Part Three: The Message Chapter Thirty-Three
He was fishing in his favorite spot, at the end of Wind Mill Lane on the west side of town, just where John Five had said he would be.
along the lane were a few houses, a carpentry shop, a cornfield, and a new brewery in the first stage of construction. The Thursday morning sun shone on the river and a wind stirred the green woods of New Jersey on the far side. The fisherman sat amid a jumble of gray boulders at the shore, his line trailing from an ash-wood rod into the water. Just beyond him was the hulk of an old merchant vessel that had been shoved by a storm into the rocks and, its hull impaled and broken, was slowly collapsing before the infinite progress of time and currents. Up on a hill, and near enough to cast its shadow upon the fisherman, was the tall windmill for which this lane was named; its revolving head atop a stationary tower had been positioned to take advantage of the breeze, and its canvas sails billowed along the slowly turning vanes.
Though Matthew took care to be quiet as he came along the rocks, he knew his presence had been noted. The reverend had glanced at him and then quickly away again without a word. Wade didn't look much like the erudite minister of Trinity Church this morning. He wore gray breeches patched at the knees and a faded brown shirt with the sleeves rolled up. On his head was a shapeless beige cloth hat that had evidently seen many summer suns and rainshowers alike. His fishing clothes, Matthew thought. Beside the reverend was a scoopnet and a wicker basket to hold his catch.
Matthew stopped ten yards away from the man. Wade sat perfectly still, waiting for a bite.
"Good morning, sir," said Matthew.
"Good morning, Matthew," came the reply in a voice from which no hint of emotion could be read. Neither did he look in Matthew's direction.
a silence stretched. a breath of wind furrowed the river and made the windmill's vanes creak.
"I fear I'm not having much luck this morning," Wade said at last. "Two small fellows, not sufficient for a pan. They fought so hard it seemed wrong to land them. I'm after a carp I've seen here before, but he always foxes me. Do you fishi"
"I haven't for a long time." He once caught fish to live on, in the rough days before he went to the orphanage.
"But you do catch things, don't youi"
Matthew knew his meaning. "Yes sir, I do."
"You're a very intelligent young man. You wished to be a lawyer, andrew tells mei"
"I did. More than anything, at one point. Now it hardly matters."
Wade nodded, watching the floating red fly where his line met the river. "He says you're very strong on the concept of justice. That's to be commended. You've impressed me as a young man of high character, Matthew, and therefore I'm puzzled why you should wish to throw yourself into the low business of blackmail." His head turned. His eyes were somber and dark-rimmed. Sleep must have been a stranger last night. "I've been expecting you, ever since andrew told me. and to think that John is part of this, when he professed to love Constance and I came to regard him as dear as a son. What do you think that does to my heart, Matthewi"
"Do you really have a hearti"
Reverend Wade didn't reply, but looked out again upon the river.
"I told Kippering an untruth. John Five doesn't know anything about the girl. He came to me for help because Constance thought you were losing your mind. Did you think you could go out and about at night without her wondering sooner or later where you wenti I followed you myself, to Polly Blossom's. I saw what I would term a pitiful sight. and the last time you went out-just Tuesday night-Constance followed you."
The reverend's face had paled under the shapeless hat.
"She saw where you went. She saw andrew Kippering come out and speak to you. Oh, she didn't see his face, but I'm sure it was him. He is the go-between, isn't hei"
There was yet no answer.
"Yes, he is," Matthew went on, as a swirl of wind whipped around him. "I presume the money to keep Grace in that room comes from you and passes through Kipperingi and his good relationship with Polly Blossom has convinced her to let the girl die in the housei Yesi I presume also that Madam Blossom was the first to discover that one of her doves was the daughter to the reverend of Trinty Churchi Did Grace tell her, when she realized she was going to diei" He gave Wade a space to speak, but nothing came forth. "I'd think you might look upon Madam Blossom as a saint, because if anyone was going to blackmail anyone it would have started with her. What's her reward for thisi a place in Heaven for a woman who fears Helli"
Wade lowered his head slightly, as if in an attitude of prayer. Then he said in a care-worn voice, "Madam Blossom is a businesswoman. andrew framed the agreement as a matter of business. It's what she understands."
"I'm sure it also doesn't hurt Madam Blossom to have a minister on her side. If, say, certain socially powerful members of the church might wish to shut her house down."
"I'm sure," Wade answered, his head still bent forward. "But I had no choice, Matthew. The upward path-the right path-was too dangerous. What I always have preached...I could not practice, when called upon. I'm going to have to live with that for the rest of my days, and don't think it will be easy."
"But you'll still be a reverend," Matthew said. "Your daughter will be dead, without having heard her father's forgiveness."
"Forgivenessi" Wade looked at him with a mixture of incredulity and anger that passed across the minister's face like a stormcloud. He cast aside his fishing-rod and stood up, his chest thrust out as if in readiness to fight the world. "Is that what you think she wantsi It is not, sir! She has no shame and no regrets for the life she's led!"
"Then what is it she wantsi"
Wade ran a hand over his face. He looked as if he might sink down to the stones again, and lie there like a rag. He pulled in a deep breath and let it slowly out. "always the impulsive child. The girl who must have all the attention. Who must wear the bows and bells, no matter what sin buys them. Do you know why she wishes to die in that housei She told andrew she wants to die in a place where there's music and laughter. as if the gaiety in that house isn't forced through the teeth! and her lying in there, on that deathbed, with me standing outside on the street..." He shook his head.
"Weepingi" Matthew supplied.
"Yes, weeping!" The answer was harsh and the anger had returned. "Oh, when andrew first told me what he'd found out from Madam Blossom, you should have seen me! I didn't weep! I nearly cursed God and sent myself to Hell for it! What was in my mind might have cast me into eternal fire, but there it was and I had to deal with it! I thought first of Constance, and only her!"
"She doesn't knowi"
"That her elder sister is a whorei Certainly not. What was I to tell Constancei What was I to doi" He stared at nothing, his eyes dazed. "What am I to doi"
"I think that the situation will take care of itself soon enough. Isn't that what you said to Constancei"
"Dr. Vanderbrocken tells me...that there is nothing he can do except try to keep her comfortable. She may have a week or two, he says, and how she's holding on he doesn't know."
"She may be holding on," Matthew said, "because she's waiting for a visit from her father."
"Me, go in that placei a man of God in a whorehousei That would be the end of me in this town." Wade's expression was pained, and now he sank down to sit upon the boulder again. For a moment he watched the breeze moving across the hills, and then he said quietly, "I have wanted to go in. I have wanted to see her. To speak to her. To say...I don't know what. But something to comfort her, or bring her some peace if that is possible. Evidently...when she arrived here in May she was sick, of course, but she hid her condition very well from Madam Blossom and Dr. Godwin as well. She always had a silver tongue, even as a child. I'm sure she talked her way right through that odious examination. Then, according to andrew, the exertions of her...occupation...wore her down. She collapsed in that house, Dr. Godwin was summoned...and to keep from being thrown out into the street, she told Madam Blossom who she was. I presume andrew was taken into confidence because of his credentials. as a lawyer, I mean, not as a whore-monger."
Equally qualified in both areas, Matthew thought, but said nothing.
"an agreement was drawn up," the reverend continued. "andrew kept me informed of Grace's condition, and as I understand he even went out after her a few times when she managed to talk someone into setting her loose. She particularly liked the Thorn Bush, he told me."
Matthew had realized this: Kippering thought Matthew had seen the lawyer and Grace together inside the Thorn Bush on one of those occasions, instead of just staggering out the door that night, and had put together in his mind the idea that somehow Matthew, the sammy rooster, had discovered her identity.
"The night of Mr. Deverick's murder," Matthew said. "You were summoned by Dr. Vanderbrocken because Grace had taken a turn for the worsei and he feared Grace might die that nighti"
No wonder, then, that Wade had said he and the doctor were travelling to different destinations, Matthew thought. It would have been hard to explain to High Constable Lillehorne where they were going together on such an urgent mission.
"and one of Madam Blossom's ladies went to Vanderbrocken's house to tell himi"
"Yes. She came with him to fetch me, and waited at the corner outside my house."
That accounted for the woman Constance had seen, but it raised another question. "You said andrew Kippering was the go-between. Where was he that nighti"
"I have no idea. I do know he enjoys his liquor far more than a Christian man ought to." Wade took off his hat and wiped his forehead with the back of his hand. His dark brown hair was thinning on top and gone to gray at the temples. "Yes," he said, as if thinking of something he should have reacted to but had let pass at the moment. "I did say to Constance that the problem would be solved, soon enough. and it will be, by the strong hand of God."
Matthew decided he wasn't going to let the reverend off so easily, and may the Lord forgive him for his audacity. "Did you think that, all those nights you stood outside Madam Blossom's housei Knowing that your daughter was on her deathbed in there, and at any time she might passi I saw you shed more than one tear, Reverend. I know you were trying to gather the courage to go inside. Did you think that one night you might free yourself of the social bridlei Of what the church elders would say, if they knew a father could still love a daughter who was a prostitutei" He paused, to let those wasp-stings settle. "So I believe that even if the strong hand of God does solve this problem-soon enough, as you say-a broken man may be left behind, if you fail to see her."
"I'll be broken if I do see her," came the firm reply. "If I stepped into that house, I would be putting at risk everything I've devoted my life to. You don't know how some of those Golden Hill families would swoop down on me, if they were to find out."
"You couldn't do it in secreti"
"I'm already keeping one secret from my flock. You were present at the church, weren't you, when I had my little moment up therei I couldn't bear to keep another secret. I'd be no good for anyone or anything."
Matthew sat down on a boulder near the reverend, but didn't wish to crowd him too closely. "May I ask how your daughter came into her professioni"
"She was born with a willful spirit." Wade looked Matthew full in the eyes, his cheeks reddened, and Matthew wondered if this willfulness wasn't inherited. "Early on she delighted in disobeying, and in running with boys day and night. What more can I sayi I don't-and never did-fully know her heart." He clasped his hat between his hands and stared downward, a vein ticking at his temple. "Grace was the first child. Eight years older than Constance. We had a boy, in between, who died. Hester-yes, that was my wife's name-passed a few days after Constance was born. a complication, the doctor said. Something unforeseen. and there I was, with two daughters and my Hester gone. I tried. I did try. My sister helped, as much as she could, but after Hester died...Grace became more and more undisciplined. at ten she was out in the streets, throwing rocks through storefront windows. at twelve, caught with an older boy in a hayloft. and me, trying to advance my career and the word of God. The plans for success that Hester and I had made...they were coming apart, because of Grace. How many times did someone come to my door with a complaint against her, or a demand for money because she'd lifted an item from a shop and taken to running!"
Wade was silent, lost in his memories, and Matthew thought for a moment that the reverend looked eighty years old.
"When she reached the age of fourteen," Wade said, "I had to do something. I lost a position at a church because Grace attacked another young girl with a knife. In a more primitive time, she might have been considered demonic. She was beyond control, and her spiteful attitude was affecting Constance, too. God protect Constance, she was never fully aware of all the problems. I tried to shield her, as best I could. a six-year-old child should be shielded from wickedness, shouldn't shei" Wade glanced at Matthew, who remained quiet. "I...arranged for Grace to be sent to a boarding school, a few miles out of Exeter. It was the most I could afford. Barely a year went by before I received a letter from the head-mistress to the effect that Grace had taken her belongings and left in the middle of the night...unfortunately, according to another girl, in the company of a young man of dubious reputation. a few months later, I received a letter from Grace with three words: I am alive. No address, no intent to seek reconciliation or intent to return to either school or my house. Just those words, and then nothing else."
The reverend had been working the shapeless hat with his hands, and Matthew wondered if it had been a dignified tricorn before being molded just like this, into a fisherman's topper.
"My star did continue to rise, after I had sent Grace away," Wade continued. "I was on the verge of realizing the success that Hester and I had imagined. Then came the opportunity to take the pastorship at Trinity Church, with the understanding that I would return to England in four or five years when an opening presented itself, preferably in London. Grace must have been following my progress from afar. She must have read in the Gazette of my assignment here. and so she took a handful of dirty money, boarded a ship, and proceeded to New York. To spend the last days of her life doing what she has done so well for so many of her twenty-five years...dealing out pain to me."
The reverend aimed a bitter smile at Matthew. "Yes, I did weep. Many times, and many tears. Whatever Grace is, she is still my daughter and I am fully aware, thank you, of my responsibilities. But I have so much to consider now...so much at stake. Hester and I...our dreams of making a shining example of a church and advancing God's plan...all of it could be destroyed, if I walked into that house. There is Constance to think of. She knows only that her sister fled the boarding school and disappeared. and if John Five knew, what would he sayi"
Matthew recalled John Five's reluctance to bear witness against Eben ausley, for fear of what Reverend Wade might say. "I think," Matthew countered, "that John would say he loves Constance, no matter what her sister is, and no matter that her father will struggle with this decision for the rest of his life if he doesn't do what he knows to be correct."
"Correct," Wade repeated, his head lowered. "What is correct in this situationi"
"Let's hear it."
"Constance has to be told, first thing." Matthew saw the reverend wince when he said it, but he knew Wade had already figured out it had to be done, since Constance had followed him to the Blossom house. "If she tells John, so be it. How she'll react to the news, if you're asking my opinion, will be a mixture of sadness and relief, with relief winning the day. Now to Grace herself: it seems to me she may have journeyed here for no other reason than to say goodbye. Or perhaps she came to test you."
"Test mei Howi"
"To find out if you still had any love for her. Enough to make you-a man of God-walk into a house of prostitution, for the sake of a wayward daughter. I doubt if she planned to die here, but I imagine a sea voyage did not help her condition. For all she may be, she must have tremendous strength of will."
"Willful, as I said," the reverend agreed.
"I think," Matthew said, "as you've asked my opinion, that your eldest daughter does not need a minister, a pastor, or a reverend, but a simple and honest father." Wade gave no response to this. "at least, the attention of a father for...say...ten or fifteen minutesi"
"So you're suggesting I walk into there and throw my and Hester's dream away, is that iti To give fifteen minutes to a daughter I haven't seen for eleven yearsi"
"I would point out, sir, that your wife has long departed to the gardens of Paradise and I'm sure only wishes the best for her husband and both her daughters who must remain on this less-than-perfect earth. and I am suggesting that you do what you feel to be correct."
Wade was silent. at last he put his crushed hat back on. "Yes." His voice was distant. "I thought that might be your suggestion."
They sat together for a further time but said nothing, for all had been said. Matthew stood up, and Wade retrieved his fishing rod. He reeled the line in and watched the river moving toward the sea. "That carp," he said. "I'll get him, someday."
"Good luck," Matthew told him, and started across the rocks, back the way he'd come.
"Matthewi" Wade called, and when Matthew turned around the reverend said, "Thank you for your opinion."
"My pleasure, sir," Matthew replied. He continued along Wind Mill Lane and then across to the east side to the little dirt-floored dairyhouse he was beginning to think of as home.
a little plume of smoke rose from the kitchen chimney of the Grigsby abode. Matthew went into the dairyhouse, soaped his face, and began to shave by lamplight, as he had neglected to do so in his haste to see John Five early this morning. He had no idea what Reverend Wade would do. The correct thingi and what really was the correct thingi To enter the whorehouse for a few minutes with a dying girl he probably wouldn't even recognize, or to continue-as Wade put it-the dream of advancing his career and the plan of Godi Well, what was God's plan, anywayi Who could say, from this side of the veili It seemed to Matthew that it took a man with a full belly of himself to say that he knew what was the plan of God. But Matthew did know that Reverend Wade had a conscience to go along with his heart, and that if Wade went to see Grace he couldn't keep it a secret even if no one from his congregation saw him in the rose-colored house. The reverend would sooner or later either tell the church elders or speak the truth from the pulpit, and then what might the outcry bei To send the father of a whore packing, or commend him for his fatherly concerni Matthew mused, as he finished shaving, that this situation might become a test of the mettle of Trinity Church as well as a test of strength for Reverend Wade. The correct thingi God only knew, but the reverend would have to decide.
Matthew washed his face and dried it on one of his shirts, remarking to himself that it would be wise to go shopping for a handtowel. He determined to see the Stokelys today, to see how they were holding up. Thinking of all of Stokely's work that had been destroyed was wrenching, but if anything Stokely was an industrious man and if he could keep his bearings away from melancholy over the wreckage he would soon get to rebuilding the place. Hopefully this time it would be strong enough to withstand a maddened bull, which seemed vital for a pottery shop.
Matthew started to pull the canvas away from the archery target to get at ausley's notebook again, but somehow his hand was diverted. He grasped the rapier's ivory handle and lifted the sword. It was about the same length and weight of the sword he'd used in training with Hudson Greathouse. He'd wished to have a sword of his own for further exercise; here it was, if he wanted it. He stepped back, positioning himself as Greathouse had directed-Make your body thin. Show only your right side. Feet not too close. Sink down as if you're about to sit. Left arm behind you, like a rudder. Step forward with your right foot, keeping left arm, body, and sword in line. Thrust!
Matthew hesitated. What elsei Oh, yes. Keep that thumb locked down!
He thrust forward with the sword and then came back to the first position. He began to repeat that movement over and over, aiming for speed and economy. From time to time he varied the motion, by thrusting to left or right and then always bringing himself back to the center, everything in control and steady. It quickly became an effort of mind over muscle. as he continued his exercise, he thought of the question that had come out of his talk with Reverend Wade. Where was andrew Kippering the night Wade and Vanderbrocken went to the Blossom housei Of course he might have been anywhere. at his boarding house, for instance, or at one of the taverns. Even working in his office. But Matthew couldn't help but wonder if Kippering hadn't been available to go fetch Reverend Wade or Dr. Vanderbrocken personally, in his role of go-between, because he'd been involved with another pressing appointment. Namely, the murder of Pennford Deverick.
Thrust left, return to center. Thrust right, return to center. a little quicker now, and keep the sword tip up.
He drinks himself into stupors, throws his money away gambling, and almost has his name burned on a door at Polly Blossom's. Doesn't that sound to you like someone who pretends to enjoy life but really is in a great hurry to diei the widow Sherwyn had asked.
Take care of your footing. Not too close, or your balance suffers. Thrust center, return to first position. again, more smoothly.
Wantin' to know when Godwin was here, and what time he left and all that, said Missy Jones.
and from Kippering himself, the night of ausley's murder and the discovery of the blood smear on the cellar door: I think the Masker might also be a gambler. Don't youi
Thrust right, return to center. Steady now, don't weaken! Thrust left, return to center. Make your body thin, moonbeam. and keep that thumb locked down!
Matthew stopped. His shoulder and forearm were thrumming. How did anyone get used to the weight of these thingsi a swordsman had to be born, he'd decided. It had to be in the bones.
He pushed the rapier's tip down into the dirt and leaned on the sword. In spite of the dairyhouse's coolness, he felt the sparkle of sweat on his face.
He was thinking that andrew Kippering had shown a great interest in Dr. Godwin, possibly for the purpose of timing the man's visits to Nicole. Whyi To choose the right time for a throat-cuttingi
Who do you think the high constable should be looking fori Katherine Herrald had asked.
and Matthew had answered, a gentleman executioner.
Someone who had approached Pennford Deverick on the street, and caused Mr. Deverick to offer a hand of greeting. Someone Mr. Deverick knew. Someone who wanted the doomed man to see his face.
and what, then, of Eben ausleyi Why those three men, throat-slashed and cut about the eyesi
I would look, ashton McCaggers had said, for someone who has experience in a slaughterhouse.
Was andrew Kippering that mani a gentleman executioneri With experience in a slaughterhousei Was the man who pretended to enjoy life but really was in a great hurry to die also a gambler with the lives of other human beingsi The Maskeri
But for what reasoni If execution was the sentence, what had been the crimei What linked Godwin, Deverick, and ausley together in such a fashion that they should be put to death for iti
Matthew rubbed the rapier's ivory handle. He thought once again that all roads led to the Queen of Bedlam, who sat locked at the center of a secret. The masks on the walls. The painting of Italy. The furniture defaced so as to prevent identification of the maker. Deverick. The rich trappings of a wealthy woman. The mysterious client, who hid in the shadows behind Icabod Primm. Has the king's reply yet arrivedi
He came out of his brown study. Someone was knocking at his door. "Yesi" he called.
"It's Berry. You have a visitor."
"One moment." He put the rapier back where it had been. Then he opened the door and found himself looking not just at one pretty girl, but at one pretty girl and one beautiful lady.
Berry wore an apron over her dress. Her hair was pulled back from her face by a red scarf. She looked a bit flustered, her cheeks ruddy, and Matthew wondered if she'd been helping her father with lunch in the kitchen. In contrast to Berry's homespun clothes, the elegant lady who stood just beside and behind her had stepped from a Parisian portrait of modern fashion. She was tall and willowy, with thick curls of light blond hair and eyes the color of the bittersweet chocolate cakes in the window of Madam Kenneday's bakery. She wore a pale blue gown with fine white lace along the sleeves and billowing at the throat. On her head was a small and very fashionable curled-rim hat, of the same fabric and color as her dress, adorned with a white feather. Matthew couldn't help notice that she was indeed a striking-looking young lady, about the same age as he if he judged age correctly. She had fair unblemished skin, high cheekbones, perfect cupid's-bow lips brushed with pink, and a lovely slim-bridged nose. Her blond eyebrows lifted as she saw him take her measure. a beauty mark dotted her left cheek, and at her side she held a white parasol.
"Master Corbett," she said, speaking it like music, and stepped forward to offer him a white-gloved hand.
"Yes." He fumbled with her hand and didn't know what to do with it, so he quickly let it go. He caught Berry looking at him askance, and then she blotted the perspiration of kitchen heat from her forehead with an old rag. "What...uh..." Matthew felt himself coming to pieces. The young lady's eyes were beautiful, but they penetrated through his skull. "What may I do for youi"
"I am Miss Charity LeClaire," she announced, as if he might recognize the name. "Might we speak in privatei"
There was an awkward moment in which no one moved. Then Berry explosively cleared her throat. "Matthew, Grandda's gone to get you some things. He'll be back by eleven, he said. Lunch'll be ready by then."
"all right. Thank you."
Still Berry lingered. She cast a furtive eye up and down Charity LeClaire while trying to hide behind her kitchen rag.
"In private, please," the young lady repeated, her music just a note or two strained this time.
"Oh. Of course. Privacy. a very important thing," said Berry, as she began to back away toward the house.
"Yes," Miss LeClaire answered cooly. "Useful, also."
"If you need anything, let me know," Berry said to Matthew. "You know. Some water or anything."
"I'm fine, thank you."
"Back to the kitchen, then. Did I say lunch would be ready at-"
"Eleven," Miss LeClaire interrupted, with a slight smile. "Yes, we got that."
Wei Matthew thought. What was this abouti
"Good day, then," Berry said, and Matthew saw her blue eyes go cold. Obviously Miss LeClaire was not to be invited to lunch today. Berry turned around and went back to the house, and never did Miss LeClaire's calmly appraising gaze leave Matthew's face.
"How may I help youi" Matthew asked. He remembered his manners, as the morning was growing warmer. Unfortunately he had no shade to offer but his humble dairyhouse. "Would you care to step insidei"
"No, thank you." The white parasol went up, opening with a quick pop. "I have been directed to you by a Mr. Sudbury at a tavern you are known to frequent. I have a situation in which your aid is needed."
"Ohi What situationi"
"I might tell you that I have visited Mr. ashton McCaggers in his charming domain. He tells me that I am not the first to remark upon an item missing from the belongings of the deceased Eben ausley."
Matthew's heart gave a little kick. He said nothing and attempted to let nothing show in his expression.
"Mr. ausley, God rest him, was my uncle," said Miss LeClaire. "I am searching for a particular notebook that was likely on his person the night of his unfortunate demise. I presume you have seen this notebook, since you asked Mr. McCaggers about it." She paused, and Matthew knew she was trying to read his face. "Would you happen to know where the notebook might bei"
He was still reeling from the shock of hearing that someone so vile as ausley had such beauty in his family. He swallowed hard, his mind moving options like chess pieces. If he gave up the notebook, he might never learn the meaning of that strange page of code. and for this lady to suddenly show up on his doorstep asking if he had it...well, it was an odd picture.
"No, I don't," he replied. "after all, I did mention to McCaggers that it was missing."
"ah, of course." She smiled and nodded under the parasol's shadow. "But why would you be looking for it, siri"
"May I ask the same of youi"
"I was unaware that Mr. ausley was involved in business."
"He was," she said.
Matthew remained silent, and so did she. The silence stretched.
Then Miss LeClaire tapped a finger against her lower lip. "I have a carriage just up the street. I believe my employer would like to meet you, and I am empowered to offer you such a meeting. It would be a ride of several hours, but I think you might find it worthwhile."
"Your employeri Who might that bei"
"His name," she said, "is Mr. Chapel."
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