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   Chapter 7 No.7

The Moon Rock By Arthur J. Rees Characters: 10064

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


On leaving his master's room Thalassa went swiftly downstairs and disappeared into some remote back region of the lonely old house. He had other duties to perform before his day's work was finished. There was wood to be chopped, coal to be brought in, water to be drawn. Nearly an hour elapsed before he reappeared, candle in hand, and entered the kitchen.

A little woman with a furtive face, sharp nose, and blinking eyes was seated at one end of the kitchen table with playing-cards spread out in front of her. She looked up at the sound of the opening door, and fear crept into her eyes. She was Thalassa's wife, but the relationship was so completely ignored by Thalassa that other people were apt to forget its existence. The couple did the work of Flint House between them, but apart from that common interest Thalassa gave his wife very little of his attention, leading a solitary morose life, eating and sleeping alone, and holding no converse with her apart from what was necessary for the management of the house.

How he had ever come to bend his neck to the matrimonial yoke was one of those mysteries which must be accounted a triumph for the pursuing sex-a tribute to the fearlessness of woman in the ardour of the chase. On no other hypothesis was it possible to understand how such a feeble specimen of womanhood had been able to bring down such an untoward specimen of the masculine brute. Outwardly, Thalassa had more kinship with a pirate than a husband. There was that in his swart eagle visage and moody eyes which suggested lawless cruises, untrammelled adventure, and the fierce wooing of brown women by tropic seas rather than the dull routine of married life. As a husband he was an anomaly like a caged macaw in a spinster's drawing-room.

Mrs. Thalassa's victory had ended with bringing him down, and she soon had cause to regret her temerity in marrying him. Thalassa repaid the indignity of capture by a course of treatment which had long since subdued his wife to a state of perpetual fear of him-a fear which deepened into speechless shaking horror when he stormed out at her in one of his black rages. Some women would have taken to drink, others to religion. Mrs. Thalassa sought consolation in two packs of diminutive and dog-eared cards. Her shattered spirit found something inexpressibly soothing in the intricacies of patience: in the patchwork of colour, the array of sequences, the sudden discovery of an overlooked move, the dear triumph of a hard-won game.

It was thus she was occupied now, shuffling, cutting, and laying out her rows with quick nervous movements of her worn little hands. She glanced once more at her husband as he entered, and then bent over her cards again.

The night had descended blackly, and the wind moaned eerily round the old house. Thalassa sat in a straight-backed wooden chair listening to the wind and rain raging outside, and occasionally glancing at his wife, who remained absorbed in her patience. Half an hour passed in silence, broken only by the rattling of rain on the window, and the loud ticking of the clock on the mantelpiece. Suddenly the bell of Robert Turold's room rang loudly in its place behind the kitchen door.

It was one of the old wired bells, and it sprang backwards and forwards so violently under the impulse of the unseen pull that the other bells ranged alongside responded to the vibration by oscillating in sympathy.

Thalassa watched them moodily until the sound ceased. He then left the kitchen with deliberate tread, and stalked upstairs.

The door of his master's study was closed. He opened it without troubling to knock, but started back in astonishment at the sight which met his eyes. Robert Turold was crouching by the table like a beaten dog, whimpering and shaking with fear. He sprang to his feet as Thalassa entered, and advanced towards him.

"Thank God you've come, Thalassa," he cried.

"What's the matter with you?" said Thalassa sternly.

"He's come back, Thalassa-he's come back."

"He? Who?"

"You know whom I mean well enough. It was-" His voice sank suddenly, and he whispered a name in the man's ear.

Thalassa's brown cheek paled slightly, but he answered quickly and roughly-

"What nonsense are you talking now? How can he have come back? How often must I tell you that he is dead?"

"You mean that you thought he was dead, Thalassa. But he is alive."

"How do you know?"

"I heard him."

"Heard him! What do you mean?"

"I heard his footsteps pattering around the house, as clear and distinct as that night on that hellish island. Shall I ever forget the sound of his footsteps then, as he raced over the rocks, looking back at us with his wild eyes, and the blood streaming down his face-running and running until he stumbled and fell? The sound of his running footsteps as he clattered over the rocks have haunted me day and night ever since. I heard them again to-night."

"I tell you again that he is dead. What! Do you think that you could hear footsteps

on a night like this?" The man stepped quickly across to the nearest window and flung it open. The room was filled with rushing wind, and the window curtains flapped noisily. "And where would he be running to? Do you suppose he could climb up here from outside?"

"It might have been his spirit," murmured the other.

"Spirits don't cross the ocean, and their footsteps don't clatter," responded Thalassa coldly. "The house is all locked up, and there is no other house near by. Come, what are you afraid of? You are worrying and upsetting yourself over nothing. I'll bring you up your supper, and some whisky with it. And the sooner you leave this cursed hole of a place, the better it will be."

He crossed over to the fireplace and poked the coal into a red glow, and then turned to leave the room. It was plain that his words had some effect on Robert Turold, and he made an effort to restore his dignity before the witness of his humiliation left him.

"No doubt you are right, Thalassa," he said in his usual tone. "My nerves are a little overstrung, I fancy. You said the house was locked up for the night, I think?"

"Everything bolted and barred," said Thalassa, and left the room.

He returned downstairs to the kitchen, where he wandered restlessly about, occasionally pausing to look out of the window into the darkness of the night. The rain had ceased, but the wind blew fiercely, and the sea thundered at the foot of the cliffs. The gloom outside was thinning, and as Thalassa glanced out his eye lighted on a strange shape among the rocks. To his imagination it appeared to have something of the semblance of a man's form standing motionless, watching the house.

Thalassa remained near the window staring out at the object. While he stood thus, a faint sound reached him in the stillness. It was the muffled yet insistent tap of somebody apparently anxious to attract attention without making too much noise, and coming, as it seemed, from the front door. Thalassa glanced at his wife, but she appeared to have heard nothing, and her grey head was bent over her cards. He walked noiselessly out of the kitchen, closing the door gently behind him.

His wife remained at the table, unconscious of everything but the lay of her cards; shuffling, dealing, setting them out afresh in perpendicular rows, muttering at the obstinacy of the kings and queens as though their painted faces were alive and sensitive to her reproof. The old house creaked and groaned in the wind, then became suddenly silent, like a man overtaken by sleep in the midst of stretching and yawning. Time sped on. Thalassa did not return, but she did not notice his absence. More rain fell, beating against the window importunately, as if begging admission, then ceased all at once, as at a hidden command, and again there was a profound silence.

A piece of coal jumped from the fire with a hissing noise, and fell at Mrs. Thalassa's feet. She got up to replace it, and observed that she was alone.

She thought she heard her husband's footsteps in the passage, and opened the door. But there was nobody there. The lower part of the house was gloomy and dark, but she could see the lamp glimmering on the hall stand. She was about to return to her seat when the hall lamp suddenly mooned up, cast monstrous shadows, and went black out.

This fantastic trick of the lamp frightened her. What had made it flare up like that and go out? And whose footsteps had she heard? With a chill feeling of fear she shut the door and turned again to her game. But for once the charm of the cards failed her. Where was Jasper, and why did he not return? Silence held oppressive empire; her fears plucked at her like ghostly hands. The lamp and the footstep-what did they mean? Had she really heard a footstep?

She thought she saw something white in the uncurtained space of the window. She buried her face in her hands, lacking the courage to cross the room and pull down the blind.

Mysterious noises overhead, like somebody creeping on all-fours, drew her eyes back to the door opening into the passage. With dismay she saw it was not properly shut. She wondered if she dared go and lock it. Suppose it was her husband, after all? And the noises? Were they real, or had she imagined them?

There came to her ear an unmistakable sound like the slamming of a door above her. A sudden accession in the quality of her fear sent her flying to the passage door to lock it. Before she could get there the door flew open violently, as though hit by a giant's hand, and then the wind blew coldly on her face. The lamp on the kitchen table sent up a straight tongue of flame in the draught, and also went out. As she stood there with straining eyes a cry rang out overhead, followed in a space immeasurable to the listener in the gulf of blackness, by a shattering sound which seemed to shake the house to its foundations. Then the external blackness entered her own soul, shrouding her consciousness like the sudden swift fall of a curtain.

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