Man overboard!" cried the superseded lieutenant.

"Case proved, I think," whispered Bartholomew Hoare.


"… Montrichard was desperate," Hoare gasped to his surrounding audience. The last of his whisper was giving out. Again he turned to Hornblower. "Echo me, if you will."

"With his wife out of favor," Hornblower repeated for him, "Montrichard now had no hold over her lover, Provins. Now he could no longer expect him to sign the orders placing him in command of Vendee. He saw his opportunity for advancement to honor vanishing, and he could not bear it. "In that, of course, he utterly misread his master. De Barsac's anger at Provins was, in fact, due to the duc's explanation that, in all fairness to his equerry and confidant Montrichard, he could not deprive him of his standing as husband of a royal maitresse en titre without some compensation. While wholly unofficial, the role had given Montrichard a certain cachet, and he had done nothing to warrant losing it. So Provins would grant the command of Vendee to Montrichard instead of De Barsac.

"But Montrichard could not credit Provins with being, like his ancestor Bayard, a chevalier sans peur et sans reproche. He was desperate. He would become a nothing among nothings in a nothing French court. He could not face the shame of it. So he forged his master's signature on a blank commission form, sealed it with his master's seal, and presented the document at Admiralty House."

There was a general murmur among the Frenchmen on Vendee's quarterdeck. Hoare was certain that a tear gleamed on Angouleme's powdered cheek. "But you have no proof, monsieur," said Angouleme coldly.

Hoare's answering shrug was as expressive as any Frenchman's. "The comte, by his own action just now, would appear to have provided ample proof. Beyond that, perhaps even more will surface."

"Hmph," said Admiral Sir George Hardcastle. "Well, gentlemen, are we to transfer this ship to the Marine Royale, or not? If so, who is to command her?"

"Sir," Hoare whispered, and handed Sir George the document the Vicomtesse de Barsac had entrusted to him. Even though his port admiral read no French, he would recognize the person named in it.

"Hmph," said Sir George, and passed the document to Angouleme.

"Of course," said the duc; his English reached that far. "Let us go ashore, then," he added in his own language, "and inform the Vicomte de Barsac, in his lonely cell, of his good fortune."

Left on the deck of Vendee, Hoare and Hornblower looked at each other and shrugged.

"Will you light me ashore in your new command, sir?" Hornblower asked. His expression was that of the classic Spartan boy being gnawed by a fox.

"With pleasure, Mr. Hornblower," said Bartholomew Hoare.


"I do not understand this, Mr. 'Oare." The widowed Comtesse de Montrichard had summoned Hoare to the Three Suns. Tasteful in mourning, she extended a document to Hoare. "I had thought that my husband had deposited this commission with your nice admiral."

"He did, madame. I saw it there myself."

"Why, then, do I find it in the possessions of Guillaume, which your mayor's honest minions returned to me so kindly with those of my late husband?"

Hoare inspected the document more closely. To the best of his more-than-adequate recollection, it had been prepared on the same printed form. Yes, here were the same typographical errors, made by a Portsmouth printer unfamiliar with the language he was setting. The handwritten entries named Vendee as the ship in question, De Montrichard as her master. The date was identical, as was the impression of the seal the mayor's men had found yesterday upon recovering the drowned nobleman's body. And the signature on this specimen was free, quite illegible, not the careful inscription Hoare remembered on the document Montrichard had deposited with Sir George's hands that the clerk Patterson had shown him.

Raising his head from the paper, Hoare looked into the huge, warm, violet eyes.

"This proves, madame, that as I believed, the duc had already given Vendee to his equerry when he was killed."

"Then my husband's crime was without purpose," she said.

"Precisely, madame," whispered Bartholomew Hoare.


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