- part: A DEAD MAN'S STEP
- CHAPTER L. STEADFAST.
|<< chapter 49||< chapter 34||chapter 51 >||chapter 63 >>|
DOCTOR WARE returned, after five days of absence, by an evening train, and Doctor Liscom, who had passed almost the entire afternoon in, or near, Brook's room, turned the patient over to him at once, only too glad to go back to those other patients of whom he had always a goodly list.
Of course there was the usual closeting together, or "consultation;" during which they were quite frank with each other, after, on the part of Liscom, at least, a little skirmishing; and, secluded and mysterious as these rites are usually made, this was even more secluded than usual, for, acting upon a hint from Doctor Ware, Murtagh promenaded the hall, just outside the door behind which they "consulted." So that when Sarita, with stealthy steps and an anxious face, came out from her room, she started back, and almost cried out at sight of the plump figure and amiable visage of Uncle Holly, ambling slowly past the door of the doctor's room, with his hands beneath his coat tails, and seemingly lost in reverie.
For a moment the woman hesitated, and then murmuring something about being startled, and not observing him—at first, she passed on, with reluctant steps, and went below, while the disguised detective smiled as she disappeared, and said to himself:
"Not yet, Madam Sarita! I know you are anxious, but—so am I. And it's my turn next! At least, I mean it shall be."
When Doctor Liscom had left him, Ware sent for William, and, after him, admitted Murtagh for a short time. He had arrived a little before the dinner-hour, and having telegraphed the time of his coming, according to agreement, Brenda had ordered that meal delayed. He had not yet seen the ladies, but had been closeted at once with Doctor Liscom—only exchanged a word, in passing, with the detective—and now Murtagh's first words were:
"Well, doctor, whatever you may have to surprise us with, we have evolved a big one for you, eh?"
"You mean—a big surprise?"
"Then you are wrong; I saw the symptoms before I left."
"The mischief—you did! Well, it's almost dinner-time, and we can't talk, at length, until midnight, if then. In a word, then—did you succeed?"
Ware took a thin envelope from an inner pocket and placed it in his hand.
"My memoranda is there," he said, "all of it; the button has been duplicated."
"Ah! I was sure of it! And by Tiffany?"
By Tiffany. It was done, nearly two years ago, for a person whose description, vaguely given—but—still sufficient for our purpose, I fancy-you will find written there,"nodding toward the thin envelope in Murtagh's hand. "There were two duplicates—a pair."| | 324
"Ah!" with a sudden brightening of his countenance, "that fits!"He stowed the envelope away with deliberate carefulness, and turned toward the door. "Now, I can wait; get into your highlows, doctor, I won't bother you longer."
"One moment." Murtagh withdrew his hand from the door and turned back. "About Deering, I mean Brook, of course. He must have a keeper."
"What—besides William? Do you anticipate anything worse?"
Ware's eves met his for a moment. "I don't look for more violence than at present, but William can't watch night and day. Someone must be with him nights; and someone chosen by us might be of use to us, perhaps, as well as of service to Deering. Can you name a man?"
"Yes," replied Murtagh, promptly, "Tom Wells."
Two days later Tom Wells came, and was duly installed. No one questioned his becoming "an assistant," in the case of Brook Deering, who must never be left alone, the doctors both declared, by day nor night. Wells was known to be, not only strong and honest, but gentle as well; and not without experience in the sick-room. As for Brook, he received him as he did the others, calling him Bruce, William, and sundry other names by turns.
One of the results of the midnight talk after Ware's return from New York, was the decision that Mrs. Deering must be somewhat further enlightened; she must hear about the concealment in the church, and in her own attic, and must learn what they now knew concerning Ora Wardell and Sarita.
As affairs now stood at Beechwood, it was not so difficult to manage an interview there, and so when Bruce had ridden away to see John Redding next day, and Brook lay sleeping, under the watchful eye of William, Murtagh found the chance to drop a hint to Valentine; who at once declared her ability to keep Sarita out of mischief, and, this being arranged, Brenda had only to tell her trusty Judith that she wished an uninterrupted talk with her uncle and the doctor, in her boudoir, to insure for them seclusion and security from possible eavesdroppers.
It was at her own request, somewhat hesitatingly made, that Doctor Ware joined in the conference.
"Of course," she had said to Murtagh, "I leave it with you to decide, only—as Doctor Ware knows so much?, almost all in fact, of our troubles and complications;, and as he seems to have aided you materially—"
"He has, indeed," Murtagh interpolated.
"Yes. And it seemed—I thought—perhaps his advice—if there is a question to decide—"
"There is—a grave one!"
"Then, might it not be well—perhaps—to ask him—to join us?"
"By all means!" affirmed Murtagh. "I was about to propose it to you," which was not quite true, although the arrangement suited him perfectly. In truth, bluff Murtagh stood just a bit in awe of this fair, self-contained gentleman: and a certain something, an "atmo- | | 325 sphere," which his shrewd eyes and instincts had detected, when Brenda and Doctor Felix chanced to encounter each other, for a brief exchange of words in morning-room, hall, or sick-room, had made him shy of suggesting what he really thought would be wise and helpful.
Brenda Deering listened to the detective's story very silently, and with a fixedness of countenance and a self-control which was wonderful. She scarcely stirred or removed her fine eyes from his face, while he narrated his experience, not only since coming to Beechwood, but from the moment of his arrival in Pomfret; and she only once interrupted him by a question from the first word to the last.
"In order to explain my methods and my reasons for it," he began, "as well as to make clear to you later events, I must begin with my arrival in your village on the day after Joe Matchin's murder, and must tax your patience by recalling some of the details of that affair."
It was at this point that the lady lifted her head, and checked his speech by a gesture.
"Allow me to ask one question," she said, with a gleam of excitement in her eyes, and in her voice an anxiety which she could not altogether suppress." In referring to the Matchin affair, you have, of course, a reason. Am—am I right in thinking that it—that matter—may be in someway connected with—this?" She had turned her eyes from one to another while putting the question, and now, while the doctor seemed to hesitate, the detective replied with prompt decision:
"You are right! Quite right."
"Thank you; that is all." She withdrew her gaze for a moment, and settled herself in her chair, as it to listen. "Will you go on?" she added, noting the momentary silence.
And sitting thus, she leaning back in her low chair, with her white hands clasped upon her lap and her eyes fixed upon the narrator's face, while the doctor, elbow upon knee and chin upon hand, kept his own fine orbs bent upon her. Murtagh told his story, not in full, perhaps, and with some reservations; but when he had ended, she knew, at least, that someone had been concealed in St. Mark's, and in her own attic; and that Miss Wardell and Sarita had played suspicious parts in the unfinished drama.
It was a strange recital to which Brenda Deering listened, and might well have overwhelmed her with amazement, but there was no word of surprise or doubt. She had listened intently, and her first word showed them that she had quite grasped the situation, and that they would have no need to argue or convince.
She remained silent for some moments after Murtagh had ceased speaking, and both men waited anxiously her first word.
"I cannot trace your reasoning," she said at last, quite calmly; "but, if I have followed you aright, you hold the belief that both crimes, that of the bank and—and this, were committed by the same person?"
"Yes," said both men at once.
"And—from the same—motive?"
Murtagh shook his head.
"You have not named either the person or motive," she went on. Am I to be told—all?" her voice grew husky upon the last words, and | | 326 she shivered perceptibly; but her countenance was still under perfect control. It was only when told that the motive, or motives, still remained a mystery, and that the author of the two crimes was only suspected or dimly guessed at, that she evinced surprise and deep disappointment.
"Ah!" she sighed. "I had hoped the suspense was nearly over. Any certainty, it seems to me, would be better than this! And we seem, after all, a long, long way from the end!"
"Pardon me," broke in the detective. "We hope for better things, Mrs. Deering, or we would never have troubled you with these fragments of discovery. Mr. Deering's trial is approaching; I hope and expect to bring matters to a crisis before that trial ends. And my chief object in coming to you at this particular time, is to ask your cooperation. I have reached a point where, according to our agreement, I must look to you for orders to go on. Mrs. Deering, will you gave us—for Doctor Ware is in full counsel with me now—will you give us carte blanche to go on—straight on to the end? Understand me. I expect, and intend, only to convict the criminal, to drive home the proof of his guilt—or theirs—and then, before it is made public, to lay all before you. It will remain for you to say whether I shall carry my knowledge and my proofs before a judge and jury."
Her face was ghostly white as she listened, and she covered it with two trembling hands as he ceased.
"Oh, heavens!" she murmured, "what an awful responsibility I have drawn upon myself!"She bent her head, the face still concealed by her hands, and they waited patiently, and one of them most sympathetically, while she tried to think, and to regain her self-control.
Suddenly she lifted her head, and looked at them out of eyes that were stern and unwavering.
"I must seem very unreasonable," she said, in tones that were evidently controlled by pure force of will. "You are to find my husband's—murderer, and if you must drag him, or them, from beneath my very roof, so it must—be! And—I will not turn coward at the last, I will be the first to hear the truth, and to judge the offender! What do you want me to do, gentlemen?"
"Simply to let us go on to the end without further consultation. Believe me, it will be better so; and to give us carte blanche, as I said before, in all things here, even to the point, if needful, of telling you to take Miss Rodney and go, upon any pretext you like, to Mr. Baird's for a day or two."
She turned with a swift gesture toward Ware.
"Doctor, is this, in your judgment, best for me?"
"It is!"replied Doctor Felix, earnestly.
"It was his suggestion," added Murtagh with a flitting smile.
She turned away her face, but they could see the red blood dye neck and cheek.
"All shall be as you direct," she said; "is—is there anything more?"
"So little," said Murtagh, turning toward the door, "that we need not trouble you again, except by a suggestion now and then, until all | | 327 is done—the climax reached." He paused near the door, and his voice became almost gentle.
"Believe me, Mrs. Deering, I shall not act precipitately; I think I know what your wishes would be, under certain circumstances. I am confident that all we may do will meet with your approval."
"I can trust you, I am sure of it," she replied, as she put out her hand to him. "And now—we must just wait—and bear the waiting as best we can!" and so they separated, and she neither proffered her hand nor any further farewell word to Felix Ware.
The next day Murtagh passed a long morning in Mr. Baird's library, closeted with John Redding. After luncheon, he drew Brenda out upon the balcony of the morning-room, where they could not be overheard.
"I ought to tell you," he said, "that, as an afterthought, and by the advice of Redding, we have sent for Mr. Ingram."
"And—ought you to tell me why?"
"I will!—tell you why." He paused, having said this, and bent upon her a questioning look; he seemed to be taking a second thought.
She had been watching his face intently, and she now said:
"I see, you are trying to decide how much it is safe to tell me—or how much I will bear—I assure you I am stronger than you think! A woman does not go through with such an experience as this of mine to come out the same; she must either break down and go mad, or she must find strength somewhere. I believe I have found strength! My husband was a Christian, and the—the poisoner did not send him to some formless Nirvana! He is beyond human hurt; and, I believe, still exists and is at peace. I know there is more to come, and worse—if that can be—It has been growing upon me, the belief that, behind all this mystery of death is some new horror, which will soon break upon us; and—I believe you anticipate it—and—are ready for it. Tell me what it seems best to tell—and no more. I have found strength to endure—and to wait!"
"Then," said Murtagh with decision, "you have found strength to learn why we want Mr. Ingram here! We are so in the dark as to the motive for the two crimes—which, I feel sure, are closely linked together, that we are obliged to look at every possibility. Now, after hearing all the details of the reading of your husband's will, from you—and others—I am led to think that there is a deeper meaning behind his careful reticence than anyone has yet guessed. Mr. Ingram was his legal adviser for years—?"
"Yes, many years."
"And we hope that, stored away in his memory, there may be something which he may recall, when he hears what we can now tell him; we hope for help from him."
Brenda shook her head.
"I don't know," she said, doubtfully, "I believe I shared my husband's confidence in all things of moment."
"But—do you know why he made so strange a disposition of his affairs—his will?"
"No," she replied, slowly shaking her head. "But—I am sure it was for some good and wise purpose.'| | 328
"So are we all! Ware, Redding, Liscom, Baird—myself. There is another thing, when you told me of that lost document, the one you were bidden to keep unopened for a certain time, and how Mr. Ingram, as you passed from the room, after hearing those instructions of your husband's read by the lawyer, hinted that there might be a duplicate paper. Now, Mrs. Deering, in view of all the facts, of all that has happened since those instructions were written, if a duplicate does exist, will you not allow it to be opened? It may contain the very link for which we are groping."
"You mean," she had drawn herself erect and was very pale. "Do you mean, will I open it, regardless of the instructions—the wishes of my husband, and before the events which alone could justify such an act, have occurred? Because—if you do—I must tell you that nothing, not even the clearing up of this mystery, could induce me to touch that paper, even if it or its duplicate were in my hands. It was a sacred trust from the dead, and as such, let come what will, it shall not be violated! If Mr. Ingram, as I hope and believe, has a duplicate of that paper, I know he will never let it pass from his own hand into any save mine."
"I am not disappointed," said Murtagh, after a moment's silence; "Ware told us you would never consent."
A fine colour flashed into her cheeks and quickly faded out again.
"Ah!" she murmured, "he knows me, then!"
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