Part Three: The Message Chapter Thirty-Nine


Under a leaden sky, Matthew stood on the deck of the packet boat Mercury and watched the town built on the hope of brotherly love slide out of the gray mist.

It was Tuesday morning, nearing seven o'clock. He was one of eight passengers, and had enjoyed a decent communal supper with his fellow travelers and the captain and then a good night's sleep in a hammock that swayed with the boat. He was dressed as a proper gentleman for today's excursion, wearing his dark blue suit with the silver-buttoned waistcoat and a new dark blue tricorn bought an hour before the Mercury had sailed on Monday morning. a white-and-blue-striped cravat tucked into the collar of his clean white shirt added a dash of professional flair. at his side he held a brown canvas valise with a leather shoulder strap, courtesy of Marmaduke Grigsby. He no longer resembled a clerk, but perhaps a young lawyer with places to go and people to see. The better to get into Icabod Primm's office, since he had no appointment.

The Mercury was sailing slowly but surely along the green Delaware River. ahead on the port side, forest and pastures had given way to first a scattering of wooden houses, and now brick buildings were coming into view. Boatyards and piers emerged, with men already at work transferring cargo to and from other vessels. Ropes lay in thick coils; barrels, crates, sacks, and hogshead casks were stacked awaiting destinations. The smell of the river was thick and swampy, yet it was apparent the river gave Philadelphia life and certainly profits. Matthew saw larger ships "mud-docked" in the shallows, where they were undergoing refitting, having their hulls scraped of barnacles and the like. Scaffoldings had been built alongside the ships and men with mallets and other tools were clambering around like so many ants, each focused on one small part of a larger picture.

He noted especially the labor that was going on regarding a few older ships. Their nameplates were in the process of being chiseled off. Queen anne must be given due respect, if one wished to make a living on the sea, and there were always officials standing ready with pad and pencil to mark down the offenders. Therefore any ship's name with the word King in it was being retitled to honor the Queen. a whole row of ancient mariners sat keel-deep in the mud, awaiting the mallet and a more politically suitable christening.

Matthew watched the work intently as the Mercury continued on, and then his mind turned toward the news that Marmaduke had been bursting to relate on Sunday night when the two weary travelers had returned from Westerwicke.

"an amazing moment," Grigsby had said. "When Reverend Wade stood at the pulpit and announced that he was torn between his church family and the family he and his departed wife had created. He said he'd wrestled with this decision, and I have to say at one point he was quiet so long I thought he was still trying to decide it. But then he said his allegiance had to be to the memory of his wife, and what she would want him to do. He said he would accept the consequences. Then he told the story. His eldest daughter, Grace, is ill near to death. and do you know where she's lyingi"

"Tell us," Matthew had urged, as he'd spooned sugar into his cup of hot tea.

"at Polly Blossom's house! Can you fathom iti" The white eyebrows had jumped and capered. "The reverend announced to one and all that Grace was-how did he put it, exactlyi-a child of the streets who had found her way home. He stood up there, looked everyone in the eyes, and said he'd been to that house to see his daughter and he was planning on going again until she passed away. Not only that, but he was going to pray over her in the cemetery and bury her in a plot he'd chosen. Well, you can be sure some of those elders flared up, and it was a near riot."

"I don't doubt it," Matthew had said.

"Constance was sitting right there in front, with that young man of hers. You know, the fellow with one ear."

"I know."

"I suppose they already knew the story, because they didn't react, but the rest of the church was in one hell of an uproar. a few of the elders were shouting about blasphemy, others turned around and walked out, and you should have seen some of the Golden Hillers sticking their noses up in the air. It would have been comical," Grigsby had said, and then more gravely, "if it hadn't been so tragic. I fear that's the last of William Wade in this town."

"Maybe not," Matthew had ventured. "He obviously has a strong character and he's meant a lot to the growth of Trinity. If enough church members come to his defense-which they ought to do, and which I intend to do-he might yet weather the storm."

Grigsby had looked at him askance. "Why is it," he'd said, "that I have the distinct impression you're not surprised by this newsi"

"Surprised by the fact that the reverend is first and foremost a human beingi Surprised by the fact that every human being, reverend or ribald, can be undone by capricious circumstancesi Or should I be surprised by the fact that a man who teaches love and forgiveness can love and forgivei Tell me, Marmy, exactly what it is I should be surprised at."

The printmaster had shrugged his misproportioned shoulders and retreated, but not without a potful of muttering, a grotesque grimace or two, and the faintest echo of a bass Chinese gong.

Watching the town glide nearer, Matthew thought he should be kinder to Grigsby but he was still rankling at this marriage business, just as Berry rankled at it. Two people should not be potted together like plants and expected to entwine their roots. No, it should be a slow process of excitement and discovery. Then let whatever was to happen run its course. Still, he should be kinder to Grigsby just for the sheer effort the printmaster had put into making the dairyhouse a home. a nice writing desk, a decent bed, a set of bookshelves that hopefully would not remain barren too much longer, and even a rug to cover the dirt floor. Of course the new and very secure lock on the door. He did wish for a view, though. But all in all, it was his own miniature mansion and the rent could not be better, either.

"Mr. Corbetti"

Matthew turned around and there stood the portly and white-bearded Mr. Haverstraw and his equally portly but fortunately nonbearded wife, Jeanine. He had learned last night that the Haverstraws, who were natives of New Jersey and owned a flour mill near Stony Point, were on their way for a few days' visit with their eldest son and his family. Haverstraw, a regular visitor to Philadelphia, had been helpful in suggesting places where Matthew might find lodging for a night.

"Very pleasant to spend time with you, sir," said Haverstraw, offering a calloused workman's hand to shake. "I hope your business is successful. a legal matter, did you sayi"

"Yes sir, it is a matter of the law."

"Well, then, good fortune to you. Do remember the Squire's Inn on Chestnut Street. The beef there is excellent. also the Blue anchor serves a fine supper, if you prefer fish. and Mrs. Fontaine's boarding house is not so richly appointed as the Market Street Lodge, but if you're like me you'll appreciate the shillings saved."

"Thank you, sir."

The lady Haverstraw gave her husband a quick prod in the belly with her elbow, which Matthew pretended not to notice. "Oh, yes!" Haverstraw said, a bit of color blooming in his cheeks. "I meant to ask you. are you a married mani"

"No, sir."

"ah. Well, then. any...um...ladyfriend of notei"

Matthew knew where this was heading. The lovely daughter of a friend's friend who had just turned sixteen and was interested in matrimony and seven children if the right young man presented himself. Matthew smiled and said, "at the moment, I am perfectly free and intend to remain so."

Some of the shine went out of the lady's eyes. Haverstraw nodded. "If you're ever up our way, come say hello." Then when his wife turned away, he gave Matthew a quick thumbs-up.

The Mercury's lines were thrown and secured and along with the other passengers Matthew walked across the gangway onto the wharf planks. He saw that a fiddler was playing for coins in a tin cup and farther on two little girls were dancing for money as their presumed mother and father beat out a rhythm on drums. The same as in New York, so as in Philly.

Matthew set out for the intersection of Walnut and Fourth streets, which was where Haverstraw had said he might find Mrs. Fontaine's house. The river's mist yet shrouded the entire picture, but before him the town was not unlike New York, being houses and shops of red brick and gray stone, churches with wooden steeples, pedestrians going about their business, and wagons trundling on their routes. a nice touch was that trees had been planted regularly along the sidewalks. He quickly realized also that the streets were laid out quite differently here than in New York. It seemed to be an orderly grid pattern, as opposed to New York's often chaotic arrangement.

He discovered within another block, however, that there was a downside to this otherwise pleasing pattern. Out of the mist a haywagon with two horses went flying past him at a speed that would have taken him under the hooves if he'd not been paying attention, and he drew himself back up to the curb thankful for no broken bones. The grid meant long, flat, and unobstructed streets, and woe to pedestrians for Matthew noted that the drivers of some vehicles took advantage of that fact to let their horses run.

Having secured a room at Mrs. Fontaine's, shaved, and then eaten a light breakfast, Matthew headed back at midmorning with his valise toward Market Street in search of Icabod Primm's office. The sun was beginning to shine through the murk. Thanks to the help of a tailor on the corner of Market and Fourth, it was no difficult matter to find the building, which was just a block to the east and near the very beautiful and elm-shaded Christ Church.

I. Primm, attorney-at-Law, read a brass plate on the front gate. Matthew ascended six stone steps to the slab of a door, opened it, and faced a young clerk at a reception desk. The place was as quiet and serious as a crypt, the walls the color of dark tea. The clerk waited until Matthew had closed the door behind him and approached the desk.

"May I help you, siri"

"Yes. I'd like to see Mr. Primm, please."

The young man's eyes behind his spectacles were two bits of uncaring coal and were certainly not impressed by either Matthew's suit or new hat. "and this is concerning...i"

"I just need to see him for a few minutes."

"Well," said the clerk, and folded his thin hands together. Matthew knew the signs when a person who had no power suddenly got a gift of it. "Mr. Primm has a very busy schedule, sir. In fact, he's with a client now and I doubt he'll be free within the hour. Let me see." He opened a ledger book and made a show of tapping his finger down a list of appointments. "No, no...unfortunately, no. Mr. Primm will not have time to see any new clients today." He looked up and gave a cheerless smile. "Might you come back tomorrow afternoon, sayi"

"I'm afraid I'm taking the packet boat back to New York tomorrow morning."

"Oh, New York, is iti I thought something about you seemed different."

"Be that as it may," Matthew said, keeping his voice pleasant, "I would appreciate five minutes with Mr. Primm. Today. Would that be impossiblei"

"Yes sir, I'm afraid it is. Impossible." The clerk picked up his quill and started to pretend to do whatever it was he'd been pretending to do when Matthew had opened the door.

Matthew had hoped it would not come to this, but here it was. and so quickly, too. He opened the valise, took out a rolled sheet of paper, and put it on the desk in front of the clerk's face. "If you value your position," he said calmly, "you'll take that to Mr. Primm. I'll wait."

The young man unrolled the paper and looked at the drawing there. In an eyeblink Matthew knew the clerk had no inkling who the woman was. "This has some meaning, I assumei"

"You may. assume," Matthew answered, with a little more grit in his voice. He decided to approach this irritating roadblock as Hudson Greathouse might. "Now get your 'assume' up out of your chair and take that drawing to Mr. Primm. I don't care who he's with, and he won't care either in about two minutes." For effect, he produced his silver watch and snapped it open.

It was either the tone or the watch, for the clerk took Berry's drawing and was off like a rabbit up a set of stairs behind him and to the left.

Matthew waited, and wound his watch while he was at it. One minute later, there came the sound of a door opening and closing and boots on the risers. a voice boomed along the stairway: "I should say I couldn't sit there like a muffin and let that man strike me, could Ii and right in broad daylight at my favorite tavern! I ought to challenge the old fart to a duel, is what I should do, and to blazes with the courts!"

"I'm sure that would not be the best course of action, admiral," came the clerk's voice, now more nettled than powerful. He appeared guiding a man of about seventy wearing a huge cockaded bicorn and dressed in some kind of military uniform with a row of medals pinned to his chest. The old man's right eye was blackened.

"Mr. Primm promised me an hour! Either I'm more senseless than I thought or my hour has shrunken into ten minutes!" the affronted admiral protested as he was escorted to the door.

"Yes sir. But I'm sure Mr. Primm has the situation under control and, besides, as Mr. Primm says, your time and money are best spent more wisely than sitting in his office talking about a minor scuffle."

"a minor scufflei That old seabeast strikes me, near blinds my eye, and it's called a minor scufflei See here, I have a reputation to uphold!"

"Of course, sir, and Mr. Primm has your reputation foremost in his mind." The clerk opened the door for the crusty old man's exit and said quickly and rather acidly to Matthew, "Go up."

Matthew picked up his valise, climbed the stairs, and at the top faced another door. He started to knock but decided it was a waste of time. He was expected. He took a fast deep breath for courage, gripped the doorhandle, and turned it.

The man beyond the door, sitting at a central desk before a wide multi-paned window that overlooked the river, did not lift his head nor otherwise acknowledge the visitor. Before him, spread out on a dark green blotter, was the likeness of the Queen of Bedlam. The office was either a tribute to the triumph of order or, as Berry might have said, a monument to a tight-ass. In fact, two of those dreaded gray-fleshed portraits of constipated noble-men hung upon the walls. There were shelves of dozens of thick leatherbound books that looked as if they'd been recently waxed. Three granite busts of unknown but obviously revered gentlemen stood on pedestals along the right-hand wall, their faces turned toward the door as if measuring the value of whoever crossed that august threshold. On the floor was a dun-colored carpet and in the silvery light that spilled through the window not one mote of dust dared float. a spare and uncomfortable-looking chair had been positioned in front of the desk. Standing in the corner just behind Mr. Primm, and casting a shadow across his desk, was a granite life-sized statue of the blindfolded goddess Justitia, holding a sword in one hand and balancing scales in the other. It was fitting for this mausoleum, Matthew thought, for the man at the desk might also be mistaken for a statue.

Primm wore a black suit with thin gray pinstripes and a white shirt buttoned to the throat. a black ribbon-tie was wound around the collar and tied with a small ugly knot that looked like a strangler's joy. atop Primm's high forehead sat a white wig of tight curls, which went very well with the white powder that adorned his gaunt and solemn face. Matthew thought Primm had the longest nose and smallest mouth of any man he'd ever seen; it was not so much a nose as a boulevard, and not so much a mouth as a trinket.

Therefore Matthew was not surprised when Primm spoke in a high-pitched, hushed voice that did not seem to require his mouth, for the tiny compressed lips barely moved.

"I will give you five minutes."

"Thank you. I regret to have interrupted the admiral's complaint."

"an honorary title. We humor him."

"ah," Matthew said, and waited for an invitation to sit that was clearly not going to be offered.

Still Primm had not lifted his gaze from the paper. Long thin fingers touched the surface, meandering over the charcoaled features.

"I'd like to know who she is," Matthew said.

"and who are youi"

"My name is Matthew Corbett. I've come from New York."

"In what capacityi"

"I'm an associate with the Herrald agency."

Primm's fingers stopped moving. "Their nearest office is in London."

"No sir, that's incorrect. Our new office is Number Seven Stone Street, New York."

"You have a cardi"

Matthew felt a little twinge in the stomach. a card! Why hadn't Mrs. Herrald given him an official card before she'd lefti Maybe it was up to Greathouse to have them printed. "The cards have been delayed," he countered.

Now Primm did tear his attention away from the portrait, and his pallid face with small marbles of piercing black deepset within it lifted to look at Matthew as one would consider the vilest dockside roach. "No cardi Therefore no proof of identityi" He spoke that last word as if he were biting his teeth against a bone.

Getting me off-balance, Matthew thought. attacking, when he should be defending. "No card," Matthew answered flatly. "as far as identity, I'm sure the doctors Ramsendell and Hulzen might vouch for me."

"They are not present."

"Present or not, they've hired the agency-and me-to find out who their patient is. They believe they can help her, if they know-"

"How dare you come here," Primm interrupted, and though there was coiled anger in his voice his face was devoid of emotion. "are you a lunatic who has escaped the asylumi are those so-called doctors deserving of a cell in their own Bedlami Their instructions were concise and complete."

"I'm telling you, the doctors feel they can help this lady if they-"

"Get out of this office," hissed Primm. "Get out and be sure their careers will be wrecked, the lady in question moved within the week, and your own cardless and witless career dashed on the rocks of contract law."

Matthew didn't know what to say. He felt heat rising in his face, but then he realized Primm wanted him to lose control. Indeed, Primm was banking on it. Matthew swallowed his anger, waited a few seconds, and then said, "That's a load, sir. You're not going to move the lady. She's in the best possible place. Your client wouldn't want her moved, would hei"

Primm gave no response. He had again become a statue, in emulation of Lady Justice.

"If I have three remaining minutes," Matthew went on, "allow me to use them constructively. Please look at this." He reached down into his valise and brought out the most recent issue of the Earwig, with its article about the death of Pennford Deverick. This he placed atop the Queen's portrait on Primm's desk. "Your client, for all his good works concerning the lady, may be involved in this murder."

"The Maskeri" Primm's mouth squeezed in disgust and almost disappeared up his nostrils. "What nonsense is thisi"

"No nonsense. In fact, your client may well be the Masker. Wanted now for three murders, by the way. Is your client named andrew Kipperingi"

"Whoi"

"Yes, I've used that trick, too. To stall while you think. If Mr. Kippering is your client, sir, he may have murdered three people. I'd like to know why, and I think finding out who this mystery patient at the Westerwicke asylum is could go a long way in providing a motive. Do you agree with thati"

"I agree," said the lawyer, "that you need a rest in Westerwicke yourself."

"I'm informing you that your client may be a murderer. Doesn't that mean anything to youi"

"The only thing that has any meaning for me, sir, is proof." Primm's jaw thrust forward. "Do you know what proof isi It's not conjecture, nor is it fantasy. as long as I serve the law and this embodiment of justice you see standing behind me, I consider proof to be the alpha and omega of my profession. and proof you do not have, sir, so I will tell you to go back to New York, leave the lady in question alone, and I shall deal very promptly with perhaps the good-intentioned but legally uneducated doctors."

When Matthew was sure Primm's tirade was done, he said quietly, "She can be helped. It's wrong for her to sit there locked up in herself, day after day."

"are you a doctor now, as welli"

"I just want to know her name and her story."

"ask for the moon to come down and play the fiddle while you're at it."

"I really hoped you'd help me," Matthew said. "But if you refuse, I intend to take that portrait to every tavern in Philadelphia until I find one person who recognizes her. Or to every boarding house. Or to every church. I intend to find out her name and her story before I leave here in the morning, if I have to walk the streets all night."

"ah, then. I suppose I really should help you, since you wish it so ardently." With a smile that looked like a razor cut, Primm picked up the paper, ripped it in half, and then rapidly began to tear the halves to pieces. Matthew almost lunged forward to save what he could, but he realized it was too late. The fragments of a face fell from Primm's hands. "There! Now you can get to bed early!"

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