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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DOCTOR FELIX WARE watched the form of Brenda Deering until it had disappeared and the door had closed behind it, then he turned quickly to his confrère.

"What is this about young Deering?" he asked crisply. "The invalid, I mean?"

| | 178

The other glanced toward the door in his turn, and answered, with his eyes still upon it and in a cautiously lowered voice—

"The young fellow is not what you can call an invalid, not ordinarily. He seems to have reached home a little upset, and he was never quite so big and robust as his cousin. But the poor boy is always the cause of great anxiety among his friends whenever anything like this occurs. You heard what she said about his excitement? The boy is said to inherit his dead mother's temperament. He's quick, sympathetic, nervous, and excitable, and behind all this there lurks a curse."

During the greater part of this speech, Doctor Ware,—himself a stalwart and fine specimen of well-disciplined and strong-willed manhood—had listened with a look which seemed almost cynical. At the last phrase his face changed suddenly, and became almost stern.

"Explain!" he urged, quickly.

"Without knowing the truth, until it was too late, Lysander Deering married a woman in whose veins ran a current of inherited insanity."

"Good heavens!"

"And, although it is not generally known in Pomfret, for she died abroad, she died insane."

"I see! I understand. And Mrs. Deering fears—" he broke off abruptly, as, with yet more abruptness, the door was flung open and Sarita almost fell across the threshold.

"Gentlemen!" she gasped, "come, please! Come quickly! Master Brook—madam wishes—ah, come, come!"

The door was wide open as they approached Brook Deering's chamber, and the tableau that met their gaze startled them before a word was uttered, so strange, so varied, and so full of force and meaning were the looks which, for the moment, seemed stamped upon the faces of the three inmates.

In the middle of the large and brightly luxurious room stood Mrs. Deering, her form drawn to its fullest height, her head thrown back, and her hand outstretched, palm outward; the attitude, the gesture, were those of scorn and repulsion, but the look upon the white face was that of sudden awful horror. Standing beside a window, at equal distance from both the others, and with his arm still uplifted, his fingers still gripped upon the curtain he had just been in the act of raising, was Bruce Deering, and the horror upon Brenda's face was reflected in his—the horror, and something else, which neither could interpret.

And upon the couch drawn out opposite a window, that its occupant might feel the breath from the rose garden without, half-crouching, half-reclining, was Brook Deering; one hand was clutching, with constantly writhing fingers, at his throat, where the collar of the low, loose négligé garment he wore was already torn open as if by a reckless hand, the other one shaking, but outstretched, pointed toward Brenda Deering; his face was flushed redly from throat to forehead, and two blue eyes burned and blazed as the writhing lips caught, and held back, the words, but half uttered, and checked by a sudden effort at the command of a stronger will.

They had heard him as they, approached speaking gaspingly, | | 179 Incoherently—meaninglessly for them; and then two words, neither meaningless nor incoherent, checked his utterance as they appeared

"Be silent!"

It was Bruce who had thus spoken, and as they paused at the threshold he released his unconscious hold upon the curtain, and moved toward them.

But it was Brenda who spoke, the look upon her face, which had rested there but a moment, vanishing, as she turned with a splendid gesture, which at once invited them to enter, and indicated to them the object of their visit.

"Gentlemen, come in, and kindly tell this overwrought young man thetruth concerning your work downstairs. In some way, in spite of our precaution, the servants have caught some wild idea, which has been made known to him."

While she spoke, Bruce, moving behind them, had quietly closed the door; and as she ceased, Brook Deering flung aside his light covering and struggled to his feet, putting out imploring hands to the elder physician.

"Doctor," he gasped, "for heaven's sake tell me, is this devilish thing true? Whywhere was the need for this horror of secrecy?Why have you tampered with my father's sacred body? Tell me—tell me there was no need?"

Suddenly, as Doctor Liscom paused for an instant, startled by his vehemence, and at a loss for soothing and yet truthful words, Felix Ware moved quickly forward, caught the two outstretched hands in his own, and fastening his own clear, grey orbs upon the burning eyes of the other, said, slowly and with calm impressiveness:

"We are ready to tell you all that you can hear and bear like a man; we have been reserved only to spare you. Both of us, Doctor Liscom and I, loved and revered the man whose body lies below. No hands could touch him with more reverence; none have touched him needlessly."

As the last words were spoken, and with the hands of the young physician still holding his own, and guiding thus his movements with deliberate but gentle firmness, Brook sank back upon the couch, and Doctor Ware, with one hand still upon his arm, sat quietly down beside him.

"Shall I finish?" Ware asked quietly.

"Yes, finish! There was nothing?—tell me there was nothing?"

"I cannot. The man sleeping down there might have been one of us now but for the crime of some monster. Mr. Deering died by poison."

"God of Heaven!" There was a crash like the fall of one stricken by lightning, and Bruce Deering, standing near the door, and almost behind Doctor Liscom and Brenda, quite forgotten for the moment by both, had fallen like a log.

Instantly Doctor Ware was at his side kneeling above him.

"It's a dead faint," he said sharply. "Doctor, will you attend to—the other? Mrs. Deering, please ring for a man, and for water."

As he spoke he lifted one limp hand and held it in his, while he looked | | 180 over his shoulder toward the couch where Brook Deering, his face, hidden by his arms, was moaning and writhing, unheeding the bending form and pitying face of Doctor Liscom, and deaf to his words.

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