Part Two: The Madness Chapter Twenty-Four
Magistrate powers had been assigned by the chief prosecutor a portion of the cases involving decree-breakers, and Matthew was writing down the names in a ledger book when Hudson Greathouse entered the office just after eight o'clock on Monday morning.
Matthew wondered who could be more surprised at this appearance, he or the magistrate. "Hudson!" Powers said as he laid aside his own quill and stood up. Obviously he hadn't been expecting the visitor. "Good morning!"
"Morning to you, Nathaniel." Greathouse came forward and as he shook Powers' hand he also clasped the magistrate's shoulder. He gave Matthew a quick nod but did not speak. Matthew thought he looked as if sleep had not been kind to him since their grave-digging excursion.
"Glad to see you as always," Powers said. "What may I do for youi"
"You can take a walk with me," came the reply.
"Of course." The magistrate had quickly guessed, as had Matthew, that whatever the occasion of this visit, the situation was serious. and also deserving of privacy. He went to the two pegs next to the door and shrugged into his gray-striped suit coat, then put on his dove's-gray tricorn. "Excuse us, Matthew. I'll be back as soon as possible."
Powers and Greathouse left the office. Matthew wrote down another name and then paused to take stock of what the "walk" might entail. Possibly Greathouse wanted to tell the magistrate about the body, and about his suspicions concerning Professor Fell. If this chairman of crime held a grudge against Powers, it was likely Greathouse was advising him that an even earlier retirement than the end of September might be judicious.
Matthew turned his chair around to gaze out the window. Enough rain had fallen before sunrise to wet the streets, but had stopped before Matthew had gone to get his laundry from the widow Sherwyn. Now the rain was holding off, though the sky was low and milky-white. He wished he hadn't told her about the dead man, but when she'd caught him full-bore with those piercing blue eyes, pressed her hand down upon his bundle of clean shirts and breeches, leaned toward him, and said, "Welli What bit do you have for mei Hmi" he'd felt spun up by a whirlwind.
at first he'd attempted to play dumb. "Madam, I'm sorry to say I don't have anything. I was very busy over the last two days and-"
"Bullcocks and hogwash," she snapped. "You have something." Unsmiling, she was more a fearsome ogress than a mischievous laundress. "In fact," she sniffed at the shirt he wore and instinctively he stepped back, "you have been into something. What diedi"
Matthew had washed this shirt in a soapbucket twice on Saturday night and had detected no further odor of the grave. The woman possessed an educated nose, to say the least.
"Listen here," she told him. "I know just about everything that goes on in this town. Things that are easy to know, things that are hard to find out. I give you something, you give me something. That's my rule." She tapped his chest. "You might wish to know someone's secret some time, and who will you go toi Me. But if you don't want to have such an arrangement-and I don't offer it to everyone-you can walk right out of here and take your business to Jane Neville, for all I care."
"Well...why do you offer this particular service to mei"
"Because," she said slowly, as if enunciating for a simpleton, "you obviously have a use for it. I saw that right off. You didn't ask about andrew Kippering for the sake of idle gossip, did youi Well, some would of course, but you're not that type. Your questions have a purpose, am I not righti"
"You are." There was no use trying to hide anything from this woman. She knew the secrets in every dirty collar.
"Have to do with your work, I supposei at the magistrate's officei"
"My work, yes," Matthew said.
"Then you understand how I could be of value to you. an ear to the ground, so to speak. and all I ask is some little bit of information in return." She looked up toward the door, as she'd thought someone was coming in, but the shadow passed. "So. a bit for a bit. What do you havei"
Matthew did indeed realize the widow Sherwyn could be of value to him, if she could ferret out information useful to the Herrald agency. But could she be trusted to be discreeti He said, "You do realize that this information passed between us must be...how shall I say..."
"Kept on the low," she suggested.
"Exactly. For instance, I wouldn't want anyone to know I'd been asking questions."
"Wouldn't want your water to be boiled," she said.
"Right. Very uncomfortable to be sitting in boiling water. So I'd ask you to keep any inquiry I might offer here as the utmost secrecy." It occurred to him that he might even pay her a few coins, if he was ever paid, but best not to mention that possibility yet.
"absolute secrecy." Her eyes were bright and shining again. "So what do you havei"
"Well...Mr. Grigsby's granddaughter Beryl arrived yesterday. It seems that two weeks out of port, the women were-"
"Washing their hair on deck while the Reverend Patrickson stood up on a stool giving a sermon. The girl dropped the soap, another woman stepped on it, slip-slid into Captain Billops and then he fell right into the preacher and knocked the man over the side. Either the preacher busted his head on the railing or he filled up with water pretty quick, because he went right down. Then they hit the whale."
Matthew nodded. He'd heard all this from one of the mildewed passengers at the Trot yesterday afternoon, but it was fascinating to him how Widow Sherwyn gathered news so quickly and completely.
"The whale was already bloody. Bit by sharks, most like. anyway, the Embry plows right into this whale before a hard wind and a piece of meat the size of a haywagon gets jammed right in the bow boards. awful mess, must've been. Then the sharks came by the hundreds. Swimming 'round and 'round that ship, day and night. Whittling that whale meat down to nothing, and the Embry taking water at the bow and getting lower and lower every hour."
"You've heard this already," Matthew said.
"No sooner did they get the bow shored up, but the rain comes. Then the lightning, the thunder and the big waves." The widow, her own storm, kept on rolling. "That's when the mainmast cracked and fell. and after the tempest, the sun beat down and the wind went dead and there they sat on a sea of glass for day after day. That captain went crazy and wanted to throw the girl over the side, but the others stopped him because they knew it had just been an accident. anyway, he was the one who knocked the preacher over. So yes, I've already heard this, and what else do you havei"
Matthew wondered if she might want to know that Cecily was still snout-slapping his knees under the breakfast table every morning. Then he glanced quickly at the door to make sure no one was coming in, opened his mouth, and before he could think better of it said, "another murder victim was found a few days before Dr. Godwin's death. Washed up out of the Hudson onto a farm about ten miles out of town. The high constable has been sitting on the information."
She grasped the reason why. "Four murders instead of three. It was the Masker's doingi"
"That, I can't say. I can say the victim was a young man, still unidentified." He decided to give her one more bit. "Multiple stab wounds."
She gave a quiet whistle of appreciation. "and how did you come by thisi"
"again, I can't say, but I can tell you that I've seen the body."
"at close range, I presume. I think you'd best go home and change shirts before you draw buzzards, and I might add I consider our account even, for now."
Sitting at his desk in the magistrate's office, Matthew didn't know how wise it had been to give up that information, but the widow Sherwyn was bound to be a useful fount of knowledge so count it as a payment on future business.
Perhaps ten minutes passed before Powers and Greathouse came back into the office. Matthew noted that Greathouse must have told the magistrate about Professor Fell, because Powers' face was tight and his eyes hooded. He took off his coat and hat and put them in their places on the pegs. Then he said, "Matthew, you are relieved of your duties."
"Relieved of your duties," the magistrate repeated.
"I'm almost done here, sir."
"You are done. For today and tomorrow and forevermore. I release you from all duties of this office. You are now in the full employ of the Herrald agency and Mr. Greathouse has an announcement for you."
Greathouse held up an envelope. "We have a letter of inquiry, delivered to the Dock House Inn yesterday afternoon. You and I are going on a trip."
"a tripi To wherei"
"You ask too many questions for a junior associate. Don't just sit there. Put away your pen and let's get going."
Matthew set his quill in its rest. He capped his ink bottle, not without a little anxiety at realizing this might be-would be-for the final time. "Siri" he said to the magistrate as he stood up. "Won't you be needing me anymorei"
Powers' severe, almost grim expression slowly softened. He summoned up a wry smile. "No," he said, "I won't be. I think you're needed elsewhere now, far away from these cases of decree-breakers, hog thieves, and pickpockets. You recall what I told youi about finding a future profession suitable to your talentsi Well, I believe-as does Hudson-that you can use your talents to far greater effect out there in the world as opposed to in this office, behind that desk. anyway, there's never going to be a shortage of clerks. So onward with you, and good luck."
Matthew didn't know what to say. Of course he'd known this moment was coming, but now that it was here he didn't think himself ready.
His hesitation clearly showed, for Greathouse said, "We have almost a day's ride ahead of us. I'd appreciate a little more speed."
Magistrate Powers sat down at his desk, shuffled some papers, and cleared his throat. He began to inspect a letter that Matthew knew had already been read this morning.
Greathouse went to the door and opened it.
"Siri" Matthew said, and Powers looked up. "I wanted to thank you for taking me in. Giving me the opportunity of working here. I have learned a lot."
"I think your education is just beginning," the magistrate replied. "Now before you go, promise me you'll come to my retirement celebration. all righti"
"Yes sir, I promise."
"Good. and if you need anything, I'll be right here. For a time, at least." He motioned toward Greathouse and the open door. "Go."
Matthew still hesitated. Suddenly that open door seemed terribly fearsome, and the open world beyond it a place of uncertainty and danger. Matthew reckoned that once he passed through it in the company of Hudson Greathouse, he would be today and tomorrow and forevermore removed from the life he had known as a simple clerk. He knew Greathouse's patience would not last very much longer. It was time to move from one world into another. He said to the magistrate, "Thank you again, sir," and he started toward where Greathouse stood waiting.
The door closed, with Matthew on the outside.
Greathouse was already striding toward the stairs. Matthew had no further qualms about which direction to go. He caught up with the man and followed him down and onto the street under the low milky sky. Greathouse's big chestnut horse with the white-starred face was secured to a hitching-post nearby. "Get yourself a horse," Greathouse told him. "a man's horse with some fire in it, not that lady's pony you've been riding. You can handle it, if you could handle Buck. Take the horse for overnight, as we won't be back until sometime tomorrow. Meet me back here as soon as you're able. Oh, and take this with you and read it." He gave Matthew the envelope he'd showed. "Today, if possible."
"Right." Matthew hurried toward Tobias Winekoop's stable, the envelope in hand. at the stable he announced to Mr. Winekoop that he would not be requiring Suvie today, and was told in return that the only two other horses available were named Volcano and Dante, the first known to throw inexpert riders in an explosive fit of pique and the second a moody, unpredictable animal that had once bitten Chief Prosecutor Bynes on the shoulder during a Sunday afternoon outing. Matthew decided on Dante, figuring Bynes' portly bulk might have had something to do with the showing of equine teeth, and besides, he and Dante had at least a little bit in common.
as Mr. Winekoop saddled the horse, Matthew opened the envelope that had To the attention of the Herrald agency written on it. a man's handwriting, Matthew thought; the letters were steady and well-formed, yet had a spiky quality that he attributed to male expression whereas a woman's hand was more rounded. Unfolding the paper, he read:
Dear Sir or Madam,
My greetings and solicitations. I am Dr. David Ramsendell, chief physician of the New Jersey Colony's Publick Hospital for the Mentally Infirm located near the township of Westerwicke some thirty miles to the southwest of New York along the Philadelphia Pike. My attention was drawn to your printed notice due to a situation involving a patient and more I cannot say in a letter. If you would be so kind as to respond to this missive at your convenience, I am in hopes your agency might provide a valuable service to both ourselves and our patient. Whatever your fee might be in this matter, I bow to your expertise and good graces.
With all Respect and Regards,
Dante came snorting at the bit. He was an ebony horse with a red-tinged mane and cunning eyes that Matthew thought searched for a soft place to bite. The beast was equally as big as Greathouse's horse, if not larger, and looked damnably dangerous. Winekoop gave Matthew a pear to feed him, or rather appease him with, and one crunch did away with it. Matthew decided he would keep as far away as possible from those giant teeth. He eased up into the saddle. Dante trembled and stomped around a little as Matthew said quietly, "Easy, boy, easy," while he stroked a mane that felt stiff enough to double as broomstraw. Winekoop stepped back and waved him on, so Matthew began urging Dante out onto the street while lizards scurried in his stomach. The monstrous animal obeyed the command, much to Matthew's surprise and relief, and they went on at a walk while pedestrians got out of the way and even other horses pulling carts and wagons seemed to look down at the ground in the manner of men avoiding the glance of a ruffian. Matthew sat tighter than he should have, fearing a toss, but Dante at least for the present was a perfect gentleman.
Greathouse was waiting in front of City Hall. His horse gave a high nicker that Matthew imagined sounded somewhat nervous, and there was a low rumbling response from deep in Dante's throat. But, again at least for now, the two horses did not attack each other as Matthew had reckoned was a possibility. "Now that's a ride," Greathouse said with admiration. He turned his animal toward East King Street and the ferry to Weehawken, and Matthew followed with what felt like a mountain of muscle and bone moving beneath him.
at Van Dam's shipyard, which was the terminus of the flat-bottomed barge across the Hudson, they dismounted and had to wait for the ferry to make its return trip. Greathouse retrieved the letter from Matthew and asked him what he made of it.
"a patient in a hospitali" Matthew answered. "I don't see how we can be of any help there."
"Not just a hospital. a mental hospital. You know. What do they call those placesi"
"Bedlam," Matthew said. The term for insane asylums had been used for many years, and originated in the clamor and ravings of the mad persons locked within.
"Well, we shall see. Oh, I've asked Nathaniel to get us a listing of the property owners north of the Ormond farm. We'll pursue that when we come back. I understand your Masker obeyed the decree again last night."
"He's your boy, isn't hei Worth ten shillings to youi"
"Only if I find out who he is before he murders anyone else."
"Then you'd best hope he stays at home again tonight, because we won't be back before tomorrow afternoon. There's our boat." Greathouse motioned toward the ferry, its white sail spread as it slowly approached across the gray water, and at bow and stern men using oars to steer a relatively straight path against the current. On the opposite bank, mist drifted over the rooftops and chimneys of the Weehawken settlement. The air was wet and heavy, the sunlight cut to a murky haze. Matthew had the feeling of gloom and doom, not just because of the Masker or Professor Fell, or Reverend Wade's agony or andrew Kippering's mysterious Grace Hester, but also because of this letter that called Greathouse and him across the water to Bedlam. He had the sensation of unknown shapes moving over there in the mist, of secrets waiting to be revealed, and puzzles of life and death that could be arranged into a picture if one could only find the missing pieces.
But it was just Weehawken, after all.
The ferry came, the crew threw ropes and lowered anchor, and Matthew and Greathouse led their horses over the gangplank along with a few other travelers. In another few minutes, with the animals secured and everyone aboard, the boat set off again for the far shore.
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