Part Two: The Madness Chapter Twenty
By ten o'clock on Saturday morning, Matthew reckoned that he had lunged forward and stabbed a bale of hay with his rapier about a hundred times. Now, approaching twelve, he was going through slow-motion fencing lessons with Hudson Greathouse in the carriage-house, as pigeons spectated from the rafters and the heat-sweat rolled down Matthew's face and back under his sodden shirt.
Greathouse seemed above such concerns as sweltering heat and physical discomfort. While Matthew struggled to keep his breath and his balance, Greathouse breathed with ease and moved nimbly to demonstrate the half-pace, whole-pace, slope-pace, encroachment, and circular-pace, and when Matthew happened to relax his grip he found his sword flicked from his hand by a sudden powerful movement that left his fingers thrumming and his face screwed up with anger.
"How many times do I have to tell you to keep that thumb locked downi and getting mad won't help you win a fight," Greathouse said, pausing to mop his forehead with a cotton cloth. "Just the opposite. If you try to play chess in anger, what happensi You stop thinking and start reacting, and then you're playing to your opponent's pace. The key to this is keeping your mind calm, your rhythm intact, and your options open. If your opponent steals your rhythm, you are dead." He pushed his sword down into the soft ground and rested his hand on the pommel. "Is any of this getting throughi"
Matthew shrugged. His right arm and shoulder were just dull throbbing pieces of meat, but damned if he was going to do any complaining.
"If you want to say something," Greathouse growled, "then say it."
"all right." Matthew pushed his sword down into the ground as well. He felt as if his face was twice its size and the color of a ripe tomato. "I don't know why I'm having to do this. I'll never become a swordsman. You can teach me all day and all year about these foot-movements and circulations and what-not, but I don't see the reason."
Greathouse nodded, his expression calm and impassive. "You don't see the reason." It was a statement, not a question.
"Well then, I'll try to explain this in a fashion you might understand. First of all, Mrs. Herrald requires this training. She has some strange notion that there may be danger in your prospective line of work, and she expects you to live beyond your initial encounter with a frog-bellied ruffian who wields his sword like a hayseed's pitchfork. Secondly, I require this of you, both as an education in self-confidence and as a reawakening of the physical strength you have put to sleep amid your drowsy books. Thirdly..." Here he stopped, his brow knit. "You know," he said after a few seconds' pause, "you may be right, Matthew. all these time-honored and rational foundations of fencing technique may be just so much fundament to you. What care you for the thwart, or the imbrocatta, or the understanding of wardsi after all, you are such a smart young man." He pulled his rapier up from the ground and brushed dirt off the gleaming steel. "I imagine you can only learn and appreciate the use of a rapier the same way you learned to play chess, is that correcti"
"and what way would that bei" Matthew asked.
"Trial and error," came the reply.
It was followed by a tongue of lightning that came at him so fast he barely had time to suck in a breath, much less jump back out of range. He realized in a split-second of decision that this time Greathouse's rapier was not going to feint in and withdraw; the shimmering blade-tip was aimed straight for the middle button on his shirt and just that fast his aching shoulder drew his arm up and the two swords rang together. The hum of the blades vibrated up Matthew's arm, down his spine, and through his ribs as the attacking rapier was turned aside. Then Greathouse was lunging forward again, crowding Matthew's space, angling his body slightly so the blade was going to strike Matthew's left hip. Matthew watched the sword coming in as if in slow-motion, his singular power of concentration taking hold to shut out everything in the world save the rapier intent on piercing his soul-cage. He stepped back, keeping his form for that was the most efficient use of speed, and struck aside the blow but almost too late, as the blade grazed his hip and snagged breeches-cloth in its passage.
"Damn it!" Matthew shouted, backing away toward the wall. "are you madi"
"I am!" Greathouse hollered in return. His eyes were wild and his lips tight. "Let's see what you've got, Chess Boy!" With a look of determination that scared Matthew out of all sense of pain or fatigue, Greathouse pressed in to the attack.
The first move was a feint to his left side that Matthew misjudged and tried to parry. Greathouse's blade came sweeping past Matthew's shoulder in a forehand cut that made the air sizzle like a sausage on a hot pan. Matthew staggered back, almost falling over the haybale he'd so thoroughly killed earlier in the day. Greathouse drove in at him again, the rapier's wicked point coming for his face, and it was all Matthew could do to knock the blade aside the best he could and back away another few steps to find breathing room.
Now Greathouse, grinning like a demon, cut at Matthew's legs but Matthew saw the strike coming, locked his thumb down, and parried the blade away with a blow that sounded more like the crack of a pistol than the meeting of steel. For an instant Greathouse's torso was open and Matthew thought to bring his blade back in line, lunge forward, and give the brute a scare, but almost as soon as the thought took hold his rapier was knocked aside and he jerked his head back as a glint of steel flashed two inches away from the tip of his nose. It would not do to return to New York noseless, Matthew thought as he again retreated, the sweat beaded on his face and not all of it from simple exertion.
Still Greathouse came on, feinting left and right though Matthew had begun to read cues in the man's movements-extension of shoulder and set of the forward knee-to determine strike from disguise. Greathouse suddenly went low and then angled the rapier upward in a lunge that Matthew thought would have driven through a man's lower jaw and out the back of his neck, but fortunately Matthew was having none of it and had put more distance between them.
"Ha!" Greathouse suddenly shouted, combining the noise of insane joviality with a thrust at Matthew's ribs on the right side that Matthew was just able to clash aside. But it was a weak blow, for Greathouse's sword swung around like a deadly wheel and now came for Matthew's ribs on the side sinister. This time Matthew stood his ground. He gritted his teeth and parried the strike with his rapier as the man had taught him, forte against feeble.
Yet there was nothing remotely feeble about Hudson Greathouse. He backed up a step only and then came on the attack again with tremendous power, a lion in its element of mortal combat. When Matthew parried the blade-this time only by the thin whisker of a skinny man's beard-he felt the strength of Greathouse's blow nearly not only remove the sword from his hand but his shoulder from its socket. another strike darted in at his face almost before Matthew could see it coming, more a silvery glint like a fish streaking through dark water. Matthew jerked his head aside but felt a bite as his left ear was nicked before he could get his own rapier up on guard.
My God! he thought with a surge of mortifying fear. I'm bleeding!
He backed away again, his knees gone wobbly.
Greathouse slowly advanced, his rapier held out at extension, his face damp with sweat, and his red-shot eyes turned toward some remembered battlefield where heads and limbs lay in bloody heaps.
It came to Matthew to shout for help. The man had lost his mind. Surely if Matthew yelled loudly enough, Mrs. Herrald would hear it. He presumed she was in the house, though he hadn't seen her today. God only hope she was in the house! He started to open his mouth to let loose a caterwaul and then the frightening mass of Hudson Greathouse sprang upon him swinging the rapier's brutal edge at Matthew's head.
Matthew could only respond instinctively, trying to put order to the collection of bewildering sword-facts that rattled in his brain. He locked his thumb down tight, tighter than tight, breaking-point tight, judged the distance and speed, and deflected the attacking rapier with his own blade. But suddenly Greathouse's sword was coming at him from a lower angle-a silver blur, a murderous comet-and yet once more Matthew turned aside the blow, the noise ringing through the carriage-house and the shock almost loosening his teeth. Greathouse himself seemed to be a distortion of the heated air, a monstrous creature half-human and half-weapon as the rapier flashed and feinted high, feinted low, flicked to left and right, and then struck like a serpent. again Matthew parried it aside just short of his chest, but when he retreated two more steps his back met a wall.
He had no time to scurry away from this trap, for his enraged teacher was on him as the thunder follows the lightning. Matthew just had an instant to get his sword angled up across his body and then Greathouse's blade slammed into his rapier, locked forte to forte as the man pushed in on him with crushing strength. Matthew held on to his sword, trying to resist what he knew to be Greathouse's intention to tear it from his hand by brute power alone. The blades made a shrieking sound as they fought each other, steel sliding against steel. Matthew feared his wrist was about to break. Greathouse's face and glaring eyes seemed as big as demonic planets, and it occurred to Matthew at this moment near bone-breakage that the man smelled like a goat.
abruptly the pressure against his rapier was gone. Greathouse said, "You are dead."
Matthew blinked. He felt something sharp jabbing into his stomach and when he looked down he saw the black handle of a six-inch-long dagger gripped in the man's left hand.
"Some hide documents," Greathouse said, with a tight smile. "Others hide knives. I just sliced your stomach open. Your insides should begin to boil out in a few seconds, depending on how much you scream."
"Lovely," Matthew managed to reply.
Greathouse stepped back and lowered both rapier and dagger. "You never let your opponent get that close to you. Do you understandi You do whatever you have to do to keep a sword's distance. You see my thumb, how it's locked on that handlei" He lifted the dagger to show Matthew his grip. "Nothing but a broken wrist could stop me from driving that blade all the way through your bread-basket and, believe me, into the stomach is where a knife will go when you're caught at close quarters. The wound is painful and gruesome and puts an end to all arguments."
Matthew took a deep breath and felt the carriage-house spin around him. If he fell down right now he'd never hear the end of it, so by God he was not going to fall. One knee may have sagged and his back bent, but he kept on his feet.
"You all righti" Greathouse asked.
"Yes," Matthew answered, with as much grit as he could muster. He wiped sweat out of his eyebrows with the back of his hand. "Doesn't seem a very gentlemanly way to kill someone."
"There is no gentlemanly way to kill." Greathouse slid the dagger into the sheath at his lower back. "You see now what a real fight is like. If you can remember your technique and use it, fine. That would put you at an advantage. But a real fight, when it's either kill or be killed, is a nasty, brutish, and usually very quick encounter. Gentlemen may duel to draw blood, but I can promise-warn is the better word, I suppose-that you'll someday cross swords with a villain who'll long to get a short blade in your belly. You'll know him, when the time comes."
"Speaking of gentlemen and time," came a quiet voice from the doorway, and Matthew looked over to see Mrs. Herrald standing framed in the sunlight. He had no idea how long she'd been there. "I believe it's lunchtime for you two gentlemen. By the way, Matthew, your left ear is bleeding." She turned around and, regal as ever in a dark blue dress with white lace at the collar and cuffs, walked away toward the house.
Greathouse threw a clean cloth to Matthew. "Just a nick. You dodged the wrong way."
"But I did do well, didn't Ii" Matthew took note of the man's sour expression. "all right then, fairly welli"
"You only struck one offensive blow. Or attempted to strike one, that is. It was weak and completely undisciplined. You did not keep your form, as your body was too wide a target. You have to remember to keep your body thin. Never once did you step forward to meet an attack, even as a feint. Your footwork was pure panic, and you were always retreating." He took the rapier from Matthew and wiped it down before placing it in its scabbard.
"So," Matthew said a little indignantly to hide his disappointment, "I did nothing righti"
"I didn't say that." Greathouse put Matthew's rapier on the armory's hooks. "You met two of my best blows with very well-done parries and you were reading some of my feints. The rest I let you get away with. In fighting even a middling swordsman, you would have been punctured at least six times. On the other hand, I left myself open several times and you did nothing to seize the advantage." He looked at Matthew as he wiped down his own rapier. "Don't tell me you didn't see your opportunities."
"I told you before, I'm not a swordsman." The more he fiddled with his ear, which was cut near the top, the more it stung so he left it alone. The cloth was marked with a blotch of blood, but the wound was not so large nor as grievous as it felt.
"That may be so." Greathouse sheathed his sword and put it on the hooks. "But I intend to make you one, in spite of yourself. You have a natural speed and balance that I find very promising. also, you have a good sense of measure. I like how you kept your sword up and didn't let it fall. and you're a lot stronger than you look, I'll say that for you. The most important thing is that you didn't let me run over you, and twice I really tried to knock that sword out of your hand." Greathouse motioned with a lift of his chin. "Come on, let's get our lunch and we'll return to this in an hour or so."
This waking nightmare was not yet over, Matthew realized with a sinking heart. He bit his tongue to keep from saying anything he might regret and followed Greathouse out of the humid interior.
It had been an interesting morning. When Matthew had gotten Suvie from the stable, Mr. Winekoop had given him the news of the night. Three tavern owners, including Mother Munthunk, had refused to close up at eight o'clock and had been taken to the gaol by a group of constables headed by Lillehorne himself. a fight had ensued between the lawmen and the Munthunk brothers, who valiantly tried to free their mater and thus joined her behind bars. The festivities had been just beginning, according to Winekoop's ear. Before ten, there were twelve men and two New Jersey prostitutes in the gaol as well as the others, which made that place the scene of a merry crowd. One of the constables, challenging a group of decree-breakers on Bridge Street, had been kicked in the stones and anointed with a piss-bucket. Someone had pelted City Hall with rotten tomatoes and after midnight a rock had broken one of the windows in Lord Cornbury's manse. all in all, a fine New York summer's eve.
But, so far as Winekoop had heard, there had been no murder last night. The Masker, it seemed, was after all a man cognizant of official decree and had stayed home from the party.
Lunch was a bowl of corn soup with a slice of ham and a thick piece of rye bread, served not in the house but on a table set up under an oak tree that overlooked the river. a pitcher of water was much appreciated by Matthew, who gulped down two glasses before Greathouse told him to drink slowly. Matthew had earlier given the man a copy of the Earwig brought from town, primarily to show the announcement on the second page, but it was the article on the Masker's activities that had caught Greathouse's interest.
"So," Greathouse said as they ate, "this Masker person. a third murder, you sayi"
Matthew nodded, his mouth full of the ham and bread. He'd told Greathouse about the killing of Eben ausley, but had omitted his own role in that evening's events.
"and no one has a clue as to who this individual might bei"
"No one," Matthew said after he'd had another drink. "Well, Mr. McCaggers believes from the skill and quickness of the cutting that the Masker may have had experience in a slaughterhouse."
"ah yes, the coroner. I hear some strange stories about him. For instance, he can't abide dead bodiesi"
"He does have some difficulties, yes. But he's very good at his job."
"How does he managei"
"He has a slave, by the name of Zed, who helps him." Matthew took a spoonful of the corn soup and then another bite of the ham. "Lifting the bodies, cleaning up the...um...leavings and so forth. an interesting man, that one. Zed, I mean. He can't speak, as he has no tongue. He has scars or some kind of tattoos all over his face."
"Reallyi" There was an odd note of interest in Greathouse's voice.
"I've never seen a slave quite like him," Matthew continued. "Very distinctive and not a little unsettling."
"I would imagine so." Greathouse sipped from his water glass and gazed down upon the slowly moving river. He said after a moment, "I should like to meet that man."
"Mr. McCaggersi" Matthew asked.
"No. Zed. He might be of use to us."
"Of usei Howi"
"I'll let you know after I've met him," Greathouse answered, and Matthew knew that was his final word on the subject for now.
"I should tell you," Matthew ventured after a little time had passed and his lunch was almost history, "that I'm to be paid ten shillings by Deverick's widow if I discover the Masker's identity before there's another murder. I had an encounter with her yesterday, and that offer resulted from it."
"Good for you." Greathouse sounded indifferent. "Of course it would be a pity if the Masker murdered you before you could be of value to the agency."
"I just wanted you and Mrs. Herrald to know. actually I could put the money to good use."
"Who couldn'ti Well, the only problem I could see is if some official contacted the agency to do the same job. Then we'd have a little conflict of interests, wouldn't wei"
"I seriously doubt if anyone representing the town will ask for help. High Constable Lillehorne wouldn't stand for it."
Greathouse shrugged and poured himself the last of the water. "Go on about your little investigation, then. I doubt you're up to that task yet, but at least you'll get some experience."
The way Greathouse had expressed that rankled Matthew to the marrow of his bones. I doubt you're up to that task yet. This man was becoming insufferable! Your little investigation. He prided himself on his investigative skills, on his ability to ferret out answers to the difficult questions, and this lout sitting here was nearly mocking him. His ear wound was still hurting, he was tired, and his last clean shirt was a sweat-rag. and here this man sat before him all but sneering at him.
Matthew pushed down his anger and said off-handedly, "I've also gleaned a new item of interest from Mr. McCaggers."
Greathouse leaned his head back so the sun could shine into his face through the oak branches. He closed his eyes and appeared to be about to catch a nap.
"The murder of Eben ausley was not the third here lately. It was the fourth. a body was found in the Hudson River a few days before Dr. Godwin was killed. It washed up on a farm two or three miles north of here, as a matter of fact."
There was no response from Greathouse. Matthew expected to hear him start snoring at any minute.
"It was an unidentified young man," Matthew went on, "who seems to have been murdered by a mob. Mr. McCaggers counted eight stab wounds, all from blades of different shapes and widths. also, the man had no eyes."
With the mention of that last word, Greathouse opened his own eyes and squinted up at the sun.
"The body was in poor condition, having been in the water for at least five days, so Lillehorne ordered Zed to bury it where it was found. One other interesting-and disturbing-fact is that the wrists were bound behind him with cords." Matthew waited for some further response, but there was none. "I'm the only other person to know about this. So you see, I do have a little value as a-"
Greathouse suddenly stood up. He stared out upon the river. "Whose farmi"
"The farm where the body washed up. Whose farmi"
"John Ormond. It's about-"
"I know Ormond's farm," Greathouse interrupted. "We've bought some produce from him. How long in the water, did you sayi" Now Greathouse shifted his gaze to Matthew and there was nothing left of naptime. "Five daysi"
"Five days is what Mr. McCaggers presumed." This line of interest was making Matthew more than a bit nervous. He'd meant this just as an example of how he could both obtain and retain information, and now it was taking on a life of its own.
"Found how many days before the doctor's murderi"
"and that was more than two weeks agoi" Greathouse made a face that looked as if he'd bitten a lemon. "It won't be a pretty sight, that's for sure."
"Stand up," Greathouse commanded. "We can let the afternoon's lesson go. Right now we have an errand."
Matthew stood up, but slowly and with the greatest of trepidation. Greathouse was already striding toward the carriage-house. "What errandi" Matthew asked.
"We're going to dig up the body," Greathouse replied over his shoulder, and Matthew felt his guts go all twisty-quisty. "Come on, let's get the shovels."
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