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 XX.
A WOMAN'S HEART.

THE blow dealt Robert Brierly by the sham policeman had been a severe one, and at first it had been feared that he would recover, if at all, with his fine intellect dulled if not altogether shattered. But the best medical skill, aided by a fine constitution, and above all, the new impulse given his lately despondent spirits by the appearance at his bedside of Ruth Glidden, her eyes filled with love, and pity and resolve, all had combined to bring about good results, and so, one evening, not, quite two months after that blow in the dark, he found himself sitting in an easy chair, very pale and much emaciated but, save for this, and his exceeding bodily weakness, quite himself again. Indeed a more buoyant and hopeful self than he had been for many a day, and with good reason.

At first, and for one week, his mind had been a blank, then delirium had claimed and swayed him, until one | | 238 day the crisis came, and with it a sudden clearing of mind and brain.

Through it all Ruth had been beside him, and now she called the doctor aside and spoke with the grave frankness of a woman whose all is at stake, and who knows there is no time for formalities.

"Doctor, tell me the truth. He will know me now, and he must not see me unless--unless I tell him I have come to stay. Will a shock, such a shock, render his chances more critical? The surprise and----" She turned away her face. "Doctor, you know!"

Then the good physician, who had nursed her through her childish ills, and closed her father's eyes in death, put a fatherly hand upon her shoulder. "There must be absolutely no emotion," he said. "But a happy surprise, just now, if it comes with gentleness, and firmness--that tender firmness to which the weak so instinctively turns--will do him good, not harm. Only, it must be for just a moment, and he must not speak. My dear, I believe I can trust you."

He called away the nurse and beckoned Ruth to follow him. Then he went straight to the bedside, where the sick man lay, so pale and deathlike, beneath his linen bandages.

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"Robert," he said, slowly. "Listen, and do not speak. I bring you a friend who will not be denied; you know who it is. You must not attempt to speak, Rob, for your own sake. If I thought you would not obey me I would shut her out even now." And with the last word upon his lips he was gone and Ruth stood in his place.

Involuntarily the wounded man opened his lips, but she put a soft finger upon them, and shook her head. She was very pale, but the voice, which was the merest murmur, yet how distinct to his ears, was quite controlled.

"Robert, you are not to speak. I have promised that for us both. I have been near you since the first, and I am going to stay until--until I can trust you to others. And, Rob, you must get well for my sake. You must, dear, or you'll make me wear mourning all my days for the only lover I have ever had. Don't fail me, my dear." She bent above him, placed her soft, cool hand upon his own, pressed a kiss upon his brow, and the next moment the doctor stood in her place, and was saying, "Don't be uneasy, Rob, old man; that was a real live dream, which will come back daily, so long as you are good, and remember, sir, you have two tyrants now."

And so it proved.

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When Brierly was at last fit to be removed to that safe and comfortable haven--not too far from the doctor's watchful care--which they fictitiously named the South, Ruth bade him good-bye one day, with a tear in her eye, and a smile upon her lip.

"You will soon be a well man now," she said to him. "And when that time comes, and the tyrant Ferrars permits it, you will come to me, of course." And with the rare meaning smile he knew and loved so well, and so well understood, she left him, to bestow her cheering presence upon Hilda Grant and Glenville.

And now, on a fine midsummer night, thinner than of old, and paler, with a scar across his left temple, and a languor of body which he was beginning to find irksome because of the revived activity of the lately clouded and heavy brain, Brierly sat in a pleasant upper room of a certain hospitable suburban villa, the only south he had known since they bore him away from the Myers' home, and whirled him away from the city on a suburban train, to stop, within the same hour, and leave him, safely guarded, in this snug retreat.

"You see," the detective was saying, "I had found this series of tiny clues, and thought all was plain sailing, until that mysterious boy paid his visit to your brother's room and left almost as much as he | | 241 took away. That forced me to reconstruct my theory somewhat, and set me to wondering just what status Miss Grant held in the game our unknown assassin was playing. For I will do the young lady, and myself, the justice to say that I never for a moment doubted her. That fling at her gave me, however, a key to the character of the unknown." He was silent a moment, then, "After all," he said, "it was you who gave me my first suggestion of the truth."

"How? when I had no conception of it?"

"By telling of that attack upon your brother the winter before his coming here."

"I do not recall it."

"I suppose not; but in telling me of your brother's career, before his going to Glenville, you spoke of an accident which occurred to him, an accident which was eventually the cause of his going to Glenville. I made a note of this, and, later, questioned Mr. Myers. He told me of the attack at the mouth of an alley. How two men assailed your brother, and only his presence of mind in shouting as he struck, and striking hard and with skilled fists, saved him from death at their hands; how he warded off, and held, the fellow with the bludgeon, but was cut by the other's knife. I might not have been so much impressed by these details, perhaps, had I not learned that your brother was | | 242 returning from a visit of charity to the sick, a visit which he had paid regularly for some time. Then I thought I saw light upon the subject."

"Yes." Brierly bent toward the detective, a keen light in his eyes. "I have been very dull, Ferrars, but I have had time for much thinking of late. I think that, at last, I begin to understand."

"And what do you understand?" A slow smile was overspreading the detective's face.

"That my brother and I have had a common enemy. That nothing short of both our lives will satisfy him; that the attack upon Charley, nearly a year ago, was the beginning--that, having taken his life, they are now upon a still hunt for mine--and that, but for you, they would have completed their work that evening when, chafing, like the fool I was, under restraint, I set out alone, and met----"

"A policeman." Ferrars' lips were grave, but his eyes smiled. "It was a close squeak, Brierly. The fellow very nearly brained you. And now"--and he drew his chair closer, and his face at once became grave almost to sternness--"we want to end this game; there is too much risk in it for you."

"You need not fear for me, Ferrars. From this moment I go forward, or follow, as you will, blindly; you have only to command. What must I do?"

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"Prepare to go aboard the Lucania five days from date in the disguise of what do you imagine?"

"A navvy possibly."

"No. I know the boat's captain, luckily, and I know that a party of Salvation Army officers are to sail that day for England. We will go aboard, all of us, in the salvation uniform and doff it later, if we choose."

"You say all of us?"

"I mean Mrs. Myers, who goes to join her husband and see London and Paris; Miss Glidden, who goes because she wills to go and because she believes that Miss Grant can be best diverted from her sorrow, and strengthened for her future life, by such a journey, Miss Grant, ergo, and our two selves." He leaned back and watched his vis-à-vis narrowly from underneath drooping lashes. He was giving his client's docility a severe test, and he knew it.

As for Robert, he remained so long silent that the detective, relaxing his gaze, resumed--

"I won't ask you to take too much upon trust, Brierly. Our present position, briefly told, is this. We are nearing the climax, but we cannot force it. One point of the game remains still in the enemy's hands. And the scene is shifted to England--to London, to be literal. The next move must be made by the other side. It will be made over there, and | | 244 we must be at hand when the card is played. If all ends as I hope and anticipate, your presence in London will be imperative, almost. As for the ladies, Miss Grant's presence may be needed, as a witness perhaps, and certainly nothing could be better for her than the companionship of her friend, Miss Ruth, and the motherly kindness of Mrs. Myers, just now."

Robert Brierly turned his face away, and clinched his hands in desperation. He was thinking of Ruth, and an inward battle was raging between strong love and stubborn pride.

"And now," went on the other, as if all unheeding, "concerning the disguises. I have told you of the person seen by our spies at the Glenville House, for a brief time?"

Brierly bowed assent.

"He, this man, was only described to me, but seen by Miss Grant."

"Oh!" Brierly started.

"Lately, we have received, through the good offices of Mr. Doran, a picture of this man--it's growing late and I'll give the details at another time--I have believed this man to be one of your enemies, quite possibly the one."

"One of them?"

"Yes. And large and muscular enough he is, to have been your assailant, and----"

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"And my brother's murderer?"

"In my opinion they are not the same. But we must not go into this. Some one has kept us--that is, yourself, Miss Grant and myself, in the character of her cousin--under constant watch, almost. There must have been tools, but this man I believe to be the chief, on this side."

"Great heavens! How many are there, then?"

"Honestly, I do not yet know. The answer to that is in Europe. But this man--he has been shadowed since Miss Grant saw him on Clark Street--has already sailed for England. My man escorted him, after a modest and retiring fashion, to New York, and saw him embark. I propose that we go east by different routes. The ladies one way, you and I by another. They will hardly imagine us all flitting by water, and their spies will hardly be prepared for a sea voyage, even should one of us be 'piped' to the wharf. Of one thing I must warn you; you are not to set foot in London, nor to put yourself in evidence anywhere as a tourist, until you are assured that you may walk abroad in safety. To know you were in England would be to render your opponents desperate, indeed."

"You have only to command. I am as wax in the potter's hand henceforth. And now I ask you on the eve of this long journey why my brother and myself are | | 246 thus hunted. How we stand in the way of these enemies of ours I cannot imagine."

"That I am ready to tell you, since you ask no more. You stand between your enemies and a fortune."

"Impossible!"

"I knew you would say that. But wait" Ferrars rose abruptly. "I shall not see you again before we leave for New York," he said, taking up his hat. "Come with me across the way, I must say good-bye to the ladies; they----"

"Do they understand?"

"Yes."

Mrs. Myers and her two charges were pleasantly bestowed just across the street, in one of the cosy and tree-encircled cottages of the aristocratic little suburb, in which the party had found a retreat. And all three were still upon the broad piazza when the two men appeared.

No other occupants of the house were visible, and before long Robert Brierly found that, by accident or design, the detective, Mrs. Myers, and Hilda, had withdrawn to the further end of the long veranda, and that Ruth Glidden had crossed to his side, and now stood before him, leaning lightly against a square pillar, and so near that he could not well rise without disturbing her charming pose.

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Before he could open his lips she was speaking.

"Robert, don't get up. Please do not. There is something I must say to you. I have seen the trouble, the anxiety in your face to-night. I know what Mr. Ferrars has been saying to you; at least I can guess, and I understand."

"Ruth!"

"Don't speak. Let me finish, Rob. If I didn't know you so thoroughly, if the whole of your big, noble heart had not been laid bare to me, as never before, during your illness, I should not dare, would lack the courage to say what I will say, for your sake, as well as for mine." She caught her breath sharply, and before he could command the words he would have spoken, she hurried on.

"Don't think that I do not know how you look upon this journey abroad, in my company, and now----" She paused again. "This is very hard to say, Rob, and I am not saying it well, but you will not misunderstand me, I know that; and I can't lose your friendship, Rob, dear, and the pleasure your company will be to me, if we can set out understanding ourselves and each other. You have let Charlie's death and the money loss this search may bring you, crush out all hope, and you have been steeling yourself to give me up; to forget me. But do you think I will let you do this? I know your pride, | | 248 dear. I love you for it. But why must it separate us utterly? You are not the only man in this world who must win his way first, and whose wife must wait. I have waited, and I shall wait, always if need be. But it need not be. You will be the King Cophetua to my beggar maid yet. Oh, I know. I am afraid of nothing but your horrible self doubt, your fear of being--"

"Of being called a fortune hunter, Ruth."

"Well, you shall not be called that, sir knight of the proud, proud crest. Listen! You must be to me the Robert of old; not avoiding me, but my friend who understands me. We are both free to go abroad, and with a chaperone, as we are going, would not be de rigueur otherwise; and this subject is not to be referred to again, until the quest upon which we are starting--yes, I say we--is at an end.

"Who knows what may happen between our going and our home-coming? At the worst, I am still your friend, and shall never be more to any other man." She was about to move away, but he sprang up and caught her hands.

"Ruth!I You have given me new life. And you have shamed me. It is of you I have thought, when I have tried to tear myself away and leave you free to choose another."

"Robert, for shame. Shall you 'choose another' then?"

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"Never! You know that!"

"If I did not I should never have spoken as I have just now."

"But there are so many who might give you everything."

"There is only one who can give me my heart's desire."

"Ruth, my darling, if I were rich, or if you were poor, no man should ever win you from me. But the world must never call Ruth Glidden's husband a fortune hunter."

"It never shall. Never!"

"And so, you see----"

"I see the folly of what I have said. What do we care for dame Grundy? And why should you and I be foolish hypocrites, deceiving no one? In my heart of hearts I have been your promised wife always. I think I have the little ring with which we were betrothed when we were ten years old. We will go abroad as lovers, Rob, and if you cannot offer me a fortune--it must be a very large one to satisfy me--before we return, I shall give all mine to the London poor, and you will have to support me the rest of my days. What folly, Robert, what wickedness, to let mere money matters come between you and me!"

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