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The Last Stroke: A Detective Story

The Last Stroke: A Detective Story

Author:Lawrence L. Lynch


It was a May morning in Glenville. Pretty, picturesque Glenville, low lying by the lake shore, with the waters of the lake surging to meet it, or coyly receding from it, on the one side, and the green-clad hills rising gradually and gently on the other, ending in a belt of trees at the very ....
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  It was a May morning in Glenville. Pretty, picturesque Glenville, lowlying by the lake shore, with the waters of the lake surging to meet it,or coyly receding from it, on the one side, and the green-clad hillsrising gradually and gently on the other, ending in a belt of trees atthe very horizon's edge.

  There is little movement in the quiet streets of the town at half-pasteight o'clock in the morning, save for the youngsters who, walking,running, leaping, sauntering or waiting idly, one for another, are, orshould be, on their way to the school-house which stands upon the verysouthernmost outskirts of the town, and a little way up the hillyslope, at a reasonably safe remove from the willow-fringed lake shore.

  The Glenville school-house was one of the earliest public buildingserected in the village, and it had been "located" in what wasconfidently expected to be the centre of the place. But the new andlate-coming impetus, which had changed the hamlet of half a hundreddwellings to one of twenty times that number, and made of it a quiet andnot too fashionable little summer resort, had carried the business ofthe place northward, and its residences still farther north, thusleaving this seat of learning aloof from, and quite above the newertown, in isolated and lofty dignity, surrounded by trees; in theoutskirts, in fact, of a second belt of wood, which girdled the lakeshore, even as the further and loftier fringe of timber outlined thehilltops at the edge of the eastern horizon and far away.

  "Les call 'er the 'cademy?" suggested Elias Robbins, one of the buildersof the school-house, and an early settler of Glenville. "What's tohinder?"

  "Nothin'," declared John Rote, the village oracle. "'Twill soundfirst-rate."

  They were standing outside the building, just completed and resplendentin two coats of yellow paint, and they were just from the labour ofputting in, "hangin'" the new bell.

  All of masculine Glenville was present, and the other sex was notwithout representation.

  "Suits me down ter the ground!" commented a third citizen; and no doubtit would have suited the majority, but when Parson Ryder was consulted,he smiled genially and shook his head.

  "It won't do, I'm afraid, Elias," he said. "We're only a village as yet,you see, and we can't even dub it the High School, except from ageographical point of view. However, we are bound to grow, and ourtitles will come with the growth."

  The growth, after a time, began; but it was only a summer growth; andthe school-house was still a village school-house with its master andone under, or primary, teacher; and to-day there was a frisking group ofthe smaller youngsters rushing about the school-yard, while the firstbell rang out, and half a dozen of the older pupils clustered about thegirlish under-teacher full of questions and wonder; for Johnny Robbins,whose turn it was to ring the bell this week, after watching the clock,and the path up the hill, alternately, until the time for the first bellhad come, and was actually twenty seconds past, had reluctantly butfirmly seized the rope and began to pull.

  "'Taint no use, Miss Grant; I'll have to do it. He told me not to waitfor nothin', never, when 'twas half-past eight, and so"--cling, clang,cling--"I'm bound"--cling--"ter do it!" Clang. "You see"--cling--"evenif he aint here----" Clang, clang, clang.

  The boy pulled lustily at the rope for about half as long as usual, andthen he stopped.

  "You don't s'pose that clock c'ud be wrong, do yo', Miss Grant? Mr.Brierly's never been later'n quarter past before."

  Miss Grant turned her wistful and somewhat anxious eyes toward theeastern horizon, and rested a hand upon the shoulder of a tall girl ather side.

  "He may be ill, Johnny," she said, reluctantly, "or his watch may bewrong. He's sure to come in time for morning song service. Come, Meta,let us go in and look at those fractions."

  Five--ten--fifteen minutes passed and the two heads bent still over bookand slate. Twenty minutes, and Johnny's head appeared at the door, halfa dozen others behind it.

  "Has he come, Johnny?"

  "No'm; sha'n't I go an' see----"

  But Miss Grant arose, stopping him with a gesture. "He would laugh atus, Johnny." Then, with another look at the anxious faces, "wait untilnine o'clock, at least."

  Johnny and his followers went sullenly back to the porch, and Meta's lipbegan to quiver.

  "Somethin's happened to him, Miss Grant," she whimpered; "I knowsomethin' has happened!"

  "Nonsense," said Miss Grant. But she went to the window and called to alittle girl at play upon the green.

  "Nellie Fry! Come here, dear."

  Nellie Fry, an a, b, c student, came running in, her yellow locks flyingstraight out behind her.

  "What is it, Miss Grant?"

  "Nellie, did you see Mr. Brierly at breakfast?"


  "And--quite well?"

  "Why--I guess so. He talked just like he does always, and asked theblessin'. He--he ate a lot, too--for him. I 'member ma speakin' of it."

  "You remember, Nellie."

  Miss Grant kissed the child and walked to her desk, bending over herroll call, and seeming busy over it until the clock upon the oppositewall struck the hour of nine, and Johnny's face appeared at the door,simultaneously with the last stroke.

  "Sh'll I ring, Miss Grant?"

  "Yes." The girl spoke with sudden decision. "Ring the bell, and then goat once to Mrs. Fry's house, and ask if anything has happened to detainMr. Brierly. Don't loiter, Johnny."

  There was an unwonted flush now upon the girl's usually pale cheeks,and sudden energy in her step and voice.

  The school building contained but two rooms, beside the large hall, andthe cloak rooms upon either side; and as the scholars trooped in, takingtheir respective places with more than their usual readiness, but withunusual bustle and exchange of whispers and inquiring looks, the slendergirl went once more to the entrance and looked up and down the path fromthe village.

  There was no one in sight, and she turned and put her hand upon theswaying bell-rope.

  "Stop it, Johnny! There's surely something wrong! Go, now, and ask afterMr. Brierly. He must be ill!"

  "He'd 'a sent word, sure," said the boy, with conviction, as he snatchedhis hat from its nail. But Miss Grant only waved him away and enteredthe south room, where the elder pupils were now, for the most part,assembled.

  "Girls and boys," she said, the colour still burning in her cheeks,"something has delayed Mr. Brierly. I hope it will be for a short timeonly. In the meantime, until we know--know what to expect, you will, ofcourse, keep your places and take up your studies. I am sure I can trustyou to be as quiet and studious as if your teacher was here; and whilewe wait, and I begin my lessons, I shall set no monitor over you. I amsure you will not need one."

  The pupils of Charles Brierly were ruled by gentleness and love, andthey were loyal to so mild a ruler. With low whispers and words ofacquiescence, they took up their books, and Miss Grant went back to hermore restless small people, leaving the connecting door between thenorth and south rooms open.

  Mrs. Fry's cottage was in the heart of the village, and upon thehillside, but Johnny stayed for nothing, running hither, hat in hand,and returning panting, and with a troubled face.

  "Miss Grant," he panted, bursting into her presence with scant ceremony,"he aint there! Mrs. Fry says he came to school before eight o'clock. Hewent out while she was combin' Nellie's hair, an' she aint seen himsince!"

  Hilda Grant walked slowly down from her little platform, and advanced,with a waving movement, until she stood in the doorway between the tworooms. The colour had all faded from her face, and she put a handagainst the door-pane as if to steady herself, and seemed to control orcompose herself with an effort.

  "Boys--children--have any of you seen Mr. Brierly this morning?"

  For a moment there was an utter silence in the school-room. Then,slowly, and with a sheepish shuffling movement, a stolid-faced boy madehis way out from one of the side seats in Miss Grant's room, and cametoward her without speaking. He was meanly dressed in garmentsill-matched and worse fitting; his arms were abnormally long, hisshoulders rounded and stooping, and his eyes were at once dull andfurtive. He was the largest pupil, and the dullest, in Miss Grant'scharge, and as he came toward her, still silent, but with his mouth halfopen, some of the little ones tittered audibly.

  "Silence!" said the teacher, sternly. "Peter, come here." Her tone grewsuddenly gentle. "Have you seen Mr. Brierly this morning?"

  "Uh hum!" The boy stopped short and hung his head.

  "That's good news, Peter. Tell me where you saw him."

  "Down there," nodding toward the lake.

  "At the--lake?"


  "How long ago, Peter?"

  "'Fore school--hour, maybe."

  "How far away, Peter?"

  "Big ways. Most by Injun Hill."

  "Ah! and what was he doing?"

  "Set on ground--lookin'."

  "Miss Grant!" broke in the boy Johnny. "He was goin' to shoot at amark; I guess he's got a new target down there, an' him an' some of theboys shoots there, you know. Gracious!" his eyes suddenly widening,"Dy'u s'pose he's got hurt, anyway?"

  Miss Grant turned quickly toward the simpleton.

  "Peter, you are sure it was this morning that you saw Mr. Brierly?"

  "Uh hum."

  "And, was he alone?"

  "Uh hum."

  "Who else did you see down there, Peter?"

  The boy lifted his arm, shielding his eyes with it as if expecting ablow.

  "I bet some one's tried ter hit him!" commented Johnny.

  "Hush, Johnny! Peter, what is it? Did some one frighten you?"

  The boy wagged his head.

  "Who was it?"

  "N--Nothin'--" Peter began to whimper.

  "You must answer me, Peter; was any one else by the lake? Whom else didyou see?"

  "A--a--ghost!" blubbered the boy, and this was all she could gain fromhim.

  And now the children began to whisper, and some of the elder to suggestpossibilities.

  "Maybe he's met a tramp."

  "P'r'aps he's sprained his ankle!"

  "P'r'aps he's falled into the lake, teacher," piped a six-year-old.

  "Poh!" retorted a small boy. "He kin swim like--anything."

  "Children, be silent!" A look of annoyance had suddenly relaxed thestrained, set look of the under teacher's white face as she recalled, atthe moment, how she had heard Mr. Samuel Doran--president of the boardof school directors--ask Mr. Brierly to drop in at his office thatmorning to look at some specimen school books. That was the eveningbefore, and, doubtless, he was there now.

  Miss Grant bit her lip, vexed at her folly and fright. But after amoment's reflection she turned again to Johnny Robbins, saying:

  "Johnny, will you go back as far as Mr. Doran's house? Go to the officedoor, and if Mr. Brierly is there, as I think he will be, ask him if hewould like me to hear his classes until he is at liberty."

  Again the ready messenger caught up his flapping straw hat, while alittle flutter of relief ran through the school, and Miss Grant wentback to her desk, the look of vexation still upon her face.

  Five minutes' brisk trotting brought the boy to Mr. Doran's door, whichwas much nearer than the Fry homestead, and less than five minutes foundhim again at the school-house door.

  "Miss Grant," he cried, excitedly, "he wa'n't there, nor haint been; an'Mr. Doran's startin' right out, with two or three other men, to hunthim. He says there's somethin' wrong about it."