Part Three: The Message Chapter Twenty-Eight
Two hours after the destruction of Stokely's pottery, Matthew sat drinking his third glass of wine at a table in the Trot Then Gallop with a half-finished platter of whitefish before him. Sitting with him at the table were Marmaduke Grigsby and Berry, who had taken him to dine and joined both in his tribulations and his drinking. a pewter cup that had been set at mid-table, put there by Felix Sudbury to garner donations from the Trot's regulars, held in total three shillings, six groats, and fourteen duits, which was not a bad haul. Sudbury had been kind enough to give Matthew his dinner and drink free this evening, and of course the consolation helped but did not lift Matthew's mood from the basement.
He was shamed by his distress, for though he'd lost his living quarters the Stokelys had lost their livelihood. Going through all that wreckage, with Patience sobbing quietly at Hiram's side, had been a torment of grief. almost everything except the odd cup or plate had been shattered, and all of Matthew's furniture broken to bits. He'd been able to salvage some clothes and he'd found his small leather pouch of savings which totaled about a pound and three shillings, all of which now sat on the floor beside him in a canvas bag Patience had brought him from the house. a few of his cherished books had survived, but he would gather those up later. It had heartened him to hear Hiram vow to take his own savings and rebuild the pottery as soon as was possible, and he had no doubt that within a month the building would start rising again from the shards.
But it had been a damnable thing. The whitefish didn't go down very well and the wine wasn't strong enough to put him to sleep. The problem being, where to sleepi
"It was my fault, you know."
Matthew looked across the table into Berry's face. She had scrubbed the dust off in a bucket of water, and by the glow of the table's lamp Matthew could see the fine scattering of freckles across her sunburned cheeks and the bridge of her nose. The red hair shone with copper highlights and a curl hung down across her forehead over one unplucked eyebrow. She had clear, expressive eyes the exact shade of deep blue as her grandfather's, and they did not melt from Matthew's gaze. He had already judged her as more an earthy milkmaid than an erudite teacher. He could see her pitching hay in a barn, or plucking corn off the stalks. She was a pretty girl, yes, if you didn't care for the dainty type. Out to make her way in the world, a little adventurous, a little wild, probably a lot foolish. and then there were those gap-spaced front teeth, which she hadn't shown since that first quick smile from under the hat, but he knew they were there and he'd been waiting for them to pop out. What else about her resembled her grandfatheri He would not like to think.
"Your faulti" he answered, and he took another drink of wine. "Howi"
"My bad luck. Hasn't he told youi" This was punctuated by a nod of her head toward Marmaduke.
"Oh, nonsense," Grigsby replied with a scowl. "accidents happen."
"They do, but they happen to me all the time. Even to other people, if I'm anywhere nearby." She reached for her own glass of wine and took down a swig that Matthew thought Greathouse would have approved of. "Like what happened to the preacher, on the Sarah Embry."
"Don't start that again," Grigsby said, or rather pleaded. "I've told you what the other passengers have verified. It was an accident, and if anyone was to blame it was the captain himself."
"That's not true. I dropped the soap. If not for that, the preacher wouldn't have gone over."
"all right." Matthew was weary and heartsick, but never let it be said that a good argument couldn't revive the spirit. "Suppose you do have bad luck. Suppose you carry it around and spread it out like fairy dust. Suppose your just being on the spot caused that bull to go mad, but of course we'll have to forget about the cat and the dogs. also about the bull seeing his reflection in the glass window. I don't know the particulars of any other incidents, but it seems to me that you would rather see happenstance as bad luck because..." He shrugged.
"Because whati" she challenged, and Matthew thought he may have gone a red hair too far.
"Because," he said, rising to the bait, "happenstance is dull. It is the everyday order of things that sometimes explodes in unfortunate chaos or accidents, but to say that you have bad luck that causes these things elevates you above the crowd into the realm of..." again, he felt he was treading near quicksand that had a bit of volcanic activity going on underneath it, so he shut his mouth.
"Let's all have another drink," Grigsby suggested, giddily.
"The realm of whati" came back the question.
Matthew leveled his gaze at her and let her have it. "The realm, miss, of rare air where resides those who require a special mixture of self-pity and magic powers, both of which are sure magnets of attention."
Berry did not reply. Were her cheeks reddening, or was that the sunburni Matthew thought he saw her eyes gleam, in the way that light had leaped off the rapier blade Greathouse had swung at him. He realized he was sitting across the table from a girl who relished a good tangle.
"Be nice, be nice," Grigsby muttered in his wine.
"I can assure you, sir," said Berry, and there came a little glimpse of the gap as she gave a fleeting smile, "that I have neither self-pity nor powers of magic. I'm simply telling you what I know to be true. all my life I have been plagued by-or caused others to be plagued by-incidents of bad luck. How many to counti Ten, twenty, thirtyi One is enough, believe me. Fires, coach accidents, broken bones, near drownings, and in the case of the preacher a sure drowning...all the above and more. I take the incident today as part of my spread of 'fairy dust,' as you so eloquently put it. By the way, you still have a lot of fairy dust in your hair."
"Unfortunately I have not been able to bathe today. I regret the inconvenience to your sensibilities."
"Children," Grigsby said, "I'm glad we're all getting along so well, but it might do to consider the hard earth of reality for a moment. Where are you going to sleep tonight, Matthewi"
a good question, but Matthew shrugged to mask his uncertainty. "I'm sure I'll find a place. a boarding house, I suppose. Or maybe Mr. Sudbury would let me sleep in the back for just the one night."
"The time to clear streets is getting near. It wouldn't do to be walking from house to house after eight-thirty. Unless, of course, you wanted to sleep in the gaol." Grigsby drank down the rest of his wine and pushed his glass aside. "Listen, Matthew, I have an idea."
Matthew listened, though he was wary of Grigsby's ideas. Berry also seemed to be giving her grandfather her full attention as he worked himself up to speak.
"I'd offer my house, but with Beryl...uh...Berry there now, I think you'd find it somewhat restrictive. I do suggest a second option, though. The Dutch dairy, beside my house."
The brick outbuilding where Grigsby kept printing supplies and press parts. Matthew knew that as a former "cool house" where milk and other perishables had once been stored, it would certainly be a nice change of temperature from his garret, but there was at least one problem. "Doesn't it have a dirt floori"
"Nothing a throw rug couldn't fix," said Grigsby.
"Last call, gentlemen! Last call!" shouted Mr. Sudbury, with a pull on the bell that hung over the bar. "Closing in ten minutes!"
"I don't know." Matthew avoided looking at Berry, though he could feel her eyes on him. "It would be awfully small, wouldn't iti"
"How much room do you needi Berry and I could clear some space for you, and I have a cot you might use. as you say, just for one night. Or however long you wish, as my guest."
ah, Matthew thought. Here's the catch. Putting him in close proximity to Berry, so that he might be talked into beginning his duties as a supervisor. "No windows in the place," he said. "I'm used to a view."
"What are you going to look out at, in the darki Come, Matthew! It's just serving as a storeroom now. Plenty of space for a cot, and I could probably find a small writing desk for you as well, if you'd need that. a lantern to brighten the place, and it's home for a night."
Matthew drank some more wine and considered it. He was terribly tired, and didn't care where he slept tonight as long as it was clean. "No mice, are therei"
"None. It's as secure as a fort. Lock on the door and the key's in my bureau."
He nodded and then cast a swift glance at Berry. "What do you say about iti"
"I say, do as you please. Unless you fear another stroke of my bad luck."
"What, doesn't it ever run outi"
"Not that I've noticed."
"I don't believe in bad luck."
"But surely, sir," she said with false sweetness, "you believe in good lucki Why should you not believe that a person might be born under a dark cloudi"
"I think your dark cloud is self-made," Matthew answered, and again he saw the warning glint in her eyes. He kept going nevertheless. "But perhaps it's not attention you're seeking after all. Perhaps it's a dark cloud to hide under."
"To hide underi" Her mouth gave a slight twist. "What might I be hiding fromi"
"The issue at hand," interjected Grigsby, which was fine for Matthew because he didn't wish to fence with the girl any further, "is not dark clouds but where to spend a dark night. What say you, Matthewi"
"I don't say." If Berry had indeed been born under a dark cloud, she had the knack of raining all over other people as well. Matthew realized he'd finished his third glass of wine yet he thirsted for a little more numbheadedness.
"Well, Berry and I ought to be going. Come, granddaughter." Grigsby and the girl stood up from the table, and she walked on out of the tavern without a backward glance. "Forgive her, Matthew. She's on edge. You understand. That with the ship and all. Can you blame heri"
"Her luck may be questionable, but her bad manners are unfortunately not."
"I do think she feels she had something to do with the disaster. Her mere presence, I suppose. But don't concern yourself, she'll warm up to you very soon."
Matthew frowned. "Why should I care if she warms up to me or noti"
"Just a neighborly comment, that's all. Now listen, I meant what I said about the lodgings. Would that suit youi"
"I haven't decided, but thank you anyway."
"If you do decide in the positive, I'll leave a lantern for you next to the door and on the door a cord with the key. all righti"
Matthew was going to reply with a shrug, for Berry's petulance was catching, but instead he sighed and said, "all right. I'm going to have another drink first."
"Mind the decree," Grigsby cautioned, and then he also left the Trot.
Matthew asked Sudbury for another half-glass of wine and drank it while he set up a chess problem on one of the boards and played it out. Sudbury announced closing time, as it was eight o'clock, and finally Matthew picked up his bag of dusty belongings, thanked Sudbury for his kind hospitality, and left the man a shilling from his donation cup. He was the last customer out, and heard the door being bolted behind him.
It was a warm and pleasant night. Matthew turned right onto Crown Street and then took the corner south onto Smith Street. He was planning on walking a circle, to turn left onto Wall Street and then back up Queen Street along the waterfront to Grigsby's house. He needed some air and some time to think. a bit of wooziness softened his vision, but he was all right, mostly. The street-corner lamps were lit, stars sparkled in the sky, and far to the east, over the atlantic, a distant thunderstorm flickered. Matthew passed a few people rushing to get indoors before the decree began at eight-thirty, but he kept his pace unhurried as he walked along Wall Street. His mind was not on Brutus the bull nor the destruction of the pottery, but instead on the mysterious lady at the asylum.
a trip to Philadelphia was indeed in his future, but if Primm would offer up no information, then how was the Queen of Bedlam to be identifiedi By stopping every citizen of that town on the streets and describing the womani Greathouse was right; it was an impossible task. But then, howi
That girl was maddening. Bad luck and a dark cloud. Ridiculous.
Back to the problem of identifying the woman. He felt now as if he'd overplayed his hand with Greathouse. You being the chief investigator on this, Greathouse had said. Did the man mean for Matthew to go to Philadelphia alone, and this basically his first case for the agencyi That was a fine initiation, wasn't iti
and the girl needed a lesson in manners, too. But there was something else in her eyes behind that flash of anger, Matthew thought. Perhaps it's a dark cloud to hide under. Was there more truth to that than he'd realizedi
He came to the corner of Wall Street and stopped in the glow of the lamp there to check his watch. almost quarter after eight. He still had time, for Grigsby's house was just two blocks north up the harbor street. He took a moment to rewind the watch and then started off again, his mind moving between the mad lady and the maddening girl.
Once more lightning flashed, far at sea. The dark shapes of ships stood on his right, their spars and masts towering overhead. The commingled smells of tar, pine, and dockwater drifted to him. He was about midway between Wall Street and King Street, his mind fixed now on the demands of a six-day journey to Philadelphia-three days there and three back-when he heard a crunch behind him.
It came to him that it was the noise of a boot on gravel or an oyster shell, and he was about to be-
at the same instant as the hair raised on the back of his neck and he started to twist around, an arm seized him by the throat, bodily lifted him off the ground, and pulled him hard against the rough brick wall of a shopfront to his left. He had dropped his bag, for he was fighting for voice and breath and could find neither. His legs kicked, his body thrashed to no avail, and then a voice muffled by a wrapping of cloth whispered, very close to his ear, "Be quiet and still. Just listen."
Matthew was in no mood to listen. He was trying to get the wind back in his lungs to shout for help, but the arm around his throat tightened and he felt the blood pound at his temples. His vision swam.
"I have something for you," said the voice. an object was pressed into Matthew's right hand, which convulsively gripped and then opened again to let the thing fall. "I have marked a page. Pay heed to it."
Matthew was near passing out. His head felt about to explode.
The muffled voice whispered, "Eben ausley was-"
a moving lantern came around the corner of King Street, and suddenly the pressure of the arm was gone. as Matthew slumped to the ground, his eyes full of red sparks and blue pinwheels, he heard the noise of someone running south. Then the noise abruptly vanished and his thought through the mindfog was that whoever it was had slipped between buildings farther along the street.
The Masker's trick, he realized.
He must have made a sound of some kind-possibly an animalish grunt or a ragged whistle as he drew air into his lungs-because suddenly the lamplight was directed down at him as he sat there stupidly blinking his eyes and rubbing his throat.
"Oh, looky here!" said the man behind the lantern. It was the nasty voice of a predatory little bully. "Who do we have but the clerki"
a black billyclub came down and rested on Matthew's left shoulder. Matthew made a gasping noise but still could not speak.
Dippen Nack leaned forward and sniffed the air. "Drunk, are youi and so near the clearin' of streets, too. What am I to make o' thisi"
"Help me," Matthew managed to say. His eyes had watered and he tried to get his legs under him but was having no success. "Help me up."
"I'll help you up, a'right. I'll help you right to the gaol. I thought you were such an abider of the law, Corbett. What's old Powers gonna say about this, ehi"
The billyclub rapped Matthew on the shoulder, which made him determined to get up the next time he tried. as he put his hand down to the ground for support he felt the object that had been forced upon him. He retrieved it and saw it was a small rectangular shape wrapped in brown paper. Sealed with plain white wax, he noted. He angled it toward Nack's light and saw quilled on the paper in block letters his name: Corbett.
"Come on. Up. I'd say not only are you stinkin' drunk, but you've violated Cornhole's decree." again the billyclub struck Matthew's shoulder, harder this time. a sting of pain coursed along Matthew's arm. "Five seconds and I'm draggin' you up by the hair."
Matthew got up. The world spun around him a few revolutions, but he lowered his head and gulped in air and the dizziness passed. He held the brown-paper object in his right hand and dug for his watch with the left.
"I'm arrestin' you, in case it's so hard to figger out. Start walkin'," Nack commanded.
Matthew opened the watch and offered it to the light. "It's eight-twenty."
"Well, maybe I can't afford a fancy watch like that-and Lord only knows how you got it-but I don't need one to know my duty. You're drunk and it's a good walk to the gaol. 'Bout a ten-or twelve-minute walk if I know my streets."
"I'm not drunk. I was attacked."
"Oh, were you, nowi Who attacked youi" Nack gave a chortle. "The fuckin' Maskeri"
"Maybe it was him, I don't know."
Nack thrust the lantern into Matthew's face. "So why aren't you deadi"
Matthew couldn't supply an answer.
"Let's go," said Nack, and pressed the billyclub's tip up against Matthew's throat.
Matthew stiffened his legs so he would not be moved. "I'm not going to the gaol," he said. "I'm going home, because I'm not in violation of the decree." Home being a windowless Dutch dairy or not, he planned on waking up in the morning a free man.
"You're resistin' arrest, is that iti"
"I'm telling you what I'm going to do and advising that you go about your business."
"Is that soi"
"Let's just forget this, shall wei and thank you for your help."
Nack wore a crooked grin. "I think you need to be knocked down a peg." He lifted the club and Matthew realized the man meant to brain him.
But if Nack thought that Matthew was drunk and incapable of defense, the brutish constable was presently and unpleasantly surprised, for Matthew shifted the paper-wrapped object to his left hand and used his right fist to protest violently against Nack's mouth. The sound was like a fat codfish being smacked with an oar. Nack staggered, his eyes wide, and the billyclub cleaved empty air where Matthew had stepped aside.
Nack had perhaps three seconds of stunned immobility. Then the constable's face took on the enraged snarl of an animal-a maddened muskrat, perhaps-and he came in again, once more lifting the club. Matthew stood firm. Something that Hudson Greathouse had said during their first fencing lesson came to him very clearly: you must take dominance of the action from your opponent. Matthew figured that applied to fist-fighting as well as rapiers. He took a step in to block the blow with his left forearm and let fly with his right fist into Nack's nose. There was a wet-sounding pop. The constable fell back, almost skidding on his bootheels. He coughed and snorted and blood spurted from both nostrils, and then he cupped a hand over his wounded snout as the tears of pain flooded out of his eyes.
Matthew showed Nack his fist, cocked for another greeting. "Do you wish some more, siri"
Nack just made a mewling noise. Matthew waited for another attack, which tonight would be the third he'd endured. Then Nack lowered his head, turned around, and walked swiftly back the way he'd come, taking the left onto King Street and carrying the lantern's light with him.
Good riddance! Matthew almost shouted at the man's back, but now with the light gone he didn't feel so brave. Whether Nack would go running to find another constable, Matthew didn't know nor did he particularly care. He picked up his bag, looked behind him to make sure no one was sweeping in on him again to lock an iron arm around his throat, and began walking at his own rapid pace toward Grigsby's house.
Never had Matthew been so glad to see a light, even if it was just the punched-tin lantern sitting on the ground beside the outbuilding's door. The cord with the key hung on the doorhandle, as promised. Matthew unlocked the door, went down three steps with the lantern, and found himself in a space about half that of the garret. The hard-packed dirt on the ground was the color of cinnamon. The walls were plastered and painted, suitably, a cream color. an uncomfortable-looking deerskin cot had been set up for him. Well, it was better than the dirt. Or was iti To the credit of Grigsby's hospitality, though, Matthew saw that he'd been supplied a small round table on which sat a waterbowl, a few matches, and a tinderbox. On the floor next to the cot was a chamberpot. He would have to share the space with a stack of wooden boxes, some buckets, an assortment of press parts, a shovel, axe, and other implements and unknown items wrapped up with canvas. Because the floor was so low and there were air-vents in the bricks just below the roof, the place was comfortably cool. For one night, it would do. The only problem, he realized soon enough, was that there was no latch on this side of the door. It would stay closed, but of course would not be locked. He would have to figure out how to somehow secure it.
Matthew then turned his attention to the object that had been so roughly gifted to him. He opened the wax seal and the paper unfolded to reveal a small black notebook with gold leaf ornamentation on the cover. His heart gave a kick that Brutus might have envied. He'd never seen the gold leaf design up close before. It was a square of scrollwork, too elegant for its owner.
Eben ausley's missing notebook. Here in his hands. Given to him by whomi
Matthew sat down on the cot, pulled the table near, and put the lantern on top of it with the lid open to afford the most light. I have something for you, the muffled voice had whispered.
It was incredible, Matthew thought. Yet here it was. For whatever reason, the Masker had to have taken the notebook from ausley's body, and for whatever reason delivered it by means of an arm around the throat. But no blade to the throat. Why noti
I have marked a page. Pay heed to it.
Matthew saw that a page was dog-eared toward the last third of the book. He opened it to that leaf, noting the brown stain that ran along the top of the book and had stuck some of the pages together, for there was evidence a blade had been used to cut them apart. He held the dog-eared page to the light, and saw written by ausley's crimped hand and lead pencil a strange listing.
after that page followed a few blank pages. Matthew went back to the first page and skimmed through what he soon realized was evidence of ausley's disordered mind. Matthew had been not far wrong in assuming that the headmaster was as addicted to his note-taking as to his gambling, for scrawled down were amounts paid for food and drink for his charges, amounts due from various charities and the churches, notes on the weather, listings-of course-of winnings and losings at the tavern tables, notes on the playing styles of different gamblers, and-yes-even jottings on what the man had been eating for lunch and supper and the ease or difficulty of his bowel movements. It was a combination ledger book and personal journal. Matthew found his own name several times in such listings as Corbett the bastard follows me again damn his eyes and Corbett again the shit something must be done. Dark stains on some of the pages may have been patches of ausley's blood or spilled wine from a boisterous night at the tables.
Matthew returned to the dog-eared page and once more read over the series of names and numbers.
The Masker had said Eben ausley was-
"Was whati" Matthew asked quietly, of the lantern's flame.
Though he wished to read the notebook carefully from beginning to end, he was being overcome by weariness. It made no sense to him whatsoever, that the Masker should give him this book. Should mark a page for him. Should refrain from cutting his throat, for wasn't murder the Masker's motivei
Murder, he thought. Murder. Yes, but for a purpose.
It does not serve his purpose to murder me, Matthew realized. It serves his purpose for me to understand this page he has marked.
My God, Matthew thought. The Masker wants me to help him.
He couldn't think about this anymore tonight. He closed the notebook and put it atop the table. Then he got up and set the lantern on the first step, where the opening door would knock it over and give him at least a warning. It was the best he could do. He decided against extinguishing the candle; let it go out on its own.
He took off his shoes, stretched out on the deerskin, and quickly fell away into sleep. But the last image in his mind was not the skulking Masker nor the silent Queen of Bedlam nor Reverend Wade weeping in the night nor any number of things that might have been; it was Berry Grigsby's face across the table in the Trot, golden and freckled in the lamplight, her eyes penetrating his and her voice asking, as if in challenge,
What might I be hiding fromi
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