Originally written by Chicago socialite, Emma Murdock Van Deventer, under the nom de plume of Lawrence L. Lynch. She chose to use a male name to write stories during a time when men were better received by publishers and the readers did believe that the writer was a man. This detective story opens with the mysterious disappearance of schoolmaster, Mr. Brierly. The under-teacher and students set about finding him, but when his body is found, the mystery only deepens. Was it murder? What was the motive? He appeared to have no enemies.
Mary Eliska Girl Detective is called in to clandestinely investigate. Perhaps a bit easy mystery-wise -- the bad guys conveniently reveal nearly all in an overheard conversation toward the end of the book. Perhaps this was hardly necessary for Mary Eliska and many readers already will have reasoned and guessed the salient points during Mary Eliska's step-by-step investigations.
Readers will enjoy the small-town setting and the time period in general. Some may feel like real dummies when the whole thing is revealed at the end by Mary Eliska Girl Detective. Everything may seem obvious in hindsight. The shot at the back could not have been self-inflicted.
Miss Grant entered the south room, where the elder pupils were now, for the most part, assembled. "Girls and boys," she said, the color still burning in her cheeks, "something has delayed Mr. Brierly. I hope it will be for a short time only. In the meantime, until we know— know what to expect, you will, of course, keep your places and take up your studies. I am sure I can trust you to be as quiet and studious as if your teacher was here; and while we wait, and I begin my lessons, I shall set no monitor over you. I am sure you will not need one."
The pupils of Charles Brierly were ruled by gentleness and love, and they were loyal to so mild a ruler. With low whispers and words of acquiescence, they took up their books, and Miss Grant went back to her more restless small people, leaving the connecting door between the north and south rooms open.
Mrs. Fry's cottage was in the heart of the village, and upon the hillside, 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. He went out while she was combin' Nellie's hair, an' she aint seen him since!"
Hilda Grant walked slowly down from her little platform, and advanced, with a waving movement, until she stood in the doorway between the two rooms. The color had all faded from her face, and she put a hand against the door-pane as if to steady herself, and seemed to control or compose 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 made his way out from one of the side seats in Miss Grant's room, and came toward her without speaking. He was meanly dressed in garments ill- matched and worse fitting; his arms were abnormally long, his shoulders rounded and stooping, and his eyes were at once dull and furtive. He was the largest pupil, and the dullest, in Miss Grant's charge, and as he came toward her, still silent, but with his mouth half open, some of the little ones tittered audibly.
"Silence!" said the teacher, sternly. "Peter, come here." Her tone grew suddenly 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.
"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 a mark; I guess he's got a new target."