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   Chapter 10 No.10

The Moon Rock By Arthur J. Rees Characters: 16611

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


"Why should Robert commit suicide?"

That was the burden of Mrs. Pendleton's cry, then and afterwards. There was an angry scene in the old cliff house between brother and sister before the events of that night were concluded. She utterly refused to accept Austin's theory that their brother, with his own hand, had discharged the revolver bullet which had put an end to his life and ambitions. Sitting bolt upright in indignant amazement, she rejected the idea in the sharpest scorn. It was nothing to her that the police sergeant from the churchtown shared her brother's view, and that Dr. Ravenshaw was passively acquiescent. She brushed aside the plausible web of circumstances with the impatient hand of an angry woman. They might talk till Doomsday, but they wouldn't convince her that Robert, of all men, had done anything so disgraceful as take his own life. Arguments and events, the locked door and the inaccessible windows-pathetically masculine insistence on mere details-were wasted on her. The marshalled array of facts made not the slightest impression on her firm belief that Robert had not shot himself.

Shaking a large finger of angry import at Austin, and addressing herself to him alone, she had said-

"Robert has been murdered, Austin, I feel sure. I don't care what you say, but if there's law in England I'll have his murderer discovered."

And with that conclusion she had indignantly left the house with her husband, leaving her brother to walk back to his lodgings at the churchtown in moody solitude across the rainy darkness of the moors.

For herself, she returned to her hotel to pass a sleepless night, tossing by the side of her placidly unconscious husband as she passed the tragic events of the night in review and vainly sought for some clue to the mystery. The dreadful logic of the circumstances which pointed to suicide, hammered at her consciousness with deadening persistence, but she resolutely refused to give it entry. Why should Robert commit suicide? Why indeed? It was the question which had sprung to her lips when she first heard Austin's belief, and it was to that she now clung in the midst of her agonizing doubts, as though the mere wordless insistence in her mind made it an argument of negation which gathered force and cogency by frequent repetition.

But in the mass of teeming thoughts which crowded her brain in the silence of the small hours, she long and vainly sought for any other theory which would account for her brother's death. If he had been murdered, as in the first flush of her indignation she had declared, who had killed him? Who had gone to the lonely old house in the darkness of the night, and struck him down?

It was not until the first faint glimmering of dawn was pushing its grey way through the closed shutters that there came to her the recollection of an incident of the previous day which had left a deep mark upon her mind at the time, but had since been covered over by the throng of later tremendous events. It was the memory of that momentary glance of a pair of eyes through the slit of the door while her brother was telling of his daughter's illegitimacy and her mother's shame. In the light of Robert's subsequent death that incident appeared in a new sinister shape as a clue to the commission of the deed itself. With the recollection of that glance there sprang almost simultaneously before her mental vision the grim and forbidding features of her brother's servant, Thalassa.

If she had been asked, Mrs. Pendleton could not have given a satisfactory reason for linking Thalassa with the incident of the eyes, but she was a woman, and not concerned about reasons. The two impressions had scurried swiftfooted, into her mind together, and there they remained. She was now convinced that she had all along believed it was Thalassa she had seen watching through the door, watching and listening for some fell purpose of his own. She knew nothing about Thalassa, but she had taken an instant dislike to him when she first saw him. That vague dislike now assumed the form of active suspicion against him. She determined, with the impulsiveness which was part of her temperament, to bring her suspicion before the police at the earliest possible moment.

She was essentially a woman of action, and in spite of her sleepless night she was up and dressed before her husband was awake. He came down to breakfast to find his wife had already finished hers, and was dressed ready to go out.

"Where is Sisily?" he asked, with a glance at the girl's vacant place.

"I've ordered her breakfast to be taken to her room, and sent word to her to rest in bed until I go to her," his wife replied. "I have a painful ordeal before me in breaking the news of Robert's death to her. It's all over the hotel already, unfortunately. Sisily is out of the way of gossip in her room. After I've seen her I shall leave her in your charge, Joseph. I shall have plenty on my hands to-day."

Mr. Pendleton received this mandate with a blank face, and momentarily regretted that the arrangements for their departure by the morning's train had been cancelled. Then his better nature asserted itself, and he meekly replied that he would do what he could. "What do you suggest?" he asked.

"Take her for a walk," responded his wife. "Try and keep her interested and her mind occupied."

With these words she left the breakfast table and proceeded upstairs to Sisily's room before going out. On the way there she again regretted having undertaken the responsibility of her niece's future. She had not disturbed Sisily on the previous night. She had tried her door on her way to her own room, but it was locked, so she had let the girl sleep on, and deferred breaking the tragic news until the morning.

She now paused outside the door reluctantly. But she was not the woman to shrink from a duty because it was unpleasant, and womanly sympathy for her unhappy niece banished her diffidence. She knocked lightly and entered.

Sisily was seated by the window reading. A breakfast tray, still untouched, stood on a small table beside her. She put down her book as her aunt entered, and rose to greet her.

Mrs. Pendleton bent over the girl and kissed her, and took her hand. As she did so she observed that Sisily looked worn and fatigued, with black rings under her eyes, as though she, too, had passed a sleepless night. But she was wonderfully pretty, the elder woman thought, and nothing could rob her of the fresh charm of youth and beauty.

"Sit down, Sisily," she said, leading her back to her chair, and taking another one beside her. "I have sad news for you, dear, and you must be a brave girl. Something has happened to your father."

"What has happened?" asked Sisily quickly. Then, as if taking in the import of her aunt's tone, rather than her words, she added: "Do you mean that he is … dead?"

Mrs. Pendleton inclined her head with tears in her eyes. "It is worse even than that," she went on, her voice drooping to a whisper. "He … he has been killed. We found him last night. Listen, dear, I will tell you all."

She gave the cold fingers a comforting pressure as she spoke, but the hand was immediately withdrawn, and Sisily sprang away from her, then turned and regarded her with blazing eyes and a white face.

"Tell me about it!" she said.

Mrs. Pendleton imparted as much of the facts as she felt called upon to relate. There was something about the girl's reception of the news which puzzled her, and her own look fell before the sombre intensity of her gaze. Sisily heard the story in silence, and when it was finished, merely said-

"I think I would like to be left alone for a little while, if you don't mind."

"Oh, you mustn't sit here moping, my dear," said Mrs. Pendleton, with an attempt at cheerfulness which she felt to be clumsy and ill-timed, but Sisily's manner had momentarily disconcerted her. "You had better put on your hat and coat and go out with your uncle. He is waiting downstairs for you. It is very sad, very terrible, but you must let us help you bear it. You must not stay here alone."

"You are very kind"-the girl's lips quivered slightly, though her face remained calm-"but I would rather not go out. I should prefer to be left alone."

T

here was in her expression a despairing yet calm detachment and resolve which forced Mrs. Pendleton in spite of herself to yield to her wish with a meekness which was almost timidity.

"Very well, dear," she said. "If you feel like a walk later on, you will find your uncle downstairs."

As she left the room she heard the door shut behind her.

But Mrs. Pendleton had other things to think about that morning than the strangeness of her niece's disposition and the manner in which she had received the news of her father's death. The horror of that event filled her own thoughts to the exclusion of everything else, and she was determined to remain in Cornwall until the mystery was explained.

She glanced at her watch as she reached the bottom of the stairs. She had breakfasted early, and it still wanted a few minutes to ten o'clock. The lobby of the hotel was deserted, and through the glass doors leading to the breakfast-room she could see a few guests still at their morning meal. A porter was sweeping the front entrance, and of him she enquired the way to the police station, and set out for it.

It was chill and grey after the storm, with a sky obscured by scudding clouds, but a gleam of truant sunshine was sporting wantonly on the hoary castled summit of St. Michael's Mount, and promised to visit the town later on. Mrs. Pendleton walked briskly, and soon arrived at the police station.

A young constable in the office came forward as she entered and enquired her business. She disclosed her name, and her relationship with the inmate of Flint House, deeming that would be sufficient to gain her an interview with somebody in authority. In that expectation she was not disappointed. The constable favoured her with a good hard stare, went into another room, and reappeared to say that Inspector Dawfield would see her at once.

She followed him into the inner room, where a slight man of middle age was seated at a leather-covered table opening his morning correspondence. He looked up and bowed as he saw his visitor, but waited until the constable had retired before he spoke.

"Good morning," he said. "What can I do for you?"

His eye regarded her with a thoughtful glance. His professional interest had been aroused by the strange death of the occupant of Flint House, whose object in visiting Cornwall had been common gossip in the district for some time past.

"It is about my brother's death that I wished to see you." Mrs. Pendleton spoke earnestly, drawing her chair closer with the feeling that the man before her had sufficient intelligence to give her a sympathetic hearing.

"So I gathered from your card. It seems a very sad case. Sergeant Pengowan's report has just reached me. Anything I can do for you-" Inspector Dawfield pretended to occupy himself in cutting open an official envelope with scrupulous care.

"Sergeant Pengowan regards it as a case of suicide, does he not?" asked Mrs. Pendleton rigidly.

"Well, yes, I believe he does," replied Inspector Dawfield. "There is no doubt on that point, is there? Your brother's revolver was lying near him, and the door was locked on the inside."

"There is the greatest doubt in my mind," returned Mrs. Pendleton vehemently. "I do not-I cannot believe that my brother has taken his own life. In fact, I am sure he did not."

On hearing these words Inspector Dawfield looked at his visitor again, with something more than surprise in his eyes, then he pulled a document from a pigeonhole and hastily scanned it.

"Pengowan's report states quite definitely that it is suicide," he said as he replaced it. "In the face of that, do you think-"

"I think my brother has been murdered," she said in a decided voice.

"This is a very grave statement to make, Mrs. Pendleton. Have you anything to support it? Anything which has not been brought to light, I mean?"

Mrs. Pendleton proceeded to give her reasons. She had thought over what she was going to say as she came along, and she spoke with growing conviction, intensified by the sight of the earnest attentive face before her. The incident of the person she had detected looking through the door took on a new significance as she related it. By her constant association of the eyes with the disliked face of her brother's servant, she had unconsciously reached the conclusion that she had all along recognized the eavesdropper as Thalassa.

"You say your brother was talking about some family matters at the time?" asked Inspector Dawfield, as she related that part of her story.

"Yes," responded Mrs. Pendleton. She had repressed all mention of her brother's announcement of his daughter's illegitimacy, but afterwards she tried to persuade herself that it slipped her memory at the time.

"It's common enough for servants to listen at doors," remarked Inspector Dawfield. "In this case it may seem to have a sinister interpretation because of what happened afterwards. How long has this man been in your brother's employ?"

"A number of years, I believe," replied Mrs. Pendleton. "But he has a wicked face," she added hastily, as though that fact cancelled a record of lengthy service. "I took a dislike to him as soon as I saw him."

Inspector Dawfield veiled a slight smile with a sheet of foolscap. "Have you any other reason for suspecting him?"

"Oh, I wouldn't like to say that I suspect Thalassa, or anybody else." Mrs. Pendleton was prompt with this assurance. "But there are certain things which seem to me to need further investigation. There's the question of the door being locked on the inside. It seems to me that the door might have been locked on the outside, and the key dropped in there afterwards. The door had to be smashed before we could get in, and the key wasn't in the door then, you know."

Dawfield nodded thoughtfully. "Who has charge of the keys in your brother's house? This servant with the strange name-Thalassa, is it?"

"Yes, and he was upstairs in my brother's room last night, after we came down. And when we got there he was ready to go out, with his hat and coat on. It all seems very strange."

Again the courteous inspector hid a slight smile. His lady visitor might disclaim suspecting anybody, but her inferences carried her to the same point.

"What do you wish me to do?" he asked.

"I feel there should be further inquiries. Sergeant Pengowan does not strike me as the kind of man capable of bringing to light any mystery which may be hidden behind my brother's supposed suicide. He does not look at all intelligent. I thought of sending a telegram to Scotland Yard, but I decided to see you first."

The hint was not lost on Inspector Dawfield, but it was unnecessary. It was his duty to look into her complaint and make further inquiries into the case.

"Your statement shall certainly be investigated," he said emphatically. "I am rather short of men just now, but I'll see if I can get Bodmin to send over a man. I will inquire immediately, if you will excuse me."

He retired into a curtained recess in a corner of the room, where Mrs. Pendleton could see him holding a colloquy over the telephone. After rather a lengthy conversation he returned to announce that a detective was coming over by the next train to investigate the case.

"The Bodmin office is sending over Detective Barrant, of Scotland Yard," he explained. "He happens to be in Cornwall on another case, and was just on the point of returning to London. I was able to speak to him personally and relate the facts of your brother's death. He decided to telephone to Scotland Yard, and come over here at once. He will arrive soon after lunch. I will take him to Flint House myself. He may wish to see you later on. Will you be at your hotel?"

"If not, I will leave word where I can be found," replied Mrs. Pendleton, rising as she spoke. "Good morning, and thank you."

She left the police station feeling that she had accomplished an excellent morning's work, and hurried back to the hotel with visions of letters to be written and telegrams to be sent before lunch. But she was destined to do neither. As she entered the lounge, her eye fell upon its solitary occupant, a male figure in a grey lounge suit sitting in her favourite corner by the window. It was her brother Austin.

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