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

Table of Contents

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WHEN the doctor had completed his hasty sketch, he returned the card upon which it was made, to the detective and silently awaited his comment.

"It is very helpful," said Ferrars. "It would seem, then, that just opposite the mound the lake makes an inward curve?"


"And that the centre of the mound corresponds to the central or nearest point of the curve?"

The doctor nodded assent.

"Now am I right in thinking that anything occurring at this central point would be unseen from the road?"

"Quite right. The mound rises higher than the road, and its length shuts off the view at either end, that and | | 53 of the road, which curves away from the lake at the north end, and runs in an almost straight direction for some distance at the other."

"I see." And again for a moment Ferrars consulted the sketch. Then--

"Did you measure the distance between the target and the spot where the body was found?"

"No. It was the usual distance for practice, I should think."

"It was rather a long range," interposed Brierly. "I am something of a shot myself and I noticed that."

Again the detective pondered over the sketch.

By this time I dare say," he said presently, "there will be any number of curious people in the wood and about that spot."

"I doubt it," replied Doctor Barnes. "I thought of that, and spoke to Doran. Mr. Brierly was so well liked by all that it only needed a word to keep the men and boys from doing anything that might hinder a thorough investigation. Two men are upon the road just below the school-house to turn back the thoughtless curious ones. It was Doran's foresight," added the honest physician. "I suppose you will wish to explore the wood near the mound?"

Ferrars laid aside the sketch. "As the coroner," he said, "you can help me. Of course, you can have no | | 54 doubt as to the nature of the shooting. There could be no mistake."

"None. The shot at the back could not have been self-inflicted."

"Then if you can rely upon your constables and this man Doran, let them make a quiet inquiry up and down the wood road in search of any one who may have driven over it between the hours of----"

"Eight and ten o'clock," said Hilda Grant "He," meaning her late friend, "left his boarding place at eight o'clock, or near it, and he was found shortly before ten."

Her speech was low and hesitating, but it did not falter.

"Thank you," said the detective, and turned again to the doctor.

"Next," said he, "if you can find a trusty man, who will find out for us if any boat or boats have been seen about the lake shore during those hours, it will be another step in the right direction. And now, you have told me that you suspect no one; that there is no clue whatever." He glanced from one to the other. "Still we are told that very often by those who should know best, but who were not trained to such searching. To begin, I must know something, Mr. Brierly, about your brother and his past. Is he your only brother?"

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"Yes. We lost a sister ten years ago, a mere child. There were no other children."

"And--your parents?"

"Are both dead."

"Ah! Mr. Brierly, give me, if you please, a sketch of your life and of your brother's, dating, let us say, from the time of your father's death."

If the request was unexpected or unwelcome to Robert Brierly he made no sign, but began at once.

"If I do not go into details sufficiently, Mr. Ferrars," he said, by way of preamble, "you will, of course, interrogate me."

The detective nodded, and Brierly went on.

"My father was an Episcopalian clergyman, and, at the time of his death, we were living in one of the wealthy suburbs of Chicago, where he had held a charge for ten years, and where we remained for six years after he gave up the pulpit Being in comfortable circumstances, we found it a most pleasant place of residence. My sister's death brought us our first sorrow, and it was soon followed by the loss of our mother. We continued to live, however, in the old home until my brother and I were ready to go to college, and then my father shut up the house and went abroad with a party of congenial friends. My father was not a business man, and the man to whom he had confided the management of his affairs mis- | | 56 arranged them during his absence, to what extent we never fully knew until after my father's death, when we found ourselves, after all was settled, with something like fifteen thousand dollars each, and our educations. My brother had already begun to prepare for the ministry, and I had decided early to follow the career of a journalist."

"Are you the elder? " asked the detective.

"Yes." Brierly paused for further comment, but none came, and he resumed. "It had been the intention of my father that my brother and I should make the tour of the two continents when our studies were at an end; that is, our school days. He had made this same journey in his youth, and he had even mapped out routes for us, and told us of certain strange and little explored places which we must not miss, such as the rock temples of Kylas in Central India, and various wonders of Egypt. It was a favourite project of his. 'It will leave you less money, boys,' he used to say, 'but it will give what can never be taken from you. When a man knows his own world, he is better fitted for the next.' And so, after much discussion we determined to make the journey. Indeed, to Charley it began to seem a pilgrimage, in which love, duty, and pleasure intermingled."

He paused, and Hilda turned away her face as a long sighing breath escaped his lips.

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"Shortly after our return I took up journalistic work in serious earnest, and my brother, having been ordained, was about to accept a charge when he met with an accident which was followed by a long illness. When he arose from this, his physicians would not hear of his assuming the labours of a pastor over a large and active suburban church, and, as my brother could not bear to be altogether idle, and the country was thought to be the place for him, it ended in his coming here, to take charge of the little school. He was inordinately fond of children, and a born instructor, so it seemed to me. He was pleased with the beauty of the place and the quiet of it, from the first, and he was not long in finding his greatest happiness here."

His voice sank, and he turned a face in which gratitude and sorrow blended, upon the girl who suddenly covered her own with her trembling hands.

But the detective, with a new look of intentness upon his face, and without a moment's pause, asked quickly.

"Then you have been in this place before, of course?"

"No, I have not. For the first three months Charley was very willing to come to me, in the city. Then came a very busy time for me and he came twice, somewhat reluctantly, I thought. Six months ago I | | 58 was sent to New Mexico to do some special work, and returned to the city on Tuesday last." His voice broke, and he got up and walked to the window farthest from the group.

While he had been speaking, Ferrars had scribbled aimlessly and a stroke at a time, as it seemed, upon the margin of the printed side of the card which bore the sketch made by Doctor Barnes; and now, while Hilda's face was again turned away, the young man at the window still stood with his back towards all in the room, he pushed the card from the edge of the table, and shot a significant glance toward the doctor.

Picking up the card, Doctor Barnes glanced at it carelessly, and then replaced it upon the table, having read these words--

"I wish to speak with her alone. Make it a professional necessity."

As Brierly turned toward them once more the detective turned to the young girl. "I would like to hear something from you, Miss Grant, if you find yourself equal to it."

Hilda set her lips in firm lines, and after a moment said steadily--

"I am quite at your service."

"One minute." The doctor arose and addressed himself to the detective.

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"I feel sure that it will be best for Miss Grant that she talk with you alone. As her physician, I will caution her against putting too great a restraint upon herself, upon her feelings. While you talk with her, Ferrars, Mr. Brierly and I will go back to my quarters, unless you bid us come back."

"I do not," interposed the detective. "I will join you soon, and if need be, you can then return, doctor."

At first it seemed as if Hilda were about to remonstrate. But she caught the look of intelligence that flashed from his eyes to hers, and she sat in silence while Doctor Barnes explained the route to his cottage and murmured a low good-bye, while Brierly took her hand and bent over her with a kind adieu.

"I may see you to-morrow," he whispered. "You let me come, sister?" The last word breathed to her ear.

Her lips moved soundlessly, but he read her eager consent in her timid return of his hand clasp and the look in her sad, grey eyes, and followed the doctor from the room.

When Frank Ferrars had closed the door behind the two men, he wasted no time in useless words, but, seating himself opposite the girl, and so close that he could catch, if need be, her faintest whisper, he began, his own tones low and touched with sympathy--

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"Miss Grant," he said, "I already feel assured that you know how many things must be considered before we can ever begin such a search as I foresee before me. Of course it may happen that before the end of the coroner's inquest some clue or key to the situation may have developed. But, if I have heard all, or, rather, if there has not been some important fact or feature overlooked, we must go behind the scenes for our data, our hints and possible clues. Do you comprehend me?"

Hilda Grant had drawn herself erect, and was listening intently with her clear eyes fixed upon his face, and she seemed with her whole soul to be studying this man, while, with her ears she took in and comprehended his every word.

"You mean," she answered slowly, "that there may be something in himself or some event or fact in his past, or that of his family, which has brought about this?" She turned away her face. She could not put the awful fact into words.

"I knew you would understand me, and it is not to his past alone that I must look for help, but to others."

"Do you mean mine?"

"Yes. You do understand!"

There was a look of relief in his eyes. His lips took | | 61 on a gentler curve. "I see that you are going to help me."

"If it is in my power, I surely am. Where shall we begin?"

"Tell me all that you can about Charles Brierly, all that he has told you about himself. Will it be too hard?"

"No matter." She drew herself more erect. "I think if you will let me tell my own story briefly, and then fill it out at need, by interrogation, it will be easiest for me."

"And best for me. Thank you." He leaned back and rested his hands upon the arms of his chair.

"I am ready to hear you," he said, and withdrew his full gaze from her face, letting his eyelids fall and sitting thus with half-closed eyes.

"Of course," she began, "it was only natural, or so it appeared to me, that we should become friends soon, meeting, as we must, daily, and being so constantly brought together, as upper and under teachers in this little village school. He never seemed really strange to me, and we seemed thrown upon each other for society, for the young people of the village held aloof, because of our newness, and our position, I suppose, and the people of the hotels and boarding-houses found, naturally, a set, or sets, by themselves. | | 62 I grew up in what you might call a religious atmosphere, and when I knew that he was a minister of the gospel, I felt at once full confidence in him and met his friendly advances quite frankly. I think we understood each other very soon. You perhaps have not been told that he filled a vacancy, taking the place of a young man who was called away because of his mother's illness, and who did not return, giving up the school at her request. It was in April, a year ago, that he--Charlie--took up the work, coming back, as I did, after the summer vacation. It was after that that he began telling me about himself a little; to speak often of his brother, who was, to his eyes, a model of young manhood and greatly his intellectual superior.

She paused a moment, and then with a little proud lifting of her rounded chin, resumed--

"I was not quite willing to agree as to the superiority; for Charles Brierly was as bright, as talented and promising a young man, as good and as modest as any I ever knew or hope to know, and I have met some who rank high as pastors and orators."

"I can well believe you," he said, with his eyes upon her face, and his voice was sincere and full of sympathy.

"We were not engaged until quite recently. Although we both, I think, understood ourselves and each other | | 63 long before. And now, what more can I say? He has told me much of his school days, of his student life, and, of course, of his brother's also. In fact, without meaning it, he has taught me to stand somewhat in awe of this highly fastidious, faultless and much-beloved brother, but I have heard of no family quarrel, no enemy, no unpleasant episode of any sort. For himself, he told me, and I believe his lightest word, that he never cared for any other woman; had never been much in women's society, in fact, owing to his almost constant study and travel. Here in the village all was his friends; his pupils were all his adorers, young and old alike were his admirers, and he had room in his heart for all. No hand in Glenville was ever raised against him, I am sure."

"You think then that it was perhaps an accident, a mistake?" He was eyeing her keenly from beneath his drooping lashes.

"No!" She sprang suddenly to her feet and stood erect before him. "No, Mr. Ferrars, I do not! I cannot. I was never in my life superstitious. I do not believe it is superstition that compels me to feel that Charles Brierly was murdered of intent, and by enemy, an enemy who has stalked him unawares, for money perhaps, and who has planned cunningly, and hid his traces well."

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