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

Table of Contents

<< chapter 56 chapter 63 >>

Display page layout


MADAM SARITA came down from the attic with drooping head and lagging step, and shut herself up in her chamber, where, soon after, she was visited by Doctor Ware and Mrs. Merton.

Sarita was lying upon her bed feverish and heavy-eyed, and the doctor explained to the housekeeper his ideas and his wishes concerning the patient.

"She is threatened with an illness, I very much fear," he said, and with truth. "She has not been well for some days, has a severe cold, and much fever just now. Her pulse is too rapid, and she must keep her room, if not her bed. There must be no chance for exposure, and—if you can spare one of the maids to sit with her and attend to her medicine—it will be best; she ought not to be much alone just now."

When Mrs. Merton came out upon the rear piazza where the two housemaids and Rosa were enjoying their afternoon hour of leisure, and told them of Sarita's illness, and the doctor's wishes, all were silent. The two maids were busy with some light needle-work, and Rosa was darning, with infinitesimal stitches, a tiny hole in one of her mistress's silken hose. She listened, glanced from one to the other, while the two maids bent over their sewing and looked foolish, and seeing their hesitancy, looked up.

"Perhaps—" she began hesitatingly, "that is if you don't care to spare one of the girls, Mrs. Merton, I might be of some use. I have plenty of time, and am quite accustomed to nursing—if Miss Rodney does not object."

Mrs. Merton accepted the proffered service at once. She might spare Martha or Kate, of course, but they were not used to nursing, and clearly did not care to make the experiment. Of course, Miss Rodney readily placed her valuable versatile new maid at Mrs. Merton's, or Doctor Ware's, service; and so quietly, but none the less securely, Sarita was made a prisoner in her room.

It was quite true that she was ill—from terror, rage, long and constant anxiety, and over-strained nerves; and this made it easy to keep the fact that she was also a prisoner, above stairs, except for Mrs. Merton, who was fidelity itself, and who, now that the crisis was so near, was taken into the confidence of her mistress; who told her | | 369 that Uncle Holly was, in fact, a detective whose word must be law to her as to all for the present, and until the crisis was past.

And then the amazed woman was turned over to "that detective!" who enlightened her further; and who found, as he had predicted, that her good sense and strong nerves would be invaluable to them, once her first surprise and horror—upon hearing how her well-beloved employer and friend had met his death—was over, and she had found time to face so much that was strange and terrible.

He had not gone into details beyond the facts of Mr. Deering's murder, and the suspicion against Sarita. And he did not so much as name Brook Deering.

He told her that Sarita must not be permitted to leave her room, and that no one must be allowed to approach her, unless they came accompanied by the doctor or himself. And he left it to Doctor Ware to add that any attempt to see, or communicate with, Brook, must be prevented. "It would be bad for him to see Sarita now," the doctor had added with much truth.

And now Beechwood contained, closely guarded in her west wing, two prisoners; for Brook Deering, whether he knew it or not, was doubly guarded, first by William, who, believing his young master insane, was carrying out the doctor's orders to the letter. And, second, by Tom Wells, who took his instructions from Murtagh at first-hand.

And now, Brenda and Valentine, full of dread and hateful anticipations of they knew not what, scarcely left their own apartments, save to meet at table, with the doctor and detective and, sometimes, Bruce, who was now much with John Redding, working with suddenly revived energy upon what Redding considered a strong defence.

They had sent for Mr. Ingram, and on the morning of Sarita's downfall, Bruce had announced his arrival on the previous day late in the afternoon.

When Sarita had been established in her character of invalid, Doctor Ware sent away a messenger with a note addressed to Mr. Ingram, in care of Mr. Baird. And when the dinner-hour arrived, Mr. Ingram appeared in the character of guest.

Later, the keen old lawyer was closeted with Murtagh and the doctor in the library, and the talk was long and serious. When at last it was over, Mr. Ingram opened Lysander Deering's great oaken desk, and, selecting from its stores some legal-looking paper, with pens, and a portable inkstand, placed them upon the table near him, and said to Doctor Ware:

"Prepare your patient, doctor. We can't get this matter over too quickly! It's a delicate job, but I think I know how to carry it through,—thanks to you, sir," bowing to the detective. "When you are ready, send one of the servants. You are right in thinking the matter should be allowed to `leak out.'"

And so it came about that, after a time, Martha came into the housekeeper's room, where Mrs. Merton and two of the women were sitting about a circular table sewing and chatting, and delivered her bombshell.

"You couldn't guess what's happened; no, not in weeks! That old gentleman—you said lie was a lawyer, you know, Mrs. Merton. Well | | 370 he's gone, with pen and ink, and a lot of big sheets of paper, up to Sarita's room; and Doctor Ware's gone with him, and Mr. Holly. And I believe she's going to make her will! I took in an extra lamp for them, and Sarita looks awful now, I tell you! Who'd a thought she was sick enough for that!" and Martha sat down amid a chorus of inquiries.

Nearly an hour had passed, and the group about the table had not yet exhausted their list of questions and wondering comments, when Rosa entered the room. She looked pale and very grave.

"Mrs. Merton, will you come to Sarita's room at once? You are wanted, I believe, for a witness."

There was a chorus of questions as the housekeeper arose to follow the messenger; and Martha caught at Rosa's skirts to detain her.

"Rosa, tell us—only tell us—is it a will?"

"No!" replied Rosa, twitching her dress free. "It is not a will!' and she hastened out at the heels of the housekeeper.

. . . . . . .

A night and a day have passed since Mr. Ingram wrote, at Madam Sarita's bedside, the document which was not a will; and the Pomfret Court has assembled, and the moment for the opening of the "great Pomfret murder case" has come. The court-room is crowded, and lawyers and witnesses are in their places. So also are Brenda Deering and Valentine Rodney, with Ora Wardell sitting near them.

Early that morning, Ora has received a note from Murtagh, sent, with due thought for appearances, by the hand of one of Mr. Baird's servants. The note, received with a palpitating heart, was read with a sigh of relief.

"Miss Wardell,"so it began, "you will do well to attend the trial to-day; and you can safely do so. Your name will not be used, and you will not be called upon to testify in any manner. The case will be a short one. Would advise your going early, and that you take a place near Mrs. Deering, as if one of that party. In all sincerity your friend and midnight GUEST."

Realising the wisdom of the suggestion, Ora has entered with her maid, and placed herself near the Deering party, thus avoiding any public exhibition of unfriendliness; and, as she seats herself, they exchange salutations.

She has received back the note intended for Brook Deering, and entrusted to Valentine, with a few words of explanation from the latter.

It was put into her hands by one of the Beechwood servants, on the evening of the day on which it was sent. Val's note sad only this:

"I am not allowed to visit or speak with B. D., and cannot keep the enclosed longer."

Brenda is veiled, but Valentine's fair face, beneath its dainty toque, is bared to the public gaze, and is proud and composed. Ora, too, looks about her with unmoved countenance, but, somehow, her face seems fixed and mask-like, while her hands and feet are restless.

And now the accused takes his place near his lawyer; and, a little to the surprise of some, Uncle Holly is also close at John Redding's elbow, while Mr. Baird occupies a place not far from Mr. Ingram, | | 371 with Doctors Ware and Liscom on either side, and Doctor Arden very near. Mr. Morse is beside his partner, quiet of manner as usual; an occasional smile flits across his refined blonde face, as he now and then exchanges a few words with his confrère, and neither himself nor his chief display the usual bustle of conference, rustling of papers, and reference-hunting in big legal tomes. Indeed, the display of red-taped documents is ridiculously small upon the table before the three lawyers who are to represent Bruce Deering. In fact, save for the two or three folded papers lying before Morse, evidently in his charge, and, apparently, his only charge, one or two solid volumes, and the small note-book in Redding's hand, there is little display of legal ammunition.

Two other things have been noted, and greatly wondered at, by the anxious onlookers. One is the presence, at the side of John Redding, of Mr. Ingram, who represents to the eyes of Pomfret all that is, or could be, of legal knowledge, acuteness, skill, and integrity, combined in one little man. For years this small, grey-haired, keen-eyed, old man has been the lawyer of his district; and his fame has been sounded far beyond it. To be Ingram's client was, almost, a guarantee of success and safety! To have him for an opponent meant disaster indeed.

It had been known, from the first, that Redding and Morse, Deering's partners, were to conduct his defence; and now, to see Ingram—;the "little giant"—who long since has taken in his shingle, and has refused more than one fat retainer, because he has "retired himself,"—sitting beside John Redding—with that upward tilt of the aggressive chair, and the glint in the half-shut eyes, which they knew so well, and which, usually, boded disaster for someone—it was enough to cause much wonder, and busy whispering; and a considerable falling off among those who had taken Sheriff Carton at his word, and believed that he had it "all in his own hands, sirs," according to his boast.

For Sheriff Carton had grown strong in the faith that he bad woven a network of proof about Bruce Deering which he would find it hard to break. And, in truth, the attorney for the prosecution, who was really a very good lawyer, and a gentleman as well, was of the same opinion; and with excellent reason.

There was the circumstantial evidence, as strong now as it had seemed on that first night—the night of the murder—Bruce Deering's presence at the dead man's side before he had drawn his last breath; the blood stains upon his garments. The fact that Matchin had denounced him, in his cups, as an enemy, together with the belief that Rose Matchin's disappearance furnished a sufficient cause for this enmity. There had been found two or three witnesses who could certify to this "enmity," and then, there was the fact of the open doors. They had not been forced from without, but, evidently, opened from within in the usual manner. What stranger could have prevailed upon stanch old Joe Matchin to open the doors of the bank, and give him entrance at such an, hour? Besides, Matchin, when "discovered," was fully dressed, as if expecting a visitor. And last, there was Jonas Wiggins.

| | 372

At the moment of his visit to Wiggins, Murtagh had aimed only to protect Brenda and Bruce Deering; and in this he had succeeded, by playing upon the man's fears; but Jonas had grown wise, thanks to Jane's tutelage, and, when he found himself unmolested, he began to believe, what he wished to believe, namely, that the detective had left Pomfret.

Warned by his earlier experience, Jonas had ceased to boast, or throw out hints, as of old; but he had sought the sheriff at a time when that official much needed a clue, and, with much secrecy and circumstance, had related to him the story of the amethyst button.

To be sure, the button was not forthcoming; and, after some discussion, it had been decided that they could not molest Wells, since Jonas could not prove his suspicion that Tom had secured the prize. But Carton felt sure that—this button, bearing the initials of the accused, would "clinch" his case; and he looked upon Wiggins as a valuable witness.

Contrary to the general expectation, the jury was chosen with promptness and ease, neither party challenging the other, or in any way hindering the smooth working of the preliminary routine, and, while the work of selection was progressing, it was noted, with some wonder, that the prosecuting attorney, leaving the work to his colleague, was listening with grave attention to Mr. Ingram, who was whispering close at his ear.

It was also observed, that, at the close of Mr. Ingram's communication, if such it was, the prosecuting attorney seemed to ask one or two questions; and then he nodded, and thrust some papers—which had lain before him, and to which he had referred from time to time,—into a capacious inner pocket, after which he folded his arms and leaned back in his chair with his eyes half-closed, like the merest looker-on; and this attitude he preserved, after speaking a few words in the ear of his associate,—words which caused that individual,—younger and more impulsive than his leader—to start suddenly, flush redly, bite his lip, and, finally, to subside into a poor imitation of his leader's quiet. But his, face was not like the others, to be converted into a mask at will; and from time to time he might have been seen to glance across to where Mr. Ingram sat, and wrinkle his brow, as if studying a conundrum of which that astute lawyer held the key.

When the prosecuting attorney arose to open his case, the crowded court-room settled into stillness. Jason Cole was known to be able, eloquent, and above all, safe; no fear of his overlooking a point, or giving an advantage to his adversary; and it was confidently expected that he would begin with one of those concise, cutting arrangements, which more than once had brought popular favour to his own side, before the first witness had been called, or the case fairly presented; and which had gone far to shape the opinion of a previously unprejudiced juryman.

To-day, however, he contented himself with putting his case in a few words, quietly, almost indifferently; and he finished by saying, with a slight bend of the head toward the judge, and the jury-box:

"Your honour, and gentlemen of the jury, when a case becomes a foregone conclusion, it is best not to prolong, needlessly, the legal | | 373 formalities, which must be gone through with, in order to satisfy a public, which, after all, has some claims upon us, and to convince, and do justice to all. I have reason to believe that this case will be a short one; and that the defence, upon their part, will be as concise as I mean to be. In order to aid us in our effort to release you soon, and to help you to a swift decision, at the proper time, I beg you, gentlemen of the jury, to follow closely the evidence which I shall now put before you. I will now call Mr. John Redding, attorney for the defence, to the witness-stand."

Redding left his place and promptly seated himself in the witness-box, and after him came Morse, Tom Wells, and half-a-dozen others, who had been present, among the first, at the scene of Joe Matchin's death; and the facts, as gathered from their accumulated evidence, proved, namely:—

The presence of Bruce Deering at the bank, as described by Redding and Morse, and known to all Pomfret, and upon the scene of the murder, while Matchin yet breathed. His statement as to the man who had grappled with him, and fled. The presence, upon his hands, face, and linen, of several fresh blood-stains,—his agitation,—the ringing of the bell, etc.

In fact, the prosecuting attorney had only drawn out precisely the same scant testimony that had been given at the coroner's inquest, when he dismissed his witness, and arose to address the court.

"Your honour, and gentlemen of the jury, I have no wish to make of my proceedings any needless mystery, nor to arouse, among this earnest, and, I believe, sympathetic audience, any unnecessary criticism or wonder; I simply ask you to trust me as you have in the past; I have placed before you the facts as to the occurrences of the night when Joe Matchin met his death, as they are known to my witnesses; and, of course, this is but the beginning of the case. There are other facts. There is other corroborative testimony of a circumstantial nature, as well, of course, as other witnesses—which I might deduce or bring forward, here and now, in rapid succession. But, because of certain knowledge in my possession-and so recently obtained that I could only shape my course as I am now doing-because of this newly acquired and reliable information, I shall now, with the permission of the court, allow Mr. John Redding or Mr. Ingram,—who appears, at a late hour, as one of the attorneys for the defence,—to take my place, and question the next witness."

There was a murmur of surprise at this unlooked-for change of front; and the judge wrinkled his brow, while Sheriff Carton hastily left his place to hold what seemed like a dialogue of fierce remonstrance with Mr. Cole.

But neither Ingram nor Cole were lawyers to be gainsaid; to deal in needless sensationalism; or to make mistakes. Neither were they men who were given to making smooth the ways of their opponents; and, as Mr. Ingram was, evidently, quite as ready to take up the rôle of inquisitor as was Lawyer Cole to lay it down, the unusual transfer was made, and Lawyer Ingram stood up to face the judge and jury, with the look they, for the most part, knew very well.

Ingram was, or could be, a humorist; and, at the right time, when | | 374 there was less than a life at stake, he could be merry, witty, or caustic could indulge in the lightest of persiflage, or be bitingly severe. Today, however, as he bowed with his accustomed old-fashioned courtesy to bench and jury-box, his thin, keen old face was serious, almost to sadness; determined, beyond a doubt, and just a trifle impatient.

He took a thin packet, held together by a rubber band, from one of his pockets, and, placing it upon the table before him, cast his eyes over the audience, the jury, and, lastly, the face of Bruce Deering, pale and sternly set, before he began to speak.

"Your honour, and gentlemen of the jury, it is true, as my predecessor has said, that I came late into this case, and I will tell you my reason. When I was first approached in regard to this case I declined to touch it, not because I am an old man, and have retired from active labours; I would need to be feeble, indeed, to refuse to serve, in any way, the cause of Lysander Deering, or his friends and family. I declined because—after hearing the story of Joe Matchin's death, and all that one of the ablest of detectives could tell me,—I feared—feared to see myself defeated, and the name of Deering, that old, good, and honoured name, cast into the dust, and coupled with a dastardly crime! Yes, gentlemen, I tell you, frankly, that I feared the network of testimony—circumstantial, it is true, but strong, for all that!—I found that this evidence against Bruce Deering could not be broken or refuted." He paused, took up the packet, and, holding it in his hand, turned his eyes once more from judge and jury to the prisoner at the bar.

"Your honour, and gentlemen," he went on, with deep-toned earnestness, "I have recalled that decision, that refusal, and am here, now, to refute that evidence, ALL OF IT. And I now call Detective Ferriss Murtagh to the witness-stand."

In the midst of the buzz of consternation, hisses—a few—and coming from the quarter where Jonas Wiggins and his boon companions were crowded together, and the cries of the clerk for "Or-r-rder—'n—ther co-o-ort," "Uncle Holly," in full character, came forward, and took his place.

For a moment it seemed that an outbreak from Sheriff Carton was inevitable,—but, through the bustle all about him at the moment, Lawyer Cole contrived to project a sibilant whispered "Don't do a thing that you'll never be able to outlive, Carton!" and the sheriff subsided, gnawing his lips, and clinching his hands.

When order was restored, and the oath administered, Mr. Ingram began; and his first question, betraying, as it did, the fact that the supposed uncle from California was, in reality, a detective from hew York, was in itself so stunning that the "gentlemen of the jury" felt quite prepared for anything that came after; for, owing to the fact that there was no opposition in the selection of the,jury, it was composed mainly of citizens of Pomfret, who, if they had not glimpses of "Uncle Holly" during his short sojourn in Pomfret, at least were aware of his presence at Beechwood.

The disguised detective was ready with his answers—ready and brief. After giving his name, occupation, and the date of his first coming to Pomfret, Mr. Ingram asked:

| | 375

"Mr. Murtagh, beginning with the date of your arrival in Pomfret, will you tell us, in your own way, why you came, and how you carried on your work here? I, of course, shall interrupt you, at need, and I trust that Mr. Cole and the jury will do the same, without regard to personality; what we are after is the truth."

"I came to Pomfret," began Murtagh, "on the day after Matchin's death, and by the noon express. I came by request of Mr. Baird, and by order of my chief. I was disguised as a working man of middle age—"

One of the jurymen leaned forward quickly. "Describe your disguise," he demanded.

Murtagh did so, and then a second juryman interposed, "Are you disguised at present?"

"I am." He smiled and removed his spectacles; a titter ran round the room. Order was called again, and Mr. Ingram asked:

"Will you tell us how you began on the case? How you followed it out?"

Murtagh told of his arrival at the bank, dwelling upon the inquest at some length, and making it so graphic that many forgot that this was but repetition.

"I examined the premises, outside and in," he went on, "very closely; and I asked Mr. Baird to take me into the bank. This before the inquest. Mr. Baird, after looking about, declared that nothing had been disturbed; but I soon showed him that both safes had been tried."

There was a movement of surprise at this, but Murtagh went on:

"Of course, having heard all that had happened the night before, I was quite prepared to believe that Mr. Bruce Deering was the guilty man; I had loitered outside, in the crowd, before presenting myself, and had picked up considerable; I saw how there might be such a possibility; and so I asked Mr. Baird if he would send Mr. Deering into the room of the bank, I mean, where the deed was done. I said that I wanted young Deering to show me just how the body lay, etc., but, of course, that was, only talk; I wanted to see him at close quarters. We detectives have a good many ways of testing suspected persons, unknown to them, and I wanted to try one or two little tests upon Mr. Deering. It would do no good to try and explain them; one must see a thing of that sort, and have pretty sharp eyes, too. Well, gentlemen, when we came out of that room I had made up my mind about Mr. Deering. I believed he was an innocent man!"

Again a call to order was necessary, and again Murtagh went on:

"Such a decision clears the way for one., And now I began to look for the other man, the man whom Mr. Deering met at the door of the bank; and who grappled with him, and left the blood marks on his linen. For, now, I believed in that man. Some of you have seen me about your streets, riding or driving Mr. Baird's horses; for I played the part of horse jockey and groom combined for a time, and all that time I was busy. I had made up my mind that the murderer did not get away from Pomfret that night. That he could not have done so, and, of course, I began to look for his hiding-place. Now, when we | | 376 have no premises, nothing to begin on, we construct—a theory; and this was mine.

"'Suppose,' I said to myself, 'that someone, who knows all about the bank, someone in Mr. Baird's family, or Mr. Deering's, say; one of their servants, perhaps some discharged servant; suppose he plans to rob the bank? Now, if he is someone who knows Matchin well, knows his habits, and so on, and that, somewhere in Pomfret, at Mr. Baird's or at Beechwood maybe, he has a confederate! Now, let us suppose that this person leaves town, or lives out of town, howcould he do what was done that night? There's a train that comes into town, by the east branch, at evening, about dusk; and, a couple of miles away, it runs slowly around that high, curving embankment, because of a milk station just beyond. Now, our man can drop off while the train rounds that curve easily! He can walk into Pomfret, or hide in the woods. At the right time, or what he thinks the right time, lie approaches the bank, and, if he is a good mimic, he can imitate the voice of Mr. Baird or Bruce Deering, say; or he may be so well known that Matchin, who is said to have been very honest—and unsuspecting, opens the door for a moment's talk with him, or, perhaps, to receive some trumped-up message;—there he is, gentlemen! Now, perhaps, they quarrel. He knocks the old man down, and, leaving him for dead, tries his hand at the safes; then he hears footsteps. Deering comes along—he enters,'—you know the rest."

"That," said Ingrain, as Murtagh paused a moment, "was your theory?"

"That was both theory and fact." He turned toward the jury and addressed himself to them. "Gentlemen, day after day I lounged, and picked up items of gossip; and evenings I tortured Mr. Baird to get the history of men, women, and children connected with the Deerings. When I wanted information about Mr. Baird's family, I inquired elsewhere." Mr. Baird smiled behind his hand. "And I fairly haunted the road to Beechwood. I had fixed my mind upon no one in particular, when one day I discovered that a person, with none too honest an appearance, was making visits, one or two, at least, to Beechwood, in the absence of master and mistress; of all, as I soon found out, except two or three servants left in that great house.

"At this same time I had got another idea in my head. Every time I asked myself, `What became of the man whom Deering met—at the door of the bank?' I found myself looking, at the big church of St. Mark's right opposite, and thinking `what a good place to hide in!' And I wondered that everybody else did not think the same! Well, I got a key of the church door, and one night I visited that church. I found there proofs that someone had been concealed in the closet behind the—tower." He had almost said "the big organ," and it seemed to him that Ora Wardell's lips moved as she stared straight at him.

"There were fragments of lunches, and, better yet, part of a newspaper; a New York paper, dated the morning before the murder."

The foreman of the jury leaned forward. "Have you those proofs?" he queried.

"Mr. Redding has them all, sir. And now, as much of this will have to be repeated, I will hasten on. I was Puzzled at first, fearing | | 377 hat my bird had flown the town. But I had found another clue, and that took me to Beechwood.—Mr. Deering, senior, before his death, was much interested in this search, and was a firm believer in his nephew's innocence, and so, when I discovered that a woman in Mr. Deering's employ received a secret message on the day after the murder, and that she had destroyed a telegram from her employer, and obliged them to remain in Pomfret overnight, declaring that she did not know of their coming, I began to study her closely, and to inquire into her history.

"There came a time when I felt justified in asking Mrs. Deering to let me enter her family in some disguise; and, knowing how anxious her husband had been—for this was after Mr. Deering's death—she permitted me to masquerade as 'Mr. Holly,' as you see me; and there, in the character of Mr. Holly—a partly deaf and very funny old fellow-I found the truth at last; but not without the aid of others, whom I need not name now. I had learned that, on the night of the murder, a man had, in deed and truth, dropped from the train at the east embankment, and stopped at a farmhouse to beg a drink of milk and some bread; and while at Beechwood, I found out that the woman under suspicion had received at one time a visit from a man of her own race, who had sought Mr. Deering's patronage, and been refused it. This man proved to be a rascal; and it was known that there was some relationship between the woman and him. Now it chanced that Mrs. Deering had been robbed of some article of value; and it was this robbery that helped us to a conclusion.

"The suspected woman was a somnambulist, and, through the aid of Doctor Felix Ware, this malady was turned to our use. In her sleep the woman led us to the place where she had hidden Mrs. Deering's possessions, and confronting her in the act of removing them, we obtained from her a confession in full. Your honour, and gentlemen and ladies, it was the son of the woman known as Sarita Pinchon, and commonly called Madam Sarita—it was her son who killed Joe Matchin! And the woman's confession, in the hands of Mr. Ingram there, will tell its own story."

<< chapter 56 chapter 63 >>