While Hoare knew that some of his fellow officers were as happy on horseback as they were on a quarterdeck, he himself despised horses. Unlike those who claimed to find parallels between Noble Steeds of the Field and White-winged Chariots of the Sea, he found the beasts disorderly, disobedient, unpredictable, and happy to shit and fart about wherever they pleased, leaving their nasty doings underfoot to be trodden in. At least, though, his father had seen to it that, like them or not, he learned to handle the silly things without making an utter fool of himself.
So here he was, aboard a perfectly decent bay cob, trotting comfortably along in a light mist toward Wells, like any stupid squire on his way to Sunday matins. He had hired the thing instead of taking the regular Racer coach from Portsmouth to Bath and thence doubling back to Wells. He had felt that he would rather go at his own pace than be jammed into a rocking box at the mercy of some drunken, rapacious coachman. However awkward the cob might be, he-Bartholomew Hoare-was in command. He needed only to make it clear to the cob that mutiny would have dire consequences.
The beast pecked at a stone, and he brought its head up, just as if he were helping Alert through a gust in the Solent. It made him feel rather pleased with himself. For once, he felt grateful to Captain Joel Hoare for making him spend so many mornings falling from the creatures’ yardarms.
The horse slopped through a puddle, then stopped, straddled, and pissed hugely. That was exactly what irritated Hoare; no ship would have taken it in mind to heave to like this of its own volition, in midvoyage.
The horse’s behavior gave Hoare’s bladder an idea of its own. He dismounted and held the bay’s reins while he added his own much smaller stream.
It began to rain again. Pulling an oiled-cotton cover over his second-best hat, he remounted and got the cob under way again. Not for the first time in this passage to Wells, he began to wonder what he had done. He hoped-devoutly, of course-considering his reason for being on it in the first place, that the catechism he planned for the soon-to-be-Reverend Arthur Gladden would bear fruit. After all, by the time he had journeyed to Wells and back, he would have taken four days out of his available time. To compensate, he must needs forgo as many days of relaxation on the water, in Alert.
The mist darkened as Hoare jogged into Wells. A few heavier drops began to spatter on the cob’s forequarters and his own hat. With a few questions of passers-by, he found the Mitre Inn, which his own landlord, Hackins, had recommended. Hoare told the hostler’s boy to have his beast made comfortable and readied for the homeward journey tomorrow. He gave no detailed orders, nor did he offer to care for the animal himself, as Hoare senior had told him every proper horseman made it a matter of honor to do. It was not his horse but a hireling, and the boy would know infinitely better what maintenance it needed.
Hoare needed no direction to Wells Cathedral the next morning, for its tower loomed over the old town like a first-rate among a fleet of shallops. Besides, its soft-toned, powerful bells began to toll the hour, all too early in the day. He was happy not only to find that Arthur Gladden was known to the verger-gatekeeper at the door to the cathedral close, but also to catch sight of the man himself. The former lieutenant came pacing thoughtfully toward him along a cloister, well out of the rain, head in a small black book, unaware of his surroundings. The deacon? — ordinand? — was already clad in the uniform of his new service. In his cassock, he looked much more comfortable than he had in naval uniform-holy perhaps, it seemed to Hoare, instead of harried. Certainly the breeches under the cassock would be unsoiled.
Gladden looked up to see who was blocking his way, blinked, and smiled in recognition. He grasped Hoare’s hand in a soft, clerical grip.
“Mr. Hoare! I hardly hoped you would be able to take leave from your duties in Portsmouth, but I had prayed you would come, and lo! my prayers have been answered.”
Hoare had never thought to hear anyone actually say, “Lo!” out loud. For the sake of whatever flock Gladden was destined to lead, Hoare hoped that the man would become less godly once he was ordained.
“To tell the truth, Gladden, I am here only to ask you a question or two, if I may.”
“Anything, Mr. Hoare, anything. After all, I owe my life to you. Come, sit beside me on this convenient bench.”
Hoare took the indicated place. “First, though, I fear I bring bad news. Did you know that Vantage blew up and sank a few days ago, carrying all but twenty-four of her crew with her?”
“My God.” Gladden turned white to the lips. “Only twenty-four saved? Who? How?”
“She blew up somehow, within half an hour of setting sail. I saw it all, from my yacht.”
Gladden bowed his head-in prayer, Hoare supposed, in light of his calling. The astonished Hoare saw a pair of tears drop onto the cassock, where they rested and twinkled in the sunlight before sinking into the fine black wool.
At last, Gladden looked up. He reached into a pocket of the cassock and drew out a handkerchief, with which he blew his nose thunderously.
“Forgive me, sir,” he said. “I have always been prone to tears in moments of stress. And, while I cannot claim to have found any bosom friends among my fellow Vantages, they were my shipmates, after all, as well as fellow Christians. Mr. Wallace, the Marine?”
“Mr. McHale? Mr. Courtney? Hopkin? The child Prickett?”
“Lost… all lost.”
“I do not ask about Mr. Kingsley. I have heard of his capture and death. May God have mercy on his soul.” Hoare saw Gladden actually shake himself, like a wet dog. “But you had questions to ask me?” he said.
“Yes. About Kingsley, in fact. You are the only surviving member of Vantages, afterguard, and the only one who can give me an impression of him.”
“What do you want to know?”
“Anything that comes to mind.”
“It is not easy to speak of him, Mr. Hoare,” Gladden said. “De mortuis, you know. I knew him before we were both seconded into Vantage. He had the experience to be a good officer, I believe, although he spent little time on his duties. How he managed to obtain his captain’s approval of as much leave from Vantage as he took I could never understand. After all, she was fitting out. Perhaps Mrs. Hay persuaded her husband?
“For he was an arrant womanizer, as you know. But he also busied himself as much with the commanders and post captains of the vessels at Spithead as he did with their sweethearts and wives. It was almost as if he had appointed himself an ambassador of good will from the Port Admiral to new arrivals, for within hours after one of His Majesty’s ships had made her number, there would be Mr. Kingsley in his hired shallop, bearing gifts.
“I often wondered why. Perhaps… he had little interest, to be sure, and knew what its lack could do to his career. There were those in Vantage’s wardroom who sneered at his encroaching ways, his fawning upon every post captain he could reach. His private life was licentious, his public life dissolute, his behavior in society obsequious, his treatment of inferiors overbearing. May God forgive me, I did not like him.
“That is all I can tell you, Mr. Hoare. We were a new ship, and for the most part her officers were still practically strangers to one another. Kingsley was sinfully deluded. That is all I know”
“Did you know of Mrs. Hay’s liaison with Kingsley?”
The mouth of the priest-to-be primmed. “I did not know, exactly, but I confess I found their behavior somewhat suggestive. In fact, I.. but no, surely not.”
“What?” Hoare pressed.
“I wondered if Captain Hay knew something was going on between them.
“I am sorry,” Gladden concluded, “that you found it necessary to come so far for my small crumbs of intelligence, but I hope it means that you will attend tomorrow’s service? There will be a small reception following the ceremony.” He looked up at Hoare, almost shyly.
“With the greatest of pleasure, sir,” Hoare whispered. From Gladdens cool but understanding analysis of his late shipmate’s character he, Hoare thought, might have the makings of a priest, after all.
The ceremony of ordination was new to Hoare-no churchgoer as a rule-and he observed it with interest. The bishop was, as Hoare thought the late Mr. Kingsley might have put it, the lead player, but he was supported by a choir and no fewer than four other clergymen. When all five laid hands on Gladden’s bowed head and then upon the heads of the two other ordinands, Hoare had to suppress a smile. Gladden’s head, he thought, was more crowded with hands than the gun deck of an 84 on her first night in port, after the hands’ women had boarded. On this occasion, at least, no women were involved, so there were none of those rhythmical grunts and squeals from the hands and their guests in the double-shotted hammocks.
Hoare had found himself a modest place toward the rear of the cathedral, where its peculiar reversed arch separated him from the proceedings at the altar, so the prayers, psalms, hymns, and other goings-on up forward came only faintly to his ears. But he had ample opportunity to inspect the entire godly crew as it passed him in stately double line ahead, singing a measured recessional hymn and accompanied by the profound rumble of the cathedral organ. Tears came to Hoare’s eyes. Organ music and a choir, with the trebles in descant, always did that to him. Perhaps that was why he was no longer churchly.
It seemed to him that the newly Reverend Arthur Gladden’s face showed a special exaltation, raised as it was above a brand-new strip of embroidered silk freshly draped over his shoulders. What was the thing called? A crope? A style? For the life of him, Hoare could not remember. He was certain of one thing: When it came to pomp and circumstance, even the Navy could learn a lot from the Church. Of course, he reminded himself, the Church had been at it quite a few years longer than the Navy.
He said as much to the former third in Vantage when he made his way up the line of well-wishers in the cathedral close to congratulate him. Gladden smiled vaguely, then turned to the older couple beside him.
“Papa? Mamma? May I introduce my Savior?”
Lady Gladden’s eyes opened wide. Had her son just capitalized the word?
“I mean, of course, Mr. Bartholomew Hoare, the man who saved our name from disgrace and me from death.”
Hoare made his leg and bowed over Lady Gladdens proffered hand. “The Navy’s loss is the Church’s gain, I am sure,” he whispered. The simper she returned would have made a honeybee gag.
Sir Ralph Gladden was a wealthy, idle half-pay captain waiting his way comfortably up the ladder to Admiral of the Yellow, a strapping prizewinning specimen of the squire breed, flaxen-haired like his sons. He took Hoare’s hand in both his own and gripped it hard.
He cleared his throat, as if embarrassed. “Let me introduce you to my daughter,” he said. “Anne, may I present Mr. Bartholomew Hoare of the Navy?”
Forever afterward Hoare thanked his gods-whoever they were-for not looking about him in search of the young lady. He could never have forgiven himself for the insult. Happily, he looked down instead, to see a bonneted face looking back up at him out of amused periwinkle-blue eyes. The young person should still have been in pantalettes. Certainly she was too young to be out-but no; the figure, in pale blue lutestring, had breasts. She was a well-formed young woman, not a child. But she was wee.
Hoare bowed over the upstretched, gloved hand. “I am charmed, Miss Gladden.”
“Both my brothers have told me of your service to the Gladden family, sir,” she said. “We are grateful to you today, as well as proud of Arthur.”
Sir Ralph took up the thanks of his daughter. They went on and on. They were heartfelt, perhaps, but Hoare found them onerous and begged to be excused as soon as the knight stopped for breath.
Released at last, Hoare had found the ham and the syllabub when a soft masculine voice spoke into his ear.
“So, sir. Our neophyte priest believes a whore was his savior? Or-heresy of heresies-that his savior was a whore? I could not help but overhear the words of the hero in our recent little liturgical drama.”
It was the Graveses’ acquaintance from Weymouth, Mr. Edward Morrow, as swarthy and sardonic as before.
“Forgive my coarseness, Mr. Hoare, as well as the highly improper play on your name,” Morrow said. “I am doubly guilty and must make my confession to one of the exalted ladies of Bath. But I was so pleased to see you that I let my tongue run away from me. Will you, instead, grant me absolution, sir?”
The smile that accompanied the Canadian’s words seemed oddly forced, which made the man himself all the more mysterious.
Looking beyond Mr. Morrow, Hoare saw Dr. Graves in his wheeled chair, deep in conversation with his wife and the forgettable Miss Austen. At the sight of Mrs. Graves, his heart leapt unaccountably.
“Well-met, Mr. Hoare,” Dr. Graves said. “What brought you to Wells, of all places?”
Hoare explained he was there by invitation from the Gladdens. “And you?” he asked.
“Two purposes,” the doctor said. “First, we are actually visiting Bath and not Wells. Miss Austen was kind enough to reciprocate our earlier invitation to her. It has been over a year since we came to Bath, and we were commencing to feel a trifle dull in Weymouth.
“Then, too, I had reports of a Dr. Ellison’s having considerable success with problems of palsy such as my own and wished to consult him. It appears, however, that my lower half has atrophied too far for his regimen to take effect.”
“And Mr. Morrow kindly offered us his carriage,” Eleanor Graves interjected. “It is more commodious than our chaise. Then he offered to drive us, and how could we refuse?”
“So there you are, sir,” Morrow said.
Hoare accompanied his acquaintances to Mr. Morrow’s carriage, escorting Miss Austen. As they walked, the lady explained that she had dragged the doctor and his wife to this morning’s ceremony in order to have comfortable transportation at no cost to herself. Lady Caroline Gladden had been a childhood friend of her late mother, and a match between Miss Austen and Peter Gladden had once been mooted.
Hoare only pretended to listen, for he was trying to eavesdrop on the trio ahead of him. Their conversation mystified him. It sounded as if Morrow was pressing some action upon the doctor, for Hoare heard Dr. Graves say, in a voice that displayed more than a little irritation, “No, no, Morrow. No more than I could the last time you urged me. I can still do no such thing. I pray you, sir, oblige me and refrain from mentioning the subject again.”
In the absence of Mrs. Graves’s girl Agnes, Hoare helped Morrow boost the doctor into the Canadian’s carriage and hitched the wheeled chair to it. Hat in hand, he stood to watch his four acquaintances bowl away toward Bath. The chair followed along, looking like a jolly boat being towed behind a sixth-rate. He retrieved his horse and his saddlebags from the Mitre and set out on his own return journey to Portsmouth. He had barely exchanged a word with Eleanor Graves.
As the Cob jogged easily along, Hoare chided himself for having chosen to come to Wells at all. The voyage had wasted four days. He had learned only that Kingsley had been a botfly of a man, ever looking for a place to light and bite. With women, he had been avid for their bodies; with men, his avidity had been for interest. He had been wont to bear gifts about in eternal hope of achieving one goal or the other.
Not an attractive man, to be sure, but still, what had Kingsley done to deserve being shot in the back of the head when he was already as good as sentenced to hang? Admiral Hardcastle had wondered aloud what important secrets that rake-hell lieutenant had owned that could have required his silencing. Hoare had as yet come no closer to an answer.
His mind turned and writhed like a cluster of earthworms, squirming and getting nowhere. He forced it into another channel, an intriguing one, but nothing that called for his formal involvement: the matter of Mrs. Graves and those two mysterious attackers. At Wells, she had made no reference to her adventure or to the death of one attacker at her hands, which had so clearly disturbed her at first.
Morrow had brought a peculiar little party to Bath and thence to Wells. Not the least peculiar was Morrow himself, with his insinuating approach to Mrs. Graves and the near-malice that he showed to Hoare. What had Morrow been pressing upon Dr. Graves so persistently that the doctor had needed to chide him?
Restless and dissatisfied with himself, Hoare decided to bait at Warminster, some eighteen miles on, change horses there, and continue to Portsmouth through the night.
The new hack was a sorrel instead of a bay. Its home stable must have been in Winchester, if not Portsmouth itself, for it was quite ready to have its sleep interrupted. As it jogged along, Hoare found himself reexamining his earlier reveries. He felt as a master weaver must, trying to unravel an apprentice’s botched work. There had to be a common thread in the case, or a repeated knot.
Captain Hay’s murder? Kingsley’s murder? He dozed and-dozing-dreamed. Something about Mrs. Graves, about the anker. Alternately waking and dozing, as he had taught himself to do during long, uneventful night watches at sea, he let the sorrel hack carry him homeward.
Four days later, on arriving at the Victualling Office, Hoare found a letter lying on his flimsy desk. He remembered the hand from his evening in Weymouth with Dr. Graves and his lady. His heart gave a palpable thump. What was happening to him?
My dear Mr. Hoare [he read]:
Even though it can hardly concern you as a naval officer, I have been told that you are also a skilled investigator, so I make bold to inform you of my husband’s death the night before last, and to beg your assistance, as a friend, in bringing his killer or killers to justice.
Here is a summary of the facts as I know them. On Tuesday night I had retired, leaving Dr. Graves to his correspondence. I was awakened by the sound of an explosion in the street outside; this was followed by a crashing noise below stairs. I took the candle which I keep at my bedside in case my husband required assistance and descended to the ground floor.
I found my husband in his study-workshop. He had fallen forward out of his chair. His head had struck the table before him, and the blow had cut open his forehead. He was quite dead-not from the blow, but from a bullet which had penetrated his chair and continued into his back.
I sent our manservant to Sir Thomas Frobisher posthaste with the news of Simon’s death. He arrived within the hour, and was followed shortly by Mr. Morrow.
Both gentlemen are justices of the peace, so they will, of course, attempt to discover the murderer of my husband. However, I am less than confident than either their time or their inclinations will lead them to do so with the dedication the inquiry will certainly demand. For I am frankly not without suspicion that one of the two gentlemen-I have no notion of which-may not be devoid of self-interest in the matter.
When my husband died, he had evidently been engaged with a small, indecipherable document which I saw myself, beneath his hand. It is not now to be found. Neither Sir Thomas not Mr. Morrow could recall having seen such a paper. In fact, Sir Thomas suggested that the shock of finding my husband dead had left me subject to delusions.
I know myself, Mr. Hoare, and I know what I saw.
Dr. Graves was a kindly, gentle, and talented man. I will have his killer brought to justice, and I will not be denied. I would therefore deem it more than friendly of you if you were to come once again to the aid of your sorrowing friend and obedient servant,