Read an Excerpt
Through The Window
A Molly Murphy Story
By Rhys Bowen
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2014 Rhys Bowen
All rights reserved.
The prescribed period of laying-in after the birth of a child is two weeks, according to my mother-in-law, who is a self-proclaimed authority on such things. Getting on one's feet too soon results in bleeding to death at worst, lack of milk production at least. I know my own mother didn't follow such advice — each time she gave birth, she was back at work a day or so after the baby came, as far as I can remember. Well, she had a husband and other children waiting to be fed. But then her last delivery had killed her, so I thought I had perhaps better follow my mother-in-law's advice after all. The trouble was, I felt recovered and raring to go within a day or so after Liam's birth. The ordeal hadn't been nearly as bad as I had expected, and my son was a fine, healthy boy with a good set of lungs on him. Daniel's mother, Mrs. Sullivan, had arrived to take charge of the household before I went into labor, and we had also hired a mother's helper named Aggie, whom I had rescued from a home for unmarried mothers after she was forced to give up her own child. I had taken her on out of pity but, having grown up as the eldest of ten children, she proved to be a willing little worker with a magic touch when it came to my crying baby. So here I was, confined to my bed with nothing to do except nurse my child every four hours, eat plenty of nourishing food, even drink the occasional beer to help the milk come in. And of course I was bored. Mrs. Sullivan tried to encourage me to knit little garments for the baby, but my knitting skills were still sadly lacking. Besides, she herself had made enough clothes for a young princeling, and Sid and Gus, my neighbors across the street, had been more than generous in their gifts. So I did some reading. I chatted with Sid and Gus when Mrs. Sullivan allowed me visitors, and the rest of the time, I looked out of the window.
Not that there was much to see. Patchin Place was a quiet little backwater amid the hustle and bustle of New York City — ten redbrick row houses, five on either side of a narrow cobbled cul-de-dac. At the far end of our little street, where it joined Greenwich Avenue, there was life a-plenty — the Jefferson Market with its early morning fruit and vegetable vendors, the police and fire stations with clanging bells and rumbling fire wagons, students hurrying past to classes at the nearby New York University, artists from the growing bohemian community. But from my bed I could only catch the briefest glimpses of all this, fleeting vignettes flashing across a screen like those in the moving pictures that were now the rage. In Patchin Place itself there was rarely anything worth watching. Sid and Gus, who lived directly opposite me, were always on the go, waving up at me as they emerged from their front door, but apart from them the inhabitants were sedate, predictable, and quite reclusive. There was an elderly professor from the university on one side, a poet on the other, a distinguished-looking doctor with a haughty patrician wife, and an old German immigrant lady who walked her dachshund. The remaining inhabitants were middle-aged couples with husbands who left for their jobs early in the morning and wives who sometimes stood together gossiping, but rarely acknowledged me with more than a nodded "Good day, Mrs. Sullivan. Pleasant weather for the time of year."
No children, no laughter or squeals. None of the teeming life you'd find if you strayed over to the Lower East Side. Not that I'd have wanted that amount of noise and dirt and risk of disease, but it would have been pleasant to hear the sound of children's voices chanting as they jumped rope or shouting as they played ball. Poor Liam would be wanting for playmates if we continued to live here, I thought.
So I was intrigued one day when Sid and Gus came up to see me, bringing fresh croissants from the French bakery around the corner. "You'll never guess who we've just seen in Patchin Place," Gus said, perching herself on my bed without waiting for permission. "A negro. Imagine."
"Look out of your window, Molly. He may still be there." Sid went around my bed and pulled back the curtain. "Yes, there he is. Walking away. See."
I looked and saw a slim, young man with light brown skin — a man of mixed race that I believe are called mulattos here in America. In Ireland they had no name — I had never seen a colored person before I came to New York. He was dressed in a bright blue jacket and cream-colored pants. He paused just as he reached the end of Patchin Place and looked up at the houses on my side of the street. He had a handsome face with well-sculpted features. Then he turned and was gone.
"What could he have wanted here?" Gus asked. One saw negroes in the city, but they usually kept to themselves in the upper streets beyond Central Park, and they were enough of a novelty to make even worldly travelers like Sid and Gus curious.
"I don't know," I said. "Did he come out of one of the houses?"
"Not that we saw. He was just standing, staring and loitering when we came along," Sid said. "I asked him if I could be of assistance, but he thanked me kindly and said he must have gotten the address wrong."
"Interesting," I said. "I'll be on the lookout in case he comes back."
But he didn't.
* * *
It was only after Sid and Gus had gone that it occurred to me he might have had something to do with Mrs. Emory. She was the only other young woman on the street. She and her husband had moved in a few months ago and I had hoped to make a friend nearer my own age, since Sid and Gus were away and occupied so much. So I had taken the liberty of knocking on her door and introducing myself, bringing a plate of freshly baked soda bread. She was a pretty, dainty little thing, with big dark eyes that flashed when she was amused or excited. She invited me in and made me a cup of coffee in a rather austere parlor that didn't seem to go with her flamboyant personality. I wasn't too surprised when she told me she was from New Orleans, since she had a slightly exotic look about her that I associated with Southern climes.
"I expect you find New York very different," I said. "You must miss your home."
She nodded silently. "There was always so much going on," she said, toying with one of those dark curls as she spoke. "I used to love the balls and parties. We played charades and there were tableaux and amateur theatricals. Dressing up is such fun, isn't it?" She spoke in a slow, Southern manner that made her even more exotic in my eyes.
"It must be," I replied. "I've never had the chance to try it myself. I grew up in Ireland where it was work, work, and more work. No time for fun and games."
She made a face. "That's rather how Mr. Emory is," she said. "He sees frivolity as the work of the Devil, but that's silly, isn't it? One is supposed to have fun and laugh occasionally, don't you think?"
"Definitely," I said. "You must meet our neighbors Miss Walcott and Miss Goldfarb. They are always enjoying themselves."
She frowned again. "I've heard about them, but my husband has forbidden me to associate with them, given their reputation. Such unholy alliances are the work of the Devil, he says."
"That's too bad, because you wouldn't find kinder and nicer people than Sid and Gus," I said. "I really value their friendship."
"Sid and Gus?" Those dark eyes opened wide in surprise. "That's what they are called?"
I laughed. "They insist on being called by their nicknames. Their real names are Elena and Augusta. I suppose they are rather ... well, unusual."
She shook her head. "I'm afraid Mr. Emory is very rigid in his beliefs. And he likes to be obeyed."
I looked at her with interest. She was dressed in an elegant turquoise gown, embroidered with blue flowers and edged with fine lace. It was now a little old-fashioned in the cut of the sleeves, but had clearly been both fashionable and expensive once.
"So tell me," I said, "Is Mr. Emory also from the South?"
"Oh no. He's a New Yorker."
"Then how did you meet?"
She paused, sighed, then said, "He's a distant cousin of my stepmother. He came to New Orleans on business and paid the family a courtesy call. He seemed so distinguished and well-traveled. My stepmother hinted that he was far richer and more important than was really true. She was dying to get me off her hands, I see that now. At the time I was eighteen and so naïve."
"So Mr. Emory was falsely represented to you," I said. "Was your father in favor of the marriage?"
"My father is dead," she said. "My own mother died when I was four. My stepmother favored her own children and when my father died she couldn't wait to get rid of me. Unfortunately my father's will didn't settle any money on me, so I couldn't make the good match I deserved. And I was recovering from a broken heart — a silly, girlish, and utterly hopeless romance — so you can see how I viewed Mr. Emory as a godsend." There was a long pause during which the only sound was the chiming of a little travel clock on the mantle. I didn't quite know what to say. My own marriage could not have been happier, and I tried to imagine being chained to a man you did not love.
"It was only when he brought me to New York and we lived in a little apartment above a bakery that I discovered he was only a clerk for a law firm and not at all well off. Also that his brand of religion was strict and narrow." She looked at me. "I notice, if I may be so bold, that you are to have a child," she said. "Maybe if we'd been blessed with children it would have been different. But five years of marriage without a child leaves me in a bleak, lonely position."
"You must feel free to come and visit me whenever you choose," I said. "We'll go on excursions. We can take the trolley together up Broadway to Macy's new department store."
Those dark eyes flashed momentarily, then she shook her head. "Mr. Emory would not approve," she said. "He gives me no money for frivolities. When I told him I needed a new dress he came home with five yards of dark gray serge and said I should make one myself. Dark gray serge — can you imagine?"
I smiled and shook my head. "Then at least we'll enjoy each other's company when we do our grocery shopping together."
"Yes," she said with enthusiasm. "Surely he can't find anything wrong with that."
But apparently he did. When I heard nothing from her for a few days I called at her house to ask if she'd like to accompany me to Wannamaker's Dry Goods, as I was planning to buy fabric to make bedding for the baby.
Her face was an expressionless mask. "I'm afraid I'm too busy today but thank you kindly for the invitation," she said.
I considered this as I walked away. Had she decided that she didn't like me? Was I beneath her socially? Or had Mr. Emory ordered her to avoid my friendship for some reason — because I associated with Sid and Gus, perhaps?
After that I saw her occasionally when I was out shopping. We'd pass each other at the butcher's and she'd give me a polite nod. But there was something wistful in those dark eyes that made my heart ache for her. Of course she wanted friends. She was lonely. I vented my opinion strongly to Daniel and Sid and Gus.
"I've a good mind to go round to see that Mr. Emory and tell him what I think of him," I said.
Daniel told me not to interfere, and Sid suggested that my visit might only make things worse for his wife. "He may chastise her physically, Molly," she said. "His sort of person takes delight in inflicting punishment, especially if he believes he has God's sanction for it."
So I left the Emorys alone. I had plenty to keep me occupied that summer and was away at my mother-in-law's house in Westchester County during the hottest months. When I returned I glimpsed her from time to time, walking down Patchin Place with her dainty Southern parasol over her head. I only saw them go out together on Sundays. Then she'd be dressed in black, presumably going to church.
I could not have been more surprised, therefore, when there was a loud knock at our front door one evening toward the end of my two weeks of laying-in. I heard a deep voice at the front door and had already put on my robe when my mother-in-law appeared at my bedroom door.
"There's a man here from down the street," she said. "He seems very anxious and asked for Daniel. Perhaps you'd better come down and speak to him."
"I'll get dressed and be right down," I said. "Did he say his name?"
"A Mr. Emory, he said. "Your neighbor."CHAPTER 2
I dressed in a hurry and came down to find my mother-in-law perched upright on the edge of the sofa while Mr. Emory prowled up and down across the fireplace like a caged tiger.
"Mrs. Sullivan," he said, turning to face me as he heard me coming down the stairs. "Forgive me for this intrusion. I would not have troubled you, but I know your husband is a member of the police force and I thought he might be able to advise me in how to proceed."
I had never really had a chance to examine him close up before. He was tall and lean with a gaunt, severe face and a neat little dark beard. He was dressed in a black suit with a high collar and black ascot. The height of propriety. But his dark, sunken eyes darted nervously.
"I'm afraid my husband is not home yet," I said. "And I can't tell you when he might return. As you can imagine he does not keep regular hours. Is there anything I can help you with?"
Mr. Emory was wringing his hands now, clearly agitated. "My wife is missing," he said.
"Missing? How long has she been gone?" I asked.
"Since yesterday. She received an invitation to visit our former pastor and his wife. He retired from ministering to our flock here in New York and they moved out to Long Island to be with their son. The pastor's wife had been most kind to Francine when she first came to New York and knew nobody, and Francine had grown fond of her, so I was happy to give her permission to make the journey."
He paused, started to pace again, then checked himself. "But she didn't come home last night. Naturally I thought that perhaps the weather had been inclement and they had persuaded her to stay. By this afternoon I was getting worried and sent them a telegram. I just received a reply to say that they had not seen my wife. She had not been to visit them after all."
"How very worrying," I said. "Is there anywhere else she could have gone? Any friends or relatives?"
He shook his head. "She has no friends or relatives in this city. She is from the South, from New Orleans."
I took a deep breath before I dared to ask the next question. He was, after all, quite a formidable-looking man. "Is it possible that she might have run away, back to her home and her family?"
There was a long pause, then he said, "I suppose it is not beyond the realm of possibility, but when we first married she confided to me that she had not been very happy at home. Her stepsisters are now married. Her step-mother has remarried. The old family home has been sold. Where would she go?"
"If she ran away yesterday, would she have reached New Orleans yet?" I asked.
"It depends how she chose to travel. One can make the whole trip by train, or, more pleasantly, by train and paddle steamer. Either way I don't know where she would have found the money to embark on such an undertaking. I only give her an allowance that covers her household expenses. I am not a rich man, Mrs. Sullivan. I have tried to impress upon my wife the need to live prudently."
"Perhaps she had some jewelry that she pawned?" I suggested.
He winced. "Was she that desperate to escape from me? I have tried to provide well for her, within my means. She felt cramped in our apartment so I moved her into this house, but of course I do not move in circles that allow her the balls and festivities of her childhood. Nor would I want to move in such circles of depravity. No, if she was lonely it was her own fault — I encouraged her to go to Bible study at the church, to do good deeds among the poor. But she was raised only to think of herself and her own pleasure."
His voice had risen in volume and intensity as he spoke. When he finished there was a profound silence in the room.
"So what would you want my husband to do?" I asked quietly.
"First, I want to know if any young women have come to a bad end in the past two days. I have to ease my mind on that subject. It is just possible that my wife set off on her visit to Long Island and for some reason did not reach her destination. There are villains and rogues enough in this city and she is particularly naïve and susceptible. She could have been lured astray and ..." he broke off abruptly as a spasm of pain crossed his face.
"Mr. Emory, it seems to me that the first thing to do is to send another telegram to New Orleans, to your wife's stepmother, asking her to make inquiries."
"Another telegram?" He ran his tongue over his thin lips and I could tell he was weighing the cost of a telegram all the way to New Orleans with the desire to have his wife returned to him. "Yes, of course. That would be a sensible thing to do," he said.
Excerpted from Through The Window by Rhys Bowen. Copyright © 2014 Rhys Bowen. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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