Part Four: The Methods of Murder Chapter Forty-One
"Matthew!" said John Five, with as wide and free a smile as Matthew had ever seen on his friend's face. "Good mornin'! aren't you the dressed-up peacock today!" Then John's smile fell a hitch, for Matthew knew his lack of sleep on the packet boat last night showed in dark hollows beneath his eyes and a gray countenance to his flesh.
"Good morning." Matthew had only just left the packet boat, and was still wearing his dark blue suit, waistcoat, and tricorn and toting his valise. He'd come directly here to Master Ross' blacksmithery. In the seething heat of the forge, sparks spat and the coals glowed bright orange. John had been bending lengths of iron into pothooks on his anvil with the hammer, while the second apprentice and Master Ross were speaking to another customer across the smoke-hazed shop. "a few minutesi" Matthew asked.
"Master Rossi" John called, and the elder blacksmith saw Matthew standing there and said in a crusty growl, "Don't you ever worki"
"Yes sir, I do my share."
"I doubt that very much, sir. Go on then, the both of you! Three minutes, John!"
Three minutes might not be enough, Matthew thought, but he would have to take what he could. Outside, in the bright warm sunshine of Thursday morning, John squinted and clapped Matthew hard on the shoulder. "My thanks to you. I don't know what you did, but I think you must have had a part in the reverend's speech on Sunday. Where were youi"
"Working," Matthew answered.
"On Sundayi I wouldn't let the reverend hear that, if I were you. But listen, he told us the whole story on Friday night. as much as Constance and I were knocked down to find it out, we were just as relieved. I mean...havin' a sick daughter who's led such a life as that is one thing, but at least Reverend Wade's not out of his mind. Not anymore, that is."
"I'm glad to hear it."
"It took courage for him to get up there and lay it all out. It's still takin' courage, for him to go in and see her like he's done. You know, yesterday mornin' he took Constance. She wanted to see her sister, and she wasn't gonna be denied."
"I hope that went well."
"It did. I reckon. She hasn't talked much about it." John rubbed the back of his neck, as if working a muscle the hammer and anvil had perplexed. "I mean, nobody's happy about where Grace is, and why she wants to stay there. She won't leave it, you know. But I guess everything'll take care of itself in time, just like the reverend said. I know he's got a fight on his hands with some of those elders, though."
"But not all of them, I'm sure," Matthew said.
"No, not all, that's true." John cocked his head to one side. "I'd like to ask you what you knew about Grace, and when you knew it, but would you tell mei"
"I would not."
"Didn't think so. Doesn't matter, does iti"
"I'd like to talk about something that does matter," Matthew said, and his somber tone of voice made John Five draw up a frown. "about the orphanage, to be exact."
"The orphanagei Oh, Matthew! He's dead now. Can't you ever let it goi"
"It's not that. I left the orphanage in 1694, when I was fifteen. You were brought there by a parson, I recall, when you were about nine years old, and you stayed until you turned seventeen and Master Ross chose you as an apprentice. Is that correcti"
"Yes. What of iti"
"In the years from, say, 1696 to when you left, can you think of anything unusual happening therei"
"Unusual," John repeated, with no emotion. Then he said heatedly, "Listen, Matthew, you've got to give this up! Forget the damned place! It's not doin' you a bit a' good to-"
"anything unusual," Matthew plowed on, his eyes intense and perhaps a little haunted. "I'm not talking about ausley's personal habits now. I'm talking about something that would have required boys to leave the orphanage before they were placed with families or offered apprenticeships. Maybe some left and came back, I don't know." He could tell John wasn't even trying to remember, probably because John's own experience at the hands of ausley wouldn't let him go back to that terrible place even in his memory. "Please, John. Think. Something that drew the boys away from the orphanage. Maybe you even went."
"Oh. That," said John, who breathed a sigh of fresh relief. "That was nothin'. I wanted to go, but I didn't have any skills they were needin'."
"Skillsi What kind of skillsi"
John shrugged his heavy-set shoulders. "Readin' and writin'. Figurin' numbers. Copyin' drawin's and such. You remember Seth Barnwelli He went and came back. Said they got up in his face too much. Ran the place like an army camp. Seth wasn't there but a few days. He went to learn how to make keys, but the hell of it was that for some reason they took a lot of fellas who liked to fight and cause mischief and after Seth got his nose busted a couple of times he'd had enough."
"What was this placei"
"It was a trade school," John said.
a trade school, Matthew thought grimly. Indeed. "Was it up the river about fifteen milesi"
"I think so, yes. But like I said, I never went. One of my best friends went and stayed, though. You remember Billy Hodgesi That long tall drink of wateri He was two or three years younger than you, I guess."
"I remember him." Hodges had been a smart young man, but had always been plotting intricate ways to escape the orphanage and had great dreams of being a sea captain and sailing to the West Indies.
"He applied, and they took him. You know what they took him in fori Because he had such good handwritin'. Can you believe iti They wanted him so he could learn to be a scrivener. Keep records and such, they told him. and him with that missin' thumb."
Matthew felt a cold shock slowly course through him. He thought his face had gone from gray to pasty-white in an instant. "Missing thumbi" he heard himself ask.
"That's right. a year after you left, Billy was puttin' on his shoes one day when a spider bit his left thumb. Thing was in his shoe. I saw it, wasn't so big but it was awful black. Next thing, his thumb's turned blue and swelled up and his whole hand's killin' him. It went on for a while like that, brought him to tears and he was a tough nut, too. anyway, by the time ausley brought a doctor, Billy's thumb was as black as the spider. Took it off, so he wouldn't lose the whole hand. He was all right about it, though. I think he was prouder of showin' off the stump than he'd been of havin' a thumb."
"Good thing it wasn't his scrivening hand," Matthew said.
John grinned. "See, that's the thing. It was his writin' hand. He had to learn to write all over again with his right hand. Maybe that helped when he had to copy the script."
"Copy the scripti What scripti"
"Oh, some men would come now and again and give us tests. You know. Doin' numbers, copyin' script, figurin' out puzzles and such. They talked to us, too. Wantin' to know all about us and our lives and so on. What we wanted for the future. Were we sad, were we angry, did we carry grudges or get in fights. a man even came a couple of times to see if any of the older boys knew how to use a sword or a dagger. He was a Prussian fella, could hardly speak English. But he could handle a sword in both hands."
The enigmatic Count Dahlgren, Matthew thought. Not teaching Chapel how to use a sword, but instead teaching younger and more pliable students. "Whatever use would you have for a sword or dagger at a trade schooli" he asked.
"One of the trades was learnin' how to sharpen swords and knives. I reckon they wanted somebody who showed an interest in blades."
Master Ross suddenly peered out through the entryway, and he looked none too happy. "Mr. Five, are you comin' back to your labors anytime todayi"
"Oh, yes sir. Sorry." When the smith had gone back in, John said, "I've got to go. But why all this interest in the trade schooli I'd nearly forgotten about it."
"I think it was more than a trade school," Matthew replied.
"More than a trade schooli Meanin' whati"
"Mr. Five!" came the bellow from within.
John winced. "Ouch. Well, his bark's worse than his bite. Usually. You ought to have dinner with Constance and me one evenin', Matthew. We'll talk then. all righti"
Before Matthew could respond, John Five had returned to his work. He stood in the strong white sunlight. People moved about him as if he were a rock in the midst of a stream. He was thinking that Billy Hodges was now lying in a grave on John Ormond's farm, and the young man's last journey had not been as a sea captain but as a passenger of the river.
Matthew couldn't help but wonder if Hodges, the plotter of daring escapes, hadn't tried to escape the trade school, and thus brought down upon himself the judgment of the gauntlet.
He had his own work to do, and best get to it. He hurried back to Grigsby's house by the shortest route, which was along the dockside, and found the printmaster setting out type for the next Earwig. Berry was absent. Grigsby told Matthew she'd gone out at first light to continue her landscape pictures, and then he wanted to know all about Matthew's trip to Philadelphia and if he'd met with success.
"Not just now, Marmy," Matthew said. "Do you think Berry would mind if I get something from her drawersi"
Grigsby's eyes nearly popped. "Excuse mei"
"I mean her chest-of-drawers!" Matthew's face was red. "Something I asked her to keep for me."
"I have no opinion, it's just my house. It's apparent you and Berry are keeping secrets from me, so go right ahead and-" But he was mouthing to the air, for Matthew had already gone to open the bottom drawer and retrieve the notebook.
Matthew put the notebook in the inside pocket of his coat. He didn't have a far distance to go, and then it was a short walk to City Hall and Lillehorne's office. Chapel's cohorts might indeed be watching him, but on this day the law would also lay eyes upon Simon Chapel.
"Back later," Matthew told Grigsby as he went out the door.
"Go on, and don't bother telling me anything!" Grigsby called after him, a smear of old ink already leaped across his forehead. "I'm just the broadsheet publisher!"
Matthew considered stopping at Number Seven Stone Street to see if Hudson Greathouse was available for...what would be the wordi...back-up, but as he reached the Broad Way and turned south he decided against it. No, this was a more delicate issue. There was a time for flashing swords but also a time for the quiet movement of chess pieces.
He turned left onto Wall Street, passing City Hall, and then right on Broad Street. Between Barrack and Beaver, he went up three front steps to a door with a brass knocker, proclaimed himself like the hand of justice, and waited beneath the sign that read Pollard, Fitzgerald, and Kippering, attorneys.
The door opened within a few seconds and a pallid-faced man with thinning brown hair and thick-lensed spectacles peered out, as if uncomfortable with the light of day. Matthew had always thought Bryan Fitzgerald looked like a mole.
"Good morning," the lawyer said. across his chest he held a sheaf of papers that had obviously just been pulled from a file cabinet. His shirt was marred by a small inkstain and his fingernails were chewed to the quick. He might be the one who did all the work and was well paid for it, Matthew recalled the widow Sherwyn saying, but Fitzgerald was probably more mule than mole. Fitzgerald adjusted his glasses. "Mr. Corbett, isn't iti"
"Yes sir. May I come ini"
"Of course." He stepped back as Matthew entered and then closed the door, again as if sunlight and fresh air were the enemies to solid Puritan productivity. "How may I help youi"
"I was actually hoping to see Mr. Kippering today. Is he in yeti"
"Well...he's..." Fitzgerald cast a glance up the narrow stairs. Then he whispered, "I don't think he went home last night."
"Yes. He's...well, I'm not sure he's able to see a client this morning. Mr. Pollard should be back any minute. Would you care to wait for himi"
"I won't take very long." Matthew withdrew the notebook from his coat. "May I give this to Mr. Kipperingi"
Fitzgerald reached out for it. "I'll be glad to make sure he-"
"No, thank you," Matthew said firmly, and gripped his fingers tight. "This is something I think he'd wish to see for-"
"Myself," said the man who had come out of his office at the height of the stairs.
"Yes sir," Matthew answered him, with a steady and fearless gaze. "as I'd hoped."
Kippering did not move. He had one hand pressed against the wall beside him and the other clutching the decorative carved pineapple that topped the staircase railing. His face was masked by shadow. He wore black breeches that were shiny at the knees and the white of his stockings had faded to yellow as had his shirt. His sleeves were rolled up, but Matthew was certain it was not to welcome the energy of the day but to keep his cuffs from mopping up spilled liquor by night. Matthew figured there was a bottle or two up there, and plenty of dead ones tucked away. Kippering had killed a few of them last night, it appeared, for now he began to come slowly and unsteadily down the stairs, holding on to that railing like a lifeline.
"Bryan," he said in a creaky, tired voice, "will you do me a great favori"
"I haven't had breakfast. Would you be so kind as to fetch me something from Sally almond'si"
and then the light from a small oval window above the door caught Kippering's face, and Matthew had to draw a breath because he felt as if he'd been punched in the ribs. The young man who was in such a hurry to kill himself appeared at least three-quarters arrived at the graveyard. It had been over a week since Matthew had last seen him, but how could a human being have become so aged and infirm in such little timei Kippering was slope-shouldered and unkempt, his black hair oily and uncombed and the icy blue eyes now only so much cold and murky water. His face, once wolfishly handsome, now seemed only starved. The lines had deepened and the hollows darkened and his jaw was burdened with a beard that might have broken a razor. He looked twenty-eight years old and a century. Matthew was shocked to see that there was even the slight shaking of palsy to Kippering's head.
"What is todayi" Kippering frowned, seeking the answer in a brain that may have begun to mold. "Thursdayi ah, then." He attempted a smile that was no less than horrid. "The raisin cakes will be fresh this morning. Would you go get me two of them, Bryani"
"I'm gathering the papers for Captain Topping's case," Fitzgerald protested, but with a weak spirit. "Joplin will be back soon, and I'm supposed to have everything-"
"Shhhhhh," Kippering whispered. "It's all right, Bryan. Really it is. Go to Sally almond's while I speak to Mr. Corbett, won't youi and here." He reached into his pocket and brought forth some coins, which he pressed into his partner's palm. "Get yourself a raisin cake, and Joplin one as well. Then do me one more favor."
"Yes, please. While you're out, go over to see Mr. Garrow at his shop on Duke Street. You know the onei"
"I do. The horn merchant."
"Yes, and tell him I'm still waiting for the papers he's supposed to have sent me on Monday. Would you do thati It's very important."
"I'm very busy myself," said Fitzgerald, though the subdued way he spoke it and the fact that he avoided eye contact told Matthew the issue was settled. "all right, then," he sighed, "if it's so important." He trundled into what must have been his own office, a little broomcloset of a space that was nevertheless as neat as a hangman's noose, and unloaded his papers upon a scarred and battered desk that might have been a refugee from Grigsby's dairyhouse. Without another word except an exhalation of breath that spoke volumes for the endurance of downtrodden mules, Fitzgerald went to the door, opened it, and paused on the threshold against the morning glare. "Did you say you wanted two cakes, andrewi"
"Yes, Bryan. Two."
Fitzgerald closed the door, and Matthew was alone with a walking corpse.
Neither spoke. Then Kippering said, "Don't you want to keep the door open, Matthewi"
"No, sir. I don't think that's necessary."
"as long as you're sure."
"I do want," Matthew said, finding it difficult to look into the man's haggard face, "to see something in the cellar."
"all right, then. Shall I lead the way, or youi"
"If you'll lead, pleasei"
"Of course." another quick death's-head smile, and Kippering walked past Matthew to the table on which sat a candle in a pewter holder next to an ivory tinderbox. He got the wick lit, opened the door to the cellar, and descended into the dark on the set of rickety stairs.
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