Part One: The Masker Chapter Eleven
Late afternoon's shadows had fallen across Manhattan, painting the wooded hills deep green and gold.
Weary but still determined, Matthew covered what he felt must be the last quarter-mile along the winding wilderness road, and then he recognized the waist-high rock wall of the DeKonty estate through the trees ahead. a pair of closed iron gates guarded the trail leading up to the house, which couldn't be seen for all the foliage. He guided Suvie off the road and into the forest, thankful that he'd found her chewing apples in an orchard about a half-mile from the point where she'd been rump-slapped, and thankful also that she had graciously accepted him back on after being so rudely treated.
Now there was a score to be settled.
He said quietly, "Whoa, girl," and reined her in. Then he climbed off and walked her deeper into the woods, where she couldn't be seen from the road. He tied her securely to a branch, gave her one of the apples he'd put into his saddlebag, and then he was ready to go.
Best not to enter through the gates, he decided. Possibly they were locked anyway, and he wished to find his own route in. He walked along the wall, remembering that the DeKonty house was set well back from the road and was surrounded by tulip gardens that had been Mrs. DeKonty's pride.
after a few minutes he climbed over the wall, terribly mauling his best suit, but then he was over and into some manicured shrubs and he crouched down thinking that if Mr. Hudson Greathouse kept a mastiff or wolfhound to guard the place his suit would be the least thing mauled today. But there was no bark and roar of one of those beasts rushing to break his bones and so he rose up-carefully, cautiously-and walked through a little grassy paradise where butterflies swam amid the seas of flowers and a path of raked gravel led off beside a fieldstone well. It was a meticulously kept estate, Matthew thought, and then he came upon a hillock where four sheep were grazing and he saw how the grass was so evenly trimmed.
Up past the sheep, the trail that led from the road curved up toward the main house, which stood surrounded by huge oaks and as he recalled overlooked the river on the far side. It was a structure obviously built by a wealthy merchant in the quarry business, for it was two levels made of dark brown and tan stones with a gray slate roof. at the apex stood a brown-painted cupola topped by a brass weathervane in the shape of a rooster. The front door was a big slab of tea-colored wood with a knocker the size of the highwayman's fist.
He remembered a barn and a carriage-house back behind the main dwelling, and also on the riverfront side there was another garden where the party had been held. Over there as well were glass-paned doors that led into a study where Mr. DeKonty had gone on at length about the various grades of lumber. a place of education then had become of interest now, and as Matthew headed around toward the back of the house to make a circuitous path to his destination he heard the distant clang of metal and knew that someone had just unlocked the gates.
He had to hurry now. He walked quickly past a hitching-post in the shade of a green-mossed oak and made a mental note to buy new boots if he was going to do any more hiking such as this, for his heels were rubbed raw.
On the river side, the water shimmering down at the bottom of a rather high slope and the forest unbroken beyond, Matthew found the double doors he knew to be there. Closed, yes. But locked, no. The brass handles gave as he carefully turned them. a set of dark red drapes was drawn across the entrance. He couldn't see beyond into the room, but he would have to risk the chance that it was not empty. He opened the doors, parted the drapes, stepped into an empty study, and closed the doors behind him.
Within the walls of dark wood were bookshelves, a writing desk with quills and inkpot, a chair at the desk, and two other chairs. across the back of one chair he saw hung in a leather scabbard a rapier with a bone-white grip and an undecorated metal handguard and pommel. a workman's sword, he thought. Made for use instead of threat. a man's coat hung on a wallhook across the room, next to a closed door.
Then he heard voices approaching from the other side, and he thought it wise to retreat behind the drapes and stay as still and quiet as mind over nerves would allow.
"...unfortunate, really," said a man's muffled voice. "He gave it away so..." and here the door opened and the voice became clear "...easily. He practically showed me where it was."
"and how was thati" a woman's voice, behind the man.
Matthew had to grin just a bit. It seemed that Mrs. Herrald would not be at the Dock House Inn at seven o'clock.
"He touched his coat pocket," said the highwayman, whose voice had become much less that of the raven of the road and much more the English gentleman. "The outside of it, here." He was displaying the motion for Mrs. Herrald. "Furthermore, as I took the envelope he told me what it contained. He altogether lost his nerve."
Matthew decided to say Better than losing my knee, but he wished to make a grand entrance. He pushed aside the drapes, stepped forward...and two things happened in a blur.
Mrs. Herrald, who had removed her riding-hat since arriving at the house, gave a startled cry. In the next instant the supposed highwayman, still a huge man no matter his masquerade, moved faster than Matthew had ever seen a human being react in his life. There was a hissing sound of leather spitting steel, a bright spark of sunlight leaped in an arc across the walls, and very suddenly Matthew had the sharp tip at the end of thirty inches of rapier up under his throat where all the life flowed.
Matthew froze. The swordsman also became a statue, as did Mrs. Herrald, but the weapon did not waver a nose-hair.
"I surrender," Matthew said, and slowly lifted his hands palm-out. "By God!" the man thundered, shaking the glass in the door panes. "are you insanei I almost ran your neck through!"
"I thank you for your hesitation in that regard." Matthew tried to swallow and found his adam's-apple in jeopardy. "I have a delivery for a Mr. Hudson Greathouse."
"a deliveryi What are you-"
"Mr. Greathouse," said Mrs. Herrald quietly, "please lower your sword from our courier's throat." Her face was still blanched but some humor had returned to her eyes, and Matthew thought that even by what the man Greathouse had told her, she knew his trick.
The sword dropped, but Greathouse kept it at his side unsheathed. Matthew felt it was a compliment, in a way. The man's rugged, hawk-nosed face bore the rather dazed and confused expression Matthew had seen on six-month-long sea voyage passengers as they staggered onto the dock encountering long-forgotten stability.
"May I deliver the envelopei" Matthew asked.
"I already took it," growled Greathouse.
"Yes sir, but...no, sir. You did take an envelope, yes. But the right one, no." Matthew shrugged off his coat, reached back underneath his waistcoat, and retrieved the envelope where it was lodged between shirt and breeches-band. "I apologize," he said as he handed it over. "It's a little sweat-damp."
Greathouse turned the envelope to look at the red wax seal with its embossed H. "This can't be! I broke the seal on the envelope I took from his pocket!"
"That envelope did have a wax seal, yes sir. The color of red used on the real envelope is probably a shade or two lighter than that used in Magistrate Powers' office, where I did the work before I left. But I didn't believe it would be a problem. I think, Mrs. Herrald, that you've bought your envelopes from the same source as does City Hall, namely Mr. Ellery's Stationer's Shop on Queen Street. If not, the envelopes are nearly the same in size." He looked back and forth between Mrs. Herrald and Hudson Greathouse. "I couldn't duplicate the correct seal, of course," he said, enjoying their silence, "so I had to divert the highwayman's...um...Mr. Greathouse's attention from examining it too closely before it was broken. Then again, if he'd seen it was not embossed with an H and he'd shown any reaction, he would've given himself away even before he pretended to read official signatures on a blank piece of paper."
"Reallyi" Mrs. Herrald's eyes sparkled, as she was obviously relishing the display.
"Yes, madam. His six paces stepped backward might have been far enough to keep me from seeing there was nothing written on the paper, but I already knew there wasn't." That part had been comical to Matthew, and he'd had to put his hand over his mouth to hide a wicked smile as the "highwayman" had read the "signatures" and boasted of his forger "friends in Boston." They had to be quite some forgers, to forge names out of nothing.
"and how did you know I wasn't a real highwaymani" Greathouse asked. "How did you know that when I saw a blank piece of paper I wouldn't just cave your head ini"
Matthew shrugged. "I didn't. But you had my wallet and the watch. Why should you get so upset over nothingi"
Mrs. Herrald nodded. "Prior preparation, using the envelope and wax. Very clever. Misdirection, with your hand over your pocket. again, clever, but Mr. Greathouse should have been aware of that old trick. anything elsei"
"Yes madam, the fact that you were arriving was very clear. Mr. Greathouse threw the torn envelope down onto the road as a signal to let you know the game had been played out, in case I walked so far to find my horse that you missed me on my supposed trip back to town."
"True. all true. But for one small hitch-knot, young man. Mr. Greathouse, would you open your deliveryi"
Greathouse broke the seal and opened the envelope. a smile flickered at the edges of his mouth. "Oh," he said. "I see the amendments to the deed came." He held up an official parchment written in an expansive, flowing hand and bearing half-a-dozen fat-fingered signatures.
"It arrived by ship's post, two hours before my meeting with Mr. Corbett," Mrs. Herrald said, still speaking to Greathouse. "I was unfortunately unable to tell you in time that our courier would be protecting a real, and very valuable, document."
Matthew looked down at the floor's oak boards and tasted a little sour remnant of his Gold Compass codfish.
"I should sign it now, while it's in front of me." Mrs. Herrald took the parchment, sat down at the desk, dabbed quill into ink, and wrote her name in stately script below the other names.
"This is your housei" Matthew asked.
"Yes. Oh, there's a matter of some landholdings, but this settles it once it's back in London." She smiled up at him. "I'll take it to the post myself."
"You smacked me, boy!" hollered Greathouse, who slapped Matthew on the back so hard Matthew thought he might wind up head-over-heels in the garden. The man grinned with square white teeth that looked cut from DeKonty's quarry. "Well done!"
When Matthew had gotten all the wind back in his lungs and could speak again, he said, "Pardon, Mrs. Herrald, but...if your plan was for me to be waylaid on the road and the envelope taken, then what was the point of all thisi"
She spent a moment refolding the parchment. Then she looked up at him and in her eyes Matthew thought he saw a new appreciation. Or respect, as the case might be. She said, "I know your history from Nathaniel Powers. I know your motivations concerning that situation in Fount Royal, and I know your desire for success. What I didn't know was how you would deal with failure."
She stood up, now regarding him face-to-face. "as a member of the Herrald agency, you will do your best to succeed, but in spite of that, many times you will fail. That is the nature of the world, and the truth of life. But when you find your horse again, will you go back, or will you go forwardi That was what I had to know.
"Welcome," she said, and she offered her hand.
Matthew realized he stood at an important crossroads, and one that should not be lightly negotiated. If dealing with a false highwayman was the worst of it, fine; yet Matthew thought today's incident was likely a frivolity, considering the danger of this line of work. Yet, for the chance to use his mind and his instincts, to further the career that Magistrate Woodward had begun by removing him from the orphanage, to make something of himself in this rowdy and riotous world, wasn't it worth at least a tryi
It was, he decided, though he knew he'd decided this when he'd left town by the Post Road.
He took Mrs. Herrald's hand, and right away received another slap on the back from Hudson Greathouse that made him think he couldn't survive many more congratulations.
"You'll stay for dinner," Mrs. Herrald announced. "Mr. Greathouse will make his famous Irish beef and ale stew. I presume your horse is somewhere nearby, so I'd suggest you go ride it properly up here, get it watered and settled in the barn. The key to the gate is hanging on a peg next to the front door." She motioned him off. "Go!"
as twilight gathered, the stormclouds grew and thickened and at last the devilishly playful showers of the day became a driving rain. In the dining-room of Mrs. Herrald's house, candles burned as rain beat against the windows and Matthew sat at the polished walnut table realizing that Mr. Greathouse's stew was not so famous for its beef as for its ale, which had been poured in by the brewer's jug. Matthew ate lightly and Mrs. Herrald more lightly still, yet Greathouse drank a mug of ale to go along with his ale and showed no effect other than a proclivity to fill up the room with his voice.
Matthew had not been told directly, but he surmised as they talked about various things-the state of the town, the new governor, the high constable and such chit-chat-that they were employer and employee, yes, but also something more. Not so personally involved as sharing a professional...what would be the wordi Matthew thought. Elan, possiblyi a bond of purposei That they greatly respected each other was obvious and paramount, in their patterns of speech and their responses to the other's comments, but again there was something more than respect present here. Matthew had the impression that Greathouse was Mrs. Herrald's "right-hand man," so to speak, and might even be second-in-command of the agency. In any case, she listened intently when he spoke and he did the same for her, and Matthew thought this was not simply a professional courtesy but rather a deep alliance of kindred minds.
as Greathouse quaffed his ale and talked about how he and Mrs. Herrald were trying to decide between two suitable office locations on either Stone Street or New Street, Matthew studied him and wondered what his history might be. Sitting there with the sleeves of his white shirt rolled up to the elbows and his full head of gray hair pulled back into a queue and tied with a black ribbon, Greathouse might have been a schoolmaster discoursing on geometrics. Yet his voice had a military quality about it; that is, Matthew thought, his voice had a patina of confidence and an edge of urgency that might be suited to battlefield command. Certainly his physical size and quickness spoke of an active life, as did the jagged scar through his left eyebrow and his familiarity with the rapier. Greathouse also bore one telltale sign of a man who had wielded a sword in earnest: the forearm of his right hand, his sword arm, swelled larger than the left.
He appeared to be a man who pretended to be more rough-hewn than he was, Matthew decided. Sometimes Greathouse started to reach for the napkin to dab his mouth and seemed to remind himself not to; or sometimes he did it anyway, while speaking. a man with an education in manners who played his role with a more common touch. Matthew wondered if he might be an aristocrat, raised amid wealth, who for one reason or another felt more comfortable in the light of a lesser candle. Matthew guessed his age in the mid-to-late forties, probably just a bit younger than Mrs. Herrald.
and he could surely go on, once he got started. "Did you know," he said, "that we're near the place this island got its namei Some of the first settlers brought kegs of brandy in for the Indians and everyone wound up soused at a ceremonial feast. When the settlers later asked the name of the island, the Indians made it up on the spot: Manahacktantenk. In their lingo it meant 'the place where everybody got drunk.'"
He lifted his ale mug high. "To Manahacktantenk," he said, and drank it down.
Toward the end of their dinner, with darkness fully fallen and rain still tapping on the windows, Mrs. Herrald said, "Matthew, I wish to ask your opinion on something. Excuse me." She rose from her chair, as did the two gentlemen, and she left them for a moment at the table. When she returned, she had with her to Matthew's great surprise an item with which he was most familiar.
She seated herself again and put down upon the table a copy-smudged, one of the imperfect dogs that had gotten loose, but still legible-of the Bedbug. "I was most interested in this broadsheet. I was wondering if you knew the printer."
"I do. His name is Marmaduke Grigsby. In fact, I helped him lay down the type and work the press."
"a man of many occupations, it seems," said Greathouse, eating another portion of his famous stew.
"Just helping a friend, that's all. But what of iti"
"I was wondering how many he prints, and when he's printing the next sheet. Do you knowi"
"I believe we printed three-hundred copies of that one." and every six-hundred back-and-fronts recalled by the muscles of his shoulder in levering that damned press down upon the typeface form and holding each one at pressure for fifteen seconds. "I understand Mr. Grigsby wants to print the next sheet within a few days, if possible."
"Even though we're still negotiating for an office, I think we should consider asking your friend to run a notice for us. Something quiet, of course. Just that the Herrald agency is opening soon, and that we specialize in finding..." She paused. "What is lost," she decided. "and finding answers to delicate questions."
"I'd like to see the response to that," Greathouse said, as he pressed the napkin to each corner of his mouth with a huge hand. "Farmer Jones wishes to know the answer to why his daughter Lovey comes to dinner with hay in her hair."
"To start, one must begin," Mrs. Herrald answered, with a slight shrug. "Isn't that truei" She'd directed the question to Matthew.
"It is," he agreed, "but I do wonder why you've chosen this place, at this time. I understand much valuable cargo passes through New York, and many wealthy people with items of value. But, after all, New York isn't London. I can verify that the criminal element here is not exactly overpowering the judicial system." He realized he was echoing the statement of High Constable Lillehorne. "Why, exactly, have you chosen New Yorki"
Mrs. Herrald stared into his eyes, and by the steady candlelight Matthew thought there was a serenity and certainty of purpose about her that was almost unsettling, being from a woman. He wondered if those who sat in the presence of Queen anne felt such an emanation of cool willpower as he felt now from Katherine Herrald. He had to sit back in his chair a bit, for the force of it was almost like a fist against his chest.
"Now you've asked for it." Greathouse stood up. "Want a glass of winei"
"No, thank you."
"I'll help myself, then. Don't mind me." He clomped off toward the rear of the house.
Mrs. Herrald said, her eyes still fixed on his, "Matthew, New York is the town."
"Yes, madam, I know it's the town."
"Not just any town," she corrected. "The town. I've kept up with the colonies. With the other towns in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and down through Virginia and Carolina. I've educated myself on the reports that find their way from this new world to the old one. The census figures. The harbor logbooks. The credits and payments that bear international stamps and are fussed over by all the Queen's men. I do have friends in places both high and low, Matthew, and they tell me what I already know: this is the town."
"Pardon," Matthew said, feeling he must be thick-headed, "but I'm not following you."
"The future," she replied patiently, "is here. In New York. Now please don't misunderstand. Boston will become a great city, as will Philadelphia. Even New Rochelle, most likely, and Orangeburg too. But I look at New York, and I see an uncommon city that will not be matched by any town on the coast. Boston is growing by leaps and bounds, yes, but the weather there is more inclement and the Puritans still run the place. Philadelphia has its potential as a world port, but the Free Society of Traders went bankrupt there twenty years ago, so the jury is still out. The Dutch set up a very organized system of international trade in New York, and we English took that over when we took the colony. I think the Dutch were relieved, really. Now they can make money as business partners and not have to spend it on maintaining a colony."
"I see," Matthew said, though he was waiting for her point.
She gave it to him. "New York is the future business center of perhaps the entire English endeavor. It's not much to look at now, no, though it has its certain...charms. But I believe that in ten years, twenty years, or thirty...however long it takes...this town will be a city that may even dare to rival London."
"Rival Londoni" Matthew almost laughed at that one, but he kept a straight face. "I agree that the town has potential, but New York has a long way to go before it rivals London. Half the streets are still dirt!"
"I didn't say it would happen soon. London was born at the dawn of time, if you listen to the balladeers on Golding Lane. But New York will find its time, and I believe there will be fortunes to be made and lost here, even with half the streets dirt."
Matthew nodded pensively. "I'm glad you have such belief in the town's future. So that's why you wish to open the officei"
"Not only that. If I have done my research and come to this belief, others also have."
Mrs. Herrald didn't answer for a moment. She picked up her fork and used it to slowly stir the remaining liquid in the bowl before her, as if she were probing for the bottom of a swamp.
She said, "You can be sure, Matthew, that the criminal element of not only England but also greater Europe is looking in this direction, and has already seen the potential. Whatever it might be: kidnapping, forgery, public and private theft, murder for hire. Domination of the mind and spirit, thereby to gain illicit profit. I could give you a list of the names of individual criminals who will most likely be lured here at some time or another, but it's not those petty thugs who concern me. It's the society that thrives underground, that pulls the marionette strings. The very powerful and very deadly group of men-and women-who even now are sitting at dinner just as we are, but they hold carving knives over a map of the new world and their appetites are ravenous."
She ceased her stirring and again locked her gaze with his. "You say that currently the criminal element is not overpowering the judicial system. That's today. There are going to be many tomorrows in the life of this colony and this city, Matthew. If we don't prepare for the future, it will be taken from us by those who do." She lifted her arched eyebrows. "Please don't be blind to the fact that there's already an element of...shall we say...evil at work herei The 'Masker,' as Mr. Grigsby calls him. There have been several murders in Boston and Philadelphia that are still unsolved and unlikely to be as more time goes past. Oh, it's already here, Matthew. and it will thrive unless the enforcement of law is strong and organized. Which it currently is not."
Greathouse came back in with a wineglass full to the brim. "Have I missed the sermoni"
"I was just getting to the 'amen,'" Mrs. Herrald answered. "I hope I haven't frightened our junior associate too very much."
"There were some, I recall, who up and bolted." Greathouse settled himself in his chair. "What say, Matthewi Still in the gamei"
It was time for Matthew to ask an indelicate question, but one that must be posed. "How much money am I to be paidi"
"ah!" Greathouse grinned. He lifted his glass in a toast. "That's the spirit!"
"To be negotiated," said Mrs. Herrald. "You can be sure it's more money than you've ever seen, and will continue to be improved as your experience and training improves."
"Trainingi What trainingi"
"Had to be a catch," Greathouse said.
"Your training from junior to full associate, which may take some time," came the reply. "You won't be given anything you can't handle, that I promise." Matthew didn't like the sound of that training part, yet he assumed it probably had to do with learning a new language or improving his processes of logic and deduction by further reading. Still, his hesitation made Greathouse say, "You know what the dockmen say in London, Matthewi 'Don't sweat over the small crates, and everything's a small crate.'"
"I would say some crates are not as small as others, but I echo the sentiment...I suppose," said Mrs. Herrald with a slight smile. "We need you, Matthew. You'll be well-paid and well-challenged. Probably well-travelled too, before long. Certainly well-educated in the complexities of life, and of the criminal mind. Have I frightened you offi"
"No, madam," Matthew answered quickly and firmly. "Not in the least."
"That's what I wished to hear." She looked out the window and saw a flash of lightning in the distance, toward town. "I don't think you should try the road this time of night, and in this weather. If you'd care to stay, you can sleep in the downstairs bedroom. Get an early start at sunup, if you like."
Matthew thought that would be the wisest course, and thanked Mrs. Herrald for her hospitality. as the night moved on, Greathouse brought a chessboard and pieces from another room, set it up on the table, and had a game with Matthew as he downed a second brimful glass of wine. Matthew assumed Greathouse would be an easy victim with all that liquor in his brain, but the man caused grievous difficulty with his knights before Matthew shredded him with a queen-and-bishop combination.
after a second game in which Matthew showed no mercy from the beginning and coldly cut Greathouse to pieces left and right until the swordsman's king was trapped in a corner like a miserable rat, Greathouse yawned and stretched his huge self until his backbone cracked. Then he said goodnight and retired to the carriage-house, where he resided.
Mrs. Herrald had already gone to bed during the second chess game, so Matthew went into the small but comfortable bedroom downstairs, took off his clothes, and put on a nightshirt she'd laid out for him. He washed his face in a waterbowl, cleaned his teeth with a brush and peppermint dental powder left for his convenience, blew out his candle, and went to bed as the distant lightning flashed and flared over Manhattan.
There was much to think about. To deeply ponder and consider. Matthew spent about three minutes thinking about Mrs. Herrald's "sermon" at the table before the weariness crashed over him and he was out as quickly and absolutely as his candle.
Thus it was with some confusion and grogginess that he came back to his senses with someone pulling at him and a lantern in his face. The rain was still falling from the dark, hitting the bedroom's window. He sat up, squinting in what seemed like noonday's sun thrown in his eyes.
"Up and dressed," said Hudson Greathouse, standing over him. His voice was all business and as sober as Sunday. "Your training starts now."
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