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   Chapter 11 No.11

The Moon Rock By Arthur J. Rees Characters: 13935

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


He rose from his seat as he saw her, but waited for her to approach. Her eyes, dwelling on his face, noted that it was not so angry as she had last seen it, but smoothed into the semblance of sorrow and regret, with, however, something of the characteristic glance of irony which habitually distinguished him, though that may have been partly due to the pince-nez which glittered over his keen eyes. There was something of an art in Austin Turold's manner of wearing glasses; they tilted, superiorly, at the world in general at an acute angle on the high bridge of a supercilious nose, the eyes glancing through them downwards, as though from a great height, at a remote procession of humanity crawling far beneath.

At that moment, however, there was nothing superior in his bearing. It was so unwontedly subdued, so insistently meek, that it was to be understood that his mission was both conciliatory and propitiatory. That, at least, was the impression Mrs. Pendleton gathered as her brother informed her that he had been waiting nearly an hour to see her.

She reflected that he must have arrived shortly after she left the hotel to go to the police station, and she wondered what had induced her brother to rise at an hour so uncommonly early for him, in order to pay her a morning visit.

"I was up betimes," said Austin, as though reading her thought. "Sleep, of course, was impossible. Poor Robert!"

Mrs. Pendleton waited impatiently for him to disclose the real reason of an appearance which had more behind it, she felt sure, than to express condolences about their common bereavement. Of Robert she had always stood a little in awe, but she understood her younger brother better. As a boy she had seen through him and his pretensions, and he did not seem to her much changed since those days.

"I have been upset by our difference last night, Constance," he pursued. "It seems deplorable for us to have quarrelled-yes, actually quarrelled-over our poor brother's death."

His sister's face hardened instantly. "That wasn't my fault," she said distantly.

"You'll excuse me for saying that I think it was. You took an altogether wrong view of his-his death; a view which I hope you've seen fit to change after a night's reflection."

"You mean about Robert committing suicide?"

Austin inclined his head.

"I haven't changed my opinion in the slightest degree," she retorted. "I am still quite convinced that Robert did not commit suicide."

Austin darted an angry glance at her, but controlled himself with a visible effort. "Have you reflected what that implies?" he asked in a low tone.

"What does it imply?"

"Murder." He breathed the word with a hurried glance around him, as though apprehensive of being overheard, but the lounge was empty, and they were quite alone.

"I am aware of that."

"Then is it still your intention to go to the police with this terrible suspicion?" he asked, in a voice that trembled with agitation.

It was on the tip of Mrs. Pendleton's tongue to reply that she had already been to the police, but she decided to withhold that piece of information until she had heard all that her brother had to say.

"Certainly," she replied.

"Then you must be mad," was his indignant rejoinder. "Have you considered the scandal this will entail upon us all?"

"Not half such a scandal as that Robert should be murdered and his family permit the crime to go unpunished."

"I do not think that you have given this matter sufficient consideration. It is for that reason I have come to see you this morning-before you take action which you may have reason to regret later on. I want you to think it over carefully, apart from a mere feminine prejudice against the possibility of a member of the family destroying himself. If you will listen to me I think that I shall be able to convince you that Robert, deplorable though it may seem, did actually commit suicide."

"What's the use of going through all this again?" said Mrs. Pendleton wearily. "Robert would not commit suicide."

"Suicide is always difficult to explain. Nobody can say what impels a man to it."

"Robert had no reason to put an end to his life. He had everything to live for-everything in front of him."

"You cannot say that a man bordering on sixty has everything in front of him. I know it's considered middle-aged in this misguided country, where people will never face the facts of life, but in simple truth Robert had finished with life to all intents and purposes."

"You won't say that when you come to sixty yourself, Austin. Robert was a great strong man, with years of activity before him. Besides, people don't kill themselves because they are growing old."

"I never suggested it. I was merely pointing out that Robert hadn't everything in front of him, to use your own phrase."

"In any case he would not have killed himself," replied Mrs. Pendleton sharply. "Such a disgrace! He was the proudest of men, he would never have done it."

"You always hark back to that." There was faint irritation in Austin's tone.

"I really cannot get away from it, Austin. Can you conceive of any reason?"

"There was a reason in Robert's case. I did not mention it to you last night in the presence of the police sergeant, but I told Dr. Ravenshaw, and he is inclined to agree with me. Since then I have thought it over carefully, and I am convinced that I am right."

"What is the reason?"

"You recall the disclosure Robert made to us yesterday afternoon?"

"About his marriage and Sisily?"

"Yes. It must have been very painful to Robert, more painful than we imagine. It would come home to him later with stunning force-all that it implied, I mean. At the time Robert did not foresee all the consequences likely to ensue from it. It was likely to affect his claim for the title, because he was bound to make it known. When he came to think it over he must have realized that it would greatly prejudice his claim. A body like the House of Lords would do their utmost to avoid bestowing an ancient name on a man, who, by his own showing, lived with a married woman for twenty-five years, and had an illegitimate daughter by her. These are painful things to speak of, but they were bound to come out. My own feeling is that Robert had a bitter awakening to these facts when it was too late-when he had made the disclosure. And he may have felt remorse-"

"Remorse for what?"

"Remorse for giving the secret away and branding his daughter as illegitimate on the day that her mother was buried. It has an ugly look, Constance, there's no getting away from that."

He lapsed into silence, and awaited the effect of his words. Mrs. Pendleton pondered over them for some moments in manifest perturbation. There was sufficient resemblance between Austin's conclusions and the thoughts which had impelled her nocturnal visit to Flint House, to sway her mind like a pendulum towards Austin's view. But

that only lasted for a moment. Then she thrust the thought desperately from her.

"No, no; I cannot-I will not believe it!" she cried in an agitated voice. "All this must have been in Robert's mind beforehand. His letters to me about Sisily indicated that there were reasons why he wished me to take charge of her. Robert had weighed the consequences of this disclosure, Austin-I feel sure of that. He was a man who knew his own mind. How carefully he outlined his plans to us yesterday! He was to appear before the Investigations Committee next week to give evidence in support of his claim to the title. And he told me that he was purchasing a portion of the family estate at Great Missenden, and intended to live there. Is it logical to suppose that he would terminate all these plans and ambitions by destroying himself? I, for one, will never believe it. I have my own thoughts and suspicions-"

He turned a sudden searching glance on her. "Suspicions of whom?"

"I took a dislike to that terrible man-servant of Robert's from the moment I saw him," said Mrs. Pendleton, setting her chin firmly.

This feminine flight was too swift for Austin Turold to follow.

"What has that to do with what we are talking about?" he demanded.

"When we reached the door last night it was Thalassa who let us in, with his hat and coat on, ready to go out. There was something strange and furtive about his manner, too, for I never took my eyes off him, and I'm sure he had something on his mind. I'm quite convinced it was he who was listening at the door yesterday afternoon. And he's got a wicked and crafty face."

"Good God!" ejaculated Austin Turold, as the full force of his sister's impressions reached his mind. "Do you mean to say that because you took a dislike to this unfortunate man's face, you think he has murdered Robert? And yet there are some feminists who want to draw our judges from your sex! My dear Constance, you cannot make haphazard accusations of murder in this reckless fashion."

"I am not accusing Thalassa of murder," said Mrs. Pendleton, with a fine air of generosity. "And there's more than my dislike of his face in it, too. He was looking through the door in the afternoon-"

"You only think that," interrupted her brother.

"I feel sure it was he. It was also strange to see him with his hat and coat on when he answered our knock. He told Dr. Ravenshaw that he was going to the churchtown for him."

"That reminds me that I haven't yet heard what took you up to Flint House last night, Constance," said her brother, looking at her fixedly. "What were you doing there at that late hour, and why was Ravenshaw with you?"

Mrs. Pendleton told him, and he listened coldly. "I think you might have consulted me first before Dr. Ravenshaw," he observed.

"I didn't because I thought you would have put obstacles in my way," she replied with frankness.

"I most certainly should. Of course the whole position may be altered now, with Robert's death. Have you told Sisily?"

"Yes. She took it almost passively. She is the strangest girl, but after last night I look upon her as a sacred charge-Robert's last wish."

"It will be best for you to take charge of her, I think," said Austin absently. "I expect she is provided for in Robert's will. I found that in the old clock case last night, and I've handed it to the local lawyer who drew it up. But this is beside the point, Constance. I have come over here this morning to beg of you to let this terrible business rest where it is. There is not the slightest doubt in my mind that our unhappy brother has ended his own life-all the facts point to it only too clearly-and I particularly desire, for all our sakes, that you do nothing to put your ill-informed suspicions into action. Let the thing drop."

"It is too late," said Mrs. Pendleton decidedly. "I have already been to the police. There is a detective from Scotland Yard on his way over from Bodmin."

"You might have told me this before and saved my time," said Austin, rising with cold anger. "In my opinion you have acted most ill-advisedly. However, it's too late to talk of that. No, there is no need to rise. I can find my way out."

Austin Turold left the hotel, and made his way up the crooked street to the centre of the town. His way lay towards Market Jew Street, where he intended to hire one of the waiting cabs to drive him back to St. Fair. As he neared the top of the street which led to the square, his eye was caught by the flutter of a woman's dress in one of the narrow old passages which spindled crookedly off it. The wearer of the dress was his niece Sisily. She was walking swiftly. A turn of the passage took her in the direction of the Morrab Gardens, and he saw her no more.

Her appearance in that secluded spot was unexpected, but at the moment Austin Turold did not give it more than a passing thought. He hurried across Market Jew Street and engaged a cabman to drive him home.

The ancient vehicle jolted over the moor road in crawling ascent, and in due time reached the spot where the straggling churchtown squatted among boulders in the desolation of the moors, wanting but cave men to start up from behind the great stones to complete the likeness to a village of the stone age. The cab drifted along between the granite houses of a wide street, like a ship which had lost its bearings, but cast anchor before one where a few stunted garden growths bloomed in an ineffectual effort to lessen the general aspect of appalling stoniness. Austin Turold paid the cabman and walked into this house. He opened the door with his latchkey, and ascended rapidly to the first floor.

Lunch was set for two in the room which he entered, and Charles Turold was seated at the table, turning over the pages of a book. He glanced up expectantly, and his lips formed one word-

"Well?"

"It is not well," was the testy response. "My charming sister has called in the assistance of Scotland Yard. You'll have to stay. We've got to face this thing out."

His son received this piece of news with a pale face. "You should have foreseen this last night," he said.

"I saw Sisily in Penzance-near the gardens."

"Where was she going?" asked Charles, flushing slightly.

"I really cannot say. You should be better acquainted with her movements than I," was the ironical response. "You do not suppose I have been altogether blind to your infatuation, do you? If you choose to go walking and flirting with a girl on Cornish moors you must expect to be observed. As a matter of fact I thought it rather a good move on your part, until I learnt the secret of Sisily's birth."

"I tell you I won't stand this," exclaimed Charles, springing up from the table.

"Won't?" said his father. "You carry things with a high hand-Jonathan." His look dwelt coldly on his son. "Do not be a fool. Sit down and let us have lunch, and we'll discuss afterwards what's best to be done."

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