Part Three: The Message Chapter Forty


Matthew stood on the street outside Primm's office, wondering where to go next. He counted himself lucky that on the way out he hadn't been kicked in the bottom by that self-superior clerk.

One interesting thing, Matthew thought, is that when he'd reached down to retrieve the Earwig Primm had snapped it off the desk amid the pieces of Berry's drawing and with beady rattlesnake eyes had dared Matthew to try for it. That told him something, at least. Primm obviously didn't want it shown to anyone else.

The question remained: where to go nexti

The sun was warm now. The mist had burned away. Two young damsels with parasols paraded past and they gave Matthew a glance but he was in no mood for flirtations. a slight breeze ruffled the shade trees along Market Street. He paused, looking to left and right. across Third Street and north about a halfblock was a sign reading The Good Pye with a depiction of a piece of pie and an ale tankard. He decided that might be the place to begin, and started walking in that direction. at least he might get himself a drink to settle his nerves. as he waited for a carriage to go past before he crossed the street, he caught a movement of white from the corner of his eye.

Icabod Primm had just emerged from his office and was walking quickly and bow-leggedly south along Third Street. Matthew watched the small-framed man hurry away. Primm's right hand clutched the broadsheet in a death-grip.

ah ha, Matthew thought. I have smoked the powdered rattler from his hole.

He gave Primm a few more strides, and then he began to follow at a careful distance.

In another moment Primm had turned left at the corner of Chestnut Street, heading away from the river. Matthew stood on the corner, watching the white wig bob along among the other citizens who travelled the sidewalk. He again followed, realizing that Primm was too fixed on where he was going to bother casting a backward glance. Then, half another block ahead, the lawyer abruptly turned into a doorway under a sign that announced The Lamplighter.

It was just an ordinary tavern, Matthew thought as he stood at the door. Several hitching-posts at the curb. a window made of the round bottoms of glass bottles, some clear and some green. He opened the door without undue haste and entered, his eyes having to adjust from the bright sunlight to the dim greenish interior where lanterns burned from hooks on the ceiling beams.

Nothing special, really. a long bar where several well-dressed gentlemen congregated over ale tankards and eight tables each set with the stub of a candle. Only three of the tables were occupied, as it was a bit early for lunch. It was no problem to spy Icabod Primm, sitting at the back of the room bent over the Earwig by candlelight.

Matthew approached, but at an oblique angle. Primm didn't know he was coming until he was there. Then the lawyer's black eyes spat fire, his toy mouth chewed the air, and what came out was "You again!"

"Guilty," Matthew said.

"Of following me. Yes, I got that part."

"You were going in my direction."

"Please continue then, all the way to New York."

a burly, black-bearded man with a lion's mane of ebony hair came up beside Matthew carrying a brown bottle and a small glass. as the man filled the glass to the brim, Matthew caught the nostril-prickling aroma of stout apple brandy.

"Leave the bottle, Samson," Primm said, and the man set it down and started back to the bar.

It occurred to Matthew that if Primm drank an entire bottle of what was usually a highly combustible mixture, not only would the lawyer's lamp be lit but his wig would burst into flame.

"Having a liquid lunchi" Matthew prodded. "It is unsettling to realize your client's a murderer, isn't iti"

Primm took a deep and needful drink. His eyes watered and gleamed.

"I think she's his mother," Matthew went on. It was a shaky guess, for why would the lady not have reacted to her son's namei "He hid her away in Westerwicke, and then he plotted the deaths of three men. But my real question is: what happened to his fatheri"

"Samson!" Primm rasped after another swallow of fire had scorched his throat. The black-bearded behemoth returned to the table, his strides making the planks squeal. "This young man is annoying me. If he speaks one more word, I'd like you to throw him out on his New York bum."

"Yes, Mr. Primm," Samson replied in a biblical basso while staring into Matthew's face from the distance of four inches. He also cracked the knuckles of one huge hand like the walls of Jericho.

Matthew decided that one more word was not worth the loss of many good teeth. He gave Primm a brief smile and bow, turned around, and got out before his own lamp was extinguished. Farther down the street he saw the sign of another tavern, this one titled The Harp and Hat. He approached its door, but before he went in he stopped to open his valise. He removed from it another rolled-up piece of paper, which was the second portrait of the Queen of Bedlam that Matthew had asked Berry to draw, just in case Primm's fingers didn't like the first one.

Matthew entered the tavern, carrying the lady's picture and in hopes that someone here might recognize it.

Soon he emerged with hopes dashed, for no one in the place had any idea who she might be. Just across Chestnut Street was the Squire's Inn, which Haverstraw had mentioned. Matthew went in there with the picture ready, and was accosted by a drunken wag who said the lady in question was his mother and he'd not seen her since he was knee-high to a grasshopper. Since the man was over sixty, that was quite impossible. The tavern's owner, a friendly enough gent in his late twenties, said he thought the woman looked familiar but he couldn't put a name to her. Matthew thanked one and all for their trouble and continued on his way.

By the time he reached a third tavern, this one called The Old Bucket on Walnut Street, it was nearing lunch and a dozen persons were celebrating the noon hour. a young man with a brown mustache and goatee and wearing a russet-colored suit took the drawing and examined it pensively while he stood at the bar drinking a glass of port and eating a plate of sausages and fried potatoes. He called to a friend rather more rustic than himself to come look, and together they regarded the picture as other customers ringed around to see. "I think I saw this woman on Front Street this morning," the young man finally decided. "Was she collecting coins while a girl was playing the tambourinei"

"No!" his friend scoffed, and pulled the paper away so fast Matthew feared it was going to be ripped asunder just as the first had been. "You know who this is! It's the widow Blake! She was sittin' up in her window watchin' me when I went past her house today!"

"I know that's not the widow Blake!" said the heavy-set tavern-keeper as he put an empty pitcher under the spigot of the wine cask behind the bar and filled it. "The widow Blake's got a fat face. That one's thin."

"It is her, I say! Looks just like her!" The rustic with the rough manner had angled a suspicious gaze at Matthew. "Hey, now. What is it you're doin', carryin' around a picture of the widow Blakei"

"Not her," said the tavern-keeper.

"She's not in any trouble, is shei" came the question from the young man with the goatee. "Does she owe moneyi"

"I'm sayin', it's not the widow Blake. Lemme see that." The tavern-keeper nearly tore a corner off it when one of his big hands yanked it away. "No, she's too thin to be her. anybody else thinks this looks like the widow Blakei" He held the picture up for the assembly to judge. "and if you do, you're already way too drunk!"

Matthew counted himself fortunate to get out of the place with the drawing intact and no one chasing him with a cudgel for being a bill collector. He'd told the group he was trying to locate a missing person, and was informed by the grinning rustic that everyone knew where the widow Blake lived, so why should she be missingi

Matthew took to stopping a few passersby on the street to show them the picture, but none recognized the face. Farther on along Walnut Street, past an area where farmers had pulled their wagons up to offer fruit and vegetables for sale, he came to two taverns almost across the street from each other. The one on the right was the Crooked Horse Shoe and the one on the left the Seven Stars Inn. He didn't care for the luck of a crooked horse shoe, so he chose to cast his fate to the stars.

again the lunchtime crowd-mostly a dozen or so men in business suits, but also a few well-dressed women-had come in for drinks and what Matthew saw to be a menu of baked chicken, some kind of meat pie, and vegetables probably fresh from the farm wagons. The place was clean, the light through the windows bright, and the conversations lively. On the wall behind the bar was a painted depiction of seven white stars. It was the same kind of welcoming tavern as the Trot, with its immediate feeling of belonging. Matthew made his way toward the bar, pausing to let a serving-girl with a tray of platters pass, and almost at once the tall gray-haired man who was pouring wine for a customer came down the bar to him. "Help you, siri"

"Yes, please. I know you're very busy, but would you look at this for mei" Matthew put the Queen's portrait down before the man.

"Why, may I ask, am I looking at thisi"

"I've come from New York. I represent a legal agency there." a white liei It was all in the interpretation. "Our client is trying to identify this woman. We think she at least has roots in Philadelphia. Would you tell me if you recognize the facei"

The man picked the portrait up. "Just a moment," he said, while he fished spectacles from a pocket. Then he angled the drawing into sunlight that reflected off the bar's polished oak.

Matthew saw the man frown, and his gray eyebrows draw together.

"From New York, you sayi" the man asked.

"Yes, that's right. I arrived this morning."

"You're a lawyeri"

"Not exactly a lawyer, no."

"What, theni Exactly."

"I'm..." What would be the right wordi he wondered. Deduceri No, that wasn't it. Deductivei No, also wrong and hideous to boot. His role was to solve problems. Solvanti No. He might be considered, he thought, as a sifter of clues. a weigher of evidence. a detector of truth and lies.

That would do. "I'm a detector," he said.

The man's frown deepened. "a whati"

Not good, Matthew thought. One should at least sound professional, if one was to be taken professionally.

He made up a word on the spot and spoke it with forceful assurance: "I mean to say, sir, that I am a detective."

"as I said before...a whati" The man's attention was mercifully diverted by a handsome gray-haired woman about the same age as himself who had just come behind the bar through another doorway. "Lizbeth!" he said. "Look at this and tell me who you think it is."

She put aside the wine-pitcher she'd come to refill and examined the portrait. Matthew saw her also respond with a frown, and his heart jumped because he thought she must know something. She looked at him with searching brown eyes, and then at the man. "It's Emily Swanscott."

"That's who I thought. This young man says he's come from New York. Says he's a...a...well, a legal person. Says his client is trying to identify the woman in the picture."

"Emily Swanscott," Lizbeth repeated, speaking to Matthew. "May I ask who your client is, and from where you got this drawingi"

"I fear I have to plead confidentiality," Matthew replied, trying to keep his voice as light as possible. "You know. It's a legal condition."

"Be that as it may, where is Mrs. Swanscotti"

"One moment. are you absolutely certain you can identify this woman as being Emily Swanscotti"

"as certain as I'm seeing you. Mrs. Swanscott didn't get out very much, but I met her in the Christ Church cemetery one afternoon. I was there to see to my sister's grave, and Mrs. Swanscott was putting flowers on the graves of her sons."

"Flowersi" He'd really meant to say graves but the word had stuck in his throat.

"That's right. She was very kind. She was telling me what sort of flowers attract butterflies. It seems her eldest boy, the one who drowned, liked to catch them."

"ah," Matthew said, half-dazed. "Her eldest boy."

"a terrible accident," the man spoke up. "Eleven years old when he died, as I understand."

"How many sons did she havei"

"Just the two," Lizbeth said. "The younger one died of fever when he was...oh..."

"Not even six," the man supplied. Matthew thought he was probably Lizbeth's husband, and that they together owned the Seven Stars.

"Tom and I had heard that Mrs. Swanscott was ill." again the brown eyes searched Matthew's face. "Up in her house. Then she just disappeared overnight. Do you know where she isi"

"I do," Matthew said, with both relief and caution.

"Then why should you need the portrait identifiedi" Tom asked. "If you know where she is, I mean."

"Wine, please!" said another customer, bellying up to the bar. Which suited Matthew just fine, for the tavern-keeper had to go tend to his trade and that question could be avoided.

But then again, maybe not. "Where is Mrs. Swanscotti" Lizbeth asked.

"She is indeed ill," said Matthew. "Unfortunately, her ability to communicate has been impaired."

"I wouldn't doubt it. What she went through."

"You mean the deaths of her sonsi"

"Oh no," the woman said. Her mouth tightened. "That was bad enough, I'm sure. But I'm talking about the tragedy."

"The tragedy," Matthew repeated. "and this had to do with...i"

Tom had returned and had overheard this last part. "Bad luck or criminal negligence, whichever you prefer. Nothing was ever settled, one way or the other. I mean, Mr. Swanscott was held liable, and the courts took almost everything. He had business insurance, of course, but his reputation was destroyed. It was a shame, because they were both good and decent people. He was always very pleasant to me, though I never met his wife. But with five people dead and a score sick nearly to death, someone had to be held accountable."

"Five people deadi Howi"

"The bad wine," Tom said. "It was contaminated. No one knows how, or with what. It happened at the White Stag, over on arch Street. Just past Fourth. Of course it isn't there now. No tavern would ever rent that space again. When did it happeni" He had directed this question to Lizbeth.

"1697," his wife answered. "High summer."

That date gave him pause. Matthew remembered: Joplin Pollard had said Deverick had bought a brokerage firm here in Philadelphia in 1698, except he'd made the purchase from a man named Ives who still remained the manager. ancient history, as far as business goes.

Matthew had to ask a question, though he already knew the answer. "What was your relationship to Mr. Swanscotti"

"He was the goods broker," came the reply, which Matthew had expected but nonetheless gave him a shudder for his realization of the depth and darkness of the pool into which he peered. "For all the taverns here. The wine, the meat, the ale...everything."

Something Robert Deverick had said in McCaggers' cold room now came back very sharply to Matthew: My father used to have a credo. He said business is war. and he fervently believed it.

Plus the statement Robert had made concerning his father's credo at the Deverick house: a businessman should be a warrior, he said, and if someone dares to challenge you then...

"Destruction has to be the only response," Matthew said, thinking aloud.

"Pardoni" Tom asked.

"Nothing. Sorry." Matthew blinked and returned his attention to the moment. "I know this is a busy time. Might I come back later and ask you some more questionsi Concerning the Swanscotts and the tragedyi"

"I'm certainly not the expert on it." Tom busied himself filling a pitcher from one of several small wine casks behind the bar. "I'll tell you who would be, though. Gordon Shulton still has a farm up north on the pike."

"That's right," Lizbeth added. "We bought some beans and corn from him last week."

"Two miles up the pike," Tom continued, putting the pitcher on the bar for the serving-girl to take to a table. "Gordon can tell you the whole story. He was the Swanscotts' longtime coachman and stable keeper. Came with them from London."

Lizbeth picked up the portrait and examined it again. "He'll be glad to know she's at least alive. He was so broken-hearted when Mr. Swanscott died."

"and how exactly did that happeni"

"No one knows for sure. Whether it was an accident, or..." She trailed off.

"Or suicide," Tom finished for her. "It was twilight. Mr. Swanscott was obviously burdened with his troubles and the fact that he was being sued out of existence and might go to prison for criminal negligence. No one knows whether he stepped in front of the carriage horses by accident, or on purpose. There was speculation that he had insurance on his life with a London company. Mrs. Swanscott had already been ill, I heard, when it happened. She was reclusive to begin with, but after that...no one saw her anymore."

"a tragedy." Lizbeth shook her head. "a tragedy and a shame." She gave the portrait of the Queen of Bedlam back to Matthew.

"Thank you," Matthew said. "For your time and your answers." This should be a joyful moment for him, he thought. He had the name he'd so ardently sought. Why then did he feel so sulliedi "Two miles to the north, did you sayi"

"I did." Tom caught the expression of anguish that had surfaced in Matthew's eyes. "What's the matteri"

"I have to admit that I'm almost afraid to go to Mr. Shulton's. You won't understand this, but I fear that after Mr. Shulton has given me the whole story I may no longer be able to tell the difference between a murderer and an executioner." Matthew put the drawing back into his valise and offered the puzzled couple a sad smile. "Good day."

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