Wilder Perkins: Hoare and the headless Captains

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Wilder Perkins Hoare and the headless Captains
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    Hoare and the headless Captains
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"Untie him, someone, and clean him up," Hoare whispered sadly. "We must take him back to the authorities."

In Weymouth, Hoare knew, "the authorities" were Sir Thomas Frobisher. He dreaded the thought. He would not do it; he would return to Weymouth, but he would keep his prisoners and his corpse aboard until he could get them to Portsmouth.

"Make for Weymouth, Mr. Clay," he whispered. "I'll be in my cabin, preparing my report to London."

Hoare almost felt sorry for Spurrier. The man had gained standing of a sort in Dorset, as Sir Thomas Frobisher's tame bully. But then hubris had got the better of him. Using that as a platform, he had put himself in the hands of the master agent of the French, the man whose puppets knew him only as "Himself," and set out to spread alarm and despondency among the Royal Navy by beheading its senior officers. And he had striven to enlist Ernest, Duke of Cumberland, in his unsavory cult, only to discover that the jaded royal had, as he had told Spurrier, "by the time I was fourteen, seen more, and done more, than you could dream up in a hundred opium dreams."

Somewhere, an unidentified puppet master was making his marionettes play out a vast malign joke, a joke that would soon be on England if the strings were not cut.

With that thought, Hoare drew himself up at the desk in front of his cabin window, dipped pen in Standish, and began to write his report to Sir George Hardcastle, for him to read and forward to Sir Hugh Abercrombie at the Admiralty.

Chapter XVI

Spurrier's body had been sewn into a shroud of airtight canvas, the forepeak aired out, and the henchmen stowed in less discomfort, until Royal Duke could deliver them all in Portsmouth. Hoare had sent Rabbett off in a hired chaise, all by himself, with his report. The clerk promised to place it in Sir George's hands without delay and to see that as soon as that officer had read it, it went on to London. Before he left, the clerk had taken Hoare aside and placed his hand in both of his.

"You saved my life, sir," he declared. "I shall never forget it, or the great adventure in which you allowed me to join. Please, count on me in any situation where you believe I can be of aid."

"I shall, you may be sure, Rabbett," Hoare whispered. "I shall consider you at least an honorary member of the brig's crew."

In truth, as he had noted before, Rabbett had grown during their acquaintance, in confidence of spirit, if not in bulk. He had become all but doughty.

"Oh, thank you, sir." With that, Rabbett relinquished Hoare's hand but continued to speak; he had obviously prepared this speech, and he would speak it to the end, come what may.

"You must be proud, sir," he continued. "Admiral Hardcastle commanded you to track down the villains and rogues who killed the Captains and tried to kill him, too. And that was what you did. It is not given to every man to accomplish…" His voice choked. He climbed into the chaise, signaled to the driver, and rolled away. Hoare had forborne to remind Rabbett that it had been he, Bartholomew Hoare, who had sent him into peril in the first place.

"Proud," Rabbett had said Hoare should feel. Hoare laughed sourly. Yes, one criminal group had been dealt with, but it had become clear that it had functioned at the command of another entity. He had scotched puppets only; the puppet master was still at liberty. The Moreau affair had planted the belief in Hoare's mind, and these last events had seen the belief grow stronger. He was sure of it. He would find that entity, wherever it was, and uproot it. But first, he would go ashore and explain affairs to his beloved widow.

As he thrust his head through the hatchway, he looked directly into the eyes of the widow herself, who was about to climb nimbly aboard the yacht from a wherry that must have just pulled alongside. She uttered no word but finished boarding. Then she led him below, as though she had been in command of the yacht for months. Once in the privacy of Hoare's cabin, she reached up with both arms, pulled down his head, and kissed him.

"Well, Bartholomew," she complained softly after some time, into Hoare's uniform coat, "I waited in vain on the tuffet in my parlor for you to come again in glory and ask for my hand. That is what you did after your last triumph. Now that you have triumphed again, will you not do so once again?"

"But I already have, Eleanor," he whispered.

"Not lately," she said.

"I… Will you-"

"One knee, Bartholomew. Do not deprive me of this triumphant moment," she said in gentle reproof. "One knee."

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