Part Three: The Message Chapter Thirty-One


The black freedman Micah Reynaud, who had a chest like an ale barrel and hair the color of smoke, was quick yet painstaking with his razor. Matthew also found him an excellent conversationalist, as Reynaud owned a brass telescope and studied the heavens as well as being an inventor of note. In one corner of the barbershop was a cage in which a squirrel was afforded a treadmill, which was attached to pulleys and gears that turned a wooden spindle connected by another set of pulleys and gears to a second wooden spindle held in a tin sleeve at the ceiling. This second rod, when revolving, also caused the parchment blades of a ceiling fan to rotate, providing a breeze beneath which a customer might wish for the ebony barber to be less quick in his duties. The squirrel was named Sassafras and loved boiled peanuts.

after Matthew got a hair-trim, it was off to the bath room where Reynaud's wife, Larissa, poured hot water into one of the three wooden tubs and left a gentleman to soak and ruminate. Matthew stayed there until he wrinkled. When he left Reynaud's he was shaved, clean, and as bright as a new duit, but there was still the matter of his dirty clothes.

a stop at the widow Sherwyn's relieved him of that particular problem, and he was about to leave when the widow asked, "am I to take it that due to the disaster the rest of your clothes are now beggars' ragsi"

"Yes, madam. I might find some more in the debris, but right now I am clothing-impoverished."

She nodded. "Mayhaps I can help you, then. Would you be skittish about wearing a dead man's suitsi"

"Pardoni"

"Julius Godwin was my customer," she explained. "He left six shirts, four pair of breeches, and two suits with me a few days before he was murdered. They're clean and ready to be taken. I was about to donate them to the orphanage, and then ausley bit it." She eyed him from shoesole to collar. "Godwin wasn't so tall as you, but he was slender. Do you want to try the clothesi The suits are right high quality."

So it transpired that Matthew found himself in the widow's back room appreciating the deceased's taste in clothing. One suit was dark blue, with a silver-buttoned dark blue waistcoat; the other was light gray with black pinstripes and a black waistcoat. He noted frayed cuffs on the shirts, which might speak to the state of mind Mrs. Deverick had mentioned. Shirts and suit coats were a bit tight across the shoulders, but they would do. The breeches likewise fit him imperfectly, but not enough to be discarded. He decided the old adage of beggars not being choosers was highly appropriate; he thanked the laundress and asked her if she might keep his new wardrobe until after lunch.

"Won't walk off and leave," she said, as another customer entered the shop. "Say hello to the Duke for me, won't youi"

at twelve-thirty Matthew was sitting at a table in the Trot with a bowl of barley soup before him and a mug of cider at hand. Several regulars came up to commiserate his circumstances with him, but he was past the tragedy and just smiled and nodded at their well-wishes. He was fixed on the immediate problem of the Queen's identity, and how he was going to find out anything more about her in Philadelphia. The first task was to get to Philadelphia, and then to visit Icabod Primm. He thought the lawyer might rage and posture over removing the lady from the Westerwicke asylum, but he didn't think any action would be taken in that regard. He doubted a better or more humane place could be found. It was a risk, of course, and counter to what the clients expected, but if it was results they-and himself as well-wanted, then Primm's office had to be the first stop.

"Matthewi"

Yet what would happen if Primm denied all knowledge of the lady, as was likelyi Philadelphia was a big town. How was one to discover the identity of a single person, amidst all that populacei He needed something more than a verbal description of the Queen, or as Greathouse had said he'd be walking the streets of Brotherly Love until he had a beard down to his-

"Matthewi"

He blinked, retreated from his thoughts, and looked up at who'd addressed him.

"I hoped I'd find you here," said John Five. "Can I siti"

"Oh. Yes. Go ahead."

John took the chair across from him. His face was ruddy and the sweat of labor still sparkled at his hairline. "I only have a few minutes. Got to get back to work."

"How are youi Would you like somethingi" Matthew lifted his hand to signal Sudbury. "a glass of winei"

"No, nothin'." John glanced back at the tavernkeeper and shook his head, and then he regarded Matthew with a gaze that could only be described as dour.

"What is iti" Matthew asked, sensing trouble.

"Constance," John said. "She followed the reverend last night."

"She...followed himi" Matthew didn't want to ask to where. "Tell me."

"It was long after the clearin' of streets. Ten o'clock or so, she said. He left the house, tryin' to be quiet about it. Constance said she heard the board creak near the door, and she knew. after what happened...you know...at the church, she's been torn up over him. I swear, Matthew, she's goin' to pieces just like he is."

"all right, calm yourself. So Constance went out after himi"

"She did. Twice she saw her father dodge a constable, and once she herself almost walked into a lantern. But she went on after him, God bless her heart, and...I just wanted to know, Matthew. Where did he go the night you followed himi"

Matthew shifted uneasily in his chair. He picked up his cider and set it down again.

John Five leaned closer and said in a whisper, "Constance said her father went to Petticoat Lane. I can hardly believe it but I know she's tellin' me the truth. She said he stood across the street from Polly Blossom's house. Didn't go in, thank Christ, but just stood there. Then, after maybe five or six minutes, a man came out and spoke to him."

"a man came outi Whoi"

"She couldn't tell. He spoke to Reverend Wade for a minute or so, touched his shoulder, and then went back into the house. She said she could see lights inside, and while she was watchin' two other gents went in and the reverend stepped back out of sight. So the place was still doin' business, even after the decree."

"Bribes have a way of making constables blind, I'm sure," Matthew said. He had no doubt Polly Blossom was making payments even to Bynes and Lillehorne. also, with the Masker making no further bloodlettings, the power of the decree was weakening no matter what Cornbury wished. "all right. Did the reverend go anywhere elsei"

"No. Constance said she followed him back in the direction of home and had to run a different route to get ahead of him. She barely got back before he came into the house."

"and what happened theni"

"She got into bed. He cracked the door open to look in on her and she pretended to be asleep, but I can tell you that she slept no more last night. She was at the smith's shop when I got there at dawn."

"Has she mentioned any of this to the reverendi"

"She said she almost told it all, but he looked so wretched at breakfast she couldn't bear to. I said to keep silent, 'til after I'd talked to you."

Matthew reached for his cider and took a long drink.

"What does it mean, Matthewi" John's tone was almost pleading. "I'm tellin' you, Constance is a wreck over this, and I'm thinkin' that Reverend Wade is involved in some dark business that sooner or later has to come to light. and what'll happen to him theni" He closed his eyes and pressed a hand against his forehead. "What'll happen to Constance theni"

Matthew continued eating his soup where he'd left off, his gaze vacant. He had made up his mind what needed to be done as soon as John had mentioned the second man.

"You're takin' this calm, I see. Good for you, but it's a tragedy for Constance. and for the reverend. What's he gotten himself intoi"

Matthew took one more taste and put down his spoon. "I'll take care of the situation from here."

"Take care of iti Howi"

"Just go back to work. When you see Constance, tell her there's to be no mention of this to her father. Not yet. Do you understandi"

"No."

"Listen to me," Matthew said with enough force in his voice to crush all resistance. "It's vital that Reverend Wade does not know Constance followed him. There's no use in pushing this in his face before..." He trailed off.

"Before what, Matthewi"

"Before I have all the pieces. But I intend to get them, you can be sure of that. Now promise me there'll be no word to the reverend. I mean it."

John hesitated, his expression tormented, but then he lowered his eyes and grasped the table's edge as if fearing to be flung off the world. "I trust you," he said quietly. "Thought you were crazed in the head many a time, but I do trust you. all right. No word to the reverend."

"Go back to work. One more thing: tell Constance to stay at home tonight, no matter if he leaves again or not."

John Five nodded. He stood up, and Matthew could see how much his friend loved Constance Wade in the abject pain of his eyes and the slump of his broad shoulders. John wished to do something-anything-to help his love, but in this case the strength that drove a hammer was meaningless. "Thank you," he said, and he left the Trot at a stumble.

Matthew watched him go and then finished his soup. He called for another mug of cider and drank that down. Two of the regulars were playing a game of chess over in the far corner. He decided to watch them, and if needed to give pointers to either party.

It was time, he thought, to meet the mysterious Grace Hester.

When he returned to Grigsby's house with his bundle of dead man's clothes, he learned from Marmaduke that the locksmith could not do the job until the next morning, but he was content to wait another day. Grigsby commented on how good he looked with a fresh shave and haircut, which he took as an invitation to come in and speak to Berry, but he simply informed the old fox that the arrangement of which they'd spoken was-after much deliberation-suitable to him for the time being.

"Glad to hear so, my boy!" Grigsby said, with a face-splitting grin. "You won't regret it!"

"I don't plan on regretting it. Now do you think I might be able to get a real bed in therei Something small, of course, but more comfortable than deerskin. I'd also like a mirror and a chair. a lapdesk, if there's not enough room for a larger one. also a shaving stand. and do you think I might get a rug for the floor, just to keep the dirt settledi"

"all those can be arranged. I'll make a mansion out of it for you."

"I also have some...uh...new clothes. anything that would help me in keeping them stored would be appreciated."

"I believe I can put up some pegs for you. What elsei"

"I'd like to have that junk cleared out," Matthew said. "May I ask why there's an archery target and rapier among the current furnishingsi"

"Oh, all that stuff. You'd be amazed what people barter with to settle their debts. The sword belonged to a militia officer who wanted a book of poems printed for his lady. Married her and they moved to Huntington, as I recall. The target is more recent. It was payment from the Green arrows archery club for an announcement in the first Earwig. When it was the Bedbug, I mean."

"You might want to insist on coin of the realm for your labor," Matthew advised. "In any case, if all those buckets and boxes were out I'd have more room in my mansion."

With that list of demands delivered, Matthew returned to the dairyhouse, lit his lantern, and retrieved ausley's notebook from the straw inside the archery target. He sat on the cot and began to go over the notations page-by-page in the steady yellow light.

It didn't take him long to realize this particular notebook had been started near the first of May, according to jottings on the weather and the date of a particularly large loss of two crowns, four shillings at the Old admiral on May fifth. ausley won three shillings on the seventh of May, then lost another crown on the eighth. So much for his breaking even at the tables. In fact, judging by the angry scrawls and wine-spottings throughout the portion of the notebook that dealt with ausley's gambling habits, the man was in continual dire straits. Yet where was his money coming fromi Surely he didn't draw enough from the town to afford such losses.

Matthew saw that ausley kept the items in his notebook separate from each other. That is, scribblings on his gambling woes were in one section, health woes in another, meals and regurgitations in yet another, and so on. and then there was the cryptic list of names and numbers, which was on a page following the section that concerned amounts due from the various charities and churches. Some of the social clubs, such as the New Yorkers and the Cavaliers, also were jotted down as being sources of charitable funds.

Was ausley pocketing some of that moneyi Matthew wondered. and that's how he was paying his debtsi For the gambling debt section clearly showed payments to several brothers of the bones in amounts that dwarfed the charities. If anything, it appeared from the notebook that ausley was quick to erase his losses, as he wouldn't have been allowed back at the tables otherwise.

But the list of names and numbers. What to make of themi

The names of orphans, yes. Matthew accepted that much. What did the dates meani The notation Rejct and the word Chapeli He studied the numbers, trying to find a pattern or some sense of them. a code of some kindi Or a form of shorthandi Whatever they were, their meaning had died within ausley's brain.

He returned the notebook to its sanctuary within the archery target, covered the target over with canvas, and at six o'clock attended supper at Grigsby's house, where he ate chicken and rice with the printmaster and Berry. afterward he played Grigsby a few games of checkers while Berry worked on applying outlandish colors to one of her landscapes, and as the hour grew later Matthew excused himself and retired to his humble abode.

There he kept track of the time and wondered what a gentleman wore to a whorehouse, as he himself had never crossed such a threshold. at nine o'clock he dressed in a white shirt and cravat, the dark blue suit and waistcoat with silver buttons, and put a few shillings in his pocket though again he had no idea what the going rate was. He debated carrying a lantern or not and decided against it. Then, as ready as he thought he'd ever be, he left the dairyhouse, locked the door behind him, and started off toward Petticoat Lane with an eye peeled for a constable's lamp.

Tonight he was the skulker, for he moved furtively along the streets. He didn't fail to think that the Masker might be coming up behind him at any moment, but he doubted the Masker would harm him. The notebook had been given to him for the purpose of deduction; the Masker wanted him to see that mysterious page and figure out what it meant, thus there was no point in murder. He realized that in some strange way he was now working at the Masker's behest.

Matthew heard loud and drunken singing and put his head down as three sots staggered along Wall Street, passing without seeing him. He saw the glimmer of a moving lantern at the end of the block and turned left onto Smith Street to avoid the approaching constable. There he kept his wits about him and froze in a doorway as another constable-this one carrying a hatchet to go along with his lamp-strode past on his way to apprehend the melodic trio. Matthew kept going, turning right onto Princes Street and then crossing the Broad Way. at the corner of Petticoat Lane he almost collided with another man who was walking north at a fast clip, but the incident was over and his fellow decree-breaker moving away so rapidly that Matthew's heart barely had time to jump.

a few more paces and Matthew stood before the two-story pink brick house. Candles shone through the gauzy curtains. as he watched he could see figures moving past the windows. The pink-painted iron gate between the hedges barred his way, but it was simply a matter of a firm push to pass through. He eased the gate shut at his back, took a deep breath and straightened his cravat, and then he walked purposefully up the steps. He had a moment's confusion of whether to knock at the door or enter without invitation. He chose the first option and waited as someone approached on the floorboards within.

The door opened, an aroma of Babylonian gardens wafted out, and standing before him was a huge black woman in a strawberry-red gown with pink and purple ribbons adorning the straining bodice. She wore a pink wig piled high and a pink eyepatch covering her left eye; on the eyepatch had been sewn a red heart pierced by Cupid's arrow.

Her protuberant right eye inspected him up and down. In a West Indies accent and a voice like thunder over the Caribbean she said, "New blood."

"I'm sorryi"

"ain't seen you a'fore."

"My first time," he said.

"Cash or crediti"

He jingled the coins in his pocket.

"Welcome, guv'nah," she said with a wide wicked grin, and stepped aside for his passage into a new world.

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