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 48 chapter 63 >>

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BEFORE Murtagh, who had broken so many vials of surprise above the doctor's astonished head, had said adieu to him, previous to his setting out for New York, he was in turn treated to a bit of mystery.

"Two things I mean to do," he had said when discussing plans and possibilities, "and to do them soon. I intend to see Miss Wardell, and Sarita, and both, probably, in my character of detective."

"I want to make a request," the doctor said, shortly before they separated, after their last counsel, held this time upon the bench be, | | 319 side the terrace. "You spoke of seeing Miss Wardell, and Sarita—will you promise me not to do so until after my return?"


"I can say nothing more now than that I think, I am almost certain, that I can tell you something which may have a strong influence upon—upon the matter you will probably brim before them. I am quite sure that what I hope to tell you then, will strengthen your case with them materially. It will only be four days, or five, at most," he added, seeing the detective hesitate; "I wish you would trust me in this!"

"And so I will!"declared Murtagh with sudden fervour. "I would be a churl not to! As you say, it won't be long, and I might have waited in any case. Set your mind at rest on that point, doctor."

But Murtagh was not idle altogether.

On the day of Doctor Ware's departure, the new maid was taken ill, so ill that she kept her room, and was quite troublesome. On the following day she was worse, and a few tiny red spots had appeared upon her hands, and about the edges of her hair. She was exceedingly nervous, too, and when good Mrs. Merton, seeing the red spots, suggested scarlet fever, Rosa became "panicky," and declared that she "must go home, to her sister's house;" where she could be cared for by her own doctor, and her Aunt Jemima, who was a trained nurse, and "better than doctors in scarlet fever."

And so, on the third day, after so much fussiness, and so many changes of mind, that poor Mrs. Merton was quite worn out, and was almost glad to see her go, Rosa departed, pallid and spotted, but "quite able to keep up," she declared, "on her strength of will," until she reached Aunt Jemima and her "married sister," whose address she quite forgot to leave behind.

The going away of Valentine's maid, under ordinary circumstances, would have been a subject for much discussion among the servants; but a sudden alarm, which spread itself through the house almost at the moment of her going, turned the tide of thought, and made Rosa's departure a thing of little moment.

It was next day, the day after Doctor Ware's going, and at noon, just as the family, including Mr. Baird, who had called early in the day—having been requested so to do by Doctor Felix, on his way to the station—were sitting down to luncheon, that they were startled by the sudden entrance of William, breathing hard and with a scared face.

"Mrs. Deering!" he cried, "Mr. Bruce! won't someone come to Mr. Brook, quick! and—and send—'for Doctor Liscom! Mr. Brook—is—gone wrong!"

Bruce was at his side instantly.

"Quick," he said sternly. "What do you mean?"

"His head—sir! He's off—his head."

"And alone?"

"No,sir—Sarita—she chanced to be upstairs—she's with him—but—"

Bruce was already at the door, and when Uncle Holly dropped his napkin and hastily arose it did not surprise anyone. "Allow me to go with you, was all he said to Bruce, and he said it like one who did not mean to be denied. "Ladies, remain here; I will report to you"

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They found Brook walking the floor of his dressing-room with light, quick steps, and his eyes fairly scintillated blue sparks, while his cheeks flushed and paled alternately. He was muttering softly to himself as they entered, and seemed to utterly ignore the nearness of Sarita, who stood, with pallid countenance and clasped hands, near the door by which they had entered.

For a moment they watched him in silence, and he continued to pace restlessly, seeming to see nothing and no one. Then Bruce spoke in his usual tone, "Brook, have you lunched?"

Brook, who was moving toward them, stopped short and looked at them with an uneasy, questioning glance. Then he turned and resumed his walk and his muttering. The two men at the door exchanged glances, and Murtagh said in a low tone, "Wait here while I question William," and went out quietly, while Bruce dropped into a chair and signalled Sarita to do the same. "Has he spoken to you?" he whispered.

Sarita shook her head, and essayed to speak.

"Hush," he said, "let us watch him a few moments, and try and find the meaning of this."

"Oh," she murmured, "it is only what I have feared ever since the doctor said to me that he could not cure the mind; this is what he meant!"

"Did he say that?"—Bruce checked himself, seeing that Brook was again coming toward them, and that he had ceased to mutter; and for some moments there was silence in the room, save for the soft tread of the sick man's slippered feet over the carpet.

Outside, in the hall beyond, William was talking hurriedly and brokenly to Mr. Baird and Murtagh.

"Yes, sir, I was awake all night. Mr. Brook was very restless. He would nap a little and then wake up with a quick sort of jump like, and I thought several times that he talked a sort of queer; but I s'posed he'd been dreaming. This morning he woke up—he must a slept for a'most two hours right sound—and his eyes looked a'most as bright as they do now. He made me fix his bath, and he got in, but he didn't stir the water hardly, then he got out and laid down, and, just as I thought he was going to sleep, up he jumps and tells me to dress him to ride, and nothing would do but dressed he would be. All this time he'd been pretty pale, but after he'd been dressed he sat a long time in the big chair by the west window and I couldn't tell if he was half asleep or not; his eyes were shut, mostly, and every now and then he'd start most out of his chair, like he was scared, sort of, in his sleep, and I noticed him begin to sort of flush red and then turn white again."

"At what time was this?" queried the detective.

"That was near nine o'clock, and then, all at once, he gits up as if he was most tired out and begins to talk just as if he had been riding, and had just come in; and he orders me to help him off with his clothes and goes to bed again. Well, sirs, I was tired enough, but his queer actions had worried me so that I didn't want to leave him. It drove the sleep all out of me. I had had some coffee, after his'n, in his room, and when he went off to sleep, all of a sudden, after laying down, c jest sat there, and, before I knew it, I was napping in the big chair.

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That was a little after nine o'clock, and next thing I knew, something waked me sudden, and there was Master Brook, fully dressed just as you saw him Mr. Holly. He was sitting at his desk and was laughing so queer; it was that had waked me up. Well, I spoke to him and he didn't take any notice, but pretty soon began to write and talk to himself, and then I began to be badly scared, he looked so wild. I spoke to him again, and then he began to call me Bruce, and seemed to think he and Mr. Bruce were schoolboys again. Pretty soon he began to throw down the papers on his desk, one after another, just as he used to throw away his playthings when he was little, sir, as I can remember well; and then the little Swiss clock began to shake, and I fairly jumped, for it was one o'clock. It seemed to disturb him, too, for he began to walk and mutter again, and then I couldn't stand it any longer. The doctor has charged me more than once if anything went wrong with Mr. Brook not to run to the ladies and scare them, but to call upon Mr. Bruce, or you, Mr. Holly-but I clean f'rgot myself. I looked out, and seeing Santa outside in the hall, I called her and ran down to you. It's terrible, sir! You don't think it will last, Mr. Holly?"

"Of course not," declared "Mr. Holly," briskly. "It's an attack of nerves no doubt."

But it did last. All that day, and the next, and for many days after. And now they could remember, every one of them, some word or act which might have served as a warning, a hint, of the trouble brewing in that handsome blonde head.

Doctor Liscom was summoned at once, and remained a part of each day near the patient during the time of Doctor Ware's absence; while Bruce was constant in his attendance upon his cousin, and even "Uncle Holly" lent a hand, and proved himself, what he declared himself to have been in his earlier days, a capital nurse.

Their work was not made difficult by any unpleasant outbreak or wildness, but after the first breaking down Brook seemed to have lost himself altogether, to be a mariner without chart or compass. He had no hallucination regarding himself. He was always Brook Deering, and for the most part a very amiable and gentle Brook indeed. But he had turned back the years, and was sometimes a schoolboy and sometimes occupied with the more recent past; but always it was the past; never at any time the present. He was very docile for the most part, and inclined to silence. There were moments of flightiness, but they were infrequent, and he was never noisy or quarrelsome. But sometimes he seemed overtaken with an imp of sulkiness, and never at any time did he properly distinguish those about him. He held long talks, sometimes with "Bruce," upon some long-gone-by schoolboy topic of interest; but the Bruce to whom he talked was, one day, William, and the next Doctor Liscom, or even Brenda; while he addressed Mrs. Merton as Brenda and William as Merton. In short, he fitted the name with which his fancy was occupied to any shoulders, regardless of station or sex; but it was noted that he never once spoke the name of his dead father; and he seemed to have forgotten the existence of Uncle Holly and Doctor Ware; while Valentine's name was only uttered at rare intervals.

And this was the reason why Valentine's new maid, who had won | | 322 such a sudden popularity at Beechwood, left that place less than two hours after Brook's outbreak, so very quietly, with such perfunctory adieus, and so little thought as to the manner of her going, and why she was so utterly forgotten, being gone. Nevertheless, Mrs. Merton had not neglected to furnish her with a substantial basket of tooth-some luncheon, which, in spite of her invalid condition, perhaps because of her limited diet while enacting her invalid rôle, Rosa began to enjoy before she was far on her way; and Uncle Holly had contrived to encounter her in one of the upper halls, and while dropping a word of paternal and patronising advice, had slipped into her hand a paper, thin in texture, and folded small, which—having fortified herself with Mrs. Merton's luncheon—she prepared herself to read and consider at leisure.

She had taken a compartment to herself, and she settled into it comfortably, and assured herself by a few quick, sharp glances that there were no observant or curious eyes upon her before unfolding the much-doubled-up sheet, which read thus—

"No. II (Sparks) has the items that will help you; get them. No.——59th Street, is an apartment house, and, up to yesterday, two women were inmates; one, the elder, is a Frenchwoman of middle age, very French, but speaking English like a native. She has in charge a pretty little blonde, probably nineteen or thereabouts, over whom she keeps close guardianship. You will go to the chief for funds, and to Madam L——for wardrobe, jewels, etc., enough for a swell lady of, say, a fortnight or more. If possible, take rooms in the house, and as near as possible to the Frenchwoman. Make her acquaintance, seethe little blonde. Rôle lady of fortune alone, and looking for right sort of companion for extended European tour. Make no effort to know blonde, but get, if possible, the name of a certain absent lover. Will advise further through office. Don't lose sight of either, especially blonde."

As this document began with no date or address, so it ended, with no signature; but when Rosa had read it slowly for the second time, she copied the address of the apartment house carefully upon her tablets, and then, tearing the paper into tiny fragments, let them flutter from her fingers slowly, as the train flew on, until Detective Murtagh's instructions were scattered broadcast along half a dozen miles of wood and field, hill and dale and hollow—after which she sat and thought, and smiled as she apostrophised herself.

"Fers Murtagh always does contrive to get the cream of the cases! I'd give something to know the inside of this one! One thing is sure, I never saw two women better worth looking at, or loving, or working for, than those two at Beechwood; I only hope that the work I'm about to take in hand will benefit them in the way they need most!" And then, a little later, "I would have liked to stay at Beechwood long enough to find out the skeleton in that Sarita's closet, and why she detests Mrs. Deering, and is, at the same time, so anxious to ingratiate herself with pretty Miss Valentine, who loathes her by instinct. That Sarita is—a cat!"

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