Wilder Perkins: Hoare and the Portsmouth Atrocities

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Wilder Perkins Hoare and the Portsmouth Atrocities
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    Hoare and the Portsmouth Atrocities
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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?"

"Inconceivable, 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 earsplit-ting 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 strangers 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.

Chapter II

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