Part Two: The Madness Chapter Twenty-Two
"Forgiveness can be our greatest strength, yet also our greatest weakness. We all may understand, with the grace of Christ, what it means to forgive an enemy. To look in the eye someone who has deceived us, or wronged us, either in private or public, and offer a hand of compassionate forgiveness. Sometimes that takes a strength beyond the ken of man, does it noti Yet we do it, if we walk with God. We put aside the injustices others have set upon us, and we continue our forward progress on this earth. Now think well on what may be the most difficult act of forgiveness for many of us. To look in the eye of the mirror and forgive ourselves of deceits and wrongs we have accumulated over the many seasons of life. How may we truly forgive others if we cannot come to grips with the sins of our own soulsi Those sins and torments brought upon ourselves by ourselvesi How may we approach with a fresh soul anyone in need of deliverance, if our own souls remain injured by self-inflicted woundsi"
Reverend William Wade was speaking from his pulpit in Trinity Church on Sunday morning. It was as usual a full sanctuary, for Wade was a powerful speaker and had the rare quality of mercy over his listeners; he didn't often speak more than two hours, which made him a favorite of the elderly who had to hold their ear-horns. Matthew sat in the fourth row of pews, alongside Hiram and Patience Stokely. Directly behind him sat Magistrate Powers, his wife, and daughter, and in front of him was Tobias Winekoop and his family. Shutters were closed at the windows to restrain the morning sun and also, according to the church elders, concentrate the attention of the congregation on Reverend Wade and not the weather or some other outside distraction, such as the cattle pen within spitting distance. The church was illuminated by candles and smelled of sawdust and weeping pine, for construction of some kind or another was always in progress. a few pigeons fluttered in the rafters, having made a nest up there after the roof was damaged by a storm the first week of May. Matthew had heard that Reverend Wade was seen at least twice putting out a platter of seeds and bread crumbs, though the elders were incensed about the pigeon droppings getting all over the pineboards and wanted to hire an Indian to bring them down with a bow-and-arrow. So far, though, no bowstring had been pulled in Trinity Church.
"Note here," said the reverend as he surveyed his flock, "I do not speak of self-forgiveness as a golden key to unlock further sins of mind, spirit, and flesh. I do not speak of self-forgiveness as a dreamer's potion that has the power to undo all that has gone before. Far from it. I speak of self-forgiveness as Paul writes in Second Corinthians, chapter the seventh, verses the ninth, the tenth, and the eleventh. I speak of self-forgiveness as letting go of the worldly sorrow that leads to death. Children of God, we hurt and we suffer, and that is the plight of adam. We have been commanded from the Garden for our sins, yes, and we must come to dust as the world must turn through spring to winter, but why must we waste our moments in this life burdened with sins of the heart that we can not forgivei"
as the reverend spoke, Matthew listened with both ears but his eyes were watching John Five and Constance Wade, who sat together-at a decent distance apart, of course-on the front pew. John wore a brown suit and Constance was dressed in dark gray, both of them models of attentiveness to the message being preached. No one would know from looking at them that they feared for the sanity of the black-garbed man at the pulpit. Neither would anyone guess from regarding Matthew that this day was any different for him than any other Sabbath he'd attended church. He did not let his gaze linger on Reverend Wade with suspicion, but rather kept his expression as remote as Heaven sometimes seemed to be in the affairs of ordinary men, and wondered what wrenching sadness was hidden behind the somber face.
Last night had been another little carnival, Matthew had heard from both Magistrate Powers and Magistrate Dawes when he'd arrived at church. Fifteen more men and three women had been arrested for breaking the decree, necessitating throwing some of the previous night's haul out of gaol to make room. a dice game at the house of Samuel Baiter on Wall Street had led to a drunken brawl in which six men had beaten each other bloody and one's nose had nearly been bitten off. at a tick past eight-thirty, Dippen Nack had put his black billyclub up between the shoulderblades of a tall, heavy-set doxy at the corner of the Broad Way and Beaver, announced an arrest, and suddenly found himself looking into the blue-shaded eyes of Lord Cornbury, who was-according to Cornbury according to Nack according to what Dawes had heard-out for an "evening constitutional." all in all, another night for the record books.
But, again, the decree must be having some impact beyond chaos and clownish hilarity, for the Masker had not added another stone to the cemetery.
Matthew's dream last night had been unsettling. He'd gone to bed dreading what would spill from his mind after that exhumation on the Ormond farm, and so he was rewarded for his trepidation.
He'd been sitting at a table in a smoke-filled room-a tavern, perhaps-playing cards with a dark figure across from him. Five cards were dealt by a black-gloved hand. What the game was, Matthew didn't know. He only knew that the stakes were high, though there was no money in evidence. There were no voices, no humpdaroo, no fiddle music, nothing but the silence of the void. Suddenly the black glove laid down not a card but a knife with a bloody blade. Matthew knew he had to reply with a card, but when he set his down it was not a card but a lantern with broken glass and a small puddle of tallow burning within. The black glove moved again across the scarred table, and there lay Eben ausley's missing notebook. Matthew had felt the stakes were getting higher, yet the game was still unknown. He had put down his highest card, a queen of diamonds, and found it changed to an envelope with a red wax seal. Then his opponent offered a challenge, and what lay before Matthew he couldn't quite recognize until he picked it up, held it close, and by the guttering tallow realized it was the first joint of a man's thumb.
He had gotten out of bed before dawn and sat at his window watching the sky lighten, trying to arrange the pieces of his dream that way and this, this way and that. But dreams being such gossamer and fleeting impressions, only Somnus knew their riddles.
In the pocket of Matthew's coat, as he sat listening to Reverend Wade, was indeed an envelope secured not with red sealing wax but with white dripped from a common taper.
It was addressed: To Madam Deverick, From Your Servant Matthew Corbett. Inside was a piece of paper that bore three questions written as cleanly as a sword-sore shoulder would allow:
Would you please recount for me any discussion your late husband might have had with you concerning any business matters out-of-the-ordinary in the length of your recollectioni
Did Mr. Deverick make any recent trips, either for business or pleasurei If I may add to this query, where did he go and whom did he seei
at the risk of rejection or dismissal, may I ask why you indicated such displeasure when I mentioned the names of Dr. Julius Godwin and Mr. Eben ausley in connection with that of your late husbandi
I thank you for your time and helpful efforts and trust you understand this information will remain strictly confidential unless required by a court of law.
With all Respect,
Even now the widow Deverick and Robert were sitting over on the right side of the church, surrounded by a company of Golden Hill residents. It seemed to Matthew, judging from the thrust of the woman's jaw and sidelong glances at her neighbors, that she wore her mourning dress with some degree of pride, as if making the statement that she was both too strong and too civilized to either collapse at her husband's funeral yesterday or to show a tear today. Her hat with its twin black and blue feathers was elegant and likely expensive, yes, but a bit too jaunty for this sorrowful world. By contrast Robert, in his pale gray suit, his face still shock-white and eyes full of dazed pain, was nearly an invisible boy.
Matthew intended to give his letter of questions not to Joplin Pollard but to the widow herself after the service had ended. For one thing, he wished not to have to wait for Monday morning to begin this inquiry, and for another he bridled at the fact that she expected Pollard to read the questions first and, in essence, censor them. So hang the instructions he'd be given, he was doing this his own way. Still, he'd liked to have included a few more personal questions, about how she and Deverick had met and their earlier life in London, just to get some background on the man, but he'd decided she was definitely not going to answer those and it was a waste of ink. anyway, it had taken the rest of the yarrow oil rubbed into his shoulder for him to scribe the letter as it was.
actually he was sore not only at the shoulder but in the forearm, the legs, the chest, the rib cage, and the neck, not to mention the rapier cut on his left ear though tar soap had removed the dried blood. Moonbeam, he recalled Greathouse saying with derision that first training session. You've let yourself go to rot.
Matthew realized he could be as indignant as he pleased, but it was a show put on for the sake of pride. Greathouse was right. His position as a clerk and his interests in chess and books had left him in poor condition for physical activity. Not that he planned to forsake chess and reading, as he thought these kept his mind sharp and would mean the difference between success and failure at the Herrald agency, but he knew also from the pain in his muscles and joints that he was a house in need of reconstruction. The lack of physical endurance might not only cost him success at the agency, it might cost him his life. He needed a rapier to practice with at home, and by jingo he intended to find one.
"...how heavy our hearts are burdened," Reverend Wade was saying, his hands clasped tightly before him atop his podium. "How heavy our souls are laden, with this tonnage of guilt we bear. We live in the sorrow of the world, dear children, and this sorrow brings death to all the great possibilities that Christ would have us know. Look at what Paul says, in that verse the eleventh. He would urge us to clear ourselves, so that our minds and souls become fresh. To clear ourselves, and let go of..."
The reverend stopped speaking.
Matthew had thought Wade was simply pausing to take a breath, or to fashion a particular phrase, but three seconds went past and then five and then ten and still the reverend did not speak. The ladies of the congregation who were using their fans ceased almost as one. In front of Matthew, Magistrate Powers leaned forward as if to try to urge Wade to continue. The reverend stared blankly into space for a few seconds more before he blinked and recovered himself, but his face had taken on a damp sheen.
"Let go of our responsibilities," he said, and then his mouth twitched as if in an attempt to recover the word. "I'm sorry, that is not what I meant to say. Let go of our self-recriminations. Our failings. Our harsh verdicts of ourselves, that prevent us from finding..."
again Reverend Wade hesitated, and this time his eyes darted from face to face and his mouth moved to make words but no words were born. Matthew saw the cords in Wade's neck standing out, and the man's hands clenched together so tightly it appeared the knuckles must crack. Wade looked up toward the ceiling, perhaps searching past the pigeons for the face of God, but it seemed that even an appeal to God would not suffice, for the reverend was struck mute.
John Five stood up, but already two of the church elders were on their feet and were rushing to the pulpit. Reverend Wade watched them coming, his eyes wide as if he didn't fully understand what was happening, and Matthew feared the man was going to collapse before they reached him.
"I'm all right." It was more of a gasp than speech. The reverend lifted a hand to assure his flock, but Matthew and everyone else saw how badly it trembled. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, but I cannot continue today."
It was a shocking moment. The sight of the normally eloquent and resolute minister being reduced to a shaking apologist stunned even Matthew, who had already seen Wade at a weak moment. But events took a quick turn as Wade's apologies were overshadowed by the sudden tolling of a bell. It was being rung from outside in the distance, its high thin cry penetrating the shutters. at once Matthew and the others knew what it was. Heard rarely, and only in case of emergency, it was the harbormaster's bell at the Great Dock raising an alarm and a summons.
Several men put on their tricorn hats and were out the door at a run. Others followed, and even some of the women pushed out to see what trouble the bell was announcing. Perhaps with relief and looking near tears, Reverend Wade turned from the pulpit like a sleepwalker and started toward the door that led to his sanctum. He was supported by the two elders and by John Five, who had gone to the reverend's side with Constance right behind him. In another moment the congregation was in a state of utter confusion and seemed to be split between those going to the reverend's aid and those leaving the church for the dock. Still the bell rang on, as pigeons flew madly about the rafters in emulation of the human disorder below.
The Stokelys were in the aisle and going toward the street. Matthew saw Magistrate Powers striding up to give his help to Reverend Wade, but Wade was almost through the door and it appeared he was being held at both shoulders and arms by a dozen hands. Familiar faces went past, this way and that, all grimly serious. Matthew watched the door close behind Wade and his knot of churchmen, and then he thought perhaps selfishly to look for Esther Deverick but she had left her pew. Her two-feathered hat was somewhere among the well-dressed contingent of Golden Hill residents going out onto the Broad Way.
Matthew decided to also get to the street. By the time he was successful at doing this through the throng, however, the Broad Way was a clatter trap of wagons, horses, and citizens on their way to the dock. Sunday might be a day strictly of sermons, Godly contemplation, and rest in other towns, but in New York business rarely took a breather and so the streets, stockyards, counting-houses, and most other establishments were nearly as busy as usual, per the discretion and religious conviction of their owners. The Golden Hillers were being helped by servants into their carriages lined up in front of the church. Matthew saw the widow's hat before he saw her, and he made his way to the carriage before the driver could flick his whip.
"Pardon me! Pardon me!" Matthew called to the woman, who was seating herself in the plush cream-colored interior across from Robert. She looked at him incuriously, as if she'd never seen him before. Matthew took the letter from his coat and held it toward her. "The questions, madam. If you'd be so kind to-"
"Were my instructions not cleari" She tilted her head, her narrow eyes devoid of emotion but for perhaps the smallest little irritated ember. "Were they muddy, or foggy, or shrouded in misti I told you to give your questions to my lawyer. Good day."
"Yes, madam, I know, but I thought you might-"
"Good day," she repeated, and then to the driver: "Home, Malcolm."
The whip came down, the two horses pulled the carriage away, and Matthew was left holding the letter and feeling as if the Trinity Church pigeons had just deposited on his head their own opinions of the situation.
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