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

Table of Contents

<< chapter 20 chapter 25 >>

Display page layout


THE Lucania had been in port forty-eight hours, and Mrs. Myers and her party had been snugly quartered in one of London's most charming rural nooks, at Hampton Court, with Robert Brierly close at hand, before Ferrars ventured to visit the city.

Mr. Myers had discreetly remained in London, going from thence to meet his friends at Hampton Court, but Ferrars, for reasons which he did not explain, went to the city, as soon as he had assured himself of the comfort and safety of his party, this assurance including the provision of a watchful aid, who kept guard whenever Robert Brierly, himself now well convinced of the need of caution, ventured abroad.

Leaving Mr. Myers thus to enjoy an evening with his wife and friends, Ferrars hastened to "the city," where every stone seemed familiar, and many faces were those | | 251 of friends or foes, well known and well remembered. To escape recognition his own countenance had been simply but sufficiently hidden behind a disguise of snowy hair and rubicund visage, both assumed as soon as he had parted from the group at Hampton Court, for Ferrars realised that the battle was now on, and he had no idea of giving the foe the chance possibility of an encounter. He was well known at Scotland Yard, as well as to the chief of the department of police, and it was to one of these officials that he made his way, for he had two reasons of his own for hastening on, in advance of the party.

Not long before leaving the "States," he had received a dainty notelet. It could not have been called a letter. It came through the hands of Doctor Barnes, and it was signed, "Lotilia K. Jamieson."

It is late afternoon when Ferrars reaches Oxford Street, after his interview with several official personages, during which he has bestowed upon each a number of typewritten cards, bearing what seems to be a brief descriptive list, and as many photographs, faithful and enlarged copies of the "snap shot" furnished him by the hand of Samuel Doran.

He alights from an omnibus at the end of Regent Street, and stands, for a moment, looking down Oxford | | 252 Street. He is not in haste, for he lets cabs and omnibuses rattle by him, or stand, waiting for fares, and walks slowly on and on. A mile and a quarter of shops, that is Oxford Street, but Ferrars foots it sturdily. Past the Circus, beyond the region of Soho, and he slackens his pace and consults a tiny memorandum book. Who ever saw Frank Ferrars produce a letter or card, for reference, in the streets of a crowded city? Then he smiles and paces on.

Bloomsbury. He is walking slowly now, and under his low-drawn hat his eyes are very alert.

And now he is in that portion of Bloomsbury where, earlier, very early in the century, the wealthy, and those of high degree resided. It is comfortable and middle class now, and our pedestrian passes a certain pleasant semi-detached house--not large, but eminently respectable--with a stealthy, lingering glance, pausing, before he has walked quite beyond it, as if to note some object of fleeting interest. Two or three times, within the hour, he passes that house, now on this side, now on that; once on the top of an omnibus, once in a cab, and driving very slowly, and as close as possible.

It is fairly dusk when he slowly ascends the well scrubbed steps, with the reluctant air of a man by no means sure of himself. He carries a small package beneath his arm, and a card between the fingers of his | | 253 left hand, to which he shifts the package as he rings the bell.

"I beg your pardon, young Miss." It is a sour-faced damsel of uncertain age who melts perceptibly under this adjective. "Will you tell me if Mrs.--Mrs.-"

He peers near-sightedly at the card he holds, and slowly pronounces a name.

"No, sir; this is not the place."

"But, doesn't the lady stop here, Miss? It's some'res in this here block, and somehow they've forgot the number, you see. Is there a lady guest maybe, or a boarder belike?"

But the maid, quite melted now, shakes her head, and tells him that beside her mistress, whom she names, and her mistress' niece, who stops with them, "off and on," there are no ladies in the house.

The detective blunders on down the street, and, when the lamps are lit he passes the house again. The lamps are lighted in the little dining room now, and through a window which projects upon the corner, he can see a table set for two. And now at last he is rewarded, for a maid enters and places something upon the table; a lady follows, glances at the table, walks to the window, and turns, with a quick, imperious gesture, toward the maid; a little lady, with a fair face, pale, fleecy hair and wearing a flowing silken gown of some soft violet shade. | | 254 She sweeps past the maid and seats herself at the head of the table, while the young person--it is the same who attended so lately at the door--comes forward to close the curtain. Slowly it is drawn together, shutting in the lights, the table and the violet-clad figure, but not until the watcher outside has caught a glimpse of a man, tall and, yes, handsome, in a dark fierce fashion, who is entering at the door on the other side of the room.

The watcher passes on. He has seen, once more, the woman who has, according to his own confession, aroused in him "a profound interest." And he has also seen, whom and what? A brother? A lover? A rival, perhaps? Ferrars hails a passing cab now, and is driven swiftly towards his room in the Strand, and as he rolls along, this comment, which may mean much or little, passes his lips.

"So my little lady has doffed her mourning. I wonder what that may mean?"

"I'm very sorry, Ferrars, but I fear there's a great disappointment in store for you."

"A disappointment! How? And in what respect, Mr. Myers?"

Ferrars was seated opposite Mr. Myers in the office of Wendell Haynes, solicitor, in Middle Temple Lane, where he had hastened on the morning after his little | | 255 adventure in Bloomsbury, and so prompt and eager had he been that he had encountered the American lawyer at the very threshold, Mr. Myers having just arrived, with equal haste and promptness, from Hampton Court.

Solicitor Haynes and the English detective were not unknown to each other, and when they had exchanged greetings, the solicitor left the others together in his inner office. He was, by this time, fully acquainted with all the facts, so far as they were known to Mr. Myers, and he left them with a promise to rejoin them soon, when they should have compared notes and gone over the ground already known to the busy solicitor.

There was a look of suppressed eagerness upon the face of Ferrars, as he seated himself opposite the shrewd American lawyer. His face, his manner, his very silence and alertness as he held himself erect upon his chair, a picture of calm force, long suppressed, but now out of leash and ready for anything--anything except inaction; and that, his very attitude seemed to say was past.

Mr. Myers had waited a moment, after they were left alone together, for Ferrars to speak the first word, but the latter only sat still and waited, and the lawyer, with characteristic directness, spoke straight to the point. He had what he felt to be bad news to impart, and he did not delay or play with words in the doing it.

But if he had expected disappointment or any change | | 256 to cross that keenly questioning face, he looked in vain. Ferrars only sat leaning slightly toward him, waited a moment, and repeated his last words.

"In what manner? How disapppointed [sic] ?" And then, as the lawyer still hesitated, he went on. "You find the case as it should be, eh?"

"The case! Oh, yes!"

"Are there any flaws?"

"No," broke in the lawyer.

"Any unexpected delays?"


"Any new claimants?"

"No, Ferrars. The Hugo Paisley will case is one of the simplest and clearest of its kind. The last incumbent surely must have had a wonderfully clear idea of how to do the thing he meant to do. Once the claim is proven, and he makes that work easy, there need be no delays, no chancery, no holding back for big fees. The agents in the case are paid according to their expedition, and have every incentive to haste. With the proofs in hand the heir could step at once into his fortune, a matter of £200,000."

"An American millionaire, eh?" Ferrars smiled.

"That, then, is quite as it should be, especially as the young lady is here. Well, then, you advertised, according to your report?"

| | 257

"Yes, we advertised. A very craftily worded document calculated to arouse the dilatory claimants to prompt action."

"And, did it not?"

"It did, yes."

"Then, in heaven's name why must I be disappointed in any way?"

"Because I fear the claimant--we have seen but one--is not the person you hoped to find."

Ferrars actually smiled. "Describe the person," he said.

Without speaking, the lawyer held out to him across the table a visiting card, a lady's card, correct according to the London mode of the hour, and bearing a name which Ferrars read aloud with no sign of emotion in his face.

"Mrs. Gaston Latham." He looked up with the card still between his fingers. "Is she the solitary heir?"

"No; there are two children; girls of twelve and nine."

"And her proofs?"

"Seem to be perfect, making her the next in line of succession after----"

"After the Brierlys, of course."

Mr. Myers nodded and the detective looked down again at the address upon the card.

| | 258

"Lives in the city, I see! Are the children with her here?"

"Only the younger, I am told. The elder has 'an infirmity,' and is at present in an institution. It seems a great cross to the mother; in fact her anxiety and distress, because of this child, have made her almost indifferent about this business of the fortune. In short"--and here the lawyer glanced askance at his vis-à-vis--"I'm afraid she is not the--the sort of claimant you have expected to see. And there seems to be no one of the other sex in the family."

"Well, well!" Ferrars threw himself back in the big office chair, assuming an easy and almost careless attitude.

"Tell me all about her, Myers. Is she old, or young? Handsome or not?"

The face of the lawyer was overspread with a cynical smile. He had expected to see disappointment, consternation, perhaps, in the face of the detective, when he heard that the English claimant to the Paisley fortune was a woman lorn and lone. His heart was in the work they were engaged upon. Robert Brierly's interests were his own; but, still, this cool, emotionless detective, whom he liked well, had more than once piqued and puzzled him. He believed that Ferrars was quite prepared to meet with, and hear of, quite another sort | | 259 of claimant, and he was now looking to see him at last stirred out of his provoking calm.

"Mrs. Gaston Latham is not a claimant to whom one could object, upon the ground of unfitness. She would make a very handsome and gracious dispenser of the Paisley thousands."

"Too bad that she will never get them!" And Ferrars smiled.

"She is a woman of medium height, and rather--well--plump, and while her hair is snowy white, she does not look a day over forty. She has the fine, fresh English colour, blue eyes, that require the aid of strong eyeglasses, and a voice that is very high-pitched for an Englishwoman, and that sounds, I am sorry to say--for she's really a very intelligent and winning little lady--somewhat affected at times. She dresses in soft grays and pale lavenders, as you may be interested to know."

And here the lawyer smiled broadly.

"That," commented Ferrars, with no cessation of his own gravely indifferent manner, "for a 'plump' woman, is a great mistake. A plump person should never assume light colours." And then the eyes of the two men met, and over each face there slowly crept a smile that grew into a laugh.

"Upon my soul, Ferrars," exclaimed the elder, "I believe you have heard of this Mrs. Latham!"

| | 260

"Not to make a mystery of it, Mr. Myers, I'll explain that I have heard of Mrs. Latham. But, I give you my word, I did not look to find her the claimant. You have heard us, some, or all, speak of Mrs. Jamieson!"

The lawyer nodded and a smile of meaning crossed his face.

"Well, I have lately learned that she might be found at a certain number in Bloomsbury, and addressed, in case of her temporary absence, in care of Mrs. Gaston Latham, an old family friend."

"I see!" The lawyer was silent a moment. Then he looked the detective frankly in the face. "To be perfectly candid with you, Ferrars," he said, "I have thought that you looked to see a different sort of claimant, more than one perhaps, and that this lady could not, by any possibility, be the expected one. I fancied this would trouble, perhaps hinder, if not quite balk you."

"Honestly, Myers, I have wondered not a little what sort of claimant I should meet, and I am neither surprised nor disappointed. I see what is in your mind; you looked to see the conclusion of the game here and soon, eh?"

"I admit it."

"And I hoped it. I do hope it. We must strike our | | 261 final blow now if ever. We can depend upon Mr. Haynes."


"And you have fully enlightened him?"

"To the extent of my own knowledge?"

"Then let's call him in, and I will put my cards upon the table. We shall need his help, but I'll explain that later."

When the English solicitor had joined them, Ferrars briefly reviewed the events surrounding and connected with the death of Charles Brierly, and the attempt upon Robert's life; and when he was sure that they understood each other, thus far, and that the English lawyer was deeply interested in the case and had committed himself to it, he summed up the situation thus.

"You will see, of course, that I might make a bold stroke and arrest my suspects at once; or, at least, as soon as we could lay our hands upon them, but the case is a complicated one, and having it in my power to make our quarry commit themselves altogether, I do not intend to leave them a loophole of escape. I have not been entirely open with you; you must take my word for some things. I have put the Scotland Yard men on the lookout for our man; I do not know his name, but I think they will have no trouble in finding him, by acting upon my hints. There is much which even I do | | 262 not understand, in his connection with the case. I do not believe him to be the master spirit, and I want to let him have his fling over here."

"Do you mean," broke in the solicitor, "that you do not intend to arrest him, as soon as found?"

"He must be kept under close espionage, when traced, but so long as he does not leave London, he must be left quite free to come and go at will. There is much that is still hazy, concerning his appearance in Glenville, and I look to him to lead me to another--to the other, in fact."

"And," urged the solicitor, "do you feel safe in venturing this? May he not shun those places?"

"Listen! The man's name I do not know, but I know what he is. There are plotting villains in this world, who might scheme forever and still be often penniless. This man is a gambler. In Chicago he pawned the watch stolen from Charles Brierly's room, knowing that there was risk in so doing, but desperate for the money it would bring. He won soon after, and aware of danger ahead, for he had good reason to think himself followed over there, he at once redeemed his pledge. He does not dream that we are here, and the finances at headquarters, I have reason to think, are running low. To play he must have money, and when he has lost he will either pledge or sell the remainder of the jewels stolen | | 263 from the writing desk. They were of considerable value, as I have discovered."

"Ah!" Mr. Myers looked up quickly.

"Oh, that's no secret. Hilda Grant saw the jewels, and knew their value."

"May I ask why you presume that all the stolen jewels are in this man's possession?" asked the solicitor.

"Because they were stolen, in the first place, not for plunder's sake, but to mislead; and the party who took them lost no time, I am sure, in passing them on, and out of the town. It is hardly likely they would have divided them."

"Then you look upon this man as in truth little more than a cat's paw?"

"In some respects, yes. He does not take this view, however, and now I want to hear all about your interview with this lady, Mrs. Gaston Latham."

"According to your instructions," said Mr. Myers, "I remained in the background. Mr. Haynes was the spokesman."

Ferrars turned toward the solicitor, who began at once.

"There is really very little to tell. Of course I quite understand that the claimant was to be held off, and the next interview to take place in your presence."

| | 264

Ferrars shook his head. "I fear we must change our plans somewhat. The fact is," here he glanced up and met the eye of Mr. Haynes, a queer smile lighting his own, "I have found just now, that I knew a lady who seems to be a friend of this Mrs. Gaston Latham, and an inmate of her house in Bloomsbury. Now it might be a little awkward for me to appear before my--the lady in question, as the opponent of her friend. In fact, I must not appear in the matter--not yet, at any rate. And, upon my word, Mr. Myers, since our friend has taken up the rôle of Spokesman-in-chief, you and I will both stand aside, just at first May we count upon you?"

"I shall need some coaching, of course," suggested the solicitor.

"Of course; and that you shall have at once. But first, when is she to call again?"

"When I give the word."

"Give it at once, then; to-morrow at 2 p.m. Tell her to come alone. You can arrange for us to hear the interview, I dare say?"

The solicitor swung about in his big chair. "You see those two doors?" he asked, quite needlessly pointing at the two doors, at opposite corners of the inner wall, "They open upon my private chamber of horrors. Formerly there was a partition, and two smaller rooms | | 265 The partition has been removed. In the morning I will have my man move that tall bookcase across the door at the right. The door, behind it, can then stand open, and you can hear very well. I will have my desk and the chairs moved nearer that corner. Will that do?"

"Excellently; only I must see the lady in some way."

"Then, if you will come in some slight disguise, you can sit at my clerk's desk, over by that window, with your back to the light. I will dismiss you, and you can go out to join Mr. Myers, through the left-hand door."

They inspected the inner room, and Ferrars, guaging [sic] the distance with his quick eye, made a suggestion or two regarding the placing of the desks, and the visitor's chair, and then they sat down to discuss the part the solicitor must take in the coming interview.

That evening when Ferrars strolled into his room after an early dinner, he found a note from a certain police inspector, in whose charge he had left the hunt, or rather, the watch for the suspected stranger. The note contained a summons, brief and peremptory, and he hastened to present himself before Inspector Hirsch.

"We have found your man," were the inspector's first words, when the detective was left alone with him. "And it was an easy trick, too, for all your fears to the contrary. I tell you, Ferrars, when a sport who lives | | 266 only to gamble and bet on horses, comes back to London after any long absence, he's sure to go to one of a dozen flush places I can name, as soon as he can get there. And, if he's heeled he'll go to them all. Just give him time. I didn't neglect the houses of mine uncle, but I also sent a squad around to these other places."

"And you found him?"

"We found him. And that's not all. We have found a name for him."

"Good! What is it?"

"He goes by the name of 'Quarrelsome Harry' among his kind. Harry Levey is the way he writes it."

Ferrars pondered a moment "M--m--I'm not surprised," he said finally. "I was sure he was that kind. What's his specialty besides being quarrelsome?"

"Cards, and crooked bookmaking, I fancy. But Smithson, who seems to have known him of old, says he's up to most sorts of shady business, when his luck's down."

And the inspector went on describing the search for "Quarrelsome Harry" who had been "spotted" at a time when he was in a fair way to prove his right to his sobriquet. For he had been losing money all the previous night, and had sought his room in a dingy house in Soho, in a very black mood.

Here, so the shadow had reported, "Quarrelsome | | 267 Harry" had remained until late noonday, emerging then to lunch at a coffee-house, and to take his way, for what purpose the watcher could only guess, to Houndsditch, where he seemed quite at home among the Jews in several cafes and "club rooms," where he tarried for a greater or shorter time, and seemed to be looking for some one--some one whom he did not find, it would seem, for he left the neighbourhood as he came, alone and with a lowering face.

"Looking for a loan, I'll wager," declared Ferrars. "By to-morrow he'll be visiting my uncle. I'll have to leave him to your men to-night, I suppose, Hirsch, but to-morrow I will go on guard myself."

He made a note of the Soho street and number, where Harrey [sic] Levey had lodged, and then he took out his cigar case and the two men sat down together to talk about London, and compare notes. For they were old acquaintances, and could find much to say, one to another.

An hour later, when Ferrars arose to go, the inspector looked at his watch.

"By Jove! Frank, you don't mind my calling you that, eh? It seems like old times, half a dozen years ago. Say, it's almost the hour for the Swiss to report. He's on duty now looking after your man; wait till he comes in. Hobson must already have gone to | | 268 relieve him, if he can find him. Harry was airing himself along the embankment when last heard from."

It was nearing ten o'clock, but Ferrars resumed his seat and his cigar very willingly, and Inspector Hirsch set out a very pretty decanter of something which he described, while pouring it into the glasses, as both light and pleasant.

At half-past ten "the Swiss," as rank an Englishman as ever ignored his h's, came in beaming.

He had left "'Arry," as he familiarly called the man he had been set to guard, in a front seat in the gallery of the Vaudeville theatre in the Strand, and Hobson was sitting just three seats away, and nearest the "halley."

"E's got a sort of green lookin' young duffer with 'im," went on the Swiss, "and they seem to be goin' to 'ave a night of it."

Ferrars got up quickly. "Come out with me, inspector," he said. "I may want you to call off your man. And, say, let me have one of your badges. It may come handy."

<< chapter 20 chapter 25 >>