Part Two: The Madness Chapter Seventeen
Because at breakfast the Stokelys had not yet heard about the murder of Eben ausley, Matthew's first real test of monitoring his mouth came when he took his clothes to his laundress, the widow Sherwyn, as was his habit every Friday.
She was a big, robust, white-haired woman who'd outlived two husbands, owned a little stone house and attached laundry shop on Queen Street, and who collected gossips and town-tales as someone else might pin butterflies onto black velvet. Furthermore, she was an excellent laundress and very fair in her prices, so even at this early morning hour she'd already had half-a-dozen customers bringing in not only stained gowns and dirtied shirts but all the news of the night. It was for no little reason that Marmaduke Grigsby brought his clothes here and lingered over apple cider and gingerbread to trade topics, as when he left here he had enough bustarole to fill a month of Earwigs though if he printed most of it he'd have been either shot or hanged.
"Baaaaad night," said Widow Sherwyn as Matthew entered the shop with his bundle. It was said with grim foreboding, yet the color in her cheeks was as merry as a three-penny play. "But I suppose you've already heardi"
"Pardoni" was all he could say.
"another murder," she explained. "Happened on Barrack Street, around midnight I hear. and guess who's the dead genti"
"Um...I'm not good at guessing, madam. You'll have to tell me."
She waved a hand at him to say he was no fun. "Eben ausley. The headmaster at the orphanage. Well, you ought to look more shocked than that! Didn't you say you grew up in that wretched placei"
"It wasn't so wretched..." He almost said before ausley got there. "...when I was growing up," he finished. "I regret ausley's death, of course. I have four shirts and three pair of breeches today." The shirt that had been bloodied by Phillip Covey was not among them, as it was now only suited for rags.
"What about that shirt you're wearingi Right wicked stain on the front."
Courtesy of Joplin Pollard's tipsy hand, Matthew thought. He'd put water on it when he'd gotten home, but too late. actually he counted himself lucky the Thorn Bush ale hadn't burned a hole in it. "My last shirt," he said. "Have to do."
"Liquor staini" she asked, narrowing her eyes. "You out and about last nighti"
"Yes and yes."
"I can smell the pipe smoke. Gentlemen's habits, indeed! You fellows mess up, we women clean up. all right then, I'll have these ready for you on Monday. Tuesday if I fall behind. Hey." She beckoned him closer with a forefinger. "Have you seen my Marmaduke latelyi"
"Mr. Grigsbyi Yes." My Marmadukei Evidently these two had more going on than the sharing of tidbits.
"Well, when you see him again, tell him I have it on good authority that some fine lady on Golden Hill ordered a silver service that arrived yesterday from amsterdam and when the bill was presented her husband made a cannon sound meek. Well, she shot one back at him too. Then the battle began. You could hear them wrangling from there to Long Island. almost put out on the street, is what happened."
"Whoi The wifei"
"Naw! The husband! Shosh, everybody knows Princess rules that-oopsie, look what you've made me go out and spill! I never said that name, now, Matthew!"
"Never never never did I say that name! Go on about your business, now! But don't believe that everything on Golden Hill is gold! You'll pass that along to 'Duke, won't youi"
"Very well." Matthew started for the door, but sometimes getting away from Widow Sherwyn was like walking through a puddle of tar.
"What tavern did you acquaint last night, Matthewi"
There was no need for a lie, as she could run one down like a hound after a hare. "I spent some time at the Thorn Bush."
"My lord!" Her sky-blue eyes widened. "Have you put aside those celestial books and decided to join the rest of us earthbound heathensi"
"I hope that one night and one stain doesn't mean a fall from grace."
"Well, you might have fallen into Grace! That's the name of Polly's new whore, you know. Grace Hester. She's been working the Thorn Bush."
"I'm sure I didn't know." Suddenly Matthew was struck by the fact that not a teacup could be filled, broken, or peed in without Widow Sherwyn hearing of it. Her outsized personality was a lamp-no, a lighthouse-that drew to her the tales of joy, sorrow, and intrigue that no magistrate nor constable would ever hear. He realized then what a treasure she was, particularly for someone in his new-found profession of problem solver. and, also, how useful she might be simply as a sounding-board.
"Why are you looking at me like thati" she asked, pausing in her folding of clothes from one basket to another.
"No reason," Matthew answered. "Just thinking how you know everyone, and how much you know about everyone. You've been in this location for how longi"
"Twenty-eight years in the town. Twelve years here. Proud of every day of it."
"Well you should be." He offered her his best smile. "I'm sure I couldn't get along without you."
"Sure you could. There are three other laundresses in New York, take your pick. Except don't go to Jane Neville, she's too expensive by half. Thievery, I call it. Outright larceny, and she doesn't even boil enough fat in her soap." Widow Sherwyn stopped herself, as the dawn of understanding bloomed on her face. "Oh, I see your drift. You're wanting to know what about whomi"
Matthew glanced toward the door to make sure no one else was coming in. "General impressions. andrew Kippering."
"I saw him at the Thorn Bush last night. He and his partner, Pollard. In fact, this stain came from Pollard's tankard of ale. They were both gambling at one of the dice tables."
"You still haven't said why." The widow's expression was now solidly serious.
"I'm curious," Matthew explained, "as to why attorney Kippering keeps such late hours." He decided to leave it at that.
Widow Sherwyn cocked her head and stared at him intently. "If you're wanting to mingle with the ordinary folk," she said, "I expect you shouldn't start with Kippering, as from what I hear he might drag you into an early grave."
"He leads an active life, I presumei"
"Drinking, gambling, and whoring, probably not in that order. But that's common knowledge, isn't iti"
"Tell me something that's not," Matthew urged.
"Kippering is not one of my customers. Neither is Pollard. But Fitzgerald comes in regularly. I'll tell you something about him, if you wish to know."
"Fitzgerald is a serious young man with a wife and two children. Lives on Crown Street, in a simple house. If one is to believe Fitzgerald-and I do-he does most of the work. The 'cleaning-up,' as he once put it, for both his partners. Is paid very well also, but he and his wife are of Puritan stock and they have no want for luxuries...beyond my service, I mean. So my impression of all three of those gentlemen is that Pollard is the one with ambition, Fitzgerald the one with brains, and Kippering the one trying to kill himself."
"To kill himselfi" Matthew asked.
"Surely. and this doesn't come from Fitzgerald, but I have it from a good source that Kippering is one of Polly's best customers. Stands to reason, of course, but there's a misery to it. He comes in drunk, sleeps with a whore-and sometimes just sleeps-and then off again. Sometimes stays there the whole night. Keeps a room in Mary Belovaire's house across from Sally almond's tavern. Cot and a desk, is what I hear. In and out all hours. Mary's had to help him up the steps many nights, or many early mornings as might be. Pays his bills all right, but he gambles an awful lot. It'll catch up to him, sooner or later. Has no desire for a wife and family-though Lord knows Mary's got a line of ladies wanting to meet him, or used to before he got so sotted. Even the most foolish of the young pretties don't want to ride a rumpot stallion. So he drinks himself into stupors, throws his money away gambling, and almost has his name burned on a door at Polly Blossom's. Doesn't that sound to you like someone who pretends to enjoy life but really is in a great hurry to diei"
"It sounds to me," said Matthew, "like how three-quarters of the young men in New York would live, if they could."
Widow Sherwyn gave a mocking smile. "He's supposed to be smarter than most. and he's not that young."
"Interesting," Matthew said, but inwardly he gave a shudder. He had to wonder what Widow Sherwyn would say about him, if someone were to inquire.
"Now you owe me," she announced.
"Owe youi" He realized this woman reduced him to sounding like a dunce.
"Yes, indeedy. Did you think this caboodle was freei You pass along a good word for me to 'Duke, and when you come back to pick up your clothes you bring me a tidbit I don't know."
"The first is easy. I'm afraid the second may be impossible."
"I'll accept that as a compliment, but not as a bribe. Find me something of interest. Now scat, tomcat!"
Matthew got out of the place before he had to promise up his first-born child. It was another beautiful morning, the sky bright blue with only hints of wispy clouds. The scents of gardens and good earth wafted on the breeze. Even the smells of rotting timbers of old Dutch wharfs and a dead turtle the size of a cart-wheel had not dismayed Matthew this morning, as he'd consigned ausley's stick to the East River at sunup. He turned right, intending to follow Queen Street to the Broad Way and then south into the bustling town. His plan was to go to City Hall and do his clerking for Magistrate Powers in the case of the rowdy George Knox. His arm was still a little sore but the yarrow oil had done wonders for it, and he did think his hand could manage a quill without wandering out of line.
about a half-block west, though, his eye caught a white brick house trimmed with dark green across the street. a white picket fence ran around the property, upon which were planted two large oak trees that spread a cool blue shade. On the fence next to the white entrance gate was the small sign a. Vanderbrocken, Physician.
Matthew slowed his pace. He stood looking at the house for a moment, debating his course of action. according to his newly wound watch, it was almost eight-thirty. The final hearing before sentencing of George Knox would start promptly at nine. He recalled Magistrate Powers saying a clerk could be poached from another office if Matthew wasn't up to the task, but Matthew hated not to be there when he was needed. But was he needed anymore, reallyi It seemed he was easily replaceable, and with the magistrate announcing his retirement the caseload-such as it was-would be further reduced. But be that as it may, the job of clerk was still his occupation until he was paid by the Herrald agency, and when that might happen he had no clue. In fact, at a distance the whole Herrald agency idea sounded to him like a barleybone, a sugar candy that easily melted in the heat of day.
Still, he had his own hungry curiosity to feed. Right across the street was Dr. Vanderbrocken's house, and Matthew had a few minutes to spare. He crossed to the doctor's gate.
Going through the gate and up the path to the front door, he was about to ring the brass ship's bell that hung there when he heard music coming from somewhere. It was a melody being drawn from a violin, and was quite pleasing though a touch melancholy. He realized the music was not coming from beyond the door, but rather from around the house. Leading to the backyard was another pathway, which Matthew followed under the spread of one of the large oaks.
a second wooden gate, chest-high, blocked his progress into a garden burst into its midsummer majesty of red and purple flowers and ornamental shrubs. The violin player seemed to mangle a few notes here and there, but otherwise sounded quite proficient at the difficult instrument. Matthew listened as the music soared up and then quietened to a whisper, and in the ensuing sound of birdsong from the trees he rapped on the gate with his knuckles. "Helloi Can I have a moment, pleasei"
"Who is iti" came the doctor's voice, perturbed at being interrupted.
"Matthew Corbett, sir. May I speak to youi"
"are you illi"
"No, sir, I'm glad to say I'm not."
"Go away, then. I'm occupied." The violin music began again, this time a bit more lively as if to demonstrate the player's ability.
"a nice tune, sir," Matthew offered. "You ought to play some evening at the Dock House."
The music screeched to a stop. "Oh, for the sake of Heaven! aren't you gone yeti"
"I had no idea you could play so well, sir."
There was a pause, and then came a creaking noise as weight left a chair. Matthew waited. around the corner of the house appeared artemis Vanderbrocken, wearing what appeared to be the exact same pale blue nightclothes Matthew had seen under his cloak the night of Deverick's murder. On the man's feet were leather slippers, and he carried a violin of such rich color it might have been carved from amber. Vanderbrocken's expression could have scared the music from a cat, as though he was so well-respected for his abilities he was also known for a surly demeanor that brooked no nonsense or-in this case-intrusion. He was of slim build and medium height, bald but for a halo of white hair, had a sharp nose and long chin garnished with a white goatee. His dark eyes behind round spectacles seemed lit with red, or perhaps that was just the sunlight off his violin. He was seventy-six if a day and had a plentitude of wrinkles in his face, yet commanded a straight-backed bearing and energy that belied his elder status. Right now, though, he just looked ready to break Matthew's teeth.
"I think you're mistaken, Mr. Corbett," he said testily. "You must have an illness of the ears, not to hear me plainly say I am occupied."
Matthew tried for a smile, but it didn't stick under the red heat of the doctor's glare. "But sir," he parried, "if my ears were so ill I couldn't have enjoyed the music that drew me here. I had no idea you were so-"
"Cease the bullshitting," said Vanderbrocken. "What is it you wanti"
This was going to be a tough nut. Matthew wasted no time before the doctor could turn his back and stalk away. "I was on Smith Street the night Mr. Deverick was murdered."
"Were youi I'm sure many others were, as well."
"Yes sir, that's true, but I came up as you and Reverend Wade were over the body. I think you were pronouncing him dead."
"I didn't pronounce him dead. That was McCaggers' job."
"an unofficial pronouncement," Matthew went on. "You know that I work for Magistrate Powers."
"Yes, what of iti"
"Well sir...I also come into contact from time to time with High Constable Lillehorne, and he was telling me that-"
"are you going to finish this today, young mani"
"Yes sir, please bear with me and I won't take but a minute more."
"I'm usually paid for my minutes."
Matthew could only nod and smile. "Yes sir. You mentioned to High Constable Lillehorne that you were going to see a patient that night. Might I ask who your patient wasi"
"You might," came the indignant reply, "but I wouldn't answer."
"Understandable, sir, but you might be able to answer this, as it's a simple question and doesn't require you to betray an oath of confidence: were you and Reverend Wade travelling to the same destinationi"
Vanderbrocken was silent. He lifted a hand to adjust his spectacles, which had slipped down to the sharp tip of his nose.
"I know you were in a hurry that night," Matthew continued, daring the fates and the doctor's temper. "I saw you were wearing a nightshirt under your cloak. Possibly the same one you have on now. So you must have been summoned from here, it being so late. and summoned for an urgent purpose, is my guess, but of course any question in that regard-"
"Is none of your business," Vanderbrocken interrupted. His nostrils flared. "are you here on behalf of the high constablei"
"Then what the hell do you care whether William Wade and I were travelling to the same destination or noti Who are you, to be bothering me with ridiculous questionsi"
Matthew stood his ground. He felt a stirring of anger, like hornets buzzing in his guts. He might even have raised his voice a bit to meet the doctor's infuriated tone. "With a murderer on the loose," he said while staring forcefully into the red-glared glasses, "I'd think there are no ridiculous questions, sir. Only questions that are either answered or evaded. You know Eben ausley was killed by the Masker last nighti"
Vanderbrocken's mouth opened a little wider, but that was all the reaction. "I didn't. Where did it happeni"
"His throat cut the samei and the marks around the eyesi"
"It would seem so."
"My God," the doctor said quietly, and he looked at the ground. He drew a long breath and when he exhaled he seemed to shrink in his clothes. "What's happening to our towni" It was a question directed to the earth, or the air, or the birds that chirped in the trees. Then he took control of himself again and lifted a still fiery gaze to Matthew. "I'm sorry about ausley's death, as I would regret the passing of any citizen, but what does that have to do with Reverend Wade and myselfi"
"I'm trying to clarify some information that the high constable was given. am I correct in understanding that you met the reverend and were on your way to a common destination the night of Mr. Deverick's deathi"
"Young man, I'm still not comprehending what business this is of yours. Have you become a constable yourselfi are you asking these things with the authority of Lillehorne or Magistrate Powersi"
"No sir," Matthew said.
"ah, then you're simply a private citizen wishing to...whati Cause me distressi"
"I regret the distress," Matthew replied, "but I would like an answer."
Vanderbrocken took a step forward and now stood almost chest-to-chest with Matthew, the gate between them. "all right, you listen to me. My comings and goings are none of your concern, do you understand thati as for Reverend Wade's destination that night, I wouldn't presume to say. I will tell you that I have taken on some of the late Dr. Godwin's practice, and for that I am kept away from the fruits of retirement that I would otherwise be enjoying, including early nights and the freedom to pursue the violin in my own garden. So I'm not in the best of moods these days, Mr. Corbett, and if you fail to leave my sight within the interval I go into my house to get my loaded pistol and return I might show you what a man who seems to have no more privacy than a goldfish in a bowl is capable of."
With that, the good doctor abruptly turned and walked quickly around the house, and Matthew reckoned it was past time to get to City Hall.
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