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The Moon Rock By Arthur J. Rees Characters: 11135

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05

The group in the room sat in silence with an air of stiff expectation. The members of the family knew they were not assembled to pay respect to the memory of the woman who had just been buried. Her husband had regarded her as a drag upon him, and did not consider her removal an occasion for the display of hypocritical grief. Rather was it to be regarded as an act of timely intervention on the part of Death, who for once had not acted as marplot in human affairs.

They were there to listen to the story of the triumph of the head of the family, Robert Turold. Most families have some common source of interest and pride. It may be a famous son, a renowned ancestor, a faded heirloom, even a musical daughter. The pride of the Turold family rested on the belief that they were of noble blood-the lineal inheritors of a great English title which had fallen into abeyance hundreds of years before.

Robert Turold had not been content to boast of his nobility and die a commoner like his father and grandfather before him. His intense pride demanded more than that. As a boy he had pored over the crabbed parchments in the family deed-box which indicated but did not record the family descent, and he had vowed to devote his life to prove the descent and restore the ancient title of Turrald of Missenden to the Turolds of which he was the head.

There was not much to go upon when he commenced the labour of thirty years-merely a few old documents, a family tradition, and the similarity of name. And the Turolds were poor. Money, and a great deal of it, was needed for the search, in the first instance, of the unbroken line of descent, and for the maintenance of the title afterwards if the claim was completely established. But Robert Turold was not to be deterred by obstacles, however great. He was a man with a single idea, and such men are hard to baulk in the long run.

He left England in early manhood and remained away for some years. His family understood that he had gone to seek a fortune in the wilds of the earth. He reappeared-a saturnine silent man-as suddenly as he had gone away. In his wanderings he had gained a fortune but partly lost the use of one eye. The partial loss of an eye did not matter much in a country like England, where most people have two eyes and very little money, and therefore pay more respect to wealth than vision.

Robert Turold invested his money, and then set to work upon his great ambition with the fierce restlessness which characterized all his proceedings in life. He married shortly after his return. He soon came to the conclusion that his marriage was a great mistake-the greatest mistake of his life. His wife had borne him two girls. The first died in infancy, and some years later Sisily was born. His regrets increased with the birth of a second daughter. He wanted a son to succeed him in the title-when he gained it. Time passed, and he became enraged. His anger crushed the timid woman who shared his strange lot. His dominating temperament and moody pride were too much for her gentle soul. She became desperately afraid of him and his stern ways, of that monomania which kept them wandering through the country searching for links in a [pedigree] which had to be traced back for hundreds of years before Robert Turold could grasp his heart's desire.

When She died in the house on the cliffs where they had come six months before, Robert Turold had accomplished the task to which his life had been devoted. Some weeks before he had summoned his brother from London to disclose his future plans. The brothers had not met for many years, but Austin was quick to obey when he learnt that a fortune and a title were at stake. The sister and her husband, Mr. and Mrs. Pendleton, had reached Cornwall two days before the funeral. They were to take Sisily back to London with them. It was Robert Turold's intention to part with his daughter and place her in his sister's charge. For a reason he had not yet divulged, Sisily was to have no place in his brilliant future. He disliked his daughter. Her sex was a fatal bar to his regard. He had heaped so many reproaches on her mother for bringing another girl into the world that the poor woman had descended to the grave with a confused idea that she was to blame.

Sisily had a strange nature, reticent, yet tender. She had loved her mother passionately, and feared and hated her father because he had treated his wife so harshly. She had been the witness of it all-from her earliest childhood to the moment when the unhappy woman had died with her eyes fixed on her husband's implacable face, but holding fast to her daughter's hand, as though she wanted to carry the pressure of those loving fingers into the grave.

A clock on the mantel-piece ticked loudly. But it was the only sound which disturbed the quietness of the room. The representatives of the family eyed one another with guarded indifference. Circumstances had kept them apart for many years, and they now met almost as strangers.

Mrs. Pendleton sat on a sofa with her husband. She was a notable outline of a woman, large and massive, with a shrewd capable face and a middle-class mind. She lived, when at home, in the rarefied atmosphere of Golders Green, in a red house with a red-tiled roof, one of a streetful similarly afflicted, where she kept two maids and had a weekly reception day. She was childless, but she disdained to carry a pet dog as compensation for barrenness. Her husband was a meagre shrimp of a stockbroker under his wife's control, who golfed on Sund

ays and played auction bridge at his club twice a week with cyclic regularity. He and his wife had little in common except the habit of living together, which had made them acquainted with each other's ways.

Mrs. Pendleton had not seen either of her brothers for a long time. Robert had been too engrossed in digging into the past for the skeletons of his ancestors to do more than write intermittent letters to the living members of his family, acquainting them with the progress of his search. Austin Turold, Robert's younger brother, had spent a portion of his life in India and had but recently returned. He had gone there more than twenty years before to fill a Government post, taking with him his young wife, but leaving his son at school in England for some years. His wife had languished and died beneath an Indian sun, but her husband had become acclimatized, and remained until his time was up and he was free to return to England with a pension. His sister and he met on the previous day for the first time since he had left England for India, and Mrs. Pendleton had some difficulty in identifying the elderly and testy Anglo-Indian with the handsome young brother who had bade her farewell so many years before. And, she had even more difficulty in recognizing the fair-haired little boy of that time in the good-looking but rather moody-faced young man who at the present moment was seated near the window, staring out of it.

The fifth member of the party was Dr. Ravenshaw, who practised in the churchtown where Mrs. Turold had been buried, and had attended her in her illness.

But he had not been asked to share in the family council on that account. His presence was due to his intimacy with Robert Turold, which had commenced soon after the latter's arrival in Cornwall. The claimant for a title had found in the churchtown doctor an antiquarian after his own heart, whose wide knowledge of Cornish antiquities had assisted in the discovery of the last piece of evidence necessary to establish his claim.

Dr. Ravenshaw sat a little apart from the other, a thickset grey figure of a man, with eyes reddened as though by excessive reading, and usually protected by glasses, which just then he had removed in order to polish them with his handkerchief. In age he was sixty or more. His thick grey beard was mingled with white, and the heavy moustache which drooped over his mouth was quite white. He presented a common-place figure in his rough worn tweeds and heavy boots, but he was a man of intelligence in spite of his unassuming exterior. He lived alone, cared for by a single servant, and he covered on foot a scattered practice among the fishing population of that part of the coast. His knowledge of Cornish antiquities and heraldic lore had won him the confidence of Robert Turold, and his kindness to Mrs. Turold in her illness had gained him the gratitude of her daughter Sisily.

It was Austin Turold who caused a diversion in this group of lay figures by walking to the table and helping himself to a whisky-and-soda. Austin bore very little resemblance to his grim and dominant elder brother. He had a slight frail figure, very carefully dressed, and one of those thin-lipped faces which seem, to wear a perpetual sneer of superiority over commoner humanity. The movements of his white hands, the inflection of his voice, the double eyeglass which dangled from his vest by a ribbon of black silk, revealed the type of human being which considers itself something rarer and finer than its fellows. The thin face, narrow white forehead, and high-bridged nose might have belonged to an Oxford don or fashionable preacher, but, apart from these features, Austin Turold had nothing in common with such earnest souls. By temperament he was a dilettante and cynic, who affected not to take life seriously. His axiom of faith was that a good liver was the one thing in life worth having, and a far more potent factor in human affairs than conscience. He had at one time regarded his brother Robert as a fool and visionary, but had seen fit to change that opinion latterly.

He paused in the act of raising his glass to his lips, and looked over the silent company as though seeking a convivial companion. His son was still staring out of the window. The little stockbroker, seated on the sofa beside his large wife, made a deprecating movement of his eyebrows, as though entreating not to be asked. Austin's cold glance roved to Dr. Ravenshaw.

"Doctor," he said, "let me give you a whisky-and-soda."

Doctor Ravenshaw shook his head. "I have a patient to visit before dark," he said, "a lady. I do not care to carry the smell of spirits into a sick-room."

"But this is a special occasion, Ravenshaw," persisted the other. "We do not restore a title every day."

"Austin!" The voice of Mrs. Pendleton sounded from the sofa in shocked protest.

"What's the matter?" said Austin, pausing in the act of pouring some whisky into a glass.

"It would be exceedingly improper to drink a toast at such a moment."

"What's the matter with the moment?"

"The day, then. Just when we have buried poor Alice." Mrs. Pendleton had not seen her brother's wife for ten years before her death, but she had no difficulty in bringing tears to her eyes at the recollection of her. She dried her eyes with her handkerchief, and added in a different tone: "I fancy Robert is coming."

A heavy step was heard descending the stairs. Austin drained his glass, and Dr. Ravenshaw adjusted his spectacles as Robert Turold entered the room.

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