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 VI.
"WHICH?"

"GIVE me a few moments of your time, doctor, after your guest has retired for the night"

For more than two hours after his parting with Hilda Grant, Ferrars had talked, first with Robert Brierly alone, and then with the doctor as a third party. At the end, the three had gone together to look upon the face of the dead, and now, as the doctor nodded over his shoulders and silently followed, or, rather, guided Brierly from the room and toward his sleeping apartment, the detective turned back, and when they were out of hearing, removed the covering from the still face, and taking a lamp from the table near, stood looking down upon the dead.

"No," he murmured at last, as he replaced the lamp and turned back to the side of the bier. "You never earned such a fate. You must have lived and died a | | 65 good man; an honest man, and yet----" He turned quickly at the sound of the opening door. "Doctor, come here and tell me how your keen eyes and worldly intelligence weighed, measured and guaged [sic] this man who lies here with that look, that inscrutable look they all wear once they have seen the mystery unveiled. What manner of man did you find him?"

Doctor Barnes came closer and gazed reverently down upon the dead face.

"There lies a man who could better afford to face the mystery suddenly, without warning, than you or I or any other living man I know. A good man, a true Christian gentleman I honestly believe, too modest perhaps to ever claim and hold his true place in this grasping world. That he should be struck down by the hand of an assassin is past belief, and yet----" He paused abruptly and bent down to replace the covering over the still, handsome face.

"And yet," repeated the detective, "do you really think that this man was murdered?"

"Ferrars!" Both men were moving away from the side of the bier, one on either hand, and, as they came together at its foot, the speaker put a hand upon the shoulder of the detective. "To-morrow I hope you will thoroughly overlook the wood road beyond the school house, the lake shore, from the village to the knoll or | | 66 mound; and the thin strip of wood between, and then tell me if you think it possible for any one, however stupid or erratic of aim, to shoot by accident a man standing in that place. There is no spot from which a bullet could have been fired whence a man could not have been seen perfectly by that figure by the lake side. The trees are so scattered, the bushes so low, the view up and down so open. It's impossible!"

"That is your fixed opinion?"

"It is. Nothing but actual proof to the contrary would change it." When they had passed from the room and the doctor had softly closed the door, leaving the dead alone in the silence and the shaded lamp-light, they paused again, face to face, in the outer office.

"Have you any suggestions as regards the inquest, Ferrars?" asked the one.

"I have been thinking about that foolish lad, the one who saw poor Brierly in the wood. Could you get him here before the inquiry? We might be able to learn more in this way. You know the lad, of course?"

"Of course. There will be very little to be got from him. But I'll have him here for you."

"Do so. And the lady, the one who drove the pony; you will call her, I suppose?"

"Certainly."

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"That is all, I think. If you can drive me to the spot very early, before we breakfast even, I would like it. You need not stop for me. I can find my way back, prefer to, in fact. You say it is not far?"

"Little more than half a mile from the school-house."

"Then--good night, doctor."

Doctor Barnes occupied a six-room cottage with a mansard, and he had fitted up the room originally meant to be a sitting-room, for his own sleeping apartment. It was at the front of the main cottage, and back of it was the inner office where the body lay, the outer office being in a wing built out from this rear room and opening conveniently outward, in view of the front entrance, and very close to a little side gate. A porch fitted snugly into the angle made by the former sitting-room and this outer office, and both of these rooms could be entered from this convenient porch. Robert Brierly occupied the room opposite that assigned the detective with the width of the hall between them, and the doctor, although Ferrars did not know this, had camped down in his outer office.

Half an hour after he had parted from the doctor, Frank Ferrars, as he was called by his nearest and most dear friends, opened the door upon the corner porch and stepped noiselessly out. When he believed that | | 68 he had found an unusual case--and he cared for no others--he seldom slept until he had thought out some plan of work, adopted some theory, or evolved a possibility, or, as he whimsically termed it, a "stepping stone" toward clearer knowledge.

He had answered the doctor's summons with little thought of what it might mean, or lead to, and simply because it was from "Walt." Barnes. Then he had heard the doctor's brief story with some surprise, and an inclination to think it might end, after all, in a case of accidental shooting, or self-inflicted death. But when he looked into the woeful eyes of lovely Hilda Grant, and clasped the hand of the dead man's brother, the case took on a new interest. Here was no commonplace village maiden hysterical and forlorn, no youth breathing out dramatic vows of vengeance upon an unknown foe. At once his heart went out to them, his sympathy was theirs, and the sympathy of Francis Ferrars was of a very select nature indeed.

And thus he had looked at the beautiful refined face of the dead man, a face that told of gentleness, sweetness, loyalty, all manifest in the calm dignity of death. Not a strong face, as his brother's face was strong, but manly with the true Christian manliness, and strong with the strength of truth. Looking upon this face, all thought of self-destruction forsook the detective, and he | | 69 stood, after that first long gaze, vowed to right this deadly wrong in the only way left to a mortal.

But how strange that such a man, in such a place, should be snatched out of life by the hand of an assassin! He must think over it, and he could think best when passing slowly along some quiet by-way or street. So he closed his door softly, and all unconscious that he was observed from the window of the outer office, he vaulted across the low fence, striking noiselessly upon the soft turf on the further side; and, after a moment of hesitation, turned the corner and went down Main Street.

Past the shops, the fine new church, the two hotels, one new and one old. Past the little park and around it, to the street, terraced and tree planted, where the more pretentious dwellings and several modish new houses, built for the summer boarder, stood. It was a balmy night. Every star seemed out, and there was a moon, bright, but on the wane.

Ferrars walked slowly upon the soft turf, avoiding the boards and stones of the walks and street crossings. Now and then he paused to look at some fair garden, lovely in the moonlight, or up at the stars, and once, at least, at a window, open to the breezes of night and revealing that which sent Ferrars homeward presently with a question on his lips. He paced the length of the | | 70 terraced street, and passed by the cottage where Hilda Grant waked and wept perchance, and as he re-entered his room silently and shadow-like, he said to himself--

"Is it fate or Providence that prompts us to these reasonless acts? I may be wrong, I may be mistaken, but I could almost believe that I have found my first clue."

And yet he had heard nothing, and yet all he had seen was a woman's shadow, reflected fitfully by the waning moon, as she paced her room to and fro, to and fro, like some restless or tormented animal, and now and then lifted her arms aloft in despair? in malediction? in triumph? in entreaty ?--which?

In spite of his brief rest, if rest it was, Ferrars was astir before sunrise: but, even so, he found the doctor awake before him, and his horse in waiting at the side gate.

They drove swiftly and were soon within sight of the Indian Mound.

"Show me first the place where the body was found," Ferrars had said to his guide as they set out, and when the two stood at this spot, which some one had marked with two small stakes, and the doctor had answered some brief questions regarding the road through the fringe of wood, the mound, and the formation of the lake shore further south or away from the town, the detective announced his wish to be left alone to pursue his work in his own way.

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"Your guest will be astir early if I am not much mistaken," he said. "And you have Miss Grant to look after, and may be wanted for a dozen reasons before I return. I can easily walk back, and think you will see me at the breakfast hour, which you must on no account delay."

Two hours later, and just as the doctor's man had announced breakfast, the detective returned, and at once joined the two in the dining-room.

He said nothing of his morning excursion, but the doctor's quick eye noted his look of gravity, and a certain preoccupation of manner which Ferrars did not attempt to hide. Before the meal was ended Doctor Barnes was convinced that something was puzzling the detective, and troubling him not a little.

After breakfast, and while Brierly was for the moment absent from the porch where they had seated themselves with their cigars, Ferrars asked--

"Where does the lady live who drove Mr. Doran's black pony yesterday. Is it at an hotel?"

"It is at the Glenville, an aristocratic family hotel on the terrace. She is a Mrs. Jamieson."

"Do you know her?"

"She sent for me once to prescribe for some small ailment not long ago."

"Has she been summoned?"

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"She will be."

"If there was any one in the woods, or approaching the mound by the road from the south, she should have seen them, or him; even a boat might have been seen through the trees for some distance southward, could it not?"

"Yes. For two miles from the town the lake is visible from the wood road. Ah! here comes Doran and our constable."

For half an hour the doctor was busy with Doran, the constable, and a number of other men who had or wished to have some small part to play in this second act of the tragedy, the end of which no one could foresee. Then, having dispatched them on their various missions, the doctor set out to inquire after the welfare of Hilda Grant; and Robert Brierly, who could not endure his suspense and sorrow in complete inaction, asked permission to accompany him, thus leaving the detective, who was quite in the mood for a little solitude just then, in possession of the porch, three wicker chairs and his cigar.

But not for long. Before he had smoked and wrinkled his brows, as was his habit when things were not developing to his liking, and pondered ten minutes alone, he heard the click of the front gate, and turned in his chair to see a lady, petite, graceful, and dressed in | | 73 mourning, coming toward him with quick, light steps. She was looking straight at him as she came, but as he rose at her approach, she stopped short, and standing a few steps from the porch, said crisply--

"Your pardon. I have made a mistake. I am looking for Doctor Barnes."

"He has gone out for a short time only. Will you be seated, madam, and wait?"

She advanced a step and stopped irresolute.

"I suppose I must, unless," coming close to the lower step, "unless you can tell me, sir, what I wish to know."

"If it is a question of medicine, madam, I fear----"

"It is not," she broke in, her voice dropping to a lower note. "It is about the--the inquiry or examination into the death of the poor young man who--but you know, of course."

"I have heard. The inquest is held at one o'clock."

"Ah! And do you know if the--the witnesses have been notified as yet?"

"They are being summoned now. As the doctor's guest I have but lately heard him sending out the papers."

"Oh, indeed!" The lady put a tiny foot upon the step as if to mount, and then withdrew it. "I think, if I may leave a message with you, sir," she said, "I will not wait."

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"Most certainly," he replied.

"I chanced to be driving through the wood yesterday when the body was discovered near the Indian Mound, and am told that I shall be wanted as a witness. I do not understand why."

"Possibly a mere form, which is nevertheless essential."

"I had engaged to go out with a yachting party," she went on, "and before I withdraw from the excursion I wish to be sure that I shall really be required. My name is Mrs. Jamieson, and----"

"Then I can assure you, Mrs. Jamieson, that you are, or will be wanted, at least. My friend has sent a summons to a Mrs. Jamieson of the Glenville House."

"That is myself," the lady said, and turned to go. "Of course then I must be at hand."

She nodded slightly and went away, going with a less appearance of haste down the street and so from his sight.

When she was no longer visible the detective resumed his seat, and relighted his cigar, making, as he did so, this very unprofessional comment--

"I hate to lose sight of a pretty woman, until I am sure of the colour of her eyes."

And yet Francis Ferrars had never been called, in any sense, a "ladies' man."

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