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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<< chapter 9 chapter 33 >>

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MR. BAIRD'S family consisted of a wife, one son, and two daughters. The son, a lad of fifteen, was attending a military school, and the daughters were also absent "for their minds' sake." They were bright, ambitious maidens, aged respectively sixteen and eighteen, and they were laying a solid foundation for future wisdom and usefulness at Vassar.

This left Mr. Baird and his lady wife in possession of the big house, and, Mrs. Baird being her husband's closest confidante, and best adviser, had of course been informed of the identity of the "new man."

This being the state of affairs, Murtagh found it easy to confer with she banker in his study, where no one ever thought of intruding.

On the evening of his meeting with the messenger, and his adven- | | 62 ture with the telegrams, he appeared in the study earlier than usual, and at once opened his business.

"I fancy you must entertain often, Mr. Baird," he began, "that is, that you often must receive visits, of business or pleasure, from persons at a distance."

"True," replied the banker. He was beginning to know the abrupt ways of his "new man," and had learned that he never indulged in idle talk. Feeling sure, now, that something was afoot, he added, "We do often receive visitors, my wife and I; both have a large circle of relatives, and they are always welcome here."

"Then it would be no unusual thing for your carriage to be at the station, say to-morrow noon, when the through train from eastward comes in?"

"I see you have something in tow, Murtagh. Well, we will look for a guest to-morrow; I suppose you mean to take the carriage down yourself?"

"I would like Jerry to drive, sir. I shall want to be on the platform when the train comes in, where I can look for my—for your guest; your `cousin.' Could you give me the name of a lady, now, a youngish lady, whom you might, with some reason, expect on that train? ''

"The plot thickens, I see. Yes, I can help you that much. My wife has a cousin who comes and goes often, and quite at her own sweet will. You may look for her."

"Thank you. And now, Mr. Baird, I must take advantage of our compact. I am only working upon possibilities, in this which I have in hand, and, in justice to others, I do not wish to mention names, or to explain—at present."

"That is already settled. When you can bring me something definite, I shall listen with interest. Until then, take your own way. my friend; I shall ask and expect nothing."

. . . . . . .

The next day when the noon express drew near the Pomfret station, there might have been seen, among the vehicles gathered near the long platform, two that were especially noticeable. One was a dainty pony phaeton, occupied by a fair and stately brunette, who held the reins with an air of ease and confidence, while she scanned the face of each passenger who alighted from the train, upon the other side of the platform. The other vehicle was the handsome, well-appointed landau, which everybody recognised as that of Mr. Baird, the banker. Mr. Baird's man, Jerry, sat erect upon the driver's seat, and as the passengers stepped down from the train, a person wearing the unmistakable look of one who seeks to identify, in a crowd, an unknown face, was recognised by some as Mr. Baird's "new man."

As he elbowed his way nearer to the drawing-room couch, an elderly gentleman with a pale face and weary air was assisted to the platform by a youngish man, upon one side, and a fair and anxious-faced woman upon the other.

Behind them, with head erect, and lightly tripping step, came another, a lady with dark eves and a charming, though serious, face.

"Excuse me, miss," said a respectful voice at her elbow, "this is Miss La Mar, is it not?"

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The young lady threw back her head, but before she could speak, the first lady turned and caught her by the arm.

"Come, Valentine," she said quickly, your uncle is so tired, and I see the carriage on the other side," and she drew the girl forward, and led the two men around the corner of the station, where, on the other side, the back of the Baird carriage was visible.

In another moment they had turned the corner, and the lady spoke again:

"Oh, it is not our carriage; how unfortunate! They ought to have had our message last evening!"

And then a clear voice called,

"Valentine—Miss Rodney, please step this way! And, is it possible, Mr. and Mrs. Deering!" The two ladies approached the phaeton, and Miss Wardell went hurriedly on, "There is some mistake, I am sure. Yesterday, while riding, I met Madam Sarita near Beechwood, and stopped to ask about you all. She had just received a telegram from you, Miss Rodney, and was in great anxiety because Mrs. Merton was not yet back, and so many of the servants were away. I saw my chance to get my hands on you, and told her I would wire you at once and ask you to come to me for a day or two. Sarita said nothing about expecting anyone else, and I told her I would bring you to Beechwood, Miss Rodney, if you turned your back upon my hospitality."

Meanwhile Mrs. Deering had turned to her husband. "What shall we do?" she said anxiously. "You must not wait here. Can't we find some way—" she turned her gaze toward the carriage of Mr. Baird, and took a step toward it. "This is Mr. Baird's carriage," she said quickly. "I wish—"

"Pardon me," the man who had been looking so anxiously for Miss La Mar stepped forward, "I heard you called Mr. Deering, sir," bowing respectfully to that gentleman, "and I have seen your picture in Mr. Baird's study. I'm his man, sir, and was looking for a lady who has not come. I'm sure Mr. Baird would wish you to use his carriage, sir."

"I am sure he would, too," cried the fair lady, with a bright look of relief. "Come, dear." And then the voice of Miss Wardell was heard again:

"Now, I shall have you, Miss Valentine. Jump in."

When they were driving up Main Street, and were nearing the bank, Mr. Baird's "new man" turned in his place, and said, with a touch of his hat,

"Mr. Baird wished me to stop at the bank in passing, sir. Would you object to my stopping?"

"Not at all, my man," replied Mr. Deering. And so it happened that Mr. Baird, coming out to see his coachman, saw, too, the pale faces of his friends, and hastened to meet them, inwardly much surprised.

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Doctor Ware was a stranger to both, but he saw that these men were friends, in the fullest meaning of the word, and he knew, too, that a closed-up house would not be best for Lysander Deering in his present state. It might not be damp, but it would be dull, perhaps dreary, with its shrouded furniture, its draped pictures, its closed and darkened windows.

"You are certainly right," he said.

But Lysander Deering did not resist. He only said, within himself, "I shall hear the truth, all of it, so much the sooner, and, perhaps, I may see Bruce. Poor Bruce!"

And so it came about that, in spite of the efforts of his friends to the contrary, Mr. Deering was again in Pomfret, weak in body, perhaps, but strong in spirit, and longing to do battle for his only brother's son, the child of his first love, bonnie Kate Montfort.

And so it came about that, in spite of herself, and of the politely worded refusal she had sent across the wires; Val Rodney was the unwilling guest of Ora Wardell.

. . . . . . .

"Murtagh," said Mr. Baird, when, late that night, the two stood face to face in the snug little room over the carriage house, "was this arrival known to you when you applied to me for my consent to this business last evening?"

"If you mean the coming of Mr. and Mrs. Deering, it was not. I knew no more of their coming than you did."

"And that telegram? Did you know nothing of that? I should like to know the truth, but you are not compelled, you know, to answer."

"I understand, sir, and this is the truth. I knew nothing of the telegram, but I believe I know who does."

The banker's look showed his amazement. "I suppose I must not ask a question?" he ventured.

"I will tell you what you wish to know presently, sir. Now—may ) ask a few questions?"

"You know that you are free to ask what you will so long as it concerns Joe Matchin or Bruce Deering in any way."

"First, then, let me say, don't be surprised at my knowledge; I have lost no opportunities since coming to Pomfret, and I have gained fragments of information from many sources. I am cultivating all the loose-tongued good-for-noughts assiduously, and for a purpose; but much that I have learned is fragmentary: there are missing links—for instance, I have heard that there has been, or is still, some sort of rivalry between Miss Wardell and Miss Rodney. Is this true? and who is the man in the case?"

"There has been such talk, but you know what a country town is. The truth is this: Brook Deering, my friend's absent son, being older than Miss Rodney, was a young man when Miss Val was yet in short frocks. He and Ora Wardell are of nearly the same age, and about the first thing Brook did upon reaching his majority, was to fall in love with Miss Wardell, who had then been out two seasons. For a v ear or two Brook was her devoted knight, and people said that she was as much in love as he. It may have been; he was, and is, a handsome fellow: not dark, like Bruce, but fair-haired and slender, | | 65 with a great fund of spirits; but yet most perfect and winning manners; frank, open ways, you know, that made him popular wherever he went. Well, after a time, Miss Valentine Rodney came home for a summer's vocation, and then there seemed to be a divided allegiance. I don't know the inside of the business, if it has an inside: Valentine went back to school, and Ora went away—after a quarrel, it was said; when she came back, Brook was in the city studying law."

"And have they met since—he and Miss Wardell?"

"No. She went to Europe, and before she came back the two young men had finished their studies in New York, and Bruce had settled down to law here in Pomfret, while Brook, who wanted to see a little more of the gay world before settling down, went abroad. In the meantime, Valentine has been graduating with honours, and been a one season's belle. Miss Wardell, whose father died while they were abroad, came home some six months ago; and Bruce, poor boy, was rapidly rising in his profession, when this awful calamity fell upon him."

"He is bearing it well."

"He is bearing it nobly! Is there any other question?"

"Yes. Who is this woman Sarita?"

"Sarita? She is a Frenchwoman, I think; she came from Europe with Deering in the capacity of nurse to little Brook, then a child, less than a year old. She has no friends here, is attached to the family, and has always lived here since. Why?"

"Because—don't ask me too much. I believe that she has destroyed the telegram from Mrs. Deering."

"That woman! Why, man, you must be mistaken! Sarita is devoted to the Deerings, and they trust her like one of themselves."

"Mr. Baird," said the detective gravely, "I have found, in twenty years' experience as a detective, that in cases like this upon our hands, it is always wise to distrust coincidences; my attention has been called to two or three such, and I would be a poor detective if I did not follow up every shadow of a clue, regardless of persons. At the same time, it is my practice never to name the object of such scrutiny until I find something tangible—something upon which I can take secure hold. Even in my reports to my chief, I do not mention names while matters remain thus nebulous. I will say this much: I have formed, after making certain observations, a theory or two, which I mean to follow up; and one of two things will be inevitable; sooner or later the persons I am—studying—will either do something to confirm my theory and turn it into a full-fledged suspicion, or they will in some way show me that I am wasting my time."

"And in that case?" hazarded the banker.

"In that case, I must begin again. Now when I decided, like yourself, that Bruce Deering was not guilty, I did not, as I daresay you have done, give up all thought of investigating in his direction. My judgment, while I have learned to place considerable confidence in it, is not infallible. In my time I have made some bad blunders, so, while giving Mr. Deering full benefit of the doubt, I shall not drop this thread, but shall follow it until I can prove him innocent or guilty. For, in this case, there are just three possibilities, and I confess I think | | 66 one of them most unlikely. First, Joe Matchin may have been killed by some tramp or burglar who never heard of Bruce Deering. Second, Deering may have an unknown enemy who has purposely planned to make suspicion point his way. Third, we may, all of us, have been deceived in this young man; and he may have had strong reasons for removing his victim."

"Impossible! I do not believe it!"

"Neither do I believe it. It may be impossible; but I dare not declare it impossible yet."

The look upon the banker's face was one of actual distress; and, as much to draw the talk away from Bruce Deering as because he thought as he spoke, he said

"And so you connect Madam Sarita with this affair, Murtagh?"

"I have not said so. Do not jump at conclusions. You have said, remember, that this woman is devoted to the Deerings. If I have read that woman's face aright, there is a mystery in her life, present or past. Now, let me remind you of two facts. I look upon them as facts. Someone, no one can say whom, has sent, in a suspiciously roundabout way, a letter to Mr. Deering—just the very letter which you wished withheld from him for the present; that's one fact. Another is, I believe, that the telegram sent by the Deerings to Sarita was received by her and destroyed."

"Do you intend to prove this fact?" smiled the banker. "At the right time—yes."

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