Part Two: The Madness Chapter Fifteen
Near ten o'clock, Dippen Nack stopped at the well in the middle of Maiden Lane. He put aside his lantern and short-handled pitchfork, lowered the well's bucket, and took a drink of water, which he then followed with a tremendous gulp from a leather flask produced from under his coat. Then he retrieved his items and circled the well, swinging his lamplight back and forth over the house and storefronts with his pitchfork at the ready and calling that a decent inspection. He walked off along Maiden Lane to the west, heading in the direction of the Broad Way.
Matthew edged around the corner of Jacob Wingate's wig shop, where he'd been hiding, to watch the insufferable little man strut away like a bantam cock. Nack was one of the constables Matthew felt gave the position a bad name. Quick to accuse an innocent citizen and quick to flee from any perceived danger, Nack also had a mean disposition. He'd been warned by several of the magistrates-among them Magistrate Powers-to refrain from filching the gaol-keeper's keys and going into the gaol late at night to piss on the prisoners as they slept.
Keeping watch on Reverend Wade's house was more difficult than Matthew had expected, for Nack was the second constable he'd recognized on Maiden Lane within an hour. The other one, Sylvester Coppins, had been armed with an axe. It wouldn't do to allow himself to be seen skulking around, but fortunately there was a three-foot-wide space between Wingate's shop and the next structure, a house, which was sufficient to hide him within its depth. Very few structures fit up exactly alongside one another on these streets, and Matthew wondered if the Masker hid from public view just in the same way, moving from concealment to concealment as he fled the murder scenes. It seemed to Matthew, though, that perhaps the constables had been instructed to walk more quickly on their rounds than usual, which meant either that Lillehorne wanted more of a display of protection for the citizens or that the constables themselves were in a hurry to keep moving. Nack's drink of water before he downed his jolt told Matthew the man wished to stay more alert than was normal for a cowardly drunkard, even one armed with a pitchfork.
Matthew wished he at least had a lamp, but on this night he courted the dark. He might have done with a rapier or pistol, as well. Even a slingshot, for that matter. He was very aware of his lack of defenses, thus he took care to watch his back lest anything swoop on him out of the same space that gave shelter.
It was really madness to be out here, he'd thought more than once. a few citizens had gone past, several of them stumbling drunk, others striding with quick purpose to get indoors. He doubted that the bravery of the constables would last much after eleven, as the lantern candles melted down. It might be also that Reverend Wade didn't come out tonight, for though he was a man of God he was fully cognizant of what the Devil could do.
Perhaps it was best to go home at ten-thirty, Matthew decided as his watch ticked in his pocket. Then a movement from the right caught his attention, his heart jumped, and he swiftly retreated to his hiding-place. Two gentlemen carrying lanterns and walking-sticks crossed his field of vision and continued at a brisk pace until they were beyond sight. New York was a nervous town, and Grigsby's Earwig wasn't even out yet. Matthew had spent some time at the Gallop after leaving John Five and had learned from the usuals there that Effrem Owles was indeed helping Grigsby with the printing tonight, a task that would likely continue into the early hours.
Time passed. Matthew thought it must nearly be ten-thirty. There'd been no movement on Maiden Lane since the two men had walked by. He crouched down to rest his legs and then stood up again a while later when his knees began to protest. By habit he looked left and right, then over his shoulder, but he kept his attention fixed on the door of the Wade house across the street and up two houses.
Eleven o'clock, he decided it must be. There wasn't enough light here to see his watch. Just a little longer and he would call it quits.
Perhaps three minutes after he'd made that decision, he saw a candle pass by one of Reverend Wade's front windows. He waited, now hoping that either the minister or his daughter was just moving around in the house and there would be no nocturnal journey.
But suddenly the door opened and the stiff-backed and somber figure in a black suit and black tricorn emerged from the house in the yellow circle of the punched-tin lantern he was carrying. William Wade closed the door behind him, came down the four front steps to the street, and walked past Matthew, heading east at a pace neither rapid nor what might be called languid, as Matthew pressed himself against the wig shop's wall. Wade turned right onto Smith Street, and the pursuit had begun.
Matthew followed but gave the reverend plenty of room to get well ahead. They were alone on Smith Street as they passed, one before the other, the place where Deverick had been murdered. Matthew felt his spine crawl and imagined himself to be watched just as he watched Reverend Wade. He'd thought of taking a lantern from one of the cornerposts, but to remove town property was a crime that could result in the branding of the T on the right hand. also he didn't wish to show a light to his quarry. Night had never before seemed so dark, but for better or worse he was at its mercy.
He soon discovered that, murderous Masker or not, some of the town's citizens refused to go home. Lively fiddle music came from the Cat's Paw, just along Wall Street to the left. across Wall Street and down near the wharfside slave market, a group of men stood outside the Cock'a' Tail, their voices rising, tangling in argument or spirited discussion, and then fading away again. The place drew both rowdies and high-pockets, and more than one man had been killed down there in those spirited discussions over such mundanes as speculation on the prices of corn meal and whale oil.
Still Reverend Wade walked south along Smith Street and Matthew followed at a respectful distance. Several other men in groups of twos and threes passed, going in the opposite direction, but Wade kept his head lowered and his stride purposeful. Matthew as well looked into no one's face, for anyway just about everyone he passed seemed if not drunk then at least tipsy. But no one looked into his face, either, and Matthew considered that though these nighttime ramblers played a fine game they were-as was he-gripped by fear of the unknown.
They passed the flickering lantern on the cornerpost of Sloat Lane, where Matthew had trailed ausley to that nasty encounter on Monday night. It came to him that he was likely following the "mystery man" in black clothes and tricorn who'd paused to watch him on that occasion. Matthew wondered if the reverend had recognized him or had simply recognized some kind of danger brewing in that dark and burnt passageway. In any event, Wade's destination that night had probably caused him to hold his tongue.
Reverend Wade turned right onto Princes Street, just past the gunsmith's shop, and Matthew took the turn as well but at a cautious pace. They were walking west toward Broad Street and passed the Blind Eye, another infamous den of gambling that Matthew understood was one of Gardner Lillehorne's favorite haunts. The place was still doing business, as muffled shouts from the patrons could be heard through the door above which hung a sign with a painted white-pupiled eye. as was said, whatever happened at the Blind Eye, no one saw it.
On crossing Broad Street, the reverend angled his course slightly to the south and entered narrow Petticoat Lane.
Matthew followed, noting that Wade's pace had slowed. They went past the shuttered shops and silent houses, yet on the night air came a woman's laughter like the sound of silver coins falling upon the cobblestones.
Standing at about the middle of Petticoat Lane, on the right-hand side of the street and separated from the surrounding structures by shoulder-high hedges, was a two-story brick house painted rose pink. It was a handsome place, originally built by a Dutch fur exporter, with tall windows under a gabled roof and two chimneys, one on each end of the house. as Matthew watched, the reverend stopped in the street directly in front of the house and stared up at it, his lantern down by his side. The wash of candles shone through the gauzy curtains that hung at the windows, and Matthew could see the movement of shadows within.
Reverend Wade remained where he was. Matthew realized the man had reached his destination, and was simply staring at the house with an expression that was impossible to read.
It was the house of Polly Blossom. Beyond those walls lived, as Matthew understood, anywhere from four to eight doxies, depending on who told the story. Madam Blossom was a hard taskmaster who groomed her ladies for their role, demanding a certain amount of work from them and a certain amount of income in return for their lodging. She herself was not above the labor in the case of special customers. Matthew knew nothing of her history, other than that she'd come from London to set up shop in 1694. Many young doves of unfortunate circumstance had lodged there, and of course a multitude of men had passed through. It was a fact of life, and hardly anyone in New York cast a bitter eye or word toward the house since Madam Blossom made a point of donating so much money to public works, such as upkeep of the wells.
But that was that and this was this: what was Reverend Wade doing here, of all placesi
Matthew had the sudden horror that the reverend was going to go through the pink-painted iron gate between the hedges, climb the steps to the front door, and knock to make his entry; then Matthew would hold knowledge that would damn the man in this town. Enlightened as New York might be, it would not breach a man of God dallying with prostitutes. But abruptly the door opened, a man came out to the stoop and turned to speak to a woman behind him, and just that quickly Reverend Wade had vanished off the street. Matthew as well pressed against the doorway of the house at his back. In a moment footsteps approached, the recent customer of the Blossom enterprise walked past trailing smoke from his pipe, and Matthew thought this is where the Masker ought to stand if he wished to kill men who were half-dazed and the other half addled.
Slowly and carefully, Matthew looked out again along Petticoat Lane. The reverend was nowhere in sight. Gone, Matthew thought. But no, no...he couldn't have just disappeared like that. Matthew waited, as about fifteen seconds passed.
Then there came a little blush of lamplight and Wade emerged from between two houses like a snail from its shell. In fact, he only showed his head and shoulders. again, he kept the lantern well down so as to spread the light across the cobbles. He just seemed to be staring at the Blossom house as if transfixed.
Now what was the matter herei Matthew wondered. He was still terrified that he was about to witness a minister's fall, yet if Wade was enthralled by one or more of the ladies here and he made these regular journeys then why did he not just go ini
Because there was something more than just the walk and the house, Matthew decided. There was Dr. Vanderbrocken and the woman who'd been waiting at the corner. There was urgency, and secrecy, and...
and there was the fact that Matthew saw Reverend Wade lean his head against the stones of the house beside him, saw the man cover his eyes, and heard him give a quiet yet soul-broken sob.
Matthew felt shame at witnessing this scene. He stared down at the sidewalk bricks. This whole thing had taken a bent that made him wish he'd never agreed to it. Now he was part of the secret too, and because he knew his own nature of counting the angels on the heads of pins he knew he would have to find out why Wade sobbed before a house where tears were never shed.
In another moment he heard the sound of footsteps, coming closer. The reverend was on the move again. Matthew looked up and saw Wade following his light on the other side of the street, retracing his path back the way he'd come. Matthew realized he was in danger of being revealed by the wash of light if Wade happened to lift the lantern in his direction; he flattened himself against the doorway and held his breath.
The reverend continued on, his face downcast. Whatever worry-or trouble, as John Five had expressed it-was such a burden on the man that he looked neither right nor left but passed by Matthew, who had taken the attitude of a statue. He crossed Broad Street, and only then did Matthew dare to move. From the corner Matthew watched him enter Princes Street, probably retracing his path back home.
Matthew had no more heart for following anyone this night. He wished only to go home, perhaps read something that would set him to slumber, and wake up with the sunlight. He started north on Broad Street, which was deserted except for a moving lantern a few blocks up at Wall Street. That, too, disappeared in a westerly direction.
What to do about this information weighed heavily on Matthew's mind. When John Five wished to know where the reverend had been, what was he to sayi He had no certainty that Wade went and stood before Polly Blossom's house every night. But in this case, once was enough. What possible motive could there be for a man of God to-
a walking-stick covered with black knobs suitable to knock someone's brains out was thrust at Matthew, who was struck hard on the left collarbone and sent reeling.
"I knew it was you! You little bastard! I knew it!"
The stick had come from the left, around the corner of Silas Jansen's credit-and-loans office at the meeting of Broad and Barrack streets. Now behind it and into the weak light of the fading cornerpost lamp staggered Eben ausley, who had somewhere tonight lost his wig. His face was puffed and florid. Sweat gleamed on his forehead and wet the strands of gray hair stuck to his scalp. at his side he held a lantern, the candle of which was barely a flickering nub behind the glass. His mouth twisted and he held the stick up for a more brutal blow. "I told you not to follow me, didn't Ii Damn your soul, I'll teach you a lesson!"
Matthew easily sidestepped the strike. "Stop it," he said.
"You don't command me! How dare you!" again the stick was lifted and swung, but this time ausley lost his balance and fell back against Jansen's wall. ausley stood there enraged, his chest heaving, but his liquid amusements had put lead in his legs. "I'll kill you," he managed to croak. "See you dead and buried before I'm done!"
"I don't think so," Matthew answered. He thought that if he liked he could wrest that stick away from ausley and give him some bruises to count tomorrow. He could beat the man over the head so hard people would think his new wig was purple and lumpy. He could knock ausley's legs out from under him and smash that ugly face with a good, soul-satisfying kick.
But the problem was, his soul didn't need that kind of satisfaction.
There were no stomperboys around. No constables either. This was Matthew's chance to take revenge on behalf of all those who'd suffered at the orphanage. Revenge for himself, too, for being too weak to do anything when he'd walked out of the Sainted John Home for Boys in the employ of Magistrate Woodward. Now he could have what he'd thought about and planned for so long; he could take a pound of flesh for all of them, including Nathan Spencer.
"I saw you following me!" ausley seethed, unsteady on his feet and in his senses. "Back there when I left the admiral! Well here I am, then! What the hell do you wanti"
It was a good question, but Matthew felt the need to address the accusation first. "I haven't been following you. and I haven't even been near the Old admiral tonight."
"You dirty liar! I saw you step back around the corner!"
"I doubt you can see straight, but it wasn't me. In fact," said Matthew, "I don't really care to waste any more time on you." He realized it was true even as he spoke it; he had a direction now, and a purpose with the Herrald agency. Why should he spend a moment longer even speaking to this vile animali
But ausley pulled himself up to his full height, be that still considerably shorter than Matthew, and he attempted some dignity. He thrust his collection of chins out and forced his thin mouth into a replica of a smile. "Just so you know," he said, "and bear well the fact, that I have beaten you, boy. No one will witness against me. Not yesterday, not today, nor tomorrow. and why might that bei Possibly because they all know-all of them, they all do-that they deserved what they goti That they took themselves to be more mighty than they were, and I brought them back down to size. Well, someone had to do it! Had to teach those boys a lesson, and one they won't ever forget! That's what my job is, that's my profession!"
Matthew couldn't even begin to respond to this tipsy tirade, so he remained silent. The old anger of even two days before had faded, though. He had begun to realize that his life was ahead of him, with all its opportunities and adventures, and Eben ausley was part of his past. Maybe the man had escaped proper justice and maybe that was neither fair nor right, but Matthew had done all he could. He was ready now, after all this time, to let it go.
"Beaten you," ausley repeated, his mouth wet with saliva. "Beaten you." He nodded, his eyes glazed and heavy-lidded, and then he lurched away from Matthew and staggered west along Barrack Street, steering himself with his walking-stick and his lantern flickering at his side. For a moment Matthew thought he was truly a pathetic spectacle. and then he came to his senses, spat on the ground to clear the bad taste out of his mouth, and continued on his northward trek.
He was shaking a little from the encounter. a solid blow from that stick would've crowned him good and proper. He pulled his mind away from ausley and looked ahead, thinking about what he was going to say to John Five. Maybe he should refuse to make a comment on the man's destination until he followed Reverend Wade a second night. He wondered what Mrs. Herrald would suggest. after all, she was the expert in such-
He took one more pace and stopped.
He listened carefully to the night, his head cocked. Was it his imagination, or had he just heard glass breaki
Behind him a distance. He looked back.
The street was deserted.
If he'd indeed heard glass break, the sound had come from Barrack Street.
ausley's lantern, Matthew thought. The drunken fool had dropped his lantern.
I saw you following me, he'd said.
I saw you step back around the corner.
a dog was barking a few streets over. From somewhere else, a man was singing in a ragged and incomprehensible voice, the noise fading in and out as if carried by the whims of the night breeze.
Matthew stared back toward the corner of Barrack Street.
I saw you following me.
"ausleyi" he called, but there was no reply. He walked to the corner and looked up the dark length of Barrack. and louder: "ausley!"
Leave the bastard, Matthew thought. Lying drunk up there, that's all. Just leave him and go home.
It was amazing how alone one could feel in a town of five-thousand souls.
Matthew's throat clenched. He thought he saw something moving in there. a darkness against the darkness, hard at work.
He put his hand on the dirty lantern that hung from the cornerpost and lifted the lamp off its nail. He had an instant of thinking that he ought to be right now shouting for a constable but he wasn't sure what he was seeing. His heart slamming, he began walking cautiously along Barrack Street.
There the dim light found Eben ausley lying on the sidewalk on his back, the broken lantern nearby. a little red flame still burned in a puddle of wax. Next to ausley's right hand was the walking-stick, as if it had slipped from a nerveless grasp.
Matthew tried to say Get up but at first he couldn't speak. He tried again and still only managed a hoarse whisper.
The man did not move, and as Matthew stood over him and shone the blue eye of light down upon the body it was clear-terribly, bloodily, throat-cuttingly clear-that Eben ausley had seen his final turn of cards.
as repulsed as Matthew was, as much as panic wanted to shoot along his nerves and send him running, the cool analytical center of himself took control. It sharpened his senses and steeled his will, and so he stood looking down at the body and taking impressions with the same clinical and almost distant judgment as did him well at his games of chess.
ausley's throat had been brutally slashed, that much was perfectly clear. The blood was still jumping. So too were ausley's hands, which involuntarily shivered as if finding that the banisters on the stairs leading down to Hell were icy. His mouth was open in shock, as were his eyes, which had become bloodshot and gleamed like sea-damp oysters. a knife had been at work on ausley's face as well as throat, for Matthew saw the glistening red shapes around his eyes as the blood oozed down. If not fully expired the man had only seconds to live, as his flesh was taking on that chalk-colored waxy look so popular among corpses. There was nothing to be done for him short of sewing his head back on his shoulders, and Matthew doubted even Benjamin Owles could save this suit.
as Matthew stared down at the dying man, himself in a kind of trancelike state, he was aware of a slow, almost liquid movement in the dark beyond.
Matthew saw it then: a shape, all black and black within black, sliding out of a doorway twenty feet up Barrack Street. Matthew lifted his lantern, caught the white blur of a face, and saw that the man-or was it a mani-wore a midnight-hued cloak with a high collar and a black stocking-cap covering the head. In that instant of realizing he was looking at the Masker, he saw the object of his attention begin running with a burst of speed toward the Broad Way, and it was only then that Matthew got his throat working and the cry came up into the night: "Help! Help! Constable!"
The Masker not only killed quickly, but he was quick on the run. By the time a constable got here, the Masker would be in Philadelphia. "Help! Somebody!" Matthew shouted, but he was already reaching down for ausley's walking-stick. He let out one more "Constable!" so Dippen Nack might hear it in his bedchamber, and then he had to save his breath because he shot forward in pursuit.
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