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   Chapter 12 No.12

The Moon Rock By Arthur J. Rees Characters: 23163

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


With a slightly incredulous air Inspector Dawfield placed his London colleague in possession of his own knowledge of the facts of the case, based on the statements made to him by Mrs. Pendleton that morning and the facts as set forth in Sergeant Pengowan's report.

Detective Barrant listened attentively, with the air of a man smiling to himself. He was not actually doing so, but that was the impression conveyed by his keen bright eyes. He was a Londoner, with an assured manner, and the conviction that his intelligence was equal to any call which might be made upon it. By temperament he was restless, but his work had given him a philosophical outlook which in some measure counterpoised that defect by causing him to realize that life was a tricky and deceptive business in which intelligence counted for more than action in the long run. He had a wider outlook and more shrewdness than the average detective, and he already felt a keen interest in the case he had been called in to investigate.

When the inspector had finished his story he picked up the blue foolscap on which was inscribed the sprawling report of the churchtown sergeant. With a severe effort he mastered the matter contained under the flowing curves and flourishes.

"The local man seems certain that it is suicide," he said, "but the sister's statement certainly calls for further investigation. How far away is this place?"

"Flint House? About five miles across the moors. I've hired a motor-car to drive you up. Nothing has been disturbed so far. As soon as I learnt you were coming I telephoned to Pengowan to leave things as they were until you arrived."

Barrant nodded approval. "Let us go," he said.

The car was waiting outside. The way lay through the town and then across the moors in undulating ascent until at the highest point a rough track crossed the road at a spot where four parishes met. On one side of these cross-roads was a Druidical stone circle, and on the other was a wayside cross to the memory of an Irish female saint who had crossed to Cornwall as a missionary in the tenth century, after first recording a holy vow that she would not change her shift until she had redeemed the whole of the Cornish natives from idolatry.

From the cross-roads the way again inclined downward to the sea in increasing savageness of desolation. Stones littered the purple surface of the moors, or rose in insecure heaps on the steep slopes, as though piled there by the hands of the giants supposed to have once roved these gloomy wilds. Solitude held sway, but there was more than solitude in that lonely aspect: something prehistoric and unknown, unearthly, incomprehensible. Cairn Brea and the Hill of Fires brooded in the distance; the remains of a Druid's altar showed darkly on the summit of a nearer hill. No sound broke the stillness except the faint and distant sobbing of the sea.

St. Fair lay almost hidden in a bend or fold of the moors about a mile before them, and beyond it Dawfield pointed out to his companion Flint House, standing in gaunt outline on a tongue of coast thrust defiantly into the restless waters of the Atlantic.

"A lonely weird place," said Barrant, eyeing his surroundings attentively. "An ideal setting for a mysterious crime."

They drove on in silence until they reached the churchtown. Inspector Dawfield steered the car to the modest dwelling of Sergeant Pengowan, whom they found at his gate awaiting their arrival-a shaggy figure of a rural policeman of the Cornish Celtic variety, with no trace of Spanish or Italian ancestry in his florid face, inquisitively Irish blue-grey eyes, reddish whiskers, and burly frame.

Inspector Dawfield bade him good-day, and added the information that his companion was Detective Barrant, of Scotland Yard. Pengowan greeted Barrant with the respect due to the name of Scotland Yard, and took a humble seat at the back of the car.

They went on again, and in a few minutes the car stopped at the end of the rough moor track, close to where the black cliffs dropped to the grey sea.

Flint House rose solitary before them, perched with an air of bravado upon the granite ledge, as though defying the west wind which blustered around it. The unfastened gate which led to the little path banged noisily in the breeze, but the house seemed steeped in desolation. A face peeped furtively at them from a front window as they approached. They heard a shuffling footstep and the drawing of a bolt, and the door was opened by a withered little woman who looked at them with silent inquiry.

"Where's your husband?" asked Sergeant Pengowan.

She glanced timidly up the stairs behind her, and they saw Thalassa descending as though in answer to the question. He scanned the police officers with a cautious eye. Barrant returned the look with a keen observation which took in the externals of the man who was the object of Mrs. Pendleton's suspicions.

"You are the late Mr. Turold's servant?" he said.

"Put it that way if you like," was the response. "Who might you be?"

Barrant did not deign to reply to this inquiry. "Take us upstairs," he said.

"Pengowan wants us to look at the outside first," said Dawfield, but Barrant was already mounting the stairs.

"You do so," he called back, over his shoulder. "I'll go up."

At the top of the staircase he waited until Thalassa reached him. "Where are Mr. Turold's rooms?" he asked.

Thalassa pointed with a long arm into the dim vagueness of the passage. "Down there," he said, "at the end. The study on the right, the bedroom opposite."

"Very well. You need not come any further."

The old man's eyes travelled slowly upward to the detective's face, but he kept his ground.

"Did you hear me?" Barrant asked sharply. "You can go downstairs again."

Again the other's eyes sought his face with a brooding contemplative look. Then he turned sullenly away with moving lips, as though muttering inarticulate words, leaving Barrant standing on the landing, watching his slow descent.

When he was quite sure that he was gone, Barrant turned down the passage-way. He had his reasons for wishing to be alone. The value of a vivid first impression, the effect of concentration necessary to reproduce the scene to the eyes of imagination, the mental arrangement of the facts in their proper order and conformity-these were things which were liable to be broken into by the disturbing presence of others, by the vexatious interruption of loudly proffered explanations.

He knew all the facts that Inspector Dawfield and Sergeant Pengowan could impart. He knew of Robert Turold's long quest for the lost title, the object of his visit to Cornwall, his near attainment to success, his summons to his family to receive the news. In short, he was aware of the whole sequence of events preceding Robert Turold's violent and mysterious death, with the exception of the revelation of his life's secret, which Mrs. Pendleton had withheld from Inspector Dawfield. Barrant had heard all he wanted to know at second hand at that stage of his investigations, and he now preferred to be guided by his own impressions and observations.

His professional interest in the case had been greatly quickened by his first sight of Flint House. Never had he seen anything so weird and wild. The isolation of the place, perched insecurely on the edge of the rude cliffs, among the desolation of the rocks and moors, breathed of mystery and hinted at hidden things. But who would find the way to such a lonely spot to commit murder, if murder had been committed?

Reaching the end of the long passage, he first turned towards the study on the right. The smashed door swung creakingly back to his push, revealing the interior of the room where Robert Turold had met his death. Barrant entered, and closed the broken door behind him. It was here, if anywhere, that he might chance to find some clue which would throw light on the cause.

The profusion of papers which met his eye, piled on the table and filling the presses and shelves which lined the musty room, seemed, at the outset, to give ground for the hope that such an expectation might be realized. But they merely formed, in their mass, a revelation of Robert Turold's industry in gathering material for his claim. There were genealogical tables without number, a philology of the two names Turold and Turrald, extracts of parish registers and corporation records, copies from inscriptions from tombstones and mural monuments, copied pedigrees from the British Museum and the great English collections, a host of old deeds and wills, and other mildewed records of perished hands. But they all seemed to have some bearing on the quest to which Robert Turold had sacrificed the years of his manhood.

He had died as he lived, engrossed in the labour of his life. A copy of Burke's "Vicissitudes of Families" was lying open on the table, and beside it were two sheets of foolscap, covered with notes in thin irregular handwriting. The first of these depicted the arms of the Turrald family, as originally selected at the first institution of heraldry, and the quarterings of the heiresses who had married into the family at a later date.

The second sheet was headed "Devonian and Cornwall branch of the Turolds," and contained notes of Robert Turold's ancestral discoveries in that spot. The notes were not finished, but ended abruptly in the middle of a sentence: "It is necessary to make it clea-"

Those were the last words the dead man had written. He had dropped the pen, which lay beside the paper, without finishing the word "clear."

The sight of this unfinished sheet kindled Barrant's imagination, and he stood thoughtful, considering the meaning of it. Was it the attitude of a man who had committed suicide? Was it conceivable that Robert Turold would break off in the middle of a sentence, in the middle of a word, and shoot himself? It seemed a strange thing to do, but Barrant's experience told him that there were no safe deductions where suicides were concerned. They acted with the utmost precipitation or the utmost deliberation. Some wound up their worldly affairs with businesslike precision before embarking on their timeless voyage, others jumped into the black gulf without, apparently, any premeditated intention, as if at the beckoning summons of some grisly invisible hand which they dared not disobey. Barrant recalled the strange case of a wealthy merchant who had cut his throat on a Bank holiday and confessed before death that he had felt the same impulse on that day for years past. He had whispered that the day marked to him such a pause in life's dull round that it seemed to him a pity to start again. He had resisted the impulse for years, but it had waxed stronger with each recurring anniversary, and had overcome him at last.

Every suicide was a law unto himself. Barrant willingly conceded that, but he could not so easily concede that a man like Robert Turold would put an end to his life just when he was about to attain the summit of that life's ambition. It was a Schopenhauerian doctrine that all men had suicidal tendencies in them, in the sense that every man wished at times for the cessation of the purposeless energy called life, and it was only the violence of the actual act which prevented its more frequent commission. But Barrant reflected that in his experience suicides were generally people who had been broken by life or were bored with it. Men of action or intellect rarely committed suicide, not because they va

lued life highly, but because they had so much to do in their brief span that they hadn't time to think about putting an end to it. Death usually overtook them in the midst of their schemes.

Robert Turold was not a man of intellect or action, but he belonged to a type which, as a rule, cling to life: the type from which zealots and bigots spring-men with a single idea. Such men shrink from the idea of destroying the vital engine by which their idea is driven forward. Their ego is too pronounced for that.

It was true that Robert Turold believed he had realized the aim for which he had lived, and therefore, in a sense, had nothing more to live for. But that point of view was too coldly logical for human nature. Its presumption was only applicable to a higher order of beings. No man had ever committed suicide upon achieving the summit of an ambition. There were always fresh vistas opening before the human mind.

Barrant left the study for the opposite room where the body of Robert Turold had been taken. It was his bedroom, and he had been laid upon the bed.

Death had not come to him easily. His harsh features were set in a stern upward frown, and the lower lip was slightly caught between the teeth, as though bitten in the final rending of the spirit. But Barrant had seen too much of violent death to be repelled by any death mask, however repellent.

He eyed the corpse closely, and then proceeded to examine the death wound. In doing so he had to move the body, and a portion of the sleeve fell back, exposing the left arm to the elbow. Barrant was about to replace it when his eye lighted upon a livid mark on the arm. He rolled back the garment until the arm lay bare to the shoulder. The disclosure revealed four faint livid marks running parallel across the arm, just above the elbow.

The arms had been straightened to the body to the elbows, and then crossed decorously on the breast. Barrant walked round to the other side of the bed, knelt down by the edge of it, and examined the underneath part of the arm. A single livid mark was imprinted upon it.

The inference was unmistakable. The four upper marks were fingerprints, and the lower one a thumb mark. Somebody had caught the dead man's arm in such a strenuous grip that the livid impression had remained after death.

The discovery was significant enough, but Barrant was not at that moment prepared to say how much it portended. It seemed certain that the marks had not been made by Robert Turold himself. Their position suggested a left-hand clutch, though only a finger-print expert could definitely determine that point. Even if they were not, it was too far-fetched a supposition to imagine a man gripping his own arm hard enough to bruise it.

The relative weight of this discovery was, in Barrant's mind, weakened by the fact that the marks might have been caused by the persons who had carried the body from the next room. Nevertheless, the marks must be regarded as infirmative testimony, however slight, of the fallibility of the circumstantial deductions which had been made from the discovery of the body in a locked room, with windows which could not be reached from the outside.

The presumption of suicide rested on the theory that the circumstances excluded any other hypothesis. But Barrant reflected that he did not know enough about the case to accept that assumption as warranted by the facts. The one certainty was that the study could not have been reached from the outside. Barrant had noted the back windows before entering the house; his subsequent interior examination had strengthened his conviction that they were inaccessible. Underneath the study windows there was only the narrowest ledge of rock between that side of the house and the edge of the cliffs. A descent from the windows with a rope was hazardously possible, but ascent and entrance by that means was out of the question.

On the other hand, the theory of interior inaccessibility had a flaw in it, due to the presence of five different people in the room before the police arrived. Their actions and motives would have to be most carefully weighed and sifted before the implication of the discovery of the finger-marks could be determined.

The rather breathless entrance of Inspector Dawfield put an end to Barrant's reflections. He explained that Sergeant Pengowan, in his anxiety to maintain the correctness of his official report, had taken him to various breakneck positions at the back of the house and along the cliffs in order to demonstrate the impossibility of anybody entering Robert Turold's rooms from outside. The sergeant was at that moment engaged in a room downstairs drawing up his reasons for that belief. "A kind of confirmatory report," Dawfield explained. "He fears that his reputation is at stake."

"He can save himself the trouble," said Barrant. "The solution of Robert Turold's death lies in these two rooms, if anywhere."

Something in his companion's tone caused Inspector Dawfield to direct an interrogative glance at him. "Have you discovered something?" he asked.

"Finger-marks on the left arm, a left-hand impression, I should say."

He drew back the loose sleeve of the dead man, and Dawfield examined the marks attentively. "This is strange," he said. "It looks suspicious."

"Strange enough, and certainly suspicious. The point is, is it suspicious enough to upset the theory of suicide? The marks are too faint to enable us to determine whether they are of recent origin. But I think that we must assume that they are. It has occurred to me that they may have been caused when the body was picked up from the floor of the other room and carried in here."

"In that case the marks would have been underneath the arm. In lifting a heavy weight like a corpse it would be natural to place the hands under the shoulders, for greater lifting power."

"There's something in that, but it's by no means certain. It would depend on the position of the body. According to Pengowan's report, Robert Turold was found lying face downward. The body would have to be turned over before it was lifted, and the grip might have been made in pulling it over. We must find that out."

"It's a point which can be settled at once by questioning Thalassa. He helped Pengowan carry the body into this room."

"That is the very thing I do not wish to do," rejoined Barrant quickly. "We have to remember that Thalassa is, for the time being, suspect. Mrs. Pendleton's suspicions of him may be based on the slightest foundation, but we are bound to keep them in mind."

"Do you not intend to question him at all?"

"Not at present. His attitude when he brought me upstairs was that of a man on his guard, expecting to be questioned. I saw that at once, and decided to say nothing to him. I will take him by surprise later on, when he is off his guard, and if he is keeping anything back I may be able to get it out of him. But we must not be too quick in drawing the conclusion that those marks were made by him."

"What makes you say so?" asked Inspector Dawfield.

"Thalassa has a long bony hand, with fingers thickened by rough work. I noticed it when he was pointing to these rooms from the passage. This grip looks as if it might have been made by a smaller hand, with slim fingers. Look how close together the marks are! Unfortunately, that's about all we're likely to deduce from them, and I doubt if a finger-print expert will be able to help us. Observe, there are no finger-prints-merely faint marks of the middle of the fingers, and a kind of blur for the thumb. But the thing is suspicious, undoubtedly suspicious."

"Still, the door was locked from inside," said Dawfield. "We mustn't lose sight of that fact."

"And the key was found in the room. We must also remember that there were several people in the room after the door was burst open, including the dead man's brother. It seems that it was he who first propounded the suicide theory to Dr. Ravenshaw, and subsequently to Pengowan. Do you know anything about the brother?"

"I know nothing personally. Pengowan tells me that Robert Turold secured lodgings for his brother and his son in an artist's house at the churchtown about six weeks ago. They arrived next day, and are still there. I understand that the brothers have been in pretty close intimacy, meeting each other practically every day, either at the churchtown or in this house."

"Do you know what took place at the family gathering which was held in this house yesterday afternoon, after the funeral?"

"All I know is that Robert Turold informed his family that he was likely to succeed in his claim for the title. Mrs. Pendleton was rather vague about the details, but she did say that her brother had placed his daughter in her charge, and had made a long statement to them about his future plans."

"She did not indicate what those plans were?"

"Only in the vaguest way. I remember her saying that her brother was a wealthy man: the one wealthy member of the family, was the way she put it. Her principal preoccupation was her suspicion of the man-servant, based on seeing him listening at the door. She was very voluble and excited-so much so that I did not attach much importance to what she said, and did not ask her many questions."

"It is of the utmost importance that we should find out all we can about this family council yesterday. It is possible that it may throw some light on Robert Turold's death. I am not prepared at present to say whether it is suicide or not, but apart from any suspicious circumstances, I feel that there is some justification for Mrs. Pendleton's belief that a wealthy and successful man like her brother was not likely to take his own life, unless there was some hidden reason for him to do so. If we knew more of what happened downstairs yesterday we might be in a better position to judge of that. The case strikes me as a very peculiar one-indeed, it has some remarkable features. My first task will be to interview all the persons who were present at yesterday's gathering. Can you tell me if the brothers were on good terms?"

"I believe so."

"Is Austin Turold a poor man?"

"I know nothing about him. But what has that got to do with it?"

"It may have much to do with it. He may have stood to inherit a fortune from Robert."

"You surely do not suspect the brother?"

"I suspect no one, at present," returned Barrant. "I am merely glancing at the scanty facts within our knowledge and seeing what can be gathered from them. Robert Turold is found dead in his study, with his hands on an old clock, where he kept important papers, including his will. We are indebted to Austin Turold for that knowledge. But how did Austin Turold come to know that his brother kept his will in the clock-case? Did Robert tell him, or did he find it out? Was Austin aware of the contents of the will? Why did Robert go to the clock? Was his idea to destroy the will? And was that after or before he was shot, or shot himself?

"These are questions we cannot answer without further knowledge, but they seem to point to the existence of some family secret of which we know nothing. We must find out what it is. I shall first interview Austin Turold, and then call on Dr. Ravenshaw, if time permits. You'd better drop me at the churchtown on your way back to Penzance. There's really nothing to detain you any longer."

They returned to the churchtown in the motor-car, and Pengowan from the back seat directed the way to Austin Turold's lodgings.

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