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Chapter 22...continued

Secrets Revealed; Communicating with the Dead.

We had breakfast the next morning in Mr. Bennet’s kitchen. He joined us at the table though he had risen hours before we did. We learned that he was a widower who had owned a grist mill but was now retired. He had a cook—who prepared us a magnificent breakfast—and a live-in housekeeper but otherwise lived alone.

He was anxious to learn more about us, so Jack told him all about the steamboat disaster and our visit to the Patriot Hungers in Oswego. I was happy to hear Jack talking again. If anything, she was more exuberant than usual and had Mr. Bennet laugh a number of times.

“Amazing, truly amazing,” Mr. Bennet said when Jack paused to take a bite of eggs. He peered at Jack for a few seconds then said, “I know your secret, you know.”

“What secret is that?” Jack said.

“I know you are a girl.”

“Yer crazy.” She said, but I could see she was blushing.

“I’m a light sleeper,” he said, “and I hear everything that goes on in this house. I know the two of you shared a bed last night and, while I have known men who preferred their own sex, I do not take you two to be of that type. Am I wrong or is there a girl inside those clothes.”

I had never seen anyone discover that Jack was a girl when she wasn’t undressed. I sometimes I forgot myself. She responded like a naughty child trying to plead excuses.

“No, you ain’t wrong.” She said, “But I can’t wear those frills all the time. Besides, it’s a man’s world; if I dress like a girl, I can’t do the things I want.”

It's truly remarkable,” he said, “not just the clothes but the way you wear them. It’s  a perfect disguise.”

It's me bein’ me.”

“It doesn’t hurt that you have a voice like a tin pot full of stones. There is no question but that you would fool most people.”

“I fool everyone.”

“But when you look close;” Mr. Bennet was still peering at Jack’s face, “the eyes, the skin, unmistakably feminine. Now that I know it, I can’t see you as anything but a girl.”

“Alright, that’s enough about me.” Jack was starting to get angry. “What about Pratt? Tell me about his secrets.”

Mr. Bennet laughed and took his gaze off Jack’s face. “I don’t think Mr. Pratt has any secrets equal to yours, except perhaps the pistol he keeps hidden under his shirt.”

This man was nothing if not observant. I had grown accustomed to carrying the pistol and tended to forget that I had it. While I had no need for a gun away from the Hunter’s Lodge, I had no place to leave it. It seemed too valuable to throw away so I thought at some point I would sell it. In the meantime, it stayed tucked into my trousers, covered by my shirt. I would take more care at concealment after Mr. Bennet’s observation.

The pistol required explanation if only to reassure Mr. Avery that he was in no danger of being fired upon or robbed at gunpoint. We told him about target practice with the Hunters, and that led to an explanation of how we had gotten to Oswego, which led in turn to explaining about the Oneida Community. Each story required further explanation and Jack and I found ourselves recounting our entire journey, first in reverse order, then in no order at all, pulling incidents from one place then another, moving backward and forward in time.  We told it all putting ourselves in the best of lights, omitting, for example, that we had ever been thieves or whores. Though we told only a fraction of our story, I don’t believe Mr. Bennet believed even half of what we did tell.

“Whither are you bound now?” he asked when we had reached a stopping point in the tale.

“We have some unfinished business in Rochester,” Jack said.

Jack told him about the message she had from the Know-Nothings to Thurlow Weed, and how I needed to rescue Mirabile from her faith-healing father.

“I’m afraid I can’t help you with Mr. Weed.” He said, “I have little use for his brand of politics—the Know-Nothings either, for that matter—but you are free to believe what you will. As far as religion, you have come to the right place. A wider range of ecclesiastical theories than in Rochester today has seldom been seen in the history of mankind. I was caught up in it myself when Finney first came to town, and I took note of the boy who saw visions in his hat and is now a prophet leading his multitudes west. Around the time of the end-of-the-world hysteria I gave up fanaticism and became an occasional Methodist.

“If the preacher you are interested in engages in faith-healing, he is probably long gone. They are seldom in one place for long, as the healed will often relapse, and it is bad for business when they return. In any case, if you go downtown, look at the bills and flyers, talk to the proselytizers, you may learn more than I can tell you.”

We thanked Mr. Bennet for his hospitality, and he told us we were welcome to return any time. Jack told him we might be back that evening, depending upon what transpired during the day. Then we went on foot to the heart of Rochester.

Rochester was a remarkable city. It was large and bustling, but unlike New York which was all old, rundown and dirty, Rochester was clean, and everything was new as if it had suddenly popped from the ground like a mushroom after a rainstorm. There were huge grist mills along the Genesee River, with canal boats arriving full of wheat and leaving full of flour. The canal itself went through the city in amazing ways. An aqueduct carried the canal over the river, and canal boats traversed it, a good twenty feet in the air.

As Mr. Bennet had said, there was religion everywhere. In addition to the regular churches, there were bills advertisements all sorts of unusual sects. Some, like the Shakers, the Adventists and the followers of Dr. Noyes, were quite familiar to me. Others were new and exotic. Not just religion, other ideas were being advertised as well, a freed slave named Douglas was scheduled to lecture on abolition, and a women’s rights group met regularly.  But the closest I came to finding a faith-healer was an advertisement for a syrup guaranteed to cure consumption, dyspepsia, scrofula, and liver complaints, that was manufactured by a Presbyterian minister named Dunlap.

Jack had no better luck than I had. The information she had been given was hopelessly out of date. Thurlow Weed’s Anti-masonic organization no longer existed and she was told by an editor of the Rochester Republican that Weed had moved to Albany years ago.

I was just as glad in both cases. The thought of rescuing Mirabile, taking her away—to be what, my wife?—now seemed to me somewhat childish.  And I’d had my fill of philosophical organizations and new thinkers, and I was glad that Jack wasn’t going to introduce me to another. Now freed from our obligations, maybe Jack and I could just continue to travel together until we found some peaceful place to light. But for several reasons, that was not to be.

While we stood reading a poster advertising some preacher or other, a young woman approached and asked us if we were interested in religion. Jack told her we were looking for a man who practiced faith-healing. The woman said that was all bunk, but there were real miracles afoot —her two little sisters could communicate with the dead. The woman’s name was Leah Fox, and she invited us to a séance with her sisters, Maggie and Katie.

This reminded me of what the Poughkeepsie Seer had told me, and I told Jack how he had predicted communication with the dead. This had her intrigued, and Jack wanted to meet these girls. Leah asked us if there were a dead spirit we would like to contact.

“Yes,” said Jack, “Eamon Dugan. I want to ask him if he was murdered by Jonathan Pratt.”

“I didn’t murder Dugan, Jack. I told you that.”

“We’ll see.”

Leah Fox asked us all about ourselves as she led us to their cottage on Troup Street. They required a small donation, then served us tea while we waited for another party to arrive. When everyone was there we went into a small room, and all sat at a round table; Maggie and Katie sat together, with Leah standing behind them. The shades were drawn, and all lights were extinguished, then we all held hands and recited the Lord’s Prayer in unison. We sat in silence for a time, and then heard a peculiar tapping sound that seemed to resonate throughout the room.

“Is that you, Mr. Split-foot?”

The response was two taps, meaning “yes.”

They asked the spirit a few simple questions, to which he responded with either one or two taps. Then the spirit taped five times in succession, which, we were told, meant that he had a message that would require the alphabet board. This was a board, upon which was printed each letter of the alphabet. Leah would point to each letter in sequence, and when she was pointing the letter he wanted the spirit would tap. In this way he was able to spell out the message that he was joined by two other spirits who could not stay long— a Mrs. So-and-so (I don’t recall the name) who was important to the other group, and Mr. Dugan, who was obviously of interest to us.

Through the same methods, the other group asked questions of Mrs. So-and-so. Yes, she said, she had forgiven whatever trespass concerned them, and she gave her blessing to some enterprise or other. These messages were of grave import to those asking and the women in the group broke down into tears.

When it was Dugan’s turn, Jack asked him “What’s it like in hell, Dugan?”

The response he spelled out was “Hot.”

“Did Pratt murder you Dugan?”

The response was one tap, “no.”

“I told you,” I whispered.

“Can they foretell the future?” Jack asked Leah.

“Sometimes,” she answered.

Will I ever find Thurlow Weed?” Jack asked the spirits.

The response was one tap.

Jack nodded. “Will Pratt find his destiny?”

Two taps.

That was about it. There was some closing ceremony then we all bid each other farewell. I was somewhat skeptical, but the séance left Jack deep in thought.

“You’re quiet again.” I said.

“They said you’ll find your destiny, Pratt. That means you will be off with that woman.”

No it doesn’t. My destiny could be anything. Of course I’ll find it, because it’s my destiny. But it won’t be with Mirabile. I want to stay with you, Jack. I want it to always be like last night.”

She put her arm around me as we walked, but just briefly, as she was still mindful that she was dressed as a boy. “I hope it’s true, Pratt.”

As we turned up the walk to Mr. Avery’s house, a woman standing near the gate called to me.

“Jonathan, I need to talk to you.” It was Mirabile. I stopped to see what she wanted.

Jack said not a word but just kept walking.

Chapter 22 | Chapter 23 (9/19/2019)