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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BRIERLY caught his breath.

"And your reason?" he gasped, "for you have a reason than the mere fact of the bullet-wound in the neck."

"I have seen just such deeds in the wild west and I know how they are done. But this is also professional knowledge. Besides, man, call reason to your aid! Oh, I expect too much. The hurt is too fresh, you can only feel now, but the man shot by accident, be it by his own hand or that of another, is not shot twice." "Good heavens, no!"

"But one who creeps upon his victim unawares, shoots him from behind, and, as he falls, fearing the work is not completed, shoots again, the victim, as you must see, receives the wound further to the front as | | 40 the body falls forward and partially turns in falling. Do you see? Do you comprehend?"

"Yes." Brierly shuddered.

"Brierly, this talk is hurting you cruelly. Let us drop details, or postpone them."

"Not the essential ones. I must bear what I must. Go on, doctor. I quite agree with you. It looks like a murder, and we must--I must know the truth--must find the one who did the deed. Doctor, advise me."


"How to begin, no time should be lost."

"That means a good detective, as soon as possible. Do you chance to know any of these gentry?"

"I---- No, indeed! I suppose a telegram to the chief of police----"

"Allow me," broke in Doctor Barnes. "May I make a suggestion?"

"Anything. I seem unable to think."

"And no wonder! I know the right man for you if he is in Chicago. You see, I was in hospital practice for several years, and have also had my share of prison experience. While thus employed I met a man named Ferrars, an Englishman, who for some years has spent the greater part of his time in this country, in Chicago, in fact. There's a mystery and a romance attached to the man, or his history. He's not connected with | | 41 any of the city offices, but he is one of three retired detectives--retired, that is, from regular work--who together at need when they feel a case to be worth their efforts. I think a case like this will be certain to attract Ferrars."

"And he is your choice of the three?"

The doctor smiled. "The others are married," he said, "and not so ready to go far afield as is Ferrars."

"You think him skilful?"

"None better."

"Then, do you know his address?"

Brierly got up and began to walk about, his eyes beginning to glow with the excitement so long suppressed. "Because we can't get him here too soon."

"I agree with you. And now one thing more. To give him every advantage he should not be known, and the inquest should not begin until he is here."

"Can that be managed?"

"I think so."

Brierly was now nervously eager. He seemed to have shaken off the stupor which at first had seemed to seize upon and hold him, and his questions and suggestions came thick and fast. It ended, of course, in his putting himself into the doctor's hands, and accepting his plans and suggestions entirely. And very soon, Dr. Barnes, having given his factotum distinct instruc- | | 42 tions as regarded visitors, and inquiries, had set off, his medicine case carried ostentatiously in his hand, not for the telegraph office, but for the cottage, close by, where Hilda Grant found a home.

It was a small, neatly-kept cottage, and Mrs. Marcy, a gentle, kindly widow, and the young teacher were its only occupants.

The widow met him at the door, her face anxious, her voice the merest whisper.

"Doctor, tell me; do you think she will really be ill?"

"Why no, Mrs. Marcy; at least not for long. It has been a shock, of course; a great shock. But she--"

"Ah, doctor, she is heart-broken. I--I think I surely may tell you. It will help you to understand. They were engaged, and for a little while, such a pitiful little while it seems now, they have been so happy."

The doctor was silent a moment, his eyes turned away.

"And now," went on the good woman, "she will be lonelier than ever. You know she was very lonely here at first. She has no relatives nearer than a cousin anywhere in the world, to her knowledge. And he has never been to see her. He lives in Chicago, too, not so far away."

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"Yes,surely he ought to visit her now, really. Just ask her if I may come up, Mrs. Marcy. I--I'm glad you told me of this. Thank you. It will help me."

Ten minutes later Doctor Barnes was hastening toward the telegraph office, where he sent away this singular and wordy message:

"Frank Ferrars, No.... Street, Chicago--

"Your cousin, Miss Hilda Grant, is ill, and in trouble. It is a case in which you are needed as much as I. Come, if possible, by first evening train.


"That will fetch him," he mused, as he hastened homeward. "Ferrars never breaks a promise, though I little expected to have to remind him of it within the year."

"Well," began Brierly, when he entered his own door. "Have you seen her? Was she willing?"

"Willing and anxious. She is a brave and sensible little woman. She will do her part, and she has never for one moment believed in the theory of an accident."

"And she will receive me?"

"This evening. She insists that we hold our council there, in her presence. At first I objected, on account | | 44 of her weakness, but she is right in her belief that we should be most secure there, and Ferrars should not be seen abroad to-night. We will have to take Mrs. Marcy into our confidence, in part at least, but she can be trusted. We will all be observed, more or less, for a few days. But, of course, I shall put Ferrars up for the night. That will be the thing to do after he has spent a short evening with his cousin."

Brierly once more began his restless pacing to and fro, turning presently to compare his watch with the doctor's Dutch clock.

"It will be the longest three hours I ever passed," he said, and a great sigh broke from his lips.

But, before the first hour had passed, a boy from the telegraph office handed in a blue envelope, and the doctor hastily broke the seal and read--

"Be with you at 6.20.


When the first suburban train for the evening halted, puffing, at the village station, Doctor Barnes waiting upon the platform, saw a man of medium height and square English build step down from the smoking car and look indifferently about him.

There was the usual throng of gaping and curious villagers, and some of them heard the stranger say, as | | 45 he advanced toward the doctor, who waited with his small medicine case in his hand--

"Pardon me; is this doctor--doctor Barnes?" And the doctor nodded he asked quickly, "How is she?"

"Still unnerved and weak. We have had a terrible shock, for all of us."

When the two men had left the crowd of curious loungers behind them the doctor said--

"It is awfully good of you, Ferrars, to come so promptly at my call. Of course, I could not explain over the wires. But, you understand."

"I understand that you needed me, and as I'm good for very little, save in one capacity, I, of course, supposed there was a case for me. The evening paper, however, gave me--or so I fancy--a hint of the business. Is it the young schoolmaster?"

The doctor started. It seemed impossible that the news had already found its way into print.

"Some one has made haste," he said, scornfully.

"Some one always does in these cases, and the Journal has a 'special correspondent' in every town and village in the country almost. It was only a few lines." He glanced askance at his companion as he spoke. "And it was reported an accident or suicide."

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"It was a murder!"

"I thought so."


"'The victim was found,' so says the paper, 'face downward, or nearly so.' 'Fallen forward,' those were the words. Was that the case?"


"Well, did you ever see or hear of a suicide who had fallen directly forward and face downward, supposing him to have shot himself?"

"No, no."

"On the other hand, have you ever noted that a man taken unawares, shot from the side, or rear, falls forward? If shot standing, that is. It is only when he receives a face charge that he falls backward."

"I had not thought of that, and yet it looks simple and rational enough," and then, while they walked down the quiet street running parallel with Main, and upon which Mrs. Marcy's cottage stood, the doctor told the story of the morning, briefly but clearly, adding, at the end, "In telling this much, I am telling you actually all that I know."

"All--concerning Miss Grant, too?"


The doctor did not lift his eyes from the path before them, and again the detective shot a side glance from | | 47 the corner of his eye, and the shadow of a smile crossed his face.

"How does it happen that this brother is here so--I was about to say--opportunely?"

He told me that he came by appointment, but on an earlier train than he had at first intended to take, to pass Sunday with his brother."

"Now see," mused Ferrars, "what little things, done or left undone, shape or shorten our lives! If he had telegraphed to his brother announcing his earlier arrival, there would have been no target practice, but a walk to the station instead."

The doctor sighed, and for a few moments walked on in silence. Then, as they neared the cottage he almost stopped short and turned toward the detective.

"I'm afraid you will think me a sad bundler, Ferrars. I should have told you at once that Robert Brierly awaits us at Mrs. Marcy's cottage."

"Robert Brierly? Is that his name? I wonder if he can be the Robert Brierly who has helped to make one of our morning papers so bright and breezy. A rising young journalist, in fact But it's probably another of the name."

"I don't know. He has not spoken of himself. Will it suit you to meet him at once?"

"We don't often get the chance to begin as would | | 48 best suit us, we hunters of our kind. I would have preferred to go first to the scene of the death, but I suppose the ground has been trampled over and over, and, besides, I don't want to advertise myself until I am better informed at least. Go on, we will let our meeting come as it will."

But things seldom went on as they would for long, when Frank Ferrars was seeking his way toward a truth or fact. They found Mrs. Marcy at the door, and she at once led them to the upper room which looked out upon the side and rear of the little lawn, and was screened from inlookers, as well as from the sun's rays, by tall cherry trees at the side, and thick and clinging morning glory vines at the back.

"You'll be quite safe from intrusion here," she murmured, and left them as she had received them at the door.

If Doctor Barnes had feared for his patient's strength, and dreaded the effect upon her of the coming interview, he was soon convinced that he had misjudged the courage and will power of this slight, soft-eyed, low-voiced and unassertive young woman. She was very pale, and her eyes looked out from their dark circles like wells of grief. But no tears fell from them, and the low pathetic voice did not falter when she said, after the formal presentation, and before either of the others had spoken:

| | 49

"I have asked to be present at this interview, Mr. Ferrars, and am told that it rests with you whether I am admitted to your confidences. Charles Brierly is my betrothed, and I would to God I had yielded to his wish and married him a week ago. Then no one could have shut me out from ought that concerns him, living or dead. In the sight of heaven he is my husband, for we promised each other eternal faithfulness with our hands clasped above his mother's Bible."

Francis Ferrars was a singular mixture of sternness and gentleness, of quick decision at need and of patient considerateness, and he now took one of the cold little hands between his own, and gently but firmly led her to the cosy chair from which she had arisen.

"You have proved your right to be here, and no one will dispute it. We may need your active help soon, as much as we need and desire your counsel and your closer knowledge of the dead man now."

In moments of intense feeling conventionalities fall away from us and strong soul speaks to strong soul. While they awaited the coming of the doctor and Francis Ferrars, Hilda Grant and Robert Brierly had been unable to break through the constraint which seemed to each to be the mental attitude of the other, and then, too, both were engrossed with the same thought, the coming of the detective, and the possibilities this suggested, for under- | | 50 lying the grievous sorrow of both brother and sweetheart lay the thought, the silent appeal for justice as inherent in our poor human nature as is humanity itself.

But Hilda's sudden claim, her prayer for recognition struck down the barrier of strangeness and the selfishness of sorrow, than which sometimes nothing can be more exclusive, in the mind and heart of Robert Brierly, and he came swiftly to her side, as she sank back, pallid and panting, upon her cushions.

"Miss Grant, my sister; no other claim is so strong as yours. It was to meet you, to know you, that I set out for this place to-day. In my poor brother's last letter--you shall read it soon--he said, 'I am going to give you something precious, Rob; a sister. It is to meet her that I have asked you to come just now.' I claim that sister, and need her now if never before. Don't look upon me as a stranger, but as Charlie's brother, and yours." He placed his hand over hers as it rested weakly upon the arm of her chair, and as it turned and the chill little fingers closed upon his own, he held it for a moment and then, releasing it gently, drew a seat beside her and turned toward the detective.

"Mr. Ferrars, your friend has assured me that I may hope for your aid. Is that so?"

"When I have heard all that you can tell me, I will answer," replied Ferrars. "If I see a hope or chance | | 51 unraveling what now looks like a mystery--should it be proved a mystery--I will give you my promise, and my services."

He had seated himself almost opposite Hilda Grant, and while he quietly studied her face, he addressed the doctor.

"Tell me," he said, "all you know and have been told by others, and be sure you omit not the least detail."

Beginning with the appearance of Mr. Doran at his office door, with the panting and perspiring black pony, the doctor detailed their drive and his first sight of the victim, reviewing his examination of the body in detail, while the detective listened attentively and somewhat to the surprise of the others, without interruption, until the narrator had reached the point when, accompanied by Brierly, he had followed the hearse, with its pitiful burden, back to the village. Then Ferrars interposed.

"A moment, please," taking from an inner pocket a broad letter-case and selecting from it a printed card, which with a pencil, he held out to the doctor. "Be so good, he said, "as to sketch upon the blank back of this the spot where you found the dead man, the mound in full, with the road indicated, above and beyond it. I remember you used to be skilful at sketching things."

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