Beck Center English Dept. University Libraries Emory University
Emory Women Writers Resource Project Collections:
Emory Women Writers Resource Project

A Dead Man's Step, an electronic edition

by Lawrence L. Lynch [Van Deventer, Emma Murdoch]

date: 1893
source publisher: Ward, Lock & Co., Limited
collection: Genre Fiction

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THE Reverend Paul Arden was a "popular minister" in the best sense of the word: eloquent in the pulpit, genial, benign, humane. He preached a gospel of love and duty, and illustrated it in his life. In such a scene as this Dr. Arden was always "the right man in the right place;"—not a man in Pomfret but believed in the pastor of St. Mark's. None but respected him.

"Ah, doctor, but I'm glad you've come!" said Stairs, making way for him; "you're the one man to keep all as it should be. It's murder we have here, sir; poor Matchin's been done to death, and nobody knows by whom."

The clergyman moved to the side of the dead man, removing his hat as he stooped and took the lifeless hand, holding it for a moment as if to assure himself that it was lifeless, and replacing it tenderly, reverently.

Then for a moment he stood erect, but with head bare and bowed, and those who had followed him trod softly, and, standing a little aloof, spoke to each other in low tones or whispers.

Presently he moved back a pace and turned toward Stairs.

"What do you know of this?" he asked.

"""A''most nothing, sir. I believe Mr. Redding, Mr. Morse, and Mr. Bruce Deering heard something and ran in." As he spoke, Morse reentered, and Mr. Arden held out his hand to him—they were very good friends. The two men Morse had encountered upon leaving Redding and Bruce Deering were close behind him, and after them came a number of others. There were now fully twenty men in the room. As Mr. Arden was about to question Morse, the man Wells came awkwardly forward from the far corner where he had been conferring in whispers with two men as big and muscular in appearance as himself.

"Dominie," he said, "we were a-talking, jest as you came in, about startin' out to ketch the feller that did this piece of work. Bruce Deering says he went down the Avenue tor'ds the east; would ye recommend us to trail him that a-way?"

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"Yes," said the clergyman promptly, "that way, and at once. Mr. Deering is not a man likely to lose his head, or make a mis-statement in such a case as this."

The three men exchanged glances, and without a word, or any indication of a desire for other company, started to leave the place. At the door Wells turned.

"I sh'd recommend," he said, "that some more of ye bunch together and work around west-ways. If that feller ain't had more'n half-an-hour's start he ain't got fur off, and if he ain't got a horse, or ain't crawled in som'ers, somebody may dig him out. The more parties out, the more chance to ketch him. We're goin' straight down the Avenoo, an' our party's big enough to ketch one man, an' hold him too. Come on, fellers, we've lost time enough!" And the three men went out at a very brisk pace indeed.

Half-a-dozen men, stimulated by the speech of Wells, followed his party out into the street, but the rest gathered closer about Morse and the clergyman, eager to hear what might be said.

"It's little enough I can tell you," Morse said in answer to a dozen questions front as many mouths; "we had been out together at Captain Frazier's—and Deering left the house a little in advance of us. When he got here he heard sounds in the bank, and before he could realise their meaning, a man rushed past him and away; then he heard a groan and ran up the steps; the door was open and he—he gave the alarm. He didn't know we were so close behind, and to get help in the quickest way he ran across and rang the bell." He paused. Several more people had entered; Stairs had lighted the front of the building, and the crowd was thickening. Morse had stopped, hoping that the new-comers, who were asking many questions, and crowding about the dead, would make a diversion, for Stairs had begun to repeat as much as he knew of the story; but it was not to be.

From among those who were grouped together in the corner farthest from Mr. Arden and Morse, a small man with drooping shoulders, hair and whiskers of a carroty red, and a wide mouth filled with big yellow teeth, made doubly prominent by their garniture of tobacco stains, pushed his way forward until he stood close beside Morse.

"Mr. Morse," he began in a fawning, oily manner, "may I jest ast a question?"

"Certainly," said Morse a trifle stiffly.

"Wal now—when you gentlemen came in here, did you find Joe Matchin a-layin' jest like he is now?"

"just the same."

"No one has been let to touch him; not to move him, that is," said Stairs promptly, "since I've been here. Nor they won't be, till Mr. Baird comes down!"

"Wal then," resumed the red-headed man, "what want to know is—how did Mr. Bruce Deering come to have them bloodstains on his face and on his hands?"

There was a stir among the men crowded close about this central group, and the eyes of the clergyman met those of Morse, and detected the trouble the young man could not, for a moment, hide | | 8 Then the clergyman turned his fine eyes upon the man who had thrown this startling sentence into their midst, and his look and his tone had grown suddenly stern as he said,

"Shame upon the man who wantonly throws doubt and suspicion upon one whose whole life has been blameless, and who is not present to speak in his own behalf. Shame upon you, Jonas Wiggins; malice brings its own punishment!"

Jonas Wiggins drew back a pace, but he was not a man to be easily put down.

I ain't a-tryin' to throw suspicion upon anybody that don't deserve it," he said, reddening darkly; "but we'll all be called on to tell what we know, I s'pose, and I seen the blood on Deering's face with my own eyes, and Finch here tells me there was blood on his hands too."

"Wiggins," interrupted the night watchman, "you hold your tongue till you're asked to talk."

"Gentlemen," spoke up Morse, "I think I did not say that Mr.Deering was the first person to reach Matchin, and, thinking him still living, and in need of help, he tried to lift him."

But Wiggins was not yet suppressed. "I don't see," he said sulkily, "how that is goin' to account for them marks across his face."

Before the murmurs called out by this shrewd retort had spent themselves, the stately clergyman lifted his hand in a gesture which quickly commanded silence.

"My brothers," he said, "we are here together to-night confronted by death, face to face with crime, surrounded by mystery, and strong men though we are, we stand thus powerless, awaiting a leader; awaiting light upon our darkness,—and yet there is near us a Leader ever present upon whom we need not wait. Let us bow our heads. Let us call upon Him now."

He moved nearer the body of the dead man, and kneeling beside it, uttered, in low tones, a brief and fitting prayer for the dead and for the living; for help and for wisdom, for light and for patience, charity, and calm judgment.

As he knelt thus, one after another, hats came off, and heads were bowed. Only Wiggins and, the man Finch remained covered; and even Wiggins had made a late, half-way gesture towards his frowzy hat. When the clergyman arose from his knees, John Redding and Bruce Deering were standing in the doorway, and behind them were the coroner and Mr. Baird.

chapter 33 >>