Murder in Lansingburgh

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November 1838

Chapter Three

Lansingburgh, New York

Autumn 1838

“Rubbish!” I said to the partly soiled newspaper from Philadelphia that I had been rereading obsessively for the past hour. I barely heard the breaking pottery, shouting, cursing, more shouting, and then the rifle shot. I looked up that.

“Well,” said my companion as he quaffed his drink. “I’m glad that got your attention, as that man’s rifle was aimed this way. We both could have had more holes in our heads, gratis. Maybe you might hear better what is going on around you, Herman. Would you like another?”

He indicated the cup where there had once been dark rum, but now just dregs. I looked from the newspaper, to the drink and then to my companion Dr. Ebenezer Maltbie, my teacher and friend.

He looked over his Franklin style glasses. The eyes still sparked of an interest in life, despite the near forty years of sight that had absorbed so much, only to make sure us of a younger age would also learn the basic precepts. And with rum as well. But this he knew what I would say.

“I could out drink Edgar Poe anytime, anywhere, and what is this rubbish that the Philadelphia Intelligencer publisher as prose? The House of Usher. Did you read this, man? It makes no sense or at worst, is totally obscene and the author should be drawn and quartered.”

I realized then as I now transcribe those words that they seem as nonsensical today as they did then, but I make no change in my opinion. Poe’s work as an author of mystery should spare him, I told Maltbie then.

“Good,” he said as he rose. “I am glad we’ve dispensed with killing Poe again for tonight, Herman. I shall fetch you some cider and then we can talk about the assassination of James Fenimore Cooper, or the tar and feathering of Parson Weems, or how about this time we just march down to Tarrytown and throttle Washington Irving? My treat.”

He chuckled and disappeared into the throng. I picked up the small bit of newspaper that had been sitting in my pocket on and off for the last few days. Edgar A. Poe. The Fall of The House of Usher. I could write better than this. I knew it. I already was. But HE gets published in the Intellgencer, while I must make due with the Lansingburgh Advertiser with a known circulation of sixteen at last count. I’d read the paper myself if I could afford it, but I am a half trained engineer with no job save what I can scrounge around the village.

My pen can spin tales of glory and despair and will do more than that as I see adventure spread before and the ocean waves call me to find a better land and tell that tale. All I need is a way out of Lansingburgh where my destitute family lives, a job to pay for my passage to New York, and a ship with sail to take me far away from this accursed –

“Oh, I’m sorry, Herman,”Maltbie said, carrying two filled cups, “we’re you musing again? Pretending to write the story to send Shakespeare and his works to the fiery depths of hell so he can toil in the Devil’s printshop for eternity? Good. Cider for us both here. Oh, gracious, I am sorry.”

The apple concoction from his cup spewed out on to the Intelligencer, making mush of it. Laughter from the other tables made me need to contain my rage. Maltbie placed a hand on my arm.

“Just do the thing better. A writer is an engineer who builds in his mind and heart and then tries to fit it on paper. That’s all.”

Since he had no cider left, he drank mine. I was content to get home, but a two block walk up River Street to the home I shared with my widowed mother and my sisters, but I did wish to walk Maltbie to his home.

As we were about to leave, and were rising from the table, two cloaked men with the ash of street fire and the smell of horse barns upon them. One was the taller of the two, his face dark, tanned as if he took the suns from the heavens and used it to light his way. Mighty hands dangling from his cloak showed a man who used his hands to live. I could hear his breathing, as the smaller man dropped his cowl and a round pleasant face shined down on Professor Maltbie.

“Hello, Ebenezer,” said the smaller uncowled one. His black hair was swept up from his forehead, small groups of hair could not contain the pile and rush to cover the head of a man who seemed learned, but in a different way than his cowled compatriot. He spoke as if he never left Dublin.

“Arthur, old boy, wonderful to see you!,”Maltbie exclaimed, as he re-rose from his chair and offered his hand. The two shook, still exchanging happy news. I looked at the cowled one but he paid me no mind. After a discussion of past meetings, the two turned from me and the Cowled One bent an ear their way. This was my cue to move along, but just I was about to make my exit, Maltbie bade me stop.

“Herman,” Maltbie said, “I must escort these men to the Academy for a meeting to be held at eight PM. I’ve the only key right now, don’t you know, and a large group will be in attendance. I shall see you in the morning, then?”

Dismissed again. Make the best of it.

“I bid you good night, Dr. Maltbie, and gentlemen. I have my books and studies for to keep me planted in the firmament.” I sat back down, and reached for Blackstone’s Commentaries, found my page and fell into the utter boredom of the law. The waft of old paper, newer rum, and my depressed state allowed me breath in, breathe out. Suddenly I opened my eyes, with the words Rights of Wrongs very near to my left eyeball. Slept a night away again. I slowly raised my head, paid for that indulgence by the rum induced headache that had quickly infiltrated my brain faster than the British on Breed’s Hill. Maltbie and his friends were gone, as were most of the tavern’s patrons. I moved slowly to close the book.

“Personally,” said a pleasant voice behind me. “I’ve found actually reading the Commentaries more beneficial to a legal career than using the tome as a pillow, Mr. Melville. Oh, please, I’ll seat myself. Barkeep! Two ciders.”



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