Beck Center English Dept. University Libraries Emory University
Emory Women Writers Resource Project Collections:
Emory Women Writers Resource Project

The Last Stroke, an electronic edition

by Lawrence L. Lynch [Van Deventer, Emma Murdoch]

date: [189-]
source publisher: Ward, Lock & Co., Limited
collection: Genre Fiction

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chapter 25 >>

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CHAPTER II.
FOUND.

"I SUPPOSE it's all right," said Samuel Doran, as he walked toward the school-house, followed by three or four of the villagers, "called" because of their nearness, rather than "chosen"; "but Brierly's certainly the last man to let any ordinary matter keep him from his post. We'll hear what Miss Grant has to say."

Miss Grant met the group at the gate, and when she had told them all she had to tell, ending with the testimony of the boy Peter, and the suggestion concerning the target-shooting.

"Sho!" broke in one of the men, as she was about to express her personal opinion and her fears, "that's the top an' bottom of the hull business! Brierly's regularly took with ashootin' at a mark. I've been out with him two or three evenin's of late. He's just got int'rusted, and forgot ter look at his watch. We'll find him safe | | 13 enough som'e'res along the bank; let's cut across the woods."

"He must have heard the bell," objected Mr. Doran, "but, 'of course, if Peter Kramer saw him down there, that's our way. Don't be anxious, Miss Grant; probably Hopkins is right."

The road which they followed for some distance ran a somewhat devious course through the wood, which one entered very soon after leaving the school-house. It ran along the hillside, near its base, but still somewhat above the stretch of ground, fully a hundred yards in width, between it and the lake shore.

Above the road, to eastward, the wooded growth climbed the gentle upward slope, growing, as it seemed, more and more dense and shadowy as it mounted. But between the road and the river the trees grew less densely, with numerous sunny openings, but with much undergrowth, here and there, of hazel and sumach, wild vines, and along the border of the lake the low over-hanging scrub willow.

For more than a fourth of a mile the four men followed the road, walking in couples, and not far apart, and contenting themselves with an occasional "hallo, Brierly," and with peering into the openings through which they could see the lake shore as they passed along.

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A little further on, however, a bit of rising ground cut off all sight of the lake for a short distance. It was an oblong mound, so shapely, so evenly proportioned that it had became known as the Indian Mound, and was believed to have been the work of the aborigines, a prehistoric fortification, or burial place.

As they came opposite this mound, the man Hopkins stopped, saying:

"Hadn't a couple of us fellers better go round the mound on t'other side? Course, if he's on the bank, an' all right, he'd ort to hear us--but----"

"Yes," broke in the leader, who had been silent and very grave for some moments. "Go that way, Hopkins, and we'll keep to the road and meet you at the further end of the mound."

They separated silently, and for some moments Mr. Doran and his companions walked on, still silent, then--

"We ought to have brought that simpleton along," Doran said, as if meditating. "The Kramers live only a quarter of a mile beyond the mound, and it must have been near here--Stop!"

He drew his companions back from the track, as a pony's head appeared around a curve of the road; and then, as a black shetland and low phaeton came in sight, he stepped forward again, and took off his hat.

He was squarely in the middle of the road, and the | | 15 lady in the little phaeton pulled up her pony and met his gaze with a look of mute inquiry. She was a small, fair woman, with pale, regular features and large blue eyes. She was dressed in mourning, and, beyond a doubt, was not a native of Glenville.

"Excuse my haste, ma'am," said Doran, coming to the side of the phaeton. "I'm James Doran, owner of the stable where this horse belongs, and we are out in search of our schoolmaster. Have you seen a tall young man along this road anywhere?"

The lady was silent a moment, then--"Was he a fair young man?" she asked, slowly.

"Yes, tall and fair."

The lady gathered up her reins.

"I passed such a person," she said, "when I drove out of town shortly after breakfast. He was going south, as I was. It must have been somewhere not far from this place."

"And--did you see his face?"

"No; the pony was fresh then, and I was intent upon him."

She lifted the reins, and then turned as if to speak again when the man who had been a silent witness of the little dialogue came a step nearer.

"I s'pose you hav'n't heard any noise--a pistol shot--nor anythin' like that, have ye, ma'am?"

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"Mercy! No, indeed! Why, what has happened?"

Before either could answer, there came a shout from the direction of the lake shore.

"Doran, come--quick!"

They were directly opposite the mound, at its central or highest point, and, turning swiftly, James Doran saw the man Hopkins at the top of it, waving his arms frantically.

"Is he found?" called Doran, moving toward him.

"Yes. He's hurt!"

With the words Hopkins disappeared behind the knoll, but Doran was near enough to see that the man's face was scared and pale. He turned and called sharply to the lady, who had taken up her whip and was driving on.

"Madam, stop! There's a man hurt. Wait there a moment; we may need your horse." The last words were uttered as he ran up the mound, his companions close at his heels. And the lady checked the willing pony once more with a look half reluctant, wholly troubled.

"What a position," she said to herself, impatiently. "These villagers are not diffident, upon my word."

A few moments only had passed when approaching footsteps and the sound of quick panting breaths caused her to turn her head, and she saw James Doran running | | 17 swiftly toward her, pale faced, and too full of anxiety to be observant of the courtesies.

"You must let me drive back to town with you, madam," he panted, springing into the little vehicle with a force that tried its springs and wrought havoc with the voluminous folds of the lady's gown. "We must have the doctor, and--the coroner, too, I fear--at once!"

He put out his hand for the reins, but she anticipated the movement and struck the pony a sharp and sudden blow that sent him galloping townward at the top of his speed, the reins still in her two small, perfectly-gloved hands.

For a few moments no word was spoken; then, without turning her eyes from the road, she asked:

"What is it?"

"Death, I'm afraid!"

"What! Not suicide?"

"Never. An accident, of course."

"How horrible!" The small hands tightened their grasp upon the reins, and no other word was spoken until they were passing the school-house, when she asked--

"Who was it?"

"Charles Brierly, our head teacher, and a good man."

Miss Grant was standing at one of the front windows | | 18 and she leaned anxiously out as the little trap darted past.

"We can't stop," said Doran, as much to himself as to his companion. "I must have the pony, ma'am. Where can I leave you?"

"Anywhere here. Is there anything--any message I can deliver? I am a stranger, but I understand the need of haste. Ought not those pupils to be sent home?"

He put his hand upon the reins. "Stop him," he said. "You are quick to think, madam. Will you take a message to the school-house--to Miss Grant?"

"Surely."

They had passed the school-house and as the pony stopped, Doran sprang out and offered his hand, which she scarcely touched in alighting.

"What shall I say?" she asked as she sprang down.

"See Miss Grant. Tell her privately that Mr. Brierly has met with an accident, and that the children must be sent home quietly and at once. At once, mind."

"I understand." She turned away with a quick, nervous movement, but he stopped her.

"One moment. Your name, please? Your evidence may be wanted."

"By whom?"

"By the coroner; to corroborate our story."

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"I see. I am Mrs. Jamieson; at the Glenville House."

She turned from him with the last word, and walked swiftly back toward the school-house.

Hilda Grant was still at the window. She had made no attempt to listen to recitations, or even to call the roll; and she hastened out, at sight of the slight black robed figure entering the school yard, her big grey eyes full of the question her lips refused to frame.

They met at the foot of the steps, and Mrs. Jamieson spoke at once, as if in reply to the wordless inquiry in the other's face.

"Mrs. Jamieson," she said, speaking low, mindful of the curious faces peering out from two windows, on either side of the open door. "I was stopped by Mr.--"

"Mr. Doran?"

"Yes. He wished me to tell you that the teacher, Mr. ----"

"Brierly?"

"Yes. that he has met with an accident; and that you had better close the school, and send the children home quietly, and at once."

"Oh!" Suddenly the woman's small figure swayed; she threw out a hand as if for support and, before the half-dazed girl before her could reach her, she sank weakly down on the lowest step. "Oh!" she sighed again. | | 20 "I did not realise--I--I believe I am frightened!" And then, as Miss Grant bent over her, she added weakly: "Don't mind me. I--I'll rest here a moment. Send away your pupils; I only need rest."

When the wondering children had passed out from the school-rooms, and were scattering, in slow-moving, eagerly-talking groups, Hilda Grant stood for a moment beside her desk, rigid and with all the anguish of her soul revealed, in this instant of solitude, upon her face.

"He is dead!" she murmured. "I know it, I feel it! He is dead." Her voice, even to herself, sounded hard and strange. She lifted a cold hand to her eyes, but there were no tears there; and then suddenly she remembered her guest.

A moment later, Mrs. Jamieson, walking weakly up the steps, met her coming from the school-room with a glass of water in her hand, which she proffered silently.

The stranger drank it eagerly. "Thank you," she said. "It is what I need. May I come inside for a little?"

Hilda led the way in silence, and, when her visitor was seated, came and sat down opposite her. "Will you tell me what you can?" she asked hesitatingly.

"Willingly. Only it is so little. I have been for some time a guest at the Glenville House, seeking to recover here in your pure air and country quiet, from | | 21 the effects of sorrow and a long illness. I have driven these hills and along the lake shore almost daily."

"I have seen you," said Hilda, "as you drove past more than once."

"And did you see me this morning?"

"No."

"Still, I passed this spot at eight o'clock; I think, perhaps, earlier. My physician has cautioned me against long drives, and this morning I did not go quite so far as usual, because yesterday I went too far. I had turned my pony toward home just beyond that pretty mill where the little streams join the lake, and was driving slowly homeward when this Mr. Doran--is not that right?--this Mr. Doran stopped me to ask if I had seen a man, a tall, fair man--"

"And had you?"

"I told him yes; and in a moment some one appeared at the top of the Indian Mound, and called out that the man was found."

"How--tell me how?"

Mrs. Jamieson drew back a little and looked into the girl's face with strange intentness.

"I--I fear he was a friend of yours," she said in a strangely hesitating manner, her eyes swiftly scanning the pale face.

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"You fear! Why do you fear? Tell me. You say he is injured. Tell me all--the worst!"

Still the small, erect, black-clad figure drew back, a look of sudden understanding and apprehension dawning in her face. She moved her lips, but no sound came from them.

"Tell me!" cried the girl again. "In mercy--oh, don't you understand?"

"Yes, I understand now." The lady drew weakly back in the seat and seemed to be compelling her own eyes and lips to steadiness.

"Listen! We must be calm--both of us. I--I am not strong; I dare not give way. Yes, yes; this is all I can tell you. The man, Mr. Doran, asked me to wait in the road with the pony. He came back soon, and said that we must find the doctor and the coroner at once; there had been an accident, and the man--the one for whom they searched--was dead, he feared."

She sprang suddenly to her feet

"You must not faint. If you do, I--I cannot help you; I am not strong enough."

"I shall not faint," replied Hilda Grant, in a hard strange voice, and she, too, arose quickly, and went with straight swift steps through the open door between the two rooms and out of sight.

Mrs. Jamieson stood looking after her for a moment, | | 23 as if in doubt and wonder; then she put up an unsteady hand and drew down the gauze veil folded back from her close-fitting mourning bonnet

"How strange!" she whispered. "She turns from me as if--and yet I had to tell her! Ugh! I cannot stay here alone. I shall break down, too, and I must not. I must not. Here, and alone!"

A moment she stood irresolute, then walking slowly she went out of the school-room, down the stone steps, and through the gate, townward, slowly at first, and then with her pace increasing, and a look of apprehension growing in her eyes.

"Oh," she murmured as she hurried on, "what a terrible morning!" And then she started hysterically as the shriek of the incoming fast mail train struck her ears. "Oh, how nervous this has made me," she murmured, and drew a sigh of relief as she paused unsteadily at the door of her hotel.

For fully fifteen minutes after Hilda Grant had reached the empty solitude of her own school-room she stood crouched against the near wall, her hands clenched and hanging straight at her side, her eyes fixed on space. Then, with eyes still tearless, but with dry sobs breaking from her throat, she tottered to her seat before the desk, and let her face fall forward upon her arms, moaning from time to time like some | | 24 hurt animal, and so heedless of all about her that she did not hear a light step in the hall without, nor the approach of the man who paused in the doorway to gaze at her in troubled surprise.

He was a tall and slender young fellow, with a handsome face, an eye clear, frank, and keen, and a mouth which, but for the moustache which shadowed it, might have been pronounced too strong for beauty.

A moment he stood looking with growing pity upon the grieving woman, and then he turned and silently tip-toed across the room and to the outer door. Standing there he seemed to ponder, and then, softly stepping back to the vacant platform, he seated himself in the teacher's chair and idly opened the first of the volumes scattered over the desk, smiling as he read the name, Charles Brierly, written across the fly-leaf.

"Poor old Charley," he said to himself, as he closed the book. "I wonder how he enjoys his pedagogic venture, the absurd fellow," and then by some strange instinct he lifted his eyes to the clock on the opposite wall, and the strangeness of the situation seemed to strike him with sudden force and brought him to his feet.

What did it mean! This silent school-room! These empty desks and scattered books! Where were the pupils? the teacher? And why was that brown-tressed | | 25 head with its hidden face bowed down in that other room in an agony of sorrow?

Half a dozen quick strides brought him again to the door of communication, and this time his strong, firm footsteps were heard, and the bowed head lifted itself wearily, and the eyes of the two met, each questioning the other.

"I beg your pardon," spoke a rich, strong voice. "May I ask where I shall find Mr. Brierly?"

Slowly, as if fascinated, the girl came toward him, a look almost of terror in her face.

"Who are you? " she faltered.

"I am Robert Brierly. I had hoped to find my brother here at his post. Will you tell me----"

But the sudden cry from her lips checked him, and the pent-up tears burst forth as Hilda Grant, her heart wrung with pity, flung herself down upon the low platform, and sitting there with her face bent upon her sleeves, sobbed out her own sorrow in her heartbreak of sympathy for the grief that must soon overwhelm him and strike the happy light from his face.

Sobs choked her utterance, and the young man stood near her, uncertain, anxious, and troubled, until from the direction of the town the sound of flying wheels smote their ears, and Hilda sprang to her feet with a sharp cry.

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"I must tell you; you must bear it as well as I. Hark! they are going to him; you must go too!" She turned toward the window, swayed heavily, and was caught in his arms.

It was a brief swoon, but when she opened her eyes and looked about her, the sound of the flying wheels was dying away in the distance, southward.

He had found the pail of pure spring water, and applied some of it to her hands and temples with the quickness and ease of a woman, and he now held a glass to her lips.

She drank feverishly, put a hand before her eyes, raised herself with an effort, and seemed to struggle mutely for self-control. Then she turned toward him.

"I am Hilda Grant," she said, brokenly.

"My brother's friend! My sister that is to be!"

"No, no; not now. Something has happened. You should have gone with those men--with the doctor. They are going to bring him back."

"Miss Grant, sister!" His hands had closed firmly upon her wrists, and his voice was firm. "You must tell me the worst, quick. Don't seek to spare me; think of him! What is it?"

"He--he went from home early, with his pistol, they say, to shoot at a target He is dead!"

"Dead! Charley dead! Quick! Where is he? I | | 27 must see, I must. Oh! there must be some horrible mistake."

He sprang toward the door, but she was before him.

"Go this way. Here is his wheel. Take it. Go south--the lake shore--the Indian Mound."

A moment later a young man with pallid face, set mouth and tragic eyes was flying toward the Indian Mound upon a swift wheel, and in the school-room, prone upon the floor, a girl lay in a death-like swoon.

chapter 25 >>