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 59 chapter 63 >>

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BROOK DEERING sat alone by the west window in his own room, and listlessly watched the clouds floating fleecily across the face of the sinking sun. The house was very still; it had been still all day; and since morning, he had been, except for his attendant, quite alone.

All the morning, and a part of the afternoon, William had been in attendance in the little room by which his chamber was approached from the corridor—and which Wells would call the "ants-room." Brook had been somewhat restless, but by no means talkative. Once, near noon, when William was breathing hard, and seemed to be napping, he had gone softly to the door, and turned the knob; but it did not open, and was evidently locked.

He went back to the window and looked down into the rose garden. The roses were fading, and the white foot-paths were pink and red and yellow with falling petals. Moving about among the bushes, but always, it might have been observed, in sight of the windows of his room, was a man, a stranger, and, apparently, a gardener; at least, he was snipping off the faded roses, very leisurely indeed, and throwing them into a long wicker-basket.

All day he had been doing this, or something else about the rose garden; and, all the time, he was visible from Brook's windows. After a while, when his luncheon was brought him, there was also a cover for William; and it was brought, not by one of the maids, or by Mrs. Merton, with a polite accompanying inquiry, but by a second stranger; and then Brook discovered that, so far from being locked in by, as well as with William, they were both the prisoners of this silent, strange trencher-bearer.

Late in the afternoon, Tom Wells relieved William, and the door was locked, and the key borne away, as before.

For the past two days Brook had been very silent, and very tractable, with the "rational moments," which had appeared from time to time from the beginning, coming at more frequent intervals.

These "rational intervals" usually occurred upon waking from what seemed like a quiet nap; and, at such times, he would talk quite easily and amiably with his attendant, or the doctor, for a short time; lapsing, by degrees, into flightiness once more, or breaking off with a sudden fit of sullen silence.

When Tom Wells appeared, to relieve William, Brook was at the window which overlooked that portion of the drive-way that ran south- | | 397 ward, or toward Pomfret; and while his countenance wore its tamest and least restless look, Wells, nevertheless, quietly noted that his hands were in constant motion, his fingers twitched, and his look of quiet was belied by his frequent marchings to and fro, making the window a turning point, and loitering often there. He made no effort at conversation, irrational or other, and seemed quite unconscious of Tom's presence. Seeing which, that individual drew his chair near a second window, which also commanded a view of the drive, or rather, of the south gate, and a couple of rods of the gravel, and seemed to be absorbed in reading, by the late afternoon light, the daily paper.

Sitting there, he saw, a little before sunset, Bruce Deering, mounted, and accompanied, by John Redding on one side, and young Morse on the other, to the open gate; and a glance at Brook, at the other window, showed that his fingers twitched and clenched themselves convulsively at sight of the quick hand-clasp, unmistakably congratulatory, which Bruce exchanged with both, before he cantered lightly up to the porte-cochère; his friends meanwhile riding briskly on toward the north road.

Ten minutes later, the sound of wheels on the gravel caused Brook to turn in his walk and hasten again to the window, in time to see the landau—which had borne away Brenda and Valentine upon the back seat, with "Uncle Holly" and Doctor Ware opposite them—come rolling homeward with only the two men, conversing gravely in the place of the ladies, and the opposite seat vacant; and again the hands were clenched, and the pale lips, in a yet paler face, twitched and became tightly compressed.

A little later, Brook entered the inner room, and fumbling about for a time, came out again with a bunch of cigarettes in his hand, and began to look about for matches. He had smoked for years, "too much for his good," he had often been told; even in his moments of aberration he would light and smoke a cigarette as often as he was permitted.

At first, this had been as often as he chose; but, lately, for a week or more, the cigarettes had been withdrawn almost altogether; and the discomfort and nervousness in consequence was very evident at times, usually, strange to say, during the "rational moments." But to-night the cigarettes had been put in plain sight, upon the mantel of the inner room, and Brook lighted one with only too evident haste.

After the first puff, he withdrew the weed from between his lips, and looked at it inquiringly; then he picked up the package, and took a stealthy glance at the little stamped ribbon which bound them together. Then he bit nervously at an uncut end, and after another pause, began to smoke furiously.

Before the cigarette was consumed, Doctor Ware entered to pay his customary evening visit, and seeing the cigarette, forbade the second which Brook was about to light.

"It won't do!—not now," Ware said;" you've got too much nicotine in your system, and you must go slow; another before you go to bed, and one in the morning—and then we will see how you feel Mind, Wells, not more than one at bedtime."

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From the beginning of his aberration Brook had manifested a desire to keep the greatest possible distance between himself and Doctor Ware, although in his rational moments he welcomed "his physician" eagerly. And now, as the doctor pronounced his dictum, he turned petulantly away, and muttering something unintelligible, entered his bedroom, and threw himself at length upon the bed. A moment later, with great show of slyness, Wells tiptoed to the door between the two rooms, and, partly closing it, began in a half whisper:

"Doc! I don't like to seem to sort o'fluke out; but, somehow, I don't feel just right! My head aches mortally, and my rheumatiz is awful! There was a powerful draught in that dinged old court—room."

"Hu—sh—h—h! Not so loud, Wells!"

"All right! Excuse me, Doc! I was jest goin' to ask if 'twould matter so very much if I did drop to sleep to—night? If I could I'd like, better yet, to be let off to—night. Can't that new feller t'was here this mornin' take my watch jest for once? I tell ye—"

"Not so loud, man! I don't like to trust him, lie's so much of a stranger! but—if you can't keep awake—and whoever watches here must keep awake tonight, I suppose we must let you off. If I send the new man up now, do you think you can manage to relieve him by midnight?"

Yes, Wells was sure he could do that; a few hours' rest was all he needed, with, perhaps, a dose of "something for the rheumatiz pain." And so it was settled.

By the time the new man appeared, Brook seemed to be sleeping soundly, and Wells gave him instructions in hoarse whispers just outside the bedroom door.

"You'll have your supper sent up," Wells concluded, "same's at noon; and you ain't to let no one in. And, don't forget, he mustn't have a single cigarette till bedtime. Ten o'clock, you know."

. . . . . . .

At half-past six o'clock, Doctor Ware comes into Sarita's room very quietly, and finds Rosa reading by the open window. She starts as he enters, as if confused, and glances toward the bed.

"I declare! if she hasn't fallen asleep!" she murmurs, coming toward him. "Come in, doctor. She's been very quiet,—and her nerves, I think, are stronger—quite strong! Shall I waken her?"

"By no means!" The doctor still stands with his hand upon the door; and now he opens it and looks out." I was just on my way to dinner," he says, turning back toward her, "and I see your own is coming. I must go down."

"Oh, dear!" she sighs, "I wish I could go down to dinner! I never could eat with relish in this way! I lose my appetite at once!"As she speaks, a maid enters with the dinner tray, and places it upon the light stand near the door.

"Is there anything else, Rosa?" she asks, and being answered in the negative rather crustily, she skurries out and away. But the doctor lingers.

"Let me see," he says; "it won't do for you to lose your appetite! An appetite is very necessary for a good nurse. I'm glad you spoke | | 399 of this! Let me see—I think there can be no harm in sending you down to eat with the others; none whatever.—Sarita is sleeping so well, she may not waken for some time. Here, I will just set this tray outside, and you may tell them to come after it at their leisure, and that you will ring for the patient's tea when she wakes."

"But," begins Rosa.

"No buts!—It's quite safe! There's no danger of her waking, if she has just fallen asleep, for this floor is quite deserted, save for us. Brook is sleeping, and the new man is a very quiet person. There'll be nothing to arouse her, and you can be back in twenty minutes. Come out now, and I'll close the door."

Rosa glides out softly; the door closes; but, singular oversight, it is not locked.

A moment later a grey head and a pallid face lifts itself from the pillows, and listens breathlessly; a moment more, and Sarita, looking ill, indeed, and tottering as she stands, has crept out upon the floor. Catching by a chair to steady herself, she makes her way to a corner table, where, from among a number of bottles, she selects one, puts it to her lips, and takes half-a-dozen quick gulps. It is a strong wine, and, after a moment, aided by this and an iron will, she stands steadily, hurriedly pushes back the straggling locks from about her face, and, opening the door, pauses a moment to listen. All is quiet, and she glides out with fast-beating heart, and lips set in desperate determination.

The light table, with the well-filled tray, stands beside the door, and she puts her hands upon it. It rests upon rollers, and she pushes it before her, over the soft carpet, almost without a sound.

"'Tis my only chance!" she mutters between set teeth; "it must work!"

From her door to the upper end of the long hall seems a weary way, and she must go slowly, because of her weakness and the contents of the tray; but she stands at Brook's door at last; and, after one desperate look about her, she taps lightly, three slow taps.

The new man starts and looks irresolute; he has been talking with his charge, who has been awake for some moments, and who is quite rational; but, if he sees the sudden start and flash that lights the pale blue eyes, he makes no sign, but gets up and goes stolidly to the door; bent, evidently, upon doing his duty.

Opening the door the merest crack, he peers out. "Who is it?" he demands.

"Sh, man!" whispers a voice close to the door, "put your ear to the crack;" and as he complies, "I have brought your supper, and the doctor says he is not to have his for an hour, and it's to be plain, and no wine. You're to make him go into the inner room, and then step out here and eat, while I take your place inside. Mind you stay close by the door; there's a chair near by, and you are to lock the door on the outside while you eat, and be quick about it."

"All right!" With an air of solemn authority the new man closed the door, and, turning, placed his back against it. "You're to go into that room," he commanded, pointing to the inner door.

"Why?" demanded Brook.

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"So I can eat my supper."

"Be quick!" said a voice through the key—hole.

Brook turned suddenly, went into the inner room, and closed the door behind him.

Standing close beside it, he heard the outer door open and shut; and, opening the other in haste, he started back a, sight of Sarita's agonised face; then his own countenance blazed as with sudden wrath, and he caught her fiercely at her wrists, as she stretched her thin, weak arms toward him.

"For God's sake!" he hissed, "what is it? why have you kept away so long?"

She threw herself upon him, and caught his head in her arms, kissing him madly, but releasing him instantly.

"My boy! My Pierre! listen," she moaned. "All is over! everything! and—"

"What! the trial? quick, tell me—"

"I know but this: Bruce is cleared! and you, you—oh, my boy—!"

He thrust away her clinging hands, and caught her roughly by the shoulder. "Cleared! how cleared?—tell me?"

"The detectives!—they have been in this house for weeks! The old uncle—the doctor—they have found out everything!"

He caught her arm, and looked fiercely into her eyes.

"Stop raving, and tell me the worst! Have you weakened?—be—trayed me and yourself? Quick! we shall be interrupted!"

"I have said it. The man, the Uncle Holly, is a detective! He has found out everything from the beginning. Tracked you from the bank to the church—to the attic——everywhere! He has—ah, mon Dieu!"

He had flung her from him, and, for a moment, his pale face writhed, as if transformed into the face of a demon, while the blue eyes shot baleful fire.

"Curse you! You have made some devilish blunder! Been bought, most likely!"

"Bought! I! your mother?"

"Bah! If you are my mother, which I doubt, why not? You sold me in my infancy—"

"For your good! mon Dieu! only for that. That you might be rich, and never work, or, perhaps, become a thief, a brigand like the father whom you resemble," she cried, stung by his taunts. "Ah, you had better hear me and understand before they take you unawares. I tell you they have never been deceived by you, never! They have told me—proved to me, how much they know; and it was only by signing a confession—"

"WHAT!" As he leaped toward her with uplifted hand, she sprang backward. "You have betrayed me, then—?" He ceased, and fell back suddenly. The woman had fallen, because of dizziness or weakness. In her quick recoil, before his threatening hand, she had swerved aside and fallen, her head striking the edge of the marble slab which formed the top of the dressing-case; and he saw a tiny stream of blood trickle across her ashen face.

And then, before he could move, the partly closed chamber door | | 401 swung open, and the man he had known as Uncle Holly, and looked upon as a venerable weakling, stepped nimbly across the space between them, and, catching him by the throat, forced him back upon the bed just behind him.

"You villain! Are you trying to increase your list of murders before your career is closed? Wells, come here and look after this fellow! Doctor, here is more work for you; call Rosa; I'll attend to this person!"

Sitting half stunned upon the side of the bed, with Tom Wells, grim and silent, and hatefully muscular, standing over him, Brook saw his mother carried out and placed upon the couch in the room beyond; with the doctor and Rosa bending over her, and the detective waiting silently, and without so much as a glance in his direction, for the doctor's first word.

"She's stunned," said the doctor; "it's a bad hurt; perhaps a dangerous one; we will take her to her own room at once."

When they had carried the senseless woman out, the detective made a step to the inner door.

"Joe," he called, and getting no answer, went himself, and closed the door of the outer room. Then standing in the doorway of the chamber, and directly facing the silent wretch sitting moveless under the watchful eye of Tom Wells, he began, in a low tone, full of concentrated contempt and menace:

"Now, Mr. Pierre Pinchon, until lately known as Brook Deering, you have finished your career in a manner worthy of you! It is not every assassin who begins, if that was the beginning, by killing the guardian and protector of the girl he has wronged, to save his reputation; follows this up by poisoning the man who took him from the gutter, and has showered him with benefits all the years of his life, to secure to himself a fortune; and ends by trying to murder the mother who has sinned and suffered for him, and who was seeking to find him a way of escape! What she was striving to tell you was the truth; but not all of it! Your career has been traced from the moment when you decoyed Rose Matchin from her home, hiding yourself behind the name of Bruce Deering, up to the present. Your last piece of active villainy being your attempt to meet Miss Wardell in the grounds, and, by so doing, to bind her more closely to you and your cause! You have played high and terrible stakes, for three fortunes, and would have sacrificed, if need be, one, or all, of three fair women to attain your ends! Rose Matchin you wooed as the betrayer wooes; and, but for this sudden ending of your devilish plotting, she might very soon have met the death that comes to so many victims of beasts of prey like yourself, when they begin to be in the way! Ora Wardell you would have married for the sake of her fortune, had not another fair face and another fortune crossed your path. But you were not sure of success with Miss Rodney; and so, while trying to woo her, you renewed your broken engagement with Miss Wardell."

The pale face of the man sitting with sullenly bent head before his accuser, was seen to flush suddenly, only to pale again; and he cast a furtive glance about him; but he saw his position, and he did not lift his head, nor stir.

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"When you left Rose Matchin in a good school, and went abroad generously supplied with the means for honest enjoyment, you had the chance that comes to few, to be rich and honest without effort upon your part. And yet, before leaving this house, with your vows to the man you believed to be your father, fresh upon your lips, you sought the woman you supposed to be your too devoted nurse and tool, and besought her to aid you in winning Valentine Rodney—and her fortune!"

At the name of Valentine, the flush again crossed Brook's face, and he shivered slightly.

"You went abroad," went on the detective remorselessly, "plotting to gain your ends. You were jealous of Bruce Deering, and you feared him as a rival; probably your then unknown mother informed you that Bruce was likely to supplant you with Miss Rodney. And so when you met Miss Wardell, you provided for yourself an anchor to windward. And then your fever for gambling broke out, and, when you had wasted all your ample allowance, you 'borrowed' of Miss Wardell, and forged Lysander Deering's name! You thought your supposed father an easy dupe, but he had not lost sight of you.

"One day, after learning that you had added forgery to your list of vices, he decided to write you the truth! He began the letter in his library, and for a moment was called to the outer door, to say a farewell word to a departing caller, who had asked for him; during his absence, Madam Sarita, who was always watching and prying on your behalf, stole in, and saw what had been written! And so it happened that you received two letters close together; the first telling you that you were not the son of Lysander Deering; and the second revealing the fact that you were the child of Sarita Pinchon—and a French adventurer!"

There was a sound as of teeth sharply grated, and the muscles of the clasped hands swelled as from a too tight clutch, as the detective continued:

"How Lysander Deering could have lived under the same roof with your mother, yet never guess the truth as to your relationship, is a puzzle to me! But he was the last man to look for deceit, or to doubt those about him; and so he never guessed how you were growing up; absorbing, as you grew, lessons in deceit. Taught to look to her for help out of your youthful escapades, and to go to her secretly for the favours others would not grant, your innate selfishness and greed, pampered and developed through foolish mother-love, and secrecy and deceit, becoming your daily lessons.

"We need not go over all the ground of your late reappearance in Pomfret; when you left Miss Wardell you hung about the bank, watching, doubtless, for the old man to retire or, possibly, for a later hour; at last you see, through a crack in the curtain, that he is about to retire. The street is quite deserted—you tap upon the window, you tell him that it is Bruce—who must give him some important news at once, and you are admitted. Just why you went to the bank that night we may never know. That you killed Joe Matchin with Mr. Baird's hatchet; that you robbed the sphinx safe of thirty thousand dollars, having knowledge of the ten words by which, alone, the com- | | 403 bination was worked, we do know; also, that you left. thrust into the register, half of a bloody handkerchief, with the initials B. D. upon it; and that in your struggle with Bruce Deering you lost an amethyst cuff button.

"This button, by the way, or such another, had been given you by Mrs. Deering, and you had obtained its mate at Tiffany's. The fragment of linen was recognised at once, by Miss Wardell, as one of a dozen owned by you, and bought in Paris at the Bon Marché"

"You lie!" Brook lifted his head to hiss out these words, and instantly dropped it again, as if regretting his momentary outbreak.

"Ah! You mean, of course, that you think Miss Wardell's devotion to you is proof against everything? And so it would be, and is against misfortune, calumny, even sin! Leave her faith in a friend's honour, and she will never forsake him! But baseness, treachery! such crimes as yours, kill every sentiment in such a heart, except loathing unutterable. If you would know how a good woman can thrust out from her heart, in one hour, every atom of regard for a man whose baseness has been made clear to her, you should have heard Miss Wardell denounce you! She spared neither you nor herself; and, from this day, you might sooner expect, or hope, for help or pardon from justice itself than from her! Oh, we know it all—and from her own lips! How she hid you in her home and in the church, as your mother, later, hid you in the attic here.

"As for the mistress of this house, I have only to say that she has read the paper stolen from her by your mother. Yes, I know," as the prisoner started, "you commanded her to destroy it; but you had refused to believe, or pretended not to believe her, until she had placed this paper before you; and she did not mean to put it in your power ever to deny her again! So she has kept the paper. And now, let me tell you how it is that you are not now in prison."

As briefly as possible he told how the trial had been managed, and Bruce Deering acquitted, without bringing the name of Deering again into disgrace; and how Sarita Pinchon's confession had been framed.

"And now," he concluded, "knowing you to be a double assassin, the poisoner of your adopted father and benefactor; a forger, robber, and perjurer; yet, for the sake of the name she bears and honours, Mrs. Deering will refund the money stolen from the bank, and you may retain that which you must still have. With this you are to go at once to France, and, if possible, Sarita must accompany you. Remain there, under some new name, and never let your identity be known, and you will not be molested. Attempt to return to America, and you will be at once arrested for murder! You must leave here in such a manner that it may be made to seem that you are still partially deranged. After a time the word must go out that you are dead! Dead, and buried abroad. The rôle we have allowed you to play, for our own purposes, that of pretended insanity, must cease while you are under this roof.

"While you are not altogether well, you are quite able to travel, and to-morrow you will—if you accept our terms—be escorted to the city by Doctor Ware and myself, ostensibly for medical consultation, | | 404 really to see you safely en route for Europe. Otherwise your journey will not be so long, and its termination not so pleasant.

"You are given to-night in which to decide; to-morrow morning we must have your answer. It will not do to keep Mrs. Deering and Miss Rodney longer out of their home, and they will not enter this house again while you are under its roof."

He paused; for a moment, there was utter silence in the room, and Murtagh, glancing over his shoulder, saw that the doctor had returned, and was standing just behind him in the doorway. Then he went on:

"I am aware that, in giving you this chance, I am cheating the hangman, and thwarting that justice you have again and again outraged. But, to make your crimes public will be to make the name you have borne, and the name a good woman bears, notorious everywhere. Besides, Lysander Deering, in his last written words to his wife, said this, 'If Brook does prove utterly unworthy, after all, rid yourself of him, if possible, quietly, privately. For your own sake and for BRUCE'S, spare the name of Deering. Send him out of the country; make him take his true name, or another—ours he must give up! Only see to it that he never annoys you further, and let his punishment rest with God. Be sure it will come.' These are the words of the man you murdered, while eating his bread. There is no punishment adequate to your crimes; and so we have yielded to Mrs. Deering's wish. One so fertile in diabolical plots as you, will, sooner or later, devise, meaning it or not, his own punishment! And now, we will leave you—unless your answer is now ready?"

Only once, since Murtagh first addressed him, had the baffled and desperate creature spoken, or lifted his head. But now he arose slowly, and with a wavering, uncertain motion. He did not so much as glance toward them, but turning toward the window closely accompanied by the stoical Wells, he said in a strangely dull, lifeless tone:

"I have nothing to say—until morning."

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