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   Chapter 3 No.3

The Moon Rock By Arthur J. Rees Characters: 22010

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


With parchments and papers deep on the table before him, Robert Turold plunged into the history of his life's task. The long hand of the mantelpiece clock slipped with a stealthy movement past the twelve as he commenced, as though determined not to be taken by surprise, but to keep abreast of him.

An hour passed, but Robert Turold kept steadily on. His hearers displayed symptoms of boredom like people detained in church beyond the usual time. Humanity is interested in achievement, but not in the manner of its accomplishment. And Robert's brother and sister knew much of his story by heart. It had formed the sole theme of his letters to them for many years past. Mrs. Pendleton's thoughts wandered to afternoon tea. Her husband nodded with closed eyes, and recovered himself with convulsive starts. Austin Turold fixed his glance on the ceiling, where a solitary fly was cleaning its wings with its legs. From the window Charles Turold presented an immobile profile. Only Dr. Ravenshaw seemed to listen with an interest which never flagged.

Yet it was a story well worth hearing, that record of indomitable pertinacity which had refused to be baulked by years or rebuffs. Men have acquired titles more easily. That was apparent as Robert Turold related the history of his long and patient investigation; of scents which had led nowhere; of threads which had broken in his hand; of fruitless burrowings into the graves of past generations. These disappointments had lengthened the search, but they had never baffled the searcher nor broken his faith.

The story began in the fourteenth century, when the second Edward had summoned his trusty retainer Robert Turrald from his quiet home in leafy Buckinghamshire to sit in Parliament as a baron, and by that act of kingly grace ennobled him and his heirs forever. Successive holders of the title were summoned to Parliament in their turn until the reign of the seventh Henry, when one succeeded whose wife brought him three daughters, but no sons. At his death the title went into abeyance among this plurality of girls. In peerage law they were his coheirs, and the inheritance could not descend because not one of them had an exclusive right to it. The daughters entered a convent and followed their parents to the grave within a few years, the Crown resumed the estate, and the title had remained in abeyance ever since.

But the last Lord Turrald had a brother Simon, a roystering blade and lawless adventurer, who disappeared some years before his elder brother's death. Little was known of him except that he was supposed to have closed a brawling career on the field of Bosworth, when Richard the Crookback was killed and the short-lived dynasty of York ended.

The Turolds' family deed-box told a different story. There was a manuscript in monkish hand, setting forth, "in the name of God, Amen," the secret history of Simon, as divulged by him on his deathbed for the information of his two sons. In this confession he claimed kinship with the last Lord Turrald of Great Missenden. But he had not dared to claim the title and rich estates on his brother's death, because he was a proscribed man. He had been a Yorkist, and had fought for Richard. That might have been forgiven him if he had not unhorsed his future king at Bosworth and almost succeeded in slaughtering him with his own reckless hands. So he had fled, and had remained in obscurity and a safe hiding-place after his brother's death, preferring his head without a title to a title without a head.

On this document, unsigned and undated, with nothing to indicate the place of its origin, the Turold family based its claim of descent from the baronial Turralds of Great Missenden. But the Turold history was a chequered one. Their branch was nomadic, without territorial ties or wealth, without continuance of chronology. They could not trace their own genealogy back for two hundred years. There was a great gap of missing generations which had never been filled in. It was not even known how the document had come into their possession. Simon's two sons and their descendants had vanished into unknown graves, leaving no trace. But the family clung fast to their belief that they were the lineal descendants of the Turralds of Buckinghamshire.

It had remained for Robert Turold to prove it. His father and grandfather had bragged of it, had fabricated family trees over their cups, and glowed with pride over their noble blood, but had let it go at that. Robert was a man of different mould. In his hands, the slender supposition had been turned into certainty. By immense labour and research he built a bridge from the first Turold of whom any record existed, backwards across the dark gap of the past. He traced the wanderings of his ancestors through different generations and different counties to Robert Turold, who established himself in Suffolk forty years after the last Lord Turrald was laid to rest in his family vault in the village church of Great Missenden.

The construction of this portion of his family tree occupied Robert Turold for ten years. There were scattered records to be collected, forgotten wills to be sought in county offices, parochial registers to be searched for births and deaths. A nomadic family has no traditions; Robert Turold had to trace his back to the darkness of the Middle Ages. It was a notable feat to trace the wanderings of an obscure family back so far as he did, but even then he seemed as far away from the attainment of his desire as ever. There remained a gap of forty years. To establish his claim to the title he had to prove that the Turolds sprang from the younger brother of the last Lord Turrald, who had allowed the title to lapse for fear of losing his head if he came forward to claim it.

It did not seem a great gap to bridge after following a wandering scent through four centuries, but the paltry forty years almost beat Robert Turold, and cost him five years additional search. It was a lucky chance, no more, which finally led him to Cornwall, but it was the hand of Providence (he said so) which directed his footsteps to the churchtown in which Dr. Ravenshaw lived. It was there he discovered the connecting link in the signature of a single witness on a noble charter which granted to the monks of St. Nicholas "all wreck of sea which might happen in the Scilly Isles except whales." To the eye of Robert Turold's faith the illegible scrawl on this faded scroll formed the magic name of Simon Turrald.

For once, faith was justified by its works. The signature was indeed Simon Turrald's; not the younger brother of the last Lord Turrald, but Simon's son.

Bit by bit, Robert Turold succeeded in fitting together the last pieces of the puzzle which had eluded him for so long. Simon Turrald, the brother, had fled to Cornwall, where he had married a Cornishwoman who had brought him two sons. The elder, Simon, had taken religious vows, and established a priory at St. Fair, a branch of the great priory of St. Germain. The holy fathers of the order had long since vanished from this earth to reap the reward of their goodness (it is to be hoped) in another world, but the remains of the priory still stood on a barren headland near Cape Cornwall. And there was a tomb in St. Fair church, behind the altar, marked by a blue slab, with an indent formerly filled by a recumbent figure. On the blue slab was a partly obliterated inscription in monkish Latin, which yielded its secret to him, and divulged that the remains beneath were those of Father Simon of St. Fair.

With this important discovery to help him, Robert Turold had very little difficulty in completing the particulars of the family genealogy. Further search of the churchtown records brought to light that Simon's other son, Robert, left Cornwall as a young man, and after some years of wandering had settled in Suffolk. Father Simon, of course, died without family, but Robert married, the family name came to be spelt "Turold," and thus was founded that branch of the family of which the last Robert Turold was now the head. The family tree was complete.

Such was the substance of Robert Turold's life quest, and the story had occupied two hours in telling.

"I have petitioned the King's most excellent majesty to terminate the abeyance in my favour and declare that I am entitled to the peerage," he concluded. "I have no doubt that my claim will be admitted. I have set out the facts with great care, and in considerable detail. I have traced a clear line of descent back to Simon Turrald, younger brother of the last baron, and there are no coheirs in existence. Ours is the last surviving branch, or it would, perhaps, be better if I said that Austin and myself, and Austin's son, are the only male members of the family. It is a difficult matter to give effectual proof of a long pedigree, but my lawyer has not the least doubt that the House of Lords will admit the validity of my claim, and will terminate the abeyance in my favour. The Attorney General has inspected my proofs, and I am to appear before the Committee for Privileges next week. In a few weeks at the outside, allowing for the worst of law's delays, I shall be Lord Turrald."

Robert Turold's whole bearing was transfigured as he made this announcement. His sound eye gleamed, his shrunken form seemed to expand and fill, and his harsh sallow features took on an expression which was almost ecstatic. It was his great moment, the moment for which he had lived for twenty years, and it compensated him for all his worry, delayed expectation, fruitless labour, and the bitter taste of the waters of despair.

"I shall be Turrald of Great Missenden," he said, and again the expression of his face showed what the words meant to him.

"Bob! So you've actually succeeded after all!" Mrs. Pendleton stepped quickly across to her brother as he sat regarding his audience from behind his pile of documents. It was like a sister, at that moment, to slip back to the juvenile name and kiss his elderly face with tears in her eyes. Robert Turold received the caress unmoved, and she went back to the sofa.

"Lord Turrald! It sounds well," murmured her husband, whose ideas were sufficiently democratic to give him a sneaking admiration for a title. He gazed at his brother-in-law with a new respect, discerning unsuspected indications of noble blood in his grim visage.

"How do you account for the two forms of spelling your family name?" observed Dr. Ravenshaw. "The House of Lords will require proof on that point, will they not?"

"I shall be able to satisfy them," returned Robert Turold. "The first Robert Turold reverted to the Norman spelling when he settled in Suffolk. Turrald is the corrupted form, doubtless due to early Saxon difficulties with Norman names. The Saxons were never very glib at Norman-French, and there was no standardized spelling of family names at that period."

"It would be interesting to know how t

he name of Simon came to be bestowed upon the Simon Turrald who fled to Cornwall after Bosworth. The name is Biblical-not Norman. The Normans were pagan, worshipping Woden and Thor, though supposed to be Christianized after Charles the Simple ceded Neustria to Rollo."

"Simon was a good mediaeval name in France and was fairly common in England from the twelfth century until after the Reformation. It was Norman, as being that of an apostle, and was never popular among the Puritans."

"It seems a pity that you cannot claim the Turrald estates," put in Austin. "They must have been immensely wealthy."

"It is quite out of the question," replied Robert decisively. "They have been alienated for centuries. But it has been part of my life's work to provide for the upkeep of the title when I gained it. I shall be able to ensure my heirs an income of nearly eight thousand pounds a year."

It was Mrs. Pendleton's first intimation of the amount of the fortune her brother had gained abroad. "Eight thousand a year!" she exclaimed. "Oh, Robert, it is wealth."

"One could live very comfortably on eight thousand a year," remarked her husband, "very comfortably indeed."

"It's not much to support a title, after the tax-gatherers have taken their pound of flesh in income tax and super-tax," said Austin. "Robert, with his iron frame, will probably outlive a weakling like myself, but if he doesn't I'm sure I shall find it difficult to keep up the title on the money."

"One word!" said Dr. Ravenshaw, with a quick glance at Robert Turold. "This is a barony by writ that you are claiming. Does not your daughter succeed you if you gain it, and not your brother?"

"No," replied Robert Turold. "The next holder of the title, after me, will be my brother, and his son will succeed him."

Little Mr. Pendleton looked questioningly at his brother-in-law.

"A similar question was on my lips," he said hesitatingly. "I know very little of such matters, but in view of our family's probable entry into the ranks of the old nobility I have deemed it my duty to make myself acquainted, to some extent, with the history of the Turrald title and peerage law. It seems a very complicated business-peerage law, I mean-in the case of baronies by writ, but I certainly gathered the impression that a sole daughter can succeed, although several daughters are regarded as coheirs."

"My daughter cannot succeed to the Turrald title," rejoined Robert Turold. The words seemed to be wrung out of him reluctantly.

"It is not for me to question your knowledge-your great knowledge-of English peerage law, Robert," pursued Mr. Pendleton with a kind of timid persistence. "But I brought a book down with me in the train in which I remember reading that the right of a single daughter to succeed to a barony by writ had been well established by the Clifton case and several others. I am not precisely aware what the Clifton case is, but I've no doubt that you are well versed in the particulars of it. As you have no son your daughter has priority of claim over your brother and his son. From what you say I can see that I must be quite wrong, but I'd be glad if you would explain to me."

"You have stated the law accurately enough," said Robert Turold, "but my daughter does not succeed to the title."

"Why not?"

Embarrassment, perceptible as a cloud, deepened on Robert Turold's face. He regained his self-control with an effort.

"There was an informality in my marriage," said he at last. "My daughter's birth was irregular."

"Do you mean that she is illegitimate?" asked Dr. Ravenshaw.

Robert Turold inclined his head. "Yes," he said.

At this admission his sister bounced from the sofa with a startled cry. "So that was why there was no name plate on the coffin," she exclaimed. "Oh, Robert, what a terrible thing-what a disgrace!"

"Spare me your protests until you have heard the explanation," Robert coldly rejoined. "She"-he pointed a hand in the direction of the churchyard-"was married before she met me. She kept the fact from me. It was apparently a secret passage in her life. During our long association together she gave no hint of it. She confessed the truth on her deathbed. In justice to her memory let me say that she believed her husband dead."

Robert Turold told this with unmoved face in barest outline-etched in dry-point, as it were-leaving his hearers to fill in the picture of the unhappy woman who had gone through life tormented by the twin demons of conscience and fear, which had overtaken her and brought her down before she could reach the safe shelter of the grave.

Mrs. Pendleton, whose robust mind had scant patience with the policy of cowardice which dictates death-bed confessions, regretted that Alice, having remained silent so long, had not kept silence altogether.

"You do not intend to make this scandal public, Robert?" she said anxiously.

"I am compelled to do so," was the gloomy response.

"Is it necessary?" she pleaded. "Cannot the story be kept quiet-if not for Alice's sake, at least for Sisily's? You must consider her above all things. She is your daughter, your only child."

"I agree with Aunt," said Charles Turold. He rose from the window-seat and approached the table. "Sisily must be your first consideration," he said, looking at Robert Turold.

"This has nothing to do with you, Charles," interposed Austin hastily.

"I think it has," said his son. "You told me nothing about this, you know."

"I was not aware of it myself," replied his father.

"Now that I know, I shall have nothing further to do with this," continued the young man. "I'm not going to help you wrong Sisily."

"I hardly expected such lofty moral sentiments from you," said Austin, with a dark glance.

His son flushed as though there was a hidden sting behind the jibe. He appeared to be about to say something more, but checked himself, and went back to his seat by the window.

"Is there no way of keeping this matter quiet, Robert?" said his sister imploringly.

"I see none," was the rejoinder. "It is a very painful disclosure, but I think it is inevitable. Do you not agree with me, Austin?"

"Do not ask my opinion," his brother coldly replied. "It is for you to decide."

Robert Turold paused irresolutely. "What do you say, Ravenshaw?" he said, glancing round at the silent figure of the doctor. "I asked you to be present this afternoon to have the benefit of your advice. I owe much to you, so I beg you to speak freely."

"Since you have asked my advice," said Dr. Ravenshaw gravely, "I say that I entirely agree with Mrs. Pendleton. Your first duty is to Sisily. She should out-weigh all other considerations. If you make her illegitimacy public you may live to be sorry for having done so."

Mrs. Pendleton cast a moist, grateful glance at the speaker, but Austin Turold turned on him a look of cold hostility.

Robert Turold sat brooding for a few moments in silence. He had asked advice, but his own mind was made up. The humane views of his sister and Dr. Ravenshaw were powerless to affect his decision. The monstrous growth of his single purpose had long since strangled such transient plants as human affection and feeling in his heart and mind.

"The facts must be made public," he said inexorably. "The honour of a noble family is in my hands, and I must do my duty. It would be an insult to my Sovereign and my peers, and a grievous wrong to our family, if I concealed any portion of the truth. I shall make adequate provision for Sisily. You will not refuse to take charge of her, Constance, because of this disclosure?"

"You ought to know me better than that, Robert. She'll need somebody to take care of her, poor child! But who is to tell her the truth? For I suppose she must be told?"

"I want you to tell her," said Robert Turold. "Choose your time. There is no immediate hurry, but she must be in no false hopes about the future. She had better be told before the Investigations Committee meets."

"Bother the Investigations Committee!" exclaimed Mrs. Pendleton. "Really, Robert-"

Mrs. Pendleton broke off abruptly, in something like dismay. She had a fleeting impression of a pair of eyes encountering her own through a crack in the doorway, and as swiftly withdrawn. She walked quickly to the door and flung it open. There was nobody outside, and the passage was empty.

"We have been talking family secrets with the door open," she said, returning to her seat. "I thought I saw one of the servants eavesdropping."

"My servants would not listen at doors," said Robert Turold coldly. "You must have imagined it."

Mrs. Pendleton made no rejoinder. She had a strong belief that someone had been watching and listening, but she could not be sure.

"We must really be going," she announced, with a glance at the clock. "Joseph"-such was her husband's name-"you had better go and see if the car is ready, and I will go for Sisily. Is she upstairs in her room, Robert?"

"I believe so," said Robert Turold, bending abstractedly over his papers. "But you had better ask Thalassa. He'll tell you. Thalassa will know."

Mrs. Pendleton looked angrily at him, but was wise enough to forbear from further speech. She instinctively realized that her brother was beyond argument or reproof.

She went upstairs to look for her niece, but she was not in her room. She came downstairs again and proceeded to the kitchen. Through the half-open door she saw the elderly male servant, and she entered briskly.

"Can you tell me where Miss Sisily is, Thalassa?" she asked.

"Miss Sisily is out on the cliffs." Thalassa, busy chopping suet with a knife, made answer without looking up. There was something absurdly incongruous between the mild domestic occupation and the grim warrior face bent over it.

"When did she go out?" asked Mrs. Pendleton, struck by a sudden thought.

Thalassa threw a swift sidelong glance at her. "It might be an hour ago," he said.

"Do you know where I am likely to find her?"

Thalassa pointed vaguely through an open window.

"Somewhere along there," he said. "Miss Sisily is fond of the cliffs. If you're going to look for her you'd best not go round by the back of the house, or you'll fall over, like as not. It's a savage spot, only fit for savages-or madmen." He turned his back and bent over his chopping board again.

Mrs. Pendleton turned away in perplexity, and walked up the passage to the front door. There her eye fell on the figure of Charles Turold, lounging moodily over the gate, smoking a cigarette.

She walked down the flinty path and touched his arm. "Would you mind going and looking for Sisily?" she said. "She is out on the cliffs, Thalassa says." She pointed a hand in the direction she supposed the girl to be.

The young man's moodiness vanished in eager alacrity. "Certainly," he replied. "I'll go with pleasure." He tossed away his cigarette and disappeared around the side of the house.

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