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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WITHIN the week which followed the unsatisfactory coroner's inquest, Pomfret was stirred out of its usual well-bred apathy, so many strange things came to pass.

First of all, Sheriff Carton lived up to the expectations of Ferriss Murtagh. At eight o'clock on the morning which followed the interview between Murtagh and Mr. Baird, the latter drove to the house of Doctor Liscom, who, with some difficulty, had persuaded Carton to be his guest.

"You'll be annoyed horribly, Carton, if you go to an hotel," the coroner argued. "And my office will afford you a much better place in which to hold interviews with the people you'll need to see. Stay here at least until you have laid out your campaign." And the sheriff, with some reluctance, had remained. This had been decided upon while Mr. Baird was closeted with Murtagh, and when the former reached his home he found a note from the coroner awaiting him.

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"Acting upon your advice," it said, "I have persuaded Carton, a little against his will, to remain with me for the present; will try and keep him until I hear further from you.—LISCOM."

Upon leaving the bank, Mr. Baird had told Murtagh how to reach his house by a roundabout and retired route. "You may as well go straight there," he said; "it will be safer than to go about in so small a town. No one seems to have thought of sending for a detective yet. This is a slow town, and murder takes us with our wits wool-gathering; besides, Carton is thought by the multitude to be equal to anything. Luckily, I dismissed the man who has had charge of my stables a week ago, and the man who was to replace him is not due for two days; can't you take his place? it's no sinecure. I'm a lover of good horses and keep a number."

It's the very thing," declared the detective. "I'm something of a jockey myself. Can't you hold the other fellow off."

"Easily, by paying him a month's wages. He's always sure of a place."

"Then I'm your master of the horse," said Murtagh, and so the matter was settled.

Murtagh arrived at the house almost as soon as the banker himself, although his way was strange, and had been longer; and he was brought, by his new master's order, directly to the library.

"According to your suggestion," said Mr. Baird, without loss of time, "I gave Liscom a hint about detaining Carton. I have just received this note from him."

The detective glanced over the note.


"Have you answered him?" he asked.

"Then tell him to hang on to Carton, and let us drop in there as early as possible in the morning. I'll drive you down."

. . . . . . .

When Mr. Baird was driven up to the coroner's gate by his smart new groom, Carton was already astir and about to set out for town; evidently he was eager to be at work.

"Up in the morning and got his teeth filed," muttered the new man, sitting erect upon the light road waggon. "I fancy there's a very unpleasant six months or more in store for that good-looking young lawyer. Carton has got the case settled already from A to Z. There's no `happy medium' to these country 'executives'; they're either straight out, square, and bold as lions, or they're headstrong, opinionated, and generally N G!"

He waited half-an-hour, driving the handsome chestnuts slowly to and fro within sight of the coroner's office windows, and then Mr. Baird came out, alone and hastily, with a sober face.

"Well?" said the seeming coachman.

"Well, it's worse than you predicted. Carton sees in this case the direct road to glory. He won't spare poor Deering, and he'll be down upon him without loss of time. I almost quarrelled with the fellow; rather I did quarrel with him. Why, he wants to put that poor boy under arrest. Under arrest, sir! At once!"

"Of course he does! I knew it."

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"Well, I didn't! I was thoroughly amazed. Arrest Bruce Deering! As if he couldn't give bail for any amount! As if even that was necessary! His simple word of honour is good enough for a better man than Cyrus Carton."

"Is Deering rich, then?" queried the detective, smiling slightly at the banker's excited manner.

"He is not poor. But I didn't mean that. Yes, he could be his own bondsman. He has fifty thousand dollars invested with us, his mother's legacy. But his uncle would stand for him, for any sum, and, confound it, so would I. What's to be done now?"

"How did you leave matters? Does Carton still hunger to arrest on suspicion?"

"Oh, he's hungry enough; but I think he won't quite venture so far yet. He's going in for a grand system of surveillance. He means to set a watch upon the railway stations, the public highways, the livery stables; upon Deering's rooms; upon Beechwood; upon me, for all I know."

The detective actually chuckled.

"Going to use the police? or employ amateurs?—"

"Going to swear in a lot of deputies, so he says. And going to put them under heavy bonds."

"Humph! Anything more?"

"Oh, yes. He means to see Deering personally, and extort his word of honour; put him under oath."

"He's a daisy!" grinned the detective.

"He's a coarse, underbred fellow," retorted the thoroughly-aroused old man, and then, a moment later, he said in quite another tone, "I'm going to see him at once. Take me there."

"You are speaking of Deering?"

"Of course. He must be prepared. Will it be of any use for you to see him too?"

"Not now, later, perhaps. I shall want to see him before they arrest him."

The banker started.

"Do you think that will really come about?"

"Unless the true assassin is found before the grand jury meets, that will certainly happen." Murtagh pulled up the horses and held them down to a walk, while he went on, "Can't we take a turn somewhere and drive past this place, Beechwood, his uncle's place? I want to see it—and to ask you a few questions."

The banker indicated the route, and the detective began his inquiries.

"About this uncle. You say you don't want him to hear of this trouble so long as it can be kept from him. Would not his influence be worth something here just now? How do uncle and nephew stand toward each other? Tell me something about the man."

"Judge Deering," the other began, "is an old citizen. Upright, respected, and wealthy. Bruce Deering is the son of his younger brother, and the woman who was Lysander Deering's first love. Lys Deering, as he was called in those days, loved Kate Montfort as, I believe, he never again loved any woman; but be resigned her like a | | 50 man, when he saw that Dick loved her too, and that she cared for Dick. Two veils after Dick and Kate were married, Lys married a pretty little Virginian, and it was more than whispered, and more than half believed, that it was, on his part, a marriage out of pity. Lys was a chivalrous soul, and the little woman certainly did love him devotedly and showed it but too plainly. Geneve was frail from the beginning; and, six months after they were married, he took her to Italy, and they spent a year and more between Italy, the Grecian Isles, and the South of France. Their son, Brookfield, was born in France. He was named after his maternal grandfather. The Brookfields were all very proud of their old name, but they were not so proud of the taint which broke out from time to time, sometimes lying dormant for two generations, but always to be feared and always returning" He stopped and sighed.

"What taint?" asked Murtagh.

"The taint of insanity. Mrs. Deering died when her son was hardly a year old—died melancholy mad. Few know this fact. And Lys Deering has always carefully kept the ugly secret. His son, Brook, is a handsome fellow, somewhat delicate, but without his mother's looks, except that he has light hair, like hers, and a fair skin like a girl's."

"And this son, where is he?"

"Brook has been in Europe for more than two years. But I will finish my family history. Deering came back to Beechwood with his young son and a nurse, and opened the old home, and, in just two years, his brother's wife died of a malignant fever, and Dick himself nearly lost his life. Lys went to him, stayed by him, and, when he was able to be moved, brought him to Beechwood, with his young son, then not quite two years old. Dick never really rallied. He had lost a lovely baby girl and his wife within less than a year of each other, and he fairly worshipped little Bruce, who was named after Kate Montfort's twin brother, long ago dead. The child was the living image of his mother, and I think that Lys was drawn to love him for this reason quite as well as he loved his own son. Well, when the war broke out, both brothers enlisted. Lys was wounded before he had seen six months of service, was promoted for gallantry on the field, and then honourably discharged. Dick was wounded, too, at Chickamauga, and again Lys went to him. He brought him home again, but this time it was in his coffin. Dick left his boy to Lys, asking him to keep him and rear him as his own for the sake of Kate Montfort, whom they had both loved. See, there is Beechwood."

There was silence between them for a moment, then the detective asked

"And have they lived alone in that fine place, those three, since then?"

"No, no! About ten years ago an old friend of Deering's left him another living legacy, this time, a girl, an only daughter, motherless, and an heiress. Deering was summoned to New York, and there he found his charge, and his dying friend, in the home of that friend's younger sister, Who had, of her own, a family of five to rear and educate. This sister was a widow in moderate circumstances, and George | | 51 Rodney left her a generous sum. He also left a fine gift in real estate to Deering, who accepted it for friendship's sake only, but he left the bulk of his fortune to little Valentine, then a miss eight years of age. Well, to shorten my story, the sister, Mrs. Flood, had a daughter two years older than Miss Valentine, and the two girls were warm friends Of course, they saw each other often; little Miss Flood made long visits at Beechwood, and finally the two were sent to the same school. Then, at seventeen, Brenda Flood married, and lived unhappily for just a year with her handsome scamp of a husband, who was killed in a game of polo before he had found time to squander more than half of a large fortune. Brenda had always loved Beechwood, had been very happy there, and so it was not very strange if, in due time, the big house, so long without a mistress, became her home, and Lysander Deering her husband. She is a beautiful woman, and she makes him very happy. Valentine has been out of school a year now, and the three—Deering, his wife, and Miss Rodney—have been in New York for some weeks."

"But you have not told me why Mr. Deering must not be sent for?"

"True. Deering has lately been afflicted with heart disease; a long dormant case, the doctors say, and developed with singular suddenness, considering how even and care-free his life has been for many years. Liscom, who made the first examination, says that, if he did not know the absurdity of the notion, he should say the trouble had been matured thus rapidly by some sudden shock or trouble. Deering has gone to consult an eminent physician, being exceedingly anxious to know his exact condition. He writes me that they tell him he must be guarded from any sudden shock, and must take no violent exercise; in short, must be watched and tended, instead of being, as he has always been, the guardian and protector. It has been a hard blow for him, but he bears it manfully. No, I wouldn't like this to be broken to him suddenly; I wrote him last night concerning Matchin, telling him that he is dead; and, later, I shall tell him how he died. But he must not be told how Bruce is menaced until things look more hopeful—or, the assassin is found."

"I see, I see," murmured Murtagh, and turned his horses cityward.

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