Part One: The Masker Chapter Four


as the time approached for the arrival of Lord Cornbury, the meeting room in City Hall became first crowded, then packed, and then overflowing with citizens. Matthew, who had secured a seat on the third row pew with Magistrate Powers to his left and the sugar merchant Solomon Tully to his right, watched this infusion of human beings with great interest. along the aisle of butter-yellow pinewood strode both the illustrious and infamous personages of New York, all bathed in the golden afternoon light that streamed through the tall multi-paned windows as if the place were rival to Trinity in its beatific acceptance of the good, the bad, and the unfortunately featured.

Here came strutting the prime businessmen of the town, their boots clattering on the boards as they pushed through the rabble; here came sauntering the shop-owners and warehouse masters, eager to find places behind the business leaders; here came shoving the lawyers and doctors demonstrating that they too sought the sunlight of recognition; here were the mill owners and tavern-keepers, the sea captains and craftsmen, the sweepers and menders and bakers, the shoemakers and tailors and barbers, those who pushed and those who were pushed, in a tide of humanity that surged from the street and were pressed shoulder-to-shoulder in the pews and in the aisle, and behind them a massed knot of people jammed up in the doors and out upon the cobblestones where no one could move so much as Ebenezer Grooder in his pillory. and all these personages, it appeared to Matthew, had gone home after lunch to pull from closets and chests their finest bits of peacock feathers to stand out from their fellow peacocks in a riot of color, fancy breeches, lace-collared and cuffed shirts, waistcoats of every hue from sea-green to drunkard's purple, rolled-brim tricorns of not only stolid black but also red, blue, and a particularly eye-inflaming yellow, embroidered coats and stockings, thick-soled chopine shoes that made men of medium height tall and tall men nearly topple, elaborate walking-sticks of ash, ebony, and chestnut capped with gold and silver grips, and all the rest of the fevered fashion that supposedly illuminated the signature of a gentleman.

It was a true carnival. With all the hollering of greetings, hail-fellows, and laughter meant to be heard in Philadelphia, the meeting room was quickly devolving into a Saturday eve tavern scene, made only more common by the number of pipes being smoked and not just a few of those fist-thick black Cuban cigars that had recently arrived from the Indies. In a short while smoke was billowing through the streams of sunlight and the slaves stationed around with large cloth fans to cool the air were having a hard time of it.

"How do they looki" Solomon Tully asked, and when both Matthew and Powers gave him their attention he grinned widely to show his bright white set of choppers.

"Very nice," the magistrate said. "and I presume they cost a small fortunei"

"Of course! Would they be worth a damn if they hadn'ti" Tully was a stout and gregarious citizen in his early fifties, his face hard-lined but chubby-cheeked and ruddy with health. He, too, was a clothes-horse today, dressed in a pale blue suit and tricorn and a waistcoat striped dark blue and green, the chain of his London-bought watch gleaming from a prominent pocket.

"I suppose not," Powers replied, for the sake of conversation though he and Matthew knew full well that Mr. Tully-as friendly as he was and as charitable to the public welfare-would soon move from conversation to braggadocio.

"Only the best, is what I say!" Tully went on, as expected. "I said, give me the finest, cost be damned, and that's what I got. The ivory's direct from africa, and the springs and gears were made in Zurich."

"I see," said the magistrate. His eyes were beginning to water, with all the smoke.

"They surely look expensive," Matthew offered. "Rich, I should say." He had to admit that they helped strengthen Mr. Tully's face, which had begun to recede in the mouth area due to an unfortunate set of decayed God-given dentals. Tully had only returned from England two days ago with his new equipment, and was justly proud of the compliments that had lately set him beaming.

"Rich is right!" Tully grinned more broadly still. Matthew thought he heard a spring twang. "and you can be sure they're of first-rate quality, young man. Why do anything if not first-rate, ehi Well, they're fixed in there all right, too. Want to looki" He started to tilt his head and stretch his mouth wider for Matthew's inspection, but fortunately at that moment one of the few women to arrive for the occasion came along the aisle in a parting of men like the miracle of the Red Sea and Tully turned around to see what the sudden lack of uproar was about.

Madam Polly Blossom was, like the Red Sea, a force of nature. She was a tall and handsome blond woman aged thirty-something, with a square no-nonsense jaw and clear blue eyes that saw all the way through a man to his wallet. She carried at her side a rolled-up parasol and she wore a bright yellow bonnet fastened below her chin with blue ribbons. Her silvery-blue mantua gown was covered, as was her custom, with embroidered flowers in hues of bold and subdued greens, lemon-yellow, and pink. She was ever the elegant-looking lady, Matthew thought, save for the black boots with metal filagree at the toes. He'd heard she could give a drunken customer a kick to the buttocks that would land him on Richmond island without need of a ferryboat.

as the pipes puffed and the gallery keenly watched this new entertainment, Polly Blossom strode along to the second row on the right side and stopped there to stare down upon the gentlemen who occupied that pew. all faces there were averted and no one spoke. Still the lady Blossom waited, and though Matthew couldn't see her face from this angle, he was certain her beauty had somewhat hardened. at last the young Robert Deverick, all of eighteen and perhaps wishing to show that courtesy was still in fashion to ladies of all situations, stood up from his seat. abruptly the elder Pennford Deverick grasped his son's arm and shot him a scowl that were it a pistol had blown his son's brains out. This caused a current of whispers to go flying about the room and culminate in a few wicked chuckles. The young man, fresh-faced and scrubbed and wearing a pin-striped black suit and waistcoat in echo of his wealthy father's attire, looked torn for a moment between individual chivalry and family solidarity, but when Deverick hissed "Sit down," the decision was made. The youth turned his eyes away from Madam Blossom and, his cheeks inflamed with red coals, sank back down into his seat and his father's control.

But instantly a new hero arose upon the stage of this play. The master of the Trot Then Gallop, the stout and gray-bearded Felix Sudbury in his old brown suit, stood up from the fourth row and graciously motioned that the lady in need could find refuge where he'd been sitting between the silversmith Israel Brandier and the tailor's son Effrem Owles, who was one of Matthew's friends and who played a wicked game of chess on Thursday nights at the Gallop. Some gallant gadfly began to applaud as Sudbury gave up his place and the lady slid in, and then several others clapped and guffawed until Pennford Deverick swept his gray-eyed gaze around like a battle frigate positioning a cannon broadside and everyone shut up.

"There's a sight, ehi" Solomon Tully dug an elbow into Matthew's ribs as the noise of conversation swelled once more and the linen fans flapped against the roiling smoke. "Madam Blossom coming in here like she owned the damned place and seating herself right in front of the Reverend Wade! Did you ever see suchi"

Matthew saw that, indeed, the madam of Manhattan-who probably could own the building, with all the money he'd heard she and her doves were making-was sitting directly in front of the slim, austere, black-suited, and tricorned William Wade, who stared solemnly ahead as if through the lady's skull. another note of interest, he saw, was that John Five-dressed in a plain gray suit for the occasion-was seated to the right of his father-in-law-to-be. Whatever might be said about Reverend Wade's rather grim personality, let it never be said that he wasn't fair-minded, Matthew thought. It was quite a feat for the minister to give his daughter over to marriage with a man whose past was largely a blank, and what wasn't blanked were memories of brutal violence. Matthew considered that the reverend was giving John Five a chance, and perhaps that was the most Christian gift.

Someone else caught his eye. Matthew's stomach clenched. Three rows behind John Five and Reverend Wade sat Eben ausley, dressed up like a watermelon in a green suit and a vivid red velvet waistcoat. For this important day he was wearing a white wig with rolled curls that spilled down over his shoulders in emulation of formal judicial style. He had chosen to seat himself amid a contingent of young attorneys, among them the law associates Joplin Pollard, andrew Kippering, and Bryan Fitzgerald, as if sending a message to Matthew and all those concerned that he was well-protected by the stupidity of the law. He did not deign to glance at Matthew, but smiled falsely and kept up a conversation with the aged but greatly respected Dutch physician Dr. artemis Vanderbrocken, who sat on the pew in front of him.

"Pardon me, pardon me," said someone who stepped into Matthew's line-of-sight and leaned over the pew toward Magistrate Powers. "Sir, may I have a momenti"

"Oh. Yes, Marmaduke, what is iti"

"I was wondering, sir," said Marmaduke Grigsby, who wore spectacles on his moon-round face and had a single tuft of white hair sticking up like a little plume atop his otherwise-barren scalp. His eyes were large and blue and above them his heavy white eyebrows jumped and twitched, a clear sign to Matthew that the printmaster of New York was nervous in the magistrate's presence. "If you'd come to any further conclusions about the Maskeri"

"Keep your voice down about that, please," the magistrate warned, though it was hardly necessary amid the returned hullabaloo.

"Yes sir, of course. But...do you have any further conclusionsi"

"One conclusion. That Julius Godwin was murdered by a maniac."

"Yes sir." The way that Grigsby smiled, all lips and no teeth, told Matthew the questions were not to be turned aside so quickly. "But do you believe this presumed maniac has left our fair towni"

"Well, I can't say if-" Powers abruptly stopped, as if he'd bitten his tongue. "Now listen, Marmy. Is this more grist for that rag of yoursi"

"Broadsheet, sir," Grigsby corrected. "an humble broadsheet dedicated to the welfare of the people."

"Oh, I saw that yesterday!" Now Solomon Tully showed an interest. "The Bedbug, is iti"

"For the last issue, Mr. Tully. I'm toying with calling it the Earwig next time. You know, something that bores in deeply and refuses to let loose."

"You mean there's going to be another onei" the magistrate asked sharply.

"Yes sir, absolutely. If my ink supply holds out, I mean. I'm hoping Matthew will help me set the type, just as he did the last time."

"He whati" Powers glared at Matthew. "How many occupations do you havei"

"It was an afternoon's work, that's all," Matthew said, rather meekly.

"Yes, and how many slips of the quill happened the next day because of iti"

"Oh, Matthew could work us both into our graves," Grigsby said, with another smile. It faltered under the magistrate's cool inspection. "Uh...I mean, sir, that he is a very industrious young-"

"Never mind that. Grigsby, do you know the kind of fear you've put into peoplei I ought to put you out there in the stocks for inciting a public terror."

"This lot doesn't look very terrified, sir," said the printmaster, holding his ground. He was sixty-two years old, short and rotund and stuffed into a cheap and ill-fitting suit the color of brown street mud-or to be more charitable, the good earth after a noble rain. Nothing about Grigsby seemed to fit together. His hands were too large for his arms, which were too small for his shoulders, which were too bulky for his chest, which caved in above the swell of his belly, and on down to his too-big-buckled shoes at the end of beanpole legs. His face was constructed with the same unfortunate proportions, and appeared at various times and in various lights to be all slab of a creased forehead, then overpowered by a massive nose shot through with red veins (for he did so love his nightly rum) and at its southern boundary made heavy by a low-hanging chin pierced by a cleft the size of a grapeshot. His formidable forehead was of special note, for he'd displayed to Matthew his ability to crack walnuts upon it with the heel of his hand. When he walked he seemed to be staggering left and right as if in battle with the very gravity of the world. Snowy hairs sprouted from the curls of his ears and the holes of his nose. His teeth had such spaces between them one might get a bath if he was full-bore on his esses. He had nervous tics that could be alarming to the uninitiated: the aforementioned twitching of the eyebrows, a sudden rolling of the eyes as if demons were playing bouncy-ball in his skull, and a truly wicked jest from God that caused him to uncontrollably break wind with a noise like the deepest note of a bass Chinese gong.

Yet, when Marmaduke Grigsby the printmaster decided to stand his ground this almost-misshapen creature became a man of self-assured grace. Matthew saw this transformation happen now, as Grigsby coolly looked down through his spectacles at Magistrate Powers. It was as if the printmaster was not complete until faced with a challenge, and then the strange physical combination of left-over parts from a giant and a dwarf were molded under pressure into the essence of a statesman.

"It is my task to inform, sir," said Grigsby, in a voice neither soft nor harsh but, as Hiram Stokely would say about a fine piece of pottery, well baked. "Just as it is the right of the citizens to be informed."

The magistrate had not gotten to be a magistrate by sitting on his opinions. "Do you really think you're informing the citizensi By making up this...this damned Masker businessi"

"I saw Dr. Godwin's body, sir. and I was not the only one who remarked upon that bit of cutting. ashton McCaggers also speculated the same. In fact, it was he who mentioned it first."

"McCaggers is nearly a fool, the way he carries on!"

"That may be so," Grigsby said, "but as coroner he does have the authority to examine the dead for the benefit of High Constable Lillehorne. I trust you believe he's fit for that taski"

"Is all this bound for your next broadsheeti If so, I think you'd best direct your questions to the high constable." Powers frowned at his own remarks, for he was not a man suited to show a foul temper. "Marmy," he said, in a more conciliatory tone, "it's not the broadsheet that bothers me. Of course we'll have a proper newspaper here sooner or later, and perhaps you're the man to publish it, but I don't approve of this appeal to the low senses. Most of us thought we were leaving that behind in London with the Gazette. I can't tell you the harm an ill-reported or speculative story might do to the industry of this town."

It never hurt London, Matthew almost said, but he did think silence was the wisest course. He read the Gazette religiously when copies arrived by ship.

"I reported only the facts of Dr. Godwin's murder, sir," Grigsby parried. "as far as we know, I mean."

"No, you made up this 'Masker' thing. and perhaps it did come from McCaggers, but the young man didn't set it in type, you did. That kind of presumption and fear-mongering belongs in the realm of fantasy. and I might add that if you wish in the future to improve your list of subjects as to whom you will check facts, you should at the present time constrain your imagination."

Grigsby started to reply, but he hesitated whether by force of the magistrate's argument or his own desire not to disrupt a friendship. "I see your point, sir," he said, and that was all.

"Well, it's a damnable thing," Solomon Tully said. "Julius was a fine man and an excellent physician, when he wasn't in his cups. You know, he's the one who recommended my dental work. When I heard he'd been murdered, I couldn't believe my ears."

"Everyone had kind words to say about Dr. Godwin," the printmaster offered. "If he had any enemies, they weren't apparent."

"It was the work of a maniac," said Powers. "Some wretch who crawled off a boat and passed through town. It's been almost two weeks now, and he's well gone. That's both my opinion and that of the high constable."

"But it is odd, don't you thinki" Grigsby lifted his eyebrows, which seemed a Herculean task.

"Whati"

"Odd," said the printmaster, "in many ways, not least the fact that Dr. Godwin had so much money in his wallet. and the fact that his wallet was right there inside his coat. Untouched. Do you see what I meani"

"Emphasizing the fact that a maniac killed him," Powers said. "Or possibly someone frightened the man off before he got the wallet, if indeed robbery was a motive."

"a maniacal robber, theni" Grigsby asked, and Matthew could see his mental quill poised to scribe.

"I'm speculating, that's all. and I'm telling you before witnesses I don't wish to see my name in the Bedbug...or Earwig or whatever you're calling it next. Now find a place to prop yourself, here come the aldermen."

The official door at the opposite end of the room had opened and the five aldermen-representing the five wards of the town-filed in to take their seats at the long, dark oak table that usually served to give them a surface to pound their fists on as they argued. They were joined by twice their number of scribes and clerks, who also took their chairs. Like the waiting crowd, the aldermen and lesser lights were dressed in their finest costumes, some of which had probably not seen sunshine from out a trunk since the Wall had come down. Matthew noted that the old Mr. Conradt, who oversaw the North Ward, looked gray and ill; but then again, he always appeared thus. So too, the Dock Ward alderman Mr. Whitakker was hollow-eyed and pale, as if all the blood had left his face, and one of the scribes spilled his papers onto the floor with a nervous twitch of his arm. as Marmaduke Grigsby retired from the aisle, Matthew began to wonder what was up.

at last the crier came to the speaker's podium that stood before the council table, drew in a mighty draught of air, and bellowed, "Hear ye, hear ye, all-" Then his voice cracked, he cleared his throat like a bassoon being blown, and he tried it again: "Hear ye, hear ye, all stand for the honorable Edward Hyde, Lord Cornbury, Governor of the Queen's colony of New York!"

The crier stepped back from the podium and the assemblage stood up, and from the door came with a rustle of lace and a swoop of feathers not Lord Cornbury but-shockingly, scandalously-one of Polly Blossom's bawds seeking to make a laughingstock of the sober occasion.

Matthew was struck senseless, as was everyone else. The woman, who made her madam look like a pauper's princess in her yellow-ribboned gown and her high lemon-hued sunhat topped with an outrageous sprouting of peacock feathers, marched right past the aldermen as if she-as Solomon Tully might have said-owned the damned place. She wore white kidskin gloves with gaudy sparkling rings displayed on the outside of the glove-fingers. From underneath her skirt of flouncing ribbons came, in the silence, the sharp clack-clack of high French heels on the English wood. The sunhat and feathers tilted at a precarious angle above a snow-white, elaborately curled wig decorated with glitter-stones and piled high to the moon, and the result of this was that she appeared to be a giantess of a woman, well over six feet tall.

Matthew expected someone to holler or storm the podium, or one of the aldermen to leap to his feet in outrage, or Lord Cornbury himself to burst through the door red-faced and raging at having a prostitute upstage his entrance in such a way. But none of these things happened.

Instead, the wanton spectacle-who Matthew suddenly noted did not glide, as might be expected by a woman of leisure, but had a decidedly ungraceful gait-went right past the crier, who seemed to shrink into himself until he was just eyes and a nose at the collar of a shirt. Still no one rose or protested to stop her progress. She reached the podium, grasped it with gloved hands, regarded the citizens with her long, rather horsey pale-powdered face, and from her pink-rouged lips came the voice of a man: "Good afternoon. You may be seated."

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