Hoare and the Passed Master
The call did not come from the cart halted on the moonlit bridge just ahead of Bartholomew Hoare, but from beneath the bridge. There was a swinging golden light down there, a swinging golden light as if from a lantern. Hoare drew rein to listen. The call came again.
Hoare had been looking forward to his own bed in his quarters at the Swallowed Anchor in Portsmouth, but a consuming curiosity had always been his bane.
Below, a bulky figure held a lantern in one hand while holding up a naked body with the other by a sling passed below its armpits. The body's gray-white head hung at an unnatural angle, the huge wound in its throat grinning like an extra mouth.
"Who is he?" Hoare whispered. He had lost the use of his vocal cords ten years ago and had whispered ever since.
"Haven't the remotest idea, my good man." The fat man lugged the corpse up the slope below. "What difference does it make?"
"Well, where are you taking him?"
"Up to my cart, you ninny. You needn't whisper; he can't hear you. He's dead, you know. The bugger's heavy. Come along now; take his feet."
Hoare obeyed orders, dismounted, and hitched his horse to the cart's starboard quarter. Clambering carefully down the bank, he picked up the corpse by its bare feet, holding them to either side of him like the handles of a wheelbarrow. At the handling, the body expelled a vile reek of corruption.
"Mind his head, idiot! Can't you see it's as good as dropping off already without your tossing him about like that? I'm damned if I'll lose a perfectly good head just because you're not up to your job. No help, no pay."
Light dawned-inside Hoare's own head at least.
"You mistake my identity, sir," he whispered. "I am no resurrection man; I am a lieutenant in the Royal Navy as you could tell if you were to let your light shine upon me."
The fat man did so. "Oh Lord," he said.
"And I presume that you, sir," Hoare went on, "are a surgeon who has just acquired a body to anatomize."
The fat man shrugged resignedly. "You have me out, sir. But while you decide how to dispose of me, would you mind…" He gestured with his lantern.
By its fitful light Hoare inspected the body he was helping to carry.
The victim had been middle-aged or even elderly. The body was stout and soft-the figure of a powerful man gone to seed. A tattoo across the chest, blurred with time, showed a man-o'-war under full sail and the motto "'Tis to glory we steer."
This put another complexion on the affair. To connive in supplying a medico with a strange body to anatomize was one thing, but when the body was that of a fellow naval man, it was another.
Hoare dropped the corpse's feet.
"I cannot overlook this, sir. This is a British sailor."
"Oh Lord," the fat man said again. "What shall I do, then?"
"Carry on up the hill to begin with," Hoare said as he picked up the legs again. "Then we shall discuss the situation. Meanwhile, whom have I the honor of assisting?"
"Dunworthy, sir," said the fat man. "Dr. Samuel Dunworthy, of Durley Street. By Bishops Waltham, you know."
Bishops Waltham meant no more to Hoare than Durley Street did.
"Physician and surgeon, sir," Dunworthy went on. As Hoare knew, physicians held themselves as gentry, fit to dine above the salt unlike mere surgeons, who were addressed as mister instead of doctor and fed in the servants' hall, if at all. As the nearly mute Hoare knew all too well, naval surgeons generally deserved no better.
"Hoare," he whispered in reply.
"There is no need to be insulting, sir," said Dr. Dunworthy over his shoulder. "I am as much a gentleman as you."
"I referred to my name, sir, not your profession," Hoare said.
"I do beg your pardon, sir," the doctor said. "Now, if you'll just give our friend here a heave… a one-a two-and a three! There we are."
"Now, sir," Hoare said, "perhaps you will explain yourself." He backed off into the darkness and-just in case-groped his larboard horse pistol from its holster on the hack's saddle.
Dr. Dunworthy sighed.
"To start in medias res, sir, I found my cadaver under the bridge, just where the message told me it would be."
"Do you still have the message?"
Dr. Dunworthy handed Hoare a piece of crumpled paper. "I am engaged, sir, in certain original inquiries relating to the interconnection of various glands: the adrenal, pineal, thyroid, and salivary glands and the testicles, to be precise. I am in hopes of establishing a hitherto undiscovered connection between them, and of presenting my discovery before the Royal Academy. In fact, my preliminary lecture on the subject just the other night, here at Bishops Waltham, was well attended.
"My studies involve anatomization of the human corpus. Mere animal substitutes such as sheep or pigs simply will not do. To this end I have made connection with several-er-suppliers of cadavers. As we both know, of course, this is unlawful. But the interests of science, I am convinced, must take…"
"Please come to your point, doctor. It grows late."
"Well then. I found the message under my front door just a few hours ago. It did not originate with any of my usual sources, for those are barely literate."
"What do you usually do with the remains?"
"Bury them, of course, sir, with a prayer. What else?"
Hoare saw that it would take Dr. Dunworthy a long, long time to spin his yarn to its bitter end. He interrupted again.
"How far are we from Darley Street?"
"Durley Street, sir. By Bishops Waltham. A mere half hour's easy drive. The road forks to the left just ahead. Then we take another left, and our second right, and there we are."
"Excellent." Hoare climbed into the seat beside Dunworthy. "It is too late now for me to make Portsmouth tonight. I shall accompany you there and prevail upon you to provide me with sustenance and a bed." He realized that, as he too often did, he was imitating the speech of his vis-a-vis in his own whisper. More than once he had been accused of mockery.
"It will be a pleasure, sir." The doctor's voice was grudging. He slapped the reins on his pony's haunches. The animal woke with a start and began to plod forward. Hoare marked the route as they went; he knew he must return to the scene in daylight.
"Give me the use of your glim," Hoare ordered, and the doctor complied. By its light he examined the message. In block letters, written on rather fine paper, the message was brief enough:
"ive a corpus for you," it read, "if you come to the plaice marked on the map. Bring the usual."
Hoare agreed with Dr. Dunworthy's observation; the brisk, clear hand was that of a literate person.
"What's the usual?" he asked.
"Five pounds, sir," the doctor replied in a whisper. "That's the going rate for a cadaver hereabouts. I heard the other night that it's half that in London-the law of supply and demand, I suppose."
Dunworthy must have realized he had been copying Hoare's whisper. In a normal voice he went on: "I still have the sum by me, for there was no one to whom I might hand it. So I am ahead, I suppose, by one cadaver." The thought appeared to cheer him up.
"Why do you whisper, sir? There's no need, as I told you."
"An old war wound, if you must know," Hoare said.
At the Glorious First of June '94, where he was first in Staghound, 38, a spent musketball had crushed his larynx, leaving him unable to speak above a painful croak. Since any deck officer must be able to hail the main masthead in a full gale, Staghound's captain had regretfully put him ashore with a letter of high commendation.
It was only this that had found the beached, despairing Hoare a place on the staff of the Port Admiral at Portsmouth. Since then, now forty-two, he had served as general dogsbody, running errands and taking on any project that a voiceless officer could reasonably accept. The life kept him out of the countryside where his family remained; he had found the stink of bilges and the scurry of rats preferable to the stink of hog manure and the scurry of chickens.
But he had never before faced the problem of finding out who had killed a nameless sailorman.
By journey's end Hoare had seen enough of Dunworthy despite the dark to realize that his dress was tidier than the average unsupervised male's and had concluded that the doctor employed a wife or other female to keep him in order. So it proved. Bearing a guttering candle which she shielded ineffectually with one hand, Mrs. Dunworthy opened the door for them. She was shaped much like her husband as Hoare could readily observe, since she was clad in an enveloping night-rail.
The yawning wife furnished them an end of ham and a slice of yesterday's bread. After attending to his hack, Hoare took his share of the provisions, with his saddlebags, up to the garret room allotted him. It might have been the room of a Dunworthy son-grown and gone? dead? — for a forlorn cock-horse leaned in one corner and a basket of wooden building blocks rested in another.
The bed was too short for Hoare's lanky frame, but no shorter than many of the hammocks and swinging cots of his nights at sea. Stripping off his outer garments, he wound himself into the musty blankets and lay sleepless.
Question after question paraded through his mind, futilely seeking answers. He felt himself out of his depth. How had the dead man come to be under the willow in the dale, as Dunworthy had described the place? Could he have been killed by a resurrection man, or two of them as in the shocking recent case of Burke and Hare in Scotland?
What had the dead man been? He could not have been a boatswain or a gunner, for the body was that of a man out of condition. A purser, then, or a master. And who had he been?
Hoare's own, of course, was that of his father, Joel Hoare, an Orkneyman of Viking stock. Bartholomew had defended that good name with fists and feet again and again before he was out of smallclothes. Even before Captain Hoare had wangled his son his warrant as midshipman in the brig Beetle, young Bartholomew had run a jeering schoolmate through the thigh with a carving knife. By now it was a foolhardy man who mocked the good name of Bartholomew Hoare; whether with pistol, v©pv©e, or saber he placed his blow where he chose, making his choice according to the offense. So far, he had always avoided killing his man.
Hoare had been the sole officer of Beetle to survive the great September tempest in the last year of the American war, when a widow-maker sea had swept the others, to a man, from her quarterdeck. Not only that: as he was working the brig northeast to Halifax under jury rig, he had encountered a small Yankee privateer, taken her by a ruse, and brought her into Halifax in modest triumph. So Hoare had been well on his way to renown until that French bullet had as good as ended his career.
Had Dunworthy done the deed himself? If not, who had? Above all, why had Hoare stopped at the bridge? At last he drifted into sleep.
"Tell me what you make of what this man was when alive," Hoare whispered the next morning as he and Dunworthy faced each other in the cleanly surgery across the remains.
"From the tattoos, he was surely a man of your calling as you have already concluded." With surprisingly gentle hands Dr. Dunworthy probed the body's soft belly. As if in protest it gave off a burst of foul-smelling gas; decomposition was noticeably under way.
"Swollen liver. He probably drank too much port. A sad failing and one I fear I share." He straightened up with a grunt. "Come, Mr. Hoare. Let us make ourselves comfortable in my parlor while I present my conclusions about the man."
Mrs. Dunworthy was well trained, for coffee, cheese, and biscuits awaited them. The two seated themselves on either side of the empty fireplace.
"Well, sir, here is my opinion. The deceased was a man in his fifties, in reasonably good health but no longer fit. His coarse features suggest that he was of common stock. Would you not agree, Mr. Hoare, that he probably began at the bottom of your ladder and worked his way partway up it? I am not familiar with the gradations of rank in the Royal Navy, but he might have become-not quite a commissioned officer, but…"
"A warrant officer," said Hoare. "A senior master's mate, probably, or even a master. When did he die?"
"A little more than twelve hours ago, if that. Had we not moved the body about almost without interruption, we might have found it a less flexible burden." "Could he have killed himself?" Hoare asked. "Impossible, sir. Primo, why would a man strip himself naked before committing felo-de-se? Not in our climate. Secundo, I saw no blood under the bridge. He was bled dry; where did the blood go? Tertio, a person who turns the knife on himself always makes more than one cut. This cut was an admirably decisive one. No, sir; he did not destroy himself. Dear me, no." "How was he killed, then?"
Dr. Dunworthy looked at Hoare with raised eyebrows.
"The man was not drowned, he was not poisoned, and he was not bludgeoned. His throat was cut, sir, efficiently cut. Decisively, in both senses of the word. You may accept my opinion as certain."
"Well, sir… " Hoare rose to his feet "… I must return to the place whence we came and search the area. I gather that you saw no sign of the man's clothing?"
"No," the doctor said. "Nor anything else that might pertain to him. It was dark, you will recall."
"You will hear from me. Meanwhile, you must not begin your dissection."
"Not even the salivary glands, sir?" Dr. Dunworthy's voice was piteous.
"Not even the salivary glands, doctor." Hoare suspected that the salivary glands were to be found in the head, and he might want that head for identification.
"Furthermore, sir, I regret to tell you that you must keep the body intact for another twenty-four hours," he told Dunworthy.
The doctor looked at him in dismay. "In summer, sir? Surely you realize that…"
"I understand your concern, doctor. Nevertheless, I insist. Also, if you cut into your cadaver in any way that obscures its identification, I shall not answer for the consequences. Furthermore," Hoare added, "you are not to leave the neighborhood."
"I had no intention of doing so, sir. I seldom travel even as far as Southampton. But why do you put this prohibition upon me? And how am I presently circumstanced with respect to the law?"
"If you refer to your having acquired a human body for the purpose of anatomizing, doctor, it is of no consequence to me. I find the law in this respect ridiculous. How else is your profession to increase its pitiful store of knowledge about its patients? My concern is about an apparent officer of the Royal Navy who must now be marked down as 'discharged, dead.' "
Dr. Dunworthy looked greatly relieved.
"But," Hoare went on, "if you refer to the question of how the man came by his death, you will understand that you are under suspicion. I must remind you, sir, that by your own admission, you bought a body. Moreover, this man was murdered, and you might have murdered him."
"Oh Lord," said the fat man. "Am I under arrest, then?"
"I have no authority to arrest a civilian, sir, but you would be wise to follow my advice."
Hoare turned and left his host hanging-so to speak-on his doorstep. Inside himself he dithered. He knew nothing about how such men as London's Row Street Runners proceeded.
Hoare readily found his way back to Bishops Waltham and the bridge over the Hamble stream. Three early-rising urchins squatted on the near bank. One was just fishing out a soggy blue garment, another flourished an unmistakable uniform hat.
Hoare put two fingers to his mouth, emitted an ear-splitting whistle, and put spurs to his hack. The urchins shrieked, dropped their booty, and fled.
Hoare dismounted. As he had hoped, the blue object was a naval uniform coat, heavily stained across its breast. It was much like the one he himself was wearing except for a smaller number of buttons — a distinction that only an accustomed eye would notice. The dead man had indeed been a warrant officer and not a King's commissioned officer like Hoare. There was still a purse in the coat; it was a peculiar, wrinkled, leathery object, and it was empty. Reenter the doctor's resurrection man, Hoare decided.
As the doctor had warned, there was no blood to be seen in the vicinity, even though the man must have drenched his surroundings within seconds. He must have been killed elsewhere, stripped, and brought here; the rest of his garments must have been left behind or floated down the Hamble.
The soil was indented by several sets of human footprints, too confused for Hoare to determine what kind of activity had transpired. One set must be Dunworthy's. Dunworthy might be fat, but he was strong-strong enough to have killed the corpus himself, since he had been lugging it up the slope alone. The doctor had to be Hoare's principal suspect-at present, indeed, his only one. Whose, then, were the other footprints?
Or perhaps the doctor was a wily man; perhaps he had paid off his supplier in the usual way and simply pretended to Hoare that he had not. But why, then, would he have called for help in the first place?
And Dunworthy, in Hoare's opinion at least, was not murderously inclined. Medicos might well kill as many of their patients as they saved with their debilitating purges and bleedings, but they did not generally do so on purpose. For the most part they were a humane though cynical tribe.
Then, Hoare said to himself, the killer had been the resurrection man he purported to be. But if so, why had he decamped without collecting his pay? Or-considering the tangle of tracks-were there two of them?
When Hoare had been a pipsqueak mid, literally learning his ropes, one elderly bosun used to rejoice in dumping tangles of marline before him and his mates. The last snotty to unravel his tangle got it across his arse, knots and all. It had seemed to Hoare as though each of his tangles had only one end, so it was always his bottom that got beat. Hoare felt that way again.
He had already collected more evidence than he knew what to do with. He bundled up the soggy coat, remounted, and resumed his interrupted return to Portsmouth.
Hoare proceeded to Admiralty House, where Sir George Hardcastle, Rear-Admiral of the Blue, commanded the naval base and all that lay therein. From the admiral's flag secretary he requested information about any ships' pursers or masters gone adrift.
"Severn, 28, just reported her master, Timothy Tregallen, two days overdue from leave. She's under twenty-four hour orders to weigh for Gibraltar. But why should you care? Has he been pilfering ship's stores, or buggering the mids?"
"As to that, I don't know," Hoare whispered. "Probably both, considering his position. But he's changed his ways now, for certain." He stepped to the door of the admiral's sanctum.
Admiral Hardcastle was a busy man, Hoare knew, and a grim, merciless one to boot. He heard Hoare out, reading and signing papers as he listened. Then he said, "Find out who killed him, have him hanged, and tell me when you've done it. Good day, sir; you know your way out."
"Where does Severn be?" Hoare asked the secretary as he closed the admiral's door behind him.
"Just beyond Vantage. You know; that new frigate just commissioning."
Taking advantage of his authority to use any of the pulling boats assigned to the port admiral's office, Hoare selected one of the four-oared gigs lying at the Sally Port and told its coxswain to take him out to Severn. The breeze was easterly and the course southerly, so he had the cox rig the gig's mast and lugsail and took over the tiller himself. Even after twenty years on the beach, the sea still affected him like some addictive drug.
Hoare swung the gig under Severn's lee and swarmed aboard her starboard side briskly, glad of the chance to prove himself still a proper seaman. He doffed his hat to the quarterdeck and asked to be taken to the first lieutenant.
Hoare bitterly envied any seagoing officer. But with his power over all her other people, a ship's first lieutenant (after a post captain, of course) was the luckiest afloat. This one, a Mr. Barnard, was obviously preoccupied with preparing his frigate for sea. He wasted no time in pleasantries.
"What brings you aboard us, sir?" he asked as soon as Hoare had identified himself.
Since Barnard made none of the usual fatuous comments about his name or his whisper, he must already know of Hoare, his odd position, and the disabilities of voice and name that had made him notorious about Portsmouth.
"I understand your master has gone adrift," Hoare whispered.
"True enough," Barnard said.
"I'm afraid he's lost the number of his mess."
Hoare told his sorry story, leaving out the details. He knew he would have to tell it again and again; his whisper tired easily, and he wanted to save it.
"Captain Drysdale will want to hear this. I'll take you to him. Pray come with me, sir."
Hoare trotted obediently after Barnard down to Captain Drysdale's cabin. Like every active naval captain when in port, Drysdale spent his time anchored behind his desk. "Ah. Admiral Hardcastle's Mr. Hoare, isn't it?" The captain set down his pen. "Welcome aboard, sir."
"Mr. Hoare bears ill tidings, sir," Barnard said. 'Tregallen."
"He has been found dead, sir," Hoare whispered.
"Oh my," said Captain Drysdale. "Well, take a pew, gentlemen, and let's hear the story."
Twice Hoare had to interrupt his report to refresh his whisper; twice Captain Drysdale had to interrupt it to demand silence above his quarters so he could hear it. At length Hoare fell silent.
There was a pause.
"Obviously, some body-snatcher did it, or the doctor," said Barnard. "It's none of our affair now."
Barnard rose, stooping instinctively to avoid stunning himself on the low overhead. He glanced at Hoare as if expecting him to follow suit, but Hoare remained seated.
"As Mr. Barnard says, sir, it does appear as though some resurrection man did the deed, or even Dr. Dunworthy," he said. "Nevertheless, it is essential-especially since Severn and her people will soon be out of reach-that I take this opportunity to question Mr. Tregallen's shipmates."
Barnard sat down again with a thump and glared at Hoare. "Do you have the gall, sir, to suggest that one of my men killed him?"
"I must make certain that that cannot be the case, Mr. Barnard."
"By whose authority?"
'The authority of Admiral Sir George Hardcastle, whose immediate subordinate I am. Do you question that? If so, pray send a signal of inquiry ashore." Hoare eyed the other officer coldly.
"Make the necessary arrangements for our visitor, Mr. Barnard, if you would be so kind," Captain Drysdale said. With a sigh he returned to his manifests.
Outside the cabin, Hoare and Barnard eyed each other. "Well, sir?" Hoare asked.
Barnard counted to himself. "There are not that many, I'm glad to say. There's the crew of the leave boat, of course; that would be eight men and Simpkins, cox. Two of the mids, Blenkiron and Fallowes. Gamage the purser, McTavish our lieutenant of marines, Grimes- he's surgeon. And Tregallen, of course, if you want to count him. That makes fourteen-no, fifteen in all."
"I suppose that the purser, the surgeon, and the mids berth in the cockpit, and Mr. McTavish in the wardroom?"
"I'll question them there. But let me talk with the man Simpkins first. If he can convince me his men were under his eye at all times, I should not need to question them."
"That, at least, would be a small kindness, Mr. Hoare. It don't please me at all, you may be sure, to have any of my people taken away from their duties when we're making ready for sea. Kindly be brief with them all."
"Of course," Hoare said.
"Pass the word for Simpkins," Barnard called to the ship at large. The coxswain's name went forward like a moving echo. Soon a regulation barefooted bronzed British tar appeared, knuckled his forehead, and looked apprehensively at his officer.
"Ah, Simpkins," Barnard drawled. "Mr. Hoare here is from the port admiral. He has some questions to ask you. Answer them, and truthfully, mind. Now, sir, I'll be about my own affairs, if you please. We sail tomorrow morning, on the flood."
Before Barnard could turn away, Hoare recalled him. He did not care for the other's attitude toward his visitor-or, for that matter, his top-lofty way towards his shipmates. He would give him a taste of his own medicine.
"Be so kind as to clear the cockpit of its present occupants and have the others you named assemble outside it-outside, mind. If I need to question Simpkins' men, I will have him muster them. Thank you; that will be all for now."
Now it was Hoare who turned away dismissively. He could almost smell Barnard fuming at being ordered about by this whispering admiral's poppet and hugged himself in secret glee. He knew he was being unfair to a harried fellow officer, but he could not help envying the man. With his ship, Barnard was preparing to go in harm's way, and perhaps fame's way with it, while he, Bartholomew Hoare, had to hang about ashore, mutely hauling smelly corpses about. It was not fair.
"Yes, sir?" Simpkins was waiting. He looked much afraid.
"You cox the leave boat, I'm told."
"Aye, sir, I did, but we're disbanded now; preparin' fer sea, ye know. All shore leave stopped, all hands aboard."
"Of course. And you row eight oars?"
"How do you handle them while you're ashore?"
"Handle 'em, sir?" Simpkins asked. "Beggin' yer parding, sir, but I don't handle 'em at all. I don't get yer drift."
"Which men do you keep within sight, and which ones do you let off now and then for-shall we say-a spot of refreshment?" Hoare was sure he knew the answer, but the question must be asked.
"In this ship, sir? Nary a man gets further away from the boat than to ease 'imself in case of need. Never. There's them as 'ud take advantage of me like an' drink 'emselves pukin' before I could wink. Or even run. An' if I lost one of me crew… oh my God, sir, not in this ship."
"Then your men were within eyesight at all times whenever you had them in charge ashore?"
"Aye, sir. Bless my soul, yes." Simpkins could not have looked more sincere.
He was scared green of his first lieutenant, Hoare thought, and none of his oarsmen would have had the wherewithal to bribe him.
"An' me, too, sir," Simpkins added hastily before Hoare could ask him. "I was always in their sight, I mean. Oh my God yes, sir."
"Very good, Simpkins. Thank you. Now show me to the cockpit, if you please."
Simpkins started as if no officer had ever said "please" to him before, but took Hoare below to the orlop, where he left him at the foot of a ladder. Before the low entrance to Severn's cockpit several men, including one in the scarlet and gold of a marine officer, loitered. The news was out, then.
"Thank you for waiting, gentlemen," Hoare whispered. Without preamble, he took out the peculiar purse.
"Do any of you recognize this?"
"It's the master's, sir," said one of the midshipmen. "It held a bull's bollocks. He was used to say that what was in it now meant just as much to him as those bollocks meant to the bull that once owned it."
"Mr. Barnard has told me that all of you were ashore in the last few days, either on ship's business or your own. I wish to speak with each of you privately."
A portly, blotched, soft-looking man spoke up. "Perhaps my shipmates would let me precede them, sir, so that I may return to my duties."
"You would be Mr. Gamage?" Hoare asked.
"Ernest Gamage, sir, at your service."
"Very good, Mr. Gamage. After you, if you please." Hoare ushered him into the cockpit.
Hoare's own first quarters at sea had been crannies like this-sometimes smaller, sometimes larger, but always fetid, always cluttered, always dark. Four narrow, shuttered berths and as many hammocks crowded the space. Some of the occupants' sea chests served as seats, others as a table. In action, Hoare knew, the latter would be cleared for Grimes the surgeon and the loblolly boys who would hold down the patients and cart away the lopped-off limbs and their former owners. Now the makeshift table was littered with the surgeon's tools-probes, retractors, saws, a peculiar object that resembled a thumbscrew but Hoare knew was a trephine, a few scalpels. A compact chest sat empty on one corner. Apparently Mr. Grimes had been interrupted in a last-minute inventory of his equipment.
Hoare shoved the instruments to one side. They were filthy, unsightly, and he did not want them under his eye. He needed no distractions now; once again he was-figuratively speaking-at sea. Once again he wished he had withstood the call of curiosity last night and left Dr. Dunworthy in the dark to shout his lungs out.
"I understand, sir," he whispered, "that you were ashore lately and that you returned aboard only last night. Pray tell me where you went, whom you saw, and what you did while there."
According to Mr. Gamage, his run ashore had been humdrum. He had arranged to have a supply of slops put aboard Severn so he could replace crew's clothing that might have worn beyond repair or simply gone adrift. For selling in the wardroom he had arranged for a small supply of better-grade tobacco, some soft soap, and some Bohea tea.
On his first night Gamage had made a fourth at whist in the home of a reputable ship's chandler. He had dossed down in a corner of his host's parlor. His second day had been much the same as the first.
"And the Saturday night?"
Mr. Gamage's glance strayed into the dim corners of the cockpit.
"I entertained myself in a private manner, sir."
Hoare pressed him.
"If 'twas your last night ashore, sir, what would you have done?" The purser winked broadly. "Need I said more to a fellow officer?"
Obviously Mr. Gamage had enjoyed a last orgy of a dignified sort at some such establishment as the One More Round-one that served all sexual tastes and hence would be favored by the naval establishment's older members. Given his name, Hoare was sensitive to matters of sexual impropriety, so he let the matter pass.
Gamage was quite sure that it was his first night ashore that he had encountered Mr. Blenkiron and Mr. Fallowes. All hands had been more than half seas over. No, Mr. Gamage had not acknowledged the young gentlemen; they were mere children, after all, and he was happy to leave them to their own filth.
This interested Hoare, and he demanded details. He sensed that the purser merely wanted the chance to tattle.
"I cannot feel that their-er-behavior in-ah-private matters is in keeping with the traditions of the service," Mr. Gamage said.
"Kindly be more specific, sir," Hoare whispered.
"I refer to the sin of Onan, sir. And-worse-to that other abomination, the one mentioned in the Articles of War."
Hoare suspected that Mr. Gamage might be displeased less by the amatory activities of Severn's mids as by his own nonparticipation in them. He was about to dismiss the purser when a further question came to mind. It might be useful; heaven knew nothing else seemed to be.
"What sort of a man was Mr. Tregallen?" he asked.
Mr. Gamage hesitated.
"A good seaman, sir-none better. As good a navigator as our captain; in fact, he was the officer who taught our young gentlemen, and a hard taskmaster he was, I heard them say. A prudent sailor, too, he was, generally ready to take in sail before the other officers thought it needful. Or so I heard. Self-educated I'm sure, for I know he sailed before the mast in the seventies."
"And as a man?"
Again the purser hesitated.
"He was fond of a wager, always urgent to be paid and slow to pay. I had no use for him. In a word, he was a liar. He made unwarranted charges. He ruined more than one man's career. You might speak to McTavish about him, or Grimes."
"I shall, Mr. Gamage," Hoare said, and dismissed him. "Be so kind as to ask Mr. Grimes to step in."
Gamage turned in the doorway for a last word.
"I'm glad the bastard's dead, Mr. Hoare."
No sooner was Grimes seated across from Hoare than he slapped the covered chests between them. "Someone has been meddling with my instruments," he said. "No one meddles with my instruments."
"I moved your instruments, sir," Hoare whispered. "They were in my way. Besides, they were disgusting to look upon, and I wanted them out of my sight. Why do you not wash them?"
"Wash them?" Grimes laughed with ill-concealed contempt. "Why should I do a thing like that? Every properly apprenticed surgeon knows better than to clean off his instruments; cleaning removes the protective film of blood. Wipe them off, indeed!"
"Never mind. I believe you were ashore for several days during the last week. Kindly tell me what you did and whom you met."
Like the purser, Severn's surgeon had spent the day completing his supplies-equipment, medicines, ointments, and the like. The port surgeon, Davis, would confirm this, as would the several apothecaries upon whom he had called.
"The first night I spent at the Blue Posts," said Grimes.
"And whom did you meet there?"
"Meet? No one. There was a band of noisy Scots upstairs, making as much ado as so many Mohocks, so I decided to betake myself to the country in search of peace. I rambled about the rural environs for the remainder of my brief leave, botanizing and living rough."
"What sort of shipmate was Mr. Tregallen?" Hoare asked.
"A fine seaman, though who am I to judge? Not an easy man to know. Intelligent? Yes. Ambitious? Yes. Demanding; just ask the mids. He would have made a bad enemy."
"Things went only one way with Mr. Tregallen; he took, but I never knew him to give. He watched; he watched. When he saw advantage to himself, he moved like lightning.
"That was how he advanced. He came aft through the hawsehole, you know. He left ruined reputations behind him wherever he went, peaching on pilfering petty officers so he could replace them, tempting young gentlemen-and others not so young-into outrageous wagers. He was a bad shipmate, Mr. Hoare, and I confess I do not regret his death. You might ask the same question of the marine officer, or the purser. How did he die, by the way?"
"His throat was cut," Hoare whispered.
"Ah. I would have expected you to say stabbed or bludgeoned."
"He was that sort of a man. Enraging. Ah well… de mortuis, as we scholars say." Mr. Grimes smiled patronizingly at Hoare. "Will that be all?"
"I shall detain you no longer," he whispered. "As you leave, be so kind as to ask Mr. McTavish to join me."
Sweeping his instruments into the chest on the table and picking up the lot, the surgeon departed.
It having been some obscure Gaelic feast-day, the lobster, Lieutenant McTavish, had forgathered at the Blue Posts with several others of his nation and had his fill of haggis, whisky, and melancholy song. None of the party, he said, had left the inn that night.
Most of the evening was a blank to him. In fact, he had awakened the next day at noon, alone and abandoned, in some inland village, completely at sea as to his whereabouts.
"I confess, sir, I didna know what day it was, let alone what toun. I was that frichtit of havin' missed me ship that I hired a vee-hical-at an unco' price, I tell ye-and retairned to Severn forrthweeth.
"The mon was a bad shipmate, bad," the marine said when Hoare asked him about Tregallen. "The fairst evenin' aboard he fills me wi' thot vile liquor he carries, an' the next thing I knaw, I've geeven him me note o' hand for mair guineas than I've sichtit me life lang. An' he kept dunnin' me for it. He kept havin' at me an' at me. Well, I'm free of that the noo. An' I wasna the only mon he troubled so," he added. "Ye might ha asked Muster Gamage or the sawbones aboot that."
"Who could vouch for your whereabouts while ashore, Mr. McTavish?" Hoare whispered.
"The Friday nicht, ony of my fellow Scots, tu be sure, an' the host. Aye, we had a braw set-to there, we did. As tu the Saturday, wull, I canna say. As I told ye, I wasna so bricht mesel'. An' the folk at the inn in the village, where I hired the shay to brring me back tae Portsmouth, I suppose."
"Where was that?"
"I dinna ken."
Mr. McTavish departed to rejoice in being freed of his dubious debt and to send in Blenkiron and Fallowes. The mids shortly appeared in the door, jostled to see who must go first, and finally stood before him.
"Be seated, young gentlemen," Hoare whispered. "Which of you is which?"
"I'm Fallowes, sir," said the taller lad. Fallowes might have been twelve. His wavy blond hair kept falling into his eyes, and he kept brushing it back like a nervous girl.
"I'm Blenkiron, sir. I'm senior, if you please, sir," he added. Blenkiron's voice was still uncertain whether to sing tenor or treble.
"Tell me about Mr. Tregallen," Hoare whispered.
Blenkiron's face turned white.
"He was worse than Mr. Barnard and the sawbones. And he was quartered here, too, right with us."
"No escape for a poor snotty."
"Shut up, you ass."
There was another pause. "What do you mean by that?" Hoare asked.
"Nothing, sir," came in chorus, and neither young gentleman would be moved further.
"What did you do ashore?" Hoare asked at last. The two looked at each other.
"Well, we met these two ladies…" began Fallowes.
They admitted to having awakened the next day in a strange, smelly bed with their pockets to let. They had not seen Tregallen.
There being no more to do aboard Severn, Hoare decided, he betook himself ashore. For the gig's return to the Sally Port in the growing dusk, he left the tiller to its rightful coxswain and took the time to review the meager results of his amateur questioning.
Could the two mids have killed their persecutor? Certainly the ill will was evident, but so was manifest fear. Even combined, the two would have been mice to Tregallen's cat. Forget the mids.
Grimes had been wandering about inland. He could have killed Tregallen. But why?
Dunworthy must be innocent, for he had had no real need to call for Hoare's help to move his "corpus."
McTavish was badly in debt to the master, so he would have had a reason to kill him. He claimed that somewhere in the Dorsetshire countryside he had gone adrift-an oxymoron if there ever was one; might the village where he awoke have been Bishops Waltham?
As for Gamage the purser, he had stayed in Portsmouth-he had said-all the time he was ashore and could not have gotten the body to Bishops Waltham.
Hoare considered the tasks he must perform ashore.
"When is tomorrow's first flood tide?" he asked the coxswain.
"That 'ud be four bells of the mornin' watch, sir. Ten o'clock."
The cox's voice, and his condescending translation of the time for this lubberly officer, showed more than a trace of scorn; any real seaman, he clearly thought, would always have the state of the tide in his bones.
Eighteen hours. Hoare had no more than that before Severn and all his suspects save one would be effectively out of his reach. Not a minute was to be lost. He would be left with that single suspect, one portly, middle-aged doctor whose motive for the murder was a feeble thing indeed.
Nevertheless he owed it to the common law to persuade the civilian authorities of Hampshire to arrest Dr. Dunworthy as suspect of murder. While doing so, he must comb through all the almost infinite number of haunts that Tregallen might have frequented.
This nightmarish tangle was only getting worse as he yanked at it. A corpus with its throat cut; the tracks so plain in the mud under the bridge but so obscure to interpret; the peculiar scrotal purse; two frightened, sullen midshipmen; an embittered marine; two medicos — Dunworthy the body-snatching doctor and Grimes the top cock in his own cockpit; an oddly deceptive message about a "corpus." Hoare felt that all he could do was jerk feebly and hopelessly at his tangle until his time ran out, Severn made her offing behind the Foreland, and he must face his merciless admiral, charged with having failed to do his utmost.
He plodded first to the Town Hall, where he put his case for arresting Dr. Dunworthy before a bored functionary. At last the man scribbled on a form and called a minion-a bailey? a shreeve? — to go to Durley Street by Bishops Waltham and seize the portly physician. Then he plodded on. At the Bunch of Grapes, where Tregallen had been seen and which he had saved for last, no one answered his hammering at the door.
His own quarters at the Swallowed Anchor lay not far away. Wearily, Hoare made use of his key to enter the sleeping inn and fell on his bed fully clothed, telling himself to awaken at sunrise.
The morning sun in Hoare's eyes woke him with a start. God, it must be gone eight bells-and Severn due to catch the flood. Dashing ice-cold water into his face, he raced below. "No time, Susan, no time," he whispered to the pink girl who bore his breakfast of bread and brawn. "Was there a ship's master in the inn two nights ago, or three?"
"I don't think so, sir. Pa! Mr. Hoare wants to know 'as there been a ship's master in the inn these past two nights?"
"Nay, lass, no master, not last night," came the answer from the kitchen.
Hoare departed at a near-run for the Bunch of Grapes. If he failed there, he was left with inquiring at a few down-at-heel shebeens where no self-respecting ship's master would have set foot-and he had no time, no time.
Mr. Greenleaf of the Bunch had just opened his doors and was sweeping out last night's trash. Yes, he remembered seeing Mr. Tregallen; he knew him well. He had sat at that table in the back, and another man had joined him. Hoare's heart lifted; the tangle was about to come unraveled after all, and nearly an hour remained before flood tide.
Mr. Greenleaf could say for certain that Tregallen's companion was tall, but he had been that moithered; a tussle had come up among some of the other patrons, and by the time he had taken care of the matter the stranger had gone.
Mr. Tregallen had paid the reckoning for himself and his friend and left. It was then that the inn's own horse and chaise, which Mr. Greenleaf had rented out to another patron, had disappeared, leaving both the patron and Mr. Greenleaf bereft. In fact, were it not for a friend of Greenleaf s boy, it would have been the last of his horse and chaise because yesterday morning the friend came to tell the boy he had glimpsed the equipage standing just off the Sally Port, unattended and all bespraggled with blood.
Hoare's heart sank again. Yes, Tregallen had met a friend, but who had he been? He started out the inn door and nearly collided with a barefoot girl-child who ran athwart his hawse in hot pursuit of a kitten.
"You, Jenny!" came a woman's voice from within. "You coom back 'ere, or I'll tell yer da and 'e'll wup yer little arse off!"
Within seconds the child trotted back again, triumphantly lugging her kitten. "You tell me da, an' I'll cut yer into pieces when I grow up, that I will!" she shrilled. Child and pet vanished into the darkness of the inn.
For what seemed like an eternity Hoare stood transfixed, the chance words ringing through his head. The tangle in his mind was suddenly gone-cut into pieces.
He returned to the Hard on the run. The gig he had used before was at leisure, but another officer was approaching, looking eager. Hoare pulled out the boatswain's pipe he used in emergencies and, nearly breathless, blew the "Still." Instinct stopped the other officer in his tracks; by mere feet Hoare got to the gig first and boarded it, disregarding the other's outraged howl. "Severn again, lads! And pull for all you're worth!" he croaked. His throat exploded in agony, and he collapsed, coughing, in the stern sheets while the oarsmen bent to their work as if rowing for the Head of the Fleet prize.
As Hoare came up to Severn, all hands and the cook were heaving the capstan round to the squeal of a fiddle. Her main topsail and headsails were already beginning to draw, her boarding ladder hauled in. Hoare wasted no time trying to hail for it to be put overside again but gave a huge leap. Catching the chain-plates of her starboard main shrouds, he pulled himself aboard, shredding the knees of his breeches on the channel as he went and leaving two red-stained patches of white nankeen behind. Captain Drysdale and his first lieutenant stared down from the frigate's quarterdeck.
"Damn you, sir!" Barnard exploded, "keep your damned blood off my bloody deck! What is it now?"
"'Vast weighing!" Hoare croaked. "I've found your master's killer, and he's aboard Severn!"
With this, his damned throat gave out, and he bent over, supporting himself with his hands on his knees and coughing, coughing.
"Explain yourself, sir," the captain said.
"Grimes, sir," Hoare coughed. "Your surgeon."
"What about him?"
"The master was blackmail-cough-blackmailing him. Grimes cut his throat, took the body inland, and left it-cough-to a local doctor to anatomize. To cut into pieces."
Spoken more or less out loud, here on Severn's quarterdeck, Hoare's words sounded fantastic.
"You have some explaining to do, Mr. Hoare," the captain said. "Mr. McTavish!"
"Take a man, put the surgeon under arrest, and deliver him to my cabin."
"Come below, if you please, Mr. Hoare, and let us get to the bottom of this once for all. Pray accompany us, Mr. Barnard."
"Signal from Admiralty House, sir," Blenkiron said, taking his eye from a telescope. "Reads: 'Why are you still at anchor?' "
"Make 'Submit explanation forthcoming directly,' " sighed Captain Drysdale. "Belay getting under way, Mr. Barnard. I see we must make our excuses to Admiral Hardcastle."
"Ava-a-ast heaving!" Barnard bellowed. Here was one more reason to envy the other officer; he could bellow.
Below, the captain seated himself at his desk. He looked at Hoare. "Now, sir, kindly justify your accusation."
By now Hoare had recovered from his coughing fit. There was no time to explain, no time. Yet, he thought wildly, Captain Drysdale, unwitting, might have a simple, clinching piece of evidence in his possession. He would chance it.
"I can do so immediately, sir," he croaked, "and explain in detail later, if you but have a sample of Mr. Grimes's handwriting."
"I do not, but my clerk will. Morse!"
A door to one side opened, and a pallid man appeared. "Sir?"
"A sample of Mr. Grimes's handwriting, if you please. One of his sick-and-injured reports will do."
There were sounds of struggle outside. The pallid man was replaced by Mr. Grimes, flanked by two marine guards. From the surgeon's appearance he had, Hoare saw, not come along willingly.
"I demand to know, sir… " Grimes began.
"Silence, you," said McTavish.
"Mr. Hoare here bears an accusation against you, Mr. Grimes," the captain said, "of murder. What have you to say?"
"Absurd. The man's mad. Or drunk."
The pallid Morse returned with a paper in hand. "Mr. Grimes's report, sir," he said. "Casualties resulting from our encounter with Corse."
"Pray give it to Mr. Hoare here."
Hoare took the paper eagerly. He reached into his pocket for the message Dr. Dunworthy had given him.
"By your leave, sir." Hoare placed the two papers on Captain Drysdale's desk. Good fortune stared back at him. "Kindly look here, sir, at these two words." He placed one finger on each of the papers.
Grimes wrenched himself from his guards' grip and stood erect, or rather attempted to do so. His head struck the frigate's overhead a stunning blow, and he collapsed to the deck as if poleaxed. The surgeon might have been at sea for some time, Hoare thought, but not during his formative years. He had not learned to keep his head down when below-decks, come what may.
"Pick him up and sit him down, McTavish," the captain said. "I won't have him bleeding all over my Turkey carpet." He returned to the papers at which Hoare still pointed. " 'I've a corpus for you,'" he read from one, " 'if you come to the place marked on the map. Bring the usual.' "
"And this sentence, sir, from the casualty report?"
"'The corpus of our only casualty, Dimmick, foretopman, was committed… ' Corpus. The same word, by Jove, and in the same hand. How the devil did you know, Hoare?"
"I think we shall find that Tregallen was blackmailing three different shipmates-Gamage the purser, McTavish the lobster, Grimes the surgeon," Hoare whispered. "We know that all three were ashore when he was killed. The first two as much as admitted to me that they were being blackmailed, a thing they would never have done had either been the one who disposed of his blackmailer. Grimes made no such admission."
Hoare paused again for breath and another mad guess. "I am certain Dr. Dunworthy of Durley Street will recognize your surgeon as having attended his lecture the other night. The rest, sir, you just observed yourself."
Captain Drysdale shifted his gaze from the papers to his surgeon.
"What have you to say for yourself, Mr. Grimes?" he said.
The surgeon mopped the blood from his forehead. "Mr. Hoare has me to rights, sir," he said. "The master had turned the tables on me; he was bleeding me white. He was buggering me. I had no choice."
Despite all questioning he refused to state the event or events that the late Mr. Tregallen had threatened to reveal.
"It would do no one any good, sir, and could wreak great harm," he said at last.
His captain directed the others to follow him onto the quarterdeck, where he summoned Blenkiron.
"Make to Admiralty House: 'Surgeon murdered master. Submit convene court-martial forthwith, this ship.' And to the port surgeon: 'Request replacement surgeon forthwith.'"
Mr. Blenkiron stared at Hoare. Behind the midshipman's astonishment, Hoare sensed, lay a profound relief.
Septimus Grimes's court-martial took place in Severn's cabin with Dr. Dunworthy the principal witness. The verdict was a foregone conclusion. As a mere warrant officer, the surgeon was not to be accorded the courtesy generally granted to commissioned officers, of being shot; instead, he was sentenced to dangle and strangle at Severn's yardarm.
"You knew Dr. Dunworthy, then," Hoare said as he kept Grimes company during the surgeon's last hours.
"I did not precisely know him, sir. I learned of the medical meeting in Bishops Waltham and attended his absurd lecture on the interrelationship of various glands in the human body. I had no difficulty in concluding that he was an active anatomizer, and his sponsor had announced his domicile upon introducing him.
"As you can imagine, my mind was already attuned to the question of silencing my persecutor. How to do it presented no problem; I am deft enough and strong enough, and of course the weapon-one of my scalpels-was ready to hand.
"The principal problem was how to dispose of the body. I had to do the deed now; I could not wait until we were at sea and simply put the man overboard one night after cutting his throat. He was far too experienced a seaman for that.
"So when at last I put anatomization together with my crying need, it became obvious. What better way of disposing of my blackmailer than handing him over to be dissected by a respected if eccentric physician? It would be he who must bury the inconvenient evidence with a prayer-after, mind you, having cut it into pieces in the course of his research so that, if found, it could not be identified. A far better solution than simply heaving Tregallen into the harbor, just to float ashore in a day or so.
"It was easy enough to entice the man into the inn's chaise the next night with promises of gold. Then all I need do was slit his throat, drive the corpus to Bishops Waltham, strip it for Dunworthy, drag it under the bridge, and leave a message under the doctor's door as I returned.
"Had you not boarded us," Grimes concluded, "Severn would have been at sea within minutes, and I would have been out of your reach. I planned to leave the ship at Gibraltar and go to ground in Spain."
"And the subject of the blackmail?"
"I shall go to my grave, sir-a watery one, I fear-without revealing that. Bearing a suggestive name like yours, you must know the burden the slightest open sign of sexual impropriety imposes on any officer, or warrant officer. I will not burden others in that way; there is enough on my conscience already. Now sir: How did you come to lay the deed at my door?"
"You must blame an errant kitten, Mr. Grimes."
An hour later, Hoare stood on Severn's quarterdeck to see her crew run her surgeon aloft, long legs kicking wildly, to her main yardarm.
"We are still shy our master, sir," Mr. Barnard reminded his captain when the legs had ceased their hopeless reach for the ground and the officers resumed their hats.
"Well, we shall have to make shift without, you and I. Or perhaps Mr. Hoare himself would stoop…"
Hoare's heart leapt. Step down though it would be, he would gladly accept the post and sacrifice his belongings ashore to boot if it would get him to sea again.
"He can't talk, sir." Barnard spoke across Hoare as if he were deaf as well as mute.
"Of course. Pity."
The captain turned away and joined his lieutenant in the ritual of putting to sea. Left unceremoniously alone, Hoare once again damned the Frenchman who had killed his voice and his career at sea.
As he turned to clamber down into the waiting gig, he espied Dr. Dunworthy standing at the rail and offered him a lift ashore. The physician looked at him strangely, then followed him down the boarding ladder.
"I am happy to have had a part in clearing you, sir," Hoare said.
"And equally happy, I doubt not, sir," Dunworthy said bitterly, "to leave me bereft of my reputation in my community and in my profession.
"Do you imagine that the medical society will listen to a paper given by a suspected murderer? Do you imagine that word of my disgrace will not have already filled the neighborhood? Henceforth, thanks to your meddling, I shall see nothing of my former patients except their backs. I shall have to beg for my breakfast in the streets. Or go to sea as a surgeon. At my age and in my condition. Thanks to you. A dirty road to you, sir, and a slow journey. And take your damned happiness with you."
For the rest of the row across the harbor, the two passengers ignored each other.
Hoare turned to see Severn slowly gather way.
"'Come cheer up, my lads,'" he recited to himself, "''tis to glory we steer!'"
To glory, indeed. But he, Bartholomew Hoare, must remain behind and watch them go.