The Waterworks is twenty-eight chapters of disjointed recollection in which McIlvaine, an elderly former news editor, recalls from some indeterminate time in the future incidents of 1871 in New York: his search for a missing freelance book reviewer, Martin Pemberton, and Martin’s tycoon father, Augustus Pemberton. First, the cynical Martin announces that he has seen his supposedly dead father in a horse-drawn omnibus with other stupefied old men. When Martin is missing, McIlvaine summons Edmund Donne, one of the only honest policemen in the New York run by William “Boss” Tweed and his ring of corruption. Donne and McIlvaine question Martin’s artist friend Harry Wheelwright. One night, Harry and Martin go to Woodlawn cemetery and hire some men to dig up the body of Augustus. In the coffin, they find the body of a boy. Donne and Sarah Pemberton, Augustus’s wife, engage in a romance, and Sarah learns that Augustus deliberately disinherited her and her young son Noah by liquidating all of his assets before he died.
Sifting evidence, Donne finds an orphanage in which no graft passed hands. Eustace Simmons, Augustus’s right-hand man in his slave-trading business, is the director, and Dr. Sartorius, who signed Augustus’s death certificate, is the attending physician. Donne surrounds the orphanage, rifles through the building, and finds the emaciated Martin Pemberton in a hidden cell. Martin, however, is traumatized and cannot talk....
(The entire section is 546 words.)