Part Four: The Methods of Murder Chapter Forty-Two
"My congratulations," said the lawyer, when Matthew had come down the stairs after him. Kippering stood in a meager circle of light, his eyes hooded. "I understand you had a visit with Reverend Wade. He wouldn't tell me what was said, but obviously you had an influence."
"Glad to be of help."
"You're absolutely sure you wanted to shut that doori"
"Yes." Before Matthew had followed Kippering down, he'd closed the door at the top of the steps. He didn't wish to be interrupted if either Pollard came in or Fitzgerald returned from what appeared to Matthew to be a pin-chasing errand, something that had been made up on the spot.
"The last time you were in here," Kippering reminded him with a tight smile, "you wanted all the doors left open. I thought you might be afraid of me. Would you care for some more lighti"
"always," Matthew said. He removed his tricorn and put it down atop a stack of boxes.
Kippering walked away a few paces, bent down, and rummaged in the wreckage of old discarded office furniture. He came up with a tin two-candle lantern and lit the wicks from his present flame. Then he reached up and placed the lantern's handle on a beam hook so that it hung between himself and Matthew. "There," he said as the illumination spread. "at your command. Now what is it you wish to seei"
"actually," Matthew answered, "the stairs themselves."
"Ohi anything special about them that I'm missingi"
"They are infirm, aren't theyi I recall you telling me to watch my footing on them, as they were older than your grandmother. Mr. Kippering, what is your grandmother's namei"
"Name, yes," said Matthew crisply. "What is iti"
Kippering started to speak, but both he and Matthew knew that any name he produced would be a lie. Perhaps if he'd been less weary, or less sick, or less bitten by the brown fox of liquor, he might have carried off a lie and done it with charm. Now, though, he saw no point to it. His mouth, half-opened, slowly closed.
"You don't remember your grandmother, do youi as neither do I remember my grandmother. a common bond between us orphans, I think."
Kippering stared into the flame of his candle.
"May I tell you a storyi" Matthew asked. "It's a tragedy, really. But yet there's hope in it, as I believe you'll see."
"Yes," Kippering said thickly, transfixed by the eye of light. "Do go on."
"Once there was a couple, very much in love. Devoted to each other. His name was Nicholas, and her name was-is-Emily. The Swanscotts of London. Neither one started out with great ambitions. He loved music and hoped to conduct an orchestra, and she only wished to be a good wife and a mother. But as things progressed, Nicholas Swanscott was persuaded to buy with his father's help a small brokerage business that catered to the tavern trade and so went the youthful dreams. However, in came the money. as Mr. Swanscott's personality made him not so fixated on profits, he was able to undercut other brokers-with no malice, but rather simply the way he did business-and in essence suddenly found that he was a rich young man. His rivals took note of this, but what could they doi"
"What, indeedi" asked Kippering. "are you making this upi"
"No sir. I've been in consultation with the Swanscotts' longtime coachman, whose name is Gordon Shulton and who lives two miles north of Philadelphia on the pike road." Matthew raised his eyebrows. "May I go oni"
"If it pleases you." There was a tremor to the voice.
"It seemed," Matthew said, "that Mr. Swanscott was a great success. He turned out to be naturally adept at planning and management. Well, consider it: anyone who could interweave the chaos of violins, horns, and kettle drums into a symphony would have no trouble managing the shipments of smoked sausage, salted beef, casks of wine, and ale to clients all over London. a goods broker keeps a warehouse, you see, and stores the food and drink until the taverns need it."
"a fine lesson in tavern economics, thank you," said Kippering, his eyes quickly glancing up toward Matthew.
"Sadly," Matthew went on, "as Mr. Swanscott was a success, his wife was finding her role difficult at best. according to Gordy-that's what he asked me to call him, by the way-Emily Swanscott was a gentle, quiet woman who would rather spend time in her butterfly garden than go to the social events of the season. She was perhaps a little overcome by all the money. Perhaps, deep down, she didn't feel she deserved it."
Kippering set his candle down on a time-worn desk. "The illness of the upper class. I pity her."
"You might, well and truly. You see, her greatest desire was to have children. Her first child, a boy, unfortunately died within minutes of being born. Her second child, also a boy, died at age eleven in a swimming accident. Her third, again a boy, perished of fever when he was five. You might pity her, for thinking as she did-according to my friend Gordy-that any boy born to her was doomed to die early. One might presume that under the weight of those three deaths she might have begun to break, even then."
Matthew held up a finger. "But...one day...Mr. Swanscott came home, very excitedly, and told his wife that he'd made an interesting discovery. He'd been touring, by necessity, a slaughterhouse where he bought his beef. and who should be there on the killing line, but a handsome young orphan boy working silently and diligently in all that blood and muck. a boy who looked out of place there, but who was uncomplaining of his lot in life. a strong young boy, stout of heart and quick of mind. and merciful, too, for this young boy had developed a system by which he struck the animals in the temple with a mallet before he delivered the cut. Might Emily wish to meet this boy, for his own mother and father had perished by the same fever that took little Michaeli Might Emily wish to meet this boy, when he was all clean and presentable on a Sunday afternooni Might she wish to just have one look at him, for he was not violent in his soul. No, far from it. He only did what he needed to do, to survive in a cruel and heartless world. Just one visit, and who knows what might happeni"
Kippering turned his head away, so the light would not touch his face.
Matthew thought he heard a footfall on the floor above. He waited, but it didn't repeat. This place might be haunted like the Herrald agency's office, Matthew mused. a one-legged ghost, perhaps. But he knew he was already looking at a ghost.
He continued, in a softer voice. "This orphan boy did have a family name. It was Trevor Kirby. Over a period of time and many visits, he endeared himself to the Swanscotts. and why noti You should hear Gordy talk about him. Smart, a quick wit, a noble personality. Under all that blood, of course. Well, he got cleaned up and the Swanscotts took him out of the slaughterhouse and put him in a proper school. Then he really showed what he was made of. a piece of gold found in dirty water. His grades soared and he was making progress by leaps and bounds. Turning into a gentleman. and he was appreciative, too. On Sunday afternoons he used to read to his...well, I can't call Mrs. Swanscott his mother, exactly, because there was the fear of sudden death that she couldn't ever really banish. That was why the Swanscotts never officially adopted him. She feared giving him the family name. But he was her sparkle of hope, Trevor was, and he brought her back from the abyss. and they did become his foster parents, and loved him like a real son by any measure you give it. and do you know whati Mr. Swanscott even used his considerable influence to get Trevor admitted to law school!"
Matthew grunted, as if some people had all the luck in the world. "Then, to top that off, when Trevor graduated with honors the Swanscotts took him on a trip to Italy. What a trip that must have been! What a joyous occasion! after that, Mr. Swanscott gave him a gift of money, by which to open a small law firm in the town of St. andrew-On-The-Hill, which was Mr. Swanscott's own hometown in the north of England and where I imagine he lay on the sward and dreamed of leading his symphonies under the clouds. But do you know what, andrewi Gordy told me that Trevor Kirby paid every cent of that money back to his foster father. Every cent and more. You see, Trevor became very successful. Oh, not a big-city lawyer by any means, but maybe that was for the best. I think sometimes lawyers in the cities lose sight of the real meaning of justice. Don't you, andrewi I think sometimes they can become bitter, and believe that the system of justice has failed. That can have unfortunate results to a man's mind, don't you agreei"
The lawyer put a hand to his face but did not speak.
"I'm sorry, sir." Matthew felt a lump rising in his throat. "But I have to finish it. It's my nature."
"Yes," came the barely recognizable voice. "I understand."
"Unfortunately," Matthew said, his own voice husky, "when Trevor began his own life, Mrs. Swanscott began to drift away again. Oh, he visited her of course, but...things do get in the way. according to Gordy, she couldn't sleep for days on end. She was having visions of death and disaster. Mr. Swanscott did what he could to soothe her, but she was slowly going to pieces. and then came the day when he asked his wife to consider leaving England, and starting over again in the colonies. a hard taski Of course. Fraught with difficultiesi Certainly. But the business had gotten so large and utterly consuming. He planned to leave it to another manager he'd been training. Where might they go, in the colonies, that he might take what he knew of the brokerage business and yet not be overwhelmed, that they could spend more time togetheri Bostoni The Puritans frowned on taverns. New Yorki Possibly, but word was that an old business rival named Pennford Deverick had set up shop there, and Deverick was not a man who appreciated competition. ah, Philadelphia! The Quaker town! Full of brotherly love and friendly companionship! Not so many taverns there as in New York, but that was all to the good, wasn't iti"
"all to the good," the lawyer blurted out, and kept his face averted.
"That's right," Matthew said, watching the man carefully. "But still, for all the excitement and challenge of sailing to a new land, making connections and starting over, Mrs. Swanscott must have felt a hole within herself. Do you know what she did, andrewi She had buried her deceased infant in the butterfly garden behind their house, so she let him lie there sleeping, but she took her two other sons with her, to be laid in Christ Church cemetery. The people I talked to in Philadelphia never knew about the infant, andrew. They never knew that Mrs. Swanscott was carrying the burden of three deaths, instead of two."
"Imagine," came the garbled voice.
"Oh, I can't imagine. Who would want toi" Matthew paused, considering how to approach the next subject. There was nothing to do but forge ahead. "Everything went well until the summer of 1697. That was the year five people died and many others were sickened near to death in a Philadelphia tavern called the White Stag. Do you know the procedure that Mr. Swanscott went through to buy and deliver wine to his clients, siri Gordy told me. It seems that wine is shipped over from England in hogshead barrels. These barrels would have been taken from the ships and stored in Mr. Swanscott's warehouse on the Philadelphia waterfront until orders were sent from the taverns. Depending on the needs of the taverns, the wine is transferred from the hogshead barrels to smaller casks, and these are delivered to the clients. Now, during the transferral from hogshead to cask, an inspector paid for by Mr. Swanscott is on hand to taste the wine to make sure it hasn't spoiled. The casks are likewise inspected for mold or other problems. When the wine is transferred, the casks are given a seal of approval by the inspector, and the destination tavern's name is chalked upon them. The casks may sit in the warehouse under lock for another few days awaiting delivery, but no longer than that. Everything should have gone as usual, but on this day it did not."
The lawyer lifted his head and was listening intently.
Matthew said, "On this day, in the summer of 1697, five people died at the White Stag from drinking wine poured into a pitcher from one of Mr. Swanscott's casks. Many others-a score, I understand-were brought to death's door. Some have not fully recovered yet, but have been made so feeble they can't even walk. In October of 1697 Mr. Swanscott was brought to trial, where both he and the inspector swore the wine was suitable and that the approval was not negligent. The Swanscotts' attorney, Icabod Primm, handled the defense. a few of the family members of those who died were adamant that the wine had spoiled in the summer heat and had been passed on anyway, or that the cask had been fouled by vermin and not properly cleaned. Up until then, Mr. Swanscott's reputation had been spotless, but after that day...he was ruined. He couldn't prove the inspector hadn't been paid to apply a falsified seal, as some were saying. It didn't help that the inspector disappeared while the trial was going on."
"Yes," said the lawyer. He nodded. "Find the inspector."
"I don't have to tell you what was happening to Mrs. Swanscott, as she watched her husband being torn to pieces at court. Just after the incident, she had sent a letter to Trevor, explaining the situation and begging him to come help Primm with the defense. I can envision Trevor's horror at receiving such a letter, can't youi"
The lawyer did not respond, but Matthew knew the man had looked upon horror many times.
"He sent back a letter," Matthew said. "Promising to come, and to prove Mr. Swanscott's innocence. The only problem was that before Trevor could reach Philadelphia from Portsmouth, whether by accident or design his foster father stepped in front of a fast carriage at twilight on one of those long, straight streets. He lingered for..." There was no need to go into that. "at which point, Emily Swanscott retreated from the world and collapsed. She now sits every day at a window, staring out at a garden. But you know where she is, don't you, siri You know, because you put her there."
The lawyer bent over the desk and gripped it as if he might fall. "Mrs. Swanscott does speak, if only briefly and nonsensically. She keeps asking about the king's reply having arrived," Matthew told him. "On the way into Philadelphia I saw some ships whose names were being reworked to honor the Queen. It struck me that the King's Reply might indeed be the name of a ship. Now, of course, it would be named the Queen's Reply. When Gordy very kindly gave me a ride back to Philadelphia on his wagon, I went directly to the shipping office to see if there might be any record of a ship called the King's Reply arriving at Philadelphia probably in the first half of 1698. actually, it arrived in early March. The clerk there found a list of passengers."
Matthew saw the man's shoulders hunch as if readying for a whipstrike.
"Your name was among them, Trevor. In your letter you'd told her the name of the ship on which you'd booked passage. You came one month before your foster mother was put into the Westerwicke asylum. I assume you arranged everything with Icabod Primm. The removal of all personal items and the makers' marks from the furniture. You wished to hide her, didn't youi You wished no one to know who she was. I'm unclear on that part of it. Why go to all that troublei"
Trevor Kirby shook his head. It was not denial, but a vain attempt at avoiding the wasps that stung his brain.
"Did you believe that the legal system had failed Mr. Swanscotti" Matthew asked. "Did you set yourself up as an avengeri a righter of wrongsi Because his innocence could not be proven in court, did you decide to murder the men you felt responsiblei" Matthew dared to move a few steps nearer the man. "I realized, when I was sitting in Primm's office looking at his statue of Justitia, that the cuts you made around the victims' eyes were not supposed to represent a mask, Trevor. They represented a blindfold. Your statement, I presume, that Lady Justice was never so blind as to allow those three men to escape the lawi"
"Those three men," came the nearly strangled reply, "destroyed the only father and mother I ever knew." He turned now toward Matthew, the light was cast upon his enraged face, and Matthew decided it best to stand very still and not speak.
Kirby was sweating. His face was damp, his eyes swollen with either hatred or torment. Probably both, Matthew thought. "Yes, I did arrive too late. I went to the house and saw her sitting at a window, her head lolling. One of the servants had warned me how bad it was, but I wasn't ready. I could never have been. I stood there and I heard her cry out, calling for Father and Toby and Michael, but they were all dead. Then she started praying to God and speaking gibberish and sobbing, and I could not-could not-go to her side." He blinked, his mouth slack for a moment until it could once more form words. "I was afraid that when she looked at me I would see nothing in there but madness. and that is what tears me apart every day and every night. That is why I cannot stand to be with myself, and hear myself think. Because I was not there..." He seemed to waver on his feet, and had to start again. "I was not there, when she needed me. When they both needed me. and I promised I would come and help Mr. Primm prove he was innocent, and I failed. More than that." His face, once so handsome, was a thing of tortured angles wracked by a shudder. "I was ashamed to speak to her, there in that room. She was so broken. It was an obscenity."
He looked hopefully at Matthew, his expression begging for understanding. "If you'd seen her, when she was in Italy! When we were all happy! If you'd seen her...what she was then... you'd know why I couldn't bear it. Selfish, I know." He nodded vigorously. "Yes, selfish! But as I watched...she gave a moan. One long...terrible moan, and she suddenly stopped crying and praying. It was as if everything...everything had departed from her. I was looking at an empty husk. Dear God." Tears glistened. "Oh dear Christ, dear Jesus. I turned away from there and I walked out, and I went...I went directly to Mr. Primm. and I said...take care of her. Find a place where she can be...the nearest place to home. If at all possible. Not one of those...those filthy, ugly asylums. Those horrendous bedlams. Find a place, I said. Money is no object. Find a place where she can have some of her pretty things, and no one will steal them. I said find a place that is safe."
"and why safe to the degree of not even telling the doctors who she wasi" Matthew asked. "Why did you remove any possibility of identifying heri"
"Because of the three men," Kirby replied. "Because I already knew what they'd done, and I already knew who pulled the puppet strings."
"a man. a shadow of a man. Known as Professor Fell."
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