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   Chapter 18 No.18

The Moon Rock By Arthur J. Rees Characters: 14851

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


The clock in Dr. Ravenshaw's study ticked loudly in the perfect stillness and then struck ten with a note of metallic derision as though rejoicing in the theft of an hour from a man who prided himself on knowing the value of time. Startled to find that it was so late, Barrant sprang to his feet and rang the bell. A sleepy Cornish maid appeared in answer, and Barrant informed her that he could not wait any longer.

"The doctor may be in at any time now, sir," the girl eagerly assured him, as though she were in league with the clock to steal more of his time.

"I will call again," said Barrant curtly.

"Any message, sir? Oh, here's the doctor now. A gentleman to see you, sir."

Dr. Ravenshaw advanced into the room. He looked tired and weary, as if he had spent a long vigil by a patient. He dismissed the girl with a nod, and turned inquiringly to his visitor.

"I am Detective Barrant, doctor; I have waited to see you on my way back from Flint House. I am investigating the case."

"Yes?" said the doctor inquiringly. "Please be seated."

"It is a strange case, you know," began the detective. "And one of the strange things about it is that the dead man's relatives differ whether it is murder or suicide. That's what brings me to you. You are a medical man, and you knew Robert Turold intimately. Would you consider him a man of suicidal tendencies?"

"Many men have tendencies towards suicide at odd moments," replied the doctor, "particularly men of Robert Turold's temperament."

"Was there anything in Robert Turold's demeanour which suggested to you recently that he valued his life lightly, or was likely to take it?"

"I would rather not give a definite opinion on that point. I have to give evidence at the inquest, you know."

Barrant nodded. He realized the force of the doctor's objection to the expression of a view which might be proved erroneous later. So he turned to another phase of the case.

"You saw Robert Turold's body soon after you arrived at Flint House?"

"Within a few minutes."

"How long had he been dead?"

"About ten minutes, I should say."

"What was the cause of death?"

"He was shot through the main blood vessel of the left lung. It was possible to arrive at that conclusion from the very severe haemorrhage. The blood was still flowing freely when we broke into the room. That would cause death from heart failure, following the haemorrhage, within two or three minutes, in all probability."

"He was quite dead when you entered the study?"

"Quite."

"How long after was the body carried into the bedroom?"

"An hour or more. It was some time before Pengowan arrived, and Thalassa and he removed the body a little later."

Barrant looked disappointed at his reply. "Would it be possible to make marks on a corpse after that length of time?" he asked.

"What sort of marks?" asked the doctor.

"There was a mark of five fingers on the left arm, made by a left hand."

"Then you have finger-prints to help you?"

"Unfortunately no. It's a grip-a clutch-which, will not reveal print marks in the impressions. I thought they might have been caused during the removal of the body."

"It is not possible to make such marks on a corpse. Reaction sets in at the moment of death. Sometimes blue spots appear on a dead body, and such appearances have been occasionally mistaken for bruises."

"Did you observe any marks when you examined the body?" asked Barrant as he rose to his feet.

"No, but my examination was confined to ascertaining if life was extinct."

Barrant thanked him and said good night. The doctor rose also, and escorted him to the door.

Outside, a wild west wind sprang at him. Barrant pulled his hat over his eyes and hurried away.

The following morning he sought out Inspector Dawfield at his office in Penzance and disclosed to him his conclusions about the case.

"I intend to go to London by this morning's train, Dawfield," he announced. "We must find Robert Turold's daughter."

"You think she has gone to London?"

"I feel sure of it, and I do not think it will be difficult to trace her. I shall try first at Paddington. I will get the warrant for her arrest backed at Bow Street, and put a couple of good men on the search before returning here. You had better have the inquest adjourned until I come back. This is no suicide, Dawfield, but a deep and skilfully planned murder."

"I should think the flight of the girl makes that pretty clear," said Dawfield, as he made a note on his office pad.

Barrant shook his head. "It's too strange a case for us to have any feeling of certainty about it yet," he said. "There is some very deep mystery behind the facts. Every step of my investigation convinces me of that. The disappearance of Miss Turold does not explain everything."

"She was up at Flint House on that night, and now she is not to be found. Surely that is enough?"

"This is not a straightforward case. It's going to prove a very complicated one. But I have come to the conclusion that the quickest way to get at the truth is to find Sisily Turold. Her flight suggests that she is implicated in the crime in some way, and it may even mean that she is guilty."

"Do not the circumstances point to her guilt?"

"Circumstances can lie with the facility of humanity, at times. Moreover, we do not know all the circumstances yet. But let us examine the facts we have discovered. We believe that the girl visited her father's house on the night of his death, and has since disappeared. We must assume that it was she who was seen listening at the door during the afternoon by Mrs. Pendleton, because that assumption provides strong motive for the murder by giving the key of interpretation to Miss Turold's subsequent actions. We must picture the effect of that overheard conversation on the girl's mind. She had been kept in ignorance about the secret of her birth, and she suddenly discovers that instead of being a prospective peeress and heiress, she is only an illegitimate daughter, a nameless thing, a reproach in a world governed by moral conventions. Her prospects, her future, and her life are shattered by her father's act. The effect might well be overwhelming. She broods over the wrong done to her, and decides to go to Flint House that night and see her father, though not, I think, with the premeditated idea of murder. Her idea was to plead and remonstrate with him."

"Why do you think that?" asked Dawfield.

"She could not have foreseen that her absence from the hotel would pass unnoticed. That was pure luck, due to Mrs. Pendleton's chance visit to Flint House. It was just chance that the girl did not encounter her aunt there. She must have got away from Flint House shortly before Mrs. Pendleton arrived. But the strongest proof that there was no premeditation is to be found in the fact that Miss Turold made the journey openly, in a public conveyance."

"And returned the same way," put in Dawfield.

"I confess that her action in taking that risk after the murder strikes me as remarkable," observed Barrant thoughtfully. "But she would be anxious to return as speedily as possible, and perhaps she was aware that the last wagonette from St. Fair to Penzance is generally empty. But we can only speculate about that. She must have reached Flint House not later than half-past eight or perhaps a few minutes earlier, if she walked

quickly across the moors. I ascertained that by taking the same wagonette last night, and walking across the moors from the cross-roads, as she did. The murder was not committed until half-past nine, according to the stopped clock, which is another point suggesting lack of premeditation. Let us assume that up to the time she arrived at Flint House she had no intention of murdering her father. She knocked, and was perhaps admitted by Thalassa, and went up to her father's room. What happened during that interview? We do not know, but we are told that Robert Turold was a man of harsh, unyielding disposition, the slave of his single idea, which was the acquisition of a lost title. Such a man was not likely to be moved by pleading or threats. We must imagine a long and angry scene, culminating in the daughter snatching up her father's revolver and shooting him."

"Thalassa told Pengowan that Robert Turold kept the revolver in the drawer of his writing table," Dawfield remarked.

"I have read Pengowan's report," returned Barrant impatiently, "and I am assuming that Robert Turold's daughter knew where it was kept. This is a purely constructive theory of her guilt, and we have to assume many things. We must further assume that when she left the room she locked the door behind her and brought away the key in order to suggest suicide. When she got downstairs she told Thalassa the truth, and begged him to shield her. He promised to do so, and when the door of the study was broken open he took an opportunity to drop the key on the floor, in order to suggest the idea that Robert Turold had locked himself in his room before shooting himself, and that the key was jolted out of the lock when the door was burst in. It was an infernally clever thing to do. That's the case against the girl, Dawfield. What do you think of it?"

"It sounds convincing enough."

"It would sound more convincing to me if it was entirely consistent with the other facts of the case. Have you those sheets of unfinished writing which were found in Robert Turold's study?"

Dawfield produced two sheets of foolscap from his desk. Barrant laid them on the table, and examined them with a magnifying glass.

"It is certain that Robert Turold did not put down his pen voluntarily," he said. "He stopped involuntarily, in the midst of a word. That suggests great surprise or sudden shock. The letter 'e' in the word 'clear' terminates in a sprawling dash and a jab from the nib which has almost pierced the paper. Could the unexpected appearance of his daughter have startled him in that fashion? It rather suggests that somebody sprang on him unawares, surprising him so much that he almost stuck the pen through the paper."

"Might not that have been his daughter?"

"Women scratch like cats when they use violence, but they do not spring like tigers. I have been examining those marks on Robert Turold's arm again, and I have come to the conclusion that they were made by somebody in a violent passion."

"I have the photographs here," said Dawfield, rummaging in a drawer. "They do not help us at all. There are no finger-prints-nothing but blurs."

Barrant glanced at the photographs and pushed them aside.

"I have been thinking a lot about those marks," he said. "They strike me as a very important clue. I have been examining them very closely, and discovered the faint impression of finger-nails in the marks left by the first and second fingers. That suggests that the owner of the hand was in a state of ferocity and tightened nerves."

"I do not see that."

"Allow me to experiment on your arm. When I grip you firmly, as I do now, you can feel my fingers pressing their whole length on your flesh, can you not?"

"I can indeed," said Dawfield, wincing. "You've a pretty powerful grip. I shall be black and blue."

"The grip on Robert Turold's arm is quite a different thing," pursued Barrant earnestly. "Do not be afraid, I am not going to demonstrate again. It was more in the nature of a pounce-a sort of tiger-spring hold, made by somebody in a state of great mental excitement, with tightened muscles which caused a tense clutch with the finger-tips, the nails digging into the skin, the fingers bent and wide apart. My opinion is that it is a man's grip."

"Thalassa?"

"That I cannot say. He's a cunning and wary devil, and I could get nothing out of him last night. He says he was in the coal cellar when his master met his death. That's where he showed his cleverness in protecting himself as well as shielding the girl, because if he was actually down in the coal cellar she might have gained entrance to the house and left it again without Thalassa knowing anything about it. He says that he admitted nobody, and heard nobody."

"Perhaps he helped in the murder, and sprang on his master."

"That is possible. But why should Thalassa spring on his master in maniacal excitement? To secure the revolver to shoot him? I can see no other reason. What happened afterwards? Robert Turold wasn't shot immediately. Some seconds, perhaps minutes, elapsed. What took place in that brief yet vital space of time? Did Thalassa hold his master in a grim clutch while the girl took the revolver out of the drawer and shot him? What took Robert Turold to the clock in his dying moments? These are questions we cannot answer at present. But it is certain that whoever committed the murder left the room immediately after firing the shot, and the door was locked on the outside and the key removed. If the daughter committed the murder it was probably Thalassa who replaced the key in the room afterwards."

"Have you any doubt on that point?"

"The probabilities point to Thalassa, but it was Austin Turold who actually picked up the key. It is as well not to lose sight of that fact."

Inspector Dawfield looked up quickly, but his colleague's face revealed nothing of his thoughts.

"Hadn't you some idea that the marks on the arm might have been caused by the removal of the body into the next room?" he hazarded.

"Not now," Barrant replied. "That theory was only tenable on the supposition that life was not completely extinct when the body was removed. But I interviewed Dr. Ravenshaw on that point last night, and what he told me disposes of that theory."

"I heard something from one of my men this morning which may have some bearing on the case," remarked Dawfield. "There has been a lot of local gossip about it. Robert Turold was generally regarded as very eccentric. When he crossed the moors from the churchtown to Flint House it was his custom to go almost at a run, glancing over his shoulder as he went, as if afraid."

"I have heard nothing of this," commented Barrant. "Is the story to be believed, do you think?"

"A fisherman of the churchtown told my man in a graphic sort of way. He says that Robert Turold had a dog which he used to take with him on these walks, and he says that the master used to cover the ground with such great strides that the dog had to run after him panting, with lolling tongue."

"That sounds stretched," said Barrant. "Most fishermen exaggerate. However, I'll look up this man when I return, and question him. It never does to throw away a chance." He glanced at his watch and rose to his feet. "I'll be off now to catch the train. If anything important occurs during my absence you'd better send me a wire to Scotland Yard."

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