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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<< chapter 47 chapter 63 >>

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The day after Brenda's fright was a quiet one at Beechwood; Brook did not leave his room and was very nervous and strange. He would not be left alone for a moment, and kept Bruce at his side the greater part of the day. Doctor Ware also spent much of his time there. As for Brenda, for the first time since Lysander Deering's burial she did not appear at the breakfast table, sending Judith below with her morning greetings and excuses.

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"It is not that she is really ill," the maid had said in answer to Valentine's questions, "but she had not a good night, and feels the need of rest—and quiet.—No, she needed nothing," this to Doctor Felix, "only repose, and she would join them at dinner, doubtless."

And this, indeed, she did; lying, meanwhile, for most of the day, in pale and serious tranquillity, wondering why she should feel so strangely calm, and comforted, in the midst of so much that was yet sad, mysterious, and shrouded in doubt.

In the absence and preoccupation of the others, Murtagh saw a wished—for opportunity, and, while the sun was yet in the east, he and Valentine, she with her book and he with the morning paper, found their way, evidently by mutual consent, to that bower among the trees where the hammocks swung and the rustic seats invited to repose, repose and seclusion in the midst of the green north lawn, where none save the birds in the branches above could possibly play the eavesdropper.

Valentine Rodney was nothing if she was not direct—direct, serious, and fearless. And they were scarcely placed, she in a swinging hammock and the disguised detective upon a bench close by, when she turned her dark eyes full upon him, with a shade of displeasure in their charming depths.

"Mr.—Holly—if it is not too much of a secret—I would like to know why your, or my new maid, must needs rummage in my writing-desk, and among my letters?"

The detective looked at her with a gleam of admiration in his eyes.

"So," he said, half-smiling, "you have found us out? Has Rosa's hand lost its cunning, I wonder?"

"Not at all; Rosa is very expert. Only, I chance to have a good eye for details, and fancying once that my desk had been disturbed, I set a little trap—as it were."

"And caught Rosa?'

"No, only frustrated her plans, and locked my desk—I habitually leave it open—until I could ask you if this is a necessary part of your work—or—"

"Or—if Rosa is doing a little work on her own account, eh?" He moved along to the end of the rustic tâte-#x00E0;-tâte nearest her, and leaned forward. "We must not do Rosa injustice. And so—what if I say that she is only obeying me?"

"Then—I ask again, why?"

Murtagh's face grew suddenly grave, and his next words were uttered with quiet dignity.

"Miss Rodney, have you withdrawn your confidence in me?"

"N—no," she said slowly. "No—but—"

"Then listen; and trust Rosa as myself. She swears by you already. If I wanted her to do you the least hurt, I fancy she would throw up the game, and turn her back upon me, practical, trained detective as she is. If I tell you what she sought in your desk and among your letters, will you trust me, and ask no questions? Remember, I am working even in this matterfor you!"

A moment her eyes met and questioned his, then she said impulsively, | | 314 "Tell me! I do trust you. I must!"

"I have a strong reason for wishing to see two specimens of handwriting. I hoped to find them in your desk, and to replace them, without troubling you or arousing your wonder and anxiety."


"Shall I have them?"


"Not Mrs. Deering's,—and not Bruce Deering's." He paused a moment. " Am I to have them?" he repeated.


"Have you a specimen of Miss Wardell's writing?" She started, and was silent a moment.

"Yes," she said finally.

"And—of Mr. Brook Deering's?"

"Brook's?" again she hesitated. "Yes."

"I happened to know that Miss Wardell called upon you, soon after your return from New York, upon some business connected with a letter. Don't look so surprised; I have not been quite idle, and the servants will pick up these little morsels. Are you willing to tell me about this visit?"

Valentine's face was troubled.

"This is necessary?" she questioned.

"Absolutely, and quite harmless as well. This shall never come back to you. In answering me, in telling me all, you are serving yourself and your own cause—not me".

"Then," said Valentine, sitting erect and putting her book aside, "begin; I will tell you what I can."

"Thank you! But please resume your book, and let us seem, to any accidental observer—there can be no hearers—to be discussing poetry."

They sat for a long time under the trees, looking as idle and comfortable as possible; but Murtagh, by degrees, was piecing together the story of Ora Wardell's two visits to Beechwood: the first to return the exchanged, or mis-sent letter from Brook Deering, and the second to secure the valuable recipe for Mrs. Fram. This, and much more; and, later in the day, Rosa's duty was lessened, much to her surprise, by Valentine's self, who, sitting down before her open desk, deliberately made up a small packet, which she gave with a queer half smile into the maid's own hand, saying:

"There, Rosa, take them to Mr. Holly with my compliments! They are all there—and your hands are left clear for—something else."

There was a malicious little smile upon Valentine's lips, and an answering twinkle in Rosa's shrewd grey eyes, but no further word was spoken upon the subject of the letters, and Rosa was in deed and truth quite idle for the time.

For two or three days after this, the time passed in seeming uneventfulness, and the house was still very quiet. Brook Deering did not seem to rally from the nervous attack which had caused him to consult, and confide in, Doctor Ware; and he kept his room now almost entirely. The nervous symptoms seemed to increase, and there were feverish symptoms too, with loss of appetite and sleep; and when | | 315 Doctor Ware was asked about his patient's condition he gave evasive answers, or only shook his head and looked grave.

In the servants' living-room the case was discussed with interest, and all agreed that it was growing serious.

"It's my opinion," said one of the housemaids, quite aware that she was voicing the popular belief—" It's my opinion that Mr. Brook's going into a decline I He wa'n't never real rugged, Mrs. Merton says, and he wa'n't half well when he come home that horrid night. He'd been sick, and then gittin' pitched down them horrid banks; my! but wasn't he lame! and so pale! and then there's his pa's death, and that trouble about Mr. Bruce,—the beastly shame that it is—it's been enough to break down a tough man, let alone him! Sarita says he's so like his ma; and she's afraid he's inherited her constitution too!"

During these quiet days, Bruce Deering was not often found in drawing-room or library, and Brenda and Val, Murtagh and the doctor, were often a quartette at luncheon, and during the evening hours in the drawing-room. Bruce was usually present at the breakfast and dinner hour, and he passed some time each day in his cousin's room, but the time of the "Matchin trial" was approaching, and nearly every day, after leaving his cousin, he rode into Pomfret, where he spent much of his time in John Redding's private office; presumably in consultation with his lawyer.

Murtagh, too, began to spend much of his time in the retirement of his own rooms. Among his numerous pretensions, in the character of Uncle Holly, was that of a scribbler of what he described as "brief etchings, or little jottings," of his "reflections," upon the subjects which he "had studied a little," and upon which, by the way, he could prose endlessly in the drawing-room. He always left fragments of these half written "etchings" lying in loose sheets upon his round table, much to the disgust of the maid, who, if she had given thought to the matter, would have been obliged to declare that, never, by any chance, was the least scrap of a letter left thus open to view. His correspondents, to be in keeping with his assumed character, were very few, as he frequently declared, and as his letters, of which he received not a few, came, first through Mr. Baird, and later, some of them, under cover to Doctor Ware, there was no occasion to doubt his statement.

Several of these mysterious and bulky enclosures had reached him of late through the doctor, and he passed hours of his time pacing the length of his room and jotting down "ideas" alternately.

On the fourth day after Mrs. Deering's fright, Murtagh, by a signal of which the two now had a sufficiently complete code, summoned the doctor to join him in his room, and at once.

To be admitted to Murtagh's room by day, meant, Ware felt assured, something important; perhaps imperative. But it was easy enough to join him after paying his usual morning visit to Brook. The ladies were below stairs, and Bruce was about to read the morning paper to the invalid.

He had delivered an unusually thick packet to Murtagh on the previous evening, addressed in a hand he had seen before, and post-marked New York; and he quite expected the forthcoming communication to concern in some way, this communication. But he | | 316 opened his eyes in surprise, when, having seated himself opposite Murtagh, with the usual precautions of closed door and adjusted screen, the latter began at once:

"Did you sleep soundly last night?"


"Hear anything?" Murtagh was looking very alert and smiling. He was bending slightly toward his vis-è-vis, and reminded him, by his attitude and expression, of the look he had seen upon the face of some victor of a sharp and closely contested game, at the moment of anticipated triumph.

"Nothing," he answered, expectantly.

"Well—not to keep you in suspense, I was wakeful, very; and—as a result—I have identified the other cat"


"Yes! and I was right! The one came from town, and on foot. No cowardice in that woman! The other—" There was a paper lying before him upon the table containing some lines of writing, and, below these, a list of names. He picked up a pen which lay near, and, drawing a long black mark beneath one of these names, pushed the paper across the table, with the look of triumph intensified, and without another word.

Ware read the name and uttered a sudden, sharp exclamation; his face actually paling as he looked up at the detective.

"Is this—beyond a doubt?" he asked after a moment's silence, and below his breath.

"Beyond a doubt."

"Great heavens! And what will you do—now?"

"First—I'll ask your advice; I don't mind saying to you that I never found myself in quite such a ticklish place as this! It's—it's without a precedent in criminal history, I surely believe! And it leaves us as much in the dark as ever, upon one important point."

"What point?"

"The motive! Is that any clearer to you?"

Ware shook his head. "I see none yet," he said gravely. "May I ask if this will enable you to make any movement—aggressive or other?"

"It does—and it does not! That is—if it does not aid, it determines me. Deering's trial is coming close, and I must have my guns all planted and trained before that begins. In fact, I should have made some move even if I had not made this discovery; I must! And first—will you go to New York? I can't trust anyone else."

"For what purpose?"

"You remember the little I told you about the amethyst cuff button, and Wiggins?"

"Yes—that is, you told me that such a thing was found, or said to be, by this fellow Wiggins and secreted by him in the hope of making something out of it."

"Yes. Well that's all I felt justified in telling then: now I'll tell you the whole story. And, to begin, you must know that Mrs. Deering, our hostess, once owned a set of this same pattern." Ware started violently, but Murtagh went on, as if unobservant of the movement:

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"And in some way—for some reason, she broke the set, and gave away the pair of cuff buttons."

Doctor Felix drew a breath of relief at this point, so deep that Murtagh could not, or did not, restrain a smile, as he went on with his story: "One of them she gave to Mr. Brook Deering—the other—to Bruce."

"Horrible!" broke from the doctor's lips.

"One of these buttons, or a facsimile, was found by Wiggins, so he claims, on the very scene of the murder; I told you that?"


"But I did not tell you that Bruce and Brook Deering have theirs still; both have been seen in their possession since the murder. Now let me tell you the whole history, so far as I know it."

He told it quickly and graphically. How Wiggins had sought to blackmail Mrs. Deering, how Tom Wells had played "providence," and stopped Wiggins' game, and of his own interviews with Bruce and Wiggins.

"I should not be telling you this," he explained, "even now, if had not first obtained Mrs. Deering's permission to do so, at need. And now I want you to take these two buttons,—did I tell you they were made at Tiffany's?—to take them to New York, and find out, if you can, if they have ever been duplicated, and, if so, for whom. Will you do it? going and returning at the earliest possible moment? Wait, one word in explanation,—I might trust this to a detective, but I want, for Mrs. Deering's sake, to keep this matter among her friends; we don't know what may come of this, and—"

The doctor stopped him with a swift gesture. "One moment," he said, "Mrs. Deering I does she know? I will go with her consent, at her wish—not without."

"Then rest satisfied. We talked this over yesterday out there under the big oak, she and I, and—it may ease your mind to know that she objected, or, at least, demurred, when she thought I meant to entrust the business to a 'professional,' but when I told her I hoped you would go, she said she was sure you would know how to act—and that she could trust you entirely. She even commissioned me to ask you to ' do her this service,' for she now sees, although she did not at first, that this mystery of the buttons must be cleared up, in justice to all concerned."

When Ware had consented, which he did promptly now, and they had discussed the how and the when of the journey, the doctor said, by way of closing a long sentence:

"I would like to watch the progress of Brook Deering's malady from day to day, but, perhaps, it will be best to brim Doctor Liscom in and give him charge. I shall depend upon you to lock Sarita in at night, of course; and, by-the-by, I suppose you have those buttons ready to hand?"

Something seemed to amuse the detective very much, but, after a stifled laugh, he answered: "I have one, the one—as I have already related—given me by Wells. The other, doctor, I mean to steal to-night—and you must help me."

"I t—how?"

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"Easily. We can't be squeamish in this case. You mast declare your intention to sit up with the invalid to-night; send William to the right-about, and give your patient some harmless sleeping potion. When the house is still, and the patient asleep, admit me—I'll attend to the rest."

Doctor Ware had not put his hand to the plough to look back, even when brought face to face with this burglarious proposition. He said, after a moment's thought, and with resolute gravity:

"Very well. I believe the end justifies the means. Does Mrs. Deering know how you propose to get this second button?"

"Not she! She presumes the one to be quite sufficient."He drew a sheet of paper toward him, and took up a pen. "I'm going to order your summons," he said, "that is, to write to the office requesting them to send you a wire on the instant, calling you to the city. This letter, I wish I dared telegraph, will be received, let me see—to-morrow at noon; before night you will have your wire, and you can leave at once, by the night train."

"And how then can I arrange with Liscom?"

"I'll arrange with Liscom—that's easily done," and he hastily finished and enclosed the letter. "There—you must address it," pushing it across the table, "and post it as well; now we must disperse."

The programme, as arranged, was carried out, and with success; contrary to Murtagh's expectations, the button, which he was fully prepared to rummage for half the night, if need be, was easily found in the very receptacle in which it had been exhibited to Brenda; this thrown carelessly into a drawer of Brook's desk, among letters, cards, pamphlets, and the usual debris of "odds and ends;" the drawer was not even under lock and key.

"I don't understand it!" Murtagh declared; "but I'm well enough pleased! If he misses it, he will lay its loss to the servants, poor devils, and blame himself, if he's sensible, for being so careless."

"It would not surprise me," the doctor commented with an odd smile, "if he were not quite sensible twenty-four hours from now."

"What do you mean?" demanded Murtagh.

"Wait and see," was the only answer.

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