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   Chapter 8 No.8

The Moon Rock By Arthur J. Rees Characters: 8982

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05

It seemed a long wild journey in the dark, but actually only half an hour passed before the car emerged from the wind and rain of the moors into the dimly-lighted stone street of the churchtown. A few minutes later the car stopped, and the driver informed Mr. and Mrs. Pendleton in a Cornish drawl that they had reached Dr. Ravenshaw's.

Husband and wife emerged from the car and discerned a square stone house lying back from the road behind a white fence. They walked up the path from the gate and rang the bell.

A rugged and freckled servant lass answered the ring, and stared hard at the visitors from a pair of Cornish brown eyes. On learning their names she conducted them into a small room off the hall and departed to inform the doctor of their arrival.

Dr. Ravenshaw came in immediately. The quick glance he bestowed upon his visitors expressed surprise, but he merely invited them to be seated and waited for them to explain the object of their late visit. The room into which they had been shown was his consulting room, furnished in the simplest fashion-almost shabbily. There were chairs and table and a couch, a small stand for a pile of magazines, a bookcase containing some medical works, and a sprawling hare's-foot fern in a large flowerpot by the window. Mr. Pendleton seated himself near the fern, examining it as though it was a botanical rarity, and left his wife to undertake the conversation. Mrs. Pendleton was accustomed to take the lead, and immediately commenced-

"I have taken the liberty of coming to ask your advice about my niece, doctor. You heard what my brother said this afternoon?"

Dr. Ravenshaw inclined his head without speaking, and waited for her to continue.

"As you are a friend of my brother's-"

"Hardly a friend," he interrupted, with a gesture of dissent. "Our acquaintance is really too short to warrant that term."

There was a professional formality about his tone which pulled her up short. Like all impulsive people she was chilled by a lack of responsiveness. Her impulse in visiting him had hoped for an interest equalling her own. She reflected now that she should have remembered that nobody liked being bothered with other people's affairs. She recovered her feminine assurance and went on, with a winning smile.

"But you are in my brother's confidence, doctor-you were present at our family gathering this afternoon. It is because of that I have come to see you again, at this late hour. My husband and I are returning to London in the morning, and there would be no other opportunity. I have been thinking over all my brother said this afternoon, and I am very much distressed about my niece."

He gave a short comprehending nod which encouraged her to proceed.

"I am extremely desirous of preventing this scandal of my brother's marriage coming to light after all these years," she earnestly pursued. "It seems to me that Robert has decided to let the truth be known without first considering all the circumstances. He has forgotten that if he succeeds in restoring the title he will come prominently into the public eye. As the holder of a famous name his affairs will have a public interest, and details will be published in the newspapers and eagerly read. That is why this story about Sisily's mother would be so terrible for all of us, and especially for Sisily."

"I should think your brother had foreseen all this." said Dr. Ravenshaw, after a short pause.

"I do not think Robert has realized it," Mrs. Pendleton eagerly rejoined. "He is a most unworldly man, and lives in a world of his own. His whole life has been devoted to the idea of restoring the title. He has thought of nothing else since he was a boy. He is quite incapable of understanding what a sensation this story of an earlier marriage will cause if it is made public. Indeed, I did not realize it myself until afterwards. Then I decided to come and see you, and ask your help."

"I quite agree with you that it would be better if the story could remain unknown, after all these years. But how can I help you?"

She had anticipated that question, and proceeded to unfold her plan.

"It might be kept quiet, I think," she said meditatively. "It is Robert's duty to keep it secret for Sisily's sake. I am chiefly concerned about her. Girls are difficult, so different from boys! It wouldn't be so bad if she were a boy. A boy could change his name and emigrate, go on a ranch and forget all about it. But it is different

for a girl. Leaving the shock out of the question, this thing would spoil Sisily's life and ruin her chances of a good marriage if it was allowed to come out. People will talk. It is inevitable that they should, in the circumstances. I fancy the matter could be arranged in a way to satisfy Robert-so as not to interfere with his plans about the title."

"What do you suggest?"

"Sisily could be told that there is some obstacle which prevents her succeeding to the title. Robert has not brought her up as an heiress with expectations. He has never treated her fairly, poor girl. It was his dream to have a son to succeed him. Not that it would have made any difference if Sisily had been a son, after what's come to light! Sisily would never question anything that was told her about this wretched title, for I'm quite sure that the idea of inheriting it has never entered her head. It certainly never entered mine. I thought titles descended in the male line. I don't know, really, but that has always been my idea."

"It depends on the terms of the original creation. The Turrald barony originally went into abeyance among several daughters. One daughter could have succeeded. There is nothing in the wording of the original writ to prevent it-no limitation to male heirs. It is now well established by precedent that a daughter can inherit a barony by writ. But for the unhappy obstacle revealed by your brother's story, his daughter would undoubtedly have succeeded to the restored title on his death."

"I'm sure it's very good of you to explain it to me," murmured Mrs. Pendleton, in some confusion of mind. "It sounds quite reasonable, too. A woman can inherit the throne of England, so why not a title? But it never occurred to me before. Sisily, of course, cannot succeed to my brother's title because of her birth. But is there any need for this to be known? Could she not sign a paper renouncing her rights in return for a share of my brother's fortune?"

"I doubt if the law would approve of the arrangement if it became known."

"The law should realize that it was done from the best of motives to keep from an innocent girl a secret which would darken her life," responded Mrs. Pendleton with decision.

"I wasn't looking at it altogether in that light," replied Dr. Ravenshaw with a slow shake of the head. "But it might have been tried-oh yes, it might have been tried." He rose from his chair, and paced thoughtfully up and down the room.

"Is it too late to try it now?" she asked.

He looked at her thoughtfully.

"In what way?"

"By trying to persuade my brother to change his mind."

"He is not likely to change his mind."

"That," responded Mrs. Pendleton, "remains to be put to the test. I intend to see him to-night, before it is too late. I beg you for Sisily's sake to come with me and try and persuade him."

"Such a request as you propose to make should come only from a member of the family," replied Dr. Ravenshaw. "It is a matter in which I would rather not be involved. If you wish support, I would remind you that there are two other members of your own family-your other brother and his son-staying temporarily in this churchtown, not far from here. Why not go to them?"

With a charmingly feminine gesture Mrs. Pendleton washed her hands of the other members of the family. "I would not dream of going to Austin," she said in decided tones. "He would not approve of my plan, nor, indeed, would Robert listen to him if he did. But he would listen to you, I feel sure. That is my reason for coming to you." She rose from her seat, and sought to shepherd him into compliance by approaching him with a propitiatory smile. "Do come, doctor. I have trespassed too much on your kindness already, but oblige me further in this."

"It's rather late for a visit," he replied.

"It's only half-past nine," she said, with a glance at her wrist watch. "My brother sits up till all hours over his papers and books. I will take all responsibility upon myself for the visit. I will tell Robert that I literally had to drag you with me, and he will understand that we simply had to see him to-night, as he knows we are going home to London first thing in the morning. Do come, Dr. Ravenshaw. The car is waiting."

He consulted his own watch.

"Very well, Mrs. Pendleton," he assented. "I will accompany you. Please excuse me while I get my coat."

He rejoined them in a moment or two, and they proceeded outside to the waiting car.

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