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Authors: Jonathan F. Putnam

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BOOK: These Honored Dead
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“Did you happen to see a settlement named Menard?” I said casually. My sister lifted her eyes to stare at me, but I ignored her look. “There’s a most interesting, er, blacksmith there. Very unusual method of heating the furnace.”

“I think I may have done,” Gustorf said. “About a day’s carriage drive north? I passed through it, I’m sure, now that you mention. Charming outpost. Though I confess I missed the smithy if that was the principal attraction of interest.” My heart started beating fast. So he had also been at the site of the first murder.

Gustorf gritted his teeth expectantly and looked up at Jane and Martha. “How many more?” he asked.

“We’ve been done for a few minutes now,” said Jane.

Gustorf relaxed from his clenched pose. “Your touch is agreeably light,
Fräulein
,” he said. “Yours as well,” he added with a nod and a particularly winning smile toward Martha. My sister blushed. The color was returning to Gustorf’s face, a development, I noted without pleasure, that made him look even more manly.

“How are you coming with that leg, Doctor?” I called out. “You’ll be wanting to sharpen your saw, I suspect. Shall I keep him talking while you do?”

The doctor shook his head. “I have something else in mind,” he said. “Drink the rest of this bottle, won’t you, Herr Gustorf,” he added, handing the purple bottle back to the prone man. Gustorf sat up partway and swallowed the remaining liquor in several long swigs, which he followed with a loud belch.

“You’ll have to stay for a spell, Herr Gustorf,” Dr. Patterson said. “I promise we’ll take good care of you.”

“I shall be delighted,” he replied, casting a warm smile toward Martha and Jane. As I looked on, I could not figure out what to make of the mysterious foreigner. His behaviors were simultaneously suspicious and as uncomplicated as a child’s.

“You’ll be feeling the full effects of my medicinal liquor shortly,” Patterson said, nodding. “There’s a new treatment for fractured limbs I’ve been wanting to try out, and your case presents an excellent opportunity. Those inscrutable Turks have finally shared something of use with the rest of the world.”

The doctor called out for the hired girl, and when she materialized, he started giving her a complex series of instructions. He seemed to be directing her to soak cotton bandages in “Plaster of Paris,” though how this would facilitate the amputation of the Prussian’s shattered leg I could not fathom.

I turned back to Gustorf and saw his eyelids fluttering rapidly. “The day you arrived in Springfield,” I said, talking loudly
in order to try to hold his attention. “Where did you dine that evening? Did you happen to venture to a place called Torrey’s?”

“There’s no need to keep distracting him, Speed,” the doctor said. “He’s almost out.” And, indeed, Gustorf’s eyes fluttered shut for a final time. “He won’t wake up until morning at this point, not with the whole bottle in his belly.”

Patterson called out to the hired girl again and interrogated her about the state of the cotton bandages. Then he turned back to me and said, “It’ll be two hours until she’s got them all ready for me. That’ll give Herr Gustorf time to find his deepest ebb of sleep. Your mention of Torrey’s has me thirsty. Join me there for some refreshment.”

I started to protest that I needed to return to my store, but Patterson grabbed my arm with a surprisingly powerful grip and leaned in close. His breath smelled like sour onions. “It wasn’t a question, Speed,” he hissed. “Let’s go.”

C
HAPTER
16

E
ven though the sun hadn’t yet set, Torrey Temperance Hotel was oozing with ne’er-do-wells when I heaved open the door and let Patterson enter before me. Together we pushed through the crowd in the public room, a low rumble of discontent, toward the bar, where the moon-faced Torrey presided in a filthy apron and a permanent scowl. Torrey greeted Patterson with a familiar nod, while the innkeeper and I glared at each other warily. Early in my tenure at A. Y. Ellis & Co., he’d passed me a private note that proved uncollectable; since then I’d typically stayed clear of his establishment and he of mine.

An open barrel of busthead whiskey sat on the bar. A tray of chipped glasses rested to the side and a large wooden dipper hung from a nail in the wall. I thrust the dipper into the barrel and filled up a glass for the doctor and one for me.

“I’ve no cause to mince words, Speed,” Patterson said once we’d squeezed next to each other on one of the tightly packed benches that lined either side of the room. “Have you an interest in my daughter?”

My hesitation evidently told Patterson everything he needed to know. “I figured as much,” he said, nodding, before I could formulate a response. He swallowed half of his glass at a gulp.

“I’m not yet in a position to support a wife,” I said. “Someday I hope to buy my cousin Bell out of his share of the store, but I
can’t yet, and if the Panic hits us with full force, as some are suggesting, it may be some time still. Until I can stand firmly on my own feet, I’m not in a position to support another, certainly not another as virtuous and worthy as your daughter.”

The doctor grunted and drained the rest of his glass. He gestured at me to do the same and said, “Your caution is a credit to your name, I’m sure. I don’t bear you ill.”

I expelled my breath and took a tentative sip. Torrey’s mash was actually better than I recalled. I finished the glass and did not object when Patterson offered to refill it.

“How old is your daughter, may I ask?” I said when Patterson had returned with fresh glasses and a pair of soggy bread rolls Torrey had fished out of the pockets of his apron.

“Seventeen.”

“There’s plenty of time then. She’ll have her pick of suitors before long.”

“I hope you prove right,” Patterson returned. He swallowed half his new glass in a long gulp. “I’d been hoping—well, to settle matters for her sooner rather than later.”

I wondered what the doctor’s hurry was. My sister Martha was the same age, and I knew our father would not worry about finding a good match for several more years, at the least.

“I wager they’re already lining up for her and merely trying to hide it from you,” I said. “No doubt they’re scared of you, being an eminent man of medicine.”

He grunted and gnawed on a roll.

Now that I had evidently avoided the doctor’s wrath, my thoughts returned to his newest patient. “How long will Herr Gustorf be laid up in your surgery?” I asked.

“Two weeks? A month?” Patterson ran his fingers over his neat moustache. “I don’t have the first idea, to be honest. The Turks told us how to perform the operation, but they haven’t bothered to write down what comes next. I shall be most interested to learn for myself how the whole thing proceeds.”

“That’ll give the sheriff plenty of time to investigate Jesse’s death more fully,” I said. “Don’t you think it dubious Gustorf was fleeing Springfield right after the funeral for the boy whose body was found in his carriage?”

Patterson looked at me with interest. He seemed to have forgotten about his daughter’s plight. “I find it
most
suspicious,” he said. “It was such a tragedy, the boy struck down just as his life was so full of new promise.”

“I know you’d attended him that very afternoon,” I said. “Had you known him before—”

Suddenly there was a tapping on my shoulder and a gruff voice said, “Move aside, young man.”

An older man with a bulbous nose and a tall plumed hat was two feet away, trying get past me to reach Patterson. It took me a moment to place him without the full military regalia, but I realized it was Major Richmond, the doctor’s adversary in the land suit. At the same moment I came to this realization, the doctor muttered loud enough for the men surrounding us to hear, “The Devil himself.”

“I need my money, Patterson,” Richmond said, his face red and angry. “The money you owe me for the land.” His lips kept moving, but no further words issued.

“Have you ever been treated by a psychiater, Richmond?” Patterson returned. He rose and faced the major. “You don’t need money. You need help—with your head.” He pointed with a forefinger to his own temple.

Richmond’s lips moved in silent rebuke. Then he pulled from his pocket a clasp knife. In turn, Patterson drew a surgical knife out of one of the pockets of his heavy coat.

I leapt to my feet. In the crowded tavern, I found myself wedged precariously between the two adversaries. Richmond had the advantage of three inches and fifty pounds or more, but Dr. Patterson had the advantage of somewhat less advanced age. It might be a fair fight if it came to that, I thought. Looking around, it seemed none of Torrey’s other customers were paying
us any notice; incipient brawls, even between elderly combatants, were about as noteworthy here as men drunk as lords.

“I wondered when you’d show your stinkin’ face again after the judge put you in your place, you scoundrel,” Richmond sneered.

“You know where to find me at all hours,” Patterson shot back.

“That’s right, your grand manse,” Richmond returned. He grumbled to himself insensibly and spat near Patterson’s boots before adding, “The house that desecrates Sarah’s memory.”

“How dare you!” Patterson shouted. He raised his knife and took a step toward Richmond, although I pushed him back, out of self-preservation more than anything else.

“Who was Sarah?” I asked.

“My sister,” Richmond said, “whom he sent to an early grave.”

That explained the animosity between the two men. Patterson had cared for Richmond’s sister but had been unable to save her life. Still trying to quell the confrontation, I said to Richmond, “The medical arts are never certain, are they, friend?”

“She wasn’t a patient,” said Richmond. “She was his wife. Disappeared without so much as a trace four years ago. Met her Good Lord at his evil hands, I haven’t a doubt.” He waved around his own knife not far from my face, though he made no effort to advance on Patterson.

“Jane’s mother?” I said, turning to Patterson in surprise. Patterson had said at dinner Jane’s mother died shortly after her birth.

“Her stepmother,” said Patterson. “My second wife. Vanished one morning. Richmond here and I searched side by side for her for days, to no avail.”

“We didn’t find her because she wasn’t there to be found,” Richmond said. “You hid her body somewhere. My greatest regret in life is I never figured out where.”

“You have no proof,” Patterson replied, his face as red as a beet.

At that moment, Torrey bustled up. “Are you causing trouble, Speed?” he sputtered. “This is a respectable establishment. There’s no drawn knives allowed.”

“Trying to defuse it,” I said. Looking at Patterson and Richmond I added, “No matter who’s right, the both of you are reckless for arguing like this in public. Remember what Judge Thomas said about keeping apart from one another.”

“The judge’s writ doesn’t run to Torrey’s,” Patterson replied with a growl.

“Yes it does,” said Torrey. He surveyed his wretched domain through narrowed eyes. “He’s right over there.” Torrey pointed to the far corner of the room.

“Oh, Your Honor,” he called shrilly.

A man who had been seated with his back to us and a cap pulled low over his head turned and stared. Through the haze of the tavern, I could make out the wide-set, florid face and telltale sneer. The judge squinted and shook his cigar hand, although I guessed he was in no condition to recognize the litigants, to say nothing of halting their altercation. Nonetheless, Richmond and Patterson sheathed their weapons and took a step back from each other.

“That’s more like it,” Torrey said. “Now let me bring you both a fresh glass and you can drink to old times together.”

C
HAPTER
17

L
incoln was already seated at the Globe’s common table the next morning, a half-eaten plate of breakfast in front of him, when Martha and I entered the tavern. An odor of stale smoke lingered about the place.

“I’ll wager you a month’s rent,” I said by way of greeting as we slid in across from him, “you don’t know the source of the animosity between your client Patterson and that old veteran Richmond.”

“You mean other than their being former brothers-in-law who had the great misjudgment to think they could engage in land speculation with one another?” he said. When he saw my disappointed expression he added, “I was just wondering where next month’s payment was coming from. I’ve solved a major problem before finishing breakfast. You’ve made my day already, Speed.”

I recounted for Lincoln and Martha the confrontation between the two men from the previous night. “It does explain the depth of hard feelings, I suppose.” I paused. “You’re not actually going to insist on payment, are you? It’s poor sport to accept a bet with superior knowledge.”

“It’s precisely what you yourself were attempting,” Lincoln said with a grin. “If only you’d displayed your sister’s curiosity
about my docket from the outset, you could judge better where to lay down your wagers.”

He turned to my sister. “Has Speed shown you around town, Miss Speed? I’m afraid there’s nothing in our little frontier village that compares with the finery and grandeur of Louisville.”

“Oh, no, you’re wrong,” Martha replied earnestly. “I’ve discovered so many interesting things already. Did you know the iron nutgall ink sold at McHendry’s on the other side of the square is especially useful for writing long letters? It dries in less than a minute when held over the candle flame.”

“I had no idea,” said Lincoln, his eyes twinkling.

I told Lincoln about Gustorf’s attempt to flee Springfield and the long period of recovery the doctor said would follow his accident. “So the sheriff will have plenty of time to question him. I’d think he’s the most likely suspect, especially if we can establish he’d encountered Lilly as well.”

“We?” said Lincoln, his eyebrows raised. “I thought you said you weren’t after the sheriff’s job.”

“Of course I’m not. But that doesn’t mean I can’t be of help to him and Prickett in finding the blackguard. I was with the little fellow Jesse on the day he was killed. In fact, I was probably one of the last men on earth to speak to him. Are you going to tell me I don’t have a stake in finding his killer?” And I need to do it, most of all, for Rebecca’s sake, I added silently to myself.

“Gustorf might be a potential suspect,” Lincoln said. “So could a number of other men, I imagine. But first you need a theory of the case.”

“Meaning what?”

“Two young people whom no one in Sangamon County had heard of up until a few months ago have been murdered in close succession. One in Springfield, one in Menard. One by a blow from a paving stone, one by a knife. Why? Why would somebody have wanted to kill two orphans, and penniless ones at that? Before you—or the sheriff and Prickett, for that matter—can start to answer the
who
, you need a good hypothesis as to the
why
.”

“Have you any guess at the
why
?” I asked.

Lincoln chewed and shook his head.

“Maybe there is no
why
,” said Martha.

“What are you saying?”

“Maybe there’s a madman on the loose. No sane, rational person could possibly want to murder two innocent souls.” She turned to Lincoln and said, “Madmen are often confined in the poorhouse here, isn’t that right? We know Lilly and Jesse were lodged inside one for several years. Perhaps they encountered some raver there and now he’s gotten away and come after them.”

“That’s brilliant,” I said.

“It’s certainly worth investigating,” agreed Lincoln. “How is it, Miss Speed, you’ve become an expert on poorhouses in addition to nutgall ink?”

Martha blushed.

“Patterson mentioned them to us at dinner the other night,” I said.

“Were you talking about his legal action?” asked Lincoln. I nodded. “Figures. The good doctor’s been fixated on the issue from the start, this idea that the major’s insane. He thinks it’s the key to prevailing.”

“Isn’t it?” I asked. “If Major Richmond’s mad, surely he can’t get an order from the judge enforcing their agreement.”

“If the court adjudges him insane or a lunatic, you’re correct.”

“But what makes someone insane?” asked Martha.

“It’s a person who’s deranged, who doesn’t speak or act with any sense,” I said. “I’m not at all sure it applies to Richmond, though Patterson certainly thinks so.”

“I’ve known lots of men, and women too, who don’t make any rational sense when you talk to them,” Martha persisted. “Not to me, anyway.” She turned toward Lincoln. “Does that make them insane? It could be nearly the whole population of the country, more or less, depending on how you look at it.”

Lincoln laughed. A bell sounded in the distance. “I’m going to be late again,” he muttered. He took a final bite of sausage
and stood up as he chewed, straightening his frockcoat and then reaching to the floor for his stovepipe hat.

Lincoln had taken two steps away from the table when he looked over his shoulder at Martha. “I’m not ignoring your question, Miss Speed, about what makes someone insane in the eyes of the law. It’s a good one. I’ll see if I can give you a satisfactory answer the next time we’re together.”

After Lincoln had departed, Saunders put plates of food in front of us and we began to eat in silence. I found my thoughts fixated on Rebecca. I saw again in my mind’s eye her weary, heartbroken face as she drove out of town after Jesse’s funeral with the boy’s small coffin at her side.

“How do people end up in the poorhouse?” asked Martha suddenly. “I don’t mean the insane but normal people, like Lilly and Jesse. How do they end up there?”

“The county decided it was spending too much supporting paupers,” I said. “It figured it would be cheaper to house all of them together. The idea is they can contribute to their own maintenance by being hired out or working in the fields. There’s a master who has the contract to operate the place. He gets to sell for his own account the crops the residents produce, so the county doesn’t even have to provide him much in the way of a salary. It works out well for everyone.”

“Except the wretched families who are confined inside,” Martha cried. She paused, then asked, “Can we visit one?”

“I was thinking the same thing,” I said. “Your idea that a madman might be the villain is a good one. I need to mind the counter today, but I’ll ride out tomorrow morning. The nearest one, the one where Lilly and Jesse lived, is near Decatur. That’s several hours ride to the east.”

“I’m coming with you,” said Martha. “I cannot bear to contemplate what happened to those children, to imagine their final moments, their fear . . .”

“I’m not sure a poorhouse is a proper place for a young lady like yourself.”

My sister punched me in the shoulder, hard enough to sting. “I’m coming too,” she insisted. “That phrase, ‘not proper for a young lady,’ that’s an excuse men use when they don’t want women to know something important.”

I couldn’t help but laugh. Looking at Martha’s face, creased with determination, I knew further argument was futile. So I detoured by van Hoff’s carriage yard—the Globe stables were closed until further notice, and van Hoff had agreed to stable the displaced horses in the meantime—and asked one of the boys there to ready a two-seater for our journey.

The next morning, once Hickory’s hitch was set and Martha and I were seated beside each other on the padded cushion of the chaise, we set off. Martha held two bulging saddlebags on her lap. When I asked about their contents, she merely shrugged.

It was an arid August day, and the summer sun beat down in ferocious glory. Even with the heat, there was a great deal of flourishing about in fine hats on the hard-packed streets surrounding the courthouse square. We weaved through an assortment of carriages and buggies and pedestrians out for a stroll. Harvesttime would be here soon enough, at which point man, woman, and beast alike would be consigned to labor in the fields.

“Do you know what I like about Springfield?” Martha asked as I cursed loudly and swerved to avoid a rider who had dismounted his horse suddenly in the middle of the road. “Other than being with you, of course. It’s that people take me seriously here.”

“People take you seriously at Farmington,” I protested. “I know James does. Father, too, most of the time.”

Martha shook her head fiercely. “It’s not the same,” she said. “Both of them still treat me like a child—an intelligent child, maybe, but a child nonetheless. I had to practically beg Father to get him to send me back to school for one more year last fall. And this year, it’s out of the question. I’m supposed to sit around and do needlework and go to cotillions and wait for some
dim-witted boy with pimples all over his face to ask me to walk with him. It’s positively
horrid
.”

“I think you’re exaggerating,” I said. “It’s a pretty position to be an eligible young woman, and an attractive one from a wealthy family at that, in Louisville society.”

Martha gave me a searching stare. At length she said, “Joshua, you have no idea.”

We bounced along the hard-packed path. Even though we were on the principal east–west carriage route through the prairie, the rude road was pockmarked by deep, rocky holes we had to steer around to avoid getting swallowed up.

After we’d been driving for about two hours, we encountered a long train of wagons and horses heading in the opposite direction. I pulled Hickory into the tall grasses to let them pass and the lead rider, a sunburnt man astride an underfed chestnut horse, nodded a greeting.

“Morning,” I called. “Where you folks heading?”

“St. Louis,” he said. “We’re on the move from Kentucky. We’ve heard there’s plenty of first-rate land there. And heaps of money for the taking.”

After I’d wished him well, he added, “Be careful on your way. There’s a huge slough in the road a few miles ahead of you. Three of our carts got stuck. Took us all night to drag ’em free from the muck.”

I thanked the man, and Martha and I watched as the long train rumbled by. We counted seven wagons in total, each pulled by a massive, slovenly ox. The wagons had originally been Conestogas, but the canvas coverings had been reduced to shreds hanging limply from the sidewalls, and the red running gear had been stained rust-brown by the dust.

The first three wagons held an assortment of women and children, looking dirty and tired and almost out of hope. Two wagons behind them were piled high with household belongings, with trunks and furniture jumbled about. And then there were two wagons packed with dark-skinned slaves, seventeen
in all, I counted, who looked out on the passing landscape with expressionless eyes. Several men on horseback rode back and forth along the train, keeping the slow-moving oxen apace.

“It’s sad,” Martha murmured as the travelers passed. “Who’d have thought people would flee Kentucky in search for a better life?”

“People go where the opportunities are, or at least where they think they are. West, more often than not. Worked for me. Maybe they’ll have similar fortune.”

“I’m not too sure,” Martha said as I pulled back onto the road. We soon came upon the slough, crisscrossed with the muddy tracks of cart wheels and desperate hooves, and I carefully steered a wide berth around it through the grasses. A little while later, the farms surrounding Decatur began to come into view.

“There’s the poorhouse now,” I said, pointing to a two-story house shaped like an
L
that was situated in a shallow valley a few hundred yards below central Decatur. There was a large church with a white steeple located directly uphill from the house. A middle-aged man wearing a straw hat and with a corncob pipe protruding from his mouth was standing on the steps of the poorhouse. As we pulled up at the front gate, he came striding toward us.

“I expect that’s the master,” I said. “Keep your opinions to yourself, if you please.”

“Joshua—”

“I mean it. If you have something to say—and I imagine you’ll have lots—save it for the ride home. I promise I’ll listen the whole way back if you like.”

When the master was five paces from our chaise, I straightened my traveling coat and called out importantly, “I’m looking for the man who owes me money.”

“Ain’t we all?” he returned, breaking into a jagged, discolored smile.

“Watch your impertinence, sir,” I thundered. “I’m out collecting my accounts, and I was told one of my debtors was lately in your care. I demand to see him at once.”

“What’s his name?”

“Don’t know his name. I know him by his lousy, no-good expression. I’ll have a look around to see if I can find him.” I started to dismount from the chaise.

“And what makes you think,” asked the master, “I’m going to let you walk right into my house?” He had taken up position in front of the gate, his arms folded across his chest, his teeth gripping his pipe defiantly.

“We both know it’s not your house,” I said, nodding at the dwelling. “That’s county property. And I’ll enter it if I please.” I reached up and helped Martha down from the carriage and led her toward the house.

“Who’s the lass?” the man sneered as he reluctantly moved aside to let us pass. “Brought your wench out collecting with you?”

It was his misfortune he said this as I was directly abreast of him, and I slammed the back of my hand into his jaw. The man cried out in pain as he fell to the ground, the corncob pipe flying from his mouth.

“Say anything like that again,” I said, “and they’ll be your last words.” Without giving the man another look, I took Martha’s arm and proceeded up the walk. I could feel her trembling beside me.

The inside of the house was foul. The walls of the narrow, dim hallway were streaked with grime, and trash lined the passageway. The smell of decay and human suffering was nearly overpowering.

A series of doors led from the long hall, and I walked up to a few, knocking quickly and pushing them open without waiting for a response. The rooms were dark inside, and several sets of anxious eyes peered back at me in each one.

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