- part: A DEAD MAN'S STEP
- CHAPTER XXXVII. THE "CAT."
|<< chapter 36||< chapter 34||chapter 38 >||chapter 63 >>|
"Apropos of that now! come,—to give you a proof of my full confidence in you—I will tell you, right here, about that—cat."
"Pardon me! one moment, please; there is more that I ought to say; must say, in fact. Your position here is clearly defined, you are here to search and to find out—"
"If I can!"
"If you can—of course. On the other hand, I am here as guest and physician; I say guest, because I might, easily, have been treated with all due courtesy as a physician, and yet have remained outside that intangible but distinctly felt line, which is drawn, often, and rightly, about the welcome guest. I have been made to feel, so strongly, that I am honoured as guest as well as physician, that I cannot forget, as I may seem to have done to-night, my duty to my hostess and employer. Having decided that you were what your are, and being so wishful to serve my hostess, by trying to aid you, I could see no other way open but to let you know that I was aware of the truth concerning your position in this house. Having found you out, I felt that I owed it to you to tell you so. And now—before we seal any further compact—my hostess must know what I have done to-night, and must decide, if she will permit me, to serve her in this new capacity, as well as in the old."
The sham Uncle Holly sat before him with a face suddenly grave, and so keen in its intentness that, after a moment of silence, the doctor added:
"You see, of course, how different is your position and mine, I cannot put my hand further into this matter, so near and personal to Mrs. Deering, without first receiving her consent."
"And you think she will consent?" The face of the detective was still speculative.
"I hope she will. I believe she trusts me."
"If she does not, she will!" declared the other with sudden emphasis. "Doctor—this stops us short. I believe in you! I want you! To-morrow I will see—the lady. I think my first drive must be with | | 238 her, you and I must talk later, and as best we can. Pshaw!" with a sudden change from grave to gay. "And I wanted to talk with you to-night about—those cats."
"Oh!" ejaculated Ware, smiling in sympathy, "the 'cat' has grown, into the plural?"
"The cat that roams at uncanny hours is apt to," rejoined the detective dryly. And then suddenly he dropped back into his well-studied character, and was Uncle Holly, and no other, during the few remaining moments of their interview.
The next day a slip of paper, pressed into her palm as they exchanged a morning greeting, told Brenda that already there was need for a "few words apart," and so, while the sun was still "riding the east," Brenda and Uncle Holly drove away from Beechwood, and out upon the smooth, north road.
In few words, and ignoring altogether the episode of the garden, and the "cats," Murtagh told her how he had conversed with Doctor Ware, each at his own window, and the result of the conversation. And when all was told, he added:
"Before you express yourself upon this matter, Mrs. Deering, allow me to say, that, for myself, nothing could please me better than to take this young man, whose ability and good faith are beyond question, into my entire confidence. He can give me the very help I need, and, as for him, it is his strong and earnest desire to be permitted to aid me, and, through me, yourself."
Through the cloud of gauzy black, which half-concealed her face, he could see the rich colour rise; and her words were slow in coming.
"I cannot pretend," she began at last, speaking as if watching her words and holding them in check, "and I will not try to pretend, that I do not appreciate and realise the help Doctor Ware could be to—to—you. I dare not refuse such aid and strength as he can bring to—to the work. But—I must ask you to continue as you began; you know—you were to employ such aid as you would, but all communications with me—must come through you. Between Doctor Ware and myself let nothing be changed—you understand?"
"Entirely," replied the detective, and, to himself, he added: "I'm blessed if I do all the same! Wonder if she quite understands herself?"
One thing, at least, Brenda Deering perfectly understood when she put her head down upon her pillow that night, and that was the comfort of a wish realised, and a sense of security and trust, surpassing anything she may have felt when Murtagh's aid and skill were secured to her beyond a doubt.
"At least," she murmured with a long sigh, not altogether a sigh of anxiety, "at least he will see things as they are! He may, he WILL understand."
On the following morning, Brook Deering appeared at the breakfast table, leaning upon his cousin's arm; and, to the surprise of all, announced his intention to drive into town that morning to visit, the bank, and to call upon Mr. Baird.
He was looking better, "more like the Brook of old," said those who | | 239 had known him—especially Mrs. Merton and the maids; and he declared himself quite able to begin to be more active. He was a little weak, of course, but more exercise and out-of-door life would remedy that, he said.
"I shall not try to drive, of course; I am to be my cousin's passenger;" this he said in answer to some remonstrances and suggestions from "Uncle Holly," who declared his belief in a succession of baths, with "absolute rest" between, as a cure for such pale faces and unsteady nerves as were displayed by the patient.
Brook's face flushed redly enough, and there was a displeased look in the eyes he turned upon the benign and solicitous old gentleman; but his words, when at last they were uttered, were slow and languid, and perfectly amiable.
"I fancy I'm stronger than I look; and I fear there's been too much rest already—for me. If I break down, I'll try your plan, however," and he smiled amiably upon Uncle Holly as he left the room, with Bruce still in attendance.
As the door closed behind them, the eyes of Uncle Holly and Doctor Felix met for one instant, and as they left the breakfast-room the doctor said:
"Unless I have a duty at hand, I like a smoke after breakfast, and I like it in such weather out of doors. Do you care to join me, Mr. Holly?"
At first Mr. Holly seemed about to decline; but he appeared to consider, and, finally, after fussily assuring himself that his cigarette case was at hand, he decided to accept.
When they were out upon the eastern terrace, with the line of trees, bordering the edge, casting a pleasant shade along the footway, and the green and flower-studded bank sloping sharply down to the lawn and tennis ground below, Uncle Holly took a long look around him, and up and down, as he said:
"One can walk here by day, and converse, without much danger of eavesdroppers approaching too near; I always try to take the fewest risks possible—but we can talk here. Did you expect to get a sign from me last night; or after my drive with Mrs. D——?" Murtagh used initials, when it was possible to distinguish his personages thus.
"I hoped for, but can hardly say that I expected it," replied the doctor. "There was too much stir last night; the young man was restless; we will try for it to-night."
"We couldn't well be overheard if we were reasonably cautious; but we can't risk being suspected. To arouse suspicion hampers one horribly! For instance, those—cats."
"Yes, we may as well begin with them. You see it was not their first rendezvous, nor the second; nearly a week ago Mrs. Deering, chancing to be restless, and sitting late at her open window, with but half-closed curtains, saw a figure outside lurking about in the rose garden; she wisely informed me of this before I entered the house, and I at once set a watch upon the garden."
"My lad, for it is a lad, small and shrewd, tells me that they met | | 240 on the second night after Mrs. D——'s discovery; the first night of his watch, in fact; and so I set a trap for them."
"Ah! a trap?"
"Precisely, and baited it with one of my shoes. You see I had discovered that there were two—'cats'—and that one was under this roof, while the other came from—town."
"Is it possible?" The doctor's face darkened.
"Don't jump at conclusions, my friend; you think, I'll wager, that the woman, or what looked like a woman, came from this house?"
"And—am I wrong?" breathlessly.
"Yes. The man comes from the house, and waits, prowling cautiously from shelter to shelter, until the other appears."
"And that other?"
"Is a woman, I believe."
"And who—" The doctor stopped short. "Please explain in your own way," he said grimly; "I will not interrupt again."
"Oh, I don't mind the interruption. But to get on;" he stopped to poke at a flower with his cane. "The man, we have yet to identify,—the woman, my boy followed until she lost herself—where do you think?"
"Don't ask me!"
"Well, it was useless; she vanished at the corner of St. Mark's Church."
"Not the church opposite the bank?"
"The very same. Now, I said to myself, let's try and identify the lady. Then I set my lad, who is an accomplished mimic, to practising the cat-calls, away out in the woods. He does it well, don't you think?"
"Yes; but go on!"
"Well, you were witness of the success of it. To-night they will know themselves discovered; at least, will fear it; and will give up this manner of seeing each other. Then they will form some new plan; don't you think so?"
"I think that you suspect, if you do not know, who these two people are."
"Well—you are right. I do suspect; nothing more just yet. But if I am right, the woman will bring us the proof."
"By coming in person, and with all boldness, to Beechwood."
The doctor's face was expressive of silent inquiry, and Murtagh went on:
"I mean to make my position quite clear to you, Doctor Ware; and to do this I must place before you some notes that I have made from time to time concerning this case; but we cannot flaunt documents here, nor yet in our drives, and this is why I am compelled, much as I object to holding any manner of interviews in this house that are not strictly in character, to admit you to my room to-night; I shall take all precautions, and you must do likewise. In the meantime, before you become in any manner or degree prejudiced or suspicious, I want to hear your impressions; or, if you have such, your opinion, upon | | 241 this case. You have been, you tell me, deeply interested: and you discard—to begin with—the theory of suicide?"
"I discard it utterly. The man was poisoned!"
"And—you were his physician—one of them—could an, accident have been possible?"
"No! There was no poisonous drug of any sort in or about the sick room; I am sure of that! Liscom will say the same. It was a crime premeditated."
"Have you the faintest reason to doubt or suspect any one?"
The doctor started, and, for a moment, seemed to hesitate. Then he answered slowly, "No—none whatever."
They had reached, after taking several turns, a point upon the terrace where stood a double tête, of twisted wood, formed in the fashion known as the S, and so shaped that the two people occupying it would face each other, and, of course, opposite points of the compass; above, a huge maple afforded shade, and all about was the open lawn, except for the grassy slope at one side, and a circular flower-bed upon the other, and quite near.
"Let us sit here," said the detective. "This is well adapted to our purpose."
When they were seated, he leaned forward and plucked two or three savoury spice pinks from the bed beside them, and holding them and fingering them from time to time, as if delivering a discourse upon botany to an interested listener, he began anew.
"Doctor Ware, I am going to ask you to do a considerable piece of work before you join me to-night—something which, I hope, will be a real help to me, to both of us, in our search."
"And what is that?"
"You believe in phrenology?''
"Yes; in a measure."
"Did you ever make a study of heads?"
"Could you, without an actual fingering of the head, say from casual observations made at table, or in the drawing-room, could you thus give an outline of the traits, the characters of this family? That is—I mean of the two ladies, the cousins, and, perhaps, one more?"
"I could give a brief statement of what I believe to be their traits, and tendencies—yes; it would, doubtless, be based upon my knowledge and experience as a physician, as well as upon phrenological data. Is that what you want? They would stand for opinions—not facts—of course."
"Of course. The truth is," went on Murtagh, tearing away a rosy petal and holding it up to view, "I have evolved a theory which would amaze you if I were to make it known to you now. It's a very daring theory indeed; and it lacks, at present, I must confess, some very important points; as—for instance—motive. Just now I am trying to find some corroborative facts to fit into my theory, and what you will write for me will strengthen said theory, or it will weaken it materially—kill it almost!"
"You make me feel my responsibility."| | 242
"Oh! I don't depend upon you alone! I look to our two—cats—to help confirm or tear down my theory."
"May I ask how?"
"As I have said, they will, if I am on the right track, make a new effort to meet; and I think I know what they will do."
"If I am right, the woman will come to the house." He looked at his companion's puzzled face for a moment, and then, as if by some sudden impulse, he asked:
"Doctor, how much do you know concerning Mr. Bruce Deering and the Matchin matter?"
"How much? Why—I suppose I know the outlines of the case. That young Deering was and is accused of the murder. Mr. Lysander Deering told me the story, and Mrs. Deering has also spoken of it to me."
"And Mr. Deering—how did he express himself—as to belief?"
"He? Oh! his faith in his nephew was as granite."
"Why—I don't think she expressed herself in words; but her whole tone and manner has implied belief in him, as a matter of course."
"And you?—have you given the case much thought?"
"N—no; I confess that I have rather refrained from doing so. I have treated it as the skeleton in my patron's closet; not meant for my eyes."
"I am sorry! I wish you had studied that case, and had formed an opinion, or, at least, a guess."
"May I ask why? when this later case comes so much nearer to us just now."
"Does it, indeed? My dear doctor, if my little theory does not break down under the two or three tests we are about to give it, we shall find ourselves delving, first of all, into the case of the Pomfret Bank Murder."
"What! Do you connect Bruce Deering—with this later crime?"
"No! But I connect this later crime with the first, and I believe that we shall never find the clue to Lysander Deering's murder until we have solved the Matchin mystery! I believe they are two bloody acts of the same drama; and that the secret behind them has not even been guessed at. But there! no more upon this topic until I have seen your characterisation, your phrenological chart."
"By the way, who is the `one other' in your list?"
"Oh, yes, the other one is—I hope you know her well enough—the other is the woman they call Sarita."
The drive, by which carriages arrived at the door of Beechwood, was approached by two gates, one at the south end of the grounds proper, and the other at the north or opposite corner. It formed, at the front, a distended half circle, by which a guest could enter at the south gate from Pomfret, alight, half-way, upon the great front portico, and retire by the north gate, thus completing the half circle; while the family vehicles, or those of visitors who tarried long, might, if they chose, entering by these same north or south gates, swerve aside from the half moon as they neared the respective corners at the south and | | 243 north fronts, where a lesser, but equally well-gravelled, drive, curving out from the half circle, swept under a porte-cochère on the south side, and past an extended piazza on the north, and so from thence stable-ward.
When the two men arose from their seats beneath the big maple tree, they took a final promenade across the terrace, and, at the detective's suggestion, turned to re-enter the house by the south or side door, which opened so directly upon the library.
"I'm going to affect this especial door," said Murtagh, as they approached it, "and the stairway also. It will soon come to be looked upon as one of `Uncle Holly's' whims, at least I hope so. Ah—h!"
They had almost reached the steps at the side entrance, and as he uttered the syllable quickly, and stopped short, ostensibly to examine the blossoms of an early wistaria, but really to cast a sharp side glance at a village cart which had just entered the drive through the south gate; the doctor looked, too, but more openly.
It was a momentary glance; then his companion said under his breath: "Let's get in!" and turned toward the steps, up which he was dutifully assisted by the doctor's ready hand.
As they crossed the threshold, the detective gave his companion's arm a quick, nervous pressure.
"It has come!" he whispered, and hastened up the little curving stairs, closely followed by Doctor Felix.
At the top Murtagh glanced quickly about him, and then added, in the same quick almost inaudible whisper, from which the sibilant carrying quality had been, by long practice, eliminated:
"This is better than I hoped! Do you know that young woman in the cart?"
"That is our—our cat!"
"Eh!" Doctor Felix fairly caught his breath."
"Our shadow, then—one of them!"
Doctor Felix looked almost incredulous. And the detective, seized by some new thought, again caught his arm.
"I want you to see her! to know her, if possible. You must go below, and if she calls for the ladies, try to manage it."
The doctor's head went suddenly erect, then remembering that he was this man's assistant, self-proffered, he breathed in his ear:
"Mrs. Deering is in the library; I saw her. Let's both go down. Who is she?"
"Miss—Wardell. Go on, then, quick and quiet!"
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