Part Four: The Methods of Murder Chapter Forty-Eight
Before Matthew ventured into the manse he was compelled to kneel beside the lily pond and drink. Then he thrust his face into the water, for his makeup was drawing flies. He got as much of the mess off as he could. His fingers found the wounds of beak-jab and talon-scrape, his left eye was on its way to swelling shut, and there was a gash on his right cheek that felt so deep the bone must have a clawmark on it. a pretty little scar to go with his collection, he thought. at this rate he'd have to wear his own mask to be presentable in public.
But he had his vision and he wasn't dead, nor was he severely wounded enough to wish to die. He had his hands back, and that was a blessing. Quick in and quick out, and pray to God they didn't put a boy on the gate before he was done.
It was deadly dangerous to be out here in the open. He heard shouting off in the distance, to the right. They were combing the woods, but it wouldn't be long before they did discover the gate. at any second he expected someone to come running along the road, knife in hand, to take up position on the front steps. He got himself up, his heart pounding so hard it shook his body, climbed the steps, and tried the door. It had not been locked by Chapel or Evans on the way to the game, and Matthew walked into the house. He shut the door behind him. The place was silent. He hurried through the corridor to the dining-room, his senses questing for movement or sound, and there stood before the door that separated him from Chapel's office and the last remaining notebook.
Of course he'd seen it locked, but out of the habit of humans to not trust their eyes Matthew tried the handle. Locked then, locked now.
Nothing to be done but the way of the brute. Matthew set himself and kicked the door as hard as he could manage. Then once again, when it wouldn't budge. It seemed colonial oak was equally as strong as the English variety. The thing wasn't opening so easily, and in the bargain the noise would awaken the eyeless failures in Chapel's cemetery.
Matthew desperately looked around. The tall brass candelabras that shed so much light upon the glittering silverware. Their bases looked sturdy enough. He picked one up and found his muscles straining under the weight. This is what a moonbeam can do, he thought. Sir Lancelot he was not, but he backed up nearly the length of the room and held the candelabra's base as a medieval knight might have hefted a jousting lance. If the door didn't give this time, his ribs were going to be caved in.
He set off running. Hit the door under the handle with his makeshift lance and had an instant of feeling impaled upon it. Was that his ribs, making such a cracking soundi
No. It was the door, which burst open and crashed against the wall behind it. The battered thing hung limply on a single hinge. He had felt similarly unhinged after his drugged escapade with Lady LeClaire, who he remembered was a sleeping not-so-beauty at the top of the stairs.
Someone began to clap their hands together.
Matthew caught his breath and spun around, the candelabra still in his arms.
"a wonderful example of how to wreck a perfectly good door, sir," said Simon Chapel. Beside him and behind a few paces stood Count Dahlgren, his face devoid of emotion but the green eyes glittering. "What do you think you're doing, otherwisei"
Matthew couldn't get his tongue working.
"Oh," Chapel said, with a quick mirthless smile. "I see. Returning for the notebook, is that iti Surely. You have nothing without it, correcti Even Mr. Nack knew that." His topaz eyes behind the square lenses ticked right and left. "Your ladyfriendi Where is shei"
"Gone," Matthew said. "Out the gate."
Chapel's mouth may have twisted just a fraction. "Out the gatei" He composed himself, like any ambitious son of a poor tinker would. "Well, it's a long way to town, isn't iti a long way also to the nearest farm. We'll find her." He looked Matthew over from dirty shoetips to top of his touseled and claw-ripped hair. "Maybe you ought to go to that village in Wales, Matthew. I'm sure the professor would find some use for an escape artist of your caliber. and you got out of the cords, too! Fascinating. But some of the boys are just out front and their knives are very hungry, so you can tell me how you gave my birds the shake while we-"
He was interrupted, quite firmly, by a shouting and hollering outside the house that even Matthew could tell was not rough-housing boys eager for a killing. There was some panic in the voices that went up and up like the hawks fleeing bitter earth. "What is thati" Chapel said to Count Dahlgren, and he was answered not by the Prussian but by the crack of a pistol shot.
"Sir! Sir!" It was Lawrence Evans, shouting from the doorway. "Someone's gotten in!" The voice was high and thin, squeezed by fear. "Riders!"
Chapel shivered. In an instant his face went pallid, as if he were freezing to death.
"Mr. Chapel!" Evans squawled, and now could be heard through the open door and along the corridor a small thunder of horse hooves, more panicked shouting, and a second pistol shot that made the master of the house shake in his shoes as if his little world had suddenly been knocked out of the sky by one of Increase Mather's comets.
Chapel turned like a force of nature, however wounded, and grasped the front of Dahlgren's beige coat to shove the man aside. But then he glanced back at Matthew, his face contorted and saliva glistening at the corners of his mouth. Beneath the mask of a gentleman was a mad dog. He said to Dahlgren, "Cut him to pieces."
Chapel rushed from the room along the corridor, and Dahlgren suddenly moved with the speed of quicksilver to draw a sword from one of the displays beside the fireplace.
Matthew glanced toward the doors that led out to the terrace and the garden. They were shrouded by the wine-red drapes. He thought that if he had to spend more than two seconds trying to get through the drapes and the doors, he'd be skewered in the back. Even if he made it, he would die amid the flowers.
Dahlgren was advancing. The sounds of conflict outside the house made no impression upon him; his orders had been given.
Matthew had to move. He thrust forward with the candelabra, aiming at Dahlgren's chest. The Count nimbly stepped aside, grabbed the knight's lance with one hand, and tore it out of Matthew's grip, at the same time bringing the rapier's deadly point up in a strike at Matthew's belly.
Matthew backpedalled out of range. Dahlgren followed, throwing aside the candelabra with Prussian disdain. abruptly Matthew found himself pushed back against the other display of swords on his side of the fireplace. His hand chose a rapier before his brain could tell him it was a stupid thing to do, yet he pulled the weapon free. Instantly Dahlgren went into a combat posture, turning his body to make a thinner target and putting his free hand behind him like a rudder, knees bent but not too much, feet spaced for balance, hand closed firmly around the sword's grip and the thumb locked down. all the damned things Greathouse had tried to teach, Matthew thought grimly.
He knew he had not the chance of a spit in a skillet to survive the next minute, let alone a concentrated attack. When Dahlgren realized he was facing a moonbeam, the headstone carver ought to get his chisel.
Someone was out there. Riders, Evans had said. How manyi Two pistol shots and pandemonium. If rescuers had somehow arrived, he had to live long enough to be rescued.
To bluff was his only option. He emulated Dahlgren's posture. What was the bastard looking ati His swordi No, his eyes. Reading the fear in themi Matthew stared also into Dahlgren's eyes, which now held a spark of interest. With sweat oozing from his pores he waited for the next thrust even as he shifted carefully to the left.
Dahlgren's sword struck. a feint. Too late, Matthew reached out to check it and was off-balance. The blade hissed in, twisted, and struck at Matthew's face like a viper's tongue. Matthew jerked his head aside and stumbled backward, but now Dahlgren was coming in on him with a death's-head grin.
In panic, Matthew threw his sword like a spear even as he realized the action would stamp him as a rank pretender. Dahlgren reached out with his own blade and casually flicked the flying sword aside. It clattered across the silverware on the table. at once Matthew had bounded back to the array of weapons and pulled another one out. Dahlgren was almost upon him, the sword's point rising toward Matthew's throat. Matthew braced his legs-to hell with the form-and knocked the point aside. Dahlgren's arm seemed to rotate with supernatural speed and again the rapier's tip was a flash of steel, this time aimed at Matthew's chest. Matthew dodged in an ungainly sprawl but was not quick enough, for the sword tore through the cloth of his right upper arm. When the point came out, there was blood on it but Matthew was beyond feeling pain. He stepped forward, his teeth clenched and his face a rictus of terror. He lunged at Dahlgren's face but in the next instant his rapier was broken in half and his wrist almost with it.
Matthew pulled a third sword free. as he was turning to face the Count, the enemy's rapier tip almost pierced his nose. He ducked down and scrambled away to give himself room.
Matthew tensed, his nerves screaming. Dahlgren made a quick feint to the right, but Matthew was too slow to respond and didn't go for it. Then Dahlgren's knees bent a little more, and Matthew knew the next attack was coming. He backed up and hit the table.
Dahlgren's rapier tip moved slowly from right to left, with mesmerizing effect.
Matthew took an instant to dare a glance at the table. Dahlgren sprang forward, but Matthew had already seen and picked up Chapel's silver pepper bowl with his left hand. He threw the contents into the swordsman's eyes.
Dahlgren cried out and threw an arm across his face, the sword thrust went wild over Matthew's right shoulder, and for a second Matthew had the clear image of a chessboard where his next move had to be offensive. He took a rapid measure of distance followed by a single quick lunge toward his opponent. The point of his sword pierced cloth and entered Dahlgren's chest on the right side. It was not the same as striking a bale of hay; this was more like sticking a side of beef. Dahlgren wrenched himself backward off Matthew's sword and kept going back, his own rapier thrusting left, right, and center in a blur and his free hand working to clear his eyes.
Matthew rushed upon the man. He swung with all his strength, intending to hit Dahlgren on the side of the head. There was a brittle clang as the two swords met and half of his broken rapier again flew across the room. Dahlgren blinked rapidly but his eyes though shot with red were cleared. He swung a backhanded blow at Matthew, who once more fell against the table with a grip and eight inches of rapier in his hand.
Dahlgren sneezed pepper from his nostrils. His chest convulsed. He spat bright blood upon the floor, and then settled himself into his formal combat posture.
Matthew dropped the broken blade, picked up a silver plate full of chicken bones, and threw it at him. The plate passed over the man's head and crashed against the fireplace bricks. a second thrown plate glanced off his shoulder. Matthew reached to the table a third time and brought up a knife, still glistening with chicken grease.
Dahlgren retreated to the nearest array of swords and slid free a second rapier.
Matthew looked dumbly at his own little chicken-skinner. His fingers opened, it fell to the table, and he retrieved his original sword that lay amid the carnage of lunch.
The Prussian advanced, the two swordpoints making small circles in the air. Outside the house there was a third pistol shot, and now from beyond the corridor came the noise of fighting: the smack of a blow against flesh followed by a shrill cry of pain.
Dahlgren came in like a juggernaut, his face perfectly composed and a red thread of blood spooling from his lower lip.
One rapier thrust high while the second thrust low. Matthew parried the first without losing his own sword, but the other blade was aimed at his groin. There was no way to escape it without growing wings. He twisted his body for protection and was almost gratified when the rapier slid into the flesh of his left thigh. He'd thought he was beyond pain, but this nearly paralyzed him. a grunt escaped his lips, fresh sweat bloomed on his forehead, and he struck with his own blade into the Prussian's face. Dahlgren jerked his head aside but his lung wound was telling; the tip of Matthew's sword went through the man's right ear and just that quickly Dahlgren gasped for air and stumbled backward. Matthew's sword left the wounded ear and Dahlgren's blade retreated from the wounded thigh.
Then Dahlgren began to circle, keen for another opportunity. His back was to the open door of Chapel's office. He made feinting motions with both rapiers, watching for Matthew to react. Blood was welling up on Matthew's breeches leg, and as he backed away he feared his strength was a short-lived proposition.
Dahlgren took a quick stutter-step toward Matthew with the tips of both rapiers crossed, and that was when a figure with a black and swollen face came screaming and staggering out of the doorway behind him and grabbed him around the shoulders in agonized supplication.
Matthew saw his chance while the Prussian tried to fight off the nearly deranged Miss LeClaire. He thinned his body in the way Greathouse had told him and lunged as best he could with one thigh feeling like a melon. Dahlgren battled his blade away even as the man struggled to get loose from his encumbrance. The swords clashed and rang and Miss LeClaire shrieked like a cat on fire. Matthew struck high and low and high again and always the two blades were there to defend, yet Dahlgren could neither shift his position nor attack with the baggage hanging off him. Then the Count threw one sword away, turned, and seized the woman. With a shout that might have been a Prussian oath, he ran her through stomach to back. He pushed her off his blade with a disinterested boot and still parried Matthew's next strike. Miss LeClaire stumbled against Matthew, who swung at Dahlgren's head and was rewarded by having his sword knocked from his hand. It spun away as the lady crumpled to her knees and pitched forward onto the remains of her beauty.
Dahlgren's face was contorted, the blood coming up through his coat. Perhaps eager to finish his opponent, he now charged Matthew not with the cool logic of a swordsman but with the fury of a wild animal. The sword flashed at Matthew's ribs. He sidestepped the wicked point, grabbed at Dahlgren's rapier arm to pin it, and drove his fist into the man's face. Bloody spittle flew from the mouth. They locked together and fought at close quarters. Matthew saw the green eyes, flamed with red, right in his face. He slammed his fist again into Dahlgren's mouth, splitting the upper lip, and then he too received a stunning blow to the side of his head from the hilt of Dahlgren's sword.
In this blurred and frantic struggle, as Matthew's knees threatened to give way and he hung on to the sword arm for dear life, he saw Dahlgren's free hand start to go up under the man's waistcoat. and with that betraying motion he knew.
Before the hand could reach its destination, he gave Dahlgren an uppercut on the chin that rocked the man's head back. He took another blow from the rapier's hilt that made a red haze briefly blind him, and suddenly he was falling across the table and dragging the gentleman's silverware with him in an ungodly crash of platters, trays, and soup bowls. He lay on the floor on his stomach amid the debris, his arms pinned up underneath. When Matthew sat up with bells ringing and beasts roaring in his head, Dahlgren was staggering around the table after him, his rapier ready for the kill and blood drooling from his mouth.
Matthew stood up.
He shoved a chair at Dahlgren but it was kicked aside. Then Matthew flung himself at the man even as the rapier thrust, its tip penetrating Matthew's coat but luckily no flesh. again he caught the sword arm and again they fought face-to-face, Matthew battering at Dahlgren's head, Dahlgren trying to get in a blow with the rapier's hilt and clawing at Matthew's face with his other hand. They caromed off the table and went 'round and 'round like battling tops.
as Matthew fought for his life, he had one thing in mind.
Something Hudson Greathouse had said.
You'll someday cross swords with a villain who'll long to get a short blade in your belly. You'll know him, when the time comes.
Matthew knew him.
He saw Dahlgren's left hand go under the waistcoat. He grabbed at the wrist to trap it, but another blow from the hilt rattled his brains. Where was Dahlgren's handi Panic flared in him. Where was-
Suddenly Dahlgren's hand emerged. It had six fingers, one formed of steel and deadly sharp.
With a whuff of air and a burst of demonic strength, the Count drove his hidden dagger squarely into Matthew's stomach.
There was a sudden loud crack. No more, no less.
Dahlgren screamed like a woman. He fell back, the dagger dangling and then dropping from the hand that hung off a broken wrist. His rapier also clattered to the floor. His eyes were wide with shock, and perhaps they widened even farther when Matthew reached under his own waistcoat and pulled out the silver fruit tray-about the size of an open hand-that he'd slid down to protect his belly from the dagger attack that Greathouse had warned him in the wisdom of experience to anticipate.
One thing could be said about Dahlgren, Matthew thought. The man certainly kept his thumb locked down.
Dahlgren shook his head back and forth, his damp blond hair standing up like horns. Matthew took the opportunity to smash the fruit tray into his face. When Dahlgren retreated a few paces and made a dazed circle with the broken wrist clutched to his chest, Matthew hit him again. Then a third time, and the Prussian fell into the wine-red curtains that hung over the garden doors but due evidently to his status as a grenadier did not allow himself to fall. Matthew dropped the fruit tray back into the silver debris from whence it had come. He tore the curtains off their hooks and wrapped them around the man's head. Then, moving slowly and painfully but with definite purpose, he managed to pick up a chair and with it clouted Count anton Mannerheim Dahlgren a final soul-satisfying blow that sent the swordsman crashing out the doors and over the terrace railing into the goldfish pond, where he sputtered and feebly kicked beneath his wrappings.
Matthew fell to his knees.
It couldn't have been very long before he could move again, because though the commotion out front had subsided there were still shouts and an occasional curse to be heard. He crawled to Charity LeClaire and ascertained from her moaning that she was still alive, and if she lived long enough to think about it she would surely reconsider her purpose in this world.
He got to his feet and unsteadily went through the corridor.
Lying in the doorway was Lawrence Evans with a huge blue bruise at the center of his forehead. His nose was also pretty much a pulp. a knife was on the floor near his right hand. Sitting not far away with his own hand pressed to a circle of blood on the shirt at his left shoulder was Dippen Nack, whose nose was covered with a white plaster and both eyes dark-shadowed courtesy of Matthew's fist. The black billyclub rested beside him, a good afternoon's work done.
Matthew thought he'd taken too much of a beating, for surely he was seeing what was not there. He blinked and looked again.
Nack growled, "What the damned hell are you lookin' ati"
Matthew walked on, stepping over Evans' body into the sunlight.
The battle that had raged in front of the house was over, though the dust raised by hooves and boots still lingered. It was clear to see who had won and who had lost. Standing with hands upraised were the boys-at least, the ones who were not on the ground nursing injuries-and standing victorious around them with hatchets, cudgels, and swords were some of the very constables Matthew had thought to be so moronic at their tasks. He counted eight men. No, two more were just coming along the road, herding five boys at the point of axe and musket. a dozen or so horses either nervously pranced around or calmly grazed in the grass along with the sheep, oblivious to the conflicts of men.
Matthew peered through the drifting dust and saw a diminutive man who wore a canary-yellow suit and tricorn hat and held a pistol limply at his side. He was standing over a body.
as Matthew approached, Gardner Lillehorne glanced up at him with wounded eyes. In the harsh light, his skin was pale white and his dyed hair pulled into a queue with a yellow ribbon was more blue than black. He looked down again upon the body, and when he spoke his voice was crushed. "I had to shoot him. He wouldn't stop coming at me. He's...not dead, is hei"
Matthew knelt down. The ball had entered very near Jerrod Edgar's heart. The boy's eyes were open, but his flame was out. a large knife was still gripped in the right hand.
Matthew stood up, wincing as a pain rippled through his wounded thigh. "He's dead."
"I thought so. I just...didn't..." Lillehorne stopped speaking for a few seconds, and then tried again. "I didn't want to kill anyone," he said.
"Chapel," Matthew said, dazed by the loss of blood and the strange illusion that he was actually feeling sympathy for the high constable. "What happened to Chapeli" He ran a hand over his forehead. "What are you doing herei"
"Kirby," Lillehorne replied. "He told me everything. I got as many constables as I could find. Brought us here. My God, Matthew!" He blinked heavily, looking around at the boys who were being told to sit down with their legs crossed underneath them and their hands cupped behind their necks. "They're so young!"
They were young once, Matthew thought but he didn't say it. Perhaps a long time ago. The hardship, cruelty, and violence of the world had begun their education. ausley and Chapel had refined it. Professor Fell had put it to use. and as Jerrod Edgar had said, I was never nobody, out there.
"Where's Kirbyi" Matthew asked, and was answered by a half-hearted motion from the high constable, directing Matthew toward the road to the vineyard.
Matthew set off.
Not long after, he came upon the body of Simon Chapel, stretched out on his belly in the dust of the road. Possibly interrupted on his journey to get a horse from the stable, Matthew thought. Just as Lawrence Evans might have been interrupted by Dippen Nack on his way to get the last notebook or some of the more sensitive papers in that file cabinet. On Chapel's left temple was a black bruise about three inches long. The face had been severely deformed by either fists or, more likely, a pair of boots. It was far from lovely, and in fact Matthew's gorge rose at the sight of such a mess that a human face might become. But there was no pool of blood around the throat, and as Chapel's raw lips moved and made incoherent sounds it was clear he had not yet departed the earthly scene.
"I wanted to kill him," said Kirby, who sat on the other side of the road in the shade of a tree. a black horse with a white face stood nearby, grazing. Kirby had drawn his knees up to his chin and was holding the blackjack. "I gave Lillehorne my knife before we left. But I could have picked up a knife here, from one of the boys. I could have cut his throat, very easily."
Matthew walked over to him, if just to get away from the sight of the large green flies crawling over the bloodmask that Chapel's face had become.
Kirby said, "Pollard described him for me. So I'd know him. You see...I followed you from the office. I was going to go with you. To see Lillehorne. Then I watched Pollard and that other man stop you. When I saw Pollard take the notebook...I knew. I followed him back to the office, and I had a talk with him." Kirby's eyes closed and he leaned his head back against the treetrunk. Sweat sparkled on his forehead and cheeks.
"Where is he nowi"
"Dear Joplini My dear tavern pali Well, first...before he talked he fell down a flight of grandmotherly stairs. Then...after he talked, my good pal shattered both his knees on a pair of fireplace tongs." He opened his eyes and stared at Chapel's body. "I made sure I got to him, before anyone else, because I was going to kill him. Beat him to death, if I had to. But I stopped beating him." He frowned, thinking. "Why did I stop, Matthewi Whyi"
Matthew also took some time to consider. "Because," came his answer, "you know that from this point on Justitia will see Simon Chapel and his crimes very clearly, and by murdering him you only kill yourself a little more."
"Yes," Mrs. Swanscott's son said. He nodded. "That must be it."
Matthew eased himself to the ground in the treeshade. He was drowsy, the sleep of exhaustion pulling at him. Yet where was Berryi Was she all righti He didn't know. He had to trust that she was. But what about all the boysi Had everyone been capturedi What about the instructorsi Was there any place all these people could be confined until a triali It would be Lillehorne's worst nightmare...if he could get over the bad dreams of shooting down a young man who in his soul had probably welcomed the release of death.
It was a strange place, this world that men had made. The new world perhaps even more strange than the old.
The sun of a summer afternoon shone down, the birds sang, the yellow butterflies flitted, and the green flies buzzed.
Matthew lay back in the shadowed grass, closed his eyes, and let himself rest for just a little while.
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