Part Three: The Message Chapter Twenty-Six


To the surprise of both Matthew and Greathouse, the two doctors did not lead them into the stone building after they left the office. Instead, they began walking on a pathway along the asylum toward the other house at the garden's edge.

The light was dwindling. Poles that held lanterns were set up at intervals, as on the streetcorners of New York, and a gray-clad man with a bald pate was touching a match to the candlewicks. "Good evening, sirs," said the man cheerfully as the group passed, and Dr. Ramsendell answered, "Evening, Charles."

"That was another patienti" Greathouse asked when they'd distanced themselves. When Ramsendell nodded, Greathouse said, "Call me slow, but I'm not fully understanding why you're letting lunatics out and about when they ought to be locked up."

"as I said, we have an enlightened attitude here. Unlike the London asylums, which to be honest are so overburdened the doctors there have little choice but to throw all the patients together into one mass. I will admit that we take some risks in giving a few of our charges special privileges and responsibilities, but not without proper evaluation."

"Don't any of them try to run away if they get the chancei"

"We are very careful in assigning freedoms," said Hulzen, who trailed smoke from his pipe. "It's true that we had two escapes seven years ago, the first year we began operation, but on the whole the patients who are afforded tasks are pleased to be trusted. and of course we make sure their minds are firm enough to understand the consequences of imprudent action."

"What might that bei" Greathouse prodded. "Whipping them until their backs are bloodyi"

"Not at all!" There was a little heat in the response and smoke almost blew in Greathouse's face. "We detest the primitive approach. The most drastic punishment here would be solitary confinement."

"You might like to know," Ramsendell added as they continued walking the length of the asylum, "that Charles and two other patients serve as night watchmen. Of course we do have a pair of men from Westerwicke who are paid to act as guards during the day."

"Dr. Ramsendell!" someone called. It was a husky voice yet silkily pleasant. "Dr. Ramsendell, might I have a wordi" The voice of a salesman, Matthew thought.

Instantly Ramsendell seemed to tense. His pace faltered, nearly causing Matthew to collide with him.

"Dr. Ramsendell, won't you show a little Christian pity to a sick and sorrowful mani"

Matthew saw a face peering through the bars of one of the asylum's unshuttered windows. The eyes caught his and held them with almost an unbreakable force, so much so that Matthew felt his own stride slowing to a stop.

"Oh!" said the man. He grinned. "Hello there, young dandy."

"Come along, Mr. Corbett," Ramsendell urged.

"Mr. Corbett, is iti" The grin widened, showing very large teeth. "Dr. Ramsendell is a very fine man and a wonderful physician, Mr. Corbett. If he says you need a stay here, you should well believe it is for your good and the good of all society. But beware his wrath, for one small lapse of judgment might mean you must eat your supper all alone."

The others had stopped just beyond Matthew, and now Hulzen came back to his side and said quietly, "It's best not to speak."

"and Dr. Hulzen thinking not only am I mad, but also deef!" The man made a clucking sound and shook his head. "For shame!" He curled big-knuckled hands around the bars and pressed his face forward. He had a wide, square-jawed face with pale blue eyes that held such pure merriment no one would believe it was the moonshine of madness. His hair was straw-colored, parted straight up the middle and the sides turning to gray. His thick mustache was more gray than straw. He looked to be a large man, his head almost to the top of the window and his chest a massive bulk in the gray asylum uniform. His fleshy lips moved, wet with saliva. "I'll repeat my offer to shave you, Dr. Ramsendell. I'll polish that beard right off. Give your chin and throat a fine going-over. Ehi" He began to laugh, a frog's croak from deep in that barrel chest, and suddenly the glint in his eyes caught red and for a passing instant Matthew thought he might be looking into the face of Satan himself. Then the glint went out like a fire under a trapdoor and the man's voice, soft and salesmanlike again, reached out for him. "Step nearer, dandy. Let's have a look at your throat."

"Mr. Corbetti" Ramsendell stepped in front of Matthew and looked into his face, as if to shield him from a wicked spell. "We really should be going on."

"Yes," Matthew agreed. He felt sweat at his temples. "all right."

"I'll remember you!" the man behind the bars called as his audience walked away. "Oh, I'll remember all of you!"

"Who in blazes was thati" Greathouse asked, glancing back once and then not daring to glance again because the big hands were running up and down the bars as if seeking a weak place to crack.

"That," Ramsendell answered, and for the first time Matthew and Greathouse heard distaste-and perhaps a shudder of fear-in his voice, "was a problem we shall be ridding ourselves of soon. He was sent to us almost a year ago from the Quaker institution in Philadelphia. He's more cunning than insane, I can tell you. He fooled me into giving him work privileges, and the first chance he got he tried to murder poor Mariah back at the red barn." He motioned toward the road that led to the outbuildings. "Well, the Quakers have found out it seems he was a barber in London and he may have been involved with a dozen murders. We're expecting a letter in the autumn instructing us to take him to the New York gaol to wait for ship transfer to England. a constable will of course be coming over as well to make sure he arrives in irons."

"If it was up to me, I'd take him on the road and blow his brains out," Greathouse said. "a pistol could save a lot of wasted money."

"Unfortunately, we have signed a decree with the Quakers verifying that he will be delivered to New York in good health. On our Christian honor." Ramsendell took another two steps and then said thoughtfully, "You know, if this business goes well with the Queen, you gentlemen might consider our hiring you to escort Mr. Slaughter to New York."

"Mr. Slaughteri" Matthew asked.

"Yes. Tyranthus Slaughter. an unfortunate name though possibly well-deserved. But do consider that task if at all feasible, sirs. Just thirty-some miles. What could go wrongi ah, here's our destination."

They had reached the house by the garden. Matthew smelled the scents of honeysuckle and mint. a few fireflies were sparking in the branches of the elm trees beyond. Ramsendell took a leather cord holding several keys from a pocket of his waistcoat, slid a key into the front door's lock, and opened it. "Watch your step, gentlemen," he said, though it was an unnecessary precaution for the open door had exposed a lamp-lit corridor with a long dark blue runner upon the floor. One lantern sat upon a small table and about midway along the corridor was a wrought-iron chandelier of four lamps, previously lit by-Matthew assumed-either Charles or one of the other trustees. as Matthew followed the two doctors in-and Greathouse lagged a few steps behind as if mistrustful of this unknown but perfectly normal-looking residence-he noted four closed doors, two on either side of the hall.

"This way, please." Ramsendell continued to the last door on the right. He rapped softly on it, waited a few seconds, and then said, "Madami It's Dr. Ramsendell and Dr. Hulzen. We've brought two visitors to meet you." There was no response. He looked at Matthew. "She never answers but we think she appreciates the formality." He pushed another key into the lock and turned it. "also we do respect her privacy." Then, louder, and aimed toward the lady within: "I'm opening the door now, madam."

That particular action also brought neither word nor rustle of motion. The doctors entered first, then Matthew and a decidedly timid Greathouse. Matthew caught another sweet scent; not of the garden this time, but rather of some flowery perfume or oil within the room. It was still dim here, blue twilight spilling between the open shutters of two windows. Matthew saw that the windows in this chamber were not barred, but were wide to the evening and the outside world. One faced the garden, while another was situated toward the forest where the fireflies pulsed.

Hulzen lit a match. He touched it to the triple candlewicks of a lantern that sat upon a table below the garden-facing window. The flames strengthened, illuminating in gold what appeared to be the parlor of any well-kept house in New York. But more than well-kept, Matthew decided as he gazed around. Richly maintained would be more accurate, for on the floor was a beautiful rug of small purple, gray, and blue squares, and upon the pale blue-painted walls were paintings within gleaming gilt frames. Hulzen went about lighting a second three-candle lantern that stood on a pedestal across the room, now revealing a white-canopied bed with ornate scrollwork, a pair of high-backed chairs with gray upholstery, and a round oak table that bore at its center a wooden bowl holding a few ripe apples and pears. Near the bed was a large wardrobe of some dark and luxurious wood so sinuously jointed that Matthew thought it must have been crafted by a true master's hand and cost a small fortune. Little red flowers and green leaves had been meticulously painted around the edges of the wardrobe's doors, which were opened by a latch that appeared to be if not pure gold then very near it.

Hulzen lit a third lamp. Its glow spread upon the opposite side of the room from which Matthew and Greathouse stood. Illuminated was a small fireplace, cold now in the midst of summer. What was remarkable there was the fireplace screen, an intricate golden metalwork of tree branches upon which perched painted birds-cardinal, robin, bluebird, and white dove-in richly daubed original colors. above the mantel was a framed painting that Matthew stepped closer to see; it depicted a scene of the waterways of Venice at what seemed to be blue sunset much like the current horizon.

He swept his gaze across other objects, his mind taking in a treasure of details: small bottles with blown-glass flower caps sitting atop a dresser, a silver hairbrush and handmirror beside them; a set of six little horses that looked to be carved from ivory; thimbles arranged in perfect order beside a pair of spectacles; on another small table a Bible, a stack of slim pamphlets, and...yes, there was the latest Earwig too.

"May I introduce youi" asked Dr. Ramsendell.

Matthew looked up from his discoveries. Ramsendell was standing next to the window that afforded a view toward the forest. Beside him was the high back of a dark purple chair, and now both Matthew and Greathouse could see that someone with white hair was sitting there.

Ramsendell was speaking to the woman in the chair. "Madam," he said in a quiet voice, "I'd like you to meet Mr. Hudson Greathouse and Mr. Matthew Corbett. They've ridden from New York to see you. Would you come forward, gentlemeni"

"after you," Greathouse said under his breath.

Matthew approached Ramsendell, as Dr. Hulzen stepped back and watched.

"This is our Queen, sirs. We call her 'Madam,' for the sake of propriety."

Matthew stopped. He was looking down at a small-boned, frail woman who paid him not the least notice, but who continued staring out the window at the display of sparkling lights in the trees. He thought she must be well over sixty. Sixty-five, possibly. Closer to seventyi It was hard to tell. She was almost swallowed up by her silken homegown, which was the pink hue of the palest rose. On her feet were slippers of the same material and color but adorned with small bows. The woman had a cloud of thick, neatly brushed white hair, and her face, which Matthew saw in profile, was heavily lined yet innocent and almost childlike in its repose. She stared straight ahead, her soft brown eyes glittering with lamplight. She was focused entirely upon the dance of the fireflies. Below an uptilted, elegant nose her mouth moved occasionally as Matthew watched, as if she were posing questions to herself, or making some observation that was silent to her audience. Her hands, which clasped the armrests, bore no rings and neither did she wear any necklaces or other personal statements of fashion. Or statements of identity, Matthew thought.

"Does she have a wedding ringi" he asked, thinking aloud.

"She arrived with no jewelry," Ramsendell said, "but all the furnishings here came with her. We have taken the liberty of searching for letters or any other identifying papers. Nothing gives us any clue as to who she might be, though it's obvious she is-was-a woman of means."

"No name or initials in the Biblei"

"a new volume, it appears. Not even a fingermark on it."

"Maker's marks on the furniturei"

"Someone thought of that," Hulzen said. "The marks have either been rubbed away or, where they were burned into the wood, cut out with a small chisel."

Greathouse came forward and stood beside Matthew. "Can she hear usi" It had been spoken in what for him was nearly a whisper.

"She can hear perfectly well. But rarely does she respond to anything, and then it's either a quick 'yes' or 'no' or-at best-some cryptic statement neither Curtis nor I can fathom."

Matthew saw the woman cock her head slightly to the left, as if listening a little more intently, but her placid gaze did not change and she made no further motion. Since it appeared that Hudson Greathouse was paralyzed in the presence of the mentally infirm, Matthew decided it was up to him to steer the course. "I think we ought to be told the whole story."

Ramsendell nodded. He regarded the woman with a tender expression as he spoke. "She came to us in april of 1698-"

"Came to youi" Matthew interrupted; he was in his element now, and he could almost feel the blood flowing in his brain. "Exactly howi"

"Was brought to us," Ramsendell corrected. He answered the next question before Matthew could ask it. "By a lawyer in Philadelphia. Icabod Primm, of Market Street. He had written us previously, and visited us, to make certain his client would be satisfied."

"Hold on." Greathouse was totally bumfuddled. "His clienti I thought you said you didn't know who she was. Is, I mean."

"We don't." By Hulzen's sour expression, he was beginning to think Greathouse was something of a lout. "We're trying to tell you."

"More directly then, please," said Matthew crisply. "How is it this woman arrived here nameless yet represented by a Philadelphia lawyeri"

"Mr. Primm," came the reply from Ramsendell, "never spoke to her by any other term but either 'Madam' or 'Lady.' If he spoke to her at all, which as I remember was not very often and anyway she was in the exact same state you see her in now. His letters mentioned a 'client' but no name whatsoever. We are paid a yearly fee-quite a large fee, by the way-to keep Madam in her present accommodations, apart from the other patients and living amid familiar objects from her...shall I say...previous life. She has never had a visitor, but every april sixteenth the money has come by messenger from Mr. Primm, who told us that very first april, four years ago, that any effort on our part to discover Madam's identity and history will result in his immediately removing her from this hospital. He has stated that his client has given him full power of representation, and so we signed the letter of admittance according to the terms."

"His client." Greathouse spoke it with some distaste. "Some young cur who married a wealthy older woman and then stashed her here when her mind wenti So he takes the fortune and even strips her wedding ring offi"

"We considered that and rejected it." Hulzen had fired up his pipe again and was standing beside the window with the garden view. "What you must understand, Mr. Greathouse, is that we are involved in an experimental treatment here. We have the belief that persons with mental disorders might be helped, and someday possibly returned to society. That's why we built these four rooms in this house, so we might pursue that treatment with patients who would benefit from being in more familiar surroundings rather than the austerity of the asylum. at least we hoped that, when we began."

"a room in this part of our hospital is, as I said, very expensive," Ramsendell continued. "We doubt that someone would-as you put it-'stash' a relative here, or care to provide all these beautiful furnishings. No, we feel certain that Mr. Primm's client cares very deeply for Madam's welfare. Obviously Primm must have looked into the Quaker institution for similar living accommodations and was told about our hospital by them."

"Is this lady the only current occupant herei" Matthew asked.

"No, there's another elderly woman in the first room. Unfortunately she's bedridden. But we do know her name and her circumstances, and her son and two daughters make frequent visits. We are gratified to say that we've helped her regain some of her power of speech."

"This makes no sense," Greathouse said, a horn's pitch too loudly. "Why are you trying to find out anything about this woman at all, if-" He stopped, for the lady in the chair had given the softest whisper of a sigh. Her mouth moved again, making no noise. Matthew saw her eyes follow a bluejay that darted past the window. When Greathouse spoke again, it was the verbal equivalent of walking on eggs. "If," he said, "you've been forbidden to do so by Mr. Primmi"

"Simply put," answered Ramsendell, "we are not whores."

"Well," Greathouse said, with a nervous laugh, "I never suggested such."

"My point being, we are physicians. Professional healers. Madam has been here for four years with no change whatsoever. Curtis and I believe that if we knew her history, we might be able to"-he paused, assembling his sentence-"help her out of this shell she has constructed to keep the world at bay. We think she has suffered a severe shock, and this is her mind's method of survival." He waited to make sure Greathouse and Matthew had grasped his diagnosis. "Yes, we have gladly accepted the money from Mr. Primm and put it to good purpose in the hospital. and yes, we signed the letter of terms fully aware of its limitations. But that was four years ago. You are here today, gentlemen, because we wish you to discover Madam's identity and history without the involvement of Mr. Primm."

Matthew and Greathouse looked at each other. Their unspoken question was Can it be donei

"There's another thing you might find of interest." Ramsendell walked to the table where the Earwig lay. He picked the broadsheet up and held it for the visitors to see. "as I said, Madam likes to be read to. Occasionally she nods or makes a soft sound that I take to be approval as I'm reading the Bible or one of the other books. On Friday evening after supper I was reading to her from this sheet. For the first time, she repeated a word that she heard me say."

"a wordi What was iti" Greathouse asked.

"To be exact, it was a name." Ramsendell put his finger upon the news item. "Deverick."

Matthew remained silent.

"I read the article again, but there was no response," said Ramsendell. "No spoken response, that is. I saw by the lamplight that Madam was weeping. Have you ever seen anyone weep without making a noise, sirsi Or changing their expression from what it is day in and day out, hour after houri But there were the tears, crawling down her cheeks. She demonstrated an emotional reaction to that name, which is extremely remarkable because we've seen no emotion from her for the four years of her residence."

Matthew stared down at the woman's profile. She was perfectly immobile, not even her lips moving to betray the secret thoughts.

"I read the article to her several times with no further incident. I've spoken the name to her and gotten only a sigh or shift of position. But I saw your notice and I began to wonder if you might help, for this is certainly a problem to be solved. So Curtis and I discussed this, I went to New York on Saturday, left the inquiry, and came back yesterday."

"The mention of one name doesn't mean anything," Greathouse scoffed. "I'm surely no expert, but if she's not right in the head, then why should the name have meaning for heri"

"It's the fact that she made the effort." Hulzen's face was daubed orange as he put another match to his pipe. "also the evidence of the tears. We feel very strongly that she does know that name, and in her own way was trying to tell us something."

Now Greathouse began to get his back up. "Beg pardon, but if that evidence was stuffing for a mattress you'd be sleeping on a board."

Matthew decided to do one simple thing before the wrangling could grow into argument. He knelt down beside the woman, looked at her profile, which was as still as a portrait, and said quietly, "Pennford Deverick."

Was there a brief flicker of the eyei Just the merest tightening of the mouth, as a line deepened almost imperceptibly at its corneri

"Pennford Deverick," he repeated.

The two doctors and Hudson Greathouse watched him without comment.

There was no response from Madam that Matthew could tell, yet...did her left hand clutch the armrest a fraction more firmlyi

He leaned closer. He said, "Pennford Deverick is dead."

Her head suddenly and smoothly turned and Matthew was looking directly into her face. The abruptness of this made him gasp and almost topple backward, but he held his position.

"Young man," she said in a clear, strong voice, and though her expression was exactly the same as when she'd been watching the fireflies her tone carried an edge of irritation, "has the king's reply yet arrivedi"

"The...king's replyi"

"That was my question. Would you answer, pleasei"

Matthew looked to the doctors for help, but neither spoke nor offered assistance. Hulzen continued to smoke his pipe. It occurred to Matthew that they had heard this question before. "No, madam," he nervously responded.

"Come fetch me when it does," she said, and then her face turned toward the window again and Matthew felt her moving away from him even though the physical distance did not alter an atom. In another few seconds she was somewhere very far away.

Ramsendell said, "That's why she's called the Queen. She asks that question several times a week. She asked Charles one day if the king's reply had arrived, and he told the others."

Matthew tried again, for the sake of attempt. "Madam, what was your question to the kingi"

There was no reaction from her whatsoever.

Matthew stood up. He was still thoughtfully absorbed in watching her face, which had now become that of a statue. "Have you ever told her the reply had arrivedi"

"I have," Hulzen said. "Just as an experiment. She seemed to be waiting for some other action on my part. When I failed to do whatever it was she expected, she went back into her dream state."

"Dream state," Greathouse muttered under his breath.

Matthew was suddenly aware that, as he stared at the Queen of Bedlam, he was also being keenly watched in turn by four other faces.

He looked up, at what caught yellow lamplight there on the opposite wall next to the window.

His mouth was very dry.

He said with what seemed an effort, "What are thosei"

"Oh." Ramsendell motioned toward them. "Her masks."

Matthew was already walking around behind the Queen's chair, past Greathouse and the two doctors to the four masks that hung upon the wall. He hadn't seen them before, as his attention had been so firmly fixed upon the lady. Two of the masks were plain white, one red with black diamond shapes upon the cheeks, and the fourth black with the shapes of red diamonds framing the eyeholes.

"They came with her," Ramsendell said. "I think they may be Italian."

"No doubt," Matthew murmured; he was thinking of what ashton McCaggers had told him: In the Italian tradition, carnival masks are sometimes decorated with colored diamond or triangle shapes around the eyes. Particularly the harlequin masks of-

"Venice," Matthew said, and looked across the room at the blue-toned painting that depicted the city of canals. "She may have visited there, at some time." He was speaking mostly to himself. again he regarded the quartet of masks. Then back to the woman's face. Then at the copy of the Earwig still clutched in Ramsendell's hand.

Matthew was, in a way, measuring the distance between all these things as surely as if he were a surveyor's compass. Not the physical distance, but the space between them in terms of meaning. The Queen's face in calm tranquility, the masks upon the wall, the broadsheet, and back and forth and forth and back. From Deverick to masks, he thought. Or should that be from Deverick to Maskeri

"What is iti" asked Greathouse, sensing turbulence where Matthew was standing.

Matthew traced with a finger the red diamond shapes around the eyes of the black mask. Yes, they were similar-identicali-to the wounds on the faces of the Masker's victims. He turned around again to look at the Queen, and to clarify what was beginning to form in his mind.

That she sat in her chair, a sad yet regal presence, at the center of this unknown geometry between Pennford Deverick and his killer.

Two facts made his brain burn.

Whoever had put her here cared for her-loved heri-deeply, and wished her to be watched over in some semblance of the previous wealthy life she must have enjoyed, yet this same person had gone to the length of chiseling away the maker's marks from the furniture to prevent her identity being traced.

Whyi

Did she really recognize the Deverick name, from somewhere in the locked room her mind occupiedi If so, again, why had that name caused her to shed silent tearsi

Deverick to Masker and Masker to Deverick. But was the proper geometry really Queen of Bedlam to Masker to Dr. Godwin to Pennford Deverick to Eben ausleyi

"May I ask what you're thinkingi" It was Ramsendell's voice.

"I'm thinking that I may be looking at a pentagon," Matthew replied.

"Whati" asked Hulzen, as a thread of smoke leaked over his chin.

Matthew didn't answer, for he was still calculating. Not distances of meaning this time, but whether or not he thought there was any possibility of success at solving this particular problem. Where to begini How to begini

"So." Greathouse made the word sound like a note of portent. "Does she think herself to be Queen Maryi Waiting for a message from King Williami" He scratched his chin, which was in need of a shave. "Doesn't anyone have the heart to tell her that William is deceasedi"

Matthew had come to a conclusion. "I think we will accept this problem, sirs."

"Wait just one moment!" Greathouse flared up, before the doctors could respond. "I haven't agreed to that!"

"Welli" Matthew turned a cool gaze toward him. "Why wouldn't youi"

"Because...because we ought to talk about it first, that's why!"

"Gentlemen, if you wish to return with your answer in the morning, we'd be most grateful," said Ramsendell. "You can find rooms at the Constant Friend, but I have to say that the food is better at Mrs. DePaul's eating-house."

"Just so I can get a very large and very strong drink," Greathouse muttered. Then, more loudly and directed to Ramsendell: "Our fee would be three crowns and expenses. One crown to be paid upon agreement."

Ramsendell looked for advice to Hulzen, who shrugged. "Expensive," Ramsendell replied, "but I believe we can manage that if your expenses are reasonable."

"They may or may not be. It all depends." Greathouse, Matthew knew, was trying to break the deal before it was sealed. The rogue of swords was definitely unnerved by the shadow of madness; it was, after all, not something he could fight with fists, pistol, or rapier.

Ramsendell nodded. "We'll trust your judgment. after all, you're the professionals."

"Yes." Greathouse might have puffed his chest up a bit, but it was clear to Matthew that the matter of the fee had been settled. "Yes, we are."

Before they departed from the room, Matthew paused to again take in the rich appointments, the elegant furniture and paintings. Where was the woman's husbandi he wondered. There was a lot of money on display here. What occupation had earned iti

He looked once more at the group of Italian masks, and then at the woman's immobile profile. She wore her own mask, he thought. Behind it might be a mindless blank, or a tortured memory.

Young man, has the king's reply yet arrivedi

"Good evening to you," Matthew said to the silent Queen of Bedlam, and followed the others out the door.

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