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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MAY had passed, and June roses were in late bloom. The city was horrid with the warm sun-filtered air after a summer shower, and Robert Brierly looked pale and languid as he stepped from an elevator, in one of the great department houses wherein Ferrars had his bachelor quarters, and walked slowly to his door.

Possibly it was the warmth of a very warm June, or there may have been other causes. At any rate Frank Ferrars' face wore an almost haggard look in spite of the welcoming smile with which he held out his hand to greet his friend, for friends these two had grown to be during the past weeks. Friends warm and true and strong, in spite of the fact that the mystery surrounding the death of Charlie Brierly remained as much of a mystery as on the day when foolish Peter Kramer led the detective to the scene of his ghostly encounter.

| | 176

There were dark lines beneath the keen gray eyes, which, Rob Brierly had declared, "compelled a man's trust," and the smooth, shaven cheek was almost hectic, symptoms which, in Ferrars, denoted, among other things, loss of sleep.

There was a moment of silence, after the men had exchanged greetings, and it seemed, almost, that each was covertly studying the other, and then Brierly tossed down his straw hat, and pulling a chair directly in front of that in which the detective lounged, said, abruptly:

"I shouldn't like to quarrel with you, Ferrars, but I've something on my mind, and I'm here to have it out with you."

"Oh! Then I am in it?" the detective spoke nonchalantly, carelessly almost, and as the other seemed hesitating for a word, he added: "Give us the first round, old man. I'm apprehensive."

"H--m! You look it. Ferrars, do you know that for weeks, ever since my return from Glenville, in fact, I have been under constant surveillance?"

"Constant sur--. Excuse me, it's not polite to repeat, Brierly, but what do you mean?"

"What I say. It's plain enough, somebody is watching me, following me day and night."

"Pshaw! You don't mean that, man!"

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"But I do. And that is not all," he leaned forward and fixed his eyes upon those of his vis-à-vis as if watching for the effect of his words. "I have been slowly discovering that I am being controlled--constrained--in many ways."

"Upon my word! "Ferrars was leaning back in his chair with his face a mask, expressing nothing but grave attention. "Make it plainer, Brierly."

"I will. I'll make it so plain that there will be no room for misunderstanding. When I first came back from Glenville, I did not go out much, especially evenings, but when I did, I began to fancy that I was spied upon, followed, and, after a time, I became sure of it."

"Stop! When did you observe this first?"

"I think it was on the third night after my return. I was going down to the Lyceum Club rooms, when something caused me to glance at a fellow on the other side of the street. You know my eyes are good!"

"Unusually so."

"Well, I came out in a very short time, alone, and the same fellow was lounging so close to the entrance that I recognised him at once."

"A bungler, evidently."

"Perhaps. Well, I met two men whom I know, just outside, and they dragged me back with them. When at last I left the place, I started to walk home, and when | | 178 I got upon the quieter streets I soon became conscious of some one keeping so evenly opposite me across the street, that I began to watch, and as the fellow glided, as quickly as possible under a street lamp, I recognized the same man."

"And you have seen him since?"

"Himself or another. A disguise is easy at night. I have been watched, at any rate, and followed again and again."

"Ah! And could you imagine his motive?"

"No." A look that was almost of anger crossed Brierly's face. "But I have wondered if it was the same as yours, and Myers, when you have contrived to keep me from going here and there, or doing this or that, unless accompanied by one or the other of you two."

He bent forward again after this utterance. His eyes seemed to challenge an answer.

But it did not come. Ferrars only sat with that look of grave inquiry still upon his face. He knew the man before him.

"Ferrars," exclaimed Brierly, when he saw that no answer, no defence, was to be made, "will you look me in the face and say that you, and Myers also, have not connived to keep me under your eyes? to accompany me when that was practicable, and to prevent my | | 179 going when it was not? I can recall several occasions when----"

He stopped short, checked in his utterance by a sudden, subtle change in the face of Ferrars, who had not stirred so much as an eyelid, but who spoke at once quietly, but with a certain tone of finality, of decision.

"Brierly, do you believe that James Myers is your friend, in the full meaning of the word?"

"I do! It is not that I doubt, or that----"

"And do you believe," went on Ferrars, putting aside his protest with a peremptory gesture: "do you believe that, while thus far I seem to have failed in unravelling the mystery in which your brother's death seems enshrouded, I have given it my most faithful study, my time, thought, effort and labour? That, in short, I have been true to your interest at all times?"

"I know it. You have been all that and more. You must hear me, Ferrars. And I beg that you will answer me. Why am I watched, thwarted, cajoled? Why do you and Myers fear to let me out of your sight? A few weeks ago you found, or seemed to find, your chief interest in Glenville; you looked for clues, for developments, there; and yet, you have not visited Glenville since you left it so suddenly. Even your own personal interest has not drawn you there for a single day."

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"By my 'personal interest' you mean what, Brierly?"

"You know what I mean. Pardon me, and do not misunderstand me. I could not fail to see that you were interested in Mrs. Jamieson, and why not?" While Brierly spoke, the detective arose and began to pace the floor with lowered eyelids and slow tread. Brierly watching him, was silent a moment, then he seemed to pull himself together and to speak with enforced calmness. "Ferrars, do you know what thought has taken possession of my brain until I cannot shake it off?"

"Assuredly not," going on with his promenade. "But I shall be glad to hear."

"I have begun to fear--yes, to fear--that you have found some reason for suspecting me, and that your horribly acute logic has even caused Myers to doubt too."

"Man!" Ferrars swung about and suddenly faced him. "Much meditation has surely made you mad. Now, in heaven's name, so far as may be, let us understand each other. First, you are utterly wrong."


"Next, you speak of Mrs. Jamieson, and of my 'personal interest.' I admit, willingly, that I am interested in that lady. But my personal feelings and interests must be subservient for a time to your business."

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"Pardon me."

"And now, I did leave Glenville to follow you, and see that you did not spoil my plans by any rashness."

"You are talking a puzzle!"

"Let me talk it out then, for you have forced my hand. But for this I should have gone on as before. And I did not dream that Mr. Myers and I were playing our game so stupidly, so openly; nor that you, owing to your present preoccupation, would prove so astute."

"You have not bungled, be sure of that. You have been most wonderfully keen and clever, but it was this very preoccupation, as you call it, my abnormal sensitiveness, in fact, which made me study your every word and set me searching for its hidden meaning; and so I could not fail to see that you were handling me, hedging me about, for some purpose."

"Ah! You have said the word, Brierly." Ferrars resumed his seat opposite the other, and his tone became once more composed. "We were trying to 'hedge you about,' to put up a wall between you and the assassin who killed your brother. Wait! Let me say it all. It is little enough. Do you remember telling me of an 'assault' upon your brother, made by footpads, not long before he came to Glenville?"

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"It was that which gave me my first real clue. It confirmed one of the few theories that seem to fit, or cover, the case so far as known; but it wanted confirmation. I found nothing in Glenville that was in any way opposed to this theory which I was growing to believe in, but, on the other hand, I found nothing there to strengthen it. When you left that place, I meant to follow soon. Meantime I had confided my theory to Mr. Myers, who promised not to lose sight of you before I should arrive."

"But why? Why?"

"Because I then believed, as I do now, that that attack upon your brother last summer was the first act in the tragedy which has robbed you of him. I believed the plot to be far-reaching. It may be a case of vengeance, a family feud. The motive is yet to be discovered, but I will admit to you that I have had, from the first, a reason to think that the affair has not yet ended; and so, as soon as I could, I followed you to town. It was well that I did so. Before I had been your shadow forty-eight hours, I had proof that you were being otherwise watched and followed."

"Great heavens! And that is why----" He stopped short and bowed his head.

"That is why Myers and I have been such officious | | 183 friends, why we have advised, remarked, and why I have tried to trace to his lair the man who has been your very frequent shadow."

"And you think he is----"

"The assassin himself or his tool."

"Good heavens! And you cannot guess his motive?"

"We might guess, of course, half a dozen motives. What I have hoped to find was something, some fact in your family history, your father's life, or your mother's, perhaps, that would fit into one of these guesses or theories, and make of it a probability."

And then the two went all over the array of possible reasons and motives, and Brierly again protested his lack of any knowledge which might serve as the feeblest of guides to the truth.

"There's one other thing," said Brierly, at last. "I want to know if the new man, whom Myers took on soon after you came to town, is one of your sleuths? He has annoyed me more than once by his persistent attentions."

Ferrars smiled. "I never supposed you a reader of the penny dreadful, Brierly," he said, "and 'sleuth' is a word which makes the actual detective smile, and which is not known to the professional vocabulary. Hicks is my man; yes. And he has followed you by day and | | 184 night when you have not had the company of either Myers or myself."

Robert Brierly threw back his head and folded his arms. After a moment of silence he got up and stood before the detective.

"Ferrars," he said, "I owe you and my absent friend an abject apology for my unworthy suspicions, my impatience under restraint. And now, I beg of you, let this end. I am warned, and I do not think myself a rash man. I believe I can protect myself, and how can I endure the thought that I must be hedged about by this constant guardianship, which may last indefinitely? Withdraw Hicks, and give your own valuable time to better things. Rather than go about knowing myself so fenced in and guarded, I will lock myself up in the attic, and remain a recluse and invisible. Heavens, man! am I so stupid or cowardly a man not to be able to cope with an enemy whom I know to be in ambush at my very heels?"

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