Part Four: The Methods of Murder Chapter Fifty-One
Startled, Matthew looked up into a craggy face with a formidable nose, deep-set eyes dark as tarpits, and the left charcoal-gray eyebrow sliced by a jagged scar.
"Good evening, Mr. Greathouse," said Effrem. "Would you care to join usi"
"No, thank you, Mr. Owles. I'm just passing through. as I know your haunts by now, Matthew, I figured I'd find you"-he gave the chessboard a disdainful glance-"doing whatever it is you do in here. I wanted to bring that to you." He nodded toward the box.
Matthew picked it up and shook it, making something shift within. "What is iti"
"a gift from Mrs. Herrald. She bought it for you before she left. asked me to hold on to it until that situation with the lady was over. Mrs. Swanscott, I mean. I suppose I wanted to wait until I saw how you did on your second problem."
Matthew nodded. He had no idea what was in the box, but as for Matthew's second problem, he'd just solved the mystery of the Eternal Maidens Club and their coconut pies. It seemed that the Eternal Maidens had put their money together to buy a very expensive "pharaoh's nut," a coconut, and the best cook of the club-Granny Farkason-had baked two pies from it. The pies had been put on a windowsill to cool and lo and behold they vanished. a neighbor known to eat her weight in biscuits was accused. Matthew had traced crumbs and clues to a travelling troubadour who had made camp in the shadow of the windmill on Wind Mill Lane and whose trained monkey, unbeknownst to him, had learned to slip his chain and go galavanting about town while his owner slept. The monkey had already disposed of one of the purloined items and had hidden an uneaten portion of the second in a hollow log. a gratis performance for the Maidens was arranged, including a great deal of flirting from the handsome troubadour that made several of the elderly maidens rethink their obligations to the club, and things ended as happily as possible when money, a monkey, and two coconut pies are involved.
Not much of a problem, but it beat what Greathouse was working on: a more mundane thing in which he was tasked to follow the wife of a wealthy shipyard owner who suspected a young lover in the shadows. But it was work and money, and Greathouse told Matthew that as the word got out about the agency the solving of problems would become more numerous and hopefully more interesting.
"May I open thisi" Matthew asked.
"You might, but I think Mrs. Herrald intended you to open it in private."
"I see." He didn't, but it was the polite thing to say.
"There you go," Greathouse said with a scowl. "Saying the polite thing."
"I'll open this when I get home, then."
"and I'd suggest a good night's sleep." He glanced around the Trot, which was definitely too tame for his wild streak. "Regardless of whatever enjoyment you get out of this tomb." He started out, stopped, and came back to their table. "Oh...Matthew. I don't give compliments lightly, but I might wish to say you did the agency very proud in that business with Mrs. Swanscott. I still think it was a headstrong risk, but-hey-you showed me up."
"It was not my intention to show you up."
"as you please. I might wish also to say that the business with the Masker and Simon Chapel was recounted to its full extent in the letter I've just sent off to Katherine, and I can tell you she will discuss the matter with her associates and the legal officials both in England and in Europe forthwith. Your name shall gain a boatload of fame." He grinned. "How do you like my formal languagei You have to know that junk when you're writing a letter."
"It doesn't suit you."
"I don't think so, either. That's why from now on I'll leave all the letter-writing up to you. Unless we feel the need to hire a clerk, which presently we don't." Greathouse paused but did not remove himself, and Matthew knew more was coming. "There's a good and a bad to your name being known," he said, more seriously. "If you haven't already come to the attention of a certain person, you will."
"I've thought of that possibility."
"Just so you're aware."
"I plan to be," Matthew answered. "aware."
"Good. Oh...we're going to start training in hand-to-hand combat soon. End of the week, probably."
"all right." The brightness of his interest was not exactly solar. He'd certainly needed to know hand-to-hand combat, battling that monkey there in the high grass. Then again, he thought of a pair of wine-red curtains in a goldfish pond. "The sooner the better."
"You might want to stop by the apothecary and get some liniment," Greathouse suggested. "For sore muscles and such. and while you're at it...get enough for me, too. Goodnight, gentlemen," he said, and then to Matthew from across the Trot, "Don't let that candle burn too late, moon-" He stopped himself short. "Mr. Corbett."
Then he was out the door and gone.
Matthew picked up the mysterious box and got to his feet. He promised Effrem that when the time was right he would put in a good word for him with Berry, and then with a last hard look at that triangular king-trap he set off for home.
It was a beautiful night. a million stars were showing and a cool breeze that promised autumn blew from the sea. Fiddle music and laughter could be heard from another nearby tavern, and many other citizens were out on their way to somewhere. as Matthew walked east along Crown Street and crossed the intersection of Smith, he saw to his right the green glow of a constable's lantern moving south, and a second green lamp coming north. all along Smith Street, on each corner, stood a wooden post with a lantern attached. The project of putting up lamp-posts on all street corners in town was not yet completed, but every small candle helped to illuminate the larger dark.
In another moment he looked up at a sign on the left-hand side of the street and saw there the newly painted announcement Crown Street Coffee Shoppe. The shop was dark, but Robert Deverick hoped to have it open within the month and serving customers until the late hours. He had defied his mother, which must have taken the courage of Perseus, in making his decision to remain in New York. as Matthew understood, Robert had decided his education must be good for something, so he'd elected to go into the coffee-importing business as a silent partner with a young man, newly arrived from London, who had some fanciful ideas about...of all things...the use of flavored cream in coffee. Matthew wished Robert well and hoped to sometime partake of what would certainly be a novel beverage.
Matthew continued toward the harbor. as he turned right en route to his home, he saw by the light from the lamp on Crown Street's corner that approaching him with a brisk stride was none other than the tall figure of Polly Blossom. She wore a full-skirted gown, puffed by petticoats, a feathered hat and white gloves with rings on the fingers. Her face was lowered, her broad shoulders slightly stooped as if in contemplation of her role in the salvation of a reverend.
Matthew neared her and said, "Good evening, madam," with a quick nod as he passed, and too late he saw the curls of the long white wig and the horsey face beneath it.
"Good evening, sir," replied Lord Cornbury, as the sharp clack-clack of high French heels on solid English stones took New York's governor away on his nightly constitutional.
It was all Matthew could do not to say Nice shoes but he did manage to resist.
With a few more steps he paused along the harbor street, drew in a long draught of night air, and looked at the houses, the shops, the taverns, and the sparkling lamplights before him.
He had realized that the real Queen of Bedlam was a town on an island between two rivers.
In this town of soon to be more than five thousand persons there was a governor who wore a dress, a reverend who loved a prostitute, a printmaster who could crack walnuts on his forehead, a high constable who had killed a boy, a magistrate who was once a tennis champion, a laundress who collected secrets, and a coroner who collected bones. There was a barber who owned a squirrel named Sassafras, a tailor who could identify a dead man from a suit's watch pocket, and a black giantess who would put aside her gittern just long enough to kill you.
If a town, like a ship, could be given feminine attributes, then this Queen of Bedlam sat regal on her throne and kept her secrets in a golden cup. This Queen of Bedlam might smile at tears, or weep at laughter. This Queen of Bedlam saw all the swirl of humanity, all its joys and tragedies, its wisdom and madness. This Queen of Bedlam threw dice, and drank hearty, and sometimes played rough.
But here she was, in her gown of night with the lamps ashine like yellow diamonds. Here she was, silent in her thoughts and loud in her desires.
Here she was, on the new world's edge.
Matthew walked on.
His house was now a home. The dairyhouse did still have a dirt floor, true, but a very nice dark red rug covered most of it. There was a small writing desk, a shelf of a few books with room for more, his comfortable bed, and a fine though much-battered brown leather chair Grigsby had procured for him. On the walls were pegs to hang his clothes, and below an oval mirror a wash-stand to hold his water basin and grooming items. Other than that, there wasn't much room for a mouse to chase its tail, but thankfully there were no rodents nor...dread the thought...roaches.
But of course there was the new window.
When the shutters were open as now, Matthew could look out through the glass panes and see the harbor and a slice of moonlit river, as well as a piece of Breuckelen green by day. Grigsby was giving the brickmason, carpenter, and glazier free mentions in the Earwig, and Matthew had insisted on shouldering some of the cost with a portion of his first salary earned from solving the Swanscott problem.
It wasn't exactly a mansion, but it was his home. For now, at least. He was too busy to go house-hunting, and really he couldn't afford anything else. The window to the world made all the difference. The next step was the addition of a fireplace, if just one suited for a gnome, as a comfortable summerhouse did not necessarily make an inviting winterhouse.
Matthew had upon entering already touched a match to the two candles on the wash-stand, next to the door. Now he lit a second match and touched the candle on his writing desk and the one that sat on the windowsill, for he'd noted the candle burning in the kitchen window beyond.
He took off his coat, hung it on a peg, loosened his cravat, and sat down in his leather chair next to the window. He had removed the white ribbon and was about to open the gift from Mrs. Herrald when there came a knock to the door.
"One moment!" It took him three seconds to get there. Matthew put aside the box, opened the door, and stood face-to-face with Berry.
She carried a lantern and wore a loose-fitting green gown that said she'd been getting ready for bed. Copper highlights in her brushed red tresses caught the light, her face was scrubbed and fresh, her bright blue eyes sparkling. The scrapes, bruises, and cuts-save for two deeper than the others under a plaster on her forehead-had faded, just as his had, under the benevolent care of time. The children at the Garden Street school, where she'd begun teaching as an aide to Headmaster Brown at the first of September, had eagerly wanted to know what kind of tree she'd fallen out of.
She hadn't spoken to Matthew for a week after the incident. Then, only a few words the second week. But Matthew understood that a girl stumbling around the woods for five hours with horse muck on her face might hold something of a grudge for the person who got her so mucked up, though in truth she'd washed the manure off in a pond a mile or so from Chapel's gate. The Dutch-speaking farmer Van Hullig had certainly learned the meaning of the word Help.
"Hello," Matthew said brightly.
"'lo," she answered. "I saw your candle." She lifted her other hand to give him a pitcher.
"Thank you." He accepted it. Matthew had taken to getting a pitcher of water from the nearest well at night, and sometimes Berry had already drawn it and had it ready as she did tonight.
"We missed you at dinner."
"ah. Well, a friend of mine. Effrem Owles. You know Effrem, don't youi"
"He was the one who stepped-"
"-on the cat, yes. Unfortunate incident. He asked me to dinner. I went directly from the office."
"The office. That sounds so official."
"It should. You know. Office. Official. anyway, we wound up playing chess and...you know how time gets away when you're drawing. That's how it is."
"Yes." Matthew nodded, not knowing quite where to let his eyes rest.
Berry nodded also. Then she said, "a very lovely night." a slight frown passed over her face. "are you all righti"
"I just thought you looked-"
"-all right, perfectly-"
"-a little troubled about-"
"-something," she said. "are youi"
"Mei Troubled about somethingi No. absolutely not. as you say, it's a very lovely night."
"Well," she said.
"That's where this came from," he said, holding up the pitcher and giving a grin that he knew must be the stupidest expression to ever slide across the face of a human being.
"Matthew!" She cuffed him on the shoulder. Not the wounded one, because she remembered.
"Listen," they both said together.
"Go ahead," Matthew offered.
"The lady should go first."
"all right, then." Berry set her chin; something was coming. "as you have agreed to be my...shall I say...guardian and have so far done a...fair job of it, I'd like to ask you a question." She paused and Matthew waited. She chewed on her lower lip and then she looked him square in the eyes and said, "There's going to be a social a week from Friday. I was wondering, just thinking really, if you might like to go. as my guardian, I mean."
"a sociali Uh...a week from Friday, did you sayi"
"Grandda's printing the posters. It's going to be at Sally almond's."
"ah. Sally almond's. a week from Friday." He also chewed on his lower lip, aware that Berry was watching him carefully. "I...I really don't dance, you know."
"I didn't say it was a dance. I said it was a social. Just meeting some people. I think there's going to be music. But dancingi I don't know." She cocked her head slightly. "Why don't you dancei"
"I've never learned."
"It's not all that difficult. You just do what everyone else is doing."
"Yes, but tell that to my feet." He sighed. "I really can't go, Berry. Not a week from Friday. In fact, I think I...may have to take a trip on Friday morning and I won't be back until Saturday."
"a tripi To wherei"
"I think it's probably time I went to see Mrs. Swanscott again."
"I understand, but on that particular Fridayi"
"It might be the only time I can get there for a while." He cast his eyes down, realized she might see the untruth in that gesture, and quickly looked up at her again. "Really."
"a lot of work coming in," Matthew said.
"I'm disappointed," Berry admitted, "but I know you have your work. Listen, then. Do you think it proper that I go alonei I really would like to meet some people my own age."
"Oh...yes. Then again...there's...Effrem."
"Yes, Effrem. as a matter of fact, if you like to dance"-here something caught at his throat and he had no idea what it was but he had to keep speaking lest he choke-"I happen to know that Effrem is a member of the Young Lions club and they are having a dance that particular night at the Dock House Inn. So. If you and Effrem were to"-again that choking sensation-"go to the social first, you might attend the dance afterward. Does that make sensei"
Berry stared at him. Then her eyes lit up and she smiled, in all innocence. "It does make sense! But how in the world am I going to get Effrem to escort mei"
"You forget," said Matthew, "that my business is solving problems."
"all right, then. You may guard me at the next social, and please please please say that someday you'll let me teach you how to dance."
"I'll say I'll let you try. Someday."
"a fair enough bargain." She searched his face; he let her at least do this, though he did not know what she was searching for. Whatever it was, he could tell she didn't find it. "Oh...what did you mean to ask mei"
"You know," he said, "I'm so tired I fear it's slipped my mind. Must not have been very important."
"Perhaps you'll think of it later."
"I probably will," he agreed.
She nodded, and a breath of wind stirred her hair and brought to him its faint aroma of-what was thati The grassy scent of wildflowersi She motioned with a tilt of her head toward the house. "I'd best get to bed."
"Yes. Me too."
"Goodnight, then. Breakfast tomorrowi"
"Bright and early," Matthew said.
Berry retreated from the door and started to walk away. He watched her go, and wondered if a rapier through the heart felt like this. But whyi They were friends, and that was all. Just friends. Only.
She turned toward him again. "Matthewi" she asked, her voice concerned. "are you sure you're all righti"
"I am," he replied, and kept his own voice steady with supreme effort. "Sure."
"I just wanted to make certain. Goodnight and sleep well."
"You too," he said, and watched her return to the house before he closed the door. and locked it.
Matthew retrieved the box, went back to his leather chair before the window and the candle, and opened it.
Within was an object about eight inches long, wrapped in blue velvet. a letter was included.
There is in the Herrald agency a time-honored tradition. Richard created it, and so shall I keep it. If you are reading this, then you have passed your initial trial. You have successfully solved one problem of the first three assigned to you. I welcome you fully and completely no longer as a junior associate but as a full investigator with all the respect and strength of my husband's name at your command. With this name and the value you have displayed, doors will open for you that you have never dreamed existed. Now take this gift as a measure of my confidence in you, and know that through this the world may be seen more clearly than before.
With all Respect and admiration,
He opened the blue velvet and found a magnifying glass. Its crystal clarity reminded Matthew of Mrs. Herrald's purpose, while its handle of rough-hewn wood reminded him that tomorrow he was going to be sword-fighting with Hudson Greathouse again. He was reminded also of a small bit of windowglass given to him by the aged Headmaster Staunton, who had originally brought him into the orphanage and taught him the wonders of reading and education, and the disciplines of self-control and self-knowledge. Then as now, the gift was a clear view unto the world.
It was time for rest, but first there was the other thing.
Matthew got up, went to his writing desk, and opened the first drawer. From it he withdrew the blood card that had been slipped under his door three nights ago in a plain white envelope sealed with a dab of red wax. Then he took it with him to the chair, sat down once more, and turned the card between his hands.
The envelope was not from Mr. Ellery's stock. He'd gone there first. Did not care to show him the card, but he was sure it had likewise not been purchased from Mr. Ellery.
a plain, elegant white card with a single bloody fingerprint at its center.
a death vow.
Whether it takes one week, or one month, or one year or ten years...
Professor Fell never forgets.
He continued turning the card between his hands. a small thing. a trifle, really.
The question was: who had slipped it beneath his doori If not the professor, then someone acting on the professor's authority. a surrogate soni Or daughteri Whoi
Matthew had known, really, what Berry had been searching his face for. It had been there, hidden all the time. But he couldn't let her see it. No. Never. For if he let himself care about anyone, if he dared to care...then two might die as cheaply as one, for a soul could be murdered as well as a body. ask Katherine Herrald to talk about Richard.
She had come close to being killed at Chapel's estate. He wouldn't let that happen, ever again. She would be kept at arm's length. a friend. That only.
Matthew picked up the magnifying glass, and through it by candlelight examined the fingerprint.
He wondered if he compared it to the print on the blood card possessed by Magistrate Powers, would it be the samei No, this was his chain to drag. The magistrate was in the Carolina colony now, with his wife Judith and younger son Roger, getting settled in the town near Lord Kent's tobacco plantation to work with his elder brother Durham. God guide him in his progress, and God protect a good man.
But Professor Fell, the deadly hand, never forgets.
Matthew held the glass close to the fingerprint and narrowed his eyes.
How like a maze a fingerprint was, he thought. How like the unknown streets and alleys of a strange city. Curving and circling, ending here and going there, snaking and twisting and cut by a slash.
Matthew followed the maze with his glass, deeper and deeper, deeper still.
Deeper yet, toward the center of it all.
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