Part Three: The Message Chapter Thirty-Four


"Mr. Chapel," Matthew repeated. The name was heavy in his mouth. Had his face shown a reactioni He wasn't sure. The lady was watching him intently.

"Do you know the namei"

"No, I don't."

"Little wonder. Mr. Chapel values his privacy."

"and privacy can be very useful, can't iti" Matthew asked.

"Yes." She allowed a small smile to creep across her mouth, but it had the effect of making her eyes appear hard. "My question to you was: why were you interested in my uncle's notebooki"

"I happened to see your uncle with a notebook many times. In the taverns, that is. He obviously liked to take notes."

"It would seem so." Miss LeClaire's gaze did not waver. "Pardon me, but you said 'a notebook' instead of 'the notebook.' Do you suggest there was more than onei"

She was trapping him, he thought. Pushing him into a corner. Trying to get him to admit that he'd been following the bastard over the course of two years. What did she know about that damned notebook, and all the other notebooks that must have preceded iti Whoever she was, her interrogative abilities might have made a good addition to the Herrald agency. "I only saw what I saw," he told her.

"ah, of course. But the real question is: who saw it lasti Not youi"

It was time to start throwing doubt, before he buckled. "I imagine there must have been a crowd around the body. Someone may have picked it up."

"But left his walleti"

He felt he had met his match in this cool player. He could only summon up a tight smile and say, "Perhaps his killer wished to read your uncle's notes."

"Perhaps," she agreed, in an unconvinced voice. Then she smiled and shifted the parasol so a bit of sunlight sparkled upon her moist pink lips. "You might care to meet Mr. Chapel, Matthew. May I call you Matthewi"

"as you please."

"One evening and a dinner at Mr. Chapel's estate, and you'll be brought back in the morning. I can attest that Mr. Chapel hosts very fine dinners. Will you comei"

Matthew hesitated. He caught a movement from the Grigsby house and saw Berry duck away from the kitchen window. Miss LeClaire followed the line of his vision, but Berry did not reappear. Matthew had to focus on a decision. He had no doubt that meeting Mr. Chapel might give him some insight into what game ausley had been up to. "an estate, you sayi"

"Yes. a vineyard and a fledgling winery, as well. Some fifteen miles north along the Hudson River."

"Really." Matthew felt a creep of dread. That distance would put it four or five miles beyond the Ormond farm, where the eyeless dead man was found. In what Greathouse feared was the realm of Professor Fell, if his instincts were correct.

The lady was waiting.

"I do have business to take care of tomorrow," Matthew said, eager to throw himself a land-anchor. "Some people might be very upset if I'm late."

"If you're an early riser, you'll be back by this time Friday. Would that be a problemi"

Matthew decided to take the risk. It was the only way. "No problem," he said, trying to keep his voice light. "Let me tell my friend I won't be attending lunch. Pardon me." He closed the door behind him and locked it. He noted how attentively she watched the key go into his pocket, and he had the sudden clear insight of a fist gripping the doorhandle and a length of burglar's key sliding in to spring the lock as the moon shone down. Whoever this Mr. Chapel was, he had sent a professional to fetch Matthew; she might not be ausley's niece, after all. Family papers could be forged and presented to a coroner. In fact, one of Matthew's cases with Magistrate Powers had concerned that very same thing. as Matthew walked around to the front of the Grigsby house with Miss LeClaire following at a distance, he thought he should not assume another professional wouldn't arrive tonight to search through his belongings. If the archery target was torn open...

He knocked at the door. By the time Berry deigned to open it, Charity LeClaire had taken up position a few paces to his left and behind him. He said, "I won't be joining you for lunch. I'm going on an overnight trip with Miss LeClaire."

"Oh." Berry blinked and looked from Matthew to the lady and then back again. "all right. I'll tell Grandda, then."

"If you would." He added a hint of irritation to his voice. "and remind him, please, to remove the junk from my house. Particularly that archery garbage. Yesi"

"I'll tell him."

"Thank you." Matthew wished he could warn her that if any sound was heard tonight from the dairyhouse they should remain in their beds, but he hoped if a burglar did arrive the man would be skilled enough to be noiseless. Then he bid Berry good day and followed Miss LeClaire up the street to where a handsome dark brown lacquered road coach with tan trim awaited, complete with a four-in-hand team of matched gray horses. He doubted that such a fine conveyance had been seen even on Golden Hill, and people were already gathering around to gawk at the vehicle. Made by a master craftsman in England and shipped overi he wondered. If so, it had been at fabulous expense. a husky young driver in a light blue suit and tricorn hat sat up high holding the reins, while his whipman climbed down off the seat to spring the door of the enclosed compartment open for Miss LeClaire and her employer's guest.

In another moment they were on their way, turning right onto King Street. They passed the almshouse at a clatter. Matthew, who sat in the vis-a-vis position facing Miss LeClaire, noted that the lady did not bother to glance at her so-called uncle's last earthly place of occupation. The coach turned right onto the Broad Way and on the outskirts of town took the Post Road. Matthew settled back against the black leather upholstery as the horses picked up speed. The coach fairly flew along the road, its well-balanced construction hardly shuddering as its wheels went over the ruts and potholes.

Under an ambitious whip, the horses were making quick progress. Matthew waited until New York was perhaps two miles behind them, and then he said to the drowsing lady, "Was Eben ausley really your unclei"

Her eyes remained closed and no reply was offered.

"What makes this particular notebook so importanti"

Still no response.

He tried a third time. "What was your uncle doing for Mr. Chapeli"

"Please," she said in a voice that was by no means slurred by sleep. "Your questions are wasted on me, sir."

Matthew had no doubt she was correct. Through his crescent-shaped window he watched the woods blur past. He had the sensation of being observed, even though the lady's eyes were shut. as the distance between himself and town increased, he began to regret his decision. He was going willingly into what was most probably a dangerous lair, and he must be very careful lest the creature who owned it ate him alive.

He was able to sleep for a total of about an hour, a few minutes at a time. Once he opened his eyes to find Charity LeClaire staring straight at him in a way that sent a shiver up his spine. She, too, looked ravenous. Then she closed her eyes again, seemed to drift away to sleep even though the rocking of the coach over the Post Road was no one's cradle, and Matthew was left once more with sweat gathering under his collar.

He marked the road that turned off toward Mrs. Herrald's house. They swept past it, leaving a cloud of dust. In a little while came the turnoff that led to the Ormond farm, and that too was passed in a hurry. Then there was just woodland, the occasional farmfield and a few windmills until the coach veered left where the road split into two around a dark little swamp. He didn't need a map to know they were heading toward the river.

It was about an hour later when Matthew felt the coach's speed begin to slow. at once Miss LeClaire was awake, if she had ever really been sleeping. Matthew looked out his window and saw a wall of rough stones about eight feet high. Vines and creepers dangled over it, while tree branches hung overhead. The coach was following a road close-set along the wall. Then the driver shouted, "Whoa, there! Whoa!" and hauled back on the reins. Now the coach was just barely rolling. Matthew saw a huge wooden slab of a gate set in the wall. His first thought was that they were about to enter not an estate but a fortress. The driver pulled the team to a halt and the whipman rang a bell that must have been secured under the seat. Within a few seconds the gate opened inward and the coach began moving once more.

Matthew caught sight of a young man who had emerged from a small white-washed gatehouse that had windows of multi-paned glass. The gatekeeper waved to the coach crew as the coach continued on, and then the coach travelled along a driveway that curved to the right and on either side stood thick woods. Matthew reckoned they'd gone about a hundred more yards before the coach slowed again. He saw a green sward of grass where a flock of sheep grazed and a few lambs pranced around. a large two-storey manse of mottled red and gray brickwork came into view, its handsome front adorned with many windows and a gray-painted cupola at the top with a copper roof. Chimneys jutted skyward. The driveway made a circle around a lily pond that stood a few yards from the front steps, and it was at these steps that the coach finally halted.

at once the coach door on Miss LeClaire's side, closest to the house, was opened and a man perhaps only a few years older than Matthew offered a hand to the lady. "Good afternoon, miss," he said, and then nodded at Matthew. "Good afternoon, sir. I hope your trip was pleasant."

"Very pleasant, Lawrence. We made a quick pace," said Miss LeClaire as she allowed the man to help her out. Matthew followed. as soon as Matthew set foot on the ground, the man shut the door again and motioned to the driver. The coach rolled away, following the circle and then continuing along another road that led off to the left between the trees.

"I'm Lawrence Evans, Master Corbett. assistant to Mr. Chapel." The man shook Matthew's hand with a firm grip. He was tall and slim and wore an elegant pale gray suit with polished silver buttons. His dark brown hair was tied back in a queue with a black ribbon, and he wore spectacles that made him look, of all things, like nothing more sinister than one of the studious clerks at City Hall. His brown eyes were friendly and intelligent, his manner gracious, and as he stepped aside to allow Matthew and the lady entry to the manse he said, "Welcome to Mr. Chapel's home."

The foyer was panelled in glossy dark wood. The arched doorway of what appeared to be a large parlor was on the right, with a smaller room on the left. Overhead from the high ceiling hung an iron chandelier with eight candles, and directly ahead a set of stairs covered with red carpet ascended to the upper realm. a corridor decorated with pastoral tapestries led past the staircase toward the rear of the house. Everything was clean and polished and glowed with the golden afternoon light that streamed through the windows.

"Mr. Chapel regrets he'll be busy until the evening meal," Evans was speaking to Matthew. "I'm to show you to your room. as I know you must be tired and hungry, you might care to take a nap but first the kitchen has supplied a platter of bacon, biscuits, and jelly as a light sustainment. I'll be glad to fetch you a glass of wine, if you'd like."

"Yes," Matthew said gratefully, though his guard was still up. "Thank you."

Miss LeClaire was peeling her gloves off. "I need a cool bath. Would you arrange iti"

"absolutely, miss. Will you come with me, siri"

Matthew followed Evans up the stairs, while Charity LeClaire drifted away down the corridor. He was shown along another hallway to an opulent chamber that had surely never known a poorer guest than himself. The walls were golden pinewood, the floor adorned with a circular red-and-gold Persian rug. There was an ornate beige writing desk, a chest-of-drawers, a wash-stand and basin, two red-covered chairs, and a canopied bed. Heavy gold-colored drapes were open on either side of a glass-paned terrace door. Before one of the chairs was a small round table with the fresh platter of victuals Evans had mentioned, complete with silver utensils.

"Please make yourself at home," Evans said. "I'll bring your wine up and a pitcher of water also. We have a well here that provides excellent water, unlike that sulphurous liquid in town. Can you think of anything else you might wishi"

Matthew walked to the wash-stand and saw arranged around the basin of water a clean white facecloth, a cake of soap, a straight razor, a comb and hairbrush, and a small dish of baking soda for the teeth. an oval mirror was set on the wall. Whatever Mr. Chapel's game, the man required his guests to be presentable. "I think everything's here," Matthew answered.

"Very good, then."

as Evans moved toward the door, Matthew said, "One thing. What's my host's first namei"

"Simon."

Matthew nodded. When Evans left the room, Matthew listened for the sound of a key turning in the outer lock but it didn't come. Obviously he was not a prisoner, if one took a liberal view. Neither was the terrace door locked, for Matthew stepped outside and looked down upon a large garden of flowering trees, hedges, and ornamental shrubs that would have caused Mrs. Deverick to grind her teeth with envy. Dissecting the garden were pathways of white gravel. Beyond the garden there were more trees but over their leafy branches Matthew could see the blue width of the Hudson River, shimmering in the sunlight. a single flatboat with spread sails was slowly travelling southward, past the green wooded hills. aiming his gaze a few degrees to the northeast, he saw more forest and then the disciplined rows of the vineyard about a quarter-mile distant. He could see also in that direction the roofs of other buildings that Matthew guessed to be a stable, the coachhouse, and structures having to do with the winery.

Simon Chapel. The name of course meant nothing to him, but for ausley's notations. It was a farce that Charity LeClaire was ausley's niece. That deception had been for the coroner's benefit. The documents must have been well-forged, for McCaggers to be taken in by them. It all seemed like an elaborate effort, but what was the purposei

Matthew went back inside and sat down to enjoy the bacon, biscuits, and a dab of apple jelly, for the mind would be sluggish without nourishment. He also had the feeling he was going to need his full complement of wits about him. Soon Evans returned bearing a silver tray that held a glass of very dark red wine and a pitcher of water.

"anything more you requirei" the man asked.

"Nothing more, thank you." Matthew tried the wine. It was somewhat thick to be an afternoon libation but otherwise satisfying. "This is the estate's grapei"

"Unfortunately not. That particular bottle was purchased in New York. Our vines have yet to produce a grape worthy of Mr. Chapel's approval."

"Oh." That led to a question he'd been hoping to ask. "How long has the vineyard been herei"

"Many years. Mr. Chapel purchased the estate from a Dutchman who actually made his fortune in the shipping trade and let his son grow the grapes. They did produce a wine, though we consider it to be beneath our standards. The soil's a problem, you see. But Mr. Chapel has great aspirations."

"He must enjoy a challenge."

"He does."

Matthew wasn't content to let Evans retreat without another try. "So the vineyard is Mr. Chapel's chief occupationi" he asked as he spread jelly on a biscuit with a silver knife.

"Oh, no sir. Just one of many. If you'll pardon me now, I do have some tasks at hand." Evans offered up an easy smile. "I'd suggest you take a moment to browse the library downstairs, just to the right along the corridor."

"I do enjoy books. Oh...might I walk in the gardeni"

"Of course. The entrance to the garden is through the dining-room at the rear of the house. Dinner is served at seven o'clock. You'll hear the bell being rung. Good afternoon, sir." and then Chapel's assistant was out the door before he could be troubled with any further questions.

Matthew took his leisure finishing the food. at length he drank the last of the wine followed by a glass of water and then stood up. He had brought his silver watch, in the pocket opposite where his key currently resided, and checking it he saw the hour hand neared four o'clock. Chapel's hospitality was excellent, but it was time to explore this velvet cage.

He returned the watch to his pocket and went out into the corridor, where he followed the Persian runner back to the staircase. The house was quiet; if there were other servants about, they were discreet to the point of invisibility. He walked downstairs, making no effort at stealthy treading, for after all he was an invited guest. Then he went back along the tapestry-adorned corridor, past other rooms and alcoves, and going through an archway he found himself presented with the dining-room Evans had mentioned. He stopped and took stock of the place.

To call this a dining-room was like calling City Hall a meeting house. a long table suited for a dozen guests stood at the room's center, its stocky legs carved in the shapes of fish. Six elaborate brass candelabras taller than Matthew were placed at intervals around the room, ready to throw light from ten wicks apiece. The plank-and-peg floor was the color of honey and indicated a healthy history, though it appeared many of the bootmarks had been eased by judicious sanding. a large fireplace of red and gray bricks, in keeping with the external construction of the house, held logs behind a brass firescreen. above the table, a simple oval-ring chandelier held eight more candles. When this room was fully lit up, Matthew mused, tinted glasses would be required.

But what both interested him most and caused not a little twinge of concern was the room's display of weaponry. above the fireplace and on either side of it were gleaming swords, displayed business-tip northward and fixed in place in fan-shaped arrangements under small crested shields. There were six swords in each display. Eighteen swords, and not all of them rapiers. a few of them had darkened blades and looked as if they'd tasted blood.

This was not a room in which to linger, he decided. ahead of him, at the far end of the chamber, was a closed door off to the left and a set of glass-paned doors between wine-red drapes. He crossed past the fireplace and the swords, which seemed to hiss at him as he went by. The double doors were unlocked, and he stepped out into the warm sunlight onto a brick terrace that had a wrought-iron railing and a set of steps leading down to a garden path.

Just below the terrace was a small pond where goldfish swam amid waterplants. a turtle eased off a rock and vanished into the murk. Matthew followed the path deeper into the garden, walking between all manner of flowers and shrubs, through the cool of the shadows of trees and then into sunlight again. Birds chirped and called from all sides. an occasional bench was positioned to welcome the wanderer, but Matthew was not inclined to do any more sitting after that jolting coach ride.

Soon, by following one path that intersected with another, he came to a hedge wall. He walked along it a distance and discovered an iron gate about six feet high, topped with spear-points. Beyond the gate the path continued through an untamed thicket. a chain and padlock told him he was not going out this particular way. Further on he found a second gate in the hedge wall, also similarly locked. He paused and rubbed his chin. Evidently his explorations were meant to be contained, and this realization struck him like a glove smack across the face. after all, it was not only Mr. Chapel who enjoyed a challenge.

Matthew continued walking, mindful that he was now definitely seeking a way out. after a few further paces, his attention was caught by the glimpse of a red cardinal in the lower branches of a nearby tree. He saw the cardinal take flight, perhaps alarmed by his approach, and as it soared up into the sunlight Matthew took a moment to admire its grace and color.

Suddenly something darted in like a blur and hit the cardinal in midair. There was a sound of impact, like a fist on flesh. Red feathers whirled down.

The cardinal was gone.

Matthew caught sight of a large brown-and-white bird speeding away with a crimson mass clutched up underneath it. It sailed off to the right and was lost from view beyond the higher trees.

Some kind of hunting bird, he'd realized. Most likely one of the favorite predators of the medieval monarchs, a falcon or a hawk.

The speed of that flight and the quickness of the kill was stunning. The intrusion of violent death-even the demise of a cardinal-on this sunny afternoon, in this hedge-walled garden with locked gates, gave him a crawl of unease deep in his belly. He hoped it wasn't an omen of his night to come with Simon Chapel. He thought it wise to turn around and go back to the house, which seemed to loom over him like a threat, but what was it Mrs. Herrald had said about going forwardi In any case, he wanted out of the garden and he didn't intend to let a lock or two stop him.

When he found the third padlocked gate, he decided he was climbing it. He looked around and saw a bench under a nearby tree. Dragging it to the gate, he stood up on it and set about trying to clamber over and avoid the spear-points, which were distressingly sharp. Careful, careful! he thought as a point snagged his breeches at the crotch. One slip and a fall on this thing and he'd be known henceforth as Mattina. But then he had pulled himself over and landed on the ground in not too untidy a splay. Before him the path went through vines and thicket. He dared not glance back at the house, because he didn't care to see Evans or some other person watching him from a balcony. He set off along the path.

There was nothing to see but woods on both sides. The path curved to the right. Matthew didn't know what he was expecting, but he had to be going somewhere Chapel didn't want him going. He'd been walking for two or three minutes when he heard the distinct crack of a musket shot, somewhere off to the right and farther distant, but the noise was enough to make him stand stock-still until he could make his lungs pull in air again. He went on, more cautiously now, watching the underbrush for any sign of a human predator.

The path emerged from the woods. Before him was a dirt road, and on the other side more forest. Matthew noted mounds of horse manure steaming in the sun. The coach team had gone this way, probably heading to the stable. He reasoned that if he went left along the road it would lead him to the vineyard and the buildings there. He knelt down, pondering if he should risk his luck anymore. after all, what was he thinking to findi

an answer, he thought, and he stood up.

He had taken two paces toward the road when a hard voice said, "I think you'd best stand where you are."

Matthew froze. a few yards to the left and across the road, a man stood at the edge of the woods. He was dressed in dark brown breeches and boots, a gray shirt and a brown leather waistcoat, and he wore a wide-brimmed leather hat. He was shouldering a musket. at his side, gripped in his left hand, was a hunter's pole from which dangled four dead hares.

"Out a distance from the house, aren't youi" the man asked. and then he added, as an afterthought with a sneer in it: "Sir."

"I was just walking," Matthew answered. The hunter's face was shadowed by the wide brim, but there was something familiar about it. The deep-sunken eyes. The voice, too...familiar...unsettling.

"Just walking could get you shot. What if I'd put a hole through youi"

Matthew stepped toward the man, who stood his ground. The musket came off the shoulder and even though its death-snout pointed away, Matthew stopped.

"Do I know youi" Matthew asked, sure that he did. From somewhere...

"Get back to the house. Go on. That way." The chin jerked to Matthew's right.

Matthew had no desire to argue with a gun. He said, "Very well, I'll go." He felt a stirring of anger and from it he said sarcastically, "Thank you for your hospitality." Then he turned and began walking in the direction of the house, wishing to get as much distance from a musket ball as quickly as possible.

"My pleasure," the hunter replied, with equal disdain.

and then Matthew knew him.

He had heard that same phrase, just before his face was thrust down into the pile of horse figs on Sloat Lane. He turned around. The man had not moved. Matthew said coldly, "Which one are youi Bromfield or Carveri"

"Siri"

"What's your namei So I might compliment Mr. Chapel for his choice in servants."

"My name," said the hunter with perhaps the slash of a dangerous smile in the hatbrim's shadow, "is trouble. Do you want somei" Now the musket's stock came to rest against the man's knee and the barrel drifted a few inches toward Matthew before it was checked.

Bromfield or Carver, one or the other. ausley's stomperboys. On loan to him that night from Simon Chapel to do a roughneck's worki Matthew and the man stared at each other, neither one willing to yield. But Matthew realized it was a fool who taunted a musket, and he didn't wish to be someone's tragic accident. He gave a mock bow, turned around again, and began walking away. The small of his back tensed, as if the muscles there expected a hammerblow.

"Corbett!" the hunter called. "My compliments to Mr. Chapel for his choice in guests! Make sure you wash your face before dinner!"

Matthew kept going. Well, at least the bastard had been drawn out enough to make that last comment, which secured the fact. Before the road curved, Matthew glanced back and saw that his rude acquaintance had disappeared. He had no doubt the man was not far away, though. Watching him. as perhaps other eyes were, as well.

He looked forward to dinner. One could fence without using a sword, and he expected this night would see a match that would make even Hudson Greathouse quake.

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