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   Chapter 5 No.5

The Moon Rock By Arthur J. Rees Characters: 10806

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Through the flowers on the hotel dining-table Mrs. Pendleton was able to watch her niece unnoticed, because the flowers occupied such an unreasonably large space on the little round table set for three. Besides, Sisily had been engrossed in her own thoughts throughout the meal. Mrs. Pendleton was disturbed by her quietness. There was something unnatural about it-something not girlish. She had not spoken once during the drive from Flint House to Penzance, and she sat through dinner with a still white face, silent, and hardly eating anything.

Mrs. Pendleton supposed Sisily was fretting over her mother, but she did not understand a girl whose grief took the form of silence and stillness. She would have preferred a niece who would have sobbed out her grief on her shoulder, been reasonably comforted, and eaten a good dinner afterwards. But Sisily was not that kind of girl. She was strange and unapproachable. There was something almost repellent in her reserve, something in her dark preoccupied gaze which made Mrs. Pendleton feel quite nervous, and unfeignedly relieved when Sisily had asked to be allowed to go to her room immediately the meal was concluded.

As she sat at the table, reviewing the events of the afternoon, after the girl had taken her departure, Mrs. Pendleton regretted that she had consented to take charge of Sisily. She flattered herself that she was sufficiently modern not to care a row of pins for the stigma on the girl's birth, but there were awkward circumstances, and not the least of them was her own rash promise to break the news to Sisily that she was illegitimate. That disclosure was not likely to help their future relations together. Mrs. Pendleton reflected that she knew very little about her niece, whom she had not seen since she was a small girl, but the recollection of her set face and tragic eyes at the dinner table impelled prompt recognition of the fact that she was going to be difficult to manage.

But there was more than that. With a feeling of dismay Mrs. Pendleton's mind awoke to a belated realization of the scandal which would fasten on Sisily and her birth if Robert succeeded in establishing his claim to the title. A peer of the realm with an illegitimate, disinherited daughter! The story would be pounced upon by a sensational press, avid for precisely such topics. In imagination Mrs. Pendleton saw the flaming headlines, the photographs, and the highly spiced reports in which every detail of her brother's private life was laid bare for a million curious eyes.

Such an exposure was too terrible to be faced. Mrs. Pendleton saw her own comfortable life affected by it; saw her position in her small social circle shaken and overwhelmed by the clamour of notoriety. She saw herself the focus of the malicious tea-table gossip of all her friends. Decidedly, it would not do.

She did her brother the justice to realize that he had overlooked the public effect of the disclosure of his painful domestic secret as completely as she had. He had forgotten that his accession to the peerage would make him, as it were, a public figure, and the glamour which the newspapers would throw over his lifelong quest would invest every act of his life with a publicity from which he could not hope to escape. If he had foreseen this, he would have made some other arrangement for his daughter's future, not for the girl's sake, but for the honour of the famous old name of which he was so fanatically proud.

The question remained, what was to be done? Robert would have to be told, of course. Mrs. Pendleton's first impulse was to retract her promise to take charge of Sisily, and wash her hands of the whole affair. Then she thought of the money, and wavered. Robert had made her a generous offer, and the money would have helped so much! She had already planned the spending of the cheque he had given her that afternoon. She had thought of a new suite of drawing-room furniture, and bedroom carpets. She had a vision of a small motor-car, later on.

As she pondered over the situation she thought she saw a way out-a way so simple and practical that she was astonished that it had not occurred to her before.

Mrs. Pendleton was a woman of decision and prompt of action when she made up her mind. Her mind was made up now. She glanced across the table at her husband. "Joseph!" she said.

Mr. Pendleton, hidden behind the sheets of a newspaper just arrived from London, had the temerity not to hear. He was in a grumpy mood, arising, in the first instance, from having been dragged away from his business and his club to Cornwall. It was nothing to him that he was in the Land of Lyonesse. His brief impression of the Duchy was that it was all rocks, and that Penzance was a dull town without a proper seafront, swarming with rascally shopkeepers who tried to sell serpentine match-boxes at the price of gold ones, and provided with hotels where dull tourists submitted to a daily diet of Cornish pasties and pollock under the delusion that they were taking in local colour in the process. Mr. Pendleton's stomach resented his own rash deglutition of these dainties, and in consequence he was suffering too much with acute indigestion to think of the compensation he would gain at next year's Academy by standing with a bragging knowing air before pictures of the Cornish coast, expatiating to his bored acquaintances (

who had never been to Cornwall) on their lack of merit compared with the real thing. Like most husbands, Mr. Pendleton had been able to reach the conclusion that the real cause of his bodily and mental discomfort was his wife, so he maintained a sulky silence behind the pages of his newspaper.

With that lack of ceremony which the familiarity of marriage engenders in the female breast, his wife leant across the table and plucked the paper from his hand.

"Listen to me, Joseph," she said, "I want to talk to you."

Lacking the newspaper screen, Mr. Pendleton's rebellious tendencies instantly evaporated beneath his wife's searching eye.

"Yes, my dear," he replied meekly. "What about?"

"About Sisily. Did you notice that she did not speak a word during dinner?"

"Perhaps she was overcome with grief, my dear."

"Nonsense! Grief does not make a woman speechless. She's one of the dumb sort of girls. I always mistrust a girl who hasn't plenty to say for herself."

"Well, you know, my dear, she has had a strange sort of life. She hasn't had the educational advantages of other young women"-Mr. Pendleton was going to add "in her station of life," but a timely recollection of the afternoon's disclosures caused him to substitute: "with wealthy fathers."

"Robert has neglected his duty to her shamefully. I've been thinking it all over, and I'm half sorry now that I consented to take charge of her."

"Then why do it?" said her husband placidly.

"It's the scandal I fear," rejoined his wife, pursuing her own thought. "There's bound to be a lot of talk and newspaper publicity when Robert comes into the title. It would be much better to keep this quiet, after all these years. There is really no occasion for it, if Robert will only listen to reason. Robert wishes to avoid future trouble and complications about the succession. That could be arranged by getting Sisily to sign some agreement renouncing all claim on the title."

"I doubt if such a document would be legal, my dear," said her husband dubiously.

"That wouldn't matter in the least," replied Mrs. Pendleton, with a woman's contempt for the law. "It would be purely a family arrangement. Sisily could be assured by somebody in whom she has reliance-not her father, of course-that there was some legal reason why she could not succeed. I do not think there would be any trouble with her. She does not look the kind of girl to delight in a title and a lot of money. Robert would have to settle a handsome allowance on the poor child-indeed, it is the very least he can do! If Robert agreed to this course there would be no need to blurt out the brutal truth, and I would take Sisily under my charge."

Mr. Pendleton saw several objections to his wife's plan, but he had long learnt the futility of domestic argument-on the husband's side at least. "How much do you consider your brother ought to allow Sisily?" he asked.

"Two thousand a year. Robert can well afford it."

"Do you think your brother Austin would agree?"

"Of course he wouldn't. Austin is horribly selfish. He wouldn't give Sisily a penny if he had his way, now that he knows the truth. But I don't intend to consult Austin in the matter. I thought of asking Dr. Ravenshaw to go with me and try and influence Robert. Robert trusts him implicitly, and he seems to have a great deal of influence with him. I feel sure he would do his utmost to bring Robert to listen to reason. Do you not think my plan a good one?"

In the secret depth of his heart Mr. Pendleton did not, but with the moral cowardice of a husband he forebore from saying so. "It might be tried," he feebly muttered.

"Very well, we will try it, then," said his wife, rising from her seat as she spoke. "Go and order that motor-car we had this afternoon while I get ready."

Mr. Pendleton was accustomed to his wife's energetic way of doing things on the spur of the moment, but he had never become used to it. "Do you intend to go and see your brother to-night?" he said, with an air of surprise.

"Why not?"

Mr. Pendleton sought for a reason, but could find none. "It's rather late, isn't it?" he suggested.

"Nonsense!" Mrs. Pendleton glanced at her wrist watch. "It's not much past eight."

"Why not leave it until the morning?" said her husband, with a lingering glance at the cheery glow of the log-fire in the lounge. "It's a beast of a night to be out. Hark to the wind!"

"If it is to be settled, it must be settled to-night," said Mrs. Pendleton decisively. "There'll be no time in the morning for anything, if we are to catch the ten o'clock train for London. Beside, Austin would see us if we went there in daylight, and I do not want him to know anything about it-he would only try and put obstacles in our way."

"What about Sisily?"

"She will be quite all right in her room. She looked tired out, and needs a good night's rest. You had better see about the car at once."

Mr. Pendleton said no more, and his wife bustled away to put on her outdoor things. When she descended from her room her husband was awaiting her in the lounge, and the head-light of the hired motor-car gleamed in the darkness outside.

They set out through the narrow uneven streets, which smelt strongly of mackerel and pitch. In a few minutes the car was clear of the town, and running at an increased pace through the gusty darkness of the moors.

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