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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MUCH as Ferrars regretted Brierly's discovery, he was not much surprised by it, nor could he avoid or refuse an explanation. Robert Brierly was not a child. He was a strong man, and a brave one; and Ferrars, putting himself in the other's place, felt at once the force of his words, the right of his position; and, after a day or two, he withdrew Hicks from his post. At the same time he observed with surprise and some misgiving that the shadow was no longer on duty. With two trusty and able men, by turns, always on watch within sight of the Myers place, no glimpse of him had been seen for more than a week.

And then, like a lightning flash from a clear sky, the blow fell.

It was Sunday evening, and in the aristocratic up-town street where the Myers lived there reigned a | | 186 Sabbath quiet, for the habitues of the little park beyond had left it with the fading twilight, and had already passed on their way townward.

Robert Brierly had been indoors since morning, and now, shortly after Mr. and Mrs. Myers had walked down the tree-shaded street, toward the church on the avenue three blocks away, he came out upon the broad front portico and stood for a moment looking idly up and down.

There had been concessions on both sides, since that interview between Brierly and Ferrars in which the former had demanded an explanation; and the withdrawal of Hicks had been but one of the results; another had been a promise, given by Brierly, whereby he pledged himself not to walk the city streets alone after dark, but if unaccompanied to take a cab, there being a stand only two blocks away, in the direction of the park.

These cabs, when wanted, were to be called by one of the servants, and to take him from the door; but on this Sunday night, as Brierly looked up and down with a growing wish to drive about town and have a talk with Ferrars, he remembered that on Sunday the servants were allowed to go out; all save one who must remain in charge, and decided that it would be absurd to stand there "like a prisoner bound | | 187 by invisible chains" and wait for a chance to bring either carriage or policeman. He had received on the previous evening letters from Glenville, from Hilda and Doctor Barnes, and his curiosity had been aroused by the contents of both. He had not seen the detective for four days, and he fancied that he, too, would have had news from the little lakeside town; more explicit and satisfactory news, doubtless, than that contained in his own letters.

"How absurd!" he muttered, apropos of his own thoughts. "No doubt I'll meet a hack before I reach the corner," and he lighted a cigar and went down the steps, glancing, from sheer force of habit, for the street at that moment seemed quite empty, up and down, as he went toward the cab stand.

"I was sure of it," he said again, as he neared the corner, at the end of the block farthest from his home. "There they are, both of them."

He was looking ahead, where a cab was coming at a slow trot toward him, while around the corner, still nearer, a policeman had just appeared.

As the two men approached each other the officer, who had been looking toward the approaching cab, turned his face toward Brierly, just as he was passing under the glare of a street lamp, and stopped short.

"Excuse me, sir; this is Mr. Brierly, I believe?"

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Brierly nodded.

"Mr. Brierly, may I have a few words with you? I have been lately put upon this beat, sir; changed from the next lower one; and there is something you ought, for your own safety, to know. Will you walk a few steps with me? I hardly like to stop; I ought to be at the next corner right now, in fact."

Brierly looked toward the approaching cab, "The truth is," he said, "I want very much to get that cab down town; otherwise----"

"Oh, I'll fix that, sir." And the officer took a step out from the curbstone and, standing under the glare of the light just above, held up his hand, and whistled shrilly. "Follow us a few steps, Johnny," he said to the driver. "You are wanted down town." Then, turning toward Brierly, "If you'll just step across the street after me, I'll tell you what you ought to know. It's a short story." And he crossed the street briskly, and paused on the opposite side to await the other.

"You see, sir," he began, as Brierly joined him, "we can walk slow for a few steps here, where all's quiet."

Brierly paused to look back. The cab was turning at the corner, and it followed them, at a snail's pace, and close behind, down the still and shady side-street. "You see, I've been noticing, for a couple of weeks, or | | 189 maybe more, a fellow who just seemed to patrol the street next below this, almost as faithfully as I did, and for quite a time I wondered why; and thus I began to watch him, till I found that his promenades always took him round the corner, and seemed to bring him up right opposite the house you live in. I guess I ought to step a little brisker, sir; somebody's coming. The man was not very tall, and thick set like, and if I hadn't taken notice of him, at the first, almost, I might not have recognised him, for he changed his clothes almost every trip; sometimes dressing common, sometimes quite swell; but I knew him every time."

"Make it as short as you can, officer; we're almost at the corner."

"All right, sir." The man glanced back. "Your cab's here, all right, sir. I was just going to tell you how we came to arrest the fellow."

"Ah!" Brierly smiled in the dusk. It had puzzled Ferrars or seemed to, the sudden cessation of the spy's visits, and now he would be able to enlighten the detective. "You have him, then? This shall be worth something to you."

"I don't want a reward for doing a plain duty, sir. Just walk on ahead for a step; somebody's coming."

Preoccupied with the story, and without glancing | | 190 behind, Brierly did as he was told, and had advanced not ten paces from the corner, when there was a swift blow, a fall and a cry, three pistol shots in swift succession, and the rattle of wheels; all so close together that the time could have been counted in seconds.

"Brierly! Are you badly hurt?" The revolver fell from the fingers of the man who had prevented the second blow, and put to flight the sham policeman, who had so deftly contrived his appearance, with the aid of the cab, between the rounds of the policeman proper, the latter now came up panting, his footsteps hastened by the shrill call of the whistle in the hands of the new or latest comer. And then the inmates of the neighbouring houses rushed out, and, for the moment, there was confusion, consternation and clamour.

"Is he dead?"

"How did it happen?"

"Was it a sandbag?"

"To think of a holdup on this street!"

"There was a carriage, I'm sure."

And then the policeman was flashing his lantern about among them, as he bade them stand back, and the rescuer, who looked like a workman in his Sunday clothes, looked up, from the place where he knelt, supporting the head and shoulders of the unconscious man, and said:

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"Gentlemen, this is Mr. Brierly, Robert Brierly of 1030 C---- Avenue; the Myers house, only two blocks away. He must be taken home at once. Has any one a cot? No, he must be carried." For at the name of the Myers house; a gentleman had proffered his carriage at once. "And, officer, call up help. If possible, that cab must be traced. Send to the stand just above and find out what cabs have left it within the past quarter hour. Let some one go ahead and bring Doctor Glessner from just opposite 1030. He's at home."

"How did it happen?" asked Mr. Myers, two hours later, when the injured man--his wounded head carefully dressed--lay, still dazed and in a precarious condition, in his darkened room, with a trained nurse in attendance.

Ferrars having seen his friend in his own room, and in the hands of the doctors, had not waited for their verdict, but had set off to put in motion his plan for hunting down the would-be murderer, and he had but now returned, full of anxiety for the fate of the sufferer.

"How did it happen? After all our precautions, too!"

"It's easy to tell how it happened," replied Ferrars with some bitterness. "It happened, first, because | | 192 the enemy outwitted me, in spite of my cordon of guards; and, second, because Brierly lost patience and exposed himself."

"But how?"

"I can only give you my theory for that. He was alone in the house, eh?"

"Yes. We were both out when he went."

"He wanted, doubtless, to go to town. There was no servant at hand whom he wished to send, so he walked toward the hack stand, or so I suppose. At the corner he met a policeman, as he thought, of course, and so, for a moment did I. They stopped, spoke together, and the sham policeman hailed an empty cab that was close at hand; then they crossed the street, the cab following, and the policeman seemed to be doing the talking, as I saw when they passed under the light at the corner. I had suspected some new plot, from the fact that the spy had so suddenly disappeared, and I had watched your place, in person, for the past three nights."

"Oh! And that is why we have seen so little of you?"

"In part. Well, I made up my mind, when they walked away together down that tree-shaded cross-street, that there was something wrong. I was on the opposite side, and concluded to close up, seeing | | 193 that the cab was getting very near and edging close to their side, against all rules of the road. I had got half way across, and was just behind the cab, when I saw Brierly step ahead of the other, and then came the blow. As I sprang forward the cabby gave a loud hiss and the scoundrel saw me, and sprang for the cab with his arm still uplifted for another blow. I fired twice running, the third time turning long enough to send another shot at him as he entered the carriage door. Then he was off. I think he was hit, once at least."

"He will be caught, don't you think so? A cab driving like mad through those quiet streets?"

"No. He will not be caught, I fear."

"But why?"

"Because he will have had a second vehicle, a carriage, no doubt, not far away, and he will leave the cab, which will slacken up for a moment for that, and then dash on."

"How can you know that?"

"Because, when I find that I am dealing with a clever rascal I ask, what would I do in his place? And that is what I would have done."

"Well, well!" The lawyer sighed. "Poor Robert."

"If he only had been less impatient!" exclaimed Ferrars.

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"If we had been wiser, and had not left him! The boy was in a peculiarly restless mood. Even my wife had observed that since morning."

"And why since morning?"

The lawyer looked at him gravely for a moment. "Did you ever hear of Ruth Glidden?" he asked.

"The orphan heiress? Of course; through the society columns of the newspapers."

"Ruth Glidden and the Brierly boys grew up as the best of friends and neighbours. The elders of the two families were friends equally warm. I believe in my soul that Glidden would gladly have seen his daughter marry one of the Brierly boys. And if things had run smooth--but there! Brierly was accounted a rich man, and he was until less than a year before his death, when the failure of the F. and S. Railway Company, and the North-Western Land concern, within three months of each other, left him a heavy loser. Even then, if Glidden had been alive all might have been well. But he died, two years before Brierly's death, and Ruth went to live with her purse-proud aunt, her father's sister. The two families had resided for years, side by side, on this avenue."

"And where is Miss Glidden now?" asked Ferrars.

"Here in this city since the day before yesterday. | | 195 She and her aunt have been abroad for a year, but I believe that they care for each other, though Robert is so proud, and that is not all. The brothers have each a few thousand dollars still, and it appears that shortly before his death, Charlie--he was always a methodical fellow--instructed his brother, in case of his sudden death, to make over all of his share to Miss Hilda Grant. Robert told me of this upon his return with the body, and he also said that all he possessed should go, if needful, to the clearing up of this murder mystery."

"It may be needful," sighed Ferrars. "I fear it will be."

"Then, good-bye to Robert's hopes! With it he might make a lucky hit; might have a chance. Without it"--he shrugged his shoulders--"what can even so bright a journalist, as he undoubtedly is, do to win a fortune quickly. And he won't accept help, even from me, his father's oldest friend."

"No," said Ferrars, gloomily. "Of course not. How could he? Mr. Myers, I'll be honest and tell you that I'm afraid we've struck a blank wall. Things look dark on all hands, just now, for poor Brierly."

"What! Do you think the clue, the case, is lost then?"

"Not lost. Oh, no. Only, I fear, out of reach."

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