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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THEY lifted the shattered and still breathing wreck of Sarita Pinchon's son and bore it, as tenderly as possible, back to his room in the west wing. He was unconscious, and a light but awful burden.

Sarita, too, had been carried in a fainting condition to her room, and consciousness returned after a time. but the events of the evening were a blank. She muttered something about permission—" Mrs | | 409 Deering—and—the attic," and then lay for hours half asleep, and wholly dazed and stupid.

With Brook it was different. Doctor Liscom was sent for at once, and while they were closeted in Brook's room, Murtagh began to investigate.

"He was walking in his sleep," declared Tom Wells. "I knew, the minit I set eyes on him, that he was sleep-walkin'! I had seen her that way," nodding in the direction of Sarita's room; "and I had heard the doctor describe it all. The doctor said once, talkin' about him, that if he could jest see him walk once in his sleep, you know, it would be the last and biggest proof of all. At first I thought, when he didn't go to her room, that he might be goin' downstairs; and when he went up the hall, I was jest on the pint of sendin' Joe after all of ye, when everything come down on us like a clap of thunder. There wa'n't time to think I As for Miss Rosy and Sarity-boss, I ain't in it."

And then Rosa described to them Sarita's sudden setting out for the scene of her former midnight visits.

"I could not see her face distinctly," she said, "when she got up and began to move about; but when she passed close to me, without one glance, and with that set mechanical movement, so different from her nervous, quick manner, I knew that she was walking in her sleep. I did not understand her manoeuvres by the bedside, stooping and looking—"

"She used to keep a candle burning near her; I don't know just why. She was looking for that," said Murtagh.

"I see I Well, when she reached the room on the main corridor, and went in, I, of course, knew, from your account, about what she would do; I knew there was no outlet to the room, and that the windows were kept closed of late. At first I thought I would follow her; and then, fearing that I might stumble against something and waken her, which I knew would be bad for her in her condition—"

"Very bad!" assented Murtagh.

"—I waited a moment at the door, and, finding it was not latched, I did venture to open it a little and peep in."

"Ah!—you did?" sharply. "Could you see—anything?"

"It was not a dark night, you know, and the windows are quite free from shade. The one nearest the door was shuttered, but the one opposite the bed was not. Near me I could see only faintest outlines; but, on the farther side of the room, the light fell across the bed, and I could see, quite clearly, the door of the bath-room. There must have been a ray of moonlight shining through the high window in there, for I could see Sarita moving about. The white walls and fittings of the bath-room, and the light, coming as it did from above, gave her quite a ghostly appearance. I suppose I got a little bit nervous; I felt as though she must see me, and I pulled the door shut as I had found it, and crossed the hall. I knew the opposite room was empty; and, finding the door was not locked, I went in there and stood, just inside, looking through a narrow slit. I wanted to see her the moment she came out, and to be as near her as possible."

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"I see! No one can blame you, Rosa; nor, in fact, anyone. All that took place was quite unforeseen. Well—"

"I hardly know how to describe what happened next. The other came so quietly, and stopped so suddenly, right before my hiding. place, that it gave me quite a start! It was a full moment before I saw that it was Brook Deering When he put his hands upon the door I started to spring out, and then the gust of air flared the light so suddenly that I thought it had gone quite out. Then he seemed to listen, and I waited. The rest I saw in a flash. As he pushed the door open, I opened mine; I had one glimpse of Santa, standing, where the light from both windows seemed focussed upon her, directly in the door of the dressing-room. She had something on which made her look strange; I had not time to see what it was. Of course the madman saw her as soon as I did. He gave a great start as the door swung back against the wall. It must have frightened him horribly to see her standing there. Her scream, his sudden leap backward, and the going out of the light, came all in one breath. I felt him rush past me in the darkness, and, it seemed to me, toward the window. I think I must have lost my head then! I heard a movement below me, and I, too, ran, in the dark, toward the window, knowing it was open, and wondering if he knew it also." She shuddered, and turned away her face.

"How I found myself upon the long balcony, stepping upon crack-ling glass, and looking down over the low railing, I hardly know l What I saw dimly below me I need not say. I knew, somehow, that someone was flying down the dark stairs-"

"That was Wells. Prompt and clear-headed."

"Yes. And Joe was beside me in a moment. It's been a horrible night!"

"Horrible indeed!" echoed the detective. "I do not need Ware's wisdom to tell me how it all came about."

"Eh! what's that?" Doctor Ware had entered the library in his quick quiet way, having found a moment when he could leave Liscom and the man Joe in care of the injured man. "What is it?"

Murtagh rapidly related the facts just learned from Wells and Rosa.

The doctor looked grave.

"I see it all!" he declared promptly. "Rosa, how much wine was in the bottle when you added the two tablets?"

"The bottle was half full, not more; she had taken more than I thought."

"Exactly! and in that way, she got a dose strong enough to stimulate, as its first effect, as well as to soothe the nerves. She lay down full of thoughts of her son, and of the causes which led to their present troubles. She had determined to sham sleep, no doubt, and make a desperate effort to speak with him once more. I wager-almost, that she tempted you to take some wine, Rosa?"

"She did! She said it would prevent fatigue, and I made believe drink a little."

"Yes. Well, she went to sleep determined to get up and do a certain thing. Then the opiate soothes in a measure her anxiety and | | 411 agitation. But her strong desire to get out lingers in her brain, and she rises in her sleep, and then force of habit takes her, not to her son's room, but to the place she has haunted of late in her fits of sleep-walking."

"After all," said Murtagh, "you have improved upon my idea of the matter."

"As for the other," went on the doctor gravely, "the withdrawing of the tobacco, and then returning it, suddenly, and with just enough opium to produce in his present unstrung condition, an abnormal mental state—has brought about the somnambulism which I felt sure he had inherited from his mother. I had hoped for an earlier development of the symptoms, as an additional proof of his relationship to Sarita; and now that it has come—" he paused and glanced across at Murtagh.

"Now that it has come," supplemented the detective, "it has been as a weapon of fate, and has taken matters out of our hands. If it settles the question left undecided last night,"—he looked keenly at the doctor—"I, for one, shall be grateful to Fate—or Providence."

"Call it Providence," said Ware reverently; and then, in answer to Murtagh's look of inquiry, "It is even worse than we thought; both limbs are broken above the knee, and the spine is injured. If there were no other hurts, if his limbs were sound, he never could walk. Liscom has sent for his instruments; as soon as they come the legs must be taken off, and Liscom fears internal injuries.

. . . . . . .

When Ora Wardell left Mr. Baird's library, accompanied by Val Rodney, John Redding had hastened to explain to Brenda and Bruce why they had all thought it best not to make the truth known to them until after the trial.

"You could, neither of you, have gone into the court-room without embarrassment," he said, "if you had known even a small part of the truth; and it was the only way to clear Bruce and shield the name!"

And then arose the question, "What shall be done with Brook, or, Pierre Pinchon?"

"If the question were one of punishment only," said Murtagh, "the law would be inadequate to deal out to him his deserts! If we could trace his ancestry we would doubtless find it of the worst; a long line, perhaps, of reckless social outlaws, somewhere has crept in the strain of handsome aristocratic selfishness, from some woman, perhaps, of the sort one can always see in Paris flaunting her silks and jewels, her beauty and shame all together. Certainly he is thoroughly bad!—A nature that could not live in a pure atmosphere, and enjoy wealth and ease in the simple, honest, American way. He cannot be punished enough; but the question is, Mrs. Deering, how much are you willing the world should know? It is in your hands."

Brenda's answer had been prompt. "If it would bring my husband back, if it would make the vindication of Bruce more complete, I would say, `Give the murderer to the law.' But I am sure, I know, what my dear husband would say, even of his murderer; and them—besides, there is Ora Wardell. We cannot punish her | | 412 for her loyalty to a creature who has deceived us all! If it were only for her sake I would say, 'Bury the awful truth; send him away, and soon!' This much I demand; he must leave my house; and I will never see his face again."

As for Bruce, he had agreed with her in everything.

"Let him go where he can never do us further injury!" he said. "I ask no more."

Of the three—Brenda, Valentine, and Bruce—from the first Brenda had doubted, Val suspected, and Bruce had fought against a feeling stronger than either of these. He had been, from the first, morally sure that Brook could tell the story of Rose Matchin's disappearance if he would; and he knew also that Brook was the owner of an amethyst button. Besides, he could not have grown up near such a nature as Brook's without seeing behind the mask of softness and amiability. But he lacked the clue, as did they all, and he fought against doubt when it pointed toward his beloved uncle's only son.

It was Doctor Ware, with his keen, trained insight, who alone had noted certain resemblances and tricks of gesture and manner—minute, but sufficient to arouse his interest; and—when he heard from Mr. Baird the story of Brook's home-bringing from Europe in his infancy—his suspicions were awakened also. He had perceived, in Brook's face, on the night of the railway accident, and of his pretended return, signs of dissipation as well as of anxiety; and at the first manifestation of insanity, feigned as the doctor knew it to be, he was ready to join hands with Murtagh, and to work for justice and Brenda Deering.

. . . . . . .

When the operation was over and the patient in a drugged sleep, Doctor Ware announced his opinion.

There was small chance, he was too honest to say hope, for the maimed man. He was suffering horribly, save when they administered opiates, and these they dared not use too freely. There was one chance in fifty that he might survive, crippled, and with his handsome face hideously marred from contact with the stones of the pavement. Again, he might linger a week, or he might die in twenty-four hours.

When this was ascertained, Bruce mounted his horse and rode to Pomfret. When he had called upon John Redding, and imparted his news, the young lawyer promptly relieved him of a part of his errand by going in person to carry the tidings to Ora and Valentine, while Bruce went at once to Mr. Baird's.

Before noon, Brenda had returned to Beechwood, and resumed her place as head of the household. With the exception of Mrs. Merton, the servants had believed that Brook had leaped from the long balcony in a state of somnambulism, and before night it was known to all Pomfret as well. This—and no more.

When the injured man returned to consciousness, and saw the stern set faces bending over him, he seemed bewildered, and whispered feebly:

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But even before they told him, the look of horror that once or twice had been seen upon his face, when he had heard or fancied he heard, the ghostly footsteps of his victim and adopted father, was in his eyes, and he shuddered, through all his shattered frame, as he lay and heard, in torture of body and mind, the worst he must fear, and the best he could hope. And who could say that, in those passing moments, he did not receive through his own mad act, and because of a crime-haunted conscience, a fuller and more complete punishment than the law and the gallows could have wrought upon him.

In the drawn and disfigured face, in the eyes hollow and glittering, one moment distended with horror, and the next filled with the vindictive, venomous hatred of a baffled fiend, there was little trace of the Brook Deering whose smiling eyes and lips and honeyed words had charmed so many, and deceived all. Never had cruelty, selfishness, a conscience depraved, and a mind all evil, been masked behind a face so girlishly handsome, a manner so light as to be thought frivolous by some, and a semblance—such a perfect semblance—of gentleness, affectionateness, delicate sensitiveness.

This man, almost a youth, with the golden hair and soft, blue eyes, which had known how to look fond, tender, sad, gay, pathetic, serious, and serene; but never fierce or vengeful,—this man, who had been seen to falter and turn away at the sight of blood; who would never shoot a robin, and called fishing cruel sport; who turned away from all the ruder games, and practised the gentler graces—this man, stripped of his mask, lay now a naked soul, in a maimed and disfigured body—hateful, horrible; with not one trace of the beauty that could charm women, and win the indulgence of men of stronger mould.

Aware of the nature of the accident that had placed him there under the surgeon's knife, he had cursed his fate, and all concerned in it, between groans of agony; and then, with eyes full of baffled hate, he had lain silent and sullen under their hands, first refusing and then submitting to the an#x00E6;sthethic, which tided him over the hideous operation, coming out from under the surgeon's hands to find the small shapely feet and crushed lower limbs gone, and to curse, with his first strength, his merciful ministrants.

So two days passed. Good Mrs. Baird came to Beechwood to make the situation a little less unbearable for Brenda; and Valentine, knowing her intentions, wrote to her friend:—

"Dear Brenda,—If you are ill, and want me, sen**. If not, and while Mrs. B—is with you, forgive me if I remain away; I cannot come— V."

On the morning of the third day, the sick man called for Murtagh; and when the latter came he whispered:

"Tell me all—about it."

The detective understood, and, slightly frowning, but with no unnecessary harshness, he reviewed the processes by which matters had reached their present state.

When he ceased, Brook seemed to be musing, then:

"Jove!" he articulated, with a malicious glance in his hollow eyes, | | 414 "what a—splendid—scoundrel you would—make!

You—would—be per—fectly—safe!"

"Is that all?" asked the detective, with a curl of the lip.

"N—no!" He could only speak in broken sentences, and between breaths of pain; but he seemed bent upon saying something.

"You—only lack—a little—in—for—ma—"

"True, if you are inclined to help me out, you will save me some trouble."

"What—you—want?" He moved restlessly, and seemed to be undecided.

"I want to know what you did with the money you took from the bank? what you meant to do with Rose Matchin? and—who administered the poison to Mr. Deering?"

The suffering wretch shut his eyes quickly, and a shudder shook his frame, while a dull red flush crept into his face and remained there. Ware, at the head of the bed, and unseen by the patient, raised a warning finger, and pointed to the flushing cheek.

Presently, Brook opened his eyes.

"Where is—she?" he asked feebly.

"In bed." It was the doctor who replied. "She has not had a rational moment since you woke each other up out there in the corridor. When she saw you in the doorway at the moment of her waking, she uttered that one scream, and fell, fairly frothing at the mouth. If she ever recovers her senses, it will be a miracle." He paused, and then, as Brook remained silent, he added: "While you were feigning insanity as an inheritance from the lady, whose son you are not, your true mother was being slowly driven to insanity, real insanity, by you!"

Brook started, and seemed to try to lift himself. His eyes were wide and strained.

"You—you think—I was—never—mad?"

"Not for one moment!"

"Then—then, those footsteps? Do I really hear them?" His eyes began to glitter."Tell—explain—do they come?"

The doctor came around to the side of the bed. "I will explain as I can," he said gravely. "To begin, your mother, walking in her sleep, went, again and again, to the room where Mr. Deering lay ill, and there went through with a singular pantomime. At times, she would put her feet into Mr. Deering's slippers, and, in them, pace up and down the rooms. The bath-room has a marble floor; its wall, adjoin those of your bedroom. At first, probably, you heard her in one of these promenades; we have found, by experimenting, that you could hear through this wall; now you possess a mixture of blood, I am convinced, which has bred in you a vein of superstition. This, aided by your guilty conscience, and with your mother's sleep-walking for a beginning, has developed those ghostly footsteps which have given you some real trouble, amid much of sham. Do you see no retribution in the fact that it was the ghostly footsteps, conjured, it is true, by your own imagination, that sent you flying from it, down that darkened hall, and over upon the stones below?"

The hollow eyes closed; and again there was a quiver visible beneath the snowy coverings, but no reply.

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Then followed a half hour of quiet in the room, broken only by moans from the bed, or the nerve—trying sound of grating teeth; then Tom Wells came in, and Ware, giving him a few low words of instruction, went quietly out.

A moment later Brook spoke.


Murtagh went over to the bedside.

"I am here," he said quietly.


"Doctor Ware has gone out." Murtagh sat down beside the bed.

"Don't—think—I am—weak! It can't hurt me—now!"

"Don't try to say too much at once, man!"

"Now," persisted the other, "to tell—what you want—to know."

"All right—go easy."

"The money—is—stuffed—under the lining—of—bottom—my trunk."


"All but two—thousand—I—"

"Which you sent to the Frenchwoman in charge of Rose, by Miss Wardell?"

Brook's eyes looked big with surprise; almost with admiration.

"And," went on the detective, "to save your breath, I think I can tell you your plan. You had bribed the Frenchwoman with two thousand; she was to keep the girl interested—entertained—and, as soon as it could be arranged, she was to spirit her off to France. You thought she would not be likely to get back—from there—eh! am I right?"

"Yes—and—you're—a—a wonder!"

There was a long and suggestive silence. Then Murtagh ventured:

"Is there anything else—before—"

"Yes—yes!—the—the poison! She is not so much to blame; she meant to save me—the money!" he had gasped this out hurriedly, but faltered at the last. "It was—quite—easy—we worked together. He liked her—to fuss up—his pillows,I and—I would drop it in—the glass,—or else—I would—talk to him—and she—" he gave a great gasp. Then—in a moment—"You understand?"

"Perfectly!" Murtagh arose, and stood looking, for a moment, down upon the flushed face. Then:

"You are a devil!" he exclaimed, and turned his back upon the bed.

That night, while the doctor and Joe kept watch, Brook suddenly jerked the freshly—dressed stumps of the amputated limbs sidewise, and within reach of his hands; and, before he could be prevented, had torn off the dressing from one of them.

But Doctor Ware was prompt, and Rosa, in Liscom's absence, rendered efficient aid. When the mischief was repaired, Doctor Ware looked down upon him and said, with solemn sternness:

"Man, you need not hasten your passage. The ghostly footsteps, from which no man escapes, will pause, here, where I stand, soon; and then you'll thank me for not letting you go out into the Unknown with this last—the sin of sins—upon your soul! Out of the mass of crime and | | 416 shame that will envelop your memory soon, leave one that is not shameful! At least, let us say of you, that you were not a coward—physically. It's hard, I know, but—" he broke off abruptly—why probe for a conscience which must be worse maimed and more feeble than this almost lifeless body? As he was about to turn away, the pale lips moved, and he bent to listen.


Bruce Deering had not hesitated, when his strength and unshaken nerves were needed, to do his part at the bedside, and during the operation, but it was always when the patient lay insensible, or when his task kept him beyond view from the bed.

"If I approached him," Bruce had said to Ware, "it must be at his request! I am not—a saint—yet!"

"Bruce?" the doctor turned back, and his voice was stem;" there is but one thing that you, as a dying man, can say to Bruce Deering. When you are ready to say that, he will come."

The dying man pressed his lips together, frowned, and closed his eyes. The doctor beckoned Wells to take his place beside the bed, and again turned to leave the room; with his hand upon the door lie paused, turned his head, and then came back to the bedside.

Brook, with his eyes still closed, was speaking, brokenly, as before, and very faintly.

"Curse—him!" he aspirated. "He's only—been—in—my—way!" he seemed struggling for breath. Then, "The name—was—the girl's blunder—at first—I found it—useful—later. For the—rest—it was—not premeditated!"

"By which you mean," asked the doctor, "that the chance of his appearing at the bank that night, and the opportunity it gave you for posing in Miss Wardell's eyes as not only innocent, but a martyr to friendship, was seized and utilised by you?"

"Y—es," gaspingly."


"Faugh!" Ware moved back, and the disgust upon his face was read by the dying eyes of the unrepentant egotist—egotist to the last. He seemed to nerve himself for another effort, but Ware checked him.

"Listen," he said sternly, "and don't try to talk now; it will shorten your moments, and they are short enough—for you. I am going to give you another opiate; and in an hour you may say anything you may wish to say. And, if you have any least fragment of a rudimentary conscience, let it influence your words, for, I warn you, they will be your last!" He put his finger, as he had done from time to time, upon the fluttering pulse, and then added:" I've been taking careful note, man, and I tell you now that you cannot live until morning."

There was a fluttering of the eyelids, and a twitching of the pale, thin lips, but no sound came from them; and the opiate was given and taken silently.

Late in the afternoon, Murtagh came to Brenda's door.

"Ware tells me," he said to her, "that the patient cannot possibly live until daylight tomorrow.And—the man seems to think of everything—he suggests that—Miss Rodney be informed at once; for appearance sake she should be here; if—if you still wish to bury this man's secret with him."

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"I do!" she said with decision. "I will send for Val at once! Tell me, has the doctor decided—about Sarita?"

"He believes that there is really hereditary insanity in her case, and that she will remain hopelessly insane. There is no need for judge and jury there, Mrs. Deering; the justice of Heaven is swifter and more awful than our little tribunals."

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