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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FRANCIS FERRARS sat in his sanctum, one could scarcely call it an office, although he received here, now and again, visitors of many sorts on business bent. For, since his coming to America, five years before, to find the heiress of Sir Hillary Massinger, he had read many another riddle, and now, as at first, he worked independently, but with the difference that he now undertook only such cases as especially attracted him by reason of their strangeness, or of the worth, or need, of the client.

Two letters lay before him, and as he pondered, frowning from time to time, he would take up one or the other and re-read a passage, and compress his lips and give vent to his thoughts in fragmentary sentences. For he had grown, because of much solitude, to think aloud when his thoughts | | 197 grew troublesome, voicing the pros and cons of a case, and seeming to find this an aid to clearness of thought.

"It's a most baffling thing," he declared, taking up for the third time a letter in the strong upright hand of Doctor Barnes. "I wonder just what the man meant by penning this," and once more he ran his eye over this paragraph which occurred at the end of a long letter:

"Mrs. Jamieson has not forgotten you. She asks after you now and then, when we meet, and desires to be remembered to you. She is not looking well, and, I fancy, finds Glenville duller than at first."

"I'll wager she does not think of me any oftener than I of her. And she can't know how ardently I long to stand before her and look into those changeful, blue-green eyes of hers. What strangely handsome eyes they are--And say--Ah! how will those eyes look then, I wonder?"

Presently he turns the sheet and reads again:

"I think you did well to instruct your two men here to make use of, and place confidence in Doran. He's a host in himself. And what do you think of the tramp they have traced to the vicinity of that | | 198 boat on the morning of the murder? He was seen, it appears, by at least three."

"Umph!" laying down the letter. "If you were here, my dear Barnes, I would tell you frankly--I feel just like being brutally frank with some one--that I have no doubt that the tramp is a link--there seems to be so many of them, and all detached--a link--and that he approached the boat in that tramp disguise, after separating from his confederate at some more distant point. Bah! It looks simple enough. Confederate leaves vehicle--or two horses, possibly--they could slip off the saddles and hobble them in a thicket, where they would look, to the passer-by, like a pair of grazing animals, or they might have used a wagon, travelling thus like two innocent bucolics. Then how plain to me, the assassin goes through the woods, watchfully, like an Indian. The tramp boatman patrols the shore, to signal to the other when the victim appears; or, should the assassin on shore be unable to creep upon his prey, the assassin in the boat may row boldly near, and, at the signal from the other, telling him there is a clear coast, fire upon the victim. If he is sure of his aim, how easy! And if seen by the victim, well-'Dead men tell no tales.'"

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He muses silently awhile now, puts down the doctor's letter, and takes up the other.

"This," he murmurs, "is tantalising." And then he read from a letter, signed "Hilda G--."

"Mrs. Jamieson begins to complain of the dullness of this place, in spite of the fact that she has had a visit from her husband's brother, a Mr. Carl Jamieson. He did not make a long visit, and I saw but little of him. He is something of a cripple, a sufferer from rheumatism, and just back from the hot springs. I met him but once. He looks and talks like an Englishman, and has a dark eye that betokens, if I am a judge of eyes, a bad temper. I give you these details knowing that all concerning the little blonde lady is of interest to you."

"Of interest!" he muttered. "I should think so! Doubly so, now that there's so little else of interest, or--" He stopped short, and wheeled about in his chair. His office-boy had swung open his door, and was saying:

"A lady to see you, sir." And Ferrars arose to confront a visitor, a brunette so tall and lissom, so glowing with the rich hues of health and beauty, so clear of eye, and direct of gaze, that Ferrars could not at | | 200 first find his usually obedient tongue, and then she spoke.

"Mr. Ferrars!" her voice was a low, rich contralto. "I am Miss Ruth Glidden, and I have come to you to seek information concerning the awful death of my friend, Charles Brierly. Pray let me explain myself at once."

Ferrars bowed, placed her a chair, and closed the half-open door.

"The Brierlys and my own people were old friends, and Robert and Charles Brierly were my childhood playmates. I arrived home, ten days ago, after a year spent in Europe, and learned, soon, of Charlie's sad fate. While this shock was still fresh upon me, I heard of Robert's narrow escape from a like attack. Mr. And Mrs. Myers are my dear friends. I have spent much of the past week under their roof, and----" There was a little catch of the breath, and then she went bravely on. "And I have had a long, frank talk, first with Mrs. Myers, and then with her husband. He has told me all that he could tell. He has assured me that you are wholly to be trusted and relied upon, and, knowing my wishes--my intentions, in fact--Mr. Myers has advised me to come to you."

"And in what way can I serve you, Miss Glidden?"

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"Please understand me. I have heard the story; that there are clues, but broken and disconnected ones; that you know what should be done, but that there is a barrier in the way of the doing. Mr. Ferrars, as a true friend of Robert Brierly, I ask you to tell me what that barrier is? I have a right to know." The rich tints of olive and rose had faded from her rounded cheek, leaving it pale. But the dark eyes were still steadily intense in their regard.

As Ferrars was about to reply, after a moment of silent meditation, the door opened, and the boy came in again, softly and silently, and placed upon the desk a handful of letters, just arrived; laying a finger upon the topmost one, and glancing up at his employer, thus signifying that here was his excuse for entering at such a moment.

The letter was marked "immediate," and the handwriting was that of James Myers.

With a murmured apology, the detective opened it, and read--

"MY DEAR FERRARS,--During the day you will no doubt receive a call from Miss Glidden. I cannot dictate your course, but I write this to say that no friend of Brierly's has a better right to the truth--all of it--nor a stronger will and greater power to aid. Of her | | 202 ability to keep a secret you can judge when you meet her.


When he had read this letter Ferrars silently proffered it to his visitor, and in silence she accepted and read it.

"I was strongly inclined to accede to your request, after, first, asking one question," he said, when she gave the letter back, still without speaking. "And now, having read this, I am quite ready to tell you what I can."

"And the question?"

"I will ask it, but have no right to insist upon the answer. Have you any motive, beyond the natural desire to understand the case, in coming to me?"

She leaned slightly toward him and kept her earnest eyes steadily upon his face as she replied, "I cannot believe that you credit me with coming here, on such an errand, simply because I wish to know. I do wish to know as much as possible, but let me first tell you, plainly, my motives and why I have assumed such a right or privilege. To begin, I am told that Robert Brierly will not be able to think or act for himself for some time to come."

"That, unhappily, is true."

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"And how does this affect your position?"

"It is unfortunate for me, of course. The case has reached a point when I can hardly venture far unauthorised, and yet no moment should be lost. The time has come when skilled investigations, covering many weeks, perhaps, as well as long journeys, are necessary. We need also the constant watchfulness of a number of clever shadowers."

"And this requires--it will incur great expense?" she asked, quickly. "Is it not so?"

Ferrars bowed gravely.

"Mr. Ferrars," she began, and there was a sudden subtle change in her voice. "I am going to speak to you as a woman seldom speaks to a man, for I trust you, and we must understand each other. Two years ago, when I was leaving my old home for my aunt's house, having still a half year of study before me, with the year abroad, already planned, to follow, Robert Brierly came to bid me good-bye, and this is what he said; I remember every word: 'Ruth, we have been playmates for ten years, and dear friends for almost ten years more. Now I am a man, and poor, and you a budding woman, soon to be launched into society, and an heiress. I would be a scoundrel to seek to bind you to any promise now, so I leave you free to see the world and to know your own heart I have not a fortune, but | | 204 if labour and effort will bring it about I hope to be able to offer you a fit home some day, for I love you, and I shall not change. I want you to be happy, Ruth, more than all else, and so I say, go out into the world, dear, and if you find in it a good man whom you love, that is enough. But, remember this, as long as you remain Ruth Glidden, I shall hope to win you when I can do so and still feel myself a man, for I do not fear your wealth, Ruth, only I must first show myself to possess the ability to win my way, on your own level."

She paused a moment, and bent her face upon her hand. Then she resumed, almost in a whisper. "He would not let me speak. He knew too well that he had always been very dear to me, and he feared to take advantage of my inexperience. I loved and honoured him for that, and every day and every hour since that moment I have looked upon myself as his promised wife, and have been supremely happy in the thought. And now----" There was a little pause and a sobbing catch of the breath--"Have I not the right, Mr. Ferrars, to put out my hand and help in this work? To say what I came here to say? My fortune is ample. It is mine alone. I am of age, and my own mistress. Take me into your confidence, to the utmost, make me your banker, and push on the work. Robert Brierly may be helpless for weeks or months longer. Charlie Brierly | | 205 was a brother to me. No one has a stronger right to do this thing."

"Miss Glidden, have you thought or been told that----"

"That Robert may die? Yes. But I will never believe it. And, even so, there is yet more reason why this work should not be dropped, why no moment should be lost" She paused again, battling now for self-control; then--"There is one other thing," she resumed. '"Mr. Myers has told me of the young lady, poor Charlie's fiancé. Will you tell me her name? He did not speak it, I am sure, and I want to write to her, to know her."

"That will be a kindly deed, for she, too, is an orphan. Her name is Hilda Grant."

"Hilda! Hilda Grant! Tell me, how does she look?"

"A brown-haired, grey-eyed, sweet-faced young woman, with a clear, healthy pallor and a rich colour in her lips alone. The hair is that golden brown verging upon auburn; she is tall, or seems so, because of her slight, almost fragile, gracefulness."

"Ah! Thank you, thank you. This is my own Hilda Grant, who was my schoolmate and dearest friend, and who cut me because she was poor, and buried herself in some rustic school-house. She shall not stay there. She shall come to me."

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"I fancy she will hardly be induced to leave Glenville now."

"I must see her. She will come up to see Robert, surely!"

"She is only waiting to know when she may see him."

"Of course. And now, it is agreed, is it not? You will take me as a silent partner?"

"Since Mr. Myers sanctions it I cannot refuse. Besides, I see you are quite capable of instituting a new search, if I did."

"I will not deny it." And they smiled, each in the other's face.

"Perhaps," he said, now grave again, "when I have told you all my ideas, theories, and plans, you will not be so ready to risk a small fortune, for, unless I am greatly in error, you will think what I am about to propose, after I have reviewed the entire situation, the wildest bit of far-fetched imagining possible, especially as I cannot, even to you, describe, name, or in any manner characterise the person, or persons, whom I wish to follow up, for months it may be, and because the slender threads by which I connect them with the few facts and clues we have, would not hold in the eyes of the most visionary judge and jury in the land."

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"It will hold in my eyes. Do you think I have not informed myself concerning you and your work? Is not Elias Lord my banker, and Mrs. Bathurst persona grata in my aunt's home? I am ready to listen, Mr. Ferrars."

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