Part Two: The Madness Chapter Twenty-Three
The bell was still being rung. It was placed atop a watchman's tower at the dock, where in turn the watchman monitored through a spyglass the signal flags from another watchtower on Oyster Island. Whatever the bell was proclaiming, its primary purpose was to call men to either take up arms to defend the harbor against attack or to crew the rescue boats. Matthew returned the letter to his coat and started walking to the dock. In another moment he caught up with the Stokelys and then almost collided with the bulk of Chief Prosecutor Bynes moving through the gathering crowd, but at the last instant he checked his progress and Bynes went past hollering for the attention of some other official just ahead.
True to the spirit of New York, the fiddlers and squeezeboxers were already out on the dockside making a din of music with their tin cups offered, two young women dressed up like gypsies were dancing around also holding out money cups, three or four higglers were hawking from wagons such items as sausage pies, cheap parasols, and spyglasses, the enterprising baker Mrs. Brown was selling sugar cookies to children from a cart, and dogs chased after cats that chased after harbor rats scurrying wildly under all these feet.
Past the coiled ropes, tar barrels, and piled crates of cargo either coming or going, past the sturdy tall-masted merchant vessels tied to the dock that groaned against the breeze and current like sleepers dreaming of the open sea, out there just this side of Oyster Island could be seen a ship coming to port. Craning his neck to get a good look, Matthew could tell that the ship was in dire straits, as the old sea dogs might say. It was missing half of its mainmast and its mainsail, and was careening back and forth like a tipsy drunk to catch wind with its foresail and jibs. Two longboats-the rescue craft-were already in the water and being rowed out by eight men apiece to give aid, for even this close to safe harbor it appeared the damaged vessel might at any moment lose all rudder and turn upon the rocks that circled Oyster Island.
With the longboats going out, the alarm bell that had called the crews to action now fell silent, leaving the noise of fiddle and accordion, higglers hollering, and general calls of relief that either a pirate fleet was not intent on sacking the town or the Dutch navy had not decided to buy its colony back with a few well-placed cannonballs.
Matthew felt someone jostle him and suddenly Marmaduke Grigsby was standing at his side. The printmaster was as disheveled as Matthew had ever seen him. He must have hurried here from a job in progress for he wore an ink-stained apron over his clothes, a great black smear lay across his bulbous chin, and black ink specks dotted the lenses of his spectacles. His white eyebrows were jumping, each to their own mysterious rhythm. "Has anyone said what ship this might bei" he asked Matthew, with a note of urgency.
"I pray it's the Sarah Embry. God's will, it has to be!"
Matthew realized Grigsby's granddaughter must be a passenger on the Embry, but whether that long-delayed ship was the crippled vessel struggling to make port on three sails and a prayer had yet to be seen.
Grigsby took a dirty cloth from a pocket of his apron and studiously inspected it until he could find a less dirty portion with which to wipe his eyeglasses. Matthew glanced at him and saw sweat glistening on the gnomish man's forehead and cheeks, but then again it had become a hot day.
"I'll buy you a cup of cider," Matthew offered, motioning toward one of the higglers who was selling the drink from a small keg on a pullcart. "Come on."
"Oh...yes. all right. Thank you, Matthew. I am a pitiful old wretch, aren't Ii"
With two cups of cider down their hatches, Matthew and Grigsby stood together watching the longboat crews throw ropes to the miserable ship. It would have to be towed the remaining distance. Now that the excitement of the alarm bell had dwindled and the noontime sun was bearing down, many of the gawkers began to drift away. The fiddlers left, the squeezeboxers silenced their accordions, the gypsy dancers flitted off-probably with a number of valuables, therefore Matthew had kept his hand firmly over the pocket that held his watch and wallet-and the higglers ceased their calls and also packed up their goods and left. Perhaps twenty or so people stayed on the dock watching the nautical drama unfold.
"If it's not the Sarah Embry," Grigsby said after a long silence, "I fear Beryl is lost."
"Ships are always late," Matthew reminded him gently. "You said as much yourself."
"I know I did. I also know how easily a storm can break a ship in half. I'm telling you, Matthew, Beryl is lost if this is not the Embry." He put a hand to his forehead and rubbed between the thick eyebrows, as if to calm their excitations. "I have to tell you something I've always found amusing about Beryl. Something I always dismissed...but now it may be tragic." He finished his eyebrow massaging and let his hand fall to his side. "She has thought for the longest time that she is an object of bad luck. That she foists unfortunate happenings upon others, with no ill wish toward anyone. The first young beau she ever had an eye for was injured in a riding accident, snapped his tailbone, and lay in a hospital for a solid two months. Now he goes by the moniker of Bowlegged Ben."
"It was probably just an ornery horse that threw him," Matthew said.
"He wasn't thrown from a horse. He was trying out a new saddle in the stable, the thing somehow came uncinched, and he fell on his kadoodle right there in front of Beryl. She said she heard the bone break. The fellow wouldn't return any of her letters. I think it must have been an embarrassment for him, because he'd talked himself up as such a grand equestrian."
"That's not too terrible a tragedy. accidents happen all the time."
"Yes, that's what I wrote to Beryl. Then soon after that was the young man who broke out in red blotches and whose face swelled up like a strawberry when Beryl accompanied him to a party hosted by his accounting firm. after he frightened his host's children to tears his future at the firm did not appear as bright as the morning star."
"Not bad luck," said Matthew, watching the ship draw nearer. "Just happenstance."
"as I told her. The other things, as well, I told her were easily explained."
Matthew's throat felt a little dry. "Other thingsi"
"The Marylebone fire, for one. I said she probably shouldn't have taken the goat to school, but who would have known such a thing might happeni and the coach wreck next to her house, that wasn't her fault, either. Trees often fall across the road after heavy rains. It was just the timing of it, so soon after she'd pruned the branches."
"I see," Matthew said, though he did not.
The longboats were doing a masterful job of rowing the decrepit ship in, and what a disaster the vessel was. The entire bow under the figurehead looked to have been caved in and repaired with odd pieces of planking, jagged wood remained thrusting upward where the main mast had been torn away, ropes trailed in tangles over the sides, and the whole picture was one of both mishap and misfunction. as the longboats neared the dock and the towed craft loomed larger, one of the harbor crew cupped his hands to his mouth and yelled, "Ho! What shipi"
Came from a man on the nearest longboat the shouted reply: "The Sarah Embry!"
"Oh my God! Oh Christ be praised!" Grigsby grasped at Matthew's arm to steady himself from falling, but even so his knees buckled. His weight almost took them both to the ground. "Oh Lord, she's not drowned, she's not drowned!" Tears had sprung to Grigsby's eyes behind his glasses. Matthew in decorum focused his attention on the scene as the longboats, the rowers straining, pulled the Embry in and the harbor crew prepared to receive lines from the ship and lash them fast to the dock.
It was perhaps fifteen more minutes before the Embry was tied up and its anchor rattled into the murky drink, but desperate faces could be seen crowded at the portside railing. as a gangway was secured between ship and wharf, suddenly a long-bearded man wearing blue breeches and a filthy shirt that may have once been white scrambled down the planks and fell sobbing upon the dock. He was followed along the gangway by a procession of dazed, dirty people in all manner of clothing both regal and ragged but all covered with the same gray grime and green mildew, carrying bags and bundles and staggering about as if their legs had become twirly-tops. It was impossible to discern one face from another but for the fact that all men had dirty beards, all women were bedraggled wild-haired slatterns, and all children were small filthy moppets who resembled poisonous forest mushrooms.
"My God, what a voyage this must have been!" Grigsby might be a fearful old grandfather, but he was also an opportunistic scribbler with an Earwig to fill. Even without quill and pad at hand, he began working on a story. "Where's the captaini" he asked two befuddled travelers who seemed to have lost their ability to understand English and so stumbled past. "The captain!" Grigsby demanded of a gray-bearded, sunken-eyed gent whose mossy suit had fit him better twenty pounds ago. "Where is hei"
The man pointed a trembling finger at the sobbing figure laid out on the dock and then staggered on, leaving one of his buckled shoes at Matthew's feet. Matthew and Grigsby both saw the captain cease his crying long enough to kiss the planks so hard his lips were surely pierced with splinters.
"Grandda!" came a half-shout, half-shriek.
"Beryl! Beryl!" Grigsby shouted in return, and pushed forward toward a figure the color of clay and dressed in what appeared to be tattered rags. The girl, if that's indeed what it was for under all that grime it was hard to tell, dropped the two canvas bags she'd been carrying and tried to run to meet her grandfather yet running was a proposition her sea-legs would not permit. Two long strides, a stagger and down she went upon the dock as if whacked across the back with a longboat oar. at once Grigsby knelt down to help Beryl up. Matthew reached them just as several other passengers were aiding the captain to his feet and so was directly in the line of fire when the bearded nautican bellowed like a six-cannon fusillade: "That girl!"
Beryl, whose bleeding nose scraped in her tumble gave her the only color beside the dingy gray hue somewhere between dust and fungus that covered her clothing, arms, legs, face, and thick-matted hair, sat up and blinked toward the captain as if she'd been slapped.
"She cursed this voyage!" the man hollered. He made a lurch toward her but the others were holding him back, which caused them all to lurch as one and almost go down again. "Two weeks out of Portsmouth, and she knocks Reverend Patrickson right o'r the side! That's when all our troubles started up, that's when we hit the leviathan and all Hell broke loose!"
Beryl was standing up, though with the splayed-leg grace of a gin-house dolly.
"That piece a' meat stuck there at the bow, and them sea lawyers swimmin' round and round day and night!" The captain's voice was harsh and strangled and altogether deranged. "You know you done it! You know you put the wrath of God on us!"
"I know," said Beryl, her own voice hoarse but remarkably calm, "I only dropped the soap."
"Only dropped the soap, she says!" the captain shouted to the onlookers. "Only dropped the soap!" Then he seemed to go completely paddy-whacky, as he tore loose from those arms restraining him and began to spin in a circle and remove his clothes as he whirled. He had his shirt and shoes thrown off and his breeches down around his ankles and was hopping along the pier clad only in stockings and tattoos when several of the townsmen seized him for the sake of propriety and someone tried to wrap a horse blanket around him. This was a failed objective, as the captain broke free, kicked off his impediments to nudity, and began to run along the dock in the direction of Hanover Square yelling "Only dropped the soap! Only dropped the soap!" with eight or ten men and three dogs chasing him down.
"That's all I did, Grandda," said Beryl, as she leaned heavily against Grigsby. She sounded listless and near fainting. "I promise...that's all."
"We'll get you home," Grigsby promised, his face flushed. "Get some food in you, and let you rest. Dear Christ, I thought I'd never lay eyes on you again! Matthew, would you be a friend and carry her bags to the housei"
"I will." He picked them up off the planks and found them so heavy he doubted Hudson Greathouse could have shouldered such a load, but he was determined to manage it. Grigsby began guiding his granddaughter off the dock and Matthew followed until he noted andrew Kippering standing amid the remaining knot of people watching this sorry spectacle. Kippering squinted in the sun. He looked as if he'd just awakened from a long sleep in his wrinkled clothes.
"Marmaduke!" Matthew called. "I'll be along in a few minutes!" Grigsby waved and went on with Beryl nearly dragging at his side, and then Matthew approached the whore-mongering lawyer.
"This is a fine commotion, isn't iti" Kippering asked, his eyes bleary from perhaps the depths of a drunken stupor. Matthew guessed the man had neither combed his hair, taken a bath, nor shaved since Thursday night. "Can't a fellow get any sleep on a Sunday afternooni"
"I have a favor to ask." Matthew set down the bags, reached into his coat, and brought out the letter. "Would you give this to Mr. Pollardi"
Kippering made no move to accept it. "What is iti"
"It's for Mr. Pollard to give to Mrs. Deverick. Would you please make sure that he gets iti Today, if you happen to see him."
"I doubt I will. Haven't seen him since Friday afternoon. He's off on an errand for another client."
"Well then, would you keep it for himi and make sure he gets it first thing in the morningi"
Kippering scratched his head and yawned. He watched the harbor crew at work taking mildewed boxes and crates off the Sarah Embry. "I'm not working today and I want no responsibilities. Get it to Pollard yourself."
Matthew lost his temper like the flash of a powder cartridge. It perhaps had been building since Mrs. Deverick had so rudely spurned the letter, treating him like a mongrel in need of a lesson in manners, and now he struck out at this insufferable man partly because he had not stood his ground with the woman and partly because he envied Kippering's status as a lawyer, yet Kippering was seemingly intent on throwing away a career that once had been Matthew's most cherished ambition. "Oh, excuse me. I thought you were just as much Mrs. Deverick's lawyer as is Mr. Pollard." Matthew felt his mouth curve into a sarcastic smile. "But I'm sure you'd rather spend your otherwise productive time with a bottle of rum and..." He caught hold of the name supplied to him by the widow Sherwyn. "Grace Hester."
Kippering stared fixedly at the ship being unloaded. More people were still coming off the Embry, whether passengers or crewmen of this broken vessel it was hard to say, for they all were equally reeling as they stepped upon dear solidity.
Suddenly Kippering's eyes turned upon Matthew and something had crept into them that had not been present a few seconds before. Matthew couldn't say exactly what it was, but their icy blue now had centers of cold fire.
"How do you know that namei" Kippering asked, and though he meant it to sound like a relaxed, easy question-a passing inquiry between two gentlemen on a Sunday afternoon-there was just the quietest note of tension in the voice.
Matthew had the sensation of watching Greathouse approach him with the rapier, ready to carve him into small pieces if he didn't quickly learn how to defend himself. He realized Kippering had just pushed forth a pawn, and now Matthew must reply, for this game had taken a turn he didn't understand yet had to play out. "Grace Hester," he repeated slowly, searching Kippering's eyes for a further reaction. To the lawyer's credit, there was none. Matthew decided to offer a pawn of his own, and if it was a mistake he would soon know. assuming that the dark-haired young prostitute who'd been hanging off Kippering might be the belle in question, Matthew said, "She was with you at the Thorn Bush."
"Was shei" Kippering now wore a lopsided and completely false smile.
"I think you'd better go back to Madam Blossom's and finish your bottle," Matthew said. He decided to follow Greathouse's advice and attack, if just with a sharp little dagger. "I'm sure Miss Hester would appreciate the company."
Matthew had had enough of this gent. It was a sin for him to have risen through education and hard work to the position of attorney and then do his best to throw away all his sense and sensibilities. Trying to kill himself, the widow Sherwyn had said. Matthew leaned down to pick up the two canvas bags and felt Kippering's arm go across his shoulders and lock with a strength no sot should possess. Before Matthew could brace his legs, Kippering was pulling him along the pier into the shadows thrown by merchant masts and looming hulls, the Mighty Walls of Empire.
after they'd gone a distance from the onlookers, Kippering released his shoulders but kept a hand clenched to Matthew's left arm. The lawyer's head leaned forward, his eyes keen and face as composed as that in an oil-painting and equally daubed with tones of somber blues and grays. "Corbett," he said, in a voice meant to travel only to Matthew's ear and no further. "I don't fully understand you or what you're about. I'm trying, but you're a difficult nut. Now tell me this, and I ask you to be as truthful to me as you would be to your magistrate: what is it you know about Grace Hesteri"
Matthew was at a loss. at the risk of being cracked, he decided to stall. "You're not my magistrate."
"No, I'm not. But I want to be your friend. I fear you're making that a little difficult right now."
The pressure on Matthew's arm had become a bit more intense, as if in emphasis of that last statement. Matthew saw people standing about twenty yards away, beyond the edge of the ships' shadows. Kippering wasn't going to become too violent, but what the hell was this all abouti "I'd appreciate not being mauled or threatened today, sir," Matthew said calmly. and then he added, "What I know about Grace Hester doesn't merit a shout for a constable, does iti"
Instantly Kippering's grip relaxed. The man stepped away from Matthew a few paces, giving them both room to breathe. Then Kippering suddenly turned upon Matthew again, his mouth partway open and a glint of realization in his eyes. "John Five found out, didn't hei and that's what your so-called meeting was about that nighti"
Matthew shrugged. He felt as if he were balancing on a razor.
"Don't try to be evasive," came the stern reply. "Has he told Constancei"
Here was a question he thought he should answer as honestly as possible. "No."
"So what is it you two are afteri Moneyi If you're thinking of picking the reverend's pockets, I can tell you they're very shallow. I thought that damned one-eared blacksmith was so much in love with her."
"He is. Money is not the issue."
"What, theni" Kippering advanced on him once more, but Matthew did not retreat. "Who else knowsi and how did John find outi"
Matthew held out a hand, palm thrust outward, to stop the man's approach. Kippering obeyed. This certainly must have something to do with Wade's nocturnal walks, with his show of emotion before Polly Blossom's house. Matthew took a few seconds to formulate a rational answer, and then he said, "I don't know who else has this knowledge, nor do I know how John discovered it." Was it a lie, if he had no idea what Kippering was going on abouti Call it a necessary fiction. "I will be truthful, in telling you that John and I care only for Reverend Wade's welfare. His peace of mind lately has been sorely tested."
"Yes, and no wonder!" Kippering said. "Wouldn't you be torn up about it, if you were in his shoesi"
after a pause to gauge the weather, Matthew ventured, "I would be."
"Damn right." Kippering strode away another few paces from Matthew again and stood looking out past the ships toward Oyster Island and the open sea. "I pity him, really. He thought he was strong, until this happened. Some things even the strongest man can't bear." He glanced quickly over his shoulder. "This can't get out, do you understandi Tell John. and whoever told him ought to be horse-whipped. John hasn't been dipping his wick at Polly's, has hei"
"Have you beeni"
"again, no. The secret is safe for now. I don't think it'll be travelling any further."
"Secrets have wings in this town. I told William he ought to face it and do what needs doing, but he can't make himself. So he won't listen to my advice, which is to tell the church elders to go hang if it comes to that. But he says the situation will take care of itself, and of course it will...though I'm not sure William will ever forgive himself."
William, Matthew thought. He'd had no idea Kippering and Reverend Wade were obviously either close friends or close confederates to a cause. He recalled John Five telling him at the Thorn Bush what Constance had said about a talk with her father concerning the "problem": The one time he'd talk about it at all, he said everythin' was goin' to be fine, soon enough.
Soon enough. Matthew wondered at those two words. They carried a fatalism about them, and also a finality.
"Give me your damn letter."
Matthew focused his attention again on Kippering, who was holding out his hand.
"Come on. The letter. I'll go put it on Joplin's desk, if it's so important."
For all his suspicions and anger toward Kippering, Matthew did feel the man could be trusted. "My thanks," he said, as he gave the letter over.
Kippering inspected the writing on the front of the envelope. "Joplin told me you fancied yourself a...how shall I put this...i"
"a sammy roosteri" Matthew supplied.
"a smart young man who can put two and two together." Kippering held the letter down at his side. "Joplin says you probably wish to become high constable yourself, someday. Is that your ambitioni"
"Hardly. I did wish to be a lawyer at one time. Now I..." He decided to forgo any mention of the agency. "I have other plans."
"So I take it from my impressions of you that some career involving justice is your ambitioni"
Kippering grunted. "Well, being a lawyer is not all that and a pot of porridge. Many times I've had to stand and watch justice-call it fair play, in the world of business schemes and contracts-be subverted due to a lying tongue or a bag of dirty money. No matter how highly you begin, such things have a way of chewing your lofty ideals down to the size of rum bottles and any warm female body you can afford, so please don't begrudge my choice of exquisite brainwash."
"I don't begrudge anything. I just think a professional man in your position should fly a straighter course."
"Oh, I see." a faint mocking smile moved across Kippering's face. "The professional man should keep his hands clean, is that iti For the sake of honori Nice sentiment, if you can live in the realm of dreams." His smile went away. "I can't."
There seemed nothing more to say, for Kippering waved a hand at him as if to dismiss all of Matthew's precepts of gentlemanly and professional behavior. Matthew decided it was best to retreat before he made a verbal slip that would suggest he knew nothing of the mysterious Grace Hester but the name. as Matthew turned to walk along the dock and retrieve Beryl's bags, Kippering said in a hollow voice, "I'm trusting you and John not to cause Reverend Wade any further distress or complications. Do I have your wordi"
"You do," Matthew replied without hesitation. "and my word for John, as well. He wouldn't think of doing anything to cause Constance grief." He had an instant of wishing he'd used the more simple word worry here, but his streak of bluffing still held.
"The reverend will come out of this, sooner or later. You can mark that."
"I will. Good day, sir." Matthew walked away from Kippering toward the canvas bags still lying where he'd left them. He felt light-headed. Large drops of sweat were crawling like beetles from his armpits down his sides. When he dared to glance back at Kippering he couldn't tell the man from the shadows. Then he hefted the bags and, his mind about to burst with questions that could not yet be answered, he started off toward the printmaster's house.
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