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 13 chapter 25 >>

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CHAPTER XIV.
A GHOST.

WHEN Ferrars found himself alone he lost no time in locking his chamber door and beginning his study of ancient news.

Taking the newly arrived paper from beneath his pillow, where he had hastily thrust it, he spread out the mutilated copy beside it and speedily located the clipping which should explain, or interpret, Charles Brierly's last letter.

Putting the perforated paper over the other, as the quickest means to the end, he drew a pencil mark around the paragraph which appeared in the vacant space, and then, without pausing to read it, he reversed the two sheets and repeated the operation.

This done, he took up the marked paper and sat down to read and digest the secret.

"It won't take long to tell which side of this precious | | 158 square of paper contains the thing I want, I fancy," he meditated, as he smoothed out the sheet.

The printed paragraph outlined by his pencil was hardly three inches in length, and he read it through with a growing look of comprehension upon his face. "I wonder if that can be it?" he said to himself at the end. And then he slowly turned the paper and read the pencil-marked lines upon the other side.

When he had perused the brief lines over, his brow knit itself into a frown, and he re-read them, with his face still darkened by it. Then he uttered a short laugh, and laid the paper down across his knee.

"I wonder if the other fellow will know which side was which!" he muttered. "I'm blest if I do!" He sat for half an hour with the paper upon his knee, looking off into space, and wrinkling his brow in thought. Then he got up and put the two papers carefully away.

"I'm very thankful that I did not speak of this to Brierly," he thought as he went out and locked his door behind him. "It would be only another straw-yes, a whole weight of them, added to his load of doubt and trouble."

The two paragraphs read as follows, the first being an advertisement, with the usual heading, and in solid nonpariel [sic] type:--

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"Charlie:

A. has found you out. He will not give me your address. Be on guard at all times, for there is danger. All will be forgiven if you will come back, and F. will help you to avoid A. You are not safe where you are. The city is better, and we cannot feel at ease knowing the risk you are running. At least stay where you are. Your brother or some friend ought to know. For your own sake do not treat this warning as you did A.'s other threat. He means it. Still at G. Street.

"M."

The second paragraph was in the form of a would-be facetious editorial paragraph, and ran thus:--

"Not to have a fortune is sad enough, but to go up and down in the land a millionaire and never know it is wretchedness indeed. Many are the foreign fortunes seeking American heirs, if we are to believe the advertising columns, and the heirs seeking fortunes are as the sands of the sea in number.

"There have been the Frayles, and the Jans, and a long retinue of lost heirs to waiting estates, and now it appears that the great Paisley fortune rusts in idleness and shamelessly accumulates, while the heirs of a certain Hugo Paisley, an Englishman who was last heard from in the Canadas many years ago, are much to be desired | | 160 now that the home supply of English bred Paisley stock is run out."

There was more to this screed below the line which marked the lower end of the clipping, but it contained no further reference to the Paisleys, merely dilating in a would-be humorous manner upon the degenerating influence of the foreign legacy upon the American citizen. But the advertisement upon the other side had been cut out in full, and exactly at the beginning and end.

It was puzzling and disappointing in the extreme. Ferrars had really looked upon this cut newspaper as his strongest card when he should have found the missing fragment, and now----! He thought and wondered, and re-read letter and clipping again and again, but to no good purpose, and at last he locked away the puzzling documents and went out to make a morning call upon Mrs. Jamieson.

That evening he talked first with Robert Brierly and then with the family lawyer, and to both he put the same direct questions, "What could they tell him of the early history of the Brierlys? of Mrs. Brierly's family and ancestors? Had they any relatives in England or Scotland, say? Were there any old family papers in the possession of either?"

Of Robert Brierly he also asked if, to his knowledge, | | 161 his brother had had at any time a love affair-not serious, but amusing, perhaps--a student's flirtation, even. Also, when and for how long, if at all, had the brothers been separated since their schooldays?

And Brierly had replied that he knew very little of his father's ancestors, beyond the fact that his grandfather Brierly was a Virginia gentleman, and his father an only son. The family, so far as he knew, had been Virginians for three generations, and what more, pray, could an American ask? As for his mother, she had been a Miss Louise Cotterrell of Baltimore, her father a railway magnate of renown. In her desk, very much as she had left it, in a closed-up room in the old house, were bundles of old letters and ancient family papers, so his father had once told him; he had meant to examine them some time, but had not yet so done. If Ferrars desired it he would do this soon.

So far as his dead brother was concerned, Brierly was sure there had never been a love affair of even the most ephemeral sort. In fact, Charles had always been shy of women, and used to shirk his social duties as much as possible. Hilda Grant was, without doubt, his first and only love. As to their separations, there had been several. To begin, Charlie had been in college a year after he (Robert) had been graduated, and the following year, "because the boy had seemed run down and in | | 162 need of rest and change," he had spent a few months upon a ranch in Wyoming with a college friend. Then the two had made their European tour, and since, their only long separations had been when his work as journalist had taken him away from the city, sometimes for weeks, until Charlie had taken this school as a relief from his theological studies.

From Mr. Myers he could only learn that the father and mother of Robert and Charles Brierly were of good families, well known in their respective states, and both, he believed, "were as distinctly Americans as the war of the Revolution could make any American citizen of English descent." As to Charlie Brierly, Myers "didn't believe the boy had ever looked twice at a girl until he met with that lovely, sad-eyed sweetheart who, it was plain, was wearing out her heart in silent grief for him."

Then Ferrars went to see his supposed cousin, and asked her to review, mentally, her latest talks with her lover, and to see if she could not recall some mention of a discovery, a surprise, a perplexity possibly, which he wished to lay before his brother when he should come. But she shook her head sadly.

"Was he, to her knowledge, in the habit of collecting odd things from the newspapers?"

She shook her head. "He did not think very highly of our daily papers, and seldom if ever read beyond the | | 163 news of the day. The scandals and criminal reports he abhorred," she said.

"And he never alluded in any way to his family history, you say? Think, was there no mention of family facts or names?"

She looked up after some moments of thought. "I can only recall one thing which, after all, does not contain information, except as regards the two brothers. Charlie was speaking of the difference of their temperaments. Robert, he said, was intensely practical, living in and enjoying most, the present, and by anticipation, the future, while he (Charlie) was a dreamer, loving the past, and idealising its history. To illustrate, he told how, as boys, he loved to hear his mother, whom I fancy he resembled, tell the tales she had heard at her grandmother's knee, of the early days, the French convents, the Indians, the colonists, the quaint living, the speech, which had for him such charms, while Robert would only hear of the fighting and would run away from the ancestral history."

Hilda, grown accustomed to his numerous queries and scant explanations, was not surprised at Ferrars' hurried departure at the end of the catechism, and he went back to the doctor's cottage with just one faint little possibility as a reward for all this interviewing. He had known Mr. Myers in the city, as a successful detec- | | 164 tive is apt to know an able lawyer, well by reputation and personally a little, and he was glad to find in him a friend to the Brierlys, dead and living.

Going back that night he said to himself:

"It's of no use to try to go on like this; a confidant will save me a lot of time, and Myers is the man. I can't call upon the doctor; he's got his profession, and he belongs here. Myers can make my business and Brierly's his at need. Besides, he's a lawyer and won't be knocked entirely out by my wild theorising, and he's the one man who can get access to the ancestral documents at need."

He found the lawyer still upon the doctor's piazza, and without the least attempt at explanation invited him into his own room, where they were still closeted when, at midnight, Robert Brierly went slowly toward the Fry cottage, and the doctor, who never got his full quota of sleep, went yawning off to bed.

Mr. Myers spent five days in Glenville, and then went back to the city, taking Robert Brierly with him, "for a purpose," as he said to the doctor and Ferrars. "He can come back in a day or two if he chooses," the lawyer added, "but in truth, Robert, unless you're needed here, which I doubt, you'll be better at work. Mr. 'Ferriss-Grant,' here, will summon you at need."

When they were on board the train, and the lawyer | | 165 had exhausted the morning paper, he drew close to his companion in that confidential attitude travellers fall into when they do not converse for the entertainment of all on board, and said:

"Robert, I want to tell you why I so insisted upon your company back to the city. I want you to rouse yourself, to open your house, and when you first have looked over your father's and mother's private and business papers, I want you to turn over to me all such as are not too sacred for other eyes than yours; all letters, journals--if there are such--all, in fact, that deal in any way with your family, friends, and family history."

Brierly turned to look in his face.

"This is some of Ferrars' planning," he said. "It is, and it has my hearty endorsement. Don't ask questions. Frank Ferrars knows what he is about."

"No doubt of it. I only wish I did."

"You'll know at the right time. And if it will be a comfort to you, I'll admit that, while I am to a certain degree in his confidence, I know no more what or whom he suspects than you do, for he won't accuse without proof of guilt, however much he suspects or believes. But I know this, Ferrars is convinced that the secret of your brother's death lies in the past."

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"And in whose past?"

"In his own, in that of your family, or of Hilda Grant"

At the beginning of the following week Hilda Grant resumed her duties as school mistress, the place of Charles Brierly being filled by a young student from the city.

Mrs. Jamieson, meantime, had called upon Hilda, the call had been returned, and the two were now upon quite a friendly and sympathetic footing; it was not long before the fair, black-robed little figure was quite familiar to the children, to whom she gave generously sweets, pleasant words and smiles.

Sometimes she met Ferrars, who would look in now and then at the recess or noon hour to keep up his cousinly character, and Hilda Grant's clear eyes saw, day by day, the blue eyes of the pretty widow taking on a new look and noted that, while she was at all other times full of easy, charming chat, the approach of "Mr. Grant," would close the pretty lips and cause the white eyelids to quiver and fall.

The understanding between Hilda and the detective was now almost perfect, and one day, Ferrars, having asked her if she had ever heard Mrs. Jamieson speak of leaving Glenville, or name her place of residence, Hilda replied--

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"I have heard her express herself as well pleased with Glenville, and I think she is in no haste to go. In truth, Mr. Ferrars, I am beginning to feel that, in seeing this lady as a means toward a selfish end, we, or I, have done wrong. That she is a woman of the world, and has seen much of good society, is evident, but she has lived, of late, a lonely and much secluded life, she tells me, her late husband having been a somewhat exacting invalid for two years before his death; and forgive me for my great frankness, I fear that because of your absorption in this trouble of mine, you have not thought or observed, how 'much' your acquaintance is becoming to Mrs. Jamieson. One woman can read another as a man cannot, and I must not let you serve me at the cost of another's happiness perhaps."

"Miss Grant, is this a riddle?"

"Mr. Ferrars, no. Must I say plainly, then, that you are making yourself quite too interesting to this lady?"

Ferrars turned his face away for a moment. Then he replied slowly, as if choosing his words with difficulty.

"My friend, I believe time will prove you the mistaken one. I cannot take this flattering idea of yours to myself and venture to believe in it, but should it | | 168 have the smallest foundation in reality, rest your conscience upon this candid declaration. The lady cannot feel more interest in my unworthy self than I in her; from the first moment almost I have taken an interest in Mrs. Jamieson, such as I have seldom felt for any woman. Shall we let the subject rest here? Be sure I shall not let any personal interest conflict with, or supersede, the work I came here to do."

In later years Hilda remembered these words.

During the next two weeks the wheels of progress, so far as Ferrars' work was concerned, moved slowly, and even rested, or seemed so to do.

To be baffled in a small town, and by a small boy, was something new and surprising in the experience of detective Ferrars, but so it was. Work as he would, finesse as he might, he could find no trace of the boy, "about half grown, with dark eyes and hair, freckles, a polite way with him, and a cap pulled over his eyes," and this was the best description Mrs. Fry could give of the strange lad.

"If Mrs. Fry was not the honest woman she is," said the doctor, "I should call that boy a myth. How could he come and go so utterly unseen by all Glenville."

Samuel Doran, who still believed that "Mr. Grant" was Mr. Grant, and thought it most natural that he | | 169 should turn his attention to the mystery surrounding the murder of "his cousin's lover," thought otherwise.

"Pshaw!" he objected, "look at the raff of half-grown boys racing up and down these streets from sunset to pretty late bedtime, for kids, and how much different does one boy look from another in the dark? Mrs. Fry herself only saw him out in the twilight."

Ferrars reserved his criticism and opinions for the time.

Doran had taken upon himself the investigation of the "boat puzzle," as he called it, for the skiff remained, after many days, still drawn up, unmoored and unclaimed, by the lake shore; and at last, by dint of much driving up and down the lake shore road and interviewing of boat owners, he brought to Ferrars this unsatisfactory solution.

Two weeks before the murder the skiff had been owned by a certain Jerry Small, hunter and fisherman by choice, blacksmith by profession. On a certain day a man dressed in outing costume had entered Small's shop, asked about the boat, and made him such a liberal offer for it, that Jerry had at once closed with him. The shop stood upon the outskirts of the town and close to the lake. The man had said that he was coming out from the city in a few days for a few weeks in the country, meaning to secure board, if possible, | | 170 near the lake shore. If Mr. Small did not mind, the boat might stay where it was until his return; the money was paid down, and Small engaged to care for the boat.

One day, after much agitation, Small decided that it must have been the day of the murder that he missed the boat; and one of his "kids" told him that "a gentleman with flannel clothes and whiskers" took away the boat "right early," and neither boat nor man had ever reappeared.

Then Ferrars tore his hair and fumed at the long delay only to learn that Jerry Small had left his house on the day after the murder to attend a sick brother, and had returned just two days ago.

"It's of no use," fumed the detective to Doctor Barnes; "I shall put a couple of fellows I know in the Jerry Small vicinity; it's right in their line of work, and probably they'll find the man and boy together--in Timbuctoo."

"And you will remain in Glenville, eh? " queried the doctor, grinning openly.

"Yes," with an answering grin, which somehow the doctor did not quite understand. "I'll stay--for a while longer."

As they sat at lunch next day a small boy brought Ferrars a note from the teacher.

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"Come to me at once.-H. G."

That was all it said, and Ferrars lost no time in obeying the summons.

"You may not see much in my news," Hilda said, as she closed the door upon intruders. "But I have got Peter's story out of him at last."

"The foolish boy? Ah, that is something after all, at least, I hope it will prove so. Well?"

"It was slow work, for the boy has been terribly frightened. His story is most absurd."

"No matter, tell it in your own way."

"He says still that he saw a ghost--a live ghost. That it arose out of the bushes and waved its arms at him. It was dressed 'all in white like big sheets,' Peter said, and its face was black, with white eyes. It spoke to him 'very low and awful,' and told him to lie down and put his face to the ground until it went back into its grave. If he looked, or even told that he had seen a ghost, the grave would open and swallow him too. Then it held up a 'shiny big knife' and he tumbled over in sheer fright. After a long time he began to crawl toward the road; and when he at last looked around and saw no ghost anywhere, he ran as fast as he could. I am afraid," Hilda added, "that you'll think as I do, that some of the school boys have played the poor child a trick, or else that he has | | 172 imagined it all. It's too absurd to credit. Still, as you made a point of being told at once of whatever I might learn from Peter, I kept my promise. I'm afraid I've spoiled your luncheon." She finished with a wan little half smile.

The detective's face was very grave and he did not speak at once.

"Is it possible," she ejaculated, "that you find anything in the boy's story?"

Ferrars leaned forward and took her hand. "Miss Grant," he said gravely, "I believe that poor foolish Peter saw Charles Brierly's murderer."

He got up quickly. "Do you think the boy could be got to show you where he saw this apparition?"

"I asked him that. He thinks he might dare to go if he were protected by 'big mans.'"

"Then, arrange to leave your school for a short time, at, say two o'clock. I shall get Doran and his surrey. Have the boy ready----"

"Pardon me, I will say nothing to Peter. The surrey will be enough, he is wild to ride."

"That will be best then. I shall lose no time. I have a strong reason for wishing to see the precise place where this ghost appeared."

The sight, of the surrey filled poor foolish Peter with delight, and he rode on in high glee, sitting | | 173 between Hilda and Ferrars, whom he had learned to know, and like, and trust. When they were abreast of the hill Hilda bent over him.

"Now, Peter, tell me just where you saw that ghost." Instantly the boy's face blanched and he cowered in his seat, but Ferrars with gentle firmness interfered. Peter would show him the place, and then he would drive away the ghosts. Ghosts were afraid of grown men, he averred. And at last, hesitating much, and full of fears, Peter was finally persuaded, yielding at last to Doran's offer to let him sit in front "and drive one of the horses."

As they reached the lower end of the Indian Mound, the boy's lips began to quiver and one arm went up before his face, while he extended the other toward the thickest of brushwood before described by Ferrars. "That's where," he whimpered. "It comed up out there."

"From among the bushes?"

"Ye-us."

"Did it have any feet?"

"Oh-oh! Ony head and arms--ugh!"

"Turn around, Doran," said Ferrars sharply, and then in a lower tone to Hilda, "I shall go to the city to-night."

When Hilda reached her room, at the close of the | | 174 school, she found this letter awaiting her, "left," Mrs. Marcy said, "by her cousin":

"DEAR COUSIN,--

Even if you had been disengaged, I could have told you nothing except that what I have learned to-day impels me to look a little more closely to the other end of my line. For there is another end.

"Now that I shall have the two men on duty in the south end of the county, and with the doctor and Doran alert in G----, not to mention yourself, I can go where I have felt that I should be for the past week or more. Will you keep me informed of the slightest detail that in any way concerns our case? And will you do me one individual favour? I trust Mrs. J---- may not leave this place until I see you all again, but should she do so, will you inform me of her intention at once? You see that I am quite frank. I should deeply regret it, if she went away before I could see her again. Destroy this.

"Yours hopefully, "FERRARS."
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