Part One: The Masker Chapter Ten
Matthew set off on a middle-sized, brown-and-white paint mare named Suvie that he'd secured on previous business trips from Mr. Winekoop's stable. She was a plodder, but she was easily managed and had never been known-at least according to the amiable, pipe-smoking Winekoop-to throw a rider. So, with Suvie under him, his hands in the reins, boots in the stirrups, and wax-sealed envelope tucked in an inner coat pocket and fastened down with a button, he rode along the Broad Way to the north, mindful of pedestrians, wagons, wandering mendicants, merchants hawking their wares from little pull-carts, dogs chasing cats chasing chickens, slop and the essence of chamberpot thrown into the street, and other sundry obstacles to be avoided.
He wished he'd thought to bring a hat, because here came another brief shower that wet him and then passed on in favor of the sun. He decided to keep going past the pottery shop, though, for he wanted to keep to a strict time-schedule.
It had been almost two-thirty when he'd left the stable. There'd been an important task he'd needed to accomplish at City Hall, and also to ask Magistrate Powers for permission to make this journey though the afternoon was free and he'd known the magistrate would give his blessing. The magistrate, however, had not been in the office and so Matthew had left a note, completed his task, and then hurried back down the stairs where he'd run into High Constable Lillehorne and Chief Prosecutor Bynes on their way up.
"Ho there, Matthew!" said Bynes, a large-bellied and jovial man with a florid face and trimmed gray beard. "Where to in such a hurryi"
"Hello, sir. I'm sorry, I do have an appointment."
"a moment, then." Bynes reached out and put a ham-sized grip on Matthew's shoulder. Lillehorne tried to squeeze past them but was unable to advance. "Two things. I meant to speak to you earlier about your suggestions at the meeting. They were very interesting and could be useful, and I'm sure the high constable intends to properly study them. Isn't that right, Gardneri"
"Yes sir," Lillehorne said, his voice suddenly bright. "I intend to study them at great length."
"Grand!" That was the chief prosecutor's highest and all-purpose praise. Then his face darkened and a voice that could call down thunder and cataclysm in the courtroom became almost fatherly. "and last night. You happened upon that tragic scene. Gardner painted the whole picture for me, and I've looked in upon the body. Those marks around the eyes...very disturbing, are they noti"
"Yes sir, they are."
"I understand that our rather eccentric printmaster mentioned that term again when he was unlawfully present in the cold room. Yesi"
"Term, siri" Matthew knew exactly what he meant, but he wouldn't speak it. Besides, he wasn't sure it had been "unlawful" for Grigsby to be present. Unless they were rewriting the town code at night when everyone slept.
"You do know." Bynes applied just a little more pressure to Matthew's shoulder. "We-all of us-are in this together, Matthew. We are all professionals. Craftsmen, in our own way. Make no mistake, we shall bring this murderer to justice. Unfortunately, no good is done when Marmaduke Grigsby starts declaring...you know...that term for all to see in his sheet. It causes an unease, which breeds fear, which breeds panic, which breeds citizens uncertain of the protective power of their legal officials. Not good. Yesi"
"Yes. I mean...no. I suppose."
"Now I think it's fine for Grigsby to run his little paper. Talk about the ships coming in, the cargoes, the energy of New York, the social scene and...yes, of course, even the minor squabblings in the streets which any town of merit must endure." Bynes paused, his cool blue eyes ready to strike lightning to go along with a storm-dealing throat. "But Grigsby cannot be-and will not be-allowed to make this murderer into more than simply a lunatic who most probably has now fled town."
"Pardon, sir," Matthew said, "but I think that's what was advanced after Dr. Godwin's murder. Obviously it wasn't true."
"We don't know that it isn't true now. I'm not saying Grigsby shouldn't run a small bit about the incident. I'd have to be a fool not to know that the whole town's talking about it, but we must control public opinion, Matthew. For the good of the people. If Grigsby makes a big splash about it, how will that help anythingi Yesi"
Matthew had no idea whether he ought to agree or disagree. But he said, "I do know of one thing that would greatly aid the good of the people, sir. To actively investigate the murder and find this person before he-"
"Shhhhh." a thick finger went to Bynes' lips. "We are investigating, you can be sure of that, and we shall find this lunatic if he is insane enough to remain in New York."
Something about that music sounded off-key, but Matthew let it go. He turned his attention to the high constable. "a question for you, sir. Have you been able to question Reverend Wade and Dr. Vanderbrockeni"
"I have, if you really need to know."
"May I ask what was their explanation of such a quick disappearancei"
Lillehorne cast a glance at Bynes that said Oh the fools I have to suffer. Then, to Matthew with a hint of disdain, "The good reverend was on his way to attend to church business. The good doctor was on his way to see a sick patient. They obviously were on the south side of the street and heard Phillip Covey's shout, just as you heard it from the north side. Each apologized for not remaining there to wait for a constable, but they had their separate destinations."
"Their separate destinations," Matthew repeated.
"That's what I said. are you in need of an ear-horni"
"Pardon, but did you ask exactly what church business and who was the patienti"
"No, because I'm respectful to those two gentlemen and their explanations have satisfied me. any further probing would be disrespectful and possibly sinful in the case of Reverend Wade. Really, Corbett!" He tried again to get past Bynes. "Shall we go, siri"
Bynes released Matthew's shoulder. He flicked an imaginary something off Matthew's left lapel. "Speak to your friend, won't youi Both as a friend to him and a friend to mei Yesi" He smiled broadly. "Grand!"
as Matthew guided Suvie up the Broad Way hill past the pottery shop toward the lush green forest beyond, he was thinking about the phrase separate destinations. That was odd, because he distinctly remembered Reverend Wade saying to Dr. Vanderbrocken We have to leave him.
Was he mistaken, or didn't that sentence imply the reverend and doctor were travelling together toward a common destinationi
The doctor's bag had been on the ground. It appeared he'd been wearing a nightshirt under his cloak, which also had an implication of emergency. If the two men had been travelling together, why had they not just said so to Lillehornei
Of course, there were many slips between Lillehorne's cup and his lips, so it was certainly possible he'd misunderstood they weren't together or his questions had come out bungled. But still, it was very odd.
How serious was it, for a man of God to tell a liei
Matthew had to shake these questions out of his brain. What did it matter, anywayi He didn't believe for an instant that either the reverend or doctor had had anything to do with the murders. as Lillehorne had said, they were coincidentally on the south side of the street when they heard Covey shouting.
We have to leave him.
Something didn't fit, Matthew thought. He hated when that happened, because it meant he was going to have to go speak to Reverend Wade and Dr. Vanderbrocken himself, just for the sake of clarity, when he returned to town.
The last few houses on the edge of New York slipped past. On either side were farmfields and orchards, stone boundary walls, and cattle in their pastures. He rode past the large old windmill atop Common Hill, and then he was truly on the Boston Post Road as it curved along the huge green deep of Collect Pond on the left and thick woodland on the right sloping all the way down to the river.
The rain showers had thankfully settled the dust on the Post Road. The road itself was not nearly as rugged as that miserable path from Charles Town to Fount Royal, but certainly could still bring a civil engineer to his knees. Matthew considered that one of the most grueling jobs in the colony had to be driving a coach between New York and Boston, and feeling those bumps and gullies nearly knock the wheels off under you. But then again, it was a road well-travelled by local farmers and occupants of the larger estates further north and of course as a route not only to Boston but also to East Chester and New Rochelle.
It was a hilly route, with large stretches of wilderness between cultivated farmland. Here too, as in the Carolina colony, the massive trees in places overhung the road with gnarled branches that had been old in the days of Henry Hudson. Deer occasionally jumped in the undergrowth at the sight of Matthew and Suvie. Dark flights of insects whirled over swamp ponds and clear streams gurgled over smooth-worn stones. There was also, as in Carolina, the feeling that one was always being watched by Indian eyes, yet for a white man to see an Indian who didn't wish to be sighted was a near impossibility. The clouds bellied, a shower fell, the clouds broke apart, and the bright sun shone down through ten-thousand green leaves above Matthew's head.
He kept Suvie at a walk, intending to pick her up into a trot a little further along. He judged it would take about a half-hour from this point to reach the more narrow road, marked by a pile of white stones, that turned to the left off the Post Road and wound to a number of estates either once or currently held by Dutch residents. Then he could work Suvie into speed and possibly cover the remaining four miles in about forty minutes. It interested Matthew why someone would choose to live out here in the wilderness so far from town, but as he understood it these particular people owned businesses-like Mr. DeKonty's stone quarry and lumbermill-that demanded both space and resources. He understood there was a vineyard out here somewhere and a winery starting up, but he hadn't yet seen it. These were hardy, fearless people who seemed to have no problem with Indians showing up for tea, but never let it be said that New York would ever grow without fearless people.
Rays of sunlight streamed through the forest, but now lower to the ground. ahead the road curved to the right beyond the thicket of trees. The noise of birdsong was loud and reassuring though from the western distance came a faint low rumble of thunder. Occasionally he caught a glimpse of green cliffs rising up below a blue haze. He hated to be caught out in a real rainstorm, not just these passing summer drizzle-fits, but even if he became soaked at least the envelope was well-protected.
Now the road curved to the left and climbed a hillock. at the top it descended and went right again, a capricious trickster. He guided Suvie around the bend and saw the oak branches inter-locking over the road ahead like the arbored ceiling of a green cathedral.
The road stretched out straight and flat. This would be a good place to urge Suvie into a trot, he decided, but no sooner had this thought come to mind than three quail burst from the thicket to his right, flying past him like arrows, and following with a crash of breaking underbrush came a big chestnut horse with a white-starred face.
The muscular animal was being ridden by a man wearing a black tricorn with a raven's-feather tucked in the scarlet band, a white ruffled shirt, dark blue coat, and white breeches. Unfortunately, Matthew saw, he was no ordinary equestrian out for an afternoon's jaunt, for he wore a dark blue kerchief across the lower half of his face and bore a pistol whose barrel looked equally as long as Matthew's forearm. The business-hole in that barrel was trained on Matthew, whose first rather frantic idea of digging his heels into Suvie's sides and riding like a scalded-ass demon flew away as quickly as a scared quail.
"Hold your horse," the highwayman directed, as Suvie gave a shudder of alarm and started to sidestep. Matthew did as he was told and pressed his knees in, at the same time giving as smooth a pull on the reins as he could manage. Suvie whinnied and snorted but complied with her rider. The highwayman approached, the pistol resting across his lap. Matthew's heart was pounding so hard he knew his ears must be twitching.
"Keep the reins and step down," came the next command. When Matthew didn't immediately obey-being somewhat frozen solid at this sudden attack-the highwayman placed the pistol's barrel against Matthew's right knee. "I won't kill you, young man," he said, his voice low and husky though not altogether ungentlemanly, "but I shall blow your knee off if you fail to do as I say. This being a well-travelled road, I'm sure a wagon will come along in three or four hours."
Matthew climbed down off Suvie, still holding the reins.
The highwayman now dismounted, and Matthew was aware that he was a broad-shouldered monster of a man perhaps three inches above six feet. Gray sides showed below the tricorn, as well as half a craggy face, the bridge of a formidable nose, and deep-set eyes dark as tarpits. The left charcoal-gray eyebrow was sliced by a jagged and nasty-looking scar.
"What do you havei" the man asked, laying the barrel against Matthew's left ear.
"Nothing." It was all he could do to speak, but he knew that he had to steady up.
"Why is it everyone says thati Well, not everyone. Some beg to give me their money, after I shoot them through the ear. Wish to answer that question againi"
"I have a little money."
"Oh, ho! From nothing to a little! Progress of sorts, I'd say. Soon we'll have you richer than Midas. Where is this pittancei"
"Saddlebag," Matthew said, but only with great reluctance because he knew what else was in there. He thought he could hear the ocean roaring in the pistol's barrel.
"Open it." The man took Suvie's reins and stepped back.
Matthew tried to take his time at undoing the leather straps, but the highwayman said, "I'm going to take what you have, so cease the nonsense." When Matthew had opened the bag, the man commanded, "Step off the road," and Matthew backed up into the high grass. Then the raven of the roads strode forward, reached into the bag, brought out Matthew's brown leather drawstring wallet, and...the indignity of it...the silver watch just presented to him two hours before.
"Shiny," the highwayman commented. "I like this very much, thank you." The watch disappeared into his coat with practised grace. Next was the undoing of the wallet, and this time the half-face gave a menacing scowl. "What's your jobi Professional beggari How is it you carry a silver watch of wealth and a wallet of povertyi"
"My station in life," Matthew answered. "The watch belongs to someone else."
The highwayman stared at him impassively for a moment, looked into the empty saddlebag once more, and then gave Suvie a flathand whack on the rump that caused her to squall like an infant and shoot forward, her eyes wide with terror and her ears back against her head. She galloped wildly away along the road, heading in the direction of the DeKonty estate, and Matthew thought he heard the chestnut horse give a whicker that for all the world sounded like an evil little laugh.
Matthew slowly let go of the breath that had lodged in his lungs. He knew full well he was up to his ears in what his face had been pushed into two nights ago.
"Open your coat," came the next directive.
Instinctively, Matthew's fingers went to his coat just over the envelope. He winced and dropped his hand down as if seared by unearthly fire.
"Open it." The highwayman came forward until he was an arm's length from Matthew. The tarpit eyes glittered and the pistol rose up to rest against his own shoulder.
"I have no more-"
In the next instant Matthew's coat was wrenched open, a button flew from within, and a hand pulled the envelope out before the button could fall into the grass. The robber checked the other side of Matthew's coat for another pocket but, finding nothing, turned his attention to the waistcoat. Its small pocket was empty and so too was the pocket of his breeches; therefore the highwayman took two steps back and looked down at the envelope, starting to turn it over to the sealed side.
Matthew stepped forward, damp sweat prickling his face. at once he had the highwayman's full concentration and the pistol barrel at one nostril.
"Listen," Matthew said in a voice that was near breaking, "that doesn't concern you. It's an official document. amendments to a deed, but worthless to you. Please give it back to me and let me go on my-"
Still staring callously at him, the highwayman broke the seal. Bits of red wax fell down into the grass. He backed away six paces, the pistol yet aimed at Matthew, and then he drew the document out, unfolded it, and spent a moment examining it. There was nothing written on the back of the parchment, but something on the front must have appealed to the brigand because Matthew could tell he was grinning wolfishly even under the kerchief.
"Well," he said, "this bears some very nice signatures. I expect my friends in Boston who have a talent for handwriting might wish to see this, do you thinki"
Matthew put a hand to his eyes. Slowly, his hand moved down to cover his mouth and his eyes went cold.
The highwayman crumpled the envelope and threw it down upon the road. He refolded the document and slid it into his own coat. "I thank you, young man. You've made the day of a lowly wanderer that much brighter." He shoved his pistol into a belt holster and then, taking the reins, swung himself up into the chestnut's saddle with smooth and powerful economy of motion. Thunder spoke from the west again, and the robber cocked an ear toward it. "I shouldn't waste too much time around here," he advised. "It might not be safe."
He turned his horse along the Post Road and galloped off in the direction of Boston, and the last view Matthew saw of him was a horse's ass carrying a horse's ass.
Matthew listened to the birds singing. The air was warm, the trees beautiful, the summer at its full height of glorious bounty.
It was a damned hell of a day.
after a time he wiped the sweat off his face with his cravat, and then he stood staring down at the crumpled envelope in the road. He looked southwest, toward New York, then back at the envelope.
Interesting, he thought.
He made no attempt to pick the envelope up. It was a dead thing.
Then he turned to the northeast and began walking, first at a moderate pace and then faster still. He had a way to go, of course, and he didn't wish to wear himself out before he got there but some speed was essential. Possibly he might find Suvie up ahead, eating grass in a meadow. He hoped.
as he walked, he remained aware of not only what was ahead but also what might be coming up behind, and he was ready at any moment to jump into the underbrush.
again Matthew walked alone, but the strength of his purpose was company enough.
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