Part Three: The Message Chapter Thirty-Seven
Number Seven Stone Street was a brown door that opened onto a narrow and rather steep stairway squeezed between, on the left, the office of Moses Leverich the peltry buyer and on the right the shop of Captain Cyrus Donaghan, who crafted quadrants, astrolabes, and other navigational tools for the shipping trade.
Matthew went up the stairs and found himself in a loft that demanded a good going-over with a scrub-brush and bristle-broom. He had no idea what business had existed here, perhaps during the reign of Peter Stuyvesant, but traces of its grandeur remained like flecks of gold in a mudpuddle. at the top of the stairs was an oak-paneled outer room that held a clerk's multi-drawered desk and a chair with a broken back. Behind the desk was a cubbyhole-chest suited for holding rolled-up maps, documents, and the like. across the floorboards, and right at Matthew's feet, was a disturbingly large dark stain that he sincerely hoped was not ancient blood. Beyond this room was another closed door. The window shutters were open, allowing the strong sunlight full entry, and the windows themselves-their glass panes filmed with smoke and grime-had been unlatched and pushed ajar to allow for the circulation of air. Through two windows below the overhanging gray slate roof could be seen the full expanse of the Great Dock and the ships awaiting destinations and cargo. It was an intriguing view. The whole busy picture of the wharf was on display from this height, as wagons trundled back and forth across the cobbles and citizens went about their errands against the backdrop of buildings, smoke-belching chimneys, shipmasts, furled sails, and the spark of sun off the blue harbor water.
"Hello!" Matthew called. "anyone herei"
Boots thumped on the boards and the other door opened with a squeal of angry hinges.
Hudson Greathouse, dapper in a dark blue suit and waistcoat with brass buttons, stood in the doorway. "Corbett!" he said, not without a faint smile of welcome that was quickly extinguished. "Come in here, will youi"
Matthew walked into the second room. It was twice as large as the outer chamber, with two desks set side-by-side and behind them against the wall three wooden file cabinets. a pleasant addition was a small fireplace of rough gray and tan stones on the left. Overhead at the center of the room was a wrought-iron chandelier that still held eight old melted stubs. a pair of unshuttered and opened windows gave a view of New York to the northwest, the wide river and the brown cliffs and emerald hills of the Jersey shore.
"What do you thinki"
Matthew looked to his right. Standing there was Mrs. Herrald, elegant in a gray gown with an adornment of white lace at the throat. She wore a gray riding-cap, again tilted at a slightly rakish angle but with neither feather nor other decoration. Her blue eyes were fixed on him, and her eyebrows went up. "Welli" she prodded.
"a nice view," he said.
"also a nice price. It's been vacant, obviously, for many years." She reached up to brush aside a dangling spider's web. "But Hudson and I think it will do as an office. What's your opinioni"
"a bit dusty. What used to be herei"
"a coffee-importing business, begun in the years of the Dutch colony. The real-estate broker tells me the business perished in 1658 and the space has only been rented a few times since then. I agree it needs cleaning, but it does have potential, don't you thinki"
Matthew looked around, avoiding Greathouse's stare. "I do," he decided. "It's certainly large enough." He just wished he'd found this place before she had and claimed it as his living-quarters, but then again he was sure the rental-though it could hardly be regal-was surely beyond his means.
"Room to grow, yes," Mrs. Herrald said firmly. She walked past Matthew and stood beneath the chandelier, which Matthew realized hung at a crooked angle. "I think this will suit our purposes very nicely. If we're all in agreement, theni" She paused for one final check of the two gentlemen, who both nodded. "I'll sign the papers this afternoon. and don't worry, Matthew, I won't impose upon you or Hudson to get the place cleaned up and cart furniture in. I'll hire some men for the job."
He was glad to hear that. The mere idea of sweeping this dirty floor and scrubbing the soot off the windows, in his present condition, was enough to rekindle the throbbing ache in his groin.
"You look like hell," Greathouse said, getting right to the point. "What have you been intoi"
"Hudson!" the woman chided.
"It's all right," Matthew said. "as a matter of fact, I was taken on a trip yesterday and I stayed the night at an estate about fifteen miles up the river."
"Reallyi" Greathouse looked at him quizzically. "What was that abouti"
"I'm not quite sure, and I can't explain it. But do either of you know a man named Simon Chapeli"
Mrs. Herrald shook her head and Greathouse replied, "Doesn't ring a chime."
"How about a woman named Charity LeClairei Or another man called Count Dahlgreni"
"Never heard of them either," Greathouse said.
Mrs. Herrald came a few steps closer to Matthew. "What's this about, pleasei"
Matthew took aim at Greathouse. "You haven't told her yeti about Ormond's farmi"
"No, I have not." The man's face had tightened.
"Don't you think you shouldi I have some suspicions about Simon Chapel. I don't fully know what he's up to, but his estate might be where the body came from."
"The body," Mrs. Herrald repeated. She turned to also aim at Greathouse. "What bodyi"
Greathouse gave Matthew a look that said Thank you for bringing this up now, fool. He reached into his coat and brought out a folded piece of paper. "I was going to go over this with you later," he said to Matthew, "but since you've chosen this moment to air the subject, I'll tell you what I've found out from the survey office." He unfolded the paper, which Matthew could see was a listing of names in black ink. "North of Ormond, just as he told us, are farms owned by Gustenkirk and Van Hullig. Then there's a few miles of forest deeded to an Englishman named Isaac adams. He lives in London. Up above that, there's an estate and vineyard owned by-"
"Simon Chapel," Matthew interrupted. "That's where I was last night."
"Wrong." Greathouse's attention never left the paper. "according to the records at City Hall, the estate is owned by another Englishman named Garrett Stillwater. He bought the estate from a Dutchman in 1696. about three miles north of the vineyard is a farm deeded to William Vale, and then an apple orchard and cider mill owned by Zopher Rogers. after that you're at the ferry and the end of the island." He looked up. "None of those names fit any alias that I know to be used by any associate of..." He trailed off, but Matthew knew he could feel Mrs. Herrald staring at him.
"Go on." The way she spoke it said she already knew. "any associate of whomi"
Greathouse refolded the paper, taking his time about it, and put it away.
"He's here," Mrs. Herrald said. "Is that what you mean to sayi" She went on without waiting, her chin lifted in indignation. "You suspect he's here, and you didn't tell mei Because you weren't sure-and aren't sure-and you wished to investigate furtheri Or you wished to spare me the emotion of feari Is that correcti"
He was silent, thinking it over. Then at last he replied, "Yes. all that."
"You found a body, theni In a condition we've come to recognizei"
"Hudson." She shook her head, her eyes lit with both anger and sadness. "Why didn't you tell mei You know I'm not a fainting flower. I've been expecting this, but just...not so soon. Why didn't you tell mei" Her voice cracked, just a little bit.
"If I told you I was trying to protect you, would-"
"There is no protection," said Mrs. Herrald. Though this had been spoken quietly, the tension in her voice made Matthew flinch. "There is only foreknowledge and preparation."
"Of course." Greathouse decided it was best to avert his eyes to the floor. "My pardon."
Mrs. Herrald went to the window and peered north, as if trying to locate her enemy by a darkness on the horizon. It was at least fifteen seconds before she spoke again. "I presume we can't be surei"
"No, but the body bore the marks. I've told Matthew about your theory."
"The gauntlet, yes." She glanced quickly at Matthew and then out the windows again. "I'm not the only one with that theory, by the way. How many stab wounds in this particular corpsei"
"Eight. a young man, the arms tied behind the back. He washed up nearly three weeks ago on John Ormond's farm. You know, where I've gone to buy produce. The coroner had already buried the body, so Matthew and I had to...um...do some shovel work."
"That must have been lovely."
"The method of execution appears to be the same except for one interesting difference," Greathouse continued. "In all the cases we know about, the skulls of the victims were broken from behind. Probably when they were kneeling on a floor bleeding to death. In this particular instance, the front of the skull was crushed."
"Speculationi" asked the lady in gray.
"Well, it may mean nothing. Then again, it may be that one of the professor's students has put his own mark on the way the gauntlet's done. Or it may mean that some variant of the gauntlet was held out-of-doors. I think the victim cheated the blades by either jumping or falling from a high cliff, and he bashed his skull on the way down." He held up the paper. "I got this list of property owners intending to find out where the body might have drifted from. again, there's no name on the list that I recognize."
"a new world," Mrs. Herrald said, her eyes heavy-lidded, "calls for new names."
"and speaking of names," Matthew said, "Chapel knew yours. He had a copy of the broadsheet announcement and wanted more information. I'm supposed to ask about you at the Dock House Inn and report back to him within a few days."
Mrs. Herrald pursed her lips and released a small, quiet puff of air. "I don't like that. How is it you went to see this Chapel person in the first placei"
"It has to do with the Masker. Specifically, with Eben ausley's notebook."
"Is this some kind of riddlei" she asked, frowning. "What's this about a notebooki"
"Corbett's on a tear about this damned Masker," Greathouse spoke up. "He's told Pennford Deverick's widow he can find out who the bastard is, and for that he'll get ten shillings."
"ah." Mrs. Herrald regarded Matthew with a knowing expression. "an independent job, is that iti"
"She wants the Clear Streets Decree overthrown, as it's costing her money. Until the Masker is found, Lord Cornbury's going to keep the decree in force. It's a simple matter of economics." Matthew shot a glance at Greathouse, then back to Mrs. Herrald. "But no, it's not entirely an independent job."
"Meaning," Matthew said in a calm but firm voice, "that I believe these current events are by no means independent of each other. I think they hinge together, in a way I can't yet explain. The Masker, the three murders, the notebook, Chapel...even the woman at the Westerwicke asylum. I think all of them are linked."
"There's a good one!" Greathouse's face wanted to grin, but Mrs. Herrald's lifted hand stopped his chortle before it began.
"again you mention a notebook," she said. "a notebook belonging to whom and signifying whati"
Matthew took in a deep breath. The moment had arrived. "a notebook taken from the body of Eben ausley by the Masker, and given to me by the Masker. Before you ask: no, I wasn't able to see his face. Chapel wants the book, and I believe he's sent someone to break into my house to find it. I think it shows that ausley was selling orphans to Chapel for some reason the Masker wants me to discover."
If he was expecting an immediate response, he was disappointed. Mrs. Herrald stood silent, her head cocked to one side and her hands clasped before her. Hudson Greathouse was also struck mute, but his mouth was open and if his eyes had gotten any bigger they might have popped from his head.
The silence stretched on, until finally Mrs. Herrald busied herself with rearranging the folds of lace at her throat.
Greathouse found his voice, though it sounded nearly strangled. "as I said before, what have you gotten intoi"
"What we're supposed to be into. a problem that needs a solution."
"Be careful you don't get your throat cut trying to solve it." Greathouse turned to appeal to Mrs. Herrald. "If Chapel-whoever he is-has some tie to Professor Fell, then Corbett's in water way over his head. You know how cunning they are. Chapel might already know Corbett went to meet you at the Dock House. He was just fishing. If he goes back there, and Chapel does happen to be one of the professor's disciples, I wouldn't give a rat's ass for his survival."
"If he was going to kill me, he would have done it last night," Matthew said, but he did think he'd nearly been killed, after all.
"Precisely," Mrs. Herrald agreed, maintaining an admirable composure. "So-if indeed he is a confederate of Professor Fell-why did he let you go, suspecting you were working with usi" She paused just a beat before she went on. "Because you obviously have something he values. The famous notebook, I presume. I won't ask where it's hidden, because I don't wish to know. But I'd say if it had been found last night, you'd be dead by now. So he sent you back, and now you're being watched."
"Oh." He hadn't thought of that possibility, but it made diabolical sense.
"Spoken like someone who forgot to brush their brain this morning," Mrs. Herrald said. "What indeed happened last nighti You don't seem yourself."
Matthew shrugged. "I'm just tired, that's all." The understatement of the new century.
"Well, it's likely you're being watched in the hopes that sooner or later you'll bring that book out. Be very careful, Matthew. These people are professionals. They leap on mistakes, and in this case a mistake can be fatal. Now I also presume you can't directly prove any wrong-doing from this notebook, or you would have already taken it to the high constablei"
"and you feel it would be wrong to present it to him, without this proofi"
"He wouldn't know what to do with it."
"Do you know what to do with iti"
"For now," Matthew answered, "just to keep it safely hidden."
"at your discretion," she said, with a slight nod that gave her approval. She came forward until she was right in his face. Her eyes were cold. "But listen to me well, Matthew. I don't think you know what Professor Fell and his compatriots are capable of. Have you told him the whole story, Hudsoni"
"No," came the hollow reply.
"Then I shall do the honors. My husband Richard, who founded the agency. Do you have any idea what happened to him when he came into conflict with Professor Felli"
Matthew shook his head.
"Richard was successful in having one of the professor's more notorious associates cast into prison charged with a scheme of arson and extortion. The man was in Newgate only three hours before he was stabbed to death by an unknown killer. Then, several days after that, Richard received the blood card. a small calling-card, with a single bloody fingerprint upon it. Might you guess for yourself what that meansi"
"a death threat," Matthew said.
"No, not a death threat. a death vow. When you receive the blood card, you might as well prepare your funeral. Nathaniel Powers knows all about it. The blood card he received caused him to uproot his family, leave a long-established law practice, and board a ship to New York. But he knows, deep down, that Professor Fell never forgets, and whether it takes one week, or one month, or one year, or ten years, that vow is going to be acted upon. Such was the case with my Richard." She blinked and looked toward the window, her face paled by the sunlight. "The months passed by. We knew, both of us, what the card meant. We were careful. We were aware of strangers around us, of how dangerous crowds could be, or how deadly might be a silent street. all we could do was wait, and all I could do was pray to God that when the knife or the strangle-cord came Richard would see it in time. Do you know what it does to you, Matthewi Living in fear like that, day after dayi For more than five yearsi Do you have any possible ideai"
"No," Matthew said grimly. "I don't."
"I pray you never do. It erodes your humanity. It saps all joy, and extinguishes all light. and no one can help you, Matthew. No one." She returned her gaze to him, and in that space of seconds Matthew thought she had been aged just by the memory of those terrible five years and her eyes had sunken into dark-rimmed pits. "We threw ourselves into our business. Our purpose, as Richard called it. There were more problems to be solved, more clients to be served. But always...always...the shadow of Professor Fell was there, waiting. My nerves almost went to pieces sometime during the sixth year. I'm not sure I ever really recovered. But Richard was steadfast. No, he said, he didn't wish to leave the city. He didn't wish to run and hide, because he wanted to be able to look at himself in the shaving mirror. and I steadied myself, as well, and went on. One goes on, because one must." She pulled up a horrible, glassy-eyed smile and glanced at Hudson. "Listen to me prattle like a simpleton. It's hell, getting old."
"You don't have to say anything else," Greathouse told her, but she waved his objection away.
For a moment she stood looking down at the floor between herself and Matthew. Beyond the window a seagull cried out as it flew by and a dog barked stridently down on the street.
"On November the tenth. In the seventh year," she said, in a pained and hesitant voice, "at four o'clock in the afternoon. a rainy day. Cold to the bone. Richard left the office to meet his half-brother at the Cross Keys Tavern two blocks from our door. I remember telling him I'd be along soon, after I'd finished writing a report. The case was...a missing emerald ring. Stolen by a maid named Sophie. I remember that, very clearly. I told Richard...I told him to wear his muffler, and to get some hot tea. He was suffering from a sore throat. The London chill, you know. I told him I'd be along...and he walked out the door, bound for the Cross Keys Tavern...and he never, ever got there. Not two blocks. He was not seen leaving our building. He was not seen...anywhere, by anyone." She lifted her head to stare again out the window, and Matthew wondered just what she was seeing. She started to speak, but words failed her. after a moment she tried once more. "The morning...of November the thirteenth," she said, "I found a package at our front door. a very small package."
"Katherine." Greathouse had swiftly moved to her side and taken her elbow. "Don't do this."
"It's a history lesson," she answered wanly. "a cautionary tale, for those who have no choice but to go on. I was saying...about the small package. Matthew, do you know the agency used to have a mottoi Painted on our sign, and printed on our cards. 'The Hands and Eyes of the Law.'"
Matthew recalled ashton McCaggers telling him about it, up in the coroner's attic.
"I should not have opened that package. I never should have." Something broke in her voice and a tremor passed over her face. "They had left his wedding band on. Very kind of them, in their depravity. They wanted to make sure...absolutely sure...that I could recognize...what remained." She closed her eyes. "What remained," she said again, in nearly a whisper, and beyond the window gulls flew past as white as seafoam and someone on the street began to holler about buckets for sale.
Mrs. Herrald had finished her story. She stood between sunlight and shadow in the room, her head bowed, and perhaps there was a dampness at her eyes or perhaps not, for Matthew thought she in her own way was a soldier, and soldiers only wept alone.
"I was the half-brother Richard was going to meet," Greathouse said to Matthew, as he released the woman's elbow. "Eight years between us. also the width of a world. He was always lamenting my choices in drink, women, and mercenary adventuring. Said I ought to turn my formidable talents to the support of the law. Formidable. Have you ever heard such shiti"
"Shit or not," said Mrs. Herrald sharply, as if emerging from her trance of agonized memory, "you're here, aren't youi"
"Yes," he answered, directly to her. "I am here."
"So...I presume you were going to tell me about this before Monday morningi"
"I was going to get around to it."
"Monday morningi" Matthew asked. "What happens theni"
"Then," Mrs. Herrald replied, and now her face had regained its smooth composure and her voice had strengthened, "I walk aboard a ship and, God willing, set foot in England within ten weeks if the wind is providential."
"You're going back to Englandi"
"Yes, I believe that's what I just said. I have other offices of the agency to run, and other business obligations. You and Hudson will oversee this office."
"He and Ii By ourselvesi"
"Really, Matthew!" She frowned. "You must need a good night's sleep! You and Hudson will do fine, by yourselves. One or two more associates may be hired later, at Hudson's discretion, but for the time being I think things are in order. Except for this ghastly place, and once it's scrubbed and the furniture brought in it'll be ready for business. We'll hang a sign, and there you are. Oh!" She looked at Hudson. "Give him the money."
With obvious distaste, Greathouse brought a small leather pouch from within his coat and held it toward Matthew.
"Go on and take it," Mrs. Herrald urged. "It's to cover your travel expenses when you go to Philadelphia." When Matthew hesitated, Mrs. Herrald sighed heavily and said, "Well, you do plan to go, don't youi How else are you going to pursue this problem of the...what's she calledi"
"The Queen," said Greathouse, with a dark smirk. "Of the Loonhouse."
"They call her the Queen of Bedlam, but only in the most respectful way," Matthew said. He took the leather pouch. "I think I've figured out a way to help identify her, but I'll have to go back to the asylum first."
"as you please. Hudson thinks it's wasted money and I would usually agree, but then again...sometimes a horse needs to be given its head, don't you agree, Hudsoni"
"Yes, and a jackass sometimes needs a kick to the-"
"Play nicely, boys," she advised. "Matthew, I've given you enough money to take a packet boat from here to Philadelphia and back. That will cut the trip to one day, back and forth, instead of three or more by road. Do what you feel is necessary, but do not throw my money away on frivolities, is that clearly understoodi"
"Yes, ma'am. Clearly."
"and Hudson, in light of this information from Matthew, I want you to immediately start finding out everything you can about this Simon Chapel. Someone in the taverns may know the name, but-again-be very careful. all righti"
"always," he promised.
"Professor Fell may not be here in person," she continued, "but if his influence is here, it's for a reason. I shudder to think. Both of you, watch yourselves and proceed with extreme caution. I shall return, God willing, in May or thereabouts. any questionsi" She lifted her brows, looking from one man to the other.
"I...suppose I have a question," Matthew said. "about this office."
"What about iti Other than it being at the moment a spider's paradisei"
"Well...I was wondering...exactly what's wrong with it."
"What's wrong with iti Meaning whati"
"Meaning...it's a large space, with a good view and a central location. I was just wondering what must be wrong with it, since it's not been rented in so long."
"Oh, that." Mrs. Herrald smiled thinly. "Nothing's wrong with it, except that it's haunted."
"Haunted," Matthew heard himself repeat, like a dull bell.
"If you believe the tales. I presume you saw the bloodstains out there on the floori The two original owners of the coffee-importing concern killed each other in an argument. One was stabbed and as he fell he evidently pushed his former partner down the stairs, where he broke his neck. Both the downstairs tenants, Mr. Leverich and Captain Donaghan, have said that on several occasions they've heard heavy boots on the floor and ghostly voices tangled in discord. That does tend to keep a space vacant. Oh, Hudson, that reminds me. We need to find a railing for the stairs."
"My thought as well," Greathouse said. "I don't want Corbett pushing me down the steps in an argument over who has the largest beans."
"I can see you two will get along famously. But most important, to the both of you...I expect professionalism and results. I expect you to go forward, even when the road is uncertain. I expect..." Mrs. Herrald hesitated, and then she offered Matthew a half-smile that overcame the last remnant of sad memory in her eyes.
"Your best," she said.
There was nothing left to do here until the brush and broom finished their work and the furniture turned a vacant space into an office. Matthew's mind was already turning away, focusing on first Westerwicke and then Philadelphia and-specifically-a lawyer named Icabod Primm.
He felt answers-to the identity of the Queen of Bedlam, the unmasking of the Masker, and the purpose of Simon Chapel-were close at hand, but for this task he needed a good-luck charm by the name of Berry Grigsby.
Matthew followed Hudson Greathouse and Mrs. Herrald down to the street. as he was last out the door, he was the one who thought he heard at his back not ghostly wrangling but rather the small sigh of some watchful soul who was also intrigued by things to come.
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