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   Chapter 19 No.19

The Moon Rock By Arthur J. Rees Characters: 13964

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


It was from Mrs. Pendleton that Mr. Brimsdown gained his first real knowledge of the drama of strange events surrounding Robert Turold's death. In response to his call at the hotel she came down from her room fingering his card nervously, her eyes reddened with weeping, and an air of tremulous bewilderment about her which sat ill on her massive personality.

The lawyer greeted her with formal courtesy. He was newly shaved and bathed, his linen was spotless, and his elderly grey eyes looked out with alert watchfulness on a world of trickery.

"As your late brother's legal adviser for many years, I felt it incumbent upon me to come down," he said, fixing a grave glance on the distracted lady before him. "It seemed to me that I might be of some use, perhaps, assistance. That is the object of my call."

The fact that she had not seen Mr. Brimsdown before did not lessen the hysterical gratitude with which Mrs. Pendleton received this piece of information. The events of the last forty-eight hours had shaken her badly. Her brother's tragic death, and the terrible suspicion which enveloped Sisily, had stripped her of her strength, and left her with a feminine longing to cast her burden on a man's shoulders. She had discovered to her dismay that a husband who has been snubbed and kept under for twenty years is apt to prove a thing of straw when a woman likes to feel that the male sex was devised by Providence to take the wheel from female hands if the barque of life drifts on the breakers. But Mr. Pendleton had revealed no latent capacity to play the part of the strong man at the helm in the crisis. He had shown himself a craven and kept out of the way, leaving his wife to her own resources. The appearance of Mr. Brimsdown was as timely to her as the arrival of a heaven-sent pilot in a storm.

"Thank you," she murmured incoherently. "Such a dreadful end. Poor dear Robert." She sobbed into her handkerchief.

"A deplorable loss to his family-and England," assented the lawyer. "I am glad to see you. They ascertained your address for me at the hotel where I am staying. I have been resting after travelling all night, and I shall go and see the police in the morning. So far I have only read the reports in the London evening papers, and there may be intimate particulars which were not disclosed to the press. If such exist, perhaps you will impart them to me. You need not hesitate to disclose to me all you know. Your late brother honoured me with his confidence for nearly thirty years." Mr. Brimsdown coughed discreetly.

His tone invited confidences which Mrs. Pendleton, in her perplexity of spirit, was only too anxious to impart to a sympathetic ear. Mr. Brimsdown, sitting stiffly upright, his eyes fixed on a portrait of Royalty glimmering inanely down at them through a dirty glass frame on the opposite wall, listened with unmoved front. Yet the story had its surprises, even for him. Not the least of them was the fact that Mrs. Pendleton's description of her niece tallied with the appearance of the girl whose identity he had tried to recall at Paddington. He was chagrined to think he had failed to recognize his late client's daughter, but he recalled that it was ten years since he had seen Sisily, who was then a dark-eyed little girl. At Norfolk. Oh, yes! he remembered her readily enough now, playing innocently about some forgotten tombstones in a deserted graveyard on a wild grey coast, while her father wrested savagely with the dead for his heritage. Strange that he should have met her again at the moment of her flight, when he was setting out for Cornwall in response to her dead father's letter! Life had such ironical mischances.

He said nothing of this chance encounter, or of Robert Turold's letter, to the dead man's sister who was now pouring out her fears and suspicions to him. He was a receptacle into which confidences might be emptied, but he gave nothing in return. Mrs. Pendleton did not need that. Her state of mind compelled her to speak, and her impulsiveness hurried her along on the high tide of a flood of words. The story she had to tell oppressed her listener with the sense of some great unknown horror. It was like trying to see a dark place by lightning. The flashes of her revelations revealed a distorted surface, but not the hidden depths. Mrs. Pendleton's agitated mind, doubling in and out a maze of conjectures like a distracted hare, turned again and again to the question of Sisily's complicity in her father's death.

"I can hardly believe it even now," she said with a shudder. "Such a sweet pretty girl! And yet-there was something strange in her manner. I remarked it to Joseph-my husband-before this happened." She pressed her handkerchief to her eyes.

The lawyer, with a sideways glance at the Royal portrait opposite, which seemed in the act of smiling blandly at his companion's grief, reflected, soberly enough, that sweet and pretty girls were as human as the rest of creation, if it came to that.

"Charlie Turold-my nephew, you know-will have it that she is innocent."

"In spite of her disappearance?"

"Yes. He came this morning, before I was up, to see if I knew where Sisily had gone. After tea he came again in a terrible state, raving against the detective for taking out a warrant for her arrest. He said it was madness on his part to imagine that a girl like Sisily would kill her father. I told him that as Sisily had disappeared he could hardly blame the police for looking for her. He turned on me when I said that, and used such violent language that I was quite frightened of him. But I make allowances, of course."

"Why?" the lawyer asked, looking at her.

"I think Charlie is very fond of Sisily," murmured Mrs. Pendleton with womanly intuition.

"Do you mean that they love each other?" said the lawyer, regarding her attentively.

"I cannot say about Sisily. And I never guessed it of Charlie until this morning. I'm sure poor Robert had no idea of it. He would never have agreed-after what he told us on the day of the funeral, I mean."

Mr. Brimsdown gave a tacit unspoken assent to that. Some men might have welcomed such a solution of an ugly family scandal, but not Robert Turold, with his fierce pride for the honour of the title which he had sought to gain.

"Is your nephew's belief in Miss Turold's innocence based on anything stronger than assertion? Does he suspect any one else?"

"He did not say so. He was very excited, and talked on and on, without listening to me in the least. He seems very impulsive and headstrong. I noticed that on the day of the funeral. When Robert told us about his marriage, Charles said to him that his first duty was to his daughter. Robert looked so angry."

"I can well believe it," murmured the lawyer. "The young man must have courage."

"Oh yes, he served with distinction in the war," Mrs. Pendleton innocently rejoined. "In temperament he takes after me, I think, more than

after his father. Austin and I never did think alike. We even disagreed over poor Robert's terrible death. Austin thought he had … destroyed himself." Her voice dropped to a shocked whisper.

"On what grounds did he base that belief?" Mr. Brimsdown cautiously asked.

"He thought the circumstances pointed to it," she rejoined. "But I knew better-I knew Robert would never do anything so dreadful. Besides, had I not seen that horrible old man-servant glaring through the door? That is why I went to the police."

As Mrs. Pendleton showed a tendency to repeat herself, Mr. Brimsdown rose to terminate the interview. Mrs. Pendleton rose, too, but she had not yet reached the end of her surprises for him.

"And then there's Robert's will-so strange! Really-"

"The will! What will?" interrupted the lawyer testily. "Did your brother make his will down here?"

"Yes. A will drawn up by a local lawyer-a man with the extraordinary name of Bunkom-a most terrible little creature. Bunkom, indeed!" continued Mrs. Pendleton, shaking her head with a feeble assumption of sprightliness. "Everything is left to my brother Austin. I do not mind in the least about myself. After all, Robert and I met almost as strangers after many years, and I want nothing from him. But his treatment of this unfortunate girl, his daughter, is really too dreadful. I do not wish to speak ill of the dead, but I must say that much, whether Sisily had anything to do with Robert's death or not, for, of course, Robert couldn't have known about that at the time-when he made his will, I mean," concluded Mrs. Pendleton, in some confusion of mind.

"It is strange that your brother did not consult me before drawing up this will," said Mr. Brimsdown.

"Perhaps he imagined you might persuade him against it," sighed Mrs. Pendleton. "It is all very strange. I do not understand it a bit."

Mr. Brimsdown thought it strange, then and afterwards. Next day, after going to the police station and handing Robert Turold's letter to Inspector Dawfield, he sought out the Penzance lawyer who had drawn up the will. Mr. Bunkom was a spidery little man who spun his legal webs in a small dark office at the top of Market Jew Street, a solicitor with a servile manner but an eye like a fox, which dwelt on his eminent confrère from London, as he perused the will, with an expression which it was just as well that Mr. Brimsdown didn't see, so sly and savage was it. The Penzance spider knew his business. The will was watertight and properly attested. The bulk of the property was bequeathed to Austin Turold unconditionally. There were only two other bequests. Robert Turold had placed Thalassa and Sisily ("my illegitimate daughter") on an equality by bequeathing to them annuities of £50 a year each. Austin Turold and Mr. Brimsdown were named as joint executors, and that was all.

Mr. Brimsdown would not have occupied such a distinguished place in the legal profession if he had not been a firm believer in the sacred English tradition that a man has the right to dispose of his own property as he thinks fit. Moreover, his legal mind realized the folly of speculating over the reasons which had prompted this hurried will when the man who had made it was beyond the reach of argument, reproof, or cross-examination.

But the lack of all mention of the title was a different matter, calling for investigation. It was remarkable that a man like Robert Turold should have gone to the grave without binding his heir to prosecute the claim for the Turrald title. To that end Robert Turold had devoted his life, and to the upkeep of the title he had proposed to devote his fortune. The absence of this precaution puzzled Mr. Brimsdown considerably at first, but as he pondered over the matter he began to see the reason. Robert Turold was so close to the summit of his ambition that he had not thought it necessary to take precautions. He was a strong man, and strong men rarely think of death. Once the title was his, it descended as a matter of course to his brother, and then to his brother's son-provided, of course, that the proofs of his daughter's illegitimacy were in existence.

That conclusion carried another in its wake. If Robert Turold had not safeguarded his dearest ambition because he hoped to carry it out himself, it followed as a matter of course that he did not take his own life. Mr. Brimsdown had never accepted that theory, but it was strange to have it so conclusively proved, as it were, by the inference of an omission. That brought the lawyer back to the position that some foreboding or warning of his murder had caused Robert Turold to summon him to Cornwall by letter. The next step of his investigations led Mr. Brimsdown to the dead man's study, where that frantic appeal had been penned.

He engaged a vehicle at the hotel and drove over to Flint House in the afternoon. The impression of that visit remained. Flint House, rising from the basalt summit of the headland like a granite vault, its windows coldly glistening down on the frothy green gloom of the Atlantic far beneath, the country trap and lean black horse at the flapping gate, the undertaker's man (dissolute parasite of austere Death) slinking out of the house, and Thalassa waiting at the open door for him to approach-all these things were engraved on Mr. Brimsdown's mind, never to be forgotten. Who was it that had staged such a crime in such a proscenium, in that vast amphitheatre of black rocks which stretched dizzily down beneath those gleaming windows?

Then came other impressions: the dead man upstairs, the disordered dusty study, the stopped clock, the litter of papers. It was in the room where Robert Turold had been murdered that Mr. Brimsdown questioned Thalassa about the letter, and heard with a feeling of dismay his declaration that he had not posted it. Where was the nearest pillar box? Nearly a mile away, at the cross-roads. Could his late master have gone there to post it that night? If he had, Thalassa hadn't heard him go out. Could anybody else have posted it? No; there was nobody else to post it.

It was like questioning a head on an old Roman coin, so expressionless was Thalassa's face as he delivered himself of these replies. But the lawyer had the feeling that Thalassa was deriving a certain grim satisfaction from his questioner's perplexity, and he dismissed him somewhat angrily. Then, when he had gone, he turned to an examination of some of the papers and documents which littered the room, but that was a search which told him nothing.

When the shades of evening warned him to relinquish that task, he told himself that he really ought to go and see Austin Turold before returning to Penzance. But he shrank, with unaccountable reluctance, from the performance of that obvious duty. He felt very old and tired, and his temples were throbbing with a bad nervous headache. He therefore decided to postpone his visit to Austin Turold until later.

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