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   Chapter 17 No.17

The Moon Rock By Arthur J. Rees Characters: 21147

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


The bell in the darkened chambers rang with the insistent clamour of mechanism responding with blind obedience to a human hand, but Mr. Anthony Brimsdown suffered it to pass unnoticed. As an elderly bachelor, living alone, he was sufficiently master of his own affairs to disregard the arrival of the last post, leaving the letters as they were tumbled through the slit in the door downstairs until he felt inclined to go and get them.

He was standing in the centre of the room examining an unusual trinket-a gold hoop like a bracelet, with numbers and the zodiac signs engraved on the inner surface. Mr. Brimsdown had discovered it in a Kingsway curiosity shop a week before. It was a portable sun-dial of the sixteenth century. A slide, pushed back a certain distance in accordance with the zodiac signs, permitted the sun to fall through a slit on the figures of the hours within-a dainty timekeeper for mediaeval lovers. Mr. Brimsdown was no gallant, nor had he sufficient imagination to prompt him to wonder what dead girl's dainty fingers had once held up the bright fragile circle to the sun to see if Love's tryst was to be kept. His joy in the sun-dial was the pride of the collector in the possession of a rare thing.

But that night it failed to interest him. He put it down with a sigh, and resumed his restless pacing of the room.

It was his office, but he preferred it to his chambers at the end of the passage. He said the air was better, but it is doubtful whether that was the reason. Perhaps Mr. Brimsdown felt less lonely among his legal documents, meditating over battles he had won for dead legatees. As a solicitor he was "strong on the Chancery side" and had gained some famous judgments for notorious litigants-men who had loved the law so well that their souls might well have been found-knowing no higher heaven-in the office where the records of their forgotten lawsuits were buried. And in death, as in life, they would have been glad to confide their affairs to the man whose lot it had been to add "Deceased" to so many of the names on the black steel deed-boxes which lined the shelves.

Mr. Brimsdown lived for the law. As a family lawyer he was the soul of discretion, an excellent fighter, wary and reticent, deep as the grave, but far safer. The grave sometimes opens and divulges a ghastly secret from its narrow depths. There was no chance of getting anything out of Mr. Brimsdown, dead or alive. He had no wife to extract bedroom confidences from him, no relations to visit in expansive moments, he trusted nothing to paper or diary, and he did not play golf. He was a solitary man, of an habitual secretiveness deepened by years of living alone.

His lips moved now, and he spoke aloud. His voice sounded sharply in the heavy silence.

"A calamity-nothing less. How did it happen? Was it grief for his wife?"

His face showed unusual agitation-distress even. It was well his clients could not see him at that moment. To them he was a remote enigmatic figure of conveyances and legal deeds; one deeply versed in human follies and foibles, but impervious to human feeling, independent of human companionship. The reserved glance of his cold grey eye betokened that he guarded his own secrets as closely as he guarded the secrets entrusted to him professionally. But there was human nature in him-deep down. It was not much-a lock of hair in a sealed packet in his pocket-book. The giver was dead and gone to dust, sleeping in an old churchyard near the Strand, forgotten by all who had ever known her-except one. Sometimes in the twilight a tall figure would stand musing beside that forgotten grave for awhile, then turn away and walk swiftly up the narrow river street, across the Strand, and through the archway to Grey's Inn.

"Thirty years!" he murmured. Then his mind seemed to hark back to his previous thought, after the fashion of a man who thinks aloud-"No, no; not his wife. He did not care enough for her for that. Thirty years-wasted. My heart bleeds when I think of it. Ought I to go down? Did he wish for me? I wonder-"

His distress as he paced the room was more apparent than ever. Again, his clients would have been astonished if they had witnessed it. In their opinion he was hard as nails and a stranger to the softer feelings of the heart. They would as soon thought of attributing sentiment to one of the japanned deed-boxes. But they would have accepted the surprising revelation with well-bred English tolerance for eccentricity, not allowing it to affect their judgment that Mr. Brimsdown was one of the soundest and safest lawyers in England.

His agitation arose from the death of Robert Turold-his client. He had gathered that piece of news from an evening newspaper in the restaurant where he had dined. Mr. Brimsdown had reached an age when the most poignant events of human life seem little more than trifles. It was in the nature of things for men to die. As a lawyer he had prepared many last wills and testaments-had helped men into their graves, as it were-unmoved. But that unexpected announcement of Robert Turold's death had come to him as an over-whelming shock. He had left his meal unfinished, and returned to his chambers to seek consolation, not in prayer, but in his collection of old clocks and watches. In the dusk he had set out his greatest treasures-the gold sun-dial, a lamp clock, an early French watch in blue enamel, and a bed repeating clock in a velvet case. But the solace had failed him for once. Even the magic name of Dan Quare on the jewelled face of the repeater failed to stir his collector's heart.

His regard for Robert Turold was deep and sincere. His dead client had been his ideal of a strong man. Strong and unyielding-like a rock. That was the impression Robert Turold had conveyed at their first interview many years before, and his patience and tenacity in pursuit of his purpose had deepened the feeling since. The object of his search had the lawyer's sympathy. Mr. Brimsdown had a reverence for titles-inherited titles, not mere knighthoods, or Orders of the British Empire. For those he felt nothing but contempt. He drew the sharpest distinction between such titled vulgarians and those who were born into the world with the blood running blue in their veins. He regarded Robert Turold as belonging to this latter class. It was nothing to him that he was a commoner in the eyes of the world, with no more claim to distinction than a golf-playing city merchant. He had believed in his story from the first, and had helped him in that belief. Turrald of Missenden! It was a great old name. Mr. Brimsdown rolled it round his tongue as though it were a vintage port-pronounced it lingeringly, rolling the "rr's" sonorously, and hissing the "ss's" with a caressing sibilant sound.

Turrald of Missenden! Robert Turold was the lineal descendant of the name, and worthy of the title. Mr. Brimsdown had always felt that, from the very first. There was something noble and dominating in his presence. Blood told; there could be no doubt of that.

What stronger proof of it could be found than the dogged strength with which the dead man had persisted for thirty years in his effort to claim as his rightful due a baronial title which had been in abeyance for four hundred years?

And he would have succeeded-was on the verge of success-but for this unlucky stroke of Death's.

With a sigh for the frailty of human hopes, Mr. Brimsdown put an end to his reflections and went downstairs for the post.

By the dim light of the lowered hall gas he saw an envelope lying on the floor-a thick grey envelope addressed to himself in a thin irregular hand. The sight of that superscription startled him like a glimpse of the unseen. For it was the handwriting of the subject of his thoughts-Robert Turold.

With the stiff movement of an ageing man he picked up the letter and went upstairs again. In some subtle way the room seemed changed. He had a sudden inexplicable sensation of nervousness and depression. Shaking it off with an effort, he opened the envelope in his hand with an odd reluctance-the feeling that he was prying into something which was no concern of his. He drew out the single grey sheet and unfolded it. The letter was dated from Flint House on the previous day. There was but a few lines, but the lawyer was pulled up at the beginning by the unusual familiarity of the address. "My dear Brimsdown" was unusual in one so formal as Robert Turold. But the handwriting was his-undoubtedly. Mr. Brimsdown had seen it too often to be mistaken. With the growing idea that the whole thing was confounding to sober sense and reason, he read on-

"Can you postpone all your other engagements and come to Cornwall on receipt of this? If you will telegraph the train you travel by I will have a conveyance to meet you at Penzance and bring you to Flint House. This is a matter of importance."

A postscript followed in the strangest contrast to the formal note-a postscript hasty and blotted, which had evidently been added in extreme agitation of mind-

"For God's sake lose no time. Come at once."

The tremulous urgent words stared out from the surface of the grey paper in all the piteous futility of an appeal made too late. Glancing up, Mr. Brimsdown's eye rested on the shelf where the deed box of Robert Turold reposed, and he mechanically reflected that it would be necessary to have the word "Deceased" added to the white-lettered inscription on the black surface. Mr. Brimsdown sighed. Then, shaking off the quiescence of mind which his brooding had engendered, he applied his faculties to the consideration of a situation which at first sight seemed fantastic as a nightmare.

The letter was not more remarkable than its despatch after the writer's death, but the summons to Cornwall was not in itself surprising. He recalled a similar visit to Norfolk some years before, and the recent correspondence between them made it clear that the claim had reached a stage which required careful legal handling. Robert Turold had forwarded copies of the final proofs of the family descent discovered in Cornwall, and Mr. Brimsdown had prepared the claim for the termination of abeyance which was to be heard by the House of Lords. Mr. Brimsdown was also aware of the summoning of the other members of the family to Cornwall to impart the news to them. A very natural and proper proceeding on Robert Turold's part, he had deemed it.

He believed he knew every intimate detail of the ambition on which Robert Turold ha

d immutably set his heart. Had they not been discussed between them, again and again, in that room-his bitterness that he had no son, his fear that the regained title might be extinguished again in female descent, his grievance that the succession could not be altered. It was his dream to found a new line of Turralds, and be remembered as the head of it. "If you could only get the descent taken outside the limits of the original creation, Brimsdown-" The harsh voice, uttering these words, seemed to reach Mr. Brimsdown in the muffled silence at that moment. He had told him, again and again, that the thing was impossible. If the Turrald barony was called out of abeyance it was an act of Royal grace and favour. They had no rights-he insisted on that-and any attempt to influence the Crown about the line of succession might endanger the claim.

And now Robert Turold was dead in the midst of his plans-dead when he had almost gained the peak of his dreams.

It seemed incredible, almost impossible. Death at such a moment assumed an unexpected reality as an actual and tangible mocker of human ambitions. And this letter with its postscript-what was the meaning of it? The lawyer knew nothing of Robert Turold's announcement to his family on the previous day. If he had, it would have intensified his feeling that the letter hinted at some terrible secret hidden behind the thick curtain of his client's strange and sudden death. The hasty postscript suggested a quickened sense of a growing danger which Robert Turold had seen too late to avert.

What danger? Mr. Brimsdown could form no idea. He reflected that he really knew very little of Robert Turold's private life in spite of the long association between them. He must have had other interests at one time or other beside the eternal question of the title. Mr. Brimsdown had vaguely understood that the money he had invested for Robert Turold had been gained abroad-in the wilds of the earth-in his client's early life, but his client had never confided to him the manner of the gathering. That was a page in the dead man's life of which his trusted legal adviser knew nothing whatever. It was unsafe to assume that the page, if revealed, would throw any light on his tragic death, but there was a possibility that it might.

The evening newspaper he had brought home lay on the carpet at his feet exposing the headline-"A Cornish Mystery"-which had caught his eye at the restaurant. Mr. Brimsdown picked up the sheet and read the report again. There was nothing in it to help him. It was only a brief notification of the facts-of a death which, in the words of the newspaper's local correspondent, "pointed to suicide."

Suicide! The letter on which the ink was still bluish and fresh, seemed to convey Robert Turold's denial of the suggestion that he had taken his life. It was the cry of a man who had looked into the dark place of fear and seen Death lurking within. Only mortal terror could have called forth that passionate frantic appeal. And that appeal accomplished its purpose, although it came too late. Robert Turold was dead, but the call for elucidation rang loudly from his coffin. The dead man's hand beckoned him, and he dared not disobey. He determined to go to Cornwall.

Outside in the darkness a clock chimed, and one of his own treasures repeated the hour with a soft mellifluous note. Eleven! He had an idea that there was-or used to be-a midnight train to Cornwall. He crossed to his bureau and consulted a time-table. Yes-to Penzance from Paddington. He decided to catch it.

His preparations for departure were quickly made. The writing of a note to his clerk and the packing of a bag were matters soon accomplished. In a quarter of an hour he had picked up a taxicab at the Holborn stand near his chambers and was on his way to the station.

There was plenty of light and stir at Paddington, which appeared like a great and glowing cavern in the cold darkness of the night. There were engines shunting, cabs arriving, porters and passengers rushing about with luggage, throngs of people. It happened that the midnight train from Cornwall was overdue, and fluttered women waiting for friends were importuning bored officials about the delay. Sleepy children stared with wondering eyes at pictorial efforts to beguile the tedium of waiting for trains. There were geographical posters comparing Cornwall favourably to Italy; posters of girls in bathing costume beckoning to "the Cornish Riviera;" posters of frolicsome puppies in baskets ticketed "Lucky Dogs, They're Off to Penzance."

The passengers waiting for the midnight train to that resort did not do equal justice to this flattering assumption of its delights. They seemed, on the whole, rather to regard themselves as unlucky dogs (if the term could be applied to parties of women), and were huddled together on the station seats in attitudes suggestive of despair. Men flirting with barmaids in the bars may have considered themselves lucky dogs, but whisky played an important part in their exhilaration.

The belated train came rushing in with an effusion of steam, like a late arrival puffing out apologies, bringing a large number of passengers back to London from Penzance. They scrambled on to the platform with the dishevelled appearance of people who had been cooped up for hours. First-class passengers eased their pent-up energy by shouting for luggage porters and bundling their women into taxicabs. The third-class passengers, whose minor importance in the scheme of things did not warrant such displays of self-importance, made meekly and wearily for the exits.

They were dammed back at the barriers by two ticket collectors, whose adroit manipulation of the gates prevented more than one person trickling through at a time, and turned the choked stream of humanity within into a whirlpool of floating faces and struggling forms. As Mr. Brimsdown stood regarding this distracting spectacle from the outside, he saw one of the ticket collectors grasp the arm of a girl who was just emerging, at the same time shutting the gate on a stout woman following, thus effectually blocking the egress of those behind.

The girl turned quickly at the touch of the detaining hand, and there was fear in her face.

"What do you want?" she said, framing the words with an obvious effort.

The ticket collector was a man whose natural choleric temperament was accentuated by the harassing nature of his employment. He tore in two portions the ticket which the girl had just given him, and thrust half into her hand.

"Here's your return half. Why don't you look what yer doin' when givin' up yer ticket? You women are the limit. Now, mother, for God's sake don't be all night getting through that there barrier. There's others want to get 'ome, if you don't."

Having by this adroit remonstrance spiked the wrath, as it were, of the stout and angry woman he had jammed in the gate, he permitted the resumption of the trickle of impatient passengers.

Mr. Brimsdown followed with his eye the pretty girl who had been forgetful enough to give up a return ticket instead of a half one. She had stopped outside the barrier, gazing round with a troubled face at the immensity of the station and the throngs of hurrying people.

The lawyer looked at her hard, from a little distance. "Where have I seen that face before?" he murmured to himself.

Her beauty was of a sufficiently rare type to attract attention anywhere, except, perhaps, at a London railway station at midnight. She was unused to her surroundings and she was not a city product. So much was obvious, though her clear pale face and slim young figure did not suggest rusticity. Her dark eyes glanced quickly and nervously around her, and then she started to walk slowly towards one of the main entrances.

A luggage porter hurried towards her, intent on tips. The broad back of a policeman was outlined in the entrance. The girl looked wistfully from the policeman to the porter, then appeared to make up her mind. She extracted a silver coin from her purse, and proffered it timidly to the porter. The porter showed no timidity in accepting it.

"Luggage, miss, in the van?" he asked. "Just you wait 'ere."

"I have no luggage," Mr. Brimsdown heard her say. Her eyes wandered downward to the little handbag she carried. "I wanted to ask you-I am a stranger to London. Can you tell me a place where I could stay; for the night-somewhere quiet and respectable?"

Mr. Brimsdown found himself listening anxiously for the porter's reply. By all the laws of Romance he should have had an old mother in a clean and humble home who would have been delighted to give the girl shelter for the sight of her pretty face. But pretty girls are plentiful in London, and kind-hearted old women are rare. The porter seemed surprised at the inquiry. He pushed his blue cap back from a shock of red hair, and pondered the question deeply. Then he made a valiant feint of earning his shilling by throwing out suggestions of temperance hotels in Russell Square and the Euston Road. He warmed to the subject and depicted the attractions of these places. Quiet and cheap, and nothing respectabler in the 'ole city of London. They was open at all hours. His own sister stayed in one when she come to town.

"Would you give me the address?" the girl wistfully asked.

The porter shook his head cautiously. He had evidently no intention of pawning his sister's reputation for a shilling given him by a strange girl who might have designs on the spoons of temperance hotels.

"How do I get to Euston Road?" asked the girl with a quick realization of the fact that she had obtained London value for her shilling.

"By the Metropolitan." He pointed to a blazing subterranean archway which at that late hour was still vomiting forth a mass of people. "Book at the first winder."

Mr. Brimsdown watched the girl until she disappeared out of sight down the steps. He then turned away to seek his own train, the insistent feeling still haunting him that he had seen her pretty wistful face before. He taxed his memory to recall where, but memory made no response. It seemed a long time ago-like a glimpse from the face of the dead. Mr. Brimsdown strove to put the idea from him as a trick of the imagination.

He beckoned to a porter, who took his bag to a first-class carriage in the Penzance train. Mr. Brimsdown settled himself comfortably in a corner seat. A few minutes later the train moved out on the long night journey to Penzance.

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