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Chapter 9...continued

Toil and Trouble; Sound and Fury.

The Odeon Theatre was the largest building I had ever entered, and there were hundreds if not thousands of people milling around, waiting for the play to start. I could see why a secular crowd this size might make a city like Salem uneasy. There were people of every class there—had the streets not been so dangerous, our trapper clothes would have gone unnoticed in the theater—and I had the sense that violence could erupt at any moment.

But we were dressed well and had plenty of money so we took seats in the first balcony where we could safely look down on the restless rabble. The balcony was extremely disorienting for me, and I sat down as soon as I could. Above us was another balcony and protruding from the wall on either side were private balconies where the best dressed sat, safely isolated from the rest of us.

Before the play started, men walked the aisles hawking sandwiches and spirits, and I took the opportunity to try their wares. Painted whores in red satin, (yes, I could now identify them with ease), would saunter and sashay down the aisles, trying to catch the eye of any unattached man with some money in his pocket. I resisted of course, but I watched them in operation. They took the willing men somewhere in the back of the balcony and in a remarkably short time were back on the trail looking for another. This continued for the full length of the play, and I believe a few even visited the boxes where heads would occasionally disappear from view only to return moments later adjusting their collars.

They doused the lights in the house and lit them on the stage, and the play began. Three witches appeared on stage, and the crowd cheered wildly but I was a bit uneasy, witchcraft being a sore point to those from Salem.  They cheered again when Forest made his appearance, dressed in an extravagant costume of some ancient nobleman. Throughout the play, the crowd would very vocally express their feelings towards the characters and the actors who portrayed them. If they did not like a character, they would hoot and hiss, but if they did not like an actor’s performance they threw things at him—some, apparently, had brought fruit and other objects in with them for that express purpose. But Forest always commanded respect. He would strut across the stage and make his point, even when the language was, to me, somewhat obscure.

Forest was Macbeth, and the gist of the play was Macbeth murdering people around him so that he could become king. When Macbeth grew tired of killing people, his wife would get on him to continue. She was always making him do things he did not want to do, and I could not help but see a parallel between Macbeth’s wife and Jack. Subsequent plays I have seen have had a similar effect—making one think of affairs in his own life. I believe this is intentional.

The play was quite exciting at first, but it soon fell into a pattern of speeches and murders, with the speeches becoming ever longer and more imponderable, and the murders less shocking. I left Jack engrossed in the drama and went downstairs where I had seen men drinking at a long bar as we came into the theatre. A number of men were standing there yet, no doubt as tired as I was of watching Macbeth’s killing spree.

“It’s not the murders I mind,” said one man, it’s just that Macbeth won’t stop talking about it.”

I asked for a glass of ale, and as it was being poured, I saw the canal pirates poster on the wall behind the bar.

“Haven’t they caught those canal pirates yet?” I asked the man next to me.

“They must be in Albany somewhere; they were seen downtown this morning.” He said, “I saw them myself.  They must still be in town.”

“Sure they’re in town.” Said another man, “They have a room at the American Hotel.”

“How do you know that?” I asked.

“I have just come from there. The clerk remembers checking them in.  They aren’t there now, but the police are waiting for them to return. As soon as they walk through the door, those pirates will be arrested.”

As I drank my ale, the men told me what they knew of the canal pirates. They had been robbing boats up and down the canal all season; got thousands of dollars. And they had committed at least two murders: drowned a preacher in Canajoharie and strangled a canaler in Watervliet. I knew we hadn’t killed anyone in Watervliet, but it disturbed me that people were talking about the drowning. I thought that nightmare was behind us. I said that I didn’t think they were killers.

“Oh they’re killers, alright,” Someone said, “When they catch those boys, the trial will be quick and the hanging soon.”

I hurried back to the balcony and told Jack all that I had heard. We couldn’t risk going back to the hotel, I said if they caught us we would be in deep trouble. I thought we should go right away and find a place to hide all night near the dock, then catch the first boat out of Albany in the morning.  

Jack was unconcerned. “There are two things I’m not going to do, Pratt: I’m not going to leave Albany without my real clothes, and I’m not going to leave this play ‘til it’s over.”

So I sat there, for what seemed an eternity, completely oblivious to whatever Macbeth and his wife were doing, trying to figure out how in the world we would get our clothes out of the American Hotel while it was guarded by Albany police. The plan I came up with would require a little bit of acting on our parts, and a great deal of luck.

The first hurdle to overcome was just walking through the door.  I wasn’t sure how convincing our disguises would be in deceiving someone who was actively looking for us. But none of the police had actually seen the canal pirates, and they were counting on us to remain in our incriminating trappers’ clothes. The police in the hotel—one in uniform behind the counter, one in regular clothes sitting in the lobby—looked at us quizzically as we entered the hotel, but did not recognize us as the pirates.

I suspected there was another officer upstairs watching our room, so we could not just go up and open the door. The plan was to check in again, this time as husband and wife. I tried my best to act older than my years, and Jack, in her exaggerated fashion—holding her purse with fingertips, waving a handkerchief with the other hand—was trying to act feminine. I told the clerk we needed a room for the night and would catch the steamboat to New York in the morning. He took a key from the rack for a room on the third floor.

“There is liable to be some commotion on the second floor tonight,” He said, “but if you stay in your room, you won’t be bothered.”

“Oh, my goodness,” said Jack, eyes wide, her voice concerned but sweetly timid, “will we be safe.”

“Rest assured, madam; you are in no danger. We are expecting the arrival of two desperate canal pirates,” the policeman said pointing the poster on the wall, “but we will have them in custody before they reach the stairs.”

“Oh thank you, officer, you men are so brave.”

The clerk handed me a pen, and I proceeded to sign my name in the register.  I got as far as the “P” and realized that signing “Jonathan Pratt” would not be such a good idea, as I had foolishly used my real name the first time I checked in.  Instead, I signed “Jonathan P. Travis” and for good measure added “Rev.” to the front of the signature.

“Reverend Jonathan P. Travis,” the clerk read from the book and frowned. “We had a Revered Travis here some time ago. He paid with counterfeit bank notes, took us for quite a bit.”

This got the policeman’s attention, and he scrutinized me closely.

“An unfortunate coincidence,” I said, “I have been mistaken for this other Reverend Travis wherever I go. A common criminal, I don’t believe he is truly a minister.”

“You are rather young for a man of the cloth, aren’t you Reverend Travis?” asked the policeman.

“I was called to the Lord at an early age,” I said, “but I assure you I graduated first in my class at the seminary.  My wife and I have been spreading the good news throughout the state, but it has sometimes been a trial having this criminal for a namesake.”

They seemed to accept this, but I could tell that everyone was relieved when I paid for the room in gold.

As I had suspected, there was another policeman in a chair outside of our first room.  He was reading a newspaper but put it down as we reached the top of the stairs. When he saw that we weren’t the canal pirates, he tipped his hat and let us pass to the staircase at the other end of the hall.

We sat in the room for an hour or so before putting our plan into action. Jack had deliberately left her shawl down in the lobby as an excuse to go back downstairs. She went out to get it, and I followed behind, waited on the stairs out of sight from the second floor.  The officer on the second floor had dozed off, but awoke when Jack passed. She explained her purpose, and he nodded as she passed.

Jack got her shawl from the lobby then started back up the stairs. When she reached a point where she knew she would be visible to the officer on the second floor, she made it appear that she had somehow gotten her petticoats caught on the banister. With her leg exposed well above the knee, Jack squealed for help. The policeman rushed to her aid, but it was a most chaotic rescue. As he reached to untangle the petticoat, Jack raised her leg, so the policeman’s hand touched her thigh. She squealed and pushed his handaway, saying, “Keep your hands off me!”

“Please, Ma’am, if you’ll stand still I can free your clothing.”

But Jack did not stand still, and the scene replayed itself several times. Taking advantage of the confusion, I ran to our old room and quickly and quietly unlocked the door. Once inside, I rushed around the room picking up articles of Jack’s clothing and stuffing them into her rucksack. Then grabbing my carpet bag as well, I hurried out of the room. Jack and the policeman, still working at cross-purposes, had not yet freed her petticoats from the banister. I quietly ran to the other staircase, up to the third floor and safely into our new room with all of our goods intact.

Seeing that I had made it safely upstairs, Jack allowed her petticoats to be freed from their restraint. The officer asked if she was alright. She told him, yes, but instead of thanking him, she chastised the policeman for taking liberties when she was in a helpless state. He stood back while she straightened her dress and walked haughtily to the third floor.

Jack and I congratulated ourselves on the well-played gambit, then quietly waited for first light when we left for the steamboat dock. The policeman on the second floor was sleeping soundly, and Jack could not resist taking the newspaper from his lap; he twitched a bit but did not waken. Downstairs all were gone or asleep but the uniformed officer. I hoped he would not notice that we were leaving with luggage we had not brought in.

“We’re off to meet the steamboat,” I said, quietly, with a tip of my hat.

“Safe trip.” The officer said back.