Part Three: The Message Chapter Thirty-Eight


Berry leaned forward, her face radiant in the early morning light that streamed through the window. She was deep in concentration, a single furrow between her brows, her eyes fixed first on her subject and then the pad of paper held on a lap desk across her knees. The tip of her charcoal pencil was ready, but her hand was not.

Matthew watched the copper gleam in her thick red hair, and found himself admiring the way it fell about her shoulders. Natural, without artifice. a single ivory comb served to restrain any errant curls from tumbling over her forehead. He saw her in profile from his position in the room, and wondered how that firm jawline and narrow, slightly upturned nose could have been born from Marmaduke Grigsby's comical flesh. Matthew enjoyed looking at her. The blue eyes had taken on a hint of steel, as they surveyed and calculated. She wore today what she'd worn yesterday, a light sand-colored dress with white lace trailing along the sleeves and decorating the cuffs. Not the most comfortable attire for a day-long horseback ride, but she'd obviously had riding experience-probably in the company of that young equestrian with the broken tailbone, Matthew surmised-and had managed the trip without complaint. Wearing the round-brimmed straw hat at a sporty angle on her head and the way she kept her steed apace with Matthew's horse Dante, she might have passed for a highwayman's dolly. He was pleased that she'd agreed to come. It wasn't every girl who would've done it, as the road between New York and the Westerwicke asylum was no easy jaunt.

One more check between subject and paper, and then Berry's pencil moved to make a single curved line. She had begun her portrait of the Queen of Bedlam. Matthew glanced over at the two doctors, Ramsendell and Hulzen, who stood at one side of the room watching the procedure. Hulzen was smoking his clay pipe, puffing thin clouds of smoke that drifted out the window, while Ramsendell had one arm hooked under the other elbow and his bearded chin supported by a thumb.

Matthew's watch reported the time as four minutes after eight o'clock. When he and Berry had arrived yesterday, Saturday, it had been almost dark. She hadn't wanted to do the task by candleglow. Matthew had told the doctors that he wished to take a likeness of the lady to Philadelphia as a means of identification, and when they'd assented he'd asked if Berry could do her drawing in the morning light, as Berry had said that would be the optimum as far as getting the details down. Then he and Berry had found two rooms at the Constant Friend, eaten supper at Mrs. DePaul's, and gone to bed equally saddle-sore but equally excited about the work to be done. In fact, a half-bottle of port had been required to unwind Matthew enough for sleep to take him.

The morning light illuminated also the face of the lady who sat mute and motionless in the high-backed dark purple chair. She stared out as before, her soft brown eyes directed toward the garden. Everyone else in the room-indeed, in the entire world-might have been a phantasm, unworthy of note. as before, her cloud of white hair was neatly brushed. Her unadorned hands gripped the armrests. She wore the pink slippers decorated with small bows. The only difference at this meeting was that her frail body was wrapped up in a silken homegown not pink as a rose but instead the color of the yellow butterflies that fluttered back and forth amid the garden's flowers. To say she was absolutely motionless was not exactly true, for again her lips moved every so often, as if posing to herself unanswerable questions.

Berry sat where she could catch the lady's profile, just as she'd drawn her grandfather's.

Draw whoi she'd asked at the kitchen table on Friday evening.

The face of a woman in an asylum for the mentally infirm, Matthew had told her. at Westerwicke. That would be New Jersey, a trip of about thirty miles.

an asylumi Marmaduke Grigsby had quivered, scenting a story over the smell of the chicken livers on his plate. What womani Matthew, what secrets are you keeping from mei

No secrets. I told you I've joined the Herrald agency and their purpose is the solving of problems. Well, one problem is that the doctors at this asylum wish to put an identity to an unknown woman. How to do that, without first a descriptioni and what better description to offer than a portraiti He'd then turned his attention to the girl. I'll pay you something, if you think you can do it.

Of course I can do it, Berry had replied. I used to go out every weekend to the park and find people to draw. If I happened to sell a portrait, more the better. What, did you think I just did the landscapesi

I don't know about this, Grigsby had said with a scowl. It sounds dangerous. Mad people and all. and a day's ride to New Jerseyi absolutely not! No, I refuse to give my approval.

Which actually had been for the best, since for Berry her grandfather's disapproval was like throwing gunpowder on flames. and then, just past dawn on Saturday as they'd waited with their horses for the ferry to cross from Weehawken, came the question from Berry that Matthew had been expecting: If I'm going all this way with you to draw a madwoman in an asylum, don't you think I should know the whole storyi and not just bits and pieces of it that you gave Grandda, either. I mean everything.

Matthew hadn't spent much time thinking it over. He realized he needed her support, more than anyone's. Yes, he'd agreed. I do think you need to know.

During the course of their trip he'd given her the story, beginning with his obsession to bring Eben ausley to justice. He'd told her about the ambush on Sloat Lane, about the night of Pennford Deverick's death, about his arrival on the scene of ausley's murder and his subsequent chase of the Masker. He'd related the events of his being hired as an associate by the Herrald agency and his arrangement with Mrs. Deverick to find her husband's killer. He'd shaped for her his visit with ashton McCaggers and his realization that the notebook was not among ausley's last possessions, and then described what it was like to be seized from behind by the Masker and given the book to be deciphered. The names of orphans were in the book, he'd told her, and some kind of code to distinguish them. He'd presented to her his recollections of the Queen of Bedlam, and how the lady had reacted to Deverick's name. The Italian masks on the lady's walls; were they some clue that tied her unknown past and her present condition to the Maskeri He'd told Berry he thought the answer to many mysteries was in Philadelphia, but to have any chance of success he needed the portrait.

When Matthew had finished his recounting of events, he'd left out only two things he thought she should not know: his investigation into the agony of Reverend Wade, and his night of physical assault at the hands of Charity LeClaire. The first was private and the second was damned embarrassing.

My, Berry had said when he'd done, and Matthew couldn't tell from her tone of voice whether she was impressed or overwhelmed. You've been busy.

Yes, he decided. Best to keep that business of the nymph's itch to himself.

as Berry sketched the lady's profile Dr. Hulzen had to take his leave to look in on the patients, but Dr. Ramsendell came nearer to watch the work progress. Matthew saw that Berry was doing an excellent rendition. The Queen was coming to life on the paper. Suddenly the lady jerked and her head swiveled to look directly at Berry, who caught her breath with a sharp surprised gasp and lifted her pencil from the sheet. There passed a few seconds of tension as the lady stared at Berry, as if to ask what the girl was doing in her parlor. Ramsendell held up a hand to tell Berry just to remain still, and then the Queen's eyes dimmed and she turned her head to gaze again at the sunlit garden. Berry glanced quickly at Matthew for a nod of reassurance and then continued her work.

Matthew wandered quietly about the room, looking more closely at the masks and then at the painting of Venice. In the richly appointed chamber there was only the noise of birdsong and the determined scratching of Berry's pencil. Thus he and Berry were unprepared when the lady turned her attention to her profiler once more and asked in her regal voice, "Young womani Has the king's reply yet arrivedi"

Flustered, Berry looked for help from the doctor, who shook his head. "No, madam," she answered cautiously.

The Queen continued to stare fixedly at Berry, but Matthew saw the lady's eyes going glassy again, her focus returning to the mysterious inner world that claimed her hours. She said, "Come fetch me when it does," and then, almost in a weary whisper, "He promised, and he has never broken a promise."

Ramsendell and Matthew exchanged glances. Berry returned to her drawing. The Queen had left them, just that quickly, and was already somewhere far away.

When Berry had finished the work just as Matthew had requested, Matthew approached the lady and knelt down beside her. Ramsendell watched intently but made no motion to interfere.

"Madami" Matthew asked. There was no response, not even the flicker of an eyelid. He tried again, in a stronger voice, "Madami" Still nothing. He leaned in a little closer. "Pennford Deverick," he said.

This time the Queen of Bedlam blinked. It was almost as if she'd been struck by a lash. Still, though, her expression was impassive.

"How do you know Pennford Devericki" Matthew asked.

Nothing, this time. Not even the lash-stung blink.

Matthew wanted to press on, but he looked to Ramsendell first with raised eyebrows. The doctor nodded and said softly, "Go ahead."

"Pennford Deverick. How do you know that name, madami"

Did her fingers grip the armrests just a squeeze harderi Did her chin lift a fraction, and her mouth move but make no soundi

Matthew waited. If she had indeed made a response, it had now ceased. He said, "I'm trying to help you, madam. We all are. Please try to hear me, if you can. Pennford Deverick. You know the name. You know who he was. a goods broker. Please try to think...what did Pennford Deverick have to do with Philadelphiai"

The word floated out like one of the ghosts at Number Seven Stone Street: "Philadelphia."

"Yes, madam." Matthew was aware that Ramsendell had taken up a position on the other side of the Queen's chair. "More specifically, and please try to listen...what did Pennford Deverick have to do with youi"

There was no answer, but Matthew saw on the Queen's face a ripple that might have been emotion welling up from some deep and desperate place that she had locked and then lost the key to. It was just there for a fleeting second, but its presence was so terrible in the pain that surfaced in the twisted crimp of her mouth and the shock-glint of her eyes that he feared he had done more damage than good. Ramsendell saw it too, for he immediately said, "Mr. Corbetti I don't think you should-"

"Pennford Deverick is dead," said the Queen of Bedlam, in a strained gasp. "Never prove it now. Never."

Matthew couldn't let that go. His heart was pounding. "Prove what, madami"

"The king's reply," she said, and now there came the glitter of tears. "He promised, he promised." a tear broke and ran in a slow rivulet down her right cheek.

"Mr. Corbett." Ramsendell's voice was stern. "I think that is all."

"One more thing, doctor. Please. One more, then we'll be done. all righti"

"My duty is to my patient, sir." Ramsendell leaned over to peer into the lady's face, which except for the trail of the tear was completely blank. "I think she's gone now, anyway."

"May I speak one name to heri Just a name. If she responds to it, I'll have a vital clue." He saw that Ramsendell was hesitating. "One name, and I won't repeat it."

Ramsendell paused. He rubbed his beard with the edge of his hand, and then he nodded.

Matthew leaned so close to the Queen of Bedlam that he could smell her lilac soap.

He said, clearly and distinctly, "andrew Kippering."

He didn't know what he'd been expecting. a thunderclapi a stream of sanity flooding back into a parched mindi a gasp and cry and a sudden return to the world of reality, be it ever so torturous and full of griefi

Whatever he expected, he got nothing.

The Queen stared straight ahead. Her mouth did not move nor her eyelids flicker nor her fingers grip. She was, as Ramsendell had so aptly put it, gone.

as far as Matthew could tell, to her that was the name of a stranger. Nothing more.

He stood up. Berry was also on her feet, the paper rolled up in her hand. He let go a sigh, because he'd been so sure. There was something he was not seeing yet, but it was so very close. Something he ought to see, but was still blinded to. The king's reply. He promised, he promised.

and the intriguing, haunting gasp: Never prove it now. Never.

"I'd best show you out," Ramsendell said. "I wish you good luck in Philadelphia."

"Thank you," Matthew answered, still dazed. So close, so close. "I'll need it," he said, with a smile so tight he thought he might choke.

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