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Chapter 18...continued


The lobby of the Grand Union Hotel was more sumptuous than any room I had ever been in. Comfortable chairs and sofas were placed around the spacious room such that small groups could converse pleasantly and a gentleman alone could enjoy a newspaper without interruption. During the day large windows let in the daylight; at night lamps were lit on every table and overhead a crystal chandelier poured light throughout the room. And it all was reflected from large mirrors on two of the walls. Artwork and tapestries hung from another wall. Exotic potted plants in large pots were positioned around the room; a grandfather clock sonorously chimed the hour, brass trays on marble pedestals caught the ashes of imported cigars sold at a counter nearby. A man could spend time ensconced in a room such as this and believe to his soul that all was right with the world.

Mirabile was to meet me there that night. She did not say when, so after dinner, I went to the lobby and purchased a local newspaper as well as one from New York City. I would read until she arrived. She had been impressed by my new suit. She thought me wealthy now and that, no doubt, was the reason she agreed to meet me. That did not bother me; why would she want anything less? I would continue to play the rich man until my money ran out. There would be time enough for truth later.

I had never seen Mirabile dressed so splendidly. As she entered the lobby, the long, flowing skirt of her pale blue dress accentuated the grace of her movements. Over her bare shoulders, she wore a shawl of white lace and on her head a dainty lace-trimmed bonnet. I rose as she approached me. I longed to pull her close to me, into a tight embrace, then shower her with kisses. Instead, I gently shook her hand.

“You look wonderful, Mirabile,” I said as she sat down across from me.

“As do you, Jonathan. I am so impressed by how successful you have become in such a short time. What is your profession now?”

“I am a speculator,” I said.

“Is that not akin to gambler?”

“The difference,” I said, “is that speculators never lose.”

By way of explanation, I cobbled together a philosophy of “speculation” using the words of Mr. Thayer’s occupation while the whole time thinking of Mr. Dugan’s. I couched my true profession of thief in the language of business, leaving Mirabile, no doubt perplexed, yet still duly impressed by my achievement.

“And what about you, Mirabile,” I asked, “have you and your father reaped the harvest of souls as planned?”

Her expression turned dark at this. “It is the reason I wanted to talk with you, Jonathan,“ she said softly, “things are not going well.”

Mirabile explained that after I left, the Reverend remained committed to the notion of including in the service a demonstration of healing by faith. He cursed me for leaving, but upon arrival at Syracuse, the Reverend found another boy to play the cripple. The new boy was unreliable and not to be trusted around money, but the performance was well-received, and the crowds in attendance continued to grow. The congregations would include actual cripples drawn by Reverend Travis’s reputation as a healer, and more often than not, one or more would leave cured or believing himself cured by the Reverend’s healing touch. When Reverend Travis realized this was happening, he fired the boy, then tailored his message to those in need of healing. He would put his hand on the afflicted person and invoke the Holy Spirit. If the healing did not occur, he would blame that person’s lack of faith.

At first, he would add ringers to the crowd to make sure that at least someone would be healed every time, but he soon came to believe in his own healing power and worked only with those who came voluntarily. So obsessed was the Reverend with his power to heal that he had come to believe himself chosen by God. He put himself above all others, and would not tolerate anyone questioning his divinity.

“He has become insufferable,” Mirabile said, “I can no longer stand it.”

“Then you must leave,” I said.

“And I shall,” she said, “but the time is not right. I must return to Rochester first. Seeing you today was an epiphany, Jonathan. I believe that, with your help, I can put that life behind me forever. I have come to ask you if there is any chance of my obtaining that help.”

“Of course, Mirabile. I will do whatever you say.”

“We leave in the morning for Rochester,” she said, “but our route will be circuitous. Can you meet me in Rochester come July?”

“Certainly. How will I find you?”

“I shall find you.” She said. Then she rose and put her arms around me and gave me a kiss, this time full on the lips. “I must return now before I am missed. Goodbye until next month, Jonathan.”

Mirabile left the hotel and I watched her through the window as she walked down the street and disappeared into the shadows. So engrossed was I that I did not notice when someone else sat down in the chair that had been occupied by Mirabile.

“Found her at last, didja Pratt?” I turned to see the Bowery Boy who had been at the fringe of every scene since I arrived in Saratoga. And I knew that voice.

“Jack! What are you doing here?”

“I could ask you the same, Pratt, with you dressed like a dandy and staying in a swell hotel. But I first want to thank you for murdering Dugan.”

“I didn’t murder Dugan.” I briefly told Jack the story of the battle in Paradise Park and how, as I was trying to confront Dugan, a Bowery Boy murdered him with a brickbat.

“Well, you stood up to him and distracted him long enough for someone better equipped to do the job. I thank you for that.”

“I thought you were in love with Dugan and hated me.”

“I did hate you for a time, Pratt,” she said, “but I never loved Dugan. I was with Dugan because the nights I spent with him were nights I would not spend whorin’.  I found that if I kept him angry enough, I would not have to sleep with him either.  It would not have lasted, though. I was about ready to kill him myself, and I thank you for saving me the trouble.”

She asked me then how I came to be living such a high life in Saratoga. I told her the whole story of my stay in Kaaterskill, my dalliance with the farmer’s daughter and its ignoble ending. Then I told her of the Bard, the doctor and the Seer. And how the fat wallet I had lifted in Poughkeepsie prompted my hasty departure.

“I took the stage to Saratoga, it being the next to leave,” I said.

 “Still just a will-o’-the-wisp ain’t you Pratt?”

“Not anymore,” I said, “I’m bound for Rochester to rescue Mirabile.”

“You should watch yourself, Pratt, there’s something strange about that girl.”

“That’s rich coming from you,” I said, but Jack ignored the jibe.

“As it happens,” she said, “I have a mission to Rochester as well.”

I asked her to explain, and she said it would make no sense to me unless I heard the whole story of what befell her since Dugan’s death. I told her I had no place else to be and would love to hear that story. So she commenced.

“The night of the battle Dugan’s red whore came to the room, out of breath, to tell me that he had been killed. She had come to warn me that, without Dugan’s protection I was in grave trouble. Bridget was on her way to cut my throat with her razor, and Jimmy, believing that with Dugan gone he was in charge,  was coming to take all of Dugan’s possessions, including me. My fate depended on which one got there first. Fortunately for me, they were both beaten to Dugan’s room by two Bowery Boys coming for the spoils of war.

“It was an awkward scene, as they caught me putting on my canal clothes, hoping to make my escape as a boy.  Amused by the novelty of it, and hopeful that I might know some secrets of the Dead Rabbits, they decided to take me to their boss. As they showed no intention to murder me or otherwise misuse me, I went along peacefully.

Well, no one among the Bowery Boys had any idea what to do with me until I came to the attention of Bill the Butcher. In addition to being an actual butcher, Bill had been a prizefighter and a former member of the Bowery Boys—he’s still as big and tough as any of them boys and any of the Dead Rabbits as well. Now he works for the Know-Nothings. Bill and some of the other Know-Nothings thought they might have a use for a girl who could pass for a boy.”

“Who are the Know-Nothings?” I asked.

“The Know-Nothings are a group dedicated to the protection of native-born Americans—like me and you, Pratt.  They fight against immigrants. They have to stay secret, so if anyone asks about the group, they’ll say, ‘I know nothing.’”

“Why do they have to stay secret?”

“Not many know this Pratt, but the State of New York is controlled by secret societies in constant warfare with each other.”

“You mean like the Dead Rabbits and the Bowery Boys?”

“They’re just the armies. The Dead Rabbits work for Tammany Hall and the Bowery Boys work for the Know-Nothings, but that’s just in Manhattan. In the rest of New York, there’s the Anti-Rent Party, the Hunkers, the Barnburners, the Patriot Hunters, and the Fenian Brotherhood. And the worst of ‘em, the Freemasons; like the Papists, they are trying to control the world. President Polk is a Freemason, but Governor Young is an Anti-mason.  The Freemasons murdered William Morgan in Batavia for trying to reveal their secrets, but mostly the war wages constantly, outside of our vision.

“My mission, Pratt, is to carry a secret message from Ned Buntline of the Know-Nothings to Thurlow Weed of the Anti-masons.”

“So are you a Know-Nothing yourself Jack?” I asked.

She laughed. “I couldn’t tell ya if I was.”