Part Three: The Message Chapter Twenty-Seven
"My opinion," said Hudson Greathouse as he broke a silence that had stretched over half-an-hour, "is that it can't be done, no matter if you think the contrary. after all, I've had a little more experience in this profession than you."
Matthew let the comment sit. They were on the Philadelphia Pike, riding for New York. It was just after ten o'clock by Matthew's watch. The sun was peeking out from behind gray clouds and glinting off wet trees and puddles on the road. They had left Westerwicke this morning after a breakfast meeting with the two doctors at Mrs. DePaul's eating-house. During the night, while a thunderstorm blew and rain slammed against the shutters of the Constant Friend, Matthew and Greathouse had wrangled over the odds of finding a satisfactory solution to the Queen's identity. Greathouse had said Mrs. Herrald would have considered this problem a lost cause, while Matthew had maintained that no cause was lost until it was abandoned. at last, realizing that Matthew was not going to retreat from his position, Greathouse had shrugged his shoulders, said, "It's on your account then, as far as I'm concerned," and had taken a bottle of rum upstairs to his room. Matthew had listened to the storm wail for a while, drank a last cup of ginger tea, and gone to his own bed to mull the connections of that peculiar pentagon until sleep had rescued him from his own mind past midnight.
"Where are you to begin with thisi" Greathouse asked, riding alongside Matthew. "Do you even have any ideai"
"My ears are open."
"Philadelphia," Matthew said. He guided Dante around a puddle that looked like a swamp ready to swallow the horse to its bit. "To be specific, the office of Icabod Primm."
"Oh, reallyi" Now Greathouse gave a harsh laugh. "Well, that will please our clients, won't iti Didn't you hear them say Primm's not supposed to know anything about thisi"
"My ears are also open, but I don't believe Mr. Primm is..." He paused, searching for the term.
"On the leveli" Greathouse supplied.
"Exactly. If Primm's client cares so much about the lady's welfare, he-or she-is not going to take her out of there, no matter what Primm threatens. Where else would the lady go, to be treated so royallyi Primm's client wants two things: the lady hidden out of the way, and also protected."
"I don't think those doctors will approve of it."
"They don't have to know, do theyi"
Greathouse was quiet for a while. Sunlight was beginning to stream through the woods and the humid air was getting warmer. "This whole thing stinks, if you ask me," Greathouse started up again. "Those lunatics walking around without chains on their ankles. all that hogshit about mental disorders and dream states and such. You know what my father would've used on me if I'd gone into a damned dream statei a bullwhip to wake me up with, that's what! Seems to me that's what some of those people need, not coddling like they're tender violets."
"I assume, then," said Matthew dryly, "that you would give Jacob the bullwhip treatmenti"
"You know what I mean! Hell, call a loon a loon and be done with it!"
"I'm sure there are many so-called doctors in the asylums of England who would agree with you. Then again, they would have no need for our services." Matthew glanced quickly at Greathouse to gauge his expression-which was dour-and then looked toward the road again. "Don't you think it's admirable that Ramsendell and Hulzen want to help their patientsi"
"I think it's foolish and we were wrong to come here. People with mind disease can't be helped."
"Oh, I see. Mind disease, is iti"
"Yes, and don't be cocky about it, either. I had an uncle on my mother's side who got the mind disease. at fifty years of age he liked to sit around and whittle on little wooden horses. Sat me down once and went on about how he saw gnomes in his garden. and him an ex-military man, a cavalry captain! You know, you remind me of him, in a way."
"He was always playing chess. By himself. He set up his games and played both sides, talking to himself all the while."
"Imagine that," Matthew said, and gave Greathouse a sidelong glance.
"all right, then. Suppose you go to Philadelphia and see this Primm bastard. There's no law that says he has to tell you who the woman is. I expect he'll throw you out on your mental disorder. What will you do theni Ehi" When Matthew didn't respond, Greathouse pressed onward. "are you going to walk the streets collaring peoplei asking if they know a little old white-haired lady who thinks she's Queen Mary sitting in a loonhouse waiting for a message from King Williami I can see the Quakers taking in a new boarder at their own asylum. and not to mention that Philadelphia is a larger town than New York. If you're going to make appointments with all the people there, the next time I see you you'll have a gray beard down to your shoes."
"Whati You won't go to help me ask everyone in Philadelphiai"
"I'm serious! I said last night this is on your account. When Mrs. Herrald hears about this-about me letting you agree to this thing-I may wind up sharpening pencils with a dull knife for the next six months. So no, I will not go to Philadelphia on a fool's errand."
"It seems to me," Matthew said, "that you took their money willingly enough." He speared Greathouse with a chilly gaze. "and are you telling me, sir, that after all your blowhard speeches about being tough of body, mind, and spirit that you are weak in the face of a challengei"
"a challenge is one thing. This is an impossible quest. and mind who you're calling weak, boy, because I could knock you off that horse with my little finger."
Before Matthew could think twice about it, he was wheeling Dante in front of Greathouse's horse. Matthew's cheeks had flamed red, his heart was pounding, and he had had enough of the dish Greathouse was so eager to spoon out. Greathouse's mount snorted and backed up as Dante stood his ground. Matthew sat in the saddle seething with anger.
"What the hell's wrong with youi" Greathouse shouted. "You might have caused my horse to-"
"You hold your tongue," Matthew said.
"I said, you hold your tongue."
"Well, well." Greathouse wore a tight grin. "The boy has finally cracked."
"Not cracked. Just ready to tell you what I think of you."
"Reallyi This should be entertaining. Shall I get off my horse and prepare to twist you around that tree over therei"
Matthew felt his nerve faltering. He had to go ahead and speak before his good sense forbade it. "You're going to sit there and listen. If you want to try to twist me around a tree when I'm done, so be it. I have no doubt you could do that, or knock me off my horse with your little finger as you so eloquently spoke, but I'll be damned if I'll let you talk down to me anymore."
Greathouse narrowed his eyes. "What's gotten up your bumi"
"Mrs. Herrald has chosen me for a reason. a very good reason. I'm fairly intelligent and I have a history that intrigues her. No, more than fairly intelligent. I'm very smart, Mr. Greathouse. Probably smarter than you, and you know that. Now I can't fight as well as you can, or use a rapier worth a damn, and I haven't stopped any assassination attempts in the last few months, but I have saved a woman from being burned at the stake as a witch, and I have uncovered a murderer and a plot to destroy an entire town. I think that counts for something. Don't youi"
"I suppose it-"
"I'm not finished," Matthew plowed on, and Greathouse was silent. "I don't have your experience or your physical strength-and maybe I never will-but I intend to get one thing from you that you seem unwilling to offer: your respect. Not because I turn into who you want me to be, but because of who I am. Now Mrs. Herrald seems to trust my judgment, so why shouldn't you when I tell you I can find out who that woman in the hospital is. and not only that, but I think it's vital to find out, because I believe she has some knowledge of Mr. Deverick's death and perhaps even of the Masker."
"That's stretching things, don't you thinki"
"I won't know until I explore it further."
"Explore away, then!" Greathouse gave a sweep of his arm that Matthew thought would have knocked him to Sunday if it had hit him. "What the hell should I care if you go off on a goose-chase and squander Mrs. Herrald's coini"
"It's not her coin," Matthew reminded him. "The doctors are paying expenses."
Greathouse squinted and looked toward the sun, perhaps to burn from his eyes the image of a fool. Then he focused his attention on Matthew again and he said gruffly, "all right, now it's my turn to speak. Yes, Mrs. Herrald has confidence in you. More than I do, by the way, but that ought to be obvious. There's more to this business than mind-work. I've known several very smart gents who walked into a blind alley believing there was an open door at the end of it, and now they lie in graves so only the worms appreciate the size of their brains. Experience counts for a lot of this, yes, but also something you haven't got, which is instinct. I have an instinct you're going to fail at finding out who this woman was-is-and you'll cause more harm than good trying to do it. as far as respect, sir Corbett, you get that from me by one way and one way only: by earning it. So you might be riding a tall horse today, and feel all the flush for your height, but I can tell you that the earth is very hard and unforgiving when you take a fall."
"I'll have to fall to find out then, won't Ii"
"Yes, but at least fall doing something with a possibility of success."
Matthew nodded. He refused to look away from Greathouse's baleful stare. "I think we should agree to disagree, sir, because contrary to your opinion I have the instinct that the Queen has a connection to both Pennford Deverick and the Masker and I intend to find out what it is."
"and I think her Highness is a lunatic whose family put her away to keep her from drooling on the breakfast bacon."
"Something more than that, I believe," said Matthew. "Much more. The maker's marks being either rubbed or chiseled off the furniture tells me she was put there to be invisible. actually, it sounds more to me that Mr. Primm's client fears having the lady's identity discovered. Why should that bei"
"I don't know. You being the chief investigator on this, you enlighten me."
"People who wish to draw a curtain over their activities usually have a secret to hide. I should like to find out what that secret is."
"Now we've gone from finding out identities to finding out supposed secrets."
"Well," Matthew said, "call it an instinct."
Greathouse snorted. "Boy, I'll bet you could drive someone mad with that attitude of yours."
"You have your blades," Matthew answered, "and I have mine."
"So you do." Greathouse regarded Matthew with perhaps a hint of new appreciation, but if it had really been there it was gone in an instant. "You'll notice that while we've been jawing, the road to New York has not gotten any shorter."
They rode on, with Dante now taking the lead by a nose.
The clouds parted and drifted away like so much mist, the sun strengthened and thrust golden swords between the trees, the air shimmered with insects, and the birds sang their delight at life in the modern century. The only other disruption during the trip was the wait for about an hour for the ferry at Weehawken, as an oar had broken on a drifting treetrunk on the New York side, but then the trip was made and Matthew and Greathouse at last guided their horses off the flatboat onto Manhattan mud.
Greathouse said he would report back to Mrs. Herrald and also return to town within the next couple of days to get the list of the upper island residents Magistrate Powers was procuring for him, and then he wished Matthew well and bid him good day. at the stable Matthew relinquished Dante-a "very good horse I hope to use again," he told Mr. Winekoop-and walked up the Broad Way hill for home in the deepening shadows of afternoon. He was used to long rides, for with Powers he'd made many trips to deliver legal documents or scribe cases being heard by the magistrate in smaller towns, but his ass was hurting. a three-day jaunt to Philadelphia was not something he wished to consider at this point in his discomfort.
He was mulling over the fact of the four masks on the wall of the Queen's room-and wondering if his so-called instinct in asserting his determination to solve this problem in front of Greathouse wouldn't result in that topple from a tall horse before all was said and done-when he heard a voice to his right call, "Matthew! Ho there, Matthew!"
He looked around and saw two figures approaching him from the corner of Maiden Lane. a wagon went past, hauling barrels. Matthew stepped back to let the vehicle trundle by. Then the two figures were crossing the Broad Way toward him and he saw Marmaduke Grigsby's gap-toothed grin and stoop-shouldered shamble. The other person wore a round-brimmed straw hat and a bright violet-colored gown decorated with rather loud examples of green lace at the throat and sleeves. Matthew realized he was about to be formally introduced to Beryl Grigsby, whose taste in colors made him feel vaguely seasick.
The last he'd seen of Grigsby's granddaughter was as a mud-colored lump fainting down with relief and exhaustion into a chair at the printmaster's house. Matthew had put the girl's bags on the floor, wished everyone well, and gotten out of there before he caught a bad case of mildew.
"Matthew, I want you to meet Beryl. Now that she's presentable, I mean." Grigsby came on like a four-horse coach while the girl lagged behind. It occurred to Matthew that possibly she didn't care to be supervised any more than he wished to be her supervisor. "Come, come!" Grigsby urged the girl, who kept her face cast down in the shadow of that hat as she obeyed and walked up to stand alongside the old trumpeter. Matthew almost instinctively took a step back, but his manners did hold him steady.
He was surprised to see how tall she was, as he'd expected a female gnome in the mold of her grandfather. Yet she was only two inches shorter than himself, which was a rare height for a woman. Well, Grigsby's loins have begat a giantess, Matthew thought; and a nervous giantess too, for she held her hands clasped together and shifted her weight from foot to foot as if late for a pressing appointment with a chamberpot.
"Matthew Corbett, please meet a rested and recovered Beryl Grigsby. Oh." The old man gave a smile and a wink. "She's informed me that she's no longer called 'Beryl.' It's Berry now. These youngsters!"
"How do you do, Miss Grigsby," Matthew said to the shadowed face, and he caught a quick, reluctant "How do you do, Mr. Corbett," in return and-horrors!-a glimpse of a smile from a pretty-enough mouth but within it a gap between the front teeth that shivered his timbers. "Well," Matthew said, "very nice to meet you and I hope you have a successful stay in our fair town. Good day to you both." With a polite but firm smile to Grigsby, Matthew turned and began walking-quickly, quickly-up the hill toward the pottery shop.
"Uh...oh, Matthew! Please wait a moment, won't youi"
Matthew certainly did not wait. He glanced back over his shoulder and saw that Grigsby had seized the girl's hand and was coming after him. The devil of this was that Matthew was well aware of the printmaster's powers of persuasion. If he let Grigsby set a hook, he'd have this blowsy girl harpooned to his hip before he could say Jack Robinson. He kept going, feeling as if he were in a foot race and wouldn't be safe until he was up behind his blessed trapdoor.
"We have a question to put to you, Matthew!" Grigsby said, unwilling to take no answer for an answer. "Rather, Berry does! Please, Matthew, just give us a moment!"
Matthew was almost knocked off his feet by a pair of dogs that, chasing each other with wild abandon, squirted out between two houses and darted across the Broad Way. He had time to see that the chaser, a dusty yellow dog with as near a grin as an animal might conjure, was wearing a rope collar and trailed a long length of rope behind itself, having broken loose from a recent confinement. Up ahead was the pottery, and also coming south along the Broad Way was a farmer sitting up on a one-horse wagon, behind which was being towed the biggest bull Matthew had ever seen. He realized in another few seconds that his entry into the pottery was going to be blocked by the bullwagon until it creaked past, and so he gave himself up to his fate and turned to meet the Grigsbys just as the old inkspotter nearly fell upon him.
"My Lord!" Grigsby's forehead sparkled with sweat and his eyes were huge behind his spectacles. "What's the hurryi"
"I've had a long, hard day. My hurry is to get home, have supper, and go to an early bed."
"Understandable, of course, but your plan may coincide with our question. Would you care to dine with us this eveningi"
Matthew still had not gotten a good look at the face beneath the hat, though he caught a glimpse of curly red hair. He focused his attention on Grigsby. "I'm sorry, Marmy. Some other time, really."
"Whoa, whoa!" the farmer called to his horse, and he lowered his wagon-brake almost exactly in front of the pottery's display window. He clambered down as Matthew glared at him. Behind the wagon, the bull stomped and snorted. "Watch him!" the farmer cautioned. "Brutus has got a bad temper!"
"Thank you, sir," Matthew shot back. Then, as the farmer tended to drawing tighter the thick rope that tethered Brutus from nose ring to the wagon before they got further into town, Matthew turned again to Grigsby. "Not this evening, but some other time. Honestly."
"You do look beat. What were you up to todayi"
"I was-" out of town, he began to say, but thought better of it lest his trip to visit the Queen of Bedlam become broadsheet fodder. "Just busy."
Grigsby started to speak again, but what he was going to say would have to wait.
For what occurred next happened very fast, starting with the black blur that Matthew realized was a cat streaking under the wagon from the other side of the Broad Way.
Following the feline almost at equal speed was one of the pair of rowdy dogs. Barking with bloodlust, it darted nearly under the horse's hooves, which made the horse jump in its traces and jerk the wagon two inches forward even against the brake. This motion was enough to trap beneath the right rear wheel the trailing rope of the second dog that came racing after its companion, and suddenly the animal was barking and snarling and tangled up in rope under the bulk of Brutus the bull.
"Oh," Matthew thought he heard Berry say, or perhaps this was the noise of breath from the farmer's lungs as the man was knocked through the air like a watermelon when Brutus bucked up off all four legs. The entire rear of the wagon lifted from the ground and the yellow dog shot free and scurried for its miserable life. Brutus, however, was not willing to forgive or forget such an affront so easily, for as the wagon crashed down the bull violently twisted his head and suddenly the plank of wood that secured the metal hook to which Brutus' nose-ring rope was attached splintered and tore away.
"Great God!" the printmaster hollered, as he backed into Matthew and almost laid both of them low. The bull had done some injury to himself and was bleeding from the nostrils. He began to jump and spin like a monstrous top only mere feet away from where Matthew, Grigsby, and the girl had squeezed themselves together as if to make the thinnest possible target, yet they were all frozen with fear at the sight of a rawhide mountain in the process of earthquake. The ground trembled, the horse screamed and dragged at the wagon, and the farmer was crabbing across the street with his right leg bent oddly at the knee. Brutus leaped and spun and the rope with its attached splintered plank and metal hook shrieked over Matthew's head.
When Brutus slammed down again and the dust welled up from his hooves, he suddenly stiffened and lowered his head as if to charge. Matthew had an instant to see the reflection of the bull's face in the pottery's window glass, and then Brutus gave an enraged bellow and the glass was no more for in a tremendous shatter and crash the bull went right through it and much of the pottery's front wall.
"Get out! Get out!" Matthew shouted toward the gaping hole by which Brutus had just entered the pottery, but in all this hellation of noise it would have been impossible for anyone to hear. The sounds of destruction within were cataclysmic, as if armageddon had come to New York with the intent of breaking every cup, platter, and candle holder shaped by the hand of Hiram Stokely. The door, which was hanging by a hinge, abruptly burst from its single restraint. Scrambling out of the doomed shop came Stokely, his face white as a pearl beneath his snowy beard, followed at his heels by Cecily, who Matthew thought might have given a greyhound a run for the money.
The disaster was summoning a crowd from the nearby shops and houses. Someone grabbed the frantic horse's reins and several other samaritans rushed to aid the hapless farmer. Matthew was in no mood to help anybody; he was wincing at every crash that issued through the hole and pile of debris where the window had been, and now he clearly heard the snapping of a timber like a bone breaking. Brutus had just hit one of the support posts that held up the garret floor. He saw the roof tremble. Shingles popped up like jack-in-the-boxes.
Patience Stokely came running from their house on the other side of the shop, wringing her hands with terror. She saw her husband and flung her arms about him, at the same time burying her face against his shoulder as if she couldn't bear to witness the onrushing future. Hiram was either stoic or in shock, it was hard to say which, and Cecily just circled 'round and 'round as if trying to bite her tail.
Dust was rolling out of the pottery from a hundred chinks where treenails had exploded from their joints. Still Matthew heard the noise of destruction as Brutus' fury continued. Somewhere in that cacophony he heard a second timber break. another support post, he realized, and as he watched the roof tremble again like an old man in a nightmare it dawned on him that one man's ceiling was another man's floor.
With another series of explosive crashes, silence fell. Some foolhardy soul tried to look through the hole at the innards of the place but was forced back by the dust.
The silence stretched. Little tinkles of falling glass sounded like sweet music notes, but the concert had been atrocious.
Then suddenly through the ragged aperture came Brutus, a ghostly gray. He pushed himself out like a dog as men shouted and women screamed and surged back to give the beast of the Broad Way room. Brutus stood on the street looking around as if wondering what all the fuss was about, while a few supremely brave or awesomely stupid men crept up on either side and were successful in seizing the nose-ring rope. Brutus gave them what might have been a shrug of his massive shoulders and small glittering pieces of pottery slid off his flanks.
Matthew breathed a sigh of relief. The Stokelys were safe, and that was the important thing.
"Thank God that's over!" said Marmaduke Grigsby, at Matthew's side.
There was a noise like a behemoth's belch, followed by the ominous noise of a hundred boards breaking. The roof seemed to lift upward and hang there for a few seconds, and then as Matthew watched in horror the roof collapsed like a flattened cake. From within the building came the tumult of the gods and a wave of wind and dust that in a matter of seconds had sent a London fog rolling down the Broad Way and turned every man, woman, child, and animal in the throng into a gray-daubed scarecrow.
Matthew was half-blinded. People were staggering around, coughing and hacking. Matthew felt tears in his eyes and thought this would surely make the first story of the next Earwig. It wasn't every day that an entire building was knocked to the ground by a rampaging bull. He made his way through the murk toward the hole where the window had been, and he was able to see all the way up to the crooked beams of the roof, for no longer was there a ceiling nor garret floor. amid the wreckage spread before him he could make out a few items that made his throat clutch: here a broken bed, there the pieces of a clothes chest...and, yes, over there what remained of a bookcase that used to have burned underneath the bottom shelf the name and date of Rodrigo de Pallares, Octubre 1690.
He backed away from this sickening scene, and when he turned around he saw through the drifting pall the girl watching him.
She had either removed her hat or lost it, and the long curly tresses of red hair that had been caught up underneath now spilled in waves over her shoulders. Though she was as dusty as everyone else, still she seemed oblivious to this discomfort. She said nothing, but perhaps she saw the hurt in his eyes for she too had a wounded look as if sharing the pain he felt at the destruction of his home. She had a finely chiseled nose and a firm jaw that on a smaller girl with more delicate features might have been too wide or too strong, but she was neither small nor delicate. She simply looked at him, sadly, as the dust floated around and between them. Matthew took a step forward and felt terribly light-headed. He sat down-or rather, sank down-upon the street, and that was when he realized that he was the object of a second female's attention.
Cecily was sitting on her haunches nearby, regarding him with a slightly tilted head. Her ears twitched. Was there a shine in those piggy little eyesi Could a pig smile, and in so smiling say I told you, didn't Ii
"Yes," Matthew answered, recalling all those knee-bumps and snout-shoves. "You did."
The disaster had at last arrived, as Cecily had predicted. He listened to the last few notes of falling glass and popping treenails, and then he drew his knees up to his chin and sat there staring at nothing until Hiram Stokely came to clasp his arm and help him to his feet.
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