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   Chapter 20 No.20

The Moon Rock By Arthur J. Rees Characters: 17081

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


When the interview with Austin Turold did take place, Mr. Brimsdown learnt with a feeling which was little less than astonishment that Robert Turold had died without confiding to his brother the proofs, on which so much depended, of the statement he had made on the day of his death.

"I cannot understand it," he murmured, putting down his tea-cup as he spoke.

Austin had received him in the blue sitting-room, hung with the specimens of Mr. Brierly's ineffectual art, and had given him tea, as he had given Barrant tea some days before. But there was a subtle difference in the manner of Mr. Brimsdown's reception; the tone was pitched higher, with fine shades and inflections attuned for a more gentlemanly ear.

"It disposes of the suicide theory finally and utterly," added the lawyer thoughtfully.

"The suicide theory disappeared with Robert's daughter," said Austin, glancing at his son, who had taken no part in the conversation.

"You think her disappearance suggests guilt?" asked Mr. Brimsdown.

"It hardly suggests innocence, does it?"

"I would not like to hazard an opinion," responded Mr. Brimsdown, with a thoughtful shake of the head. "My experience of women is that they are capable of the strangest acts without weighing the consequences."

"That was before the war, when women were delightfully irrational creatures, but now they're no longer so. They've become practical and coarse, like men. They smoke, drink, and tell improper stories with demure expression and heads a little on one side like overwise sparrows."

"Was Robert Turold's daughter a girl of this sort?" asked the lawyer in surprise.

"She was not."

It was Charles Turold who made answer, with an angry glance at his father. Austin, looking at him, gave an almost imperceptible shake of the head. Slight as the warning was, it was intercepted by Mr. Brimsdown's watchful eye, and he wondered what it meant.

"I do not think any useful purpose can be gained by discussing my brother's death," Austin interposed, turning to him. "It is a very painful subject, and does no good. The police are endeavouring to unravel the mystery-let us leave it to them."

"I was merely going to say that your brother would have given you the proofs of this statement about his marriage if he had meditated self-destruction," Mr. Brimsdown observed. "The proofs must be in existence, of course, but I do not think that they are at Flint House. Did your brother confide the information to you beforehand-before his public announcement, I mean?"

"Shortly before his death he hinted to me of some very important disclosure which he intended to make at the proper time-some family matter-but he did not say what it was, nor did I ask him."

His son looked at him quickly, and the lawyer doubtfully, as he made this statement, but his own glance sustained both looks serenely and equably.

"My brother did inform me, a week ago, that I would succeed to his fortune," he added.

"That proves that your brother was aware of the illegality of his marriage at that time," said Mr. Brimsdown, with an air of conviction.

"Why so?"

"Because you could not succeed to the Turrald title if your brother's daughter was legitimate."

"That would not prevent my brother disposing of his property as he thought fit," remarked Austin coldly.

"I am aware of that," replied Mr. Brimsdown guardedly. He refrained from stating what was obvious to him, that Robert Turold had intended his fortune for the upkeep of the title when gained, and for no other purpose. "After all, it does not matter very much how long your brother was aware of the fact. The great point is-where are the proofs? I cannot understand why your brother did not send them on to me. I intend to make another and longer search among his papers at Flint House. They must be found. The House of Lords will require the most convincing proof on this head before terminating the abeyance in your favour."

"If I proceed with the claim, you mean," said Austin.

The lawyer turned on him a startled glance which had something of consternation in it. His own interest in the title, was, by force of long association with Robert Turold, so deep and intimate that it had never occurred to him to suppose that the younger brother might not share in the obsession of the elder.

"Titles are at a discount nowadays-like virtuous women," proceeded Austin. "The most extraordinary people have them. Are you aware that there were nearly four thousand names in the last Royal bestowal of Orders of the British Empire? There's kingly munificence for you! It's the same with the Masonic order. The gentleman you address as 'Right Worshipful Sir' overnight delivers poultry and rabbits at your back door next morning. Democracy has come into its own, Brimsdown. Sooner or later we shall have a king wearing a cloth cap."

"Your remarks do not apply to the old nobility," returned Mr. Brimsdown austerely. "They will never become common. It would be a pity not to prosecute your brother's claim to the Turrald title. He gave thirty years of his life to establishing the line of descent."

"My brother had the temperament of a visionary," replied Austin. "I am more practical. But I shall respect his wishes, if possible, though from what you say it would seem to be quite useless to go on with the claim if the missing proofs about his wife's previous marriage are not recovered."

"That is quite true," Mr. Brimsdown admitted. "But I feel sure that they are in existence, somewhere. Your brother Robert was not the man to make a statement of that kind without the proofs. He knew the value of documentary evidence too well for that."

"But so far the proof of his daughter's illegitimacy rests on his unsupported statement, which would be quite valueless in a court of law?"

"That is so."

"If these proofs are found, do you think that my chance of regaining the title is as good as Robert's?" Austin asked. "Are the circumstances of his death likely to tell against my succeeding? I ask you because I know nothing about peerage law."

"The House of Lords has inherent rights of its own in regard to the granting of any claim," replied the lawyer carefully, "rights as the guardian of its own privileges. I do not think, however, that your claim would be rejected. The line of descent is clear, if the proofs of your brother's statement are found. The Turrald barony is a parliamentary peerage which descends to a sole daughter. You can only succeed your brother in the line of descent if she is illegitimate."

"In any case the present claim could not be gone on with, could it?"

"No. That must be withdrawn. I will write to the Home Secretary acquainting him with your brother's death. Later on, if we find the proofs, another claim can be prepared on your behalf."

"If I decide to go on with it."

"I trust that you will," said the lawyer. "It was your brother's dream to restore the title with a male line of descent."

"His dream will be fruitless so far as I am concerned," said Charles Turold, who had been listening intently to this conversation. "I shall have nothing to do with this title." He got up, and strode abruptly from the room without another word.

Mr. Brimsdown was a little surprised at the lack of manners evinced by this precipitate departure, but arose without speaking to take his own leave. Austin did not offer to escort him downstairs. He rang the bell, which was answered by the gaunt maid who had been engaged to sit as Britannia or the Madonna, and to her he consigned his departing visitor after a soft pressure of his white hand.

The maid preceded the lawyer down the staircase with a martial step which outstripped his, and waited at the foot for him to complete the descent. As Mr. Brimsdown reached the last stair, a door immediately opposite opened, and a lady came out. Mr. Brimsdown glanced at her casually in passing, and encountered her glance in return. In that brief look he observed the dawn of swift surprise in her eyes. Her careworn face flushed, and she made an eager step forward, as though about to speak. Somewhat surprised at this action on her part, Mr. Brimsdown hesitated, then, reflecting that he had probably misinterpreted a chance movement on the part of a perfect stranger, went towards the door, which the maid was holding open for him. As he passed through he glanced back, and to his astonishment saw the woman in the passage still standing in the same spot, staring fixedly after him, apparent

ly in a state of consternation or amazement, he could not say which.

He went out of the door with a vision of her questioning gaze following him as far as she could see him. He did not think any more of it just then. A lowering sky suggested rain, and he set off at a round pace for the inn where he had left the vehicle which had brought him to the churchtown.

But quickly as he walked, a footstep behind him was quicker still, and he turned involuntarily to see who was following. Another surprise was in store for him. The tall figure hurrying after him, with the evident intention of overtaking him, was Charles Turold. The lawyer stood still and waited for him.

"I have come after you to tell you something," Charles said abruptly, "something that you ought to know. You were questioning my father about the facts of this case-about my uncle's death. You did not learn anything from him, but I can tell you my cousin Sisily is innocent."

He brought out these words with a breathlessness which may have been the result of his haste. The calmness of the lawyer's reply was in marked contrast.

"Is this merely an assertion, Mr. Turold?"

"It is more than an assertion. I can prove it to you."

Mr. Brimsdown was startled. "What do you mean by that?" he asked.

"If you will come to Flint House I will show you."

Mr. Brimsdown stroked the cautious chin of an old man plunged into a situation which he could not fathom. "Would it not be better to consult the police first?" he temporized.

"The police are now searching the country for Sisily, and there is no time to be lost."

There was something so profoundly unhappy in his appearance that pity stirred in the lawyer's heart. "Very well," he said, with another look at the lowering sky, "let us go."

That afternoon remained with the lawyer as another unforgettable memory. It was all of a piece, sombre, yet of a sharp-edged vividness: the desolation of the moors, the sting of the rain, the clamour of the sea, the seabirds soaring slowly with harsh cries. Then they stood, the pair of them, in Robert Turold's bedroom, looking down on the dead man, swathed in his graveclothes, with a wreath of flowers from Mrs. Pendleton on his breast. Removing this symbol of human pretense against the reality of things, Charles Turold bared the arm of the corpse, and pointing to it exclaimed-

"Could those marks have been made by Sisily?"

In his examination of the marks thus revealed to him, Mr. Brimsdown had the strange feeling that their existence was, in some way, the justification of the dead man's summons to him.

"Do you know how these marks were made?" he said, turning to Charles.

"I do not. But I do know that they prove that Sisily is innocent."

Charles Turold spoke defiantly, but there was a slight note of interrogation in his voice which the lawyer chose to ignore.

"They were made by a man's hand," the young man persisted, looking earnestly at him.

"Do the police know of them?"

"That I cannot tell you."

Another question was in Mr. Brimsdown's mind, but the young man's haggard face, the mingled misery and expectation of his glance, checked the utterance of it. He had the idea that Charles's manner suggested something more-some revelation yet to come. But the young man did not speak.

"Is this all you wanted to show me?" Mr. Brimsdown hinted.

"Is it not enough?"

"I do not see that it throws any light on Miss Turold's disappearance. Can you explain that?"

"How can I explain what I do not know?" Charles was silent for a moment, then added bitterly. "It may be because of her father's inhuman conduct."

"Robert Turold is dead-do not use that tone in speaking of him," the lawyer counselled.

Charles turned on him a peculiar look. "Do you think the world is the loser by his death?" he said.

Mr. Brimsdown was moved out of himself to declare that the death of Robert Turold was a distinct loss to the world. "He was a wonderful man-a notable personality," he said emphatically.

Charles gave him a moody glance, and there fell upon them a silence so complete that the dead man in the bed seemed to share in it. The lawyer had an acute perception of the fact that he had handled the situation badly. He intuitively realized that he had put himself into the opposite camp to Charles's sympathies by the uncompromising partisanship of his last remarks. He was convinced that until that moment, Charles had been meditating the question of some further disclosure. Mr. Brimsdown regretted afterwards that he made no effort to gain his confidence. He felt that if he had done so events might have taken a different course. But it is difficult to bring youth and age together. Youth sometimes yields to impulse, but not age. The lurking devil of self-consciousness whispers caution as the safer quality. Mr. Brimsdown hearkened to the whisper, and stood there in silence, while the minutes slipped by which might have bridged the gap.

There was a quick step in the passage outside, and the door opened to admit Detective Barrant. He looked inquiringly from one to the other, and addressed himself to the lawyer.

"Are you Mr. Brimsdown?" he asked.

"That is my name," the lawyer replied.

"I am Detective Barrant of Scotland Yard. I wish to speak to you privately."

His emphasis on the last word was not lost on Charles Turold. With a slight indifferent nod to Mr. Brimsdown he went out of the room, closing the door quietly behind him.

"I have come to see you about this letter which you left with Inspector Dawfield." Barrant produced the letter and took the single sheet from the grey envelope.

"That is the reason of my presence in Cornwall," said Mr. Brimsdown.

"So I imagined. What can you tell me about it?"

"Very little, except that I received it by the last post at my chambers in Lincoln's Inn Fields the night after Robert Turold's death."

"But why did he send for you?"

"That I cannot even guess."

"You surely must have some idea."

"If I had I should be only too happy to assist the course of justice by imparting it to you."

There was a dryness in the tone of this reply which warned Barrant that he had made a blunder in allowing his irritation to get the better of him. But his private opinion was that the letter was the outcome of some secret of the dead man's which he had imparted to his lawyer. He changed his mood with supple swiftness, in order to extract the information.

"This letter suggests certain things," he said, "some secret, perhaps, in Robert Turold's life, of which you may have some inkling. If you will give me some hint as to what it was, it might be very helpful."

"Unfortunately, I am as much in the dark as yourself," returned Mr. Brimsdown, rubbing his brow thoughtfully. "I cannot make the faintest guess at the reason which called forth this letter. I know next to nothing of my late client's private life. He was a man of the utmost reticence in personal matters. My relations with him were not of that nature."

This reply was delivered with a sincerity which it was impossible to doubt. In palpable disappointment Barrant turned to a renewed scrutiny of the letter, which he held open in his hand.

"It is very strange," he muttered.

"Not the least strange part of it is that I cannot ascertain who posted it," said Mr. Brimsdown, glancing earnestly at the letter. "I asked Thalassa, but he says he knows nothing about it."

"Thalassa is probably lying to you as he has lied to me. One lie more or less would not weigh on his conscience."

"Why should he tell a lie over such a small thing as the posting of a letter?"

Barrant did not reply. He was apparently absorbed in examining the postmarks on the envelope. "Indistinguishable, of course," he muttered, returning the letter to the envelope. "Had Robert Turold any enemies?" he asked.

"I never heard him speak of any."

"How did he come by his money?" asked Barrant, struck by a sudden thought. "His sister tells me that he made his money abroad."

"That I cannot tell you."

"But you invested his fortune for him, did you not?"

"I did," the lawyer agreed.

"In what circumstances?"

"It is rather a strange story," replied Mr. Brimsdown slowly.

"I should like to hear it then. It may throw some light on this letter."

"Let us go into the other room."

Mr. Brimsdown made this suggestion with a quick glance at his departed client on the bed, as though he feared some sardonic reproof from those grey immobile lips.

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