- part: [I.] A DEAD MAN'S STEP.
- CHAPTER XXVI. BROOK OR BRUCE.
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BROOK OR BRUCE.
"AH! I'm glad that is over! I dislike disagreeable things as much as ever, old man. And I need not tell you how wholly I am with you in sympathy, in everything—act, word, and deed. And there it is! If one could act; but this waiting! Why, boy, how can you be so calm? I should rage myself into lunacy! Bruce, are you sure that this queer whim of the governor's is for the best. Won't it make it harder for you?"
Brook and Bruce Deering were sitting face to face in the room of the latter, with only the width of the narrow writing-table between them. It was early afternoon of the day following Brook's return, yet immediately after luncheon, weary and crippled as he was, and looking pale, and far more anxious than Bruce himself, he had appeared at his cousin's door.
"I couldn't wait, old man!" these were his first words; "I had to come, and now let's take this devil that has come among us by the horns, and have done with him as much as you can! We can't be our old selves until we do!"
And so, for two long hours, they had talked, going over the ground of the Matchin murder, until all had been told Brook, and at the end, he had delivered himself of the foregoing.
"It seems to me," Brook went on, "that you ought to have kept that fellow; that you ought to have more—others of the same sort."
"So you know that too?"
Brook stared wide-eyed. "Why, man, the governor told me that first off. He was not able to tell a long story, and there was no need, Mamma Brenda had broken it to me—much of it, let me see the papers, and so on, this morning early. Then I went in to see the governor, and when I told him that Brenda had broken the ice, he seemed mightily relieved. I tell you, old man, you're as much a son to him this moment as I am! He could not be worse hurt if it were me in trouble instead of you. But say—I can't give it up so! There should be half-a-dozen picked men digging into this case! Say the word, Bruce, and I'll go to York to-morrow, limp and all, and—"
Bruce Deering threw out his hand in a gesture which stayed the rapid utterances of his cousin. "It's of no use, Brook! If Uncle Lys told you this you must see that there's a strong reason for it all. Now, let's drop this. It's useless to discuss it, and—to me—" he got up hastily and stretched out his sinewy arms. "Good heavens! how I wish I might forget it for only half-an-hour!''
Brook was silent for a long moment, then, "I can't help it," he broke out. "The governor did not hint at his reason for sending away a detective, whom he admits to be able, and likely, if given his head, to unravel this queer tangle; at least he only assigned his own state of health, and his inability to deal with exciting subjects, or attend to matters of business, however important; but I know, and you know, Bruce, that my father is not the man to consider himself in such a matter as this, | | 169 There's something else! I had almost said someone else, behind all this. Bruce," he hesitated a moment over his next words," Brenda tells me that he knows nothing about the button."
"And yet—" he got up suddenly and stood, erect and slender, before his taller and more stalwart cousin. "Bruce, there is something back of all this! It can't be the button business, since he does not know of it; besides, what if it were? A button, you say, was found near the scene of—of the murder, a button such as was once given to each of us—one to each. Both of us still possess our own; the other—" He stopped short; Bruce, too, had risen, and the look of his eye checked the speaker.
"Drop it, Brook; don't you see that since Uncle Lys knows nothing of this there must be another reason? If I have submitted, you should be willing to drop this. What I owe to my uncle surely you owe to your father!"
Brook Deering caught his breath sharply, and drew back with a strange look of horror upon his face. Merciful heaven!" he ejaculated, his blue eyes widening as with the horror of some sudden hateful thought, "can it be possible? And yet—oh yes—it must have been a strong reason, a terrible reason that could drive my father to such a step! And to think it should be you who must be the one accused—to think—"
"Stop!" Bruce Deering had caught his arm, and the word was uttered in a tone Brook knew of old. "Brook, never utter such words—never think them—what your father has chosen to do, that you can do, safely and with dignity. Lysander Deering has decided that it must not be through us that the riddle is solved. If it is enough for me, let it be for you. Suspect me if you will, but stop there! And now I say once more enough. This subject must not be again mentioned between us!"
Brook stared at him for a long moment like one confounded. Then he made an impulsive forward movement, "Old man," he cried, putting out his hand, "when did I not declare my own will, and then yield to yours? I never meant to anger you! How could I understand? How can I now? But I can hold my peace! for your sake, and for my father's—"
"For your own—add that!" said the other almost with a sneer.
"For—for my own. Are we not all Deering's? Bruce, we almost quarrelled at parting, let us not begin afresh! Allow for the newness, the shock of all this, and be sure neither my father nor you need fear to trust me. From this moment—upon this subject, my tongue is tied—the next word must come from you!"
"Do you mean—"
"I mean that my father said to me last night, as you have said but now—`Nothing can be done, nothing more need be said; let us not speak of this again."'
"Believe me," sighed Bruce, resuming his seat, "it is better so. Sit down, Brook, and let us speak of other things."
But they did not speak, not for many long minutes. Instead, Brook | | 170 sat with eyes bent upon the floor, and seemingly lost in thought, while his cousin sat in an attitude, and with a look of waiting.
It was Brook who broke the silence.
"When we parted, Bruce," he began with some hesitation, "there was a question upon which we differed first, to agree afterward. Is THAT tabooed? or may I speak of it?" A smile was now lurking at the corner of his mouth, but Bruce replied gravely:
"Why not? The probation is at an end. And, for me, all else, where Miss Rodney is concerned, is at an end. Am I in a position to address a woman, do you think? There is a lion in my path, but if your way is clear, go on, the path is open to you."
And now the other was grave also.
"Bruce," he remonstrated, "don't address me as if I were the most selfish fellow in the world! I own you have had some reason to think so, but there are two years between now and then! When I declared to you my love for Valentine Rodney, and accused you of trying to win her when she was but a child, too young to know her own mind or to judge between us, I was selfish, and a noodle beside; and when you told me that you would agree with me to wait two years, leaving her free meantime, and, at the end of that time, I should have the same chance, an equal chance, with the added privilege of first addressing her, you shamed me. For your chance, then, was best, and might have remained so. And now you stand aside and bid me go on! Do you mean it? Have you ceased to care?" Their eyes met.
"You have known me twenty-four years, Brook Deering! Tell me, am I a man to change?"
"No! And now I understand. I know what I must do! Let us be frank, Bruce!—frank as we were two years ago! Tell me, what do you mean to do?"
Bruce Deering threw back his head. "I intend to be a free man some day! I expect that this cloud hanging above me will break! If it does—when it does—and I stand vindicated before her, then, if Valentine Rodney is alive and free, I shall dare my fate! And you?"
"I shall wait with you for that day to come! as you have waited for my return from Europe! When it comes, and we stand upon an equal footing, I shall tempt my fate also."
"Brook—I do no ask that!"
"Bruce, I could not do otherwise without being a scoundrel—and you know it."
The second day, after Brook Deering's return, saw Beechwood restored to its normal condition. The guests of the storm and wreck had gone their various ways, helped where help was needed, cheered and comforted all; and on the third day Doctor Ware also bade them adieu, promising to return promptly if the invalid should need and call him.
The dinner, on the evening of his departure, was a very quiet one. Valentine, who had given every moment of her waking hours to the waifs, ministering zealously to the nerve-racked women, entertaining | | 171 the children, and writing letters to various anxious and far-away friends, was unusually quiet. Mr. Deering was preoccupied, and Brook and Brenda supported each other as best they could, and kept the ball of conversation rolling with some pains. Brook was still lame, and his pallor and langour were yet noticeable."
When dinner was over, both Brook and Valentine excused themselves, each pleading fatigue; and when they had gone, Mr. Deering took his wife's arm.
"Come to my den, Princess, this is our opportunity, and I have a few words for your two small ears, and none other's."
When they were seated, he, near his desk, which was a curious combination of desk and safe in one, he began to talk of business matters, of the affairs of the bank, and of other investments of real estate in Pomfret and elsewhere.
"I have been looking into my business," he explained, with an affectionate smile, "with a view to the transfer of some of my affairs to your shoulders. The doctor—advises me to get rid of these things as much as may be, and I am to be for a greater or less period, the slave of the doctors; so I have thought it well to let you see into matters. And now, my princess, while I do not apprehend, nor fear, anything more serious than my present state, still, I am an old man, and mortal."
"Oh, my dear!"
"Yes, yes! Sixty-seven. Madam Deering, you are the oft-quoted old man's darling, do not try to blink the fact; and old men should set their affairs in order; so I have even made my will, and placed it in safe hands, and, should it become needful, or when it becomes needful, you are to apply to my good friend, Elias Baird, and, after him, to John Redding, whom I have chosen for my attorney, and for yours after me. Most of my papers of value are in Baird's hands, but,"—here he wheeled about in his chair, and took from the desk near him a bulky document in a sealed envelope and laid it in her lap. "This, my dear wife," he went on, "you are to retain unopened until after my will has been read. Wills, you know, are not always satisfactory to all parties concerned therein, and, while I may not apprehend any trouble, any revolt, or questioning, I have written what is herein contained, so that, in case either Brook or Bruce Deering attempt to dispute, question, or quarrel with my will, or in any way seek to make you trouble or cause you annoyance, in such case, and only in such case, you are to open this paper, read what it contains, and act upon its instructions. Take it, wife, it will be best and safest in your care. And now, let us rest, and sleep, if we may. Don't let this talk of mine cause you uneasiness, dear; the doctor assures me that all is going well with me, and that it rests with myself whether I will be quiet and indolent, and grow strong, or fussy and over-active, and be an invalid. I intend to be guided by him, wife, and by you."
It was on the night of Tuesday, June the fourteenth, that Brenda Deering, a tear in her eye and a soft half smile upon her lip, put this big envelope, with its many seals and its bulky contents, away in a drawer of her own writing-desk, and turned the key upon it.| | 172
It was on Sunday night, five days later, that Doctor Felix Ware in his New York office, where he sat reading late, received and read with sorrow and amazement, this telegraphic message:
"Come at once; Mr. Deering is dying!"
"Something has happened!" muttered the doctor as he began his hasty preparations for the journey. "There was neither threat nor promise of this when I left him five days ago. something has happened! I think—" he crossed the room, and opening the door of a case, containing certain peculiar-looking instruments of surgery, pondered a moment. "Yes, I will! I'll go prepared for an emergency."
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