- part: [I.] A DEAD MAN'S STEP.
- CHAPTER XXXI. OBJECTS OF SUSPICION.
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OBJECTS OF SUSPICION.
IN the midst of the silence which followed the reading of this singular document, John Redding laid it upon the table before him, and looked about him. Lawyer Ingram sat like a Sphinx at the foot of the table, | | 193 his face quite inscrutable. Brook Deering and Brenda might have been made of marble or been deaf and dumb, so silent and expressionless they sat. But the faces of Bruce Deering and Miss Rodney were studies of surprise, as was also that of Doctor Liscom. As for Doctor Ware, his face was, as usual, perfectly calm, and quite unreadable, but John Redding noted that his eyes were fixed, not keenly, but yet closely, upon the countenance of Brook Deering.
Taking up the third paper the young solicitor began
"I wish to say, here, that this paper which I have just read is as new to me as to anyone of you. It was written, as well as this sealed will, by Mr. Ingram before I came into the council. I merely saw these documents, both of them, in Mr. Deering's hands, and was assured in the presence of other witnesses that they had both been read by him, and that they exactly expressed his wishes. Am I right, Mr. Ingram?"
"But this paper," he held up the last of the three documents contained in the sealed envelope, "was written by me at the desire of Mr. Deering, and assisted by Mr. Ingram. It contains a list and description of Mr. Deering's property, stocks, bonds, real estate, notes, and other valuable documents, with such information concerning them, and such advice as he thought would enable Mrs. Deering, for whose use this is written, or such agents or assistants as she may appoint, to understand everything and to simplify their work. This paper is witnessed only by Mr. Ingram and myself, and Mr. Deering's instructions regarding it I have written, for my own better remembrance, across the back of the document. They are as follows," and he read—
"These minutes are for the use of Mrs. Deering, or for reference of others who may have any reasonable desire to understand my business arrangements. They may, if it is the desire of any, be read together with the other paper enclosed with my sealed will." He turned to Brenda.
"Mrs. Deering," he said, "this paper contains a clause which concerns you alone. It is the last paragraph. The rest is purely statistical. Will you look at it?"
She took the paper from his hand and perused the few lines at the bottom, then she arose and handed it back.
"The clause," she said, with a look and in a tone which, to most of them, seemed strangely stern and cold, "makes a request, which I am about to fulfil. If you will read it, now, Mr. Redding, all here can bear me witness of the fact."
He opened the paper and she remained standing, and with head erect, until he had read the paragraph.
"To conclude," it ran, "before this document sees the light, I shall have passed over to the majority; and my wife, Brenda Flood Deering, will hold in her possession a certain paper put into her hand by me, and to be opened and used in a manner and at a time known to herself. And I here suggest and request, that she, upon reading this, at once put this paper into the hands of either Mr. Ingram or John Redding for safe keeping. My reasons for this she will not fail to comprehend."| | 194
As he ceased the reading, and while the others were, for the first time, exchanging glances of surprise and inquiry, in which Brook now joined, Brenda passed the lawyer with a grave nod, and went out of the room.
She was absent so long that those who waited, at first in silence, began to look about them restlessly, and at last to exchange low-voiced comments upon her prolonged absence, in the midst of which she returned, empty-handed, and with the strange, stern look intensified upon her face. She came straight to the table, and, standing midway between the two lawyers, laid one palm upon it, and seemed to lean heavily thus.
"Gentlemen," she said, looking from one to the other, "it is not six weeks since the paper referred to, sealed like this will, was put into my hands by Mr. Deering. By his direction I put it away in the safest place at my disposal in a little secret drawer in my writing-desk, which is never approached, or so I thought, by anyone save myself. To-day I find the lock of the secret drawer broken, and the paper gone."
And now the silence was broken indeed, and quietly but earnestly the possibilities of the case were discussed, the two lawyers and the two doctors entering into the inquiry with anxious interest, while both Brook and Bruce Deering stood a little in the rear of those gathered closest about the table, saying very little.
"Mrs. Deering," spoke Doctor Ware after a time, "you say that the seal of the package, or paper, was intact; do you know by whom it was written? Is it possible that—"
But she interrupted him by a quick shake of her head.
"I am sure," she said, "that the contents were only known to my husband. The paper was written, he told me, by himself to insure absolute secrecy."
"And yet—" Doctor Ware began, and stopped to allow Mr. Ingram, who had risen, to speak before him.
"I only wish," broke in Mr. Ingram, "to say this. I am aware that Mr. Deering wrote a document intended for Mrs. Deering's eyes, and for hers only. The nature of its contents was never so much as hinted at to me."
And then began a series of rapidly-uttered questions and suggestions concerning the Beechwood servants. Were they all well-known? Were there any new ones?—any who had been, at any time, or in any way, offended? Who had access to Mrs. Deering's rooms? and would it not be well to question some of them—beginning, perhaps, with Mrs. Deering's maid?
But here Brook Deering, who had taken no part in the discussion occasioned by the discovery of this loss, pushed himself into the little circle that had gathered close about the table, and his first word silenced them all, uttered, as it was, in a sudden sharp tone of authority.
"This cannot be done! It must not! I regret Mrs. Deering's loss, and hope and believe it may be recovered, but paramount to my father's papers, any of them, comes his unhappy fate! No servant of Beechwood must be questioned, or in any manner alarmed in the slightest degree until all have been properly examined with reference to | | 195 my father's death. And—it seems to me that we would do well at once to resolve ourselves into a committee to discuss, and, if possible, decide how we can best and quickest begin the work of ferreting out the poisoners. Compared with this nothing else is of importance—at least to me!" There was a sudden break in his voice, and he swayed slightly, as if dizzy or faint.
"Pardon," he said to Doctor Ware, who had put out a sustaining hand, "I am not so strong as I thought, but, I cannot leave this room until something is decided upon." He glanced at the ladies who now stood side by side. "My cousin, I am sure, is anxious for this, and you, I suppose," bowing to John Redding," are empowered to act for Mrs. Deering. If the ladies will withdraw, or permit us to retire—"
"One word," broke in Brenda Deering; her voice was as cold and commanding as his own, and she fixed her eyes upon his face for a full moment;" I quite agree that time enough has passed in inactivity, and that action should be taken at once, but Lysander Deering's wife can have no deputy, and hold no second place in a consultation such as has been proposed; and Miss Rodney, I know, will stand at my side."—For answer, Valentine silently placed a hand upon her shoulder. "As to the loss and the finding of the sealed paper, I for one am confident that when the poisoner is found, we shall also have found the thief. Gentlemen, please resume your seats, there are really only two questions to settle at present. And, first, shall we continue to keep the truth a secret among ourselves? Will it help us to make it known? Will it hinder us to keep it? Mr. Ingram-gentlemen all, help us with your advice t Bruce—Brook, what are your wishes?"
Brook had sunk wearily back in his chair, his head dropped upon his hand, and now he said, as if with an effort:" I want my father's death avenged, first and most. The way matters little."
Most of the others have resumed their seats, but Brenda remains standing, and as he ceases, she turns toward his cousin.
"If possible I would like to keep my uncle's name sacred and apart from this horror. But the murderer must be found!" His words are quietly, firmly uttered, and she turns, seats herself beside Valentine, and nods across to Mr. Ingram.
"I could wish Mr. Baird were with us," he says slowly, and looks, as he speaks, from face to face, with his keen, shrewd eyes, very intent. Then he is silent a moment, and his eyes rest upon the face of Doctor Ware. "Sometimes," he resumed in the same quiet manner, "the person most upon the outside, and, therefore, able to see all phases of the subject, can give the clearest opinion. Doctor Ware, that you have an opinion, I can see; will you share it with us?"
The quick and comprehensive glance which the young doctor turns upon him establishes, at once, that rapport which is so readily confirmed between two congenial spirits, but Doctor Ware's words are addressed toward Brenda Deering.
"I was thinking," he says, "that perhaps the question of publicity should rest where it is, to be decided by the detective, who should be consulted as soon as possible, and who might well consider that very point of first importance."| | 196
Mr. Ingram put out his hand across the table:" Doctor," he said, "you have put me to shame, and now—"
There was a sharp knock at the door, and Brenda arose with an expectant look. Bruce, who was nearest the door, arose also. "Shall I open it?" he asked.
She nodded, and the door being opened, Mrs. Merton in person announced, with her eyes fixed upon Brenda,—
"Mr. Baird is here, Mrs. Deering."
"Send him in at once," said Mrs. Deering; and then, to those within the room, "I sent for Mr. Baird. I knew we must consult him."
"One moment!" Mrs. Merton, who had turned to go, paused and looked back, as Doctor Ware made a quick stride toward the door.
"Please send some wine to Mr. Brook Deering," he said to her in a low tone; "he is ill."
Brook is lying back in his chair, and his lips are livid. When Mr. Baird enters, he takes in the situation at a glance, and goes at once to his side.
"Brook, you look too ill to be here," he says kindly, "won't you go to your room, and trust everything to us?"
Brook looks up at him, and feebly shakes his head. The wine comes, and he seems revived by it, but Doctor Ware keeps an eye upon him, and remains standing near. Mr. Baird crosses over and stands before Brenda, bending to take her trembling hand.
"Mrs. Deering," he says with fatherly kindness," can I serve you in any way?"
"Yes," she says, looking straight up into his grave and sympathetic eyes, "help us to find a detective clever enough, wise enough, to discover the poisoner of your friend—and my husband."
"Is that it?" He turns toward the group at the table.
"That is it, Mr. Baird," says John Redding, "and I believe you can help us."
"I believe I know the man for you I the very man! And when I say `know him,' I mean that we have literally dwelt under one roof for weeks. I anticipated this, and, without meaning to thrust a choice upon you, but because I felt that, for my own sake, in my own interest, I must see and consult with him, I telegraphed two days ago for Ferriss Murtagh."
"Ah!" burst from the lips of Bruce Deering, and his eye lighted up, but he checked the exclamation, and stood erect beside his cousin's chair, while Mr. Baird, seating himself beside Brenda, went on:
"This name may be unfamiliar to most of you, but I may as well say at once that Ferriss Murtagh is the man who was here in disguise until recently. I believe we can find no better man."
He did not need to speak the name of Joe Matchin there, all understood the allusion, and to Brenda, and Bruce, and Doctor Liscom, the name was not unknown.
Seeing the inquiry in Mr. Ingram's face, Mr. Baird went over to the table and drew up a chair, and for a few moments the men discussed the merits of Ferriss Murtagh, all save Brook and Bruce Deering, who remained a few aces in the background, Brook lying back in his chair | | 197 with a weary look, except for the eyes, which were bright to feverishness, and which noted everything with intense eagerness.
As the talk about the table went on, he turned his head on the velvet cushions, and looked up to Bruce, who stood, with a hand upon the back of his chair, listening, with a face gravely inscrutable.
"Bruce," he said, in a low voice. The other bent down to him.
"You know who this man is?
"Tell me!" impatiently.
"He is the man employed upon the Matchin case, and discharged by—" He stopped.
"By my father?"
"Is he able?"
"I believe him to be."
"And yet—" He glanced at the group about the table, and then across to where Brenda and Valentine sat listening, with their eyes upon the others. "Do you think truly, Bruce, it means so much—do you think he would have succeeded—if he had been retained?"
"I don't know," absently.
"Do you think—listen, Bruce, do you believe he made any—any discoveries?"
Bruce was silent for a long moment, then,—
"I think he knew more than he chose to tell," he said, and drew himself erect, as if to close the aside.
A moment later Brook's slow, tired voice, slightly raised, broke into the talk about the table.
"Gentlemen, may I say a word?" As they turned toward him he lifted himself: "Will you give me your arm, Bruce?"
Leaning upon his cousin's arm he approached the group, waving away the chair which was quickly proffered.
"Thank you, no. Doctor, I fear I must retire, but I wish to say that, if you are convinced that this detective, recommended by Mr. Baird, is the best, the very best, to be found, I beg you to secure his services, to do it quickly, and let no expense or trouble be spared; personal feelings, everything, must be set aside. "His eyes, for an instant, turned toward his father's wife as he uttered the last words. "I want to be one of your counsels, and I mean to overcome this weakness—but—" turning away, and drawing his cousin toward the door, "to-day has been—too much! Bruce—you will come with me?" The pressure upon his cousin's arm emphasised the request, and Bruce, nodding to the others, turned and led him out of the room. As they moved away, Doctor Ware stepped past them and opened the door.
"You had better take your cordial at once," he said, as they passed out, "and I will come up as soon as we separate."
"Ah!" exclaimed Brook, "and—you will tell us—both what you decide upon—in full?"
"Yes, if you are able to hear any more talk."
As they turned and went toward the stairway, Doctor Ware's gaze followed the fine form of Bruce Deering, as, with lips firmly closed, | | 198 and grave, unreadable face, he supported his frailer companion. "I can't understand it," he murmured to himself, as he closed the door and went back to the others.
They were all standing when he re-entered the room, and Mrs. Deering, with what seemed to him like a relieved look upon her face, was speaking,
"I do not understand it, Mr. Baird; you speak of this man as having been here, and as having sent for him upon your own account, because you wish to see him! Am I to understand that this detective is no longer engaged,—no longer investigating the Matchin murder?"
Mr. Baird glanced sharply about him. "There are no outsiders here," he said, after a moment's thought, and then he told them how the detective had been withdrawn from the Matchin case, by the desire of Mr. Deering. "He gave no reasons," he said, "save that he could not bear the anxiety of such an investigation, and when he asked me to waive all discussion and let the matter drop, I consented. I could do no less,—for him. And now—I am glad that I did not refuse."
"And—Bruce?" hesitated Brenda, while Valentine stood very erect and still.
"Bruce knew, and, like myself, consented."
John Redding and Doctor Liscom, who were in the secret, exchanged significant glances. Mr. Baird turned to Mr. Ingram:
"At another time I will make all this somewhat clearer to you, Mr. Ingram, and to Doctor Ware."
"I think," said the young doctor, "that I understand, at least, in part. Mr. Deering asked my advice, as to his taking active part or interest in any form of exciting or hazardous business. And I told him frankly that it would be putting health, perhaps life, in jeopardy, to at-tempt or continue in such business."
Again there was exchange of glances. Those who knew Lysander Deering best were fully aware that no personal risk or danger would have caused him to withdraw his hand.
"Brenda," spoke Valentine for the first time, "are we needed longer here? Is there anything more to be decided now?"
"No. I think not. At least," said Brenda, "I have only to repeat that I have heard my husband speak so highly of Detective Murtagh, though he never spoke his name—that I am willing to trust him. Only I, too, say, waste no time, and spare no expense! My life will be one long horror until this mystery is solved!" Her voice broke, and she averted her face. Then, with evident effort for self-mastery, "Gentlemen, will you remain here and complete your plans, and will you excuse us?" As they crossed the room, Mr. Ingram hastened to the door, which he opened wide, and, as they passed through, he managed by turning his back to the group within and drawing the door half shut behind him, to put into Brenda's hand a slip of paper, upon which he had scrawled a few words, and with which he had been trifling for some time.
Silently the two went up the stairs, and into Brenda's boudoir, together, and once there Valentine dropped with a long sigh upon a low couch, while Brenda made haste to unfold the bit of paper.| | 199
"Dear Madam," she read, "do not be uneasy about the lost or stolen paper, remember there are sometimes duplicates."
As this little ray of cheer in so much darkness fluttered from her fingers into Val's lap, that young woman, who had been so strong, sensible, and helpful from the first, flung herself face downward upon he couch and began to sob wildly, like one suddenly set face to face with some bitter grief or loss. It was so strange, so unlike her, that Brenda was startled.
She waited for the paroxysm to pass, and the sobs to become less violent, and then, her heart heavy with its own weight of woe, she knelt down beside her friend.
"Val, dear, what is it?—tell me!"
Then suddenly Val lifted herself and thrust away the clinging hands.
"Brenda Deering, tell me what it means; are we all going mad together? Why have they sent away that detective, and stopped the search for Joe Matchin's murderer, with guardy's consent and his? What terrible thing has stolen in among us? Why, why, WHY, must justice be baulked? It shall not be!"
When Mrs. Deering and Valentine had gone, and the door was carefully closed, Mr. Ingram went briskly back to the others."Now, Mr. Redding," he began," you as the family man of business must take your place. Mrs. Deering has bidden us do our best; we are here all of us, in her interest, and as friends of Lysander Deering."
"Mr. Baird," said Redding, "we can do nothing until we have had this matter before the detective. When shall you hear from him—or, will he come at once?"
"He is here," said Mr. Baird." He came this morning."
When the momentary surprise had expended itself in comments and exclamations, Redding asked:
"Does he know—this?"
"He knows that Lysander Deering has been poisoned, nothing more. I was not authorised to negotiate—except for myself."
"Yes, I confess that I had determined, if you did not agree to have him here, to employ him upon my own behalf."
"And when can we see him?"
"As soon as you like, but not here. Murtagh is not thin-skinned, and so, when I was about to set out this evening, I told him the object of my going, and said to him, 'Mr. Murtagh, I am going to use my influence to get you into this business, and if I do, how shall you wish to begin?' 'With whom would I have to deal if I decided to accept?' he asked me. I told him, naming, with myself, Doctors Liscom and Ware, for Mrs. Deering had told me that she believed Ware could help us much, and had obtained his promise of assistance; Redding, of course; I was not then aware that Mr. Ingram would be one of us, and I ended by naming the ladies and the two young Deerings."
"And what was his answer?" asked Redding, eagerly.
"He assured me that, even if the case were offered him, he would | | 200 not accept it, until he knew it in all its bearings, and was given carts blanche."
"Well, and that granted?"
"That granted, he must see us first, by which I mean those here present, without the members of the family—any of them, and this first meeting must be without their knowledge and at my house."
"And did he give a reason for this request?"
"When I asked him for a reason, he looked me in the eye and said, 'You have told me that Mr. Deering was poisoned, and that there had been no strangers under that roof during his entire illness. Don't you see, therefore, that every soul under that roof must become an object of suspicion."
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