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

<< chapter 11 chapter 25 >>

Hide page layout


ON the fourth day after Charles Brierly's untimely death, his body was taken to the city and laid beside his parents in the beautiful cemetery where love and grief had already prepared for him and his, a place of final rest.

News of the burial had been sent ahead, and a crowd of friends had assembled at the home of their father's oldest friend and family lawyer, where the body was received as that of a son, and the last rites of affection and respect were performed by the venerable rector who had seen the brothers grow from boys to men.

Doctor Barnes and Hilda Grant, with Mrs. Marcy as chaperone, accompanied the sad-hearted brother upon this journey, and they were somewhat surprised when Ferrars, whom they had thought must go with


them in his character of sole relative to the young lady, explained that his presence in Glenville just then was essential to the success of the work he had been called there to do.

"There are so many little things which I want to learn," he said. "In fact, I must know Glenville much better before I can go far in my search, and during your absence I can find the time for making many new acquaintances, and I mean to begin by cultivating your friend Doran, doctor."

They were gone three days, and when they returned they were but a party of three. "Poor Charlie Brierly," as his friends in the city had already begun to call the dead, lay in his last, quiet earthly home, and Robert had remained in the city.

"To settle up his brother's affairs, and put the matter of his death into the hands of the detectives." At least this is what Mr. Doran informed one of the loungers who, seeing the return of the doctor and the two ladies, had remarked upon Brierly's absence.

"Of course he'll have to come back here," Doran had further added. "He ain't touched the things in his brother's rooms yet, they say. But they'll wait better than the other business."

"Umph!" the villager sniffed. "He's let three days slip by without makin' much of a stir. Why on earth


ain't they had one o' them fellers down here long before this? They ain't seemed to hurry much."

"Well, you see, at first 'twas more than half believed that the shooting must have been by accident; and then, this is just between you and me, Jones; didn't you ever think that even after that jury's verdict, and the doctor's testimony, they, Doc. and the brother, might have wanted to make sure, by a sort of private and more thorough investigation of the wound, eh?"

"By crackey! Now that you speak of it, I heard Mason say't they was up an' movin' round at the doctor's that livelong night! Yes, sir, I reckon you've hit it!"

"My!" mused Samuel Doran as he moved away from the gossip. "They bite at my yams like babies on a teethin' ring. Doc. knows his fellow critters, sure enough, and my work's laid out for me, I guess."

For Doran, after due consultation, and upon the doctor's voucher, had been taken a little way into the confidence of the three men, and Ferrars began to foresee in him a reliable helper.

The above brief conversation took place between Doran and Mr. Jones, professional depôt-lounger and occasional worker at odd jobs, while the doctor was putting Hilda and Mrs. Marcy into a waiting carriage, and when he had seen it drive away up town, Doran


came forward and addressed him in a tone quite audible to the bystanders.

"You see, I didn't forget the carriage, Doc. Hope Miss Grant ain't none the worse for her sad sort of journey." And then as the two walked away from, the platform together, and he saw the doctor's eyes glancing from side to side, Doran went on. "Looking for Mr. Grant, Doc.? Well, I guess you won't see him; not before supper-time, anyhow. Fact is, I guess he's sort of fancy struck on that pretty-faced widow down at the Glenville House, and he's taken her out behind my greys this afternoon. I don't know as I blame him any; she is a dainty little wid." The doctor stared at him in amazement at his first words, and then broke into a hearty laugh over the last.

"Upon my word, Doran, you will be able to write a new dictionary of abbreviations some day! Doran's Original! A dainty wid. is very good in its way; only, is she a 'wid.'?

"That's what they say at the Glenville. Widow and rich."

At the next corner Doran halted. "Have to tear myself away," he said, amiably. "See you later," and the two men separated.

"Well, old man, how have you fared during the lull in your business?" asked Doctor Barnes, as his man came to meet him. "You don't look overworked."


"I ain't been, neither, sah. Your Mr. Grant or Ferrars, I ain't rightly got his name, I guess, sir, he 'pears ter like the cooks down to the Glenville better than me. I ain't had no bother with him since you left, sir, 'cept to make up his bed."

"I know. He has found some friends there, I fancy, Jude. Any news or messages?" and the doctor became at once absorbed in his neglected business.

Ferrars made his appearance at "supper time" as Doran had described the evening meal, and the two men had much to discuss. When Jude had placed the last dishes and retired, the detective, who thus far had been listening to the doctor's account of the journey and the sad funeral obsequies, looked up and said: "I suppose you have heard of my wanderings, doctor, and how I have forsaken poor Jude? The fact is, I have found plenty of leisure, and Mrs. Jamieson, when one comes to know her a little, is a very ab--interesting woman. The sort of woman, in fact, whose society I now and then enjoy. I have not neglected my duty, however, but there is absolutely nothing new. And, by the bye, I must see Miss Grant this evening; after that, if you are at liberty, we must have a talk. I have decided upon a change of plan, of which you must know."

He had left a note for Miss Grant, which advised her


of his intended call as soon as she should have become rested and refreshed. He was glad to find her so strong and so composed, and he came at once to the business in hand.

"Miss Grant," he began, "as I said in my note, I have something to propose to you which has presented itself to me as the best course during your absence; and, to begin, let me ask, have you still full confidence in me as a detective, and as a man whom you may trust?"

She lifted her fine clear eyes to his face and kept them there while she replied.

"I felt that I could trust you, Mr. Ferrars, when we first met. There has been no change in that feeling unless it may be the change to a larger measure of trust and confidence."

"Thank you." And now the cool detective flushed like a schoolboy. "I shall try hard to deserve your good opinion, and it encourages me to broach my singular proposal. I believe it will enable me to get on easier and with more rapidity if you will permit me to continue for an indefinite time in the rôle which I did not at first choose for myself, and I ask you if I may still remain, in the eyes of Glenville, as now, in the character of your cousin."

"To remain--in Glenville?"


"When Doctor Barnes sent for me, advising me that I might arrive in the character of your cousin, it was, of course, with the idea that this masquerade would be a brief one, and it was undertaken because the doctor knew how it would hamper if not really balk, my attempts to unravel this mystery if I were known as a detective. I cannot explain now, but I ask you to believe that, being here, I am now convinced that in laying aside this character I should put out of my hands my best weapon, the most direct means of following up and ferreting out a crime which I fully believe will prove to have been--that is, if we succeed in finding out the truth--a crime with a far-reaching plot behind it, and the cause of which most of us have not even remotely dreamed of."

"You have said enough. All is in your hands. Be what you will and must, the better to prove to the world that Charles Brierly, my husband in the sight of heaven, died as he lived, an upright gentleman and martyr, and not the suicide or the victim of a righteous vengeance that most people would for ever declare him if the truth is not made known."

"Understand," he urged, "that if you consent to this, you, as well as myself, will have a part to play, and an active part, perhaps, in the drama, we are about to begin. Remember, you will have to keep up the decep-


tion for weeks, possibly months; and to go and come at my desire."

"Do you mean," she asked, breathlessly, "that you may need my help?"

"I do need your help!"

"Oh!" she cried, letting go her splendid self-restraint for the moment. "You don't know what you are doing for me! To be active, to do something, instead of sitting still and eating my heart out in suspense. It will save me from madness perhaps. What could a true relative do for me more than you are doing and will do. You are my cousin!" And she put out her two hands to him with a new look of energy and resolve in her face. As he took the two slim hands in both his own and looked in her eyes, suddenly so aroused and purposeful, he saw for the first time, the full strength and force of will and nature behind that fair face and gentle bearing, the high spirit and courage animating the slender frame.

"Thank you," he said, simply, as he released her hands. "I feel that I can indeed rely upon you at need. You have the strength; can you have the patience as well? At present I can tell you very little. You will have to take much upon trust."

"I have anticipated that."

"For example, it is my inflexible rule never to reveal


the name of a suspected person until I have at least partial proof of guilt, enough to warrant an arrest. But you have a right to such confidence as I can give, and so, if you have a question to ask, and I think you have, let me answer it if I can."

"Oh, I thank you." She came a step nearer. "I ask myself one question, over and over; that there was no guilty secret in my poor boy's life and death, I know. Where, then, can be the motive?"

"The motive, ah! When we know that, we shall be at the beginning of the end of the matter. Sit down, Miss Grant, and I will put the case before you as I now see it."

She sank into the nearest seat without a word.

"As to the manner of the murder," he went on, "this is my conclusion. Some one, an enemy who hated or feared him, has informed himself of Mr. Charles Brierly's habits, and made himself familiar with the woods along the lake shore. Your friend, I learn, has practised target-shooting for some time. Have you ever thought that he might have had a reason for so doing?"

"Good heavens! No!"

"Well, that is only a suggestion. But this much is certain, the deed was premeditated, and carefully planned. I have satisfied myself that the assassin, approaching from the south, made almost the circuit


of that long mound, after making sure that no one was near, in order to reach the point, scarcely twelve feet from the place where the body was found, from which to fire the fatal shot."

"My God!"

"It was a bold venture, but not so dangerous as might at first appear. I find that from a point half way to the top of the mound one might be quite concealed from any one down by the lake shore while taking a long look up and down the road. And, in case of approach, there is at the south end of the mound a clump of bushes and young trees, where one could easily remain concealed while awaiting the victim or the passing of an interloper. From the town to a point not far south of the knoll or mound, as your people call it, the ground between the road and lake has been partially cleared of undergrowth for the comfort of picnickers and fishing parties, I am told."

"Yes." She sighed wonderingly. "But beyond that, a person wishing to be unseen from the lake or road could easily hide among the brush and trees. I believe all this was carefully studied and carried out, and that, five minutes after the shots were fired, the slayer was on his way southward to some point where a confederate waited, with some means of conveying themselves to a safe distance."


"Ah!" she whispered. "The boat?"

"Yes, the boat. It was a part of the plot, and rowed to that point by the confederate, I believe, for the purpose of misleading justice. Doran, who is an able helper, learned this morning that a farm hand, who was driving his stock across the road to drink at the lake, saw a man in a boat rowing up towards Glenville at half-past seven that morning."

"Oh! And can you follow them? Is the trail strong enough?"

"I think so. And there are other clues. There is much to be done here in Glenville first of all. At the inquest the testimony was purposely left vague and uncertain at some points."

"And why?"

"Because, somewhere, not far away, there is a person who is watching developments, and who may leave some track unsevered if he can be made to think we are off the scent. I mean to know my Glenville very well before I leave it, and some of its people too. And here you can help me as soon as you are strong enough."

"I am strong enough now. What more can I do?"

"You remember the foolish boy and his fright when questioned?"

"Of course."

"Well, as his teacher, can you not win his confidence


until his fear is overcome? That boy has not told all he knows."

"He is very dull, I fear. He said he saw a ghost."

"Well, we must know the nature of that ghost, and why it has closed his lips so effectually. Seriously I hope much from that lad."

"Then be sure I will do my best."

"You see, I am taking you at your word. And there's one more thing. I have been told that strangers go oftenest to the Glenville when in town. Now it behoves me to know the latest comers, and the newcomers there, and chance having given me opportunity to break the ice by being polite to Mrs. Jamieson, I have improved the moments. I don't mean that I am studying the lady for any sinister purpose, but one can see that she is quite a social leader in the house, and through, her I have already come to know several of the other inmates. Mrs. Jamieson very much desires to know you, and if you will allow her to call, as under the circumstances she desires to do, and if you will return that call--in short, put yourself upon the footing of an acquaintance--it will really help me greatly."

For a long moment Hilda did not speak, then "I will do as you wish, of course," she said, but the note of eager readiness had gone out of her voice. "But I cannot even think of that woman without living over again


our first meeting and the awful blow her news dealt me. Will I ever outlive the hurt of it?"

"It hurt her, too; I am sure of that. She is a keenly sensitive woman. She went from your schoolroom really ill, so her friend has told me."

"I can well believe that. She looked ill when she came to me. And who can wonder?" her tone softening. "Mrs. Jamieson is certainly kind, and why should we not be friends? She is a lady, refined and charming. Don't think me unreasonable, Mr. Ferrars. I shall be pleased to receive her, of course."

"Thank you. And remember, that for the present Francis Ferrars becomes Ferriss, Ferriss-Grant. You'll not forget your part!"

"I will not forget," she answered. And when he was gone she smiled a sad little womanly smile. "After all, a detective is but a man, and that petite, soft-spoken, dainty blonde woman is just the sort to fascinate a big-hearted, strong man like Francis Ferrars."

<< chapter 11 chapter 25 >>