Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, DOMESDAY BOOK: HENRY BAKER, AT NEW YORK, by EDGAR LEE MASTERS



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Classic and Contemporary Poetry

DOMESDAY BOOK: HENRY BAKER, AT NEW YORK, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: One partner may consult another -- james
Last Line: And chase came to the coroner and spoke:
Subject(s): Death; Letters; New York City; Undertakers; Dead, The; Manhattan; New York, New York; The Big Apple


One partner may consult another -- James,
Here is a matter you must help me with,
It's coming to a head.

Well, to be plain,
And to begin at the beginning first,
I knew a woman up on Sixty-third,
Have known her since I got her a divorce,
Married, divorced, before -- last night we quarreled,
I must do something, hear me and advise.

She is a woman notable for eyes
Bright for their oblong lights in them; they seem
Like crockery vases, rookwood, where the light
Shows spectrally almost in squares and circles.
Her skin is fair, nose hooked, of amorous flesh,
A feaster and a liver, thinks and plans
Of money, how to get it. And this husband
Whom she divorced last summer went away,
And left her to get on as best she could.
All legal matters settled, we went driving --
This story can be skipped.

Last night we dined,
Afterward went to her apartment. First
She told me at the dinner that her niece
Named Elenor Murray died some days ago.
I sensed what she was after -- here's the point: --
She followed up the theme when we returned
To her apartment, where we quarreled. You see
I would not do her bidding, left her mad,
In silent wrath after some bitter words.
I managed her divorce as I have said,
Then I stepped in as lover, months had passed.
When Elenor Murray came here to New York,
I met her at the apartment of the aunt
Whose name is Margery Camp. Before, she said
Her niece was here, was happy and in love
But sorrowful for leaving, just the talk
That has no meaning till you see the subject
Or afterwards, perhaps; it passes in
One ear and out the other. Then at last
One afternoon I met this Elenor Murray
When I go up to call on Margery Camp.
The staging of the matter is like this:
The niece looks fagged, is sitting on the couch,
Has loosed her collar for her throat to feel
The air about it, for the day is hot.
And Margery Camp goes out, brings in a pitcher
Of absinthe cocktails, so we drink. I sit,
Begin to study what is done, and look
This Elenor Murray over, get the thought
That somehow Margery Camp has taken Elenor
In her control for something, has begun
To use her, manage her, is coiling her
With dominant will or cunning. Then I look,
See Margery Camp observing Elenor Murray,
Who drinks the absinthe, and in Margery's eyes
I see these parallelograms of light
Just like a vase of crockery, there she stands,
Her face like ivory, and laughs and shows
Her marvelous teeth, smooths with her shapely hands
The skirt upon her hips. Somehow I feel
She is a soul who watches passion work.
Then Elenor Murray rouses, gets her spirits
Out of the absinthe, rises and exclaims:
"I'm better now;" and Margery Camp speaks up,
Poor child, in intonation like a doll
That speaks from reeds of steel, no sympathy
Or meaning in the words. The interview
Seems spooky to me, cold and sinister.
We drink again and then we drink again.
And what with her fatigue and lowered spirits,
This Elenor Murray drifts in talk and mood
With so much drink. At last this Margery Camp
Says suddenly: "You'll have to help my niece,
There is a matter you must manage for her,
We've talked it over; in a day or two
Before she goes away, we'll come to you."
I took them out to dinner, after dinner
Drove Margery Camp to her apartment, then
Went down with Elenor Murray to her place.

Then in a day or two, one afternoon
Margery Camp and Elenor Murray came
Here to my office with a bundle, which
This Margery Camp was carrying, rather large.
And Margery Camp was bright and keen as winter.
But Elenor Murray seemed a little dull,
Abstracted as of drink, or thought perhaps.
After the greeting and preliminaries,
Margery said to Elenor: "Better tell
What we have come for, get it done and go."
Then Elenor Murray said: "Here are some letters,
I've tied them in this package, and I wish
To put them in a safety box, give you
One key and keep the other, leave with you
A sealed instruction, which, in case I die,
While over-seas, you may break open, read
And follow, if you will." She handed me
A writing signed by her which merely read
What I have told you -- here it is -- you see:
"When legal proof is furnished I am dead,
Break open the sealed letter which will give
Instruction for you." So I took the trust,
Went with these women to a vault and placed
The letters in the box, gave her a key,
Kept one myself. They left. At dinner time
I joined them, saw more evidence of the will
Of Margery Camp controlling Elenor's.
Which seemed in part an older woman's power
Against a younger woman's, and in part
Something less innocent. We ate and drank,
I took them to their places as before,
And didn't see this Elenor again.

But now last night when I see Margery
She says at once, "My niece is dead;" goes on
To say, no other than herself has care
Or interest in her, was estranged from father,
And mother too, herself the closest heart
In all the world, and therefore she must look
After the memory of the niece, and adds:
"She came to you through me, I picked you out
To do this business." So she went along
With this and that, advancing and retreating
To catch me, bind me. Well, I saw her game,
Sat non-committal, sipping wine, but keeping
The wits she hoped I'd lose, as I could see.

After the dinner we went to her place
And there she said these letters might contain
Something to smudge the memory of her niece,
She wished she had insisted on the plan
Of having one of the keys, the sealed instruction
Made out and left with her; being her aunt,
The closest heart in the world to Elenor Murray,
That would have been the right way. But she said
Her niece was willful and secretive, too,
Not over wise, but now that she was dead
It was her duty to reform the plan,
Do what was best, and take control herself.

So working to the point by devious ways
She said at last: "You must give me the key,
The sealed instruction: I'll go to the box,
And get the letters, do with them as Elenor
Directed in the letter; for I think,
Cannot believe it different, that my niece
Has left these letters with me, so directs
In that sealed letter." "Then if that be true,
Why give the key to me, the letter? -- no
This is a trust, a lawyer would betray,
A sacred trust to do what you request."
I saw her growing angry. Then I added:
"I have no proof your niece is dead:" "My word
Is good enough," she answered, "we are friends,
You are my lover, as I thought; my word
Should be sufficient." And she kept at me
Until I said: "I can't give you the key,
And if I did they would not let you in,
You are not registered as a deputy
To use the key." She did not understand,
Did not believe me, but she tacked about,
And said: "You can do this, take me along
When you go to the vault and open the box,
And break the letter open which she gave."
I only answered: "If I find your niece
Has given these letters to you, you shall have
The letters, but I think the letters go
Back to the writer, and if that's the case,
I'll send them to the writer."

Here at last
She lost control, took off her mask and stormed:
"We'll see about it. You will scarcely care
To have the matter aired in court. I'll see
A lawyer, bring a suit and try it out,
And see if I, the aunt, am not entitled
To have my niece's letters and effects,
Whatever's in the package. I am tired
And cannot see you longer. Take five days
To think the matter over. If you come
And do what I request, no suit, but if
You still refuse, the courts can settle it."
And so I left her.

In a day or two
I read of Elenor Murray's death. It seems
The coroner investigates her death.
She died mysteriously. Well, then I break
The sealed instruction, look! I am to send
The package to Jane Fisher in Chicago.
We know, of course, Jane Fisher did not write
The letters, that the letters are a man's.
What is the inference? Why, that Elenor Murray
Pretended to comply, obey her aunt,
Yet slipped between her fingers, did not wish
The aunt or me to know who wrote the letters.
Feigned full submission, frankness with the aunt,
Yet hid her secret, hid it from the aunt
Beyond her finding out, if I observe
The trust imposed, keep hands of Margery Camp
From getting at the letters.

Now two things:
Suppose the writer of the letters killed
This Elenor Murray, is somehow involved
In Elenor Murray's death? If that's the case,
Should not these letters reach the coroner?
To help enforce the law is higher trust
Than doing what a client has commanded.
And secondly, if Margery Camp should sue,
My wife will learn the secret, bring divorce.
Three days remain before the woman's threat
Is ripe to execute. Think over this.
We'll talk again -- I really need advice. . . .

So Hunter told the coroner. Then resumed
The matter was a simple thing: I said
To telegraph the coroner. You are right:
Those letters give a clue perhaps, your trust
Is first to see the law enforced. And yet
I saw he was confused and drinking too,
For fear his wife would learn of Margery Camp.
I added, for that matter open the box,
Take out the letters, find who wrote them, send
A telegram to the coroner giving the name
Of the writer of the letters. Well, he nodded,
Seemed to consent to anything I said.
And Hunter left me, leaving me in doubt
What he would do. And what is next? Next day
He's in the hospital and has pneumonia.
I take a cab to see him, but I find
He is too sick to see, is out of mind.
In three days he is dead. His wife comes in
And tells me worry killed him -- knows the truth
About this Margery Camp, oh, so she said.
Had sent a lawyer to her husband asking
For certain letters of an Elenor Murray.
And that her husband stood between the fire
Of some exposure by this Margery Camp,
Or suffering these letters to be used
By Margery Camp against the writer for
A bit of money. This was Mrs. Hunter's
Interpretation. Well, the fact is clear
That Hunter feared this Margery Camp -- was scared
About his wife who in some way had learned
Just at this time of Margery Camp -- I think
Was called up, written to. Between it all
Poor Hunter's worry, far too fast a life,
He broke and died. And now you know it all.
I've learned no client enters at your door
And nothing casual happens in the day
That may not change your life, or bring you death.
And Hunter in a liaison with Margery
Is brought within the scope of Elenor's
Life and takes his mortal hurt and dies.

So much for riffles in New York. We turn
Back to LeRoy and see the riffles there,
See all of them together. Loveridge Chase
Receives a letter from a New York friend,
A secret service man who trails and spies
On Henry Baker, knows about the letters,
And writes to Loveridge Chase and says to him:
"That Elenor Murray dying near LeRoy
Left letters in New York. I trailed the aunt
Of Elenor Murray, Margery Camp. Also
A lawyer, Henry Baker, who controls
A box with letters left by Elenor Murray --
So for the story. Why not join with me
And get these letters? There is money in it,
Perhaps, who knows? I work for Mrs. Hunter --
She wants the letters placed where they belong,
And wants the man who killed this Elenor Murray
Punished as he should be. Go see the coroner
And get the work of bringing back the letters."
And Chase came to the coroner and spoke:





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