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Authors: Jane Langton

Tags: #Mystery, #Adult

The Transcendental Murder (9 page)

BOOK: The Transcendental Murder

The people will waken and listen to hear

The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,

And the midnight message of Paul Revere.

He sat down smugly, feeling that he had positively outdone himself. The military units stared stonily ahead, there was a flutter of polite clapping, and one loyal Prescott supporter said Boo. “Not Revere, you ass,” hissed the Governor's wife. “That's not Paul Revere.”

The Governor was thoroughly disgruntled. “Well, for Chris'sake, who in hell is it?” Then he nearly jumped out of his skin. KABOOM. The Concord Independent Battery was firing again. B-B-B-BOOM went the echoes running around. Babies set up a howl all over the field, and small galvanized hands let go of gas balloons. The Concord Band started to play “The Star-Spangled Banner,” the Governor and his wife left to open a supermarket in Needham, and everyone began trying to find lost members of his family. A few well-disciplined men and women veterans stood and saluted, or just stood at attention. Mary didn't, but she felt vaguely guilty, walking to the car with Mrs. Hand. April 19th always curiously stirred her. She wanted to fire a musket or pitch a box of tea in the harbor or somehow shout her defiance of colonial power. Down with the King anyhow.

Chapter 14

Dying is a wild Night and a new Road.

Preliminary report of the Committee on Public Ceremonies and Celebrations …

19 April, 8:30

Acton Boy Scouts' Flag raising ceremonies at Isaac Davis farmhouse preceding hike down the original trail to the North Bridge.


On appropriate bugle signal the group will march down to and across the bridge to the tune of “The White Cockade.”

Honor scout Arthur (Tubby) Furry puffed along the Isaac Davis trail in deep distress of mind. It was terrible, it was really terrible. Angry tears overflowed his eyes and ran down his cheeks. He brushed his sleeve, stiff with merit badges, across his runny nose. If nobody could see you it was okay to cry. He half-trotted, sobbing and puffing. He'd never catch up now. The ceremony would be all over, and the presentations. He looked at his watch, and sniffled in despair. Twelve forty-five! He was over two hours late! What would Mr. Palmer say? How could he possibly explain to Mr. Palmer? He couldn't say he was just a natural-born heavy sleeper and had slept right through his alarm, and then his darned old mother had made him clean up his stupid room, could he? Just because he'd more or less forgotten to clean it up yesterday, for crumb's sake. Here it was, the most important day in his life, and his
had made him clean up his
It was his
to be there with the others. He'd tried to explain to his mother, but she wouldn't listen. Here he was, Arthur Furry, the one who had the honor to present the flag to the Governor of Massachusetts, the
, for crumb's sake. And then his mother had said something awful. I don't care if it's Almighty God, she had said, you're going to clean up this ghastly mess right now, from top to bottom. That wasn't even a nice thing to say, for crumb's sake. Most of the time his mother was nice, but sometimes she could be awful, like now.

The muster field was empty. He had just known it would be. Arthur struggled across it, climbed over the stone wall on one side of Liberty Street and then over the stone wall on the other side. It was all downhill now. This was the battleground, and there was the bridge, and the field where the speeches were supposed to be. Arthur's heart sank. He couldn't see a single soul. The whole darn thing must be all over and everybody gone home. Oh well, he'd do his duty and go right there where he was supposed to go, and at least Mr. Palmer would have to give him credit for trying. That was what he was always telling them,
, go ahead,
, do your best at all times. Well, this was the very best he could do because of his darned old mother. Arthur put the ends of his neckerchief in his mouth and sucked them. Then he used them to mop his cheeks, which must be streaky from crying.

He was nearly there. The little hillock where the Minuteman stood was nearly an island. The flooded river had left only a narrow causeway at the bottom of the field. Arthur picked his way carefully. The ground was mushy in places.

Well, say! Maybe he was wrong! Maybe everything wasn't over! That was a shot! Maybe the Governor and everybody were still there! His mother had told him parades were always late! Arthur's sodden face plumped out in a hopeful smile. He began to climb up the hill below the Minuteman. Then he scrambled back and fell into the straggly cotoneaster bushes to avoid a huge shape that came crashing at him. It was a horse, of all things—an enormous brown horse, jumping over the iron fence, and there was somebody falling off it. The man landed in a scraping thump in the muddy part of the trail. It was that Paul Revere fellow, that Dr. Sam somebody, all dressed up in his outfit. Should Arthur run to help him? But the man was on his feet almost instantly. Keeping his back to Arthur, he limped after his horse and struggled back on. His tricorn hat lay where it had fallen. The man wobbled his heels into the sides of the horse and it started to canter up the hill.

Arthur watched it disappear through a gap in the stone wall. Well, gee, this was swell. He must be almost on time after all, because the horseman was supposed to ride up about the same time the Scouts from Acton were supposed to present their flags. Hopefully Arthur climbed the hill and heaved himself over the iron fence. There was a place there, he remembered from last year, where the prongs had been bent aside. Then he hurried around the bushes and came out behind the Minuteman. Oh, for crumb's sake, there was no one here after all, except somebody making a funny noise somewhere. Deeply disappointed, Arthur wheezed across the wooden bridge. Maybe the ceremonies were still going on in the field over there on the other side. Maybe he'd find the crowd of fellow Scouts and Mr. Palmer all lined up in front of the Governor, and if he marched up smartly to the Color Guard, Tommy Wiley would hand over the flag so he could present it to the Governor, and maybe Mr. Palmer would say Good for you, Tub.

But there was no sign of anything going on up there in the field. Where was everybody? In the end Arthur almost tripped over the man who lay by the wall. If the man hadn't attempted to get up on one elbow, if he hadn't thrown his head back and looked at Arthur, Arthur might have walked right past him. Arthur stopped stock-still and stared back at him.

The man lay on his side within the chained-off space where the British soldiers were buried. He was wearing a Concord Independent Battery uniform. His campaign hat lay by his side. One leg hung over the chain. Under him was a stiff spray of red gladiolas, red and white carnations and a blue ribbon with words written on it in glitter. Arthur could read the words. They said “British War Veterans.” Some of the white carnations weren't white any more. One of the man's hands was across his stomach, purplish-red stuff all over it. His face was ashen. He tried to speak, but a gout of blood came up out of his mouth, and he fell back, the blood running down the side of his face and falling in beaded drops on the ground.

Arthur Furry, Honor Scout, had a badge on his sleeve awarded him for his knowledge of First Aid. He knew how to give artificial respiration, he knew where the pressure points were, he knew how to make and apply a tourniquet and how to care for a broken leg. But the Boy Scout manual didn't say anything about people with blood coming out of their stomach or their mouth. The pictures just showed a well-built handsome man in a white shirt with his sleeves rolled up lying down in a sort of neat way, with a very calm Boy Scout kneeling neatly beside him, winding bandages around his arms or legs or putting on a splint. The man in the pictures didn't look up at the Boy Scout with horrible eyes and bubble blood at him. Panic-stricken, Arthur knelt down like the Scout in the picture and wondered what to do. Should he turn the man so that his head was higher or lower than his feet? Which, higher or lower? Or apply a tourniquet? But where? You couldn't put a tourniquet on a person if their stomach was bleeding, could you?

“Musket …” gurgled the man at him. He tried to say something else.

“I beg your pardon?” said Arthur, politely bowing closer. The man struggled to speak, with the blood coming up in gushes. He choked, and went into a sort of spasm. Arthur, horrified, could think of nothing to do but unknot his kerchief and use it to wipe at the man's mouth, so that he could speak better. But the man's strugglings ceased. He rolled his head to one side and lay still. Arthur got to his feet and ran. There was a house at the left of the walk to the bridge. He ran and pounded at the door and rang the bell. He started yelling, “Help, get a doctor, help!” There were people walking on Monument Street, a woman pushing a baby carriage. There was a bus unloading passengers over in the parking lot. A bunch of men in ten-gallon hats and cowboy boots were getting out. A policeman was talking to the driver. Arthur jumped off the porch of the house and ran across the road. “Help!” he said. “There's a man dying back there, get a doctor!”

Everyone turned to look at him. The policeman started to run toward him. “Where, sonny?” he said.

Chapter 15

I find letters from God dropt in the street
and every one is sign'd by God's name

There was an old woman walking along Liberty Street, carrying a basket with a pink balloon tied to it. It was the Gosses' housekeeper-cook, Mrs. Bewley, ambling home from the celebration. She had swiped the balloon nimbly from the balloon-man, but all the rest she had scavenged perfectly honestly: the half-pack of cigarettes, the three popsicle sticks, the wing from the plastic airplane, the nickel, the button, and, of course, innumerable messages from Jesus. She didn't know what Jesus said, since she could neither read nor write, but sooner or later she would get someone to shout it in her ear. Those yellow ones probably said Juicy Fruit. It had something to do with the Garden of Eden.

It would be such fun to add all these new things to her collection! It had been a grand morning. Mrs. Bewley looked down proudly at her dress and smiled. The dress was over thirty years old, but it was brand new to Mrs. Bewley. It had started its long and useful life as a second-hand article in 1932 when it was displayed for the first time in the Girl Scout Rummage Sale. Over the next ten years it had been handed down and sold and resold at the same sale, and then it had taken a new lease on life during a Clothe the Naked campaign conducted by the Evangelical Free Church. Sent to the remotest reaches of the Himalayas the dress that now belonged to Mrs. Bewley had become a part of the ceremonial wardrobe of a succession of tribal chieftains—until around 1950, when a resourceful chieftain with a large wardrobe and a flat tire traded it for a bicycle pump and a yak's hair fetish to the native lady's maid of a missionary's wife. Years later it went along with the lady's maid and the missionary's wife and the missionary all the way back to Boston for an Evangelical Congress, and then it found its way back at last to the Concord Girl Scout Rummage Sale (the lady's maid had discovered Filene's Basement). At the Rummage Sale it was clawed off the rack by an eager Mrs. Bewley, who couldn't fail to notice how much the buttons down the front resembled the beady brown eyes of her squirrel neckpiece. There were squirrels, definitely, running around inside Mrs. Bewley's head. But her eyes were as sharp and scavenging as ever. They saw something lying on the ground across the field, something that looked out of place. Out of place, hopeful and lost, as if it didn't belong to a solitary human soul. Of course if anybody should happen to come to Mrs. Bewley and ask for it she would be very glad indeed to give it right back. Mrs. Bewley scrambled over the stone wall and scuttled down the sloping field …

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