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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    Исторический детектив / на английском языке
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    Английский
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Hoare and the Portsmouth Atrocities: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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"I should like it above all things," Hoare said.

"I shall be satisfied to watch," Mrs. Graves commented. Miss Austen concurred with a nod.

"But first," said Mrs. Graves, "I see Agnes hovering in the doorway. I believe she wants to tell me Mrs. Betts says the soles will be getting cold. We must not upset Mrs. Betts, so let us defer the demonstration until after our dinner. Will you, Mr. Hoare, be so kind as to escort me into the dining room while the doctor follows us and accompanies Miss Austen with Mr. Morrow?"

As his host rolled his chair into the adjoining dining room, Hoare overheard him murmur, " 'Jack Sprat could eat no fat, his wife could eat no lean…' "

Miss Austen spluttered and Hoare suppressed a grin, but he heard no reaction from Mr. Morrow.

"I was noting the appearance of Mr. Hoare and Mrs. Graves as they preceded us," explained Dr. Graves in a normal voice. "Does not the contrast between their two figures remind you of the old nursery rhyme?"

"Of course. Ha ha," Mr. Morrow said dutifully. There was something puzzling here, Hoare thought.

As they discussed the soles, Mrs. Graves, with occasional interjections by the subject, explained to Hoare that Mr. Morrow was the son of an English fur merchant who had settled in Montreal after the cession of Quebec by the French in '63, and thrived. Morrow senior had taken to wife the daughter of a Cree chief, which explained why the son looked as if he would be more at home beside a campfire in the North American wilderness than at the Graveses' board.

But Edward Morrow, the son, had preferred civilized over savage life and, upon inheriting his father's small fortune, had returned to the homeland of his forefathers. He now owned one of the lesser marble quarries on the Purbeck Downs behind Weymouth, had become a justice of the peace, and was hob-and-nob with Sir Thomas Frobisher.

Hoare heard this with polite attention, but he was far more interested in something else. He turned to his hostess.

"How, Mrs. Graves," he asked once her husband had carved the roast, "did you learn to sling and to throw a stone with so deadly an aim?"

"Brothers, sir, brothers-and no mother," she answered. "Three brothers: one big and wise beyond his years, one a bully, one a weakling. Gerald was an everlasting torment to little Jude and to me, until Jack taught me, at least, how to defend myself and poor Jude against him. Fortunately, my two hands are equally skilled; I can write well enough with both- simultaneously, as I will show you after dinner if you wish- as well as I can sling stones or throw them. Jack drilled me and drilled me until, one bad winter when Father was away and times were hard, I fed the family almost entirely with the game I brought home."

Hoare saw that Mr. Morrow was at least as interested in Mrs. Graves's tale as he himself was but puzzled. Evidently Morrow had not heard the details of her exploit that afternoon. Hoare disclosed them.

"It was truly astonishing, sir," he concluded. "I would not care to have our hostess as an enemy-not, at least, if she had a stone or two to hand."

"Your tale would have impressed my mother's tribe," Mr. Morrow told Mrs. Graves. "Any brave would have given much in trade for a wife who could defend herself the way you did. I am surprised, in fact, that you did not faint."

"I am sure you flatter me, sir," she replied in a voice that told Hoare, at least, that she was no such thing. "And, as to fainting, what earthly good would that have done? Except for Mr. Hoare's opportune arrival, it would have left me completely at the mercy of the two thieves, or ravishers, or whatever they were.

"You know me better, Mr. Morrow," she concluded, and changed the subject to the safe, popular issue of Lord Nelson. Everyone knew the hero had left England's shores to comb the Atlantic in search of Villeneuve. Did Hoare believe the Admiral would succeed in catching his Frogs at last?

In reply, Hoare could only offer the usual banality-that once Nelson found his quarry, he would sink his teeth into him like a proper British bulldog and never let him go.

True enough, Hoare told himself, but the hero was wont to hare off after his enemy in the wrong direction, which often made his fleet slow to find his Frenchman. Once found, of course, the foe was doomed.

While carrying on this conversation with his hostess, Hoare could not help hearing snatches of an interchange between the other gentlemen. It had an odd, probing quality, one more suited in Hoare's opinion to political (or even personal) opponents.

"I have told you before, Morrow," Dr. Graves concluded rather testily, "that I am a physician and a natural scientist, not a manufacturer. You must seek elsewhere-Mr. Hunter's establishment, perhaps, in Pall Mall. Under the circumstances, of course, I cannot recommend any of the Continental makers."

As he had been taught to do, and to avoid the appearance of eavesdropping, Hoare now transferred his attention to his right-hand companion. "Have you and Mrs. Graves been acquainted for long?" he asked.

"We were dowds together, in Bath," Miss Austen said dismissively, "but she came off to Weymouth and left me in Bath, to dowd it in solitude."

"In solitude, Jane? Nonsense," Mrs. Graves inteijected. "A solitude interrupted by-let me see-your mother, father, sister, and heaven knows how many nephews and nieces? Let us have no more appeals for sympathy."

Miss Austen laughed a bit ruefully. For the balance of dinner she had nothing to say. The occasion being informal, the ladies did not leave the gentlemen but joined them over the Stilton and the nuts. When these had been defeated-"destroyed in detail, like so many Frenchmen and Spaniards," Dr. Graves said-Mrs. Graves led Miss Austen and the gentlemen back into the drawing room, where Agnes had set out the tea tray. Dr. Graves delayed in the doorway a moment and drew Hoare aside, apparently to address him privately.

"My earlier levity about my own wife and her figure took you aback, I believe, Mr. Hoare. Let me reassure you. I recited that snatch of nursery rhyme on purpose. I must come to know Mr. Morrow's heart better, in the philosophical sense rather than the medical. My little test showed he lacks at least that sense of the ridiculous, the willingness to be amused at even his own follies, that Mrs. Graves and I-and you as well, I saw-share.

"As to Mrs. Graves, she is not only a formidable person. That you have already learned for yourself. She is a truly kind, loving, and tender soul, though she would heatedly deny she has a soul at all. She is truly my better half, and we love each other dearly."

With that, Dr. Graves signed to Hoare to wheel him into the drawing room. When Mrs. Graves had served up the first dishes of tea from her tuffet, her husband doffed his own coat, the better to demonstrate Monsieur La+Фnnec's device, and invited his guests to follow suit.

Hoare noted a distinct difference in the sounds he heard in the other men's chests. The Canadian's heartbeat sounded like the man himself-sturdy, brisk, strong, deep. While the old doctor's heart was also steady and strong, he could hear in the background a soft, rustling, almost musical sound. Hoare said as much to Dr. Graves.

"Yes, Mr. Hoare," the doctor said. "That is one of the few benefits of advancing age. One commences to make a soft music within one's self. It is generally a very private music, of course, so only a few besides the musician are privileged to eavesdrop upon it."

"That is why I chose to stand aloof from this particular parlor game," Mrs. Graves said. "I permit no one but Dr. Graves to listen to the sound of my heart. It belongs to him."

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