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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"DEERING," said the doctor when he had closed the door upon Sarita, after seeing her enter her own, "you were speaking a moment ago about this woman and her regard for your cousin. Were you also much in her care?"

"Not in the way that Brook was. I was quite a lad when I came to Beechwood to live, and the woman who had been to me a sort of nurse and governess in one since I was two years old, came with me; my uncle kept her for nearly two years, and she took full charge of me as Sarita did of Brook, and taught us both, until my uncle thought it time to substitute a tutor. By that time, Mrs. Merton, who was attached to all the Deerings, was in charge here, and she looked after my rents and tears, and was kindness itself to me."

"I see; you will not consider me asking idle questions, I hope; was I right just now, in thinking that there was a shade of something almost hostile, in the single-veiled glance Madam Sarita threw at you as she stood at the door?"

Bruce looked his surprise. "Is it possible that you noticed that? Well—Brook being her nursling, and prime favourite, of course she could hardly have been expected to bestow much regard upon me. And there were times, in our harum-scarum days, when I have fancied that Sarita was almost jealous of me. Certainly she often accused me of leading her charge into mischief; and no doubt she was right. But she never manifested anything like open hostility, beyond blaming me as the ringleader in our boyish escapades; and, while I always had the feeling, so strong in some of us when there is lack of sympathy or hidden dislike, that I was not popular with Sarita, she has never be- | | 295 trayed it in words or acts. On the whole, I cannot blame her. Brook was her nearest interest; she brought him over the ocean, a babe in arms; and he must have a very warm place in her affections—and she has been very good to him, very faithful to her charge, and to the family interests. Of her own choice I do not think she would ever leave Beechwood."

"All the same," said Ware, "she looks with very ill favour upon you."

"As to that," smiled Bruce, "she is quite capable of thinking that I am neglecting Brook, and of resenting it. Doctor, I fear you do not like Sarita."

"I! Oh, we are only now becoming acquainted. At present—since a week ago, in fact—she has been my patient," and here for the moment the subject was dropped.

After this interview a very good understanding seemed to exist between Bruce Deering and Doctor Ware, and they were often together in the library, or about the ample grounds; sometimes driving, or strolling here and there round about Beechwood. They were not strictly confidential. Deering's pride and reserve were inborn, and the doctor was held back by his understanding with Murtagh; but they were frankly cordial, they trusted each other, and the way was open, when the need should come, for mutual candour and help.

Meantime the summer days were passing, and the time for the Matchin trial was coming near.

John Redding and his partner were prepared, with every weapon at their command, to defend the accused, and Mr. Ingram had promised to be at hand at the proper time, to add his legal strength to theirs. And this meant much, as all knew who had heard the eloquent, persuasive and keen old lawyer, or watched his progress, and multiplication of legal laurels, through a career of twenty years, or who had heard John Redding's ringing and magnetic periods in the courts, where, in three short years, he had easily gained a foremost place.

It had come to be generally believed by the rational part of Pomfret, that the case of the people against Bruce Deering, for the murder of Joe Matchin, would end in acquittal, or, at the worst, go by default; for, beyond the facts of his presence at the side of the murdered man, a few moments in advance of the others, and the blood stains upon his linen, there was nothing to bring in the way of proof. And while the blood stains seemed serious circumstantial witnesses, still in the utter absence of motive, and in consideration of the young man's high standing, and hitherto blameless character, these alone would hardly be sufficient to make out a case for the prosecution.

At first it had seemed, indeed, that popular opinion, than which nothing is less to be relied upon, had set in full tide against the accused. But the death of Lysander Deering had brought about a sudden change in public sentiment.

For the dead man there had been strong liking and universal respect, and the sympathy for his family, and sorrow over his loss, was sincere and almost unanimous. And when it became known that Lysander Deering's faith in his nephew was perfect; and that he had been ready to stand by him, and defend him, with all his heart, and | | 296 with open purse, the fact had its weight; and those who deplored the loss of so good a man, who had believed in him, and in his unerring for years, felt very lenient towards the nephew, who had been to him like an own son. And the talk about a quarrel, and the flight of Rose Matchin, which had its beginning in the mouths of a few of the loafers and saloon loungers, seemed to have died away.

Nevertheless, Sheriff Carton and the prosecuting attorney—who had been opposed and thwarted in certain political aspirations, a few years previous, by Lysander Deering, and Mr. Baird, and John Redding—were both full of dark sayings, or ominous silences when the name of Bruce Deering was mentioned in their hearing. They were often together in council, and the sheriff had been heard to say, with significant nods, in pantomime of eye and finger, that the defence would find "more than they were looking for," and that he "had not been following such a `blind lead,' as they seemed to think."

As to the actual state of affairs, these were known only to the few who had gathered in Mrs. Deering's parlour on the night of the reading of Mr.Deering's requests concerning the will.

The last words of Joe Matchin—that seemed to point, with terrible clearness, an accusation against Bruce Deering—these few men, with mutual consent, and in the firm belief that they were aiding rather than hindering the cause of justice, had determined to withhold as their own secret. Heard only by the two young lawyers, who could not be expected to figure as both attorneys and witnesses; and by Bruce, who could not be required to testify against himself; and only retold, and that by Bruce himself, to Messrs. Baird and Arden, this secret they felt sure would remain such.

As for the half-square of linen, with the two implicating initials upon it, that reposed in a secret place known only to Murtagh, and to be used at his discretion, which was sure to manifest itself upon the safe and right side.

There still remained the blood-stained hatchet, and the fact of the stolen money; and, after mature reflection, Redding had agreed with Mr. Baird, that these used in evidence would tell for, rather than against Deering, who could have no motive for robbing a bank in which he was personally interested, and who stood in no need of money.

And last, there was the amethyst button, and—Jonas Wiggins.

The knowledge of the button rested between the two Wiggins, Bruce and Brenda Deering, and Murtagh, and Tom Wells. As for Jonas himself—the thought of Jonas and the button had been troubling the mind of the detective for some time, and the arrival of Rosa, the new maid, upon the scene of inaction, served in some occult way to stimulate his interest and anxiety in the subject.

Rosa Brenner, so the new maid announced herself, was a brisk and business-like seeming personage, somewhat past her youth, and with a face that, while not so good-looking as to render her an object of jealousy among her kind, was yet comely. Her manners were quiet, and so very frank, and evidently good-humoured, that she became at once popular below-stairs.

She was ready to exchange a bright word with, or do some brisk | | 297 kindly act, for any and everyone, and yet she was neither obtrusive nor too talkative.

In three days she was on amiable terms with the entire household; and, at the end of the week, she had established an especially social footing between herself and Judith, Sarita, and Mrs. Merton; as for William, that staid bachelor was fairly taken off his feet.

There were two things, simple but sufficient, that drew Sarita and Rosa together: one was embroidery, the other French.

Rosa could embroider like a very daughter of Burano, and Santa loved dainty embroiderers. And Rosa, who was supposed to be embarking upon the career of lady's-maid, aspired to be a "French maid," if she could only "acquire a little French of the very, very best accent, such as yours, Madam Sarita," and so the French and the embroidery began simultaneously; Rosa finding ample time, mean-while, to study the art of the coiffeuse with Judith, whose fingers were notably deft in this important feature of a lady's-maid's acquirements.

When Rosa had been about a week at Beechwood, Uncle Holly announced one morning that he had been invited by Mr. Baird to pay with him a visit to his fine stock farm; and, in proof of this, Mr Baird himself appeared soon, driving Lady Jane, and carried "Uncle Holly" away beaming with satisfaction.

Less than an hour after, Bruce and Doctor Ware, trotting easily along upon Max and Diana, met the pair upon the south turnpike half a mile out of town, and headed toward "Greenlands." But, in spite of this fact, before high noon "Mr. Baird's new man," John Ross, Esq., might have been seen loitering about the rear door of the carriage house, where, as upon a former occasion, he soon admitted a visitor in the shape of Tom Wells.

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