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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CHAPTER VII.
RENUNCIATION.

FERRARS had predicted that nothing would be gained by the inquest, and the result proved him a prophet.

Peter Kramer, the poor half-wit who had given the first clue to the whereabouts of the murdered man, was found, and his confidence won by much coaxing, and more sweets and shining pennies, the only coin which Peter would ever recognise as such. But the result was small. Asked had he seen the teacher, the reply was, "Yep." Asked where, "Most by Injun hill." Asked what doing, "Settin' down."

"Had he heard the pistol fired?" asked the doctor.

"Un! Uh! Heard nawthin."

"And whom did you see, Peter, besides the teacher?"

Again the look of affright in the dull eyes, the arm lifted as in self-protection, and the only word they could coax from his lips was, "Ghost!" uttered in evident fear and trembling.

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And this was repeated at the inquest. This, and no more, from Peter.

Mrs. Fry, Charles Brierly's landlady, told how the dead man had appeared at breakfast, and her testimony did not accord with the statement of her little daughter.

"Miss Grant has told me of my little girl's mistake," she said. "Mr. Brierly was down-stairs unusually early that morning, and he did not look quite as well as usual. He looked worried, in fact, and ate little. He was always a small eater, and I said something about his eating even less than usual, I can't recall the exact words. Nellie of course, did not observe his worried look, as I did, and quoted me wrong. Mr. Brierly left the house at once after leaving the table. I did not think of it at first, but it came to me this morning that as he did not carry any books with him, he must of course have meant to come back for them, and-" She paused.

"And, of course," suggested the coroner, "he must have had his pistol upon his person when he came down to breakfast? Is that your meaning?"

"Yes, sir."

The weapon, found near the dead man's hand as it had doubtless fallen from it, was there in evidence, as it had been picked up with two of the chambers empty.

That it was not a case of murder for plunder was proven, or so they thought, by the fact that the dead | | 77 man's watch was found upon his person; his pockets containing a small sum of money, pencils, knives, note book, a small picture case, closed with a spring, and containing Hilda Grant's picture, and a letter from his brother.

Hilda Grant's brief testimony did not agree with that of Mrs. Fry.

"She saw her lover, alive, for the last time on the evening before his death. He was in good spirits, and if there was anything troubling him he gave no sign of it. He was by nature quiet and rather reserved," she said.

"Yes, she knew his habit of sometimes going to the lake shore beyond the town to practice at target-shooting, but when he did not appear at his post at nine o'clock, she never thought to send to the lake shore at first, because he usually returned from his morning exercise before nine o'clock; and so her first thought had been to send to Mrs. Fry's."

When the doctor and Robert were about to leave the scene of the murder, among other instructions given to Doran had been this:

"Don't say anything in town about Mr. Brierly's arrival; you know how curious our people are, and we would have a lot of our curiosity lovers hovering around my place to see and hear and ask questions. Just caution the others, will you?"

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Doran held an acknowledged leadership over the men with whom he consorted, and the group willingly preserved silence. Later, when Doctor Barnes explained to Ferrars how he had kept the curious away from his door, and from Brierly, he thought the detective's gratification because of this rather strange, just at first, and in excess of the cause.

"You couldn't have done a better thing," Ferrars had declared. "It's more than I had ventured to hope. Keep Brierly's identity as close as possible until the inquest is called, and then hold it back, and do not put him on the stand until the last."

After Mrs. Fry, the boy Peter and Hilda Grant had been questioned, Samuel Doran took the witness chair, telling of his summons from Miss Grant, of the separation of the group at the Indian Mound, of his meeting with Mrs. Jamieson, of the discovery made by his two companions and of all that followed. And then Mrs. Jamieson was called.

She had entered the place accompanied by an acquaintance from the Glenville, and they had taken, from choice, as it seemed to them, seats in the rear of the jury, and somewhat aloof from the place where Hilda Grant, Mrs. Marcy, and Mrs. Fry sat. Robert Brierly would have taken his place beside Hilda, but the detective interposed.

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"Owing to the precautions of the doctor and Mr. Doran, the fact of your relationship has not leaked out. It appears that Mrs. Fry was not informed of your coming until the evening before, or Thursday evening, and she seems to be a very discreet woman. After the inquest you will be free to devote yourself to Miss Grant. Until then, it is my whim, if you like, to keep you incog."

Of course Brierly acquiesced, but more than once he found himself wondering why this should seem to Ferrars needful.

Mrs. Jamieson came quietly to the witnesses' chair, and took her place. There was a little stir as she came forward, for, while she had been for some weeks in Glenville, and had driven much about its pretty country roads and lanes, she had gone, for the most part, more or less closely veiled in fleecy gauzes of black or white. Afoot she was seldom seen beyond the grounds about the family hotel.

To-day, however, the lady had chosen to wear a Parisian looking gown of dull black silk and a tiny capote of the same material rested upon her blonde and abundant hair, while only the filmiest of white illusion veiled, but did not hide, the pretty face from which the blue eyes looked out and about her, gravely but with perfect self-possession.

She told of her morning drive, and while so doing, | | 80 Ferrars, sitting a little in the rear of the coroner, slipped into his palm a small card closely written upon both sides. Upon one side was written, "Use these as random shots."

And when she spoke of the man whom she had seen going into the wood near the mound, the doctor interposed his first question.

"Can you describe the person at all? His dress, his bearing?"

"Not distinctly," she replied. "He was going from me and his face, of course, I could not see. In fact, as I have before stated, my pony was fresh, and required my attention. Besides, there was really no reason why I should look a second time at the back of a strange person whom I passed at some little distance. As I seem to recall the figure now, it was that of a rather tall, fair-haired man. I can say no more."

"And at what hour was this?"

"It must have been nearing eight o'clock, I fancy, although being out for pleasure I took little notice of the hour."

No further interruptions were made until she had finished the story of the morning's experience, of her meeting with Doran and the others, of the drive to the village, and of her message to Miss Grant.

"Did you know Miss Grant?"

"Only as I had seen her at church, and upon the street | | 81 or in the school-yard. We had never met, prior to that morning."

"And Charles Brierly? Do you know him?"

"Only by sight. I know few people in Glenville outside of my ho--of the Glenville House."

Both the doctor and Ferrars noted the unfinished word broken off at the first syllable. To the one it was a riddle; to the other it told something which might find useful later on.

"Mrs. Jamieson," resumed the coroner, after consulting the detective's card, "how far did you drive yesterday before you turned about upon the wood road?"

For a moment the lady seemed to be questioning her memory. Then she replied.

"The distance in miles, or fractions of miles, I could not give. I turned the pony about, I remember, at the place where the road curves toward the lake, at the old mill, near the opening of the wood."

"Ah, then you could see, of course, for some distance up and down the lake shore?"

"I could!"

There was a hint of surprise in her coldly courteous reply.

"And at that point did you see anything, any one in the wood, or along the lake?"

"I certainly saw no person. But--yes, I do remember | | 82 that there was a boat at the water's edge, not far from the place where I turned homeward. It was a little beyond, or north of me."

"Did you observe whether there were oars in the boat?"

"I saw none, I am quite sure," the lady replied, and this ended her part in the inquiry.

But now there were some youthful, eager and valuable new witnesses, and their combined testimony amounted to this:

When the body of their beloved teacher had been brought home and the first hour of excitement had passed, three boys, who had been among Charles Brierly's brightest and most mischief loving and adventurous pupils, had set out, a full hour in advance of the elder exploring party, and had followed the lake shore and the wood road, one closely skirting the lake shore, another running through the sparse timber and undergrowth about half way up the shallow slope, and the third trotting down the road beyond; the three keeping pretty nearly parallel, until the discovery, by the lad upon the shore, of the boat drawn out of the water, and in the shade of a tree. This had brought the others down to the lake and then caused them to go hastily back. Meeting the party of men, who were not far behind them, the boys had turned back with them, | | 83 and now there was a crowd of witnesses to corroborate the story of the boat.

It stood, they all affirmed, in the shade of a spreading tree, so as that no sun rays had beaten upon it, and its sides were still damp from recent contact with the water, while it stood entirely upon the land. Two oars, also showing signs of contact with the lake, were in the little boat, blade ends down, and it was evident that its late occupant disembarked in haste, for, while the stake by which boat had been secured, stood scarcely three feet away, and the chain and padlock lay over the edge of the little craft, there had been no effort to secure it, and the oars had the look of having been hastily shipped and left thus without further care.

When the matter of the boat had been fully investigated, and the coroner and Ferrars conferred together for some moments, and during these moments Mrs. Jamieson and her companion exchanged some whispered words.

Through some mistake, it would seem, these two had been given places which, while aloof from the strange men, and almost in the rear of the jurors, brought them facing the open door of the inner room, where, in full view, the shrouded body of the murdered man lay, and from the first the eyes of the two seemed held and fascinated by the sight of the long, still figure outlined under the white covering.

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"Is it possible," whispered the lady witness, "that we must sit here until the end, face to face with that!" She was trembling slightly, as she spoke. "It is making me nervous."

"And no wonder," murmured her friend. "But it must be almost over. I--I confess to some curiosity. This is such a new and unusual sensation, to be here, you know."

"Ugh!"

Mrs. Jamieson turned away, for the coroner was speaking.

"There is one point," he said, "upon which our witnesses differ, and that is the mental condition of the deceased during the twenty-four hours preceding his death. Another witness will now speak upon this matter. Mr. Robert Brierly, the brother of Charles Brierly, will now testify."

As Robert Brierly came out from the rather secluded place he had heretofore occupied, at the suggestion of the detective, all eyes were fixed upon him. There could be no doubt of his relationship to the deceased. It was the same face, but darker and stronger; the same tall form, but broader and more athletic. The eyes of this man were darker and more resolute than those of his dead brother; his hair was browner, too, and where the face of the one had been full of kindliness and gentle | | 85 dignity, that of this other was strong, spirited and resolute. But, beyond a doubt, these two were brothers.

There was a stir as Brierly made his way forward, paused before the coroner and faced the jury; and then, as his eyes fell upon the two figures in the rear of that body he made a sudden step forward.

"Doctor!" he called quickly, "you are needed here! A lady has fainted!"

For a moment all was forgotten, save the white face that had fallen back upon her friend's shoulder, and that seemed even whiter because of the black garments, and beneath the halo of fair blonde hair.

"It was that," explained the friend, who proved to be a Mrs. Arthur, pointing toward the shrouded figure in the inner room. "She has been growing more and more nervous for some time."

Robert Brierly was the first at her side, but, as the doctor took his place and he drew back a pace, a hand touched his arm.

"Step aside," whispered Ferrars, "where she cannot see you." And without comprehending but answering a look in the detective's eye, he obeyed.

Mrs. Jamieson did not at once recover, and the doctor and Ferrars carried her across the hall and into the room lately occupied by Brierly. As Mrs. Arthur followed them, it seemed to her that the detective, whom of course | | 86 she did not know as such, was assuming the leadership, and that half a dozen quick words were spoken by him to the doctor, across her friend's drooping head.

"She must be removed immediately," said the doctor a moment after. "Let some one find a carriage or phæton at once." Then, as Ferrars did not move from his place beside the bed where they had placed the unconscious woman, he strode to the chamber door, said a word or two to Doran, who had followed them as far as the door, and came back to his place beside the bed.

Before Mrs. Jamieson had opened her eyes a low wagonette was at the door, and when the lady became conscious and had been raised and given a stimulating draught, she was lifted again by Ferrars and Doctor Barnes and carried to the waiting vehicle, followed by Mrs. Arthur.

"Kindly take the place beside the driver, madam," directed the doctor. "My friend will go with the lady and assist her; it will be best. It is possible that she may faint again." And so they drove away, Mrs. Arthur beside Doran, the driver; and Mrs. Jamieson, still pallid and tremulous, leaning upon the supporting shoulder of Ferrars, silent and with closed eyes.

As he lifted her from the wagonette, and assisted her up the steps and within the door, however, the lady | | 87 seemed to recover herself with an effort. She had crossed the threshold supported by Ferrars on the one side, and leaning upon her friend's arm on the other, and at the door of the reception room she turned, saying faintly:

"Let me rest here first. Before we go upstairs, I mean." Then, withdrawing her hand from her friend's arm, she seemed to steady herself, and standing more erect, turned to Ferrars.

"I must not trouble you longer, now, sir. You have been most kind." Her voice faltered, she paused a moment, and then held out her hand. "I should like very much to hear the outcome," she hesitated.

"With your permission," the detective replied quickly, "I will call to ask after your welfare, and to inform you if I can." He turned to go, but she made a movement toward him.

"That poor girl," she said, "I pity her so. Do you know her well, sir?" She was quite herself now, but her voice was still weak and tremulous.

"You have not heard, I see, that she is my cousin."

"No. I would like to call upon her. Will you ask her if I may?" He nodded and she added quickly, "And call, if you please, to-morrow."

Robert Brierly told his story almost without interruption; all that he knew of his brother's life in the village; | | 88 of his own; of his coming earlier than he was expected, and of his firm belief that his brother had been made the victim of foul play. Possibly killed by mistake, because of some fancied resemblance; for his life, which had been like an open book to all his friends, held no secrets, no "episodes," and enemies he never had one. In short, he could throw no light upon the mystery of his brother's death. Rather, his story made that death seem more mysterious than at first because of the possibilities that it rendered at least probable.

But this evidence had its effect upon a somewhat bucolic jury. That Charles Brierly had been shot by another hand than his own had been very clearly demonstrated, for his brother would have no doubt whatever left upon this point; while he little knew how much the judicious whispers and hints uttered in the right places, and with apparent intent of confidence and secrecy, had to do with the shaping of the verdict, which was as follows:

"We, the jury, find that the deceased, Charles Brierly, died from a bullet wound, fired, according to our belief, by mistake or accident, and at the hands of some person unknown."

And now came the question of proof.

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"It must be cleared up," said Robert Brierly to the detective. "I am not a rich man, Mr. Ferrars, but all that I have shall be spent at need to bring the truth to light. For I can never rest until I have learned it. It is my duty to my dead brother, father, mother--all."

And late that night, alone in his room he looked out upon the stars hung low upon the eastern horizon and murmured--

"Ah, Ruth, Ruth, we were far enough asunder before, and now--Ah, it was well to have left you your freedom, for now the gulf is widening; it may soon, it will soon be impassable." And he sighed heavily, as a strong man sighs when the tears are very near his eyes and the pain close to his heart.

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